What I Read | FEBRUARY 2018

112077The Game of Kings by Dorothy Dunnett

The friend who shares my love of The Queen’s Thief series suggested that if I like Rogues with a Heart of Gold™, I ought to give Dunnett’s Lymond Chronicles a try.  Twenty pages in, I was overwhelmed by the Scottish history and lingo, but a deluge of rabid Lymond fans on Twitter encouraged me to keep going.  One hundred pages in, I was ready to call this (mostly unread) series the best in the world.  It is beautifully and cleverly written, both at the sentence level and in terms of the over-arching twisty plot.  Lymond himself is awful and complex and SO AMAZING, but the huge cast of supporting characters more than live up to his level.  I adored this book, and I can’t wait to read all the others in the series!

23197837The Belles by Dhonielle Clayton

Although this book has an interesting premise in creating a world in which a special few magically talented girls are revered for their ability to beautify humans that are born with grey skin and red eyes, I just couldn’t buy into the full picture this novel tries to paint.  Why is this ability so important that literally the whole country and political structure revolves around them? Why are Camellia and Amber friends, when throughout the book we only see them arguing or being annoyed with each other?  Big points for a creative concept, but that’s it.

Screen Shot 2018-02-24 at 11.38.01 AMAmerican Panda by Gloria Chao

Although distinctly Chinese-American, this book speaks to the universal transition of a college student learning to differentiate herself from her parents.  I loved watching Mei struggle to decide how she wants to live her life as she both appreciates and resents the omnipresence of her parents in every aspect of her existence.  I was also extremely interested in the Chinese-American culture presented here, and I can only imagine how funny and gratifying and meaningful this story must be to readers with immigrant parents.

leonardo-da-vinci-9781501139154_lgLeonardo da Vinci by Walter Isaacson

I loved Isaacson’s biography of Steve Jobs, and I adore Renaissance art, so this book was an obvious go-to for me.  Isaacson once again tells the story of a man’s life with clarity, appreciation, and enough fanboying that the 500 pages flew by.  Da Vinci is famous for his artwork (specifically his Mona Lisa and Last Supper paintings), and I loved reading about how they came to be.  But even more, I enjoyed reading about da Vinci’s obsessive observational skills, and how they led him to discover more about anatomy and machinery than anyone else in his era (or for centuries after him).  He was a genius because his passion for life married art and science, a combination I hope we see more of today!

35099058Gunslinger Girl by Lyndsay Ely

A post-apocalyptic story that veers into classical Western tropes of brothels and gunfights, I really enjoyed this book until its last act.  I liked Pity and her conflicted feelings about both enjoying and fearing her new dangerous home.  I appreciated that the stakes were high, with characters actually dying almost from the word go.  But I never really believed the romance, and I thought the ending devolved into stereotype when it could have easily been more interesting.  This seems to be set up for a series, and I won’t be reading more, but this first glimpse into Ely’s world was pretty fun.

13414183Better Nate Than Ever by Tim Federle

The Illinois Caudill books are out, and this was the first I picked up.  It is a hilarious and endearing story of a sensational pre-teen sneaking off to NYC to audition for a Broadway musical.  I loved seeing the city through his eyes:  when he’s excited, all the chaos is beautiful, and when he’s disappointed, the same things are suddenly dreary or scary.  Nate is a BIG character, overwhelming the story and the characters within it with his personality.  It’s easy to see both why he is bullied in school AND why those exact same qualities are going to win him fast friends and success once conforming stops mattering so much.  This is a great book about family, friendship, and first steps toward self-awareness.

whatlight25f-1-webWhat Light by Jay Asher

This is a schmaltzy YA Christmas romance, and I was not into it.  The girl works on a Christmas tree farm one month every year, and she falls in love with the “bad boy,” whose badness is boring and is in actuality the most Do Gooder teenager on the planet.  I was super unimpressed by this one, but it’s a nice thoughtless feel good story if that’s what you need in the moment.

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What I Read | September 2016

This month I filled by brain with murder mysteries, musical histories, travel anecdotes, high fantasy, and (auto)biographies of YouTubers and female saints.  Real on-brand, if my brand is “EVERYTHING,” which it is.


unknownHamilton the Revolution
by Lin-Manuel Miranda and Jeremy McCarter

THE HAMILTOME.  My mom brought this to me, and it only confirms that LMM is a literal genius.  The background information about how the Broadway musical came into existence makes the show even more impressive (how is that possible), and Lin’s notes throughout the lyrics highlight his intelligence, attention to detail, and humor.  I’m forever grateful to know that he thought of the Hamilton/Burr rivalry as something akin to Harry/Draco.

51e6cmjvnlStrong Poison
by Dorothy Sayers

This little murder mystery was gifted to me by a friend who knew I love witty romances, and it totally scratched that itch!  I did, however, accidentally solve the mystery within ten pages, so the actual plot part was not very exciting.  But Lord Peter Wimsey and his too-good-to-be-true feminist feelings for Harriet Vane?  I swooned all over their conversations.

crazy-rich-asiansCrazy Rich Asians
by Kevin Kwan

“I’m getting kind of tired of hundreds of pages of ‘They are SO RICH, check out this thing they own,’” I said to a friend.  “Tricia,” she responded, “Look at the title, you should not be surprised.”  Despite the almost comical portrayal of sickening wealth, I liked its message that all the money in the world will not solve your problems.  Not an original concept, but I’m considering reading the sequel, so some part of me must have loved peeking into the lives of the fantastical Singapore elite.

unknown4Modern Lovers
by Emma Straub

I got this book because I THOUGHT Straub wrote a different book that I enjoyed.  She did not, which is why it turns out I did not super love Modern Lovers.  It’s not bad or anything, but the full extent of my notes on it read: “Eh – interesting but not memorable.”

original-imageThe Road to Little Dribbling
by Bill Bryson

I love Bryson’s travel books, and this one commemorating the 20th anniversary of his Notes From a Small Island seemed like a good investment.  Unfortunately, this time I found his wanderings around Great Britain to be wildly unpredictable – occasionally great, but too often boring.  There’s only so often I can read about an old man being gently annoyed by the state of the society today.

unknown3A Contemplative Biography of Julian of Norwich
by Amy Frykholm

“All shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of all things shall be well,” is one of my favorite quotes, so I was interested to read this the-best-we-can-do-with-limited-information biography about Julian of Norwich.  It was very helpful to read about just how difficult it was for a woman to study the Bible centuries ago, let alone to have the freedom to write about her spiritual experiences and offer theological doctrines.  I adore Julian’s message of God’s love and am intrigued by her mysticism, so well, I should probably read her actual book, Revelations of Divine Love, now.  Whoops.

unknown2Assassin’s Apprentice
by Robin Hobb

A friend of mine fell in love with Hobb’s universe and suggested I start at the beginning.  I’m glad I knew there was obsessive potential up ahead, because the first half of this book wasn’t enthralling.  By the end, though, I was totally hooked, and I’m eager to see what political disasters Fitz diverts with the help of a little assassination and mind-melding.

it-gets-worse-9781501132841_hrIt Gets Worse
by Shane Dawson

I love Dawson’s brand, whether on YouTube, his podcast, or in his books.  He a furiously controversial figure, and he delights in crucifying himself…but running through the deliberately shocking humor is a wide vein of authenticity, vulnerability, and hope.  He’s a mess, and he’s writing to people who know that they too are a mess, and somewhere in that I find a lot of beauty.  Do many people call Shane Dawson’s work beautiful?  They should!

And Nothing But the Truthiness by Lisa Rogak

I am tangentially obsessed with Stephen Colbert.  I’ve never really watched Colbert Report (except for the week he interviewed The Hobbit actors), nor have I read any of his parody books.  But.  I kind of circle his existence, watching a video clip here, noting a passing fact (he teaches Sunday School) there.  He seems like a hilarious and decent human being, which is enough to make me slow down whenever I pass a magazine with him on the cover.

That was a very long introduction to say:  I read Rogak’s biography of Stephen Colbert (the person, but also sometimes the character), and I can feel the obsession deepening.  I mean, why would I spend 260 pages reading about the conception and execution of a show I have never really watched?  Because Stephen Colbert is a fascinating individual who is both pompous and humble, hilarious and sincere, self-obsessed and family-focused.  Of course, this because Stephen Colbert (decent human being) plays Stephen Colbert (patriotic idiot).  I love them both, and all iterations between.

While I enjoyed reading about The Daily Show and Colbert Report, I was much more interested in the earlier chapters, covering his years as a child and teenager.  Once his career overshadowed his family life (in the biography, if not in real life), I found myself wanting more personal information.  I loved reading about his siblings, his amazing parents, his tragedy, his bullied years, his escape into fantasy, and his discovery of humor as a defense mechanism.

Now I need to fill in my Colbert gaps and watch everything he’s ever done.

51RhWuDYBVL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_Book Jacket

No other comedian can generate headlines today the way Stephen Colbert can.  With his appearance at a Congressional hearing, his rally in Washington, D.C., his bestselling book, his creation of the now-accepted word truthiness, and of course his popular TV show, nearly everyone (except the poor Congressional fools who agree to be interviewed on his show) has heard of him.

Yet all these things are part of a character also named Stephen Colbert.  Who is he really?  In And Nothing but the Truthiness, biographer Lisa Rogak examines the man behind the character.  She reveals the roots of his humor, growing up as the youngest of eleven siblings, and the tragedy that forever altered the family.  She charts his early years earning his chops first as a series acting student and later a budding improv comic, especially his close connection with Amy Sedaris, which led to the cult TV show Strangers with Candy.  And Rogak offers a look inside how The Daily Show works, and the exclusive bond that Colbert and Jon Stewart formed that would lead to Colbert’s own rise to celebrity.

A behind-the-scenes look into the world of one of the biggest comedians in America, And Nothing but the Truthiness is an illuminating read for any resident of Colbert Nation.

Release Date:  October 2011

Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson

I heard this was a good biography, and I like Apple products, so I gave it a chance.  Actually, I got it at the library with three other massive books (this one clocks in at 570 pages) and I chose to read it first because I assumed I wouldn’t get past the first page.  I WAS SO WRONG.  I loved Jobs’ biography, for two main reasons.

Steve Jobs was a fascinating man.  Isaacson makes sure to let the readers know Jobs’ passion often turned into screaming fights and insulting appraisals of people’s work.  And yet…despite his frequent moments as a jerk, I wound up loving the man.  He was intense, brilliant, and focused.  When he saw something inadequate, in himself or in others, he did everything in his power to improve it.  Although this cost him some relational intimacy, those exact same qualities led him to revolutionize technology, not once or twice, but in every major technological division: personal computers, music, tablets, storefronts, phones, entertainment.  He was hard to work for, but 90% of his employees were proud to be on his team because he brought out excellence they never knew they had.   Continue reading