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 | JANUARY 2018

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The Queen’s Thief Series (The Thief, The Queen of Attolia, The King of Attolia, A Conspiracy of Kings, Thick as Thieves) by Megan Whalen Turner

This is my go-to comfort series, and I reread them when two of my friends in Greece decided to read them as well.  We literally had parties where we talked about the books for hours and fell all over ourselves squealing about Eugenides’ perfection.  They are children’s adventure stories with a political backstory that becomes increasingly important throughout the series, and seriously.  Eugenides is the embodiment of my Ideal Fictional Hero and I cannot even hold it together any time he does anything.

51IpIExqbQL._SX331_BO1,204,203,200_Pegasus by Robin McKinley

This is an unfortunately cut-off first book in a series that I assume is leading to a human/pegasus romance that I…was super into??  McKinley’s ability to create lush fantastical and creative worlds is very evident here, and I’m really disappointed that there seems to be little possibility of a sequel, just as the political aspect of things were heating up!  I wanna know if humans and pegasi can coexist when led by representatives of their species that can speak telepathically!

6a016760e4a142970b01676103f988970bThe Moon-Spinners by Mary Stewart

This was one of my favorite childhood movies, so I was curious how the novel that inspired the Disney movie held up.  While mostly similar in plot, Stewart’s novel feels more grownup, to the point that I believed a devastating plot twist that fortunately turned even twistier.  A perfect book for those of you who like murder mysteries set on Greek isles!

516RKT4NIAL._SX331_BO1,204,203,200_The Divine Dance by Richard Rohr

The final conclusion that Rohr reaches “Everything is holy” feels incredibly satisfying and encouraging after a deep dive into the relationship of the Trinity (both amongst themselves and with humans) and how that informs all of life.

2337457The Art of Crossing Cultures by Craig Storti

I read this as I was flying back from Greece, and it was incredibly validating to see my cultural experiences laid out on the page before me.  It helped me to see what I did well and what I did poorly while trying to adapt to a foreign culture, and I HIGHLY recommend it to anyone considering living in a country not their own.

a328d7c9caf2857e082fe981af6df5b8Meditations by Marcus Aurelius

I read this because *ahem* it was a significant plot point in the amazing television show Black Sails, and I’m glad I did.  It’s a bit like the book of Proverbs, and there were quite a few bits of wisdom that I really took to heart, including this one:  “But to get back up when you fail, to celebrate behaving like a human – however imperfectly – and fully embrace the pursuit that you’ve embarked on.”

31207017Love Hate & Other Filters by Samira Ahmed

Half teenage romance, half social commentary, I didn’t like this book as much as I should have.  Everything felt a little too perfect, and I couldn’t help wanting a bit more grittiness in a novel about hate acts and terrorist attacks.  But it’s a fun quick read, and well worth a day’s read.

 

What I Read | DECEMBER 2017

22-secret-history.nocrop.w710.h2147483647The Secret History by Donna Tartt

If you like stories about pretentious young adults screwing up their lives, you will love this book.  Luckily, I do and I did.  A small group of classicist students try to recreate a bacchanal, which leads to a string of murders and lies that grows beyond their control.  It’s engrossing and horrible and wonderful, and I’m now going to have to read everything else Tartt has written.

817iFfLhJ+LThe Time Traveler’s Wife by Audrey Niffenegger

After a lukewarm reaction to this movie ages ago, I was happy to discover that I like the book quite a bit more.  It’s relational sci-fi, which isn’t too common of a genre, but should be.  In a Benjamin Button-esque way, I liked seeing Clare and Henry meet up at various ages and times, first as child and adult, meeting in the middle, then growing apart in the opposite direction.  Although it plays with a few sci-fi ideas, my favorite was the idea was compulsive time traveling as a genetic disorder attempting to be cured.  This book was fun, sad, and romantic – a great holiday read!

61VBnB-U+JL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_Tired of Apologizing for a Church I Don’t Belong To by Lillian Daniel

This woman is a spitfire, and I loved it.  This book is all about what’s on the tin – she’s a liberal pastor who embraces people of all kinds of lives, and she’s tired of apologizing for all the evils the church has committed over the centuries, and that some continue to commit today.  She makes a compelling case that we live in a new age where young people have grown up outside of the church and need to hear WHY it’s worth considering (because of community, and a connection with the sacred, and a calling to higher, deeper life) instead of hearing all the things other people have done poorly.

51-RupZrb3LStrong Women, Soft Hearts by Paula Rinehart

I bought this years ago, and I wish I’d read it then.  It’s an excellent book, but a lot of its themes of forgiveness, vulnerability, and powerlessness felt like retreads of the 12 Step work I’ve been doing for the past two years.  Still, I very much recommend this book to anyone who wants to learn how to interact assertively with the people and events that life throws at you while also remaining open despite some of those things being painful.

51W3KFEXGTL._SX281_BO1,204,203,200_Not Without My Daughter by Betty Mahmoody

Leant to me by a friend, this true story of an American woman trapped in Iran when a vacation with her Iranian husband turns into an imprisonment.  I didn’t like it at first, since her initial reaction to Iranian culture was entirely disgust, but over time it becomes apparent that this is (somewhat) influenced by her fear and anger.  She does wind up finding people she enjoys or empathizes with, which makes the story take an interesting turn because she fears she will grow complacent and abandon her plan to escape back to America.  Really interesting book, but it did unfortunately throw fuel on the fire of my “you can never know if the person you marry will drastically change!!” fear.

 

What I Read | NOVEMBER 2017

Wow, is it hard to go from working at a library to living in a foreign country.  From overabundance to scarcity!  Since my time is ending in Greece, I’ve decided to actual tackle the shelf of To Be Read books that I kept passing over.  This is actually pretty satisfying, though the going is slower.

Novel_the_blind_assassin_coverThe Blind Assassin by Margaret Atwood

This book was immediately intriguing, flashing between an old woman remembering her past and an at-first ambiguous meeting of lovers discussing science fiction plots.  It’s a dense novel, delving into generational family relationships, complications, and regrets.  Because it’s Atwood, the story consistently reveals the underbelly of what it means to be a woman during the early 1900s.  The middle dragged a little for me, but the beginning and end were totally engrossing.

71epnYVGumLThe King Must Die by Mary Renault

A historical novel focused on the life of mythical Theseus, I was ALL about this book.  It covers only the first half of his life (I accidentally read the second book so long ago I was writing full reviews).  Theseus travels to Athens and then Crete, where he lives in the Palace of Knossos (I WENT THERE) and survives by becoming a champion bull-leaper.  Renault is a master at creating believable history out of mythology, and I am continually impressed by how she allows events to unfold in such a way that they can be read as natural events or godly interventions.  Very fun read for Greek mythology nerds!

51zEfKBgrdLAbraham by Bruce Feiler

A Jewish man goes to the Middle East to talk to leaders of the three great monotheistic faiths – Judaism, Christianity, and Islam – about the man that unites them all:  Abraham.  This is an excellent book for people who like history, culture, and/or theology, delving into sacred texts, oral traditions, and how people have twisted stories to suit their purposes throughout time.

220px-The-lost-city-zThe Lost City of Z by David Grann

A modern day journalist ventures into the Amazon in search of a mythical city and the man who disappeared while seeking it.  It’s more of a biography than a travel memoir, but Colonel Fawcett is a fascinating man.  I loved reading about the early 1900s and all the explorers trying to survive the Amazon rainforest.  Although a lot of it is horrific, and is portrayed as such, Fawcett himself is a man before his time, insisting upon pacifism when interacting with indigenous tribes.  So many people kept returning to the Amazon despite enormous difficulties, and this book does a wonderful job of conveying the enticing mystery that the forest creates simply by existing.

What I Read | OCTOBER 2017

33951646Jane, Unlimited by Jane Cashore

Yikes, this book!  About 1/3 of the way through, it ended, at which point I realized I was reading a Choose Your Own Adventure type book that laid out multiple directions for the story to take.  At first, it was super interesting, since her decisions to go in different directions revealed more secrets of the mysterious mansion she is visiting.  But it quickly gets SUPER WEIRD, and not the kind of weird that I adore.  It just felt like an author’s fever dream.  I’m sure some people will find this book fascinating, but it was not for me.

What_Happened_(Hillary_Rodham_Clinton)_book_coverWhat Happened by Hillary Clinton

A perfect title for a perfect book.  I loved reading Clinton’s perspective of the last couple years even though it left me banging my head against the wall because we could have had an experienced, intelligent, level-headed leader of our country, but we’re all idiots instead.  I thought she did a great job of owning up to her own failings throughout her campaign while also pointing out larger systemic issues at play (I especially adored her takes on being a woman in politics and the role of media coverage in affecting voters’ opinions).  Like all things politics, I’m not sure this would change the mind of someone who hates her, though I’d like to think they would come away respecting her.

33590214Young Jane Young by Gabrielle Zevin

It was good timing to read this right after What Happened, since this is the story of a political sex scandal from the perspective of the women surrounding the issue.  We hear from the mother of the young woman involved, from the woman herself (now decades older and living with a false name because her career was decimated while the senator emerged unscathed), from the young woman’s daughter, and from the senator’s wife.  It was an entertaining read, and mostly just an excellent example of how men’s predatory actions often ruin the women involved (which is very fitting in light of recent Harvey Weinstein news).

61RdD2N2mEL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_Magnus Chase: The Ship of the Dead by Rick Riordan

The third book in Riordan’s Norse mythology series, I just…continue to adore his writing style.  Myths retold with a wink are still my favorite thing, and this series in particular goes to new heights in creating an incredibly diverse dream team.  I think I go over this list in every review of his books, but our main cast of characters includes 1) a homeless teen who hates fighting, 2) a genderfluid teen (which is SUCH a cool real world analog for being a child of Loki, the shapeshifter), 3) a fashionable black dwarf, 4) a deaf elf, 5) a Muslim Valkyrie fighting and fasting through Ramadan, 6) an Irish girl who died in Bloody Sunday, and 7) a Viking.  All this awesome while also pursuing mythical mead made from the blood and spit of the gods in order to help Magnus win an insult contest (flyting) with Loki.  A+, this is exactly my jam.

939334The Forgotten Beasts of Eld by Patricia McKillip

In classic fantasy style, this is more ethereal than plot, though there’s definitely an all-powerful female wizard who falls in love with a prince AFTER marrying him as revenge plot against a king who tried to magically take away her sense of self.  Also she uses her magic to summon mystical beasts from legends to her backyard where only she can talk to them.  I think it is pretty clear why I was so interested in this book.

51YjlK890rL._SX329_BO1,204,203,200_Turtles All the Way Down by John Green

Based on the premise “NO, having a mental disorder does not make you better at solving crimes,” John Green’s latest novel is about a teenage girl with severe OCD and anxiety who finds herself trying to solve a missing person’s case.  It’s a really lovely and melancholy story about friendship, first love, and trying to figure out how to connect with other people despite feeling so different all the time.

23281856Garden of Lies by Amanda Quick

A friend mentioned that this book was about a brooding archeologist that reminded her of Toby Stephens, so naturally I read it the next day.  It is all that is silliest in an anachronistic historical romance mystery, but…it was about a brooding archeologist that reminded me of Toby Stephens, so I got what I wanted.

What I Read | SEPTEMBER 2017

 

Long Way Round by Ewan McGregor and Charley Boorman

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Long Way Down by Ewan McGregor and Charley Boorman

I loved the documentaries by the same name, so it was fun to read about Ewan and Charley’s motorcycle travel adventures from their perspective.  Although it covers the same ground as the films, there were some fun extra scenes and interior thoughts.  These books only confirmed that 1) yes, I do love Ewan McGregor very, very much, and 2) it would be amazingly fun to travel across Asia or Africa with a best friend and film crew.

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Not My Father’s Son by Alan Cumming

A memoir of a life so incredible (and sad) that it confirms the phrase “truth is stranger than fiction,” I loved this book despite being largely unfamiliar with Cumming’s work.  He’s a fantastic writer, and he tells an intentionally small story surrounding a month of his life in which massive family mysteries were brought to light.  A great read for fans of his or not, because you probably will be by the end.

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Don Quixote by Miguel de Cervantes

I really loved the beginning of Don Quixote with the descriptions of our protagonist going mad from reading too many books and inserting himself into a fantasy world of his own making.  It was uncomfortably delightful to read of the misadventures in which he makes things worse by trying to be chivalrous, and after 150 pages I was a bit tired.  Are all 1,000 pages more of the same, or does a plot develop?  Help me out and let me know if I’m missing out by stopping early.

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Genuine Fraud by E. Lockhart

I devoured this book!  It is a story in reverse, starting with a girl hiding out in a Mexican resort, gradually taking steps back in time to reveal what she did to necessitate escaping from the law.  It is a really fun mystery (what did she do rather than who did it), and I just feel so blessed to be living in an age in which fictional teenage girls can be murderous psychopaths.

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Mrs. Fletcher by Tom Perrotta

This book is about a middle-aged woman exploring her sexuality, and I was super impressed by how…nice it is?  What I mean is, a bunch of people do a bunch of things, some questionable, some lovely, some awful, and these actions are always separated from the value of these characters.  Mrs. Fletcher might think or do things that make herself (and us) cringe, but we’re never meant to think that she’s a bad person because of them.  Lots of gender and sexuality stuff too!  This book was literally made for me.

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They Both Die at the End by Adam Silvera

Despite a very direct title, reading this book is like watching Titanic thinking, “I hope they avoid the iceberg this time!”  Because they do die at the end.  And it sucks, because we’ve just spent a novel getting to know our two protagonists.  But the story is worth it, both because it’s an uplifting “if you knew this were your last day, how would that change the way you live your life?” query, and because it’s a cool sci-fi think piece on how society would change if people were notified of their death on their last day.  Not a fun book, but a very good one.

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Love with a Chance of Drowning by Torre DeRoche

It’s another romance/travel memoir, though this very much leans into individual growth more than romantic love.  I wasn’t surprised to discover the pair split after this book, because I was honestly surprised they lasted throughout their two years sailing around the South Pacific.  Not that that’s a bad thing!  Torre and Ivan are a great example of why dating someone very different from you is a great way to push you beyond your comfort zone into new experiences…just don’t expect a happily-ever-after at the end of it.  Still, my main takeaway was:  I want to go sailing around the South Pacific, NOW.

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I Hate Everyone But You by Gaby Dunn and Allison Raskin

Written incredibly well in only emails and texts, this is a book about two college freshmen staying friends despite a long distance separation, exploring their sexuality with varying levels of success, and figuring out what they want to do with their lives.  It’s surprisingly deep for also being very witty and compulsively readable.

What I Read | SUMMER 2017

Favorite Books of the Summer

inexplicable

The Inexplicable Logic of My Life by Benjamin Alire Saenz

Saenz is one of my all time favorite authors, so I was not surprised when I fell in love with his new book.  It’s about growing and discovering who you are and coming to terms with your dark side by accepting others.  I really admired that Saenz side-stepped the romance detours that I anticipated and instead wrote a book entirely about family.

golem

The Golem and The Jinni by Helene Wecker

A historical fantasy novel that explore the culture of early 1900s New York immigrants through the experiences of a Jewish golem and Syrian jinni.  It’s incredibly well written, and our central characters reveal the beautiful balance between caution and passion, and how they need each other.

gentleman

The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue by Mackenzi Lee

This is a VERY fun story with excellent dialogue and rich teenagers traveling around historical Europe with pirates! highwaymen! alchemy!  In the midst of the madcap adventure fun, the book seriously deals with the historical consequences of sexuality, race, and illness.

inquisitor

The Inquisitor’s Tale by Adam Gidwitz

Longtime fan of Gidwitz’s irreverent yet earnest tone (he wrote the excellent A Tale Dark and Grimm series), this book took his talent to a new level.  In a Canterbury Tales-esque setup, he creates a medieval children’s story that is ultimately a treatise on the theology of suffering.  Incredible.

symptoms

Symptoms of Being Human by Jeff Garvin

Written from the perspective of a genderfluid teenager, this book seriously challenged my habit of categorizing humans, refusing to give any indication of Riley’s biological sex throughout.  Genderfluidity is something I know little about, and I was so grateful to step into the journey of Riley’s bullying, safe spaces, and self-acceptance.

too fat

Too Fat, Too Slutty, Too Loud by Anne Helen Peterson

An excellent celebrity culture journalist, Peterson dives into the stories of numerous “unruly women” in society today, from Serena Williams to Nicki Minaj to Hillary Clinton. It’s very well researched and ultimately empowering, encouraging readers to be unruly themselves in pursuit of societal change.

no baggage

No Baggage by Clara Bensen

This book is exactly my kind of pretentious – two well-off people meet on OK Cupid and a month later, they’re traveling Europe without a schedule.  It’s a relationship + travel + mental illness memoir, which are pretty much three of my favorite things.

Other Summer Books

  • Caraval by Stephanie Garber (6/10)
  • Dark Lord of Derkholm by Diana Wynne Jones (6/10)
  • The Fifth Season by N.K. Jemisin (5/10)
  • Small Victories by Anne Lamott (8/10)
  • The Ship Beyond Time by Heidi Heilig (6/10)
  • Have His Carcase by Dorothy Sayers (8/10)
  • A Court of Wings and Ruin by Sarah J. Maas (7/10)
  • The Trials of Apollo: The Dark Prophecy by Rick Riordan (7/10)
  • Hallelujah Anyway by Anne Lamott (8/10)
  • Thick as Thieves by Megan Whalen Turner (8/10)
  • The Upside of Unrequited by Becky Albertalli (8/10)
  • Standard Deviation by Katherine Heiny (7/10)
  • And We’re Off by Dana Schwartz (7/10)
  • 13 Little Blue Envelopes by Maureen Johnson (7/10)
  • Dragon Age: The Stolen Throne by David Gaider (5/10)
  • The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up by Marie Kondo (8/10)
  • Wintersong by S. Jae-Jones (7/10)
  • The Paper Magician by Charlie N. Holmberg (7/10)
  • The Blue Sword by Robin McKinley (7/10)
  • Chemistry by Weike Wang (6/10)
  • SkyBreaker by Kenneth Oppel (9/10)
  • Vinegar Girl by Anne Tyler (4/10)
  • The Islands of Chaldea by Diana Wynne Jones (7/10)
  • The Book of Joy by the Dalai Lama and Desmond Tutu (8/10)
  • The Road Back to You by Ian Morgan Cron and Suzanne Stabile (7/10)
  • The Republic of Pirates by Colin Woodard (9/10)
  • Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman (8/10)
  • When We Were on Fire by Addie Zierman (8/10)