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

Screen Shot 2018-01-27 at 4.35.38 PM

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 | 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 | 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)

 

What I Read | MARCH 2017

Recommended books are italicized!


674749The Ordinary Princess by M. M. Kaye

What a cute book!  I want to give this to all little kids to read as an antidote to classic fairy tales.  That is, after all, it’s entire point.  What if a princess wasn’t perfect?  Could she find love, acceptance, and joy anyway?  Of course!  This is a charming and funny book that teaches us to love ourselves as we are and wait for someone who loves all our imperfections and ordinariness.

9780141357058Holding Up the Universe by Jennifer Niven

I’m a big fan of the YA trend of delving deep into minority issues, and in this book, Niven deals with two.  In alternating chapters, we get to live in the shoes of the former fattest teenager in America as well as a young man with undiagnosed prosopagnosia.  Don’t know what that is?  I didn’t either, but reading about how he coped with the inability to recognize faces was both heartbreaking and fascinating.  I also really liked how the story juxtaposed external vs. internal “problems” and how that affects the way people react to them.

28217831Buffering by Hannah Hart

I expected this YouTuber memoir to be fairly lighthearted.  Instead, Hart actually gives her fans a glimpse into her life, even though that means covering topics like schizophrenia, foster homes, and trauma flashbacks.  That is exactly its strength, because it is uplifting and powerful to know her story: where she comes from and what she struggles with despite the outward trappings of fame and success.

Robin_Hobb_-_Assassin's_Quest_CoverAssassin’s Quest by Robin Hobb

This final book in the Assassin’s trilogy was so hard to get into, but when it all clicked…I couldn’t put it down!  Fitz’s world expands as he travels inland and into the mountains, and we get to meet more Witted folk (more of this, please!), minstrels, and DRAGONS.  The story really soared when Fitz stopped traveling solo and reunited with his friends and/or monarchs.  I need to take a tiny break from this world (they take a lot of time to read!), but I’m definitely going to return to it in Hobb’s other trilogies.

51niH6CC-pL._SX331_BO1,204,203,200_Nimona by Noelle Stevenson

I listened to the audiobook, which is quite good, but I would NEVER recommend doing so unless you have already read Stevenson’s graphic novel.  It is, after all, a story designed to be express through pictures, and a lot is lost when it’s only audible.  Through any format, it is a beautiful story of a monstrous girl who remains a monster…but finds love and community anyway.

51FJbzqwMYL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_Present Over Perfect by Shauna Niequist

Anyone who is a workaholic, or who simply puts a lot of their self-worth in performance, will benefit greatly from Niequist’s vulnerability.  Through a series of lovely vignettes and essays, she constantly reminds her readers (and herself):  “Your worth doesn’t come from activity.  Slow down.  Focus on relationships.  Ground yourself.”  Exactly what I needed to hear during this phase of my life.

What I Read | FEBRUARY 2017

This month I read some fantasy, some non-fiction, and some contemporary fiction both satirical and…weird.  Recommended books are italicized!


1Royal Assassin by Robin Hobb

The second book in Hobb’s Farseer trilogy started out slow but became quite engrossing about halfway through.  Initially, I complained about the dearth of female characters, but then Kettricken wound up being amazing (I’d still like more amazing female characters in this series, please!).  I liked how the Wit was explored more, but I’m still very confused as to why it is so stigmatized when Seeing is not.  Of course, since it is the second book in a trilogy, the novel ended with everything horrible.  Here’s hoping things will get better in Assassin’s Quest!

2Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel

Recommended to me by a bookkeeper in Santorini, this book totally lived up to my expectations!  It’s a post- (and pre-) apocalyptic novel that focuses on cultural and individual changes rather than Outrageous Action.  It’s both haunting and hopeful, and the writing is stunning.  I definitely recommend it!

3We Are the Ants by Shaun David Hutchinson

This is a beautifully sad and hopeful book about bullying, suicide, and depression that ultimately proclaims that there is beauty in the broken.  This is all pretty standard when it comes to YA novels, but this stands apart by using alien abductions as a metaphor…or maybe they were real!

4Gender & Grace by Mary Stewart Van Leeuwen

This has been sitting on my bookshelf for years, and I’m so glad I finally got around to reading it.  Using both theology and psychology, Van Leeuwen creates a very compelling and easy to read defense of the biological and cultural influences on gender and sexuality.  It’s conservative while also being open and accepting, and I really admired her balanced perspective.

5South of the Border, West of the Sun by Haruki Murakami

I’ve been hearing a lot about Murakami recently, but I have to admit that I was disappointed by my first foray into his work.  I feel like I missed something, but maybe this book really was about a self-obsessed and possibly psychotic middle-aged man getting over his exes and finally choosing commitment simply because he doesn’t want to be lonely.  It all felt like obnoxious patriarchal “literature,” but I’ll give him one more try.

6The Princess Diarist by Carrie Fisher

What is the opposite of patriarchal nonsense?  CARRIE FISHER!  Her last book is amazing: a testament to her wit and ability to self-reflect, and wow, when it was over did I wish she were still alive to continue gifting us with her talent.  This is the book that reveals her affair with Harrison Ford while filming the first Star Wars movie, and her memories of that time are both humorous and touching.  The world needs more people like her.

7The Liar by Stephen Fry

I picked this up at a book bazaar, and it is quite possibly the most British book I’ve ever read, by which I mean it is extremely absurd.  If you like twisty words and witty dialogue (and don’t mind a LOT of absurd British sex thrown into the mix), you’ll probably enjoy this.  Just remember, everyone is lying, all of the time.

8Packing Light by Allison Fallon

A book about a Christian writer who doesn’t want to be a “Christian writer” and packs up all her things to go on a 6-month road trip in pursuit of a simple, adventurous life couldn’t be more tailored to me.  Perhaps that is why I highlighted so much of Fallon’s memoir, but I think it’s possible that she’s also just extremely quotable.  It’s more of a thinkpiece than a travel memoir, but I recommend it nonetheless!

What I Read | JANUARY 2017

In January, I left my beloved library behind in the States, which was very sad.  But I also returned to twelve new books that I bought at a Christmas bazaar before leaving Athens last year, so it all balanced out (not really, twelve books does not equal infinite library access).

51t0npdw14l-_sy344_bo1204203200_We Should All Be Feminists by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

This tiny book is adapted from a TedX Talk, and boy is it effective.  I mean, I guess she was preaching to the choir, but I found her balance of personal anecdotes and academic research very persuasive.  I would love to know if someone who is not a feminist could read this and come away unmoved.

hpHarry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone by J.K. Rowling

Everyone already knows how awesome this book is, but do you know how amazing the illustrated edition is?  It has the full text printed like a children’s fairy tale book, and just holding the heavy thing in my hands made the whole story feel important and magical in an really evocative way.  The artwork is stunning, both familiar and unique.  I was especially impressed with how the kids looked like actual 11-year-olds.  I cannot wait to see what they do once they publish the fourth book in this format – will it come in two pieces or require a forklift?

the-geography-of-genius-9781451691658_hr1The Geography of Genius by Eric Weiner

This book combines three of my favorite things:  travel, history, and sociology.  Weiner visits several cities that were the birthplace of geniuses.  Some are obvious, like ancient Athens or Florence during the Renaissance.  Others I was unaware of, like Edinburgh and Hangzhou.  The whole journey is in pursuit of what creates genius, abolishing myths (the lone genius) and positing new theories (genius requires diversity, disorder, and discernment).

scrappy-little-nobody-9781501117206_lgScrappy Little Nobody by Anna Kendrick

The simplest recommendation is this:  if you like Anna Kendrick, you will like this book.  It sounds like her (especially if, like me, you listen to her read the audiobook version), both very funny and often insightful.  It is vaguely interesting as a child actor story, but that’s not its real purpose.  Instead, she’s doing what she does best:  entertaining us with stories.

27362503It Ends With Us by Colleen Hoover

WOW.  This book was recommended to me by a librarian friend, and it completely blew me away.  It’s all about breaking the cycle of abuse, but instead of being maudlin or overly dramatic, Hoover gives us the “best” case scenario and challenges us to empathize with people on all sides of the situation.  It felt incredibly weird to occasionally root for the abuser, but that’s the power of her storytelling capabilities.  And the ending was just beautiful.

51jqqolltjl-_sx329_bo1204203200_Talking As Fast As I Can by Lauren Graham

Once again, if you like Lorelai Gilmore – I mean Lauren Graham – then you will like this book.  And once again, I recommend you listen to the audiobook, which Graham reads herself.  I really admired that she knows her audience; she spent a little time on her childhood, but the bulk of the material lies in describing her experiences working on Gilmore Girls (and to a lesser extent Parenthood).  Her joy and gratitude are so evident, and it makes the book a delightful thing to experience.

51vf1u6wpfl-_sx326_bo1204203200_The Year of Living Danishly by Helen Russell

I’m a full-fledged socialist now!  Russell’s description of being a British ex-pat in Denmark for one year totally converted me to the benefits of paying 50% taxes.  But seriously, her memoir/non-fiction story is really fun to read…just start saving for that plane ticket, because she’s hella convincing.

1618The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time by Mark Haddon

Although this is a great book written from the perspective of a teenager with Asperger’s, I never quite connected with it because it was not what I expected.  I thought I was reading a mystery, but that ends quite quickly, and I found the true story far less interesting.  Still, it’s a great piece for those who want a glimpse into inner workings of someone with Asperger’s, especially in making obvious just how much WORK every action and reaction is.