What I Read | DECEMBER 2016

I returned to my hometown this month, which means I got a LOT of books at my public library.  This is especially noteworthy because somehow in smalltown Illinois, my library is really great at stocking diverse books.  The number of books I read about people of color BY people of color increased this month, which I’m quite pleased about.  I also accidentally read several books with the word “star” in the title, but they had nothing in common beyond that.


case-historiesCase Histories by Kate Atkinson

I’m not usually into the mystery genre, but this book was excellent!  Each character (and there are a lot of them) is detailed and flawed and believable.  There is a lot of violence against women, but that’s the point:  there is a lot of violence against women.  I love a good male protagonist (bonus points for a detective) who understands this reality and grieves it.

hitman-anders-and-the-meaning-of-it-allHitman Anders and the Meaning of It All by Jonas Jonasson

Jonasson is a hilarious writer with amazing dry wit.  This book covers some dark topics (murders, cons, fake religions) and somehow turns our awful protagonists into accidentally good people that we the readers root for.  Yet another reason to go to Sweden!

why-be-happy-when-you-could-be-normalWhy Be Happy When You Could Be Normal by Jeanette Winterson

Oooowww, this book is emotionally painful.  It is the sad and beautiful memoir of a woman raised by an abusive mother who somehow manages to fiercely pursue life and love.  It’s very quotable, and towards the end I was especially intrigued by Winterson’s fascinating ideas about madness – what causes it and how to find healing.

24641800The Demon in the Wood by Leigh Bardugo

This is a short story about the Darkling from the Grisha Trilogy, and I am always interested in the backstory’s of villains.  This story humanizes him and explains his behaviors, but more interestingly, it shows how individual actions are created by, and reinforce, cultural oppression.

5Sofia Khan is Not Obliged by Ayisha Malik

I did not know how much I needed a Muslim Pride and Prejudice in my life, but I did!  This is such a fun and cute book that feels familiar while also being a refreshingly unique interpretation on an overdone classic.  I loved reading about modern Muslim culture in the Western world, and Sofia’s Bridget Jones-esque diary entries are perfection.  I can’t recommend this enough.

17270515Serafina’s Promise by Ann E. Burg

This novel in verse about a young Haitian girl who dreams of someday attending school so that she can become a doctor is a beautiful story beautifully written.  Serafina fights for her dreams despite poverty and the Haitian earthquake, giving us lines like: “Without dreams the world is only dirt and dust.”

28588345The Midnight Star by Marie Lu

I loved Lu’s Young Elite series, but I found this final book a lot weirder than the others in a way that doesn’t quite fit.  I had to keep reminding myself that we had already established their magical world, but somehow the mystical realm of death stuff felt out of place.  I also wish that Adelina’s villainy had stuck more – the book never could quite commit to her descent into a lust for power and control.

fish-in-a-tree-335x512Fish in a Tree by Lynda Mullaly Hunt

A cute middle grade book about a dyslexic girl whose new teacher manages to understand her and show her her greatness.  It is simplistic but lovely, and a great book for kids to learn the value of differences.  Definitely something I would have pushed hard when I was a children’s librarian.

17927395A Court of Mist and Fury by Sarah J. Maas

This is an excellent sequel to a mediocre book.  I cannot describe how thrilled I was when the stereotypical romance from A Court of Thorns and Roses was revealed to be not protective…but abusive.  Feyre’s growing affections for Rhysand make total sense because he is a feminist fantasy:  an extremely powerful, intelligent, witty man who only wants to let his loved one make her own choices and be her best self.  The plot is non-stop, the romance is sizzling, and I am mad that I have to wait several more months for the next book!

28763485The Sun is Also a Star by Nicola Yoon

This unrealistic but engrossing romance details the one day in which a Korean guy and a Jamaican girl meet and fall in love before she is deported away from New York City.  I rolled my eyes at the love-at-first-site gimic quite a bit, but the book won major points for its unique POV-changing chapters.  We see things from both protagonists’ points of view, but also from parents and the guy who almost ran into them.  Because of that, the story is both tiny (one day) but also broad (so many people affected their meeting).

635797417603710039-laststar-coverThe Last Star by Rick Yancey

The final book in the 5th Wave series is a worse disappointment than the LOST series finale.  So many questions were left unanswered, and some of the answers were so convoluted and ridiculous that I didn’t even try to understand.  I found this to be a very unsatisfying conclusion to what started as a thrilling series.

18263530A Time to Dance by Padma Venkatraman

Another novel in verse, this time about an Indian girl who loses and regains her dream of dancing after her foot is amputated.  It’s an inspiring story that feels both diverse and universal.  I really liked the story’s assertion that rather than ruining a person’s creativity, pain and loss can actually deepen and enrich a person’s artwork.

9780545151337_zoomThe Last Summer of the Death Warriors by Francisco X. Stork

This is SUCH a great book.  It feels light even though it covers heavy topics – Pancho is an orphaned teenager who wants to find and kill the man who murdered his mentally disabled sister, but who then finds new meaning in life when he is befriended by a guy with brain cancer.  Yikes, right?  But despite the morbid plot points, this book is so uplifting and inspiring.  That’s the point though: in a world of death and pain, we can still choose to pursue life and love every day that we are given.

What I Read | November 2016

Eight books this month, ranging from YA fantasy adventures to historical scandals in early Hollywood.  Oh, and I finally read The Little Prince, which was a LONG time coming.


anotherbrooklyn-hc-cAnother Brooklyn by Jacqueline Woodson

Woodson’s prose reads like poetry, which helps make her story more palatable.  I mean, it’s GOOD, but it is a devastating look at growing up female, black, and poor.  There is an thread of hope throughout, though, which left me feeling like the book was short and beautiful.  The main thing I took from Woodson’s novel is that I need to be more intentional about including diverse authors in my reading list.

26109391Highly Illogical Behavior by John Corey Whaley

The setup of this book made me assume that it would deal with its central issues of agoraphobia and panic disorders with casual flippancy, but I was so mistaken!  Everything was handled respectfully (and entertainingly, since it is, after all, a novel).  I really liked that the story revealed how messed up everyone was, whether they were diagnosable or not.  Well, except for Clark.  Just like our two main characters, I also fell in love with him.

the-little-princeThe Little Prince by Antoine de Saint Exupery

This story has existed in the periphery of my experience for years and years, but I was never interested enough to sit down and read it.  Until this month, when I bought a cute little hardback copy on Santorini and immediately read the whole thing.  It is so sweet, so sad, and so poignant.  I love the emphasis on childish creativity and love, and how valuable it is to cling to those things even as we become adults.  I especially loved the story of the fox and how we are responsible for the things (and people) we tame.

9780142180679_ScandalsofCl-CVF.inddScandals of Classic Hollywood by Anne Helen Petersen

It is a testament to Petersen’s writing capabilities that I have almost no knowledge of classic Hollywood or the actors and actresses that dominated tabloids in the 1910s – 1950s, but I still really enjoyed this book!  That because the book is not about the people specifically; it’s a fascinating look at culture, fame, and changing societal mores.  It asks why one person’s scandal was forgiven while a similar scandal ruined someone else’s career.  I could easily imagine modern equivalents to these situations, and I found myself wishing she would write a follow-up book!

annihilation_by_jeff_vandermeerAnnihilation by Jeff Vandermeer

I bought this at the recommendation of a bookshop worker, and wow was it weird.  It was genuinely creepy because everything was OFF in this indescribable way.  I was so unnerved by it that I could only read it during the daylight hours, but I had to keep reading because it’s story was so compelling.  I had decided to buy it because I was intrigued by its cast of characters including only women, and this remained its high point for me.

unknownThe Hundred-Foot Journey by Richard C. Morais

I wanted this book to be about the merging of two cultures (Indian and French) and how food brings people together.  It was not about that.  It was about how an Indian prodigy chef managed to rise to fame despite his humble background.  Which, now that I phrase it that way, is a compelling story.  Unfortunately, it was not the story I expected, so I found myself increasingly uninterested.

51t5lwxhdhlMagnus Chase: The Hammer of Thor by Rick Riordan

I am continuously amazed at how Riordan manages to take the same formula and finds ways to make it fresh.  I am especially amazed that the way he chose to make the Magnus Chase series fresh is by ramping up his level of representation.  This book is phenomenal, boasting a five person main cast that includes a practicing Muslim woman, a formerly homeless teenage boy whose talents skew feminine, a black dwarf devoted to fashion, a deaf elf, and a transgender/genderfluid person.  I LOVE that Riordan decided to take the fantasy trope of shape-shifting and use that to explicitly talk about gender fluidity.  That is total genius.  Oh, and the plot is super fun, I love how Loki is both very evil and very victimized, I love the giants and their illusions, I love the epic wedding showdown.  More, please!

the_thread_webThe Thread by Victoria Hislop

This novel tells the history of Thessaloniki specifically, and Greece generally, through the story of one family.  It helped me SO much to piece together all the holidays I’ve seen celebrated and names I’ve heard dropped while living in Athens for a year.  Finally everything was put together in a cohesive narrative, and I understand more than ever the pride and pessimism that makes up the stereotypical Greek mindset.  A lot has happened in this country in the last century, and I enjoyed reading its history within a novel.  Great sneaking education!

What I Read | October 2016

Yikes!  I only read five books this month, and two of them were re-reads.  But what I lack in quantity I think make up in quality.  Well, mostly.


51j10qkqfsl-_sy344_bo1204203200_The Girl with the Lower Back Tattoo by Amy Schumer

I adore Amy Schumer, and her memoir only validated my opinion.  Her humor manages to be equal parts raunchy and thoughtful.  This is exactly the tone I like to see when a celebrity gets real.  And boy, does Schumer get real.  I loved her honesty about her experiences with domestic violence and rape – it’s obvious the topics are painful to her, but she desperately wants her fans to learn from her experiences.  I also really appreciated the way she separated her normal self from her stage self, letting us see the things that are her personality versus her performance.

27Neither Here Nor There by Bill Bryson

I re-read my favorite of Bryson’s books, and as expected, it rekindled my “visit every European country at once!!” fever.   Continue reading

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!

What I Read | August 2016

From a Russian classic to a dragon-centric fantasy to inspirational non-fiction…my reading tastes were diverse this month!


theidiotThe Idiot by Fyodor Dostoevsky

I started this in July at the request of one of my new friends.  It’s her favorite novel of all time, and while I can’t claim that for myself, I was really impressed with it.  I’ve always felt scared of the dense Russian novels, but I found The Idiot to be a quick read for 700+ pages of stories and psychological analyses.  It did take me a while to acclimate myself to upper class Russian society in the 1800s, but there was enough common humanity to keep to me going.  It’s also pretty depressing, so fair warning.

Harry_Potter_and_the_Cursed_Child_Special_Rehearsal_Edition_Book_CoverHarry Potter and the Cursed Child by J. K. Rowling

I loved this!  It in no way compares to the novels, but I never wanted it to.  The screenplay is a quick way to jump back into the world of Harry Potter, and I so enjoyed watching Harry struggle once more (he can save the world, but he doesn’t know how to parent a child – seems accurate).  I also loved Draco getting more development and the adorable relationship between Albus and Scorpius.  Perhaps it really is HP fanfiction, but I love HP fanfiction, so that is not an insult in the slightest to my mind.

220px-HmsdragonHis Majesty’s Dragon by Naomi Novik

After reading this alt-history novel about dragons during the Napoleonic War, I am 100% that dragons are cats with wings.  Obviously, this means I am SUPER into a story about the intense bond between human and dragon, though I felt this first novel was more interesting for the potential it showed for future stories than its own entertainment value.

ThroneofjadeThrone of Jade by Naomi Novik

Speaking of future stories…this is the second Temeraire novel, and as I suspected, it was even better than the first!  This book follows Laurence and Temeraire on a long sea voyage to China, and it’s basically just one long “you two shouldn’t be together” “YES WE SHOULD” argument, which is exactly the sort of quasi-romantic co-dependent relationship I’m easily invested in.  Can’t wait to read more!

6415185Lost to the West: The Forgotten Byzantine Empire by Lars Brownsworth

Wow.  This non-fiction book about the history of the Byzantine Empire was SO engrossing, mostly because it is person centered rather than date centered.  I totally fell in love with General Belisarius and want to read even more about his life.  I also fell in love with the Byzantine Empire itself, to the point that I actually started crying when it finally fell and the Roman empire came to an official end (1,000 after its western counterpart).

710391The Story of My Life by Casanova

I was so excited about Casanova’s memoir.  It was super entertaining, and I really enjoyed reading about a sex-positive guy who seemed to be shameless in a really healthy way…until I got to a part where he participated in a gang rape and assured his readers that the woman really liked it.  At that point I felt physically ill for days, because I genuinely felt so betrayed.  I couldn’t read any more, and I don’t really care to find out what he did after that, because I doubt it was “felt remorse.”

34352-1Salt of the Sea by Ruta Sepetys

I didn’t enjoy this quite as much as Sepetys’s other YA novels, but it was still a quick and interesting read.  She follows four people (with their own perspective and voice) to the harrowing voyage of the ship Wilhelm Gustloff…a true event that deserves for more attention than it usually gets.  I was mostly impressed, however, by how she showed that for many people in Germany/Prussia/Poland/etc, neither the Axis or Allied powers were good guys.  Death, rape, and property possession was inevitable, no matter which side won.

prototypPrototype by Jonathan Martin

I’ve already written a couple blog posts based on how inspired I was by this non-fiction Christian book.  It’s a fantastic reminder that transformation only comes when we are totally confident in God’s deep love for us.  I especially loved the way he described living in God’s love – that it’s found in those moments when we feel most free and creative, not when we’re hunkered in a room reading our Bibles (well, maybe it is for you, but not me).  It’s a very encouraging and uplifting book that I highly recommend to anyone who wants to deepen their understanding of God.


Did you read anything this month that was especially amazing (or especially awful)?  Leave a comment below and let me know!

What I Read | July 2016

I couldn’t give up book reviews entirely!  I still don’t want to write individual reviews for everything I read, but I need to have a list somewhere of the things I’ve read so that when someone asks for a recommendation, I’ll know where to go.  I think a monthly compilation review will be a good compromise!


22544764Uprooted by Naomi Novik

I LOVED this book.  It has enough familiar tropes to feel comfortable (ordinary girl is actually a powerful magician, unlikely romance develops between two opposites) but adds some really creative twists to the world-building and plot.  I was so impressed by Novik’s work that I immediately went to the Kindle store to buy her dragon series.  This is not a part of that, but I have a feeling Novik is going to be an author I can trust.

mediumThe Girl From Everywhere by Heidi Heilig

This book is almost the opposite of Uprooted.  It is incredibly unique (girl lives on a pirate ship that can travel throughout time and space with the help of special maps) but unfortunately devolved into common tropes.  I am TIRED of unnecessary love triangles.  This seems like the beginning of a series, and I would be super into it if it weren’t for that pesky trope.  It just.  The book didn’t need it!  She’s already dealing with a relationship with her dad and the fear of being snuffed out of existence because of time travel!  One love interest is enough.

6607270-MLove’s Executioner by Irvin D. Yalom

My counseling professor recommended this book years ago, but I only just got around to reading it.  Dr. Yalom describes ten of his clients’ stories, which is interesting enough.  But he also goes into a lot of detail about how he felt about each person – the attractions, the frustrations, the disgust – and how he worked through those feelings in order to work with them.  I think this book would be interesting to most people, but it’s undoubtedly for counselors who might benefit from a behind-the-scenes look at a successful counselor’s methods.


Not many for July, but I’m 300 pages into Dostoevsky’s The Idiot, so…hopefully that counts as enough of an explanation

The Wrath and the Dawn by Renee Ahdieh

18798983I thought this book was a retelling of A Thousand and One Nights, but I just saw that the book jacket actually says it’s “inspired” by the classic Middle Eastern story.  That makes much more sense, because the plot of “woman saves her life by telling the wife-killing king a story every night” only lasts for, like, three nights.  Then they fall in love!!!

Which is my main problem with the story:  too much insta-love.  Khalid, the ruler of Khorasan, apparently falls in love with Shahrzad at first sight because she is honest.  And, okay, whatever, maybe I can believe that.  But then Shahrzad, whose only purpose in becoming his wife is to murder him and therefore avenge her murdered best friend, falls in love with him!!  After only a couple weeks!  Because she realizes he is secretive rather than a total monster.  It just didn’t fly for me.

But the world was incredibly interesting, and even though it was unbelievable, the dynamic between Khalid and Shahrzad was super compelling.  So after a few chapters I just decided to accept the fact that they were entangled in a forbidden love and enjoy it….and I did!  It’s a very enjoyable book about murderous plots, curses forcing good people to do bad things, and Love Conquering All.  Sometimes you just wanna turn your brain off and enjoy a good emotional story.

It’s a series, though, which I didn’t know going in.  I honestly don’t know if I’ll read the second book.  It feels like even more Forced Obstacles will be thrown in their path, and I already got what I wanted out of the story: confessed love and cute kisses.  Who knows!  By the time it comes out, maybe I’ll be ready to suspend my disbelief again.

I do know I want more Middle Eastern settings in books, though.  More desert royalty and extravagant costumes, please!   Continue reading