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

The Rose Society by Marie Lu

23846013I LOVED The Young Elites, and while its sequel delivered more of what I loved (young female protagonist with an abusive past joins a group of heroes and becomes…the villain), it didn’t quite captivate me in the same way.  I think this was, for me, because Adelina’s villainy got REAL.  Her attraction to darkness and power are beginning to overwhelm her, and while in the first book I could understand and approve of her actions….this time around I wanted to pull her out of the book and sit her down for a counseling session.  Which was totally the point, so job well done, Marie Lu!

Now that I’m thinking about it, I guess I really DID like how Adelina slides to the dark side.  She kills her enemies in defense…and then as punishment…and then pre-emptively so that they cannot hurt her later.  This is very smart!  But it’s also pretty evil, and I liked how Lu explored the moral complexity of power.  I also loved Adelina’s sister Violetta.  She’s the “good girl” who doesn’t participate in evil…but she also doesn’t stop Adelina and tacitly gives approval with her silence.

And then there’s Magiano, who is a DARLING.  He can mimic any other Elite’s powers, making him crazy powerful.  He’s joyful and funny and sweet…but he’s totally willing to kill people to help Adelina take the throne.  So often in YA books, the group of heroes somehow manages to overthrow corrupt authorities by knocking people out or maybe killing just one Very Bad Person.  It was really interesting to see Adelina’s group of “heroes” unflinchingly doing whatever was necessary to accomplish their goals without making them all simplistically evil.

It’s only later, as they look back on what their actions have done (to others, to themselves) that they realize perhaps they went too far…

Okay, I definitely talked myself into giving The Rose Society a higher score!  This is such a unique series, and I can’t wait to see what happens next (even though I assume it will be awful and will make me cry).   Continue reading

The Young Elites by Marie Lu

9780147511683WOW, I am in love!  With a book, no surprise.  Short Story Long recently reviewed The Young Elites, and at the end she said:

Recommendation: Buy. If you’re looking for a fantasy story about the villain, definitely try The Young Elites.

I didn’t KNOW I was looking for a fantasy story about the villain, but immediately I realized that of course I was.  And it was SO GOOD.  I enjoyed Marie Lu’s Legend trilogy, but honestly, I didn’t think it was extraordinarily memorable.  Not so with The Young Elites, which fascinated me from the first chapter all the way through the tantalizing epilogue.

Adelina is a mess.  Her mother died young, she suffered through a disease that left her with only one eye, and her father is incredibly abusive – verbally, mentally, and physically.  Her horrific childhood has understandably aligned her strongly to the emotions of fear and rage (which in this fantasy world means she gains power from them).  What made me fall in love with this book is how her past is not something that is easily overcome – instead, I mean, it kind of overcomes her.

The fantasy world is amazing and interesting and engrossing, but I was so especially enthralled by the psychological aspects of Adelina’s journey.  She loathes her father…but she still kind of hopes that someday he will love her.  She desperately wants to rise above his low opinion of her, but she finds a weird sort of solace in sinking to his low expectations.  She wants to be hopeful and trusting, but she is more comfortable with fear and anger, and hey, she can use them AGAINST other people before they’re used against her, so…that’s something new, huh?

Adelina’s not the only psychologically interesting character.  Enzo is a fascinating male lead – exiled prince seeking to reclaim his throne…but unlike most YA heroes, he has no problem murdering innocent people to get there.  But despite his ruthlessness, he seems to appreciate and value Adelina, though their relationship is nicely twisty.

And then there’s Rafaele, who is a more feminine Finnick (from The Hunger Games series) …as in they are both forced into prostitution but play it off like a choice.  He is polite, sweet, and so helpful…which makes him SUPER interesting when he promises to protect Adelina and then immediately tells Enzo to kill her.

Anyway, what I mean is, everyone is a mess!  They could very easily be described as awful people…and yet I love them!  We’re meant to root for them, even while their actions are questionable at best.  I love this kind of story that forces me outside a typical plot and makes me step into the shoes of people I would not want to interact with in real life.  Or maybe I would!  No.  Maybe?   Continue reading

Airborn by Kenneth Oppel

120Tragedy averted!  For the first third of Airborn, I thought I’d maybe found the first Kenneth Oppel book I didn’t like.  While airships are always amazing, I just wasn’t hooked by Matt’s story.  Not even the recklessly intelligent Kate could get me further than: oh, okay.  BUT THEN PIRATES.  Sky pirates!  And shipwrecks on deserted islands that are not quite as deserted as previously assumed!  AND CLOUD CATS, which are like dragons, but with cat features!  It turns out Oppel couldn’t have tailored a book more to my tastes.

As always, I really like the way Oppel balances a kid-friendly innocent-seeming world with some really disturbing reality.  Death happens, and not only to those who deserve it.  The good guys are pretty uniformly good, but the bad guys…are not entirely bad.  I really liked getting to see into the daily life of Pirate Captain Szpirglas, although let’s be real – a charming sociopath would have been fascinating to me no matter what.

Airborn has science, adventure, exploration, and romance bound up in a really fun slightly fantasy world.  I’m desperate to read the next one in the series, but my library doesn’t have it available for Kindle checkouts!  Agggh!

Book Jacket

Matt Cruse is a cabin boy on the Aurora, a huge airship that sails hundreds of feet above the ocean, ferrying wealthy passengers from city to city. It is the life Matt’s always wanted; convinced he’s lighter than air, he imagines himself as buoyant as the hydrium gas that powers his ship. One night he meets a dying balloonist who speaks of beautiful creatures drifting through the skies. It is only after Matt meets the balloonist’s granddaughter that he realizes that the man’s ravings may, in fact, have been true, and that the creatures are completely real and utterly mysterious.

In a swashbuckling adventure reminiscent of Jules Verne and Robert Louis Stevenson, Kenneth Oppel, author of the best-selling Silverwing trilogy, creates an imagined world in which the air is populated by transcontinental voyagers, pirates, and beings never before dreamed of by the humans who sail the skies.

Release Date:  February 2004

The Boundless by Kenneth Oppel

17846771I am totally in love with Oppel’s writing style.  I will probably say that at the beginning of every review of his book, because I keep thinking something will break the spell, but every single book is amazing!  He is fantastic at creating worlds that sit just this side of reality…everything is recognizable until it isn’t.  Whether it’s a sasquatch or a truly creepy hag or a painting that grants immortality – Oppel keeps us guessing about which ones are real, and which ones are imaginary.  I may be hasty in proclaiming this, but I think it’s my new favorite kind of fantasy.

In addition to the awesome overarching setting, the plot is completely fascinating.  A cross-Canada train ride full of nighttime adventures running the roofs and daytime performances with a circus troupe, every single page is exciting.  Will and Maren and Mr. Dorian are great – another one of Oppel’s talents is in creating characters that are neither good or bad, but somewhere in between.  The other circus performers are super interesting, and I wish we’d gotten even more of them.  The danger feels real, the stakes are high, and now I really want to go on another cross-country train trip of my own.  Continue reading

Such Wicked Intent by Kenneth Oppel

13063098One of my favorite things about the first Victor Frankenstein book, This Dark Endeavor, was how its adventures and mysticism refused to be categorized as science, faith, or magic.  The events that transpired could have been the result of any of the three philosophies, and I really enjoyed wondering what was “true.”  That all changed with Such Wicked Intent.  There’s no longer any doubt that the supernatural exists, and can be tampered with.

While I’m sad at the loss of ambiguity, I’m also SO INTO the world of the dead that Oppel created.   Continue reading

The Rest of Us Just Live Here by Patrick Ness

nessI really enjoyed this book – a satire on all the “Chosen One” YA books, where teenage angst is explained via the metaphor of soul-eating ghosts or romantic vampires.  In The Rest of Us Just Live Here, it’s only the indie kids who have to deal with the supernatural:  Mikey and his friends are struggling to survive their very realistic ordeals:  anxiety attacks and OCD compulsions, eating disorders, overbearing parents, and….okay, so Jared isn’t so normal.  He’s a gay God of the Cats, and he is awesome.

Ness starts each chapter with a summary of what crazy shenanigans the indie kids are getting up to–what the plot of a stereotypical YA book would be.  For instance, Chapter 7 begins:

Chapter the seventh, in which Satchel and the rest of the indie kids share their grief for Kerouac by throwing stones soulfully into a nearby lake; wandering off on her own, Satchel takes the amulet in her hand and has a vision of the single most handsome boy she’s ever seen in her life; Dylan, finding her, takes the opportunity to kiss her, and though his lips taste of honey and vegan patchouli, she pushes him away, revealing what the amulet told her; “The Immortals are here,” she says.

And then the chapter is actually about Mikey visiting his grandma in a nursing home and coping with the fact that Alzheimer’s is horrifying.  It’s a neat set-up, where every once in a while Satchel will stumble through the main plot on her wild quest, but Mikey, Meredith, Henna, and Jared are unconcerned.  They’ve got their own issues to deal with.

Mikey’s family is really something special (in the YA world).  I loved the depth of their dysfunction.  His dad is a barely functioning alcoholic, his mom is an ambitious politician, his older sister died for three minutes after her anorexia put her into cardiac arrest, and his younger sister is obsessed with boy bands.  Mikey himself has an anxiety disorder.  I really loved that, although there were hints of his parent’s underlying love for him, relationships weren’t resolved tidily by the end of the book.  The best thing for him really is to leave for college and put some distance between himself and his parents.

I also loved how Ness dealt with Mikey’s anxiety.  It was crushing to see him get trapped in loops of washing his hands.  It was reassuring to see his friends help him in his moments of weakness.  And (especially as a counselor) it was awesome to see him admit he needed professional help and started seeing a therapist.

I really enjoyed The Rest of Us Just Live Here.  It was a great reminder that even those without cosmic responsibility have an important life….and that if you’re ever going to have a character who is a minor deity, he should always be a God of Cats.   Continue reading