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.

 

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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.

51qiSnm2q1L._SX329_BO1,204,203,200_

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.

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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 | APRIL 2017

28092902Notes from a Big Country by Bill Bryson

Bryson, known mainly for his European travelogues, here documents his return to the USA through a series of newspaper essays.  Having tasted life in Europe, his musings about his home country are mostly exasperated.  Occasionally, usually at the prodding of his British wife, he remembers something lovely about the United States, which just goes to show that it’s easiest to love greener grass elsewhere than to love what we were given.

NorseMythology_Hardback_1473940163Norse Mythology by Neil Gaiman

The first creation stories were not especially amazing, and I almost lost hope for this book!  But once we dive into character-driven narratives, there is a distinct Gaiman-sparkle that elevated the book and helped the story feel more cohesive.  I’m becoming more and more interested in Norse mythology, especially because the gods seem especially unfair, and unrepentantly so.

51nBwU944QL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_We Should Hang Out Sometime by Josh Sundquist

A true memoir of one guy’s journey of Not Dating, and how this could have happened.  It’s funny, and there is meaningful growth, which is good because I spent most of the book yelling “you’re self-sabotaging!” at him until he heard me and said so himself towards the end.  The premise is even more fun because he frames each story through the lens of a scientific hypothesis to be proved or disproved.  It was fun to see that he was mostly wrong, and had to learn that we see what we want and/or fear, not what is really there.

28588459Still Life with Tornado by A.S. King

King is one of my all time favorite authors because she walks a fascinating “is this mental illness OR magic OR reality” line that she refuses to clarify.  This book in particular dealt with a subject I haven’t really seen represented before.  King confidently asserts that abuse, big or small, endured or witnessed, is traumatizing and deserves to be acknowledged, addressed, and healed.  Through the lens of a teenager girl meeting other-aged versions of herself.  Fun!

25528801Exit, Pursued by a Bear by E.K. Johnston

This book is a little more PSA-y, telling the “ideal” rape scenario in which the victim knows it’s not her fault and is believed and supported by everyone.  It’s not very realistic, but it’s very encouraging to see a future to work toward.  Secondarily, I was very impressed that Johnston made me question my cheerleader-stereotypes, and by the end I really admired the sport.

51vR3C-ZWpL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_The Hired Girl by Laura Amy Schlitz

I don’t usually like books written in the form of diary entries, but Schlitz pulled the form off wonderfully.  The break between entries, and how the time in between is explained either in a rush or with embarrassment, really added to the narrative.  It’s set in the early 1900s, and the journey from country (which felt vaguely Little House on the Prairie) to city (which felt modern…ish) highlighted just how drastically technology changed people’s lives during that time period.  It was a fun read!

27230789Honestly Ben by Bill Konigberg

This is a sequel to Openly Straight, now told from Ben’s perspective.  And thank goodness, because Ben is so good!  He’s so lovely!  He’s thoughtful and deliberate, and we all need a Ben in our lives.  There was also so much good gender and sexuality talk going on in this book, with a gender fluid character who is almost immediately embraced by their all-male high school (if only!) and a main character who is something like demisexual…but not really?  I hope there’s a third book from Hannah’s perspective.

41d41DLmZwL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_Chasing Francis by Ian Morgan Cron

I LOVE St. Francis, so reading a fictional book about a Protestant pastor who goes to Assisi and also falls in love with the saint was right up my alley.  I mean, it’s history/travel/theology all in one!  It was actually a little heavy-handed for a novel in the way that it presented a model for how the Church could be remade, but I found it quite inspirational.  Definitely a book for the postmodern mystic/skeptic.

25665016The Memory of Light by Francisco X. Stork

A seriously uplifting book about four teenagers struggling with mental disorders (rage, depression, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia) inside a mental health hospital.  I loved how they helped each other in their brokenness WITH their brokenness.  Stork’s amazing ability to write about depression and suicide attempts is apparently based on his personal experience, but his ability to write female teenagers believably is all skill.

 

 

 

 

 

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!