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 | 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 | 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!

The Nest by Kenneth Oppel

the-nest-9781481432320_hrWhaaaat a weird book.  Now that I’m done with it, I guess it’s about a pre-teen with some severe mental disorders – anxiety for sure, but also possibly schizophrenia.  It is utterly disorienting to be in his brain, especially for me, because my reading habits predisposed me to think that this was fantastical.  I’m still not entirely sure it wasn’t.

Steve, the aforementioned pre-teen, has a history of anxiety and OCD-like symptoms.  They have taken a turn for the worse ever since his parents had an unhealthy baby that may or may not survive.  He’s always had nightmares, but now his dreams include a seemingly benevolent wasp who promises to replace his baby sibling….if only Steve will help them by opening the window and letting them in so they can do their work.

If that sounds ominous, IT REALLY IS.  Now, I have a negative tolerance for scary stuff, so perhaps I am overreacting.  But his dreams and the subtly shifts in the wasp’s tone from understanding to demanding really creeped me out.  Oppel does a phenomenal job allowing for Just Enough reality to make sense of Steve’s hallucinations…but then there are times it really does seem the wasps are relaying information to him while he’s asleep!

It’s super weird.  But it’s also super short, so I highly recommend you set aside a couple hours to read it and let me know how you made sense of it all.   Continue reading