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!

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

A Hero at the End of the World by Erin Claiborne

If you’re me, there’s no way to read this book without thinking about Harry Potter.  And I think that’s the easiest sell!  What if Harry Potter, the Boy Who Lived, didn’t actually go through with killing Voldemort?  What if the prophecy was wrong, and Ron was the one to kill the Dark Lord?  A Hero at the End of the World is the absurd and hilarious followup to that situation.

Claiborne clearly delights in fantasy, and her parody of a wizarding Britain was the perfect blend of skewered detail.  Her world makes sense, even though the bad guy is named Duff Slan, and the dark magic is called Zaubernegativum.  It’s all ridiculous, and I loved it.

If you’ve read enough middle grade or YA fantasy to know the familiar tropes and plots, you will probably enjoy A Hero at the End of the World.  It is a great palate cleanser before diving back into the familiar world of heroes, magic, and the end of the world.  Continue reading