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 | 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.

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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.

Morning Star by Pierce Brown

18966806Morning Star is the third book in the Red Rising series.  Check out my reviews of Red Rising and Golden Son before reading this one!

Pierce Brown is a genius.  His science-fiction-solar-system-Hunger-Games trilogy about social hierarchy, revolution, and loyalty is SO GOOD.  And so complex, which is why I was grateful that at the beginning of this final installment, he offered a recap of the previous two books and rundown of the major characters.  But even though there were a lot of details I had forgotten, I was immediately sucked back into the drama of Darrow’s life as he tries to lead a revolt against the seemingly all-powerful Golds without abandoning his morals in the process.

That’s what I liked most about Brown’s series, I think.  It’s morally complex, and it doesn’t shirk away from the reality that in order to take down a corrupt system, sometimes you have to become a little corrupt yourself.  Darrow does things he isn’t proud of, sacrifices people he shouldn’t, and makes hard decisions without fully knowing if they were the right choice.  But he wrestles with these experiences, and he let’s himself be hurt by what happens, and THAT, I think, is what makes him so admirable.  He doesn’t try to pretend that the ends justify the means.  Sometimes the means are really, really, awful.  He doesn’t sugar-coat things, but he keep going and trying and doing the best he can.

The other thing I really love about Brown’s series is that I legitimately never know what will happen next.  He is one of the most creative writers I know, and he packs a TON of action into each book.  There were twists that made me excited and twists that made me furious, but every single one had me turning pages faster and faster to find out what would happen next.  Although I HATED some of Brown’s decisions (WHY did *censored* have to die!?) I really admired the fact that Brown created a universe where no one felt safe.  The war felt real and dangerous, and I legitimately didn’t know who would survive until the end.

But there was an end!  And it was a very satisfying conclusion to a wonderfully entertaining and thoughtful series.  I can’t wait to see what else Brown has up his sleeves for future stories.   Continue reading

The Martian by Andy Weir

18007564There is nothing I can say about The Martian that hasn’t already been said.  It’s as good as the hype!  It’s a technically dense book that somehow makes mechanical engineering exciting.  It’s an survival story that captures the loneliness and desperation of space travel.  It’s a rescue operation that builds the tension to the breaking point over and over again.

It’s so fun!  Mark Watney’s personality is what elevates the novel from boring science-speak to a touching story about one man’s endurance and humor in the face of oblivion.  His logs are funny, occasionally irreverent, and alternately joyous or devastated.  When the book opens up the world so that we get perspectives from NASA and his crew on Hermes, it gets even better!

Honestly, the story is disorienting.  I don’t know enough about space engineering to know if anything he says is accurate, but it sure SOUNDS possible.  So why aren’t we on Mars yet?  Let’s agree to put Andy Weir in charge of NASA – nothing could go wrong with that plan.   Continue reading

Armada by Ernest Cline

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The Scorpion Rules by Erin Bow

What a strange book!  It just…didn’t do anything that I expected it to do. 518Eq5pqzcL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_ I was anticipating a Hunger Games-style revolution, but…nope.  And I think I love it?  Because it was so unexpected, and I really like when books surprise me.  But because it’s outside the established narrative, my insides are all confused!  Probably you should also read it and draw your own conclusions, but here are a few thoughts anyway:

The setting is awesome.  400+ years in the future, an AI named Talis has taken over control of the planet, ruling with a semi-benevolent but iron hand.  To keep peace between nations (in a world where water is scarce so tensions run high), all rulers must send a child to specific Preceptures where they will learn to run nations…and be held hostage.  If a nation goes to war, their child is murdered.

Greta is a princess hostage, and until Elian comes, she never bothers to question the system.  It’s all she knows.  But then she begins to question things, and this is where I thought things would be typical, and they would revolt and start a new world order.  But…everything EXCEPT that happened.  There’s a revolution, of sorts, and also torture, stalemates, negotiating, AIs, and a LOT of ambiguity.  This is the book’s strong suit, I think.

Talis (who steps into the story about halfway through) is, like I said earlier, a brutal but semi-benevolent AI ruling the world.  He’s also hilarious and snarky, and I couldn’t help but like him while being terrified of his every move.  Then there’s the Abbot, an AI who runs the Prefecture and tortures students, but who saves Greta and is kind of a good guy?  And the humans!  They’re a mess!  They also torture people, hold people hostage, and murder people.  So….in the question of whether humans or AI should rule the world, this book answers with a resounding “¯\_(ツ)_/¯.”  And I like that.  Also I really like Talis, did I mention that?  Ambiguous AI are my new interest, apparently.   Continue reading

Winter by Marissa Meyer

Winter-finalOkay, this might be awful, but I wasn’t blown away by Winter, the last installment in The Lunar Chronicles.  I think maybe it was too long?  All the action takes place on Luna, but there’s just so much back and forth and splitting up and reuniting, and…I don’t know!  I liked it, but I wasn’t desperate to read it the way I expected.

The characters remain amazing.  Meyer has found a way to make her heroines and heroes both strong and vulnerable.  The women are especially powerful – the final confrontation between Cinder and Levana was an epic standoff…between two women!  That doesn’t happen nearly enough.  I also really liked Winter, and how her mental breakdowns were viewed as weakness by ignorant bad guys, but as strength by those who know her.  And Thorne remains the dashing snarky hero of my heart.   Continue reading