What I Read | NOVEMBER 2017

Wow, is it hard to go from working at a library to living in a foreign country.  From overabundance to scarcity!  Since my time is ending in Greece, I’ve decided to actual tackle the shelf of To Be Read books that I kept passing over.  This is actually pretty satisfying, though the going is slower.

Novel_the_blind_assassin_coverThe Blind Assassin by Margaret Atwood

This book was immediately intriguing, flashing between an old woman remembering her past and an at-first ambiguous meeting of lovers discussing science fiction plots.  It’s a dense novel, delving into generational family relationships, complications, and regrets.  Because it’s Atwood, the story consistently reveals the underbelly of what it means to be a woman during the early 1900s.  The middle dragged a little for me, but the beginning and end were totally engrossing.

71epnYVGumLThe King Must Die by Mary Renault

A historical novel focused on the life of mythical Theseus, I was ALL about this book.  It covers only the first half of his life (I accidentally read the second book so long ago I was writing full reviews).  Theseus travels to Athens and then Crete, where he lives in the Palace of Knossos (I WENT THERE) and survives by becoming a champion bull-leaper.  Renault is a master at creating believable history out of mythology, and I am continually impressed by how she allows events to unfold in such a way that they can be read as natural events or godly interventions.  Very fun read for Greek mythology nerds!

51zEfKBgrdLAbraham by Bruce Feiler

A Jewish man goes to the Middle East to talk to leaders of the three great monotheistic faiths – Judaism, Christianity, and Islam – about the man that unites them all:  Abraham.  This is an excellent book for people who like history, culture, and/or theology, delving into sacred texts, oral traditions, and how people have twisted stories to suit their purposes throughout time.

220px-The-lost-city-zThe Lost City of Z by David Grann

A modern day journalist ventures into the Amazon in search of a mythical city and the man who disappeared while seeking it.  It’s more of a biography than a travel memoir, but Colonel Fawcett is a fascinating man.  I loved reading about the early 1900s and all the explorers trying to survive the Amazon rainforest.  Although a lot of it is horrific, and is portrayed as such, Fawcett himself is a man before his time, insisting upon pacifism when interacting with indigenous tribes.  So many people kept returning to the Amazon despite enormous difficulties, and this book does a wonderful job of conveying the enticing mystery that the forest creates simply by existing.

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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.

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.

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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.

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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 | 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!

What I Read | JANUARY 2017

In January, I left my beloved library behind in the States, which was very sad.  But I also returned to twelve new books that I bought at a Christmas bazaar before leaving Athens last year, so it all balanced out (not really, twelve books does not equal infinite library access).

51t0npdw14l-_sy344_bo1204203200_We Should All Be Feminists by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

This tiny book is adapted from a TedX Talk, and boy is it effective.  I mean, I guess she was preaching to the choir, but I found her balance of personal anecdotes and academic research very persuasive.  I would love to know if someone who is not a feminist could read this and come away unmoved.

hpHarry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone by J.K. Rowling

Everyone already knows how awesome this book is, but do you know how amazing the illustrated edition is?  It has the full text printed like a children’s fairy tale book, and just holding the heavy thing in my hands made the whole story feel important and magical in an really evocative way.  The artwork is stunning, both familiar and unique.  I was especially impressed with how the kids looked like actual 11-year-olds.  I cannot wait to see what they do once they publish the fourth book in this format – will it come in two pieces or require a forklift?

the-geography-of-genius-9781451691658_hr1The Geography of Genius by Eric Weiner

This book combines three of my favorite things:  travel, history, and sociology.  Weiner visits several cities that were the birthplace of geniuses.  Some are obvious, like ancient Athens or Florence during the Renaissance.  Others I was unaware of, like Edinburgh and Hangzhou.  The whole journey is in pursuit of what creates genius, abolishing myths (the lone genius) and positing new theories (genius requires diversity, disorder, and discernment).

scrappy-little-nobody-9781501117206_lgScrappy Little Nobody by Anna Kendrick

The simplest recommendation is this:  if you like Anna Kendrick, you will like this book.  It sounds like her (especially if, like me, you listen to her read the audiobook version), both very funny and often insightful.  It is vaguely interesting as a child actor story, but that’s not its real purpose.  Instead, she’s doing what she does best:  entertaining us with stories.

27362503It Ends With Us by Colleen Hoover

WOW.  This book was recommended to me by a librarian friend, and it completely blew me away.  It’s all about breaking the cycle of abuse, but instead of being maudlin or overly dramatic, Hoover gives us the “best” case scenario and challenges us to empathize with people on all sides of the situation.  It felt incredibly weird to occasionally root for the abuser, but that’s the power of her storytelling capabilities.  And the ending was just beautiful.

51jqqolltjl-_sx329_bo1204203200_Talking As Fast As I Can by Lauren Graham

Once again, if you like Lorelai Gilmore – I mean Lauren Graham – then you will like this book.  And once again, I recommend you listen to the audiobook, which Graham reads herself.  I really admired that she knows her audience; she spent a little time on her childhood, but the bulk of the material lies in describing her experiences working on Gilmore Girls (and to a lesser extent Parenthood).  Her joy and gratitude are so evident, and it makes the book a delightful thing to experience.

51vf1u6wpfl-_sx326_bo1204203200_The Year of Living Danishly by Helen Russell

I’m a full-fledged socialist now!  Russell’s description of being a British ex-pat in Denmark for one year totally converted me to the benefits of paying 50% taxes.  But seriously, her memoir/non-fiction story is really fun to read…just start saving for that plane ticket, because she’s hella convincing.

1618The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time by Mark Haddon

Although this is a great book written from the perspective of a teenager with Asperger’s, I never quite connected with it because it was not what I expected.  I thought I was reading a mystery, but that ends quite quickly, and I found the true story far less interesting.  Still, it’s a great piece for those who want a glimpse into inner workings of someone with Asperger’s, especially in making obvious just how much WORK every action and reaction is.

Sunday Summary #51

1|  Carrie Fisher was an amazing woman, and these 19 tweets complied by Buzzfeed honor her perfectly.

2|  Being “home” this month made me especially thrilled to read the Travelettes piece on the pros and cons of feeling at home, nodding furiously at everything they said.

3|  The best surprise!