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!

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What I Read | October 2016

Yikes!  I only read five books this month, and two of them were re-reads.  But what I lack in quantity I think make up in quality.  Well, mostly.


51j10qkqfsl-_sy344_bo1204203200_The Girl with the Lower Back Tattoo by Amy Schumer

I adore Amy Schumer, and her memoir only validated my opinion.  Her humor manages to be equal parts raunchy and thoughtful.  This is exactly the tone I like to see when a celebrity gets real.  And boy, does Schumer get real.  I loved her honesty about her experiences with domestic violence and rape – it’s obvious the topics are painful to her, but she desperately wants her fans to learn from her experiences.  I also really appreciated the way she separated her normal self from her stage self, letting us see the things that are her personality versus her performance.

27Neither Here Nor There by Bill Bryson

I re-read my favorite of Bryson’s books, and as expected, it rekindled my “visit every European country at once!!” fever.   Continue reading

What I Read | August 2016

From a Russian classic to a dragon-centric fantasy to inspirational non-fiction…my reading tastes were diverse this month!


theidiotThe Idiot by Fyodor Dostoevsky

I started this in July at the request of one of my new friends.  It’s her favorite novel of all time, and while I can’t claim that for myself, I was really impressed with it.  I’ve always felt scared of the dense Russian novels, but I found The Idiot to be a quick read for 700+ pages of stories and psychological analyses.  It did take me a while to acclimate myself to upper class Russian society in the 1800s, but there was enough common humanity to keep to me going.  It’s also pretty depressing, so fair warning.

Harry_Potter_and_the_Cursed_Child_Special_Rehearsal_Edition_Book_CoverHarry Potter and the Cursed Child by J. K. Rowling

I loved this!  It in no way compares to the novels, but I never wanted it to.  The screenplay is a quick way to jump back into the world of Harry Potter, and I so enjoyed watching Harry struggle once more (he can save the world, but he doesn’t know how to parent a child – seems accurate).  I also loved Draco getting more development and the adorable relationship between Albus and Scorpius.  Perhaps it really is HP fanfiction, but I love HP fanfiction, so that is not an insult in the slightest to my mind.

220px-HmsdragonHis Majesty’s Dragon by Naomi Novik

After reading this alt-history novel about dragons during the Napoleonic War, I am 100% that dragons are cats with wings.  Obviously, this means I am SUPER into a story about the intense bond between human and dragon, though I felt this first novel was more interesting for the potential it showed for future stories than its own entertainment value.

ThroneofjadeThrone of Jade by Naomi Novik

Speaking of future stories…this is the second Temeraire novel, and as I suspected, it was even better than the first!  This book follows Laurence and Temeraire on a long sea voyage to China, and it’s basically just one long “you two shouldn’t be together” “YES WE SHOULD” argument, which is exactly the sort of quasi-romantic co-dependent relationship I’m easily invested in.  Can’t wait to read more!

6415185Lost to the West: The Forgotten Byzantine Empire by Lars Brownsworth

Wow.  This non-fiction book about the history of the Byzantine Empire was SO engrossing, mostly because it is person centered rather than date centered.  I totally fell in love with General Belisarius and want to read even more about his life.  I also fell in love with the Byzantine Empire itself, to the point that I actually started crying when it finally fell and the Roman empire came to an official end (1,000 after its western counterpart).

710391The Story of My Life by Casanova

I was so excited about Casanova’s memoir.  It was super entertaining, and I really enjoyed reading about a sex-positive guy who seemed to be shameless in a really healthy way…until I got to a part where he participated in a gang rape and assured his readers that the woman really liked it.  At that point I felt physically ill for days, because I genuinely felt so betrayed.  I couldn’t read any more, and I don’t really care to find out what he did after that, because I doubt it was “felt remorse.”

34352-1Salt of the Sea by Ruta Sepetys

I didn’t enjoy this quite as much as Sepetys’s other YA novels, but it was still a quick and interesting read.  She follows four people (with their own perspective and voice) to the harrowing voyage of the ship Wilhelm Gustloff…a true event that deserves for more attention than it usually gets.  I was mostly impressed, however, by how she showed that for many people in Germany/Prussia/Poland/etc, neither the Axis or Allied powers were good guys.  Death, rape, and property possession was inevitable, no matter which side won.

prototypPrototype by Jonathan Martin

I’ve already written a couple blog posts based on how inspired I was by this non-fiction Christian book.  It’s a fantastic reminder that transformation only comes when we are totally confident in God’s deep love for us.  I especially loved the way he described living in God’s love – that it’s found in those moments when we feel most free and creative, not when we’re hunkered in a room reading our Bibles (well, maybe it is for you, but not me).  It’s a very encouraging and uplifting book that I highly recommend to anyone who wants to deepen their understanding of God.


Did you read anything this month that was especially amazing (or especially awful)?  Leave a comment below and let me know!

What I Read | July 2016

I couldn’t give up book reviews entirely!  I still don’t want to write individual reviews for everything I read, but I need to have a list somewhere of the things I’ve read so that when someone asks for a recommendation, I’ll know where to go.  I think a monthly compilation review will be a good compromise!


22544764Uprooted by Naomi Novik

I LOVED this book.  It has enough familiar tropes to feel comfortable (ordinary girl is actually a powerful magician, unlikely romance develops between two opposites) but adds some really creative twists to the world-building and plot.  I was so impressed by Novik’s work that I immediately went to the Kindle store to buy her dragon series.  This is not a part of that, but I have a feeling Novik is going to be an author I can trust.

mediumThe Girl From Everywhere by Heidi Heilig

This book is almost the opposite of Uprooted.  It is incredibly unique (girl lives on a pirate ship that can travel throughout time and space with the help of special maps) but unfortunately devolved into common tropes.  I am TIRED of unnecessary love triangles.  This seems like the beginning of a series, and I would be super into it if it weren’t for that pesky trope.  It just.  The book didn’t need it!  She’s already dealing with a relationship with her dad and the fear of being snuffed out of existence because of time travel!  One love interest is enough.

6607270-MLove’s Executioner by Irvin D. Yalom

My counseling professor recommended this book years ago, but I only just got around to reading it.  Dr. Yalom describes ten of his clients’ stories, which is interesting enough.  But he also goes into a lot of detail about how he felt about each person – the attractions, the frustrations, the disgust – and how he worked through those feelings in order to work with them.  I think this book would be interesting to most people, but it’s undoubtedly for counselors who might benefit from a behind-the-scenes look at a successful counselor’s methods.


Not many for July, but I’m 300 pages into Dostoevsky’s The Idiot, so…hopefully that counts as enough of an explanation

The Wrath and the Dawn by Renee Ahdieh

18798983I thought this book was a retelling of A Thousand and One Nights, but I just saw that the book jacket actually says it’s “inspired” by the classic Middle Eastern story.  That makes much more sense, because the plot of “woman saves her life by telling the wife-killing king a story every night” only lasts for, like, three nights.  Then they fall in love!!!

Which is my main problem with the story:  too much insta-love.  Khalid, the ruler of Khorasan, apparently falls in love with Shahrzad at first sight because she is honest.  And, okay, whatever, maybe I can believe that.  But then Shahrzad, whose only purpose in becoming his wife is to murder him and therefore avenge her murdered best friend, falls in love with him!!  After only a couple weeks!  Because she realizes he is secretive rather than a total monster.  It just didn’t fly for me.

But the world was incredibly interesting, and even though it was unbelievable, the dynamic between Khalid and Shahrzad was super compelling.  So after a few chapters I just decided to accept the fact that they were entangled in a forbidden love and enjoy it….and I did!  It’s a very enjoyable book about murderous plots, curses forcing good people to do bad things, and Love Conquering All.  Sometimes you just wanna turn your brain off and enjoy a good emotional story.

It’s a series, though, which I didn’t know going in.  I honestly don’t know if I’ll read the second book.  It feels like even more Forced Obstacles will be thrown in their path, and I already got what I wanted out of the story: confessed love and cute kisses.  Who knows!  By the time it comes out, maybe I’ll be ready to suspend my disbelief again.

I do know I want more Middle Eastern settings in books, though.  More desert royalty and extravagant costumes, please!   Continue reading

The Rose Society by Marie Lu

23846013I LOVED The Young Elites, and while its sequel delivered more of what I loved (young female protagonist with an abusive past joins a group of heroes and becomes…the villain), it didn’t quite captivate me in the same way.  I think this was, for me, because Adelina’s villainy got REAL.  Her attraction to darkness and power are beginning to overwhelm her, and while in the first book I could understand and approve of her actions….this time around I wanted to pull her out of the book and sit her down for a counseling session.  Which was totally the point, so job well done, Marie Lu!

Now that I’m thinking about it, I guess I really DID like how Adelina slides to the dark side.  She kills her enemies in defense…and then as punishment…and then pre-emptively so that they cannot hurt her later.  This is very smart!  But it’s also pretty evil, and I liked how Lu explored the moral complexity of power.  I also loved Adelina’s sister Violetta.  She’s the “good girl” who doesn’t participate in evil…but she also doesn’t stop Adelina and tacitly gives approval with her silence.

And then there’s Magiano, who is a DARLING.  He can mimic any other Elite’s powers, making him crazy powerful.  He’s joyful and funny and sweet…but he’s totally willing to kill people to help Adelina take the throne.  So often in YA books, the group of heroes somehow manages to overthrow corrupt authorities by knocking people out or maybe killing just one Very Bad Person.  It was really interesting to see Adelina’s group of “heroes” unflinchingly doing whatever was necessary to accomplish their goals without making them all simplistically evil.

It’s only later, as they look back on what their actions have done (to others, to themselves) that they realize perhaps they went too far…

Okay, I definitely talked myself into giving The Rose Society a higher score!  This is such a unique series, and I can’t wait to see what happens next (even though I assume it will be awful and will make me cry).   Continue reading

All the Bright Places by Jennifer Niven

18460392Wow.  Rarely has a book so enthralled and gutted me.  This is a HARD book to read, but so necessary, and (if you don’t care about that) so beautiful that it makes the hard things worthwhile.  This is a book about teen suicide, about mental illnesses, and the ways in which people react to “acceptable” mental illnesses versus those that make us uncomfortable.

Violet and Finch meet on top of the school clock tower, both of them considering jumping.   Violet’s sister died in a car accident for which Violet feels responsible, and Finch is climbing towards mania with undiagnosed bipolar disorder.  They find understanding, joy, and love with each other, and their romance is really unique and cute and all the things a fictional romance should be.  But that is not the point of this book.

The point is how the rest of the world treat Violet and Finch.  Violet gets passes from teachers, fellow students bend over backwards to regain her friendship, and her parents are willing to slowly love her back to health.  Her depression is understood and therefore “deserved.”  Finch, on the other hand, is tolerated by teachers, bullied by students, and beaten and/or neglected by his parents.  No one knows how to understand his mood swings (and neither does he), so they replace understanding with intolerance.

And even though this is the “theme” of the book and it’s so important, there are so many other beautiful things happening!  I’m from Illinois, and I had the same feelings of “this place is the most boring place on the planet” as Finch and Violet do about Indiana.  So it was so fun to read about them exploring their state and finding magical, silly, and beautiful places to visit and enjoy.

I also really loved all the Deep, Important conversations Finch and Violet have about life, growing up, and struggling.  This is one of the things I love most about YA books – they capture the overwhelming sensation of first realizing life is not fair and trying to find some kind of control over everything.  I loved the scene where Finch and Violet sit in a closet, writing words and phrases on post-it notes, ripping up the ugly words and sticking the good ones to the wall.

Although this is far from a feel-good book, I did finish it feeling hopeful and encouraged.  All the Bright Places went to some REALLY dark places, and I love it for that.  Life is full of darkness, and it is so important to have books like this one that are willing to shine a light on that darkness so that we can understand it better.  Because of that, hopefully, we can make the darkness a little more tolerable for those who are struggling to find the light.   Continue reading