Amazon TBR – December (Part 2)

Before I start posting about 2018 Amazon reads, I figure I should first get my final post from 2017 taken care of.

Chemistry by Weike Wang
Chemistry is a fairly spare book, and the humor is definitely deadpan and underplayed – but it fits with the narrator’s sense of self and both her personal and professional experiences. While it has received mixed reviews, I loved this book. It looks at the intersection of multiple aspects of the narrator’s life and how years of stress and overbearing expectations finally come to a head and causes her to have breakdown. She is miserable from the pressure to measure up to the success of her cohort, to fulfill the goals her spiteful, bitter parents have set for her, and to come to terms with how easy she feels that her partner’s professional life falls into place (and the fact that he came from a loving, supporting home and doesn’t seem to get how different their upbringings are).

Girl in the Steel Corset by Kady Cross
I read the prequel, The Strange Case of Finley Jayne, and enjoyed both the story and the set up. However, my enjoyment didn’t really carry over to Girl in the Steel Corset. It started out alright, but went downhill pretty quickly. I forced myself to finish it, but have no interest in reading the rest of the series. The bad YA love triangle is only going to get worse. The characters themselves leave a lot to be desired, and the plot was clunky.

Jungle of Stone by William Carlsen
A fascinating look at the “discovery” of the Mayan civilization, and the recognition of its significance. Carlsen did digress from the main concept, and at times those digressions were distracting, as they focused either on the peripheral players and events, or excessively detailed background information. It would have been better if more information about the Maya and the aftermath of the expedition were included.

Six Wakes by Mur Lafferty
I really enjoyed this book. It’s akin to Agatha Christie’s And Then There Were None, but set in space. The characters are clones, and clones of clones, and they have to figure out who the murderer is before they all truly die. The wrench in this is that each of the characters is hiding a shady background, each of them has something to gain (or lose) through the murders of their crewmates, and both their memories and perceptions can be manipulated. The only thing that didn’t work was that the story seemed to straddle a wobbly line between being serious and rolling with dark humor. It would have been better if Lafferty had chosen one side and dove in. The book would have been phenomenal coming from a dark humor angle.

The Scribe of Siena by Melodie Winawer
I’ve been a sucker for time travel romances since reading Outlander four years ago. While The Scribe of Siena is similar, it is its own story and feels more like a slice-of-life than an adventure; there was no sense of urgency. That being said, I loved the story, loved the descriptions of life in 14th century Italy, and loved how it ended. It is not a fast-paced book by any means, and should be enjoyed for what it is.

A Darkly Beating Heart by Lindsay Smith
I had a very hard time caring about Reiko. She was so incredibly self-absorbed, wallowing in her own pit of bitter darkness. It’s all very annoyingly melodramatic and instead of adding to the mood of the story, made me roll my eyes more times than I can count. The reason for her self-loathing wasn’t given until towards the end of the book, and by then I just didn’t care. There was definitely potential for the underlying plot of being inhabited by a vengeful spirit and time traveling back to when the spirit was alive, but it just didn’t work.

The Infamous Heir by Elizabeth Michels
Both Roselyn and Ethan needed to be smacked. Both were annoying and made stupid decisions for the sake of the plot. Rosalyn was the stereotypical young, unworldly heroine who is “going to do it herself!”, but in reality places both herself and those around her into danger. Ethan was a total asshole using Roselyn as bait in order to catch the murderer. On top of that, even my dense self was able to figure out who the villain was from almost the very beginning.

The Immortals by Jordanna Max Brodsky
I loved how Brodsky wove elements of fantasy, mythology, mystery cults, and history in to the narrative. Her interpretations were interesting, to say the least, and were my favorite aspects of the book. It reminded me of American Gods in that the ancient gods are still among us, though they have been much reduced. I blew through The Immortals and the sequel, Winter of the Gods, in quick succession because both Selene and the stories were so engrossing.

Un Lun Dun by China Miéville
This felt like a darker Alice in Wonderland. The tone and darkness were reminiscent of both Neverwhere and Flights and Chimes and Mysterious Times. This was the first Miéville book I’ve read, and I really liked the flow of his words and how he used/wrote imagery. I loved how unique and creative his setting and character descriptions were. The carnivorous giraffes were probably my favorite, and they were all I could think of when I saw the Broadway production of Lion King with my children recently.

DNF

My Not So Perfect Life by Sophie Kinsella
Nope. I am definitely not the audience for this book. I will occasionally dip into chick-lit, but the genre as a whole is not for me. I don’t care about brand names, which were being dropped like they were hot, or popularity. I was a fringe kid in school, and have turned into a fringe adult.

The Only Thing Worse than Me is You by Lily Anderson
I couldn’t get very far into this one because it reads like an adult who wishes they could redo their geeky high school years in a snarky/cool sort of way. It was an overkill of fandoms and geekdoms, and I have yet to hear teenagers speak like that in real life.

Husband’s Books: 2018 1st Quarter

My husband seems to be in a nonfiction kick with a political/sociological bent. Both the Grant memoir and Radical Inclusion were favorites of his, as were extensive dinner table conversations comparing both books to the current state of politics. And even though he read Tribe last year, he still won’t shut up about it.

       

*White Trash: The 400-Year Untold History of Class in America by Nancy Isenberg
*Excellent Sheep: The Miseducation of the American Elite and the Way to a Meaningful Life by William Deresiewicz
*Hero Tales: How Common Lives Reveal the Uncommon Genius of America by Theodore *Roosevelt and Henry Cabot Lodge
*The Complete Infidel’s Guide to the Koran by Robert Spencer
*Off the Sidelines: Raise Your Voice, Change the World by Kirsten Gillibrand
*Timequake by Kurt Vonnegut
*The Complete Personal Memoirs of Ulysses S. Grant by Ulysses S. Grant
*Radical Inclusion: What the Post 9/11 World Should Have Taught Us About Leadership by Martin E. Dempsey and Ori Brafman
*Two Treatises on Government by John Locke
*The Wild Shore by Kim Stanley Robinson
*The Gold Coast by Kim Stanley Robinson
*The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck (play version by Frank Galati)
*Reset: How This Crisis Can Restore Our Values and Renew America by Kurt Andersen
*The Pentagon’s Wars: The Military’s Undeclared War Against America’s Presidents by Mark Perry
*Collusion: Secret Meetings, Dirty Money, and How Russia Helped Donald Trump Win by Luke Harding

Sophia’s Book Riot Read Harder 2018 – COMPLETE!

Another year of Read Harder down!  I really love doing these challenges, and it has had a noticeable impact on my reading habits.  I’m more willing to pick up books that 4 years ago I would have passed over after making a snap judgement.  I’m less intimidated by tough topics, particularly political non-fiction.  My understanding of the world only expands and grows more complex with every book I read that’s written by an author who isn’t white and/or male and/or cishet and/or American.  And these challenges have shown me that I can always do better.

Book Riot 2018 First Half

Now for a few of the amazing books I read for the second half of this challenge:

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Dawn by Octavia E. Butler – I never read anything by Octavia Butler until this year, and I have been absolutely, totally, and tragically missing out.  If you’ve never read anything by her, GO.  GO NOW.  To the library, a bookstore, amazon.com JUST GO.  That’s all I have to say about that.

Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World that Can’t Stop Talking by Susan Cain – I consider myself a hardcore introvert, and as I get older I get more comfortable with that reality.  But for a long time I just thought I was some kind of weirdo and therefore deficient in the eyes of people who fit society’s expectations for ‘normal’.  Quiet helped me to better understand introversion, and it was fascinating to learn how American culture has continuously pushed extroversion as the ideal personality type for every situation.  Even if that’s not changing anytime soon, it’s nice to feel validated.

The Incarnations by Susan Barker – I finished this book back in January, and it’s really stuck with me.  It’s not gentle or soft or even particularly happy, but it’s compelling and immersive.  Barker seamlessly weaves every thread together, taking the reader through Chinese history and mythology while examining the complexities of human relationships.  This isn’t a beach read – be prepared to be challenged, appalled, heartbroken, and riveted.

Completed Tasks

1) A book published posthumously – Ariel, Sylvia Plath
2) A book of true crime – The Map Thief, Michael Blanding
3) A classic of genre fiction – Treasure Island, Robert Louis Stevenson
4) A comic written and illustrated by the same person – Through the Woods, Emily Carroll
5) A book set in/about a BRICS country – The Incarnations, Susan Barker
6) A book about nature – The Botany of Desire: A Plant’s Eye View of the World, Michael Pollan
7) A western – True Grit, Charles Portis
8) A comic written or illustrated by a person of color – Black Panther: World of Wakanda, Roxane Gay et. al
9) A book of colonial/postcolonial literature – Heart of Darkness, Joseph Conrad
10) A romance novel by or about a person of color – Destiny’s Captive, Beverly Jenkins
11) A children’s classic published before 1980 – The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, L. Frank Baum
12) A celebrity memoir – Believe Me: A Memoir of Love, Death, and Jazz Chickens, Eddie Izzard
13) An Oprah Book Club selection – The Road, Cormac McCarthy
14) A book of social science – Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World that Can’t Stop Talking, Susan Cain
15) A one-sitting book – Binti, Nnedi Okorafor
16) The first book in a new-to-you YA/middle grade series – How to Hang a Witch, Adriana Mather
17) A scifi novel with a female protagonist by a female author – Dawn, Octavia E. Butler
18) A comic that isn’t published by Marvel, DC, or Image – Lumberjanes, Vol. 7: A Bird’s Eye View, Shannon Watters
19) A book of genre fiction in translation – Penance, Kanae Minato
20) A book with a cover you hate – Bridget Jones’s Diary, Helen Fielding
21) A mystery by a person of color or LGBTQ author – The Cutting Season, Attica Locke
22) An essay anthology – We Were Eight Years in Power: An American Tragedy, Ta-Nehisi Coates
23) A book with a female protagonist over the age of 60 – At Bertram’s Hotel, Agatha Christie
24) An assigned book you hated – A Separate Peace, John Knowles

Bean’s 1st Quarter Books 2018

Bean was knocking out the books during the first three months of 2018. Audiobooks are her thing – she has a hard time mentally focusing on print; she finds it too small. Her “omg these books are amazing!” books were:

A Mango Shaped Space
The Scourge
Please Don’t Tell My Parents I’m a Supervllain

Audiobooks (23)



School (3)

April Books

April was a middle-of-the-road kind of month for books. I had two major projects due on the 23rd, which meant I didn’t had the wherewithal to focus on challenge books. I did, however, have the wherewithal to read alien/dragon romances, but that was more of a coping mechanism than anything.

Audiobooks Fiction (13) / Nonfiction (2)

            

Furious Flames is the third book in a series, and the narrator completely changed how he voiced the main character. He went from a radio-play-hardboiled-detective to a normal guy. It was very jarring. I was ambivalent about Son of the Black Sword for most of the book, but I wanted to finish it because I’d DNF’d several books right before listening to it. I was glad I did because about 2/3 of the way through, things finally started to happen – and they were interesting. I’m looking forward to the sequel to see how it plays out. I love the Awaken Online series. It takes the RPG subgenre and plays with it on the gray-scale continuum of good and evil. So many of the characters are gray, and what makes something good or evil is jumbled up.  Retribution, a side quest focusing on Riley, was equally good. I loved watching her grow as a character, and start to come into her own within the game.

Books / Novellas (13)

     

The bulk of my book books in April revolved around dragon and/or alien romances. Crunch time at school equals my brain checking out because I just can’t. I’ve read Enemy of Mine several times (a time travel romance – no aliens or dragons). I enjoy Erva and Will, both as individuals and as a couple. The storyline is fun, though towards the end it gets a bit schmoopy. For alien romances, Eve Langlais writes entertaining stories. They are campy, funny, and don’t take themselves too seriously. The Dragons of Valdier are alright as long as you don’t try to binge read them. The heroines are fine for the most part (with only minimal stupidity for the sake of the plot), but there is only so much “me caveman dragon, you mate, me protect” and the over use of tiny/little as descriptors for the heroines that I can take before my eyeballs start hurting. I also don’t think the author has a strong grasp of the US military and how it works.

Graphic (5)

   

Read Alouds (2)

 

I finished up the Fog Mound trilogy, much to the disappointment of Bug and Max. I wish there were more books in this series, or that there were other graphic/novel combos similar to this. I will most likely pick up some Brian Selznick books to read to them.

The Hub – April

I fell well short of my goal of 12 books in April by only reading 5 books. It was crunch time with projects for my two classes, and when I’m stressed, I end up reading brain candy. Now that the the worst has passed, I plan on focusing on Hub books again.

Brave by Svetlana Chmakova
I didn’t like Brave as much as I liked Awkward, but that is a personal thing and not a reflection on the quality of the story. Chmakova does a wonderful job of capturing the awkwardness and nuances that encompass middle school. Jensen is frequently bullied by both his “friends” and other students. He is oblivious to their bullying, though at the same time has created a self-defense mechanism. It takes someone outside of his normal social circle to open Jensen’s eyes to the bullying. And then Jensen has to find the courage to stand up for himself.

Scooby Apocalypse, Volume 1 by Keith Giffin and Howard Porter
My initial thoughts after I finished was the storyline had a lot of potential – I really wanted to see the actual cause of the apocalypse. I liked that while the characters were still essentially their classic selves, the author had made some interesting changes. However, my wonderful sister read it as well, and pointed out the various flaws with the characters that escaped my less than critical notice. Daphne was a complete jerk – she could have been a strong badass without treating others with contempt. And Velma was turned into something of a coward.

Flying Lessons and Other Stories edited by Ellen Oh
I find short story collections in general to be hit or miss. This is more of a personal preference since I like concrete endings as opposed to a suggestion of the future or an allusion to what it’s all about. That being said, three stories stood out to me as favorites, “How to Transform an Everyday, Ordinary Hoop Court into a Place of Higher Learning and You at the Podium,” “The Difficult Path,” and “The Beans and Rice Chronicles of Isaiah Dunn.” These stories felt complete at their conclusion, with the characters either learning something about themselves or their potential place in the world around them.

Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them by Newt Scamander/J.K. Rowling
The only flaw to this book is that it wasn’t also a visual component (meaning, a cartoon I could watch). Between Eddie Redmayne’s narration and the sound effects, it would be wonderful to see the images and actions the sound effects represent. Regardless, my imagination had a field day.

 

Roughneck by Jeff Lemire
I wasn’t sure about Roughneck at first. I’m not a fan of Lemire’s drawing style, finding it too choppy and angular, but he is an amazing storyteller. The illustrations fit with the tone of the story, and the use of color (or lack thereof) to differentiate the present from the past made the reality of Derek’s and Beth’s lives that much more poignant. It is a story of coming to terms with the bad events and decisions of your life, and finding peace and redemption in that acceptance.

Emma’s Read Harder 2018

While I managed to complete the entirety of Read Harder in less than one month, I felt like I missed out on some of the fun of it. Much like when you eat an entire cake in one day instead making it last longer, while initially satisfying, you’re left with a huge cake-shaped (or book-shaped) hole that can’t be filled by anticipation of the next slice/book. Once I’m done with graduate school, and done with Girl Scouts, and done with the PopSugar Reading Challenge, I plan on doing a second round of Read Harder.

Emma’s Read Harder 2017
Emma’s Read Harder 2016
Emma’s Read Harder 2015

Favorites

The Wicked Boy: The Mystery of a Victorian Child Murderer by Kate Summerscale
#2 – True crime
I really enjoyed this book. It was both interesting and a fairly fast read (always a plus with nonfiction). I liked how she presented Robert and Nattie, laying out the facts as she could find them. She did offer some conjectures, but those were grounded more in child psychology than personal opinion. My opinion is that the home life of Robert and Nattie was somewhat volatile, and that the unpredictability and volatility of their mother while their father was at sea was the underpinning for why Robert killed her. His life after his verdict doesn’t lead one to believe he was psychotic. I am also glad that Summerscale included an epilogue. It gave Robert’s story closure, and the gave readers the suggestion that some of his later decisions were made with the potential to atone for killing his mother when he was a child.

Are We Smart Enough to Know How Smart Animals Are? by Frans De Waal
#6 – About nature
This was an interesting look at how humans test other animals for their capacity of intelligence and social behaviors. In general, humans tend to see themselves as superior to all other animals, and see animals’ intrinsic intelligence as less than ours because it is different. When conducting experiments, we tend to take a human-centric methodology and claim animals are less intelligent instead of looking at how animals behave in their natural habitats, then building experiments based upon those observations. Are We Smart Enough… was definitely eye-opening, creating good starting points for thinking about what constitutes intelligence.

White Trash: The 400-Year Untold History of Class in America by Nancy Isenberg
#14 – Social science
Many Americans live under the illusion that we have never had class distinctions in the US, and that our country was founded with the idea of equality. However, that is not the case, and the idea of such distinctions were shoved under the rug in order to fit with an edited narrative of our history. There have been class distinctions since Plymouth and Jamestown, and those distinctions – especially with regard to how the poor were perceived and treated – have continually played a part in historical events and how America was shaped. This is not the history you learned in school, but it is definitely a history you should know and is highly relevant to our current political climate.

Tasks

  1. Published posthumously Northanger Abbey by Jane Austen
  2. True crime The Wicked Boy: The Mystery of a Victorian Child Murderer by Kate Summerscale
  3. Genre fiction classic Brave New World by Aldous Huxley
  4. Comic written and illustrated by the same person Rocket Robinson and the Pharaoh’s Fortune by Sean O’Neill
  5. Set in a BRICS country (India) Before the Rains by Dinah Jefferies
  6. About nature Are We Smart Enough to Know How Smart Animals Are? by Frans De Waal
  7. Western River of Teeth and Taste of Marrow by Sarah Gailey
  8. Comic written or illustrated by person of color Pashmina by Nidhi Chanani
  9. (Post)colonial literature Everfair by Nisi Shawl
  10. Romance novel written by/about person of color Destiny’s Captive by Beverly Jenkins
  11. Children’s classic published before 1980 Chitty Chitty Bang Bang by Ian Fleming
  12. Celebrity memoir The Princess Diarist by Carrie Fisher
  13. Oprah book club selection Daughter of Fortune by Isabel Allende
  14. Social science White Trash: The 400-Year Untold History of Class in America by Nancy Isenberg
  15. One-sitting book Binti by Nnedi Okorafor
  16. First book in new to you MG/YA series Three Times Lucky by Sheila Turnage
  17. Female sci-fi author with female main character Fortune’s Pawn by Rachel Bach
  18. Comic not published by DC/Marvel/Image Ares & Aphrodite: Love Wars by Jamie S. Rich and Megan Levens (Oni Press)
  19. Genre fiction in translation Super Extra Grande by Yoss
  20. Book with a cover you hate (British cover) Such Small Hands by Andres Barba
  21. Mystery by person of color/LGBTQ author Devil in a Blue Dress by Walter Mosley
  22. Essay anthology Seven Seasons of Buffy: Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers Discuss Their Favorite TV Show edited by Glenn Yeffeth
  23. Female main character over age 60 Murder at the Vicarage by Agatha Christie
  24. Assigned book you hated/never finished Death of a Salesman by Arthur Miller