Category Archives: Books

2016 Books (Second Half)

Surprisingly, I read less actual books during the second half of the year. This doesn’t include audiobooks or graphic formats, so “less” is relative.

2016 Books (First Half)

2016 Manga / Graphic Novels (Second Half)
2016 Audiobooks (Second Half ) coming soonish

Adult Favorites 

 

*Homegoing – This was an absolutely beautiful book. It was well written, the style light enough to be quickly readable, but without the sacrificing quality or depth. Each chapter focused on a different family member/generation, alternating between the two branches. The story did not get bogged down in detail, but looked at a highlight or defining moment of a given family member’s life. Even though each character only had one chapter, they were fully formed and fit within their time, location, and experience.
*It Happened One Autumn – I had never read any of Lisa Kleypas’ books before this, but I am now a fan. I’m a sucker for smart, sassy MCs in romance novels, and Lillian fit the bill. She was opinionated, but not to the point that I wanted to throw the book across the room. Marcus was also a well done “asshole with a heart of gold”. He was cold and gruff and superior, but even in the early stages, he still looked out for Lillian’s welfare and safety. I loved how they played off of each other.

Honorable Mention: Touched by an Alien (I’ve read this several times, and love the snarky humor of the series)

Adult Fiction (43)
Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore
Ender’s Game
Touched by an Alien
Alien Tango
Alien in the Family
Alien Proliferation
Alien Diplomacy
Orlando
The Book of Speculation
Just the Sexiest Man Alive
The Golden Dynasty
Fantastical
Entreat Me
Homegoing
A Wild Swan
The Library of Mount Char
The Girl from Summer Hill
Pirate
Act of God
A Scot in the Dark
The Thinking Woman’s Guide to Practical Magic
The Rook
The Gentleman
What’s a Ghoul to Do?
It Happened One Autumn
Devil in Winter
Do You Want to Start a Scandal
Restoree
The Gunslinger
Clash of Eagles
The Hopefuls
The Underground Railroad
Stiletto
Bird Box
Eaters of the Dead
The Hobbit
1001 Dark Nights: Dragon Fever
Smoke and Fire
Natural Born Charmer
The Core of the Sun
Pope Joan
Date Night on Union Station
the princess saves herself in this one

Adult Nonfiction (5)
Daughters of the Samurai
I’ll Never Write my Memoirs
A Royal Experiment
The Big Tiny
Why Women Should Rule the World

YA Favorites

 

*Beauty Queens – One of my favorite satires, and not for the easily offended. A Survivor-style pageant adventure on a not-quite deserted island, it is full of black humor and tongue-in-cheek jabs. The situation was completely ridiculous. The few surviving girls have to overcome their situation using their wit and pageant ready talents. Miss Texas, Taylor, was by far my favorite character.
*Ink and Bone – This was one of the better dystopian stories I’ve read recently. I love how the controlling agency is the Great Library.  What should be a repository of knowledge accessible by all people is in fact a corrupt organization that strictly controls the flow of information. Paper books are contraband because they cannot be controlled. New ideas that could impact the supremacy of the  Great Library are found and then locked away forever. Queue the scrappy, book-thief hero, Jess, who has entered the library’s service as a trainee. During the course of his training, he realizes the what the Great Library is hiding, and the lengths they’ll go to maintain their power.

Honorable Mention: Sunshine (this is one of my comfort books that I reread periodically)

YA Fiction (20)
Beauty Queens
A Great and Terrible Beauty
The Girl at Midnight
The Rose and the Dagger
Hex Hall
Hot Pterodactyl Boyfriend
Sunshine
Ink and Bone
Across the Universe
Nerve
The Gilded Cage
Sabriel
The Prom Goer’s Interstellar Excursion
A Shade of Vampire
The Geek’s Guide to Unrequited Love
Paper and Fire
Throne of Glass
Doon
Eat Brains Love
The Great Trouble (MG)

Children’s Fiction (8)
Lions and Lunchtime (MTH #11)
Polar Bears Past Bedtime (MTH #12)
All Hail the Queen (Anna & Elsa #1)
The Candymakers
The Wonderful Wizard of Oz
In a Blink (Never Girls #1)
Bunnicula
Clementine

Bean’s Christmas Books

My oldest daughter, Bean, has taken a very long time to develop an interest in reading. This mainly stems from the fact that she was slow to gain reading confidence. Up until partway through 4th grade, graphic novels were the only books she would read without a fuss. She also hadn’t stumbled into the genre(s) that were sure to suck her in to staying up way too late reading on a school night. At her age, pretty much all I read was fantasy with a healthy dose of science fiction. Neither are genres Bean really enjoys, which I find mildly horrifying because how am I supposed to find books for her?!?!

It’s been an interesting road, but I’ve finally found out Bean’s favored genres: puzzle mysteries/adventures, historical/realistic fiction, and books involving children from other cultures. There is a little bit of fantasy mixed in, but it’s fairly selective – a Harry Potter fan, she is not.

Below are the books she received this past Christmas. She’s only read three so far. 1) Because I’ve had them in my computer room with the intention of taking a photo of them for this post, and 2) because she keeps getting distracted by other books.

 

Nine, Ten: A September 11 Story by Nora Raleigh Baskin
Very tragic. I understood it, but it was hard to grasp the details because it was just so devistating. I liked that the characters were from different cultures. They all had different experiences when 9/11 happened.
Ghosts by Raina Telgemeier
It was okay. She’s a good author, but I didn’t really understand what was going on.
The City of Ember by Jeanne DuPrau
Book Scavenger by Jennifer Chambliss Bertram
Iris and the Tiger by Leanne Hall
Rose and the Magician’s Mask by Holly Webb
This was the third book in the series. It started out strong, but then started to feel loose towards the end. I didn’t like what the author did to Mr. Fountain. The whole situation felt off.
Rose and the Silver Ghost by Holly Webb

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The Hub – March

Month number two of Hub reading complete! Once again, my reading was split between the graphic format and audiobooks. None of the books have been outside my reading comfort zone, so I need to try to work on that. Both Salt to the Sea and Kill the Boy Band stand out as favorites, and I’m itching to listen to KBB again (I’ll probably force my step-mother to listen to it during her next visit. Just like I’m going to force her to watch Moana). The one drag for this month was Beast. It has been on my TBR list for a while, but it was utterly disappointing to listen to. I had to DNF it.

Persepolis: The Story of a Childhood by Marjane Satrapi
Persepolis was powerful. I couldn’t imagine going from a relatively free, westernized life to a strict Islamic life. Watching Marjane have to reconcile her free spirit with the restrictions and punishments of the new regime was crushing. There were enough details to get the horror of it across, but not so many as to be overly graphic. The last panel was the hardest to read.

 

We Stand On Guard by Brian K. Vaughan
This was one of Brian K. Vaughan’s weaker graphic novels, if only because it was so short and felt rushed toward the end. There wasn’t a lot of room for character development. It packed a powerful punch in terms of geopolitics and an imagined US invasion of Canada, but there should have been more. It offered a glimpse of the resistance, with most of it focused on bringing about the end of the conflict. The story would have been awesome if it had been stretched out into several volumes.

Orange: The Complete Collection, Vol. 1 by Ichigo Takano
A bittersweet story about a group of friends who send letters to their past selves in order to change the fate of their newest friend, Kakeru. I liked the sci-fi, romance, and the characters interactions felt believable, but it did not sweep me off my feet. The timeline jumps could be hard to follow, and I didn’t feel any real connection with any of the characters. It is possible that I was not in the right mindset to fall in love with the story.

Kill the Boy Band by Goldy Moldavsky
I loved this book. A black satire for sure, and its humor is definitely not for everyone. KBB poked fun at the obsessive side of fandom (not fandom in general). It was awesome and horrible in an “I can’t believe they just did that” kind of way. The plot was ridiculous, and all four main characters were on the wrong side of sane, to varying degrees. I liked that the narrator wasn’t entirely reliable – how much of what she presented was the truth or was inside her own head? She would never give her actual name to people, only characters from ‘80’s teen movies, which I thought was a fun detail. The audiobook narrator did a fantastic job nailing the vocal nuances of this character.

Salt to the Sea by Ruta Sepetys
This book was absolutely beautiful; horrible, but beautiful. Not for the younger set, given the content and brutality. I always think of the Titanic as being the worst maritime disaster, and that is what I’ve always been taught. I didn’t know about the Wilhelm Gustloff, or about how absolutely horrific its sinking was. The characters were well-developed, and all of them existed on a scale of moral ambiguity, though Emilia was towards the good end of the spectrum, as she lied for the purpose of keeping her sanity.

The Sword of Summer (Magnus Chase and the Gods of Asgard #1) by Rick Riordan
I’ve read the Percy Jackson series and the Kane Chronicles, and while I enjoyed them, none of them stood out as being funny (of course it’s been years since I’ve read them, so it’s possible I don’t remember the funny). Magnus Chase however, was very cheeky. I listened to it while doing housework, and my kids kept asking why I was snorting so much. I liked that Norse mythology was finally getting some page-time with a younger audience. The only negative was the narrator. He was absolutely awful.

Ada Lovelace: The Poet of Science by Diane Stanley
I’m not exactly sure why a picture book geared towards younger children would be included in YALSA’s reading challenge, but nominees for the Amelia Bloomer Project Project don’t have to be YA books, so I assume it was included by default. That being said, it was a good book about Ada Lovelace. It was informative, and the illustrations were engaging. My 7-year old liked it, my almost 11-year did not (she felt it was too babyish).

DNF – Beast by Brie Spangler
Beast was one of the books I was excited to read. Then I started listening to it, and I just couldn’t. The mother was so obtusely positive that she essentially invalidated any negative emotions or feelings Dylan had. When he tried to talk her, she didn’t listen. Instead, she would shut him down and jump to her own conclusions. She wouldn’t allow him to express any negative feelings towards himself or how he was perceived by others because it didn’t fit into her perception of him. Dylan also bothered me. When he described his interactions with girls, he came off as a fedora-wearing Nice Guy. It seemed like he expected girls to be there for him, and when they rejected him, he assumed it was because of how he looked and not how he behaved.

PopSugar – March

My wish to complete PopSugar by the end of April is not to be (maybe by June?). I only managed three books from the regular list, and one from the advanced list. While I have only eleven books left on the regular list, and while I can definitely read more than eleven books in one month, some of the books I thought I would read turned out to be duds and I DNF them.

Maresi by Maria Turtschanioff
#26 – Author from a country you’ve never visited (Finland)
Maresi moved at a slow pace, but I loved the descriptions of the abbey, and the maiden/mother/crone mythology. Magic was only brought out as necessary, and its scarcity gave the story a feel of magical realism. It was definitely a dark book, both with character histories (specifically Jai) and what happened when the island is invaded. However, there was a lack of character development, and Maresi felt somewhat two-dimensional. She would have benefited if the maiden/mother/crone mythology had been given more page time.

Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut
#29 – Unreliable narrator
My husband read this years ago, and recommended that I read it as well. It is an existential novel about a man who has become unstuck in time, who bounces around on his life timeline, splitting his existence between living on Earth and living on an alien planet as an exhibit. Was this his actual physical experience or was it a psychological experience caused by the trauma of war? It definitely felt like Vonnegut was trying to work though his survival as a WWII POW and the bombing of Dresden. Death and destruction are universal. So it goes.

Ruby Red by Kerstin Geir
#33 – Set in two different time periods
This book gets some flak for the characters acting younger than their age, time travel mechanics holes, and the effects of interacting with people from different eras, but I really enjoyed it. The audiobook sucked me in, and none of the flaws really stood out to me. I was more absorbed in how Gwyneth coped with the bombshell that she was her generation’s time traveler, when she had spent a good chunk of her life being shunted off to the side and ignored by the majority of her family.

ADVANCED LIST

Unmentionable: The Victorian Lady’s Guide to Sex, Marriage, and Manners by Therese Oneill
#42 – 2016 bestseller
This book was cheeky and sarcastic, but the tone became incredibly obnoxious. I don’t need to be hit on the head with a hammer, and trying to make it witty does not lessen the redundancy of repeating information. Most of the information presented wasn’t new to me – I’ve read multiple books about the Victorian era – but for someone who has read a lot of romance or fiction set during that time, and hasn’t delved into the actual history, it would be both fascinating and a bit shocking.

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March Books

I started losing reading challenge steam in March; burning myself out in the first two months of 2017. Over half the books I read  had no bearing on any of the challenges I am participating in.

Audiobooks (14)

Anne Bishop’s The Others was the first of two series that distracted me from challenge reading. I managed to listen to only the first one in January, but no dice after I finished the second book, Murder of Crows. I had to keep listening. It’s been a while since a series sucked me in enough that I couldn’t tear myself away. Etched in Bone was the weakest of the five, but even though the story focused on the utter reprehensible Jimmy, it was a necessary story in that it shaped how the Others will deal with humans in the future. One thing I’ve noticed in reviews is the common complaint that there’s no real heat between Meg and Simon. There is heat, but it’s latent, and the thing to remember is that the five books encompass less than one year. That’s not a long time in the whole scheme of things, especially when one partner is non-human who  doesn’t know how to interact with humans on a friendship/relationship level; and the other is a physically and psychologically scarred human who was most likely regularly sexually assaulted before escaping the compound for cassandra sangue. We Are Legion (We Are Bob) was a surprisingly fun sci-fi story. Bob and his replicants were intelligent and entertaining. My only issue was how the various subplots were handled at the end of the book. Not cliffhangers necessarily, but some of them weren’t really at good stopping points. The final two books in the Wayward Pines trilogy were good as well, even if the science wasn’t completely plausible. Wayward was the weakest of the three in that it was pretty much set up for The Last Town.

Novels (2) /Nonfiction (2) / Poetry (1)

All five books were for various challenges.

Manga (12) / Graphic Novels (5) / Picture Book (1)

Diary of a Tokyo Teen was alright. It was interesting to read a travelogue from the perspective of a teenager, but it felt like she kept her thoughts to the surface level without really getting into anything. Tokyo Ghoul was the second of two series that derailed my challenge reading in March. I binge read 11 volumes, and they are still amazing the second time around. Yes, it can be violent and gory, but I love the commentary about relations between humans and ghouls that underlines the series. I can’t wait to read the final three volumes, and I hope that VIZ Media will print the sequel series, Tokyo Ghoul:re.

Read Alouds (3)

Both Dealing with Dragons and James and the Giant Peach were read aloud rereads, though this time I read them to Bug and Max. Bug adored DwD, while Max wanted to skip it and read picture books (so I read him a picture book first and then read DwD to Bug). Both children loved JGP and would always beg for one more page. I read Half a World Away to Bean. Realistic fiction is one of her preferred genres, and I thought this one might be interesting to her. The story was about a boy who was adopted, but didn’t really attach to his adoptive parents. At the start of the books, his parents were at the end of the adoption process for a second child, and family was off to Kazakhstan to bring the new baby home. We ended up having multiple conversations about attachment, poverty, and children who have special needs.

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Read Harder – March

I had five books left for Read Harder, but I only finished…four. I was really hoping to complete the entire challenge, but #13 – Nonfiction about technology, was my sticking point. Reality is Broken is fascinating, but nonfiction is always slow going for me. It didn’t help that my reading challenge focus was weak, and that I spent a decent chunk of time marathoning two non-challenge series.

Pyongyang: A Journey in North Korea by Guy Delisle
#8 – Travel memoir
This is the second book about NoKo I’ve read this year, and it was interesting to see the different perspectives between the authors. There was about a ten year difference between the two trips, but there was the same general feel of oppressiveness and craziness with both accounts. A big difference though was that Delisle was less inclined to empathize with the people, focusing more on deficiencies (as compared to the Western world) and how they affected him.

A Long Walk: A Story of War and the Life that Follows by Brian Castner
#14 – Book about war
My husband has been after me to read this book since it was first published, and I’m ashamed to say that it took me this long to get around to reading it. The whole book felt surreal. In part because it’s not written on a straight timeline – the narrative moves fluidly though past and present; fractured because Castner was fractured. And in part because I know some of the people mentioned in the book. My husband has worked with people mentioned in the book; he has been to some of their funerals. Castner brings a different perspective, but also reinforces, what I know of my husband’s experiences.

View with a Grain of Sand by Wislawa Szymborska
#23 – Translated poetry, not about love
After looking at reviews online, I seem to be in a definite minority of not liking this book. Her poems were not accessible and most made no sense at all. It was like a lot of obscure and/or complex words were barfed onto the page without regard for how well they expressed a concept. Out of the entire collection, I enjoyed less than 10 poems. I had to force myself to read this because I didn’t want to hunt down another book for this task.

The Sellout by Paul Beatty
#24 – All POV characters are POC
I really enjoyed this book. It was an scathing satire filled with dark humor and absolutely ludicrous. Beatty twisted and used stereotypes to highlight that no matter how much we think we live in a post-racial America, we really don’t.

 

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Read Harder – February

I managed to gun through nine Read Harder books in March, leaving only five left until I complete the challenge. Go laser focus!

Five Final TBR Books

#8 – Travel memoir – An African in Greenland by Tété-Michele Kpomassie
#13 – Nonfiction technology – Reality is Broken by Jane McGonigal
#14 – Book about war – A Long Walk: A Story of War and the Life that Follows by Brian Castner
#23 – Translated poetry, not about love – View with a Grain of Sand by Wislawa Szymborska
#24 – All POV characters are POC – The Sellout by Paul Beatty

Paper Magician by Charlie N. Holmberg
#2 – Debut novel
I wouldn’t have finished if not for the challenge. If Ceony Twill was training to become a paper magician, then the focus should have been about her gaining and using those skills. While she did learn some rudimentary paper magic, the majority of the book took place while she was trapped inside a human heart, learning about her master’s past. Yes, she did use those skills to save his life, but it felt like it was a detail rather than the purpose. There was also no foundation created for her to start falling in love with her master. It happened because it was “supposed” to happen, but there was no legitimate path toward falling in love.

Death Going Down by Maria Angelica Bosco
#4 – Set in South or Central America, written by a South or Central American author
I chose Death Going Down because it was compared to Agatha Christie’s novels. I can see the similarities in tone and description, and the ensemble aspect of the storytelling reminded me of Murder on the Orient Express. It took a little bit of time to get into the book as the opening pages were a bit clunky and confusing. However, the story and writing evened out.

Hellhole by Gina Damico
#9 – Book you’ve read before
I read this book for Read Harder 2015 (#11 – YA). Since then, it’s been hovering in the back of my mind, whispering that I needed to read it again. It’s snarky and sarcastic, and the whole concept of discovering a devil in your basement, eating Cheetos, wearing a velour tracksuit was definitely different from what I’ve come across before. It had a madcap adventure feel to it. I liked how the characters played off of each other, and how Burg slid between helpful and selfish – it was always a bit unclear as how good or bad he actually was.

City of Light by Lauren Belfer
#10 – Set within 100 miles of home
City of Light is set in Buffalo, which is general geographic area of where I live. And if I had realized that Written in Red by Anne Bishop would have fit this category, albeit in an alternate universe, I would have chosen it instead. I had a very hard time reading this book, and had to set “reading goals” like I do for nonfiction in order to finish it. As a transplant to Buffalo, the historical aspects of the story were interesting, but they amounted to information dumps bogging down plot progression. A good 100+ pages could have been axed, which would have helped immensely with making the book more readable. The plot itself was a bit loose, with too many subplots. The main plot – power company murders – had very little page time.

Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison
#17 – Classic by an author of color
I first read this book when for an English course when I was 19. I remember loving the book, and it’s been simmering on my TBR list as a reread for quite some time. In the simplest terms, it is about the unnamed narrator’s coming of age. In more in-depth terms, it’s about alienation, invisibility (because of race, because of socio-economic status, because of not living in a way segments of society believe you should, etc…). It’s a powerful book, and I can see why it left such an impression on my 19-year old self.

Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov
#16 – Banned/frequently challenged in US
I enjoyed this book more than I probably should have. It was extremely well-written; disturbing, but well-written. Humbert Humbert was vile, but at the same time Nabokov gave him charm, made him a master of deception. HH was constantly justifying his actions to both himself and readers. On some level, he knew it was wrong, but whenever those thoughts bubbled to the surface, he shoved them down before he was forced to acknowledge how reprehensible his actions were. He pushed the blame onto Lolita. A love story this is not. It is a story about abuse and moral depravity.

The Lawrence Browne Affair by Cat Sebastian
#20 – LGBTQ romance novel
I picked this one up because of a mention on Book Riot. It was a nice story, and even if all the romance scenes were cut, would still stand strong. I liked that both men brought the each other out of their respective shells, and allowed each other to be a better person than they thought they could be.

 

The Last Horror Novel in the History of the World by Brian Allen Carr
#21 – Micropress
I first read Brian Allen Carr a few years ago for Read Harder (2015, #4 – Book published by an indie press, Motherfucking Sharks), and loved how weird and completely out there his storytelling was. I figured that I couldn’t go wrong with another BAC book, and I was right. The Last Horror Novel in the History of the World was equally weird and dark and amazing. He has a phenomenal way with words, and doesn’t use more when sparse is perfect.

Always Happy Hour: Stories by Mary Miller
#22 – Collection of stories by a woman
I enjoy reading books with flawed women as main characters, but this was not one of those books. All of the stories were depressing and pointless, and the women blended together to form a single one-dimensional person. They all felt the same, and it made reading the stories a chore. There were also several stories that had gratuitous descriptions or actions that would have had no impact on the plot if removed, but by being left in made it feel like it was there for shock value: “She stands and bends over, makes her anus pulse” is the one that comes to mind (“Big Bad Love”). While it related to a child in a non-sexual way, it had no bearing on the narrative. That being said, there were two stories I almost enjoyed, or at least I could relate to aspects of them: “Always Happy Hour” and “Charts”.

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