Tuesday, July 31, 2018

Six of Crows

Six of Crows Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

SPOILERS AHEAD!


A fun, dangerous heist story, with a good dose of fantasy and magic mixed in. I loved that the narrator changed with every chapter - it let us get to know each of the characters personally, and see them each from an outside perspective as well. I basically want to give the whole crew a big hug, and then spirit them away to somewhere safe. I enjoy them all in their own ways, but I have to admit, I have a favorite.

I love Inej so much. SO MUCH. She is fierce and sneaky and deadly, but also kind and softhearted. She has been through so much, and was at a loss for a long time on what she wanted out of life, and if she even deserved happiness anymore after all the things she'd been forced to do (and all the things she'd chosen to do to survive). I loved watching her grow and develop a plan for her own future that isn't dependent on what a man wants. I love that, as much as she cares for Kaz, she's not going to sacrifice herself and her future for him if he's not willing to meet her at least halfway.

Speaking of Kaz, I have so much sympathy for him. He was also dealt a poor hand in life, and I'm still not sure how he actually battled, fought, and conned his way to the position he is in now. Clearly Kaz has skillz, but he also has a deadly determination to read his goal: making the man responsible for his brother's death and his own anxiety issues pay. Up until Kaz meets and gets to know and falls in love with Inej, that goal is the only thing that matters, and everything else is just either there to help him or in the way. Inej makes things different for him, though. With Inej, Kaz can see a tiny glimpse of the future he never even dreamed of, one where maybe he is happy, and healthy, and can finally work through the emotional and physical issues he's been dealing with since his brother's death. Of course, the second Kaz lets those thoughts sneak into his brain, his plans go awry, and Inej, despite her deadliness, is captured.

Pretty much the only thing I disliked about this is how it "ended" -- because it's not a true ending!! This is the first in a series, which I'm not opposed to, but instead of this adventure wrapping up, and us getting to see where people head next, we're basically being dragged into a whole new book if we want to make sure our favorites are ever going to be safe. Obviously, I'm going to keep reading, but I can't say I'm thrilled to be getting a "let's all rescue the girl" story instead of a "check out this amazing girl as she hunts down slavers" story.

View all my reviews

Friday, July 27, 2018

I'll Be Gone in the Dark

I'll Be Gone in the Dark: One Woman's Obsessive Search for the Golden State Killer I'll Be Gone in the Dark: One Woman's Obsessive Search for the Golden State Killer by Michelle McNamara
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

A fascinating, intensely researched profile of one of my most prolific serial rapists and murderers in US history, with in-depth analysis of his crimes and the many investigations searching for "the responsible" over the decades. At the time of writing and publication, the Golden State Killer, aka East Area Rapist, or EAR, had not been caught. Although investigators held out hope that DNA evidence and tenacity would eventually bring them the right lead, this book held the only conclusion it's author, Michelle McNamara, could write for it at the time of her death: her prophetic look into the future, where she had no doubt he would eventually be discovered and apprehended.

"This is how it ends for you. 'You'll be silent forever, and I'll be gone in the dark,' you threatened a victim once. Open the door, show us your face. Walk into the light."

Part of me wishes I had read this book right after its publication, so I could have know all the facts about the GSK, and speculated on who he was along with Michelle and thousands of others. What joy and shock would I have felt to read the headline, "Golden State Killer Apprehended" after knowing so much about the horrors he inflicted on so many? Reading this book now, knowing the name and face of the killer primary makes me feel relieved: he's not out there anymore. He's been caught. Hopefully the victims and their families can feel some sort of relief after so many years in limbo.

What I am also curious about, though, is how the details of this man's life compare to all the speculation and theories that Michelle, the investigators, and the Internet groups discussed over the years. There were theories about how and where he grew up, where he lived, what his job was. We know now he was a police officer for some of the years he was active criminally: how does that play in to the way he seemed to easily evade capture back in the day? I'm hoping that one day, perhaps once his trial is over and he is in jail, someone will write an article or book to help answer these questions, to help explain how he flew under the radar for so long, and to detail exactly how investigators finally caught him.

I have no doubt that Michelle's hard work and detail, persistent research helped the investigation to finally track down and catch this criminal, and I hope that somewhere, she could see it, and rest easy, knowing her work was done.

View all my reviews

Sunday, July 22, 2018

The Runaway Dragon

The Runaway Dragon The Runaway Dragon by Kate Coombs
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Another fun adventure! I love that not only is Meg determined to go on a quest, that quest is inspired by her need to repair her neglected relationship with Laddy. I'm happy to see her rely on her friends when she needs to, but also take a stand and believe in herself when necessary. And yay Bain! I was also moderately annoyed with him, but to be fair, it's pretty much impossible to fight off magic if you're a non-magical person. Even Lex had trouble at first.

View all my reviews

I Am Malala

I Am Malala: The Story of the Girl Who Stood Up for Education and Was Shot by the Taliban I Am Malala: The Story of the Girl Who Stood Up for Education and Was Shot by the Taliban by Malala Yousafzai
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

"Ok, shoot me. But first, listen to me: what you are doing is wrong."

Not just the inspiring story of a brave girl standing up for what she believed in (education for all), but a cultural, political, and religious history of Pakistan and the Pashtun people. This book documents the horror of the Taliban's increased influence, control, and restrictions from the perspective of a girl who lived through it. Malala recalls countless times she and her family spoke up for what was right, even in the face of extreme personal danger. To this day, Malala campaigns for the right to education, even though many in Pakistan disparage her and believe she's only in it for the glory. Hopefully one day they will understand how wrong they are about her.

View all my reviews

Thursday, July 19, 2018

Carry On

Carry On Carry On by Rainbow Rowell
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

SPOILERS AHEAD


I loved Fangirl, and I loved this, too! We finally get to meet and love the characters Cath and Wren love so much, and it's worth the wait. Simon and Baz are adorable, and I love how their relationship develops over time. I don't feel like I'm missing out on anything hopping into their story so "late" in the game, as I feared I would. We get just enough pieces of their history for context, without being mired in flashbacks. Hate and love are both passionate emotions, and are so intertwined that it's easy to see how one could be confused for the other.

Also, even though on the surface, this might seem overly referential to the Harry Potter franchise, there are unique differences that make these characters special in their own right.

In truth, this book flips the trope of "the chosen one" on it's head. By latching on to prophecy of The Chosen One in his quest for power and revolution, the Mage inadvertently brings about the great threat their magical world has always feared. Some of the Mages reforms are quite noble - open up the world of education and learning to all magical creatures, not just the old families or the most powerful - but he lost sight of his original goals in his quest for dominance. As for Simon and his friends, is it enough to live for the future, for the hope that one day, you'll be able to stop fighting and just live? Or do you owe it to yourself and those around you to live every day like it's your last, and find your happiness wherever you can? Also, what makes someone a hero, and what makes them a villain? Nothing in life is ever black and white, and it's possible to be both a hero and a villain, both the problem and the solution.

I'm delighted to see there is a sequel in the works, even though it might be years down the road, because I want to read more of the adventures of Simon, Baz, and Penny. Not so much Agatha, who struck me as the blandest character, only redeeming herself in the end. I'm hoping Simon learns more about his parentage, specifically his mom, and I'm hoping he can regain some sort of magical abilities. I'm hoping Penny's boyfriend moves from America, so we don't have to worry about her leaving anytime soon. I'm hoping Baz finds a balance in life that lets him accept himself and not worry too much about being or becoming a monster.

View all my reviews

Wednesday, July 18, 2018

Furiously Happy

Furiously Happy: A Funny Book About Horrible Things Furiously Happy: A Funny Book About Horrible Things by Jenny Lawson
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Both hilariously funny and brutally honest about the difficult mental health struggles Jenny deals with on a daily basis. This book made me both laugh out loud and cry, sometimes within sentences of one another. I appreciate Jenny so much for being so forthcoming and upfront about her life and the way she thinks, and for providing a safe space for a supportive community to develop. Here are a few of my favorite quotes:

"But it's not like all ninjas are automatically great at their job. Someone has to be the worst ninja in the class. That's just basic math."

"Your lack of spoons is not your fault."

"How can we be expected to properly judge ourselves? We know all of our worst secrets. We are biased, and overly critical, and occasionally filled with shame, so you'll just have to trust me when I say you are worthy and important and necessary and smart."

"What I got back in return for being honest about my struggle was an enormous wave of voices saying 'you aren't alone' and 'we suspected you were crazy anyway, we're still here' and 'I'm proud of you.'And louder than all of that were the whispers that became stronger every day from thousands and thousands of people creeping to the edge and quietly admitting, "me, too. I thought it was just me." And the whispers became a roar, and the roar became an anthem that carried me through some of my darkest moments."


View all my reviews

Monday, July 9, 2018

The Immortalists

The Immortalists The Immortalists by Chloe Benjamin
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A fascinating story about family and what it means to truly live. If you know the date you will die, are you free to live your life without worry? Or are you pushed to be reckless and foolhardy, because you know what you do doesn't matter in the end? The Gold siblings were permanent split from one another the day they learned their fates, because each became consumed with their own worries and fears.

This story made me really sad a lot of the time, but in the end, I appreciated what I think it was trying to say. Don't sacrifice the quality of your life to ensure a quantity of life, because what is life if you lock yourself away and don't experience it? Be fearless. As Ruby has learned, "magic is only one tool among many for keeping one another alive." There's the physical act of learning to heal, as a doctor, but there's also the power of love. "I love you all." The best part of Ruby is that she means it.

View all my reviews

Friday, July 6, 2018

Along for the Ride

Along for the Ride Along for the Ride by Sarah Dessen
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Another classic Dessen novel, just what I was expecting. Auden has a lot of baggage from her childhood, and this is the summer she deals with it all, before heading off to college. She slowly gets to experience all the normal kid and teenage stuff she missed out on while her parents were assuming she was a "grown up" already, focused on studying and the future. And when she goes to live with her dad, she eventually gets the chance to confront both him and her mom with how their divorce affected her.

The "getting back on your bike" analogy didn't work perfectly for Auden and Eli's relationship, in my opinion, but I appreciated the sentiment, and learning how to fail and still continue to try is an important lesson, and one my perfectionist heart is still learning every day. It almost felt like they were placing all the blame for Auden and Eli's separation onto her shoulders, because she freaked out and pulled away and didn't communicate. Although yes, that is something Auden did repeatedly with multiple people, Eli holds some responsibility, too. When Auden didn't immediately respond and answer his questions and explain herself, Eli walked away, and never even tried to contact her again. If Auden hadn't gone up to him, would he have just left her alone for the rest of their lives? He could have at least made an effort to reach out to her.

It the end, it made me happy to see Auden with friends, and with a more balanced life.

View all my reviews

Monday, July 2, 2018

The Bone Cage

The Bone Cage The Bone Cage by Angie Abdou
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

A brilliantly insightful novel about what makes one's life meaningful, and how to pick up the pieces of your life when all your dreams have been shattered.

Elite athletes live a different life than most of us - many years spent so intensely focused on very particular goals, at the expense of their lives, their families, their bodies. So what happens when their bodies give out and their competitive days are over? What if they fought as hard as they could, and it still wasn't enpugh to reach their goals? What if a twist of fate sent them down a radically different path? It's just. It's so sad. How do you get past the feeling of things being left so incomplete, of never knowing if you were good enough to win? What next?

Those are the issues that Sadie, Digger, and their friends are wrestling with through out this book. In the end, I'm not sure anyone has it figured out, but all you can do is try: try to let go of the way things were, and try to build a new sense of self worth, one that is not tied to competition and your identity as an athlete. I want to give Sadie a big hug. Her journey is so rough and raw and real. It's entirely relatable, to see her look back at her team and suddenly feel like she doesn't belong.

Every athlete has to move on eventually, but it's how you do it that shapes the rest of your life. I like that there is no firm resolution in the story about that, because for everyone, that's going to look different.


View all my reviews

Saturday, June 30, 2018

The Runaway Princess

The Runaway Princess The Runaway Princess by Kate Coombs
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

A delightfully different fairy tale about a princess who wasn't content to sit around and let herself become a prize for men to fight over, and sets out to win her own hand (and save herself from a despicable, lying prince). I loved Meg and all her friends, and I can't wait to read more of their adventures, as I see there is a sequel, featuring Laddy! Also, despite the fact that I love that this book wasn't about romance or Meg finding her prince, I can't be the only one hoping to see Bain pop up again in the future, with his delightfully smirky smirk.

View all my reviews

Friday, June 29, 2018

Spoiler Alert: The Hero Dies

Spoiler Alert: The Hero Dies Spoiler Alert: The Hero Dies by Michael Ausiello
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

An honest and heart-felt chronicle of not just the last year in the life of Ausiello's beloved husband, Kit, but also the true story of their relationship, with all the high and lows contained within. Ausiello doesn't sugarcoat anything - he is upfront about both his and Kit's issues that made their relationship contentious at times. But he also shows how their deep love for one another, despite infidelity and jealousy, and especially in the face of certain death, kept them together through all the dark days, and helped them treasure the bright ones.

As a lifelong tv fanatic (my username on most social media outlets is rachlovestv), I've been a fan of Ausiello's writing from his early Ask Ausiello days - no one could give me the scoop on Veronica, Felicity, Buffy, and all my other tv friends quite like Mike. I wasn't aware of his personal story, however, and when I first heard of this memoir of his, my first thought was, "Oh nooooo! That's too sad!" followed quickly by, "I'm going to need to read that!" This book has come at the perfect time in my life, as well, and I happen to have been reading quite a few cancer memoirs over the last 6 months.

View all my reviews

Friday, June 22, 2018

Hamilton: The Revolution

Hamilton: The Revolution Hamilton: The Revolution by Lin-Manuel Miranda
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

A delightful look into not just the genesis and creation of the hit musical, but at the history and hip hop that inspired its creator, and the journey the show went through from initial conception to Broadway. This is a must-read for fans of the show, but I'd also recommend it to musical theater fans in general.

The only downside to the audiobook is that Lin's annotations to the libretto are read straight through, without reference to what they are notating. Yes, a PDF is included with the audiobook for reference, but I mostly listen to audiobooks when I'm driving or walking or working on other things, not when I'm sitting in front of a computer, reading a PDF for reference.

View all my reviews

Tuesday, June 19, 2018

Just Listen

Just Listen Just Listen by Sarah Dessen
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

SPOILERS AHEAD


Like most of Dessen's heroines, Annabelle has been through some Serious Sh*t, and although her silence is frustrating at times, I don't blame her for retreating into herself and trying to pretend that hadn't happened to her. It's true that becoming labeled as "the girl who was raped" or even harsher "the girl who SAID she was raped" is something people have a hard time forgetting. There's no other way this book was going to end, though, than with Annabelle finally gathering her courage and finally telling the truth about what happened to her, and spilling all the secrets she'd been keeping for the last six months.

It made sense that Owen was a big encouragement to her finally telling the truth: she wanted to be the person he saw her as, and Owen saw Emily as strong and honest. But she also needed the others around her to finally see her: her sisters, her parents, Clarke, Emily. I was a little frustrated by Owen when he got so angry at her not telling him what was going on. No matter how close you've gotten, if it's something she still can't say to you, don't you think that maybe it's a big deal, and you could be a little more understanding?

It might seem like stories like these aren't as relevant to my life as a 30-something, but sometimes we all need to be reminded that we are loved as we are, that those we love can be trusted, and that life will go on.

View all my reviews

Monday, June 18, 2018

The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl Beats Up the Marvel Universe

The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl Beats Up the Marvel Universe The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl Beats Up the Marvel Universe by Ryan North
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Such a fun adventure with Doreen (and her clone Allene)! If you are not reading squirr girl, you are missing out. She is such a positive role model of how to fight evil, but still always work towards compromise. If nothing else, this book shows how dangerous Doreen could be if she didn't love the world and love people. I love what she says st the end when she decides to forgive Allene. Nancy: "You think you can just decide not to hate someone?" Doreen: "I think -- I think you can try. I think that's the most revolutionary thing you can do, actually."

View all my reviews

I Am Princess X

I Am Princess X I Am Princess X by Cherie Priest
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Both a story of grief and loss and a riveting adventure to save someone before they are lost for good. I loved the creative combination of prose and sequential art, where it felt like we were reading both May and Libby's stories simultaneously. I also loved how specific the setting was - I'm from Seattle, and I've been to so many of the places in this book that it was really easy to picture each scene.

View all my reviews

Sunday, June 10, 2018

Being Mortal

Being Mortal: Medicine and What Matters in the End Being Mortal: Medicine and What Matters in the End by Atul Gawande
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

A fascinating look at how best to care for one another and ourselves as we grow older and reach the end of our lives. From doctors trained in geriatrics to a different style of "nursing" home, this book covers both the history of end-of-life care over the centuries and the research studies that show the benefits of prioritizing quality of life over strict medical care.

The author also talks a lot about having conversations with your loved ones about what truly makes life worth living for you, in concrete specific ways. We are often left to make major medical decisions for our loved ones, and having these concrete answers provides a guideline so that you as the caregiver don't have to just guess at what they'd want.

This book feels really important, and i think everyone should read it, especially if you are a medical professional. I couldn't stop calling my mom, who is a retired nurse, nursing school professor, and geriatrics researcher, to tell her things - so much so that she went and bought the book to read herself.

View all my reviews

Thursday, May 31, 2018

The Prince and the Dressmaker

The Prince and the Dressmaker The Prince and the Dressmaker by Jen Wang
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

A lovely book about being yourself and learning to love who you are. Frances and Sebastian have a sweet friendship that naturally turns into something more as they become more and more comfortable being themselves around one another. Sebastian finds himself in the uncomfortable situation of having to choose between what his family, whom he loves, expects of him, and what feels right to him as a person. Although it takes some time to figure out, and he ends up being outed by a self-righteous jerk in the process, in the end, his family loves him and supports his decisions to dress in whatever way he wants and love whomever he wants in the most epic way possible. I was also happy that Frances stood up for herself when Sebastian disappointed her and tried to control her for his own personal interests, but I was even more happy to see her stand up for her own designs. Frances and Sebastian make a great team, supporting one another and encouraging one another to greatness. They would be great role models for any kid, or adult, for that matter.

View all my reviews

Tuesday, May 29, 2018

We Are the Ants

We Are the Ants We Are the Ants by Shaun David Hutchinson
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

SPOILERS AHEAD


Both a deeply touching story of loss, grief, and misery, and an existential journey of self-discovery. Henry starts and ends the both saying the same words: "When we're gone, the world will forget we ever existed. It doesn't matter." What changes over the course of 6 months and this book is what he *means* by those words.

For much of the book, Henry wrestles with how to live in a world where his boyfriend, his other half, doesn't exist. What's the point when nothing we do matters in the grand scheme of the universe? When faced with the decision to save the universe or let it be destroyed, Henry figures the world is better off dead. Eventually, through his relationships with his family, with Audrey, and with Diego, Henry realizes that life can go on and HE can go on, but not without admitting the truth to the ones who love him: he is not okay, and he needs help.

While Henry lived in the past, Diego was focused on ignoring it. He didn't want to be the guy who went to juvie for beating up his dad, the guy whose own mom wouldn't support him, and kept returning to her abuser. Diego wanted to focus on the future, and figure out who he was and who he wanted to be. Diego wanted Henry in his future and didn't necessarily understand why Henry couldn't let go of the past.

What these guys learned together was the mantra Henry had inscrinbed on the journal he gives Diego: "Remember the past, live the present, write the future." It's all about balance: you can't live in the past, but you can't ignore what you've been through. You need to live in the now, and look to the future, and write your own story of who you want to become.

I don't want to talk about Marcus, but I feel like I need to mention him. As much as he is the villain in this story, I do have a tiny piece of understanding for him. Let me be clear: Marcus deserved everything he got, and much, much more, but his actions definitely came from a place of desperation and self-loathing, and I hope he gets the help he needs so that he learns from his actions and never hurts anyone ever again. And that's all I'll say about him.

I can't imagine that any of these characters are completely over their issues. Henry might always feel guilt over Jesse's death and moving on (I wasn't good enough, I loved him too much, I didn't love him enough), Diego definitely has some overprotective anger issues to work on, Charlie and Zooey will always mourn for and miss their Evie. But no one is perfect, and no one has everything all figured out. Like Audrey tells Henry, you might not be good enough for Diego, but he's not good enough for you either, and maybe that makes you perfect for each other.

In th end, it doesn't matter if the world forgets who we are, what we did, who we loved. "The universe may forget us, but our light will brighten the darkness for eons after we've departed this world. The universe may ........ we may not get to choose how we die, but we *can* choose how we live."

So the big question: was Henry really abducted by aliens? Was there really a button to press? Did the world end on January 29, 2016? Despite my curiosity, I can only conclude one thing: it doesn't matter. Like anything after the ending of this book, our future is unwritten, and you can change, grow, and be who you want to be, the best version of yourself.

View all my reviews

Saturday, May 26, 2018

Paper Princess

Paper Princess Paper Princess by Erin Watt
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

SPOILERS AHEAD


This was... not what I expected. To be honest, I can't believe this is consider YA, with all the over-the-top hookups and sex talk. It's totally unsurprising to me, now that I've read this and done some research, that this is a collaboration between 2 authors who primarily write adult romance. I definitely see a lot of those common romance tropes here.

I like Ella well enough, but her instant attraction to Reed was unbelievable, and her reactions to pretty much everything that happened seemed oversize for each situation. I wish she would stick around and try to trust at least Callum, instead of running, despite the insanity she was facing at the end of the book.

I'm more annoyed, though, with Reed and the rest of these Royal boys. Can you please start acting in rational ways, or at least explaining yourselves? It makes absolutely no sense that Reed would go from loving, supportive boyfriend to unapologetic sex toy of a woman whom he hates in a span of a few hours. I honestly don't see any explanation that would justify or forgive that behavior. Gideon also makes no sense, trying to warn Ella off without actually saying anything. And the evil Brooke - what does she have over these guys that allows her make them her sexual play things? Based on the pec scratches, which I'm guessing is her calling card, she's also been having sex with Gideon.

I'll probably read the next book just because the way this one ended was so unsatisfying and I want at least some good thing to come for Ella, but I can't imagine what that could possibly be at this point.

View all my reviews

Thursday, May 24, 2018

Krampus

Krampus: The Yule Lord Krampus: The Yule Lord by Brom
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

SPOILERS AHEAD


This book was so much different than I expected, and so great. Not that I expected it not to be great, but I was quite surprise and taken by the Krampus/Santa connection to Norse mythology. It really makes me want to read more about the topic, because as a person of 50% Scandinavian heritage, it's pretty sad that the most I know about Norse mythology comes from Marvel comics and movies, and now this book. Luckily I've already picked up a couple books, and I can't wait to read them!

I really appreciated the shifting narrators of this book, as it allowed me to understand and sympathize with each character's unique perspective. I just wanted to give Jesse a hug and some encouragement. Every time someone called him a loser, I wanted to yell, "don't believe it! They don't know you!" If nothing else, his time with Krampus gave him the confidence to know what kind of person he truly was, and what he was capable of. I hope he pursues his music, and I hope Linda can recognize how much he has changed. I don't blame her for leaving him in the first place, though Dillard was a particularly terrible choice as a follow up, but it seems like they still have a lot of love for one another, and most of all, they both love Abby and want what is best for her. Also, there's nothing like being saved from your murdering boyfriend by your ex to make you reconsider your relationship status. I enjoy thinking of them living happily, together. They've earned a little peace.

I have so much love for Isobel. That poor girl - she never had a family to support her, and the one person who ever truly loved her died before they ever got to become a true family. I'd like to think that his parents would have taken both her and the baby in, but I get the fear and sadness that drove her to want to end it all. Thankfully, Krampus was there to save her, and give her a second chance at life. She might not have aged physically in those 40 years, but she Grew Up, and she knew her priorities this time around: finding and having a relationship with her son, even if he was "25 years older" than her now. I'm curious if they'll buy it, but I hope they will learn to accept her.

The Krampus vs Baldur debate: who is the good and who is the evil? That seems to be the big question posed in this book. In a way, I can see each of their sides. The truth is, none of us got to know the old Baldur - all things considered, he appears to have mellowed and truly turned towards good over the years, but it's hard to reconcile that person with the same one who would chain Krampus in a cave for millennia, all because he wanted power that was not his to possess. Krampus is full of righteous, justified anger. When he is finally free, he is due his revenge, and I was happy for him to see it realized, even as I knew it couldn't last long. It was hard to see Krampus as he realized how the world had changed in the years he was in exile, and try to find his place in it. That last night was so perfect: the candy in the shoes, the party at the tavern, all of Mother Nature rejoicing with Krampus. It's sad that Krampus and Baldur couldn't co-exist, but it didn't seem that their history would allow that. Whoever the God is in this story, She made sure of that, and chose Baldur as Her victor because he amused her the most. A sad way for a proud, majestic god to end.

Luckily, that wasn't the true ending! Krampus had planted the seeds in the minds of Boone County, and once planted, they were hard to remove. "If enough folks believe in a thing I guess it becomes real enough." Krampus was not forgotten, and thus, he lived. In the memory of those who loved and honored him, in the belief of the children, in the spirit of Yule, and maybe even in body: Krampus lives.

The only person for whom I felt no sympathy for in the end was Dillard. To paraphrase Santa: "F--- that guy. The world is a little less evil now without him here." That guy was truly scum, and even living in his brain for a bit and hearing all his justifications for murder didn't make me sympathize with him. I just wanted to punch him. His end was truly fitting.

View all my reviews

Wednesday, May 23, 2018

The Wedding Date

The Wedding Date The Wedding Date by Jasmine Guillory
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I've been reading a lot of heavy books lately, so I wanted to take a break and read something a little more light-hearted. This was a funny, sexy romance that had the perfect amount of tension. I also appreciated Alexa giving Drew a look outside his own privilege, and providing some education on what it's like to be a black person and woman. Drew might be an idiot about some things, but he shut down people's racism really fast, and believed Alexa, no questions asked, when she told him about someone's racist comments. Their relationship wasn't perfect, but I liked how they listened to one another, paid attention, and always tried to understand where the other was coming from. If I have one complaint, I didn't necessarily need to read about ALL the sex - it feels like about 50% of the book was descriptions of them either having sex, wishing they were having sex, or remembering having sex. That's just personal preference, though. It was very tastefully written, just frequent.

View all my reviews

Saturday, May 12, 2018

The Radium Girls

The Radium Girls: The Dark Story of America's Shining Women The Radium Girls: The Dark Story of America's Shining Women by Kate Moore
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This is a fascinating story, and it's truly disgusting and disheartening how these women were treated by men who valued their own profits and companies over human life. It's also extremely frustrating that radium regulation wasn't put into place until a rich, white man died from radium poisoning, despite women suffering and dying from it for over a decade by that point. These companies, and the people who own them and work for them, are truly deplorable, and I get more and more angry the more I think about them.

I appreciate so much that author Kate Moore gave voice to these women, and both their physical and mental struggles and their battles in court. For women who died too young, for no other reason than they were doing their jobs, she told their stories and immortalized them for all time. I kept flipping to look at their photos, to remember their stories, and to match faces with the many names.

My only complaint about this book is the attention to detail was so excessive that it moved very slowly for me. For a book I was invested in, it took me a remarkably long time to read - 12 days. I just wasn't motivated. Maybe I was too sad? Maybe I could sense how it was going to go? Who knows. In the end, I feel like the story could have been tightened up, and still maintain it's authenticity and truth.

View all my reviews

Friday, May 11, 2018

Hunger: A Memoir of (My) Body

Hunger: A Memoir of (My) Body Hunger: A Memoir of (My) Body by Roxane Gay
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Maybe it's because I have struggled through my own body issues for many years, but a lot of this book really spoke to me.

I want to thank Roxane Gay for sharing so many intimate details of her own personal story. I can't imagine that is an easy thing to do, especially when you have been hiding those parts of yourself for so long. As she writes in the introduction, "Mine is not a success story, but it is a true story." Thank you for sharing your truth.

In many ways, Roxane's story is vastly different than mine, but there are parts of her story, of the experience of being overweight, and being overly conscious of the space your own body takes up, that really resonate with me. People that have always been small don't always seem to understand the impact your physical size has on your life. It's not even about health, it's about wondering if you'll fit in a chair or a rollercoaster or a plane seat. It's about wondering if the people that end up near to you in public spaces are going to be annoyed at the extra space you take up, and constantly trying to minimize your physical footprint. It's about wondering if you'll ever find something to wear that you like, and seeing all the clothes you'd like to wear not come in your size. I've experienced all those things, and I weigh several hundred pounds less than Roxane.

I've seen some criticism that parts of this book can be repetitive, and yes, I'd say that is true. But I think that can be attributed to the fact that these parts that are repeated are significant to each essay they are included in. For me, listening to this book over the space of a week, it wasn't an annoying repetition, it was appreciated.

If nothing else when you read this book, I would hope that your eyes would be opened to the world that so many people live in; to the biases, whether conscious or unconscious, that larger-sized people face. We need to be sensitive to the way we interact with and speak to one another, regardless of size. As Roxane puts it towards the end of the book, it's about inclusion and acceptance, not just tolerance.

View all my reviews

Thursday, May 10, 2018

Sing, Unburied, Sing

Sing, Unburied, Sing Sing, Unburied, Sing by Jesmyn Ward
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

SPOILERS AHEAD:


A story about life and death, race and privilege, family and home. This story benefited greatly from it's alternating narrators. If all we knew was Jojo's perspective, it would be easy to classify Leonie as just a selfish person and a terrible mother. As much as those things might be true, when the story is told from Leonie's perspective, we can see that she is much more complicated than that. The violent, senseless, and unvindicated loss of her brother Given as such a young age left a lasting hole in her life. Not only did she desperately miss her brother, but her parents were wrapped up in their own grief, and she was left on the outside, alone, until Michael came along.

This story is also about Jojo becoming a man, and awakening more and more to the reality of the world he lives in. As much as the world changes, it seems some things stay the same. His grandpa, River, was sent to prison just for being black and in the wrong place at the wrong time. Richie died because he was taken by an evil man and ended up black in the wrong place at the wrong time. Given was killed because he was black boy and was better at something than a white man. Jojo, as 13 year old, is handcuffed and thrown to the group for no reason other than he is black and a cop has decided his family is suspicious. Jojo also has to listen to the racist rants of his white grandpa.

The only good thing I saw Jojo's father, Michael, do is defend Leonie to his parents. I almost wish we could have had some chapters from Michael's perspective, because I honestly don't know what that man was thinking. Who even starts dating the sister of the boy his own cousin killed in cold blood? I can't tell if he ever loved his kids or if he just loved Leonie.

I'm still not quite sure what to make of the mystical elements of this book. What makes a spirit stay around instead of heading to it's final resting place? It seemed like Given was staying for his mom. Richie seemed to stay because he needed some sort of closure on how he died, but even when he knew, he didn't seem to be satisfied. That tree of ghosts at the end was certainly creepy, and just made me really sad. Also, what is it about Jojo's family that lets them see these spirits and communicate with them? His grandma seemed to imply that it came down through her family line, but what is the purpose of their powers? To help the spirits move on? It the end I guess we'll never know.

View all my reviews

Wednesday, May 9, 2018

1984

1984 1984 by George Orwell
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Finally it's done!! It's taken me so long to finish this book (well over a year) partly because I just stalled out over the doublethink and newspeak and the philosophical treatise Winston spends so long reading in middle, trying to understand the why of it all. There's a lot of good nuggets in this book, and it definitely makes you think about society as a whole and your place in it. What makes something real? Even if you know something to be true, is it really true is everyone else says it's not?

In the end, I wanted to enjoy this more than I actually did. If I wasn't so stubborn, I probably never would have finished it. We read this in school, but at this point, I'm not convinced I had even finished it. These days, it almost feels TOO real: I can actually imagine our society and government turning into this, and it's terrifying. Part of me wants people to read this as a cautionary tale, but the other part of me is afraid there are people out there who would read this and think, "these are great ideas, let's do that." No, how about let's not?

Here are some things I underlined while reading:

"This - although the vast majority of Party members understand it only in a shallower sense - is the inner meaning of the Party slogan: War is Peace."

"It was possible, no doubt, to imagine a society in which wealth, in the sense of personal possessions and luxuries, should be evenly distributed, while power remained in the hands of a small privileged caste. But in practice such a society could not long remain stable. For if leisure and security were enjoyed by all alike, the great mass of human beings who are normally stupefied by poverty would become literate and would learn to think for themselves; and when once they had done thins, they would sooner or later realize that the privileged minority had no function, and they would sweep it away. In the long run, a hierarchical society was only possible on a basis of poverty and ignorance."

"In his capacity as an administrator, it is often necessary for a member of the Inner Party to know that this or that item of war news in untruthful, and he may often be aware that the entire war is spurious ans is either not happening or is being waged for purposes quite other than the declared ones: but such knowledge is easily neutralized by the technique of doublethink. Meanwhile no Inner Party member wavers for an instant in his mystical belief that the war is real, and that it is bound to end victoriously, with Oceania the undisputed master of the entire world."

"Big Brother is the guise in which the Party chooses to exhibit itself to the world. His function is to act as a focusing point for love, fear and reverence, emotions which are more easily felt towards an individual than towards and organization."

"The essence of oligarchical rule is not father-to-son inheritance, but the persistence of a certain world-view and a certain way of life, imposed by the dead upon the living. A ruling group is a ruling group so long as it an nominate its successors. The Party is not concerned with perpetuating its blood but with perpetuating itself. Who wields the power is not important, provided that the hierarchical structure remains always the same."

View all my reviews

Wednesday, May 2, 2018

It's Okay to Laugh

It's Okay to Laugh It's Okay to Laugh by Nora McInerny Purmort
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Of all the cancer memoirs I've read recently, this is the first one written by a surviving family member instead of the patient themselves. Nora writes with humor, honestly, and truth about what it's like to lose the ones you love to soon. Beyond just putting in to words some of the things I have been feeling over the past 6 months, though, Nora gives great advice and insight in how to be a good friend to your own people who are grieving.

The line that sticks with me most is this: "You may be the one who says the wrong thing, but that's better than being the one who says nothing at all." As a perfectionist at heart, sometime's it's hard for me to do or say anything if I fear it might not be the "right" or "best" thing for the situation, but in the end, it's not your perfect words that are going to matter to your friends, it's the fact that you texted, or called, or sent a card, or a facebook message; that you SHOWED UP and said, in your own imperfect way, "I'm here for you. I care about you. You are important."

One of my friends recently lost her husband to cancer, and through this whole process, she has been a pillar of strength and faith, especially for her kids. My friend immediately came to mind when Nora said, "You don't do it because you're superwoman, you do it because it's your life, and no one can live it for you." Life doesn't just stop, and you can't just stop either - there's still bills to pay and kids to feed and showers to take. You're strong because you have to be. That doesn't make that strength any less amazing, but that's just the way life is.

Another insight that sticks with me is the uniqueness of grief, and how isolating that can be. "Grief is lonely, no matter how many other people feel it. Each is different, because we lost different people." I take that thought and to it that you can't expect anyone else to grieve the same way you do. You have to allow people to grieve in the ways they need, even if it doesn't make sense to you.

I've never been married, so I don't know what it's like to contemplate losing the love of your life, but I can relate to the fear and anxiety that comes with the thought of losing your parents. I am extremely close to my parents, and they are getting to be an age where they have major health issues, most recently my dad's own brain cancer diagnosis. Every day, I worry about what life will be like without them, and what I can do to make their lives better every day I have with them. I loved (and also sobbed through) Nora's story of her last words for her father as he passed, and I pray that I'll not only be able to be the same comfort to my parents one day, but also that I'll tell them these things every day along the way: "You are the best dad."

View all my reviews

Monday, April 30, 2018

The Power

The Power The Power by Naomi Alderman
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

SPOILERS AHEAD:


A mind-blowing, clever, and shocking story revolving around power and gender, and the effect power has on gender stereotypes and expectations. Parts of this book were extremely hard to read, because things like this actually happen around the world, but those atrocities are being perpetrated upon women, not men. When the power between men and women is flipped on its head, what comes to pass in this book is not a more gentle world, but one that is equally horrifying. Turns out, it's not his gender that gives man an incredible capacity for cruelty, it's the power he has, a power that imbibes him with invulnerability and a sense of invincibility in the face of normal checks and balances. Women are not, in fact, immune to this perversion

As the male "writer" of this "historical fiction" notes, "Gender is a shell game. What is a man? Whatever a woman isn't. What is a woman? Whatever a man is not. Tap on it and it's hollow. Look under the shells: it's not there." Gender is only important in that it signals to others where the real power lies. Women and men, deep down, are the same: wanting power, taking what they can get. Roxy and Tunde are talking towards the end, trying to make sense of all that had happened to them. "One of them says, 'Why did they do it, Nina and Darrell?' And the other answers, 'Because they could.' That is the only answer there ever is."

The men and women in this book don't truly connect with one another until the balance of power between them has been leveled. Tunde had fear slowly building in him with every female encounter, and it wasn't until he was with Roxy that he could relax and connect. Roxy who had her power stripped away by those she trusted most, had been reminded again and again that she can't trust men, but Tunde looked at her and said, Even without your Power, you are powerful. He helped her see that her identity wasn't tied to her power, but was something that couldn't ever be taken away.

One interesting this to note is that, other than at the very beginning, when Allie is noted as mixed-race, we rarely see mention of racial divide and disparity as the power structure shifts from male to female leadership and privilege. Maybe that was too many layers to include in the book, but if this was truly the way the world changed, it's not like racism would disappear overnight. You'd better believe there are just as many female racists as there are male.

View all my reviews

Saturday, April 28, 2018

The Fifth Season

The Fifth Season The Fifth Season by N.K. Jemisin
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

BEWARE: MAJOR SPOILERS AHEAD


Amazing and complex and deeply moving. There is so much going on In this book that it's almost too hard to review it.

Finally, a book where a woman is "the chosen one," the unknown who might be able to save the world by destroying it. And she is a complicated woman, who has lived through unspeakable things like torture, reeducation, becoming a slave not in name but in treatment. Her body is not her own, her life is not her own, her future is not her own. Somehow, she manages to escape time and again, to carve out little pockets of freedom and love. Of course, those moments of happiness always end in almost more anguish and heartbreak than one can bear. Is she could have destroyed herself, she would.

There's a lot I still don't understand, and obviously this book needs the rest of its trilogy to provide answers and satisfaction. Normally that would bother me, but so much of substance happens in this book, that I can't imagine it containing more depths in itself. I'm still not sure what the relationship between the Orogenes and the obelisks is, or the relationship between the orogenes and the stone eaters. Obviously, Hoa has claimed Essun as his own (and fought off others for this privilege), just as Antimony has claimed Alabaster. At first, it seemed like this was a beneficial arrangement for the orogene in question - Antimony is the one who saved them from destruction at Allia - but now seeing him turned mostly to stone, and subsequently literally eaten away, I'm starting to wonder.

Also, I'm really pissed at Alabaster telling Syen that he'll never forgive her for killing Coru, because he TOLD her to do it, he would have done it himself, and she saved him from a miserable life of torture. Also, I'm pretty sure she was trying to kill herself, too, but was somehow protected by the obelisk, so really, she's living a lifetime of self-torture. So back off. Whatever Alabaster wants her to do with the moon, it still feels more important that she track down Jija and find Nassun, because any one who would kill his 3 year old son but abduct his 10 year old daughter instead of killing her... it creeps me out makes me suspicious. Find that girl!

I have to mention, too, I was really wary of a book that forces sexual slavery on people in the name of procreation, and if it had come from any other writer, I probably would have stopped reading right then. I decided to trust the author, though, and I'm glad I did. It's pretty clear that every decent person considers that system abhorrent, and the loving relationship we see most is between a bisexual man, his female partner, and his male partner, who live together with their child as a happy, whole family. There is also a transgender character, and others whose genders aren't clarified. Overall, the gender and sexuality expressed in this book is inclusive and normalizing, which is definitely encouraging and uplifting to read.

View all my reviews

Friday, April 27, 2018

Odd Thomas

Odd Thomas Odd Thomas by Dean Koontz
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

MAJOR SPOILERS AHEAD


An inventive and creepy story about a fascinating person. I really liked Odd, and I can imagine his gift is hard to live with sometimes. Not only have to help those who have passed, but dealing with the guilt of not being able to save everyone would be overwhelming.

I'm still not sure what exactly bodachs are, and what that weird light-sucking room in Bob's house was. Maybe it really was the gateway to hell?

I'm so, so sad about Stormy. I originally thought it was unlikely she'd make it, but then, the fact that she was talking to him in the hospital tricked me, though Odd admitted he was being an unreliable narrator at that point, because he couldn't deal with Stormy's loss in addition to his injuries. She seemed to be the perfect balance to Odd, and I wonder now what will become of him. Even if he has lots of options (as his nurse friend implied), it's hard to see him trusting anyone enough to fully drop his guard and tell her his secrets.

View all my reviews

Saturday, April 21, 2018

The Cuckoo's Calling

The Cuckoo's Calling The Cuckoo's Calling by Robert Galbraith
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

SPOILERS AHEAD


A fun and engaging mystery. I really liked Cormoran, but Robin really steals the show! She is so clever and kind, and I love the dynamic she is building with Cormoran. I'm thrilled (but not surprised) that she'll be staying on as his secretary/assistant/student detective.

This plot was certainly twisty and turny, but by the time it got to the end, everything added up just as Cormoran said. Lula had a lot of issues, but deep down, she seemed like a sweet girl who just wanted someone to connect with, who would love her unconditionally without expecting anything from her. Jonah was exactly that person, and I'm most sad that their relationship never got a chance to grow. Also, poor Charlie.

I'm definitely going to keep reading the series, whenever I need a fun mystery.

View all my reviews

Friday, April 20, 2018

Dark Matter

Dark Matter Dark Matter by Blake Crouch
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

SPOILERS AHEAD: BEWARE!


A fascinating and suspensefully mind-bending thriller, but the heart of this story is about love, family, identity, and regret.

The science itself is intriguing, and Crouch does an excellent job explaining the quantum mechanics of it all so well that even a non-science person like me can understand. And then go, "WHOA."

My favorite parts of this book are all the introspective moments Jason1 has as he tries to make sense of who he is as a person if he's not UNIQUE in his personhood. Eventually he comes to the conclusion that one's identity isn't binary, it's multifaceted. Who you are isn't just the result of one distinct choice, it's the result ALL the choices you make and experiences you have along the way. All those other Jasons (save Jason2) started out at the same point as Jason1: being stolen from his world. Eventually, they diverged, and became distinct individuals. Daniela decides that Jason1 is the one she wants to be with because, just like the first time they met, it's incredible that they found a way to one another for a second time. Is it fate? Maybe, for these instances of these people, it is.

Regret is something we all live with to varying degrees, and it makes sense. Crouch dedicates this book "for anyone who has wondered what their life might look like at the end of the road not taken." The conclusion Jason comes to is that it's easy to look back and wonder what-if, but we have to live our lives in the moment, and be satisfied with decisions we've made. "We see it macro, like one big story, but when you're in it, it's all just day-to-day, right? And isn't that what you have to make your peace with?" When Jason2 claims he built the box to "eradicate regret," to "let you find worlds where you made the right choice," Daniela sets things straight with clarity and insight many of the Jasons lacked: "Life doesn't work that way. You live with your choices and learn. You don't cheat the system."

I thoroughly enjoyed this book, and I can't wait to recommend it to people. One of the other quotes I loved from the book was this: "We're all made of the same thing - the blown-out pieces of matter formed in the fires of dead stars." I've read this idea in many other forms over the years ("We are all made of star-stuff" comes to mind), and it always makes me feel such love and connection to my fellow humans, my family and friends. The universe is vast and mysterious, but in the end, we are all made of the same basic things, and we are more alike than we are different. As different as all the various permutations of Jason1s became, in their hearts, they all wanted the same core thing: for Daniela and Charlie to be safe and happy.

View all my reviews

Thursday, April 12, 2018

Moon Called

Moon Called Moon Called by Patricia Briggs
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This was a fun supernatural romp, and the first in a series I'm sure I'll need to continue, if only to keep up with Mercy's adventures! I've read a lot of stuff in this genre, but I'm don't think I've read anything with Mercy's particular type of Walker in it. So I'm really curious to know more about her - family history, and what exactly her powers are. She seems to have more than she realizes, and I keep waiting for someone in her family to show up and explain things to her.

The love triangle is also fun, though it kind of annoys me a bit when the supernatural guys are so much older than the aging girls. There's something uncomfortable about the trope of the older man "teaching" the younger woman the ways of the world. I like both the guys, though, and I enjoy their interactions with Mercy. She seems strong enough to maintain her seperate relationships with both Samuel and Adam without them controlling her too much. I would say I lean more to Adam's side because he's technically younger than Mercy and I think he might actually love her. I'm not sure what Samuel's true feelings are. Plus Jesse is adorable, and she, Adam, and Mercy would make the cutest little family.

If I had one criticism, it's that the whole conspiracy plot was way too complicated, and it didn't even make that much sense in the end. Gerry was trying to trick his dad in to killing Bran, so that his dad would be happy to be a werewolf and survive? And because of that dozens of people died and wolves were made and tortured? What did he expect would happen after Bran was dead? His dad would just happily take over as Marrak? For being a smart guy, his plan was ill-conceived, and seemed purposefully confusing.

View all my reviews

Wednesday, April 11, 2018

The Handmaid's Tale

The Handmaid's Tale The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

SPOILERS AHEAD:


So sad, so real, and so frighteningly current, despite the fact it was written over 30 years ago. It's not hard to believe that, like Offred, we could be so easily disenfranchised and made into property. Listening to this book was truly like listening to someone tell me their story, and it made even more sense at the end when we find out that the "manuscript" of the book was "found" as a series of tapes, and placed into a patchwork order of sorts.

In the historical notes at the end, an interesting section in and of itself, it is noted about the Aunts in particular: "the best and most cost effective way to control women for reproductive and other purposes was through women themselves. For this, there were many historical precedents. In fact, no empire imposed by force or otherwise has ever been without this feature. Control of the indigenous by members of their own group. In the case of Gilead, there were many women willing to serve as Aunts, either because of a genuine belief in what they called Traditional Values, or for the benefits they might thereby acquire. When power is scarce, little of it is tempting." We continue to see this happen, throughout history and in our current times. It's only when we start to recognize it as it's happening and work to stop such oppression that true change can be made.

The historians at the end refused to judge The Gileadian society, saying it was responding to economic and societal pressures, and trying to fix things they saw as wrong, but what that said to me is they were putting what they saw as a better society above the lives of the people themselves. As the commander said: "Better never means better for everyone... It always means worse, for some." The people of Gilead became chattel to improve "society" as a whole, even though it doesn't seem as though anything was much improved - there were still things like brothels where men could do what they pleased, all state-sponsored, supervised by women.

Part of me hates how this book ends, with so many unanswered questions. Was Offred truly saved? Was Nick on her side the whole time, or was he a "Private Eye" and turned her in? Will she ever see her daughter again? What is her name? Is she pregnant? In the end, though, I have to be okay with the uncertainty, because what in this world ever has any certainty? We only have hope, and I'm going to choose to believe that Offred found freedom, somehow, somewhere, and that she has some measure of peace. I wish for her this desire she once spoke of: "I want to be held and told my name. I want to be valued, in ways that I am not; I want to be more than valuable."

View all my reviews

Let's Pretend This Never Happened

Let's Pretend This Never Happened: A Mostly True Memoir Let's Pretend This Never Happened: A Mostly True Memoir by Jenny Lawson
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Hilarious at times, heartbreaking at others, Jenny's (mostly true) memoir will make you laugh out loud, and then give Jenny a big hug for all she's been through. The funny moments are incredibly funny, but the sad moments are the ones that truly got to me. 💔 This woman has been through SO much in her life - miscarriages, PTSD, anxiety, rheumatoid arthritis. Sometimes it seem like she just can't catch a break. But somehow, Jenny has maintained a positive attitude and a sense of perspective and humor. Sometimes, all you can do to maintain your sanity is laugh.

Jenny and Victor's lives sound like a challenge, but it's their challenge, and they make it work. I love what Jenny says at the end: "You are defined not by life's imperfect moments, but by your reaction to them. Because there is joy in embracing - rather than running screaming from - the utter absurdity of life."

I loved what Jenny had to say about friendship, particularly with other women. I get it. It's hard to make friends, especially when you get older. But friends are the people who are going to pull you through life's tough moments, and celebrate with you when you achieve your wildest dreams. I love this one thing she said: "Girls make both wonderful and terrible friends - they actually listen to your goals, even when you're too drunk to know what you're talking about." The way my friends listen to me makes me think more about what I am saying, and that's a good thing.

I listened to the audiobook of this one, and it was amazing. Jenny reads it herself, and has the most perfect, dry delivery and comic timing that captures the essence of a Jungle Cruise guide, in the best sort of way. She also sounds a little like Mindy Kaling sometimes. Also, she sings the chapter titles. Also, there's outtakes at the end that are hilarious. If you do listen, though, you absolutely have to at least flip through a print copy of the book, because there are PICTURES.

View all my reviews

Tuesday, April 10, 2018

The Belles

The Belles The Belles by Dhonielle Clayton
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

MAJOR SPOILERS AHEAD!


A fascinating tale from a fantasy world, but one not that far removed from our own in its obsession with youth and beauty. The idea that something like plastic surgery could be done with a sort of magic is intriguing, and the possibilities are truly endless in that world, but I’m glad they left an element of pain, of reality. Nothing comes without a cost, not even if it is “magic.”

The history of the Belles is fascinating, despite the fact that much of it is shrouded in myth and mystery. I’m still entirely sure how their arcana powers work, but I’m also not sure that I’m meant to. As Camille dives deeper into her own history, we learn that things are not as she seems. Not only are the Belles not born in the traditional way, they seem to be grown from a flower bed using the blood of the former generations as the seed. By the end, we know that Camille is a clone of the queen’s favorite, Arabella, who has particularly strong blood they were perhaps trying to replicate. In the same way, there is a new baby Belle named Donna who is clearly another Arabella/Camille clone. I’m especially curious about baby Donna because, according to Valerie, the babies, who at the beginning of the book had just been born, are already 6 years old by the end, when not even 6 months had passed, I’d wager. Something seems to be extra special about the blood of these 3, based on the way Sophia reacted to using Camille’s blood in her experiments and Camille’s own unique use of the Arcana.

What Camille’s mother had desired for her was for her to help the people of Orleans love themselves, for who they are. That hope for the future is diametrically opposed to that of Sophia and her minions, who want power, and the ability to transform independent of the Belles’ work. They want to set free the power to change to the masses, but also, I’m sure, to monetize and profit from it. And worst of all, they want to use those With Belle blood as merely parts for their experiments, property they can chain up and do with what they want.

The heart of the story, which is obviously the first chapter of a series (darn it), is the attempt to wrestle control of the country and the people from a madwoman and the people who support her for their own nefarious reasons. Sophia is cruel, unconscionable, and literally insane. I’m not sure how those on her side don’t see that their time too will one day come to a painful end. One of my biggest irritations is why the Queen didn’t bring Camille to help Charlotte right when Camille said she would. How did it get to the point it did? Did Sophia already have so much power in the palace that her wishes and summons were obeyed before the Queen’s own? It’s either that, or this delay was merely a plot contrivance to get all the characters to the points they are at in the final moments of the book: Sophia as Regent Queen, the Queen dead, Charlotte “missing,” and Camille, Amber, and Rémy on the run.

Let’s talk about Auguste for a minute. I’ve read enough of these style of books to guess from the moment we meet him that he was likely to be one of the bad guys, and end up betraying Camille. I think he truly did fall in love with her, and when he tried to talk her in to running away with him, he was serious, but the second she said no, he was back to Plan A. Auguste saw that refusal as a refusal of love, and didn’t stay around to hear otherwise. Because of that, he set in motion events that have made him unforgivable, no matter how he may try to beg forgiveness one day as this series progresses. I truly hope Camille remembers how his actions, his betrayal of her, caused not only her own physical and mental pain, but that of countless others. Most damningly, it led to the death of Claudette, who didn’t deserve to die, but especially not in that way.

Meanwhile, I’m over here rooting for handsome, stoic Rémy from the moment he refused to crack a smile. Add to that his dry humor, his love and affection for his sisters, and his innate goodness, and I was a goner, even if Camille wasn’t feeling it. He was always clearly the better man, and I’m hopeful that his friendship with Camille will eventually build to love for both of them. But maybe down the road, when they’re not in mortal peril at every turn. What I’m most curious about with Rémy is what’s up with his scar, and the single freckle under his eye? Does he also have to be “fixed” every so often or he’ll go grey? The way he looks seems so distinctive and specific that it makes me extra curious about it.

I loved the stories of sisterhood in this book, of the many things they shared growing up, and the ways they are both alike and different. Amber made me mad quite frequently because, despite being a rule-follower, she was easily antagonized and turned to violence too swiftly. I wish she had been sweeter, and more understanding. The other sisters, I feel like we only got tiny slices of their stories, so I’m looking forward to getting to know them more through the series that follows.

WARNING: This book doesn’t have a definitive ending, and leaves off on a cliff hanger. Book 2 of the series doesn’t have a publish date as of yet. This was an enjoyable read, but definitely read at your own risk!



View all my reviews

Thursday, April 5, 2018

My Favorite Thing Is Monsters, Vol. 1

My Favorite Thing Is Monsters, Vol. 1 My Favorite Thing Is Monsters, Vol. 1 by Emil Ferris
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Such a gorgeous, inventive, intriguing book! It book's styling made it really look like a notebook, complete with realistic-seeming paper clipped in notes. In addition to the intriguing story and characters, there were page after page of gorgeous sketch recreations of famous art. I could spend hours just looking at those.

Karen, an outcast, monster-crazed girl, becomes more and more obsessed with solving her neighbor's murder as her findings become increasingly weird. It doesn't help that she's dealing with not only bullying at school, but her mother's cancer diagnosis. The sicker Karen's mother gets, the more obsessed she becomes with Anka's story and figuring out what really happened to her. The monsters are another way to escape from reality - Karen hates herself, so she would rather be monster. Then, monsters become a way to save her mom and family - if she can turn them all into something like a vampire.

Over the course of her investigation, Karen ends up uncovering a lot of secrets, including ones she'd probably rather not know. There are too many secrets, and eventually Karen gets frustrated and blows up at her brother - in the end, hiding the truth doesn't help anyone. Karen ends up keeping some secrets of her own, though. She finally comes to terms and accepts the fact that she is gay, and tells her brother. Deeze's reaction was not what I expected - although he accepts her, he also cautions her to keep it a secret from others. Deeze seems to have more secrets than anyone. There is this big mysterious thing hanging over their past that no one will talk about - is it their brother Victor, whom Deeze somehow killed? And how was it that only Anka was "there for him" during that time?

Anka's story is both fascinating and truly heartbreaking - growing up poor and abused in Germany, then eventually escaping the WWII death camps because of her connection to child prostitution. It's a messed up story, but it was a messed up world. I can only imagine what more we're going to find of her past in the next volume.

Another character I'm curious to know more about is Karen's "friend" Sandy - that little girl that no one else could see. Who is that supposed to represent? Is she a ghost? Her hugs are cold. She's always hungry, skin and bones, lives in abandoned apartment, floats down hallway... Seems like a ghost to me, but she has to represent something.

I'm definitely looking forward to the fall when volume 2 comes out! Hopefully my questions will be answered!

View all my reviews

Tuesday, April 3, 2018

In-Between Days

In-Between Days: A Memoir About Living with Cancer In-Between Days: A Memoir About Living with Cancer by Teva Harrison
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

A simple and honest illustrated memoir of Teva's reality of living with cancer. She doesn't shy away from the hard parts, but also takes time to highlight the ways she holds on to her hope and keeps going. Just because you are dying doesn't mean you can't live. Best of all, as she says in the preface, Teva gives voice to the fears that many terminal cancer patients have and encourages them to talk to their family, friends, doctors, and other loved ones. "I've since learned that it's the unspoken that is most frightening. Shining a light on my experiences takes some of the power away from the bogeyman that is my cancer. I'm taking my power back."

On hope, she says: "Hope is a dangerous thing. It's absolutely crucial all the time, or I couldn't go on. I am a naturally optimistic person, and I am inclined to hope for the moon. But I can't put too much hope in any one thing. ...I have to find a way to balance the hope I need to get up every day the pragmatism I need to deal with bad news." So much of what Teva says resonates with me. We are of a similar age (I just turned 37), and her outlook on life and hope feels very similar to mine. It's a constant balance between hopeful optimism and the certainty of impending doom. Reading Teva's words fortifies me, and gives me strength to battle through my own struggles, small as they may be in comparison.

I particularly like what Teva had to say about prayer. As an atheist, she doesn't believe in an afterlife, as much as she tries, and so it would be understandable if she wrote off people when they offer prayers for her. "And yet," she says, "every time someone tells me that they're praying for me, I say thank you, and I mean it. I can't explain how it is that I believe that this will help or the depth of gratitude that I feel for the people who keep me in their thoughts in those personal sacred moments." As a person of faith, that gives me hope that when I tell someone I am praying for them, regardless of their personal beliefs, it means something to them and provides some level of comfort, if nothing else.

I'm so grateful Teva shared moments of her family history with us, as well. The women in her family seem remarkable, and the legacy they have left for her of strength and endurance, of doing everything you can for the world, is strikingly evident. "What is it that we leave when we go, except the impressions we've made on the people we've loved and who loved us?" Of her granny, Teva says, "her memory is a potent reminder that, big and scary as this disease can be, I'm much more than my cancer, too."

I can't say that Teva's personal art style is my favorite, but I'm also sure that doesn't actually matter in a work like this. Her words have so much power and you can feel the strength flowing through the lines of the art of each page. Each drawing holds such truth, and the catharsis that was generated through their creation shines through.

There are so many more things I could share from this book - it really is worth the hour or two of your time it would take to read it. As a final moment of note, and a good thing to remember as we live each day: "So I did what I could. That's what we all do, stumbling through each day as best we can, trying to live up to our own ideals of kindness and caring."

View all my reviews

Saturday, March 31, 2018

Forgiveness

Forgiveness Forgiveness by Mark Sakamoto
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The backbone of this memoir is the alternating stories of Mark Sakamoto's grandparents. On his mother's side, his grandfather, Frank, was a young Canadian soldier who miraculously survived years in prisoner camps in Japan. On his father's side, his grandmother, Mitsue, and her family were forced out of their urban Vancouver homes by a racist government and moved to rural Alberta to work as farm laborers in deplorable conditions.

The true heart of this story is not the tragedies endured, but the markable grace and understanding shown by both Frank and Mitsue. Instead of holding on to bitterness and anger, they chose hope and forgiveness. They chose the more difficult path of moving on instead of living in the past. They became fast friends, and understood each other, without the need to compare or explain their pasts. "Breaking down is the easy part. Anyone, at any time, can break down. The act of coming together again is what makes a hero. Moving on, with an open heart, seems, at times, impossible. But it's not."

I love what Mark writes at the end to his grandparents: "You both fought for your country, your dignity, and your lives. Your victory was not that you lived. Your victory was in the way you both went on to live your lives. You refused to be defined by those most injurious of years. You did not dwell there. You had the strength to move on with hope and optimism. You filled your hearts with faith and forgiveness. You passed that on. Thank God you passed that on." The verse that Frank held to in the prison camp, when he knew he was being rescue, was Mark 11:25: "And when you stand praying, if you hold anything against anyone, forgive him, so that your Father in heaven may forgive you your sins."

The other part of this book that sneaks up on you at the end is the complicated relationship between Mark and his mother. After her death from addiction complications, Mark was wracked with guilt and fear - could he have done for his mom? Did he abandon her by moving on with his life, and away from the turmoil that her life became? In the end, what pulled him out of the fog was being reminded of where he came from - of the legacy his grandparents began of forgiveness, not just of others but of your own past self. In the end, his mother's death was not his fault, and Mark deserved to do as he had advised others at her funeral, to "remember their delight, not their sorrow, to let those memories - those delights - be her final resting place."

View all my reviews

Thursday, March 29, 2018

Station Eleven

Station Eleven Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

SPOILERS AHEAD


Station Eleven is a pandemic-based post-apocalypse told in alternating storylines that jump around in time from before and after the pandemic. Some of them are connected, others seem unrelated, but they all come together in the end to tell one complete story of how humanity not just survives the collapse of the world as we know it, but persists to build meaningful lives and community again. It's a story of loss and despair, and also about hope.

Arthur is a fascinating character, and one who truly ties the book together in more ways than one. His journey in life was ironic - he wanted to leave his small town because he was tired of everyone knowing who he was. The lack of anonymity was stifling. In Toronto, he became one of a million faces, and it was freeing, but eventually, his call to acting and fame put him back in the same boat, where he couldn't go anywhere without someone recognizing him, but on an even greater scale than in his youth. In some ways, he delighted in his fame, but by the end of his life, I think he realized that the fleeting nature of fame was lacking the true connection of family and friends.

Both Arthur and Jeevan, the EMT who tries to saves him, talk about wanting to make a difference in life. Even though Jeevan couldn't save Arthur, that moment on the stage with him made him feel his true calling - trying to physical heal and save people. He desired to become an essential person, and after the pandemic, he made himself useful - essential, - by training as a medic/doctor/healer in the new world. He married, started a family, and was finally and truly at peace. Arthur never achieved his peace, but that last day, he at least figured out what it was: giving away his money to people who need it, and spending every day with his son. Oh, how different his son's life would have been if he had been raised by his father instead of his mother.

I really loved Kirsten - she's not perfect, but a deeply caring person. The orchestra itself becomes a new family - from their interviews, many of their stories are the same - they wandered, until they found the orchestra; or they stayed, until the orchestra found them. The orchestra meant friends, family, and a safe space. They were trying to figure out a new way to live, and what is life if you can't adventure and create art? As was written on the first caravan: "Because survival is insufficient."

Kirsten and the Prophet's obsessions with Doctor Eleven were oddly parallel, but the appeal was evident. It was a fantasy world when they first read it, but over time, it soaked into their subconsciousness. Just as the refugees of Station Eleven were in a new world, and some just wanted to go back, everyone left on earth was basically stranded in a new world, where they COULDN'T go back. Doctor Eleven stands at the edge of the world and says, we need to make the best of the world we are living in because there are no other options. Looking to the past won't do us any good.

I loved the ending, when you could tell all the storylines were starting to converge at the airport. There is Clark, Arthur's longtime friend, who had been living at the airport since the pandemic, and was the one person who could tie everything together. And then there are Kirsten and the Orchestra who headed there to find their friends, followed by the Prophet and his men. During the final conflict, between Kirsten and the Prophet, it seems almost fitting that it was an unsuspected child who ended things for good.

The Prophet had developed a following partially based on fear, once they had accumulated so many guns, but for the most part, the people following him just wanted something to believe in. They wanted something to make SENSE again after their world was torn apart, and here was this man who seemed to have it all together. The Prophet seemed to know all the answers, and provided them reassurances that their life had purpose (they survived because they were good), as well as peace and safety, providing they followed his rules and let him do whatever he wanted. The boy who ended up killing the prophet was someone who didn't CHOOSE to follow him, he was just picked up by them/born into it, and he was never happy there. His conversation with Sayid, that their way was wrong, that there was better way of life, seemed to have a huge impact on him. I'm just sad that he chose to end everything, I'm sure out of guilt for all the things they'd done. As Kirsten mentions, killing someone changes you for good, but that doesn't mean you can't move on and have a good, fulfilling life.

Most of all, I love that this book ends with hope. Despite all the terrible things that have happened, the billions of people dead, the horrible things that happened on the road, there is literally light on the horizon, and Kirsten and the others are excited to see what the future holds in this new world. As am I. The world can be a dark place, but together, we can make a different and change the world into something better.

View all my reviews