February Progress

8/8

15/100

The Mark of Athena – Rick Riordan – YA/MG Fantasy

Exciting, repetitive. There were a heckin lot of characters to keep track of, but the book had some good twists and turns. At times it was hard to tell some of the characters apart, especially because we read from so many different points of view throughout. The relationships were all sweet though, and Leo might be my favorite character. The cliffhanger it ended on was brutal! I’m glad I don’t have to wait a year for the next book to come out.

We Were Eight Years in Power: An America Tragedy – Ta-Nehisi Coates – Nonfiction

Enlightening, Heartbreaking. Coates looks back at the past eight years of Obama’s presidency through his own writing and tells a memoir of sorts about his rise to fame. I feel both smart and dumb when reading Coates because he is so smart, but I’m trying to comprehend his intelligence. He traces the rise of white supremacy in America as the backlash to Obama’s presidency. It both reminded me about the best of the Obamas and America and the worst of America.

Crooked Kingdom – Leigh Bardugo – YA Fantasy

Thrilling, Badass. The sequel to Six of Crows delivered on all its promises. The action was compelling, and we learned more about the characters Wylan and Jesper who had been glossed over in the previous book. Twisty plot things happened that were helped along by the changing points of view. The reader is put in the same position as people in town, not knowing what the different gangs are planning in their wars. I love the heist-esque political thriller sort of atmosphere this second book retained.

The Belles – Dhonielle Clayton – YA Fantasy

Intriguing, Plotless. A beautiful cover and beautiful writing, but the entire book felt like a prequel. Could the ending of the book have actually become the midpoint change? I was reading and found myself wondering what the heck the plot of this book was because everything took so long to happen. Unnecessary isolation of the main character, and her friends were dicks most of the time. Amber needed more redemption. And it felt like by the last half of the book things were just happening to the main character to stop her from doing something. She didn’t make decisions. I definitely will continue the series because things have been set-up to be interesting.

The Bell Jar – Sylvia Plath – Classic

Important, Wonderful. I didn’t know what I was missing by not having read this. Truly a work of feminist fiction. Esther is such an interesting character; the description of depression and electro shock therapy was intense. The way men treated women in this book was indicative of the times, and unsettling. The whole book felt a little unsettling. Others have described it as the female Catcher in The Rye. I think that does a disservice to Plath’s work, but I understand the comparison. I will probably reread this book.

Lullabies – Lang Leav – Poetry

Juvenile, Terrible. Like seriously, I wrote better poetry in middle school. There are no concrete images to hold onto, no guessing, no symbolism or meaning. I felt nothing but exasperation. The poems are just sentences broken up to look like poems. Sentimental bullshit with no surprises or variation in themes. All the poems are about loving some deeply long after they have left.

RoseBlood – A.G. Howard – YA Fantasy

Gothic, Mediocre. This retelling/modern update of The Phantom of the Opera had some decent characterization of the Phantom, but the original characters were only alright. There was a soul-mate plot that made me roll my eyes sometimes. The main character Rune was boring, and the opera school plot was dull. Only in the last 100 pages did the pace really pick up. Not a terrible book, but not as good as I wanted.

The Wedding Date – Jasmine Guillory – Romance

Adorable, Sexy. Alexa and Drew’s relationship was super cute. It’s a fake-to-real relationship that only once relied on miscommunication in an annoying way. This dealt with long-distance relationships and race issues because Alexa is black, and Drew is white. It was realistic, but sweet. It focused on their lives, but the romance changed them both for the better. Also included steamy sex, but without all the play-by-play erotic stuff. This is the kind of romance I really love reading.

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Book Four: Last Psalm at Sea Level

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LAST PSALM AT SEA LEVEL
By Meg Day
80 pp. Barrow Street Press. $16.95
Published September 3, 2014
Poetry

I was lucky enough to see Meg Day read some of the poems from this collection. In fact, they were the whole reason I bought her book. The flow and rhythm of her words captivated me. She held the audience in awe. Even on the page, her poems have the same quality of holding you under their sway until the last words. There’s an insistent heartbeat quality to her words.

Meg Day is a deaf poet, and so several of her poems take up that experience. She explores how to connect with others when you cannot hear them; what other ways do you understand each other. My favorite is “Sit On The Floor With Me” where she writes

“At five, I pressed my lips to the grate of my grandmother’s/Crosley, let broadcasts buzz into the pipe of my jawbone/& learned to listen with my tongue, a flick-thin string/that carried sound from the world’s tin can to mine.”

Other poems deal with the experience of being a woman, being transgender/genderfluid, of losing loved ones, and dealing with hardship. Each poem feels new, but occasionally there is an image, or a phrase repeated from earlier in the book which gives these separate poems a feeling of continuity.

Some of my other favorites from this collection include “On Nights When I Am Your Husband,” “When They Took Her Breasts, She Dreamt of Icarus,” and the titular “Last Psalm at Sea Level.”

I will admit that not every poem held my attention. Like many people, I struggle with poetry because of the way it was taught in school. Instead of just enjoying the words and taking my own meaning, sometimes I feel as though there is a hidden meaning that I cannot find. Some of Meg Day’s poems feel like that, but for the most part I felt grounded in her work.

For people who want to learn about others’ experiences, who enjoy puzzles, and like rhythmic word-play.

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Book Three: The Amber Spyglass

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THE AMBER SPYGLASS
By Philip Pullman
548 pp. Yearling. $8.99
Published 2017 (originally 2000)
Middle-Grade/Young Adult – Fantasy

The Amber Spyglass is the final book in the His Dark Materials trilogy. In this book, we travel through many different worlds and several plot lines come to a head. Lyra and Will travel to the world of the dead, the scientist Dr. Malone lives with a group of creatures in a different world and learns their way of life, and we finally (sort of) discover what the heck dust is.

The character arcs across the series are super interesting. Mrs. Coulter is a character who you can never predict, and never trust. I didn’t believe her motivations were genuine until close to the end of the book. While I understand the idea of a mother’s love being something that can change a person, I also feel like I hate that idea? Once a woman is a mother her whole demeanor can change? Like really? But she was still ruthless, and intelligent, her allegiance simply changed.

Lord Asriel remains a dick until the end, but his and Mrs. Coulter’s relationship did bring a tear to my eye.

The overall theme of this book is love and what we do to protect those we love, but also how we should love humanity. Everyone in this book makes some sort of sacrifice for love. The two angels who help Will, Balthamos and Baruch, exemplify that theme. This book also deals with stories and how we learn from them.

The beginning is long and slow, but it passes a point about halfway where you can no longer put the book down. In the end, the characters have grown so much it’s hard to believe where they started.

I don’t know how I feel about Will and Lyra’s love. Do daemons stop changing the first time you fall in love? Or just when you’re about to hit puberty? Does the fact that their daemons are near to settling at the end of the book mean they’ve become mature because of all this? Or does it have to do with their love for one another. I just have a lot of questions about this world. Did they fall in love because they accidentally touched each other’s daemons? Because that would be like touching someone’s soul, the very truest part of them and understanding it, and while we may believe that’s what love should be, it very rarely is. But if your soul is outside your body and someone accidentally touches it, what does that mean? And if a bad guy is touching it, is that likened to assault? I am still left with a lot of questions.

Overall, I really enjoy this series, it’s a tightly woven narrative with a lot of characters and moving parts, but so satisfying at the conclusion.

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Book Two: Nice Try, Jane Sinner

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NICE TRY, JANE SINNER
By Lianne Oelke
420 pp. Clarion Books. $17.99
Published January 9, 2018
Young Adult – Contemporary

Nice Try, Jane Sinner by Lianne Oelke is the story of a 17-year-old girl who has an existential crisis and is expelled from high school. To finish her diploma, she enrolls in a community college. There she decides to participate in a Big Brother-esque campus reality show called House of Orange.

For the first half of the book it is unclear why Jane is so notorious in her hometown and why she was expelled from high school. What we do know is that Jane was raised in the church but has lost her belief and feels alienated from her family because of her questions. This is a topic not often seen in young adult literature, so Nice Try, Jane Sinner feels original and profound.

While the thematic elements gave me something to think about, the House of Orange game show plot kept me turning the pages. I wanted to see what the next ridiculous challenge was, who would win, and how Jane would deal with living in a house with no doors and five other people.

I was surprised by how invested in Jane’s story I became because the book is written like a diary. This means we are getting recaps of everything that happened from Jane’s point of view. Most conversations are written like a transcript or screenplay. I’m not usually one for the diary entry story-telling, but Oelke does a good job of connecting the reader to the other characters besides Jane.

I feel like I’m downplaying how much I enjoyed Nice Try, Jane Sinner. I couldn’t stop reading it. I gasped aloud at a plot twist near the middle and laughed aloud at a couple other parts.

There is a subtle romantic storyline, but the Jane’s relationships with her family and friends take precedence.

Finally, because this is a diary, Jane’s voice is the strongest element. She is sarcastic, ironic, and hilarious.

Why I liked it: The hilarious sarcastic voice, original plot, and how Oelke dealt with issues of faith or lack thereof. There was also lots of diversity. Jane grew as a character and figured out what was important even if she didn’t believe in God or the church.

Why other people might like it: The foregrounding of family relationships. The romance, and high school/college age readers might identify with Jane’s struggle to transition into the college life.

For people who enjoy Big Brother, reality TV, and books about family relationships.

Overall, Nice Try, Jane Sinner is a funny, surprising, and profound story centered around a ridiculous college reality show.

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January Progress

7/10

7/100

Out of the 10 books I wanted to read, I managed to get 7 finished. The minimum goal is about 8 books per month, so I’ll have to kick it into gear in February. As reviews of these books go up, I’ll put links in this post.

Zeitoun – Dave Eggers – Nonfiction

Heartbreaking, interesting. I didn’t know much about Hurricane Katrina and the state of New Orleans in 2005. I’d heard about how mishandled the disaster and clean-up had been, but I never knew any details. This book made me sad and angry.

Nice Try, Jane Sinner – Lianne Oelke – YA Contemporary

Hilarious, surprising. Told as a series of diary entries, Oelke’s debut novel has a sarcastic and endearing voice. Jane Sinner is a character you root for. Has deep themes of dealing with depression and losing religious belief with a ridiculous great plot of a college reality tv show.

The Amber Spyglass – Philip Pullman – YA/MG Fantasy

Epic, breathtaking. The conclusion to the His Dark Materials trilogy. This book puts all the puzzle pieces of the previous books together. Characters find redemption or show their heartlessness. Deals with love and religion in interesting ways.

Last Psalm at Sea Level – Meg Day – Poetry

Moving, but underwhelming. Several of the poems in the collection said something important and made me feel moved by their message and beauty. But most of the poems left me with the feeling I usually get reading poetry, which is: What? I think I expected more from this collection because I heard Meg Day read some of the poems.

The Son of Neptune – Rick Riordan – YA/MG Fantasy

Insane, epic. The second book in the Heroes of Olympus series. I could not put this book down. The diversity is amazing, the plot is fast paced, funny, and twisty enough that you don’t know what’s coming next. The beginning was a smidge slow for me, but when it picked up it REALLY picked up. As fast as Hazel’s mystical horse.

Anna Karenina – Leo Tolstoy – Classic Literature

Detailed, annoying. Sometimes cited as Leo Tolstoy’s opus, the dual story of Anna and Vronksy’s love affair and Levin’s search for belief. The interesting thing about this book is that society seems to be positioned as the bad guy, but all of the characters (except for Kitty and Dolly) lose my empathy at some point. By the time I finally reached the end of this bloated book I was glad it was over.

Six of Crows – Leigh Bardugo – YA Fantasy

Dark, epic. The first in a duology, this fantasy story was darker than I expected, but was a bit underwhelming compared to the hype. The characters and their histories were interesting and engrossing, but by the end I didn’t have super strong squee feelings over any of the characters the way I expected to. It’s possible I read it too fast.

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Book One: Zeitoun

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ZEITOUN
By Dave Eggers
337pp. Vintage. $16
Published June 15, 2010
Non-Fiction

Zeitoun tells the story of one family’s struggle during Hurricane Katrina in 2005. This non-fiction narrative is set in New Orleans and follows Kathy and Abdulrahman Zeitoun. Together they own a contracting business known for its hard workers and punctual completion of home renovation projects. They have three children and are basically living the American dream. Kathy is a white woman who converted to Islam and Zeitoun is a Syrian-American citizen. Eggers sketches the personalities and lives of the people in this novel by delving into their backgrounds: how Kathy converted to Islam, how Zeitoun made his way to America, and how they fell in love.

By the time the Hurricane hits their home, we are invested in this family that seems quintessentially American. Zeitoun stays in New Orleans to protect and oversee their multiple properties, while Kathy takes their children to a relative in a neighboring state.

The descriptions of New Orleans right after Katrina are haunting and powerful. Dogs left in homes that people have fled, water covering cars and homes, a woman floating in water and clinging to her bookshelf while her dress blooms out like a flower. Zeitoun spends the first few days paddling around New Orleans in an old canoe rescuing people trapped in their homes and feeding pets that have been left behind.

Things take a turn when Zeitoun and three friends are arrested and detained as terrorists. His imprisonment is shady, frightening, and releasing him becomes a bureaucratic nightmare.

This book is even more stunning because these people are real, and these events happened. Perhaps the more impressive thing is that this book is filled with hope. Even after his imprisonment, Zeitoun has hope for himself, for New Orleans, and for a system that unjustly held him captive.

Why I liked it: Zeitoun makes subtle political statements by the way it reports facts. Eggers says, “This is what happened, and it was not fair or good.” However, it doesn’t waste time in blaming people. None of the characters devolve into anger. There is a message of calm and hope, Zeitoun the man had faith in the system and in America to do the right thing. It was refreshing to see a story of overcoming hardship without cynicism.

Why other people might like it: Zeitoun takes the reader inside New Orleans while Hurricane Katrina raged and gives a new perspective on the tragedy that unfolded. The writing is clear and simple while packing an emotional punch.

For people who enjoy memoirs, political think-pieces, and inspiring stories.

Overall, Zeitoun is a hopeful, but illuminating story about one family’s struggle with both nature and society.

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The Year of 100 Books

So it’s been a while, I’m not very good at keeping a consistent blog.

However, I’m hoping 2018 will be different. For a couple reason: 1) I don’t have school anymore, which means all deadlines are ones I set for myself, and 2) I am planning to read 100 books this year.

To some people that’s not a crazy hard challenge, to others, it might seem insane. I’ve read about 80 books this year, so it’s only adding 20 more to that. We’ll see how it goes. I also plan to give reviews on the books and blog about the challenge. We’ll also see how that goes lol.

I’ve set a couple parameters within this challenge. I want to read 12 classics, 12 non-fiction books, 12 poetry collections, and 12 new releases of 2018.

Why am I doing this? Well, I own a lot of books and I want to read them. I want to cut down on my buying of books and read the books I already own. In high school I used to try to read all the Harry Potter books in a weekend, or I would set some other ridiculous challenges. It’s just fun and I miss the pressures of school a little. (Crazy, I know.)

The books I plan to read in January are:

Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy – Classic

Zeitoun by Dave Eggers – Non-fiction

Last Psalm at Sea Level by Meg Day – Poetry

Nice Try, Jane Sinner by Lianne Oelke – New Release

Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo

Crooked Kingdom by Leigh Bardugo

Roseblood by A. G. Howard

The Son of Neptune by Rick Riordan

The Power by Naomi Alderman

I might change my mind on some of these! I’m terrible at sticking to lists.

Hope everyone has a Happy New Year!

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A Brief Summer Reading List

I rarely stick to a reading list. I get distracted by other shiny books. I buy new books that I want to read right away because otherwise they might go into the pile and not be read for a year. Nonetheless, there are some books that are at the top of my list as summer reads.

This list also doesn’t include any books that are being released in late May or June. These are just the books that I already own that I want to read. These are ranked by how badly I want to read them, and therefore probably the order in which I’ll read them, but maybe not! I never know what I’ll be in the mood for.

  1. Strange the Dreamer by Laini Taylor – YA Fantasy

Strange the Dreamer

I actually just started reading this the other day! Already getting on this list! I’ve heard a lot of hype about this book, I’ve heard good things about Laini Taylor’s writing, and the cover is beautiful. Those are the main reasons I wanted to read this. I haven’t read Laini Taylor’s Daughter of Smoke and Bone trilogy, but it’s been on my radar for a while. All I know about Strange the Dreamer is that the main character is Lazlo Strange and he’s obsessed with a city called Weep that may or may not be real. He works in a library. That is honestly all I need to know for me to pick this up. I’m a real easy sell.

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Anticipated May Releases

*rises from the dead, arms outstretched*

Why yes, I have come back. Now that school is done, I will have time to keep this updated. I’m not going to make a big fanfare just in case I fade into obscurity again.

On my computer, I have these little sticky notes where I keep track of the new books being released each month that I’m looking forward to. Most of these are Young Adult because that’s where exciting things are happening. Also, some of these are so that I can keep track of when the paperback is being released because hardcovers are expensive and sometimes not as much fun to read.

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Infographic: When Did Famous Authors Publish Their Breakthrough Novels?

These are some super cool facts that link to a chart that is pretty inspiring for aspiring authors!

101 Books

This is a fascinating infographic that was sent my way.

The graphic shows the age at which dozens of famous authors wrote their first book, their first breakthrough book, in which years of life they published other books, and when they died.

It gives you a good idea of how prolific some writers are—to a fault, in some cases, I would say.

You can view the full infographic at BlinkBox Books by clicking on the image below.


Explore the careers of some of the world’s most successful authors. Click image to open interactive version (via Blinkbox Books).

Some thoughts:

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