Category Archives: Book Reviews

Coming out a reading slump

Ever had a reading slump? One where you either can’t seem to focus on a book or don’t like anything that you’ve been reading? I think I’ve been in one for the last few months. I’ve been having some anxiety about the world, our garbage-fire racist sexist President, and work and health stuff. That’s been making it hard to focus on reading. It’s been a lot easier to zone out to TV and play Hearthstone or Avengers Academy.

But after some new anxiety meds I feel like I’m getting back to being better. Plus I’ve been able to read more and actually feel like I’m absorbing what I’m reading! This is pretty important for my job and for someone who generally really likes to read.

It feels good to be getting back on track.

that's better

Briefly here’s a few books I’ve read recently that I really enjoyed:

The Passion of Dolssa by Julie Berry – I didn’t think that I would love a story about 13th century French so-called heretics so much, but I did. So amazing.

Monstress, Vol 1: Awakening by Marjorie Liu and Sana Takeda – Incredible art and fascinating world-building. Plus talking cats with two tails!

The Serpent King by Jeff Zentner – I cried some ugly tears in this one. I really identified with snobby Lydia AND fantasy-obsessed Travis.

Unbecoming by Jenny Downham – A lovely inter-generational story about a grandmother, mother, and daughter.

The Reader by Tracy Chee – A fantasy that’s all about the magic of reading and books? Sign me up! I loved the meta-storytelling elements, too.

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If nothing else, I read some good books this year

best-books-of-2016

2016 was . . . certainly an exceptional year wasn’t it?

Stay tuned for my annual year-end roundup. I’ll recap what’s been happening with me, take a look back at the goals I set for 2016, and set some for 2017. Before I get to the books, though, here’s a preview of the two modes of 2016:

2016

I mean, it wasn’t all bad. Here’s one of the good parts:

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But anyway, here are the best books that I read this year. There are 22 books. I know that number doesn’t make sense, but 2016 doesn’t make sense. Here’s to some more great literature in 2017!

Middle Grade/YA

Giant Days – John Allison and Lissa Treiman – My new favorite comic of this year – don’t worry, Squirrel Girl and Saga and Lumberjanes, I still love you –  about a group of friends’ hijinks in college. Great art, too.

Labyrinth Lost – Zoraida Cordova – Innovative urban fantasy set in NYC and magical realms between worlds. A great system of magic featuring Latinx heroines and family love. Great for fans of diverse fantasy like Daniel Jose Older’s Shadowshaper.

The Inquisitor’s Tale: Or, The Three Magical Children and Their Holy Dog – Adam Gidwitz and Hatem Aly – Amazing illuminations about a Joan of Arc-esque girl, her dog, a Jewish boy looking for his family, and a too tall African-European monk. Sweet and engaging.

Girl in Pieces – Kathleen Glasgow – Will probably break your heart. Charlie has had a rough life: drugs, cutting, homelessness, and abuse. Her journey from feeling broken to feeling hopeful again is really lovely without being schmoopy.

Outrun the Moon – Stacey Lee – The new best historical fiction author in YA. A story about the 1906 San Fransisco earthquake and unlikely friendship between entitled white girls and a plucky Chinese-American heroine. Mercy is the BEST.

The Female of the Species – Mindy McGinnis – A tale of teen vigilante justice with some piercing explanations of rape culture.  A hard read but worth it.

When the Moon Was Ours – Anna-Marie McLemore – Two teens fall in love amidst gender issues and magical realism. A lovely story. I knew as soon as I started that it would destroy me in the best possible way. It did. Read it.

Goldenhand – Garth Nix – I was disappointed in his Old Kingdom prequel Clariel that came out last year, but Goldenhand continues the story of Lirael, the most badass Second Assistant Librarian ever. All of your favorite characters from the original three books make an appearance. Yes, ALL of them. You’ll cry too. 🙂

Ghost – Jason Reynolds – A boy trying to out run his problems – “altercations” at school, his dad in jail for threatening him and his mother with a gun, living in a “bad” neighborhood – finds that he can really run. He joins a local track team to find friends, bravery, and forgiveness. A sweet read that I hope gets on many summer reading lists next  year. (I mean, if you have to have a prescribed SR list, this book might as well be on it for 5th/6th graders.)

All American Boys – Jason Reynolds and Brendan Kiely – Anything Reynolds is involved with turns to gold! This is an important book about a Black teen who gets beaten by a cop, and the white kid who witnesses it. For people who are still wondering about the Black Lives Matter movement read this. (All of you get out of here with your All Lives Matter nonsense. If you’re still saying that, you’re not getting it.)

Echo – Pam Munoz Ryan – A sweet story of three different young people connecting over the same harmonica: one fleeing Nazi Germany, one adopted out of an orphanage in Philadelphia, and one trying to keep her family together in the face of segregation in California. I highly recommend the audio version as music is an important part of the story and the audio does it very, very well.

Saving Montgomery Sole – Mariko Tamaki –  A sensitive coming of age tale mixed in with a reminder that people all contain multitudes and have the potential for compassion. A great quiet, contemporary YA novel.

Adult Fiction

The Year of the Flood – Margaret Atwood – I read the whole MaddAddam series this year but Year of the Flood is the best. Atwood excels when she’s telling women’s stories and The Year of the Flood is about Toby and other women in her circle. I cried more at the end of the third book, MaddAddam, than I have over a book in a long time. Just thinking about it makes me weep. A timely – yes, sadly just as timely as Atwood’s Handmaid’s Tale – and more emotional.

Rush Oh! – Shirley Barrett – A story of a whaling family in Australia and their struggles and triumphs. Sad and sweet and ultimately fulfilling.

The Queen of the Night – Alexander Chee – A huge book encompassing the Franco-Prussian War, opera, and betrayal. Great for those who like epic character studies and music.

The Fifth Season/The Obelisk Gate – N.K. Jemisin – These books are so good it’s bonkers. A science fiction dystopia with strange geological powers and consequences. You will not forget these characters or their situations. You’ll also be reminded of how important the moon is, in case you forgot.

Adult Nonfiction

Between the World and Me – Ta-Nehisi Coates – Required reading for everyone. A heart breaking and honest letter from Coates to his son about how the world isn’t made for him and how American culture and life at large is built on the bodies of Black people.

Stamped from the Beginning: The Definitive History of Racist Ideas in America – Ibram X. Kendi – I’m only halfway through this book and had to take a break because it’s a slow read and someone else had a hold on it. But it’s incredible. It will, however, show you how little has changed in the U.S. when it comes to race relations. It’s pretty disheartening.

Fashion Victims: The Dangers of Dress Past and Present – Alison Mathews-David – An amazing book about not just silly fashion trends that are dangerous – hobble skirts that “hobble” you so you can barely walk – but also the techniques that used to make clothes that will also kill you. May dissuade you from wearing the color emerald-green ever again.

Shrill: Women Are Funny, It’s Okay to Be Fat, and Feminists Don’t Have to Be Nice – Lindy West – A hilarious book with spot on ruminations about feminism and more. Great if you like essays and personal narratives.

The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America’s Great Migration – Isabel Wilkerson – This book is a tour-de-force about the Great Migration of African-Americans from the South to the North and West from the 1910s to the 1970s. Wilkerson follows three people who made the migration in different years. A fascinating look at history that I didn’t know very much about.

 

 

So that was the best of what I read this year. You can see the rest of what I read over on Goodreads. Happy reading!

 

 

 

 

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My Best Books of 2015

Best Books
Hello! Yes, yes, I’m a terrible poster. I know that I’ve truly failed because my friend Jenny had a BABY and has posted way more than me. I don’t even have a baby to show for it. I have . . . been working on my winter weight? I don’t know. (I am posting at WWAC if you’re desperate for my brilliant thoughts.)

But today I’m going to present to you the best 25 books I read this year. I’m hoping to get to 100 books before the end of the year and if any of the ones I’m reading are amazing then I will update you. Ok, well I’m currently listening to the Fellowship of the Ring on audio because I’ve never listened to it before and it is delightful. Definitely one of the best books I’ve read this year  . . . and every year that I read it. I had a bit trouble with an “unabridged” copy of the radio play from Hoopla. The record doesn’t make it clear that it’s a radio play and while yes the play is unabridged, it’s not the full text of the book. You tricked me Hoopla; I may write you a strongly worded letter!

Ok, so here’s my top 25 books that I read this year in alphabetical order.

Americanah – Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie – Everyone should read this book about the immigrant experience and  a “Non American Black” perspective on race. If you like audiobooks, the narrator is really great, too!
Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda – Becky Albertalli – A cute and funny coming out story that’s about more than just coming out.
Symphony for the City of the Dead: Dmitri Shostakovich and the Siege of Leningrad – M.T. Anderson – This book is incredible for anyone interested in music, the Russian front of WWII, or the complicated situation of artists during Stalin’s regime.
The Darkest Part of the Forest – Holly Black – A dark fairy tale about a prince in a glass coffin, a lady knight, and the violence of childhood.
Through the Woods – Emily Carroll – Graphic (like with pictures but also with blood) short horror tales. Do NOT read at night if you are a ‘fraidy cat like me.
Make your Home Among Strangers – Jeninne Cap Crucet – The story of a Cuban American and her first year at an ivy league school, set against the backdrop of an Elian Gonzalez like story in Miami.
Hausfrau – Jill Alexander Essbaum – Is the main character unlikeable and make bad decisions? Yes, but that’s ok. A disaffected housewife and American expat struggles to find herself.
An Untamed State – Roxane Gay – A difficult story to read; there are graphic descriptions of rape and sexual violence so be forewarned. But the writing is beautiful and the story will stick with you.
Glory O’Brien’s History of the Future – A.S. King – Visions of a feminist’s nightmare where women are not allowed to work and more? The gendered horror of A Handmaid’s Tale for the YA set.
The Bluest Eye – Toni Morrison – I had never read any Toni Morrison and this was heartbreaking and beautiful at the same time.
Everything I never told you – Celeste Ng – Betty Crocker’s Cookbook – and even the part where “Betty” tells you to make sure you know how to make your husband eggs a part I remember reading and cringing over as a child – plays a big role in this coming of age story.
Girl at War – Sara Novic – Escaping from Croatia in the 1990s and then returning to reckon with it. This is the author’s first book and it’s really spectacular.
Uprooted – Naomi Novik – A perfect, grownup fairy tale complete with evil trees, magic, and the influence of Eastern European folklore.
The Scared Lies of Minnow Bly – Stephanie Oaks – Apparently a retelling of the Grimm fairytale The Handless Maiden with a cult setting. 2015 was the year of the cult for YA books!
Shadowshaper – Daniel Jose Older – Urban fantasy set in Brooklyn with an interesting premise and cultural commentary on everything from street harassment to gentrification.
Re Jane – Patricia Park – A Jane Eyre retelling set in Queens with a Korean American Jane and a literature professor Rochester.
The Bees – Laline Paull – A special bee – Flora 717 – defies all the rules of the hive to save it. At the beginning of the book, you think you won’t care so much about a little bee but you really will. Flora 717 might be one of my favorite characters from this year’s books.
Gabi, a girl in pieces – Isabel Quintero – A sweet coming of age stuck in between a parent’s expectations and the realities of life.
Carry On – Rainbow Rowell – The fantasy Harry Potter-esque book from Rowell’s Fangirl come to life! I unashamedly squealed and fist pumped in my car while listening to this book. When you get there you’ll know. Also, I love Rowell’s magic system and the way that she subverts HP plots and tropes.
Bone Gap – Laura Ruby – It took me two tries to read this. I couldn’t get into the print version but the audio was great. A tale of magic realism reminiscent of the story of Orpheus and Eurydice. Bees are also important, so if you read Paull’s The Bees and need more bee stories, get this one next.
The Port Chicago 50: Disaster, Mutiny, and the Fight for Civil Rights – Steve Sheinkin – An important and infuriating case of racial discrimination from WWII that I had no idea about.
In the Kingdom of Ice: The Grand and Terrible Polar Voyage of the USS Jeannette – Hampton Sides – Polar exploration before the Heroic Age of Polar Exploration. If you know me, you know I love polar exploration and sailing stories. This book was basically written just for me.
Nimona – Noelle Stevenson – A shape shifting teen joins a supervillain for fun and serious thoughts violence, morality, and roles people are expected to play.
This One Summer – Mariko Tamaki and Jillian Tamaki – Beautiful art and story about a girl’s summer between childhood and teendom and all the growing pains therein.
The Martian – Andy Weir – Pure potato porn. Poor Mark Watney! But seriously an exciting, and surprisingly funny book.
Some recurring themes I’m noticing from my list: bees, retellings of fairy tales or myths, immigrant stories, feminism, debut authors, an effort to read more diversely (aka not white authors).
Here’s some other books in best categories that I’m making up right now:
Best book that I didn’t want to like because it’s basically the output of a Teen Dystopia Generator, but ended up liking anyway dang it: Red Queen – Victoria Aveyard
Best book that’s like the show Supernatural with a teen girl protagonist: The Awesome – Eva Darrows
Best Comics series you should be reading  – Squirrel Girl, Lumberjanes, Rat Queens, Saga, Ms. Marvel, The Wicked + the Divine, Alex & Ada, Princeless, Paper Girls, Gotham Academy
Best books for vacation reading and making you hungryCrazy Rich Asians and China Rich Girlfriend – Kevin Kwan
Best bestseller that I thought I would hate so waited two years to read and actually kind of liked: Gone Girl – Gillian Flynn
What about you? Do you have a favorite book or books from this year? Anything that I missed that I should definitely read in 2016? Let me know!
I should also tell you that one of my resolutions for 2016 other than to do the dishes in a more timely manner and learn to install a zipper, is to update more often. I will try!

 

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Books you should read: Summer 2015 edition

Friends! I am on vacation next week so I’m going to get this out to you as soon as possible. I assume you want book recommendations because who doesn’t? So I’m going to give them to you quick and dirty (hehe).

Books I read this summer that you should read if you . . .

redqueen. . . liked The Hunger Games and feel like you want another YA dystopian series that you can’t put down: Red Queen by Victoria Aveyard. Ok, only the first book is out but I ended up liking this one a lot more than I thought I would. While it seems pretty derivative at first, Aveyard takes the Roman gladiatorial combat of The Hunger Games to interesting places. There’s a love triangle so watch out if that’s not your thing. But seriously, A+ for plotting. This runs away like a little dynamo if you let it. I’ll probably read the next three books as they come out. Not as well written as The Hunger Games but better written than Brandon Sanderson, so there’s your literary evaluation.

. . . like your fantasy standalone, different, and dark: Uprooted by Naomi Novik. This book was so good! I thought the combo of a twisted fairy tale, evil forest, and mysterious sorcerer worked really well. It take a bit to get going but it sticks with you. Great if you like the grown up fairytale like feel of Neil Gaiman’s Stardust but want it slightly more serious.

. . . like polar adventure and survival stories: In the Kingdom of Ice: The Grand and Terrible Voyage of the USS Jeannette. I LOVE polar adventure and survival stories. Stories about Shackleton or others from the Heroic Age of Polar Exploration? Yes please. Stories about sailing and shipwrecks? Give me more, bonus points if they’re about whaling. Stories with gruesome facts about the effects of sub freezing weather on people’s health? Yes, gimme those frostbitten feet tales! This book about a pretty early, and ill-conceived attempt to reach the North Pole by sea has it all.

crazyrichasians. . . like to name drop designers and love a beachy read that needs a Tolstoy-esque cast of characters at the beginning: Crazy Rich Asians and China Rich Girlfriend. There are a million people and they are all related. It’s hilarious, scandalous, witty, and will make you want to go to Singapore for the food alone.

. . . love Jane Eyre but think that maybe Jane is too good for Rochester: Re Jane, a re-telling of Jane Eyre set in Queens with a Korean American Jane, an struggling English professor Rochester, and a hippie to the max Bertha.

. . . want a comic with nods to famous characters, is set in a mysterious boarding school, and is just utterly charming: Gotham Academy. I’m not that much a DC girl but damn is this series great! The characters are intriguing and delightful – in the case of Maps! – and the art is top notch.

Those are some of my favorites from this summer. I’m currently reading The Bees by Laline Paull and An Ember in the Ashes by Sabaa Tahir. These both started out slow but I’m really enjoying them now!

Finally, don’t forget there is still time to donate to the Women Write About Comics Indiegogo campaign. We’re hoping to pay writers, prints zines, and do lots of cool stuff! Any amount is great but $10 will get you a handwritten thank you note. Probably from Canada which is pretty cool….

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Summer reads and new projects

Last year's summer reading.

Last year’s summer reading with last summer’s haircut.

Generally, I support people making their own summer reading decisions. I’m fairly against prescribed summer reading lists but these are books that I think you should read because you would like them. Plus, you are all adults and I can’t actually tell you what to do. But if you do want recommendations here are some I’ve been thinking about lately:

Girl at War by Sara Novic – I’m not finished with this yet, but it’s pretty great so far. It follows young girl, Ana Juric, from her life in Croatia during the Croatian Civil War in 1991 and then in the U.S. right after the September 11 attacks. It is as sad as expected but the writing is great.

Lumberjanes and Wicked + Divine comics – These are pretty different from each other but they are both going to be adapted so you should read the source material first. Or not – you do you. I’m trying to be less judgmental about that.

Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adiche – This is just really good and I can highly recommend the audiobook. The narrator has a beautiful voice. So read it.

The Port Chicago 50 by Steve Sheinkin – You should read this because it’s a sort of unknown, but important story about black sailors in WWII who were tried and convicted of mutiny for refusing to load ammunition – a job pretty much only given to black sailors – without any ammunition training. Did I mention their white superior officers made best on which units could load bombs the fastest? And they only refused to load ammunition after an accident at their base that killed about 300 people? It’s a fascinating, infuriating, and important story.

You should also probably re-read a childhood book that you loved or an adult book you loved. I haven’t read The Time Traveler’s Wife in a few years and I’m probably overdue for a day of gross sobbing. Read a classic; read a book by an author you’ve never read; read a book by someone who is completely different than you; read a book that makes you say, “This is my life.” Read, read, read. Let me know what I should be reading, too.

In other news, I’m excited to start my stint as a member of the YALSA Research Journal Advisory Board starting this summer. I’m not totally clear on what we will be working on but I’m excited to start committee work. I’d love to translate my experience on this committee to other YALSA committees someday like a book selection committee. Maybe someday I’ll be on the Printz committee and you can get super mad at all of our choices. FUN.

I have started writing for Women Write About Comics. I had a tiny news post up the other day and longer articles and essays will be up this month. You can follow that link to see the article and read my obnoxious bio at the bottom. I’m so excited about it and all the women who write for the site are smart, articulate, and amazing. I’ll probably be linking there a lot from now on, so get used to that.

With the YALSA board, WWAC, and my YALSA Hub blog manager application still floating around out there it’s shaping up to be a really busy next couple of years. But busy is good! And these are all personal and professional things that I really care about. I will try to still post on a weekly basis, but if you haven’t heard from me send me a note!

 

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