What I’m Reading, June 2017

It’s the end of a month and beginning of a new month, so you know what that means: book review time. I read a lot in June. As in, I’m pretty wowed by how much I read this month. While it may not be enough to win my library’s summer reading challenge, I’m very close to my total from last June and July (minus all those Baby-Sitters Club books, of course), so I’m happy with that.

I’m also two books away from completing my 2017 reading goal of 100 books. I may have a book problem.

What else is happening? It’s Camp NaNoWriMo time, and I plan on researching and planning for 20 hours on my parallel worlds novel.

Anyway, here we go: the reviews.

The Blood of Emmett Till by Timothy B. Tyson: This book tells the story of fourteen-year-old Emmett Till’s lynching in 1955 Mississippi, as well as the trial and events following the murder. While the beginning (particularly the part on Carolyn Bryant’s story) was a little slow, the story of the murder, trial, and politics surrounding the trial had my full attention. The author does a good job at connecting the dots of the murder while weaving in big-picture context of the politics and life in 1950s Mississippi. Read this book, but be prepared to be enraged and saddened that stuff like this is still happening. (4 out of 5 uprisings)

The Inexplicable Logic of My Life by Benjamin Alire Saenz: Man. This coming-of-age book featuring a high school senior, his close friends, and his gay adopted Mexican dad is just beautiful. Sure, there’s not a Point A to Point B plot, but the characters make me wish they were real (well, that most of them were real) and the overall storyline and writing are beautiful while still showing the realness and rawness of being a teenager. And best of all, there’s no romance within the main teenage trio. Side note: Can I have Sal’s dad, please? (5 out of 5 yellow leaves)

Giovanni’s Room by James Baldwin: This is the first book of Baldwin’s that I’ve read, chosen while I was browsing at the library. I wanted to like this book so much, but then… I couldn’t. There didn’t seem to be much of a connection between the narrator and Giovanni, nor with the narrator and Hella. The characters feel like they were put together out of nowhere, with little connection between them. While I enjoyed the prose itself and the narrator’s stories of his past, the present was much less riveting, and it didn’t help that Giovanni was an insufferable asshole. (3 out of 5 drinks)

Find Me by Laura van der Berg: I really did not like this book. The premise sounds interesting enough, but the story moves at a crawl, with no real motivation to keep reading. The characters and plot are ill-developed, and the ending is really disappointing. I managed to finish this one, and boy was I thankful when it was over. (2 out of 5 diseases)

Anna and the French Kiss by Stephanie Perkins: This was a NaNoWriMo novel! That was enough to get my attention, especially one as well-known as this one. It’s a sweet YA romance featuring a high school senior from Atlanta being shipped off to boarding school in Paris. That’s enough to get my attention. While the story starts off slow with an annoying (and occasionally not so bright–how did she not know Paris was a film hub?!) narrator Anna, it picks up quickly once school starts and she starts meeting the other characters. And now I really miss France. (4 out of 5 cinemas)

The Art of Crash Landing by Melissa DeCarlo: Much like with the previous book, I thought I wasn’t going to like this book based on the beginning–Mattie, 30, pregnant, broke, and jobless, takes off from Florida to Gandy, Oklahoma to claim her part of her grandmother’s estate. But once she gets to Oklahoma, she talks to people and discovers that her mother just disappeared, as well as learning (a little at a time) about her mother and grandparents. The characters were well-flawed and felt real to me, and the story kept me wondering what would happen next. (4 out of 5 family histories)

Mrs. Dalloway by Virginia Woolf: After zooming through the last few books, this one took awhile to slog through, and not just because a paragraph could easily take up two pages. No, I couldn’t get into Clarissa Dalloway getting ready to throw a party that day and all the switches in points of view, telling about other characters and their pasts. This isn’t the first Woolf selection I’ve read, but I think I’m good on reading Woolf now. (2 out of 5 parties)

The Evolution of Beauty: How Darwin’s Forgotten Theory of Mate Choice Shapes the Animal World – And Us by Richard O. Prum: I listened to this book, which talks about how ornamental traits that have no other purpose have evolved–in other words, beauty. It was a long and dense read, but I rather enjoyed it. If the external speaker on my iPod touch worked, I would have blasted the section about duck sex in retaliation to the guy listening to a religious video without speakers. (4 out of 5 birds)

Holding Up the Universe by Jennifer Niven: Yes, another YA romance, this one featuring Jack, a face-blind high school senior and Libby, a high school junior known for being so fat she once had to get cut out of her own house. Yes, really. Oh, and Libby is just now starting back at a regular school after being homeschooled for so many years. Despite the lack of chemistry on Jack and Libby’s part, the main thing that bugged me about this book was the lack of developed stories among Libby and the rest of the supporting cast. Come on, she hasn’t been in a regular school in years, but she immediately jumps back in with old friends and new ones (who barely show up in the story)? But I enjoyed Libby’s love of dance, and I have to admit, their actual date was pretty adorable. (3 out of 5 unrecognized faces)

The Chessboard and the Web: Strategies of Connection in a Networked World by Anne-Marie Slaughter: I listened to this book, and I’m still not sure what this book was trying to accomplish. It’s a very broad introduction to network theory and politics, but it does the network theory much better than integrating that with politics. Still, I do want to keep learning more about these topics. (3 out of 5 networks)

George by Alex Gino: This is a really sweet book about George, a ten-year-old trans girl who is struggling with being seen as a boy all the time. All she wants is to be Charlotte in the school production of Charlotte’s Web but she doesn’t get the part because only a girl can have that part. But… she is a girl. So George and her best friend Kelly come up with a plan to let George be Charlotte after all. This is a great book to get kids thinking about LGBTQ+ topics, but it’s also good for teens and adults. (4 out of 5 school plays)

Trigger Warning by Neil Gaiman: I’ve been tryign to read more short fiction (not that you’d believe it from what I’ve been reading lately), and Gaiman’s latest short story collection got my attention. It seems like I’m the only person I know who didn’t adore it to bits and pieces. Sure, there are some good stories; I like the one about the made-up girlfriend, which appears pretty early on in this collection. But for some reason a lot of these stories fell flat to me. It’s not because of the prose itself; Gaiman is a good writer. But maybe it was because I was reading while trying not to be distracted by having my family around over Father’s Day weekend. (3 out of 5 disturbances)

The Raven Boys by Maggie Stiefvater: I’ve been meaning to read this series for ages, and I’m glad I didn’t put it off even longer. Blue is a non-psychic who lives with psychics, and she’s always been told that if she kisses her true love, they’ll die. Then she sees a spirit as the soon-to-be-dead walk past, something that shouldn’t be happening for non-psychics. She finds out who this boy is, meets his friends, and joins them on their adventures. The first thing I did when I finished this book was check out the second one on Overdrive… and then curse the fact that my library’s Overdrive doesn’t have the third book available. (4 out of 5 ravens)

80/20 Running: Run Stronger and Race Faster by Training Slower by Matt Fitzgerald: I listened to this book. The general idea is that 80% of your workouts should be done at low intensity, while the other 20% should be done at moderate to high intensity. This means you’ll probably be running longer and for more miles, yes, but you’ll get more out of it. While a lot of the examples he gives are for elite runners, there’s still a lot to learn for casual runners. I haven’t had a chance to implement everything the author suggests, but I did go on a run a little more slowly after finishing this book and found myself able to go farther and longer than at my normal faster pace. (4 out of 5 slow runs)

The Winged Histories by Sofia Samatar: I read this book for my library’s book club. While the prose is beautiful, I found the story itself to be confusing. There are several points of view divided into sections, but within those four sections there are multiple perspectives, shifts from the past to the present and back again, and more narratives that are hard to piece together, especially with the large cast of characters (heck, this book includes a family tree at the beginning and a glossary at the end). While there is theoretically a plot, it’s lost in the shuffle as the story shifts from era to era. (3 out of 5 iloks)

The Dream Thieves by Maggie Stiefvater: This is book 2 of the Raven Cycle books, and it did not disappoint. There’s plenty to keep the story going while building the relationships between the characters and ramping up the suspense, as well as answering the question of the last few lines of book one. Thank goodness I planned ahead and had this book ready to read. (4 out of 5 dreams)

When Dimple Met Rishi by Sandhya Menon: I read this book in one sitting (well, minus a brief break to grab a snack), and it’s a light YA romance that still stands out. The book stars Dimple and Rishi, two Indian teens who find themselves at the same computer camp in San Francisco. The main characters are huge nerds in different ways, Dimple is fierce, Rishi is a lovable dork, and I found myself rooting for both of them at the same time, even when they hated each other at first. There are a few plot elements that felt like they were just thrown in there to make other stuff happen (the talent show? seriously?), but the book deals with some big issues like racism, social class, and gender while still being a fun read. (4 out of 5 spilled drinks)

Killing It: An Entrepreneur’s Guide to Keeping Your Head Without Losing Your Heart by Sheryl O’Loughlin: I listened to this book, written by the former CEO of Clif and Plum Organics. The author talks frankly about topics that entrepreneurs need to know about but often ignore: building relationships within and outside of your business, dealing with investors, making time for family, and even mental and physical health. These topics often go ignored when talking about business, but O’Loughlin tackles them well without making the book a pure memoir. (4 out of 5 team members)

On Writing Well: The Classic Guide to Writing Nonfiction by William Zinsser: I wanted to like this book. It is, after all, supposed to be one of the best books on writing nonfiction out there. I enjoyed the sections on mechanics and finding your voice, despite thinking Zinsser would hate much of today’s writing if he were still alive. But the third section–discussing writing for humor, business, technology, and other topics–made me want to quit reading altogether. There were plenty of examples, but not enough information on what made those examples good. I skimmed most of those example texts and attempted to get to the point. These sections should have been their own book instead of trying to cram all that content into 20-page chapters. (3 out of 5 adverbs)

What I Was Doing While You Were Breeding by Kristin Newman: I listened to the author narrate this book, which is one part memoir, one part tell-all about all the vacation boyfriends she had during her single days. It was funny for awhile (she is, after all, a comedy writer), but the story eventually settled into more of the same stuff happening over and over again. I get it. You slept with a lot of guys and partied hard. Get to the point. (3 out of 5 vacation boyfriends)

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