What I’m Reading, March 2017

Here we are again, the end of another month, the beginning of another book review post. I’ve read 50 out of 100 books for this year, including one reread for book club. I may have a book problem.

Since Camp NaNoWriMo starts here in five minutes and I may actually be awake for a midnight start, I’m just gonna stop blabbing and let the reviews stand for themselves. Let’s go.

The End of Faith: Religion, Terror, and the Future of Reason by Sam Harris: I listened to this book. As much as the atheist part of me wanted to like this book, I couldn’t take it seriously. Harris seems to be much more against Islam than the other Abrahamic religions, to the point where this stance got in the way of his arguments’ strength. The book got a little weird toward the end, the last couple of chapters consisting of some useful tenants of various Eastern religions, which doesn’t fit with the rest of the book at all. If you’re interested in the topic or the author, I recommend his Letter to a Christian Nation, which was written in response to this book: it’s shorter and written better. (3 out of 5 nonsensical beliefs)

Hidden Harmonies: The Lives and Times of the Pythagorean Theorem by Robert Kaplan & Ellen Kaplan: I wanted to like this book. I really did. Don’t get me wrong, there were parts of the book I did like, especially the parts that go on to develop aspects of the Pythagorean Theorem that I didn’t already know about. My main complaint is that the book was kind of all over the place; one chapter would be accessible to non-mathematical readers, while the next one might be hard to follow even for someone with a lot of math knowledge. This mathematical whiplash made the book hard to follow the overall theme underlying the book despite having seen a lot of the material before. I’d love to see the first half or the second half developed into its own book, but the two halves together made for the mathematical content escalating really quickly. (3 out of 5 proofs)

The Sky Is Everywhere by Jandy Nelson: I loved Nelson’s other book (I’ll Give You the Sun), and while I enjoyed this one as well, it didn’t hit me in the feelings quite as hard. This book leads us through Lennie’s life after the sudden death of her older sister, including a (dun dun dunnnn) love triangle. Despite the love triangle, the characters are delightfully quirky, the teens actually act like teens, and there are so many elements of the story that fit together well. Well worth the read. (4 out of 5 poems)

The Subtle Art of Not Giving a Fuck: A Counterintuitive Approach to Living a Good Life by Mark Manson: I listened to this book. It didn’t win me over at first due to sounding like a tough guy version of a self-help book, but I’m glad I kept listening. Beneath the “uh, no shit” advice, there are also nuggets of advice in the book that made me rethink a lot of things I’ve been thinking about lately, like my pursuit of more and how we tend to care about the wrong things. Despite the title, the book isn’t about how not to care, but how to care about the things worth caring about. While some of the content isn’t universally applicable, there’s something in here for anyone who cares to look a little deeper. (4 out of 5 fucks not given)

A Darker Shade of Magic by V. E. Schwab: Yes, I’m finally reading this series. And yes, I intentionally delayed starting the books until the last one came out just so I wouldn’t have to wait a year for the last book. That said, I really liked this book. The characters and worldbuilding (parallel magical Londons!) are complex and immersive, while the prose itself is beautiful. There are a few slow parts, especially before the main characters Kell and Lila meet, but still, I can’t wait to get my hands on the next book. (4 out of 5 black stones)

White Trash: The 400-Year Untold History of Class in America by Nancy Isenberg: I listened to this book. I grew up in the backwoods of the southeastern US, which made this book a particularly enlightening read. While this book surveys the history instead of going indepth about any particular aspect of the history, it still does a great job at summarizing the history of white trash stereotypes in America. That said, I would have loved to hear more about white trash perspectives from the people actually living this life, as opposed to the elites who appealed to poor whites for one reason or another. All in all, worth picking up to read (or listen, even if it is fifteen hours long). (5 out of 5 country hicks)

Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis by J.D. Vance: I listened to this book, coincidentally right after finishing White Trash above. I could see a lot of my own family in his tales; even though my family never went through some of the most extreme horrors that his did. While this book is touted as part memoir, part social and historical analysis, it’s definitely much more of a memoir than an analysis. But it’s an interesting one, with things that I hadn’t realized in my own life before (I remember figuring out financial aid forms and some of the quirks of the higher classes and not even considering some of the more prestigious colleges, just like Vance did). I have to say, this book would be a lot less interesting without Mamaw in it. (4 out of 5 hillbillies)

Gulp: Adventures on the Alimentary Canal by Mary Roach: This is the first Mary Roach book I’ve read, and it wasn’t that bad. This book takes you through the weird curiosities of the digestive system, from your mouth to your rectum. On the way, Mary Roach tells stories about topics such as smell affecting our taste, sampling pet food, smuggling items in the butt, and dying of constipation. While the first half of the book dragged a little bit, the second half, featuring the lower section of the digestive system, more than made up for it. I wish this whole book were about butts. (See also: things I never thought I’d write in a book review.) Roach also manages to tell all these tales with a sense of humor that indulges all of our inner twelve-year-olds. Worth a read if you’re interested in pop science or physiology. (4 out of 5 uncoated kibbles)

Are We Smart Enough to Know How Smart Animals Are? by Frans de Waal: I listened to this book. While a lot of this book consisted of telling stories about animals and their intelligence, there’s some analysis as well that more knowledgeable (or just curious) people would enjoy. I probably would have gotten more out of this book if I had read instead of listened to it, but that didn’t stop me from enjoying the analysis of these experiments: for instance, that we frequently judge animal intelligence on human intelligence. If you have little knowledge of animal intelligence, you might like this book. (4 out of 5 animal tests)

A Gathering of Shadows by V.E. Schwab: This book is the sequel to A Darker Shade of Magic, and it’s just as good. Four months after the events of ADSOM, Kell and Lila haven’t seen each other and excitement is afoot for the Element Games. Think Triwizard Tournament, but with more competitors and actual battling. Everything I said about the first book still stands. Now time to get my hands on the third book. (4 out of 5 elements)

The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood: I read this book for my library’s book club. This is a rare reread for me, but since I read it for a women’s studies class in college ten years ago, there’s still plenty of material that I forgot about and got to re-experience just like a first read. Offred’s story as a handmaid (a young woman capable of reproduction) in what used to be the Boston area shines some light on what an extreme religious world could look like. Some of the things that could lead to such a world are already happening–permission for abortions, laws trying to outlaw abortion beyond a certain point, waiting periods, conservative Christians trying to push their morality on everyone else. I still love this book, even if the timeline is a little confusing at times. That just adds to the tale, though. (5 out of 5 handmaids)

All the Devils are Here: The Hidden History of the Financial Crisis by Bethany McLean and Joe Nocera: I listened to this book, which traces the story of the 2007 real estate crisis. The authors go back thirty years to explore events big and small and the consequences of those things. There’s a large cast of characters in this book: CEOs with idealistic dreams who eventually succumb to the profits in subprime lending, government staff who ignore the lending market, executives jealous of the success of competitors and wanting in on the fun. Overall, this is a good survey of what caused the financial crisis. Pick it up if you’re even a little bit interested in the topic. (4 out of 5 subprime loans)

Watership Down by Richard Adams: I know a few folks who label this book as one of their all-time favorites, but I couldn’t get into it. Sure, the rabbits and their adventures were cute, the prose itself was good, and I grew to like Hazel and Bigwig in particular. Overall, though, I couldn’t find myself really wanting to know what happened next. This book would have been a lot easier to read in hard copy, where I could flip back and forth to remember what a Thlayli was, as I kept thinking this was the name of a new character. Still, I’m glad I read this book, as it had been on my to-read list for years. (3 out of 5 rabbits)

Armada by Ernest Cline: I wanted to love this book as much as I loved Ready Player One, but in the end I just couldn’t. The voice of protagonist Zack Lightman, a high school senior and world-class gamer who has to save the world from aliens, is spot on. The plot itself is interesting, just very rushed. This book would have benefited from better pacing (way better pacing), a more cohesive plot, more background, and way more character development. If you’re new to Ernest Cline, read RPO first, then set those expectations aside for this book. (3 out of 5 alien invasions)

Do Over: Rescue Monday, Reinvent Your Work, and Never Get Stuck by Jon Acuff: I listened to this book. Or rather, I’m still listening to this book because I have about twenty minutes left in it, but I doubt my opinion will change with those last few minutes. As you might have guessed from the title, this is a self-help book designed to help you make the most out of your career. Sure, a lot of the advice is obvious (Show up to work? Who would have guessed?), but his advice breaks down to four things to build: people you know, skills, grit, and hustle. There are also exercises throughout the book to make the most of each of these. I admit I didn’t do these exercises due to listening to the book. If you know absolutely nothing about building a career, then sure, read this and do something about it. (3 out of 5 career jumps)

What I’m Reading, February 2017

Hello March! February was a good month for reading, with 19 books read this month and 35 total books read this year. Although I encountered a string of disappointments at the beginning and end of the month, I did enjoy most of February’s books. Here goes.

Greenglass House by Kate Milford: Several of my friends have raved about this book, including one who specializes in children’s literature, so I went in with high expectations. It’s a cute mystery that takes place around Christmastime; twelve-year-old Milo just wants to have a peaceful winter break, but then all kinds of guests appear in the inn his parents run. Milo then finds himself solving a mystery about missing items and hte house itself with the help of the cook’s daughter Meddy. I enjoyed the beginning and end (including the twist at the end), as well as Milo, Meddy, and his parents, but the side characters mostly fell flat to me. (3 out of 5 stained glass windows)

The Rational Optimist: How Prosperity Evolves by Matt Ridley: I listened to this book. It would have resonated more in 2010 when it was released as opposed to now when everything seems like gloom and doom. Author Matt Ridley tries to argue that the world is getting better and will continue to get better. He does this well in the first few chapters, but then his arrogance starts to show. His argument also doesn’t take into account world governments and corruption that frequently block innovation and world progress, something that has been rearing its ugly head more frequently over the past few years. Mostly I just found myself bored while listening to this book. (2 out of 5 global changes)

The Checklist Manifesto: How to Get Things Right by Atul Gawande: I listened to this book. I wanted to like this book since I enjoyed Being Mortal, but it turned out to be more about the stories of checklists’ impact as opposed to the history of the checklist and its research. I would love to read a book about how checklists can, say, improve medical procedures, which some of the book does touch on. Hint hint. (3 out of 5 checklists)

Heartless by Marissa Meyer: This is an origin story of the Queen of Hearts from Alice in Wonderland. In this novel, Lady Catherine wants to open a bakery with her friend/servant Mary Ann, but her parents want her to marry the king and become the Queen of Hearts. Then the Joker comes in, and the two of them enter a secret courtship while the King is attempting to court Catherine. This is a well-written tale that maintains all the whimsy of the original Wonderland while adding Meyer’s own style. Also, I want a Jest of my own now. (4 out of 5 white roses)

Lemons by Melissa Savage: This book doesn’t come out until May, but I obtained an ARC through my book club. It’s 1975. Ten (and three-quarters)-year-old Lemonade Liberty Witt has just lost her mother and is sent to live with her grandfather (who she has never met) in the woods of California. She befriends fellow kid Tobin and they start investigating Bigfoot sightings together. This is a really sweet story set toward the end of the Vietnam War, even if I did predict the ending pretty early on. (4 out of 5 Bigfoot sightings)

Anatomy of a Misfit by Andrea Portes: I did not like this book. The characters are shallow, embracing just about every stereotype about popular kids out there. The story seems to float from event to event instead of containing a cohesive storyline. Also, I kept reading the main character’s last name as Dragonair, which amused me more than the actual story did. At least the blessedly short story kept me intrigued enough to read to the end. (2 out of 5 Bunza Buns)

Lab Girl by Hope Jahren: I listened to this book, which was read by the author. This memoir about her life in the lab is beautifully written, and it deals with other topics like mental illness and childbirth. Some of her stories about trees and soil make me realize what I love so much about math: that moment when it all comes together after agonizing over a single problem for weeks. Other sections are raw and heartbreaking and beautiful all at the same time, and you can hear her emotion as she reads some of her own words. If you like reading about science and scientists, or even if you just like touching stories, pick up this book. (5 out of 5 experiments)

Homeland by Cory Doctorow: This book is the sequel to Little Brother, which I read and enjoyed in 2014. This book, however, is not as good as its predecessor. That said, it’s still a decent read, with a story set against the broken economy and the Occupy movement as well as more up-to-date tech references. While the beginning felt slow and implausible in parts, the ending was abrupt and left a lot of loose ends untied. Did Joe Noss win the election? What does Marcus do after the events of the story? What happened in all the time in between the events of the story and the epilogue? I did enjoy the essay by Aaron Swartz (RIP) at the end, as well as the cameos by the EFF team and Wil Wheaton, though. Of course Wil is DMing a campaign. (3 out of 5 rooted machines)

Twilight of the Elites: America After Meritocracy by Christopher Hayes: I listened to this book, which discusses the growing unequal distribution of wealth and how we got here in the first place. Even though this book was published in 2012, the content is still timely; in fact, its message is more applicable now than in 2012. This book provides a history of meritocracy and details how it has broken down over the years, with the elites losing touch with middle America and failing at, well, everything except getting even richer. Examples in this book range from steroids in baseball to admissions tests for elite schools. Everyone needs to read this book, especially those high up on the socioeconomic ladder, for the only way to fix this and bring about more equality is for the masses to work together in a democratic fashion. (4 out of 5 billionaires)

The Crashers by Magen Cubed: I’ve seen the author around Twitter, and a friend recommended this book to me. This book tells the story of five people who come together after surviving a crash and discovering they have superpowers. From seeing the future to strength to speed, these five people deal with their superpowers while juggling their own falling-apart lives. While I enjoyed the book, I wish there were more of an explanation of how exactly the characters got their powers, not to mention what happens after they beat the bad guy. (4 out of 5 superpowers)

The Undoing Project: A Friendship That Changed Our Minds by Michael Lewis: I listened to this book, which tells the story of Israeli psychologists Daniel Kahneman and Amos Tversky and their decade of researching decision making together. While I was familiar with many of their research topics from previous reading, hearing the story behind their discoveries made this book a narrative and not just a textbook, which in turn made the book even more enjoyable. (4 out of 5 heuristics)

The Rosie Effect by Graeme Simsion: Don and Rosie are married and living in New York City when Rosie becomes pregnant. This prompts Don to research everything he needs to know in order to become a father, but in the process he finds himself losing Rosie as well. While I didn’t like this book as much as I did The Rosie Project, the sequel is still enjoyable. It could have used one more round of editing and rewriting, but besides that, the book makes me love Don and want to shake some sense into him at the same time. (4 out of 5 buds)

Buck by MK Asante: I read this book for my library’s book club. I hadn’t heard of MK Asante before reading this book, which tells the story of growing up in inner city Philadelphia. MK also has to deal with his father leaving, his brother going to jail, and much more that I won’t get into here because spoilers. Asante’s writing is interspersed with rap and hip-hop lyrics throughout the book, sometimes even in the middle of a scene, and toward the end his own lines start playing this role. Asante’s tale is raw and full of emotion while showing his own maturity and perseverance. (4 out of 5 bucks)

Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City by Matthew Desmond: I listened to this book, which tells the story of evictions in Milwaukee while showing what the tenants and the landlords alike have to go through, all to shed light on how and why evictions are becoming more and more common. Desmond does this by following eight families and two landlords (spoiler: he lived among them while doing some of the research), noting just how easy it is to evict a tenant, how many very poor families spend closer to 100% of their income on rent compared to the recommended 30%, and how easily unpaid rent can accumulate. Heartbreaking and too real. (4 out of 5 evictions)

Avid Reader: A Life by Robert Gottlieb: I listened to this book, which is narrated by the author. Even though I had never heard of the author (who has worked at Simon & Schuster, Albert A. Knopf, the New Yorker, and other places I’m not thinking of), this book sounded interesting at first because of the title. How could I resist a book like this? Pretty easily, it turned out. The author admits he’s much more of an editor than a writer, and it shows. While hearing about some of the celebrities he had worked with was interesting, this book was definitely written for his family and friends, as there wasn’t much general interest in some (okay, a lot) of these stories. Listening to this book feels like listening to your family patriarch telling you stories about their entire life, except you sometimes care about those. (3 out of 5 long stories)

Human, Beware! by Thorarinn Gunnarsson: Yes, this is the sequel to Make Way for Dragons. While I was pleasantly surprised by that book, this one was a huge disappointment. I’m not sure where to start with this, except there wasn’t much I liked about this book at all. Mostly I was left confused, trying to figure out what on earth was going on and why it was happening because what did happen made little sense. The author has a really weird thing about getting the main character naked; she was ten in the first book but an adult now. (2 out of 5 dragons)

Born a Crime by Trevor Noah: I listened to this book, which is narrated by the author, and as expected, it is hilarious. The author tells his stories of growing up mixed-race toward the end of South Africa’s apartheid. Even though the stories are consistently funny (like his stories comparing white church, mixed church, and black church), the insights and depth are also there, something that doesn’t always happen with humor or memoir. I learned a lot while listening, not just about apartheid but about life in general as well. Go read it. Note: there are a few scenes involving partner violence and child abuse. (5 out of 5 pirated CDs)

Number the Stars by Lois Lowry: Despite loving Lois Lowry, I never read this book as a kid. How I managed this, I still don’t know, but I fixed this on Sunday afternoon. What was I waiting for? I would have loved this book as a kid, and I still love it as an adult. Not much else to say here. Go read it if you haven’t already. It won’t take long. (5 out of 5 handkerchiefs)

Algorithms to Live By: The Computer Science of Human Decisions by Brian Christian & Tom Griffiths: I listened to this book, first while hiking on Friday, then while riding back home from Asheville last weekend, then finishing it while walking around this week. This book has a lot of computer science in it, but everything is explained well, even for people with no computer experience. And don’t let the computer science part scare you–most of the book applies those principles to decision making and psychology. If you’re interested in a multidisciplinary approach to your learning, read this book. (4 out of 5 big decisions)

What I’m Reading, January 2017

January was a busy month for reading! I’m zooming toward my goal of 100 books with relative ease. Maybe I’ll up that goal sometime.

Without further ado…

The Color of Magic by Terry Pratchett: Yes, I finally started reading the Discworld books. Even though multiple people told me not to start at the beginning (or at least not to let the first book put me off), I ignored them and did it anyway for the sake of experiencing the books as they came out. While I enjoyed Pratchett’s writing and humor, the first book was difficult to follow, with lots of characters being introduced at once. Even if the first book may eventually become my least favorite, I plan on continuing the series. (3 out of 5 Luggages)

The Light Fantastic by Terry Pratchett: This is the second half of the story begun in The Color of Magic. It contains just as much of Pratchett’s great writing and is much easier to follow than the first book. From my understanding, these two books are the only ones that serve as two halves of the same story, so be sure to read these books together. I did enjoy this book enough to request the next book, which begins a new series within the series. Can’t wait. (4 out of 5 spells)

The Art of the Infinite: The Pleasures of Mathematics by Robert and Ellen Kaplan: I’ve read and enjoyed one of Robert’s books before for a class in college. While this book contained a lot of material I already knew, it also gave me a chance to explore math from different perspectives, especially in geometry. (Did I ever mention that geometry was the bane of my college existence? Because it really was, even with a wonderful professor.) This book does get challenging at some points, especially for someone like me who loves math but hasn’t done much of it in awhile. I’d recommend it if you have some background in math and proof-writing because you will have to fill in a few blanks yourself… or at least consult the appendix where the bigger proofs lie. (4 out of 5 infinities)

The Weirdstone of Brisingamen by Alan Garner: This is a children’s fantasy book from the 60s, and to be honest, I found it rather boring. Maybe I would have liked it as a kid, maybe not, but I’m leaning toward no. This book has a lot of characters that blend together, and there’s not enough in the plot to keep me interested. (2 out of 5 stones)

Essentials of Sociology: A Down-to-Earth Approach, 6th Edition by James Henslin: This is an introductory college textbook, and an old one at that; this version was published around 2006. Reading this textbook made me want even more, especially regarding events of the past ten years, but that’s not the fault of this particular edition. I would have loved to see more than a passing mention of LGBT+ families in the family area, as well as more about sexual orientation and gender identity in general. Overall, this book has gotten my feet wet in sociology, and now I just want to read more. Time to get in touch with my friend the sociology grad student. (4 out of 5 social norms)

Sarah’s Key by Tatiana de Rosnay: This book features two storylines, one of a Jewish girl during World War II in Paris and another of an American woman living in Paris in 2002. This was also the book where I complained on Twitter about using font changes to indicate a point of view change. That aside, this book was pretty good. Even though this book isn’t a historical novel, it did use real events such as the Vel’ d’Hiv roundup in Paris. However, If I had known before reading that this book was originally written in French, I might have attempted to track down a French language copy. (4 out of 5 family secrets)

Where Am I Now? by Mara Wilson: I listened to this book. If you recognize the author’s name, it’s probably because she’s awesome on Twitter or you know her from Matilda or as the Faceless Old Woman Who Secretly Lives In Your Home. I admit it, I was a big Matilda fan as a kid, but I like Mara even better as an awesome Twitter person. This book is her version of the “Where are they now?” articles that occasionally pop up about former child actors so the press doesn’t have to do it for her (and get the facts wrong while they’re at it). She tells stories of her childhood, her experiences on the sets of films she acted in, boarding school, college, mental illness, and much more, all with a candid and refreshing writing style and humor. There are also a couple of letters written to Matilda the character from Mara herself on how Matilda the character has shaped her as a person, as well as how Matilda has shaped how other people recognize her. If you liked Mara in any of her other work, you’ll like this book. (4 out of 5 performances)

Persuadable: How Great Leaders Change Their Minds to Change the World by Al Pittampalli: I listened to this book. You’ve probably heard someone accuse someone else of flip-flopping or changing their mind. Heck, you might have been the person doling out the accusation. This book makes a strong argument that we learn and grow by listening to the perspectives of others and changing our mind when the evidence demands it. This is a mindset I’ve tried to embrace in my adult years, so maybe I’m biased here. But this book does a good job at showing examples where leaders did change their mind when it came to making a product or adding a feature and how that decision affected the business. One of the standout examples here is Amazon getting into the ebook business, where Jeff Bezos convinced one of his executives to lead the ebook business, which led to creating an ereader that changed how we consume books. (4 out of 5 convincing arguments)

Equal Rites by Terry Pratchett: This is the third book in the Discworld series and the first book in the Witches storyline. While I enjoyed the prose and the overall storyline, I found this story hard to follow and connect the dots from scene to scene. That could have been me, though; I’ve been pretty distracted when it comes to reading lately. Not sure where to go next when it comes to this series; I may come back to it when I’m not sure what to read next, but I’m not in a rush to finish all the books. (3 out of 5 spells)

Everything is Obvious: Once You Know the Answer by Duncan Watts: I listened to this book, which discusses how we answer questions like “Why is the Mona Lisa the greatest painting ever?” by listing traits that we’ve decided on because this painting contains these things. It’s a compelling read, and I’d recommend this book for anyone who wants to learn more about logic and thinking and research. If you haven’t put much thought into this way of thinking before, you’re likely to have your view changed in some way. (4 out of 5 biases)

I Contain Multitudes: The Microbes Within Us and a Grander View of Life by Ed Yong: I listened to this book, which talks about the various microbes in our bodies and how they contribute to the greater thing called life. This book isn’t limited to human microbes and how they fight off diseases, but also goes on to include microbes living in animals and how these microbes are studied on germ-free creatures. It can get a little dense at times (especially when listening to the book and taking everything in and then a loud truck drives past you, causing you to miss the last paragraph… not that this has happened or anything), but for the most part this book is still accessible to a wide audience. (4 out of 5 microbes)

Everything, Everything by Nicola Yoon: I’ve been meaning to read this book for awhile and finally managed it. This book tells the story of a teenage girl who is allergic to just about everything, who doesn’t leave the house as a result… and then falls in love with the boy next door. Even though this book seems implausible in some parts and I’m still not sure how to feel about the twist at the end, this book had my attention from start to end with its engaging story and interesting (biracial!) main character; I would have read it in one sitting if a friend hadn’t arrived at my house halfway through. I just wish there were more to the ending, though. (4 out of 5 allergies)

Three Lives of Tomomi Ishikawa by Benjamin Constable: This book was one of my prizes from the public library’s reading contest last summer, and I just now got around to reading it. This book tells the story of an ordinary writer named Benjamin Constable (yes, the name of the author, although this is fiction) whose friend appears to have died and left him with a puzzle to solve. This puzzle takes Benjamin all over Paris, through some underground tunnels, and across the ocean to New York City where the friend grew up. Along the way Benjamin learns more about his friend than he had ever known before… but how much of it is true? Sure, this book is implausible in parts, such as the woman who volunteers to tag along on Benjamin’s New York City adventures, but it still kept me reading, which matters more to me than a little implausibility. (Besides, look at reality right now.) (4 out of 5 puzzles)

Hidden Figures: The American Dream and the Untold Story of the Black Women Mathematicians Who Helped Win the Space Race by Margot Lee Shetterly: I listened to this book (and still haven’t seen the movie, whoops). As a math nerd who likes diversity and history, this book had my attention from the beginning. If you’ve seen the movie, you already know the basic gist of this book, but in case you haven’t, this book tells the story of several black women who worked as mathematicians and computers through World War II and afterward to the space missions. This was a time when black women were considered suitable for this role because it didn’t require as much thought, but these women turned out to be as capable as any of the men, sometimes correcting the errors of the white men. Since much of this book took place in Virginia when segregation was still in place, that topic was also addressed in this book; from guessing a person’s race based on their education to the segregated bathrooms and lunch areas. Whether or not you plan on seeing the film, if you want to learn more about history and space, read this book. (4 out of 5 equations)

The Radical King by Martin Luther King, Jr. and Cornel West: I read this book for my local library’s book club. This is a curated collection of MLK’s more radical speeches and essays, the ones where he spoke on a much broader range of topics than civil rights for blacks. There are essays about economic injustice and his opposition to the Vietnam War, all connected to the bigger goal of equality for all. Cornel West serves just to provide commentary; the bulk of this book consists of King’s writings. I recommend taking in each essay slowly so you don’t lose track of the big picture presented in King’s message. (5 out of 5 speeches)

In Defense of Food: An Eater’s Manifesto by Michael Pollan: I listened to this book. I haven’t read Pollan’s more well-known book The Omnivore’s Dilemma, but despite that I didn’t have any trouble following this one. Pollan answers the question “Well, what SHOULD we eat?” in this book, while also sharing some history behind nutrition and how our food choices have changed over time in comparison to other parts of the world. For instance, if a food product makes a health claim, it’s probably not all that good for you. The book isn’t perfect, but it does make you think about food and how we eat. (4 out of 5 fresh vegetables)

What I’m Reading, December 2016

Here we go, all the rest of the books I read in 2016.

The Next Thing On My List by Jill Smolinski: I found this book in one of those little free libraries if I remember right. The book struck me because it features a main character who has shown up in my recent novels: young women who are bumbling through adulthood because they have no idea what to do with their lives. (Sound familiar, self?) This book tells the story of a young woman who sets out to complete someone else’s to-do list. A couple of items are already crossed off, but the other items consist of things ranging from brave (go braless) to confusing (make Buddy Fitch pay… who is he?). While the story was a fun light read, some of the character development was way off. The main character acts about ten years younger than her age, and some of the romantic elements come from out of left field with little previous development. (3 out of 5 lists)

The Art of Asking; or, How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Let People Help by Amanda Palmer: I listened to this book, and if you read this book, I recommend you do the same; the author herself reads the book, and there’s plenty of her own music between sections. This book reads more like a personal memoir than the guide I was expecting. That’s not a bad thing; Palmer tells her own story of letting people help her in her career. The book isn’t perfect, but it does show us makers that we don’t have to do it all ourselves. (4 out of 5 fan interactions)

A Torch Against the Night by Sabaa Tahir: This is the second book in a series, and I loved the first book. I enjoyed this one as well, though it took awhile to get into (partly because I read the first book last year). I have only one request: More Helene, please! So… when does book three come out? (4 out of 5 run-ins with the Commandant)

Thomas Gray in Copenhagen: In Which the Philosopher Cat Meets the Ghost of Hans Christian Andersen by Philip J. Davis: I borrowed this book from one of my college math professors. The illustrations are adorable, but the story doesn’t quite hold up. There are oddities that come out of nowhere and bits that feel like a lecture rather than a story (and an oddly-placed one at that). As cute as the concept was, I wasn’t a big fan. (3 out of 5 philosopher cats)

World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War by Max Brooks: I’ve been meaning to read this for years, and it has sat on my shelf for several months. This book consists of a series of interviews with people involved in the zombie war. As a result, the book is divided into sections. Some characters reappear throughout the story, but it was hard to tell the characters apart even while figuring out which character was which. This and the fact that there isn’t really one big overarching story arc, just a bunch of little arcs that had a habit of ending unexpectedly, are my major complaints about the book. That said, I did enjoy the individual stories, even if they didn’t fit together as well as I would have liked. (3 out of 5 interviews)

Make Way For Dragons! by Thorarinn Gunnarsson: I picked this book up for its ridiculous cover, which turned out to be misleading. The female character described as blonde is a secondary character, there are no skateboards, cats are only mentioned in passing, and much of the book takes place in the mountainous parts of California. That said, I enjoyed reading the book. Sure, there are infodumps and there’s not much to make you care about the characters in the beginning, but once the main dragon character meets the main human character, it’s game on. (4 out of 5 dragons)

The King of Taksim Square by Emrah Serbes: I won this book in a Goodreads giveaway and I’ll be honest. I did not like this book. The plot meanders all over the place throughout the book, often jumping from one thing to another and barely holding my interest enough to make me continue. The main character barely has any redeeming traits, and even his love for his sister is, well, kind of creepy. The storyline about trying to make his sister Internet famous barely holds its own worth in the book, but the same can be said for much of the content. My first reaction upon finishing was “What on earth did I just read?” (2 out of 5 moonwalks)

The Drunkard’s Walk: How Randomness Rules Our Lives by Leonard Mlodinow: I listened to this book. I took a probability theory course in college as part of my math major and found it frustrating thanks to not being able to tell if an answer was right; I worked many problems to discover a probability of, say, 0.26 when the answer was 0.28. This book felt like a very condensed version of my college probability class condensed in 250 pages, so if you’re looking for an entire book about randomness, this isn’t it. The reading does get dense at times, but not so dense that you want to give up; there are plenty of historical tidbits as well to keep you entertained along the way. (4 out of 5 coin tosses)

Seabiscuit: An American Legend by Laura Hillenbrand: Of all the books I expected to suck me in, I did not expect a horse biography to make me read all 400 pages in one day. The nonfiction work is paced and structured a lot like a novel despite being nonfiction, with well-developed characters that I actually cared about, a pace that made me unable to put the book down, and a buildup that continues throughout the entire book. Damn. (5 out of 5 races)

Hack: How I Stopped Worrying About What to Do with My Life and Started Driving a Yellow Cab by Melissa Plaut: Apparently this book is based on a blog, something I didn’t know until reaching the About the Author area at the end. Anyway, this book details the adventures of a young white woman driving a cab in New York City; those two years happened to come before GPS was in every vehicle ever, making the story even more interesting. The book mainly consists of short tales, in part because it did start out as a blog. There are heartwarming moments and moments when I wanted to smack the passengers. While this book has received some mixed reviews, I enjoyed it, even if it wasn’t as deep as it could have been. (4 out of 5 yellow cars)

Why Does Popcorn Pop? by Don Voorhees: This book is just a bunch of trivia bits about food, and I’m okay with this. While some of the trivia bits were more interesting than others, and I really wish there was more on the actual food chemistry, this book did scratch my itch in the food trivia field. And let’s be honest, it helped me clear out my physical to-read pile too. (4 out of 5 kernels)

Time Station London by David Evans: I like the premise of time travelers trying to make sure things like Germans winning World War 2 doesn’t happen, although it’s been done before. Unfortunately, this book doesn’t bring much to the table. While the plot was interesting enough and having a Native American main character (whose main plot wasn’t about being Native American) was pretty neat, the characters weren’t very well fleshed out, and so much was going on at once that following along got really confusing at some points. I probably won’t seek out the rest of this series. (3 out of 5 time wardens)

Summer Knight by Jim Butcher: This is the fourth book in the Dresden Files series, and I enjoyed the first three. I was also told that the fourth book was when the series got really good, but this book didn’t do it for me. The plot and characterization was good, but there was a lot going on and I found myself really confused about what was happening in the second half of the book. (3 out of 5 faeries)

Emotional Rescue: Essays on Love, Loss, and Life–With a Soundtrack by Ben Greenman: I won this book in a Goodreads giveaway, and I’m having a hard time finding much good in this book. The concept could have worked out really well, but the book fell flat in just about every way. The essays feel like first drafts, like the author knew what he wants to say but was having a hard time tying everything together, so he just threw everything together and hoped for the best. Unfortunately this didn’t work out so well, and most of these essays are about his life with some tangentially related musical thing so he could say the essays were about music. (2 out of 5 music essays)

Death Masks by Jim Butcher: Okay, this is when the Dresden Files series starts getting good. Even though the beginning is a little hokey, the overall plot is strong and multifaceted, while still maintaining the action of the past series. It was also nice to see some of the characters from past books again. (4 out of 5 shrouds)

Blood Rites by Jim Butcher: This one feels a little deeper than the past books as we find out more about Dresden’s past as well as Murphy’s past, all while taking on a mystery brought on by Thomas. There’s just one thing I’m confused on. A porn set? Really? (4 out of 5 revelations)

Where Good Ideas Come From: The Natural History of Innovation by Steven Johnson: I listened to this book, which tells how innovation happens. I already knew a lot of the stories and how screwing up and cross-discipline discovery, and this book didn’t add all that much to my knowledge or a new way of looking at these things. (3 out of 5 innovations)

Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng: This book is so damn beautiful. The past and present are woven together seamlessly and made me want to know more about the entire family. Everyone’s hopes and desires are complex and make sense and the prose is so beautiful and touching that it had reduced me to tears over the last 20ish pages. (5 out of 5 unfulfilled dreams)

What’s next for 2017? I’m planning on finally starting the Discworld books in 2017, among many other things.

What I’m Reading, October-December 2016

Per usual, I didn’t read too much over October and November because I’m busy writing and posting on the forums and traveling during that time. Still, some books did get read (or okay, listened to). Here are those books.

Grit: Passion, Perseverance, and the Science of Success by Angela Duckworth: You know how some people have that stick-to-it-ness that keeps them working on something long term? That’s what this book is about. It looks at what makes people stick to things (called grit in this book) and how you can teach grit, both to yourself and to children. I see a lot of myself in these stories, although I know I have a long way to go in sustaining my grit. (See: my novel editing and my college GPA.) This is a great book to read if you’re struggling to stick to something or if you (4 out of 5 big tasks)

Smartcuts: How Hackers, Innovators, and Icons Accelerate Success by Shane Snow: I shouldn’t have expected too much out of this book. Here, I’ll sum it up for you: make something and get it in front of someone big. Snow talks a lot about finding a mentor but hardly discusses how to find one, nor does he address how some people have an advantage to start with (see: privilege). There’s so much that could have been addressed in this book but isn’t, and this book suffers because of it. (3 out of 5 Oreo tweets)

The Nine: Inside the Secret World of the Supreme Court by Jeffrey Toobin: I listened to this book. Despite being tired of screaming politics, this book was a refreshing break from contemporary US politics. This book discusses the Supreme Court and how it has changed over the last few presidencies–specifically during 1994 to 2005 when the court remained the same. Despite keeping the same nine people, the court–along with politics in general–started becoming much more partisan than it already was, something we’re seeing the consequences of now. But the book does a good job of introducing the reader to each justice and showing off the court from the inside, with inside stories that don’t resort to gossip. I’d love to read a book about the latest decade of the Court. (4 out of 5 rulings)

A Slip of the Keyboard: Collected Non-Fiction by Terry Pratchett: I listened to this essay collection. I have a confession to make. Besides Good Omens, this is the first thing by Pratchett that I’ve ever read. Like many essay collections, this book contains some essays that are spot on, while others fell flat for me. I found the essays about the writing life and his adventures in Alzheimer’s disease to be the most interesting overall. I do wish there were a little less overlap; some really specific topics came up in multiple essays, which really confused me when trying to figure out if I had already listened to that one. Even if you’re not a superfan of Pratchett, you can find something to like in here. (4 out of 5 black hats)

Missoula: Rape and the Justice System in a College Town by Jon Krakauer: I listened to this book. As you might have guessed by the title, this book is about rape, specifically a series of rape cases a few years ago in Missoula, home of the University of Montana’s Grizzlies. The story gets pretty graphic; I’ve never experienced anything like the women in this book and I still had a hard time listening at times. Still, the book does a great job of telling the story, as well as connecting the various parts: the community within the town, the various incidents, the trials, and the aftermath. This book will make you feel and think and get angry all at the same time. (5 out of 5 trials)

The Third Plate: Field Notes on the Future of Food by Dan Barber: I listened to this book. Even though the book started slowly, it grabbed my attention soon enough with the stories and histories of food as well as the influence of a food’s environment on that food’s taste and quality. As fascinating as all this was, the book doesn’t pay much attention to the economics of paying attention to how your food is grown, which interests me even more than the topic of this book to start with. Still, I’d recommend this book for the foodie/environmentalist in your life. (4 out of 5 foie gras dishes)

Daring Greatly: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead by Brené Brown: I listened to this book, and it just didn’t do anything for me. I went into this book expecting research, not loads of personal stories like what the book actually contained. This is something I should have expected since I listened to her other book as well, but oh well. I didn’t find anything new in this book since a lot of the material seemed to be common sense. But maybe you will. (3 out of 5 vulnerabilities)

Mycroft Holmes by Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Anna Waterhouse: Yes, that’s Kareem Abdul-Jabbar the basketball player. This was November’s book club selection, and I have mixed feelings about this book on Sherlock’s older brother. While the prose itself isn’t bad and there are some funny moments, the story itself is a bit out there and convoluted. Granted, I read the first half of the book two weeks before the second half, so some of it was hard to follow because I had already forgotten what had happened. Still, the book itself didn’t grab me at all. (3 out of 5 mysterious deaths)

Death’s End by Cixin Liu: Here we go, the final book in the trilogy. I don’t have much to say except Oh. My. Baty. This book, much like the rest of the series, brings up so many questions and parallels to today’s world, sometimes to the point where I wonder if Liu time traveled to now when he was writing this book and then noped out because this is 2016 we’re talking about here. This book also makes me appreciate The Dark Forest more when it was previously my least favorite book in the series. I need more people to read this series so we can talk about it. (5 out of 5 dimensions)

What I’m Reading, September 2016

Another month, another review post. This will probably be my last post until the end of the year since I stop almost all reading in October and November thanks to NaNoWriMo. However, I do plan on continuing to run, and I listen to audiobooks while running, so we shall see. Onward!

The Filter Bubble: What the Internet is Hiding From You by Eli Pariser: I listened to this book. Ever notice how ads seem to be targeted for you, even if those targeted ads are terrible? (I’m looking at you, Tr*mp ads.) Ever notice how you see the same content from the same people on Facebook? We’re well into the era of digital personalization. This sounds like a good thing in theory–we’re more likely to find what we’re interested in. But in practice, seeing only stuff we like only reinforces our own beliefs, leaving fewer opportunities to expand our horizons. That’s the argument Eli Pariser makes in this book, and it’s a strong one, even if some of the examples are a little dated now. He goes back and explains the history of online giants like Google and Amazon and Netflix, showing how they started using personalization and accidentally created these filter bubbles in the process. If you’re interested in online privacy at all, you should read this book. (4 out of 5 data points)

Browsings: A Year of Reading, Collecting, and Living with Books by Michael Dirda: I listened to this book, a light-hearted essay collection about books and authors and the bookish life. Each essay is meant to be read separately, not binge-read, although I violated this rule throughout most of this collection. While some of these essays are definitely better than others, that’s the nature of collections like these: some will be to your taste, others won’t, and still others may veer from the topic altogether. Still, the essays reflected some eclectic tastes that I never would have given a second thought to otherwise, which made for a fun read… er, listen. But even better than the essays themselves is the narrator of the audiobook, John Lescault. His voice is so calming and soothing that my roommates asked whose voice that was while I was listening and getting ready to go out. (4 out of 5 vintage books)

When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi: This memoir I was worried about the rain while running and finishing it. I should have been worried about my face turning into a faucet. Kalanithi was a newly trained neurosurgeon diagnosed with stage IV lung cancer–despite having never smoked–and he wrote this book while going through cancer treatment. What makes life worth living? What should he do with whatever years he had left, whether that was one or ten? It made me think of my own potential answers to these questions, knowing that these answers wouldn’t be definite unless I were in those shoes. Kalanithi really did write like he was running out of time. (4 out of 5 deep questions)

Wikiworld by Paul Di Filippo: This short story collection is… all right. While some of the stories are all right, none of them really stood out to me. I enjoyed some of the futuristic envisionings, but some of them were downright confusing. This year, at least, it says somehting when a book takes me three weeks to finish. (3 out of 5 futuristic visions)

Becoming Nicole: The Transformation of an American Family by Amy Ellis Nutt: I listened to this book, which is the story of the Maines family–Wayne, Kelly, and identical twins Jonas and Nicole. There’s one thing: Nicole is trans. This book tells the story of Nicole’s story and transition and how the family dealt with various challenges, from Nicole’s schoolmates accepting her (they did for the most part) to presenting as female every day to the family’s activism in trans rights. Simultaneously heartwarming and heartbreaking, the story follows all four family members and their stories. I wish we had heard more from Nicole herself, but all in all, this book does a great job of telling one family’s story and how they grew closer, despite everything that could have torn them apart. (5 out of 5 transitions)

For Better: The Science of a Good Marriage by Tara Parker-Pope: I listened to this book, which takes a look at what makes a good marriage. Well, in theory. In practice, I already knew a lot of this stuff, such as how couples argue and balance the chores. While some of the info was interesting. There are also quizzes throughout the book to reinforce what you’ve already read. While these are obviously designed for couples. I’d be interested in reading a related book with more info on LGBT+ couples post-marriage equality. This book confirms one thing: If I’m getting married, I’m only doing it once. (3 out of 5 vows)

Characters and Viewpoint by Orson Scott Card: This is part of the Elements of Fiction Writing Series, and I read it as an attempt to brainstorm for NaNo. (And okay, so I could give it back to a friend I’m seeing later today.) This book discusses topics from creating characters to point of view to rounding out characters, and it’s really helpful no matter what stage of character development you’re in. Shame this book wasn’t written before first person present was everywhere; I’d be interested to know what Card thinks of that. If you have trouble creating believable characters or even just want a refresher, this is a good book to pick up. (4 out of 5 characters)

Being Mortal: Medicine and What Matters in the End by Atul Gawande: I listened to this book, which discusses the end of life and what we can do to make the last few years of life better than just sitting around and waiting to die. The book is part memoir and interviews, part history on caring for the elderly. Personally I found the history of elder care more interesting than the memoir and interviews, in part because it gave the book the context it needed to succeed. My grandmother spent the last year of her life in a nursing home after breaking her hip and developing worsening Alzheimer’s, so this book hit particularly close to home. If you’re interested in elder care at all, read this book. (4 out of 5 living assistants)

What I’m reading, August 2016

It looks like I haven’t read much this month, but the truth is that I’ve been catching up on Baby-Sitters Club books in an attempt to get ahead on my reading challenge. All that reading has paid off; I’m at 227 books for 2016 (out of 250), which is way ahead even after taking October and November into consideration. More importantly, I’m down to a mere thirteen BSC books left to read before finishing the entire series. That’s doable in a weekend. Dang. (Although I’ll probably reread the very last book for nostalgia’s sake.)

Anyway, here’s what I’ve been reading this month.

Maybe In Another Life by Taylor Jenkins Reid: I was expecting this to be a light and fluffy read, which I definitely needed. This book mostly fit the bill on that front. A 29-year-old woman who has done little with her life moves back to her hometown, and the plot plays out the possibilities based on who she takes a ride from one night. Sure, the characters are a little flat, but the story is compelling and kept me wondering what would happen next. The book also gave me a lot to think about, both about my life and how little I’ve done with it, as well as how to make the parallel worlds work in a novel I’m still pondering a rewrite for. (4 out of 5 cinnamon buns)

Hamilton: The Revolution by Lin-Manuel Miranda and Jeremy McCarter: If you’ve been following me on Twitter for the past yearish, then you probably know I’m a wee bit obsessed with the Hamilton musical. This book does a great job of showing off the musical, with the stories of its production, the libretto (with some of Lin’s commentary), and shots from the show. Now I want to see the show live even more now (and I already had a mighty need before). (5 out of 5 shots)

Command and Control: Nuclear Weapons, the Damascus Accident, and the Illusion of Safety by Eric Schlosser: I listened to this book, which is a history of nuclear weapons–both the development of nuclear weapons and the politics behind it. It was very well done and accessible to readers without any previous knowledge. Since it is primarily a history, I probably would have gotten more out of it by reading the print, but that’s just me being weird. If you’re interested in nuclear weapons at all (or need to do some post-apocalyptic novel research), pick this book up. (4 out of 5 missiles)

Salt to the Sea by Ruta Sepetys: I really wanted to like this book. It tells a fictional account of four people whose paths cross while seeking passage on the Wilhelm Gustloff during World War II, an incident that I didn’t know about before reading this book. But this book contained several of my literary pet peeves, featuring multiple points of view, all in first person, that sounded the same. Even worse, most of the chapters were only two or three pages long, so I never got a chance to get used to one point of view before jumping to the next one. This book could have been good, starting (at the very least) with third-person points of view and longer chapters. But as it is, I’m just glad it’s finished. (2 out of 5 identification papers)

The Man Who Wasn’t There: Investigations into the Strange New Science of the Self by Anil Ananthaswamy: I listened to this book, which deals with the theory of mind and the sense of self–how do we a form an idea of self? How is the self created? The author does this by examining cases of schizophrenia, Alzheimer’s disease, body integrity identity disorder, and more disorders where something we think of as part of the self disappears, but somehow the sense of self remains. While some reviews of this book thought this book was too research-focused, I found the opposite was the case. Then again, this kind of thing is my idea of light reading (or listening, as it were). (4 out of 5 theories of mind)

The Three-Body Problem by Liu Cixin: I read the English translation of this book for my library’s book club, and oh man was it good. The translator did a great job of keeping the narrative and culture immersive enough for the reader to get lost in, but offered some guidance in the form of extra prose or the occasional footnote for those of us not so familiar with Chinese history and culture. It gave me a lot of food for thought about what we as a species would or should do in the event of alien contact. Do we contact them? Defend ourselves against them? How do we as a species (and groups of countries differing in infrastructure and military development, wealth, and just about everything else) take on this challenge? I finished this book wanting to write everything ever about it (personal essays, not fanfic)… and then immediately requested the second book from the local library. (5 out of 5 chaotic eras)

You Are So Undead to Me by Stacey Jay: I picked this up at a used book sale last year and just now got around to reading it. Sure, the story is fluffy–Megan talks to dead people who have issues with being dead, but all she wants to do is go to the homecoming dance. Sure, the main character is pretty stupid sometimes, but she’s a teenager. This book did a decent job of capturing what it’s like to be a teenager, both wtih and without dealing with zombies, even though some of her decisions (and let’s be honest, the romance) got in the way over the overall story. And holy crap that twist at the end. (3 out of 5 reanimated corpses)

The Dark Forest by Liu Cixin: This book is the sequel to the aforementioned The Three-Body Problem. While this book covers a lot of territory in five hundred pages, I just couldn’t get into some of the storylines enough to truly appreciate this book (and perhaps, how it set things up for the third book). That said, there were a lot of good parts in this book, and the author does a great job with the worldbuilding and bringing up questions about life, the universe, and everything. Wait, wrong scifi novel. Anyway, I’m still curious enough to read the sequel, which I hear was translated as the same person who translated the first book, so I’m optimistic. (3 out of 5 hibernations)

Because I Said So!: The Truth Behind the Myths, Tales, and Warnings Every Generation Passes Down to Its Kids by Ken Jennings: I listened to this book. In case you had no idea, the 74-time Jeopardy! champion Ken Jennings is freaking hilarious. This book was no exception. You know those things parents tell you, like “Don’t cross your eyes or they’ll get stuck that way” or “Don’t go swimming for thirty minutes after eating”? Jennings researches those myths and reveals whether they’re true or not. Spoiler: most of them aren’t true. This book was fun and educational and made for a great light read (or listen) before moving on to something more intense. (4 out of 5 hairy palms)

What I’m reading, July 2016

July books! Okay, and a few books from super-late in June and super-early in August. This month has been a busy one due to work, Camp NaNoWriMo, and working on other assorted writing things. I read a lot of BSC and BSLS books this month in an attempt to finish off all the BSC books by the end of year. I’m down to 51 remaining books.

All the non-BSC books read are also contributing to the adult summer reading challenge at my local library. I’ll find out soon enough if I won any prizes, but with the small number of people participating and my large number of books read, the odds appear to be in my favor.

While I’m ahead of my year-long reading challenge of 250 books, I’m technically behind after taking my lack of October and November books into consideration. Past years have told me that I hardly read anything during those two months, especially in November. So if I’m going to reach 250 total books read by the end of this year, I need to get going. Thank goodness all my BSC books count toward the overall challenge. I will definitely read fewer books in 2017.

The Girl from Everywhere by Heidi Heilig: I wanted to like this book. The premise sounded really neat, and then the story fell flat. The main problem with this story was that there was no hook. Most of the characters were dull, the plot was slow and ambling, and there was no one to root for or against. The only character I found myself caring about was the tutor aboard the ship, and the plot didn’t end in a remotely satisfying matter. This could have been so much more, and yet… it wasn’t. (2 out of 5 maps)

Smarter Faster Better: The Secrets of Being Productive in Life and Business by Charles Duhigg: I listened to this book. While this book mostly told me things I already knew and attempted to apply, that in itself doesn’t explain the low rating for this book. The main reason this book is rated so low is because of the way it’s organized. It took me awhile to figure out just how the book was organized, and even then, the book was slow-paced and didn’t tie all its elements together very well in the end. (3 out of 5 mental models)

P.S. Longer Letter Later by Ann M. Martin and Paula Danziger: I loved both authors’ books as a kid and am currently trying to finish the entire Baby-Sitters Club series. I probably would have loved this book as a kid, but now the book is just eh. While I’m sure a lot of my issues have to do with the way the story is told, some of the major plot elements are really sudden, and we hear a lot about Elizabeth’s life but very little about Tara*Starr’s. The character development isn’t equal on both sides, which left me wanting a lot more out of this book. (3 out of 5 letters)

Maniac Magee by Jerry Spinelli: I probably would have liked this book as a kid, but as an adult, it didn’t provide the depth I really wanted in this story. While the story features a kid who runs away from his old life and finds himself in a racially divided town, the plot doesn’t feature enough of how the town was divided and what this kid did to make a difference. That’s not to say it’s a bad book (it’s not!). The narrative is strong with some twists I didn’t see coming. But the depth of the story could have explored so much more while telling the same tale. (3 out of 5 legends)

You’re Never Weird on the Internet (Almost) by Felicia Day: I haven’t followed much of Felicia Day’s work, but I know plenty about it through Internet osmosis. Felicia and I are a lot alike in some ways–both anxiety-prone math major geeks who were unhealthily obsessed with getting the best grades. This book makes me wish that I could be a few years older so I could have been a full-blown adult when the whole Internet thing really started to take off, while showing me a story of someone whose go-get-em approach, even with an unexpected background, led her to a fulfilling professional career. While this book is most likely for existing fans of her work, it would also be great for the young person in your life with big dreams as encouragement. Now I want to go make more things. (4 out of 5 awkward encounters)

Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie: I read this for the library’s book club. This book tells the story of two Nigerian teenagers who fall in love. They wind up separated during a dictatorship when people are trying to leave the country: Ifemelu to the United States, Obinze as an undocumented immigrant in England. The book shows their separate lives and what happens when they meet again in Nigeria years later. Even though the beginning was a little slow and I wanted more out of the end, I really enjoyed this book and its way of taking on a lot: race, identity, natural hair, love, and the intersection of these… and that’s just for starters. (4 out of 5 Americanisms)

The Revenant by Michael Punke: Yes, I read this because of the movie, despite never having seen it. I have to admit that my focus was elsewhere during the first 30 or so pages of the book, making it hard for the characters and their characteristics to stick with me. Fortunately, this improved as the book went on, and I was able to figure out what was going on. While the prose itself isn’t bad, the story lost me in several spots along the way, and the ending disappointed me more than anything else. That’s it? All that buildup was for nothing? (3 out of 5 grizzly bear attacks)

Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail by Cheryl Strayed: I listened to this book, the tale of a young woman who had lost her mother and her marriage before hiking (part of) the Pacific Crest Trail. I spent half the book amazed at how utterly unprepared she was for the trip: she carried a bag that was way too heavy, didn’t plan enough money for the trip and spent parts of the trail with less than a dollar to her name. I spent another significant chunk of time tuning out all the sexual stuff–maybe I’m just a very private person when it comes to sex, but some things I just don’t want to know. The prose itself is good, but this is no hike account. If you’re looking for a detailed hike report, this isn’t the book for you. But if you’re looking for one person’s personal account of self-discovery, you might like this memoir. (3 out of 5 impulsive decisions)

Asking for It: The Alarming Rise of Rape Culture and What We Can Do about It: I listened to this book, and holy crap is it unsettling. If you hang around the Internet long enough, you’ll probably hear the term “rape culture” at some point. The short version: survivors are often not believed (or they “asked for it” with their behavior), while the perpetrator gets off scot-free. This book is very well-researched and will make almost anyone angry at some point to hear real stories and how the media and investigators perceive them. I would have appreciated this book even more if I had read it, as I process information better that way, but it is a solid read. (5 out of 5 double standards)

Welcome to Night Vale by Joseph Fink and Jeffrey Cranor: I love the podcast to bits and pieces. The book took a long time to get going, by which time my interest was waning, but fortunately the book picks up again for the last hundred or so pages. Two of the things I found particularly frustrating was all the rambling and long explanations of things that podcast listeners would already know. While some things certainly need to be explained so this book can be accessible to non-listeners, not everything needs to be explained in so much detail. (3 out of 5 suitcases with flies)

Little Victories: Perfect Rules for Imperfect Living by Jason Gay: I listened to this book. If you have no idea who Jason Gay is, I didn’t either before reading his author bio. (It turns out he’s a sports writer for WSJ.) But no worries, this book isn’t about sports, nor is it–if we’re really being honest–about the little victories. This book is more of a personal memoir, but despite the misleading title, that’s fine. The memoir talks about everything from music at weddings to testicular cancer to being cool to Thanksgiving footballs to in vitro fertilization. Even if he is a little judgemental at times, the writing is funny and insightful, making this a good short read (or listen). Spoiler alert: Go see someone you love right now. Or call them, or text them, or email them. Seriously. (4 out of 5 little victories)

Topdog/Underdog by Suzan-Lori Parks: I read this book (okay, play) for my local library’s book club. This play tells the tale of two black brothers living together, their family and past, and their obsession with the three-card monte card trick. There’s so much subtext in this short play that some of it is easy to miss, especially on a first read, and Parks’s unconventional writing style suits the play perfectly. This play would be wonderful when performed, but reading it and envisioning everything in your head is also a good way to go. (4 out of 5 3-card montes)

Fates and Furies by Lauren Groff: This book tells the tale of a couple and their marriage while showing that so many details depend on who’s telling the story. It’s divided into two parts: Lotto tells his story in Part One, and Mathilde tells her story in Part Two. I honestly didn’t care about the first part at all, and I mostly kept going in the hopes that it would get interesting eventually. Mathilde’s section was more interesting with some twists, but by this point I was just trying to get to The End so I could start reading something else. There were also some bits that made no sense to me, such as several elements that seem completely unreasonable to lie about in a relationship. All this is a shame because there were some lovely bits of prose, and I liked how the not-straight characters are mentioned like it’s no big deal (because it’s not). If you like character studies, you might like this, but otherwise, eh. (3 out of 5 plays)

My Southern Journey: True Stories from the Heart of the South by Rick Bragg: I listened to this book. Like the author, I grew up in a small town; unlike the author, I grew up in a different generation and didn’t write multiple essays about life in the South. Many of these essays have been published before, and each previous publication is mentioned at the beginning of the tale itself. While many of the essays were good and showed me a different (past) life in the South, I gotta admit–Bragg lost me with his multiple essays on football; my own family was a Braves family was nowhere near as obsessed as some of these essays made people out to be. Maybe that’s because baseball games are more frequent; I’m not sure. (Also, awkward moment: when the ex of an acquaintance is quoted in a couple of these essays.) (4 out of 5 potluck dishes)

Harry Potter and the Cursed Child by J.K. Rowling, John Tiffany, & Jack Thorne: EEEEEEEEEEEEEE. (Really, did you expect anything serious out of this review? At least without talking about the plot and spoilers and stuff?) (5 out of 5 fan theories)

Lights Out: A Cyberattack, A Nation Unprepared, Surviving the Aftermath by Ted Koppel: I listened to this book. You may recognize the author’s name from Nightline. I, however, did not recognize the name. Fame aside, I did enjoy this book, which provides a good overview of the possibility of a cyberattack and how (not) ready the United States would be in this event. While this book is by no means a complete guide, it still provides enough information to be useful… and to make me want to start preparing. (4 out of 5 attacks)

A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara: Damn. I cried myself to sleep after finishing this book last night. It’s more of a character study than anything else, and even though it starts a little slowly with characters I cared about less, this book is beautiful and raw and graphic in its depictions of self-harm and sexual abuse; while I’m not a survivor of these things, it was still hard for me to read. Just be sure to have something light and fluffy to read afterward. (5 out of 5 haunting tales)

What I’m Reading, May-June 2016

I didn’t read as much as originally planned in late April and May (and the beginning of June, oops) due to that tricky thing called having a social life, but I still made it through a respectable number of books (on top of a pile of BSC books and several manga volumes). Here is that list.

Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear by Elizabeth Gilbert: I haven’t read Eat, Pray, Love, nor do I really want to, but this book grabbed me because of its subject matter: the author digging through her own creative process. I listened to this book and loved it. If you consider yourself creative in any way, you need to read this book. You owe it to yourself, if only to know that you’re not alone in all the feelings that come with being a creative person. (5 out of 5 magical moments)

How to Bake Pi: An Edible Exploration of the Mathematics of Mathematics by Eugenia Cheng: I met the author of this book at the Decatur Book Festival last year, got super excited about her book, and was disappointed to discover that it was sold out after her talk. This book deals with category theory, part of my beloved algebra. This book takes the reader through adventures in abstraction, something that can be very difficult to understand for mathematicians of all levels, before introducing readers to category theory. While this book has its issues, it is still well-thought out and enjoyable, especially with the culinary illustrations of mathematical concepts. (4 out of 5 categories)

168 Hours: You Have More Time Than You Think by Laura Vanderkam: One of my big interests lately is the attemnpt to cram everything I want to do into a short period of time. This book takes on the idea that I’ve been working with for a long time: I have more time than I think, so what happens to all that time, and how can we get more out of the time that we do have? While there are some issues with this book, such as assuming everyone can afford to outsource things like laundry, the book still makes many excellent points on how to get more out of your time and makes me feel better about listening to this audiobook while running. (4 out of 5 extra minutes)

The Happiness Track: How to Apply the Science of Happiness to Accelerate Your Success by Emma Seppälä: This book is targeted at executives and other professionals and makes the argument that happiness is the best way to fast track our success. The author takes a different approach than that in 168 Hours, and listening to these books one after the other made for some interesting contrasts. Despite being targeted at a different audience, the author still makes a strong argument for putting your own happiness first, even (maybe especially) in your career. (4 out of 5 ways to be happy)

Hit by Delilah S. Dawson: I borrowed this book from a friend after seeing the author pop up in my Twitter feed all the time. Imagine a world where a bank has bought out America and you can legally be killed for your debts. The main character is a teenage girl who is off to kill ten people to pay off her mother’s debt. Along the way she discovers that the people she has to kill are more connected to her and her life than she could have guessed, which made for a compelling read. My main complaint is in the chapter length: it varied so widely that I had a hard time judging where a good stopping point would be. (A real concern considering I read a good chunk of this book on the train.) Oh, and there’s apparently a sequel out now that I need to get my hands on. (4 out of 5 debtors)

Winter by Marissa Meyer: I’m finally finished with this series! (Well, minus the Stars Above collection, which is currently in my to-read pile with deadlines.) Winter is my least favorite of the title characters in the series, which made this book a little less enjoyable than the others in the series. She was just… kind of boring, to be honest. But I did enjoy the character interactions and the overall plot, especially with the need to cram a lot into such a short period of time and doing it well. (4 out of 5 lunar revolutions)

Triggers: Creating Behavior That Lasts–Becoming the Person You Want to Be by Marshall Goldsmith: I listened to this book and wanted so badly to like it. One source of annoyance was the author’s putting an emphasis on everything while narrating the book, which got really old after awhile. While this book brings up some good points about asking questions like “Did I do my best to…”, it didn’t add very much new to that approach, choosing instead to rehash things that most readers of self-help books already know. (The author acknowledges this point, to be fair.) (3 out of 5 triggers)

The Watermelon King by Daniel Wallace: I read this book for my local library’s monthly book club. It deals with a man traveling to a tiny Alabama town in search of stories about his mother, who died giving birth to him. Along the way, the main character discovers stories about the town and his mother that he never could have anticipated. I know this book illustrates small-town life, but some of it got a little weird even for me and my small-town upbringing. The writing itself was also slow to start and clunky in spots. I hear the author also wrote Big Fish, which several friends rank among their all-time favorite movies. For once I’ll stick to the movie. (3 out of 5 watermelons)

What Stands in a Storm: Three Days in the Worst Superstorm to Hit the South’s Tornado Alley by Kim Cross: I listened to this book, which goes into detail about the Alabama tornadoes in 2011. Fortunately for me, the book deals primarily with the Alabama tornadoes and not the Georgia ones such as the one that struck the town I grew up in (and was living in at the time). Lots of firsthand accounts of the time before, during, and after the tornado make this book stand out while capturing the humanity of everyone in the book. What stands in a storm? Plenty. (4 out of 5 tornadoes)

Fuck Feelings: One Shrink’s Practical Advice for Managing All Life’s Impossible Problems by Michael I. Bennett and Sarah Bennett: Won’t lie, I checked out this book because of the title alone. Unfortunately titles alone don’t make the book good. Despite chapter titles like “Fuck treatment” and “Fuck self-esteem”, most of the book doled out advice that I already knew and didn’t have clear markers between sections. While there is some comedy in this book, sometimes it was overdone just to drive a point home. (3 out of 5 f-bombs)

Furiously Happy: A Funny Book About Horrible Things by Jenny Lawson: I read and enjoyed her first book, so the fact that I enjoyed this one wasn’t too surprising. This book is even better as an audiobook since the author herself reads it and has a way of making her hilarious random thoughts even funnier. Books like these make me wonder where all my random thoughts went. Am I just getting dumber as I get older? Why aren’t my random thoughts as brilliant as some of these thoughts of hers? Sure, the humor was a little over the top sometimes, but in a way that a lot of us can relate to in some sense. (4 out of 5 koalas with chlamydia)

The Nest by Cynthia D’Aprix Sweeney: I wanted to like this. I really did. But despite the prose itself being good, the characters and plot suffer from some serious rich people problems that I couldn’t bring myself to care about. The parts of this book I did care about were less about the problems brought on by wealth. (For instance, I’d read a whole book about Melody’s teenage daughters.) While I generally like books about messed-up families, this one fell flat with its shallowness and rich people problems. (3 out of 5 nests)

The 5th Wave by Rick Yancey: I heard a lot of good things about this book, so I read it to see what the big deal was. The beginning was interesting enough, but then, as in many young adult novels, unnecessary romance happened. Ugh. If the story had continued as it did in the beginning, I probably would have enjoyed it more, but truth be told, this book is hard to follow. Most of the characters were dull and I couldn’t bring myself to care about their adventures, despite freaking aliens happening. Except for Ringer. Someone please tell me we see more of her in the rest of the series, which I may or may not read. (3 out of 5 aliens)

Dumplin’ by Julie Murphy: The author of this book pops in my Twitter feed occasionally due to retweets, which made me want to check out this book. This book stars a self-proclaimed fat girl coming to terms with being fat to the people in her life. While I enjoyed the premise of this book and the narrator’s strong voice (and hoo boy does the small town life ring true), I wasn’t a huge fan of the pacing or the sudden romance or the sudden ending. Oh, and there’s a love triangle. Because of course there is. (3 out of 5 talents)

Stars Above by Marissa Meyer: The Lunar Chronicles series may be completed, but this short story collection provides some new perspectives into the books and characters. While four of these stories had been published previously, I hadn’t read any of them before. These stories also helped jog my memory over some of the events in the series, as I read the books over a very long period. And yes, there’s a story that could serve as an epilogue to Winter, and it’s pretty aww-worthy. My favorite of these stories was the one about Thorne and his childhood, which tells the story of an incident referred to in one of the books. (4 out of 5 cyborgs)

What’s next? I’ve started The Girl From Everywhere and will read Americanuh for my library’s book club next. But between reading, work, and writing all the things, it’s a wonder I have time for the social life that keeps pulling me away from these things.

What I’m Reading, April 2016

Getting this review post up early so I don’t have to think about it later, as things are getting way busy in Sushiland right now. Here goes!

$2.00 a Day: Living on Almost Nothing in America by Kathryn Edin & H. Luke Shaefer: Damn. I’ve struggled to pay my bills and buy food before, but I’ve never been destitute. This book tells the story of the truly destitute, those who live on just two dollars a day, an amount many of us could easily spend on random crap. And it tells the tale well, striking a balance between the history of welfare and other assistance programs and the sometimes horrifying stories of the people living in such poverty. There were tales of 20 people in one house, collecting tin cans and donating plasma for extra cash, and one little thing that sent everything spiraling downward. All of these tales were well-told and made me feel simultaneous sympathy for the families and anger at the broken system. (5 out of 5 empty fridges)

Black Chalk by Christopher J. Yates: I am so glad this book is over. The premise sounds neat: a game among college kids with the final round played 14 years later. But besides that, the entire story was disappointing. The characters kept making a big deal out of the Game, especially when someone quit. The story also switches between past and present tenses a lot, which led to a lot of confusion. And there was no real resolution to any of hte storylines, which frustrated me. If the book is boring, all I can ask for is a resolution, and I didn’t get even get that. (2 out of 5 consequences)

Thing Explainer: Complicated Stuff in Simple Words by Randall Munroe: I love this book. It takes hard ideas like space and life and explains them using only the ten hundred most used words, making them easy to understand. The idea works really well and got a lot of laughs from me through the book. And yes, I wrote this using only the ten hundred most used words, just like in the book. (5 out of 5 simple things)

Every Last Word by Tamara Ireland Stone: I read this book starring a main character with OCD since I’m currently trying to untangle one of my own novels starring a main character with anxiety. This book didn’t disappoint. It was well-researched and didn’t just clutch to the classical OCD tropes. One thing this book did well was create a voice for the main character, not just in her head but in her interactions with others as well (such as her so-called popular friends). I wish the last hundred pages or so would have explored more of the big plot twist, but besides that, no major complaints from me. (4 out of 5 poems)

This Is Where It Ends by Marieke Nijkamp: Opportunity, Alabama. 10:05am. Gunshots. The majority of this book takes place over the course of an hour, told from four points of view, with all the narrators connected to the shooter in some way. I appreciated the diverse cast, even for rural Alabama, as well as the distinct voices of each narrator, something a lot of authors have trouble getting right (and therefore I usually dread when seeing multiple narrators in novels). (4 out of 5 points of view)

The Wright Brothers by David McCullough: I listened to this book, expecting to get a lot out of it. But honestly, this book was kind of dull. While I enjoyed learning about the people who helped the Wright brothers achieve flight (like their sister Catherine), this book wasn’t as deep as I had hoped. The prose itself was good; I just wish the book fleshed out more of the story behind the brothers. (3 out of 5 flying machines)

The Oregon Trail: A New American Journey by Rinker Buck: I have very mixed feelings about this book and would rate this book very differently depending on what parts of the book the asker is most interested in. The concept itself was fascinating; to tell the truth, I hadn’t even thought about the possibility of traveling the entire Oregon Trail. The book bounces between the history of the Oregon Trail and the author’s trip on the trail with his brother, all while weaving in stories about the author’s life and being haunted by his father on the Oregon Trail. While the story of actually traveling the trail was interesting, the historical bits and the parts about the author’s family ghosts were not of interest to me. I do like history, but maybe I wasn’t as interested in the personal aspects simply because I had no real connection to the author. Overall: Just tell me about traveling the trail! (3 out of 5 covered wagons)

The 4-Hour Workweek by Tim Ferriss: Let me guess, the title got your attention too. I’m all about remote work and self-employment and generally not letting a job dictate your life, so reading this book seemed like a requirement for me. Ferriss does a good job of breaking down why to adopt such a lifestyle to start with, as well as taking steps to make it happen. There are concise steps, as well as questions and actions to take at the end of each chapter. One thing this book could have done better was to take into account some of the barriers to entry that Ferriss probably didn’t see. A lot of the businesses described in the book required a lot of money and time in the beginning, and for people desperate for both, spending money to make money often doesn’t work. Despite this, the book makes some excellent points and I’ll be referring to his site for other resources. (4 out of 5 mini-retirements)

Finding Audrey by Sophie Kinsella: I picked up this book since I’m currently working on a novel about a teen with an anxiety disorder, and to be honest, I wasn’t sure what to make of this book in the beginning. At first the book felt tedious and continuing the book was a chore. The mother was over the top, believing everything the Daily Mail says and trying to get her son to stop playing video games, and I nearly stopped reading because of her. But I kept going, and I’m glad I did. Even though I don’t have anxiety to the extent that Audrey does, the anxiety portrayal didn’t seem too far off, even if it was tedious to read at first. While the romance was cute, I was definitely sighing to myself at the idea that the romance was a cure-all. Still, this was a fun read, despite covering some heavy topics. (4 out of 5 rhubarbs)

The Art of Memoir by Mary Karr: When this book was good, it was really really good, but when it was bad it was horrid. Maybe I should have read a physical copy instead of listened to the audiobook. Maybe it didn’t help that memoirs aren’t my favorite genre to start with, or that I haven’t read any of the author’s other work. Whatever the case, I found this book to be just eh. While it made some great points on how we interpret the things we experience, a lot of the book was kind of boring, despite being about writing. (3 out of 5 made-up incidents)

Room by Emma Donoghue: I read this via recommendation and for my library’s book club, and finished the majority of the book in an afternoon. While the book deals with some dark stuff (the mother and kid are trapped inside one room, for crying out loud), having the kid narrate the story lent some light and hope to the story that wouldn’t have been there if the mother narrated it. Sure, there were a few unrealistic parts, and the book could have benefited from another round of editing, but overall the story got my attention and was enjoyable despite the darkness. (4 out of 5 Sunday treats)

Up next: I’m listening to Big Magic and reading How to Bake Pi and am enjoying both of them so far. After that, who knows? I’m technically ahead of my Goodreads challenge to read 250 books this year, but that lead turns into being almost a month behind after taking NaNo into account. Here’s hoping for another BSC binge on my quest to finish the series.