What I’m Reading, October-December 2015

It’s been awhile since I’ve written these book reviews, hasn’t it? To be fair, I only listened to audiobooks in October and didn’t read at all in November. And now here we are, halfway through December, and I still haven’t written one of these posts yet. Time to fix that.

If you’ve missed a bunch of these reviews, you can read my past reviews or view my year in books at Goodreads. It’s so strange looking at the stuff I read at the beginning of the year; last January feels so close yet so far away at the same time. I also have distinct memories associated with some of these books, like finishing The Golden Compass on an air mattress on a friend’s floor, or reading The Scorpio Races and The Bookseller while visiting family over the summer, or meeting Chuck Wendig and getting a signed copy of Zer0es (and his retweeting our selfie). Literary associations are just as strong as musical ones, and this year’s books are no exception.

As of this writing, I’ve read 184 books in 2015, including around sixty Baby-Sitters Club books. I’m reading two more books and hope to finish a third by Christmas, so one more BSC binge puts 200 books within reach (and makes next year’s goal of finishing the series a little easier). Fun fact: even after subtracting the BSC books from my total, I still read more this year than last year thanks to listening to 20-something audiobooks.

I also received a Kindle Paperwhite as an early Christmas present, which has already made reading ebooks so much better than reading them on my Phone’s Kindle app. Best of all: it fits in my regular purse, which is normally too small for books bigger than mass market/trade copies.

On to the reviews!

The Tale of the Dueling Neurosurgeons: The History of the Human Brain as Revealed by True Stories of Trauma, Madness, and Recovery by Sam Kean: I listened to this book, and it was really really good. This book details how we’ve learned about the brain through trauma and going mad, and the stories are fascinating and well-told. (5 out of 5 brains)

Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead by Sheryl Sandberg: I listened to this book and took so much away from it. Sheryl Sandberg (the COO of Facebook) discusses women, confidence, and their careers. One big point I took away from this book was the idea that women self-reject when being offered a career advancement, even though the reason they’re self-rejecting (future children, marriage, etc.) don’t even exist yet. While I did find the book didn’t address other factors (like social class, not working in the corporate world), it was written to give career advice, and it does that very well. (5 out of 5 career moves)

Spy the Lie: Three Former CIA Officers Reveal Their Secrets to Uncloaking Deception by Philip Houston, Mike Floyd, & Susan Carnicero: I listened to this book, which details what we do when we lie and how to look for those signs–with real examples. Some of these things I already knew, but the ones I didn’t were worth listening to this book to learn. Not perfect, but well-written. (4 out of 5 blatant lies)

Without You, There Is No Us: My Time with the Sons of North Korea’s Elite by Suki Kim: As you might have guessed, I listened to this book–the last book I listened to before NaNo, in fact. This book tells the story of a woman teaching English in North Korea and the things she encountered there: the culture, the contradictions, the students’ behaviors. It was an interesting read, one that makes me grateful I live in a world where I can form my own opinions and make my own choices. (4 out of 5 Supreme Leaders)

Wither by Lauren DeStefano: I started reading this book before NaNo, then stopped throughout most of the month and kept reading it into December. I was excited at first to read this book because some of my Twitter followers retweet her regularly. However, I didn’t like this book. The characters were frustrating, the post-apocalyptic world made no sense, and a lot of things went unexplained. This was the same problem I had with Divergent, come to think of it: I kept asking “Why?” but in a “That makes no sense” way, not a “Tell me more now!” way. I may check out more of this author’s books but have no plans to finish this series. (2 out of 5 sister wives)

The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins: I really liked this book: screwed up characters, unreliable narrators, and a mystery to solve. There were some WTF-worthy parts, but this book kept me interested until the end. If you like Gone Girl (and I did), you’ll probably like this. (4 out of 5 train rides)

Big Little Lies by Liane Moriarty: Maybe it’s because I’m not a stay-at-home parent of kindergarteners, or maybe it’s because these characters overreacted about everything, but I couldn’t relate to this book at all. It should have just been called Drama Llama Mommies (or Mummies, I guess, since the book takes place in Australia). Despite those things, this book was funny and engaging, but so much unneeded mommy drama. (3 out of 5 gossips)

Hollow City by Ransom Riggs: I’m not even sure why I picked up this book, considering I was very eh about the first book in the series. The old photos in this book grabbed my attention, but that didn’t make up for the purely linear storyline or the annoying characters, even if I did zoom through the book. Not even the cliffhanger at the end of this book left me caring about the third book. (3 out of 5 birds)

Dead Wake: The Last Crossing of the Lusitania by Erik Larson: I listened to this book about the Lusitania’s last trip and enjoyed it. Even though it was a historical narrative, the people in the story felt like well-developed characters, and the story intrigued me from the beginning. Larson does a good job of connecting the historical dots and showing the human side of everyone involved, which made me look forward to the entire 11-hour narrative. (4 out of 5 lifeboats)

Guy in Real Life by Steve Brezenoff: This book did not live up to the hype I had built inside. The characters were one-sided and whiny, especially Svetlana. (Couldn’t she at least try to go with her family to the soccer games even if she didn’t like them? I didn’t like football, but my brother was in band and sometimes I’d see friends there, so I sucked it up and went sometimes.) So much of this book was unrealistic, though. There was no explanation or basis for a lot of the friendships formed in the story, and the gaming part of the novel had no real explanation. For instance, how did Lesh pay for his WoW-like subscription after the trial? At least I finished this book? (2 out of 5 toons)

The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up by Marie Kondo: You may have heard of the Konmari method of tidying up: decide what to keep and then find a place for those items. While this is the tl;dr of this book, the book is still worth reading for the straightforward tips that you can apply to your own life. (Did you know we’re all folding our clothes wrong, for instance?) Considering I found myself cleaning and putting old clothes aside to donate and recycle, this book did its job, and I have some more space in my room. (4 out of 5 sparks of joy)

Better Than Before: Mastering the Habits of Our Everyday Lives by Gretchen Rubin: Every morning, I get out of bed and go to the bathroom, then walk to the kitchen to make breakfast and tea. I don’t think about this behavior–it’s just habit. Gretchen Rubin of the Happiness Project discusses the foundations of building habits, from writing every day to eating better. She also talks about the different types of people as it relates to habits (I’m a Questioner with a little bit of Upholder) and how these different types of people approach habit-building. I got a lot out of this book and hope it’ll help as I start building new–and hopefully good–habits. (4 out of 5 habits)

Up next: I’m listening to Malcolm Gladwell’s Outliers and am already frustrated with it for many of the same reasons I disliked Blink. I’m also starting Mosquitoland and hope to finish it before my Christmas BSC book binge begins.

What have you been reading?

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