What I’m Reading, December 2017 & January 2018

Oh hey, it’s about time I posted something here. How about some book reviews? Yes, that’ll do.

The Gallery of Unfinished Girls by Lauren Karcz: This book has some personal meaning to me, as I know the author; in fact, she was one of the very first NaNo people I met in person over ten years ago. The story touches on a lot of things I love in young adult novels: coming of age tales, non-straight characters, makers and artists, close friendships, and more. I also found myself relating to Mercedes; despite not being an artist, I often find myself wondering if I’ve run out of stories to tell. If you like these types of things in your novels, you’ll like this book. (5 out of 5 flamingos)

On Hitler’s Mountain: Overcoming the Legacy of a Nazi Childhood by Irmgard A. Hunt: I listened to this book, which tells the tale of a young girl’s childhood living among Nazi sympathizers and not far from one of Hitler’s residences. The book contained a lot of stories that ma and stories that didn’t seem strange when she was a child, but looking back as an adult, the disturbing aspects stood out. Listening to this book made me wonder what the memoirs of children growing up in today’s America would look like. And let’s face it, unless something drastically changes in the next few years, there will be a lot of these books in thirty or forty years. (4 out of 5 childhood tales)

The Winter People by Jennifer McMahon: I thought this book would be boring at first, at least for the first few chapters. Like many books that switch between a historical perspective and a present-day one, readers are often drawn to one of those storylines over the other. I’m no exception here; I found myself more drawn to the present-day tale, even though the ending was a bit convoluted. Still, I found myself drawn to the mother and daughter in the 1908 storyline who started it all, as well as all the characters in the present-day storyline. (4 out of 5 sleepers)

Switch: How to Change Things When Change Is Hard by Chip and Dan Heath: I listened to this book. Like many pop psychology and self-help books, a lot of the material presented seems obvious. I knew a lot of the tricks presented in the book: put whatever you need to take out of the house with you next to your keys. Give people small wins so they’ll be motivated to keep going. In fact, if you’re even a little bit well-read in the self-help sphere, you’ll recognize a lot of these tricks. But I still enjoyed this book, and it’s motivating me to look for those small wins when trying to change my habits. (4 out of 5 behavior tricks)

How to Lie with Statistics by Darrell Huff: I listened to this book. Even though the material is pretty basic and as a result I knew most of the material already, it’s still a useful read. Granted, some of the examples feel outdated since the book was written in the 50s, but that doesn’t distract from the material presented. I’d recommend this to anyone who doesn’t have a mathematical background. You don’t need to know any advanced math to understand the book’s contents, but you will come away questioning 69% of statistics. (4 out of 5 averages)

Dead Beat by Jim Butcher: Ah, here we go with my annual Dresden Files catchup. This is book seven in the series, and it features necromancy. I found the plot of this book to be convoluted, although it probably sets up later storylines well. I can appreciate that, even if I probably won’t get to the stories this book is setting up for a few years. (Look, it’s tradition, okay?) Polka, however, will never die. (3 out of 5 polka beats)

Proven Guilty by Jim Butcher: This is my favorite of my 2017 Dresden Files catchup, maybe because I can imagine Dresden during his teenage magical days, and now he’s getting a taste of his past. I also found myself caring about the Carpenter family, who we hadn’t seen in great detail in a few books. This book also goes a little deeper in the politics of the greater magical world, which while a drag at times, was enjoyable. (4 out of 5 horror conventions)

White Night by Jim Butcher: Dresden’s half-brother appears to be the main suspect of a crime… but we all know that can’t be, or otherwise there would be no plot. There’s a lot of stuff happening at once, and keeping track of all the new characters was challenging at times. And since I don’t have much more to say, I should wait less than a month before writing these reviews. Still, I’m looking forward to the 2018 Dresden catchup. (3 out of 5 practitioners)

The Nature Fix: Why Nature Makes us Happier, Healthier, and More Creative by Florence WIlliams: I listened to this book, which tells of the benefits of being out in nature. Interestingly, I found myself listening to large chunks of this book while walking around the urban forest of my city. The author goes from rivers to forests to discover how people are using nature to heal, as opposed to being cooped up inside all the time. It was a fascinating listen that made me want to be outside even more, something I plan on taking full advantage of when it warms up just a tiny bit. (4 out of 5 trees)

The Water Will Come: Rising Seas, Sinking Cities, and the Remaking of the Civilized World by Jeff Goodell: I listened to this book to kick off my 2018 reading. Oh man. If you care about climate change at all, read this. And even if you don’t, read it anyway. The author talks about rising sea levels from multiple perspectives: economic, real estate and city planning, political, and more. And he doesn’t just stick to the US–Goodell goes around the world to talk about people studying climate change or people who would be directly affected, such as island residents. It’s sad, really: some of the people least in a position to do anything about rising sea levels are some of the people who will be most affected by it. Damn. Go read it. (5 out of 5 sea levels)

Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor E. Frankl: I listened to this book. My ninth grade world geography teacher assigned this book as extra credit; surprisingly, I did not take advantage of extra credit (for once). There’s a reason this book is still a classic now, and even though I found myself zoning out during parts of the first half of the book (Frankl’s time in the concentration camps), I found the second half and its psychological approaches to be more interesting. It struck a chord with me and my current existential crisis: What is meaningful to me? How can I make sure I get the most out of this speck in time? I need to think through this some more. (4 out of 5 perspectives)

All the Crooked Saints by Maggie Stiefvater: I wanted to like this book; after all, I’ve liked everything else of Stiefvater’s. But this one just didn’t do it for me for some reason. Maybe it was because I started this book while tired and sleptwalked my way through the first quarter of the book, and by the time plot started happening, I was already lost. Or maybe it was because of all the points of view, which got confusing. Whatever it was, I was glad to mark this book as complete. (3 out of 5 miracles)

Artemis by Andy Weir: I finally got a hold of this book, and boy am I glad I did. Jazz is a smuggler on the moon who just wants to not worry about money, but then she gets tangled up with a moon mafia. The relationships in this story remind me of small-town life, except it’s on the moon, which makes everything much cooler. I also enjoyed the writing, even with the immature humor. Maybe especially the immature humor. Teenage boys don’t have a monopoly on your mom jokes, after all. (Your mom does.) Although if Jazz never ended another sentence with “Well, not really, but you know what I mean”, I would be okay with that. (4 out of 5 harvesters)

Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers by Mary Roach: I listened to this book, which turned out to be a delightful and easy-to-absorb book to read while walking or running or cleaning. Mary Roach talks to medical researchers and dives into the history of the dead to learn just what those bodies donated to science are used for. From the original skepticism toward surgery to crucifixion experiments, this book provides a tale worthy of outliving us. (4 out of 5 cadavers)

Half and Half: Writers on Growing Up Biracial and Bicultural by Various Authors: I found this book in Pegasus Books during my trip to San Francisco and knew it was coming home with me. It’s an essay collection with contributions from all types of authors, including a couple you might recognize (like Malcolm Gladwell). As is the case with many collections like this, the essays were hit or miss, but there are so many good essays that you’ll laugh, feel, and think with the narrators and their loved ones. (4 out of 5 “What are you?” questions)

Age of Anger: A History of the Present by Pankaj Mishra: I listened to this book and wanted to like it–after all, what’s not to love about a book that posits to tell the tale of how we becamse the society that we are? But in the end, I just couldn’t get into the book. The book hopped around a lot with no real structure. Maybe I had a harder time keeping up with this book because it’s really long and I listened to it, but no matter. It could have been done better. (3 out of 5 historical tales)

The Librarian of Auschwitz by Antonio Iturbe: This book takes place during World War II, and as you might have guessed from the title, it tells the tale of a Jewish teenager and her family and friends in Auschwitz. Even more intriguing, and a fact I didn’t know until starting the book, the book is based on a true story. The beginning was a little slow, but the story picks up after Dita is put in charge of the books that had been smuggled in. Just be prepared; this is not a happy read for the most part. (Uh, is it spoilery to warn about death when the book is about death?) (4 out of 5 hidden books)

What’s next? Good question. I have a lot of choices but no idea what to read next. I’m technically on track for my 2018 reading challenge (80 books), but the number on Goodreads doesn’t take into account my reading over the course of ten months instead of twelve. As a result, I’m already behind. Eep.

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