The beginning of 2021 has been excellent for reading, not just for the quantity but the quality as well. In fact, the time since my last book review post — written around the time I started my current job — has been full of good books with few true flops. Since there are so many books to cover I’ll just summarize the books with the highlights… even if that means most of the books.
I’m finally getting my book groove back after hardly reading any fiction in 2019. That is one thing the pandemic has been good for: Now that some of my life’s big time commitments are gone, I finally have a little more time to read. At first I had big dreams of zooming through a bunch of series that I’ve been meaning to read for years, but then I got preoccupied with Wikiwrimo updates, especially some of the large-scale ones that I finally had time to do.
One thing I’ve been trying to do is read less fiction by straight white dudes. I haven’t extended this to nonfiction due to the topics I like to listen to, my preference of listening to nonfiction, and the difficulty in obtaining audiobooks on those topics to start with, especially on a budget.
Since I haven’t written any book reviews in over two years, let’s just go through the highlights of this year’s books. All my books and their star ratings are on my Goodreads profile, but let’s just start from the beginning of the year and go through my favorites.
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.
Where has the time gone? I’ve been listening to plenty of books but have barely had time to sit down and read fiction lately. I also meant to post this in late September and then… forgot. Oops.
So here we go, everything I’ve read since August. This is a semi-long post, although you can probably tell which reviews I scribbled down just before pressing Publish.
Another month, another set of book reviews. This month marked a definite change in my reading habits because I started a full-time job mid-month–a job that involves putting on pants and going to an office! Thank goodness I passed my reading goal before starting that new job. To give you an idea of how much this new job (and occasional freelance work) is wrecking my reading time, I’ve read only one full print book since starting that job. For comparison, I’ve listened to multiple books, which makes me curse my inability to listen to fiction.
Onward to the reviews!
Blue Lily, Lily Blue by Maggie Stiefvater: This is the third book in the Raven Cycle series, and I thoroughly enjoyed reading this one. It’s a good thing I had the fourth book already checked out because by the time I finished the third book (which didn’t end on a major cliffhanger!), I was so ready for the last book. (4 out of 5 blue lilies)
The Raven King by Maggie Stiefvater: This is the last book in the Raven Cycle series. I’ve enjoyed reading them all, and the finale is no exception. I was a little disappointed in the way Stiefvater treated the whole dying part, but all in all, a good end to a good series. (4 out of 5 true loves)
A List of Cages by Robin Roe: Note/spoiler: this book contains depictions of child abuse. With that out of the way, this book tells the story of Adam getting reunited with his former foster brother Julian. I liked the brotherly friendship the two of them have, something that’s not easy to find in contemporary YA lit. However, the first half of the story went really slowly, and Adam has a lot of friends, making for a lot of characters that are hard to tell apart. This book can be hard to read, especially in the second half when things get heavy. (Fun fact, I was reading this book on my front porch while waiting on my ride, and they showed up at the end of a chapter where the sad and horrific factor was up to eleven. Yeah, I could use something else to think about for awhile.) (3 out of 5 Elians)
The Princess Saves Herself in This One by Amanda Lovelace: This is a poetry collection I had been meaning to check out for awhile. Even though I don’t read much poetry, I enjoyed and appreciated this little collection, which consisted of lots of free verse poems about the author’s own experiences. The collection is divided into sections centered around themes that build upon each other, with the last section addressed to you, the reader. (4 out of 5 free verses)
The Crisis of the Middle-Class Constitution: Why Economic Inequality Threatens Our Republic by Ganesh Sitaraman: I listened to this book, which makes the argument that compared to older countries, America was more economically equal when it was created and that the government created as a result relied on relative economic equality. Fast forward a couple of hundred years, and we just need to look around to see the economic inequality in this country. The author’s premise is that political inequality follows from economic inequality, so as the middle class dwindles and more money goes to the very wealthy, the people in power will consist of those with money. The author defends this argument well while weaving in some historical context; it was really interesting to hear about trends in policy for business and for the middle class over the years. (4 out of 5 rich families in power)
A Most Curious Murder by Elizabeth Kane Buzzelli: There really is a cozy mystery series for everything, I thought when discovering this book. As far as cozy mysteries go, this one is eh. Newly divorced Jenny returns to the tiny Michigan town she grew up in, and then her mom’s little library gets destroyed… and then the murders start. While I liked the character interactions, the plot seemed to lag and moved really slowly. I’ll probably skip the rest of these little library mysteries. (3 out of 5 little libraries)
Flash Boys: A Wall Street Revolt by Michael Lewis: I listened to this book, which was written by the same guy who wrote Moneyball and The Undoing Project, both of which I really liked. This book… eh. The book is supposed to be about high frequency trading and the people behind it, but this book was way heavy on the people at the expense of explaining the topics surrounding HFT. Which is fine in a book where the target audience is assumed to know at least about the topic. However, Lewis’s books are targeted toward a general audience, so this kind of thing doesn’t fly as well. I found myself confused throughout a lot of the book and not coming away with much more understanding of HFT than the none I started out with. (3 out of 5 programs)
Daring to Drive: A Saudi Woman’s Awakening by Manal al-Sharif: I listened to this book. Damn. Go read this. Okay, the real review: this book is about Manal al-Sharif, a female Saudi activist who grew up by modest means, formerly embraced fundamentalist Muslim culture, and despite being smart and educated, faced obstacles that make American women’s issues look like small play. The entire book was truly eye-opening, especially since it takes place relatively recently instead of the hundreds of years ago that one might expect. (5 out of 5 automobiles)
Cannibalism: A Perfectly Natural History by Bill Schutt: I listened to this book. Raise your hand if you’re surprised I read this. *looks around, sees no hands up* Yeah, me either. How could I resist such a delicious topic? While this book took awhile to really get going, the going got really interesting a few chapters in. One thing I found really interesting about this book was the studies across a variety of cultures and not just using one part of the world for all of cannibalism’s history. I definitely want to learn more about cannibalism now. (4 out of 5 friends-not-food)
The Dark Net: Inside the Digital Underworld by Jamie Bartlett: I listened to this book. The title had me hoping for tales of the Silk Road and its variants and all the other stuff you can find in the underbelly of Tor. While some of this content was there, the book concentrated a lot more on topics like camming and 4chan. If you only stick to cute cat photos online (and I don’t blame you), you might learn something new from this book. But for someone as jaded about online culture as I am, this book did not live up to the description. (3 out of 5 trolls)
The Water Knife by Paolo Bacigalupi: This was my library book club’s selection for July (which I didn’t attend this month because I hadn’t finished the book and because of the new job mentioned earlier in the post). It turned out that I shelved this book on Goodreads awhile ago. As fascinating as the premise was, I didn’t like it as much as I thought. I’m not sure why, but I found it hard to keep track of everything that was going on. Granted, this may be due to reading it in occasional 20-page bursts over the span of two weeks. I’d still read something else this author writes in the future, but this book wasn’t for me. (3 out of 5 water sources)
Word by Word: The Secret Life of Dictionaries by Kory Stamper: I listened to this book, and now I want to learn everything about dictionaries ever. This book discusses topics like how definitions get written, how those definitions can change over time, and how dictionaries and their contents have shaped society. Lines like “It depends on what the definition of ‘is’ is” come to mind here (and yes, this line was mentioned in the book). There was just enough memoir to answer questions like “How does one become a lexicographer anyway?” but not so much that it detracts from the words. If you’re a word nerd like me (and let’s face it, there’s a pretty good chance you are), go read this book. (5 out of 5 definitions)
What’s next? I started reading Into the Water by Paula Hawkins yesterday and started listening to It’s Complicated: The Social Lives of Networked Teens by danah boyd today. I anticipate these posts becoming far shorter in the coming months. If only there were a way I could read instead of sleep. Come on, modern technology, get on this!