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.

What I’m reading, March 2016

Another month, another post on what I’m reading. I probably won’t finish another book by the end of the month based on my schedule right now, but we’ll see. For now, have some reviews.

Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo: I tried to like this book. I really did. But the story just didn’t grab me, and this was partly due to the writing style of the book. Six points of view, lots of blocks of dialogue without indicators to let me know who’s speaking, and confusion between what was happening in the past versus the present. I remember having the confusion problems while reading Bardugo’s last series as well, so I know it’s not just this book. Still, I’ll be skipping the rest of this series. (3 out of 5 heists)

Modern Romance by Aziz Ansari: I listened to this book, and I’m glad I did. Ansari is really funny and acknowledged that yes, I was listening to the book when he described the occasional chart. While this book was well-researched and explained many of the aspects of finding love in the digital age, the funny snippets were sometimes too much. Just tell me more about the research already! Still, it was a solid read and gave me a lot of things to think about re: seeking love, especially with the “ooh shiny” period of a relationship ending and turning into a companionate love. I’m gonna go reflect on that now. (4 out of 5 minutes before replying to that text)

Carry On by Rainbow Rowell: Someone on Twitter told me this book was terrible, and I went into the book with this knowledge. Sure, they’re only one person, but I found myself disliking this book immediately. While I love Rowell’s YA work, this book read like the first draft of a knockoff HP fanfic. The book also suffered from “is something going to actually happen?” syndrome. Despite all this, I managed dto finish the book and was very relieved after hitting The End. (2 out of 5 Humdrums)

The Idealist: Aaron Swartz and the Rise of Free Culture on the Internet by Justin Peters: I listened to this book, an autobiography of activist Aaron Swartz, who killed himself in his NYC apartment a few years ago. For those who don’t know, this was the guy who was going to trial for downloading a zillion JSTOR academic articles. The story itself spans much more than Swartz’s life; several chapters are devoted to the history of copyright law in the United States. (Did you know copyright law once dictated that copyrights were good for only 14 years? I didn’t.) This format made for an interesting listen, one that didn’t just tell Swartz’s life story but also provided context for his role and actions regarding copyright history. (4 out of 5 copyright laws)

The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness by Michelle Alexander: Here’s a conversation I had multiple times while reading this book on my Kindle.

Someone notices me reading. “So what’s the book about?”
Me: “How the entire system around the war on drugs is disproportionately targeting black men.”

Definitely not the answer they were expecting. This book was very well researched and written, providing historical context while making a convincing argument and providing solutions. It’s a dense book, but if you’re at all interested in social issues, go read this. (5 out of 5 drug charges)

Me Before You by Jojo Moyes: This book stars 26-year-old Louisa Clark, who has never really explored the world beyond her hometown. The economy is terrible, she’s still living with her struggling family, and everything seems okay until the cafe she works at closes. Louisa gets a new job working with a quadriplegic, which changes the way she sees the world forever. I meant for this book to be a nice fluffy book to read after the mass incarceration book, and while most of the book made for light reading, there were some parts that were definitely not light and fluffy. Not perfect, and the plot was pretty predictable, but still an engaging read with relatable characters. (4 out of 5 jobs)

The Ex by Alafair Burke: I am terrible at picking out light fluffy books. This book has been described in the vein of Gone Girl and The Girl on the Train, which isn’t completely off. But this novel concentrates more on the legal parts of the case investigation, as the lawyer, an ex of the main suspect, narrates the whole story. While there are some predictable parts, the twists along the way made this book a one-day read. (4 out of 5 pieces of evidence)

The Thing About Jellyfish by Ali Benjamin: Suzy’s best friend died right before seventh grade, leaving Suzy to put together the pieces of what happened while grieving. Suzy becomes convinced that it must have been a jellyfish sting (things don’t happen for no reason, after all) and goes on a journey to figure out what really happened. This book captures the mind of a middle schooler really well, making me think to how I would have reacted to such a thing as a preteen, while showing a whole world of wonder in the process. (4 out of 5 jellyfish)

Amsterdam: A History of the World’s Most Liberal City by Russell Shorto: I listened to this book. This book started out dull and remained so for much of the book, then turned more interesting when he started talking about the 20th century. To be honest, I wish he could have told the older history of Amsterdam as well as he narrated the 20th century. A little more info on how Amsterdam and the world influenced each other would have been useful as well. (3 out of 5 tulips)

Rising Strong by Brene Brown: I listened to this book. While the first half of the book was really interesting and made many excellent points on rising strong after a struggle, the last half read more like a memoir, and a rambling one without not much of a point. Sure, the author is a professor of social work, but a lot of the qualitative research seemed to stem from her own experiences, and we all know one person is just one data point. Next time, I’d rather skip the personal stories and get to the point. (3 out of 5 rumbles)

Drinking Coffee Elsewhere by Z.Z Packer: I read this book for my library’s monthly book club. The collection itself features people of color (mostly female) as the main characters. As with many short story collections, the story quality is inconsistent. While the prose itself is good, the stories felt incomplete. Most of the stories ended abruptly, leaving me with a sense of dissatisfaction at the end of each tale, but not enough to want more. It was like reading a chapter from several novel ideas and seeing what would stick. (3 out of 5 cups of coffee)

What I’m Reading, January-February 2016

Ever since I took the writing hiatus in February, I’ve been spending a lot of that time reading. In particular, I’ve been continuing my quest to finish the Baby-Sitters Club books (mostly in between reading Shakespeare scenes, let’s be honest), and I’m now at the point of reading a book a day on average so far in 2016. I probably can’t keep that up for much longer, but it doesn’t hurt to try, right?

Never. Onward to the reviews!

Why Not Me? by Mindy Kaling: I read her first book and enjoyed it. I listened to this book, and to be honest, I didn’t like it as much. Enough of the humor felt forced and well, not funny, which made me think “Okay, we get it” on a regular basis while listening to the book. Considering how funny her last book was, this one didn’t hold up as well. (3 out of 5 meetings with the president)

Alexander Hamilton by Ron Chernow: You’d think the biography of someone who lived over 200 years ago and didn’t get much recognition over the years would be a boring read. You would be oh so wrong. This biography was very well done, and I found myself talking about Hamilton’s life (and okay, the musical and the differences between the two) almost nonstop to anyone who would listen. (Seriously, ask pretty much anyone who has had to talk to me over the past couple of weeks.) The best part? The author has written a George Washington biography that has found its way to my to-read list. (5 out of 5 Federalist papers)

Fairest by Marissa Meyer: This is a short novel that tells the story of Queen Levana and how she came to be the evil queen, and it made me feel for Levana as more than the evil queen. The book also provides some insight into some of the unanswered questions of the Lunar Chronicles universe. I only wish this book had been longer, as there were so many instances where I wanted to know more, whether from a particular scene or about what happened in those time lapses. (4 out of 5 glamours)

Still Alice by Lisa Genova: Feelings. So many feelings. This book shows the decline of a Harvard professor who is diagnosed with early onset Alzheimer’s disease at age 50. The entire book is told from her point of view, showing what’s going on in Alice’s head the entire time, and it’s hard to read sometimes. My grandmother had Alzheimer’s, and I had to set the book down regularly to calm down because the intensity of what was going on in Alice’s brain was too much to handle. (5 out of 5 memory lapses)

Ghost in the Wires: My Adventures as the World’s Most Wanted Hacker by Kevin Mitnick: I’ll be honest, I mostly read (okay, listened to) this book because my library’s ebook system recommended it. Honestly, I would have liked this book a lot more if the narrator/author weren’t such an asshole. It didn’t help that every time he referred to a woman in the book, he referred to her as a girl. Ugh. Learning about phone phreaking and early hacking techniques was interesting, yes, but it didn’t get around the fact that the narrator’s real talent was in manipulating others and being proud of it, even if just for the lulz. (3 out of 5 phone hacks)

Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less by Greg McKeown: I was not a fan of this book. While a lot of the book was written for people in the workplace who are struggling from doing too much, some of the stuff applies to one’s personal life. Thta doesn’t excuse repeating a lot of the same points ovre and over and dividing everyone into essentialists and non-essentialists, as if essentialism is the one true way. Your point. You made it. (2 out of 5 ways to say no)

Luckiest Girl Alive by Jessica Knoll: I did not like this book. The main character has what seems like a perfect life working at a NYC magazine, but she’s hiding a secret from her past, which gets revealed as someone from that past comes into her present life. The story alternates between the present and the past. Fine premise, but the characters were annoying (especially the main character and her coworkers), and the writing was stunted and awkward throughout almost the entire book. The book could have used another round or two of edits, and combined with the annoying characters, its only saving grace was that it was short. (2 out of 5 first world problems)

Career of Evil by Robert Galbraith (J.K. Rowling) : This is another Cormoran Strike novel. While there are some slow parts and lots and lots of talking, a lot of those scenes gave us insight into Strike’s and Robin’s pasts in this novel, which helps flesh them out as people and not just for plot advancement. And that cliffhanger at the end! (4 out of 5 severed body parts)

The Interestings by Meg Wolitzer: I got about 80 pages into this book before giving up on it. The premise sounds interesting: following some art camp kids throughout their adult lives. But I couldn’t bring myself to care about the characters in what little I did read, and nothing really happened in those eighty pages. Well, that’s a partial lie. A couple of things did happen, but the characters were so distant that I couldn’t relate to them at all, nor could the author’s writing keep me wanting more. (did not finish, unrated)

Scrum: The Art of Doing Twice the Work in Half the Time by Jeff Sutherland: I listened to this book, and If you’re looking for a guide to implementing scrum, this book isn’t for you. There’s a little bit in the appendix about implementing scrum, but this book by one of the scrum founders isn’t a full-on guide. If you want to learn about the value of embracing smart and achievable goals that you can even apply to your everyday life (especially with to-do, doing, and done lists), then this is a good book to get you started. (4 out of 5 to-do lists)

Throne of Glass by Sarah J. Maas: Truth be told, besides the premise (which even then reminds me of things like Hunger Games), nothing really made this book stand out. The main character is an assassin who has been working in the salt mines, and then she gets to compete against a bunch of men for her freedom. The writing was awkward and unclear at times, the characters were boring and whiny, and of course there’s a freaking love triangle. That said, the book did keep me reading until the end, so I’ll give it credit for that. (3 out of 5 tests)

A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman: Ove is your typical grumpy older man whose life gets turned upside down when new neighbors move in. While his grumpiness is overemphasized in the beginning, he doesn’t stay that grumpy for the whole book, plus you learn a lot about Ove’s past and why he’s so grumpy in the first place. Beautiful story that has me wanting more from this author. (4 out of 5 interruptions)

Brain Bugs: How the Brain’s Flaws Shape Our Lives by Dean Buonomano: I listened to this book, which offers ideas (and pure speculation on the last chapter or two, although the author does acknowledge this) on why our brains, as complex as they are, can’t deal with numbers or memorization all that well. The author explains these ideas from a biological basis, so if you’re looking for a cultural perspective, you’re bound to be disappointed. With that in mind, though, the author makes his points well while not going too far astray. (4 out of 5 brain bugs)

Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates: I listened to this book, and damn. Sometimes that’s all I have to say about a book because it’s so well done. This book is written as a letter to Coates’s teenage son and discusses race (particularly being black) with historical context. Go read this. (5 out of 5 letters)

Richard III by William Shakespeare: I read this book for my library’s book club, marking the first time I’ve read Shakespeare in four or five years. I did appreciate this book a lot more after the book club, which was filled with a bunch of Shakespeare scholars. While the metaphors in this book were particularly well-done and the portrayal of Richard as a jerk was spot-on, there wasn’t much else that stood out about this book. (3 out of 5 kings)

Up next? Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo, Rainbow Rowell’s Carry On, and after that, who knows? Maybe I’ll start reading through my stack of to-be-read books.

Stay tuned: my writing hiatus is almost up, and that means I’ll have actual content to post here.

What I’m Reading, December 2015-January 2016

I definitely exceeded my original goal of reading sixty books in 2015. So much, in fact, that another BSC book binge put me at 202 books read in 2015.

Now we’re several weeks into 2016, and my goal for the year is to read 250 books. I’m counting the remaining 150 BSC books as part of the big yearly goal so I can finish the series this year.

I’m not going to review each BSC book because let’s be honest: a lot of those plots are ridiculous, especially as the series goes on. But I will mention my progress in these review posts so you can know how far along I am (and maybe read along with me? A Sushi can dream). Current status: 80 BSC books (including mysteries and super specials), 66 Little Sister books, 146 total remaining.

Here goes!

Mosquitoland by David Arnold: I went to his PG-13 panel at the Decatur Book Festival this year, which prompted me to check out his book. Well, I finally got around to reading it, and it’s pretty good. Mim’s bus trip gone terribly wrong leads to an adventure featuring interesting characters and a plot with a clear objective (or Objective, as Mim puts it). The characters and plot work well together, and while there were a few things that didn’t make sense, I enjoyed this book and would read more from this author. (4 out of 5 tubes of lipstick)

Outliers: The Story of Success by Malcolm Gladwell: I wasn’t a big fan of Blink but decided to try this book out for some reason. There’s one thing Gladwell doesn’t seem to get: correlation is not causation. He seeks out only the stories that fit his hypothesis while ignoring the ones that don’t. My reactions ranged from “Well, duh” to “Have you considered doing more than cherrypicking stories?” I know he’s not a psychologist, despite his books dealing with some psychological concepts, but ergh. (3 out of 5 opportunities at the right time)

To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before by Jenny Han: I wanted to like this book. I really did. Come on, the main character is half Korean like me! But the entire plot felt contrived and some things just did not make sense at all. That said, I did like Lara Jean’s close relationship with her father and sisters. That’s not something you see a lot of in contemporary YA, and those relationships are portrayed well. (3 out of 5 love letters)

Grave Peril by Jim Butcher: This is the third book in the Dresden Files series, around the point where my friends told me the books really start getting good, and it didn’t disappoint. I found myself reading almost the entire book on Christmas Eve, sitting on the porch of my brother’s house and enjoying the weirdly warm weather, and kept telling myself “One more chapter…” and wanting to know what happened next. Solid read, and I’m now more motivated to read through this series faster. (4 out of 5 ghosts)

I’ll Give You the Sun by Jandy Nelson: Wow. This book got off to a slow start, but the prose is so gorram beautiful that I didn’t mind. Teenage me used to write lots of blog entries and journal entries based on book quotes, and if this book were around back then, it probably would have been a favorite of mine. I’ll probably have to go back to my teenage roots of using book lines to inspire my writing. If you’re a contemporary YA fan, you owe it to yourself to read this book. (5 out of 5 sand sculptures)

The Paper Magician by Charlie N. Holmberg: I tried so hard to like this book. The magic system of folding paper was fascinating, but I found the story itself to be lacking. The main character wasn’t very interesting, and the plot itself was simple but confusing at times, not to mention a lot of the plot elements weren’t believable. I hear the rest of the trilogy is better, but I’ll pass. (2 out of 5 folds)

None of the Above by I. W. Gregorio: I really enjoyed this book. The story of a teenage girl discovering that she’s intersex could have gone terribly. The author tells the story well, with realistic characters that made me actually feel for some of the people in the popular crowd the main character hangs out with. (Can you tell I wasn’t popular?) I’m glad this and other GLBTQI+ stories exist because they not only help people find themselves in fiction, but they also expose everyone to stories that aren’t our own, showing that human experiences are wider than we can ever experience. (4 out of 5 checkboxes)

Let’s Explore Diabetes With Owls by David Sedaris: I wanted to like this essay collection (or as the book itself says, Essays, Etc.). Sedaris is a talented and funny author, but this collection falls short. While some of the stories were right on point and I loved a few of them, some of the others fell flat. The random bits of stuff at the end of the book didn’t add much to the overall collection, either, and neither did the last couple of essays. This is my biggest mixed feeling about essay collections in general: the essays didn’t really have anything tying them together. (3 out of 5 owls)

Food: A Love Story by Jim Gaffigan: I listened to this book, and let me tell you, I love food. This should be unsurprising since I go by a food name. Anyway. This book was moderately funny, but not as funny as I expected considering it was written by a comedian. While some of the observations were spot-on (cakes are for happy occasions, pies are for funerals, for instance), a lot of the book was just making the same point over and over. And while I’m sure the fast food obsession is slightly exaggerated, it got old after awhile. (3 out of 5 cheeseburgers)

A Desperate Fortune by Susanna Kearsley: I wanted to like this book because come on: code breaking a story in 18th century France. That’s my jam. But in the end, not much really happened. The story alternates between an amateur codebreaker in modern-day France and an 18th century young woman, and half of the modern day stuff consisted of summarizing what happened in the diary that the main character is deciphering. The story took forever to get going, and by the time things did start happening, I had already lost a lot of interest. Honestly, I would read a whole book on the modern day characters without the diary aspect of the story, but all the going back and forth with the name changes in the historical parts were confusing and dull. (2 out of 5 ciphers)

The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion: Don is a genetics professor with many Asperger’s traits, and he’s on the hunt for the perfect wife. Rosie is on the hunt for her real father and hopes Don can help. While this story definitely isn’t perfect, I did find myself simultaneously laughing and groaning at some of Don’s actions (especially with his attempts at romance). Despite figurative facepalming at some of Don’s thought processes, I still enjoyed reading this story and have made a note to check out the second book in the series at some point. (4 out of 5 DNA samples)

Orange Is the New Black by Piper Kerman: First, no, I haven’t watched the TV show. But this book still grabbed my interest, and I found myself listening to the book when looking for something to occupy my time while showering or doing chores or running or whatever else I do where I can listen at the same time. The audiobook was well done, from day one to the final release, and I particularly getting to know the other characters and their stories. Even though there’s a some whinging on how a “girl like her” (code for white, educated, middle-class, strong support network) could wind up in prison, the book was overall well written with cohesive storylines and yes, some humor. (4 out of 5 months in prison)

What’s next? I’m in the process of finishing the last 200 pages of Alexander Hamilton (Yes, the biography that inspired the musical) and listening to the last hour or so of Why Not Me?. After that, all those holds I suspended while tackling the 800-page biography will start to come in. Who knows what I’ll read next?

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?