Top Ten Books of 2016

Time for my top reads of 2016. I’m disappointed, because I didn’t reach my reading goal of 156 books, but I did read 155.5 books… so not too bad.

10.) To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before by Jenny Han – a cute YA novel that made me feel like I was in HS again…in a good way.

9.) Yes Please by Amy Poehler – I had no idea who she was before reading this book. This stuck with me all year, and almost made me want to watch Parks & Rec.

8.) Georgia Peaches and Other Forbidden Fruit by Jayne Robin Brown – A book set in Rome, GA about a pastor’s lesbian daughter. Amazing funny and deals with Christianity and queerness.

7.) Giant Days Vols. 1 & 2 by John Allison – a funny graphic novel about 3 friends meeting each other in college

6.) The Fire Next Time by James Baldwin – Amazing and revolutionary. This is the work that inspired “Between the World and Me.”

5.) Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda by Becky Albertelli – A gay teenage boy trying (sort of) to avoid being blackmailed about his sexuality. Hilarious and set in Georgia. The discussion of Chickfil-A at the beginning of the book was too real.

4.) All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doer – I don’t love WW2 stories, but this is a good one about two kids growing up in the war, one in France and one in Germany.

3.) Me Before You by Jojo Moyes – This book got a lot of dings because of its representation of disability. However, I loved the representation of the conception around suicide/self interest. For what Moyes did, this will be in my favorites a long time. I have a couple of blog posts up about this if you want to check them out.

2.) Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi – a book about the effects of the slave trade on those sold into slavery (over 7 generations) and the ones who remained in Africa

1.) The Serpent King by Jeff Zentner – Amazing YA book about HS seniors in Tennessee growing up and preparing to go to college. Such amazing character development. Zentner has the ability to suck the reader in without them knowing exactly when it happens.

Honorable Mentions: The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah; The Anatomical Shape of a Heart by Jenn Bennett; The Chaos Walking Trilogy by Patrick Ness

Clairvoyance, and Riches, and Boys – oh my!

Do you hear that thumping? It’s the hype monster knocking at your door. It definitely knocked on my door after the release of The Raven King in late April. It seemed as though every blog and booktube account was talking about this series and the book.  Since it was everywhere I thought it’d give it a try. I started my adventure at the end of May and just finished The Raven King last week. I flew through Blue Lily, Lily Blue and The Raven King, but the first two books took significantly longer to finish reading. As you might have noticed from my review of the Chaos Walking trilogy, I like to review these series as one entity rather than individual books. However, in a lot of ways I think these books really could work as stand alones. In each book it seems as though Maggie Stiefvater goes to great trouble to reexplain characters and how they go to their place in the story. Because of this I will break down my review into a mini summary of each book.

The Raven Boys

This is the first installment of the Raven Cycle. This book is largely told from Blue Sargent’s narrative voice. I really enjoyed it, because I think that Blue has a great perspective, and I thoroughly enjoyed her sass. We also get the perspective of the “raven boys” Adam, Ronan, Gansey, and Noah – in varying lengths. The voice we get most often is that of Gansey. I thought this book was a lovely start to the series. I read it fairly quickly over the course of the week. Not being a big fantasy person, Stiefvater blends enough of “reality” into the story for skeptics like me.

The Dream Thieves

Holy fantasy. If the series started with this book, I definitely wouldn’t have finished. It took me eventually switching from physical form to audio book to actually finish this one. Blue’s voice is not nearly as present in this book, as she is written more as a side character. This is 100% Ronan’s story, which also may explain why he was absent from the first book. It was slow to get through, but left off on a cliff hanger that was pretty good. I liked that this book helped develop Gansey, Adam, and Ronan as characters. Noah was largely left out of this book. At the end, this book just wasn’t as good as the first book.

Blue Lily, Lily Blue

You would think this story was about Blue, but it was really about Adam. Although we get back some of the Blue narrative, this is Adam’s story. This story was fantastical, but it also had a lot of adventure. I didn’t feel suspense at either of the first books, but I was very curious about what was going to happen to this cast of characters throughout the book. There were definitely some twists and turns I didn’t entirely expect. I flew through this book, even though I wish there was more Noah character development.

The Raven King

I know that there’s been a lot of talk on both sides about this ending. People have expressed concern over how neatly it was wrapped up. Others think it was the perfect ending to the series. I thought it was a pretty decent end. I think it’s hard to wrap up everything when you’ve spent 3 books unraveling it. There’s a little bit of Noah (my favorite if you couldn’t tell) in here that I like. However, Stiefvater added a  LOT of new characters in this book. And she told the story from almost everyone’s perspective. I thought it was a neat way to wrap up everything, but it was kind of annoying to have so many superfluous characters to try to remember.

Overall – I really enjoyed the series. The one thing I will say, is that I feel that I need to re-read this series already. In The Raven King especially, I had to keep going back because I didn’t understand how a certain character knew certain things. I don’t often feel like I need to re-read things, but I think I would get a lot of perspective by going through the books again. I give the series a 3.75 with The Raven Boys being my favorite booki n the series.

Until Next Time World…

Life is dramatic enough.

I recently received a galley of Tori Rigby’s book Because I Love You by netgalley in exchange for an honest review. I requested a copy of this book on a whim. I often forget about netgalley and was browsing to see if anything looked interesting. I was in the mood for some light YA, and this book seemed like it could be a good choice. I will admit that my version of light, might be very different from another person’s version of light. Below is the Goodreads description.

Eight weeks after sixteen-year-old Andie Hamilton gives her virginity to her best friend, “the stick” says she’s pregnant.

Her friends treat her like she’s carrying the plague, her classmates torture and ridicule her, and the boy she thought loved her doesn’t even care. Afraid to experience the next seven months alone, she turns to her ex-boyfriend, Neil Donaghue, a dark-haired, blue-eyed player. With him, she finds comfort and the support she desperately needs to make the hardest decision of her life: whether or not to keep the baby.

Then a tragic accident leads Andie to discover Neil’s keeping a secret that could dramatically alter their lives, and she’s forced to make a choice. But after hearing her son’s heartbeat for the first time, she doesn’t know how she’ll ever be able to let go.

So I knew from the description that this book was going to be dramatic, but geez I didn’t know the author would take it to a new level. So I think a teenage girl finding herself pregnant and turning to her badboy ex is DRAMATIC. But no, this book is riddled with death, accidents, lies, token queer characters, abuse, financial insecurity, and so many other things that I can’t even mention from fear of spoiling the plot for all future readers. With the amount of things that happen to and around Andie, you’d think that this was an adventure novel.

The real issue that I have with this novel is that it blatantly pokes at the reality of some of the things that the characters are dealing with in the novel. Both of the main characters have lost their fathers in EXTREMELY tragic incidents. However, Rigby very nonchalantly has the characters brush over this very large incident that they have in common. The characters seem to have the attitude that sometimes parents just tragically die, then you move on. I think if that was the only grievance that this book had, I could get over it. One of the characters also suffers abuse that is just brushed over. The characters have a very close relationship with a police officer in the book, but instead of getting help for the parent or the abused child, it’s again just brushed off. I think this is particularly damaging when you could have teens reading this novel who are suffering from abuse. The message in this is that you just need to tough it out until you get older.

This book also touches on the troubles of financial insecurity. I was hoping that there would be time spend covering the many expenses of having a child. However, instead of any real in depth concerns about where money would come from or how Andie would provide for her child, a magic fairy sweeps in and pays for everything. There is a lot of talk of Andie getting a part time job to help pay for expenses, but that never comes to fruition throughout the whole book.

Overall, I think the story line had a lot of potential, but it fell way short on plot and character development. I think this novel could be very troubling to individuals who have triggers for abuse or struggle with financial insecurity. There is also nothing added by way of any kind of real diversity in this book. I gave this two stars on Goodreads. I wouldn’t recommend this book, but if you like watching train wrecks and really bad reality TV; then you might like this book?

 

Until Next Time World…

Can You Actually Learn Something from a Comic Book?

I’ve been trying to expand the type of things that I read. If you’ve kept up with my reading habits this year, you’ll know that I have been adding more graphic novel content. With a little help from the book community, my coworkers, and my local library, I’ve been able to read a couple of volumes that I’ve really liked. One of those volumes was the new Ms. Marvel, who is Kamala Khan. I think that there are currently 4 volumes out currently, with the 5th volume releasing in the US on July 12th of this month.

Kamala Khan is a 16 year old Pakistani-American, Muslim teenager in Jersey City, NJ. There is so much in that sentence that is exciting. First off – JERSEY CITY. One of my good friends in college was from Jersey City; so whenever I hear mention of it I just get good vibes. Plus Jersey City is SOOO Jersey I just can’t take it. (For those of you that are wondering, these thoughts are literally reserved for those who have spent time in the Mid-Atlantic section of the US.). Also, I love that Marvel didn’t just make her of “Middle-Eastern descent” because that’s wayyy to dismissive of the various cultures and identities that are salient to immigrants in the Northeast US. Since Islam is one of the big three religions, it makes sense that there would be a superhero that would ascribe to that religion.

Now that I’ve fangirled over the concept, is it actually any good? Yes. I really enjoyed the 3 volumes that I’ve read so far. As someone who’s not really into superheroes, comics, or fantastical elements – I think there’s enough in this comic to interest a lot of people. This comic is pretty neat, because it provides a very basic level of cultural education. Not being Muslim or Pakistani, I’m not entirely sure how accurate some of the words or concepts presented in the comic actually are, but I appreciate that they’re included. Instead of the writer just saying “Kamala goes to church.” or “Kamala puts on her traditional grab.” Kamala’s actions and specific cultural items or traditions are written about using appropriate language. For translations or definitions, there is a star for the reader to refer to at the bottom of the page or panel. I’m in love with that! I think that we often want things to be explained in ways that are easy for us to understand. Usually that means erasing cultural content or adding that content as a subnote. I enjoy that the cultural content isn’t hidden, and if the reader really wants to know what that means then they can go seek out the meaning.

So long story short- yes, I think that we can learn things from comic books. I have already learned some things from the new Ms. Marvel and I think that you potentially can too. If for nothing else, I would recommend picking up this comic book from your local library, because it’s important to see more diverse characters in the superhero world. It’s nice to see a teenager and a woman try to stay true to her family and culture, while using her powers for good.

 

Until Next Time World…

It’s definitely me, not you.

Y’all, I’ve come to realize I may have a serious problem. I’ve read a couple of highly, HIGHLY praised YA novels this year that I just…didn’t like, and I’m going to tell you why.

Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alire Saenz

This book is about two teenagers, Aristotle (Ari) and Dante, who both have a little trouble “fitting in.” Ari is angry about a lot of things, mostly focused around his older brother being in jail. Dante is simply living his life out loud. He has supportive parents and tries to pass on some of his confidence and energy to Ari. It’s a wonderful story about Latinx boys trying to discover themselves and their sexuality. So, why don’t I like this book?

  • This book has such beautiful writing!
    • What? This was what I was most excited about when I picked up this book. The writing in this book is by no means terrible, but it’s not any better than any other popular YA book. Some of the prose and dialogue actually seemed a little unrealistic when you got to know the characters. A lot of people criticize John Green for making teenagers sound unrealistic, but I think this book had more egregious offenses.
  • The mood was fantastic.
    • It was okay? Fantastic seems a bit strong. I don’t want to give anything in particular away, but I’m not even sure the ending made that much sense.
  • There was such a great representation of Mexican-American culture and sexuality.
    • There were barely a few mentions of the Latinx factor both characters possessed. Most of the mentions were in relation to speaking Spanish. I’m not sure if I’m asking too much, but I don’t think this is the book for someone to read if that’s what their looking for. However…

 

More Happy Than Not by Adam Silvera

If it wasn’t bad enough that I didn’t LOVE Alire Saenz’s work; it’s a CRIME that I didn’t love More Happy Than Not. Everyone had all the feels for this book. Everyone thought this book was amazing. This is #ownvoices perfection. Er..yes, yes. One really, really positive thing I did like about this book is I think it does give a pretty real glimpse at the inner city, person of color culture. It’s completely infused throughout the novel. You can’t pick this novel up and place it in suburbia; it just wouldn’t be the same.

  • It’s so dark.
    • It sort of was; I guess. It was so damn boring for so long. It literally pained me to get through the first 100 pages. I’m not entirely sure I can what the point of your book is if I struggle to simply turn the page. It’s definitely not a lighthearted book, but I’m not sure just because it’s not happy – makes it dark.
  • It handles mental health very well.
    • Does it though? In the book we know that Aaron’s father commits suicide. We also know that his mother isn’t handling it well. His brother is ignoring it, and he can’t talk to any of the people in his life about his feelings around his attempt NOR his own attempt. While I think this might be realistic of the urban setting, I’m not sure this is “very well.” At the end of the book I feel as though the message is sort of, life would be better if you just ignored things. There isn’t a medication or therapy positive notion in the book. I’m also not sure some of the more finer plot points represent self harm and suicide ideation…at all really. This wouldn’t be my recommendation for a mental health positive book.

I will say that I rated More Happy Than Not 3 stars, which means I thought it was okay. So I don’t have as much of an issue with it as I did with Alire Sanez’s book. But darn it, these two book should have been 4 star reads. Even though I don’t love them, like so many others do – I refuse to think the problem is with the books. The problem is definitely with me. We need more #ownvoices works, and I will continue to support them as much as I can. If you have a chance to pick either of these books up, please give them a whirl. And if you’ve read either of these, please leave a comment telling me how wrong I am.

 

Until Next Time World…

PS- sorry for the long post. I had 2 books and a lot to say!

The Value of Life

I recently finished the Man Booker International Award short list-er, A Strangeness in My Mind by Orhan Pamuk. This book was a big one. It’s a little over 600 pages, pretty small print, and for some reason is extra large.  This book took me about 3 weeks to read, which is crazy long for me. And during that three week span, I spent a lot of actual time reading this book. Now that I’ve dissuaded you from reading this book, let me actually tell you about it.

This book follows Melvut, first a boy then a man living in Istanbul. It’s literally his life story. And he did not live a very big life. Melvut was from a small village in Turkey. He went to live with his father in the city to make money to send back to his family in the village. They worked as street vendors. Melvut was supposed to go to school to be a doctor, but it’s hard to focus on your studies when you’re literally walking the streets all day and night for your food. Melvut drops out of school and continues to work as a street vendor. He gets wrapped up in some communist politics; he sees a pretty girl at a wedding; he writes her letters while he does mandatory military service. He runs away with the girl after the military service. He finds out its the wrong girl. He marries her anyway and falls deeply in love having 2 daughters. His wife dies at 30. He struggles to make money. He eventually married her sister (the girl he actually thought was pretty). They live in a little one room house. Then a high rise is built and they live there. The end. 

That was a pretty dense paragraph, but I wanted to show you the potential futility in the book. If you’re someone who really enjoys immersing themselves in cultures, this book would be write up your alley since it follows Turkey through the modernization of the 21st century. If you’re not one of these people, you might be missing the exciting and eventful plot. But what does that mean for our lives? Unless you are one of the lucky ones who has an opportunity to influence the masses and do historic things, you will probably lead a little life. I lead a little life; where I hold a modest job, have a couple dozen followers, and the ability to see my friends who live close. In a lot of ways, I live a life like Melvut does in the novel.

In the novel, Melvut felt as though he had a strangeness in his mind. Although throughout the book, I’m not sure that was proven as fact. I think he just had the same ambitions and failings that a lot of people had and continue to have. While I was reading this novel, I felt a kinship with Melvut. I wanted him to be happy, and I wanted safety for his family. I was frustrated when he felt like he had his back to the wall, and was joyful when he got a break from his suffering. The elegance with which Pamuk wrote (and Oklap translated) Melvut’s life carried over very well into English. Even though I was not familiar with Turkey at all, I still felt transported to Melvut’s time, as he walked the streets of Istanbul selling boza. It is clear why Pamuk won a Nobel Prize in literature. And I am grateful that Pamuk brought such life and importance to Melvut. And, in his own way, is letting us each know living a little life is okay.

Until Next Time World…

Happiness

So this is definitely going to be a continued talk and review of Me Before You by Jojo Moyes, because I really did honestly just like it that much. Another theme this book explored, in a very discrete way, is happiness. The scene that sparked my thoughts around this is when Louisa is talking to Nathan (Will’s personal nurse) about Will’s happiness. She asks Nathan if he thinks that Will is happier since she’s come around, and Nathan states that he thinks Will just likes when Louisa is happy. This isn’t a revolutionary concept, but it sparked an important question. Are you truly happy just by seeing other people happy?

I can think of a couple potential examples, even though I haven’t experienced a lot of them. One that seems to fit the mold would be parenthood. I don’t have kids, nor do I want them, so I can’t be sure – but it seems as thought parents thrive off of their children’s happiness. I’ve always said the love of a parent for their child seems unfathomable to me, because I’m not sure children have the capability of expressing such love for their parents. Parents, generally, seem happy when their children are healthy, receive awards, thrive in social situations, and become successful adults. A lot of people talk about parenthood being the most enjoyable part of their life. It’s easy to see how a small human’s whole presence can help contribute or take away from a parent’s happiness.

However, I can also think of a couple of examples that might be contrary to this. Postpartum depression is the first that comes to mind. Acknowledging that this is a very serious disease that effects parents, generally mothers, after birth, their mental and physical well-being is not wrapped up in how well their child may be doing. It’s important for these parents to work on their own well-being, as a separate issue than the well-being of their children. There is also the example of the absentee parent. The image that society presents of parents are those that are involved and concerned about their children’s lives. As unfortunate as it is, that is not always the case for families. For some, children are a burden that contributes to a person’s lack of happiness.

Another, and perhaps the most relevant to the novel, would be happiness that is derived from the happiness of a significant other. Can you truly live a happy life based on the happiness of your significant other? For me, I find that when my partner is in a negative headspace or mood that affects me much more than when he is in a good mood. On the other hand, my favorite thing about people is the passion they show when they’re talking about something that is of great interest to them. When my partner is excited about something, that enthusiasm is contagious. It is often seen as dangerous and detrimental to have one’s happiness tied up in another person’s. Young women are often (sexist, because it’s far less common for men to be arbitrarily told this) told not to rely on a man for their happiness. While this is usually said out of concern for the person, it seems this piece of advice and what is typically “expected” out of partnership often differ.

I’m not really sure where I fall on this topic, but the fact that Me Before You sparked this train of thought is a telling of how powerful the novel can be for a person. What do you think about this?

Until Next Time World…

Sometimes I Just Can’t…

Last week I took a road trip home to visit my mom. Being the avid reader that I am, I was really excited to get some “reading” done on my 36 hour drive to and from Georgia. Well, there was a debacle with the audiobooks I got from Audible, which meant that I was only able to really listen to one audiobook for the majority of my drive; thanks to my local library. Since I listen to all of my audiobooks and double speed, I was without a good story for the majority of my trip. When I stopped before the last 4 hours of my drive back home, I found out Audible is pretty great, and I could return the bum audiobooks easily. Uncertain about what to use my credit on, I decided to cave and listen to Me Before You by Jojo Moyes.

I just finished this book yesterday, and I’m not sure I have all the words to express my true feelings about it. At the core of the book, it’s set up like a very unlikely love story. But the story allows the reader to reflect on how they love, live their life, and view their particular set of circumstances. I didn’t know a lot going into the book, other than it was going to be a movie, but I think that most other people are a little more in tune with popular best sellers. The overwhelming hype about this book from the book community and general pop culture set made me a little hesitant, but now I’m totally a fan girl.

I’ve talked about physical disability on my blog before, and I think this novel does a great job alerting the general population to some of the struggles of quadriplegics. Moyes didn’t stop and a general caricature of the condition, but consistently referred to the illnesses that frequently occur, the support systems available, and the mental states of the people who are affected. I think that this was great, because it added a grittiness to the book that usually isn’t seen in popular literature. Moyes did a good job of not making Will’s pain a stick, but an unfortunately intimate part of the reader’s experience with him.

I also think I read this book at a pretty good time, because I’ve been floating around the idea of a book talk around depression and suicide. I think that this book presents a different and interesting perspective to many of the fictional books I’ve been reading focusing on this topic. It explores the topic in a different, but real way. The concept of assisted suicide has, and probably always will be, controversial. Moyes again does a great job of approaching a touchy issues, giving the reader to examine their own thoughts on the issue at hand.

It’s not often that I truly read a book that makes my reflect on my own experiences. However, Me Before You did this for me. Two nights ago, when I was about half way through with the book, I dreamt myself into the world of Ms. Clark and Will. It was a very weird experience, that sort of left me unsettled. I think that this probably means there are some things that I need to examine in my own life, but it’s not every book that will allow the reader to transcend the story and find personal meaning.

I would HIGHLY encourage all of you to go out and pick up this book. I didn’t find it to be overly sad, but it did present some hard facts of life that many people have to face. It’s been added to my all time favorites list, and I can’t imagine the book that would bump it off.

Until Next Time World…