May 2017: Round-up

I had my last day of work on Wednesday, which means I’m free to pursue all sorts of other activities now. Like laying in bed all day reading. Drinking Spritzers on the lake. Finding ways to avoid working on all the projects I told myself I’d catch up on once I was free.

June will be a bittersweet month for me. It’s my last month in Austria! What waits for me back home? (Probably reverse culture shock, tbh. I’ve been in Austria since Fall of 2015 for the most part.)

I read a lot of heartbreaking books this month… I don’t want to highlight them because of potential spoilers but WOW some major character deaths affected me. I’m determined to escape to happier books for a while–only light-hearted romantic comedies from here on out! (I saw, binge watching a bunch of dark True Crime documentaries)…

For someone who doesn’t read historical fiction or care that much about Jack the Ripper I enjoyed Stalking Jack the Ripper a surprising amount. Noteworthy is the “She’s the Man” and “Pitch Perfect” mashup we didn’t deserve but were gifted with anyway and The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet soothed my itchiness to play Mass Effect…a bit.

not pictured: Blood for Blood (Ryan Graudin)

Best of May 2017: The Upside of Unrequited by Becky Albertalli

I could sing praises for this book until I lost my voice but my singing is terrible so I’ll stick to just sharing a few reasons why Upside was one of the best books I’ve read this year. Albertalli manages to cram so much into this book without it feeling forced. The representation in this book! The amount of times I laughed!

But, I mean the greatest appeal for me in Upside is the main character. Molly openly discusses how it feels to be a fat teenage girl–the way others think of your body, the way people talk about your body, and all the other ways in which people try to police you. Molly doesn’t hate her body but she’s aware of how others may view it. I was so happy to see a character who lived in this space of body acceptance in a way that doesn’t diminish the struggles that young people face even when they don’t think they need to change their bodies.

I think there are a lot of people will find bits and pieces of themselves in Molly. In her wavering confidence, in how it felt to be a teenager looking for their first relationship, and in the friendships in the book. It also has some of the best repartee dialogue that’s just so snappy.

Worst of May 2017: Everything, Everything by Nicola Yoon

The City & The City sure dodged the Worst of the Month bullet because it was sitting in that position until the end of the month… but I wrote about my feelings for it already so I chose a different book for the slot.

Honestly my main problem with this book is the ending. It’s struggle to figure out how to express this without spoilers but I’m going to give a spoiler warning for stuff under the line even though I’m not going to really be that explicit.

Aside from the plot, I found the writing to be kind of vague and unsatisfying. One of the main criticisms levied by a bunch of people at Upside is that the MC is only obsessed with her crushes and having a boyfriend. But Everything, Everything suffers from this…worse? After the LI is introduced the entire narrative narrows down to only the interactions between those two characters. Many times the MC talks about how her LI is basically her whole world and reason she wishes to live. I’m not sure why Upside was targeted for this and not Everything, except an uncomfortable suspicion that there’s a stronger standard for fat characters to have ‘other interests’ than love.

It feels like there’s so little to the MC outside of her relationship with her LI. All the other facets of her life vanish.


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I thought it was really unfortunate how the representation on this story turned at the end. I think there are people with illnesses  (sort of) like the MC in this book that would have liked to see themselves in the story only for it to turn out the way it did in the end. It cheapened the narrative, IMO.

2016: Round-up Part 2

One of the bonuses of only working a 13-hour week is that you have a lot of time to cultivate a hobby. We say that about our copious spare time, “It’s a good year to pick up a hobby!” with a sort of nervous, giddy humor because at any moment we’re waiting for the Austrian government to realize it’s made a massive mistake in regards to the amount it pays us for how many hours we’re committed to the youths.

I swear we’re not running a con.

Here are books 26-50 of 2016.

 

26. Claimed (Evangeline Anderson): I wrote a blog post about this here. Another Alien Romance Kindle book that I read on my quest to try to find a book that would satisfy the dream of Alien/Human relationships that the game Mass Effect planted in me like a hungry tapeworm that’s sucking me of nutrients for as long as it goes unfed. Unfortunately, no aliens in alien romance books seem to look like aliens? Why is this? Did Bioware not tell the erotic fiction community of writers on Amazon that people don’t really seem to be at all disturbed by romances with aliens that look like bird dinosaurs?

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“all of our fans need to have a conversation with the lord” -Bioware, probably

 

27. I, Robot (Isaac Asimov): My first Asimov, my first steps into classic sci-fi. I plan on writing a longer post about this, but I’m really disappointed by how Asimov wrote the female protagonist of this book. Sure, the philosophy of A.I. in this book is fascinating, but women, especially women scientists, deserve better.

28. The Earl’s New Bride (Frances Fowlkes): Uh…it has a beautiful cover. I gave it 2 stars so probably skip it?

29. Darkfever (Karen Marie Moning): The Fever series is going straight on the top of my list of Problematic Faves. The problems are rampant (alpha male aggression being viewed as romantic and sexual assault as a plot device are a couple) so I would preface any recommendation for these books with that warning. With that out of the way though, this is an urban fantasy that is so engrossing it’s hard to think of anything else once you’ve started it because of the cliff hangers and the compelling devastation of the story. If you want a story about faeries where they are cruel, manipulative, and engaged in destructive conflict with each other, this might be the book for you. The five books of the series also have a satisfactory ending that winds up all the loose ends and answers all the questions that have been burning post the first book, which is a prime achievement for a series.

30. Bloodfever (Karen Marie Moning): I don’t think there’s been many series where I tore through all the books so quickly. Waiting for book 5 to come off of wait list at the library for a week and a half was so torturous I almost bought it…

31. Faefever (Karen Marie Moning): see Darkfever

32. Dreamfever (Karen Marie Moning): see Darkfever

33. Tithe (Holly Black): Reading Moning’s story about messed up faeries sent me back to reread my favorite YA story about disturbing faeries. Tithe is one of my favorite YA books—it’s mucky like a swamp at night with the magic of fireflies sprinkled about the dark trees. The book, with a deeply flawed cast, is damp, slimy, grimy, and dripping with 34magic.

34. Iron Kissed (Patricia Briggs): Every time I read one of these books I think I’m never coming back, but then I do.

35. Shadowfever (Karen Marie Moning): I didn’t perish from this wait, but I almost did.

36. Sphere (Michael Crichton): This book features important topics such as a man bemoaning the lack of coconut cake in his life. In all seriousness, I’m a fan of this book more than the movie even though they got Samuel L. Jackson in the cast. It treats the main female character better than the movie. Favorite idea out of this book: alien life might not be mortal and thus not understand the concept of morality as we do. So GOOD!

37. Love Letters to the Dead (Ava Dellaria): This book had no love letters to love of my life Friedrich Nietzsche, 0/10

38. A Court of Thorns and Roses (Sarah J. Maas): Since this is so popular on the internet and showered in praise already, I’ll hold back on spouting about it as well. Love it though!

39. Bone Crossed (Patricia Briggs): For real, I think this is the last Mercy Thompson book I read…

40. Beyond the Highland Mist (Karen Marie Moning): Hot advice for aspiring writers—go read some of the first books one of your favorite authors ever wrote and weep at how much they have improved. It’ll give you confidence! (This book was TERRIBLE but hey, Moning, you got better!)

41. Dog Songs (Mary Oliver): The fact that Oliver gathered an entire volume of poetry on her love of dogs shows how great of a human being she is and that you should obviously read this volume.

42. Dark Places (Gillian Flynn): My favorite Flynn book! I’ve read all of them so I can say that. I learned about the mania of Satanism that swept through psychology and how people treated children they thought were falling victim to these practices so the setting of Dark Places immediately delighted me. The wonderfully researched backdrop of these events fits so well with the plot. One of those books where all the characters are terrible 43people, which is Good™.

43. Seeing Stars (Simon Armitage): There’s a poem in this collection about sperm whales that haunts me.

44. Anti-Education: On the Future of Our Educational Institutions (Friedrich Nietzsche): If you’re interested at all in how education systems should work, read this book. Nietzsche warns against specialization because he fears the breakdown in communication between fields. Basically, Nietzsche is a pro-liberal arts education fellow.

45. To Tame a Highland Warrior (Karen Marie Moning): The writing will get there someday…

46. Ancillary Justice (Ann Leckie): OHHHH BOY. Not to spoil anything, but this trilogy was on my top ten list of the year. It felt so liberating and exhilarating to read a book where gender as a concept was archaic and be faced with my own desire to know the genders of characters anyway. Add on top of that a story that involves an A.I. adapting to being an individual, a political struggle of an entity against itself, and an aristocratic nose 46that won’t quit, I’ll be hollering about this book until my death. It’s hard to succinctly summarize this trilogy but it made me love science-fiction passionately.

47. Soulless (Gail Carriger): I’m actually a little bitter about this book because it provided the perfect opportunity in the world-building to have an asexual main character and instead she just ups and marries a werewolf so like…what was the point, I ask you? Plus, it had that Regency inspired setting that I love so yeah, basically let down of the year probably.

48. Princess of the Midnight Ball (Jessica Day George): The prose of this book was in the style of a traditional fairy-tale, which didn’t really do it for me. But a decent read, if you’re into fairy-tale retellings.

49. Brave New World (Aldous Huxley): Check out why Bernard Marx is a fuckboy here. Utopia or Dystopia, you know? If you really think about it…

50. Sabriel (Garth Nix): Really solid fantasy read. I’m not sure what else to say about it? Nix is really good at world-building and I’m also glad that the romance in this took a definite back seat, allowing the female main character to have a purpose more than True Love™. Read if you love necromancy!

 

April 2017: Round-up

It was supposed to be the edge of summer and yet, while I was at Strobl am Wolfgangsee in late April, we got one last snowfall. Excellent! There was a grand total of two of us who were happy about that, but I’m glad to delay the summer heat for a weekend. Though, maybe the strange weather impaired my decision making ability because I drank some water from the See. I’m waiting at any moment for illness.

Yes, it’s been a good changing of the seasons so far here in southern Austria…

As for the reads? I only made it through 14 books this month but I toppled a couple of longer books like Fall of Hyperion, which left me in a week long daze where I was unable to do anything but stare at the ceiling and listen to “Man Who Sold the World” by David Bowie on repeat, so there’s that.

Hunted is a great fairy tale retelling of Beauty and the Beast, complete with my favorite aesthetic of a castle surrounded by endless snowfall. Mary Roach continues to be the dream researcher with Grunt, confronting poor professions with all the questions about inappropriate topics we want to know but are too embarrassed to ask.

Best of April 2017Fall of Hyperion by Dan Simmons

The competition for best book this month was steep. I have a piece on He, She & It by Marge Piercy coming on Monday and Here I Am by Jonathon Safran Foer is a direct fit for me when it comes to the topic of differences between generations and how they define their identities. Unfortunately for these two books, though, I finished the second book in Dan Simmon’s Hyperion cantos and lost my damn mind. Hyperion/Fall of Hyperion farcasted straight to the top of my favorite books of all time list, so I’m obligated to give it the best of award for this month.

At the end of every chapter as I read this book I ended up mouthing “oh my god.” That’s how good this book is. The themes, each one complex enough to deserve its own essay, include: the destructive nature of tourism, A.I. becoming self aware, the stagnant state of evolution of the human genome, religion and sacrifice, the nature of poetry, destroying humanity to save the world, metal death creatures, time travel, the insignificance of the human race in the universe, what would happen if we could resurrect poets who died young and give them all the memories of their life to see if they would continue creating work, and putting your middle fingers up at whatever God you believe in.

For all that, it might be strange to say that there are parts of this book that are genuinely funny and had me laughing in between the continual “oh my god”s. The last fatline squirt is one of the most delightful lines of literature and lives up to the delight that the name ‘fatline squirt’ already is.

If I don’t stop now, I never will, but before I get to the Worst of April, I’m going to listen to “Man Who Sold the World” and dip into a fugue state for a while.

Worst of April 2017: Empress of a Thousand Skies by Rhoda Belleza

I crossed out the Worst because I don’t think this book is bad, I was just disappointed by aspects of it. Empress has a lot of positive qualities–a diverse cast, space travel, dramatic murder politics, and a fun robot friend. The world-building in the universe is intriguing, I’ll be thinking about the implications of having memory completely tied up in a computer in our heads for a while, for example, and Belleza created cultures that feel intricate and well founded.

Unfortunately, all of this good stuff is bogged down by pacing problems. I believe this series is going to be a duo-logy, but for once in my life I’m going to say that instead of editing down, this book should have been expanded. All of the events in this book happen so fast. They’re good events! I want to read more about them! Plenty of scenes deserved more time than they were given and the backstories of characters were provided but in intense, brief injections.

Sometimes the plot would leap forward and characters would relate a lot of stuff that happened in the time leap with a sentence or two, all of which just made me wish I had been able to read that full scene instead of hearing about it in retrospect.

It’s a compliment to the story that Belleza has written that I actually wanted more time with it and I’m looking forward to the second book in the series as well as work from her in the future.

(I’m cutting off David Bowie to save me from myself.)

2016: Round-up Part 1

Year round-ups are some of my favorite blog posts to write, not just for the obvious reasons (having an overview of my reading accomplishments, giving the books that deserve a shout out a shout out, reminiscing on new favorite books and authors) but also because I get to play the game of stretching my memory to try to remember anything about some of the bland books I read.

It’s the bland ones you have to watch out for. If a book is terrible, I tend to remember it because rage is great fuel for memory, but when something is as bland as the weird chickpea puff chip balls that my roommate accidently bought because she thought they were chickpeas, I’m hard pressed to remember anything. Even the main character’s name.

Those weird chickpea things are actually a great analogy, because even though they tasted like absolutely nothing, we kept eating them until they became stale after sitting on the table for roughly three weeks just like how I keep reading books and promptly forgetting them when they have nothing to offer me. Also, no, I don’t know what those chickpea things really were, Austria is a strange place.

One of my big goals for the year was reading non-fiction. I started at one a month but I loved it so much I ended up reading more than that. Didn’t see that one coming.

  1. The People Look like Flowers at Last (Charles Bukowski): My favorite story about this is that someone on my Facebook asked me when I posted the photo of the book whether this was the same guy who wrote Perks of Being a Wallflower. I’m just going to leave that there.
  2. Never Courted, Suddenly Wed (Christie Caldwell): See, two books in and we’re already at a book I remember close to nothing about. I could be completely wrong, but I think there’s a line in this book about gardening being an illicit activity that made me chuckle. Do I remember the MC’s name? Nope, but I gave it 3 stars so I’m assuming it was inoffensive. EDIT: Damn! I looked at my 2015 year in review and actually, the gardening line is from Caldwell’s other book, Forever Betrothed, Never the Bride, so I suggest you go read that one instead. (You don’t have to read very far, that line is maybe in the first chapter). EDIT p2: I found a document in my blog folder called “books 2016” and I opened it up to find the gem below. Unbelievable.

    Screenshot 2017-04-26 19.04.57

    some things never change

  3. Dead Until Dark (Charlaine Harris): Wow this books series is so poorly written. The prose is terrible. I’m not sure if it was from this one, but there’s an iconic line in this series that goes something like “That’s fascinating,’ Eric said, sounding fascinated.” Yikes. I’d say just go watch True Blood instead.
  4. The Play (Karina Halle): This modern romance features a lot of dogs and loving dogs, so I’d recommend it for that reason alone with the caveat that the romance was a little dicey/bordering on too aggressive for me at times. But…dogs…
  5. Guy in Real Life (Steve Brezenoff): This book had one of those endings where, while the rest of the book is somewhat believable, it detaches from reality. What the end being completely off the rails was aiming for, I have no clue, but it wasn’t well executed. I’ve said this before (and before and before) but why do books targeted at “geeks” tend to attack “geek” culture at the same time? It’s alienating to the audience that you pulled in by advertising it as a book about them. Reminded me of The Improbable Theory of Ana and Zak in those ways.6
  6. Surely You’re Joking, Mr. Feynman! (Richard Feynman): Growing up, this is probably one of the books I heard referenced the most in our household. The anecdote where Feynman talks about ferrying ants around on paper boats for an afternoon is top quality content.
  7. The DUFF (Kody Keplinger): I wrote a longer blog post about this here.
  8. Oedipus Rex (Sophocles): Why, you ask, am I reading this play, as I’ve surely read it multiple times throughout my education? Good question! Oedipus Rex would not have been on the top of my list of plays I enjoyed learning about (the line where he says “my daughters, no, my sisters!” is a good reason why) but seeing Antigone performed in Vienna was on my itinerary so I went back and read not only Rex but the two other plays that survived from that cycle. My conclusion was that it is a shame we don’t teach Oedipus at Colonus along with Rex because it addresses interesting philosophical questions that are raised in the first play. For example: is Oedipus responsible for his wrongs if he committed them in ignorance? Who has the right to judge him? And so on.
  9. Living Dead in Dallas (Charlaine Harris): My love of True Blood kept me trucking on when I should have pulled the emergency break and gone off to get a coffee instead because even greasy gas station coffee would be more pleasant than reading this book. (Harris has sold a lot of books, so I can say that, right? She’s not hurting. You do you, Harris. Thanks for True Blood).
  10. Vampire Academy (Richelle Mead): In what sounds like a fake story but is true, my psychology professor told me to read these books (she also told me to watch The Vampire Diaries. She used clips from that show to highlight verbal product placement “So I looked it up on Bing”). This series is way better than it has any right to be!!! It’s so entertaining! Dang it! I ended up buying all of these books, from used book stores, but still. I wanted it to be terrible so I could mock it as much as I did Harris’ books. If you couldn’t tell, I am deeply resentful that I enjoyed these.11
  11. Lingo (Gaston Dorren): If you like linguistics, you’ll like this. My favorite word that I learned from this book is vrtíčkar—“strictly speaking no more than a hobby gardener, but the word also suggests that the person is more interested in drinking beer with other vrtíčkars that in growing vegetables and flowers.” That’s such a good word! It throws shade and describes a type of behavior so well at the same time.
  12. The Final Empire (Brandon Sanderson): This book makes a lot of lists with titles like “best system of magic.” Magic in this book is all about using metal inside your body to various effects, and the world-building around that is really robust. But what Mistborn should be praised for more than the magic system is the way it subverts the Evil Ruler is Evil for Evil’s Sake trope, by creating an antagonist that is maybe the most interesting character in the book. Mistborn is sold as a book that imagines a world where the hero of prophecy failed but it goes more in depth than that might lead someone who has read a lot of cliché fantasy to read. That being said, I have a hard time recommending this book because I think it has some pacing problems in the middle—it moves sloooow.
  13. Frostbite (Richelle Mead): see Vampire Academy
  14. Oedipus at Colonus (Sophocles): see Oedipus Rex
  15. Juliet Immortal (Stacey Jay): Books by Stacey Jay are consistently off the rails bonkers. They’re wild and weird and confuse the heck out of me, but like spinning around on a spin chair when you’ve had a lot to drink, I kind of like it. Keep on making me stumble around, dizzy and befuddled, Jay, keep on. Recommended if you like Romeo and Juliet but not so much that an interpretation with the above-mentioned effect would make you feel like the source material is being violated.
  16. Someone Else’s Fairytale (E.M. Tippetts): Do you like the trope where the super famous actor/singer/celebrity falls in love with Average™ person? This book is for you! I mean that in all seriousness, it’s a very sweet story without any alpha male buffoonery and the main characters are endearing. I gave this little gem 4/5 stars because so few romance novels have men who aren’t POS and bought a copy on my Kindle in case I ever had a craving for a chocolate chip cookie story when life is grim.
  17. Antigone (Sophocles): Antigone is a feminist queen of classic literature and I want her to be recognized as such. The production I saw of the play was modern (and in German) with an Antigone that screamed about the patriarchy with such unbridled rage that I can only sit here and sigh, satisfied.14
  18. Leaves of Grass (Walt Whitman): I wrote a longer post about this book here. Whitman’s poetry was the most unexpected read of 2016 for me because I went into the book expecting to hate it. I did, at times, hate Whitman, grass, boats, poetry, and how anyone let the man put out a 600 page volume of poetry. However, recent political events have made Whitman’s poetry all the more important to read because he has a vision of America that is so fervent and so good that it makes me hate the country less and hate where people have taken it (compared to where we could have taken it) more. Whitman will be one of the first authors I bring up in the future when it comes to authors that capture the American spirit. He really did, from sea to shining sea (and buff, handsome dock workers). More amusingly, check out this Top Ten list I made for things Whitman wants to have carnal relations with.
  19. Shadow Kiss (Richelle Mead): see Vampire Academy
  20. Lolita (Vladimir Nabokov): Oh, Lolita. This is one of those books I don’t want to discuss with many people because it has the common problem of being interpreted as being sympathetic to H.H., despite the fact that the book opens with a PSA that H.H. is deplorable. I’ve read so many reviews/articles/opinions on this book. Responding to one criticism, Lolita has been attacked for giving Lo no character traits, no voice, no personhood. To me, this is where the genius of Lolita lies. Lo is described and conceptualized by H.H., it’s his memoir, after all, and the fact that he strips her of her personhood is vital to that narrative. She is silent because she has been silenced. Her breakdowns, which H.H. finds puzzling, are enough to show the reader that there is a person in there. Lolita is a portrait of how twisted men’s perception of women (or girls) can become and, to that degree, it reduces Lo to H.H.’s fantasy. To attack the novel for doing this is to ignore the purpose of this reduction. There’s no essay from me incoming on Lolita because there’s such a rich body of literature on it already, but I had to get this one thought out there since it’s been bothering me.
  21. New and Selected Poems (Mary Oliver): A recommendation from a friend who majored in poetry, this volume tipped the scales on how I feel about the genre as a whole. Having never had a class on poetry, I’m not good at interpreting or talking about it, but I love Oliver’s work. There’s a deep peacefulness to her poems that takes me straight to the feeling of hiking through the woods or in national parks. Oliver’s poems have been a balm to painful rash of feelings the election broke out. She’s my go-to author when it comes to recommending poetry to people who don’t have a lot of history in reading the genre now.
  22. Abandon (Meg Cabot): According to Goodreads, I’ve read 36 books by Meg Cabot. Nostalgia is so strong when it comes to Cabot as The Princess Diaries were some of the first books I remember loving and reading and rereading. Despite books like Abandon, I just can’t abandon Cabot. Skip this one though (yikes).
  23. Double Cross: The True Story of the D-Day Spies (Ben Macintyre): Here it is, the book that convinced me non-fiction was a genre for me. There are so many highlights in this book that I have nowhere to begin. There’s the guy that biked with a canoe on his head…the fact that one of the spies demanded the British government buy him chocolate for his health…that Garbo had a degree in chicken farming…the various plans for Pigeons…how bad German spies were at infiltrating England…oh it just is the gift that keeps on giving. I also made this fun tag-yourself-as-the-D-Day-Spies post.

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    INCREDIBLE

  24. Underworld (Meg Cabot): I know this is the sequel to Abandon but I have no memory as to how it ends. There were a lot of scenes in graveyards…
  25. The Body Finder (Kimberly Derting): A good, solid, YA rec for anyone who likes books like Fingerprints, Wake, or mysteries being solved with supernatural abilities as a niche genre. The idea of bodies having a unique aura after death has really stuck with me. It’s a simple enough plot device but it is used well in the narrative.

 

 

Wow. That was a lot for one post, I know, but I read 178 books in 2016! If I don’t do 25 books a post, will I ever get done??? (Will I ever get done anyway…is the question…)

The plan is to intersperse these round-up posts with regular content. I’m still looking at creating a schedule, so I’ll post that when I get it figured.

Xx

Von G

July 2016 Round-up

VonG: Another late post (oops) and my excuse this time is that I was busy enjoying the suffocating humid heat of the great state of Virginia, drinking sweet tea and swatting mosquitoes. Real talk: people who live in humid areas scare me because I am weak and spent all my time sitting about two feet from an air conditioner complaining. For us desert residing folk, states where the majority of plants are green is always a novelty, so I also spent a lot of time walking around barefoot on actual living, plush grass. Remarkable.

In order to make up for my slacking last month, I outdid myself and read a whole 27 books in the summer heat. Doing nothing but sitting in front of the air conditioner probably helped the cause as well.

Nothing beats reading a trashy romance novel on the beach though, and I’m glad I was able to achieve my summer dreams. Other than that, it was a lot of YA this month! I have a friend pressuring me to read historical fiction, which I’m a little bleh on, but the sub-genre of “historical fiction focusing on woman’s right with a flavor of fantasy” is actually pretty alright (shout out to The Cure for Dreaming). I’m actually coming completely around on non-fiction, which is one of the biggest shocks of my life, but both Gulp and Rabid played perfectly into my interest in science and culture so it looks like I’ll be reading more than just one non-fiction per month as planned. My family did not enjoy being regaled with tales of the digestive system or the effects of rabies, unfortunately.

Best of July:  The Rest of Us Just Live Here by Patrick Ness

How do you pick one book out of 27 for this? There are lot of close runner-ups, but I am so in love with this book that I have to give the place of honor to it. I’ve been a fan of Ness ever since I stayed up until 3 AM to finish The Knife of Never Letting Go and this latest book has the perfect combination of elements that makes Ness so appealing to me as an author. All of the characters are genuine, both in their flaws and their hopes. Ness treats teenagers with respect and it shows in the characterization–they never come off as vapid or ridiculous. The beginning of each chapter, which is a short blurb on the “indie” kids who are busy saving the world while the rest of the cast is just trying to get by are delightful. While they satirize YA fantasy, it isn’t mocking and Ness’ ability to play on the tropes he jokes about can only come from someone who enjoys the genre. This book includes the sentence “his lips taste of honey and vegan patchouli” so you know it’s going to be good. The story focuses on friendship, which I’m always weak for, not just romance and has a diverse cast.

Worst of July: Dirty Rush by Taylor Bell

I have a lot of feelings in regards to Greek Life. I will leave my soapbox alone, but I will say that I have had less than a stellar experience with them. Dirty Rush is sort of presented with the pretense that you’ll understand better the bonds of Greek Life by reading it but it sort of just confirmed all of my bad feelings towards the culture. To be clear, I’m not trying to drag any and all Greek houses through the mud. Maybe there are places across the country where a campus exists free of Greek-related hazing, harassment, and tragedy. I’m not sure. But until the vestiges of degradation and misogyny are purged from the culture, I can’t be behind it. So this whole book made me uncomfortable (I read it for a book club but otherwise I wouldn’t have finished it.)

June 2015 Round-up

Von G: The delay on this post can fully be blamed on holiday living, by which I mean I spent most of my time either consuming food or in a food coma. The good news is that a good old American hamburger from the grill is just as tasty as I remember. We still served Bratwurst with Sauerkraut though because who am I kidding.

The temperatures soared during June, meaning my hiding in the basement could be labeled as “staying cool” instead of “avoiding human contact.” Haha. Parameters. Playing 5 hours of Fallout 4 a day and having an out of state guest staying with me could hardly dampen my reading pace (it did though, my numbers are dismal), so here’s a review of the fantabulous books I read during the heat wave.

It was a month of great variation since it includes a book of Hungarian poetry I bought whilst in Budapest (I’m so glad I’m the type of person that can type that sentence, fight me) to some alternative historical fiction that I would have never read if it weren’t for that book club I’m in. I continued my journey with classic sci-fi with Hyperion  and I’ll never be the same. I don’t know what kind of guy Dan Simmons is, but his weirdo mind had one of his characters accidentally getting intimate with an alien metal death monster, so I’m with him.

Best of JuneHyperion by Dan Simmons

It’s 2016 and not only have I read and enjoyed Walt Whitman, I’m saying a book that has a structure reflective of The Canterbury Tales is my favorite read of the month.(Side note: *** The Canterbury Tales, it’s a crime that high school students are forced to read a book that ISN’T FUNNY because it’s so incredibly ARCHAIC that the teacher has to stop the class every five minutes to explain the references. How is that a fun reading experience? ****) I was worried that Hyperion would be too convoluted to follow since it dives headfirst into the story, but after I persevered through my initial confusion, I fell in love. Each pilgrim has a distinctive voice (the film noir section was my favorite) and story that weaves together into the overall mystery of the demonic, unforgiving, inexplicable Shrike. Short stories aren’t really my thing, but the knowledge I had going into each story that it would wind back around to the rest of the pilgrims and the purpose of their journey created a rope that pulled me through the whole book. It’s an achievement of style and structure, and I can’t stop talking about it. Too bad about that CLIFFHANGER THOUGH. (I bought the second book. Dan Simmons doesn’t care about me or my wallet.)

 

Worst of June: Wicked Appetite by Janet Evanovitch

I honestly feel like I’m punching myself in the stomach here, that’s how much I love Janet Evanovitch. Stephanie Plum is a personal hero for me and, before now, Evanovitch never failed to fill those books with memorable, hilarious, and endearing side characters, a plot that was grim but nevertheless riotous, and because of that, pretty much earned herself a place on the shelf of authors I worship. I can honestly say I have never laughed so embarrassingly loud in public as when I read Stephanie Plum books. So you can imagine my excitement going into this series. AND IT WAS A COMPLETE LET DOWN. The characters (aside from Glo, she’s exempt because I relate to her) are underdeveloped and too vague to be interesting, the humor wasn’t funny (????) and the plot was weak and uninteresting. I’m not sure what happened. Maybe you can just never reach the pinnacle of creative humor that was Stephanie Plum. I know I would have been scared to try.

S/O to the beautiful covers this month, esp Wolf by Wolf and Jackaby

May 2016 Round-Up

So May was a damn, damn good reading month for me – 39 books in 31 days. How did I not learn about audiobooks before this month? Why didn’t anyone tell me? Did you know that you could read while you combed your hair or buttered your bagel? Because you can and it’s magical. What did I even do prior to audiobooks – just sit in silence while I brushed my teeth and drove to work? What a plebeian.

Anyway, this month was overall  a good month – I think most of the books I read were a three-star or higher. But boy, did one anticipated read come up and bite me in the ass hard.

5654c4968d9b1-imageBest of May: Saturn Run by John Sandford and Ctein

I’m still not over this book, so forgive me if I come off a bit twitterpated here. So I love hard science fiction – like please, tell me your course trajectory in detail and explain to me how you’re going to use Jupiter’s gravity to increase your acceleration. The one issue with hard science fiction is that it has a lot of straight white dudes doing the scienceing, but that’s not the case in Saturn Run. Not only are almost all of the main cast women, but they’re women of color and non-heterosexual women. The captain of the ship is a lesbian woman of color who just happens to be considered the best captain the United States has to offer. The lead engineer is a plain, overweight woman who consistently quips that she would murder any man stupid enough to try and belittle her. There is no storyline of these women overcoming adversity to reach these positions, there are no scenes where they struggle with male crew members questioning their competence – they are just the best at what they do and everyone respects them accordingly. Holy. Shit. HOLY SHIT. These are the kinds of characters I want to see in science fiction. It also doesn’t hurt that Sandford and Ctein write a compelling plot with spot-on pacing that allows these women to show just what they can do either. While the ending was a bit mellow for my tastes and I’m surprised that there’s no apparent sequel given that it leaves a few loose ends, Saturn Run is worth it alone to watch these two stomp on the backs of men.

Worst of MayDark Orbit by Carolyn Ives Gilmandarkorbit

Similarly, I am still not over this book, but for far different reasons. I had heard such good things about Dark Orbit from people whose opinion I respected, but there was hardly anything salvageable here. While I appreciate the initial premise and the story clipped along at a good pace, it all began to dissolve after the first few chapters. So first of all, this is not a science fiction novel. Nothing about this was scientifically feasible at all, even what Gilman was trying to bill as scientific – the amount of processing power it would take to reconstruct a person atom by atom like her interstellar travel system does is unimaginable and she doesn’t even try to explain it. To compensate for this, she dives into the metaphysical by having characters meditate and use the power of the mind to travel
between the stars. No. Stop it. Even if we concede that her science works because whatever-the-fuck, the crux of the book’s tension – the machine that enables said travel breaking down – is just completely unbelievable. I’m sorry, but if you’re traveling almost 60 light years, you’re not leaving without duplicate parts. We don’t even go to our own fucking moon without parts in triplicate. We keep a spare fucking tire in our cars, for the love of God. And you’re trying to tell me the world’s best and brightest forgot to pack a spare for the most crucial part of their transportation system? No.

It also has some implications regarding women and mental illness the churn my stomach. Gilman plops in a needless comment on the threatened rape of one main character and then states that the other main character finds the constant aggression between her and the head of security sexual appealing. She’s both using sexual violence as a cheap source of character development and implying that sexual violence is arousing, which is disgusting. With the mental illness, it’s implied that one of the main character’s is having her destiny and psychic powers denied to her by doctors who are prescribing her anti-psychotic drugs. She is taken off them, realizes her potential, and saves the day. Excuse me, but… what? Did you just imply that it’s a good idea to mistrust doctors and stop taking the incredibly important drugs that stabilizes your mental health? Because it’s not like people stopping their potentially life-saving medication is a problem in the real world or anything.

So done with this book.

May 2016 Round-up

Von G: Summer has officially begun! Because of my sweet gig teaching the youths, the summer months for me are completely free of any real adult responsibility except trying to eat vegetables (putting cucumber in my water counts right? because a. it makes me feel fancy and b. is delicious) and not drop my new phone.

What are my plans for summer? I actually intend to re-enact the scene from Dune when Maud’dib rides the Sand Worm by traveling to Sand Dunes National Park and running down sand dunes screaming about Shai-Hulud and how Fear is the Mind Killer. That’s a perfectly normal summer activity right? Up there with grilling and drinking lemonade.

It should also be said that I have never related to a character more in my life than Mark Watney from The Martian, who handles every horrible disaster in his life with a “fuck it” attitude and potatoes.

But before I do that, here’s a review of all the sweet books I read in May.

Best of May: A Court of Mist and Fury by Sarah J. Maas

May turned into a month of anticipated sequels for me. A Court of Thorns and Roses was my top book in March and the sequel was probably the most anticipated new release I’ve ever had. Maas did not disappoint. I have no idea exactly how she managed to top one of my favorite books of the year with a book I liked even more. It’s hard for sequels to even match the first book, let alone exceed it. But she did. Mist and Fury continues the story of the first book with elegance, excitement, and a daring twist of perception of the events of Thorns and Roses. I wouldn’t call it a plot twist, rather Maas slowly reveals how understanding can completely reverse the perception of events and their meaning to the person who experienced them. I am honestly blown away by how carefully this reveal was built up and tended to. Maas doesn’t shy away from treating topics like depression and abuse and manages to tend to them with the delicate care they need to not seem like convenient plot devices to motivate character actions. She gives the trauma the time it deserves, when most writers have their characters bouncing back from unbelievable trauma quickly and without emotional scars. I cannot stop singing the praises of this series and the talent of Maas as a writer.

Worst of May: Glass Sword by Victoria Aveyard

On the other hand, my anticipation for the sequel to Red Queen was met with something that kind of resembled lukewarm, congealed oatmeal without brown sugar to my palate. Aveyard went the completely wrong direction in this sequel, and I’m not sure what happened except the possibility that she watched X-men First Class and decided that was what her book really needed as a plot. Not the cool parts of X-men First Class, mind you (like Fassbender’s beautiful face), but the part where they jet around collecting mutants. Glass Sword dragged—and jetting around picking up new X-men New Bloods, just wasn’t thrilling enough. Add to that the main character’s hard swerve into brutality that wasn’t supported by enough of a catalyst, making it jarring, and the whole book was a confused mess tonally. It’s really too bad, because I thought Red Queen had a lot of promise (and far better character development).

 

April 2016 Round-Up

VonG: I’m sorry, isn’t February supposed to be the short month? Where did April go? All I have is vague memories of eating gelato, baking in the sun (despite my strict avoidance standards, I was wrangled into “being social” and “getting Vitamin D” and “leaving your room for once in your life”), and watching it blizzard. Yes. That’s right. Blizzard. With lightning and thunder. If that isn’t some end of the world type weather, I don’t know what is. Shout out to Swan Song for coincidentally fitting this weather exactly, even though in the book it’s caused by a nuclear apocalypse.

With T-minus one month to returning to my home country, I’m spending my valuable time here doing what I do best. Reading.

I don’t think I can cleverly summarize my reading patterns in April, except that there’s still kilts involved…save me. I’ve been slacking on my mission to subject myself to poorly written free e-books which is why there’s been a lack of comics on this blog. Soon. I’ll get back to it soon. A good friend of mine told me to read Swan Song approximately 8 years ago so at least I get to check THAT off my list and tell people that I’m good about reading recommendations that are made to me (they don’t need to know about the time delay hahaha…ah).

 

Best of April: Ancillary Justice by Ann Leckie

You know what this book has that I love? Pretty much everything I could ask for. AI. Calling out of the ridiculousness of gender norms. Space. Aliens. A grand story of political intrigue framed by focusing on the relationships of an individual character. AI learning about ~friendship~ and ~love~. Yes, this book has both ALIENS* and AI forming meaningful attachments to people. Ann Leckie, you shouldn’t have. On a deeper note, the subversive use of a society that doesn’t recognize gender to the extreme that there are no male/female pronouns is wonderfully disorientating. Gender is a crutch to our understanding of a character and Leckie denies it to us. This book probably has the fewest male pronouns I’ve ever encountered (as the main character defaults to feminine pronouns) and I LIKE IT. It made me uncomfortable with how much I rely on knowing a character’s gender and it forced me to take on the point of view of the main character in an immersive way. Leckie also manages to write about an AI’s experience through a couple thousand bodies in a way that captures the massive flow of constant information without it being too choppy or confusing. This book ranks easily into the list of my favorite books. I can’t stop thinking about it and I am eagerly awaiting the final book in the trilogy.

Worst of April: Missoula: Rape and the Justice System in a College Town by Jon Krakauer

I’m using the “worst” category loosely again, because Missoula isn’t a bad book. It’s well written and informative (though Krakauer is far from being unbiased, but with such an emotional topic on personal violation it’s hard to be impartial). I’m placing it in this category because the book was hard for me to read. The reality of the commonality sexual assault, especially on college campuses, is an issue that was brought to my attention in my studies but still has the power to shock me. Krakauer does an excellent job of presenting the mistreatment of victims by the court system (from police officers to lawyers) and focusing on the darkest myth of sexual assault: that it takes place most often between strangers. Growing up, women are taught to be afraid of strangers but the majority of sexual assaults are committed by acquaintances. It’s hard, after finishing this book, to not fall back onto the insecure stance of “trust nobody.” Unfortunately, that also seems to include the justice system.

The other unfortunately is that this book will probably be read most by people who are already aware of the problem, when the people who need to read it the most ignore it.

 

*Leckie’s aliens, thankfully, are not space vampires

 

 

March 2016 Round-Up

VonG: Ah it’s that time of year. Spring has sprung and the insects have revived themselves out of whatever pocket dimension of hell they hide in during the winter, to crawl and fly their way into my face at all possible times.

I managed to read 20 books in March (one not pictured because it didn’t have a cover on the e-book I downloaded) and I attribute this enormous bought of reading to my strict avoidance of the sun, now that the great weather of fog and rain has deserted me.

March 2016 was a reading month of robots, murderous fairies, coconut cake, kilts, and disappointing alien romances.

I have to give a shout out to my problematic fav of the month (and probably year), the Fever series by Karen Marie Moning for being my dream kind of urban fantasy with lore that is perfect parts disturbing, richly imaginative, and can’t-put-it-down frustrating. That five day wait to get the final book from the library nearly left me a husk (haha get it? book reference). But it is so, so problematic…

Best of March: Court of Thorns and Roses by Sarah J. Maas

The fairies (or fae, which is a way more hip term) had a good month in books between the Fever series and this gem. I am not familiar with Maas’ Throne of Glass series, so this was an introduction to the author and wow, what an introduction. This is the YA Fantasy that you dream of stumbling upon–complex, well-written characters, a plot with intrigue, an freshly imaginative world, a slip of dark themes, and…a lack of dopey teenage love triangles… This is one of the best YA Fantasy books I’ve read, end stop. You’ll find me, come May 3rd, with my face in the sequel. This kind of enthusiasm for books in a series is unusual for me but I am ready to leap back into the world that Maas has crafted.

Worst of March: Beyond the Highland Mist by Karen Marie Moning

After finishing the Fever series, I decided to check out Moning’s other works, including the romance novels she used to write taking place in Scotland: the Early Years (note that this is a sub-genre of romance novels I don’t have any prior experience in. I sort of knew it was a thing?). Putting this as the worst for the month is done with a tender, understanding touch and lack of burning rage because this book happens to be Moning’s first and what makes it bad is not the plot, characters, or actual writing style, but the problems that tend to be inherent with first novels–in this case, the especially poor pacing that is far too rushed in sections to the point of causing confusion and detracting from the progression of the characters’ motivations and character development. But credit to Moning, ya got better girl.

Maggie: In honor of Women’s History Month, I went full-on lady love in March – every book I read was by a female author, many of them authors of color as well.  I was a bit nervous initially because so much of what I read – science fiction – is authored by white men and I was afraid I wouldn’t be able to find anything quite my speed. Lo and behold, it turns out that March was my best reading month by far with only one book scoring below a three in my rating system. There were so many five star books that I’m actually going to have trouble choosing a favorite.

Best of March: The Sixth Extinction: An Unnatural History by Elizabeth Kolbert

Though it was like pulling teeth trying to decide on a favorite, I finally chose Kolbert’s book about mass extinction because I not only think it’s an important and relevant issue, but because I also think this is going to remain a trend in the fiction I read as well. Climate fiction (cli-fi) is just coming into its own as a genre, but we’ve already seen some powerhouses tackling it – Maragret Atwood in her MaddAddam trilogy, Cixin Liu who won the Hugo award for his novel The Three-Body Problem, and other greats in the speculative literature field. I think works such as Sixth Extinction are important to have as a foundation when you start to venture into this genre, which is really addressing one of the most believable near-future issues humanity is going to face in the next century. Kolbert does such a good job of weaving her argument into a narrative, providing huge amounts of information without her writing feeling like a data dump. It takes a skillful writer to make nonfiction accessible and I’m impressed with her work here.

Worst of March: Flu: The Story of the Great Influenza Pandemic of 1918 and the Search for the Virus that Caused It by Gina Kolata

Even though it was the worst book I read in March, Kolata’s investigation of the virulent influenza that spread at the tail-end of War World I wasn’t horrible – it was just unpolished and not really what I’ve come to expect from nonfiction. She seemed to have a rather small amount of evidence to support a book well over 300 pages, the notes in the back taking up just twenty or so of the books entirety. She also filled the book with irrelevant detail.  I’m not sure if it was her attempt to humanize the story or just an attempt to beef up the page count, but there’s no reason I need to know the childhood stories of the scientists searching for the virus. Tell me where they went to school, tell me what relevant experience they have, and be done with it because in no way does know that one of them enjoyed baseball as a child enhance either the narrative or information for me. Since I was already a bit wary of her credentials and information to begin with, this filler just made me even more cautious of the text. While it read well for the most part and had a strong narrative quality that I appreciate in popular science writing, I just didn’t trust the information she was giving me and that’s a death sentence for a non-fiction book.