Book Roundup: May 2017

NUMBER OF BOOKS READ: 11

NUMBER OF FEMALE AUTHORS VS MALE AUTHORS: Great month for ladies! 9 women (one who wrote two of my books), and 1 male.

NUMBER OF DIVERSE (non-American) SETTINGS: Two travel memoirs that take place all over the world, two fantasies, two set in Europe, and one set in a dystopian near-future America… does that count?

RATINGS SPREAD:  Three 5-star; Two 4-star; Four 3-star; Two 2-star. Interesting spread.

 

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WHAT I READ: A Court of Wings and Ruin (ACOTAR #3) Sarah J. Maas

WHY I READ IT: Duh.

WHAT I THOUGHT: *hearts for eyes* FOREVER.

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WHAT I READ: Into the Water (Paula Hawkins)

WHY I READ IT: Hawkins wrote The Girl On The Train, which I did enjoy.

WHAT I THOUGHT: No, thank you. I generally love this style of book and it was one of the most boring and confusing thrillers I’ve ever read.

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WHAT I READ: Windfall (Jennifer E. Smith)

WHY I READ IT: The author is actually friends with my roommate.

WHAT I THOUGHT: It was cute enough, but there was a lot that had me shaking my head and wishing the author had fleshed it out more.

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WHAT I READ: Heir of Fire (Throne of Glass #3), Sarah J. Maas

WHY I READ IT: Still trying to slug through one of my favorite’s authors beloved series

WHAT I THOUGHT: I like it enough to read the next one, but I still don’t love it NEARLY as much as ACOTAR series. Sorry not sorry!

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WHAT I READ: The Handmaid’s Tale (Margaret Atwood)

WHY I READ IT: I first read it 4 years ago (almost to the day, according to Goodreads) and decided to give it a re-read with the new Hulu show.

WHAT I THOUGHT: Worth the hype.

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WHAT I READAll Over The Place: Adventures in Travel, True Love, and Petty Theft (Geraldine DeRuiter)

WHY I READ IT: I’ve been a big fan of the author’s blog The Everywhereist for years.

WHAT I THOUGHT: Just what I wanted – a quick, breezy afternoon read, but utterly delightful, hilarious, and thoughtful.

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WHAT I READ: Beartown (Fredrik Backman)

WHY I READ IT: Backmann, the author of A Man Called Ove, is one of my favorite authors and an automatic read for me.

WHAT I THOUGHT: Utterly different from his other novels, no one would qualify this book as “feel good” or “whimsical.” Despite the challenging subject matter, I absolutely loved it and this was one of the best books I’ve read this year.

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WHAT I READ: At Home In The World: Reflections on Belonging While Wandering the Globe (Tsh Oxenreider)

WHY I READ IT: I’m always interested in travel writing, particularly with this theme of the pull of being a homebody while also having wanderlust.

WHAT I THOUGHT: As a series of blog posts, I bet this would be great. As a novel with no central theme, it was an incredibly weak read.

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WHAT I READ: First Ladies (Kate Andersen Brower)

WHY I READ IT: The premise – exploring the lives of First Ladies from Jackie Kennedy to Michelle Obama – sounded interesting.

WHAT I THOUGHT: Interesting premise, uneven outcome. It was basically just a series of anecdotes.

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WHAT I READ: The Hate U Give (Angie Thomas)

WHY I READ IT: It’s a very popular contemporary book inspired by the Black Lives Matter movement.

WHAT I THOUGHT: Far smarter people than me have written exhaustively about this book, but I will just say it sunk deep into my bones and I can’t stop thinking about it.

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WHAT I READ: Who Thought This Was a Good Idea? and Other Questions You Should Have Answers To When You Work In The White House (Alyssa Mastromonaco)

WHY I READ IT: I heard the author interviewed on Pod Save America and was intrigued about a memoir written by a woman working in the Obama White House.

WHAT I THOUGHT: The title is terrible, but this was amusing enough to read over a quick two-day period.

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Beartown

I have very few authors who are automatic reads for me – whose books I love so much that I will track their writings and pick up whatever comes next. Sarah J. Maas is becoming one of them, but Fredrik Backman is already there.

I’ve already talked about how much I utterly adore A Man Called Ove, which I maintain is still the perfect book to recommend to people. (And since I first read it a few years ago, it has definitely picked up steam in America – I feel like everyone at work has read it!).

His two other novels and his novella have followed similar strokes as Ove – a grumpy older main character, whimsy, and ultimately a warm, fuzzy feeling at the end (but still delivered in a satisfying, literary way). The reviews for his latest book, Beartown, warned that this novel was a departure from his normal style – and let me tell you, they were not kidding.

Beartown is broadly compared to a Swedish Friday Night Lights – a small town completely obsessed with hockey and that idolizes the teenage boys who are the star players; a town that gets torn apart by a tragedy and exposes what it means to be a community – for good and for evil.

WHAT I READ:

Beartown (Fredrik Backman)

GOODREADS SYNOPSIS:

People say Beartown is finished. A tiny community nestled deep in the forest, it is slowly losing ground to the ever encroaching trees. But down by the lake stands an old ice rink, built generations ago by the working men who founded this town. And in that ice rink is the reason people in Beartown believe tomorrow will be better than today. Their junior ice hockey team is about to compete in the national semi-finals, and they actually have a shot at winning. All the hopes and dreams of this place now rest on the shoulders of a handful of teenage boys.

Being responsible for the hopes of an entire town is a heavy burden, and the semi-final match is the catalyst for a violent act that will leave a young girl traumatized and a town in turmoil. Accusations are made and, like ripples on a pond, they travel through all of Beartown, leaving no resident unaffected.

Beartown explores the hopes that bring a small community together, the secrets that tear it apart, and the courage it takes for an individual to go against the grain. In this story of a small forest town, Fredrik Backman has found the entire world.

HOW IT MADE ME FEEL:

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I don’t want to expose too much about the book or its central tragedy (although it gets foreshadowed fairly often and occurs fairly early in the book) because the unfolding of the plot and its characters was so meaningful to me. I will just say that despite how hard it was to read this book at times and the ugly underbelly of communities it exposed, this book was an amazing read. Highly recommended for anyone looking for a beautifully written book about a heavy topic.

Category: Don’t Even Bother.

While I will forever praise the virtue of the Young Adult novel (just because a novel has a teenage main character doesn’t mean it’s not literary, folks!), I also enjoy a good, pulpy thriller. I’m a huge scaredy cat, but a nice page-turner – especially for someone who travels as much as I do – is sometimes just what the doctor orders to ease painful commutes and travels.

I tend to gobble up the sexy new thriller thing – I’ve recently read The Husband’s Wife, and I LOVE books by Tana French. So, when Paula Hawkins came out with a new book following the success of The Girl On The Train (which I did like), I decided to give it a go.

I’ll stop you right there: don’t even bother reading this book.

WHAT I READ:

Into the Water (Tana French)

SNAPSHOT REVIEW:

On a scale of 1 to 5 POV chapters, I give this 2 weird interchapter interludes.

GOODREADS SYNOPSIS:

A single mother turns up dead at the bottom of the river that runs through town. Earlier in the summer, a vulnerable teenage girl met the same fate. They are not the first women lost to these dark waters, but their deaths disturb the river and its history, dredging up secrets long submerged.

Left behind is a lonely fifteen-year-old girl. Parentless and friendless, she now finds herself in the care of her mother’s sister, a fearful stranger who has been dragged back to the place she deliberately ran from—a place to which she vowed she’d never return.

HOW IT MADE ME FEEL:

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I have so many things I could complain about, but I think the thing I hated the most is that there were SO. MANY. POINTS. OF. VIEW. I find it tricky when authors decide to have POV chapters and, say, two narrators in the book (it’s harder to feel compelled if you are splitting your attention and affections to more than one main character). But I swear to god, this book had at LEAST seven narrators, and that’s just off the top of my head. It took me until WELL past halfway when I was able to keep track of how the characters were connected and who “Josh” was, and by that point I didn’t really give a hoot about what was happening.

I’m still not ENTIRELY sure what the plot was, either. It’s hard when the main “mystery” is treated for the majority of the book by the majority of the characters as a non-mystery – what am I supposed to care about, then?

People, there are so many better thrillers out there. Put down this one. I know, it’s sexy because it says The Girl On the Train on the cover and you want to be up to date with the NYT Bestseller’s List, but I promise you, it isn’t worth it. Go find Tana French instead.

A Country Divided

By coincidence, two pieces of media I recently consumed simultaneously scared the shit out of me (sorry for the cursing, mom, but it’s true). It’s no secret that I’m scared and furious at our current administration and spend most mornings reading the paper while rolling my eyes at their latest lies. No one can know what will come out of this presidency, but a new book and a new TV show do their best to show how a divided country can lead to ruin.

I’m surely not the first person to talk about either of these, but I would recommend not consuming them at the same time because it truly meant a lot of dreary, negative thoughts for me. American War takes place in the latter half of the 21st century (around 2075-2095) in a United States fighting a Second Civil War, with most of the coasts (and Florida – sorry, Florida) flooded due to climate change and the southern states fighting for the right to use now-illegal fossil fuels. As I read this book, I also started watching The Handmaid’s Tale on Hulu. I’m sure there is no need for me to summarize it here, but to be brief it shows a United States that has been toppled by a theocracy and places women in subservient roles in which the “fertile” ones are ceremoniously raped on a monthly basis by high-level men in hopes of producing more children.

So, yeah. As far as The Handmaid’s Tale goes, I’ve been too horrified to watch more than one episode so far, but all signs point to it being an incredible show – at least, incredibly written, directed, and acted; incredibly scary to watch and consider how this could become reality.

As for the book, I am the Cutthroat Reader after all…

WHAT I READ:

American War (Omar Al Akkad)

SNAPSHOT REVIEW:

On a scale of 1 to 5 rebel states, I give this 4 assassins.

GOODREADS SYNOPSIS:

An audacious and powerful debut novel: a second American Civil War, a devastating plague, and one family caught deep in the middle a story that asks what might happen if America were to turn its most devastating policies and deadly weapons upon itself.

Sarat Chestnut, born in Louisiana, is only six when the Second American Civil War breaks out in 2074. But even she knows that oil is outlawed, that Louisiana is half underwater, and that unmanned drones fill the sky. When her father is killed and her family is forced into Camp Patience for displaced persons, she begins to grow up shaped by her particular time and place. But not everyone at Camp Patience is who they claim to be.

Eventually Sarat is befriended by a mysterious functionary, under whose influence she is turned into a deadly instrument of war. The decisions that she makes will have tremendous consequences not just for Sarat but for her family and her country, rippling through generations of strangers and kin alike.

HOW IT MADE ME FEEL:

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To be perfectly frank, I really gave this book 5 stars for concept and 3 stars for execution. As stated above, I love the idea of the book, but found myself at times interested and at times bored by the actual writing. Setting this book up in vignettes had some unfortunate flaws. We see life in pre/mid war border states; life in a refugee camp; a bit of life as a sniper for the rebels; a bit of life in prison; and a bit of life afterwards. But with these bits I never got a full picture of the countries, the war, or life for everyone, and most of it was a bit slow. We are tracing Sarat’s evolution into the North-hating person she becomes, but even with the intense eye focused on her, I didn’t get why she was quite so filled with hate.

I devoured the book and still recommend to others – but I suspect the topic of the book and its timelienesss will elevate it a tad more than it really should be.

Even though I didn’t love American War, I still think this book and The Handmaid’s Tale should be required viewing and contemplation for everyone. A book I was reading this morning struck me with the following line (discussing living as a gay man in modern America):

But you know we’re always going to have to rely on the goodwill of those of you who are straight for our survival. And that’s the damned truth.

This sad and beautiful line keeps sticking in my mind. It’s incredibly true for all marginalized communities – essentially anyone who isn’t a white, cis, straight, white wealthy male in America. The LGBT community, immigrants, lower class, women, non-Christians, etc etc – and all intersections of those groups – are just holding our breaths and crossing our fingers that those in power allow us to hold on to (or obtain) basic human rights like equal marriage, liberty, and the rights to our bodies. And the message of what could happen if those rights are taken away are perfectly captured in these two pieces of art.

Book Roundup: April 2017

NUMBER OF BOOKS READ: 11 (although one is technically a novella)

NUMBER OF FEMALE AUTHORS VS MALE AUTHORS: 9 authors total; 5 men, 4 women.

NUMBER OF DIVERSE (non-American) SETTINGS: 2 set in a fantasy world, 1 set in a ghost world, 1 in Sweden, and 1 in Ethiopia. So, kind of diverse?

RATINGS SPREAD:  Four 5-star books; Two 4-star books; Five 5-star books. At least no clunkers!

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WHAT I READ: Lincoln in the Bardo (George Saunders)

WHY I READ IT: Well-reviewed book that popped up on my radar.

WHAT I THOUGHT: Mostly meh, an over-the-top creative writing exercise.

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WHAT I READThrone of Glass (Sarah J. Maas)

WHY I READ IT: I decided to reread a book by one of my favorite authors that I had read in 2013 and didn’t really love then.

WHAT I THOUGHT: Turns out, I didn’t really love this book now, but I love Maas enough to keep pushing through to the next book in the series!

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WHAT I READAnd Every Morning The Way Home Gets Longer and Longer (Fredrik Backman)

WHY I READ IT: Backman wrote one of my all-time favorites, A Man Called Ove, and my pledge is to read every other thing he’s written. This is a short novella about a young man losing his grandfather to dementia.

WHAT I THOUGHT: Backman makes all of my emotions come out of my eyes, even in a novella I’m able to read in half an hour.

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WHAT I READAll the Single Ladies: Unmarried Women and the Rise of an Independent Nation (Rebecca Traister)

WHY I READ IT: It was one of my bookish resolutions to read more nonfiction!

WHAT I THOUGHT: I would have liked a tad more qualitative research and anecdotes from women and a tad less in the numbers department, but it was an incredibly detailed look at the status of women in American history and where we stand now.

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WHAT I READAristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe (Benjamin Alire Sáenz)

WHY I READ IT: I was literally shamed in book club for not having read it and immediately purchased a copy to remedy.

WHAT I THOUGHT: The hype is real, guys. Absolutely incredible coming-of-age story, beautiful writing.

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WHAT I READMore Happy Than Not (Adam Silvera)

WHY I READ IT: I’m not sure how this ended up on my list, but I read a book by this author a few months ago and really enjoyed it.

WHAT I THOUGHT: Another LGBT coming-of-age story, but totally insane twists I did not expect (and I’m glad I didn’t read the synopsis too closely so I could be surprised).

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WHAT I READ: Crown of Midnight (Sarah Maas)

WHY I READ IT: The next book in the Throne of Glass series.

WHAT I THOUGHT: SO much better than the first. Excellent character development, stakes, and set-up for the next book.

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WHAT I READBlack Dove, White Raven (Elizabeth Wein)

WHY I READ IT: May book club book!

WHAT I THOUGHT: Considering the book love for Wein’s previous works (Code Name Verity, Rose Under Fire) – and how much I particularly loved the latter – this one fell flat for me. Uneven first and second half, not enough character development, and while it was interesting to read about this time period in Ethiopia, it was dull at times.

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WHAT I READAmerican War (Omar Al Akkad)

WHY I READ IT: It’s the hottest new book out now.

WHAT I THOUGHT: 5 stars for concept, 3 stars for execution. The story idea of a Second American Civil War is really interesting (and scary), but this book ebbed and flowed from interesting to dull. So much potential that I’m not sure it quite reached. I feel this book will be lauded because of its sexy concept, but the bones don’t quite match.

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WHAT I READThe Upside of Unrequited (Becky Albertalli)

WHY I READ IT: I loved the author’s last book, Simon vs. The Homo Sapien Agenda

WHAT I THOUGHT: Finished in one day, this book was slightly less interesting than her previous work but still a delight to read and wonderful in its intersectional exploration of teenage life. I particularly love how the author let the protagonist have anxiety and be taking medication (without making a huge deal out of it); it’s so important to normalize it in culture, just like someone having to take medication for something like diabetes or a heart problem.

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WHAT I READThe Inexplicable Logic of my Life (Benjamin Alire Sáenz)

WHY I READ IT: This is the author of Aristotle and Dante.

WHAT I THOUGHT: A wonderful and beautiful read (someone might have teared up on the stationary bike at the gym while reading this, y’all), but ultimately a bit thin compared to his last novel.

And that’s April!

A Tale of Two Books

Completely by coincidence, I read two books this month with remarkably similar set-ups – coming-of-age male LGBTQ characters – back to back. Neither book had really been on my radar, either: I picked up Aristotle and Dante Discover The Secrets of the Universe at a bookstore after getting shamed at book club for not having read it, and the next day decided to pull More Happy Than Not from my local library without really looking at its plot.

I finished Aristotle first, delighting in its simple but beautiful language and the relatively straightforward set-up of two teenage boys and best friends discovering their feelings for each other (I also loved the secondary plot of these boys being Mexican in a 1980s Texas border town and what that means for their lives and life journeys). The cover alone is also incredibly gorgeous, may I say. Diving into More Happy Than Not, I was surprised (although not upset) when I discovered it was going to be remarkably similar – a teenage boy discovering his feelings for his male best friend. Even its setting in modern-day New York, with a Latino protagonist, allowed for similar motifs to float through.

But then… the *TWIST* in More Happy Than Not occurs, and I was COMPLETELY gobsmacked. It’s hinted in the summary – which I had ignored – but it really takes the book in a different sci-fi direction.

WHAT I READ:

Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe (Benjamin Sáenz) and More Happy Than Not (Adam Silvera)

SNAPSHOT REVIEW:

On a scale of 1 to 5 coming-of-age stories, I give Aristotle 5 Texas summers and More Happy 5 mysterious neurological procedures.

GOODREADS SYNOPSIS:

More Happy Than Not:

In his twisty, gritty, profoundly moving debut—called “mandatory reading” by the New York Times—Adam Silvera brings to life a charged, dangerous near-future summer in the Bronx.

In the months after his father’s suicide, it’s been tough for 16-year-old Aaron Soto to find happiness again–but he’s still gunning for it. With the support of his girlfriend Genevieve and his overworked mom, he’s slowly remembering what that might feel like. But grief and the smile-shaped scar on his wrist prevent him from forgetting completely.

When Genevieve leaves for a couple of weeks, Aaron spends all his time hanging out with this new guy, Thomas. Aaron’s crew notices, and they’re not exactly thrilled. But Aaron can’t deny the happiness Thomas brings or how Thomas makes him feel safe from himself, despite the tensions their friendship is stirring with his girlfriend and friends. Since Aaron can’t stay away from Thomas or turn off his newfound feelings for him, he considers turning to the Leteo Institute’s revolutionary memory-alteration procedure to straighten himself out, even if it means forgetting who he truly is.

Why does happiness have to be so hard?

Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe:

Aristotle is an angry teen with a brother in prison. Dante is a know-it-all who has an unusual way of looking at the world. When the two meet at the swimming pool, they seem to have nothing in common. But as the loners start spending time together, they discover that they share a special friendship—the kind that changes lives and lasts a lifetime. And it is through this friendship that Ari and Dante will learn the most important truths about themselves and the kind of people they want to be.

HOW IT MADE ME FEEL:

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In short, even though these books seem to be very similar, they take off in wildly different directions – and I thoroughly enjoyed both. Must-adds to your reading list.

Book Roundup: March 2017

NUMBER OF BOOKS READ: 8. A bit of a slow month for me.

NUMBER OF FEMALE AUTHORS VS MALE AUTHORS: All ladies!

NUMBER OF DIVERSE (non-American) SETTINGS: Technically 2 had many scenes set outside of the U.S., but since those two were set in 1) England and 2) various locations visited by an American, I don’t know if it counts. Whoops! What I DO like is a lot of the books I read – especially All the Ugly and Wonderful Things and Dreamland Burning – explore parts of America and its ugly underbelly in ways I did not previously explore.

RATINGS SPREAD: Four 5-star reviews, Two 4-star reviews, Two 3-star reviews. Good month!

 

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WHAT I READ: All The Ugly and Wonderful Things (Bryn Greenwood)

WHY I READ IT: On many Best of 2016 lists.

WHAT I THOUGHT: Incredibly challenging, hard to decide how I feel, but such a well-written slice of life that kept me compelled the whole time.

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WHAT I READ: My Husband’s Wife (Jane Corry)

WHY I READ IT: One of my favorite lifestyle bloggers was reading it!

WHAT I THOUGHT: A fun read, but it could have used some structural readjustment to decide what kind of book it was going to be.

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WHAT I READ: The Diviners (Libba Bray)

WHY I READ IT: A podcast I listen to recommend this (and its sequel) as one of the Best Books They Read in 2016.

WHAT I THOUGHT: Totally scared the piss out of me (I’m very ladylike) and is definitively NSFchildren, but I’m pumped to dive into Book #2.

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WHAT I READ: Lair of Dreams (Libba Bray)

WHY I READ IT: See above!

WHAT I THOUGHT: Still totally scary, but I liked this one even more than the first. Too bad we aren’t closer to October and the release of the third!

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WHAT I READ: A Court of Thorns and Roses (Sarah J. Maas)

WHY I READ IT: I first read this book in 2015 and decided to give it a reread when I was sick and had little brainpower for anything else.

WHAT I THOUGHT: Ugh, I love this book SO much. I’m so glad I decided to give it a reread – it just hits everything I need in a book, AND it turns out the 3rd book comes out in early May so I had good timing in my reread!

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WHAT I READ: A Court of Mist and Fury (Sarah J. Maas)

WHY I READ IT: BECAUSE THESE BOOKS BLOW MY SKIRT UP AND I LOVE THEM!!

WHAT I THOUGHT: May 2nd cannot come soon enough. GIMME MORE!

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WHAT I READ: Dreamland Burning (Jennifer Latham)

WHY I READ IT: Book club!

WHAT I THOUGHT: An incredible and important re-telling of a deliberately hidden historical event. More to come next week.

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WHAT I READ: What I Was Doing While You Were Breeding (Kristin Newman)

WHY I READ IT: Even though her name is spelled incorrectly in my opinion, I do like travel memoirs.

WHAT I THOUGHT: Well-written, albeit a little eye-rolley at times as all travel memoirs are, but I still slammed through this book and enjoyed reading it.

 

Need more thorough reviews? Goodreads, baby.