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.

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.

All the Flailing, or: A Grown-Up Fairy Tale, Concluded

I’ve made my love for Sarah J. Maas’ fantastic seriesA Court of Thorns and Roses, no secret. Her first two books were sexy, compelling, well-crafted, scary, fun, and just a damn delight to read. So when the third book (and end of a trilogy) finally comes out after much anticipation, what’s a girl to do – except read frantically for a week straight (while wishing the book would never end)? At one point, I was so invested in the book I actually stayed in the car like a dog while my gentleman went into the store for thirty minutes. And ladies and gentlemen, it was worth it. (It was less worth it when his best friend pounded on the window to scare me.)

WHAT I READ:

A Court of Wings and Ruin (Sarah J. Maas)

SNAPSHOT REVIEW:

On a scale of 1 to 5 Cauldrons, I give this book and series 5(million) magical bargain-binding tattoos.

GOODREADS SYNOPSIS:

Feyre has returned to the Spring Court, determined to gather information on Tamlin’s maneuverings and the invading king threatening to bring Prythian to its knees. But to do so she must play a deadly game of deceit-and one slip may spell doom not only for Feyre, but for her world as well.

As war bears down upon them all, Feyre must decide who to trust amongst the dazzling and lethal High Lords-and hunt for allies in unexpected places.

HOW IT MADE ME FEEL:

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Mostly, it made me feel sad because the trilogy is now over – but we will always have rereads. (And, Maas is writing three more offshoot books set in the same world, and I am SO excited to revisit these characters already).

These books are everything I love about reading, and if you don’t stop everything you are doing and read them, then God, Jed, I don’t even want to know you.

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!

All the Single Ladies

I’m doing it, folks – I’m keeping up with my bookish New Year’s resolutions! (Except for pledging to read a classic novel by a female author every quarter. Whoops. Jane Eyre, I’m still coming for you!).

The resolution I kept this month? Reading more non-fiction. All the Single Ladies: Unmarried Women and the Rise of an Independent Nation (Rebecca Traister) has been on my read list for a while now, since it landed on the “Best Books of 2016” books.

There were a lot of really interesting takeaways in this book, which explores the historical role of women in American society and how social, political, and economic events have impacted how they are viewed – and what they are able to do.

WHAT I READ:

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

SNAPSHOT REVIEW:

On a scale of 1 to 5 wedding rings, I give this 3 fully-formed individual women.

GOODREADS SYNOPSIS:

A nuanced investigation into the sexual, economic, and emotional lives of women in America. In a provocative, groundbreaking work, National Magazine Award finalist Rebecca Traister, “the most brilliant voice on feminism in the country” (Anne Lamott), traces the history of unmarried and late-married women in America who, through social, political, and economic means, have radically shaped our nation.

HOW IT MADE ME FEEL:

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The books is full of fascinating facts, stats, and stories, but I pulled out just a few of my favorites…

First, the advice in the appendix on what is needed to make single women truly equal in America reminded me a lot of The Year of Living Danishly – and what makes people in that country so happy. Essentially, we need better policies including stronger equal pay protections, national healthcare system, mandatory parental and sick leave, and welfare benefits. And, of course, we need to “protect reproductive rights, access to birth control, and sex education.” Just something to chew over…

Another stat that stood out to me as someone who is definitely not ready to get married yet: “The ‘Knot Yet Report,’ published in 2013, reported that a college educated woman who delays married until her thirties will earn $18,000 more per year than an equivalently educated woman who marries in her twenties.” Gimme that cheddar, yo!

And finally, Amelia Earhart’s plea to her husband after she turned down his proposals several times: “You must know again my reluctance to marry, my feeling that I shatter thereby chances in work which means most to me… Please let us not interfere with the other’s work or play, nor let the world see our private joys or disagreements. In this connection I may have to keep some place where I can go to be myself, now and then, for I cannot guarantee to endure at all times the confinement of even an attractive cage.” Might be going into my wedding vows.

Highly recommended for people looking to learn a little bit more about history and a lot more about being a woman.

Second Chances

It’s rare for me to reread a book. It’s even rarer for me to reread a book I didn’t really like the first time. (Have you seen Belle’s library? There are just too many books, people!). But, I did exactly that with my latest read by Sarah J. Maas.

I flailed over Sarah J. Maas a few weeks ago and her second series A Court of Thorns and Roses. While (im)patiently waiting for the third book to come out in May, I realized I could fill my Maas-sized hole by attempting her first, BELOVED series, again, Throne of Glass.

Being a dabbler in the book blogging community, I have seen many bloggers obsessed with this series for years. And yet, reading the first book in 2013 didn’t do a lot of me. At the time, I gave it 3 stars and sighed, “I struggled with this one. On the one hand, I felt a little bored at times and not sure if I wanted to go on. I hoped that there was not a follow-up book because I didn’t know if I wanted to read it or not. However, by the end I was mildly intrigued by what happens next. Let’s put it this way – I’ve put a hold on the next book at the library but am not heartbroken that I am 11th in line. Solid 3 stars (I enjoyed reading it, probably wouldn’t read it again or buy it).”

Joke’s on me, because I read it again. So, what does 2017 Kristen think now?!

WHAT I READ:

Throne of Glass (Sarah J. Maas)

SNAPSHOT REVIEW:

On a scale of 1 to 5 female assassins, I give this 3.5 glass palaces.

GOODREADS SYNOPSIS:

After serving out a year of hard labor in the salt mines of Endovier for her crimes, 18-year-old assassin Celaena Sardothien is dragged before the Crown Prince. Prince Dorian offers her her freedom on one condition: she must act as his champion in a competition to find a new royal assassin.

Her opponents are men-thieves and assassins and warriors from across the empire, each sponsored by a member of the king’s council. If she beats her opponents in a series of eliminations, she’ll serve the kingdom for four years and then be granted her freedom. Celaena finds her training sessions with the captain of the guard, Westfall, challenging and exhilarating. But she’s bored stiff by court life. Things get a little more interesting when the prince starts to show interest in her … but it’s the gruff Captain Westfall who seems to understand her best.

Then one of the other contestants turns up dead … quickly followed by another. Can Celaena figure out who the killer is before she becomes a victim? As the young assassin investigates, her search leads her to discover a greater destiny than she could possibly have imagined.

HOW IT MADE ME FEEL:

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Basically… a LOT of conflicting emotions. I loved Celaena and she is definitely the most well drawn-out. I thought she had really interesting and contradictory elements to her that made me happy. And, who doesn’t love a kick-ass female? Where it lacked for me was 1) her male “love triangle” participants and 2) most of the plot, tbh.

First, the two men semi-competing for her heart were fairly one-dimensional, and their attraction to Celaena (and her attraction to them) not well established at all. She basically just thinks the Prince is hot, they hang out a few times, she’s in. Maas’ other series is amazing because you REALLY get to know the main men, and to understand why the lead would fall for one or the other. Here, it was more like “Ah, a man. I must be attracted to him.”

As for the plot, I liked the Trials element, but thought the “scary” portion of a castle monster killing the competitors to be very lackluster. There would literally be throw-away sentences like “Yup, another three people died, bummer.” I wish there had been more of an element of dread, which you don’t really get until the end.

 

All that being said, I’m much more interested in diving into the next book, which rumor has it is much better than this one. Considering how much I love Maas’ next series, I can only think/hope that her writing continues to improve in this one.

Creative Writing Exercises

Confession: I often don’t love those books that everyone else in the world loves and proclaims to be THE BEST EVER. I found The Underground Railroad to be lacking an emotional heart; Fates and Furies just wasn’t worth the long library wait; and The Goldfinch had too many words not saying enough for my tastes.

So, maybe I’m not the SMARTEST reader. But I still love reading, read a ton, and often like books everyone else likes! Sometimes I even read the super-literary books and like them! I’ve read books with footnotes, guys!

Going into reading Lincoln in the Bardo, I was pretty pumped. One of my favorite bloggers recommended it and it has over 4 stars on Goodreads. And yet, I found it to be pretty “meh.” I liked the mixing of historical research (quotes from memoirs, letters, etc) with the fictional telling of Lincoln’s child in “purgatory” following the child’s death. But, this book was exceptionally skim-worthy, with too many characters, confusing motifs, and far too many mentions of throbbing members for my liking. I’ve said this about other books (primarily Fate and Furies), but this seemed just like an excessive creative writing exercise to me. At a certain point, I want more character and plot development and less clever literary techniques.

WHAT I READ:

Lincoln in the Bardo (George Saunders)

SNAPSHOT REVIEW:

On a scale of 1 to 5 gravestones, I give this 2.5 throbbing members. (Ugh)

GOODREADS SYNOPSIS

(What can I say… I’m done with trying to summarize it myself.)

The captivating first novel by the best-selling, National Book Award nominee George Saunders, about Abraham Lincoln and the death of his eleven year old son, Willie, at the dawn of the Civil War. On February 22, 1862, two days after his death, Willie Lincoln was laid to rest in a marble crypt in a Georgetown cemetery. That very night, shattered by grief, Abraham Lincoln arrives at the cemetery under cover of darkness and visits the crypt, alone, to spend time with his son’s body. Set over the course of that one night and populated by ghosts of the recently passed and the long dead, Lincoln in the Bardo is a thrilling exploration of death, grief, the powers of good and evil, a novel – in its form and voice – completely unlike anything you have read before. It is also, in the end, an exploration of the deeper meaning and possibilities of life, written as only George Saunders can: with humor, pathos, and grace.

HOW IT MADE ME FEEL:

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So, should you read it? I dunno, maybe. Perhaps if I in a better mood, or reading this in an educational setting where I had to discuss it with others, I would appreciate it more. As it stands, it just really didn’t do a lot for me.