Posted at 2:15 pm , on January 2, 2020
(featured photo credit)
Sorry for my unannounced extended hiatus . . . but life happens (e.g. two teaching preps, new curriculum, remodeling the kitchen, traveling for the holidays, and obsessively listening to Taylor Swift’s Red and Lover albums whilst procrastinating). But I’M BAAAAACCCCKKKK on the 2020 blogging train with one of my favorite yearly posts–my favorite reads of 2019.
And choosing my favorite reads this year proved more difficult than it was the previous year. I’m #sorrynotsorry for the lack of book reviews for my faves, but trying to decide which of the 153 books I read deserved to be ranked sucked my time for this post dry. Quite frankly, there are nearly 40 more books that I’d recommend; if you want to see a full list of my 2019 reads and how I rated them, check out my 2019 book challenge on Goodreads.
Anyway, drumroll please . . . here are my favorite books read in 2019:
- Not That Bad: Dispatches from Rape Culture edited by Roxane Gay–nonfiction essays–five stars–published 2018
- Recursion by Black Crouch–science fiction–five stars–published 2019
- Arc of a Scythe series (Scythe, Thunderhead, and The Toll) by Neal Shusterman–dystopian YAL–five stars–published 2016-2019
- A Place for Us by Fatima Farheen Mirza–contemporary fiction–five stars–published 2019
- Daisy Jones & The Six by Taylor Jenkins Reid–historical/contemporary fiction–five stars–published 2019
- Dopesick: Dealers, Doctors, and the Drug Company that Addicted America by Beth Macy–political nonfiction–five stars–published 2018
- The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness by Michelle Alexander–political nonfiction–five stars–published 2010
- The Library Book by Susan Orlean–historical nonfiction–five stars–published 2018
- The Girl Who Drank the Moon by Kelly Barnhill–middle grade fantasy–five stars–published 2016
- The One and Only Ivan by Katherine Applegate–middle grade–five stars–published 2012
- The Bookish Life of Nina Hill by Abbi Waxman–chick lit/books about books–five stars–published 2019
- Inside Out & Back Again by Thanhha Lai–middle grade poetry/historical fiction–five stars–published 2011
- The Common Good by Robert B. Reich–political nonfiction–five stars–published 2018
- The Trouble with Poetry – And Other Poems by Billy Collins–poetry–five stars–published 2007
- The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo by Taylor Jenkins Reid–historical/contemporary fiction–four stars–published 2017
- Maybe You Should Talk to Someone: A Therapist, Her Therapist, and Our Lives Revealed by Lori Gottlieb–autobiographical nonfiction–four stars–published 2019
- On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous by Ocean Vuong–fiction/poetry–four stars–published 2019
- Ask Again, Yes by Mary Beth Keane–contemporary fiction–four stars–published 2019
- The Nickel Boys by Colson Whitehead–historical fiction–four stars–published 2019
- Bad Blood: Secrets and Lies in a Silicon Valley Startup by John Carreyrou–business nonfiction–four stars–published 2018
There you have it! I’ll be back next week with my New Year’s resolutions post.
(All book art taken from Goodreads.com)
Posted at 3:40 pm , on September 21, 2019
English class will never be baseball.
Cracking open a book can’t compete with the crack of the bat and the crowd’s cheers for you.
Fumbling through Homer’s The Odyssey will feel more like fumbling a grounder in the bottom of the ninth during a tied game than hitting a homer to win it all.
Throwing words around with a pen and paper to write an essay will never rival throwing warm-up pitches in the bullpen.
The thunk of the catcher’s hand pounding his mitt between curveballs and changeups will never sound like “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty” nor The Catcher in the Rye.
Wry puns and satire will never play hardball in your playbook. Three strikes you’re out and triple plays are more important to you than the rule of threes and idioms.
Sliding into second and shaking hands at the game’s end will never be sliding into the second act of a Shakespeare play.
And that’s just fine, sluggers, because English class isn’t supposed to be baseball, but the real MVPs and big leaguers value both.
Posted at 2:28 pm , on September 7, 2019
Because August means back to school for me, it’s always a hard reading month, so I declared it read nothing of substance, the more royals in books the better, and bonus points if books are set in Europe month.
- Ghost Kisses by Kellie Babineaux–paranormal romance–two stars–This is my coworker’s second self-published novel. Despite some major editing issues, the storyline is compelling, and Babineaux’s love of New Orleans and Louisiana culture take on a life of their own.
- The Little Book of Hygge: The Danish Way to Live Well by Meik Wiking–nonfiction–two stars–My biggest takeaways are candles, Christmas, and lamps make for a happy life.
- 99 Percent Mine by Sally Thorne–romance–two stars–I couldn’t remember the premise of this book while typing in its name nor while reading its synopsis. I only picked it up because I loved Thorne’s The Hating Game.
- The Royal We by Heather Cocks and Jessica Morgan–chick lit/romance–three stars–I made the mistake of recommending this book to a couple of people before finishing it. It’s loosely based on Prince William and Kate’s love story, but it takes a ludicrous turn towards the end, detracting from how promising it was at the beginning.
- The Royal Runaway by Lindsay Emory–chick lit/romance–two stars–Terrible but readable.
- The Girl Who Drank the Moon by Kelly Barnhill–middle grade fantasy–five stars–Everything I’ve ever wanted in a middle grade fantasy read. Witches? Check. A tiny dragon who thinks he’s gigantic? Check. A Swamp Monster? Check. A young girl who doesn’t know how to control her magic? Check. Stunning language and message? Check.
- My Oxford Year by Julia Whelan–contemporary fiction/romance–two stars–Ella, an educational policy political advisor, receives a Rhodes Scholarship and falls in love with her professor during her time in Oxford. I liked Ella’s eclectic friend group more than her.
- How Not to Die Alone by Richard Roper–contemporary fiction–four stars–Funny and touching while being mildly dark.
- Evvie Drake Starts Over by Linda Holmes–contemporary fiction–four stars–Evvie’s husband died on the day she was going to leave him. Still grappling with guilt a year later, she takes on a tenant, a former MLB pitcher who suddenly started throwing wild pitches instead of strikes, to get a little extra money. The dialogue is funny and well-done.
- Royals (Royals, #1) by Rachel Hawkins–YAL–four stars–READ THIS INSTEAD OF THE ROYAL WE.
- The Bookish Life of Nina Hill by Abbi Waxman–contemporary fiction/chick lit–five stars–This is by far the best book set in a bookshop that I’ve read all year.
- Natalie Tan’s Book of Luck and Fortune by Roselle Lim–magical realism–3 stars–When Natalie’s agoraphobic mother dies suddenly in San Francisco, Natalie comes home and discovers that Chinatown has changed. With the intent of reopening her grandmother’s restaurant, Natalie tries to breathe life back into the dying community by cooking magical meals for her neighbors.
As always discussion is welcome, and I’m always looking for recommendations.
All cover jacket art courtesy of Goodreads.
Posted at 1:41 pm , on August 10, 2019
(All book jacket art is taken from Goodreads.)
I’m a week late with my mini book reviews for July because Little Thing’s rhyming gone wrong debacle needed internet publishing ASAP. And since I NEVER have anything written before my self imposed weekly Saturday deadline (and this week coincides with my first week back to school), these mini-reviews might be semi-coherent. My priorities were elsewhere this week, like getting to know the kids I’m in charge of for the whole year and fighting off back-to-school-teacher-tired exhaustion.
Posted at 9:32 pm , on July 6, 2019
I had high expectations for my June reading month. Read more nonfiction! Read less fantasy! Read less YAL! Read sixteen-twenty books!
Then I made a rookie mistake–I fell down a Sarah J. Maas hole named the Throne of Glass series–shattering my June reading hopes and dreams because the books are fiction, fantasy, YAL, and tomes.
If you’ve ever found yourself at the bottom of a Maas rabbit hole, please please please tell me how you extracted yourself from it. When I realized the depth of my addiction, I resorted to alternating one of the books from the series with an adult, non-fantasy venture in a bizarre attempt at self-preservation, quitting after book four cold turkey.
Here’s what I read in June:
- The Other Woman by Sandie Jones–3 stars–mystery/thriller–I keep reading this genre despite my low expectations. Emily meets Adam. He’s a catch but a total mommy’s boy. I saw the ending coming from about halfway through the book.
- The Book of Three (The Chronicles of Prydain, #1) by Lloyd Alexander–4 stars–middle grade/fantasy–Not my favorite fantasy read, but I see why it would appeal to middle grade readers. It’s no Narnia; the world building is blasé. However, it does feature a sassy, soothsaying pig, a welcome addition to ANY novel if you ask me.
- Throne of Glass (Throne of Glass, #1) by Sarah J. Maas–4 stars–YAL/fantasy–Ahhhhh. Welcome to my demise’s advent. Celaena Sardothien, an former assassin and current slave, gets offered her freedom in exchange for becoming her mortal enemy’s champion in a world where magic is banned. I like this series more than Maas’s A Court of Thorn and Roses series.
- The Au Pair by Emma Rous–3 stars–mystery/thriller–Mehhhhhhhhh. Of course there’s au pair drama. Cliché cheating with the nanny and unrealistic falling action drag this book down.
- Crown of Midnight (Throne of Glass, #2) by Sarah J. Maas–4 stars–YAL/fantasy–Just as entertaining as book one.
- One Day in December by Josie Silver–3 stars–contemporary fiction/romance– I found this Reese Witherspoon pick frustrating; the self-absorbed characters grated my nerves.
- Heir of Fire (Throne of Glass, #3) by Sarah J. Maas–4 stars–YAL/fantasy–Book 3 isn’t nearly as good as the first two. Too many Harry Potter/Lord of the Rings/Twilight parallels for it to be original. My least favorite word in all of YAL (“chuckle”) made hefty appearances, too. Insert eye roll here.
- The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield–4 stars–contemporary fiction–This novel has been on my TBR for awhile. It’s eerie and keenly written, a mashup of The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo and Jane Eyre.
- Finale (Caraval, #3) by Stephanie Garber–4 stars–YAL/fantasy–If you love YAL and fantasy and haven’t picked up the Caraval series yet, you should. The trilogy finished too neatly and lovey dovie, but overall, I’ll remember Garber’s Caraval, a teenage version of The Night Circus, fondly.
- My Lovely Wife by Samantha Downing–3 stars–mystery/thriller–A married couple tackles serial killing together. Take a look at this book jacket. Little Thing gave me major side eye the whole time I was reading this book.
- Dopesick: Dealers, Doctors, and the Drug Company that Addicted America by Beth Macy–5 stars–nonfiction prose–Read this book. It will change the way you view drug addiction and treatment.
- Queen of Shadows (Throne of Glass, #4) by Sarah J. Maas–4 stars–YAL/fantasy–I’m a fan of this series–I swear–but these books keep getting longer as the series progresses (This one clocked in at 648 pages.) and are wordy, wordy, wordy. To reach my read-150-books-in-2019 goal, I’m taking a Throne of Glass hiatus because there are three more books in this series, the last one housing nearly 1,000 pages. I wish Maas would consider writing trilogies.
- The Lost Man by Jane Harper–4 stars–mystery/thriller–I heart Jane Harper’s Australian outback mystery novels so hard.
- Factfullness: Ten Reasons We’re Wrong About the World–and Why Things Are Better Than You Think by Hans Rosling, Ola Rosling, and Anna Rosling Rönnlund–4 stars–nonfiction prose–Approach this nonfiction read with an open mind and consider that the data collection method is mildly flawed. The authors present an interesting argument that the world is “better but still bad,” iterating the mass gains that civilization has made over the years through examining our outdated knowledge of the world.
Bright side: at least I managed two nonfiction reads?
(All cover art taken from Goodreads.com)
Posted at 11:28 pm , on May 31, 2019
End of my thirteenth year of teaching? Check. (P.S. How the hell did that happen?)
End of musical theater and soccer season for Little Thing? Check.
End of physical therapy? Check.
End of the house being on the market? No check. But we’re hopeful.
End of Mrs. Ram’s Jams’s blog pause? CHECK!
Here’s what I’ve read during my absence. Since nada writing happened during my break, these reviews are bare bones (and I skipped reviewing a few *wink wink*). After all, I crammed in 39 books in March, April, and May. The ones I highly recommend are in bold with their book jackets (All book jacket art is taken from Goodreads.).
- Thunderhead (Arc of a Scythe #2) by Neal Shusterman, YAL/science fiction, five stars: This series has yet to disappoint me. I can’t wait until book three comes out in September.
- The Light We Lost by Jill Santopolo, romance/contemporary fiction, three stars: I hate it when book reviews/blubs tell you that a book is like another book when it completely gives away the story’s ending. That happened to me with this one, and I might have enjoyed this read a bit more if it hadn’t been totally predictable.
- The City of Brass (The Daevabad Trilogy #1) by S.A. Chakraborty, YAL/fantasy, three stars: It drew me in but couldn’t hold my attention. It felt breathy. What happened to conciseness as opposed to needlessly drawn out pages?
- The Kiss Quotient (The Kiss Quotient #1) by Helen Hoang, romance/contemporary fiction, three stars: I liked this a lot better than The Light We Lost, but this one was way more what I consider to be true romance/erotica. However, it was not anywhere as close to good as The Hating Game.
- The Fifth Season (The Broken Earth #1) by N.K. Jemisin, fantasy, four stars: Okay, I get it. One of the characteristics of fantasy is a long story, but damnnnnnnnn. I lose interest in a book around the 400 page mark if it’s not phenomenally written. However, this was still a good read.
- An Unwanted Guest by Shari Lapena, mystery, one star: I don’t think I’ve ever ranked a book with one measly star. This was awful. Lapena tried to emulate Agatha Christy, and it came off like a poorly written book version of the game Clue.
- Something in the Water by Catherine Steadman, thriller/mystery, three stars: Please someone recommend a more than decent thriller/mystery for me. This genre hasn’t been doing it for me lately.
- An Anonymous Girl by Greer Hendricks and Sarah Pekkanen, thriller, three stars: Read The Wife Between Us instead; it was a much better collaboration than this one they put out.
- The Library Book by Susan Orlean, nonfiction, five stars: One of the coolest things I’ve ever read. It’s the story of a Los Angeles library fire, a love letter to books, and an homage to libraries.
- The Passage (The Passage #1) by Justin Cronin, horror/apocalyptic, three stars: At first, I was captivated by this vampire apocalypse story, but it’s gargantuan without needing to be. I will not be picking up book 2.
- The Wicked King (The Folk of the Air #2) by Holly Black, YAL/fantasy, four stars: A YAL faerie and mortal love story done right. Book 3 is out in November.
- The Lightning Thief (Percy Jackson and the Olympians #1) by Rick Riordan, middle grade/fantasy, three stars: I didn’t see what all the hype was about.
- More Than Words by Jill Santopolo, romance/contemporary fiction, four stars: So much better than The Light We Lost.
- Queenie by Candice Carty-Williams, contemporary fiction, four stars: I love me a good Brit lit read. This was Jojo Moyes-esque but with a narrator who makes terrible decisions.
- The Bird King by G. Willow Wilson, fantasy, four stars: Read this instead of City of Brass.
- On the Come Up by Angie Thomas, YAL/contemporary, four stars: Not as good as The Hate U Give. The dialogue and the narration cheese so hard, but ‘tis to be expected with YAL.
- Maid: Hard Work, Low Pay, and a Mother’s Will to Survive by Stephanie Land, memoir, four stars: The title explains it all.
- The Care and Feeding of Ravenously Hungry Girls by Anissa Gray, contemporary fiction, three stars: Boring, but nicely penned.
- The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo by Taylor Jenkins Reid, contemporary fiction, four stars: Where has Taylor Jenkins Reid been all my life? A fledgling magazine writer gets the chance of a lifetime to interview an old school movie star, Evelyn Hugo, and gets the juicy scoop on each of her husbands.
- Coraline by Neil Gaiman, middle grade/horror, four stars: I’m trying to tackle the entire Gaiman cannon, and while I thoroughly enjoyed this middle grade read, I liked The Graveyard Book more. The characters in Coraline looked blurry and read blurry, and that’s probably Gaiman’s point, but The Graveyard Book felt more concrete.
- Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore (Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore #1) by Robin Sloan, contemporary fiction, five stars: I honestly don’t think this book will be everyone’s cup of tea, but I adored the blend of humor, intrigue, and nerdiness.
- The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue (Montague Siblings #1) by Mackenzi Lee, YAL/historical fiction, four stars: A swashbuckling adventure that I didn’t know I was missing.
- American Spy by Lauren Wilkinson, contemporary fiction, four stars: A solid, albeit, slow paced, spy story.
- Good Riddance by Elinor Lipman, chick lit/contemporary fiction, two stars: Bleck. Bleck. Bleck. Good riddance Good Riddance.
- The Winter of the Witch (Winternight Trilogy #3) by Katherine Arden, fantasy, four stars: So, I adored this entire series. It’s Russian folklore meets history clashing with Christianity. The first two books were lyrical and magical, and this last one had a very satisfying ending but lost its poetical syntax.
- A Midsummer Night’s Dream by William Shakespeare, classics/plays, four stars: I love teaching this play to 8th graders. A love triangle, plays within plays, and fairies. What’s not to love?
- The Library of Lost and Found by Phaedra Patrick, contemporary fiction, two stars:
- The Last Romantics by Tara Conklin, contemporary fiction, four stars:
- His Majesty’s Dragon (Temeraire #1) by Naomi Novik, fantasy, three stars: Can anyone recommend a good dragon story? I thought for sure Novik wouldn’t disappoint, but this wasn’t nearly as compelling as Uprooted.
- Romeo and Juliet by William Shakespeare, classics/plays, four stars: I hate teaching Romeo and Juliet. I know it’s poetry, but I can’t stand Benvolio. Everytime he gets on stage he repeats EVERYTHING that has just transpired.
- What If It’s Us by Becky Albertalli and Adam Silvera, YAL/contemporary fiction, four stars:
- Confessions of a Domestic Failure by Bunmi Laditan, chick lit/contemporary fiction, two stars: This was supposed to be funny, but it missed its mark. The humor relied on overplayed mommy situations instead of wit. Read How to Party with an Infant instead.
- Daisy Jones & The Six by Taylor Jenkins Reid, historical-ish fiction, five stars: A sixties rock band story told in an interview format. It has an Almost Famous vibe.
- The Witch’s Daughter (The Witch’s Daughter #1) by Paula Brackston, fantasy/historical fiction, four stars:
- How to Party with an Infant by Kaui Hart Hemmings, chick lit/contemporary fiction, four stars: Hilarious, but the narration could use a little tweaking for cleanliness.
- Kitchens of the Great Midwest by J. Ryan Stradal, contemporary fiction, four stars:
- The Girl Who Chased the Moon by Sarah Addison Allen, magical realism, three stars:
- Year One (Chronicles of The One #1) by Nora Roberts, fantasy/apocalyptic, two stars: My first venture into Nora Roberts’s prolific writings crashed and burned. You’ve got your standard apocalypse scenario: a virus knocks out most of the world’s population. Then you throw in fairies, witches, elves, etc. and the worst written dialogue I’ve ever seen on a page (and it’s dialogue heavy y’all) to ultimately reveal a good vs. evil/the chosen one archetype. The ONLY reason I didn’t rate this book as one star is because it was TERRIBLY readable (emphasis on the terribly). I kind of hate myself for even finishing this book and ranking it this highly.
- The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman, fantasy/horror, four stars: Normally I staunchly eschew from assigning ½ ratings to books, but this book is more deserving of 4 ½ stars. I would have rated it five, but it’s a loosely adult parallel of Coraline. Gaiman’s ability to weave a fantasy, make it seem so real, and write subtle truths into his fiction makes him one of my favorite authors.
And as always, any and all discussion about these books is welcome. I’ve missed y’all.
Posted at 5:34 pm , on March 23, 2019
I am a day late using this word prompt! My bad! Please forgive me daily word prompt aficionados! Also, it’s a bit of a mess. Like me.
a dungeon of
Birds Killed and Mocked and Thorns
Letters Scarlett O’Hara-ed in the Wind
Gatsby’s Expectations unGrateful
Naked Juliets and suicidal Romeos
Mice, Lennie, and George Orwell
451 flames flickering like 5 Slaughterhouses ignited
Purple Arms will never Color Farewell in a Dark Tower
because they’re collecting dust in the dungeon
Posted at 12:39 pm , on March 2, 2019
Well. It’s happened. I screwed up my I-must-write-my-mini-book-reviews-as-soon-as-I-finish-books New Year’s resolution. I didn’t pen a single one in February. I blame the flu-like virus that made me miserable last week, Little Thing’s flu bout, two out-of-town friends coming to visit, and sheer laziness.
Oh well. At least I read 13 books? And February is a short month. Huzzah!
Here’s my February reading list:
- All We Ever Wanted by Emily Giffin: Easy peasy breezy read. I’ve always enjoyed Giffin.
- Bird Box by Josh Malerman: Do I even need to review the book since everyone’s seen it on Netflix? I refuse to watch it, but I sure as hell loved reading it.
- The Seven Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle by Stuart Turton: This. Book. Killed. Mrs. Ram’s. Jams. Seven. Times. I hated it. It was 200 pages pages too long and hard to follow.
- The Astonishing Color of After by Emily X.R. Pan: The best thing about this book is its gorgeous cover. I love magical realism, but I haven’t encountered a spectacular YA one yet. After Leigh’s mother commits suicide, Leigh’s convinced her mom has turned into a bird. Leigh also talks and thinks in colors. Her best friend constantly asks her, “What color”? By the end, I was color blind and gagged at every pretentious color mention.
- The Common Good by Robert B. Reich: Reich argues that America has lost sight of its founding ideals. I wholeheartedly agree with him.
- Always and Forever, Lara Jean (To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before #3) by Jenny Han: Lara Jean for life! Book 3 was better than book 2 but super predictable.
- Without Merit by Colleen Hoover: I’ve not had much luck with Hoover. I picked this up because I thought it was her rather well-reviewed suspense novel, but it wasn’t. Sigh.
- Inside Out & Back Again by Thanhha Lai: This middle grade poetry read stunned me. Ha and her family evacuate Saigon during the Vietnam War and find safe harbor in Alabama.
- The Trouble With Poetry–And Other Poems by Billy Collins
- The Hating Game by Sally Thorne: Romance is my least favorite genre, but I loved this book. Lucy and Joshua’s repartee was hysterical.
- Scythe (Arc of a Scythe #1) by Neal Shusterman: YAL gold. For realz. In the dystopian future, people live forever, but for population control, scythes select people to be killed.I haven’t had this much fun reading a dystopian novel since Red Rising.
- My Favorite Half-Night Stand by Christina Lauren: After finishing The Hating Game, I thought to myself: Hey maybe I do like romance novels. I’m going to try another one out. Bad choice Mrs. Ram’s Jams. Bad choice.
- The Boy in the Striped Pajamas by John Boyne: It’s no secret that I eschew reading World War II and Holocaust literature, but I teach this novel in 8th grade ELA. And it breaks my heart every damn time.
What are you reading? And as always, conversations are welcome!
(All book art is taken from Goodreads.com.)
Posted at 11:25 am , on February 2, 2019
Y’all. At January’s end, I’m still on target with New Year’s resolution number one. I finally wrote my mini book reviews upon a book’s completion. Aren’t you proud of me? Your virtual back pats are appreciated. Thanks!
However, I’m not exactly on target for reaching my “Mrs. Ram Jam shall read 150 books in 2019” decree. I read 11 books, but two were stupid long, and I didn’t finish one I was 100 pages into. But here’s the bright side: I’ve already read 4,427 pages this year. How do you like them apples?
Just a heads up, my January reads were backlist books since my library hasn’t amassed many 2019 releases yet.
- Lethal White (Cormoran Strike, #4) by Robert Galbraith aka J.K. Rowling–I’m a fan of this series, but this underwhelmed me. I’m invested in Strike and Robin as characters and was eager to see their relationship’s direction. However, I found the narration silly. There was a whole bunch of Strike and Robin going back and forth questioning their feelings for one another like a bad romance novel. The book is super long too, which I’m not against, but tedious detail makes me feel Rowling was trying too hard.
- Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi–This novel tells the story of two half sisters, who have never met, and their offspring over several generations, starting in Ghana during the late 1700s. I appreciate the epic’s scope, the heart-rending stories, and the crisp prose. However, I had a difficult time orienting myself. Once you’re introduced to a narrator, he/she is never reintroduced. The novel’s biggest strength is the author’s ability to craft different voices through third person narration. The stories sucked me in but left me yearning for more than the minuscule snapshots of the narrators’ lives.
- To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before (To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before, #1) by Jenny Han– In a cathartic act, Lara Jean, a high schooler, pens letters to her past crushes and stores them in a hatbox. Mysteriously her letters get shipped out, including one to her older sister’s ex-boyfriend, Josh (who’s also the boy next door), triggering a love life mayhem avalanche. To avoid an uncomfortable situation with him, she and Peter Kavinsky, another love letter recipient, fake a relationship and hilarity ensues. Bottom line: Lara Jean is damn likable, and the stark writing describing Lara Jean’s dead mother made me sob. I need more Lara Jean in my life.
- The Name of the Wind (The Kingkiller Chronicle, #1) by Patrick Rothfuss– Kote, an infamous arcanist who’s hiding out as an innkeeper, tells the epic tale of his parents’ deaths, time at university, and search for the Chaudrain to a traveling chronicler. While easy to read and compelling, this novel could be shorter. I could have done without the world’s myths/stories, and the part where Kote is a homeless orphan drags.
- P.S. I Still Love You (To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before, #2) by Jenny Han–Book two spoiler alert!!!! Book two continues book one’s story line, and it’s slow at first. Lara Jean and Peter get back together, but someone posts a video of their steamy hot tub make out session to Instagram. LJ is convinced it’s Genevieve, but Peter doesn’t believe her. This is a great YAL read, but I was mad while reading it. For starters LJ gets bullied online and faces serious double standards. Also, I can’t stand Peter in this sequel; he’s conceited and a lousy boyfriend. However, Kitty, Lara Jean’s little sister, continues her precociousness, TV watching, and wisecracks, making book two worthwhile.
- A Wizard of Earthsea (Earthsea Cycle, #1) by Ursula K. Le Guin– A young boy named Ged calls on the fog to prevent his village from being pillaged. Once his wizarding powers are discovered, he’s sent to Roke for training where he butts heads with Jasper, another young wizard. To prove he’s more powerful than Jasper, he performs a magical act, unleashing an unnamed demon into the world which he must vanquish before it takes over his body and mind. Originally published in the sixties, this book’s an oldie but a goodie.
- Becoming by Michelle Obama– Obama gives enough of her personal story to make me feel like I know her a little better while maintaining a certain level of privacy surrounding herself. She doesn’t sugarcoat her history or her feelings, and she made me cry while discussing her and then President Obama’s reactions to Sandy Hook. It’s one of the best autobiographies I’ve read recently.
- A Place for Us by Fatima Farheen Mirza–In this narrative told primarily through the third person omniscient perspective, the reader is introduced to Rafiq, Layla, Hadia, Huda, and Amar, a Muslim Indian family living in San Francisco. It starts at Hadia’s wedding, where Amar makes his first familial appearance in years. From there, the story weaves back and forth from Layla, Hadia, and Amar’s point of views in non-linear, entwined perspective flashbacks. At the end, it switches to Rafiq’s, the patriarch’s, first person point of view. Third person omniscient is my least favorite perspective to read, but it’s done effortlessly and gorgeously. I ranked this five stars for multiple reasons, but take a look at these plain spoken sentences. They’re perfect–
- Exhibit A: “He wondered, on the drive, how they would address what had happened. And now he sees it is as easy as saying ‘knew’ instead of ‘know'” (86).
- Exhibit B: “He is so happy he could dance, uncharacteristic of him, but maybe with her he is someone who dances” (106).
- Exhibit C: “Just before Abbas turned the corner, he looked back and said, “Congratulations again.” Or maybe it was, “I was right back then.” And he held his hand up in a wave, and maybe she nodded, and maybe she stood still” (151).
- Exhibit D: “Who are you now? He wanted to ask her, but maybe she was who she always had been, and he was who he had always been, and it was foolish to think that the years had changed anything” (237).
- Dumplin’ by Julie Murphy–In this YAL novel, Willowdean Dickson, comfortable in her overweight frame, loves Dolly Parton and hanging with her bestie Ellen. However, her former beauty queen mother struggles with her daughter’s weight. When Willowdean starts dating her super hot coworker Bo, her confidence plummets and she decides to compete in the local beauty queen pageant as an “ef” you to her mama and the community. This book is a gazillion times better than the Jennifer Anniston produced Netflix film.
- Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens–Abandoned by her entire family, Kya Clark raises herself in North Carolina’s marsh in the 1950s and 60s. Her story alternates with a prominent man’s murder and its investigation in 1969. Once involved with the man, Kya gets arrested and put on trial for her life. Let’s be honest, the main character in this book is its setting. Owens painstakingly fleshes out the birds, grasses, and channels of the marsh. On the whole, it’s a compelling read, and I knocked it out in two days, but I was put off by the dialogue. It was stilted, and while I know it was written in a dialect, it was cheesier than a Wisconsin dairy cow.
- The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in an Age of Colorblindness by Michelle Alexander–Alexander’s premise, laid out in the title, argues the War on Drugs unfairly targets poor Black Americans creating a new “undercaste” in society. Once convicted and labeled felons (for mostly non-violent drug offenses), they are stripped of their voting rights, can be denied housing upon release, and can face job discrimination while assimilating back into the workforce–essentially a new, legal Jim Crow. While the statistical data and other odds and ends are a bit dated, the book was published in 2010, the embedding of legal precedent into her rhetoric and her comparison between Jim Crow and mass incarceration astounded me. Read this book.
As always, discussion is welcome! Happy reading y’all!
(All images are taken from Goodreads.)