Posted at 9:28 am , on April 4, 2020
Y’all. How’s quarantine going? I’m coping by baking things I can’t eat, soaking up the sunshine, and reading in long stretches. (Particularly soaking up the sunshine while reading in long stretches–if you figure out a way for me to effectively soak up the sunshine while baking things I can’t eat, holla at your girl.)
I finally have some 2020 reads under my belt, and I’m pretty sure that I’ve read this year’s IT book already.
- Mostly Dead Things by Kristen Arnett–published 2019–contemporary fiction–three stars: I freaking love this title and cover, but the book disappointed me. Jessa-Lynn, a Floridian taxidermist, spends the book drunk, self-wallowing after her father’s death, and terribly dressed in dirty clothes. While the writing at times jumps off the page, in places it’s too purple and harps on plot events already established.
- Small Spaces (Small Spaces #1) by Katherine Arden–published 2018–middle-grade horror/fantasy–three stars: I loved Arden’s Winternight trilogy. I picked up this middle-grade read expecting to get the heebie-jeebies from this book à la Neil Gaiman Coraline style, but the scary factor tanked.
- Dear Edward by Ann Napolitano–published 2020–contemporary fiction–five stars: A boy named Edward is the sole survivor of a plane crash. The story weaves together his tale of recovery and the story of the victims’ lives in the hours before impact. While I’m normally not a huge fan of third-person omniscient narration because it’s executed so poorly so often, Napolitano is a master of the skill. Y’all. I heart this novel hard. It’s the best straight-up fiction read I’ve had since The Great Alone. It’s for sure making my top three for the year. Get ready for this book to break your damn heart.
- Followers by Megan Angelo–published 2020–dystopian/post-apocalyptic/contemporary fiction–four stars: I love that over-reliance on smartphones and influencer scrutiny has started to make its way into contemporary fiction. There are two different stories here. The first is the story of two present-day influencers in the time leading up to a smartphone apocalypse. The second chronicles Marlow, a reality TV star who has a 24/7 following while she lives in a Truman Show-esque situation, in the future. The stories eventually come together, highlighting the shallowness of an overly-reliant digital world.
- Things in Jars by Jess Kidd–published 2020–historical fiction/magical realism–three stars: There’s a ghost in love with a human, a mermaid-like child with weird teeth, and a mystery to be solved. Ummm it wasn’t terrible? But it could have been so much better.
- Big Lies in a Small Town by Diane Chamberlain–published 2020–contemporary fiction–two stars: This has a pretty good rating on Goodreads, but I just didn’t see what all the fuss was about. Was it compelling? Yes, but 1) things came together too cleanly at the end and 2) the protagonist’s entire premise, she’s jailed wrongly for a DUI that she didn’t commit but gets released from jail early to restore a painting, is just absurd.
- The Education of an Idealist: A Memoir by Samantha Power–published 2019–memoir–three stars: At first, I was totally engrossed by Power’s memoir. She tells of growing up in Ireland, her alcoholic father, her move to the US, and her work as a war zone reporter in the Balkans. But when she starts discussing foreign policy and her work for Obama, it gets a little thick with a whole bunch of people and places, making for cumbersome, technical reading. If you’re super into foreign policy, this read is for you. Oh, it’s about 100 pages too long as well.
- Strange the Dreamer (Strange the Dreamer #1) by Laini Taylor–published 2017–YA fantasy–four stars: Strange, yes that’s his last name, is a dreamer. He dreams of a lost city, and his dreams, well, I don’t want to ruin the book. I don’t know if I’ll continue to read this series. While disorienting at first, I regained ground as the story went on, but I hated its ending.
- Follow Me by Kathleen Barber–published 2020–thriller–three stars: Let’s face it. I keep reading thrillers even though they’re one of my least favorite genres. A social influencer named Audrey leaves New York City to start a new job in Washington DC. She reconnects with her BFF from college and a former boyfriend, both of whom live in the city. She posts her entire life online and one of her followers is following Audrey around for real in the city. I liked this novel better than Barber’s debut Are You Sleeping (now renamed as Truth Be Told) because the writing is more contemporary and interesting. I disliked that every male in Audrey’s vicinity fell in love with her. I wasn’t a fan of the minor twist at the end. But . . . it was still a solid read–for a thriller.
- The Coldest Girl in Coldtown by Holly Black–published 2013–YA vampire/urban fantasy–two stars: Okay, so, I think I’m going to stop reading any YAL that hasn’t been published in the past five years. This was pretty bad and disappointing considering how freaking awesome Holly Black’s more recent The Folk of the Air series is.
- Are You There, Vodka? It’s Me, Chelsea by Chelsea Handler–published 2007–memoir/humor–three stars: Funny in places, but dicey in others.
- Ink and Bone (The Great Library #1) by Rachel Caine–published 2015–YA fantasy–three stars: A decent read for YA, and I might recommend it to students, but it is a bit forgettable.
- Fix Her Up (Hot & Hammered #1) by Tessa Bailey–published 2019–romance–four stars: Yowza. Cute. Funny. And. Ahem. Steamy. I haven’t had this much fun reading a romance novel since The Hating Game.
- Truly Devious (Truly Devious #1) by Maureen Johnson–published 2018–YA mystery–three stars: So many of my students want to read good, contemporary mystery novels that are YA, but I haven’t found many. If you know of any (besides We Were Liars, One of Us Is Lying, and the Pretty Little Liars series), let me know. In this mystery, Stevie loves mysteries. She’s a true crime junkie. She applies to a prestigious school and gets in, hoping to solve a decades-old crime that happened there. Then. Gasp. Another murder happens, and she tries to solve it and manages to get oh so close, but the book ends essentially in the middle of the story, and you’ve got to pick up the next one to figure out what happens. This bounced around too much for me.
- Invisible Women: Data Bias in a World Designed for Men by Caroline Criado-Perez–published 2019–nonfiction/feminist literature/political literature–five stars: Hey, ladies and gentlemen. Read this book. It’s mindblowing. It will make you angry, but it’s utterly fascinating. It’s about how the world is designed for men (hence the title). Ever wonder why your smartphone is hard to work one-handed ladies? It’s because it’s designed for men. Ladies, ever wonder why you take medicine and it doesn’t work or experience side effects that aren’t listed? It’s because being female isn’t taken into account when doing most medical studies. Oh and that car you’re driving . . . don’t get me started. If you read only one nonfiction book this year, read this one.
As always, any discussion is welcome! And if you’ve read something fantastic recently, please tell me about it!
(All cover art taken from Goodreads.)
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.