Even though February is a short month, I crammed in thirteen books. While I’ve yet to read any books published in 2020 (due to my library not having any), I read some fantastic backlist books this month. Here are my mini book reviews.
A Woman Is No Man by Etaf Rum–contemporary fiction–published 2019–three stars: This novel follows three Arab women from the same family but of different generations as they live in Brooklyn. I desperately want to love this book, but I teach middle schoolers who have better narrative techniques than I saw demonstrated here.
Refugee by Alan Gratz–middle-grade historical fiction–published 2017–four stars: Three different children in three different parts of the world in three different time periods share their refugee experiences. The tales are grounded in real historical events, but the main characters, sensationalized and contrived, detract from the stories. This is still an excellent middle-grade read.
Fallen (Fallen #1) by Lauren Kate–YAL fantasy–published 2009–one star: Terrible. No redeeming qualities whatsoever. I can’t even try to summarize it for you because I don’t want to relive one word from it. Books like this give YAL a bad name.
Skyward (Skyward #1) by Brandon Sanderson–YAL sci-fi–published 2018–four stars: Who wouldn’t want to read a sci-fi version of Top Gun but with a female protagonist, spaceships, and a mushroom-obsessed AI? It’s pretty funny in places, too. The writing isn’t out of this world, but the plot is a galaxy worth of fun.
A Curse So Dark and Lonely (Cursebreakers #1) by Brigid Kemmerer–YAL fantasy–published 2019–four stars: If you need a modern-day retelling (which is normally not my Ram Jam) of Beauty and the Beast, stop what you are doing and pick up this book.
The Coddling of the American Mind: How Good Intentions and Bad Ideas Are Setting Up a Generation for Failure by Jonathan Haidt and Greg Lukianoff–nonfiction/current events–published 2018–four stars: You’ve probably heard about this book (originally a shorter piece published in The Atlantic a few years ago) if you keep up with politics and current events. Lukianoff and Haidt discuss how the way we raise our children, the emphasis of feeling over logic, and shifting free speech norms on college campuses are stifling rhetoric in a place that’s supposed to value it. I don’t agree with everything they have to say (They come at this with a male perspective and are a bit insensitive about rape, rape culture, and feminism. They also minimize intersectionality and microaggressions.), but they make some interesting points. And isn’t the whole point of this book to be able to make an argument, back it up, and have conversations about it–like adults–whether you agree with them or not?
The Dreamers by Karen Thompson Walker–science fiction–published 2019–four stars: Call The Mamas & the Papas because there is some “California Dreamin'” going on in this book. Seriously. A small California town gets inflicted with a viral sleeping disease and goes under quarantine. Or maybe I should sing “wake up kids/ we’ve got the dreamer’s disease”? New Radicals anyone? Anyway, ’twas a good read for me.
Swear on This Life by Renee Carlino–romance–published 2016–two stars: I thought to myself, it’s the day before Valentine’s Day. I should read a love story. So I did, and I wasn’t impressed. Emiline, a writer, reads a much-buzzed-about novel only to discover it’s her personal coming of age story told by the ex-love of her life. You get to read a mediocre novel within a very mediocre novel if you decide to read this book.
The Way of Kings (The Stormlight Archive #1) by Brandon Sanderson–fantasy–published 2010–five stars: All hail to the kings! I’m in love with this high fantasy tome; it clocks in around 1,000 pages. It’s got just enough magic, world-building, and storyline for fantasy lover perfection. The writing itself isn’t spectacular, but its other elements more than makeup for some narrative holes. For example, I had a hard time picturing how the bridge runners placed the bridges across the Shattered Plains’ plateaus. Also, Sanderson overuses the words “carapace” and “pupate.”
Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World by Cal Newport–productivity/nonfiction–published 2016–three stars: I think I would have liked this read more if I hadn’t already read Newport’s Digital Minimalism. He argues that in order to get deep, meaningful work done, you need to go offline, be unreachable, and dedicate uninterrupted chunks of time. He criticizes open work areas (I wholeheartedly agree with this.), multi-tasking, email mindset, and several other habits that infiltrate the modern workday. I got aggravated with this book for three main reasons. 1. I will never get deep work done at work because of the way my public school day is structured. I further feel like students can’t get deep work done because of habitual classroom distractions. 2. Again, just like The Coddling of the American Mind, this is a very male-oriented book. He talks about how he was able to get all of this work done while he had a young child. Well, Cal, what was your wife doing? Was she getting any deep work done? In the book, there are several examples of successful men who get deep work done while the only female example that I can remember is J.K. Rowling. 3. This is a book of privilege. I’m sure there are plenty of non-middle and non-upper class workers out there busting their asses who would like to perform deep work but don’t have the time, money, or help to do so.
Teach Like a Pirate: Increase Student Engagement, Boost Your Creativity, and Transform Your Life as an Educator by Dave Burgess–education/nonfiction–published 2012–three stars: I already knew everything presented to me in this book, and the information is dated at this point. Burgess is inspiring though.
Starsight (Skyward #2) by Brandon Sanderson–YAL sci-fi–published 2019–three stars: Unfortunately, I don’t think I’ll continue this series. The beginning is rushed and confusing. Lackluster writing permeates the pages. The cliffhanger doesn’t compel me to read on. Overall, this was a disappointment. Guess which words make several appearances again? (If you guessed “carapace” and “pupate,” then you are correct.)
The Eyre Affair (Thursday Next #1) by Jasper Fforde–fantasy–published 2003–three stars: In this bizarro England, Thursday Next, a member of a special task force in charge of crimes against literature, seeks a villain who’s kidnapping major characters from literary masterpieces and finds herself read into Jane Eyre. At times, this novel can be hard to follow because if you’re not hardcore into British literature, allusions will go over your head.
Women Talking by Miriam Toews–contemporary fiction–published 2019–three stars: For years in a Mennonite community, supposed demons raped women of all ages while they slept. When it’s discovered that a group of men are responsible for the violent crimes, the women must decide to stay or leave their settlement. (This is based on a true story.) I liked the way this was written, but I found it boring.
(All cover art taken from Goodreads.com)
As always, any discussion is welcome!