Spring semester book round-up!

Whew… this semester flew by and I really neglected this blog. But, I have been reading a lot this semester! So I thought I’d do a round-up of the best books I’ve read these past three months.

I’ve also been keeping track of the books I’ve been reading as part of my PopSugar Reading Challenge here and on my Goodreads Reading Challenge here!

April:

All American Boys by Jason Reynolds

I actually listened to this one as an audiobook, which was excellent because two different voice actors read the two different main characters’ chapters. It is the story of a young African-American teen who gets beat up by a police officer and becomes a news story and the white teen boy from his high school who sees the fight and must come to terms with his privilege and worldview. This topic is so pressing right now and this title is an excellent introduction for teens into the concept of privilege and race in America because it is very explicit and informative about these concepts, to the point that it was a bit overly didactic for me since I am already aware of these issues. Overall though, I really enjoyed this novel.

In the Country We Love: My Family Divided by Diane Guerrero

I’ve been watching Jane the Virgin lately and I’m a fan of Orange is the New Black so when I saw Guerrero’s face on the cover and found out that it was a book about another currently relevant and vital to discuss topic – undocumented immigration and deportation – I had to read it. I very much appreciated Diane’s story and the honest way she covered life with undocumented parents, her parents’ deportation and the severe depression that followed for her. The writing was not great, but I was willing to look past that because of how much I enjoyed the story.

Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell

Fangirl is another one I listened to as an audiobook, and while I didn’t enjoy the main narrator’s voice all that much, I loved that a British author was hired to read the Simon Snow portions – Simon Snow being what appeared to be an intentional Harry Potter rip-off/ode except with vampires. It took me a while to get into and appreciate the main character, Cath, but I came to really enjoy this book, and I am planning on reading this book’s pseudo-sequel: Carry On, a novel devoted entirely to the Simon Snow story.

March:

Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alire Saenz

Ok I listened to this one as an audiobook too and it was READ BY LIN MANUEL MIRANDA and it was the best thing ever. His narration was authentic and even just talking about it puts his voice back in my head. I loved this story of Aristotle and Dante, two unlikely friends in New Mexico who have a lot about themselves to uncover. It is beautifully written and both Ari and Dante are fully formed, wonderfully inquisitive and introspective teens. Maybe one of my favorite books I’ve read this year.

Little Brother by Cory Doctorow

This one scared the crap out of me. It is the story of a dystopian future in which San Francisco is hit by a terrorist attack and the United States, and specifically the state of California, which at the beginning of the novel is already pushing the boundaries of spying on and tracking its citizens especially through the school system, turns into a police state, with one teen its main target. Especially under our current administration this book really spooked me and gave me a lot to think about. It also helped me remember that even people I’ve seen as “good guys” have used similar logic of safety over privacy and how quickly that thinking can spin out of control. A must read for the 21st century American.

Burn, Baby Burn by Meg Medina

This novel reminded me how much I love historical fiction and that I don’t read nearly enough of it. The main character in this novel is a Latina girl living in Queens in the 1970s during the time of the Son of Sam murders. The turmoil in New York at this time matches the turmoil in her house and in her mind as her family situation becomes tense and she tries to envision her life beyond high school. I thought the incorporation of the Son of Sam murders as a historical element as well as Medina’s own recollections from growing up in Queens during that time added an authentic and unnerving quality to this novel that made it incredibly enjoyable.

February:

Red Kayak by Priscilla Cummings

I was very surprised that I enjoyed this one, because I totally judged it by its cover and its cover screamed to me “200 pages on a topic you’re not really interested in (water sports) with an overly moralistic 90’s arc.” However, I enjoyed this one for two reasons: first, it presented a serious moral conflict and I really empathized with the main character, and two, it was set right by my house in Annapolis and I loved getting to understand a place that is so close to me yet so different from where I live. The main character’s area is much more rural and people in the neighborhood generally seemed poorer than the wealthy yacht-owners I usually see by the docks in Annapolis. It also mentioned the train station my S.O. grew up next to in Frostburg, Maryland, so overall it just gave me this feeling of comfort and familiarity and discussed settings that are not typical in YA literature.

Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng

This novel follows a Chinese-American family in the wake of the discovery that their daughter is found drowned at the bottom of their local lake. Part mystery, part character study, Ng follows the family through their present grief as they try to make sense of their daughters death, while skipping back to different moments in the family’s history to understand how the family unraveled and reveal the secrets each family member keeps from the others. Eventually, the family realizes they knew much less about their ostensibly perfect daughter and sister than they thought. Ng writes beautifully and carefully, weaving together issues of race, sexism, family roles and societal pressures to explore how one family can hide so much just beneath the surface.

 

It’s Monday, what are you reading?

I have a lot of material I want to get read over the next two weeks so I have my fingers crossed for a snow day tomorrow so I can get that done! I’ve been reading a lot in particular for my YA literature class.

What I finished last week: Forever by Judy Blume
– A very exciting premise (promoting healthy teen young adult sexuality) with really unexciting execution.

This week I hope to finish Little Brother by Cory Doctorow and Winter by Marissa Meyer. I also hope to read Heaven by Angela Johnson and, for homework I have to read two graphic novels, which I will pick up tonight. One of the ones I would like to read is American Born Chinese by Gene Luen Yang.

Between this potential snow day tomorrow and my spring break next week (during which I’ll be spending at least 8 hours on a bus!) I should be able to get plenty of reading done!

TBR for the semester – YA lit

This semester I am taking a young adult fiction class and will be reading tons of YA. I haven’t planned out all the titles I will read yet but I wanted to give you a sampling of the titles I already know I will be exploring throughout the semester.

  1. I’ll Give You the Sun by Jandy Nelson
  2. March by Joh Lewis
  3. Drowned City: Hurricane Katrina and New Orleans by Don Brown
  4. Red Kayak by Priscilla Cummings (instructor assigned)
  5. What I Saw and How I Lied by Judy Blundell (instructor assigned)
  6. Heaven by Angela Johnson (instructor assigned)
  7. Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alire Saenz (instructor assigned)

In addition to this list also need to choose two books from two different genres, one title that focuses on multiculturalism, a graphic novel, and pending my final project topic, a few books all centered around one theme. Please let me know if you have any suggestions! I am looking forward to completing this list and in general leaving this class with a better understanding of the scope of YA lit and how to evaluate and recommend books for different students.

 

Best and worst reads of 2016

I am *so* sorry for disappearing. Here I was thinking that the end of the semester would bring me more time to blog, and instead I have barely had time to think!

I thought I would take a moment and recount some of my favorite and least favorite books I read this year. Without further ado and in no particular order…

The Best:

  1. The Woman in White by Wilkie Collins
  2. Cinder by Marissa Meyer
  3. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo by Steig Larsson
  4. Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates
  5. The Summer Trilogy by Jenny Han
  6. Escape from Mr. Lemoncello’s Library  by Chris Grabenstein
  7. All the Bright Places  by Jennifer Niven
  8. Wonder by R.J. Palacio
  9. Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson
  10. Buffering by Hannah Hart

The Worst:

  1. The Maze Runner by James Dashner
  2. The Girl on the Train by Patricia Hawkins
  3. Me Before You (and After You) by JoJo Moyes
  4. The Innocent Killer by Michael Griesbach
  5. This is Where It Ends by Marieke Nijkamp

November book round-up

I didn’t get to do too much reading this month, but I got through…

Buffering by Hannah Hart

Buffering was my favorite book I read this month and is a well-crafted, beautifully honest memoir by Youtuber Hannah Hart. Hart shares tales of growing up with a mother who suffers from severe mental illness and a father who is a Jehovah’s Witness and becoming a proud gay woman. I was amazed by her honesty in what must have been an incredibly painful book to write, and very grateful that she decided to share her story and what she learned along the way.

The Maze Runner by James Dashner

I… really was not impressed by this book and that was very disappointing for me. After having checked this title and its sequels out to what feels like every teenager in our neighborhood, I was expecting great things. However, I found the writing and characters to be flat, and certain parts of the plot really dragged. I didn’t hate it, but I wasn’t really as impressed as I thought.

Here I Am by Jonathan Safran Foer

Read this book if you loved Safran Foer’s other books, love character development, or are interested in a story which incorporates Jewish customs and culture. Don’t read it if you’re put off by extremely graphic language or somewhat meandering messaging. I enjoyed this foray into the lives of a dysfunctional family who felt familiar because of their nuanced dynamic and their location near me in the D.C. area, but I definitely don’t think this is a book for everyone.

Top Ten Tuesday: All time Movies!

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly meme created by The Broke and the Bookish.

I do not watch a lot of movies, so it was very difficult for me make this list! It took me a long time to even remember what movies I’ve seen beyond my top 5.

  1. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind
  2. The Breakfast Club
  3. Juno
  4. Little Miss Sunshine
  5. Rocky Horror Picture Show
  6. Steel Magnolias
  7. Mean Girls
  8. Grease
  9. You’ve Got Mail
  10. Harry Potter series (all eight!) 

Top Ten Tuesday: Books to read if your book club likes memoirs (and girl power)!

  1. Yes, Please by Amy Poehler
  2. You Deserve a Drink by Mamrie Hart
  3. Buffering by Hannah Hart
  4. Where Am I Now? by Mara Wilson
  5. Bad Feminist by Roxane Gay
  6. Fun Home by Alison Bechdel
  7. Let’s Pretend This Never Happened by Jenny Lawson
  8. Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson (though a children’s book technically, I think fascinating for all ages)
  9. Hunger Makes me a Modern Girl by Carrie Brownstein
  10. Hyperbole and a Half by Allie Brosh

October book round-up

As the year is winding down, I am really narrowing my focus to emphasize books I need to complete the PopSugar 2016 reading challenge, which I had been really chugging along with until I started school. From January to August, I completed about 3/4 of the list simply by reading what I wanted and marking it off the list if it applied. However, now that I am reading less and the items left get into categories of books that I don’t normally pick up, I am having to be a bit more targeted with what I read. Here’s what I’ve read this month:

Cinder (Book #1 of the Lunar Chronicles) by Marissa Meyer

This series was recommended to me more than a year ago by a co-worker but when I saw that the PopSugar challenge required reading a retelling of a fairytale, I decided it was time to give this book a try. I really enjoyed this futuristic re-envisioning of Cinderella as an orphan cyborg mechanic – the new Cinderella is much more complex and independent, and romance is no longer the central focus of the plot. I have already ordered and am anxiously awaiting the next book in this series!

Dreams from my Father: Stories of Race and Inheritance by Barack Obama

Another title I’ve wanted to read for a while and felt like now was a good time given the approaching end of President Obama’s time in office. I loved hearing about his life growing up and all the many things I didn’t know about his family and his childhood – most surprisingly to me that he spent some time as a child living in Indonesia. It was made even better that I listened to this title and Obama himself read it – there is nothing better than hearing someone’s life story in their own voice. Beautifully written and uplifting, and fascinating to read so soon after Ta-Nehisi Coates’ Between the World and Me, because of the similarities and differences between the two figures experiences as black children and within a racially tense America.

Books I am currently working on/hope to finish next month:

  • Where Am I Now? by Mara Wilson
  • Delirium by Lauren Oliver
  • Buffering: Unshared Tales of a Life Fully Loaded by Hannah Hart

Books I read based on a recommendation

Participating in The Broke and the Bookish’s Top Ten Tuesday this week because that’s all I have the mental energy to do. You’ll notice I kind of cheated by making the Millenium series #8, 9 and 10. Sorry, not sorry about it. 😉 Once I get through the next few weeks of grad school craziness my posts will hopefully be a bit more intensive.

  1. Fates and Furies by Lauren Groff
    This book was actually recommended by President Obama and also on an NPR segment so with that winning combination I couldn’t really pass it up! Overall I enjoyed it, though most of the plot has already left my recollection.
  2. How to be a Woman by Caitlin Moran
    This book was a recommendation from Emma Watson’s monthly book club. It was funny and overall a great feminist work, though I was uncomfortable with her portrayal of some LGBT issues.
  3. Let’s Pretend This Never Happened: A Mostly True Memoir by Jenny Lawson
    My former supervisor recommended this one to me and I was so glad she did. One of the funniest books I read (really, listened to) this year.
  4. Fortunately, the Milk by Neil Gaiman
    A hilarious, wonderful title recommended by a fellow blogger.
  5. The Alchemist by Paul Coehlo
    This one was recommended by a Buzzfeed article. Honestly, I was disappointed, and found it way too preachy.
  6. Little Women by Louisa May Alcott
    This was recommended to me by my aunt, who was re-reading it for her book club. I really didn’t love it, and I think she actually ended up hating it too upon re-reading.
  7. Survivor by Chuck Palahniuk
    This one was indirectly recommended to me by the band Panic! At the Disco. I was a superfan in high school and after finding out that my favorite album was written based off this book, I had to read it. Palahniuk remains one of the most fascinating authors I’ve ever read.
  8. 9. and 10. The Millenium series by Steig Larsson
    This one was actually read to me way back in high school and I filed it away in the back of my mind until this year when I actually had a moment to read it – and it lived up to the hype!

Social justice and the value of inclusion

I’ve been reflecting on this a lot recently for a few reasons. First: I’ve been taking a diversity and inclusion class and we had to make our first reflective essay assignment this week. Second: I listened to the wonderful, beautiful, terribly saddening “Between the World and Me” by Ta-Nehisi Coates on my commute this week, a memoir which is all about the experience of growing up black and poor in America. And third: I stupidly and frustratingly got into a Facebook comment argument this week about the importance of medical professionals to be educated on transgender issues (for the record, I strongly advocated for the fact that they *should* be knowledgeable in that subject, as professionals who provide a vital service to the public, and was kind of shocked that anyone would so strongly think differently about that).

This combination of factors this week has just really hammered in for me the importance of creating a safe space in the library where everyone feels welcome and accepted. In his book, Ta-Nehisi Coates talks about how he would spend every day at the library at Howard, reading and researching books upon books about black people all around the world in history, in art, in literature. I want people to be able to go to any library in the country, not just one at a historically black college or university, and find information about people who look like them, act like them, sound like them, have the same beliefs as them, whatever any of those end up being. I want people to go into the library and read or learn about someone who’s totally *different* from anything they’ve experienced in life. Over all, I want people to go into a library and feel safe and respected and included. It’s so important.

Sometimes, especially in my past job, it is easy to get caught up in the every day and forget about this larger mission. I wanted to write this post because I wanted to remember this and other lessons I took away from this week, and come back to it when I realize I’m not doing enough to serve others.

My review of Coates’ book will come later this month when I do my book round-up, but I wanted to take a moment now and recommend it to anyone and everyone who wants to get a better sense about what it can be like to be black in America, especially those who live in the Maryland/DC area and can identify some of the places Coates’ lived. It was eye-opening and heart-wrenching and wonderfully written and should I think be required reading for any modern American.