Recent Reads: September-November

As I haven’t done a Recent Reads in a while, here are a few I loved in the past few months that didn’t get reviews.

28588459Still Life with Tornado by A.S. King characters Good Ol' Fun 

A. S. King is from the Philly area and she set this latest book in Philadelphia so I was automatically interested. Part of my love for this book was just being able to perfectly visualize everywhere the MC went, but King also does weird so well.

The premise of the book is 16-year-old Sarah quits school for reasons the reader isn’t fully told until towards the end. As she wanders around Philly, she runs into different younger and older versions of herself. Through Sarah’s mini adventures and conversations with her other selves, you start to get glimpses of what Sarah is dealing with. This book captures how heavy life can feel as a teenage girl. From grappling with family and school issues to simply the weight of existence. King doesn’t belittle teenage problems. Sarah trying to figure out what “art” is and who she is is just as important as everything else going on.

Crooked Kingdom (Six of Crows, #2)Crooked Kingdom by Leigh Bardugo characters Wow Factor Gut Punch Page Turner I Ship It fave2 

I absolutely loved Six of Crows and was dying for the release of the second book. It was well worth the wait. I won’t say much in case you’re someone who hasn’t read the first book (go do that right now!!!) but it was a satisfying conclusion to the stories of characters I’ve grown so attached to.

Gemina (The Illuminae Files, #2)Gemina by Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff Wow Factor Good Ol' Fun Page Turner

Another follow up I was anxiously waiting for. This one I actually got as an ARC from BookCon, but made myself wait until a little closer to the release. It was just as much of a rollercoaster as the first book. I didn’t love it quite as much as Illuminae, but it was still dramatic and fascinating. Time to pick up this series if you haven’t. It’s unlike anything else you’ll read. There’s still one more book and I’m ready for the conclusion.

milk and honey

milk and honey by Rupi Kaur Pretty Words Required Reading

If you’re in need of some poetry, this book is full of beautiful lines. Some of the poems are absolutely breathtaking. Kaur’s poems are deeply personable, but mirror the experiences of many women. She makes you feel love and grief and everything in between.

I also picked up a few comics and graphic novels the past few months. The latest volume of Ms. Marvel might be one of my favorites yet. The theme of her struggling to balance between her life as a superhero and daughter and student is even more central to these issues. I unfortunately do not have any superpowers myself, but juggling different aspects of one’s life is so relatable. Especially post-election when many are trying to move forward while also fighting nazis.

Monstress was recommended many times and I now know why: it has it all. Amazing art and storyline. There’s a lot of gruesome things going on all in an art deco-esque steampunk fashion.

For something a little lighter, I recently grabbed This One Summer off my shelf which has been sitting there since this summer. The art is lovely and the whole book is very lazy summer vacation days.

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Recent Reads: April

Spring is quite possibly here and therefore outdoor reading is slowly beginning. April afforded me a few days outdoors and I read some lovely books, too. My absolute favorite of the month was The Rose & the Dagger, but that’s going to need its own post once I wrap my mind around it a little better. Here are four others I enjoyed.

Exit, Pursued by a Bear by E.K. Johnston Gut Punch Pretty Words

Johnston’s writing is breathtaking. Her A Thousand Nights blew me away with how beautiful her descriptions are. I was unsure how a contemporary novel would compare since it requires a different sort of writing, but Exit, Pursued by a Bear ended up being just as luscious. I don’t think I’ve ever read two books by the same author so vastly different yet similarly gorgeous.

In Exit, she borrows names from Shakespeare’s Winter’s Tale and turns it into something completely new. In this modern story, Hermione is a cheerleader who is raped at camp and doesn’t know who did it. What follows is a story about friendship and moving on. It takes a lot of talent and care to write a sexual assault story and this novel does it so well.

Paper Hearts, Volume 1: Some Writing Advice by Beth Revis Required Reading

Revis is best known for her Across the Universe series that I read a while back. The ebook version of this first volume of writing advice was on sale so I decided to give it a go. I have two novel drafts just sitting around and I’ve started a number of other projects so felt I could use some motivation. There’s a lot of bad writing advice out there (which Revis discusses) and Revis seemed like a writer I could trust. I wasn’t wrong.

I mostly read this in between fiction readings which helped me pace a little and not devour all the wisdom all at once. If you are someone who writes novels or wants to write novels, this offers a lot of helpful tips and inspiration. What’s great is she doesn’t insist on a particular way to write; she offers different routes you can take depending on what works for you. This is how all writing advice should be.

Holding Smoke by Elle Cosimano Enjoyable Page Turner

I hadn’t heard anything about this book, but the cover caught my eye so I gave it a shot. The basic premise is a teenage boy, John, is in jail for two murders: one he didn’t commit and one that was an accident. He has the power to leave his body and turn into what is basically a ghost to leave the jail and gather information. Things start to change when he comes across someone who can actually see him.

Holding Smoke ended up being more suspenseful than I expected and I’m glad for it. The book is more plot heavy than character centered. I never got a true sense of John or anyone else, but I felt enough for him to be invested in his story.  It’s clear he’s innocent and you want to know what really happened. He uses his ability to trade information for protection or other help inside the jail, but also uses it to get closer to the truth of the day he was arrested (with a little help from the girl who can see him in ghost form.) Because while he knows he didn’t do it, he doesn’t know who did. What unravels is a satisfying mystery that speeds up towards the end of the novel. While there wasn’t a “wow” moment for me, the read was quick and enjoyable, with a little food for thought on our justice system and youth incarceration.

(Note: I received a free copy of this book in exchange for a review.)

Wink Poppy Midnight by April Genevieve Tucholke Surprised Me Wow Factor Pretty Words

The poetic prose of this book is lush and the selling point for me. It has the feeling of fantasy and magic in a contemporary setting. The story is told from three points of view of teenagers heading into summer and manages to capture that feeling of mystery and adventure built up by young minds.

There’s a plot I won’t tell you about because part of this book’s reading experience is not knowing exactly what the plot is. Which sounds messy, but I liked the puzzling nature of it. It’s a short, pleasant read that’s not entirely what it seems.

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Recently Loved: A Study in Charlotte and The Girl From Everywhere

charlotteA Study in Charlotte by Brittany Cavallaro

A thing you will learn about me is I am a sucker for modern retellings. I love seeing how a writer can take a well known story and turn it into something new.

A Study in Charlotte is about the great-great-great grandchildren of Holmes and Watson, Charlotte and Jamie. They both go to a boarding school in Connecticut and try to solve a murder that Charlotte is framed for. It’s a “what if Sherlock and Dr. Watson were real and had descendants a lot like them.” This modern Holmes and Watson duo have the same basic roles, but they get to be their own characters as they play detective.

The mystery has twists and turns and nods to the original Holmes stories, but what I like most about the story is that Charlotte Holmes is a little more human than some other portrayals of a Holmes character. She’s a brilliant girl, but still just a girl.  Jamie Watson is captivated by her, but there is nuance to their relationship that is revealed as the story progresses.

Within the context of the mystery and their friendship, Cavallaro also manages to tackle addiction and rape culture. With Holmes being a teenage girl, those two issues were explored in a way much differently than they could be with Holmes being a male adult. We only see Charlotte through Jamie’s eyes, but there is still a complexity to her he discovers as he gets to know her better. He learns about what she is dealing with and makes some assumptions and mistakes along the way but ultimately their relationship deepens. Charlotte isn’t this cold, unfeeling genius.  She is a person.

As much as I enjoyed the mystery, the friendship between Jamie and Charlotte is what makes this book. While it appears instant, it takes Jamie time to start to understand Charlotte. Sometimes the relationship between Holmes and Watson is portrayed as one-sided, but in Cavallaro’s story there are two people who care for one another.

tgfeThe Girl From Everywhere by Heidi Heilig

This year has gifted us with a few YA time travel books, but this is perhaps my favorite. I adore unique approaches to time travel, because sometimes the topic gets a little stale. It’s difficult to make work because there is always the “couldn’t one little thing completely change the course of time?” question. The rules need to be clear and consistent and Heilig manages to do that without burdening the reader with a time travel how-to guide.

At the surface this book is about time traveling pirates which is kickass on its own. In order to time travel they need a map created at that particular time and place. The main character, Nix, is a crew member of her father’s ship as he tries to find a way to return to his love and Nix’s mother to save her from dying.

Oh how I love so much about this book!

  • Nix and her father, Slate, have a complicated relationship that partially stems from his struggle with bipolar disorder. (You can read an interview with Heilig about this and her own struggle with the illness.) Those with mental illness aren’t always the heroes or the villains. They are humans with good qualities as well as flaws and the depiction of Slate shows this.
  • The entire crew is lovely but oh the charming Kashmir. The witty dialogue between Nix and him is wonderful.
  • History!!! Hawaii written by someone actually from there!!! Real issues the islands faced are incorporated into this fictional story with such care.

Most of all I loved Nix. She makes some horrible decisions, but by the end I care for her so deeply. At the root of this story is a girl trying to figure out her life, which is of course easy to relate to even without having a pirate captain as a father.

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Recent Reads: January and February

The beginning of the year is usually a slow start for me when it comes to reading, but this year has been different and I managed 16 books so far? Here are four that stood out.

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truthwitch Truthwitch by Susan Dennard

This book was majorly hyped and completely deserving of all the love. I don’t think I have a single complaint about it. First of all, it has a fierce female friendship (unintentional alliteration there) at the core of the story so completely up my alley.  Dennard also manages to make the entire magical world feel like something new in fantasy. I’m by no means a fantasy expert, but Truthwitch departed from other books I’ve read in the genre. I’m not someone who believes every book has to be some ingenious spin on a genre, but it can also be refreshing to find a book that does something different and does it well. I particularly liked that everyone in the Witchlands has magic so it’s not those with powers vs. those without. Instead there’s a complex magic system which the story explores along with political and personal struggles.

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saga2Saga Volumes 1-5 by Brian K. Vaughan, Fiona Staples

Last year I decided I needed to read more comics and graphic novels and have slowly been adding more into my TBR list. I’ve read all the volumes currently out for Saga and I’m loving it. It’s completely bizarre at times, which only makes it more interesting. The story follows two people from enemy lands who fall in love and have a baby. They’re on the run since their relationship made quite a few people in power unhappy and a lot of shit goes down on their journey. Looking forward to seeing where this space opera ends up.

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mbfMy Brilliant Friend by Elena Ferrante

I think I know a lot about books, but I hadn’t even heard of this until a friend recommended it. I’m half-Italian and spent a lot of my summers in Italy so I was all about a book set in Naples and recommended it for a new book club I started with a friend. We all soon discovered it had a zillion holds at the library and the fourth book made it to the NYT bestseller list and Ferrante is actually an insanely popular but mysterious author. OOPS.

Anyway, I totally loved it. Except for the horrid cover. The cover you see in this post is one I am working on to put on my copy of the book. Hey, I went to school for graphic design and sometimes I can’t deal with ugly things. I plan to redesign the entire series so I’ll post about that when the time comes.

As for the actual content of the book, if you are clueless like I was, it’s about two friends growing up in a poor neighborhood in 1950s Naples. Their relationship is complex: nurturing at times and completely toxic in other situations which makes it fascinating. I started out reading this book slowly because not a lot happens. But the detail and character development is outstanding so I suddenly found myself loving the story. It was a very Pride and Prejudice moment. (You know… “I was in the middle before I knew that I had begun.”) I plan to read the other three books so will talk about this more when I’m finished.

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passenger

Passenger by Alexandra Bracken

I love time travel stories, but I’m really picky about them. I also hate ships. And New York. (The cover is beautiful but… ships and New York.) So I went into this cautiously and was surprisingly blown away!  Time travel is handled so well with a set of rules that aren’t super complicated and make sense. (Ahem, Doctor Who. I love Doctor Who, but you kind of have to ignore its timey wimey things that don’t add up.) There’s an adorable romance and an adventure through time that culminates in a CLIFFHANGER because why not?? Currently need time travel to get book 2 from 2017.

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And here’s to hoping my reading year continues to be strong.

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Recent Reads

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Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates

This is simply required reading. Coates’s latest, about growing up black in America, is written as a letter to his son. His writing, as always, is completely absorbing and powerful. There are enough articles floating around the internet about why you should read this. (And some terrible articles from raging racists, of course, and their existence alone is a reason you should read the book.) No matter who you are, read this book. And then have your family and friends read this book.

In the Unlikely Event by Judy Blume
I had hoped to love this book and alas, did not. It’s well done and captures the lives and trauma of a town plagued by tragedy after tragedy. There was plenty I did enjoy about it. However, I didn’t really connect with any of the characters. I also think 1950s suburban America is just not my cup of tea.

Paper Towns by John Green
This was a re-read for me before I saw the movie. I first read it right after it came out when I was 18. I think the story overall was more interesting at 18, but the message is something that impacted me then and stayed with me. “What a treacherous thing to believe that a person is more than a person” was stuck in the back of mind and served as a reminder throughout college and into adulthood. Seven years later and this book still got to me.

Alias by Brian Michael Bendis and Michael Gaydos
I’ve been making an effort to read more comics and graphic novels. I graduated university with a degree in graphic design and clearly I love words so the combination of graphics and writing is something I do appreciate. Yet somehow they can be harder for me to get into. Probably just takes time to really enjoy. Anyway, in anticipation of Netflix’s A.K.A. Jessica Jones I decided to to pick up the original comics. I liked this second volume better than the first. And I love Jessica Jones as an ex-superhero character. I’m not sure the male writers of this completely did her justice but still found myself into the story. Hoping the Netflix series is even better.

More Happy Than Not by Adam Silvera
If you would like something gritty and heart-wrenching, well here you go. This book is worth the hype I saw all over my Twitter feed. The book follows Aaron Soto after his father’s suicide while he tries to come to grips with both what his father has done and thoughts about his own sexuality. Then there’s the Leteo Institute which has a memory-alteration procedure which looms over the whole story. The cast of characters in this is fantastic and it somehow covers so many different topics in little ways.

Bad Feminist by Roxane Gay
I put this off for too long. Because it’s the 21st century, I’ve followed Roxane Gay on Twitter for a while and she’s pretty kickass. This collection of essays is also pretty wonderful. The book isn’t strictly about Feminism. It’s more about Gay and her experiences as well as pop culture. While some of the pop culture references were lost on me, I still liked these essays. Gay has important things to say whether or not they are “new” things (as some reviewers find this not revolutionary enough). You have to repeat some things before people get them. When it comes down to it, I just like Roxane Gay. She is personable and funny and can also talk about big topics in way that is easily understood.  With any collection of essays, I enjoyed some essays more than others. But overall felt they were well-written and worth the read.

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