Sorcerer to the Crown Review

February 26, 2016

I kept hearing about this book. I kept meaning to read it. I finally got around to it. Now I get it.

Zen Cho’s Sorcerer to the Crown is the magical feminist fantasy novel I’ve been waiting for. It’s funny and fun and smart. Every time I thought there was something that was going to make me groan unhappily, it got flipped on its head. My only complaint is the continued use of “female” as a noun, and I think that might just be a pet peeve of mine.

The characters are strong and relatable and, occasionally, ridiculous. The plot is engaging and the writing is great. I wanted to keep reading — not only to find out what would happen next, but because it was an enjoyable experience.

Seriously, this book is delightful. It has something for everyone. I whole-heatedly recommend it. It’s the first in a trilogy and I don’t even care that I have to wait (OK, I care a little bit). I’m all in.

Book Juggling

February 4, 2016

If you were to look at my “currently reading” shelf on Goodreads right now, you might raise a skeptical eyebrow. See, the thing is, I am “currently reading” seven books (OK, I’m really actively reading six, but that seventh is there because I’ll get back to it one of these days).

It isn’t particularly uncommon for me to be reading a couple of books simultaneously, but I don’t generally read this many all at once. Every so often though, I go through this weird book juggling phase and I have no clue what triggers it. Normally it’s just a different way for me to read, but right now it’s kind of stressing me out.

It isn’t that the books I’m reading don’t hold my interest (they do when I’m reading them!), but for some reason I’ve recently felt this drive to keep starting new books. Heck, I’ve actually had to stop myself from starting some other new ones even as I struggle to finish the ones I’ve got going right now.

I’ve been making better progress in the last couple of days, so it’s possible I’ll be out of this phase soon, but if not, I might just let myself abandon some for now. After all, I can always go back to them later, right?

Do any of you go through these kinds of book juggling phases? How do they make you feel? Do they stress you out, or do you just go with the flow? How do you jumpstart your reading and get back to “normal”?

Now that we’re firmly entrenched in 2016 (I say this as if we could somehow slip back in time…) I’m taking a moment to look back on my year in reading and figure out my 2016 reading goals/resolutions.

I use a combination of Goodreads and a variation on Book Riot’s ultimate reading spreadsheet to track my reading. It has been super helpful, but I’m often pretty bad at adding books to my spreadsheet in a timely fashion. I’m going to try to be better about this — mostly for my own sanity; it’s way less overwhelming if I add books as I go and not in giant batches every few months.

In 2015 I finished reading 112 books. 26 were by people of color. 71 were by women. 5 were in translation. There is clearly room for improvement here, so diversifying my reading is a main goal for me. In addition to people of color and works in translation, I want to read more books by and/or about people who are LGBT, disabled, and otherwise outside the “norm” as defined by mainstream publishing. I’ve added columns in my spreadsheet to cover “other author diversity” and “diversity representation” to try and track this (I know it’s flawed, but it’s the best I’ve come up with so far. I’m open to suggestions if you have them).

I’ve also been tracking where the books I read come from because I think that’s incredibly interesting (and/or I’m a colossal nerd). 34 of the physical books I read came from a library (I’m extremely fortunate in that I can borrow from both the public and university libraries). 26 of my books consumed were audiobooks and 32 were e-books (only 4 of which were not borrowed electronically from the Free Library of Philadelphia). I really started exploring audiobooks this year and it has tremendously enhanced my reading life, so I plan to continue that practice in 2016.

In addition to getting better at tracking, reading more diversely, and reading more in translation, I’d also like to branch out more when it comes to genre — especially comics. Maybe I’ll even go crazy and start a pull list this year.

And, of course, I want to blog more. I’m working on it, really. But I’m also all over bookstagram, so if you get too impatient waiting for me to post here about the stuff I’m reading, follow me @poindextrix for books, cats, and other random bits of whimsy.

Now I’m heading back to the Alexander Hamilton biography by Ron Chernow. It’s the book on which Hamilton (the musical) is primarily based (sort of). In addition to scratching that Hamilton itch, it’ll check off a few boxes for the Book Riot 2016 Read Harder Challenge!

What are you reading right now? Do you make reading resolutions? If so, what are they? Do you have suggestions for books in translation that I should read? Put ’em in the comments!

Happy reading, friends!

The Last Illusion by Porochista Khakpour started out with a bang. A loud, explosive bang with colors and light and heat. But as our protagonist Zal gets more “normal,” I got less interested (I’m going to skip right past what that says about me). The biggest draw for me was the parallels of his life with the Shahnameh, or The Book of Kings — an Iranian myth introduced in the preface — and how things worked on the fringes of reality.

A huge event hangs over the majority of this book, and while I get that that’s the point, it was sort of unsettling. There’s what we know happens in real-life history, but the book has this aura of surreality that made me wonder if maybe, just maybe things would play out a bit differently.

I’m being vague on purpose because I found it interesting (if stressful) to watch it all unfold and slowly figure things out, so I don’t want to deprive anyone of that.

I did really enjoy this book, I guess it’s just a weird feeling since I absolutely loved the beginning.

Golden Son — Review

March 9, 2015

Golden Son is the second book in Pierce Brown’s Red Rising trilogy and I can assure you that it does not suffer from second book syndrome.

Darrow continues to live as a Gold, working to gain favor and influence in order to bring down the Society from within. But the Bellona are still after him and with multiple players in the game the dynamics are constantly changing.

Golden Son is gripping and fast-paced. I absolutely tore through it and now I’m a bit mad at Pierce Brown because I have to wait for the next book and if there’s one thing I’m not, it’s patient.

This series is gearing up to be a thrilling dystopian masterwork. Sometimes jarring in its violence and brutality, it shows characters battling with still-universal questions of love, loyalty, trust, and identity.

The Last Batch of 2014

January 14, 2015

In my life I am constantly reading and though I try to stay consistent in my reviewing, I am usually a bit behind in that area. Yes, I’ll pause for your gasps of shock and disbelief. It’s a new year and there’s a new crop of books, so I figure why should I bring my backlog with me? So now you’re getting little snapshots of many of the books I read in the latter part of 2014. Some books won’t be mentioned here because I plan to talk about them in a slightly different context. But more on that later.

Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

Americanah follows Nigerian teenagers Ifemelu and Obinze into and out of other countries as they enter adulthood and navigate race, romance, and relationships. Sharp, funny, and fearless, it’s a great read fro pretty much anyone.

 

The Woman Who Would Be King: Hatshepsut’s Rise to Power in Ancient Egypt by Kara Cooney

Hatshepsut was the longest reigning female pharaoh in Ancient Egypt, but her rise to power and the circumstances of her reign are shrouded in secrecy. The language of this book kind of bothered me — the whole thing was necessarily somewhat speculative, but the continuous hedging irked me. I would have preferred a disclaimer at the start that allowed it to be written with clearer, more certain language.

 

Boy, Snow, Bird by Helen Oyeyemi

Boy, Snow, Bird is an enchanting reimagining of a classic tale. This book is masterfully inventive and Oyeyemi’s strong, brilliant, beautiful voice shines through.

 

St. Lucy’s Home for Girls Raised by Wolves by Karen Russell 

This collection of essays is just as weird as I would expect something from Karen Russell to be. I didn’t like this collection as much as Vampires in the Lemon Grove (which is newer). There is a kind of extra melancholy streak to these stories besides the dark twisty-ness of other stuff of hers that I’ve liked.

 

Anything That Moves: Renegade Chefs, Fearless Eaters, and the Making of a New American Food Culture by Dana Goodyear

Dana Goodyear jumps —tastebuds first— into “foodie” culture and the world of extreme eating, following devotees of ultra-authentic ethnic cuisines, raw food aficionados, and so much more. I would eat maybe two of the things described in this book, but I’m bizarrely fascinated by these people and their lifestyles. Sometimes I wish she would have dug a bit deeper or described a bit more, but this was an enjoyable read.

 

Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel

A superflu wipes out huge swaths of the population. Fifteen years later, a roving band of actors and musicians travels between communities of survivors performing Shakespeare. The narrative hops between the Traveling Symphony and the decline of civilization immediately after the pandemic. It’s a vivid and utterly transfixing novel.

 

The Martian by Andy Weir

Due to a series of unfortunate events, astronaut Mark Watney is living alone on Mars. And no one knows. With no way to signal Earth, a limited food supply, and a dogged determination to stay alive, Watney puts his skills and smart-assert to the test. I read this in 24 hours. I did not stop. I completely blew off familial obligations while reading this over the holidays. I have no regrets.

 

A Rogue by Any Other Name by Sarah MacLean

This is the first romance novel I’ve read in quite some time, and I really enjoyed it. It’s the first book in the Rules of Scoundrels series which revolves around London’s most exclusive gaming hell. I won’t say much about it, but it’s significantly less ridiculous than a lot of other historical romance tends to be.

 

So now you’re mostly caught up to where I am now with my current reading. As I mentioned before, this isn’t a complete list of everything I’ve read this year, but I think it gives a pretty good picture. There will be a few other things that mention books from 2014, but my 2015 book reviews will start popping up here pretty soon. We’re moving onward!

This review is qualified by the fact that I have not yet read Caitlin Moran’s How to Be a Woman, which incorporates tales of her adolescence with social commentary and observations of women’s lives. How to Build a Girl, though not strictly autobiographical, appears to draw on many of the same experiences as an adolescent music writer. I cannot personally speak to any similarities, but some Goodreads reviews (which should generally be taken with the largest possible grain of salt) suggest there are enough to be distracting.

There you have it. That’s my disclaimer/fair warning/what-have-you. Onward!

I really enjoyed this book. It felt bold and awkward and earnest and so very teenaged. So many of the experiences (particularly with her exploration of early sexuality) and her reactions/rationalizations are incredibly cringeworthy. Johanna, our protagonist, does not experience her feminist awakening quite as early as I want her to (despite her nod to the Riot Grrrl movement), but as much of this book reads like a reflection I can almost view this as her older self looking back with a “hindsight is 20/20” attitude.

Johanna reinvents herself as a drinking, smoking, hellion as a way not only to save her family, but to escape emotionally from her poverty and uncertainty-ridden family life. When she is her alter-ego she is a shameless and ruthless— talking explicitly about sex with rockstars and ripping bands to shreds.

But what happens when Johanna stops to look at this persona she has built and realizes that it isn’t so great?

How to Build a Girl is speckled with words of wisdom about growing up, getting better, and becoming the person you want to be.

Lungs Full of Noise is a mesmerizing short story collection by Tessa Mellas. I first heard about it while listening to the Book Riot podcast. I’ve been trying to explore more short story collections recently and this one sounded so fascinating that I decided to give it a shot.

Many of the stories in this collection have a weird, creepy, almost sinister sense to them. They remind me of Karen Russell’s work, but a bit darker.

The Goodreads blurb gives a good idea of what to expect

This prize-winning debut of twelve stories explores a femininity that is magical, raw, and grotesque. Aghast at the failings of their bodies, this cast of misfit women and girls sets out to remedy the misdirection of their lives in bold and reckless ways.

Mellas explores the struggles and relationships in women’s lives with an edge that makes the stories all the more exciting to read.

I really enjoyed Lungs Full of Noise and I would definitely recommend it to anyone who wants to read some fantastic short stories with a little edge. These stories might not be everyone’s thing, but if you really enjoy Karen Russell and slightly twisted fiction this might be in your wheelhouse.

The Grisha Trilogy

September 15, 2014

OK, so one of my friends in real life and on the interwebs wrote about Leigh Bardugo’s Grisha trilogy for Book Riot not too long ago and after reading her recommendation I flitted off to an online bookstore that shall remain nameless and bought Shadow & Bone immediately. I didn’t actually start reading it until a week or so later, but once I did I blew through the entire series (the other two books are Ruin & Rising and Siege & Storm in that order) in a matter of days. I may not have slept much…

The Grisha trilogy takes place in Ravka, a Russian-ish nation where the First Army of fighters and the Second Army of magic-wielding Grisha work together to keep the country safe. Alina grew up in the home of a benevolent duke after she was orphaned as a young girl. Now grown and studying to be a mapmaker with the First Army, she enters the Fold with her regiment. In the midst of an attach halfway across, Alina unleashes a power she never knew she possessed — one that could be the key to destroying the Fold and saving her country. But not everything is as it seems and Alina must master not only her power, but her own desires in order to succeed.

I was all over this series guys. There’s a badass heroine coming into her own, magic, reality meeting mythology, a bit of romance, and so much more.

Bardugo has received a bit of criticism (at least on Goodreads) for the Russian elements being kind of flawed. I don’t know enough to comment on that, but really, this series doesn’t take place in Russia, so while this criticism may have legs, it’s important to remember that Bardugo may have just used aspects of Russian culture or folklore as a jumping off point. I’m willing to give her the benefit of the doubt, anyway.

If you want to get lost in a world for a few days, I definitely recommend this trilogy. I really enjoyed the characters and the story. Bardugo also wrote a few companion folk tales that I’ve bought, but not yet read. I am, as you might imagine, super excited to dive into those as well.

When I saw a blurb about Marja Mills’s The Mockingbird Next Door on Book Riot I was so excited. I think Harper Lee is amazing and this book promised a glimpse into the famously reclusive author’s life and an answer to the question everyone asks: why didn’t she write another book?

Now, having read the book, as well as Lee’s statements against it, I’m feeling a bit conflicted.

There’s an NPR piece that looks at things from a slightly different perspective and doesn’t make Mills seem quite so predatory/opportunistic, but I still have lingering doubts and that makes me somewhat uneasy and unsure of how I should feel about this.

I will say that this does read much more as a memoir than a biography (whether that was the initial intention, I can’t say). Mills reflects on the time she spent with Lee and her inner circle and shares some of their stories and anecdotes, but this isn’t the all-encompassing story of Lee’s life. I enjoyed the glimpse into the everyday lives of Nelle Harper, Alice, and their group of friends.

All the same, the book doesn’t quite deliver on all of its promises. We get a partial answer to the big question, but nothing really solid. And while Mills paints a picture of what a day spent with Harper Lee is like, readers don’t get a full idea of her life or much of the Lee family history. There is also a bit of repetition in some of the descriptive language and the anecdotes that Mills shares.

If Mills was a close to that group as her book suggests, then she lived the dream. I always want to know what it would be like to spend time with a great author — to simply share stories and talk about life and literature. Lee comes across as a woman with incomparable intellect and wit, with a unique take on life. If Lee never gave her blessing to the book, then I respect that, but I’ll still cherish the peek at her personality and the spectacular relationships she has with those around her.

***

There will be a lot of reviews in the coming days. I appear to follow a very loose pattern in which I post reviews regularly for a while and then accidentally stop for a period of time (I don’t stop reading, of course. That would be absurd). I’ll work on being better at that, but no promises. If anything, we’ll say that my sporadic posting encourages appreciation of each individual post.