Tuesday, July 4, 2023

Mid-Year Reading Check-In

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The year is half over! Can you believe it? So . . . how's everybody holding up? Are you doing okay?

If you're reading this on the day it's posted (July 4), I'm at work. Today is the busiest day of the year for state parks. I'm probably directing traffic and suffering in the heat. Fun times.

But, we're not here to talk about work. Let's talk about books! I've read 38 of them so far this year, which isn't ideal. I was hoping to have read 50 by the beginning of July. That hasn't happened, but I can't complain because some of the books were really good.

Here are the highlights (and lowlights) of my reading year so far.

🎆  Mid-Year Reading Check-In  🎇

Best Book You've Read So Far In 2023?

I've read a few awesome books in 2023, but the one that keeps randomly popping into my mind is The Immortal Life Of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca SklootEverybody should read this book. It's fascinating, and it brings up topics that society really needs to discuss.

This is a nonfiction book about a Black woman named Henrietta Lacks who lived in Baltimore in the early 1900s. She died from cancer in 1951, but that's not where her story ends because Henrietta is somewhat still alive. She had a rare combination of genes and diseases that made her cells hard to kill. Scientists were able to grow them in labs and ship them all over the world. The cells were nicknamed HeLa, and they're still being grown for research purposes today.

Experiments on Henrietta's cells taught scientists about cancer and viruses, helped create vaccines, and showed the effects of atom bombs. They were vital in creating cloning, in vitro fertilization, and gene mapping. The cells have even been to space. Research labs buy and sell HeLa every day.

The cells are interesting, but who was Henrietta Lacks? That's what the book is about. Henrietta's cells were taken after her death and used without her permission. Her children and grandchildren are living in poverty and have not gotten any money from the use of her body. Henrietta's grave doesn't even have a headstone. This all feels very wrong.

For me, the most interesting part of the book is the ethical questions it brings up. Who should profit from biological specimens? If you give a doctor permission to cut out your tumor, do you forfeit your rights to that tumor?

I couldn't put this book down. I loved learning about Henrietta and the people whose biological samples have made life better for all of us.

Best Sequel You've Read So Far In 2023?

I've only read one sequel in 2023, so by default, the answer is Wayward Son by Rainbow RowellI highly recommend the Simon Snow series. It's hilarious.

Simon Snow is a parody of the fantasy genre that follows a group of friends who have recently graduated (or dropped out) of wizard school. In this book, they decide to go on a road trip across the US because they need a vacation from constantly saving the wizarding world. Of course nothing on the trip goes as planned.

This series is brilliant because of how average the characters are. They're normal people in their early 20s who just happen to be wizards. They mess up their relationships and make impulsive decisions. They're insecure. They're not very good at saving each other from danger. It's a refreshing take on the genre. These characters aren't heroes. They're just kids with magic. And dragon wings.

New Release You Haven't Read Yet But Want To?

The bookworms are raving about Yellowface by R.F. Kuang. It's about a wannabe author who steals a manuscript written by her dead friend and publishes it as her own. It's being compared to White Ivy by Susie Yang, which I read last year and loved. White Ivy has shocking plot twists and a protagonist who makes terrible choices for understandable reasons. I'd be thrilled with another book like White Ivy.

Anticipated Release For The Second Half Of 2023?

I've been waiting literal years to read The Fragile Threads Of Power by V.E. SchwabThis is the first book in a companion series to the Shades Of Magic books. The series is about characters who can hop between different versions of London in parallel universes. I love the plot twists and creativity.

Biggest Disappointment?

In Order To Live: A North Korean Girl's Journey To Freedom by Yeonmi Park. It starts out as a fascinating memoir about how the author and her mother escaped from North Korea. Then the author ruins everything with one paragraph near the end.

The author admits that the story of her escape changed multiple times. She gave different accounts to different journalists. Instead of telling the truth, she told reporters what she thought they wanted to hear. She says, "I was reacting, improvising like a jazz musician playing the same melody a little differently each time, unaware that there might be people out there keeping score."

My brain went in two directions with this. First, I said, "She obviously lived through something traumatizing. She's not going to spill her secrets to every reporter who asks a question." The second part of me went, "Nooo! North Korea is a vault wrapped in propaganda. Changing your story will muddy the waters and cast doubt on the stories of other refugees." The North Korean government is going to grab these inconsistencies and use them to discredit survivors and keep people trapped.

I can't recommend this book. I lost trust in the author.

Biggest Surprise?

While walking past my neighborhood's Little Free Library, I saw Leave The World Behind by Rumaan Alam. I immediately thought, Aww, yes! I want to read that! Then I thought, No. Calm down. You don't need more books. I kept walking and left the book in the library.

A month later, I was walking past the library again, and the book was still there. I didn't have the willpower to keep moving, so I grabbed the book and started reading as soon as I got home.

I really liked it!

It has no plot or character development; just vibes. I know that sounds like a bad thing, but I couldn't stop reading. I like the vibes!

It's about a family who rent a fancy vacation house in the wilderness. A few days into their vacation, an elderly couple shows up on their doorstep. They claim they are the owners of the house, and they need it back because there's been a blackout in the city. As the story goes on, the characters realize that an apocalypse may have happened. Since they're isolated in the wilderness, they have no way of knowing if they're being paranoid or if something bad actually did happen to the world. 

I suspect this is one of the most realistic apocalypse stories I've read. If all of humanity's communication systems go down, we won't know why strange things are happening. We'll just have guesses and paranoia. This book will make you tense, but it won't give you any answers.

Favorite New Author?

I was impressed by Lesley Nneka Arimah's short story collection What It Means When A Man Falls From The SkyThe stories mostly focus on the misadventures of young Nigerian women. Some of the stories are realistic. Some are historical or futuristic. Others are magical. One is a folktale. I love the variety because I never knew what was coming next. The author is a very imaginative writer with a lot of intriguing ideas.

Favorite Character?

Five stars for Rocky! I can't explain why because of spoilers. If you know, you know.

Project Hail Mary by Andy Weir is a fast-paced science fiction novel about a man who wakes up from a coma and discovers that he's alone on a spaceship. His crewmates are dead. He has no idea why he's on the ship or what he's expected to do. As he frantically searches for answers, he slowly remembers that Earth's sun is infested with alien algae, and he's been sent to a distant star in the hopes of finding something that kills space algae. Fortunately (and unfortunately), he learns a lot more than he expected on his journey.

Read this book if you like plot twists because there are a lot of them. It's actually an impossible book to review because there are so many twists. Everything I want to say is a spoiler. The characters handle each twist with humor and optimism. It's kind of inspirational. These people are very, very determined to live. Every time they start to feel hopeless, they refocus and try a different way of solving their problems. Nothing is easy in space!

Book That Made You Happy?

The only book that has made me laugh out loud this year is Carry On by Rainbow Rowell. I adore the entire Simon Snow series. Simon is a wizard in his final year of magic school, and he has a lot of problems. He’s struggling in his classes, being ignored by his mentor, arguing with his girlfriend, and getting harassed by his evil vampire roommate, Baz. To make things worse, Simon is the Chosen One who is supposed to save the magical world.

Rainbow Rowell does amazing things with fantasy tropes. This book really lets you see how ridiculous and overused some of them are. Rainbow Rowell flips the tropes on their heads. Simon is an incompetent Chosen One. Baz is a loveable villain. The magic system is silly. The witches and wizards drive cars, own laptops, accidently forget their wands at home, rely on Google to solve their problems, and talk like modern teenagers. It's the best thing ever.

Favorite Book Adaptation?

This is a bit awkward. I love the Shadow & Bone TV show on Netflix. The characters have distinct personalities, and the fantasy world is frightening. However, I couldn't get through the books because Leigh Bardugo isn't a good writer. The TV show is fun. The books feel like generic young adult fantasy.

Most Beautiful Book You Bought In 2023?

I've been on a book buying ban since August 2022. I've only broken it three times. Here are the books I acquired this year. I'll let you decide if any of them is beautiful.

What Book Do You Need To Read By The End Of The Year?

October Sky (AKA Rocket Boys) by Homer Hickam has been sitting on my shelf for years. It's time to read it or donate it. I'm not sure why I'm procrastinating. It's a memoir about how the author developed his passion for rocket science while growing up in a rural coal mining town. It sounds like a total "me" book.

Do you want to answer these questions on your blog? Go for it!


  1. I love your story about Leave the World Behind. I think the fact that the book was still in the LFL meant it was waiting for you, and we cannot argue with the results. I hope you are doing ok at work, it's miserable here, and that all went well today.

  2. I loved Leave The World Behind!!! Adding White Ivy!

  3. Busiest day of the year at the parks... that does not sound like a lot of fun (from a work perspective). What a shame about In Order to Live. To basically discredit herself, or at the very least not share her whole truth. Total letdown.

  4. I hope the masses are behaving themselves today and that you're staying cool and hydrated! Happy reading in the rest of 2023!

  5. Sometimes vibes are you need! I hope you survive this day in the heat!

  6. Aww, that's unfortunate you lost trust in the author of In Order To Live. I would too though, given the reasons you mentioned. And I also liked the Shadow and Bone series adaptation more than the books. I've only read the first book and had some difficulty continuing with the second.

  7. Rocky!!!!! The BEST character ever. You are already doing much better than what I'm doing! I think I'm only at 31 books now...

    Leave the world behind sounds intriguing for sure, will have to check it out.

    I think I need to do a Midyear check in as well! Might get to sort my mind a bit....

    Elza Reads

  8. I really need to read Henrietta Lacks. I have had this book on my tbr for such a long time so I have no excuse for not reading it yet. I also have Leave the World Behind sitting on my shelf unread. There just never seems to be enough time!

  9. Yeah the Henrietta Lacks book and Leave the World Behind were both really good. I need to read Yellowface too. I'll get to it. It was on my summer list. Currently I'm in The Postcard, WWII book now.

  10. I can't wait to read The Fragile Threads Of Power!

  11. You've had a great first half of the year with your reading. I loved PROJECT HAIL MARY so much. I listened to the audiobook and the creature's voice from the other planet was so cool. Good luck with your second half reading.

    My discussion this month: Where to post reviews.

  12. I love Rocky, toooooooooo! 😍

    Yellowface is on myTBR. 📚