Sunday, December 31, 2017

The Sunday Post #129

The Sunday Post is hosted by The Caffeinated Book Reviewer. It’s a chance to recap the past week, talk about next week, and share news. It’s Monday, What Are You Reading? is hosted by Book Date. I get to tell you what I’ve read recently.

Good news! You still have 1 day to accomplish your 2017 resolutions!

On The Blog Last Week

On The Blog This Week

  • On Monday I review The Secret History by Donna Tartt.
  • On Tuesday I list some awesome new-to-me authors.
  • On Wednesday I review Marrow Island by Alexis M. Smith.
  • On Thursday I wrap up December.
  • On Friday there might be something? I don’t know yet. I’m blogging as fast as I can!
  • On Saturday there’s a book haul.

In My Reading Life

I finally finished A Conjuring of Light by V.E. Schwab. Holy crap, that was a big book. Right now, I’m desperately trying to finish The Wolf Road by Beth Lewis. I want to finish it before next year.

In The Rest Of My Life

Five things that made me happy last week:

  1. Christmas!
  2. Re-watching Harry Potter movies for the millionth time.
  3. I got a new phone! It’s a Samsung Galaxy. I’m still trying to figure out how to use it.
  4. Since I have a phone, I can actually use my Instagram account.
  5. All the 2017 wrap-up posts are making my TBR list explode. You guys are so good at making me buy books.

Take care of yourselves and be kind to each other! See you around the blogosphere!

Saturday, December 30, 2017

The “Newbery Winners” Book Haul

Stacking the Shelves is hosted by Tynga’s Reviews. I get to show off all the books I’ve gotten recently.

One of my goals for 2018 is to read as many Newbery winners as possible. Here are a few of the winners I’ll be reading.

The “Newbery Winners” Book Haul

Out of the Dust – Karen Hesse

This gripping story, written in sparse first-person, free-verse poems, is the compelling tale of Billie Jo's struggle to survive during the dust bowl years of the Depression. With stoic courage, she learns to cope with the loss of her mother and her grieving father's slow deterioration. There is hope at the end when Billie Jo's badly burned hands are healed, and she is able to play her beloved piano again.

The Midwife’s Apprentice – Karen Cushman

The girl known only as Brat has no family, no home, and no future until she meets Jane the Midwife and becomes her apprentice. As she helps the sharp-tempered Jane deliver babies, Brat—who renames herself Alyce—gains knowledge, confidence, and the courage to want something from life.

Missing May – Cynthia Rylant

When May dies suddenly while gardening, Summer assumes she'll never see her beloved aunt again. But then Summer's Uncle Ob claims that May is on her way back—she has sent a sign from the spirit world. 
Summer isn't sure she believes in the spirit world, but her quirky classmate Cletus Underwood—who befriends Ob during his time of mourning—does. So at Cletus' suggestion, Ob and Summer (with Cletus in tow) set off in search of Miriam B. Young, Small Medium at Large, whom they hope will explain May's departure and confirm her possible return.

Criss Cross – Lynne Rae Perkins

She wished something would happen. Something good. To her. Looking at the bright, fuzzy picture in the magazine, she thought, Something like that. Checking her wish for loopholes, she found one. Hoping it wasn't too late, she thought the word soon.

Jacob Have I Loved – Katherine Paterson

Esau have I hated . . . Sara Louise Bradshaw is sick and tired of her beautiful twin Caroline. Ever since they were born, Caroline has been the pretty one, the talented one, the better sister. Even now, Caroline seems to take everything: Louise's friends, their parents' love, her dreams for the future. 
For once in her life, Louise wants to be the special one. But in order to do that, she must first figure out who she is . . . and find a way to make a place for herself outside her sister's shadow. 

Have you read any of these? What did you think?

Friday, December 29, 2017

2017 Year In Review Book Tag

Extra-special bonus post! I wasn’t planning on posting anything today, but I saw this tag on Lindsey Reads and thought it was too unusual to pass up. It was originally created by A BookTube Book. The bookish questions are inspired by events that happened this year.

2017 Year In Review Book Tag

1. First ever female Doctor Who:

Favorite female protagonist

I try not to watch a lot of TV, so I’ve never seen Doctor Who, but I did reread Harry Potter this year. Hermione Granger will always be my favorite female protagonist.

2. GCC cuts ties with Qatar:

An author you cut ties with

Maybe Chuck Palahniuk? I’ll always love Survivor and Lullaby and some of his short stories, but most of his books just confuse me. I think I’m ready to stop trying with him. Pygmy was awful. I couldn't finish it.

3. La La Land Oscar mix-up: 
A book that surprised you

I wasn’t planning on reading this book, but I kept hearing good things about it, so I decided to give it a chance. I loved it. I’m excited to read more of the author’s work.

4. Hurricanes & earthquakes: 
A book that rocked your world

I have a slight obsession with Marcus Sedgwick’s work. The obsession has been going on for a while and will probably not stop anytime soon.

5. Louvre Abu Dhabi: 
Favorite book cover art

How am I supposed to pick just one? I have a million favorites.

6. Da Vinci’s Salvator Mundi sells for $450M: 
A take-my-money book

I love this series and needed to know how it ended. Of course I was going to buy this novel ASAP.

7. Total eclipse: 
A sequel that overshadowed the first book

Sorry for using the same series twice in this tag, but I don’t read many series. I think the later Harry Potter books are better than the earlier ones.

8. Unsuccessful Muslim ban: 
Favorite diverse read

Fatty Legs! The authors are Inuit. This children’s nonfiction book is about Margaret Pokiak’s time as a student at an inhumane residential school in Canada. It’s a very quick read, and I learned a lot from it. More people should read it.

9. Italy doesn’t qualify for World Cup: 
Most disappointing book

Is the World Cup soccer? I'm not a sports person. Anyway, I wanted Smoke to be my favorite book ever. It’s set in a bizarre alternate-history world where sin is visible, and rich people can pay to hide their sins. Unfortunately, it’s unbelievably boring. I came very close to not finishing it. So much disappointment.

10. Prince Harry engaged: 
Favorite relationship

Hero and Cherry. This is one of my favorite graphic novels ever.

11. Star Wars the Last Jedi
Most-anticipated 2018 release

I think I’ve seen one Star Wars movie? I watched it with a kid I was babysitting and don’t remember it at all. I do remember my most-anticipated 2018 release. Dread Nation. Alternate-history with zombies. Hopefully it works out better than Smoke.

Do you want to do this tag? Consider yourself tagged.

Wednesday, December 27, 2017

Review: Perfect Little World – Kevin Wilson

Perfect Little World – Kevin Wilson

When Isabelle Poole meets Dr. Preston Grind, she's just about out of options. She recently graduated from high school and is pregnant with her art teacher's baby. Her mother is dead and her father is a drunk. The art teacher is too much of a head-case to help raise the child. Izzy knows she can be a good mother but without any money or prospects, she's left searching. 
So when Dr. Grind offers her a space in The Infinite Family Project, she accepts. Housed in a spacious compound in Tennessee, she joins nine other couples, all with children the same age as her newborn son, to raise their children as one extended family. Grind's theory is that the more parental love a child receives, the better off they are. 
This attempt at a utopian ideal—funded by an eccentric billionaire—starts off promising: Izzy enjoys the kids, reading to them and teaching them to cook. She even forms a bond with her son more meaningful than she ever expected. But soon the gentle equilibrium among the families is upset and it all starts to disintegrate: unspoken resentments between the couples begin to fester; the project's funding becomes tenuous; and Izzy's feelings for Dr. Grind, who is looking to expunge his own painful childhood, make her question her participation in this strange experiment in the first place.

Review: Judging by the synopsis, this is a very “me” book. Utopian compounds, nontraditional families, strange experiments, eccentric billionaires. It sounds like this should be my favorite book ever.

Unfortunately, I didn’t like it. I think this is an example of a brilliant premise that’s executed poorly.

It didn’t start off bad. I actually flew through the first third of the book because the dysfunctional relationships intrigued me. The story hooked me right at the start:

“Three hours after she had graduated from high school, Izzy sat on a park bench next to her art teacher, Mr. Jackson, and told him that she was pregnant.” – Perfect Little World

Eighteen-year-old Izzy is pregnant with her art teacher’s baby, but he has no interest in the child, and she doesn’t have the resources to care for it. Izzy decides to enroll in the Infinite Family Project, a child-development study that requires her to spend ten years living in a compound with 9 other families. At first, adjusting to life in the compound is hard. Then Izzy befriends the other families, and the compound becomes a “perfect little world.” What Izzy doesn’t know is that funding for the Infinite Family Project is precarious. Her home and family could be ripped away from her at any moment.

The beginning of this book is actually pretty interesting. I enjoyed reading about Izzy’s doomed relationship with her mentally ill teacher. It definitely isn’t a healthy relationship, but it’s a realistic one. Izzy is a caretaker type. She’s drawn to older men who have serious psychological issues. She can’t fix the issues, so her relationships usually don’t last very long.

The book goes downhill after Izzy joins the Project. A lot of characters are introduced quickly. We get a huge info-dump about each of them, and that’s pretty much it. There’s no character development. I actually couldn’t remember who was who because they’re just names. They don’t have personalities. They don’t have motivation for anything they do. One lady hates Izzy for . . . reasons? I don’t know why. The author says that another lady is Izzy’s best friend, but we barely see them interacting. Then an evil lady tries to shut down the project for . . . rich people reasons? Because rich people think poor people are defective? I don’t know. The characters are all flat, and a lot of their choices don’t make sense to me.

There’s a huge potential for tension between the characters, but there’s barely any tension. The stakes aren’t very high. Probably because the characters don’t feel real. I didn’t care what would happen to them if the experiment ended.

My biggest issue with this book is that nothing happens. The parents take care of the kids, and the kids do kid things. This experimental family is exactly like a boring regular family. I guess there’s a message in that. Any type of family can be happy and successful. But, the problem is that I don’t want to read about a boring regular family. I kept waiting for something strange or dramatic to happen, but nothing happens.  

I was excited for this book because it sounds so unusual, but I ended up disappointed. The plot and the characters just fell flat.

Tuesday, December 26, 2017

Top Ten Tuesday: Best Books Of 2017

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly meme hosted by The Broke and the Bookish. This week, I’m showing you my top ten favorite books of 2017. I realize I was supposed to post this weeks ago, but I’m busy and confused, so we’re doing it today. I even organized it backwards like a proper countdown. Not all of the books on this list were published in 2017, but I read them all for the first time this year. Click the title to see a synopsis/review.

Best Books I Read In 2017

A lot of people don’t seem to realize that the world is in the middle of a massive refugee crisis right now. This tiny book shows how the crisis is impacting Lampedusa, an island located between Tunisia and Italy. The Optician of Lampedusa is based on a true story. It’s both devastating and educational. (As all the best books are.) It helped spark my interest in the refugee crisis and made me want to learn more.

“I thought I'd heard seagulls screeching. Seagulls fighting over a lucky catch. Birds. Just birds.” - The Optician of Lampedusa

This memoir made the list for nostalgic reasons. I loathed reading as a kid, but I could sometimes be tempted with a Gary Paulsen book. I loved the Brian series, Winterdance, and My Life in Dog Years. I read them many times. Guts tells the (sometimes hilarious) real-life stories behind Gary Paulsen’s novels.

“We have grown away from knowledge, away from knowing what something is really like, toward knowing only what somebody else says it is like. There seems to be a desire to ignore the truth in favor of drama.” – Guts

This is one of the most beautiful graphic novels I’ve ever read. I know nothing about art, so I’m not sure how to explain why I like it. I guess I like the “feel” of it? It feels primitive and otherworldly, like anything could happen in this story. As soon as I finished it, I opened it again to look at it for a second time.

“Lesson: Men are false. And they can get away with it. Also, don't murder your sister, even by accident. Sisters are important.” - The One Hundred Nights of Hero

I love survival stories, and Shackleton’s Antarctic voyage has to be one of the greatest survival stories of all time. This nonfiction book reads like an adventure novel. It’s an older book, so the author was able to interview Shackleton’s crew. Endurance is better-written and closer to first-hand than the other Antarctic survival books I’ve read.

"Though they had failed dismally even to come close to the expedition's original objective, they knew now that somehow they had done much, much more than ever they set out to do." - Endurance

Setting is massively important to me as a reader. If I can’t picture the setting, I’ll struggle to get into the book. Months after finishing Snow Falling on Cedars, I can still vividly remember the Pacific Northwest setting. This literary murder mystery is set right after WWII, which isn’t a time period I see often in literature. Instead of focusing on the war, it focuses on how the war changed American society.

"The world was one world, and the notion that a man might kill another over some small patch of it did not make sense." – Snow Falling on Cedars

Confession: I didn’t plan on reading this book. When I stumbled across it in the grocery store, I thought it sounded fluffy. I don’t do fluffy. Still, something about it called to me. (Probably the large dog on the cover, let’s be honest.) I’m glad I read it because I ended up loving it. It’s funny, and clever, and deep, and complicated. As soon as I finished it, I bought two more Fredrik Backman books.

“Never mess with someone who has more spare time than you do.” - My Grandmother Asked Me To Tell You She’s Sorry

I love it when an author can make horrible people interesting. The characters in this massive literary novel are all horrible people, but they’re horrible in ways that kept me turning pages. I wanted to know what they’d do next. This novel is a glimpse into a lifestyle I’ll never have (or want). If you’re rich and well-connected, you can get away with anything. Even murder.

“I suppose at one time in my life I might have had any number of stories, but now there is no other. This is the only story I will ever be able to tell.” – The Secret History

Have you ever come across an author who “gets” you? Marcus Sedgwick is that author for me. His books are bizarre in ways that resonate with me. It’s like we operate on the same wavelength or something. This collection of novellas has cavewomen, spacemen, witches, obsession, death, and weirdness. All the “Me” things.

"It is our minds that give things meaning. It is our minds that create the world for us. And minds can be mistaken. Minds can become confused. Damaged. What then of the world? How does it appear then? It, too, appears confused and damaged." – The Ghosts of Heaven

The kids in this young adult novel are basically me when I was a teenager. They’re creative, quirky, and don’t really fit in anywhere. They’re growing up in a small town that doesn’t share their values. This book is pretty much the story of my high school years. (Well, I didn't have all the death and devastation. I was a sheltered child.)

“If you're going to live, you might as well do painful, brave, and beautiful things.” – The Serpent King

If you’ve been on this blog before, you’re not surprised to see Most Dangerous here. I was so invested in this story that I stayed up all night to finish it. It’s another nonfiction book that reads like a novel, and it should be required reading for all Americans. It’s about the ethics of document-leaking and the lies our government tells us. (I promise it’s not boring.)

 “They were willing to send men and women to death to avoid being called losers.” - Most Dangerous 

Honorable Mentions

These books should be on my list because I loved them, but this is Top Ten Tuesday, not Top Million Tuesday, so they’ll have to be relegated to honorable mentions. Sorry, books. It’s nothing personal.

Fatty Legs – Christy Jordan-Fenton & Margaret Pokiak-Fenton (Children’s nonfiction)
A Game of Thrones – George R.R. Martin (Fantasy)
Dreamland Burning – Jennifer Latham (Young adult historical/contemporary fiction)
Revolver – Marcus Sedgwick (Young adult historical fiction)
All the Birds, Singing – Evie Wyld (Literary fiction)
The Book of Strange New Things – Michel Faber (Literary fiction)
So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed – Jon Ronson (Nonfiction)
The Stranger in the Woods: The Extraordinary Story of the Last True Hermit – Michael Finkel (Nonfiction)
Fairy Tales from the Brothers Grimm – Jacob Grimm & Wilhelm Grimm (Children’s fiction)

Thank you to everybody who recommended these books to me!

What’s the best book you read in 2017?