Book Reviews: November 2018

November was a reading month that satisfied my nerdy heart. Star Wars and Stormlight, what more could you want?

  • Ricky Tim’s Convergence Quilts by Ricky Tims

  • Educated by Tara Westover

  • Darth Vader Comics by Kieron Gillen

  • Words of Radiance (The Stormlight Archives #2) by Brandon Sanderson


RICKY TIM’S CONVERGENCE QUILTS BY RICKY TIMS

I have no intention of making one of these quilts any time soon. I'm still "working" on my first basic t-shirt quilt, which is all squares and straight lines. My goal is to finish is before the decade is up. I picked this book, and a few others, up from the library in the hopes that it would inspire me to work on said t-shirt quilt. So far I’m still procrastinating…

The book was easy to understand, intermediate or advanced quilters should have no issues following his instructions.

Rating: 3.5 of 5 stars



EDUCATED BY TARA WESTOVER

Educated is a memoir that speaks to the power of education, independence, and knowing your own worth.

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I was suspicious of Westover before reading this book, because I read a lot of reviews that doubt her. (I normally avoid reviews before starting a book.) By the end of Educated, though, I believed her story. It’s certainly flawed, but powerful.

The marketing for this book is slightly misleading. Sure, going to college and getting an education completely changed Westover's life. But the main focus of the story is her relationship with her father and how it affected everything. Her father was abusive, her mother was an enabler, and they both enabled her horrible brother, Shawn.

There were many things that didn’t seem like full lies, but were weird omissions. I was over 200 pages in when suddenly it was mentioned that there were women working for Tara’s mother. A google search showed that the Westovers own Butterfly Express Essential Oils. (One article I found said it employs over 30 people, but I’m too lazy to go back and find that link.) I understand that she didn’t name the company for legal issues, but it made me wonder if that was how she managed to afford school? Grants only cover so much and her parents certainly weren’t portrayed as supporting her financially, but maybe it was more than she let on. She was clearly able to learn on her own, along with several of her siblings, so it seems like her parents gave her the basic ability to reason and grasp concepts, even if they failed by traditional standards.

To summarize: I believe Tara when she talks about her dad’s issues and all the abuse she suffered. Perhaps she’d have told this story better with some distance and a few more years of therapy, because sometimes I couldn’t get a read on her emotions. It seems like she’s still processing everything, and I certainly wish her the best as she continues moving forward. Educated is a validating story to people who may be suffering (or have suffered) abuse.

Rating: 4 of 5 stars


DARTH VADER COMICS (#1-25) BY KIERON GILLEN

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Prior to this series, I had never read any of the Star Wars comics. I know some people really hate that Disney killed the EU, but let's be real, it was very bloated and contradictory. Aside from a few standout series, there was just so much it was hard to know where to start. Most of my EU adventures were in the YA novels, like the Jedi Apprentice series. I still love those, so I'm happy to have my old favorites but have a new, consistent Star Wars canon timeline.

Anyway, since this series is considered canon and I've heard good things, I decided to try. And OH MY GOD. It is so good. These 25 comics take place between episodes 4 and 5 and overlap with some content from other comics. (Which I have not read, so I do have gaps in what happened, but I still enjoyed these just fine without stopping and switching to the other series.)

The art is amazing, especially when something is being conveyed in Vader's mask and body language without words. My favorite part is just how much of a badass he is. Vader has always, always, forever and ever, until death do us part, been my favorite fictional character. You know that end scene in Rogue One? And in Empire Strikes Back, when Luke is getting his ass handed to him? THAT'S the Vader in this series, and I love it, and I am sexually attracted to it.

One or two editions were slightly more boring than the others, and occasionally there would be panels that I thought needed some more text, but overall this series is a great addition to the Star Wars galaxy.

Rating: 5 of 5 stars


WORDS OF RADIANCE (THE STORMLIGHT ARCHIVE #2) BY BRANDON SANDERSON

***WARNING: This whole review is varying degrees of spoiler-y.***

The second book of The Stormlight Archive series, Words of Radiance (WoR), picks right up from where the action left off in The Way of Kings (TWoK). Kaladin, Dalinar, and Shallan all know something different about the forces that are coming back into the world. They must rush to get ready and trust each other, because the Everstorm comes.

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I took a break from this series after reading TWoK, mainly because book #4 isn’t coming out until 2020 so I wanted to drag it out as long as possible. Around mid-November, I could wait no longer!

There’s so much to say about a 1,300 page paperback, but I’ll try to keep this concise. I enjoyed this one just as much as TWoK, plus the pacing was more consistent. TWoK took about 600 pages to get started but WoR jumped right back into the story. It was a good mix of world building and plot, a lot of which was helped by the interludes - particularly Eshonai’s. Her introduction and subsequent chapters were really powerful.

As far as the characters go, Kaladin is probably still my favorite - the grumpiness didn’t really bother me because this is only #2 of 10 books, I figure he needed to get it out his system for the sake of character growth. My favorite chapter was when Kaladin fought alongside Adolin, EVERYTHING about that fight was perfect.

“Honor is dead…but I’ll see what I can do.”

I liked Shallan much better after getting her backstory. And aside from that one chasm scene - you’ll know it when you read it - her snarky little comments didn’t annoy me as much as they did in TWoK. In WoR, she was capable and independent. I did miss having Jasnah around as much, though, and the Dalinar POV.

WoR had more humorous moments than the first one. Every scene with Wit was great, but there were several parts without him that got me to crack a smile while reading. (I usually read with a RBF.)

In a nutshell - please read this it is amazing omg.

Rating: 5 of 5 stars

Book Reviews: October 2018

Four books and one comic were my numbers for October! All of these were solid reads.

  • Saga, Vol. 9 by Brian Vaughan (Illustrated by Fiona Staples)

  • The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot

  • Black Beauty by Anna Sewell

  • Thrawn #1 by Timothy Zahn

  • Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng


SAGA, VOL. 9 BY BRIAN VAUGHAN

It was about a year ago that I read Saga #8, so I forgot quite a bit of the story before #9 came out. It doesn't help that I didn't pick up any single issues; I just waited for the full #9 to be published. It started out a bit slow but ending really got me. And by got me, I mean ripped my heart right out. I can’t wait to re-read all of these and feel the pain all over again!

Rating: 5 of 5 stars

THE IMMORTAL LIFE OF HENRIETTA LACKS BY REBECCA SKLOOT

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks tells the true story of the most famous cells in science, the HeLa cells.

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I borrowed this book through my library on Overdrive in the ePub format. It expired, so I renewed it thinking I could access the many, many bookmarks I made while reading just by downloading it again. This works on Kindle format - apparently not ePub. So this review won’t be quite as in depth as I wanted since my notes have disappeared into the internet somewhere.

I’ve seen the cover of this book a million times and I vaguely remembered what HeLa cells were from my brief time as biology major. Until I started reading, though, I had never put “Henrietta Lacks” and “HeLa” together.

The impact that Henrietta's cells have had on scientific and medical discoveries in the last few decades is truly astounding. It's crazy to think how I personally have benefited - I had a polio vaccine when I was younger, which was made possible by Henrietta. Her cells have helped with countless studies, I don’t think anyone has ever managed to make a comprehensive list of everywhere her cells worked. It’s humbling to think of how much is owed to this one woman.

I took one star away because the book seemed a bit disjointed at times; Skloot jumped from explanations of medical issues to Henrietta’s family to medical ethics to the legality of taking Henrietta’s cells. It was especially heartbreaking to see how Henrietta’s death affected her children. Skloot’s research provided very valuable information and I’m certainly glad I read it, it just wasn’t super cohesive.

Rating: 4 of 5 stars


BLACK BEAUTY BY ANNA SEWELL

Anna Sewell's timeless classic is about the life of Black Beauty, a smart, hard-working horse, told from his perspective as he moves between owners.

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I was in Nashville for a conference mid-October, and I couldn't resist picking up this illustrated Black Beauty for $4 when I visited McKay's books. I ended up re-reading it at the airport. I read this countless times as a kid, and it's just as lovely as I remembered.

You can enjoy this book as an adult, especially if you're an animal lover. Sewell was promoting positive reinforcement training before Karen Pryor was ever born. When I think of the 1870's I don't exactly think of people fighting against animal cruelty, but it's nice to know at least one woman was speaking for those who couldn't.

”Do you know why this world is as bad as it is?”

“No,” said the other.

“Then I’ll tell you. It is because people think only about their own business, and won’t trouble themselves to stand up for the oppressed, nor bring the wrongdoer to light.”

Rating: 5 of 5 stars


THRAWN #1 BY TIMOTHY ZAHN

Grand Admiral Thrawn has been brought back into official Star Wars canon after Disney turned all non-movie material into “Star Wars Legends” in 2014. Thrawn #1 covers the alien’s quick rise through the Empire’s ranks.

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I read the first Thrawn trilogy earlier this year. (Reviews in my March 2018 post.) The best part about that trilogy was Leia's storyline, and Thrawn's ending seemed a bit rushed to me - like he had to get what he was due because he was the "bad" guy, brilliance be damned.

This book was a bit disappointing to me after experiencing the original trilogy. I’m very happy Thrawn is back and “official” and I love learning more facts about the Star Wars universe. BUT this reads like a second draft that needs about five more drafts before the final edits. It was 90% dialogue and every challenge Thrawn faced was obviously set up for him to beat. Nothing was that complicated. Maybe this book was meant to be a little more YA?

Eli Vanto is the most boring character in Star Wars. Supposedly he stayed with Thrawn because he was the only one who could understand Thrawn’s brilliant mind, yet Thrawn was constantly explaining everything to him. Vanto was just a stand in for the reader, and it got annoying.

Honestly the most exciting parts to me were the very brief mentions of Darth Vader. He’s on the cover of the next book, which is currently sitting on my nightstand, and I can’t wait to see how these two interact.

I recommend Thrawn #1 for Star Wars diehards, but if you only occasionally watch the movies in theaters, this book won’t do anything for you. If you’re interested in getting into Star Wars books, read the original Thrawn trilogy before this.

Rating: 2.5 of 5 stars


LITTLE FIRES EVERYWHERE BY CELEST NG

When the members of the Richardson family, living in the perfect town of Shaker Heights, meet artist Mia and her daughter Pearl, they are each drawn to the carefree lifestyle that Mia and Pearl live.

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I've seen this book everywhere for a while now, and when my book club selected it I was happy to move it to the front of my TBR. Sometimes bookstagram lets me down with its recommendations (looking at you, A Darker Shade of Magic, you sucked) but I really enjoyed this one.

I couldn’t give this a full five stars because a lot of the plot points were cliches. If it wasn’t for the characters I might not’ve liked it, but each character - aside from that bitch Mrs. Richardson - had my sincere sympathy at some point. I might not have agreed with their various decisions but I could understand why they were made.

One major plot point was an interracial adoption that caught the local news station’s attention when the birth mother was found. I thought that part was well written, because on one hand I felt bad for the adoptive parents who had wanted a child for so long, but on the other hand the birth mother’s story was heartbreaking too. At the same time, both sets of parents said and did things that they shouldn’t have. I won’t share the outcome, but the way the court case played out had me thinking about it for several days after I finished the book.

Little Fires Everywhere is a quick, enjoyable read. If you’re in a reading slump, this would be a good one to get you out of it.

Rating: 4 of 5 stars

Book Reviews: September 2018

I read four books in September. They were all just okay, no new favorites this time around.

  • So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed by Jon Ronson

  • 1984 by George Orwell

  • Yes Please by Amy Poehler

  • Florida by Lauren Groff


SO YOU’VE BEEN PUBLICLY SHAMED BY JON RONSON

So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed by Jon Ronson is a non-fiction book that dives into the human tendency to shame others and how people survive being shamed.

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I first heard of this book when Chrissy Teigen tweeted about it. To be clear - I don’t troll. I have never attacked someone online to name call, threaten, or doxx them. Occasionally, I retweet an article to express frustration at how evil people can be, but that’s where my online judgement ends. (Okay, okay. I complain about people who are part of pyramid schemes a lot on Twitter…but in those cases, I’m pissed at predatory MLM companies.)

The good thing about this book is that it made me stop and think about my mindset in moments I’m retweeting something. Am I just trying to make myself feel better? Do I know all the facts? Should this person’s entire life be over because of one mistake?

I couldn’t give this book more than three stars, however, and there were two main reasons for this.

First, Ronson didn’t give the reader any big takeaways. He interviewed various types of people, judges and journalists and “normal” people. At the end, I found myself wanting to read more from experts, because I found the parts about women’s prisons, court transcripts that shamed a girl into suicide (so heartbreaking), and feedback loops the most interesting but I didn’t learn nearly enough about those. All I really thought at the end was “I should try not to be so quick to judge others.” But...I was trying to do that before I read this.

Second, I was irritated at how he portrayed some of his interviewee choices. Interviewing a teenager who frequents 4chan* is fine but Ronson seemed more amused than bothered by her actions. Also, Ronson said at one point that Justine Sacco’s twitter joke wasn’t racist. Er, what? I think she probably did her time in the court of public opinion but let’s not pretend what she said wasn’t gross and racist. It was, and that’s what made her go viral in the first place. Side note: Sacco’s story was the only one I was familiar with prior to reading. Everyone else Ronson wrote about was new to me.

*(If you don’t know what 4chan is, don’t go there. Just trust me when I say it’s a vile place on the internet. I was introduced to it years ago and it horrified me so much I never returned.)

I think this book is a great conversation starter in the days of online pitchfork mobs, and it’s a good reminder to myself that I rarely know the full story. Just don’t expect it to be very deep.

Rating: 3 of 5 stars

1984 BY GEORGE ORWELL

Orwell’s 1984 is a look into a totalitarian society where no hope for a future of freedom exists.

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I somehow missed reading this book in school. I’ve always had a general idea of the plot, but figured I’d go ahead and try it when I saw it promoted on Overdrive due to Great American Reads. I want to complete those “books everyone should read” lists, and 1984 is always on there.

I realize giving classic books a low rating makes it seem like I think I’m smarter than the book...but hear me out. That’s not the case. I completely respect the book’s impact. I get why it’s been taught in public schools for so long. Big Brother is terrifying because this world is not so far fetched.

I just couldn’t enjoy 1984 because the main character SUUUUUCKED. From the moment Winston had rape fantasies about Julia, I hated him. I’m sure some philosophy or history major out there could tell me what rape fantasies represented in Orwellian societies, but that wouldn’t change my mind. Julia was annoying but better than Winston. Ironically, I liked their last interaction the best. Want to know who was the most fascinating character to me? Chinless man who tried to give the other prisoner bread at the end - forget Winston, what was his thought process in that moment?

To conclude my whining - this is a book I should’ve been able to read in just a few hours. It took me six weeks.

Rating: 2 of 5 stars

YES PLEASE BY AMY POEHLER

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I’ve always liked Amy Poehler. I binge watched Parks & Rec for the first time ever this summer, so now I really love Amy Poehler. Celebrity memoirs always disappoint me, though. Poehler is a talented TV writer, but that didn’t translate well into a book. I lost count of the times she talked about how hard this was to write.

My favorite part was when she wrote a bit about all of her Parks & Rec castmates. That made me happy. She had some funny childhood stories too. It was mostly centered around her improv and SNL days, which I didn’t care for as much, but it was still cool to put together a timeline of her life.

On the plus side, this is a very quick read. If you’re a Poehler fan you’ll enjoy these stories. I just wish celebrities, especially hilarious ones like her, would stop writing books and just do a really long interview where they talk about their lives. I’d much rather hear Poehler talk!

Rating: 2.5 of 5 stars

FLORIDA BY LAUREN GROFF

Florida is a collection of short stories. Most are based in the sunny state, but a few stories were about Floridians on vacation.

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There were two stories I really enjoyed. Dogs Go Wolf, about two young sisters left on an island, and Above and Below, about a college student who became homeless. Those were my clear favorites, but as I’m writing this Salvador comes to mind too. So I guess those are my top three.

The last story, Yport, was the longest by far. I guess that one was supposed to be the best, but I didn’t care for it. I was annoyed at the mom who made her kids uncomfortable in order to go on some self-discovery mission to Europe.

Although the book overall was a bit dark for my taste, I think Groff’s writing really shines in short stories. I read Fates and Furies a couple years ago and while I enjoyed it, I remember parts of it being a little over the top. Florida’s length kept the writing polished but allowed plenty of room for standout lines such as: “One thing I liked was how the screens at night pulsed with the tender bellies of lizards.”

If you like dark themes you might love this. It is October, after all!

Rating: 3 of 5 stars

Book Reviews: August 2018

I only finished two things in August, although I did have a couple books going on my Kindle. The Way of Kings just took so much focus that others fell by the wayside. Spoilers for The Way of Kings are marked in the review below.

  • Macbeth by William Shakespeare

  • The Way of Kings by Brandon Sanderson


Macbeth by William Shakespeare

I read Macbeth in preparation for seeing the play in DC at the beginning of September. Romeo and Juliet aside, Macbeth seems to be the most well known of Shakespeare's tragedies (at least in my experience). Personally, I enjoy this one more than R&J. The scenes with the witches are my favorites, and Lady Macbeth's ruthlessness at the beginning of the play is chilling. The moments of doubt and regret between the Lady and Macbeth, while few and far between, were enough to humanize them even as I cheerfully rooted for their downfall.

Moral of the story: Don't get ambitious and kill people.

Best quotes:

"I go, and it is done; the bell invites me.
Hear it not, Duncan; for it is a knell
That summons thee to heaven or to hell."
-Macbeth, Act II, Scene I

"Double, double toil and trouble;
Fire burn, and cauldron bubble."
&
"By the pricking of my thumbs,
Something wicked this way comes."
-The Witches, Act IV Scene I
(I confess this is a favorite because of the Harry Potter frog choir.)

Rating: 5 of 5 stars


The Way of Kings (Stormlight Archive #1) by Brandon Sanderson

Brandon Sanderson's The Way of Kings is the first book in his 10 book series The Stormlight Archives (SA). Roshar is divided up into dozens of nations that war with themselves, each other, and survive the planet's violent highstorms.

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The following paragraphs are a spoiler free overview of the book. I've marked where the spoilers begin and end, because you know I have to fangirl a bit.

Life before death.
Strength before weakness.
Journey before destination.

This saying had significance in TWoK, but it’s also a good reminder of how to read the book - "Journey before destination." This isn’t a book you read in one sitting. Enjoy each chapter and don't rush to the end, because the beauty is in the details and character development. The surprises at the end will still be waiting for you.

Only three books of SA have been released so far and at Sanderson's current pace, this series will probably take another 20 years to complete. But you know what? I'm okay with that in spite of the emotional cliffhanger-based trauma I am sure to suffer. Sanderson writes constantly, puts out at least one book a year, and he's only in his 40's. I'm not worried. *cough GRRM get it together cough*

The main Sanderson critique I see in reviews is that his writing can be a bit simplistic or even cheesy at times. I touched on that in my Mistborn reviews; I didn't mind his writing there because the world building wowed me. In my opinion Sanderson greatly improves on this with each book so I had no problems with the writing in TWoK. Well, almost no problems - Shallan was irritating with her attempts to be witty, but that's all. And in 1,200 pages (I read the paperback) that's nothing. But overall, the world building and depth given to Kaladin was amazing and made me sure that this will become one of my all-time favorite series.

SPOILERS BEGIN HERE!

I'm going to share my thoughts by character, in order of my personal favorites.

Up first, Kaladin. Surprise surprise. Kaladin is the only one who gets backstory in TWoK, while the other characters are set in the present. He was an incredible leader and his doubts and occasional bouts with depression were very sobering. He's flawed, and he hurts, but he's so inspiring. One of my favorite fantasy tropes is when characters get a little sidekick: Harry and Dobby, Lyra and her daemon, the Stark kids and their direwolves. LOVE it. Kaladin and Syl are right up my alley, and I liked how she would come and go as she pleased and was growing into her newfound consciousness as Kaladin became a leader yet again.

Bridge Four for life, I need that on a t-shirt.

Second, Dalinar. He was actually my favorite for much of the book but then Kaladin edged him out. The first moment where I said "Damn, I love this character" was when he called his Shardblade in the fight with the chasmfiend. CHILLS. I had CHILL from that countdown. I also loved that moment at the end when Kaladin basically ordered him around and Dalinar, even in his battle shock, was like "bro who are you?" lol.

Third! Jasnah! She's not one of the main four characters described on the back of the book but I loved her. I appreciated that Sanderson made her a believable atheist character. She stuck to her guns in all aspects but knew when to admit she was wrong with Shallan. Her research will be key going forward and I hope she gets some backstory in the next book. Is it too early to ship Jasnah and Kaladin?

I enjoyed Szeth and Shallan but they weren’t top three. At the beginning I was meh about Shallan, but that scene where she starts seeing spren genuinely creeped me out a bit. And then the hint that she has a Shard!! And the reveal about her dad!! Eep. I didn't expect it, but I'm genuinely curious about her now. Szeth, on the other hand, I felt pity for the whole book and wanted to know more. I did not see the reveal about his master coming, but I wasn't surprised to hear of his next assignment. I'm sure that that impending confrontation will break my heart. *dies of anticipation*

SPOILERS END.

For Sanderson and fantasy fans, this is a must read. If you haven't read Sanderson and want to, I'd recommend trying his Mistborn series first, it's a little more YA but his characteristic world building is still there and it’s shorter. Plus, Mistborn also takes places in the Cosmere.

Rating: 5 of 5 Emerald Spheres