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


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 tells the true story of the most famous cells in science, the HeLa cells.


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


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.


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


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.


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


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.


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 is a non-fiction book that dives into the human tendency to shame others and how people survive being shamed.


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


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


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



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


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.


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.


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*


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

Book Reviews: July 2018

I made it through five books in July, then I spent all of August procrastinating on writing reviews for said books. Oh well, I still technically posted this in August. 

  • The Diving Bell and the Butterfly by Jean-Dominique Bauby
  • The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas
  • Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates
  • Tower of Dawn by Sarah J. Maas
  • The Girls by Emma Cline

Minor spoilers are in the reviews for The Hate U Give and The Girls. The Tower of Dawn review has lots of spoilers, and I've marked when those start. 


The Diving Bell and the Butterfly by Jean-Dominique Bauby

Jean-Dominique Bauby suffered a severe stroke that caused paralysis of his entire body, except for his left eyelid. Using only blinks, he wrote this short memoir. 


While reading I often found myself trying to figure out how Bauby planned out the chapters. He couldn't write an outline or restructure paragraphs, he just had to tell it in one go. I was amazed the transcribing process - I mean, truly, genuinely amazed, I don't think I could accomplish the same in his situation. I'd probably be able to blink out a few short letters to my closest loved ones and peace out.

That said, I wasn't overly impressed with Bauby as a person. I know, I know, this is harsh considering the context, but he seemed kind of full of himself. He barely mentioned his kids and I got the "women think I'm the greatest thing ever" vibe. Several passages were poignant and beautifully told and he certainly had an interesting life to talk about, I just wasn't too drawn to him.

If you check this one out, I'd recommend setting aside time to read it all in one go. I read it in bits and pieces and I think it's probably more enjoyable and motivating in one sitting.

Rating: 3.5 of 5 stars


The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas

The Hate U Give (THUG) is a fictional story heavily inspired by the Black Lives Matter movement. Starr, a high school student, witnesses her friend Khalil dying at the hands of a police officer. 


The Hate U Give was on my TBR for ages and I finally got around to it when it was chosen for my book club. For full transparency, I read THUG as someone who leans heavily left politically, especially on social issues. I read many passages and found I already agreed with the author's message, so my mind wasn't really changed by anything I read. But there were certainly sections where I read new perspectives or a defense of something where I thought "Ah! I can use that" or "That's a good way to put it." Obviously, I am white, and much of this book contained things I cannot personally relate to. But I really, truly try to understand things from other perspectives and this book helped me do that. 

The story itself was pretty much what you'd expect; it more or less acts as a fictional vehicle for Thomas to explain her views and the plot echoes several of the real police shooting cases. And I think that's perfectly fine, and it's why this book succeeds - the subject is real. Thomas didn't dance around hard discussions either, take a look at some of her character choices: Starr's black uncle was a cop, Khalil sold drugs, and Starr was dating a white classmate. 

I think this book could benefit a lot of people, but it seems to me that most people reading this already have no problem with the phrase "black lives matter." I have yet to see a review from someone who says "all (or blue) lives matter," which is an ironic reflection on the whole problem.

This was a powerful quote from the book I thought was worth sharing:

“Drugs come from somewhere, and they’re destroying our community... You got folks like Brenda, who think they need them to survive, and then you got the Khalils, who think they need to sell them to survive. The Brendas can’t get jobs unless they’re clean, and they can’t pay for rehab unless they got jobs. When the Khalils get arrested for selling drugs, they either spend most of their life in prison, another billion-dollar industry, or they have a hard time getting a real job and probably start selling drugs again. That’s the hate they’re giving us, baby, a system designed against us. That’s Thug Life.”

I didn't give it a full five stars because there was a long stretch in the middle of the book where not much happened; the action was heavily focused on the beginning and end. As that's my only criticism, I highly recommend this. 

Rating: 4.5 of 5 stars



Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates

Between the World and Me is written as letters (more like essays) from Coates to his son. Coates muses on what it means to be a black man in America, specifically focusing on how black bodies have been treated throughout history. 


I saw this one available on Kindle and I recognized the title, so I downloaded it. I wasn't looking for non-fiction but the non-fic found me.

This is a hard review for me to write because, as a white woman, my life experiences have been extremely different from Coates'. That doesn't mean it wasn't a great read; I don't recall another book that forced me into someone else's shoes the way this one did. I recommend it for the perspective alone, whether you agree with what he's saying or not.

Coates is a popular writer but I confess this is the first thing of his that I've written, so I don't know many of his political stances. I found his thought process easy to follow even though I'm 99% sure Coates is way smarter than me. He also had lots of historical references; the fairly recent story of Prince Jones stuck out to me. It was heartbreaking.

I think this quote summarized the book pretty well:

“As for now, it must be said that the process of washing the disparate tribes white, the elevation of the belief in being white, was not achieved through wine tastings and ice cream socials, but rather through the pillaging of life, liberty, labor, and land; through the flaying of backs; the chaining of limbs; the strangling of dissidents; the destruction of families; the rape of mothers; the sale of children; and various other acts meant, first and foremost, to deny you and me the right to secure and govern our own bodies.” And a few sentences after this statement: “America believes itself exceptional, the greatest and noblest nation ever to exist, a lone champion standing between the white city of democracy and the terrorists, despots, barbarians, and other enemies of civilization. One cannot, at once, claim to be superhuman and then plead mortal error.”

In summary, this is a great read for perspective but keep in mind it's often heavy. 

Rating: 4 of 5 stars


Tower of Dawn by Sarah J. Maas

Tower of Dawn is the sixth installment in Sarah J. Maas' Throne of Glass series; it parallels the timeline of book five and follows Chaol as he tries to recruit allies for his queen. 


I bought Tower of Dawn (ToD) when it first came out but it took me almost a year to get around to reading it. After I read Heir of Fire, I decided I'd be finishing the series solely for Manon. Manon. Is. LIFE. All the other characters grate on my nerves, but here I am, reading a book that doesn't even feature Manon for the sole purpose of knowing how Manon's arc ends. *sigh*

You might be saying, "WHY DO YOU READ THIS IF YOU HATE IT?" Well, I don't HATE it. It's a guilty pleasure series for me. Obviously I'm team Manon, but the books are mindless entertainment and while they may not be found in the deepest ocean of literary content, the surface is still really shiny. They're fun, so I read.

*Note: If you still haven't read The Assassin's Blade novellas by this point, do so first.


If you've read the ToG series, you are probably aware that fans were not happy with SJM's sixth Aelin-less book. SJM made Chaol painfully unlikable after book two, but thankfully he gets better here. I read a few other reviews explaining SJM's research into Chaol's disability, and while I haven't personally experienced being paralyzed or know anyone who has, I thought she did a good job portraying it. Also this book has lots of diversity, which was needed after the first couple books. If you still don't want to read a book about Chaol, all I really can tell you is that Tower of Dawn does indeed progress the story and you'll miss out on a few key things if you skip.

Now, for my usual SJM book rants:

  1. It was way too long. 750+ pages that should have been capped at 500, max.
  2. The only scene I wanted to see in this book, when Yrene found out that Aelin was the one who helped her, was off screen!!! What!?!!!?!! That's literally all I cared about going into this.
  3. As always, annoying relationship things happen. Chaol and Nesryn faded away, Yrene took her place, and Sartaq and Nesryn came out from behind to be The Most Interesting part of this book. Seriously, Nesryn's chapters were page turners. My mental Sartaq was a hottie.
  4. I don't think SJM writes politics very well. The new king dude ignored his political guests for WEEKS. WEEKS! It reminded me of Aelin working alone in  book 4; it's just not how leaders operate. Aelin's selfish so that could explain her, but the new guy was supposed to be leading the world's most progressive, united, and strong country. There was simply no reason for him to refuse a meeting to ambassadors for so long, especially when he ATE DINNER WITH THEM EVERY NIGHT. Death in the family wasn't really a valid excuse, he wasn't ignoring all his other business.

Read this if you plan to finish the ToG series.

Rating: 3.5 of 5 stars



The Girls by Emma Cline

It's the 60's and Evie Boyd is searching for love and attention. When some carefree girls walk by, Evie finds what she's looking for in their confidence - and in their cult. 


I didn't know what this book was about before I borrowed it from my library. Sometimes I just scroll through the available ebooks and download based on cover or name recognition, and that's what happened here. Once I was a few chapters in I went to read the Goodreads summary and had an "ah" moment. I know some people love serial killer/Manson-esque stories but it's not really my cup of tea. I chose to keep reading though, because the appeal is not the real-life story that it was based on. It's the unnerving look into what young girls will do for acceptance and love.

Adult Evie got on my nerves, but I did sympathize with her younger self. Her parents were awful, especially her mother. Her fourteen-year-old daughter was literally JOINING A CULT, and she had no idea. No wonder the kid had such self esteem issues!

My favorite scene was when Evie got a ride to the farm from a normal guy and he was horrified at the things around him. The rose-colored scales slipped from her eyes a bit, and she was uncomfortable. How many women have had that moment, albeit in less criminal circumstances? Haven't the majority of us woken up one day and said to ourselves, "Woah, how did I fall for this? Why am I letting him/her treat me like this? How could I be so blind?" I know I have. In Evie I recognized something women give control to.

Read if you like stories inspired by real events. 

Rating: 3 of 5 stars