I made it through a mighty 14 books this month, and they’re all over the place! Take a look:
1. Tash Hearts Tolstoy, Kathryn Ormsbee
After a shout-out from one of the Internet’s superstar vloggers, Natasha “Tash” Zelenka finds herself and her obscure, amateur web series, Unhappy Families, thrust into the limelight: She’s gone viral.
Her show is a modern adaptation of Anna Karenina—written by Tash’s literary love Count Lev Nikolayevich “Leo” Tolstoy. Tash is a fan of the forty thousand new subscribers, their gushing tweets, and flashy Tumblr GIFs. Not so much the pressure to deliver the best web series ever.
And when Unhappy Families is nominated for a Golden Tuba award, Tash’s cyber-flirtation with Thom Causer, a fellow award nominee, suddenly has the potential to become something IRL—if she can figure out how to tell said crush that she’s romantic asexual.
Tash wants to enjoy her newfound fame, but will she lose her friends in her rise to the top? What would Tolstoy do?
This book had a great premise, but not much of a plot. I was excited to read a book exploring the topic of asexuality, and I liked the idea of Tolstoy-goes-YouTube. And, while these ideas serve their purpose in the story, the rest of the book fell pretty flat. I lost my investment in most of the characters, and it was hard to then feel interested in where their stories were going. I don’t know that I would recommend this one, despite the really neat ideas behind it.
2. Batwoman Comics, J.H. Williams III & W. Haden Blackman
A new era begins as Batwoman is unleashed on Gotham City! Marked by the blood-red bat emblem, Kate Kane is a soldier fighting her own private war – one that began years ago and haunts her every waking moment. In this first tale, Batwoman battles a madwoman known only as Alice, inspired by Alice in Wonderland, who sees her life as a fairy tale and everyone around her as expendable extras!
As a part of the acclaimed DC Comics—The New 52 event of September 2011, Batwoman’s new series finally begins! The creative team of J.H. Williams III and W. Haden Blackman launch the ongoing Batwoman series, as Batwoman (a.ka. Kate Kane) faces deadly new challenges in her war against Gotham City’s underworld–and new trials in her personal life.Who or what is stealing children from the barrio, and for what vile purpose? Will Kate train her cousin, Bette Kane (a.k.a. Flamebird), as her new sidekick? How will she handle unsettling revelations about her father, Colonel Jacob Kane? And why is a certain government agency suddenly taking an interest in her? These are some of the questions that will be answered in this long-awaited series!
Six lives, inextricably linked in the past and present, each on a collision course with the others: Batwoman, fighting for duty and vengeance against a threat of arcane power. Detective Maggie Sawyer, investigating a case that could end her career. DEO Agent Cameron Chase, commanding a vigilante she despises. Colonel Jacob Kane, clutching at a life that’s slipping away. Maro, a new villain corrupting Gotham City. And Kate Kane, wrestling with decisions that will test her loyalties.
I am brand-new to the world of comics, and Batwoman is pretty much the first superhero I’ve decided to read. So, with that disclaimer, I can admit that I don’t really have anything to compare these books to. I liked them a lot! Kate Kane is a pretty badass character. The artwork was beautiful and the plot, while at times sort of confusing for someone new to the DC Universe, was engaging. I don’t know that I’ll keep reading them or dive into other characters, but I’m very proud of myself for trying something new, and very pleased with the results!
3. Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe, Fannie Flagg
It’s first the story of two women in the 1980s, of gray-headed Mrs. Threadgoode telling her life story to Evelyn, who is in the sad slump of middle age. The tale she tells is also of two women — of the irrepressibly daredevilish tomboy Idgie and her friend Ruth, who back in the thirties ran a little place in Whistle Stop, Alabama, a Southern kind of Cafe Wobegon offering good barbecue and good coffee and all kinds of love and laughter, even an occasional murder.
This was my second time reading this book, because I absolutely love it! I saw the movie first–several years before I even knew it was a book–and I’ve been in love with Idgie ever since. Flagg has a veritable masterpiece in this book, which is most shallowly described as your basic women’s lit, but has so much more to offer! The plot is great; I love the split-time between Ruth/Idgie and Evelyn/Ninny. The murder and the subsequent resolution is intense and engaging. And the relationships are just perfection. Not to mention Flagg adds in just the right amount of “southern charm” and humor to make the reader gasp, and laugh out loud. Everyone should read this book, at least once in their lives!
4. How to Be a Bawse: A Guide to Conquering Life, Lilly Singh
From actress, comedian, and YouTube sensation Lilly Singh (aka ||Superwoman||) comes the definitive guide to being a bawse—a person who exudes confidence, reaches goals, gets hurt efficiently, and smiles genuinely because they’ve fought through it all and made it out the other side.
Told in her hilarious, bold voice that’s inspired over nine million fans, and using stories from her own life to illustrate her message, Lilly proves that there are no shortcuts to success.
WARNING: This book does not include hopeful thoughts, lucky charms, and cute quotes. That’s because success, happiness, and everything else you want in life needs to be fought for—not wished for. In Lilly’s world, there are no escalators, only stairs. Get ready to climb.
I listened to the audiobook of this one, and I have to say having Lilly read her book to me was my favorite part about it! Her wit and humor come through in every chapter, and her voice made the book feel exactly like an extended YouTube video.
That being said, I was a little disappointed with the actual messages in the book. Instead of a memoir, Singh wrote a how-to, but many of her lessons feel so shallow and narrow-minded. Singh isn’t that old, and has a relatively limited experience of the world. A valid view, yes, but a small one all the same. So she doesn’t really have the experience to write a truly influential how-to book. So, while I enjoyed learning a bit more about her life and her experiences, I didn’t enjoy the entire thing. This is not a book I would use for its intended purpose; just read it and enjoy Lilly’s company instead.
5. Charles and Emma: The Darwins’ Leap of Faith, Deborah Heiligman
Charles Darwin published The Origin of Species, his revolutionary tract on evolution and the fundamental ideas involved, in 1859. Nearly 150 years later, the theory of evolution continues to create tension between the scientific and religious communities. Challenges about teaching the theory of evolution in schools occur annually all over the country. This same debate raged within Darwin himself, and played an important part in his marriage: his wife, Emma, was quite religious, and her faith gave Charles a lot to think about as he worked on a theory that continues to spark intense debates.
Deborah Heiligman’s new biography of Charles Darwin is a thought-provoking account of the man behind evolutionary theory: how his personal life affected his work and vice versa. The end result is an engaging exploration of history, science, and religion for young readers.
All I can say is I know way more about the Darwins now than I ever could have hoped to learn! Ha!
All joking aside, though, it was pretty cool that Heiligman decided to explore how the Darwins balanced a marriage with Charles’ discoveries and Emma’s Christianity. As a person of faith, I can relate a lot to Emma’s struggles (and, of course, Charles’ internal dilemmas). Their relationship is far more complicated than I might have imagined, and it’s really neat that we have a biography so focused on how a marriage may or may not work.
But still, it was pretty long and had a lot of detail about these two. A good one for the history buff, for sure, but it’s no one’s light pleasure reading.
6. Rebecca, Daphne du Maurier
Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again . . .
The novel begins in Monte Carlo, where our heroine is swept off her feet by the dashing widower Maxim de Winter and his sudden proposal of marriage. Orphaned and working as a lady’s maid, she can barely believe her luck. It is only when they arrive at his massive country estate that she realizes how large a shadow his late wife will cast over their lives–presenting her with a lingering evil that threatens to destroy their marriage from beyond the grave.
I don’t know why, but for years I ignored this book because I assumed it was some type of sappy romance novel. In fact, the only reason I even picked it up was because I found out du Maurier was friends with J. M. Barrie. But, man, oh, man, was I surprised by what I found inside this little book!
Mystery. Intrigue. Murder. Suicide. Mental breakdowns. This story offers so much to its readers, and you’re left flipping pages wondering what’s going to happen next. A romance, sure, but this is also so much more! I’m so glad I finally read this one. And I am probably going to read My Cousin Rachel before the year is out.
7. The Only Pirate at the Party, Lindsey Stirling
Electronic and dancing violinist Lindsey Stirling shares her unconventional journey in an inspiring memoir filled with the energy, persistence, and humor that have helped her successfully pursue a passion outside the box.
A classically trained musician gone rogue, Lindsey Stirling is the epitome of independent, millennial-defined success: after being voted off the set of America’s Got Talent, she went on to amass more than ten million social media fans, record two full-length albums, release multiple hits with billions of YouTube views, and tour sold-out venues across the world.
Lindsey is not afraid to be herself. In fact, it’s her confidence and individuality that have propelled her into the spotlight. But the road hasn’t been easy. After being rejected by talent scouts, music reps, and eventually national television, Lindsey forged her own path, step by step. Here, for the first time, she shares every triumph and trial she has faced until now. Beginning in a humble yet charmed childhood, this book follows Lindsey through a humorous adolescence, to her life as a struggling musician, through her personal struggles with anorexia, and finally all the way to her success as a world-class entertainer. Lindsey’s magnetizing story is at once remarkable and universal—a testimony that there is no singular recipe for success. And a witness that, despite what people may say, sometimes it’s okay to be The Only Pirate at the Party.
Now, this is the kind of book I like to see from a YouTuber! I also listened to this audiobook, and Lindsey’s voice brought to life all the great stories she shares about her life in this memoir. You learn a lot about her, her family, and her faith, as well as her “journey to fame.” She gives great insight into her own life, and she does so with a lot of grace, humility, and humor. I didn’t know a lot about her before reading this book, and now I want to know more. A great read for fans of Stirling everywhere.
8. Identical, Ellen Hopkins
Do twins begin in the womb?
Or in a better place?
Kaeleigh and Raeanne are identical down to the dimple. As daughters of a district-court judge father and a politician mother, they are an all-American family — on the surface. Behind the facade each sister has her own dark secret, and that’s where their differences begin.
For Kaeleigh, she’s the misplaced focus of Daddy’s love, intended for a mother whose presence on the campaign trail means absence at home. All that Raeanne sees is Daddy playing a game of favorites — and she is losing. If she has to lose, she will do it on her own terms, so she chooses drugs, alcohol, and sex.
Secrets like the ones the twins are harboring are not meant to be kept — from each other or anyone else. Pretty soon it’s obvious that neither sister can handle it alone, and one sister must step up to save the other, but the question is — who?
Another book with an excellent premise, for which I wasn’t in love with the execution. This is the first of Hopkins’ books that I’ve actually finished. Her stuff tends to lean toward “too dark” for me. This one was no exception, but I was invested in the idea of the good twin/bad twin. Unfortunately, I figured out the ultimate “twist” very early on. (This isn’t unusual. I can rarely finish an honest-to-goodness mystery without knowing whodunit ahead of time). The knowing would have been fine, but I felt that the ultimate resolution didn’t quite live up to the buildup. The ending was dark and really made you think, of course. But I have an issue with some things being included in entertainment, and a lot of the little bits of this book fell in that category. A great read for those so inclined, of course–I can see why many people love it! Don’t let my “hating” cut into the Hopkins fan club.
9. Everybody, Always: Becoming Love in a World Full of Setbacks and Difficult People, Bob Goff
What happens when we stop avoiding difficult people and simply love everyone?
In his wildly entertaining and inspiring follow-up to the New York Times bestselling phenomenon Love Does, Bob Goff takes readers on a life-altering journey into the secret of living without fear, care, constraint, or worry. The path toward the outsized, unfettered, liberated existence we all long for is found in a truth as simple to say as it is hard to do: love people, even the difficult ones, without distinction and without limits.
Driven by Bob’s trademark hilarious and insightful storytelling, Everybody, Always reveals the lessons Bob learned—often the hard way—about what it means to love without inhibition, insecurity, or restriction. From finding the right friends to discovering the upside of failure, Everybody, Always points the way to embodying love by doing the unexpected, the intimidating, the seemingly impossible. Whether losing his shoes while skydiving solo or befriending a Ugandan witch doctor, Bob steps into life with a no-limits embrace of others that is as infectious as it is extraordinarily ordinary. Everybody, Always reveals how we can do the same.
So, I already wrote a nice, long blog post about this one, which you can read here. So, for now, I’ll just lead with, I loved it! It’s the perfect book for our current times. And I highly recommend it to those looking to deepen their faith with a better understanding of unconditional love.
10. Eat, Pray, Love, Elizabeth Gilbert
A celebrated writer’s irresistible, candid, and eloquent account of her pursuit of worldly pleasure, spiritual devotion, and what she really wanted out of life.
Around the time Elizabeth Gilbert turned thirty, she went through an early-onslaught midlife crisis. She had everything an educated, ambitious American woman was supposed to want—a husband, a house, a successful career. But instead of feeling happy and fulfilled, she was consumed with panic, grief, and confusion. She went through a divorce, a crushing depression, another failed love, and the eradication of everything she ever thought she was supposed to be.
To recover from all this, Gilbert took a radical step. In order to give herself the time and space to find out who she really was and what she really wanted, she got rid of her belongings, quit her job, and undertook a yearlong journey around the world—all alone. Eat, Pray, Love is the absorbing chronicle of that year. Her aim was to visit three places where she could examine one aspect of her own nature set against the backdrop of a culture that has traditionally done that one thing very well. In Rome, she studied the art of pleasure, learning to speak Italian and gaining the twenty-three happiest pounds of her life. India was for the art of devotion, and with the help of a native guru and a surprisingly wise cowboy from Texas, she embarked on four uninterrupted months of spiritual exploration. In Bali, she studied the art of balance between worldly enjoyment and divine transcendence. She became the pupil of an elderly medicine man and also fell in love the best way—unexpectedly.
An intensely articulate and moving memoir of self-discovery, Eat, Pray, Love is about what can happen when you claim responsibility for your own contentment and stop trying to live in imitation of society’s ideals. It is certain to touch anyone who has ever woken up to the unrelenting need for change.
I know, I know, I’m really late to this party, but I finally read Eat, Pray, Love. In so many ways, I’m very glad I’ve waited until now to read it. I really enjoyed the stories and the intimacy that Gilbert shares with the reader. Not to sound cliche, but her journey “spoke to me” in unexpected ways. I understand and agree with the large response to the book from those who believe it changed their lives. I know it really impacted me, and I plan to revisit it with pencil and notebook to pull out more thoughts and ideas from its pages.
I will say that I noticed a sort of onslaught of unhappy readers, talking about how privileged Gilbert is, and how she wrote this really unhelpful, unhealthy, privileged book. They feel that her growth in the book is shallow or insignificant to real life. In many ways, I suppose they are right. This isn’t a rags-to-riches tale, and Gilbert was able to travel the world on company’s dime for an entire year, and then live off the royalties of the book it produced. Not really the plot of a struggle, sure. But I don’t think Gilbert ever posits her text as anything other than what it is. She’s not writing to enlighten others; she’s writing about her own enlightenment. It’s her story, and she’s just fortunate enough to share it with the world. So, I still see value in it, despite its place of privilege.
11. The Phantom Tollbooth, Norton Juster
Hailed as “a classic. . . . humorous, full of warmth and real invention” (The New Yorker), this beloved story -first published more than fifty years ago- introduces readers to Milo and his adventures in the Lands Beyond.
For Milo, everything’s a bore. When a tollbooth mysteriously appears in his room, he drives through only because he’s got nothing better to do. But on the other side, things seem different. Milo visits the Island of Conclusions (you get there by jumping), learns about time from a ticking watchdog named Tock, and even embarks on a quest to rescue Rhyme and Reason! Somewhere along the way, Milo realizes something astonishing. Life is far from dull. In fact, it’s exciting beyond his wildest dreams.
First time with this childhood classic, and I really enjoyed it! The wordplay was superb, and the message behind the story was very important (without being too preachy). I felt that the book was a little long. Had I picked it up as a kid, I probably wouldn’t have finished it. Yet, I still liked it, and I’m glad I’ve actually read it now! A good one for people of all sorts of different ages.
12. Herding Cats, Sarah Andersen
“. . . author Sarah Andersen uses hilarious (and adorable) comics to illustrate the very specific growing pains that occur on your way to becoming a mature, put-together grownup. Andersen’s spot-on illustrations also show how to navigate this newfound adulthood once you arrive, since maturity is equally as hard to maintain as it is to find … “
–The Huffington Post
Sarah valiantly struggles with waking up in the morning, being productive, and dealing with social situations. Sarah’s Scribbles is the comic strip that follows her life, finding humor in living as an adulting introvert that is at times weird, awkward, and embarrassing.
I’ve always loved Sarah’s Scribbles, and I always will! I was so happy to get my hands on a copy of the third set of comics, and Andersen did not disappoint. I like how she’s worked on putting more exposition in the physical books, and her insights are much appreciated. So real, so true, so me, her comics are wonderful.
And that’s it for March! Keep an eye out for another featured review of a book I recently finished. That’s next on the docket. And after that, who knows? Happy reading, everyone!