Bookish, Reviews, Wrap Ups

Book Wrap-Up: August 2018

Guys, I did it.  And I didn’t even mean to.

I read 31 books in August…!

That’s one for each day of the month.

I need to dwell on this accomplishment for just a moment…

 

Anyway!

 

This is going to be a MASSIVE list!  I’ve got them in the order in which I finished them.  So, without further ado…

 

1. As the Crow Flies, Melanie Gillman

as the crow fliesThree-Star-Review

Melanie Gillman’s webcomic about a queer, black teenager who finds herself stranded in a dangerous and unfamiliar place: an all-white Christian youth backpacking camp.

– Goodreads

This is the first of many queer comics and graphic novels/memoirs I read this month, due to a list I got in an email near the end of July.  While I enjoyed this one, I found it a bit dull and disjointed.  I wanted more out of the story and characters than I was given, and I felt the ending left a lot to be desired.  Perhaps this will be a series?   I hope so, because I would like to read more.  The artwork was absolutely stunning.  I would recommend this to any comic lover, with the disclaimer that it’s a very simple storyline.

 

2. Neverworld Wake, Marisha Pessl

neverworld wakeFour-Star-Review

Once upon a time, back at Darrow-Harker School, Beatrice Hartley and her six best friends were the cool kids, the beautiful ones. Then the shocking death of Jim—their creative genius and Beatrice’s boyfriend—changed everything.
One year after graduation, Beatrice is returning to Wincroft—the seaside estate where they spent so many nights sharing secrets, crushes, plans to change the world—hoping she’ll get to the bottom of the dark questions gnawing at her about Jim’s death. But as the night plays out in a haze of stilted jokes and unfathomable silence, Beatrice senses she’s never going to know what really happened.
Then a mysterious man knocks on the door. Blithely, he announces the impossible: time for them has become stuck, snagged on a splinter that can only be removed if the former friends make the harshest of decisions. Now Beatrice has one last shot at answers… and at life.
And so begins the Neverworld Wake.

– Goodreads

As a twisty-turny story, this book was excellent.  It reminded me a bit of We Were Liars and the twist therein, although this story certainly heads in its own direction.  I felt it dragged a bit in the middle.  Part of the experience of the wake is the friends repeat the same day over and over until everyone makes a certain vote, so the monotony of those repeated days got to me a little bit.  This book also utilized my least-favorite trope of all-time, which is “time travel as a solution to a present-day problem.”  Despite these issues, though, the overall plot was dark and engaging and kept me riveted until the end.  A definite pick for those who like books where you’re not quite sure what’s real.

 

3. Whispers from the Dead, Joan Lowery Nixon

whispers from the deadFive-Star-Review

Only Sarah senses the horror.
The minute she steps through the doorway of her family’s new home, Sarah feels a smothering cold mist, and hears the echo of a scream and a heartbreaking whisper in Spanish, “Help me!”
Sarah feels compelled to find out who is trying to reach her. But can she uncover the mysteries of the past before terror strikes again?

– Goodreads

I LOVED Joan Lowery Nixon when I was growing up, and I had a lot of fun revisiting one of her horror stories now.  This five-star rating is definitely a product of endearment.  This book is a little problematic, particularly because of its age.  Still, it tells a compelling ghost story about a violent murder and one girl’s opportunity to seek justice for another woman.  I would recommend, with caution, to long-time Scooby-Doo fans and the like (although, like in “Zombie Island,” these monsters are real!).

 

4. Mosquitoland, David Arnold

mosquitolandFive-Star-Review

I am a collection of oddities, a circus of neurons and electrons: my heart is the ringmaster, my soul is the trapeze artist, and the world is my audience. It sounds strange because it is, and it is, because I am strange.
After the sudden collapse of her family, Mim Malone is dragged from her home in northern Ohio to the “wastelands” of Mississippi, where she lives in a medicated milieu with her dad and new stepmom. Before the dust has a chance to settle, she learns her mother is sick back in Cleveland.
So she ditches her new life and hops aboard a northbound Greyhound bus to her real home and her real mother, meeting a quirky cast of fellow travelers along the way. But when her thousand-mile journey takes a few turns she could never see coming, Mim must confront her own demons, redefining her notions of love, loyalty, and what it means to be sane.
Told in an unforgettable, kaleidoscopic voice, Mosquitoland is a modern American odyssey, as hilarious as it is heartbreaking.

– Goodreads

I’m not exactly sure how to explain the genre of this book, but, whatever term there is to describe it, this is my favorite type of book to read!  I loved everything about Arnold’s story here.  Mim is the hero who lived inside of me when I was a teenager.  I never had her tenacity, but I’d wished I did.  And the characters she meets on her road trip are so lovely and wonderful; I enjoyed their adventures greatly.  Despite its recent publication and it’s being set mainly in Ohio, I feel this story recalls some of my favorite elements of the southern gothic stories.  And, it feels absolutely timeless.  Overall, this is a truly excellent coming-of-age story about a brave little girl on a mission all her own.  I want anyone who enjoys contemporary fiction to read this one.

 

5. Sugar Town, Hazel Newlevant

Sugar TownFour-Star-Review

A bisexual, polyamorous love story for the modern era. Hazel is already in a happy relationship when she meets Argent, a woman who works as a dominatrix, but is sweet and tender outside the bedroom. How will she negotiate this new romance with her boyfriend back home? And what about his other girlfriend?

– Goodreads

The next on my list of queer comics!  I found this one to be good, although unremarkable.  It was very short and covered a lot of ground in just a few pages.  I think it could have benefited from a slower pace.  However, it has great representation across a large set of LGBTQIA+ identities, so I think it holds serious value in the world of comic books.  Recommending to the true comic fans.

 

6. When Katie Met Cassidy, Camille Perri

when katie met cassidyTwo-star-review

Katie Daniels is a perfection-seeking 28-year-old lawyer living the New York dream. She’s engaged to charming art curator Paul Michael, has successfully made her way up the ladder at a multinational law firm and has a hold on apartments in Soho and the West Village. Suffice it to say, she has come a long way from her Kentucky upbringing.
But the rug is swept from under Katie when she is suddenly dumped by her fiance, Paul Michael, leaving her devastated and completely lost. On a whim, she agrees to have a drink with Cassidy Price-a self-assured, sexually promiscuous woman she meets at work. The two form a newfound friendship, which soon brings into question everything Katie thought she knew about sex—and love.
When Katie Met Cassidy is a romantic comedy that explores how, as a culture, while we may have come a long way in terms of gender equality, a woman’s capacity for an entitlement to sexual pleasure still remain entirely taboo. This novel tackles the question: Why, when it comes to female sexuality, are so few women figuring out what they want and then going out and doing it?

– Goodreads

Oh, dear sweet Katie and Cassidy…where to start?

I wanted to love this book.  Like, desperately.  And yet, the whole thing fell super flat for me.  I expected to relate to Katie in many ways, but could not find a way to connect to her.  She was almost too stereotypical, and in a way that I found kind of offensive.  I also expected to find Cassidy to be more…attractive?  Not physically, and perhaps not even literally.  But in this queered rom-com, she is supposed to be the swoon-worthy love interest, and I did not in any way swoon.  I also found her to be a worse kind of stereotype than Katie.  And while lesbian culture is highlighted well in this book (I felt like I was watching an episode of The L Word), I felt that other identities in the LGBTQIA+ spectrum were ignored, or even blatantly “left out.”

I feel a little rambly in my critique, so if you want something more cohesive and able-to-be-understood, check out Danika Leigh Ellis’ July Wrap-Up video.  When Katie Met Cassidy is only one of the books in the video, but her summation of her thoughts on it are very similar to my own.  (She’s also just a great book reviewer, so there’s that too!).

I will say, I enjoyed the parts of the book where Katie is attempting to “educate herself.”  I laughed out loud a few times, and I feel like it’s a great depiction of self-discovery and exploration of sexuality.  But I would not necessarily recommend this book as a whole to other readers.

 

7. Kim Reaper, Vol. 1: Grim Beginnings, Sarah Graley

kim reaperFive-Star-Review

Like most university students, Becka has a super intense crush. Unlike most university students, Becka’s crush is on a beautiful gothic angel that frequents the underworld. Of course, she doesn’t know that.
Unaware of the ghoulish drama she’s about to step into, Becka finally gathers up the courage to ask Kim on a date! But when she falls into a ghostly portal and interrupts Kim at her job, she sets off a chain of events that will pit the two of them against angry cat-dads, vengeful zombies, and perhaps even the underworld itself. But if they work together, they just might make it… and maybe even get a smooch in the bargain.

– Goodreads

This storyline is so cute!  I love the spunky personality of Becka, and how well she balances the goth style of Kim.  The adventures they find are super creative and hilarious.  I really want more of these, and I’m so sad that this is such a recent publication!  I’ll have to wait FOREVER for the next installment!  I’d recommend this book to those who like more humorous comics and supernatural-but-not-scary plotlines.

 

8. Heavy Vinyl, Vol. 1, Carly Usdin (Nina Vakueva, Illustrator)

Heavy VinylFive-Star-Review

When Chris joins the staff at her local record store, she’s surprised to find out that her co-workers share a secret: they’re all members of a secret fight club that take on the patriarchy and fight crime!
Starry-eyed Chris has just started the dream job every outcast kid in town wants: working at Vinyl Mayhem. It’s as rad as she imagined; her boss is BOSS, her co-workers spend their time arguing over music, pushing against the patriarchy, and endlessly trying to form a band. When Rosie Riot, the staff’s favorite singer, mysteriously vanishes the night before her band’s show, Chris discovers her co-workers are doing more than just sorting vinyl . . . Her local indie record store is also a front for a teen girl vigilante fight club!

– Goodreads

Comic book, badass women, diverse representation, and music??? How could I NOT love this series!  This book was super fun.  It’s a more traditional comic book than some of the others I read this month, but it has its own unique flavor.  I liked that our several main characters are well defined with their own quirky traits.  I also love that it’s a bunch of women making the world safer for other women!  A feminist manifesto in its own right, and a great book for those who love any and all of the characteristics I listed above.

 

9. Giant Days, Vol. 1, John Allison (Lissa Treiman, Illustrator; Whitney Cogar, Colorist)

giant daysFour-Star-Review

Susan, Esther, and Daisy started at university three weeks ago and became fast friends. Now, away from home for the first time, all three want to reinvent themselves. But in the face of handwringing boys, “personal experimentation,” influenza, mystery-mold, nu-chauvinism, and the willful, unwanted intrusion of “academia,” they may be lucky just to make it to spring alive. Going off to university is always a time of change and growth, but for Esther, Susan, and Daisy, things are about to get a little weird.

– Goodreads

Another book with great unique female leads!  I’m a little bothered (and trying not to be, but) by the fact that this is written by a man, but I still find the characters lovable.  This one was a little disjointed–there were times where the story jumped with low levels of explanation.  But the setting and the shenanigans were super fun.  Anyone in college now or in the past will feel nostalgic reading this.

 

10. Cup of Death, Shannon Gilligan

cup of deathThree-Star-Review

You live with your family in the Japanese city of Kyoto. Your best friend calls you and tells you that a national treasure has been stolen. It is a tea bowl called Yukisoo. Your list of possible suspects includes high-ranking politicians, socialites, the Mafia, and a housekeeper. With such a long list, your search will be difficult, but this tea bowl is worth more than money can buy What would you do if? ? one of your suspects insisted the bowl he had was a fake? Would you believe him and free him? Or would you leave him tied up and take the bowl? What would you do if? ? the kidnapper guarding you fell asleep? Would you steal his weapon and try to escape? Or would taking it be too risky? What would you do if? ? you felt you were being followed by two men in a dark car? Would you make a break for it? Or would you pretend to make a call and check them out more closely? YOU choose what happens next.

– Goodreads

So, I read this for the Goodreads Challenge.  I do not like these types of books, because I find them hard to get lost in.  You have to use so much time figuring out what page to turn to, rather than just letting the story flow.  I guess I just don’t feel the need to have this much control over the story I’m reading.  This book had an interesting mystery, but it did not hold my attention or convert me to a Choose-Your-Own-Adventure lover.

Oh, well.

 

11. Honor Girl: A Graphic Memoir, Maggie Thrash

Honor GirlTwo-star-review

Maggie Thrash has spent basically every summer of her fifteen-year-old life at the one-hundred-year-old Camp Bellflower for Girls, set deep in the heart of Appalachia. She’s from Atlanta, she’s never kissed a guy, she’s into Backstreet Boys in a really deep way, and her long summer days are full of a pleasant, peaceful nothing . . . until one confounding moment. A split-second of innocent physical contact pulls Maggie into a gut-twisting love for an older, wiser, and most surprising of all (at least to Maggie), female counselor named Erin. But Camp Bellflower is an impossible place for a girl to fall in love with another girl, and Maggie’s savant-like proficiency at the camp’s rifle range is the only thing keeping her heart from exploding. When it seems as if Erin maybe feels the same way about Maggie, it’s too much for both Maggie and Camp Bellflower to handle, let alone to understand.

– Goodreads

I feel very ambivalent about my rating on this book.  On the one hand, I don’t want to devalue the story Thrash is telling.  This is very clearly personal, intimate…all the things that make a good memoir.  So, in terms of the actual product–a graphic about self-discovery, growing up, and sexuality–I’m happy we have this book.  On the other hand, I found the story often hard to follow.  I also think the end, while intentionally vague and heartbreaking, was still a “letdown.”  Thrash is telling her truth, but we’re left with nothing to look forward to, and I’m not sure I appreciate that tool.  And, speaking of art, I found the actual graphics in this graphic memoir to be very sloppy.  I had trouble telling people apart in windows, which made it difficult to follow the story.  I think the minimalist, easy sketches are intentional, but again I didn’t appreciate them.  This is a good story in the “lesbian canon,” if you will, but it’s far from my favorite.

 

12. My Lesbian Experience with Loneliness, Nagata Kabi

my lesbian experience with lonelinessThree-Star-Review

The heart-rending autobiographical manga that’s taken the internet by storm!
My Lesbian Experience with Loneliness is an honest and heartfelt look at one young woman’s exploration of her sexuality, mental well-being, and growing up in our modern age. Told using expressive artwork that invokes both laughter and tears, this moving and highly entertaining single volume depicts not only the artist’s burgeoning sexuality, but many other personal aspects of her life that will resonate with readers.

– Goodreads

This book just about broke my heart.  The story is so emotional and raw, you can’t help but feel for Nagata and her experiences.  This book has one of the most honest looks at mental illness I’ve ever seen in graphic novel/manga form, and perhaps in any text.  I feel like this is a story our creator had to tell.  However, I don’t know how to feel about it being marketed and sold in this format.  Another valuable story in the lexicon, of course, but Kabi is still clearly in the midst of her processing, which makes this feel very incomplete.  It is a series, so I may have to see where later installments take us.

Read with caution and with an ear and eye toward potential trigger warnings.

 

13. Leah on the Offbeat, Becky Albertalli

leah on the offbeatThree-Star-Review

Leah Burke—girl-band drummer, master of deadpan, and Simon Spier’s best friend from the award-winning Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda—takes center stage in this novel of first love and senior-year angst.
When it comes to drumming, Leah Burke is usually on beat—but real life isn’t always so rhythmic. An anomaly in her friend group, she’s the only child of a young, single mom, and her life is decidedly less privileged. She loves to draw but is too self-conscious to show it. And even though her mom knows she’s bisexual, she hasn’t mustered the courage to tell her friends—not even her openly gay BFF, Simon.
So Leah really doesn’t know what to do when her rock-solid friend group starts to fracture in unexpected ways. With prom and college on the horizon, tensions are running high. It’s hard for Leah to strike the right note while the people she loves are fighting—especially when she realizes she might love one of them more than she ever intended.

– Goodreads

Leah, Leah, Leah.

I have so many mixed feelings about this book.

This is another book I desperately wanted to love.  This was one of my most anticipated reads of 2018.  I couldn’t WAIT to hear Leah’s story! And…then, it all just fell apart.

I saw another reviewer on Goodreads describe this as Albertalli’s fanfiction of her own book, and I have to agree.  I think she tried to write the story her audience wanted rather than actually doing justice to Leah.  And the confounding plot twists that had to carry us to the ending were at times infuriating.  Also, all the characters felt so flat compared to their vitality in Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda.  I missed a lot of their spunkiness.

While I have the opinion that the ending of this book was just wrong, a personal friend disagrees completely and says she predicted this in Simon.  So, perhaps it’s my lens.  And, I will say it works just fine as a standalone story (as in, if I had not already met these characters, I may have been content with where the story went.  But, alas, ’twas not to be).  What bothers me most is its placement in the Creekside universe and its destruction of some of the things I loved so much from the first installment.

I’ve spent too much time here already.  Moving on!

 

14. Undead Girl Gang, Lily Anderson

Undead girl gangFour-Star-Review

Mila Flores and her best friend Riley have always been inseparable. There’s not much excitement in their small town of Cross Creek, so Mila and Riley make their own fun, devoting most of their time to Riley’s favorite activity: amateur witchcraft.
So when Riley and two Fairmont Academy mean girls die under suspicious circumstances, Mila refuses to believe everyone’s explanation that her BFF was involved in a suicide pact. Instead, armed with a tube of lip gloss and an ancient grimoire, Mila does the unthinkable to uncover the truth: she brings the girls back to life.
Unfortunately, Riley, June, and Dayton have no recollection of their murders, but they do have unfinished business to attend to. Now, with only seven days until the spell wears off and the girls return to their graves, Mila must wrangle the distracted group of undead teens and work fast to discover their murderer…before the killer strikes again.

– Goodreads

Even though I had been looking forward to the release of this book, I still feel like it showed up and took me by surprise.  Seriously–wicca, zombies, and girl drama are not my go-to reading material.  But I had a gut feeling about this one, and it didn’t disappoint.  I loved it!  The characters are fun and quirky, with a lot of personality and heart.  The mystery is just twisty enough to keep you guessing.  And yet it has such a tongue-in-cheek, “Scream”ish vibe, like it’s making fun of the horror industry at the same time that it’s existing within it.  I recommend this to those who like dark humor, particularly if it involves the mysterious and peculiar.

 

15. Each Kindness, Jacqueline Woodson (E. B. Lewis, Illustrator)

Each KindnessFive-Star-Review

Each kindness makes the world a little better.
Chloe and her friends won’t play with the new girl, Maya. Maya is different–she wears hand-me-downs and plays with old-fashioned toys. Every time Maya tries to join Chloe and her gang, they reject her. Eventually, Maya plays alone, and then stops coming to school altogether. When Chloe’s teacher gives a lesson about how even small acts of kindness can change the world, Chloe is stung by the lost opportunity for friendship, and thinks about how much better it could have been if she’d shown a little kindness toward Maya.
This unforgettable book is written and illustrated by the award-winning team that created The Other Side and the Caldecott Honor winner Coming On Home Soon. With its powerful message and striking art, it will resonate with readers long after they’ve put it down.

– Goodreads

I forget now where I learned about this picture book, but I got a copy from the library and read it immediately.  It has a different sort of ending from the typical children’s book, and yet it’s message is so important and timeless.  I think all ages will like this one.

 

16. The Miseducation of Cameron Post, emily m. danforth

miseducation of cameron postFive-Star-Review

When Cameron Post’s parents die suddenly in a car crash, her shocking first thought is relief. Relief they’ll never know that, hours earlier, she had been kissing a girl.
But that relief doesn’t last, and Cam is soon forced to move in with her conservative aunt Ruth and her well-intentioned but hopelessly old-fashioned grandmother. She knows that from this point on, her life will forever be different. Survival in Miles City, Montana, means blending in and leaving well enough alone (as her grandmother might say), and Cam becomes an expert at both.
Then Coley Taylor moves to town. Beautiful, pickup-driving Coley is a perfect cowgirl with the perfect boyfriend to match. She and Cam forge an unexpected and intense friendship–one that seems to leave room for something more to emerge. But just as that starts to seem like a real possibility, ultrareligious Aunt Ruth takes drastic action to “fix” her niece, bringing Cam face-to-face with the cost of denying her true self–even if she’s not exactly sure who that is.
The Miseducation of Cameron Post is a stunning and unforgettable literary debut about discovering who you are and finding the courage to live life according to your own rules.

– Goodreads

I have so many thoughts and emotions surrounding this book.  I’m still working on being able to put them into words.  I’m hopeful that someday soon I’ll be able to write a full review (perhaps incorporating my feelings on the film, if and when I see it?), but for now I will do my best.

I loved this book, in the way that you love something that totally destroys you and then puts you back together again.  Cameron is one of my favorite protagonists of all time, and I love the way her story unfolds.  Nothing in this text is rushed, and yet it doesn’t seem to drag.  I found the lessons and messages in the second half of the book to be so real and accurate.  I grew up in a community similar to hers, and everything said and done is something I know firsthand has occurred.  I had a very real, very personal reaction to the content of this part, and thus I feel inextricably linked to this book and its story.  The writing is beautiful, the setting at times serene and surreal.  I cannot say enough good things–which is why I’m having trouble putting together this review!  Suffice it to say, this is one of my new all-time favorite reads and I can’t recommend it enough.

 

17. Faith, Vol. 1: Hollywood & Vine, Jody Houser (Francis Portela, Marguerite Sauvage, Joe Quinones, Artists; David Sharpe, Lettering; Andrew Dalhouse, Michael Spicer, Colorists; Stephanie Hans, Cover Art)

FaithThree-Star-Review

Valiant’s most demanded hero steps out of Harbinger and into an all-new miniseries adventure!
Orphaned at a young age, Faith Herbert – a psionically gifted “psiot” discovered by the Harbinger Foundation – has always aspired to greatness. But now this once ordinary teenager is taking control of her destiny and becoming the hard-hitting hero she’s always known she can be – complete with a mild-mannered secret identity, unsuspecting colleagues, and a day job as a reporter that routinely throws into her harms way! Well, at least she thought it would When she’s not typing up listicles about cat videos, Faith makes a secret transformation to patrol the night as the City of Angels’ own leading superhero – the sky-soaring Zephyr!
But flying solo is going to be tougher than she ever thought when Zephyr uncovers a deep-rooted alien conspiracy. Two-bit burglars and car thieves are one thing, but when the world needs a hero to stave off an full-blown extraterrestrial invasion, will Faith find herself in over her head or ready for her biggest challenge yet?

– Goodreads

I wanted and expected to enjoy this more than I actually did.  My biggest issue with starting into superhero comics is figuring out where on earth to begin.  This book, while the “start” of Faith’s narrative, is actually in the middle of her story, so I was lost for a good bit of the book.  I also thought the plot was rather flat and uneventful.  I liked Faith/Zephyr as a hero and as a character, but the story itself left a good bit to be desired.  Experienced superhero comic readers will probably enjoy this one.

 

18. Snapshots of a Girl, Beldan Sezen

snapshots of a girlTwo-star-review

In this autobiographical graphic novel, Beldan Sezen revisits the various instances of her coming of age, and her coming out as lesbian, in both western and Islamic cultures (as the daughter of Turkish immigrants in western Europe)—to friends, family, and herself. Through a series of vignettes, she navigates the messy circumstances of her life, dealing with family issues, bad dates, and sexual politics with the raw honesty of a young woman looking for happiness. Snapshots is an amusing, thoroughly modern take on dyke life and cultural identity.

– Goodreads

This book was perhaps my biggest “blah” book of the month.  I feel that, as a graphic novel, it just really missed the mark.  Sezen may have been more successful in a prose format, or she could have relied more heavily on images.  The scribbled text was both grating and dense, and the individual “snapshots” felt so incohesive and scattered.  I’m disappointed not in the things I didn’t like about this book, but because I felt that it should and/or could have been so much more.

 

19. The Revenant, Michael Punke

revenantFour-Star-Review

Hugh Glass isn’t afraid to die. He’s done it once already.
Rocky Mountains, 1823. The trappers of the Rocky Mountain Fur Company live a brutal frontier life. Hugh Glass is one of the most respected men in the company, an experienced frontiersman and an expert tracker. But when a scouting mission puts Glass face-to-face with a grizzly bear, he is viciously mauled and not expected to survive. Two men from the company are ordered to remain with him until his inevitable death. But, fearing an imminent attack, they abandon Glass, stripping him of his prized rifle and hatchet.
As Glass watches the men flee, he is driven to survive by one all-consuming desire: revenge. With shocking grit and determination, he sets out on a three-thousand-mile journey across the harsh American frontier, to seek revenge on the men who betrayed him.
The Revenant is a remarkable tale of obsession and the lengths that one man will go to for retribution.

– Goodreads

This book totally surprised me, and it probably shouldn’t have.  I remember being equally surprised by the movie–I went into it expecting to snooze through the whole thing, and then sat riveted in the theater from beginning to end.  (Although, I do regret my husband’s decision to watch it in the dinner theater.  Eating + Bear Mauling = No Good.)  This western was nothing like I expected.  It kept my attention and carried the narrative forward at a good pace.  For a book with a lot of names, it did a decent job of balancing characters.  I even laughed out loud during one particular scene involving drunk trappers and a cannon…men, I tell you, are often most hilarious in their own “dumbassery”!

This is still not for the faint hearted.  The bear scene is pretty graphic, as are other moments throughout.  I would recommend it, though, to those who enjoy thrillers and history stories, because it’s definitely more than a conventional western.

 

20. Thank, Obama: My Hopey, Changey White House Years, David Litt

thanks obamaFive-Star-Review

More than any other presidency, Barack Obama’s eight years in the White House were defined by young people – twenty-somethings who didn’t have much experience in politics (or anything else, for that matter), yet suddenly found themselves in the most high-stakes office building on earth. David Litt was one of those twenty-somethings. After graduating from college in 2008, he went straight to the Obama campaign. In 2011, he became one of the youngest White House speechwriters in history. Until leaving the White House in 2016, he wrote on topics from healthcare to climate change to criminal justice reform. As President Obama’s go-to comedy writer, he also took the lead on the White House Correspondents’ Dinner, the so-called “State of the Union of jokes.”
Now, in this refreshingly honest memoir, Litt brings us inside Obamaworld. With a humorists’ eye for detail, he describes what it’s like to accidentally trigger an international incident or nearly set a president’s hair aflame. He answers questions you never knew you had: Which White House men’s room is the classiest? What do you do when the commander in chief gets your name wrong? Where should you never, under any circumstances, change clothes on Air Force One? With nearly a decade of stories to tell, Litt makes clear that politics is completely, hopelessly absurd.
But it’s also important. For all the moments of chaos, frustration, and yes, disillusionment, Litt remains a believer in the words that first drew him to the Obama campaign: “People who love this country can change it.” In telling his own story, Litt sheds fresh light on his former boss’s legacy. And he argues that, despite the current political climate, the politics championed by Barack Obama will outlive the presidency of Donald Trump.
Full of hilarious stories and told in a truly original voice, Thanks, Obama is an exciting debut about what it means – personally, professionally, and politically – to grow up.

– Goodreads

I had kind of already intended to give this book a five-star review before reading it, because I had heard Litt read a portion of it at ALA Annual 2017–and it was hilarious!  But I was unprepared for how heartwarming and emotional this entire memoir would be.  It was at times so funny I laughed out loud.  But there was also a moment in the last third of the book where I had to stop everything and sob.  Litt has captured the essence of the Obama Administration in these pages, and his particular view adds to the story and the healing surrounding where our country is now.  I never imagined myself continuing to recommend this book, but, seriously–if you miss Obama, you need to read this Right. Now.  It earned every single one of its five stars in my book.

 

21. Leave No Trace, Mindy Mejia

leave no traceFour-Star-Review

There is a place in Minnesota with hundreds of miles of glacial lakes and untouched forests called the Boundary Waters. Ten years ago a man and his son trekked into this wilderness and never returned.
Search teams found their campsite ravaged by what looked like a bear. They were presumed dead until a decade later…the son appeared. Discovered while ransacking an outfitter store, he was violent and uncommunicative and sent to a psychiatric facility. Maya Stark, the assistant language therapist, is charged with making a connection with their high-profile patient. No matter how she tries, however, he refuses to answer questions about his father or the last ten years of his life.
But Maya, who was abandoned by her own mother, has secrets, too. And as she’s drawn closer to this enigmatic boy who is no longer a boy, she’ll risk everything to reunite him with his father who has disappeared from the known world.

– Goodreads

I will have a full review of this book up eventually, so I’ll keep this brief for now.  I enjoyed how twisty and dark this book was.  The story takes some pretty dark turns, and all of the characters are far more complex than “good” and “bad.”  I found Lucas, the boy who disappeared, to be less than authentic.  However, the overall story was excellent and kept me turning pages until the end.

I would recommend this to all the mystery lovers out there, but I want to add trigger warnings for sexual assault, suicide, domestic abuse, and homicidal violence.  Like I said, lots of dark places…

 

22. Goldie Vance, Vol. 1, Hope Larson (Brittney Williams, Illustrator)

goldie vanceFive-Star-Review

Sixteen-year-old Marigold “Goldie” Vance has an insatiable curiosity. She lives at a Florida resort with her dad, who manages the place, and it’s her dream to one day be the hotel’s in-house detective. When Walter, the current detective, encounters a case he can’t crack, together they utilize her smarts, skills, and connections to solve the mystery…even if it means getting into a drag race, solving puzzles, or chasing a helicopter to do it!

– Goodreads

Another graphic novel!  I enjoyed this one a lot.  It felt like a decent blend of Nancy Drew and Scooby Doo.  The writing is humorous and the artwork is fun.  I’m not yet ready to continue this series, but I think it has tremendous value.

 

23. Princess Princess Ever After, Katie O’Neill

princess princess ever afterFive-Star-Review

“I am no prince!”
When the heroic princess Amira rescues the kind-hearted princess Sadie from her tower prison, neither expects to find a true friend in the bargain. Yet as they adventure across the kingdom, they discover that they bring out the very best in the other person. They’ll need to join forces and use all the know-how, kindness, and bravery they have in order to defeat their greatest foe yet: a jealous sorceress, who wants to get rid of Sadie once and for all.
Join Sadie and Amira, two very different princesses with very different strengths, on their journey to figure out what happily ever after really means — and how they can find it with each other.

– Goodreads

This graphic novel had me literally laughing out loud.  It’s a super, super fast read–even for a comic.  But the story conveys a lot in that short time.  I love how Amira and Sadie turn all the traditional fairytale elements on their head and (of course) end up making the kingdom an even better place.  I want more little books like this!

 

24. The Dinner List, Rebecca Serle

the dinner listFour-Star-Review

We’ve been waiting for an hour. That’s what Audrey says. She states it with a little bit of an edge, her words just bordering on cursive. That’s the thing I think first. Not: Audrey Hepburn is at my birthday dinner, but Audrey Hepburn is annoyed.
At one point or another, we’ve all been asked to name five people, living or dead, with whom we’d like to have dinner. Why do we choose the people we do? And what if that dinner was to actually happen? These are the questions Rebecca Serle contends within her utterly captivating novel, The Dinner List, a story imbued with the same delightful magical realism as One Day,and the life-changing romance of Me Before You.
When Sabrina arrives at her thirtieth birthday dinner she finds at the table not just her best friend, but also three significant people from her past, and well, Audrey Hepburn. As the appetizers are served, wine poured, and dinner table conversation begins, it becomes clear that there’s a reason these six people have been gathered together.
Delicious but never indulgent, sweet with just the right amount of bitter, The Dinner List is a romance for our times. Bon appetit.

– Goodreads

This book took me on a whole string of surprises.  I also have a full review I hope to publish soon, so more brevity here.  I started out thinking this would be a more introspective book, and quickly realized I was wrong–it’s a romance.  And it’s not just any romance; the first few chapters brought to my mind Daniel Handler’s Why We Broke Up.  Then, an out-of-nowhere plot twist near the middle of the story changed this entire book into a portrait of grief, pain, and ultimately healing.  I expected to drag my feet through it; I read the whole book in one day.  I expected to detest it; I ended up loving it.  So, I suppose I’d recommend it to romance fans with the disclaimer that you must reach page 100 or later–stick with it–to get to the good stuff, and it is quite good.

 

25. This Love Story Will Self-Destruct, Leslie Cohen

this love story will self destructTwo-star-review

This is the classic tale of boy meets girl: Girl…goes home with someone else.
Meet Eve. She’s a dreamer, a feeler, a careening well of sensitivities who can’t quite keep her feet on the ground, or steer clear of trouble. She’s a laugher, a crier, a quirky and quick-witted bleeding-heart-worrier.
Meet Ben. He’s an engineer, an expert at leveling floors who likes order, structure, and straight lines. He doesn’t opine, he doesn’t ruminate, he doesn’t simmer until he boils over.
So naturally, when the two first cross paths, sparks don’t exactly fly. But then they meet again. And again. And then, finally, they find themselves with a deep yet fragile connection that will change the course of their relationship—possibly forever.
Follow Eve and Ben as they navigate their twenties on a winding journey through first jobs, first dates, and first breakups; through first reunions, first betrayals and, maybe, first love. This is When Harry Met Sally reimagined; a charming tale told from two unapologetically original points of view. With an acerbic edge and heartwarming humor, debut novelist Leslie Cohen takes us on a tour of what life looks like when it doesn’t go according to plan, and explores the complexity, chaos, and comedy in finding a relationship built to last.

– Goodreads

I picked up this book because of it’s comparison to When Harry Met Sally.  Actually, I don’t know how I feel about When Harry Met Sally, so I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised that I don’t know how to feel about This Love Story Will Self-Destruct. Most of the book felt long and drawn out.  I liked the premise, but I didn’t care for its execution.  And the duel viewpoints, since they were so unevenly spaced, felt rocky and uncomfortable.  My absolute favorite part of the book was the epilogue.  I think I’d like to read a book that started there, instead of ending there.  This is not a typical romantic story, so I’m not sure which group of readers will enjoy it most.  Ephron fans?  Give it a go, I suppose.

 

26. Counting by 7s, Holly Goldberg Sloan

counting by 7sFour-Star-Review

Willow Chance is a twelve-year-old genius, obsessed with nature and diagnosing medical conditions, who finds it comforting to count by 7s. It has never been easy for her to connect with anyone other than her adoptive parents, but that hasn’t kept her from leading a quietly happy life . . . until now.
Suddenly Willow’s world is tragically changed when her parents both die in a car crash, leaving her alone in a baffling world. The triumph of this book is that it is not a tragedy. This extraordinarily odd, but extraordinarily endearing, girl manages to push through her grief. Her journey to find a fascinatingly diverse and fully believable surrogate family is a joy and a revelation to read.

– Goodreads

A dear friend recommended this book to me on the basis of Willow being one of her favorite characters of all time.  I went into it without knowing much of anything, so the first chapter took me by surprise.  (Seriously, HUGE plot twist in the first 20 pages or so.)  I laughed out loud and cried a lot while reading this book.  It has a huge amount of heart, and the characters are so lovable (mostly).  Willow in particular is super unique, and I can totally see why my friend likes her so well.  I felt the ending of this one was a little too perfect.  Granted, the whole story feels a little less than probable, but the resolution pushes things over the edge.  The conclusion made me happy, but it was kind of an empty happiness.  Still, this is an excellent story with great writing and super remarkable characters.  I highly recommend it to the middle schooler in your midst, although we “grown ups” can enjoy it too!

 

27. Lumberjanes, Vol. 1: Beware the Kitten Holy, Noelle Stevenson

LumberjanesFive-Star-Review

FRIENDSHIP TO THE MAX!
At Miss Qiunzilla Thiskwin Penniquiqul Thistle Crumpet’s camp for hard-core lady-types, things are not what they seem. Three-eyed foxes. Secret caves. Anagrams. Luckily, Jo, April, Mal, Molly, and Ripley are five rad, butt-kicking best pals determined to have an awesome summer together… And they’re not gonna let a magical quest or an array of supernatural critters get in their way! The mystery keeps getting bigger, and it all begins here.

– Goodreads

I mean, what’s not to love about a graphic novel with the word “kitten” in the title???

This book is super fun and upbeat.  I know reviews are pretty polarized, but I enjoyed this book greatly.  The characters are super distinct and quirky, and their adventures are hysterical.  I think there’s a lot of opportunity for development–based off of this first installment–so I’m excited to jump into the rest of the series.

 

28. The Mars Room, Rachel Kushner

mars roomTwo-star-review

It’s 2003 and Romy Hall is at the start of two consecutive life sentences at Stanville Women’s Correctional Facility, deep in California’s Central Valley. Outside is the world from which she has been severed: the San Francisco of her youth and her young son, Jackson. Inside is a new reality: thousands of women hustling for the bare essentials needed to survive; the bluffing and pageantry and casual acts of violence by guards and prisoners alike; and the deadpan absurdities of institutional living, which Kushner evokes with great humor and precision.

– Goodreads

So, I picked up this book with a misunderstanding of the synopsis, which may in some ways be affecting my overall rating.  But, I hated this book.  I didn’t find it funny.  Parts of the story absolutely disgusted me–I had to skip them.  Much like my disinterest in Orange is the New Black, my problems with this book include Romy’s being a white woman with far more privilege than her fellow prisoners.  I felt that topics related to LGBT issues were handled poorly, as were other conversations had around different minority groups.  Ultimately, I didn’t care about the characters enough to invest in the end of the story, and while I technically “finished” the book, I was skimming so much that it was more of a DNF.  I recognize what this book tried to accomplish but there are better examples out there.

 

29. We The Animals, Justin Torres

we the animalsFour-Star-Review

In this groundbreaking debut, Justin Torres plunges us into the chaotic heart of one family, the intense bonds of three brothers, and the mythic effects of this fierce love on the people we must become.

– Goodreads

This is a quick but heavy read that tackles super hard subject matter in just over 100 pages.  I was gutted by the content and floored by the written language.  It’s beautiful, poetic prose that does nothing to mask the actual harsh concepts Torres is sharing.  This book is one big, giant trigger warning for so many things.  In fact, I read this book in hopes of finishing it before seeing the film based on it; now, I don’t think I have the stomach to actually watch the movie.  So, tread cautiously with this one.  It’s worth the read if you feel comfortable enough with reading it.

 

30. Saga, Vol. 2, Brian K. Vaughan (Fiona Staples, Artist)

saga vol 2Four-Star-Review

The smash-hit ongoing epic continues! Thanks to her star-crossed parents Marko and Alana, newborn baby Hazel has already survived lethal assassins, rampaging armies, and alien monstrosities, but in the cold vastness of outer space, the little girl encounters something truly frightening: her grandparents!

– Goodreads

Another great installment in this series!  I didn’t enjoy this one quite as much as the first book, but I also think this volume did a better job of establishing the individual storylines.  I’ve already ordered the third book and am excited to dive in!

If you haven’t checked out this series yet, you definitely should!

 

31. Giant DaysVol. 2, John Allison et al (see first Giant Days)

giant days 2Three-Star-Review

Continuing their first semester at university, fast friends Susan, Esther, and Daisy want to find their footing in life. But in the face of hand-wringing boys, holiday balls, hometown rivals, and the willful, unwanted intrusion of “academia,” they may be lucky just to make it to spring alive.

– Goodreads

I was less than ecstatic about the next installment in this series.  There were a few things I didn’t like about the first volume that I had hoped would get ironed out in later editions, but those same issues showed up here.  I also cared less for the plot itself.  The conflicts and situations found in this set were less relatable and probable.  I still enjoyed the core friend group and characters.  They were as enjoyable as ever.  But I hope the future of this series gets better instead of continuing to get worse.

 

And there you have it!  Thirty-one books in a 31-day month.  I know, I know, a lot of them are graphic novels–but still!

This month is much slower going.  I’m taking my time and enjoying some of those books on my owned-but-have-never-read shelves.  I can’t wait to tell you about them soon!

 

Cheers!

 

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