Whiskey When We’re Dry by John Larison

I am doing the Book Riot 2018 Read Harder Challenge this year and one of the requirements was to read a western.  I am not a big western reader (I am incredibly squeamish and don’t handle blood and violence very well) so I was daunted by this one.  That was, until our Penguin rep, Brian, came into the store and said, “I have a book I need you to read.  It’s a Western.”  I jumped on the opportunity.

What I got was Whiskey When We’re Dry, a western that focuses on Jessilyn, a 17 year-old girl who finds herself alone in the world following the death of her father.  What I really enjoyed about this book is that nothing came easily to Jessilyn.  She doesn’t just happen to magically be the best sharpshooter.  She doesn’t just happen to survive shootouts.  She doesn’t succeed because of happenstance, which is the feeling I’ve gotten from other genre fiction like westerns (including westerns).  This book felt very realistic while still telling the story of an awesome kickass girl who involves herself in a world that is actively against her.  I am so glad there is a character like Jessilyn out there.  We need more of her.

4-stars

Enigma Variations by Andre Aciman

I loved Call Me By Your Name and so I knew that I needed to check out Andre Aciman’s other work.  I decided to read his most recent book, Enigma Variations, in which he tells the story of Paul, a man who tries to discover himself at different points in his life.  The story is broken up into five different periods of time.  I loved being able to see Aciman use his deep and amazing understanding of the human experience to follow one person over a lifetime, especially since he focused on such a short period of time in Call Me By Your Name.

Aciman is a poet.  His writing is lyrical and beautiful while still being gritty, raw, and incredibly honest.  He doesn’t hold back on any topic, making you absolutely love Paul at some points and making you hate him at others.  He is an author I will definitely be tracking, waiting for what he has for us next.

4-stars

American Panda by Gloria Chao

Don’t let the cover fool you.  This is not a light, fluffy read that will make you feel like you are smiling and drinking a hot chocolate.  American Panda tells the story of Mei, a 17 year-old who finds herself as a freshman at MIT.  As well as starting at a new school, she is dealing with the fact that her brother has been kicked out of the family due to the woman he has decided to marry.  On top of all that, Mei finds herself confronted with her culture and her parents who want her to go to school, marry a nice Taiwanese boy, and become a doctor.  But Mei doesn’t want any part of that life.  She wants to dance and avoid germs.  She wants to date the cute boy she sees around campus.

This book is so out of my realm of experience but it was fascinating to get to read it and enter this world for a while.  I have met Gloria and she writes from a very real place.  This book walks through a lot of things she dealt with growing up and she allows Mei to say the things she was never able to.  (She was a dentist, y’all.)

Gloria’s writing is wonderful and she has really created a three dimensional world that I enjoyed climbing into.  Each character has a full range of emotions and a backstory.  When she wants to be funny, she’s hilarious, and when she wants you to feel emotions, she makes you cry.   So grab a hot chocolate and curl up with this book.

4-stars

The Philosopher’s Flight by Tom Miller

Shout-out to Pam Parker for telling me to read this one!  This book completely blew me away.  The cover blurb made me nervous.  Magic and science in one book?  That probably isn’t a book I would enjoy.  But boy was I wrong.

Miller has created a fascinating story placed in the midst of the very real history of WWI.  He calls out the gender issues that were in place by turning the tables.  Sure, women weren’t allowed to do things at the time but that is because they were women and it was the turn of the century!  Instead of going with this view, he flips it, following a male character who isn’t allowed to help out with the war efforts due to the fact that women are the only one with the magical abilities to do so.  And this isn’t just a book that sets out to prove a point.  It is a well-written, fascinating story that I didn’t want to leave.  I was actually shocked to find myself at the end of the novel.  I didn’t want to let these characters go.

5-stars

Tangerine by Christine Mangan

It starts out as a nice story. A woman moves to Tangier with her new husband. Suddenly a friend from her past appears, and the perfect exotic-ness of Morocco begins to fall apart. In her debut, Christine Mangan has created a thrilling, page-turning read. Her characters are rich and she takes an interesting look at the psychology of friendship. This book leads you to believe that it is just going to be a traditional piece of historical fiction, from the opening chapter to the cover design.  But boy does it take a turn and become so much more than that.  This book is straight up terrifying at times.  (Not like spooky monster terrifying but a reminder of how messed up people can be.)  I look forward to what Mangan has in store for us next.

4-stars

The Prince and the Dressmaker by Jen Wang

Words cannot explain how much I love this book!  When I saw it was about a prince who secretly puts on dresses, I was hooked.  Jen Wang has created a beautiful and powerful story.  It is a story of friendship, of acceptance, and of bravery.  This book has been a hit with everyone I have given it to.  This book made me cry so many different kinds of tears throughout the course of reading it.  Don’t even think about skipping this one.

5-stars

Educated by Tara Westover

Tara Westover has lived a like I could never imagine.  Growing up in a survivalist Mormon family, she never went to school and doesn’t even know the date of her own birthday.  Somehow she managed to teach herself enough to get into college.  Her story is both terrifying and inspirational. More than just a discussion of religion, Westover looks at mental health and family, questioning what it means to be a member of a family.  I can’t stop thinking about her and what she has been through.  I didn’t realize how much I have taken for granted in my life.  Westover is so incredibly inspirational.

4-stars

My Favorite Thing Is Monsters, Vol 1 by Emil Ferris

One of the reasons I have gotten into reading challenges lately is that they force me to read things that I normally wouldn’t.  In this case, that was a graphic novel.  I am just not normally drawn to them.  But Emil Ferris has created a thing of beauty with My Favorite Thing Is Monsters.  This graphic novel is about so many things but mostly it is about figuring out who you are as a child growing up.  Her main character, Karen, sees herself as a monster rather than a regular little girl.  She views the world in fascinating ways, ways that would only work when being shown visually.  I was drawn into the story and the characters and was very glad to know that there is a Volume 2 coming out later this year.  My one complaint is one that I often have with graphic novels and that is that it seemed too busy at times.  I found myself lost in what was happening in the plot a few times because there was so much happening visually on the page.  As someone who does not begin to understand art (I appreciate it, I just don’t understand it as deeply as some), this became overwhelming at times.

4-stars

Sometimes I Lie by Alice Feeney

This is the kind of thriller I like.  Told in three parts, Alice Feeney has created an engaging mystery that kept my interest without being over the top and unbelievable.  At heart, Sometimes I Lie is the story of a woman dealing with problems of love, work, and family.  From the outside it looks like she has the perfect life but nothing is ever perfect.  I listened to this as an audiobook and it was beautiful.  The narrator is perfect.  Now don’t let my review confuse you.  This book has shocking twists and turns.  It kept me on my toes.  I wish every thriller I read were as well written and as intriguing as this one.

4-stars

The Infinite Future by Tim Wirkus

Half of this book worked for me and the other half just really didn’t.  Formatted like my favorite novel, The Princess Bride, the first half of the book is a fictionalized retelling of how the book came to be while the second half is the book itself.  I very much enjoyed the sections talking about finding the lost Salgado-MacKenzie manuscript as well as the adventure to discover his identity was a joy to read.  Wirkus created a fun cast of characters that came together over a shared love even though they never should have met.  The second half, Salgado-MacKenzie’s lost novel, was less entertaining.  Leading up to it, many characters describe it as being a bad book, which already didn’t make me excited about it.  The story was weirdly complicated seeing that very little actually happened.  And it’s trying too hard, in my opinion, the mirror the meta-ness of the first half.  I would have very much enjoyed this book if it was just the first half but instead it didn’t end there and I found myself slogging through to get to the end.

3-stars

My Plain Jane by The Lady Janies

I loved My Lady Jane and Jane Eyre is my favorite classic so this book felt like it was made for me.  I was nervous going in because My Lady Jane was so great but My Plain Jane did not disappoint.  Filled with even more references than the first one, The Lady Janies had me laughing out loud so many times.  (Their Trump jokes are amazing.  Absolutely amazing.)  Don’t worry if you haven’t read Jane Eyre, you can still enjoy this book.  The plot is so incredibly different from the source material that you will catch certain jokes if you have already read it but you don’t need any knowledge going in to have a fun time reading this book.

These women are amazing and I can’t wait to see what they have thought up next.

5-stars

The Midnight Gang by David Walliams

David Walliams has delivered yet another charming middle grade book.  Set in a hospital, The Midnight Gang follows the children from the children’s ward as they go on a series of adventures.  Walliams has created a book that is both incredibly entertaining (with fantastic illustrations by Tony Ross) as well as reminding kids that it is important to treat everyone with respect.  Walliams has been compared to the next Roald Dahl and while I think no one will ever replace Dahl, I believe that he has carved out his own voice and place in the kidlit world.  Don’t let the size of this book scare you.  It’s an incredibly fast read.

4-stars