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

The House of Impossible Beauties by Joseph Cassara

During my senior year of college, my English capstone class watched Paris Is Burning and I was completely absorbed into the world of the Harlem ball scene.  So imagine how excited I was to discover this book which follows the lives of the Xtravaganza family, a real family that was featured in the documentary.  Cassara has written a beautiful book about these people that rounds them out, giving them much more dimension than the documentary (even if that dimension is fictional).  I already knew what was going to happen but it didn’t stop my heart from breaking over and over again.  Cassara has written this book using very realistic language, constantly flipping between English, Spanish, and ball slang, which gave the book even more a feeling of authenticity.  If you have any interest in the drag world, you have to read this book.

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

Insignificant Events in the Life of a Cactus by Dusti Bowling

I was pulled in to this book by the awesome title and the great cover and the inside of the book didn’t disappoint.  Aven is an awesome protagonist.  Not only was she born without arms and knows how to do everything people with arms can do, she is a strong-willed and smart girl that makes a great role model for young girls today.  Bowling did a lot of research about what life for Aven would be like and it shows.  She has created three-dimensional characters and placed them in a fun setting, a run down amusement park.  Part mystery, part realistic story about friendship, this book is a fun ride that you will be thrilled to take with Aven.

4-stars

Love, Hate and Other Filters by Samira Ahmed

I am so excited for the Chicago Young Adult Book Festival this year because I am absolutely loving the books by this year’s authors.

I am going to start by saying that this was a book I don’t relate to at all.  I come from a very supportive family who let both my brother and I follow our passions and major in theatre in college so I didn’t grow up in a world at all like Maya’s.

Samira Ahmed is a great new voice in YA literature.  She has managed to craft a book that deals with hard and heavy subjects while still managing to stay a fun and goofy romance at heart.  Even though I couldn’t relate to Maya’s specific experiences, she is a very relatable teenager, talking with a very believable teen voice.  Ahmed also makes sure to shine light on hate crimes, something that I think is so incredibly important.  The world is scary and we need more stories of acceptance.  This book is a good addition to the YA world.

4-stars

The Devil In Silver by Victor LaValle

Since I read The Changeling last year (and had it immediately become one of my favorite books of all time) and now I find myself buying any book of Victor LaValle’s that comes through the store.  (Well, I made my parents buy this one from the bookstore I work at as a Christmas present for me when they came to visit.)  LaValle is the master of magical realism.  Each of his books that I have read so far start out as a completely normal novel of realistic fiction until it suddenly isn’t.  And this book was no exception.

The Devil in Silver follows Pepper, a man who ends up in the mental ward of a hospital one night because the police don’t feel like doing paperwork.  From there, LaValle shows a crossroads of America, showing us all different kinds of people who call this hospital their home. From the quite old to the quite young, he gives lives and full backstories to characters who, in other literature, tend to just become flat characters.  Added to all that is the man with a bison head who climbs through the ceiling and attacks people.

LaValle questions what it means to be “sane” as well as looking at the good and bad sides of mental illness treatment.  On top of that, he has created a crazy mystery plot that never stops moving (even when the characters themselves are having a hard time moving due to being drugged and/or tied down).  Out of the three LaValle books I have read, this is my number two.

4-stars

My 2018 Reading Challenges!

So for 2018, I am doing 2 different reading challenges.  Here they are if you want to play along!

First of all, I am doing the Book Riot Read Harder Challenge, which is as follows.

  1. A book published posthumously
  2. A book of true crime
  3. A classic of genre fiction (i.e. mystery, sci fi/fantasy, romance)
  4. A comic written and drawn by the same person
  5. A book set in or about one of the five BRICS countries (Brazil, Russia, India, China, or South Africa)
  6. A book about nature
  7. A western
  8. A comic written or drawn by a person of color
  9. A book of colonial or postcolonial literature
  10. A romance novel by or about a person of color
  11. A children’s classic published before 1980
  12. A celebrity memoir
  13. An Oprah Book Club selection
  14. A book of social science
  15. A one-sitting book
  16. The first book in a new-to-you YA or middle grade series
  17. A sci fi novel with a female protagonist by a female author
  18. A comic that isn’t published by Marvel, DC, or Image
  19. A book of genre fiction in translation
  20. A book with a cover you hate
  21. A mystery by a person of color or LGBTQ+ author
  22. An essay anthology
  23. A book with a female protagonist over the age of 60
  24. An assigned book you hated (or never finished)

Then, I am also doing the Book Cellar Reading Challenge that I helped create for work!

  1. Book based in Chicago
  2. Book written by a Chicago author
  3. Book recommended by a bookseller
  4. Book with a title that makes you hungry
  5. Book you wish you read in school
  6. Book written under a nom de plume
  7. Book published by a small press
  8. Book from a genre you rarely/never read
  9. Book published before 1950
  10. Book written by a National Book Award Winner
  11. Book translated from another language
  12. Book written for kids

If anyone needs help with recommendations for any of these categories, let me know!

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Also I recommend making a fun star chart like my roommates and I have.  It is really motivating.

Renegades by Marissa Meyer

I have had friends telling me to read Meyer’s Lunar Chronicles series for years and just haven’t gotten around to it so I jumped at the chance to listen to the audiobook of her newest book.

Renegades questions what it means to be good or bad.  In a world where those lines are very defined, Meyer brings us two protagonists, one from each side, that really mess with your brain.  From Nova’s point of view, the Renegades let her down and let her family get killed and the Anarchists took her in, gave her a place to live.  To Adrian, the Renegades are the only family he has ever know and he, as a Renegade, is made to feel like a hero on a regular basis.  So what happens when their paths cross?  Who is on the right side of history?  Is there a right side?

Meyer not only manages to deal with these difficult questions but also creates a great adventure.  The plot never stops moving (which is super impressive because this is a super long book) and she takes the reader through endless twists and turns.  She has thought up a really interesting world filled with superpowers that, at least to me, seemed incredibly unique.  Even when I started to get worried about the book slipping into YA trope world, she managed to pull it out and put a fun spin on things.  Nova and Adrian both don’t fall into the stereotypical gender roles that YA books tend to.  This book was a commitment (especially when listening to it) but it was worth it.

4-stars