February was another great reading month! Considering I had an uptick in work, an uptick in book writing/revisions and the month was short, I thought for sure I’d sink back into my normal reading routine of about 4 books a month. But that didn’t happen. Somehow I kept up my pace from January of finishing a book about every 2 to 3 days. I managed to read 11 books in February. Perhaps this is my new normal.
I’m even thinking it may be possible that I could actually reach my newly established goal of reading 100 books this year. (The degree to which this makes me happy is probably not normal. What is normal anyway? The word is starting to lose all meaning…)
So what did I read in February? Here are all the books + brief reviews in order that I read them, not in order of what I liked best.
Book 1: The Wizard of Earthsea by Ursula Le Guin
Brief Review: Given Le Guin is a renowned fantasy writer and one of the first women to break into the genre, I’d hoped for interesting female characters. That did not happen. The few in the book were pretty stereotypical, which I found disappointing. Perhaps I was being unfair and to publish fantasy and become an established writer in the 1960s and 1970s Le Guin had to have a male protagonist. That said, I enjoyed the theme of how the ego of man brings darkness into the world. In addition, overall I found it a worthy fantasy novel in general. Apparently, in future books in the series, there is a female protagonist. I liked this book enough I may give another one a chance.
Review for people in a hurry: Great fantasy novel but don’t expect any compelling female characters from a renown female fantasy writer, at least not in this book.
Book 2: March: Book Three by John Lewis, Andrew Aydin, Nate Powell
Brief Review: I’ve reviewed this book in a previous blog. Here is a portion of that review: March Book 3 is a time machine. It catapulted me back to the Civil Rights Movement era and into the body of peaceful activist John Lewis. It’s a heartbreaking reminder of America’s very ugly past and, even worse, a reminder that as much as things change, some things continue to remain the same. It also doesn’t look back at history through a lens of nostalgia or sanitize history. Coupled with stark black and white images that twist your insides, each book builds tension and lays bare brutal truths.
Review for people in a hurry: March Book 3 caps off an incredible graphic novel series that should be required reading for all people or at least for anyone who wants to expand their understanding of history and capacity for compassion.
Books 3-5: Infernal Devices Series by Cassandra Clare
Brief Review: Once upon a time, my daughter said something I thought was silly. She had been resistant to reading the Harry Potter series and I knew she would love it. When I asked her why she didn’t want to read Harry Potter, she replied she worried she’d like it so much it would ruin her love for her other beloved book series at the time, Percy Jackson. I told her it would not and, eventually, she became a Potterhead. At the time of our discussion, I didn’t understand this hesitation, but as a fan of the Mortal Instruments series by Cassandra Clare, I worried reading the prequel series, Infernal Devices would ruin my love of the original books.
Turns out, I was right it was silly to think this. Still, now, I totally understand where my daughter was coming from! The Infernal Devices trilogy had all the same elements I loved in Mortal Instruments, fantasy, action, romance, incredible world-building, funny dialogue and wound it with a bit of a Jane Austen/Dickens flair. It’s set in 1800s London and follows Tess, who has just discovered she’s a warlock and her interactions with the London contingent of Shadowhunters. It weaves together many elements of the original series well. I loved the prequel just as much as the original series, and it didn’t ruin it!
Review for people in a hurry: If you liked the Mortal Instruments series or if you just like fantasy books filled with vampires and werewolves and magic AND you like Jane Austen, this series is for you.
Book 6: Dark Matter by Blake Crouch
Brief Review: Although this book is predictable, particularly if you’ve ever seen a wonderful indie film called Primer, it’s still fast-paced and kept me flipping the pages so fast I read it in less than two days. I knew what was going to happen and I still enjoyed it. (That is a mark of a good book for me.)
This was the book chosen for my book club this month and I was thrilled it was chosen because it’s not a book I would normally read. Although it has elements of things I like in a book, science fiction, in this case, astrophysics and the multiverse, it’s still better categorized in the thriller genre, not a typical genre for me. I even didn’t care that nearly every paragraph was only one sentence! (This is not an over-exaggeration).
In some cases I found the explanations of the scientific aspects a bit lacking, an issue probably made more pronounced because I was simultaneously reading Astrophysics for People in a Hurry (see below). My favorite part of this book is that it digs at two fundamental questions of humanity. The first is the more existential question of “what does it mean to be your best self”? And the even more monumentally and universally asked question by most people, “what if I’d done something differently?”
Review for people in a hurry: Although predictable, this fast-paced, thriller-meets-sci-fi book is worth a read.
Book 7: Wonder by R. J. Palacio
Brief Review: I semi-reviewed this book in my last blog about kindness. From the switching perspectives and well-developed characters to the concept that people and things aren’t always what they seem, Wonder is much more than a story about a boy with a genetic disorder that required multiple surgeries on his face. It’s a story, at its core, about kindness and looking beyond the surface. If you ever want to really understand the sentiment behind something “tugging on your heart strings” Wonder will show it to you. It’s impossible not to love Auggie and his parents or his sister or his friends.
What this book does really well is show how you can never really understand something if you’re only looking at one side of it. Life and humans and interactions don’t just have two sides or three sides. There are so many ways to view something and if you only see your own, you’re probably missing out. Also, the movie is great too! (But read the book first. Even with a great movie, the book is always better!)
Review for people in a hurry: This is a book for kids, but I think it ‘s pretty clear the adults are the ones who really need to read it.
Book 8: Astrophysics for People in a Hurry by Neil deGrasse Tyson
Brief Review: When a book describes everything from the beginnings of the universe to the future of the universe and even what may lie beyond it, it’s a bit hard to make anything “brief.” Although this is called Astrophysics for People in a Hurry (and the inspiration for my “Review for People in a Hurry”) don’t expect a dumbed down version of astrophysics where you’re spoon fed concepts. Instead of talking down to the non-genius readers like me, deGrasse Tyson explains these concepts and facts and uses similes and metaphors to help the average joes and janes like me understand it.
It’s a book that reminds you, you’re not special and yet you are. You are just star stuff like everything else in the world, but what that star stuff became is also incredible. It takes macro and micro and melds it all together into a wonderful book on the universe and how incredible it is to live in it.
Side note: I listened to this book. If you like audiobooks I’d highly recommend this. It’s narrated by deGrasse Tyson and, let’s be honest, I could listen to him read a phone book and enjoy it. (If there were still phone books!)
Review for people in a hurry: Learning about the expanding universe from astrophysicist and all-around awesome dude, Neil deGrasse Tyson, a will expand your mind and you won’t be sorry!
Book 9: Kindred Spirits by Rainbow Rowell
Brief Review: This is a short story or novella. I’m not sure which one. I don’t really have a good grasp on the difference between them. Either way, it’s a quick, fun read. I am a fan of Rowell. She has a great style of writing that is accessible and also insightful. Although she writes YA and her characters are in their teens, she taps into emotions people of any age can relate to. Plus, it’s an entire story revolving around camping out in-line for Star Wars tickets. But it’s not what you think. It doesn’t take place in the 80s. It takes place just a few years ago during the release of the Star Wars reboot, The Force Awakens. By then people were more likely to wait in a virtual line for tickets than a physical line, which adds a whole extra layer to the story.
Rowell always does a great job turning situations that seem like they would be really boring (like camping out in line or hanging out at the mall) into something quirky, poignant and funny. She’s sort of the Kevin Smith of YA books. It’s not her most compelling work, but it’s entertaining. Think Mall Rats rather than Clerks (if you know your Kevin Smith movies.)
Review for people in a hurry: This is a great way to get your Rainbow Rowell fix without delving into a full-length novel.
Book 10: Live or Die by Anne Sexton
Brief Review: I have many writing goals. One of them is to try to read more poetry. Each month I try to read at least one book of poetry. This month it’s Anne Sexton. I have a family connection to the name Sexton, which is what put her on my radar. But after I found more about her, her story intrigued me. Her poems are very personal, what they call “confessional” poetry. Every poem is steeped in metaphor and drowning in pain. It’s beautiful and also a bit ugly at the same time, splaying open the kinds of emotions and thoughts many people keep locked away, particularly in the time period in which she wrote, mostly the 1960s.
I started with Live or Die because it was the work that won her the Pulitzer Prize. It’s certainly a volume that one wouldn’t want to read when feeling depressed. But it was beautiful and forced me to think about words and metaphors, something I really enjoy.
Review for people in a hurry: A beautiful collection of poems that you should not read if you are feeling blue.
Book 11: The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time by Mark Haddon
Brief Review: I’d heard a lot about this book before I read it. It’s been on must-read book lists and discussed on blogs. At first, I was excited to read it. However, whenever I spoke to someone who read it, their response was always lukewarm. They liked it but didn’t love it. This didn’t match all the accolades on the back cover or what I’d read about it online. Still, I went into it with an open mind. I mean it seemed like it could go either way. Ultimately, I think I side more with my friends than the internet. Perhaps at the time it was written the perspective of a boy with Asperger, which is never outright said but seems to be the case, was unique.
I did find it to be well written and I liked the perspective. But I didn’t love it. I’m not sure I can put my finger on why exactly. It did have many elements I like in a book. It made me think and feel. It made me uncomfortable at times, which is a good thing. It made me question how I view people and it made me empathize. On paper, pun intended, I should have loved it. Perhaps it’s a victim of too much hype. If I’d read it without knowing anything about it, it’s possible I would have viewed it differently.
Review for people in a hurry: Didn’t quite live up to the hype for me, but I did like it. I just didn’t love it.