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Top Books of August 2016

Hello, I’m back with my top books of the past month!  This time around, I have a short story collection, a couple of graphic novels, and a young adult novel.  If any of those sound interesting, read on!

The Paper Menagerie (Liu):  Ken Liu combines history, science fiction, and fantasy in this engaging short story collection.  My favorite stories include a mother who creates magical origami animals for her son and a story about a man who is able to pull memories from history in order to bear witness to a horrific crime.  Liu’s writing is engaging, and I really enjoyed how he blended history, mythology, and science fiction concepts in his stories.  If you like thoughtful,engaging, and/or genre-bending stories, you will definitely want to read this collection.

And I Darken (Conqueror’s Saga #1) (White): Ladislav Dracul is the daughter of the leader of Wallachia.  Ladislav–or Lada–and her brother Radu learn harsh lessons at the hands of their ruthless father, whom neither can seem to please .   When her father sends them as hostages to the Ottoman Empire, they meet Mehemed, the heir to the throne.  The trio form a close-knit relationship as they struggle to secure their power in a harsh world. This alternative history is a fast-paced story that explores decisions and the way they shape individuals.  Lada is a compelling and terrifying heroine, so if you tend to like darker protagonists, this one is for you.

Faith: Hollywood and Vine #1 (Houser): Faith is  a nerdy young woman is also the psionist Zephyr, who is able to use telekinesis and fly.  After tragedy strikes her superhero team, Faith decides to strike out on her own in Los Angeles.  She takes a job as a content writer for an online publication and looks out for those in need.  When potential psionists start disappearing, Faith is on the case!  This is a fun superhero comic: although the plot is fairly brief, it proves a solid introduction to Faith and her world.  Faith’s warm personality will endear you to her, and her struggles have nothing to do with her appearance (Faith is “plus-sized”).  I’m looking forward to reading more stories about Faith!

Ghosts (Telgemeier): Cat and Maya’s family move to Northern California’s coast so that Maya, who has cystic fibrosis, will be able to breathe more easily.  Cat is uncomfortable and uncertain, while Maya explores their new home with her usual enthusiasm. One of the locals informs them that the dead come to visit for the annual Day of the Dead festival.  As the Day of the Dead festival, Maya’s condition worsens.  Will Cat be able to adjust to her new home?  Telgemeier’s colorful illustrations are eye-catching, and her characters’ struggles are realistic and relatable.  The mix of real life problems and supernatural element make for an engaging, bittersweet story that will have you reading it over and over again (I certainly did!).

That’s all for this month.  Catch you next time!

Top Books, July 2016

It’s that time of the month again: it’s time to discuss my favorite books from July!  This month, I have two fiction books, one non-fiction, and a graphic novel.
Every Heart a Doorway (McGuire):  All Nancy wants to do is to return to the Underworld she found after she went through a door; however, her family just wants her to go back to a normal life.  When she is forced to attend a special school intended to achieve that goal she instead finds children like her; all have the ability to open doors to worlds that they could call home, and each one wants to return but must learn to live where they do now.   However, someone starts killing children, bringing darkness to this newfound sanctuary.  I found the concept behind this story unique; the plot is quick and engaging, and I found the underlying message satisfying.  Fans of stories such as Harry Potter and Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children will find much to enjoy in Every Heart a Doorway.
Monstress, vol. 1: Awakening (Liu and Takeda):  Maika Halfwolf, a seventeen year old Arcanic (half human, half animal), has a monster inside.  Desperate for answers, she breaks into the Cumea stronghold to interrogate a woman about answers.  Leaving with more questions, Maika begins a quest to find answers and control the monster.  However, thanks to her actions, forces that have long lain dormant have awakened, and war may once again be on the horizon.  Monstress is a compelling story with plenty of action and strong world-building; Maika is a compelling, well-rounded heroine.  Her anger is terrifying to behold, but Liu provides little details–such as her love of her friend Tuya–that make her sympathetic.  Takeda’s beautiful and detailed illustrations bring this story to life; her backgrounds are intricate, and her drawings of characters convey so much.  This graphic novel will pull you right in, so do not miss this one (especially if you like epic fantasy and horror)!
Time Salvager (Chu): James Griffin-Mars is a chronman–he time travels into the past in order to salvage key resources so that humankind can continue to subsist another year.  James is exhausted, worn down by the lives he’s seen snuffed out and the loss he has suffered; he is seeking a way out. When James jumps back to acquire equipment from a research facility,  he rescues Elise, a research scientist, breaking the first of the Time Laws.   James’ actions force him and Elise to go on the run and will uncover some hard truths about this universe. The gruff, miserable James and passionate Elise balance each other out well, and the plot has all the marks of a fun, fast thriller.
Invisible Man, Got the Whole World Watching (Smith): Last, but far from least, is Mychal Smith’s Invisible Man, Got the Whole World Watching.  In this book, Smith explores how to grow up to be a black man.  He unfolds his story about growing up torn between expectations and the things he thought he needed to do to become a Black Leader.   Smith uses his own experiences to discuss and challenge the racist and sexist systems; for me, his ability to talk about those big issues was made this book so excellent.  His writing style–which is colloquial and intense–pulled me in, and I devoured this one in about a day.  If you care about racial and related social issues or found Between the World and Me powerful, you should definitely check this one out.
 
 
That’s all for this month!  See you next time!
It was an especially good month for reading, and I can’t wait to share my favorites.  So let’s get to it!
The Homegoing (Gyasi):   In eighteenth century Ghana, two half sisters are dealt completely different hands: Effia becomes the wife of a white military officer while Esi, imprisoned in the bowels of the castle, where she awaits the ship that will take her into slavery.  What comes next are the stories of their descendants.  This inter-generational family saga is an incredible read: Gyasi’s prose is rhythmic and engaging, and I loved how histories build on each other and showed the impact of past and present decisions.  I am not doing this book justice: you should just read it.
Orange: The Complete Collection 1 & 2 (Takano): One day, Naho receives a letter that supposedly comes from her future self; her future self wants her to save Kakeru, a new student who takes his own life.   Initially skeptical, Naho becomes more convinced after the content of her letter proves to be accurate.  Kakeru is a kind boy who fits readily into Naho’s friend group, and Naho finds herself falling for Kakeru.  Naho struggles to follow her letters’ instructions and save Kakeru.   This is a quiet, tender exploration of compassion, friendship, and mental illness.  Takano excels in portraying the character’s emotional states, and the soft line-work complements the slower, pace.  While the plot gets a bit tangled at times (not sure because of the translation or my own reading), the message of the importance of caring rings loud and clear.
Lazarus, 1-3(Rucka et al.): Forever Caryle is a Lazarus, a genetically modified super soldier, who is obligated to protect the interests of her family, who oversees a powerful empire, where those who are not Family must scrabble for an existence, and hold the secret to an ageless existence.   One day, Forever receives an email claiming she is not of the Family.  Despite that, Forever’s got a job to do: the other Families are challenging the Caryle family, and Forever must help to see them through.   I cannot get enough of this comic series; the artwork is amazing, the story engaging, and the world-building superb.  Forever is a compelling heroine whose conflicting obligations and compassion make her a fascinating character to follow.   I will definitely be keeping an eye on this series.
Unfinished Business (Slaughter): Ann-Marie Slaughter served under Hilary Clinton as the first female director of policy planning, but then made the decision to quit after two years in order to be with her family.  Slaughter uses her story as a jumping-off point to discuss workplace culture and the struggle that is work-life balance.  She compellingly argues that a lack of emphasis on care has negatively impacted both men and women and individuals at all socioeconomic levels.  Unfinished Business expertly articulates a lot of my concerns about current values surrounding work.  If you’re curious about any of these issues, you should definitely check this out.
That’s all for this month.  Tune in next month for more recommendations!

Top Books May 2016

May’s come and gone, and it’s time for me to tell you about my favorite books from the past month.  So, let’s get to it!
Delilah Dirk and the King’s Shilling (Delilah Dirk #2)/Cliff:  Delilah Dirk and Selim are back!  After doing a favor for a friend in Spain, Delilah and Selim run into a British army regiment on their way to their next adventure.  After Dirk is accused of spying for the French, she and Selim journey to England to clear her name.   However, this errand quickly turns tricky as more than one secret complicates the matter.  I liked that I was introduced to Delilah Dirk’s back story–the decision keeps the adventures of Delilah and Selim fresh.  That being said, this story still has the humor and action that made Delilah Dirk and the Turkish Lieutenant such a delight.  Cliff excels at character design and expressions and expertly captures the action and the world, and these artistic strengths making this book an immersive experience.
Fellside/Carey-Jess is a heroin addict and trapped in an abusive relationship.  One night,  in a drugged state, she sets her apartment on fire; her actions lead to the death of a boy named Alex in the upstairs apartment.   Jess is sent to the women’s prison Fellside, where she expects to die during her guilt-fueled hunger strike.  However, a young ghost appears to Jess and asks for her assistance.  Convinced this ghost is Alex, Jess sets out to solve the mystery of the ghost’s death and redeem herself.  She quickly runs into the corrupt empire of fellow prisoner Harriet Grace.   This creepy and compelling novel does a good job of exploring the concepts of justice and redemption; despite her situation, Jess is a determined and gritty heroine, whose quest for justice readers will quickly become invested in.
Prez: Corndog in Chief (v. 1)/Russell and Caldwell:   After an unfortunate incident involving a restaurant grill,  teenager Beth Ross is elected, by popular vote on social media, as the next president of the United States.  The world she inherits is a chaotic and corrupt mess of inequality, war, and a mysterious new illness.  However, she is determined to make a difference–if she can survive!   This is an intriguing conflict between youthful optimism and a corrupt system.  The artwork is excellent, and the story provides a solid introduction to Beth–who is a likable, determined heroine–and her world.  I’m looking forward to future volumes.
That’s all for now.  See you next time!

Another month has come and gone-which means it’s time to share my favorite books from the past month!  There are a number of exciting graphic novels  this time around, but I also had the pleasure to return to some favorite settings.  Here’s what I’ve got.

The Nameless City (Hicks):  The Nameless City, which is placed at a strategically important location, has been conquered and controlled for centuries.  The citizens, the Named, are subjugated.   Bookish, thoughtful Kaidu, a member of the most recent conquering nation, comes to the city to train in the military.  One day, after sneaking out into the city, he meets the urchin Rat.  At his request, she starts teaching him to run on the city’s rooftops, and a budding friendship develops.  Kaidu and Rat’s characterizations and the humor of their shenanigans, paired with Erin Faith Hicks’ gorgeous visuals, makes The Nameless City a delightful read. The story also begins to unpack the deep underlying issues associated with conquest and colonization and leads to a great set-up for future stories that I can’t wait to read.

The City of Blades (Bennettt-Jackson): The city of  Voortyashtan was the home of the war goddess, whose soldiers struck fear into their opponents.   The gods are (in theory) long-dead, but mysteries and secrets are still afoot on the continent.   General Turyin Mulaghesh  arrives in Voortyashtan to search for a missing Ministry spy, but quickly realizes that something much bigger is going on.   I was thrilled to return to Bennett-Jackson’s unique setting and thoroughly enjoyed this action-packed fantasy-mystery that both built on the previous story (City of Stairs) and stood well on its own.  I was deeply entertained by General Mulaghesh, a frequently vulgar, middle-aged war veteran, whose growth I really enjoyed following.

The Beauty, vol. 1 (Haun): What if you could achieve physical perfection without the stress of dieting and exercise?   The sexually transmitted disease, the Beauty, gives its hosts the bodies they want, with seemingly no cost.  However, when a young woman with the condition combusts on the subway, that paradigm changes.   Detectives Vaughn and Foster seek out the cause and a way to help those afflicted, but quickly come up against forces greater than themselves.  I thoroughly enjoyed this graphic novel’s exploration of beauty and its role in our culture and ethics.

The Bands of Mourning (Sanderson):  After the death of his beloved, Wax struggles to move on.  When the kandra approach him and his comrades, asking for assistance in uncovering the bands of the Lord Ruler, Wax grudgingly accepts in order to stop his uncle, who would be extremely dangerous with access to the Lord Ruler’s great power.  One of the things I enjoy about Sanderson is that there is always something new to discover in his world and about his characters, and he delivers.  Add great quips and an exciting plot, and you get a delightful read.  I cannot wait for the next one.

That’s all for this month.  See you next time!

Top Books of March

Another month has come and gone, and it’s time to share the books I especially enjoyed.

Let’s begin with Janice Nimura’s Daughters of the Samurai, which follows the stories of three young Japanese girls, who journeyed to the United States to learn English and bring back their knowledge of English and American culture to assist in the education of Japanese girls.  Nimura skillfully unfolds the narrative and does a good job of contextualizing these girls’ worlds; I was struck by the girls’ courage in the face of their obstacles and the expectations different cultures had of them.  This will be a fascinating read for individuals fascinated by Japanese culture and history or are looking for a true story about strong women.

Up next is Frances Hardinge’s The Lie Tree.  Faith’s family moves to an isolated island to help her father avoid a scandal.  After he dies under mysterious circumstances, Faith discovers a tree that will reveal truths after being fed lies.  Faith draws on her newly discovered lying abilities to find lies to feed the tree, what will it cost?   Hardinge has woven a fascinating world and unfolds the plot at a contemplative pace that will draw readers in.  Faith is an interesting character who finds her true desires at odd with what society dictates of her.

The Immortals by Jordanna Max Brodsky is an exciting tale of Greek Gods set in modern day New York.  When Selene DeSilva, aka the Huntress Aremis, finds a dead woman in hte park, she sets out on a hunt to track down the culprits.  She is reluctantly aided on her hunt by Theo, a local classics professor, and, together, they unravel the secret of the woman’s death, which has to do with an ancient ritual that has suddenly come into use once more.   Brodsky has created a compelling setting that makes excellent use of classical studies and myth, and the story is engaging, with plenty of hints and twists.  I am looking forward to more stories from this author.  If you like Neil Gaiman, you’ll love this.

I can’t forget Morning Star, the conclusion to Pierce Brown’s Red Rising trilogy.  Darrow has been beaten, but he still has allies.  After these allies free him from the clutches of the Jackal, Darrow and his friends rally to bring rebellion to Mars and the Gold’s empire.  The scale of worldbuilding is impressive–Brown pulls you right into the action.  I also loved the emphasis on friendship in this one; although Darrow is the figurehead for the revolution, he would be unable to accomplish everything without the assistance of his friends.  A most satisfying conclusion to the trilogy, indeed.

Last but not least, is Brandon Sanderson’s Calamity, the conclusion to The Reckoner’s trilogy.   David and the remaining Reckoners work together to stop their former leader Prof, who has been corrupted by Epic powers.  Prof has been working on something big–can David and the Reckoners save him from himself and unravel just what Calamity is?   This conclusion had plenty of big reveals and actions–just as I have come to expect from Sanderson–and brings the series to a satisfying conclusion.

That’s all for now.  Until next month!

I’m back with another top books of the month post!  Here are the books that I especially enjoyed during the month of February.
Salt to the Sea (Sepetys): This story follows several children whose paths converge as they travel to and finally board Wilhelm Gustloff , a ship carrying refuges out of danger of the final conflict between the Soviet Union and Germany.   The promised safety quickly evaporates when the Wilhelm Gustloff is torpedoed. Sepetys beautifully sketches sympathetic characters and conveys a powerful, hopeful story in the midst of a dark part of history.  I almost never cry over books, but this one had me tearing up.  If you want some compelling historical fiction, pick this up as soon as you can.
Six of Crows (Bardugo): Kaz is a legend in the criminal underworld, where he has built up a monstrous legend for himself.  When he gets the opportunity to smuggle a man with a powerful secret out of a secure fortress for a fortune,  Kaz gathers a crew and sets out.  However, skills and loyalties will be tested, and the cost may be greater than the reward.  This is an action-packed heist fantasy story with an intriguing setting and well-drawn characters.
Low, V.2 (Remender):  Stehl finds herself struggling to continue on her quest to reach the surface and learn what the probe has discovered about the world above.   Meanwhile, the Minister of Thought moves to bury the information in order to prevent the citizens from being destroyed by false hope.  Once again, I was floored by the brilliant illustrations that bring this compelling and unique world to life.  I also enjoyed watching Stehl deal with her tragedies as well as getting the opportunity to see more of the world and conflicts.   I am looking forward to seeing how this series unfolds.
Story of my Tits (Hayden): Jennifer Hayden takes the reader through her youthful insecurity to love to her experience with breast cancer all while maintaining a reflective, upbeat tone. Hayden is particularly strong in portraying the relationships in her life.  This is a sweet, slice of life story that you will not want to miss.
The Country of Ice Cream Star (Newman): In Ice Cream’s Star World, children die before they hit twenty-one, felled by a mysterious disease.  In this harsh world,  Ice Cream leads her fierce band of Sengels while making deals and fighting with nearby tribes.  When her brother Driver falls ill and her world becomes threatened by an outside force, Ice Cream sets out to find a cure and save her people.  Newman succeeds in developing a unique language and voice for Ice Cream, which further pulled me into the compelling world she had created–where children both face incredible struggles while still behaving in very childlike ways.  This is a unique post-apocalyptic story that should not be missed.
That’s it for now!  Tune in again at the beginning of next month!