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Archive for the ‘Fiction’ Category

Another month has come and gone, and I’m back with my favorite books of the month.

Queen of Blood (Durst):  In Renthia, a Queen, a woman with the power to keep the spirits in check, brings balance to the country for as long as she is able.  The current queen Fara is powerful, yet the spirits still harm her subjects.  Daleina, a young, weak student, and her mentor, a crusty knight, struggle to bring balance to the kingdom, but, in doing so, uncover a dark secret.  I really enjoyed Daleina as a character; she is aware of her faults, but learns to work with them–something I deeply respect.  The story is also extremely compelling with lots of twists and turns–I will be watching out for the sequel.

Hillbilly Elegy (Vance):  Hillbilly Elegy has been getting a lot of recognition, and it’s well deserved. In this memoir, J.D. Vance describes his family’s history and the experience of growing up in a hillbilly family and how he managed to escape the vicious cycle of poverty that traps so many.  He also ruminates on what the hillbilly community needs to do to move out of the vicious cycle of poverty and addiction.  This is an essential read for anyone trying to understand the needs of marginalized communities.

The Stone Heart (Nameless City #2-Hicks): The sequel to Nameless City begins where Nameless City left off: the General of All Blades is working to establish the council, but other members of the Dao occupation are reluctant to give up power.  Meanwhile Kai and Rat uncover a secret the Monks of the Stone Heart have protected for centuries, and this is one that could change everything.  The Stone Heart was just as compelling as The Nameless City, and Faith Erin Hicks’ full-color illustrations excel at portraying the world and the characters’ personalities.  Fans of Avatar the Last Airbender series and stories that talk about difficult issues in lighter ways will enjoy this graphic novel series.

In the Garden of Beasts:Love, Terror, and an American Family in Hitler’s Berlin (Larson):  Nonfiction writer Eric Larson tells the story of  William E. Dodd, the American ambassador to Hitler’s Germany.  Larson takes the reader through Dodd’s experiences navigating encounters with key Nazi officials while dealing with the power struggles and indifference to the results of Nazis’ hateful rhetoric from home.  Given that we all know the end of the story, this is a fascinating and accessible look at individual and national response to a crisis in the making.

That’s all!  Catch you next time!

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Towers Trilogy (Karen Sumner-Smith):  In a world where magic is currency and status, Xhea, who has no magic of her own, scrapes out a meager existence in the Lower City by plying her ability to see ghosts.  One day, a man from one of the floating Towers, brings her a glowing ghost and asks her to hold onto it.   The ghost Shai and Xhea form a friendship that will change the world of the Lower City and the Towers.   Xhea and Shai’s characterizations are both excellent, and their friendship drives a compelling story about privilege and change.  Read this series if you’re looking for  a good story about female friendships changing the world.

How to understand Israel in 60 days or less (Glidden): Cartoonist Sarah Glidden documents her experiences on a Jewish birthright tour to Israel and her struggles to understand the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Glidden effectively takes the reader through her reflections and gives a nuanced picture of life in Israel.  While this would not be a good primer on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, readers will find themselves wanting to know more.
Passenger Duology (Bracken):  Etta is a world-class violinist; on the dawn of a major performance, she is spirited away from her world and flung back to the American Revolution.  The patriarch of the Ironwood family, the most powerful time traveler family, wants her to track down an astrolobe, a powerful time travel artifact, and he holds her mother hostage to ensure her cooperation.  Nicholas-a young man under the thumb of the Ironwood family, is pulled into the quest as well.  Together, Etta and Nicholas  have to work against the clock and learn about this new world.  Bracken delivers an engaging time travel story about discovering your place.  This YA series will be sure to leave readers on the edge of their seats.
Binti: Home (Okorafor):  While Binti has been enjoying her time at the Oozma University, she still struggles with her experiences during her trip out to the intergalactic University.   To settle herself, she decides to return home in order to center herself.   However, Binti’s experiences have significantly changed her–will she be able reintegrate herself into the community she left behind?  The sequel to Okorafor’s Binti is just as imaginative as the first book; Nnedi Okorafor expands the setting considerably as Binti navigates her time at home.  Check this out if you are looking for awesome science fiction!

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Another month has come and gone, and that means another top books of the month are in order!  Here are the books that I especially enjoyed this month.

The Bear and the Nightingale (Arden): Vasilisa lives with her father and siblings in the far north of Rus. Vasilisa is a wild child, who has the ability to talk with the spirits and folk creatures-an ability that is very dangerous to have in her Christian world.  When her world is threatened by a dark force that has long since lain dormant, Vasilisa will have to muster her strength and few allies in order to defeat it.   I absolutely adored this book! Katherine Arden skillfully builds Vasilisa ‘s world so that I was fully immersed in this cold, wild setting, and I loved Vasilia’s freedom and determination.  Fans of fairy tales and strong female protagonists will love this one.

Catastrophic Care (Goldhill): The American health care system is a major point of contention, and the debate on how to fix it is fierce.  David Goldhill makes a compelling argument for changes that would dismantle the current system: he claims that by using insurance to pay for  health care, the system is not accountable to its customers–which drives up costs and the frequency of medical error.   In addition to pointing out these issues, Goldhill lays out a thoughtful solution that is worth poring over.  Catastrophic Care is a fascinating read for anyone who’s looking for insight into the issues in the system and a possible solution.

Norse Mythology (Gaiman): I’m sure this one will be on folks’ radar, but I really enjoyed Gaiman’s Norse Mythology.  Gaiman skillfully captures the humor and power of some of the classic Norse myths and breathes life and humor into the stories.  Of course, every writer will leave their mark on the telling, and Gaiman is no different–and I love what he did!  Fans of Gaiman and/or Norse mythology will want to check this one out.

City of Saints and Thieves (Anderson): Christina considers herself an excellent thief: she works for the Goondas, a street gang in Kenya, and she has proven herself to be capable in her role, which is very different from the usual role girls in the gang have.  For years, Christina has planned revenge against Mr. Grayhill, the murderer of her mother, who had entered his household as a refugee.  When the first part of her plan–break into Grayhill’s mansion to steal information–goes horribly awry, Christina has to journey to her native Congo to uncover her mother’s secrets in order to solve the mystery.   Natalie C. Anderson has created a smart, sympathetic heroine in Christina and a thrilling story that will leave readers on the edge of their seats.

That’s all, folks!  Catch you next time!

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It’s a new year, and the reading is good!  Here are my favorites from this past month.

Evicted (Desmond):  This book explores the experiences of individuals living  in Milwaukee’s low-income housing.  Author Matthew Desmond follows the tenants and landlords as they struggle in a vicious cycle that few will break from.  Desmond’s storytelling abilities make this an engaging, if depressing, narrative, but Evicted is also an important look at the impact of income inequality and the changes we need to make.

Julia Vanishes (Egan): Julia has a special talent: she is able to vanish at will.  This is a useful talent to have when one spies and steals for a living.  In a world where witches are executed (including her own mother), Julia forces herself to keep her eyes on the prize: the riches she earns from her jobs. When Julia goes to spy at Mrs. Och’s house, she uncovers a house of strange secrets; her employer, however, is interested in a mother and her child, and Julia soon finds her loyalties and sense of self tested.  I appreciated the unique setting and magic, and I liked Julia’s resourcefulness and grit.  I am looking forward to the sequel.

Being Mortal (Gawande): We’re all going to die, so how do we maintain a life that’s worth living?  Physician Atul Gawande uses a mix of personal narrative and research to explore the way medicine handles end of life care.  Gawande questions whether we, as a society, have been focusing on the right things toward the end of life; medicine focuses on life extension rather than quality.   This was an engaging and touching read, and it got me thinking about the kind of life I want for myself and my parents as we all age.

Behold the Dreamers (Mbue): Cambodian immigrants Jendi and Neni dream of having a better life in America.  When Jendi becomes the chauffer for executive Clark Edwards, they think they’re on the way.   Edward’s wife Cindy is kind to their family and even finds a summer position for Neni.  However, when Clark’s firm becomes tied up in a scandal, the revelations and results will rock the worlds of both families.  Behold the Dreamers is a bittersweet story about the experiences of two very different families; Mbue skillfully makes both families sympathetic while still exploring themes of class and race.

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Another year has passed, and that means it is time for my favorite books of 2016 post!  I hope you either see something you enjoyed this year, or find something new to read!

Nonfiction: I read so many fascinating nonfiction books this year, but the one that really drew me was Mychal Denzel Smith’s Invisible Man, Got the Whole World Watching, which chronicles Smith’s coming of age as a young black man in America.  Smith has a unique and compelling voice, and I found myself  completely engrossed.  If you are looking for books on the black experience, I found this one highly accessible and eye-opening, especially when paired with books, such as Ta-Nehisi Coates’ Between the World and Me and Jeff Chang’s We Gon’ Be Alright. (Honorable Mentions: Between the World and Me (Ta-Nehisi Coates); The Nazi Hunters (Andrew Nagorski); Born on the Edge of Race and Gender (Willy Wilkinson))

Graphic Novels: Monstress (Marjorie Liu and Sana Takeda) takes this spot.  Monstress follows Maika Halfwolf, a young woman who has a literal monster inside of her.  As she tears through obstacles to her answers, she  also awakens forces that have long laid dormant. Monstress’ art is gorgeous and immersive, and Maika is an engaging heroine in what is shaping up to be a great story. I can’t wait to read more.  (Honorable Mentions:  The Nameless City, by Faith Erin Hicks; Toil and Trouble, by Mairghead Scott, March 1-3, Lewis et al; Princess Princess Ever After by Katie O’Neill)

Realistic Fiction/Literary Fiction:  The Last Painting of Sara De Vos (Dominic Smith) takes this category.  The story explores the intertwined lives 0f Sara de Vos, one of the few Dutch female artists; Marty De Groot, the descendant of the owner of de Vos’ last remaining painting; and Ellie Shipley, an angry grad student who forges the painting.  After Ellie gets her life together and acquires a professorship in Sydney, Australia, her life threatens to unravel when both her forgery and the original come to Australia for an exhibit. Smith does a superb job of building up the character dynamics and weaving the story threads together in this engrossing novel.

Science Fiction & Fantasy: The Paper Menagerie (Ken Liu) was my favorite science fiction and fantasy book this year.  Liu blends science fiction concepts, history, identity, and mythology in this compelling collection of unique science fiction stories that should not be missed.  (Honorable Mentions: The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet (Becky Chambers); Invisible Planets: Contemporary Chinese Science Fiction (translated by Ken Liu))

Young Adult: The YA winner is Ruta Sepetys’ Salt to the Sea.  Salt to the Sea follows a group of teenage refugees who, along with thousands of other refugees, board the Wilhelm Gustloff in order to escape the German-Soviet conflict in the last year of World War II.   Their relief is short-lived: a submarine attacks the Wilhelm Gustloff, which sinks, taking most of its passengers with it.  Sepetys has a knack for bringing to life relatively unknown historical events (The Wilhelm Gustloff lost over 9,000 of its 10,000 passengers, and the tragedy is considered one of  the (if not the worst) worst maritime disasters, even though not many know about it), and this book was no different. Salt to the Sea is a compelling story with sympathetic characters, and reading about the characters’ experiences brought tears to my eyes.    (Honorable mention: Six of Crows, Leigh Bardugo)

Best wishes for 2017!  Happy reading!

 

 

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Hi all, I’m back with another top books of the month post!  I apologize for being late with this post; I am doing National Novel Writing Month, and I didn’t have a chance to get around to it until now.  So, here we go!

The Obelisk Gate (Broken Earth #2, Jemisin):  Essun has fled her village; her former mentor is trying to teach her to use the floating obelisks to carry on his work to destroy and rebuild a brutal world.  Meanwhile Essun’s missing daughter comes into her own powers, but she is in the hands of someone extremely dangerous. The sequel to The Fifth Season delivers a compelling narrative; Jemisin has created a unique  world, and the reader has the opportunity to explore the world’s secrets alongside the characters.  If you are looking for a fantasy series with a unique world and engrossing story, pick up the Broken Earth series.

Princess Princess Ever After (O’Neill):  When Princess Amira rescues Princess Sadie from her tower, the two instantly hit it off.  As they wander the countryside, Sadie’s jailer forces a confrontation, and Amira and Sadie will have to figure out who they really are.   This adorable graphic novel is a heart-warming story about friendship and self-discovery.  Amira and Sadie are awesome characters, and their relationship emphasizes the importance of finding your true friends.   If I have one complaint, it’s that this awesome graphic novel was not long enough.  I’m looking forward to seeing more from Katie O’Neill.

The Nazi Hunters (Nagorski):  The Nuremberg Trials are known throughout history for their judgement of major Nazi figures, but what happened when trials of Nazi war criminals stopped occurring?  Andrew Nargoski tells the story of the Nazi hunters–men and women who took it upon themselves to track down the still-free Nazis and push to hold them accountable.  Andrew Nagorski weaves the exciting stories of the hunts with a discussion of accountability and collective memory; the result is a fascinating read.

The Motion of Puppets (Donohue): Recently-weds Kay and Theo are living in Quebec while Kay performs in a circus.  Kay is fascinated by a puppet shop and one puppet in particular.  One night, she hides in the shop in order to escape someone following her and she disappears.  The frantic Theo begins a long, grim search for his beloved, but, unbeknownst to him, Kay has become a puppet.  The only Kay can escape her new existence is for someone to recognize her in her new form and lead her away from the show before dawn comes.  Kevin Donohue remixes some classical ideas into a fresh, hair-prickling read.

That’s all, folks!  Good luck to any readers who are also doing Nanowrimo!

 

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Another month has gone by, so here are my favorite books from this past month!  I hope you find some materials that catch your fancy!

Shrill: Tales of a Loud Women (Lindy West): In this collection of essays, writer and activist Lindy West shares the story of her abortion, her experiences flying while fat, and the time she took on an Internet troll who pretended to be her dead father (and so much more!).   West’s writing is witty and engaging, and I found myself both relating to her and learning from her in equal measures.  If you care about women’s rights, check this one out.

The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet (Wayfarers #1; Becky Chambers): Earth was destroyed, and humans joined the Galactic Commons, a united group of aliens.   Ashby commands the Wayfarer, a spaceship that creates tunnels through space.  As the crew heads to dangerous territory for a major job, the story explores the characters and their relationships. Chambers’ compelling world-building (complete with very original aliens!) and strong character relationships make this a strong and tender narrative.  I loved how the characters–many of who were alien species–navigated their relationships with one another.  Fans of character-driven narratives–particularly the show Firefly– will enjoy this one.  I cannot wait for sequels!

Haikyu! (vol. 1 & 2) (Haruichi Furudate): Ever since he saw a player called “The Tiny Giant” in the High School volleyball championships, Hinata dreams of playing volleyball. After playing one middle school game and losing badly, Hinata joins Karasuno’s volleyball team, only to encounter his rival.  However, Hinata and his rival, the arrogant Kageyama, have a powerful dynamic on the court, and they, plus their teammates, might just have what it takes to go all the way to the championships.  I originally picked Haikyu because I loved the anime, and I wasn’t disappointed.  The action is top-notch, bur the focus on character growth is what makes this series so engaging.  If you love the anime series like I do or are looking for a great sports graphic novel, pick up Haikyu.

Dragon Girl: The Secret Valley (Weigel): In Alanna’s world, dragons are rare, yet feared. When Alanna finds a dragon’s nest, she quickly discovers that these winged giants are actually pretty great!  However, a greedy knight is after the dragons and their minerals, and Alanna, her brother, and her new dragon friends will have to outfox him!  This graphic novel was great fun–Alanna is a wonderfully clever rambunctious kid, and Weigel’s dragons are absolutely adorable.  If How to Train Your Dragon holds a place in your heart, definitely give this one a try.

The Masked City  (The Invisible Library #2; Genevieve Cogman):  The Invisible Library maintains balance between the natural-order obsessed dragons and the chaotic Fey by collecting books; Irene is a Librarian, trained to retrieve materials from alternate worlds.  When her apprentice Kai gets kidnapped and taken to the heart of Fae territory–an alternative Venice– Irene will have to use every ounce of her skills, brains, and training to get him back.  I enjoy the world and the magic (a Language that allows you to manipulate objects), and the plot is full of action and wit.  Add a clever female lead (who loves tea!), and I was sold.

The Aeronaut’s Windlass (Cinder Spires #1; Jim Butcher):  Long ago, humankind left the earth for spires high above the sky.  Disgraced air force man Grimm captains The Predator, a mercenary airship for one of the spires; after a particularly nasty encounter severely damages The Predator, Grimm is trying to find a way to keep going.   Gwen and Bridget are new spire guards struggling to learn the ropes, under the guidance of Gwen’s cousin, Benedict .  When their spire gets attacked, the two groups will have to work together to rescue their spire from destruction.  Clever characters, witty, whimsical dialogue, and an action-packed plot make this a fun read.  If you like steampunk, you should definitely go for this.

That’s all for this month–I’ll catch you next time!

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