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Archive for the ‘Realistic/Literary Fiction’ Category

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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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!

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A “Top Books” has been long overdue; I apologize for the radio silence.  Let’s get right into the books!

Fiction:

The Rose Society (Lu): I believe I have talked about Marie Lu’s Young Elites on this blog before; I have been waiting for its sequel for awhile.  In The Rose Society, Adelina forms her own group of allies to pursue her plans for revenge against the Dagger Society and to take the throne and punish the Inquisitors who hurt her.  When I finished reading this book, I wrote on Goodreads “gut-wrenchingly awesome”; I still stand by this statement.  Adelina is a sympathetic, well-portrayed character, and it is heartbreaking to watch her descend into darkness   If you haven’t started reading The Young Elites, you should.

The Heart Goes Last (Atwood): Atwood plays with the concept of safety and personal freedom in her newest book.  After an economic crisis hits, Charmaine and Stan start living out of their car in an increasingly unsafe world.  When they hear about Positron–a contained complex where members live in houses one month and prison the next.  In the meantime, everything is provided for, and they are safe.  However, things rapidly become complicated when Stan and Charmaine become involved with their house’s alternates.   Margaret Atwood’s work is hit or miss with me, but I really enjoyed this unsettling tale.

Shadows of Self (Sanderson): I really love Sanderson’s Mistborn series, and I was thrilled to get my hands on Shadows of Self.  Wax is serving as an assistant investigator for the local police force; meanwhile a kandra (shapeshifter who takes on the form of another) has gone mad and is trying to overthrow the government.  I loved the continual application of aspects of Sanderson’s setting, and the plot was equal parts exciting, humorous, and sad.  I can’t wait for the next one.

Graphic Novels:

Lion of Rora (C. Gage, R. Gage, and Lewis): In the early 17th century, the Waldensians (a minor Protestant religious group deemed heretical) struggle to survive in the area near the French-Swiss Alps, under the Duke of Savoy’s reluctant tolerance.   When farmer Joshua Janavael stands up to a representative who tries to bully a grieving family, he ignites and leads a war of rebellion.  Based on real events, this graphic novel delivers a compelling, action-packed story about a little known underdog.  The creators do a great job of working together to portray this fascinating and little-known historical event.  Definitely check this out.

Low: The Delirium of Hope (Remender and Tocchini): Humankind has retreated beneath the surface of the ocean.  However, time is running out to find a new home because the radiation is finally starting to reach the ocean.  After her family is destroyed, Stehl sets out on a suicide mission to find a new place for mankind.  I found this graphic novel by chance, and I’m so glad I read it.  The setting is compelling, and the world is portrayed in gorgeous color illustrations; Stehl’s eternal optimism is great and well-portrayed; even though she could (and does) get called delusional, she works to make her dreams happen.

Non-Fiction:

Black Earth: The Holocaust as History and Warning (Snyder): In Black Earth, historian Timothy Snyder argues that usual narrative around the Holocaust (one that usually focuses on the mechanical systematization of murder) leads us to miss important language; his argument centers on the collapse of statehood in Eastern Europe–a factor which he claims set the stage for the Holocaust. Snyder writes well: he presents his argument in an accessible narrative fashion and backs up his claims well.  The topic is a heavy one, and, as a result, I took my time with this book  However, it is a fascinating and worthwhile read.

That’s all folks!  Catch you next time!

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When middle-aged George Duncan saves the crane he finds behind his house, Kumiko comes into his life.  A beautiful and gifted artist, Kumiko touches and changes George’s life–and that of his friends and family– in wonderful ways.   Even as she helps others to grow and understand themselves, Kumiko keeps much of herself hidden.    Relations and secrets strain a journey of growth and love in The Crane Wife.

Patrick Ness is a hit or miss for me–I loved A Monster Calls, but  did not care for The Knife of Never Letting Go.  Much like A Monster Calls,  Ness weaves fantastical elements and very real situations to create a touching and engaging story.  Suffice to say, I was completely engrossed.  I definitely recommend this one, particularly to those who like lighter fantasy or stories with fairy tale or mythological elements.

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For the past several years, Hayley Kincain has traveled around the United States with her father, a military veteran trying to outrun his memories and personal demons.  This year, they have settled in her father’s hometown so Hayley can finish high school.  However, Hayley is more concerned with watching her father then making friends and doing well at school  However, events–including a visitor from Hayley’s past–sets her life into a dangerous spin, and Hayley will have to fight to keep everything together.

Okay, I read my summary just now, and I don’t think it does the book justice.  The Impossible Knife of Memory  gripped me and didn’t let go.   The plot is well crafted, and I loved the characters, especially Hayley and her eventual boyfriend Finn.  Andersen does a really good job of developing their “personas” before revealing–for lack of a better term–their true selves.   Despite not being a big fan of romance, I really liked the relationship between Finn and Hayley.   They have a funny, balanced dynamic, and are deeply supportive of one another.  Hayley’s relationship with her father was also very touching; Andersen was able to demonstrate the love and the pain of that relationship very well.   Overall, this is a great book, and I recommend that you do not miss out.

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