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Archive for the ‘Non-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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Hi all, I’m back with another top books post!  This month was pretty busy for me–I was doing Nanowrimo and had some job interviews–but I still found some time to read!  Here is my short list for this month.

Toil and Trouble (Scott): Smertae, Cait, and Riata–also known the Fates or”the weird sisters”– have always protected the island of Scotland.  When Semetae gets into a disagreement with Riata, she helps Macbeth earn a crown that does not rightfully belong to him. This retelling of Macbeth explores the story in fresh new ways and has gorgeous art to boot.

Born on the Edge of Race and Gender (Wilkinson): In this collection of essays and poems, activist and educator Willy Wilkinson shares his experiences as a queer, transgender, and disabled Asian. Among his stories are his experiences with transition, parenthood, and chronic fatigue syndrome.  Wilkins has an approachable writing style, and the vast breadth of subject matter means many people will find something that engages and touches them. This would be a great read for a gender studies class or anyone interested in the intersection between race, health, and gender issues.

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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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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!

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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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