Books

2015 Wrap-Up & 2016 Reading Goals

2015 in Review

The majority of books I read were probably some form of fantasy / magical realism / sci-fi, but I made an effort to try different genres. On the suggestion of a pen pal of mine, this is the first year I’ve really given graphic novels a chance – and I’m really glad I did! It’s not all BLAM! and POW!, as I’d previously thought.

(For the full list of books I read this year, check out the wrap-up on my Goodreads page!)

Books read in 2015, by genre:

reading-2015-numbers

Shortest & Longest Book I read in 2015:

shortest-longest-2015

Favorite Books of the Year:

I picked out my favorite 8 (plus 6 honorable mentions) in this post.

2016 Goals
My main resolution:

Read for quality, not quantity! I managed to complete my 100 book challenge from last year, but I resented having to gravitate towards shorter books. This year, I’m free to tackle some of the behemoths on my to-be-read list, like Jonathan Norrell & Mr. Strange.

General
  • Finish (or conclusively DNF) the books languishing in my “partly-finished” pile.
  • Strive to read backlist books, as per the Backlist Books Reading Challenge (hosted by Bekka @ Pretty Deadly Reviews).
Monthly
  • Read at least 1 classic per month from my Classics Club challenge. That’s the only way I’ll finish the list by 2020.
  • Read at least 1 book a month that I already own, as suggested by the #RockMyTBR challenge (hosted by Sarah @ The YA Book Traveler).
  • For my blog: more discussion posts! I’m aiming for at least 12 discussion posts, one for each month.

I’m hoping these challenges will be simple enough to fit into my schedule. Anyway, I hope everyone’s been having a glorious start to their new year. May your year be full of wonderful surprises!

Books

Reading Challenge: The Twelve Books of Christmas, Week 4

12bkschristmas_wk4

With 2 days to spare, I’ve finally defeated the 12 books of Christmas challenge AND my year’s 100 book challenge! I’m visiting family in New England right now, and normally I’d be tearing up the ski slopes – but snowfall this year has been meager at best. But hey, at least I’ve had plenty of time indoors to read.


Between the World and Me by
Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates
152 Pages; published in 2015
★ ★ ★
Goodreads Page

In a profound work that pivots from the biggest questions about American history and ideals to the most intimate concerns of a father for his son, Ta-Nehisi Coates offers a powerful new framework for understanding our nation’s history and current crisis. Americans have built an empire on the idea of “race,” a falsehood that damages us all but falls most heavily on the bodies of black women and men—bodies exploited through slavery and segregation, and, today, threatened, locked up, and murdered out of all proportion. What is it like to inhabit a black body and find a way to live within it? And how can we all honestly reckon with this fraught history and free ourselves from its burden?

Coates is an incredible writer who conveys his fear, exhaustion, and nostalgia with elegance. He refuses to gloss over the true horror of past atrocities, and emphasizes the importance of actions in the here and now. Between the World and Me has so many thoughtful, beautifully-worded passages that I ended up highlighting practically half the book, even though I didn’t agree fully with certain points.


Under the Skin by
Under the Skin by Michel Faber
Audiobook: 9 hrs 15 mins (Print version: 296 Pages); published in 2000
★ ★
Goodreads Page

A “fascinating psychological thriller” (Baltimore Sun), this entrancing novel introduces Isserley, a female driver who scouts the Scottish Highlands for male hitchhikers with big muscles. She herself is tiny—like a kid peering up over the steering wheel. Scarred and awkward, yet strangely erotic and threatening, Isserley listens to her passengers as they open up to her, revealing clues about who might miss them should they disappear—and then she strikes. What happens to her victims next is only part of a terrifying reality.

After reading (and loving) The Book of Strange New Things earlier this year, I thought I’d give another of Michel Faber’s books a try. His books vary wildly from one to the next, or so I hear – but this one never really came together for me. Plus, I’m not good with graphic descriptions of gore.


A Wrinkle in Time (A Wrinkle in Time Quintet, #1) by
A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle
211 Pages; published in 1962
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
Goodreads Page

Meg’s father had been experimenting with this fifth dimension of time travel when he mysteriously disappeared. Now the time has come for Meg, her friend Calvin, and Charles Wallace to rescue him. But can they outwit the forces of evil they will encounter on their heart-stopping journey through space?

This is my first and only re-read of the year. I read it for the first time as a nine-year-old, but looking back there were so many things I missed! I especially enjoyed the Shakespearean homages, and although I’m not religious, I appreciated how the many Christian references helped to fill the characters with hope.

A Wrinkle in Time was the perfect comfort read for Christmastime, since all the characters were so kind, quirky, and appealing: e.g. Mrs. Whatsit/Who/Which; Aunt Beast and her (its?) soothing tentacles.


Ten Thousand Skies Above You (Firebird, #2) by
Ten Thousand Skies Above You (Firebird #2) by Claudia Gray
432 Pages; published in 2015
★ ★ ★ ★ 1/2
Goodreads Page

When Paul’s soul is splintered into four pieces—pieces that are trapped within Pauls in other dimensions—Marguerite will do anything, and travel anywhere, to save him. But the price of his safe return is steep. If she doesn’t sabotage her parents in multiple universes, Paul will be lost forever.

Just as exciting as the first installment. Bonus points for adding moral complexity and light philosophical nuance: is it ever okay to hijack your other selves’ bodies? What defines the ‘self’? How much of your personal identity remains constant across the multiverses?

Also, that cliffhanger ending pretty much killed me. The next installment can’t come soon enough!

Baubles & Fripperies

Wishlist: Hand-Lettering + Bookish Quotes

Wishlist_bookish_handlettering

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly feature created by The Broke and the Bookish, where bloggers share their top ten responses to a given theme. I tend to stick to shorter lists!

I’ve already amassed a good-sized pile of books this month, so I thought I’d assemble a wishlist of non-book objects that would make my inner bookworm proud. How many of these things do I need to own? Exactly zero. But I won’t let that stop me from window-shopping!

Throw Pillow / “Sleep Less, Read More”

Like most people, I wish I didn’t have to sleep. There goes a third of our lives, spent doing absolutely nothing! Think of everything you could get done (and the hundreds of books you could read) if you spent those 8 hours in more productive ways.

Sadly, no matter how late I stay up, my body always wins. I can’t count how often I’ve drifted off to sleep in the living room, trying to finish that final chapter.

iPad Case / “I have always imagined paradise will be a kind of library.” – Jorge Luis Borges

The art style on this iPad case is a bit busy for my taste, but it’s got a solid spot on my wishlist because…
a) I’m kind of a Borges fangirl;
b) I do most of my reading on my iPad – it’s like purse-sized infinite bookshelf.

Tote Bag / “Love is an Open Bookstore”

Three guesses as to what rectangular objects might go especially well in a tote bag like this.

(Bonus: the artist behind this particular hand-lettered quote is the lovely Shannelle from The Art of Escapism!)

Notebook / “Though she be but little, she is fierce.” – William Shakespeare

I’ve always loved this unintentional rallying cry for the physically tiny. (I barely break 5’1″, if you’re wondering.) It reminds me of the Madeline children’s books/shows: “I may be very small… but inside, I’m tall!”

Mug / “Where do I begin?”

This is a phrase you could read as a grumble of overwhelmed confusion, but I’d prefer to read it as a statement of possibility. The world is full of so many people to meet, things to learn, and books to read… where do I begin? It seems like the perfect thing to remember when I’m groggy in the morning, and all I want to do is crawl back into bed.

Notebook / “All good things are wild and free.” – Henry David Thoreau

I’d love to take this notebook with me on a hike. Maybe I’d doodle a thing or two, but it wouldn’t be nearly as pretty as the bird on the cover.

Books

Reading Challenge: The Twelve Books of Christmas, Week 3

12_bks_christmas_wk3
Flying home for the holidays meant 5 hours squished next to a large sweaty man who was eating a very pungent burger. It was a less than pleasing experience, to say the least – but at least I got in some reading.


Falling in Love with Hominids byFalling in Love with Hominids by Nalo Hopkinson
222 Pages; originally published in 2015
★ ★ ★ ★
Goodreads Page

Falling in Love with Hominids presents over a dozen years of Hopkinson’s new, uncollected fiction, much of which has been unavailable in print. Her singular, vivid tales, which mix the modern with Afro-Carribean folklore, are occupied by creatures unpredictable and strange: chickens that breathe fire, adults who eat children, and spirits that haunt shopping malls.

I rather enjoyed this one. Mixed fantastical elements + diverse characters = a win in my book! Check out my full review here.


The Weight of Feathers by
The Weight of Feathers by Anna-Marie McLemore
320 Pages; published in 2015
★ ★ ★ 1/2
Goodreads Page

The Palomas and the Corbeaus have long been rivals and enemies, locked in an escalating feud for more than a generation. Both families make their living as traveling performers in competing shows—the Palomas swimming in mermaid exhibitions, the Corbeaus, former tightrope walkers, performing in the tallest trees they can find…
But when disaster strikes the small town where both families are performing, it’s a Corbeau boy, Cluck, who saves Lace [Paloma]’s life. And his touch immerses her in the world of the Corbeaus, where falling for him could turn his own family against him, and one misstep can be just as dangerous on the ground as it is in the trees.

I wanted to like this so much more than I actually did.

Pros:

  • Hilarious to read if your name is Paloma.
  • Well-done magical realism intertwined with powerful superstitions. French/Romani and Mexican heritages help to give this Romeo and Juliet story a unique twist.
  • Gorgeous, mellifluous writing style. McLemore’s writing style feels like a mosaic, piecing together fleeting images, scents, and sounds into a cohesive (and beautiful) whole.

Cons:

  • Plot moves at a snail’s pace. (This could be OK if you’re content to sit and revel in the gorgeous language. In the right kind of mood, the slow pacing could feel perfect.)
  • Italicization of every non-English word is REALLY irritating, especially for the repeated names of relatives. I’m pretty sure that by the 90th mention of “Abuela”, even the most monolingual reader is smart enough to figure out the word’s meaning via context clues!
  • While Cluck was a fairly well-fleshed out individual, I had trouble connecting to Lace. When I try to envision her personality, I come up blank; she seemed to be the sum of things that happened to her, rather than having a defined personality of her own.
  • The last 10% of the book dumps a lot of exposition on the reader. It’s good stuff, but I wished it had been spread out more evenly or hinted at more strongly throughout the book.

The Reluctant Fundamentalist by
The Reluctant Fundamentalist by Mohsin Hamid
184 Pages; published in 2007
★ ★ ★ ★
Goodreads Page

At a cafe table in Lahore, a bearded Pakistani man converses with an uneasy American stranger. As dusk deepen to night, he begins the tale that has brought them to this fateful encounter…Changez is living an immigrant’s dream of America. At the top of his class at Princeton, he is snapped up by an elite valuation firm. He thrives on the energy of New York, and his budding romance with elegant, beautiful Erica promises entry into Manhattan society at the same exalted level once occupied by his own family back in Lahore. But in the wake of September 11, Changez finds his position in his adopted city suddenly overturned and his relationship with Erica shifting. And Changez’s own identity is in seismic shift as well, unearthing allegiances more fundamental than money, power, and maybe even love.

Huh. I can see why this is assigned in so many college classes – it’s filled with ambiguities and symbolism. I barely know what to say about it without writing an actual essay!

It’s a personal history recounted by a Pakistani man to an American stranger, so it’s simultaneously told in first and second person. The two men have a terribly uneasy relationship. The narrator, Changez, describes his slow disillusionment with America in the months following 9/11, despite having ‘made it’ in the upper echelons of American society.

“I had always thought of America as a nation that looked forward; for the first time I was struck by its determination to look back… What your fellow countrymen longed for was unclear to me– a time of unquestioned dominance? of safety? of moral certainty? I did not know– but that they were scrambling to don the costumes of another era was apparent. I felt treacherous for wondering whether that era was fictitious, and whether– if it could indeed be animated– if it contained a part written for someone like me.”

I’m American, born and raised, but that quote had particular resonance for me. As the 2016 presidential race ramps up, appeals to nationalist nostalgia are everywhere (e.g. Donald Trump with “Make America Great Again”) but as a non-Anglo and second-generation immigrant, they can feel strangely alienating…

Books, Reviews

REVIEW | Falling in Love with Hominids (ARC)

REVIEW | Falling in Love with Hominids (ARC)Falling in Love with Hominids by Nalo Hopkinson
Published by Tachyon Publications on August 11th 2015
Genre: Fantasy & Sci-Fi, Short Stories
222 pages
Source: NetGalley
Goodreads page

Summary from Goodreads:

Nalo Hopkinson (Brown Girl in the Ring, Skin Folk) has been widely hailed as a highly significant voice in Caribbean and American fiction. She has been dubbed “one of our most important writers,” (Junot Diaz), with “an imagination that most of us would kill for” (Los Angeles Times), and her work has been called “stunning,” (New York Times) “rich in voice, humor, and dazzling imagery” (Kirkus), and “simply triumphant” (Dorothy Allison).

Falling in Love with Hominids presents over a dozen years of Hopkinson’s new, uncollected fiction, much of which has been unavailable in print. Her singular, vivid tales, which mix the modern with Afro-Carribean folklore, are occupied by creatures unpredictable and strange: chickens that breathe fire, adults who eat children, and spirits that haunt shopping malls.

REVIEW | Falling in Love with Hominids (ARC)Falling in Love with Hominids by Nalo Hopkinson
Published by Tachyon Publications on August 11th 2015
Genre: Fantasy & Sci-Fi, Short Stories
222 pages
Source: NetGalley
Goodreads page



Summary from Goodreads:

Nalo Hopkinson (Brown Girl in the Ring, Skin Folk) has been widely hailed as a highly significant voice in Caribbean and American fiction. She has been dubbed “one of our most important writers,” (Junot Diaz), with “an imagination that most of us would kill for” (Los Angeles Times), and her work has been called “stunning,” (New York Times) “rich in voice, humor, and dazzling imagery” (Kirkus), and “simply triumphant” (Dorothy Allison).

Falling in Love with Hominids presents over a dozen years of Hopkinson’s new, uncollected fiction, much of which has been unavailable in print More hints. Her singular, vivid tales, which mix the modern with Afro-Carribean folklore, are occupied by creatures unpredictable and strange: chickens that breathe fire, adults who eat children, and spirits that haunt shopping malls.

If you’re looking for a series of fantastical stories with a diverse cast of characters, Falling in Love with Hominids might be right up your alley! Most characters were ethnically diverse and/or LGBT; the stories delve into mythological fare ranging from Shakespeare to Caribbean lore.

Like any short story collection, there were some hits and misses among these 18 stories. A few felt half-finished, like character studies that still needed expansion. Still others were so strange that they seemed beyond my comprehension. But Hopkinson’s hits are REALLY hits!

Stories I liked:
  • The Easthound: In a vaguely post-apocalyptic future, children survive in fear of a transformation called “sprouting.”
  • Soul Case: A colony of former Afro-Caribbean slaves uses magic to defend against their ex-“owners”.
  • The Smile on the Face: In a twist on the old urban legend about swallowing fruit seeds and growing plants in your stomach, a teenage girl goes to a house party and faces an unexpected transformation.
  • Old Habits: Ghosts trapped in a mall long for life.
Stories I LOVED:
  • Message in a Bottle: An artist has a bizarre encounter with his friend’s unsettling child. This one has a dash of science fiction; there’s talk about speciesism, art, legacy, and the incomprehensible world of the future.
  • Left Foot, Right: A teenage girl, wearing a single high-heeled shoe, visits a river. I remember feeling viscerally stunned when I figured out what this story was actually about. (Sorry to be cryptic! It’s tough to summarize these stories without spoilers.)

I received this book for free from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.