reading recap: june 2015

monthly recap imageAnother month of eight books! I’m so happy it’s summertime.

june recap

I really enjoyed all these books, especially Our Endless Numbered Days and Just Mercy which ended up in my “best of 2015 so far” list. The #MiseryRAL was a blast! Catch up with the readalong’s wrap-ups at Care’s Online Book ClubHorrorstör and Pilgrim’s Wilderness reviews coming soon. Both were very good! I’ve had them on my radar for a while.

I did DNF two books in June: The Shore (Sara Taylor) and Parasite (Mira Grant). I had trouble with focus in The Shore, how the timeline jumped around, and how it was really more short interconnected stories instead of one novel. Lots of people are loving it though—the cheese stands alone! As for Parasite, I started it off of my ebook challenge list but gave up about 40 pages in. A teenager being the protagonist just didn’t appeal to me.

Checking on my overall progress, I’m more than halfway to my goal of reading 55 books:

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But with my challenges I’m still behind: 4 of 12 for both my TBR and Ebook challenges. That’s okay though, I’m still hoping to get at least halfway through (6/12) on each of them this year; I’d count that as a win. Still a lot of year left!

This month, I don’t really have a plan for what I’m going to read. I have a couple of chunksters (City on FireA Little Life) on the shelf, and have to pick a couple of audiobooks for my trip to Wisconsin (family reunion time!). And just so many more books. I want to read books 2 and 3 of the Southern Reach Trilogy—that just feels like it would be good summer reading. Otherwise there’s also Fringe Festival here in KC after I get back, which is always a busy week, and I want to go see the Gridiron Glory exhibit at Union Station, highlighting the best of the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

How was your month for reading? What are you looking forward to reading in July?

top ten tuesday: best of 2015 so far

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly meme hosted by The Broke and the Bookish, a fun way to get yourself thinking and sharing about books and bookish things.

June 30: Top ten books I’ve read in 2015 so far

Halfway through the year, it’s a good time to reflect and pick the best books I’ve read so far in 2015. Looking forward to a lot of great reads in the second half of the year, too. Turned out to be half fiction, half non-fiction. In alphabetical order by title:

best of 2015 so far

  • All the Birds, Singing … Evie Wyld (review)
  • Attempting Normal (audio) … Marc Maron, read by author (review)
  • Columbine … Dave Cullen (review)
  • Delicious Foods … James Hannaham (review)
  • Hausfrau … Jill Alexander Essbaum (review)
  • Just Mercy (audio) … Bryan Stevenson, read by author (review)
  • Men We Reaped … Jesmyn Ward (review)
  • Our Endless Numbered Days … Claire Fuller (review)
  • The Short and Tragic Life of Robert Peace … Jeff Hobbs (review)
  • Sweetland … Michael Crummey (review)

Looking over this list, I realize that all but one of them (Columbine) were borrowed from the library! (But I loved Marc Maron’s audiobook so much I did go out and buy a hardcover copy for myself.) KC Public Library FTW!

What are the best books you’ve read in 2015 so far?

we need new names

Onward with my ebook challenge! Book no. 4 is We Need New Names by NoViolet Bulawayo. Edited from Goodreads:

Darling is only ten years old, and yet she must navigate a fragile and violent world. In Zimbabwe, Darling and her friends steal guavas, try to get the baby out of young Chipo’s belly, and grasp at memories of Before. Before their homes were destroyed by paramilitary policemen, before the school closed, before the fathers left for dangerous jobs abroad. But Darling has a chance to escape: she has an aunt in America. She travels to this new land in search of America’s famous abundance only to find that her options as an immigrant are perilously few.

I read through this quickly over a weekend, so it perhaps didn’t quite have the greatest impact on me?? The difficulties and suffering that do exist in this book just didn’t resonate with me as much as I would have expected. I had a little trouble with the vocabulary (neighborhoods in the Zimbabwe town called “Budapest” and “Paradise” tripped me up at first, stuff like that). It could be the short story vibe of this one—while not really a short story collection, many of the chapters could be stand-alone and overall it felt like several events linked together rather than one long narrative. That’s just me though, short stories aren’t exactly my thing. Still a good read, though, and I’m glad I finally got around to it.

Bulawayo’s characters feel very real, at least some of them do, and for sure Darling is a dynamic and interesting character. Darling, at just 10 years old, is opinionated and funny, with a toughness right off the bat that has you rooting for her all the way through the book, and you witness her growth in how her voice distinctively changes as a teenager in the States. The first half was raw and gritty and heartbreaking, but the second half, when Darling is older in America, really drives the points home of “different similarities” between coming of age in Africa vs. the United States. Despite the tragedy and horrors they faced in Zimbabwe as children, they are still hopeful and dream of better futures for themselves.

We Need New Names might have a few too many elements in it—immigration, culture shock, coming of age, world relations, poverty, etc.—but Bulawayo does tie them together in a meaningful, cohesive way, and creatively through the eyes of Darling.

We Need New Names is my fourth of twelve books read for my Ebook Challenge.

Read from June 19 to 22, 2015.

love wins

lovewinsYOU GUYS. I’m overwhelmed with joy and happiness today. I was already feeling lots of love this morning as it’s the fourth anniversary of our wedding “party” day (my husband and I were legally married in the courthouse  in October 2010, but did the whole “white dress” thing on this day in 2011). BUT! The Supreme Court’s ruling for marriage equality across the United States today was epic and a long time coming—I’m so happy to see this decision on the right side of history. Lots of work yet to do, but today I think celebration is in order!

I was going to write my blog post on We Need New Names today but that can wait. This afternoon I’m attending a rally across from Kansas City City Hall, and will bring my bass to play music with the Mid America Freedom Band, warming up the crowd before the speeches commence. All morning I’ve just been thinking about all the hard work and perseverance of so many people over decades to reach this point, and the sacrifices and persecution so many have faced. I think of my family and friends today who have fought for and deserve this historic win.

I can’t even fathom trying to come up with an appropriate list to share of composers, musicians, artists, performers, and writers whom I admire in the arts who are also part of the LGBTQIA community. I wouldn’t even know where to start. I’m so grateful to have been raised by open-minded parents in an open-minded, welcoming community and city, and further living in another such city as an adult, being exposed to people from all different walks of life. I look forward to the day where differences like this don’t make any difference at all. <3

the lottery

Last Saturday I had a little free time as I waited to pick up my husband from a recording session he was working. The Lottery by Shirley Jackson has been on my radar for a little while, first after I read The Haunting of Hill House (my review) and again more recently after reading Almost Famous Women by Megan Mayhew Bergman (my review), which includes “The Lottery Redux,” a chapter inspired by Jackson’s classic short. I figured this would be a good choice while I waited. From Goodreads:

Shirley Jackson’s The Lottery is a memorable and terrifying masterpiece, fueled by a tension that creeps up on you slowly without any clear indication of why. This is just a townful of people, after all, choosing their numbers for the annual lottery. What’s there to be scared of?

Wow! How can a mere 12 pages pack such a haunting, terrifying punch? I can’t believe I haven’t read this sooner. Jackson sets up a bucolic day on which a small town of 300 are assembling together. Once everyone arrives, they commence with the lottery, done every year on the same date in the same way. Jackson then drops a bomb on the reader by shifting from benign to horrifying in a matter of a couple sentences. I’d love to go into more detail, and the ending has made me think a lot about society, authority, order, and so on, but just in case I’m not the very last person to read it I’ll stop here! A brilliant teeny tiny short story, readable in 20 minutes.

Read on June 20, 2015.

just mercy

If you’ve been reading my blog lately, you know I’ve been itching for some great non-fiction and Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson was an incredible book that hit me right in the feels, as they say. I do have a fascination with learning about the American prison system and crime, so this was right up my alley. From Goodreads:

Bryan Stevenson was a young lawyer when he founded the Equal Justice Initiative, a legal practice dedicated to defending those most desperate and in need: the poor, the wrongly condemned, and women and children trapped in the farthest reaches of our criminal justice system. One of his first cases was that of Walter McMillian, a young man who was sentenced to die for a notorious murder he insisted he didn’t commit. The case drew Bryan into a tangle of conspiracy, political machination, and legal brinksmanship—and transformed his understanding of mercy and justice forever.

What a powerful memoir. Throughout the book, Stevenson recounts his youth and education, and also outlines the many issues with the current prison industrial complex, but the most powerful segments revolve around how his work effects him and his clients on personal and emotional levels. Chapters range from infuriating to hopeful, and ultimately I wanted to start this over right away after I finished it. Listening to Stevenson narrate added to the urgency and poignancy of the events in this book.

At the heart of this book is Walter McMillian’s case, who was sent to Death Row before he even had a trial. The obstacles Stevenson and his team faced to use the proof Walter was innocent were just enraging. It’s a piercing example of how Jim Crow still has a tight grip on our legal system, reiterating how racial oppression, poverty, and also mental illness are exploited to drive the highly profitable mass incarceration in this country.

Just Mercy was in line with two books I read earlier this year and found equally important and heartbreaking: The Short and Tragic Life of Robert Peace (my review) and Men We Reaped (my review). To go further, a couple more books I’m interested in reading now on this topic are Ghettoside and The New Jim CrowJust Mercy is an eye-opening account of a growing problem in the U.S. from the inside, and Stevenson’s dedication and compassion is truly inspiring. Can’t recommend this highly enough.

Listened to audiobook from June 4 to 18, 2015.

it’s monday! what are you reading?

It’s Monday, what are you reading?—a weekly blog meme hosted by Sheila at Book Journey.

We had a very nice weekend here in KC—went to a Royals game and a T-Bones game, stopped by the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, spent time with friends, and talked to our fathers for Father’s Day. I also made sure to Skype with my little brother, who celebrated his very first Father’s Day yesterday!


As for reading… well, it was busy and I didn’t get much time in. I decided to DNF The Shore by Sara Taylor. I gave it a good try—100 pages, about a third—but it just wasn’t grabbing me the way I expected it to, judging by how much everyone seems to be loving it. It could be a couple of reasons: 1) I didn’t realize it was really short stories and not a novel. Threw me off a bit. OR 2) I’m overloaded on fiction right now. I’ve been craving more good non-fiction after finishing Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson on audio.

So! I started Behind the Beautiful Forevers by Katherine Boo. I’ve been wanting to read this for a long time and figured, why not now? I’m behind on my reading challenges but I don’t really care. Speaking of those, I started We Need New Names by NoViolet Bulawayo for my ebook challenge, and it’s pretty good, but I’m not really blown away (again, maybe I just need non-fiction right now!) and I also still have Horrorstör by Grady Hendrix from the library that I have to finish up by the end of the week before it’s due back. My husband is almost done reading it! Lastly, I read the short story The Lottery by Shirley Jackson over the weekend, while I was waiting to pick up my husband from a recording session. A tiny little tale that holds a big impact!

What are you reading this week?

misery

This month, Care at Care’s Online Book Club hosted a readalong of Stephen King’s Misery. Edited from Goodreads:

Paul Sheldon, author of a bestselling series of historical romances, wakes up one winter day in a strange place to unspeakable pain (a dislocated pelvis, a crushed knee, two shattered legs) and to a bizarre greeting from the woman who saved his life: “I’m your number one fan!”

Annie Wilkes is a huge ex-nurse, handy with controlled substances and other instruments of abuse, including an ax and a blowtorch. A dangerous psychotic with a Romper Room sense of good and bad, fair and unfair, Annie Wilkes may be Stephen King’s most terrifying creation.

What a fun, creepy, genuinely scary story! I read a few of King’s books in high school, then two more a couple years ago (Under the Dome11/22/63), and couldn’t resist this readalong when I found it. Somehow I always forget how much I enjoy King’s books and writing. And of my limited experience with King, Misery is probably the freakiest of what I’ve read.

CGXdaIvUkAAZmMbI probably never thought to read this since I’ve seen the movie several times—it’s one of my favorite horror flicks. The cast is absolutely perfect. And while I still love the movie, the book was better (as books tend to be), and goes well beyond the terror found in the movie. I listened to Misery on audio while at work (it was a quiet week at the office) and squirmed and squealed through many parts that were particularly gruesome and sadistic. On audio, though, some of the Misery sections (where we’re reading Paul’s new story about Misery, the character in his romance series) were hard to follow and tiresome. I looked through those parts in my hardcover copy and they made much more sense on paper.

miseryralbutton

What makes Misery special of King’s work is that it’s horror but without the supernatural—more of a psychological thriller. You read about dangerous, lethal psychopaths like Annie in the news all the time. King is a master at creating interesting, memorable characters, and Annie and Paul in Misery are no exception. More so, even, being basically the only two people in the entire story. King delves deeply into both of their psyches. Annie must rank right up there as one of the most strange and terrifying cockadoodie villains in literature. Awesome book!

Listened to audiobook from June 9 to 11, 2015.

our endless numbered days

A few days ago I finished reading Our Endless Numbered Days by Claire Fuller, another one I borrowed from the library. From Goodreads:

Peggy Hillcoat is eight years old when her survivalist father, James, takes her from their home in London to a remote hut in the woods and tells her that the rest of the world has been destroyed. Deep in the wilderness, Peggy and James make a life for themselves. They repair the hut, bathe in water from the river, hunt and gather food in the summers and almost starve in the harsh winters. They mark their days only by the sun and the seasons. When Peggy finds a pair of boots in the forest and begins a search for their owner, she unwittingly begins to unravel the series of events that brought her to the woods and, in doing so, discovers the strength she needs to go back to the home and mother she thought she’d lost.

I loved this one! It got off to a slightly slow start for me but once they were in the cabin I was hooked. Fuller’s prose is gentle and lyrical, subtly showing how memories can be tricky (we’re in Peggy’s head for the entirety of the book), and things may not always be how they seem. I loved how music played an important role in the story’s relationships between Peggy and each of her parents, and the descriptions of nature are vivid and wonderful.

Peggy was such a heartbreaking character. She was so trusting and innocent, with essentially nine years of her life spent in isolation thinking everyone and everything she loved has been destroyed. Both her parents are interesting if not entirely likable, and there could be great discussion about their actions and behaviors, to each other and how they effected Peggy, in a book club setting.

I had a hard time putting this down. Fuller manages to keep the story from becoming too melodramatic or sensational, while still throwing in curve balls in the form of simple yet shattering sentences that compel you to go on. I thought a lot about trust, conspiracy theories, innocence, and complex familial relationships while reading Our Endless Numbered Days. I highly recommend it!

Read from June 6 to 11, 2015.

top ten tuesday: summer 2015 tbr

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly meme hosted by The Broke and the Bookish, a fun way to get yourself thinking and sharing about books and bookish things.

June 16: Top ten books on my summer 2015 tbr

I’m terrible about keeping to these season TBR lists, but I like to make them! Summer officially goes from June 21–September 22 this year, and I’m ambitious so here’s what I think can read in that time… at least what I’d like to get through! We’ll see what comes up in between, though, and what I end up going for on audio during my road trips this summer ;)

summer 2015 tbr

  • A Little Life … Hanya Yanagihara
  • Americanah … Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
  • Authority and Acceptance … Jeff VanderMeer (a twofer!)
  • Behind the Beautiful Forevers … Katherine Boo
  • City on Fire … Garth Risk Hallberg
  • Dead Wake … Erik Larson
  • Get in Trouble … Kelly Link
  • Horrorstör … Grady Hendrix
  • Station Eleven … Emily St. John Mandel
  • An Untamed State … Roxane Gay

I’d also like to try to catch up a bit on my TBR Pile Challenge (need to read four more by the end of August) and Ebook Challenge (five more!). Not sure I’ll make it this year with the challenges again, sigh. Would it be cheating to do some of these selections on audio, even though I should read them in the format I committed to in the challenges?

What’s on your reading list this summer?