reading recap: march 2017

I had another prolific month of reading! It’s really nice to be back in a groove after so many blah months. I’m trying to catch up on books I’ve had forever and not buy new ones, and I’m doing okay with that, better than in the past. My audiobook reading has skyrocketed, though. Without a regular 8-to-5 I have tons of time to listen at home and on bus/subway rides. These ten books makes my 2017 total 27 already—more than halfway to my Goodreads goal of 50 for the year, so I may raise that soon enough!

  • Americanah … Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
  • The Stranger in the Woods (audio) … Michael Finkel, read by Mark Bramhall
  • When Breath Becomes Air … Paul Kalanithi
  • The Last One (win) … Alexandra Oliva
  • Psycho (audio) … Robert Bloch, read by Paul Michael Garcia
  • Brown Girl Dreaming (audio) … Jacqueline Woodson, read by author
  • Get in Trouble: Stories … Kelly Link
  • One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest (audio) … Ken Kesey, read by Tom Parker
  • Hidden Figures (ebook) … Margot Lee Shetterly
  • Mom & Me & Mom (audio) … Maya Angelou, read by author

One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s NestWhen Breath Becomes Air, and The Stranger in the Woods were my favorites read in March. I loved Americanah, but I finished right before Adichie’s controversial interview comments came out, so I’m still sort of reconciling my feelings about it in retrospect. There were some really great stories in Get in Trouble, too, and Psycho was fabulous. I really wanted Hidden Figures to live up to all the grand hype, but for me it fell flat. The parts about the women themselves and their lives were excellent, but you have to wade through lots of textbook-like technical chapters that bored me. I still want to see the movie, though.

Okay. I think if I’m going to be getting through this volume of books (or close to it) each month, I’m going to have to get back into individual posts. It’ll be good for me, another project to keep me occupied!

monthly recap image

find me

Find Me by Laura van den Berg caught my eye on several “anticipated for 2015” lists earlier in the year, so I thought I’d give it a shot. From Goodreads:

Joy has no one. She spends her days working the graveyard shift at a grocery store outside Boston and nursing an addiction to cough syrup, an attempt to suppress her troubled past. But when a sickness that begins with memory loss and ends with death sweeps the country, Joy, for the first time in her life, seems to have an advantage: she is immune. When Joy’s immunity gains her admittance to a hospital in rural Kansas, she sees a chance to escape her bleak existence. There she submits to peculiar treatments and follows seemingly arbitrary rules, forming cautious bonds with other patients—including her roommate, whom she turns to in the night for comfort, and twin boys who are digging a secret tunnel. As winter descends, the hospital’s fragile order breaks down and Joy breaks free, embarking on a journey from Kansas to Florida, where she believes she can find her birth mother, the woman who abandoned her as a child. On the road in a devastated America, she encounters mysterious companions, cities turned strange, and one very eerie house. As Joy closes in on Florida, she must confront her own damaged memory and the secrets she has been keeping from herself.

I half liked it, half “huh?” with Find Me. The premise is intriguing and full of potential, if not exactly original (plague post-apocalyptic stories are everywhere these days). I was gripped by the whole first half of the book, while Joy was in the hospital and her flashbacks to life before/during the memory sickness outbreak.

Then the second half of the book came along. Hmm. It started off well—and I’m sure I’m biased here—with Joy leaving the hospital and taking a bus to Kansas City, my town! Kudos to van den Berg for obviously extensive research into the book’s real-life locales. She was spot on with the Kansas City descriptions:

In Kansas City, we pass an empty square and a bronze statue of a winged horse. (159)

I decide to get off on Seventh Street. … A block down, there’s a motel called the Walnut. (159–60)

I ask No Name what he knows about Kansas City and he tells me this place is nicknamed the City of Fountains because there are hundreds of fountains. The cowboy boot was invented here. Kansas City is home to one of the world’s largest roller coasters. (164)

This is all pretty much right on! Must be referring to the statues outside City Hall on 12th Street (Wikipedia image) for the winged horse; there’s the Walnut Tower Apartments building at Walnut and 7th Streets (not a motel, but you know, I understand the use of artistic license here). Yes, City of Fountains; yes, the roller coaster (located at Worlds of Fun). The cowboy boot invention was new to me, so I looked it up—apparently just outside of KC in Olathe is where this style was started, among other nearby places. Nice!

After that, the book started to aimlessly drift into a very dreamlike state for me… kind of like Joy on her cross-country bus trip. Things just seemed to happen, like, I don’t recall buildup of tension or action leading up to an event or change, it just was all of a sudden. Maybe I wasn’t reading as carefully as I should have, but my interest waned. The last third is especially trippy and surreal. The more I think about it, the more I can see that Joy is an unreliable narrator, which is a feature I enjoy in books, but perhaps Joy is just a little too young for me to be enthralled by her journey (she’s just 19—this hinges on YA, or maybe more accurately the “New Adult” genre).

It’s a little hard to talk about Find Me without giving away spoilers! Maybe it would have worked better as a short story or novella. But I think it’s a worthwhile read if you enjoy a great premise, beautiful writing, and a thought-provoking meditation on memory and its reliability.

Read from May 11 to 17, 2015.

rivers

Continuing my Ebook Challenge this year! I recently chose to read Rivers by Michael Farris Smith off my iPad. From Goodreads:

It had been raining for weeks. Maybe months. He had forgotten the last day that it hadn’t rained, when the storms gave way to the pale blue of the Gulf sky, when the birds flew and the clouds were white and sunshine glistened across the drenched land.

Following years of catastrophic hurricanes, the Gulf Coast—stretching from the Florida panhandle to the western Louisiana border—has been brought to its knees. The region is so punished and depleted that the government has drawn a new boundary ninety miles north of the coastline. Life below the Line offers no services, no electricity, and no resources, and those who stay behind live by their own rules.

Eerily prophetic in its depiction of a southern landscape ravaged by extreme weather, Rivers is a masterful tale of survival and redemption in a world where the next devastating storm is never far behind.

I am so in the mood for post-apocalypse books right now, and Rivers worked well for me. It’s hard not to compare to Cormac McCarthy’s The Road, of course, and these books could be cousins as far as the devastating near-future setting goes, but they are different enough to be enjoyed without wishing you were reading the other.

The aspect I liked best about Rivers was Smith’s detailed world building, especially for the crushing weather—constant rain, frequent hurricanes gaining strength one after another. The bleak, brutal wetness and cold is palpable in this book. Also, there was a lot more action in Rivers than I expected—impossible situations, violence, kill-or-be-killed stuff, which I found all appropriate to the desperate nature of this new world.

A few things didn’t quite work for me, specifically that I didn’t feel like I really knew Cohen, despite being the protagonist and several flashbacks to his life before the storms (which had a tendency to be long sometimes, I’m not sure I cared so much). None of the characters were fleshed out much‚ Cohen is the only one whose past we learn about and I still didn’t feel like he was fully realized.

I enjoyed it a lot though—this scenario of seemingly endless storms ravaging our country is a terrifying prospect and I thought it was imagined well here in Rivers. I’m sure I would have gotten through this faster if I didn’t feel a pinch by a few library books that were coming up due and other life stuff in general.

Rivers is my second of twelve books read for my Ebook Challenge.

Read from February 17 to March 14, 2015.

audiobook mini-reviews: shovel, ocean

In addition to the three short books I read on paper and electronically, I listened to a couple of audiobooks on the road last week and on my rehearsal commutes this week, rounding out my reading for 2014:

I picked Shovel Ready by Adam Sternbergh for our drive to Wisconsin partly because it was fairly short, and also because it seemed like a plot that both Nick and I would enjoy. While not the greatest example of post-apocalyptic literature I’ve encountered, Shovel Ready was still a fun, action-packed read that was perfect for our time in the car. The book follows Spademan, a garbageman-turned-hitman in a New York City that was decimated by a surprise dirty bomb in Times Square. The wealthy can hook themselves up to a virtual world (a la Ready Player One) while everyone else ekes by out on the chaotic, dangerous streets. Spademan is hired to kill the daughter of a famous evangelist, and thus begins the tumultuous, mysterious adventure in Shovel Ready. [Listened to audiobook from December 19 to 26, 2014.]

I just finished The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman today, another audiobook I chose for its brevity and the story sounded pretty interesting. This is the first Gaiman work I’ve read. Generally I enjoyed Ocean, though I’m not sure I was compelled enough to seek out more Gaiman. It leaned just a bit too YA and fantasy for my tastes. In Ocean, an unnamed middle-aged man returns to his hometown for a funeral, and ends up stopping by the street on which he grew up and visiting the home of a wise-beyond-her-years, apparently magical girl named Lettie Hempstock, with whom he was friends. At her house, he speaks with one of Lettie’s family members and long-forgotten events start coming to light again. Ocean straddles several genres, with elements of fantasy, horror, adventure, and mystery, ultimately boiling down to a battle between good and evil and the dissociation existing between childhood and adulthood. I have to say it was a treat to listen to Gaiman himself narrate this audio version! I think his reading made it a better experience than paper would have been for me in this case. [Listened to audiobook from December 27 to 31, 2014.]

the girl with all the gifts

The last month and a half (yeesh) I have been listening to The Girl With All the Gifts by M. R. Carey during my rehearsal commutes. I started it mid-October as something to put me in the mood for Halloween, and despite the long period it took for me to get all the way through, I really enjoyed it. From Goodreads:

Not every gift is a blessing…

Every morning, Melanie waits in her cell to be collected for class.

When they come for her, Sergeant Parks keeps his gun pointing at her while two of his people strap her into the wheelchair. She thinks they don’t like her. She jokes that she won’t bite, but they don’t laugh.

The Girl With All the Gifts is a groundbreaking thriller, emotionally charged and gripping from beginning to end..

I think that everyone by now knows the “spoiler” on this one—”jokes that she won’t bite” is basically the giveaway that Melanie is a zombie. Or is she? This character was so much more, and this book was not what I was expecting at all, in the best possible way.

The Girl With All the Gifts unfolds beautifully and terrifyingly from a limited view of the world (through Melanie’s eyes, her cell and makeshift classroom in a bunker at first) to how we have come to this point in human history. I loved that Carey has a carefully thought-out, original explanation as to what wiped out humanity, when most zombie stories omit such details. The four main characters aside from Melanie—Justineau, Caldwell, Parks, and Gallagher—begin as broad stereotypes but as the story progresses, each reveals individual personalities and self-histories that create tangible depth in each of them. Melanie’s innocence, above all, is fascinating and kind of horrifying at the same time. And I loved the ending! It went further and expanded to more than I could have ever guessed.

I really wish it hadn’t taken me so long to get through. I feel like I missed a few parts on audio, and that very well is just my own fault for taking so long. I suspect that if I had been reading it on paper instead of listening on audio, I could have (ahem) devoured The Girl With All the Gifts in about a week. I will probably end up buying a paper copy and rereading eventually. It’s a thrilling, fast-paced, engrossing novel and I definitely recommend to fans of post-apocalyptic horror!

Listened to audiobook from October 18 to December 9, 2014.

it’s monday! what are you reading?

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

A little late to the party today! It was a very busy weekend. Saturday night I played an orchestra concert, and last night I went to an author event sponsored by Rainy Day Books: Cary Elwes speaking about his new book, As You Wish, a memoir of behind-the-scenes stories from the making of the now-classic film The Princess Bride. It was a wonderful event! There was a short documentary screening, period-appropriate music, a sword fighting demonstration, and of course a discussion with Elwes about the book and his experiences making the movie. With admission I got a hardcover copy and a place in line for an autograph. When I got to the table, Elwes noticed my Packers shirt right away and gave me a high five, saying “Go Packers!” and that Aaron Rodgers was a fan of the movie, too. So cool! Can’t wait to sink into that book next 🙂

After failing at two classics, this week I am starting two new (and I mean NEW!) books:

First, The Girl with All the Gifts by M.R. Carey became available off the wait list from my library’s overdrive, so I downloaded it and will go with that one for my rehearsal commutes the next couple weeks. I like it so far—pretty creepy and it has me curious about what the hell happened in this world to these kids. Fits in with the Halloween spirit, but not so much with my all-women authors accidental theme I had going for October… oh well, who knows, this will likely count for November anyway!

Second, I started Bad Feminist by Roxane Gay. It’s been getting high praise from bloggers whose opinions I trust, so I ordered it a few weeks ago. I’ve had very little time to read much lately so I’m only one essay in but it’s already blown me away. Looking forward to having a good chunk of time hopefully soon to really dig in—I feel like I could devour it in one sitting if I had the time for it.

What are you reading this week?