I have no clue how I did it, but I managed to read FIFTEEN books this month. It’s crazy. This month is also the one I decided that I was going to start reading Kindle books from the library again. Honestly, a big part of why I didn’t is because I loved the image of my book stack at the end of the month. But after examining my finances and moving a million books into my new apartment at the end of last month, I decided not spending money on more books I’ll have to move again is more important than a complete book stack. I’ll still be buying books when they’re important to me, but I want to focus less on the aesthetic and more on saving money. Buckle up, because this is a long post!
THE ANSWERS by Catherine Lacey
We are introduced to Mary, a young woman living in New York City and struggling to cope with a body that has betrayed her. All but paralyzed with pain, Mary seeks relief from a New Agey treatment called Pneuma Adaptive Kinesthesia, PAKing for short. And, remarkably, it works. But PAKing is prohibitively expensive and Mary is dead broke. So she scours Craigslist for fast-cash jobs and finds herself applying for the “Girlfriend Experiment,” the brainchild of an eccentric actor, Kurt Sky, who is determined to find the perfect relationship—even if that means paying different women to fulfill distinctive roles. Mary is hired as the “Emotional Girlfriend”—certainly better than the “Anger Girlfriend” or the “Maternal Girlfriend”—and is pulled into Kurt’s ego-driven and messy attempt at human connection.
I bought this book on my birthday on the recommendation of the bookseller at the indie book store near my new apartment, Book Soup. I was a little bit hesitant but I decided I would trust her. I wouldn’t say that she was wrong in her description, but rather that the book just probably wasn’t for me.
CHINA RICH GIRLFRIEND by Kevin Kwan
It’s the eve of Rachel Chu’s wedding, and she should be over the moon. She has a flawless Asscher-cut diamond, a wedding dress she loves, and a fiancé willing to thwart his meddling relatives and give up one of the biggest fortunes in Asia in order to marry her. Still, Rachel mourns the fact that her birthfather, a man she never knew, won’t be there to walk her down the aisle. Then a chance accident reveals his identity. Suddenly, Rachel is drawn into a dizzying world of Shanghai splendor, a world where people attend church in a penthouse, where exotic cars race down the boulevard, and where people aren’t just crazy rich … they’re China rich.
This is the sequel to CRAZY RICH ASIANS, which I read last month. I bought it on a bit of a whim when I was finishing up the first one (we needed to get our parking ticket validated and I oh-so-bravely volunteered to make a purchase at Barnes and Noble to do so, such a sacrifice!) and I liked it! I can’t decide which one I liked more.
SHRILL by Lindy West
From a painfully shy childhood in which she tried, unsuccessfully, to hide her big body and even bigger opinions; to her public war with stand-up comedians over rape jokes; to her struggle to convince herself, and then the world, that fat people have value; to her accidental activism and never-ending battle royale with Internet trolls, Lindy narrates her life with a blend of humor and pathos that manages to make a trip to the abortion clinic funny and wring tears out of a story about diarrhea.
With inimitable good humor, vulnerability, and boundless charm, Lindy boldly shares how to survive in a world where not all stories are created equal and not all bodies are treated with equal respect, and how to weather hatred, loneliness, harassment, and loss, and walk away laughing. Shrill provocatively dissects what it means to become self-aware the hard way, to go from wanting to be silent and invisible to earning a living defending the silenced in all caps.
I met Lindy West at the Festival of Books last year, where she signed this book that I promptly put on the shelf and didn’t pick up for a year. My roommate Bri read my copy before I did, and then I figured I should probably get to it. Lindy has been dealing with trolls for basically as long as the internet has been around, and she struggled with them at first, and then decided she wasn’t going to put up with them anymore. She was going to keep doing her thing, no matter who didn’t like it.
I should warn that this book has crude language and discusses some heavy topics (the summary gives a bit of an idea of that) but if you can handle those things, this is a memoir that I think is worth reading. I really identified with Lindy’s struggles of body image, to the point where I said out loud “I don’t like this book” and wanted to stop reading – that’s how real it felt to me. I’m glad I pressed on, though, because this book is funny. It made me want to be a bit more courageous in the way I deal with struggle.
HARRY POTTER AND THE PRISONER OF AZKABAN by JK Rowling
For twelve long years, the dreaded fortress of Azkaban held an infamous prisoner named Sirius Black. Convicted of killing thirteen people with a single curse, he was said to be the heir apparent to the Dark Lord, Voldemort. Now he has escaped, leaving only two clues as to where he might be headed: Harry Potter’s defeat of You-Know-Who was Black’s downfall as well. And the Azkaban guards heard Black muttering in his sleep, “He’s at Hogwarts… he’s at Hogwarts.” Harry Potter isn’t safe, not even within the walls of his magical school, surrounded by his friends. Because on top of it all, there may be a traitor in their midst.
Every year I’ve intended to re-read the Harry Potter books, and I never manage to get past the first two or three. I’m hopeful that this is the year I’m finally going to complete that reread. It’s weird because I love these books so much, and they always hold a certain kind of magic, but there’s a weird sort of dread that comes from rereading them. It’s almost like I’ve read the firs one so man times that it seems like a chore to cmplete the reread, which is probably why I’ve gotten stuck so many times. I’ve read the later ones in the series far less times, and those are some of my favorites, so I’m hopeful about my ability to continue this challenge going forward. (Just keeping it real here today, I guess!)
THE RAVEN BOYS by Maggie Stiefvater
Every year, Blue Sargent stands next to her clairvoyant mother as the soon-to-be dead walk past. Blue never sees them–until this year, when a boy emerges from the dark and speaks to her.
His name is Gansey, a rich student at Aglionby, the local private school. Blue has a policy of staying away from Aglionby boys. Known as Raven Boys, they can only mean trouble. But Blue is drawn to Gansey, in a way she can’t entirely explain. He is on a quest that has encompassed three other Raven Boys: Adam, the scholarship student who resents the privilege around him; Ronan, the fierce soul whose emotions range from anger to despair; and Noah, the taciturn watcher who notices many things but says very little. For as long as she can remember, Blue has been warned that she will cause her true love to die. She doesn’t believe in true love, and never thought this would be a problem. But as her life becomes caught up in the strange and sinister world of the Raven Boys, she’s not so sure anymore.
This one is a reread too; it’s a series of four books, and I own the first three but have only read this first one. It’s a YA fantasy book that conjures up thoughts of old journals and dark forests and magic and cars that might break down at any moment – if this seems like some sort of aesthetic mood board, that’s because this book makes me think of all those things. I usually stay away from paranormal, but I’m excited to continue with the rest of this series for the first time.
TURTLES ALL THE WAY DOWN by John Green
Sixteen-year-old Aza never intended to pursue the mystery of fugitive billionaire Russell Pickett, but there’s a hundred-thousand-dollar reward at stake and her Best and Most Fearless Friend, Daisy, is eager to investigate. So together, they navigate the short distance and broad divides that separate them from Russell Pickett’s son, Davis. Aza is trying. She is trying to be a good daughter, a good friend, a good student, and maybe even a good detective, while also living within the ever-tightening spiral of her own thoughts. In his long-awaited return, John Green, the acclaimed, award-winning author of Looking for Alaska and The Fault in Our Stars, shares Aza’s story with shattering, unflinching clarity in this brilliant novel of love, resilience, and the power of lifelong friendship.
Oh god, this book. I read it all in one day, on Mother’s Day, because when your mom lives far away and everyone else is busy, there’s not much happening. So I picked it up and read it with coffee on the couch, and then later I sat by the pool and read in the sunshine, and then I finished it that night in bed.
It is entirely fair to say that this book really stressed me out, but I loved it. It’s not plot-heavy (I actually have some issues with the plot, but I’m willing to let them go) but instead it focuses on Aza’s mental health and how she deals with it.
I’m noticing now as I’m writing this that the cover is a perfect depiction of the book. I wrote a little bit more about how this book affected me earlier this month, but I really just recommend you pick it up yourself.
SOURDOUGH by Robin Sloan
Lois Clary, a software engineer at a San Francisco robotics company, codes all day and collapses at night. When her favourite sandwich shop closes up, the owners leave her with the starter for their mouthwatering sourdough bread. Lois becomes the unlikely hero tasked to care for it, bake with it and keep this needy colony of microorganisms alive. Soon she is baking loaves daily and taking them to the farmer’s market, where an exclusive close-knit club runs the show. When Lois discovers another, more secret market, aiming to fuse food and technology, a whole other world opens up. But who are these people, exactly?
The description on the back of the book is a little misleading – all of that stuff happens in the first fifty pages or so, and the rest of the book is about what happens next. (Maybe that’s what the back descriptions are for, actually, but I tend to want to know a bit more about the plot ahead of time.) This book is about the convergence of technology and baking, with some magical realism thrown in for good measure. It’s an entertaining read that I really enjoyed, but I find it hard to describe after the fact. It all makes sense while you’re reading, though, which is most important.
OTHER PEOPLE’S HOUSES by Abbi Waxman
As the longtime local carpool mom, Frances Bloom is sometimes an unwilling witness to her neighbors’ private lives. She knows her cousin is hiding her desire for another baby from her spouse, Bill Horton’s wife is mysteriously missing, and now this… After the shock of seeing Anne Porter in all her extramarital glory, Frances vows to stay in her own lane. But that’s a notion easier said than done when Anne’s husband throws her out a couple of days later. The repercussions of the affair reverberate through the four carpool families–and Frances finds herself navigating a moral minefield that could make or break a marriage.
This one is probably best described as chick lit – it’s a family drama about neighborhood relationships and how they intertwine. I liked it ok but didn’t love it. There were parts that grated on me and parts that I found heartwarming. I appreciated it for its diversity of families and that it showed no matter how families look on the outside, nothing is perfect. It was told from the view of two women and one man, the primary caretakers for their kids, but there were a few instances when the kids’ perspectives were brought in. I wanted more OR less from the kids – either commit to the viewpoint or don’t, but with the way it was done I felt like so many loose ends were left hanging. I bought this from BOTM and it actually made me reconsider the types of books I buy in the future. This would be a good one to get from the library.
BACHELOR NATION by Amy Kaufman
Bachelor Nation is the first behind-the-scenes, unauthorized look into the reality television phenomenon. Los Angeles Times journalist Amy Kaufman is a proud member of Bachelor Nation and has a long history with the franchise–ABC even banned her from attending show events after her coverage of the program got a little too real for its liking. She has interviewed dozens of producers, contestants, and celebrity fans to give readers never-before-told details of the show’s inner workings: what it’s like to be trapped in the mansion “bubble”; dark, juicy tales of producer manipulation; and revelations about the alcohol-fueled debauchery that occurs long before the fantasy suite.
I saw Amy speak at last month’s LA Times Festival of Books, and even though I don’t watch The Bachelor, I knew I wanted to read this. I actually don’t follow the show super closely so I’m not sure how much of this was already known, but to an outsider it was mind blowing. Obviously so much of The Bachelor is staged, but this brought to light a lot about how things work behind the scenes. There’s stories of contestants being encouraged to get drunk and stay up all night because the things they say when sleep deprived make for good stories. This is one I’d recommend getting from the library if you can; it’s a quick read that you probably won’t reread. Glad I read it!
THE LIGHT WE LOST by Jill Santopolo
Lucy and Gabe meet as seniors at Columbia University on a day that changes both of their lives forever. Together, they decide they want their lives to mean something, to matter. When they meet again a year later, it seems fated—perhaps they’ll find life’s meaning in each other. But then Gabe becomes a photojournalist assigned to the Middle East and Lucy pursues a career in New York. What follows is a thirteen-year journey of dreams, desires, jealousies, betrayals, and, ultimately, of love. Was it fate that brought them together? Is it choice that has kept them away? Their journey takes Lucy and Gabe continents apart, but never out of each other’s hearts.
This book is written like a letter from Lucy to Gabe, so there’s lots of casual writing and use of the word “you”. If that’s not your thing, stay away from this one. I loved that it was told in different vignettes of different lengths; it felt more casual and informal. which would be true to the story. This is essentially the tale of two star-crossed lovers who never quite managed to get it together. I liked it!
THE ASSISTANTS by Camille Perri
Tina Fontana is the hapless but brazen thirty-year-old executive assistant to Robert Barlow, the all-powerful and commanding CEO of Titan Corp., a multinational media conglomerate. She’s excellent at her job and beloved by her famous boss—but after six years of making his reservations for restaurants she’d never get into on her own and pouring his drinks from bottles that cost more than her rent, she’s bored, broke, and just a bit over it all. When a technical error with Robert’s travel-and-expenses report presents Tina with the opportunity to pay off the entire balance of her student loan debt with what would essentially be pocket change for her boss, she struggles with the decision: She’s always played by the rules. But it’s such a relatively small amount of money for the Titan Corporation—and for her it would be a life-changer…
This was a fun story – who hasn’t dreamed about having all their debt wiped away in one fell swoop? It felt like it all wrapped up too neatly, but I was willing to ignore that for the sake of the story that came before it. Another good library book, and one that would make a great movie!
STRONGER by Jeff Bauman
Jeff Bauman woke up on Tuesday, April 16th 2013 and he had no legs. Just thirty hours prior, Jeff was surrounded by revelry at the finish line of the 2013 Boston Marathon. The first bomb went off at his feet as he awaited his girlfriend’s finish. When Jeff awoke days later from hours of surgery, rather than take stock of his now completely altered life, Jeff ripped out his breathing tube and tried to speak. He couldn’t. Jeff asked for a pad and paper and he wrote down seven words, “Saw the guy. Looked right at me,” setting off one of the biggest manhunts in the country’s history and beginning his own brave road to recovery.
Jeff got both his legs blown off at the 2013 Boston Marathon (you’ve definitely seen the photo) and this is his story. It’s been 5 years since the bombing, and I no longer think about that day all the time anymore. I don’t think I could’ve read this book when it came out four years ago, but I was ready for it now. What I liked the most is that it was real and didn’t shy away from the hard stuff. Also the Red Sox feature heavily, which is right up my alley. I doubt this would ever happen but I would love to read a follow up.
THE QUEEN OF HEARTS by Kimmery Martin
Zadie Anson and Emma Colley have been best friends since their early twenties, when they first began navigating serious romantic relationships amid the intensity of medical school. Now they’re happily married wives and mothers with successful careers–Zadie as a pediatric cardiologist and Emma as a trauma surgeon. Their lives in Charlotte, North Carolina are chaotic but fulfilling, until the return of a former colleague unearths a secret one of them has been harboring for years.
I’d been wanting to read this for weeks, after seeing it all over bookstagram. That cover is gorgeous! Unfortunately that was basically the best part. It’s a bit like Grey’s Anatomy: medical and family drama galore, which is up my alley. I thought it was well told. What I didn’t like: there was too much medical jargon for me, and I found it hard to keep the two character voices distinct in my head. Once I found out what the secret was I pretty much stopped caring. This one is sadly pretty forgettable. I’m disappointed because I really wanted to love this.
HOW TO WALK AWAY by Katherine Center
Margaret Jacobsen has a bright future ahead of her: a fiancé she adores, her dream job, and the promise of a picture-perfect life just around the corner. Then, suddenly, on what should have been one of the happiest days of her life, everything she worked for is taken away in one tumultuous moment. In the hospital and forced to face the possibility that nothing will ever be the same again, Margaret must figure out how to move forward on her own terms while facing long-held family secrets, devastating heartbreak, and the idea that love might find her in the last place she would ever expect.
In reading this book, I learned that I don’t love stories that involve someone trying to overcome some sort of life-changing injury that’s meant to be inspirational. This book was in the style of ME BEFORE YOU, and I just do not think those are for me in most cases. This was a fun read, but a little too cheesy for my taste. It falls into that beach read/chick lit category, which I do not at all feel guilty about loving. This was just one that didn’t work for me. I enjoyed the experience of reading it, but looking back it felt cheesy and predictable.
THE CIRCLE by Dave Eggers
When Mae is hired to work for the Circle, the world’s most powerful internet company, she feels she’s been given the opportunity of a lifetime. Run out of a sprawling California campus, the Circle links users’ personal emails, social media, and finances with their universal operating system, resulting in one online identity and a new age of transparency. Mae can’t believe her great fortune to work for them – even as life beyond the campus grows distant, even as a strange encounter with a colleague leaves her shaken, even as her role at the Circle becomes increasingly public.
I saw the movie that stemmed from this book last May, just before my first day of work. I didn’t like the movie that much, but I’m happy to say I liked the book a bit better. I loved how this deals with technology taking over our lives I have a running with, which tracks my steps, mileage, heart rate, the hours I sleep, and much more. I have an app that tracks how much I read a day. I use a program that tracks how much I spend. Just between those three programs, I’m collecting an awful lot of data on myself. In lots of cases this data collection is useful – but what happens when it takes over our lives? That’s what this book is about. There’s a few awkward + uncomfortable sex scenes, and the characters sometimes feel a bit like caricatures, but beyond that I liked it!
In total this month:
Total number of books: fifteen
Number of fiction books: twelve
Number of nonfiction books: three
Books by people who are not white dudes: eleven
Total number of books this year: forty three