Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Binti: Home

Binti: Home (Binti #2) by Nnedi Okorafor

Binti has now been at Oomza University for a year, but she is feeling a strong pull to go back to her people and go on the pilgrimage that is usual for women in her tribe. She decides to make the trip and to bring her friend Okwu with her.

If you read the first book, you know that Binti was the first of the Himba people to travel across space to attend Oomza Uni, but she did it by sneaking away from her family. Returning means that she has to face the loved ones that she abandoned. As if that weren't enough, she's returning with Okwu, a Meduse (that's Okwu behind her on the cover,) and they are considered enemies of humans. Plus now Binti is part Meduse too, which she cannot hide since her hair has turned into tentacles. Awkward.

Although considerably longer than the first book - 162 pages compared to 90 - it's still very short, and again I was amazed at the level of imagination and detail that Okorafor manages to cram into so few words. One example of that from this book related to a group of people who have a really unusual way of communicating (and one that is completely misunderstood by outsiders.) It was very creative and it - along with the very alien form of Okwu - all reminded me a bit of the movie Arrival, in terms of how different and unexpected it all was.

I also really love the character development, and the changing nature of Binti's relationships with her family members. In the course of this novella she learns some information about herself and her ancestry that challenges her identity, which is already in flux given the whole Meduse-tentacle-hair situation. Although her world is very different from ours, she is completely relatable and I completely sympathized with her problems, some of which are comparable to typical human ones.

During this story she witnessed a phenomenon called the Night Masquerade, which just so happens to also be the title of the third and final book in the series, which was just released. I can't wait to find out what that's all about, so I'm definitely planning to read it!

Friday, January 12, 2018

Allegedly

Allegedly by Tiffany D. Jackson (2017)

Mary Addison has been placed in a group home after 6 years of "baby jail." She was convicted of manslaughter at the age of 9 for allegedly killing a white baby who her mom was babysitting. Mary doesn't really speak and hasn't spoken out about the truth of that night, but now there is something larger at stake. She has a boyfriend, Ted, and they are expecting a baby. When Mary is told that she won't be allowed to keep her baby, she decides she needs to finally start talking about what really happened.

This is one of those books that just sucks you in from the beginning. It's a teen book and is written in a typically easy-to-read style. I read the whole thing in a 24-hour-period. I could not put it down.

Mary's experiences in the group home are just awful. The counselors are uncaring and make life difficult, and the other girls are even worse. All Mary wants is to take the SATs so she can get into college and make a better life for herself, but one of the other girls is set on sabotaging her efforts. Mary is much happier at the nursing home where she volunteers, which is also where she met her boyfriend. Ted is also there after trouble with the law, but they don't share those parts of themselves to each other because they both just want to move forward. When she becomes pregnant, they make plans together for how they will live and take care of their baby, though Mary worries it won't be as easy as he says.

There is a lot of lying in this novel. Between Mary and Ted, Mary and her mother, basically everyone. The whole environment of the story is toxic and is everyone is just trying to look out for themselves. Mary's relationship with her mother is especially interesting and weird and I just don't know what to think of them. Her mother is very religious and upstanding, but made me vaguely uneasy through the whole story, especially because of how she treated her daughter. Is she actually a good person? What is she not saying? What is Mary not saying?

I've been wanting to read this since it first came out and I'm glad my book group picked it - I think we're going to have a very interesting discussion, especially about the ending. My mind isn't made up regarding the ending so I'm especially eager to talk about it with several people at once. It really is a good book group choice! It also raises a lot of questions in my mind about the juvenile justice system.
Regardless of how I settle on the ending, I found it to be a unique story that was very easy to get lost in.

Tuesday, January 9, 2018

Top 10 Books I Meant to Read in 2017


Top Ten Tuesdays are hosted at The Broke and Bookish, which is shutting down so today is the last Top Ten Tuesday. They'll continue on That Artsy Reader Girl, but I don't know yet if I'll be following it there.

At any rate, this week's topic is the top 10 books we meant to read in 2017 and totally plan to get to in 2018! Here are mine:

1. A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara
It was on my TBR Pile Challenge last year, so I really should have read it. But now it's on my challenge list for this year too, so if I manage not to read it again I'm going to completely give up on ever doing so.

2. Pachinko by Min Jin Lee
I was first attracted by the cover, but everyone I know who has read it has loved it.

3. From Here to Eternity by Caitlin Doughty
Her first book, Smoke Gets In Your Eyes, was fantastic and I'm sure this one is too.

4. The Essex Serpent by Sarah Perry
I've heard lots of great things about this book!

5. The Rose Garden by Susanna Kearsley
At some point last year I bought the audiobook from Audible and then forgot about it until about a week ago.

6. Forever, Interrupted by Taylor Jenkins Reid
I've read all of her other books and thought I'd read this one over the summer and now I'm surprised to find that I still haven't read it.

7. Nomadland: Surviving America in the Twenty-First Century by Jessica Bruder
This looks fascinating and I told a coworker about it, who immediately read it and really liked it.

8. Prairie Fires: The American Dreams of Laura Ingalls Wilder
I realize this wasn't even published until late November, but I was all over it the moment I heard about it and really thought I'd read it right away.

9. Paradox Bound by Peter Clines
His other two books were great, so I thought I'd snatch this one up the moment it got published, but here I am months later, still having not read it.

10. Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman
I have no excuse with this one. I received a galley back in the early spring, thought it looked good, and then decided to give it away because I didn't think I'd get to it. I've only heard good things about it since then! I even bought it for a friend for Christmas, but somehow have still managed not to read it myself.

Have you read any of these? Which should I make my priority?

Monday, January 8, 2018

The Jewel

The Jewel (The Lone City #1) by Amy Ewing (2014), narrated by Erin Spencer

Violet is from a poor family in the Marsh, but when her powers were discovered she was snatched from her home, destined to become a surrogate. After a few years in a training facility she goes to an auction to be sold to a royal family living in the Jewel. She will have a baby for them, and she will never be able to go back to her family. Violet doesn't know very much about what is going to happen to her, so the reader learns everything about life in the Jewel - and life as a surrogate - along with her.

Initially it is unclear how her powers relate to pregnancy. We see Violet and other surrogates using their powers to change physical properties of objects - turning them different colors, or making plants grow. It's also fairly far along in the story that we learn why the royals don't have their own babies. As we learn more and more, this world reveals itself to be dark and twisted and I began to worry a lot for Violet.

Her life in the royal palace is one of both captivity and opulence. She is no longer called by her name, as she is just property now, but she lives in a large suite with her own maid, wears fancy clothing, and attends glamorous parties. Also in the course of the story she begins a romance (of course.) It is totally forbidden, of course, but all of these trappings of luxury and pleasure almost glamorize slavery a little. The story makes it very clear that her situation is bad. There were some disturbing scenes, like when she is taken out by her owner to visit another royal family, and she and other surrogates were led around on leashes. But she still managed to fall for a guy and become totally wrapped up in him very quickly, despite other more important things that were happening to her. I just feel like a person in her situation would have been more traumatized and fearful. On the one hand, I understand wanting to get pleasure where you can in a bad situation, but there was so much happening to her all at once that I can't imagine being able to be distracted by a cute boy while it was happening. Violet was also unfailingly selfless and an incredibly good person, and I found that sort of annoying and unbelievable. She doesn't hide the fact that she hates her situation, but I would think she would hold a little more bitterness and resentment, and spend more time missing her family and feeling anguish about never being able to see them again.

I think I first heard about this book after reading The Selection and wanting something similar. Although The Jewel is definitely up my alley, despite the pretty dress on the cover it's nothing like The Selection. It's more like a combination of The Hunger Games and The Handmaid's Tale. Although I have some criticisms, I did really enjoy listening to this story and learning more about the horrific society in which Violet lives. It ends on a cliffhanger with a shocking twist that was not actually super-shocking, but very satisfying to me because I had my suspicions! I wasn't sure for a while whether I'd continue the series, but I am actually very curious about where the story will go and I just know there's a lot more than meets the eye in this world that Amy Ewing has created. Apparently I never get tired of fictional dystopias!

Thursday, January 4, 2018

Lab Girl

Lab Girl by Hope Jahren (2016)

Hope Jahren is an accomplished award-winning scientist, and her memoir is filled with stories from her professional and personal life. From her rural upbringing with stoic parents, to her many adventures in the field, she talks about what it's like to be a woman working in a male-dominated field and about her longtime friendship with a fellow scientist and outcast named Bill. Her stories alternate with short chapters of scientific content about plants and trees.

Jahren grew up in her father's lab, becoming comfortable at a young age with the equipment and other trappings of scientific life. As much as she loves the work, she doesn't gloss over the challenges - funding is a constant source of anxiety, as is the uphill battle of trying to achieve respect in the field, especially if you're seen as an outsider. From the beginning, there were few women in her field and she had to fight stereotypes and convince her peers that she was serious. I wish she had followed this thread a bit more in the book though - she talks about it a lot at the beginning, but later she didn't discuss how being a woman in science changed, or didn't change, and how it may have affected her later in her career.

Her friendship with Bill was a large part of the story. He was pretty stand-off-ish and others didn't take to him the way Jahren did. He was obviously poor and socially awkward, but brilliant, and they became very close friends. He often lived in a vehicle or in a lab, though eventually he secured more stable housing. It was an unusual relationship; they worked together and when Jahren would move away for another job she would take him with her so they could keep working together. It was unclear how she logistically made this happen, but I get the idea that she was given a certain amount of money that would cover hiring lab assistants and that's how she paid him. At any rate, I love how close they were, how they helped each other, and the fun adventures they had on their field trips. We could use more positive portrayals of relationships.

Interestingly, she came across as a total workaholic early in the book and everything was focused on her career and friendship with Bill, and then suddenly she begins a romantic relationship, gets married very quickly, and has a baby. It was a bit jolting. She had made maybe one mention earlier in the book about dating and somehow I was quite shocked that she chose to have a child. The parts about being a mother were so incongruous with the rest of the book, and I still liked these parts, I just think that maybe the different threads of her story weren't woven together well. It's the same for the sections in which she talks about her bipolar disorder - this was a bit more woven in with the parts about motherhood, but I still have a lot of questions about how it may have affected her work.

I learned a lot about plants and trees from the short chapters that focused on botany. Her descriptions of the process of trees shedding their leaves and how plants are affected by things that happened when they were just seeds made me think about plants as truly being alive in a way I hadn't considered before. We think of plants as being so passive just because they don't move in a way that we can see, but they really aren't passive at all. I've been sort of interested in Peter Wohlleben's popular book The Hidden Life of Trees for a while, and now I'm even more likely to eventually read it.

I've seen this book on a lot of "best of" lists and one of my coworkers personally recommended it as well. I found a lot to like here and generally enjoyed reading it, though I do think it was a bit disjointed and lost some of the thematic threads at various points. But overall, I liked it and it gave me a lot to think about. It's only near the end of the book that she mentions the importance of writing to her, and it's true that her writing is quite beautiful, especially when describing the trees and other plants about which she is so passionate. Hopefully this means we'll see more books from her in the future.

Monday, January 1, 2018

A Year of Reading: 2017


1. The Woman in Cabin 10 by Ruth Ware
2. Challenger Deep by Neal Shusterman
3. After I Do by Taylor Jenkins Reid
4. You Can't Touch My Hair by Phoebe Robinson
5. The Painter by Peter Heller
6. Hag-Seed by Margaret Atwood
7. The Sleepwalker by Chris Bohjalian
8. The Good Braider by Terry Farish
9. Grandville by Bryan Talbot
10. Compartment No. 6 by Rosa Liksom
11. Her Every Fear by Peter Swanson
12. The One Hundred Nights of Hero by Isabel Greenberg
13. The Wild Rose by Jennifer Donnelly
14. Sugar Changed the World by Marc Aronson and Marina Budhos
15. Miss Jane by Brad Watson
16. Buddhism Without Beliefs by Stephen Batchelor
17. Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix by J.K. Rowling
18. To the Bright Edge of the World by Eowyn Ivey
19. The Smell of Other People's Houses by Bonnie-Sue Hitchcock
20. The House of Mirth by Edith Wharton
21. Breathless by Beverly Jenkins
22. Shirley Jackson: A Rather Haunted Life by Ruth Franklin
23. Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince by J.K. Rowling
24. Bleaker House by Nell Stevens
25. Born a Crime by Trevor Noah
26. The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas
27. The Wanderers by Meg Howrey
28. Nation by Terry Pratchett
29. Tender is the Night by F. Scott Fitzgerald
30. An Extraordinary Union by Alyssa Cole
31. The Little Book of Hygge by Meik Wiking
32. Angel Catbird by Margaret Atwood
33. Seven Brief Lessons on Physics by Carlo Rovelli
34. American War by Omar El Akkad
35. A Raisin in the Sun by Lorraine Hansberry
36. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows by J.K. Rowling
37. Anything For You by Kristan Higgins
38. The Heart Goes Last by Margaret Atwood
39. Maybe in Another Life by Taylor Jenkins Reid
40. Harry Potter and the Cursed Child by J.K. Rowling
41. The Awakening by Kate Chopin
42. Ramona Blue by Julie Murphy
43. If I Was Your Girl by Meredith Russo
44. The Summer Before the War by Helen Simonson
45. The Freedom Summer Murders by Don Mitchell
46. The Stranger in the Woods by Michael Finkel
47. Milk and Honey by Rupi Kaur
48. Touch by Courtney Maum
49. When Dimple Met Rishi by Sandhya Menon
50. Pioneer Girl by Laura Ingalls Wilder
51. A Scot in the Dark by Sarah MacLean
52. The Killing Zone by Felix F. Giordano*
53. Too Fat, Too Slutty, Too Loud by Anne Helen Peterson
54. The Swans of Fifth Avenue by Melanie Benjamin
55. My Last Continent by Midge Raymond
56. Thomas Holland in the Realm of the Ogres by K.M. Doherty*
57. Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi
58. Falling for Trouble by Sarah Title
59. The Golden Compass by Philip Pullman
60. Call Me Madame Alice by K.W. Garlick*
61. One of Windsor by Beth Caruso*
62. The Fold by Peter Clines
63. The Only Road by Alexandra Diaz
64. The Gentleman's Guide to Vice and Virtue by Mackenzi Lee
65. Young Jane Young by Gabrielle Zevin
66. The Subtle Knife by Philip Pullman**
67. The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo by Taylor Jenkins Reid
68. The Miracle Morning by Hal Elrod
69. They Can't Kill Us All by Wesley Lowery
70. The Day of the Duchess by Sarah MacLean
71. In the Shadow of Liberty by Kenneth C. Davis
72. The Fact of a Body by Alexandria Marzano-Lesnevich
73. Wonder by R.J. Palacio***
74. Genuine Fraud by E. Lockhart
75. Mrs. Fletcher by Tom Perrotta
76. Everyone's a Aliebn When Ur a Aliebn Too by Jomny Sun
77. Ghost by Jason Reynolds
78. Grasshopper Jungle by Andrew Smith***
79. Binti by Nnedi Okorafor
80. Turtles All the Way Down by John Green
81. Hand to Mouth by Linda Tirado***
82. Angels in America by Tony Kushner
83. Hunger by Roxane Gay
84. Moxie by Jennifer Mathieu
85. The Lady Traveler's Guide to Scoundrels and Other Gentlemen by Victoria Alexander
86. On Tyranny by Timothy Snyder
87. The Proposal by Mary Balogh
88. The Power by Naomi Alderman
89. The Inexplicable Logic of My Life by Benjamin Alire Saenz
90. Hate To Want You by Alisha Rai
91. Exit West by Mohsin Hamid
92. The Flight Attendant by Chris Bohjalian
93. Killers of the Flower Moon by David Grann
94. The Burning Girl by Claire Messud
95. Vincent and Theo by Deborah Heiligman
96. Middlemarch by George Eliot
97. In the Country We Love by Diane Guerrero

*These are books I read for a book award committee and decided not to post about them publicly.
**I literally forgot to write a post about this, and didn't realize it until now. D'oh!
***These are re-reads that I just didn't want to post about for a second time.

So there's my list! The last 5 years I've gone a little over a hundred, and I think my recent lack of audiobook listening is what made a difference this year. It doesn't matter to me though - it's not a contest.

I had so many favorites this year, but those I gave 5 stars to on Goodreads were:
The Wanderers, The Hate U Give, The Fact of a Body, Touch, and Moxie.

Special mention goes to The Power, Binti, Miss Jane, and Young Jane Young, though truthfully I could keep going. I read a lot of great books.

Here's to another great year of reading!