What I’ve Been Reading: Part One!

I’m back…sort of!  I know it’s been a while since I’ve done a blog post, and I’m trying to get back into reviewing and blogging again.  I’ve been reading, but not up to reviewing.  But I still wanted to talk about the books I’ve been reading, so I thought I’d talk a little bit about the books I haven’t talked about yet.  I’m a bit fuzzy on some of them, since it’s been a while…but that’s not going to stop me from talking about them!

Book #1: Ghost by Jason Reynolds

I borrowed the hardcover from the library.

Here’s what I thought:

  • It’s a middle grade contemporary about a kid who runs track, which I thought was cool.  I feel like track doesn’t come up a lot, as far as sports novels go.  Cross country, yes.  Track, not so much.
  • I don’t know that I remember enough to say anything else, but I remember thinking it was okay.  Then again, All-American Boys was such a great book that I had really high expectations.
  • I did like the parallels between running and what was going on in his life.  Especially with how running turned out to be a really good thing for him.
  • I don’t know that I’d read the rest of the books in the series- it looks like this is the first one of…I’m not sure how many.
  • It’s definitely a must read if you like stories about sports.  And also how to move on and deal with your past.
  • I think my rating would be 2 stars.  It’s okay, and not a lot stuck with me.

Book #2: If I Was Your Girl by Meredith Russo

I borrowed the hardcover from the library.

My thoughts:

  • I really liked this book!  It’s a YA contemporary about Amanda, who transferred schools.  I felt for Amanda, who tried so hard to fit in, and who had to deal with a lot- bullying and transphobia are the first things that come to mind.
  • I really like that it’s not a coming out story- both are important, but I really liked seeing Amanda move to a new town and transition to a new phase in her life.
  • I liked the friendships she had too- people can be horrible, but I’m glad Amanda found some amazing people.
  • I can’t remember anything about the romance, other than I liked it…but that’s about it!
  • I loved the author’s note at the end of the book.  Don’t skip over it, because it really does add to an already awesome book.
  • I feel like I’m not doing this book any justice.  At all.  Mostly because it’s been a while since I’ve read it, and I remember next to nothing.  But it’s such a great book and really important and I doubt I’d do it much justice regardless.  But waiting months to do some sort of half-hearted attempt isn’t helping.
  • Part of why it’s important is because of what the book is about, but it is worth mentioning that the author is also trans.
  • And I’m not sure if it’s true, but the cover model is trans as well.  For some reason, that feels really important as well.
  • I know I got really emotional and starting crying at one point.
  • My Rating: 4 stars.  Had I reviewed it right after finishing it, my rating probably would have been 5 stars.
    • But I may re-read it at some point so I can properly talk about it.
    • I still really liked it though.

Book #3: Wild by Cheryl Strayed

This is another hardcover from the library.

What I Thought:

  • I liked seeing how much Strayed changed during the hike.
  • She did seem ill-prepared for the hike, and I can see why some reviewers think she’s whiny and self-absorbed
    • and also why some people thought she made poor life decisions
    • There’s no judgement from me, though, because she did have a lot of things she had to work through, especially with the death of her mother
  • Hiking- especially since she was by herself for most of the hike- seemed to help her
    • there was a lot of opportunity for her to reflect on her life
    • she did randomly meet up with other people along the way, though
  • I think my favorite part was seeing her not give up, even when it would have been easy for her to do so
  • I can’t imagine doing such a big hike, especially with no hiking/backpacking experience whatsoever
  • It really felt like I was hiking with her, and it never felt boring or repetitive
    • I can’t imagine being alone with my thoughts for that long, but props to her for sticking with it
  • It’s a memoir of her experience hiking the Pacific Coast Trail, so if you’re looking for more information or history about the trail itself, this is not the book for you
  • I’ve heard of it before- because it was adapted into a movie, but I mostly picked it up because it was mentioned in one of the Gilmore Girls revival episodes
    • I’m glad I picked it up, though, because I really liked it
  • I think my rating would be 4 stars.  I didn’t love it, but it was an easy read, and there is something about the way she writes

Book #4: The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead

The Underground Railroad is a hardcover from the library.

And now, my thoughts:

  • This book deserves a lot more attention.  I feel like it didn’t get a lot of attention, despite the fact that it was an Oprah book club pick.  The publication date also got moved up because of it.  And I know it was recommended by Obama, so I had really high expectations.
    • It lived up to all of the hype…at least the hype that I heard.
    • It’s totally worth reading
  • I admit that I didn’t like it at first, and it took me a while to get into it.
    • I’m glad I stuck with it, though, because I really liked it
  • It is a hard read, because you see what it might have been like for slaves on the Underground Railroad
    • I’m not sure what to call them, but there are ads and wanted posters for runaway slaves, which really added to the journey Cora takes
  • The Underground Railroad is quite literal in this book but it was terrifying to see what it was like during that time period
    • so many people risked everything to be a part of it- whether they were a stop along the way, or the one trying to escape slavery
    • I know I said it already, but it really highlighted what it might have been like
  • It really is mind-blowing that people were willing to take a chance to have freedom than spend one more second as a slave
  • My rating: 4 stars.  It was hard to get into at first, but worth reading.

Book Review Round-Up: Homegoing, The Shadow Of The Wind and So Far From God

I have quite a few books I want to talk about, so I figured I share some quick thoughts on some of them!

homegoing-coverBook #1: Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi

Published June 2016 by Knopf|305 pages

Where I Got It: I borrowed the hardcover from the library

Series: None

Genre: Adult Fiction, Adult Historical Fiction

What It’s About: The unforgettable New York Times best seller begins with the story of two half-sisters, separated by forces beyond their control: one sold into slavery, the other married to a British slaver. Written with tremendous sweep and power, Homegoingtraces the generations of family who follow, as their destinies lead them through two continents and three hundred years of history, each life indelibly drawn, as the legacy of slavery is fully revealed in light of the present day.

Effia and Esi are born into different villages in eighteenth-century Ghana. Effia is married off to an Englishman and lives in comfort in the palatial rooms of Cape Coast Castle. Unbeknownst to Effia, her sister, Esi, is imprisoned beneath her in the castle’s dungeons, sold with thousands of others into the Gold Coast’s booming slave trade, and shipped off to America, where her children and grandchildren will be raised in slavery. One thread of Homegoing follows Effia’s descendants through centuries of warfare in Ghana, as the Fante and Asante nations wrestle with the slave trade and British colonization. The other thread follows Esi and her children into America. From the plantations of the South to the Civil War and the Great Migration, from the coal mines of Pratt City, Alabama, to the jazz clubs and dope houses of twentieth-century Harlem, right up through the present day, Homegoing makes history visceral, and captures, with singular and stunning immediacy, how the memory of captivity came to be inscribed in the soul of a nation.

What I Thought: I really liked Homegoing, and if you haven’t read it yet, you should!  What struck me the most about this book was how differently their lives turned out, and how differently things turned out for their families.  Their stories eventually came together over the centuries, and when I realized each chapter was going to be told by a different person, I wasn’t sure about it at first.  But it worked really for the story, and you get alternating chapters between someone from Effia’s family and someone from Esi’s family.  You see how much the slave trade affects people, particularly Esi’s family, and even though you’re getting snippets of each person and each family, there is such a connection between each family and the reader.  I was glad there was a family tree at the beginning of the book, because I referred to it constantly to make sure I was keeping up with where we were at in the story.

It’s such a complex book, and yet it never felt that way.  You see how things change, both in Ghana and in the U.S., and all through these two families.  Something about it felt very honest and objective, and it was hard to read at times, but for me, it would have been a very different book without those scenes.  It’s necessary to understand how much of an impact slavery had on people.

My Rating: 4 stars.  I think, had I read the book at a different time (when I wasn’t distracted by other stuff going on whe I read it), it would have received a higher rating.  Still, I recommend it to EVERYONE, and it is a fantastic book. I am definitely looking forward to reading anything else she writes.

the-shadow-of-the-wind-coverBook #2: The Shadow Of The Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafon, Translated by Lucia Graves

Published April 2004 (originally published 2001) by The Penguin Press|487 pages

Where I Got It: I borrowed the hardcover from the library

Series: None

Genre: Adult Historical Fiction, Adult Mystery

What It’s About: Barcelona, 1945: A city slowly heals in the aftermath of the Spanish Civil War, and Daniel, an antiquarian book dealer’s son who mourns the loss of his mother, finds solace in a mysterious book entitled The Shadow of the Wind, by one Julián Carax. But when he sets out to find the author’s other works, he makes a shocking discovery: someone has been systematically destroying every copy of every book Carax has written. In fact, Daniel may have the last of Carax’s books in existence. Soon Daniel’s seemingly innocent quest opens a door into one of Barcelona’s darkest secrets–an epic story of murder, madness, and doomed love.

What I Thought: I started off really liking the book and being really interested in what was going on.  I did lose momentum with it by the end of the book, and I basically finished it just to say that I finished it.  Which is unfortunate because I really wanted that to not happen.  I think I may have to re-read it at another time, because I liked it enough to give it the attention it deserves.

It is a really interesting mystery, and I love that it’s a story within a story.  You have Daniel finding a book, and then he starts discovering more about the author and his story, and it is such a cool (but also slightly dangerous) thing to try to figure out.  I also like that it takes place in the 1940’s in Spain- something about the time period and place add to the mystery of what was going on, and I don’t know that it would have worked nearly as well in another time and place.

It also reminds me that I really need to read more translated works- if I hadn’t have looked for translated books, I certainly would not have come across it, and I’m glad I did.

My Rating: 3 stars.  It started off really well, but I just sort of lost interest and had trouble focusing on it.  I do plan on re-reading it, though, when I’m more able to focus.

so-far-from-god-coverBook #3: So Far From God by Ana Castillo 

Published May 1993 by W.W. Norton And Company|251 pages

Where I Got It: I borrowed the hardcover from the library

Series: None

Genre: Adult Fiction

What It’s About: Sofia and her fated daughters, Fe, Esperanza, Caridad, and la Loca, endure hardship and enjoy love in the sleepy New Mexico hamlet of Tome, a town teeming with marvels where the comic and the horrific, the real and the supernatural, reside.

What I Thought: This is another one that I read at a really bad time, but I don’t know that I liked it enough to give it another try.  It’s an odd book, but in a good way.  It did take some time getting used to the writing style- and I may need to re-read it just because I feel like a lot of the book was lost on me.  This book is just one of quite a few books that I had trouble focusing on when I was reading it, and I cannot, for the life of me, remember most of what happened.  I remember a few things, but not much, and even though it’s a book I finished recently, it didn’t really stand out to me.

I mostly remember that things were a little all over the place, but I honestly don’t know if it’s me not paying attention to the book and what I was reading or if it was really the book, and it seemed like we got random snapshots of the family and things that happened.  It didn’t feel like a linear narrative to me, but again, I’d have to re-read to be sure.

My Rating: 2 stars for now, but if I re-read it, it might change.  I had too much trouble focusing to remember most of the book.

Book Review: A Criminal Magic by Lee Kelly

A Criminal Magic CoverBook: A Criminal Magic by Lee Kelly

Published February 2016 by Saga Press|432 pages

Where I Got It: I borrowed the e-book from the library

Series: None

Genre: Adult Historical Fiction/Fantasy/Alternate History

Blog Graphic-What It's About

In Lee Kelly’s newest fantasy novel, two young sorcerers experiment with magic and mobsters in 1920s Prohibition when a new elixir is created that turns their lives upside down.

Washington, DC, 1926. Sorcery opponents have succeeded in passing the 18th Amendment, but the Prohibition of magic has only invigorated the city’s underworld. Smuggling rings carry magic contraband in from the coast. Sorcerers cast illusions to aid mobsters’ crime sprees. Gangs have even established “magic havens,” secret venues where the public can lose themselves in immersive magic and consume a mind-bending, highly addictive elixir known as “the sorcerer’s shine.”

Joan Kendrick, a young sorcerer from the backwoods of Norfolk County, accepts an offer to work for DC’s most notorious crime syndicate, The Shaw Gang, when her family’s home is repossessed. Alex Danfrey, first-year Federal Prohibition Unit trainee with a complicated past and talents of his own, becomes tapped to go undercover and infiltrate the Shaws. When Joan meets Alex at the Shaws’ magic haven, she discovers a confidante in her fellow partner and he begins to fall under her spell. But when a new breed of the addictive sorcerer’s shine is created within the walls of the magic haven, Joan and Alex are forced to question their allegiances as they become pitted against one another in a dangerous, heady game of cat-and-mouse.

Blog Graphic- What I Thought

When I first heard about this book, I knew I had to read it, because the idea of Prohibition, but with magic, instead of alcohol, was really different but also interesting!

I just love the idea of a world where Prohibition was all about magic, and not alcohol.  It’s really different, and I wanted to keep reading, even when I had finished the book.  I particularly loved the last few chapters, and especially the last chapter.  It was all so unexpected, and for the entire book, I wasn’t sure what to expect as far as the ending went.

And it’s interesting is that things are tied up really well, and you know it’s the end of the book, but it’s still just open enough that you’re hoping it’s the first book in a series.  I was surprised to find that’s a stand-alone, because the world was so fascinating that I wanted more, and I couldn’t believe that this was all we were getting.

I loved the world, and I wanted to know more about it.  Considering it’s fantasy, and just over 400 pages, the world-building was pretty good.  You get a really good sense of what magic is like in this world, and how different the magic is for everyone who can do magic.  And I loved the concept of The Shine- and the other products (which seems to be the best way to describe it) that produce a similar effect that Shine does.  In a way, the effects reminded me of someone on drugs, so maybe that would be a slightly better word than products.

Still, I can’t remember if we ever learn why magic was illegal, and if it’s not explained why, then I wish it was something that was explained, because it’s something I really want to know.  And if it was mentioned, then clearly it didn’t stick.

But I really liked the twist on Prohibition, and I think the time period was why it worked as a stand-alone. While there was a lot of world-building, it didn’t need as much because it was a twist on something that already happened.

I really liked Joan and Alex, but I found that I liked Joan’s chapters a lot more than Alex’s.  Alex did have an interesting story, and I liked how their stories came together, but as the book went on, I found that I cared a lot more about Joan than Alex, and I’m not sure why.  Still, they both had such an interesting story that I can’t help but wonder what happened to both of them after the end of the book, and if Prohibition was ever repealed in this world.

Blog Graphic- My Rating

4 stars.  I didn’t love it, and I’m not sure why, because there are a lot of really interesting and different things about A Criminal Magic.  But I did really like it, and it’s definitely worth checking out!