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.

Audio Book Review: The Mighty Miss Malone by Christopher Paul Curtis

The Mighty Miss Malone CoverBook: The Mighty Miss Malone by Christopher Paul Curtis, narrated by Bahni Turpin

Published January 2012 by Listening Library|Run Time: 7 hours, 59 minutes

Where I Got It: I borrowed the audio C.D. from the library

Series: None

Genre: Children’s Historical Fiction

Blog Graphic-What It's About

“We are a family on a journey to a place called wonderful” is the motto of Deza Malone’s family. Deza is the smartest girl in her class in Gary, Indiana, singled out by teachers for a special path in life. But the Great Depression has hit Gary hard, and there are no jobs for black men. When her beloved father leaves to find work, Deza, Mother, and her older brother Jimmie go in search of him, and end up in a Hooverville outside Flint, Michigan. Jimmie’s beautiful voice inspires him to leave the camp to be a performer, while Deza and Mother find a new home, and cling to the hope that they will find Father. The twists and turns of their story reveal the devastation of the Depression and prove that Deza truly is the Mighty Miss Malone.

Blog Graphic-What It's About

I wasn’t sure what to think about The Mighty Miss Malone at first- I had a hard time getting into it, but as I listened, I did like it more than I thought I would.

I think part of why I had a hard time with it, particularly at the beginning, is that Deza is very much a special snowflake.  She seemed a little too precocious and comes across as condescending.  I think that Deza has been told she’s special so much that she has a hard time handling not doing well on something- like when her best friend does better on an assignment than she does, and she expected her friend to feel bad about it.  She does seem to handle it a little bit better when she’s at a different school, but the book seems to be more about the Great Depression than race or segregation, even though it’s touched on a little bit.

And there were a couple points, especially towards the end, where it seemed like Deza’s love of reading and learning was very much encouraged, but Jimmie’s singing wasn’t really nurtured.  I’m not sure if it’s because the book is about Deza (and not Jimmie), but I definitely got the impression that Deza being good at school was more important than Jimmie being good at singing.

Still, we do see how racism affects her grades, and, more than anything, the book shows what it was like to live during the Great Depression.  It does do a great job of showing that, and I think that’s where the book shines.  It does touch on how hard it was for African-Americans to find work, and how much everything going on affected them.  For that alone, I’d definitely recommend the book, because I think it is something that needs to be talked about.

One thing that sort of confused me was when Deza, her mother and her brother arrive in Flint.  They’re supposed to stay with her dad’s mother (her grandmother) but once they get to Flint, there is no mention of her grandmother for the rest of the book.  And if they’re supposed to be staying with relatives there, then why do they stay in the shanty-town, instead of going to find Deza’s grandmother?  Unless I missed something when I was listening to the book, which is possible.  But why have it be part of the book, when it doesn’t even go anywhere, and is never mentioned again?

I wasn’t sure about the narration at first- I definitely didn’t like it, and I think the narration is a big part of why I didn’t like Deza at first.  Deza sounded a lot older than 12, and something about her tone of voice really grated on me, to the point that I wasn’t sure if I wanted to keep listening.  It did get better over the course of the book, and I do feel bad, because a person has no control over what their voice sounds like.  I definitely won’t be seeking out anything else narrated by Turpin, but for me, I might think twice about an audio book if I know she’s narrating it.

Blog Graphic- My Rating

3 stars.  I did like the book, because it does a wonderful job at showing what it was like to be alive during The Great Depression.  I wasn’t the biggest fan of Deza, or the narrator, but it’s a really good look at the Great Depression, and that makes it worth checking out.

Book Review: Parable Of The Sower by Octavia Butler

Parable Of The Sower CoverBook: Parable Of The Sower by Octavia Butler

Published November 1993 by Four Walls Eight Windows|299 pages

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

Series: Earthseed #1

Genre: Adult Dystopia/Apocalyptic

Blog Graphic-What It's About

When unattended environmental and economic crises lead to social chaos, not even gated communities are safe. In a night of fire and death Lauren Olamina, a minister’s young daughter, loses her family and home and ventures out into the unprotected American landscape. But what begins as a flight for survival soon leads to something much more: a startling vision of human destiny… and the birth of a new faith.

Blog Graphic- What I Thought

Lately, I’ve been on an Octavia Butler kick, and while I have yet to read Kindred, I will get to it at some point.  I really liked Fledgling and Wild Seed but I didn’t like Parable Of The Sower as much as I thought I would.  I liked it, but not as much as I expected to.

Parable Of The Sower felt really dense, and I could only read it a few chapters at time before I had to put it down. It felt really slow, which does make sense, given it takes place over the span of several years.  And it’s in sort of a diary-format, which was fine, but I think that’s why it felt so slow to me.  Considering everything is falling apart, I was surprised that things moved so slow.

I did like seeing the community that Lauren wanted to build, especially in the world she’s living.  It’s only ten years from now, when the book takes place, so as far as time goes, it’s not too far off from where we are now. And I can picture a world where communities are nervous about new-comers or people passing through, and in some areas, being walled off.  And people stealing and starting fires because of a new drug out there (which I think was initially to cure Alzheimer’s that had some really bad effects), and water shortages….the water shortage is all too familiar to me, living in San Diego, so I can picture parts of the book really well.

Still, we are put in this world, where jobs are hard to find (also sort of familiar, in a general sense) and people are in debt to the point that debt slavery is a thing.  And I wish we had more context for what happened to U.S.  I got the general idea, but I kind of wanted more specifics about how the world Lauren lives in got to that point.

And in a weird way, I was reminded of Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel.  Partly because of the fact that the book takes place over a long span of time, but also because things are unraveling/have unraveled, and that there are small pockets of people banding together, and the time spent on the open road.  Other than that, I’m not quite sure why I thought of Station Eleven, but it could be an interesting read-alike for Parable Of The Sower.

There is a lot about gender, class and race in the book, and what it’s like for a California that’s set in the near-distant future.  I think that’s pretty typical for Butler’s work, if the other books I’ve read by her are any indication.  But I like that she does that, because it doesn’t seem to happen a lot.  Then again, maybe I’m just not reading a lot of books where it comes up (but I am trying to make more of an effort to do that).

I’m not sure how I feel about Lauren having hyper empathy, or able to feel other people’s pain/pleasure.  It seemed a little confusing, and how it affected her seemed randomly put in, and sort of distracting.  Like, how can she bike around, and not be affected by other people?  Or, how can she kill, but not die herself?  And, why/how did she outgrow bleeding when other people did, but not outgrow pain?  It seemed a little out of place in this world, and the only explanation we get for why she is that way is because her mom was a drug user.  It was actually kind of disappointing, especially after reading both Fledgling and Wild Seed.

I think it’s time to talk Earthseed itself.  I get Lauren created it herself, and she didn’t share her father’s religious beliefs.  A lot of people don’t, and that’s fine.  But it seemed more like a philosophy than an actual religion, but maybe that’s because it’s not really set up as an actual religion with followers in this book.  The Earthseed stuff wasn’t as interesting as I thought it would be, and I ended up skipping over all of Lauren’s Earthseed writings.  I get why she wanted a community, especially in the world she’s living in, but it didn’t really pay-off in this book.

Blog Graphic- My Rating

3 stars.  Parable Of The Sower felt really dense, and Earthseed itself was really uninteresting to me.  I just had a really hard time getting into it, but it could be an interesting read-alike for Station Eleven.

Book Review: Wild Seed by Octavia Butler

Wild Seed CoverBook: Wild Seed by Octavia Butler

Published July 1980 by Doubleday Books|245 pages

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

Series: Patternmaster #1

Genre: Adult Sci-Fi

Blog Graphic-What It's About

Doro is an entity who changes bodies like clothes, killing his hosts by reflex — or design. He fears no one until he meets Anyanwu. Anyanwu is a shapeshifter who can absorb bullets and heal with a kiss and savage anyone who threatens her. She fears no one until she meets Doro. Together they weave a pattern of destiny unimaginable to mortals.

Blog Graphic- What I Thought

After reading Fledging last year, I figured it was time to read another book by Butler.  This was a really good choice, because I ended up really liking it!

I wasn’t sure about it at first, but eventually it won me over.  I think what really stood out was slavery and freedom, especially with how different Doro and Anyanwu are.  And with how they deal with their immortality and abilities…I felt really immersed in their world and what they (but particularly Anyanwu) were going through.  You see so many different issues, like race and sexuality, in Wild Seed through Doro and Anyanwu, and I really liked that about the book, because it somehow made the book more accessible and interesting to think about.  Especially since it’s sort of sci-fi but also sort of fantasy and sort of historical fiction.

The relationship between Doro and Anyanwu also really stands out to me.  They have a really uneasy relationship, and they definitely struggle for control.  Not only that, but their relationship is always changing, and with the span of time we see in the book, we see that highlighted really well.  Their lives are very much entwined.

I am curious about how they both got their abilities and discovered it in others.  It’s very much a normal part of life for them, even though those around them might not see them that way.  They may be seen as different by others, but their abilities don’t seem to be the main reason why in some cases.

Wild Seed is a really hard book to pin down because it’s not just one thing- it’s a mix of genres and touches on so many different things that I’m not even sure what to talk about next.  This is only the 2nd book I’ve read by Butler but I think it’s a great one to read if you’re new to her work.

Blog Graphic- My Rating

4 stars.  I really liked the relationship between Doro and Anyanwu and how much they contrast each other.