The List

Title: The List

Author: Patricia Forde

Read harder Challenge: Yes; can be a book about books or a debut novel

Star Review: ♥♥♥♥ /5

Why: I hadn’t intended to finish this book today; The Stone Sky (final installment of NK Jemisin’s newest trilogy) came out Tuesday and I was itching to finish.  Alas, I left it at school.  That’s what I get for trying to read a physical book at lunch.  Anyway.  This book is great for fans of Ella Minnow Pea and The Queen of the Tearling series.  Set in a dystopian future, Letta (perhaps a reference to “Letter”) is the apprentice wordsmith for the town of Ark, seemingly the only town to survive the catastrophic disasters that befall humans and wipe out most of their population – referred to as The Melting.  As wordsmith, Letta and her master are responsible for The List, the group of necessary words that make up each citizen’s lexicon.  All other words are banned, as they are unnecessary, and words (of pundits, politicians, newspapers…) had gotten them into this sorry mess in the first place.  Letta is proud of their town and the community that has been built here under the guidance of John Noa (Noa built the Ark…), until a boy stumbles into the shop one day while the master is searching for lost words in the wild, and decides to help him.  She finds out more than she could have imagined about her little town, and the book follows her journey and the decisions she makes along the way.

This book is great for middle schoolers – there’s action, empathetic characters, and a good message.  What I liked most about this book was that the characters were complicated, with messy relationships and pasts, and their actions couldn’t be easily predicted.  What is the value of good intentions?  Are all people as they seem?  Who is responsible for the actions of a collective? Is “by any means necessary” morally reprehensible or…well…necessary?  Young people can tackle all of those questions within the confines of this text.  The world-building and power of description were both good, and I texted my librarian asking her to buy several copies for our middle school library!

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The List

The Memory Tree

Another new book for you guys!  This one is hot off the presses – it came out in March.  Feel free to leave a comment if you’d read it to offer your own opinion!

Title: The Memory Tree (Amazon)

Author: Glenn Haybittle

Read harder Challenge: Could be – A book about war

Star Review: ♥♥♥ /5

Why: A good read for fans of Margaret Atwood’s Oryx and Crake series. This book has some really compelling characteristics.  It starts as a sci-fi or dystopian fiction, and I love a story that starts right in the middle of the action.  This book really challenges the reader to develop their schema as quickly as possible so they don’t miss what’s happening. I know some people don’t like this, but it really works for me.  The first two thirds of the book follow the story line of two characters who have had their memories taken away, and who seem fated to find each other.  The suspense of this part of the book was extremely well-handled and as a result I found myself continuing the story despite lingering confusion based on some incomplete world-building.

The last third of the book follows two different, but connected stories, and this part veers hard into the historical fiction genre.  While the connection between the stories themselves continues to have an element of science fiction, I really didn’t like the drastic shift, and given Glenn Haybittle’s previously published work, it really felt as though the author didn’t have the stamina to continue the fresh, edgy story and switched to something with which they were more comfortable.  That being said, the first two thirds of the story had already invested me in seeing it through until the end, so the timing on taking this risk paid off. The ending is super open-ended.

 

I would be willing to recommend The Memory Tree to someone, but only if they are admitted fans of science fiction and historical fiction in equal measure.  While I thought there were some interesting liberties taken in the dystopian fiction genre, I thought the execution fell flat and so while I finished, I didn’t feel pushed to in the exhilarating way that really exceptional fiction does.

The Memory Tree

Are We Screwed? How a New Generation is Fighting to Survive Climate Change

Title: Are We Screwed? How a New Generation is Fighting to Survive Climate Change

Author: Geoff Dembicki

Read harder Challenge: No

Star Review: ♥♥♥ /5

Why: This book provides important context and insight for the continuing fight against climate change. As a millennial, I was especially interested in the perspective of the author regarding the specific challenges millennials face when considering climate change as a long-term threat. I thought the book was a good balance of old information (why climate change is important, why climate change is real), and several premises about how millennials are specially affected and have specifically attacked the problem – the author posits that some of these solutions are millennial specific. I thought the tone was a little young – millennials are hitting their 30s now, and I don’t think the “chip on the shoulder, not allowed to sit and the big kids table” angle fit with me as a millennial, in addition to edging really near the edge of overgeneralizing about a whole bunch of people (namely, a global cohort of individuals within a certain age range – especially since most data was extremely US and Canada-centric). I become more interested in the individual stories and examples woven in became much more compelling as the book went on (I hated the first guy, a dude trying out self-sustainable farming in Canada), and found myself eager to read the second half of the book, which was solutions-oriented. At the end of the day, it contributes to the discussion and does a great job of researching and bringing together disparate voices into the context of a larger movement. I left with enough hope to feel empowered to take action.

Are We Screwed? How a New Generation is Fighting to Survive Climate Change

All the Dirty Parts

Title: All the Dirty Parts

Author: Daniel Handler

Read harder Challenge: No

Star Review: ♥♥♥♥ /5

Why: Many people will know Daniel Handler by a different name – lemony snicket.  Please, please do not go into this book thinking that this is in any way a continuation of lemony snicket’s writing.  This book is marketed as an adult book, but I would park it somewhere at the extreme end of young adult – very late teen, if you will.  Here’s why late teens and adults should take this book for a spin.

The narrator of this book, Cole, loves sex.  He also loves masturbating.  And he is not shy about talking to the reader about it.  This book is presented in small, choppy chunks of thought.  Sometimes it’s hard to tell just who is talking, and sometimes changes of subject are hard to follow.  I loved that about this book, because it adds to the frenetic atmosphere that is adolescent sexual discovery.

Cole warns us early on: “There are love stories galore, and we all know them.  This isn’t that.  The story I’m typing is all the dirty parts.” And Cole describes all the dirty parts all right, of a string of sexual relationships that feel casual and fun to Cole.  Like many kids, he experiments sexually, and the reader watches Cole struggle with his identity as a young sexual man. We meet a young lady who seems so different from Cole, and watch their relationship develop as well.  It’s all written in those short bursts, and it’s decidedly consumable.  And explicit.  Cole really wants us to understand his life and how much he enjoys having sex.

During the course of storytelling, I watched Cole hit an apogee, and I watched his orbit decay.  He’s a complicated character, who reminds me slightly of a dirty, but not mentally ill Holden Caulfield.  He wants to tell it to you straight.  He doesn’t realize how emotionally immature he is, until he does…

I consumed this short novel (144 pages) in the course of an afternoon, when I had meant to space it out over a few days.  If that’s not a recommendation to pick up, I don’t know what it!  I will be suggesting this book to some of the men I know, seeing if they can find themselves within the pages, and to some women, who might recognize Cole as well.

All the Dirty Parts

The Enchanted

the enchanted
From amazon.com

Title: The Enchanted

Author: Rene Denfield

Read harder Challenge: No

Star Review: ♥♥♥♥♥ /5

Why: This book was lovely magical realism at its finest.  I felt transported, and at the end of the book, I felt changed.  I listened to this on audiobook, his stop, and bought a print copy to share with friends.  I really feel this book.

This is the story of men on death row, and the lives that radiate from that seemingly-forsaken place.  The narrator, referred to as Arden at points in the story, watches but does not speak.  Alternately, we see what life is like for a newly-arrived boy only serving a bit of time; for York, who refuses to fight on appeal to save his own life; for a variety of prison staff in this corrupt, vividly disgusting hellhole; and for Arden, the Lady whose job it is to save York, and the Fallen Priest.  Incidentally, the Lady shares her line of work – indigent defense of death row inmates) with the author.

All characters deal with more than their fair share of problems in their lifetime, but the title refers to an altogether unique and magical setting – the prison itself is alive.  Is in enchanted, and the narrator often refers to it as “This enchanted place.”  No enchanted place could be more heartbreaking.  I don’t want to share the stories of abuse, mental illness, and depravity that are contained in these pages, because you must read them yourself to understand how deeply everyone has been let down in this story. The setting will help you to understand, as it is its own character.

This books is about death row and prison: the corruption, the politics, and mental health issues.  This book is about humanity: love, vulnerability, and the act of moving on or moving forward or moving beyond. Its ending, while perhaps not happy, is one of the few truly beautiful endings I’ve come across in a while.

I will unreservedly recommend this book to all.

The Enchanted

Norse Mythology

norse mythologyTitle: Norse Mythology

Author: Neil Gaiman

Read harder Challenge: No

Star Review: ♥♥♥♥♥ /5

Why: First of all, I love Neil Gaiman.  I picked up this book because I love Neil Gaiman.  This is a slim book containing Norse mythology (as the title may suggest).  It is not new information and the stories contained within are not Gaiman’s stories.  So why did I read this, and why is it worthy of 5 stars?

First, Gaiman is uniquely positioned to write this story.  His extremely well-reviewed novel American Gods borrows heavily from Norse mythology.  I knew that he would treat the topic with respect, as he has shown a deep interest in it.  Additionally, Gaiman is in my opinion one of the best story tellers in the 21st century.  From adult novels like American Gods to children’s tales like Fortunately, the Milk, Gaiman has shown himself to be singularly adept at weaving a tale.  Norse myths deserve such tales to be told.  And finally, I love Norse mythology – my father, who I adore, has a tattoo of Odin on his bicep.  So, what else was to be done than devour this quick read?

This collection of short stories is peak Gaiman, with beautiful turns of phrase, simple syntax, and clever bits to smile at if you’re paying attention to what you’re reading.  I can’t recommend it enough for that reason, since any book of mythology has a penchant toward being dry as it is shoved full of details (sorry, Edith Hamilton’s Mythology, but it’s true), and Norse mythology itself has a tendency to end of a little bloody and violent, so some dry humor helps the medicine go down.

I will recommend this book to anyone and everyone.  I recommend it to you, without hesitation.

I’ll leave you with some Thoughts of Thor: “I’m not happy about any of this,” said Thor. “I’m going to kill somebody soon, just to relieve the tension. You’ll see.”

Norse Mythology

The Princess Diarist

"The Princess Diarist" by Carrie Fisher.
“The Princess Diarist” by Carrie Fisher. philly.com

Title: The Princess Diarist

Author: Carrie Fisher

Read Harder Challenge: No

Star Review: ♥♥♥ /5

Why: I read this book before Carrie Fisher’s unfortunate passing, but during a Renaissance of excitement for her as Star Wars regained some of its popularity in recent years.  I am a Star Wars fan but not a fanatic, so I was interested in this book but with not a lot of real information about the period of time Fisher would be discussing.

Fisher describes the time she spent filming Star Wars, with lots of appearances and descriptions of people known well in the world – her mother, Harrison Ford, you know, just a few names we know.  She gives a run-down of her acting career before Star Wars.

I sought out this book having hear Carrie Fisher speak on podcasts like The Nerdist, but haven’t read anything from her.  I was glad to have listened to the audiobook, narrated by the author, and I thought the content was mildly interesting.  I gave it fewer stars than perhaps would be expected for two (interconnected) reasons: first, I was just not that interested in this time in her life (being a fan and not a fanatic), and two, I found her self-deprecating tone too much by the end.  Of course, I prefer self-deprecation over ego or over-confidence!  But I find the tone for a well-to-do white person can be hard to balance, and it wasn’t working for me by the end.

I am glad for the experience of this book but will probably only find myself recommending this one to folks who show interest Carrie Fisher’s life in detail, rather than as a moment in a cultural landscape.

The Princess Diarist