All Things Bright and Strange

Title: All Things Bright and Strange

Author: James Markert

Read harder Challenge: Yes; a book about nature

Star Review: ♥♥♥♥ /5

Why:

This book is hard to categorize.  There are elements of the gothic (Southern gothic), some magical realism, there is some Lost Generation throwback, there are moments where this book grapples with racism, sexism, homophobia, discrimination and bigotry of all sorts.  Despite all those big concepts, it is a book that is light on its feet and imminently readable. It asks us to consider how, exactly, the collective can continue to push forward and progress without losing the best parts of itself in the process.  Since I think that’s a question worth addressing, I really found value in this book. There is a wry humor to this book (the main character reminds me of a Hemingway character), with a good dash of whimsy, and the language is at times lush and evocative. There are characters to fall in love with, be angry at, and appreciate for the people they are and the choices they make.

 

Ellsworth signs up for the War (that would be WWI to us) as a way to process his grief over losing his wife in a fire.  He comes back damaged, as did many young men. We come to realize that Ellsworth’s life is not one that could simply be explained by the known forces in our world.  As his town struggles to find ways to heal and unite after war, slavery, and in the face of a changing world, they discover a little chapel in the woods. Although not all can see it, this chapel does not live up to its promise of salvation.  Ellsworth and the team he assembles, so very far from perfect, must work together to be their best selves in order to help the town that they love and the people in it.

 

I would recommend this book to: anyone who struggles to accept themself as a result of perceived difference.  Anyone who has wondered about their purpose. The first half is a slow burn as the reader gets to know the characters, but the plot quickly runs downhill starting at about the 50% mark.  I found this book relevant to the current climate, and so someone looking for a way to encapsulate preoccupation about tolerance in a fiction novel would do well to read this one.

 

I received this book free of charge in exchange for my honest opinion.  This did not affect the content of my review.

Advertisements
All Things Bright and Strange

Artemis

Title: Artemis

Author: Andy Weir

Read harder Challenge: Yes; set greater than 5000 miles away from my location

Star Review: ♥♥♥♥ /5

Why:

I enjoyed this book for lots of reasons. Andy Weir’s signature humor is on display again in this book, so I found myself entertained. The author didn’t venture too far from the “spacey sciencey” feel of The Martian. In this book, though, we occupy a not-too-distant future where people are living on the moon. I enjoyed, as usual, Weir’s digressions into scientific explanation – you really get the feel that this moon colony is not that much of a stretch. The world-building is really solid. We’re following Jazz, a young lady with less-than-honorable tendencies; not to put too fine a point on it, she’s a smuggler really trying to make ends meet. Throughout the book we’re constantly reminded that something is driving Jazz, and getting to know her makes it clear that it’s not simply love of cash flow that motivates her. As she enters into a lucrative but dangerous deal with a man she has previously smuggled for, she finds she may be in over her head…

I certainly found the plot compelling. This book reads quite a bit younger than The Martian, I think because Jazz is a younger character and we spend a lot of time in her head. There’s a little dash of romance that I thought was cute, but not necessarily masterful. The characters are a little oversaturated – this may just be personal preference, though, because it is in part through this oversaturation that book is so funny.

Overall, this book was fun and interesting but suffered from a lack of villain and the young tone was not as appealing to me as the protagonist of The Martian. I would definitely recommend this book to fans of Andy Weir’s previous book, especially if they are in their 20s or also enjoy a good Young Adult novel here and there. If you like near-future science fiction, space politics, or space mystery, this should be your next read!

Artemis

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!

The List

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