Book of the Month: A Book of Migrations

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June’s book of the month selection is something a little bit different.

It is non-fiction. It is travel. But it is a meandering, in-depth sort of travelogue, a scouring of the history, culture, and collective consciousness of a country that managed to capture my own soul: Ireland.

Rebecca Solnit traveled around the country on foot in the early half of the 90s, ruminating on what makes Ireland so Irish. She covers a number of subjects, including ancient history, recent history, many public figures, and the roots of Irish restlessness, from their propensity for bird imagery to the necessity of mass emigration.

Solnit’s prose is not easy, but it is beautiful. She creates shockingly gorgeous sentences that probe to the depths of the matter, and are always concise, yet somehow view the issue from a slightly sidewise angle. I loved the way she made me think so differently about a place that I thought I knew a lot about. She weaves a few stories of her own experiences in the country amidst the other stuff, but those stories really just act as jumping off points for bigger things.

By the end of it, I felt like I understood Ireland a little better, as well as an aspect of myself that I hadn’t known was unknown. Not your average travel book, and definitely worth a look if you like a long, slow, savory reading experience.

What did you read this month? What was your favorite? Least favorite? 

(My least favorite was definitely Beautiful Disaster by Jamie Maguire. We have to stop perpetuating this ridiculous notion that possessive, violent men are sexy. Shudder.)

(Psst! Find the rest of my book of the month recommendations here.)

Book of the Month: A Book of Migrations

Book of the Month – Homicide: A Year on the Killing Streets

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Last year, I read a book called Difficult Men, which was all about the men (sigh, because it’s always men) behind some of the best TV shows, the ones that brought on a new wave of television (ex. The Sopranos, The Wire, and Mad Men). This book talked about The Wire and its creator, David Simon, extensively. In the midst of that discussion, a book Simon wrote, entitled Homicide: A Year on the Killing Streets, was mentioned. It sounded interesting, so I added it to my list of future reads.

Well.

This book is like nothing I have read before. The premise is this: In the late 1980s, David Simon, a reporter, gained no-holds-barred access to the Baltimore homicide squad for a full year. He followed them around on their cases, hung out with them, got into their brains, and then he wrote this book.

It is captivating, on so many levels. It is a fascinating look at the city of Baltimore, a place that has long been besieged by violent crime (it still is). It is an illuminating examination of the police force and how it functions, both as an independent entity and within the city of Baltimore. It is a searing and heartfelt portrayal of the men (because it is almost entirely men) who dealt, on a daily basis, with the most brutal atrocities that human beings can commit against one another. Not only how they dealt with the violence on a professional level, but, more importantly, and more interestingly, on a personal level.

Simon really gets under these guys’s skin. He gets into their heads. He understands them and the system that they work in in a way that is probably completely unprecedented. I was often appalled reading this book, many times disgusted and disgruntled and disillusioned. But I couldn’t put it down. (It is the reason I have started bringing a book to the gym, so I can read while I ride the stationary bike.) When it was over, I missed those detectives with a fierceness that surprised me.

I haven’t read very many books like this. It is, on occasion, very dense. But it is an extremely worthwhile read, whether you like a good murder mystery, or whether you are interested in psychology, or whether you’d just like some insight into police work in the 1980s. Do be warned, though: Simon does not pull punches when it comes to the gruesome and brutal nature of what the cops encounter. I can’t recommend this book enough, and I can’t wait to get my hands on his other book, which, ironically and, perhaps, inevitably, is about the year he spent on the other side of the law, getting in good with Baltimore’s drug culture.

Find other books I have recommended here

Book of the Month – Homicide: A Year on the Killing Streets

Book of the Month: Before I Fall by Lauren Oliver

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I chose this book entirely by accident: I needed something to read on the plane home from Vegas, and this was the first e-book available from my library that I vaguely recognized. Boom, done.

And then I read it, and it decimated my world, guys. (In the best way possible.)

Before I Fall is great for a number of reasons.

  1. It follows the Groundhog’s Day formula without feeling tired or forced. It really works, mostly because no two days feel the same. There is very little non-essential overlap.
  2. The main characters are all complicated, not-entirely-likeable girls. I liked that these girls were allowed to be human beings who were often terrible, but sometimes not, who were regular high school girls who could be wonderful to each other and awful to others, and vice versa, just as easily as breathing. We give a lot of leeway to male anti-heroes but very little to females, which is lame. Unlikeable characters are often the most interesting. I did not like Lindsay at all, but she was certainly the member of the gang who intrigued me the most.
  3. The main characters are all best friends, and the story is about their friendship more than anything, a friendship which is real and dynamic and layered.
  4. The pain of reading it, knowing that there is no way out. That, no matter how many times she Groundhog Days it up, there is no real waking up for Sam. It lends the story an emotional depth that resonated strongly with me.
  5. Sam goes through a strong, believable character arc is the story progresses, going from spoiled, bratty, awfulness to someone with a little bit more awareness and compassion for the people around her. She is certainly no saint by the time the story winds down, but she is markedly different than when we began. It is quite rewarding.

This is quality fiction, y’all. It baffles me how people continue to discount young adult fiction. I find most of the stories I love the most are young adult.

This is where it’s at. 

 

Book of the Month: Before I Fall by Lauren Oliver

Book of the Month: Big Little Lies by Liane Moriarty

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Big Little Lies by Liane Moriarty is a mystery. Not only is it a whodunnit, but it’s a whodunnit to who?

What we know: At a school trivia night, someone is killed. Who and why are slowly revealed to us throughout the course of the book.

Big Little Lies is a pretty simple book on the surface, but it has many layers that make it a rich and rewarding reading experience. There are three main characters: Jane, a 24-year-old single mother of a kindergartener who may or may not be brutally bullying another child, has just moved to the area and harbors a secret that has been eating away at her for years; Celeste, who has a picture perfect life on the outside but conceals her own dark secrets; and Madeline, a feisty, vivacious woman with a penchant for drama that is coming back to bite her in the ass with her own teenage daughter.

As we wend our way through the intersecting lives of these three women, we touch on many secrets: What is happening in Celeste’s house? What happened to Jane that makes her believe that Ziggy might be capable of what he has been accused? What is going on with Madeline’s daughter? But the biggest secret of all, of course, is who died, and why. Moriarty builds the tension exquisitely. Each small secret and accompanying lie adds another twist to the screw, another torque to amp up the stakes, so that by the time all is revealed, it is a delicious, cathartic experience. An exhalation, a sigh of satisfaction, that says, “ahhhh..finally….”

Ultimately, Big Little Lies is about more than a murder and distorted elementary school politics, though those are, of course, fascinating in and of themselves. Ultimately, Big Little Lies is about the lies that we all tell to make it through our lives, and how those lies can either save us … or kill us.

What was your favorite book in March?

Book of the Month: Big Little Lies by Liane Moriarty

Book of the Month – Locke & Key

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Locke & Key is another incredible graphic novel series that is rivalling my deep, passionate love for the Saga series.

Locke & Key is dark with a capital D. The whole inciting incident for the story is the brutal murder of Rendell Locke, and the lucky, determined survival of his three children, Tyler, Kinsey, and Bode, and his wife, Nina. After his death, the remaining family members move across the country to Keyhouse, where Rendell grew up, and that is where the adventure really begins. As Bode, the youngest, begins to discover, Keyhouse is not really a normal house. It derives its name from the fact that there are an unknown number of keys floating around that do random, magical things; for example, opening a door that turns you into a ghost when you walk through it.

As the Lockes begin to adjust to their new life, it becomes increasingly clear that things are never going to be the same again, and that “normal” is a word that no longer applies to them. A dangerous person from Rendell’s past is headed straight for them, on a deadly mission, and there will be hell to pay.

What I love the most about these books is that they throw you right into the middle of the story. Though Rendell’s murder is the inciting incident, it is certainly not where the story starts, and Joe Hill does an incredible job of revealing juuuuust enough information to keep you hooked without blowing the whole thing wide open. It is a complex, convoluted, intense plot that never stops. It is one of the most breakneck stories I have ever read, and I am almost literally breathless at the end of each instalment.

Volume 3 cannot come fast enough from the library for me!

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Have you read Locke and Key? If so, what are your thoughts? If not, what is your favorite graphic novel?

Book of the Month – Locke & Key

A Year in Books

Candice over at Candice Does the World did a great book wrap-up the other day (which she, in turn, apparently stole from Jamie at Perpetual Page-Turner), and so, because I love books, and round-ups, and this one reminded me of those questionnaires that everyone used to do when Facebook and Tumblr were just becoming a thing, I decided to do one myself!

Let’s dive in, shall we?

Number of Books You Read: 134

Number of Re-Reads: 7

Genre You Read the Most From: Fiction

1. Best Book You Read In 2014?

I had a list of seven different books here, and then I deleted them all because, for me, this year in books really all comes back to this one:

I’ll Give You the Sun by Jandy Nelson

2. Book You Were Excited About & Thought You Were Going To Love More But Didn’t?

#girlboss – I hated it, so insufferable and tone deaf, ugh.

The Infernal Devices series by Cassandra Clare

 3. Most surprising (in a good way or bad way) book you read in 2014? 

Neil Patrick Harris’s Choose Your Own Autobiography – The format was so interesting! I thought I would hate it, but it was actually really fun to flip through and skip over parts and then come back, and then go back to see what would have happened if you went the other way. NPH is a consummate entertainer, and his autobiography is no exception.

 4. Book You “Pushed” The Most People To Read (And They Did) In 2014?

The Saga graphic novel series, and I’ll Give You the Sun

 5. Best series you started in 2014? Best Sequel of 2014? Best Series Ender of 2014?

Daughter of Smoke and Bone trilogy by Laini Taylor

 6. Favorite new author you discovered in 2014?

Laini Taylor, Jandy Nelson and Rainbow Rowell (all female, all YA authors, interesting)

7. Best book from a genre you don’t typically read/was out of your comfort zone?

The Saga graphic novel series – getting into graphic novels in a BIG way, because WOW, the stories they tell

Dear Life by Alice Munro and Stone Mattress by Margaret Atwood – I have never really been into short stories, but these collections blew me away.

 8. Most action-packed/thrilling/unputdownable book of the year?

I have no idea how to even answer this question. There were so many that I couldn’t put down.

 9. Book You Read In 2014 That You Are Most Likely To Re-Read Next Year?

The Daughter of Smoke and Bone trilogy

10. Favorite cover of a book you read in 2014?

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11. Most memorable character of 2014?

Allie Brosh from Hyperbole and a Half – Not so much a character, but the way Brosch depicts herself in her comics. Bryan and I still refer to that book and the character’s physical quirks on the regular.

 12. Most beautifully written book read in 2014?

I’ll Give You the Sun by Jandy Nelson (at some point it will become obvious that this was my favorite book of 2014)

13. Most Thought-Provoking/ Life-Changing Book of 2014?

Tiny Beautiful Things by Cheryl Strayed – I mean, it literally changed my life. Reading Cheryl’s raw, unfiltered, painfully honest advice motivated me to change my circumstances, and changed my approach to changing my life. Her words invigorated me and forced me to confront the things that I had been fearing, and to stop coming at life from a place of fear.

 14. Book you can’t believe you waited UNTIL 2014 to finally read? 

Too Much Happiness by Alice Munro. I never read ANYTHING by Alice Munro until this year, and that is a travesty, because I love her. Her stories are such perfect slices of normal life writ large, and I can’t get enough.

 15. Favorite Passage/Quote From A Book You Read In 2014?

“Whose idea was it that we should all get jobs, work faster, work better, race from place to place with our brains stewing on tweets, blogs, and sound bites, on must-see movies, must-do experiences, must-have gadgets, when in the end, all any of us will have is our simple beating heart, reaching up for the connection to whoever might be in the room or leaning into our mattress as we draw our last breath. I hate to put it in such dramatic terms, but it’s kinda true.” – Dee Williams, The Big Tiny

16.Shortest & Longest Book You Read In 2013?

Longest: City of Heavenly Fire by Cassandra Clare (725 pages)

Shortest: A Short Guide to a Happy Life by Anna Quindlen (50 pages)

 17. Book That Shocked You The Most

Daughter of Smoke and Bone

18. OTP OF THE YEAR (you will go down with this ship!)

(OTP = one true pairing if you aren’t familiar)

Karou and Akiva (Daughter of Smoke and Bone) and Eleanor & Park

19. Favorite Non-Romantic Relationship Of The Year

Ken and his van in Walden on Wheels by Ken Ilgunas – I have been getting more and more into simplicity and alternative ways of living within your means, so Ken’s story of getting rid of his huge debt and living in a van for two years was a great reading experience.

20. Favorite Book You Read in 2014 From An Author You’ve Read Previously

The House at Riverton by Kate Morton – I pretty much always love Kate Morton’s books, and this one was no exception.

21. Best Book You Read In 2014 That You Read Based SOLELY On A Recommendation From Somebody Else/Peer Pressure:

There was really only one book I read based solely on someone else’s recommendation, and I didn’t particularly enjoy it. The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss. I know a lot of people really enjoy this series, but I felt it was really bogged down and the protagonist is the most insufferable character I have had the displeasure of reading about.

22. Newest fictional crush from a book you read in 2014?

Akiva from The Daughter of Smoke and Bone trilogy

23. Best 2014 debut you read?

The Opposite of Loneliness by Marina Keegan

24. Best Worldbuilding/Most Vivid Setting You Read This Year?

Dustlands trilogy by Moira Young

25. Book That Put A Smile On Your Face/Was The Most FUN To Read?

Pen & Ink: Tattoos and the Stories Behind Them by Isaac Fitzgerald and Wendy McNoughton – Even if you aren’t so much into tattoos, this book is basically just full of people’s stories. It is like in-depth people watching, where you get to touch a piece of their soul for a minute. As soon as I was done, I immediately opened it and started reading it again, which I believe is the first time I have ever done that.

26. Book That Made You Cry Or Nearly Cry in 2014?

The Light Between Oceans by

Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell

We Were Liars by E. Lockhart

27. Hidden Gem Of The Year?

Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alire Saenz

28. Book That Crushed Your Soul?

Eleanor & Park

29. Most Unique Book You Read In 2014?

I’ll Give You the Sun by Jandy Nelson

Life After Life by Kate Atkinson – Though the different lifelines got frustrating sometimes – there were stretches where it felt like I was stuck in a Groundhog Day-style time loop because I kept having to re-read nearly the exact same thing over and over again – I really enjoyed the premise.

30. Book That Made You The Most Mad (doesn’t necessarily mean you didn’t like it)?

#girlboss

Big Brother by Lionel Shriver – The end of this book was such a cop-out, I nearly threw it across the room in anger. All of that emotional investment and journey, for nothing. And from an author that is capable of so much more.

 

When it comes down to it, there were SO MANY GOOD BOOKS that I read in 2014, there is no way that a round-up like this could take them all into account. I didn’t even talk about The Big Tiny by Dee Williams and how much it touched me to read about her experience, or The Happiness of Pursuit by Chris Guillebeau and how it helped me jumpstart 2015, or The Creative License by Danny Gregory which opened me up to the world of drawing. Plus so many more. If you are interested in more of the books that I read last year, you can find them over at my Goodreads.

What did your 2014 in books look like? I would love to see it if you also complete a round-up like this!

A Year in Books

Book of the Month – Double Header

I have always been a big fan of young adult novels. I don’t believe that the genre gets enough credit for how many genuine, heartfelt, incredibly original stories it produces. In December, I read two of the best young adult novels I have ever read. Which is saying a lot. Even if young adult books aren’t really your thing, I strongly encourage you to give these two a chance.

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I’ll Give You the Sun by Jandy Nelson

This novel centres around twins Noah and Jude, who lost their mother at the age of 14 and whose relationship has since shattered. At 16, they are barely speaking to one another. Until a mystery at the centre of their lives begins to unravel.

The prose and the format are what really set this book apart. It was some of the most original prose I have ever encountered, and I found myself re-reading sentences again and again because they were so beautiful, and structured in such a unique way. As well, it shifts between the two perspectives of Noah and Jude, which is a familiar enough narrative device. However, in Noah’s perspective, we are with the twins when they are 14, and in Jude’s perspective, we are with them at the age of 16. Having these two timelines was such an interesting and engaging way to weave the narrative together, and was one of the reasons that I so enjoyed the novel. Jandy Nelson does such a great job with the split perspective as well. I have found that a lot of novels that attempt to use this device get bogged down by an inability to distinguish between the two voices (ahem, Philippa Gregory), but that is never a problem in I’ll Give You the Sun. Noah and Jude each have a unique way of looking at the world and expressing themselves, and that makes the whole story even more powerful.

When I was done, I felt like I had been enfolded by the story, mushed up, and been reborn again. I had a book hangover for days. My first book hangover in a long while.

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We Were Liars by E. Lockhart

Cadence Sinclair Eastman has been going to her family’s island off of Martha’s Vineyard every summer for her whole life. The Sinclairs are wealthy, beautiful, and damaged, and now, they are all harboring a secret. Something happened two years ago, the summer that Cadence was 15, and Cadence has no idea what it was. All she knows is that she woke up half-naked on the beach, and sustained injuries that have haunted her for two years. No one else is talking. What happened? How will Cadence figure it out?

This book is a mystery delivered in sparse and lovely prose. It’s a great mystery, too. I had actually guessed what had really happened early on in the book, but as I continued reading, I began doubting my conclusion so much that I changed my mind more than three times. I was so off-balance and engaged, I sped through the book in about one day. It put me in mind of summers spent at our own family cabin with my own cousins, and the versions of ourselves that have disappeared. It was nostalgic and lovely and really really painful.

 

All in all, these were two of the best books that I read this year. What about you guys?

Book of the Month – Double Header

Book of the Month: Daughter of Smoke and Bone Trilogy

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(Warning: This post contains mild spoilers.)

The first two books in the Daughter of Smoke and Bone trilogy blew me away. I get up really early for work. 5:45 AM early (which is especially painful if, like me, you are not a morning person). I am pretty adamant about getting to bed at a decent time. It is never after 11. But Laini Taylor made me stay up well past midnight on more than one occasion. I just have to finish this chapter. Ach, I just have to know what happens, I’ll finish this one, then go to bed. Oh no, that did not just happen!! I tore through those books like a tornado through Kansas.

Immediately, I put the third and final book on hold at the library. Even before it had been released. I checked back almost every day to see whether or not my position in the hold queue had moved. It was positively crawling, and I was nearly crawling out of my skin in antsy anticipation. More than once, I talked myself out of buying it. But last week, I caved. Bryan and I were in Edmonton for Everything Edmonton, killing time in the Whyte Ave Chapters, and there it was, and I absolutely had to have it. So it came home with us.

In the beginning, Karou is a normal girl, living in Prague, going to art school. Except that her family is comprised of chimaeric demons who live in a magical in-between place and frequently require her to go on missions abroad in order to gather…teeth. This is only one of the mysteries that plagues Karou’s life, however. She constantly feels incomplete, like there is a large aspect of herself that is missing, a hole that has been hollowed out inside of her and she doesn’t know how to fill it. When she encounters an incredibly beautiful angel who seems hellbent on killing her, all of the threads holding her life together begin to unravel, and there are worlds she never knew about, and a history that she could never have imagined, where angels and chimaera have been waging a thousand-year-long battle that she herself was a part of, and that she finds herself sucked into once more.

The first book is a heartrending, jewel-bright love story that ends with a knife twisted in the gut. The second is a barren wasteland of despair interspersed with glittering threads of delicate, almost impossible hope. And the third is a slow burn building to a breathtaking finale that, while not the explosive finish I envisioned, seemed fitting and right nonetheless.

The Daughter of Smoke and Bone trilogy is peopled with incredible, awful, good, complex characters. None of them are black and white, and many of them are women. Liraz, in particular, intrigued, frustrated, and charmed me. There is love, to be sure, but there is love of all sorts. The love between Karou and Akiva, chimaera and angel, may be the nexus around which the story centers, but there are other loves that are equally important: Mik and Zuzana, Karou and Zuzana, Karou and Brimstone, Akiva and Liraz and Hazael, and on and on. The trilogy is not particularly longer than any other trilogy, but it feels like it contains magnitudes where others do not. It is deliriously plotted, with twists that had me gasping for breath and hurtling on to the next page, the next chapter, the next book. Taylor’s prose is delicious and layered, meaning upon meaning upon meaning, forever and ever and down further than you think it could go. I cannot wait to read them again, to start picking up on the myriad things that I surely missed.

All of this to say: Karou’s story is one that captivated me, took me hostage and accepted no ransom. If you like a good story, regardless of whether you are a fantasy fan, or a young adult fiction fan, or whatever kind of fan you are, these books are undoubtedly for you.

Go forth and read them.

Book of the Month: Daughter of Smoke and Bone Trilogy