Thursday, May 10, 2018

Review: The Displaced

If you watch the news for longer than five minutes, you will likely hear someone yell about refugees and what we should (or shouldn't) be doing about the thousands of people who are displaced from their homes. It's easy to lump everyone who flees dangerous circumstances together, but their stories are as different as the refugees themselves. In The Displaced, Viet Thanh Nguyen has collected the experiences of twenty people.

In "Last, First, Middle," Joseph Azam struggles with his choice to leave behind the name his grandfather gave him. Fatima Bhutto recounts her experience with a simulation of crossing the Mexican border in "Flesh and Sand," and Reyna Grande reveals that the trauma of a separated family never goes away in "The Parent Who Stays." Marina Lewycka, who has spent most of her life in England, finds that she is no longer at home in a country where people are harassed in the streets just for looking foreign in "Refugees and Exiles."

The stories in this collection are excellent and there are such different experiences and writing styles between the covers of this book. I do believe that reading about the experiences of people from all countries and situations is crucial, but I wonder if the people who feel empathy for refugees and want to do something to help are already the ones who would read this collection. If words do have the power to change minds and hearts and convince us to see others as people, The Displaced is an excellent place to start.

Note: This advanced copy only included ten of the twenty pieces. All royalties from the sale of this book will go to the International Rescue Committee.


The Displaced:
Refugee Writers on Refugee Lives
Edited by Viet Thanh Nguyen
Abrams Press April 2018
192 pages
Read via Netgalley

Tuesday, May 8, 2018

Review: Only Human (Themis Files #3)

When Rose Franklin was a child, she fell into the hand of an iron giant. Years later, she has been on unbelievable adventures and discovered that aliens exist. Rose and her friends have spent a decade on an alien planet, but that won't be the most difficult thing. When they return to Earth, they find that new divisions have formed and the planet is on the brink of war. The existence of aliens might not matter after all; humanity is about to destroy itself.

This series succeeds at doing what the best sci-fi stories can--making us think about humanity because of a story about aliens. When Rose, Vincent, and Eva return to Earth, they expect to find a planet that has changed because we know we are not alone in the universe. But instead of uniting people, it has turned them against each other. They use the alien robots to take land and resources and fight other nations. Internment camps have sprung up across the world as everyone turns on their neighbor with the suspicion that they might have alien DNA. Our heroes have to decide which side they are on and what they are willing to fight for.

Sylvain Neuvel has written a great trilogy where each book takes the story in new directions. Each one is told through interviews and recording, but the characters are still very vivid. In fact, I found myself missing a few of them who aren't in this final book. The Themis Files books make the existence of alien races and giant metal robots seem entirely possible and is a wonderful addition to the canon of science fiction.

Only Human
Themis Files #3
By Sylvain Neuvel
Del Rey May 2018
336 pages
Read via Netgalley

Saturday, April 28, 2018

24 Hour Readathon (Spring 2018)

Hour Twenty-Four (and change) Update
There has been much reading and snacking and chatting through our computers. As usual, I got many more books that I could possible read, but I still feel pretty good about reading five books and almost 1,500 pages. For a grand total of books/pages read, you can visit the 24 Hour Readathon page here

1. Which hour was most daunting for you? Well, I have never read for a full 24 hours. People tend to like their worship leader conscious during services on Sunday morning and I also have to get my children there. I happily crawled into bed before 2 a.m., which was hour 15 or so. 

2. Tell us ALLLLL the books you read! In order: The Female Persuasion by Meg Wolitzer (454 pages), Awayland by Ramona Ausubel (240), Exit, Pursued by a Bear by E.K. Johnston (248), Hyperbole and a Half by Allie Bosch (369), and Delilah Dirk and the Turkish Lieutenant by Tony Cliff (176). 

3. Which books would you recommend to other Read-a-thoners? Short stories are always great for Readathon, so Awayland would be great. Ditto for comics--I can see myself picking up the other Delilah Dirk comics for the next Readathon. Exit, Pursued by a Bear was a great story (which should surprise no one, E.K. Johnston is excellent), and it's Readathon friendly because it is under 300 pages!

4. What’s a really rad thing we could do during the next Read-a-thon that would make you smile? That's a great question, but I'm not sure. I think doing new things is fun at this point for those of us who have done many Readathons, but I also know that it is an incredible amount of work to make it happen for so many thousands of readers. 

5. How likely are you to participate in the Read-a-thon again? Would you be interested in volunteering to help organize and prep? I will always be reading if I can and I am happy to volunteer in any way that the benevolent and wonderful organizers need. 




Hour Twelve Update
And we're back! Here in New Jersey, it's almost 9 p.m. We enjoyed butter chicken for dinner, the kids are in bed, and it's time to get back to reading!

Here is my reading so far.

The Female Persuasion
Finished - 454 pages

Awayland
Finished - 224 pages

Hyperbole and a Half: Unfortunate Situations, Flawed Coping Mechanisms, Mayhem, and Other Things That Happened
98 pages read

Exit, Pursued by a Bear
Just started!


Reading is even better with carrot cake...


Hour Six Update
Hello everyone! How is your Readathon going?

I've made it halfway through Meg Wolitzer's The Female Persuasion (about 250 pages) and read several short stories in Ramona Ausubel's Awayland. I've also had some toast, a lot of water, one cup of coffee, some crackers and brie, and a few bites of carrot cake.

I'm about to break up my day and head to my local library for their book sale. I promise to show off my new books when I get back!


It's here! It's Readathon time! Here's the opening meme. 

1) What fine part of the world are you reading from today? My house in New Jersey. It's a little foggy now, but the sun is supposed to show up later. I'm looking forward to some outside reading!

2) Which book in your stack are you most looking forward to? I'm starting with The Female Persuasion, which I'm thrilled to be reading and I'm also looking forward to finally reading Hyperbole and a Half.

3) Which snack are you most looking forward to? I never did manage to go on a snack run yesterday, so we will see what happens!

4) Tell us a little something about yourself! Well, I just turned 31 (on Thursday). I have two kids, one husband, no pets, one keyboard, and many, many books.

5) If you participated in the last read-a-thon, what’s one thing you’ll do different today? If this is your first read-a-thon, what are you most looking forward to? I think I'm a Readathon pro by this point. I'm ready to read as much as possible without stressing about it! 

Friday, April 27, 2018

Tomorrow is Readathon!

It's time! It's time! Tomorrow is the 24 Hour Readathon, the glorious event where we try to read as much as possible within a 24 hour period. If this is your first time hearing about it, hop over to the website and sign up! You do not have to read for 24 hours--it's a day to read a few good books, meet some other bookish people, and bask in the joy that is reading. There are also games and prizes!

This time around, I plan to make a delicious brioche french toast concoction for breakfast and put butter chicken in the crockpot for dinner. I still need to pick up some snacks to enjoy, but my day is somewhat planned out. I am ready to read as much as possible with two children in the house and take a small break to go to our local library book sale (yes, I need more books).


My decidedly overambitious pile includes YA (Girls Made of Snow and Glass; Exit, Pursued by Bear), short stories (Awayland; The Refrigerator Monologues; What Happens When A Man Falls From The Sky), comics (Hyperbole and a Half; Delilah Dirk and the Turkish Lieutenant), literary fiction (The Female Persuasion), and nonfiction (Year of Yes). I also have my audiobook of Major Pettigrew's Last Stand ready to go for those moments when I have to do something other than hold a book in my hands.  

What are your Readathon plans? What book are you starting with? What will you be snacking on?

P.S. I wrote a warm-up post about ways to have your best Readathon as an introvert or an extrovert. You can check it out here.

Tuesday, April 24, 2018

Review: Girl, Wash Your Face

Rachel Hollis is a popular lifestyle blogger who was stymied by the emails she received. Women wrote to her, wondering how she managed to maintain such a perfect life when they felt like they were failing all over the place. In her book Girl, Wash Your Face, Hollis writes about the lies she had to overcome to reach the place she is today. In each chapter, she confronts lies like starting tomorrow, not being good enough, or being a bad mother. Amidst personal stories, she encourages readers to get moving and make the life they want to live.

For me, the core of Hollis' message is nothing new. She tackles issues that a lot of women face, but I didn't really read anything  revolutionary. However, there are a few things that do set this book apart from the rest: the steps she gives you and her radical honesty. At the end of each chapter, Hollis gives readers several things that helped her achieve specific goals. She writes candidly about her traumatic childhood and the suicide of her brother, her relationship with a man who cheated on her and later became her husband, their family's devastating experience with foster care, and the time she peed her pants while jumping on the trampoline with her kids.

There are chapters when Hollis seems to believe that things are as easy as following a few simple steps. I think for many of us, the solutions to these problems take a long time to reach and they are very difficult to achieve. But I can also see how Rachel Hollis could be the extra kick in the pants if you know what you should do, but keep putting it off or making excuses. She is tougher than many lifestyle writers because she knows from personal experience that you have to put the work in to reach the goals you set for yourself.

Girl, Wash Your Face:
Stop Believing the Lies About Who You Are
So You Can Become Who You Were Meant to Be
By Rachel Hollis
Thomas Nelson February 2018
240 pages
Read via Netgalley

Friday, April 20, 2018

In Defense of Difficult Reading: Marilynne Robinson's What Are We Doing Here

Reading something fun and light can bring us joy as readers. There are some days when we just need to sink into another world and read something that my father would refer to as "fluffy." Sometimes the security of knowing that the chef will solve the mystery will making a perfect souffle is enough to make us feel a little better about life.

But I think there's another side, too. Reading can and should be fun and entertaining but it also has the capability to make us think. It can teach us about the science and history of the world we live in. Books can compel us to ask hard questions about ourselves and the choices we make individually and collectively.

I like to read for fun, but I also enjoy being challenged. I recently read What Are We Doing Here?, which is Marilynne Robinson's newest collection. The book mostly contains speeches that she has given over the past few years. They are not easy reading--the speeches consider our history as Americans, what it means to be a person of faith in the 21st century, and the place of both humanities and science. I so appreciated that both Robinson and her publisher saw the opportunity for readers to do some hard reading and think about big questions, even if they only knew her as the author of novels.

After graduating from high school or college, there is not a requirement for most of us to continue learning. We don't have to learn a new language, or learn how to write code for our website, or read hard books. But what are we missing if we don't?

Reading doesn't have to always be complicated or always be carefree. How wonderful it is to live in a world where we can read a cozy romance with the knowledge that they will get their happy ending and then turn to a book that explains the complexities of space or physics. Readers have the unique joy and privilege of experiencing all worlds, both real and imagined, and I intend to try to read about all of them.

Thursday, April 19, 2018

Review: My Dear Hamilton

Like many of us, Stephanie Dray and Laura Kamoie adored a certain popular musical about the life of one of our nation's founders. But they found that they couldn't stop thinking about Hamilton's wife Eliza. She was the one who ensured that Alexander Hamilton was remembered and the two authors decided to find out who she was and make sure that she was remembered as well.

My Dear Hamilton strikes the perfect balance of being familiar to readers who know a little about Alexander Hamilton while giving added depth to Eliza. They bookend the story with President James Monroe appearing to an elderly Eliza, hoping that the two can reconcile. From this point, Eliza thinks back through her life and readers witness a young woman in war time, a mother trying to provide for everyone in her family, and a wife wounded by her husband's betrayal.

Stephanie Dray and Laura Kamoie have done a wonderful job in making Eliza a fully realized character, in spite of her leaving so few of her own letters and documents behind. I love that Eliza begins her story by telling readers "I was someone before I met Alexander Hamilton. Not someone famous or important or with a learned philosophical understanding of all that was at stake in our revolution. Not a warrior or a philosopher or statesman. But I was a patriot. I was no unformed skein of wool for Hamilton to weave together into any tapestry he wished. That's important for me to remember now, when every thread of my life has become tangled with everything he was...I was, long before he came into my life, a young woman struggling to understand her place in a changing world."

The book is a long one, but it's intriguing to see Eliza grow and change over several decades. It's clear from the note in the beginning to the last page of this story that Dray and Kamoie are rightly fascinated by this turbulent time in American history and the brave women and men who defined it. If you are a reader who loves historical fiction or a a person who weeps every time you hear them sing "Who tells your story? Eliza" in the Hamilton finale, you need to read this book.

My Dear Hamilton
A Novel of Eliza Schuyler Hamilton
By Stephanie Dray and Laura Kamoie
William Morrow Paperbacks April 2018
672 pages
Received from the publisher for TLC Book Tours