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Tuesday, July 9, 2024

Summer Reading Roundup Part 1

Summer is here and it has been bliss. The first bit of it has been crowded with some family vacations, but I am back now and reading to sink into a routine of reading and all the rest of my cozy hobbies. Since I last posted, I finished a few more books and wanted to jot down a few thoughts.


Girl Mans Up by M-E Giraud follows eighteen year old Pen as she navigates through her way through her last bit of high school as a masculine lesbian. She meets a girl she's head over heels for the pair start dating. She faces difficulties, however, from her traditional-minded parents and insensitive peers. This story featured excellent representation and diversity. It was a heartfelt and realistic look at what LGBTQIA+ teens often go through.  4/5 stars.

The One Memory of Flora Banks by Emily Barr follows seventeen-year-old Flora Banks, a girl with no short term memory. She has not been able to form new memories since she was a small child and lives with her extremely protective parents. When she unexpectedly forms a new memory with a boy she likes, Flora becomes determined to reconnect with him, no matter how far outside her comfort zone she has to push herself. In doing so, she begins to uncover some truths about her situation that she didn't remember and understand what she is capable of doing, despite her difficult situation. This was a very unique and engaging read. It was well-written and very interesting. I enjoyed it quite a bit. 4/5 stars.

Attachments by Rainbow Rowell is a romcom novel follows a young man named Lincoln who is hired as a night shift IT assistant at a newspaper. Part of his job involves monitoring employee emails. In the course of his work, he begins taking an interest in the emails exchanged by two employees, Beth and Jennifer. They send irreverent, funny, and heartfelt messages back and forth about their lives. Lincoln, rather than sending them a warming about the frivolous use of their work email, begins reading the emails nightly. He finds himself falling in love with Beth through her writing, but he doesn't know how to make a relationship between them work, given his somewhat creepy and awkward way of getting to know her. I thought this novel was pretty cute and I did enjoy reading it. As usual, Rainbow Rowell's writing is sharp and funny. It's an older book. so some of her jokes haven't aged particularly well, but overall I liked her writing style. The idea of someone reading your email for months and then approaching you with romantic interest is inherently problematic, but I think Rowell addresses it fairly well in the story. This was a cute read if you don't think too hard about it. 3/5 stars.

We Are Okay by Nina LaCour follows a young woman named Marin that lives with her grandfather on the California coast. As the story begins, we learn that Marin went through some sort of traumatic event at home and abruptly left for college in New York. She didn't take anything with her and hasn't spoken to anyone from her old life since. She is clearly very deeply hurt and struggling to function normally at school. As the plot develops further, we learn more details about what happened and watch Marin try to come to terms with her part any move forward. This book is definitely better if you head into it without knowing specific details, so I won't spoil any here. I thought this book was very touching and engaging. Definitely worth the read. 4/5 stars.

So that wraps up my latest reading. I'll be back with the rest of my summer reading in a later post. I hope everyone is having a happy and relaxing summer!

2024 Reading Challenges Tally:
Goodreads Reading Challenge: 12/30
Clear the Shelves 2024: 12

Friday, May 3, 2024

Spring Break Reading


Last week was my spring break and I took the opportunity to luxuriate in lots and lots of reading. It was so nice to slip back into my old habits for a little while! I always feel more like myself when I'm lost in a good book. Now that I'm back to the usual grind of work and school, I don't have time to write long reviews. I figured I'd just jot down a few thoughts on the four books I read here.

My first book was St. Lucy's Home for Girls Raised by Wolves by Karen Russell. This was a short story collection, which is not a format I typically read, but I really enjoyed this one. Each of the short stories had a magical, surreal quality to them and were very well written. I felt like each one could have been turned into a longer novel successfully. I was always left wanting to know more. My favorite story out of the collection was the eponymous "St. Lucy's Home for Girls Raised by Wolves," which focused on a school dedicated to civilizing the human children of werewolves. It was a story with a totally wild premise that spoke to very real ideas about identity and belonging. I really enjoyed Karen Russel's weird and imaginative style and would definitely read something by her again. This was a 4/5 book for me.

My next book was Where'd You Go, Bernadette by Maria Semple. This irreverent novel focused on an anxiety-ridden woman named Bernadette that simply disappears from her home following a series of increasingly awkward misunderstandings that paint her in a bad light. The story is presented as a collection of documents collected by her precocious adolescent daughter as she attempts to figure out where her mother disappeared to and why she left. I thought this was a really quirky and interested read. I was totally engaged in the mystery of where Bernadette might have gone and found myself sympathizing quite a bit with her with her situation, as implausible as it was. Semple's writing was an entertaining mix of being funny, sarcastic, and heartfelt. This was another 4/5 read.

Next, I moved on to Mosquitoland by David Arnold. This young adult book follows a teenage girl named Mim who runs away from her father and stepmother when she learns that her mom is battling some sort of mystery illness several states away. She buys herself a bus ticket and sets off on a journey. Along the way, she reflects on the events from her past that have led up to this moment and meets a colorful cast of characters that teach her all sorts of things about life, both good and bad. When she finally reaches her mom, things aren't the way she expected and she must find a way to reconcile her old memories with her current reality. I thought this novel was pretty good, but it had a few typical YA tropes that bugged me a bit. The protagonist was uncannily smart and mature for her age and she was able to operate in the adult world more independently than is realistic. When I run up against these elements in fiction for teens I always roll my eyes a bit, but this story was still heartfelt and interesting. Arnold's writing was clever and the story was engaging. I could see bookish, sensitive young people falling in love with it. This was a 3/5 read for me.

The last book I finished was Every Day, another young adult novel focused around an interesting premise. The main character of this novel, A, wakes up in the body of a different person each day. He can access most of that person's memories and spends the day living that person's life. When he falls asleep, he wakes up in the body of a new person and repeats the process. He's been doing this for his entire life, just living day to day as all sorts of people. His normal routine is interrupted, however, when he falls in love with the girlfriend of one of the bodies he wakes up in. He can't keep himself from seeking her out each day, in a new body, and trying to form a relationship with her. Suddenly, he has something in his ever-changing life that he wants to remain constant and this opens up all sorts of feelings and challenges for him. This was a very engaging read, although it did also suffer a bit from the trope of teenagers going around doing whatever they want with very little parental oversight. I did still enjoy it though, especially the aspect of A exploring the different lives he ends up in each day. This was another 3/5 read for me.

So that covers everything I finished during spring break! I'm so looking forward to summer when I have more free time to read again! It can't come fast enough.

2024 Reading Challenges Tally:
Goodreads Reading Challenge: 8/30
Clear the Shelves 2024: 8

Thursday, April 4, 2024

Girls Made of Snow and Glass by Melissa Bashardoust


My reading time is still woefully short, but I did manage to finish Girls Made of Snow and Glass by Melissa Bashardoust and wanted to write a little bit about it.

I didn't realize this as I was starting, but this novel is a Snow White retelling, and it's a very good one. It centers around the relationship between a teen princess named Lynet and her stepmother Mina. Both of these women have magical origins. Lynet was crafted from snow by a magician in the image of her dead mother and Mina, born with a weak heart, has a magical glass replacement heart. Mina is the only mother Lynet has ever known, and they were quite close as she was growing up. When the king of their country dies, however, they become torn apart in a conflict over who will rule.

That summary is leaving quite a bit out, because this novel was surprisingly rich. I really enjoyed how Bashardoust took some of the elements of the classic Snow White tale and wove them into a story that was completely different and new. I also really liked how it focused on the mother and daughter relationship between Mina and Lynet rather than a romantic storyline. Those elements were present, but they took a backseat to the complicated dynamics between mother and daughter. This story has a lot to say about love, loyalty, and family--more than you would think you'd find in a young adult novel. The world building, magic system, and secondary characters were similarly complex and interesting. I was very engaged the whole time I was reading, even if my lack of free time made my progress a lot slower than I wanted.

Overall, this was a very enjoyable and memorable read. I'd highly recommend it to anyone interested in this genre.

2024 Reading Challenges Tally:
Goodreads Reading Challenge: 4/30
Clear the Shelves 2024: 4

Monday, March 25, 2024

Reading Roundup


The months have been slipping by at an alarming pace, but I'm still here and sometimes I'm even reading. I managed to finish two books in a very disjointed fashion over the past three months and I'm most of the way through a third. I have no time to sit and write about them with my classes and job going into overdrive, so I thought I'd write a thoughts on them here.

I read Once and Future by A.R. Capetta. This was a science fiction retelling of the King Arthur legend staring a female protagonist. It was an okay read. There was great representation and diversity among the characters and the updated setting was an interesting take on the classic tale. I wasn't blown away by it, however. I enjoyed it well enough while I was reading, but I don't think it will stick in my mind as time goes on. I would give this one 3/5 stars.

After that, I moved onto Conversion by Katherine Howe. This novel was a historical fiction story about the Salem Witch Trials, but not in the usual sense of the genre. It alternated chapters about the trials of the 1690s with chapters set in modern times about a group of girls at a private prep school that fall mysteriously ill with strange symptoms. The experiences of the two groups mirror each other in interesting ways as the stories go on. Howe examines themes ranging from the desires of young women to be heard to how easy it can be to get swept up in the excitement of a scandal. I enjoyed this one quite a bit. It was a new way to look at an old historical event and make it relevant to some of the troubles young girls struggle with today. I gave this one 4/5 stars.  

I'm afraid this is all I have time for now. I am hoping to return to blogging more normally once things settle down a bit. 

2024 Reading Challenges Tally:
Goodreads Reading Challenge: 3/30
Clear the Shelves 2024: 3

Sunday, January 14, 2024

The Adventures of Captain Hatteras by Jules Verne


For the ninth year in a row, I started off my new year of reading with a Jules Verne novel. I began reading his Extraordinary Voyages series in order last year after making my way through his most famous works. The Adventures of Captain Hatteras is the second book in the series, right after Five Weeks in a Balloon, which I read as my first book of 2023. I didn't have any idea what the story was about before I got started, but I was ready to kick of 2024 with a new adventure. As such, I got nice and cozy with a cup of coffee and got started.

**This review will contain spoilers for the whole story - it's very hard to discuss the plot without them!** 

The Adventures of Captain Hatters is composed of two parts. Part One is about Captain Hatteras' dangerous and daring 1861 expedition to the North Pole. He believes that the Pole will be surrounded by an open ocean and will stop at nothing to be the first to discover it and bring glory to England. This won't be his first try at the voyage, however. His past attempts were unsuccessful and ended in the loss of all of his crew. As a results, people aren't exactly rushing to sign up for his latest trip. To solve this problem, he disguises himself and prepares for the trip under a pseudonym. He engages the services of a Commander Shandon to act in his stead, passes him orders by letter, and then joins his own crew as a deckhand when everything is ready. He reveals himself only when it is too late for the ship to turn back and formally takes on his role as captain. The crew is understandably angry about this, but he is temporarily able to maintain his authority with the promise of a big payday for everyone once the North Pole is reached. He does have a few men on the ship that are loyal to him, including the brilliant Dr. Clawbonny, who is both the ship's doctor and resident scientific expert, but most of the voyage is extremely tense, with the crew frequently considering mutiny. 

Things do not go smoothly on the voyage. The ship is constantly in danger of being trapped or crushed by icebergs, the temperature is continually dropping, and the storms are violent and dangerous. All these problems increase in intensity as the winter approaches. There are many times where turning around or finding a safe place to stop for the winter would have been the safest course, but Hatteras is unwilling to stop exploring for any reason and continues forward. He does not listen to the concerns of his crew and burns through the ship's supply of coal at a speed most consider to be imprudent. Eventually, his supplies run out and the icebergs hem him along a frozen coast. He is forced to stop for the winter. With the need for coal becoming urgent, he is forced to mount a small trip over the ice to try finding an old supply cache left along these shores by previous explorers. He sets out with a few men, but is unable to find anything useful. When he returns, he discovers that the crew he left behind have finally mutinied. They have taken the smaller boat they were carrying and are attempting to go back to England. They burned the remains of Hatteras' ship in anger, leaving him and his four remaining loyal men with nothing.

Part Two is about Captain Hatteras and his few remaining friends trying to survive alone in the Arctic. Luckily for him, Dr. Clawbonny is among the group, and his intelligence helps the men establish a dwelling the spend the winter in. They run into trouble with bears, cold, and supplies, but after finding an old shipwreck to salvage supplies from, they are able to get along comfortably enough until winter ends and the seas start to open up again. Incredibly, Hatteras still wants to continue his journey to the North Pole and is able to get the rest of his very small crew to agree. They build a boat out of the old shipwreck and continue northwards. Eventually, they do reach their destination and find that the North Pole is situated in the middle of an active volcano sitting in the middle of an open ocean. Hatteras, mad with the desire to plant his English boot on the exact location of the North Pole, breaks away from the group, runs up the volcano, and throws himself into it. He somehow survives this, but is driven insane by the experience and never speaks another word. His friends recover his body, manage to make it home to England, and place him in an asylum where he spends the rest of his days always attempting to walk to the north.

This book was wild, and pretty different from the other Jules Verne books I have read so far. There was still a grand adventure, of course, and lots of scientific information from the time period. It was the characters that were a bit unusual for me, especially Captain Hatteras. I'm used to Jules Verne protagonists being generally faultless. They are smart, brave, and the kinds of leaders that men follow to the ends of the earth. Hatteras was...not that. He was obsessive, deceptive, and quite careless with human life. Most of his crew was mad at him for the duration of part one of the story, and for very good reasons. However, their mutiny was portrayed negatively, and it is eventually revealed that they fail in their mission to return to England and end up cannibalizing each other. So, as a reader, as I supposed to feel like they should have continued following Hatteras, even though he was clearly completely unconcerned with their welfare? The characters that stick by him, including the smartest character, Doctor Clawbonny, view him as an admirable leader and the way he is written in the story makes it clear that I am supposed to view him similarly, but I had a hard time doing that. Much like Commander Shandon, I never got over his initial deception of the crew. I suppose there is something grand and dignified in the way he never gave up on his goal, but that goal led him to jump into an active volcano and then drove him insane. I'm not sure that's a win.

However, the fact that Hatteras was an unusual character kept me very engaged in the story. I honestly had no idea what this man would do next and I kept turning the pages to find out. Both the sailing and survival sections of the novel were interesting, with lots of dangers for the characters to overcome. Some of this was somewhat realistic and some was not. My favorite unrealistic bit was when a group of polar bears teamed up to try and deliberately suffocate Hatteras and his buddies by piling snow all over their shelter. Dr. Clawbonny eventually figures out a way to blow up the bears using some gunpowder. The whole sequence was amazing. Of course, being a Jules Verne novel, there were several sections of scientific and historical information that dragged on a bit too long, but those parts weren't bad to get through and didn't take away from the story too much. The pacing was actually better than a lot of other Verne novels I've read in the past. The accuracy was not great, but as usual, it was correct for its time. The writing itself was nice as well. This was a book set in the Arctic and it felt cold. It was the perfect read for winter.  

Overall, The Adventures of Captain Hatteras was a pretty good time. It wasn't my favorite Verne novel, but it was a fun (and strange) one. I would place it solidly in the middle of the pack out of what I have read from him so far. It was most definitely a grand adventure and a great way to start off what will hopefully be a productive year of reading.

2024 Reading Challenges Tally:
Goodreads Reading Challenge: 1/30
Clear the Shelves 2024: 0

Monday, January 1, 2024

Clear the Shelves 2024


Once again, I'm setting the modest goal of trying to read from my own shelves throughout 2024. I still have several hundred books on my TBR pile that I want to be able to read and donate. There's not an official number of books I'm trying to get through this year, but I would like to do better than I did in 2023, which would mean reading at least 14. I will keep track of the titles I finish here on this post.


Reading Resolutions: 2024


Much like last year, 2024 is not destined to be a productive reading year for me. I just have too much going on with graduate school. However, I do want to aim a little higher than last year. Having a year without a lot of reading has made me miss it terribly. It really is something I need to make more time for, in spite of my busy schedule. 

I'm still going to keep my goals modest, because I want to be realistic. Once again, I will just focus on reading a few books a month and reading mostly from my own shelves.

My Goodreads goal for this year will be 30 books. That's six more than I managed in 2023, so it's just a small increase. Hopefully this will be achievable for me.

Once again, my other reading goal will be to read books primarily from my own shelves. I barely made a dent in my TBR pile last year, so I still have a long way to go when it comes to clearing my backlog of books. I'm not going to attach a specific number to this challenge, but I would like to do better than 13 books, which is what I read in 2023. I will keep track of my progress here.

And that's it for my 2024! This will still be a very busy year for me, but I'm really hoping to start incorporating a little more reading back in between all of my classes and assignments.