2019 Year in Books

For 2019, I set my goal for 50 books and managed to hit 72!

This past year has been a time of transition, which had it’s ups and downs–but mostly ups. I’ve managed to keep up with this blog for 2 years and have only missed the last 2 months of posting. I’ve come to a point where I’m not sure if I want to continue the blog, but I’m definitely going to still be on Instagram for now. I’ve been toying with merging my personal and review account, but I still haven’t done that yet. I’m thinking of some different ways to balance them out because reading is such a huge part of my life and at the same time, I like keeping some of my more personal side separate.

My goal this year is to expand my professional skills. Being a librarian, I offer a lot of readers advisory. However, if you have seen the kinds of books I read, you don’t see many popular novels in there. I am looking to read some of those popular authors to better understand what patrons like and how I can connect them to new authors and stories. So be on the lookout for questions and surveys on the blog, Facebook, and Instagram.

Have a bookish 2020!

Review: The Need by Helen Phillips


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The Need by Helen Phillips

272 pages

3/5 stars

The Need starts off at full speed with intense suspense as Molly tries to keep her baby and horrid daughter safe from an intruder in a deer mask.

It continues moving at a steady pace for a good two thirds of the book, but eventually loses steam and falls victim to it’s own routine. The elements of the spectacular create fascinating intrigue only to be neglected and left feeling underwhelmed.

While I knew the book followed a mother and her kids, which I was prepared for, I grew very VERY tired of reading about leaky books and breast milk. Don’t get me wrong, I fully support the natural and completely normal act of breastfeeding anywhere, but when every few pages talk about milk leaking out through her nipples or how damp her bra was, it became banal.

Pick up The Need if you are looking for a fast read and a decent creepy vibe.

Review: The Pisces by Melissa Broder



The Pisces by Melissa Broder

270 pages

1.5 stars

Trigger warnings: animal abuse, animal death, multiple suicide attempts, suicidal thoughts and rationalization.

Wow, did I have a hard time with this one. The Pisces tips us into Lucy’s world of mental illness, abuse and warped views of love, suicidal thoughts and attempts, and desperation, dependency, and depression. I appreciated the attempt to create an authentic character with deeply conflicting emotions and the raw reality of the human experience (which is why it gets a half star bump), however, they don’t feel fully explored but, rather, used as a means to just set up the interaction between Lucy and Theo.

I struggled on how to rate this. I tried to keep my utter disgust of Lucy (not for her sexual side, but the effects her actions have on others–especially those who are there for her) separate from the quality of the story. I did not want my growing annoyance and then pure hatred of a character to cloud my judgement of the novel. You can have a good story and hate the protagonist. This is not one of those stories, though. The plot uses elements of myth, ancient writings, and emotional instabilities, but it doesn’t examine them in a profound or reflective way. When it tries, even with the esoteric use of Sappho, it becomes dull and predictable.

The story dragged on too long. This would normally be a quicker read for me, but I grew tired of it after about halfway through. Especially when it stretched such emotional and rooted issues and elements thin by adding too many other complicated characters with their own problems that are used for background rather than exploring. This cheapens the story.

I had to push through The Pisces, occasionally glossing over repetitive inner ramblings that never feel like they are genuine to Lucy. I tried to appreciate the analysis of Sappho, but like all of the other attempts at depth, they fall flat and feel awkward.

It is a little funny that the book uses so many issues and problems, only to not dive into them deeper. It does mirror Lucy and the relationships she tries to have, but it is all really just different kinds of use and abuse. The Pisces tries to appear deep, but really it is just simple and boring. Skip this one.

Review: The Warehouse by Rob Hart


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The Warehouse by Rob Hart

368 pages

3.5 stars

The Warehouse by Rob Hart was a pretty good speculative fiction novel that toys with utopian/dystopian themes. It can hit close to home if you are paying attention to the ways of the world.

Cloud, a mega company that reminds me of a mashup between Amazon, Apple, and maybe a dash of Google data mining with a big ol’ side helping of extremist deregulate-everything!-private-companies-never-do-anything-wrong-you-job-killing-union-scum-taker. Toss in corporate espionage, a pass-the-time relationship, and a rotating point of view and you get this.

I enjoyed learning the color coded job system and the layout of this company through Zinnia’s eyes, but I had a tough time figuring out how I felt about the ending. I think the subtle uncertainty that fills the novel stayed true and despite what I wanted to see happen, in the end it seemed right for the story. This was an entertaining read that picked up pace as it neared the end and left me feeling like I got slapped in the face. Not too sure how to react, but I think I needed that.

Pick up The Warehouse if you are looking for a lighter dystopian/tech novel, but one that will still leave you thinking about it after you have finished.

Review: Dracul by Dacre Stoker, J.D. Barker


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Dracul (Stoker’s Dracula #1) by Dacre Stoker, J.D. Barker

497 pages

4.5 stars

Dracula fans, get ready for a great read. Dracul is a fabulous addition to the Dracula story and I’m happy to say that despite my misgivings about Bram being a character in his own plot, this was way better than I expected! Dracul blurs the lines between fiction and reality by introducing Bram as the sickly child he really was while morphing his “miraculous” recovery, relationships with his siblings, and their mysterious helper/nanny into a tale of intrigue, suspense, and horror.

The book is an iteration of the missing 101 pages that Bram wrote for the original Dracula, but had to be cut out before publishers would print it. It also plays into Bram’s insistence that the events in Dracula actually happened to people he knew and trusted, because this novel is proof of his own dealings with Dracula.

How these papers have been placed in sequence will be made manifest in the reading of them. All needless matters have been eliminated, so that a history almost at variance with the possibilities of later-day belief may stand forth as simple fact. There is throughout no statement of past things wherein memory may err, for all the records chosen are exactly contemporary, given from the standpoints and within the range of knowledge of those who made them.

Text preceding Dracula, which addresses the reader directly. Dracul’s Author’s Note discusses some of the history of the publication issues Bram had with publishers over the introduction to Dracula. Bram wanted to start it with the sentence: “This story is true.”

If you enjoy vampire tales, then you probably will like Dracul. I couldn’t put it down after part 3. It picks up pace as it goes along. There are many times that pieces of information are repeated, which gets a little annoying, but they are easy to forget and slip back into the meat of things. I will say that Matilda is my favorite character. I loved her strong-will, curiosity, and the way she didn’t fit into society’s expectations. I already have Dacre’s sequel to Dracula titled Dracula the Un-Dead on it’s way to my hold shelf. I want to do another read of Dracula before it, first.

The Summer Cottage by Viola Shipman



The Summer Cottage by Viola Shipman

416 pages

3.5/5 stars

The Summer Cottage follows Adie Lou, a middle aged woman who is finalizing her divorce, watching her son go through collage, and missing her parents deeply. Her parents have always been the source of her happiness and the family summer cottage holds a special place in her heart because of all the great memories she had there. But when the cottage and boat that her parents left her are brought into Adie Lou’s divorce deal and her husband convinced her to sell it, Adie Lou is reminded of how much her family has sacrificed to the next generation to make those memories and happiness. Adie Lou has a change of heart and decides she wants to turn the old summer cottage into a B&B and continue the family’s vacation rules.

Rules of the summer cottage:
1. Leave your troubles at the door
2. Soak up the sun
3. Nap often
4. Wake up smiling
5. Build a bonfire
6. Go rock hunting
7. Dinner is a family activity
8. Ice cream is required
9. Be grateful for each day
10. Go jump in the lake!
11. Build a sandcastle
12. Boats are a shore thing
13. Everyone must be present for sunset!
14. Shake the sand from your feet, but never shake the memories of out summer cottage. It is family!

The Summer Cottage is a light book that left me a bit surprised at having enjoyed it. It was a book club pick and I have never read what some would call “chick-lit” before*, so I was taken off guard at how much the simplicity of the story and characters didn’t bother me. The underlying themes of building ones self-confidence, following ones dreams, and ignoring the haters was strong enough to overcome the conflicts I had with the novel.

I love that the book was broken down to follow the summer cottage family rules. The story didn’t feel forced into the confines of them and I enjoyed the creative interpretation of “go jump in a lake.” While the story was predictable in that I knew it was going to have a happy ending and that the protagonist was going to get what she wanted despite the massive amount of money her undertaking would have been, the luck she had in everyone hired by her being laze-fair about getting paid, that her life and divorce was privileged with enough wealth to have a summer cottage and take on the challenge of transforming it, and the unrealistic accomplishment of making money on her first summer opening, I somehow still enjoyed the book. Even as I type this, I’m confused at the positive reading experience despite the numerous negatives I mentioned–things that have turned me away from other books in the past.

The side characters felt fleshed out just enough to have believe-ability in the simple roles they played, though I wholly did not believe the change-of-heart behavior of Nate at the end. I also didn’t relate to Adie Lou in her privilege, but the aspiration to follow your dreams is, I believe, a universal human quality. I was particularly drawn to Adie Lou’s desire to empower more women who have suffered and given up a lot in order to put their husbands or family first. Women who have been used by the patriarchy and discarded or who have to work twice as hard and prove their worth against men who do not. This was such a small piece of the larger story, but I really liked that this was part of her drive. To raise women up.

There is something to be said to reading a novel that has charming qualities, especially when you are someone who tends to be a realist. The book spoke to the optimist in me–the dreamer that wants to see everyone happy and treated fairly and who gets to follow their own dreams. Stories like that can be overly saccharine and quickly leave a bad taste in my mouth. The Summer Cottage managed to skirt the line of improbability with just enough conflict to move the story along.

*I do not buy into the labels of “chick-lit” and “women’s fiction” because I feel they are demeaning and underrate both female authors and writing in general. Just because a woman writes a book about women’s issues or that a woman writes at all does not mean her audience is immediately halved to encompass only female readers. I especially dislike the term “women’s fiction” because it is solely a marketing term that is laden with inequality and implied sexism–only women will like it, women only read these kinds of books, men should not read this and will not be interested in this because it is supposed to be for women, women can’t handle deep reading (which also implies that fiction, especially fiction written by women, isn’t as profound as non-fiction), women don’t like non-fiction. It is the reason we have issues with women’s literature being pushed into young adult categories against their will and shows that yet another industry continues to have sexist double standards while profiting off of the backs of underpaid women. Magnify this issue if you are a female minority.

Additionally, I would like to point out that this book was written by a man using his grandmother’s name, which gives you even more to consider.

Review: Gingerbread by Helen Oyeyemi


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Gingerbread by Helen Oyeyemi

258 pages

2/5 stars

Synopsis: Perdita Lee may appear to be your average British schoolgirl; Harriet Lee may seem just a working mother trying to penetrate the school social hierarchy; but there are signs that they might not be as normal as they think they are. For one thing, they share a gold-painted, seventh-floor walk-up apartment with some surprisingly verbal vegetation. And then there’s the gingerbread they make. Londoners may find themselves able to take or leave it, but it’s very popular in Druhástrana, the far-away (and, according to Wikipedia, non-existent) land of Harriet Lee’s early youth. In fact, the world’s truest lover of the Lee family gingerbread is Harriet’s charismatic childhood friend, Gretel Kercheval—a figure who seems to have had a hand in everything (good or bad) that has happened to Harriet since they met.

Decades later, when teenaged Perdita sets out to find her mother’s long-lost friend, it prompts a new telling of Harriet’s story. As the book follows the Lees through encounters with jealousy, ambition, family grudges, work, wealth, and real estate, gingerbread seems to be the one thing that reliably holds a constant value. Endlessly surprising and satisfying, written with Helen Oyeyemi’s inimitable style and imagination, it is a true feast for the reader.

The synopsis makes Gingerbread sound as though it is a Hansel and Gretel remake or retelling, but it is no where close. Gingerbread does tap into the vein of classic fairy tales and morphs them with the help of magical realism into something altogether disturbing and unnatural. Fairy tales just lend their whimsical and occasional dark nature to a rather scattered story line. Unfortunately, this means that the story and meaning get lost in the slack structure and unintelligible ramble.

The bulk of the narrative takes place within a story Harriet tells Perdita after an intentional semi-suicide her daughter attempts in order to get back to Druhástrana and find her mother’s friend Gretel. Told amongst talking hybrid plant-dolls, we learn of Harriet’s youth growing up in Druhástrana, how she met Gretel, left her country, and came to meet the father of her child. Once the reader and Perdita are caught up to the present, we are rushed through an ending that seems like it could have been another book entirely.

I wanted to like this book. I enjoy satire, weird tales, illogical and nonsensical stories, and fairy tales, but there has to be some thread of continuity that provides a path through the maze and I just did not find it here. I appreciated the parallel to the themes of the many fairy tales–food, famine, and feast, the convolution of family and foe, the impermanence of life and death. In a way, Gingerbread is a feast and famine book. You keep consuming it hoping that you will be full by the end, but it is just empty calories. A bag of chips seemingly full before it is opened, but turns out to be mostly filled with air.

For my book club, I read a Q&A interview with Oyeyemi by Vulture and I think her answer to the first question really sums up how unsure this book seems about itself:

I’m always fascinated by where your books go plot-wise, because it’s not always evident in the jacket copy. You pull readers in with a fairy tale premise and then destroy their expectations.
It was actually very difficult to come of up with something for Gingerbread. I just wrote it and then was like, “Oh no, I have to describe what this is.” I was very confidently going along like “this all makes sense” and then at the end being like, “I cannot describe what this is overall.” I think you just have to read it.

-via https://www.vulture.com/2019/03/helen-oyeyemi-gingerbread-hansel-and-gretel.html

I did see Gingerbread through to the end and I did enjoy some of the dark whimsy. I think the writing itself is wonderful and does not lack in evocative play even if it is blurry. Kind of like a watercolor painting. It can be beautiful to look at, but you will never get the details no matter how close you look. The magical realism wasn’t the issue for me, but the amount of fluid surrealism trying to tell a story and then getting wrapped up in its own surrealist ideas was the problem.

I think that adventurous readers may be interested in giving Gingerbread a try, but I would think most may want to skip it. I have White is for Witching on my TBR, but I’m not sure I’m ready for it yet.

Review: Discovering the Mammoth by John J. McKay


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Discovering the Mammoth: A Tale of Giants, Unicorns, Ivory, and the Birth of a New Science by John J. McKay

3.5 stars

264 pages

Discovering the Mammoth is a fascinating look at the evolution of the mammoth in human understanding. It is a specific look at how we have come to identify, categorize, and understand where mammoths and their ancient cohabitants fit into the history of the Earth and with us.

Dwarf elephant skulls were once thought to be the skulls of giants due to the large nasal cavity being mistaken for a singe eye hole. Elephant eyes are small and located on the side of the head.
Image source: American Museum of Natural History

From giants to unicorns, elephants to hippos, the mammoth has had a colorful and lucrative history. Through the book, we learn the cultural, social, and budding scientific context concerning the discoveries of mammoth bones, tusks, and remains. This extensiveness may well be part of the downfall of the book for a casual reader. McKay does a thorough job in detailing the men who would go on to make studies, statements, and conclusions about the mammoth after it became a topic of interest to Western thinkers. There are so many people that were involved with piecing together the mammoth mystery as well as numerous expeditions that either intentionally or accidentally found bones and tusks, that the details (again, to a casual reader) begin to blur towards the end. And, like some works of nonfiction do, there were tangents of side expeditions and stories that were not so crucial to the main story.

A pet peeve of mine in nonfiction is that with a book that relies heavily on descriptions and location, photos and maps should always accompany the text for a better understanding. While this book does have a few images situated in the middle of the book, there are no indicators as you read that an example is provided for you to see. The images are labeled on their central pages as “figure X,” but nothing in the text prompts you to stop and see for yourself. My other issue with the text itself is that there are numerous missing or incorrect words such as “the” instead of “they” and small pieces of sentence structure (“a”, “an,” “the,” “from,” etc.). They are quite distracting which leaves you with a sense that the book was rushed. It would have done well to have a careful reading to catch these.

Despite the issues I had with the text and physical book itself, I did enjoy the read for the most part. While the names that appear may lose their specific individuality in the sea of numerous other people, the work makes it clear that this book’s information is coming from a knowledgeable person with a passion for the subject. The in-depth nature of the content such as the evolution of the ideas on why the bones were found in such an uninhabitable place, or the change in thinking from scala naturae to Linnaeus’ Systema Naturae and taxonomy were fascinating to me. I enjoyed reading the changing views and ideas on the mammoth mystery.

Discovering the Mammoth may sound like it is a book that focuses on the mammoth itself. However, the mammoth is the tapestry that pulls a larger picture together. It is one of human curiosity, scientific evolution, and the pitfalls of authority and position. This book seeks to look at this bigger picture, rather than the end result. I think it would appeal to anyone interested in science, history, or paleontology.

Review: Behold the Dreamers by Imbolo Mbu


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Behold the Dreamers by Imbolo Mbu

3.5/5 stars

400 pages

Synopsis: “Jende Jonga, a Cameroonian immigrant living in Harlem, has come to the United States to provide a better life for himself, his wife, Neni, and their six-year-old son. In the fall of 2007, Jende can hardly believe his luck when he lands a job as a chauffeur for Clark Edwards, a senior executive at Lehman Brothers. Clark demands punctuality, discretion, and loyalty—and Jende is eager to please. Clark’s wife, Cindy, even offers Neni temporary work at the Edwardses’ summer home in the Hamptons. With these opportunities, Jende and Neni can at last gain a foothold in America and imagine a brighter future.

However, the world of great power and privilege conceals troubling secrets, and soon Jende and Neni notice cracks in their employers’ façades.

When the financial world is rocked by the collapse of Lehman Brothers, the Jongas are desperate to keep Jende’s job—even as their marriage threatens to fall apart. As all four lives are dramatically upended, Jende and Neni are forced to make an impossible choice.”

Behold the Dreamers, like life itself, had its ups and downs. While Jende often is the focus of the narrative, there are several threads that make up the whole story. Set within the backdrop of the early US financial crisis and focusing on issues of immigration, the book builds on sensitive and emotional events for both the rich and the poor. What starts as a story about two very different people and families turns into an interesting look at what makes us all so similar. The dichotomy-turned-parallel character (and even cultural) study was something I could see being built and initially felt indifferent to. However, as the story moved along, the emotional depth it took worked very well to change my mind.

While character development was present in one character, Neni, I missed that no one else had the opportunity to grow. I understand that this is true of people in general–some grow and others do not, but I felt like some characters were directed in sudden ways that didn’t fit their previous behavior. The novel had some intense and well crafted moments, but it took a long time to get to.

With all the layers of social, economical, and familial strata that Behold the Dreamers is situated in, I was still left with a dissatisfaction as I closed the book. Perhaps it is due to the circumstances themselves; that I hated that so many of the characters didn’t get to have even a piece of their dream. Maybe it was the irony that despite the adults claiming that everything they do is for their children, the children are the ones who seemed to suffer the most because of their parents’ actions (Liomi is essentially just a name that has no role whatsoever in the story other than being a child to be acted upon).

The writing was wonderful. It was descriptive without being overbearing. The characters, especially the Jongas, offer fresh (to me) perspectives and culture. The actions characters take throughout the novel are pivotal to their own threads of the story and, again, like life, can seem both common and crucial at the same time. What was lacking was the development that seemed true to character, but could be argued as a true to life movement. Sometimes we can seem unpredictable even to those closest to us. For me, all the main characters making uncharacteristic choices was a little too much to believe.

Pick up Behold the Dreamers if you are looking for a story that touches on contemporary issues such as immigration and culture or enjoy literary fiction.