December-January Reading Wrap Up Part One

Hi friends!

As I mentioned in my last post, I know I’ve been missing these! I’m so sorry!! I felt like this list was too big for one post, so check back soon (or follow) for part two!

Love you all!!

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Discovery Park in Seattle is a Great Stop if You’re in Town!

The Hidden Life of Trees: What They Feel, How They Communicate – Discoveries From a Secret World by Peter Wohlleben

Peter Wohlleben’s non-fiction best seller focuses on the forests of Europe as living, breathing creatures, with a surprising amount of social interaction and dependency. He uses groundbreaking science to explain how trees communicate, build social networks, and reveals a entirely new world of nature.

My first DNF of the month, Wohlleben’s work is unable to stand on his interesting subject matter alone. As all translations are muddy, it isn’t clear whether this bad prose is Wohlleben’s fault, or a victim of translation. Nevertheless, this book reads like it was written by a third grader (who happens to be very smart in the sciences). No matter how interesting a book is, bad writing simply won’t do, espcially with a book that is comprised of dry science. I wouldn’t recommend unless you are greatly interested in forestry. (2 Stars)

Springtime: A Ghost Story by Michelle de Kretser

Part love story, part ghost story, de Krester’s novella flips the conventions of a typical ghost story on its head. There are no stormy nights here, no abandoned, isolated protagonist. Instead, Frances, a young art historian, spots a ghost in the most unlikely of places – a suburban garden in sunny, subtropical Sydney.

I was really excited for this story, but found it to be too disjointing. de Kretser had an interesting concept with an anti ghost story but she got too distracted. Had this been longer, perhaps it would have been better, but such a short novel was jam packed with too much and it was a letdown. Cannot recommend, unfortunately. (1 Star).

Harmless Like You by Rowan Hisayo Buchanan

This debut novel, due out in February 2017, was the subject of my latest ARC Review you can find here!

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Wish I Had More Time to Read but Thankful for the Opportunity to Learn feat. my real name  

Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates

This National Book Award Winner is an essay-style letter from Coates to his teenage son on what it means to be black in America today. It is part memoir, as Coates explores his time at Howard University, and part history lesson, as Coates explores topics from the Civil War. It is an analysis of the Black Lives Matter Movement, police brutality, and slavery. It has been hailed by Toni Morrison as “required reading,” and can be found on shelves across the nation.

feel like I missed something. While I appreciated Coates stories and ideas, I longed for more organization. Coates’ work was stylistically disjointed and fast paced, so I felt like I never got my feet underneath me. Between the World and Me was wonderfully written and, when I fully understood and digested, powerful and fresh. But overall, I simply felt I had missed a great many somethings (3 Stars).

The Light Between Oceans by M.L. Stedman

In 1920’s Australia, we meet Tom, a former solider fresh off the Western Front. Craving peace and quiet, Tom takes up a lighthouse keeper’s job on Janus Rock, an island far off the coast. Secluded from society for years at a time, the only company Tom has is his new wife, Isabel. After two miscarriages, the grieving and angry couple gets a second chance at parenthood when a living baby and dead man wash ashore. Isabel decides to keep the baby, whom they name Lucy, and raise her as their own. When they return home, however, Lucy is two, and they remember they aren’t alone in the world. Their choice has devastated one of them.

enjoyed the end of this book much better than the beginning. Though I consistently felt engaged with the story, and surprised by it, it seldom felt great or strikingly special. I enjoyed reading this, and commend the work for taking control of my emotions so powerfully. It was similar toThe Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society in that it was good and delightful, but not particularly special or well written. A great, easy beach read, but perhaps not entirely deserving of the warm water-cooler recommendations it has received (Full Review). (3.5 Stars)

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Young Ben (L) Crushin’ the Game Circa 1998(?) 

Another Day in the Death of America: A Chronicle of Ten Short Lives by Gary Younge

On average seven children or teenagers will be murdered by a gun each day in America. Younge’s project focuses on just one day, November 23, 2013. Through extensive research and interviews, Younge located ten people, all between the ages of 9 and 19, who died via gun violence on that day. Detailing their lives, deaths, and social/political factors for them, Younge leaves few stones unturned in his examination of America’s gun problem.

When successful, Younge’s necessary and timely book is a beautiful tribute to dead children, accomplishing, if nothing else, a medium of which to say “I see you.” Its less successful moments came in organization. While most of the chapters (1 chapter per victim) focused on a balanced (or somewhat balanced) mix of story and societal factor, several chapters lacked any balance, if it included both facets at all. Additionally, particularly towards the end, Younge becomes less focused (or, perhaps more so) and drags well beyond the point in which I had lost interest. These were minor points though. Younge’s book makes you cry, seethe in anger, and understand an issue like gun violence as an entity far more complex than extremists on either side of the aisle may lead you to believe (Full Review). (4 Stars).

Challenger Deep by Neal Shusterman

Challenger Deep focuses on Caden Bosch. An offbeat novel about life with mental illness, Caden’s story is told in two parallel story lines. In one, he is Caden Bosch: high school student, track team member, and geek. In the other, he is the artist-in-residence of a ship headed straight into Challenger Deep, the southern part of the Marianas Trench. As the two stories collide, Caden will race to make it out alive.

Challenger Deep is an interesting, odd little story. Neal Shusterman paints an incredibly vivid portrait of mental illness in this work, but outside of those suffering from brain illnesses, this novel offers little. While there was a time when my mental illness was parallel to the illnesses of Caden Bosch, I no longer feel the same way that Caden does. So, for me, there was already a bit of a disconnect. Further, while the novel took on an interesting shape to begin with, and was compelling, it quickly stagnated, and fell back into cliches and became repetitive and boring. As a result, I made it out 75% of the way through before abandoning. There just wasn’t enough substance to keep me going. (2.5 Stars).

SFO #noban Protest -Jan 29, 2016
“SFO #noban Protest – Jan 29, 2016”  by Kenneth Lu is licensed under CC BY 2.0

Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City by Matthew Desmond

The poorest residents of Milwaukee are the focus of Harvard sociologist Matthew Desmond’s powerful fieldwork project. Desmond’s readers journey through the American renting process as two landlords and a host of renters. Some lead happy lives, getting by the best way they can. Others are junkies and addicts, scrambling to get a fix. All, however, are key players in the system of American poverty.

Evicted deserves six stars – it’s that good. Desmond’s project is not only a richly documented field study, it’s an engaging page turner that’s so well structured it reads like fiction. I loved every minute of it. Desmond’s greatest strength is his unflinching honesty.  He simply introduces us to a cast of characters, all a little good and a little evil, and draws his truthful conclusions from there. Desmond makes his readers angry, depressed, and hopeful. He makes us so invested that, like a train wreck, we do not dare to turn away. I loved this book. Please, pick it up (Full Review). (5+ Stars).
And, to learn how you can help homeless or at risk families and individuals, please visit the author’s site, justshelter.org 

The Arrival by Shaun Tan

In silent graphic novel form, Shaun Tan crafts a story about a young immigrant moving to a new country. Infused with horrifying and stunning magical realism, Tan communicates the confusion, terror, and loneliness of the immigrant experience. A timely read, Tan’s masterpiece is a must “read” for anyone hoping to understand the ramifications of a Trump presidency.

It is a common “ice-breaker” question to ask “if the whole world were listening, what would you say?” I’ve never had a good answer to that question, and I still don’t, but if I had all the world’s attention in this moment, as we watch children in Aleppo buried under rubble, as we’re taught to fear our Mexican and Muslim siblings, as we’re waging wars of division, I would simply say “please take Shaun Tan’s message to heart.” Then, I would give each member of the human race a copy of this book to review. While not perfect, and certainty not the best graphic novel out there, The Arrival takes a deeply relevant and important stand, and it does it without ever saying a word (Full Review). (4 Stars).

 

Let me know what books you read this past month, or if you’ve read anything I have, by posting in the comments below!

You can follow Ben on Twitter, Tumblr, and read along with him on Goodreads.

 

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