Monthly Archives: April 2017

Book Riot’s Read Harder Challenge 2017

Published / by SarahE / Leave a Comment


I’m pursuing 2 reading challenges, which is a fantastic thing to decide to start to do on the last day of April… but, I think I’ve already ticked off quite a few of the requirements on both lists, so hopefully this won’t be too challenging. This will be the second year I’ve done the BookRiot challenge and this year’s is way harder than last year’s! I mean, read a book from a micropress! and read a book in which a character of color goes on a spiritual journey! Those seem hard- especially the micropress! That was a Roxanne Gay’s pick though, so I feel obligated to put a check in that box. I’ll try to keep the list updated as I go with different recommendations! Here’s the list:

  1. read a book about sports (ick!)
  2. read a debut novel- Spaceman of Bohemia
  3. read a book about books- The Land of Laughs
  4. read a book set in Central or South America, written by a Central or South American author- (In the Time of the Butterflies or Heretics)
  5. read a book about an immigrant or with a central immigrant narrative- Exit West
  6. read an all- ages comic-
  7. read a book published between 1900- 1950
  8. read a travel memoir- A Walk in the Woods: Rediscovering America on the Appalachian Trail
  9. read a book you’ve read before- (The Queen of Attolia and The King of Attolia)
  10. read a book set within 100 miles of your location- (Beloved)
  11. read a fantasy novel- (Ancillary Justice)
  12. read a nonfiction book about technology- Weapons of Math Destruction: How Big Data Increases Inequality and Threatens Democracy
  13. read a book about war- Blitzed: Drugs in the Third Reich
  14. read a YA, middle grade novel by an author who identifies as LGBTQ+
  15. read a book that has been banned or frequently challenged in your country- (George, Alex Gino) ALA list of most banned books
  16. read a book with all POV are people of color- The Secret Lives of Baba Segi’s Wives
  17. read a classic by an author of color- (James Baldwin)
  18. read a superhero comic with a female lead- (Gwenpool, Vol. 1)
  19. read a book in which a character of color goes on a spiritual journey
  20. read an LGBTQ+ romance novel
  21. read a book by a micropress
  22. read a collection of stories by a woman- (Runaway, Alice Munro)
  23. read poetry in translation on a theme other than love

Okay, what the hell is a micropress? Well, it’s not the same as small or indie presses, because a micropress publishes far less copies of their books. Also, there are like one or two people running the whole enterprise. You may have a micropress where you live, so give that a good google search. Unfortunately, I live in an uber conservative area, and the only local publishing that’s done in my home town is the stuff your grumpy, eighty- year- old grandpa would want to read. So I’ve had to look elsewhere. BookRiot, luckily, has a pretty good guide on their website. Roxanne Gay publishes, which surprised me, and I’m surprised, after looking at the website that it’s listed as micropress… but, this is a hard category, so let’s not get too picky I guess. After some other quick searches: Etsy! Which is awesome. They also have some pretty cool zines that I’ve always admired from afar. SadHausPress is one of those Etsy stores, although they only have zines, which I don’t think would count? Maybe if you read a lot of them? If you know more about micropresses, please share with me!

This is a work in progress, so check back for updates!





The World is Blue… for now

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Okay this book felt like it thought it had to be a graphic novel so that kids would be entertained, but the scarce illustrations were not going to do much to make this information dense book more accessible to young readers. I mean, what’s their targeted age group? This would be like showing the new Bill Nye to kids: there’s quirks, but most of the science, and climate talk goes over their heads.

Now, I do believe we need to start at a very young age educating our kids about climate change, because this will be a BIG problem for them. It’s a big problem for us, it’ll be an even bigger problem for them, BUT don’t bore them to tears because then they won’t care.

I warn you, if you bore me, I shall take my revenge.

I also didn’t agree with the author. He had me at the beginning when: “Most of the fish we commonly eat, most of the fish we know, could be gone in the next fifty years.”

That’s stunning and gripping. I mean, oh my God, right? I need to stop eating fish now! Everyone stop fishing! This is a catastrophe…But, not so fast, because Mark Kurlansky doesn’t want to hurt the fishing communities that rely on these hugely irresponsible, fish hauls. Let the fisherMEN fish, don’t regulate them, they will take care of the problem, says Kurlansky. But to me, this is like saying: let the coal miners mine, or let the oil drillers drill. If it is hurting the earth we have to STOP IT NOW! How can you wait for the fisherMEN to figure it out? They’re the ones over fishing! All the fish will be dead and consumed by the time the problem is figured out.

I’m sorry if you fish. I really don’t have anything against your profession, but I find this climate change debacle terrifying and really fucking frustrating.

If you want to really KNOW about the ocean, and you care about the ocean and its future check out The World Is Blue: How Our Fate and the Ocean’s Are One. Sylvia Earle is amazing. Also there’s a documentary on Netflix called Mission Blue, mostly about Earle, but it’s also a platform for her to implore the viewers to CARE. (Earle doesn’t eat fish btw…)

This book was a big OKAY. Its concerns were real and important. Its message was sincere, but its plan to solve the problem… Flawed.

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“Suppose time is a circle, bending back on itself. The world repeats itself, precisely, endlessly.” – Alan Lightman “Einstein’s Dreams”

I finished this book right before work this morning, which really sucks, because I was really emotional and this review would’ve been way different if I had been able to write it right away, but alas, 8 hours later you’re about to get the more subdued version.

I’m going to lay it all down right here: Rufus Weylin, Dana’s (the main character) slave owning, many times great grandpa, is one of the most despicable, horrifying characters I’ve ever had the displeasure to read about. I HATED this man. Loathed him. Couldn’t understand Dana’s feeling of connection with him. So let me back up and explain the plot.

Dana is a modern woman living is the 1970’s. She’s recently married to a white man, and they’ve just moved into their first house together. Everything’s fine until Dana spontaneously gets pulled (?) back into the early 1800’s Maryland. Maryland is a southern state, a slave state, and Dana is black. Why is this happening? Why this time, this place? Well, Dana’s great, great (piece of shit) grandpa Rufus is a bit of a klutz, and is constantly almost dying. Every time this happens, Dana gets pulled back and has to save his sorry ass. Although really tempting to let him just meet his fate, Dana cannot if she wants to continue existing.

Everything, the psychology of the slave, the psychology of the slave owner, women’s place as both slave and slave owner, the violence- everything was in this book. It was emotionally taut. A very fast read. Painful. What Dana was able to endure; I would never be strong enough to emulate. I could not have been beaten, or held against my will. I would’ve shriveled up into nothing. I tiny little nugget of my former self. Not Dana though, she kept it together. Endured Rufe…

Rufe… that shithead little snake of a man. How I HATED him. Wanted him dead. Why and how Dana? I could not. I hated Rufus more than I hated his father. At least with his father you knew what you were getting, but Rufus was a monster that pretended at times to me empathetic, but when he didn’t get his way he was even more dangerous.

I couldn’t recommend this book enough. It was so powerful. The writing was dated a bit, but the message was relevant. Will always be relevant. Our country was built on the back of slavery and murder. I hope we never forget that.

A Father Daughter Relationship: Don’t Say Aww

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“I abandoned her. It’s the one capital crime of fatherhood. Mothers can fail a thousand different ways. A father’s only job is: do not abandon this child.” – Catherynne M. Valente

This is one of those books that kept making me wonder what it would look like as a movie. Who would play Hawley, who could possibly play Loo? But really I hope they don’t make this a movie, because it’s too good, and like most books made into movies I hope people pick up the book rather than waiting for a movie.

I also like to keep books like these a secret, and when they make them into movies everyone knows about them, and they don’t feel like a secret anymore.

I gobbled this book up in three days. It was just marvelous. Loo has officially made my list of awesome female characters in literature 2017.

Loo is raised by her father. She is taught to shoot and she is taught to run. Her mother died when she was a baby. She drowned in a lake. That is all Loo knows about her mother, except for the few possessions and photos Loo’s father Hawley sets up in the bathroom of whatever motel they happen to be staying in. Loo enjoys her life on the road, but there are secrets, and Hawley is inscrutable. When Loo is twelve Hawley takes Loo to a small town in Massachusetts where her mother grew up and where her grandma still lives. They settle down in a small house. Hawley starts to fish. Loo goes to high school. Loo doesn’t make friends easily, and finds violence a more accessible way to deal with the people who bother her. One particular boy, Marshall, gets his fingers broken. Marshall never really leaves Loo alone though, despite the fingers, and as they get older their relationship becomes more romantic. After five years, Loo feels more settled, but Hawley still has secrets. Secrets that keep him closed off from her, and she wants to know what he’s been keeping from her all this time.

Marshall and Loo’s budding relationship was darling. There’s no other word for it, I even checked the thesaurus!

This story was written in alternating chapters between the past and present. The past was told through the bullets Hawley had been shot with. It starts with the first and works towards the twelfth. It was a clever way of telling Hawley’s story. I’m not giving too much away by saying we get to see how Hawley and Loo’s mother Lily meet, and how Lily dies…

If this had been a movie I would have bawled my eyes out.

Now the most important aspect of this book, of course, is the father daughter relationship. I’m not the person that thinks awwww look at that man raising that child all by himself. That is so cute. He’s such a good man… I’m not that person, because for real people women do that all the fudging time! Hawley was a very flawed man. But he raised Loo by himself for a while. He took her all over the country, and she got an education like not many other kids do. Was Loo better off living like this? That’s an impossible question. Loo was who she was. There are always an infinite number of choices we make that shape our lives, so Loo was a little girl raised by her criminal father and taught to shoot when she was twelve. She was unique. Hawley did a good job, and she loved him, and he was in her blood, and she was in his blood, and he was her father, and they loved each other. That’s what a parent has to do: love their child.

I love this kind of book! LOVE IT! She Rides Shotgun comes out in June, and the premise is similar, and I absolutely can’t wait to read it

Dry Leaves of a Heart

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“He lives down in a ribcage in the dry leaves of a heart.”

I saw Downfall in college. I took a class about the Holocaust, and at the end of the semester, I guess to wrap things up, we watched Hitler, Eva Braun, Goebbels, and Goebbels wife and children, all kill themselves in a bunker. It sent chills down my spine. It was so bleak and ugly. Indescribably terrible. It’s always stuck with me.

This book disturbed me. It read like horror. A reverse Dorian Gray. Hitler sold his soul to the devil, but instead of a picture showing the decay of his soul, he was cursed with the corrosion of his vileness in any mirror he had the disadvantage to look into.

By the end of the war Hitler was taking over 150 tablets a week, cocaine, and meth. German soldiers were doped to keep them awake so they could blitzkrieg France and Russia. Hitler, with false bravado attained from taking uppers, took complete command of his army, and made absurd orders that ultimately led to Germany’s downfall.

Hitler was crazy. But as Norman Ohler specified: he had been crazy from the beginning, and the drugs did not make him the evil sonofabitch he was. They were just an unpleasant additive.

This book was great in a terrible way. I listened to it and the baritone of the narrator lent itself to the tone of the book. I would highly recommend reading this book. Even if you feel you’ve exhausted every avenue of WWII history, I think you’ll find something new in this book. Also, as so many countries are surging further right in their political attitudes I think it’s important to see the degradation- body and soul, of one of the most evil men in history.

Female Young Adulthood

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The Lie Tree

Frances Hardinge

She had tumbled off the safe, hallowed shore of childhood, and now she was in no-man’s-water, neither one thing nor another, like a mermaid. Until she dragged herself up on the rock of marriage, she was difficult.

Man oh man friends. I so connected with Faith. What a great portrayal of female young adulthood. The yearning for her father’s love and understanding. Longing to be something more than the people around her expected. Hiding a passionate nature beneath the poised, subdued young lady society assumed she was.

This book was set in Victorian England, on an island called Vale… That’s all I’ll say, because you can read the synopsis many different places, and what I’m must anxious to talk about is Faith, and my feelings about it ALL.

Let me now tell you all the different books I compared Frances Hardinge’s book to while reading…It’s setting was wet and desolate like the moors of Wuthering Heights. In the beginning, Faith reminded me of one of the meek female characters from Dickens; his “good women”. Faith’s mom Myrtle reminded me of both Scarlet O’Hara and Mrs. Bennet from Pride and Prejudice. I also kept thinking about an Agatha Christie book that I’d read that also took place at an archaeology dig ( I can’t remember the title).

So, most of these comparisons were happening at the beginning of the book, because as it went on all juxtaposition was forgotten. This book, yo…

There was a mystery going on, but really…

Faith was not strong, and nobody had ever taken advantage of that before. But now she knew the threat had always been there, lurking in every smile, every bow, every allowance made for her sex. A veil had torn, and here was the truth in all its ugliness.

I mean wow, right? What a perfect time period to write about feminine issues, and the vulnerable nature of females in a male- dominated culture. Civilized we call ourselves…

“This is a battlefield, Faith! Women find themselves on battlefields, just as men do. We are given no weapons, and cannot be seen to fight. But fight we must, or perish.”

I should’ve ended with that quote for effect.

Also, I can’t believe I didn’t think of this comparison earlier, but I think at the end, this book is most similar to Libba Bray’s A Great and Terrible Beauty .

This book just didn’t disappoint.

Exit West

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Exit West

Mohsin Hamid

“Look on every exit as being an entrance somewhere else.”– Tom Stoppard

A book about immigration. Nativism. Globalization. War. Terrorism. Extremism. Love… And I read about all this in a single afternoon, which didn’t seem right. These things are complex and should sprawl page upon infinite page.

But, Mohsin Hamid was able to cover all these themes in a mere 229 pages. That’s all Mr Hamid? Surely you’d need more?

Saeed and Nadia live in an unnamed Middle Eastern city that becomes a war zone not unlike Aleppo, Syria. They have jobs and lives and Saeed has a mother and father he loves. Nadia has independence, which she loves. They find each other and form a strong bond. Saeed falls in love, Nadia isn’t sure. They are intimate, but don’t have sex because Saeed wants to wait until they’re married. Unfortunately, life, and war gets in the way of their budding relationship. The city falls to the militants, and they know they have to escape.

There are rumors of doors. Doors to other parts of the world. If you can find one of these doors you can escape.

I don’t think it’s giving too much away to say that Saeed and Nadia find a door, and escape their city. In fact this happens on about page 100. The rest of the book follows Saeed and Nadia as they enter and exit places that greet them as immigrants.

At times apocalyptic, ultimately there was a sense of hope. A hope for a future without borders and walls. A hope for a world where we are all people, and that’s enough.

[{There was a wonderful quote about the apocalypse happening, but the world not ending, just remaking itself, but I didn’t mark the quote, and can’t find it, so just imagine I did, and that’s how I ended this review}]

If you could walk through a door and go anywhere in the world, where would you go?

Let’s Try This Again

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The Women in the Castle

Jessica Shattuck

I like WWII books. If you were to look at my reading history, you would find obvious evidence of this. If I had to choose Atonement or Survival in Auschwitz or even Life After Life would be my favorites. But what a thing to say: I love reading about mass murder, the holocaust, and war. That doesn’t reflect well on me. But I know I’m not alone when it comes to this time period. So what’s wrong with me and everyone else obsessed with WWII? Well, I can’t speak for anyone else, but I blame my own obsession partly on my love for The Sound of Music as a kid. My grandma had the movie on VHS and it was so long that it was on two different tapes. I watched it over and over and over…I also blame it on being American. We were the saviors storming the beaches at Normandy. We were on the side of good and we defeated evil. But WWII, that’s all history; more fiction than fact. A surreal fever dream. Hitler’s as real to me as a red devil with horns. But reading history, even terrible history- there’s comfort there…

“You think your pain and your heartbreak are unprecedented in the history of the world, but then you read. It was books that taught me that the things that tormented me most were the very things that connected me with all the people who were alive, who had ever been alive.”

-James Baldwin

The Sound of Music reminds me of my grandma, so to avoid a circuitous explanation I’ll just use a colon and say: WWII reminds me of my grandma. (Take that as you will…)

So compared to all the books I’ve read about WWII, how’d this one stack up? Well, it was okay. It was less than what I was hoping it would be. What I wanted: “chick-lit” essentially, I wanted the girls to get together in the big castle and make a life together. I wanted friendship, and holidays, tears, and girl talk. I wanted the women to fend for themselves, and be okay.

What this book was not: it was not “chick- lit”, but that would’ve been okay if it had been less than what it was, which was tragedy. That was what WWII was, no? It was tragedy, BUT THIS BOOK!… the setting was after the war, so did it have to be so horribly sad? Reprieve, reprieve!

The Women in the Castle was about Marianne and the women she promised to protect after all the men were killed (resistance fighters who tried to assassinate Hitler). But I didn’t like Marianne, or at least, I didn’t feel close to Marianne, or Benita. Ania’s story was almost too tragic not to feel drawn to, but who she was…I never could tell.

There was something very smart in this novel though, an idea I had not really heard expressed before, and I’ll try to explain it without giving anything away- human rights didn’t exist before WWII. There was no United Nations, or Human Rights Watch. Civil Rights didn’t exist. It wasn’t really a concept yet. Now, these things are all very real. We see images of human rights abuses from all over the world. But, in the 1930’s and ’40’s in Germany, Germans were not inundated with pictures of starving and dying people in Concentration Camps. They were aware that Jews were being taken to “camps” but that was ambiguous. When they heard camps, they thought: camps! Not mass murder. It wasn’t until after the war, and as the war neared its end that they were met with the grizzly pictures, and the truth.

Hitler, Goebbels, and the Nazi bastards made worldwide human rights a precedent that we try to  pressure all nations to adhere to. I wish we were more successful.

I don’t want to discourage anyone from reading this book. It was a solid read. A good history. A quick story.