Review: Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo

★★★★★

God. Damn. I love Leigh Bardugo so much.

I went into this book with such impossibly high expectations. I mean, a band of ragtag orphans, thieves, and cutthroats; an impossible heist (even the word ‘heist’ gets me riled); elemental magic and mayhem and unrequited love—it’s literally my book wishlist all wrapped up in one. How could I not love it?

Even the books themselves are freaking gorgeous. They have dyed black and red edges. I cry.

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And with my employee discount, I nabbed a beautiful boxset at B&N for $20. Can’t say no to that!

So to recap: everything I’ve ever wanted in a fantasy book + unending media hype + one of my favorite authors + books as beautiful on the outside as they are potentially on the inside = insanely high expectations.

So the fact that I, though seemingly impossible to please, came out of this book glowing with the perfection of it all, is noteworthy.

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Art by @kevinwada

Bardugo has crafted an awesome, diverse cast of characters that you can’t help but root for. Each character has a defining characteristic, something that makes them memorable instantly. Bardugo splits the story up masterfully between them all, with each chapter told from one of their POVs (except Wylan, for some reason). This is a storytelling technique few authors can pull off, so it could’ve ended badly, but those defining characteristics I mention aren’t abused and they never feel gimmicky, so the characters don’t come across as caricatures. Each of them is wonderfully fleshed out, with vivid pasts and individual problems they need to solve.

Did I mention that Kaz Brekker is the newest addition to my “book boyfriends” list as well as my “favorite characters ever” list? I mean… look at him. I have a type, ladies and gentlemen, and apparently it’s pale, emotionally-stunted pickpockets.

 

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Six of Crows never never got stale, and it never failed to surprise. Every time I thought, “That’s it, they’re done for,” Bardugo pulled out another risky maneuver or cunning plan. When you read enough YA fantasy, plot twists can start to get a lot less twisty; you realize that half of these books have “twists” that are the same across the board. Not so with Bardugo. She just has a way of making everything fresh and exciting, the same way she did with the original Grisha trilogy.

I can’t wait to read the next book in this duology, and I highly, highly recommend Six of Crows to anyone with a book wishlist like mine. You won’t be disappointed.

 

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Review: Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher (Book & TV Show)

Loaded (and controversial) subject matter, obviously, so be prepared. 

Let’s forge ahead, shall we?


THE BOOK:

First of all, let me be real: I completely hated the book version of Thirteen Reasons Why.  I originally gave it 2.5 stars out ofThirteenReasonsWhy 5, but looking back, I truly can’t remember a single remarkable thing about it; YA books are one of my easy-to-read/enjoy genres, so that might have been part of it. However, I feel I should lower my review to 1 star. (Maybe 1.5 stars, because it was at least compelling enough to finish.) I read this book in November of 2016, so obviously I didn’t feel driven enough to review it. (And, admittedly, I didn’t want to write a review that would potentially offend the hardcore fans.)

Since its publication in 2007, Thirteen Reasons Why has gained a fanatic, cult-like following. Over the years, I’d heard nothing but rave reviews for it (which, funny enough, was also the case with the irritating Gone Girl; maybe I should stop listening to raving reviewers?). So when I found a perfect condition hardcover at Goodwill, I decided it was finally the time to check it out.

Right off the bat, I’ll admit that it’s been many moons since I read the book, so my memories are a bit stale. But I can tell you one thing: it held me captive only because I’ve dealt with depression and wanted to see Asher’s depiction of this illness. So although I ended up disliking the book, one of the problems was probably that I read this as a (mostly) mentally stable 22-year-old rather than in my much-less-mentally-stable high school years. Then again, had I encountered this book in those darker times, I can’t say for sure if it would have resonated with me, helped me, or caused me to believe suicide was a viable option.

I consider myself not easily moved by social cues, so I doubt a fictional character would have convinced me to kill myself, but other youngins may not be as resilient. I very strongly believe this is not a book for high schoolers unless they are mature, or unless they are planning on discussing their thoughts on the book afterward. Though the consensus will never be in, there’s no doubt in my mind that this book glorifies the act of suicide. Hannah Baker, the main character, is a decidedly selfish individual and either ignorant or blind to anything but the nastiest or most careless acts of her peers. Clay Jensen, the awkward, caring, gangly love interest, is even worse. Hannah I couldn’t stand. Clay I despised.

Hannah goes through the novel detailing every wrongdoing from her thirteen classmates/peers, and the reasons they are ultimately responsible for her death. That’s right: Hannah, in her last act of selfishness, displaces the blame of her own suicide onto the hands of thirteen high schoolers, who will then have to live with the knowledge for the rest of their lives. The reasons for these people being on the tapes varies greatly; some, I can understand how the acts were no doubt malicious (for instance, the photographer stalker who took pictures outside Hannah’s bedroom, or her first date where the guy insinuates to his classmates that they went way further than just kiss).

But ultimately, the tapes are a last act of pettiness: I’m going to kill myself, so now you’ve got to listen to everything mean you did to me so you’ll feel bad forever; otherwise they’ll be released unto the world and everyone will know. Hannah never took the time to actually sit down and have a discussion with any of these people, mind you. Even the scene with the guidance counselor, where he asked pointedly if anything is wrong, illustrated this point. Hannah mumbled her way through a non-explanation, then ran out of the guidance office. When the guidance counselor didn’t follow her and demand (for the tenth time) an explanation, she put him on the tapes.

The fact is that Hannah didn’t want help. She didn’t want to give an explanation to anyone, she didn’t want to talk it out. She wanted to die, and she wanted to place the blame for that on anyone’s shoulders but her own.

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Now, on to the horrible Clay Jensen. Because beside the annoyance that is Hannah Baker, Clay is the second most intolerable aspect of this book.

Clay has a complex. To be specific, it’s a nice guy complex—potentially the worst complex one can have. Clay received the tapes and starts them, and his first thought is, There must be some mistake. I had a giant crush on Hannah—surely I can’t be one of the reasons she killed herself!!!1!

Well, as I discussed earlier, nobody was really the reason Hannah killed herself—but that’s beside the point. Because yes, Clay, regardless of how much you lubbed Hannah with all your heart, loving someone doesn’t make them any less depressed. Being nice to someone doesn’t make someone less depressed. Just because someone smiles at you and jokes with you doesn’t mean they’re not depressed. You get the picture. Clay repeatedly wonders why he’s on the tapes, going so far as to say he could have “saved” Hannah if she’d only come to him. Honestly, I can’t even remember the reason Clay ends up being on the tapes (again, it’s been a while), I just remember despising his attitude toward the whole thing. I do remember, however, that Clay’s chapter is completely disappointing, because we find out something along the lines of “Yeah, Clay was a great friend and he didn’t really do anything to make me want to kill myself, but he also didn’t stop me.”

So, like, he was basically on the tapes so that we could have a sympathetic main character bear witness to everyone else’s wrongdoings… All right. Wouldn’t want to mess that up halfway through with a big reveal that the main character is actually flawed!! Clay’s seeming “perfection” killed the book for me more than Hannah’s insufferableness.

The book ended on a high note (sarcasm, mind you) because Clay realized the error of his ways and saw that one of his old friends, Skye, might also be suffering from depression because—I kid you not—she wears baggy, unattractive clothes…

Christ. Sigh.

Anyway, Clay decides to sit by her on the bus and be her friend, like the true messiah he is, because if he couldn’t save Hannah he can at least save this poor, ugly creature.

So there’s that. I really disliked the book. I’m not sure I remember why I gave it 2.5 stars out of 5, because it feels much more like a 1 star to me after writing this.


THE SHOW:

The good news is that the Netflix show sucks, but it doesn’t suck quite as much. While it sticks pretty closely to the books, each 45-minute episode expands deeply on the incidents that Hannah talks about in her tapes, all while exploring the ways Hannah’s death not only affects her classmates, but also her community and her grief-stricken parents (an area the book lacked in). The longer episodes give the story room to breathe and expand on some of the relationships between the characters, and especially the relationship between Clay and Hannah, which is another thing the book lacked in entirely. Clay came across as less a friend and more a casual stalker who had barely interacted with Hannah enough to be so infatuated with her. The show makes this much more palatable and has regular scenes of them interacting, going on cute “dates” (like star-gazing), talking at their mutual workplace, etc. Their scenes together are adorable and make the subject matter even more heart-wrenching.

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I haven’t finished the show yet, but I appreciated that it also normalizes mental illness in smaller ways. Mental illness doesn’t necessarily mean being suicidal: in one scene, Clay’s parents present breakfast for him, and he notices a pill bottle on the table spread. Later, it’s revealed that he hasn’t been taking his anxiety medication regularly—he’s prone to panic attacks—and since Hannah’s death, his parents have worried about him. Not only does this normalize the stigma against such medications, but it instantly makes Clay a more relatable and sympathetic main character; he’s not a perfect character who thought he could have saved Hannah if she’d only have given him a chance, he’s a normal human with personal issues to deal with.


FINAL RATINGS:

TV SHOW: 3/5 (Although it’s much better than the book, it obviously can’t escape the book’s curse of badly presented subject material. Also, some of the acting is pretty cringe-worthy.)

BOOK: 1.5/5 (I give it this much because, again, it was for the most part well-written enough to hold my attention, but in the end it handled heavy material in a way that made it feel more melodramatic than sincere.)

Review: The Devil in the White City by Erik Larson

★★★½

I dislike non-fiction. There, I said it. I’ve always disliked it, I probably always will, but alas, I know I have a problem and I know I need to widen my literary horizons. So this year I set out to read more books that are out of my comfort zone—that is, books that aren’t fantasy and young adult. I can’t say this was strictly by choice; it was more like I was getting sick of YA and fantasy novels following the same 5 devilplot points across the board. I would read a book, like it, then pick up another book that—although the names and setting had changed—felt exactly like the last. Some authors, like Leigh Bardugo, pull it off (which is why I binged the Grisha trilogy back-to-back and am now currently reading Six of Crows). Others don’t. I seemed to be reading more of those that don’t.

I read to be transported. Not to escape, but to experience. My whole life is based around collecting experiences. It’s the reason I’ll never commit to being a vegetarian—there are too many strange, foreign foods I haven’t tried. It’s the reason I never want to end up settling in one place for too long. And fantasy, the genre that used to transport me, was beginning to feel as familiar as reality. So, feeling miffed and bored with the types of books that used to make my spirit soar with geeky abandon, I vowed to set my sights higher this year: not only would I read more books than last year, I would read books I already own but have been too wishy-washy to begin.

Out of my handy dandy book-title dish I pulled The Devil in the White City by Erik Larson, a book touted as one of the best introductions to non-fiction. Perfect. So I dug in.

I was hesitant, to be sure, but I was quickly engulfed in the picture Larson painted of late 19th-century Chicago, complete with evocative descriptions of filthy streets, destitute workers, the rank smell of horse dung and the slaughterhouses, and, of course, the complement to all of this darkness: the White City, the location of the 1893 World’s Fair.

The story follows three separate plot lines; one of the trials and tribulations of the builders of the fair, another of a deranged young man who goes on to commit a terrible crime, and the third, of course, about the infamous serial killer H.H. Holmes, who built a sprawling murder hotel and used the lure of the World’s Fair to ensnare women.

Again, as one who reads to be transported, this book was phenomenal. It was vivid and rich with trivia. For instance:

  • Olmstead, the man who designed the grounds of the White City, also designed Central Park, the Biltmore, and many other gardens and grounds.
  • Shredded wheat was introduced at the World’s Fair in 1893.
  • In an attempt to outdo the centerpiece of the 1889 Paris World’s Fair (the Eiffel Tower) the designers of the Chicago fair went all out and eventually invented the Ferris wheel.
  • Frank Lloyd Wright worked under one of the architects who helped design the fair.
  • The “snake charmer” song (also called “The Streets of Cairo, or The Poor Little Country Maid”) was a random, spur-of-the-moment creation by the young, brilliant Sol Bloom who helped design the Midway of the fair. He then went on to become a politician in New York and a delegate at the convention that established the United Nations; he also suggested the first words to the Preamble to the United Nations Charter.
  • Burnham, one of the original designers of the fair, went on to design many other buildings, including the Flatiron Building (originally known as the Fuller Building).

There were about a hundred other interesting factoids that I can’t seem to remember now, but it seems to me, a casual know-nothing, that this point in history had its fingers stuck in about a hundred other points in history, and went on to change our world in ways we may not recognize. Reading, I wanted nothing more than to step back in time and experience the whirlwind of change undergoing the country (and then promptly return to 2017, where we have sanitation laws).

This is where my enjoyment of the book comes to a relative halt. Because, if you recall, I can’t stand nonfiction. So for me, the majority of this book was a bore. I wanted to know more about H.H. Holmes and his crimes, but I didn’t want to know quite so much about all of the old white guys building the fair. Unfortunately, two of the three storylines had such tentative connections to the fair that their inclusion felt more like a way to add drama to the otherwise quite dull account of old men trying and repeatedly failing to build this fair. Without the inclusion of Holmes’ or Prenderghast’s chapters, of which details are scant, the story would have been a fairly tired, hum-drum collection of newspaper clippings tied together with bits of prose detailing the slow and often unfortunate creation of the Chicago Exposition.

So although the book was interesting, I wouldn’t quite be able to call it fascinating (there is a large gap, in my mind, between those two words). It taught me a lot of cool, historical facts (which I’ll be sure to fling out the next time I’m at a highbrow dinner party), but I do wish more focus had been placed on exploring the crimes connected (however slightly) to the fair, as I find that more interesting than a bunch of aging architects with cataracts and gout (be they geniuses or not). Overall, it just didn’t hold my attention.

Review: The Meek by Der-shing Helmer

★★★★★

My favorite webcomic has finally made its way into print (I DID MY WAITING. SEVEN YEARS OF IT–), and what a print it is. I am truly dead. It has beautiful spot gloss, especially this super creative bit on the back cover that I almost didn’t see:

Dreamy sigh. The artwork is so friggin’ beautiful and dynamic, the colors vibrant and knock-out gorgeous, the characters all soooo lovely and well-designed… I could go on.

And did I mention FRENCH FLAPS?!

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(Why do I love French flaps so much? No idea.)

So of course the minute it arrived on my doorstep I had to drop everything and read the whole thing again. Since I donated to the Kickstarter, I received a few extra goodies as well: Three beautiful bookmarks and a gorgeous postcard (that I’ll never send—it’ll be on my wall next to my desk from now on).

The Meek has a big cast of characters and a few storylines going on at once, but it hinges around a young girl named Angora who has been sent by her “Grandfather” on a quest to find “the center.” The only problem is she has no idea what that means, or that she’ll probably end up needing to save the world (dun dun dun!). And if you’re wondering why I said “Grandfather” in quotes, it’s because “Grandfather” is actually a giant lizard with trees growing out of his head. (I love this design so, so much—but please ignore the grainy, badly lit iPhone picture.)

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Oh, and Angora has the ability to control plants. They even live in her hair (which is why it’s green). On this page she wakes up on a previously dead stump, now covered in tiny new trees:

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(She also spends the entirety of the book naked, because why not.)

I love this story so much. ~*~*~(っ˘ω˘ς )~*~*~

I’ll be recommending this graphic novel up and down for the rest of my life. The gorgeous art, the lore, the cool powers (There’s a character with microwave hands. MICROWAVE HANDS.), the politics, the humor—everything just hits the sweet spot for me. (It doesn’t hurt that it reminds me so much of Avatar: The Last Airbender which will forever be one of my favorite shows.)

So yeah, take my word for it and go read this comic. This beautiful print edition includes the first three issues (introducing three of the main characters’ plot lines) but you can also read online for free HERE until volume 2 is published!

Slumpin’

It’s only mid-March and I can already feel myself inching precariously toward a reading slump. It may be because I’ve been so busy I can’t think straight, it may be because it’s tax season and for self-employed (and admittedly unorganized) people that’s the worst time of year. It may be because I just got over a flu and feel lethargic and lazy all at once. Maybe I’m not getting enough nutrients, since cooking takes time I don’t have.

But this slump feels bigger, more existential, than even all those tiny reasons compounded into one big reason. It feels aimless, like I’m searching every book for some truth I can’t bring to life, like I’m not really sure if reading (and everything that comes along with it) is really what I want to do with my life. Isn’t living what I really want to do? “I’ve lived a thousand lives, because I read,” and all that—but is one of those my own?

Reading has always been something I’ve loved. And so had writing. But writing is something that has always loomed large over my life, early on it fueled me. Now it just makes me feel as if I’m being watched. Writing has started to fill me with this vibrating tension—panic—the sensation of a rubber band poised to snap over a wrist. For a short while, when I was young, I was able to write as if the words were liquid spilling over my hands and onto paper. Even in high school, in writing classes, my stories were organic and easy to voice. And then I grew up, grew busier and busier, and the ease turned to force, and then it turned to extraction, like pulling a tooth. Because all of these identities and feelings and lives inside me, lives that were never my own, were screaming to be released and understood. Writing is, for me, not so much about self-expression as it is exploration of the other hundred thousand worlds in my head. And try as I might to catch them, they appear like a glimpse of a shadow in your peripheral vision; look at them straight and they’re gone in a wisp.

Still more like pulling a tooth is the fact that not writing, not extracting, makes me feel diseased, like there’s some pent up pain that can’t be released any other way. Like I’m disappointing my past and my future selves all at once. Still, the act of writing doesn’t fix it anymore.

I think it’s a fear of failure, a fear of never amounting to who I at one time believed I could, or should, be. A fear of pivoting; telling everyone, “Okay, I lied. I’m not a writer. I was only pretending.” Because writers write, don’t they? Anymore, the thought of writing makes me need to drink some calming tea (or preferably scream). My heart starts to speed up at the idea that my time on Earth is ticking away (yes, I’m young, but I could get hit by a bus or something) and I may never leave a smidgeon of myself behind. Is it vanity, then? Writers write, and I can’t even think about writing without breaking out in a cold sweat in the shadow of my own mortality.

Maybe I need to be face-to-face with that truth—my own insignificance, my own brevity—to write or do anything of note. Or maybe I’m just making up more excuses. Maybe I’ll eventually put something down on paper and publish it. Maybe I’ll never be a published author—perhaps not an author at all, published or otherwise. Perhaps being a reader, or a thinker or a dreamer or just me, as uninspiring as I am, is enough. The worlds and adventures humming around inside me don’t need to be put on paper to be real, though for someone to acknowledge them or connect with them would be gratifying.

 

 

Review: Egghead by Bo Burnham

★★★☆☆

As much as I love Bo Burnham’s comedy/shows/general existence, the vast majority of these poems weren’t anything to write home about. I’m just not a fan of comedy that relies on swearing and making things sexual rather than actually writing seggheadomething genuinely funny or thought provoking. Bo’s comedy routines do this too, although when it’s in a live show it seems to be more effective (but still juvenile). Basically it’s the kind of humor that you don’t really want anyone close to you to watch or read alongside you, because they’re probably going to think you’ve got an underdeveloped brain for finding it funny.

This is not to say I disliked the book, because I did like it, and there was definitely gold scattered throughout. It was witty and lyrical, basically like the XXX Shel Silverstein (who was obviously a giant inspiration for this book). A few of the poems were genuinely sweet and lovely and a lot of them make you think. Unfortunately these were overshadowed by poems aimed at people who think cussing a bunch and saying ‘pussy’ and ‘dick’ as often as possible is funny. And this is coming from a girl with the mouth of a sailor who still laughs until she cries at fart jokes… so. Take that information and do with it what you will.

Review: When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi

★★★★½

I recommended this book to four people before I’d even finished it.when-breath

It was beautiful—profound and honest and thick with questions of mortality and goodness. Kalanithi became a neurosurgeon/neuroscientist because he wanted to be at the cornerstone where “biology, morality, literature, and philosophy intersect”, and throughout the book he helps readers come to understand how by examining the brain, self-identity, interpersonal relationships, and how all of these can be affected by disease or injury.

“Doctors in highly charged fields met patients at inflected moments, the most authentic moments, where life and identity were under threat; their duty included learning what made that particular patient’s life worth living, and planning to save those things if possible—or to allow the peace of death if not. Such power required deep responsibility, sharing in guilt and recrimination.”

In the end, upon being diagnosed with stage IV lung cancer, Kalanithi’s deepest questions for his patients became those he then had to ask himself: What makes makes a life worth living?

At its core, When Breath Becomes Air is about a dying man trying to come to grips with life. The book itself never answers the big questions—in fact, the book wasn’t completed when Kalanithi died. Instead, it’s up to readers to figure things out for themselves; but the foundation he lays is enough to make anyone reevaluate their priorities.

Now, though I hate to be ~that person~ saying semi-negative things about a book written by a now-deceased person, the main reason this wasn’t a 5-star rating for me is because at times it was painfully overwritten—the prose was so purple my eyes bled. I kind of understand that you can’t talk about life and death without getting a little carried away, but it pulled me out of the book at times. I’m a fan of very, very simply writing with almost no flair.

Secondly, the foreword was completely unnecessary and added nothing to the book. This, too, was overwritten, to a stronger degree than the actual book. And Lucy’s epilogue, though heartbreaking, was insanely long for an epilogue (as in the narrator paused for a moment after 10 minutes or so and I thought it was over, I checked my phone and I still had 30 more minutes to go… of the epilogue). Parts of it probably could have been removed without diminishing its poignancy.

[Again, sorry for being ~~THAT GUY~~ but I can’t turn off my inner, bitchy, judgmental editor apparently.]

Review: The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood

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★★☆☆☆

I picked this off my shelf after Trump was sworn into office, and told myself I’d read it before it was taken away from me. As much of an exaggeration as this was (for now), I had no idea how closely the actual book would follow my line of thought. I really knew nothing about the book going into it—before seeing the trailer for the new show, I didn’t even know it was a dystopian book.

So at the beginning, I was interested. Horrified, partly. I was actually having *nightmares* when I started reading. But throughout the book my horror turned slowly to apathy, and finally eagerness for it to just be over.

I think my biggest issue here was that this was barely a story. It was an idea—a good idea, sure, but an idea with no way out. It had zero plot. It didn’t actually go anywhere. And perhaps that was the point, but it didn’t make it any more interesting. I kept waiting for something to happen, anything, but the book is a patchwork of nonevents and memories (of “before”). When something did happen it was nearly always pointless, other than to show how bleak Offred’s situation was or portray Gilead as dangerous.

While I understand that the reason for the nonexistent plot is to show Offred (and everyone) as complacent, it honestly just bored me to death. There are a lot of people who feel very passionately about this book, and more power to ’em, but I like my reads to have at least a point in the end. I don’t care how small that point is. One example is Shutter Island by Dennis Lehane. The whole book is a series of crazy events, leading up to the big reveal: [[[spoiler]]] it was the narrator all along!!!1! Wat!! [[[spoiler]]] Because without that ending, the rest of the book is just a series of events that ultimately don’t pay off.

I think the absolute worst part of this book was the ending. Horrible. I turned the page expecting another chapter, and I found something even worse: a fake keynote speech by a fake professor (or something, I don’t even care to check) talking about the “artifact” that they found, post-Gilead… also known as the book you just spent hours of your life reading. This ending, I honestly couldn’t help but feel, was the writer patting herself on the back for her cleverness. Ugh. The “professor” talks about how smart the regime was for this and that, he points out symbolism, such as the red habits that the Handmaid’s wear (symbolizing fertility), the meaning behind the names of the Aunts, Marthas, etc., just in case readers got to the last page and hadn’t yet seen how ~~~very very clever~~~ Atwood is. It was probably one of the worst endings to a book I’ve ever read, because it took the burden of coming up with a solid ending off of Atwood and displaced it like a shrug—”I guess we’ll never know!” I found it bullshit-y to the extreme, and it solidified my dislike of the book.

So there’s that. Two stars for the beginning of the book, which legitimately gave me nightmares. The rest was horrid.

Review: Born a Crime by Trevor Noah

★★★★☆

Although I’ve barely watched The Daily Show, I had seen Trevor Noah in a clip or two on Facebook and knew I liked him. This book solidified that feeling, and listening to him actually tell the story made me feel like I knew him as a friend.bornacrime

This was my first time listening to a book on tape and let me say, this will have to be the way I listen to *all* autobiographies from now on. This is also perhaps the first time I’ve ever read/listened to an autobiography, or a biography, for that matter. I’m really not big into non-fiction, so having a book on tape to listen to on my commute helped me dip my toes into the genre.

Since this is one of the first autobiographies I’ve ever read, I don’t know how to compare it to others, and I don’t know what the ‘norm’ is for them. So while Born a Crime felt more like a collection of scattered childhood stories than anything cohesive, I’m assuming that’s what most autobiographies are; a glimpse into the major recollections of someone’s life. Sometimes the stories were short and sweet, sometimes they were silly, and others, like the story about Trevor meeting his father again after years of separation, were enough to make me cry. And don’t get me started on the ending. Born a Crime is, more than anything, Noah’s powerful ode to his fiercely religious, fiery, devoted, loving mother.

Noah covered a lot of ground—apartheid, racism, sexism, classism, and about a billion other isms—and explained things in a way that was easy for a dumby like me to understand while never talking down to the reader/listener. Before beginning this I knew only the very basics of apartheid—I knew very little of what it was or how it impacted life in South Africa, and although I’m by no means an expert on it now, I know more now than I did before, and that’s always good. Any book that can teach you something about the world is worthwhile.

Still, Noah didn’t really go into how he got where he is now, being a host on The Daily Show. There were a few mentions on how he had begun touring the South Africa and doing comedy routines, but he never actually told us how he got into that position, or how he decided to become a comedian. These insights would have taken the book from being a collection of memories and transformed it into something bigger.

I gave this four stars because of the nonlinear approach it took to storytelling. Though all of the stories were entertaining, few of them connected in a bigger way, so occasionally after a particularly short, seemingly pointless snippet (there were a few of these at the end of chapters or in the middle of two longer stories) I would think, “Okay, and…?” Still, it was heartfelt and fun to listen to (and made me cry twice), and I would definitely recommend the audiobook to anybody.

Review: The New Policeman by Kate Thompson

 

★★★★☆

I have a lot of books. Last I counted, it was nearly 250—and about 98% of these are Goodwill or secondhand finds. The problem with this is I’m a notorious procrastinator when it comes to reading the stuff on my shelves. With so many new, shiny books cominnew-policemang out constantly, and so many more popping up on my Goodreads suggestions, it’s hard to get around to actually reading the things I already own. Besides, what’s the harm in buying more books? So although I bought The New Policeman and its sequel, The Last of the High Kings about four or five years ago (purchased for probably a dollar or so each at a library book sale), they’ve ended up sitting on my shelf ever since. I was interested enough to buy it for a bargain, but I guess I couldn’t muster enough interest to put the time into reading the first one. Series are such a big time investment that I always hesitate to start.

Luckily, this year I decided on a new method of choosing my next book. Using a cute wooden bowl I found at Goodwill, I filled it with all the titles of the unread books on my shelves, so now whenever I’m ready to read a new book, I just mix the names around and pluck out my next book title.

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This method has worked so wonderfully and has actually gotten me to start reading some of the books I’ve either been hesitant to read or uncomfortable with for whatever reason—my next book, The Devil in the White City, is in a genre I’ve always been wary of: nonfiction. But because of this new method I’m going for it instead of opting for something more familiar, like YA fantasy (which, admittedly, I’m starting to detest).

Either way, I’m glad I finally got around to it! The New Policeman was a really fun middle grade novel set in Ireland, and it centers around a boy named J.J. who feels stretched too thin in a world where there is simply not enough time. (Obviously this main conflict makes it instantly relatable to basically any reader in the world.) So when another year rolls around and his mother is on the verge of celebrating yet another birthday, she wishes only for more time. When J.J. sets off on a mission to buy her some time, he soon discovers that the time from their world is leaking into Tír na n’Óg, the land of eternal youth, and he has to find a way to make it stop.

The book had a great balance of realism and fantasy, and it focused heavily on traditional Irish folklore, music, and dance. For people who can read music, the book includes after every chapter a short scrap of traditional Irish sheet music, so it might be fun to play along.

Overall I found this to be a wholesome middle grade book that shows the loving and trusting relationship between a mother and her son. This is one I’d suggest to any parents looking for reading material for their children, and especially any parents looking to introduce their children to Irish mythology or perhaps traditional Irish music. Even if you’re not Irish, this was simply a great, quick read with an interesting premise, and concise, effective writing that made me keep turning pages to solve the many mysteries. I’m definitely going to be reading the next two in the series!