July Recap and August Plans

July went by so fast! We’re going to start doing something new. A brief recap of the month along with some plans for the next month at the end. (Rough plans, remember. Things change. Often.)

This month we tried something new with reading each other’s favorite books. Next month, we’ll be reading Bonk by Mary Roach.

Caidyn

Well, this month, I read a lot. Like usual. I went on vacation early this month to New York City, so I got quite a bit of reading done. Some highlights of this month were:

I read More Than This by Patrick Ness because of Chantel. It’s her favorite book and it’s certainly a very good one.

Also, I have a personal challenge of reading all the Sherlock Holmes books/short stories. This month, I wrapped up volume one of my set with The Hound of the Baskerville. August, I’ll be starting to read The Return of Sherlock Holmes.

Next month, I’ll be reading many things like usual. I have two ARCs on my plate (The Heart’s Invisible Furies and Crazed) that I need to read in August. I also was requested to read a book, 1066 & The Battle of Hastings, by Charlie Fenton, so I plan on doing that this month. As for the rest, my tentative list is this:

Chantel

In July I was bogged down by the behemoth that is The Book Thief by Marcus Zuzak which was Caidyn’s choice for me this month. We both picked our favorite novels and assigned them to each other.

Since I spent most of the month focusing on The Book Thief, I only read two other books. Queens of Geek by Jen Wilde and Every Heart a Doorway by Seanan McGuire. I really enjoyed both books and even gave Queens of Geek five stars. Every Heart a Doorway was a delight to read as well and featured an asexual main character which I absolutely loved. I would recommend both books and I’m glad I finally was able to mark them both off of my TBR.

Tentative TBR:

Will I read all of these in August? Probably not, since Bonk is also on there, but I’ll definitely try to have most of them read by the end of the month. We’ll see how it goes!

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More Than This by Patrick Ness

More Than This

(Caidyn)

4/5

This was Chantel’s pick for me this month. I chose to go into this completely blind, actually. All I needed to know was that it was by Patrick Ness (since I did love A Monster Calls). Chantel knows me well enough, so I trust her when she recommends a YA book to me. You have teen love and rejection and loss. You have death and domestic violence. You have the search for identity. All of those are very YA themes that annoy the shit out of me, but Ness balanced them in a way that made this feel more like an adult novel, with the mystery and pacing of a sci-fi and action story. It’s masterfully balanced.

To be honest, this book is hard to rate and discuss since so much of what I want to write about happens later in the book and are definitely spoilers. It’s a very odd book, a mix of sci-fi and contemporary YA to make this weave of wondering about reality. This book is mainly about reality and what we consider “more”. Because, what does that even mean? More means different things to different people and can be different for various situations.

All of the characters in this book want more. They think that there is something better out there for them. They seek it out without thinking about what they have at that moment. It reminds me so much of our culture. When I was spending time with a friend in NYC, we decided to go to brunch. Now, I’m a person who’s happy to settle. I’ll search around, but if something feels right, I don’t care about price or anything like that. On the other hand, my friend searched around for an hour, trying to find the place with the best brunch deal. Fact checking websites, going through multiple lists of brunch places, scouring for information about the deal, etc. It was insane. In the end, after so much arguing and me just caving in to whatever place she wanted, we had a mediocre meal. All because she was searching for the best deal since she was convinced there was something “better”.

We constantly believe that there’s more when we should be happy and grateful for what we have. Strive for better, of course. Get out of shit situations if you’re in one. But, try to keep in mind a feeling of gratitude. That’s something all of the characters struggle with and really made this book deeper and more poignant than I thought it would be.

My only critique is that I hoped for more of a wallop by the ending. From my last experience with Ness, I was bawling and couldn’t stop bawling. Then when I finally stopped, I tried to explain the book to my mom and just started up again. This book just didn’t have that. I was moved by the stories, but not to the point of really connecting and resonating with the characters.

This book is deep and heavy, yet extremely action packed and intriguing. The only reason it didn’t get five stars is because it lacked the final, emotional oomph.

The Book Thief by Markus Zusak

The Book Thief 10th Anniversary_Markus Zusak

“I always saw the book as a kind of love story, with Liesel at its center.” – Markus Zusak


This was the book Caidyn assigned to me for July as part of our book club. We decided to choose our favorite book to assign the other to read.

(Chantel)

5/5 – I feel some shame at having taken so long to read this book. Then again, I’m not always drawn to books I know will break my heart. I was about halfway through this behemoth of a book when I decided what my rating was going to be. This was the easiest five stars rating I’ve ever given. It is THE best book I’ve read all year and I don’t know if another book will come close.

The book takes place during World War II, in Germany. Almost immediately, I had a sense of dread. Before I even opened the book, I dreaded what would happen to these characters. That dread followed me through to the last page. What made matters worse, was how attached I became to each character who came into Liesel’s life. The relationships she had with Hans, Max, and Rudy were so powerful and there was so much love between them even if it was never said out loud. It was the little things. The way the characters would do selfless things for each other without a second thought, and the characters came alive against this very real and tragic backdrop of WWII.

Death is a character I want to talk about separate from everyone else. Death is telling this story of Liesel, the book thief, and brings such a unique perspective on humans. Of course, Death is a fictional character created by a human, but that doesn’t invalidate anything Death says in my opinion. Throughout the book, Death isn’t just someone who takes people’s souls to whatever comes after life, but Death sees things that we as humans might not. At the same time, Death feels things the same way we do. This was almost a story told from Liesel’s perspective, according to Zusak, but instead, he kept coming back to the narrator being Death. Having a distance and yet intimate narrator such as Death, someone who sees people at their weakest moment, that was a brilliant decision.

This book made me smile, made me laugh, made me angry, and made me cry. I felt so many emotions throughout this book and yet, I found the ending uplifting. I mean, that doesn’t even mention that the book is divided into parts and each part is the title of a book significant to Liesel. That blew my mind when I figured that out. It’s a minute detail, but it adds something to the book.

This book is gorgeous. Some of the lines Zusak wrote are breathtaking. I was a sobbing mess at the end of this book and it was still breathtaking. I would highly recommend this book. The Holocaust and World War II is a heavy subject and it’s not the easiest read, so I understand it’s not a book for everyone. More than its setting, this is a book about the distinct types of love one girl has for the people in her life. To me, that’s what made the book worth the read.

My Cousin Rachel by Daphne du Maurier

My Cousin Rachel

(Caidyn)

4/5

The only reason I even know about this book is because of the movie that came out, and now I can actually watch since I’ve read the book. I went into it completely blind. I had no clue who the characters were (besides Rachel, obviously) or what the plot was or anything. I’m completely glad that I did, otherwise I would have completely ruined the book for myself. This one isn’t as popular as Rebecca and it does pale slightly in comparison, but that’s because they’re incomparable. The similarities end after the naive main characters.

The barebones plot is that Philip’s uncle Ambrose goes and gets married to Philip’s cousin Rachel. While he’s away, he dies mysteriously. Rachel comes home to the house that will belong to Philip when he turns 25 (and he’s almost that age). All hell breaks loose… in a really controlled, British way.

Again, those are no spoilers. Even though it’s an incredibly quiet book that can take a bit to get through, everything’s laid out. What happened to Ambrose? Did Rachel kill him? What the hell does Philip think he’s doing? Those questions, and more, spun in my head while I read, trying to piece together the puzzle until the end. And that ending? What a shocker. I didn’t expect it like that.

Not as tense as my last Daphne du Maurier book, but I can see why she’s still lauded for her books. She isn’t just a one-off writer. She knows how to spin a gothic tale.

I Was Told to Come Alone: My Journey Behind the Lines of Jihad by Souad Mekhennet

I Was Told to Come Alone: My Journey Behind the Lines of Jihad

(Caidyn)

5/5

I heard about this book earlier this year thanks to the New York Times’ The Interpreter newsletter. I was sitting at work and saw that I had gotten an email from them. Since I’m now an avid news reader, with the NYT as my favorite, I started reading it when I got a chance to sit down for a bit. Their interview was with the author, who talked some about her book and experiences. Me being me, I immediately went to my library’s website and placed a hold on the downloadable audiobook.

Boy was this good. I think it takes the cake as one of my favorite non-fiction books this year. It begins with her explaining about her life, her beginnings in Germany and Morocco, then through school and into her early work. It covers the course of her life so far and it is an impelling listen/read. Honestly, I didn’t want to stop listening to it because her story was so interesting. More importantly, I was shocked that I had never heard of Souad. A Muslim woman born and raised in Europe, who now writes and has contacts in various jihadi groups? And who also played a huge role in uncovering Jihadi John and explaining to the rest of the (white) world why we’re hated? I mean, this is legendary.

Without giving away anything, because I definitely think that it’s best to read this instead of read about someone’s take about this interesting book, I think my favorite part was seeing all of the parallels between her life and the current people fighting for Islam. European born and raised, second-generation, sees the double standard all around them about whether they’re European or Middle Eastern, the anger that brings. Radically different reactions to it, but I feel that’s why she was able to slip in so easily into the world and end up with so many contacts who actually cared about her despite different ideologies.

I highly recommend this book to anyone. It’s very well written and just an interesting topic matter. Even more timely as the world changes even more while people try to come up with reactions to it.

Girl in Snow by Danya Kukafka

Girl in Snow

(Caidyn)

DNF at 15%
1/5

I received an ARC of this book in exchange for an honest review. Thank you to Netgalley and Simon & Schuster.

My personal rule is to stop reading a book I don’t like at 15% if I’m not sure about it. This book was no different for me.

While the writing was purely gorgeous and I think that the characters were interesting, I couldn’t stomach the way it was told. Three POVs that may or may not link together — I’ll never be sure if they do and that’s fine by me — and span from Cameron, a boy obsessed with the murder victim; Jade, a girl who is just an angry teenager; and Russ, a police officer assigned to the case.

I found none of them interesting. Cameron was, admittedly, the most interesting. He was a stalker and the biggest candidate for being the murderer. He also just struck me wrong. I don’t care that he’s watching people? Just stop it. Jade annoyed me the most. Holy hell. Just picture a model from Hot Topic and the attitude you had as a teen and that’s her character. That’s it. I didn’t care to find out whatever backstory she had with some guy involved with the murder victim. Russ… I don’t know. I don’t care.

Writing good, story not interesting. It struck me as YA when it was definitely not YA thanks to mentions of sex. (Also… why all the sex? Pointless to the development of the story.) This seemed more like a character study of uninteresting people framed around the drama of a murder investigation without feeling any shred of suspense about who the killer was.

The Trespasser by Tana French

The Trespasser (Dublin Murder Squad #6)

(Caidyn)

4.5/5

It’s no secret that I love Tana French’s Dublin Murder Squad series. It’s fantastic and it’s even better that I don’t technically have to remember the last book in the series since they’re all separate. Great for me and my brain that forgets series quicker than I’d like to admit.

Like everyone else who’s reviewed this book, it focuses on Antoinette Conway who was introduced during the last book. She’s partnered with Steve Moran, the focus of the last book. They get thrown a case, seems an open and shut one. A simple murder of Aislinn, a pretty girl, probably done by her boyfriend that she was preparing to have over. Then, the plot deepens when Lucy, Aislinn’s friend, tells them she was involved with a married man.

From there, it tackles a topic that’s been in the news quite a lot. And, sadly, I can’t get into it since it’s a bit of a spoiler for later things, but it’s a constant thread throughout the whole book. Or the threat of it being a thing.

This wasn’t French’s best book by any means. I found it boring and, sometimes, annoying. There wasn’t a lot that happened and I found Antoinette pretty annoying. She constantly had her guard up, making me wonder what had happened to make her view the world so badly. The case was interesting but slow moving. Antoinette’s mistrust ran so deep that I wanted to know why she was like this. However, it wasn’t adequately explained for my liking and there wasn’t a proper wrap up to the case. Much like real life, but I wanted more.

Other than that…. I just want the next book. I want to know who it’s going to focus on since there are a couple of people it could be about. Even though this wasn’t her best, it’s still good and I want to know what’s the next chapter for this series.

Into the Gray Zone: A Neuroscientist Explores the Border Between Life and Death by Adrian Owen

Into the Gray Zone: A Neuroscientist Explores the Border Between Life and Death

(Caidyn)

4/5

The gray zone. A thing that no one has really heard of but everyone would know once they hear me say “vegetative state”. That’s what the gray zone is. People who are somewhat responsive or completely non-responsive to the world around them. It’s something most people are familiar with, the topic that sparks so many debates about the right to life or the right to die with dignity. It’s a really hot topic.

Adrian Owen is a neuroscientist whose research focuses on the people in the gray zone. Mainly, his research focuses on how to bring people out and how to know whether people are conscious of what’s going around. It’s a huge topic. Do these people know what’s going on or are they completely gone? Dr. Owen takes this topic, his whole life’s research, and tries to condense it into something that’s understandable.

The only experience I have with consciousness is a very short lecture that a classmate did for an honor’s project in my behavioral neuroscience course. Everything went above my head. Consciousness is a difficult concept since it takes multiple forms. We can be aware of our surroundings, but we may not understand ourselves or be able to introspect. Emotions may not show consciousness since dogs show emotions, yet do they have the power to introspect or form complex mental maps of words, topics, or relationships.

Dr. Owen explains all things related to consciousness perfectly. He makes it easy despite having the ability to go way above everyone’s heads to reach academics who, like him, spend their lives researching it. He’s come into contact with doctors, psychologists, fellow neuroscientists, and philosophers.

This conversation has touched most people in some way. Having to make a choice about a relative or a friend doing the same. Debating something like this in a class. However, this book gives a very unique spin on it by looking at his research that examined people who came out of the gray zone and recovered their abilities.

While this book is definitely specialized and I read it because I find psychological topics fascinating — and I’m half tempted to suggest it to my advisor since he loves biological psychology — it’s incredibly accessible. You don’t have to have any past knowledge on this to enjoy it.

Finding the Lost Art of Empathy: Connecting Human to Human in a Disconnected World by Tracy Wilde

Finding the Lost Art of Empathy: Connecting Human to Human in a Disconnected World

(Caidyn)

2.5/5

I got this book from my library on impulse. It sounds interesting and it’s sort of framed like a self-help book from the title. I’m all for empathy, too. I could care less about sympathy, although it has its places, but empathy is where it’s at. For those you don’t know, empathy is the whole “walk a mile in someone else’s shoes”. It can either be feeling that emotion with them (affective empathy) or you can identify what they feel without joining in (cognitive empathy).

However, let me tell you this. Because this was my biggest problem with the book. They did not advertise it for what this book is. They don’t put anywhere that this is a Christian book. I had to read the description on Goodreads to find out that this is written by a pastor. I don’t have a problem with books targeted specifically for Christians. What I have a problem with is not saying that it is. Because it assumes that everyone reading this is a Christian and believes in God and Jesus and all of that. Hell, even my Catholic university doesn’t do that. Most of the population is Catholic or at least Christian, but they don’t assume everyone is.

If you aren’t Christian or don’t believe in the Bible, this book will not help you. Everything she frames is all put around Jesus’ works. Now, I believe that Jesus was a great person and that he was revolutionary with his teachings when you look at ancient Judaic practices. I love Jesus, quite honestly. However, I don’t believe that he was specifically the Son of God or that he’s our savior or anything like that.

But, Wilde kept going on and on about him saving us through empathy and his last moments were full of empathy and all of that. It’s very Christian when she could have left that out. She also could have brought in other religious viewpoints or pointed out the similarities in religions. She didn’t. And without putting on the cover or in the subtitle, you wouldn’t know that it’s Christian unless you read it like I did and suddenly discover a whole lot of God being talked about.

It also felt very aimed towards women since all of her examples were focused on women as if men don’t need help with empathy and connecting. Again, it’s leaving out a huge target base. I don’t think that was purposeful, but it annoyed me even more.

There are some good take away points from this book, but it was marred by theological talk since she assumed a Christian audience that she was comfortable with.

Norse Mythology by Neil Gaiman

Norse Mythology

(Caidyn)

5/5

So, this is my second time reading it. You can find my full review for it here, which includes full reviews for every story in the book. I decided to just indulge myself and listen to it since I knew that Neil Gaiman would be reading it. Let me tell you, if you haven’t listened to Neil Gaiman narrate his own work, then you haven’t lived. Not only is he a natural storyteller in general, he’s an amazing narrator. You can’t imagine how great it is since he goes all in with accents and voices. It’s fantastic.

Since I’ve already done a full review of this book elsewhere, I’m not going to bore you with the details of every single story in it. Just after my second read, I’ve decided which stories are my favorite to read.

The funniest story is Freya’s Unusual Wedding. It’s a very unusual wedding since no one gets married and, least of all, Freya doesn’t get married in it. I mean, what’s that? What a wrong title. But, seriously, it’s hilarious. I always have to cut myself back on laughing so I don’t look even more like a weirdo than I already do.

The saddest story is The Children of Loki. You might be wondering why if you haven’t heard it. Technically, it’s just a story to show what Loki can create, the chaos and mischief that gets passed onto his children. Doesn’t mean it’s sad. However, one of his children’s stories is sad and gets to me each time. It makes me hate the gods for what they did.

The most poignant story is Ragnarok: The Final Destiny of the Gods. It’s trippy like Revelation in the Bible (which I’m 100% convinced they wrote while high on acid) yet it ends with a beautiful point about how the world keeps turning. Worlds die. Civilizations crumble. Yet the world keeps going. Time continues moving.

The story that shows Loki being Loki best is The Treasures of the Gods. Another good mention is The Master Builder. Basically, every story shows something with Loki since I have a feeling Gaiman loves him, but those two stories really show him at his best/worst… depending on how you look at it.