Archive for the ‘Book Reviews’ Category

2016 Books: The Pretty

Okay, so these book covers aren’t necessarily pretty but they are ones that drew me in. I put a * next to the ones that are also on my 2016 Books: The Good list. Winning all the awards!

Her Name in the Sky by Kelly Quindlen
I looked at this one for a long time. It works well with the wistfulness of the story.

*Where’d You Go, Bernadette by Maria Semple
This kind of pop art really sells the whimsical nature of the story.

The Women in the Walls by Amy Lukavics
This book didn’t live up to the creepiness of the cover.

Habibi by Craig Thompson
Beautiful art style, suspect story

Dawn at Emberwilde by Sarah E. Ladd
I read this for #LaddSolidarity but I also really like the cover.

*Romeo and/or Juliet: A Chooseable-Path Adventure by Ryan North

Let Me Die in His Footsteps by Lori Roy
SO PURPLE of course I like it

Shell-Shocked by Jessica Payseur
I just think everyone needs to see this cover. LOOK AT IT. It’s an Easter-themed romance novel.

The Year of the Beasts by Cecil Castellucci
I’m here for modern Medusa

I’ll See You In Paris by Michelle Gable
This cover looks like something I’d enjoy, but alas

*Augie and the Green Knight by Zach Weiner
All the art in this book was great!

*Anything but Ordinary Addie: The True Story of Adelaide Hermann, Queen of Magic by Mara Rockliff
Get it, girl

The Core of the Sun by Johanna Sinisalo
Another cover that’s not pretty but is interesting

Sprinkles! Recipes and Ideas for Rainbowlicious Desserts by Jackie Alpers

*Anya’s Ghost by Vera Brosgol
Graphic novels I liked usually make it on here because I love the art

*The Girl from Everywhere by Heidi Heilig
The cover itself looks exciting even before you know what it’s about

Baba Yaga’s Assistant by Marika McCoola

*LumberJanes vol. 3: A Terrible Plan by Noelle Stevenson
Lumberjanes pretty much always ends up on here, right?

*The Encyclopedia of Early Earth by Isabel Greenberg
Another great graphic novel

Surprise-Inside Cakes by Rettke Amanda

Previously: 2016 Books: The Ugly

2016 Books: The Ugly

Here are my picks for ugliest book covers of the year (out of ones I read). I put a * next to the ones that were also on my 2016 Books: The Bad list. Rocking it with all the bad awards!!!

One More Thing: Stories and Other Stories by B.J. Novak
As boring as it can get, really

Over Easy by Mimi Pond
I expected more from this graphic novel

Fortune’s Pawn by Rachel Bach
If this book hadn’t been recommended to me, the cover would have turned me away. I’m not into technical specs about your space ship.

*Feeling Lucky by Kathy Bryson
Dude is still wearing a shirt? What kind of romance novel cover is this?

*American Werechaun in Dublin by Andy Click

Pamela; or, Virtue Rewarded by Samuel Richardson
This book was considered downright SALACIOUS in its time, so I feel like this cover could try harder.

Ratfucked: The True Story Behind the Secret Plan to Steal America’s Democracy by David Daley
This book was really interesting, but its cover isn’t doing anything for it.

You’ll Grow Out of It by Jessi Klein
Those bangs, oh god

The Gates of Evangeline by Hester Young
It took me a stupid amount of time to realize that those are trees. Why are they sideways?

*To Catch an Heiress by Julia Quinn
Rose clip art. Not even trying.

*The Warlord by Elizabeth Elliott
At least he’s not wearing a shirt, but the luscious flowing locks aren’t really doing it for me.

Eight Hundred Grapes by Laura Dave
This looks like a children’s book not an angsty novel set in a winery

Fates and Furies by Lauren Groff
You can do better

*Cosmic Sex by Karen Kelley
He looks stoned

Can’t We Talk About Something More Pleasant? by Roz Chast
This cover makes my teeth itch

Pogue’s Basics by David Pogue

*Kana’s Quest by Anthony Ray Olheiser

The Girls by Emma Cline

*The Eyes of the Arab Boy by R Lamirand
I hate everything about you

Previously: 2016 Books: The Bad
Next: 2016 Books: The Pretty

2016 Books: The Bad

This year I rated 11 books 1 star on GoodReads. Here they are:

It was a tough call on Worst Book of 2016. But I’m going with Looking for Alaska, mostly because of how critically and socially acclaimed it is. That raises expectations pretty high (unlike most of the other books here, which I expected to be terrible), so when it sucked it felt worse.

Looking for Alaska by John Green
I read this for Banned Books Week. Here’s my full review of why it sucks.

Library Book Sale Trash
The Warlord by Elizabeth Elliot
A romance novel I got for 20 cents at the library book sale. It’s about a dude in 12th cent. Scotland marrying a girl to save her from her evil step father. And then they find love.

To Catch an Heiress by Julia Quinn
In this crappy romance novel, an English lord/AGENT OF THE CROWN kidnaps the wrong girl because he thinks she’s a Spanish spy. Then they find love.

Cosmic Sex by Karen Kelley
Library book sale has a strong representation this year! This book is about aliens landing on earth to discover what these earthmen are like.

Proving a Point to Someone
Feeling Lucky by Kathy Bryson
I read this to prove a friend wrong who thought there weren’t any romance novels about Irish dudes. This is about a woman who “catches” a leprechaun by grabbing his ass and then is entitled to his treasure. He tries to seduce the treasure back. Also in this universe leprechauns are just hot dudes who like money and can dance in mid air because why not.

American Werechaun in Dublin by Andy Click
I read this book for the same reason. It’s about a dude who keeps blacking out at the full moon and waking up with gold coins in his pocket. You know, a werechaun. Eventually he learns to control his powers and brings peace to the warring leprechaun and werechaun communities.

Kana’s Quest by Anthony Ray Olheiser
I read this when James Fox challenged me to read a knock-off Lord of the Rings book. It’s about the war between angels and Satan and involves some angel/human romance. It’s completely insane.

Passion and Ponies by Tara Sivec
This book is about a woman deciding she can overlook her Friend With Benefits brony tendencies and upgrade him to Boyfriend status.

Hate Book Club
Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert
I read this for Hate Book Club, full review here.

The Eyes of the Arab Boy by Rod Lamirand
This was another Hate Book Club selection, famous for the author himself volunteering it. Full review here.

Just Randomly Bad
The Secrets We Keep by Trisha Leaver
This book was about a dramatic car accident that killed one twin while injuring the other and everyone mistakes the one that lived for the one that died. And now she’s just pretending to be her sister?? Forever?? It’s really dumb.

The Fate of Mercy Alban by Wendy Webb
This book had a promising description: creepy house, family secrets, MURDER. But it was badly written.

Previously: 2016 Books: The Good
Next: 2016 Books: The Ugly

2016 Books: The Good

In total this year, I read 129 books! That’s 38,293 pages! According to GoodReads. I only gave five stars on GoodReads to 27 of them (about 21%). Also 3 of them were recommended to me by other people as part of my Recommended Books project! Good job, friends!


This is the one I’m choosing as my Favorite Book of 2016, mostly because I haven’t stopped thinking about it, even though I read it near the beginning of this year. The story was so imaginative and the illustrations were awesome.

The Encyclopedia of Early Earth by Isabel Greenberg
This grahpic novel is BEAUTIFUL and so imaginative. It’s a story set thousands of years ago about an explorer from one of the poles, traveling in a canoe to different places, facing monsters and hostile civilizations, to find his True Love, who lives at the other pole. The illustrations are so great.

Other Graphic Novels

Lumberjanes Volumes 3- 4 by Noelle Stevenson

I can never get enough of these hardcore, more badass girl scouts. This time they fight an ancient demigod monster that lives in the mountain near their camp.

Princeless Volumes 1-3 by Jeremy Whitley
A princess trapped in a tower makes a deal with the dragon guarding her, and the two go off to rescue all the other trapped princesses! It’s so badass and amazing!!

Anya’s Ghost by Vera Brosgol
Daaaaang this graphic novel starts subtly creepy and ends TERRIFYING

Tomboy by Liz Prince
This is a graphic novel memoir about not fitting in to society’s gender roles, so you know I’m there. #tomboysolidarity

YA and children’s fiction

Dumplin’ by Julie Murphy
This book was about a fat girl entering her town’s teen beauty pageant with a bunch of other high school social outcasts to make a statement. I really liked its message and identified with the main character #fatgirlsolidarity

The Girl from Everywhere by Heidi Heilig
This book was rad. The main character lives on her dad’s magical ship that can travel to anywhere that’s been mapped. Anywhere. Ancient China. El Dorado. Modern day New York. 1800s Hawaii. It’s nautical time travel fantasy with cool maps.

The Whisper (Riverman Trilogy, #2) by Aaron Starmer

It’s weird that, of this trilogy, this middle one is the only book to get 5 stars. The story is about the worlds you create in your imagination as a child, and those worlds being very much real and connected. This second book is a search through the various interconnected worlds of different imaginations on a hunt for a best friend and a villain.

Augie and the Green Knight by Zach Weiner
This book is an adorable and sassy retelling of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight featuring amazing illustrations!

The Sea of Tranquility by Katja Millay
A Recommended Book! This one was set in Florida and featured angsty teens, but the narration wasn’t over-the-top and annoying COUGHJohnGreenCOUGH.

Adult Fiction

Some Luck, Early Warning, and Golden Age (The Last Hundred Years trilogy) by Jane Smiley
I devoured this series that follows one family through 100 years. Each chapter is about the next year. A little history, a little future speculation, a lot of family drama. It reminded me of Edward Rutherford on a smaller scale.

Re Jane by Patricia Park
A modern version of Jane Eyre where no one has to marry gross Mr. Rochester! And part of it is set in South Korea!

Romeo and/or Juliet: A Chooseable-Path Adventure by Ryan North
CHOOSE YOUR OWN ADVENTURE ROMEO AND JULIET!!! In one of the endings you team up with Hamlet‘s Ophelia for epic revenge.

Where’d You Go Bernadette by Maria Semple
An epistolary novel! That’s pretty silly! It has some PTA drama, some international intrigue, and an epic cruise to Antarctica! And a mystery!

Fortune’s Pawn by Rachel Bach
Another book from my Recommended Books project! This is a sci-fi novel about a badass lady mercenary working as a security guard on an oddly accident-prone cargo ship. It’s cool to see a book from the point of view of one of the ship grunt’s, doubly so because she’s a woman.


Things No One Tells Fat Girls: A Handbook for Unapologetic Living by Jes Baker
I’m really into Health at Every Size and body positivity because my past experience has taught me that weight and health might be correlated but don’t have as clear cut a causal relationship as commonly believed. This book is a series of (funny) essays about self-image, dealing with bullies, and living life.

Girls and Sex: Navigating the Complicated New Landscape by Peggy Orenstein
I really enjoyed Peggy Orenstein’s last book, Cinderella Ate My Daughter, and this feels very much like a sequel to it, featuring interviews with teens and college-age girls.

Anything but Ordinary Addie: The True Story of Adelaide Hermann, Queen of Magic by Mara Rockliff
Bet you’ve never heard of this awesome lady magician!! Your loss, because she was awesome.

The Nurses: A Year of Secrets, Drama, and Miracles with the Heroes of the Hospital by Alexandra Robbins
Non-fiction that reads like fiction! I learned a lot of worrying things about healthcare!

Saving Alex: When I was Fifteen I Told My Mormon Parents I Was Gay, and That’s When My Nightmare Began by Alex Cooper
This book is terrifying, more so because it’s very real. Alex Cooper’s account of her time in “gay conversion therapy” reads like an account of kidnapped and abused child victims except her parents willingly put her there and to this day refuse to believe that was a terrible decision.

The Immortal Irishman: The Irish Revolutionary Who Became an American Hero by Timothy Egan
This was part of my Recommended Books project this year! It’s a biography of Thomas Francis Meagher, who was exiled to Tasmania for his part in a failed Great Potato Famine-era Irish revolution, escaped imprisonment, and went on to become governor of Montana-territory!! Another non-fiction book that reads like a novel; I learned a lot.

Atlas Obscura: An Explorer’s Guide to the World’s Hidden Wonders by Joshua Foer
A non-fiction book about little-known destinations around the world!!

Previously: 2015: The Good
Next: 2016: The Bad

Banned Books: Two Boys Kissing


Title: Two Boys Kissing
Author: David Levithan
Challenged in: Fauquier County public high school library, VA
Because: homosexuality, condones public displays of affection

I was wary starting this book given my previous disagreements with David Levithan. Luckily this book was okay. It’s narrated by the collective “we” that is the chorus of gay men two generations ago, who died of AIDs and lived in fear. They’re looking on from the grave at the current generation of gay teens with compassion. It’s a narrative choice that I thought would work really well in a short story but not so much in a novel. Then at the end I found out–surprise! Levithan wrote this book to expand on a short story he’d done, kind of cramming in the plot around the conceit. That’s why it reads so disjointed. The plot itself I enjoyed: it follows different gay teens for a few days, two of whom are trying to break the world record for longest kiss. It showed the variety of experiences, like accepting and supportive parents, angry and denying parents, or parents who are just whatever. One of the boys was also transgender, which was cool. Levithan also doesn’t shy away from the negativity that is a very real part of being a gay teen today. Even if it’s better than when his collective narrator lived, it’s still here: bullying, abuse, isolation, self-hatred, self-harm, eating disorders, and suicide. Even though he includes these aspects, he also doesn’t dwell on them, making the book uplifting and hopeful over all. In the end, this book is expressly not for me, so it doesn’t matter what I thought of the narrative choices.

As to the complaints, homosexuality and public displays of affection are what this book is all about, so if you hate either of those, you probably won’t like this book. But not liking something and trying to save the rest of us who don’t share your beliefs from it are two different things.

Previously: I Am Jazz

Banned Books: I Am Jazz


Title: I Am Jazz
Author: Jessica Herthel and Jazz Jennings
Challenged in: Mount Horeb Primary Center, Wisconsin
Because: Inaccurate, sex education, homosexuality, religious viewpoints, unsuited to age group

This is a picture book about Jazz Jennings and her life–how she likes dressing up as a princess or a mermaid, how she has two best friends, how she has always felt that she is a girl even though the people around her didn’t always agree. It explains what being transgender is in a way kids can understand, and shows that Jazz is pretty much like any other girl you would meet, except that sometimes people are mean to her for who she is. The book doesn’t dwell on this, though, and the illustrations are very cute. It’s the perfect book to read to a class, for instance, when one of their classmates is transgender to forestall any bullying that may occur. Which is exactly what was going to happen in Wisconsin until a hate group and some parents complained. It’s a pretty innocuous book, unless you don’t believe that transgenderism is a thing, and then I guess it’s a sadistic attack on everything you hold dear or something. You can tell that from the vague accusations against it.

Inaccurate: Hard to be inaccurate when it’s just one person’s experience. Unless you’re taking issue with the fact that she is a girl.
Sex education: Of course these are the same kinds of people that see sex education as a bad thing. The closest this book comes to it though is the sentence “I have a girl brain in a boy body.”
Homosexuality: This is a children’s picture book, so no sexual preferences are referred to at all.
Religious viewpoints: Religion is never discussed at all.
Unsuited to age group: This is only the case if you think elementary school is too young to know that transgender people exist, a hard argument to pull when one of their classmates is transgender.

Kids seem to freak out about this stuff way less than their parents, and it’s really sad that all of these adults are setting out to bully a child.

Previously: Looking for Alaska
Next: Two Boys Kissing

Banned Books: Looking For Alaska


Title: Looking for Alaska
Author: John Green
Challenged In: Marion County, KY; Sumner County, TN; Lumberton Township, NJ; Waukesha High School, WI; Verona High School, NJ; Knox County High School, TN; Depew High School, NY; probably more
Because: sexual content, “too racy to read”, inappropriate language, it might tempt teens to “experiment with pornography, sex, drugs, alcohol, and profanity”

This book is the second I’ve read by John Green, the first being An Abundance of Katherines. That one was alright. But my previous John Green knowledge allowed me to accurately predict everything about this book because it’s the same but more pretentious and insufferable. Here’s the plot: a scrawny teen boy without any personality besides one twee-as-shit quirk that stands in for one (in this book it was memorizing famous people’s last words; in the last it was math) finds himself in a new place for vague, Eat-Pray-Love style reasons (in this book it was going to a new boarding school to “seek the great perhaps” ugggggh; in the last it was going on a destinationless road trip waiting for a “eureka moment”). His best friend is always short, stocky, and funnier than him, and exists in the text solely to give him succinct but poignant life advice and generally be the common sense brains of the outfit. Bland Nice Guy (TM) falls in love at first sight with the most beautiful and amazing Manic Pixie Dream Girl in the entire world, but she has a boyfriend so he has to pine for her from the friend zone and angst about it in his internal monologue whenever her beautiful perfect elbow chances to brush against his or whatever. She never really has a personality either, besides being fun and random but also ~dark and mysterious~ because all hot girls have a secret sadness that only a bland Nice Guy (TM) can see and understand. Then later he learns lessons about life, usually that he’s not the center of the goddamn universe, which is a tough lesson for an entitled white dude with no personality to learn, so no wonder it takes a whole book. Usually his stupid quirk ends up tying into some Great Gatsby-style smack you in the face symbolism too.


Anyway, despite all those problems, I would never challenge this book, and I can see why teens might be into it. They probably haven’t encountered these stereotypes as often as I have to be frustrated by them, and maybe they might identify with the ~angsty~ protagonist’s unrequited love. Also all the characters are well-read and reference classics in their Deep and Meaningful Life Conversations, which I find tiresome but Teen Me would have found exciting and comforting. And yes, the characters smoke, drink, think about sex, and say “fuck”, but in that regard it’s a somewhat accurate portrayal of high school. Granted, I didn’t smoke or drink in high school, but I knew people who did. Seeing it in a book wouldn’t have opened up A Whole New World of vice to me that wasn’t already available if I wanted it. And if seeing people I knew in real life do those things wouldn’t change my mind about my own choices, random book characters certainly wouldn’t. Luckily, most of the challenges above kept the book in libraries, at least. Maybe next year I’ll challenge a bunch of books for Manic Pixie Dream Girl portrayals of women. Since we can just do that for anything in books we disagree with now.

Previously: Habibi
Next: I Am Jazz

Banned Books: Habibi


Title: Habibi
Author: Craig Thompson
Challenged Because: Nudity, sexually explicit, unsuited to age group

This graphic novel is set in what turns out to be a post-apocalyptic Middle East where the only source of non-polluted water is controlled by a decadent sultan and the majority of the populace is starving and living in piles of trash. The main characters are two escaped child slaves doing anything they can to try to survive. Which mostly involves lots of prostitution.

While the art is lavish and beautiful, I don’t know enough about Islam to critique this book effectively. All I know is, it made me uncomfortable. Craig Thompson has clearly researched the Qur’an, Islamic folktales, and art styles, but the main character’s time in the sultan’s harem complete with bitchy concubines, eunuchs, and opium addiction seems straight out of a bad 1970s romance novel. I guess when your book is set in a ~fantasy future~ you’re not really worrying about historical accuracy, but employing these tired stereotypes seems sketchy at best. Plus, every man is a rapist who sees women solely as sex objects! The only man who is not portrayed as such is a eunuch, and became one specifically to escape his desire.

So I didn’t like this book, but of course that’s not a reason for it to be taken off library shelves. As to the complaints against it, there’s a lot of sex in it, and, since it’s a graphic novel, the visuals always get people more riled than all the sex in, say, Shakespeare. I think “unsuited to age group” pops up in these challenge reports anytime a parent realizes that there’s not some gate that keeps kids out of the adult stacks where ~they might encounter a book with boobs in it~ and freaks out. The answer to that, of course, is to watch your fucking kid since librarians aren’t babysitters or the Book Police.

Previously: Nasreen’s Secret School
Next: Looking for Alaska

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