Thursday, February 16, 2017

The 5th Wave

Book 14 of my 2017 Reading Challenge
read from February 5 - 16

The 5th Wave by Rick Yancey
Book 1 in The 5th Wave series

Summary (via Goodreads)
After the 1st wave, only darkness remains. After the 2nd, only the lucky escape. And after the 3rd, only the unlucky survive. After the 4th wave, only one rule applies: trust no one.
Now, it's the dawn of the 5th wave, and on a lonely stretch of highway, Cassie runs from Them. The beings who only look human, who roam the countryside killing anyone they see. Who have scattered Earth's last survivors. To stay alone is to stay alive, Cassie believes, until she meets Evan Walker. Beguiling and mysterious, Evan Walker may be Cassie's only hope for rescuing her brother - or even saving herself. But Cassie must choose: between trust and despair, between defiance and surrender, between life and death. To give up or to get up.

My Opinion
I don't feel like I can fairly rate this book.  I was confused about whose perspective I was reading (the sections were in first person narration and would shift without a label) and had to flip back quite a few times to jog my memory on which name went with which secondary character.  However, my schedule was incredibly hectic and there were days where I didn't get to read it at all.  Plus I read the book in stolen moments at a cheer competition, a basketball tournament, and a MathCounts competition.  So I can't say my confusion was due to anything but my lack of focus.

Since it was very engaging while I was reading and I really like the author's writing style, I'm going to give it the benefit of the doubt and round up to a 4 star rating.

And a little plug: this series is well-known but the author has a lesser-known series, The Monstrumologist series, that I would recommend.  The first book is called The Monstrumologist.

A Few Quotes from the Book
"It's hard to plan for what comes next when what comes next is not something you planned for."

"I might be - no, I probably am - doomed.
 But if I'm it, the last of my kind, the last page of human history, like hell I'm going to let the story end this way.
 I may be the last one, but I am the one still standing. I am the one turning to face the faceless hunter in the woods on an abandoned highway. I am the one not running, not staying, but facing.
 Because if I am the last one, then I am humanity.
 And if this is humanity's last war, then I am the battlefield."

Friday, February 10, 2017

Becoming Nicole

Book 13 of my 2017 Reading Challenge
read from February 1 - 9

Becoming Nicole: The Transformation of an American Family by Amy Ellis Nutt

Summary (via the book jacket)
When Wayne and Kelly Maines adopted identical twin boys, they thought their lives were complete. But it wasn't long before they noticed a marked difference between Jonas and his brother, Wyatt. Jonas preferred sports and trucks and many of the things boys were "supposed" to like; but Wyatt liked princess dolls and dress-up and playing Little Mermaid. By the time the twins were toddlers, confusion over Wyatt's insistence that he was female began to tear the family apart. In the years that followed, the Maineses came to question their long-held views on gender and identity, to accept and embrace Wyatt's transition to Nicole, and to undergo an emotionally wrenching transformation of their own that would change all their lives forever.
Becoming Nicole chronicles a journey that could have destroyed a family but instead brought it closer together. It's the story of a mother whose instincts told her that her child needed love and acceptance, not ostracism and disapproval; of a Republican, Air Force veteran father who overcame his deepest fears to become a vocal advocate for trans rights; of a loving brother who bravely stuck up for his twin sister; and of a town forced to confront its prejudices, a school compelled to rewrite its rules, and a courageous community of transgender activists determined to make their voices heard. Ultimately, Becoming Nicole is the story of an extraordinary girl who fought for the right to be herself.
Granted wide-ranging access to personal diaries, home videos, clinical journals, legal documents, medical records, and the Maineses themselves, Amy Ellis Nutt spent almost four years reporting this immersive account of an American family confronting an issue that is at the center of today's cultural debate. Becoming Nicole will resonate with anyone who's ever raised a child, felt at odds with society's conventions and norms, or had to embrace life when it plays out unexpectedly. It's a story of standing up for your beliefs and yourself - and it will inspire all of us to do the same.

My Opinion
The prologue drew me in and the entire book read very quickly.

It really highlighted the difference a supportive family can make.  I don't want to say Nicole is lucky because I believe parents supporting their kids should be the norm, but realistically I know it's not the case and having parents willing to advocate for her, including challenging the school legally, and find the doctors who could help her gave her an enormous advantage in her transition.

While both her parents always loved her Wayne, the father, took a little longer to fully get on board and he was very honest about that.  I appreciated that the book talked about the sacrifices and struggles but also kept the underlying respect and love the family had for each other.  Everyone's position was very understandable.

Now on to the grandfather of a classmate of Jonas and Nicole's, who became a catalyst for Nicole's struggles in school which eventually led to them moving and suing the school district.  He has rights to use the system correctly and voice his opinions but the way he used his grandson to do the "dirty work" during the school day was just gross. 

A Few Quotes from the Book
"When it comes to that physical self, for a transgender person every waking moment, every conscious breath, is a denial of who they truly are. For these people their bodies are at odds with their ideas of themselves, or their ideas of who they should be. They are estranged from the very thing that sustains them in the world, and there is no way to reconcile this conflict through psychological counseling or behavioral conditioning. There is only one way out of the alienation, and that's to make the body congruent with the mind."

"The experience of who we are is a celebration of what makes us human, and one of those experiences is being male or female - or something in between."

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

The Boys in the Boat

Book 12 of my 2017 Reading Challenge
read from January 24 - February 8

The Boys in the Boat: Nine Americans and Their Epic Quest for Gold at the 1936 Berlin Olympics by Daniel James Brown

Summary (via Goodreads)
Daniel James Brown's robust book tells the story of the University of Washington's 1936 eight-oar crew and their epic quest for an Olympic gold medal, a team that transformed the sport and grabbed the attention of millions of Americans. The sons of loggers, shipyard workers, and farmers, the boys defeated elite rivals first from eastern and British universities and finally the German crew rowing for Adolf Hitler in the Olympic Games in Berlin, 1936.
The emotional heart of the story lies with one rower, Joe Rantz, a teenager without family or prospects, who rows not for glory, but to regain his shattered self-regard and to find a place he can call home. The crew is assembled by an enigmatic coach and mentored by a visionary, eccentric British boat builder, but it is their trust in each other that makes them a victorious team. They remind the country of what can be done when everyone quite literally pulls together - a perfect melding of commitment, determination, and optimism.
Drawing on the boys' own diaries and journals, their photos and memories of a once-in-a-lifetime shared dream, The Boys in the Boat is an irresistible story about beating the odds and finding hope in the most desperate of times - the improbable, intimate story of nine working-class boys from the American west who, in the depths of the Great Depression, showed the world what true grit really meant.

My Opinion
I loved the descriptions of the rowing events.  The author made it feel like they were happening at the moment I was reading.  It helped that I didn't know if they came through and won the gold medal and even though I wanted to, I didn't look it up.

The backdrop of Germany as Hitler was just getting started was frightening.  I can't believe how much effort and thought went into concealing to the world what they were already implementing, and that they were successful.  

A Few Quotes from the Book
"It is hard to make that boat go as fast as you want to. The enemy, of course, is resistance of the water, as you have to displace the amount of water equal to the weight of men and equipment, but that very water is what supports you and that very enemy is your friend. So is life: the very problems you must overcome also support you and make you stronger in overcoming them." ~ George Yeoman Pocock

"To defeat an adversary who was your equal, maybe even your superior, it wasn't necessarily enough just to give your all from start to finish. You had to master your opponent mentally. When the critical moment in a close race was upon you, you had to know something he did not - that down in your core you still had something in reserve, something you had not yet shown, something that once revealed would make him doubt himself, make him falter just when it counted most. Like so much in life, crew was partly about confidence, partly about knowing your own heart."



Wednesday, February 1, 2017

Mermaids in Paradise

Book 11 of my 2017 Reading Challenge
read from January 29 - February 1

Mermaids in Paradise by Lydia Millet

Summary (via the book jacket)
On the grounds of a Caribbean island resort, newlyweds Deb and Chip - our opinionated, skeptical narrator and her cheerful jock husband - meet a marine biologist who says she's sighted mermaids in a coral reef.
As the resort's "parent company" swoops in to corner the market on mythological creatures, the couple joins forces with other adventurous souls, including an ex-Navy SEAL with a love of explosives and a hipster Tokyo VJ, to save said mermaids from the "Venture of Marvels", which wants to turn their reef into a theme park.
Mermaids in Paradise is Lydia Millet's funniest book yet, tempering the sharp satire of her early career with the empathy and subtlety of her more recent novels and short stories. This is an unforgettable, mesmerizing tale, darkly comic on the surface and illuminating in its depths.

My Opinion
A low 2 stars, not quite a 1 rating because it didn't make me angry or have any glaring issues.  It read quickly for all the wrong reasons, because there was no substance or depth to the story or the characters.  I was still having trouble knowing which character went with which name at the end of the book.  

Everything in the last paragraph of the book description was missing for me.  I didn't see the satire or comedy and it's definitely forgettable.

Quote from the Book
"What shocks me the most, in retrospect, is that within the next few days I would assimilate the mermaids handily. One moment they were impossible, the next they were everyday, in my view of the world. Like moon landings or cell phones. They went from of course not to of course. By the second day I was not only not disbelieving in mermaids but thinking of them as a given. A quirky facet of natural history. Oh the mermaids, I would register casually when they were mentioned.
 But before the second day, there was the first."

Monday, January 30, 2017

Flight of Dreams

Book 10 of my 2017 Reading Challenge
read from January 23 - January 29

Flight of Dreams by Ariel Lawhon

Summary (via the book jacket)
On the evening of May 3, 1937, ninety-seven people board the Hindenburg for its final, doomed flight to Lakehurst, New Jersey. Among them are a frightened stewardess who is not what she seems, the steadfast navigator determined to win her heart, a naive cabin boy eager to earn a permanent spot on the world's largest airship, an impetuous journalist who has been blacklisted in her native Germany, and an enigmatic American businessman with a score to settle. Over the course of three hazy, champagne-soaked days their lies, fears, agendas, and hopes for the future are revealed.
Flight of Dreams is a fiercely intimate portrait of the real people on board the last flight of the Hindenburg. Behind them is the gathering storm in Europe, and before them is looming disaster. But, for the moment, they float over the Atlantic, unaware of the inexorable, tragic fate that awaits them.
Brilliantly exploring one of the most enduring mysteries of the twentieth century, Flight of Dreams is that rare novel with spellbinding plotting that keeps you guessing until the last page and breathtaking emotional intensity that stays with you long after.

My Opinion
Before reading this book I had the reaction that I'm sure many people would.  The Hindenburg is one of those things that everyone's heard of but who could honestly say more than 1 or 2 facts about it?

After reading this book I have the same reaction.  The author really put the "fiction" in "historical fiction".  The names of the passengers are the same (as well as who lived or died; if they lived in real life, they lived in the book) and the flight is the same but all the conversations and events during the flight are imagined.  Which is okay but not what I expected.  This turned out to be a story that just happened to take place on the Hindenburg.  As a story, there was so much going on and so many problems that I wanted to read it quickly and find the resolution because it was making me uncomfortable.

I'm now inspired to find out more about the Hindenburg, but probably from the non-fiction section.  And I would like to visit the website referenced in the author's notes, facesofthehindenburg.blogspot.com.

A Few Quotes from the Book
"[Max] knows that in nine days, when his time comes to sit in that chair and give testimony, he will not tell them the truth. Instead he will look over Schroeder's shoulder at a point on the far wall and tell the lie he has already decided upon. It is the only way to protect Emilie. And the others. Max Zabel will swear before God and this committee that it was an uneventful flight."

"This is a world of numbers and precision, a world where you do one thing and there is a specific, predictable outcome. And it is in this moment of deep concentration that he is struck by a thought: it is a pity that he cannot chart the human heart."


Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Burr

Book 9 of my 2017 Reading Challenge
read from January 6 - January 23

Burr by Gore Vidal

Summary (via the book jacket)
Gore Vidal's Narratives of Empire span the history of the United States from the Revolution to the post-World War II years. With their broad canvas and large cast of fictional and historical characters, the novels in this series present a panorama of the American political and imperial experience as interpreted by one of its most worldly, knowing, and ironic observers.
Burr is a portrait of perhaps the most complex and misunderstood of the Founding Fathers. In 1804, while serving as Vice President, Aaron Burr fought a duel with his political nemesis, Alexander Hamilton, and killed him. In 1807, he was arrested, tried, and acquitted of treason. In 1833, Burr is newly married, an aging statesman considered a monster of many. Burr retains much of his political influence if not the respect of all. And he is determined to tell his own story. As his amanuensis, he chooses Charles Schermerhorn Schuyler, a young New York City journalist, and together they explore both Burr's past and the continuing political intrigues of the still young United States. 

My Opinion
This book was highly recommended by my dad as something he's read "cover to cover multiple times".  So I went into it both looking forward to reading the book and also getting to see another side of my dad.  He's passed books on to me before but there's something special about reading a book that someone you love loves and imagining their take on it and what exactly makes them react so strongly to it.

Okay, putting my psychology degree away for the rest of the review before I get completely off track...

It was a little slow for me at the beginning but once it got into Burr's recollections it really picked up.  I'd never heard the main rumor for the premise of this book, that Aaron Burr secretly fathered Martin Van Buren.  

I'm always surprised when an author reminds me that historical figures (the Founding Fathers in this case) are not the perfect, loyal people they've been portrayed as in our textbooks.  Of course they're human and can be petty and would be upset if passed over for a promotion they felt they'd earned.

The sentence, "This insensitivity to other people's religion and customs has been a constant in the affairs of the republic and the author of much trouble...", applied back then and unfortunately continues to apply today.

I also learned a new word for snowbanks -- "snow-bitches" (thought to be derived from beaches/bitches made of snow).

Overall, this is probably not a book I would've picked up without the recommendation but I'm glad I read it and plan to continue the author's "Narratives of Empire" series (In order of course, even though the author said they don't have to be read that way...I'm not a monster).

A Few Quotes from the Book
"It has been my fate to be the centre of a thousand inventions, mostly of a disagreeable nature. I never deny these stories. People believe what they want to believe. Yet I do think that my name has in some mysterious way been filched from me and used to describe a character in some interminable three-volume novel of fantastic adventure, the work of a deranged author whose imagination never sleeps - although this reader does when he reads for the thousandth time how the hellish Aaron Burr meant single-handedly to disband the United States when a voyage to the moon would have been simpler to achieve, and a good deal more interesting."

"Curious to think that we would almost certainly have been friends had we not been two young "heroes" at the beginning of a new nation, each aware that at the summit there is a place for only one. As it turned out, neither of us was to reach the highest place. I hurled Hamilton from the mountain-side, and myself fell."

"I know the effect a good lawyer can make on a jury. The sun at noon can become the moon at midnight if Colonel Burr has decided that such a replacement is in the interest of his client."

"It was about this time that I learned exactly what it was that Hamilton had said of me, and knew that this world was far too narrow a place to contain the two of us."

Monday, January 23, 2017

The Female of the Species

Book 8 of my 2017 Reading Challenge
read from January 21 - 23

The Female of the Species by Mindy McGinnis

Summary (via the book jacket)
Alex Craft knows how to kill someone. And she doesn't feel bad about it. When her older sister, Anna, was murdered three years ago and the killer walked free, Alex uncaged the language she knows best. The language of violence.
While her crime goes unpunished, Alex knows she can't be trusted among other people, even in her small hometown. She relegates herself to the shadows, a girl who goes unseen in plain sight, unremarkable in the high school hallways.
But Jack Fisher sees her. He's the guy all other guys want to be: the star athlete gunning for valedictorian with the prom queen on his arm. Guilt over the role he played the night Anna's body was discovered hasn't let him forget Alex, and now her green eyes amid a constellation of freckles have his attention. He doesn't want to only see Alex Craft; he wants to know her.
So does Peekay, the preacher's kid, a girl whose identity is entangled with her dad's job, though that does not stop her from knowing the taste of beer or missing the touch of her ex-boyfriend. When Peekay and Alex start working together at the animal shelter, a friendship forms and Alex's protective nature extends to more than just the dogs and cats they care for.
Circumstances bring Alex, Jack, and Peekay together as their senior year unfolds. While partying one night, Alex's darker side breaks out, setting the teens on a collision course that will change their lives forever.
Edgar Award-winning author Mindy McGinnis artfully crafts three alternating perspectives into a dark and riveting exploration of what it means to be the female of the species.

My Opinion
Wow.  This is the kind of book that can't be dissected for review because so much of it is based on the emotional experience I had reading it.  The last few chapters came out of nowhere and I couldn't put it down at that point.

I didn't love everything about it but I felt everything.  I'm very impressed with the uniqueness of the story and will definitely read this author again.

A Few Quotes from the Book
"The thing about Alex Craft is, you forget she's there."

"Everyone thinks if you fix a male dog it will lower his aggression, but most of the biters are female. It's basic instinct to protect their own womb. You see it in all animals - the female of the species is more deadly than the male."

"I'm not fine, and I doubt I ever will be.
 The books didn't help me find a word for myself; my father refused to accept the weight of it. And so I made my own.
 I am vengeance."