28503941Title: Wonder Women: 25 Innovators, Inventors, and Trailblazers Who Changed History
Author: Sam Maggs (Illustrator: Sophia Foster-Dimino)
Pages: 240
Year: 2016
Publisher: Quirk Books
Time taken to read: 9 days
Rating: 4/5

Goodreads synopsisSmart women have always been able to achieve amazing things, even when the odds were stacked against them. In Wonder Women, author Sam Maggs tells the stories of the brilliant, brainy, and totally rad women in history who broke barriers as scientists, engineers, mathematicians, adventurers, and inventors, complete with portraits by Google doodler Sophia Foster-Dimino. Plus, interviews with real-life women in STEM careers, an extensive bibliography, and a guide to women-centric science and technology organizations—all to show the many ways the geeky girls of today can help to build the future.

Nonfiction geared towards kids/young adults is always interesting to me as someone who’s interested in education. It can be difficult to get young people to pay attention to things like this, but this book works hard to present a teen-friendly tone, complete with slang and TV references that reminded me of being in my late teens. This book actually started a bit of a fire in me because as I read about the men who took credit for women’s inventions and discoveries, I realized I recognized nearly all of the men’s names from my high school science classes and only maybe two of the women’s names, one being Amelia Earhart, whom we’ve all definitely heard of. I think I still wanted to believe that things weren’t that bad, that women have always been just as intelligent but they haven’t had the same resources, so it was pretty sad to learn that women of history still did so much despite their lack of resources and we still learn about the men who stole the credit instead. So I’m glad this book exists and that there are people working to try to make people aware of the contributions of women. I will say that though I know this book is supposed to be more about science and technology and this women are much less known for, I wish there had been a section on female writers and artists, but perhaps that’s just me being selfish, and I can see reasons for not including that.

Now back to that teen-friendly tone I mentioned–it was kind of a lot. Many of the jokes and references were truly very funny, but it started to feel a little old after the first third of the book. I think it would have had a stronger impact if the asides were just a tad more sparse. Some other reviewers thought it sounded inauthentic and like the writer was trying too hard to relate to teens, but I wouldn’t take it that far. I thought it sounded plenty authentic and natural for the writer, who originally posted some of this content on Tumblr, but I think using this type of language so much could potentially isolate kids who are not the Tumblr type and might not get a lot of the references, which is ultimately why I had to drop this a star. Still, if I am ever a teacher, this will absolutely be in my classroom. I want kids to grow up with this knowledge rather than coming to it as an adult like I did, and this book is a great resource. 

25785649-1Title: The Way I Used to Be
Author: Amber Smith
Pages: 367
Year: 2016
Publisher: Margaret K. McElderry (Simon & Schuster)
Time taken to read: 30 hours
Rating: 3/5

Goodreads synopsisIn the tradition of Speak, this extraordinary debut novel shares the unforgettable story of a young woman as she struggles to find strength in the aftermath of an assault. Eden was always good at being good. Starting high school didn’t change who she was. But the night her brother’s best friend rapes her, Eden’s world capsizes. What was once simple, is now complex. What Eden once loved—who she once loved—she now hates. What she thought she knew to be true, is now lies. Nothing makes sense anymore, and she knows she’s supposed to tell someone what happened but she can’t. So she buries it instead. And she buries the way she used to be. Told in four parts—freshman, sophomore, junior, and senior year—this provocative debut reveals the deep cuts of trauma. But it also demonstrates one young woman’s strength as she navigates the disappointment and unbearable pains of adolescence, of first love and first heartbreak, of friendships broken and rebuilt, and while learning to embrace a power of survival she never knew she had hidden within her heart.

I saw The Way I Used to Be on the shelf at B&N this past Sunday, and, drawn in by the cover, I read the synopsis. I really like Speak, and I was intrigued by the comparison. So, I got it from the library first thing the next day.

I struggled to rate this book. I originally gave it four stars because I think it could accomplish what I’m assuming it means to accomplish, which is helping victims of sexual assault gather the courage to speak up. And for that reason, sure, I’m glad it exists. I also liked that it takes place over four years, because I don’t think people realize how much these events affect people years and years after they happen. At the end of Eden’s senior year, this thing still controls her life, and that is the reality of it for a lot of people. I also think the way she turns to frivolous and even potentially dangerous sex is interesting. Everyone deals with PTSD differently. Everyone finds a different coping mechanism. And Eden’s is very active and vivid, which I think works well in novel.

Yet, I felt the relationships weren’t earned. I don’t understand why Josh ever liked Eden, for example. She was never nice to him. It bothered me so much every time she flipped out on him in a way that seemed totally random to him, and sure, she doesn’t want to tell him the truth, but she doesn’t even try to reassure him that it wasn’t his fault. And I get that all of it is hard for her. I really do. But Josh was a good guy, and if Eden had questioned that goodness, if she had doubted him and even feared him, I would have understood why she treated him so poorly. But she never really did question whether or not he was genuine. She’s using him and she knows it, and while I have sympathy for her, it still isn’t right to treat someone the way she does. But even besides whether or not I agree with her actions, I had trouble believing that Josh would put up with it for so long. He was the king of the school or whatever. I’m assuming he could date nearly any girl he wanted. Why Eden? He never says why he’s so drawn to her, just that he is, and I didn’t buy it.

But again, honestly, as much as I have sympathy for her, I was absolutely exhausted by the way she treated Josh and Steve and everyone else around her. And I could see glimpses of evidence that she’s exhausting herself too, throughout the book, and those moments were great. I wanted a lot more of that. I wanted a stronger sense of her being out of control and knowing she’s out of control but not being able to rein it in no matter how much she tries and how much she knows these people don’t deserve it. But that’s not her attitude. It really bothered me how she talks about her parents. They lash out at her because she lashes out at them first in a way that’s incredibly immature and unacceptable to me no matter what you’ve been through. Her mom shouldn’t ever have slapped her, obviously, but Eden treated them like crap long before that happened. And even if Eden recognized her actions for what they were more often, the way she lashes out at good people on every page got so repetitive. I won’t spoil the ending, but I will say I was relieved by it, and it saved me from giving the book an even lower rating.

I saw a lot of reviews on Goodreads similar to mine where readers wanted to criticize Eden but felt guilty about it because of her PTSD. I think it’s important to note for me and for all of those reviewers that none of us is saying we don’t sympathize with Eden and understand that no one deals with sexual assault perfectly. I think when we talk about what Eden does that we didn’t like, we’re talking about her as a character, and I think her actions as a character start to overshadow the message the book is trying to send. If Eden was a more likable character, I wouldn’t be sitting here talking about how she’s unlikable–instead I would be talking about how much this book and others like it have the potential to change lives. But I’m not talking about that, nor are other reviewers, because this is in the way, and that’s why, while it’s really important to me to read about flawed characters, there has to be a balance, especially in instances like this.

26244587Title: Dear Amy
Author: Helen Callaghan
Pages: 343
Year: 2016
Publisher: Harper (HarperCollins)
Time taken to read: 7 weeks
Rating: 3/5

Goodreads synopsisMargot Lewis is the agony aunt for The Cambridge Examiner. Her advice column, Dear Amy, gets all kinds of letters – but none like the one she’s just received: ‘Dear Amy, I don’t know where I am. I’ve been kidnapped and am being held prisoner by a strange man. I’m afraid he’ll kill me. Please help me soon, Bethan Avery.’ Bethan Avery has been missing for nearly two decades. This is surely some cruel hoax. But as more letters arrive, they contain information that was never made public. How is this happening? Answering this question will cost Margot everything….

Firstly, Helen Callaghan’s language is absolutely exceptional. She used lovely metaphors, and her word choice is amazing in so many instances, and for that reason alone, I would read anything else she may write in the future (assuming the premise doesn’t sound awful). However, I cannot rate this very highly, and I cannot tell you why without spoiling the ending, so please just move on from this review if you haven’t read this book yet and you still want to.

Now, onto the spoilers.

I am not a psychologist or psychiatrist. I took psych 101 and my mom has a psych degree. That’s as far as my official knowledge goes. However, I am, like 99.999% sure you CANNOT push memories down so deep that when you hear your own name and go back to your childhood home and see your grandmother and all of these things that you lived with for sixteen or so years, you literally cannot recall any of it. Like, okay, I was glad that the ending wasn’t predictable, at least for me. And if you ignore the fact that this is impossible, it is a very cool twist. But I cannot ignore that fact. After I finished this book and discussed with my boyfriend (who is knowledgable about many topics and agreed with me that this is impossible), I started to think maybe that was the point, and Margot is an unreliable narrator who is still trying so hard to pretend that she’s not Bethan that she’s lying to us too. That I would have been okay with if it had been very clear. If that had been done well, I could see myself giving this a much higher rating. But also, side note, I cannot believe all the people on Goodreads saying the twist was so predictable. I don’t predict impossible things in realistic fiction. But again, if it had been clear from the beginning that Margot was hiding something from us (without making it obvious what it was), it might have been better. Some kind of red herring would have to be involved. Ooh, or maybe Bethan could have sustained intense brain damage from Chris’s violence and that (partially combined with psychological trauma, perhaps) made her forget her life. I’ve changed my mind, that would have been way better than Margot lying to us. And it would have been actually possible (I think, as I’m not a medical doctor either).

The book was also a little slow-going in the beginning, as you can see from the fact that this took me over a month to read. Then again, it’s not my typical genre, so that might be why that happened. Who knows.

25613472Title: A List of Cages
Author: Robin Roe
Pages: 320
Year: 2017
Publisher: Disney Hyperion
Time taken to read: 4 days
Rating: 4/5

Goodreads synopsis: When Adam Blake lands the best elective ever in his senior year, serving as an aide to the school psychologist, he thinks he’s got it made. Sure, it means a lot of sitting around, which isn’t easy for a guy with ADHD, but he can’t complain, since he gets to spend the period texting all his friends. Then the doctor asks him to track down the troubled freshman who keeps dodging her, and Adam discovers that the boy is Julian—the foster brother he hasn’t seen in five years. Adam is ecstatic to be reunited. At first, Julian seems like the boy he once knew. He’s still kindhearted. He still writes stories and loves picture books meant for little kids. But as they spend more time together, Adam realizes that Julian is keeping secrets, like where he hides during the middle of the day, and what’s really going on inside his house. Adam is determined to help him, but his involvement could cost both boys their lives.

I got this as an ARC like a year ago, and, as I always do, I didn’t get around to it until after it was published. But it was published just a few months ago so I will try to make this not so spoiler-y.

This is a dual-perspective book, which I am famous for hating. I both liked it and did not like it in this book. I think it’s important to see both Adam’s and Julian’s worlds. It heightens the suspense when we can see what’s happening to Julian and at the same time see how unaware Adam is. My problem with it is that Adam’s and Julian’s voices sound too similar. I tend to completely ignore headers, so I didn’t realize what had happened the first time the perspective switched, and I was really confused when suddenly Julian was being called “Adam”. I flipped back and figured it out and was majorly annoyed. But I warmed up to it. I mean, they’re similar kids. They both sound a little juvenile, Adam because of his ADHD and Julian because of his abuse. To get them to sound very different was probably a really big challenge for the author, and I appreciate what she was able to do with them. Still, I do have to drop a star for it. Also, I’m annoyed because the author stole one of my character names. Rude. Anyway.

Teensy spoiler here, but I also thought the whole thing with Brett was completely useless. Emerald and Adam getting together was very intense and very brief, and I think it was a bit of a distraction. It would have been more effective if Emerald and Adam had already been together. That would both eliminate that distraction and make it a little more satisfying when their relationship starts to break down, since I feel more sympathy for an old relationship deteriorating than a new one. Additionally, I would have liked to see more of Julian’s mother’s notebook. Especially since that contributed to the title, I wanted to see those lists integrated in more of Julian’s thoughts, and I just wanted to witness more of the content of the notebook to get a better sense of what Julian’s mother was like. Plus, it would have been fun to guess what the lists were alongside Julian.

But overall, I thought the book was great. I love friendship stories, and it’s always interesting to me to read from a boy’s perspective. The language is really unique, and there are a lot of good quotes and clever one-liners. Nothing about this book felt cliché to me, which is very important to me. A List of Cages made me feel scared and sad and angry and happy and reflective and lots of other things, and I highly recommend it.

Also, my friend from my internship just started a book review blog as well! Hers is Alex’s Bookshelf Reads, and she is awesome, so you should read her book reviews too.

4671Title: The Great Gatsby
Author: F. Scott Fitzgerald
Pages: 180
Year: 1925
Publisher: Scribner (Simon & Schuster)
Time taken to read: 5 days
Rating: 4/5

Goodreads synopsis: THE GREAT GATSBY, F. Scott Fitzgerald’s third book, stands as the supreme achievement of his career. This exemplary novel of the Jazz Age has been acclaimed by generations of readers. The story of the fabulously wealthy Jay Gatsby and his love for the beautiful Daisy Buchanan, of lavish parties on Long Island at a time when The New York Times noted “gin was the national drink and sex the national obsession,” it is an exquisitely crafted tale of America in the 1920s. The Great Gatsby is one of the great classics of twentieth-century literature.

I remember being assigned this book in high school, reading the first two pages, and thinking, oh, hell no. There was no way I was getting through this one. I don’t think I even bothered to read the Sparknotes. I always planned to read it someday, though as it increased in popularity and eventually reached hipster status, I got a sort of satisfaction out of being able to say I had never read it. Yet, the intern director here at Writers House, who has become familiar with the concept of the book I’m writing (though I have yet to send him the full manuscript) suggested I give it a go, as he thinks my characters and their relationships are rather parallel to those in The Great Gatsby. I think he may be correct. In any case, I did in fact enjoy this.

I don’t much care for history, but I was really intrigued by the way the style of this book made me really think about life in America in the 20s. I think a lot of people have this idea that life in the past was so much simpler than it is today. Living in the Age of Information is overwhelming. Sometimes I want to trade in my iPhone for the flip phone I had back in 7th grade (though I want to make it known that I still have an iPhone 5c so I am kind of on the low end of smartphones). I’m not anti-technology in the least–I love being able to stay constantly connected to the people I love who live far away from me, and I wouldn’t want to be living in any other time period. Yet, the pressures of social media can be exhausting, and sometimes I do feel like I just want it all to go away. And I think novels like The Great Gatsby emphasize the idea that life before smartphones was simpler just because of the style and format. The dialogue and descriptions are straightforward, and the novel itself is very short. Nick tells us what is, and we infer the rest from his tone and from what we know about people without even realizing we’re doing it. So as I read this, I thought about what a simple life the characters had, and it took a while for me to step back and realize that I think I was wrong. Human beings are human beings regardless of the time period, and we are simple and complicated all at the same time, and we face the challenges of our day. Probably. I’ve never lived in another time period, so I suppose I can’t know for sure. Maybe I’ll ask my grandma.

Anyway, I was really captured by the voice of Nick and by his role as an observer. I loved the implications and the theme of the way people act versus the way they really are, and I loved the way the sparseness of this novel made all of that so striking. Though I’d say the best part of this book for me was the commentary on gender and race, and I wonder if Fitzgerald thought those issues would still be so pertinent nearly a hundred years in the future. I suppose I didn’t give it a full five stars because I didn’t totally grasp exactly what happened at the end and had to Google it, as one does in the Age of Information. Beautiful technology.

As I always say, I love a book that makes me think. Perhaps soon I’ll watch the movie version of this. I don’t believe it deserves the hype that hipster nerds give it, but I’m glad I read it. I feel as though it may have initiated a classics kick in me, though I just finished watching the Netflix version of Thirteen Reasons Why, so I am eager to reread that and compare.

11250847Title: Little Princes: One Man’s Promise to Bring Home the Lost Children of Nepal
Author: Conor Grennan
Pages: 320
Year: 2010
Publisher: William Morrow Paperbacks (HarperCollins)
Time taken to read: 2 weeks, 4 days
Rating: 5/5

Goodreads synopsisIn search of adventure, twenty-nine-year-old Conor Grennan embarked on a yearlong journey around the globe, beginning with a three-month stint volunteering at an orphanage in civil war-torn Nepal. But a shocking truth would forever change his life: these rambunctious, resilient children were not orphans at all but had been taken from their families by child traffickers who falsely promised to keep them safe from war before abandoning them in the teeming chaos of Kathmandu. For Conor, what started as a footloose ramble became a dangerous, dedicated mission to unite youngsters he had grown to love with the parents they had been stolen from—a breathtaking adventure, as Conor risked everything in the treacherous Nepalese mountains to bring the children home.

This is one of those books that I wished would never end.

The literary agent I used to work for, Trena, represents Conor, and she encouraged me to read this many times before I finally picked it up. And boy did I pick it up. I savored every word and tried to draw it out as much as possible because I wanted to read about the children of Nepal every day for the rest of my life. This book had me nearly in tears on the subway regularly over the last two weeks, at the same time that it had me laughing out loud. The kids sound so wonderful–they have such a fantastic sense of humor, especially Jagrit. I love the way they all make fun of Conor. And when the littlest girl who was so traumatized finally laughs for the first time, I completely broke. And when I got to the middle of the book where there were pictures…goodness, it really hit me then that these kids are real and they’re still out there, living and breathing, and I want to meet them. I’m, like, holding myself back from asking Trena to call up Conor and see if I can go to Nepal and help out somehow. Because I know that’s insane, and also the kids are nearly adults now, but there are probably more little ones, and I want to have this amazing connection that he had with them.

As for the actual writing–Conor’s voice is strong, and he really brings Nepal to life. I get the sense that if I read something else by him, I would know it was his writing. I didn’t care so much for the segments about Liz, but I was really moved by the part when he buys a bible as a means to get closer to her, and Farid, who is becoming a Buddhist, says, “We both saw that light, I think. We just saw different things in the light.” I’m not a religious person, and for me to try find one would be inauthentic, but everybody believes in something, even if that something is nothing, and I like to think that all those somethings are really all the same something. I don’t think that’s really what Farid meant, but I think it’s related. Either way, I like books that spark those thought processes in me.

I learned a lot from this book, and I’ve enjoyed sharing the story of these children with anyone I can get to listen (mostly my coworkers, ha). I definitely recommend this one. I’m also very excited to say that this is my 100th book review! Glad it landed on a good one. Happy reading, friends.

30065028Title: Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them
Author: J. K. Rowling
Pages: 294
Year: 2016
Publisher: Little, Brown Books (Hachette)
Time taken to read: 3 days
Rating: 5/5

Goodreads synopsis: When Magizoologist Newt Scamander arrives in New York, he intends his stay to be just a brief stopover. However, when his magical case is misplaced and some of Newt’s fantastic beasts escape, it spells trouble for everyone… Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them marks the screenwriting debut of J.K. Rowling, author of the beloved and internationally bestselling Harry Potter books. Featuring a cast of remarkable characters, this is epic, adventure-packed storytelling at its very best.

Fun fact about me: I love Harry Potter more than anyone else in the entire world. Anyway. Last year I gave a brief review of The Cursed Child, although I didn’t rate it, and now that I’m rating this one, I must face the fact that I didn’t rate The Cursed Child because I didn’t want to admit that I…didn’t…like it. Whoops. Anyway. We’re not gonna talk about that. We’re gonna talk about the fact that Fantastic Beasts was AWESOME. (Note: I’m only speaking about the book–I have yet to see the movie.) Characters: awesome. Creatures: awesome. Story: full of emotions. And Newt is so funny, especially in his scenes with Jacob–I cannot wait to see that translated on screen. Newt’s friendship with Jacob is really touching, and I like that that seems to take precedence over any romantic relationships. There is some romance, but it’s subtle, just hinted at really. And the kids…I think that’ll hit me harder in the movie, but they were powerful. It’s interesting–with the Harry Potter series, I connect deeply with the books and the movies equally, but perhaps because of the script format, while I did really enjoy this, I think that deep connection was missing. Still, I really felt J.K. Rowling in this one (unlike our last script/book). Oh, I was also a little bit confused about some of the more minor-ish characters, like Graves for instance–I didn’t really understand what he was trying to achieve. I’m hoping the movie will clear that up. The script format is just not my thing.

Anyway, most Goodreads reviewers are suggesting to watch the movie first, but I kind of like that I did it the other way around because now I get to see how closely my imagination and interpretation will match up with what the Fantastic Beasts movie team created. Perhaps I’ll watch it this weekend? And on Monday there are auditions for The Cursed Child on Broadway and I’ve been in like one high school play so I’m not exactly “qualified”, but like, have y’all seen my hair? It’s the perfect combo of Ron and Hermione’s, sooo Rose Granger-Weasley auditions–here I come! (I might be serious. We’ll find out.)