Saturday

2015 Reading Challenge: In the home stretch


I set out to read 45 books this year, and I'm down to 5. So many surprisingly delightful reads have inhabited space in my brain this year, so I thought I'd run down some observations.

Up to the hype?

The Martian by Andy Weir — I thought the trailer for this movie looked incredible ("I'm going to have to science the shit out of this" sold me), and I was even more excited when I found out the original story was self-published. The science stuff was pretty dense and over my head, but the humor and absolute insanity of the setbacks astronaut Mark Watney faced on Mars made this book a winner for me, even if I would have gladly excised about 50 pages.

The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins — I reviewed this in February and it still holds up as the most thrilling book I've read this year. Hawkins wrote three intense and well-developed unreliable narrators and a seriously twisted plot. I recommend this with zero reservations. It's amazing.

Taste of the classics

Flowers for Algernon by Daniel Keyes and The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald — I could have put both of these under the next category, but I wanted to separate them because I've been trying just a little to hit some classics that I missed in high school. My teachers assigned some esoteric stuff, which was cool, but I ended up not reading some things I really should have. What both of these have in common are characters building new lives and personas for each other — one through brain experiments and education, the other through wealth-accumulation and lavish parties — trying to get the girl, and ultimately, having tragic endings. Bummer, bummer books. And oh, Daisy Buchanan? You go to hell. You go to hell and you die.

Depressing AF

Nobody Is Ever Missing by Catherine Lacey — Books where lost women find themselves by taking a journey are pop culture sensations — think Eat, Pray, Love and Wild — but there's none of that joyful discovery in this story of a woman who leaves her husband without a word to go on a directionless trip to New Zealand. Elyria is articulate about her destructive inner self, the dark complexities of love and the strange depths of grief in prose that is winding, beautiful but ultimately makes you want to curl up in a ball and waste away because it is so bleak.

God-Shaped Hole by Tiffanie DeBartolo Beatrice Jordan was told by a fortune-teller when she was a kid that her true love would die young and leave her all alone. In her twenties, she answers a personal ad and meets Jacob Grace. Their sexual chemistry is unparalleled and you want their love story to work out despite all the setbacks and all the hints of what's to come. I have news for you, kid: There's no Santa Claus.

Diverse heroines and writers

The Wrath and the Dawn by Renee Ahdieh — A retelling of One Thousand and One Nights in which the fearless, calculating and fiercely loyal Shahrzad volunteers to marry a killer king so she can exact revenge for the death of her best friend. Things don't go according to plan when she learns the monster caliph isn't who he seems and finds herself falling in love. This book was a quick read, and I loved Shazi as a character. I can't wait for the sequel, The Rose and the Dagger.

Death, Dickinson and the Demented Life of Frenchie Garcia by Jenny Torres Sanchez — I found this while looking at Goodreads lists of Latino authors, and it was after I'd already decided to read it that I found out that the author majored in English at the University of Central Florida, JUST LIKE ME! That is kismet, yo. Anyway, Frenchie is kind of an alt-chick artist type who is an absolute mess after her secret crush's suicide. No one knows that on the last night he was alive, he had an adventure with Frenchie. To try to understand what really happened, Frenchie sets out to recreate that night. This book had me putting my hand to my heart and swooning, crying and laughing through my tears. It's life-affirming and beautiful and gives no easy answers.

Ms. Marvel Vol. 1-3 — Kamala Khan is #goals. That's pretty much it. The Muslim-American superhero is a first for Marvel, and she's an adorable geek who desperately wants to use her newfound superpowers to do great things for Jersey City. She's torn between being true to herself and following her family's wishes and finding her own feelings about her faith. And she writes X-Men fanfiction when she's not embiggening her fists to take down villains.

Unconventional romance

Black Iris by Leah Raeder — Remember when I lost my mind over Raeder's Unteachable? It's a cuddly teddy bear next to the fanged beast that is Black Iris, a dark, violent revenge fantasy about a brilliant and diabolical girl coming to terms with her sexuality and making a list — and checking it twice — of everyone who has ever hurt her. And because it's Raeder, the prose is gorgeous, the sex scenes are searing and the insights on humanity cut deep.

Shameless by Nina Lemay — Hannah is a pastel-haired expat stripping her way through college in Canada. She sees herself as a cliche, a girl who won't get a happy ending. Then she meets Emmanuel at the club. One day she's dancing on his lap, the next day, she finds out he's her photography professor. I had a hard time believing the stakes of their "forbidden" romance were really that high, and the escalation of their secrets led to a lot of hard-to-believe scenarios. I liked Hannah's unapologetic attitude and enjoyed the depictions of Montreal, the romance and Hannah's job. Trigger warning for depictions of sexual assault — parts of this book are really infuriating.

Veronika Decides to Die by Paulo Coelho — I'm cheating here because the "romance" comes late in the book, but it's definitely unconventional. Veronika unsuccessfully tries to kill herself, then ends up in a mental institution and is told she's done too much damage to her heart and is likely going to die soon anyway. The whole book is really about whether mental illness is what we think it is, or whether some people are just different and experience life differently.

I know people

Love, Sex & Situationships by Nicole Raye — The first day I met Nikki, I wasn't even going to go out. I was in a shitty mood, didn't feel like socializing, but wanted to make my husband happy when he invited me out with his friends. Then I met this vibrant, bawdy, brilliant girl and said, "Where have you been all my life!" And she said she'd written a book about dating, so I immediately downloaded it on my Kindle. It's full of funny anecdotes, romantic misadventures and advice on how to be less of a hot mess while looking for love.

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