January Reading Roundup

I realize it’s actually March now, but bear with me. I’ve decided to try something new here. I thought, since I’ve already read so many books this year, that I would briefly go through all the books I read each month, my favorites and not so favorites, in a blog post. I’m keeping these thoughts spoiler-free, so if you haven’t read any of these books, you can read on without fear. So here we go.

 

My 2018 reading challenge on Goodreads is to read one hundred books, and I hit the ground running, reading eighteen books in January. These weren’t all four hundred page epics, certainly, and most of them were audiobooks, so I was reading while doing other things like cooking and laundry. I did read four books in Braille, and three of the books I read this month were nonfiction, which may be a record for me. Whatever kind of books I read, this many books is pretty much unheard of for me, and it’s kind of freaking me out.

 

Note that in the interest of clarity and also not writing a novel of my own here, I’ve put books that are all part of the same series together in this list, even though I generally read them with at least one book in between them.

 

First, I finished The Children of the Red King series by Jenny Nimmo. I read the first five books in this series last December, so I started out this year with books 6, 7, and 8: Charlie Bone and the Beast, Charlie Bone and the Shadow, and Charlie Bone and the Red Knight. I enjoyed these books, but I certainly didn’t enjoy them as much as the first five books in the series. Honestly, the series could have ended after Book 5, because the main mysteries had been solved and the bad guys had been defeated. These books introduced new characters—good and bad guys—and a new set of mysteries and challenges for our scrappy band of magical children. Charlie’s parents have gone off on a second honeymoon, but the Bloors know that Charlie’s father has hidden a will that  may say their fortune actually belongs to Billy, so they bring in a guy who can control the oceans all over the world to drown Charlie’s parents while they’re whale watching. Meanwhile Charlie has to contend with the ocean-moving guy’s creepy son at school, the evil sorcerer from the earlier books has captured Billy, and the kids’ enemies among the other Endowed are trying to close down the Pets’ Café–a terrible fate to be sure. So lots of great stuff going on. I’d say that the writing was stronger, the characters were more nuanced, and the main mystery was more central to the plot of these three books. This whole series was definitely really fun.

 

Next, I read The Angel Experiment by James Patterson, the first book in the Maximum Ride series. I reae this book way back when I was in middle school, but I just discovered that the audiobook that I had was abridged. Blegh. So I found the udabridged book in Braille and read it, and let me tell you, it makes way more sense when you have the whole book. Max and her five “siblings” are 98% human, b% bird. They have wings and can fly, and they’ve escaped from the super scary science lab where they were created. They’ve been on the run and on their own for two years when the bad guys show up again and kidnap Angel, the youngest member of the flock. Rescue and adventures and a quest for the truth ensues. This was an fast-paced, action-packed, fun book. Max has a great voice, and it’s obvious that so much is going on that we don’t know about yet.  Because of this, it sometimes didn’t make a lot of sense what the bad guys’ motives were, but since this is the first in a series, I forgave that. On the whole a pretty good read.

 

Next was The Power by Naomi Alderman. This was the first book of the year for my book club. Basically the premise is that women develop the ability to electrocute people with their fingers, and they quickly rise to become the dominant gender. The book follows four main characters, three women and one man, through the early years of this new world order. The book spans about ten years, I think, and the whole world, and it’s a really interesting exploration of gender politics. There was a little too much graphic sex and violence (including rape) for my taste, but I also appreciate that a large part of the book was to make the reader uncomfortable. The writing was also very good, and I sped through this book. Despite all this, there was something about this book that just didn’t work for me. I’ve been trying to put my finger on exactly what that is, but I can’t. This goes back to my discussion of my gut feeling in how I review books in this post. Objectively, this was a really good book. I just didn’t really like it.

 

I also continued the Sisters Grimm series by Michael Buckley, which I started at the very end of last December. Over the course of January, I read books 2, 3, and 4 of this series: The Unusual Suspects, The Problem Child, and Once Upon a Crime. These books are just so much fun I can’t stand it. Yes, they’re a bit episodic, and yes, Sabrina is still a bit of a jerk, but I like her anyway, and I love Puc. and as episodic as each book is within the larger series, they each add to the larger mystery. If like middle grade fiction and quirky retold fairytales, these books are for you.

 

Next, I finally got off the waitlist at the library for The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas. All I have to say here is that if you haven’t read this book, you need to go read it now. That being said, I’m going to break with all the hype and say that it isn’t a perfect book. It has a lot of disconnected subplots that mostly come together in the end, and there are parts where it drags. But honestly, I don’t mind so much. If you don’t already know, here’s the basic premise: When sixteen-year-old Star sees her best friend shot by a police officer at a traffic stop, she has to decide whether to speak up or not. This is a deeply emotional and beautiful look into a very important issue in our country, and it should be required reading.

 

When I was home for Martin Luther King Day weekend, I piaked up and reread my braille copy of A Wrinkle in Time and its sequel, A Wind in the Door, by Madeleine L’Engle. Now I remember really liking these books when I was a kid, though I didn’t get past the first two because they were the only ones I had in Braille and this was before the days of refreshable Braille displays and digital Braille files. The world of Camazotz and It from A Wrinkle in Time is still the first thing I picture when I hear the word “dystopian.” But now that I’m older, I found the books to be pretty weird. Now I have a high tolerance for weird, but these were just really weird, especially A Wind in the Door. I also found the books to be a little too moralizing for my tastes. But I still enjoyed them, and I’m really looking forward to the movie this month and to reading the next book in the series (I have it from the library now).

 

Next, I read The Glass Universe: How the Ladies of the Harvard Observatory Took the Measure of the Stars by Dava Sobel. A lot of the reviews I read on Goodreads were upset that this book was more about the astronomy and the history of astronomy than the social movement of female computers in the late 1800s and early 1900s, but since I’m an astronomy geek and that’s what I was in it for, I didn’t mind. So yeah, a hundred years before Hidden Figures, the Harvard Observatory was hiring female computers, and The Glass Universe tells their story, from the days of photospectroscopy on glass plates all the way through World War II. I found this book to be an absolutely fascinating read, though it might be difficult if you don’t already know a bit about the science, and if you have any interest in astronomy or the history of science or the work of female computers, I highly recommend you check this book out.

 

After that, I dove back into fiction with I Am The Messenger by Markus Zusak. The Book Thief by Markus Zusak is probably one of my all-time favorite books (I’ll probably reread it sometime this year because it’s been a while). I tried really hard not to judge I Am the Messenger against The Book Thief, and I think I mostly succeeded. I enjoyed I Am the Messenger, which is about a perfectly ordinary kid in Australia who’s life becomes extraordinary when he starts receiving mysterious message he has to deliver all over town. These aren’t written letters or anything. They’re puzzles that he has to solve to find people who need help and to help them. And the ending was a twist I didn’t see coming. All in all, it was a pretty good book, but honestly it just didn’t drag me in the way I expected it to, and I finished it with a general feeling of “well, okay, that’s done. What’s next?”

 

Next was the Shanghai Girls duology, Shanghai Girls and Dreams of Joy, by Lisa See. I absolutely loved Shanghai Girls. It’s a sprawling family epic about two sisters who immigrate from China to the United States because of arranged marriages, but along the way they are kidnapped by Japanese soldiers, held at Angel Island, and other harrowing things that I won’t say because I don’t want to spoil it. It was so well-put-together and so intricate. I will say that without the sequel, the ending would have sucked, but since there was a sequel, it was okay. I didn’t enjoy Dreams of Joy as much as Shanghai Girls. It was more of a slow burn, and it was more predictable, but it completed the first book nicely. On the whole, a really good series, and I recommend.

 

At the same time I was reading the Shanghai Girls books, I had to reread Getting to Yes: Negotiating An Agreement Without Giving In by Roger Fisher, William Ury, and Bruce Patton for a class. Since it isn’t a case book, I’m counting it towards my reading challenge. I actually read this book last year for the negotiations workshop I took. It was required reading for the Negotiating and Drafting International Business Transactions course I’m taking. Since the Negotiations Workshop, I’ve delved so deeply into negotiations that I felt it would be a good idea to get a refresher on the basics, so I reread it. Getting to Yes is an excellent and easy-to-read primer on win-win negotiations, and if you’re at all interested in learning to negotiate effectively, I highly recommend it.

 

After that, I read Saints for All Occasions by J. Courtney Sullivan. This book is another book about immigrants, two Irish sisters who immigrate to Boston in the 1950s. It alternates between the past, when the sisters are settling into life in Boston, and the present, when a car accident forces the estranged sisters back together. It was a pretty good book, on the whole. I especially enjoyed the writing. But it was pretty bland, and the concept was so similar to the premise of Shanghai Girls—and I’m not just talking about the immigrating sisters here—that it was hard not to compare them. And Saints For All Occasions was just missing something that Shanghai Girls had. I think if I hadn’t read Shanghai Girls, I would have enjoyed this book a lot, because I wouldn’t have the comparison. But there you have it.

 

Finally, I rounded off January with Bargaining with the Devil: When to Negotiate, When to Fight by Robert Mnookin. This was a book for my Negotiation and Diplomacy class this semester. We only had to read the first three chapters or so, but I was so interested I kept reading. What I really liked about this book was that it provided some nuance to the negotiation framework I’ve been studying for the last three semesters. Instead of just talking about how to negotiate and how negotiation is better than litigation, this book actually explores times when it may be appropriate not to negotiate. It goes through several historical examples, including Churchill’s famous decision not to negotiate with Hitler. It also looks at more personal examples, such as divorce, inheritance, and business disputes. As with Getting To Yes, this book is interesting and easy to read.  So if you are interested in negotiations and want to add another layer to your understanding of it, this is a good book for you.

 

So that’s what I read this past January. I’ll be back soon with my February reads. In the meantime, have you read any of these books? Do you agree with me? Disagree with me? Let me know what you think in the comments.

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