The Martian

I first heard about The Martian about two years ago when a friend of mine downloaded the audiobook. He was raving about it at a party, and it sounded like the nerdiest thing ever. So of course I was intrigued! But…while I love space and science…books about it are not my strongest subject, and it sounded like this one had a LOT of math.

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And so I put it off. Every once in awhile I’d here someone mention it, but it kind of fell to the background of my TBR.

Until they announced the movie. As things usually go–whenever a book is being made into a movie, the book is an immediate hit, even if it wasn’t originally. And WOW has The Martian been a hit. EVERYONE is reading it now, and so up it went to the top of my TBR! It was even one of the books AdultBooklr read for August…so I just barely made it in.

Again, just like with Armada, I got super lucky and got this one from Blogging for Books. (Seriously guys, if you have a book blog, sign yourself up for Klout and try to get on with them. Fantastic site.) I literally jumped for joy when I saw The Martian was available, because I’ve been waiting for three months for the hold list at the library. Now it’s mine. Yay!

Almost everyone knows about this one by now, but short summary, just in case–Mark Watney gets injured in a massive dust storm on Mars, and his team, thinking he has died, leaves him when they escape to safety. When he comes to and finds himself alone, he formulates a plan to get stay alive until the next Ares mission…4 years in the future.

I was right about the math and the science. There is a LOT of math and science. But, it doesn’t really overwhelm the story, unless you are super into that sort of thing (which I am not). I just took it at face value and moved on. Instead, what moves the plot is the snark and sarcasm that Watney provides through the log-based storyline.

And guys, there is SO.MUCH.SNARK. It’s amazingly fantastic. Aside from him being obviously above my intelligence level, I would love to have a beer with this guy. I feel like we would be friends on snarkiness alone.

This is a book where a man is alone on a foreign planet for a year and a half and has no one to talk to but himself. But there is nothing boring about it. Andy Weir has encased so much emotion and action and hilarity into such a small, sand-encrusted space–I would never have expected it to be this good. By the end, I was so invested that I was basically screaming on the AdultBooklr chat. I was ready to throw the book at the wall. I promise, you will be so invested in this by the last 10 pages, that you will completely understand what I mean.

Two random, funny thoughts that I had before I go:

  1. I couldn’t stop reading this book in Hank Green’s voice. I think I’ve listened to too many Dear Hank & John Podcasts with “News From Mars.” Every single Log was read in Hank’s unique cadence.
  2. I’d be interested to know how many terrorist watch lists Andy Weir was on while researching this book, or if he had to get special permission to do certain research. I mean, Plutonium as a heat source is a major part of the story…that isn’t something you can just google…right? I’m not going to try it to find out.

 

If you haven’t read The Martian, move it to the top of your list immediately. DO IT NOW.

 

Blogging for Books provided a copy of this book for an unbiased review.

 

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The Invasion of the Tearling

I’ve committed the ultimate blogging sin. The one, huge habit that I have had to stop doing since starting I Lay Reading.

My number one rule:  DO NOT FINISH THE BOOK RIGHT BEFORE BED.

Crap.

Why is this so terrible? I used to do this all the time–the finality of it meant I could fall instantly to sleep. Ahhh but therein lies the problem. When I finish a book, I blog it immediately (or, if I cannot get to a computer, then I at least write down a pretty detailed outline), so that my thoughts and feelings are fresh and vibrant.

Going to sleep between finishing and blogging basically smothers those feels with my pillow. My brain is sluggish and sleepy. No matter how much I loved the book (or hated it), I just never feel as good about what I have to say.

In fact…all of this is just procrastination because I didn’t know how to get started…

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We recently read The Queen of the Tearling for the #adultbooklr Book Club in July, and I was so looking forward to the second book. It seemed like everyone jumped right into The Invasion of the Tearling and loved it even more than the QOTT, so I was dying for the library to catch up to me on the hold queue.

My coreaders were not wrong. I really enjoyed QOTT, and IOTT just builds upon the series. Book 1’s setting is a little mysterious–is it medieval fantasy? Is it the future? What is The Crossing? We know there was America, and they are in something called New Europe, but where are they really?

In Book 2, Kelsea’s character and magic really develop, as does the whole background of the dystopian set up. Through Kelsea’s fugues, we get to see what happened pre-Crossing–who the Tear characters are, what happened to America, what the Crossing was. There’s also quite a lot of character development among the other main and secondary characters as well.

I really liked QOTT for what it was, but I know some people thought the writing not complex enough, or that it spends too much time building up to nothing. IOTT builds on everything that QOTT lays out. Don’t give up on Kelsea just yet, I encourage you to read the second book. It’s worth it.

 

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brown girl dreaming

#blacklivesmatter is everywhere these days, and seemingly everyone has an opinion about it. And the fight is ugly. If you had asked me even 2 years ago if I thought we would be living in the 60s again, I would have laughed and thought you meant fashion or the MidCentury Mod furniture design craze.

But nothing about this is funny. People aren’t just getting emotionally wounded, people are dying. And they aren’t just being killed by Joe Blow off the street, but by those sworn to protect us. No matter what side of the fence you’re on…that’s a very scary thing to think about.

As a white woman in America, I mostly keep my mouth shut. While I support #blacklivesmatter, this isn’t my time to speak. My voice is not the one that needs to be heard.

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Adult Booklr chose Jacqueline Woodson’s brown girl dreaming for our August Book Club and it could not be more poignant. I wasn’t sure how I was going to feel about it, since it is a story written in poems instead of prose, but it ended up being incredibly beautiful. It is also a perfect book to release right now. It not only speaks to Black Culture, but it did a lot of good to me as well.

The rest of my review is written, obviously, from a white woman’s perspective. I have not been in the fight. I cannot understand what you are going through. I would love to hear your feelings on this beautiful book, and I hope you will share them with me.

brown girl dreaming is essentially Woodson’s memoir, written from the viewpoint of her as a child in the 1960s. Through her vivid poetry, she talks about growing up in Ohio, South Carolina, and New York, and the differences between prejudices and struggles in each location. She also lays out the foundation of learning to write, her family life, and just growing up as a whole.

Even though the words were spoken with a child’s voice, the wisdom in them was so pronounced. This was a child who saw the world through her pencil–every moment was a word waiting to be written. Her composition notebook was her tool to sort, file, organize the world around her and try to make sense of everything that was happening. For the reader, that notebook, in turn, helps us understand what is happening in our similar world today.

I couldn’t relate to everything she wrote. I grew up in a privileged home, with both parents, in the same house until the end of high school. I very much understand what people mean when they talk about White Privilege now. I can’t say I have never struggled…they are just different struggles.

There were, however, some poems that made my heart expand until I thought it was going to explode. Some made me want to weep. The ones about reading and writing, especially–not knowing how to use those gifts as a kid but just knowing they were there and she had to use them somehow.

Then there were the poems that really spoke to me on a human level. Those shook me. They are the reason I’m writing the review this way–because I really wasn’t sure how I was going to approach it. One of the last poems in the book was this one, called “how to listen #10”:

 

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I think that is the most important thing as a white person in America right now, because we are privileged, whether we can see it or not. It’s a hard thing to admit sometimes–pride is a hard thing to let go of. But we just have to shut up and listen.

 

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Reading as an Experience

When I approach a new book, I often know very little about it.

Many have been on my TBR for years–recommendations from acquaintances long forgotten–“Oh, you should read this!” Any one who finds out how much I read has a book for me, so it goes on The List. Bestsellers often end up on there, popular books making the rounds on Tumblr, and of course, the Boxall 1001. The List is over 3,000 titles long.

I will usually read a brief description of an ARC before I request it, but even then, it’s a month or two before I actually read it, since I prefer to wait until just before release to do the review. I have a general idea of most of the popular classic novels, but just an outline or topic. Only in the rare occasion that I really love the author and have been anxiously waiting a release, or it’s a book with a huge publicity push will I actually have a strong knowledge base before beginning.

Why do I do so little research about the books I read? Two simple reasons.

  1. I read almost a book a day. At that volume, it would be impossible for me to read pre-reviews on every single book. Nope, can’t do it.
  2. The biggest reason, though, is that I’d much rather go into a book blind. That way, every twist and turn is new, every character I meet is unexpected. It’s the same reason I often don’t watch every movie trailer anymore. I want to experience the book fresh. Sometimes with ARCs I hardly even pay attention to who the author is. I take notes with my reactions, mark down quotes, etc. With difficult books, I will often Wiki it, to make sure I am understanding what is happening–though I don’t usually do that until later in the story, or afterwards, unless I am really confused.

Reading for me is an immersive experience, and I try to get as much out of it as possible. It is enjoyable, but it is no longer just a hobby. I learn a great deal from the books I read, and so I have expanded the breadth of what I am taking in.

I’ve discussed this multiple times here before–how much I read, what I read, how I do it. I won’t get into that now. But learning is important to me, and I get really excited about it.

 

However, I’ve had a few conversations about reading as an experience this week. Not everyone reads the same way I do. And you know what, THAT IS OK!

I had one conversation where we geeked out about the toxic relationships in Wuthering Heights and analyzed the perception of that novel as a romance vs what the book really is. We talked about how we think all classics are well-written because the language is so much different than modern day English, but in reality, the authors fought with each other about their writing style as much as we do now.

But you know what also makes me really excited? Talking to someone who struggled with reading for years, hating it because they had trouble with dyslexia or any other reading disorder. But then someone gave them Harry Potter (or Twilight or Percy Jackson or INSERT BOOK HERE) and it opened up words for them. And it may take them a month to read one book but now they can do it and we can geek out together about our favorite stories. And it has nothing to do with the great masters of writing or the state of the world. It’s just words on a page that fit together to make a story that we all can share.

 

My point is this–read what you like. For years I read Nora Roberts and Rachel Gibson smut. I read every JD Robb In Death book in order for like 4-5 years. Maybe longer. That’s no longer my thing, but if it’s yours GREAT! If you’re an adult who loves YA, thumbs up. If you’re a kid who likes adult fiction, YES! Comics, newspapers, magazines, shampoo bottles? Done.

I’m kind of joking about the shampoo bottles, but I can’t say I haven’t done it when there’s nothing else in the bathroom.

Paperbacks, hard covers, ereaders, audiobooks. All valid sources. Guys, let’s stop arguing about what people like to read, and get excited about everyone who loves it as much as we do. Bookworms have gotten made fun of since the beginning of time. Let’s not beat up on each other too.

I firmly believe that reading is a process. It starts with that first book we fall in love with, and we just keep going. Every next book drags us a little further down the line. Maybe one day we step out from our normal genre into something new. Maybe next time it’s a bit more advanced than what we are used to. That process can be fast, or it may take a long time and be really gradual–and it may change hardly at all. My grandfather read Westerns his entire life…until the last year or two when he started reading Amish Christian fiction. So don’t let me or anyone else pressure you to step outside your comfort zone, but I do encourage it, when you’re ready.

There is a whole world of books out there! And you know I have a full List of recommendations for you!

Happy reading everyone!

The Deerslayer

Did you know that The Last of the Mohicans is actually a series? We see series all the time now, but we don’t think about them much back in the 1800s. Maybe they happened more than I realize. I’ve seen books with multiple volumes and one title, but this is the first I’ve seen in an actual series like this.

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James Fenimore Cooper wrote The Leatherstocking Tales about an adventurer called Natty Bumppo–a white man who was raised among the Delaware Indians in the what is now New York. Even though he was raised among the Native Americans, he loathes the idea of harming his own kind. He hunts (giving him the nickname of Deerslayer), but he does not like the idea of war. He crosses paths with two white men, Hurry Harry and Floating Tom who have taken up scalping for trade, and try to convince him to do it with them. He tries to convince them to stop, but they don’t listen and are trapped by the dangerous Huron tribe.

This book…I just…have really mixed feelings.

I liked Bumppo’s character. He’s a good man, and he just wants to be left alone in the woods. Also, he’s asexual. He has a chance to marry the beautiful girl, and he says, “Meh…no thanks, I think I’ll go back and head off back in the trees, but thanks. Let’s just be friends, k?” He joins the fight because he has to get the idiots out of danger, but I got the idea that it was really really complicated and was just messing things up for him. Towards the end, Judith asks him if he wanted to fight and he tells her that while he can now claim the title of Warrior, he hates it and fights only out of necessity.

Also, the descriptions of the land are beautiful. This is written by someone who has spent a great deal of time in upstate New York. My Coursera professor added this to our historical fiction syllabus–which is why I am reading it now–and he showed us a picture of the lake Cooper references. The details are perfect, down to the exact spherical boulder on the shoreline.

However, I struggled a great deal with the racial context. I think sometimes it is hard for me to remove myself culturally from what I know now about the struggles/pain white men have caused in this country. I’m not even sure if that sentence made any sense. But even though I know in my head that Cooper was using the terminology that his characters would have called “injins” and “red men,” it still just makes me cringe. Bumppo and Hurry Harry have a pretty heated debate about the differences between white men and red men–Bumppo is trying to convince Harry that all men are equal, even if culture and tradition is different–and it just gets really ugly. It hurts my heart to know that I could pick that conversation up, take out “red” put in “black” and drop that conversation pretty much anywhere in the US right now, and it would still fit exactly.

I don’t talk about that subject much, mostly because I don’t know what to say, and what I mean will never come out right. But that part of the book really got to me, and I couldn’t leave it out.

There isn’t much else–the book is a little hard to follow at times. It is pretty chaotic. People have multiple names and there isn’t a whole lot of setting buildup. This is one that I read Wiki before I reviewed to make sure I understood what I read. I’m not ashamed to admit it, people!

This isn’t really a book I’d recommend, unless you really like old adventure stories. But, I know I’m going to have to read The Last of the Mohicans at some point for the Boxall 1001, so I stuck it out.

Seriously though, I am going to make someone else write my TBR for September. Why did I do this to myself? WAR WAR WAR DEPRESSED WARWARWAR DARK WAR

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WWW Wednesday 8/12/2015

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What are you currently reading?

Bradstreet Gate by Robin Kirman

For Study:  The Ramayana by Ramesh Menon

 

What did you just finish reading? Click Title Below for Review!

 

The Deerslayer by James Fenimore Cooper (Review Tomorrow)

The Banished of Muirwood by Jeff Wheeler

People Who Eat Darkness by Richard Lloyd Parry

 

What do you think you’ll read next?

Jade Dragon Mountain by Elsa Hart

Great Jones Street by Don DeLillo

The Middle of Somewhere by Sonja Yoerg

 

Cyropaedia

Have you guys checked out Coursera yet? If not, you definitely should. It’s a website solely devoted to providing quality online college courses from real professors from real colleges for free (you can pay for certificates if you want/need them). I’m on my second class now–a class about historical fiction called “Plagues, Witches, and War.” Sounds super interesting, right?

Because it’s a class on fiction, there’s a pretty substantial reading list, and the class is “Go At Your Own Pace.” Now, the professor told us we don’t have to read everything on the syllabus but…come on, you guys know me well enough to know I’m sure as hell gonna try. Or at least the ones I can get for free on Kindle and Google Books.

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First on the list is Cyropaedia, an ancient book written by a student of Socrates. Composed around 370 BC, it is supposedly the first historical fiction novel–a political romance.

The eight books follow Cyrus the Great of Persia from his early beginnings as a rambunctious teenager until he is old and dying. During his lifetime he builds a magnificent empire in what today is the Middle East. He did this not just by conquering nations, but by also gaining the love and trust of his people and soldiers, and thus made many allies.


Image credit:  http://syria.ewas.us/

I never quite understood the “romance” part of the book, though I’m sure it’s buried in there somewhere. However, this book is very much a war epic. I kept wondering if this was required reading at West Point or during any Officer’s Training, because if not, it should be. The military strategy discussed is probably ancient and outdated for use with our technology now, but the motivational speeches made by Cyrus and his generals are some of the most epic I’ve ever read. I did run out of steam towards the middle because of the battle descriptions, as I tend to do with this sort of thing, but otherwise, the characters are absolutely captivating.

Xenophon is not an author we hear about much (ok, at all) in the literary world today, at least for those of us average folk. Plato, Socrates, Cicero, Homer, sure. Xenophon is never mentioned. But this book was excellent, for what it was. Perhaps not to my usual tastes, but it was captivating from beginning to end.

 

Buy it here!