Bookish Recap-2016

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Well! That was a thing. Overall, reading wise, 2016 was a good year. Personally there were ups and downs which prevented me from blogging the way I wanted to. I’m still figuring out the ins and outs of blogging and this year I hope that I can be more consistent.

Obviously we have to review my favorite books of the past year and what my reading goals are this year.

According to the Goodread’s challenge I read 34 books (the same amount as 2015). But I also re-read a lot of books, which Goodreads doesn’t take into consideration. And so according to my calculations (yay for doing bookish-recaps every month), I read 37 books. I didn’t review all of them for the blog, but that’s ok. Again, that’s something I want to work on.

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My average rating according to Goodreads was a 3.7 which is pretty high, and also cements the fact it was a good reading year. You would think that I would have had a hard time picking my top five, but it was quite easy.

My top 5 books for 2016 (in no particular order; click the title for a link to my reviews):

The Martian (Andy Weir)

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Do I really need to say anything more about this book? It ended up on three of my bookish lists this year, and I also re-read it in December. Reading a book twice in one year is a new record for me. If you’re not quite sure why I’m in love with this story of resilience and team work, check out my review.

The Raven Boys (Maggie Stiefvater)

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This book ended up on two of my bookish lists, and I’ve recommended this book to numerous people off line. If you love fantasy I think this is a must read. While Stiefvater’s writing style isn’t for everyone, I adore it and the characters just sealed the deal for me. I found myself able to relate to each one and learning more about myself through reading the book. It’s rare that a book does that for me, and I’m so grateful that I finally caved in and gave this book and series a chance. I’m currently finishing up this series. If I die, put The Raven Cycle as the cause of death.

Nevernight (Jay Kristoff)

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MIA!! This is how you do assassins! I loved the mix of Italian Renaissance and Roman Empire. The world building was fantastic, and nothing ever felt out of place. Mia was by no means a good person, although she had good in her. The book is filled with questionable content and in a way, it’s an uncomfortable book. The bad is portrayed as bad, but the big question is, “is it truly bad if it’s done for good reasons?” and that’s something the reader has to decide for themselves. Mia, despite her flaws and questionable choices was a character I could get behind. Needless to say, I’m excited for the next books in the series.

I Am Malala (Malala Yousafzai)

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Speaking of hard books…I am Malala was a hard book to read in parts. It was eye opening read. I think that this is the most important book I’ve read this year. This book gives great insight to what is going on in the world and why we must help young women world wide get a good education. I was surprised to find that this book is as much about Malala as it is her father. While disturbing in parts, this book is also one of hope and resilience. If you want to learn more about current events and hear Malala’s story from the start and source,  I strongly recommend you read this.

And finally, Fascinate by Sally Hogshead.

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Although I didn’t review this book on the blog, I did review it on Goodreads. I really loved the psychology in this book. For those of you that have no interest in branding or starting your own business I think this book is a great read, just because it makes one more aware of how the media uses different methods to influence our behavior. It’s an eye opening book, and it’s a lot of fun. For those of you that are interested in the business side of thing, this is a great book. I recently added it to my personal library and am looking forward to reading it again.

 

As for my reading goals this year, I set my Goodreads challenge to 13 books. Last year I set it at 16 so that I wouldn’t feel too pressured, but I’d be encouraged to read. It worked wonderfully! I’m setting it lower than the past year because I’m doing a personal challenge to read mostly big books (400+ pages). Some of the books I’ll be tackling are filled with heavy world building and are over 700 pages. With school, writing, and work it’ll take me time to get though those monsters! I’ll also be focusing on more diverse reads too. Hopefully with these goals I’ll wind up getting through a lot of books on my TBR pile.

I’m keeping my goals simple, but I’ll have fun achieving them. What books are you looking forward to reading this year? Got any bookish goals for the upcoming year?

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5 Books to Get You in the Mood for School

Nerd alert! I freaking love school. I love learning and making full use of the campus library. I love seeing the geese at the pond and taking a stroll down the lane that’s lined with special plants from around the state. I love finding places to camp out and read a book before class starts and am always amazed that I manage to find new places after so long. But even I have off days and need a little help getting into the “back to school” mood. Here are five books that without fail get me in the mood for school:

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1. Harry Potter: Ok so it’s actually seven books, but just go with me here. I’m sure if everyone had to make a list like this, most people would put at least one Harry Potter book it. Personally, my favorites are books one and two. There’s just something about going back to school with Harry and friends. And say what you want about Dumbledore, but he’s not the only problematic person in the book, and he does have some genuine good in him. And I think that’s the beauty of it. Good people have dark sides, and bad people have good sides, and all sorts of people can find positions of power. It’s a challenge all of us face as students. For me, that element being in there is very comforting. I know I’m not the only one who’s had their run ins with teachers or the like who abused their power. The Harry Potter series shows that learning has its own kind of magic and that even the strangest and unexpected of challenges, in or out of the classroom, can be fixed with a trip to the library and a bit of daring, hard work, ambition, and creativity.

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2. Private: I’ll try to contain myself here but I’ve found that the Private series is underrated and few people know about it (seriously if you’ve read any of it, come talk to me about it!). But I love it and find it inspiring. Reed Brennan is tough. She has a horrible home life and yet she’s determined to reach her dreams through education-even though not all of her family is supportive of this. I think that’s such a powerful message especially with how things are going with the education system in America. When Reed lands herself a scholarship she works her tail off to keep it and the series does an excellent job of showing the challenges that scholarship students face. This 13 book series is mostly focused on the politics of schools. While there’s plenty of moments where I find myself going “Oh man, I can so relate to that,” in regards to Reed’s classes, there’s plenty of stuff I can also relate to when it comes to student/teacher and student/student interactions. Not to mention the whole morals of “do what it takes to stay on top.” It’s just a well done series in my take. While I still have to get my hands on books 9-13, from the first 8 books I know it makes the grade.

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3. Twilight: Something about the ambiance of Forks helps me get into the mood for school. It might be because I read the book for the first time in my senior year of high school and that year was one of my best. Also, as someone who’s been the new girl plenty of times it’s comforting to have a heroine that’s also the new one. I could relate to Bella a lot back in the day. Sure, there’s not much focus on school once Bella and Edward click, but the melodrama gives me life.  If I get too uptight about things, Twilight helps me take a step back, relax, and enjoy school on my off days.

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4. The Martian: Surprise! Look who showed up…again (seriously this is the third time this book has showed up on a list of mine-not even going to pretend to be sorry). I actually plan on re-reading this book soon because of the nerdery. This book makes the list because I learned so much while reading it. Not only that, it’s a super motivational book for me. It motivates me to stay strong in challenges and to keep learning. As much as I love learning, sometimes I get a professor that just doesn’t suit my learning style and can make the whole process a drag. It’s a great reminder that learning can be fun and really bloody useful.

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5. Angelology: Ok, ok hold up here. Back up. I have never actually finished this book. So how did it make it onto the list? Long story short, I kept picking up this book in the book store and reading the back and then looking at the cover and going “naked guy ok…how about no?” and putting it back. Then finally after like the fourth time (and again reading some of the writing) I decided to get it. And so for the past three years I have been trying to read this book at the start of school. And every time I have gotten sick or something major has come up and I stopped reading it. And almost every time at the exact same place. It’s like fate. So this book reminds me of school because I am just too stubborn to not try to finish it and I always try reading it during the school year. I will win. I will finish this book. Just like I will finish my classes come hell or high water.

Hopefully at least one of these books will help get you in the mood for school (or at least over the summer blues) if you’re dreading it. And if you’re as hyped as I am for it, hopefully these books will help encourage that energy. And those of you that aren’t in school anymore and just chilling…well hey, at least you have book recommendations right? I’d love to hear your take on any of these books or any of your book recs! I’m a huge fan of boarding school, and school related books so if you know of any, toss them my way!

Bookish Recap: Top 5 Faves…So Far

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So we’re about half way through the month that is the half way point through the year. My birthday is this week so to celebrate I’ve decided to share my top five favorites of the year so far. This actually wasn’t nearly as hard as I thought it would be. I’ve reviewed all of these books and included links to the reviews if you missed them and want to check out my more in depth thoughts.

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The Martian (Andy Weir): Does it surprise anyone that I listed this book first? It’s the one I talk the most about, I don’t even know why I’m pretending like this wouldn’t have been on the list. I just put it on another list too. You can tell I love this one! I loved the humor and the resilience that Mark had. The nerd in me rejoiced at the behind the scenes look at NASA and all the science not related to space. I am a die hard fan of survival stories and this one came with science. I was sobbing at the end and I think the only other book I cried so hard at was The Hobbit. You can read my review of it (The Martian, not The Hobbit) here. I promise I don’t talk about potatoes…much.

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The Raven Boys (Maggie Stiefvater): This book came as a surprise for me. I was expecting it to be kind of meh, over-hyped, and not my cup of tea despite the lovely writing style. I was so wrong. I am so, so glad that I was so, so wrong. I deeply connected to each of the main characters and was awed by the beautifully executed plot. The world building blew me away. I set aside reading the series so that I could buy all of it. Now I just need to prepare myself for major feels. The Raven Boys is one of my most recent reviews and you can check it out here.

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We Awaken (Calista Lynne): Asexual representation? Check. Cute girls loving girls? Check. Magic? Check. Lovely world building? Check! I was stoked when I was offered the opportunity to read and review this book, but I was also anxious. As someone who has asexual friends and who is on the asexual spectrum herself, I was pretty worried about how accurate the representation would be. I didn’t have a thing to worry about and really enjoyed the organic romance that developed between the characters. I also loved Lynne’s writing style. Overall, We Awaken struck me as an incredibly elegant book.

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I Funny (James Patterson): Speaking of diversity…I Funny was a wonderful and incredibly quick read. I really loved the humor in it, and adored how Jamie defined himself outside of his disability-something that is so hard for us to do. While I couldn’t relate to the situation Jamie was in, I could relate to the bullying, the struggles of middle school and the need to define yourself outside of your disability. This is the sort of book I wish I had when I was in elementary and middle school, and I’m so glad that the I Funny series is available for today’s generation. You can read my review here.

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I am Malala (Malala Yousafzai): This was a really hard book to read at times because of the struggles Malala, her family, and her friends went through. It’s hard to believe that this stuff actually happened because America is seemingly so far removed from these issues. That was one thing I loved about this book. Through honesty and passion Malala shows that education can be improved everywhere and that it’s everyone’s business that we educate everyone in the upcoming generations. No matter their gender. This was hard to review due to the fact that it was so powerful for me and I needed time to sit on it, but I managed it!

So, have you got any favorites of the year so far? Any way you could narrow your list down to just five? I’d love to hear what books you’d put on your list as I’m always (needlessly, my TBR pile is massive) on the look out for new books to read!

5 Patriotic Book Recs (USA style)

I know that I have followers world wide, but yesterday was Fourth of July and I wanted to try to honor that in a bookish style. My family and I keep our Fourth’s pretty chill. Not going to lie, the most patriotic thing I did was eat corn dogs (it doesn’t get much more American than that)!

But lately I’ve been finding it hard to be patriotic. So many discriminatory laws have been passed and there’s been terrorist attacks on minorities. America doesn’t feel like America should feel. Thankfully there are books. The following books are books that help me remember the good stuff about my home and make me proud that I live here, despite the flaws.

Now none of these books scream “AMERICA!!!” and none of these books are even about being a patriot, but each has a distinct American element. If I had to give someone a book to introduce them to American culture, I’d point them to any one of these books.

Even if you aren’t American I hope you find a book that interests you. I’d love to hear what books make you feel patriotic for your country!

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The Martian (Andy Weir): This book is one of my favorites of the year. True, the majority of the book takes place on Mars, but NASA plays a huge role in this too. My little nerdy self delighted in all the science and history of American space exploration throughout the book. Also, Mark had some of those “ideal” American traits. Like an inability to die when he was supposed to cause he’s too stubborn. Another trait/theme was teamwork. While Mark is trying to survive on an empty planet, NASA does a ton of teamwork. Divisions that don’t typically get along work together start working flawlessly (sort of) for a common goal. One thing I love about America is despite those who want to promote fear and hate, America really does know how to pull together in a crisis. The Martian captures this and the American fighting spirit perfectly.  If you want you can read my review of it here.

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Divergent (Veronica Roth): While I didn’t enjoy this book nearly as much as I thought I would (forever crying over that), Divergent still has some great elements. It takes place in Chicago (which according to Google is the second most popular city in the US) in a dystopian future. The reason this book is on my list is because part of the American dream is conquering your fears to reach your goals. Triss’ faction, Divergent, is all about that. The whole plot of the book revolves around one group trying to take away the freedom of the little guys, another major talking point in the US. It’s a very political book overall. Divergent does an excellent job showing how politics impact every element of life, and how the media controls it. That’s been a topic that’s been talked about a lot lately in America. Also, speaking of American dreams, the author wrote the book while she was in college and published while she was in her early twenties. Really this book indirectly embodies so much about America (the good and the bad) it’s nuts.

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The Princess Diaries (Meg Cabbot): As Americans we pride ourselves on our numerous underdog and Cinderella stories. It doesn’t get much more Cinderella than The Princess Diaries! Mia becomes reasonably upset when she discovers her parents lied to her for fifteen years and kept her princess identity from her. Then comes the grandmother (who in this case could be the sort of wicked step-mother) to give the royal makeover. Despite the fantastical scenario, Mia’s story is true to the struggles of American teens.Mia and her diverse group of friends make a plethora of pop-culture references that really highlight their Americanness (I’m sorry, but there’s certain things only someone from America would ever say about Baywatch). Not to mention that the books takes place in New York City, the most famous city in the U.S. While the first two books on the list touch on the American fight spirit and resilience, The Princess Diaries focuses on the heart, hopefulness, and determination of the upcoming American generations. It’s fluff, but it’s filled with powerful truths and an all around great time!

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Private (Kate Brian): (Why haven’t more people read this series?!?) Education is one of the most controversial issues in America. You’re right, it shouldn’t be, but there’s a lot of conflict and politics involved with our education system. I feel like the Private series perfectly captures this slice of America. If you’re into boarding schools and drama, this series is for you. Reed goes to Easton, an elite boarding school on scholarship. If she makes it here, she can get away from her agonizing life back home and make it into any college. If she makes it. Not only are the classes more challenging than anything she’s ever encountered, teachers that are supposed to help and advocate for her, just don’t do that. And what so many people don’t realize, is that on school campuses, it’s not the teachers that run the roost, it’s the students. There is so much that goes on that teachers should be aware of, but aren’t. Again, this ties into big government politics. But Reed’s adventures at Easton captures the questionable morals of just how far should one go to secure a future for themselves, and how education can play a huge role in that. It’s not all bad though. Over the course of the series Reed does what so many of us students do. We make a faulty system work for us.

Last but not least:

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Follow the Model: Miss J’s Guide to Unleashing Presence, Poise, and Power (J. Alexander): If you’re into fashion and/or are a fan of America’s Next Top Model, you’ve probably heard of the model J. Alexander. The media and American modeling industry is all about real…just so long as it’s not too real (yay photoshop!) or intimidating. Your real can never be too much. Miss J shakes that idea up and replaces it with something that’s much closer to the real heart of America. Be too much and love yourself for it. Sharing the story and teachings of his mother as well as life lessons he’s learned along the way, Miss J takes us on a journey that starts in the Bronx and goes around the world. But always, Miss J takes pride in his heritage and who he is. He talks in depth about his experiences in the perusal of his dreams, the good and the bad. Despite how often the media shoves unrealistic expectations down our throats, J. Alexander shows through real life examples that you can break free from that and live out your own American dream by being your crazy beautiful self.

 

So then, questions for you: Have you read any of these books, and if so what did you think? What books make you feel proud to be a part of your country and/or proud of your heritage?

Book Review: The Martian

“I guess you could call it a “failure,” but I prefer the term “learning experience.”” ~ Mark Watney (The Martian)

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Author: Andy Weir

Genre: Science fiction/Survival

Summary: Six days ago, astronaut Mark Watney became one of the first people to walk on Mars. Now, he’s sure he’ll be the first person to die there.

After a dust storm nearly kills him and forces his crew to evacuate the planet while thinking him dead, Mark finds himself stranded on Mars’ surface, completely alone, with no way to signal Earth that he’s alive — and even if he could get word out, his supplies would be gone years before a rescue could arrive.

Chances are, though, he won’t have time to starve to death. The damaged machinery, unforgiving environment or plain-old “human error” are much more likely to kill him first. But Mark’s not ready to quit. Armed with nothing but his ingenuity and his engineering skills — and a gallows sense of humor that proves to be his greatest source of strength – he embarks on a dogged quest to stay alive, using his botany expertise to grow food and even hatching a mad plan to contact NASA back on Earth.

As he overcomes one seemingly insurmountable obstacle after the next, Mark begins to let himself believe he might make it off the planet alive – but Mars has plenty of surprises in store for him yet.

My Opinion: First things first. I don’t do science fiction. I don’t do math either. The Martian is both mathy and science-fiction. I adored the movie, and I had a couple of friends on tumblr screaming about this book. So I decided that despite having full knowledge that I was going to be bitterly disappointed, that I’d give it a go. I will never think of potatoes the same way again, and this book had me sobbing at the end. Five stars hands down. I am sorry I ever doubted this book. Side note, I freaking love this cover.

This book is so unique. It’s a Mars story unlike any other, and it also has wonderful survival story elements. It’s not one of those stories where man loathes nature and is struggling to survive, it’s a story where man is really fed up with nature but damn it, nature and man worked together on Earth and heaven help us all if Mark Watney doesn’t make nature work with him on Mars!

It’s one of those survival stories where man works with nature. I just don’t get enough of those.

Mark has a lot to take into consideration when it comes down to making Mars livable. And this is where Weir shows his science knowledge. First is the psychology, what is going on in Mark’s head, but also the heads of those back on Earth. It’s hard to balance two stories in one, as well as write them in two different styles (Mark’s parts are first person, what takes place on Earth is third), but it’s done beautifully here. Mark’s personality is fantastic and he’s such an easy guy to root for (even if he does have the foulest mouth on Mars). Even minor characters had a distinct personality. Sure almost all the scientists were smart-alecks but they all went about it differently and had different motivations. There was a fair bit of diversity as well, although more in passing. Weir was also respectful of some very serious topics and I felt like those issues were addressed well.

Secondly is the math. Oooh boy the math. I had heard from a friend that this book was very science and math based, almost too much so. Look y’all, when I was a kid I wanted to be Mark Watney then I realized just how much math an astronaut had to learn and I noped right out of there. I was ready to do that at any given moment with The Martian. While I did have to go back and re-read some things a couple of times before I fully understood it, Watney (and therefore Weir) did an excellent job of explaining the math behind everything and the importance of said math. This is not a math lover forcing math on the reader, this is someone with serious math knowledge saying “look at how cool math can be because it can totally help you survive on Mars!” I have a whole new appreciation of math thanks to this book.

Finally is the straight up science. Mark is a botanist and his first self imposed mission was to get food. Which wound up being potatoes. I had no idea I could feel sentimental over potatoes but when I finished the book and saw the potatoes my parents left sitting out I started crying all over again. The science is just amazing. I had no idea that such hard science could be made into such a fun and fascinating read. This isn’t an easy read, and it’s not a good book to read when you’re tired as what happens on Sol 37 will come into play on Sol 66. The science is explained really well and while it makes the book very technical, it also makes for an enlightening and really enjoyable story.

And ultimately this is a book for optimists. Mark faces incredible, and sometimes terrifying challenges, yet somehow he manages to push on. Yes, a few times he considers taking an easy way out, but honestly, who wouldn’t? The power of the story is that he never has a promise that he’s going to live to the next day or ever see Earth again. Yet he soldiers on. As science laden as this book is, it is truly a story about humanity. How we keep it in impossible times, and how we show it to others. It’s an incredible book and it took all my will power to not turn back to the start and immediately re-read it.

TL;DR: Sometimes you just come across a book that makes you realize that no matter the seemingly insurmountable challenges we face, we can always make it through with the help of potatoes others. The Martian did that for me while teaching me a ton about science and made it fun. This is a nerdy book, no doubt about it, but it’s also a human book and one of the most optimistic books I’ve encountered. It’s got everything a good book should have. Suspense, a very real challenge (or challenges in this case), humor, diversity, and space. Because everyone loves a good space story, and that’s exactly what this is.