Book Reviews

Great Reads 2019

Miracle Creek by Angie Kim

WOW. Give Angie Kim all of the awards. Miracle Creek is filling the gaping hole in my heart left by To Kill a Mockingbird (after realizing how problematic the “great American novel” was in so, so many ways).

Miracle Creek is one of the best books I have ever read. It has all of the perks of a mystery – having me staying up way past my bedtime because I can’t put it down – with all of the power and import of literature.

As far as I am concerned, this is required reading. I know it’s early, but Miracle Creek deserves to be on every “New Canon”/”New Classics” reading list. READ IT NOW (or later but SOON)!

– Goodreads Review from June 14, 2019

The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo by Taylor Jenkins Reid

This is quite a remarkable book! Before starting it, I was skeptical about whether or not it was for me. I’m not a celebrity gossip junkie and, while I used to love reading historical fiction, lately I have found myself more interested in books addressing contemporary issues. But the celebrity aspect of the story gives it thematic depth. We all choose to repress and emphasize various parts of our identities, but those in the spotlight have to do so to an even greater extent if they want to be in control of their own narrative – and their own careers. And the historical element is made relevant as it is interwoven with a second story unfolding in modern day.

– Goodreads review from July 23, 2019

The Witch Elm by Tana French

When I bought this book, I thought it was the latest installment in the Dublin Murder Squad series, so I was a little disappointed when I realized my mistake. Somehow, though, it’s even better. Part of my love for the story may have come from the fact that I read it while recovering from surgery, so I could relate to Toby’s foggy headedness and frustration at how his own situation changed. But I think the main thing that made it better than her other books – which I really, really like but haven’t love-loved since In the Woods – was the voice. French is great at writing from the POV of detectives, but they generally aren’t, you know, funny people. The Witch Elm made me laugh out loud so many times – very unexpected for a mystery novel. I had no idea French was so funny. Plus, it takes on big issues: ableism, privilege, empathy, toxic masculinity. It’s kind of an important piece of capital-“L” Literature while still being a page-turning murder mystery. Brava, Tana French!

– Goodreads review from June 29, 2019

★ ★ ★
Other Great Reads
★ ★ ★

The Sun Is Also A Star by Nicola Yoon
➡︎ Read my review here.

March (trilogy) by John Robert Lewis

The Marrow Thieves by Cherie Dimaline
➡︎ Read my review here.

The Complete Maus by Art Spiegelman

Inside Out & Back Again by Thanhha Lai
➡︎ Read my review here.

On the Come Up by Angie Thomas

Black Enough: Stories of Being Young & Black in America by Ibi Zoboi, editor
➡︎ Read my review here.

To Kill a Mockingbird: A Graphic Novel by Fred Fordham (adapted from the original by Harper Lee)
➡︎ Read my review here.

Recursion by Blake Crouch

Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell
➡︎ Read my review here.

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Book Reviews

Great Reads 2018

Screen Shot 2019-01-02 at 10.21.00 PMAt the end of every year, I like to reflect on all of the wonderful books I have read over the past 365 or so days and highlight the standouts.

This is my fifth annual Great Reads post – apparently the only blog post I can reliably hold myself to doing each year.

I use Goodreads to set a personal reading challenge each year, and I can’t recommend the site enough for fellow readers and writers.

Check out my Goodreads author profile here.

I’m excited to share that I exceeded my 2018 reading goal of 33 books.

The 37 books I read this year include a lot of young adult novels, a few graphic novels, some classics, a little nonfiction, and a lot of contemporary fiction.

(I used to set my goal at 50 books each year, but it was very difficult to reach and pushed me to read shorter books just for the sake of my book count instead of reading what I actually wanted. In 2017, I set my goal at 32 – my age at the time – and have increased my goal by one book each year. Since this change, I have not only been able to read what I wanted, but I have also exceeded my goal every year.)

I really liked most of the books I read this year, but when I reviewed my Goodreads ratings, I was surprised to see that I was stingy with my five-star ratings. I only gave out two five-star ratings this year: one to Angie Thomas for The Hate U Give and one to J. K. Rowling for Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone.

This is really interesting!

It might seem like the only thing these two books have in common is the fact that they are YA novels, but I’ve come to realize that they have a lot more in common than that. 

Thematically, they are both about a very specific type of coming-of-age: having the courage to stand up to authority and do what what you know is right, no matter the consequences. 

I also realized that they both follow the Hero’s Journey fairly closely. As a fantasy hero, Harry Potter follows the journey rather obviously, but Starr Carter’s growth as a character can be plotted on a Hero’s Journey diagram with an even better fit than Potter’s. 

On a personal level, these books also have in common the facts that I have read them multiple times and that I have taught them to my high school students. Neither of these books received a five-star rating from me upon my first read. Each time I reread the books, I picked up on more of the authors’ craft and fell more and more in love with the stories and how they are told.

This is significant because I typically don’t reread books. I usually only reread a book if I am teaching it. With so many books on my To Read list, who has the time to read something they’ve already read before?

But this year’s Great Reads reflection has brought my attention to the value of rereading. In the future, I hope to give more of my four-star books a second go. I am a book hoarder, so they are already in my possession. I just have to make it a priority.

If I love the book even more, then it was well worth my time. If I don’t, then maybe it’s time to let it go by passing the book along to a friend or donating it to a local free library.

Here’s to another year of great reads for all of us!

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