Welcome back to my monthly wrap-up! This was a crazy month for me reading-wise. My goal this year was to read 100 books, which is a little out-there given that in the past couple of years I've hovered around 55 books a year. I was coming into this month at 88 books - very behind - but thanks to several pep talks and dedicated reading nights scheduled by my husband, I DID IT! Needless to say, this is going to be a hefty wrap-up.
I know that some of these books may be listed for sale on the website, but I want to keep my reviews honest. We may not have the same taste in books and I encourage you to check them out regardless!
I read TWLEVE books in December: seven physical books and five audiobooks. Let's go!
North Woods - Daniel Mason
I will say that the style of North Woods inherently lends itself to shallower character development, so I didn't love that I felt disconnected from most of our characters. Combined with some of the chapters that were more character-driven, I found myself struggling to care. As is the case with any short-story style, some plots were more compelling than others, but I definitely liked more than I disliked.
Overall, I thought this was a cool take on historical fiction, and I really enjoyed listening to the audiobook. If you're not into historical fiction, this probably isn't the book for you, but I liked it!
content warnings: murder, war, mental illness, animal death
Demon Copperhead - Barbara Kingsolver
⬤⬤⬤◐〇 | hardcover | purchase here
My Review: This was a HEAVY read, both in page count and in content, and it took me a long time to get through. On one hand, I can absolutely see why this book won a Pulitzer. The writing is wonderful, and the themes are thought-provoking. This is, objectively, a very good book.
With that being said, I didn't jive with it in the way I had hoped I would. The pace dragged for most of the length, and I felt like it was probably 100 pages too long. I thought the plot was interesting but it didn't move at a pace enough to keep me engaged. I thought the ending was good and ended on a slight up note, but the catharsis wasn't great enough for all of the trauma Demon goes through, in my opinion.
I think I would recommend this to people who are fans of literary fiction or hard-hitters, and, like I said, I understand why people love this book. I think it's deserved. However, this is not light reading and I wouldn't go into this on a whim. Could be slump-inducing if you're unprepared.
content warnings: drug use, toxic relationship, child abuse, miscarriage, drug abuse, addiction, death of parent, death
Algorithms to Live By: The Computer Science of Human Decisions - Brian Christian and Tom Griffiths
⬤⬤⬤⬤◔ | audiobook & paperback | purchase here
My Review: I can't tell you how long I've had this book on my shelf - since college at least, so I'm guessing around five years. Figured it was high time I read it and I'm glad that I did.
If I could recommend this book to anyone, I think undergrad computer science students would get the most out of it (which is rich because I had this book as an undergrad computer science student and didn't read it). The text gives real-world applications to a lot of the ideas taught in early computer science classes, like different sorting algorithms, memory, and optimizations problems. Reading this as I was learning these concepts would have been hugely beneficial in helping to understand and contextualize them. I enjoyed the audiobook; as always, I love when an author narrates their own work.
While there are a lot of practical solutions this book can provide (about, say, optimal stopping when it comes to picking the best parking spot), Algorithms to Live By also offers a more abstract look into the choices we make to shape our lives and why we make decisions the way we do. Sometimes it seemed like the examples given were a little too niche to be applicable, but they definitely got me thinking about other algorithms we do use in everyday life.
I don't know if I'd recommend this to folks who aren't into computer science - this book might be too much to take in conceptually if you don't have some of the basic principles already, but I do think a lot of people would get something out of what this work has to say.
Invisible Women: Data Bias in a World Designed for Men - Caroline Criado Pérez
⬤⬤⬤⬤◐ | paperback | synopsis here
My Review: This is not a fun book, and it is not my favorite book. But it is an important one. In fact, it's the most important book I've read all year, maybe in multiple years. It's infuriating and informative and a scathing assault of facts and statistics and studies. Everyone should read it.
This book is divided into sections about home, the workplace, healthcare, and public life, and systematically proves how every single aspect of women's lives in each of these areas is based around being the "abnormal other" - that is to say, not men. Now, as a women, I'm pretty aware of most of these experiences; I've lived them. What I hadn't fully considered were the far-reaching impacts of some of these systems: how they go on to perpetuate the cycle of poverty, lead to greater gender gaps in data, and the further endangerment of women (no, that isn't an exaggeration).
I wish I had had the time to have consumed this book in smaller doses for two reasons. First, this book really does come at you with the facts and stats, and it can feel like drinking out of a firehose at times. I wish I had more time to have read this book at say, the pace of a chapter a week, so I could absorb information better and ruminate on what I had read. Second, this book can get really frustrating and depressing. I was mad the entire time. I like having the fire of justice and equality inside me to push me to do more and be strong, but at some point it start to have a negative effect on your psyche. I think taking this book in smaller doses would have helped to mitigate that.
I really enjoyed the moments in certain chapters that talked about improvements being made to certain systems and the positive outcomes change can have. It does help provide hope that these things can be overcome and that we can move in the right direction if we prioritize it.
The last thing I want to say is that I implore men to read this book. While I was reading Invisible Women, I talked to a number of male friends and coworkers, most of whom said something like "Oh! My [mom, sister, wife, friend] read that book and really liked it." But none of them said they had read the book themselves, despite it getting a positive review from a trusted source. This book is an expose on patriarchy, but it is not an expose on you. It may have you take a hard look at yourself and your preconceived ideas and help you to change your mindset, but it is not an attack on you personally. Feminists are not one gender, and men are essential allies in creating change that benefits everyone.
content warnings: rape, misogyny, sexism, sexual assault, sexual harassment
The Tusks of Extinction - Ray Nayler
My Review: Thanks to Tor Publishing Group and NetGalley for providing me an e-ARC of this book in exchange for an honest review. All thoughts and feedback are my own.
This book's premise is so unique and I'm kind of obsessed with it. Like, our main character is a scientist who has died and whose consciousness has been put into a mammoth. So good. I think there was a good amount of development for a book under 200 pages and I really found myself caring about some of the characters (and loving to hate others). I felt like I was on the edge of my seat for most of the plot, and I thought the book had strong themes about extinction, poaching, and big game hunting.
As it is with most novellas and this one in particular, I tend to wish there were a few more pages. I would have loved to see more depth concerning how Damira adapted to being a mammoth and the herd, and I wish we had spent more time with Vladmir. I found myself wanting more.
I am very excited to read Nayler's debut, The Mountain in the Sea, which I already own, and I greatly look forward to seeing what else he puts out in the future!
content warnings: animal death, animal cruelty
After the People Lights Have Gone Off - Stephen Graham Jones
My Review: I always love when I have time to read a backlist of a favorite author. Stephen Graham Jones is one of my favorite horror authors (my all-time coolest claim is having him repost my ARC review of My Heart is a Chainsaw to his personal website), and this short story collection of his has been on my list for a while.
As with every short story collection, some where better than others, but a few of the stories have really stuck with me and have a lot of impact. I always appreciate Jones' ability to write eerie and tense scenes and trusting the reader to be smart and catch on to what he's doing. We all know I'll get my hands on anything he puts out.
Here is my rating for each story in the collection (my overall rating is the average of all these):
- Thirteen - 4.25
- Brushdogs- 4.25
- Welcome to the Reptile House - 2.5
- This is Love - 4.5
- The Spindly Man - 3
- The Black Sleeve of Destiny - 2.75
- The Spider Box - 3.75
- Snow Monsters - 4.5
- Doc’s Story - 2.5
- The Dead Are Not - 3
- Xebico - 3.5
- Second Chances - 4.75
- After the People Lights Have Gone Off - 4.75
- Uncle - 4
- Solve for X - 3.75
content warnings: gore, death, homophobia, suicide, animal death, child death
The Silence in Her Eyes - Armando Lucas Correa
My Review: Thanks to Atria Books and NetGalley for providing me an e-ARC of this book in exchange for an honest review. All thoughts and feedback are my own.
I was excited to read this book because the premise seemed very compelling and I've heard that Correa's historical fiction has been very well received. I am so sad that this was such a miss for me.
The story was okay until about the halfway point, probably a three-star read, but the time jump and plot left-turn was a real struggle to get through.
Normally I try to make these reviews have some depth to them, but I'm going to keep this to a bulleted list to keep myself from getting too deep into the weeds on any one point.
- The crux of this book - that the protagonist has akinetopsia - is compelling but ends up not being essential to the plot at all.
- Despite the fact that our protagonist, Leah, can still very much see (all she is lacking is the ability to see movement), she has developed Daredevil-like abilities of hearing and smell that it's too unbelievable for me to ascribe to.
- Similar to the previous point, I simply cannot suspend my disbelief to the point where I'm okay with the fact that Leah can simply stop using her sense of smell on command.
- Our protagonist leaps to conclusions like she's a professional hurdler and yet she is somehow always right.
- I actually called the reveal of this book about 20% of the way in, so I'm glad that it went the direction that it did, but the big twist seemed anticlimactic and poorly executed.
- There is backstory with a specific character that is alluded to have meaning to the mystery/plot Leah is trying to solve, but the point is ultimately meaningless and has no real reason to be included except as an unbelievable red herring.
- In fact, a lot of the subplots in this story (see: the reason for the title of the book) end up not contributing to the plot in any meaningful way, leaving me wondering why they were included in the first place.
- I didn't know what akinetopsia was going into this book, but I only needed one explanation to get the idea, and yet Leah uses the same explanations and description for her condition at least five times (probably more) throughout the book. I felt like I was being patronized or like the author thought I'd forgotten.
- The writing was almost painful at points. From a very "tell-not-show" style to laughable scenes (like the one where Leah takes a photo of bergamot, captions it "bergamot" and posts it to Instagram to her 100k+ follower photography page), a thriller that is supposed to be taken seriously shouldn't have points where I'm snorting out loud.
content warnings: chronic illness, death, death of parent, cancer
Gyo - Junji Ito
My Review: Junji Ito might be the only artist who can get me to read and enjoy manga. Uzumaki was a favorite of mine this year, so I went ahead and bought Tomie and Gyo as well, so this is my section exposure to him. And it was very, very good.
I will continue to praise Ito's use of space and the page as a physical tension builder for the reader. I love being afraid to turn the page to see what beautiful horror he's created on the other side. This is especially true here because Gyo is big on body horror. As in, physical "EUGH" reaction body horror. This is a weird and nasty little tale.
The illustrations, as always, are vivid and immaculate in their horror and detail. As a very visual reader with no internal monologue, these panels really pull me in and envelop me into the story - which, of course, means much more visceral reactions to everything. I thought the premise here was intriguing and the evolution of the plot was well though-out and executed. I do wish we had gotten more of an explanation about the legged creatures; many times I'm okay with ambiguity but a plotline for answers was explored but never fully concluded. The ending was good but not my favorite, and while I loved how Uzumaki had some broader themes about the human condition, those were more absent here.
All in all, a quick and fun read, but Uzumaki reigns supreme for Junji Ito so far.
content warnings: body horror, gore, death
Heartstopper: Volume Five - Alice Oseman
My Review: As usual, Alice Oseman delivers diverse, lighthearted, and deeply enjoyable plot and characters with a charming art style and fast-paced plot. This wasn't my favorite installment because it felt more like disjoint stories an plot elements than the full cohesive story I felt I experienced in earlier books. That's not to say I didn't love it - I really, really did - but I was left craving more.
Feeling bittersweet that there's only going to be one more volume, but I am excited to pick this up as a completed set once it's all out in paperback!
content warnings: mental illness, eating disorder, sexual content
Elder Race - Adrian Tchaikovsky
My Review: I read this book at the recommendation of my husband as a shorter book to get close to passing my 2023 reading goal. I was skeptical at first but ended up really enjoying myself! I liked the writing style and thought the story was well-suited to a novella. There was a good amount of character development and I found myself caring about our protagonist(s), which is something that's hard for me to do with shorter texts.
Sometimes the pacing felt a little all over the place, and I wish the ending had provided more catharsis than it did. Don't get me wrong, I really liked the ending. I predicted the climax and enjoyed how it played out, and I understand that not every story has to have a happy ending, but I was hoping for a little more relief for our protagonists.
I'm glad I picked this one up and I would be interested in reading more from Tchaikovsky in the future.
content warnings: body horror, mental illness, gore, death, suicidal thoughts
Walking to Aldebaran - Adrian Tchaikovsky
My Review: After my success with Elder Race, I decided to give another short book by Tchaikovsky a try, and unfortunately this was more of a miss for me. This novella started out strong and I really enjoyed the voice of our main character throughout. It reminded me a lot of Mark Watney from The Martian if he had been transplanted into a dark and wacky alternative exoplanet. I chuckled out loud at a couple lines, so props to the good writing and the good line delivery by the audiobook narrator.
Apart from the fun protagonist and interesting first few chapters, this book sort of lost me about halfway in. This book kind of had a hard time keeping my attention, but I'll admit that that might be on me for listening to an audiobook during a stressful time of year. Going to leave my rating where it is right now but could be convinced to give this one another go.
content warnings: cannibalism, violence, gore, body horror
All Systems Red - Martha Wells
My Review: So happy to have ended 2023 on such a strong note. This was a hilarious, well-written, wonderful little novella and I'm so excited to continue with the series. I got attached to the characters, especially Murderbot, and was invested in the stakes and the mystery of the plot. I'm intrigued to learn more about the worldbuilding and get more answers and go on more adventures.
The end of this book made me a little sad for reasons I won't get into for spoilers, but nonetheless I've already purchased the next installment and I'm looking forward to seeing what comes next!
content warnings: death, violence, gun violence
What was your favorite book you read this month? Let me know!