Owls and Zombies and Giants, Oh My! – An April Reading Wrap-up

In March, in celebration of Women’s History Month, I pursued a self-assigned TBR that featured all women writers. This month I decided to revert back to my usual mood reading and April started off with some pretty middle-of-the-road books. A lot of what I picked up I liked, but only just barely.

My reading picks were almost entirely comprised of library books – which is a problem since I own 100+ unread books already. I have a bad habit of requesting library books and they tend to show up, all at once. What can I say? I’m a sick, sick person.

As usual, I’ve ordered my reads from lowest to highest rated:

Impossible Owls: EssaysImpossible Owls: Essays by Brian Phillips

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

I recently joined Netgalley and this collection of nonfiction essays was one of my first requests. Brian Phillips is journalist who has contributed to publications like The New York Times, Grantland, and more. He’s undeniably talented as a story teller and I love a good essay from an embedded journalist in unique parts of the world. However, there were only a few gems in this book while the rest felt like honest-to-God work to trudge through. My favorite essay is the very first one, where Phillips chronicles his breathtaking experience tracking the Iditraod in Alaska, via his bird’s eye view from a plane. I learned more about Phillips, his sense of humor, his commitment to exploration, than I did from any of his other essays combined. Most of his essays ended on a perfunctory note that left me feeling underwhelmed and disappointed.

BoundlessBoundless by Jillian Tamaki

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I’m gonna say up front: I have a hard time with abstract concepts and abstract art. So, I just didn’t get Boundless, a collection of illustrated short stories. I had a general assumption of the points it was trying to make but what really wowed me was the art. Guys, the art. Absolutely phenomenal illustrations. Artist Jillian Tamaki (Uh hello, This One Summer anyone?) has this incredible knack for invoking light and movement with the flattest of color palettes. I really enjoyed savoring each page but none of these stories really resonated with me.

Devil in a Blue Dress (Easy Rawlins, #1)Devil in a Blue Dress by Walter Mosley

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I was inspired to pick up this Easy Rawlin’s mystery after watching Brown Girl Reading review it on her channel. “Devil in a Blue Dress”, set just after World War II, follows a black war veteran who gets embroiled in a steamy murder mystery. It’s a short read with a vivid place setting and a collection of shady characters. As a mystery, this one didn’t really grab me – Easy felt more like an observer than a participant and often encountered key pieces of information purely by accident. I felt like I want to see Easy in action as a private investigator more than I wanted all this exposition of how he got there. I’ll probably pick up the rest of the series, it’s great world to dip in and out of.

Bingo LoveBingo Love by Tee Franklin

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This single-volume comic is about two women who fall in love as teenage girls, grow up to live separate lives and then years later, run into each other at a local bingo game. Their worlds and marriages turn upside down when they realize they still love each other, despite the decades that have passed them by.

This was sweet and full of heart but criminally short. Serious moments – like when Hazel confesses to her husband that she’s in love with a woman – are just a few panels long. The passing of time is implied but I never really get a chance to connect with characters, key family members or even the relationship between the two main characters, Hazel and Mari. Don’t get me wrong, this gave me all kinds of the warm fuzzies, because love is love. But this totally should have been a multi-volume series that took time to explore each relationship and the impact their reveal had on the family.

Dread Nation (Dread Nation, #1)Dread Nation by Justina Ireland

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Imagine if the Civil War was interrupted by legions of the undead coming back to life. Freed slaves and Native Americans are forced into combat schools to protect the white elite from “shamblers”. This is the world our main protagonist Jane McKeene is born into.

Jane is one of the best YA characters I’ve read. She’s a badass with a scythe but she’s also not just any one thing. She’s a complex character – you’re never 100% sure you can trust her. Her supporting characters? Not so much. It’s a whole Breakfast Club smorgasbord of cliches: there’s the prim and proper one who exists only to react to Jane’s badassery, there are a few love interests who spend a lot of time smirking or raising eyebrows, there are the very obvious bad guys who have zero chill and are maniacal af.

And, like most YAs, this book suffered from a lack of serious editing. Once the characters end up in Summerland (and kept alive for reasons I still don’t understand), the book slogs for 200 or 300 more pages until the too-late climax when critical points of Jane’s past are revealed. I tend to complain about this in my insta-stories but I’ll say it again and again: when it comes to YA, less is more.

Wonderblood: A NovelWonderblood: A Novel by Julia Whicker

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I mentioned in my last wrap-up how my appetite for weird books continues to grow. This book taught me that maybe there is such a thing as too weird.

“Wonderblood” started off strong – set 500 years into the future when most of the world’s population has been wiped out by a strange Mad Cow-type of disease. Cult-like religious sects practice astrology and other superstitious divinations. Oh and beheadings. Lots and lots of beheadings. This is a bloody, strange little book set in Cape Canaveral, FL (what?). I really wanted to like this and for the first 60% or so of this book, I did. But I think the author ran out of steam and couldn’t fully realize where she wanted her characters to go and why. The story felt like I was constantly climbing uphill without ever cresting it.

There’s a lot to discuss about this book (i.e. parallels to modern religion, destiny, violence) and there’s a lot of niggling details that poke holes in the story (i.e. What happened to 21st century tech and literature? What happened to the world outside of the U.S.?). Julia Whicker’s prose is excellent and her writing makes this totally worth reading (if you can stomach the weirdness and the violence) but the ending was pointlessly ambiguous and disappointing.

American PandaAmerican Panda by Gloria Chao

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

“American Panda” is about Mei, a young Taiwanese-American daughter of immigrants whose entire life has been planned out by her helicopter parents. With her parents expectations weighing heavily on her shoulders, Mei is at a crossroads: should she quit med school? Should she date the Japanese-American guy and risk estrangement from her parents? “American Panda” is cute and touches on a lot of interesting themes of identity, familial obligation and tradition. But some elements also felt silly and trite. Mei can be insufferable in her myopic view of her situation and her one-dimensional love interest, Darren, served only as an example to compare herself to. And, don’t get me started on her supposedly slutty roommate and the STD-as-the-butt-of-the-joke bit.

In her acknowledgments, Gloria Chao writes that this was based on her personal experiences and other anecdotes she’s heard. And frankly, I wish she had decided to write a memoir about her experiences instead.

The Job of the WaspThe Job of the Wasp by Colin Winnette

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This book didn’t sit well with me – I’m not sure it was supposed to. The synopsis describes this book as a Gothic ghost story, a creepy whodunnit set in a boy’s orphanage. I guess you could say that, but it’s not terribly accurate. This reads more like a night terror – a dream within a dream. I had no idea who was telling the truth, what was real, what wasn’t, who was insane, who wasn’t. I couldn’t trust the narrator (or really, anyone else in this story) and I felt anxious having to spend so much time in his warped, little head. This book reminded me a lot of “Fever Dream” by Samantha Schweblin, not in subject matter but in tone. “The Job of the Wasp” invites wild interpretations and leaves the reader feeling uneasy if a little delirious.

I Kill GiantsI Kill Giants by Joe Kelly

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I requested “I Kill Giants” from the library after seeing Ink and Paper Blog booktuber Russell recommend it on his channel. I wasn’t expecting to get emotional while reading this graphic novel, but I did. “I Kill Giants” is about a young D&D obsessed girl who fancies herself to be a giant killer…in a world where there are no such things as giants.

At first, it’s really hard to like self-proclaimed giant killer Barbara Thorson. She’s emotionally immature, closed-off, cruel and prone to abrupt and shocking acts of violence. Alternatively, Barbara has a lot to deal with, she’s virtually friendless and the victim of relentless bullying. Later in the book, things come to a head, and although I felt her coping mechanisms were slightly overblown and dramatic, I can also remember what it’s like to be a preteen when most things feel overblown and dramatic.

By the end of the book, I was nearly moved to tears when Barbara faces off with her giants, figuratively and literally.

Not My Father's SonNot My Father’s Son by Alan Cumming

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I like Alan Cumming. I don’t really follow his work but whenever I do catch him on screen, I’m never disappointed. When Audible had a big BOGO sale, I added this to my cart on a whim. I barely read the synopsis. I’m a sucker for memoirs read by the authors – especially if they’re a celebrity of some kind. In “Not My Father’s Son” Cumming revisits his childhood at the hands of his volatile, abusive father while filming a show that explores his family’s genealogy. And nothing could have prepared me for all that he would uncover and face on a personal level.

The book is many things: heartbreaking, brutal, bittersweet. Cumming encounters some pretty staggering bombshells regarding his family members that often stopped me in my tracks while I was multi-tasking. It’s amazing the kinds of stories we feel are better left ignored or forgotten.

I adored Cumming’s voice and performance – he’s an engaging storyteller and performer. After finishing this book, I quickly added other books narrated by Cumming to my Audible wishlist. This is absolutely a memoir worth listening to.

Aya (Aya #1)Aya by Marguerite Abouet

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

“Aya” is a graphic novel set during the heyday of the Ivory Coast in the 1970s. Aya is a teenage girl, with aspirations to become a doctor and is hyper-focused on school and studying. Meanwhile, her closest friends are living out their youth, getting into trouble and pursuing parties and boys – sometimes with unfortunate results. This was such a refreshing slice-of-life graphic novel with wonderful art that felt earnest and dynamic, as if the characters could dance off the page at any moment.

“Aya” also has a fantastic illustrated appendix that offers explanations and translations for some of the cultural references and slang used throughout the volume.

Gun LoveGun Love by Jennifer Clement

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

If a book is set or inspired by Florida (where I live), chances are, I will read it. Unfortunately for me, books set in Florida are typically odd books about the weird or disenfranchised people living in the isolated swamplands of the state when Florida is much bigger and more diverse than that. If you’ve got recs of books set in Florida that don’t feature alligators, please let me know. And, don’t suggest John Green.

Despite “Gun Love” being about weird, disenfranchised people living in an isolated part of Florida, I still enjoyed it. Gun Love is told from the perspective of a young girl who lives in a car with her mother in the parking lot of a trailer park. The trailer park, it turns out, is a hotbed for gun running. There’s a level of surrealism in the book the requires a suspension of disbelief from the reader. Characters interact strangely and the protagonist is mostly unperturbed by the bizarre and occasionally violent circumstances she finds herself in. It’s a dreamlike book that addresses gun violence in a peripheral, detached way and left me pondering long after I put it down.

Saga, Vol. 7 (Saga, #7)Saga, Vol. 8 (Saga, #8)

Saga, Vol. 7 and 8 by Brian K. Vaughan

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I will never not love this series – unless they decide to take it away from me. I read volumes 7 and 8 in quick succession and now I’m all caught up on this series until volume 9 is released in October 2018. To keep this spoiler free, I can’t say much about these volumes except that so much happens. It’s crazy to see how far the series has come and how I’ve grown to love characters I didn’t think I ever would. I do worry about the series falling into hiatus or ending with a lackluster conclusion but I suppose only time will tell.

That’s it for this month! Tell me if you’ve read these books and what you thought, or what you plan to read for May!

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