This last year, like many Cannonballers, I read more books than I got a chance to review and so this final review of 2018, which will end up being my first review of 2019, is a sort of odds and ends. Here in no particular order are books that I read while in China, books I read while on vacation in Northern Wisconsin, and books I read during my fall and spring semesters that I just didn’t have time to write about at the time. However, I wanted to get something down about each one of these. [In terms of #CBR11, I will be counting this as my first review and only officially listing one of the books (American Street).
American Street: Ibi Zoboi – This is one of the books that I really loved (5 Stars) but didn’t get a chance to review. I read it while in China (which made for sort of a weird cultural fusion—an American in Xi’an reads a story about a Haitian immigrant girl coming to Detroit—culture shock all around). Fabiola Toussant is traveling from Haiti with her mother to stay with her cousins in Detroit. However, when Fabiola’s mother is detained by immigration, Fabiola arrives on her own and has to deal with a new culture, a new high school, and a new “family” that she has trouble connecting with, all on her own. Zoboi combines gritty details with magical realism in a way that is both engaging and heartbreaking.
Waking Up White: Debby Irving – Waking Up White, one of my book club’s first choices for 2018, is not a ground-breaking book but it’s a good introduction to thinking about whiteness and white privilege, especially for those who are new to these ideas. Debby Irving tells the story of her own bumpy journey to racial awareness and along the way raises important issues about institutionalized racism and problematic power structures. By sharing her own mistakes and missteps, she allows her audience (mainly other white folks) to understand that this is not something they’re going to get “right” but that’s no excuse for not trying. When my book club talked about it, Irving’s memoir also sparked some very open and honest discussion and I got to know some of my co-workers much better because of that conversation.
How to Be Black: Baratunde Thurston – My sister gave me this book last Christmas as part of our Jolabokaflod and it made the perfect book to read alongside Debby Irving’s memoir. It’s funny and pointed and another book that I think all white people should read. In a series of short essays, Baratunde Thurston writes a manual for white people to better understand being black in America. I was hoping to write a review last January that played this book off of Debby Irving’s but it just didn’t happen.
All the Birds in the Sky: Charlie Jane Anders – I read this in August 2018 but any potential review got swallowed up by the start of the semester. However, I wanted to be sure I said something about this novel because I liked it so much and I think it’s a great potential book club book. It’s a quirky blend of fantasy, technology, and awkward coming-of-age and the characters of Patricia and Lawrence are painfully and charmingly real. It reminds me a bit of Lev Grossman’s The Magicians, only I liked the main characters. I don’t know if it’s for everyone since the plot meanders a bit before picking up speed but for some reason, I really got into it.
Making Up: Lucy Parker – Discovering Lucy Parker’s London Celebrities series is one of the many things I’m grateful to Cannonball Read for. I don’t read a ton of romance novels, but I enjoy one that combines witty banter, romantic tension, and some sort of connection to place—whether it be some small town in Ohio (a la Jennifer Crusie) or the theatre world of London that Parker sets her stories in. Humor is always appreciated as well. Though this wasn’t my favorite of the three I’ve read, it was a great plane read and I enjoyed spending time with Trix and Leo.
The Misadventures of Awkward Black Girl: Issa Rae – I read this on my Kindle back in May while traveling and at that point, I hadn’t watched any of Issa Rae’s HBO show, Insecure, or the web-series that spawned it. However, reading this funny and self-deprecating memoir made getting access to HBO On-Demand a priority later that summer and now I’m a total fan.
The Long Way to a Small Angry Planet: Becky Chambers – Another book I chose because of a number of Cannonball Read recommendations. This novel reminded me of some of the science fiction novels I loved as a young teen (most whose titles and authors have faded into the morass of my middle-aged brain) and quite a bit of Firefly. Chambers did a great job of world-building but not getting bogged down in exposition and I found myself intrigued by all the members of this ship and not just our heroine, Rosemary Harper. This was a kindle deal but I’m looking forward to checking into future episodes of this series in 2019.
The Thinking Woman’s Guide To Real Magic: Emily Croy Barker – I bought this on a Kindle deal because it was described as a Harry Potter for adults or rather, “Hermione Granger. The Grad School Years.” That isn’t at all what the novel ended up being—though the main character, Nora Fischer, is a disillusioned grad student and there is magic. However, the novel is much more complex and dark than I expected yet that made me like it better. Nora is lured into a beautiful fantasy that she is especially susceptible to because her life is spiraling downwards but it’s what happens once the illusion begins to crack that pulled me in. The novel ends with a clear follow-up in mind, but I was bummed to discover that so far the sequel has no publication date (and the first came out in 2013). If you don’t like being left in limbo, you might wait to read this but if you want a good old-fashioned urban fantasy with echoes of Naomi Novik, then check this out.
His Majesty’s Dragon: Naomi Novik – After reading and loving Uprooted, I was curious about Novik’s series that combines dragons with 19th century European history—a sort of Sharpe’s dragons. This was another Kindle deal and I thought it was good fun. Not world-altering but a solid fantasy/alternate reality novel and I’m always a sucker for dragons. I liked the historical detail combined with a richly imagined idea of how training and fighting with dragons might work in 19th century society. This is another series I’d like to continue with in 2019.