Category Archives: Books

Book Review: These Broken Stars

Before diving into my review of this wonderful book, I’d like to also review the Amazon Kindle Paperwhite. I. LOVE. IT. That’s really all that needs to be said, but I can boil it down to a few simple yet hugely important reasons. It’s easier and more comfortable to read than a book (try laying on your side with a copy of Game of Thrones!), Kindle editions of books are cheaper and don’t waste paper, and lastly, it frees up shelf space for those tomes worth having a physical copy of! I am already glued to my Kindle. Bury me with it.

TBS-CoverI just recently finished my second reading of the Game of Thrones series. I caught way more details the second time around, so it was worth the few thousand pages. As much as I could bury myself in Westeros, I wanted a change of pace so I downloaded the YA novel “These Broken Stars”. It’s a sci-fi, which I love, but it’s also a romance so I went in highly dubious (what with the unfortunate foray I once made into the Twilight trilogy). The reviews were great though, so I read the book– and they were right. These Broken Stars is in a whole other league than twilight. It has a plot, for one, and the characters have depth. The leading lady is neither helpless nor defined by her boyfriend; the romance feels real and even made my heart flutter a little bit. But the REAL magic was in the story. It’s basically two kids that survive a spaceship crash and are stranded on an alien planet. There’s an evil intergalactic terraforming corporation, disembodied alien life forms, and psychedelic, poetic looks into life, death, and consciousness. Major win. And it’s so well written, and didn’t muddy the science part by over-explaining stuff. The story moved in every sentence, entertaining from beginning to end. It’s a bit reminiscent of Michael Chriton’s Sphere (the first scifi i fell in love with as a kid) but, tossed in with a bit of Carl Sagan’s wonder and Philip K Dick’s pessimistic commercial-futurism (I just made that term up, but if you’ve read Dick you get what I’m saying.)

A sequel comes out in December, which I’ve already pre-ordered. I know I’ll want to reread this again before that. If you like YA romance, science fiction, or just a really good story, I highly recommend These Broken Stars.

Advertisements

2013 Reading Round-up

I was always an avid reader, but definitely lapsed during my college years. Between required readings for class and all the non-class activities I’d rather have been doing anyway, I found little time to read just for the sake of reading. Though I would happily have stayed a full-time student for life, one benefit of having graduated is now I have more time to read, and can read what I want. I checked out my Goodreads account recently and realized: I read a lot of damn good books in 2013. Books I wanted to rave about, give as gifts, and read over again.  I didn’t get around to blogging reviews on all of them (only Contact and American Savage) but thought an end-of-year reading round-up would be even better.

10962190The rest of this list will be presented in no particular order, but I feel I simply MUST bestow the title of Best Book of the Year, nay, one of the BEST BOOKS EVER, upon Tina Fey’s Bossypants. I remembered Tina from Weekend Update, and years later 30 Rock quickly became one of my favorite television shows of all time. I’m a fan of funny ladies and always loved Tina, but this book really took me by surprise and blew me away. I listened to her narration on the audio book before reading it again on paper, both times laughing uncontrollably through the entire work. Humor is hard to pull off on the page, and Tina did it masterfully. But she also wove that humor into memoir, essay, and some damn good words of wisdom for the rest of us. Simply the best.

98587310572Around the end of high school I had grown bored with fiction, and switched to reading books about science, history, and culture instead. I gradually found my way back to the made-up stories as I became more and more into science fiction. One of my biggest pet peeves EVER IN THE WHOLE ENTIRE WORLD is that bookstores lump “Science Fiction” into the same category as the “Fantasy” genre, making me painstakingly sift through all the dragons and magic in search of the space operas and futuristic distopias. My distaste for fantasy carried over into television, where I dragged my heels quite a bit before giving in and watching Game of Thrones with my boyfriend. I was hooked, and wanted to read the books immediately.

1805177613497I read the first four books of A Song of Ice and Fire this past year, and just recently tore into the fifth. I would compare it to the Harry Potter series, which is high praise coming from me. The plot lines, the mystery, the character development, the magic, the suspense… the books are a masterwork, laden with beautiful imagery, mythology, and page-turning suspense. George R. R. Martin says he’s a slow writer and hasn’t announced a date for the sixth book yet, and mentioned the series might end up being more than 7 volumes. All I know is, he better GET ON THAT SHIT before he dies! 

how-to-live-safelyI found and read a science fiction book this year called How to Live Safely in a Science Fictional Universe, by Charles Yu. This book should probably just be called straight up literature. The story centers around a time-machine repairman and his dog, lost together in time. It’s an abstractly written and breathtakingly beautiful meditation on life. Just a great blend of science and spirituality, rolled in with a little humor too.

85206101610110063069692715

The best non-fiction books I read this year were Quite: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking by Susan Cain, Dan Savage’s American Savage, An Edible History of Humanity by Tom Standage, and Salt: A World History by Mark Kurlansky.

imgresMy last reads of the year were two books I took to Mexico with me, both written by comedians. The first was Rob Delaney’s book (Rob Delaney: Mother. Wife. Sister. Human. Yardstick. Turban. Cabbage.) which I found both funny and very, very touching. He is without a doubt the “funniest man on Twitter”, but I had no idea until recently how open he was about his own struggle with depression, and how devoted he is to the cause of mental illness awareness. The book was touching, and sweet, and funny.

urlThe second comedy book I took to Mexico was Egghead, by none other than Bo Burnham. As if the 20-year-old whiz-kid hadn’t conquered enough with his comedic and musical talents by already having three Comedy Central specials under his belt, he goes and writes a frickin’ book. A book of poetry. Illustrated by one of his friends, the book is both an ode to and parody of the work of Shel Silverstein, who created the best children’s books of all time and whose work I have tattooed on my back. To see Bo flourish in such a style is magnificent; he is sharp-witted, hilarious, and creative to the bone. A true jack-of-all-trades, Bo is simply a prodigy.

Well, that was my year in books. Now onto 2014!

Contact by Carl Sagan

9780671004101_custom-9dbc1094f61e99e3e3b7bcec4f8d777ad84d5a20-s6-c30I saw the movie Contact when it first came out in 1997, and I loved it. At the time I had no idea who Carl Sagan was, and more than a few key plot points undoubtedly flew over my 10-year-old head. Every few years I would happen across the film again and each time with a new level of understanding. I learned more about science, and more about stories. I learned who Carl Sagan was, and have watched his Cosmos: A Personal Voyage more than a thousand times. Every time I watched Contact I was moved, and I took something new away. It might just be my favorite movie ever.

So why on Earth has it taken me so effin’ long to read the book Contact, by Carl Sagan himself? I don’t know– I think I took a stab at it once when I was much younger, and stumbled on the science before I got far enough in. Maybe I was afraid that against the Hollywood adaptation I had come to love, the book would disappoint. Or maybe I was afraid that it would be too different, making the movie a betrayal of Sagan’s work.

Fears aside I dove into a paperback copy of Contact and finished it within a week. And… I absolutely loved it. And I still love the movie just as much. But I love Carl Sagan even more than ever… read my reasons (and spoilers, obviously!) below. Continue reading

Book Review: American Savage

American Savage

The idea of writing book reviews has been on my mind for a while now, but I’ve finally been pushed into action. I read- or rather listened to- the most entertaining book I’ve come across in a long time, and I totally want to rave about it. The book is Dan Savage’s American Savage: Insights, Slights, and Fights on Faith, Sex, Love and Politics (he adores long sub-titles).

I’m a huge fan of Dan Savage. If you don’t know Dan, he’s a jack of all trades. He founded and hosts an annual homemade pornography convention. He started the It Gets Better Project, a campaign to prevent gay teen suicide that went viral and morphed into a powerful charity group. But for his day job he writes for Seattle’s The Stranger, where he runs his Savage Love blog. He’s a sex-and-relationship advice guy on his blog and his radio-turned-podcast, the Savage Lovecast (which you can download for free on iTunes.)

dan_savage-webbys-10886-13328For an hour every week I listen as Dan breaks my mother’s ultimate rule of conversation: “no sex, religion, or politics at the dinner table.” People have strong feelings about these three subjects, and they can sour any conversation quickly. But Dan thrives on talking about sex, religion, and politics. His podcast focuses primarily on sex and relationships. In American Savage he delves more deeply into religion and politics with all of his usual wit and insight.

I learned a lot while reading this book. Cradled among Dan’s personal anecdotes and strong opinions, he offers clear and objective explanations for many current political events. For example, his chapter on health care explained both the current system as well as The Affordable Care Act to me better than I had understood them before. He offers academic explanations and credible citations for issues ranging from gay marriage to euthanasia, and I definitely felt like I learned something while listening to this book.

The educational parts of this book are easily matched by the entertainment value and humor found throughout it’s pages. While some consider puns rather silly, I find myself extremely tickled by them, and Dan Savage sure knows how to knock out a good one. The best part of listening to the audio book was to hear Dan pause and chuckle at his own puns. Sometimes I could even hear him rolling his eyes.

I like my books to be either educational or funny, and American Savage was a perfect blend of the two. I highly recommend it to anyone who reads to learn, laugh, or both.

Katie: A Life-Long Book Worm

At the end of June, I declared a blogging resolution– that I am running this blog for myself and will do what I want with it. Powerful stuff, sure- but I never quite specified what it was I wanted to do. Though I’m not sure of all the directions this blog will eventually wander in, book reviews are a thing I have intended to add for a while now. Literary critiques are extremely subjective/biased forms of commentary. Two intelligent and well-respected critics can hold completely opposite views on a particular title. This means when looking for good reviews, knowing who the reviewer is can really matter. Since I will only be reviewing the books I want and choose to read, you might want to know a little bit about me as a reader, and my particular taste in books.

Hello, My Name is Katie & I’m Addicted to READING

I have been a book worm since the day I was born. My parents read to me constantly as an infant, and as soon as I learned the skill myself I was unstoppable. I was that kid who brought a book to the dinner table. My first ever act of defiance as a toddler was to sneak out of  bed after “light’s out” to retrieve a book from my closet and continue reading by flashlight. I never got away with this, but my mom was always more amused than annoyed when she caught me. She was especially tickled one morning to find me asleep in bed, with The Velveteen Rabbit still propped open in my hands.

c4041In my middle school years I read at school, in between classes and during lunch. I was lucky to have a few good friends who did the same.My idea of after-school fun was to ask my parents for a ride to the local bookstore- and beg them not to pick me up until they closed. By the time I was 15 I had read my way through the entire YA section and my interests began to wander. My most fond memories of reading during that time of my life were at summer camp. Every summer before heading up to Echo Hill, it was tradition for my dad buy me a stack of “camp books” to take with me.  

angusOne year, after I had carefully made my selections for camp, my dad insisted I take this other book too, because some bookstore clerk had highly recommended it. He bought it for me and I begrudgingly agreed, lugging the hard-bound book with me to camp along with all the ones I had chosen. I read every one of my books before I finally got around to the one dad had made me bring. I examined it skeptically- it was a kid’s book, with a juvenile cover, and the font was way too big for me! (I believe my thoughts at the time were, “Whatever, Dad!!!”)

 imagesBut then I finished all my other books. And with nothing left to read, I opened up the silly kid’s book anyway- and that was the moment Harry Potter entered my life. It immediately became my favorite series of all time. I became a real fan- short for fanatic. Just ask my parents- who shortly thereafter received a letter from their little daughter at camp, who was DEMANDING that the second book be mailed OVERNIGHT to me at camp, OR ELSE. They obliged (thanks mom and dad!)

Harry and I were both 11 years old when his first book debuted. When he was 13, I was also 13. But as the years between each book release grew, I slowly became older than Harry. It all culminated on the night of my 21st birthday. Rather than celebrate I sat at home, slowly savoring the final tome The Deathly Hallows with tears in my eyes. I wouldn’t have spent that birthday any other way– and the series could not have had a more perfect, beautiful ending. 

200px-River_Out_of_Eden_CoverAside from the final Harry Potter books, I found myself completely over fiction by the time I was in college. Stories were stories- and after a while, the narratives began to repeat themselves. An old story told in “a new, fresh way” is still the same old story. I became somewhat burned-out on all the make-believe. So as a curious, liberal-arts student with an insatiable desire to learn, I abandoned fiction entirely to focus on facts. I started reading more books on sociology, history, anthropology, and my favorite of all, the sciences. These books were no longer the same old stories- they contained knowledge and wisdom. New things that people are learning and discovering. Different ways of thinking about common concepts and ideas. Academic insight into past and present cultural events. Non-fiction books left me with the satisfied feeling that I had learned something- and I like learning things. 

philip-k-dickAt the end college and in the one year since, I have broadened my horizons a little bit. I’ve slowly I allowed fiction back into my life- with a strong inclination toward that of the “science-fiction” variety. I have also expanded my “non-fiction” repertoire beyond just hard sciences with everything from sociology and psychology books to memoirs and comedic non-fiction. My biggest broach back into the realm of storytelling has been the Game of Thrones series- which I have been thoroughly enjoying and will definitely write about here. Watch this space!