As discussed, February was a strange month. I know, I know, six books is a decent chunk out of my annual reading challenge. As February closed, my reading challenge clocks in with 15 books out of 75 read. According to Goodreads, I am 1 book ahead of schedule. Suspect, Goodreads, suspect.
Anyway, when I started out with my reading goal this year, I wanted to be sure that the reading was the goal. Not just hitting a number. Man, why is that so hard?
No, really! Why is that so hard?
I love reading. I love getting lost in a world where I can forget whatever stresses of life are hitting me. And this year, do I need the stress relief. Yet, I still find myself feeling nervous when I pack the same book day after day. It’s a strange self-consciousness to believe anyone else notices what book I carry with me. It’s also a strange thing to worry about. It’s not like I’m going to lose my bookworm ID card for not reading fast enough. (Right?! Right?!?)
Another goal in my reading challenge was to challenge myself with the types of books I read. I am an avid YA reader. It is my go-to genre. Throw a little dystopian or sci-fi and I’m hooked! So I wanted to make sure that rather than going for a comfortable read, I actually challenged myself with my reading.
I firmly believe that reading different genres is like eating different foods. It awakens different parts of my brain. I think about the story differently, and look at life around me differently. Reading, in its best form, develops our ability to understand the world. While I can learn a lot staying in one genre, imagine how much more I can gain by adding diversity. I mean, pizza is amazing, but it is probably a good idea to eat other foods.
So how did I do?
Three of the books were very outside what I would normally read. Freedom, Monstrous Beauty and How to Murder Your Life. I already wrote a post about How to Murder Your Life. What I didn’t mention in that post was this is the first non-fiction book I’ve read in easily over a year. Was it worth it? Go read that post.
Freedom was interesting, and surprisingly relevant. The story follows the lives of a young couple. It examines this couple from different aspects. We see them from the perspective of their neighbors, close friends, and even their children. Which is a fascinating way for the author to really capture how our personalities are perceived through the lenses of those closest to us. The result is, instead of seeing these characters through a one dimensional narration, we are exposed to the complicated nature of humanity. There isn’t a right or wrong answer in the end. Just life.
The pace was slower, which freaked me out since it was a fairly long book. But, the slower pace was necessary in order to really let the details sink in. There is talent in capturing the complexity of human nature in simple prose. Some of the scenes, I will admit, struck me initially as boring. As the story went on, I realized they were necessary in building the character.
This book was less a story, and more an observation about life. Perhaps life doesn’t make for a riveting plot line. Or maybe it is more riveting than we realize. I emerged from this book looking at the houses I drive by daily, a little closer. What tragedies, or happiness, or excitement, or heartbreak is occurring in each? What do we not show the world? What do we keep hidden and private? And how do these events impact those around us? How is one event viewed from multiple eyes? These are fascinating questions and help us develop a profound empathy for each other, if we choose to ask them.
Monstrous Beauty was another book from a genre I normally don’t read. I received this book in a book box, LitCube. It is a romance, with a paranormal twist, and it has mermaids, so I thought I’d give it a shot. The book goes between two timelines, one in the 1800’s where we follow the actual mermaid who gives up her immortality for a man. Sort of. But, this isn’t a fairy tale. Things go wrong, and both the mermaid and the man she loves end up cursed.
The other timeline follows a young girl in the present. She believes the women in her family are cursed. But it isn’t until she meets a young man on the beach that she can’t stop thinking about, before she decides to research this curse and do something about it. She finds help from a quirky priest, who guides her to figuring out the puzzle of her family’s history. The truth is far from what she ever expected. Can she find the strength to defy forces older and stronger than she will ever be?
The story was inventive and clever, although some parts of it were predictable. In all, I did like the book. It wasn’t a typical romance, but I liked the added mystery and paranormal elements. To me, that made it more interesting. They gave the novel depth.
Now we move onto the YA reading choices.
Nerve was an interesting premise, about when life becomes a reality show. Teenagers can enter a game called Nerve, which requires you to complete a series of dares in order to move on to the next round. Each round comes with prizes and people from all over the world watch you play.
What I liked about this book was how the author drew me in. It was interesting to think about how easy it is to start something that feels small, like an easy dare, only to quickly find yourself in over your head. What I didn’t like was some of the plot seemed vague. There were characters introduced and then never talked about again. It seemed to be setting up for a sequel, but some of the answers could have been flushed out a little better. I finished feeling like I missed something.
I was very excited to read Strings. David Estes is one of my favorite authors. His series, The Country Saga and The Dwellers, are amongst some of my top reads. And he didn’t disappoint me, yet again. Strings is a Pinocchio retelling, cleverly done in an alternate future. Gia is attached to strings, keeping her hostage in a factory type environment where she and her father complete work designing and creating electronic devices. My favorite character was Fig, the tiny nanobot version of Jiminy Cricket.
The twists and turns in this novel made me forget I was reading a retelling, although the themes from the original Disney movie were still there. Be brave. Tell the truth. Try to make the right choices. These are at the heart of this novel.
Throughout this book you are trying to find the answers, along with Pia, and when you do, they are heartbreaking and explosive. This story draws out the love of a parent for a child, of friendship and trust. What would you sacrifice to keep those you love safe?
As always, Estes does a masterful job of drawing the reader in. He has the ability to layer his stories so that you travel deep into these worlds and forget that you are just reading by the end. If you love sci-fi, retellings and just really good stories, this is a must read.
I’m still digesting the Red Queen, and since I finished the next two in the series in March, I think I’ll just do a post about the series. I have many thoughts that I won’t fit in a paragraph of two. (Stay tuned!)
Wandering outside the reading norm was actually quite enjoyable. Even if I didn’t fall in love with all of the books I read, I do find myself thinking of them more frequently than I would have thought.
So yes, February was a strange month for me. But strange doesn’t have to be bad. Strange can lead us down roads less traveled. When we open ourselves up to the strange, we may find unexpected treasures, hidden in the dark recesses of the unusual. Normal has never been my thing anyway.