Angel Picks: Best of 2017

It is that time of year for me to join the other major publications in giving you the books that I felt were the best for me in 2017. Last year it was just a list of books I read in 2016, not necessarily books published in 2016, but this year all of my favorites were published in the oppressive heat of The Year of Our Dumpster Fire 2017. These are in no particular order, but as I look at them they are an assortment of themes that were incredibly important to me personally this year. Each and every one of these books are reads that I would demand that you start reading them right now. HURRY. 🙂 I have linked to the original reviews below. Enjoy.

the wrong way to save your life

The Wrong Way To Save Your Life – Megan Stielstra

This book made me a better person and helped me feel like I wasn’t alone. Just go read the review, it says it all.

The Life She Was Given

The Life She Was Given – Ellen Marie Wiseman

I was all about realism in 2017 and this story did not disappoint. Historical fiction focused around the terrible truth behind the first circuses and the beautiful lives that can be made at the heart of horrible circumstances. This book does not have a happy ending, but it does have a fantastic ending. 

All Grown Up

All Grown Up – Jami Attenberg

It was a year of change for me, and not all by choice. With changing priorities and expectations, All Grown Up came along at just the right time for me to enjoy reading about a main character who felt as though she was as lost as I was. This book is an absolute triumph.

Goodbye Vitamin

Goodbye Vitamin – Rachel Khong

This is what familial relationships should be like. The kindness and love in this book was stunning. I thought it was going to be very sad but it actually renewed my hope in humanity.

 

 

And I Darken/Now I Rise – Kiersten White (Books 1 and 2 of The Conqueror’s Saga)

Recommended by my Facebook book group, I discovered And I Darken this year. I read it so quickly that I moved immediately onto Now I Rise, which was released this year. I needed to read about Lada, the spitfire main character who is determined to reclaim her homeland despite the obstacle of her gender. Her singular focus, her ferocity, and her strength inspired me in a year that lacked in hope. White is also a master wordsmith, and her historical setting for this story will keep you turning the pages until you are disappointed that there isn’t more to read. 

 

The Wrong Way To Save Your Life

the wrong way to save your life

Okay guys, I’m a little shaky today because I stayed up until 1am reading this book without realizing I had stayed up so late, and when I am up that late I am a zombie the next day. But I had to race to the computer to let you know that this book is life changing.

Stielstra has written a collection of essays about times she was afraid, or more generally, about fear. What makes you afraid? Chances are you will identify with the majority of this book. From parent relationships and care to job instability to simply being a woman, Stielstra takes us on a terrifying yet cathartic journey through being alive in the modern world. A world we are living in right now!

You know that my book reviews tend to be more about how I felt about a book rather than its literary structure and whatnot. I want you to understand whether a book is enjoyable or boring, exciting or dull. This collection of essays is just…everything you need. It’s a historical record of the world in the past 30 years, but if a normal person wrote it and was truly honest about how they were feeling. Omg it was refreshing and scary and it brought back memories I had hidden away just to survive what at least the last fifteen years have been. I felt safe to remember.

One of depression’s lies is that you are alone. Reading this book into the wee hours last night was like having a fellow adult look at me and say “omg yes this has all been shit hasn’t it? But I’m proud of you, you’re proud of me, and we’re in this and we can do it!” It was like having a big hug and a pep rally and a quiet space alone to cry all at once. I could’t sleep because I couldn’t stop thinking about how amazing this book was and how I might be able to put it into words today. Stielstra showed me that even when things literally catch on fire, as long as you grab what’s important you can always find a way to keep going.

Please go buy this book as quickly as you can and read it and know that you are not alone. Life is fucking scary and difficult and You. Are. NOT. Alone.

Are you done reading it yet?

 

Angry Picks: Worst of 2017

When we reach the end of the year, I comb through my Goodreads list to see the books that I gave the lowest rankings to. Then I think about the books I have forgotten about, or that didn’t make a lasting impression on me. This year there were only 5 that met such criteria, and each for very different reasons. I have linked to my original reviews of each book for your perusal. Always remember that different books affect people in different ways, so some of these books are fantastic and you might enjoy them, but I did not. The exception is The Impossible Fortress – everyone should avoid that shit like the plague.

fortress

The Impossible Fortress – Jason Rekulak

(Follow up post about how mad this author/NYT made me)

It’s possible that this is the worst book of all time, but I’ve read James Joyce so I know that’s not true. Basically Jason Rekulak jerked off on his own imagined awesomeness and what landed on the paper in front of him became this book. He thinks he’s created an autobiographical inspiration to ‘the young people’ when really what he’s created is a jumbled up journal entry that confesses to multiple crimes and fails to keep focus on any particular plot line while attempting to shotgun enough nostalgia to kill an adult elephant. What made me even angrier about this book was how hard The New York Times promoted it, which led me to the conclusion that either TNYT is delusional OR Rekulak backed a dump truck full of money up to the book review editor’s house and demanded his book be featured. It’s a shame he didn’t have the balls to publish his book out of his own publishing house, where he seems to ask others to write content he just puts his name on and markets. King of Quirk indeed. Go fuck yourself.

landline

Landline – Rainbow Rowell

What even was this book? A magical phone that lets her talk to her husband while they were dating? I don’t really remember and it’s not even worth it to go look it up. I linked to my review here, but basically I was disappointed to get this pseudo-feminist fart-noise from what many consider one of the most important LGBT voices in YA literature right now. I’m convinced that the throw away “I’m in love with the pizza girl” lesbian character was just shoved in there as a way for RR to say “look, I know this is shit, but don’t forget I write great LGBT stuff!” which is also debatable because I tried Carry On and Fangirl and man, that shit is…not for me? As a woman, who this book was written for, I was offended and disappointed, especially by the ending.

The Hate U Give

The Hate U Give – Angie Thomas

I KNOW I KNOW unpopular opinion coming your way. I read this book. I read it front to back. I did not cry, I did not “lose it,” I did not feel the way the multitudes of white people on my Facebook and Twitter feeds felt and performed for the world. What I did feel when I read this book was a kind of overwhelming sense that Thomas was trying to fit every aspect of every possible iteration of black life in America onto her main character to make sure that her readers understood that being black wasn’t just one thing, but many things. This would have been a fine point to make if it didn’t read like a “my first reader” of black life. “Hello daddy, can you list for me 5 things about black life in America in a way that seems conversational and in context but actually comes off like a crappy middle school assembly meant to teach kids about bullying?” It really took me out of the story and made the plot less compelling.

This was not a well written book. The themes were important to hear in our current racial environment, but if you are an adult delving into YA to get this message, this book is not fun to read because of the writing, and even the information feels like it assumes you are completely ignorant. Hard pass.

Sour Heart

Sour Heart – Jenny Zhang

A big part of 2017 here at Angry Angel Books was Memoir Monday. Sour Heart is Jenny Zhang’s attempt at her own memoir, and it fit right in with all the stories about the WHO HAD IT WORST OLYMPICS, which seem to dominate the memoir market. I got a little ways in and had to stop when she began describing how the roaches would crawl over them at night. In 2017 this may speak to people, and I am sure the book was a great representation of the immigrant experience in America, but in the year that is quite literally a giant dumpster fire for so many, it was difficult to jump on the “WOW you survived SO MUCH this memoir makes me feel like I could do ANYTHING!” train. This year that kind of a book made me feel like “yeah, you and everyone else, grab a number” so it missed the mark for me.

Illuminae

Illuminae – Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff

This book came to me highly recommended, and after reading Kristoff’s Nevernight, I was excited to read more of what he had to offer. When I picked the book up at the library it was VERY LARGE and so right from the get go I was putting off starting it. Then I looked inside and found that instead of narrative, the book was like a compilation of journal entries, letters, computer coding, administrator reports, etc. I thought, “This will be a cute read! And faster than I thought!” I was sorely mistaken. Without some kind of thread I was tossed about on the sea of data and information that is thrown at you in this book. The style was so far out of the ordinary that my brain couldn’t wrap itself around it enough to effectively keep track of the story. I got about 30% in, no small feat for such a large tome, and then cried “Uncle!” Not for me, so among my worst that I read this year, but it has been enjoyable for many others, so don’t let this put you off of trying it too.

Now I Rise (The Conqueror’s Saga #2)

Now I Rise

And I Darken (The Conqueror’s Saga #1) Review

This book series is quite literally the hero I needed this year. It isn’t even that the historical aspect is compelling, it is, it’s that Kiersten White has woven the storylines through the real events so well that you can’t help but want to learn more.

This is the fiercest female character I have ever experienced, and I’ve read the Throne of Glass series. This is one of the best portrayals of characters navigating being LGBT in a hostile environment that I have ever read. The characters are human, the historical setting demands that they bend to certain requirements, and you will find yourself holding your breath just wishing that maybe White will allow someone to succeed, even though you know that they can’t.

Now I Rise picks up where And I Darken left off. Lada has left with her group of Janissaries (soldiers) to retake the Wallachian throne. Radu (her brother) has chosen to remain at Mehmed’s side to help him prepare for the siege on Constantinople, which they are both preparing for in secret. When ambassadors from Constantinople arrive to speak with Mehmed, Mehmed decides to send Radu back with them as a spy to help break down the walls from within. As you read you will alternate between Lada’s journey and Radu’s struggles, but Mehmed’s movements will be less obvious than in the first book because we don’t get chapters from his point of view.

I don’t know how to tell you how much I love these books. This is the kind of book/series that I just want to tell you how much I love it while forgetting to tell you what they are about. They are portals through time, windows into the human condition, portraits of historical struggle – descriptions that would generally bore me to tears but I devoured these books as quickly as I might devour a first rate pizza or all you can eat tacos.

These books are all you can eat tacos. Please go get you some. You won’t regret it nearly as much as if you ate all you can eat tacos. Now I’m going to go get some tacos. 🙂 You should go read this series.

They Can’t Kill Us Until They Kill Us

TCKUUTKU

Hanif Willis-Abdurraqib is a spectacular musical analyst. Each chapter in this book explores an artist in a quick and concise manner, relating their performances, effects, and influence to some currently relevant social, political, or personal issue. From Marvin Gaye to Prince he takes us on a tour through the music world and asks us to think more deeply about what it means to consume what others create.

Being an academic, I recognized the article/journal style of this book. It’s marketed more generally, but the flow of the book really reminded me of a more academic collection of writing that you might read more selectively instead of completely. Some of the short chapters really touched me, because they spoke about a musician or artist that I was a fan of or perhaps addressed an issue I am passionate about. Other chapters were about someone I have never heard of or an issue I couldn’t relate to, so even though I read them, they felt like an assignment rather than an enjoyable journey.

I was disappointed that the excitement that came over my friends about this book did not seem to reach me. So many people loved this book, but to me it just read like one of those books you read in a doctoral seminar for another point of view. It’s a textbook, a dissertation, and after awhile I just lost interest. Despite this I would encourage you to read other reviews on this particular book because I know that so many others raved about it, and so my experience might not be the norm. But if you’re looking to me for guidance, I would say it’s boring and you would be best to find inspiration elsewhere.

Justice League

Oh DC, I know that watching the Marvel Universe expand and make all that money must have been like watching your ex go for someone clearly not as awesome as you. “I’m fucking BATMAN,” you screamed into the abyss, “We have SUPERMAN!”

Deep in your mother’s basement that you call your Batcave, fingers coated in cheeto dust, watching Captain America Civil War for the thirtieth time, you knew you could do this better. This inner conflict, group-takes-sides bullshit was always better with the Justice League. “This is bullshit,” you cried. “WE invented self-policing of the supers. THE ENTIRE JUSTICE LEAGUE TURNED THEMSELVES IN TO CONGRESS!!”

And so you decided you would reboot for the 230948307424923 time (although mercifully only subjected us to like a cumulative 10 minutes of angsty Batman origin story flashbacks – thanks for that, Edible Arrangement on the way) and give us a Superman movie, and then a Batman vs. Superman movie, and then Wonder Woman, leading up to the introduction of the Justice League that would give you all the branched out individual movies and side buddy stories that the Avengers have enjoyed on their own for far too long.

“Thor Ragnarok? Wait ’til they get a load of Flash/Cyborg!” You tented your fingers like a real world Mr. Burns, imagining the fan bois lining up for the awkward friend making that they would totally relate to.

So I’ll give it to you, DC, that you thought to make Aquaman hott because Aquaman is LAAAAAAAAAAAME and Momoa totally turned that around for me in this movie, and the Flash as the awkward kid was on brand and good too. But we need to talk about just a couple of things because this movie was better than I expected, but less than I deserved. So sit down, because I have some truth nuggets for your earholes that you need to hear. From a friend.

  1. Stop making Diana be this wide-eyed, rolls her eyes, reactionary “girl.” She’s Wonder Woman for god’s sake MAKE HER TAKE CHARGE AND LEAD.
  2. Having Superman die in the second movie was dumb, and the short resolution to his death made it all feel disingenuous and worthless. I know to true fans the backstory to all of it makes sense, but to us casual fans it felt…I don’t know, pointless.
  3. Listen carefully to this one. It’s very important. BATMAN. IS. NOT. THE. COMIC. RELIEF. EVER. He is not quippy. He does not provide the punchline. He isn’t flustered. HE’S BATMAN. This movie was absolutely SHAMEFUL when it came to that. I was embarrassed for DC and Batman.
  4. That villain was kind of cool, but he was too easily dispatched. Why did it all rely on Superman? The Justice League is a team, but they were getting harcore slapped around until Superman flew in and basically just punched him once and ended it. Also there was not really any suspense. 3 cubes that shouldn’t come together, and if they do they have to be separated? I’m shaking in my boots. No emotion, too predictable, and a moderate boss made for a “meh” plotline.

Despite these aspects, the movie was better than I expected. There were quite a few laugh out loud moments, and the graphics and visuals were impressive. The Flash was funny, Cyborg was intriguing, and Momoa as Aquaman was a good decision. Superman, Wonder Woman, and Batman were not quite themselves, but hopefully by the next movie they’ll be more united.

Now I am just waiting for a decent Green Lantern movie. A girl can dream, can’t she?

Behold the Dreamers

behold the dreamers

A story that mixes the trials of the rich during the fall of Lehman Brothers with the struggles of being an immigrant in New York, Behold the Dreamers is a confusing tale that can’t seem to decide on what point it is trying to make.

An immigrant man from Cameroon becomes a chauffeur for a partner at Lehman Brothers at the beginning of the story. His pay increases and the standard of living for his wife and himself improves. His wife, Neni, has come to America on a student visa, and is attending a community college as the first step toward her dream of becoming a pharmacist. They have a child who was born in Cameroon, and soon she becomes pregnant with another child, who will be granted dual citizenship.

Their most significant concern is money, a concern shared by their employers. You will see the decline and inevitable fall of Lehman and merger with Barclays included in the plot. Jende’s boss, Clark Edwards, and his boss’ wife, Cindy, are helpful to them, until they are not. Cindy uses drugs and drinks very heavily, and Neni is party to one of her benders when she is hired to be their housekeeper. She promises to keep this information secret, and in return Cindy gives her some of her old designer clothes and her son’s used toys.

When Lehman falls, Clark starts to cheat on his wife pretty frequently, and suspecting this behavior, Cindy asks Jende to write down everything her husband does and report to her at the end of each day. When a news story exposes Clark’s behavior via a story provided by a prostitute, Cindy demands that Jende be fired for lying to her. Clark gives in to her demands, and Jende and his family are thrown into a very dire situation, dashing their hopes for a future in America.

Set in the heart of the American recession triggered by failing banks, Ponzi schemes, and hedge funds, the combination of the immigrant story with the fallout is odd. The book takes a ‘jack of all trades, master of none’ approach and in turn leaves you wanting. I wasn’t sure if I was supposed to feel bad for the rich people, or for the immigrants, or for the children. It all seemed so useless and pointless, which I suppose may have been Mbue’s entire message. Despite this, I still feel like books such as Adichie’s Americanah gives a much better modern picture of the African immigrant in America, while taking into account the political and social climate.

Behold the Dreamers was just okay. Why should we feel badly for the rich individuals? Why should we invest in the immigrants when their papers will expire and not allow them to stay? The ending to this book will make you scratch your head and wonder, “what was the point of reading this book at all?”