Monday, January 6, 2020

Books I Read in November & December

Turtles All The Way Down by John Green
I first heard the "turtles all the way down" belief in a philosophy class during my sophomore year of college. The idea that the world is held up by turtle, which is on top of another turtle that is on top of another turtle, and so on, never touching anything. The idea can drive anyone crazy because the bottom turtle must be on something. But where is the bottom turtle? I think the idea of space can lead to very similar feelings. Thinking deeply into just how small we are in the grand scheme can be a little scary. It's interesting to me that John Green would combine the idea of space with the topic of mental illness. Aza's mental illness makes her very nervous and often scared about what's going on inside of her body.  She is constantly concerned about contracting C.diff and dying from it. However, talking to Davis about space seems to calm her down, rather than freak her out.
Reading this book from Aza's point of view and getting inside the arguments she has with herself showed me how frustrating mental illness can be. I constantly found myself shaking my book as if I could shake the voice inside her head that was forcing her to do things she didn't really want to do. There were moments I wished that character was a physical one that could be killed off by the end and let Aza be victorious. And then I got sad because the truth is that people suffering from this (and other) type of mental illness can't just kill it or kick it out of their lives. It's part of who they are, and they have to learn to live with it in some way or another. The past few years have seen a huge surge in mental health awareness, which is fantastic, and I also think books like this can further help awareness. This book lets you see what it might be like inside someone's head and understand why they can't just ignore their own thoughts.
The plot of the novel, I found a little funny because it's so secondary that there's no huge AHA moment. Aza figures out what happened to Davis' dad, and Davis anonymously tips off the police. The biggest aspect of the novel's climax is that they both learn to keep moving forward with the lives they have.

At His Mercy by S.S. Richards*
The mafia isn't to be messed with in this novel. The novel starts with Elena's uncle selling her to another mafia boss. This part threw me by surprise at first because, in my general (stereotypical) knowledge of mafia families, blood relatives are often held at the highest regard. However, as the novel continues, you learn that her uncle never really liked her and had an affair with her mom, so his idea of family is a little less moral than others. During the car ride to her new mafia boss, she gets taken by a third mafia family. The novel then follows her as she and Maksim start to fall in love with each other while she is also technically his slave. The biggest thing I found as an issue with this novel was that Maksim allows Elena to get revenge on one of her uncle's men who raped her multiple times. Maksim hates him for what he did to Elena, but Maksim did the same thing to her, which threw me off a little bit. Elena seemed more okay with Maksim than she did with the other guy, which at that point in the book, I thought was a little weird. As the book goes on, the two of them, get closer, and Maksim sees her more as an equal, which I liked better. By the end, he is actually very selfless and lets her leave so she can be safe from her uncle. It was interesting to watch the two of them grapple with what they want versus what they think is right, instead of considering a compromise. But then there's a bit of a twist, and now I'm excited for the second novel to see how it all comes together in the second book, which will be released in January.
Beautiful Distraction by J.C. Reed
This was a fun read about a girl and a boy who initially hate each other and then fall in love. It's not very far off from some other books I have read in the past, and I did enjoy it. In the end, a secret Kellan had been keeping is revealed that throws Ava for a loop, but she is quick to rebound from it and make the decision about whether or not she can stay with him. The one person I did not like was Ava's friend, Mandy. I just didn't think she was a good friend. For one thing, who takes a short cut on a road trip (the road trip itself was also weird to me - why would you drive from NYC to Montana when you only have a few days off?), and then she tries to flirt with Kellan even though he and Ava clearly have a weird thing going on, and then she just leaves Ava with him. Mandy was not a very good friend, and she was a bit of a brat the entire time too. I think I would have enjoyed the book more if she wasn't in it. But other than that, it was a cute, maybe a bit predictable, read.

Stuck-Up Suit by Vi Keeland & Penelope Ward
This one had a similar set-up to Beautiful Distraction. Boy and girl don't like each other, they fall in love, a big secret is revealed, they don't think they can move past it, they eventually move past it. Obviously, the actual details of the book are different, but that's the general outline. This one follows Soraya, a girl who is constantly changing the dip-dye color in her hair to match her mood, and Graham, who is known in his office as a very scary boss. Soraya finds Graham's phone on the train, and when he refuses to come out of his office when she drops it off, she leaves a few photos and her phone number with a few text messages to tell him how much she dislikes him. The two of them start texting and eventually meet up and fall for each other. However, just as the two of them are contemplating their next steps together, a huge secret is revealed to Graham, and he is forced to reevaluate his life. Soraya, not wanting to make things more difficult for him, thinks the best thing she can do is take herself out of the equation. However, the way she goes about it isn't great, and Graham then has to decide if their love for each other is stronger than the mistakes they've made. This novel was a quick, cute read that I enjoyed.
The Things They Carried by Tim O'Brien
I have wanted to read this book since I was in High School, but just never got around to it. Then, a Professor gifted it to me, and now I've finally had the time to get through it. This book is fiction, but I don't believe that's fully accurate. I think the names might be changed, and some details are added/changed to make it a better story, but I would not be surprised if this was a true story. There's no afterward or anything at the end where O'Brien notes all the changes he makes, so there's no way to know for sure, but the book is described as a semi-autobiography by many people.
This novel, in my opinion, is closer to a collection of short stories rather than one cohesive story following a group of soldiers who fought in Vietnam. One of the first things this novel does when introducing the characters is to explain what things from home they carry with them in their bags, hence the title. And while they each carry a physical item from home, they also carry a lot of emotional baggage by the time the war ends. They have to deal with going to war, whether they were drafted or they volunteered; growing friendships with one another; death, both watching members of their unit die, and killing people; and the struggles of returning to civilian life after their time at war. I think this book is important to read because it gets you inside the head of someone who was there and witnessed it all, even if the fiction genre allows for some of it to be a little inaccurate.

Making a Play by Abbi Glines
As the fifth installment of the Field Party series, I pretty much knew what I was getting into with this novel. That being said, I still loved it and read it in one sitting. This one was similar to the first one, where the two main characters have to figure out how to communicate with one another. However, unlike the first book where Maggie is mute, Aurora is deaf. Although she can speak, she doesn't do it often because she doesn't know what her voice sounds like. Again, like the first book, she is related to the football team's quarterback, so when Ryker becomes attracted to her, he has to be sure to not mess with the dynamic of the team. What I really liked about Aurora was that she based her opinion of Ryker on her own experiences with him versus what other people told her. She wasn't ignoring the warnings people gave her that said he was a player, but she realized that he acted different with her and chose to judge him based on that instead. This book also delved into racism a little bit. However, Aurora is very strong-willed and did her very best to keep her dad's prejudice out of her love life. In a perfect world, he would have seen his daughter's happiness, and that would have been enough, but that wasn't the case. In the end, Aurora had to agree to get a cochlear implant as a compromise. Again, a dangerous surgery shouldn't have been necessary, but whatever the first step was for Aurora to get her dad to try to get to know Ryker, she was willing to do it. The ending of this novel was a little rushed for me. They break up (which was expected), but then it flashforwards past their time apart to a month later when they see each other again. The month gets summarized and they agree to get back together. I didn't mind that the time apart was summarized, but I wanted a little more into the future to see how their relationship developed and how Aurora's dad got to know Ryker. My guess is that in the next novel, they'll be friends with whoever it stars and talked about through those people, but I'm curious to know more about their story.
*This book was gifted to me by the author, but the opinions are my own


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