A Summary of Books I Read in 2018

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I’m not sure why I go through intense periods of reading voraciously followed by what can only be described as a literary blackout. I knew something was weird in January of this year when I had almost nothing to show for any book reading on Goodreads and couldn't relate to anything on the best of 2017 book lists. This year, perhaps because deployment is by definition, a little bit boring, I actually surpassed my reading goal. That isn’t a cause for celebration though because the period of not picking up any books can strike me at anytime. Also, a lot of the books I’ve read this year have been poetry and cookbooks, do those count?

The Book of Dust by Philip Pullman 

The His Dark Materials Trilogy by Philip Pullman competes to be my favorite book series along with Harry Potter. If you saw the Golden Compass movie with Nicole Kidman, please shake that out of your head because it does not shine a light in comparison to how amazing the books are.

The Book of Dust is set as a prequel to The Golden Compass and explains how Lyra ended up at Oxford to begin with. It gives more insight into some of the lesser characters from the trilogy and thus, more depth. While one of the reasons I enjoyed His Dark Materials so much was because of how allegorical it was to Christianity and religion in general, I felt like the Book of Dust was trying too hard to do the same thing. While I definitely enjoyed it, it wasn’t as smooth as the trilogy was and I’d have to sit down again and really process all the different symbolism but I guess that’s half the fun with Philip Pullman.

Sourdough by Robin Sloan

This book is awesome. I was recently reading an article about how Netflix has invented this type of genre called ‘joyful experts’ which is where shows like Tidying Up With Marie Kondo would fall into. Sourdough by Robin Sloan is a work of fiction, but I think it might actually touch into joyful expert genre as it was just enjoying sourdough. It talked about the love and care of building a sourdough oven after experimenting with a dutch oven. The beauty that goes into smelling a starter and the history behind that starter. The fear when you come home and there’s only one bubble left because you forgot to feed it.

I honestly didn’t like the ending of the book because I thought it was kind of childish but overall, it made me happy and long to build my own sourdough oven.

Unqualified by Anna Faris

For some reason, I get a kick out of reading different memoirs by celebrities I know nothing about? For example, I read Mindy Kaling and Amy Poehler’s books and I have never seen their shows. Not even the office. A year after reading Mindy’s books, I did dabble with The Mindy Project but I didn’t like it. I liked her books though… very confusing.

This same thread made me be interested in Unqualified. Plus, my best friend Jackie Gawne sent it to me while I was deployed.

The book was well written and apparently ready to publish before news of her divorce was out. This meant she apparently had to go back and edit all the Chris stuff to be past tense. In the book though, you can tell there is a lot of love and respect for him and while overall this book was only average as it didn’t make me laugh out loud or relate too hard in any direction, it did make me feel for her as a mother and a person.

She’s a good writer.

Turtles All the Way Down by John Green

A lot of the reviews that didn’t love this book talked about how unrealistic it was for teenagers to talk the way that John Green makes out them to. I disagree with these comments. One of the reasons why John Green is so popular in the young adult world is because I do think he actually gets ‘younger folk’. We are asking those hard to ask questions about life and death. We aren’t Aristotle or Socrates or anything, but as a teenager everything seems important and imminent and talking with someone who understands those lofty questions that hit you randomly are how I’ve developed some of my best friends.

Turtles All the Way Down has the classic John Green voice that also exists in Looking for Alaska. I liked the more modern details he bit in here as well like one of the friends writing intense fan fiction all on her smart phone.

Red Queen, Glass Sword, King’s Cage by Victoria Aveyard

These books are definitely along similar lines to the Hunger Games trope of girl who is beautiful but also plain from poor background has special skill power and now must topple the patriarchy.

I love it.

I mean, if something is a trope, that usually means it has worked. It works on me.

If anything, it was just super enjoyable to read. The book series keeps me turning the page for different action whether it’s battles or intense suspense. It might not be super unique but it’s well written.

Queen Song, Steel Scars by Victoria Aveyard

These two books are novellas that compliment the series above. I didn’t think they were as good as the actual series so I wouldn’t start with these even though they’re labeled in such a way that you think you should. You can read them after you’ve become dedicated to the series so you feel obligated to finish these novellas. Unfortunately, obligation was what got me through these but they did answer a lot of questions I had about some of the side characters that the main books only touch on for one sentence.

Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell

This was a young adult book I could get behind. It was lighthearted but still had some powerful stories about growing up and becoming your own person away from home and at university. I wish I had read this book when I was a college freshmen. I thought that the fanfiction/nerd addition to the plot was a little forced and wasn’t really the main story or driving point that you’d think a book called, ‘Fangirl’ would have used it to be.

I still liked it as a coming of age book.

Depression and Other Magic Tricks by Sabrina Benaim

I didn’t relate to this poetry as much as I relate to the author’s poetry performed live. Perhaps I was just reading it wrong? I felt like the formatting was distracting instead of adding to her meanings and more rambling than poetic. I will read her future works though.

Seeds Planted in Concrete by Bianca Sparacino

I thought the collection Bianca chose to include in this book was very smart and cohesive. All the works worked together! I enjoyed reading this book. I didn’t think it was earth-shattering the way a book like Milk and Honey by Rupi Kaur is but this book was very genuine and nice.

Adulting by Kelly Williams Brown

I thought this book was going to be funny but it was not. It was literally just a how-to. Almost like googling various adult task and reading the wiki-how for them, but with less fun and awkward photos. I couldn’t finish this and I am not even close to being an expert at adulting. Perhaps, this would be a good stocking stuffer for a fifteen year old, but otherwise, it’s meh.

Your Soul is a River by Nikita Gill

I really liked this poetry book. I also really like Nikita Gill as a person on her social media. Everything she wrote was super relate-able and beautiful. I didn’t give it five stars on goodreads though because I felt like a lot of the poems were redundant and didn’t push the boundary as far as possible, but perhaps that is just her style and her way of processing and writing.

Cakes By Melissa by Melissa Ben-Ishay

This is actually a very clever cookbook. It has the cakes, frosting, and icing all separated out and encourages you to mix and match them to create different combinations. If you’ve ever eaten at Cakes by Melissa you’ll know that she is known for her crazy combos.

She included her startup story in here which I appreciated and found inspiring.

I used her recipe to make a normal sized cake instead of bite sized like she does and wow that was super sweet… no wonder her small cakes work much better. That being said, I feel like she truly gave us her recipes and didn’t change anything for publishing.

The Geeky Chef Cookbook and The Geeky Chef Strikes Back by Cassandra Reeder

These two cookbooks are fun. They make me want to write down every edible thing I come across in a book or video game and try to re-imagine it as real food later on. Cassandra makes me excited about food in a way only other nerds could truly understand.

That being said, I think she is a nerd first before baker? I’ve made quite a few of her recipes and there’s something very different about her chocolate cake versus a more well known chef’s chocolate cake I’ve baked. Something is a bit more basic with hers. That’s fine though as I got these cookbooks to inspire myself and I hope to be at Cassandra’s level one day where I can just make up things inspired by my nerd loves.

Churchill’s Wit by Churchill

One of the French Officers I got to work with over deployment told me to read this book. I think it was his way of mentoring me as a junior officer with him being a senior officer. I will forever appreciate that because while I grew as a Soldier and Officer downrange, I obviously lacked some mentorship as I was one of two Americans at my camp.

I did find this book a bit boring though and me and the French Officer spoke about this. He thought it was super hilarious because the thoughts explained how British men were and really put stuff in historical context….

Having only worked with maybe three British Soldiers ever and only for less than an hour at a time, I couldn’t relate as much as he could.

Life and Death by Stephanie Meyer

This is a retelling of Twilight with Bella as a guy named Beau. It’s actually hilarious because Beau is still passing out at the sight of blood testing in science class and a female Edward has to walk him to the nurse’s office. I’m not one for gender roles but it’s still kind of funny especially since Twilight is very into gender roles. Apparently, Stephanie Meyer made a statement saying if you thought it was weird then you have to rethink your ideals. I’m not sure.

Cravings: Hungry for More by Chrissy Teigen

I love Chrissy Teigen and I will buy anything she publishes. This specific cookbook has her famous banana bread.

Alice in the Country of Hearts by Quinrose

This is a manga. I’m going to count manga in my reading. I don’t read it that often but by counting it towards a reading challenge maybe it can also sort of encompass all the reading I do online?

As far as this manga goes, I really loved the pictures. The drawings were beautiful and all the panels flowed from one to the next which you would be surprised, but many mangas cannot accomplish this. While I really enjoyed the first half of the book, the second half became super chaotic? The story line splintered the way that the television series Lost did. I needed subtitles to the subtitles to understand what was going on. I will not be continuing this.

Bite Me by Ally Hilfiger

Wow, I really didn’t like this. As someone who thinks they maybe potentially have Lyme disease and that it explains that awful stint in the hospital, I thought I could relate. While I agree with Ally that whatever she went through was awful, the writing made it hard to emphasize with her and came out a bit whiny.

When I come across books where I don’t like the main voice, I always feel vaguely guilty. I can’t figure out if I am mad because she is rich? Am I mad because her writing just isn’t good? What makes it not good? A lot of questions I have that I can’t figure out.

Dorthy Must Die, The Wicked Will Rise, Yellow Brick War by Danielle Paige

These books flip the script on what we imagine the Wizard of Oz to be and who is wicked and who is good. We end up wanting Dorthy to die which I think is impressive to get the reader to buy into that want so quickly after we have been indoctrinated for all our lives by the movie. I found the first two books super riveting and filled with action and good plot but the third slowing down. I read the final book this month in 2019 which is why I didn’t include it on here, but I still hold that the first two in the series were the best.

One Day I Will Get This Blogging Thing Right

Celebrating my birthday in Iraq

Celebrating my birthday in Iraq

Every time I start to get into blogging, it feels like it’s when I’m the most healthy mentally. This isn’t meant to imply that when I’m not blogging I’m losing my mind, but in actuality, it means I am very tired. For example, this recent hiatus I will chalk up to having bad WiFi overseas. After deployment, life hit me hard.

I’m a Battery Executive Officer (XO) now which means I am assistant to the boss. Not the main boss of course. It is a lower level than the Battalion Commander. His ‘assistant’ is a Major who is also an XO. I refer to him as ‘Big XO’ as so others don’t think I’m talking about myself in the third person. I focus on things like supply, ordering, and maintenance. While I work later then I want (1900 ish?) I would say that my command climate is very healthy. The Soldiers get to leave way before me so it’s administrative office work I’m finishing up. Of course, every day is an unexpected struggle/experience but that’s part of the Army.

Matt is already in Colorado after having graduated from Captain’s Career Course. His life is more desk work and while he likes that, it actually reminded me that I do not. I’m okay with having a hybrid job of desk life and motorpool life. While I hate sweating for no reason, I also hate my windowless office. At the end of the day, firing artillery is so badass that it makes up for the sweat.

Despite all the normal and healthy stress I have going on, I do want to keep blogging through it. It might be some experimenting to see what that looks like for me in reality. Recently, I downloaded a ‘brain app’ on my phone to study. It had basic math and reading skills all the way up to college level skills. I got to advanced reading, intermediate writing, and just barely cracked intermediate math before I deleted it. It was tedious and made me panic about taking the GRE one day. We all know that is going to be an ~*Emotional Event*~.

Oddly, this silly phone app made me realize that everything is a perishable skill. Because of this, I need to start actually doing intellectual things like writing - even if blogs aren’t the equivalent of reading War and Peace.

The key is just doing something...anything.

When I first started Active Duty, I thought a huge mistake I had made was that I would work and come home and do nothing (IE eat and watch TV). I got through every episode of Pretty Little Liars as a 2LT.

My hypothesis was I got so wound up because all my success and life revolved around my job. I couldn’t reflect on the week with any sense of pride. I couldn't say, "I completed this drawing or wrote this post", instead it was, "omg I haven’t completed anything at work or at life or at all! I’m dying!"

Since then, I’ve tried to do an ‘Anne Thing’ every night but I’ve been falling into the TV pattern again, but this time feels healthier.

My best friend Jackie is a connoisseur of television - she works for The Ellen Show and majored in Television at Fordham. She humors me when I text her about the political implications of Brooklyn Nine Nine (noice noice) and offers her thoughts on Todd Offerman when I live text her about the show Making It. Before, I was keeping to myself. It wasn’t watching TV that was so bad, it was just living quietly. Now that I’m reaching out about what I am doing, even if it’s just a text, it feels so much more refreshing.

You could even say that watching TV is essential to anyone striving to be a good writer. Most of the writing I know takes some semblance of mainstream media as a reference and a way to connect with the reader. The biggest thing about only watching TV after work is that it depends on what you do with it.

Crafting and blogging is a natural way to reach out. After you make something, you want to show it to the world because you’re so proud. Blogging is writing and leaving your journal in a public bathroom and letting people view it.

Hopefully, I have a Brooklyn Nine Nine themed blog post soon.