Book Haul: September 2021

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I got more books! I know I've been too busy to read much lately, but that hasn't stopped books from showing up on my doorstep. Once they're here, I can't turn them away. That would be rude. The good news is that I've already read some of them because I was excited and couldn't leave them on the shelf. I'll review the ones I've devoured.

🍁  September Book Haul  🌞

The Ones We're Meant To Find by Joan He

Young Adult Science Fiction

Cee has been trapped on an abandoned island for three years without any recollection of how she arrived, or memories from her life prior. All she knows is that somewhere out there, beyond the horizon, she has a sister named Kay, and it’s up to Cee to cross the ocean and find her.

In a world apart, 16-year-old STEM prodigy Kasey Mizuhara lives in an eco-city built for people who protected the planet―and now need protecting from it. With natural disasters on the rise due to climate change, eco-cities provide clean air, water, and shelter. Their residents, in exchange, must spend at least a third of their time in stasis pods, conducting business virtually whenever possible to reduce their environmental footprint. While Kasey, an introvert and loner, doesn’t mind the lifestyle, her sister Celia hated it. Popular and lovable, Celia much preferred the outside world. But no one could have predicted that Celia would take a boat out to sea, never to return.

Now it’s been three months since Celia’s disappearance, and Kasey has given up hope. Logic says that her sister must be dead. But nevertheless, she decides to retrace Celia’s last steps. Where they’ll lead her, she does not know. Her sister was full of secrets. But Kasey has a secret of her own.

My review: This book is confusing at first, but then comes together in surprising ways. If you enjoy plot twists, it's packed with them. It's about two sisters who are trying to find each other. I love that the sisters are so different. Kay is an introverted, socially awkward, science geek. Cee is the opposite. She's confident and spontaneous with a lot of friends. You need a high tolerance for confusion to read this book. Even though I enjoyed it overall, I struggled with the beginning. The author takes a really long time to answer the reader's questions. I found it incredibly frustrating. If you don't mind being confused, please read this book! It has excellent characters and twists.

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Breaking The Social Media Prism: How To Make Our Platforms Less Polarizing by Chris Bail

Sociology Nonfiction

In an era of increasing social isolation, platforms like Facebook and Twitter are among the most important tools we have to understand each other. We use social media as a mirror to decipher our place in society but, as Chris Bail explains, it functions more like a prism that distorts our identities, empowers status-seeking extremists, and renders moderates all but invisible. Breaking the Social Media Prism challenges common myths about echo chambers, foreign misinformation campaigns, and radicalizing algorithms, revealing that the solution to political tribalism lies deep inside ourselves.

Drawing on innovative online experiments and in-depth interviews with social media users from across the political spectrum, this book explains why stepping outside of our echo chambers can make us more polarized, not less. Bail takes you inside the minds of online extremists through vivid narratives that trace their lives on the platforms and off, detailing how they dominate public discourse at the expense of the moderate majority. Wherever you stand on the spectrum of user behavior and political opinion, he offers fresh solutions to counter political tribalism from the bottom up and the top down. He introduces new apps and bots to help readers avoid misperceptions and engage in better conversations with the other side. Finally, he explores what the virtual public square might look like if we could hit reset and redesign social media from scratch through a first-of-its-kind experiment on a new social media platform built for scientific research.

My review: It's hard to review this book because it was a weirdly personal reading experience for me. I can't explain my thoughts without telling my whole life story, which exactly 0 people want to hear because it's mind-numbingly boring. Basically, I found this book comforting. It confirmed some of my suspicions and helped me realize that I'm not going insane. (It's always a good day when you realize you're not going insane.) A team of researchers discovered that Americans aren't actually as politically polarized as we believe. Our political conversations have just been hijacked by extremists who attack moderates and discourage them from participating in political discussions. Americans think we're polarized because moderates aren't talking. We only see the incessant yammering of extremists. The author isn't optimistic that our current social media platforms can fix the problem, but he has ideas for new platforms that will encourage moderates without rewarding trolls and extremists. I hope he gets funding to test his ideas. If you're interested in how social media shapes our perceptions, you need to read this book. It's thoughtful and well-researched.

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Hench by Natalie Zina Walschots

Adult Science Fiction

Anna does boring things for terrible people because even criminals need office help and she needs a job. Working for a monster lurking beneath the surface of the world isn’t glamorous. But is it really worse than working for an oil conglomerate or an insurance company? In this economy?

As a temp, she’s just a cog in the machine. But when she finally gets a promising assignment, everything goes very wrong, and an encounter with the so-called “hero” leaves her badly injured.  And, to her horror, compared to the other bodies strewn about, she’s the lucky one.

So, of course, then she gets laid off.

With no money and no mobility, with only her anger and internet research acumen, she discovers her suffering at the hands of a hero is far from unique. When people start listening to the story that her data tells, she realizes she might not be as powerless as she thinks.

Because the key to everything is data: knowing how to collate it, how to manipulate it, and how to weaponize it. By tallying up the human cost these caped forces of nature wreak upon the world, she discovers that the line between good and evil is mostly marketing.  And with social media and viral videos, she can control that appearance.

It’s not too long before she’s employed once more, this time by one of the worst villains on earth. As she becomes an increasingly valuable lieutenant, she might just save the world.

My review: I wanted to read this book because the first sentence of the synopsis made me laugh. Most of us have "been there, done that," right? (RIGHT? Maybe it's only me who's been there.) Anyway, the book also has a stunningly high average rating on Goodreads, and I couldn't ignore that. The premise is brilliant. The main character is a morally gray hypocrite who uses math and spreadsheets to show how much damage superheroes cause. She then sets out to stop the heroes. I raced through the first half of the book because it's unique and funny. Then . . . everything started falling flat. I guess I expected more depth? The main characters have very little backstory or personality. Most of them are just names. I also wanted more from the worldbuilding. We learn a bit about the heroes and villains, but nothing about the average people who are trying to live their lives around the antics of the "supers." In the end, I was disappointed with this novel, but I am intrigued by the ideas it explores. It talks about how villains are created by the actions of heroes, which seems plausible.

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Fatal Throne: The Wives Of Henry VIII Tell All by M.T. Anderson, Jennifer Donnelly, Stephanie Hemphill, Deborah Hopkinson, Linda Sue Park & Lisa Ann Sandell

Young Adult Historical Fiction

If you were one of King Henry VIII's six wives, who would you be? Would you be Anne Boleyn, who literally lost her head? Would you be the subject of rumor and scandal like Catherine Howard? Or would you get away and survive like Anna of Cleves?

Meet them and Henry's other queens, each bound for divorce or death, in this epic and thrilling novel that reads like fantasy but really happened. Watch spellbound as each of these women attempts to survive their unpredictable king as he grows more and more obsessed with producing a male heir. And discover how the power-hungry court fanned the flames of Henry's passions . . . and his most horrible impulses.

Whether you're a huge fan of all things Tudor or new to this jaw-dropping saga, you won't be able to get the unique voices of Henry and his wives, all brought to life by seven award-winning and bestselling authors, out of your head.

This is an intimate look at the royals during one of the most treacherous times in history. Who will you root for and who will you love to hate?

My review: This is a novella (or novelette?) collection. I have mixed feelings about it. I love the concept. Each chapter is narrated by a different wife and written by a different author. The chapters are interspersed with short sections from Henry VIII's perspective. The book is like a historical "Tell All." The stories are written in first person, and the wives share everything about their marriages, even the scandalous parts. Since each chapter is written by a different author, I expected more variety in the stories. They're all disappointingly similar in tone, structure, and subject. I didn't like that because the stories blurred together in my head. I also don't think Henry's chapters added much to the narrative. I got a good sense of his personality from the wives' chapters, so his sections feel repetitive. This isn't a bad book, but I think there are probably better books about Henry and the wives he murdered.

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In Order To Live: A North Korean Girl's Journey To Freedom by Yeonmi Park


Human rights activist Park, who fled North Korea with her mother in 2007 at age 13 and eventually made it to South Korea two years later after a harrowing ordeal, recognized that in order to be "completely free," she had to confront the truth of her past. It is an ugly, shameful story of being sold with her mother into slave marriages by Chinese brokers, and although she at first tried to hide the painful details when blending into South Korean society, she realized how her survival story could inspire others. Moreover, her sister had also escaped earlier and had vanished into China for years, prompting the author to go public with her story in the hope of finding her sister.

Why I'm excited to read it: Remember when this book was everywhere? Somehow, I missed out on reading it while it was popular. (That always seems to happen.) I want to read it because North Korea is a curious place. We rarely get accurate information about what happens there. This book might be an informative peek into the mystery.

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Ranger Confidential: Living, Working, And Dying In The National Parks by Andrea Lankford


For twelve years, Andrea Lankford lived in the biggest, most impressive national parks in the world, working a job she loved. She chaperoned baby sea turtles on their journey to sea. She pursued bad guys on her galloping patrol horse. She jumped into rescue helicopters bound for the heart of the Grand Canyon. She won arguments with bears. She slept with a few too many rattlesnakes.

 Hell yeah, it was the best job in the world! Fortunately, Andrea survived it.

In this graphic and yet surprisingly funny account of her and others’ extraordinary careers, Lankford unveils a world in which park rangers struggle to maintain their idealism in the face of death, disillusionment, and the loss of a comrade killed while holding that thin green line between protecting the park from the people, the people from the park, and the people from each other. Ranger Confidential is the story behind the scenery of the nation’s crown jewels—Yosemite, Grand Canyon, Yellowstone, Great Smokies, Denali. In these iconic landscapes, where nature and humanity constantly collide, scenery can be as cruel as it is redemptive.

Why I'm excited to read it: Um . . . I guess I'm reevaluating my life choices? Do I want to continue working in parks? Nature is cool, but OMG humans are exhausting. I just need everyone to remain calm and alive while I'm multitasking as fast as I can. The burnout is real. I need several naps.

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Smoke & Mirrors: Short Fiction And Illusions By Neil Gaiman

Fantasy Short Story Collection

In the deft hands of Neil Gaiman, magic is no mere illusion and anything is possible. In Gaiman's first book of short stories, his imagination and supreme artistry transform a mundane world into a place of terrible wonders, a place where an old woman can purchase the Holy Grail at a thrift store, where assassins advertise their services in the Yellow Pages under "Pest Control," and where a frightened young boy must barter for his life with a mean-spirited troll living beneath a bridge by the railroad tracks. Explore a new reality, obscured by smoke and darkness, yet brilliantly tangible, in this extraordinary collection of short works by a master prestidigitator. It will dazzle your senses, touch your heart, and haunt your dreams.

My review: People, this is how you write fantasy short stories! They're dark and weird and bloody and magical. The author is amazing at weaving the mundane with the fantastical. The stories start out ultra-realistic, but then there's suddenly a demon or troll or something. It catches you off-guard, but it still feels entirely plausible in the story's setting. Of course there's a troll under a bridge or a demon attacking stray cats. I could not put this book down. As soon as I finished one story, I started another because I wanted to know what horrifying thing Neil Gaiman would think of next. He has a twisted imagination. I don't think I fully "got" all the stories, but I didn't hate any of them. This is a 5-star collection.

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Zealot: The Life And Times Of Jesus Of Nazareth By Reza Aslan


Two thousand years ago, an itinerant Jewish preacher and miracle worker walked across the Galilee, gathering followers to establish what he called the “Kingdom of God.” The revolutionary movement he launched was so threatening to the established order that he was captured, tortured, and executed as a state criminal.
Within decades after his shameful death, his followers would call him God.
Sifting through centuries of mythmaking, Reza Aslan sheds new light on one of history’s most influential and enigmatic characters by examining Jesus through the lens of the tumultuous era in which he lived: first-century Palestine, an age awash in apocalyptic fervor. Scores of Jewish prophets, preachers, and would-be messiahs wandered through the Holy Land, bearing messages from God. This was the age of zealotry—a fervent nationalism that made resistance to the Roman occupation a sacred duty incumbent on all Jews. And few figures better exemplified this principle than the charismatic Galilean who defied both the imperial authorities and their allies in the Jewish religious hierarchy.
Balancing the Jesus of the Gospels against the historical sources, Aslan describes a man full of conviction and passion, yet rife with contradiction; a man of peace who exhorted his followers to arm themselves with swords; an exorcist and faith healer who urged his disciples to keep his identity a secret; and ultimately the seditious “King of the Jews” whose promise of liberation from Rome went unfulfilled in his brief lifetime. Aslan explores the reasons why the early Christian church preferred to promulgate an image of Jesus as a peaceful spiritual teacher rather than a politically conscious revolutionary. And he grapples with the riddle of how Jesus understood himself, the mystery that is at the heart of all subsequent claims about his divinity.

My review: If you're looking for a book that will put religion in historical context, check this one out. It's exactly what I wanted! I wanted to learn more about what was happening in history when the world's major religions started. In this book, the author reconstructs first century Israel/Palestine/Judea. He discusses a few of the groups who lived in the area and the massive conflicts they had with each other. He also talks about which bits of the Bible he thinks are historically accurate and which aren't. He then uses his knowledge of history to uncover the "historical Jesus." The author mostly just shrugs at the miracles and resurrection stuff. He's more interested in the events that would have shaped Jesus's life. I don't know enough about history or religion to judge the accuracy of the author's claims, but I found the book fascinating. The writing style is very readable. This isn't a dry college textbook. I got through it in two days, which is much faster than I usually read nonfiction. I recommend it.

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Obsidio by Amie Kaufman & Jay Kristoff

Young Adult Science Fiction

Kady, Ezra, Hanna, and Nik narrowly escaped with their lives from the attacks on Heimdall station and now find themselves crammed with 2,000 refugees on the container ship, Mao. With the jump station destroyed and their resources scarce, the only option is to return to Kerenza, but who knows what they'll find seven months after the invasion?

Meanwhile, Kady's cousin, Asha, survived the initial BeiTech assault and has joined Kerenza's ragtag underground resistance. When Rhys, an old flame from Asha's past, reappears on Kerenza, the two find themselves on opposite sides of the conflict. With time running out, a final battle will be waged on land and in space, heroes will fall, and hearts will be broken.

Why I'm excited to read it: This is the conclusion to a series I love and have read several times. If you like sci-fi, and you haven't read The Illuminae Files, what are you doing with your life? It's an amazing series! It's fast-paced and hilarious. The books are massive, but the unique formatting makes them quick to read. The audiobooks are super entertaining too. They have sound effects and a big cast of narrators. I can't wait to see how the story ends.

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The Girl With All The Gifts By M.R. Carey

Adult Horror

Melanie is a very special girl. Dr. Caldwell calls her "our little genius."

Every morning, Melanie waits in her cell to be collected for class. When they come for her, Sergeant Parks keeps his gun pointing at her while two of his people strap her into the wheelchair. She thinks they don't like her. She jokes that she won't bite, but they don't laugh.

Melanie loves school. She loves learning about spelling and sums and the world outside the classroom and the children's cells. She tells her favorite teacher all the things she'll do when she grows up. Melanie doesn't know why this makes Miss Justineau look sad.

My review: I knew my fear of mushrooms wasn't irrational! They're creepy! They have a nefarious plan to take over the world. It's all detailed in this book! On the surface, this is a zombie novel, but it has more depth than a typical zombie story. It's about the power that teachers have over the lives of their students and how a good teacher can transform a kid's whole existence. It's about found families and standing up for people who can't protect themselves. I really enjoyed it! My only complaint is that it eventually turns into a post-apocalyptic road trip story where the characters have to fight through zombie hordes for hundreds of pages. I've read that plotline many, many times before. Still, I recommend this book if you're looking for a story that will give you nightmares.

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Have you read any of these books? What did you think of them?