Michelle's Picks (page 1)
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Michelle has a B.A. in English and Philosophy, and is currently working on her M.A. in Philosophy, because she's attracted to degrees that have a high likelihood of leaving her unemployed. She's been lost in Fantasy books ever since reading Mary Stanton's Unicorns of Balinor at age 12, and rarely remembers other genres exist. Her Fantasy author idols are Terry Goodkind, RA Salvatore, Anne Bishop, and Lilith Saintcrow. When not writing, reading, or attending class, she's secretly hoping to be sucked into an alternate dimension containing dragons and sorcerers, where she conveniently happens to be a sword-wielding warrior princess of some sort.
This was a difficult book to read, for obvious reasons, but I feel its importance cannot be overstated. For anyone who has wondered why we should involve ourselves in the war against ISIS, Farida's voice is strong and clear. She reveals the peaceful lives ISIS is tearing apart. The strength and cunning Farida displayed during her captivity, her ceaseless reminders to her captors that their religion did not allow for what they were doing to her and her people, and her indomitable will are that of a truly remarkable individual who cared not just for herself but for the other girls in her same plight. Her escape was managed by the narrowest of circumstances and should remind us that very few women captured by ISIS manage it, and those who do not endure circumstances we can barely conceive of. I dare anyone who thinks ISIS isn't our problem to read this book and still hold the same opinion.
I found myself giggling maniacally every second or third page of this book. Constance Verity is witty, lethal, multi-talented, and well-traveled - in short, everything you'd expect from a master adventurer. The fact that she's sick of being a master adventurer just makes her all the more endearing. Martinez does a masterful job of making every adventure cliche seem fresh, hilarious, or both. I couldn't recommend a more well-done, humorous novel, one that manages to talk about robot armies, parallel realities, and ninja assassins and yet still connect the reader with that feeling of daily drudgery so many of us are sick of in our lives. When I realize there's an alternate reality where Martinez hasn't written this book, I cry.
The best part of The Queue is how it differs from most dystopian works I've read, namely in that it offers no clear solution at the end. I feel most dystopian novels, while pointing out the grave ways in which society/government can go wrong, nonetheless leave the reader with a feeling of safety at the end, because the unjust regime is toppled and sanity triumphs. We believe that even should such a situation occur in our lifetimes, we would solve it, because the hero of the novel solves it. The Queue does not present the reader with the obvious resolution, leaving us to wonder, if we found ourselves in such a situation, would we recognize it? If we did, would we choose to fight it? And if we did fight it, how would we do it in a world where we don't actually have magic or superpowers, as so many of our dystopian heroes do?
Wake of Vultures is alternate-history western at its best. Vampires, chupacabras, harpies, and baby-stealing cannibal owls are all presented in grotesque, true western fashion. Toss in our heroin - a half-black, half-Native American runaway girl pretending to be a boy - who has just been saddled with the unpleasant destiny of killing the un-killable supernatural creature, all while trying to maintain her cover and figure out her place in the world, and you've got one hell of a story.
If you think you know what poverty is like, I urge you to read this book. Unless you grew up in poverty - and I don't mean working-class poor, I mean poverty - I guarantee you'll finish this book and realize you didn't know anything. Desmond expertly shows the excuses society gives for allowing poverty to continue - i.e., the belief that "those" people are lazy and don't want to work, that they’re drug addicts, or they like living off welfare - are utterly absurd. Welfare is not a free pass to an easy, work-free life. It is a denigrating subsistence eked out by desperate people with nothing else to fall back on, who end up living in residences most of us would rather burn down than set foot into because they have no other options. Desmond shows how even a single eviction can cause a spiral that makes finding decent, affordable housing almost impossible. Providing a feasible plan for how we could conquer eviction and the spiral of negative effects it causes, Evicted is a brutally honest look at just what it means to be poor in America.
I had a huge issue with Sheryl Sandberg's Lean In message, and that issue is this: her advice is really only useful to already affluent or semi-affluent women with enough financial security and support structures in place to fight against a corporate structure that systematically disadvantages women. Foster's Lean Out takes an educated and in-depth look at just how useless Sandberg's "advice" is to working-class and poverty-stricken women, and just how little Sandberg has actually done for "feminism". Sandberg's seeming assertion that women aren't rising to the top because we just aren't aggressive enough is insulting to working women and overlooks the larger patriarchal structures that hinder gender equality. Foster's Lean Out expertly points out the real issues hindering women, and why Sandberg's so-called feminism won't help many - if any - women at all.
Williams captures perfectly the essence of the horse - their trickery, their elegance, and their ability to adapt. If the history of the horse shows anything, it is that this is a species that can live and thrive in wildly diverse environments, from the desert to Alaska, from the plains to islands, the horse is here to stay. Williams debunks much of the classic "knowledge" about horses - the notion of the herd animal, the idea that stallions are always dominant, and the way in which horses learn. Much more than just an evolutionary history of the equine, Williams' book is an ode to one of humanity's most cherished companions.
This book is beautiful, haunting, and just a little bit creepy. The photographs on their own would be worth buying this book, but the extra special part of this book comes in the text. Tagliareni and Mathews give you the history of the abandoned structures in this book — what these structures used to be, their struggles, and how they came to be abandoned. A unique look at history, architecture, and abandonment, I can't recommend Antiquity Echoes enough.
The thing I loved most about this book was its authenticity. Bornstein's journey with Samson has the ending you hope for when working with an abused animal - that ultimately the animal overcomes most of his issues and learns to trust again - but Bornstein doesn't gloss over the fact that dealing with an abused half-ton animal can be incredibly dangerous (in Samson's case, probably insanely dangerous), that there will always be good days and bad days, and that - like humans - most animals will never fully overcome a history of neglect, and that their past is something to be accepted and worked with, not something to be held against them.
This collection of previously untranslated Arabic stories, dating back a millennium or more, is a must-have for anyone obsessed with folktales or mythology. Beautifully translated, these stories share tales of princes and monsters, fortunes won and lost, transmogrification, and so much more. Even the most well-read fairy-tale fiend will find something new in the difference of style and telling, and the rich, cultural history of the tales.
Crawford has the refreshing ability to ground his philosophical arguments in practical, relatable points. Looking at everything from the ever-present bombardment we face from advertisers and corporations, to the constant pressure the current generation is raised with to “be yourself” and not be defined by any group, Crawford explores just what is posited by the idea of the “individual”, and the absurdity of attempting to define oneself in a vacuum. Crawford’s book will make you look at the “world beyond your head” in a new way, and maybe make you feel a little less crazy about the way we interact with it.
The prose of Thorn Jack is haunting, lyrical, and utterly mesmerizing. I drank this novel down like a fantastical beverage, each drop better than the last. Harbour's fae are true to their mythic roots - dangerous, wicked, and completely untrustworthy - and keep the novel's mortal characters on their toes. I loved the almost gothic-noir feel of Thorn Jack, and promise not a single page disappoints.
Part nature book, part philosophical inquiry, Soul of an Octopus is a beautiful look at one of the ocean's most fascinating inhabitants. Chock-full of facts that are actually interesting to learn, this book changed the way I view not just the octopus - let's face it, they don't exactly scream cuddly at first glance - but all of the ocean's wondrous denizens. Montgomery reveals the octopus's intelligence and often playful nature, showing our reasons for claiming "consciousness" as a wholly human feature may be far slimmer than we often assume.
On finishing this book, "Ronda Rousey is my new God," was the declaration I went around making to anyone who would listen (and not smite me for blasphemy). As someone who dabbles in martial arts and wishes I were way more hardcore than I actually am, reading this book was like vicariously living out everything I'd ever hoped I could do. If we were in a fantasy novel, Ronda Rousey would be the super-awesome female main character taking out elite hit-squads with no weapon save her bare hands. Now, any time I want to wimp out on a workout, I just remind myself that Ronda Rousey managed to do x, y, or z, with a broken/torn [insert body part here]. Somehow, I always finish.
Don't worry, this book isn't just about how the internet is scary and everything you do online is trackable and hackable. Though Future Crimes does explore those aspects, Goodman's point is not that technology is bad - on the contrary, the tech coming out is capable of vastly improving our lives and society - but rather that we need to take proactive measures to make sure that rapidly evolving technology is safer. With anecdotes that are sometimes scary, sometimes funny, and on occasion just plain weird, Goodman shows exactly what we ought to be afraid of with emerging tech, and ways we can help solve these concerns.
You probably have at least a vague notion that Victorian London was dirty, but I guarantee you have no idea just how dirty. I was amazed to learn the extent to which dirt and waste permeated the lives of the average Londoner - wealthy individuals wouldn't even get out of their carriages on a London street, but send their servants into stores for them. Dirty Old London follows multiple attempts to clean up London, some efforts amusing in their failure, and others not so much. If you're fascinated by filth, London, or just looking for a different type of history book, give Jackson a try.
Ah, finally, not-quite-Frankenstein super-people of the future are here! I loved everything about this book, from the futuristic world divided by ruling Houses to the immortal Galvanized and the forgotten, deadly science experiment that created them. Matilda is a fantastic main character, an unknown Galvanized who grew up living outside of the House power-plays; when she's suddenly thrust into this world, I love watching her navigate it - she's determined, smart, superhuman strong, and she's not about to get trapped in servitude to a House without a fight.
What's more awesome than a construction-working half-fae with tattoos that materialize into weapons at will? Probably nothing, but the fae in question, Jeremy Gallow, does tie for awesomeness with his co-main character, Robin Ragged, who can, if she so chooses, literally sing a person to death. Add in your typical fae mischief, a plague attacking full-born fae, and a brewing war between Summer and the Unseelie Court, and prepare for some serious fae magic and mischief
I'm not usually a memoir person but this one hooked me with its emphasis on motorcycles and a unique look at a journey through phsycis. If you are or ever have been an early twenty-something feeling adrift and wondering how you ended up where you are now, you'll find Dalton's story relatable. Of course, if you're just here for the motorcycles - and who could blame you - there's plenty of that to keep you entertained.
I loved everything about this book, from the evil cat the Captain to the somewhat murkier morals of the cat Roger. The book's unlikely librarian-hero shows just the right amount of courage and disbelief when faced with talking evil cats with powers, and I giggled uncontrollably all the way through the novel. Cat lovers and haters alike can unite behind this well-written tale. Of course, you may never look at a cat's behavior quite the same way again...
Quammen is my favorite non-fiction writer, and Spillover is no exception to his merit. Having read this book, I understand so much more about how viruses operate, why outbreaks occur, and perhaps most importantly, how our disturbance of ecosystems and the tearing down of the less-explored areas of nature are bringing to the forefront viruses we once would have had little chance of being exposed to. Told with Quammen's natural storyteller gift, this both informs and entertains, and might leave you just a little frightened.
I've been waiting since childhood for someone to tell me the Amazons were real, and finally this book is doing just that...sort of. Mayor delves into the history of the warrior women who likely inspired the Amazons of Greek myth, most prominently the Scythians. Living a nomadic lifestyle, these women were equals with their men, expert archers and horsewomen, and buried as honored warriors. Exploring both myth and fact, The Amazons is an exceptionally well-presented look at the real warrior women of history.
I’ve been thinking lately about the kind of home I’d like to have – what is feasible and affordable – and I picked up this book with that in mind. Though I’ll admit that 400 sq ft might be a little small for me, the stories and houses in this book are inspiring. The ingenuity that goes into a house so small is truly amazing – everything is functional and placed for maximum efficiency, and the end result is a space that seems much larger than it is. Though I think in the end I’ll build something in the 600 sq ft range, this book has made me think about what is really important in my life, what is necessary, and how much less stressful our lives could be if we focused more on what we need, and less on what society tells us is desirable.
I love both Ancient Egypt and Hatshepsut, so I knew I was either going to love or hate this book. Fortunately I loved it, and learned Hatshepsut was even more amazing that I'd initially thought. Her political acumen and ability to get herself - a woman - legally crowned pharaoh are astonishing enough. Compound this with her bringing to Egypt one of its most stable and wealthy periods of rule and I really want to nominate her for female role model of the year. Despite her clear qualifications for the job, Hatshepsut's rise to power was anything but easy, and Cooney does an excellent job of pointing out the obstacles in Hatshepsut's way, and how the female king likely overcame them. Even if you think Ancient Egypt isn't your thing, I can't recommend a better book to prove that women could rule, and rule well, in a time period still dominated by male rulers.
Elite, deadly mercenaries, an evil ancient brotherhood, a centuries-old (yet still hot) forest mother, and – of course – magic, are just the beginning of the many wonderful things within this book. Kashina’s characters are both real and complex – my favorite kind – and I’m already stamping my feet with impatience for the sequel. If you don’t finish this book secretly wishing you were a Diamond-ranked Majat warrior capable of performing the Viper’s Kiss in blazing combat, I feel sorry for you. Happy sword-fighting, er, reading. I meant reading.