The ABC Murders by Agatha Christie | Book Review

★★★☆☆
April 8th – 11th

This book was just okay to me, which is less than I was expecting. As the second Agatha Christie book I’ve read, I was hoping that I would love this one just as much as Murder on the Orient Express. Sadly, that was not the case.

The plot of this one was very simple, without a large twist act the end to tie it together. After Hercule Poirot receives a strange letter telling him of a murder that will take place in Andover. Though it’s initially brushed off as nothing, a body is found soon after with an ABC train guide next to it.

This launches the investigation, and Poirot is once again on the case. Compared to Murder on the Orient Express, this book felt very tame and the mystery felt pretty small (even though it had triple the murder). I tend to like mysteries that happen in an enclosed environment with limited possibilities.

My biggest complaint about Agatha Christie books is that it feels like the reader needs outside knowledge to be able to solve the mystery. This is likely a product of the time that I’m now reading it in (I had no clue what an ABC train guide was), but I think it takes away from my internal desire to “solve” the mystery, because I’m not given the tools to do so.

That being said, I’m likely going to continue to read Agatha Christie novels, and see if I can find one that tops Murder on the Orient Express for me.

-Siobhan

Beverly by Nick Drnaso | Book Review

★★☆☆☆
April 8th

I didn’t like this book. I don’t know if it was that I didn’t get it and it went way over my head, or there was no point, but I found the whole thing very confusing and lacking in any type of point.

I liked the illustration style, I enjoyed that it was different vignettes and scenes, but there either needed to be a unifying thread, or no unifying thread. Instead there was a weird mix of some things being connected and some not. The first story having little bearing on any of the future ones. All of the people in these were kind of jerks or treated other people like jerks and there was no repercussions.

This book left me feeling terrible, which after Nimona was kind of a let down. I’m not one to harp on things I didn’t like, so I’ll leave it at that. This wasn’t for me.

-Siobhan

Nimona by Noelle Stevenson | Book Review

★★★★☆
April 1st – 3rd

Nimona is a graphic novel by Noelle Stevenson, which I read for the Magical Readathon (it was my Transfiguration prompt choice!) This book was absolutely adorable, with fun characters, a captivating plot, and really good stylized artwork.

We follow Nimona, a shapeshifter with a mysterious past who becomes the sidekick of Lord Ballister Blackheart, a villain with a vendetta against Sir Ambrosius Goldenloin. The dynamics between Nimona and Blackheart were great, and took on a father/daughter or mentor/mentee quality fairly early on. I liked the relationship between Goldenloin and Blackheart as well, though I wished it was further expanded on whether their relationship was strictly friendship or something more.

Nimona herself was a bit of a mystery as well. The reader is given some clue into her backstory, but it’s unclear (at least it was to me) later if she was telling the truth or if there was something more. Maybe this is something that I missed, but the ambiguity of her past took away from her relationship with Blackheart for me.

I also thought this story would focus more on her, and less on Blackheart, though I ended up being glad that it didn’t. Nimona as a character was somewhat one-dimensional, and didn’t seem to learn or change by the end. In contrast, both Blackheart and Goldenloin did grow and change, and learn more about each other.

The two have an enemies to friends (or something more?) dynamic which is really well played, showing their transition from best friends to enemies and back, which became more of the plot than I was initially expecting.

Overall, this was good. I may check out Noelle Stevenson’s series, Lumberjanes in the future.

-Siobhan

The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up by Marie Kondo | Book Review

★★★☆☆
March 28th – 31st

Third, and finally in my trifecta of non-fiction was The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing. It was spring when I read this, and having been stuck at home for a month at this point, I decided to engage in some spring cleaning. I watched Marie Kondo’s show of the same name on Netflix last year, and I really enjoyed seeing her method in action. I’d heard good things about her book, and wanted to give it a try.

I did listen to the audiobook for this, and I wish that I had read it physically. There were a lot of descriptions of how to fold and how to organize which I felt would work better in a physical book than over audio. I don’t know if it was because of the audiobook, but this book was just okay for me. I enjoy Marie Kondo, and liked when her personality came out in the book, but the advice itself I found to be slightly unrealistic and not entirely practical.

She speaks a lot about only keeping things that bring you joy. We all know this. There have been countless memes about this. But one thing that I didn’t feel like was touched on was things which you don’t necessarily like, but which you need. I don’t necessarily love having cleaning products in my house, but I need them in order to stay clean.

The biggest example of this for me was her section on getting rid of books. Every book that I own currently doesn’t necessarily bring me joy, but I own them for a reason. Marie Kondo doesn’t seem to see the value in collection, something which I really enjoy. As an example from my life, I own a lot of enamel pins. I really like them, and though I try and limit how many I purchase, I still own a lot of them. I can’t see myself getting rid of them, because though each individual one doesn’t bring me joy, the collection as a whole does. With my books, I definitely go through and will get rid of some that I know I’m never going to read on occasion, but I like owning books that I’ve physically read, even if I don’t have plans to go back and reread them. To me the representation of the time that they were read in is worth keeping them.

The most impractical aspect of her book was the time that everything takes. In several sections, she calls out other cleaning and tidying advice for taking place over the course of several days or a routine which has you tidy a little bit every day. She says that this is unrealistic and talks about how doing it all at once is much better.

I definitely do not have the time for this type of approach. With the combination of work stress and life stress, it would be extremely difficult for me to dedicate an entire day (or several, if we’re being honest) to the level of tidying that Marie Kondo recommends. This is something that I felt was missing from both her show and her book, was an explanation for how people merged this approach into their daily lives without needing to take a week of vacation to get everything started.

I do like the order that Marie Kondo has you tackle the items to get rid of, and I think that her explanations for why to get rid of things, and how to know if something is worth getting rid of is extremely valid and well thought out.

If I was able to dedicate the time to this type of method, I could see it being beneficial to help pair down the amount of stuff that people have. I was also really surprised to hear about the amount of things that people had in her examples. Descriptions of overflowing closets were absolutely crazy to me. I know that they’re mostly there for shock factor, but I can’t imagine dealing with that type of stress on a daily basis.

Overall this was a fairly mediocre read. I’m glad I read it, but I don’t know that I’d recommend it or ever read it again.

-Siobhan

10% Happier by Dan Harris | Book Review

★★★★☆
March 26th – 27th

Second in my little grouping of non-fiction was 10% Happier: How I Tamed the Voice in My Head, Reduce Stress Without Losing My Edge, and Found Self-Help That Actually Works, which I think wins the title for the longest title I’ll be reading all year.

I’m luckily enough to work for a company which provides the Ten Percent app, owned by Dan Harris, for their employees. Meditation was something that I found beneficial when extremely stressed, and let’s face it, we’ve all been extremely stressed out the past few months. Scribd had the audiobook, narrated by Dan Harris, so I decided to redownload the Ten Percent app, and give this book a listen.

I was expecting the book to be a lot more “preachy” about meditation, but it felt very grounded. It read more like a memoir about Dan Harris’s life, his struggle with mental health and addiction even at the peak of his career, and how meditation helped him with that.

I really liked how candid he was in a lot of the book: how he valued science and the medical benefits of meditation. One of the people he specifically mentions in the book, Sam Harris, is a fairly prominent atheist, and one who also practices meditation. It was interesting to see the separation of spirituality or religion from meditation, and focus more on the psychological and medical benefits.

Some of my favorite parts of the book were his descriptions of a ten day meditation retreat he went on, something I don’t think I could ever do. He describes his struggle, his euphoria, and then back to his struggle with trying to bring his brain back to focusing on just his body over and over again. I can barely get my brain to do that for ten minutes, let alone ten days.

The title itself, and the description of where it came from was one of my other favorite parts of the book. The idea that meditation, for Dan Harris, and also for me, isn’t about being one with yourself or expelling thoughts to think about nothing. At first it’s about forgiveness, and being kind to yourself. Not berating yourself for slipping up or having your mind wander, but instead guiding it back to focus on the breath, or what you’re trying to focus on. Meditation doesn’t solve your problems. It doesn’t get you a promotion, or more money, or a new life overnight, but it can give you the tools to be a little bit happier.

I will say that this book did convince me to give meditation a more serious attempt, and to try and incorporate even 10 minutes a day into my routine. So far I’ve found that the days that I don’t want to meditate at all are the days I need to the most, and we’ll see if it makes me 10% happier.

-Siobhan

The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck by Mark Manson

★★★☆☆
March 19th – 26th

As we all know, 2020 has been bananas. I’ve had this book on my shelf since it came out, and following an ankle injury that pulled me out of work for several weeks, as well as the following quarantine I was in, I was looking for titles to help me reduce anxiety. This was the first of those titles. This book is about what you should be worried about, what you should care about, and what you should desire to change.

I found it an interesting, although short read. My favorite part of the book was the anecdotes that Manson inserted, mostly about the ones from other cultures and history. It made the book feel so much more grounded, and it didn’t at all read like a stereotypical “self-help” book. That being said, my enjoyment of the book mostly stopped there.

Manson’s description of himself as a perfect husband (who doesn’t tell their wife that they look terrible if they try something new?) whose relationship is built on “honesty”. He describes a series of his relationship conquests, and most of it is extremely unnecessary, and then talks about how settling down with his wife made those relationships seem even more frivolous. Even most of the swearing and all of his profanity is built mostly for shock factor, and had no real substance to it.

A lot of this felt like interesting aspects of religion taken out of context and then shoved into a set of conservative values about pulling yourself out and just getting things done, and those were the parts that I wasn’t a fan of.

I likely won’t be reading Manson’s other book, because he’s definitely not for me.

-Siobhan

You Are Not Alone by Greer Hendricks and Sarah Pekkanen | Book Review

★★★☆☆
March 12th – 14th

I think this book was supposed to be a thriller. According to Goodreads, it was marketed as a thriller. Greer Hendricks and Sarah Pekkanen’s first two novels were thrillers. This one got confused along the way.

This book follows Shay, a woman in her early thirties who’s currently between jobs, stuck in an apartment with her roommate and his new girlfriend, friendless, and somewhat hopeless. Shay is is also fairly pretentious, constantly referring to the types of TedTalks she’s listening to in an effort to make her seem smart. She’s obsessed with data, keeping facts and numbers listed in her “data book”.

After Shay witnesses a woman commit suicide by jumping in front of a New York City subway, Shay finds that she’s attracted to the mystery of who this woman was, and finding out has disastrous consequences. The woman, Amanda, was a nurse involved in a close-knit ring of friends who have dark secrets and unexpected consequences.

This book did not know what it wanted to be. The main character seemed oblivious to the fact that she was being targeted or persecuted until the final third of the book, and when she did, she was able to solve everything with a few phone calls. Though every book requires some suspension of disbelief, I had a really hard time believing the level of convenience that this book had.

The entirety of the book hinged on a plot twist which I must have guessed very early into the story, because I assumed it was an established fact. When the twist was revealed, I found myself very confused. I guess the closest I can come to explaining this is if you open the fridge and have eggs inside, you expect to see eggs inside the fridge. Every time you open it, there are the eggs. But if someone then comes up to you and says “I have a surprise! There are eggs in the fridge!” You’re going to be confused. Because the eggs were there the whole time.

This book had eggs the whole time, and I was extremely confused.

The type of domestic thriller that this author duo write isn’t really my cup of tea. I may try more of their books in the future, but both of the ones I’ve read haven’t really resonated or stayed with me.

-Siobhan

The Toll by Neal Shusterman | Book Review

★★★★☆
February 29th – March 12th

The Toll is the final book in the Arc of a Scythe series by Neal Shusterman, which has become one of my favorite series in the past few years.

This dystopian world takes place in a future where death has been conquered, and the population boomed to the point of overcrowding. As a solution to the problem, Scythes were created: a group of people with the power, and permission to permanently kill people to control the population. This final chapter has the culmination of a long series of events, complicated plot lines, separated characters, and foreshadowing. Since this is the third book in the series, this review will have some spoilers. I did do a review of the first two books a few years ago.

At the end of Thunderhead, everything has gone nuts. The Thunderhead has stopped speaking. Citra and Rowan are buried in a vault at the bottom of the ocean. The entire island of Endura has sunk, and Scythe Goddard has declared himself the High Blade of MidMerica. In typical middle book fashion, the pieces of this puzzle are thrown to all corners of the map at the end, and the wait for this third installment was painful.

For most of the book, I had no idea how things were going to come together. The novel is over 600 pages, and it felt like it wasn’t until page 500 that everything started to piece back together. A lot of the pieces felt like they were made up for this book specifically, and I felt like those pieces could have been laid clearer in the first two books. That being said, it’s been several years since I read the first two, and it’s entirely possible that there are details that I’ve forgotten.

As I’ve gotten older, I’ve stopped reading as much YA content. I’ve talked about this a few times, but I do really like YA series that I feel transcend their specific age-range, and can appeal to adults. Harry Potter is a great example of this, and I feel like the Arc of a Scythe series can be considered to do the same. Most of the characters in the final book are adults, and even the teenagers at the beginning have grown by the end. Series are some of my favorite YA to still consume, because of the growth that happens during the books.

I really enjoyed this series. This was the first series I’ve read by Neal Shusterman, though he has quite a few I’m interested in. I’m excited to see what he continues to write, and I hope that he goes more into the adult age-range in the future.

-Siobhan

Elevation by Stephen King | Book Review

★★★★☆
March 5th

Elevation is a pairing of two short stories released by Stephen King in 2018. The first story, Elevation follows Scott Carey, a man who is seemingly losing weight at a rate of a pound or two a day, however he doesn’t seem to be physically changing, still looking like an overweight man.

This story is about appearances on the outside not being like what they are on the inside. As Scott Carey’s mass reaches zero, he helps a local couple with their restaurant, changes the mind of his small town, and comes to terms with his situation. This story, though classified as horror, was heartwarming and I gave this individual story three stars. Many of the complaints I saw of this story were of the “white knight” main character helping lesbian characters, and while I can see where those were coming from, I think the overall message of changing perspectives was larger than just that aspect.

The second story in the book was also extremely heartwarming. Following the loss of his wife, Laurie tells the story of a man’s grief as he begins caring for a new puppy, as insisted on by his sister. This story was originally written and published on Stephen King’s website, and it appears that it was only read in the audiobook of Elevation, not the physical printing (though I could be wrong about this. I listened to the audiobook of this one.) I liked this story more than the first story, and thought it was cute and uplifting.

Both stories are quick and heartwarming. This book was absolutely mismarketed and misrepresented as horror. Nowhere in either story are horror, and I don’t think they should have been marketed that way.

I admittedly haven’t read much of Stephen King, but I’m really interested in checking out more of his short story collections, specifically the horror ones in the future.

-Siobhan

April Recap | 2020

April was a stressful and long month, but I was still successful in reading. I read three books for the Magical Readathon, which I had a great time with!

Nimona by Noelle Stevenson – April 1st – 3rd
★★★★☆

Beverly by Nick Drnaso – April 8th
★★☆☆☆

The A.B.C. Murders by Agatha Christie – April 8th – 11th
★★★☆☆

I have some fun plans coming up in May which I can’t wait to tell you about next week!

-Siobhan