2016 List

HAS BEEN UPDATED WITH LINKS TO REVIEWS 

  1. All the Light We Cannot See
  2. American Psycho
  3. Another Roadside Attraction
  4. Ariel
  5. The Bird Artist
  6. Breakfast at Tiffany’s
  7. Call for the Dead
  8. Cannery Row
  9. Cat’s Cradle
  10. A Constellation of Vital Phenomena
  11. The Count of Monte Cristo
  12. Dear Mr. You
  13. The Dwarf
  14. Emma
  15. Frankenstein
  16. Furiously Happy
  17. The Girl on the Train
  18. The Gods, the Little Guys, and the Police
  19. A Good Man Is Hard to Find
  20. Henrietta Who
  21. The Hundred-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out of the Window and Disappeared
  22. If on a Winter’s Night a Traveler
  23. An Improvised Life
  24. In the Woods
  25. The Invention of Curried Sausage
  26. Leave it to Psmith
  27. The Little Prince
  28. Mrs Dalloway
  29. Murder Fantastical
  30. A Murder of Quality
  31. Nine Inches
  32. Notes from Underground
  33. The Old Man and the Sea
  34. Perelandra
  35. The Pew Group
  36. The Plague
  37. Rashomon
  38. The Redemption of Galen Pike
  39. The Road
  40. The Screwtape Letters
  41. Shantytown
  42. Silk
  43. The Sound of Things Falling
  44. Station Eleven
  45. Stiff
  46. The Story of a Shipwrecked Sailor
  47. The Sun Also Rises
  48. The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie
  49. The Tao of Pooh
  50. Tess of the D’Ubervilles
  51. The Transmigration of Bodies
  52. Tribe
  53. The Turn of the Screw
  54. Ways of Going Home
  55. The Wisdom of Insecurity

REVIEW/PERSONAL ESSAY: Furiously Happy

I could easily write a standard review for Furiously Happy: applauding Jenny Lawson for her sense of humor, sensitivity, and bravery for writing about mental health in such an open way (all true). But, if I left it at that, wouldn’t I be a hypocrite for not taking this kick ass woman’s personally inspirational bravery and using it to fuel my own? Yes, the answer is yes. So I’m going to take a deep breath, put a smile on my face, and for the first time, publically speak up for myself, and whomever else this piece may speak to.

The second half of 2015 I battled the most severe bout of depression I had ever encountered. Like Lawson, clinical depression and general anxiety are a norm in my life, and I have spent over ten years learning how live with and through it; but what I went through last year scared me. It was the first time since I was originally diagnosed, where I couldn’t see the light at the end of the tunnel.

I fought, and I fought, and I fought against my brain in every way I could. Using every single coping mechanism accrued over my 10 plus years of mastering the art of war against depression, but I was stuck. I had been through multiple heartbreaking and emotionally tragic events in an unfortunately short span of time, so I knew the root of this particular battle, I knew it didn’t come out of nowhere; but, as much as I told myself “your body and mind just need time to heal…this too shall pass…you aren’t crazy…try exercising more to release endorphins…watch movies to make you laugh…he’s the idiot not you…cry it all out…you are woman hear you roar…give yourself a few days to be miserable…it’s not that big of a deal you feel dead inside” there I stood, armor on and fully determined, yet still in the same empty place I was a month ago…two months ago…5 months ago.

After an obnoxiously dramatic moment of “rock bottom,” which turned out to be a blessing in disguise (for me…not for anyone within earshot of my mini breakdown), involving wine and a roomful of people I should not have surrounded myself with, I started to almost see a glimmer. From that moment on, I made a pact with myself: 2016 was going to be about me. About me pushing myself out of my comfort zones. About me taking on seemingly crazy projects and adventures. About me not being a victim. About me being furiously happy.

I was through with coasting through life in between bouts of this chemical imbalance in my brain. I was through with seeing these issues as my downfall. From now on I was going to use them as my reason for being a BAMF.

Had I not been through #hotmessgate2015, I wouldn’t be writing this post, or celebrating that I read my 55 books in 52 weeks (guys, I DID IT!). I wouldn’t have gotten through recovering from surgery with a wicked sense of humor. I wouldn’t have conquered playing one of my all time dream roles, and biggest challenge as an actor yet. I wouldn’t have hiked and camped in the Grand freakin’ Canyon alongside complete strangers. I wouldn’t have fallen in love with myself. And I wouldn’t have re-fallen in love with all the amazing people I have in my life (parents, brother, “big sister,” aunts, my 800 awesome cousins, SJ, BC, BB, KS, CN, SDC, FS, AJ, LM, RR, JD, AF, BH) who give me strength, motivation, and inspiration, push me to explore my potential, and believe in me even when I can’t see the light. And, I wouldn’t have ousted the ones who were big dull negative toxic duds.

The concept behind my new approach to life was to make the most of the time when I was in the neutral or above neutral state, so when I hit my lows and have to suit up again, I would have those experiences to hang onto and to look forward to.

Halfway through Lawson’s Author’s Note in Furiously Happy I burst into tears because it was the first time I ever fully thought, “This person gets it. She gets me. Completely. She understands my battle, and my strength. This is exactly what my mindset was coming into this year, and she gave me a name for it. I am now obsessed with her.” After that touching and cathartic moment, I proceeded to burst into laughter through the rest of the book, because Jenny Lawson is that funny and brilliant, and her ability to tackle her ups and downs and ridiculousness through the lens of humor is a lesson we could all learn from.

Obviously this book won’t speak to everyone on the same personal level it spoke to me, but regardless of what your everyday battles are or aren’t, reading Furiously Happy will most likely make you a better and stronger person.

Rating: 5 Stuffed Raccoons

I dedicate this post to Jenny Lawson, Carrie Fisher, and every other woman who hasn’t been afraid to speak on behalf of the mental health community. We all burn a little more brightly thanks to you.

“It’s about taking those moments when things are fine and making them amazing, because those moments are what make us who we are, and they’re the same moments we take into battle with us when our brains declare war on our very existence. It’s the difference between ‘surviving life’ and ‘living life.’ It’s the difference between ‘taking a shower’ and teaching your monkey butler how to shampoo your hair.’ It’s the difference between being ‘sane’ and being ‘furiously happy.’” – Jenny Lawson, Furiously Happy

REVIEW: Tribe

The subject matter of Sebastian Junger’s Tribe: On Homecoming and Belonging is risky, enticing, and captivating. Junger approaches the issues returning Vets face (PTSD, assimilating back into society, etc.) from the viewpoint of “how has society failed them?” rather than “what has war done to them?”

Junger takes you on a journey through civilization starting with the American Indians up to present day; exploring the flaws in modern society as a result of the lacking sense of community in the modern western world.

Junger poses many fascinating theories, and writes with beautiful sensitivity on the topic; one he clearly feels strongly about on a personal level.

I took issue with Tribe (brace yourselves now) for the following reason: it should have been 150-200 pages longer. Yes. I just said that.

As great as it is to find a non-fiction book on a heavy subject to be a quick paced, short read, a lot of specificity is sacrificed.  The theories Junger poses and explores are presented in generalities. It is obvious he could have included more compelling evidence (which I’m sure he has, since he is clearly well-versed on the topic).

Restructuring the piece (I, of course, have thoughts on how this could be accomplished) in a way that allowed for more details would have made it meatier without losing its accessibility.

I have been struggling with how to rate Tribe; Junger is a stunning writer who definitely knows his s**t, it’s a subject matter I personally think is vastly important and Junger poses an innovative viewpoint, but the weakness in structure is a huge issue. Tribe would serve well as a jumping off point for further investigative reading.

So, please be aware that I have reserved the right to change the rating below.

 

Rating: 3.5 Heroes

REVIEW: Murder Fantastical

Not your everyday British mystery; Murder Fantastical frames a solid mystery to be solved, and a classic whodunit, with one major twist – instead of being on the edge of your seat at every turn with suspense, you’re on the edge of your seat laughing your ass off.

Moyes invites you into the wacky world of the Manciple family, each member with his or her own set of endearing quirks, who play opposite a well-formed straight man, Henry Tibbett (an ongoing lead for Moyes).

Is this the mystery to read if you are seeking a suspenseful thriller? Not even close. But, if you are looking for something light-hearted with a standard 1960’s British mystery at its core, pick up Murder Fantastical.

 

Rating: 4 Astral Elephants

REVIEW: Silk

There is something mesmerizing about Alessandro Baricco’s novella Silk. While not the most profound piece of literature, there is something soulful and dreamlike about its impact.

Silk is an easy, breezy, one-sitting read which transports the reader to another time and world via the vessel of an imperfect, romantic, and simple man. A sensual, but not overtly sexual tone adds an enticing layer to Baricco’s writing.

Mirroring the book, this is an easy, breezy review. Would it be one of the top books I recommend to everyone? Not necessarily; would depend on the person. Is there something about it which will stick with me over time? Most definitely.

 

Rating: 4 Silky Secrets

REVIEW: Rashomon and Seventeen Other Stories

Ryūnosuke Akutagawa’s Rashomon and Seventeen Other Stories is a vibrant, and astute collection of short stories.

Most fascinating about Akutagawa’s writing is how modern it is. While many of the stories clearly aren’t contemporary, others could easily be placed in the present day; Akutagawa’s style itself reflects current/late 20th century writing rather than the time he wrote them during the early 1900s. The sign of a true visionary.

The stories in the earlier portions of the collection spoke to me more than some of the pieces beyond the midpoint of the book; but as a whole Rashomon and Seventeen Other Stories is a very strong collection containing an ample amount of variety, without losing its core.

Akutagawa was a troubled soul, and this comes across in much of his writing, but always with clear insight and grace. Many of the stories in Rashomon… are graphic and weighted with a heavy seed of darkness; however, all contain an appreciation and respect for human nature.

I whole-heartedly recommend this collection to short story fans, but suggest reading it over time instead of in one go. Part of why I was more distanced from some of the later stories could be attributed to reading the collection all at once without allowing myself a chance to breathe through the darkness.

Rating: 4 Fallen Heads

REVIEW: The Gods, the Little Guys, and the Police

Humberto Costantini’s The Gods, the Little Guys, and the Police has been a favorite in my family for some time, yet no one informed me about it until recently. Currently I am alternating between being annoyed that everyone waited literal decades to tell me this book existed, and being so grateful that it was finally passed on to me.

Costantini exposes Argentina’s Dirty War in an unconventional and superb way. Consequently, you almost don’t realize how much knowledge you are soaking in about the terrifying and oppressive regime until the book has ended, and you can take a moment to reflect. Constantini does this via a group of every day people who share a common passion: poetry. Employing intelligent humor, and heart, he humanizes what it is like to live in a repressive society.

Costantini receives the highest marks from me across the board: style, plot, characters, and ingenuity; satire at it’s finest.

Beyond The Gods, the Little Guys, and the Police’s fascination as a novel, Constantini himself led an incredible life, which is well worth investigating. He risked a lot in order to use his art to bring the nasty truths of the times to the surface; and we should all be thankful for it.

 

Rating: 5 Life Saving Nymphs