Saturday, January 12, 2019

129. My Year of Big Books

This year, I'm attempting to read 10 big books. I defined "big books" as books of 500 pages or more.
I did some browsing and thinking about the big books I've wanted to read but not made time to.
Most of these are books that have been sitting on my bookshelf.

The books and schedule I determined for myself is below (keep in mind I'm not starting this until
three weeks into the year):

Weeks 3 - 8

Weeks 10 - 17

Week 18 - 21

Weeks 23-24

Weeks 26-29

Weeks 31- 34

Weeks 36-37

Weeks 39-43

Weeks 45-48

Weeks 50-52

I haven't broken each of these schedules up by chapter just yet but I have scheduled out my first book.
If you want to read with me through my Big Book Challenge, here's my schedule for The Count of
Monte Cristo

January 14 - January 20: Chapters I - XXI
January  21 - January 27: Chapters XXII - XXXVII
January 28 - February 3: Chapters XXXVIII - LIV
February 4 - February 10: Chapters LV - LXXIV
February 11 - February 17: Chapters LXXV - XCII
February 18 - February 24: Chapters XCIII - End

For each of these books, I'll be doing blog check-ins at the beginning where I'll share some basic
information about the history, context, and author. I'll check in halfway through. Finally, I'll check in
at the end with my final thoughts.

I would LOVE it if you joined me! I'll be using #YearofBigBooks as the tag for this project. I'm also
not going to be super rigid about the timeline. If this list goes into 2020, so be it. Life happens and
there has to be wiggle room for the unexpected.

I'll pop in tomorrow with my first check in of The Count of Monte Cristo!


Sunday, January 6, 2019

128. Paper Towns by John Green

Green, John. Paper Towns. New York, NY: Penguin Random House, 2008. Print.

305 pages

Reviewed by Jess d'Artagnan Love

My YouTube Review

"Paper towns" are town names that map makers use to catch plagiarizing competing map makers. The towns don't actually exist in reality. This concept of perception versus reality is a theme of John Green's novel. The enigmatic Margo is missing and her childhood friend, Quentin, is searching for her. She's left a series of clues for him to follow and each clue leads Quentin to question how well he really knows Margo. 

A fan of one of Green's most famous works, The Fault in Our Stars, I read this with high expectations. By the end of the novel, I found myself disappointed. Paper Towns lacked the finesse and sophistication of his other work. Some of the dialogue felt forced. It was typical teenage dialogue with lots of "dudes," and "likes," scattered in for age appropriateness.

Ben and Radar, Quentin's two friends, could easily have been just one character. There weren't many differentiating qualities between the two and I found myself not able to keep track of who did what. In my head, they just became one merged character. The same happened with the two supporting female roles. They would have worked just as well being one character rather than two. 

I did like the discussion of perception both how we perceive ourselves and how others perceive us. This discussion is what got me through the end of the book. I wasn't attached to the characters or the plot, but I was curious about how perception was discussed. 

Overall, not a bad read, but not a great one either.

Would I read it again? 
No, but I will keep reading Green's other work. Other fans I've discussed this book with agree that Paper Towns isn't his strongest work..

Recommended for
John Green fans who already know he's a good writer.

Not Recommended for
Readers who haven't read Green yet. Start with The Fault in Our Stars.

Word Bank
  • None

3 stars out of 5

John Green's website:
John Green on Twitter:

Connect with me!
Instagram: @jdartagnanlove
Twitter: @jdartagnanlove

Sunday, December 2, 2018

Coffee Break!

Hello LoveBirds!

I'm taking a social media coffee break for a bit. I'll be back in January 2019!

Sunday, September 9, 2018

127. "The Naturals" by Jennifer Lynn Barnes

Barnes, Jennifer Lynn. The Naturals. New York, NY: Hyperion, 2013. Print.

308 pages

Reviewed by Jess d'Artagnan Love

My YouTube Review

The FBI has set up a program for gifted teenagers called the "Naturals." Cassie, the protagonist, has the gift of reading people. She is recruited into the program and learns that every other teenager in the program has secrets. Dean, another expert people reader, is the child of a serial killer. They work closely together in their training and eventually Dean learns Cassie's secret--her mother was murdered and the case was still unsolved. When Dean and Cassie learn about the FBI's current case, one that seems eerily connected to her mothers' murder, the "Naturals" come together to keep Cassie safe.

Jennifer Lynn Barnes works as a professor of psychology. She has degrees in both psychology and psychiatry and has a degree from Yale. This shows in her writing. A lot of this read almost like a textbook on forensic psychology. The prose often felt clinical and the content was heavy on expository about how to profile an UNSUB. This is the first book in the series, so it might be that Barnes was setting up the rest of the series by focusing on how Cassie learned to profile and perhaps things will pick up in the subsequent books. I will give the second book a fair shot before I decide to stop reading the series entirely.

Aside from the clinical prose, the characters were moderately developed and the plot did pick up pace toward the end. The resolution of the case was interesting, though not entirely surprising. It may be that I'm so accustomed to reading adult mysteries that adjusting to the tamer YA mystery was difficult. I just wasn't drawn in to the tension or excitement, but I might have if I was reading this at 15 years old. I think this is a great book for its target audience. 

Would I read it again? 
No, but I will give the next book in the series a shot.

Recommended for
Teenagers who want a good mystery/thriller

Not Recommended for
Readers who are used to adult mysteries--this will be too tame for you.

Word Bank

3 stars out of 5

Jennifer Lynn Barnes' website:

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Sunday, September 2, 2018

126. "The One World Schoolhouse" by Salman Khan

Khan, Salman. The One World Schoolhouse: Education Reimagined. New York, NY: Twelve, 2012.

256 pages.

Reviewed by Jess d'Artagnan Love

Salman Khan is most well known as the creator and leader of the Khan Academy, a tool used frequently across education facilities. I think he prefers to go by Sal so he isn't confused with the famous Bollywood actor, Salman Khan (rawr). The One World Schoolhouse documents the process Khan went through in creating Khan Academy. It all started when Sal started tutoring his niece long distance and needed tools to make their work together more effective. This resulted in a set of videos that taught basic math and a fledgling Youtube channel that made the videos easily accessible.

Khan attempts to provide a broad history of the American education system and why the system functions the way it does. This section was highly problematic. Khan cherry picked his research, failing to show the entire story and leaving out seminal, groundbreaking work by scholars like Jean Piaget and Benjamin Bloom. It was almost unethical the way the information was presented. He made it seem like he was giving readers the full story but he wasn't. I couldn't help but feel like he could benefit from taking a few more courses in research and writing. He bias towards math and sciences over art and humanities was painfully obvious. The arts and humanities were always mentioned as secondary to STEM rather than being a critical part of education. 

Another problem with Khan's assessment of the educational system is that he functions under the assumption that the only way students' learning is being assessed is through standardized tests (think bubble sheets and scantrons). This is far from what educators are actually doing to assess student learning. Educators are using tests, yes, but they aren't idiots. They understand that a test isn't necessarily the best was to assess learning. That is why there are other assignments (the dreaded HOMEWORK that Khan bagged on in one of his chapters) such as papers, multimedia projects, and group assignments which Khan fails to mention in any way except negatively. 

The rest of the book can be summed up by the last part of the title: reIMAGINED. Imagined. Imaginary. The rest of the book where he discusses the future of higher education was a rambled fantasy. It had no basis in reality or in current research or academic trends. I wish I could meet him so that I could say, "Hey Sal, my university has been doing the things you describe in your book for almost a decade before you published your ideas." Truly, the ideas he had that were solid weren't entirely new (and not ENTIRELY HIS. He tap danced on plagiarism through the whole book!) and the ideas that were new had no basis in research or educational theory, or even economics. 

Bottom line: the best part of this book was learning about how the Khan academy was developed and that would honestly be better told in a magazine article rather than in a book. 

Recommended for: readers who like Khan academy and what to learn about how it was create BUT who can also read with a critical eye toward the lack of research in the rest of his writing.

Not Recommended for: readers who want an ACCURATE depiction of the educational system.

Word Bank

2 stars out of 5. 

The Khan academy:

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Twitter: @jdartagnanlove

Saturday, August 4, 2018

125. "In the Woods" by Tana French

French, Tana. In the Woods. New York, NY: Penguin Group, 2007. Print. 

Reviewed by J. d'Artagnan Love

429 pages.

Told from detective Rob Ryan's point of view, In the Woods follows two homicide cases. The first case is that of young Katy Devlin and the second case is one in which Ryan was actually a victim--the case of two missing children in Knocknaree, Ireland back in 1984. With Devlin's murder also taking place in the same Knocknaree woods as the the 1984 cold case, Ryan is thrown back into a past that he can't clearly remember because he suffers from acute retrograde amnesia. 

I am usually pretty good about predicting the ending of mysteries and thrillers. While reading In the Woods, I made predictions on page 60, page 160, and page 246. All of my predictions were wrong. I'm not trying to sound arrogant here, but I am almost always right about the outcome of a mystery. This mostly because I've read so many mysteries that I can easily deduce patterns in mystery novels that indicate who dunnit. That Tana French was able to stump me speaks to the genius of her writing.

In the Woods is a mystery but Tana French's prose is so masterful that it reads more like a piece of literary fiction. I would compare her to Gillian Flynn in the way she explores morality and big life questions, though they have quite different writing voices.  

SPOILER ALERT. One thing was not very clearly wrapped up, but there is also a good chance that I just missed it in my first read of the novel: on page 298, Ryan notes that he had lost touch with reality to a degree that he wasn't sure if the following events were real or part of a dream. This isn't mentioned again as the book comes to a conclusion, so readers have to assume the events were real but I can't help but question it. I wonder if this is something that French will refer back to in later books as this was the first book in a series of the Dublin Murder Squad mysteries. END SPOILER. 

Without giving away any further spoilers, this book left some cases unsolved. It really created this raw, unhealed feeling of festering longing and grief that I imagine is only a small slice of what families who have actually experienced this kind of crime must feel.

Tana French is truly talented and I'm excited to continue reading this series. 

Would I read it again?
Yes. This is a book I'd like to read again and slowly so I can really absorb some of the ideas and character portraits. 

Recommend for

I think readers who like Gillian Flynn would also appreciate Tana French despite there being differences in tone and style. 

Not Recommend for
Readers who are triggered by violence and graphic descriptions. 

Word Bank (new-to-me vocabulary)

3 stars out of 5

Tana French's website:

Connect with me!
Instagram: @jdartagnanlove
Twitter: @jdartagnanlove

Saturday, July 28, 2018

124. "The Burning Bridge" by John Flanagan

Flanagan, John. The Burning Bridge. New York, NY: Puffin Books,  2005. Print.

262 pages.

Reviewed by J. d'Artagnan Love

The Burning Bridge picks up right where the Ruins of Gorlan left off. Morgarath is planning for a war with the kingdom and Will and Halt are following the trail. Spoiler alert, as the title suggests, Morgarath built a bridge and Will burns it down. The end. 

I want so badly to like this series. People in my life cherish it, but I just did not enjoy this book. The descriptions of battle practice were long and monotonous and there was an obvious subtle misogyny underscoring the entire story. 

The portrayal of women and girls in this series just infuriates me. If there was a woman ranger, I'd be all about it, but the women in this series all have soft roles--negotiator and cook (barf). Women in leadership roles in the kingdom are spoken to rudely and treated as if incompetent. Don't forget a nice dose of mansplaining as the cherry on top. Here's an example:

"I'll speak of her, all right! I'll tell you this. She's a woman meddling in a man's world, where she has no place. She should have found a husband years ago and raised a brood of squalling babies. Surely there's a deaf and half-blind man somewhere who would have ten her" (93). 

The worst part of this dialogue? Nowhere does anyone defend Pauline, the woman being spoken of and nowhere is this attitude refuted as despicable or even questionable. 

This book's target audience is boys age 10-12. If I had a son who wanted to read this series, I would let him because I'm anti-book banning BUT we would have a SERIOUS conversation about the toxic masculinity represented in these stories. 

Would I read it again?

Recommended for: 
Maybe someone in gender studies looking for a series that overtly teaches young boys toxic masculinity.

Not Recommended for: 
Pretty much most decent human beings.

Word Bank (new-to-me vocabulary)

1 star out of 5. 

John Flanagan's website:

Previous Ranger's Apprentice books reviewed

Connect with me!
Instagram: @jdartagnanlove
Twitter: @jdartagnanlove