Mini-Reviews: A Very Stable Genius, You Never Forget Your First & The Mosquito

A Very Stable Genius by Philip Rucker & Carol Leonnig
Rating: ★★★★★
Links: Amazon • TBD • Goodreads
Publication Date: January 21, 2020
Source: Borrowed

Rucker and Leonnig have deep and unmatched sources throughout Washington, D.C., and for the past three years have chronicled in depth the ways President Donald Trump has reinvented the presidency in his own image, shaken foreign alliances and tested American institutions. It would be all too easy to mistake Trump’s first term for pure chaos. But Leonnig and Rucker show that in fact there is a pattern and meaning to the daily disorder.

Relying on scores of exclusive new interviews with first-hand witnesses and rigorous original reporting, the authors reveal the 45th President up close as he stares down impeachment. They take readers inside Robert Mueller’s Russia investigation and the Trump legal team’s scramble for survival, behind the curtains as the West Wing scurries to clean up the President’s mistakes and into the room to witness Trump’s interactions with foreign leaders and members of his Cabinet, and assess the consequences.

What’s interesting about this book is that the authors don’t try to push an agenda or influence the reader’s opinion — they just present quotes and events and let the reader draw their own conclusions. In my opinion, there’s really only one conclusion to draw, but hey. I’m just a book blogger.

Anyway, here are four things I learned while reading this book:

  • Trump thought the attorney general was his own personal lawyer.
  • Putin was the world leader Trump most wanted to meet.
  • He wants to bill other countries for US military support.
  • He thought he might win the Nobel Peace Prize.

Overall: very well-written, would recommend.


You Never Forget Your First by Alexis Coe
Rating: ★★★★☆
Links: Amazon • TBD • Goodreads
Publication Date: February 4, 2020
Source: Borrowed

In a genre overdue for a shakeup, Alexis Coe takes a closer look at our first—and finds he’s not quite the man we remember

Young George Washington was raised by a struggling single mother, demanded military promotions, chased rich young women, caused an international incident, and never backed down—even when his dysentery got so bad he had to ride with a cushion on his saddle.

But after he married Martha, everything changed. Washington became the kind of man who named his dog Sweetlips and hated to leave home. He took up arms against the British only when there was no other way, though he lost more battles than he won. Coe focuses on his activities off the battlefield—like espionage and propaganda.

After an unlikely victory in the Revolutionary War, Washington once again shocked the world by giving up power, only to learn his compatriots wouldn’t allow it. The founders pressured him into the presidency—twice. He established enduring norms but left office heartbroken over the partisan nightmare his backstabbing cabinet had created.

Back on his plantation, the man who fought for liberty finally confronted his greatest hypocrisy—what to do with the hundreds of men, women, and children he owned—before succumbing to a brutal death.

Alexis Coe combines rigorous research and unsentimental storytelling, finally separating the man from the legend.
 

I feel like I’ve seen this book everywhere since it came out! I’m not really a historical biography reader — if I’m going to read about politics, I much prefer current events — but I figured the hype had to be there for a reason. And it was.

This is a very different kind of biography. It’s short, hitting all of the highlights within about 300 pages, and never boring. It’s highly informative but still engaging. It dispels a lot of common myths about George Washington, like the wooden teeth and the whole cherry tree thing. All in all, it just shows a much less stodgy side of Washington than we usually see.

If you’re looking to learn more about the first president of the United States, you could sure do worse than this one.


The Mosquito by Timothy C. Winegard
Rating: ★★★☆☆
Links: Amazon • TBD • Goodreads
Publication Date: August 6, 2019
Source: Borrowed

A pioneering and groundbreaking work of narrative nonfiction that offers a dramatic new perspective on the history of humankind, showing how through millennia, the mosquito has been the single most powerful force in determining humanity’s fate

Why was gin and tonic the cocktail of choice for British colonists in India and Africa? What does Starbucks have to thank for its global domination? What has protected the lives of popes for millennia? Why did Scotland surrender its sovereignty to England? What was George Washington’s secret weapon during the American Revolution?

The answer to all these questions, and many more, is the mosquito.

Across our planet since the dawn of humankind, this nefarious pest, roughly the size and weight of a grape seed, has been at the frontlines of history as the grim reaper, the harvester of human populations, and the ultimate agent of historical change. As the mosquito transformed the landscapes of civilization, humans were unwittingly required to respond to its piercing impact and universal projection of power.

The mosquito has determined the fates of empires and nations, razed and crippled economies, and decided the outcome of pivotal wars, killing nearly half of humanity along the way. She (only females bite) has dispatched an estimated 52 billion people from a total of 108 billion throughout our relatively brief existence. As the greatest purveyor of extermination we have ever known, she has played a greater role in shaping our human story than any other living thing with which we share our global village.

Imagine for a moment a world without deadly mosquitoes, or any mosquitoes, for that matter? Our history and the world we know, or think we know, would be completely unrecognizable.

Driven by surprising insights and fast-paced storytelling, The Mosquito is the extraordinary untold story of the mosquito’s reign through human history and her indelible impact on our modern world order.
 

Microhistories are something that I’ve recently gotten into, and after having read books like Stiff and How Music Got Free, I was interested to see this almost 500-page take on mosquitoes. But instead of a book on mosquitoes, their spread throughout the world, and the diseases they carried with them, I ended up with this… military history?

Unexpected.

I did learn a few fun facts while reading this book, like that people with Type O blood are bitten twice as often as Type A, and that an old remedy for dysentery was to inject mercury directly into the male urethra, but overall, I was kind of disappointed. I think instead of The Mosquito, a title like Malaria & Militias would have been more appropriate.


Have you read any of these books? Are any of them on your TBR?
Let’s talk in the comments!

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Mini-Reviews: Moonstruck Vol. 1, The Steel Prince Vol. 1, & Check Please Book 1

Moonstruck, Vol. 1 by Grace Ellis
Rating: ★★★☆☆
Links: Amazon • TBD • Goodreads
Publication Date: March 27, 2018
Source: Borrowed
Werewolf barista Julie and her new girlfriend go on a date to a close-up magic show, but all heck breaks loose when the magician casts a horrible spell on their friend Chet. Now it’s up to the team of mythical pals to stop the illicit illusionist before it’s too late.

Collects issues 1 through 5.

I remember seeing Moonstruck floating around when it was first published, and I thought it looked so cute! I had totally forgotten about it until I saw it on Hoopla.

And it was cute. It features all kinds of mythical creatures, a ton of diversity, and great art. Where it kind of fell apart for me was in the actual storyline. Or maybe I should say lack of storyline? It was all over the place in terms of characterization and actual events, and the resolution at the end was really unsatisfying.

This was quick and cute, but I don’t need to keep reading this series.


The Steel Prince, Vol. 1 by V.E. Schwab
Rating: ★★★☆☆
Links: Amazon • TBD • Goodreads
Publication Date: March 6, 2019
Source: ARC via Edelweiss

Written by #1 New York Times bestselling author V.E. Schwab and torn from the universe of the Shades of Magic sequence, this all-original comic book prequel to A Darker Shade of Magic is perfect for fans of bloody, swashbuckling adventure and gritty fantasy!

Delve into the thrilling, epic tale of the young and arrogant prince Maxim Maresh, long before he became the king of Red London and adoptive father to Kell, the lead of A Darker Shade of Magic!

The youthful Maresh is sent to a violent and unmanageable port city on the Blood Coast of Verose, on strict orders from his father, King Nokil Maresh, to cut his military teeth in this lawless landscape.

There, he encounters an unruly band of soldiers, a lawless landscape, and the intoxicatingly deadly presence of the newly returned pirate queen, Arisa…

Collects Shades of Magic: The Steel Prince #1-4. 

I like V.E. Schwab and I like graphic novels, so reading The Steel Prince seemed like a no-brainer. I was really excited when I saw it on Edelweiss as a new addition, and completely shocked when I was actually approved.

The story was a little jumpy, and I never say this, but I think the pacing was too fast. It was like a whirlwind of Maxim’s life with things happening almost like bullet points on a list. This, then that, then that, then this. I wasn’t a big fan of the art, either, which is very dark. I never really felt like sticking around to look at the images, which is kind of the main point of a graphic novel.

In the end, this graphic novel was fine, but I don’t feel the need to continue with the series.


Check, Please! Book 1 by Ngozi Ukazu
Rating: ★★★★★
Links: Amazon • TBD • Goodreads
Publication Date: September 18, 2018
Source: Borrowed

Helloooo, Internet Land. Bitty here!

Y’all… I might not be ready for this. I may be a former junior figure skating champion, vlogger extraordinaire, and very talented amateur pâtissier, but being a freshman on the Samwell University hockey team is a whole new challenge. It’s nothing like co-ed club hockey back in Georgia! First of all? There’s checking. And then, there is Jack—our very attractive but moody captain.

A collection of the first half of the megapopular webcomic series of the same name, Check, Please!: #Hockey is the first book of a hilarious and stirring two-volume coming-of-age story about hockey, bros, and trying to find yourself during the best four years of your life.

This is one of the cutest things I’ve ever read. I went into it with basically no expectations since sporty graphic novels and I haven’t always gotten along, but this was just so cute.

I loved Bitty, I loved Jack, I loved all of the characters and all of the baking and all of the vlogging and I didn’t even mind the hockey. The art was absolutely adorable. And that cliffhanger!!

If there’s any character that needs to be protected at all costs, it’s Bitty.

Excuse me while I go read book two.


Have you read any of these books? Are any of them on your TBR?
Let’s talk in the comments!

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Mini-Reviews: Heartstopper Vol. 3, Something is Killing the Children, and Happily Ever After & Everything in Between

Heartstopper, Vol. 3 by Alice Oseman
Rating: ★★★★★
Links: Amazon • TBD • Goodreads
Publication Date: February 6, 2020
Source: Purchased

In this volume we’ll see the Heartstopper gang go on a school trip to Paris! Not only are Nick and Charlie navigating a new city, but also telling more people about their relationship AND learning more about the challenges each other are facing in private…

Meanwhile Tao and Elle will face their feelings for each other, Tara and Darcy share more about their relationship origin story, and the teachers supervising the trip seem… rather close…?

There’s this idea that if you’re not straight, you have to tell all your family and friends immediately, like you owe it to them. But you don’t. You don’t have to do anything until you’re ready.

After two volumes of Nick and Charlie being absolutely adorable, it wasn’t really a surprise to find some deeper themes in Volume 3. This volume follows the group through a class trip to Paris, along with all of the exploration they do and all the fun they have.

But despite all of the fun, Nick and Charlie do have to navigate some real issues in this volume. It’s definitely a darker feeling than the two previous volumes, but still so, so good. I can’t wait to see what comes next for Nick and Charlie. I may need to read Solitaire while I wait.

Content warnings for:homophobia, self harm, and eating disorder

Something is Killing the Children, Vol. 1 by James Tynion IV
Rating: ★★★★☆
Links: Amazon • TBD • Goodreads
Publication Date: May 26, 2020
Source: ARC via Netgalley

When children begin to go missing in the town of Archer’s Peak, all hope seems lost until a mysterious woman arrives to reveal that terrifying creatures are behind the chaos – and that she alone will destroy them, no matter the cost.

IT’S THE MONSTERS WHO SHOULD BE AFRAID.

When the children of Archer’s Peak—a sleepy town in the heart of America—begin to go missing, everything seems hopeless. Most children never return, but the ones that do have terrible stories—impossible details of terrifying creatures that live in the shadows. Their only hope of finding and eliminating the threat is the arrival of a mysterious stranger, one who believes the children and claims to be the only one who sees what they can see. 

Her name is Erica Slaughter. She kills monsters. That is all she does, and she bears the cost because it must be done.

GLAAD Award-winning writer James Tynion IV (The Woods, Batman: Detective Comics) teams with artist Werther Dell’Edera (Briggs Land) for an all-new story about staring into the abyss.

Collects Something is Killing the Children #1-5.

The first graphic novel series I read by Tynion was The Backstagers, which I absolutely adored. I’d seen the individual issues of Something is Killing the Children on Hoopla, but I hadn’t gotten around to checking it out yet. Luckily for me, the first volume showed up on Netgalley and I was able to read it all at once!

First things first, this is a very different vibe from The Backstagers. This isn’t cute and fluffy, it’s dark and gritty. It features monsters and death and blood and gore. But it also features a pretty cool monster slayer and it takes place in my home state of Wisconsin, so that’s always a win for me!

If you like Stranger Things and Buffy the Vampire Slayer, you’ll probably like this graphic novel.

Content warnings for:blood/gore/violence/murder, homophobia

Happily Ever After & Everything in Between by Debbie Tung
Rating: ★★★☆☆
Links: Amazon • TBD • Goodreads
Publication Date: June 2, 2020
Source: ARC via Netgalley

From the bestselling author of Quiet Girl in a Noisy World and Book Love comes a funny and adorable collection of comics about married life, specifically an introvert married to an extrovert! Debbie Tung’s tender, funny, and utterly relatable comics are the perfect gift for anyone in a relationship.
 

The comics in Happily Ever After & Everything In Between may be inspired by Debbie Tung’s marriage to her extrovert husband, but any couple can relate to increasingly relaxed anniversaries, slowly seeing more of each other’s weird sides, or the punishment for taking care of your sick loved one (catching whatever they had). Happily Ever After humorously captures what everyday love looks like—both the sweet moments and the mundane—making it a fitting gift for weddings, anniversaries, and Valentine’s Day.

I’ve previously read (and really enjoyed!) both Book Love and Quiet Girl in a Noisy World by Debbie Tung. When I saw Happily Ever After & Everything in Between show up on Netgalley, I knew I had to read it too. I was expecting that same relatable quality that all of Debbie’s books have, and it was there. But there was just something about this one that didn’t sit quite right with me.

I think there’s a lot of the “everything in between” and not as much of the “happily ever after” as I might have expected. For instance, there are a few pages where Debbie shows herself doing all the housework while her husband makes excuses for why he can’t help, or while he just sleeps on the couch. Was that supposed to be cute? Am I missing something?

Overall, this was fine, but it isn’t a book that I’m going to recommend anybody run out to buy. If you’re looking to get into Debbie’s work, I’d recommend Book Love as a better starting place than this.


Have you read any of these books? Have you read any good graphic novels recently?
Let’s talk in the comments!

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Mini-Reviews: Heartstopper Vol. 2, Cat’s Cafe, & Ghosted in LA Vol. 1

Heartstopper, Vol. 2 by Alice Oseman
Rating: ★★★★★
Links: Amazon • TBD • Goodreads
Publication Date: July 11, 2019
Source: Purchased

Boy meets boy. Boys become friends. Boys fall in love. An LGBTQ+ graphic novel about life, love, and everything that happens in between: this is the second volume of HEARTSTOPPER, for fans of The Art of Being Normal, Holly Bourne and Love, Simon.

Nick and Charlie are best friends. Nick knows Charlie’s gay, and Charlie is sure that Nick isn’t.

But love works in surprising ways, and Nick is discovering all kinds of things about his friends, his family … and himself.

Heartstopper is about friendship, loyalty and mental illness. It encompasses all the small stories of Nick and Charlie’s lives that together make up something larger, which speaks to all of us.

This is the second volume of Heartstopper, with more to come. Volume two collects all of chapter three from the ongoing web series.

Charlie and Nick are so cute! I loved watching their relationship develop. It’s so healthy and supportive and great. I loved that Nick and Charlie never pressure each other about anything. Everything is on their terms and it’s just so rare to see two characters in a relationship being on the same page. I loved it.

I also loved watching Nick come to terms with his sexuality and how he wants to define it. I think this is the exact kind of story that the world needs right. It’s a wholesome, fluffy story that seamlessly weaves in some deeper themes in a really natural way.


Cat’s Cafe by Matt Tarpley
Rating: ★★★★☆
Links: Amazon • TBD • Goodreads
Publication Date: May 26, 2020
Source: ARC via Netgalley

Serving up more than just coffee and tea, Cat’s Café  provides its cast of adorable characters a gentle, supportive space and a hefty serving of the warm and floofies.

Welcome to Cat’s Café, a neighborhood coffee shop where all are welcome! Based on the popular webcomic, Cat’s Café introduces readers to the adorable denizens of this world. There’s Penguin, who has a bit of a coffee problem; Rabbit, whose anxiety sometimes overwhelms him; Axolotl, whose confidence inspires his friends; the always-supportive Cat, who provides hot drinks made with love and a supportive ear for anyone’s troubles; and many, many more. With a sensitive take on real issues and a gentle, positive outlook, Cat’s Café is about the power of acceptance, friendship, and love … and delicious cups of coffee.

This book (or collection of comics, I suppose) starts off as probably the cutest thing I’ve ever seen. Cat owns a cafe, Penguin drinks a lot of coffee, and all of their cute friends did cute things that made me smile.

Then it became apparent that many of the characters were struggling with their mental health and coping mechanisms and that was unexpected but very appreciated! I related to Rabbit’s anxiety most of all, and I really loved the message that it’s okay to be sad, it’s okay to be anxious, it’s okay to cry… and it’s okay to lean on your friends for support.

This was a really great collection and if you love cute animals, you’ll probably love it too.


Ghosted in LA, Vol. 1 by Sina Grace
Rating: ★★★☆☆
Links: Amazon • TBD • Goodreads
Publication Date: May 14, 2020
Source: ARC via Netgalley

Daphne Walters moves to Los Angeles and finds that the only ones who can help her find love and live life to the fullest are the ghosts of her new home!

In Los Angeles, finding an apartment is killer—unless you live with the dead. Daphne Walters moves to Los Angeles for her boyfriend Ronnie, ready to live her happily ever after. But when happily ever after turns into happily for a month, she’s stuck in a strange city with no friends, family, or prospects for fun. Desperate to escape the lingering ghost of Ronnie’s presence everywhere, Daphne sets out to explore the city—and ends up encountering ghosts of a more literal kind! Rycroft Manor is abandoned, beautiful, and haunted. Will the dead be able to help Daphne find the life she’s been missing in the big city? From GLAAD Award-nominated Sina Grace (Iceman) and illustrator Siobhan Keenan (Jem and the Holograms) comes a story about learning how to make friends, find love, and live life to the fullest with a little help from some friends whose lives didn’t end at death.

Collects Ghosted In L.A #1-4.

I absolutely loved the concept of this graphic novel: a young, disillusioned (yet still hopeful) college student moves into a haunted mansion. The first volume of this graphic novel features several very different ghostly characters, all with their own backstories and problems.

The thing is, the backstories are the majority of the plot. I felt like we barely got introduced to these characters before the graphic novel had ended.

This one was fun, but I think I’ll need to read more of the series before really making a judgment.


Have you read any of these books? Have you read any good graphic novels recently?
Let’s talk in the comments!

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Book Review: Open Book by Jessica Simpson

Open Book by Jessica Simpson
Rating: ★★★★★
Links: AmazonTBD • Goodreads
Publication Date: February 4, 2020
Source: Borrowed

Jessica reveals for the first time her inner monologue and most intimate struggles. Guided by the journals she’s kept since age fifteen, and brimming with her unique humor and down-to-earth humanity, Open Book is as inspiring as it is entertaining.

This was supposed to be a very different book. Five years ago, Jessica Simpson was approached to write a motivational guide to living your best life. She walked away from the offer, and nobody understood why. The truth is that she didn’t want to lie.

Jessica couldn’t be authentic with her readers if she wasn’t fully honest with herself first.

Now, America’s Sweetheart, preacher’s daughter, pop phenomenon, reality TV pioneer, and the billion-dollar fashion mogul invites readers on a remarkable journey, examining a life that blessed her with the compassion to help others but also burdened her with an almost crippling need to please. Open Book is Jessica Simpson using her voice, heart, soul, and humor to share things she’s never shared before.

First celebrated for her voice, she became one of the most talked-about women in the world, whether for music and fashion, her relationship struggles, or as a walking blonde joke. But now, instead of being talked about, Jessica is doing the talking. Her book shares the wisdom and inspirations she’s learned and shows the real woman behind all the pop-culture clichés — “chicken or fish,” “Daisy Duke,” “football jinx,” “mom jeans,” “sexual napalm…” and more. Open Book is an opportunity to laugh and cry with a close friend, one that will inspire you to live your best, most authentic life, now that she is finally living hers.

Let’s travel way back to 1999 for a minute, when nine-year-old Sara was obsessed with a certain love song by Jessica Simpson.

Oh, yes, I could certainly relate. But I thought then, and still think now, that Jessica Simpson knows how to make a great pop song. I wouldn’t say I was (or am) a big enough fan to seek out her memoir, but I saw such glowing reviews of this book that I had to see what was going on.

I’m glad I did, because this is one of the best memoirs I’ve ever read. (Or listened to, I guess.)

Reading this book felt like catching up with an old friend. Jessica knows that she’s made mistakes. She knows she’s done things wrong. She knows the stereotypes and the rumors about her. She doesn’t try to make excuses for anything, but she does tell you what she’s learned.

I wouldn’t change a single thing about my story, because I finally love who I am, and I can forgive who I was.

What made this book even better (and at times, even more heartbreaking) was the emotion in Jessica’s voice as she narrated it. She gets choked up talking about parts of her past. You can hear her rolling her eyes at some of the more unfortunate decisions she’s made. And you can just imagine her giving you a particular look as she delves into some of the juicier gossip.

I’m just so happy that I took the time to listen to this book. Not only was it a great story, but the audiobook includes a bunch of new music from her! I linked to my favorite of those songs, Heart Beat, below.

Content warnings for:sexual abuse, alcoholism, death, body image/body shaming

Have you read Open Book? What’s the best memoir you’ve read recently?
Let’s talk in the comments!

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