Last week I attempted to read 7 books in 7 days and WOW… that was a lot of reading. I was participating in Buzzwordathon, a readathon hosted by Booktubers BooksandLala and ChelseaDolling Reads with the goal of reading as many books with the designated buzzword(s) in the titles as possible. This round’s words were Who, What, Where, When, Why, and How. I went for all of the words plus one extra – 7 books in total.
Did I succeed? Technically no.. but I was SO close. I’m still extremely happy with and proud of the reading I got done and even may have found my new favorite book…. 😊 Read on to find out what books I got through and my thoughts on each of them!
Title: The Woman Who Smashed Codes
Author: Jason Fagone
Genre: Historical Nonfiction
My Rating: 4 stars
Brief Summary: This historical nonfiction/biography is about Elizebeth Friedman, a codebreaking expert who decoded enemy messages for the US throughout both World Wars. She and her husband, William Friedman, also a code breaker, essentially invented the modern science of cryptology and are now regarded as the “Adam and Eve” of the NSA. This book tells Elizebeth’s story from her very first job deciphering hidden messages within Shakespeare’s works through her most secretive work unmasking Nazi spies and playing a large part in winning WWII.
My Thoughts: Ummm, I want to be Elizebeth Friedman when I grow up. I find the subject of cryptology extremely interesting (The Imitation Game being one of my favorite movies), and Elizebeth’s intelligence, bravery, and humility is super inspiring. This book is pretty long and sometimes reads like a textbook, but the story is very interesting and I’m really glad I got to learn about Elizebeth’s life.
Title: What We Saw
Author: Aaron Hartzler
Genre: YA Mystery/Contemporary
My Rating: 3 stars
Content Warnings: Rape and Sexual Assault
Brief Summary: We jump into this story the day after a big high-school party at which the main character, Kate, got so drunk that she had to be taken home early. While Kate is recovering from her hangover and piecing together the previous night’s events with her friends, it becomes clear that much more went down than Kate had originally thought. The next week, a charge of sexual assault is filed by one of Kate’s classmates against some of the school’s star basketball players, which causes uproar from the school and community. Kate then finds herself looking for answers – did it actually happen, and if so, who is responsible?
My Thoughts: This book is clearly important, as it covers a highly sensitive topic so relevant in today’s society. I think it does a great job of keeping the story and descriptions appropriate for young readers, while still being clear with its message. I found some parts of the writing repetitive (so. much. fist bumping.) and the ending was predictable, but I can definitely appreciate the book’s intent and would absolutely recommend it to a young adult audience.
Title: Where’d You Go, Bernadette
Author: Maria Semple
My Rating: 4 stars
Brief Summary: Through a string of letters and emails, 15-year-old Bee is piecing together her mother, Bernadette’s, life from before she went missing. The fact that Bernadette is so mysterious and secretive with her identity has put a serious strain on her relationships with neighbors and other moms at Bee’s school. But would she really abandon Bee and her husband right before they’re supposed to leave for an Antarctic vacation? Bee’s determined to find out not only where her mother is, but what she’s seemingly been hiding from everyone in her life.
My Thoughts: First off, I love the format of this book, told primarily in emails and letters. It allows us to get a little glimpse into each the characters’ perspectives, without reading all of their thoughts – we only get to know the things they’re willing to reveal to put down on paper. I thought the storyline was great, fast-moving enough to stay interested in the mystery at hand but with enough detail to feel like we know the characters pretty intimately. I agree with all of the high praise I’ve seen about this book, and think it will make a great movie!
Title: Little Fires Everywhere
Author: Celeste Ng
My Rating: 5 stars
Brief Summary: This story takes place almost exclusively within Shaker Heights, an affluent neighborhood with strict aesthetic guidelines and expectations of its residents to maintain a pristine image. We first meet the Richardson family, made up of 4 children in high school, a hard-working lawyer for a father, and a mother who is filled with a sense of pride and generosity by renting a nearby home to a struggling artist and her high-school aged daughter. The two families get to know each other quite well, but suddenly find themselves on two different sides of a custody battle between a Shaker Heights couple attempting to adopt a baby whose birth mother is putting up a fight. Everyone in the community seems to have a different opinion on what’s best for the baby, which proves to be a much more complex question than it appeared upon first glance.
My Thoughts: I think this might be my new favorite book. I loved it SO much. All of the characters were well-developed through extensive backstories (I think this is where some people might find the book to be slow, but I really enjoyed reading the backgrounds) and the plot connected with me deeply. It made me think hard about what I would do in the situation, who I would most likely side with, and how easily opinions can change once you know personally the people on both sides of the argument. Celeste Ng did a really nice job interweaving multiple story lines in a realistic and impactful way – and I already can’t wait to reread this story!
Title: When to Rob a Bank
Authors: Steven D. Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner
My Rating: 3 stars
Brief Summary: This book is actually a collection of blog posts taken from the Freakonomics blog, created by the authors who originally wrote the book Freakonomics. These blog posts speak on similar topics – interesting ways that economics shape our world and ways we can use that knowledge to our advantage.
My Thoughts: I had seen a lot of negative reviews on this book, perhaps because some of the blog posts are not politically correct or present an unpopular viewpoint. I actually really enjoyed it for that reason – it made me look and think differently about a number of issues I previously thought were pretty black-and-white. For example, it talks about why we shouldn’t necessarily be looking to eliminate all plastic packaging when it comes to food items, and in another post about the actual environmental effects of car emissions and whether walking short distances is as environmentally-friendly as we’ve been taught to believe. Other sections were purely entertaining, like a collection of 6-word mottos for America and the best aptonyms of all time, which are names that sound similar to the person’s profession (e.g. a funeral home director named Eikenberry (“I can bury”) or an insurance guy named Justin Case). Yes, there were a number of articles that I skimmed because I was disinterested and some that I did not agree with, but in my opinion the good outweighed the bad and made it worth the read.
Title: Why We Broke Up
Author: Daniel Handler
My Rating: 2 stars
Brief Summary: This book is told as one long letter from high-school-aged Min to her now-ex-boyfriend Ed, detailing all of the reasons they – spoiler alert – broke up. She’s writing it to go along with a box of things she is returning to Ed, so each chapter highlights a different item and explains how it specifically contributed to their breakup.
My Thoughts: After reading this book, I have to wonder if I’m just not a fan of YA contemporaries. I found myself the whole time thinking “you should have broken up with him a long time ago because this guy is a complete d-bag.” I think the concept of this book is great, love the breakup letter accompanying the box full of returned stuff, and I really enjoyed the illustrations done by Maira Kalman. I just didn’t like the story or the characters, too much immaturity for me to feel like I could relate at all!
Title: How Not to Be Wrong: The Power of Mathematical Thinking
Author: Jordan Ellenberg
My Rating: TBD!
Brief Summary: This book is described by Goodreads as the Freakonomics of math – aka how math is everywhere in the world and how by understanding it a bit better, we can understand trends and explanations for social, economic, and environmental activities all around us.
My Thoughts: Unfortunately, this is the one book I did not complete this week. I am about 300 pages in though, so I’ve gotten a decent feeling for it so far – and as an engineer I’m loving everything about this book. I loved math growing up, especially calculus because it really does explain so much of the world. This book is doing a really great job of taking those complex concepts and simplifying them so that even people who are not mathematically-minded can understand and appreciate how much the mathematical concepts are reflected in the real world. Waiting for the aha-moment that this book promises: how we can use this information not just to understand our world but to really shape our own lives and start to make different decisions because of it!
Other than finishing this last book, I think I’m a little burnt out from reading and probably will take the rest of March off. But I had a lot of fun creating this TBR for Buzzwordathon and definitely will be taking part in more readathons going forward!