Thursday, January 1, 2015

Favorite Books of 2014

My Goodreads account tells me that I finished 62 books this year. Not bad, since I'd been averaging about 50 books a year for the two years prior. This number includes a handful of plays, some challenging non-fiction, and plenty of YA or contemporary novels. So now that 2014 is officially over (and since I finished book #62 on the 31st), it's time for a Top 5 of 2014 post! In no particular order, here are the 5 books that proved to be a real highlight after a year of reading.

1) The Martian, by Andy Weir
Words cannot express how much I adored this book. It's a futuristic adventure novel set in outer space, and the character's voice is hilarious, distinct, and utterly captivating. The main character has accidentally been stranded alone on Mars, and he has to Macgyver a way to survive while hoping he will be rescued. It's smart, hilarious, and utterly un-putdown-able. I can't recommend this one enough, and was hands down my favorite novel of the year. 

2) Mambo in Chinatown, by Jean Kwok
This is probably my favorite novel of the second half of the year, and it can't be more different than The Martian. It reads like an intelligent romantic comedy, taking place in New York City today. I'm just waiting to hear that it's been optioned for a film - it's just that sweet and charming! A young, first-generation Asian American woman finds herself a job at an elite dance studio, and slowly begins to start a new life for herself. It's got dancing, romancing, and the challenges and struggles of balancing American versus traditional Chinese cultures. But mostly it's charming, smart, and entertaining. Read it if you're in the mood for a smart, light female-centric story.

3) Better Off Friends by Elizabeth Eulberg
My favorite YA novel of the year. It's not a new concept: boy and girl are best friends, best friends are secretly in love, can best friends ever get together? What makes this book so fun is the alternating POV's between the two main characters, which is well-written and entertaining. They are realistically written, with flaws and quirks that bring them to life. Each chapter also begins with a series of texts between the two, which I thought was a fun way to structure the book.

4) Lean In, by Sheryl Sandberg
Now for something completely different. A self-help business book isn't usually my cup of tea, but Sandberg brought up a lot of interesting ideas about women in the workplace. Many of the ideas don't apply to me now, either because I'm relatively early in my career or because I work almost exclusively in female-lead professions, but a lot of the ideas are great things I've been mulling over since reading the book. I plan to reread it again soon and keep pulling ideas out to ponder and use.

5) The History of the Jews: a Graphic History, by Stan Mack
During my 10-day trip to Israel I realized I barely knew anything about the history of the Jews or of Israel. What I knew primarily came from musicals: Prince of Egypt, Children of Eden, etc. This book was a hilarious way to start getting acquainted with the history of the Jewish people.  It was easy, quick, and had lots of jokes on every page. Do I feel like I now know everything about the history of the Jews?  Not even close! But it's a good starting point, and it was fun to read too.

Thursday, February 28, 2013

Attachments: A Novel, by Rainbow Rowell

Summary (from

"Hi, I'm the guy who reads your e-mail, and also, I love you . . . "

Beth Fremont and Jennifer Scribner-Snyder know that somebody is monitoring their work e-mail. (Everybody in the newsroom knows. It's company policy.) But they can't quite bring themselves to take it seriously. They go on sending each other endless and endlessly hilarious e-mails, discussing every aspect of their personal lives.

Meanwhile, Lincoln O'Neill can't believe this is his job now- reading other people's e-mail. When he applied to be "internet security officer," he pictured himself building firewalls and crushing hackers- not writing up a report every time a sports reporter forwards a dirty joke.

When Lincoln comes across Beth's and Jennifer's messages, he knows he should turn them in. But he can't help being entertained-and captivated-by their stories.

By the time Lincoln realizes he's falling for Beth, it's way too late to introduce himself.

What would he say . . . ?

I really enjoyed this book. It's the quintessential rom-com novel, but with a clever twist: instead of "boy meets girl," it's "boy doesn't meet girl." He's falling in love with her from the inside out. How charming is that?

Attachments is a well-executed novel. Chapters alternate between Beth and Jennifer's email exchanges at work and Lincoln's story, told in a traditional prose format. Usually, when a book alternates points of view, I prefer one or the other - but Rainbow Rowell (how amazing is that name, by the way!?) managed to write it so that I loved both versions equally!

I love epistolary novels, but sometimes I get confused by screen names or lose track of the characters. That wasn't a problem in Attachments. This is one of the best-executed epistolary novels I've read in a while (I still want to read Dracula, which I hear is an excellent early epistolary novel ((egad the elliteration!)), but I'll get there eventually).

We spend a lot of time following Lincoln's journey. He starts off as sort of a shlumpy character, but we get to watch him grow and develop. He has a lot of backstory that we don't get right off the bat, and it was a pleasure every time I got a new nugget of backstory. This isn't an epic thriller - it's not like he has a secret agent past (though that would be kind of cool too!) - so learning his backstory is satisfying without being OMG!-inducing. And while I like my OMG-inducing stories, sometimes it's nice to read a charming, easy book!

 I also loved reading the email exchanges between Jennifer and Beth. They're funny and clever, but also real. I can imagine these woman at work, sending email gossip. They have flaws, but they also acknowledge them. One great thing about this book: these characters are flawed but intelligent. Whenever I figured something out about a character, *poof!* - they figured it out themselves. I wasn't getting angry at them for being dumb! And in a rom-com!  That's so rare!

(I'm the first to admit that I'm usually not a huge fan of romantic comedies. The situations are painfully unrealistic, most of the women are a little too dumb, and I just end up rolling my eyes the whole time. So instead, I watch cartoon movies. They're just the right level of dumb for me! ;))

The one thing that really threw me off is that even though it was published in 2011, this book is set right around Y2K. It's a throwback to the 90's, which was charming in its own right - aren't so many solid romantic comedies set in the 90's? (Rhetorical question... kind of. We've already established that I'm not a rom-com lady.) Not that it got in the way of my enjoyment of the book. It just got me confused. But considering that I ended up reading it within the span of 24 hours (give or take an hour or two), clearly I got over that confusion real quick!

The Final Breakdown:
  • Interesting Characters?: Every character, even the minor ones, is smart and clever. They're fun to follow around and to read about. I didn't dislike a single character in the book, even the characters that could be consider villains.
  • Doing Interesting Things?: They're not doing things that are out-of-the-ordinary, but their sense of humor keeps even the mundane things interesting.
  • Told in an Intelligent Way?: Absolutely. The way it alternates between prose and emails keep the book moving at a good pace, and it's fun to mix things up!
And now, I'm trying something new. Most reviewers grade books on a scale of 1 to 5 stars. But I'm a One Happy Kat. This is Happy Kat Reads. And thus, instead of using stars, I shall use smiley faces! And this one gets 4/5 smiley faces.

(If I could find a good image of a happy cat, I'd totally use it. But I didn't, and there's no way I'm using that grumpy cat meme that's going around the internet. I'm One Happy Kat, not One Grumpy Kat. That's nowhere near as fun!)

Attachments on
Attachments on GoodReads

Friday, September 14, 2012

Cinder, by Marissa Meyer

Summary (from

Humans and androids crowd the raucous streets of New Beijing. A deadly plague ravages the population. From space, a ruthless lunar people watch, waiting to make their move. No one knows that Earth’s fate hinges on one girl. . . .

Cinder, a gifted mechanic, is a cyborg. She’s a second-class citizen with a mysterious past, reviled by her stepmother and blamed for her stepsister’s illness. But when her life becomes intertwined with the handsome Prince Kai’s, she suddenly finds herself at the center of an intergalactic struggle, and a forbidden attraction. Caught between duty and freedom, loyalty and betrayal, she must uncover secrets about her past in order to protect her world’s future. 

The Breakdown:
  • Interesting Characters?: They're definitely unique - you don't see these characters in YA much these days... at least not the stuff I'm reading. No fussy, whiny characters that make you want to pull your hair out.
  • Doing Interesting Things?: I could do without some of the political stuff, but overall they're making things happen, and it's seriously exciting.
  • Told in an Intelligent Way?: The sci-fi quality of the book gives it a slightly different feel than other dystopians I've read recently, and in a good way. It's definitely memorable.

I wasn't sure if I was going to like Cinder. I heard it was amazing, that people couldn't put it down, and it was a science-fiction retelling of Cinderella. An interesting combination! But was it right for me?

Well, I couldn't put it down, and ended up reading a good 200 pages in one sitting. And while I wouldn't say it was amazing, it was definitely very very good!!

Theoretically, Cinder is a retelling of the classic fairy tale.... but trust me when I say it's a loose retelling. Cinder uses some of the major plot points of "Cinderella" to create the overall structure of the book, but there's a lot of other stuff that happens in-between, is totally of Marissa Meyer's creation - I've never before heard of a Cinderella story with the politics and science fiction aspects she's included!

I'm not a sci-fi nerd, but I enjoy it on occasion. (One of my favorite college courses: Social Ethics for Earthlings and Others. AKA, philosophy and science fiction. We watched a lot of Star Trek and my professor was high half the time. It was fantastic.) But I didn't find the idea of a cyborg narrator totally enthralling... call me speciest (another philosophy class term!!), but it sounded weird. But Cinder's a smart, likeable character, and Kai, the other main character, is super-cute and delightful. Not in an annoying way! I liked both main characters and found them charming. (....Prince Charming? See what I did there?!)

(I'm brilliant, I know.)

The one thing that started to bring the book down for me was the political angle. There's a good amount of politics going on in Cinder, and usually I really don't care for politics. (Sidenote: I just read Insurgent, the Divergent sequel, and got totally lost because it was 95% politics. I'd write a review of it, but I don't understand what I read exactly.... that, and since I'd read Divergent over a year ago, I kind of don't remember the characters. But that's beside the point. Back to Cinder.) The political angles didn't pull me away too much, but I'm nervous that as the series continues, it'll be a lot of politics and a less of the characters and plot, which is what I like. But we'll see. I'm definitely down for Book #2! And that makes it.... A Success!

Cinder on

Thursday, April 12, 2012

If I Stay, by Gayle Forman

Summary (from

In the blink of an eye everything changes. Seventeen ­year-old Mia has no memory of the accident; she can only recall what happened afterwards, watching her own damaged body being taken from the wreck. Little by little she struggles to put together the pieces- to figure out what she has lost, what she has left, and the very difficult choice she must make. Heartwrenchingly beautiful, Mia's story will stay with you for a long, long time.

Interesting Characters?: Yes
Doing Interesting Things?: Interesting, only sort of. But definitely unique and thought-provoking!
Told in an Intelligent Way?: Yes

If I Stay is a beautiful book, there's no doubt about that. Gayle Forman writes in a poetic, haunting voice that kept me mesmerized-I read this book in one extended sitting. It's a short book, only 200 pages, but they pack a mean punch.

The book is told through a series of flashbacks, interspersed with the present-day circumstances of her accident. You don't know much about Mia towards the beginning of the book (which is true of any non-serialized novel, I mean obviously Kat!), but you learn all about her as you experience her memories, which are all triggered by current events. The memories are joyful, sweet, honest, painful... just as any person's memories would be. But the way they make up Mia is remarkable.

Mia isn't what I'd call an exciting character, but she's real. I can see her coming down the street, in my classes in high school, even a few qualities in her that I recognize in myself. She's confused about what to do, in both past and present. As you re-experience her memories and see what she's got going on now, you sit there and contemplate... what would I do? It's not cut and dry. The rest of the characters are much like Mia - not super exciting, but relatable. Memorable. I know these people and I get why they act as they do.

I don't know how to express my thoughts on the book. I don't think there's much to "spoil," per se - there aren't twists and turns like so many of the popular books out there today. But the beauty of the book is how you, the reader, go through Mia's journey with her. You learn her background and you experience her struggles. The language is also beautiful. Haunting is really the best word I can use, especially towards the end. It's not the kind of poetry that makes me, impatient-reader Katherine, annoyed. It's sparse and to the point, but clearly well-crafted.

And it's sad. I think it's fair to say that much, no spoiler-alert necessary. Sad, bittersweet, and achingly lovely.

So we've got characters that are multifaceted yet simple. We've got the juxtaposition of the current and the past. And we've got a terrific writer who writes with an achingly lovely voice. Ultimately, I say the final verdict is a Success!

If I Stay on 

Wednesday, April 11, 2012


Variant, by Robinson Wells

Four-Sentence Summary (from the book's back cover):
At Maxfield Academy, the choices are:
Society, Havoc, Variant. Benson must join one in order to survive. But he is determined to escape.. And he can trust only himself.

I picked up Variant from the library on a whim, after reading a crazy-good review of the book from That Hapa Chick. All I knew about this book was that there was a twist, and that it was supposed to be an awesome one. But other than that, I was going in blind. And I hope YOU go into this book blind when you read it, because this one is a doozy! You don't want spoilers for this one - you want to be taken along for the ride.

And what a ride it is. Stylistically, this is definitely along the lines of all the dystopian novels coming out these days. Unlike many of those books, this one takes place in a modern-day society. It's got all the features that a great dystopian has: action, adventure, and a bright young narrator. But it's also refreshingly different from all the Hunger Games and Divergents and Matcheds out there, for a couple of reasons.

Reason 1: The Narrator
It's a boy. GASP! SHOCK! A boy narrator? The last boy-narrated YA book I read was probably The Giver, which I read over the summer. I don't try to discriminate against the dudes, but it just seems like there's a lot of female narrators these days. Anyway, don't let the boy stop you. (I mean, if that's what kept you from reading this book, then that's just silly.) Benson Fisher, other than having an awesome name (I want to call him Benson Burner! Because I'm kind of a dork), is determined and entertaining. Being a boy, we get a little less of the girly-drama that oftentimes happens in other books. Don't get me wrong, I enjoy love triangles and girl talk, but sometimes it's nice to get away from the drama and keep to the action. Benson doesn't obsess about subtle glances or subtle touches. All the details that a female narrator might spend pages and pages thinking about are mentioned briefly, but not dwelled upon. Does that make sense? Basically, these things might happen (or they might not), but it's not the focus of the story. The story is the focus of the story.

Full disclosure: I'm thoroughly aware that not all dystopians dwell on the drama - it's part of the reason I like them, the drama is just a part of the story! But I think I've been reading some pretty dramatic books recently, because to have a drama-light book felt incredibly refreshing. OK. Enough on this topic. Kat, get off the soapbox and move on with this review!

Actually, now that I think about it, the last book I read with a male narrator was Ready Player One. And holy smokes that was an excellent read as well. Maybe I just need to be reading novels with male narrators!

Ok. Actually moving on now.

Reason 2: The Action
This book is seriously non-stop action. I never got bored while reading this. There were a couple of quieter moments, sure, but they didn't drag. It was exciting! Every scene was important, and I never felt like it was wasting my time. The pacing was excellent.

Reason 3: Twists and Turns
I feel like every five chapters there were some excellent twists and turns. I had to cover up pages while I read because I didn't want to glance at the next page and spoil myself 30 seconds early. And unlike many other books, where the twists can be a touch predictable, I never anticipated any of them. I was just as confused as Benson was. Usually I hate being confused, but this was totally fun confusion!

Was it a success?
Oh yes. Characters were great, the plot was gripping, and I loved Benson's voice. Highly recommended!

Monday, January 9, 2012

Online Reads: January 9th, 2012

So obviously, we all love books here at Happy Kat Reads. And by we, I mean me. And you, and all the other readers in the readosphere! (I'm hoping there's some additional readers in this readosphere... otherwise, I'd feel silly writing this. But if no one's reading this, then there's no one to be embarrassed in front of - right? It's one of those "tree falls in a forest but no one is there" kinds of things. I think.) But there's also a ton of great reads available on the Internet: articles, stories, blog posts, etc. I tweet a lot of my favorite reads @onehappykat, but I also say it's worth writing about here! So here's some of the great online reads I've found this week:

Are You A Moderator or an Abstainer?
A blog post from Gretchen Rubin, author of the excellent book The Happiness Project, talks about the difference between moderators and abstainers, in terms of eating better. Helpful for those of us trying to eat healthier in this new year.

One Teacher's Approach to Preventing Gender Bullying in the Classroom
A fantastic story about the innovative way a classroom teacher prevented students from gender bullying. Having been in a slightly similar situation myself, I found her story inspiring and brilliant.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Book Review: Forgotten

 Forgotten, by Cat Patrick

Five-Sentence Summary: (from
Each night at precisely 4:33 am, while sixteen-year-old London Lane is asleep, her memory of that day is erased. In the morning, all she can "remember" are events from her future. London is used to relying on reminder notes and a trusted friend to get through the day, but things get complicated when a new boy at school enters the picture. Luke Henry is not someone you'd easily forget, yet try as she might, London can't find him in her memories of things to come. When London starts experiencing disturbing flashbacks, or flash-forwards, as the case may be, she realizes it's time to learn about the past she keeps forgetting-before it destroys her future.
Oh, Forgotten. Such an interesting premise. And when I read the first couple of chapters on the Kindle a few months ago, I thought, "I need this book." The writing style was easy without feeling sloppy, and I loved the little reference notes that introduced each scene. A couple of months later, it showed up at the library and I got to reading. Correction - I didn't get to reading until the day before it was due at the library, and the silly website wouldn't let me renew it because someone else had requested it. So I finished it in one day. To say I rushed through Forgotten is an understatement, and may have impacted how I felt about the book.

Ok, let's just be real for a second. I wanted to like this, I really did. The concept just had so much potential! But in the end, it really didn't work for me. It ultimately  reminded me too much of Before I Go To Sleep, a fascinating book that I read over Thanksgiving. In Before I Go To Sleep, the main character also can't remember the past: she wakes up every morning and has to rediscover her who she's become. Although I didn't love the book, I thought its structure was brilliant. Fast-forward two months to Forgotten, another book with a main character who has no previous memories, yet she can see the future... And how is this possible, exactly? Unfortunately, Cat Patrick fails to explain the how and glosses over it. Maybe two months ago I wouldn't have cared, or been willing to overlook it, but after reading another book with a similar premise, I couldn't let it go.

If I ignore the conceptual issues, then I go to the characters. No one is terribly annoying or over-the-top, which I appreciate, and there aren't any "bad guys," so there's no one to hate. I hate hating characters, so Forgotten wins points for that! But while I don't hate any of the characters, I don't love them either. The problem with London remembering the future is that she's aware of how things will turn out, so she doesn't feel a whole lot of suspense. Other than the suspense of not remembering the past, of course.  But she knows how her relationship with each of the characters will end, so you know too. I found that kind of disconnecting.

The supporting characters were OK, for the most part. London has stressful relationships with some characters, but I didn't understand why they were at such odds. Then there's the drama of the re-meeting boyfriend. She meets him over and over again. Yet she trusts him each time - convenient much? There's some fun little twists in there that keep it interesting and fresh (which I won't spoil here, though I will say that I was cracking up at the end of one of her dates), and I get why she falls for him, but... It just felt too easy. Much like the rest of the book.

Ultimately Forgotten has an interesting premise, likeable (though not exactly compelling) characters, and a lot of plot holes/structural issues that others may be willing to overlook. I liked her easy writing style - the language is simple but effective.  I know there was a lot of hype for this one, but ultimately had too many issues to be my cup of tea. I wouldn't recommend it right away, but I probably will pick up a future Cat Patrick book, out of curiosity.

Or rather, I remember that I will! ;)

Was it a success?
Well, the character's were middling-level interesting, the things they did were middling-level interesting, and the story was told in a not-so-intelligent way. But despite my problems with the book it wasn't a failure, by any means. I'd give it a so-so success.