Book Reviews: December 2016

what belongs to you review, here comes the sun review, everything everything, white teeth, in a dark dark wood, december reads

White Teeth

I’m so happy to have read my first Zadie Smith. Reading her work has only deepened my crush on her as an author. She always comes across so intelligently and elegantly in interviews and articles (similar to my other love, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie). It was a pleasure to read her first novel and confirm that I enjoyed her writing just as much as I thought I would.

This book follows two families living in London from about 1950-2000. Samad and Archie fought in World War II together and remained friends when Samad moved to London after the war. The book explores race, immigrant experiences, displacement, family dynamics and much more. I loved seeing snippets of what life in London might have been like during this time period.

Smith’s writing is so sharp and witty, and even funny at times, which I wasn’t expecting. Her intelligence seeps through in every paragraph, though not at all in a way that makes you feel like you’re reading a textbook. Zadie Smith discusses Eastern vs. Western ideals and how the two cultures often clash. Samad desperately wants his children to be proper Muslim children, but feels that their lives in London make this impossible.

There’s so much to unpack in this novel that I can’t do it justice here, but I can sufficiently say that I thoroughly enjoyed this novel.

What Belongs to You

I had to add this novel to my list of favorite books of 2016 because I loved it that much. The narrator is an English teacher living in Bulgaria who strikes up a relationship with a young prostitute named Mitko, and the book is mainly about the relationship between these two men.

Greenwell’s writing is simply excellent. It’s so lyrical and flows beautifully, and he does such a wonderful job of capturing human emotions. This story asks how well you can truly know someone. The narrator doesn’t know much about Mitko. He only really knows the face that Mitko has presented to him. He begins to realize, however, that Mitko has many different faces. Perhaps everyone does.

Language is also an important theme. The narrator speaks passing Bulgarian, but isn’t always able to translate everything that Mitko says to him. So there are misunderstandings and meanings that are lost to the narrator because he’s not fluent in the language.

The difficulty with language is only one of the barriers between the narrator and Mitko. The narrator pays Mitko to spend time with him, so he can never really know if Mitko has genuine feelings for him, or if he’s simply there to complete their transaction. Mitko invites the narrator to get to know him and makes him feel important, while at the same time, keeps parts of his life and background hidden.

This book is worth reading for the writing alone, but in addition, there are so many interesting topics discussed in this novel. If you haven’t already read this one, I’d highly recommend that you do.

Everything, Everything

Madeline is the girl who lives in a bubble. She has a severe autoimmune disease and contact with anything in the outside world could cause a reaction and kill her. So she lives in carefully controlled environment and is content with her life, until a new family moves in next door. She starts talking to the boy next door, Ollie, and begins to dream about what life is like outside her four walls.

I thought this was a sweet and charming story. I enjoyed Maddie as a character; she’s mixed race (and it was great to read a novel with a mixed race protagonist) and bookish. The book also features different mediums (there are emails, notes, handwritten illustrations, and more) and I thought the incorporation of those formats was well done. I was really enjoying it and thought it was light-hearted and fun until a thing happened. And after the thing, I liked the book less. Not to the point where I wanted to stop reading, but still, the thing threw me for a loop. Even now, I’m trying to untangle my feelings about the thing and I think my problem is that it felt very inauthentic. Overall, I still liked the novel and I plan to read Nicola Yoon’s other book.

Here Comes the Sun

This was another excellent read that nearly made my favorites of the year. It’s set in Jamaica and tells the story of three women: Delores and her daughters, Margot and Thandi. Each woman has struggles to overcome and goals that they want to achieve.

Delores and Margot have placed all of their hopes and dreams on Thandi because she’s book smart. Both of them work really hard to provide for her because they believe that if she does well in school, she can become a doctor or a lawyer and really make something of herself. Meanwhile, Thandi feels this immense pressure and is apprehensive about sharing her own dreams.

The characterization is excellent in this novel. I felt like I really knew each of these women and understood what motivates them. I also loved the setting and getting a taste of life in Jamaica. The author discusses race and beauty and the idea that darker skin is ugly, while light skin is beautiful. Delores even says something along the lines of, “There is nothing worse than being dark, poor, and ugly” and this idea is ingrained throughout the community.

The author also explores the lives of the residents of this town in Jamaica. The jobs at the resorts are considered cushy jobs because they pay relatively well, but at the same time, the development of new resorts is driving people out of their own homes.

I thought this was a fascinating, well-written novel, filled with true, yet heartbreaking observations. It’s definitely one to add to your TBR if you haven’t read it.

In a Dark, Dark Wood

Nora is invited to the hen (bachelorette) weekend for her friend Clare, but it’s strange because she hasn’t spoken to Clare in nearly ten years. She decides to go anyway, at the very least to find out why Clare has decided to reach out after all these years. The invitees travel to a house in the woods in the English countryside, where things take a dark turn…

Meh. I felt pretty ambivalent towards this book. About two-thirds of the way through, I noticed that I kept putting the book down and tuning into something else. It just wasn’t holding my attention anymore. But I still finished it because it was an easy read and I wasn’t that far away from the end.

This was so predictable, to the point where things happened exactly as I thought they would. I didn’t care about any of the characters or their relationships because they were all one-dimensional. Also, Nora is supposed to be a crime writer in this book, but I just didn’t buy it. I think that if she were a good writer, she’d also have been able to predict where the story was headed. I enjoyed the setting and thought the premise had promise, but this book didn’t thrill me.

Goodbye 2016, Hello 2017

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Well, we made it. The clock has turned, the calendar’s been flipped, and it’s officially 2017. You know, I’ve been reflecting on 2016 and it wasn’t the worst year in regards to my personal life. I think 2016 was an absolutely terrible year for humanity in general, but personally, 2015 was much worse for me. So let’s just say that it’s been a rocky two years and I’m ready for better times to come around again.

Best of 2016

In the spirit of focusing on the good, here are some of my 2016 highlights:

Weddings: 2016 was the year of weddings for me (they were right when they said that the number of weddings really starts to pick up in your late twenties). I was able to see my cousin get married, as well as a close college friend, and best of all, I was a bridesmaid in my best friend’s wedding. Such good times and I have so much love for my friends and family that got married.

Family Vacation: I love traveling and exploring new cities and this year we decided to go to Seattle and Vancouver for our family vacation. It was my first time in Canada and my first visit to Seattle. I really enjoyed both cities and the time we spent there was a good mix of exploring and relaxing. I suppose it’s not too early to start planning our 2017 vacation!

Christmas: I spent Christmas in London with my immediate family and London fam and it was so much fun. I hadn’t seen some of my cousins in ages and I loved being able to spend time with them. And I’m so happy I got to see all of my immediate family. Before we’d figured out all of our plans, I wasn’t sure that I’d get to see everyone and it made me really, really sad. But it all worked out in the end and even for those I only saw briefly (my mom only had a layover in London), a little time spent together was certainly better than nothing. As you know, I absolutely love Christmas, but I’ll admit that Christmas 2015 was really, really rough (it was our first Christmas without him). This year was better though and reminded me that I’m so grateful for the family that I have.

Looking forward in 2017

I like to set goals at the beginning of the year and I usually post them on the blog (I missed last year, but here’s 2015 and 2014). I’ve tried to keep my resolutions short and sweet this year:

Creativity: Last year, my energy really faded when it came to my blog and booktube channel, but I’d like to get back into my creative mode. I still enjoy blogging so much (obviously, or I would have shut this down a long time ago) and whenever I’m not working on a creative project, I really miss it. So in 2017 I’d like to get back to pursuing my creative passions because they continue to be important to me.

Movement: I tend to settle into a routine and get stuck in it. This year, I want to break out those ruts and push myself out of my comfort zone a bit.

Travel: All of my 2016 highlights involved traveling and in 2017, I’d really like to take advantage of any opportunity I have to get out and explore the world. In particular, I’d love to go on a solo trip. This was one of my goals last year, but I didn’t get the chance to make it happen. This year, I’d love to save up some money and go somewhere. It doesn’t even have to be far away- I’d just love to plan and experience a solo trip.

What was one of your 2016 highlights? Do you have any goals for 2017?

(image via Death to Stock Photo)