Book Reviews: May 2015

book reviews, we were liars review, we should all be feminists, the royal we review, crazy rich asians, the fug girls

we-should-all-be-feministsYou’ve probably heard of author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s TED talk by now (yep, it’s the one that Beyonce sampled in her song “***Flawless”). This slim little volume is her talk adapted into essay form. There’s not too much to say about this one, except that her message is fantastic and I 100% agree with what she says. What she writes is not groundbreaking, but it does boil down the argument for feminism in a way that’s really clear and logical. I also enjoyed the brief anecdotes peppered throughout on what feminism means to her personally. I highly recommend that you watch the talk if you haven’t seen it already, and this essay version is great as well.

Crazy-Rich-AsiansYou need to take a look at the hardcover version of this book. Talk about eye-catching/blinding! I was intrigued by this book when it was first published, but honestly I didn’t want that crazy gold cover. I was pleased to find the paperback edition at Housing Works Bookstore Café on Independent Bookstore Day. This is the story of Rachel, who’s getting pretty serious with her boyfriend Nick. Together they decide that it’s time for her to meet his family, so they fly over to Singapore to spend the summer there. Rachel has no idea that Nick’s family is crazy rich and she’s totally unprepared for the extravagant lifestyles led by Singapore’s high society families.

Oh boy, was this book over the top. I believe it’s meant to be that way and in general, I did enjoy reading it, but it was a bit much to stomach at some points. I found myself thinking, “Do people actually live this way?” and apparently the answer is yes. The writing and plot in general was fine- nothing spectacular. I did feel that the ending was a bit rushed and abrupt, but that could very well be due to the fact that he wrote a sequel, which comes out later this month. This book is light and fun. If you’re a fan of the Real Housewives series, this read might be right up your alley.

the-storied-life-of-aj-fikryOnce you say “book about a book lover,” I’m in. A.J. Fikry owns a bookshop on a small island off the East Coast. When the book begins, his wife is recently deceased and he is pretty miserable. However, everything changes one night when he finds a small child in his bookstore. Sadly, the mother of this child has committed suicide. In a surprising move to the other townspeople, A.J. forms a bond with the little girl named Maya, and decides to raise her as his own.

This basic premise of this story is sweet and of course I thoroughly enjoyed all of the bookish bits. Each chapter begins with a book recommendation written by A.J. for Maya, which is a lovely idea. However, I had a problem with the pacing of this novel. The first third or so is pretty steady and then suddenly it feels like we’re skyrocketing through these character’s lives. Major events will happen or details will be revealed, but I didn’t feel like I had time to absorb them because then it’s on to the next thing. Overall, I did like this book, but I wish the story had gone a bit deeper.

we-were-liarsNow let’s talk about a book that I didn’t like- We Were Liars. There was so much hype surrounding this book when it was released last summer, but I’d heard pretty mixed reviews. Finally I decided to pick it up this month to form my own opinion. I thought it was strange. The book is narrated by Cadence, who belongs to a wealthy, entitled family. The family spends their summers on their own private island and one summer, something happens. That’s about all I can tell you without spoiling it, but really I don’t think there’s much to spoil. Let’s just say that when that thing happens, I was not impressed by the turn of events.

Another aspect that I didn’t enjoy was the writing style. Sometimes sentences are broken out so that each word is on a separate line- I haven’t yet figured out what the author was trying to achieve with that style. The narrator is also very hyperbolic, so she’ll say something like, “My feelings were hurt and my eyes started bleeding,” (not an actual quote). It took me a little while to realize that what she said was not actually true and I just found it confusing. I didn’t really think that the narrator, or the story itself, was compelling. It’s safe to say that this one did not live up to the hype for me.

murder-on-the-orient-expressAfter a not-so-great reading experience with We Were Liars, I wanted to pick up something solid and dependable, so I turned to Agatha Christie. When I was in junior high (I think), I went on a huge Agatha Christie kick and read a bunch of her books. I can’t remember whether or not I’d read this novel before, but either way, I didn’t remember the mystery. As the title says, there is a murder on the Orient Express and detective Hercule Poirot is charged with discovering the murderer. This was another great Agatha Christie mystery and I’m so impressed by her attention to detail. Clues are uncovered throughout the novel and when the sequence of events is revealed at the end, it all makes perfect sense. I know exactly what I’m getting when I pick up one of her mysteries and I certainly wasn’t disappointed.

the-royal-weI’m recommending this book as the perfect, summer read. It’s light, funny, and fun to read and I thought it was quite well done. It’s a story inspired by Kate Middleton. In the book, the main character named Rebecca (“Bex” for short), travels to London to study abroad at Oxford. There she meets Nick and doesn’t realize at first that he’s the future Prince of Wales. The two of them fall in love and have to face the challenges of having a relationship under the public eye.

I really liked the cast of characters in this book- not just Bex and Nick, but also their group of friends. I feel like I got a good sense of who they were and there were little details about each character that made me smile. I think it was really interesting to imagine what it would be like to go from being a regular civilian, to  becoming a part of the most important family in England. This was just really enjoyable and I’d definitely recommend it if you’re looking for a beach read.

Book Reviews: April 2015

a little life, hanya yanagihara, a little life new york times, a little life ny times, april book review

I only read one book last month, but I’ve got quite a lot to say about it.

A-Little-LifeLet me just begin by saying that I absolutely loved this book and there’s no way this little review of mine will do it justice. I’m going to attempt to explain how I feel about this book anyway. I will admit that right now it’s too precious to me and I cannot highlight any flaws, but what review is objective?

A Little Life is the story of four friends: Jude, the intelligent lawyer with a past that constantly threatens his present; Willem, an aspiring actor with a kindness that knows no bounds; Malcolm, who builds tiny houses and likes the control and creativity that architecture requires; and finally JB, the artist with a personality that dominates any room. The book generally takes place in New York City. When it begins, our main characters have recently graduated college and are struggling to make their way in the world. For the rest of the novel we follow their lives over the next 30+ years. We observe friendships strengthen and weaken, romantic relationships begin and end, and the trajectory of their professional careers. This book is about their lives and as you read it, you feel like you’re experiencing your own little life.

It’s been nearly a week since I finished this book and I still feel so close to it and to the characters. I cannot remember the last time a book had such a huge emotional impact on me. The characters are masterfully written and completely engrossing. I truly felt like these characters were living, breathing people (and even at this moment, I almost think that they’re somewhere out there in the city now, walking around and living their lives). I felt like they were my friends. I was so completely and totally invested in their lives that every triumph and tragedy in this book hit me hard. I thought that Yanagihara’s writing was simple and elegant and that the entire story was utterly powerful. She has a skill for putting things plainly and perfectly, so that a mere sentence can feel like a sucker punch to the gut.

Also, I must mention that this book deals with very difficult subjects, including emotional, physical, and sexual abuse. Some incidents are described in more detail than others, but if any of those topics are triggers for you, then this may not be the book for you. This book is about what it means to be human and about the evolution of friendships and relationships It’s also about what it means to belong, and how we find our place in the world. It asks, “What is a life and what makes it worth living?”

Throughout the novel, characters are stretched past the limits of what they believe they can endure, and I felt a bit like that as I was reading. By the time I finished, I was physically and mentally spent and I marveled that a book had made me feel that way. I’m sure you’ve heard that this book is overwhelmingly sad, and that’s true, but where there is darkness, there is also light.

I’m just in awe of this book. I cried tears of happiness and tears of despair, and on more than one occasion, I cried myself to sleep. I think what Hanya Yanagihara was able to achieve with this book is a testament to literature. This experience reminded me why reading will always be an important and necessary part of my life.

Have you (or would you) read this book?

Further reading:

How I Wrote My Novel: Hanya Yanagihara’s A Little Life

The Subversive Brilliance of “A Little Life”

Hanya Yanagihara’s ‘A Little Life’

– Also, there’s an A Little Life instagram account where they post pictures inspired by quotes from the book, and it’s so good.

Book Reviews: March 2015

book reviews, hausfrau, hausfrau review, the girl on the train, the girl on the train review, the mime order, the mime order review

HausfrauThis was my favorite read of the month. Anna is a housewife who lives in Switzerland with her husband and three kids. On the surface her life appears perfect, but she is bored, lonely and severely unhappy. In an effort to feel something, anything, she begins a series of affairs. Soon she can no longer hide her secrets and her life begins to unravel.

I thought this was so well-written. It’s really a character study of Anna. Anna takes German classes to improve her speaking abilities and her German lessons are woven throughout the book. It’s really interesting the way that the author plays with words and applies the German lessons to Anna’s life. The reader is also an observer of Anna’s psychoanalysis appointments with her therapist, so you get a good sense of how Anna thinks and what she feels.

Warning- she’s an unlikeable character and the sex scenes do get a bit graphic, so if you’re sensitive to either of those things, I’d steer clear of this one. If you love beautiful writing and really delving into a character’s psyche, then I think you’ll find Hausfrau quite intriguing.

The-Girl-on-the-TrainYou’ve probably seen this book everywhere. There was so much buzz that I couldn’t wait for my library hold and ended up purchasing it. Rachel is a middle-aged woman living in the UK and every day she takes the train into London for work. Her train typically stops at this one particular junction, and from her seat she can see a house owned by a beautiful couple. Since she sees them so often, she gives the couple nicknames and daydreams about what their life is like; she really feels like she knows them. One day when her train stops, Rachel sees something out of the ordinary…

Since this is a thriller, the less you know going in, the better. Like every thriller these days, it’s been called the next Gone Girl. I kind of had high expectations since this book has been so buzzy, but I’ve also learned to lower my expectations because nothing so far that’s claimed to be the next Gone Girl has actually lived up to the hype. All that preamble is to say that I thought this book was solid. It was not amazing, but I did find it interesting enough to keep turning the pages. The twist was not surprising to me, but like I said, I’ve learned to lower my expectations, so I was not majorly disappointed.

Rachel is kind of a hot mess of a person. It’s a bit intriguing since that’s outside the norm, but it can also be a bit tiring because I just wanted her to get it together. She’s an unreliable narrator to the max. As the reader is questioning Rachel, she’s also questioning herself within the story.

I think the hype is still going strong for this one, so if you want to see what all the fuss is about, I’d say give this ago. It’s good for a light, quick, entertaining read, but don’t expect it to blow you away.

The-Mime-OrderThis is the second book in The Bone Season trilogy (I wrote about the first book, The Bone Season, last year), so I won’t really delve into the plot, to avoid spoilers. The main point you need to know is that it’s set in a futuristic London where possessing and using clairvoyant abilities is a crime.

I had a few issues with the first book, but not enough to prevent me from continuing with the series. I think I actually like this sequel better. The author doesn’t have to spend as much time explaining everything, since we’re already familiar with the world. It picks up right where the first book left off, is pretty solid in the middle, and then for the last 150 pages or so, it was a real page-turner. I still feel like I don’t quite know the main character, Paige. I mean, I have a good sense of her after reading the first two books, but I want to know more about her backstory and what motivates her. It ended on a cliffhanger, so now I’m jonesing for the next book. According to the author’s blog, she’s nearly done writing it, so perhaps it will be published next year.

What are you currently reading?

Book Reviews: February 2015

book reviews, station eleven review, the secret live's of baba segi's wives, oil on water, dracula review

Station-ElevenFinally, finally, I got a chance to read this book! It was another one that I really wanted to read last year. There was a lot of praise and it was shortlisted for the National Book Award, so I was expecting a lot. I’d call this book speculative fiction- it explores what happens when a pandemic wipes out 99% of the population on Earth. It follows a few different characters and over time, you see how each of these characters is connected to the other. I don’t think it’s easy to weave together different narratives, but the author does it really well here. After the pandemic, there’s a group of actors and musicians who travel around performing Shakespeare plays. Their motto is “survival is insufficient.” To survive the pandemic is not enough- they want to keep sharing their art with what’s left of the world. A few other themes throughout the book are memory, society, artifacts, and celebrity.

I really enjoyed this. I thought Mandel’s writing was excellent and the whole premise really made me think. The great pandemic is just on the edge of plausible and I found myself wondering if I would survive if something like that happened. Also, I thought she was really skillful at jumping around in time and from character to character. I feel like it’s really easy to lose the reader when you have a non-linear narrative, but that wasn’t the case here. I’d definitely recommend this book and I’m looking forward to reading what she writes next. Out of curiosity, what do you think are your chances of survival if life on Earth as we know it ended?

The-Secret-LivesFor Black History Month, I was participating in a project called #ReadSoulLit. My family is Nigerian so I thought it would be interesting to read more works by Nigerian writers. I wanted to pick authors that are lesser-known (so not Adichie or Achebe) and I heard about this book while I was looking for titles that fit into this category.

Baba Segi is a wealthy businessman in Nigeria and he’s married to four different women. At first I was really annoyed with this book. Baba Segi’s attitude towards women is from the Dark Ages- he believes that his wives only exist to serve him and cater to his every whim. I was having trouble understanding why any of the women would want to be married to someone who has multiple wives. However, as you keep reading, you get to know each of the characters a little better and you find out how they’ve come to where they are now. Each of them is in this situation for a different reason and once you hear about their backgrounds, it kind of makes sense. As the title says, everyone has secrets and those secrets bring tragedy and misery. In the end, I thought it was interesting to read a story that takes place in a different setting. It was good to read about a different life experience and I appreciate the way my opinion of that lifestyle choice changed as I was reading the book. I’m not saying I support polygamy, but I understood why the women chose that path.

Oil-on-WaterThis is another book set in Nigeria. When I went to the bookstore, I was actually looking for a different book by this author. They didn’t have the one I was looking for though, so I picked up this one instead. I feel like I lucked out because not only was it a good read, but I absolutely love the cover of this one.

In this novel, the wife of a wealthy oil executive is kidnapped. Now kidnappings are a regular occurrence in this part of Nigeria and there’s a procedure to follow. The husband pays a few journalists to meet with the kidnappers and confirm that his wife is alive. One of these journalists is our main character, Rufus, who’s young and idealistic and is hoping that this will be his first big story. He’s also working with another reporter named Zaq, who used to be really famous and is one of Rufus’s idols. The two of them take off in search of this woman, but the routine kidnapping goes awry.

Again, it’s really nice to read something that’s set in a different part of the world. One of the main issues in this book is the way that the oil industry is affecting the lives of the people in nearby villages. The oil ruins the environment and these villages collapse because they can’t sustain themselves anymore. I also liked the discussion of the role of journalists. Rufus comments that it’s his job to observe and report the truth, because if he doesn’t, it’s very possible that no one else will.

I thought it was an interesting and easy read, not just because it’s a short book and there’s a lot of dialogue, but also because the writing felt very natural and accessible. If you’re at all curious about books set in Nigeria, I would definitely recommend this one.

DraculaI’m surprised that I’ve never read Dracula before, considering that I’m totally into vampire novels (and TV shows). The story begins with the journal of Jonathan Harker, a young lawyer who travels to Transylvania to meet with his client, the one and only Count Dracula. Some very strange things begin to happen and Jonathan records them all in his journal. Slowly Jonathan realizes that Count Dracula is not exactly what he seems…

I thought this was great. I was delightfully surprised by the humor in this book. Maybe it’s because I’ve absorbed the story of Dracula through pop culture over the years, but when Jonathan’s like, “*How strange, this man never seems to eat or sleep and he has no reflection!” (*I’m paraphrasing here, these are not actual lines from the book), I’m like, “Hahaha, that’s because he’s a vampire!” I don’t know if that quite makes sense, but there’s a certain humor in knowing more than the characters in the novel do. There are also journal entries and letters from other characters, who eventually band together to hunt down Dracula. Like with most classics, it took me a bit to settle into the writing style, but once I focused my energies on this book, I read big chunks of it at a time.