Book Reviews: August and September 2016

perfect days review, purple hibiscus review, under the harrow, jane steele review, book reviews, august book reviews, september book reviews

Under the Harrow*

Throughout the week, Nora has been looking forward to spending the weekend at her sister’s house in the country. However, when she arrives at Rachel’s house, she’s greeted with a shocking scene- Rachel has been brutally murdered. As Nora drowns in grief, she becomes obsessed with finding her sister’s killer.

I really liked that this is more of a psychological thriller. It’s written in first-person perspective throughout, so we are really in Nora’s head as she struggles to accept what’s happened to her sister. Berry does a great job of creating an eerie and unsettling atmosphere, giving me that same feeling of unease that you get when you sense someone is behind you.

That being said, the chapters are comprised of shorter, choppier sentences with a stream-of-consciousness feel, which isn’t my favorite writing style. For me, that created some distance and prevented me from connecting with the characters fully.

As the story unfolds, the reader learns that Nora and Rachel had a close, but fraught relationship, as many sisters do. I found the exploration of this sister relationship quite fascinating, particularly since both sisters are flawed.

Nora’s world is completely shaken after her sister’s death and the description of her thoughts and feelings felt true to me. Although I struggled to connect in certain sections, there are parts of this novel that I felt were well done. I’ll be keeping an eye out for future work from Flynn Berry.

Jane Steele


Ok, now for actual coherent thoughts. I’ve wanted to read this book since the beginning of the year and I’m so glad that I finally got around to it. A novel inspired by Jane Eyre with Jane as a feminist murderess? Yes, please, sign me up!

I love the original Jane Eyre and was really curious to see how Faye would handle this story. The answer is very, very well. This line from very early in the book says it all: “Reader, I murdered him.” So simple and so good!

There are lots of tidbits like that sprinkled throughout the book- references to the original text that will have you nodding along in agreement if you’ve read Jane Eyre. But Jane Steele is also her own, fully-formed character. She shares some personality traits with Jane Eyre, but differs in other areas, which I’ll let you discover when you read this book. Also, to be clear, Jane Steele is a straight-up serial killer. And yet, I love her.

This might be blasphemous for those who ship hard for Jane Eyre and Mr. Rochester, but I feel that Jane Steele and Mr. Thornfield, Jane Steele’s love interest in this book, are a better match (agree or disagree? Let’s discuss this).

I think the key with a retelling (of sorts) is to treat the original text with respect, while still creating a unique story, and Faye has done a brilliant job in both areas. This was a truly enjoyable read that I would recommend to those who liked Jane Eyre.

Perfect Days

Boy meets girl. Boy thinks girl is perfect and everything he’s every wanted. Boy falls in love with girl. Boy kidnaps girl so that he can force her to fall in love with him. Uhhhh, wait a minute…

The scariest part of this book is Teo’s psychopathic behavior. He knows how he is supposed to act, but has no problem twisting the narrative to support his desires. There are certain moments in this book that made my jaw drop or made me think, “How can he get away with this?”

Something about the writing threw me off though. I’m not sure if something was lost in translation, but the writing felt stilted to me. Despite that, this was a quick read (one particular scene stands out and still makes me a bit queasy when I think about it!) that I’d recommend to some people for it’s uniquely disturbing nature alone.

The Rosie Project

I’m glad this is being adapted into a movie because this is the kind of light, enjoyable romantic comedy that I’m a total sucker for. Don, a professor of genetics, has developed the perfect solution to his quest for a partner. He’s created a tailored questionnaire that will weed out all of the highly unsuitable matches and hopefully lead him to his ideal mate. Then he meets Rosie, who’s not at all suitable in most areas. I bet you can guess where this is heading!

Although this is very predictable, it was also a lot of fun. This is a good summer read- breezy, decently written, and fun. I couldn’t help but chuckle at some of Don and Rosie’s personality traits and certain scenes that I feel will translate well on the big screen.

Rosie’s character felt like a bit of a manic pixie dream girl, but from time to time she did call out Don on his sexist behavior, which I liked. Also, there were opinions expressed by certain characters that rubbed me the wrong way, but I reminded myself that the characters’s views do not necessarily equal the author’s views.

In the end though, I liked this novel, and plan to watch the movie whenever it comes out!

The Raven King

The fourth book in the Raven Cycle series continued the formula that I love the most: the gang working together on a singular quest. I really enjoyed reading this final book in the series and it made me remember the wonder and delight I felt when I read the first book.

I know I’ve mentioned this before in a review of one of the earlier books in the series, but I truly admire the author’s ability to establish a certain mood and ambience with her words. Her writing really lends itself to the otherworldly nature of the events that take place throughout the series. Since she created such a vivid environment that I’ve become very familiar with while reading the series, finishing this final book really felt like coming home again.

I was satisfied with the conclusion of the series. For me, it was surprising, but not shocking, and if I’d considered it more thoroughly, I feel like I would have realized what they would find on the hunt for Glendower. There were also some moments that had been building up for several books and I was really glad that they were finally explored here. I could certainly read more pages about this world and these characters, and I do feel like the author has left enough ambiguity to create a spinoff series (I believe she’s confirmed that she’s working on a trilogy from Ronan’s perspective).

The Widow

For quite a while, Jean suspects that her husband has done some bad things. Despite this, she remains by his side and defends him against his accusers. However, when her husband dies, there’s no reason to be quiet anymore. Jean is a widow, finally free of her husband, and can say whatever she wants…

This book was so straightforward. Like, way too straightforward for a thriller. Let me clarify- I mean way too straightforward for a book that’s been compared to Gone Girl and The Girl on the Train. I knew right away that Glen, Jean’s husband, was a bad man, and my opinion of him didn’t change throughout the novel. He’s controlling, sexist, and emotionally manipulative.

The book is told from a few different perspectives, including Jean, a reporter named Kate, and the detective working on the case. In Jean’s chapters, I think we’re meant to see a woman rediscovering herself after being freed from her husband, but what I really saw was a woman that remained a puppet, rather than the orchestrator of her own life.

Despite the fact that I continued to turn the pages, I was not emotionally invested in this story. The writing was fine, the characters were fine, and the setting was fine, but there was nothing in this thriller to thrill me. After reading this, I craved a book with some real intrigue!

Purple Hibiscus

Before reading this, I was certain that I would love this book, and I was right. Let’s just take a moment to bask in the glory of Adichie’s writing. Reading her words makes me actually want to act out the *raised hands* emoji in real life.

Kambili and her brother Jaja grow up in a strict household, with a father who has strong beliefs about religion and about what is proper. When Kambili and Jaja visit their aunt in Nsukka, they are exposed to a world filled with laughter, love, and endless possibilities.

First of all, there’s so much that I identify with in this book. My parents are also Nigerian and I also felt like I grew up in a strict household (or at least, it was much more strict than most of the other kids I knew, but not nearly at the level that Kambili and Jaja experience in this novel). So I completely understand that feeling of wanting to break free and follow a different path (and who hasn’t experienced that feeling from time to time?).

Kambili is awkward and tongue-tied because she has been raised in a home where silence is much more common than expressing your thoughts or opinions. It’s such a powerful feeling to recognize parts of yourself in a character. There are so many times when Kambili is straining to say or do the right thing, the thing that other people view as “normal,” and I can understand that feeling. At times, Kambili feels inadequate because her view of the world has been limited, and I know that feeling as well.

This is a story about family, about religion, about growing up. Adichie explores the relationships between parents and children, and siblings, and considers how we can still love the people that hurt us the most. We also watch Kambili come of age in this novel, and throughout I was cheering her on and hoping that she would find the freedom she didn’t even know she needed.

There’s so much more I could say about this novel (if you’ve read this book, let’s talk in the comments below!). The writing is absolutely beautiful, the characters are deep and real, and the setting is wonderfully evocative. In short, if you haven’t read any of Adichie’s work yet, what are you waiting for?

Tipping the Velvet

This is the first Sarah Waters book that I’ve ever read, but I think I can safely call myself a fan of her work. This book was beautifully written and I thoroughly enjoyed it.

Nan is an ordinary girl living in the seaside town of Whitsable in the late 1800s. In her spare time, she loves venturing to the music hall. On one of these trips, she sees Kitty Butler, a saucy, male impersonator, for the first time. Nan is thoroughly captivated by Kitty’s demeanor and performance, and once the two actually meet, Nan’s life will never be the same.

Did I mention how much I loved this novel? The writing is so wonderfully descriptive and wistful. Nan’s family is in the oyster business, and when Waters writes about preparing the oysters, I can nearly taste them in my mouth. The descriptions of the hustle and bustle of London were fascinating and gave me further insight into that time period. I also loved the use of Victorian slang and sometimes paused to look up these words that were entirely new to me.

I’m a secret romantic (or maybe everyone already knows by now), so I loved the slow burn of these two young women falling in love. All of the sweetness and the pain and the uncertainty of first love is captured in this story. On top of that, it’s a love that must be kept secret because it’s considered “unnatural,” which of course makes things even more complicated. There are quite a few sensual scenes in this book, but they don’t feel like they were included for shock value, but instead to show the natural progression of the relationship between these two women.

What I found most astonishing was Nan’s transformation over the course of this novel. I could not have predicted that the Nan we meet at the beginning of the story would end up where she does. Nan is around eighteen when the novel begins and we witness her becoming her own person, which is rather exciting. Physical transformation is also explored, as Nancy falls in love with a woman who dresses like a man. In fact, the act of transformation through clothing is an important theme throughout the book.

So, in short, I loved the history, the romance, the discussion of gender roles, and pretty much this entire book. I found this to be an immersive reading experience. I’d look up from the book after a while and realize that I’d been reading for an hour or more (usually when I should have been in bed, asleep!). I already cannot wait for my next Sarah Waters novel.

*Disclaimer: Under the Harrow was sent to me by the publisher for review purposes, but these are my honest thoughts and opinions. 

Book Reviews: July 2016

book reviews, july book reviews, homegoing review, an innocent fashion review, beautiful country review, multiple choice review

July was a good reading month, probably the best one I’ve had since January in terms of actually finishing books! Thanks to being on vacation, I had a good amount of downtime for reading. Here are the five books I finished last month:

BEAUTIFUL I like a good coming-of-age novel, which is why the premise of this book intrigued me. As a young teenager, Chase’s father sends him to Beijing to join the national junior tennis team. In his temporary home, Chase tries to adapt to a new culture, all while missing his friends and his routine back home.

This book is written very simply, which is not necessarily a bad thing. Due to the writing style and a younger protagonist, this felt more like a YA read, even though I think it’s being marketed as an adult novel. I did enjoy reading about Chase’s experience of moving to a new country, because relocating is such a formative experience, particularly at such a young age.

My biggest critique of this novel is that I wanted more depth. I wanted to get to know the characters better, including Chase and the young boys who become his new teammates, I wanted Chase’s family history to be further developed, and I wanted to know more about the relationship between Chase and his father, which was often tense. The author would start to discuss interesting themes, but then not follow through, which is a skill that he may develop over time (this is his debut novel). This was a pleasant and easy read, and I’ll be keeping an eye on this author to see what he writes next.

homegoing Believe the hype, guys, believe the hype. The novel begins in eighteenth-century Ghana with two girls, Effia and Esi. Although the two are sisters, their lives take very different paths. Effia is married to a prominent white slave trader, while Esi is sold as a slave. This book spans hundreds of years as we follow the descendants of these two young women.

First of all, let me say that I’m impressed. This is a debut novel with an ambitious scope. Not only is it beautifully written, but Gyasi weaves through the lives of various characters with ease. Everyone in this book is flawed, from the white traders, to the village chiefs who assist the slave traders, to the villagers themselves. We see Effia and Esi’s descendants struggling and striving and trying to survive.

Aside from the writing, my favorite part about this book was the characters. We are constantly being introduced to new characters, but each character is alive and fully-formed. I could have spent a lot more time with each character, or even read a full novel about each one.

This book is so necessary and important and demonstrates the way that black people have been struggling for hundreds and hundreds of years, without sugarcoating anything. I’ve added this to my list of books that everyone needs to read, which also includes Americanah and Between the World and Me. That’s all I’m going to say, folks, because I want you to stop reading and go pick up this book right now.

winter I finally read the last book in The Lunar Chronicles and it confirmed my general thoughts about this series. It’s not perfect, but there are definitely good elements and it’s simply fun to read. My thoughts on each of the main characters were pretty solidified by the first three books and that didn’t change while reading this one. It was good to have the whole gang back together though, and I think I was satisfied enough with the conclusion of the series. I enjoy Marissa Meyer’s books, so I’m looking forward to checking out her new book, Heartless, that will be published this fall.

innocent Ethan St. James’s dream job is to work at a fashion magazine. He graduates college, moves to New York City, and lands a coveted internship at Régine, the biggest fashion magazine in the world. As he quickly discovers though, Régine is not all he thought it would be, leading him to question everything he’s ever wanted.

For some reason, I was a bit skeptical when I started the book. It sounded like something I would enjoy, but then I thought that maybe I’d be disappointed. Well, original me was right- I really enjoyed this book. First of all, the fashion. I love reading descriptions of clothing and style, so the sartorial passages were right up my alley. Secondly, I know that I love books about twenty-somethings trying to make it New York City (hello real life, meet fictional life). Finally, the main character went to Yale University, which is my alma mater. As you can see, there were a lot of elements of this book that I could connect with and enjoy.

Our main character is a misfit. He grew up in a small, conservative town in Texas, and is teased for being different and having different interests than the other kids. It’s a coming-of-a-story in which Ethan explores his aspirations, his sexuality, and his identity. There’s also lots of fun and snarky commentary on the fashion industry. This felt like a fun and appropriate summer read.

multiple I may have missed the point of this book completely, and yet I still enjoyed it. It’s structured like a multiple choice test and based on the Chilean National Aptitude test. I give this all the points for originality with the structure. Towards the end of the book, there are longer essays, which felt like short stories, and were easier for me to grasp. Even though I wasn’t sure I was understanding everything, I felt like I was exercising my mind, which is a good thing. Reading this also made me want to pick up more of Zambra’s work, probably in a format that I’m a bit more used to!

Book Reviews: December 2015 – June 2016

I think you should get cozy, because this post is going to be massive! Get some snacks, and your beverage of choice, then come back to read this post. I haven’t posted about books at all this year (my last book review post was in November), so we have some catching up to do. I hope you get at least one new book idea from this post. Let’s dive in!

book reviews, what I read, books, books I read, reading wrap-up

THE-BODY I love how Christie plays with the stereotype of the library in mystery novels. In the beginning, the body of a young girl is found in the library and the surprise expressed when this fact is revealed to the owners of the house is quite amusing (basically along the lines of, “But,how did the body end up in my library?”). In fact, Christie pokes fun at various figures throughout the novel, including men who underestimate women like Miss Marple. This was another solid mystery from Agatha Christie and I enjoyed it.

THE-GROWNUP It’d been a while since I read anything by Flynn (I read all of her novels a few years ago), it this was a nice reminder of how much I enjoy her writing. It was so short though! Still, Flynn managed to tell a lot in a few pages, and I found this both entertaining and creepy. I can’t wait for her next full-length novel to come out.

book reviews, what I read, books, books I read, reading wrap-up



QUINTANA Since I read all three books in this trilogy last month, let’s talk about the series as a whole. It was excellent. I didn’t really have any expectations when I started it, so I was blown away by how much I enjoyed it. First, of all the characters were fantastic. I just want to hug the author for giving us such interesting, well-developed characters. I fell in love with the characters in the first book and became heavily invested in their lives. To see them suffer and grow and fight and survive over the course of the series was really rewarding. Also, the author has created such a fascinating world. I find that I’m more interested in politics when it’s fictional. I was able to follow the relationships between the different kingdoms and enjoyed how each kingdom was distinctly described and was it’s own separate world.

This is fantasy, so there were some mystical elements in play here. In particular, there are prophecies and curses, and it’s interesting to see how they are connected and ultimately explained. This is a strange statement, but one thing I love about a crisis is the way it brings people together. In these novels, unlikely alliances are made and people are willing to risk everything for a better world. I love that! These books also deal with difficult topics so that they are carefully handled, without shying away from the reality of these tragedies.

I think these books are long (I’m not entirely sure how long exactly since I read the eBooks), but I found them relatively fast-paced and entertaining. I was so engrossed while reading this over the holiday break and my family quickly learned to ignore the little sounds of surprise or amusement that I made as I was reading.

I found this series by stalking Max’s YA shelves, but I haven’t heard anybody speak about them before (although I’ve been told that Reagan from Peruse Project has mentioned them on her channel). The characters are excellent, the world-building is excellent, and the story is excellent. I’ll second Max and say that more people should read this series!



CRESS I knew this series is popular and I was on a real YA kick in December, so I decided to pick it up. Also, fairytale retellings are my jam, so I had a feeling I’d get along with this series. About halfway through Cinder, I was enjoying it, but not sure what all the hype was about. Then a lot started to happen in the book and I was finally sucked in. I liked a lot of the twists that Meyer made to the traditional story. Cinder is more of a tomboy in this version and it’s awesome to see the way she develops over the series. In fact, I think she is my favorite character of all of them, possibly because she demonstrates the most growth.

I wasn’t in love with the setting in the first book. I’m not sure why exactly, but it was lacking something for me. Over the course of the series, I think it’s gotten better, I think because we move out of New Beijing and explore other locations.

Meyer’s writing is really easy to read and engaging. I think she’s also done a really great job of weaving together these different stories. By the end of book 1, I was excited by Cinder’s story line and I was afraid that it would be put on the backburner in book 2. Instead, we alternate between a new character (Scarlet) and Cinder and I’m really happy that Meyer chose to structure the novel that way. I also like the new characters we were introduced to and the overall story of Scarlet, although I do agree with a couple comments that it didn’t do much to move the main plot forward. It was still nice to explore the backstory a bit more though.

Now on to Cress. Can we talk about how great Thorne is as a character?! He’s sarcastic and rakish and charming, but behind all of the razzle dazzle, he has a heart. I love characters like that. I have to say though that I did not like Cress for most of the novel. Not that I actively disliked her, but she just felt so meh, compared to some of the other characters. Cinder and Scarlet can take care of themselves, but Cress is so helpless most of the time. By the end, she’d grown on me though.

My favorite pairing so far is Cinder and Kai. I really like that they see the best in each other and that understand each other better more than several other people in their lives. I’m looking forward to reading book 4 and finding out how the series wraps up!

GRAVE-MERCY You had me at nun assassins (or is it assassin nuns?). Seriously, the premise of this book is so intrigued. I’d say the actual delivery on such an intriguing premise was only somewhat there. I would have liked to spend a little more time with Ismae at the convent as she learned the skills she needed to become a great assassin. Still, the plot moved along at a good pace and I found the politics surrounded Ismae’s main mission pretty interesting. I was not entirely mad at the romance aspect either, except the way that Ismae was portrayed as clueless when it came to men. Another thing I felt iffy about was that it seems that they were thought to either seduce or kill their targets in order to diffuse or get out of a situation. Is there really no other way but seduction or death?

Besides a few misgivings, I liked the book overall. I found the story pretty interesting and I liked Ismae as a character. I wanted her to succeed. I also liked the writing style, which had an old-world feel to it. I might continue the series because the next two books follow two of the other characters mentioned in this book, and I remember thinking that I wish I knew more about them as I was reading.

INTERVIEW I’ve seen bits and pieces of the movie and then a friend recommended the book to me, so I decided to pick it up. I’m definitely interested in vampire stories so I was curious about this popular series. I didn’t expect it to be so philosophical though. Louis is basically miserable the entire time and grapples with his code of ethics and his purpose in life. Also, the relationship between Louis and Claudia made me uncomfortable, although I suppose it was meant to. They turned down the creepiness in the movie (which I watched in full after finishing the book), although it’s still creepy because now you have a mental image. The idea of a child vampire is both titillating/terrifying. When it describes how Claudia would lure in her victims, I thought “Ackk!” but also, that’s entertaining stuff. I didn’t love this, but it considers some interesting questions and for pop culture reasons, I feel like it’s one of the important vampire books to read.

book reviews, what I read, books, books I read, reading wrap-up

EVERYTHING Ok, people, you were right. This book was amazing; just as good as people say it is.

Everything I Never Told You is a novel about grief, family, and so much more. The Lees are a Chinese-American family living in Ohio in the 1970s. When the eldest daughter and favorite child, Lydia, dies, the delicate family balance is broken and each member of the family must come to terms with their loss. We begin with Lydia’s death, and then shift back and forth in time to before and after the incident.

It is incredible to me that this was a debut novel. Ng writes with an experienced quality, creating characters that are fully-formed and completely believable. In particular, Ng beautifully captures a wide variety of human emotions.

Ng deftly explores several themes in this short novel, including otherness. She describes how the Lees spend their entire lives feeling different because of their race, and how they are reminded of their differences every day. She also examines family dynamics and how sibling relationships shift when one child is favored above the rest. There are generational questions too, as the parents strive for a better life for their children, for their children not to experience the regrets that haunt their own lives.

I felt that this book was beautifully and truthfully written. I felt connected to it on several different levels, able to identify with a lot of the struggles that the characters faced. I have no idea why it took me so long to pick this up, but I’m so glad I did. I’d recommend it to anyone and I’ve already named it my favorite read of 2016 thus far.

THE-EXPATS I’ve always wondered what it would be like to live abroad and this latest novel from Janice Y. K. Lee gave me a peek into the expat life. The story centers around three women: Mercy, a twenty-something struggling to find her purpose in life, Margaret, a mother of three who has a handsome husband and an envy-inducing life, and Hilary, who is desperate to become a mother herself. Lee weaves these lives together as each woman explores her own identity.

I found the setting and descriptions of expat culture fascinating. Lee focuses on American expats who are stationed in Hong Kong for a year, or three, or ten. The expatriates stay within their own community, and interaction with locals is often characterized by a clash of cultures. Within the expat community, there are different cliques based on wealth, or common interests.

This is a quiet, beautiful written novel. Through her choice of words, Lee is able to convey so much about a character’s personality. Each of the three women is a distinct entity, with their own quirks, insecurities, mannerisms and principles.

Each woman also has a significant hurdle to overcome: Margaret must deal with a terrible loss, Mercy tries to recover from a traumatic event, and Hilary constantly feels a lack- the absence of a child. As these three women try to reform their lives, Lee takes the reader along for the journey. If you have an interest in experience other cultures and enjoy character studies of women, I’d highly recommend The Expatriates.

THE-FISHERMEN The Fishermen is a story about fate and destiny and about the childhood of four brothers living in the small town of Akure, Nigeria. When their father moves to a different city for work, they take advantage of his absence to venture down to the forbidden river and fish. On one of these adventures, they encounter the local madman who tells them a prophecy that will forever change the course of their lives.

Obioma weaves in elements of fable, fairytales, and African proverbs as he chronicles the lives of these four boys. His descriptions are vivid and conjure up images that are both weird and wonderful. He demonstrates how one incident can have a ripple effect on many lives. In addition to the lives of this particular family, Obioma paints a picture of the political and cultural landscape of Nigeria at that time.

Although I thought this was beautifully written, I did feel a certain distance from the characters that prevented me from fully immersing myself in the story. I can’t pinpoint if something was lacking for me, or if my expectations when I started the novel were too high. Regardless, Obioma has delivered a very strong debut novel and I’ll be looking out for his next work.

THE-PICTURE This was a reread for me, and as I often find with rereads, I rediscovered how great this book is. I was particularly fascinated by how Dorian’s life is changed and influenced by the development of a friendship with Lord Henry. Was he already on the path of self-destruction when he met Lord Henry, or was he placed there? I think many of Wilde’s comments and observations on beauty, youth, and society, and the entanglement of these three topics, still hold true today. Also, I tabbed so many of Wilde’s aphorisms throughout the book, that I probably should have just started underlining them. I was happy to revisit The Picture of Dorian Gray and check off my classic for the month.

EENY-MEEN Two people are kidnapped and trapped in an abandoned building. They are left with only a gun and a message from their kidnapper: the only way out is if one of them dies, otherwise, they’ll both starve to death. Eeny Meeny is the first novel in a series featuring Detective Helen Grace. Helen’s objective is to track down this criminal and uncover their motive.

This book is a real page-turner thanks to the straightforward sentences and short chapters. Arlidge gets straight to the point and drops the reader right into this twisted tale. For pure entertainment purposes, I’d rate this thriller higher, even though the plot does begin to feel repetitive after a point. However, the mediocre writing quality began to grate my nerves several chapters in. The dialogue felt stilted, and in some instances, conversations were confusingly described, when I felt dialogue or better descriptions would have suited the passages more.

In addition, the characters receded far into the background, while the plot was the main focus. Although there are several police officers mentioned throughout the book, I could only tell you a little bit about a three or four of them (including our main character, Helen) because the rest are there in name only.

Despite its flaws, I found this entertaining enough to keep reading until the killer was uncovered. While I can’t really recommend this first installment, I will probably continue the series at some point to see if some of my criticisms are resolved in future novels.

SUDDEN About 30 pages into this book, I wasn’t entirely sure what was happening, but I decided to accept that feeling and buckle up for the ride. And what a ride it was! Sudden Death describes a fictional tennis match between the Italian painter, Caravaggio, and the Spanish poet, Francisco Quevedo. Interspersed between the games are snippets from historical texts, emails with his editor, and storylines featuring other prominent historical figures, such as Hernán Cortés and Vasco de Quiroga. Like the tennis ball in the match, the reader bounces around wildly from story to story and the result is disorienting and mind-bending (in a good way!).

First of all, this was a lot of fun and I certainly haven’t read anything like it before. Enrigue loves to play with reality, so that it’s difficult to distinguish between fact, speculation, and pure imagination. The novel is full of violence- beheadings, religious movements, and war. Enrigue breaks up these brutal tales with bits of humor so that one minute you’re wincing at a death and the next you’re chuckling at the ridiculousness of some of the characters (sometimes the wincing and the chuckling is happening at the same time).

Enrigue explores so many themes in Sudden Death, from language, translation, and the power of words, to art and the responsibility of the artist. The chapters are generally short and move quickly, but I found myself constantly pausing to look up a historical figure, or a movement, or one of Caravaggio’s paintings. My history knowledge is rather rusty at the moment, so it would be interesting to reread this at a later point with a better understanding of the historical context.

I was able to attend an event with the author and he said that “the novel is a proposal.” It’s up to the reader to bring their own interpretations to the table. The author was able to say so much in such a short novel. My review is just scratching the surface- I want more people to read this so that we can discuss!

THE-BLUEST-EYE I finally (finally!) read my first Toni Morrison novel and it did not disappoint. The Bluest Eye is the story of Pecola, who wishes desperately for blue eyes, which she equates with beauty, belonging, and all that is good in the world. Pecola does not have a good childhood (her father is a drunk and her mother barely cares for her children) and sadly we witness Pecola’s life devolve from bad to much worse.

It pretty much goes without saying that Morrison’s writing was beautiful, but it was also more accessible than I thought it would be. I was intrigued by the structure as we jumped back in time to understand the history of the characters and how this history leads to the terrible events in Pecola’s life. The story is narrated from the perspective of a young black girl who is friends with Pecola and we never hear from Pecola herself. I understand this was a conscious choice on Morrison’s part, but it still left me wishing to hear Pecola’s perspective at least once.

Morrison explores society’s obsession with beauty, but particularly a certain kind of beauty- standards and ideals that have been perpetuated throughout time. Of course the author writes about race and the divides created between white people and black people and between black people who despise their own blackness and other black people.

The overwhelming feeling when I finished this book was sadness. Pecola is mistreated and downtrodden her entire life and she deserves none of it. I can’t wait to pick up another book by Morrison, although not right away because I’ll need some time to recover from this one.

book reviews, what I read, books, books I read, reading wrap-up

BETWEEN When Toni Morrison says a book is required reading, you read it. Written as a letter to his son, Coates explores the concept of “race” in America. He discusses his childhood and growing up on the streets, and his period of discovery when he attended Howard, the Mecca.

Coates describes race as an idea constructed by society and how black bodies have been affected by this construct for years. He writes about learning to question everything, rather than accepting ideas or “norms” as they are. He discusses the moment that his son realized the world is not a fair place, and his own realization of the gulf that exists between the world and him.

This was certainly a powerful and thought-provoking read. There were ideas that I’d never considered before and I think it’s difficult not to feel some despair while reading about some of the things that Coates has experienced. There are no quick or easy solutions. Acknowledging and accepting that there are problems is important, as is continuing to seek answers. It is a fairly short book, but if you plan to read it, I’d encourage you to take it slowly to really absorb his words.

THE-COUNT The sense of accomplishment that I feel after finishing this book is real, guys. Over the course of two months, I read this as a buddy read with Ameriie. I’d previously read an abridged version and I’ve seen the movie several times, so I had a pretty good idea of the story (or at least I thought I did!).

In terms of language and writing style, I think this classic is very accessible. Normally it takes me some pages to settle into the different style, but I was engaged from the very beginning. It doesn’t hurt that this novel is quite fast-paced (even more so if you’re reading the abridged version, from what I’ve been told).

There’s revenge and romance, duels and disguises; basically everything I could want in one novel. There are so many characters to love in this book and it is truly a great adventure to follow the course of the Count’s life for a period of about 25 years (my math might be off there- feel free to correct me).

Let’s talk about the size of this book. I will admit that seeing a page count of 1462 pages is very daunting, but don’t let it stop you. I read this book in short spurts over a long period of time, until the last 330 pages, which I read in a day. I’m sure that if you set your mind to it, you could easily finish this book in a much shorter time frame than I did. And the story is so worth it! Except for a few chapters here and there, I was intrigued by the plot the entire time.

Long story short, The Count of Monte Cristo was excellent and I’d read it again (although not anytime soon ;)

book reviews, what I read, books, books I read, reading wrap-up

PERSUASION Before today, I would have called myself a Jane Austen fan, but really I was a Pride and Prejudice fan because that was the only Austen novel I’d read up until this month. I wasn’t sure which Austen to pick up next, but a few people recommended that I turn to Persuasion.

Persuasion was a slow burn for me. Of course, in the beginning, I was comparing it to Pride and Prejudice, which is a book that I fell in love with right away. Persuasion follows Anne Elliot, one of three sisters in a well-respected family in the English countryside. When Anne is a teenager, she falls in love with a sailor named Wentworth, but is persuaded not to marry him due to his lower rank in society.

It wasn’t until I was about 80 pages in that I began to identify with Anne and connect to the story. Anne is often overlooked and taken for granted, but she has a quite strength and grace that is very compelling. I could see some of myself in Anne with her sensitive and analytical nature, and her desire to please others. I also appreciated Anne’s patience in dealing with her family, who all seem like a bunch of nincompoops. I can’t imagine it being easy to put up with them!

Austen’s  writing slowly draws the reader into Anne’s world and even from an early stage, I was rooting for Anne. It doesn’t matter that it was written hundreds of years ago- Austen’s characters and their desires and struggles still feel very relevant today. There was one moment in particular that just filled me with delight, to the point that I actually squealed and gasped when I read it (it’s pretty well known, I’m sure you could guess if you’ve read the book). I can’t wait to watch the adaptations of Persuasion and I’m looking forward to my next Austen.

DRAGONFLY Oh how I missed you, Claire and Jaime. This second novel in the Outlander series picks up where the first left off, beginning in the modern age and then moving to the past. Claire and Jaime have traveled to a new country and have to find ways to adjust to their new life. There’s court intrigue, political plots, lavish parties, and more. I won’t say more about the plot other than that, since this is the second book in a series.

My first feeling when I started this book was delight at being back in this world. I missed the setting, the characters, and being wrapped up in their lives. I loved the first half of the book and reading descriptions of the new setting. If you’ve read the book, I’ll just say that I’m fascinated by that time and that country, so the first half of the book ticked all of my boxes.

In the second half, the political plot line takes prominence, which I don’t find as interesting as other themes in the novel. For that reason, the second half dragged a bit for me, although I was still interested enough to keep reading. I’m still impressed, however, by how throughly Gabaldon researched the time period and how accurate the setting feels. I mean, I haven’t fact-checked her work, but I think the readers can sense when the author has thoroughly and carefully constructed their world.

Dragonfly in Amber didn’t grab me the same way that Outlander did, with the novelty of discovering a new, rich world filled with compelling characters. Despite that and despite the somewhat uneven reading experience, I enjoyed this second installment and would like to continue the series at some point.

NO-ONE-KNOWS Five years ago, Aubrey Hamilton’s husband vanished into thin air. No one knows what happened to him and for a while, Aubrey was a prime suspect in the case of his disappearance. The book begins in the present, with the State of Tennessee declaring Josh Hamilton legally dead. Although Aubrey hasn’t found the answers or closure that she wanted, she decides to try and move on with her life, until strange events cause her to question everything she thought she knew about her life before.

I’m still a bit mad about this book, which had an ending that left me feeling duped, and not in a good way. I mean, I like a good plot twist as much as the next person, but it has to make sense and fall into place with the rest of the story. I want a plot twist to be exciting because I didn’t see it coming, not because the author pulled it out of a rabbit hole, just for the sake of having a plot twist.

My overall conclusion is that while this was an entertaining read, it wasn’t compelling enough for me to recommend it to others.

Book Reviews: November 2015

November Book Reviews, fates and furies review, heidi review

fates-and-furies-review This was my favorite read of the month. My library hold finally came in last month, but I wasn’t able to finish it before it expired, so I ended up purchasing the book. In this novel, we get to see both sides of a story. Lotto and Mathilde are the golden couple. They are happily married and together they can face any obstacle. The question is though, can you ever truly know someone? The first half of the book is told from Lotto’s perspective, and then we read Mathilde’s perspective.

With a buzzy book, there’s always the risk that the book is not actually worth the hype, but I really enjoyed this one. Groff’s writing style is so interesting and expertly done. She often addresses the reader in brackets and I liked these asides because it made it seem a bit like an oral history. It also recalled instructions and insights that you might see in a play, which is a clever nod to one of the character’s profession.

It’s hard to choose which part I preferred. Lotto’s section sets the stage nicely, but by the end I was desperate to learn more about Mathilde because she’s so enigmatic in the first half. Her section surprised me- it was not what I was expecting.

Fates and Furies is an amazing character study. The author explores the life of an artist; the need to create and be recognized for your creation. We also read about the walls that people build and the outward personas that they present. I think that Mathilde was my favorite character because she was the most complicated. Through Mathilde, Groff shows us that sometimes we only see what we want to see. I’d definitely be curious to hear what you thought if you’ve read this one!

heidi-review This year, for my birthday, I treated myself to a few more Puffin in Bloom editions in order to complete my set. I’ve seen the Shirley Temple movie adaptation of Heidi, but this was my first time reading the book. Heidi is orphaned at a young age and is cared for by her aunt. When her aunt receives an opportunity to work in Frankfurt, she decides to leave Heidi with her grandfather. Due to circumstances in the past, Heidi’s grandfather has become something of a hermit and the villagers are worried that he won’t be a suitable guardian for Heidi. However, Heidi is just the right person to show her grandfather that life is worth living and people aren’t so bad after all.

This book was very sweet. The story is somewhat as I remember, although I think the movie adaptation that I’ve seen varies a bit. Heidi has such a positive attitude. She faces several difficult situations as a child, but in each case, she tries to make the best of it and be a positive influence on the lives around her. In one section of the book, Heidi is very homesick and she just wants to return home; I think we’ve all felt that at some point. There some religious overtones, which I don’t mind, I just prefer that they be more subtle (although this is a children’s novel, so I suppose the author wanted to make sure she got her point across). This was a feel-good read and it’s just what I was in mood for at the time.

Weird-Things-Customers-Say-in-Bookstores-Review I follow Jen Campbell’s youtube channel and the videos that she makes about books are just fantastic. I picked up my copy of this book earlier this year at the Brooklyn Book Festival. Jen has worked in a bookstore for several years and during that time has had many interesting interactions with customers. She started to document the weird things that people say on her blog, and that later evolved into this book. The book features quotes from Jen, and also other booksellers around the world (including one from my local bookstore in CA!). This is a super fast read and I thought it was hilarious. I can’t believe people actually said some of these things. This book was delightful and would make a great gift for any book lover.

Blue-Lily,-Lily-Blue-Review Towards the end of the month, I wanted to read something fast and engaging and then I remembered that I hadn’t yet read the third book in the Raven Cycle series (there’s one more book, which comes out next year). I was a bit disappointed after I finished the second book. I really liked the first book and felt that the second one was a bit of a deviation from that. Happily, my complaints about the second book are fixed in the third book. We’re back to following the characters as they continue their quest together. We also get more of Blue and her family, who I missed in book 2. I think the magical elements of this story have become even more interesting because we’ve seen the characters develop and learn more about themselves throughout the previous two novels. Also, I have to mention again that I enjoy the author’s writing. She’s really able to capture certain feelings; in particular, there was a description of grief that I just felt was spot on. I’m really glad the third book was more like the first one and I can’t wait to read the next installment.