BOOKS

Books of the Month | March

April 5, 2017

Somehow I managed to read 18 books this month? 18.5 if you count the book I half-way finished. The crazy thing was I hardly read at all the last two weeks of March because I got stuck on a couple of somewhat boring books, got busy, and then traveled to the Philippines for some much needed R&R after a hectic work month for Sly, as well as to celebrate Sly’s birthday.  I’m so used to spending my free moments reading or listening to an audio book, that it was kind of strange to take a break from reading for a couple weeks. I missed it! I’m definitely looking forward to getting back into my reading routine and tackling my never-ending stack of library books.

READ

The Passenger | Lisa LutzIt’s been a long time since I’ve felt compelled to stay up into the wee morning hours to finish a book, but from the moment I picked up this thriller, I couldn’t put it down. The Passenger is somewhat like The Fugitive in the sense that the story revolves around a woman who has been running from her past, only to have it catch up with her.  Relying on smart, fast-paced, storytelling over gimmicky twists and turns, The Passenger feels fresh and original instead of just a copycat Gone Girl/Girl on the Train. I really enjoyed reading this book.  It would make a great summer/beach read.

Faithful | Alice Hoffman | I think I might have accidentally read an Oprah book club pick, or at least that’s how it felt reading Faithful, by Alice Hoffman. The story is about an 18 year old girl who feels tremendous survivor’s guilt after surviving a horrific accident. Eventually, the main character works through her grief, self-loathing, and finding herself with the help of loved ones, new friends, lots of Chinese take out food, and dogs. While I admit that I enjoyed the story, the characters – especially the overly emotional boyfriend(s) who say stuff like “It was you,  it was always you” while pathetically pining after a girl who is completely and utterly emotionally unavailable – felt way too movie-script contrived.

Caraval | Stephanie Garber | One of this year’s hottest Y/A Fantasy debuts. For the first third of this book, set in a magical parallel Renaissance Venice (Carnival ~Caravel), I was completely and utterly absorbed. And then, the world started to feel like a Renaissance-Festival-Theme-Park-one-dimensional sort of world filled with paper cut out characters with no substance. Allow me to put on my nerd hat for a moment. The number one reason I love reading fantasy/sci-fi novels is because I love “traveling” to highly-creative imaginary worlds. Thus, the most important aspect of this type of book is successful world creation. For me, that means all the aspects of the imaginary world are flushed out; I should be able to “walk” through this world and immediately imagine its sights, smells, sounds, tastes, and the physics of the world. Creating a successful world usually involves inhabiting said world with more than one complex character (oftentimes many) and describing mundane things in minute detail. I think this is especially important in the first book of a series because it sets the stage and builds the world in which the successive books can inhabit. These details, while tedious at first, are what make the story.

As a first book in a fantasy series, Caraval started out with a lot of potential, only to fall flat on its face. Once the main characters entered the magical world, the descriptions never surpassed what people wore and the “brown muscles” of one of the main characters who was mentioned about a billion times. The heroine of the novel,  Scarlett, reminded me of one of my old coworkers we nicknamed “Frazzles” because every single basic obstacle that came up, no matter how simple and easy to solve, was met with more time overthinking and frazzling than the required 10 seconds of problem solving. The clues in the game were something a calm five-year old could piece together, but add in a couple one-dimensional love interests, a complete disregard of rules and common sense, a bunch of gaudy dresses with huge bows, and a high strung goody goody personality, and you have Scarlett in a nutshell. I wished more than anything I could climb into the book and slap her face and tell her to get it together. The last half of the book fell apart, and I couldn’t quite tell if it was because the author was thinking of the long game or if she didn’t really understand how books like this work. In fact, I wondered if the author even read fantasy books as a kid, or if she was just another author trying to break into the biz by writing a Y/A fantasy series.

That being said, I’m hoping that maybe the book will build its characters and world over time, and for now, I’m intrigued enough (or maybe have enough unanswered questions) to move on to the second book.

You Will Know Me | Megan Abbott | A sophisticated thriller that takes place in the competitive world of elite gymnastics. I grew up in Houston, home of Karolyi’s (aka YOU CAN DO IT!) gym and thus attended school with many an Olympian and many more Olympic hopefuls. For anyone that thinks the dance/gymnastics/cheerleading/ice skating world is for delicate flowers, think again. These girls, and more so, the parents of said girls, were/are no joke. And for every girl who made it to elite status, there were a hundred girls with crushed dreams who were left in the wake. You Will Know Me captures this darker side of gymnastics in a Liane Moriarity sort of suspenseful way.

A Torch Against the Night | Sabaa Tahir | What happens when a series that was originally set to be two books ends up expanding into four? Nothing. Absolutely nothing. As in nothing of interest happened in this book. I actually really enjoyed the first book of this series, An Ember in Ashes, so that the second was obviously just filler pissed me off. Basically the story is one long chase scene where the main female character grows dumber, more insecure, and less badass by the hour. Except, oh wait, except now she has magic powers? What? Since when? Also, see above about lack of world-building.

Nimona | Noelle Stevenson | A cute twist on the classic princess in distress fairytale trope with two more-than-friends princes and a girl-monster. Nimona began as a wildly popular webcomic and while I enjoyed the mishmash world where both dragons and science exists, the graphic novel felt more like the beginning of a story rather than a standalone book. It’s just not as tight as it could be and the characters aren’t as flushed out. Still, a fun read.

A Game of Thrones: The Graphic Novel, Vol. 1 | Daniel Abraham | I read the first GOT book a million years ago and never got around to finishing by the time the HBO series began. What I recall about the first book was the sheer number of characters I had a hard time keeping track of, but who were essential to world-creation, of which George R.R. Martin excels at. This graphic novel adaptation really captures the spirit of the original novel without feeling like a carbon copy of the tv series. It also visually filled in some of the who’s who gaps that I could never keep straight in either the book or tv version, although I suspect if you haven’t read or watched either, it might have the opposite effect. On top of it all, the full color artwork, especially the scenes with crowds, are impressive.

Her Every Fear | Peter Swanson | We read Peter Swanson’s book, The Kind Worth Killing, in our book club last year, and I liked it enough to read his newest book. Her Every Fear is about a young British girl who tries to forget a traumatic past couple of years by living in a new city for six months. She swaps apartments with her distant cousin in Boston and settles into a new routine until the person across the way is found murdered. Has her past come back to haunt her? There were some seriously creepy elements to this book that touched on a lot of fears that I think every woman must feel when they are living living alone in an unfamiliar city. The ending was wrapped up a bit too tidy for me, but otherwise, I’m a fan of Peter Swanson’s books.

This Life I Live: One Man’s Extraordinary, Ordinary Life and the Woman Who Changed It Forever | Rory Feek | I’m not huge into country music and I’m not really big on reading Christian inspiration sorts of stories/memoirs, but I did follow Rory Feek’s blog as he documented his wife, Joey’s, heartbreaking final months as she battled cancer. If you’re a Rory + Joey fan and/or draw inspiration from Christian faith, then this book will hit on all cylinders for you. As an outsider looking in, I appreciated a memoir of redemption, but mostly a memoir of love. The author doesn’t paint a rose-colored picture of himself, his marriage, or even his wife, but it’s one of undeniable love and honesty.

Wires and Nerve, Volume 1 | Marissa Meyer | Not only is this a companion graphic novel from the point of view of Cinder’s robot, Iko, but it’s also a continuation of the series, in comic form. I haven’t fully made my way through all of the books in the Lunar Chronicles, but I guess I sort of know how things end now.

My Not So Perfect Life | Sophie Kinsella | I don’t usually gravitate towards “chick-lit,” although I confess that I read, and loved, Bridget Jones Diary, and love watching girly movies with my sister. I never read The Shopping Diaries or whatever books Sophie Kinsella is known for, but I knew what I was getting into, and was kind of in the mood for some light reading. I said light, not stupid. My Not So Perfect Life was just dumb, and not in a hate-read-somewhat-enjoyable sort of way.

Pachinko | Min Jin Lee | A sweeping historical drama spanning several generations of that takes place Korea and Japan from 1900s to 1970s. While I found the plot to be a bit too Korean drama-ish, the historical backdrop of the story was so fascinating to me. Before reading Pachinko, I had a vague idea of what happened between Japan and Korea in the early to mid-1900s, but there were a lot of details in the book that I had to Google to understand more fully. Once again, a time, place, and people that was left out of history books, at least in my school.

Find Her | Lisa Gardner | I can totally see getting addicted to this series of detective thrillers, which, considering I always gave my dad a hard time for loving his cop novels, is kind of funny. I guess the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree. In Find Her, a girl is kidnapped during Spring Break and held captive in a coffin (!!!!) for nearly a year before escaping. Determined never to be a victim again, the girl turns into something of a badass vigilante who seeks out similar missing girl cases. This is the eighth book in the D.D. Warren series, and the first I’ve read. It works as a stand-alone book, though I may need to go back and read the first seven books in the series.

Habibi | Craig Thompson | Exquisitely beautiful artwork, somewhat convoluted story. In my opinion, the author tried to do too much with this hefty book, though I applaud the effort at intertwining three stories: Islam, Christianity, and a strange, somewhat disturbing, love story. I liked this book for the artwork, but disliked the use of Orientalism, which for the longest time made me think the book took place hundreds of years ago.

Pretty Good Number One | Matthew Amster-Burton |  A wannabe weeaboo goes to Japan for an entire month, prides himself on eating kawa yakitori, cucumbers, and udon (ooh! so daring!), and walks away an expert in all things Asian. Yawn. Same story, different white guy. As a self-published book, I suppose I shouldn’t have expected too much, but as a food writer, I kind of did.

Upstream | Mary Oliver | After I read this book, I immediately wanted to go outside, lie down on a patch of grass, and stare at trees all day long. I struggled with the middle section, which read like a literary criticism of Emerson, Poe, and Whitman. In my opinion, that could have been left out of the book completely. The remaining essays saved the book though, and one essay in particular almost made me do the unthinkable: shed a tear. Almost.

His Bloody Project | Graeme Macrae Burnet | This was our March book club pick and was essentially the definition of anti-climatic. The most exciting elements of the story happen within the first chapter, after which the story unfolds very slowly to reveal the motives behind the murder. I kept expecting some kind of “a-ha” moment, but that never happened. I appreciated the moody atmosphere and dark characters, but the book just never went anywhere for me, and by the time I reached the end, I thought, “Is that it?” I described this book in our book club as being similar to watching a long, drawn out, BBC miniseries. Except one of the more pointless ones where nothing really happens, not the Downton Abbey ones. Readable, but ultimately disappointing.

Buffering: Unshared Tales of a Life Fully Loaded | Hannah Hart | A millenial’s tale of her special snowflake meteoric rise to YouTube stardom. Disclaimer: I had no idea who Hannah Hart was prior to reading this book, and, after reading this book, I still don’t really care? Hannah definitely had an interesting life (all twenty-something years of it): a Jehovah’s Witness father who thinks she’ll burn in hell for being gay, a loving, but mentally unstable mother who left them to essentially fend for themselves, her battle with depression, self-harm and sexuality, but is her story any more exceptional than anyone else’s? And does everyone with a shred of fame, who endured any sort of hardship, have to write a book about it? I listened to Buffering as an audio book and I could barely get through it; the dramatically-read story at the end about a monk and a quiet child made me want to bang my head on a table. I especially loved when she referred to 2011 as the “old days” of the internet. You guys remember way back when to dark ages of 2011, right? Because I guess nobody created content before then, that is, until her (and her friends’) channel came along. Granted, I never heard of Hannah before this book, and I’m not really a huge watcher of YouTube channels (I don’t get the appeal of watching someone talk into a camera about nothing at all), so I don’t fall into her target audience of devoted fans who all showed up to write 5 star reviews of this book. Hannah seems like a wonderful, positive, intelligent, and accomplished woman who has indeed led a storied past, but I still stand behind what I said about people (not) writing memoirs in their 20s.

Storm in a Teacup: The Physics of Everyday LifeHelen Czerski | I love reading a good science book every now and then, but Storm in a Teacup was borderline “too science-y” (official term) for me. It’s not that the information wasn’t fascinating and presented well, but I had to really be in the right mind frame when reading it, and even when I was, I found myself going back and re-reading segments over and over so that I could fully comprehend the logic. Or just falling asleep mid-chapter. The author writes about real-world applications of physics in a friendly, conversational manner, but I kept wishing I had a diagram (or 10) to refer to — or even an equation — instead of a bunch of annotated foot notes (which I hate). I get why the author would stray from including equations, but seriously, sometimes they provide a much easier, and more visual way to explain something. This book held up all my other reading in March.  I desperately wanted to finish it but could only read it in small increments. I made it halfway through before I decided to give up and return to it at a later time.

READING

It’s Okay to Laugh (Crying is Cool Too) | Nora McInerny Purmort | After barely getting through Buffering, I was hesitant about starting up another audio book, but within the first three minutes, I could not put down this book. It was immediately relatable. I know this is probably going to be a sad story (I don’t know why I am drawn to stories like these), but so far, the book has me laughing more than crying. But then, I’m not much of a crier when it comes to reading books. Then again, I’m not much of a laugher.

Shiny Broken PiecesSona Charaipotra | I can’t believe I’m reading the second book in this stupid YA series that takes place in the competitive ballet world. What can I say, I enjoy reading dumb books from time to time.

Carve the Mark | Veronica Roth | Veronica Roth newest YA/sci-fi series. I read, and mostly enjoyed, the Divergent series and honestly this series seems almost as if it has been patterned off those books, but like I said, I enjoy reading dumb books from time to time.

The Last One | Alexandra Oliva | Another end-of-the-world story that blurs the line between reality TV and reality.  Twelve contestants are on a survival reality show when the shit hits the fan. The question is, what is real and what is fake? So far, I’m enjoying this book. It’s an easy read, which is exactly what I need after trudging through several slow-paced books.

TO READ

White Tears  | Hari Kunzru | I honestly have no clue what this book is about – something about a long lost blues recording that they thought was fake but actually turns out to be real? And time travel? It sounds both strange and intriguing.

The Wanderers | Meg Howry | A space drama book where astronauts are prepping for the first mission to Mars. Before they go, they have to train in a simulated environment for 17 months, which tests the astronauts to the brink and makes them question what is real and what is not.

Exit West | Mohsin Hamid | One of the buzziest books of the month about a couple of lovebirds who escape their war torn city by finding a door that leads to another world. This books seems like it would be totally up my alley, but so far I have been been kind of let down by the “buzz books” I’ve read so far this year. Hopefully, this lives up to the hype.

The Woman Next Door | Yewande Omotoso | Two neighbors – one black, one white – at odds with one another are forced together by an “unforeseen event.” Maybe these neighbors weren’t so different after all? I have a feeling this book might be too feel-good corny for me, but I’m curious to see what all the buzz is about.

A Court of Thorns and Roses | Sarah J. Maas | The first book in a popular YA fantasy series that includes magic, faeries, and, being that it’s a YA novel, I’m sure there will be a love triangle of some sort involved. The third book in this series will be released in May, so I thought I would give it a shot.

Behind Her EyesSarah Pinborough | The tagline for this book is, “Why is everyone talking about the ending?” Usually this means that I’ll find the ending to this thriller about marriage and infidelity to be totally predictable.

In the Darkroom | Susan Faludi | Our April book club pick is a memoir about a daughter traveling across the world to understand her family, past, and her estranged father who recently underwent sex reassignment surgery.

TLDR;

For the most part, I was disappointed with this month’s reads as many of the “most anticipated,” “buzzworthy” books on my list turned out to be average at best. The thrillers that I read this month were probably the best of the bunch.

THE GOOD

If you want the perfect book to read at a cabin: Upstream
If you want a book that will keep you up at night: The Passenger, You Will Know Me, Find Her
If you like sweeping Korean and/or Japanese historical dramas: Pachinko

THE BAD & THE BORING

If you want to read a YA book in a series that needs serious help with world building (and plot development): Caravel, A Torch Against the Night
If you like dumb chick-lit books (as opposed to entertaining, acceptably light, chick-lit books): My Not So Perfect Life
If you want a book that was nominated for a prestigious award but reminds you of a boring BBC miniseries: His Bloody Project
If you like memoirs written by well-meaning YouTube millenials: Buffering: Unshared Tales of a Life Fully Loaded
If you like travelogues written by a know-it-all white guy with yellow fever: Pretty Good Number One

PS: Is anyone else here on Litsy? I’ve been playing around with the app for the past month and am liking it for book recs.

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9 Comments

  • Reply Kevin April 6, 2017 at 8:07 pm

    How are books of the month chosen?

    Keeping Good Thoughts…

    • Reply veronika April 6, 2017 at 8:12 pm

      Usually people in the club suggest books and add to our long list. I end up curating books from that list to add to the shortlist. I try to keep the book selections current releases with universal appeal and also try to rotate subject matter so that we don’t read the same type of book back to back. For the summer months, I’ll choose beach reads or buzz books.

  • Reply Kevin April 11, 2017 at 11:48 am

    Have finished The Sympathizer. I’m not sure how to start a discussion. I’m thinking you make a statement,and then I make a statement.

    Keeping Good Thoughts…

    • Reply veronika April 12, 2017 at 9:22 am

      Did you like the book? What did you think of the ending? This is why you should join our book club! ๐Ÿ˜‰

  • Reply Kevin April 12, 2017 at 11:20 pm

    To be honest, I finished the novel two weeks ago. I had been delaying the “official” finish by putting off reading Nguyen’s essay and conversation that followed the story. As I was reading, I couldn’t help but imagine some of the insults and slurs that you and your sister and your brother must have been subjected to growing up, and thinking about that made the idea of discussing this book uncomfortable (the person that threw away the egg roll that your mother made for your lunch comes to mind). My reaction to the book as a whole was similar to yours…it’s not a for pleasure read, As for the overall theme that I’ve been trying to nail down for two weeks, I’m still at a loss. “Goddamnit” seems to be as close as I get. I can’t say I know more about Vietnamese culture. That wasn’t a focus. I can’t say that I know more about the “intervention”. That wasn’t the focus. As I’m typing, the word “aftermath” comes to mind. The picking up of pieces and hauling them the hell out of disaster. Settling in with people who don’t know what it is to have a bomb knock your house down, to live inside a war. As for the ending, I suspected about halfway through that Man could be the commisar, but it was still a little jolt when it turned out that way. It took a couple of paragraphs for me to realize that the lieutenant had literally been rendered a man of two minds. Reading it was jarring enough. To be reeducated for almost a year and a half…writing and rewriting a confession, the final extraction of which tears you in two, even after having spent a lifetime practicing the experience. “Holy shit” is as concise and accurate a description that I have for my reaction. Reading this book once isn’t enough for me to come close to plumming the depths of the subject matter, but I don’t know that I would want to read it again. Nguyen mentioned in the conversation with Paul Tran that a sequel was a real possibility.

    Keeping Good Thoughts…

    • Reply veronika April 17, 2017 at 12:14 pm

      There’s a term I heard recently, racial “microagression,” which I think perfectly describes what it’s like being a minority. I was never armed with this word growing up, but I wish I had been because it would have validated so many feelings/experiences. When I think back to my experiences growing up, I confess that I too was guilty of not being the kindest or most aware person. Among my friends, many of whom were 2nd generation (or something in between aka 1.5 generation born in 1 country but raised in US) there was a need to distinguish ourselves between the firt generation “fresh off the boat” classmates with names and accents that were the constant butt of brutal jokes. I never saw myself as “them,” an immigrant like my mom, and I regret now that instead of seeing our sameness and reaching out, I turned my back. Many of my cousins were boat people. At home, of course I loved them, but in public, I was embarrassed sometimes to be associated with them. It’s not right but I think even well-intentioned people don’t realize how they treat others who are different, particularly when it comes to Asian people because I think collectively most people associate racism with black and white.

      This book made me think a lot about what my mom must have lived through and it made me extremely sad to think about it. I can’t even imagine it even though I have family who were directly impacted (inc. a few who were re-educated). It’s overwhelming to even contemplate.

      Did you find the ending of the book to be hopeful? The main character on a boat back to wherever? Or did you find it hopeless? I couldn’t quite figure out how I felt about that.

      • Reply Kevin April 19, 2017 at 10:59 am

        My memory of childhood is spotty at best. One thing that does stand out is a day when I was eleven or twelve, walking up the street with a neighborhood friend, and I told him something like, “You’re not a nigger because you’re a good black person. Only bad black people are niggers.” I remember feeling somehow proud for saying it because he would clearly see it as the compliment it was meant to be. It took years before I felt ashamed of it. I can only imagine what he thought of it, or what his mother would’ve thought of it when the story was told. Or maybe he didn’t tell her, trying to spare her the humiliation and anger that must have risen in him.
        As far as how you turned away, if this happened anytime during adolescence or those lovely high school years, that’s a time of life when fitting in is generally considered paramount, almost on par with physical survival for a teenager. Maybe it was bad, but I don’t think you can be held completely accountable.

        Ultimately hopeful. I’m thinking that the duality he lived by turned out to be a survival mechanism. He somehow manages to extricate himself from physical/psychological torture by splitting his consciousness, seeming to shield himself in a way, or it happens involuntarily. Either way, I believe he’ll also be able to make himself whole again, or it will happen without him knowing it’s happened. Toward the last couple of pages, he talks about casting about for a new revolution. Making himself his own revolution is how he will make it work, which is kinda how we all make our own lives work. That’s the theory, anyway.

        Keeping Good Thoughts…

        • Reply veronika April 21, 2017 at 9:59 am

          Oh wow that’s pretty intense. As an 11-12 year old, you didn’t find it wrong to say “the n word,” not to mention in front of your friend? How did he react? Did you remain friends? I think that POC are probably used to giving non-POCs, or POCs outside of their race (or even within their own race/community, etc.), the benefit of the doubt, which isn’t right (hence the term “microaggression”) but I think that misinformed comments happen so much that it’s like, ok, this person isn’t a bad person, but regardless, what they said is racist whether they realize it or not. I would agree that there’s some level of ignorance that is “acceptable” when you’re younger, but I still feel that everyone is accountable for their actions and how they made people feel regardless of said ignorance.

          I thought the ending was hopeful at first, and then the more I thought about it, I thought, maybe it wasn’t. Maybe he’s dead inside now and just going with the flow. Maybe now he’s just a nameless “boat person,” like so many others, like so many that will come later from different wars, on a boat in the middle of the ocean, history repeating itself once again, as if the outcome is almost inescapable. Like no matter what he tried – moving to the US, becoming part of a movement to take back VN (this I had to google because I had no idea), working on a movie, being interrogated, etc. it was like no matter what he did, he was going to end up back on a boat fleeing his home – he could never go home because it was not there.

          • Kevin April 23, 2017 at 12:20 pm

            I was probably thinking that there was a difference between actively using the word as a slur and using it to make a point. I’m sure his reaction was aggravation at least. It’s something that I think about from time to time. We stayed in touch for a couple of more years and then drifted apart the way childhood friends can when they make new friends and get into different things. He was a genuinely nice guy.

            Something that makes me think he has a chance is that he notices the music of the city is missing. If he were dead inside and so far gone around the bend that all hope was lost, I don’t think the absence of music would have registered. Maybe. He still has some fight left in him.

            Keeping Good Thoughts…

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