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July 2017 Reads – #fantasy, #thriller

December 27, 2017 Leave a comment
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For more shots check out my bookstagram

July saw me seeking out a bunch of thrillers – 3 in fact, plus 2 dark fantasies.

I started the month with the much talked about Irish lit The Accident Season by Moira Fowley-Doyle. This book is somewhere between fantasy and mystery with an unreliable narrator leaving the reader uncertain if the fantastical things are really happening or just in the main character’s head. I was quite disappointed by this book in multiple areas. First, I felt queer-baited by this book as it was buzzed about having great queer content but in actual fact all of the queer characters are secondary characters with little “screentime.” It also has pacing issues. It starts really slowly and most of the action happens in the last 25% of the book. I also didn’t feel the fantasy elements added to the book at all; they just made it more confusing.
(2 out of 5 stars, buy it)
(source: Audible)

Next I read another much talked-about book The Girl on the Train a thriller by Paula Hawkins. If you haven’t heard much about this one, it’s about a woman who commutes on a train and watches a couple in their backyard when she goes by every day but then she sees something shocking and finds herself getting involved in their lives. I loved this book and felt it totally lived up to the hype. For me there was something just delightful about listening to this woman’s train commuter life and problems while also commuting on a train. Similarly, I really enjoyed how Rachel’s alcoholism isn’t the point of the story but the problems it causes (or issues it makes worse) are also acknowledged. This is a book I would read again even knowing the ending. (Indeed, I did watch the movie, although I must say moving the setting from London to NYC removes a lot of interesting plot points).
(4 out of 5 stars, buy it)
(source: Audible)

Next I decided to finally get around to reading a Richelle Mead series I hadn’t started. I love her Succubus series so I thought this would be a great bet. I picked up Gameboard of the Gods, the start of another of her fantasy series, but unfortunately this one didn’t do it for me. The plot is almost too complicated to explain quickly. Suffice to say, there’s a future world with competing large governments, one of which has outlawed many religions. An exile is brought back in to investigate supernatural claims. My issues with this book mostly boil down to it being way too much set-up and not enough plot. It feels like the set-up to an epic series but it’s setting up a society I didn’t enjoy about learning about or visiting, which is problematic. I learned after reading this that the series is held up as it was dropped by the publishers due to low sales so I’m also not sure it’s worth investing the effort into reading this much set-up only to never get resolution.
(3 out of 5 stars, buy it)
(source: library)

Up next was another thriller What Was Mine by Helen Klein Ross. This covers one of my favorite thriller plots – the abduction of a child. In this case, it’s the snatching of a baby from a distracted mother in a supercenter (that is clearly meant to be Ikea). What happens when the child grows up and figures out that her mother is not her mother? I absolutely loved this book right up until the ending. The ending was awful. I had to go back the next day and re-read it to ensure I hadn’t misread it. Let’s just say, the ending felt very out of touch with reality to me.
(3 out of 5 stars, buy it)
(source: library)

I wrapped up the month with one final thriller, Her Every Fear by Peter Swanson. I read Swanson’s first book and really liked it – he sets most of his thrillers in the Boston area and New England and since I live here, I find it even more thrilling to see the areas I know rendered so well and having such thrilling things occurring in them. This thriller revolves around another of my favorite plot devices – the house swap. Kate swaps houses with her distant cousin in Boston and while she enjoys his posh Beacon Hill residence she soon starts to suspect not everything is as it seems. Kate suffers from PTSD and high anxiety and I loved seeing her as a heroine sometimes in spite of and sometimes because of these things (her anxiety makes her more attuned to certain things in the house). While I did know whodunit early on, there were enough plot twists that I wasn’t expecting to keep me entertained.
(4 out of 5 stars, buy it)
(source: library)

My total for the month of July 2017:

  • 5 books
    • 5 fiction; 0 nonfiction
    • 4 female authors; 1 male author
    • 3 ebooks; 0 print books; 2 audiobooks
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Categories: Book, Review Tags: , , , ,

June 2017 Reads – #scifi, #chicklit

December 26, 2017 5 comments
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In June I was back up to my average 4 reads in a month, and I had two each in scifi and chick lit.

I started the month by finishing up the audiobook version of The Chrysalids by John Wyndham. This scifi looks at a post nuclear apocalypse world that has reverted from technology into essentially a farming sans tech existence where anything veering from the norm at all is culled out (including people). It’s an interesting idea but I found it to be a bit too preachy. I don’t like it when it feels like the author is preaching at me through a character, and this happened a few too many times for my taste.
(3 out of 5 stars, buy it)
(Source: Audible)

Next I read a duo of chick lit. First up was Summer at Castle Stone by Lynn Marie Hulsman. In this a ghost-writer from New York City accidentally ends up working in the kitchen of a castle getaway in Ireland in her attempts to get an inside scoop on the chef who works there (in order to better write the copy around his new cookbook). I thought this book had a wonderful setting and while the mix-ups were expected, they were for the most part cute. I did find some of the situations to be a more serious issue than the laugh they were played for but those didn’t keep me from enjoying the escape.
(3 out of 5 stars, buy it)
(Source: purchased)

My second chick lit was The Finishing Touches by Hester Browne. I’ve read many of her books before and came into this fully expecting to enjoy it, and I did! In this, a fading finishing school gets  21st century makeover. As is typical of Hester Browne, the main plot actually involves the heroine’s career with romance being (for her) an unexpected side-plot. Delightful, but not my favorite among her works, which is why this received 4 stars. The finishing school wasn’t quite what I was expecting from the description.
(4 out of 5 stars, buy it)
(source: library)

My final read of the month was the feminist scifi classic A Door into Ocean by Joan Slonczewski. In this book there is a planet that is mostly water with a humanoid species of entirely women that live both in and out of the water. This planet is under threat from an interplanetary organization that has many political ties–essentially a corporation with a powerful lobbyist group. Two women from this planet take on a male from another planet as an apprentice in an attempt to see if the aliens trying to take them over are children or adults. (They do not determine adulthood by a numerical age but by behavior and mental state, with adulthood being awarded upon someone by a committee). The reason for this important determination is it will decide how they respond to the threat with the response being very different to a child than to an adult. I would honestly say that although this book is known as a feminist classic I perceived of it more as a pacifist classic. Femaleness and maleness come up far less in the book than I would have expected (with the exception of sex and reproduction of course). Most of the book is actually about how to respond to threats, whether violence in the face of violence changes who you are, etc… I suppose some people might view those as masculine or feminine responses but I do not and so I didn’t see this as a feminist book per se. It really delivered on the plot summary though, particularly with the world building. If this intrigues you, I recommend you pick it up.
(4 out of 5 stars, buy it)
(source: PaperBackSwap)

My total for the month of June 2017:

  • 4 books
    • 4 fiction; 0 nonfiction
    • 3 female authors; 1 male author
    • 2 ebooks; 1 print book; 1 audiobook

 

May 2017 Reads – #chicklit, #fantasy

December 25, 2017 1 comment
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I had so many of these monthly reviews piled up that I decided to just post one a day through the end of the year so I can start 2018 on track. I hope you enjoy!

May saw me finishing just two books but that’s because one was a chunkster and my longest read of the whole year.

I started the month off with a quick read, the chick lit Cocktails for Three, which I previously reviewed in haiku form here.

Then I picked up a book that had been languishing on my tbr pile for a long time with multiple recommendations from friends – Kushiel’s Dart. This is a fantasy by a female author set in an alternate universe version of Europe where France is a slightly different country built around a religion that is an offshoot of Christianity that honors and respects prostitution, essentially. I wasn’t sure what I would think of it but I did ultimately enjoy it. While I thought it started out slow and that its worldbuilding could use more creativity (all of the fake nations are basically just other versions of modern-day nations like the UK), it was still quite enjoyable. I think the most enjoyable part for me was the wonderfully creative new religion the author came up with, but I may have enjoyed that more than others might as I was a Religious Studies minor in undergrad.
(4 out of 5 stars, buy it)
(source: PaperBackSwap)

My total for the month of May 2017:

  • 2 books
    • 2 fiction; 0 nonfiction
    • 2 female authors; 0 male authors
    • 1 ebook; 1 print book; 0 audiobooks

A trio of #nonfiction Reviewed in #Haiku

August 5, 2017 2 comments

anne frank

We All Wore Stars: Memories of Anne Frank from Her Classmates
By: Theo Coster

Summary:
Theo Coster was one of 28 Jewish Dutch students segregated into their own classroom by the Nazis. Another one of these students was Anne Frank. Theo gathers stories from other surviving students and himself both of their experiences of the Holocaust and their memories of Anne.

Haiku Review:
All together yet
Each experience unique
Grounding reminder.

4 out of 5 stars
Source: Gift
Buy It

crazyenough.jpg

Crazy Enough: A Memoir
By: Storm Large

Summary:
Storm knew growing up her mother was crazy so it was pretty scary when a doctor responded to her inquiry if she was crazy like her mother that she wasn’t yet but was going to be. Follow Storm through her journey of multiple diagnoses and a search to be more than just crazy.

Haiku Review:
A one-woman show
Reflects in the narrative
Left with some questions

3 out of 5 stars
Source: Publisher
Buy It

tidying up

The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing
By: Marie Kondo

Summary:
Japanese cleaning consultant vows she’s never had a client relapse after following her sort everything once by category not by room and then organize it method. You may have heard jokes in social media about her sorting method being based on “does this spark joy?”

Haiku Review:
Some good tips mixed with
Animism but take it
With a grain of salt

4 out of 5 stars
Source: Library
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Book Review: Dinosaur Tales by Ray Bradbury

March 15, 2017 2 comments

Book Review: Dinosaur Tales by Ray BradburySummary:
Dinosaur Tales is a Magnificent Collection of Famous Tales by RAY BRADBURY, One of America’s Best-Loved and Best-Selling Authors. In This Elegantly Designed and Illustrated Book, Bradbury Presents All of His Dinosaur Stories in One Volume! “I have an idea that Bradbury’s work would have given Edgar Allan Poe a peculiar satisfaction to have written them himself.” -Somerset Maugham

Review:
Ray Bradbury clearly loves dinosaurs. This collection of short stories just about dinosaurs was obviously a labor of love. The introduction to the book where Bradbury discusses at length his deep love of dinosaurs and complete disbelief that anyone could possibly not love them is one of the best parts of the book and totally sets the tone. Heck, I love dinosaurs myself but even I found his tone infectious and sent my own love soaring higher than I thought possible.

The collection consists of 5 short stories and a poem. The short stories range from a little boy who wants to be a dinosaur when he grows up to a time-traveling business that obviously goes awry to a lonely sea monster who mistakes a lighthouse for a friend. They alternate between hilarity and bitter-sweet, all touched with pure Americana. In news that surprises no one, the poem was my least favorite but I didn’t hate it (and that’s strong praise for a poem). All of the stories (and poem) are lovingly illustrated by a team of illustrators, with each one receiving its own unique style. It’s definitely a book that I think is well worth owning in print, and it’s taken up residence on my shelf as a reminder that I don’t always dislike short stories. They’ve just gotta be the right ones.

Recommended to dinosaur fans, and to quote Bradbury, who doesn’t love dinosaurs?

4 out of 5 stars

Source: Gift

Buy It

Book Review: Mambo in Chinatown by Jean Kwok (Audiobook narrated by Angela Lin)

February 12, 2017 2 comments

Book Review: Mambo in Chinatown by Jean Kwok (Audiobook narrated by Angela Lin)Summary:
Twenty-two-year-old Charlie Wong grew up in New York’s Chinatown, the older daughter of a Beijing ballerina and a noodle maker. Though an ABC (America-born Chinese), Charlie’s entire world has been limited to this small area. Now grown, she lives in the same tiny apartment with her widower father and her eleven-year-old sister, and works—miserably—as a dishwasher.

But when she lands a job as a receptionist at a ballroom dance studio, Charlie gains access to a world she hardly knew existed, and everything she once took to be certain turns upside down. Gradually, at the dance studio, awkward Charlie’s natural talents begin to emerge. With them, her perspective, expectations, and sense of self are transformed—something she must take great pains to hide from her father and his suspicion of all things Western. As Charlie blossoms, though, her sister becomes chronically ill. As Pa insists on treating his ailing child exclusively with Eastern practices to no avail, Charlie is forced to try to reconcile her two selves and her two worlds—Eastern and Western, old world and new—to rescue her little sister without sacrificing her newfound confidence and identity.

Review:
There is so much that is wonderful about this book. The incredibly depicted settings of both Chinatown and ballroom dancing. The finely nuanced and richly complicated relationships. The new adult struggles of finding and being true to yourself while still relating to your family of birth. You don’t have to be first-generation American to relate to Charlie’s struggles to reconcile her childhood world with the world she knows now. In some ways I found this to be a Chinese-American version of Dirty Dancing, and that’s a big complement since Dirty Dancing is one of my favorite movies. I also particularly enjoyed seeing a single father realistically deal with his two daughters. He sometimes does wonderfully and sometimes fails them, and their fights are realistic and full of honesty.

If you’re curious about the audiobook version, Angela Lin does an incredible job. Every single character has their own voice and her accents are full of nothing but realism and respect. It was like a well-produced radio program.The praise this book is getting is well-deserved, and if you want to immerse yourself in Chinatown, dance, and new adult issues, you don’t even need to read my review further. Just go get yourself a copy.  But I do need to talk about what didn’t work for me.

*spoilers*
Charlie is dyslexic, and her father never allowed her school to officially diagnose and treat her, which led her to have poor grades and struggle with many typical entry level white collar jobs such as being an administrative assistant. Lisa in contrast is an excellent student who works after school at their uncle’s Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) clinic. Partway through the book, Lisa starts to have nightmares and wet the bed. She’s also been selected to apply for entry and scholarship to a highly selective private school, though, so Charlie thinks it’s probably related to that. I think the vast majority of readers will be able to quickly figure out that Lisa is being molested at the clinic. There are just way too many hints. Lisa doesn’t want to go to the clinic anymore after being good-natured about it. She starts getting jealous of Charlie whereas before she only wished for good things for her sister. And honestly bed wetting and nightmares are extremely typical symptoms of molestation.

But I don’t dislike this plot because of how obvious it was to me. I also fully acknowledge these terrible things can and do happen in otherwise average families, and I’m not against these stories being told. However, I do think it was a poor fit for the tone otherwise of the book. It felt like the idea was that there wouldn’t be enough conflict between Charlie and her family without this extra problem. Like Charlie wouldn’t have been at all worried about her sister or about leaving her family behind somehow without this other problem. I think that’s underestimating Charlie and underestimating how hard it can be to grow and change and become different from your family of origin. The rest of the book is so full of beauty and energy, whether it’s in Chinatown or in the ballroom dance rooms. Then this plot comes in and it just feels like it doesn’t belong. While I feel incredible empathy for people in Lisa’s situation, I came to resent her presence in the story because she felt kind of like olives being stuffed into a delicious lasagna. It’s not that olives are bad; it’s just that they don’t belong. I think that these were really two separate stories, and they should have been told separately.
*end spoilers

In spite of these feelings about the dual plots, I still really enjoyed the read and would happily read another book by Kwok in the future. I also think this is a great example of a new adult read that’s mostly about the emotional experiences of your early 20s. Recommended to anyone looking to get immersed in Chinatown and ballroom.

4 out of 5 stars

Source: Audible

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Book Review: The Girl with Seven Names: A North Korean Defector’s Story by Hyeonseo Lee

January 22, 2017 3 comments

Book Review: The Girl with Seven Names: A North Korean Defector's Story by Hyeonseo LeeSummary:
An extraordinary insight into life under one of the world’s most ruthless and secretive dictatorships – and the story of one woman’s terrifying struggle to avoid capture/repatriation and guide her family to freedom.

As a child growing up in North Korea, Hyeonseo Lee was one of millions trapped by a secretive and brutal totalitarian regime. Her home on the border with China gave her some exposure to the world beyond the confines of the Hermit Kingdom and, as the famine of the 1990s struck, she began to wonder, question and to realize that she had been brainwashed her entire life. Given the repression, poverty and starvation she witnessed surely her country could not be, as she had been told “the best on the planet”?

Aged seventeen, she decided to escape North Korea. She could not have imagined that it would be twelve years before she was reunited with her family.

She could not return, since rumors of her escape were spreading, and she and her family could incur the punishments of the government authorities – involving imprisonment, torture, and possible public execution. Hyeonseo instead remained in China and rapidly learned Chinese in an effort to adapt and survive. Twelve years and two lifetimes later, she would return to the North Korean border in a daring mission to spirit her mother and brother to South Korea, on one of the most arduous, costly and dangerous journeys imaginable.

Review:
I’ll never forget the first time I learned about North Korea’s terrifying dictatorship. I was discussing the horror of the concentration camps with someone as a young teen, and a person nearby said, “You know those still exist. North Korea calls them gulags.” I looked it up, and one of the first things I found was a child’s drawings of life inside. I later found out that we only have stories from the least bad of the gulags. The worst tier no one has escaped from to tell us what happens inside them. It’s really horrifying. Last fall, I decided it was time I learned more about North Korea, so I went looking and this book spoke to me as a place to start. I like first-hand accounts, it’s from the perspective of an ordinary citizen, and I liked the title. I got more than I had bargained for. While this memoir would be good regardless of the writing style because Hyeonseo’s life is just that interesting, her writing is articulate and insightful.

Hyeonseo does a wonderful job writing realistically and yet with empathy about herself as a child who had been fully fooled by the North Korean government. It can sometimes be difficult to understand how people can believe x, y, z but this book makes it easy to understand how it can happen and amazing that anyone manages to start doubting such an all-encompassing worldview.

One of the more surprising parts of the book to me was that at first Hyeonseo just wanted to see China. She had no intention of leaving North Korea forever. It’s just once she got out and visiting relatives in China she dragged her feet about going back until it was too dangerous for her to go back. (She would have been captured upon return and put in a prison camp for daring to leave at all). She now was in China with a totally different life path than she’d initially imagined. What was originally a vacation was now most likely a lifetime of being a fugitive. I think this part of the book is where Hyeonseo’s practicality and iron will first shine through:

Now that I was to stay indefinitely in China, I had to learn Mandarin. And I had the best teacher – necessity. You can study a language for years at school, but nothing helps you succeed like need, and mine was clear, and urgent. (location 1781)

I learned so much in this book beyond the horrors of what happens in North Korea. Like that China has an extradition agreement with North Korea which means that if any refugees are caught in China they are brought back to North Korea to face certain imprisonment and possibly death. I can’t imagine what it would be like to escape a dictatorship into the neighboring country and know at any moment you could be seized and sent back.

I also learned that South Korea has declared any North Koreans who make it to their land to be South Koreans and actually provide a lot of repatriation assistance but that the divide is growing between North and South Korean cultures the longer the divide is up, and some are concerned about how the two can ever be reunified once the North Koreans are freed from the dictatorship.

Hyeonseo provides a lot of insightful commentary about living under a dictatorship, human nature, brainwashing, and more. My favorite though was this:

There is no dividing line between cruel leaders and oppressed citizens. The Kims rule by making everyone complicit in a brutal system, implicating all, from the highest to the lowest, blurring morals so that no one is blameless. (location 2368)

The only other thing I wish to say is that everyone should read this book.

4 out of 5 stars

Source: Library

Buy It