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August 2017 Reads – #nonfiction, #scifi, #thriller

December 28, 2017 2 comments
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August saw me picking back up some nonfiction (yay!) as well as a thriller and a scifi.

The first nonfiction actually wasn’t on purpose. I logged onto my library’s website and they have a collection of “rarely available” which basically means there’s currently a copy available which is unusual because this book is usually checked out. I checked out the nonfiction Marie Kondo’s The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up for amusement but guys…it actually has affected my life. I think of myself as being a pretty organized person but something about her method helped me take it to the next level. I reviewed this read in haiku format here.
(4 out of 5 stars, buy it)
(source: library)

Next I saw a book had come out by one an author I like – John Twelve Hawks. It’s the scifi Spark. This follows the agent in a secret special services section of a multinational corporation who also just so happens to have Cotard’s Syndrome – he believes he is dead. The themes are similar to those of author of Twelve Hawks’s works (beware of The Man, no matter who is currently in control) but the focus is on one main character instead of many/the whole world.
(4 out of 5 stars, buy it)
(source: library)

Throughout the month I read a thriller in audiobook format called Don’t Close Your Eyes by Holly Seddon. This book follows twin sisters who haven’t spoken in years. One lives as a shut-in and the other has been kicked out by her husband and denied access to her young daughter. My enjoyment of this book was hurt by the audio recording. The two sisters were read by two different performers and while one was excellent the other was very stale and boring to listen to. It kept me from getting too wrapped up in the story. That said, I thought the thriller had some unnecessary red herrings, took a bit too long to get where it was going, and I honestly thought the ending was too kind to a particular villain.
(3 out of 5 stars, buy it)
(source: Audible)

I finished up the month with In the Realm of Hungry Ghosts: Close Encounters with Addiction by Gabor Mate. In this work, Dr. Mate examines addiction in the context of his longtime work with the addicts living in Vancouver’s notorious Downtown Eastside. The perspective of someone working so closely with victims of addiction is an important one to have. Dr. Mate sees the realities day in and day out. He’s also honest about how sometimes he is able to feel compassion and how other times he gets frustrated. Woven in with his recollections of particular patients are discussions of the science of addiction and Dr. Mate’s own take on it. I did feel that Dr. Mate sometimes got a bit too wrapped up in himself. I found his attempts to compare his music cd buying issues with drug and alcohol addiction to be a bit ill-tasting in my mouth and revisited too often. I also felt it muddied the waters of the people whose stories he was telling and the science he was presenting. The academic in me also wondered how he went about getting permission to include certain people in the book (for instance, those who have passed away). However, regardless this was an important read for anyone interested in the current addiction crisis.
(4 out of 5 stars, buy it)
(source: library)

My total for the month of August 2017:

  • 5 books
    • 2 fiction; 2 nonfiction
    • 2 female authors; 2 male authors
    • 3 ebooks; 0 print books; 1 audiobook
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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
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
Buy It

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

Buy It