wrap up: books read in July 2017

  • Chemistry by Weike Wang ★★★★ + review
  • Human Acts by Han Kang ★★★★★ + review
  • When I Am Through With You by Stephanie Kuehn ★★★★★ + review
  • The First Day by Phil Harrison ★★★ + review
  • Final Girls by Riley Sager ★★★★★ + review
  • Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo ★★★★★ + review
  • Body Awareness by Annie Baker ★★★★
  • Gone Without a Trace by Mary Torjussen ★ + review
  • See What I Have Done by Sarah Schmidt ★ + review
  • King Lear by William Shakespeare ★★★★★
  • Eliza and Her Monsters by Francesca Zappia ★★★★★ + review

Best: Human Acts by Han Kang
Runner up: King Lear by William Shakespeare
Worst: Gone Without a Trace by Mary Torjussen

July was a noteworthy reading month for me for a couple of reasons – first of all, I finally managed to get out of my 7 books a month rut and somehow ended up with 11.  And second of all, this was a month of extremes – I rarely give 5 stars or 1 stars, but 8/11 of those books ended up being one or the other.

This is also the month where I reached my Goodreads reading challenge goal of 60 books a year, yay!  I purposefully set it at a number that I knew was manageable because I didn’t want to get too obsessed with hitting an arbitrary number, but it was still exciting to finish my goal as early as July.  I’m up to 63 books total.

As you can see, I really enjoyed most of these!  The notable exceptions were Gone Without a Trace and See What I Have Done, but you can’t win them all I guess.  The only two I didn’t review were the two plays I read, Body Awareness (which I really enjoyed but I didn’t have a whole lot to say), and King Lear (because I’m not really sure what to say about this that hasn’t been said already).

I’m currently reading 4 books: Lady Cop Makes Trouble by Amy Stewart, Yesterday by Felicia Yap, Holding by Graham Norton (yes, that Graham Norton – who knew he was a novelist, not me), and The War that Killed Achilles by Caroline Alexander.  All of these will be reviewed in the next couple of weeks, I’m hoping.

Other books I’m definitely reading in August include American War by Omar El Akkad (for a book club), and Crooked Kingdom by Leigh Bardugo.  Otherwise, as always, the TBR is up in the air.

So have you read any of these books I’ve mentioned?  And what was the best book you read in July?  Comment and let me know!

book review: Eliza and Her Monsters by Francesca Zappia

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ELIZA AND HER MONSTERS by Francesca Zappia
★★★★★
HarperCollins, 2017

Reading this book was like seeing my own high school experience unfold on the page, which was as cathartic and disconcerting as you can imagine. I mean, there are differences – I wasn’t a talented webcomic artist with millions of followers, I didn’t spend all my time on my smartphone because smartphones weren’t a thing yet, thank god, and I put more effort into my schoolwork than Eliza did – but still. Using the internet as a coping mechanism against crippling social anxiety? Caring more about my fandom and my online life than my real life? All of my closest friends living in different places around the world? Check, check, check.

What I found so remarkable about Eliza and Her Monsters was that it’s at once a celebration of internet culture, and also a cautionary tale against letting your online persona consume you, and I think that’s a very important message for teens. I mean, don’t get me wrong, I love the internet. But, as with everything, balance is key. That’s where Eliza is such a phenomenal protagonist. She’s someone that so many people can relate to: she’s insecure, she’s anxious, she escapes into her art, she loves her friends; she’s flawed and all the more compelling for that fact. But this isn’t a story about her journey to overcome anxiety and abandon the internet in favor of the ‘real world’; it’s just about Eliza learning how to reconcile these two halves of herself, LadyConstellation, anonymous creator of the webcomic phenomenon Monstrous Sea, and Eliza Mirk, awkward soon to be high school graduate.

The only thing I disliked about this book was Eliza’s love interest, Wallace. Their friendship/relationship rubbed me the wrong way throughout the book, sort of for vague personal reasons, but he really lost me with his behavior at the end. Fortunately, their relationship didn’t take center stage: this book was about Eliza, first and foremost, and that’s why I feel like I can give this 5 stars despite my hatred of one of the two main characters (though I’d give it 4.5 if half stars were a thing on Goodreads). The supporting characters were all fantastic – I especially loved Eliza’s brothers, Sully and Church.

All in all, a really terrific and thoughtful book that I enjoyed immensely.

Location Book Tag

This tag was just created by the lovely Puppa Pages – go check out her blog and read her fantastic answers!  I love tags that are about different scenarios, so I couldn’t resist doing this one.  And I had some down time right now, so it seemed like a fun way to pass the time.  Here we go:

1. You’re sat in a coffee shop trying to read when a group of excited 6 year olds come in with their parents and begin screaming in the play area. Which book can you push past the noise and lose yourself in?

3Harry Potter.  This is my nightmare scenario.  I’m a pretty fast reader, but I have one kryptonite, which is loud noise.  I can’t read when the tv is on, I can’t read with music, I can’t read with toddlers shrieking in the background.  I think the only book I’d be able to immerse myself in in this situation is something I’ve read a hundred times, and Harry Potter is the only thing that fits the bill.

2. Your (rich) friends dare you to spend the night in a haunted house for an undisclosed but inevitably large sum of money. Which book do you bring to distract yourself with?

594139Ooh, I’d love to spend the night in a haunted house.  I’m actually going to be that weirdo who chooses a book to set the mood, so I’m going to go with Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier.  This lovely Gothic book features a creepy English mansion and is all about that sinister atmosphere.  That said, it’s not a ‘scary’ book by any means, so I’ll hardly be terrifying myself, and it’s immersive enough that the time would go quickly.

3. Though the landscapes are beautiful, your delayed train journey is starting to drag. Which book do you take out?

murder-on-the-orient-expressWe know this situation is fictional, because I tragically get too motion sick to read on any kind of public transport.  But pretending that I could… let’s go with Murder on the Orient Express by Agatha Christie.  I’m not sure what it says about me that I chose a book about a creepy house for the haunted house question, and a book about a train murder for the train question, but here we are.  Anyway.  I feel like reading this book on a train would be a fantastic way to experience it.  Even though I’ve read it and know how it ends, it would be cool to read it while surrounded by the very atmosphere that Christie is writing about.

4. It’s beach time! You have your family and friends around you and don’t want to miss out on the conversation too much but still want to read. Which book do you choose?

31931941I’ll go with my current read – Eliza and Her Monsters by Francesca Zappia.  I’m really loving this book.  It’s fun and immersive – every time I pick it up I get sucked into it immediately, so I feel like it’s a good book to read in a distracting environment.  But I’m also not so obsessed that I can’t put it down if I want to take a break and hang out with people.  Review of this one will probably be posted tonight or tomorrow.

5. You’re backstage ready for your big emotional scene but the tears just won’t come. Which book do you get out to make you cry?

michaud-the-subversive-brilliance-of-a-little-life-320(Actually, I’d watch the last ten minutes of the Six Feet Under series finale – it doesn’t matter how good of a mood I’m in; if I watch that final montage, I go from cheerful to emotional wreck in about fifteen seconds flat.  If you haven’t seen Six Feet Under, WATCH IT, it’s a phenomenal series.  If you used to be obsessed with it, like me, let’s relive that pain again.)  But anyway, if it has to be a book, obviously I have to go with A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara.  I’m pretty sure I could flip open to the section called ‘Dear Comrade’ and be sobbing in about a minute.  The problem is this book makes me a bit too emotional – I’d probably be too distracted thinking about Willem and Jude to say my lines.

6. You’re camping in the woods with your friends and you’re the first to wake up. Which book do you read under the early morning light?

67700Earlier this year I read and loved Fire from Heaven by Mary Renault, and I’ve been dying to start the sequel, The Persian Boy.  But the thing about Renault’s writing is that it is very, very dense, and rich in historical detail – these are the kind of books that you need to give yourself ample time to devote to them, rather trying to rush through.  So I think an early morning outdoors sounds like the perfect setting to dive back into her Alexander the Great trilogy.

7. You’ve had an amazing day on your solo trip but now that you’re back at the hotel, you’re starting to feel a little homesick. What do you read to feel less lonely?

41cigepew5l-_sy344_bo1204203200_The Secret History by Donna Tartt.  Partially because as a classics nerd I harbor secret ambitions of becoming a part of this horrible dysfunctional friend group (I know, I know, they’re horrible people, but I’m aesthetic trash), and partially because it’s one of the only books I’ve ever read set in Vermont, which is where I’m from.  The fictional Hampden College resembles Donna Tartt’s alma mater Bennington, which is further south than where I live (though The Secret History is supposedly set in northern Vermont, I could write a whole essay on how the vibe of the setting comes across as southern Vermont), but it doesn’t matter – it’s still the closest I’ve ever come to seeing my home depicted so realistically on the page.

8. You’ve been invited for an interview for an place at a prestigious university. Which book do you lay flat on your knee to hide the cover while you wait?

220px-the_hunger_gamesThe Hunger Games.  I’ll admit it, I loved these books.  I read them in college and thought they were a lot of fun.  That said, would I proudly display this cover in a situation like an interview for a prestigious university?  Not exactly.  Sorry, Katniss.

 

9. The book exchange stall at the library finally has the book you’ve wanted for so long, and you have a book in your bag that you’ve been dying to get rid of. Which do you give away, and which do you take?

51sz0tslgal-_sx330_bo1204203200_33253215I will gladly give away Red Rising by Pierce Brown, which I loathed.  I’m not sure anyone would want my copy – I won it in a giveaway and it’s an ugly mass market paperback with a white cover, but still.  Have at it.  And I’ll take The Heart’s Invisible Furies by John Boyne which I keep hearing phenomenal things about.

10. You were just browsing the children’s section of the library and boom, you’re hit with a sudden blast from the past. Which book have you found that you haven’t seen for years but that you used to love as a child?

79626D’Aulaires’ Book of Greek Myths – I was obsessed with it!  This is my classics nerd origin story.

 

 

Tagging:

Chelsea // Hadeer // Steph // Ann // Zuky // Charlotte // Regina // anyone else who wants to do this.  Feel free to skip it, obviously, etc.  Enjoy!

book review: See What I Have Done by Sarah Schmidt

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SEE WHAT I HAVE DONE by Sarah Schmidt
★☆☆☆☆
Grove Atlantic, August 1, 2017

Lizzie Borden took an axe and gave her mother forty whacks; when she saw what she had done, she gave her father forty-one. In Fall River Massachusetts, 1892, Andrew and Abby Borden were gruesomely murdered, and Lizzie (daughter of Andrew; stepdaughter of Abby) was charged with the crime before eventually being acquitted. In See What I Have Done, Sarah Schmidt gives a fictionalized account of the Borden murders, one of the most notorious unsolved crimes in American history.

I love true crime, I love fictionalizations of real people and real historical events… all things considered I was really excited for this book.

Unfortunately I didn’t like a single thing about it.

This isn’t eerie and twisted and sinister like I was hoping it would be… it’s mainly gross? And I mean, really, really gross. I think the author uses a lot of these disgusting descriptions to try to shock a visceral reaction out of the reader, and I don’t have a lot of patience for that. What’s so shocking about vomit or pieces of mutton in some man’s beard? Nothing, really, it just creates an atmosphere I have no interest spending any time in. It was such a struggle to pick this book back up every time I put it down. I very seriously considered DNFing this book at 85% because I just couldn’t gather the motivation to push through. I ended up skimming through to the end.

I thought See What I Have Done read like a first draft – a very rough, underdeveloped first draft. The structure of this novel is confusing and hard to follow; the prose is jarring and the pace is odd and uneven. It was kind of like trying to walk through a path in the forest that hasn’t been manicured, and constantly tripping over roots and branches, i.e., frustrating, painful, and more time consuming than it needs to be. The prose gets rather experimental at times, especially in the chapters told from Lizzie’s point of view; e.g., “the clock ticked ticked,” which I think was meant to be evocative and unsettling, but for me it served only to irritate. Here’s another example:

“I thought of Father, my stomach growled hunger and I went to the pail of water by the well, let my hands sink into the cool sip sip.”

I’m sorry but this just did not work for me.

All of the characters were rather loathsome, but not in a particularly intriguing way. This is a book about truly repulsive people who act a fraction of their age, and it gets old fast. I didn’t care about Lizzie, I didn’t care about Andrew and Abby Borden, I didn’t really care about Lizzie’s sister Emma… the only character who was even remotely sympathetic to me was the maid, Bridget, but her few point of view chapters (complete with dialogue that includes a truly horrendous transcription of the Irish accent) weren’t enough to hold my interest.

One star seems harsh, especially given that I am clearly in the minority here, but I just… didn’t like this book. At all. I really wish I could have seen in this book what so many other people seem to. All I can say is that if you’re interested in the premise (and have a strong stomach) I encourage you to give it a shot, because you never know. No two people ever read the same book, I guess!

I received a copy of this book from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. Thank you Netgalley, Grove Atlantic, and Sarah Schmidt for the opportunity. Quotes taken from an ARC and may be edited before publication.

book review: Gone Without a Trace by Mary Torjussen

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GONE WITHOUT A TRACE by Mary Torjussen
★☆☆☆☆
Berkley Books, 2017

This is a very strong contender for the worst book I have ever read. I’m not saying that lightly.

Gone Without a Trace is about Hannah, a thirty-something young woman living the dream – she’s got a house, a boyfriend, a steady job, and an imminent promotion. Until she comes home one day and finds that her boyfriend Matt has left her, in the most cold and calculated way possible – he’s moved out all of his stuff, erased his number from her phone, deleted the pictures of him off her computer, and deactivated all of his social media accounts. She literally has no way to contact him, and she has no idea why he left.

I love the premise. It sounds like a nightmare, for someone to forcibly remove him or herself from your life in such an extreme way. This book had all the potential in the world… but Mary Torjussen dropped the ball. Getting through this book was agonizing. The prose was some of the most juvenile I’ve ever seen – exclamation points everywhere and probably about 80% of the sentences starting with “I” (“I wondered why Matt would do this to me! I loved him! I needed to find him!” – those sentences are my own, but I think they condense the contents of this book rather nicely). I try not to judge thrillers on their literary merit, but come on. This was painful to read.

And on top of that, it was just insanely boring. Hannah literally spends months – about 60% of the novel – trying to track down Matt, even though all signs point to him having left voluntarily. Each of her fruitless efforts is recorded in excruciating detail – why do I care that she’s calling Matt’s barber? And now his mechanic? And now every hotel in the greater Liverpool area? (Why doesn’t she hire a private investigator? She has the money. She starts to go to such extreme lengths to find him, impersonating people, trying to trick them into divulging details; why wouldn’t she just hire a professional at this point? Nothing in this book makes sense.)

My other major annoyance throughout this book that I just want to mention briefly was Hannah’s relationship with her “best friend,” Katie. These two had one of the pettiest relationships I’ve ever seen – when will we stop depicting all female friendships as catty and competitive? That’s not real life. If you’re 32 years old and you’re still secretly trying to one-up everything your best friend does as if you’re still in middle school, maybe you should reevaluate this supposedly rock solid friendship. The characters in this book just don’t act like real people – they’re shoddy and offensive caricatures.

And then we get to the twist. No spoilers, but I just… I literally do not have the words to describe how dumb this ending was. It’s like the author was spinning a giant wheel of possible explanations including the likes of “aliens made them do it” and “it was all a dream” but instead landed on… whatever the hell we got instead. The ‘explanation’ we get to justify these characters’ behavior doesn’t make any sense. It doesn’t fit with the information we’d had until that point, and not in the kind of way where if you went back to reread the beginning, you’d be able to read between the lines and see the truth lurking beneath. No, the explanation we get just doesn’t add up. The entire ending of this book is one big incongruous, plot hole-ridden mess. I’d have preferred the aliens, to be perfectly honest.

To impress upon you just how terrible this book was, I have to tell you that I literally started doing a dramatic reading for my roommate toward the end, because we were getting into straight up comical territory. I’m sorry, but how did this book get published? It wasn’t fast paced, it wasn’t a page turner, it wasn’t fun, it wasn’t creepy, it was just… bad. I would compare this book to a soap opera, but soap operas didn’t do anything to deserve that.

I received a copy of this book in a Goodreads giveaway. Thanks to the Goodreads First Reads program as well as the author and publisher for the opportunity. Sorry I didn’t click with this more!

top 5 wednesday: Books that Aren’t Set in the Western World

Top Five Wednesday was created by Lainey from gingerreadslainey and is currently hosted by Sam from Thoughts on Tomes. Check out the goodreads group to learn more.

July 19th: Books That Aren’t Set In/Inspired By The Western World

I love this topic.  For whatever reason I’ve had a really strong interest in books set in East Asia for as long as I can remember.  I didn’t have to look further than my ‘east asia’ shelf on Goodreads for this topic, so my list isn’t going to be very broad geographically (I realize ‘non-Western’ encompasses a much wider area), but I’ve selected a couple of my favorites set in Korea, Japan, and China.  Here they are:

29983711Pachinko by Min Jin Lee: I haven’t stopped talking about this book since I read it in February, and with good reason.  This is an outstanding family saga set against the backdrop of Japan’s annexation of Korea in the early 20th century.  It features a handful of Korean characters who face an onslaught of discrimination when forced to relocate to Japan.  This is not only an incredibly moving story, but a really educational read.  Min Jin Lee integrates historical detail into her narrative with masterful precision – it never overwhelms, but still constantly edifies the reader.  I highly recommend this to anyone interested in the complicated history of Japanese-Korean relations, the history of either of those countries, or just anyone looking for an entertaining family saga.

41nsvhy8t2bl-_sx322_bo1204203200_The Vegetarian by Han Kang: Korean writer Han Kang made waves when her first novel to be translated into English, The Vegetarian, won the Man Booker International award last year.  This novel is outstanding and thought-provoking.  It raises questions about gender and sexuality, a woman’s role in society, social norms, violence – in a lot of ways this novel offers generalized insights into the human experience, but in other ways, context is key.  You can’t remove this novel from its contemporary South Korean setting, especially as Han Kang’s own experience growing up in Gwangju was such a heavy influence on the content of this novel.  She goes onto explore the 1980 Gwangju uprising in a much more tangible way in her novel Human Acts, but The Vegetarian offers a much more abstract meditation on similar themes.  I highly recommend both novels.

18169712Three Souls by Janie Chang: Admittedly, I didn’t like this book as much as I liked the rest on this list.  I had a lot of nitpicky problems with it, but I still found it entertaining and incredibly informative.  Set in 1935 China, this provocative novel follows the journey of a young woman called Leiyin – except, the twist is that the novel begins moments after Leiyin’s death.  We follow Leiyin in the afterlife and get flashbacks to her childhood, and eventually adulthood – and we find out how she died.  The reason I’m including this novel on my list even though I didn’t love it was that I think it’s a really phenomenal look at the sociopolitical climate of mid 20th century China, and I recommend it more from a historical rather than a literary perspective.

1103Snow Flower and the Secret Fan by Lisa See: Lisa See is one of my favorite historical fiction writers, and I think Snow Flower and the Secret Fan is one of her strongest novels. Set in nineteenth century China, Snow Flower is a devastating story about a friendship between two young women.  It features the writing system nu shu, which was developed by Chinese women in the Hunan province to communicate with one another, as they were often denied a formal education.  In typical Lisa See fashion, she both educates and entertains with this novel, and I highly recommend it to anyone interested in Chinese history.  (Beware of very graphic descriptions of foot binding, though.)  My favorite Lisa See novel (though it’s a toss up with Snow Flower) may have to be Shanghai Girls, but as it’s partially set in California, it doesn’t fit the category.

13640447After Dark by Haruki Murakami: And finally, it seemed requisite to include a Murakami on this list.  After Dark is actually my favorite of his novels that I’ve read, though it’s a lot shorter than the novels which are often associated with him.  So if you haven’t read Murakami but are curious about his writing style without wanting to commit to a 500 page book, After Dark is a great place to start.  After Dark takes place in the span of one night, between the hours of midnight and dawn in Tokyo and follows an eclectic group of characters.  It’s a very mesmerizing and atmospheric novel which draws the reader into Tokyo nightlife in an almost voyeuristic way.

What are some of your favorite non-Western novels?  And have you read any of these?  Comment and let me know!

seeking play recommendations!

Yesterday I was reading Interesting Literature’s 10 of the Best Plays by Women Dramatists (a fantastic list!) and I came to the really depressing realization that I’ve only ever read one play written by a woman (An Iliad by Lisa Peterson).  At first I’m thinking ‘that’s not possible, is it?’ because I read quite a lot of plays, but after combing through my list a few times, I realized that it’s sadly the truth.  39/58 of the books I’ve read so far this year have been by women – that’s a trend I’d like to keep up.

So, I’m here to ask for recommendations of your favorite plays written by women!  The only two on my list so far are Posh by Laura Wade and The Last Wife by Kate Hennig.  I’m open to all genres, time periods, etc.  Thanks!