book review: What Red Was by Rosie Price

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WHAT RED WAS by Rosie Price
★★★☆☆
Crown, 2019

 

[trigger warning for sexual assault]  I think this is a very interesting, very uneven book.  What Red Was follows Kate and Max, two friends who meet during the first week of university and become inseparable.  They come from very different backgrounds – Kate is from a poor single-parent household and Max’s family is large and affluent – and after they graduate university, Kate’s life is shattered when she’s raped during a party at Max’s family home.

From reading this book’s summary and seeing its comparisons to Normal People by Sally Rooney and Asking For It by Louise O’Neill, I expected two things from What Red Was: a nuanced exploration of the aftermath of sexual assault (and Price mostly delivered here – more on this in a minute), and alternating perspectives between Kate and Max.  What I didn’t expect was that Max’s family would feature so heavily into the narrative.  We do indeed hear from both Max and Kate, but we also hear from Max’s mom, Max’s cousin, Max’s uncle, Max’s father, Max’s sister, all of whom have very generic Rich People Problems.  There’s talk of depression, alcoholism, inheritance drama, all of which in theory has the potential to be compelling, but none of it really is.  I can only imagine that Rosie Price structured her book this way because she wanted this to be more robust than ‘a book about rape’; the result is that characters and stories which should merely exist to contextualize Kate’s own narrative end up overpowering it.

The other problem which I encountered early on was that I didn’t love Rosie Price’s prose, which felt to me very conversational and millennial to the point where it distracted when we were in the heads of older characters.

However, when this book did focus on Kate, it excelled.  This is a brilliant examination not only of the long-lasting physical toll taken by sexual assault, but also of the delicate balance that every victim must go through of deciding who to share their story with, and how much of their story to share.  This isn’t a book that advocates that victims not speak out, but it is an incredibly sympathetic look on how much more challenging it can be in reality than in theory.

I also thought Rosie Price did an excellent job at writing Kate and Max’s friendship – a lot of the foundation of their relationship was glossed over given that four years of university were covered in about fifty pages, but I still found myself believing them and sympathizing with the extent to which Kate was concerned with Max’s feelings.

Ultimately, I thought this was an important and nuanced book when it zeroed in on its central topic, but it did meander a bit too much for my liking.


You can pick up a copy of What Red Was here on Book Depository.

book review: If I Had Your Face by Frances Cha

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IF I HAD YOUR FACE by Frances Cha
★★★★☆
Ballantine, April 21, 2020

 

If I Had Your Face is a searing debut that follows five young women living in the fringes of South Korean society, each struggling to make a living for themselves.  Few books that claim to tackle misogyny are as successfully unrelenting as this one is; it’s a bleak read, but also a beautiful one. This seems to be pitched as a book about the Korean beauty industry, which it is and it isn’t; plastic surgery and makeup mostly litter the background of a couple of the narratives, as Cha focuses instead on the women who are actively harmed by cruel and unrealistic beauty standards.

This book’s main asset has to be the characters: it’s also been a while since I’ve read anything with characters this convincing.  Of the five protagonists, four of them alternate first person point-of-view chapters, and each of their voices is so distinctive I never had trouble remembering whose head I was inhabiting, which tends to be a common pitfall of similarly structured fiction.

Narratively, this falls a bit short; it wraps up rather quickly and at the point where it ends, you feel like it could keep going for at least another 150 pages.  One of the characters’ arcs felt unfinished to me.  And a few of the book’s key events feel rushed, even before the end.  But despite that, my impression of this book is largely favorable.  I don’t think I’ll forget this in a hurry, and I can’t wait for whatever Frances Cha does next.

Thank you to Netgalley and Ballantine for the advanced copy provided in exchange for an honest review.


You can pre-order a copy of If I Had Your Face here on Book Depository.

book review: No One is Too Small to Make a Difference by Greta Thunberg

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NO ONE IS TOO SMALL TO MAKE A DIFFERENCE by Greta Thunberg
★★★☆☆
Penguin, 2019

 

How you feel about this book is entirely going to depend on what you’re expecting to get out of it.  This is not a scientific text, nor is it an in-depth exploration of possible solutions to climate change.  This is a rallying cry; a wake-up call to anyone who isn’t paying attention to the catastrophic state our planet is in.  If you’re familiar with Greta Thunberg from the news or social media, you’ll pretty much know what to expect from this, and it does deliver.

That said, my god did the repetition in this short book start to grate.  It actually rather irritates me how poorly curated this essay collection is; the impact of Thunberg’s words starts to neuter itself the further you read, by no fault of her own but because the editor saw fit to include near-identical speeches back-to-back on several occasions.


You can pick up a copy of No One is Too Small to Make a Difference here on Book Depository.

wrap up: December 2019

  1. I’m Afraid of Men by Vivek Shraya ★★★★☆ | review
  2. In the Dream House by Carmen Maria Machado ★★★★★ | review
  3. Disappearing Earth by Julia Phillips ★★★★★ | review
  4. Night Boat to Tangier by Kevin Barry ★★★☆☆ | review
  5. Vampire Academy by Richelle Mead ★★★★☆ | review
  6. The Marquise of O– by Heinrich von Kleist ★★☆☆☆ | review
  7. On Swift Horses by Shannon Pufahl ★☆☆☆☆ | review
  8. No One is Too Small to Make a Difference by Greta Thunberg ★★★☆☆ | review
  9. Royal Assassin by Robin Hobb ★★★★★ | review
  10. The Dream Thieves by Maggie Stiefvater ★★☆☆☆ | review
  11. The Tiger’s Wife by Téa Obreht ★★★★☆ | review to come
  12. If I Had Your Face by Frances Cha ★★★★☆ | review

Favorite: In the Dream House by Carmen Maria Machado
Runner up: Disappearing Earth by Julia Phillips
Least favorite: On Swift Horses by Shannon Pufahl

DECEMBER TOTAL: 12
YEARLY TOTAL: 112

I’m behind, clearly, both in reviewing and in reading all of your posts.  Today is going to be a catch-up day for me, so you can expect all of those reviews up within the next week.

Other posts from December:

What was the best book you read in December?  Comment and let me know!

P.S. Follow me!  @ Twitter | Goodreads | Instagram | Letterboxd | Ko-fi

 

2020 Reading Goals

Let’s start off this post by revisiting my 2019 goals:

  • Read at least 80 books.  Success!  112
  • Request fewer ARCs/read more books I already own.  lol
  • Read at least two books a month from any of these categories: plays, poetry collections, short story collections, nonfiction.  I did ok at this for a while and then eventually fell off the wagon.  But I did succeed in diversifying my reading (I definitely read more nonfiction in particular than ever before) so I’m not going to dwell on the specifics of this one.
  • Read my 2019 backlist TBR.  4.5/12.  Spectacular fail.
  • Read at least 12 classics.  I actually had to go back and count just now, but no, I did not succeed, I only read 7.  That’s especially low for me so I’m not really sure what happened there.  Oh well.

Some brief personal ramblings, if you’re at all curious why my goals went so badly.  If not, definitely skip these paragraphs.  2019 was… an interesting year for me.  Less than two months into the year the company I’d been working for for 5 years went out of business (long story) and I subsequently found myself unemployed for two months, which was awful.  And I almost feel bad about how awful it was for me emotionally, because I had enough savings that I wasn’t even in a position where I had to rush out and find a job the next day, and I know so many people aren’t as fortunate.  But I’d be lying if I pretended that that didn’t hit me very hard.

In April, I found a job which in many ways was my dream job on paper (I work in editorial and foreign rights for a local indie children’s book publisher), and while I do love my job in many ways, it was… a rather rough transition for me.  It’s a very, very, very different environment from anywhere I’ve ever worked before, and it took a pretty serious toll on my mental health.  Suffice to say, for the better part of the year I was suffering from worse depression and anxiety than I have in years.  I managed to read 112 books, which, yes, is a lot!  But it’s also about 20-30 fewer than I’d been managing in previous years, and I wasn’t even reading particularly long or dense books for the most part, so that goes to show that I was just really struggling in the second half of the year.  All this to say, in 2020 I’m going to be kinder to myself with my goals, because I can’t predict how my work/life/sanity balance is going to affect my reading.  I know it seems like I have a lot of goals here, but a lot of them are pretty basic and easily achievable.

(Sorry if that was all very ‘woe is me’ – I hate and struggle with talking about my personal life publicly, but I do feel like I owe it to you guys to sort of let you know where my head is at when it naturally affects my reading and blogging quite a great deal.)

So without further ado, 2020 reading (and blogging!) goals:

  • Read at least 90 books.  … ok, I was going to go lower, but I couldn’t resist.  I’ve been gradually been increasing my Goodreads goal by 10 each year for many years and I didn’t want to break the pattern.  I know a lot of people feel very restricted by their Goodreads goal, but this is actually one of the goals I care the least about.  If I hit it, great, if I don’t, I’ll change it to a lower number.
  • Read my 2020 backlist TBR.  Again, I don’t particularly care if I succeed at this goal or not, but as of this moment in time, it’s a pile of books I’m really, really excited about.  I also purposefully picked less ‘challenging’ books than the ones I put on my 2019 list, so I think this is more achievable.
  • Read my ARCs ahead of publication date.  At this point it’s an annual tradition to put this on my list and then fail at it.  So.  Whatever.  I’ll give it a go.  The road to hell etc etc.
  • Read the Women’s Prize longlist, and no other literary prize longlists.  I’ve discovered over the years that despite how much I love following literary prizes, I cannot focus my reading around them year-round.  However, I love the Women’s Prize too much to throw in the towel with this annual tradition.  Last year I read through the longlist with a group of friends and we all had such a blast with it that I think we’re all planning on doing it again, and I cannot wait.  If you enjoy my Women’s Prize series of posts every year you can absolutely look forward to that again.
  • Participate in Reading Ireland Month (March) and Women in Translation Month (August) and no other themed reading challenges.  Again, I just can’t focus my reading around community-wide initiatives, no matter how fun or well-intentioned they are.  But despite that, these two have my heart, and I am so looking forward to participating in both.  That said, I don’t plan on reading exclusively Irish lit in March (only because of the Women’s Prize tbh – otherwise I’d love to) or only Women in Translation in August.  I don’t want to restrict myself too much.
  • Unfollow a lot of blogs.  Don’t panic!  If we regularly interact on here, I am not talking about you.  When I first discovered this community, I would follow just about everyone.  I also had a lot more free time back then to read through my WordPress Reader more thoroughly.  I still like to rely on that tool to stay caught up, but nowadays I follow like 600 accounts on here and I find myself scrolling past way more blogs than I actually click on.  This just isn’t a sustainable way for me to stay engaged with the blogs I actually want to engage with.  So I know this seems like a kind of negative resolution, but it’s not, I promise.  This will be a lot better in the long run to focus my blogging interests.  And then, the flip side of this is that once my reader is more manageable, I want to be able to seek out some more bloggers whose reading tastes overlap with mine.
  • Review books immediately after finishing them.  I can’t believe I actually have to write this down as one of my resolutions, because this is something I have never struggled with.  I’ve always written my reviews within an hour of finishing the book.  But unfortunately I’ve been so mentally and emotionally drained lately that I find myself putting it off, and then resenting the process once I do sit down to review.  This just isn’t me.  I need to get back to the basics.

What are your 2020 reading and blogging goals?  Comment and let me know!

2020 Backlist TBR

Last year I challenged myself to read 12 specific books off my physical shelves throughout the year.  I failed spectacularly, reading only 4 and a half (I’m halfway through Cassandra) out of 12.  It’s not that I don’t want to pick up the remaining 7, it’s just that the timing never quite felt right for any of those.  So, I am officially relieving them of that pressure, by putting the pressure onto a different set of 12 books for 2020.  I’ll probably fail spectacularly at this too.  Who cares.

So, here are the 12 books that as of now, 12:50 pm on December 31, 2019, I have every intention of reading in 2020:

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Assassin’s Quest by Robin Hobb.  I recently finished and really loved Royal Assassin (review to come), the second book in Hobb’s Farseer trilogy.  Unfortunately I’ve heard from numerous accounts that Assassin’s Quest is the weakest in this trilogy, and beyond that, it’s over 100 pages longer than Royal Assassin, which already took me six months to read.  However, I am vowing that I need to pick this up soon before I lose the momentum I was gaining with Royal Assassin toward the end; plus, it ended on a cliffhanger and I am dying to see what happens.

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Regeneration by Pat Barker.  I’ve been meaning to read this one for ages and it recently got a rave review from Chelsea, meaning it’s been bumped up on my TBR.  I actually bought this entire trilogy earlier this year – something I rarely do, but the bookstore had them all used for $5 each so I couldn’t resist.  I hope I love this as much as I loved The Silence of the Girls (though I’m obviously expecting something quite different).

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What Red Was by Rosie Price.  One from my Christmas haul.  I love the sound of this, and it’s been pitched as Sally Rooney meets Asking For It by Louise O’Neill, so, that sounds stupidly relevant to my interests.  Plus I know Callum loved this.

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The Spinning Heart by Donal Ryan.  I’ve publicly announced that I’m going to read this book so many times that I think it’s lost all meaning.  But I swear to god, do not let me enter 2021 without having read this.  I love Donal Ryan and this is ridiculously short, so why on earth do I keep postponing this?!

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Brideshead Revisited by Evelyn Waugh.  I’ll be honest, I don’t even know what this is about, I just know that I’ve felt drawn to it for years and I’m ready to give it a go.

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Solar Bones by Mike McCormack.  It’s Irish, it’s one sentence, it’s a literary fiction novel by a man that even Hannah likes.  So I just know I am going to love this.

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The Golden Mean by Annabel Lyon.  It’s about Alexander the Great.  Rick likes it.  That’s all I need to know.

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A Separate Peace by John Knowles.  This is a modern classic that a lot of people have to read in high school and that a select number of my good friends hated, and I think it has to do with a boy falling out of a tree, or being pushed out of a tree?  I don’t know.  Don’t tell me.  I’m intrigued.

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The Life and Death of Sophie Stark by Anna North.  I’ve had this on my shelf for years and I actually forgot about it entirely until it recently showed up on Laura Tisdall’s books of the decade list.  She then further sold it to me by saying there are traces of Lu Rile, the brilliant protagonist of one of my favorite books, Rachel Lyon’s Self-Portrait with Boy, in Sophie Stark.  That quickly made this one a priority for me.

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A Cathedral of Myth and Bone by Kat Howard.  Poor Marija has been yelling at people to read this book for months and very few have taken up her call, so I decided to bite the bullet and I ordered this online the other day.  All I know is that it’s a short story collection inspired by mythology, and Goodreads tells me it’s adult even though I keep thinking it’s YA for some reason (I just realized it’s the ‘blank of blank and blank’ title), but anyway, this is a good sign.

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Disoriental by Négar Djavadi, translated from the French by Tina Kover.  This is my pick for Women in Translation Month (August) if I don’t manage to read it sooner.  I don’t really know what this is – I think a family saga? – but I haven’t heard a single negative thing about it.  And I love Tina Kover on Twitter.  And Kristin has raved about it!

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The People in the Trees by Hanya Yanagihara.  It is time.  Despite proclaiming A Little Life my book of the decade, I still haven’t read Yanagihara’s debut.  I’ve heard it’s very different from A Little Life but still devastating, and frankly, after being so thoroughly destroyed by Yanagihara’s sophomore effort I haven’t felt up to it.  But I’m ready.  I think.

Have you guys read any of these, and what did you think?  What backlist books are at the top of your 2020 TBR?  Comment and let me know!

Favorite Book Covers of 2019

Kicking off my end of year round up series with a fun one: favorite covers.

To be completely honest with you, I don’t think 2019 was a very strong year for book covers.  While compiling this list I kept finding myself drawn to 2020 releases, but I wanted to stick with books published this year.  That said, there were some highlights!  It’s interesting to me that I was drawn to a lot of busy covers this year (with notable exceptions) when in general I describe my taste as preferring minimalist cover design.  Case in point: this is probably my favorite cover ever.  But for whatever reason, these are the ones that won me over this year.

I’m also (evidently) a sucker for the white text on a black and white photo design.  Sorry.

I’m also including one title from late 2018 that I hadn’t included in my previous year’s post.  Sorry sorry.

 

  1. Throw Me to the Wolves by Patrick McGuinness (Bloomsbury)
  2. On Swift Horses by Shannon Pufahl (Fourth Estate, UK)
  3. Find Me by André Aciman (FSG)
  4. Night Boat to Tangier by Kevin Barry (Canongate, UK)
  5. On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous by Ocean Vuong (Penguin Press)
  6. Lie With Me by Philippe Besson (Scribner)
  7. The End of Loneliness by Benedict Wells (Penguin Books)
  8. Liar by Ayelet Gundar-Goshen (Pushkin Press)
  9. Divide Me By Zero by Lara Vapnyar (Tin House Books)
  10. Valerie by Sara Stridsberg (FSG)
  11. Tell Them of Battles, Kings & Elephants by Mathias Énard (New Directions)

What’s your favorite cover from 2019?  Comment and let me know!