Sunday, September 5, 2021

The Mid Year Book Review Extravaganza

I've sat down to write this post not once, not twice but three times on three *very* separate occasions. First, it was a short Winter book list, then it turned into a 1/3 of the year book review, only to finally take the shape you see before you - a mid-year (even this is questionable as June is way past gone, but I've given up at this point) book review extravaganza. And yes, I am freely calling it an extravaganza because, at this point, it's completely ridiculous that it's taken me so long to string a bunch of words together. 

Nevertheless, the year started off strong for me. The reading bug from 2020 surely made its way onto Jan-March, and then, slowly but surely, the bug continued onto its path and left me behind, just sitting there, trying to finish whatever book I'm reading atm. I mean, it's not entirely the bug's fault. I've fallen off the bandwagon with writing and just overall making time to give my brain a rest from all the screens it's gotten extremely used to over this past year. And that's a lot coming from a person that's basically been glued to screens since making her first Facebook account in 2010. Anyways, I've been trying to make small changes, and even though 8/10 attempts are a failure, I'm considering this post a step in the right direction! 

And with that completely unrelated rant out of the way, here are a few of the books I've read so far in 2021. I'm trying to explore more genres, and I usually switch between every read, which is a piece of great advice I would give to people that might find reading a bit boring after a while. Don't be afraid to switch it up! Okay, another rant aside, here is my final selection of what I've been reading from January through June-ish (I think?) and my thoughts on the books. Take everything I say with a grain of salt (but not about the ones I gave 5 stars, those are just *immaculate* and a must-read! hehe) and if you find some of the plots interesting PLEASE go ahead and read the books. And afterwards, if you share my feelings or want to punch me in the face because I trashed your new fave read, feel free to shoot me a message anywhere!

Ok, FINALLY, here are some books, accompanied by words. Enjoy!

A Tale for the Time Being by Ruth Ozeki 5/5

"In Tokyo, sixteen-year-old Nao has decided there’s only one escape from her loneliness and her classmates’ bullying, but before she ends it all, Nao plans to document the life of her great-grandmother, a Buddhist nun. A diary is Nao’s only solace. Across the Pacific, we meet Ruth, a novelist living on a remote island who discovers a collection of artifacts washed ashore in a Hello Kitty lunchbox.  As the mystery of its contents unfolds, Ruth is pulled into the past, into Nao’s drama and her unknown fate, and forward into her own future. "

It's only fitting to start the list with the book that left the biggest impression on me this year, which is A Tale for the Time Being by Ruth Ozeki. Honestly, I couldn't find a single flaw in this book. Ruth Ozeki has managed to weave such an intricate plot and develop such heartbreakingly real characters that left me smiling with them and feeling their pain at the same time. The blurb on the back of the book says “blurring the line between fact and fiction” and I could not agree more. She has linked this fictional story so closely to factual events like WW2, Zen Buddhism philosophy, Japanese cultural references & even quantum physics that it just felt too real to be fiction. The dual perspective narrative, one from 16-year-old Tokyo-based Nao, and Ruth, a struggling Japanese American writer living with her husband in British Columbia, produced a very dynamic storytelling frame, where you're inside both of their heads, and asking yourself the same questions they are. I can't single out a favourite aspect of this book, but I do have to mention Ozeki's skilled writing when it came to Nao. From this book onward, this is the standard I'll be holding other books to when it comes to grown adult authors writing teenagers. Completely authentic and raw. As if Nao were a real person, whispering words into Ozeki's ear as she typed. To conclude, A Tale for the Time Being is tragic, funny, puzzling, enchanting, heartwarming and gutwrenching, and takes the spot as my new favourite book.

Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng 4.5/5

"Combining a deeply observant story about race, belonging, motherhood, and the dangers of smug liberalism with the pace and fervor of a psychological thriller, Little Fires Everywhere is a truly remarkable novel of American suburbia’s dark undercurrents."  

Little Fires Everywhere has been on my radar for a while and when I saw that they had it in my local library I knew it was time to give it a try. And I can definitely say this book gave me such a good time! LFE is such an enticing novel, the pages just keep turning by themselves. Ng’s writing is very easy to follow and she doesn’t flourish her pages with tons of unnecessary information which I appreciated. I found all the characters to be well-developed, however, I didn’t really connect with any of them so that’s why it’s not a full-on 5. I knew beforehand that there was a TV show based on the book, so right as I finished the book I started the TV series and OH BOY was it good. They changed up some of the details of the book to make it more race-centred which I completely understand, and even as I was watching the show I couldn't help but wonder, was Ng wary about making the book revolve so much around race issues in America because in the show those conversations seemed totally central to the plot. Anyhow, totally recommend giving both the book and the TV show a shot. 

The Power by Naomi Alderman - 4/5

"In The Power, the world is a recognizable place: Teenage girls now have immense physical power - they can cause agonizing pain and even death. And, with this small twist of nature, the world changes utterly."

This book was March's pick for The Late Night Book Club, and the premise sounded interesting to me so I decided to give it a go. Alderman’s ideas on a parallel universe where women have the power (literally) and men fight for their rights are very intriguing to me. I kept wondering, what IF this actually happened out of nowhere? Women finding out they have powers that induce electricity out of their bodies. Is this how things would play out? Is the need for political power and war innate, that we would completely lose our minds and just be thirsty for more? This book had an interesting structure as well, making it feel a bit more real with all the illustrations. I’ll admit the end lost me a bit, but it all came to me by the last two pages, and the last line literally gave me chills. Although there were moments in the book where I felt the plot development fell short and was a bit too predictable, I enjoyed it and I think it will stay on my mind for a while.

The Complete Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi 5/5 

"Persepolis is an autobiographical series of bande dessinées (comics) by Marjane Satrapi that depicts her childhood up to her early adult years in Iran and Austria during and after the Islamic Revolution."

2021 marks the year I got into graphic novels and so far I'm loving it! Persepolis was one that I've heard nothing but great things about, and I am SO glad I finally got around to reading it. Persepolis tells the story of Marjane Satrapi's life, from childhood up until her 20ties and you can't help but feel like you're growing along beside her when reading the novel. It touches on subjects such as politics, religion, identity, and shame, and each of these topics is handled with so much honesty and childish innocence it made my heart feel for everything she was going through. I think we all have this picture of Iran in our minds that's been painted by different media outlets, that it can get hard to differentiate what is true and what isn't. The reality is, we approach such information with prejudice without taking into account that actual people live in Islamic countries such as Iran, people that are complex human beings like the rest of us. One country's political regime does not reflect the values of all citizens and religions, and I think this is something we can all agree on but is hard to remember when it's a situation different from our own. 

Beloved by Toni Morrison 5/5

"Beloved is a 1987 novel by the American writer Toni Morrison. Set after the American Civil War, it tells the story of a family of former slaves whose Cincinnati home is haunted by a malevolent spirit."

Chilling and beautiful, Beloved is a complex look at a woman’s destiny as a slave woman and mother in the US told through poetic language, allegory, and allusions beyond measure. I’ve sadly not been very exposed to books revolving around slavery, so this book was like a rude (but needed) awakening to the dream world I’ve been living in as a white person residing in a country where black slavery had not existed. But if it hasn't existed where I live, that doesn’t mean it didn’t exist at all & that I shouldn’t get educated on that topic. The basis of the plot of Beloved is based on real events, which makes the whole reading experience 10x more chilling. By introducing a magical realism aspect to this real-life account, Morrison managed to encapsulate the feelings of millions of slaves across America in a poetic, dream-like manner. I’m aware this is a touchy subject but I would advise everyone to read this book and do more digging when it comes to analyzing it because it is not one that should be taken at face value. I'm not ashamed to say that I had Sparknotes opened on the side while reading this book, because it's so easy to just glide through the words and not fully understand what's going on and misread the value they hold. 

Norwegian Wood by Haruki Murakami 3/5

"The novel is a nostalgic story of loss and burgeoning sexuality. It is told from the first-person perspective of Toru Watanabe, who looks back on his days as a college student living in Tokyo."

I've had some time to let this book marinate in my thoughts, so I can safely say that at this point nothing can change my mind when I say this book just wasn't for me. I've read so many stellar reviews, and I even know friends who've loved it, but I just can't shake the feeling that this story was just so... bleak. I will admit, I appreciated some of the sentiments behind certain passages, and I definitely wanted to underline some of them (I didn't since it wasn't my book), but overall I was just underwhelmed (and at times furious). I guess that's partly my fault since I decided to pick up the one contemporary novel book Murakami has when I've heard so much praise for his magical realism-oriented books. The thing that really pushed my buttons was the "manic pixie dream girl" trope that is splattered all throughout the book. The female characters give off the feeling as if they're just part of the story so the reader can see the male narrator's personal growth, even though they are an integral part of the story. Yet, they keep on being the shiny ornaments produced by the ultimate male fantasy - it's either the quirky "not like other girls" girl that loves to challenge men or the shy unattainable girl that's considered a prize to be won. With that being said, I can't avoid the big elephant in the room which is the talk surrounding mental health. I think it was handled okay, it had its nuances and it wasn't as black and white as the rest of the book, which I appreciate. To round this review up, I guess I'll just say that this book isn't for everyone, but I'll definitely give other Murakami books a chance because I did enjoy his simplistic narrative style. 

Crooked Kingdom by Leigh Bardugo 5/5

"Kaz Brekker and his crew of deadly outcasts have just pulled off a heist so daring even they didn't think they'd survive. But instead of divvying up a fat reward, they're right back to fighting for their lives. A war will be waged on the city's dark and twisting streets - a battle for revenge and redemption that will decide the fate of the Grisha world."

To this one I'll say: Did I finish the book, or did the book finish me?! First of all, the Crows are arguably some of my most favourite characters to ever exist. I love how they're written, how they think, their character development and interpersonal relationships. Six of Crows will go down as one of my favourite books ever, and Crooked Kingdom, the second instalment, is no different. This one focuses a lot more on their inner thoughts, turmoils and individual backgrounds, how they've grown over the first book and how they will handle the mess they've created while protecting each other. Crooked Kingdom really makes you fall in love with these characters, and then rips your heart out at the end. And that's all I'll say about that. 

I'm Thinking of Ending Things by Iain Reid 5/5

"I’m Thinking of Ending Things begins with the unnamed narrator setting off with her boyfriend to visit his parents at their remote farm, and soon devolves into an unnerving exploration of identity, regret, and longing."

You might have heard about this book from the Netflix adaptation by Charlie Kaufman and the infamous "I don't think I get it" aspect to it. I had the book on my radar a while back, and when I heard there would be a movie, I knew I had to read it. I decided to read the Macedonian translated version (which I usually don't tend to do) and I'm glad I did because it was done very well. The story follows an unnamed female narrator and her new relationship with a man named Jake. Immediately we are thrown into this woman's head and her cold and indecisive demeanour. We follow her recent troubles and how she deals with them alongside navigating life with her new romantic partner, and soon enough, we're all whisked away to the boyfriend's parents' farm for dinner. This is where tension starts to rise, and more and more weird sh*t starts to happen. I really loved how the tension rises with each consequent page. The narrator does a great job of making you think things will go one way, and then casually throws you a curveball. The weirdness factor definitely grows as the book goes on, and by the end, you're completely enthralled and just want to know what happens next - which you don't have to wait for long for since the narration moves pretty fast and the book itself isn't that long. In addition, there were some sentiments throughout the book that I really appreciated and resonated with, so the pen came out a couple of times to underline. The ending was satisfactory in my opinion, I definitely didn't see it coming, but I like how it played out. And lastly, in comparison to the movie, I found the book to be a lot more fast-paced and engaging. There were a lot of changes made for the movie, which I did not necessarily like, which is why I would advise reading the book first. 

Get a Life, Chloe Brown by Talia Hibbert 4.5/5

"Chloe Brown is a chronically ill computer geek with a goal, a plan, and a list. After almost—but not quite—dying, she’s come up with seven directives to help her “Get a Life”, and she’s already completed the first: finally moving out of her glamorous family’s mansion. But it’s not easy being bad, even when you’ve written step-by-step guidelines on how to do it correctly. What Chloe needs is a teacher, and she knows just the man for the job."

I haven't read a contemporary romance I liked in absolute ages (and by that I mean the last romance I read that I loved was the Shopaholics series when I was in elementary school...), so when I heard stellar reviews about Get a Life, Chloe Brown I knew I had to give this genre another try. And honestly, I had a blast. This book somehow managed to make me feel the feelings you'd have when you have a crush on someone and made me experience those butterflies but from Chloe's perspective. The story isn't revolutionary, but it's wholesome and warm, and touches on sensitive subjects with such decency that it's hard not to fall for the sweetness of the characters. Overall, Talia Hibert has created a great microscopic look at what love and lust can feel like (in a world where Redford Morgan exists... IYKYK).

Norse Mythology by Neil Gaiman 4.5/5

"Neil Gaiman, long inspired by ancient mythology in creating the fantastical realms of his fiction, presents a bravura rendition of the Norse gods and their world from their origin though their upheaval in Ragnarok."

I was contemplating whether I should pick this up at the library every time I went back, so eventually, I gave in and picked it up, and I am very glad I did. This book was SUCH a fun read! The stories themselves were a breeze to read, and Gaiman's dynamic and fuss-free storytelling only made the book a total page-turner. And the best part is that I found an audiobook on Youtube of Gaiman himself reading the book, so of course, I accompanied my physical book with Gaiman's voice for a 10/10 book reading experience. If you're into mythology, I would say that this is a great way to immerse yourself even more into the mystical folklore of Scandinavia. Even though not everything is 100% factual, I didn't take the book too seriously and played police whether something was omitted or told untruthfully. I just enjoyed the ride and had a great time following Loki's crazy schemes and Thor's anger management issues. 

They Both Die at the End by Adam Silvera 2.5/5

"Mateo and Rufus are total strangers, but, for different reasons, they’re both looking to make a new friend on their End Day. The good news: There’s an app for that. It’s called the Last Friend, and through it, Rufus and Mateo are about to meet up for one last great adventure—to live a lifetime in a single day."

And lastly, the book that I actually read last - They Both Die at the End by Adam Silvera. You might have heard about this book as it blew up on Book Tok (the book side of Tik Tok) and my friend gave into the hype and bought it. Lucky for me, she oh so generously lends me all her books, so I immediately told her that I want to read this one after she finishes it. And then, the thing I always dread happened - she gave it to me and said "I hated it, but maybe you'll like it!" Yikes. So, hesitantly, I picked it up and was actually really into it at first. The concept itself is sooo cool, a world where you get a call that you'll die in the upcoming 24 hours and you're left to your own devices to figure out how to spend those last hours? Sign me up! (to the book concept, not to an actual reality where that happens. I'd really really not appreciate that.) So, with a premise such as this one, and the openly known LGBTQ theme, I was really excited to find out what happens next. So, I waited, and waited, and then waited some more. And then something happened, and the book ended. I've read character-driven plotlines, and I love them, but here I saw nothing but pages of awkward and forced dialogue, unrealistic teenager portrayal, more plot conveniences than I could count, and a rushed (yet still oh so slow) romantic relationship. And this is the thing that bugs me the most, the concept had so much potential to explore more themes connected to death and dealing with death with your loved ones, yet we only get to see such a niche, narrow, and almost two-dimensional experience.  

And that wraps up this long-overdue book review. That rhymed :) 

Anyhow, I look forward to hearing your thoughts on these books, or any other books you'd recommend to me. I'm getting back into the groove of reading again, and I can't wait for the follow up to this review, coming to you in around three months from now! Or more, you never know with me...  

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