January Wrap Up

My first (late) reading wrap up of 2018!  And I’m super happy that I’ve kicked the year off on a good start because all except one of the books I read in the month of January I gave pretty high ratings.

Nothing To Envy: Ordinary Lives in North Korea by Barbara Demick:  This book gave glimpses into people’s lives in North Korea and it was heart-breaking and very important.  I gave it 5/5 stars.

The Vegetarian by Han Kang: I’ve been interested in this book since I first heard about it and it was definitely strange and dark, but kept me gripped the whole time.  Full review can be found here.  I gave it 4/5 stars.

Chemistry by Weike Wang: I loved this book so much and my full review can be found here.  I gave it 5/5 stars.

Want by Cindy Pon: This was my biggest reading disappointment last month.  I wanted it to be so much more, but sadly, it didn’t live up to my excitement.  My full review can be found here.  I gave it 2/5 stars.

Tokyo Ghoul Vol 1 by Sui Ishida: I have heard great things about this series and the first volume definitely didn’t disappoint.  I gave it 4/5 stars.

Death Note Vol 1 and 2 by Tsugumi Ohba and Takeshi Obata: I loved this so much.  It is creepy and dark and everything I hoped it would be.  I gave it 5/5 stars.

Those are the six books I read in the month of January.  Hopefully February is another month for reading really, really good books.

Book Review || The Vegetarian

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Title: The Vegetarian

Author: Han Kang

Publication Date: October 2007

Version: Kindle ebook

Genre: Contemporary, Adult Fiction, General Fiction

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Before the nightmare, Yeong-hye and her husband lived an ordinary life. But when splintering, blood-soaked images start haunting her thoughts, Yeong-hye decides to purge her mind and renounce eating meat. In a country where societal mores are strictly obeyed, Yeong-hye’s decision to embrace a more “plant-like” existence is a shocking act of subversion. And as her passive rebellion manifests in ever more extreme and frightening forms, scandal, abuse, and estrangement begin to send Yeong-hye spiraling deep into the spaces of her fantasy. In a complete metamorphosis of both mind and body, her now dangerous endeavor will take Yeong-hye—impossibly, ecstatically, tragically—far from her once-known self altogether.

TRIGGER WARNING: Rape and sexual assault

I am super late to The Vegetarian party, but better late than never because what a fascinating, short novel.  The synopsis of this story is what hooked me and from the very beginning of the book, I couldn’t put it down.

Kang does an excellent job at portraying her characters as dimensional and at times I felt myself despising someone just to turn around and feel sorry for their situation.  It takes a gifted author to create such dynamic characters, especially in 188 pages.

The atmosphere from the very beginning is also dark and ominous with plenty of foreboding throughout the first two parts that lead up to the disturbing climax of the story.  And the story itself has a lot going on which I really liked because there are different themes to take away depending on who is reading it.  There is an allusion to mental illness, but also the theme of rebelling against societal norms and plenty of commentary on domestic relationships.

I also liked the pacing of the story and thought the point of view each section was written from (never Yeong-hye’s) was brilliantly done and allowed different views of what was happening with Yeong-hye.

I don’t think this book will be for everyone, but if you like thought-provoking, ominous, and gorgeously written books that are a little strange, this may well be for you.

Book Review || Chemistry

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Title: Chemistry

Author: Weike Wang

Publication Date: May 2017

Version: Audiobook

Genre: Fiction, General Fiction, Adult Fiction, Contemporary

Rating: 5/5 Stars

Three years into her graduate studies at a demanding Boston university, the unnamed narrator of this nimbly wry, concise debut finds her one-time love for chemistry is more hypothesis than reality. She’s tormented by her failed research–and reminded of her delays by her peers, her advisor, and most of all by her Chinese parents, who have always expected nothing short of excellence from her throughout her life. But there’s another, nonscientific question looming: the marriage proposal from her devoted boyfriend, a fellow scientist, whose path through academia has been relatively free of obstacles, and with whom she can’t make a life before finding success on her own. 

Eventually, the pressure mounts so high that she must leave everything she thought she knew about her future, and herself, behind. And for the first time, she’s confronted with a question she won’t find the answer to in a textbook: What do I really want?Over the next two years, this winningly flawed, disarmingly insightful heroine learns the formulas and equations for a different kind of chemistry–one in which the reactions can’t be quantified, measured, and analyzed; one that can be studied only in the mysterious language of the heart. Taking us deep inside her scattered, searching mind, here is a brilliant new literary voice that astutely juxtaposes the elegance of science, the anxieties of finding a place in the world, and the sacrifices made for love and family.

I absolutely adored this book.  In fact, it will definitely be one of my 2018 favorites.  This book conveys a lot of emotion in just 224 pages and I found myself clinging to every single word.

I loved the narrator of this book.  I’ve read some reviews where people didn’t connect with the narrator at all, which I understand given her concise way of speaking and the way the story jumps around from thought to thought across different times in her life.  However, there is so much emotion in this book and hearing the way she talks about her parents and her life is incredibly touching.  I also happened to love the author’s writing and narration style and thought it fit the book perfectly.

I also felt a personal connection to the narrator because several years ago, I found myself quitting the profession I was sure that I loved and had to do some evaluating.  On top of this, the narrator and her parents moved to the United States from China when she was six and this book is a perfect look at her life and experiences growing up among the two cultures.

This book also conveys relationships, both romantic and familial, honestly and realistically.  I felt the author managed to say a lot in the 224 pages than other books manage in 400+ pages.  I only hope another book by Weike Wang is in the works!

Book Review || Want

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Title: Want

Author: Cindy Pon

Publication Date: June 2017

Version: Audiobook

Genre: YA, Dystopian, Sci-Fi

Rating: 2/5 Stars

 Jason Zhou survives in a divided society where the elite use their wealth to buy longer lives. The rich wear special suits that protect them from the pollution and viruses that plague the city, while those without suffer illness and early deaths. Frustrated by his city’s corruption and still grieving the loss of his mother, who died as a result of it, Zhou is determined to change things, no matter the cost.

With the help of his friends, Zhou infiltrates the lives of the wealthy in hopes of destroying the international Jin Corporation from within. Jin Corp not only manufactures the special suits the rich rely on, but they may also be manufacturing the pollution that makes them necessary.

Yet the deeper Zhou delves into this new world of excess and wealth, the more muddled his plans become. And against his better judgment, Zhou finds himself falling for Daiyu, the daughter of Jin Corp’s CEO. Can Zhou save his city without compromising who he is or destroying his own heart?


Doesn’t that premise sound so, so cool?  Futurist Taipei where only the wealthy can afford to breathe clean air, and therefore, increase their life expectancy.  Sadly, this book was a case of having a brilliant plot and not so brilliant execution.

My favorite part of the book was definitely the world-building.  Pon did a good job of keeping things realistic enough to recognize the characters’ world and add in new and exciting elements to remind the reader it isn’t Taipei as we know it.  I also liked the idea of the story and the parallels it drew to the real world and social messages behind the story.

Besides those elements, the rest of the story fell pretty flat for me.  The characters didn’t feel well-rounded, especially the side characters and I never really connected with any of them because of that.  The romance was also pretty cliche and in addition to not being invested in it, I found myself rolling my eyes with the forced inner dialogue and the dialogue between the characters.

The plot was also kind of boring.  The characters don’t have to overcome many real obstacles and at some points the book felt like a list of everything that was happening instead of a fluid story.  This may have been because I listened to the audiobook, but there were times where I didn’t realize the story had jumped forward by weeks or months, which was kind of confusing.

Speaking of the audio version, I also didn’t love the narrator of the book, which can sometimes make or break a reading experience, so that can account for some of my feelings.  All of that being said, however, I was pretty disappointed with this book after having such an exciting premise.

 

 

Holiday Book Haul

I recently came up with a list of reading goals I have for this new year and one of those goals is to buy less books and focus on the books I already own.  However, with giftcards from the holidays, I wasn’t about to waste them, so here is my (probably) last book haul for a little while from the holidays

I have never read manga before reading Tokyo Ghoul Vol 1, which I heard of through a makeup tutorial, so I’m super glad this was my first because I really liked it and immediately bout volume 2.  I also heard great things about Death Note, so I’m excited to get into that series as well.

In Order To Live was one of my favorite books of 2017 and since I listened to it on audiobook, I wanted a physical copy for my bookshelves.  I highly recommend this one if you’re looking for a memoir.

I’ve also wanted to read more books that have won the Pulitzer Prize, so I’m currently reading The Sympathizer, which won in 2016.  I also bought The Vegetarian, which won the 2016 Man Booker Prize and since I’ve been interested in it since it first came out, it’s time to finally get to it this year.

My bookclub pick for December was Her Body And Other Parties, so I recently picked up this book and my review can be found here.

Finally, I’ve heard great things about I Believe In A Thing Called Love by Maureen Goo, and again, have wanted to read it since it first came out last year, so now I’m glad I have a feel-good YA contemporary for when I’m in the mood.

Those are the eight books in my (probably) last book haul for a little while.  Let’s hope this goal sticks this new year for my sanity and wallet.

 

 

2018 TBR

For my last post for 2017, I am going to make a list of books I’m most excited to get to in 2018 to go with my post of 2018 releases I’m excited about.  This list will certainly change throughout the year as I learn about new and exciting books, but for now, these are some books I really would like to get to this year in no particular order:

Death Note Vol 1: Boredom by Tsugumi Ohba and Takeshi Obata

Light Yagami is an ace student with great prospects – and he’s bored out of his mind. But all that changes when he finds the Death Note, a notebook dropped by a rogue Shinigami, a death god. Any human whose name is written in the notebook dies, and now Light has vowed to use the power of the Death Note to rid the world of evil. But when criminals begin dropping dead, the authorities send the legendary detective L to track down the killer. With L hot on his heels, will Light lose sight of his noble goal… or his life?

The Vegetarian by Han Kang

Before the nightmare, Yeong-hye and her husband lived an ordinary life. But when splintering, blood-soaked images start haunting her thoughts, Yeong-hye decides to purge her mind and renounce eating meat. In a country where societal mores are strictly obeyed, Yeong-hye’s decision to embrace a more “plant-like” existence is a shocking act of subversion. And as her passive rebellion manifests in ever more extreme and frightening forms, scandal, abuse, and estrangement begin to send Yeong-hye spiraling deep into the spaces of her fantasy. In a complete metamorphosis of both mind and body, her now dangerous endeavor will take Yeong-hye—impossibly, ecstatically, tragically—far from her once-known self altogether.

Young Jane Young by Gabrielle Zevin

Aviva Grossman, an ambitious Congressional intern in Florida makes the life-changing mistake of having an affair with her boss‑‑who is beloved, admired, successful, and very married‑‑and blogging about it. When the affair comes to light, the Congressman doesn’t take the fall, but Aviva does, and her life is over before it hardly begins. She becomes a late‑night talk show punchline; she is slut‑shamed, labeled as fat and ugly, and considered a blight on politics in general.

How does one go on after this? In Aviva’s case, she sees no way out but to change her name and move to a remote town in Maine. She tries to start over as a wedding planner, to be smarter about her life, and to raise her daughter to be strong and confident. But when, at the urging of others, she decides to run for public office herself, that long‑ago mistake trails her via the Internet like a scarlet A. For in our age, Google guarantees that the past is never, ever, truly past, that everything you’ve done will live on for everyone to know about for all eternity. And it’s only a matter of time until Aviva/Jane’s daughter, Ruby, finds out who her mother was, and is, and must decide whether she can still respect her.

Thérèse Raquin by Émile Zola

Set in the claustrophobic atmosphere of a dingy haberdasher’s shop in the passage du Pont-Neuf in Paris, this powerful novel tells how the heroine and her lover, Laurent, kill her husband, Camille, but are subsequently haunted by visions of the dead man and prevented from enjoying the fruits of their crime.

Deceit And Other Possibilities by Vanessa Hua

From a Hong Kong movie idol fleeing a sex scandal, to an obedient daughter turned Stanford imposter, to a Chinatown elder summoned to his village, to a Korean-American pastor with a secret agenda, the characters in these ten stories vividly illustrate the conflict between self and society, tradition and change. In “What We Have is What We Need,” winner of The Atlantic student fiction prize, a boy from Mexico reunites with his parents in San Francisco. When he suspects his mother has found love elsewhere, he fights to keep his family together.

With insight and wit, she writes about what wounds us and what we must survive. Her searing stories explore the clash of cultures and the complex, always shifting allegiances that we carry in ourselves, our family, and our community.

Quiet by Susan Cain

Passionately argued, impressively researched, and filled with indelible stories of real people, Quiet shows how dramatically we undervalue introverts, and how much we lose in doing so. Taking the reader on a journey from Dale Carnegie’s birthplace to Harvard Business School, from a Tony Robbins seminar to an evangelical megachurch, Susan Cain charts the rise of the Extrovert Ideal in the twentieth century and explores its far-reaching effects. She talks to Asian-American students who feel alienated from the brash, backslapping atmosphere of American schools. She questions the dominant values of American business culture, where forced collaboration can stand in the way of innovation, and where the leadership potential of introverts is often overlooked. And she draws on cutting-edge research in psychology and neuroscience to reveal the surprising differences between extroverts and introverts.

Sorry To Disrupt The Peace by Patty Yumi Cottrell

Helen Moran is thirty-two years old, single, childless, college-educated, and partially employed as a guardian of troubled young people in New York. She’s accepting a delivery from IKEA in her shared studio apartment when her uncle calls to break the news: Helen’s adoptive brother is dead.

According to the internet, there are six possible reasons why her brother might have killed himself. But Helen knows better: she knows that six reasons is only shorthand for the abyss. Helen also knows that she alone is qualified to launch a serious investigation into his death, so she purchases a one-way ticket to Milwaukee. There, as she searches her childhood home and attempts to uncover why someone would choose to die, she will face her estranged family, her brother’s few friends, and the overzealous grief counselor, Chad Lambo; she may also discover what it truly means to be alive.

The Power by Naomi Alderman

In The Power the world is a recognisable place: there’s a rich Nigerian kid who lounges around the family pool; a foster girl whose religious parents hide their true nature; a local American politician; a tough London girl from a tricky family. But something vital has changed, causing their lives to converge with devastating effect. Teenage girls now have immense physical power – they can cause agonising pain and even death. And, with this small twist of nature, the world changes utterly.

Echo by Pam Muñoz Ryan

Lost and alone in a forbidden forest, Otto meets three mysterious sisters and suddenly finds himself entwined in a puzzling quest involving a prophecy, a promise, and a harmonica.
 
Decades later, Friedrich in Germany, Mike in Pennsylvania, and Ivy in California each, in turn, become interwoven when the very same harmonica lands in their lives. All the children face daunting challenges: rescuing a father, protecting a brother, holding a family together. And ultimately, pulled by the invisible thread of destiny, their solo stories converge in an orchestral crescendo.

Want by Cindy Pon

Jason Zhou survives in a divided society where the elite use their wealth to buy longer lives. The rich wear special suits that protect them from the pollution and viruses that plague the city, while those without suffer illness and early deaths. Frustrated by his city’s corruption and still grieving the loss of his mother, who died as a result of it, Zhou is determined to change things, no matter the cost.

With the help of his friends, Zhou infiltrates the lives of the wealthy in hopes of destroying the international Jin Corporation from within. Jin Corp not only manufactures the special suits the rich rely on, but they may also be manufacturing the pollution that makes them necessary.

Yet the deeper Zhou delves into this new world of excess and wealth, the more muddled his plans become. And against his better judgment, Zhou finds himself falling for Daiyu, the daughter of Jin Corp’s CEO. Can Zhou save his city without compromising who he is or destroying his own heart?

The Beginning Of The World In The Middle Of The Night by Jen Campbell

Spirits in jam jars, mini-apocalypses, animal hearts and side shows.
A girl runs a coffin hotel on a remote island.
A boy is worried his sister has two souls.
A couple are rewriting the history of the world.
And mermaids are on display at the local aquarium.

The Beginning of the World in the Middle of the Night is a collection of twelve haunting stories; modern fairy tales brimming with magic, outsiders and lost souls.

Rainbirds by Clarissa Goenawan

Ren Ishida is nearly finished with graduate school when he receives news of his sister Keiko’s sudden death. She was viciously stabbed one rainy night on her way home, and there are no leads. Ren heads to Akakawa to conclude his sister’s affairs, still failing to understand why she chose to abandon the family and Tokyo for this desolate town years ago.

But Ren soon finds himself picking up where Keiko left off, accepting both her teaching position at a local cram school and the bizarre arrangement of free lodging at a wealthy politician’s mansion in exchange for reading to the man’s catatonic wife.

As he comes to know the figures in Akakawa, from the enigmatic politician to his fellow teachers and a rebellious, alluring student named Rio, Ren delves into his shared childhood with Keiko and what followed, trying to piece together what happened the night of her death. Haunted in his dreams by a young girl who is desperately trying to tell him something, Ren struggles to find solace in tOne morning, Deming Guo’s mother, an undocumented Chinese immigrant named Polly, goes to her job at the nail salon and never comes home. No one can find any trace of her.

With his mother gone, eleven-year-old Deming is left with no one to care for him. He is eventually adopted by two white college professors who move him from the Bronx to a small town upstate. They rename him Daniel Wilkinson in their efforts to make him over into their version of an “all-American boy.” But far away from all he’s ever known, Daniel struggles to reconcile his new life with his mother’s disappearance and the memories of the family and community he left behind.

Set in New York and China, The Leavers is a vivid and moving examination of borders and belonging. It’s the story of how one boy comes into his own when everything he’s loved has been taken away–and how a mother learns to live with the mistakes of her past.he void his sister has left behind.

The Leavers by Lisa Ko

One morning, Deming Guo’s mother, an undocumented Chinese immigrant named Polly, goes to her job at the nail salon and never comes home. No one can find any trace of her.

With his mother gone, eleven-year-old Deming is left with no one to care for him. He is eventually adopted by two white college professors who move him from the Bronx to a small town upstate. They rename him Daniel Wilkinson in their efforts to make him over into their version of an “all-American boy.” But far away from all he’s ever known, Daniel struggles to reconcile his new life with his mother’s disappearance and the memories of the family and community he left behind.

Set in New York and China, The Leavers is a vivid and moving examination of borders and belonging. It’s the story of how one boy comes into his own when everything he’s loved has been taken away–and how a mother learns to live with the mistakes of her past.

Book Review || Her Body And Other Parties

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Title: Author: Her Body And Other Parties

Publication Date: October 2017

VersionAudiobook

Genre: Short Stories, Feminist Lit

Rating: 3/5 Stars

In Her Body and Other Parties, Carmen Maria Machado blithely demolishes the arbitrary borders between psychological realism and science fiction, comedy and horror, fantasy and fabulism. While her work has earned her comparisons to Karen Russell and Kelly Link, she has a voice that is all her own. In this electric and provocative debut, Machado bends genre to shape startling narratives that map the realities of women’s lives and the violence visited upon their bodies.

A wife refuses her husband’s entreaties to remove the green ribbon from around her neck. A woman recounts her sexual encounters as a plague slowly consumes humanity. A salesclerk in a mall makes a horrifying discovery within the seams of the store’s prom dresses. One woman’s surgery-induced weight loss results in an unwanted houseguest. And in the bravura novella Especially Heinous, Machado reimagines every episode of Law & Order: Special Victims Unit, a show we naively assumed had shown it all, generating a phantasmagoric police procedural full of doppelgangers, ghosts, and girls with bells for eyes.

My bookclub’s January read is sure to inspire lots of conversation at our next meeting.  This collection of short stories with feminist themes was a little all over the place in rating for me, so I’m going to break it down by story and rate each as an individual.  My overall rating average is something like a 2.8/5 stars, but I think a 3/5 stars conveys how I felt about it as a whole quite well.

The Husband Stitch: 5/5 Stars

This story for me, like many other readers, stood way out from the rest of the collection.  It’s a retelling of “The Green Ribbon” and was every bit as chilling for entirely different reasons.  It talks about the demands on women’s bodies and the expectations placed upon women.  It is disturbing and incredibly well written.

Inventory: 2/5 Stars

This story is set in post-apocalyptic world where the narrator talks about the world ending via her sexual encounters.  It was just okay for me and I was distracted by the utter lack of context into the world the reader is placed in and it just sort of felt like a list  that led to nowhere instead of a story.

Mothers: 1/5 Stars

This was probably my least favorite of the collection, but to be honest, that’s probably because a lot of the deeper meaning flew over my head a little.  I assume so anyway, because I’m still wondering what it was really about.

Especially Heinous: 3/5 Stars

I am actually surprised with this story.  After hearing it described as a paranormal retelling of every episode of Law & Order: SVU, it sounded not so great.  Maybe I would have loathed it or loved it had I ever watched the actual show, but I haven’t, so I fell in the middle on the rating scale.  I do think it was way, way too long, but for the most part, it was interesting and very unique and I was invested in the characters.

Real Women Have Bodies: 2/5 Stars

I thought the metaphors and themes were great in this one (where women slowly fade until they are completely invisible), but this was a case where the actual story just wasn’t my favorite.  I don’t know if it was the writing or the characters, but unfortunately, I just didn’t connect with it.

Eight Bites: 4.5/5 Stars

This was my second favorite story.  It’s about a woman’s relationship with her body and food and felt very personal.  I could relate to what the narrator was saying as some points and hearing her family’s reactions to how she views her body and the surgery she decides to undergo was absolutely heartbreaking.

The Resident: 2/5 Stars

This is my other least favorite of the collection because it just seemed to drag around the middle.  Again, I think the themes are all so solid, but something in the execution just didn’t work for me.

Difficult at Parties: 3.5/5 Stars

The final story in the collection was a tough one to read.  It’s about a woman who starts watching pornography to cope with sexual assault.  It’s very heavy and heartbreaking and the ending left me uncomfortable, which was maybe the point.  Overall, it was another standout in the collection.

I do want to also mention that there are trigger warnings for sexual assault (Difficult At Parties) and eating disorders/body image (Eight Bites).  This collection is also very sexually explicit and deals with heavy topics, so these are just some things to take note of before picking up this book.