Review: Call Me By Your Name by André Aciman

10706388I have held off reviewing this book so I could gather my thoughts a bit…

Everyone has raved so highly about the love story in this novel, and while I loved the beautiful writing of Aciman, I read this book more as a coming of age story, rather than a love story. I felt that throughout the novel, we see Elio coming to terms with his own sexuality and place in the world, outside of the comforting and nurturing environment his parents have created for him. I found the introspection and narration by Elio is what made this book quite interesting and clever. Yes–Elio is probably too intelligent and reflective for a 17-year-old, but as a character he is richly developed, and human. I found his vulnerabilities particularly interesting, and somewhat relatable. He is on the precipice of adulthood, and this story captured that battle perfectly.

Because of this, I didn’t quite have as strong an emotional reaction as some others did. I recognized the sadness and bittersweetness of their romance from a distance, yet didn’t fully connect with it. I think this hindered my reading of the second-half of the novel. I also read this book in two chunks a week apart, which I felt alienated me from the emotion even more. However, I still enjoyed the second half, and it was really gratifying to see Elio come fully into himself and mature. He is quite a complex character, and I really enjoyed reading from his perspective.

I think my reading of the book also deeply enhanced the experience of the movie, which I just saw. I felt that without reading the book, one might have a more shallow understanding of the beginning of the movie, especially Elio, when Elio and Oliver are playing games with each other. As I watched, I caught myself adding lines and details from the book, merging the two together quite nicely. I also had a much stronger connection with their love story during the movie. I think seeing the action play out on screen and putting faces to characters helped. I also think that in the movie the focus is more on their actions, and their love, rather than Elio’s own development (which is not apparent as much, since it cuts off right after Oliver leaves, which I thought was very fitting), since heavy narration cannot play such a heavy part in a film.

I did deduct a star for some of the more.. creepy scenes from the book, such as Elio’s defaming of an apricot, and his weird time with Oliver’s red bathing suit.

I think this movie is a great addition to the reading of the book, and the two go hand in hand very well. The casting was absolutely perfect, and the tidbits where quotes from the book were thrown in were just perfect. I think reading the book and seeing the movie are the perfect combination and lead to a more in-depth understanding of the story, which one cannot often say.

4/5!

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Review: A Secret History of Witches by Louisa Morgan

34328874When I requested this book on Netgalley, I envisioned a homey, historical tale of a family of witches. And that’s kind of what I got, though there were some flaws that kept this book from living up to the enjoyable and comforting read that I wanted.

A Secret History of Witches is exactly what it sounds like. It documents the generations of an ancient sorceress line, the Ochiéres (sp?), who escape prosecution in France by traveling to England. The book goes through many parts, each focusing on one woman in the subsequent generation. Each part varies in length and plot, and the sectioning of the book in this manner is where my main issue lies.

While reading, especially in the beginning, I kept trying to find a uniting theme or reason for moving from witch to witch, with relatively nothing happening in some of the earlier parts. The first few parts were rather boring, with a quick retelling of the woman’s life with maybe two interesting things that happened to her. I couldn’t figure out why I was reading this, and what these stories were trying to tell me–it just seemed like a simple family diary. It got slightly better as I read on, since the later parts got longer and told a more detailed and exciting story. I wish that the entire book was condensed, so that we focused on the last two generations of witches (Morwen and Veronica), who I connected with the most and who had actual plots and interesting conflicts they had to understand and learn from. I understand, after reading, that the earlier parts serve to provide background to the reader, but I feel this could have been accomplished in shorter flashbacks or re-tellings inserted into the story of Morwen and Veronica.

minor spoiler below–

I also take issue with parts of the plot– Why does everyone’s mother have to die before they can pass down the craft? Why hide it so much? I feel like it is a cop out for trying to make their lives exciting or more unique. I also felt the casting of Queen Elizabeth as a fellow witch, and them forming a coven to help win WWII, SO bizarre! Like… where did this come from? Why did this need to happen? It just seemed so odd and out of place…

minor spoiler over!

Anyways.. this book was more enjoyable as I read along, but I’m not sure I would recommend it to anyone. Thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for providing me with a review copy, even though I read it very late…

Best Books of 2017

I know this is rather late, but better late than never. I am trying to get back into blogging, instead of just updating my Goodreads account (though if you’d like more frequent updates, be sure to follow me there!). There is no set order or number of books I’ve chosen–this is very freeform, haha. Now, let’s get to the books!

 

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A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara was the first book I read in 2017, and its weighty and heartbreaking story has stuck with me throughout the year. We follow four college classmates as they grow up in New York City after graduation. This book follows this foursome through decades, but Jude, who is now a powerful lawyer, keeps them all together, only so they can keep an eye on him. A Little Life, in my opinion, is truly about Jude, and his struggle to become less broken and life up to the expectations of his three friends, and family. This book is absolutely beautiful, and gives you a lot to chew on.

My next pick is another January read–A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles. I have recommended this book to countless people after finishing it, it is just that good. It is the perfect combination of gorgeously written, atmospheric historical fiction and a slow-burning plot that really allows the reader to connect with the characters. After Count Rostov is placed under house arrest in the attic of the grand Metropol hotel due to his aristocrat status, he makes the best of his stay by observing as much of the tumultuous outside world as he can from the confines of the hotel. He befriends a young girl, who he cares for as she grows older, and the bond they form is absolutely charming. I really fell in love with this book.

I read Human Acts by Han Kang in February, and it really struck me. Kang’s writing is absolutely gorgeous, and I think Human Acts is a better display than the more famous The Vegetarian. In Human Acts, we follow Dong-ho, a young boy who gets involved in the Gwangju Uprising, also known as 5/18, in South Korea, where the military crushed a student rebellion, killing many civilians. Dong-ho dies in the beginning of the book, and in subsequent chapters we read the perspectives of various acquaintances of Dong-ho. Kang’s writing and storytelling ability full inhabit each character and their harrowing experiences. I highly recommend anything Kang writes, and I am eager for more translations of her work to arrive in the United States.

9781455563937Another novel that focuses on South Korea is Pachinko by Min Jin Lee, which I read in March. Pachinko tells the story of a young girl who is impregnated by a married Japanese man, who refuses to leave his wife for her. However, a young priest comes to her town and agrees to marry her if she will travel to Japan to live with him there. Lee then embarks on a vast family saga which follows a Korean family’s struggle to survive in Japan, where Koreans were discriminated against. Japan colonized Korea from 1910-1945, and accepted Koreans into Japan, but treated them as second-class citizens and forced them to give up their own culture and language to survive in Japanese society. Pachinko gives us a personal view of such struggle, and has opened many eyes to an often overlooked issue.

Radium Girls: The Dark Story of America’s Shining Women by Kate Moore is another eye-opening read, and tells the story of women who painted with poisonous radium paint at watch-dial factories before, during and after World War I. I had never read of these women and their plight for compensation from their employers before, and this tale was shocking, but not completely surprising. Moore’s writing is really lovely, and while the story was a little choppy at times, the subject matter has really stuck with me after reading this.

Twelve-Mile Straight by Eleanor Henderson is another historical fiction title which addresses themes of racism and family in the American South during the 1930s. I found Henderson’s writing really lovely and the premise of the story is quite interesting and unique. A young woman births twins, but one is black and one is white. The night of their birth her father and the townspeople lynch the young black man who worked on their property, who supposedly raped her, but as the story progresses, secrets unravel and the truth eventually comes out. This can be a hard book to read at times, but I felt Henderson addressed such important historical issues in an impactful way, leaving us with a lot to think about.

34273236I found a copy of Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng at a yard sale, and I’m so glad I did! I had not yet read her first book when I picked this up, and wow–I was blown away by her writing! Little Fires Everywhere tells the story of two families in a small suburb of Cincinnati and the consequences of each of their actions. Little Fires Everywhere addresses social class, family and privilege in a very thought-provoking manner. I’m so glad I read this, and I am excited to read Ng’s first book.

I read Her Body and Other Parties by Carmen Maria Machado for a book club, though I wasn’t able to attend the meeting. Either way, this was an amazing collection of short stories! Each story is so unique, and Machado’s style of writing is engaging and lovely to read. The stories in this collection each blend fantasy, sex, horror and everyday life in a seamless fashion. While I didn’t enjoy two stories, I think overall this is a masterful collection and I am excited to read more from Machado in the future.

Lastly, I wanted to mention The Power by Naomi Alderman, which I received as a Christmas present and devoured soon after. The Power tells of a near future where women suddenly develop an electric power in their hands, which switches the gender ‘balance’ around the world. Women begin to rise up and claim what men have denied them–freedom, power and confidence. The way the story is crafted and framed is clever and thoughtful, and I enjoyed how each character we follow told a different aspect of the upheaval of society created by this power. A really good feminist piece of fiction!

And that’s it! An honorable mention goes to The Way Back to Florence by Glenn Haybittle, which I breezed through and was completely enamored with. I hope you all had great reading years in 2017, and I can’t wait to see what 2018 has in store.

Cover Redesign: The Beach

I have finally found time to redesign some covers! I started with The Beach by Alex Garland, and while I didn’t particularly enjoy this book, it inspired me enough to play around with some cover ideas. Let me know which you prefer, and what book I should do next!

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What I’ve Read Recently!

Wow, I haven’t posted in awhile! Once again, school has caught up with me. However, I had completed quite a few books that I haven’t had the chance to talk about here, so I thought I’d offer my thoughts on the books I’ve read in October and the beginning of November–an October wrap-up plus a bit of November!

607639In early October, I finished The Beach by Alex Garland for the inaugural pick of my friend’s book club! I had mixed feelings about this book, and while I was impressed after finishing it, the more I thought about it, the more I was annoyed by certain details in the book. Garland tells the story of a young man, Richard, who is eager to travel and explore, to gather exotic experiences (which I take issue with in general). This book is set in the 90s, and it is very reflective of that time period, with people trying to gather experiences, and find the next cool, fresh thing. While the plot interested me, and got really exciting in the last quarter of the book, the characters almost all annoyed me, especially Richard. Richard is very egotistical, and fails to take responsibility for any of his actions. Other characters just aren’t that interesting, which doesn’t help since this book is more character-driven than plot-driven. Overall, I would say this book has an interesting premise, but is ruined by poor characters and outdated writing.

Next I finished See What I Have Done by Sarah Schmidt on my Kindle. This is a really short book, and I finished it in a few days. See What I Have Done is a fictional retelling of the Lizzie Borden murders (Lizzie is the most likely suspect in the violent killings of her parents with an axe). Schmidt cycles through Lizzie, her sister, their maid, and a mysterious young man. While I found each character very well-written and believable, I really didn’t connect with any of the characters that much. I also felt that the book dragged on for too long, which is saying something considering how short it is. However, I really enjoyed Schmidt’s writing, and I am eager to see what she writes next. Thank you to Netgalley and Hachette for providing me with an advanced digital copy!

However, I only made it 40/50 pages in to Forgotten Reflections by Young-Im Lee. I was really excited for this book, since I am very interested in Korean history and writing. Forgotten Reflections tells the true story of Lee’s grandmother, and how she survived the Korean War. While the story itself was interesting, I couldn’t get past Lee’s writing, which I found juvenile and unpolished. I hope to hear more from her as her voice and style improves! Thank you to Edelweiss and Bn Publishing for an advanced digital copy!

34273236After these three books, I felt that I was in quite a reading rut. But not to fear–Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng brought me back into the groove. I haven’t read anything else by Ng, but this was a great introduction, and makes me even more excited to read her debut novel! Little Fires Everywhere tells the story of Mia Warren and her daughter Pearl over the summer they spend in a small, wealthy Ohio suburb. Ng addresses themes of family, love, privilege, and race beautifully, and made me stop to pause several times while reading to contemplate my own feelings on what she was writing. This novel made me think quite a bit, and I would love to discuss it with any of you, if you have read it.

35068768Next I read Blackfish City by Sam J. Miller, which sadly doesn’t come out until April, but I would definitely keep it on your radar until then! Blackfish City is published by one of my favorites–Ecco–and I had some high expectations, but they were well met. This novel tells us of a dystopian society after the flooding of much of the world, where a large portion of the population lives in a large, floating city, plagued with a mysterious, new disease called “the breaks” and a giant economic gap, leaving most people in severe poverty. When a woman arrives riding an orca, the citizens of this floating world are hypnotized and eagerly follow her appearances around the city. However, her purpose is unknown, but as the story progresses the pieces of the puzzle slowly fall into place. Miller introduces us to multiple characters, who are each unique and develop a lot throughout the novel. There is also great representation of people of color and LGBTQ people, which is amazing and realistic. I really enjoyed this novel, and I have to thank Ecco and Edelweiss for providing me a digital review copy.

My final two books are more recently finished. First is Sweet Bean Paste by Durian Sukegawa, which will be released this coming Tuesday (Nov. 14th) in the United States. This is a Japanese novel about a confectioner, and his unique and inspiring friendship with an old woman named Tokue. While this novel lacks much of a plot, it is a beautiful study of friendship and personal history. I found this novel very heartwarming and sweet, and I think it makes a perfect winter read for a chilly weekend. Thank you to ONEWorld and Edelweiss for providing me with an advanced digital copy!

20170404Just yesterday I finished Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel, which I have been waiting to read since it was published. I happened to borrow my roommate’s copy, and I finally got around to reading it. Station Eleven is another dystopian fiction novel, and tells the story of the Earth after most of the human population has died off due to a violent strain of the flu. Most of the human population now lives in small, rural communities, without all of the modern conveniences we have today. We follow a Hollywood actor in the moments before his death (and the collapse of our modern world), and a traveling symphony that goes from town to town after the collapse. Through these stories, and St. John Mandel’s beautiful writing, we envision a future that could be ours, and learn the varied stories of those affected by this disaster. St. John Mandel switches between past and present to create a varied portrait of life in this dystopia. I really loved this story, and it gives the reader a lot to contemplate as they read along. I would recommend reading slowly, and enjoying the story!

And that’s it for now! I am currently in the beginnings of The World of Tomorrow by  Brendan Mathews, which is quite long. I also plan on starting Sex and Rage by Eve Babitz soon. What have you been reading lately?

New (& Old) Nonfiction Picks

Hi all! I’ve had a busy semester, but I’ve still been able to get some reading done. Recently I’ve been coming across a lot of nonfiction books that have caught my attention, and I figured I would share them with you all!

34447179The Lost City of the Monkey God: A True Story by Douglas Preston

I’m hoping that this book will be as good as The Lost City of Z by David Grann, which I really enjoyed. Instead of a story about a hidden city in the Amazon, this novel tells the story of a mythical city in the Honduran interior, and Preston’s journey to confirm the existence of such a magical place. I am a sucker for adventure stories (so I don’t have to be the one actually experiencing it), and this book looks like it also packs in some historical details, which is always a plus. This book came out in September, so be sure to look for it in your local bookstores!

 

 

Education of a Coroner: Lessons in Investigating Death by John Bateson

I am also a sucker for medical nonfiction, especially that regarding death (though I haven’t read that much of it). I have always been curious about the professions of coroners and morticians, both of whom are rather glamorized on television shows/movies, but what’s it really like? I am also a fan of true crime, in small doses, so I’m excited to read this tale that is a mix of medical and murderous.

34964868Trauma Cleaner: One Woman’s Extraordinary Life in the Business of Death, Decay and Disaster by Sarah Krasnostein

Another tale in a similar vein, though a little less focused on death, and more on the consequences/after effects of disastrous happenings in the lives of everyday people. I had never thought of who cleaned up after deaths and disasters before, but now I am curious to learn about how Krasnostein got into the profession, and what exactly her work entails. This seems like it will be an odd yet deeply personal and emotional read, and I’m excited for it to be published next year (April 2018). Hopefully the other nonfiction picks will help make the time pass quicker!

Nine Continents: A Memoir In and Out of China by Xiaolu Guo

One of Guo’s previous novels, I Am China, has been on my to-read list for a long, long time, so when I came across this novel, I was so excited about it! While I haven’t yet read I Am China, I have high hopes for it, and this book. Nine Continents tells Guo’s story growing up in China, and her desire to escape the confines of its controlling society. I love both fiction and nonfiction set in Asia, so I am really excited to learn more about contemporary China, and Guo’s own experience, especially as a creative in a place where a lot of creativity is stifled.

34068480Nomadland: Surviving America in the Twenty-First Century by Jessica Bruder

In this book, Bruder tells the story of older Americans who have found themselves forced to work after discovering they don’t have enough money to retire on. They have become a wandering group of workers, floating from one job to the next, chasing the retirement they missed out on. I think it is important to read and learn about the people who our society has left behind, especially when our government is trying to cut out more and more social welfare. Our older population needs our support as well, and I think this book will be really eyeopening and offer an uncensored view of a new reality that some aging families face.

 

And that’s it! I hope some of these titles sparked your interest, and if you’ve read any of them, let me know in the comments below! If you have any nonfiction suggestions, I’d also love to hear them. I’m looking to read more nonfiction to learn about topics I don’t have time to learn about in my classes, so I’m always on the lookout for new and interesting stories. Happy reading~