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.

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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~

Black Cloud, Vol. 1: No Exit by Jason Latour Review

I was looking for a new graphic novel to read on my computer a few days ago, and I stumbled upon this one on Edelweiss, and immediately downloaded it to read. I was attracted by the beautiful cover art (of the badass main character), and the fact that the main character is a female POC character. 34785007

In Black Cloud, Vol. 1, a young woman, Zelda, attempts to start a revolution and defeat an old magic to create a newer, and better society. However, her plan goes wrong, and she escapes her destiny by coming to join our world, and leaving her magical home. But even in our world, she can’t seem to shake her past, and eventually it catches up with her, bringing her back to her own world to finally tie up the loose ends she left years ago.

The plot is fast-paced and mostly easy to follow, but the lack of historical detail/context about Zelda’s magical world made some aspects confusing. Quick explanations made it hard for me to understand some historical references, and why Zelda began her fight/revolution in the first place. I hope that the mystery surrounding Zelda and her magical world will be explained more in future volumes.

Zelda herself is headstrong, confident and powerful, which I found very enjoyable for most of the story. There is some attempt at character development with Zelda throughout the volume, as she tries to solve the problems she created by leaving her world for ours, but I felt that it was lackluster and lacked any sort of realism. The development in her character seemed fake and happened very quickly (even for a graphic novel), and by the end I was slightly annoyed with her cockiness, and how she had morphed into the savior for her world (inflating her giant ego). Many of the other characters seem very interesting, and I’d like to learn more about them in future issues as well. I think this graphic novel leaves a lot open for new storylines and adventures, so I’m excited to see where Latour will choose to take us!

Finally, the art is really gorgeous. There are bright colors, many interesting creatures and animals, and the scenery is realistic yet magical. I also liked the pages that broke up each issue—they are very colorful yet subtle. Overall, I enjoyed this graphic novel, though it isn’t mind-blowing. Thank you to Edelweiss and Image Comics for providing me with an advanced copy for review! 3/5 stars.

Review: The Twelve Mile Straight by Eleanor Henderson

33385420I read The Twelve-Mile Straight by Eleanor Henderson a few weeks ago, right before I started school again, and it has stuck with me since. Henderson tells the story of a young girl named Elma who gives birth to twins–one white, one black. The evening of the birth, her father accuses their farm hand, Genus, of raping Elma, and leads the rest of the small town to lynch him. The day after, Elma, her father, Nan (their housemaid), and the rest of the small town are left to contend with the consequences of their actions, and the intense media storm that descends upon their community. As outsides begin poking their heads in, secrets hidden within the town begin to unwind and complicate the already complicated lives of the farm’s inhabitants.

We are immediately brought into the action on the first page, but Henderson quickly progresses to contemplating the wider effects of living in such a small, rural community, and the ideas of acceptance, secrecy, trust, love and family. As the story of the two children unravels, in a sense, so does the town, and we bear witness to the harsh realities of 1930’s Georgia, and race in America. While the story is hard to read at times, it reflects an ugly reality that we don’t often see brought to light, and offers us a chance to contemplate the social history of the United States in a more intimate manner.

Henderson’s style of writing helped create a quiet and personal space for the reader to read and think about the story within. The story is paced well, and leaves enough time between sections for the reader to catch up and consider each action as it happens. Her writing offers a balance between characterization, plot and setting that allows the reader to fully visualize the story as it happens. Characterization is also done superbly, with Henderson perfectly capturing each person and makes them realistic and recognizable, with unique strengths and weaknesses.

As previously mentioned, The Twelve-Mile Straight leaves you with a lot to think about. It especially brings attention to the consequences of our past actions, as Americans, and how that history has greatly shaped our society today, especially regarding race and gender. While offering a twisted, historical family drama set in the South, Henderson also offers a new perspective on the American South, and the stories contained within it.

Thank you to Edelweiss and Ecco (whose books I love!) for providing me with an advanced copy of this novel. 5/5 stars.