Review: The Incendiaries by R.O. Kwon

36679056While this book doesn’t come out until July 31st, I loved it so much I couldn’t resist reviewing it here, for you all! Hopefully it will be something to look forward too this summer.

The Incendiaries tells the stories of Will and Phoebe, their ill-fated romance, and the religious cult that begins to consume their relationship. Will and Phoebe are both college students at a prestigious university in a small New England town, and are soon drawn together during their freshman year. However, both are hiding important things about their past that will come out in ways they could not have imagined. After a religious cult appears in town, with a leader who claims a personal connection to Phoebe, both get sucked in and must confront their own ideas of religion, loss and love. What follows is a multi-faceted account of the downfall of Will and Phoebe’s relationship and Will’s attempts to save both Phoebe and himself.

I admit, I was drawn to this novel because of the mention of a cult, but The Incendiaries turned out to be so much more. The characterization and writing created by Kwon amazed me and kept me hooked. Will and Phoebe are both deep, individual and unique, yet completely relatable. All of their actions seemed true, like something I would experience myself or have known one of my friends to do. It was almost as if I was reading a true account of something that happened in the past (though the ending makes me glad it was all fictitious). Kwon created such a believable cast of characters, inhabiting a very real world, that I couldn’t help but be sucked in to the story.

I really enjoyed the personal histories Kwon created for Will and Phoebe. Their stories and personal views gave me a lot to think about as I read this book, and went through their own mental turmoil along with them. This book focuses heavily on religion and loss, and how the two shape each other. While I am not religious, I was still able to connect to these conflicts, as both Phoebe and Will go through periods of faith and disbelief. I thought a lot about how Will and Phoebe’s unique interactions with faith, and compared them to my own. Within The Incendiaries I found space to contemplate my own history, even while I kept up with a increasingly fast-paced plot.

Through Phoebe, who is a Korean-American, Kwon brings up themes of family, and culture, which I found very compelling. In Phoebe’s transformation, I saw many of my Korean-American friends who have been lucky enough to learn about Korean culture throughout their lives, and are proud of it today. Kwon’s writing showed me a more varied and unique Korean-American experience, and I’m so glad to have learned from it.

I found Kwon’s writing style an almost perfect balance of spare, graceful and expressive. Kwon knew where to embellish and where to take a step back, letting the reader take over some of the imagination. There are some truly beautiful lines in this book, too many for me to quote (and there is no finished book for me to quote from at the moment, alas), so I will just encourage you all to go out and read a few for yourself!

Thank you to Riverhead Books and Edelweiss for an electronic ARC!

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April 2018 Wrap-Up

Hi all!

Even with all my schoolwork, I was able to complete 4 books and DNF 1 book during April. While two books were read for class, they were still quite interesting and I’m glad I had the chance to read them.

46815First, I finished Wasted: A Memoir of Anorexia and Bulimia by Marya Hornbacher. I read this for a course called Gender, Culture and Madness, and we discussed eating disorders and how they are mediated by culture. I found this memoir really illuminating and beautifully written. We had previously read Brooke Shield’s memoir about post-partum depression, and that was so poorly written that I had really bleak expectations for any other book we would read in class. However, Hornbacher is a great writer, and offers a really intelligent yet personal look back at her struggle with eating disorders and how she began to recover from them. I have never had an eating disorder, but this book allowed me to develop a deeper understanding of what it is like to experience such an illness. I think this book could be triggering for those who have struggled with eating disorders in the past. It is quite shocking and horrifying to read at times, but I think it is important to grapple with such things, and we shouldn’t look away. However, it is a great introduction for those who are more unfamiliar and want to learn more.

Later in April, I read The Only Living Witness: The True Story of Serial Sex Killer Ted Bundy by Stephen Michaud. I also thought this would be quite horrible, especially considering the cover, but as we all know, one cannot judge a book by its cover. The writing was quite good and offered an easy-to-follow introduction to Bundy’s crimes, and the handling of the ensuing legal proceedings. At times, it can be a little confusing due to the large amount of names brought in, but that is a little more expected in non-fiction. This book did keep me up at night while I was reading it, and is quite detailed in the descriptions of Bundy’s crimes, so beware. But if you are interested in true crime novels, I would definitely recommend this! I think Michaud does a good job at breaking down Bundy and analyzing his crimes, while not getting too caught up in the celebrity of the case.

The two ‘for fun’ books I read in April were Borne by Jeff VanderMeer and You Think It, I’ll Say It by Curtis Sittenfeld. I read Borne first, soon after I finished Annihilation by VanderMeer. It took me a little while to get into Borne, but once I did, I couldn’t let go. Borne takes place in a post-apocalyptic world, where a woman named Rachel finds an amorphous blob, which she takes home and names Borne. As Borne grows, other tensions begin to push into the safe bubble that Rachel had created for herself and her partner, Wick. Soon enough, everything builds to a crescendo, with quite a satisfying ending. I think VanderMeer did a great job balancing emotion and plot throughout the  narrative. The novel focuses a lot on world-building and character development in the beginning, which I found necessary to really connect with Rachel and Borne. This is a beautiful musing on family, love and sacrifice in a unique, exciting setting. Annihilation might prove to be a better entry into VanderMeer’s writing, since it is more based in reality and a little less surprising and odd (barely) than Borne, in my opinion. If you have read any VanderMeer, let me know what you think would be a better introduction to his writing.

35961720I also really enjoyed You Think It, I’ll Say It by Curtis Sittenfeld. I was first introduced to her writing through Eligible, which I loved, so I was really excited to read her new collection. This is a short story collection that covers themes of love, marriage and friendship, and the surprises one can find in life. I love how Sittenfeld makes the ordinary extremely interesting and engaging, bringing new insights and observations to everyday situations. This is a great collection with varied stories that will keep you engaged–I didn’t find any to lag or bore me. A great new release!

That’s it for now! I hope to read lots more over the summer, so keep an eye out for new posts. 🙂 Happy reading!

 

March Wrap-Up!

This month I have completed 4 books, and am in-progress on two, though I don’t know if I’ll finish them before the month is out. As for my goal to read 50 books this year, I’m 4 books ahead which is great! I’m surprised I’ve kept up the pace, even though I’ve been quite busy. Spring break definitely helped–I finished three books during that week.

30753852I first completed The Blood of Emmett Till by Timothy B. Tyson, which was a pick for my book club. I had been wanting to read this for awhile, and the ebook was on sale earlier in the month, so I was really excited to read this. The Blood of Emmett Till tells of the lynching of Emmet Till, a 14-year-old from Chicago, in Mississippi by multiple white men. These men claimed that Till had insulted and sexually assaulted their family member, a young women who was working at the family grocery. While this account was blatantly false, it, and racial prejudices in the South, helped the white men escape jail time, and instead be acquitted by the jury.

This is by no means a fast read. Tyson goes over Till’s killing many times, in gripping detail, as well as similar acts of violence, protest and activism in the South during the 1950s and 60s. Tyson does an expert job at tying the events of 1955 to the growth of the civil rights movement in the 1960s. He brings in many different moments of activism, in specific detail, and weaves them together in a complex history of civil rights and racism in America. In the end, Tyson weaves in his own opinion, and writes in a fiery, passionate tone of our past and current racial prejudices, and what we must do to incite change in American society. I think this is a great read for anyone interested in topics of race, equality and civil rights in America. While Tyson brings up many topics and names, I didn’t feel too lost, or that I was lacking some previous knowledge to understand and learn from this book.

I then read Down Came the Rain: My Journey Through Postpartum Depression by Brooke Shields, which I read only for class. I didn’t end up liking it much at all, mainly due to Shields’ poor writing. This tells of her quest for a baby and the aftermath of the birth of her first child, when she struggled with postpartum depression. This is quite a serious issue, and I think there could have been a more in-depth analysis of depression and how it affected her, and others. However, Shields’s writing remains surface-level and many of her observations are rather privileged and, at times, insensitive. While I don’t want to trivialize what Shields struggled with, I don’t think this was a very well-written book. I think the only people who would truly enjoy this are fans of Shields. However, I would be interested in reading other, more engaging, memoirs on this topic.

Then it was Spring Break, and I finished two books on the train to and from Chicago! I first read Annihilation by Jeff VanderMeer, which I have been meaning to read forever. Annihilation tells of an unknown boundary which is slowly expanding and taking up more land. The land inside this border is called Area X, and mysterious, crazy things seem to be happening inside. A biologist, our nameless narrator, join a team of other women specialists to journey inside and study what is occurring. While the journey begins with only hints at the otherworldly, it soon turns quite crazy. I won’t spoil anything, but I must admit I had to read this in daylight on the train. It is a little too creepy for nighttime reading (for me, at least).  I really love VanderMeer’s writing style, and I am currently reading Borne, which I’m enjoying a lot. His stories are very unique and clever, and his writing is very insightful. It is a delightful combination for science-fiction, which can sometimes be less ‘literary.’

36098092I finished March with Lauren Groff’s new short story collection, Florida. Thank you to Riverhead and Edelweiss for providing me with a digital review copy. This collection comes out in June, and I am so excited for everyone to get their hands on it! This is a beautiful, varied collection of stories which all center around Florida and it’s unique and dangerous environment. Each story seems to have an undercurrent of dread or fear, and I enjoyed the different ways in which Groff understood and incorporated these emotions. Each story is a new experience, and even the two stories I didn’t take to as much were really engaging. I highly recommend this collection, and the cover is gorgeous! 

Happy reading to everyone in April, and let me know what you loved reading in March! 🙂

Review: The Female Persuasion by Meg Wolitzer

35480518I was originally drawn to this book because it is about (at least partly) a college student, which I don’t often read about, and as I am a college student, I thought it would be interesting.

Greer is a college freshman at Ryland, a fictitious college in… Pennsylvania, if I remember correctly. She is very smart, and got into Yale, but her parent’s ineptitude at financial aid forms made the steep tuition insurmountable, so she wound up at Ryland. In the beginning of her freshman year, as she sullenly lives college life, she goes to a lecture by Faith Frank, a famous feminist from the 70s. After the lecture, she has a conversation with Faith in the bathroom, which changes her life and leads her to become a passionate feminist herself. The Female Persuasion follows Greer as she grows up and learns what life is really like outside of school. We also get sections from the perspective of Greer’s longtime high school boyfriend, Cory, her college best friend Zee, and Faith herself.

I found this story to grow more compelling as I read on, and learned more about Greer, who is such a realistic and layered character. I think Wolitzer really excels in creating a believable and thoughtful environment through her characters, situations and locations. As a college student myself, I found the first section of the book, when Greer is still in school, very relatable, and I enjoyed reading about her, and her friend Zee’s, path from college to job.

The way feminism is discussed in this novel is quite interesting. It mainly focuses on second-wave feminism, which Faith Frank was a part of. Faith carries these perspectives with her, while slowly adapting to our current versions of feminism. And besides the actual discussion of and work surrounding feminism done by characters in this book, the relationships between women are quite interesting examinations of how feminism plays out in one’s actions. The way that Greer and Zee idolize Faith and eventually grow out of that, and the way Greer and Zee interact on their own offer thoughtful observations on the difference between thoughts and actions. I found it all quite interesting and thought-provoking.

This book is a realistic and compelling glimpse at what life can hold for some, and how different people develop and change their moral code throughout their life. I think there is a lot to learn from this book, for all readers, regardless of age.

The Female Persuasion comes out from Riverhead on April 3, 2018–be sure to check it out! Thank you to Riverhead and Edelweiss for providing me with a digital advanced copy of this book.

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!

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.