What’s New: Week of Sept 22nd

Wow! It has been awhile since I’ve had time to write a blog post. I should probably be doing something more school-related right now, but here I am… I’ve been very busy these past few weeks, but I’ve still been able to get a bit of reading in.

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I’ve only gotten one new book in the past few weeks, though I do have another in the mail on its way to me. I won a Goodreads giveaway for The Ninth Hour by Alice McDermott, which I am so excited to read! I haven’t read historical fiction in awhile, and I am excited to get back into it. Historical fiction has always been comforting for me, though this novel seems more tragic than comfortable. I’ve never read any of McDermott’s previous work, but if any of you have, let me know what you think!

 

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Since finishing Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury and Five-Carat Soul by James McBride, I have only gotten through two books. I am slowly but surely making progress on my ebook (A Man of Shadows by Jeff Noon), but at work I can only read paper books so I progress through those a little quicker. I finished Men Without Women by Haruki Murakami, which my dad got me for my birthday this year (yet here I am, reading it a few months late..). This is Murakami’s newest collection of short stories, and I enjoyed most of them. I felt the last two got a little too man-centric and simple-minded for me, but the first five stories were really enjoyable and thoughtfully put together. After finishing a collection by Murakami and McBride, I am pretty worn out with short stories for now. I think I’ll stick to longer form works for my next few picks.

34144405I also finished a graphic novel–Saigon Calling: London 1963-75 by Marcelino Truong (translated by David Homel). This novel tells the story of Truong as he grew up in London and France during the Vietnam War, and how this affected his childhood. I thought the illustrations were beautiful, and the story was organized and easy to follow. However, there were some long historical sections, which, while I found them enlightening, broke up the flow of the overall story quite a bit. This is technically the sequel to a previous work by Truong titled Such a Lovely Liltle War: Saigon 1961-63, which focuses on the early years of the Vietnam War. I don’t think you have to read Such a Lovely Little War before Saigon Calling, though you might get a greater understanding of Truong’s childhood if you read them in order, and understand a few references made in Saigon Calling. I highly recommend this title, and thank you to Edelweiss and the publisher for providing me with a review copy!

Thanks for reading, and hopefully I’ll be able to post a set of mini-reviews soon!

 

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What’s New: Week of Sep 1st

This is a few days late, but I have a bit of time to spare so thought I’d do a little update!

Before we get to any books, I want to put this out there so I can hopefully hold myself to it. I want to start making little re-designs of book covers and posting them here! I’ve had some ideas in the past, but I’ve neglected to follow through with my sketches, so hopefully this will provide some inspiration. I’ve thought about doing this for awhile, and now that I’m actually starting to piece together a portfolio website and figuring out what I might want to do, career-wise, this seems more relevant than ever. So look out for those!

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I have been trying not to request any new e-books, or buy/borrow any new books, because I have a large stack with me right now. However, two new books did come to me last week. The first is a copy of Ernest Hemingway’s A Farewell to Arms, which I’m pretty sure is from the 1950s. I found it at the Goodwill Outlet while looking for other books to tear up (for an art project! There is good reason!), and I couldn’t resist, since I’ve been meaning to read it for awhile. I also bought a beautiful set of four photography books published in the 1970s by Time, Inc, which I absolutely love!51gasfiUnJL._SX320_BO1,204,203,200_

I also won an e-book in a giveaway today, and I’m going to include it in this update even though it’s technically from a new week. I won a Goodreads Kindle giveaway for The World of Tomorrow by Brendan Mathews. This novel takes place in the 1930s, and besides that I know very little about it. Even so, I love historical fiction so hopefully I’ll enjoy this novel. If you’ve read it, let me know what you think below!

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I almost forgot about this–I re-read Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury this weekend! I re-read it for an art project I am doing (regarding the previous mention of looking for books), and I liked it even more than I did the first time I read it. It is especially relevant today, and I need to get on top of things and finally read 1984 soon.

9780735216693I am almost done with James McBride’s new short story collection Five-Carat Soul. The stories are really good so far, so I’m leaning towards a four star rating… But you’ll just have to wait around and see! I hope to finish it today or tomorrow, so keep your eyes peeled for a review soon.

August 2017 Wrap-Up

Hi all! School has started once again, and so I’ll be pretty busy. I will be reading a lot at work though, and I hope to keep this blog as updated as possible. I’m going to apologize once more for my sporadic absences, and now I will stop apologizing, haha. Now onto the fun part–books!

I was much better in August! I completed five books, which is really great for me.

The first book I finished in August was The Maze at Windermere by Gregory Blake Smith. I really enjoyed this book, and found both its subject matter and format compelling. You can read my full review here.

Next I finished a graphic novel on my computer–Body Music by Julie Maroh, translated from French by David Homel. Body Music is a thoughtful, touching, intuitive graphic novel that explores every facet of love, and how it is expressed between different people. This graphic novel is structured like a short story collection, with each new chapter bringing a new set of characters and story. I really enjoyed this structure since it allows us to explore a variety of different situations and characters. Even though many of the chapters were very short, some lacking even simple dialogue, they still packed a punch, and I am left with a lot to think about after finishing this graphic novel. Maroh’s art style is also gorgeous–I really enjoyed the traditional style of each page (charcoal, pencil), and how everything looked handmade. I am excited for this to be published, and for more stories of LGBTQ love and relationships to be available to all readers. Body Music will be published on November 20th, and I thank Edelweiss and Arsenal Pulp Press for providing me with an advanced e-copy!

34128285I then read The Golden House by Salman Rushdie. I have been eager to write some sort of review/blurb of this novel, but after reading other peoples’ reviews, I am left more confused as to what I actually thought of this novel. The Golden House is the first novel I have read of Rushdies, and it tells the story of the mysterious and wealthy Golden family, who move into a small, private neighborhood in New York City. The lives of each member of the Golden family are documented by René, who is a filmmaker, and becomes fascinated with figuring out their story. René embeds himself with the Goldens, and chronicles the rise and fall of this curious family. As the story progresses, Rushdie injects details of contemporary society, from the election of Obama in 2008, to present times. While I read, I questioned these overt references to current events, and whether these elements of satire was even relevant or necessary to the story. After completing the novel, I feel that while they had some value, these details also just served to make the novel more intellectual and preach-y than it already was (due to René’s privileged and at times, annoyingly self-aware (whiney), style of narration). While the narration got on my nerves, I was fascinated with the story of the Golden’s, and I may have appreciated this story more if it were more focused on their story, rather than other peripheral events in our narrators life (possibly a omniscient third person narration would have been more enjoyable.. but who knows). I did enjoy Rushdie’s writing style in general though, and I’d be interested to check out some of his more well-known works. The Golden House will be published in January 2018. Thank you to Edelweiss and Random House for providing me with an advanced copy of this novel!

33385420Next, I completed Twelve-Mile Straight by Eleanor Henderson, which I loved from the first chapter! I found this novel to be engaging and thoughtful from the beginning, which I haven’t encountered in a long time. We are immediately brought into the action, when chaos breaks out after a young white woman gives birth to twins–one white and one black. Controversy over who is the father (or fathers) fuels the first part of this novel, but Henderson quickly progresses to contemplating the wider effects of living in such a rural and small 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. Henderson’s style of writing really brought me into the time period, and perfectly captured each character and scene, making this novel hard to put down, despite its length (~560 pages). This novel leaves you with a lot to think about, and 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. I am so excited for this novel to be published on September 12th (in two weeks!). Look out for it! Thank you to Edelweiss and Ecco (whose books I love!) for providing me with an advanced copy of this novel.

3398625Most recently, I completed The Lost City of Z: A Tale of Deadly Obsession in the Amazon by David Grann. I had been meaning to read this for a long time, so I finally borrowed my dad’s copy and basically finished this while I was at work over two days. The Lost City of Z tells the story of Percy Fawcett, an explorer in the Amazon who disappeared into the Amazon with his son and young friend as they searched for a large, mystical city Fawcett called Z. This novel does read like a super long New Yorker article, but I’m not complaining about that. Grann manages to pack in a lot of information while maintaining the narrative flow and readability of this novel, and I found myself unable to put it down. You will learn a lot of disgusting details about bugs and the horrors that can befall you while exploring in the Amazon in the early 1900s (and still today), so be prepared, but other than that, I had no qualms with this book!

July 2017 Wrap-Up

I only finished one book in July, which is pretty sad. But that gives me more motivation to improve during what remains of August, and the rest of the year! I’ve gone past my goal of reading 35 books this year, and have so far read 37. It would be great if I can get up to 50 or more! That’s what is motivating me, haha.

35390279Anyways, in July I finished The Night Child by Anna Quinn on the 5th of the month. I received an advanced copy from NetGalley, and below are my honest thoughts on the novel. I did give it 3/5 stars, but it was still a fun and relatively quick read!

The Night Child tells the story of Nora, who is a schoolteacher. One day, she sees an apparition of a young girl, and a short time later, she sees her again. Each time she sees this apparition, she is struck with terror, and so once back in the city, she goes to see a psychologist. As she and the psychologist try to figure out the root of this vision, we watch as Nora’s life and memories unravel to show her what she has been hiding her whole life.

I thought this book would be quite dark, but I found that it was lighter and less creepy than I was expecting. It is quite a psychologically twisted book, I suppose, but it didn’t pack as much of a punch as I expected, which was unfortunate.

My only other complaint was with characterization. Nora is very sweet and not memorable, besides her psychological issues, and then we have her child, husband and a few other male characters, all who are pretty boring and serve standard roles in the plot. After I finished the novel, I realized it was all kind of predictable and boring, and I began to figure out pieces of the story as I neared the end.

From the plot summary, this book sounded really interesting, with the potential to be rather original, but I found that it was a bit of a let down. I did enjoy Quinn’s writing style, and I’ll definitely stay up-to-date with what she publishes in the future! This is only her debut, after all.

This novel will be published in January, 2018.

Review: The Maze at Windermere by Gregory Blake Smith

I’m sorry to bring a review of a novel that comes out in January of next year, but I figured I should write something up while it was still fresh in my mind (and I enjoyed this novel so I thought you guys might want to know about it anyways~).

9780735221925Title/Author/Pg: The Maze at Windermere by Gregory Blake Smith, 352 pg
Date Published: January 9, 2018
Date Read: August 9, 2017
Genre: Fiction, Historical

In The Maze at Windermere, Smith weaves together five stories across four centuries, all of which revolve around a central location–Newport, Rhode Island. The stories are also tied together through themes of love, wealth, power, family and survival. We see how each of these themes guides each story, and dictate how the main characters live their lives.

First, we are introduced to Sandy, who is a retired pro tennis player coaching in Newport over the summer of 2011. Sandy begins as a rather self-centered, over-confident man who is carrying on multiple affairs within the same family. However, as his story moves along, he begins to evolve into a more realistic, caring and faceted individual. Through Sandy’s story, we see the ‘present-day’ Newport, the wealthy class that still populates its shores and mansions, and are introduced to the location that serves as a touchstone for the other four stories.

Next we have Franklin Drexel, who desires a better station in life, and attempts to blend in with the wealthier occupants of Newport during the summer of 1896. He follows along behind his wealthy benefactor, and with her plan to get him married off to the wealthy widower Mrs. Newcombe. However, we quickly learn that Mr. Drexel has an important reason for objection to this plan, and follow along as he tries to navigate his sticky situation to gain the wealth and power that he so desires.

In 1863, we meet Henry (Harry) James, a young man who is an aspiring writer, living in Newport with his family. As he observes the wealthy patrons of a nearby hotel, he begins a friendship with a young woman, Miss Taylor, who stands out from the rest of the society ladies. As their friendship progresses, and the Civil War continues, we witness Harry’s conflicted conscience and the woes of his family.

We gain a glimpse of an earlier war, in 1778, when we follow along with Major Ballard, who serves in the British Army during the Revolutionary War. He is stationed in Newport, where he commands a group of spies, but leads a relatively staid life himself. He distracts himself from his boring life with an intense obsession with a local Jewish girl. As his plot to seduce her unfolds, his mind begins to come undone, and create serious consequences for him.

Smith’s final story is of Prudence Selwyn, a young Quaker girl living in Newport in 1693. She is orphaned, and left to care for her baby sister with the help of their slave, Ashes. Prudence struggles to figure out how to survive, and make decisions that her father would be proud of, while paving her own road in her small community.

Each story revolves around well-developed and unique characters, who are used to explore the depths of human nature. Forbidden love, the desire for wealth and power, and the desire to live one’s own truth hold strong in each story, though some focus more on certain themes than others. Combined, the novel is one of decadence, scandal and survival, making it a thoughtful yet entertaining read.

I thought it was especially interesting to bring up sexuality within the context of historical fiction. I have not read many stories of non-heterosexual individuals in historical settings, and I found the multiple instances where sexuality was brought up very interesting and thought provoking. However, I found this element of diversity was overshadowed by the fact that all of the main characters were white, wealthy and privileged. While wealth does play a large role in the themes of this novel, I think there could have been at least one story where we see a character who is striving to attain wealth from a much lower economic level. There are also few characters of color, who had very small roles. I think the question of sexuality, and the conflict it creates could have been strengthened by the introduction of main characters of color and lower socioeconomic standing, especially in the more historical stories (earlier time period). In my opinion, this would have added more depth and substance to the story, and given the reader even more to think about.

I also found fault in the endings of each story. The only story that I thought had a solid ending was that of Prudence Selwyn, the orphaned Quaker girl. The other four stories, however, ended very abruptly. As I was reading, I noticed that I was nearing the end,  yet I didn’t feel as if the stories were ready to end yet. Thus, there were elements in each story that remained unexplained, and left me feeling unfulfilled and slightly confused as I had finished each story.

Even so, I really enjoyed this novel and connected with each of the five characters and the worlds they lived in. The setting of each time period was described beautifully, and really made you feel like you were part of the story. The structure was also ambitious, but Smith pulled it off well. Even though each story stood well on its own, being read piecemeal together made each one more rich, and created thought-provoking connections between each.

While I think there are some elements that could be built upon and improved, I would still recommend this book, and I look forward to when it will be published in January! The cover is also absolutely gorgeous, so that is an added plus.

Thank you to Viking and Edelweiss for providing me with an advanced copy of this novel!

3.5/5 stars~

Best Books of 2017… So Far

I’m sorry for the long gap in posts. I wanted to post while I was traveling, but exploring and summer school got in my way. I also didn’t do much reading, which was sad.. but now I’m back and I hope to get back into the normal swing of things!

I thought I hadn’t read that many books that I’d loved/given five stars, but as I looked back through my Goodreads records, I realized I’d forgotten a lot of the great books I’d read in the beginning of the new year! I’m glad I looked back and remembered these gems, and I hope I can pick up this mid-year reading slump this fall, and read some more great novels. I’ll be listing these in no particular order (though I do have two books by the same author, so I’ll split those up), but below are my top 5 books of the year so far!

9781101906729Human Acts by Han Kang

I read this book in February of 2017. It was the first book of Han’s that I had read, and I’m glad I started with this book. The story maintains a grasp in realism while adding some subtle magical elements and introduces the reader to Han’s superb writing style. In The Vegetarian, the absurd plot may quickly put readers off to her writing, while Human Acts offers a smoother introduction to her work. I am eager for more of her work to be translated into English, though hopefully my Korean abilities will improve enough that I could read and appreciate her works in their original form one day!

Read more of my thoughts here.

29430012A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles

I also read this book in the beginning of the year, in January. I received it as a gift from a friend, and while I was reading it, it seemed everyone else also wanted to read it, as it was sold out from my local independent bookstore. All the praise this novel has received is justified. The story, the writing, the characterization, the setting–all are done so well as to keep the novel moving and make the reader more and more engaged as the novel goes on. While some may consider this novel more on the slow side, Towles writing easily makes up for that and makes this a valuable read.

Find my full review here.

9781455563937Pachinko by Min Jin Lee

While this book is on the lengthy side–470 pages–I sped through it. This novel tells the story of a Korean family through the beginning of Japanese occupation through the twentieth century, as they move from Korean to Japan and face hardship after hardship. This is a devastating novel that tells a relatively accurate, yet fictionalized, story of what many Koreans went through under Japanese occupation from 1910-1945, especially Koreans who lived in Japan during this time. Lee’s writing is beautiful, and as we move from family member to family member, she manages to create a deep connection between the reader and each character through strong characterization. I hope to read more of her work, and see her publish more in the future!

Find my full review here.

25489025The Vegetarian by Han Kang

I read this novel for class, though it had been on my list for awhile beforehand. As I mentioned previously, I think this novel can be a dividing topic for readers–some people love it, and some people hate it, often due to the subject matter rather than the writing style. I was one of those who loved it. I found it very thought-provoking, and shocking in a good way. The discussions we had in class were definitely eye-opening, and I’m glad to have heard other people’s perspectives on the novel and the subjects it tackles. If you haven’t read this novel yet, I’d definitely recommend that you do!

Read more of my thoughts here.

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The Queen of the Night by Alexander Chee

Lastly, we have The Queen of the Night by Alexander Chee. While this novel left me with less to think about, it was the plot of my dreams–historical fiction, a strong female lead who was clever and made her way through many different ‘roles’ throughout the novel, a bit of romance, and a decadent and richly described setting. This novel was so enjoyable, and I read it as quickly as I dared. I hope to read more from Chee, and see what else he has up his sleeve!

Find my full review here.

If you couldn’t guess, I highly recommend all of these novels! Looking back, you can definitely see a sort of trend amongst a lot of these novels–historical fiction, or related to South Korea in some way. We’ll see if I can diversify my picks for the rest of the rest of the year. What have been the books that you’ve loved so far this year? Let me know what I should pick up this fall and winter that I might love!

 

This Week in Book Covers

Below are three book covers of novels that are released this week in the United States that I really like! I want to do more posts like this, but I find it hard to find out who designed each cover, so I cannot provide you with that information (sadly.. if you know how to find this information, let me know!). Find these books on Goodreads or Amazon to check them out!

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