March & April Book Bites

Gosh it’s been a month since I’ve written here, so, sorry about that! I simply didn’t get around to writing so now I’ll be combining March and April into one big update! Let’s go!

 

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March was a very interesting reading month. The first book I finished in March was The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt. This book is incredibly popular since it was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 2014. Sadly for me it was a huge letdown. The book is about Theo, a boy who loses his mother in a horrible explosion in a museum. It is a coming of age story in some ways, since we see the man he becomes, but also the way he developed (or not) after that tragic moment in his life. The best part for me was the role of the painting for which the novel is named: The Goldfinch. It is a small painting that Theo ends up connected to for the rest of his life. It is the thread that connects every part of the book, and also a beautiful metaphor for Theo’s life. Unfortunately, I felt like I didn’t gain much from this book, instead it made me feel hopeless and anguished, but with no actual lesson on how to make life better. I love books that give me perspective, but this one was a perspective that did not give me anything that I would want to hang on to. Simply disappointing…

  • Favorite Bite:

“Only occasionally did I notice the chain on the finch’s ankle, or think what a cruel life for a little living creature — fluttering briefly, forced always to land in the same hopeless place.”

  • Perspective Rating: 2/10 Yeah, didn’t gain much from the main perspectives provided…
  • Emotional Rating: 4/10 There were certainly very strong emotional moments that occurred mostly in the beginning of the book where Theo loses his mom and is completely lost that really got to me. But after that there was little connection to him or most of the characters.
  • Bites Rating: 6/10 Sure, I did highlight many phrases in the book because yes, the book is filled with beautiful imagery or interesting metaphors and symbols (mostly relating to the painting). But few of them were powerful (one of the few examples is mentioned above).
  • Overall Rating: 4/10. Yeah, not super impressed… It’s also a shame because the book is waaaaay too long! I feel like a few good editing sessions would have served that book well.

The Spark

Next I read The Spark by David Drake, which I reviewed here, and I really enjoyed it! It is about Pal, a young man who has lived his whole life in Beune and only dreams of going to Dun, the big city, to become a champion for the king. It is a take on an Arthurian legend, but with a very sci-fi world. I really enjoyed that the characters were complex, their intentions more than just power or love. The lack of cliches and stereotypes really took this book to another level for me as well! I will certainly look for more of Drake’s writing.

  • Favorite Bite:

“Since I’d come away from Beune, everything I’d seen was people in pyramids, somebody at the top and everybody else scrambling to get on top instead. Or at least to get off the bottom.”

  • Perspective Rating: 7/10 This book doesn’t give a very original perspective but it didn’t give me enough to warrant a higher rating.
  • Emotional Rating: 7/10 There were definitely some emotional moments, I was able to connect to the characters and care about them but not much more than that.
  • Bites Rating: 5/10 There weren’t many passages to highlight, but it was fast-paced and
  • Overall Rating: 6.33/10 I really enjoyed this book! It was entertaining and it was filled with really interesting characters!

March 22, 2018 at 10:08AM.jpgThe next book I finished was a re-read of Ready Player one in preparation for watching the movie that came out. I knew that it wouldn’t be anywhere near the same as the book but I still wanted to go back to that world before watching the film.

So this novel is about Wade, a high school student who is obsessed with the OASIS, a virtual reality world. There’s no surprise there seeing how the real world is completely messed up, most people living in poverty and only a few in riches. All he wants is to be wealthy enough to get away from the planet that is rotting away. Thankfully there’s a game inside the OASIS, and if he wins the game and finds the easter egg within it, he’ll own the OASIS and he’ll be able to do whatever he wants with his life from then on. Definitely a great novel with much insight into the world of people who choose to live in virtual worlds more than in this real one.

  • Favorite Bite:

“I quickly lost track of time. I forgot that my avatar was sitting in Halliday’s bedroom and that, in reality, I was sitting in my hideout, huddled near the electric heater, tapping at the empty air in front of me, entering commands on an imaginary keyboard. All of the intervening layers slipped away, and I lost myself in the game within the game.”

  • Perspective Rating: 8/10 Definitely great to see the perspective of someone who is nerdy, a gamer, a loner, someone who isn’t super confident in real life but has a different persona in the virtual world.
  • Emotional Rating: 7/10 I connected with Wade in many levels, from his loneliness in the real life to his bravery in the OASIS ❤
  • Bites Rating: 6/10 I didn’t annotate this book very much, it was another one of those books that you just want to keep reading and there’s no time to pick up the pen to underline things XD (Not necessarily a bad thing!)
  • Overall Rating: 7/10 I really enjoyed this book, I can imagine myself rereading it multiple times in the years to come.

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Next I read one of the most amazing books I’ve read this year so far, “Equiano, the African: Biography of a Self-Made Man” by Vincent Carretta. This is a non-fiction book for which I wrote the review here. Briefly, this book is about Equiano, a man who was a slave and was able to buy his own freedom and ultimately fought for the abolition of slavery in Britain. He was a man with incredible perspective, that of being a slave, a sailor in the British Navy, and a writer during a time when it was difficult to lead a life in any of these situations. It’s a beautifully researched book and one that gives one further appreciation of our lives today, and how far we still have to go.

  • Favorite Bite:

“The traditional definition of race as bloodline was increasingly replaced by the notion of race as species that became dominant in the nineteenth century. This “modern” concept of race, which was secondary during the early colonial American period, became primary.”

  • Perspective Rating: 10/10 Yes! So much perspective from this book, not just historical, also cultural, psychological, and social. The depth and breadth of this novel is extensive and it’s one you can definitely go back and dive deeper in various parts.
  • Emotional Rating: 8/10 Gosh so much of this book was hard to read, the difficulties of living as a slave, the hardships endured while trying to buy his freedom, and the discrimination he encountered in places, or that he saw others endure while he was free, it all was definitely an emotional journey that was hard but worthwhile.
  • Bites Rating: 9/10 I was annotating left and right here! There were just a few chapters where I didn’t annotate, but there were so many facts and stories that blew me away and that I made sure to mark and tell people about those passages (too long to quote here).
  • Overall Rating: 9/10 This book is just so good, I recommend it to everyone because it teaches not only the story of a man, not only about history, it teaches about life and the prices some people have to pay to live it.

On to April!

April 03, 2018 at 01:58PM.jpgIn April I read the first installment of The Dark Tower series by Stephen King and I really enjoyed it! I wasn’t sure if I’d love it and I don’t think I do but it certainly got me thinking.  The Gunslinger is about a man who is hunting another for some unknown reason. The trip is really strange and creepy (as all King things are), but it was also interesting and wondrous. As we follow the Gunslinger we meet a variety of people who are super interesting, but we only get a snapshot of their lives, nothing more.

  • Favorite Bite:

“The eyes were damned, the staring, glaring eyes of one who sees but does not see, eyes ever turned inward to the sterile hell of dreams beyond control, dreams unleashed, risen out of the stinking swamps of the unconscious”

  • Perspective Rating: 5/10 There are some very interesting ideas here, but there’s no clear picture yet we shall see what happens with the rest of the series. I might add another Rating section to account for this.
  • Emotional Rating: 7/10 Given how disjointed and confusing it was at some points, it’s impressive how connected I was to the Gunslinger, the boy, and their fate.
  • Bites Rating: 8/10 There were plenty of moments where I had to underline or comment on the margins in this book. Moments of beautiful writing but also very interesting ideas.
  • Overall rating: 6.66/10 There’s definitely room for growth here for me, perhaps the rest of the series will make it all make better sense for me.

img_20180506_192005115_ll.jpgIn April I was looking for a lighter read and I found it in Neil Patrick Harris’ “Choose Your Own Autobiography”, which is modeled after the “Choose Your Own Adventure” books. I never really read this books but I am a big fan of NPH’s work and I did need a lighter read so I picked this up from my bookcase. The book really is his autobiography, told with humor and filled with fun anecdotes about his life. As with other books of this style, it can be finished multiple times in different ways. I ended up finishing this book about 6 times but I think I haven’t read the whole book per se. I won’t try to do so now, instead I’ll be picking it up whenever I need a light and fun read, this book really is many in one.

  • Favorite Bite: Okay too hard to pick! Basically the chapter starting on page 107, where NPH describes meeting his future husband, David, and which was annotated by David. Simply romantic and hilarious! ❤
  • Perspective Rating: 6/10 Not much perspective here but it’s awesome to see NPH’s perspective as a child actor and see what his life has been like so far (magical!)
  • Emotional Rating: 8/10 There were some happy tears shed with NPH’s magical romantic relationship with David, so beautiful! ❤ ❤ ❤
  • Bites Rating: 6/10 Not lots of annotating here, but that’s because I was busy just flipping pages to the next part of the story XD
  • Overall Rating: 6.66 So it’s not a mind-blowing book, but it sure is one that gave my mind some rest after the complex and difficult reads I had previously gone through. 😉

April 24, 2018 at 07:23PM.jpgFinally, the book that I read both in March and April was Alias Grace by Margaret Atwood! It’s a fiction book based on the real life of Grace Marks, a woman convicted of murder in the 1800s in Canada. She was not given the death penalty because people thought that she was manipulated by a man (who was hung for the same murder). People thought she was innocent or crazy so she was treated differently. It’s an amazing work that shows much research and thought behind how the story is composed. If you like mysteries based on real life stories then you’ll definitely enjoy this, if you also like stories that tell a perspective not usually told, then you’ll find something worthwhile here as well.

  • Favorite Bite:

“Lying… A severe term, surely. Has she been lying to you, you ask? Let me put it this way– did Scheherazade lie? Not in her own eyes, indeed, the stories she told ought never to be subjected to the harsh categories of Truth and Falsehood. They belong in another realm altogether. Perhaps Grace Marks has merely been telling you what she needs to tell, in order to accomplish the desired end.”

  • Perspective Rating: 9/10 The perspective of multiple people of different ages in the 1800s in Canada is one I’ve not encountered before. It’s surprising to see how much of it still holds true today and how things were back then that could be unthinkable now!
  • Emotional Rating: 7/10 There were aspects of Grace’s life that I could connect with and others I couldn’t, I did not empathize with her too much because it’s hard to tell if she’s being truthful, but I guess that’s the point 😉
  • Bites Rating: 10/10 I started annotating from the first page! The imagery and also the mood evoked throughout the book is tangible. I simply love Atwood’s writing.
  • Overall Rating: 8.66 It really was just the emotional attachment that I missed from this book. But it is powerful and definitely worth re-reading in the future. I shall watch the Netflix adaptation next and report back 🙂

So there you have it! 7 books read in the past two months! I need to figure out better how to keep up with a posting schedule so that time doesn’t just pass by for me XD

Have you read any of these books?

Best 7 books of 2017

Hello all!

As 2017 has now ended, I’d like to list the best 7 books I read in 2017!

First, some stats:

  • I read 72 books and DNFd 2 books*
  • I read more than 2100 pages! O.O!
  • 26 of the books I read were written by women (~37%)
  • 12 of the books I read were written by people of color (~16%)

Now let’s get on with the books!

#7. Moloka’i by Alan BrennertScreen Shot 2017-12-31 at 20.40.58

Moloka’i was a beautiful book that I read at the beginning of the year. It was recommended by my good friend Romy over at The Footnote and I immediately agreed to read it because I remembered the joy and heartbreak in her eyes as she read the first chapters of the book. So yes, this book will break your heart and it will show you a side of Hawaii that you might not have considered before.

Essentially it is a story about a girl who is sent to live in the island of Moloka’i where all the lepers are sent to live until they die from the disease. Moloka’i really was used for this purpose so the story told here is one that probably did happen to many people in the past.

“She already felt dead in everything but name. What remained to be taken from her? She longed to be enfolded, welcomed, into the earth – to breathe no more, love no more, hurt no more”
— Moloka’i by Alan Brennert —

#6. The Winter of Our Discontent by John Steinbeck

IMG_20171231_212110811.jpg John Steinbeck is definitely one of my favorite writers. I must thank my boss from when I worked in the mailroom in college because she gave me three boxes full of classic books, including all the works by John Steinbeck. I’ve read a few of his works and The Winter of Our Discontent did not disappoint at all.

We follow a man who finds himself at a moment in his life where he could continue as he is and be okay in terms of money, his family, and his job. But an opportunity arises where his life could become more interesting, he could get quite a bit of money in return, and therefore bring his family into another level of comfort. However, this opportunity is not exactly aligned with his values and really make him question who he is and what he believes.

I loved this book also because it portrays mental health in a way few classics do so. The idea that our decisions will not just create consequences in physical or monetary ways, but also to our mental health. What about does decisions that we have anxiety about, or those that later on cause us to fall into despair? That introspective is thoroughly explored in this novel and that’s one of the main reasons I loved this book.

“When a condition or a problem becomes too great, humans have the protection of not thinking about it. But it goes inward and minces up with a lot of other things already there and what comes out is discontent and uneasiness, guilt and a compulsion to get something–anything–before it is all gone.”
— The Winter of Our Discontent by John Steinbeck —

#5. Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi

Screen Shot 2017-12-31 at 21.15.15Homegoing was the second book we read when my boyfriend and I joined a book club in Mexico City. I was very excited for it because it would be the first book I would read by a Ghanaian author. This book provided a new perspective on the enslavement of people in Africa, their journey to the United States, and the journeys of the following generations. It’s an ambitious book that delivers small stories that form the epic tale of the generations that follow two half-sisters, one who is married to an Englishman in charge of sending slaves to the Americas, and the other who is a slave sent to the United States.

It’s a book full of hardships and sorrow but also full of hope and bravery. Men and women who strive to do the right thing even when everything goes against them, and the horrible ways in which their culture was obliterated by men and women who thought they were superior based on the color of their skin. I highly recommend this book because it extends the landscape of slavery and the ways that it has permeated our society, not only in all the places where it existed, but also through time itself.

“Weakness is treating someone as though they belong to you. Strength is knowing that everyone belongs to themselves.”
–Homegoing, Yaa Gyasi–

#4. Goodbye Days by Jeff Zentner

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There are books that are so emotionally charged that I don’t know what to do with myself for days afterwards. Goodbye Days was one of those books.

This book is about a teenage boy who sends a text message to his best friends around the time when they get into a car accident that ends up killing them. It’s a book about grief, mental health, friendship, and family. It’s about forgiveness and doing the right thing even when you would rather run in the opposite direction as fast as you can.

Zentner has the amazing ability to describe the environment, a park, a bench, a house incredibly well. But he can also describe things such as music, synesthesia, complex emotions, and grief, in a way that you can almost feel it yourself. Just with that in mind it’s a book that guarantees an amazing journey.

Be prepared for tears and laughs and the desire to never again text people you love when you suspect that they might be driving. Hug your friends and keep them safe!

“For the most part, you don’t hold the people you love in your heart because they rescued you from drowning or pulled you from a burning house. Mostly you hold them in your heart because they save you, in a million quiet and perfect ways, from being alone.”
— Goodbye Days, Jeff Zentner —

#3. It by Stephen King

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As you can see from the picture, It by Stephen King is a very big book. It was a gift from my boyfriend and it was the first Stephen King book I read. This makes the top three simply because I am incredibly impressed with how cohesive and well-planned this book was. The book starts off with our main characters as kids but it transitions to them as adults throughout the book. We also get glimpses of other times in the town of Derry that seem to be irrelevant but then turn out to be central to the problem that our main characters face. The mythology behind the book is subtle and yet it’s quite clear what the intention is for each of the supernatural elements that we encounter. Yes, the book is scary in some parts, and some elements will creep into your dreams or might scare you subconsciously when you least expect it (I ended up being slightly afraid of balloons for a few weeks…).

So even though the book is a horror book it is also about friendship and love, about believing in yourself because you are brave enough thanks to the friends that surround you and will always have your back. It’s about realizing that even though you are only one person, you can make a difference.

“Maybe there aren’t any such things as good friends or bad friends – maybe there are just friends, people who stand by you when you’re hurt and who help you feel not so lonely. Maybe they’re always worth being scared for, and hoping for, and living for. Maybe worth dying for too, if that’s what has to be. No good friends. No bad friends. Only people you want, need to be with; people who build their houses in your heart.”
–It, Stephen King–

#2. Good Omens by Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman

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Good Omens get spot number 2 because it was so good in so many ways! First of all, we get two amazing authors, Pratchett and Gaiman, who are both hilarious and witty. Then we have the plot, which is that the apocalypse is just around the corner, and the antichrist is nowhere to be found. The characters are so rich and complex that you feel like you’ve known them your whole life within just a few pages. Add to that the mythology of the apocalypse and all that comes with it: the four horsemen, the angels and demons, the humans, the witches, and the aliens (of course!).

This book is full of social commentary (as all of Pratchett’s and Gaiman’s books usually are) and it makes you think about the things that we as a society place importance upon. That is, religion, politics, borders, money, status, careers, the planet, friends, family, ourselves. Perhaps there is something within our priorities that perhaps isn’t that important and which should be replaced with something that should be prioritized just a bit more. Good Omens lets us take a hard look at ourselves through a journey full of fun twists, mysteries, and laughs.

“Anyway, if you stop tellin’ people it’s all sorted out afer they’re dead, they might try sorting it all out while they’re alive. ”
–Good Omens, Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman–

#1. The Locust and the Bird by Hanan Al-Shaykh

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Number one goes to The Locust and The Bird by Hanan Al-Shaykh! Al-Shaykh is from Lebanon and in this book she tells her mother’s memoir. Her mother, Kamila, lived in Lebanon at a time when she was not allowed to learn how to read and had to obey what the men in her family thought was best for her.

I loved this book because even though I read it back in July, I find myself still thinking about it. In part because it mirrors what my mother lived when she moved to the United States, not being able to read, write, or speak english is a disadvantage that she still deals with even today (she’s learned some but she’s still anxious whenever she is in a situation where she must speak english). I can see my mother’s story in many parts of this book, the misunderstandings that came about with the rest of our family and myself when she came to the United States and was far away from us mirrors that of Al-Shaykh’s uncertainty at the beginning on whether her mother’s story was actually interesting enough to write about.

I loved this book because it resonated with me in ways no other book has and I feel like it helped me understand my mother in ways I couldn’t before.

“I was never so desperate to read and write as I am now, if for no other reason but to write my story. Let me tell you how it hurts when a piece of wood and a piece of lead defeat me.”
–Kamila in The Locust and the Bird, Hanan Al-Shaykh–


So there you have it! Those were the best 7 books I read in 2017!

I can’t wait to see what’s in store for 2018, I hope to increase the number of books by POC authors I read and to expand my perspectives as much as possible.

Let me know if you’ve read any of these books and what you thought of them, or if there’s one that you really want to read now.

Happy New Year and happy reading everyone!

*As for the two books I DNFd (Did not finish), they were Rayuela by Julio Cortázar and Only Revolutions by Mark Z. Danielewski. Both had the same problem, they were gimmicky to me, exploring a very strange structure (going from chapter 4 to chapter 72 and so on, or reading the book from both ends), which didn’t provide anything to the actual plot (if there was one…), and which ended up confusing me so much to the point of being too frustrated to care about what would happen in the book anymore. Rayuela lasted about 100 pages while I got to the half way point of Only Revolutions before putting it down. I don’t recommend them but if you are adventurous and want to try unusual book structures then do check them out.