- Book Review #44: The Bad Muslim Discount by Syed M. Masood (2021)
Rating: 3.5 out of 5 ⭐️
Title: The Bad Muslim Discount: A Novel
Author: Syed M. Masood
Published: 2021 (Doubleday, New York)
Pages: 360 (Hardcover)
Genres: Fiction, Contemporary, Historical, Literary, Islam, Immigrant Stories
CW: Domestic Violence, Assault, Islamophobia, Discrimination, War, Death, Nationalism
Hello! This week I finished another interesting book, and it had the coolest cover art… I honestly love the cover art despite the colorful cheesiness of it all. This book is the novel, The Bad Muslim Discount by Syed M. Masood. This is the first book I have read by Masood, and I believe he is a fairly new author. I was definitely attracted to the story upon first stumbling onto this book online. And after reading this wise novel, I was a fan!
“‘Yet you are not modest like a Muslim woman. Your dress betrays what is in your heart’….
She spoke sweetly, but her words had the edge of a knife. ‘And your gaze betrays what is in yours‘”
– Syed M. Masood, The Bad Muslim Discount
The story focuses on the perspectives of the two main characters: Anwar Faris, a smart and sharp-tongued man from Pakistan who lives in San Francisco near his close-knit family, and Safwa, a young and fiery woman who grew up in war-torn Baghdad, and had a tumultuous time immigrating to the US with her domineering father. Their paths cross in San Francisco directly affecting their communities as they each tell their story. This novel examines what it is like to be an immigrant from a Muslim country in America, and the bonds formed with a tight-knit familial community united by Islam. The author also covers difficult historical and current topics of Islamophobia in America, the Muslim Ban in 2017 and America’s war-time presence in Iraq in the 2000s. For how downtrodden the story was at times, there were also more positive themes such as hope, community and love.
“It isn’t enough to be right. When you raise your voice to speak, you must speak the truth, but you should speak it in the most persuasive way possible” – Syed M. Masood, The Bad Muslim Discount
Overall, I liked this one! It definitely was not the most impactful or revealing novel about the Muslim community experience in America. Honestly, it was a bit more lighthearted and not depth-filled as I thought it was going to be. The humor and conversations between characters is fantastic though, and the author’s witty writing really shines in this novel. This mostly comes from the main character’s personality, Anwar, though. But the emotion is really felt in the writing and it was a joy to read at times. I read in the bio about the author, Masood, that he also immigrated from Pakistan so I wonder how much of his experiences reflect the experiences of the main character and community in the novel.
“For Anvar and Americans like him, their election was the most important thing in the world – and maybe that was fair – but these people, who claimed to be leaders of the free world, didn’t know the world at all. They didn’t understand its nature or its size. They thought it was smaller that it was, and that they were bigger than they were” – Syed M. Masood, The Bad Muslim Discount
The only aspect I was really not a fan of were the love stories in this novel. It was super cheesy, and maybe that is just me (because I’m not into super cheesy love stories). But it was pretty cliche, and I was not a fan of how they rounded out. The romance aspect was definitely in a male perspective, which was interesting. But overall, I get how it tied the characters and some of the story together. There could have been more in-depth exploring between the characters and their relationships instead of relying mostly on small dialogue between them.
“Clocks cannot measure time. They can count seconds, minutes and hours, but those are not accurate measures of our experience of time. A day of hunger is longer than a day when you’ve eaten. How quickly time passes isn’t constant. An hour can stretch out and seem unending. A year can pass you by before you know it” – Syed M. Masood, The Bad Muslim Discount
Why should you read this book? If you’re into novels with characters with a lot of heart and wit that explore Muslim and immigrant experiences in America in a humorous and exploratory way, this is the book for you. Definitely go into this one with an open mind, and be prepared to read some difficult subject matter. But it’s worth it if you’re interested in reading more novels that explore the topic of Muslim immigrant experiences.
Have a great weekend everyone!
I give this one a 3.5 out of 5!
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- Book Review #43: City of Girls by Elizabeth Gilbert (2019)
Rating: 4 out of 5⭐️
Title: City of Girls: A Novel
Author: Elizabeth Gilbert (Audio Book Narrated by Blair Brown)
Published: 2019 (Riverhead Books – Audible Version)
Pages: 15 hrs 8 mins (Audible Audiobook, Unabridged Version)
Genres: Historical Fiction, Romance, Adult Fiction, Coming-Of-Age
CW: Sexual Content, PTSD Triggers, Death, Alcohol Abuse, Infidelity, War
It’s Sunday everyone… another weekend has passed sooner than I would have liked. But, another audiobook is in the books (literally)! I just finished the turbulent and enchanting novel, City of Girls by Elizabeth Gilbert. I actually did not realize until I started reading this one that it was written by the same author who wrote Eat, Pray, Love. This is the first novel that I have read by Gilbert. But, after much thought and contemplation about this book, I really enjoyed the overall story. I do not read a lot of WWII-era setting novels, but this one had a lot of heart and was unique for a few vibrant reasons.
“…We may fall victim to the misconception that time will heal all wounds and that eventually everything will shake itself out. But as we get older, we learn this sad truth: some things can never be fixed. Some mistakes can never be put right—not by the passage of time, and not by our most fervent wishes, either” – Elizabeth Gilbert, City of Girls
City of Girls is a novel in the format of the main character, Vivian Morris, writing a letter to a woman named Angela about her life looking back as an old woman. That is, her life starting from arriving to New York City at 19 years old in 1940 after dropping out of Vassar College. Vivian, as an old woman, looks back at her life in fondness and describes her rises and failings as she grows up and the colorful cast of characters, friends and family in her life. Vivian experiences love, loss, Broadway theater, deep humiliation, the effects of World War II – all within the city of famous glittering lights. It’s a coming of age story about an inconsequential, beautiful and privileged person who lived a large life. The book itself was very exciting and vibrant, and Gilbert makes the city come to life from start to finish.
“Anyway, at some point in a woman’s life, she just gets tired of being ashamed all the time. After that, she is free to become whoever she truly is” – Elizabeth Gilbert, City of Girls
It took me a bit to get into this one. The beginning started out promising, and I heavily enjoyed the story. But like so many others I read reviews from, I found the middle dreadfully dull and uneventful. It seemed to be the longest part of the book with absolutely no build up, it was like a hiatus of sorts. The middle took me the longest to finish and I kept stopping. Luckily the story redeemed itself, and there was purpose to it all… for the most part, it definitely could have been shorter though. I don’t want to give away any spoilers so I won’t say more than that. The narrator, Blair Brown, was great and she voiced Vivian in a way that I could imagine her sounding. Some of the accents she did for the other characters, especially male ones, I was not too much of a fan of… But I don’t want to be too picky, she was a satisfactory narrator overall. The characters were absolutely well-formulated and eccentric, and the dialogue was capturing. Gilbert did a wonderful job transporting the reader to another time and era.
“The world is always changing. Learn how to allow for it. Someone makes a promise, and then they break it. A play gets good notices, and then it folds. A marriage looks strong, and then they divorce. For a while there’s no war, and then there’s another war. If you get too upset about it all, you become a stupid, unhappy person—and where’s the good in that?” – Elizabeth Gilbert, City of Girls
I thought I would dislike the main character, especially with her being so childish and vain at times. But she ended up having a charming and effective voice, and the way the author wrote her as this oddball outsider for someone who was incredibly privileged, white and upper class was incredibly interesting. But Vivian was an outsider compared to the time she was living in. Why should you read this book? If you are interested in historical fiction novels taking place in mostly WWII-era/1950s about odd and colorful persons in New York City with some drama and romance mixed in, this is the book for you. I could not get enough of the vivid and capturing descriptions of New York and the places the characters went and visited.
“… But to become an adult, one must step into the field of honor. Everything will be expected of you now. You will need to be vigilant in your principles. Sacrifices will be demanded. You will be judged. If you make mistakes, you must account for them. There will be instances when you must cast aside your impulses and take a higher stance than another person—a person without honor—might take. Such instances may hurt, but that’s why honor is a painful field” – Elizabeth Gilbert, City of Girls
I’m definitely glad I read this book. The format was strange for me, in the format of writing a letter, but it was effective and eventually made sense in the end. Try to power through the middle if you try to pick this one up and have the same problem I had, the ending is definitely kind of beautiful and rewarding! Plus this book is advertised as a romance, but honestly, don’t expect this great love story from start to finish with trials and tribulations. There is a some-what traditional love story, of course, but my favorite love story in the book was between Vivian and New York City.
I give this one a 4 out of 5!
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- Short Review #31: The Dangers of Smoking in Bed by Mariana Enriquez (2021)
Rating: 4 out of 5⭐️
Title: The Dangers of Smoking in Bed: Stories
Author: Mariana Enriquez (Translated by Megan McDowell)
Published: 2021 (Hogarth Press, English Translation)
Pages: 187 (Hardcover)
Genres: Short Story, Fiction, Horror, Magical Realism, Spanish Literature
CW: Sexual Content, For Ages 17+, Strong Themes, Rape, Murder, Gore, Death
Good Evening! This week I finished this much unexpected and spine-tingling book that I cannot remember where I heard of it. The Dangers of Smoking in Bed is by Argentinian author, Mariana Enriquez. This is the first book I read by Enriquez. This edition of her short stories is the first version to be translated into English, I think this book originally was released in 2009 and has been published several times since. I was on the library wait list for this book for quite some time, so long that I cannot remember when I reserved it or why. Still, it was a pleasant surprise to receive the notification that it was ready for me to pick it up. By the end of the book, I was equally surprised and disturbed by these stories (not in a negative way).
“The Japanese believe that after they die, souls go to a place that has, let’s say, limited space. And that when that limit is reached, when there is no more room for souls, they will begin to return to this world. That return is the announcement of the end of the world, actually” – Mariana Enriquez, The Dangers of Smoking in Bed
The Dangers of Smoking in Bed is a collection of fictitious short stories that center around different societal and sociopolitical themes usually regarding feminine subjects and difficult issues. Enriquez’s stories have a macabre ending or lesson, and the stories themselves are quite fantastical, sort of like magical realism with the supernatural and spiritual. This is not like Black Mirror and not all of the stories have a strong, moral lesson… actually most of them do not. Her narratives follow a sort of dark path about humanity and bring in an element of pure horror and disgust. Enriquez’s stories include subjects such as a woman who has an anatomical heart fetish, murdered teenagers coming back from the dead, deceitful witches, a rotting ghost baby, other vengeful ghosts, tape voyeurism and lake spirits.
“We both knew what the ending might be, and we didn’t care” – Mariana Enriquez, The Dangers of Smoking in Bed
I love Enriquez’s bold style, and how she writes with such personal and introspective detail. She is not afraid to bring up the most disturbing and dirty parts of human existence. She goes into such vivid detail when it comes to sex, masturbation, blood, anatomical parts and even pooping. This book is challenging in a good way, and I definitely recommend this book to those ages 17 and up (if you couldn’t tell already by the CW and this review so far…). Some of the details and parts are a little droll, but I found a lot of the stories to be eye-catching and I found myself holding my breath at some parts. Enriquez wrote a truly refined set of disturbing stories, and it took guts to take it all in at times. There are ghosts in her writing not only because of the supernatural elements, and she addresses often unspoken and macabre parts of existence, and is not afraid to get ugly. These are all written in a female’s perspective, which makes this collection even better, honestly. The translation was well-done and clear, too.
“I can’t ever take the evil out of you, because the evil is in your picture, in the water, and the photo has rotted away by now. The evils stayed there in your picture, stuck to you” – Mariana Enriquez, The Dangers of Smoking in Bed
Why should you read this book? If you enjoy challenging, sophisticated and macabre short stories that challenge and touch on sociopolitical themes and make you visibly shudder while reading them, this is the book for you. For how strongly I talk about this book, if this type of book interests you reader, give it a chance! I have not heard a lot of people talking about this new release (I believe), and it is quite a shame.
I give this one 4 out of 5!
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- Short Review #30: Moonflower Murders by Anthony Horowitz (2020)
Rating: 4 out of 5⭐️
Title: Moonflower Murders (Sequel to Magpie Murders)
Author: Anthony Horowitz
Published: 2020 (Harper, New York)
Pages: 608 (Hardcover)
Genres: Fiction, Mystery, Crime, Thriller, British
CW: Murder, Sexual References, Violence
Hi everyone, I’m still in a bit of a reading slump due to life situations, but I’m trying to keep up on reading. I know it’s been awhile since I posted on this blog. I’m still in a strange transition phase, and I have been reevaluating certain aspects of my life a lot recently. That being said, I hope everyone is doing well out there and reading all that you are able to! Anyways, this week I finally finished the book that took me several weeks to read, Moonflower Murders by British author, Anthony Horowitz. Moonflower Murders is the sequel to Magpie Murders (2017). I read Magpie Murders a couple years ago, so of course I had to read the sequel. Overall, this read was definitely rewarding for how long it took me to finish it.
“...people who were so insistent on the truth were very rarely telling it” – Anthony Horowitz, Moonflower Murders
British murder-mystery, Moonflower Murders is Horowitz’s sequel to book editor Susan Ryeland’s fiction series. After the tragic end events that transpired in Magpie Murder‘s story, Susan is now retired and living with her boyfriend, Andreas, in Crete running an old hotel called The Polydorus together. The hotel brings new challenges, and Susan is fairly satisfied until two inn owners, the Trehearnes, from Suffolk turn up asking for Susan’s help. A murder had occurred at their inn, Farlingaye Halle, eight years ago on the eve of their daughter’s wedding in the same inn. And now that same daughter, Cecily, has disappeared after realizing Susan’s former murder-mystery author Alan Conway wrote a book based on what happened eight years ago after visiting the inn post-murder. Cecily realizes Conway’s book actually contains the identity of the real killer of Frank Parris, not the one who confessed to the crime and is serving a life sentence in prison. The owners hire Susan to find their daughter since Conway is deceased and she published his book, they believe she may have insight into Conway’s mind. Susan accepts and begins investigating in Suffolk, where she ends up learning more about her former author’s life, and she just might find out who really killed Frank Parris eight years ago.
“…The greatest evil occurs when people, no matter what their aims or their motives, become utterly convinced that they are right” – Anthony Horowitz, Moonflower Murders
Besides the lengthiness, which I honestly got tired of really quickly, this book was really well-written and structured! Horowitz returns with his contemporary mystery-in-a-mystery style like in Magpie Murders. Literally there’s a whole separate mystery story inside the main story, both are relating and support each other of course. I do not believe the reader needs to read Magpie Murders before Moonflower Murders unless you care about reading in order. There are a few details someone who hasn’t read Magpie Murders wouldn’t understand, but the book and story stands fairly well on its own. This was a satisfying murder-mystery like in the style of Agatha Christie, and definitely a classic whodunit for such a contemporary style. There were some slow parts for certain, but it definitely picked back up and had an intriguing ending. For such a different style of writing, the book was incredibly typical to the genre. Why should you read this book? If you’re into classic British murder-mysteries that have a large cast of characters and short side plots, this is the book for you. I would also recommend reading Magpie Murders if you haven’t already. Moonflower Murders was definitely a great read, and is worth the time!
I give this one a 4 out of 5! Besides the length, there were not many negatives to note because it hit all the marks structure and plot wise.
How do I typically rate books? Click here
- Book Review #42: Quit Like A Woman… by Holly Whitaker (2019)
Rating: 4 out of 5 ⭐️
Title: Quit Like A Woman: The Radical Choice to Not Drink in a Culture Obsessed with Alcohol
Author: Holly Whitaker
Published: 2019 (Dial Press, New York)
Pages: 368 (Audible Audiobook)
Genres: Nonfiction, Self-Help, Autobiography, Health, Lifestyle, Feminism
CW: Alcoholism (of course…), Eating Disorders, Strong Language, Mental Health Topics, Abuse, Toxic Relationships and Parents
Alright, are you wondering how I came across this book? If you asked, reviews and posts kept coming up on my Goodreads and Instagram feed about this book often recently, and it’s because I’m pretty sure the paperback version just came out. I do not read a lot of self-help books, especially about alcoholism, but after reading the premise for this one and the reviews, it sounded appealing to me. Let me start off by saying, I am not an alcoholic (I did not finish this book thinking now I’m an alcoholic either). In the past, I briefly spoke about drug and alcohol addiction being a large part of my close family member’s lives. So addiction has always fascinated me, and also how outsiders view and cope with a loved one’s addiction. And after my own stint of sobriety for health reasons last year, I thought this book would be appropriate for me to read. And oh boy, was I in for a ride reading this one!
“The largest single use of ethanol is as an engine fuel and fuel additive. In other words, we drink, for fun, the same thing we use to make rocket fuel, house paint, anti-septics, solvents, perfumes, and deodorants and to denature, i.e. to take away the natural properties of, or kill, living organisms. Which might make sense on some level if we weren’t a generation of green minded, organic, health-conscious, truth seeking individuals. But we are….. We are hyper-vigilant about everything we put into our body, everything we do to our body, and we are proud of this. We Instagram how proud we are of this, and we follow Goop and Well+Good, and we drop 40 bucks on an exercise class because there are healing crystals in the floor….. The global wellness economy is estimated to be worth $4 trillion. $4 TRILLION DOLLARS. We are on an endless and expensive quest for wellness and vitality and youth. And we drink f*cking rocket fuel” – Holly Whitaker, Quit Like A Woman…
This book was wholly nothing I expected. Quit Like A Woman: The Radical Choice to Not Drink in a Culture Obsessed with Alcohol is written by Holly Whitaker, CEO and founder of her program, Tempest, and former director of a San Francisco health tech start-up. By what I understand, after her own battle with alcohol addiction, Whitaker comes to the conclusion that no one is an ‘addict’ and no one should be labeled as such. People simply suffer from addiction due to life and stressors that are unique to that person, and can take form of alcohol or anything else. She is passionate about advocating for not labeling alcoholics or claiming they’re ‘incurable’. Whitaker created her own program of support based on her own research, one that opposes the out-of-date ideas preached in Alcoholics Anonymous (if you read this book you’ll find out she really does not like AA) and related ideas, and tailored more towards women with supporting research and other programs such as Allen Carr’s. She cites Allen Carr A LOT in this book, by the way.
“We love to protect alcohol and our right to consume it, and to vilify people who can’t handle it. We venerate the substance; we demonize those who get sick from using it” – Holly Whitaker, Quit Like A Woman...
Whitaker makes a lot of excellent points about alcohol and its effects on the body and on us as a society, especially in America. Despite your position on alcohol, and whether you’re sober or not, I think this is a very interesting and crucial read, especially if you’re a Millennial and woman. She associates the problem of alcohol on the body, through marketing like cigarettes, the myths and problems about associating “alcoholic” with addiction, etc. She touches on harder-to-swallow subjects as well, such as calling out large wellness-centered companies like Goop, and speaking a lot about social justice activism in connection with addiction. Her writing is also fantastic for someone who is primarily business oriented. I listened to the audio book recording of this book, and she is entertaining to listen to in a humorous feminist way, kind of like Rachel Hollis or Gabrielle Bernstein (who she also quotes a lot).
“To properly heal from addiction, we need a holistic approach. We need to create a life we don’t need to escape. We need to address the root causes that made us turn outside ourselves in the first place. This means getting our physical health back, finding a good therapist, ending or leaving abusive relationships, learning to reinhabit our bodies, changing our negative thought patterns, building support networks, finding meaning and connecting to something greater than ourselves, and so on. To break the cycle of addiction, we need to learn to deal with cravings, break old habits, and create new ones” – Holly Whitaker, Quit Like A Woman…
Overall, I really enjoyed this book and at times I could not get enough! The only aspect I was not so sure about was how often and personally she spoke about social justice issues, even though she is a cis white female… I’m glad she’s using her platform to speak on all women’s rights in a positive way, but I’m kind of exhausted of hearing about social issues from cis white females, and would have rather heard more first-hand accounts from persons of color she could interview. Her preachy-sounding tone was also a turn-off during some points. And at times, I wish she stuck to talking about her own personal experiences in her life and addiction, and left the larger experiences of “all women” out of it. But this is all mostly me though.
“There is the life that most of us live, and then there is the life we have buried deep inside us, the life we know we’re supposed to be living” – Holly Whitaker, Quit Like A Woman…
Why should you read this book? If you enjoy reading self-help books, but about a personal, humorous and enlightening take on alcohol addiction and how it practically affects our current society and attitudes, this is the book for you. I hope you all give this book a chance if you can!
I give this a 4 out of 5!
How do I rate all these books? Click here!
- ARC Review: The Imposter by Marin Montgomery (2021)
Rating: 3 out of 5⭐️
Title: The Imposter
Author: Marin Montgomery
Expected Publication Date: March 9, 2021 (Thomas & Mercer)
Pages: 431 (ARC eBook)
Genres: Fiction, Thriller, Mystery, Suspense
CW: Violence, Trauma, Suicide, Alcoholism, Brief Sexuality, Assault, Mental Illness
Side Note: I received an Advanced Readers Copy of The Imposter by the author through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. This title will be released on March 9th 2021.
I’m finally catching up on my ARCs this week! Specifically, Marin Montgomery’s new suspense thriller, The Imposter. Sadly, this one has been sitting in my TBR stack since December. But on the bright side, this review comes at a good time since this book comes out soon, March 9th to be exact. I was excited when the author reached out, and asked me to read it. This is the first book I have read by Montgomery. And she also lives in my hometown of Phoenix, AZ so it is definitely a huge plus to be reading a book by a local author. The plot sounded suspenseful, and I was definitely intrigued. Despite this book falling off my radar, I made an effort to pick it up back up, and I’m glad I did.
The Imposter centers around mother and daughter, Deborah and Sibley Sawyer. Deborah is a middle-aged and troubled single widow living on her family’s farm in a small town in the Midwest, and Sibley is an alcoholic and successful divorce lawyer in Arizona who lives with her husband, Holden, a college professor who is on his last nerve with Sibley. Deborah and Sibley had a falling out and had not spoken for many years, until Sibley shows up on Deborah’s doorstep on the run from her crumbling life looking to make amends. As Sibley reconnects with familiar faces in her home town and truths are revealed, both characters have to come to terms with their own secrets that have stayed buried in their small town. Under suspicious circumstances, the two women also question their reality when strange events begin to occur. But is it too late for their relationship and themselves to be repaired, and the better question is, who can be trusted?
The aspects I liked about this book was that the plot and story were full of suspense, and no parts of this book dropped or ever felt boring. Montgomery does a wonderful job keeping the story going from start to finish. Yet the pacing reminded me of watching a TV drama or something similar. The writing, for being super cheesy, was communicated well. And the plot was carried through the main two character’s inner struggles. The author I can best compare her to is Shari Lapena. But the aspects I was not a fan of was that the characters felt unreliable, and frankly I was tired of some of the side characters pretty quick. Without giving too much away, the main two characters were not trustworthy to the reader at any point in the book. Maybe that was partially the point, but there were hardly any directions toward the truth besides of course how the book rounded out in the end. The ending seemed to fall together without much of a clever set-up, and relied completely on the suspense. Plus I found a few parts of the plot and character’s engagements with each other to be far stretched and choppy. But for how messy it all seemed at times, this book had an interesting dialogue about relationships and second chances.
Regardless, this book was definitely entertaining and engaging. Literally, the story was entirely growing suspense from start to finish. Why should you read this book? If you enjoy suspense thrillers centering on estranged familial relationships and reading about two women seemingly going insane under the same roof, this is the book for you. This is a book I will not be forgetting any time soon.
I give this one a 3 out of 5!
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- Book Review #41: Swimming in the Dark by Tomasz Jedrowski (2020)
Rating: 4 out of 5⭐️
Title: Swimming in the Dark: A Novel
Author: Tomasz Jedrowski
Published: 2020 (William Morrow, HarperCollins, New York)
Pages: 191 (Hardcover)
Genres: Fiction, Historical, LGBT, Queer, Contemporary, Romance
CW: Sex, Political Unrest, Violence, Discrimination, Drug Use
Hello everyone! I’m back this week to talk about this emotionally gripping and heartbreaking novel, Swimming in the Dark by Polish author Tomasz Jedrowski. This is the first book I have read by Jedrowski. I can’t remember where I stumbled across this one, but it was a while ago and I saw many positive reviews. When this read became available at my local library, I wanted to give it a shot. But I have to admit when this book was described as “Call Me By Your Name set in Communist Poland”, it definitely piqued my interest.
“And yet, it occurs to me now that we can never run with our lies indefinitely. Sooner or later we are forced to confront their darkness. We can choose then when, not the if. And the longer we wait, the more painful and uncertain it will be” – Tomasz Jedrowski, Swimming in the Dark
Swimming in the Dark is like a long love letter and recounting narrative directed towards the main character’s love interest, Janusz. Literally, the narration is directed to a second person from beginning to end. Our narrator, Ludwik Glowacki, is a young man living in Communist Poland in the early 1980s, and is about to become a true adult in the world finding his place in his country when he meets his first great love, another young man named Janusz. They begin a torrid affair during the summer they first meet at an agriculture camp. They bond over James Baldwin’s novel Giovanni’s Room, a book not accepted in Poland. The book affects them for different reasons, and how they see their gay identities, especially Ludwik’s. Both men struggle with the social and political pressures their country throws at them, and both deal with the pressures of having the hide who they are. Ludwik and Janusz eventually fall on different very different paths in their society as they get acquainted into their own identities as they go out into the world and grow apart. Ludwik quickly realizes life isn’t as simple as it was that summer they met in the countryside, and questions whether he wants to remain in the country that restricted his freedoms to choose. Swimming in the Dark is a story of love, history, loss and growing into one’s identity. This book, overall, is incredibly speculative and powerful.
“This wasn’t distraction or entertainment: here was a book that seemed to have been written for me, which lifted me up into its realm and united me with something that seemed to have been there all along and that I seemed to be a part of. It felt as if the words and the thoughts of the narrator – despite their agony, despite their pain – healed some of my agony and my pain, simply by existing” – Tomasz Jedrowski, Swimming in the Dark
This book was like a collection of poetry at times. I was not sure about the narration style at first, but I grew to love it. Jedrowski does a wonderful job of diving into the inner feelings and desires of the main character. I could not identify with any of the characters, especially Ludwik, but I was still feeling for him by the end of the novel. The writing was intense and contained a tender message about a cold time in Poland’s history. Jedrowski is very descriptive when it comes to his writing, and to put it frankly, uses a lot of words to describe certain ideas and emotions. It only makes the narrative seem more like poetry, and at times I questioned how necessary it was. I’m not the author though. Also, the history in the book itself was super fascinating. I did not know a lot about Communist Poland post-WWII, and also when Poland fell under martial law and the decline of communism occurred in the 1980s. Jedrowski describes the history, and the feelings of the people around the events so vividly and I feel like I learned a lot in the process.
“Because you were right when you said that people can’t always give us what we want from them; that you can’t ask them to love you the way you want. No one can be blamed for that” – Tomasz Jedrowski, Swimming in the Dark
Why should you read this book? If you enjoy historical fiction about LGBT narratives and young-adult characters centering around Communist Poland, this is the book for you. This book is definitely rewarding in itself, and if you’re looking to expand your queer and LGBT reading, this is a good place to continue. The story also summarizes the experience of growing up not fitting into your environment, and remaining on the outside because of your identity very well. I only became emotional at some points reading this book, but not as much as I’ve heard others have. The story and difficult situations can be a lot to take in at times so be prepared.
I give this one a 4 out of 5! There were not that many negatives, and the story was complete in itself and communicated very well.
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- Short Review #29: Twelve Nights at Rotter House by J.W. Ocker (2019)
Rating: 3.5 out of 5⭐️
Title: Twelve Nights at Rotter House
Author: J.W. Ocker, Narrated by Matt Godfrey
Published: 2019 (Turner, Audible Audio: Highbridge)
Duration: 7 hrs 47 min
Genres: Horror, Fiction, Paranormal, Mystery, Haunted House
CW: supernatural, murder, violence, sexual references, crime
Goodreads 2021 Reading Challenge: 5/52
Hi all, this is my second review in one week! I’m really catching up on my reading. But this week I did something different – I devoured this one as an AUDIOBOOK. And I do not normally listen to audiobooks. Since my commute to work has become longer, I thought this was a good time to start getting into audiobooks again. I definitely prefer cold and hard physical paperbacks or hardcover books over audiobooks any day. And for the longest time, I said I would not listen to audiobooks. But I decided to give audiobooks a fair chance. I’m hoping they grow on me. Maybe you will (hopefully) see me talk about them more often in the future. Anyways, I’m glad one of the first ones I’ve listened to in a long time was this spooky book. This week I finished the horror fiction book, Twelve Nights at Rotter House by J.W. Ocker. I’ve been wanting to read this one for a long time, and I’m glad I finally took the leap to read it.
“Because you trust your house, right? It’s your house. It protects you from the world and, even more important, all the people out there. It sees you naked every day. It knows your sins. It’s the only place where you are your true self. So when that gets corrupted, when that becomes haunted, that’s terrifying” – J.W. Ocker, Twelve Nights at Rotter House
This is the first book I have read by Ocker, and I was not disappointed. Twelve Nights at Rotter House follows travel writer Felix Allsey as he gains access to the supposedly haunted and eerie Rotterdam Mansion, or Rotter House as most call it. In order to boost his writing career and maybe write a book, Felix decides to lock himself in the famous house with a past or Rotterdam Mansion for 13 nights. Felix’s rules are that he must stay in the house the entire time, and sleep during the day and only be awake at night to witness the supposed happenings that go bump in the night. Soon, his best friend Thomas Ruth joins Felix during this paranormal journey. The reader gets to know Felix and Thomas, and the rift that had occurred between them that still affects their friendship. And to this moment, I’m still questioning parts of this fairly wide-spread narrative even though event-wise not a lot happens.
First of all, I loved the conversation and banter between Felix and Thomas. The conversations were honestly one of my favorite parts of this book. Ocker does a wonderful job highlighting the important plot points through their conversations, and keeping the characters seem like relatable persons. The conversations were suspenseful but pretty tame, except for the occasional disturbing twist thrown here and there into the dialogue. The content of this book became pretty dark at a few parts so I do not recommend this one if you’re unsure about horror books in general. The climax though was not as astounding or as masterfully timed as it could have been. The final twist was not very inspired or original, and that would have been fine, but only if the timing was just a bit different. This is definitely a book where I enjoyed the journey more than the destination/ending.
Why should you read this book? If you like suspenseful, haunted house books with witty characters and dialogue, this is the book for you. Honestly, any horror fan should give this book a chance at least. It is one of the better haunted house books I’ve read in a while.
I give this one a 3.5 out of 5!
How the heck do I rate the books I write about? Click here
- Short Review #28: Flawless: Inside the Largest Diamond Heist in History by Scott Andrew Selby and Greg Campbell (2010)
Rating: 4 out of 5⭐️
Title: Flawless: Inside the Largest Diamond Heist in History
Author: Scott Andrew Selby and Greg Campbell
Published: 2010 (Union Square Press, New York)
Pages: 336 (Hardcover)
Genres: Nonfiction, True Crime, History, Cultural
CW: true crime, strong themes
Hi everyone, its been a while! I haven’t posted for a couple weeks, because I recently moved homes and it was a difficult one… I forgot how much of a pain moving is and unpacking can be the worst. I guess you never know until it happens *shrugs*. I am also in a small reading slump, the first one in a long time for me. Not sure why, but I’m hoping to break out of it soon. Maybe it was the move… Did I mention I don’t like moving? Anyways, this week I finished a book borrowed from a coworker. Flawless: Inside the Largest Diamond Heist in History is by Scott Andrew Selby and Greg Campbell, the authors of Blood Diamonds. The history surrounding Blood Diamonds is also showcased in the 2006 Leonardo DiCaprio film Blood Diamond.
“While it was cathartic to see the perpetrators of the crime sentenced and eventually jailed, it wasn’t what was most important to the victims…’The most important thing is, where are the other belongings?’ he said. ‘Where are the diamonds?’” – Scott Andrew Selby and Greg Campbell, Flawless
Flawless is a true crime work of nonfiction about the largest diamond heist in history, taking place 2003 in Antwerp, Belgium in the Diamond Center. Antwerp is the international diamond capital of the world. The thieves, an Italian group of criminals called The School of Turin, stole $108-432 million worth of diamonds (but authorities and experts guess it could have been much, much more since some of the victims could not file or report their diamonds for insurance… but the authors detail why in the book). The book covers the backstory of the criminals, and the crime itself along with fascinating information about the international diamond industry. A lot of time in this book is spent on the life, role and motivations of Turin ringleader, Leonardo Notarbartolo. Notarbartolo even spent two years canvasing the Diamond Center before the group made a move by renting out a space in the building.
Overall, I thought this book was pretty good. It was comprehensive and clear, and the authors do a wonderful job guiding the reader through the events of the crime and industry. There is so much information covered in this book so be prepared. It was also interesting as far as content goes, and I learned a lot. Why should you read this book? If you enjoy nonfiction reads about true crime and exciting diamond heists, then this is the book for you.
I give this one a 4 out of 5! There was nothing particularly negative about this one, the book was more informative and neutral as far as perspective goes. It was not extraordinary enough for me to give it 5 stars though.
How do I rate the books I read? Click here to find out!
- Book Review #40: Ready Player Two by Ernest Cline (2020)
Rating: 3 out of 5⭐️
Title: Ready Player Two (Sequel to Ready Player One (2011))
Author: Ernest Cline
Published: 2020 (Ballantine Books)
Pages: 367 (Hardcover)
Genres: Fiction, Science Fiction, Fantasy, Dystopian Fiction, Adventure
CW: strong language, adult situations and themes, references to sex
Hi everyone, I hope you’re all hanging in there and having a good weekend! I’m getting ready to move homes soon so I haven’t had as much time for reading recently. The last time I moved was a couple years ago, but I definitely forgot how hard it was… Anyways, this week I finished the especially anticipated science fiction read, Ready Player Two by Ernest Cline. This book is the sequel to Ready Player One, the first novel by the author written in 2011. I read Ready Player One shortly after it was released, and I loved it. I was grossly entertained by the story, and the references to different nerdoms were well represented and covered. The book was basically a homage to different types of nerds, and how technology impacts society on a civic, economic and cultural level. Ready Player One, as many of you may know, was turned into a movie of the same title released in 2018 and directed by Steven Spielberg. Side note: I did NOT like the movie at all, like many people who read and loved the book. Basically half the plot was changed around, and it become more commercially driven than I expected, plus the pacing was just terrible… But can you tell how much I liked the first book?
“And sometimes, when you think you’ve finally reached the end of the game, suddenly you find yourself standing at the start of a whole new level. A level that you’ve never seen before. And the only thing you can do is keep right on playing. Because the gamer that is your life still isn’t over yet..” – Ernest Cline, Ready Player Two
Ready Player Two continues from the first book in the sci-fi series a couple years after contest winner heir, Wade Watts, inherits his tech empire in a not-so-distant dystopian future where a VR world called the OASIS is a way of life for the global population. After Wade stumbles upon a new and groundbreaking technology created by deceased OASIS creator, James Halliday, to further push the world into the tech realm of possibilities, a new contest is born. This contest was also created before Halliday passed away, and the prize is unknown both to Wade and the rest of the world. As he continues down a dangerous and perilous path while learning more about Halliday’s motives, a new enemy emerges, and Wade and his friends must face them together or allow this enemy to kill millions in order to find the prize.
“Maybe every time an intelligent species grew advanced enough to invent a global computer network, they would then develop some form of social media, which would immediately fill these beings with such an intense hatred for one another that they ended up wiping themselves out within four or five decades” – Ernest Cline, Ready Player Two
When I started seeing others’ reports on this book, I saw many bad reviews. There were a variety of reasons why across the board, some more unfair and ridiculous than others. I tried to go into this one with an open mind, unbiased from the first book (key word is tried). Overall by the end, it was not bad, but it also was not great. I agree with the consensus that the first book was better, like many series with sequels are. I enjoyed the story and general plot, and how it connected and continued with the first book. The story flowed well, and at certain times I could not put the book down. I also enjoyed the discussion of dangerous and grey-area ethics surrounding new and groundbreaking technology. But honestly, I thought the author was trying too hard to push current social issues into themes for this book that were obviously lacking in the first book to appeal towards a current audience. The idea of questioning social representation in science fiction and fantasy books/movies is fantastic (as we should be doing), but it felt forced in this story to try to appeal to a current, young audience. This was not done or at least was not transparent in Ready Player One. To be fair, the first book also questioned gender roles and toxicity in science fiction, but Ready Player Two takes this a step further. I also thought the side characters’ roles were unnecessarily drier, and the romance between Wade and Samantha/Art3mis was lacking and a little forced in this story.
“If it weren’t for Tolkien, all of us nerds would’ve had a lot less fun during the last ninety years” – Ernest Cline, Ready Player Two
I’m glad I read this one, but I would not say this was a worthwhile read. In my opinion, Cline could have done more with this story, and focused less on Wade and more on some of the badass and new side characters. Why should you read this book? If you like science fiction or have read Ready Player One and are ready to be potentially disappointed but equally entertained, this is the book for you. I wouldn’t believe all the negative reviews, the book is still written well and the pacing was good. But definitely go into this one skeptically.
I give this one a 3 out of 5! (I’m still a fan of the series… I admit)
How do I rate the books I read/write about?? Click here.
- Short Review #27: Video Palace: In Search of the Eyeless Man by Maynard Wills (2020)
Rating: 3 out of 5⭐️
Title: Video Palace: In Search of the Eyeless Man
Authors: Maynard Wills, Nick Braccia, Michael Monello
Published: 2020 (Tiller Press, Simon & Schuster, New York)
Pages: 372 (Hardcover)
Genres: Fiction, Horror, Anthology, Short Stories, Occult
CW: Murder, Death, Strong Language, Trauma, Suicide, Gore, Violence
Hi everyone! I know I haven’t posted in a while, but now I’m writing technically my first review of 2021. There has only been 14 days so far this year, and I know everyone is going through current events differently. But I hope everyone is coping, staying sane and reading on. This week I read a not-so-sane book, Video Palace: The Search for the Eyeless Man. This short story anthology is a continuation/based off Shudder podcast Video Palace. I listened to the podcast last year, and the podcast was wildly entertaining and a little creepy. If you know me, you know I love horror movies/TV and spooky books. When I heard about the book, I had to read it mostly because I really enjoyed the podcast. But after I read the book, I found myself having reactions I did not think I would have.
“Maybe all supernatural things are just our guilt manifested. We are able to justify the heaviness we carry with us by blaming it on ghosts or demons. Or maybe that’s what I want to think because the other possibility is too scary” – Brea Grant, Video Palace: In Search of the Eyeless Man
Video Palace is a collection of short stories written by contemporary horror writers centering around a mythical, Slenderman-like figure, the Eyeless Man. The book is set up like non-fiction (this book was even in the non-fiction section at my local library), but the stories are more of an immersive experience surrounding the disappearance of the book’s “author” Dr. Maynard Wills, an adjust professor at The New School in New York who was investigating tales about the Eyeless Man across different cultures and areas. Supposedly edited by his assistant, the stories and his notes support his discoveries about the Eyeless Man. The Eyeless Man is a Pied Piper-type urban legend that gets in the head of its victims through video/media or special VHS tapes, and controls their thoughts and desires, taking over before it engulfs them completely. If you’re unfamiliar with the podcast, the podcast focuses on a podcaster named Mark Cambria, who watches one of the VHS tapes, and then begins to have strange dreams and chant in his sleep. Mark and his girlfriend, Tamra Wulff, investigate the origin of the tapes while reporting on his podcast until it leads them to a burned down video store called Video Palace, where the tapes were supposedly made, and drives Mark into a dark place. This book seems to be a continuation of the podcast.
“All you can do is try to be a better person. Help others when ever you can. Shine light on the darkness. Show it for what it is. Because it’s never gonna go away. Nor should it. It is part of the design” – John Skipp, Video Palace: In Search of the Eyeless Man
As far as what I thought of the book, I thought it was dreadfully creepy. The editors did a wonderful job immersing the reader and convincing them this is real, I was even convinced a few times. But by the end, it was exhausting at times to read about the same central figure over and over again in different short stories. My favorite part was the beginning, but maybe the reason why was at that point I was still questioning more whether the backstory was real or not. If you enjoy reading about urban legends or Creepypastas and horror, this is a great one. There was a lot of effort made into creating this book, and it shows. The writers, who all have backgrounds in contemporary writing/acting in horror, were also interesting in their own rite, and I enjoyed most of the stories. Some of them I thought could have been written into full books. There were a few I was not totally a fan of, but I was able to get past them for the most part.
I give this one a 3 out of 5!
How do I rate my books? Click here!
- Short Review #26: One by One by Ruth Ware (2020)
Rating: 3 out of 5 ⭐️
Title: One by One
Author: Ruth Ware
Published: 2020 (Scout Press, New York)
Pages: 372 (Hardcover)
Genres: Fiction, Mystery Thriller, Suspense, Contemporary, Crime
CW: assault, murder, crime, trauma, language, minor gore
Hi everyone, 2020 is almost over, Happy New Year! This is my last review of the year, and I thought it was only appropriate I picked a book that was released in 2020, and takes place in the snowy winter like many of us face in December/January… except me, since I live in central Arizona. This thriller/mystery new release One by One is by widely-known author, Ruth Ware. I have only read two books by Ware including The Woman in Cabin 10 and The Death of Mrs. Westaway. After seeing the hype and the long waiting list at the library, I finally got the chance to dive into this one. But after reading, I was not as impressed with this one as I was with the other two books I read.
“They think that life can’t touch them–just like I used to do… Only now it has. Now life has them by the throat. And it won’t let go” – Ruth Ware, One by One
Taking place at a rustic ski chalet in the French Alps, a group of employees and their founders from a London-based tech startup called Snoop are staying for a week-long retreat to bond and ski together. The setting and scenery are beautiful, and the retreat is going well thanks to Erin, the chalet host, and Danny, the personal chef for the chalet. But then after a devastating avalanche cuts them off from the outside world, the guests start to disappear one by one… Who is after them and why, are the biggest questions the group and reader stand to decide.
I was not as intrigued by this book as I hoped to be. I really enjoyed The Woman in Cabin 10 and The Death of Mrs. Westaway a great deal, and Ware is a good writer, but One by One had a dry story and bland outcome for such an interesting scenario in theory. Ware does a great job diving into the backgrounds of her characters, and how it affects the present story. She does the same in this book as her others, and it is probably my favorite part. The only aspect that really bugged me was the lack of motive and explanation for the antagonist’s actions (I do not reveal spoilers so I won’t go into detail of what that is). Part of the character’s motive did not make sense, and I was not a fan of the way the story rounded out in the end. Maybe I missed something, but overall this book was not entirely my cup of tea. The writing was still fantastic, and the read was enjoyable and the setting is intriguing itself. I also liked how the entire narration of the book went back and forth between two very different perspectives at the chalet.
Why should you read this book? If you’re interested in easy-to-read, mystery thrillers taking place in the French Alps with a large cast of contemporary characters who have their own secrets and dramas, this is the book for you. I’m still a fan of Ruth Ware, but One by One is definitely my least favorite of the books I have read by her.
I give this a 3 out of 5!
How do I rate the books I write about!? Click here
- Book Review #39: The Devil and the Dark Water by Stuart Turton (2020)
Rating: 4 out of 5 ⭐️
Title: The Devil and the Dark Water
Author: Stuart Turton
Published: 2020 (Sourcebooks Landmark)
Pages: 463 (Hardcover)
Genres: Fiction, Mystery, Historical, Thriller, Suspense, Supernatural
CW: murder, violence, sexual references, rape, crime, supernatural, torture
I hope you all had and are continuing to have a wonderful Holiday! I hope you’re all doing something you enjoy or celebrating either by yourself or surrounded by your loved ones. This Christmas looked a little different for me because of the pandemic, but I’m glad I chose plans that made me and the people around me more safe. I was still gifted some fantastic new books I cannot wait to talk about on this blog. Plus I got a lot of reading done, and it may not seem like it since its been a while since I posted my last review. But my next read took extra time, because it was over 460 pages long. This week I finished the newly released The Devil and the Dark Water by English author Stuart Turton. This is his second novel. The first I read earlier this year, The 7 1/2 Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle. I remember really enjoying The 7 1/2 Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle once I got past my confusion and the dense slowness of the story in the beginning. And remarkably enough, I felt similar reading The Devil and the Dark Water.
“The weak shouldn’t have to fear the powerful, and the powerful shouldn’t simply be allowed to take what they wanted without consequence. Power should be a burden, not a shield. It should be used to everybody’s betterment, not merely for the person who wielded it” – Stuart Turton, The Devil and the Dark Water
The Devil and the Dark Water has a spooky title which matches a spooky tale. Taking place in 1634, a fleet of Dutch United East India Company ships leave the trading post of Batavia (which I had to look up is somewhere in now Jakarta, Indonesia) to go to Amsterdam, a grueling 8-month journey at sea. On this particular ship, the Saardam, is a cast of characters, but the story mainly focuses on prisoner Sammy Pipps, a charming and famous detective Sherlock Holmes-type character, and his loyal and intelligent but physically massive bodyguard, Lieutenant Arent Hayes. Also included is the cruel and wealthy merchant Governor General Jan Haan, and his clever, healer wife who hates him, Sara Wessel. When an old demon who goes by ‘Old Tom’ threatens the safety of the Saardam and its passengers/crew by way of scare tactics and unholy warning signs, Arent and Sara begins to investigate in order to save the crew on board from destruction. This story is part mystery and part suspenseful thriller. The story is filed with deadly human superstition, and leaves the reader guessing at how supernatural the culprit may or may not be.
“‘Courage isn’t an absence of fear’, cried out Sara. ‘It’s the light we find when fear is all there is. You’re needed now, so find your courage‘” – Stuart Turton, The Devil and the Dark Water
As I mentioned a little before, I encountered the same feelings I did as reading his first novel. It took me a bit to get into this one, the beginning was slow and the number of pages makes this a daunting read if you’re not used to reading long novels (like me… I admit it). But once I got into the story, I really enjoyed it! The mystery was well-constructed and thought out, and I did not even guess the big twist. Turton does a wonderful job setting the scene, and immersing the reader into the gritty setting with his lengthy descriptions. Honestly, I kept thinking the story felt like the Pirates of the Caribbean Disney movie franchise meets Sherlock Holmes. But, I do not have a lot of experience reading about this particular time in history.
“‘Most men would say this isn’t women’s work’…
‘My father was one of them’, admitted Arent, ‘He taught me that women were frail creatures purposely crippled by God that men might prove their virtue by protecting. Sounded right enough until I went to war and saw men pleading for their lives while women swung hoes at the knights trying to take their land’, his tone hardened, ‘Strong is strong and weak is weak, and it doesn’t matter if you wear breeches or skirts if you’re the latter. Life will hammer you flat’” – Stuart Turton, The Devil and the Dark Water
Turton admits in an amusing afterward called ‘An Apology to History. And Boats‘ that all the facts and technology may not be historically accurate to the time, but he did research. He just took liberty on certain parts. I also thought it was interesting that he did not want this book to fit into the historical fiction genre but instead cited, “This is historical fiction where the history is the fiction“. He took what he wanted from this time period, and ran with his own story. For me, I don’t mind at all, especially if the author is being completely honest about it. If you’re going to be really bothered by inaccurate historical facts to this time period, do not read this book. But nothing is terribly blatant unless you’re a history buff who is an expert on 1600s Dutch trade (which I am definitely not, by the way).
“Guilt was like dirt. It got under the skin and didn’t come clean. It made people second guess everything that was done, find fault where there was none and imagine mistakes that weren’t made. Soon enough, worries were worming out of them, growing fat on their doubt” – Stuart Turton, The Devil and the Dark Water
Why should you read this book? If you like mysteries taking place in the 1600s that are full of gory action along with slow-burning suspense and lengthy scene descriptions, this is the book for you. Despite the harsh negatives I talked about previously, I gave this one 4-stars mostly due to the quality of the story, and how the mystery masterfully wrapped up in the end. Definitely pay attention to the ‘CWs’ I list near the top of this review, the themes are heavy and touch upon a lot of serious issues for women at the time.
I give this one a 4 out of 5!
How do I rate these books?? Click here to find out.
- Top Five Favorite Books Read in 2020
Hello everyone! I saw quite a few bloggers post these end-of-year ‘Top-something” lists, and thought I would try this out. I read a lot of books in 2020, and am still in the process of finishing books from my stack. I surpassed my Goodreads Challenge 2020 goal. I might have to make my goal next year higher. This was definitely one of my most difficult years life-wise, especially when I was dealing with the stress of being furloughed with the pandemic and all. But I’m grateful I had the chance to grow this blog, my book related social media, and speak with so many wonderful book lovers and bloggers. This also was one of my most interesting years, and I learned a ton from the books I read to the experiences I gained, and the things I lost. As far as books goes, I expanded my reading horizons more than I’ve ever done in years past, and started reading outside my comfort zone. I started this blog in 2019, but 2020 was my year of serious growth.
I’m not sure if I’ll do any more of these ‘Top-something” lists, but if you would like to see more or have any ideas – comment below or send me a direct message!
Anyways, I wanted to talk about my top five favorite reads from 2020 and why. This list is in no particular sequential order, and honestly, this was difficult to decide. The criteria for why they’re my favorite is kind of mixed, and not only based on star ratings. Mostly my favorites depend on how this book interested and impacted me. Part of my criteria also goes along with how I rate the books I read in the first place. My rating scale can be found here. Obviously, as always, the opinions are only my own.
First up is A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles! I remember this book felt like a long journey, but it was rewarding indeed. This book was memorable for me, because of how invested I found myself into the story and characters. There was a diverse cast, and at times felt like a lot to follow along, but the fantastical story roped together nicely and the underlying themes were memorable. I enjoy historical fiction novels, even though I do not read a lot of them, but this was definitely my favorite historical fiction novel read in 2020. The elegant details described in the Metropol Hotel, where the story takes place, and its glamorous characters reminded me of a F. Scott Fitzgerald novel. Link to description
The bright orange cover of this book is certainly attractive, but the narrative was even more lively. There There was set up in multiple perspectives, and led up to a typical climactic ending where all the characters come together, but the journey along the way was what sucked me in. Highlighting the struggles of their pasts, contemporary Native Americans grapple with their predicaments and find communion in the present leading up to a big powwow in Oakland. I learned a lot about Native culture and perspective by a Native American author. I focused this year on reading more books by Native voices, and plan to in 2021 as well. Diversifying my reading became important to me, and I’m trying to hold myself accountable to it. There There was a wonderful read by a talented story teller and author, and the themes were powerful and heart-felt. Link to description
3. The Lonely City: Adventures in the Art of Being Alone by Olivia Laing (2016)
Finished: April 6
This was the first book I read after I was furloughed, coincidentally. It was appropriate almost, because I would become a lot lonelier after that event, no longer going to work and having to spend more time by myself. The Lonely City is not only about being lonely, this nonfiction work by the author investigates the different types of loneliness and how artists she researched in New York used and lived through their own version of loneliness. I was more fascinated by this book more than I thought, and the writing itself is more invigorating than the description makes it out to be. You may be wondering why this is one of my favorites even though I gave it 3 stars. This book was one of my favorites, because it was wholly unexpected and more emotionally investing for me than I thought. I have an art background, but had not pondered the concept of loneliness shown through art and the lives of artists until reading this book. I live a more solitary life in general by choice, and am content with it, and I have not seen the experience summed up so well in a book before. But maybe if you’re quarantined, do not read this book. Link to description
4. Death in Her Hands by Ottessa Moshfegh (2020)
Finished: August 4
Ottessa Moshfegh has become one of my favorite authors in the last few years, and I talk about this in my review as well. I was really excited for this book to come out in 2020, despite the release date being pushed back due to the pandemic (probably). And when it finally came out, I was pleasantly surprised by how creeped out this book made me feel. There were so many eerie moments and details that created a strange sense of dread in me. I remember really trying to figure out the mystery of this one. Even though there were a lot of slow moments, I kept wanting to figure out how this book was going to end the entire time. It was one of my favorites, because of how this book made me feel in the end, which I believe was the author’s intention. I also love Moshfegh’s writing in general. Link to description
5. The Undocumented Americans by Karla Cornejo Villavicencio (2020)
Finished: November 11
This book was wholly original and the narrative was fantastic. A work of nonfiction, The Undocumented Americans follows the lives of undocumented persons living in the US and their stories. The stories were intimate and invited the reader into the lives the author interviewed. Villavicencio changed names and some details to protect privacy, but the stories are true. I talk about this in my review as well, but the main reason I loved this book was because it was not just a puff piece trying to change the reader’s hearts about undocumented Americans. But more like an expose into the day-to-day lives of how their status and backgrounds affect their way of life unlike others who have the privilege of being born in the US. It’s not only about the negative social and policy issues someone watches in US news, but how undocumented Americans work as hard as anyone else and the obstacles mentally and physically they face with uncertainty and courage. It’s not ‘poverty porn’ as they call it by any means, its only real life and educating the reader. I highly recommend this book to anyone who lives in the US, despite how one feels about illegal immigration policy. I also enjoyed the author’s perspective as well, coming from an undocumented American who sought out to write a book about friends and strangers who face similar or different issues. As you can see by how passionately I talk about this book, it is definitely one of my favorites. Link to description
Side Note: list is not in any particular, sequential order
- Book Review #38: Winter Counts by David Heska Wanbli Weiden (2020)
Rating: 3.5 out of 5⭐️
Title: Winter Counts: A Novel
Author: David Heska Wanbli Weiden
Published: 2020 (Ecco, HarperCollins, New York)
Pages: 325 (Hardcover)
Genres: Fiction, Thriller, Crime, Suspense
CW: drug use, violence, trauma, death, teen issues, depression, Native American issues, bullying
I hope everyone is having a good week so far and getting ready for the holidays! Whether your holiday is filled with no celebration or absolute shenanigans, I hope you all take advantage of the time where everything does not feel as ordinary. My holidays are going to be pretty quiet this year, but honestly, I do not mind it. I’m excited to finish my year by reading more books before 2021 arrives, and this week I finished my latest, Winter Counts by David Heska Wanbli Weiden. I’ve heard a lot of good things about this one, and I was intrigued by the title and synopsis. I believe this is Weiden’s first novel, and by the end of it I was invested. This novel was good!
“… I remembered what she told me just before she died. ‘Akita mani yo’, she said, See everything as you go. I think she meant that I needed to be aware of the world as it really existed, not the way I wanted it to be. Indian awareness” – David Heska Wanbli Weiden, Winter Counts
Winter Counts is a tale of vigilantism and confronting not just bad guys on the Rosebud Indian Reservation in South Dakota. The tale follows Virgil Wounded Horse, a member of the Lakota Nation, as he tries to raise his teenage nephew Nathan Wounded Horse and lives his life as a local enforcer. Virgil takes justice in his own hands on the reservation by taking revenge on those who do evil things to others and the community. When the police and feds fail them, it’s up to the people of the reservation to solve their own problems, which is how vigilantes like Virgil are made (which is based on true stories, by the way). When Nathan becomes mixed up in a heroin scandal, Virgil comes to his aid to protect his young nephew from getting caught up between US federal and tribal matters. Joined by his ex-girlfriend Marie, Virgil investigates the drug and criminal troubles that have plagued his community. Virgil must also confront his own problems and shortcomings if he is to save Nathan and move forward.
“I don’t know much about justice. But I think the white man has a different idea about it. A lot of our young men are in prison for crimes they didn’t do – maybe they were in the wrong place at the wrong time. But the people come to you for justice, right? When the police won’t do anything about some winyan who got beat up, you’re the one they call. For justice” – David Heska Wanbli Weiden, Winter Counts
The story was incredibly action packed, and there was never a dull moment from start to finish. I normally do not read many novels where the main focus is a vigilante out for justice, but I was impressed. This novel was not only action-filled, but the drama surrounding Virgil’s and Nathan’s predicaments was also captivating. The author takes the time to dive into each character’s backgrounds and feelings, which only created a richer feel in the narrative. He also highlights current Native American cultural and social issues due to the US’s history of oppression and fallacies. But to me, this is only to provide the backstory into the reservation and the character’s motives. The author maintains focus on an almost complete cast of strong and authentic Native American characters, and their stories.
“Even the Supreme Court agreed that the Black Hills had been illegally seized, and the Lakota nation won a big lawsuit against the government in 1980, with hundreds of millions of dollars awarded in damages. But the leaders of the Lakota nations refused to accept the settlement, stating that they wanted the land back, not the money. The government wouldn’t hand over the Hills, and the Lakotas wouldn’t take the blood money, and so the settlement sits in a bank account earning interest, over $1 billion. If the seven Lakota nations were to accept the money and divide it equally among the people, every man, woman and child would get about $25,000 each… As I drove through the Hills, I felt guilty for thinking about the money again, but I resolved to wise up. What did I care about some rocks and valleys?” – David Heska Wanbli Weiden, Winter Counts
The main part of this novel that I was not a fan of was that the big plot twist was predictable. I won’t spoil it (promise!), and this may not be all the reader’s viewpoints, but after the first quarter of the novel after the reader learns the main conflict, I already figured out what the big twist could be. And I was correct, in case you were wondering. But if you can get past that and the general cheesiness of the plot, I think many readers will enjoy this one!
“What I’d discovered was that sadness is like an abandoned car left out in a field for good—it changes a little over the years, but doesn’t ever disappear. You may forget about it for a while, but it’s still there, rusting away, until you notice it again” – David Heska Wanbli Weiden, Winter Counts
I can not only tell that the author is an academic from his writing, which is intelligent and organized. Weiden has had multiple fellowships, and he received his MFA from the Institute of American Indian Arts, and is currently a professor of Native American studies at Metropolitan State University of Denver. He did thorough research, and his background as someone belonging to the Lakota nation gives a valuable perspective into writing a fictional tale about members living on a Lakota reservation. Why should you read this book? If you enjoy energy driven and thrilling novels about Native American vigilantes out for revenge and self-discovery, this is the book for you.
I give this one a 3.5 out of 5!
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- Short Review #25: Mostly Dead Things by Kristen Arnett (2019)
Rating: 3 out of 5 ⭐️
Title: Mostly Dead Things: A Novel
Author: Kristen Arnett
Published: 2019 (Tin House Books, Portland, OR)
Pages: 356 (Hardcover)
Genres: Literary Fiction, Contemporary, LGBTQ, Adult
CW: taxidermy, death, sex, violence, suicide, bodily fluids
Hello, and happy Friday! I hope you all have fun things planned, or experience as much enjoyment as you can this weekend. Overall for me, this week has not been the best by any means and I’m glad it’s coming to a close, but I did have the opportunity to finish Mostly Dead Things by Kristen Arnett. Filled with taxidermy, middle-class sweltering Florida, bizarre reconciliation and broken hearts – Mostly Dead Things is not one to disappoint. This is the first piece of writing I have read by Kristen Arnett, and for many reasons I loved her writing style.
“We spent so much time looking for pieces of ourselves in other people that we never realized they were busy searching for the same things in us” – Kristen Arnett, Mostly Dead Things
The novel is told in Central Florida taxidermist Jessa-Lynn Morton’s point of view, consisting of flashbacks of her experiences and traumas. Jessa’s father has committed suicide inside their beloved family-owned taxidermist shop, and on top of that, her brother Milo’s wife, Brynn, walked out on them and her children out of the blue. Brynn was Jessa’s best friend and love of her life, and she was sleeping with Brynn behind Milo’s back. After Jessa’s mother starts making obscene sculptural art with taxidermy animals in lewd sexual positions, the family’s issues start bubbling to the surface and Jessa starts to realize something needs to change. This novel deals with major issues and then some such as grief, family crises, fitting in and accepting yourself.
“Though I planned out everything, my life was somehow made up of an endless series of unwanted surprises” – Kristen Arnett, Mostly Dead Things
The characters were witty, and the story was darkly comedic and gritty. I did not absolutely love this novel, but the writing was by far the most captivating part. The language was highly descriptive of the dirty details a lot of authors will brush over, especially when it came to blood and dirt. This left a raw and vulnerable feel in Arnett’s writing, which added to the heart of the story. She’s definitely a fantastic writer, and the literary aspects of the story were directed well.
“Say the word love and it’s there for you; say the word love and the other person feels it too. What I should have told him that day: love makes you an open wound, susceptible to infection. But he was young then and so was I, and I wanted their happiness more than my own” – Kristen Arnett, Mostly Dead Things
Why should you read this book? If you like LGBTQ literary dramas about taxidermists in Central Florida and you don’t mind reading about anatomical functions, this is the book for you. Definitely give this book a chance if you’re thinking of expanding your LGBTQ repertoire reading, and if you’re ready to feel quite a few emotions.
I give this a 3 out of 5!
How do I rate the books I review?? Click here to find out!
- Book Review #37: The Glass Hotel by Emily St. John Mandel (2020)
Rating: 4 out of 5⭐️
Title: The Glass Hotel: A Novel
Author: Emily St. John Mandel
Published: 2020 (Alfred A. Knopf, New York)
Pages: 302 (Hardcover)
Genres: Literary Fiction, Mystery Thriller, Contemporary
CW: drug use, vandalism, death, violence, trauma, financial hardships
This has been the longest week, but I made it through with some books and some coffee! And speaking of books, this week I read The Glass Hotel by Emily St. John Mandel. I’ve been wanting to read this one for a while, and I finally received a copy after being on a long wait list at my local library. I’ve seen a lot of praise for this one, and some mixed reviews as well. But after spending some time with this one, I really liked it by the end.
“One of our signature flaws as a species: we will risk almost anything to avoid looking stupid” – Emily St. John Mandel, The Glass Hotel
This novel was written in the perspective of a lot of characters connected by the same events… like so many characters I stopped trying to count. This type of narrative luckily brought a lot of meaning to the dialogue, otherwise I probably would not have been able to follow the sporadic style jumping back and forth between each character/year. The story focuses around a central group of characters connected by a five-star hotel on an island off the coast of British Columbia and a Ponzi scheme led by the hotel’s owner and finance guru, Jonathan Alkaitis. The story jumps around a number of years in the 2000s. Focusing on Jonathan himself, and a bartender-turned millionaire’s trophy wife-turned-ship employee named Vincent, and a drug addicted composer named Paul, and an aging shipping executive named Leon, the wildly different cast of characters connects and fulfills their separate destinies. Their narrative is connected by bond on a similar meta-level.
“I’m no expert, but I remember reading somewhere, every time you retrieve a memory, that act of retrieval, it corrupts the memory a little bit. Maybe changes it a little” – Emily St. John Mandel, The Glass Hotel
As you might be able to tell, this book can be difficult to describe. This novel is a mysterious thriller, but at the same time it reminds me of author David Mitchell’s sort of speculative writing and prose. The beginning for me was rather slow, but after the first quarter it picked up quickly until I was turning page after page, trying to anticipate what would happen next. At first I was afraid I was not going to like this one, but after I became invested, I knew I was going to keep enjoying it. The end was so-so (I won’t spoil it here), but at least it wasn’t a completely incomplete ending for such speculative a novel.
“Give me quiet, he thought, give me forests and ocean and no roads. Give me the walk to the village through the woods in summer, give me the sound of wind in cedar branches, give me mist rising over the water, give me the view of green branches from my bathtub in the mornings. Give me a place with no people in it, because I will never fully trust another person again” – Emily St. John Mandel, The Glass Hotel
This is the first book I’ve read by Mandel, but I’ve heard her other novels are very good. And I don’t read many books that take place partially in Canada so that was interesting for me as well. The way the author brings insight into her characters made this novel worthwhile, and it made me really interested (yet temporarily) in the finance world and the collapses of Ponzi schemes. The story itself was well written, and the plot development came together nicely eventually.
“… You know how rare it is to work with someone who loves their life?” – Emily St. John Mandel, The Glass Hotel
Why should you read this book? If you love mysterious and contemporary thrillers that bring speculative insight into the finance world and bonds between damaged persons, this is the book for you. Overall, this novel explored a lot of themes about being human, and how we deal with our ghosts. It can be a lot to take in at times, but this novel will keep you thinking.
I give this one a 4 out of 5!
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- Short Review #24: The Invention of Sound by Chuck Palahniuk (2020)
Rating: 3 out of 5 ⭐️
Title: The Invention of Sound: A Novel
Author: Chuck Palahniuk
Published: 2020 (Grand Central Publishing, New York)
Pages: 229 (Hardcover)
Genres: Fiction, Horror, Thriller, Adult, Contemporary
CW: Ages 18+ Only, Sex, Violence, Child Death, Strong Language, References to Child Molestation
I hope everyone is having a great Thanksgiving weekend so far! Mine has been filled with too much hot apple cider (not complaining though). To celebrate such an American holiday, I finished a book by an author that has used his writing in the past to formulate satire about American societal culture. I have to say, I am not the biggest fan of Chuck Palahniuk’s writing. He’s written such globally popular books, he has made some good points about culture, his set ups are scathing, and he’s formed excellent and twisted story lines. And a few books have been turned into movies. But his writing is what gets me. It feels like he’s rushing through his books, and the writing feels messy. Definitely my opinion only, and this doesn’t get better in his newest release, The Invention of Sound.
“Since the dawn of films when young women had been tied to railroad tracks and tied to logs sent into huge sawmill blades, Hollywood had never lacked new ways to take pretty girls apart” – Chuck Palahniuk, The Invention of Sound
I was really skeptical about the plot, but honestly I ended up liking the execution in the end. The novel centers around two perspectives: Gates Foster, a father who lost his 7 year old daughter Lucinda a long time ago who is obsessed with finding out what happened to her, along with trying to punish child molesters everywhere. And Mitzi Ives, a young, reserved Foley artist who creates screams for movies by taking over her father’s business. Her screams are in high demand in Hollywood, and sound a little too realistic…
“Taco Tuesday. Only in prisons and aboard submarines were people more excited about food than they were in office jobs” – Chuck Palahniuk, The Invention of Sound
Of course, their stories connect and the book’s ending is in true Palahniuk fashion. I think if I was a bigger Palahniuk fan, I would like this book more. But the plot, for being incredibly basic sounding, was executed really well and I looked forward to what happened next. The perspectives between Mitzi and Foster change very quickly (sometimes paragraph to paragraph) back and forth. But I found I was still able to follow along. Full of 18+ subject matter including violence and a lot of sex, I wouldn’t read this unless you are an adult, for sure. Even though his books are very good, I do find him a bit overrated due to his major success with publications like Fight Club.
“‘A major trait of psychopaths,’ she explained, ‘is that they don’t yawn when people around them yawn. Psychopaths don’t feel empathy. They lack the mirror neurons’” – Chuck Palahniuk, The Invention of Sound (Side note: this is actually true, I fact checked it here)
When I read Chuck Palahniuk, I imagine him writing in a dingy basement somewhere in a large city on some type of drug or too much coffee on a typewriter. I even found a few blatant grammar errors, but I’m hoping it was on purpose… It might have been. Anyways, why should you read this book? If you like Chuck Palahniuk’s writing or enjoy fast-paced thrillers about questionable and risque subject matter full of violence and redemption, this is the book for you.
I give this one a 3 out of 5!
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- Short Review #23: Verity by Colleen Hoover (2018)
Rating: 3.5 out of 5 ⭐️
Author: Colleen Hoover
Published: 2018 (Hoover Ink, Inc)
Pages: 314 (Paperback)
Genres: Fiction, Thriller, Romance, Suspense, Adult
CW: Ages 18+, Death, Murder, Sexual Content, Cancer, Mental Illness
Hello everyone! I have not posted in a while, because I needed to take a break from writing reviews. I’ve been doing plenty of reading and posting on my social media, but I needed to take a step back and make sure I still enjoyed writing on my blog. I still want to look forward to reading at the end of the day, and not because I need to post about it. Reading is a large passion and comfort, and keeping sight of that is important to me.
“Some families are lucky enough to never experience a single tragedy. But then there are those families that seem to have tragedies waiting on the back burner. What can go wrong, goes wrong. And then gets worse” – Colleen Hoover, Verity
Anyways, now I’m ready to talk about my latest read, Verity by Colleen Hoover. I kept seeing Colleen Hoover’s name all over my social media, and I decided I needed to give one of her books a chance. Hoover is the author of Young Adult, thriller and romance books… and more. Her books have attracted a lot of attention for their well-rounded characters, and she seems to enjoy mixing multiple genres and themes. By the end of Verity, I understood the hype and I was surprisingly struck by this book.
The book centers around female protagonist, Lowen Ashleigh, a flailing and failing young writer on the brink of financial ruin after the passing of her mother. Lowen is ready to lose all hope until she receives an incredible offer – to ghost write and finish a series by one of the most acclaimed, best selling fiction authors, Verity Crawford. Lowen is hired by Verity’s attractive husband, Jeremy. Lowen finds out Verity was in a terrible car accident that left her partially brain dead, and Jeremy essentially takes care of her full-time in their Vermont home. As Lowen spends time in their home researching and pouring over Verity’s notes on the series, she discovers a sinister manuscript written by Verity that leaves Lowen asking questions about what Verity was like before her accident and how it connects to the death of her twin daughters.
I do not want to give away too much, but this plot gets juicier as the book goes on up until the climactic end. The plot is essentially my favorite part of the book. I enjoy the way Hoover writes about her characters, and the details and twists were imaginative. This was a perfect and entertaining combination of a thriller and romance. And please keep in mind, the sex scenes are… descriptive and explicit, I definitely did not expect that. And this book definitely becomes very dark at times with disturbing elements. This book was a nice change of pace to what I’ve been reading recently, and overall the mood felt more unhinged as the story went on.
Why should you read this book? If you enjoy adult romance and thriller books that leave you on the edge of your seat with mildly disturbing elements, this is the book for you. Verity is also one of Hoover’s self-published projects and not through her main publisher, Atria Books at Simon & Schuster. I haven’t read a self-published book in a while, and I did not find anything negative because it was.
I give this a 3.5 out of 5!
- Book Review #36: The Midnight Library by Matt Haig (2020)
Rating: 4 out of 5 ⭐️
Title: The Midnight Library: A Novel
Author: Matt Haig
Published: 2020 (Viking, Random House)
Pages: 288 (Hardcover)
Genres: Contemporary Fiction, Science Fiction, Adult, Mental Health
CW: death, addiction, mental health topics, suicide
I just finished my next read with a beautiful view on a clear day in the park (pictured above). On the West Coast, the weather is not too shabby this time of year in the fall! It did not take me long to finish the new fiction release, The Midnight Library by Matt Haig. This is the first book I’ve read by Haig, but I heard a lot of good things about his writing. His latest book has a lot of hype over the internet. He is a children’s book and speculative fiction author who is widely known for his writing, and commentary on mental health.
“Between life and death there is a library, and within that library, the shelves go on forever. Every book provides a chance to try another life you could have lived. To see how things would be if you had made other choices… Would you have done anything different, if you had the chance to undo your regrets?” – Matt Haig, The Midnight Library
By the end of this contemporary novel I was hooked, and couldn’t put it down! The story centers around Nora Seed, a young woman who is having a difficult time and contemplates dying. She then finds herself in the Midnight Library, a place between life and death where she can change her circumstances, and live a different life in a number of parallel universes. She faces her regrets, and begins to see things as they really are throughout the book as she decides which ‘book’ or universe she wants to live in. Nora slowly learns what makes life worth living, and rethinks her outlook. The characters and story are enchanting from start to finish. There’s a fantastical but dismal quality about Haig’s writing not only from the plot.
“A person was like a city. You couldn’t let a few less desirable parts put you off the whole. There may be bits you don’t like, a few dodgy side streets and suburbs, but the good stuff makes it worthwhile” – Matt Haig, The Midnight Library
My first thought was that this book reminded me of a more contemporary It’s a Wonderful Life. But it’s a female protagonist, takes place mostly in a cosmic library, and not meant to be shown around Christmas time… among other reasons. Haig appropriately describes mental health issues through Nora with honesty and succinct directness. This novel makes great points about putting life and the choices we make in perspective. It was encouraging with a lot of quips that sounded like they were from an inspirational book, and also a little saddening at the same time. I also found myself connecting to the characters almost immediately, and they felt incredibly human.
“Maybe it wasn’t the lack of achievements that had made her and her brother’s parents unhappy, maybe it was the expectation to achieve in the first place” – Matt Haig, The Midnight Library
This book was a little hard to get into at the beginning, but once the details and plot lines started to connect, the story became more engrossing. The structure of the novel is definitely contemporary, and causes the reader to really follow the details. And Haig has a surreal writing style which I loved, and definitely added to the fantastical realism elements. I also liked how he describes small, everyday details with such purpose. The ending itself though was my favorite part, and basically made the rest of the book worth it. I won’t give any spoilers away though.
“If you aim to be something you are not, you will always fail. Aim to be you. Aim to look and act and think like you. Aim to be the truest version of you. Embrace that you-ness. Endorse it. Love it. Work hard at it. And don’t give a second thought when people mock it or ridicule it. Most gossip is envy in disguise” – Matt Haig, The Midnight Library
Why should you read this book? If you’re a fan of contemporary fiction with magical and cosmic parallel universes addressing life’s greatest problem which is navigating it itself, this is the book for you.
I give this book a 4 out of 5!
Also, on a complete side note, I’ve decided to start linking the books I write about on one of my favorite sites, Bookshop, instead of Amazon. I don’t know if it will be a permanent thing on my blog yet, but I just learned about them and I love the organization. It’s a one-stop book seller to support independent book stores across the US and UK, they donate most of their sales to independent bookstores. You can also buy from a specific bookstore on the site or have the proceeds from your sale sent to the store directly.
How do I rate the books I write about? Click here!