- Short Review #14: The Only Good Indians by Stephen Graham Jones (2020)
Rating: 4 out of 5 ⭐️
Title: The Only Good Indians: A Novel
Author: Stephen Graham Jones
Published: 2020 (Saga Press, New York)
Pages: 310 (Hardcover)
Genres: Thriller, Horror, Fiction, Native American
*Disclaimers: Recommend for 17+, strong horror themes and commentary
Today is National Book Lovers Day! I didn’t know about it until I looked at Instagram today. Still, I’m happy to spend this time talking about a great book by a new author for me. And it was a bone chilling one indeed. I heard a lot of good things about this new release since it came out last month. The premise of The Only Good Indians sounded mysterious, and it had been awhile since I’ve read a horror novel from a new author. Also, the title was a little alarming, and caught my interest.
“The ladder tilts the opposite way, like it doesn’t want to be involved in anything this ugly, and all of this is in the slowest possible motion for Lewis, his head snapping as many pictures as it can on the way down, like they can stack up under him, break his fall” – Stephen Graham Jones, The Only Good Indians
Native American author, Stephen Graham Jones, has written 15 novels and is a fan of the horror/slasher genre. After reading his newest book, I may have to read some of his others! He comes highly praised for his writing and stories, and I couldn’t agree more. The Only Good Indians is a novel of revenge and suspense surrounding four close friends – Lewis, Ricky, Gabe and Cassidy- who grew up together on the same Blackfeet reservation. After an ill fated elk hunting trip in their youth, the four become literally haunted by their past mistake, and are hunted down by an unknown entity one-by-one.
Jones does a wonderful job building suspense and setting the scene through his writing. He also integrates commentary on Native cultural identity and tradition in between his character’s interactions and internal struggles. Jones definitely has a different voice when it comes to creating horror, and there were certain moments where I felt the hairs on the back of my neck raise. The story was fairly original, perfectly executed, and definitely unexpected. Why should you read this book? If you’re looking for a thrilling, horror novel binding together supernatural revenge and cultural identity, you have the right book.
I give this book a 4 out of 5! (Because honestly, I couldn’t see why not. I love a well-done horror novel)
- Book Review #28: Death in Her Hands by Ottessa Moshfegh (2020)
Review: 4 out of 5 ⭐️
Title: Death in Her Hands: A Novel
Author: Ottessa Moshfegh
Published: 2020 (Penguin Press, New York)
Pages: 259 (Hardcover)
Genres: Fiction, Literary Fiction, Suspense, Thriller, Adult
*Disclaimer: Contains sexuality and strong language/themes, Recommended for 17+
Hello! First of all, another thing you need to know about me is that I love Ottessa Moshfegh’s writing. I loved her writing before I started this blog. The first book I read by her was Eileen, and the story has haunted me ever since. This is my first review on the blog regarding a work by Moshfegh, and I cannot communicate how excited I am to be talking about her newest release. Moshfegh is a fiction writer from New England who has written two novels, a novella and a book of short stories. She has been nominated for, and a winner of, literary awards and grants.
“It’s very stressful to be plucked from one world and plunked down in another. One loses her roots, no matter how hard traditions are clung to. I’d seen it in my parents – traditions change. Food, holidays, modes of dresses. One assimilates, or forever lives as though in exile” – Ottessa Moshfegh, Death in Her Hands
Now, back to Death in Her Hands – a book with a literally haunting cover. I saw there were more negative reviews than I thought there would be. But I was not entirely surprised. Death in Her Hands is a novel narrated by an elderly woman named Vesta, who just lost her long-time husband Walter, and moves across the country to a small town and buys a cabin remote in the woods to start over. She lives alone, almost in complete isolation, with her dog, Charlie. Vesta lives for her routine until she comes across a mysterious note in the woods that says, Her name was Magda. Nobody will ever know who killed her. It wasn’t me. Here is her dead body. This note begins a spiral and adventure for Vesta as she investigates this supposed murder, and tries to solve the mystery behind the note and its author.
“There is nothing more heartbreaking than a squandered opportunity, a missed chance. I knew about stuff like that. I’d been young once. So many dreams had been dashed. But I dashed them myself. I wanted to be safe, whole, have a future of certainty. One makes mistakes when there is confusion between having a future at all and having the future one wants” – Ottessa Moshfegh, Death in Her Hands
This book left me asking a lot of questions and evaluating every hint, every word. Honestly, I loved it. Despite already being bias towards her writing, this novel was well-written, insightful, and penetrating. Moshfegh dives into Vesta’s inner most thoughts, and invades a vision of the comfortable American rural life. Vesta faces challenges, interruptions and recalls her days with Walter in her grief. This novel was also suspenseful, and the mystery kept me on my toes at every page. I can see how redundant and almost too confusingly ominous the novel could be, but I think it was the author’s intention to make the reader uncomfortable and keep them guessing about Vesta’s state of mind.
“It was enough for me, I’d thought, but I didn’t know what I really deserved. I’d deserved what any nice young lady deserves” – Ottessa Moshfegh, Death in Her Hands
Why should you read this book? This novel is fascinating, personal and a captivating mystery and thriller. The concept was fairly original, or if anything, it was unusual and there are not many like this. Through Vesta, Moshfegh dives into feelings kept private in day-to-day life, such as feeling like an outcast, insecure, and being obsessed over coincidental details. Prepared to be challenged, and pay attention to the details if you, reader, dive into this book. This story is not for the faint of heart.
I give this book a 4 out of 5!
Click here to read about how I rate the books I write about on this blog!
- Book Review #27: Home Before Dark by Riley Sager (2020)
Rating: 3 out of 5⭐️
Title: Home Before Dark: A Novel
Author: Riley Sager
Published: 2020 (Dutton, Penguin Random House)
Pages: 384 (Hardcover)
Genres: Thriller, Horror, Mystery, Fiction
*Disclaimer: Recommended for ages 18+
I was excited to finally have the opportunity to read Riley Sager’s fourth and newest release, Home Before Dark. I read all three of Sager’s previous novels, Lock Every Door, The Last Time I Lied, and Final Girls. I wrote reviews for the more recent two around when I first started this blog, and I definitely enjoyed his campy thrillers. So when I heard his newest book was being released, reading this one was a must! There were many and mixed reviews online about this book. Many 4 and 5 star reviews, but quite a few negative reviews. More negative reviews than what I expected from one of his books. I went into this novel with an open mind, and tried not to compare it to other similar horror/mystery plot lines, like the synopsis reveals. The more famously mentioned ones that I found are: The Haunting of Hill House (TV series/book) and Amityville Horror (book/movie).
“Every house has a story to tell” – Riley Sager, Home Before Dark
The plot centers around Maggie Holt, a troubled and willful designer and home renovator, whose life is made famous by her father’s book called ‘House of Horrors’. The book reveals the supernatural horrors Maggie’s father Ewan, mother Jess, and 5 year-old Maggie experienced inside their home, Baneberry Hall, a Victorian estate in Vermont. When Maggie’s father passes away, she discovers he left her Baneberry Hall, the place that caused the book that ruined her life. When Maggie goes to Vermont to renovate and eventually sell the estate, a turn of events lead Maggie to start asking some bigger questions about what exactly happened at Baneberry Hall 20 years ago.
This book was basically as expected, and entertaining as hell. I heavily enjoyed this spooky novel, and the only major problem I had with this book was the ending (which will not be spoiled in this review). I felt like this book differed from Sager’s typically novels with more suspense and horror. Even more than Lock Every Door, which also had a little more of a supernatural element. Some moments in Home Before Dark put you on the edge of your seat. The dual perspectives between the protagonist, Maggie, and chapters from her father’s book regarding the haunting flowed, and were refreshing to the story. I probably would have considered giving this one 4 stars if the ending was better and not so rushed.
“Few things in life are more disappointing than knowing your parents aren’t being honest with you” – Riley Sager, Home Before Dark
Definitely give this one a chance. It was a quick read, spooky and kept me guessing at every turn. Sager uses all the typical haunted house tropes, which made this book appear cheesy. But if there is any indication the story seems copied from another book/movie/TV show, I think it’s purposefully done as a homage, and not to steal from another author. Why should you read this book? Read this one if you’re looking for an easy, supernatural haunted house thriller with a lot of campy lines and situations. This is typical Riley Sager, but in a haunted estate.
Overall, I give this a 3 out of 5!
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- Short Review #13: Sudden Death by Álvaro Enrigue (2016 English Translation)
Rating: 3 out of 5 ⭐️
Title: Sudden Death: A Novel
Author: Álvaro Enrigue, Translator – Natasha Wimmer
Published: 2016, English (Riverhead Books – orig. 2013 Anagrama)
Pages: 272 (Hardcover)
Genres: Literary Fiction, Latinx, Historical, Postmodern
*Disclaimers: Novel contains sexual content and strong language
Good evening and maybe good morning to some of you! I have not posted in a while, because I started working again (Yay! I was so not getting stir crazy…). So I have a little less time for reading, blogging and reviewing. But here I am, because I finally got through the crazy, surreal book called Sudden Death by Álvaro Enrigue. This one was a trip to read, indeed.
“Maybe all books are written simply because in every game the bad guys have the advantage and that is too much to bear” – Álvaro Enrigue, Sudden Death
I had mixed feelings about this novel. It was difficult for me at first, but once I understood how the author was telling the story, I appreciated it more. The author jumps through different exaggerated and almost truthful moments in 16th century history, while breaking the fourth wall it seems sometimes to this century. He reflects on using history and literature to better understand the world, and dove into some audacious historical figures. I also never understood how complicated the history of tennis was until I read about it in Enrigue’s novel. His writing is emotion-driven, filled with dry humor and bordering the postmodern. I would have loved to read this book in the original Spanish to understand the author’s true meaning, but unfortunately, my Spanish understanding is pretty bad. The author was even hilariously bias of translation in the novel.
“The sole duty of a writer is to minister to his readers: to liberate them from inexactitude out of respect for the mysterious and touching pact of loyalty that they make with books” – Álvaro Enrigue, Sudden Death
I would only read this book if you can get past the punching style, and backwards way he tells the story. It is not a traditional beginning-middle-end kind of novel. The story in itself is unique, at least to me. I would have given it a higher rating, but some of the story is rather slow and dense. And it was not even the philosophical elements that made it slow for me. I would say if the synopsis sounds good to you, reader, give this book a chance!
Overall, I give this book a 3 out of 5!
P.S. Here is part of the synopsis from Goodreads anyways:
“Sudden Death begins with a brutal tennis match that could decide the fate of the world. The bawdy Italian painter Caravaggio and the loutish Spanish poet Quevedo battle it out before a crowd that includes Galileo, Mary Magdalene, and a generation of popes who would throw Europe into the flames. In England, Thomas Cromwell and Henry VIII behead Anne Boleyn, and her crafty executioner transforms her legendary locks into the most sought-after tennis balls of the time. Across the ocean in Mexico, the last Aztec emperors play their own games, as conquistador Hernán Cortés and his Mayan translator and lover, La Malinche, scheme and conquer, fight and f**k, not knowing that their domestic comedy will change the world. And in a remote Mexican colony a bishop reads Thomas More’s Utopia and thinks that instead of a parody, it’s a manual”
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- Book Review #26: The Sellout by Paul Beatty (2015)
Review: 4 out of 5 ⭐️
Title: The Sellout: A Novel
Author: Paul Beatty
Published: 2015 (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, New York)
Pages: 289 (Hardcover)
Genres: Literary Fiction, Humor, Satire, Race in America
Disclaimers: Book contains strong language and sexual content, recommended for 18+
Hello everyone! This week I read the almost incomparable novel, The Sellout by Paul Beatty. This is the first novel I have read by Beatty, and I felt truly shocked throughout reading this one. The Sellout was a sort of genius, brash and humorous narrative about racism in America. But it was highly unexpected.
“…You have to ask yourself two questions, Who am I? And how may I become myself?” – Paul Beatty, The Sellout
Do not go into this novel believing this is a politically-correct, eloquent conversation about racism. This book challenges a ‘post-racial America’ with bitter satire and highly clever prose. The narrator is a black man living in the erased fictional town of Dickens in the Los Angeles-area trying to find himself and his purpose. Nicknamed “Bonbon”, our narrator is a farmer and comedian trying to save his town that no one wants to bring back due to city-wide embarrassment by reinstating segregation (and inconsequentially, slavery), landing him in the Supreme Court.
“My father had a theory that poor people are the best drivers because they can’t afford to carry car insurance and have to drive like they live, defensively” – Paul Beatty, The Sellout
This novel had me saying ‘oh my god’ out loud to myself several times. Another reviewer on Goodreads described this book as if “Kurt Vonnegut and Dave Chappelle had a baby”, and I agree. The novel read like poetry and comedy perfectly combined. It was not meant to make the reader comfortable, and the writing and story came off almost as pure absurdity. But I believe it was intentional, and I mean that as a compliment. This book is a craftily curated satire about what it means to be black in America. To me, this novel felt like a rejection of the White Gaze from a black voice, and it was wonderfully told.
“Daddy never believed in closure. He said it was a false psychological concept. Something invented by therapists to assuage white Western guilt. In all his years of study and practice, he’d never heard a patient of color talk of needing ‘closure’. They needed revenge. They needed distance. Forgiveness and a good lawyer maybe, but never closure. He said people mistake suicide, murder, lap band surgery, interracial marriage, and overtipping for closure, when in reality what they’ve achieved is erasure” – Paul Beatty, The Sellout
Why should you read this book? I recommend this book to anyone who wants to deep dive into the notions of racism in America from a different viewpoint, who also want a dash of satire-like comedy. This book was written by Paul Beatty, a black author who won the Booker Prize in 2016 for this novel among other awards and nominations for his writing, including fiction, non-fiction and poetry. I would read something else by this author.
“That’s the problem with history, we like to think it’s a book—that we can turn the page and move the fuck on. But history isn’t the paper it’s printed on. It’s memory, and memory is time, emotions, and song. History is the things that stay with you” – Paul Beatty, The Sellout
Again, his writing is stellar. I almost gave this book 5⭐️ based solely on the writing, which hit the mark and beyond on quality, enjoyment and ability. This book is a ride itself, and challenges the reader’s viewpoint. The metaphors and narratives are dripping with humor and creativity. At first, this book seems brash, but I encourage the reader to keep going, because the story heads in unpredictable and entertaining directions.
I give this one a 4 out of 5!
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- Book Review #25: Dominicana by Angie Cruz (2019)
Review: 4 out of 5 ⭐️
Title: Dominicana: A Novel
Author: Angie Cruz
Published: 2019 (Flatiron Books, New York)
Genres: Literary Fiction, Historical, Coming-of-Age, Latinx
*Disclaimers: Book contains sexual content and domestic violence
I have two reviews in one week, since I read this last one in 3 days! Surgery recovery has left me with a lot less to do. Yesterday I finished reading the coming-of-age, American Dream novel, Dominicana by Angie Cruz. I started this book on the Fourth of July holiday, while resting up from my surgery. This explains the plastic, festive star necklaces in the picture above. But considering the Fourth of July holiday reminds me that the US was built by immigrants, I thought it was an appropriate time to start reading a novel about a young girl from the Dominican Republic coming to the US. Plus this book has been on my TBR list for awhile.
“Dreaming is good to do when you’re sleeping. But as long as we’re awake, nobody wants to go hungry” – Angie Cruz, Dominicana
Dominicana was a charming novel filled with dynamic characters and a vividly told story. Taking place in 1965, the story centers on Ana Canción, a 15-year-old girl who marries a man named Juan Ruiz, who is twice Ana’s age, in order to come to America and start a new life. Living in New York soon becomes a struggle as Ana adjusts to a new country very much unlike her own. And being kept to her apartment in Washington Heights by her controlling husband does not help either. After Juan leaves to go to the Dominican Republic to protect his family’s assets during political upheaval, Ana begins to experience a freer way of living in her new country when she starts spending time with Juan’s younger brother César, and is left with choices she was not prepared to make.
“In New York I’ll have a closet full of dresses and jewelry. All kinds of purses and shoes. And Juan will pay for me to go to the salon every week and get my nails done. And he’ll take me to see shows and we’ll go dancing with live bands. And our house will be full of his friends and family. Every day will feel like a party” – Angie Cruz, Dominicana
I loved this book! Maybe that is why I read this one in 3 days. The story had me hooked as soon as I started reading. The book acutely shows what being an immigrant in the US is like through Ana’s eyes and dreams. I loved Ana’s character, along with her vulnerability shown through her actions and inner thoughts. The author, Angie Cruz, based the novel off her mother’s story. In the Acknowledgements section of the book, Cruz talks about the research done to accurately represent the Washington Heights’ Dominican community and immigration stories, which only makes this novel better. I was hooked on Cruz’s writing style, which is easy to digest and straightforward, but also full of figurative details about each character and scene.
“A man doesn’t know what he thinks until a woman makes him think it” – Angie Cruz, Dominicana
I recommend this book if you’re looking for a historical fiction novel centered around a wonderful US immigration tale and coming-of-age story. Through tales of family and discovery, Cruz transports the reader into Ana’s tumultuous and eye-opening story. I did not have many complaints about this one, and I almost gave it 5 stars (which I never do, if you follow my blog). The only downside is that this was not the most overwhelming or capturing story ever read, and felt some details could have been better resolved. But this should not sway you, reader, from taking a chance on this book!
I give this book a 4 out of 5!
- Short Review #12: Happy & You Know It by Laura Hankin (2020)
Rating: 3 out of 5 ⭐️
Title: Happy & You Know It: A Novel
Author: Laura Hankin
Published: 2020 (Berkley, New York)
Genres: Contemporary Fiction, Thriller, Chick Lit, Adult
Hello! I have not published a review in a while, because I recently broke my left wrist and just had surgery. I’m doing okay though, and resting up this holiday weekend. I hope everyone is having a fun weekend, or for some of us a fun long weekend.
“Someday when you’ve got a screaming infant… I hope the people you encounter are understanding… And I hope you are so, so grateful that not everyone is a d*ckhead like you” – Laura Hankin, Happy & You Know It
This book was fun to read! Hankin’s witty and gripping story kept me glued from beginning to end, and was a good distraction from my current medical issues. The novel centers on Claire Martin, a young woman who is down on her luck after being kicked out of her band right before they made it big. She takes a job as a playgroup musician for a group of wealthy New York stay-at-home moms and their babies. Afterwards of course, chaos ensues. The story is told from the perspectives of key characters in the group as well, like gorgeous leader and mom influencer of the group Whitney, former fabulous career woman turned stay-at-home mom Amara, and type-A observant Gwen.
The story is a sharp telling of motherhood in hilarious and sometimes dark situations. It’s even entertaining for someone who doesn’t have children like me. The twists were also well executed, and one of them I really didn’t expect. I would not read this book if you cannot sit through books told in a feminine perspective.
Overall, this novel is an entertaining easy-read for those who enjoy satirical writing about the social issues women face as mothers and those who are unsure about becoming mothers. Filled with scandal and mystery, this book is about more than a group of woman who drink wine during the day at their children’s playgroups.
I give this a 3 out of 5!
*DISCLAIMER: Book contains light sexual themes, recommended for ages 18+*
- Book Review #24: Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens (2018)
Rating: 4 out of 5 ⭐️
Title: Where the Crawdads Sing: A Novel
Author: Delia Owens
Published: 2018 (G.P. Putnam’s Sons, New York)
Genres: Fiction, Historical Fiction, Murder-Mystery
“That’s what sisters and girlfriends are all about. Sticking together even in the mud, ’specially in mud” – Delia Owens, Where the Crawdads Sing
I saw so many reviews of this book online, I almost thought about not writing one. It was published in 2018, and I still see this book spoken about regularly in 2020 like it came out yesterday. Maybe it has to do with the fact that this book topped The New York Times Fiction Best Sellers of 2019 and 2020. This is the author’s, Delia Owens, first novel. She has a zoology background, and that knowledge shines forth in the descriptions of nature and wildlife in Where the Crawdads Sing.
“Female fireflies draw in strange males with dishonest signals and eat them; mantis females devour their own mates. Female insects, Kya thought, know how to deal with their lovers” – Delia Owens, Where the Crawdads Sing
I really enjoyed this book! I can’t believe I waited until now to read it. The story is heartwarming, exquisite and thought-provoking. This novel centers around the coming-of-age story of Catherine “Kya” Clark as she grows from child to young woman. Abandoned at a young age, Kya learns to fend for herself in the marshes of rural North Carolina, and the earth becomes her mother and teacher. She becomes known as “Marsh Girl” to the rest of her town, and is treated like an outsider. Kya becomes entangled with two men, as friends and more. One of them tells their own perspective for a portion of the book. Kya builds a full and lonely life for herself over the course of her story, until a popular young man in town named Chase Andrews is murdered. Then all eyes are on Kya and an investigation ensues.
“I wadn’t aware that words could hold so much. I didn’t know a sentence could be so full” – Delia Owens, Where the Crawdads Sing
Where the Crawdads Sing has quite a few themes. The book touches between the natural world and the world of man, and how they’re connected through Kya’s observations. There were many notable and beautiful quotes (as you can probably tell by how many quotes I cite in this review). Kya’s story is completely human, and the author built her shy and perceptive character so well. The author investigates what loneliness truly means, and it is not choosing to be alone. She also centers on belonging and the natural world in line with man. The murder-mystery twist kept me on my toes, and I devoured page after page wondering what was going to happen next.
“She’d given love a chance; now she wanted simply to fill the empty spaces. Ease the loneliness while walling off her heart” – Delia Owens, Where the Crawdads Sing
I recommend reading this book if you’re looking for a heartfelt and sometimes sad story, balanced with murder and suspense. Where the Crawdads Sing was surprising for how romantic it seemed by the description, but the story was much more. I suggest going into reading this with an open mind. The beginning was a little slow, but the book picks up after the first quarter.
“Don’t go on thinking poetry’s just for sissies. There’s mushy love poems, for sure, but there’s also funny ones, lots about nature, war even. Whole point of it-they make ya feel something” – Delia Owens, Where the Crawdads Sing
Overall, I give this book a 4 out of 5!
- Short Review #11: God Shot by Chelsea Bieker (2020)
Review: 3 out of 5 ⭐️
Title: God Shot: A Novel
Author: Chelsea Bieker
Published: 2020 (Catapult, New York)
Genres: Fiction, Contemporary, Literary
Hello everyone! I had mixed feelings about this debut novel. God Shot is the first novel by author Chelsea Bieker. As much as I enjoyed Bieker’s writing, this book left me feeling a little raw and disturbed. Maybe it was me being triggered, but I was surprised at how adversely I felt towards this book. The story was redeeming towards the end, but overall I thought it was powerful because of the central theme.
“I decided then to tell Artichoke to be ugly. To make herself as ugly as possible and not worry too much about beauty or what anyone thought of her. To be unpainted, to live in the breeze and stand under waterfalls and not be worried over the height of mountains, of quiet trails deep in the woods. To not be scared of roads slick with rain, of valleys dry in drought. I’d tell her ‘no fear’ and she’d know it was the deepest truth and she would be everything I was not. She would be wild and free. And I wouldn’t worry because I knew the secret. That through all of her ugliness, all her hiking and running and jumping and falling and getting back up and saying no and saying what she wanted, her scraped hands, her freckled skin, her smart brain, she would of course be beautiful” – Chelsea Bieker, God Shot
God Shot takes place in a small town outside of Fresno, CA called Peaches, where a religious cult-like group practices led by a charismatic man named Pastor Vern. The story centers around a young member of the cult named Lacey May, and is told from her perspective. Lacey’s alcoholic mother abandons her, and is sent to live with her grandmother named Cherry. Lacey goes through her own hardships while left on her own, and searches for her missing mother. The forceful title resembles the book’s character, but the glittery background on the cover does not resemble the book’s grit. The novel is less about the cult, but more about the coming of age story of Lacey and the relationships between women. Lacey’s story is sad and revealing, but once the reader comes past the unfortunate events, her tale is full of hope and growth. The book focuses on what it means to be a woman, and the friendships and belonging between women.
This book is mildly graphic, but I recommend this book if you’re looking for a gritty and heartwarming novel about female relationships and growing up through trial and tribulation.
I give this book a 3 out of 5!
*DISCLAIMER: This book contains strong themes such as rape, sexuality, and alcohol abuse*
- Short Review #10: A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles (2016)
Rating: 4 out of 5 ⭐️
Title: A Gentleman in Moscow: A Novel
Author: Amor Towles
Published: 2016 (Viking, Penguin Random House, New York)
Pages: 462 (Hardcover)
Genres: Historical Fiction, Fiction, Russian, Adult Fiction
Wow, this book. The whole time I was reading it, I thought the charming and gentlemanly main character, Count Alexander Rostov, had to be real historical nobility sentenced to spend the remainder of his days inside the Metropol Hotel in the center of Moscow. I searched to see if this was true after I read the book, and learned he wasn’t based on a real figure at all. The author, Amor Towles, based the Count’s character upon unmentioned Russian aristocrats choosing house arrest in the cities over execution throughout history (source). The Metropol Hotel is a real hotel in Moscow though, which saw the tumultuous points of Russian history mentioned in this book from the Bolsheviks to the Cold War.
“…He was wise enough to know that life does not proceed by leaps and bounds. It unfolds” – Amor Towles, A Gentleman in Moscow
I was enchanted by this book. While taking place mostly in one building, the story and setting were wonderfully told and exciting. The history is true, but the characters are fictional. Towles creates a beguiling world inside the Metropol Hotel following the intricacies of its guests and staff, incidental to what happens in Russia right outside the hotel’s entrance. Taking place from 1922, the plot centers around Russian Count Alexander Rostov who, in his early 30s, was ordered by the Bolsheviks to remain in the Metropol Hotel where he was already residing for the rest of his life for being an unrepentant aristocrat. If he left the hotel, he would be executed. The Count decides to take advantage of his situation, and live life the best he can inside the luxury hotel and makes a variety of loyal friends and acquaintances, and finds purpose. The novel elegantly details the Count’s life and stories, while in the backdrop Russia is changing.
“For what matters in life is not whether we receive a round of applause; what matters is whether we have the courage to venture forth despite the uncertainty of acclaim” – Amor Towles, A Gentleman in Moscow
I enjoyed this book very much. I thought it was a fantastic choice for a book to follow a character from old Russia of aristocrats and traditional Western refinement like the Count, against the changing political landscape of the rise of USSR era Russia. I definitely recommend this book if you love adventurous novels of historical fiction that follow a Russian aristocrat changing (but only a little) with the times, and find adventure in a typical luxury hotel among a cast of capturing characters and witty dialogue. Overall, it’s an interesting book to read while in this time of quarantines and curfews. But it is not depressing, and if anything, it is encouraging to those who are forced to stay at home.
“If a man does not master his circumstances then he is bound to be mastered by them” – Amor Towles, A Gentleman in Moscow
I give this book a 4 out of 5!
- Book Review #23: From Here to Eternity by Caitlin Doughty (2017)
Review: 4 out of 5 ⭐️
Title: From Here to Eternity: Traveling the World to Find the Good Death
Author: Caitlin Doughty
Published: 2017 (W.W. Norton & Company, New York)
Pages: 248 (Hardcover)
Genres: Non-Fiction, History, Sociology, Memoirs, Death Practices
Hello! The book I read this week was definitely a fascinating and educational one. I first heard of the author, Caitlin Doughty, on the new Netflix animated show The Midnight Gospel, where she was a guest star in episode 7 (this show is pretty good, by the way, it was made by Pendleton Ward, who also created the TV show Adventure Time). Doughty is a mortician who owns/runs a non-profit funeral home in Los Angeles called Undertaking LA. She has written two other books, and has her own web series called Ask a Mortician. She is a researcher and educator of funeral and death care practices.
*SPOILER ALERT BELOW IF YOU HAVEN’T SEEN THE HORROR FILM, PSYCHO* –
“…Norman Bates is the American Film Institute’s second scariest movie villain of all time, coming in behind Hannibal Lector and ahead of Darth Vader. He didn’t win that sinister acclaim by murdering innocent hotel guests wearing his mother’s clothing; he won it because Westerners feel there is something profoundly creepy about interacting with the dead over a long period of time” – Caitlin Doughty, From Here to Eternity
I really enjoyed this book! From Here to Eternity is an investigation by the author into different death practices around the globe from California to Indonesia, to name two. She focuses on a variety of practices people and cultures partake in to care for their dead. Doughty is respectful in her approach, and tells her stories with humor and sensitivity. This book is definitely not for the faint of heart as there are quite a few more gross bodily functions and gory details discussed. Regardless, this book is highly informative and is relative to such a big part of our lives, whether you’re fascinated by, or scared of death.
“When deathcare became an industry in the early twentieth century, there was a seismic shift in who was responsible for the dead. Caring for the corpse went from visceral, primeval work performed by women to a ‘profession’ an ‘art’ and even a ‘science’, performed by well-paid men” – Caitlin Doughty, From Here to Eternity
I recommend this book if you enjoy learning about other cultures and their death practices, and if you want to learn some new things about the convoluted practice that is the American funeral industry. I was surprised upon learning how America’s way of burying their dead has changed into an insensitive and money-wasting ritual, and how uncommon it is for funeral homes to even consider providing families alternative options for burying their dead. One of my favorite parts of this book was the author’s passion. The reader can tell she is informed, and cares about this topic. Death is often considered a taboo subject, especially in America, and even for someone who is a little freaked out over death (*My hand is raised*), this read was definitely worth it.
“We consider death rituals savage only when they don’t match our own” – Caitlin Doughty, From Here to Eternity
I have to a admit, I was someone who thought a dead body was unsanitary and strange before reading this book. When my grandma died in January 2019, she was wearing her favorite gold jewelry lying in the casket during her wake. After having the jewelry on her dead body for two days, the funeral home took the jewelry off right before burial and when they gave the jewelry to my family immediately, my aunt gave me one of the bracelets and asked me to wear it, right there and then. This was directly off her corpse, and I remember being so freaked out. I wore it anyways. And don’t worry, I still have that bracelet.
I give this book a 4 out of 5! ⭐️
- Book Review #22: Weather by Jenny Offill (2020)
Review: 4 out of 5 ⭐️
Title: Weather: A Novel
Author: Jenny Offill
Published: 2020 (Alfred A. Knopf, New York)
Pages: 207 (Hardcover)
Genres: Fiction, Contemporary, Literary, New Releases
Hi everyone! Okay. First of all, I loved this book. I really did not think I would, but after I started reading, I couldn’t put it down. It was a small book in general, but I was intrigued from beginning to end. This book is part fictional memoir, literary work, and humor-filled tale. Weather narrates main character and city dweller Lizzie as she navigates her life as a librarian at a university where she once had a lot of promise as a student. She is wife to a content Ben, a mother to young Eli, daughter of her troubled mother, and a sister to her drug addict brother who can’t seem to get his life in order Henry. Lizzie fulfills her roles, while struggling with her own questions, while answering deranged and questioning emails for her former mentor Sylvia’s podcast.
“I’m sorry you’re in so much pain. I am not going to leave you. I am going to take care of myself, so you don’t need to worry that your pain might hurt me” – Jenny Offill, Weather
I did not find this book depressing like I’ve read some others have thought. But it’s definitely not a joyful read. The writing was full of wit, humor and the book read like poetry in short prose. Lizzie is a complicated character who is waiting for the next disaster and trying not to spiral while taking care of everyone around her. Her monologues about her daily life and consciousness were compelling. Through Lizzie, Weather also addresses current issues such as climate change (partially where the title comes from), government, apocalypse and psychology. I can see why others have complained about Lizzie’s character, but I believe she’s more relatable and like a lot of persons of this time.
“Young person worry: What if nothing I do matters? Old person worry: What if everything I do does?” – Jenny Offill, Weather
I felt oddly reminiscent by the relationship between Lizzie and her brother Henry. I’ve spoken on here before about how I have a relative who struggles with drug addiction. I can relate to the relationship between Lizzie and Henry. Maybe not entirely the same, but their interactions and dynamic relationship are too familiar. Lizzie apparently would spiral when her brother did, but in her own disastrous way. I cannot relate to Lizzie in that way exactly, but I understand the feeling when one family member spirals the others spend a moment rethinking their position existentially.
“What it means to be a good person, a moral person, is calculated differently in times of crisis than in ordinary circumstances” – Jenny Offill, Weather
The book was fully human and bitter-sweet. Offill’s writing reminded me of one of my favorite contemporary authors, Ottessa Moshfegh. Both authors have similar cynicism and direct syntax in their writing. I recommend this book if you’re looking for a fictional story among a bustling city that addresses current day issues surrounding a cautious yet semi-hopeful younger woman. The book should also be a fairly quick read, around 200 pages and the pages are not filled with multiple paragraphs.
“‘Your people have finally fallen into history’, he said, ‘The rest of us are already here’” – Jenny Offill, Weather
I give this book a 4 out of 5!
- Short Review #9: The Tenant by Katrine Engberg (2020 English Translation)
Review: 3 out of 5 ⭐️
Title: The Tenant: A Novel*
Author: Katrine Engberg (Translated by Tara Chace)
Published: 2020 (Scout Press, New York; Originally Published 2016 Lindhardt, Denmark)
Pages: 356 (Hardcover)
Genres: Mystery, Crime Thriller, Fiction, Nordic Noir, Suspense
Hello everyone! This week I’m talking about The Tenant by Katrine Engberg. I’ve heard varying opinions about this Nordic thriller. It was originally published in Denmark in 2016, but translated to English and published this year. There are three more books following in the series that have not been translated to English yet. I can say I would definitely give the next one a chance after reading The Tenant.
“He thought he had the situation under control, that he was pulling the strings, but in reality he is sitting in a barrel on his way over Niagara Falls, and he is the only one who hasn’t noticed it yet” – Katrine Engberg, The Tenant
The Tenant details the lives of Copenhagen police detectives Jeppe Korner, Anette Werner and their team as they investigate the mysterious murder of a young woman named Julie Stender, who was brutally killed in her apartment. The circumstances carefully follow her landlady’s, Esther de Laurenti, unpublished crime novel which details a similar murder to Julie’s. As the detectives look into Julie’s murder and the surrounding circumstances, the sketchy details slowly unravel and of course, reveal a greater conspiracy at hand.
The first quarter of this novel is fairly slow, but the plot picks up soon after. There was also a large emphasis on Jeppe Korner’s side of the story, and less about Anette Werner’s. At times it felt like Jeppe’s opposite, Anette, was only there to support Jeppe’s character and development. This was especially surprising when the story makes them out to be partners, a team. I’m not sure if I’m a fan of the unequal emphasis on the two main partners, and would like to learn more about Anette’s life and development. Otherwise, I enjoyed this book and thought it was a captivating story. Read this book if you’re looking for a sometimes-graphic, Nordic Noir thriller mystery novel.
I give this a 3 out of 5!
*This book contains strong themes such as sexuality, violence against women, and murder*
- Short Review #8: Funny Girl by Nick Hornby (2015)
Reivew – 3 out of 5 ⭐️
Title: Funny Girl: A Novel
Author: Nick Hornby
Published: 2015 (Riverhead Books, New York. Originally published 2014)
Pages: 452 (Hardcover)
Genres: Fiction, Novel, Humor, Historical British Fiction, Adult
It is another week in these strange times! I still can’t get over the fact that I’m writing this review on a late weekday morning while sipping my coffee. I read through the book I’m reviewing this week pretty quickly. The title of this book, Funny Girl, made me think of one thing: the Barbara Streisand film Funny Girl (1968). I saw some reviews draw a parallel between Hornby’s book and the 1968 film, but honestly, I cannot agree. Both books focus on a girl who has a goal to make it in the entertainment industry, which was all I could draw a parallel between the two stories.
Funny Girl (2015) is written by a fairly popular British author that I have never read before. Hornby has written books that inspired films such as About a Boy, High Fidelity, A Long Way Down and Juliet, Naked. I have heard good things about his books in the past, and this eye-catching cover made it easy to spot in the library (while it was still open…).
“What a terrible thing an education was, he thought, if it produced the kind of mind that despised entertainment and the people who valued it” – Nick Hornby, Funny Girl
Overall, this book was not bad. Definitely not my favorite, but the story was catching and provocative. Funny Girl was entertaining, insightful and full of dry British humor. The main character Sophie Straw a.k.a Barbara Parker is a woman from Blackpool who dreams of being a comedian in 1960s London, and winds up on a BBC TV comedy series. The story follows her adventures in TV, love and her rising stardom. Young and sometimes naive, Sophie is a simple character who is learning how to navigate her own life through her interactions with eccentric characters. I did not find the book very funny. There were many situational and dry humor moments, but this book is not a laugh-out-loud kind of funny. At first I was surprised that a book called Funny Girl would not be very funny. But funny is potentially used to describe the person Sophie was trying to become. I also wish there were more chapters on her adventures and career than the ones involving her love interests. Sophie is a dynamic and willful character, which I loved, but I also think ‘the naive young girl who tries to make it in the big city only with more intelligent men to navigate her’ trope is getting old for me.
“…writers never felt they belonged anywhere. That was one of the reasons they became writers” – Nick Hornby, Funny Girl
I recommend Funny Girl if you’re looking for a very dry historical British comedy about the entertainment industry in 1960s London focusing on a female entertainer. This book for what it sounds is not the height of feminism, but the dialogue is intelligent and entertaining, and I very much enjoyed reading this one.
I give this book a 3 out of 5!
- Book Review #21: The Sun Down Motel by Simone St. James (2020)
Review: 3 out of 5 ⭐️
Title: The Sun Down Motel
Author: Simone St. James
Published: 2020 (Berkley, New York)
Pages: 327 (Hardcover)
Genre: Fiction, Mystery, Crime Thriller, Horror
Another week in quarantine and these crazy times! I’m going to be more mindful of my reading choices since I’m alone a lot of the time these days.. And this week I’m talking particularly about a much-anticipated new release, The Sun Down Motel by Simone St. James. While I’ve seen so many reviews and posts on social media, I still wanted to discuss and review this book. I was interested in reading this one for a few months, and finally got the chance. Before I picked this one up, I did not hear anything but good things about this novel.
The Sun Down Motel centers around a woman who goes missing in 1982 named Vivian Delaney, a lonely, beautiful and young night shift clerk at The Sun Down Motel in Fell, NY. The book jumps between Viv’s story, and her future niece, a young and nerdy Carly Kirk, who travels to Fell to figure out what happened to her aunt 35 years ago and find out why she disappeared from The Sun Down. With the help of some new acquaintances, Carly investigates her aunt’s disappearance by imitating her life in Fell, NY and perhaps falls into trouble herself.
“Because if you were a woman, the world was a dangerous place” – Simone St. James, The Sun Down Motel
To be frank, I did not love this novel as much as I thought I would. It was well-written, mysterious and compelling and the twists were rousing. But I did not think the story and how the mystery played out was amazing. Maybe it’s me, and I do enjoy horror, mystery and suspense books, and watch a lot of horror movies. For others, I imagine it will be more frightening and clever, but it was not for myself. The book gave the impression of a cold case, true-crime mystery than anything else with suspense elements rather than horror, which was minimal. I would elaborate on why I thought the horror was bare, but I don’t want to give away spoilers. I also did not care for some of the characters, they felt lacking in personal depth and background. But maybe that was purposeful, keeping the majority of the book’s focus on the main characters, Viv and Carly.
“I bet you could sleep in the right place…. You can’t spend the rest of your life here. I bet you could sleep if you were in a place that made you happy. Where you knew you’d wake up to something good” – Simone St. James, The Sun Down Motel
It was certainly a great read, but I do not think it was as amazing as other reviews who rave about this book. I loved the concept, and the plot was entertaining to be certain. Most of all, I admired the continuous commentary from the author on real-life treatment towards women by criminal justice systems and news media. Both groups showcase an attitude towards female victims by classifying, and even profiling the investigation, based on how the women lived while they were alive. Both tend to be more sympathetic towards the middle-class housewife with a child and husband or the good-girl star student virgin, rather than the ‘risky’ sex worker or single, troubled girl who had ‘a lot of boyfriends’. The book’s message that every woman matters and deserves justice was wonderfully communicated.
“The person who could be truly alone, in the company of no one but oneself and one’s own thoughts—that person was stronger than anyone else” – Simone St. James, The Sun Down Motel
The Sun Down Motel is fantastic if you’re looking for a light-read, and campy true-crime mystery surrounding a menacing motel in a small town. Be careful and take care of each other. Unfortunately, we live in a society where women need to take almost every precaution before going out alone, even in a harmless seeming situation. Lastly, in my opinion, I can report this book is not too scary to read alone during quarantine!
I give this book a 3 out of 5 stars.
- Short Review #7: Boom: Mad Money, Mega Dealers and the Rise of Contemporary Art by Michael Shnayerson (2019)
Review – 4 out of 5 ⭐️
Title: Boom: Mad Money, Mega Dealers and the Rise of Contemporary Art
Author: Michael Shnayerson
Published: 2019, 1st Edition (PublicAffairs, New York)
Pages: 450 (Hardcover)
Genres: Nonfiction, Art Business, Contemporary Art, Art History, Economics
I hope everyone is continuing to stay well! This week, I read something very different than what I normally read and write about on the blog. I read Boom: Mad Money, Mega Dealers and the Rise of Contemporary Art. Based on interviews from over 200 art world persons and research, Boom is a detailed history and evaluation of contemporary art starting in the 1940s to 2019. The author, Shnayerson, is not a typical art market or historical expert who writes books about the art world, like Don Thompson the economist who wrote The $12 Million Stuffed Shark. Shnayerson is a journalist and contributing editor to Vanity Fair, and has written several books about a variety of subjects, including New York Governor Andrew Cuomo and GM (source). This may explain why Boom gave me a different impression than typical art history and market books with an evaluation and thesis. The style felt more like a very long news article or celebrity biography based on his own research and interviews.
“‘I mean, nobody really needs a painting… It’s something you kind of create value for in a way that you don’t with a company. It’s an act of collective faith what an object is worth. Maintaining that value system is part of what a dealer does, not just making a transaction, but making sure that important art feels important‘” – Larry Gagosian, Michael Shnayerson, Boom: Mad Money…
Why was I interested in reading this book, you may ask? My background and how I make a living is actually in art. I don’t reveal a lot of personal stuff about my life on here or social media, but I studied art history in my undergrad and have read extensively about art related subjects, and the art market. When this book was recommended to me, I decided I had to read it.
Overall, I enjoyed this book. It was a little dense at times, but honestly, if you’re looking for a detailed explanation of contemporary art, this is a good start. I took away new information on certain figures and scandals that I had not come across, and discovered more details of certain events that I knew previously. The book is a well-rounded history and explanation of the economics, market, legalities, politics and drama surrounding contemporary art since its beginning. I would not consider this book essential reading as an intro to contemporary art, but it is a valuable perspective and sufficient if you’re looking to expand upon your art knowledge. If you’re not interested in the art world or art, do not read this book. But maybe that’s a given…
I give this book a 4 out of 5!
- Book Review #20: She Said by Jodi Kantor & Megan Twohey (2019)
Review – 4 out of 5 ⭐️
Title: She Said: Breaking the Sexual Harassment Story That Helped Ignite a Movement
Authors: Jodi Kantor & Megan Twohey
Published: 2019 (Penguin Press, New York)
Pages: 310 (Hardcover)
Genres: Nonfiction, Journalism, Feminism, Social Justice, True Crime
Hey all, this is my 20th Book Review! That is, if my short reviews don’t count… But it is still a milestone to write my 20th. I’ve really enjoyed writing about and sharing what I read so thank you to whoever reads these reviews!
“’There isn’t ever going to be an end,’ she said. ‘The point is that people have to continue always speaking up and not being afraid’“ – Jodi Kantor & Megan Twohey, She Said: Breaking the Sexual Harassment Story That Helped Ignite a Movement
At first, I was not sure about giving this book a chance. I previously read Catch and Kill by Ronan Farrow, which I also wrote a review for here, and I found the content to be strikingly too similar. Both books focus on Harvey Weinstein and his take down, and how powerful men use their power against women from the film industry to the White House. But after reading a few other reviews and comparisons of both books, I decided to read this one with an open mind.
“Jodi cut to the point: The United States had a system for muting sexual harassment claims, which often enabled the harassers instead of stopping them. Women routinely signed away the right to talk about their own experiences. Harassers often continued onward, finding fresh ground on which to commit the same offenses” – Jodi Kantor & Megan Twohey, She Said: Breaking the Sexual Harassment Story That Helped Ignite a Movement
In the end, I really enjoyed this book. Jodi Kantor and Megan Twohey are investigative reporters for The New York Times. Their book is about the research and events surrounding their 2017 breaking news story that exposed Harvey Weinstein’s sexual harassment pattern. She Said is written like a long news report based on their findings and interviews for the article and future articles. This book focuses on specific counts from victims of Harvey Weinstein, and the story of Christine Blasey Ford, the woman who accused Associate Justice of the US Supreme Court, Brett Kavanaugh of assault after his initial nomination.
“Everyone from corporate boards to friends in bars seemed to be struggling to devise their own new guidelines, which made for fascinating conversation, but also a kind of overall chaos. It was not clear how the country would ever agree on effective new standards (for sexual harassment claims) or resolve the ocean of outstanding complaints. Instead, the feelings of unfairness on both sides just continued to mount“ – Jodi Kantor & Megan Twohey, She Said: Breaking the Sexual Harassment Story That Helped Ignite a Movement
Kantor and Twohey broke the story through The New York Times before Farrow did in his New Yorker article, but they both contributed greatly to the conversation of sexual assault. The main difference I found like several others between She Said and Catch and Kill is in their titles. She Said focuses on the specific accounts of women who experienced sexual assault and investigative reporting of all parties involved, while Catch and Kill focuses on corporate espionage and the scandal when it came to Farrow’s reporting and findings on Harvey Weinstein. Both books specify certain assault accounts more than the other. Also, She Said spoke about Christine Blasey Ford in depth, while Catch and Kill focused on Trump’s scandals and Black Cube in depth. Catch and Kill also reads more like a fictional spy novel, while She Said reads more like a newspaper and more matter-of-fact language.
I honestly recommend reading both as they each have their own merits and cover the topic fairly well. Kantor and Twohey tell the story of women who have experienced sexual assault in an in-depth and sensitive way. They outline the difficult process of their reporting, and how they had to acquire all the facts and make sure every single party involved was on board before anything was published. Overall, if you enjoy factual books outlining controversial issues such as sexual assault covered up by a powerful film producer and executive, then She Said is the book for you.
I give this book a 4 out of 5!
*Warning – this book contains sensitive topics such as sexual assault*
- Book Review #19: Interior Chinatown by Charles Yu (2020)
Review: 4 out of 5 ⭐️
Title: Interior Chinatown
Author: Charles Yu
Published: 2020 (Pantheon Books, New York)
Pages: 266 (Hardcover)
Genres: Fiction, Contemporary, Satire, Hollywood, Cultural
I hope everyone is continuing to stay safe and healthy this week! Pandemic economic issues in the US have finally caught up to me so long story short, I will have more time for reading and posting reviews (yay!). Not the best situation, but I plan to make the most of my time. I have several projects lined up including catching up on reading, and writing reviews.
“They zoned us (Chinese) and kept us roped off from everyone else… Chinatown is and always has been, from the very beginning, a construction, a performance of features, gestures, culture, and exoticism. An invention, a reinvention, a stylization. Figuring out the show, finding our place in it, which was the background, as scenery, as nonspeaking players…. To watch the mainstream, find out what kind of fiction they are telling themselves, find a bit part in it. Be appealing and acceptable, be what they want to see” – Charles Yu, Interior Chinatown
I loved this sharp and clever story in Charles Yu’s new 2020 release, Interior Chinatown. Yu creates a fantastical studio universe addressing unfairly typecast Chinese stereotypes in U.S. TV shows and film through the story’s protagonist, Willis Wu. Wu’s only dream is to play the role of ‘Kung Fu Guy’ instead of his typical ‘Generic Asian Man’ role. Plus, this book is written like a film script to heighten the studio setting, which to be honest, was creative and I loved it.
The book’s underlying theme is not a new topic of discussion. Different POC groups have been victims of Hollywood typecasting and lack of leading roles since… pretty much as long as TV shows and films in the U.S. have been made, and it is definitely a problem. Different organizations and figures have been trying to address and promote change on this issue for some time now. But not with a lot of change when it comes to casting Asian/Asian-American persons in the U.S.. This book made me think of a New York Times Style Magazine article by Thessaly La Force about the issue, click the link here to read more. La Force cites “..It is only when we are hidden that we are allowed to succeed. Which leads to a more troubling but inevitable conclusion: that there is something about the very physiognomy of the Asian face that American audiences still cannot or will not accept” (Why Do Asian-Americans Remain Largely Unseen in Film and Television?, 2018, Thessaly La Force, New York Times Style Magazine).
“He is asking to be treated like an American. A real American. Cause honestly, when you think about American, what color do you see? white? black? We (Chinese) have been here 200 years….the German, the Dutch, the Italian, they came here in the turn of century; they are Americans. Why doesn’t this face register as American? Is it because we make the story too complicated?” – Charles Yu, Interior Chinatown
Overall, I enjoyed this book’s commentary on cultural stereotypes and discussion of race within the TV and film industries in the U.S.. If anything, I believe everyone should read this book only for that. Yu flawlessly uses humorous prose and lines to bring to light issues we should be discussing regarding Asian/Asian-American oversight in the previously mentioned industries. And even if social justice commentary is not your ideal read, the book is well-written, entertaining and contains a cleverness sure to catch the reader’s attention.
“Who gets to be an American? What does an American look like?” – Charles Yu, Interior Chinatown
I give this book a 4 out of 5!
- Short Review #6: The Lonely City: Adventures in the Art of Being Alone by Olivia Laing (2016)
Review – 3 out of 5 ⭐️
Title: The Lonely City: Adventures in the Art of Being Alone
Author: Olivia Laing
Published: 2016 (Picador, New York)
Pages: 315 (Paperback)
Genres: Non-Fiction, Memoir, Autobiography, Art History, Psychology
This week I’m here to talk about The Lonely City: Adventures in the Art of Being Alone by Olivia Laing. Is this the perfect book for quarantining and social distancing you may ask? Honestly, as it was a refreshing take on what it means to be alone, my opinion would be no. I found this off-putting to read while trying to isolate myself. And as much as I enjoyed this book for a few reasons, I recommend this book be read when we are able to be social and regroup at our own pace.
“You can be lonely anywhere, but there is a particular flavour to the loneliness that comes from living in a city, surrounded by millions of people” – Olivia Laing, The Lonely City: Adventures in the Art of Being Alone
At first glance, I thought this was going to be a book about being alone. But Laing uses her own experience and research to write about what it means to be alone after moving to New York and experiencing it firsthand. Her book explores different types of loneliness by investigating artists who experienced it or similar feelings in their lives and work in New York. She goes into detail about the lives of Edward Hopper, Andy Warhol, David Wojnarowicz, Henry Darger and more. Laing uses loneliness to connect and validate the experience. I studied art history in college, and from an art historian standpoint, I enjoyed the perspective of Laing’s research tying the theme of loneliness to the artist’s attitudes and work.
“There are so many things that art can’t do. It can’t bring the dead back to life, it can’t mend arguments between friends, or cure AIDS, or halt the pace of climate change. All the same, it does have some extraordinary functions, some odd negotiating ability between people, including people who never meet and yet who infiltrate and enrich each other’s lives. It does have a capacity to create intimacy; it does have a way of healing wounds, and better yet of making it apparent that not all wounds need healing and not all scars are ugly” – Olivia Laing, The Lonely City: Adventures in the Art of Being Alone
I felt some strange emotions as I read this book. Maybe it was the subject matter, but something about the book struck me during this present time of self isolation. Loneliness means more than being alone, and Laing’s investigation dives into the reasons why. Loneliness stems from not being understood, purposefully isolating, stigma in a community, rejection, experience, etc. Right now, we are all supposed to be socially separating ourselves for health, but the consequences to mental health is something I’ve been thinking about a lot recently. This book was appropriate for this crazy time and extremely well-written. But at the same time, it did not assist in alleviating what I’m currently feeling, but if anything, made my loneliness feel more poignant and purposeful.
Overall, I give this book a 3 out of 5!
*Warning: This book contains sensitive subjects such as AIDS, sexuality, trauma and assault*
- Book Review #18: The Night Watchman by Louise Erdrich (2020)
Review – 4 out of 5 ⭐️
Title: The Night Watchman: A Novel*
Author: Louise Erdrich
Published: 2020 (HarperCollins)
Pages: 464 (Hardcover)
Genres: Historical Fiction, Native American, Literary Fiction, Heritage
“When he needed to calm his mind, he opened a book. Any book. He had never failed to feel refreshed, even if the book was no good” – Louise Erdrich, The Night Watchman
I hope everyone is staying sane and healthy this week! Honestly, books have been a comfort to me during these uncertain times, and hopefully I keep that viewpoint until the end of this crisis. But for now, stay inside as much as you can, and curl up with a new book.
“The services that the government provides to Indians might be likened to rent. The rent for use of the entire country of the United States” – Louise Erdrich, The Night Watchman
Back to The Night Watchman, I loved this book! I was really excited to read it when I saw the book was coming out this year. What makes this book truly special is that its based on the story of the author’s grandfather, who fought for the Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa Reservation when US Congress announced the House Concurrent Resolution 108 bill in 1953. This bill would have “terminated” involvement and nation-to-nation treaties with the Reservation, which more or less threatened to break up the tribe and their land. The bill was disguised as a “relocation” program for the tribe, and to help them better themselves by dropping government support. But it really would have broken up the tribe and land for the BIA (Bureau of Indian Affairs) to sell, among other consequences. This novel tells the story of Gourneau’s (or his character’s name, Thomas Wazhashk) involvement in fighting the bill as tribal chairman, and as Erdrich describes, his “extraordinary life”.
“—you never really knew a man until you told him you didn’t love him. That’s when his true ugliness, submerged to charm you, might surface” – Louise Erdrich, The Night Watchman
This novel was compassionately political and human all the way through. The story jumped around to the different character’s struggles and points of view, from members of the Chippewa tribe to Mormon missionaries. The author’s take into the lives of the tribe as a fictional backdrop for what was going on politically was educational and insightful. The characters grapple with growth and all the other problems that come along with life.
“In all, 113 tribal nations suffered the disaster of termination; 1.4 million acres of tribal land was lost. Wealth flowed to private corporations, while many people in terminated tribes died early, in poverty. Not one tribe profited. By the end, 78 tribal nations, including the Menominee, led by Ada Deer, regained federal recognition; 10 gained state but not federal recognition; 31 tribes are landless; 24 are considered extinct” – Louise Erdrich, The Night Watchman
I appreciated the Afterward and Acknowledgements the author wrote as well. It was wonderful to read about how this book became a tribute to her grandfather, Patrick Gourneau, and to keep the Reservation’s story alive. Native Americans still suffer from the consequences of having their land taken from them. This novel emphasizes what occurred in the 1950s, but Erdrich drives the point home in her Afterward that talking about injustice, even if its in the past, is still important so current and future administrations can bring about change and learn from the past.
“Lastly, if you should ever doubt that a series of dry words in a government document can shatter spirits and demolish lives, let this book erase that doubt. Conversely, if you should be of the conviction that we are powerless to change those dry words, let this book give you heart” – Louise Erdrich, The Night Watchman
Overall, I thought this book was beautiful and elegantly written. I recommend it if you’re looking for a novel surrounding community, politics and love on a struggling and close-knit Native American Reservation.
I give this book a 4 out of 5!
*DISCLAIMER: The Night Watchman contains violence, sexuality, alcoholism & sensitive subjects