Updated: Jan 1, 2021
**NEW READS POSTED AT THE BOTTOM**
I’m challenging myself this year to read as many books as I can. At first my goal was to read 10 books, but I quickly passed that benchmark, and have just found myself being interested in reading more. I’ll continually update this list as I read on. So here’s a list of the books I’ve read so far.
PACHINKO BY MIN JIN LEE Pachinko was super hyped in 2019. So when I got a chance to borrow a copy of it, I decided to grab the near 500 page book and give it a go. I’m not usually attracted to thick books, but I had time and didn’t want to judge.
I love this book for the author’s writing and ability to storytell ever so effortlessly. It’s a story of a multi-generational family, primarily focused on the matriarch. We do get chapters from other character’s perspectives, and we get to know more about the reality of people’s lives during the Japanese occupation of Korea, life when Korea was one, as well as the early days of Koreans living in Japan.
The main character goes through a lot, though she doesn’t really express it on the outside. The author brings us into her thoughts and her desires and fears, showing us the complexity of the main character. One example of this is seen whenever she’s around her first love:
“She would always believe that he was someone else, that he wasn’t himself but some fanciful idea of a foreign person; she would always feel like she was someone special because she had condescended to be with someone everyone else hated. His presence would prove to the world that she was a good person, an educated person a liberal person.” — MIN JIN LEE, PACHINKO
The thing I especially didn’t like was the sudden cut-off of story arcs. Like, we would be introduced to some character and get to know them for a while, then suddenly their story is over, and we go back to the main storyline. I don’t know if that’s a stylistic thing, but that’s something that bugged me enough to not fully love this book.
EVERYTHING I NEVER TOLD YOU BY CELESTE NG This book was very manipulative - which I think worked for it. This is about a daughter who goes missing and ends up being found dead. Actually, that’s the premise, but it’s really about how a dysfunctional family comes to be. And what I like about that is that it’s not so obviously dysfunctional - there’s no big drama, no drastic event - it all kind of happens gradually and quietly, which I found very realistic. The writing was impeccable - the revealing of this picture perfect family’s heartbreak was emotional and really sad, to the point that I focused more on the issues than how the daughter died. Then in the end, I realized it really didn’t matter how she physically died, she was kind of already destined to die, the way we go to see her family history. That’s why I mean that this book was so manipulative! At first I thought my goal was to solve the mystery of this girl’s death - but actually, there’s nothing to solve.
FALL FOR ANYTHING BY COURTNEY SUMMERS I think there was a point where I stopped reading this one for a while and picked up another book before returning to finish it. I really wanted to love this book… It’s about this girl trying to figure out why her father committed suicide. This book was similar to Everything I Never Told You in the sense that there was no concrete answer to the mystery, which would be fine, but I felt the way it was executed was a cop out. It was the equivalent to, “Well, we never know what people are thinking anyway, so let’s just accept the fact.” And this is true, but it’s just so unsettling, and I didn’t understand why that did not transfer over to the main character at the end of the book. Anyway, this book has some good writing. The author does a good job of creating a minimal world, with few people, few distractions. She also does a good job presenting a teenage girl voice, and some of the dumb things they do because of complicated feelings or things they don’t really know how to place or handle.
MY SISTER, THE SERIAL KILLER BY OYINKAN BRAITHWAITE So during the break I took during Fall for Anything, I spotted the book, My sister, the serial killer, and grabbed it, hoping that it would cure my reading dissatisfaction. And it did.
This book was so hilarious, I think I laughed out loud a couple of times. This book was so easy to read, it was smart, fun, and emotional at times. I really loved how this author didn’t cater to the cliche Africanness one might find in many African fiction. It’s not nichey African. It really could be a story placed in any setting outside of Nigeria.
It’s a story about familial bonds - the lengths one finds themselves going to save a person just because of the unchosen relationship that makes them overly loyal. It’s a story about choosing that relationship every time even if it means taking the fall for it. I read that this was the author’s debut book, and I was so shocked, because if her first book is this great, then wow, her future work will be so amazing.
READY PLAYER ONE BY ERNEST CLINE This book. This book restored my hope in the search for books that I find enjoyable! This book is a gem! I know a movie came out, but I saw the trailer and got so disappointed, so I’m not even going to try and spoil the interpretation I have of this book. This book is about so many things. It’s about internet addiction, depression, all things mental health, government failure, society failure, corruption, finding meaning, avoiding reality. It’s about so much that I really can’t sum it up. It’s beautiful, sad, emotional, funny, fun, enjoyable, entertaining, exciting, educational, possibly prophetic, satirical.
It takes place in a dystopian world, and in this dystopia there is a utopia once anyone logs on to the internet as an avatar of their real life self. This book took me into the world of this utopia, where my imagination just flared and went wild. It was so rich with description and imagery that I get why this was given a movie adaptation.
It reads like a 500-600 page book, though it’s only 300ish pages. A lot is crammed in these 300 pages, though, which is why I needed to take a break every now and then. This book is very sci-fi/fantasy/gaming/80s pop culture nostalgia oriented, though it’s not really necessary to be inclined to any of those areas to enjoy this read. The author is very generous in not sounding stuck up to those who may not be familiar. He also explains and gives references that to me didn’t seem overwhelming, but I get how it could be for some people.
I loved the main character, Wade, from the get go. He was so easy to support and root for. I felt for him and his troubled reality, and cheered for his successes. This was quite an emotional rollercoaster just based on how much I was emotionally invested in him. I think I teared a bit. I was so sad when it was over, but in a good way.
THERE THERE BY TOMMY ORANGE This book just silenced me.
In fact I don’t think I can write anything about it, because I don’t know if I’m supposed to have a response.
Tommy Orange portrays various Native people living in (or having a tie to) Oakland, California. All these characters all end up at a powwow - which is a big event showcasing Native American heritage. The stories are very raw and unkempt, somewhat hopeless. Every story reads as though there’s a curse hanging around these characters’ lives, which acts as symbolism through the entire book.
The ending is so abrupt, paralyzing, and a little overwhelming, just because I was not giving time to react. It was kind of like, “Wait. Did what I think just happen actually just happened?” I had to read it again, because my reaction time was too slow to accept an outcome that I didn’t want to believe was true, even though there were many signs pointing to it. There are so many issues this book includes: mental illnesses, dysfunctional families, teen pregnancy, addiction, death, crime, abuse. Though it doesn’t specifically talk about them, these themes are kind of just part of a story, they are not the focus.
I loved this book. There were so many beautifully written moments. There were so many hopelessly sad moments. There were so many moments to where I just had to give all my attention - mainly because the pace was slow and steady - until the end.
There’s a scene where a character is talking amongst a group about Native American youth and mental illness, and how it’s society’s fault. He says,
“We’ve boarded up windows and made better nets to catch them, found more convincing ways to tell them not to jump. They’re making the decision that it’s better to be dead and gone than to be alive in what we have here, this life, the one we made for them, the one they’ve inherited. And we’re either involved and have a hand in each one of their deaths, just like I did with my brother, or we’re absent, which is still involvement, just like silence is not just silence but is not speaking up.” — TOMMY ORANGE, THERE THERE
Tommy Orange fills this book with such quotes - ones that are so deep yet so plain for everyone to see and understand - but not really enough to be able to fix it.
LOOKING FOR ALASKA BY JOHN GREEN I finally got on the John Green band wagon and read two of his books. The first one, Looking for Alaska, I was excited about just because of the description I read about it. So of course I got my hopes up. Bad idea. This book ended so bland for me.
The first half was great - I was into the main characters, the supporting characters, their world, their interests and all - then the second half came. I honestly thought this was just going to be a fun story of bored and overachieving well meaning kids in a boarding school, but no. When I realized the direction it was going in, the second half till the end just killed it for me. I felt like the second half had an identity crisis, where it wasn’t sure what it was trying to be - and that sort of weighed it down a little more for me.
TURTLES ALL THE WAY DOWN BY JOHN GREEN I was hoping this would be my John Green redemption book. I liked it a lot better than Looking for Alaska, but not enough to recommend it. The premise was great, the story was great. I liked how we got to see the world of a teenager with OCD. There was nothing dramatic about her illness (except for the one part where she has a massive breakdown). But besides that, I think Green does a good job of trying to show us a normal life for our main character. It’s a good story - sweet, simple.
MY YEAR OF REST AND RELAXATION BY OTTESSA MOSHFEGH I read this book because of one youtuber who really hyped it up. It’s such a strange book, honestly, I don’t know if I liked it at all.
Our main character is a young girl who becomes a pill addict in order to sleep as much as she can - it sounds really funny, which it is, but there’s more to it.
It’s full of humour, satire, very realistic pointless relationships, memory, and weirdness. I especially liked the dialogue, the irony of having a best friend (or any relationship, really) that the character doesn’t really care about for the most part but is dependant on. This entire book shows us a character who’s tired of forcing the life that’s been set up for her, and she decides to get rid of that life by sleeping through it. At first, I thought I had this character figured out and knew why she was doing what she was doing, but it’s a little more complicated. Through flashback and memory, we try and understand this character who sort of goes through a journey of renewal.
THE ROAD BY CORMAC MCCARTHY This book. (It’s going to be a good book if I start out with “This book”!) Seriously, this book I think needs to be on those lists of what to read for every year. It’s so good. This book, I can’t even describe it.
McCarthy seems to break all the rules of being a writer, and writing a book that people will enjoy. He doesn’t use speech marks, he doesn’t give us information we don’t really need to know about, he doesn’t give much setting. This book should be boring, like really boring! For 85% of the book, we are following the two main characters walking on a road. That’s it.
But! The road is a dangerous, unpredictable place. This book is about a father and son trying to survive in a post apocalyptic world. It is gritty, it is scary, it is sad. I wanted to cry at the beginning, just because I was feeling so much anxiety of what would come in the end. And that’s what makes McCarthy so amazing. Because he starts with nothing, then makes my mind do all the work in believing there must be more to what he’s shown us on the page.
Then the end came. It was totally not the ending I had predicted with certainty from the beginning. But then when I saw the actual ending coming, I wondered where in the story it had “changed”. This author is a genius. I don’t know if it’s manipulation or what. But he’s so sly about changing the story without changing it. This book is a GEM! Must read for writers.
ALICE’S ADVENTURES IN WONDERLAND BY LEWIS CARROLL This book is a trip! I only read it because I found it free online and thought it would be interesting to read this fairytale(?) that everyone knows about. This book made absolutely no sense at all! I didn’t get it - I was laughing through most of it, because all the characters around Alice are so confused, which only made me more confused.
I was going to read the sequel, Through The Looking Glass and What Alice Found There, but now I’m not so sure. This one is definitely an overrated children’s book. Maybe it’s just best to be a film or an art piece.
AS SIMPLE AS SNOW BY GREGORY GALLOWAY It’s books like these that make me mad - -Books that start off with a bang, then end with such lackluster.
Basic teenage boy with a basic life falls in love with nonsensical goth girl, who adds excitement to his life. Girl disappears, leaving strange clues that drive boy insane trying to figure out what happened.
The first third of this book was great - full of suspense and mystery, wit, interest - all that. The second third, too much focus on supernatural/fantasy-like things that all seemed to be untrue or made up. Too much focus on the girl the main character likes, and the push for me to care about her.
The final third was a complete waste of my attention. Way too much speculation/theories/randomness/strangeness that never seemed to resolve or do anything for the story. The ending was such a dud, that I can’t even say I’m underwhelmed. Ughh. This book was recommended to me a while back, and now that I’ve finally come to read it, I can’t say how disappointed I am.
HIDING IN PLAIN SIGHT BY NURUDDIN FARAH I’m trying to be purposeful in reading more authors of colour, in particular African authors. Nuruddin Farah is an author I’ve been wanting to read - therefore the book, Hiding In Plain Sight. This book was alright: somewhat enjoyable if looking o read something light. Told is the story of Bella, a half Somali, half Italian woman who recently loses her brother in an Al-Shabaab attack, and has to relocate to Nairobi to take care of his two children. Most of the story took place in Nairobi, so it was interesting to read the descriptions of the various settings.
The way the story is set up is in a way that Bella is a promiscuous, sort of careless, life loving woman. But I found the opposite to be true; in fact I found her quite careful and safe, so I was a little tired of the way Farah kept on telling me every now and then of her various boyfriends around the world, without any proof in how her character was described. There was nothing I found particularly appealing about her, but it seemed that the author’s exoticization of her looks was supposed to be enough for the reader.
Another thing I thought was problematic was the dialogue - particularly that between the two kids and Bella. Their conversation was way too formal for me and quite unbelievable, to the point that it got me wondering if the book was translated into English; the language sounding so formal and not quite right. But still, I don’t know any teenagers who talk with such politeness and civility to each other no matter what language they’re speaking in. Here’s an example from when the older kid is asked about how he would feel about moving to the UK:
“Black boys my age have big problems in England. Often, they run into trouble with the school authorities or with the neighbourhood police. I’d be viewed as a threat to the established order run for the benefit of those of a color different from mine.” — NURUDDIN FARAH, HIDING IN PLAIN SIGHT.
What kid talks like that? It sounds like something an older parent would say about their kid, but not the kid themselves. The book was filled with old fashioned language like this, even when the kids were berating each other. So it bothered me, because the story seemed to take place in the mid 2000’s, where iPhones are supposedly in the same world as fax messages. A lot of this book read as if the author struggled in trying to make the world a modern one - maybe separating his voice from the actual story.
One thing Farah tried to explore was the complexity of the Somali identity, particularly that in Kenya, which I don’t think he explored fully. Again, there was a lot of telling us rather than showing us through his characters and their story, which I think was a lost opportunity. That was the biggest let down for this book, not enough “show”, and way too much “tell”.
HOWL’S MOVING CASTLE BY DIANA WYNNE JONES I didn’t like this book. At. All. This is the story of the infamous film of the same title. Most anime lovers or animated film lovers know Howl’s Moving Castle to be an amazing work of art. I’m also one of those people who really like that movie, and in fact I think it was one of the first anime I was introduced to as a child.
One of my favourite Youtuber’s had mentioned having read the book and absolutely having loved it, so of course I decided to look for the book and give it a try. Unfortunately for me, this book was so hard to finish. I struggled to enjoy it. Although I did appreciate a lot of it - the old school way of storytelling, with language reminiscent to that from old Disney films. But that wasn’t enough to keep me engaged. I just didn’t get it for the most part. I had to try and remember the movie as best as I could to follow along with the written story.
For the most part it follows the movie: girls gets a curse put on her that turns her into an old woman. She ends up living at the moving castle of a supposed evil wizard with a bad reputation. Eventually she learns more about this wizard and realizes he’s not actually evil. She goes through a lot of adventures or scenarios helping the wizard and his colleagues.
I found the descriptions very hard to imagine - especially the action scenes and character portraits. I got lost in a lot of the narration - very mind boggling and presumptuous. The end came and I didn’t even realize it was the end. I found myself skipping through a lot, because I was tired of trying to keep up with the complex language and situations of what was really taking place.
I imagine this is the type of fairytale gravitated towards children, but still, I don’t know if it’s because I’m not a child, but I really could not get into the world created by this author. (And I had no trouble doing that with Alice’s Adventures In Wonderland!) Apparently this is part of a 3-book series, so I’m wondering how much further it will delve into the story of the movie. Honestly, I’d rather watch the movie ten times over than read this again.
THE WALKING DEAD BY ROBERT KIRKMAN This next one needs no introduction. I admit I have been a follower of this comic series since circa 2015, and finally finished it this year. The comic has been going strong for more than a decade and a half with 193 issues to show for it. It came to a conclusion in 2019, but with my reading inconsistency I finished it a couple of months ago.
I absolutely love this comic: everything from the writing, the characters, the storylines, the cover art (check some out below). This series is so full of wit, cleverness, humanness, diversity, action, emotion, and more. I used to watch the TV show, but found it started getting too redundant and off track. The comic is the complete opposite, as there’s always a new threat hovering over our heroes. I truly cared for these characters like I knew them so well, and would get so invested whenever one of them died - and there are a lot of deaths! So it was very bittersweet for me as I read the final issue.
I love how this series portrays humanity in its raw form and in its animal form; humans in survival mode. There’s so much questioning about good and evil, necessity versus materialism, commodity, convenience, survival. There’s a lot about what it means to be a good person and who is a good person given the situation of the world these characters live in. It shows how far humans can go and are willing to go in order to make sure they survive.
It’s a great comic to read for fun and to get drawn into the post-apocalyptic zombie-ridden world. I absolutely love it and would recommend it to anyone.
IF YOU LEFT BY ASHLEY PRENTICE NORTON I cringe as I write down my thoughts for this book. I can basically summarize it as an author’s attempt at erotica in disguise of literary fiction. So this is about a woman with bipolar disorder who seems to have a good life, good husband, money, etc. She spends the summer at her beach house trying to get to know her daughter and find something to keep busy with, all the while handling her illness.
The premise is good, BUT it just fell apart about a third of the way in. The first third was very clear of the character we were dealing with and her manipulative, controlling jerk of a husband. We got to see what her struggles looked like, even the most simple things like getting a mug for her tea. It’s very clear that she’s been hold up by this disease to the point that she doesn’t even know where crockery is placed in her own kitchen and what things her daughter does and doesn’t like. Then it fell apart!
She and her family and her husband’s colleague go to their beach house, where her husband’s colleague is supposed to help her redecorate the house. After some frustrations she takes the redecorating into her own hands and hires a painter to fix the house, and somehow uses him to have a breakthrough with what she wants in her life. Then it kind of ends. After the painter was introduced into the story, there was hardly any further mention of her daughter or her illness. She eventually abandons her accustomed life, including her daughter, and seems to be okay with it; like that’s what sets her free at the end. And I felt like I as the reader was also supposed to be okay with that decision she made, no questions asked, end of story. There was so much potential here.
HAND TO MOUTH BY PAUL AUSTER AND SQUEEZE PLAY BY PAUL BENJAMIN My previous experience with Paul Auster was when I read his nonfiction essays in The Red Notebook. I loved how he wrote and have been wanting to read more of him since. I saw Hand To Mouth on a Youtuber’s list of favourite books and got excited at the chance of reading something nonfiction. Auster didn’t disappoint - if anything I grew to love this genre of writing once again. I love writing non fiction, and in fact, I find it agrees with me more than fiction. In Hand To Mouth, Auster writes about different times in his early life that he considered failures. He worked many jobs trying to make ends meet, starting new projects and businesses, which didn’t pay off as he’d imagined. I like this book because it’s very straightforward and hopeful in a way that doesn’t sound pretentious or self-helpish. He’s very honest about his setbacks and doesn’t seek empathy or sympathy, really. He’s just telling his story as it happened, without giving additional details or other aspects of his life that aren’t relevant to the points he's making.
I appreciate the humor he adds, his prose-like writing, the fact that he reads like someone sitting down with you to tell them some interesting story that happened to them.
At the end of the book are some appendixes of some plays he wrote, a game he invented, and a short story which were all considered part of his failures. Squeeze Play is the short story - a crime/mystery piece of fiction, authored by his pseudonym, Paul Benjamin. The premise is interesting, and of course the writing is great, but it just wasn’t my cup of tea. Honestly, I prefer his nonfiction stuff a LOT better.
STATION ELEVEN BY EMILY ST. JOHN MANDEL I absolutely loved this book. It’s been a week since I finished it and still, I cannot come up with the words to describe what this book did for me.
It focuses on a group of people who are all connected somehow due to the sudden death of an actor. This sudden death is also when the pandemic breaks out. The chapters go into the different character’s perspectives, ranging from life pre-pandemic to post-pandemic. The writing is so immersive, I was hooked from the get go.
This is not exactly a post-apocalyptic book in the sense a la The Walking Dead, but the same threats still exist which compel the human condition, which is what I love about apocalyptic genres. Exploring the human condition; bringing humanity closer to home, despite who these people are. This book did such a good job of that. There were no bad guys or good guys; they were just humans. And I was so emotionally clung to them.
Easy to read, occasional short chapters (like two pages), great use of flashback, would highly recommend this book!
LOVE FROM A TO Z BY S.K. ALI I wanted to love this book. I wanted to love it soooooo badly. But by the third day of reading it, I had barely reached page 60 just because I was straining to truly get into a rhythm with this book. Ugh. I had such high hopes: 2 people of colour as love interests? A setting that takes place in Qatar? Sign me up! But the romance fell flat for me. Honestly, I must say it was non existent - yet there was a warning at the beginning of this book saying, This is a love story. With that, my expectations were super high, BUT I have to say I didn’t get any sense of romance at all in this book! Like, the interactions these characters had with each other read like just to people being civil with each other. That was it. Like how you might be waiting for a train somewhere and strike up conversation with a person who is also waiting for the same train.
But I kept reading this book, if only for the education of wokeness: that is, knowing what’s okay and not okay when in the context of different cultures. This wasn’t enough to let me give this book a special place in my heart, and I must say though I skimmed a lot of it, it did have some good moments.
It’s written in diary form from the two perspectives of our love interests. It gives us insight into life after death, illness, the third culture kid life, what it’s like to fight for a cause at a young age, the question of justice, experiencing racism, and other familiar challenges that become normal for many different people.
I think this book would have been so much more interesting to me if the main characters had their own stories, because mashed together seemed like a big confusing thing that didn’t totally make sense to me at all.
DRAGON PEARL BY YOON HA LEE Filled with great storytelling, I found this a very pleasant read. I would highly recommend it for younger readers, as it’s very light and reader friendly.
It’s about this girl who has the ability to shapeshift who goes looking for her brother, who she has just found out has deserted from the space military. She’s from a family of shapeshifters living on a poor planet and has hopes to change her fate by joining said space military. One thing leads to another and she ends up joining sooner than she thinks, but under the disguise of someone else who she has to help in addition to solving the mystery of her brother’s whereabouts.
A lot of the fantasy element is based on Korean folklore, which is refreshing, as I didn’t feel like the same tropes were used that are often found in fantasy books. But it also had a sci-fi element to it as well, which was seen heavily in the world Lee created.
I must say I was impressed with the structure of this book. I felt everything was executed well and balanced. Nothing felt heavy or overboard: the dialogue, the writing style, the pacing, the crossover of two genres, the inclusion of modernity plus tradition - everything was well polished.
SIX OF CROWS DUOLOGY BY LEIGH BARDUGO Well. Usually books with covers like these put me off. Usually books that are part of a series put me off. Usually books that are more than 300 pages put me off. BUT, these two books have defeated my usual prejudices.
The best YA I’ve read so far.
My biggest issue going into these books was having expectations and thinking I knew what would come next - trying to solve everything as though my input mattered. And even after finishing the first book, I still had to be a step ahead! These books require the reader to trust it, and read.
Six of Crows introduces us to a gang of teenagers living in a corrupt town who embark on a life or death heist, which leads them into a whole new world of magic, secrets, and more corruption. Crooked Kingdom is the continuation of, let’s say, the heist gone wrong. New complications have risen that the group have to deal with to save their lives. Each of these characters have their own motivations and secrets and pasts they may be hiding from or trying to make amends with. These characters go through abuse, grief, crime, violence, tragedy, and so much more to become the survivalists that they are. Each of them grow in their own way as they break the law to get what they need to get done; to restore a sense of justice and purpose for whatever good is in them.
What I love about Bardugo is how she creates these multilayered characters whom the world sees as trash, but who the reader gets a chance to really feel for and embrace them amongst their flaws which make them human. She did a good job of creating hope for these characters and actually allowing them to attain it. But not just in an easy way - in a way where they were confronted with some tough issues, then with the help of each other, being able to decide for themselves whether they wanted this hope or not. I grew somewhat attached to these characters, especially two of them, whose backstories were so moving, that I teared up.
In as much as this book is a fantasy genre, the realistic themes that are portrayed are hella eye opening. There are many moments where we see these people as good-for-nothing criminals, but there are also many moments where we see them as just kids. And it makes me question the type of world we live in where there are kids whose only way to survive is through a depraved world view. Sigh. This book has left me with a bunch of heavy thoughts, new opinions and questions that I’m grateful for. With plenty of action scenes, illusions, adventures, and tests on friendships, this book is one I had a hard time putting down.
ONE DAY I WILL WRITE ABOUT THIS PLACE BY BINYAVANGA WAINAINA Whenever I did read books of my choosing back in primary, I tended to gravitate toward biographies. And I usually read books about people who had gone through some hardship! Eg. Sojourner Truth, Corrie ten Boom, Immaculée Ilibagiza. Then when I started to read stuff by Kenyan writers, I was quickly enthralled by Binyavanga Wainaina, whose How To Write About Africa piece made me a lifelong fan. So of course I had excitement when I got a hold of his memoir.
In this memoir, Wainaina writes about so much: his grapple with his national/ethnic identity, his love for novels, his early school years, Kenya’s slow decline during post-independence, political unrest, his university years in South Africa during its unrest, his love for his family, and even the early days of his writing.
I appreciated a lot of this: mainly the warmth he depicted with his family relationships. There’s a section where he writes about his mum, who had died when he was in South Africa, and it’s so moving and touching, one would have to not have a heart to not feel anything.
I do recommend reading this in multiple settings though, because as I was eager to finish it, I realized I didn’t fully appreciate the stand alone chapters
THE SECRET HISTORY BY DONNA TARTT
This book. So intense. So dramatic. So extra. I loved it. This story is about a group of Greek students at a small Northeastern US college ie. Very preppy, very intelligent, cold, high society, patriarchal. They murder a fellow classmate - non-spoiler, it’s given at the beginning - and have to face life in the aftermath. By the way, they don’t get caught for the crime, which makes the story more interesting, because the more I read, I almost felt empathy for them in where I hoped life would have treated them a bit better if they were caught and put in jail. Yes, this book is that intense!
Slowly, predictably, their once elite super exclusive facade crumbles, as each member of the group panics in their own way. Our narrator is a transfer student who joins this group and slowly builds an obsession with each of his classmates, as well as his beguiling professor, in an attempt of trying to fit in. Soon he regrettably learns too much about each of them, their pasts, their depraved mindsets – basically who they truly are underneath the guise they give off. And this unfolds in a way where my attention was 100% given to the story, because I feared if I zoned out, I would miss key points that made this story the thriller that it is.
It’s funny, because it’s not really a thriller in the “whodunit” sense. But it’s a thriller in the sense of not knowing what people are capable of when you uncover their character driven by their perversions. I was constantly anxious for our narrator, worrying he was way in over his head, which leant to some dark humour added in the writing. But I had to trust him, because he was our only lead to fully get through the story.
THE SENSE OF AN ENDING BY JULIAN BARNES I had high hopes for this book. One, because it’s less than 200 pages, and two, because I think I remember reading good reviews for it? But no….the only reason I finished it, is because it was less than 200 pages and because I was hoping the ending would redeem the flatness in which this book read to me. Gosh, I was let down! Like, I get it was supposed to be mysterious and confusing and disorienting. But, after paying so much attention, I don’t understand the point of it at all. I can’t even say what this book is about.
A guy’s memory sort of playing tricks with his mind? Was all that he remembers actually real or just some nostalgia he created? This book read to me like some literature a college English professor would assign and have us come up with some essay on it. If there’s a part of this book where I feel I sort of had a hint to what it was about, it would be this passage:
“Does character develop over time? In novels, of course it does: otherwise there wouldn’t be much of a story. But in life? I sometimes wonder. Our attitudes and opinions change, we develop new habits and eccentricities; but that’s something different, more like decoration. Perhaps character resembles intelligence, except that character peaks a little later: between twenty and thirty, say. And after that, we’re just stuck with what we’ve got. We’re on our own. If so, that would explain a lot of lives, wouldn’t it? And also – if this isn’t too grand a word – our tragedy.” — JULIAN BARNES, "THE SENSE OF AN ENDING"
????? Honestly, I don’t know. I have nothing to say, except, I have no clue what I read in those 163 pages.
THE WAY YOU MAKE ME FEEL BY MAUREEN GOO I have a soft spot for teen romances. In fact, I will say I am a sucker for well written, cutesy troped, fun, easy to read, quick, light-hearted, nostalgic drama teen stories. Honestly, I was having low expectations after I had read Love From A to Z by S.K. Ali, which is unfair, because I can’t rate all teen romances in the same way. So when I picked up this book and found myself on page 100 in what seemed like an hour, I knew I had found a gem. I love this book. Non-white protagonists and supporting characters? Check. Tasty food descriptions? Check. Teenage girl thirst? Check. Plus, how gorgeous are the colours in this book cover?
This story is about a headstrong class clown, who ends up having to work on her dad’s food truck during her summer holiday with the one girl she can’t stand. The experience also allows her to face things head on instead of running to clownery for her first answer. She really matures from this experience in ways I appreciate, because I think it’s refreshing to see kids change for themselves because they decide to: from the people they hang out with, to having grace for their parents.
I loved reading the relationship she had with enemy-turned-bestie. Some chapters read a little slow and stretched out for me, and although I shipped the main character with her love interest, the scenes with them somehow didn’t make me fully present. I also appreciated that Goo showcased her separated parents without one necessarily being the “bad” parent. I could easily see this as a movie, which I would be so there for!
NO ONE IS COMING TO SAVE US BY STEPHANIE POWELL WATTS I had high hopes for this book, but sadly they were brought down rapidly. Incidentally, this is my second favourite book cover of all the books I’ve read so far.
This book is about the poor African-American experience in the South. I was excited to read it because I heard that it had some elements of The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald, which it does, but not in the grand and extravagant way in which I remember. If anything, the Gatsby theme is very minimal. One of the characters shares the same name as the title character of The Great Gatsby, and there’s the theme of a hope/vision/dream that can never be realized (hint from the title), but those are the only true parallels that I found.
Though there seems to be a main character, there are several characters whose lives we get to see and understand how their race, socio-economic status, and hometown have shaped their very sub-par lives. I think it did a good job of representing a certain type of people and culture in parts of the US, which could be a bit depressing, knowing that there are people whose lives just remain mediocre at best for various reasons. But on the other hand, there was nothing attention-grabbing about this book. It actually took me a while to get into a rhythm with it, as it felt a bit drawn out and long at times.
I became familiar with this book after only seeing the movie in parts (I honestly just remember a boy and a Tiger in the ocean and Irrfan Khan, RIP), and I don’t think I was particularly impressed. Then I read the book and I still wasn’t particularly impressed - with the story, that is.
What I was blown away by was the writing. Whenever an author can make my reading experience feel like someone is telling me a good story, I automatically respect them. That may sound contradicting, but being able to “talk” extensively about the details of animal behaviour, religion, semi Queen’s English, and human survival without making me feel as though I’m in a lecture hall, is a talent. I get bored easily, and the fact that this writer packed in a ton of information in only 300ish pages that was so essential to the story is something I found remarkable. That being said, at times it did read like a 500 page book because of all the facts.
The story is about a boy who gets stranded in the Pacific Ocean with a tiger. It’s super unique, not as thrilling as I would have liked, but quite entertaining. I enjoyed the lightheartedness of the story, despite that our main character is trying to stay alive, and I also enjoyed learning the facts about animals.
ELEANOR OLIPHANT IS COMPLETELY FINE BY GAIL HONEYMAN I’ve been wanting to read this book since the beginning of this year. I was expecting big things, which I don’t seem to stop doing, but I can say my expectations were pleasantly met. I had read and watched some reviews of readers not liking this book at all, rating it quite low. But I found this book really enjoyable and quite applaudable.
The story is of a socially dysfunctional woman who steps into her own after a lifetime of living a banal life brought on by the aftermath of a traumatic childhood. It’s basically an adult coming-of-age story.
I absolutely adored this book. The main character comes across as socially inept, offensive, standoffish and plain weird. But we get to understand she’s like that, because she’s never been taught how to emotionally connect with others or herself. It’s quite beautiful when we see how far she comes in reaching this connection. I really loved how this book portrayed the importance of human connection, and the general goodness of humans. At the beginning, we get the perspective that people are stupid, through judgements and preconceived notions we sometimes make of people in our heads (usually), but then we see a complete shift.
What I also loved was the platonic relationship she had with a coworker, which was so sweet and beautiful and realistic of friendships. I feel like there are friendships that seem random and we don’t realize how much we need them to help us in a certain phase of our life. Seeing our main character open up and start to enjoy the little things in life was so heartwarming. But most importantly, seeing her start to face her past and the issues that came with it, and recognizing her worth and identity was absolutely touching. This book also shows us what it looks like when therapy works.
Though it took awhile for me to get into this book, it is sweet, encouraging, full of new English vocab, and eye-opening.
SHEETS BY BRENNA THUMMLER I haven’t read a graphic novel in ages. So I’m so glad that after a long hiatus, the first one I picked up turned out to be a beauty. This book is literally and figuratively a beauty. The story is of a young girl, Marjorie, who is grieving her mother’s death while running her family’s struggling laundromat. She also has to deal with school life and a strange ghost she later befriends.
At the core of the story is the theme of loneliness. The town she lives in has a very strong identity of belonging, and so most times we see Marjorie by herself, indicating that she really has no one or place to belong to. Despite having a father, he is depressed and recluse, and is in no shape to step up where he needs to. I really like how this story portrays the stress and anxiety of how some kids are forced to be the adult because of various circumstances, while at the same time navigating their own life.
And did I mention it’s such a beautiful book? The illustrations are gorgeous, with all types of pinks, purples, blues, greens and yellows. Completely eye-catching! It’s such a gem of a book, very heartwarming and soft.
THE WOMAN IN THE WINDOW BY A.J. FINN I really enjoyed reading this thriller. It was such a page turner and was super engaging for me.
A story about a psychologist who sees her neighbor killed from her window. She’s also an agoraphobe who hasn’t left her house in almost a year as well as an alcoholic and PTSD sufferer on medication. We get her perspective throughout the story, which I liked, because I felt like Finn really brought us into this character’s mind. I was so sure I knew the character well, that when the proposition of what she witnessed became doubtful, I was caught off guard.
Finn is also a great writer. She really made me appreciate the little things that make writing, writing: alliteration, figurative language, strong imagery, memory, and character action.
The ending is a bit of a surprise that I kind of guessed, but which Finn dropped subtle hints earlier in the story, then led me off that trail until it came back smack in my face. Though it ended a bit unsatisfactory for my liking, I enjoyed the book as a whole.
THE ASTONISHING COLOR OF AFTER BY EMILY X.R. PAN This is a story of a girl whose mum dies, then reincarnates as a bird. The girl sees the bird and gets mysterious signs from this bird, which eventually leads her to Taiwan; her mother’s birth country. There, she discovers parts of her mother’s life she didn’t know about, as she comes to piece what the bird’s significance is.
Honestly, this story didn’t do it for me. I thought it was way too long (about 400 pages total), and the fantasy/mystical element didn’t really work for me. I didn’t like the main character, and had a hard time caring for her as much as I would have liked. There was also an aspect of flashback which came far into the story, which I thought was misplaced somewhat.
The idea and premise was cool, but just not for me.
QUIET: THE POWER OF INTROVERTS IN A WORLD THAT CAN’T STOP TALKING BY SUSAN CAIN This book shows how introverts can thrive in a world geared toward extroverts. The author, Susan Cain, makes a lot of observations and examples of how introverts don’t have to be “other” or “less than” just because they are often quieter. I found this really interesting as an introvert myself, and took away a few points, mostly on how to accept my introversion and use it to my advantage in various areas of my life. I was really encouraged by this passage at the end of the book:
“The secret to life is to put yourself in the right lighting. For some it’s a Broadway spotlight; for others, a lamplit desk. Use your natural powers – of persistence, concentration, insight, and sensitivity – to do work you love and work that matters. Solve problems, make art, think deeply.” — SUSAN CAIN, QUIET: THE POWER OF INTROVERTS IN A WORLD THAT CAN’T STOP TALKING
SCYTHE BY NEAL SHUSTERMAN This has been one of my most anticipated reads that was on my to be read list for a while. I don’t think there’s any other book I read this year that I was excited to read as this one. And when I finally got my hands on it, the wait was definitely worth it.
This is set in a somewhat utopian world – there’s no government, poverty, sickness, and most importantly death – well at least not naturally. In this world there are people dubbed Scythes, who are literally grim reapers who have to kill or what they call “glean” people to sort of maintain the growth of the population. Now these guys are sort of celebrities and have high status, but they are also just regular people, except they wear colorful robes.
This book was so much fun to read. It was funny, it was tense, it was dramatic, it was emotional. It’s a long book, but was easy and quick to read. There’s a lot of political and moral conflict that goes on, and it doesn’t read as a traditional fantasy book, really.
My only complaint is that this book is part of a series and the third book just came out, which means I have to wait. I also don’t like the idea of being committed to one story – BUT – I hope for this series, being stuck in its world for a while will be worth it.
BIG LITTLE LIES BY LIANE MORIARTY
I got this book just for fun, because I watched the show’s first season some time back and overall liked it. The book didn’t feel exciting for me, though, I think because I sort of ruined most of the story by watching the show first. But, it was still an enjoyable read.
There’s a lot more in the book than in the show, and the book is also more funny, too. It’s about kindergarten mums at a beach town and the secrets that end up leading to a tragic event. What I like about the book more is how it makes us pay more attention to the lives of the children as well, and the secrets that they are also keeping.
I read this book hoping to be moved to absolute tears, but unfortunately my eyes remained very very dry. This is a story based on The Orphan Train which was basically a foster system set up in the US in the mid 1800s and early 1900s that took orphaned children, often immigrants, across states in order to find them a home. Most of the times the children were used for free labour, usually treated badly.
In this book we have a young girl in foster care who ends up doing work hours at the home of a nonagenarian woman. The girl finds out that this elderly woman was on an orphan train, whose experiences we read about throughout the book.
The story wasn’t very unique and was quite predictable, but it was still interesting to learn about a time in history wear children were essentially trafficked in broad daylight in the guise of getting a loving home.
The infamous Gone Girl. Gosh, I swear I saw this book mentioned on every booktuber’s video of favourite thrillers. I did see the movie when it came out, but I really could not remember much from it prior to reading the novel. This is a story about a wife who disappears one day, and the husband becomes the prime suspect to her disappearance. Secrets and drama arise and that’s pretty much all anyone needs to know before diving in.
This book left me disappointed at the end. Honestly, I expected so much more, especially after the author took us through some crazy, creepy, demented shenanigans. But the thrill was there one hundred percent, and the writing was absolutely beautiful, flawless and absolutely stellar. I think one of the best writing I’ve read this year.
THIS ONE SUMMER BY JILLIAN TAMAKI AND MARIKO TAMAKI In the spirit of reading more graphic novels this year, I picked up This One Summer by Jillian Tamaki and Mariko Tamaki. This book is so reminiscent of being 10, 11, or 12 when you could stay outside for hours and you gawked when you first saw someone kiss on the lips. It has huge slice-of-life vibes of a kid’s summer holiday at the beach. It’s very realistic in the perspective of a kid, having so much fun one moment, super bored the next, pissed at their parents and everyone after that. Cool art with real-life scenarios.
DAISY JONES & THE SIX BY TAYLOR JENKINS REID A fictional story about the fame of a rock band and its sudden end. It’s told through interviews of members from the band and people who were in their circle. This book reads like a legitimate documentary or exposé of famous musicians. It’s very predictable and easy to follow. Jenkins Reid gives a strong sense of the “main characters” of the band, their issues and the world they live in.
While I was having a fun time with this book, there were a few things that I thought made it fall short of being completely awesome. Firstly, there wasn’t a big tragedy which is known to usually happen within famous bands, which I would have been okay with would the author have fully exposed the faults of these different characters in a bad light. Instead there was a light, could-be-almost tragedy – but it was a bit too clean – I thought it could have been written to be a lot more ugly and rough.
Secondly, I disliked the reason for the band’s breakup – honestly it was so lame, I don’t have any other word to use, and I really question whether that would be an authentic reason for a whole band’s career to end.
But the absolute WORST thing was when the narrator/interviewer suddenly inserted herself towards the end of the story for maybe two sentences to say something that wasn’t even beneficial to the reader! I thought it was weird we hadn’t heard from the narrator/interviewer throughout the book, but then it kind of worked, because I used my imagination to rely on the questions being asked based on the responses of the characters. But then the narrator/interviewer suddenly speaks up towards the end and we’re supposed to just be okay with that? No. It felt like the rhythm was interrupted entirely and I just had to soldier on to the end.
WATCHMEN BY ALAN MOORE AND DAVE GIBBONS Let me just say this, I had no prior knowledge to the Watchman universe. But none of that was important in my reading experience. The writers did a really good job of not making newcomers feel like they had to go back to the comic series to understand the novel. I wasn’t super curious about reading the series after I finished this, but in no way does the experience lack because of no prior Watchmen knowledge. Though I think if you are a fan of the series, then this book is a must.
This book feels very much like the end of an era. A lot is going on: the watchmen, a superhero group, have struggled to keep together and find common purpose anymore. One by one each member is obliterated in what turns out to be a question of evil versus the greater evil. We are transported through various historic events in America – the Cold War, the Vietnam war and others, many flashbacks of the former generation of superheroes and what once represented hope to an America, that is now laughing at anything and anyone that tries to believe hope still exists.
This book explores the complexities of the human condition so well! I think that superheroes are the perfect candidates for exploring such questions, because we really get to see these “fallen heroes” unravel. The things that have deposed them, the representations they become, the fact that they’re not immune from immorality just because they wear a cape and can throw a punch. We see the depravity of a let down society that has become used to war and the effects of it. We see the dilemma of choosing between one evil and the greater evil, and the conviction that somehow one is better because it saves humanity in some way.
Though this book may seem like it portrayed humanity in some great extremes, I think it’ not that far off and that it is a very relevant and realistic read. This book really was deep! At the end, I really had to take a few moments to recover from the heavy messages that were brought up. Although I wouldn’t recommend this to anyone who’s depressed by the pandemic and all the negatives it’s spotlighted, because it will only enhance those emotions. Great art as well – I love the fashion and images of the 70/80s in New York and the classic retro style of comics.
DO ANDROIDS DREAM OF ELECTRIC SHEEP? BY PHILIP K. DICK This book should not be slept on. This is a must-read for all science fiction fans. And it is short (<250 pages). In fact I was shocked how short it was, because I thought there was no way it would seem finished. But I was wrong.
At first, the book started a little slow for me, but then it really picked up, and get me super hooked. We’re in the future, where contentment and having good morals seem to go hand in hand. We follow an android bounty hunter, Rick Deckard, who’s assigned a job to take down the rest of his colleagues suspected androids after the colleague has an incident. We follow Deckard over the course of a day as he tracks down these androids, who are almost identical to humans, except that they lack in emotional intelligence.
As he encounters these androids, he himself gets caught up in his emotions as he questions the purpose of his job and the purpose of obliterating androids for the sole purpose that they are not human. Though he finds himself caught in a moral standoff, there are other things that motivate his quest to take on his assignment, such as the chance of a better (“happier”) life for him and his wife’s future. (The Blade Runner series is based on this book. I watched the final cut version the other day and utterly despised it. I thought it was so whack and distasteful that I cannot understand why it has a cult following.)
THE GRACE YEAR BY KIM LIGGETT The most beautiful book cover I’ve come across this year. From reading the blurb of this book, I was expecting darkness, creepy-in-the-woods type of thing, messed up, psycho behaviour, violent, spooky stuff, but all I got was ghost-stories-at-a-camp-fire type vibe.
Honestly, this book let me down. It had such great potential that I felt was wasted. It takes place in a future patriarchal dystopian village, where women are seen as offensive and beneath men, particularly when they turn 16. They deal with this by banishing the girls for a year to rid them of their sinfulness.
We follow Tierney, who narrates her experiences during this year (the grace year). She’s a big skeptic on the purpose of the grace year, and feels that it is just another way to belittle and brainwash girls into believing they are of no worth. Throughout her grace year, she eventually starts to change the narrative of women in her society, beginning with the girls she’s banished with. But it’s not easy, as many of the girls are convinced that they have magic, and are encouraged to use it in the woods. A few turn on each other and some have fatal endings.
My biggest problem with this book is that it was too hand-holdy. There were a couple of good twists which I didn’t see coming, but everything else was so tame. Our main character honestly seemed like such a wimp. It was confusing because before she was sent away from her village, everyone knew her as a rebel. She seemed tough and was even given the nickname “Tierney the Terrible”, but when she was faced with the other girls, she was so easily overpowered. I know there was a theme of every woman for herself, which eventually was countered at the end, but I couldn’t tell if her resistance to standing up for herself was to prove that point.
I thought there could have been more of a horror vibe, because the villagers were very superstitious and believed in many folk tales and stories, which would have been a good chance to enhance the story through some goosebump events in the woods. Also, I get this is a female empowerment book, but I felt that the author kept reminding us every chance she could that “THIS IS A FEMINIST BOOK” - and I was kind of put off, because from the initial setup of the story to the development of the characters, I could have concluded that on my own.
THE POWER OF A PRAYING WOMAN BY STORMIE OMARTIAN Every girl struggling with prayer and just connecting with God needs to read this devotional! I have read through a couple of devotions, but this one really spoke out to me. I felt like each chapter had something to say in a new light directly to me. It really encouraged me to take a look at my life and how to pray over it. How to pray about the things that I don’t even know I need to pray for. The writing was good and to the point and the author put herself in it too, which was a nice change from many voiceless devotionals. Great verses referenced in here too. A must must must.
A MONSTER CALLS BY PATRICK NESS
This book is such a well rounded story. I appreciated it so much. It may seem like the target audience is middle grade at first, but I think because it follows the structure of classic storytelling, it can be enjoyed by all levels of readers.
It's about a boy who has sleep paralysis (kind of) and is frequently revisited by a horrible nightmare that includes a choice he must face with his terminally ill Mum. During his insomnia, he is visited by a monster in the form of a tree, who tells him different stories that all have different morals to them. The boy doesn't understand what the point is or even why the monster keeps visiting him. But the monster eventually leads him to understand things about himself that he's not willing to let go of, which in turn help him deal with his life and saying goodbye to his Mum.
This story is sad, but real, and helpful in changing views on "trouble children". I really felt for the boy, but felt like I could understand him well because of how good the story was told. Unique perspective of kids with sick parents. Also spotlights bullying, loneliness, depression, fear, and anger in kids.
AMERICAN SPY BY LAUREN WILKINSON This book was so different than anything I’ve ever read and because of that I really enjoyed it. It’s told from a mother’s perspective talking to her children. And so a lot of it is in second person, which took me a while to get used to, as a lot of it was referring to the main character’s past, and so tenses would change when she’s talking to her children and then when she’s actually talking to actual people in the flashback.
But apart from that it’s a spy novel, really, but not in the way we know spy stories from movies. Yes, there’s some action, but also a lot more information to get us to really understand all that’s going on. There’s some good stuff on family relationships, work relationships, and a romance too – which was kind of unbelievable for me, since it does involve an actual historical figure. But it was all enjoyable to me, and quite diverse.
Also, it takes us from New York to Martinique, to Burkina Faso – which made me appreciate the different settings and newness in different scenes. I’ll admit, it is a bit of an acquired read, but I think giving it the time and attention it deserves will be well worth the read.
BEAR TOWN BY FREDRIK BACKMAN This book was like looking at the real side of people who don’t have their act together. I really appreciated the realness of the characters portrayed here. So many flaws, which made me uncomfortable, but also nonjudgmental of them. It’s a story about a small Swedish town whose common interest is ice hockey.
This book actually reminded me a lot of Big Little Lies – except of kindergarten parents, hockey parents – instead of a murder, a tragic crime. The whole community is involved in everyone’s lives and there’s a lot of double lives. There are both secret lives of both the kids and the parents, and a lot of untold truths, and a lot of humanity that makes everyone connected, whether for the good or the bad. What I really liked about this was how real some people still live in the past, and how many people’s lives end after a certain event. This book really made me think about a lot of things. I think it was well written and told well, and I hear the author is coming out with a sequel, though I think this book was enough on its own.