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Too soon?

I’m not even close to finishing my 2017 reading challenge, but I’m already looking forward to next year’s! One I’m thinking about following is the 2018 POPSUGAR Reading Challenge, but I’d love to know what else is out there!

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Review: Beasts of Extraordinary Circumstance by Ruth Emmie Lang

Brief synopsis (Goodreads): Orphaned, raised by wolves, and the proud owner of a horned pig named Merlin, Weylyn Grey knew he wasn’t like other people. But when he single-handedly stopped that tornado on a stormy Christmas day in Oklahoma, he realized just how different he actually was.

Beasts of Extraordinary Circumstance tells the story of Weylyn Grey’s life from the perspectives of the people who knew him, loved him, and even a few who thought he was just plain weird. Although he doesn’t stay in any of their lives for long, he leaves each of them with a story to tell. Stories about a boy who lives with wolves, great storms that evaporate into thin air, fireflies that make phosphorescent honey, and a house filled with spider webs and the strange man who inhabits it.

There is one story, however, that Weylyn wishes he could change: his own. But first he has to muster enough courage to knock on Mary’s front door.

Rating: 🌴 Island collection

Long story short: It’s not every day that I spend precious study hours reading for fun (okay, it’s most days, but usually not the few before a midterm).

This book has everything I enjoy in a good story: a new and unpredictable plot, suspense, interesting and relatable characters, and vivid imagery. It’s also one of those books that I simultaneously wanted to finish and hoped it would never end (to be honest, I’m a little sad that it did).

Since it’s past my bedtime, I’m only going to add: go read this book.

Mid-Year(ish) Update

Hi fellow readers and bookworms! We’re well into July now, and how time flies! School and work have kept me pretty busy, but I’m grateful for all the reading opportunities I’ve had this year. Since it’s summer, I think this is a good time to pause for a moment and reflect on my progress.

I’m working through a category reading challenge with an added twist: in January I promised myself that I would read harder. This year that means reading more books by women and/or people of color (POC), and being mindful of how those specific voices are presented (or not) in every day life (i.e., trips to the bookstore, what people around me are reading, etc.).

Continue reading “Mid-Year(ish) Update”

Review: The Lady Matador’s Hotel by Cristina García

Brief synopsis (Goodreads): National Book Award finalist Cristina García delivers a powerful and gorgeous novel about the intertwining lives of the denizens of a luxurious hotel in an unnamed Central American capital in the midst of political turmoil. The lives of six men and women converge over the course of one week. There is a Japanese-Mexican-American matadora in town for a bull-fighting competition; an ex-guerrilla now working as a waitress in the hotel coffee shop; a Korean manufacturer with an underage mistress ensconced in the honeymoon suite; an international adoption lawyer of German descent; a colonel who committed atrocities during his country’s long civil war; and a Cuban poet who has come with his American wife to adopt a local infant. With each day, their lives become further entangled, resulting in the unexpected—the clash of histories and the pull of revenge and desire.

Rating: ✈  Travel companion

Long story short: I really enjoyed The Lady Matador’s Hotel. The plot is slow-moving, but that works in the book’s favor, since the characters are far more interesting and are ultimately what make the book a compelling read. In addition, the writing is charming; it has a poetic cadence that juxtaposes provocatively with the occasional gore and violent imagery.

If you’re on vacation or at the beach, I recommend picking it up! Keep reading for a more in-depth review:

Continue reading “Review: The Lady Matador’s Hotel by Cristina García”

wildwood

Review: Feeding a Yen: Savoring Local Specialties, from Kansas City to Cuzco

Brief synopsis (Goodreads): Calvin Trillin has never been a champion of the “continental cuisine” palaces he used to refer to as La Maison de la Casa House. What he treasures is the superb local specialty. And he will go anywhere to find one. As it happens, some of his favorite dishes can be found only in their place of origin. Join Trillin on his charming, funny culinary adventures as he samples fried marlin in Barbados and the barbecue of his boyhood in Kansas City. Travel alongside as he hunts for the authentic fish taco, and participates in a “boudin blitzkrieg” in the part of Louisiana where people are accustomed to buying these spicy sausages and polishing them off in the parking lot. In New York, Trillin even tries to use a glorious local specialty, the bagel, to lure his daughters back from California. Feeding a Yen is a delightful reminder of why New York magazine called Calvin Trillin “our funniest food writer.”

Rating✈  Travel companion

Long story short: I enjoyed stepping into Trillin’s whirlwind foodie world, where he visits and revisits cities around the globe for the sole purpose of eating his favorite dishes. As a traveler and food connoisseur, I can relate. However, the stories lack depth, and they miss the opportunity to make larger connections between humans and food that would have been interesting to explore, like why we cook what we cook, how food connects us across cultures, and what transformations in food science mean for the future of humanity, to name a few.

This is a good travel book or lighthearted read, but don’t expect to get much out of it (much of the information is dated and few specifics are given re: restaurant names and places). Have you read Feeding a Yen or any other work by Calvin Trillin?

Review: Wife of the Gods by Kwei Quartey

Brief synopsis (Goodreads)Introducing Detective Inspector Darko Dawson: dedicated family man, rebel in the office, ace in the field—and one of the most appealing sleuths to come along in years. When we first meet Dawson, he’s been ordered by his cantankerous boss…to lead a murder investigation: in a shady grove outside the small town of Ketanu, a young woman—a promising medical student—has been found dead under suspicious circumstances. Armed with remarkable insight and a healthy dose of skepticism, Dawson soon finds his cosmopolitan sensibilities clashing with age-old customs, including a disturbing practice in which teenage girls are offered to fetish priests as trokosi, or Wives of the Gods. Delving deeper into the student’s haunting death, Dawson will uncover long-buried secrets that, to his surprise, hit much too close to home.

Rating✈  Travel companion

Long story short: Wife of the Gods is an entertaining and suspenseful murder mystery led by a well-written protagonist. The plot is compelling, though perhaps a little slow in some places, and characters are colorful and nuanced.

The novel is part of my goal to read books by POC, especially those originating from countries outside of the US and Europe. Kwei Quartey was born in Accra, Ghana (where parts of this story takes place) and is both a crime fiction writer and practicing physician(!!!). I didn’t know this before, but he currently lives in Pasadena, California, which is neat!

Continue reading “Review: Wife of the Gods by Kwei Quartey”

saturday morning

Review: The Circle by Dave Eggers

Brief synopsis (Goodreads):When Mae Holland is hired to work for the Circle, the world’s most powerful internet company, she feels she’s been given the opportunity of a lifetime. The Circle, run out of a sprawling California campus, links users’ personal emails, social media, banking, and purchasing with their universal operating system, resulting in one online identity and a new age of civility and transparency. Mae can’t believe her luck, her great fortune to work for the most influential company in America—even as life beyond the campus grows distant, even as a strange encounter with a colleague leaves her shaken, even as her role at the Circle becomes increasingly public. What begins as the captivating story of one woman’s ambition and idealism soon becomes a heart-racing novel of suspense, raising questions about memory, history, privacy, democracy, and the limits of human knowledge.

Rating🏡  Left behind

Long story short (no spoilers): Imagine if Facebook, Google, and Apple merged into one conglomerate and become Big Brother; that is what The Circle is: a huge tech company slowly taking over all public and private services in the name of open-access and efficiency.

The premise is intriguing because the themes hit close to home—over the last century we have often supported transparency over personal freedoms—but the execution is poorly done and overall the novel is disappointing.

For one, Mae’s character lacks substance. She is a pushover, easily persuaded, completely lacks a spine, and the only thing she wants is to be liked by those she works with and for. Every single decision she makes is an attempt to increase her social standing at the Circle, and she learns nothing from her mistakes. This makes it difficult to care about her and to put ourselves in her shoes, which is a wasted opportunity in a book commenting on individual vs. collective identity. What’s more, as a female protagonist in a largely male-dominated field, Mae’s character does a disservice to women in STEM, and Eggers proves he has no idea how to write a female character. From awkward sex scenes where he says things like “She could think only of a campfire, one small log, all of it doused in milk” to describe premature ejaculation, to creating a persona that encompasses nearly every negative female stereotype (easily manipulated, always worried about what other people think of her, has two men trying to sleep with her (spoiler: they both do), thinks that the 3% of people who gave her low ratings want her dead, has a doe-eyed naivety about everything and willfully swallows BS) make me so angry.

Second, for a “heart-racing novel of suspense”, the setup is weak and the climax predictable. The entire novel focuses solely on all the good things that come from the Circle’s work, such as preventing child abduction, creating a more transparent government, and consolidating medical records. Only in passing (and by that I mean a couple of phrases by Circle employees and one or two monologues by secondary characters) does it mention what could go wrong when one company has access to everybody’s most intimate details. So when Mae is inevitably confronted by the contending idea that what the Circle is doing may not be a good thing, she (and the reader) have no reason to believe it’s true or that it matters, which makes the entire dilemma irrelevant.

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Lastly, the novel does not add anything new to a conversation most of us are already having about the limits of technology and social media.We realize that technology is quickly outpacing public policy, and that innovation requires sufficient oversight to prevent privacy and ethical breaches. The Circle, however, breezes through calamitous issues without giving them the consideration they deserve, and provides no serviceable solution or warning for where we are headed. What’s the point of telling us what we already know?

Have you read The Circle or do you plan to watch the movie? Let me know what you thought in the comments below. If you want to know more, keep reading for a spoiler review.

Continue reading “Review: The Circle by Dave Eggers”

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