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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.

Update: books bought in the last three days!

The wonderful thing about having your boyfriend in town is that every day becomes a “treat yo’ self” kind of day, or in my case, a “treat yo’ shelf” kind of day.

Two cities, three days, four bookstores, and thirteen books later, I present to you: my recent loot.

Powell’s City of Books (Portland, OR)

On Sunday I spent a good chunk of time exploring the many lovely floors of Powell’s City of Books in Portland, Oregon (I would be lying if I said the distance to Powell’s didn’t factor in my decision to attend school in Washington).

This bookstore is fantastic in more ways than one, but I especially appreciated how they tagged books written by Writers of Color (WOC) throughout the store. Given my reading goals this year, it made it easier to head for the content I was really interested in.

Continue reading “Update: books bought in the last three days!”

Review: Hillbilly Elegy by J.D. Vance

Brief synopsis (Goodreads): From a former Marine and Yale Law School Graduate, a poignant account of growing up in a poor Appalachian town, that offers a broader, probing look at the struggles of America’s white working class. Part memoir, part historical and social analysis, J. D. Vance’s Hillbilly Elegy is a fascinating consideration of class, culture, and the American dream.

Delving into his own personal story and drawing on a wide array of sociological studies, Vance takes us deep into working class life in the Appalachian region. This demographic of our country has been slowly disintegrating over forty years, and Vance provides a searching and clear-eyed attempt to understand when and how “hillbillies” lost faith in any hope of upward mobility, and in opportunities to come.

At times funny, disturbing, and deeply moving, this is a family history that is also a troubling meditation on the loss of the American dream for a large portion of this country.

Rating✈  Travel companion

Long story short: My expectations for this book were largely shaped by reviews that heralded J.D. Vance’s work as an explanation for the way the 2016 elections turned out. That is not the case. While Hillbilly Elegy is an interesting look at Vance’s childhood, it’s also a book written in a vacuum that can’t be applied to any community outside of Vance’s working-class Appalachia.

Perhaps the most telling critique of Hillbilly Elegy is the fact that Vance wants us to look at how class and the family environment affect the poor without filtering our views through a “racial prism” (8). This is problematic because it’s an incomplete story. Yes, their struggles are valid, but it’s also important to acknowledge that their race didn’t add an additional barrier to them being successful.

The fact that Vance chooses to ignore racial tensions is especially ironic considering that he spends about a quarter of the book talking about how hillbillies were immigrants in their own rights. For example, when his grandparents moved from rural Kentucky to the moderately populated community of Middletown, Ohio, they had a difficult time adapting, and were often called out for behaving differently than Middletown “natives”. The reason they moved in the first place? To give their children a better life. Cue major eye-rolls. That’s basically what immigrant parents want for their children: to give them the opportunity to be more successful than they were. The fact that many current residents of Appalachia seem to have forgotten this history (along with the fact that their distant relatives literally came from a different continent) is not only extremely hypocritical, but a form of immense privilege.

When attempting to justify why working-class Appalachia largely didn’t relate to Obama in 2008 Vance says, “Obama overcame adversity in his own right—adversity familiar to many of us—but that was long before any of us knew him” (191).

First of all, while there may have been some overlap between Obama’s and your community’s adversity, because of his race Obama had to overcome a lot more. Even after taking office claims that he was Muslim or a Jihadi terrorist persisted. No White president has ever been accused of being a terrorist, even though most attacks in the U.S. are carried out by White, Christian males.

Second, of course he faced adversity before you knew him. Being in a position to run for President implies that you’ve overcome certain obstacles to be there in the first place! And why does somebody have to currently be going through a hard time for you to empathize? Aren’t you asking the reader to understand what motivates you now because of all that you’ve been through? Can you not extend that same courtesy to somebody else?

But it gets better: in the same breath, Vance asks for our sympathy: “I am a tall, white, straight male. I have never felt out of place in my entire life. But I did at Yale” (201). I don’t say this lightly: I literally can’t even.

I’m going to end my review there in case my brain implodes. If you’ve read Hillbilly Elegy I would love to hear your thoughts. I have more things to say, but need some time to unpack it all.

Review: Enchanted Islands by Allison Amend

Brief synopsis (Goodreads): Inspired by the midcentury memoirs of Frances Conway, Enchanted Islands is the dazzling story of an independent American woman whose path takes her far from her native Minnesota when she and her husband, an undercover intelligence officer, are sent to the Galápagos Islands at the brink of World War II.

Amid active volcanoes, forbidding wildlife and flora, and unfriendly neighbors, Ainslie and Frances carve out a life for themselves. But the secrets they harbor from their enemies and from each other may be their undoing.

Rating🌴  Island collection

Long story short (no spoilers)Enchanted Islands has become one of my favorite books this reading challenge. There were a couple of issues I had with the pacing, but overall the story is compelling (what makes it cooler is that it’s based on true people and true events), and the character development and their interactions are well written.

I don’t remember where I originally read the synopsis (probably on the Book of the Month website), but the story turned out to be really different from what I was expecting, in a good way. I’m always hoping a book surprises me by eschewing typical tropes and plots, and Enchanted Islands definitely did that. The narrative is unique; it’s not at all a spy novel or thriller, but it doesn’t lack action or suspense, just that most of it is introspective. It also has a slightly melancholic and brooding tone, which I found refreshing.

I also like when books (and TV shows, movies, and video games) have a simple story and complex characters. This allows the audience to focus on the important things, like human interaction, self-reflection, and growth. The people in Enchanted Islands were so interesting, and after reading A Game of Thrones it was really nice having a book with just a few characters to keep track of. And they were such wonderfully flawed, wonderfully human characters. I can’t remember the last time I felt such empathy for figures in a novel (especially when they’re being difficult).

The biggest critique I have for this book is its pacing. The story is divided into four parts and is told as a flashback by a much older Fanny. In some places the author, Allison Amend, spends too much time talking about a relatively short period in Fanny’s life and then glosses over decades in a few pages. After knowing her so intimately during her formative years I felt left behind as Fanny aged within what appeared to be a matter of minutes. At the end of the book it seemed like we still had unfinished business…

Despite the choppy timing, Amend did a good job of balancing Fanny’s dialogue in the past with her narrative in the present. I especially liked the moments when the story was punctuated by Older Fanny’s self-reflection. Reading those made me feel like her confidante, and I grew more invested in her character.

So, have you read Enchanted Islands? Is it on your TRL? Keep reading for a spoiler review!

Continue reading “Review: Enchanted Islands by Allison Amend”

A travel journal is a book, right?

This summer I’ll be traveling to Southeast Asia for a few weeks as a final huzzah! before starting my graduate studies in the fall. After making extensive lists about places to go, things to see, people to meet, and food to eat, I settled on Thailand, Cambodia, and Vietnam, with a few days in Japan on the way over.

excited awesome screaming happy dance jonah hill

excited gif new life

If you’re susceptible to the wanderlust bug you will understand how difficult it was to cross places off my list. But I want to do justice to these remarkable countries and with only about a month to spare I rather not rush things (I know, I know…three countries in a month is still rushing things). If you have any recommendations or advice or suggestions, I would absolutely love to hear them.

There are a lot of things I still need to do before I go, but the one project I’m excited about is putting together my travel journal. I always take one with me whenever I go somewhere new so that I have a place to stash small souvenirs and jot down notes about my daily experiences that I can read later when I’m cooped up in the library studying.

Here’s a look at what I have so far:

Continue reading “A travel journal is a book, right?”

Nine down, thirty-one more to go!

April has just begun and I’m almost a quarter of the way through the 2016 Reading Challenge. This makes me incredibly excited and has given me a huge burst of motivation to keep reading and keep sharing my reading adventures with you.

Since Thursday I managed to finish Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman (“a book set in Europe”), Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children (“a New York Times bestseller”) by Ransom Riggs, and The Extraordinary Journey of the Fakir Who Got Trapped in an Ikea Wardrobe (“a book translated to English”) by Romain Puértalos.

books

My trip to Seattle was a great opportunity for me to try out Archimedes (my new Kindle), and I can now confirm that e-readers are definitely worth purchasing if you want to read on the go. I mean, Archie didn’t stop me from buying actual books (I bought both Miss Peregrine’s and The Extraordinary Journey while in Seattle)…but it felt great to dig her out of my purse every time I found myself waiting at the bus stop or in line to buy coffee. I’m also glad I went for the simple e-reader (and not the back-lit tablets with HD screens and all that jazz), because all I wanted to do was read without any distractions. And it worked! Huzzah!

Anyway, reviews for the books mentioned are forthcoming! If you’re participating in a reading challenge, share your progress in the comments section. If you’re not, but are reading or have just read something exciting, I wanna know about that too!

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