Monday, September 27, 2021

Malibu Rising by Taylor Jenkins Reid (audiobook)

 genre: historical fiction

The Riva kids: Nina, Jay, Hud and Kit, have always lived in Malibu.  It's where they grew up, it's where they've settled as young adults.  When the eldest sibling, Nina, throws her annual bash at the end of the summer of 1983, they have no idea that this one party is going to change everything.  

I don't want to say any more than that because this book was so interesting as it unpeeled, layer by layer.  The book has chapters in the "present" day of 1983 but also goes back, back in time, helping us to understand why 1983 IS the way it IS for the four Rivas.   The characters are complex.  I love how this book, like Daisy and the Six, explores celebrity and how it can change and break people.  I loved the beachside surfer vibe, the focus on family ties, the way this book would surprise me with moments of tenderness.  The writing really is so good.  I loved, LOVED, how it ended, and that's not easy.  I would highly recommend this book but I have to warn you that it is full of f-bombs and has many sexual references is well - it's an adult book telling an adult story.  But dang, I finished it feeling so proud of those Rivas. And wanting to visit Malibu.

Friday, September 24, 2021

The Island of Sea Women by Lisa See

genre: historical fiction

Mi-ja and Young-sook have spent their lives on the Korean island of Jeju, home of the haenyeo - the diving women who for generations have gathered their livelihood from the sea.  While Young-sook comes from a strong line of local diving women, Mi-ji is an orphan tainted by her parents' perceived collaborations with the occupying Japanese in a Korea that has not yet seen the Second World War.  With brief periods of insight into the modern life of a haenyeo, The Island of Sea Women is mostly a tale of the past, of a Korea whose political strife affects the lives of everyone trying to survive and make a living and where the choices you make can have disastrous effects for you and your family for a lifetime.  

It is a story of friendship and way trauma and a lack of forgiveness can affect our relationships.  It is a story of the strength of women and way the fallout of war falls so hard on their shoulders.   Between the strong writing and the expertly crafted Korean world, I was truly transported.  It is desperately sad, much of the time, but I felt the authenticity of the plot, even if it sometimes seemed like even I, as a reader, needed a break from reading about trauma.  I'm glad I read this book, not just because I enjoyed it but especially because my knowledge of more modern Korean history has now improved ten fold.

Wednesday, September 22, 2021

City of Secrets by Victoria Ying

genre: middle grade graphic novel

In the grand capital city of Oskars, Ever Barnes is living a hidden life inside the cavernous Switchboard building.   He knows a secret that might someday save his beloved city, but when dangers begin to make themselves known, what he really needs is a friend.  Enter Hannah, a spunky local who loves adventure.  Together, Ever and Hannah have to figure out who to trust - and how to keep themselves safe in a city with all kinds of moving parts.

This was such a fun fast read.  Complex enough to be interesting, truly beautiful illustrations.  Fun characters with enough violence and intrigue to capture an older reader.  A bit predictable but I LOVED the steampunk vibe.  I'd let my 8 year old boys try it.

Monday, September 20, 2021

The Bennet Women by Eden Appiah-Kubi

 genre: new adult contemporary fiction

When you live in Bennet House, you know you’re joining a house full of women who want a particular college experience. For EJ, Resident Assistant and engineer extraordinaire - she wants friendship, loyalty and for her life after graduation to be stable and successful. With all she's up against as a Black woman in the sciences, if that’s all she gets out of her time at Longbourn University, then her time and effort will be worth it. A real romance is NOT on EJ’s list - she doesn’t have time for that - and when the famous Will Pak arrives for the year, his behavior confirms it. She does not have the time or interest for commitment, despite the encouragement of her friends to give him a chance.

It’s a Pride and Prejudice remix! It’s modern times - socially aware with a diverse group of characters that are complex and interesting. It’s a fast, fun read. Didn’t require much of my brain and people are in some ways a little TOO perfect or predictable but when you’re reading a fanfic (and this is better than many I’ve read) you do sorta know that’s what you’re gonna get. The last bit dragged for me but overall, this was a fun choice for my “fanfic” prompt for Read Harder. If you like Pride and Prejudice already and like strong and capable Black heroines, give this a try.

Note: language and sexual situations

Tuesday, September 14, 2021

Reset by Sarina Dahlan

genre: dystopian, science fiction

Aris loves tabula rasa, the cleansing that the earth's population goes through every four years where minds are wiped clean and the world is a blank slate.  No attachments to create jealousy, no grudges to foster the kind of hate and war that nearly destroyed the world.  Just a peaceful NOW, to appreciate while you can. Not everyone loves this idea, though, and some people believe that memories that should've been erased may exist in dreams, the kind of dreams that can remind you of what you've loved - and lost.  People who believe that, though, are a threat to the uptonian society that the Planner created.  And that's a problem.

This book is a bit of a mixed bag.  The plot and ideas are big and interesting but the execution left me wanting.  There are plot holes everywhere and unfortunately, I feel like the characters were pretty flat.  I finished with so many questions - and not the kind that makes me want a sequel, but the kind that make me feel like all the details weren't sorted out for me.  If you aren't picky about that sort of thing and you enjoy interesting romantic plots, you might still enjoy this.

note: some language and mild sexual scenes

Wednesday, September 8, 2021

Oscar and Lucinda by Peter Carey (audiobook)

 genre: historical fiction

Oscar and Lucinda are from completely opposite sides of the British Empire.  Oscar, in England, is the son of an evangelical preacher whose tremendous and rigid enthusiasm for religion has shaped Oscar's view of the world in a very real sense.  Lucinda, on the other hand, is a child of the Australian colony and when early tragedy leads to the strange position of being an heiress, she is at loose ends.  What she decides to invest in, the strange obsession with gambling that both Oscar and Lucinda possess as well as the landscape of Australia itself - both its colonizers and its rivers and land, will influence the course of this tale.

Dang, this book was kind of a trial. Yes, it's interesting, otherwise I'd have given it up.  Yes, I wanted to see what happened to both our main characters.  Yes, it's sort of fascinating to watch the fortunes of people interplay with fate and circumstance.   But there is so much unnecessary backstory of unimportant people. There is so much random dialogue.   They are both such quirky humans with their own baggage and trauma making relationships so complicated.  It's sad to see people not live up to their potential but I do appreciate the idea that's woven throughout that our stories - and our part in them - are only a piece of reality.  We don't get to choose what happens in everyone else's story and the fact that it might impact us - or not - is sometimes just really up to chance.

Friday, September 3, 2021

Project Hail Mary by Any Weir

 genre: science fiction

When Ryland wakes up from what must has been some kind of coma, all Ryland Grace knows is that he’s alone. And on a spaceship. In space. It takes a while for his brain to start piecing together what happened and when it does - it’s bleak. Ryland is on a mission to save humanity. By himself.
I read this on my kindle and I DEVOURED it. I had no idea of how long it was until I finished and looked. I was completely all-in from the very beginning and from that moment until the end, this story totally captivated me. It has thrilling and scary moments, funny moments, so much science and creativity and curiosity and even a little bit of heart. It is science fiction the way I love it to be and so I never had to suspend my disbelief at all - I’m no molecular biologist or planetary scientist. For me, it’s all plausible! I love the direction that it took, the way I felt that even as a reader that I was part of something bigger than myself. If you enjoyed the Martian (I loved it!) then I suggest doing yourself a favor and not finding out anything else about this book -  let it surprise you. I doubt you would be disappointed.

Friday, August 27, 2021

The Lacuna by Barbara Kingsolver

genre: historical fiction

Harrison Shepherd is a man of two lands - although born in the United States near the turn of the century, his formative years are spent in Mexico with his flighty mother as he essentially raises himself.  The Mexico of Shepherd's youth is vibrant and hungry and his tenacity leads him from job to job until, one day, he ends up in a job that will change his life and introduce him to a cast of characters whose own infamy will impact his own, for better or worse.

This is a long one - dense and long and deliberate - but it was so rewarding for me.  The life of our main character weaves through time and his desperate love of the written word spoke to me so deeply.  I loved plunging myself into Communist Mexico in the 1930s, I learned and was entertained and some historical pieces I'd known slipped into context.  I loved looking at the value of art - its ability to, on the one hand, create such community while also having the power to divide and politicize its creator.  Kingsolver is a master of language, that is just truth.  While it wasn't a crazy page turner, I knew from the first chapter that I would follow Shepherd to the end and I'm glad I did.  

Tuesday, August 24, 2021

Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi

genre: adult historical fiction

Homegoing is a novel of Africa, of Her children who left and Her children who stayed. It is a novel of parallel timelines as we watch two sisters and their families navigate a world in which the legacy of Africa plays out on two continents. It is heartbreaking. It is beautiful. It is compassionate and unapologetic and gorgeously written. I finished it feeling both undone and whole, marveling at the way I moved through time and yet my concern for the characters who came and then slowly went never waned. I needed their stories. Slavery, freedom, tribal wars and Harlem, colorism, colonialism and Jim Crow, we are asked to imagine life in so many different scenarios and every time -we get beauty, compassion, pain and, occasionally, redemption. Exceptional piece of literature.

Content warning: sexual situations

Monday, August 23, 2021

Twisted: The Tangled History of Black Hair Culture by Emma Dabiri

genre: nonfiction

In this slim book, Emma Dabiri takes us deep into the world of hair. Yes, hair. Hair and its many iterations, most especially the hair of those from Africa and those who are a part of the African diaspora. We learn how hair is not only controversial, it is straight up game-changing when you have the wrong kind of hair, especially as a woman. Dabiri's personal stories about how the texture of her hair has impacted her life flesh out this really interesting look at how tightly woven both hair and hairstyles are within cultures and traditions - as well as hair as a factor in blatant and overt racism.

I found this a fast and informative read. I learned so much and have a much greater appreciation for how hair can and has been used as a weapon to push people into a certain box. I loved learning about African hair traditions and how they have stood the actual test of time and community-wide trauma.

I feel like Twisted has a place on any Black Lives Matter reading list, I learned that much.

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