Monday, April 13, 2020

What I've Read Recently // March 2020

In order of how much I enjoyed them.
I'm finding lots and lots of extra time for reading --and I'm guessing you might also be finding some too. There are several great selections here that I would definitely recommend (and a couple ho-hums). Have you read any of these? If so, do you agree or disagree with my review? I'd love to hear your thoughts! Below is organized by the order in which I completed the books.

Wilder Girls by Rory Power
Adapted from Goodreads:
It's been eighteen months since the Raxter School for Girls was put under quarantine. Since the Tox hit and pulled Hetty's life out from under her. Now, cut off from the rest of the world and left to fend for themselves on their island home, the girls don't dare wander outside the school's fence. They wait for the cure they were promised as the Tox seeps into everything.
What I thought: 5/10
I definitely fell for the cover! I liked the writing most of the time. I found many passages to be both vivid and exciting; however, the characters and plot were all over the place. The relationships were not clearly established and the motivations of the protagonists were confusing. I didn't end up caring about anyone in this book. I was also turned off by the degree to which every single person had to suffer and experience extreme pain (both physical and emotional)... Like, we get it: the Tox is awful but can you get to the point? Obviously, it's been written as the beginning of a series because there are MANY unanswered questions throughout and we are left without any closure on the final page. Unfortunately, the author didn't do enough here to compel me to want to find out what happens next. 

A Woman is No Man by Etaf Rum
Adapted from Goodreads:
This debut novel by an Arab-American voice,takes us inside the lives of conservative Arab women living in America. Though Deya was raised to believe her parents died in a car accident, a secret note from a mysterious, yet familiar-looking woman makes Deya question everything she was told about her past.
What I thought: (Listened on Audible) 8/10
I mostly enjoyed listening to this book. I learned a lot about a culture (Palestinian Muslim) I knew very little about. "... no matter what any woman said, culture could not be escaped. Even if it meant tragedy. Even if it meant death." I am left to wonder how much of the story is hyperbole and how closely it relates to the average Arab woman's experience both in Palestine and in America. I find myself simultaneously worried that the book might inadvertently further unfair stereotypes and/or that the book really exposes the terrible reality of many women. Either of these worries are upsetting. The overall writing and story-telling was very good. However, I did not enjoy the Deya/Sera segments, as I found the older Sera character to be one-dimensional in a book filled with sound characters. This older Sera contradicted herself from sentence to sentence and (although acknowledged in the text) sounded like a stale self-help book and felt like lazy writing. Having said that, don't let this annoyance dissuade you from reading A Woman is No Man. In the end, the book is very good and wherever it actually sits on the scale from "absolutely illustrative of the realities of the majority" to "one family's tragic experience" --this is an important story that deserves your attention.

The Barrowfields by Phillip Lewis
Adapted from Goodreads:
A richly textured coming-of-age story about fathers and sons, home and family, recalling classics by Thomas Wolfe and William Styron, by a powerful new voice in fiction. Mythic in its sweep and mesmeric in its prose, The Barrowfields is a breathtaking debut about the darker side of devotion, the limits of forgiveness, and the reparative power of shared pasts.
What I thought: 9/10
I wasn't expecting to enjoy this book as much as I did. There was a lot of humor that felt fresh and light within a text/plot that was much heavier and serious. Lewis is a terrific writer. The characters came to life and the way they interacted, simultaneously loving and misunderstanding one another, was evident throughout. In the most flattering way, I would describe this book as an "adult" John Green novel. It should be clear in this comparison that I've loved everything I've read by John Green (Looking for Alaska, An Abundance of Katherines, The Fault in Our Stars, Paper Towns...). The Barrowfields has all of the things I love about Green books: beautiful words, complicated relationships, angst, humor, love, and great dialogue --and it sits soundly outside of the "YA" catalogue.

The Grammarians by Cathleen Schine
Adapted from Goodreads:
Cathleen Schine has written a playful and joyful celebration of the interplay of language and life. A dazzling comedy of sisterly and linguistic manners, a revelation of the delights and stresses of intimacy, The Grammarians is the work of one of our great comic novelists at her very best.
What I thought: 6/10
I really enjoyed the first half of this book. The wordplay, definitions, and sister relationship/connections to words was original and educational. The pace was good and kept me engaged. Uncle Don and cousin Brian were comical highlights! However, once the sisters began to grow up in years, they devolved in maturity. This aspect was disappointing. As a reader, I felt the animosity and childishness in refusing to try to see the other's point of view became silly and boring. In the end, I found the second half of the book to be tedious.

Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell
Adapted from Goodreads:
Eleanor is the new girl in town. Park is the boy at the back of the bus. Slowly, steadily, through late-night conversations and an ever-growing stack of mix tapes, Eleanor and Park fall for each other. They fall in love the way you do the first time, when you're young, and you feel as if you have nothing and everything to lose.
What I thought: 9/10
Finally. This book has been on my "to-read" list for SIX years. It's true. I just looked it up on Goodreads. That's bananas. I found Eleanor & Park to be an almost-perfect book. The setting (1980s) felt like an incredibly fitting setting from which to tell this story. I loved Eleanor and Park so so much. The tension was written so carefully. The parents were depicted with clarity and believability. The teenaged angst and brutal peer interactions of the 80s hit a tone that I felt was just right on the page. I found the story to be sweet, deep, and special: I got goosebumps; I felt angry; I was frustrated; I was all-in.

The Grace Year by Kim Liggett
Adapted from Goodreads:
No one speaks of the grace year. It’s forbidden. In Garner County, girls are told they have the power to lure grown men from their beds, to drive women mad with jealousy. They believe their very skin emits a powerful aphrodisiac, the potent essence of youth, of a girl on the edge of womanhood. That’s why they’re banished for their sixteenth year, to release their magic into the wild so they can return purified and ready for marriage. But not all of them will make it home alive.
What I thought: 8/10
The Grace Year is a mashup of The Hunger Games + The Handmaid's Tale + The Lord of the Flies (+ Magic). The story contains an interesting plot --that, while it felt like a combination of some other great works, it was original in its own right. It had good story-writing and I was definitely entertained. The Grace Year is successful in ways that Wilder Girls was not: the characters were developed, the plot unfolded in surprising and well-formulated ways, the story is one I'd like to read more of in future sequels (though, I'm not certain there are any planned). I did find myself fairly frustrated/annoyed with the main character's inability to figure out obvious "mysteries" in 2-3 specific instances. Despite that, the book as a whole was very good!

Forty Autumns: A Family's Story of Courage and Survival on Both Sides of the Berlin Wall by Nina Willner
Adapted from Goodreads:
In this illuminating and deeply moving memoir, a former American military intelligence officer goes beyond traditional Cold War espionage tales to tell the true story of her family—of five women separated by the Iron Curtain for more than forty years, and their miraculous reunion after the fall of the Berlin Wall.
What I thought: 5/10
This is my book club's selection for March. So many people loved it. It's a memoir about a family separated by the Berlin wall and covers their major life events for forty years. The author is the granddaughter of the original family. Her mother is the only member of the family (the eldest daughter) who escapes East Germany (at the age of 20, if I remember correctly). She marries and American service man in West Germany and after a (decade?), ends up in the United States. The book offers a lot of anecdotal and historical information that gives the reader a sense of what it was like to be in Soviet-controlled East Germany during those years. I can think of a lot of my reader friends who would really enjoy this book. I was not among them. I thought it was stale and the writing was not nearly as dynamic as the story. I wanted to feel personally connected and emotionally moved by the events on the page but confess, I did not.

~ Pin for Later ~

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