July Thoughts & Wrap Up

Well, July is over… where has the time gone?! I wanted to write a bit about the month since it was a pretty intense roller coaster.

I haven’t talked much about my life outside of this blog so here’s a bit of an introduction to what my life is right now. My name is Paulina, I am 32 years old, and I work as a scientist for a biotech company. I just bought a house with my parents so I live with them and my sister, who is currently in college. Since March 2020, due to the pandemic, my work is fully remote, so I am pretty much home all the time, which is great for reading! I also have a cat named Seiko who is my reading buddy and loves the fact that I’m sitting around reading and chilling when I’m not at my desk working.

Me! In my Cat PJs!

So this month there were a lot of changes at work and also a lot of deadlines. I am so grateful that my coworkers are such a great team to work with, even when facing a big deadline full of complex work. Because of all this I definitely had to be good about setting boundaries and setting time aside for basics like exercise, reading, good food, hydrating, etc. I can’t say I was completely successful everyday since I did have trouble sleeping some nights since my anxiety would bubble up some days.

My anxiety isn’t all about work of course, as a new homeowner (wow still feels weird saying that!) I am figuring out what it means to maintain a house, from the plumbing to the landscaping, it’s a lot! Of course, I get to do that with my family and, while we tend to agree on most of these decisions, it’s still a whole other part of my life that’s new to me so it brings me quite a bit of uncertainty at times.

Social interactions in person are very few right now. We are in a pandemic and, while my family is all vaccinated, we are still taking all precautions possible. This is not just for our own well-being, but we also recognize that there are people out there who can’t get vaccinated due to health reasons or because they are children who can’t get vaccinated yet. I also think of all the people in other countries where they don’t have enough vaccines, or where their governments haven’t been good about managing the distribution of the vaccines. I strongly believe that we can’t get past this era of pandemics if we don’t think of the rest of the world. (Add that to my mental stress!)

But not all is bad and anxiety inducing! I have been having a great time diving back into books and connecting with people online. There are now three book clubs that I participate in, and one long buddy read, that have definitely kept me happily reading. One is with friends I know in real life but live far away in Mexico and Canada and it has been great to chat with them every Sunday about books I never would have picked myself! We tend to pick books that are very interesting but could be either a hit or miss, which is great for this group. Another is with people I did not know previous to joining but we are all alumni who received the Questbridge scholarship. These are such great discussions of just excellent books and I’ve definitely made some new friends in this group. The third is much bigger with the Feminist Book Club subscription box and we get to join Q&As with authors of really diverse books as well as have zoom chats with other members of the club. While I don’t personally know all the members, it’s so great to meet with people online and chat about important topics like gender, social issues, activism, and life in general.

So, while July was stressful and busy, I had great ups to balance the stress. I managed to read 5 books:

  • Rich People Problems by Kevin Kwan: I finally finished the Crazy Rich Asians trilogy! I had a lot of fun with it and I look forward to reading more romance, it’s a genre that I need to explore more for sure.
  • Reinas Malditas by Cristina Morato: This was not a great book but it was so much fun discussing it with my friends. I learned a lot from our conversations but not enough from the actual book to make me love it. Too bad!
  • A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini: This was a heartbreaking story that gave me a lot of history along with a beautiful story. I gotta check out more of Hosseini’s books.
  • The Viscount Who Loved Me by Julia Quinn: Another romance book! These have really surprised me because I feel like they are more about the men than the women, which is quite interesting. I am overall enjoying the Bridgerton series and I look forward to reading the other books.
  • Fierce FairyTales by Nikita Gill: Poetry is not normally in my bookshelves so it was great to read these poems inspired by fairy tales! I am now following Gill on Instagram and want to read more poetry this year!

All in all, a busy, productive, stressful, fun month! August is looking to continue to be busy at work and also fun with the book clubs. How did your July go? Are you excited for August and the peak of summer?

Review: Rich People Problems by Kevin Kwan

The first book I finished in July was Rich People Problems by Kevin Kwan. This is the third and final installment in the Crazy Rich Asians trilogy, which I started way back in 2018 right before the movie came out. (Still waiting for that second movie…..) I read the second book in 2019 (I think, I actually didn’t record it on Goodreads but I definitely read it, I swear XD). In the first book we mostly follow Rachel and Nick, a couple who go to Nick’s friend’s wedding in Singapore, where Rachel finds out that Nick belongs to a super rich family. There’s romance, there’s drama, there’s a lot of expensive jewelry, dresses, food, oh the food…. ::drool:: The second book delves deeper into Nick’s family and we learn even more about Astrid and Kitty Pong, Kitty’s story was probably my favorite part in this book, where she tries to go from an actress who is not taken seriously to a more refined version of herself. In the second book Nick and Rachel end up in a life or death situation and it’s probably the most action-driven book of the three.

The third installment has much less about Rachel but Nick is still a big player in the book. Nick’s grandmother, Su Yi, is on her deathbed and the family is coming together to say goodbye but also… figure out what they will be getting in the will. Eddie, one of Nick’s cousins is so so so annoying and as melodramatic as usual. Kitty is back with even more ambition to have more power and respect from everyone. There is a particular chapter where Kitty hires Nigel Barker for a photoshoot and, as someone who used to watch America’s Next Top Model, I was laughing so much imagining him in this world, it was a lot of fun. Astrid is also on a journey of her own as she figures out her identity outside of her rich family’s expectations of perfection.

My favorite part of this book was that we got to see to the past and into Su Yi’s story of how she was a war heroine. As the Japanese invaded Singapore, she played a role in helping others stay safe and, even when her father sent her away to India until the war passed, she went back to Singapore and helped in the war effort. It was really cool to see what Su Yi was like in her youth and then how that contributed to how she was from book one and to the end of her life in book three. Also, looking into the real history of the Japanese invasion of Singapore, the real Tyersall park did serve as headquarters for some of the commanders so it was cool to learn some of the history through this book.

While the whole book is still filled with greedy, selfish people, who don’t seem to learn that money isn’t everything (mostly because they have just been taken it for granted), there are also some characters who start to see how there are more things to life than money and power. Of course, you still get a lot of glamour, name/brand dropping, insane parties and purchases that go beyond any “normal” human. Some of the characters are dealing with mental health issues, and that is much more apparent in this third book.

Perhaps the one thing that wasn’t perfect about this book was the time/pacing. Sometimes the book would jump months/days and it was hard to tell. The end was also wrapped up in a couple of sentences for each person, imagine a montage at the end of a movie where you see what happened with each person, not a bad ending at all since it did tie up everything pretty nicely, I just wanted more hahaha.

This is one of the most consistent series I’ve read (rated all three books with 4 stars on Goodreads) since they all kept me laughing, rolling my eyes, and just overall very entertained. As far as escapism goes, this was a great book to read and just forget about everything going on in real life. I definitely stayed up reading it way past my bedtime so if you’re looking for something like that, I do recommend this series.

Review: Disability Visibility Edited by Alice Wong

Disability Visibility Edited by Alice Wong

When I was in middle school in Mexico I went to a private all-girls school and one of my classmates was blind. She was one of the smartest people in the class and as far as I can remember, she participated in just about every activity we had with just some assistance from the teacher. I can’t quite remember how it happened but there was a news story about her and her achievements in school and she tried to make her case to the interviewer that what she really needed to further succeed was a computer for blind people. I remember that she was upset later because when the news came out there was no mention about the computer, just a lot of praise and amazement that she was blind and yet she was doing so well in school. Now I understand that the interviewer and the media only wanted that feel good story but didn’t care to further help her with what she truly needed. I also understand now that she was probably one of the more fortunate blind people in Mexico, able to get an education at a private school with teachers who seemed to be able to help her as best as they could. Otherwise, I would encounter blind people in the subway, singing, playing an accordion while someone led them through the crowded aisles. I now have more of a perspective on how it wasn’t a consequence of their lack of sight that led them to beg in the street but because of society’s lack of support.

In Disability Visibility I was able to learn about many other types of disabilities and the people who live with them. How they live, how they try and thrive in a world that doesn’t seem to care much about them. It’s a book about the realities and not about feel good stories, like the one told about my middle school friend. I loved the diversity of people that we hear from, we hear from men, women, non-binary people, queer, straight, trans people, and more! To try to summarize all of that here would be impossible but trust me that throughout this book you get to meet many amazing people and learn about what they’ve been through and what they hope to accomplish. Alice Wong put together a great array of stories and you can also see more of her work at the Disability Visibility Project website.

As I finished each story I went to see what the author was doing now or to learn more about them and their endeavors. I also stopped a lot to think about what I had just read, to process and let it sink in. These are not easy stories to read, in fact, quite a few of them have content warnings at the beginning of each story so it makes it easier to read carefully.

There were some stories in the book that really did blow my mind in the sense that if disabled people were given all the resources that they needed to thrive, they would be able to contribute so much to society! Specifically I think of the story by Wanda Díaz-Merced, which is actually a TED talk that was transcribed for the book. Wanda Díaz-Merced is an astrophysicist who lost her sight late in her career, but she managed to find a different way to study space and one that ended up giving more information to scientists than by just visual means. As non-disabled people we think that there are only so many ways to do things in our lives, but in fact, there are many ways to do things. If we can be more open minded, there really would be endless possibilities! These aren’t stories of people doing things despite their disability, these are stories of people using all of themselves to live their life as best as they can and fight for what they believe in.

I highly encourage non-disabled people to read this book. There are endless social aspects that affect people with disabilities, from public transportation, architecture, scientific research, legal rights, etc., but where they are not given a thought. I realized for example, my house is not accessible to people who use wheelchairs! My workplace does not have an elevator to the second floor! We can at least start noticing and asking for the people in charge to make things accessible to disabled people around us. And even more importantly, we can empathize with their stories and the obstacles that are put in their lives and help remove those obstacles as best as we can.

May 2021 Book Bites

Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng
  • Favorite Bite:

All her life, she had learned that passion, like fire, was a dangerous thing. It so easily went out of control. It scaled walls and jumped over trenches. Sparks leapt like fleas and spread as rapidly; a breeze could carry embers for miles. Better to control that spark and pass it carefully from one generation to the next, like an Olympic torch. Or, perhaps, to tend it carefully like an eternal flame: a reminder of light and goodness that would never — could never — set anything ablaze. Carefully controlled. Domesticated. Happy in captivity. the key, she thought, was to avoid conflagration.

Mrs. Richardson in Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng
  • Perspective Rating: 8/10 I really enjoyed how motherhood is viewed in so many different ways. I think few books that I’ve read have such diversity of points of view.
  • Emotional Rating: 8/10 A lot of moments resonated with me, there were moments when I really felt for the characters and where I could feel how hard the decisions they made truly were.
  • Bites Rating: 6/10 Not a lot of quotable moments in this book, it was easy to read and a lot of it I just read through because I wanted to know more.
  • Overall Rating: 7/10 This book is truly a great book and I think it’s valuable to read for everyone. The lower rating is perhaps indicative of the writing style, which was good but not one I’d consider memorable.
Obsidian Puma by Zoe Saadia
  • Favorite Bite: None here, pretty much everything I annotated was because I was confused.
  • Perspective Rating: 9/10 This is where the book shines because there are very few books that are set in Tenochtitlan or even pre-hispanic conquest. The information about this time period and the culture is really well researched.
  • Emotional Rating: 2/10 I didn’t get to connect to the characters or the story too much. Perhaps it was the writing style or the way that the characters were just not fully developed but nothing really connected for me.
  • Bites Rating: 1/10 I did not like the writing style and I was already confused enough with the story unfortunately.
  • Overall Rating: 4/10 What is best about this book is the perspective. I wish there were more books with this perspective that were better written.
Archenemies by Marissa Meyer
  • Favorite Bite:

Perhaps most troubling was that the Renegades had done little to counter the growing epidemic of drug abuse or the flourishing black market. If anything, they seemed at a loss as to how to fight an enemy that couldn’t be knocked out with punches and laser beams.

Archenemies by Marissa Meyer
  • Perspective Rating: 6/10 There is some diversity in the characters, one of the main characters has two dads and there is also one character who is disabled. However, they are not the main characters and we don’t get much of what is happening from their point of view. They are mostly supportive and secondary characters that I wish got more of a spotlight. I also found that there were some social justice issues (like the drug abuse epidemic mentioned above) where it could have gone much further but it was almost like a passing thing. I wish Meyer would have gone further into these issues explaining how this world was managing (or failing) at doing so than just this. (Or just not include it at all!)
  • Emotional Rating: 8/10 Not going to lie, I am attached to a lot of the characters now, on both sides! I am worried about them and want all of them to succeed but I know that’s not going to happen and oh the feelings!
  • Bites Rating: 5/10 This is another book that was just super fast to read, not much was highlighted and I was honestly just devouring the book and didn’t stop to highlight things too much.
  • Overall Rating: 6.33/10 Super entertaining book that did leave me hanging and wanting to read the next one. I think these books are very entertaining but do lack in substance sometimes. (Or perhaps the attempt at substance is just not enough so it becomes distracting)
Smoke and Mirrors by Neil Gaiman
  • Favorite Bite:

“Trolls can smell rainbows, trolls can smell stars,” it whispered sadly. “Trolls can smell the dreams you dreamed before you were ever born. Come close to me and I’ll eat you life”

Troll Bridge in Smoke and Mirrors by Neil Gaiman
  • Perspective Rating: 7/10 I don’t think these characters were particularly unique in the sense of perspective. Most of them were white men/boys encountering various types of fantastical creatures and situations. There was a variety of ages, from young kids to elderly characters so that was one place where there was some variety in perspectives, which I enjoyed.
  • Emotional Rating: 7/10 At times it was difficult to connect to the main characters so some stories did flat for me. However, others were just excellent and I empathized with the character’s troubles and was able to dive deep into the story with them.
  • Bites Rating: 7/10 It really depended on the story, some of them did have great phrases that I highlighted and annotated, while others were quick reads that I wanted to just keep reading. Nothing remarkable really.
  • Overall Rating: 7/10 This book spans short works from the 80s and early 90s and were written for various types of magazines or books that were about a very specific type of story (fairy tale re-tellings or Lovecraft-inspired for example) so the stories can be hit or miss for pretty much anyone. I’d recommend it for people interested in a good variety of sci-fi, fantasy, and speculative fiction short stories.
Eric by Terry Pratchett
  • Favorite Bite:

The bees of Death are big and black, they buzz low and somber, they keep their honey in combs of wax as white as altar candles. The honey is black as night, thick as sin and sweet as treacle.

Eric by Terry Pratchett
  • Perspective Rating: 6/10 We are once again following Rincewind in this series and he ends up in some kind of time travel mess along with a young demonologist who thinks he has summoned a demon while he has in fact, gotten a wizard out of some parallel universe. We do get to visit an ancient culture that is a mix between the Inca and the Aztec but it has the Pratchett treatment so it’s a very different satirical take. The most interesting perspective is definitely Death, who we see at the very beginning as a beekeeper in his realm and well, his point of view is always one that gets to me.
  • Emotional Rating: 4/10 Rincewind is not exactly my favorite character of the Discworld, but I did enjoy the parts of the book with Death and the Librarian which, even though they were few, they were so so great.
  • Bites Rating: 8/10 Although this book was not one of my favorites of Discworld it still gave me a lot of laughs and had many great jokes and fun bits as well as parts that made me think about life and escape the current state of things.
  • Overall Rating: 6/10 Discworld is a really fun series to pick up throughout the year. It’s guaranteed laughs and interesting characters that you never know what they’ll be doing next. While this was not my favorite book in the series it does give more of a glimpse into the Discworld so I loved it for that.
Empire of Ivory by Naomi Novik
  • Favorite Bite:

We were inexpressibly stupid; we thought it was only a cold, you see.

Empire of Ivory by Naomi Novik
  • Perspective Rating: 7/10 While this book is mainly told from the white, colonizer perspective, the value that Temeraire (dragon) brings is one that makes Laurence, a white colonizer, think more about his morality. In previous books the rights of dragons as sentient beings are discussed but in this one the very reality that was the slave trade at that time is front and center. This is fantasy but it grapples with historical facts and events and puts them in a different lens. If dragons were real, would slavery have changed? If people thought that dragons deserved rights and to be treated with more respect, why couldn’t black people be given the same treatment? While Novik doesn’t fully expand on all of these ideas, it is something that does bring a lot of value to this installment of the series.
  • Emotional Rating: 8/10 To say that I am attached to the characters would be an understatement. I truly care about Temeraire, that stubborn dragon who only sees things in black and white and who is completely loyal to Laurence. Laurence is also one who has earned a place in my heart because of the growth he has achieved throughout the novels. He started out as a navy guy who didn’t have many attachments and now he’s not just loyal to his British empire but also to Temeraire and his chosen family with the aviation crew. The women in this series are also amazingly strong and I only wish that we had gotten this same story but with one of the women aviators! That would have been incredible.
  • Bites Rating: 6/10 These books don’t have too much to annotate for me. Novik still does an amazing job at describing the fights, all these new terrains both at sea and on land.
  • Overall Rating: 7/10 I am four books out of nine into this series and I’m just still so impressed at how the world building keeps on growing. We’ve now definitely diverged from the factual historical timeline so I can’t wait to see where Novik takes the series next. Also, what a cliffhanger!!! My heart can’t!

So there you have it, I read 6 books in the month of May! I have also been working on three other books throughout the month: The New Jim Crow by Michelle Alexander, Disability Visibility by Alice Wong, and The Stand by Stephen King.

I’ve been thinking a bit more about how to work with this blog. I’m slowly but surely realizing that this is my own space to work with however I want so I don’t necessarily have to follow any real “rules.” Perhaps you’ll see a bit of a change in the month of June, the ratings I feel are not exactly working for me anymore so those will definitely change. Also the types of posts will likely be different, a bit more of book reviews than I’ve had so far. Apart from the books that I’m already working on, I hope to go through my unread books and see which ones I want to prioritize more during the summer (graphic novels/comics, nonfiction, continuing series, etc).

I hope your reading month went well! Let me know in the comments if you’ve read any of the books mentioned above or the ones I’m still reading.

April 2021 Book Bites

April 2021. Last time I posted one of these posts it was 2018, that does not escape me. It is cliche but life happened and got in the way of me working on the blog like I wanted to. And then I didn’t feel like reading much during the pandemic so not a lot to write about. Then, finally, a couple of months ago I started reading and joining book clubs (virtually) and the urge to get back to blogging came back with that. So, I am here again, finishing up posts that I started back in 2018 and working on new ones. As we know that life can be complicated and full of twists and turns, all I can promise is that as long as I am having fun with the blog I’ll continue with it. So, let’s remember how it was that I rated books:

  1. Perspective Rating: Does this book show me different perspectives? This score is all about diverse points of view!
  2. Emotional Rating: Does this book tug at my heartstrings? Does it make me sad, angry, inspired, emotional in any way? Of course, emotions could go from me loving the book to completely hating it so this rating can be complex depending on the book.
  3. Bites Rating: This is all about annotation and language? Did I have to stop and savor certain lines or passages? Was it confusing? Simple? Complex? The more I highlight and have trouble picking one bite for the review/post the better the score.
  4. Overall Rating: Average of the above three ratings.

Let’s get started!

The first book I read this month was Such A Fun Age by Kiley Reid. I was supposed to read this last year but never got around to it. This book was very different from my normal reads, a contemporary book with a 20-some year old who works as a babysitter and doesn’t quite have a plan on what to do with her life (as many of her friends and family members are quick to tell her). There is a lot of social commentary on racial bias, the white hero complex, career expectations, and self judgement about pursuing a fulfilling career vs a profitable one.

Such a Fun Age by Kiley Reid
  • Favorite Bite:

But there was something about the actual work, the practice of caring for a small unstructured person, that left Emira feeling smart and in control. There was the gratifying reflex of being good at your job, and even better was the delightful good fortune of having a job you wanted to be good at.

Such a Fun Age by Kiley Reid
  • Perspective Rating: 8/10 This book did have a different perspective from my own from Emira’s point of view as well as the point of view of a nanny of color taking care of white children. It’s a difficult topic to breach and at times it did feel like we got more from the white savior’s point of view than from Emira’s. Especially the ending where things were wrapped up a bit too fast and focused more on Mrs Chamberlain than Emira.
  • Emotional Rating: 7/10 A lot of this book definitely made me feel angry. Angry at the way people treat nannies and caretakers. Nannies and caretakers tend to be mostly women of color and they don’t get healthcare or other benefits a lot of the time, mostly because it’s a system that is set up by each family. It left me with a lot of unanswered questions, which was probably the point but I also lacked some more depth at the end.
  • Bites Rating: 4/10 I highlighted exactly nothing of this book. It was easy to read, nothing complicated, but also nothing stood out for me.
  • Overall Rating: 6.33/10 It was a good book, I wanted to know more about the story but a lot of it was filled with microaggressions towards the main character. A lot of the time I found myself frustrated with all of the characters and rolling my eyes at the decisions they were making. The only character who was enjoyable in this book was Briar, the toddler. That being said, it did open my eyes to the world of nannies and the struggles that they face so that was definitely valuable for me.

The second book I read in April was a manga: Himouto! Umaru-chan Vol.1 by Sankaku Head. I got this book at Barnes and Noble where they had set up a blind date with a manga, which seemed like an exciting prospect. I am so glad that this was a fast read because I did not like it XD The book centers a brother and sister, the brother works a full time job while the sister (Umaru-chan) goes to high school, is practically perfect, beautiful girl, but then we find out that she basically makes zero effort, she’s just naturally gifted. She also just complains and emotionally manipulates her brother to get all the things she wants. I mostly felt bad for him and the way he enabled her all the time.

Himouto! Umaru-chan Vol.1 by Sankaku Head
  • Favorite Bite:

My sixteen-year-old sister is throwing a temper tantrum over a manga… this is…not good!!! She’s my responsibility…! Umaru’s been living in my apartment for a year now… and she just gets lazier and more spoiled by the day!! At this rate she’ll never be able to make it in the real world!!

Himouto! Umaru-chan Vol.1 by Sankaku Head
  • Perspective Rating: 3/10 It gets points for being set in Japan so you do get some cultural references. Other than that I can’t think of much else to give it points regarding perspective.
  • Emotional Rating: 3/10 If frustration counts then yeah I was very frustrated. The main character was so uninspiring. And I think this is supposed to be a comedic book, but I guess I do not like this type of comedy. Sigh…
  • Bites Rating: 2/10 Okay so it’s a manga so it might be a bit more difficult to find good lines and such. I also don’t read many manga so it’s hard to know how to annotate them. I mostly just read them straight through so perhaps an unfair rating here. Still, I was not impressed.
  • Overall Rating: 2.66 Yeah… not the best. Needless to say, I will not continue with the series. I did hear there was an anime series but can’t say that I’m inspired to watch it either.

Throughout the month I also read Beloved by Toni Morrison. What a change of pace! This is actually a book I read when I was in high school. Needless to say I have a different life perspective now and I think I got way more out of it. I’m working on a post just for Beloved so I’ll update this post once that is up. The book is about Sethe, a woman who escapes slavery while pregnant. She is able to get to her children who were sent ahead of her to safety and now live with her mother in law. Then, merely 28 days after she arrives with them, she sees that some white men have found her and want to take her back, which leads her to killing one of her children. The book switches perspectives between the characters and from the present time, years after she killed her child, to the time she was still enslaved, as well as her journey as she escaped. A very complex, beautiful, and heartbreaking book.

Beloved by Toni Morrison
  • Favorite Bite:

Their skirts flew like wings and their skin turned pewter in the cold and dying light.

Beloved by Toni Morrison
  • Perspective Rating: 10/10 This is a very unique perspective. Toni Morrison describes in the introduction that this book was inspired by a real event where a Sethe killed her child in order to keep her from slavery. She’s also able to immerse the reader in the memories of the characters. We get to go into Paul D, Denver, Sethe, and Beloved’s minds and memories, some of which are fuzzy and sometimes overwhelming.
  • Emotional Rating: 9/10 I was overwhelmed a lot of times with this book. It’s a very heavy book that doesn’t let one take a breath easily. One should take this book slooooooow. I read it at night before bed, just 20 pgs or so each time and that worked for me.
  • Bites Rating: 10/10 I mean this book is just beautifully written. Some sentences I just needed to stop and think about the passage or re-read the sentence in order to let the words sink in. Sometimes sentences would have deeper meanings and would reference things from the past in obscure ways so it definitely made the reader work (I enjoy that in books!).
  • Overall Rating: 9.66 Beloved is really a great book, the first in the Beloved Trilogy. I have also read the second book in the trilogy, Jazz and I enjoyed that one a tad more (perhaps it was because it’s a bit less violent and more psychological). I would like to re-read Jazz and then finish up the trilogy with Paradise (eventually).

The next three books I read during Dewey’s 24-hr Readathon, you can check out that post here. Either way, the ratings I gave there were only for Goodreads so let’s see how they stack up in terms of the Bites of Books ratings.

Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates
  • Favorite Bite:

I was a curious boy, but the schools were not concerned with curiosity. They were concerned with compliance. I loved a few of my teachers. But I cannot say that I truly believed any of them.

Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates
  • Perspective Rating: 10/10 Black voices have often been silenced and listening to a black man tell his life story and point of view via audiobook was incredibly powerful. I highly recommend you listen to this audiobook because it really adds to the experience.
  • Emotional Rating: 10/10 This book is a perfect balance of hard truths being put on the table while inviting for some hope and light at the end of the tunnel. Society has racist roots, there’s no way around it, we still live in a society that treats black people a less than. What we can do now is listen to black people, believe them, support them in every way we can.
  • Bites Rating: 10/10 I listened to this book so I couldn’t annotate it. However, I found myself listening hard, really taking in his words and pausing and thinking about a couple of passages. The book also sounds at times like spoken word, there’s a rhythm to his words that is really quite beautiful.

I also read The Duke and I by Julia Quinn. I don’t normally read romance but I watched the Netflix show Bridgerton and I got curious. NOTE: There should be trigger warnings for the show and the book for sexual assault. The book is about a 20-something lady, Daphne, who is in search of a husband but isn’t having a lot of good prospects. Meanwhile she meets a Duke, Simon, who is set on never wanting to marry. They come up with a plot to seem interested in each other in order to bring better prospects for Daphne and keep the mothers and young ladies away from Simon.

The Duke and I by Julia Quinn + Seiko
  • Favorite Bite:

There were always whispers. And whispers, if left unchecked, could quickly grow into roars.

The Duke and I by Julia Quinn
  • Perspective Rating: 2/10 I mean…. Regency romance… nothing new or unexpected for here for me.
  • Emotional Rating: 4/10 I will give this book that it was fun to read, minus the sexual assault, which is near the end of the book, everything after that was just …..sigh…..
  • Bites Rating: 4/10 The writing was easy to read, nothing too impressive or complicated. I did not annotate the book at all and there are no passages that stand out to me.
  • Overall Rating: 3.33/10 Yeah overall this book wasn’t amazing but it was entertaining. It’s junk food if you will. I didn’t suffer reading it, it was just not out of this world. I will continue reading the series since I bought them impulsively so I guess you’ll see updates about that eventually.

The last book I finished this month was The Rain God by Arturo Islas. This book was really wonderful and heartbreaking in so many ways. It is not often that I find books detailing what it is to be part of a Mexican family living in the US. Although my family’s situation is different, I did identify with a lot of the issues described in the book. It follows the Angel family, from the grandmother, Mama Chona, to her grandson Miguel Chico and their life (and death) experiences.

The Rain God by Arturo Islas
  • Favorite Bite:

As his hands reached for the pain in his chest, El Compa heard only the buzzing of a lone cicada sending out its love signal in the distance toward the poor people’s cemetery.

The Rain God by Arturo Islas
  • Perspective Rating: 10/10 It is rare that I see so much of myself, my family, my culture in a book. Unfortunately books with this point of view are not often popular or given a lot of publicity.
  • Emotional Rating: 10/10 This book hit me emotionally in so many ways! Not all of it was comfortable and not all of it was nice and happy feelings. In fact, most of it was uncomfortable and challenged a lot of customs and beliefs that permeate the Mexican culture.
  • Bites Rating: 10/10 I lucked out because this book was already heavily annotated when I purchased it from a thrift store. And I say that I lucked out because I found myself agreeing and disagreeing with a lot of the annotations the previous owner had made. Both in understanding of the text as well as in what was annotated. There were even some parts of the book that I read out loud to my family and that is something I can safely say I’ve never done before.
  • Overall Rating: 10/10 This book might be one of my favorites of the year.

Have you read any of the books that I mentioned here? What was your favorite book you read this month?

And that was April! I read 6 books in a month! I am on a roll right now with my reading and I’m looking forward to what will come next in May. Stay tuned for a TBR and other May plans 🙂

Book Review — The Spark by David Drake

The Spark
The Spark and Ulysses were this month’s TBR jar picks!

So I received The Spark in a Page Habit box a few months ago and it was an unexpected but pleasant surprise.

David Drake was born in 1945, he’s a Vietnam War veteran and he’s known for being a major author in the military science fiction genre. The Spark is the first book that I read by Drake and I really enjoyed it!

The Spark is a take on an Arthurian legend, if you are familiar with the tale, you’ll see plenty of parallels, but the differences are what really caught my attention. First is the world where this story takes place. It is a world that has many towns and cities connected by a Road. The world is divided into Here and Not Here, two sort of parallel universes that connect or overlap in certain places, one of them being this Road that connects everything. There are artifacts from the Ancients (which seem to be today’s world since there are references to umbrellas, projectors, and weapons) that only certain people are able to fix and make work again, these people are called Makers.

“Since I’d come away from Beune, everything I’d seen was people in pyramids, somebody at the top and everybody else scrambling to get on top instead. Or at least to get off the bottom” — Pal

So, Pal is our main character, he’s a young man from a small town that’s not exactly governed by the Commonwealth but Pal’s dream is to become a Champion of Humanity (Pal’s also a Maker!). The Champions are selected at Dun Add, a city where King Jon rules the Commonwealth. The story begins as Pal arrives at Dun Add after traveling through the Road with the help of his dog Buck (people can’t see well in the Road and must see through the eyes of their animal companions in order to travel safely).

Truthfully, the part that I was dreading the most was that of the romance. Of course there must be a maiden in distress that needs saving! However, even though there was a woman who needed help finding her sister, there was no romantic love there! Even the one who might be Pal’s main love interest is not even considered so by him until perhaps the end of the novel. I liked this because it wasn’t the usual “Oh, they saw each other for the first time and now they are in love and will get married tomorrow after they slay the dragon” deal. Women are portrayed as individuals with purpose and their own dreams and desires. They aren’t always nice and pretty and princess-like, they are raw and real and troublesome too.

Then there was the violence. There are certainly deaths and some gory parts that stand out in my mind even days after reading them. Drake is really good at describing the battles and the fighting, he gives us enough detail to know what’s happening but not too much that we are overwhelmed.

“You can’t spend all the time thinking about how to stay safe and still live what I’d call a life” — Pal

So all in all, this book had a variety of interesting characters, three different adventures all rolled into one, and it was entertaining!

I don’t know if I’ll like other books by David Drake, but I now know that he can tell a story without going for the usual tropes and cliches that one tends to find in this genre. If I come across another of his books, I’ll likely give it a try.

Have you read any of Drake’s books? Which one should I read next?

February Book Bites

February was a slow reading month, but I did enjoy the three books I got to read! There were some pretty memorable bites as well. Lets take a look:

IMG_20180301_201140692.jpgFirst I read An Unkindness of Ghosts by Rivers Solomon. This book is a science fiction novel that I acquired through the Page Habit subscription box for the month of October of last year. Solomon takes us on a trip on the HSS Matilda, a spaceship that has been traveling towards the Promised Land. People have left their world to go on this ship because their planet was dying. Now, they are separated by class and gender and are trying to survive the trip to this Promised Land when things start to go wrong. You can read a full review here.

  • Favorite Bite:

“Chemicals plus chemicals makes magic” — Aster

  • Perspective Rating: 9/10 I loved that we got a very original point of view, even if at times I didn’t fully connect with it I believe that it’s very valuable.
  • Emotional Rating: 5/10 I really wish I could have connected with the main character more. But every time that there was an emotional scene, she would change the topic. Even though I understand that it’s her own personality, for me it was very frustrating.
  • Bites Rating: 7/10 It had some great and poetic parts, but it wasn’t as much as it could have been.
  • Overall Rating: 7/10 I really enjoyed this book, but it left me wanting more from the other character’s points of view. I will look for more books from Rivers Solomon for sure.

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I stayed on the science fiction track and read Annihilation by Jeff Vandermeer. When I bought this book it was purely because of the cover but when I learned that it involved women scientists going into a strange place called Area X, I was even more intrigued. The story is actually slower than I expected, told from the point of view of the Biologist, who is also an unreliable narrator. It’s very slow for the first 100 pages or so and then it picks up near the end. I’m working on a post where I compare the novel to the movie adaptation so that should be posted in the next few days.

  • Favorite Bite:

    “We were neither what we had been nor what we would become once we reached our destination” — The Biologist

  • Perspective Rating: 7/10 It’s hard with this one because even though it is an interesting perspective, of a scientist who looks at things very pragmatically, there was little depth. I wanted to be able to go deeper into some of her insights but that was masked by the way that the story was told.
  • Emotional Rating: 6/10 It was very hard to empathize with the main character when she was so dull and unreliable most of the time. Near the end things got better in this sense but it was still lacking for me.
  • Bites Rating: 4/10 There were some pretty passages but not very often.
  • Overall Rating: 5.66/10 Yikes! I’m telling you that it was slow! That was my main issue, even though the psychological thriller is there, it got boring so that wasn’t good. I am still curious about the next installment of the trilogy so I’ll probably read that if I come across it.

IMG_20180301_201108753.jpgFinally I read Wyrd Sisters by Terry Pratchett, another installment of the Discworld series. This was such a great book! It’s a take on Macbeth from the point of view of the witches, and it references quite a few other Shakespeare plays. This one is a tad more bloody than others, as well as more cheeky at times. The characters we follow are Granny Weatherwax, Nanny Ogg, and Magrat. Pratchett manages a very clever novel full of interesting characters, from a violent cat to Death itself, and Hwel, a dwarf with all the inspiration to write plays like no one has seen before. Simply fantastic.

  • Favorite Bite:

    “It is true that words have power, and one of the things they are able to do is get out of someone’s mouth before the speaker has the chance to stop them” –Wyrd Sisters

  • Perspective Rating: 8/10 Pratchett has the ability to place you in someone else’s shoes without you really realizing that it’s happening. Here we get a few different perspectives on the aspect of destiny and fate. It’s inspiring and eye opening while making you laugh at life for a bit
  • Emotional Rating: 7/10 I didn’t connect too much to the characters but when Death showed up I was just over the moon! I also love Greebo, the cat, and Hwel, a writer who really is a slave to the words.
  • Bites Rating: 8/10 It had many great quotations, but not all over the book.
  • Overall Rating: 7.66 Another great Discworld installment, I can’t wait for the next one! 😀

One thing that these three books had in common was the nature of, well, nature. Nature as a sentient being that can revolt on the humans when they decide to ignore it completely. Nature as a group of beings that evolve so that they can survive the harm being done to them by humans. Or lack of Nature and the effect that it has on humans. Each of these books teaches us to appreciate and take care of all living beings, be they animal, plant, or human. I loved these books for this message and for how they all seemed to group together to make that message seem even louder.

And so, even though this month was a tad slow, it was still a good month of reading. I am still reading Equiano: The African but I am taking my time because it deserves to be read a bit more closely. I am learning so many things about slavery and the world in the 1700s! Hopefully by next month I’ll be able to include it in the wrap up. I’m also still reading The Goldfinch with the book club and that will also be done by next month’s wrap up.

I read 3 books, didn’t buy any books, so I’m down to 100 books left in my TBR! XD

How did your reading go in February? What was your favorite book of the month?

Book Review — An Unkindness of Ghosts by Rivers Solomon

An Unkindness of Ghosts by Rivers Solomon was a book that challenged me for the better. I got to see through the eyes of a woman who lives in a society that treats people like objects and who is missing the knowledge of her family history. She feels like she is missing something but she doesn’t dwell on it since there are no clear and quantifiable answers.

“A part of each person lay in their past, in their parentage and grandparentage, and if that history was missing, were said people incomplete?
–Aster

As part of the lack of history that she feels, she seeks knowledge of her surroundings, she immerses herself in studying the world around her, from growing plants to synthesizing chemicals to aid her in her work as a healer. She’s a crucial part of her community, going around and healing those who don’t have access to doctors, but soon all that will change when she gets some clear information on what led to her mother’s death.

“Chemicals plus chemicals makes magic”
— Aster

Although this book is a science fiction novel, it was not what I expected, it’s not just a voyage in space. It is a novel that gives an immensely important voice to social and cultural issues that are not represented in many forms of media, from film to books and everything in between. Among these issues is gender. In Matilda, the ship that carries what’s left of humanity through space, people live in different levels depending on their social status, skin color, and gender. It is explained that humanity has developed a third gender “they”, which was a result of a hormonal condition that made it so that people of this gender didn’t fit biologically into male or female.

“…said Flick as she–he–no, they–shook the starjar. Aster regretted her error.”

The third gender uses the “they” pronoun and it’s the first time that I even read a book where this pronoun is implemented. Such a book can be very powerful for people who use this pronoun and for those who don’t know or don’t understand why or how to use it.

The world that Solomon creates in this book is slowly built up through Aster’s eyes. At first this was frustrating to me because I wanted a clear picture right away, but I learned to be patient and see things as Aster did. Aster only sees specific details that are important to her. It was frustrating to have a very meaningful and emotional encounter happening and have Aster focus on a seemingly trivial thing that leads to the sudden end of that encounter. This is actually very important because not everyone sees the world in the same way, some may only pay attention to the details and others may focus on the bigger picture. This book taught me to be open to the way that others see the world, even if at times it can be hard and frustrating to stop and see a situation from the other person’s point of view to realize that we might both want the same thing and that it will just take a bit of understanding from both parties to reach the objective.

This book really did leave me thinking, it was really well written and it gave me something that no other book has given me: a perspective that was very difficult to connect to, but which taught me how to be understanding of those who don’t express themselves the same way that I do.

What’s a book that you’ve read that had a difficult perspective but which was valuable and worth reading?

Book Review — Song of a Captive Bird by Jasmin Darznik

“It was a house that turned from the world and cast its gaze inward, a house whose women believed the very walls listened for sin, a house where we whispered the truth or didn’t speak at all” — Song of a Captive Bird by Jasmin Darznik.

Jasmin Darznik is an author who tells us the story of Forugh Farrokhzad, a woman who lived from 1934 to 1967 in Iran, a place where women didn’t have the freedom to pursue a life outside of marriage and who had to comply to what their culture and society deemed right. Forugh’s life was hard from the beginning as she grew up in a very strict household and which only got harder as she began to discover her love of writing. Forugh was a poet who expressed feelings that women had about their sexuality, their feelings, and their way of life. She broke barriers and eventually became a filmmaker who mixed her poetry with film and created a powerful message about people who had been cast aside without a second thought.

Darznik manages to tell us Forugh’s story through this novel that, although it is not 100% faithful to truth, it does tell us what it would have been like to feel what Forugh went through. This story then lets the reader into the world of women in Iran, from Forugh’s youth, to her untimely death.

The writing is beautiful:

“We were driven by forces we didn’t understand, moving toward a destination we couldn’t see”

There are so many messages to inspire, to make one think about our own society, about our own beliefs:

“The Golshiri men were learned aristocrats who spent their days in leisurely contemplation, but it was his mother, a woman unable to write even her name, who’d shaped his education”

Then there’s also the importance of telling our own stories, because our own stories can inspire others to break barriers and inspiring others in turn:

“And yet I’d never heard of a woman surviving away from her family, without a father or husband to protect her. It wasn’t just beyond hoping; it was beyond imagining.”

How important is it to view yourself in the stories you read? Do you identify with the main characters in your favorite books? Is your story told within the pages of books?

Forugh’s story inspires me to tell my story, to inspire others, and to become at least a bit like Forugh by standing up for what I believe in, and not allowing people’s expectations to keep me from doing what I love.

Needless to say, Jasmin Darznik touched me in ways I couldn’t have imagined through Forugh’s life story. I hope to read more of Darznik’s writing and also to read Forugh’s own poetry and watch her film to see what she saw, if only for a few minutes.

 

Book Review — Tales of Burning Love by Louise Erdrich

“My prayer is a tale of burning love”–Sister Leopolda

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I’ve finished Tales of Burning Love, as part of the #HarpiesReadTheWorld challenge, and it was an excellent read! This book has plenty of layers, perspectives, and delightful bites.

Tales of Burning love is the fourth installment of Louise Erdrich‘s “multi-generational epic on the long-lasting effects of colonialism on Ojibwe peoples and communities”, as stated on Goodreads.

The plot of the book is centered around Jack Mauser and his wives. We start the novel with Jack and his first wife, June Morrisey, a relationship that lasts only a day and ends with June’s death. The novel then jumps to a few decades later when Jack is now newly married to Dot Nanapush, his accountant, who has no idea that he has been married before. As the novel goes on we meet Eleanor Schlick, Jack’s second wife, a literature professor and writer, Jack’s third wife Candace Pantamounty, a dentist, and Jack’s fourth wife Marlis Cook, a cunning woman who Jack didn’t quite like at the beginning and for good reasons. The novel jumps back and forth between his wives and what they are doing in the present, and Jack’s life with his new wife. However, the climax of this novel comes when all four wives end up trapped in a snowstorm and are forced to keep each other awake so as to stay alive. In this way we get their points of view on Jack, how they met him, and what kind of a man he was to them.

It’s incredibly interesting how Erdrich manages to have an omniscient narrator and have each character also as an independent narrator as each tells their own story. The personalities of each character really shine through in Erdrich’s writing. For example:

“All I had to do was make myself available because I knew from his look, from his approach, from the way he had walked toward me down the aisle of glass, that he could be interested in me. I knew.” –Eleanor Schlick

“I developed hopes from this. We might bond on the trip. He might fall in love with me for real and ever. I’d melt him, warm him, fill him with cheese sandwiches and heat him up with thermos coffee” — Candice Pantamounty

Jack Mauser is described by each of the women in particular ways, and this made me think of how each of us is seen differently by every person that we meet or know. The perspective of us from each member of our family is different, not to mention the perspectives of the people that we have other meaningful relationships with. Each person sees us in different time frames, in our childhood, as we grow into adolescence and into adulthood. I am so curious as to how different people in my life see me, as well as how the one perspective I have on the people I know is different from others. It’s just mind-blowing!

The title of the book, Tales of Burning Love, is echoed throughout the book with the language that Erdrich uses. She often gives us the imagery of fire or heat, both literal and figurative. There are many instances where the characters are saved or doomed by fire, just as they are by love and desire. The idea that love is fire, it can warm you and protect you, save you, but also burn you and even kill you, is thoroughly explored in this book. In that sense, it is not just romantic love, there’s also the idea of familial love that can be a safety net or a dangerous fire one must keep at bay. She says:

“Love — which the young expect, the middle-aged fear or wrestle with or find unbearable or clutch to death — those content in their age, finally, cherish with pained gratitude”

Although this book talks about love and relationships, I’m not sure that “romantic” would be the best way to describe it. The characters are driven by this love, but it’s not sweet or nice most times, it is driven by lust, by power, by money, and by revenge. Love is complex and dynamic, and this novel explores this theme with beautiful writing and complex characters.

There are a few other themes throughout the book, such as religion and spirituality, gender equality, sexuality, the opportunities that Native American people have in this country, their rights and their culture. If you are interested in any of these topics do read this book because it will give you a very unique point of view.

I leave you with my favorite image from this book, one that I wish I could transport myself to every time I read:

“One night, in a moon drift, the late August air billowing and succulent, in the lush scents of turned dirt and growing plants and ancient skunk musk and the sweet pink rugosa roses, the screen door unlatched, Eleanor read in a pool of lamplight by the citronella candle.”

Final rating: 5/5 stars