Monday, September 23, 2019

The Lifeboat (by Charlotte Rogan)

I love a good unreliable narrator, so when I heard about this book, about a survivor of a shipwreck on trial for her actions in the lifeboat, I thought it would be right up my alley.

In fact, it dragged. The days on the lifeboat are described in excruciating detail and no new information really emerges. I didn't need all my questions answered in the end but none of them were, really -- so many loose threads. I feel like I "know" what happened, and will put it in the next paragraph, but... [SPOILERS]

Mrs. Fleming dies early on, and it seems fairly clear that Grace killed her based on her accusations about buying her way onto the lifeboat. So the revelation at the end (that she probably also killed Mary Ann for the same reason) doesn't really pack a punch. I already figured that out. I enjoyed piecing together the rest though -- the box probably containing Grace's jewelry, her fake love for Henry, etc.[/SPOILERS]

It's not bad, I guess, but slow going in the middle and the "reveal" reveals nothing much.

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Tuesday, September 17, 2019

On the Come Up (by Angie Thomas)

Angie Thomas's book should be required reading in schools; she does so much to create empathetic, three-dimensional characters that challenge racial stereotypes, but at the same time her books are entertaining and her heroines are charming!

This heroine is Brianna Jackson, who loves hip-hop and dreams of being a rapper. Her dreams become more urgent when her family, already living on the poverty line, starts slipping beneath it. She has to make some difficult, and incredibly complicated, choices.

The hip hop that Thomas writes -- and her portrayal of Bri's creative mind -- are both incredibly convincing too. I think she is such an important voice in YA lit today.  I personally resonated more with The Hate U Give so I would start there first, but this is still a great novel.

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Sunday, September 15, 2019

Convenience Store Woman (Sayaka Murata)

What a delightful and strange little book. This book (translated from the Japanese) is about a woman who has worked for the same convenience store for 18 years, and feels that only within its world is she able to be a person that society understands. It is a commentary on social pressure, relationships, and mental differences. The details of the convenience store are rendered lovingly, and the narrator is delightfully unique. I stayed up too late finishing this one, a quick but absorbing read!

And with that, I've officially completed the 2019 Read Harder Challenge! You can scroll to the bottom of this entry to see the full list. Yay!

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Friday, September 13, 2019

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks (by Rebecca Skloot)

I'm a bit behind the curve on this one, but I needed a book in the journalism category for the Read Harder Challenge, and that reminded me I hadn't read it yet! (Even though I was familiar with the broad outlines of the story and have donated to the Henrietta Lacks Foundation in the past.)

The story is compelling, and Skloot does an amazing service to Lacks's legacy. (As evidenced by all that has happened since the book's publication.) Parts of the story are so sad (the fate of Elsie, Henrietta's marriage and death) but the Lacks family comes to vibrant life and are portrayed in a thoughtful, not-at-all-condescending way, and their resilience and hope for the future is inspiring.

As compelling of a read as everyone promised it was!

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Sunday, September 08, 2019

Circe (by Madeline Miller)

Read on the strong recommendation of my book-loving colleagues, and also for the "book of mythology or folklore" category of the RHC.  I also have loved Greek mythology for many years, and often think fondly of my college seminar on the topic. (Shoutout to Hecate, goddess of crossroads, and the myth of Philomela.)

As you might guess, this has easily became one of my favorite reads of the year so far. Such a gorgeous and erudite retelling of the Circe myth, with an ending that is absolute perfection. It is a feminist retelling without being too on-the-nose about it, but damn it's great. I immediately reserved Song of Achilles from the library, because I want more mythology from her!

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Monday, September 02, 2019

Cherry (by Nico Walker)

This Read Harder Challenge challenge was definitely a challenge.The category is "A book written in prison." Obviously I've read "A Letter from Birmingham Jail" (masterful) but I consider it more of an essay and I don't use re-reads for this category. So I started and abandoned De Profundis, Our Lady of the Flowers and (about halfway through) No Friend But the Mountains, before picking up Cherry. Despite the brisk writing style, this one took me a while too; to give you some context, while reading this I also re-read Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine and the last two Harry Potter books. But I pushed through.

This is an autobiographical novel by Nico Walker, an Iraq veteran and drug addict who is in prison (to this day) for robbing banks. His unnamed narrator has the same story arc. I found the war parts hard to get through for some reason, although you'd think knowing me that it would have been all the heroin injecting.  (Shoutout here to The Anxiety and Phobia Workbook, the reason I was able to read those parts at all.)

This book is darkly funny and a compelling read, but I wouldn't have finished it without the Challenge.

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