May 232020
 

Henry and I have a pandemic tradition where we go for walks in cemeteries every weekend while listening to an audio book together, which I am sure I already mentioned but everything just melts together lately like a clock in a Dali painting so who can be sure what I divulge anymore.

Last weekend, we went to this one cemetery in Greenfield called Calvary Cemetery, which I hadn’t been to since Chooch was a baby, like a fresh-ass BABY baby, and I just remember pushing him in his stroller and he was screaming his face off and I was probably wading through post-partum depression waters, if we’re being frank here, and I was like OMG SHUT UP I HATE YOU UGHHHHH and then never went back to that cemetery. I told Henry this cute little anecdote last weekend and he just stared at me. But look at our well-adjusted 14-year-old! I did ok! We moved past it!

Prior to that, there was this other time we went there, pre-Chooch. I vaguely remember it being winter because I tried to sled down a hill without a sled, and I was totally manic but not in the fun way, and then we came home and I tried to create a recipe by swirling peanut butter into scrambled eggs, and I think I got sick so maybe that’s why I never went back to that cemetery in all of these years? Bad associations?

Well, this time it was so lovely (and I honestly recognized NO PARTS of it) that we went both Saturday and Sunday! Usually we go to different ones but I was like, “Nah dude, let’s go back to the same one.” Maybe it was because I was really vibing with the book we were listening to (Love From A to Z), but wow, I was in a great mood on both days, the weather was beautiful, there were other people around but not enough to be alarmed, and it was just a really peaceful place.

I’m so excited that Henry has been so agreeable about listening to audio books together. I let him check out my Libby shelf during the week so he can choose one to start for the upcoming weekend, and it’s pretty adorable. He didn’t pick “Love From A to Z” though – I did because it was about to expire and this definitely isn’t something he would have chosen because it’s YA romance but also fairly heavy-hitting with Islamophobic themes.

Anyway, the majority of this book takes place in Doha so then we started watching Doha travel videos and OMG when will we ever be able to travel again. Sorry, sometimes I just have to get my meaningless complaints out of my system and let my perspective regenerate.

I had to pause the audio book numerous times while we were casually strolling around the cemetery because I was getting so angry about the way the Muslim character was treated and I kept screaming at Henry, “DOESN’T THIS PISS YOU OFF??” and he just mumbled something that sounded curiously like, “I’m a white privileged male.”

Honestly though, I have really been looking forward to these weekends because they are the only times I get out of the house (aside from casual walks around the neighborhood during the week) and it’s fun pretending like Henry and I are in a book club together even though he doesn’t usually bring much to the table opinion-wise…

Chooch won’t come with us because he doesn’t want to listen to books with his lame parents, fair enough lol.

This was a good book, you guys. I thought it was going to be a fluffy YA romance but nope, there’s substance here! I’ll include it in the next bunch of books I review for Asian Readathon, don’t you worry!

I don’t think anything else ground-breaking happened last weekend, except that I remembered the name of this one Japanese horror movie that Henry and I watched back in…2005?? And for years, the only thing I could remember was that there was something with a cello player and also there was a scene where a little girl was forced to watch her parents have sex and I thought it was from a locked closet, so I googled, “asian horror cello parents make girl watch them have sex” or something and I found it! It was called Strange Circus which you would think would ring a bell in my brain but it doesn’t, and also, the girl was forced to watch the parents from inside a cello case, so there’s the cello connection! I’m so happy I finally remembered!

But also I’m very sad because I know for sure that we rented this back then from Incredibly Strange Video still existed and Henry and I used to walk there because it was like 10 minutes away and we were bros with the owner who would automatically recommend new horror he obtained to us and that is how I watched some of the best foreign horror and bizarre student horror films in the early 2000s and sure everything is at our fingertips now thanks to the internet and hundreds of streaming services, but nothing can beat that feeling of walking into a small independent video store and bullshitting with the long-haired man behind the counter, renting shit that sometimes didn’t even have a cover.

Goddammit, I miss that. :(

 

May 162020
 

We’re two weeks into #asianreadathon and I have read some really solid books! Instead of waiting until the end, I’m breaking this up into several posts because I have already read like 14 books and, well, you can only imagine what my end tally will be. So here are the books I injected into my brain through my eyeballs (and in some cases, ears) for the first half of the readathon!

  1. Miracle Creek – Angie Kim

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If you like courtroom thrillers, this one is for you. Out of all the books on this list so far, this is the one that fits into the category of a book I’d be most likely to pick up, regardless of a reading prompt. It’s a multi-POV look into a tragic accident that occurred at a hyperbaric chamber facility run by a Korean family in Virginia. The book goes back and forth between the present-day trial and the weeks/days leading up to the accident. It’s emotionally gripping and the whole time I couldn’t wait to get to the end to find out WHO and WHY.

Each character is equally compelling, so I didn’t have that, “Ugh another chapter about THIS guy” feeling that I get sometimes with multiple-POV books. But I definitely had my favorites and there were times when I was stressed out because it was starting to look like maybe my favorites were to blame and I found myself shouting NO NO NO more than once.

I highly recommend this. It’s a winner.

2. Hotel Iris – Yoko Ogawa

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The faces I pulled while reading this must have been so ugly. I never read Fifty Shades, but I saw some reviews drawing that comparison so…yay. I didn’t LOVE this book, but I didn’t HATE it, and I think I want to read more from this author…just to see.

This is really short, I think it was less than 200 pages, but it really TAKES YOU THERE.

So far, all of the translated Japanese novels I have read in my life have had that same cold feeling to them. A quiet slow-burn. It’s all mundane then suddenly VERY DISGUSTING AND DEPRAVED.

And then the ending is like, what. And then you just kind of sit there silently, digesting, letting the words you read sink into your brain, heating your skin like the sweaty, filthy touch of an uncle.

Also, it made me think about how amazing it is that I never accidentally found myself stuck in some old man’s sex dungeon when I was a teenager.

3. The Stationery Shop – Marjan Kamali

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Before the library closed, I kept seeing this book being pimped out on the best sellers table in the front. I was drawn to the cover, of course, because would you just look at how beautiful it is?! But when I skimmed the synopsis, it just didn’t seem like something I’d be into. First of all, it’s historical fiction which I had myself convinced I didn’t like. It’s partially set in 1953 Tehran, during the Iranian Coup, which I knew nothing about, but when I was getting my TBR in order for the Asian readathon, I decided to take a chance on this because I wanted my selections to be as diverse as possible, and having Iranian representation on the list was definitely something I wanted.

Still, I expected it to be dry, too political, etc. But good lord, this book is, if I had to put it in abstract terms, like a fucking kaleidoscope of colors. The setting, the characters, the dialogue, the descriptions of the food – it was all so brilliant and sparkling and suddenly I was sending Henry links to recipes for Persian jeweled rice.

I UGLY-CRIED AT THE END OF THIS. I’m a sucker for a good love story I guess.

My Goodreads review was literally just “#brokenheartemoji” lol. I told you I’m basically a book-reviewing genius.

4. I Believe In a Thing Called Love – Maurene Goo

I Believe in a Thing Called Love

A book about a Korean American girl who uses K-Drama tropes to help her land a boyfriend? Yes, please.

This book actually started off differently than I expected – our main character actually doesn’t like K-dramas, but her dad does and is always telling her to move her big head out of the way while she’s doing homework and he’s trying to watch them. She makes the mistake of calling them his “soap operas” which makes him get all defensive about how they’re NOT soap operas and I felt myself getting physically defensive on his behalf because LITERALLY a week prior to reading this, I was on a call at work and some of my co-workers were talking about the shows they’re currently bingeing and one of my work friends said, “Erin wanted me to watch some soap opera last year but it was in a foreign language so I never did….sorry Erin” and I was like, “IT WAS NOT A SOAP OPERA IT WAS A K-DRAMA” and I remember EXACTLY which one it was: Are You Human Too?

So, her loss for not watching it because it is one of the best ones I’ve ever seen and I still think about it a lot.

However, this book is probably definitely not something I will ever think about again. It just didn’t do it for me. I couldn’t connect with any of the characters, and yes I realize that this is YA and they’re in high school but I have 100% related to other YA books before, if the writing is good. And not that the writing was BAD, but it just kind of fell flat, for me at least. I did get excited when specific K-Dramas were referenced but there was one part in particular, when our lead chooses the boy over something else, that didn’t sit well with me.

Verdict? Skip this book and watch a K-Drama instead. If you want a good high school drama, I recommend The Heirs.

5. Skim – Mariko Tamaki

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I wanted to include a graphic novel on the list, and my favorite Booktuber, Kat from Paper Back Dreams, recently read Skim and gave it a great review. So I snagged it from Libby and finished it in one sitting before one of my late shifts. I’m not an avid graphic novel/manga reader so I don’t have much to compare this to, but I thought the illustrations were stunning and it was just a solid coming-of-age story. Would recommend.

6. This Time Will Be Different – Misa Siguira

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I liked this book way more than I anticipated. It seemed like it was going to be just another “unlucky in love” YA book but this tackled hypocrisy and racial themes stemming from the Japanese American internment during WWII and how grossly forgiving American history can be.

What I really loved was that this book was centrally-focused on the high school girl trying to win the guy, but actually fighting for something that matters. But yeah, there’s definitely romance in this book, lol. I liked this one better than I Believe in a Thing Called Love, which I hadn’t anticipated, but there you have it!

Also, that cover is gorge.

7. The Book of M – Peng Shepherd

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Ahhh! Henry and I “buddy-read” this together and by “buddy-read” I mean that it took us an entire week to listen to the audiobook which was v. frustrating since I’m on a schedule here. I mean, this book was over 500 pages long and it was kind of heavy, so I guess that should have been expected. It’s a dystopian thriller, about a pandemic-like phenomenon where people are mysteriously losing their shadows, and with their shadows go their memories, though not all at once.

It follows a variety of characters, and has a very strong The Walking Dead feel, in that a bunch of different groups are trying to get to the same place, and having to overcome obstacles (most being other Shadowed people who have taken to a “kill or be killed” survival tactic). It was slow-moving at first and I considered DNF’ing it after our first round of listening, but I’m really glad I stuck it out because some of the characters really grew on me and it was fascinating to watch this new world unfold as the shadowless began “re-remembering” things in different ways, creating odd new species of animals and flying death kites.

If this hasn’t already been picked up for a movie or TV series, I’d be shocked. Because this is such a winner and would translate SO WELL on screen, I think. Especially the battle scenes – I can never picture those in my head and would like to see how the author intended it to play out visually.

Several days later, Henry was reading someone’s synopsis of this book online and was so angry. He kept pointing at inaccuracies and yelling, “DID THEY EVEN READ IT?!” Henry really liked this book, clearly.

I would highly recommend this to anyone who likes The Walking Dead (Carrie, if you’re reading, this is the book I texted you about!), books about pandemics, and anything with dystopian, post-apocalyptic landscapes.

8. My Year of Meats – Ruth Ozeki 

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Out of all the books I’ve read so far in May, this is my absolute favorite. I am obsessed with it. I added it on a whim, can’t remember where I saw it recommended, but I am so glad I added it to the list. From nearly the very beginning, I had a feeling that it was going to end up being a 5-star read and I was right.

This was published in 1998 I think and set in the early 90s. The premise is that there is a reality show being filmed in the US for the Japanese market about American wives and the meat-centric meals they cook for their families, so right away you’re like, “Erin, why did you like this book, you’re a vegetarian?” This book brilliantly weaves the SHITTY AND SHADY hand-holding between the US meat industry and pharmaceutical companies into an engaging narrative of a Japanese American woman, Jane, who aspires to be a legit documentarian while directing a reality show she feels morally conflicted about. It bounces back and forth between Jane and the wife of the Japanese man in charge of the show, who is dutifully cooking these American meals for him in spite of being constantly subjected to his abuse.

There are so many poignant stories being explored here and I fell in love with every single character (except for the abusive husband, he sucks obviously) and this was one the only books I’ve read ALL YEAR that I felt fully immersed in. And while I already knew a lot of the things explored here about the sickening US meat industry, it served as a great reminder that my last 24 meatless years have not been in vain.  I don’t think I will be able to stop thinking about it for a long time. It was funny, heart-warming, heart-BREAKING, and still relevant even in 2020. Please read this. It’s fantastic (and whoever the narrator of the audiobook was, she sounded like Jane Lynch and I was so into it).

[SIDE NOTE: Whoa, hold up. I Googled the narrator of the audiobook (Kate Fleming) and she apparently died in 2006 when a flashflood trapped her in her basement studio, and according to her Wiki page, at the hospital, her wife of 9 years—Charlene Strong—“was denied access to see Fleming until permission was granted by an out-of-state relative. The experience led Strong to advocate for legislation that was eventually passed as Washington’s Domestic Partnership Law.”]

9. Ghachar Ghochar – Vivek Shanbhag

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Please read this. It’s just a little, unassuming novella, but SO GOOD and poignant, giving a quick insight at how money and class change the dynamics within a family in Bangalore. Henry and I buddy-read this together in one day and the ending made us look at each other like, “OMG what.”

As someone who grew up with everything and then suddenly became an adult with nothing, I’m always interested in reading about the trials and tribs of other families with $$$ drama. It’s amazing how much money (or lack of) can change people, especially family.

10. Braised Pork – An Yu

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I still don’t know how I feel about this book and feel like it deserves a re-read at some point. It’s very quiet, mysterious. Kind of a thriller? Sort of a mystery? There’s a bit of fabulism? A woman finds her husband dead in the bathtub, leaving behind a drawing of a fish with a man’s head. She becomes obsessed with this image and embarks on a journey to find out what it all means.

All I can say is it’s weird and then it ends. Read it or don’t read it. It’s your life.

11. Tiny Pretty Things – Sona Charaipotra and Dhonielle Clayton

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UGH this book, I don’t know why I was expecting something better. It’s just about how mean girls are to each other (and themselves) in some ballet academy in New York, except that I didn’t care about any of them, not even the “good” girl, and it just seemed like there was no point but I guess it was well-received by those who matter because it’s becoming a Netflix series. I hope the Korean representation is good in the series, because it’s kind of “meh” in this book.

12. Kim Jiyoung, Born 1982 – Cho Nam-Joo

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Oh shit son, this book is where it’s at. It follows Kim Jiyoung, from when she’s a child, to an adult, and shows all the ways she’s been discriminated against for being a woman. It’s a quick read, and the ending is WOW JUST WOW. I can see why this book was a best-seller in Korea and I am so glad it’s recently been translated to English. I feel like every man should be required to read books like this.

I didn’t know this until now, but THIS HAS BEEN MADE INTO A MOVIE and one of my favorite Korean actors, Gong Yoo, plays the husband and I am so stoked for it!!

Please read this book. It includes real facts throughout the fictional narrative, which I loved. You know I love learning as much about Korea as possible!

13. Wicked Fox – Kat Cho

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Sadly, I followed that strong Korean pick with a super weak, disappointing YA supernatural romp. I really thought I would enjoy a book about a gumiho (9-tailed fox spirit) in Seoul, but it was sooooooo dumb. The only thing I liked was the quick shout-out to BIGBANG’s TOP, and the various mentions of Korean foods which made me super hungry and miss Korea so much. But yeah, this book was not that great and I was barely able to stay focused.

14. A Thousand Beginnings and Endings – multiple authors/anthology

A Thousand Beginnings and Endings

To round-out my first two weeks of Asian books, I read this anthology of popular Asian folklore retellings. I started it early into the readathon, but I only read one story a night because anthologies, as I’ve discovered, aren’t really for me. This one had a lot of duds but some really solid ones too, like the Korean one – “Land of the Morning Calm” by E.C.Myers based on the Chasa Bonpuli fable –  (I swear I wasn’t being biased, I just genuinely really liked it) and the last two in the book, one of which was a Japanese retelling of the kitsune legend (“Eyes Like Candlelight” – Julie Kagawa) and another was based on the Chinese legend The Cowherd and the Weaver Girl (“The Crimson Cloak” – Cindy Pon), made me cry like a baby.

***

Anyway, this has been the last two weeks of my life. Now I’m crying because I’m thinking about that Kim Jiyoung, Born 1982 movie and I just can’t handle my emotions right now. Also, I want ice cream.

May 092020
 

Oh boy, it’s part three of my April book round-up, on May 9th!

16. The Woman in the Window – A.J. Finn

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Um. This book wasn’t that great but soooo many people are so stoked for it, and now there’s going to be a movie, and I’m sorry but IT IS SO CLICHE AND DONE-TO-DEATH. The twist was 100% not shocking to me at all, I didn’t care about any of the characters, and the climax was just dumb. I gave it a three though because the writing itself wasn’t too shitty but I wouldn’t recommend this book to anyone. Maybe like, a teenager who is just getting into adult thrillers.

17. Everything I Never Told You – Celeste Ng

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Nothing to do with the book itself, but I had no idea that Celeste Ng is from Pittsburgh, so that made me feel extra-connected to this book even though it was set in Ohio. It mostly takes place in the 1970s—and that’s tied with the 80s as my favorite era for novels—with some throwbacks to the 50s and 60s.

This is about a family really going through it after one of the three kids disappears and turns up dead. Both parents and remaining two siblings process their grief in very different ways, while trying to understand what happened to the daughter. Was she murdered? Did she kill herself? Was it an accident?

I was really attached to this family and I cried lots. I’m probably the only person left who hasn’t read Celeste Ng’s latest book, Little Fires Everywhere, but I promise that will happen soon. THIS is a book I would recommend.

18. Truly Devious – Maureen Johnson 

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Another Pittsburgh connection! The main character of this book is from Pittsburgh and I think this is the book where there is a reference to one of the characters pounding on the 57 on a bottle of Heinz ketchup (if it wasn’t this book, then it was Daisy Jones and The Six, because there are characters from that book that are from Pittsburgh too!) and I literally laughed out loud because that’s such a “how you know you’re from Pittsburgh” thing.

I remember when I worked at that shitty meat place, my boss came back from a cruise and the story he was most excited to tell all of us was how he taught a bunch of people that ketchup technique at dinner one time.

Anyway, this book! It’s a YA mystery about a girl who gets accepted into this eccentric art school where a kidnapping and murder happened in the 30s. The girl is super into crime and mysteries which is the main reason why she wanted to go to this school, and while she’s there, ANOTHER MURDER HAPPENS, DUN DUN DUNNNN.

Look, I loved the atmosphere of this book and the characters. It was a page-turner for me and of course it ended on cliffhanger because it’s part of a trilogy so now I have to wait for Asian Read-a-thon to end so I can grab the second book.

19. City of Ghosts – Victoria Schwab

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I, um, started reading this accidentally because I confused Victoria Schwab with her alias VE Schwab, and apparently Victoria is the name she uses to write her middle grade books. So yeah I read a middle grade book about a girl who died for a second but was brought back to life by a ghost so now she can enter a veil to the OTHER SIDE and the dead boy that saved her is like her sidekick that only she can see and it has such an adorable Casper feel to it, but I just can’t justify reading the rest of the series because I might like young shit but this was just too young. I think I would have LOVED it when I was in 5th grade though!

20. Aristotle & Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe – Benjamin Alire Saenz

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The only reason I picked this up was because I saw that Lin Manuel Miranda narrates the audiobook and wow, I’m really glad that I did. Set in the late 80s, it’s about two Mexican American high school boys who form an unlikely friendship. I was just bracing myself through the entire thing, waiting for the other shoe to fall, like surely there is going to be some devastating episode, and of course there was but no dogs died or anything at least.

My only issue with it was that it’s a coming of age/coming out novel set in 1988 and there is no mention of AIDs. Like, none.

21. Six Stories – Matt Wesolowski

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I came so close to DNFing this because the writing is pretty rough, but I am so glad I kept going. It’s about a teenage boy who was murdered during a camping trip with friends in the late 90s and now, present day, there is a podcast that is dissecting the cold case, interviewing the friends, parents, suspects. Because each “episode” features a different person of interest, it can get quite repetitive but I still found it compelling and couldn’t wait to finish it.

I ended up really enjoying it, and I will admit that there were numerous times when I had actual chills while reading it.

22. Daisy Jones & the Six – Taylor Jenkins Reid

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This book is soooo over-hyped, I’m sorry. I gave it 3 stars for the story, but the audio book bumps it up to a 4 because it’s a full cast with Jennifer Beals, Benjamin Bratt, and Judy Greer (the character she voiced was my favorite) and it really made it feel like I was watching VH1 Behind the Music. It’s written interview-style, present-day, with the members of the band and people in their orbit talking about the rise and fall of Daisy Jones and the Six, so you get to see various situations from multiple perspectives which made me laugh several times because they don’t know what the others have already said so there’d be things like:

Pete: I remember I was wearing this orange suit. I looked so good.

Karen: Pete was wearing this ugly orange outfit. He looked hideous.

But honestly this could have been any band in the 70s. Drugs, drama, egos, secret band affairs. There was an unexpected “twist” thrown in there which I didn’t see coming and I thought it was well-done. But Daisy Jones and the other main character were so unlikeable and I was certainly not rooting for either of them.

The whole thing had big Fleetwood Mac vibes. If you’re into fictional band stuff, you would probably like this but I would only recommend reading it in tandem with the audio book! The audio book is PHENOMENAL.

23. Slay – Brittney Morris 

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I don’t know what made me request this on Libby, some Booktuber’s recommendation, I guess. It really isn’t relevant to my interests at all because the plot centers around a game created by a high school senior but she goes through painstaking strides to keep her identity as the creator secret. As one of only three black students at her high school, she created this game as a safe haven for other black people, for a place where they can go and comfortably play without worrying about racism or discrimination. The game is really cool because it involves these battle cards, each of which are specific to black culture, history, sports, music, etc; for example, the Jordan card makes you outjump your opponent. One of the cards was about FUFU which is how this happened!

Meanwhile at school, our protagonist frequently finds herself in the middle of the race debates and it’s exhausting and she has to try and explain to her white friends that she is not the voice of all black people, so asking her, “Will it be offensive if I get dreadlocks?” really puts her in a tight spot.

I think the message conveyed in this book IS SO IMPORTANT and all white teens should be required to read it, honestly. I was very invested.

24. Red at the Bone – Jacqueline Woodson

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I started reading this on a whim after watching a video spotlighting the Women’s Prize for Fiction longlist. I didn’t know anything about it to be honest, sometimes I just compulsively add books to my “want to read” on Goodreads, all willy-nilly, and every so often, I find a diamond in the rought. This was one of those diamonds.

It starts out with a girl’s 16th birthday, and from there, the book is told in vignettes, from the POV of various family members of the 16-year-old, exploring race, class, sex, teenage pregnancy, death. There’s a lot of power packed into this small novel, and I cried heavily. I can’t even really summarize it here without starting to get all choked up again.

If you’re looking for beautiful literary fiction, this is it. I’m obsessed.

25. Roanoke Girls – Amy Engel 

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Oh shit, this cult-like family thriller is just flat out nasty. I could feel my visage setting in “stank-face” mode numerous times as I made my way through this one, and all of the characters are just straight-up despicable, but hoo-boy I couldn’t put it down. I recommend if you love digging through dirty laundry.

26. Girl Made of Stars – Ashley Herring Blake

This is one of the last actual library books I had left on my TBR shelf wheelchair. (Now I only have one left, but I keep putting it off because it will be last actual book to hold in my hands until the library reopens!!) I left this one for next-to-last because I wasn’t in the mood to cry and I knew going in that this would definitely trigger the tear ducts because I have seen it recommended in so many of my favorite Booktubers’ videos. It’s about these high school twins and the moral conflict that the sister twin goes through when her brother is accused of raping his girlfriend, who is also one of her best friends.

DANG. This book took me on an emotional ride, and it was not of the peaceful Sunday drive variety, either. Definitely a heavy-hitting YA that made me think of all kinds of uncomfortable hypotheticals.

I felt like it was almost perfect but there was something about the main character that made her unlikeable to me. Like, all of this shitty RAPE stuff was happening and she somehow kept making it about herself and I wanted to slap her.

***

OK, let’s bury the April books now. 26 was an insane amount of books to read and I promise once lockdown is lifted, I’ll probably be back to 10-books per month. I mean, as of this writing, I’ve read 77 books this year. 7-fucking-7. That’s ridiculous. Now I gotta get back to my #Asianreadathon, which is going swimmingly! One week in and I’ve already read one book that was so good, I had already known in my heart that I was going to give it 5 stars after the first 50 pages. May is going to be a good book month!

May 062020
 

I thought that I could just split my April round-up in half, but then I realized that I read, um, 26 books so we’re slicing this into thirds. I know, 26 books seems like bookhead status but FULL DISCLAIMER: a lot of these were audio books because I have quickly realized that listening to audio books while working from my home is saving my sanity. Obviously, once I return to the office, my monthly book count will go back down to sane person levels because I don’t like listening to things / wearing earpods at the office, so I’m really living it up and trying to get in as much good reads as possible while under lockdown. It’s giving me life and distracting me from all the chaos happening outside, OK? WOULD YOU RATHER I DO DRUGS?! God.

Anyway, let’s get into this second part of my book round-up. As always, I’m sucky at synopses, so click on those handy-dandy links to find out more about any book that seems interesting to you!

9. 13 Ways of Looking at a Fat Girl – Mona Awad

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I picked this up because I read Mona Awad’s “Bunny” earlier this year and loved it. I wasn’t sure what to expect from this – each chapter is a different vignette from the life of this overweight girl, from the time she’s in high school, until an adult, with several chapters swapping out the POV with various men in her life. As someone who started obsessing over their weight in 5th Grade, this book slapped me hard. I can’t tell you how many times I looked up from it and yelled, “OMG RELATABLE” at Henry, who was like, “WAIT WHAT BOOK IS THAT I THOUGHT YOU WERE READING SOMETHING ELSE” and I just laughed, like, “bitch please, I been done with that one.”

At some point in the main character’s life, she manages to lose a ton of weight, and it made me take a good long look at myself because it’s like, “Oh look, you’re so skinny now but you’re no happier because now you’re terrified of food and everything is measured and you’re still self-conscious and everything feels weird on your skin and OMG UGH WHY.”

There’s a chapter from her husband’s POV and it is heartbreaking to see what it looks like from his eyes, how he’s walking on egg shells around her when it comes to food and she’s still comparing herself with women who are “skinnier” than her, and it’s just like, “OK I get it I will try harder to chill out.”

This book is definitely not for everyone but it resonated HARD with me, the writing was top notch, and also the author name-dropped the goth band London After Midnight which I hadn’t thought about for years.

I’m obsessed with Mona Awad.

10. Shadow & Bone – Leigh Bardugo

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I kept hearing so much about this Russian-flavored fantasy series on Booktube and apparently there is a TV series coming out at some point, so I bit the bullet and got the first book from Libby.

You know, it was OK. I didn’t really get a good feel for the world that Leigh Barduga is building here, and I didn’t feel very connected to the characters, but now this one expat I follow on YouTube who lives in Seoul has just gotten into this series and she loves it, so I guess I will give the second book a go? I actually had it on my Libby shelf but I returned it because my entire May TBR is dedicated to #asianreadathon, and THEN I FOUND OUT LEIGH BARDUGO WAS BORN IN ISRAEL. So it would have counted for Asian readathon. Goddammit.

11. Attachments – Rainbow Rowell

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People either love Rainbow Rowell or hate her. I think this was the first I’ve ever read of her though and you know? I really liked it. It was kind of slow at first but the characters were lovable and the story was SO CUTE. It reminded me of my old office job at MSA for some reason.

This would probably a good book to read on a plane or the beach WHICH IS MOOT RIGHT NOW.

I wasn’t very gung-ho about the end, it was wrapped up way too nicely and felt pretty implausible, but it still made me cry a little (the happy kind) because I’m very unbalanced right now.

12. China Rich Girlfriend – Kevin Kwan 

China Rich Girlfriend (Crazy Rich Asians, #2)

Yeah, I’m sorry, but I fucking love this series. And also, remember in my last wrap-up when I wrote about reading the first one and I said that I know this is wrong to think but I kept picturing Nick as Siwon from the legendary Kpop group Super Junior even though HE’S KOREAN AND NOT CHINESE, in this book, there is a scene where a bunch of Chinese ladies see Nick and start fawning over him because they think he looks like Kim Soo-Hyun WHO IS A KOREAN ACTOR THANK YOU VERY MUCH, KEVIN KWAN.

But yeah, if you want a fun and outrageous read, this series is it. I still have to read the third one!!

13. Blue Lily, Lily Blue – Maggie Stiefvater

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This is the third installment of the Raven Boys cycle and I fucked up big time with this one. I was able to snag the audiobook for it and it’s narrated by Will Patton whom I never had a strong opinion about before until now: FUCK YOU WILL PATTON. YOU RUINED THIS BOOK FOR ME.

OK, he didn’t fully ruin it. I still loved it because Raven Boys, but his narration was fucking awful. He did all of the voices so wrong and some of the female voices he did were so grating and obnoxious that I kept having to turn the volume way down.

Quick summary: 4 teen boys, 1 teen girl, a raven, and a bunch of middle-aged psychic ladies on a mission to find a thing.

I have one more book to read in this series and I am still very much a Gansey-stan, don’t think anything can change that for me at this point, and I would like to mention that I listened to this during a Thursday late shift and we had takeout from Mandy’s Pizza which has an entire separate vegan menu and I ordered a ham & cheese hoagie with vegan mayo and HOOOO BOY I will always associate this fantastic hoagie with this book and it feels like the warm essence of childhood in my belly.

14. After Dark – Haruki Murakami

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This is the book that inspired me to write my Denny’s Memories post a few weeks ago.

I really enjoyed this book a lot. There really isn’t any big climax or anything, it’s just a very quiet book about several people and how their stories intertwine throughout the middle of the night in Tokyo. I really enjoyed it. It’s a good ‘rainy day with a cup of tea’ book. I dunno why I said that because I rarely drink tea at home, but there you have it.

15. I’m Thinking of Ending Things – Iain Reid

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YES. So many big fat yeses on this one. Holy shit, I loved this so much. To the point of obsession. Henry and I listened to the audiobook together (lol, we’re That Couple). I always see this in videos for horror novel recommendations but back when I was going to the real library, none of the branches had a copy of it. But now that I’m on that online library tip, I found the ebook AND audiobook on Scribd, and since it’s pretty short, I thought it would be a good one to save for a weekend so that Henry could listen to it because our new pandemic past time is listening to audio books together while walking in a cemetery.

And even in broad daylight, almost from the very get-go with this book, listening to it while strolling through a cemetery gave me THE CHILLS. Henry was like, “No” when I asked him if he felt the same but he claims that nothing ever scares him which is a lie because one time he told me that he was scared of falling out of the sky and landing in the middle of a pile of mangled metal in a junkyard which sounds specific.

OK, quick: this book is about a couple several months into their relationship, on their way to meet his parents for the first time, and she is having this inner monologue with herself the whole way there about how she’s, you know, thinking about ending things. There is a lot of dialogue and story-telling between the couple, which really made me root for them, in some odd way. Like, I wanted her to change her mind because he seemed OK.

I’m not some big audiobook advocate (I’ve said before that I prefer to also have a print copy so I can read along), but I DEFINITELY RECOMMEND THE AUDIO BOOK for this one and you will see why but I can’t say because it’s a major spoiler.

We ended up finishing this later that night, sitting in the dark on the back porch and I WAS SO SPOOKED. Even Henry was like “That was good” and that is a big review for him!

There’s supposed to be a movie coming out for this, directed by Charlie Kaufman, and Toni Collette is in it, so this better actually fucking happen because I am this book’s number one fan.

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OK, I’m ending this portion of the April round-up on that note, because what a solid read. Actually, a lot of the April books were solid. Stay tuned for part 3!

May 012020
 

Hi guys! I’m up bright and early to tell you about the readathon I joined for May! May, as some might know, is Asian Pacific American Heritage Month, and in honor of that Cindy from Read With Cindy has created a month-long readathon to get people inspired to read books written by Asian authors, includes Asian characters, or has some kind of Asian content.

Now more than ever with pandemic-fueled xenophobia and hate crimes happening all around, it’s important to show our Asian community some love and solidarity—which obviously should be happening on the daily and not just for a singular month—and this is a really great and fun way to not only support Asian authors, but also learn more about cultures and heritages that differ from our own, which is a huge reason why I gravitate to books written by POC in general. So when I found out about this readathon via Booktube, I was ALL IN. Henry and Chooch were like, “Oh my god, get out of her way.”

There are prompts/challenges that you can follow, or you can just be like me and compulsively add all of the Asian authors to your To Be Read shelf that are available!

I will post Cindy’s explanation video here, but I also wanted to list the books I chose, mostly to hold myself accountable to actually reading them but also to give some inspiration and recommendations to anyone considering maybe picking up one or two for themselves – come on, you know you want to get in on this!

The books that I currently have available, all queued up and ready to go:

  • Miracle Creek – Angie Kim (Korean American; currently reading)
  • Hotel Iris – Yoko Ogawa (Japanese; currently reading)
  • Life – Lu Yao (Chinese)
  • Braised Pork – An Yu (Chinese)
  • The Girl in the Tree – Sebnem Isiguzel (Turkish)
  • My Year of Meats – Ruth Ozeki (Japanese)
  • I Believe in a Thing Called Love – Maurene Goo (Korean American)
  • A Thousand Beginnings and Endings – multi-genre anthology of short stories by modern YA authors of Asian heritage.
  • The Book of M – Peng Shepherd (Indian/American)
  • Tiny Pretty Things – Sona Charaipotra (Indian)
  • This Time Will Be Different – Misa Sugiura (Japanese American)
  • Your House Will Pay – Steph Cha (Korean American)
  • The Stationery Shop – Marjan Kamali (Iranian)
  • Rebel Seoul – Axie Oh (Korean American)

Ones I have on hold:

  • I Love You So Mochi – Sarah Kuhn (Japanese)
  • Anna K – Jenny Lee (Korean American)
  • Kim Jinyoung, Born 1982 – Cho Nam-Joo (Korean)
  • Do Not Say We Have Nothing – Madeleine Thien (Chinese Canadian)
  • In Order to Live – Yeonmi Park (Korean)
  • Wrath & the Dawn – Renee Ahdieh (Korean American)
  • Written in the Stars – Aisha Saeed (Pakistani American)
  • Djinn Patrol on the Purple Line – Deepa Anappara (Indian, this one has like a 7 week wait so I likely won’t have it in time for the readathon, sadly)

Here’s a handy document of Asian authors and books that Cindy and others have compiled to give you that nudge you might need. 

And finally, here’s Cindy’s explanatory video:

If you’re thinking of participating, let me know! Maybe we can buddy-read one of these books together?!

Apr 272020
 

Quarantine has really got me in a reading groove so I’m splitting my April recap into halves because I make the rules around here.

  1. I Let You Go – Clare Mackintosh

I Let You Go

This British thriller revolves around the search for the suspect in a hit-and-run case that kills a little boy and it’s told from various perspectives. I ended up liking it a lot more than I imagined and it evoked some strong emotions from me (domestic abuse trigger warning).

2. Sour Candy – Kealan Patrick Burke

Sour Candy

This horror story is short but definitely not sweet! It’s about a man who encounters a small boy throwing a tantrum in Walmart and, well, shit escalates. After striking out several times with horror books (I am really picky and hard to scare which is funny because IRL I’m extremely easy to startle and have a very strong deer-in-headlights visage going on most of the time), this one was just what I needed to save the genre for me. Quirky, twisted, and frustrating—I think I gave this a 4 and immediately put Kealan Patrick Burke on my NEED TO READ MORE list.

3. Sadie – Courtney Summers

Sadie

I’m not the biggest fan of audio books (I can’t listen to them unless I also have the print book in front of me as well) but I have found that they are a great coping mechanism while I’m working from home during quarantine so I’ve been trying to be more open-minded about it. Mostly, I have been getting ebooks through Libby, but I try to make sure that I can also find the audiobooks for some of them as well so that I can work my way through extra reading that way. A lot of them I immediately nix because the narration is just, ugh (I suffered through an awful one later in the month, which we will talk about in the second half of this book round-up). I don’t normally seek audio books out but I kept hearing about how phenomenal the audio book for “Sadie” is, so I figured, “What the hell, I’ll bite.”

Friends, listen to me. This was INCREDIBLE. The book is about a girl who is murdered and her older sister’s quest to track down the killer, but it alternates between that and a podcast about the murder and the now-missing older sister. It’s a full-cast audio book and the podcast chapters are so realistic, like, you can hear background noise when they podcast host is interviewing the owner of a diner, shit like that. It is SO ENGAGING. I was so upset when it ended. I highly recommend this, also though I will mention that the main character has a stutter, so if that bothers you, well, you’re a jerk, but still—just wanted to point that out.

4. Crazy Rich Asians – Kevin Kwan 

Crazy Rich Asians (Crazy Rich Asians, #1)

This is another one that I opted to go the audio-route with and I will always recommend that for books that steer away from your own nationality/ethnicity, because it’s always good to hear different languages spoken rather than just glossing over it with your eyeballs. The narration makes this so much more authentic and I learned A LOT about Singaporean/Chinese culture. There were some cringey parts where some questionable language was used, but overall, I really enjoyed this and thought it was way better than the movie mostly because I kept imagining Siwon as the main character, Nick, (yes, he’s Korean, but I still kept picturing him and really disliked the actual guy they got to play him!).

Also, hilariously this book was relevant a week later when we got this big project at work which involved searching Chinese names in our database and one of my work friends asked me how I would search this one particular name. I got to respond with, “Well, you don’t have to search ‘datuk’ because that’s a Malay title for royalty” I AM THE CHAMPION, MY FRIENDS.

5. See What I Have Done – Sarah Schmidt

See What I Have Done

This is a fictional account of the Lizzie Borden murders. The chapters alternate between Lizzie, her sister, the maid, and a man that the Borden sister’s uncle hired to kill Andrew Borden. It wasn’t as good as I wanted it to be, but the author really got those descriptions down good. The way she described the condition of the house in the summer heat, the mutton that the family ate for days, the pears…it made me so uncomfortable. It was also fun to read this because as I’ve mentioned a million times in this thing, I’ve been in the Borden house twice and I can only imagine how stifling it was to live there, especially in the sweltering heat, with a father you hated. It really puts you inside Lizzie’s head, but it also succeeded in making me feel especially sorry Lizzie’s older sister, Emma.

6. If We Were Villians – M. L. Rio

If We Were Villains

Yeah, I didn’t care much for that. It centers around a group of friends who attend some pretentious Shakespeare-centric art college and all these reviews I read beforehand were like, “If you don’t like Shakespeare, you will still like this book” and it’s not that I don’t like Shakespeare, but I only know the bare minimum of his work and am fairly uncultured in general when it comes to plays.

Well, all those assholes were wrong, because these idiot kids basically speak to each other in Shakespeare quotes throughout the entire book and I didn’t care about a single one of them.

Oh, there’s a murder. I didn’t care about the person who gets killed, nor did I even really care o know who did it. It was not great. Maybe if the character development had been better, I don’t know. Also, the guy who ends up in jail (the book starts out with him getting out jail years later, so this isn’t a spoiler) is a complete dummy. I’ll be damned if I take the fall for a murder, is all I’m saying. Janna, if you kill someone, you’re on your own, friend. I’ll send letters.

Until I get bored.

7. Gingerbread – Helen Oyeyemi

Gingerbread

My head spins every time I try to pull out a review. Right off the bat, I was going to DNF this. The style is fairly unconventional so it wasn’t holding my attention and then THIS HAPPENED:

If you know me, you’ll know what pulled me back in, lol.

There were other little Korean bread crumbs throughout the book and it made my head spin because even though it takes place in a fictional country, it’s implied that it’s some Eastern European area. It’s also disorienting because in the flashbacks, I had a very 1970s rural country image in my head, but then there are cell phones…I love/hate when books and film have that kind of ambiguity.

When we were in high school, Janna was dating this totally brainiac – the kind of genius whose mind was so brilliant that he was almost intolerable. Once, he wrote her this letter about thread that was so flooded with metaphors and symbolism that even when working together, we had a helluva time deciding it – and Janna and I were smart kids!

(Whoa, two Janna shout-outs in one blog post!)

That’s what this reminded me of. Helen Oyeyemi is a fucking genius. It’s the only explanation. At times, I hated this book and wanted to hurl it across the room because IT’S NOT EASY TO READ. It presents like a wall of text at times, with staggering chapters which left me feeling anxious and impatient because I needed to put it down for the night but at which point should I read to?! But then I finished it and instead of chucking it across the room, I picked it up again and admired the cover. Then I looked at the author’s picture. Then I googled her. Then I started watching interviews on YouTube and she is a fucking DOLL.

Also, it turns out that she lived in South Korea (and even visited North Korea!) while writing this novel, and she loves K-dramas, so it makes sense why, for instance, the fireflies in this book speak Korean and a Korean parent makes the main character danpatjuk when her daughter is in the hospital.

I would recommend this. It was a challenge for me to read because I get distracted easily, so I needed to be still and quiet while diving in, and I could only read so many pages at once before I needed to put it down, but it was so worth it. I still can’t stop thinking about it and I’m going to read everything by her. She is brilliant. I stan.

8. Final Girls – Riley Sager

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This was my second Riley Sager novel and it didn’t disappoint. It’s about a girl who was the sole survivor when someone murdered the friends she was camping with and how she has since been labeled by the media as a “final girl.” I wasn’t like OMFG while reading this, but it was entertaining and I think it would be a great book to read in October.

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OK, that’s all for now. I have like 10 more that I need to recap – April was clearly a great reading month for me, can’t imagine why.

Apr 072020
 

Hello! April is well underway and I still have some books left to read from my library raid last month, and several lined up on Libby and Overdrive, but I thought it would be nice to get some recommendations from my Internet pals. I primarily like horror, contemporary, thrillers, and apparently magical realism I guess. I’m also not above cracking open a juicy YA book every now and then, too.

On my TBR “shelf” currently:

  • Attachments – Rainbow Rowell
  • Everything I Never Told You – Celeste Ng
  • Eliza and Her Monsters – Francesca Zappia
  • A Girl Made of Stars – Ashley Herring Blake
  • Pachinko – Lee Min Jin (I actually started reading this last year, lost it, then recently found it but now I have all these other books to read sorry Pachinko!)
  • Final Girls – Riley Sager
  • 13 Ways or Looking at Fat Girl – Mona Awad

Currently reading:

  • Gingerbread – Helen Oyeyemi (almost DNFd numerous times)
  • If We Were Villains – M.L. Rio

I changed my 2020 reading challenge from 30 books to 75 because it’s pretty clear that I’m going to have all of the time to do nothing but read and exercise for the next (x) months so BRING IT. (I’m already 63% to my goal lol.)

Anyway – please give me some suggestions! Hopefully I can get ’em through Libby while my beloved library is closed. Watching people talk about books on YouTube and adding books to my “want to read” shelf in Goodreads is one of the few things I have going on in my life these days and it’s holding my sanity together with a very flimsy binder clip so help me please thanks.

Mar 142020
 

Hello from Brookline. So far, there have been no reports of anyone testing positive with coronavirus in my neighborhood, big it was announced last Thursday that a student at Chooch’s school may have been exposed to it from a relative who had traveled out of state, so his school, along with 4 other schools in Pittsburgh, were closed yesterday as a precaution and so the schools could employ “electro-magnetic” sterilization, which sounds super space-y.

But then on Friday, the governor announced that all PA schools will be closed for at least two weeks, at which point they will reassess the situation. Chooch, being a kid, is excited because it’s like a snow day on steroids, except that some of us could die, but that’s OK: live it up, kids.

Because of this, our director at work gave us permission to work from home, so when Chooch found THAT out, the desirability of staying home from school was suddenly tainted, lol. MOMMY AND CHOOCH TIME. I’m going to make sure he has designated blocks of reading time, he’s going to do writing assignments, and he’s also going to watch some documentaries.

(“I’m watching one on Ted Bundy, then,” he said today, and that’s fine. He can help me design some new cards afterward.)

So it’s kind of like being quarantined, but not. Henry still has to go to work, but I am happy that I won’t need to be taking public transportation now during such uncertain, unclean times.

Then I got an email from the library, saying that after today, they are going to be shutting down until the 31st. I figured this was coming because Chooch was there on Friday and the entire children’s area was closed off, and that’s where he and his friend Markie have to go to use the computers because Markie isn’t 13 yet so he can’t use the ones upstairs. So last night, I frantically made a list of some of the books on my Goodreads “want to read” list that are available at the local branch of my library, leapt out of bed at 8am, got showered and dressed, only to remember that the dumb library doesn’t open until 10, ugh.

Anyway, I got there right at 10 and Chooch and I put on gloves that were available on a cart of sterilization products, and I acted like all those preppers hoarding toilet paper, except instead of Charmin, I had an armful of fiction.

I checked out 7 books, plus I still have 4 already checked out, so I’m hoping this will tide me over! Especially since I will have extra free time on Saturdays for a bit because Jiyong suggested that we hold off on meeting up for now, considering we meet in a perpetually-crowded Panera. Paneras are gross enough without a pandemic in the midst. Henry said he will help me practice my vocabulary though which scares me but we’ll see; maybe he will actually help.

But he will probably fall asleep.

Don’t judge me by YA/Teen Fiction selections, OK! Sometimes I like having something light to fall back on after reading something especially scary or ultra-literary.

I hope everyone’s staying safe, smart, and healthy out there and don’t forget to check in on your elders. It’s fucking scary, but we will get through this if everyone takes it seriously and stops doing selfish things.*

*(For instance, all of those idiot YouTube travel vloggers are still out there traveling for content and it makes me so angry. Especially when I see them getting all combative and responding to coronavirus-related comments with snarky slapbacks like “We’re healthy and not worried about dying from it but you do you #thumbsupemoji” NOPE. NOPE NOPE NOPE. That’s exactly what I was saying too A MONTH AGO when we started to consider postponing our trip that’s scheduled for April, except that MY sentence had a “but”: “…but I don’t want to risk contracting the virus and spreading it to those who are weaker/older/more susceptible than me, just because I wanted to go to some amusement parks and have fun.” That is the part that not everyone is grasping. We will go another time. Right now, the most important thing is to stay sanitary and informed. Fuck those people.)

UPDATE! I remembered that another library exists within walking distance so I ran down there and expanded my pile. Look, I can’t request books during this time so I need to be prepared! Worst case scenario, I start pulling from Chooch’s bookshelf. Minecraft 101, oh boy.

Mar 042020
 

Hey-o, the month is over and here I am with a run-down of the books that helped me pass the time & forget that it’s winter. Somehow, I started the month on a weird possession kick. I guess because I started watching these “Booktubers” (god, I hate that term, it’s so dumb, like me) talk about their latest favorite horror books because that is my genre of choice but I have been so far-removed that I needed guidance on where to start, who’s on trend, etc.

One interesting thing to note is that I read two books, by chance, that each referenced the Great Boston Molasses Flood of 1919 which I never knew about and I actually thought it was made up when I read it in the first book, but by the second reference in a different book, I was like, “HMM MAYBE I SHOULD GOOGLE THIS…” Oh, and also two books featured broads pissing on a grave.

(The weird coincidence for my January books was that two of them used the word “palimpsest,” what a random-ass word.)

The hits-n-misses were pretty even, I would say. As I did last month, I had hyper-linked the titles so you can get legit synopses, because my book summaries tend to be major mouthfuls – I have definitely bored Henry to tears on our walks around town!

1. Saturday Night Ghost Club – Craig Davidson

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I started off the month strong with this one. This is a collection of short ghost stories that the main character experiences as a kid in Niagara Falls (in the 80s, even!), but they’re all interwoven and has a bit of a twist at the end which was actually quite sad and did, in fact, make me cry. What I really liked about this was that it was written from the perspective of the main character as an adult. He grew up to be a neuro-surgeon, so each chapter starts out with an anecdote about the human brain, which all ties in at the end. It’s a smart book, and a very quick read; I read it in only two sittings. Highly recommend!
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This book came up in so many BookTube horror recommendation videos, and I picked it up because it’s an exorcism plot. I knew going into this that a lot of people were crying that it was an Exorcist rip-off, but to the author’s defense, it does clearly reference that in the book. I’m really torn with this one. It started out just fine and actually made me jumpy because, and here is where Henry will roll his eyes but he can cook on because he pointedly refuses to watch horror movies revolving around churches and exorcisms BECAUSE HE IS SCARED, I truly believe that people can become possessed. In fact, I went through a heavy phase in 9th or 10th grade where I actively tried to let the devil in. “I used to stand at my bedroom window at night, facing the woods and cry ‘HERE I AM DEVIL, I’M READY!” I guess I was too eager. Satan wants someone who plays hard to get. He wants the chase. When I told Chooch about this era of my life, he just murmured, “Wow. Good job.” He doesn’t care about my sordid past.
Anyway, back to this book. Overall, I didn’t like it and wouldn’t recommend it. I didn’t care about the family it focuses on, and the twist was kind of ‘…..’ What really ruined it for me, no spoilers, is that there are “blog posts” interspersed throughout the book and they were SO ANNOYING. Every time I read it, all I could think was, ‘God, this is probably what it feels like to read my own blog.” It was super obnoxious. Like this blog.
People on YouTube keep saying that this author is like the new horror king or whatever and if that is the case, I am clearly just not capable of being scared anymore, I guess.
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Oh man, this fucking trash book.  I was so excited for it. An exorcism set in the 80s? YES PLZ. But this book was not scary, and the writing was on par with like, RL Stine. Except that this was supposed to be for adults (am I wring about this? was this actually YA horror?! that would make a lot of sense). I didn’t give a single shit about any of the characters, and it reminded me of the dumb, bullshit, stream-of-conscious stories I used to write in my notebook in 7th grade, like the one where my best friend Christy married then-rookie Pittsburgh Penguin Jaromir Jagr and in real life my family hosted a foreign exchange from France that summer so I wrote him into the story too because he was in love with Christy and it was just the most indulgent, ridiculous story that I literally wrote in pencil and I would give anything for a copy of it today but I know it would make me cringe 3 pounds off my face to read it and that is how I felt about My Best Friend’s Exorcism.
I had two of his other books on my “want to read” list but now I’m nervous.
I always feel bad about ragging on a book though because I know that it’s like the equivalent saying someone’s baby is ugly, so I will end this with two positives:
  • I appreciated that each chapter was named after a song from the 80s;
  • The edition I got from the library was really cool because it was like a high school yearbook:
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THIS BOOK. It was one of my favorite books of the month, and year even though we’re only 2 mths in. I didn’t know much about it going in and I think that’s for the best because once…the thing…starts happening, I was like, “OK, we’re doing THIS? Let’s go.” The writing?
*Italian finger kiss, washing hands first though* The characters? LOVED THEM ALL. The dialogue? Yep, I can hear these bitches in my head. I was so excited about this book that I couldn’t even talk about it without getting choked up and it’s not a SAD book. It’s hilarious! It’s scary! It’s bizarre! There’s a crazy twist! This book was totally my style, from the writing to the plot. If it wasn’t a library copy, I would have kissed it with tongue.
I keep trying to get Janna to read it but I don’t think she has yet because this is the kind of book that you read and then immediately want to talk about as soon as you finish.
To give you a small taste, whenever I see stuff written about Bunny, people always say the same thing: It’s like Heathers meets the Craft meets Frankenstein.
100% accurate. The only synopses you need. Go read it. It’s fantastic and I want it to be a movie now.
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This is a possession story told from  the perspective of the woman who gets possessed and it is fantastic. Short and sweet. Some genuinely laugh-out-loudable (???) moments while also maintaining a certain amount of tension. It was so interesting to read a story from the possessed’s point of view, watching her marriage suffer as she slowly loses herself.
Super quick read. Would recommend if you like possession tales and, like me, are back to pondering how to let the demon inside. DOOR’S OPEN, MOTHERFUCKER.
Disclaimer: it didn’t legitimately scare me, but it was fascinating.
I picked this up on a whim from the teen section of the library, having just read a slew of horror novels and needing something light to carry me over until my new batch of book requests came in. Obviously the grilled cheese on the cover is what drew me in.
This was a great coming of age tale about a boy in high school whose family moves and now he’s forced to go to some Catholic school even though he’s atheist. He walks in with the worst attitude, not even bothering to make it work, because he figures his family is just going to move again someday anyway since his dad is always having to relocate due to his job, and who wants to make friends with Catholic school dorks anyway? Then he realizes that not everyone in that school fits perfectly into a Catholic mold and he’s invited to join the club for heretics, which is great until he decides that they should start making anonymous statements, which then end up going too far because what’s a teen novel without the dramz.
I dunno, man. I really liked it. The characters were likable, the writing wasn’t cringey, it was a bit different from your normal high school novels. I think this might be a series, and if that’s true, I will probably read on, motherbookers.
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UGH I hated this book. The writing was soooo annoying. The man dragged out the simple action of throwing another log on the fire into an entire paragraph. Just page after page of gratuitous descriptions, extremely unlikable characters (oh this person died? WHO CARES). The plot sounded so enticing too: several famous horror novelists spend a night in a haunted house, etc. The house itself did give me the creeps, but the book was so fucking boring and I figured out one of the twists very early on, however, I will give him props for the ending. The VERY end-ending.
I don’t recommend this.
Your House Is on Fire, Your Children All Gone
My friend Elissa recommended this to me and it was a fucking JOY to read after Kill Creek. The horror was so perfectly subtle, so real. Each chapter alternates between several children growing up in what appears to me a semi-rural German village…in the 60s? 70s? Did we ever really know? The cruel things that they do each other is scarier than any haunted house/possession plot, in my not-quite-obtained English degree opinion. Loved this one – thank you, Elissa!!
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Oh shit, my first Karin Slaughter! I kept seeing this pop up on BookTube and my favorite book reviewer, Kat, highly recommended it.. She has yet to steer me wrong – this was a GREAT thriller! I’m always so hesitant to pick up thrillers because sometimes the writing can be so basic and it turns into…reading just to read. But the main characters in this one were so fleshed-out, and I felt INVESTED. It was also truly scary because again – real life horror, man. However, maybe I’m just desensitized but everyone was like, “THIS IS THE GORIEST BOOK I HAVE EVER READ” and they were issuing trigger warnings for violence but, eh. I mean, the descriptions weren’t a walk in the park, but I didn’t need to keep a vomit pot  next to me (that was Sunday night, thanks stomach bug), if you know what I mean.
I can’t vouch for her other books, but if you’re looking for a good, chilling thriller with actual good dialogue and characters you can root for, try this one. But I guess, trigger warning for extreme torture porn?
The Perfect Nanny
This book is short, and I kind of wanted more, but I also appreciated the succinctness of it. It starts with the aftermath of children murdered by their nanny, not a spoiler, and then goes back in time to show, in short paragraphs, what transpired to get her to that point. It’s set in Paris, so if you’re a Francophile, definitely pick this up, perhaps in its original French format!
I devoured this, couldn’t wait to get to the end. I really started to fucking hate the parents of the kids, and it was all because of very slight and subtle things, so props to Leila Slimani for accomplishing that.
Nothing to See Here
AHH, TIED WITH BUNNY AS MY #1 BOOK OF THE MONTH. I cannot even explain this other than to say, it was my style. The plot was so nonsensical, but framed in a sense where it made just shrug and say, “I guess this isn’t really that big of a deal, OK, I’ll roll with it.” I had the biggest book-crush on the main character and wish she was real, and you know I’m usually *eye roll* when it comes to children, but the two little kids in this book stole my heart and they will fucking steal yours too and also the main character is always slipping in a “fuck” and “fucking” in every sentence to the point where I was actually reading the whole book in my own voice.
Oh, and you best believe I cried at the end.
Read this and tell me you didn’t also fall hard for Carl. I kept picturing Will Sasso.
The Haunting of Hill House
Literally a classic and I have shamefully never read it until now. I’ve seen the 1999 movie, and of course the recent series loosely based on this novel, so needless to say I was well past due. What a great book! I was so worried that it would be too dry but it was…moist? No seriously, the characters were so colorfully written and the house, just as it did in the series, gave me chills even while reading this in broad daylight.
Reasons She Goes to the Woods
This was hard to ingest at times because this girl was a real piece, but it’s essentially what Baby Teeth really wished it could be. Each page is a new chapter detailing some incident in the life of Opal, starting from when she was a very small girl all the way to her teen years, and she is pretty fucking messed up. I loved it. Super quick read too!
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This was the book that I got from that “Blind Date with a Book” thing at the library where the books were wrapped in paper so it was a real mystery. When I saw that this was my choice, I was like, “Oh.” Definitely not something I’d have chosen on my own and maybe a normal person would have just straight returned it, but now I felt invested. So I did eventually read it and it was…OK. I didn’t care much for any of the characters but the setting was so cozy and made for a perfect winter read, if you’re into choosing books based on that.
Basically, people get stranded in a countryside inn. Then people start dying. Oh no! I didn’t care when anyone died, to be honest, but I wanted to find out who did it which ultimately kept me from DNFing it. It was…you know…a’ight. It’s a book that you can read.
“The writing was very simple. Basically, it was like a book that you could read,” I explained to Henry.
“OK. I’m not illiterate!” he huffed.
It’s true though. This is the kind of book you give to an elder relative who you think should fuck off of Facebook and read a goddamn story. Will I read any of, what was her name? Shari Lapena? Would I read any more of her books? S’mrobly not.
The Raven Boys (The Raven Cycle, #1)
OK am I dumb? This is a fucking YA book and I was so lost at times when it came down to the actual “WE’RE LOOKING FOR THE LEY LINES!” part of the story that the actual PLOT actually became secondary to me and instead I stayed for the characters. Wow. Love them. All of them. I would happily take any raven boy (I mean, if they were over 18) and could so vividly picture each of them in my mind (I mean, if I were under 18). Maggie Stiefvater wrote the Shiver series, which was a werewolf trilogy that I super-loved, I think it came out 10 years ago? Maybe more? So when I saw that in my reading absence, she wrote a new series, I had to check it out. I will definitely be moving on the book #2 as soon as the dumb library gets it for me.
Maybe by then I’ll start to understand what they’re doing?
The Devil Crept In
Fuck this book. BookTube is always going on about Ania Ahlborn, how if you love horror, you have to check her out. How she is this budding indie horror writer. Ania Ahlborn, Ania Ahlborn, Ania Ahlborn.
Ugh, I didn’t like it. I really wanted to, but it was so boring and I hated everyone in it. It’s told mostly from the point of view of this 10 year old boy who has echolalia? And maybe I’m an asshole for saying this but it was really trying to read his dialogue, and I would get so angry because he’d do this thing where he ended his sentences with rhymes but the words were kind of, advanced? So I would be like, “WHY DOES A 10 YEAR OLD FROM SOME HICK TOWN IN OREGON KNOW HOW TO RHYME LIKE THIS” and that just made me angry. Also trigger warning to child abuse and graphic animal stuff.
What I liked the least about this book was that there were chapters from someone else’s point of view which were interspersed throughout and they were dreadful. Also, a really horrible, small, bold font was used for these particular chapters and I was not pleased. Neither were my eyes. Ugh, I wanted this book to be so much more but instead I was left extremely frustrated.
Smoke Gets in Your Eyes: And Other Lessons from the Crematory
Thankfully, I had enough time left at the end of the month to squeeze in one more, and this one was a gem. Some of my friends reading this might remember that I was actually offered a job at a funeral home, pre-Chooch, and I had to regretfully decline the offer because it interfered with my college classes at Pitt. I think about this all the time, and how I ended up not even finishing college anyway, and I should have just done it. And then I even considered dropping out of Pitt and going to actual mortuary school but the lady who gave me (and my friend Alisha) a tour basically discouraged us by saying that you essentially need to already have family in the business or else the odds of you running your own funeral home will be slim to none. Well, I wish this book was written before that because maybe I wouldn’t have been so quick to, uh, bury that dream.
So this book is different from what I expected: I thought it was going to be a straight-up memoir, but it’s so much more than that. Caitlin uses real-life anecdotes to teach us about a wide range of funerary customs, history, and her general disdain for the American death industry, and if you close this book without having a lot to think about, then are you already dead, maybe? Because I finished it and screamed at Henry, “WE HAVE TO HAVE A GREEN BURIAL. HENRY, WE HAVE TO. GOOGLE IT. FIND ONE NEAR US.”
Yeah so if you’re a cemetery frolicker like me, or maybe have seen a few seasons of Six Feet Under, you might like this book. Caitlin has a real “sitting down with a friend for coffee” writing style that I enjoyed very much. I will probably read more of her books.
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And that’s it – my February wrap-up! I fear that March will have much less books, but that’s OK. I started the month off with a real good one and have several other potential bangers in my stack, so we’ll see how it goes! I’m 2 away from smashing my 35 book challenge!
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Tonight, I marked “The Haunting of Hill House” as “read” on Goodreads and realized that I’m 22/30 into my reading challenge. What the hell. I think my brain was craving a return to reading more than I realized!

This month has been GREAT bookwise so far, although it started off kind of weak with a series of mediocre-to-bad recommendations. I’ll have a wrap-up of all I read at the end of the month, and I’m already dorking out at the thought of that blog post. My life is, um, super rich.

Chooch told me last week that our local library had a stack of paper-covered “surprise” books and at first I was like OK Way to rip off the Kdrama “Romance is a Bonus Book” because they do that as a marketing gimmick in one episode and I’m sure it’s not the first time that was done but I am super protective of my dramas because I’m a DRAMAMAMA.

Great, now I want to watch that show all over again. And also possibly get a temp job making copies at a small book publishing company and then amaze them with all my LOFTY IDEAS THAT I AM ABLE TO FLAWLESSLY EXECUTE AGAINST ALL ODDS BECAUSE I HAVE A SECRET MARKETING DEGREE AND YEARS OF EXPERIENCE THAT I PURPOSELY OMITTED FROM MY CV and then they’ll be all, “Why have you been over there refilling the coffee bar when you’re clearly a book genius, here have a promotion.” 

(I don’t get a sleep anymore. I can’t be held responsible for the cringe I generate on this website.)

(Yes, “a sleep.” I’m leaving it like that to ILLUSTRATE MY POINT ABOUT HOW I DON’T GET ANY.)

Wait, where were we? Oh! The mystery books at the library!

Chooch had to draw me a map of where these books were located, because he didn’t wish to accompany his dorky and extremely dependent MOMMY to the library. His map actually quite sucked, but I figured it out once I got there. It was right before Valentine’s Day, and they were calling it Blind Date with a Book, which I thought was so adorable and also kind of gross, but whatever. I wasn’t planning on picking one out, because I was really there to pick up another book I had requested, and I also had some others lined up at home, but like a Big Dumb, I chose one. 

Anyway, I already knew it what it was before I got it home, since I had to scan it to check it out: “An Unwanted Guest” by Shari Lapena. It seems like it will be an OK read! Just a thriller, probably nothing I would have reached for if the cover was available for some good ol’ judgin’. 

I have that one plus three others sitting here looking at me, and hopefully I’ll get them all read before the 2/29 so I can include them on my February Round-Up!

My favorite thing about this challenge is that my screen-time is waaaay down. Like, people online probably think I died. I think it’s been a week since I even posted on Instagram*, and I barely even look at my feed on there lately, which is insane because Instagram was the really my one big social media vice. I don’t want to quit that altogether, but it’s nice distancing myself and not being chained to my phone like usual! Although, I really just replaced with it obsessive scrolling through the Goodreads app, so…

*(And then I posted a picture of my cat 30 minutes later lol.)

I’m so neck-deep in this reading game that I’ve resorted to watching “books to read on flights” videos on YouTube. Henry, with glazed eyes, murmured, “omg” the other night when he realized what I was doing. Look, I want to be better prepared for our flight to Germany, unlike when I went to the library last summer and blindly checked out two books (using Chooch’s library card because I didn’t have my own yet, and so I had to pay his stupid fine while I was there too, thanks asshole) in preparation for Korea and the one was a big fat hate-read and the other one had me snoozing before the first chapter was over. I cannot let that happen again. 

So that’s where I’m at in life: watching people talk about books on YouTube.  

Jan 312020
 

I decided to re-activate my old Goodreads account in the beginning of January and start a 2020 Reading challenge in order to keep myself inspired and motivated to become a regular reader again. If I’m one thing, it’s super fucking competitive with myself, so this has been going swimmingly and I’m already a third of the way into my 30 book goal. It’s amazing how much time we actually do have when we put down the phones, turn off the Roku, etc etc.

As of January 31st, I managed to absorb 10 books. Granted, one was only like 90 pages,  (the first one on the list, I needed to ease myself into this!), but even nine books is pretty good for my first month back into the game, I think. One of my co-workers has also challenged herself so I got her to sign up on Goodreads and now we’re book-friends, so that has also been extremely helpful.

Also, I was excited to use the Haechan (from NCT127!) bookmark that my friend Veronica sent me, and true to Erin fashion, I lost it somewhere books 6 and 7, ugh.

So, let’s just jump right in. I’m no good with book synopses so I’ll get hyperlink each book title with its Goodreads page, ya hear?

  1. The Strange Library – Haruki Murakami

The Strange Library

I felt that this book would be a good start for my challenge because it’s an author I’ve been interested in reading but it’s also SUPER SHORT (like 90 pages I think? If even?) so it would give me a taste of what his writing style is like plus help me power through this years-long reading slump I’ve been in.

I…don’t really have much to say about it. I finished it the same night I got it out of the library (with my new card, look at me growing up!) and I liked the interesting design of the book itself, and the illustrations were fantastic. It was just plain old good. A good, short story.

2. Mrs. Everything – Jennifer Weiner

Mrs. Everything

This book was at its core a story about the relationship between two very different sisters growing up in the 1950s to present day. Both sisters were really well-written and anytime something bad happened to one of them, it felt like a personal affront. I really enjoyed the section of the book where it was the 1970s, and I will tell you now that I ugly-cried at the end. I get attached, OK?

I like Jennifer Weiner’s writing style. It flows, it’s easy to get hooked, it doesn’t drag. It was a good choice for where I am currently, in my head.

3. The Vegetarian – Han Kang

The Vegetarian

Ok this book is what made me decide to start using my eyeballs for intellectual things instead of YouTube videos of annoying couples traveling, rollercoaster reviews, or Koreans eating ramen. It’s #3 on the list though because I had to REQUEST IT on the LIBRARY’S WEBSITE! It was my first book request! Super exciting! Chooch wasn’t as enthused though when he was forced to accompany me to the library (“Go help her,” Henry said to him after work that day) to show me how to pick up my books haha.

Anyway, this was WEIRD. It’s broken up into three sections, each one from a different person’s perspective re: the title character’s journey into becoming a vegetarian and the effect it has not only on her but those around her because vegetarianism, while its becoming more accepted, is NOT a very popular lifestyle in Korea. Hello, Koreans fucking love their meat and meals can be very sacred and meaningful experiences for Korean families, so having a family member suddenly declare they no longer eat meat is a huge bombshell.

This book is actually considered horror I think, and it definitely felt like I was watching a Korean horror movie, which can be sooooo subtle in their creepiness yet leaving you feeling filthy afterward. That was how this was. I’m not sure I completely understood it, but it will certainly stick with me.

4. Nocturnes – Kazuo Ishiguro

Nocturnes: Five Stories of Music and Nightfall

This was a super fast & enjoyable read. It was recommended by this American ex-pat in Korea who I subscribe to on YouTube, and actually, it was her channel that inspired me to get back into the habit of reading after watching her “favorite Korean authors” video.

I’m not sure these stories are the kinda that will really stick with me, but the writing was very pleasant and I didn’t find myself losing interest at all, which is something that happens often because I’m basically a four-year-old in the body of a 40-year-old and am always ready to start moving again. Sitting still, ew!

5. Simon vs. The Home Sapiens Agenda – Becky Albertalli

Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda (Simonverse, #1)

I have no shame in loving YA books. Sometimes I need something light and high school-y you know? I didn’t see the movie that was based on this book, nor did I know anything about it, so I pretty much went into this blind.

For the millionth time in my life, I felt so fucking thankful that social media, cellphones, the Internet’s prevalence, were not things I had to worry about when I was in school. Kids already found a myriad of creative ways to be fucking assholes to each other without the aid of technology. And that’s a big part of what this book is about: it’s a teenager’s coming out story. I loved the characters and apparently it’s book #1 of a series, so I will probably keep reading because I am always down for a good series.

6. Snap – Belinda Bauer

Snap

OK, I started out unsure of this one, like maybe I was going to give up early on, but then it reached a point in the story where everything clicked for me and suddenly I couldn’t put it down. It is a GREAT mystery/thriller and I fell in love with the cops and the teenaged protagonist, Jack. I think I’m going to go ahead and say that this my second favorite book I read this month. I kept trying to secretly read it on my lap at work in between doing actual work-things because I was obsessed.

7. Frankly In Love – David Yoon

Frankly in Love (Frankly in Love, #1)

Obviously I chose this book because not only is it written by a Korean American, but the entire story is based on the main characters parents and their unwavering policy of “must only date other Koreans.” It was interesting to me because there is a lot of Korean culture touched upon in this book, all of which I already knew so I just smiled all smug-like while reading the explanations, like how one of the dads calls the other dad his “hoobae” because when they were classmates, the friend was a grade below him.

There were parts that were straight too written in Korean too so I got to try out my translating skills and they were…a’ight. Lol. But a big theme of the book is how the Korean American kids in this group really don’t know much about their heritage, they can’t speak the language, they’re basically just…American. It made me think a lot about that, because we all came from somewhere, but for instance, my family didn’t continue speaking, I don’t know, Slovakian (is that even a language??) even though that’s what my great-grandmother spoke when she emigrated here.

But also, this is a love story and pretty predictable, but I thought it was overall a very cute and enjoyable read. I think this is also going to be a series so sign me up, I need more of Joy.

8. Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine – Gail Honeyman

Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine

GURL. THIS BOOK.

FAVORITE SO FAR.

It started out “eh…” for me, I didn’t know much about it going in and it just kind of…starts. And I didn’t like Eleanor AT ALL in the beginning because I kept picturing this dumb bitch that I used to be friends with (no, not my ex-BFF, this was just some acquaintance that I couldn’t shake for years until she finally tweeted a bunch of racist shit during the last Winter Olympics and I was like, “YEAH, YA BLOCKED, BITCH”). But, then Eleanor turned into this fucking endearing flesh-gem for me and her co-worker/friend Raymond was a breath of fresh air. I loved how literal Eleanor is, the dialogue was fantastic, and the storyline was just *ITALIAN FINGER-KISSING EMOJI*. I immediately texted Janna when I finished it and told her to read it. This was the only book from January that I flat-out highly recommend to one and all. Go read this. It’s great. I laughed. I cried. I cringed. I want more Eleanor. Give us more Eleanor, Gail Honeyman.

9. Permanent Record – Mary H.K. Choi

Permanent Record

I read another Mary H.K. Choi book last fall and I liked it–I mean, it was a good book to read during a road trip. I can’t remember which road trip I brought it on, but I pretty much finished it in two car-sittings. This one was also a super fast read, but it wasn’t really…I don’t know, meaningful? Basically, this college drop-out works night shifts at a health food/bodega in NYC and has a chance encounter with this really cool, pretty girl and they get all flirty over snacks and then he realizes that she’s some ultra-famous Disney actress/singer and then some crazy secret, whirlwind romance happens and it’s just kind of this meandering book that is entertaining but…it doesn’t really have substance and it’s just kind of all over the place and then eventually you get to a point where you realize the main character is kind of an asshole, but don’t worry, he realizes it too…?

Little bit of Korean stuff in here because the main character is half-Korean and there is a quick visit to Seoul at one point but it wasn’t enough for me. This is written with majorly casual slang-speak and it kind of gets grating but then, it’s centered around a bunch of 20-year-olds in NYC, so I guess it’s pretty accurate. But it made me feel old because there were times when I like, “The fuck does THAT mean.” But I have too much pride to invite my 13-year-old son to slang-splain, thank you very much.

10. The 7 1/2 Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle – Stuart Turton

The 7½ Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle

I didn’t like this book that much. It’s kind of a bummer because this is the one that I ended the month with and it was a tough one to get through. I picked it up because I had seen some good reviews for it on Goodreads, and I thougt it sounded like something I would like, but it was dry. D-R-Y. I kept forcing myself to pick it up because I wanted to finish it but this is NOT the kind of book that you can fly through. I’m a pretty fast reader, but I had to make myself slow it down because there are so many details, confusing timelines, a bunch of characters with similar names making it hard to keep track of them….I struggled. I only just finished it today and kind of just feel numb and ambivalent about it.

It’s like a hybrid of Clue and Groundhog Day, which is how I saw it billed in a review and that seemed very appealing to me. But it’s just…kind of boring until very near the end, and even though there is a twist that I couldn’t have predicted, I didn’t feel satisfied.

Of course, I’m now up to my neck in the Literary YouTubers scene, so I watched several reviews of this book after I finished it and was relieved that A LOT of avid readers out there had the same opinion as me, so I’m not broken, dumb, and/or illiterate after all.

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The library had some books ready for me to pick up today, so I’m starting February with “The Saturday Night Ghost Club” by Craig Davidson and “A Head Full of Ghosts” by Paul Tremblay, because I’m ready to get back to my horror roots, you guys. This was my genre of choice when I used to read regularly and I’m ready to crack my knuckles and some…book spines, I guess. See you at the end of February with another book round-up! Feel free to let me what books you read for January that you really loved, hated, or just thought were whatever.

Don’t get any papercuts, ya booksluts! (That’s my official book blog post sign-off. DON’T STEAL IT.)