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Book Review: The Bride Test by Helen Hoang

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“How did you change your life when you were trapped like this? Her history didn’t define her. Her origins didn’t define her. At least, they shouldn’t. She could be more, if she had a chance.” 

This was my Book of the Month pick for May and I just hadn’t picked it up. But after a series of duds and needing something light filled with joy and love, I decided to pick this up. We have a review of the first book in this series – The Kiss Quotient– on the blog but I never read it. Taynement liked it and after I was assured I didn’t need to read the first book to get into the second one, I dove in.

Khai Diep is on the spectrum – he has to be touched a certain way, he doesn’t understand emotions and he is still struggling with the death of his best friend, Andy. When he avoids relationships with people besides his family, his mother takes matters into her hands and returns to Vietnam to find him a bride. When the opportunity arises for Esme Tran to go to America to meet a potential rich husband, it’s an opportunity she can’t turn down because this might be the break her family especially her little girl needs. She’s determined to seduce Khai and get him to marry her before the end of the summer so she can secure the green card she needs to stay in the country.

I picked up this book for the light and joy and even though it had all those things, it also had a whole lot of depth. It was amazing to see Esme trying to figure out the immigration system and a way to stay in America if her seduction doesn’t work. I think the author shined a light on America’s immigration system and the very few options people actually have, to migrate legally. I like that the author doesn’t lump every autistic character into one group and act like they all have the same experiences and all interact with the world in the same way. I also enjoyed all the background characters especially Khai’s brother, Quan, who I really hope gets the next book.

Overall, I quite enjoyed this book and highly recommend it. I gave this book 4 stars on Goodreads because it delivered exactly what I ordered and got me out of my reading rut. If you decide to pick up this one don’t forget to read the author’s note at the end, it was fantastic and made me love the book more. The author’s mother was also an immigrant from Vietnam who came to America and married the author’s autistic father. She considers this story her mother’s story. Have you read this one? What did you think?

 

Leggy

 

 

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Book Review: Well Read Black Girls by Glory Edim

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“You think your pain and your heartbreak are unprecedented in the history of the world, but then you read.” ~James Baldwin

Curated by the founder of the book club -Well Read Black Girls , this eponymous title is a collection of essays by black female writers who speak about their love of reading and discovering books with characters that look like them and they could identify with. I am not sure how I came across the title but I immediately went to my library to check it out. Some of the recognizable contributors involved in this are Jesmyn Ward, Tayari Jones, Gabourey Sidibe.

I quite enjoyed this book because of the passion for literature displayed by each contributor. While reading the stories, I felt like I was sitting in a room and they were speaking directly to me on how they embarked on their literary journey. I guess the word I am looking for is, personal. Every story felt personal and authentic.

It’s very easy to forget that not every black person had the privilege we have now of seeing black authors around. I can’t imagine what it was like back then when black people were recognized even less than we are now and picking up books that almost always exclude people who look like you. The stories of the first time these contributors encountered a character they could relate to made me happy and sad at the same time.

While there was the common thread of not finding characters that seem like them, I liked that every story was not the same, emphasizing the fact that there is not one way to be black. A story like Gabourey Sidibe’s who speaks about not being wanted by her parents seems like it doesn’t fit but somehow reading/books were tied to it and again this was what made the book personal. Some were looking for black characters but some still found the magic of reading even if the characters weren’t black. I loved the deference, respect and homage given to the black writers that came before them.

In reading the acknowledgements, I found out the curator was Nigerian, well her parents are,  and I think my first thought was a little disappointment in not having a story about immigrants, tradition and culture that are such a foothold with Nigerians. There is one story about being in the diaspora, in the terms of being American and not fully connected to her parents home country of Eritrea but I think it would have been good to have a story of someone not born and raised in America and capturing the magic of reading being black in a foreign country.

One last thing that I really liked is how after each chapter, there is a list of book recommendations called “Well-Read Black Girl Recommends”. It’s by genre and all are written by black women writers (The end of the book has all the books mentioned in one huge list. The genres mentioned are:

  • Classic Novels
  • Books on Black Feminism
  • Books about Black Girlhood and Friendship
  • Science Fiction and Fantasy Books
  • Plays
  • Poetry

I recommend this book. It’s a quick read and it helps remind us to never forget history and the people who helped us progress in life.

Taynement

 

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What I’ve Been Reading Lately: 4 Quick Fire Reviews

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Instead of giving you one review this week, I want to do a quick run down of the last 4 books I read. I did this last year and if you guys like it I can probably do it every quarter or something. Just let me know in the comments. So without further ado, here are four books you’ll either want to add to your TBR immediately or decide to drop from your list!

  1. Maybe In Another Life by Taylor Jenkins Reid:

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“I know there may be universes out there where I made different choices and they led me somewhere else, led me to someone else. And my heart breaks for every single version of me that didn’t end up with you.” 

I loved “The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo” so I decided to give Reid’s backlist titles a try. At 29, Hannah Martin moves back to Los Angeles after moving around the country so many times to finally settle down and create a life. Shortly after moving back to town, Hannah goes out to a bar one night with her best friend, Gabby and meets up with her high school boyfriend, Ethan. Right after midnight, Ethan asks Hannah to stay with him instead of leaving with Gabby. What happens if she leaves with Gabby? What happens if she leaves with Ethan? In concurrent storylines, Hannah lives out the effects of each decision. This was just an okay book for me, I thought the premise was super interesting but I thought the execution was just okay. I didn’t find the storyline where she doesn’t stay with Ethan as compelling as the one where she stays. But this book brings up a lot of questions about the concept of soulmates and fate that I found super interesting. I gave this book 2 stars on goodreads.

   2. The Ember Blade (The Darkwater Legacy #1) by Chris Wooding 

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“Every day, a person should learn something, experience something, do something that left them changed, even in a small way.”

This is the first book in this series. I came across this book randomly on audible so I did this on audio. I absolutely loved this book. Such a solid start to a hopefully great series. Born into a land under occupation, Aren has lived by the rules all his life. He’s never questioned it; that’s just the way things are. But then his father is executed for treason, and he and his best friend Cade are thrown into a prison mine, doomed to work until they drop. They’re rescued by a man who hates Aren’s father but is bound by an oath he made in the past to protect him. Pursued across the country by human and inhumane forces, Aren starts realising that the rules were not made for his people, a revolution is brewing and he’s heading straight into the thick of it. This writer makes you fall in love with his characters and then kills them off. The last death that happens in this book absolutely broke my heart. Give this book a try if you’re into fantasy. I gave this one 4 stars on goodreads.

3.  Daddy-Long-Legs by Jean Webster

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“But what’s the use of arguing with a man? You belong, Mr. Smith, to a sex devoid of a sense of logic. To bring a man into line, there are just two methods: one must either coax or be disagreeable. I scorn to coax men for what I wish. Therefore, I must be disagreeable.”

Anyone who follows us on twitter (follow us @2nightstands!) knows I raved about this book while I was reading it. This book is an epistolary novel which is usually hit or miss for me but this was such a hit! “Daddy-Long-Legs” was written in 1912 (yes, that wasn’t a mistake!) but it reads so modern. When Jerusha Abbott, an eighteen-year-old girl living in an orphan asylum, is offered a chance to go to college all expense paid by an anonymous millionaire she is incredible happy. The only catch being that she write him letters about her experience in college regularly. I adored this novel. It reminded me a little of “Mallory Towers” but there’s a romantic element to this book which I also found extremely cute and which I guessed way before the reveal. I gave this book 4 stars on goodreads and you can get the kindle version on amazon for just 99cents.

4. The Hollow of Fear by Sherry Thomas

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“Adversity didn’t improve everyone – or the world would be filled with men and women of flawless character and sublime insight.”

This is the third book in the Lady Sherlock series. Sherlock Holmes is reimagined in this series as a woman called Charlotte Holmes and just like the real Holmes, she has a powerful sense of deduction, very intelligent, lacks access to the full spectrum of human emotions and solves mysteries. The whole premise of this series is that Charlotte has disgraced herself in society, she moves out of her parents house and sets up a mystery solving agency under the name “Mr. Sherlock Holmes” pretending to be a man. In book 3, her love interest Lord Ingram’s wife – Lady Ingram- turns up dead in his estate and all signs point to him. With Scotland Yard closing in on him, would she be able to solve the mystery in time to save Lord Ingram from the gallows? I didn’t enjoy this particular installation like I did the previous ones. I gave this one 2 stars on goodreads but will continue to read the rest of the series because I usually enjoy them. It’s fascinating to read the roles women were relegated to in the society and time period these books are set in. Really recommend starting this series if you want a fun series to get into. Also, I recommend you start from the first one because even though they never end on cliffhangers and each book solves a complete and independent mystery, the author builds up the story from each book released.

 

I hope you enjoyed these quick fire reviews. Let me know if you’ve read or intend to read any of these books in the comments. Have a great reading week everyone!

 

Leggy

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Book Review: The Great Believers by Rebecca Makkai

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“This disease has magnified all our mistakes. Some stupid thing you did when you were nineteen, the one time you weren’t careful. And it turns out that was the most important day of your life.”

Our first introduction in the book, is to a group of friends, who are all gay attending the funeral of their friend, Nico. The AIDS epidemic has just started but it is at the point where no one had figured out what was going on yet besides just knowing that gay men were dying in droves not long after finding lesions on their bodies. The year is 1986 and the book alternates between 1986 to the early 90’s in Chicago and present day in Paris.

“It’s always a matter, isn’t it, of waiting for the world to come unraveled? When things hold together, it’s always only temporary.”

In the 1986/90’s part of the book, the story is being told from the point of view of Yale, a director for an art gallery,  who is in a relationship with Charlie. Yale is trying to juggle a lot of things in his life – his relationship with Charlie, who is quite insecure and constantly worries about Yale leaving him, watching his friends die one by one and swirling in a world of fear and morbidity and trying to get the coup of his career by securing a sought after painting from the 1920’s for his gallery.

“Fiona didn’t look satisfied with the answer. But then she hadn’t understood, either, why Yale had put up with Charlie so long. She’d figure it out herself, sooner or later—the way a person could change, and yet you couldn’t let go of your initial conception. How the man who was once perfect for you could become trapped inside a stranger”

The present day narrative is told from the point of view of Fiona, Nico’s younger sister. At the time of his death, Nico’s family had not fully embraced his being gay so Fiona, only 21 took on the responsibility of taking care of him and even gave up college. Being like a  baby sister to all the guys in the group, this also made her the point person as they each got sick. In the present day, Fiona is now in her 50’s, divorced and in Paris, searching for her daughter who she has never got along with and who has just left a cult. While searching for her daughter, she also faces her ghosts from the pasts that she has been carrying all these years.

“But when someone’s gone and you’re the primary keeper of his memory—letting go would be a kind of murder, wouldn’t it? I had so much love for him, even if it was a complicated love, and where is all that love supposed to go? He was gone, so it couldn’t change, it couldn’t turn to indifference. I was stuck with all that love.”

As morbid as this book sounds, I really enjoyed it. A part of why I enjoy reading is how it exposes you to a life and a world that you would probably never experience. I cannot imagine what it was like living during the AIDS crisis. I truly cannot. I don’t know what it would feel like to constantly being tested, being afraid to be intimate with someone, not knowing if you will catch a disease that no one knows about, being treated like a leper and not even getting the best of care, your leaders doing nothing and remember a lot of these people didn’t have supportive families.

“I’ve been down that road. The thing is, if you stop blaming people and everything’s still crap, the only thing left is to blame the world. And when you blame the whole world, when it seems like the planet doesn’t want you, and if there’s a God, he hates you—that’s worse than hating yourself. It is.”

A lot of the book was about facing demons, facing mortality, facing choices made in life and how your world can be changed in a second. All the different story plots did share the common theme of the importance of preserving a memory. At the end of the day, when we are all dead and gone, we are reduced to just a memory. Sometimes the memory haunts and sometimes it is a pleasant reminder.

“If you had to choose when, in the timeline of the earth, you got to live—wouldn’t you choose the end? You haven’t missed anything, then. You die in 1920, you miss rock and roll. You die in 1600, you miss Mozart. Right? I mean, the horrors pile up, too, but no one wants to die before the end of the story.”

Alternating between timelines can be a tricky thing but Makkai does a great job of handling the two time periods and their stories. I will admit that I really could have done without Yale’s pursuit of the art and Fiona looking for her daughter. I could never quite figure out why her daughter seemed to hate her.

“…even if the world wasn’t always a good place, he reminded himself that he could trust his perceptions now. Things were so often exactly what they seemed to be”

Once again, the premise of the book really makes it seem like a history lesson, but I think you should give it a chance if you can and think more about what could be learned. Like other past grievances that have happened in history, I think this is one that should be remembered. Also, there are many other parts of the book that are fun. Some of my favorite parts are the friendship and dynamics the guys had with each other. The passion they had for their careers. I enjoyed Yale’s introspection on his life given all that was going on around him. And Fiona thinking back on her choices in life. This is a book that had all the hype in 2018 and actually deserved it.

“He said, “Everyone knows how short life is. Fiona and I know it especially. But no one ever talks about how long it is.”

Taynement

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We Chit Chat – Ginger Bread by Helen Oyeyemi

Gingerbread by Helen Oyeyemi

Leggy: So, Ginger Bread.

Taynement: Umm…so like wtf?

Leggy: lmaoooooo

Taynement: It’s like I know this about Helen Oyeyemi and for some reason I keep thinking this time will be different.

Leggy: This is my first Helen Oyeyemi book and it was an…interesting experience.

Taynement: This is my third book of hers. I couldn’t finish “Boy Snow Bird” and even though I found “Icarius Girl” hella weird, I was still intrigued. But this…this is something else. How do you even pitch this to publishers?

Leggy: I just don’t understand. It was weird but not weird enough to make sense. I wasn’t intrigued. Honestly, I kept reading to see if something would click into place at the end but it was actually literal. There was no metaphor waiting to be revealed. I was confused and unsure what was happening like 70% of the time.

Taynement: It basically lacked focus. I didn’t get why gingerbread was the focus. In the beginning, you think it must have more meaning but you find out, nope, it’s just gingerbread.

Leggy: I actually thought this was going to be a retelling of Hansel and Gretel because of the gingerbread title. Like what Naomi Novik does with her books, where she takes a popular fairy tale and retells it from a very compelling point of view. But this was nothing like that. It didn’t have a point. It was just a rambling and a string of well written words.

Taynement: oooh, that makes sense. I’m actually struggling with what to say about this book. It was a jigsaw puzzle that didn’t fit. How would you classify this book? As in, what genre?

Leggy: Magical realism?

Taynement: Not fantasy?

Leggy: I don’t think so. it’s super high concept and abstract. Fantasy is in a different world but super grounded in reality still.

Taynement: I mean, I don’t think there’s much left to say except for me, this was not an enjoyable book. There were so many plot points that went through so many different routes. It took you all over the place where you couldn’t even enjoy the journey because you’re spending half the time trying to figure out what is going on. It wasn’t a super long book but it felt really long. I got nothing out of this book and this might just be it for me with this author.

Leggy: This was definitely not for me. I didn’t enjoy anything about this book. There were some glimpses of potential that kept me going but at the end, nothing was realised. I would not recommend. Gave this 1 star on goodreads.

 

Taynement & Leggy

 

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Book Review: Normal People by Sally Rooney

Normal People by Sally Rooney

“Generally I find men are a lot more concerned with limiting the freedoms of women than exercising personal freedom for themselves.” 

Normal People follows two characters, Connell and Marianne, through adolescence and young adulthood. They meet in secondary school – Connell is working class, popular and the star player on his school’s football team, Marianne is wealthy, weird, quiet and the smartest in her class. After school, Connell comes to pick up his mother from her housekeeping job in Marianne’s house and they hang out and talk which eventually leads to them starting a secret sexual relationship that Connell sabotages when he fears his friends will find out. A year later, they meet again in university and the tables have turned, Marianne is the very popular one while Connell is quiet and becoming quite depressed. Throughout their college years, they circle each other, dating other people, becoming friends with other people, but always being drawn back to each other regardless.

“If people appeared to behave pointlessly in grief, it was only because human life was pointless, and this was the truth that grief revealed”

This book is angsty for sure but don’t let that put you off of reading this book. I think the compelling thing about this book is that the relationship between the two individuals seemed painfully real. The characters are very flawed and marred with very unlikable characteristics but you still find yourself rooting for them and hoping they make it out of young adulthood intact. This book shows how a lot of our lives as young adults are fueled by the constant need to perform for other people – our friends, our families, society, teachers, we are constantly inundated with these perfect lives that other people seem to be living especially with the advent of social media.

“There’s always been something inside her that men have wanted to dominate, and their desire for domination can look so much like attraction, even love.” 

This book focuses on only the important days of their lives, often skipping days and months ahead. The author simply presents the realities of their lives without any filters. This book is very humanising, I felt so exhausted after reading this, but i think that is exactly what the author intends to happen, It shows that normal people living normal lives can be quite tiresome. This book lacks quotation marks which made it difficult to follow at first but after a while, I didn’t notice the lack of quotation marks. If you’re going to be bothered by this, I recommend you do it on audio then. Also, the author puts in a lot of effort into developing her two main characters that she forgets to develop the secondary characters. Marianne’s brother and mother are so one dimensionally evil with no reasons to their actions. The author doesn’t give us a background on Marianne’s family at all. We just know that they are emotionally abusive and that’s that on that.

“And he’s attracted to her, he can admit that. After these months away from home, life seems much larger, and his personal dramas less significant. He’s not the same anxious, repressed person he was in school, when his attraction to her felt terrifying, like an oncoming train, and he threw her under it.” 

This book reminds me so much of “One Day” by David Nicholls, so if you liked that one which I did, you’d really enjoy this book. I gave this book 3 stars on goodreads and highly recommend it. Have you read this one? Are you going to? Let us know in the comments!

 

Leggy

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The Book Ratings Struggle

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After my Pachinko review, Leggy made a comment to me that she was surprised I gave it 3 stars considering I gave it a glowing review. It made me sit back and think a bit if I felt that it deserved more than 3 stars.

Now, I know I am not one to give out the 5 stars so generously. I absolutely loved Michelle Obama’s “Becoming” and Frederick Backman’s “Us Against You” and yet I did not give them 5 stars. Till today I still fret and wonder whether I should change that and this, my friends is why the thought of rating a book, completely stresses me out.

Majority of the books I read, get a 3 star rating. But within that rating are layers. A 3 star rating to me means that I liked it enough to make it to the end and actually had an enjoyment and appreciation for what it was. For example, The Proposal got 3 stars. So did Pachinko. Both very different books, The Proposal was very cutesy and Pachinko was serious historical stuff. I am not one to think a work of art is better because it is more prestigious, so to speak. My thought process is based on what the book offered, within its space and how it made me feel.

There are some people who constantly give books 5 stars and I am always taken aback like wow, they really love everything they read! It takes a lot to get me revved up and gingered for a book and I think that’s why I am stingy with my 5 stars. The few books I have given the full five to, I remember how giddy they made me feel and I almost feel like a sellout giving it, if I don’t have that feeling.

Leggy once asked if you can rate a book if you never finished it and my answer to that is yes, I think you can. The fact that you couldn’t even get through it is indicative of something. Even though I acknowledge that some books do take a turn for the better. Most recently, I started Sophie Kinsella’s “I Owe You One” and had to stop for my sanity. It was awful. I gladly gave it a one star (sue me).

While writing, plot progression and engagement levels factor in, I think a huge part of my ratings process rests on how a book resonated with me and how it made me feel. I love the idea of Goodreads for a book reader but man, the ratings part stresses me out. Just the question, “What would you rate it?” breaks me out in internal hives.

How about you? What is your ratings process? Are you a generous rater?

Taynement