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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

 

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Book Review: The Dreamers by Karen Thompson Walker

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“They died, he wrote, as if overcome by sleep – or, according to a second translation: as if drowned in a dream.” 

In a college town in California, a girl comes home from a party, stumbles into her dorm room, falls asleep and remains asleep. Then it happens to another girl, then a guy and suddenly, they realise that this is an epidemic and panic spreads to the rest of the town and then the country. This is a virus they’ve never seen before and it’s airborne. The disease spreads from 10 to 20 to 100 and then to 750  people. Everyone is asleep, dreaming, eyes fluttering while the people awake struggle to keep them hydrated and prevent bed sores. The whole town is quarantined, soldiers are placed at every exit, the National Guard is called in, and scientists from all over the world are flown in.

“The boys turn quiet and they drink even more – cheap beer bought with fake IDs. They keep their hands in their pockets those first few days and just try to stay out of the way of the girls. It is as if the boys can sense it, even in those girls, in their easy closeness and their interlocking arms: the whole history of women and suffering, the generations of practice at grief.” 

But this book is not about the disease, it’s about human nature. How we deal with things differently and what binds us together. We have Mei, a college freshman whose roommate is Patient Zero and who has been having a hard time connecting with other students and navigating dorm life. We have new parents – Ben and Alice who just moved to town to teach, trying to protect their newborn and each other. A father who succumbs to the disease early, leaving his two young daughters to fend for themselves. A psychiatrist, leaving her young child in Los Angeles, attempts to make sense of the illness as it spreads through the town. Those infected are displaying unusual levels of brain activity, more than has ever been recorded. They are dreaming heightened dreams.

“When one’s life seems broken beyond repair, there remains one last move: a person can at least shut her eyes.” 

This book is incredibly well written. The author’s writing style reminds me of Fredrick Backman’s style. So if you enjoy him you would probably like this. If you also enjoyed Station Eleven then this is exactly the book for you because it is literary fiction disguised as science fiction. As mentioned earlier, the book is not about this virus that is never named, it’s not about the science behind it or where it came from. It’s about how humans react to it. If you need your books tied up in a bow, this is not the book for you.

“The only way to tell some stories is with the oldest, most familiar words: this here, this is the breaking of a heart.”

The scenes of people trying desperately to leave town to find their loved ones, parents who live in other towns desperate to get to their children trapped inside the now quarantined town. The virus is airborne and extremely contagious so there are so many moral dilemmas to grapple with – should you help people who might be infected? Should you help the people you know first or the most vulnerable? There are different answers to these questions that different readers are going to have different reactions to. The fear is palpable, you get to know your handful of main characters and you’re scared for them. Are they going to get it? Are their loved ones going to survive?

And then, in a surprise twist, someone wakes up.

I gave this book 4 stars on Goodreads and I highly recommend it.

Leggy.

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Book Review: Pachinko by Min Jin Lee

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“The stories of Koreans in Japan should be told somehow when so much of their lives had been despised, denied, and erased” 

The book started with a couple who kept losing child after child until one survived. Except he was crippled. The village matchmaker was able to find him a wife but he passed away young, leaving behind his wife and teenage daughter who both ran a hostel. Sunja, the daughter is our protagonist and by the 1900’s she falls for an older man who gets her pregnant. He tells her he can’t marry her because he has a wife and kids back home in Japan but he can take care of her financially and come visit her in Korea. Sunja refuses to be a kept woman and rejects him.

One of the hostel guests, a principled sickly pastor, Isak takes it upon himself to marry Sunja and raise her child like his. They move to his hometown in Japan and join his brother and his wife, Yoseb and Kyunghee and become a family. The birth of Sunja’s son, Noa is the beginning of this fascinating, multi faceted, multi generational story.

I am already a sucker for Asian stories and for multi-generational stories. Put them together and you have me sold. This was a very well thought out book. Every character was well rounded and felt like a real life person. The book can be categorized as historical fiction because you get to learn a lot about the war and how Koreans were treated awfully, how they suffered just trying to make ends meet and how they were discriminated against.

“Sunja-ya, a woman’s life is endless work and suffering. There is suffering and then more suffering. It’s better to expect it, you know. You’re becoming a woman now, so you should be told this. For a woman, the man you marry will determine the quality of your life completely. A good man is a decent life, and a bad man is a cursed life—but no matter what, always expect suffering, and just keep working hard. No one will take care of a poor woman—just ourselves”

I particularly liked how realistic this book was. It covered a whole lot of life experiences as we moved from one generation to another. I was particularly struck by Sunja because by all accounts she lived a hard life but just always tried to make the best of it. Probably because it was what she was groomed to expect. I kept holding out hope that she would have a happy ending but just like life, things kept on happening and Sunja kept on surviving. The book covers infertility, starvation, homosexuality, discrimination, infidelity, sacrifice, family, death and a whole host of other topics.

“Living every day in the presence of those who refuse to acknowledge your humanity takes great courage”

The discrimination was such a hard thing to digest because its never fun seeing people struggle. But it was a reminder of how unfair the world is and how even when you are at your worst point, life still goes on. Any group of marginalized people could relate to the Koreans trying to fit in in Japan, when no matter what they did, they were not accepted and just seen as bottom of the barrel.

The title of this book exemplifies how well crafted and clever this book is, because while a few of the characters worked in Pachinko parlors, the connection to the title was more symbolic. We find that Pachinko is a sort of game that could be conflated as gambling. There were loads of Pachinko parlors in Japan and even though there was a chance the odds may be fixed and whoever was playing would more than likely lose, people still kept on coming back with the hopes of winning. This hope was parallel to the Korean characters trying to build a life in Japan

Story is that it took the author 25 years to write this book. It’s a good thing that all the time and effort put into the book showed, but it also became a bit lengthy. After a while, I began to think it was time to wrap it up. Overall, if you are looking for a book that will transport you to another world, while also making you feel like you are learning something, this is the book that will do just that.

Taynement

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Book Review: The Silent Patient by Alex Michaelides

The Silent Patient

“You become increasingly comfortable with madness – and not just the madness of others, but your own. We’re all crazy, I believe, just in different ways.” 

One evening, Alicia Berenson shoots her husband in the face 5 times and then never speaks another word. Theo Faber followed the case in the media closely and being a criminal psychologist becomes obsessed with her and the case. He is determined to help Alicia Berenson talk and discover the real mystery surrounding that night and how a perfectly happy seeming couple came to that end. Theo applies for a job at the facility where Alicia is being held on grounds of insanity and his search for the truth leads us and him down a rabbit hole that threatens to consume him.

“As you will see, it’s an incredible story—of that there is no doubt. Whether you believe it or not is up to you.”

I can see why this book is receiving all the hype that it is. First of all, the premise is incredible and makes you want to pick up this book. Secondly, It is really difficult to put down once you start. I don’t think this book is fast paced but I do think it’s very compelling. This book is narrated in first person by Theo and he is such a compelling and incredibly unreliable narrator. This is the only psychological thriller that I have heard compared to Gone Girl that I can see why. This book starts off as your standard mystery book, you’re fascinated by Alicia, you too want to know why she hasn’t spoken since the night she allegedly took her husband’s life. Not to her lawyers, not her psychologists, not at the trial, not to proclaim her innocence or guilt, Alicia Berenson has never said a word since that night. As Theo digs further into that night, more and more suspects other than Alicia emerge, and you always think you’ve got it figured out but I promise you, you don’t.

“At the time I didn’t understand. But that’s how therapy works. A patient delegates his unacceptable feelings to his therapist; and she holds everything he is afraid to feel, and feels it for him. Then, ever so slowly, she feeds his feelings back to him.”

I personally didn’t see the answer to the mystery coming until almost 75% into the book and even then, I just had my suspicions, I never fully figured it out until the book was almost done. I can’t give you more than this because obviously, this book depends on the big twist, and I don’t want to say anything that’ll spoil that. This book was very well written, I was incredibly delighted by the language and the level of research that went into this book. This book is a slow burn that builds into an explosion. I wholeheartedly recommend this book. Gave it 3 stars on goodreads.

 

Leggy

Fiction, Uncategorized

We Chit Chat: An Orchestra of Minorities by Chigozie Obioma

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“Agbatta-Alumalu, the fathers of old say that without light, a person cannot sprout shadows. My host fell in love with this woman. She came as a strange, sudden light that caused shadows to spring from everything else.”
Leggy: An Orchestra of Minorities. Do you know I went into this book without reading a single thing about it? Not even the plot. I kept wanting to but never got around to it.
Taynement: Shouldn’t be a surprise but same for me. I just kept seeing it everywhere and a friend asked me if I’d read it because he was enjoying it.
Leggy: How was your reading experience?
Taynement: Very interesting.  I sent you a screenshot of the very beginning and I prepared myself for a bumpy ride. This was going to be one of those wordy Nigerian authors. It was a rollercoaster. I got in a groove and started getting into the story line. Then I started looking at my clock and the book just wouldn’t end and then it did and I was relieved.
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Leggy: I did this book on both audio and kindle. My audio experience didn’t last very long because the reader completely butchered the Igbo language. I was cringing so bad and it kept taking me out of the story. I’m Igbo and speak Igbo fluently and if you are like me, I do not recommend the audio version but if you don’t understand Igbo I think it was well done. I had to return to kindle for my sanity. This was a bumpy reading experience for me because I was cringing from both the characters and yes, the book just went on and on, mummy.
Taynement: While I always admire Nigerian writers who are unapologetic and write straight Nigerian languages and slang, this was on another level. The illiteracy of the main character was … something else. I mean he called his girlfriend “mummy” and where anyone would say “yea” or “sure”, he would say “that is so, mummy”
Leggy: Girl. I couldn’t imagine what Ndali saw in him. He was so uncouth, he couldn’t speak fluent English, he wasn’t particularly clean. There was nothing he had going for him.
Taynement: And I don’t know how realistic that was, considering Nigerians as we know are as shallow as they come. And she was from an affluent family. Like travel overseas affluent. I couldn’t wrap my head around it.
Leggy: And she was beautiful. It’s not like she was ugly and managing. She was beautiful, in Pharmacy school and struggling to marry someone like Nonso? It just didn’t make any sense to me. I guess it’s because he saved her life. That probably clouded her judgment.
Taynement: Yeah I thought about that but I don’t think I’m sold on that. There’s grateful then there’s this intense relationship they had. Going back a bit, I did like the setup of his character. It was a chore to get through but I think it was needed. Letting us know his childhood, relationship with women, his dad, how he ended up as a farmer etc and the Igbo cosmology. What did you think about that?
Leggy: That “Chi” had wayyy tooo much to say. I was exhausted. He would go on so many different tangents
Taynement: I got to a point where I was skimming. But I liked the many names he had for the gods
Leggy: Yup, but I was really impressed that he didn’t refer to “ekwensu” as the devil. He said he was the god of trickery and I was like okay, this man researched for this book. That’s what he’s supposed to be in the Igbo cosmology. But God, I was tired. And you know I did some of this book on audio so I couldn’t skim those parts.
Taynement: He did! You know I like to read acknowledgements and he mentioned how he did research especially through his dad.
Leggy: What did you think of the events that occurred before he left for Cyprus that’s the main reason I was like what kind of illiterate character is this? I could see the scam coming from a 1000 miles away.
Taynement: It was a lot and all the more made me question what kind of love is this? Is jazz* involved?
(* slang for African magic)
Leggy: As in, selling his house just to go to college because even if it wasn’t a scam
and it was all legit, who the fuck does that?
Taynement: I think everything he did to go to Cyprus was so questionable. To the point, I wondered if he was mentally challenged.
Leggy It was insane and if I was Ndali, that is the point I would have left him. He didn’t talk to her about any of the decisions he made.
Taynement: None.
Leggy: He just made them, thinking he was doing them for her. She didn’t approve of them even when he told her.
Taynement: Yea this book was a lot now that I think about it.
Leggy: A lot! That was why I was so frustrated and hated the character after he came back from Cyprus. Because Ndali didn’t ask him to do any of the things he did. But somehow he felt that she owed him.
Taynement: I actually didn’t see the events in Cyprus coming. I thought it was going a different direction and he would see the light and betray Ndali.
Leggy: I knew he would end up where he ended up. That’s how all these stories go. Immediately he met the white woman and she talked about her marriage, I knew what was going to go down.
Taynement: On a random note there was so much mention of urine in this book.
Leggy: Lmaooooo
Taynement: And it was called urine
Leggy: So muchhhhhhhh. In so many different ways
Taynement: I really would like to know why the writer wanted to go the really “bush” route
Leggy: Because how else would he have ended up in Cyprus under those circumstances? I think any other person wouldn’t have put themselves in that position
Taynement: No, I mean in general. Even down to his description of stuff in the book. Like when he described the diarrhea it was sooo bush. And sometimes with no warning or context
urine
Leggy: He wanted it to be “authentic”. What did you think about Ndali as a character? Did she feel real to you?
Taynement: She did until you asked me this question and now I could see how she could have been a figment of imagination
Leggy: She didn’t seem real to me at all. When they had sex and she was telling him that they’re now one, I was cringing so bad. Her entire character seemed not grounded in reality. For such a young and smart girl, she seemed so desperate to get married
Taynement: Hmm I didn’t get the sense she was desperate to be married just more be connected to someone. Which is on par, considering she was going to kill herself over a breakup when they first met
Leggy: What did you think of the events with his friend Jamike? I got tired of the back and forth and wondered why Jamike stuck to it
Taynement: I don’t think I really have any thoughts on him. He wanted to be a martyr and I think by then I was ready for the book to end.
Taynement: Overall I think the book is very hit or miss. I can see why people would hate it or love it. As always I wondered how non Nigerians would view this book. Especially since in this case, there was heavy illiteracy in this. For me, the story had my attention and I appreciated the knowledge on Igbo cosmology in the book,  but at the same time it was kind of a chore to read. It was such a descriptive book. Everything was written with all the details and for a squeamish person it grossed me out a bit. Whether it was describing diarrhea, rotten food or bodily functions it was like yeah okay we get it
*A quick google search and it seems Americans love it and it was a Man Booker Prize finalist. Those that don’t, seem to think it was sexist and Ndali was just a figure head and most of her perspective was not included*
Leggy: Oh absolutely. This was a very easy read but I couldn’t wait for it to finish
Taynement: Really? Definitely didn’t think it easy
Leggy: The suspension the author set up with the chi situation was quite well done because I couldn’t wait to find out exactly what Nonso had done. I really liked the last few pages of the book. It was well written and I liked how it ended. Would you recommend this book to anyone?
Taynement: Hmm. Nah, I don’t think so. Not sure I’d know how to sell it
Leggy: Wow. Really? I definitely would if they’re looking to read more African authors. I’m looking forward to seeing what he’ll write next. I gave this book 2 stars on Goodreads.
Taynement: Don’t necessarily think this book made me interested in his past or future works.
Leggy: Wow Really?
Taynement: Yea. I didn’t hate it but I just don’t think it would be top on the list of books to recommend
Leggy: Honestly, most people who like Nollywood would think it was okay. I’d say if you like really dramatic Nollywood movies, you’d probably like this
Taynement: Hmm. I don’t know. Watching is not the same as reading and the Chi was verrrry wordy.
Leggy & Taynement
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Our Best and Worst Books of 2018

That time of the year, full of year end lists and reading recaps. You can see our best and worst of last year here. Here’s what we thought for this year:

OUR BESTS

Taynement:

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I had to beg Leggy to let me cheat. I have been mulling and mulling all year trying to pick which I liked better of these two and I just can’t pick one over the other. Considering my favorite book last year was Backman’s Beartown, I guess you could say I am a fan girl. You can see what we though of American Marriage, here and Us Against You, here. That being said, I am such a stingy bitch. I don’t think I gave a single book (not even my faves) 5 stars this year.

Other favorites:

  • Bad Blood: Secrets and Lies in a Silicon Valley Startup by John Carreyrou
  • Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng
  • Becoming by Michelle Obama

Leggy:

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My favorite book this year was A Place For Us by Fatima Farheen Mirza. I knew immediately I read this that it would be my favorite of the year. I just enjoy the slow burn of this book, how it builds and how well written it is. You can see me gushing about this book here.

Other favorites:

 

OUR WORSTS

Taynement:

 

Windfall -  by Jennifer E. Smith (Hardcover) - image 1 of 1

Windfall by Jennifer E. Smith. I don’t even know how I made it to the end of the book.  It got a 1-star from me and reminded me why YA isn’t always my favorite genre because the mindset is completely far removed from me. She buys her crush a lotto ticket for his birthday, he wins and wants to give her some and she declines and makes such a big deal about it. I mean who declines $20 million? Anyways, its my fault for reading it.

Leggy:

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I couldn’t decide between Emergency Contact by Mary H. K. Choi and Film Stars Don’t Die in Liverpool by Peter Turner. You can see what I thought about Emergency Contact here, but I didn’t think the relationship was romantic or appropriate for an 18 year old freshman. I wrote a full review on it on the blog and it’s worth a read, I gave it one star on good reads.

My other pick, Film Stars Don’t Die in Liverpool was just terrible. It’s not a well written book and there was no point to the story. At the end, I was like okay, what was the point of this book? He writes about a movie star he once had a relationship with and spending the last days of her life with him in Liverpool but she was not conscious for most of the book so it really wasn’t about her or her life at all. There was a movie about  it and I definitely didn’t watch it.

We’d love to hear what your best and worst books were for the year. Let us know in the comments!

 

leggy and taynement