2019 Book Challenge: 1-9

Well, guys, I’m off to a better start than last year when I’d only finished 6 books by the end of March 2018. I’m still not at my goal of 12, but, to be fair, I’ve been distracted by life and travel and work! 

I finished nine books in total this quarter, three short of my Quarter 1 goals, but still not too shabby! If you noticed, I totally skipped the “Read with Me this March” and “Read with Me this April” posts because I’ve been busy catching up haha.

There was basically no reading for long weeks at a time when I was watching too much Netflix or getting caught up in Reddit (oops). But I think I’m finding my stride again, especially as I escaped the last few weeks of winter for sunny, humid Kuala Lumpur and am now writing this experiencing some lovely spring weather. Something about gray winters with little to no snow and that wet-cold feeling that, even when the temperature isn’t crazy low, still feels like it seeps into my bones, makes me about 100000 times less productive than normal.

Anyway, here are the books that I read! This is a request for non-tragic book suggestions. I want something fun and light where no one dies and lovers aren’t separated by circumstances beyond their control. Even though tragic romance is like my catnip when it comes to books, I need something happier. Maybe I should see if Sophie Kinsella has dropped anything new…

2019 Book Challenge: Books 1-9

1. The Song of Achilles

Author: Madeleine Miller
Stars: 5/5
Setting: Ancient Greece

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Two-Sentence Summary

A book about Achilles from the point of view of his lover, Patroclus. Gives a more human look at the famous hero.

Thoughts (Spoilers):

This book is so beautifully written, you’re going to be a mess at the end. The story of Achilles and even of him and Patroclus is decently well known, so you kind of know going into that it’s going to end up in tragedy.

2. The Tuscan Child

Author: Rhys Bowen
Stars: 4/5
Setting: Tuscany, Italy

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Two-Sentence Summary

Dealing with her estranged father’s recent death, Joanna returns home and discovers a letter and some trinkets that reveal more about his time in Tuscany during WWII after his plane was shot down. Interspersed with her tracing the mystery is the story from his point of view.

Thoughts (Spoilers): 

kind of liked this book, but also was kind of meh about the characters and plot. You’re also just kind of sad for the dad who never got over any of it and you know winds up dying as a miserable old git.

3. Rose of Sarajevo

Author: Ayse Kulin
Stars: 3/5
Setting: Sarajevo

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One-Sentence Summary:

Set against the Balkan Wars of the 1990s, Nimeta is a reporter with a loving family, kind husband, and a secret love affair that’s tearing her apart. 

Thoughts (Spoilers):

Mmm… I kind of wish Kulin had chosen to focus on the war or focus on Nimeta and not try to do both. I dunno, the balance just wasn’t there, and I honestly didn’t give a shit about her affair. We don’t even see how it starts. By the time the book begins, they’d already had the affair. The war coverage was interesting as I don’t know much about the Balkan wars, but the whole book just kind of ends on a whimper.

4. Love in Exile

Author: Ayse Kulin
Stars: 2.5/5
Setting: Istanbul, Turkey

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Two-Sentence Summary:

Sabahat is an intelligent, beautiful Muslim woman in 1920s Istanbul, and Aram is a handsome, kind Christian Armenian man. Naturally, neither of their families approve of their relationship.

Thoughts (Spoilers):

You know what’s really, really annoying? Being promised a tale of two lovers divided set to an interesting historical backdrop and then barely getting to know the lovers in questions! I wish Kulin had better formatted the story around her actual grandmother and grandfather, who were what the story really became about, instead of her great aunt and uncle. You know some editor messed up when you don’t even get a scene of reunion between the two characters — they get a few words as an afterthought in the EPILOGUE. I’m still mad about this. 

5. The Storyteller’s Secret

Author: Sejal Badani
Stars: 4/5
Setting: India

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Two-Sentence Summary:

After three miscarriages and a quickly unraveling marriage, Jaya decides to go to India to learn more about her family’s past after receiving news that her estranged grandfather has died. While there, her grandmother’s former servant tells her of the woman not even her mother has known.

Thoughts (Spoilers):

I really enjoyed this. Granted, I don’t know much about Indian culture or the caste system, so I don’t know how “realistic” aspects of it were. However, I thought the story was bittersweet and came together really nicely. The author plants some questions early on, and I thought the way they were finally answered worked really well. I also loved learning about Jaya’s grandmother, and even though it was obvious there’d be a love affair from the minute they introduced the handsome British soldier, I liked the way it was done.

6. Last Year in Havana

Author: Chanel Cleeton
Stars: 5/5
Setting: Havana, Cuba

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Two-Sentence Summary:

Marisol Ferrera is finally visiting the Cuba her grandmother and great aunts have told her about all her life to spread said grandmother’s ashes. Her story is intertwined with the story of her grandmother, Elisa Perez, and her affair with a revolutionary.

Thoughts (Spoilers):

Ahhhhhhhhhhh, if you ever want to know what kind of book is my weakness, this is it. Like, to a T. Perfect pacing, a volley between the present and the past, an impossible love affair, and, of course, a setting that’s interwoven into the story without stopping the plot and is a place I’ve been wanting to go. Done, sold, 5/5, sucker me in for ten more of these. 

7. The Snow Gypsy

Author: Lindsay Jayne Ashford
Stars: 5/5
Setting: Provence, France & Andalucía, Spain, post-WWII

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Three-Sentence Summary:

Rose Daniel has heard nothing of her brother since he left to fight in Spain’s Civil War eight years ago except a letter with vague details of his whereabouts and mentions of the woman pregnant with his child. Meanwhile, Lola Aragon has spent those same eight years raising a girl she rescued as a baby from the same massacre that killed her entire family. Together they begin to find answers that have haunted them through two different wars. 

Thoughts:

Besides knowing that today “gypsy” is considered a slur and personally not using it to describe Romani people, I’m not sure of its use in the context of a novel set in the 1940s. Still probably would have chosen a different title. Besides that, I found the novel fascinating because it dealt with a culture I had no knowledge of and was based off a real woman, Juliette de Baïracli Levy, who lived with the Romani people in Spain. I love the friendship that formed between Rose and Lola, and Rose’s romantic problems made me quite content to be single. 

8. Beneath a Scarlet Sky

Author: Mark Sullivan
Stars: 5/5
Setting: Milan, Italy during WWII

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One-Sentence Summary:

Based on the real life of Pino Lella and how he helped spy on German forces in Italy towards the end of WWII.

Thoughts (Spoilers):

Holy story, there was a lot going on. I, too, am deeply curious as to what the author invented for story and what what really happened with Pino Lella. It’s as heartbreaking of a story as you might imagine despite the obvious heroism Pino displayed as a spy. I’m curious to learn more, and I hope with it being made into a movie with Tom Holland, Pino is interviewed more and can tell his story. Also, Anna. Poor freaking Anna.

9. The Great Passage

Author: Shion Miura
Stars: 5/5
Setting: Tokyo, Japan

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One-Sentence Summary:

The book chronicles the making of a dictionary which will be called The Great Passage and the lives of the dictionary editorial department.

Thoughts (Spoilers):

This was by far my favorite book of this whole lot. It was just so freaking charming. You’d think a book about making a dictionary would be the driest, most boring book of them all. BUT IT WASN’T. If you read anything from this list, read this one! The poetic way the author describes dictionaries is just… It’s beautiful. And the eccentric characters that work on dictionary are so damn charming, you want to will them into being real so you can chat with them.

So far in April, I’ve finished The Beekeeper’s Promise by Fiona Valpy, started Butterfly Stitching by Shermin Nahid. I’m also probably going to start reading the Game of Thrones books again now that the show is coming to end! 

What are you guys reading? Any recommendations, let me know!

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