Alright guys, it’s time for a little quarterly update! What I’ve been reading so far in 2020, and am I on track for my 52 Book Challenge this year?
Moment of truth! If you didn’t follow last year, I totally failed my 2019 book challenge. I don’t even think I did a wrap up for that year, oof. I did finish my 2018 book challenge with one book over, so hopefully I can get back on track this year! I missed my Quarter one goal by 3 books, but that’s not too bad!
Anyway, I hope you all are staying healthy and sane during this very strange time. Maybe one of these books will peak your interest and help the time in isolation pass by just a smidge quicker.
Quarter One, 2020 Book Challenge
1. The Photography of Hye Mi Bae by Giuseppe Rositano and Oscar Wilde
Following the blueprint of The Portrait of Dorian Gray, this book follows Hye Mi’s obsession with her youth after her photograph is taken.
I’ll admit, I started this one in 2019, and it took me forever to read. I don’t know why! I never read The Portrait of Dorian Gray, so I’m not sure how much of this book borrows text from the original since it’s technically by the author and Oscar Wilde. I was prepared to not like it, but I was actually pleasantly surprised.
A lot of the formatting and editing on the Kindle edition could use some work, and it irks me that they kept switching back and forth between how they ordered the names (it should be Bae Hye Mi) and how they kept translating words that really should just be left in Korean (older brother/sister sounds awkward in English, so just stick to oppa and unni).
Anyway, I do think the author knew something about Seoul unlike another book I read, which I shall not name, and it was a clever commentary given how looks-obsessed Korean culture, and particularly Seoul culture, is.
2. The Girl Who Wrote in Silk by Kelli Estes
A dual timeline book (apparently I’m a sucker for these). In the present, Inara Erickson is going through her deceased aunt’s island home when she discovers a beautifully stitched piece of fabric. Meanwhile over a century into the past, Mei Lein, is Chinese-American who is forced from her home in Puget Sound, Washington during a particularly anti-Chinese time.
Yeah, this one is going to tug at your heartstrings. You just know a historical novel based round racism is never going to be a pleasant read. While I vaguely knew of the racism Chinese immigrants faced in the West when they first began settling; I actually hadn’t read too many books that are set so far back (this one is 1886).
Definitely recommend if you enjoy these kinds of books. I listened to it on Audible (free with Kindle Unlimited) and got pretty swept up in the story.
3. Norwegian by Night by Derek B. Miller
Sheldon is a grumpy 82-year-old veteran who finds himself newly moved to Oslo from the US to be with his granddaughter and her Norwegian husband. He witnesses the murder of his neighbor and and finds himself on the run with her young son to get away from the Balkan gangster father who wants the kid back.
I strongly disliked this book. I listened to it at 2x speed while staying up all night to finish a puzzle (don’t ask), and I just kept hating the main character more and more.
When I looked at the summary, I thought we were going to get a sort of charming/thriller tale about a grumpy old American man and a young Albanian boy bonding while on the run from the baby daddy. If the author were really clever, it’d also be an interesting commentary on how both characters are immigrants in Norway, but you’d only describe the Albanian as so while Sheldon gets to be an American or an expat in Norway.
But, alas, all we got was a 2D thriller with 1D characters. Of course the great big evil is the Albanian war criminal father and his thug buddies. Really, I just don’t get why this book needed to be written if I’m being honest. Nothing about it is fresh or new or remotely compelling. Heck, you don’t even get interesting descriptions of the Norwegian landscapes as they’re on the run! Why did this even need to be set there?!
4. If Beale Street Could Talk by James Baldwin
Tish is a 19-year-old girl newly pregnant while her boyfriend, Fonny, is in jail after being falsely accused of a crime. The story goes between how they got together and their fight to get him out of jail.
When I finished listening to this book, I just wanted to scream, I was so frustrated. Which I’m pretty sure is exactly how the writer wanted you to feel because that’s what many, many families of wrongfully incarcerated black men feel on the daily. Goal achieved, James Baldwin, goal achieved.
5. Still Waters by Viveca Stein
The vacation island of Sandhamn is shaken when a body is found ashore. Detective Thomas Andreasson is put on the case to figure out why Krister Berggren went missing and what could have lead to his death and he turns to his childhood friend, Nora Linde, for help. What seems like an accident or suicide turns to suspected murder when his cousin is found dead shortly after being questioned by Andreasson.
I definitely liked this one! The murder mystery was fairly interesting, but what I loved more were the descriptions of Sandhamn, which is a real island in the Stockholm Archipelago. In order to best showcase why these murders are so shocking to the locals, the author fully paints this picture of how lovely and idyllic Sandhamn is, especially in the summer. I found myself wanting to go if I make it back to Sweden in the warmer months!
6. My Grandmother Asked Me to Tell You She’s Sorry by Fredrik Backman
When seven-year-old Elsa’s best friend and grandmother passes away, she is tasked with the job of handing out letters of apology to all the people her grandmother has wronged over the years. As she is sent on this great adventure, she begins to learn that her grandmother’s make-believe stories from the Land-of-Almost-Awake and the Kingdom of Miamas aren’t so make-believe at all.
Fredrik Backman, back at it again! This is the guy who wrote the lovely The Man Called Ove, and I’m pleased with how this story turned out too. Instead of a grumpy old man, we get a grumpy young girl dealing with the loss of her rebellious grandmother.
It’s a good one for anyone dealing with losing someone close, and, of course, it has all the charm that I expect from a Backman novel!
7. Ogre Enchated by Gail Carson Levine
When Evie turns down her best friend, Wormy, as he asks for her hand in marriage, she does not expect to be transformed into an ogre by the meddling ferry, Lucinda. Unfortunately, that’s just what happens and she has 62 days to find someone else to propose until she can no longer change.
Uhhh did you know Levine wrote a prequel to Ella Enchanted? I didn’t either; Autumn told me! Obviously downloaded it instantly and read it all on my Kindle during my plane ride over to Vietnam.
What a fun premise! Besides absolutely loving Evie and Wormy, we get a look at Ella and Char’s parents before events of Ella Enchanted. Specifically, we figure out why Ella’s mom, who is amazing, winds up with her total putz of a father!
8. Ella Enchanted by Gail Carson Levine
Ella of Frell was cursed at birth with the “gift” of obedience. If someone tells her to jump off a cliff, she must. After her mother’s death, she soon finds herself on a quest to break the curse all while falling in love with the cheerful Prince Char and avoiding her odious step-family. It’s a spin on the Cinderella tale.
I mean, of course once I finished Ogre Enchanted, I had to revisit my young adult favorite, Ella Enchanted! I’m so happy this book holds up so well. Even Autumn still loves it, and it is very hard to get her approval let alone her praise of something.
Ahhh this book brought back so many good memories! I must have read it first in fifth grade, and I remember hotly debating with my friend over whether the book Just Ella by Margaret Peterson Haddix was a sequel or not. I was obviously right in that it was not, but no amount of evidence would change her mind.
Anyway, if you didn’t read it when you were younger, I recommend reading it now! Definitely one of those books I’ll have my kids read someday.
9. The Passion According to Carmela by Marcos Aguinis
Told from the various points of view of divorcée Carmela Vasconcelos, her brother, Lucas, and the Argentinian she falls in love with, Ignacio Deheza, we’re taken into the Cuban revolution and its aftermath.
For a book with passion in the title, there is… not a lot of passion. Maybe it was the way it was translated, but the book just felt oddly dry considering it’s about Cuban rebels fighting for social justice under Batista. If I were to direct someone who wanted a good fiction book set during the Cuban revolution… this would not be it.
I do think it does a good job of taking us through that initial fighting in the jungles to the utter disillusionment as Castro begins the communist dictator we know him as in real life, but the narrative is just really choppy. Maybe if the author hadn’t kept switching between three first-person narratives and a third-person one?
tips for reading on the road
Thought I’d share a little on how I manage to read what I do, especially as I’m on the road a lot. First and foremost, before I look at my recommendations, I’d always check in with your local library to see what they offer. Many libraries these days have digital offers! I do have a library card to mine but I couldn’t figure out the digital part… Working on it next time I’m home.
My main way of “reading” is with Audible. I know listening to books can be kind of a cheat, but oh well. I tend to listen to books at 1.5 to 2x speed and then slow them down if I want to enjoy a book more. I wrote about how much I love Audible here plus tips on how to maximize your membership!
Next I go between my actual Kindle Paperwhite and using the Kindle app on my phone. Love, love, love having a Kindle. Much easier on the eyes and I feel like I can “unplug.” I have a ton of books leftover from past Amazon free book days and around Christmas I got 6 months of Kindle Unlimited for super cheap. Normally it’s $9.99/month, but you can always try your first month free. They have a surprisingly robust library, and I just found out they have all of the Harry Potter books available!
And, of course, once in a while I do manage to bring an actual, physical copy of a book with me or I borrow one from someone. Or, even more likely, I impulse buy from a local bookstore!