Thoughts on Diverse Books

I’ve learned so much about diverse books since joining #bookstagram – it’s a very hot topic in the world of people sharing book recommendations. I’m always trying to include “diverse books” in my reading, but I’ve realized that there can be many different motivations and definitions of “diverse”, so I wanted to discuss a bit of that here. I don’t normally like to talk about serious topics like this on here, since I don’t think I’m coming from a place of authority, but I have truly seen a new side of diversity recently, and wanted to share that journey with all of you.

 

Awareness

When I first joined #bookstagam, my opinion was that the purpose of diverse books simple – awareness. It’s important to read books about people from other cultures to understand what their world is life. It may be as simple as reading Ginny Moon and seeing the world from the perspective of a foster child on the autism spectrum and understanding that not everyone’s brain works the same way; or reading Left Neglected by Lisa Genova and understanding the impacts of a chronic illness on the victim and their family, both in the immediate and long term. These were great examples of “diverse” books for me, because they taught me things that I wouldn’t otherwise know and raised issues to a wider audience, so that we can know go forward with more understanding and empathy.

Since I thought I was doing the right thing, I didn’t expect to hear that I was thinking about this topic with a heavy side of white privilege. Which takes me to point two.

Representation

I believe it was during Black History Month that I started to see a lot of comments around #bookstagram, about how messed up it is that white people think “diverse reads” are about awareness when it’s clearly about representation, and giving the reader of the minority the opportunity to see herself in popular culture and feel represented and included.

My initial thought was, admittedly, “back off – I’m doing the best I can”, but recently with the production of Crazy Rich Asians among others, I’ve started to see how much it matters to the groups of people who feel under represented. I want to share that I think Elissa and Simone and Her Books, do amazing jobs covering how books featuring an Asian or Asian American protagonist make them feel. I really enjoy reading their reviews about books featuring an Asian character as the main character instead of the “token Asian friend”, and I feel like I’m finally starting to understand why this is such an important topic in literature today.

And now on to my third category –

Own Voices

This one is very new to me, but I think it’s both a combination of the two and an  important subcategory of both. Own voices means books about African Americans written by African Americans, and books about Asians written by Asians, etc. This is truly the best way to achieve diversity because it portrays the truth based on an internal understanding as well as supports minority authors of a minority. Kate Olsen (of @kate.olsen.reads) has been promoting this topic a lot recently, and it has been amazing to me to see the responses of her readers, and how much this topic means to them. I think that’s really cool!

Recommendations

And of course, I want to suggest a few of my favorite diverse reads to you to get you started!

The Leavers by Lisa Ko

Pachinko by Min Jin Lee

Stay With Me Ayobami Adabayo

A Place for Us by Fatima Farheen Mirza

Let me know what you think of this and if you have any books I should add to my list? Have your opinions on diverse books changed at all recently?

 

Book Review: The Queen of Hearts

Author: Kimmery Martin
Genre: General Fiction
Pub Date: February 2018
FLW Rating: 4/5

I read a blog post – or maybe just an Instagram caption – recently where the author was sharing her frustration of people rating memoirs as 1 or 2 stars because they were too “self-centered/ self-absordbed.” Her point was that we, as reviewers, need to rate books based both on the category in which they exist and the goal/intent of the author in writing the book. I have my reservations about that as a blanket statement, but essentially, I think the logic applies well to this book, The Queen of Hearts. As Martin wrote in her Author’s Note, her goal for this book was to write something entertaining, involving her two loves of medicine and writing (she’s actually a full time ER doctor in her non-author life!). I feel like she took the words right out of my mouth, but of course I have to elaborate. To me, The Queen of Hearts was well written, complex, and entertaining — While there was nothing that blew me away in terms of writing or plot, I’ll happily reflect on it and recommend it to my friends who may be looking for an very solid page turner.

The Queen of Hearts is a story told in two parts – one being when the main characters, Zadie and Emma, were in their first intern year of Med School, and one later on when both women are successful physicians. During their school years, one of their classmates dies unexpectedly, and while Emma knows the full story, Zadie does not. That secret is constantly brooding beneath their friendship, and as Emma enters a turbulent stage of her career, the story being uncovered would mean her losing it all – her job, her best friend, and so much more.

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As I look back on this book the first thing that comes to mind is the plot line involving the shocking death of the classmate, but I need to highlight that as I was reading it, it was really the professional scandal that C is going through that hit me the hardest. With so many strong plotlines, being able to balance each and make them independently strong, is to me the sign of a well-structured book, and a testament to Martin’s writing, appealing to the humanity in us all.

Additionally, I liked that despite the sometimes-heavier subject matter, this book primarily stayed light and moved quickly. I credit this tone to the inclusion of the medical writing. The surgery, hospital, and emergency rooms scenes advanced the plot and added suspense, but also needed to be kept relatively short to avoid us non-medical personal becoming disinterested. Because of this, the medical scenes set the pace of the novel and kept the other sections moving at that pace too. The combination of the strong intersecting plot points along with the medical scenes made The Queen of Hearts unique from other books I’ve read recently, and truly a joy to read.

Overall, it gets a solid four stars from me – I was thoroughly entertained and appreciated both the complex plot and authentic medical knowledge contributions!

Have you read this one? What did you think?

Book Review: A Place For Us

Author: Fatima Farheen Mirza
Published: June 12, 2018
Genre: Literary Fiction
FLW Rating: 4.5/5

First things first: I’m currently participating in the Unread Shelf Project 2018, hosted by Whitney at @theunreadshelf. This post reflects on the August Challenge, but you can look back at all the posts here

You may be thinking – another five star (or almost five star) review of A Place For Us, really? If you are, I feel you – the hype was strong for this book and I found that anticipating “hype” in a slow burn really brought the vibe down. So I want to say that this book was good, particularly for the beautiful writing and unique structure, but I would advise you to be conscious of the slowness of this book.

A Place For Us is the story of an Indian-American family. Like any family they love each other but have their moments. This family in particular, though, has the added stressers of a strict Muslim lifestyle. Being a Muslim affects a lot of their life – the clothes they wear, the choice to abstain from alcohol, the romantic relationships they can enter in to, and, importantly, the way their classmates view them. As these factors come in to play over the course of the children’s upbringing, conflict repeatedly arises between Amar and his father and the book unfolds as they confront these issues. 

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At the center of this story is a generational shift from parents to children. While the parents grew up in a primarily Muslim community, and appear to have escaped a childhood full of prejudice and discrimination, the children are growing up farther removed from the church and in a society where they constantly have to think about not just being discriminated against, but also the risk of violence against them solely for their religion. This fundamental shift, while having some to deal with religious beliefs, comes across as a human story of struggle. While I harped strongly on faith in the summary above, I want to stress that, while I do not strongly associate with any religion, I still felt that I was able to relate strongly to the religious components of the story line in this book.

To illustrate this generational shift, two key issues are at play in this book: domestic violence and the use of drugs/alcohol/opioids. In this book Amar, the youngest child and only son struggled with substance abuse, and separately, his father, struggled with psychically abusive tendencies. I’ve read a few books recently (notably The Great Alone and Ohio) that tackle these issues together, meaning that one person has issues with both substance abuse and physical abuse — typically one causing the other. I loved how this book tackled them separately, so that one wasn’t an excuse for the other.

What truly made this book stand out for me was the structure. The first few sections, while non-linear in timeline, follow a relatively straightforward, third person storyline trajectory. However the fourth flips the story on its head and features Amar’s father directly addressing the first three sections and his feelings towards Amar. It was so hard to read and be confronted with the eternal and unconditional love of a father, despite viewing him as the villain for three-fourths of the story.

The phrase “stunning debut” is, in my opinion, way overused — but it truly applies in this situation. To write with such meaning and to create such a unique structure of a book is truly inspirational, and I commend Mirza for writing with such originality. I highly recommend this to anyone who wants to feel some feelings — and sympathize with those who we may have faulted in the past.

Have you read this one? What did you think?

SDFOB: Women Writing Fiction

And Finally – Women Writing Fiction

This seminar was by far the one I was most looking forward to! I read a lot of fiction written by women and I love it. Going in to the seminar, my anticipated “headliner” was Brit Bennet, author of The Mothers, that I read a few years ago when it was chosen as a Book of the Month Choice. It turns out she grew up right here in Oceanside!

However, I was definitely quick to judge when I predicted she would be the most impressive woman on this panel – the other two women blew me away and I want to share the author love for each of them!

T. Greenwood

Most Recent Novel: Rust & Stardust

Tammy (what T stands for — I had the hardest time finding her on Goodreads after the festival because she doesn’t go by Tammy!) was such a beautiful, artistic, creative, and passionate soul. I was so impressed by so many things about her, but first and foremost that she has published TWELVE novels!

I really just enjoyed her energy and her ability to give the uncomfortable answer. On the topic of “women’s fiction” where others didn’t like the title but didn’t want to start a war, she was so ready to say “I have a serious problem with it!” I loved that because I totally agree and never classify a novel as women’s fiction.

I also enjoyed hearing how she funded her work – she has had every job in the book from waitress, to retail, to coffee barista! Now she’s able to write her novels, teach writing at a local university, and mentor/ freelance edit for other authors.

It was such a pleasure to “meet” Tammy, and I’m looking forward to reading some of her twelve novels!

Michelle Gable

Most Recent Novel: The Summer I Met Jack

Michelle Gable was another author I am surprised I hadn’t heard of – her energy was contagious and I found myself wanting to be her best friend.

Some of the highlights of her answers include that she always sets her books in beautiful places so she can visit — her first book is titled A Paris Apartment — and she didn’t publish her first book until she was 40 years old (this blew me away because Michelle is so gorgeous and full of young energy. Not that there’s anything wrong with being over 40, but I never would have guessed her age!)

To fund her writing process (and life in general) Michelle worked for almost 20 years in finance. Her advice is that the best way to be a writer is to be busy — she said she’s actually finding is equally as hard to find time to write when she’s doing it full time as when she only had an hour a day but she was committed to that hour a day. As an engineer, I totally feel this sentiment!

The most passionate answer Michelle gave is that it’s easy to write strong women because she is one and she is surrounded by many. Just be listening to her speak you knew this was true – she spoke with so much passion, excitement, and confidence and I loved it!

And in terms of supporting others and giving back,  Michelle shared that she is an avid readers and reviews all the books she reads on Goodreads. She also pre-orders hardcover versions of debut authors. These are some excellent peeks in to how the industry works and some of the best ways to support authors, so I think we should all take a page out of Michelle’s book – figuratively of course.

Brit Bennet

Most Recent Novel: The Mothers

Brit was truly unique on this panel — she was by far the youngest, the only one to not have a children (yet), the only one to only have one book published so far, the only one to be able to write full time since publishing her first book, and the only one to have an absolute sensation of a debut.

Despite all of those comparisons, Brit showed wisdom beyond her years with each of her answers. In each round of questions, she would answer last and start by saying, “Yeah, what they said,” but then continue to blow me away with some of her answers. As I’m writing this in Portugal without my notebook, I can’t remember her exact words, but it’s important to know that Brit is wise, elequent, and so impressive in her modest confidence.

What I didn’t know when I read the Mothers was that she wrote that novel in graduate school!!! She had it picked up by a publisher (not to mention Book of the Month!) and therefore was able to go in her career as a full time author — a rarity in this industry!

While she only has one book out right now, I can’t wait to read what she writes next.

Final Thoughts

This panel did a few things for me — first and foremost, it inspired me to write a book (TBD if I’ll ever do it, but I would love to! More on that in a later post, probably)

Some of the common themes were that it’s hard to be a writer. Each of the author’s who have published more than one book shared that they’ve written way more books than they’ve had published. Brit Bennett is truly the exception here! They also shared that book tours are hard on the mind and the body (BB included here). Brit said even touring in her twenties was hard – she was so excited to visit friends in cities that she’d visit on her tour, but soon realized how exhausted she was and how much she just wanted to sleep when she arrived in a new city. I’ve heard others (Backman) speak about this, and even insist that his family join him on his most recent book tour, but he presented it more in the context of anxiety. Hearing from these women showed me that it’s really just hard to be an author and be on tour — it’s not the glamorous life we (well at least I) dream of.

Speaking of glamorous lives, each woman on the panel said that they watch and love Younger (my latest Hulu binge-watching show!) Their comments were that they’ve never seen publishers who are so attractive, so wealthy, or have such nice offices, but that they absolutely love watching it. Me too!!

Overall, this panel was my favorite of the day (clearly), and was both so inspiring and so informative.  I love knowing that each of the authors live (or grew up) in San Diego and intend to read their books and continue to support my local authors.

Have you read books by these three? Do you know which authors live in your city?

SDFOB: LGBTQ Fiction and Nonfiction

On August 25th, I attended the San Diego Festival of Books. It was my first ever Book Festival and I loved it! My favorite part, unexpectedly, was getting the chance to learn about so many local authors! So often in the book blog/bookstagram scene we hear about big presses and bestsellers, but it was great to hear about smaller indie authors and publishing houses, but also bestsellers living in our very own city! I loved that my first book festival was in a small city, and I definitely plan to attend again next year.

Over the coming days I’ll share a bit about each of the three seminars I attended – each were so unique!


Next Up – LGBTQ in Fiction and Nonfiction

LGBTQ literature has been such a growing genre over the past few years. It was celebrated in full this year in the book community — if you’re interested, NYC Book Girl did a great Pride Reads list.

Personally, I’ve been luke warm on the topic recently – not for any change of heart on the topic itself, but I’ve found that the “pride reads” I’ve been reading recently have been extremely over sexualized. I’m not a romance reader of any orientation (meaning I don’t really enjoy romance scenes of straight couples), but I do love a good rom-com story regardless of sexual orientation. My issue comes from the fact that I often find writers feel the need to create romance scenes in LGBTQ books more so than they would for straight couples. I find that weird and unnecessary. My main recent examples of this are Ohio and The Immortalists.

Anyway, all this is to say that I was really looking forward to an LGBTQ panel to discuss LBGTQ literature and maybe get an answer to my question of am I unconsicously being biased or is it weird that many LGBTQ books have very intense sex scenes. (If you have feelings on this please share in the comments!)

Ultimately, I didn’t get my question answered, nor was there really any stimulating conversation on the topic, but the two books presented were interesting and contained some food for thought. One small pet peeve (and maybe this is too intrusive of me) but I had hoped for a little more personal information from the authors on this very personal topic – were they gay? Either way, did that impact the way they approached their writing? What do they think of other pride books out there in the world? I just had so many questions, and expected a bit more from this panel.

Book 1: Harvey Milk – His Lives and Death by Lillian Faderman

Lillian was a joy to hear speak – she’s most well known for her book The Gay Revolution and has written twelve books, this being her latest.

In talking about this book, Lillian focused on the impact of Harvey Milk. His story (being the first out gay man elected to public office and soon thereafter being assassinated) is so well known, so, when she was approached about writing the book, she questioned whether there was anything new to add to the story. She ultimately decided that yes, there is more to be added, because so much of his impact has been felt between the publishing of previous biographies and now.

The personal San Diego tie in this seminar was that the first out lesbian elected official in San Diego was in the audience. Since that time, there has always been at least one out LGBTQ person elected to an office in San Diego and today there are many. It was interesting and personal to see these stories in real life, that may not have been possibly without the advancement of LGBTQ rights fought for by Harvey Milk.

One other interesting thing mentioned was that Lillian admitted that at first she fell in love with her subject. But as she got in to her writing process, she realized that she needed to write all of Harvey Milk, “warts” and all, to use her words.

If you’re looking for a well rounded biography of Harvey Milk – his best assets, worse qualities, and a thorough study of his impacts on today – I would definitely suggest you look in to this one!

Book 2: Scissors, Paper, Stone by Martha K. Davis

The next speaker, Martha, had a bit of a harder time getting her book through publication. She wrote this novel back in 1998 – that’s twenty years ago! At the time the LGBTQ movement wasn’t as active as it is now, nor was it as popular in mass market literature, so the book didn’t sell. She abandoned the book enough to write another novel, but never really let it go.

Martha stated that she didn’t want to go to a “lesbian” publishing house, and so she didn’t, but she also didn’t have much luck at the more main stream publishing houses. Ultimately, she got this book published by submitting it to a queer lit award from Red Hen Press and winning the contest! It took a lot of work, but this piece is finally published and Martha said, somewhat abashed, that she’s happy with it!

As a reader of diverse literature, I was surprised this book didn’t receive more attention – although I haven’t read it, so I can’t make any sweeping generalizations. The story is about a couple who adopt a Korean-American baby, and raise her lovingly through adulthood. The plot twist arises when the child grows up to discover that she is gay and wonders what this will mean for her. One of the artistic qualities that Martha displayed in the excerpt she read was about how being Korean-American is a difference that is celebrated and that maybe if being a lesbian were as openly accepted as being Korean-American, she wouldn’t feel so lonely.

I thought that was a great sentiment to frame a book around and I hope I get a chance to read this book in the future.

Final  Thoughts

Both of the authors had thoughts on lesbian publishing houses, and also LGBTQ/Women’s bookstores. They said that in terms of advancing LGBTQ writing, it’s harmful that women’s bookstores are disapearing across the US. As a borderline millenial, I had to admit I had never heard of a Women’s Bookstore and was kind of surprised at there being such a thing (and also a nostalgia for them). I think the key is to promote diverse books like these and get them in to the common bookstores that so many people are visiting!

Do you like the sound of these books? Do you often read LGBTQ literature?

 

SDFOB: Military Nonfiction

On August 25th, I attended the San Diego Festival of Books. It was my first ever Book Festival and I loved it! My favorite part, unexpectedly, was getting the chance to learn about so many local authors! So often in the book blog/bookstagram scene we hear about big presses and bestsellers, but it was great to hear about smaller indie authors and publishing houses, but also bestsellers living in our very own city! I loved that my first book festival was in a small city, and I definitely plan to attend again next year.

There were so many seminars I wanted to attend, but I ended up choosing three as to not max myself out. I was also aware of the fact that this was a weekend and I never want book blogging to feel like a job or an obligation, so I wanted to make sure I had fun the whole time. I definitely did and I wanted to share a little bit of information on the seminars with you!

Over the coming days I’ll share a bit about each of the three seminars I attended – each were so unique!


First up — Military Non Fiction

I’ve been really interested in Military nonfiction in the past year. It’s partially a result of living in San Diego, so close to a huge navy and marines base, but also just through reading different stories of different time periods. I’ve found that war has been such a backdrop for our life in the last century, and I’m so curious to learn more about it.

The books shared in this seminar were both remarkable — I ended up not buying them at the festival because this was the first lecture we attended and I felt like I was just being trigger happy, but then bought them both online because this seminar was so good.

BOOK 1: Saigon Kids by Les Arbuckle

You may know this story from another medium — the movie Good Morning, Vietnam? I’m not a movie buff, but everyone I’ve talked to since has told me they’ve seen the movie and that it does indeed feature a radio station in Saigon, Vietnam. The story here is that Les Arbuckle’s father was the guy who set up the Armed Forces Radio in Vietnam. (If you’ve seen the movie, Les let us in on the secret that the way Robin Williams said “Good Morning, Vietnam” was pretty different from how his dad said it, but both were equally entertaining!)

Les was 13 when his family moved in Saigon in 1963. There wasn’t a military base, but there was a large military presence. Les tells the story of his life there – hailing a cab for no money at all, attending the American Community School, and getting in to more trouble than his parents would ever like to hear about! (unfortunately they passed away quite young, so they weren’t around for the publishing of this book.)

It was forty years after his time in Saigon, that Les decided to write this books, but as he explained, he wrote from memory — to start he wrote down everything he remembered in no order at all, just let the memories flow. And then he put them in chronological order, and as he worked through that, other memories came to the surface. At first, Les wanted to write a screenplay, but he joked, he didn’t know how to write a screenplay! He didn’t know much about writing books either, but he made do. 🙂

I’m really excited to read Les’s book. I think it will be filled with humor, adventure, and also perspective.

BOOK 2: No Forgotten Fronts by Lisa Shapiro

This story is truly so unique and so San Diego. It is a compilation (with some helpful commentary) of letters that students who attended SDSU, and went on to fight in World War II, sent to a professor who asked them to keep in touch.

Beyond asking the students to keep in touch, Dr. Post, sent out a monthly newsletter. We all know military personel rarely stay in one place, but the miltary postal service is allegedly very good at forwarding mail, and Dr. Post was able to get in contact with her students very regularly and share news and updates!

Lisa read a few sections of her book, and described a few more, and each time she spoke, I had chills at the messages in her story and the realness that they projected. She told one story about the men who were sent to D-Day who didn’t know they were being sent there, and one student wrote “tough men had tears in their eyes” at seeing the statue at Normandy Beach, and as Lisa said, “they knew what they were fighting for.” Man, it still gets me. Just the courage and tenacity of these men who went willingly to war on the front lines.

What made this experience extra special was when the woman in front of me stood up and said, she wasn’t finished reading the book, but she had been friends with one of the students writing the letters for FORTY years. It meant the world to her to have this book published. As soon as Lisa had finished reacting and letting the reader know how much that meant to her, the woman across the aisle stood up and said that one of the students was her dad. She smiled while saying THANK YOU FOR WRITING THIS BOOK and that she had purchased ten copies. I loved experiencing this moment and it definitely pushed me over the edge to buying this book.

Final Thoughts

One point made during the panel to really differentiate between the two books was that “letters are written in the moment” versus a memoir that has more time to reflect. While this was said to increase the value of No Forgotten Fronts, I think it has equal value for Saigon Kids. A memoir of the early days of the American occupation of Vietnam with forty years of perspective is definitely something I’m here for!

Next Week – In Portugal!

First of all, I’m sorry my blog content has been a little sporadic recently. I’ve been feeling extremely stressed and writing book reviews, or finding time to write book reviews, has not been the easiest thing to do. But in the interest of keeping in touch, I thought I’d let you know that next week I’ll be writing to you from Portugal! (Side note: I have some posts planned, so I will be posting!) Aside from a very quick trip to Iceland and England in 2016, I haven’t been to Europe since I was 15! That’s almost 15 years ago! I planned an itinerary I’m excited about, so I wanted to share what I’ll be doing in Portugal.

Some background: The reason for this trip is that I am presenting at a conference in Lisbon — but the rest of the conference isn’t totally up my alley, so I’ll only be attending some parts of it outside of my presentation. Because I’m only in Portugal for a short time, I’m planning to stay just in and around Lisbon. Based on my research, there will be plenty to do!

Lisbon

There are three main neighborhoods in Lisbon that I definitely plan to check out: Barrio Alto, Alfama, and Belem.

Barrio Alto
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Barrio Alto is known for it’s night life but is also full of wonderful cafes. I’m planning to take the bus down to Barrio Alto in the morning for some café time at Hello Kristof, The Mill, or Pharmacia. If I have time in the evening I’m definitely planning to hit up Park Bar or Noobai! The views and décor look to die for.

alfama
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Alfama is the touristy/historic neighborhood – although hey, I’m a tourist so I’m going to check it out. Two things high on my list: Ginja de Alfama and Clube de Alfama. The first Ginja – is a local Portuguese liquer. I’m very interested in trying this! The second, Clube de Amalfa is known for live music to celebrate Fado, which is the historic music culture in Lisbon. Aside from those two spots, I plan to wander the streets, check out the National Tile Museum, the Time Out Market, and grab a glass of wine at the Riberia Das Naus!

belem

Belem is probably the neighborhood I’m most looking forward to! This seems to be a major culture center for Lisbon. The Belem Tower is one of the biggest tourist attractions, and while I don’t plan to go inside, I am definitely looking forward to seeing it from the outside! Besides that there’s the Berardo Collection, the LX Factor, the Mosteiro dos Jeronimos and the MAAT (museum of architecture and technology!) For food, I’m most excited to visit Darwin’s Café. And of course – I can’t miss Pasteis de Belem.

Excursions

I booked a few excursions/tours that I’m excited about! It’s a little bit of a splurge but I’m traveling alone and not a fan of driving alone in a foreign country so this seemed like a good idea!

paddle boarding
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First up: a paddle boarding tour! This came highly recommended by a friend and will be a great way to get out to the coast. After that I’m planning to relax on a beach for some of the day and then head back in to the city to explore some vistas and probably end the night with some wine in a park.

sintra
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And a trip to Lisbon would not be complete without a trip to Sintra and Cassais! I booked a tour with a company called We Hate Tourism. A friend of mine said this was one of the best parts of her recent trip to Lisbon!

Books!

Since this is a book blog… 🙂

I’m planning to take four books! It’s only 10 days, so this may be ambitious but I’ll be alone for most of it and have some good train/plane time.. plus solo meal time and hotel time! If I run out of books, I have some extras on my kindle.. but I don’t anticipate that happening. Here’s what I have packed:

  • The Queen of Hearts by Kimmery Martin
  • The Witch Elm by Tana French (Kindle)
  • A Girl’s Guide to Missiles by Karen Piper (Kindle)
  • Less by Andrew Sean Greer

In terms of bookish excursions — the oldest bookstore in the world is in Lisbon! It’s not in one of the areas listed above, but I’ll try to go at some point!

And then I’ll come home! Did I miss anything? Let me know!

 

Book Review: Modern Lovers

Author: Emma Straub
Published: May 31, 2016
Genre: Contemporary Fiction
FLW Rating: 3/5

I read a review of this book recently that said something along the lines of ‘Emma Straub’s books always appear to bright and happy, but when you read them you realize that they are anything but’. After reading this book, I couldn’t agree more. I bought Modern Lovers mostly because I loved the bookstore, Books Are Magic, in New York City, which was founded by Emma Straub, but also because I love bright colors and love stories. The content of this book didn’t match the cover, and while that’s not necessarily a bad thing, I think the biggest warning sign I want to share with you is that this book is more about falling out of love than falling in love and that can be dark, sad, and messy.

Modern Lovers is the story of three very different couples – one heterosexual couple in the midst of a midlife crisis instigated by some ghosts of the past, one homosexual couple who has hit a bump in the road, and one teenage couple trying to figure out life and where they fit. These stories feel real and full of despair, as each character waivers between hopeful and hopeless with so much of their life left to live.

The book is extremely character driven and at first I was truly surprised by this. I expected more action, partially due to the bright and exciting cover, and at first was a bit bored with the story.  I think the key to enjoying this book is to try to put yourselves in the shoes of each character and see how much they are hurting. The writing in this book was well done, to the point that while I identified with noone, I could empathize with everyone.

If we’re being honest here, I don’t think the book was meant for me right now. I’m going through a stage of life full of hope and love and excitement for the future – I’m in a new city, with a new job, living with a boyfriend who I hope to marry soon(ish). A love story about falling out of love isn’t really the kind of book I’m here for right now. I guess my critique is that the cover should reflect the content of the book more than it did, but also if a book isn’t right for you right now, there’s really nothing you (or the author) can do, so I can’t knock it too much on that account.

Overall, this book was good. Not great, but also very much not bad. I enjoyed it and I felt for the characters, but man, a book full of hopeless situations isn’t quite what I wanted at the end of summer!

Have you read this book? What did you think?

 

What I’m Reading: September

September is always the busiest month of the year for me – I’m not sure why it always surprises me! This year I’m traveling to the East Coast for a slew of family events and then continuing on to Portugal for a week of work/play! (ALL PORTUGAL SUGGESTIONS WELCOME – I’LL BE IN LISBON!) After that I’ll be home but cramming for an engineering licensing exam while also trying to celebrate my birthday. Oof!

In terms of books, I have so many books I want to read, and after sticking to a strict TBR in August I want to give myself some wiggle room. So here are my top 3 for this month!

The Witch Elm by Tana French
Pub Date: October 9, 2018
Publisher: Viking Books
IT’S FINALLY HERE! I’ve been waiting years to read a new book by Tana French and I cannot wait to read this book!

Goodreads Desciption: Toby is a happy-go-lucky charmer who’s dodged a scrape at work and is celebrating with friends when the night takes a turn that will change his life – he surprises two burglars who beat him and leave him for dead. Struggling to recover from his injuries, beginning to understand that he might never be the same man again, he takes refuge at his family’s ancestral home to care for his dying uncle Hugo. Then a skull is found in the trunk of an elm tree in the garden – and as detectives close in, Toby is forced to face the possibility that his past may not be what he has always believed.

The Queen of Hearts by Kimmery Martin 
Pub Date: February 13, 2018
Publisher: Berkeley Pub
This book was actually gifted to me by the author, who’s been following me on instagram for a while now! I was so honored to have her reach out and the cherry on top was that this book has totally been on my radar since its pub date back in February! (I said I would read this last month but didn’t have time. It’d definitely a priority for me this month!)

Goodreads Description: Zadie Anson and Emma Colley have been best friends since their early twenties, when they first began navigating serious romantic relationships amid the intensity of medical school. Now they’re happily married wives and mothers with successful careers–Zadie as a pediatric cardiologist and Emma as a trauma surgeon. Their lives in Charlotte, North Carolina are chaotic but fulfilling, until the return of a former colleague unearths a secret one of them has been harboring for years. 

As chief resident, Nick Xenokostas was the center of Zadie’s life–both professionally and personally–throughout a tragic chain of events in her third year of medical school that she has long since put behind her. Nick’s unexpected reappearance during a time of new professional crisis shocks both women into a deeper look at the difficult choices they made at the beginning of their careers. As it becomes evident that Emma must have known more than she revealed about circumstances that nearly derailed both their lives, Zadie starts to question everything she thought she knew about her closest friend.

Autumn by Ali Smith
Pub Date: February 7, 2017
The Challenge this month for #theunreadshelfproject2018 is to read a FALL book – think blankets, hot apple cider, leaves falling, sweater weather…. I could go on. And since there’s never been a more “fall” book than one titled Autumn, I’ve decided to read this one! I picked this one up at a used book store last month and I’m excited to get to read it so soon! (Fall doesn’t really hit San Diego until ~ November so I was giving myself some time 🙂 )

Goodreads Description: Autumn. Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness. Two old friends–Daniel, a centenarian, and Elisabeth, born in 1984–look to both the future and the past as the United Kingdom stands divided by a historic, once-in-a-generation summer. Love is won, love is lost. Hope is hand-in-hand with hopelessness. The seasons roll round, as ever.

A luminous meditation on the meaning of richness and harvest and worth, Autumn is the first installment of Ali Smith’s Seasonal quartet, and it casts an eye over our own time: Who are we? What are we made of? Shakespearean jeu d’esprit, Keatsian melancholy, the sheer bright energy of 1960s pop art. Wide-ranging in time-scale and light-footed through histories, Autumn is an unforgettable story about aging and time and love–and stories themselves.

What are you planning to read this month?

August Reading Recap

HAPPY END OF AUGUST! I cannot believe it is here, and honestly am not sure that I’m ok with it being here!! August was full of milestones – one of my best friend’s weddings, my first building I designed being sent to the building department (!!), and, notably, the month before September (aka when all hell breaks loose in my life)! My goal for August was to read four titles with pub dates this month, without going too crazy with the pressure. I got through three of them and I feel pretty good about that!

I also listened to two of my #UnreadShelfProject2018 books on audio, read my Book of the Month pick from this month (which never happens), and (almost) completed another monthly challenge for The Unread Shelf Project 2018! So…. BOOM – I feel like I crushed it! Summaries below and links to reviews where available!!

 

The Distance Home by Paula Saunders
Rating: 4/5
Genre: Contemporary Fiction
Tone: Dark, Somber
Structure: Generally told chronologically from one perspective, with flashes to the future
Read if you like: Little Fires Everywhere, Enchanted Islands

What Happened by Hillary Clinton
Rating: 4/5
Genre: Political Memoir
Tone: Campaign-y, Friendly
Structure: Told first person from Hillary Clinton per topic of campaign challenges
Read if you like: Hillary Clinton, Politics, Unbelievable by Katy Tur

Chariot on the Mountain by Jack Ford
Rating: 5/5
Genre: Historical Fiction
Tone: Strong, Suspenseful
Structure:  Chronological, Third person from two perspectives
Read if you like: Civil War History, To Kill a Mockingbird, The Underground Railroad

Sweet Little Lies by Caz Frear
Rating: 3.5/5
Genre: Mystery
Tone: Procedural, Scheme-y, Curious (idk these are hard)
Structure: Chronologically in present tense, with a few flashback diary entries
Read if you like: Tana French books particularly Faithful Place, Law and Order

Ohio by Stephen Markley
Rating: 2/5
Genre: Contemporary Fiction
Tone: Dark, angry, complex
Structure: Four distinct points of view on one night, with flashbacks to high school years
Read if you like: Let The Great World Spin, Hillbilly Elegy, The Immortalists

Modern Lovers by Emma Straub
Rating: 3/5
Genre: Contemporary Fiction
Tone: Hope, longing, depair
Structure: Three intertwined story lines – two adult couples, and one teenage “couple”
Read if you like: Unique stories of growing up

What’s the best book you read this month?! And – are you ready for fall??