Happy September, friends! I said this in last month’s book review post too but I have been reading more recently because that seems to be what I need from myself these days. I read 12 books in August which I think is a record for me, probably since I was in elementary school haha. I’ve been listening to audiobooks nonstop which is helping me read a lot more! I’ve noted all the books I listened to on audio in my reviews:
THE BEST WE COULD DO by Thi Bui – 4 stars
The Best We Could Do begins with the author giving birth, an event which prompts her to reflect on her Vietnamese refugee parents’ lives. The author alludes to tough conversations she had to elicit out of her parents and their family members, particularly about their lives in Vietnam and the ancestral trauma they experienced and passed down onto her and her siblings. In a way, this graphic memoir tells a familiar story of a child wanting and attempting to understand their parents and how to be a parent themselves but the way in which Bui encapsulates and delivers her story is unique and moving. I also knew very little about the history of Vietnam so The Best We Could Do was eye-opening.
TASTE by Stanley Tucci – 4 stars
I knew Stanley Tucci only from Devil Wears Prada (and Hunger Games though I didn’t realize he was the actor that played Caesar lol). I had a vague idea that he was Italian and that he was into cooking, probably from Instagram or TikTok. Tucci calls Taste a food memoir, which is an accurate description as it really is a mix of his (and family’s) life stories and food memories. I listened to Taste as I generally try to do with memoirs, and it was a great choice. Of course, Tucci is an excellent narrator; throughout the book, he would go on these tangents that turn into stories of their own right, and his delivery really added to the experience of the book. There’s a recipe at the end of each chapter/section so if you think you might want to try cooking some of the recipes, that might be a motivation to get a physical book.
EVERYTHING, EVERYTHING by Nicola Yoon – 3.5 stars
There are some things I quite liked about Everything, Everything and some things I’m not sure about. Madeline, who is half-Black and half-Japanese, grew up with her Japanese mom after the passing of her dad and brother in an accident. The accident not only signified the change in her family structure but also marked the beginning of her living in confinement as her mom learned that Madeline has Severe Combined Immunodeficiency. Maddy is used to her very routined life until a new family moves next door and she befriends Olly. I liked the first half/two thirds of the book better, which I guess means that I liked the boring parts better? I did not at all foresee the twist towards the end but it felt like nothing was happening for a long time and too much was happening? I can definitely see why this would make a great movie storyline though so maybe I’ll give that a watch sometime!
NOBODY WILL TELL YOU THIS BUT ME by Bess Kalb – 4.5 stars
What a special book! Bess Kalb had a special relationship with her late grandmother Bobby. In Nobody Will Tell You This But Me, Bess tells stories told to her by Bobby. Some of Bobby’s stories are about herself, some are about Bobby’s daughter/Bess’s mother, some are about her husband, some are about other members of their family. At least some are fictitious (i.e. Bobby commenting on her own funeral). This book made me cry (two breakfasts in a row!) and made me laugh out loud so many times. The audiobook is read by the author who does an excellent voice narrating Bobby. It was a delightful and lovely read/listen.
WE WERE DREAMERS by Simu Liu – 4.5 stars
I generally like memoirs but We Were Dreamers exceeded my expectation.Though I had watched Kim’s Convenience and Shang-Chi and have seen some posts Simu had made in Subtle Asian Traits Facebook group, I really knew nothing about Simu! I guess I just thought of him as a smooth guy with abs? I had no idea that Simu was born in China or that he had lived with his parents in his early childhood. You learn about Simu but also a lot about his parents. I would not have guessed some of the hard chapters he had gone through based on how he carries himself, especially how his parents expected and required perfection from him like they did for themselves surviving in communist China. Simu alludes to the fact that language has always been his forte and that shows in his storytelling. We Were Dreamers made me like him so much more!
BE NOT AFRIAD OF LOVE by Mimi Zhu – 4 stars
“No Matter what you are afraid of, be not afraid of love.”
Be Not Afraid of Love was a challenging read both because of Mimi’s openness and vulnerability in sharing their story but because it prompted a lot of thinking, confronting, and reflecting for me. It also inspired to start a dialogue with people close to me about how we can love better. It has fundamentally changed my perspective on love (both as a noun and a verb) and it also inspired me to pick up All About Love by bell hooks which I had started but never finished. Thanks to Penguin Books for the advanced reader copy! I know Be Not Afraid of Love is a book I’ll come back to for many years.
MY SISTER, THE SERIAL KILLER by Oyinkan Braithwaite – 3.75 stars
If you’re in a reading rut or looking for a good audiobook, try My Sister, the Serial Killer! At about 4 hours, it’s short and full of suspense. The premise is as the title says. Korede’s little sister Ayoola, who is deemed more beautiful of the two, has killed yet another boyfriend, and Korede is yet again recruited to help her sister clean u the mess. It is definitely more character/relationship driven, and there isn’t a strong resolution at the end FYI if you’re more of a plot reader.
I’M GLAD MY MOM DIED by Jennette McCurdy – 4.5 stars
Memoirs are often described as brutally honest and vulnerable but I don’t think I’ve encountered a memoir as brutally honest and vulnerable as I’m Glad My Mom Died. Because I never watched any Disney/Nickelodeon shows, I didn’t know much about Jennette McCurdy besides the fact that she was on iCarly (though I’ve never seen a single episode). I hadn’t realized how early she started acting and how she only acted to please her mother who lived vicariously through Jennette and found pleasure and purpose in controlling Jennette who loved and wanted to protect her mom so much.
Jennette describes how she never felt comfortable acting and she always felt more herself writing, which really shows in this memoir. She writes about events and conversations in a way that makes you feel like you’re seeing experience everything with Jennette. The writing is very matter-of-fact with really no commentary or reflection until maybe the last third or quarter of the book, which seems reflective of how Jennette was at the time of those events. It is quite heavy with lots of trigger warnings including: eating disorders, sexual abuse, drug and alcohol abuse.
THE HEART PRINCIPLE by Helen Hoang – 4.5 stars
Anna had been dating her shitty boyfriend for years when he announces that they see other people to make sure he wants to be with Anna. Anna then joins a dating app, determined to go on lots of dates and have lots of one night stands except she goes on a date with Quan…again…and again…
There are so many things I liked about The Heart Principle. I think this may be the first romance book I’ve read that has more than one Asian protagonist?! Seeing Anna and Quan have everyday conversations about their cultures and immigrant parents was ordinary but felt special at the same time, which I think really encapsulates their entire relationship.
(spoilers) Helen Hoang articulates more challenging conversation topics too. The way she portrays Anna being on the autism spectrum—from being diagnosed as an adult to her sister refusing to believe Anna’s diagnosis felt authentic and respectful. The conversations Anna has with her sister, her mom, and herself regarding her dad’s declining health and eventual death felt real.The Heart Principle was more than I bargained for in the best way!
THE MAID by Nita Prose – 3.75 stars
I mostly liked The Maid except for how the protagonist was portrayed (which is pretty major). Molly is a hotel maid, just like her Gran was. She’s content with her life though she’s still grieving her Gran’s death and struggling to make ends meet since her ex-boyfriend stole the life savings Gran was intending to leave behind for Molly. One day, one of the regulars at the hotel is found dead, and Molly is framed for this murder while she unknowingly helps people who may be involved.
I’m not a huge thriller/mystery person but The Maid kept my attention the whole time, especially on the audio, and the plot was solid with enough of a twist. BUT I wish Molly was depicted a bit less infantile and less oblivious. The way she’s juvenilized so much with others having to take care of her and tell her what’s going on to her face was a bit much.
DRUNK ON LOVE by Jasmine Guillory – 4 stars
I had read Jasmine Guillory’s The Wedding Date and The Proposal a few years back and was excited to read Drunk on Love! It has a completely new set of characters (at least to me anyways), and I found the setting of California Wine Country quite fun! Drunk on Love is one of those romance tropes where two people that want to be together can’t be together due to circumstances (sprinkled with a bit of miscommunication).
In this specific case, Margot Noble, who owns the Noble Winery with her brother, happens to be(come) a boss to Luke, former-Silicon-Valley techie who is currently going through a quarter life crisis. Margot and Luke are such likable characters. Everyone in the book (except for one single person) really is, which makes Drunk on Love a fun and lighthearted romance book that I wanted it to be. My only (and very minor) compliant is that I feel like the title and the book cover do not encapsulate the premise and energy of the book.
I received a free, advanced reader copy of this book via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.
FINDING ME by Viola Davis – 4.5 stars
“My biggest discovery was that you can literally recreate your life. You can redefine it. You don’t have to live in the past.”
Finding Me is as brave and beautiful you expect. Viola Davis reflects on her life so openly and vulnerably, from her childhood living in poverty and surviving abuse to fulfilling her dream of being an actress and finding (self-) love. There is absolutely no glorification or glossing over anything throughout the book (i.e. she is extremely candid about the rarity of having a financially viable acting career); just her honest reflection and revelations. Her narration on the audiobook is perfect, and I so appreciate having the change to hear her tell her own story though I can’t imagine how much courage and strength that took to re-live through some of the memories.
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