Happy December, friends! Per usual, I’m a few days into the month before sharing what I read last month. 😉 I had another prolific reading month largely thanks to audiobooks. Here’s everything I read in November:
VIOLETA by Isabel Allende – 3 stars
After reading Isabel Allende’s The House of Spirits last year, I had been looking forward to her 2022 release Violeta. Like many of Allende’s works, Violeta is expansive and ambitious, spanning one hundred years of Violeta’s life. Despite Violeta’s first-person narrative, I lost interest towards the second half of the book (though that could be attributed to the length of the book as it’s a bit longer at ~12 hours). The book is told by Violeta to her grandson, which I didn’t think it was necessary or added value to the storytelling. I’m not sure if it’s because the magical realism elements of The House of Spirits are absent in Violeta but it did fall short for me.
SEA OF TRANQUILITY by Emily St. John Mandel – 4.25 stars
I placed a hold on the audiobook copy of Sea of Tranquility not only because I recognized the cover of the book and vaguely remembered Emily St. John Mandel’s name (probably from people posting about Station Eleven but because it was a short listen (~6 hours). I didn’t know I was signing up for a treat! Time travel is not my typical genre (though I guess I’ve read a few in the last month between this, This Time Tomorrow, and One Italian Summer) but I found Sea of Tranquility captivating. There are several timelines in Sea of Tranquility, all of which seem to be connected to a particular spot in British Columbia. I personally felt like the ending/resolution made sense despite the short length. The audiobook was fantastic with multiple narrators.
ACNE by Laura Chinn – 5 stars
I know people (including myself) often use the words “brutally honest” to describe memoirs but after reading Acne, my expectations for vulnerability for memoirs have been thrown out the window. Acne is the most brutally honest memoir I have ever read (and I read a lot of memoirs). It made me uncomfortable, made me laugh, made me emotional, made me feel all the things. There were lots of moments when I had to pause and re-read because I couldn’t believe what I was reading; there were moments when I wasn’t sure how to feel because Laura China writes about some really sad and uncomfortable things in her unique, humorous way. I loved the book, and I imagine the audiobook would be even better! TW: sexual violence, child abandonment, cancer
SOMEWHERE SISTERS by Erika Hayasaki – 3.75 stars
Somewhere Sisters follows identical twin sisters Isabella and Hà, who were separated shortly after birth as Hà stays in Vietnam with their aunt and her partner and Isabella is adopted by a white American family. Isabella’s adoptive family also adopts another Vietnamese girl named Olivia so Isabella and Olivia grow up together, almost like twins. Interspersed with three girls’ stories, Hayasaki writes about the complexity of adoption (system) and the history of transracial and transnational adoption in the US.
IN THE DREAM HOUSE by Carmen Maria Machado – 4.5 stars
A short but powerful memoir about an abusive, same-sex relationship. Machado articulates the difficult and uncomfortable complexities of the emotional and physical abuse in queer relationships. I found the structure of the book, the Dream House metaphor, and the second person point-of-view all very effective. It’s heartbreaking and hard-to-read (or listen to in my case, especially with it being narrated by the author) and beautifully written.
I HAVE SOME QUESTIONS FOR YOU by Rebecca Makkai – 4.5 stars
A successful podcaster, Bodie returns to her alma mater Granby, a New England boarding school to teach about podcasting and film for a mini-mester. Since graduating from Granby in the 90s, she has occasionally thought about Thalia, her junior year roommate who was found dead their senior year. As one of her students decides to make a podcast about Thalia, Bodie begins to almost obsessively think about Thalia’s death. Questions arise which lead to new evidence, and more puzzle pieces are put together.
Throughout the book, Makkai adds details from so many cases of violence against women in an almost disorienting way that emphasizes how common it is and how light/noneixstent the consequences are for the perpetrators. I Have Some Questions For You was more than a mystery thriller for me. I loved reading Rebecca Makkai’s The Great Believers a few years back and loved this one too–quite different but both captivating. Huge thanks to Viking Books for the advanced reader copy!
PART OF YOUR WORLD by Abby Jimenez – 4.5 stars
This might be my favorite romance read of the year! A city-leaving “legacy” doctor from a family of renowned doctors and a small-town carpenter/Bed &Breakfast owner unexpectedly meet by chance, fall in love despite their two very different worlds, and overcome obstacles, both individually and together, for a happily ever after. I found the premise of Part of Your World refreshing and realistic, and felt the same way about the ending too! I appreciated that the problems they were having were actual and not exaggerated inconveniences. The book also addresses emotional abuse in romantic and family relationships in a realistic way.
THE MOTHERS by Brit Bennett – 3.5 stars
Teenagers Nadia, Luke, and Aubrey are all a part of the same community that is the Upper Room Chapel church. After passing of Nadia’s mom, Nadia’s dad had turned even more to church to find his purpose, lending his truck for every request. Nadia becomes “involved” with Luke, the pastor’s son, and becomes pregnant which she hides from everyone, including her new best friend Aubrey, who has found solace in the church after being estranged with her mom. While reading the book, I thought about how the title The Mothers represents absent mothers (Nadia’s mom who passed away, Aubrey’s mom who has chosen men over her children), motherhood as a choice (which both Nadia and Aubrey make), and the mother figures in our lives (the “Mothers” of Upper Room Chapel) as the book does not have a mother that plays the traditional role of caretaker, which I found added complexity to The Mothers.
THIS TIME TOMORROW by Emma Straub – 3.75 stars
Another time travel book I read this month, This Time Tomorrow follows Alice, who is not entirely unhappy with her life but wishes her life looked a bit different (perhaps a more fulfilling job that she feels passionate about, her father in better health, etc.). On the eve of her 40th birthday, she wakes up to find herself back in time, on her 16th birthday. At the end of her 16th birthday, she returns to the present as a newly forty-year-old though this life is different from the one she was living just a couple of days ago.
The way Emma Straub writes herself in Alice but in a way that is relatable to anyone. I felt the same way about New York, the setting of This Time Tomorrow. I’ve only been to New York once over 10 years ago but Straub paints such vivid memories that I felt nostalgia for what her childhood, which again made me understand and empathize with her. The time travel element is logical and explained well, which allows This Time Tomorrow to be contemporary fiction first and foremost.
TOMORROW, AND TOMORROW, AND TOMORROW by Gabrielle Zevin – 4.5 stars
If you’re on Boosktagram or BookTok, you know Tomorrow, and Tomorrow, and Tomorrow (sometimes abbreviated as Tomorrow x3) has been one of the most talked about books this year. I am going to add to that noise and confirm it’s worth the hype. Childhood best friends Sam Masur and Sadie Green reconnect while at Harvard and MIT respectively, and become collaborators as they write their first game together, which marks the start of Unfair Games.
Considering the plot of the book, Tomorrow, and Tomorrow, and Tomorrow is definitely heavy on details about video games. Zevin does, however, a wonderful job balancing the video game storyline and advancing the plot about friendship and love. I never felt bored reading about game development, and the characters made me feel plenty of emotions (lots of frustration lol). Everything you hear about this book is true!
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