What I Read in November 2023

Happy December, friends! Perhaps it’s because November was a longer month, perhaps it’s because I have not been leaving the house much, perhaps it’s because I started a new job at the beginning of November but I read quite a bit which came as a surprise to me. Consequently, this is the longest book post in a long time–happy reading!

HELLO BEAUTIFUL by Ann Napolitano – 4.25 stars

This was one of those books I go into knowing very little, and it turns out differently than I had anticipated. But then again, I don’t think I’ve read a book like Hello Beautiful before so perhaps I couldn’t anticipate this story anyways. William grew up with parents who couldn’t be there for him because they never got over the death of his sister. Julia comes from a rambunctious family as the eldest of four sisters. After taking a class together freshman year, they seemingly begin their picture-perfect life together and William becomes a part of the Padavano family.

Hello Beautiful spans over a few decades and Napolitano paces it accordingly, but it almost made me feel like things were moving so fast because each chapter jumps a few years ahead and you only glimpse of how everyone has changed during the time. It works well but I wish I could’ve followed all the in-between years! Napolitano does a magnificent job delicately depicting the intricacies and complicated (and often uncomfortable) emotions felt within a family.

QUIETLY HOSTILE by Samantha Irby – 4 stars

Now Quietly Hostile is my third Samantha Irby book and it might be my favorite yet? It could be the fact that by this point, I’m really used to hearing her voice and understanding her sense of humor. A difference I noted in Quietly Hostile is that more of the “essays” felt very topical. She writes about her first time working on a TV show as a writer; the time she had to manically get out of her temporary Chicago dwelling to quarantine in Kalamazoo at the beginning of the pandemic; there is a whole chapter about Dave Matthews band that was fascinating (my partner is a Dave Matthews band fan so he was intrigued eavesdropping on my audiobook). If you’ve been interested in reading any of Irby’s collection of essays, this might be a fun one to start with.

THE FOREST OF STOLEN GIRLS by June Hur – 4.5 stars

Because I loved The Red Palace, I immediately borrowed more books by June Hur from the library. Similar to The Red Palace, The Forest of Stolen Girls is set in Korea during Joseon dynasty but most of the story is told on the Jeju Island, rather than the royal palace in the capital. Hwani, the oldest daughter of a detective who disappeared while investigating a case of thirteen missing girls in Jeju, follows his steps in the hopes to solve the case. While doing so, Hwani works to amend her relationship with her younger sister who has stayed behind in Jeju to apprentice for a shaman. To me, The Forest of Stolen Girls read more sophisticated and less YA than The Red Palace, and I loved it just a much, if not more.

THE BEAUTY OF YOUR FACE by Sahar Mustafah – 4.5 stars

In alternating timelines, The Beauty of Your Face follows Afaf and her family. Growing up, her rebellious sister disappears one day which starts, or rather accelerates, the fracture in Afaf’s home. Her mom, already feeling out of place and missing their homeland of Palestine, becomes even more difficult, only finding happiness in Afaf’s brother who is an athlete and has friends, unlike Afaf. Encouraged by her dad who finds peace in Islam following an accident, Afaf follows his footsteps and starts a new chapter, despite the mocking comments from her mom. As an adult, Afaf is happily married with children and she is the principal of a Muslim school for girls outside outside of Chicago. And right now, there is a shooter on her campus.

In a way, The Beauty of Your Face is Afaf’s story, but it’s also the story of so many Arab, Muslim, and Palestinian immigrants living in America. This is a thought I had previously while reading the works by Vietnamese (American) authors but there is so much shared history of hurt and trauma across different communities. While we may have grown up not knowing a lot of history that is not our own, it is important and valuable to listen to stories from people who have different experiences than we do to not only gain an understanding but also to ealize we relate to them so much.

YOURS TRULY by Abby Jimenez – 3.75 stars

Briana and Jacob are both hardworking ER doctors who are recovering from a difficult relationship (Briana divorced her husband who had been cheating on her with their mutual friend; Jacob’s ex-girlfriend was dating and is now engaged to his brother). Their friendship quickly begins as they start passing notes to each other during their shifts and it threatens to become more as their fake relationship to fool Jacob’s family during wedding festivities is both of their happiest and healthiest relationship.

Abby Jimenez’s Part of Your World was one of my favorite romance reads from last year so I had some expectations for Yours Truly and it didn’t disappoint. Jimenez is skilled at creating characters with full lives and real-life problems. I appreciate how she strikes a balance between romance and friendship as well as addressing past trauma. I even found the Briana and Jacob even more likable than the protagonists from Part of Your World though I thought Yours Truly was overall more cheesy. No doubt I will read more from Abby Jimenez!

THE SILENCE OF BONES by June Hur – 4 stars

Clearly I’ve been on a June Hur kick. The Silence of Bones is her earliest novel, also set in Joseon dynasty but during the later years. Orphaned and separated from her siblings, Seol is sent to the police bureau to work as an indentured servant and gets involved with the investigation of a noblewoman’s death. Of Hur’s three novels, The Silence of Bones has the most complex investigation plot to follow with lots of twists and turns. The clandestine spread of Catholicism and the prosecution of Catholic converts is a big part of the plot which I found fascinating as I grew up Catholic and learned about the prosecution of Korean Catholics during this time. June Hur has a new book coming out in 2024 called A Crane Among Wolves, and I can’t wait to get my hands on it!!

A WOMAN IS NO MAN by Etaf Rum – 4.5 stars

A Woman is No Man had been on my TBR since 2019 according to Goodreads so it feels good to get this off the list! In her debut novel, Etaf Rum tells the stories of Palestinian women across three generations in alternating timelines. Isra moves to Brooklyn when she gets married to Adam, the oldest son of Fareeda whose family moved to the US some time ago after living in a refugee camp in Palestine. In the present day, Isra’s eldest daughter Deya is now the age Isra was when she gave birth to Deya and is feeling the pressure from Fareeda to get married, the way a good Arab girl should. A note left outside their house one day changes everything, hopefully for the better. Halfway through the book, things really begin to unfold and I couldn’t put it down. There is a lot of heartbreak but also hope. The last chapter has haunted me endlessly since I finished the book.

A random fun fact: Etaf Rum lives in Rocky Mount, NC and owns a book cafe called Books & Beans, which my sister Jiyoung and I visited a few years ago!

THE WOMAN IN ME by Britney Spears – 4 stars

Is it just me that there were rumors earlier this year of Britney’s memoir coming out and suddenly it was already out and everybody was reading it?! I am certainly more of a passive Britney fan but I was really excited to listen to her story the way she wanted to tell it. This memoir is definitely on the shorter side (~6 hours on audiobook) and I wish there was more of it! While this gives insight more into Britney’s life than anything else (cries while watching Everytime music video), she glosses over some periods and she leaves out certain parts and people completely. My hope is that she will more freely tell her story in the future and likely publish another memoir (maybe even multiple). If you like Britney or want to know more beyond the Internet articles and recent documentaries, The Woman in Me is worth a read.

FREEDOM IS A CONSTANT STRUGGLE by Angela Y. Davis – 4 stars

I picked up Freedom is a Constant Struggle because I kept seeing it recommended for understanding the Palestine cause and since I had never read anything by Angela Davis though I knew of her. Freedom is a Constant Struggle is a collection of essays, speeches, and interviews in which Angels Davis makes connections between systems of oppression around the world. She discussed the fights for liberation throughout history–freedom for Black people in America, anti-Apartheid movement in South Africa–and how they mirror the current struggles, such as those of people in Palestine and Ferguson, Missouri. Going through my head while listening to Freedom is a Constant Struggle was a resounding yes; it all makes sense. This is certainly more introductory and some redundancy due to the nature of it being a collection of previous works, it is still very much educational and important.

THE HUNGER GAMES & CATCHING FIRE by Suzanne Collins – 4 stars

I only learned about the fourth Hunger Games book recently after seeing a bunch of clips from the movie adaptation. While I’m waiting for my library hold on The Ballad of Songbird and Snakes, I figured I would re-read the Hunger Games trilogy since I have the copies at home thanks to my brother who bought them from his middle school book fairs. It had been a while since I read the books but they are such well-written YA, you get into the story really quickly and remain intrigued. By the time I was reading Catching Fire, I was going off the collective steam and finished the book in only two days during the workweek! The copy of Mockingjay is with my sister right now but I can’t wait to read that one and binge watch all of the movies ASAP.

P.S. I’m currently reading Against the Loveless World and listening to The Wake Up!

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