Sunday, April 30, 2023

My Favorite Books of 2022

Hello, yes, I have indeed risen from the dead to write this blogpost. (Believe it or not, the last time I posted on this website was April 2019.) 

What have I been up to the past four years? Well, I'll keep that a mystery. 

Without further ado, here are my favorite books I read in 2022: 

1) The Unhoneymooners by Christina Lauren 

This funny, flirty treat is a wonderful novel about 'enemies' turned lovers. I read The Unhoneymooners while at the airport on a long layover and it was the perfect distraction. I flew through the pages of this impeccably cute romance that (mortifyingly) had me laughing out loud.  

2) New Grub Street by George Gissing 

New Grub Street is a lesser known classic that is addicting, clever, and piercingly observant. An examination of the London literary scene, this masterpiece is tragic, humorous, and still relevant today. 

3) Dear Cyborgs by Eugene Lim 

Dear Cyborgs is the strangest novel I read this year; I enjoyed every second of the unique experience. Exceedingly creative and futuristic, Lim's experimental work is an unforgettable critique of capitalism. Moreover, Lim examines the value of art and the connections that bind humans together. 

4) The Hate U Give by Angie Thomson 

 Undoubtedly, everyone has read or at least heard of The Hate U Give. This book is an essential contribution to the BLM matter for good reason. Thomson's masterful novel is hard-hitting, emotional, and topical — and still digestible for teens. It should make every reader feel rage, yet still inspire hope. 

5) American Wife by Curtis Sittenfeld

The American Wife is a long, long novel with a daunting amount of pages, yet I loved and savoured every minute. Loosely inspired by the life of Ex-First-Lady Laura Bush, The American Wife is smart, meticulously crafted, and heartfelt. 

6) Eligible by Curtis Sittenfeld

Unlike the more serious (and depressing) American WifeEligible is more light-hearted and comical. Still, this modern day Pride and Prejudice retelling tackles serious subjects and left me very attached to its lovable cast; I couldn't put the book down. 

7) You and Me on Vacation by Emily Henry 

I read You and Me on Vacation while I had Covid for the second time and was unfortunately bedridden. I laughed, I cried, and I loved the characters to bits — Emily Henry never disappoints. 

8) The Mill on the Floss by George Eliot

This well-known classic by Eliot deserves its status in the literary canon. The writing is gorgeous, the characters come alive and jump out of the pages fully formed, and the ending is both tragic and beautiful. Maggie Tulliver is an excellent, spirited, and, at times, frustrating heroine. 

9) The Beautiful Room is Empty by Edmund White 

I read The Beautiful Room is Empty for my 'American Carnage' course at university. I am very grateful we were assigned to read White's stunning work. Exceedingly lyrical and artistic, I felt like this novel was a comforting home — despite its depressing topics and heavy subject matters — and the imagery and metaphors in this book were mesmerising. 

Here's to 2022... may 2023 bring many more good reads. 

(Want to place bets on the next time I post? Will it be another four year absence?) 

Tuesday, April 23, 2019

Books I read on Planes and Trains

Long time, no see? Sorry for my extended absence. I was traveling for several weeks and, upon my arrival back home, was inundated with school work and ballet rehearsals (which I admittedly love.)

Never fear. During my weeks away for Spring Break and College visits, I read plenty of books. Here are the ones I read while clouds floated outside my airplane window and sheep grazed on hills by the train tracks:

1. The Death of Ivan Illych and Other Stories by Leo Tolstoy
Leo Tolstoy is surprisingly readable. His short stories were perfect for a day of traveling and I can see why Chekhov pronounced Tolstoy his favorite author. Next time maybe I will be brave and pick up War and Peace.

2. The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo by Taylor Jenkins Reid
I did not expect to fall in love with this book. I have enjoyed all of Reid's previous works, yet this one stood out as a crowning jewel among the others. Reid tugged at my heartstrings and caused some inconvenient tears on the public train. It is a masterpiece and truly original.

3. My Oxford Year by Julie Whelan
Julie Whelan's novel undoubtedly charmed me. Still, I was never completely drawn in or invested. It felt more like a plot to a Hollywood movie than a novel. However, Whelan's personal story as to how this novel came to be is fascinating and I would not hesitate to recommend this little love story to a friend.

4. Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead by Tom Stoppard
At first, I was unsure. Then, by the time Rosencrantz proclaimed he didn't "believe" in England, I was howling with laughter and realized I had been enjoying the ride all along. This play, first performed at the Edinburgh Fringe, is terrifying and dark while being hilarious and clever. Bravo.

Thanks for stopping by! Let's hope I can get some reading done while not on vacation now...

Thursday, January 3, 2019

Best Books of 2018 (in the opinion of yours truly)

2018 has been hectic. And amazing. And challenging. 
I read 76 books.
These were my favorites: 

1. The Idiot by Elif Batuman 
I wrote an entire review raving about this masterpiece. The Idiot was such an "Emily" book and I never wanted it to end. Batuman's genius astounds me.

2. Circe by Madeline Miller
Greek mythology is my kryptonite. I blame Percy Jackson (my gateway drug) for forever ruining me. I loved Miller's Song of Achilles but, impressively, I think that Circe is even better. Miller's tale of the magnificent Circe was unputdownable.

3. Scythe by Neal Shusterman 
Scythe was such a surprise. It deserves the award on its cover and all the praise it has received. Shusterman has made me look at death from a new angle. And I still ponder the questions he raises. I cannot wait to continue the series. 

4. The Night Circus by Erin Morgernstern 
Morgenstern writes such beautiful, elaborate descriptions that miraculously do not bore me in the least. She makes the circus come alive.

5. All the Birds in the Sky by Charlie Anders
Anders is now permanently on my authors-to-watch list. She writes with such cleverness and zealousness. All the Birds in the Sky was my favorite sci-fi of the year.

6. Kitchen by Banana Yoshimoto
This is the one book from my school reading list that qualifies as a 2018 favorite. Kitchen was tragic at parts but, in the end, hopeful. Mikage's voice was conversational and endearing; and I am now grateful for my own kitchen. I have neglected to acknowledge its power. I can't wait to read more of Yoshimoto. 

7. The Child Finder by Rene Denfeld 
The Child Finder was disturbing and scary; yet, in the end, I felt hope instead of despair. Wow, it's actually a very similar reading experience to Kitchen in that regard. The Oregon setting was particularly atmospheric.

8. The Enchanted April by Elizabeth von Armin 
I adore Italy with all my heart. I visited once nearly a decade ago and I still dream of its splendors. The Enchanted April was an immersive experience that had me rooting for all the characters to blossom into themselves and enjoy their freakin' castle.
 (I'm not bitter at all.)

9. Troubled Waters by Sharon Shinn
Sharon Shinn continues to be one of my favorite fantasy authors. Troubled Waters and the rest of the books in the quartet were a joy to devour. Her world building is unparalleled.

10. The Silence of the Girls by Pat Barker 
Brutal. Horrifying. Briseis narrates her view of the Trojan War and Pat Barker pulls no punches. It was a somber and powerful way to end my reading year.

I can't wait to see what 2019 brings

Sunday, November 25, 2018

Review: The Child Finder

The Child Finder by Rene Denfeld 
Published: September 5th, 2017

Three years ago, Madison Culver disappeared when her family was choosing a Christmas tree in Oregon’s Skookum National Forest. She would be eight years old now—if she has survived. Desperate to find their beloved daughter, certain someone took her, the Culvers turn to Naomi, a private investigator with an uncanny talent for locating the lost and missing. Known to the police and a select group of parents as The Child Finder, Naomi is their last hope.

Naomi’s methodical search takes her deep into the icy, mysterious forest in the Pacific Northwest, and into her own fragmented past. She understands children like Madison because once upon a time, she was a lost girl too.

As Naomi relentlessly pursues and slowly uncovers the truth behind Madison’s disappearance, shards of a dark dream pierce the defenses that have protected her, reminding her of a terrible loss she feels but cannot remember. If she finds Madison, will Naomi ultimately unlock the secrets of her own life?

I discovered a used copy of The Child Finder at my little local bookstore. At first, I was wary (missing children stories are always disturbing) but I ended up absolutely loving the tale of Naomi Cottle. Rene Denfeld shows that in the face of indescribable horrors, humans have a talent for resilience. And good can blossom from horrific circumstances. 

First of all, the setting and atmosphere of The Child Finder is unlike anything I have ever encountered. It's lush and dangerous and romantic and twisted. The snow and the trees are fairytale-like while also striking fear and being a reminder of evil. Being set in Oregon, I felt Denfeld did my state justice. (Although I am now scared of dying of hypothermia in the Oregon snow while looking for a christmas tree.) In fact, her observations about America itself was full of jaded insight. 

"America was an iceberg shattered into a billion fragments, and on each stood a person, rotating like an ice floe in a storm" (66). 

This book is also an almost love-letter to every child who has been lost. Denfeld's repeating motif is that everyone can be found. And these found children will go on to do great things. Naomi Cottle, the child finder, wants only the best for the children she brings home; and she knows they are capable of flourishing. It's empowering. 

There is a cast of memorable characters, many mysteries, and a lot of tears. The Child Finder is an absolute gem and I can't wait to read more by Denfeld

Thursday, October 25, 2018

Blog Tour: This Cruel Design

Hosted by the FFBC
Check out the tour schedule here!

Let's start out with my review for the action-packed first book! 

This Mortal Coil by Emily Suvada 
Release Date: November 2017 
Publisher: Simon Pulse 
Genre: YA Science Fiction

Catarina Agatta is a hacker. She can cripple mainframes and crash through firewalls, but that’s not what makes her special. In Cat’s world, people are implanted with technology to recode their DNA, allowing them to change their bodies in any way they want. And Cat happens to be a gene-hacking genius.

That’s no surprise, since Cat’s father is Dr. Lachlan Agatta, a legendary geneticist who may be the last hope for defeating a plague that has brought humanity to the brink of extinction. But during the outbreak, Lachlan was kidnapped by a shadowy organization called Cartaxus, leaving Cat to survive the last two years on her own.

When a Cartaxus soldier, Cole, arrives with news that her father has been killed, Cat’s instincts tell her it’s just another Cartaxus lie. But Cole also brings a message: before Lachlan died, he managed to create a vaccine, and Cole needs Cat’s help to release it and save the human race.

Now Cat must decide who she can trust: The soldier with secrets of his own? The father who made her promise to hide from Cartaxus at all costs? In a world where nature itself can be rewritten, how much can she even trust herself?

Wow. This Mortal Coil was indescribably clever, fun, and brilliant. 

I am prefacing this review with a small confession; I am not the most science-y person. However, I really, really loved this book and thought Suvada did an amazing job keeping me interested in all the genetics and coding. There was never a dull moment and I found myself turning the pages in anticipation and continued shock. 

First of all, the world imagined in this book is so scary and creative. A virus that causes victims to explode and makes people resort to eating each other's flesh for immunity? That's a grim future that Suvada imagines. And I loved reading about the virus despite the fact that it is terrifying. 

Also, Suvada's cast of characters was super memorable. Cat was a character I could root for and the romance had some fantastic tension. The dynamic between characters such as Cat and Lachlan was fascinating and disturbing. The mystery of the missing Jun Bei and the elusive vaccine also kept me on my toes. 

However, the twists in this book may be my favorite part. I won't spoil you though. Go find out for yourself! 

4/5 Stars 
*received for free in exchange for an honest review*

This Cruel Design by Emily Suvada 
Release Date: October 2018 
Publisher: Simon Pulse 
Genre: YA Science Fiction

Cat thought the Hydra epidemic was over, but when new cases pop up, Cat must team up with an enemy to fix the vaccine before the virus spirals out of control in this thrilling sequel to This Mortal Coil, which New York Times bestselling author Amie Kaufman says “redefines ‘unputdownable.’”

The nightmare of the outbreak is finally over, but Cat’s fight has only just begun.

Exhausted, wounded, and reeling from revelations that have shaken her to her core, Cat is at a breaking point. Camped in the woods with Cole and Leoben, she’s working day and night, desperate to find a way to stop Lachlan’s plan to reprogram humanity. But she’s failing—Cat can’t even control her newly regrown panel, and try as she might to ignore them, she keeps seeing glitching visions from her past everywhere she turns.

When news arrives that the Hydra virus might not be as dead as they’d thought, the group is pushed into an uneasy alliance with Cartaxus to hunt down Lachlan and fix the vaccine. Their search takes them to Entropia, a city of genehackers hidden deep in the desert that could also hold the answers about Cat’s past that she’s been searching for.

But when confronted with lies and betrayals, Cat is forced to question everything she knows and everyone she trusts. And while Lachlan is always two steps ahead, the biggest threat to Cat may be the secrets buried in her own mind.

This sequel is just as good, if not better, than This Mortal Coil. My review will be short and sweet as to avoid spoilers from both books. But please note that I am positively bursting to talk to someone about the endless plot twists. There's not just one; I swear there's like sixteen. 

Anyway, so what can I say? First of all, I grew even more attached to the characters in this one. Catarina was such a dimensional character and watching her struggle was hard. She cannot catch a break! Leoben remained one of my faves as well. And I'm also a big fan of Cole (I think). However, I also was impressed by the addition of new fascinating characters to the cast such as Anna and Mato. I can't say anymore about those two without spoilers... 

The whole tone of the book is dark and ruthless. I mean, it's called This Cruel Design. Don't go in expecting kittens and butterflies. This book is an intense study of the dark side of humanity. And also Suvada delves deep into the scientific possibilities for our future. It's made me think. A lot. 

Also, that ending! I NEED the third book now and it won't release for at least another year. This is the problem with reading books early *sigh* 

4/5 Stars 
*Recieved for free in exchange for an honest review*

About the Author 

Emily Suvada was born and raised in Australia, where she went on to study mathematics and astrophysics. She previously worked as a data scientist, and still spends hours writing algorithms to perform tasks which would only take minutes to complete on her own. When not writing, she can be found hiking, cycling, and conducting chemistry experiments in her kitchen. She currently lives in Portland, OR, with her husband.

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Sunday, October 7, 2018

Blog Tour: The Geography of Lost Things

Hosted by the FFBC

The Geography of Lost Things by Jessica Brody 
Publisher: Simon Pulse
Release Date: October 2nd, 2018
Young Adult Contemporary

In this romantic road trip story perfect for fans of Sarah Dessen and Morgan Matson, a teen girl discovers the value of ordinary objects while learning to forgive her absent father.

After Ali’s father passes away, he leaves his one and only prized possession—a 1968 Firebird convertible—to his daughter. But Ali doesn’t plan on keeping it. Not when it reminds her too much of all her father’s unfulfilled promises. So when she finds a buyer three hundred miles up the Pacific coast willing to pay enough money for the car to save her childhood home, Ali can’t wait to get going. Except Ali has no idea how to drive a stick shift. But guess who does?

Ali’s ex-boyfriend, Nico. And Nico has other plans.

He persuades Ali that instead of selling the car, they should “trade up” the items they collect on their trip to eventually reach the monetary amount Ali needs. Agreeing with Nico’s crazy plan, Ali sets off on a unique adventure that is unlike anything she ever could have expected.

And it’s through Ali’s travels, through the strangers she meets and the things that they value—and why they value them—that Ali eventually comes to understand her father and how his life may not have been as easy and carefree as she previously thought. Because just like the seemingly insignificant objects Ali collects, not everything is exactly as it appears.

Wow, that was sublime. The Geography of Lost Things was such the right read for me! I have read a few Jessica Brody books before but this is by far my new favorite. I'm so glad I signed up for this blog tour and I can't wait to read what Brody writes next. 

Okay, first of all, I feel like this is the perfect contemporary book. It feels raw and real, yet still hopeful and cute. Ali is dealing with heavy stuff and I viscerally felt her pain. The flashbacks with her father and all the family issues were executed so well. Also, the tension and issues between her and Nico also felt realistic and nuanced -- not just concocted for teenage drama. I highlighted many quotes in my copy of the book. 

Still, despite all the heavy emotion, I laughed and smiled at so many parts. I love the little "quizzes" that Ali gives herself. And her rules for the road while she was driving with Nico made me laugh (although I wanted her to break all of them). Speaking of Nico, I loved the banter between them. However, if I start using Fungicide or Shih tzu as swear words, I'm blaming this book. 

Also, the most impressive part of this book is that I loved the road trip aspect. I was a little nervous going in because normally road trip books are not for me. However, I felt that the road trip was so vital to the story - to the metaphor of Ali's growth - and it was so fun seeing them go on adventures on the Pacific Coast. As a California-born Oregonian, this coast has been my home my whole life and I loved having a book set where I'm familiar. 

Pick this book up. I can't recommend The Geography of Lost Things enough. There's a wonderful romance, an excellent look into family dynamics and grief, music, adventure, and a 1968 Firebird. What's not to like? 

4/5 Stars 
*Received for free in exchange for an honest review*

About the Author 

Jessica Brody is the author of more than 15 books for teens, tweens, and adults including Addie Bell’s Shortcut to Growing Up, A Week of Mondays, Boys of Summer, 52 Reasons to Hate My Father, and the three books in the sci-fi Unremembered trilogy. She’s also the author of the Descendants: School of Secrets series, based on the hit Disney Channel original movie, Descendants. Her books have been translated and published in over 23 countries and Unremembered and 52 Reasons to Hate My Father are currently in development as major motion pictures. She lives with her husband and four dogs and splits her time between California and Colorado.
Visit her online at Follow her on Twitter or Instagram @JessicaBrody

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Thursday, September 20, 2018

Blog Tour: Perfect Harmony

Here's the full tour schedule!
Hosted by FFBC Tours

Perfect Harmony by Emily Albright 
Amberjack Publishing 
September 18, 2018 
Young Adult Contemporary Romance

Pippa Wyndham is a top cellist―she’d never settle for anything less. Determined to get into the nation’s most prestigious music college, nothing’s going to stand in her way . . . Until her senior year of high school when a new guy from a fancy New York conservatory transfers to her school. 

Declan Brogan’s cocky, and he knows how amazing he is at the cello. He has every intention of knocking Pippa out of first chair and showing her who really belongs on top. Forced together when assigned a duet, their personal competition and mutual dislike transform into a teasing friendship.

Torn between her childhood crush and the boy who threatens her dreams, Pippa finds herself at risk of losing her best friend, her future, and the boy who makes her heart melt. Struggling to make things right, Pippa discovers that sometimes the thing you want the most doesn’t always end up being the thing you need.

Perfect Harmony by Emily Albright was such a cute, feel-good read. I read it super fast over the course of a day and had a huge grin on my face the whole time. If you're looking for a light but super adorable read I can't recommend this enough! 

One thing I really loved about the book is how it was set in Portland, Oregon. I'm an Oregonian so I loved reading about my home state. It was so cool! Also, Albright's little details about Oregon, such as the PDX carpet, really made the book feel authentic. 

Also, I loved all the scenes in NYC! I recently went there and I loved revisiting some of my favorite spots while reading. I was living vicariously through Pippa. Additionally, all the college talk was super relatable. Every time OSU or U of O was mentioned I was like "look there's my state schools!"

I loved the music aspect of the book. I was in school orchestra (as a violinist) myself for seven years and my best friend is a talented cellist. Having the importance and power of music highlighted was fantastic. All the orchestra scenes really struck the right note with me ;)

I'll warn you right now that there's a love triangle in the book. I didn't mind it in the least (although it helped that I felt it was very clear the whole time who she really liked). In fact, the romance was so sweet and I was rooting for the characters the entire time. Also, Declan wasn't a jerk - even though they had a little musical competition going - and he treated Pippa amazingly. 

All in all, I had a ball reading Perfect Harmony. The romance is sweet and exciting, the friendship and family dynamics were complex, and I loved seeing Oregon and school orchestra represented! 

4/5 Stars 
*received for free in exchange for an honest review*

About the Author

Emily Albright is the author of EVERYDAY MAGIC and THE HEIR AND THE SPARE, both available now from Simon Pulse. Her next novel PERFECT HARMONY will release 9.25.2018. 

She's a writer, a major bookworm, a lover of romantic movies, a wife, a mother, an owner of one adorable (yet slightly insane) cockapoo, and uses way too many :).

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