• Books

    The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Society by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows

    This is an epistolary novel set in 1946. I remember reading about this book sometime after I read 84, Charing Cross Road which is another epistolary novel set in post-WWII Britain. The book shot back up in my TBR list after I heard they made a movie adaptation of it.

    After a reading break while I went on holiday to Los Angeles and finishing a couple of small books that I won’t review for the blog, I wanted a very light novel for the warm summer weather. The book suits the purpose.

    It’s very English and has that quirky, cozy tone that can often be found in post-WWII novels. You either like this kind of tone or you don’t and most Anglophiles like myself do find it cute. I liked the novel overall and it did engage me considering it’s created in letters. There are some lovely relationships throughout.

    The one thing that I found a bit too maudlin about the book was that they anchored focus on a character that is not alive during the novel. This reverence that all the characters (including the protagonist who never met the person) was understandable in the minds of the characters, but I felt was too disproportionate in the novel. I think the authors could have eased back on it and still have all the characters and plot be developed in the other ways. As a result, this character felt to me like a plot device more than actual character. Maybe that was the point?

    Other than that and some cheesey over the top villains, it’s a cute novel. It’s the kind of thing that would make a great English period movie. I can’t wait to watch it.

    Read June 2-3, 2018.

  • Books,  Food

    Dirt Candy by Amanda Cohen

    This is a graphic novel and cookbook in one. It’s about Cohen’s life as a chef and vegetable focused restaurant owner. Along side recipes and discussions on how to cook vegetables well, there is a lot of on how the struggles and challenges of opening and managing a restaurant. It may be a slightly easier outside of New York City, but I have always been wary of that industry.

    As much as I like food (and maybe harbour some deep desire to train to be a pro if I ever had the money/time), the idea of owning a restaurant has never really appealed to me. It’s expensive and stressful. I know from growing up as an immigrant and observing my parents working in and out of restaurants. Many migrants work in the industry and they often can good money doing it especially if they ever open one up.

    The recipes in this novel are interesting, but I’ll be honest and always found some vegetable techniques complex. I need to be more innovative with my vegetables. The book did have some good tips on it though.

    All in all, an interesting graphic novel and cookbook. I’d recommend to readers who enjoy either or both.

    Read May 4th, 2018.

  • Books

    Jane Austen at Home by Lucy Worsley

    This was actually my first Jane Austen biography. I have read all her fiction and I have read other sources about her life but not in a proper biography. I thought it was time to pick one up especially since I like Worlsey as BBC history presenter.

    The book took me longer than usual to read but perhaps typical of a longer nonfiction book. I found the beginning hard to get into. There was something about Worlsey’s writing style that I needed to get accustomed to. It was conversational and I did get use to it.

    I really appreciated the broader, historical context of the era including details about health, gender, home life, economics, Georgian society, and and the Napoleonic wars. It is a shame that she died young. As usual with historical books about women, I appreciated the rights and privileges we have now.

    A good read for those who like Austen and the era.

    Read April 9-20, 2018.

  • Books

    You & A Bike & A Road by Eleanor Davis

    This is a graphic travelogue that the author drew while on a bike trip from Arizona to Georgia.

    I really enjoyed the simplicity of the drawings. There is no colour and there is a lot of white space. In an odd way, I was able to appreciate the beauty of the landscape in my own imagination as rendered by the author. This is a type of raw and sincere storytelling. I also loved the many stories of her encounters with strangers including how many were so beautifully kind to her.

    It’s a very simply drawn but a very enjoyable little book.

    Read April 9, 2018.

  • Books

    Had We never Loved by Patricia Veryan

    I had recommended to read Veryan’s novels after I asked for authors similar to Georgette Heyer. I was starting to miss reading her fluffy romances and did not like her mysteries.

    This novel is the second in a series so I was a bit confused with the first chapter, but caught on. I also understand that there are other Very books which may be better.

    There were a few times when reading that I wanted to dump this book, but I’ve already dumped a couple of other books this year. This is the year for me to dump books.

    All in all, I was bored. I didn’t really enjoy the main romance. The leads were fine, but I did not feel connected to either of them. It also read like a bad romantic comedy at times with them being from such vast differences.

    I was also at times more interested in side characters like Katrina Falcon. I found that this novel had too many male characters and male perspectives and not enough female ones. I do not think any two females a sustained conversation in this whole book. Something I enjoyed about Heyer was the relationships she had between characters of all genders especially the platonic ones.

    I did not find main conflict compelling because the whole revenge plot was on the silly side. A bunch of men devise to entrap a family using a jewelled pin as the cause.

    I will try Very one more time or even another, but this was a pass for me.

    Read March 29-30, 2018.

  • Books

    The Last Black Unicorn by Tiffany Haddish

    Recently, I was able to watch some of Tiffany Haddish’s talk show interviews. She was funny, engaging, and has some of the most charisma I’ve seen in an entertainer.

    She promoted this book so I was able to retell some of the stories. Originally, I had intended to read the ebook and listen to the audiobook afterwards or at least least listen to some of the audiobook. However, the book is small and engaging enough that I listened to the whole audiobook while doing chores and sowing seeds on Good Friday.

    Haddish had a rough upbringing. She spent time in the foster care system, her mother was abusive, and she struggled to become a comedian. As an adult, she had a series of bad relationships including an abusive ex-husband. A lot of the stories in the book are very sad and heart breaking as a result, but since Haddish usually spins it into a funny or honest way, it’s not always depressing.

    I really empathized with at various points in the book. She described when she realized that her boyfriend had been cheating on her. I had suffered a deep betrayal once and her feelings then resonated with how I had felt too.

    There are a couple of stories in this book that have received criticism on the language Haddish uses. There is a story which many will find rife with ableism, but I don’t ever feel Haddish is malicious. I feel the book weakens towards the last quarter as it becomes snippets of Hollywood encounters. It’s not really describing in detail her experiences more little anecdotes here and there with famous people. It becomes more disjointed towards the end.

    While the audiobook was really narrated by Haddish, it does not have the same amount of energy as her TV appearances. I do wonder how it would have been to read it as well.

    I am glad to have listened to this book because Haddish has been able to become empowered and overcome a lot of her past and upbringing.

    Listened to audiobook March 29-30, 2018.

  • Books

    The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas

    Honestly, this book is required reading. I wish I had read this book when I was younger. It covers so many complex issues of race, culture, activism, and socioeconomics in a nuanced yet candid and genuine way.

    Everything in the book felt real and sincere. It felt more authentic than a lot of teen fiction I’ve read in the last ten years. To be fair, I have not read a lot of teen novels, but this is one of the best I can recall in recent memory.

    The dialogue is wonderfully crafty. There were definite moments in this book when I felt I was watching a TV show. I knew the characters so well by the last third that I could imagine it playing on screen. It is being adapted into a movie and I wish it could be a longer limited TV series. The amount of real character interactions and time spent with the protagonist Starr should warrant more than a two hour movie.

    The book discusses some very deep and complex issues in the USA and the west today. At no point did it feel corny or trite. A couple of things were so messed up (such as Seven’s parentage) that makes me wonder if Thomas had taken it from real life. A lot of the other stuff on gangs, drug dealing, police brutality felt very real and familiar based on what I’ve read and heard.

    It was a sad read a lot of the times. It was uncomfortable and upsetting too. I am not black and I could not completely know how Starr felt but her emotions, her thoughts, and her actions were believable. Very good storytelling.

    This is the kind of young adult book I think most teens should read. I wish I knew of a teen I could give this too!

    Great read.

    Read March 28, 2018.

  • Books

    The White Queen by Philippa Gregory

    With this book, I am done with Gregory. I owned this book and the two others I previously reviewed. I tried The Queen’s Fool briefly but I decided to dump it a couple weeks ago.

    All in all, I do not think Gregor is a terrible writer and I think this novel is better than The Boleyn Inheritance and it has elements which makes it almost as entertaining as The Other Boleyn Girl.

    Elizabeth Woodville is an interesting historical person and as a fictional character, Gregory was able to make her interesting for a little while. She was a woman who loved her husband King and had enough ambition to enrich her life and those of her loved ones.

    I did find the book tiring because of how much political unrest there was in the book. People kept turning their loyalties every chapter. I felt sorry for Elizabeth and her children especially knowing the tragic ending of her two sons, the Princes in the Tower.

    This book also had sympathetic male characters like her brother Anthony, her older sons, and King Edward himself was not always so bad as Gregory paints the Tudors.

    The ending of the book annoyed me as Gregory made Elizabeth of York (The White Princess) act like an ingrate to her own mother for keeping them all alive in sanctuary and secondly, for falling in love with her uncle Richard. That is not only incestuous and creepy, but Gregory seems to make it happen without any evidence or credit to Elizabeth. It makes Elizabeth a real idiot. Richard stole her own brother’s throne, declared her father a bastard (and as a result, herself and her siblings), kidnapped and imprisoned her brothers, and possibly had them murdered. Gregory hypothesizes that Richard did not murder the two Princes in the Tower and points the finger at the Tudors. That is a good hypothesis, but it makes no sense why Princess Elizabeth would still trust her uncle let alone fall in love with him. She could have ended the novel with Elizabeth reluctantly being a pawn in the game, but for her to be willing is very creepy and makes the character stupid beyond belief.

    Even remembering this detail has made me want to downgrade the book and not read more of Gregory books. I am fine with fictionalizing of characters and embellishments or changes to history for fiction; however, I can’t justify character motivations being changed unreasonably and without much reason to plot either.

    Read March 19-21, 2018.

  • Books

    The Boleyn Inheritance by Philippa Gregory

    This novel’s pacing was not as well established as the The Other Boleyn Girl. The switching between the three narrators dragged the book down. I saw some more weaknesses of Gregory’s writing in this one.

    On the positives, I liked reading about Anne of Cleves and her character in history and in this story are very sympathetic. Many women in these novels are, but Anne in particular managed to escape the scaffold and be a friend to her momentary royal step children.

    Gregory is also good at narrating from characters who are not the most clever. She really made Katherine Howard sound like a teenage idiot. It was understandable, but also a bit aggravating.

    As for Jane Boleyn’s narration, Gregory attempted to make her at least somewhat mad. I could see where the writing was going but it felt clunky.

    All the men in this book are not good except for maybe Anne’s ambassador Dr Harst. All the rest are either lecherous, vain, dangerous, or all of the above. I understand these are Feminist historical novels and it’s rather sad that all the men in these women’s lives were basically assholes. However, I do wonder if there are any decent men in Gregory’s universe of the Plantagent and Tudors!

    I have two more Gregory novels. I will read them and dip my toes into the Plantagenet novels as well, but I am not sure how much longer I can take the melodrama.

    Read March 2nd-12th, 2018.

  • Books

    The Other Boleyn Girl by Philippa Gregory

    I remember when this book and Gregory’s historical fiction series was very popular in the Aughts. I managed to find this one and three others from the series in a used book sale. In an effort to minimize space, I am trying to go through all the books that I own but have not read. Afterwards, I will donate them unless the book is one that I absolutely love and would read again. That’s been my usual process for books that I have come to own.

    As it is winter and a post-work day read, I wanted something a bit more on the cozy and low thinking side. This fit the bill because it has a great pacing and reads very well. I liked the first person narration and I find the character of Mary Boleyn relateable even though she was not as clever as anyone else in the book. I liked her straight forwardness. In general, I liked Gregory’s characters. The dialogue was not always the most illuminating but it worked.

    I didn’t really care about the romances in the book. I know enough English history to understand that Gregory played fast and loose with some aspects. I know Gregory does a lot of research for her books but she also picks and chooses theories. I am fine with it since this is a novel. I prefer to read accurate history from a history book. I appreciate the focus on women and female characters. To me, this book is chick lit and speculative history.

    I have already started the sequel which is not as engaging. I think this book worked well because Gregory put a lot on the narration of Mary Boleyn and creating the dynamic she had with her siblings and they with each other. Without that, this book would have been much more boring.

    Read February 26-28, 2018.

  • Books

    Detection Unlimited by Georgette Heyer

    Some time ago, I read most of the romance novels of Georgette Heyer. Even though I found some small issues with her writing, I liked it enough to read most of her romantic works. Around that time, I picked up this book at a used book fair. It looked brand new and in great condition.

    I’ve been meaning to read some of the books in my collection and then donate them after I read them to free up space. I also want easy and cozy reads between my library ones.

    I’ll start with the positives. I like Chief Inspector Hemingway and the other policemen in this novel. I did want to finish the novel to see how they figured it out, but I was underwhelmed by the rest.

    The CI notes in the novel that the case has a lot of suspects. Too many! In fact the beginning and the middle of the book is full of red herrings. Furthermore, there is a lot of dialogue in this book that doesn’t amount to much in the end. The ending is a tad anticlimactic as a result. I much prefer Agatha Christie’s pacing and style for English mysteries.

    It’s not the say I won’t try another Heyer novel, but I am less than impressed. I think I’ll try one more but then move on to other authors and books.

    This was apparently the last of her mysteries so it makes me wonder if her earlier stuff was better or as meandering.

    Read February 13-26th, 2018.

  • Books

    Thunderhead by Neal Shusterman

    I didn’t think I’d get the second book so soon after reading the first.

    This was a good sequel. The beginning was a bit slow for me as I tried to get back into this world, but I liked the addition of the new characters and the world building. It was interesting and some aspects of this world were funny. The book is partly narrated by the AI known as “Thunderhead” who is a character in the novel that also develops with the characters.

    I think the return of certain nemesis was a bit corny, but still well done. I also like that certain villains didn’t turn out to be good, but more vindictive.

    The ending was dramatic. There was a lot of death. I continue to like Citra and Rowan. Though I do think both of them have become the typical YA cipher heroes in that a lot of teenagers could put themselves in their situation or would want to.

    All in all, a very good second installment in this series.

    Read February 19, 2018