Laura Dean Keeps Breaking Up with Me by Mariko Tamaki

This is the young adult graphic novel about teenage relationships romantic and otherwise. In recent years, I’ve found some of my favourite reads have been young adult graphic novels. They consistently deliver interesting storytelling.

I liked this one too. The art is done in the mostly black and white manga style so it’s not as elaborate or fancy as some other graphic novels, but it works. The story is about a girl named Freddy and her and on and off again relationship with Laura Dean. Laura’s character is not particularly developed but it works as a purpose to Freddy’s journey and development.

I related to the storyline. I think a lot of people have been in a relationship with someone who did not treat them well. Like Freddy, my first love ran hot and cold and caused me a lot of grief. The novel actually has a good reflection on love and breakups towards the end. It seems obvious in retrospect how being in love does not mean you can not leave someone. Love is really not in enough in cases where you are putting someone ahead of so much else in your life.

A good read and recommended if you can relate to these kind of relationships. It’s universal and part of the growing up process.

Read November 15, 2020.

The Starless Sea by Erin Morgenstern

I remember reading The Night Circus fondly. I gave it a high rating and review. Some years later, I realized I had no memory of the plot or the characters other than that it was about a love story. That is not unusual because I’ve read hundreds of novels in my life so I often forget when I’ve even read a book. Still, Night Circus couldn’t have been that good if I forgot that much of it. As a result, I went into reading this book cautiously optimistic.

I think there are elements in The Starless Sea which are polarizing overall. I think most readers will either love it or they won’t. I wish I could say I liked this a lot, but I came away a bit disappointed.

The novel is divided in parts. Perspectives and story lines changed between chapters. This is a bit disorienting at first especially since I did not know what was going on. Even when things started coming together slowly, the book still felt a bit aimless overall. As a result, I was not very absorbed by this book. I managed to read it in two sittings mostly out of a desire to finish the book before returning it to the library. While things did happen and there was the occasional small conflict or mystery, I just felt the book itself did not lead anywhere substantive. It did not have a cohesive plot. Worse of all, I found the characters very poorly developed. I actually liked Zach the protagonist and a number of the characters. I wanted to know more about them, but it never went deeply into their motivations or stories. I even felt Zach became less developed over the course of the novel. At the beginning, I was with him as I was with Alice in Alice in the Wonderland. By the end, I did not understand what he or any of these people were doing anymore. There is even a love story that comes almost out of nowhere. I did not really know much about Zach’s love interest. All of a sudden, they were declaring feelings for each other which I did not see coming. I preferred the other romantic relationships in the book but again, they were only glossed over.

In the past, when I had problems following the book’s direction and characters, I wondered if it’s because I was not paying enough attention or reading it too quickly. However, after I read this book, I found a couple of reviews on Good Reads which expressed the same things on the lack of development and plot.

I will end on positive notes. The book is well written in terms of its world building. It’s a love letter to myths and storytelling. I would have been fine with Zach spending most of the novel in his beautiful, magical hotel room. Those moments in the book felt lush, cozy, and immersive. While the characters were undeveloped for me, I do not think everyone would have a problem with it. The characters had a lot of potential. I do not dislike the book and I am glad I read it.

I reread my review of the Night Circus after reading this book and even though I remember very few details from it, it sounds like I enjoyed the relationships more. The experience of reading that book seemed more enjoyable too. I do think Morgenstern is a good storyteller so I will read another of her books.

Read November 2-3, 2020.

FO: Leaves Of Grass

This lace pi shawl was my heirloom knit. How do I define an heirloom knit? I think it’s one that I wanted to invest a lot more in terms of the material and the time. I did invest more in the yarn and pattern, but I had to rush to finish it as my September became hectic. I was knitting it everyday for about a week to finish it. I even had a little cramping. I finished this two days before the ceremony and the blocking was finished drying the day before. I really wish I had more time to enjoy the knitting because it is absolutely beautiful.

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The Mosquito by Timothy C. Winegard

This book took me awhile to read. It was a recommendation from Pop Culture Happy Hour and I did like reading the beginning.

I have a background in public health. I love history. I am one of those people who get bitten frequently to the point where I don’t like camping or being in the woods too long. The bites tend to be big and very itchy too. It’s a real nuisance and inconvenience. With all that in mind, this book was right up my alley.

The author is a Canadian academic in the US with a background in military history so there is a huge focus on human conflict and mosquito borne illnesses. The focus is largely on Western countries. I would have preferred more history in Asia, Africa and Oceania.

I like the first half of the book as it had a wider history of the ancient world, but as the book progressed, the focus became more centred around American history. The author does a good job of depicting historical facts and anecdotes for a wide audience. However, this is still a a dense history book. I had to return it to the library and when I tried reading the ebook version, I find it difficult to get into the subject matter. With dense books, I much prefer the book format over ebook. As a consequence and of other factors (the pandemic closing my local library for months), I only picked this book again after a year and finished where I left off.

The writing is fine. I do think the author also has some melodramatic tendencies when talking about the mosquito. There is a lot to learn from this book especially if you are not familiar with some health or military history. Even with my background in both, I learned a few things. I do not regret picking this book up but it’s less fun than when I started.

If you like military and health history, I’d recommend a peak into this book.

Started reading August 30, 2019. On hold from September 4, 2019. Resumed late September 2020. Finished on October 6, 2020.

The Way You Make Me Feel by Maurene Goo

This was so wholesome. It’s a bit cheesy and silly since there are some contrived plot devices like in a teen romcom. Still, I enjoyed reading it.

When I was a teenager, I was skipping contemporary young adult fiction in favour of adult fiction or the classics. YA as a genre has come a long way in 20 years. There is a lot more choice and diversity. When I was growing up, there weren’t a lot of young adult books written about the Asian experience in North America or the West. I felt most YA novels did not represent my experiences so after awhile, I stopped reading them. In recent years, there has been much more choice in this arena even with the controversies in the publishing industry.

Case in point, while I’m not Asian or Korean American, I understood and related to these characters a lot more than YA books I read growing up. I got the jokes and the cultural references. While the protagonist Clara was annoying at times and too much of a smartass, she grew through the book. There are some genuine moments of character development and relationships grow believably in a teen book kind of way. I find it so light and almost effortless to see myself in Clara’s LA. It helps that I’ve gone and spent a holiday in Koreatown, LA. I liked all the characters with the exception of some of Clara’s old crew who read as being very two dimensional.

I am looking forward to reading more from the author. It’s been awhile since I’ve found an author who delivers light, breezy, and enjoyable fluffy novels.

Read Aug 27-28, 2020.

Less by Andrew Sean Greer

In the old days when I use to have more time and read more literary books, I would read a number of Pulitizer Prize winners. It’s been awhile since I read one and I do think they can be hit or miss. At least I remember Pulitizers being a little less mysterious and experimental than some Booker prize winners.

This novel was overall okay. The protagonist Arthur Less goes on an around the world journey. Each chapter is set in a different local. A friend of mine said she liked the Berlin chapter and that I would find it fun. Indeed, it was probably my favourite chapter. Most of the book is middling and plods along a bit too much. Arthur is a humdrum kind of character but I found him sympathetic and even relatable in some ways. There were a couple of other interesting characters but they only there momentarily. It’s very slice of life.

The book was not badly written and had some nice prose. However, there were moments when I thought the story should move along. It was a nice easy read.

Read August 20-25, 2020.

Three Children’s Books

As with last year, I have made more of an effort to read children’s literature. Recently, I went through a little streak from July into August.

The Trumpet of the Swan by E.B. White

This was nice. I do not really remember much from Charlotte’s Webb and had not heard or read anything else by White. I enjoyed that the titular character has adventures all over North America.

Danny, the Champion of the World by Roald Dahl

I have read most of the Dahl books and surprised I missed out on this one. I liked it except it glorifies poaching a bit too much. I like Danny as a character and his relationship with his father.

Heidi by Johanna Spyri

I have the most mixed feelings about this book. While I liked Heidi, her grandfather, and most of the characters, I did not really warm to the religious and conservative messages. I think children should learn faith and this book was written over 140 years ago, but it got almost preachy in certain aspects. The prose about the Alps is lovely but I am aware that it probably glorified life in the mountains. I gave it three stars but I would not recommend it to kids.

Midnight Riot (Rivers of London) by Ben Aaronovitch

This is the first in the Peter Grant / Rivers of London series. I had read some hype for this series over the years. It’s right up my alley as it’s a series set in London and it’s urban fantasy. I realized while reading this that I’ve read a lot of urban fantasy set in London including Neverwhere, The Rook series, and Harry Potter counts too. Speaking of Harry Potter, this book had many references to that series. Too many and to the point of self-indulgence. As a mystery, it uses London as a setting like the Robert Galbraith books as well. It also reminded me of Doctor Who and I was not surprised to found out that author also wrote for Doctor Who.

This book had some interesting world building and it moved along, but there were a couple of aspects to it that were disappointing. At some points, I did not find it that well written. For example, the character development was lacking. I did not get a good sense of any of the characters. While Peter is written with some wit, I found it a struggle to really get to know him. For example, as a narrator, he sometimes felt inconsistent. There were too many conversations in the book that he seemed to accept and not investigate or pry further into. For example, his mentor Nightingale’s age. At times, he seemed like a clever copper but other times, he seemed quite thick or too distracted to notice things. He ends up having oblique dialogues with other characters and he doesn’t seem to follow up. Is this a character flaw? This character trait of being unobservant is somewhat alluded to in the novel by another character; however, it also felt like a cheap excuse to drop hints and be mysterious without much explanation until much later.

I just found some of the character development lacking. None of the characters get particularly developed especially the female ones: his crush Leslie, his other crush Beverely and the enigmatic Molly. I would have liked to know more about them. Furthermore, the author uses the word breast a lot when describing these characters.

Having said that, these books are quite easy to read and the actual mystery was ok. The best part is the London setting and the world building. I really enjoyed Nightingale training Peter in magic. If I look over the inconsistent character work, I could enjoy this series. I am aware there is a graphic novel series as well. I think that format would work well. I will look into reading the next novel and the graphic series.

Read June 25-July 1, 2020.

Wilde in Love by Eloisa James

If you can see the cover, this is a paperback romance novel. I really wanted something light and fluffy after Sapiens. My current reading goal is to alternate between nonfiction and fiction when I can.

I chose Eloisa James for a couple of reasons. I have been trying for years to find something akin to Georgette Heyer’s romance novels. No one can really replace Heyer. This was my second or third go at trying to find someone who can capture her way with late 18th century romances. I think I should give up trying to find something similar. I had read James’s memoirs of living in Paris and I remember liking it.

This novel was ok. I gave it three stars on GR, but I think it’s firmly 2.5 stars. While I was not particularly annoyed or bothered by the characters, I did not really feel invested in them. The male lead Alaric was not interesting. He is an adventurer but the reader never actually sees him being adventurous. While I liked the female lead Willa a bit, she also felt oddly underdeveloped. The book was a bit slow and very predictable. All of it takes place over a couple weeks at a house party in the country. I wish there had been a change of scenery once.

I know a lot of people read these novels for the titillating romantic scenes, and while these weren’t bad, they aren’t really the reason I read novels. I look for and like banter between the characters. I actually wanted to hear more about the friendships or the sibling relationships between the characters.

This is the first in a series and there is a cliff hanger ending to tease about the fate of the secondary characters. I am actually a bit tempted to read the next book in super skimming mode to see what happens. I also want to give James another go because this is not her most famous series.

Read June 19-20, 2020.

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Sapiens: A brief history of humankind by Yuval Noah Harari

This is one of the most dense books I’ve read in awhile. It’s not actually that long compared to some other nonfiction history books, but it has a lot of history, ideas, and thoughts. Probably too many ideas.

I really liked the start of the book. After reading the Jean M Auel series, I have been more interested in human kind’s life pre-Agricultural Revolution. This book presents what life could have been like for early hunter gatherers including an exploration of the Cognitive Revolution. Early homo sapiens were not that different from us and genetically the same. They were intelligent and had their own complex system of beliefs, rituals, and relationships. They were clever hunters. The extinction of megafauna coinciding with homo sapiens migration is a sobering reminder of human consumption and survival.

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FO Fridays: Gladys

Socks are a good projects. Very straightforward and useful results. I have enough sock yarn stash for more than half a dozen pairs of socks. Even though I’ve stopped making my Barn Raising Quilt, I need to keep using sock yarns. I wear them a lot when running in the cold months. I actually need to darn some handknit socks at some point.

The pattern is interesting with the Guernsey pattern. I did not memorize it until the foot though. It’s a well written pattern except for a couple of minor bits. I would recommend it.

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