• Books

    April 2023 Books

    A Psalm for the Wild-Built by Becky Chambers

    Maybe it was all the hype around this and the emerging “cozy fantasy” genre term but I expected to like this more than I did. I think it was has some lovely moments. I really like Mosscap the robot. It’s wonderfully short as well. It didn’t wow me the way others have though. A solid novella. I will consider reading the sequel.

    3.5/5 stars. Read April 5, 2023.

    The Dragon’s Promise by Elizabeyth Lim

    The sequel to Six Crimson Cranes which was one of my favourite reads from last year. I was a bit disappointed. I partly blame myself as I have been in a reading rut related to some health issues recently. This sequel was too long at 500 pages though. In the first book, I was not bored with the action and there seemed to be a more cohesive journey and mission for Shiori. In this book, there are several side quests. It was too much and I basically got bored. I think if this book were half the length, it would have deserved it’s rather nice ending. This makes me rethink reading more from Lim as I think there was too many characters and quests in this book.

    3/5 stars. Read April 5-8, 2023.

    Vacationland by John Hodgman

    I adore John Hodgman. Ten years ago, I started listening to his podcast Judge John Hodgman and it remains my absolute favourite podcast and one of my favourite things in general. I became a MaxFun supporter for the show. He is so considerate and humanist on that podcast. I like his sometimes streams of Get Your Pets and Zoning Out where he plays Sim City. He is so chill and compassionate when interacting with guests. In the past few months, I have been suffering from insomnia and to help me sleep or keep me company in the bad nights, I’ve relistened to a lot of the JJHO again. I was running out of episodes so I decided to get the audiobooks. This one was good. I missed some of it when I fell asleep in the middle but I liked the start and the end especially the reflections on his mother’s passing.

    See my original review here.

    4.5/5 stars. Audiobook.

    This One Summer by Mariko Tamaki and illustrated by Jillian Tamaki

    This was part of a banned books list. I didn’t realize until I started it that I had already read another graphic novel from Mariko Tamaki. This was well illustrated. It’s a coming of age story and realistic with some of the dialogues by the younger leads. There is a teen pregnancy storyline which was okay. I preferred more the dynamics between the lead and her mother. In any case, a nice book.

    3/5 stars. Read April 22-23, 2023.

    The Cat Who Saved Books by S?suke Natsukawa

    A cute, cozy novel. Low stakes. For bibliophiles. I gave this a generous 3.5 when most of the book is a firm 3. I liked the ending.

    3.5/5 stars. Read April 27-30, 2023.

  • Books

    March 2023 Books

    The Red Scare: A Graphic Novel by Liam Francis Walsh

    A nice little graphic novel. I like graphic novels now as a breather between other books. I especially like to read and finish one after a work day. This is very much a YA novel with protagonists who are immature. I did like that the main character is called out on it and there is an element of sci-fi fun to it.

    3/5 stars. Read March 16, 2023.

    Ella Minow Pea: A Novel in Letters by Mark Dunn

    I generally like short epistolary novels like this. This was a subversive novel which bordered on being twee at times. It was interesting. I can see being polarizing though. I really liked it because it was creative and I enjoyed the characters. It had a couple of sad and dark moments, but it was generally an easy and satisfying read.

    3.5/5 stars. Read March 27-29, 2023.

  • Books

    Digital Minimalism by Cal Newport

    This is yet another been on my TBR list for awhile. It was okay and I think partly because I already employ most of the these techniques. I think the book wasa good way to reflect on my relationship and history with smart phones and social media.

  • Books

    A Lady for a Duke by Alexis Hall

    I keep trying to find regency romance novels that I like as much as Georgette Heyer’s and Jane Austen’s. While most of the books are fine, I don’t love them. This one was the same.

    This a queer regency romance with a transgender woman as lead. It had great reviews and it is well done in parts. I liked the protagonist. As usual, I could have done without the male lead who was super angsty (dad issues, PTSD, physically disabled, drug addiction). I really liked the supporting best friend who was the lead’s sister-in-law. That was a good character.

    My biggest issue with this book was that it was too long. I started in early January on vacation but it took me ages to read 15%; it was a very slow start. I contemplated giving up on it a few times before powering through to one third into the book. At that point, it did pick up in plot but I still found it all a bit too over written personally. I had to skim a lot to finish it.

    I do think for people who read a lot of regency novels, this is probably one of the better ones. I think I preferred this over the Bridgerton in terms of quality of writing and characters. Therefore not for me personally but not bad overall.

    I am going to stop picking up regency romances now. I keep hoping to replicate my love of the classics but it never does.

    3/5 stars. Read on Kindle January 4-20, 2023.

  • Books

    Best of 2022 Books

    Without going into personal stuff details too much, 2022 was a more difficult year than I had anticipated. It’s been a rough time with COVID-19. I really hope that personally and globally, we all recover. On a book front, I was able to maintain my reading goal of reading over 52 books every year. It was a decent year for reading books. I read 60 books which is not as good as 2021’s 70 but a great year in terms of quality books and audiobooks. This is by no means exhaustive and I really could not list all the good books I read this year.

    For 2023, I am aiming to read more from my collection so less new books and more classics.

    Audiobooks and Non Fiction

    2022 was a great year for audiobooks. I was able to appreciate it more and listen to them while I was sick, knitting, or puzzling. The following are great books and well narrated.

    The Anthropocene Reviewed by John Green

    The Gentle Art of Swedish Death Cleaning by Margareta Magnusson

    The Dutch House by Ann Patchett – Not non-fiction but narration by Tom Hanks really made this novel.

    General Fiction and Literary

    A Suitable Boy by Vikram Seth

    Year of Wonders by Geraldine Brooks

    Young Adult and Children’s Fiction

    Daddy Long Legs by Jean Webster

    Last Night at the the Telegraph Club by Malinda Lo

    Six Crimson Cranes by Elizabeth Lim

    Daughter of the Moon Goddess by Sue Lynn Tan

    Graphic Novels/Manga

    Satoko and Nada series by Yupechika

  • Books

    The Younger Wife by Sally Hepworth

    I picked this one up in a little library in Sydney. It’s by an Australian author and set in Melbourne. I knew from initial impressions and some light reading on good reads that it was a “domestic thriller” similar to the work of Liane Moriarty. I debated about bringing it back but eventually decided to try for it as my plane reading.

    My expectations were low because I don’t really read a lot of these domestic thrillers. Upon reflection when I have read the popular ones, I don’t mind them as much as say modern romance novels.

    I found myself liking this more than expected. I did figure our the twist half way. I didn’t love the romance or abuse survivor storylines. I think these thrillers use trauma too much as a plot device. The resolutions to these storylines was a bit too neat as well.

    What was good is the author seems to really know middle class women and to a certain extent, a woman from a poorer background. Of course the women are all white and most of it happened in a very privileged setting. Still, I found myself actually liking and relating to the women in the book. They were all messed up but the author had a nice way of showing their relatability.

    As a novel published in Australia by an Australian, I found moments and words which were for that audience and would likely have been changed for international readers. I liked that after my own experience travelling in the country.

    Not bad pulp fiction. Didn’t regret reading it and it kept me occupied for a few hours. Sometimes these kind of novels are great for travel.

    3.5/5 stars. Read January 13, 2023.

  • Books

    The Midwich Cuckoos by John Wyndham

    John Wyndham was an English sci-fi author known for his works published in the mid-20th century. I read The Chrysalids by John Wyndham as assigned reading in middle school and remember it leaving an impression. It was helped by the fact that I had one of my favourite English teachers at the time. In any case, I wanted to try more Wyndham especially since this book is in the 1001 Books list and I managed to get a copy.

    The premise that a small town of women are suddenly impregnated after a day out through xenogenesis is horrible. The concepts in this book and in Wyndham’s books make him one of the most interesting of sci-fi authors. Having read David Mitchell’s Cloud Atlas and Margaret Atwood’s Handmaid’s Tale, I can see how Wyndham influenced them more so with the Chrysalids though.

    It has been decades since I read the Chrysalids so I can’t offer a great comparison on the writing except that the children in that book were the central characters. Here, the children are the antagonists. The writing feels a bit heavy handed since it’s a bunch of mostly male adults talking a lot. There are not enough from the female characters at all which is disappointing given that they suffer so much by the plot.

    I do think the themes and the creepiness make this book and Wyndham’s interesting.

    3.5/5 stars. Read January 3-4, 2022.

  • Books

    The Pearl by John Steinbeck

    I packed this classic and another for my time abroad. I’m trying to read from my stash and in particular, classics. This one was a quick novella that I should have read it sooner. It was an hour and some change in a beautiful park on a sunny day down under. Location was better than the novel. While not bad exactly, it was a parable novel which the short intro forewarns. It does not have rich character work. I read that it is taught widely in middle and high school and has that assigned reading feeling about it. I still like Steinbeck and should re-read East of Eden one day.

    3/5 stars. Read January 1, 2023.

  • Books

    A Suitable Boy by Virkram Seth

    This review is overdue. I am writing and finishing it now in another country but posting it after my holiday. This novel was the last novel I read in 2022 and one of the best.

    This is a true classic. It is well written with a large, diverse cast of characters, some that you root for and some that you love to hate. It feels humane and true to life. It’s very similar to classics such as War and Peace, Far from the Madding Crowd,, Middlemarch (which I haven’t read yet but it always feels like I have), and Jane Austen novels.

    This is one of the longest single volume novels in English literature. I was fortunate to read this over the course of three days including Remembrance Day so I did not have to work. I was was feeling poorly due to my covid booster but it allowed me to get through most of this novel thankfully.

    Like the war parts War and Peace, I did find the political aspects of the novel a tad boring and my attention waned. Other than that, everything else was engrossing. The characters are rich. Everything happens in the space of the year but it did not feel tedious or long. I did worry that things would not resolve quickly enough because the pace was not as quick as it could have been. Then again, that sort of reflects life.

    There is some tragedy and I was surprised that I was triggered by a mentally ill character in this novel. One of the characters experiences episodes of psychosis. I’ve had experiences with someone very close to me who has gone through it. I felt very sad and disturbed when reading the passages.

    I know a sequel was announced about 14 years ago, and I am looking forward to it whenever it does get published.

    Reading this novel reminded how much I love classics and reminded me about the 1001 books list. I revived it and will aim to read more classical books fro my stash in 2023.

    4.5/5 stars. Read November 10-12, 2022. Review finished January 1, 2023.

  • Books

    October 2022 Books

    Dreams 1-2-3: Remember, Interpret, and Live Your Dreams by J.M. DeBord and The History of Last Night’s Dream: Discovering the Hidden Path to the Soul by Rodger Kamenetz

    I’ve been going through a personal dream project for the last couple of years. It’s taken me awhile to get to the research given my life. I finally got around to them. These are the fourth or fifth book I’ve read on these. Most don’t really satisify what I am looking for. The first one here had some good tips for intereptation but nothing that intrigued. The second one really started well but then sort of meandered too much into the Judea-Christian and psychiatric Freud history of dreams that did not interest me. After this, I became much more discerning and flipped through a few more dream books which I returned without really reading. 3/5 stars and 2.5/5 stars.

    October 1, 2022 and October 1-8, 2022.

    Daughter of the Moon Goddess by Sue Lynn Tan

    Of all the East Asian fantasy novels that I’ve read in the past year, this is by far the most Chinese. It has a protagonist with a hidden past and a journey of training and discovery. It’s true Chinese historical fantasy love drama including a complicated political love triangle with lots of angst. There is betrayal, messiness and back and forth relationships. I actually think I’d try watching an adaption if it was ever remade as a C-drama. I wonder if it’s doing well in East Asia. Enjoyable and looking forward to the sequel. 4.5/5 stars.

    Read October 10-14, 2022.

    Year of Wonders by Geraldine Brooks

    See blog post here. 4/5 stars.

    The Rule of 30: A Better Way to Save for Retirement by Frederick Vettese

    This finance book is written as a novel of a couple who learn financial lessons from an actuarial neighbour. It’s a good way of explaining information and there were a couple of things I did find interesting that weren’t covered as much in other personal finance books including the importance of demographics in interest rates. I did find myself a bit pessimistic about saving for retirement because the book has a formula predicting people’s lives including first house, kids, second house, paying off mortgage, retiring at 65 etc. This book was published last year right before inflation started going up. While the author/characters acknowledge black swan events and disability affecting working age, I found it depressing given that we are currently in a recession and also, a lot of people of my generation won’t be able to get a home with house prices. I am extremely grateful we have a condo, but I do not really want to work until I’m 65 or 70. I learned a couple of things but it kinda made me sad given the times we are in. 3/5 stars.

    Read October 18, 2022.

  • Books

    Year of Wonders by Geraldine Brooks

    In 2009, I owned a copy of this book when I lived in London. As with a few other books I had there, I never got around to reading it due to my graduate studies. These books became casualties of my move when I left. Since then, I continued to want to read it especially after reading March by the same author. In the last year, I heard someone in my book club read and I also found a copy of this in a Little Library. It seemed that the universe was telling me to finally read this book.

    I really like Brooks’ writing style and how she researches a time period and historical events but weaves ordinary characters into them. She did the same here as she did in March where she has people in history acting as best they can in extraordinary circumstances. I like her prose and character writing and will read more from her.

    Both novels are about difficult times and there is a lot of death. It actually got too grim and bleak as so many bad things happened to the characters in this book. Thankfully it’s not too long. I won’t recommend this book to people because there is very little levity in it.

    I do appreciate how Brooks wrote about a time in history that I don’t see covered a lot in literary or contemporary novels. I wish there were more interesting novels about the 1600’s and 1700’s in the old world. The epilogue was satisfying and intriguing. That could be a whole novel in itself. At the core of this novel is a strong friendship between two women of different classes and wish we had even more of it.

    4/5 stars. Read October 15-17, 2022.