Tag: 2020 books

I know some people read cozy mysteries and romance novels as their comfort reading. I am finding that young adult / children’s books and graphic novels are my comfort reading.

I read the first Borrowers at the end of 2019. I liked it enough to read the rest of the series in the past couple of months. Overall, I really liked this series. I wish I had read it when I was younger but I definitely appreciate it as an adult. There’s a lot of whimsical details. As a cozy novel, the adventures and conflicts are mostly resolved by the end of each novel.

I liked all the core characters and found the world building so interesting too. I liked both the outdoor and indoor adventures. I adored Arietty and I wish the adventures would continue. The last book The Borrowers Avenged did have a bit of an abrupt ending. I know that almost twenty series separated book four and five. Maybe Norton also planned another book or vignette after the last book. The epilogue seemed tacked on as well. I wonder what other adventures Arietty and her family got to after moving to their final home.

This was a wonderful series to read during the holidays and in winter. I am really happy that I keep finding children and young adult gems like these.

Read December 2020- January 2021.

I love books about books. I think it’s because it’s an intimate and special kind of love. For me growing up as a lonely kid, books were some of my best friends. I’d spend summers at the library. I’d wonder about book characters and their lives. Reading about how how other people love and think about books so deeply is cathartic.

This author and others who wrote lovingly about books gets it. Maybe some of my friends loves books like I do as this author does but they don’t talk about it with me that way. Nowadays, I have joined a book club which I attend (virtually) where we can talk about my passion for books more. It’s still lovely to read about reading though.

This book has funny and insightful letters to books that the author a librarian has encountered. The last half of the book are all book recommendations. Spence is an older millennial so we have overlapping tastes. We both love Jeffrey Eugenides among other things. Not everyone would appreciate the recs, but they can be helpful.

Definitely a recommendation if you love books about books and libraries.

Read November 15-18, 2020.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

Continue reading →

The sequel to Clan of the Cave Bear. With the current situation in the world and after some nonfiction, I needed escapism far removed from the present day. I like that this series offers some actual history and anthropology.

As mentioned in a previous post, I have been busy with work and have not had time to read as much. This book took a couple of weeks to finish. The first half was not that engaging for me. I missed the characters from the first book like Ayla did. I found her solitary adventures in the first half the book somewhat interesting, but I found the other stuff with Jondalar a tad slow.

I don’t think Jondalar is particularly interesting male lead. For the first half other book, he is defined mostly by his attractiveness and not being able to fall in love with a woman. Like the first book where Ayla was incessantly described as big and ugly (when she was not at all), this book kept reminding the reader how good looking Jondalar is and how he couldn’t seem to find a soul mate.

Things pick up when they finally meet and I liked their interactions as I can learn through them what it’s like for people in the prehistoric era. It also becomes a romance novel when they meet. I know that this series becomes more of a romantic one as it progresses. It does not interest me much. While Auel is a good at weaving things from the past into a novel, there is a lot of repetitiveness and somewhat cliched writing. I think the characters and relationship can be quite good but the prose leaves something to be desired.

A friend told me that she made it to book 5 and that I should probably stop at book 4. I will keep going until I can’t but I am starting to see how difficult it may be if the writing does not improve significantly.

Read May 9-May 26, 2020.

This took me awhile to read because this is non fiction and even in this “Stay at home” life, I have been busy with work and general life.

I love this topic as I consider sleep is closest thing to a universal panacea. It’s delicious and wonderful. I love having a long night of uninterrupted sleep. Always have and always will. I’m also an avid dreamer and can lucid dream which makes my dream life fun. In the past year, I’ve become increasingly interested in sleep and dreams again.

This book has interesting academic and scientific evidence. It’s written well and very accessible. The author puts in a couple of personal theories and experiences, but he does it just the right amount without being dry or prosaic.

If I had more time, I would have read this book much more quickly. I’ve read a lot non fiction books and this is a good one considering the number of studies it cites. It is almost a must to read these in paper book form because he has a few footnotes and personal notes at the bottom of the pages.

Reading this book was a little like preaching to the choir for me. I do feel like on the whole people in the world underestimate the value of sleep. I know my sleep enough and when I don’t get it, I don’t dream as well or feel as rested. There are a lot of being reporting more vivid dreams and this is more a result of them getting sufficient REM sleep.

On a personal note, two people in my life have sleep apnea including my father. My dad snored my whole life and he got tested a few years ago. Within three to six months of getting a CPAP/APAP machine, he felt a huge change in his quality of life. He was able to remember things better. He lost weight more easily. His mood improved drastically. I am grateful to our family physician who noticed it and referred him to a sleep clinic.

Sleep is undervalued and I believe the author in that I think sleep deficiency is the cause of many problems, chief of which is car accidents. This book is popular at my library and I hope more people read into how important sleep is at a personal and societal level.

Read April 18-May 3, 2020.