March was long but in this case that means I got to read more! It was a busy month as well and weirdly enough I read more when I’m busy. I think it’s because reading relaxes but then again if I’m too stressed so it’s a weird balance. I did, however, DNF a couple of books (3). So in total I read 7 books, 2 short stories, and 1 graphic novel.
So the books first:
The Ever Never Handbook by Soman Chainani
The Ever Never Handbook is a companion book to The School for Good and Evil trilogy. This is like the equivalent to Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them to the Harry Potter series. It’s just a little bonus to the original books: how to survive going to this magical school, the course catalog, pictures of the cool creatures that reside there, school fashion and all that. I was kind of confused reading this book because there are excerpts of the characters sending letters and transcripts of characters talking to each other and they mention events that have not happened. So, at first, I thought cool, it’s a bit of an epilogue except the events that are happening are kind of depressing. One of the letters included is even “cut off” so you don’t know what happens after so that was rude. And then I look on Goodreads and found out there was gonna be a fourth book…(just as I was beginning to applaud myself for finishing one series in my life). But after reading the handbook, I realize I’m nostalgic for Sophie’s and Agatha’s world and want to go back to it again so at the end of the day, I’m happy there’s a 4th book but we’ll see.
Eligible by Curtis Sittenfeld
I had high hopes for this modern Pride and Prejudice retelling but alas, it was pretty disappointing. However, I do like the wry and tongue in cheek writing as well as the fast-paced nature of the book. It’s the sort of book I could finish in one sitting if I wanted to. It also made me nostalgic for P&P retellings so I immediately went and rewatched the Lizzie Bennet Diaries afterwards and I had a lot of feelings so, in true Carolyn-fashion, I rant about them here.
The Bear and the Nightingale by Katherine Arden
I was excited for this one ever since I first heard about it because it’s written like a fairy tale and it revolves around Russian mythology. Vasya’s family worships the house spirits but when her mother dies and a priest tries to convert everyone to a religion of one god, the village starts to erupt in chaos and only Vasya’s magical powers can help. The writing is atmospheric and promises mysteries and magic at every turn. However, because it was written like a fairy tale, the secondary characters, including the stepmother, the priest, and Vasya’s father all came out to be pretty cliche. Also, the pacing was so off. Plotlines were brought up and then dropped until the second half of the book where one plotline was followed till the end. I really liked the fantastical elements such as the blending of Russian mythological creatures. I also found the author’s note to be sort of problematic; you can take creative liberties with a story but alternating Russian words because it’s not aesthetically pleasing is a different story. It could have been better but it wasn’t necessarily bad. I’ll definitely be looking out for Arden’s future works.
Human Acts by Han Kang
In short, Han Kang has cemented herself as an auto-read author for me. My mini review here.
Koreatown: A Cookbook by Deuki Hong and Matt Rodbard
I just burnt bread this afternoon so you can tell how much of a cook I am but I checked this out because I love Korean food. Vietnamese food is great but there is something so communal and aesthetically pleasing about Korean food, not to mention the variety in color and type of food. What’s great about this cookbook is that there’s such a variety of recipes but each is prefaced by a little history or tidbit about the food and information about the different ingredients themselves. There’s also interviews with chefs who cook with Korean food, celebrities who love Korean food, and restaurant owners who cook a fusion of Korean and some culture of food. The photos are also really well-made and there’s even full page spreads of Koreatown and the Korean eating experience. I’m not making any of these recipes except for the one that was basically an improved version of how to make your shin ramyun (instant noodles) better but it really made me crave Korean food. Someone get me bibimbap and patbingsu asap.
Aurora by Kim Stanley Robinson
This book has an amazing premise. A space ship is on its way to Aurora, its inhabitants hopeful in being its first colonizers. At the beginning of the book, the ship is on its 150th year in space and there’s still more years to go before they can even reach Aurora. Our main character, Freya, is the daughter of the ship’s chief engineer, Devi. The story sort of follows Freya as she learns to become a leader but it also follows the the ship’s apparently sentient perspective as it details the accounts of the journey. I’m really impressed with Robinson’s knowledge of biology, microbiology, population biology and physics. He does do a lot of infodumping but being the science major that I am, it was all so interesting especially when he explained the mechanics of the ship and its many biomes, how these inhabitants lived in the biomes. As can be expected, this novel is hard science fiction so do not read this if you’re not interested in any of the things I’ve mentioned above. Because it’s hard science fiction, the characters fall to the wayside but he does ask some interesting questions and gives twists to these questions that surprised me. Were we really meant to go beyond Earth given the limitations of our bodies? What happens, after generations of preparation and hope, when your destination is not everything you expected? And how do you fix the mistakes that the people who originally came on the ship didn’t forsee? Why should the generations after be forced to deal with the consequences when they might not have wanted any part of this crusade in the first place? After all, they were ultimately human, greatly ambitious but also inevitably fallible. It’s quite heavy in its scope and size and I found myself forgiving its flaws just because it was so fascinating.
To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before & PS I Still Love You by Jenny Han (reread)
Every once in a while, a very special YA contemporary will come into my life that just does it right. This is one of those series. It’s cute and fluffy to the highest degree but while most YA contemporaries of that nature are at highest 3 stars for me, these two always leave me feeling not just happy but satisfied. I’m planning on doing a reread discussion for these two or a review of the entire trilogy when the third and final book comes out in May! The days cannot go by faster…
Do Not Say We Have Nothing by Madeleine Thien
Is it better to have been loved, or to love?
This is the essential question of Madeleine Thien’s historical novel that alternates between the present where Li-Ling and Ai-Ming piece together the story of their fathers and the past where we find out their grandparent’s and parent’s lives during the Cultural Revolution of Mao Zedong. As the Revolution grows more and more oppressive, we begin to see how her father and his family try to reconcile their personal passions and to an extent their inner selves and the constant danger of being arrested for being a counter-revolutionary. I really liked the undercurrent of music–particularly the violin and piano–throughout the book, a symbol of private desire. And I really liked reading about this struggle to maintain your identity when your very safety depends on your rejection of it. I also learned a lot about the Revolution in China during the 50’s and 60’s and how the aftereffects of that time period extended all the way to the 80’s and 90’s. I think the characters jumped a little too much from one motivation to another with no buildup in between. The pacing was also abrupt and jumps from one perspective to another with little sense of cohesion. But despite that, definitely worth a read.
Blonde Date (Ivy Years #2.5) by Sarina Bowen
Blonde Date is a NA romance novella that’s a part of Bowen’s NA series but you don’t have to read the previous books to understand this one. It’s about a girl named Katie who is in a sorority and she needs a date to go with her to a party because she has just broken up with her asshole of a boyfriend (for reasons that will be revealed throughout the story). She gets set up with Andy who is a sweet and genuine beta male (can we please have more of these in romance novels?). Diversity in romance is a problem in general but that’s a different story. I really liked that Katie, who would normally be the antagonist in a NA story is instead the protagonist. The dialogue was pretty cliche but it didn’t bother me too much. Blissfully unproblematic, cute, and enjoyable, highly recommended for a lazy afternoon read. I wish there was a full length book on Katie and Andy.
A Series of Steaks by Vina Jie-min Prasad
Helena Yuanhi makes a living out of 3D printing realistic looking meat. She gets a huge gig printing out steaks for a wedding and she hopes that this gig can give her enough to run away and escape from her past. She enlists the help of Lily whose spontaneous personality serves as the perfect foil to the more quiet and reserved Helen. This short story was so great, It has a slight satirical undertone and it’s quite comedic and just plain enjoyable. I liked the two main characters and their budding friendship and all the mechanics behind the 3D printing. Highly recommended and you can even read it for free here.
Through the Woods by Emily Carroll
Through the Woods is a collection of horror-ish short stories in graphic novel format. The problem with this was it ended way too soon just when the story was starting to get interested. You know that scene in a horror movie where someone hears a lot of banging or whatever behind a door and they’re just about to open the door. The stories end right when the person is about to open the door which was kind of frustrating. I feel like if she prolonged one or two of these stories, I would have been so much more creeped out and invested. I particularly liked the story about the two brothers who go into the woods and only one of them comes back alive but then the next day, the dead comes back again as if nothing happened.
Crosstalk by Connie Willis
I got about 1/2 of the way through and it had me feeling really claustrophobic which I guess is kind of the point. It’s set in the near future where you can get a surgery that will help you better see your partner’s thoughts. This, in theory, will lead to a happier relationship. It’s a light sci-fi novel with a romcom storyline. I appreciated the numerous references to other social media but at the same time, I felt like they were being referenced by someone who doesn’t really use them. I also thought this could have been about 200 pages shorter since the scenes kept being dragged out with interruptions from one of her annoyingly endearing family members and it just got to be too much. The heroine is a protagonist straight out of Legally Blonde, smart but has ditzy and truly naive moments, and talks like she always has everything under control when she really doesn’t. I wish she had more agency in this book. I just didn’t care ultimately.
News of the World by Paulette Jiles
There’s nothing technically wrong with this book. It just felt a little too safe for me and I guess I had higher hopes for a book that was longlisted for the National Book Award. It has a great historical setting (right after the American Civil War) but the storyline just felt too saccharine for me especially for a literary fiction novel that’s trying to be more nuanced.
When the Moon Was Ours by Anna-Marie Mclemore
I know this book is well loved in the book community and I really wanted to like this one because it explores themes of being transgender, being in a relationship with a transgender person and what it means to truly expose yourself. One of the main character is Pakistani which I never see in a YA book. I also really wanted to like this book because I really like magical realism but the writing felt a little too flowery and nothing was being said. And while the writing was pretty beautiful, the storyline felt like it was going nowhere. I understand coming of age doesn’t technically have a plot but I felt like Mclemore was trying to achieve another plot besides the coming of age and it just didn’t work for me.
And that’s my March reading! Let me know what you read in March, what your favorites were or if you’ve read any of these and what your thoughts were. =)