June Book Reviews

Happy July my friends! I’m spending this month off of social media which is terrifying and I no longer know what to do with my time, but if it means I’m getting these reviews out in a reasonable manner, then I guess something good is happening. I’ve also gotten a bit obsessed with Goodreads as well. I think we should make that the new social media.

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Radicalized

This book is comprised of four short stories that you could imagine appearing in a Black Mirror episode. A good concept in theory, the execution was a bit too on the nose for my taste. I think a visual sort of format would be a better fit for the stories, but I did enjoy them. The actual writing, while I think the subject matter is super important (and struck a little too close to home for my liking, hah), I wish it had been presented more subtly (when you literally have a character called the American Eagle, I tend to lose my suspension of disbelief). But if you are interested in socialism, political and moral issues, and generally want to be more informed, I think this is a pretty good fictional supplement to those topics, and one that’s easily digestible.

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Harriet the Spy

I love this book and I am partial because I grew up reading it. But when I was a kid, I didn’t realize the lesson of the book and instead just tried to mimic Harriet the Spy, complete with my own notebook and spy route. So maybe as a child this book was not a success, haha, but also I had an obsession with spies so maybe nothing could have stopped me. Either way it was a delight to read again after all these years, and I think anyone would still find this book charming. This was totally a feel good read for me, and I can’t wait for the next time I get to open its pages again.

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In West Mills

I found myself wondering if this story was written scarcely because it is indented to be a pop fiction book, or because it wanted to be subtle in its subject matter—the concepts of racism, classism, sexism were touched ever so slightly that I wondered if it was because the characters were ignorant, or if they knew exactly and realized there was nothing that could be done. They had to resign to their fate simply because of the time period they were in. What I’m trying to say is that it’s so subtle, I don’t know which way I’m supposed to go. The New York Times named him one of the four writers to watch this summer and mentioned there wasn’t much research done for the setting, which I do feel like the book lacked. But this is probably because I am a maximalist when it comes to writing and reading. I wanted more of a Faulkner feel to the book and felt there was a lot of missed characterization when we jumped to only climactic moments in the characters’ lives—I felt less connected to them even when I found myself really wanting to learn more about them. But maybe that is also part of the point. Sometimes we can’t know everything. Sometimes our past never gets uncovered, and sometimes we don’t ever get to see more than just the snapshot of even people we think we are closest to. This is definitely a book to pick up and read.

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we were witches

This was my favorite book of the month. It is also incredibly obvious with it's subject matter, but what else can you expect from a book published by the Feminist Press? If overt, almost book-bashing feminism isn’t your cup of tea, you may not like this book. But I was thoroughly delighted by how surprised I was by the language, the story, and the presentation. This book presents its subject matter in a few really fun ways that I hadn’t considered for novel writing, and it’s always fun to read something so unexpected. The plot itself is also really beautiful and heartbreaking. I loved all the characters, I loved the setting. Other than the too-obvious feminism at times, it’s a very smart book. And even the overtness is smart in certain places. Really just a delight.

April and May Book Reviews

Hello again my friends! It’s been quite a while. We spent most of our month of April prepping for our Australia and New Zealand trip, and then of course we adventured around for the majority of May. So I definitely didn’t read as much as I had hoped, but such is life. I had a pretty good excuse. 

For a bit of backstory, I have been reading through the book Light the Dark, in which different authors share aspects of the writing process. As a supplement to that (or perhaps the other way around), when I read a chapter from a particular author, I read one of their books.

This time around I picked up Stephen King’s The Shining, which honestly was a long, mucky process to get through. In retrospect from my own observation and also from people I’ve chatted with, this may not have been the best of his books to start out reading, but it’s what I picked so there wasn’t any going back. I can see how it was acclaimed in its day, but now with my oversaturation of the horror genre, it was predictable and dragged on far too long in its descriptions and backstory. With that being said, I did love the characterization of Jack and how he organically evolved into being overtaken by the hotel.

The shining (har har I’m so sorry) aspect of the book to me was how King portrayed the voices that Danny could hear—this shows how the written language can really turn into a work of art. (As a side note, I also enjoyed this because in my own book I’m working on, I am exploring a similar concept. So it was neat to see another author’s take on the formatting, albeit a bit annoying because I thought I had come up with the idea myself and yet here is one of the most well known authors of our time already doing it. So it goes.)

Would I recommend this book? Eh, since I probably will never have a desire to read it again, probably not. But I do want to read a few more of his works to add them to my reading repertoire.

 When I went to New Zealand for the first time, it was 2015 and I was going with a group of students and a couple professors from my university right after school ended for the summer. To keep a long story short, it had been my dream to visit since I was in 7th grade, and I absolutely fell in love with everything about New Zealand, the people, the land, the culture. I learned so much about myself and about what it means to be a human living on the earth, and I will always be grateful for that experience. During the middle of summer we had a reunion party at the professor’s house, and while there, she gave me me The Bone People by Keri Hulme. I raced through reading it, desperate to consume anything related to New Zealand after returning to the states. So for this second trip, I was excitedly curious to read it again while actually in the country and read it a bit more deliberately.

This novel is by far one of my all-time favorites. I know I tend to be a bit hyperbolic in my excitement about things, but honestly, this book is everything I aspire to be as a writer. It’s beautiful, tragically poetic, and is woven together with mysticism of the land and our intrinsic connection to one another as humans. In short, I love this book. I never know how much to give away when it comes to these reviews, but for this I won’t say anything else. This book is a masterpiece and if you have any sense about you, you will check it out from the library, purchase it immediately, whatever you can to get your hands on this book. You won’t regret it.

And now that we are gearing up for June, I cannot wait to dive back into reading regularly. There have been so many summer books coming out, I can practically smell the summer air, taste that cold iced coffee, all while soaking in the sun sitting on my porch surrounded by stacks of worlds. Aaah, the dream.

Reviews For March

This month I’ve been working though a personal school program I wrote for myself, and one of the books I’m reading is Light the Dark, edited by Joe Fassler. Each chapter is written by a different writer about some different aspect or inspiration of writing. So while I read through the author’s chapter, I also read one of their books, and all the books I read through this month are from this ‘class’. 

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The particular Sadness of Lemon Cake

This book was just okay for me. At first I didn’t like it, and then I loved it, but then the twist at the end I didn’t really enjoy at all. I think the climax was either just a bit too convoluted for me to really take seriously, or it wasn’t described as well as I had hoped because when I read through the twist the first time, even though I did read it correctly I wasn’t sure if I actually had. It was a pretty okay book, I think it had some good moments and the premise is interesting, but I just wish it had been executed differently.

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the absolutely true diary of a part-time indian

I absolutely adored this book by Sherman Alexie. Super easy read (it’s probably a middle school book), but has really good themes of what it means to be a Native American and the dichotomy of having to live two different lives. I have been wanting to educate myself more on this, especially as I become more aware of the Native American issues (and well, the mere fact that basically all white people are living on stolen land), but I guess that’s a different post. This book was very poignant but in a way that anyone can understand. I thoroughly enjoyed it and I’m excited to read more of Alexie’s work.

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the joy luck club

Well, this is one of those books that I’m going to ask for for Christmas because it needs to be in my personal collection. Amy Tan is absolutely brilliant. She gives us the story of four Chinese women and their daughters, and similar to Alexie’s book, looks at the dichotomy of living in two different worlds. In a word, it was magical. I cannot wait for when I get to read it again.

PS I also read through her children’s book based on this novel, and it was also so beautiful! The illustrations were mesmerizing.

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And that’s what I read through for March! I have some other things I’m working through with various degrees of completion, but these are the books I properly completed. Happy April, everyone!

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Reviews for February

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Hi friends!

Didn’t think I would actually have this problem, but I’m apparently reading so much I forgot about the reviews and have plowed through a few other books for the month of February. I still want to talk about them, so here’s some quick mini reviews on the books I reach for February! If it’s any wonder, I really really enjoyed all of these books.


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The Brain that Changes Itself; Norman Doidge, M.D.

This book you guys. Every person needs to read this book. It’s so good. This book follows the history and stories of neuroplasticity, the ability of the brain to rewire itself so that humans are able to do new things physically and mentally.

I really believe in the power of our minds, of intuition and positive thinking. I also believe in science, and try to use both as much as possible when forming my beliefs. So you could say I had almost a spiritual experience reading this book, seeing all the science and studies that backed up things I felt to be true myself. Granted, the ability to actually change your brain is a lot of hard work, a lot of reinforcement and constantly working towards whatever change you want to make. There is a period of plateauing, and periods of supposedly no growth, but after continuing to promote whatever it is you want to change (I’m talking about months and months of training yourself), you can physically change your brain. I highly encourage everyone to read it, especially if you want to change something about yourself and your habits. I’ve already seen a difference myself.

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A Manual For Cleaning Women; Lucia Berlin

This is a compilation of short stories of American Life, of mining camps, of living in Chile. Most of the stories are very autobiographical and those ones I found to be the most interesting. It was almost like reading little vignettes of the much larger story of her life. If you like Raymond Carver, I think you will like Lucia Berlin as well (although Carver will always hold a very particular special place in my heart that I don’t think anyone else can replace). My only real critique is that while the stories that were not from her perspective were still good (there were a couple from a male character’s pov), they felt a little out of place in the context of the book itself. I wish they had been left out or replaced with a couple other stories from her life.

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Wildwood; Colin Meloy, illustrated by Carson Ellis

I’ve been wanting to read this book for a long time. It’s a children’s fantasy book, along the same vein of The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe (without as much allegory), and it is rich and beautiful. It’s not the most literary text by any means, but I thoroughly enjoyed it. It was really fun to read a story based in Portland as well, and now I feel like the magic that’s in the story has seeped into the magic that is Portland and the woods that we live in. Highly recommend this one!

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A Year Off; Alexandra and David Brown

I read through this book in two days. I laughed, I cried, and I probably dreamed way too much. This book was about the journey of Alexandra and David, who decided to spend a year traveling the world. Ugh talk about ultimate goals! The book was so easy to read, and yet it was full of some really good advice and beautiful stories (and photographs!) from their trip. They even broke down how much the trip cost, how much they spent in each location, and gave some awesome instructions, tips, and lessons that they learned. (Spoiler, they spent $37,000 for the year. I’ll happily accept venmo or paypal! ;)) The only thing I was bummed about was that they didn’t really mention how they saved that money (other than David already having most of it saved up, and them both selling a couple of their larger items, like their cars, to pay for the trip). And being someone who has zero money all the time, I almost wish they had mentioned more of that portion of their planning, but I suppose there are other books out there on how to save money. Reading the book did come at a perfect time though—Matt and I are taking our first international trip together in about two months, and learned some important travel information that I wouldn’t have known otherwise (ie. International Drivers Permit and Travelers Visa—some info I would have needed to have prior to stepping foot in the country, haha). Okay but anyways, needless to say I adored this book. And I probably shouldn’t have read it because now I’m constantly dreaming of traveling the world (then again, it’s not like I wasn’t doing that constantly beforehand anyways!).

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And that’s it! That’s the books I read for February!

I’m quite pleased with myself because I didn’t want to set too high of a goal for this year (my resolution is to read 24 books), and I’m moving through it pretty quickly. Maybe other people feel this way, but after university I pretty much stopped reading. I guess after reading for 16 years of my life (English major problems, hah), I needed a break. But over the past couple years I’ve been slowly trying to get back into it (aka get less addicted to my phone and more addicted to reading again), and I think I’m just about to tip the scales.

Anyways, rambling on again. I hope you consider picking up these books, I highly recommend them all!
If you are reading anything good, I’d love to hear about it!

A review of The Alchemist

Okay I know this website is incredibly haphazard right now. I guess that’s what happens when you don’t use it for a long time and then you’re also trying to explore new things … and, well, this is the place that feels most natural to put these things. For 2019 one of my goals is to read 30 books. I also want to start writing book reviews, because 1. I never get to talk about books, 2. it will be a good way to keep me on my goal, and 3. I just want to practice writing something that I’ve had never interacted with previously.

So here we go, my very first book review ever, a review of The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho.

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Long story short, I absolutely adored this one. It’s a bit obvious in its metaphor, sure, and reads very much like a children’s book, but sometimes the deepest human truths are best explained simply. The story follows Santiago, a shepherd who has a dream about a treasure—his personal legend—and sets out on a grand adventure to fulfill it. What I found especially comforting about the book was the idea of connectedness between all living things through all time; how when we listen with our hearts we learn the language by which all living things speak, and through understanding this language, we learn the soul of God—and we learn that we are a part of God’s soul. And that time truly is nonlinear, that there are rare moments we can tap into the collective unconscious of all living history and use it to guide us through this life.

For maybe about three years now I’ve been thinking about this concept, the connectivity of everything in the universe, how creation communicates with and mimics the beauty of God, and how humans are also a part of that too. I often feel I’m pretty alone in my beliefs because they are a strange mix of Christianity, Buddhism, and Socialism (and nonlinear time) and I, so far, haven’t known anyone else to really quite believe what I believe. But reading a book that pretty beautifully portrays my own worldview, and one that is so highly acclaimed, is really warming.

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Yeah, don’t really have much to say negatively about this book. It’s so delightful and I can’t believe it’s taken me this long to read it, but also I think it came to me at the perfect time in my life. This will be one of those books that I read over and over again for the rest of my life. I highly recommend that everyone read this book. It’s a very easy read—I finished it in two days—and I think there is something in it that every person can take and apply to their own journey. To finish off, I just wanted to share a couple of my favorite passages:

‘Hunches,’ his mother used to call them. The boy was beginning to understand that intuition is really a sudden immersion of the soul into the universal current of life, where the histories of all people are connected, and we are able to know everything, because it’s all written there.
— page 76-77
‘Tell your heart that the fear of suffering is worse than the suffering itself. And that no heart has ever suffered when it goes in search of its dreams, because every second of the search is a second’s encounter with God and with eternity.’
— page 134

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