March 27, 2015

Book Reviews: Quarterly Update

For awhile I was writing book reviews every time I finished a new book. I stopped because I realized that I only read book reviews on other blogs if (a) I've been wanting to read the book, (b) I know the author or (c) the title really intrigues me. With that in mind, I stopped writing reviews after each book and decided to switch to quarterly updates on the books I've been reading.

With my new job, my commute takes the same amount of time but I no longer have to switch metro lines, so I get a lot more reading done on my way to and from work. I've read more books this year than I've read in a long time and it's great! It helps that I'm not tackling any 900 pages books like I tend to do at least once a year...though that is coming soon.

So, here's what I've read this year:

"Nothing to Envy: Ordinary Lives in North Korea" by Barbara Demick - I kicked off 2015 with a nonfiction book recommended to me during the interview for the job that I'm now at. This book was excellent. It was nonfiction that read a bit like fiction. The stories were all from people who had defected to South Korea about what their lives in North Korea were like. It was a fascinating read. What I found most interesting was just how little I knew about North Korea and how closed off the society truly is from the rest of the world. Highly recommend.

"Americanah" by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie - I had marked this on my Amazon Wish List and then found it in a Little Free Library in my neighborhood. It was a good book...a very interesting perspective on race in the US from the perspective of a non-American African. I couldn't put this book down. I found it fascinating and was really intrigued by the main character, Ifemelu's journey. That being said, I could see a lot of people I know not liking it. Recommend with reservation.

"The King's Curse" by Philippa Gregory - Philippa Gregory is a love her or hate her kind of author but historical fiction is my guilty pleasure. This book was the last in The Cousins' War Series and basically serves as a prequel to her books on The Tudor Court. I didn't love this book as much as I loved the others but I thought it wrapped up the series nicely. Recommend.

"Station Eleven" by Emily St. John Mandel - I really didn't like this book. It left so much to be desired. There were way too many characters and the characters were underdeveloped. This book had so much potential but it fell flat. I was completely hooked in the first 15 pages and then it just left me wanting so much more information. Set in a world where 99% of the population has been killed by a deadly strain of the flu, the book follows the survivors. Don't Recommend.

"The Bookseller of Kabul" by Asne Seierstad - I may have a bias on any book written about Afghanistan since I did part of my graduate thesis about the country but I loved this book. It's my current pick for next month's book club and I'm so intrigued to see what everyone else thought of it. Another nonfiction book that reads more like fiction, this book follows one family in Kabul over the course of one summer while Norwegian journalist, Asne Seierstad, is living with the family after the fall of the Taliban. The book reads a bit more like short stories about the individual members of the family, rather than having a central plot and theme, but's nonfiction. I found it fascinating and loved the way it was told. I think a lot of the mixed reviews are a result of people not reading, and taking to heart, the Foreword of the book. Highly recommend. 

"The Ocean at the End of the Lane" by Neil Gaiman - Meh. I read this book in a day and a half. It was ok. I was hoping it would fall in line with the Miss Peregrine series but it was just ok. It's a flashback of an older man (whose name you never learn) who is at a funeral (for his wife? Maybe? That never becomes clear) back in his home town. He recalls one wildly imaginative night when he was 7-years-old about witches and monsters and good overcoming evil. For me, it fell flat, but it was entertaining and a quick read. Recommend with reservation.

"Atlantis Never Lost: The Story of Santorini" by George Koukoulas - I loved this book. If you're into Greek mythology, I recommend it. It tells the story of the Santorini from an archaeological and mythological perspective, offering a version of the idea that the lost city of Atlantis may have been on the island presently known as Santorini (Thera). The novel starts in the present day with Alexandros, a former student, meeting a professor, Nicodemos, on Santorini after Nicodemos has discovered something at the ancient archaeological site of Akrotiri (which The Pilot and I visited). The story than alternates between present day and prehistoric times at the end of the Minoan civilization, in the 10 days leading up to the volcanic eruption that destroyed the civilization. The prehistoric parts of the novel are told backwards going from when the volcano erupts, to 10 days before and then back again. I loved this. It was such a fascinating way to tell a story. Highly recommend. 

So, there you have it! I hope you like this condensed version of my reviews! I figured it would be to skim the titles you're interested in and get my perspective! Let me know your thoughts and if you think I should continue writing reviews this way!

Happy Friday!

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  1. The first and last books look amazing!!! thanks for the info!

  2. Thanks for the list of recs (and non recs). My friend said she really liked Station Eleven, but it sounded weird to me. Ill have to check some of these out!

  3. I'm really interested in the book about North/South Korea. I read Station Eleven and I liked it! But I'm reluctant to recommend it because I don't know if it would be a crowd pleaser.


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