Book Reviews, Bookworm Blogging

The Memory Police [review]

The Memory Police by Yōko Ogawa, transl. by Stephen Snyder
Published by Pantheon in August 13, 2019 (originally 1994)
my rating: 3 stars
Goodreads avg:
3.75 (as of 2022-05-25)
Spoiler-free review
Goodreads

I wish I had gotten along with this more, but it was a little flatter than I expected. It was reminiscent to me of 1984 in some ways, although I wouldn’t draw a tight comparison between the two. I thought the titular Memory Police would play a more pivotal role in this, but it felt like they only existed to add stakes to the story. I just felt a lot of “why?” reading this. I could draw connections to colonialism and the erasure of cultures, or the oppression of afab bodies, but it didn’t feel like a fully formed commentary was there. I was largely bored by this and although some aspects were compelling, I felt let down.


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Build Your House Around My Body [review]

Build Your House Around My Body by Violet Kupersmith
Published by Random House in July 6, 2021
my rating: 3 stars
Goodreads avg:
3.87 (as of 2022-05-23)
Spoiler-free review
Goodreads

I’m still not sure whether I read this book or whether it was all a fever dream that I imagined. Build Your House Around My Body spans decades and follows an ever-changing cast of characters through a dark, fantastical story. The ‘main’ character, Winnie, is a Vietnamese-American woman attempting to find herself in Vietnam while slipping deeper and deeper into a depressive spiral.

While I appreciated this story overall, I found myself swinging between bored, confused, and intrigued. Sadly, too much of my time was spent waiting to get to the end of the story rather than appreciating the journey itself. This novel is often difficult to follow, although I was impressed by the way Kupersmith was able to connect the characters to each other. There were many instances where I found myself highlighting lines that would have meant little-to-nothing in another book, but that gave me an ‘aha!’ moment in seeing another connection.

I would recommend this with the caveat that if you don’t like sweeping storylines that take their time to intersect and become clear, this is probably not the book for you. It does have a lot of interesting commentary on colonialism and bodily autonomy, but I struggled to untangle this from the story itself.


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Olga Dies Dreaming [review]

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Olga Dies Dreaming by Xóchitl González
Published by Flatiron Books on January 4, 2022
my rating: 3 stars
Goodreads avg:
4.03 (as of 2022-05-18)
Spoilers at bottom of review

Goodreads | Bookshop

I liked how complex and easy to root for these characters were, even as they waded through gray areas of morality and made mistake after mistake. Olga is a wedding planner for the elite and her brother Prieto is a congressman. Both of them are of Puerto Rican descent, born and raised in Brooklyn. This novel explores their personal lives as well as the impact of Hurricanes Irma and Maria on Puerto Rico itself. 

Olga and Prieto are both middle aged and still dealing with being abandoned (and subsequently emotionally abused) by their mother, although in different ways. Prieto has hidden himself behind a mask that is beginning to crack and Olga has avoided any kind of emotional connections. Prieto begins to question the way he’s been doing things, while Olga meets the odd-yet-endearing Matteo.

This is an interesting examination of familial trauma, race, and gentrification that works in a lot of ways but ultimately tried to hit too many topics. One of my biggest issues was that the ending felt far too neat for me, like González needed to tie everything up in a bow. I felt like we went from realistic literary fiction to a run-of-the-mill romance novel in the 11th hour; it just didn’t fit the tone of everything that preceded it.


Overall, I did enjoy this though, it just ended up knocked down a few pegs for me. Everything from here on is spoiler territory, as there are some aspects of the ending that rubbed me the wrong way. Content warning for discussion of rape ahead. The first is that the ‘third act breakup’ is preceded by Olga being raped and having a complete mental breakdown. It honestly felt like the assault was just a tool to get to this conflict, and could have been replaced by anything else. When she finally tells Matteo, he’s like ‘wow that sucks and it’s not your fault, but you can’t ignore me when you’re upset.’ Like?? Maybe cut her a little more slack dude, she was literally just raped. 

Secondly, one of the unrealistic aspects of the ending is that Matteo just happens to be rich so he can say, ‘oh don’t worry about getting a job, we can just be together and money doesn’t matter!’ How is he rich? He’s a landlord. It’s okay, though! He’s a good landlord! He’s fighting gentrification! By being a landlord! Especially coming right after the ‘sorry you were raped but don’t ignore me’ conversation, this just left a bad taste in my mouth. Matteo is supposed to be a good guy, we’re supposed to be happy. I wasn’t.

Like I said above, this is still a good book. I still recommend it. I just couldn’t love it and have trouble looking past its faults.


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My Year of Rest and Relaxation [review]

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My Year of Rest and Relaxation by Ottessa Moshfegh
Published by Penguin Press on July 10, 2018
my rating: 3 stars
Goodreads avg:
3.73 (as of 2022-03-22)
Spoiler-free review

Goodreads | Bookshop

Life was fragile and fleeting and one had to be cautious, sure, but I would risk death if it meant I could sleep all day and become a whole new person.

This had been recommended to me by my friend Libby for the 12 in 12 Challenge, but it had been on my TBR since 2018 and I was looking forward to reading it. Friends of mine had very much enjoyed it and I thought the concept was interesting: the narrator decides that she wants to sleep for an entire year. So she does. Or she tries, at least. Using a cocktail of downers, she sleeps as much as possible.

I enjoyed the writing in this at a technical level, but I was just never as invested as I wanted to be. It felt like a bit of a slog, and I found myself not wanting to pick it back up except to finish it so I could move on to something else. Perhaps part of this is Moshfegh’s extremely real portrayal of depression. Real depression can be real hard to read, as it digs into your brain and pulls you down with it.

The narrator is incredibly unlikeable, something that is never a dealbreaker for me in a book since I love reading about messy women. Basically I’m that meme that’s like “I support women’s rights. But I also support women’s wrongs.” And this woman has a lot of wrongs. Unfortunately I just didn’t find them interesting in the way I normally do. I was bored by her poor relationships and her cold facade.

The end, though, that end was a punch in the gut. It pulled things together for me in a way I wasn’t quite expecting. Although I don’t fully understand what Moshfegh was doing here, I do appreciate the novel she gave us and I am intrigued enough to give her other works a try.

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A Libertarian Walks Into a Bear [review]

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A Libertarian Walks Into a Bear by Matthew Hongoltz-Hetling
Published by PublicAffairs on September 15, 2020
my rating: 2.5 stars
Goodreads avg:
3.86 (as of 2022-03-12)
Spoiler-free review

Goodreads | Bookshop

Many times I’ve heard that it’s dangerous to let bears get acclimated to people, I’ve never been told what now seems clear to me — that it’s at least equally dangerous to let people get acclimated to bears.

As someone who grew up not far from Grafton (the American Town mentioned in the subtitle), I absolutely had to read this. A town taken over by libertarians and bears? How did I miss this?? As it turns out, I believe the bear situation came to a head once I had already left the state for college (I was gone from 2010-2020). But in reading the book, I was entirely unconvinced by its main premise. The libertarian project did not seem, to me, to have any connection with the changing behaviors of New Hampshire’s black bear population. This is even shown directly by the author when he talks about increasing bear sightings, break-ins, and attacks in other towns. Bears in general are spending too much time around humans (and vice-versa) and their populations are skyrocketing, forcing them to move into civilization for resources. Hasn’t this been the case for years with many predatory animals?

Certainly the libertarian group who moved to Grafton made a lot of changes to the town that had some negative outcomes, but I wasn’t convinced that the town itself was very solid to begin with, either. I found myself bored by the historical pieces and didn’t understand the inclusion of some stories. I just think Hongoltz-Hetling’s writing is really not for me. When talking about the long ago history of Grafton, he mocked the colonists for… being semi-illiterate? In the 1700s. Yeah. I also didn’t like the way he talked about some of the current residents; I got a real “haha look at these weirdos” vibe whenever someone was a little more odd than expected. He even made a comment about how badly he thought some of them smelled that seemed poorly phrased to me.

There is certainly some interesting stuff in here, but I really struggled to unearth it around Hongoltz-Hetling’s jabs and meanderings. This really could have (and should have, in my opinion) been a longform piece. Or two longform pieces! Since the two topics just do not connect strongly enough in my mind. An effort was made here, but I remain unconvinced by it.


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Dune [review]

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Dune by Frank Herbert
Published by Macmillan Audio on May 17, 2007 (originally 1965)
my rating: ★★★ (3 stars)
Goodreads avg:
4.25 (as of 2022-01-24)
Spoiler-free review

Goodreads | Bookshop


I can see the appeal of this, but it wasn’t really my thing. Listening to the audiobook helped a lot except how distracting I found the switch between narration and full cast. Sometimes the general narrator would read out the dialogue and sometimes the individual actors would, for no discernible reason. Paul was like THE most boring character, which reinforced how I felt about him when I watched the movie. Watching the new movie before reading did honestly help me understand the book more (and reading afterwards helped me understand the movie more as well). Honestly I wish the whole book had been focused on Jessica, she was truly the coolest character. I briefly considered continuing the series but the next book is about more PAUL, so I think I’m going to pass. Also, it was incredibly distracting how Herbert constantly described how fat the Baron was, and I hated how he played into the ‘predatory gay’ trope, but I guess it was written in the 60s.

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My Favorite Half-Night Stand [review]

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My Favorite Half-Night Stand by Christina Lauren
Published by Gallery Books on December 4, 2018
my rating: ★★★ (3 stars)
Goodreads avg:
3.79 (as of 2022-01-15)
Spoiler-free review

Goodreads | Bookshop


I wish I had liked this more, but I definitely didn’t dislike it. If the miscommunication trope is not your jam, I highly recommend you skip this one. The heroine is very out of touch and noncommunicative when it comes to feelings in general, and romance is no exception. That’s what ended up frustrating me here, most of the conflict stemmed from her deceiving the hero and then being too afraid to talk about it. I also just didn’t connect enough with either of them. There were also a couple unchallenged comments about weight/food that I didn’t appreciate, but it wasn’t a huge deal. Thankfully it was a quick and easy read overall. I think there are definitely loads of people this will work for, but I found it a solid ‘meh.’

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The Lost Village [review]

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The Lost Village by Camilla Sten transl. Alexandra Fleming
Published by Minotaur Books on March 23, 2021
my rating: ★★★ (3 stars)
Goodreads avg:
3.56 (as of 2021-10-27)
Spoiler-free review

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disclaimer: I received an advanced copy of this book from NetGalley and the publisher in exchange for review consideration. All of the opinions presented below are my own. Quotes have been taken from the advanced copy and are subject to change upon publication.

The comps for this were spot on — it truly is Midsommar meets Blair Witch Project, but somehow less compelling than either of the two. It was incredibly readable, but really fell apart in the last act for me. There was a hint of a paranormal element that just wasn’t fully explored in any way, and some plot points that I wish had been expanded upon were just glossed over. By the end, I just kind of felt like “that’s it?”

The treatment of mental illness in this was also… not great. I did like that the author addressed how draining it can be to be the sole support of a friend in the midst of crisis, but that was canceled out by writing off an entire character as psychotic and violent because they [checks notes] take abilify.

The concept itself was really interesting and could have turned out so much cooler with some more thought-out writing. I will say that I got pretty creeped out at some parts and it was an incredibly atmospheric read. This would be a fun horror read if you’re not looking for anything too well put together.

(SPOILERS HERE)
Side note — I got huge queer vibes between Alice and Emmy and was so disappointed when nothing happened between them. I thought it was obvious that they were in some kind of intense queerplatonic relationship with unspoken (or forgotten?) feelings between the two of them and can’t believe that wasn’t the case.


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The Empress of Salt and Fortune [review]

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The Empress of Salt and Fortune (The Singing Hills Cycle, #1) by Nghi Vo
Published by Tor.com on March 24, 2020
my rating: ★★★ (3 stars)
Goodreads avg:
4.07 (as of 2020-03-13)
Spoiler-free review

Goodreads | Bookshop | Author’s Website


Obviously are reviews are subjective, but I want to emphasize that all my ‘issues’ with this book are purely personal preference. I think this was well-written and it is clearly beloved by many! I just didn’t really jive with the writing style, it’s very much a story-inside-a-story and I had trouble parsing it all out. The prose is truly beautiful though, and the characters are all distinct and interesting. I did feel like a lot of the relationships were implied rather than spelled out; I tagged this as ‘polyamorous’ and don’t even know if that’s canon but it is how I read it personally.

I’ll definitely be recommending this even if it didn’t quite work for me, and while I don’t intend to continue the series I’ll still be keeping an eye out for Vo’s future works.


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The Light Brigade [review]

The Light Brigade by Kameron Hurley
Published by Saga Press on March 19, 2019
my rating: ★★★ (3 stars)
Goodreads avg:
3.96 (as of 2020-07-21)
Spoiler-free review

Goodreads IndieBound | Author’s Website


“Starting to think communism is better than being dead.”

This was certainly, uh, a novel. This was my last read of the Hugo noms for this year and while I absolutely agree with its inclusion on the list, I can’t say I particularly loved this book. The nonlinear timeline is extremely confusing, in part because this is first person narration and the MC also has no idea what’s going on. It’s also just a confusing concept, period. The lack of linearity and large-ish cast also made it difficult to keep characters straight.

I did find a great deal of it to be compelling enough to keep me glued to my kindle, but also hit some spots where I was ready for us to wrap things up. I’m also not a huge fan of war narratives and felt like it hit a point where Hurley was hitting me over the head with her messages; on the other hand, a lot of the fascist elements were frighteningly timely. There was some interesting stuff done with gender, but I just didn’t get why it was handled the way it was; it would have been far more interesting to have a gender neutral MC than to wait until the final act to reveal the MC’s gender.

I guess I’m just not fully convinced by this one. I’ll definitely be recommending it to hard sci-fi fans and those who like war stories, but it wasn’t a big hit for me.


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