Wednesday, July 17, 2019

Review: La Bastarda: A Novel

La Bastarda: A Novel La Bastarda: A Novel by Trifonia Melibea Obono
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

"The first novel by an Equatorial Guinean woman to be translated into English, La Bastarda is the story of the orphaned teen Okomo, who lives under the watchful eye of her grandmother and dreams of finding her father. Forbidden from seeking him out, she enlists the help of other village outcasts: her gay uncle and a gang of “mysterious” girls reveling in their so-called indecency. Drawn into their illicit trysts, Okomo finds herself falling in love with their leader and rebelling against the rigid norms of Fang culture."

This is a quick read but immediately immerses you into the Fang cultural expectations through Okomo's eyes, because she has so many limitations beyond her control. I had to do some reading about Equatorial Guinea, and I think my first surprise was that the novel was translated from the Spanish! The fighting between wives was also reminiscent of The First Wife by Paulina Chiziane.

La Bastarda was on the Over the Rainbow list from ALA last year, but since I was a non-fiction judge I didn't get to it until now. So I have a copy from the publisher, somewhere, but I ended up reading it in Hoopla (mea culpa.)

View all my reviews

Review: The Blind Earthworm in the Labyrinth

The Blind Earthworm in the Labyrinth The Blind Earthworm in the Labyrinth by Veeraporn Nitiprapha
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

"Watch the book, it's trying to be stuffed." (Bing translated excerpt from one of the many Thai reviews. I was curious about them but most are nonsensical using an online translator, unfortunately.)

I was excited to read another newish translation by a female Thai author! It is based on the tropes of Thai soap operas, which I know nothing about, but that probably explains the death scenes, relationships, and ghosts. The central story is two sisters and a boy they pull into their family. I struggled a bit with the non linear nature (one character is introduced in his death scene and everything with him moves backwards from that) but enjoyed the details of flora/fauna/food/music/history. The translator note at the beginning is fascinating too. This was not an easy book to translate! But I am glad I got to read it.
.
This counts for two categories of #readingenvysummerreading - something blue and something translated! Arguably it might almost count for swampy considering that it is set along a river outside Bangkok.

View all my reviews

Tuesday, July 16, 2019

Reading Envy 160: Reading Plays with Elizabeth

Elizabeth is fresh a teaching seminar on plays so we talk about that for a bit before delving into books we have read and enjoyed recently. We have some books traversing the wild parts, books for pride, and more.

Download or listen via this link: Reading Envy 160: Reading Plays
with Elizabeth
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Listen via Stitcher
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Books discussed:



In the Distance by Hernan Díaz
Lost Children Archive by Valeria Luiselli
The Line Tender by Kate Allen
Orange World and Other Stories by Karen Russell
October Mourning: A Song for Matthew Shepard by Leslea Newman
On Earth We're Briefly Gorgeous by Ocean Vuong


Other mentions:

Common Ground - University of Houston
Venus by Suzan-Lori Parks
Ruined by Lynn Nottage
Water by the Spoonful by Quiara Alegría Hudes
Manahatta by Mary Kathryn Nagle
Sun Sisters by Vasanti Saxena
In the Next Room, or The Vibrator Play by Sarah Ruhl
Cost of Living by Martyna Majok
The Glass Menagerie by Tennessee Williams
A Raisin in the Sun by Lorraine Hansberry
Matterhorn by Karl Marlantes
The Things They Carried by Tim O'Brien
The Story of My Teeth by Valeria Luiselli
Books on the Go podcast - Lost Children Archive
Tell Me How it Ends by Valeria Luiselli
Stories of Your Life and Others Ted Chiang
Camp ToB
The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate by Jacqueline Kelly
St. Lucy's Home for Girls Raised by Wolves by Karen Russell
Swamplandia by Karen Russell
Devotions by Mary Oliver
Heather Has Two Mommies by Leslea Newman
A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara
Night Sky with Exit Wounds by Ocean Vuong
Sounds like Titanic by Jessica Chiccehitto Hindman
Lot by Brian Washington
Bangkok Walks to Rain by Pitchaya Sudbanthad
In the Shadow of the Banyan by Vaddney Ratner



Related Episodes:

Episode 033 - An Undulating Thrum with guests Ruth and Elizabeth
Episode 061 - Never Do That to a Book with Elizabeth
Episode 136 - Six Pack with Elizabeth


Stalk us online:

Elizabeth at Goodreads   
Jenny at Goodreads
Jenny on Twitter
Jenny is @readingenvy on Instagram and Litsy

Sunday, July 7, 2019

Review: The Best American Poetry 2019

The Best American Poetry 2019 The Best American Poetry 2019 by David Lehman
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I have to give this anthology 5 stars because the best in it is surely 5 stars, and if not to me, to someone else. My main source of conflict is that I find I need the series editor or even this volume editor to define their use of the word "American." I assumed USA, since that is the fairly standard use of American on its own, while acknowledging that this has always been problematic. But two fairly prominent Canadians appear in these pages - Margaret Atwood and Leonard Cohen. Margaret is known in her disdain for America (we are always her model for dystopia, after all, love you Margaret) and Leonard is a pure Canadian who can't possibly have written any new poetry in the last year (except there is new work in a 2018 collection, and I need to read this - The Flame.) And if this is indeed North American, where are the first-nations poets, the trans-Chinese-immigrant poets, the French translated poets from the various regions of Canada, all of whom I read extensively and loved last year? And if this is North American, where is Mexico? Why call it American if that's not the intent? I really am confused. I really think this needs clarification. I reread the preface and the intro but they are not clear.

I did enjoy the introduction by the series editor explaining how he chose the poems that "braved human connection" and were from multiple perspectives. He includes song lyrics, which I appreciated. And one of the reasons I love these anthologies is that I tend to read single-poet collections and they tend to select poems from various periodicals, which of course is often where they first appear. I prefer mine in context of a poet's work; there are other types of context that are useful - political, thematical, tribute, etc. So I don't often find poems I've previously encountered, although there are a few in this collection I've experienced in the past year.

Only one misstep in my book - the poem by Philip Schultz called "The Women's March" was nice enough, but who wants to read a poem about the women's movement by a man? Sorry, I'm certain Philip is a nice enough person, but can this truly be the most representative work? I also felt some of the really interesting female, Muslim, American+ immigrant/refugee poets are noticeably absent from the collection. Hopefully some of the voices from volumes like Halal If You Hear Me: The BreakBeat Poets Vol. 3 will surface by 2020.

My favorites included:

Six Obits by Victoria Chang (nice to have them as a set as they are sprinkled around various poetry publications otherwise)

I Invite My Parents to a Dinner Party by Chen Chen (listen to the poet read it on SoundCloud, about the eternal coming out that happens in resistant families - I loved his first collection and look forward to the next!)

Drank a Lot by Leonard Cohen (read it on the )

Virgil, Hey by Camille Guthrie (read this poem of motherhood on
New Republic)

The Undressing by Li-Young Lee (the most brainy sensual poem in existence, which I originally read in The Undressing: Poems but the individual poem can also be read at The American Poetry Review)

A Brief History of the Future Apocalypse by Rebecca Lindenberg

The Black Saint & The Sinner Lady & The Dead & The Truth by Morgan Parker (also in her collection Magical Negro, which everyone should read, you won't be sorry, but okay, you can also read it at Harper's Magazine)

Partly True Poem Reflected in a Mirror by Ocean Vuong (available on Poetry London, also read his novel - On Earth We're Briefly Gorgeous)

I had an early copy of this from the publisher through NetGalley. It is not available until September 10, 2019, but I couldn't wait!

View all my reviews

Halfway Top Ten

There is a challenge going on in Instagram to post our top ten books of the year so far. Phew, this was hard. As of yesterday I'd finished 161 books for 2019. Narrowing that to 10 titles was not easy. It's tempting to make a list of runners-up but since I post my books read every month, including images of all the five-star reads, if you want more, that's where to go.

These are in no particular order, other than a bit of backwards chronologically.


  1. Lost Children Archive by Valeria Luiselli
    This book had so many things for me - soundscapes, Stephen Feld, marital strife, interweaving story with research, plus a lot about current politics.
  2. On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous by Ocean Vuong
    The language is everything and the emotions run deep.
  3. Gone with the Wind by Margaret Mitchell
    As much as this novel is a part of American popular culture, I really had no idea what it was really about, or how it ended. Scarlett is unforgettable and I'll be thinking about this novel a long time.
  4. The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down by Anne Fadiman
    Picked for me by book club but a huge surprise favorite, about cross cultural communication, medical philosophy, and I learned a lot about the Hmong.
  5. Brute: Poems by Emily Skaja
    Amazing through and through, what a debut. And I really enjoyed reading one on <a href="http://readingenvy.blogspot.com/2019/07/reading-envy-159-reading-doorways-with.html">episode 159</a> of the podcast.
  6. A Place for Us by Fatima Farheen Mirza
    On the surface, a "typical" immigrant novel but the way it transitions into the story about the father was a move of brilliance I will not long forget.
  7. The Deeper the Water the Uglier the Fish by Katya Apekina
    A story told through the sideways glance of everyone else in the room, brilliant.
  8. Library of Small Catastrophes by Alison C. Rollins
    Another poetry volume worthy of more attention. And Rollins is a poet-librarian!
  9. The Vela by Yoon Ha Lee, Becky Chambers, S.L. Huang and Rivers Solomon
    Part of it is the format - serial audio/ebook content. Part of it is the four authors and their joint writing experience, but I just thought the story itself was interesting and timely. Space refugees.
  10. Outline by Rachel Cusk
    I dragged my feet reading this book but now think I could reread it every few years and get more out of it. In this book nothing happens and it's the best example of why this doesn't matter to me. 

What have your best reads been this year?

Saturday, July 6, 2019

Mid-Year Reading Goal Checkpoint

You can check out my original goals post to see what I was thinking of doing this year. The main reading project I took on that isn't mentioned is the TBR Explode project, which I've been updating every three months.

1. Read Asia

I'm currently reading two more books that will count for this challenge, but here is what I've read so far:

Burma/Myanmar
The Long Path to Wisdom: Tales from Burma by Jan-Philipp Sendker

China
Broken Stars: Contemporary Chinese Science Fiction in Translation edited by Ken Liu
Double Awesome Chinese Food by Margaret Li

Japan
After Dark by Haruki Murakami
After the Quake by Haruki Murakami
Blind Willow, Sleeping Woman by Haruki Murakami
My Brother's Husband V. 1 by Gengoroh Tagame  
My Brother's Husband V. 2 by Gengoroh Tagame

Laos
The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down by Anne Fadiman

The Philippines
America is Not the Heart by Elaine Castillo
The Body Papers by Grace Talusan
Monsoon Mansion by Cinelle Barnes
Patron Saints of Nothing by Randy Ribay

Singapore
Aunty Lee's Delights by Ovidia Yu

Thailand
Arid Dreams by Duanwad Pimwana
Bright by Duanwad Pimwana
The Sad Part Was by Prabda Yoon
Sightseeing by Rattawut Lapcharoensap

Vietnam
On Earth We're Briefly Gorgeous by Ocean Vuong

Friday, July 5, 2019

Review: The Book of X

The Book of X The Book of X by Sarah Rose Etter
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Cassie is born with a knot, just like her mother and grandmother. She enters a world of bullying, inadequate medical care, isolation and boredom. Outside of school her life seems intended for repetition of pain and cleaning the walls with lemons, while her father and brother work in the meat quarry, but her life is vivid with visions that provide some form of escape, although it isn't always positive. (It's fascinating to read interviews with the author because she was incredibly isolated in Iceland while writing most of this. The landscape feels unworldly in that way that only Iceland can.)

The cover is striking. When I saw it online I thought it was sunset in a valley, then I realized it's hair and a woman in the center, but now that I've read it I realize it is both and also probably the meat quarry.

The feeling of the novel kept making me think of Kassandra and the Wolf by Margarita Karapanou, mixed with The Yellow Wallpaper.

I received a copy of The Book of X from the publisher. It comes out July 16.

View all my reviews

Tuesday, July 2, 2019

Reading Envy 159: Reading Doorways with Lindy

Lindy and Jenny settle in to talk about themselves as readers and what they care most about in the books they read and love. Lindy brings three books up for awards in Alberta, and Jenny brings poems and non-fiction and one novel. We also discuss a few more ideas for the 2019 Reading Envy Summer Reading Challenge>

Download or listen via this link: Reading Envy 159: Reading Doorways with Lindy

Subscribe to the podcast via this link: Feedburner
Or subscribe via Apple Podcasts by clicking: Subscribe
Or listen through TuneIn
Or listen on Google Play
Listen via Stitcher
Listen through Spotify


Books discussed:



Insomnia Bird: Edmonton Poems by Kelly Shepherd
Brute: Poems by Emily Skaja
Welcome to the Anthropocene by Alice Major
The Flatshare by Beth O'Leary
Little Yellow House by Carissa Halton
When Wanderers Cease to Roam by Vivian Swift


Other mentions:

Nancy Pearl's Rule of 4
Reading Envy Summer Challenge
River of Teeth by Sarah Gailey (something swampy)
Fen by Daisy Johnson (something swampy)
Everything Under by Daisy Johnson
2019 Alberta Literary Awards and City of Edmonton Book Prize
Edmonton Poetry Festival
Evicted by Matthew Desmond
Normal People by Sally Rooney
Conversations with Friends by Sally Rooney
Lost Children Archive by Valeria Luiselli
Tournament of Books Camp TOB


Related Episodes:

Episode 095 - Lose the Outside World with Lindy Pratch
Episode 107 - Reading Goals 2018 
Episode 124 - Mush Creatures with Lindy Pratch
Episode 153 - Reading Envy Summer Reading Challenge


Stalk us online:

Lindy Reads and Reviews (blog)
Lindy on Twitter
Lindy is @Lindy on Litsy
Jenny at Goodreads
Jenny on Twitter
Jenny is @readingenvy on Instagram and Litsy

Sunday, June 30, 2019

Books Read June 2019: 134 - 159


Pictured: June's 5-star Reads

134. The Flatshare by Beth O'Leary ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ (eARC from Edelweiss; my review)
135. When Wanderers Cease to Roam by Vivian Swift ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ (library copy, my review)
136. Good in Bed by Jennifer Weiner ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ (Audible audiobook; my review)
137. The Ash Family by Molly Dektar ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ (eARC from NetGalley; my review)
138. If the Church Were Christian by Philip Gulley ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ (Hoopla audiobook; my review)
139. Condomnauts by Yoss ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ (personal copy; my review)
140. Passing Strange by Ellen Klages ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ (free download from Tor.com; my review)
141. Split Level by Sandra Berger ⭐️⭐️⭐️ (eARC from NetGalley; my review)
142. Wild Horses of the Summer Sun by Tory Bilski ⭐️⭐️⭐️ (eARC from Edelweiss; my review)
143. Lanny by Max Porter ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ (Hoopla audiobook; my review)
144. How to Forget by Kate Mulgrew ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ (eARC from NetGalley; my review)
145. Night of Cake and Puppets by Laini Taylor ⭐️⭐️⭐️ (Hoopla audiobook; my review)
146. Lost Children Archive by Valeria Luiselli ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ (library copy; my review)
147. Arid Dreams by Duanwad Pimwana, translated by Mui Poopoksakul ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ (Hoopla eBook; my review)
148. On Earth We're Briefly Gorgeous by Ocean Vuong ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ (eARC from NetGalley; my review)
149. The Bobcat by Katherine Forbes Riley ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ (eARC from author; my review)
150. Orange World and Other Stories by Karen Russell ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ (eARC from NetGalley; my review)
151. Trust Exercise by Susan Choi ⭐️⭐️⭐️ (library copy; my review)
152. Sapphira and the Slave Girl by Willa Cather ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ (personal copy; my review)
153. The Rainbow Comes and Goes by Anderson Cooper and Gloria Vanderbilt ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ (Hoopla audiobook; my review)
154. The Right Swipe by Alisha Rai ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ (eARC from NetGalley; my review)
155. 100 Times: A Memoir of Sexism by Chavisa Woods ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ (eARC from Edelweiss; my review)
156. All City by Alex DiFrancesco ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ (eARC from Edelweiss; my review)
157. Magic for Beginners by Sarah Gailey ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ (eARC from Edelweiss; my review)
158. The Body Papers by Grace Talusan ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ (personal copy via Restless Books subscription; my review)
159. Patron Saints of Nothing by Randy Ribay ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ (eARC from NetGalley; my review)

Total books: 26

Audio: 5
eBook: 15
Print: 6

Purchased: 5
Library: 8
Review: 13

Asia 2019: 4
Camp ToB: 2
Joint Readalong: 1
TakePrideinReading: 6
TBR Explode: 3





Review: Patron Saints of Nothing

Patron Saints of Nothing Patron Saints of Nothing by Randy Ribay
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Jay is a Filipino-american youth with one semester left of high school when he finds out his cousin in the Philippines has been killed. He convinces his parents to send him back to his aunts and uncles so he can try to figure out what happened.

Before you think this is a white savior narrative (it really isn't), I must say I was impressed by how the author used this story of a somewhat uninformed teenager to tell this story. Like many immigrant narratives, Jay doesn't feel he belongs in America, especially when coming home every day feels like coming home to the Philippines in food and cultural expectations, but then his family has insisted he learn and speak English, so in other ways he isn't Filipino enough. Traveling back to Manila he hears frequent protests that he (and his father) are the "ones who left," meaning they can't know what it's like there, and also shouldn't be making any judgments.

Since Jay and his cousin Jun are close in age, it's like getting to examine the same life if he had stayed vs if he moved away. And things obviously didn't go well for his cousin, who seems to have suffered unfairly because of President Duterte's war on "drugs" that also seem to be taking out poor, homeless, and other passersby on the side. Jay has to work hard to uncover the truth, all while living with family members that are more on board with the current administration than he ever could have expected.

This is a YA novel, but the stakes are real stakes and the main character has a lot to work out between the various conflicting opinions in the family, the true dangers he confronts while trying to find the truth, and his own grief. There is also the family and friends he left at ... home? He isn't even sure where home is. I felt the ending was meaningful and realistic.

I had a copy from the publisher through NetGalley, but it fit perfectly into my Asian reading goals for 2019. The book came out 18 June 2019.

View all my reviews

Saturday, June 29, 2019

Review: All City

All City All City by Alex DiFrancesco
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

When this novel begins, a storm is coming to New York, one bad enough that most of the people with resources have left to hole up in their "other homes," but it's New York and there are plenty who don't think any storm can really destroy the city. Superstorm Bernice hits, the waters travel farther than people expected, and don't recede. All of the sudden nobody is completely prepared to deal with the situation, and even though water is everywhere, you know the saying, not a drop to drink. And people with resources are not necessarily making humanitarian or ethical decisions, so violence and danger abound.

The story has alternating viewpoints, which is something I usually like, but there were some places where I felt it muddied the waters a little bit. I was most invested in the first character introduced - Makayla. There is a fair amount of diverse representation in this novel (racial, gender, sexuality, financial.) I like how the homeless characters are more prepared with the skills to survive in this kind of situation, ironic since their homelessness has at times been caused by the increasing gentrification of areas they can no longer afford. While we get some hints of the community that is being built moving forward, I'd actually like to see the next part of the story. I've always been more into the post than the apocalypse.

One more note - this could take place in the same universe as Severance, even if the disasters are slightly different.

I received a copy from the publisher through Edelweiss. It came out June 18th, 2019.

View all my reviews

Review: 100 Times: A Memoir of Sexism

100 Times: A Memoir of Sexism 100 Times: A Memoir of Sexism by Chavisa Woods
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Chavisa Woods tells 100 stories of harassment, discrimination, and sexual assault from her own life (age 5 - now) to show the pervasive nature of these incidents in an average woman's life. It didn't matter if she was in a Midwestern small town or New York City, drunk or sober, walking alone at night or at her place of employment. I think all women could write their own collection. I think it should be required reading.

I had a copy from 7 stories press. I can also recommend her collection of short stories - Things to Do When You're Goth in the Country: and Other Stories.

View all my reviews

Review: The Right Swipe

The Right Swipe The Right Swipe by Alisha Rai
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This isn't out until August so I kind of jumped the gun but I needed a quick romance read in my life! And a new series from Alisha Rai, no less. Like all Rai's works this has diverse characters that show how romance can deal with consent and trauma and still be steamy. It asks if there is space for a second chance in a swipe left culture, and also tackles #metoo plus CTE in professional football players. Very enjoyable!

And for the fans, these are tangentially connected to the characters in the Forbidden Hearts series.

View all my reviews

Tuesday, June 25, 2019

Reading Envy 158: TBR Explode 2

Jenny kicks off a short bonus episode with a joint readalong announcement, and covers three months of her TBR Explode project. Then she goes out to see what you have all been reading for the Reading Envy Summer Reading Challenge.

Download or listen via this link: Reading Envy 158: TBR Explode 2.

Subscribe to the podcast via this link: Feedburner
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Listen via Stitcher
Listen through Spotify



Books mentioned:



Removed from list:


April
One Foot Wrong by Sofie Laguna
Paper Cities by Ekaterina Sedia
The Founding Fish by John McPhee
Overqualified by Joey Comeau
Wireless by Charles Stross
Nation by Terry Pratchett


May
The Illusion of Conscious Will by Daniel M. Wegner
The Discovery of Heaven by Harry Mulisch
Manhood for Amateurs by Michael Chabon
The Drowned World by J.G. Ballard
The Complete Short Stories by J.G. Ballard
The Book of Negroes by Lawrence Hill


June
Air by Geoff Ryman
The Alchemy of Stone by Ekaterina Sedia
Perdido Street Station (New Crobuzon, #1) by China Miéville
A Voice Through a Cloud by Denton Welch
Chronic City by Jonathan Lethem
Half Broke Horses by Jeannette Walls  
Went ahead and read:
Blind Willow, Sleeping Woman by Haruki Murakami (March/April)
Stitches by David Small (April)
Misconception by Ryan Boudinot (April)
Alcatraz versus the Evil Librarians by Brandon Sanderson (May)


Kept on list to read - verified TBR!


Mountolive by Lawrence Durrell
Clea by Lawrence Durrell
Speak, Memory by Vladimir Nabokov
The Blood of Flowers by Anita Amirrezvan

Reading Envy Summer Reading Challenge Progress

Waterland by Graham Swift
Love by Hanne Orstavik, translated by Martin Aitken
Tentacle by Rita Indiana, translated by Achy Objeas
Space Unicorn Blues by T.J. Berry
Rising: Dispatches from the New American Shore by Elizabeth Rush
The Blue Hour by Alonso Cueto
River of Teeth  by Sarah Gailey
Passing Strange by Ellen Klages
What Did You Eat Yesterday? by Fumi Yoshinaga
What the Eyes Don't See by Mona Hanna-Attisha
Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil by John Berendt
The Murderer's Ape by Jakob Wegelius
Bluets by Maggie Nelson
Budapest by Chico Buarque
Arid Dreams by Duanwad Pimwana, translated by Mui Poopoksakul
Devil in a Blue Dress by Walter Mosley
Sea Monsters by Chloe Aridjis
The Years by Annie Ernaux
My Father's Wives by Jose Eduardo Agualusa
(his other book I mentioned is The General Theory of Oblivion)


Related Episodes:

Episode 021 - Amoebic Borders with guest Darin Bradley
Episode 069 - Evil Librarian/SFBRP Crossover Episode with Luke Burrage and Juliane Kunzendorf
Episode 131 - Tartan Noir and More with Claire Duffy
Episode 153 - Reading Envy Summer Reading Challenge


Stalk me online:

Jenny at Goodreads
Jenny on Twitter
Jenny is @readingenvy on Instagram and Litsy

Sunday, June 23, 2019

Review: Orange World and Other Stories

Orange World and Other Stories Orange World and Other Stories by Karen Russell
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This is my second favorite Karen Russell (I will always hold St. Lucy's Home for Girls Raised by Wolves as one of my favorite books.) Top stories include The Bad Graft, Bog Girl: A Romance, and The Gondoliers. All of these have some kind of conflict between humans and the natural world, from infiltrating cacti to corpses to a Florida covered in toxic water.

Here is a link to The Bad Graft in the New Yorker if you want to try it out.

At ALA Midwinter, the publisher literally gave the last galley of this to the person in front of me, but then approved me to read the eARC in NetGalley. It came out May 14 from Knopf Doubleday.

View all my reviews

Tuesday, June 18, 2019

Review: On Earth We're Briefly Gorgeous

On Earth We're Briefly Gorgeous On Earth We're Briefly Gorgeous by Ocean Vuong
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I knew this book would have an emotional wallop so I held off for a while. It's clear Ocean Vuong is drawing on his own experience in this novel, because it shares some of the sentiments and emotions I experienced in his poetry collection, Night Sky with Exit Wounds.

Oh how I love when a poet writes essays or novels. The language is powerful, the way some pieces are linear but others return to themes and core experiences is very moving. It starts out speaking to the violence in families, looks at language and belonging, moves to sexuality and connection (even when the other person is flawed,) all through the narration of "Little Dog" in a letter to his mama, one he doesn't believe she will ever read, so he can be honest.

I find some parallels with The Sympathizer by Viet Thanh Nguyen, in the sense that they both used fiction to explore their experiences leaving Vietnam and coming of age in America, but Nguyen's exploration is topical and political while Vuong explores the heart and mind. Both look at memory but the two novels are so very different.

The WaPo review by Ron Charles pointed me to the audio excerpt in SoundCloud read by the author. If your heart can take it, the audio sounds powerful, but I would have had to take even more time to listen because I find the emotional intensity a bit overwhelming. But, you know, more of that please.

I had a copy of this novel from the publisher through NetGalley. It came out June 4, 2019.

View all my reviews

Review: Arid Dreams

Arid Dreams Arid Dreams by Duanwad Pimwana
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

On the heels of reading Bright (Two Lines Press) by this same author/translator duo, I found this book of short stories that came out the same day from Feminist Press - I have to admit I was taken aback at first by how many stories featured a male character who was often obsessing over a woman, treating her like an object, or punishing her for not looking/acting like he thought she should. But there some subversion going on here where these characters are exposed for their thinking. "Kanda's Eyebrows" is probably the standout story for me in this collection, about a man who is angry that his wife has stopped wearing makeup.

While I understand the author's approach, I've probably read enough women filtered through men for a lifetime (even if in this case it is women through men through a woman) and I'd prefer to hear from the women in their own lives without the men as the filter or focus. The author seems to be trying to point out the difficulty when men believe they have a right to that control, and how quickly situations devolve. True, and yet.

I want to thank Two Lines Press for pointing me to this article by the translator of both Arid Dreams and Bright, addressing what Thai feminism looks like, and understanding how the author is seen and sees herself in relation to it. It really helped me understand the stories from a more Thai perspective.

Oh hey this counts for the Reading Envy Summer Challenge for "something translated." I found it in Hoopla.

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