Wednesday, December 30, 2020

Review: Mexican Gothic

Mexican Gothic Mexican Gothic by Silvia Moreno-Garcia
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I waited on the hold list for this book for 16 weeks so I didn't quite read it during the season I'd hoped, but this is a decent Gothic novel set in the mountains/cliffs in a silver mining village in Mexico. Noemí is sent there by her father to check on her cousin, who married one of the men in that family.

I'd say this has some genuinely scary stuff and plenty of elements warranting content warnings so do your research, plus some general ick factor based around a plot point I will not reveal. I do believe the book and author deserve the attention this year; it's the second book by her I read in 2020.

View all my reviews

Tuesday, December 29, 2020

Reading Envy 209: Best Reads of 2020 with Guest Menagerie

Jenny invited past guests and members of the Reading Envy Readers group in Goodreads to contribute their best reads of 2020. In true Reading Envy fashion, books were not necessarily published in 2020. We always like to hear if you read a book because you heard about it on the podcast!

Download or listen via this link: Reading Envy 209: Best Reads of 2020

Subscribe to the podcast via this link: Feedburner
Or subscribe via Apple Podcasts by clicking: Subscribe
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Or listen via Stitcher
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New! Listen through Google Podcasts

Books discussed: 

Jenny's full list of 5-star reads for 2020
Sovietistan by Erika Fatland
The Empire of Gold by S. A. Chakraborty
The Only Good Indians by Stephen Graham Jones
Deacon King Kong by James McBride
Drive Your Plow Over the Bones of the Dead by Olga Tolkarzcuk, translated by Antonia Lloyd-Jones
One Hundred Twenty One Days by Michèle Audin, translated by Christiana Hills
The Eighth Life by Nino Haratischwili, translated by Charlotte Collins and Ruth Martin
Tender is the Flesh by Agustina Bazterrica translated by Sarah Moses
Mama Day by Gloria Naylor
Milkman by Anna Burns
The Idiot by Fyodor Dostoevsky
Born a Crime by Trevor Noah
War & Peace by Leo Tolstoy
The Glass Hotel by Emily St John Mandel
A Boy and His Dog at the End of the World by C.A. Fletcher
Not Without Laughter by Langston Hughes
Transcendent Kingdom by Yaa Gyasi
The Dutch House by Ann Patchett
Girl, Woman, Other by Bernardine Evaristo
The Shadow King by Maaza Mengiste
Fiebre Tropical by Juliana Delgado Lopera
The Last Best League by Jim Collins
The Mercury 13 by Martha Ackman Lauren
The Bridge of Beyond by Simone Schwarz-Bart, translated from the French by Barbara Bray
How to Hide an Empire: A History of the Greater United States by Daniel Immerwahr
Aftershocks of Disaster: Puerto Rico Before and After the Storm ed. by Yarimar Bonilla and Marisol LeBron
Letters: Summer 1926 by Boris Pasternak, Maria Tsvetaeva, and Rainer Maria Rilke, translated from German and Russian by Margaret Wettlin and Jamey Gambrell

Other mentions:

Discussion of The Only Good Indians on the Shelf Wear Podcast
Discussion of Drive Your Plow... on the Book Cougars Podcast
Discussion of Drive Your Plow... on the Book Cougars Goodreads group


Stalk us online:

Jenny at Goodreads
Jenny on Twitter
Jenny is @readingenvy on Instagram and Litsy
If you want to hear more from one of the guests who appeared on this episode, go to the episode guide and do a search.

All links to books are through, where I am an affiliate.

Monday, December 28, 2020

Review: Nights When Nothing Happened

Nights When Nothing Happened Nights When Nothing Happened by Simon Han
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The Cheng family moves to Plano, Texas in 2003, settling into suburbia. The father is a photographer, but has what I would call ptsd about intimacy. The mother is an engineer and works many hours with international teams. Jack, the son, spent his younger childhood in China with his grandparents and one night saves his little sister Annabel when she goes outside in the freezing cold, he thinks to sleepwalk. The story rotates between the family members where is becomes clear that all of them understand events differently, and some ideas originally presented as facts may not be. The children are underparented and this leads to a major event that disrupts the entire family, bringing their new identities into question.

This is on the long but not shortlist of the Tournament of Books. I read it from my public library on my new Kindle Oasis (a gift, not an advertisement.)

View all my reviews

Sunday, December 27, 2020

Review: The Memory Monster

The Memory Monster The Memory Monster by Yishai Sarid
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This was a difficult read for me and I'm not sure I quite understand what the author wants the reader to take with them. The narrator is a historian specializing on the Holocaust, and throughout the book gives tours of several camps to school groups and tourists, all of whom hold varying degrees of reverence, knowledge, and interest in the many Jewish people who were killed there. I don't know if the narrator lacks the ability to communicate the horror when he is present with it every day, or if his deep knowledge of the details accidentally comes across as being impressed, but there is definitely something disconcerting or uncomfortable in how he communicates with others. Sometimes it is his anger in how others want to believe it didn't happen, to move on, to capitalize on the horrors. All the while his family is back in Israel, where his son is bullied at school. Memory, memorial...

What isn't addressed of course, is the fact that the author is an Israeli, son of a prominent politician, who served in the Israeli army and worked for the government as a DA and was educated by some of the United States' top schools of government...yet the narrator says nothing about the memory monster of another people's displaced homeland, which to me is inherit and circles back to the narrator's musings on power and victory, whether or not this was his intention.

This is translated from the Hebrew by Yardenne Greenspan and is from Restless Books - a publisher I subscribe to precisely because they pull me out of my comfort zone with every read. I would check out a few more reviews because a few people are better able to comment on how this issue manifests in modern Israel and amongst groups of Jewish people worldwide.

View all my reviews

Saturday, December 26, 2020

Review: We Ride Upon Sticks

We Ride Upon Sticks We Ride Upon Sticks by Quan Barry
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

"It was high school. A sea of adolescence streamed by, each of us in our own way trying to both fit in and stand what if there was an open flame burning in her locker? It was nothing compares with the dark storms secretly and openly raging inside each and every one of us."

I was only in elementary school in the 1980s so I'm too young for actual nostalgia and too old for retro nostalgia. If you like girl power and 80s nostalgia, this is the book for you. The novel is about the 1989 Danvers high school field hockey team, and their best season ever thanks to ... witchcraft? It is campy and fun yet I wasn't the right reader for this book. It happens. I don't want to punish the book or author for it though. I would recommend it to a lot of different kinds of readers, actually, just not myself.

View all my reviews

Friday, December 25, 2020

Jenny's Best Reads of 2020

Every year I do a round-up of my 5-star reads. For the podcast's sake, these date from December 2019 through November 2020. On December 29th, the Best of 2020 podcast will post, featuring highlights from my list along with multiple guests sharing their top reads of the year. After December 31, I'll post my stats for the full actual calendar year. I love looking at those, but I could still read 10 books between now and then.

Unlike most book lists, these books are not necessarily published in 2020, simply read in that year.

Cover images are not the same order as below, apologies. If you are interested in my thoughts on any of these specific titles, your best bet is to find it on my Goodreads account - this list is Read2020 and sorted by rating.

Around the World - Middle East focus (plus one that snuck in from Asia 2019)

Celestial Bodies by Jokha Alharthi, translated by Marilyn Booth
Daughters of Smoke and Fire by Ava Homa
In the Shadow of the Banyan by Vadney Rattner
Our Women on the Ground by Zahra Hankir, ed.
Headscarves and Hymens by Mona Eltahawy, narrated by Mona Eltahawy
Beirut Won't Cry by Mazen Kerbaj
Home by Various, translated by Various (Two Lines Arabic poetry)

Science Fiction and Fantasy

Gideon the Ninth by Tamsyn Muir
Romancing the Inventor by Gail Carriger
Girl, Serpent, Thorn by Melissa Bashardoust
Plain Bad Heroines by Emily M. Danforth
How Long 'Til Black Future Month by N.K. Jemisin
Moon of the Crusted Snow by Waubgeshig Rice, narrated by Billy Merasty
Homesick by Nino Cipri


The Only Good Indians by Stephen Graham Jones


Get a Life, Chloe Brown by Talia Hibbert
Take a Hint, Dani Brown by Talia Hibbert


Upright Women Wanted by Sarah Gailey

Literary Fiction in Translation

Optic Nerve by Maria Gainza, translated by Thomas Bunstead
A Girl Returned by Donatella Di Pietrantonio, translated by Ann Goldstein
The Eighth Life by Nino Harataschwili, translated by Charlotte Collins & Ruth Martin
That We May Live by Various, translated by Various
Spring by Karl Ove Knausgaard, translated by Ingvild Burkey
The Discomfort of Evening by Marieke Lucas Rijneveld; translated by Michele Hutchison
The Mussel Feast by Birgit Vanderbeke, translated by Jamie Bulloch
Farewell, Ghosts by Nadia Terranova, translated by Ann Goldstein

Literary Fiction - Backlist

The Odyssey by Homer, translated by Emily Wilson, also narrated by Claire Danes
As I Lay Dying by William Faulkner
If Beale Street Could Talk by James Baldwin, narrated by Bahni Turpin
Mountolive by Lawrence Durrell
Fair Play by Tove Jansson, translated by Thomas Teal
Clea by Lawrence Durrell
Tracks by Louise Erdrich
Four Souls by Louise Erdrich
The Last Report on the Miracles at Little No Horse by Louise Erdrich

Literary Fiction - Current

Olive, Again by Elizabeth Strout
Sabrina & Corina by Kali Fajardo-Anstine
Real Life by Brandon Taylor
Hex by Lauren Dinerstein Knight
Sharks in the Time of Saviors by Kawai Strong Washburn
The Subtweet by Vivek Shraya
Ducks, Newburyport by Lucy Ellmann
The Book of Longings by Sue Monk Kidd
The Prettiest Star by Carter Sickels
Utopia Avenue by David Mitchell
Polar Vortex by Shani Mootoo
What Happens at Night by Peter Cameron
Such a Fun Age by Kiley Reid
The Shadow King by Maaza Mengiste
Memorial by Bryan Washington


Stephen Florida by Gabe Habash
Normal People by Sally Rooney

Graphic Novels and Comics

Snow, Glass, Apples by Neil Gaiman
They Called Us Enemy by George Takei, illustrated by Justin Eisinger, Steven Scott, & Harmony Becker
Apsara Engine by Bishakh Kumar Som

Nonfiction- Memoir

In the Dream House by Carmen Maria Machado
How We Fight For Our Lives by Saeed Jones
A History of My Brief Body by Billy-Ray Belcourt
Eat a Peach by David Chang and Gabe Ulla, narrated by David Chang
My Autobiography of Carson McCullers by Jenn Shapland

Nonfiction - Other

The Sound of a Wild Snail Eating by Elisabeth Tova Bailey
Writing Wild by Kathryn Aalto
On Lighthouses by Jazmine Barrera, translated by Christine MacSweeney
My Grandmother's Hands by Resmaa Menakem
Tides by Jonathan White
The Selected Works of Audre Lorde by Audre Lorde
Just Us by Claudia Rankine
Oak Flat by Lauren Redniss; narrated by Lauren Redniss, Darrell Dennis, Kyla Garcia, Kimberly Guerrero, Hillary Huber, Ann Marie Lee, Elizabeth Liang, Crystie Lightning


Postcolonial Love Poem
by Natalie Diaz
An American Sunrise: Poems by Joy Harjo
13th Balloon by Mark Bibbins
Homie by Danez Smith
Junebat by John Elizabeth Stintzi
How to Fly (in Ten Thousand Easy Lessons) by Barbara Kingsolver
Blizzard: Poems by Henri Cole
Together in a Sudden Strangeness Alice Quinn, ed.

Tuesday, December 15, 2020

Reading Envy 208: Thriving in Marginalia with Lauren

It's the last regular episode of the year, featuring frequent guest Lauren. We talk reading around the world, different ways of interacting with other readers, poetry, and more. I know there is a slight sound issue and we think it is internet connection related. I took out of it as much as I could but every once in a while it arises mid-sentence. We will try to do better next time!

Download or listen via this link: Reading Envy 208: Thriving in Marginalia.

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
Or listen via Stitcher
Or listen through Spotify 
New! Listen through Google Podcasts

Books discussed: 

On a Truck Alone, to McMahon by Nabaneeta Dev Sen
Reading the Ceiling by Dayo Forster
Ursula K. LeGuin: The Last Interview edited by David Streitfeld
My Autobiography of Carson McCullers by Jenn Shapland
An American Sunrise by Joy Harjo

Other mentions:

Dune by Frank Herbert
Dune (feature film, forthcoming)
The Moon of the Crusted Snow by Waubgeshig Rice
Chef by Jaspreet Singh
The Dispossessed by Ursula K. Le Guin
The Lathe of Heaven by Ursula K. Le Guin
Always Coming Home by Ursula K. Le Guin
The Farthest Shore by Ursula K. Le Guin
National Book Award - Lifetime Achievement Award, Ursula K. Le Guin
Worlds of Ursula K. Le Guin
*Columbus, GA (I called it Columbia the first time, sorry)
The Ballad of the Sad Cafe by Carson McCullers
The Member of the Wedding by Carson McCullers
The Heart is a Lonely Hunter by Carson McCullers
Books on the Go podcast - American Sunrise
Crazy Brave by Joy Harjo
When the Light of the World was Subdued edited by Joy Harjo
Want by Lynn Steger Strong

Related episodes:

Episode 083 - Slowing Down and Rereading with Julie Davis
Episode 097 - Blank Spaces with Lauren Weinhold
Episode 123 - Godlets and Forests with Lauren Weinhold
Episode 133 - To Understand the World with Lauren Weinhold
Episode 138 - Shared Landscape with Lauren Weinhold 
Episode 147 - Bonus Poetry Recommendations with Lauren
Episode 161 - Women in Translation Month Recommendations with Lauren
Episode 163 - Fainting Goats with Lauren
Episode 186 - This is Gravity with Jeff
Episode 189 - Surreal Superpowers with Tim
Episode 197 - Surly Magnificence with Lauren

Stalk us online:

Lauren at Goodreads
Lauren is @end.notes on Instagram
Jenny at Goodreads
Jenny on Twitter
Jenny is @readingenvy on Instagram and Litsy

All links to books are through, where I am an affiliate. I wanted more money to go to the actual publishers and authors.

Sunday, December 13, 2020

Review: Want

Want Want by Lynn Steger Strong
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is the story of a woman juggling two jobs and two kids while she and her husband are filing for bankruptcy; one of her oldest friendships keeps coming to mind for reasons that become more clear. It's kind of like Severance without the zombies, with the added responsibility of children, but the same daily grind feeling.

I actually enjoyed it, a very strong capture of the 2010s especially in more expensive places like NYC. I read it because it is on the Tournament of Books long list, it was short, and I could get it from the library without a wait. I feel like there is a lot to discuss with Want but that people who hate relationship novels are going to hate it. (I, on the other hand, love a good relationship novel!) We'll see.

View all my reviews

Wednesday, December 9, 2020

Review: Reading the Ceiling

Reading the Ceiling Reading the Ceiling by Dayo Forster
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Ayodele is turning 18 and is selecting a man to have sex with.
I don’t want to wait for this falling-in-love business, or aim for passion, even though everyone everywhere – books, films, magazines – makes it seem like the ultimate. I want to get this sex thing over and done with so my life can move on.
The novel is written in three sections following what would happen if Dele follows three different scenarios. It's not quite choose your own adventure in feeling, although the consequences are at times surprisingly long-reaching. It's like a coming of age story combined with an exploration of all the contextual factors a young person might face in The Gambia - economics, education, religion, marriage, children, loss, relocation, class, etc.

The voice in the writing is vivid and entertaining and it reads quickly. I like how details in the background that happen in one story happen again but not exactly the same and yet you need to know what came in the first version to understand the rest; this introduces a bit of complexity the author could have avoided with three distinct stories but I feel makes the reading experience better. The story is also very international as Dele has a Chinese friend, has travel possibilities that are wide-ranging (America, UK, or "just" Dakar....)

View all my reviews

Tuesday, December 8, 2020

Review: Almanac of the Dead

Almanac of the Dead Almanac of the Dead by Leslie Marmon Silko
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

It was one of my goals to read more indigenous authors in 2020, but I've decided to withhold judgment on Leslie Marmon Silko until I've read her other works. I know better than to punish a writer or a novel for not being what I wanted but this doesn't match the cover blurb or what I was hoping for. Instead of a family or community saga saturated in characters from various indigenous backgrounds, it is a novel about government corruption, police corruption, drug trafficking, people trafficking, unethical business practices, and people who place no value on lives other than their own. Most of the characters are white men and the author puts the reader inside their narratives, leaving me reading from uncomfortable perspectives page after page after page. By the time I got back to the characters I initially felt invested in, I didn't care as much about them after they'd been absent for 500 pages.

Most of the novel takes place in Tuscon but some characters and chapters are in Mexico, elsewhere in Arizona, maybe California. Current events are eco-terrorism, the early hints of the Internet (the novel was originally published in 1991), the AIDS crisis, and the ongoing commercial failures of the industries who had moved into Tuscon and Phoenix.

There is an underlying sense that those who are indigenous have developed various ways of coping with the dominant population (some comply, some become corrupt, some plan revolution, some stick to themselves) and the novel actually ends in a somewhat hopeful way, but it's a heck of a journey to get there. This book is dark and reminded me of the experience reading 2666.

The underlying premise according to the publisher blurb is this fragmented text handed down from ancestors to these elderly sisters but it really played such a minor role - I would have loved to see it more significantly a part of the text. With how much attention is given it in the beginning I was left without feeling it had done much. Same with many of the early characters, honestly. I think the author may have tried to do too much and just ended up not doing much. Publishers Weekly didn't disagree with me.

CW rape, murder, suicide, drugs, harm to children, harm to animals, kidnapping, etc.

View all my reviews

Friday, December 4, 2020

Review: The Bamboo Stalk

The Bamboo Stalk The Bamboo Stalk by Saud Alsanousi
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Continuing my focus on the Middle East, this is my first read from Kuwait! José is the child of a mother from the Philippines who worked for a family in Kuwait when she became pregnant, and the father is the son of the family for which she is working. José's grown up being told he will go live with his father in Kuwait when he turns 18, and this is his journey between cultures, languages, and religions. He also has to navigate a situation where his Kuwaiti family doesn't want to acknowledge him because of the family's reputation, which is why he and his Mother returned to the Philippines in the first place. He looks more Filipino which also creates some challenges in Kuwait.

He is José in one country and Isa in another. His mother named him after José Rizal, and there are epigraphs from Rizal at the start of each section. José also visits a historic site connected to Rizal that had me looking more into Filipino history and landscape.

People from the Philippines work all over the world, and this is the first novel I've read that lives in this reality. There are multiple Filipino characters in Kuwait in this novel, not just in service roles like José's mother but working in the mosque, attending university, and more.

This is the first novel from Kuwaiti writer Saud Alsanousi. The prose is simple and straightforward, which probably comes from the author's experience as a journalist. The writing style makes the 500 pages a breeze, and to me it feels and reads more like YA so I have added it to that bookshelf. I have spent two years focusing my reading on Southeast Asia so it was nice to have this connector piece of a novel to this year's reading.

View all my reviews

Wednesday, December 2, 2020

Review: Untold Night and Day

Untold Night and Day Untold Night and Day by Bae Suah
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

"Just finish it," I chided myself. "It's only 160 pages, come on!" And thus I persisted.

Halfway through, last night, I drifted off into upright couch sitting deep sleep, where I had four intense nightmarish dreams in a row, and apparently moaned throughout (not in a good way.)

And I DO blame this book, which I can't make any sense of. I can't tell what's real or what's not. I can't understand how what seems imagined or historical in one scene is real in another. I don't understand how the characters seem to switch places and identities and also move between real and imagined (they also seem lost and confused.) I don't understand what is meant to be a deep connection to The Blind Owl by Sadegh Hedayat, a short novel of similar tone I read earlier this year and also didn't understand.

The translator Deborah Smith has obviously gone deep with this author and this feverish style; apparently the author is considered an outsider in Korean lit as well. I might point you first to her translator note, which is the last few pages, before reading the novel. I give the translation efforts 5 stars.

View all my reviews

Tuesday, December 1, 2020

Books Read November 2020: 296-330

Five star reads (links are Amazon affiliate)

296. Beirut Won't Cry by Mazen Kerbaj ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ (Hoopla eBook, my review)
297. To Keep the Sun Alive by Rabeah Ghaffari ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ (personal copy; my review)
298. Here for It by R. Eric Thomas ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ (physical ARC; my review)
299. Together in a Sudden Strangeness Alice Quinn, ed. ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ (eARC from Edelweiss; my review)
300. Migrations by Charlotte McConaghy ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ (eARC from NetGalley; my review)
301. We Love Anderson Cooper by R.L. Maizes ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ (physical ARC; my review)
302. Simmer Down by Sarah Smith ⭐️⭐️⭐️ (eARC from NetGalley; my review)
303. Luster by Raven Leilani ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ (personal copy; my review)
304. Howl's Moving Castle by Diana Wynne Jones, narrated by Jenny Sterling ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ (Hoopla audiobook; my review)
305. Spirit Run by Noé Álvarez ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ (physical ARC; my review)
306. Burnt Sugar by Avni Doshi ⭐️⭐️⭐️ (eARC from Edelweiss; my review)
307. Moon of the Crusted Snow by Waubgeshig Rice, narrated by Billy Merasty ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ (Hoopla audiobook; my review)
308. The Twelve Dogs of Christmas by Lizzie Shane ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ (eARC from Edelweiss; my review)
309. The Silence by Don DeLillo ⭐️⭐️ (eARC from Edelweiss; my review)
310. Algorithms of Oppression by Safiya Umoja Noble ⭐️⭐️⭐️ (library copy; my review)
311. Wintering by Katherine May, narrated by Rebecca Lee ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ (Volumes app; my review)
312. Boyfriend Material by Alexis Hall ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ (eARC from publisher; my review)
313. My Autobiography of Carson McCullers by Jenn Shapland ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ (physical ARC from publisher; my review)
314. The Girl Who Fell to Earth by Sophia Al-Maria ⭐️⭐️⭐️ (Hoopla eBook; my review)
315. Music for the Dead and Resurrected by Valzhyna Mort ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ (eARC from Edelweiss; my review)
316. One Life by Megan Rapinoe, narrated by Megan Rapinoe ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ (Volumes app; my review)
317. I Want to Be Where the Normal People Are by Rachel Bloom ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ (eARC from NetGalley; my review)
318. Fire on the Island by Timothy Jay Smith ⭐️⭐️⭐️ (physical ARC; my review)
319. Jack by Marilynne Robinson ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ (eARC from Edelweiss; my review)
320. Why I Held Your Hand by Augusta Reilly ⭐️⭐️ (eARC from NetGalley; my review)
321. Pizza Girl by Jean Kyoung Frazier ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ (Libby eBook; my review)
322. Interior Chinatown by Charles Yu, narrated by Joel de la Fuente ⭐️⭐️⭐️ (Volumes app; my review)
323. The Beadworkers: Stories Beth Piatote ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ (physical ARC from publisher; my review)
324. Oak Flat by Lauren Redniss; narrated by Lauren Redniss, Darrell Dennis, Kyla Garcia, Kimberly Guerrero, Hillary Huber, Ann Marie Lee, Elizabeth Liang, Crystie Lightning ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ (Volumes app; my review)
325. American Cheese by Joe Berkowitz ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ (eARC from Edelweiss; my review)
326. Kim JiYoung, Born 1982 by Cho Nam-Joo Jamie Chang ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ (Libby eBook; my review)
327. A Death in the Rainforest by Don Kulick ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ (Hoopla eBook; my review)
328. The Big Door Prize by M.O. Walsh ⭐️⭐️⭐️ (eARC in NetGalley; my review)
329. All Systems Red by Martha Wells, narrated by Kevin Free ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ (Audible audiobook; my review)
330. Red Pill by Hari Kunzru ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ (library copy; my review)

Books Read: 35 

audiobook: 7
eBook: 18
print: 10

library: 9
review: 23
personal: 3

Around the World: 8
Book Clubs: 2
Booker Prize: 1
Graphic novel: 1
Indigenous: 3
Memoir: 5
Middle East: 3
Non-fiction November: 11
Read the World: 3
Sci-fi/fantasy: 3
Tournament of Books: 6 (wow!)

Reading Envy 207: Innocent and Ruthless with Tricia Deegan

Jenny records across the sea to talk to artist and English teacher Tricia Deegan. If you hear any words that seem stretched out, blame the internet under the ocean! I did what I could in the editing but there are a few unavoidable blips. Nothing too bad, so please enjoy this new guest to the show.

Download or listen via this link: Reading Envy 207: Innocent and Ruthless

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
Or listen via Stitcher
Or listen through Spotify 
New! Listen through Google Podcasts

Books discussed:

Grid of books featured on episode 207

We Have Always Lived in the Castle by Shirley Jackson
Farewell, Ghosts by Nadia Terranova; translated by Ann Goldstein
Remarkable Creatures by Tracy Chevalier
Travels with a Tangerine by Tim Mackintosh-Smith
The Warmth of Other Suns by Isabel Wilkerson

Other mentions:

Leila Slimani
Delpine De Vigan
The Years by Annie Ernaux
Blindness by Jose Saramago
Dracula by Bram Stoker
Elena Ferrante
Grimm's Fairy Tales
The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson
Girl with a Pearl Earring
by Tracy Chevalier
The Essex Serpent by Sarah Perry
Burning Bright by Tracy Chevalier (William Blake)
The Lady and the Unicorn by Tracy Chevalier
Native Son by Richard Wright
Caste by Isabel Wilkerson
Becoming by Michelle Obama
These Truths by Jill LePore
Stamped from the Beginning by Ibram X Kendi
Stamped! Racism, Antiracism, and You by Ibram X Kendi and Jason Reynolds
A Black Women's History of the United States by Daina Ramey Berry and Kali Nicole Gross
Kim JiYoung, Born 1982 by Cho Nam-Joo, translated by Jamie Chang
City of Girls
by Elizabeth Gilbert
The Invisible Life of Addie Larue by V.E. Schwab

Related episodes:

Episode 071 - Bad Priest, Good Priest, No Priest with Scott
Episode 098 - Just a Bunch of Stuff that Happened with Bryan Bibb

Stalk us online:

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

All links to books are through, where I am an affiliate. I wanted more money to go to the actual publishers and authors.

Monday, November 30, 2020

Review: Kim Jiyoung, Born 1982

Kim Jiyoung, Born 1982 Kim Jiyoung, Born 1982 by Cho Nam-Joo
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Ever since The Vegetarian became a massive hit (for good reason,) I have read a string of novels by female writers from Korea translated into English that capture elements of the lived experience of women navigating a society that is still very male-centric. Sometimes they do this through fantasy and the weird, or in this case, with documented research accompanied by endnotes for each chapter.

The sources include data points of sexism in the workplace, of female-exclusive hiring practices, pay disparities and more, like this:
"In 2014... one in five married women in Korea quit their job because of marriage, pregnancy, childbirth and childcare, or the education of their young children."
This seems didactic, no? Until you read the article on the BBC website about the outcry to the book (and movie made from it) since the book was published in Korea in 2016. It is accused of being "highly subjective" and making "sexist generalisations against men." The author's use of facts to back up her everywoman's story provides its own defense. And maybe she felt it would have more staying power in fictionalized form (certainly it was read by many people and became a best seller) - still for my own personal tastes, this is another example of characters and plot employed solely to teach or convince the reader something, and I was left wanting more (while still supporting the ideas.)

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Sunday, November 29, 2020

Review: American Cheese: An Indulgent Odyssey Through the Artisan Cheese World

American Cheese: An Indulgent Odyssey Through the Artisan Cheese World American Cheese: An Indulgent Odyssey Through the Artisan Cheese World by Joe Berkowitz
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Squeezing this in for Nonfiction November - this book looks at American cheese (all cheese, not just the bright orange variety I always called "plastic cheese.") The author examines the industry, visits cheese conventions, cheese competitions, and follows people who are training to be cheesemongers. He visits small producers trying to make names for themselves, including Rogue River Creamery before they won the award for best cheese in the world...I blame this book for the taste of it that I felt compelled to order! But the author is hitting the American Cheese stride right as the world is starting to pay attention, so that's good timing, or it would have been, if only tariffs hadn't gone up that negatively impacted the export of cheese, the import of the manufacturing equipment required to make it, and more people are forgoing travel at all much less culinary travel to obscure cheese producing locations. (We have traveled some of the WNC Cheese Trail so we know obscure mountain cheese locations!)

This book is more about the people surrounding cheese and the obscure culture of the beliefs and practices of those people. It's like an ethnography of a separate culture living amidst the rest of us. And while you will learn about some of the cheeses of America at the same time, it's not really the focus. The author was funded to travel to write this book so he threw in a trip to France as well (smart although his description of the French cheese made me more curious about their cheese than ours, particularly some of those Alpine cheeses. Sign me up!)

I still enjoyed most of the book aside from a few strange word choices (kibbutz for a not even obscure use but unknown and I don't think it works; yeet in a way that should not be used unless you are a tiktok teenager- how will the old people who buy this book at Costco know what he means? I had a review copy so perhaps they fixed it.)

A similar book to this, about French cheese and really focuses on the cheese that I would recommend, perhaps as a companion book to this one, is The Whole Fromage: Adventures in the Delectable World of French Cheese by Kathe Lison, which remains my favorite single ingredient book I've read.

I had a review copy of this from the publisher through Edelweiss. It came out October 6, 2020. You will be amazed how much cheese you can order off the internet to have delivered to your house because this book will make you hungry.

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Review: Oak Flat: A Fight for Sacred Land in the American West

Oak Flat: A Fight for Sacred Land in the American West Oak Flat: A Fight for Sacred Land in the American West by Lauren Redniss
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

"Oak Flat is a serene high-elevation mesa that sits above the southeastern Arizona desert, fifteen miles to the west of the San Carlos Apache Indian Reservation. For the San Carlos tribe, Oak Flat is a holy place, an ancient burial ground and religious site where Apache girls celebrate the coming-of-age ritual known as the Sunrise Ceremony. In 1995, a massive untapped copper reserve was discovered nearby. A decade later, a law was passed transferring the area to a private company, whose planned copper mine will wipe Oak Flat off the map--sending its natural springs, petroglyph-covered rocks, and old-growth trees tumbling into a void...The book follows the fortunes of two families with profound connections to the contested site: the Nosies, an Apache family whose teenage daughter is an activist and leader in the Oak Flat fight, and the Gorhams, a mining family whose patriarch was a sheriff in the lawless early days of Arizona statehood."

I understand the print version of this to have stunning visuals; I enjoyed the audio with multiple narrators. I appreciated that the issues raised are more broadly shared with various indigenous groups but I also enjoyed learning more about Apache ceremony and this one family's experiences with it.

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Review: The Beadworkers

The Beadworkers The Beadworkers by Beth Piatote
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

These short stories, some poetics, and one play/script type story focus on relationships between people in the northwest that have some kind of indigenous background, most often Nez Perce. The author includes some Nez Perce language and some elements of traditional tales (Coyote may show up) but for the most part the stories are contemporary people navigating their lives.

I was immediately drawn in by the cover because Mt Hood was my closest mountain growing up and my morning bus ride often included a view of the sun coming up behind it. Looking closer, the image is rendered in beadwork by Marcus Amerman (beadwork is a tradition mentioned in multiple stories.)

My Mom had a close friend who grew up on the Yakama rez which is mentioned here, and I went to a few salmon bakes in my childhood, so in some ways the characters feel familiar to me. They are diverse - a wide range of rural, suburban, and urban people with shared ancestry that comes along with its own set of expectations and traditions often unknown to the non indigenous people around them, including gifts of blankets and specific locations for ceremonies. Some stories are experimental in form (one revolves around the creation of a board game) while others are more narrative. Highly recommended!

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Wednesday, November 25, 2020

Review: Interior Chinatown

Interior Chinatown Interior Chinatown by Charles Yu
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I know this just won the National Book Award and I finally read it because that included it on the Tournament of Books long list, but I really did not enjoy reading this book. The entire structure and setup is satire? allegory? and the characters aren't real in the sense that characters are, they stand in to play a didactic role about how Asians, particularly the Chinese most of the time but also all Asians, are seen in America. As this was not news to me, I did not particularly enjoy the four hour audiobook lecture about it.

I have liked other books by Charles Yu but experimental fiction will always carry the risk of people liking it or not. I mean, I feel pressured to give it three stars because I like him otherwise and it's winning awards and other people find it very clever but cleverness is not enough to sustain a novel for me and it will never be. I'm a substance over style person.

One thing I noticed in listening to the audiobook is how much the rhythm of his writing feels like George Saunders. I challenge anyone who cares to go back and listen to Tenth of December as read by the author and see if you can hear what I mean. The audiobook narrator of this does not have George's accent, so that's not it, it's something about how the words and sentences fall. (George is also someone who I prefer when he isn't experimenting, funny....)

I listened to this in the Random House Audio Volumes app, where they have given me access to most of their new audiobook titles. I chose to listen since I was interested in this book due to its placement in the ToB, but honestly would not have been drawn to reading it otherwise, and only selected it because it is rather short and could accompany me while working on Thanksgiving prep. Therefore I'm not sure I'd exactly call it a review copy except to say that if they hadn't provided it I would have purchased it just the same, and then ended up even more disappointed that I'd spent an Audible credit on a book that was short yet not enjoyed. It came out way way back in January 2020, when the world felt very different, and I wonder if I would have enjoyed it more at that point in time. But even so, that was around when there were all these great Asian-American forward movies and tv shows coming out (at long last) so is this historical fiction?

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Tuesday, November 24, 2020

Review: Pizza Girl

Pizza Girl Pizza Girl by Jean Kyoung Frazier
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Electric Literature says Pizza Girl is the "The Queer Slacker Pizza Delivery Novel We’ve Been Waiting For" and I'm not even sure I can say it better than that, but I'll try.

"Her name was Jenny Hauser and every Wednesday I put pickles on her pizza." And that's how the novel PIZZA GIRL begins. I've had this book on my radar but the comparisons to Moshfegh didn't make me want to try it - but it is one of the shortest books from the Tournament of Books longlist that I could get from the library without waiting.

The main character, whose name you don't know most of the time since it's all from her perspective, recently lost her father. She bonded with a classmate at a grief group and by the time the novel starts, he's moved in with her and her Mom because she is pregnant. She is 18 and is working part-time delivering pizzas in what I like to call "regular California." The most social interaction she has comes from the people she delivers pizzas to and the lives she comes up with for them.

I enjoyed (?) the read despite some heavy handed metaphors and some random narrative tangents (usually when the story would jump to someone else's drama at the pizza place - one I had to reread three times to figure out what happened) - the mother and boyfriend seem like good people but they are not able to stop the MC from spiraling, and that journey is the crux of the plot. In the E.L. article linked above, the author talks about the role of imagination in the MC's life and where that can go wrong, and it wasn't something I particularly zeroed in on but enjoyed thinking about after finishing the novel.

As far as the Tournament of Books goes, I'm not sure this is one of the top 16 reads, however I would love a match between this book and Jack by Marilynne Robinson. Both stories revolve around a slacker type character with people around them who can see the issues but not help. The writing and focus are entirely different but they actually have more in common than not.

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Sunday, November 22, 2020

Review: Jack

Jack Jack by Marilynne Robinson
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Friday, the 2021 Tournament of Books Long list came out, and I had a healthy number of books from it already on hand that I hadn't read yet. So I picked up this book, which I had from the publisher through Edelweiss but was a bit delayed in reading.

This book fits in with all the Gilead novels, which tell pieces of the same story from different perspectives. I was surprised when Lila came out and definitely didn't expect another one after that. Since a lot of people ask, you can read this as a standalone in the sense that it has its own start and finish, but it will mean a lot more in the context of the other three. For me, it had been years since I read the others and I was a bit hazy on the details.

And Robinson doesn't repeat herself. Since she assumed we know three versions of Jack's story already, she jumps in with a disagreement he is having with a woman, and the reader does not immediately know what is happening. All is revealed, but time is not entirely linear in Gilead and we will revisit some of the story a few times, from different angles.

Robinson is obsessed with Calvinism and other deep regions of thought where religion and philosophy intersect. I went to see her speak once and she was a lot more deep and narrow than I was particularly interested in, if I'm being honest. This novel is full of that type of rumination. Jack spends a lot of time reading in the public library so his vocabulary is rich and full of poetic meanderings. Della teaches English, so she contributes her own ideas. The entire 1/3 and many other chunks of the novel are long conversations of these two characters talking. And reading friend, not a lot happens, until it does.

It was nice to shift a bit from character study to ideas, but I didn't get nearly enough from Della's perspective. Some of her choices seemed strange and I don't really understand her well. Does this mean we will end up with a fifth novel? Would Robinson dare to try to write in the voice of an African American character? I'm not sure she should but I'm also not sure she should have written this novel without it, if that makes sense.

Regardless, this has a lot to discuss, making it a great book to be in the Tournament of Books.

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Review: One Life

One Life One Life by Megan Rapinoe
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I am not the audience for this book as I'm not really that impressed by or interested in sportsing, much less women's soccer, haha. But I tend to like to listen to accounts from people who are the best, and Megan Rapinoe will not hesitate to tell you she is! I probably appreciated the social justice pieces of this the most - the cost of being out at the Olympics, the cost of a kneel, etc.

I had a copy from the publisher as an eBook but ended up listening to the audio since it was read by the author. This is somehow the second book this year I've read where the author had dated Abby Wambach. This came out November 10.

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Thursday, November 19, 2020

Review: The Girl Who Fell to Earth

The Girl Who Fell to Earth The Girl Who Fell to Earth by Sophia Al-Maria
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I read this as part of my focus on the Middle East this year. Sophia Al-Maria is a Qatari-American artist, filmmaker, and writer who moved back and forth between Doha and Puyallup as a child. Her father is actually Bedouin and within his generation his family had to pick a more permanent place to live and stop moving through the peninsula (which was not always a positive - she describes her aunts as watching a lot of television.) And then Sophia/Safiya strikes out on her own, which was exciting too.

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Review: Wintering: The Power of Rest and Retreat in Difficult Times

Wintering: The Power of Rest and Retreat in Difficult Times Wintering: The Power of Rest and Retreat in Difficult Times by Katherine May
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Can there be a more perfect book to read as the year winds down? Katherine May looks at wintering from a number of perspectives including viewing the aurora borealis, the time she lost her voice, seasonal affective disorder, and more, including how most of nature rests for transformation in the winter. And we should too!

This is a new title so might be good for gifts for your older, reflective relative. Maybe alongside a book of poetry by Mary Oliver or Barbara Kingsolver.

I had a review copy of the print but ended up listening to the audio, which I found very soothing.

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Tuesday, November 17, 2020

Reading Envy 206: Black Sheep with Tina Porubsky

Jenny welcomes a new guest - Tina - and we chat about reading more books from our own shelves and great books we've read recently. Jenny also asks about Tina's knitting, a new hobby she enjoys alongside reading.

Download or listen via this link: Reading Envy 206: Black Sheep

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Books discussed:

The House of Broken Angels by Luis Alberto Urrea
Silences So Deep by John Luther Adams
A River in Darkness by Masaji Ishikawa, translated by Risa Kobayashi
Beowulf: A New Translation by Maria Dahvana Headley
Two Wings to Fly Away by Penny Mickelbury
The Shadow King by Maaza Mengiste

Other mentions:

Rizzoli & Isles novels by Tess Gerritsen
I Contain Multitudes by Ed Yong
The Gene by Siddhartha Mukherjee
2 Knit Lit Chicks (podcast)
RBG dissent sweater and Empower cowl
Into the Beautiful North by Luis Alberto Urrea
The Devil's Highway by Luis Alberto Urrea
The Hummingbird's Daughter by Luis Alberto Urrea
Queen of America
by Luis Alberto Urrea
PBS Reads July 2019
Urrea Facebook page
The Writer's Library edited by Nancy Pearl and Jeff Schwager
Pachinko by Min Jin Lee
Convenience Store Woman by Sayaka Murata, translated by Ginny Tapley Takemori
Mimi Patterson books by Penny Mickelbury
Smart Podcast, Trashy Books - Beverly Jenkins, episode 421
Burnt Sugar by Avni Doshi
Beneath the Lion's Gaze by Maaza Mengiste
Lost Children Archive by Valeria Luiselli
Tell Me How it Ends: An Essay in 40 Questions by Valeria Luiselli
New York Society Library - Maaza Mengiste
Celestial Bodies by Jokha Alharthi
Magic Lessons by Alice Hoffman

Related episodes:

Episode 088 - Author Head Space with Sara Moore
Episode 133 - To Understand the World with Lauren Weinhold
Episode 160 - Reading Plays with Elizabeth
Episode 161 - Women in Translation Month Recommendations with Lauren
Episode 183 - Birthing Rabbits with Jessica
Episode 189 - Surreal Superpowers with Tim
Episode 203 - Backlist with Marion

Stalk us online:

Tina at Goodreads
Tina is @godmotherx5 on Instagram and Litsy
Jenny at Goodreads
Jenny on Twitter
Jenny is @readingenvy on Instagram and Litsy

All links to books are through, where I am an affiliate. I wanted more money to go to the actual publishers and authors.

Friday, November 13, 2020

Review: Burnt Sugar

Burnt Sugar Burnt Sugar by Avni Doshi
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I am grateful to the publisher for granting me access to this book early since it doesn't come out in the USA until January but was on the Booker Prize shortlist. I very much wanted to read it since it has to do with an ashram, a mother-daughter relationship, and as one Instagram friend called him, a "Mr. Big" character.

Well this book was excruciating. A mother who raised her child poorly, inflicting endless bodily trauma on her through neglect while she pursued a guru in an ashram is now old and forgetful and that same daughter is faced with having to care for her. I found the details almost too much as a reader. For me there is far too much bodily horror between incredible digestive issues relayed to trauma, to regular old weight gain and not being beautiful and being viewed with disgust, to other forms of abuse I don't even want to get into. The writing also went in circles and I swear some of the story lines were left incomplete. Definitely not my pick to win the prize- I'm still rooting for Brandon Taylor and Maaza Mengiste.

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Review: Spirit Run: A 6,000-Mile Marathon Through North America's Stolen Land

Spirit Run: A 6,000-Mile Marathon Through North America's Stolen Land Spirit Run: A 6,000-Mile Marathon Through North America's Stolen Land by Noé Álvarez
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Noé Álvarez, a Mexican-American with Purépecha ancestry, participated in a 6,000-mile ultramarathon relay through North America in 2004 that sought to bring awareness and healing to indigenous peoples from Canada to Guatemala. The author also surrounds the run with more about his life - from his childhood in Yakima, Washington with parents who worked in backbreaking agricultural jobs, to flailing as a first-generation college student, to the places he created for himself after this journey. He follows up in the end with many of the other runners, and it seems to have been a transformative experience for all of them (or, these are people who are most likely to seek out such an experience.)

I liked experiencing the individual stories of the runners, the challenges of trying to pull it off for this higher purpose when individuals are not so high-minded, and various indigenous places and traditions they got to interact with along the way. (Did I watch all the videos on the internet about Purépecha language and history, mostly in Spanish? I did! They were never conquered by the Aztecs and from my limited understanding are the ancestors of the people who would attempt to reclaim land in the Zapatista movement.)

It was interesting to see North America through an indigenous, feet on the ground (literally) perspective. That lens connects to the natural world and the rich history more easily, but doesn't shy away from the tensions of borders, military movements, police presence, poverty, and control.

Side note, or personal note - the community in which I grew up in rural Oregon was heavily populated by seasonal workers, and I had several classmates who were only in school half the year until their parents were able to relocate more permanently. I grew up maybe 5 miles from at least one "migrant housing" situation. I did a project in high school where I interviewed a man who had grown up as a child of a seasonal workers and ended up going to college, etc., and was at that time working for the State of Oregon in the employment office, often assisting people who were new to the area for similar reasons. This is backbreaking work, but I never really saw it from the inside. Like most parents who hope their children will be in a better situation, both my parents didn't want us doing that kind of work. They both had to spend their summers working in agricultural jobs to help their families make ends meet, as soon as they were able, and until they either got better jobs or left home. My Dad picked beans and worked at a maraschino cherry plant. My Mom picked beans, cucumbers, and berries (but quickly found a fast food job instead!) We still picked fruit in the summer and canned/froze it for our own consumption but that is very different from the demands of the industry itself which only thrives if you can push your body to the limit as Álvarez describes his mother doing in this book. It sent me on my own path of reflection.

I believe the publisher sent this to me way back in the beforetimes, the author did a lot of virtual book talks, because it came out in March.

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Tuesday, November 10, 2020

Review: Simmer Down

Simmer Down Simmer Down by Sarah Smith
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Nikki relocates to Maui after her father's death to help her mother run a food truck serving Filipino food, and has an encounter with the new (hot, English) food truck owner who parks in her space.

I like the foodie elements and the location, the tension between the characters, but sometimes it's like the author gets sidetracked (random trip to London! Luxury resort!) and adds elements to the story that actually detract from the central romance. I also do not like epilogues especially in romance. Give me my happy ending and walk away!

Still when I needed something to read during election week insomnia, this was a fair distraction.

I had a copy of this from the publisher through NetGalley; it came out October 13, 2020.

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