Currently Reading: May 2018

Hi, readers!

Happy Friday! Anyone have any exciting reading plans? I’m hoping to make some good progress on the books featured below. I haven’t made a lot of time for reading so far this month, and I’m hoping to remedy that before May ends. Today I’m sharing the four books I’m currently reading. Do you like to read more than one book at a time? I find it helps keep me reading because I always have something to choose from and all the books are different.

Let’s get to those books!

Killing the Black Body by Dorothy Roberts

This is a really powerful, difficult, and necessary read, particularly for white people. Only by learning how black women’s reproductive rights have been challenged, diminished, and ignored throughout history can we do better in the future. I’ve read a little over 100 pages and am hoping to catch up this weekend. I’ll definitely post a full review when I’m finished.

Love in a Fallen City by Eileen Chang

I’ve only finished one of the novellas in Fallen City, but I really liked it! It’s great to read books in translation and be exposed to new cultures, customs, and traditions. Chang’s writing almost has a dry wit to it, which makes for some very insightful reading about China. I’ll post a full review here when I finish.

The Poppy War by R. F. Kuang

I only recently started The Poppy War but I’m enjoying it so far. I’ve heard from multiple people and sources that this is a violent and traumatic read, so please do your own research before starting this book if that might affect you negatively. Also, while this book stars a teenager, it is most definitely not YA. This book is for adults. I’ll post a full review when I’m finished and will share more about any content warnings.

You Think It, I’ll Say It by Curtis Sittenfeld

This short story collection is the May pick for Reese Witherspoon’s book club! I’m really enjoying the stories thus far. They’re about people and the different kinds of relationships we have with one another, including spouses, friends, and family. I’ll definitely share my review here once I finish these short stories.

That’s it for today! Have you read any of these books? What are you reading lately?

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Review: What I Saw and How I Lied by Judy Blundell

My Rating: 2 / 5 stars

Verdict: Buy Borrow Bypass

Synopsis (from Goodreads):

When Evie’s father returned home from World War II, the family fell back into its normal life pretty quickly. But Joe Spooner brought more back with him than just good war stories. When movie-star handsome Peter Coleridge, a young ex-GI who served in Joe’s company in postwar Austria, shows up, Evie is suddenly caught in a complicated web of lies that she only slowly recognizes. She finds herself falling for Peter, ignoring the secrets that surround him . . . until a tragedy occurs that shatters her family and breaks her life in two.

My Thoughts:

For such a short book, I thought the plot dragged on for the first two-thirds of the story until What I Saw becomes a very different book during the last third. Many of the plot developments felt entirely unnecessary and unrealistic. Anyone paying a smidgen of attention will spot the “tragedy” coming from a mile away and feel totally underwhelmed. Evie’s relationship with Peter is horrendously inappropriate, regardless of the time period. A fifteen year old should never, ever be pursued by someone in their twenties. And because I was never able to look past this plot point, I felt Evie and Peter’s relationship was ridiculous and I actively wanted them to separate.

I found Evie’s characterization to be inconsistent. At times she behaved like a twelve year old, and at others was spouting profound comments like a grown adult. The characters in this story are largely forgettable and incredibly unlikeable. I felt zero sympathy for any character save the protagonist and narrator, Evie. And I only felt a little sorry for her because at fifteen, she’s only a child who shouldn’t necessarily know better. But the adults in What I Saw are awful to themselves and to one another. Evie’s mother, Beverly, was particularly frustrating as she would act under the pretense of Eve’s best interests, and then do something else to undermine Evie’s emotional health and well-being. Both of Evie’s parents are abusive and are perpetuating cycles of abuse.

I am pleased that Blundell touched on the Anti-Semitism prevalent after WWII. One storyline surrounding the Graysons reveals the hateful attitudes towards the Jewish community that still hasn’t gone away. I think Anti-Semitism is an often overlooked form of discrimination and Blundell did a good job of providing some historical context in this book for discrimination and the many shapes it takes.

Wrap Up:

Overall, I thought this book was okay. Thankfully, this is a quick read and I started and finished What I Saw in an afternoon. I liked the setting and the hints of post war glamour mixed with a still recovering country. I am left unclear as to why Blundell thought this particular story needed to be told. I would not recommend this book.

This book is…

forgettable

a coming of age story

troubling

a quick read

predictable

This book contains content warnings for…

sexual assault of a minor

Publisher: Scholastic Press

Genre: young adult

Page Count: 284

ISBN: 0439903467

Available here from IndieBound.

Have you read What I Saw and How I Lied? What YA historical fiction would you recommend?

I am an affiliate with IndieBound and as such, receive a tiny commission should you choose to click through any of the above links and purchase the book(s). Thank you for supporting A Word is Power!

Review: The Astonishing Color of After by Emily X.R. Pan

My Rating: 3 / 5 stars

Verdict: Buy Borrow Bypass

Synopsis (from Goodreads):

Leigh Chen Sanders is absolutely certain about one thing: When her mother died by suicide, she turned into a bird.

Leigh, who is half Asian and half white, travels to Taiwan to meet her maternal grandparents for the first time. There, she is determined to find her mother, the bird. In her search, she winds up chasing after ghosts, uncovering family secrets, and forging a new relationship with her grandparents. And as she grieves, she must try to reconcile the fact that on the same day she kissed her best friend and longtime secret crush, Axel, her mother was taking her own life.

Alternating between real and magic, past and present, friendship and romance, hope and despair, The Astonishing Color of After is a novel about finding oneself through family history, art, grief, and love.

My Thoughts:

Astonishing Color handles suicide and depression quite well. Leigh’s mother Dory was never written as being ‘broken’ or ‘at fault.’ She was receiving medical care and was supported by her immediate family. I was not a huge fan of the magical realism in this story but I think that’s more about a personal preference than anything else. I also wish that the secondary story, about Leigh and Axel’s changing relationship, wasn’t present. I read this as a story about loss and grief in one family. Each time Pan cut to a memory of Leigh and Axel the plot became disjointed. This storyline felt unnecessary to the central themes.

Leigh and her parents felt very real to me. Their family dynamic genuinely reflected a family that loved one another but also was unsure how to handle some shifting circumstances. It was very clear that Leigh was surrounded by people who loved her but also had their own ideas about what was best for her.

I really enjoyed learning so much about Taiwan and Taiwanese culture. Taiwan is not often a setting in books, particularly YA books, so this was a pleasant change. It was great to learn more about Taiwan through Leigh, who was getting to know more about her family and history for the first time. I also appreciated the frank depiction of being mixed race and the uncomfortable microaggressions faced on a frequent basis. As someone who is also mixed race, I recognized the racist and inappropriate questions, stares, and insults Leigh faced.

Wrap Up:

Overall, I liked this book but I wouldn’t read it again. I had a hard time connecting with the plot and the characters because of my own backstory. My mother died several years ago and I was unable to get on board with some of the magical realism in this story as a result. I did enjoy the colorful writing, exploration of a new culture, and the focus on mental health. I don’t think I would recommend this to someone who was young when their parent died, but otherwise I would recommend this book. It’s worth noting here that this book is incredibly well reviewed on Goodreads and I am clearly of the minority opinion.

This book is…

imaginative

colorful

slow-moving

full of magical realism

a coming of age story

This book contains content warnings for…

suicide

depression

Publisher: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers

Genre: young adult

Page Count: 472

ISBN: 031646399X

Available here from IndieBound.

Have you read The Astonishing Color of After? What book about refugees would you recommend?

I am an affiliate with IndieBound and as such, receive a tiny commission should you choose to click through any of the above links and purchase the book(s). Thank you for supporting A Word is Power!

5 4 3 2 1 – #16

5 Articles I’m Reading

Check out this great interview with Elaine Castillo over at Asian American Writers’ Workshop.

Did you know that Jane Austen is often cited in court?

Jane Austen and mansplaining. Need I say more?

LitHub ranked the best 90s Shakespeare screen adaptations and I have to say, they’re pretty spot on!

The New York Review of Books has a great article on Julia de Burgos, Puerto Rico’s greatest poet. Admittedly, I’d never heard of her before, but I really like her work!

4 Shows/Movies I’m Watching

Face/Off

L.A. Confidential

Mission: Impossible II

Westworld

3 New to Me Books

All We Ever Wanted by Emily Giffin

By the Book by Julia Sonneborn

You Think It, I’ll Say It by Curtis Sittenfeld

2 Books I’m Currently Reading

The Astonishing Color of After by Emily X.R. Pan

What I Saw and How I Lied by Judy Blundell

1 Quote

“After, when the sea will curl violently

They will say: “it is the fatal conscience of that girl,

She had many sins because she always lived in verse

And what you do on earth, on earth you pay for.”

-from “After,” by Julia de Burgos

I am an affiliate with IndieBound and as such, receive a tiny commission should you choose to click through any of the above links and purchase the book(s). Thank you for supporting A Word is Power!

Memoir Recommendations

Hi, readers!

Today I’m sharing five memoir recommendations. I don’t read a lot of nonfiction, but when I do, I prefer to read memoirs. Memoirs offer a fascinating glimpse into a different existence and set of problems. I really enjoy reading about someone else’s life, whether their life events are extraordinary or mundane. And the books featured here today certainly run the gamut of ordinary and not so ordinary. I’ve loved all the books mentioned below and I think you will, too!

Let’s get to those books!

The Bright Hour: A Memoir of Living and Dying by Nina Riggs

This is an emotional read about one woman’s terminal cancer diagnosis and how it impacted her life. I unashamedly cried while reading Riggs’s story as her journey is similar to those of the countless people dealing with cancer. The Bright Hour is beautifully written and offers stunning commentary on life, death, and living.

Happiness: The Crooked Little Road to Semi-Ever After by Heather Harpham

Keeping with the theme of medical related memoirs, Happiness is the story of one family’s tumultuous experiences of living with a sick child. Harpham writes eloquently about fate, choice, and family. Happiness was the April pick for Reese Witherspoon’s book club and I previously reviewed this book. You can read my review here.

Hunger: A Memoir of (My) Body by Roxane Gay

Hunger is a difficult book to describe and also a difficult book to read. Gay holds nothing back as she recounts stories from her childhood that influenced her interactions and feelings toward food and her own body, including a horrific gang rape. This is a short book and a very necessary read, as Gay’s writing will lead you to confront your own experiences surrounding your body.

Tell Me Everything You Don’t Remember: The Stroke That Changed My Life by Christine Hyung-Oak Lee

This is a uniquely written story about a woman who suffered a serious stroke in her 30s. By reflecting on her traumatic medical experiences, Hyung-Oak Lee comments on the fleeting nature of memory, moving on, and recovery. I previously reviewed this book and you can read my review post here.

Wishful Drinking by Carrie Fisher

Now this one is just plain fun! Wishful Drinking is the story of Fisher’s life. This book will make you laugh out loud and groan alongside Fisher as she recounts the bizarre, unfortunate, and purely outlandish events that happened in her life. It’s a super quick read that I highly recommend!

That’s it for today! Do you enjoy reading memoirs? What memoirs would you recommend?

I am an affiliate with IndieBound and as such, receive a tiny commission should you choose to click through any of the above links and purchase the book(s). Thank you for supporting A Word is Power!

Review: The Map of Salt and Stars by Jennifer Zeynab Joukhadar

My Rating: 4 / 5 stars

Verdict: Buy Borrow Bypass

Synopsis (from Goodreads):

This rich, moving, and lyrical debut novel is to Syria what The Kite Runner was to Afghanistan; the story of two girls living eight hundred years apart—a modern-day Syrian refugee seeking safety and a medieval adventurer apprenticed to a legendary mapmaker—places today’s headlines in the sweep of history, where the pain of exile and the triumph of courage echo again and again.

It is the summer of 2011, and Nour has just lost her father to cancer. Her mother, a cartographer who creates unusual, hand-painted maps, decides to move Nour and her sisters from New York City back to Syria to be closer to their family. But the country Nour’s mother once knew is changing, and it isn’t long before protests and shelling threaten their quiet Homs neighborhood. When a shell destroys Nour’s house and almost takes her life, she and her family are forced to choose: stay and risk more violence or flee as refugees across seven countries of the Middle East and North Africa in search of safety. As their journey becomes more and more challenging, Nour’s idea of home becomes a dream she struggles to remember and a hope she cannot live without.

More than eight hundred years earlier, Rawiya, sixteen and a widow’s daughter, knows she must do something to help her impoverished mother. Restless and longing to see the world, she leaves home to seek her fortune. Disguising herself as a boy named Rami, she becomes an apprentice to al-Idrisi, who has been commissioned by King Roger II of Sicily to create a map of the world. In his employ, Rawiya embarks on an epic journey across the Middle East and the north of Africa where she encounters ferocious mythical beasts, epic battles, and real historical figures.

A deep immersion into the richly varied cultures of the Middle East and North Africa, The Map of Salt and Stars follows the journeys of Nour and Rawiya as they travel along identical paths across the region eight hundred years apart, braving the unknown beside their companions as they are pulled by the promise of reaching home at last.

My Thoughts:

The two plot lines and time periods worked really well in this book. We spent enough time with each story to get to know the characters well and to feel invested in the overall plots. The parallels between the two stories well well crafted. Both Nour and Rawiya experience terror, heartache, love, and courage. I did prefer Nour’s present day storyline because of its relevance to the recent refugee crisis. Salt and Stars goes a long way toward detailing what a refugee might experience and the ways in which current aide systems are failing the very people they’re trying to support.

Nour was definitely my favorite character. I loved her honesty and her inner thoughts. Having suffered considerable loss, Nour speaks and thinks eloquently about grief, loss, and love. She holds stories, especially the stories her father taught her, very near and dear to her heart. Her relationships with her family felt very real to me, especially as someone who is also one of three daughters. These family dynamics felt genuine because love is beneath all of their interactions. It’s even clear that this family loved and misses their father, who also loved them, based on the ways in which they reflect upon their grief and try to find a new way forward.

Admittedly, I have not read many books about the Middle East, which was one of the reasons I did enjoy this book. Salt and Stars takes place in a few Middle Eastern countries and I learned a lot about different cultures, languages, and geographies. And with the two different plot lines, this book felt like an opening into a whole new world. One of which still exists and the other was like a window to the past. I loved that none of the characters looked like me and spoke different languages. Salt and Stars reads like a love letter to Syria and the wonderful people who call it home.

Wrap Up:

Overall, I really enjoyed this book! I found the story to be very compelling and engaging. And the writing is just so incredibly beautiful! This was a book that I thoroughly enjoyed reading and absolutely needed to finish. I didn’t cry like I thought I might, but I was very caught up in the high stakes plot and character decisions. I would highly recommend this book, especially if you love stories about families.

This book is…

lyrical

poignant

moving

beautiful

creative

Publisher: Touchstone

Genre: historical fiction

Page Count: 368

ISBN: 1501169033

Available here from IndieBound.

Have you read The Map of Salt and Stars? What book about refugees would you recommend?

I am an affiliate with IndieBound and as such, receive a tiny commission should you choose to click through any of the above links and purchase the book(s). Thank you for supporting A Word is Power!

Book Recommendations for Graduates

Hi, readers!

It’s that time of year again: graduation season! There are two college graduations happening in my family this spring and I’ve been excitedly picking out the perfect books for their graduation gifts. Because I think we all know that books are a great present for any occasion! Today I’m sharing four books that would make great gifts for graduates. Some of these might seem surprising, but I promise, they’re on this list for good reason!

Let’s get to those books…

The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath (or your own favorite book)

I think there’s something to be said for gifting someone your own favorite book, along with a note explaining why it’s so special to you. The Bell Jar would make an excellent choice, though, as the protagonist is on the cusp of college and struggling with mental health and identity. The Bell Jar is one of my personal favorites and you can read about my other favorites in this post here.

Braving the Wilderness by Brené Brown

My first experience reading Brown was with this book last year. In Wilderness, Brown divulges what it takes to truly and authentically be yourself and how to interact with the world around you. And the answers are nothing like you’d expect. I found myself nodding along to every single page. I think this book should be a must read for everyone and would be an excellent choice for someone about to step onto a new path.

Make Trouble by John Waters

This one’s a little more fun, but it still packs a punch! Make Trouble contains words of wisdom from Waters’s speech to the Rhode Island School of Design. His speech went viral because it speaks to the reality of living life as a creative. But I think this book would be a great choice for a graduate regardless of their major or career path. Waters’s text is a call to action and a push towards changing the world.

Spinster: Making a Life of One’s Own by Kate Bolick

Okay, hear me out on this one. Spinster is a great memoir of one woman’s journey to embrace the word ‘spinster’ by making and loving a life of her own choosing. This book profiles a few other famous women who never married and Bolick draws parallels between them and herself. I think this book is inspirational and challenges the reader to think about their own life and how much they’re enjoying it.

That’s it for today! What will you gift to a graduate?

I am an affiliate with IndieBound and as such, receive a tiny commission should you choose to click through any of the above links and purchase the book(s). Thank you for supporting A Word is Power!

TBR: May 2018

Hi, readers!

Happy May! This month, I’m committing to reading books written only by authors of color. I’m doing this in part to boost my own reading stats, as I set a goal to read more books by authors of color this year. You can read more about my 2018 reading goals in this post and in this first quarter follow up. I’m really excited about the books I’m sharing in today’s post! Some of these have been on my shelves for some time now and I’m eager to dive in, finally.

Here are six books I’m hoping to pick up this month:

The Astonishing Color of After by Emily X.R. Pan

This YA fantasy/magical realism story is about a young girl who travels to Taiwan to meet her maternal family after her mother commits suicide. Astonishing touches on grief, culture, family history, and love. This book comes very well reviewed and I’m sure it will be quite the tearjerker!

Dread Nation by Justina Ireland

Here’s another YA story! Combining historical fiction and sci-fi, Ireland tells the tale of a young black woman named Jane, who was born just before zombies walked during the Civil War. Nation also comes highly rated and should be an interesting reimagining of our country’s past.

I Am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter by Erika L. Sánchez

Daughter follows Julia and the impact on her family of a horrible accident that killed her older sister. This book takes place in Chicago, which is where I’m from, and tenderly looks at the cultural norms and experiences of one Mexican family, and how much courage it takes to truly be yourself.

Killing the Black Body by Dorothy Roberts

Full disclosure: I did start this book several weeks ago, but was bogged down by other books and personal events and never made any real progress. I want to get back in my habit of reading one non-fiction book per month, and I this will be an excellent choice for May. This book takes a hard look at the reproductive rights of black women in America and I know will be both shocking and informative.

Love in a Fallen City by Eileen Chang

Earlier this year I was gifted a copy of Literary Witches, which profiles women writers both famous and less so. It was through this book that I discovered Eileen Chang, who was born in 1920. Love in a Fallen City is a short story collection that focuses on love, the balance of family life, and sexuality. I enjoy reading one short story collection throughout the month, as that extra time allows me to savor each story and consider the collection as a whole.

The Map of Salt and Stars by Jennifer Zeynab Joukhadar

This well-reviewed historical fiction novel just came out yesterday! Map follows two girls living 800 years apart, each searching for home. Their journeys parallel in what I’m sure will be heart wrenching ways. This story is about family, the Syrian refugee crisis, and adventure.

That’s it for today! What books are you hoping to read in May?

I am an affiliate with IndieBound and as such, receive a tiny commission should you choose to click through any of the above links and purchase the book(s). Thank you for supporting A Word is Power!
Posted in TBR

Reading Wrap Up: April 2018

Hi, readers!

It’s that time again! Today I’m sharing my reads from this past month as today is the last day of April. I didn’t read as many books this month, mainly because I finished two 500+ Page books. And those take a lot of time! I’m looking forward to getting back to my regular reading schedule next month. I’ll first share this month’s reading stats and then move on to highlight the books themselves.

This month I read…

Books: 6

Books by women: 5 / 6

Books by PoC: 2 / 6

Favorite pick of the month: Little Women by Louisa May Alcott

Now, onto the books!

The Belles by Dhonielle Clayton

This book was on my radar for a long time. I mentioned it in my Anticipated Winter Books post and was fortunate to have an ARC. The Belles is a fun, detailed, and adventurous first novel in a new YA series. I gave this book 4 out of 5 stars and you can read my review here.

The Cruelest Month by Louise Penny

At this point, you know how much I love Louise Penny! This mystery book was no exception and I look forward to how the story develops moving forward. I gave this book 4 out of 5 stars and you can read my review here.

Happiness: The Crooked Little Road to Semi-Ever After by Heather Harpham

Happiness was the April pick for the Reese Witherspoon book club. This is a beautiful memoir about one family and their tragic and tumultuous years while their daughter was sick. Happiness is memorable, engaging, and absorbing. I gave this book 4 out of 5 stars and you can read my review here.

Liar’s Candle by August Thomas

This was a highly anticipated new release by a debut author. Liar’s Candle is a thriller set in Turkey that had a plot bombshell every ten pages. I finished this mainly to see how all the pieces fit together. Overall, the story was fine, but I would not recommend it. I can also see this story being adapted for film or TV, and at times it felt like the author was already preparing for that. I gave this book 3 out of 5 stars.

Little Women by Louisa May Alcott

This was a reread for me and I loved it even more the second time around! Little Women is a beautiful story about the March family and the ups and downs in their lives. I gave this book 5 out of 5 stars and you can read my review here.

The Odyssey by Homer, translated by Emily Wilson

Honestly, I still can’t believe I finally finished this book! This is a fun, adventurous, and memorable story that I would highly recommend reading. But don’t be afraid to take your time with it. I gave this book 4 out of 5 stars and you can read my thoughts about The Odyssey in this post.

That’s it for this month! What books did you finish this month?

I am an affiliate with IndieBound and as such, receive a tiny commission should you choose to click through any of the above links and purchase the book(s). Thank you for supporting A Word is Power!

5 4 3 2 1 – #15

5 Articles I’m Reading

Be sure to watch the trailer for the upcoming HBO series, Sharp Objects, based on the novel by Gillian Flynn!

Did you see this interview with Tracy K. Smith and Jacqueline Woodson?

Four Latina authors talk about the diversity problem in the romance novel industry.

Rebecca Solnit asks, Whose Story (and Country) Is This?

Shondaland gets at to the heart of how America became the way it is in 2018.

4 Shows/Movies I’m Watching

Brooklyn 99

Chef’s Table

A Quiet Place

Scandal

3 Quotes

“Only the very weak-minded refuse to be influenced by literature and poetry.”

Cassandra Clare

“Think before you speak. Read before you think.”

Fran Lebowitz

“Until I feared I would lose it, I never loved to read. One does not love breathing.”

Harper Lee

2 Books I’m Currently Reading

Liar’s Candle by August Thomas

She Caused a Riot by Hannah Jewell

1 New to Me Books

Every Other Weekend by Zulema Renee Summerfield

I am an affiliate with IndieBound and as such, receive a tiny commission should you choose to click through any of the above links and purchase the book(s). Thank you for supporting A Word is Power!