Posted in Book Reviews

Book Review: The Queen of the Night by Alexander Chee

This book was a wild ride!!! It was another one of my Christmas books and I was very happy to see it! I saw this in the same bookstore as “Hidden Valley Road”, which was Old Town Books in Alexandria, Virginia. This being said, I implore you all to try and patronize your local or independent bookstores as much as you can during this never-ending pandemic. Often books from local or independent sellers can be pricier than Amazon or other larger sellers, but when I have the extra money to do so, I try to think of the higher price as part of an investment in my community. Local bookstores provide so much more for their communities than Amazon can ever do so try to support them if you can! Back to the book! As I mentioned, reading this book is a journey and it was one that I thoroughly enjoyed with some minor misgivings about the author’s style. As a novel about opera singers, it is written as a love story to the art of opera and I would highly recommend listening to the operas or just specific songs as they are mentioned in the book. I didn’t do this and I think my reading would have been richer for doing so because I am not super familiar with opera.

The book follows Lilliet Berne, a fictional soprano from the Fin de Siecle in France. The book follows her recollections of her curious ascent to the heights of operatic fame and the cost of such a journey to herself and others. I loved the story which was inspired by Jenny Lind who ended her career touring America with PT Barnum and his circus. Lilliet’s life is full of twists and turns that were delightful to explore! My only issues with the book were stylistic. Mr. Chee chooses to not differentiate his lines of dialogue from the rest of his prose which can be confusing. I did get used to it eventually but not without irritation on my part. Furthermore, Mr. Chee writes the novel in a mix of past and present which can be jarring but I didn’t take as much umbrage at this as I did with the dialogue. I really loved the story, it absolutely drew me in but I was so frustrated with Mr. Chee’s style at certain points that I almost stopped reading. I’m glad I didn’t because the novel was delicious to devour but future reader, be warned! Happy reading and please support your local bookstore if you can! (My copy of The Queen of the Night was from Vroman’s in Pasadena, a fabulous bookstore that ships nationwide!)

Posted in Book Reviews

Book Review: Hidden Valley Road by Robert Kolker

Hello again! It’s been a while; I’ve been goofing off on break and generally trying to enjoy myself before school starts again. This book was from my parents for Christmas and it was a lovely surprise. I’ve wanted to read this book ever since I saw it at Old Town Books in Alexandria, VA during the fall but held myself back from buying it at the time. I’m glad that I did because it was absolutely worth the wait! This book is the result of Kolker’s years of interviewing the Galvin family from Colorado. It’s a fantastic follow up after his last book, Lost Girls, which was a deep dive into the Long Island serial killer. This book was a great and terrible read. Kolker’s writing is delightful but the history of the Galvin family is a tragic one and it was tough just to read about it.

Hidden Valley Road tells the story of the Galvin family. The Galvins had twelve children, ten boys and two girls and six of those boys went to develop severe mental illness, mostly schizophrenia. The book follows all of the Galvin family, from telling the stories of Mimi and Don (the parents) to the heartbreaking stories of their children. Kolker also weaves in the story of the study of schizophrenia and mental illness which I found to be enormously helpful in understanding the cultural attitudes around the treatment of the six boys and the family and how that changed over their lifetimes. The Galvins’ stories were heartbreaking but ultimately hopeful and showed how one family could persevere in the face of so much. There is some description of sexual assault and domestic violence in the book that may be difficult to read for some. I did really like reading the book but some moments I had to put it down because it really heavy stuff. I came out of it with a lot of respect and admiration for those affected by mental illness. So I would recommend this one but maybe with some breaks! Happy Reading folks!

Posted in Book Reviews

Book Review: Solutions and Other Problems by Allie Brosh

It’s been a while since I’ve posted and I’m glad that I have come back to my blog. I’ve been pretty vocal about sort of struggling during the holidays and this stage in the pandemic on my other social media platforms but not so much on here. I really like to reserve my blog to be a lovely and happy place where I just get to share things that went well or things that I really like. I forget sometimes that this blog is also supposed to be a chronicle of my life and that my life has its up and downs and sometimes the downs can be really tough to deal with. I had a crazy stressful period with finals and which continued in the lead up to the holidays. I have been feeling a lot better and on steadier ground since Christmas which is a good thing for me. But that’s just a brief little blurb into why posts haven’t been quite as frequent and how that’s okay sometimes! Anyway, on to the book review! This was one of the books on my Christmas list and I did read Brosh’s first book, Hyperbole and a Half. This is something of a sequel because it discusses Brosh’s life during and after the publication of her last book but it also explores a lot of her childhood memories.

The book explores a ton of subject matter and I actually think it’s the perfect book for a pandemic, especially the weird reality that we now inhabit. Brosh’s book is essentially a meditation on herself and her life through drawing. This book is definitely not as funny as Hyperbole and a Half but I don’t think that’s a bad thing. Brosh went through a huge amount of major life events compressed into just a few years of her life and that’s a tough thing to talk or write about. I found that the last few chapters of the book were the most meaningful to me, where Brosh discusses her relationship with her self and what that now means to her. I think both of Brosh’s books are worth reading, Hyperbole for the hilarity and Solutions for the more mature and thought provoking content. There’s really not that much more to say, you’ll have to read the book if you want more! The book itself is pretty hefty, weighing much more than any other book of its size but its definitely worth the read. I read it in about a day and I loved it even if I wasn’t laughing but closer to crying while reading it. I hope that you seek this book out and let me know what you think. Happy reading!

Posted in Book Reviews

Book Review: Crescent City by Sarah J. Maas

I have a long history with Sarah J. Maas. I think I picked up her first book , Throne of Glass, when I was 12 or 13? I’ve had it on my shelf forever and absolutely adore that book. I haven’t finished catching up on that series which has seven books along with a novella but it was absolutely worth every minute spent reading those books so far. I also dipped my toe into Maas’ next series, A Court of Thorns and Roses, which is fantastic. Maas is an unparalleled writer in the YA world, both for her prolific output and the sheer delight of her novels. I am in the process of finally finishing the Throne of Glass series after a serious hiatus while waiting for the final book and for my college life to slow down and I am super excited for those books. Maas’ most recent novel is a wonder of world-building and action packed romance and I wish I could read again for the first time because I enjoyed it so much!

The novel, Crescent City, mainly follows Bryce Quinlan, a young Half-fae girl haunted by tragedy. Bryce joins forces with the breathtakingly handsome and brooding fallen angel, Hunt Athalar for the opportunity to find the murderer of Bryce’s best friend. Romance and action ensue in a read that took me two days to devour. Bryce and Hunt race through the streets of Crescent City, doing battle with the forces of evil and discovering just what is possible through love. This book is filled with twists and turns to the point of absurdity but I enjoyed every second of it. Maas is a master of fantasy fiction and this book is just proof of her skills. I would recommend this book to fiction and fantasy fans of all ages, although there are some graphic scenes so this one would not have been for twelve-year old me. Happy Reading!

Posted in Book Reviews

Book Review: Say Nothing: A True Story of Murder and Memory in Northern Ireland by Patrick Radden Keefe

I cannot remember where I first saw this book but I’ve had it on my book wish list ever since it came out in 2019. I read all 412 pages in less than two days but I also had time to spare and work to procrastinate on. I was fascinated by the premise of the book that followed the murder of a young single mother during the Troubles, but this book ended up being so much more than that. The book not only follows the aftermath of the disappearance of Jean McConville, but also paints a rich history of the birth of the Provisional IRA and their role in the most violent years of the Troubles. I was aware of the Troubles as a problematic period in the history of the UK Commonwealth and Ireland but really didn’t understand the depth of the issues that were fought over and how high or low intensity that conflict was. Before reading this book, my only experience with the Troubles was from watching Derry Girls, a Netflix comedy about teenagers coming of age as a peace plan is finally agreed upon. Coming from a place where I knew next to nothing about the Troubles, this book was an excellent primer into this tumultuous period in Irish history.

The book centers on the disappearance of Jean McConville but also intertwines the stories of most of the important figures in the Provisional IRA or the Provos. At first I was mildly confused about why Keefe was sharing the history and stories of the Provo leadership and main actors in this book, but it all made sense once Keefe got into the meat of Jean McConville’s disappearance. I really enjoyed reading this book, even though the period of history that it discusses is dark and still a recent wound for many living in Northern Ireland. Most of Keefe’s work draws upon a prodigious and mismanaged project from Boston College to create an oral history of the IRA and the Troubles. This history was not meant to have been accessed until all the participants had died, but it became a centerpiece in the legal battle to bring Jean McConville’s murderers to justice and thus became an integral part of the story. I would absolutely recommend this book to almost anyone. It may be a bit dark for some readers, but I think that just has to do with the facts of what happened in Northern Ireland during this period. I hope you get the chance to read this book and enjoy it just as much as I did! Happy reading!

Posted in Book Reviews

Book Review: American Heiress by Daisy Goodwin

I believe that this book has been on my shelf since last Christmas and here I am, eleven months later, finally getting around to reading it. I’m glad that I did because it was a wonderful way to take my mind off the stresses of the end of the semester and the wild world that we live it! Daisy Goodwin creates a lush world set in the Gilded Age and does a fantastic job of doing so. Her novel follows the young Cora Cash, the wealthiest heiress in America, and her journey to England to fulfill her mother’s ambition of marrying into the English gentry. This is a phenomenon that I’ve read a ton about because I find it super fascinating but this is the first fictional novel that I’ve read within the topic. Miss Cash not only finds love but has to navigate a complex world, completely foreign to her and I can say that this is a relatable journey! Sometimes as a West Coast girl on the East Coast, I feel like I can never get it quite right but I keep trying just as Cora does. This book was a quick read for me, I started it the night before I finished it.

Ms. Goodwin’s novel enthralled me. I was spellbound until the last few pages. I loved reading the novel but I found the ending to be supremely unsatisfactory. The curtain closed on the characters and I was still left with so many questions! I hope that you have a chance to read this so you can join me in my speculation! I found the novel to flow well but the character development was somewhat lacking. Even though the novel purported follows a maturing Cora Cash, I wasn’t able to find much maturity in Cora before the last ten pages of the novel. I don’t know if I would have been happier with a longer novel but I was not left quite satisfied. I do hope that I get the chance to read another one of Ms. Goodwin’s novels in the future but hope that it doesn’t leave me as wanting as this one did! Happy reading!

Posted in Book Reviews

Book Review: A Moveable Feast by Ernest Hemingway

So in the past few days, I finished this book and it was really a delightful escape to the Paris of many years past. A Moveable Feast was published posthumously and is a chronicle of Hemingway’s time in Paris after the First World War with his wife Hadley and the people they encountered during their adventures. The last section is devoted to F. Scott Fitzgerald and their friendship. Despite the title, there is not much feasting going on but the book contains beautiful and melancholic descriptions of Paris. I choose this book because it came highly recommended from several expatriate sites when I was looking for books about France. As it was written about life in the twenties, I’m not sure how relevant it will be for my journey to France but I really did enjoy the book. This is yet another one of my secondhand reads which I love but please, please, please go buy something full price from your local bookstore! I love saving money on books but if you can spend it, your local bookstore could really use the support with the lack of walk-in traffic these days. I know that my favorite southern California bookstore was really struggling and they ended up asking people for business which really helped! But don’t let your local bookstore get to that point please! Bookstores are a super important part of the community so please support them! Now back to Hemingway!

I have never read any of Hemingway’s work but I was aware of his very “macho” reputation and propensity for being called Big Papa. Coming into this book with those assumptions, I was absolutely floored by the tenderness and melancholy that I found in this book. Not only was Hemingway emotive in the extreme, he also recognized his own foibles and didn’t shield them from the view of the reader. I really enjoyed just reading the little vignettes about his various experiences in Paris. In other parts of the novel, he was coarse and rude and terrible but overall, he wasn’t what I expected. Perhaps because he was in Paris during a period of relative peace and was yet building up his reputation as an author, he was more free to write about his entire experience and emotions. Hemingway’s last view chapters are dedicated to his relationship with F. Scott Fitzgerald and it’s clear that Hemingway cared both a great deal for F. Scott while vehemently hating Zelda Fitzgerald. Overall, I enjoyed the book because it was very refreshing and I felt that I got to experience Paris as Hemingway did. However, as any author, Hemingway takes liberties with the personalities involved, twisting them to suit the story. I would just caution the reader to not judge all the persons presented based on Hemingway’s account of them. I would recommend this book, especially to people who read a little before bed. The chapters are more like self-contained stories and are read quickly. If you’re looking for a little literature at night, this is an excellent place to start!

Posted in Book Reviews

Book Review: My Lovely Wife by Samantha Downing

WOW!!! What a ride this one took me on! I devoured this book in a few days after finishing from Dawn to Decadence. I was desperate for a good read to take my mind on an adventure and boy did I find that here! Also, I must add a disclaimer that I loved reading this book but I also really enjoy the genre of true-crime in books, podcasts, or even television shows. If you don’t love crime or are not a huge fan of thrillers, this book will not be for you. It’s definitely got a deeper exploration into the suburban mentality that some may enjoy but it is very heavy on the crime drama and the suspense!

The book follows the perspective of the husband who has been married to his “lovely” wife Mildred for fifteen years. The pair have to hustle everyday for a place in their suburban paradise of Hidden Oaks in Florida and to raise their two children. However, their relationship takes an interesting turn when they decide to begin murdering together! Normal spousal fun right? Things take a turn for the worse when the pair resurrect a serial killer to cover their crimes and their deadly romance takes a turn for the worse.

As mentioned, I really enjoyed this one. It kept me on the edge of my seat but I was a little disappointed in the end. I felt that Millicent wasn’t as fleshed out as a character as she could have been but if she had been, the final twist wouldn’t have caught me like it did. I would recommend this but probably not to younger readers! It’s one to take on a nice long road trip or just to bring with you to the beach! Happy reading and let me know what you think if you happen to pick up a copy!

Posted in Book Reviews

Book Review: From Dawn to Decadence by Jacques Barzun

All I can say is OMG I FINALLY FINISHED!!! This book is a WHOPPER of a read and it was recommended to me by a very dear family friend. This family friend has recommended many books to me over the years and it was a treat when he was able to drop this book off for me during the early months of our societal quarantine. I started this book in April which both seems like yesterday and like a lifetime ago! This book is around 800 pages, give or take a hundred additional pages for the references and notes. I’ve been reading this in the background as I couldn’t tackle it all by itself without a serious headache. I feel very accomplished that I was able to finish it but I don’t know if I volunteer for the task again anytime soon.

This tome by Barzun is truly a masterpiece of Western cultural life. I am glad that I read this book; just by reading a few pages a day I’ve learned so much more about the history of culture in the West. While I’ve always treated culture as an interesting footnote in my historical studies, Barzun shows how culture plays such a meaningful role in shaping history and the course of the world. My biggest issue with the book was that Barzun did such an excellent job of describing the first 450 years covered in his book and did such a poor job describing the most recent years that his book purported to cover. I felt that the last fifty years have been done a great injustice by Barzun. Perhaps he was writing from a spot that made him too near to something to write objectively. Barzun’s description of the last fifty years before the close of the work, 1995, was a confused diatribe against modernity. Barzun did a wonderful job of shedding light on the cultural pathways of the west before World War 1 but after his writing is disorganized and extremely critical. Perhaps in the last fifty years, our society has descended into such a state of decadence that it will collapse but I felt that Barzun didn’t do the recent past justice. I enjoyed the experience of reading Barzun’s work but would not recommend this to be consumed by the average reader.

Posted in Book Reviews

Book Review: Three Dark Crowns

Now I’ve wanted to read this series for quite some time but books cost money and it looked like this would be a doozy of a series. I also don’t like to wait in between books so I’ll often wait to purchase parts of a series until the series is almost complete because I have a hard time remembering the details between books. This is the first book in a larger series by Kendare Blake that I believe has just concluded with the book “Queens of Fennbirn”. I saw this book at my favorite secondhand bookstore here in Baltimore, The Book Escape, when it was having a moving sale. I couldn’t wait any longer to start the series so I snatched it up and waited to dive right in. After finishing my last read, I took this off the shelf and dived into the magical world of Fennbirn and its three queens.

The concept driving the book is fascinating. The setting is Fennbirn, right before the beginning of Ascension Year for the three queens of Fennbirn. In Fennbirn, the throne is claimed by whichever of the royal triplets is able to survive the Ascension Year. This translates into an all out battle between the royal siblings and their power bases which are rooted in whatever mystical ability that have inherited. The three camps that dominate the book are the Poisoners who have raised Queen Katharine, the Temple who have raised Queen Mirabella, and the Naturists who have raised Queen Arsinoe. Unfortunately, this being the first in the series, this book really just sets the stage for the grand conflict of the Ascension Year. It draws to a close just as the murderous triplets are unleashed upon each other and the reader is left hanging.

Although the premise of the book sounds awfully gory, it’s more of an exploration of the affect that this impeding fate has upon each of the three sisters. It’s an interesting topic to explore and takes the normal sibling rivalry to an extreme. I did enjoy the book with its lush world building and fleshed out characters and I would recommend it for fans of the “young-adult” genre of books. It’s a good read but be prepared for an investment! Even on Thriftbooks, the whole set of books will cost you close to $60 so if you’re looking to go easy on your wallet, this may not be the best read because once you start, you may not be able to stop!