Book review: The Vegetarian by Han Kang

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If you’ve been keeping up with my blog, you might have noticed that I initially started reading Haruki Murakami’s Norwegian Wood for “a book in translation,” one of my last reading challenge prompts for 2017.  I’m sure that the book is wonderful and I know that a lot of people have enjoyed it, but it wasn’t the right book for me at this current point in my life, so I set it aside and moved on to a different book in translation, Han Kang’s The Vegetarian.

The Vegetarian is one of those polarizing books.  It has an average of 3.58 stars on Goodreads, with almost as many 3-, 2-, and 1-star ratings as 4- and 5-star rating.  Read some reviews, and you’ll notice that almost everybody falls into one of three categories.  They either a) absolutely loved it and thought it was brilliant, b) absolutely hated it and thought it was repulsive, or c) had literally no idea what was going on and rated it somewhere in the middle.  To be honest, I fall into Category C.

In this book, Yeong-hye has always behaved just as society expects.  She’s a picture-perfect wife, keeping a perfect house, cooking classic Korean dishes, and even earning a little money of her own.  One night, Yeong-hye has a dream.  There’s so much death in the world, so much blood on her hands, that she can no longer bring herself to eat meat.  In some countries, this wouldn’t be a problem.  In South Korea, where Yeong-hye lives, her refusal to eat meat is seen as a problem to be solved at best and a mental disorder at worst.

The Vegetarian made me uncomfortable.  I mean, it’s supposed to.  It’s not some cheerful little book that you read to de-stress after a long day.  It’s filled with troubling imagery and scenes in which people show the worst parts of their personalities.  This is the 130th book I’ve read in 2017 and it’s the first to give me a legitimate nightmare.  I am, to be perfectly honest, very happy that the book is only 188 pages.  I just wanted it to be done.

I’ll come right out and say that I did not understand the deeper meaning of most of the book.  I know that it’s an allegory, but that did little to clear things up for me.  The ending?  Went right over my head.  This is a well-written book that, to me, seems more suited to discussion in a college literature class than to pleasure reading.  I’m not surprised that it’s been nominated for several awards or that it won the International Man Booker Prize.

I wish that I’d enjoyed this book more.

Final rating: ★★★☆☆

#mmdreading: a book in translation

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Book review: The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice & Virtue by Mackenzi Lee

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In 18th century England, Henry “Monty” Montague, his best friend Percy, and his sister Felicity embark on their Grand Tour of the Continent, hoping to hit such destinations as France and Spain before depositing Felicity at finishing school and Percy at law school.  While Monty assumes that his Tour will be filled with drinks, parties, and romantic escapades, his dreams are dashed when his strict father hires a man to watch over the trio and make sure no shenanigans are had.  Despite the preparations, everything that could possibly go wrong does, and the trio finds themselves faced with everything from highwaymen to sinking islands.  Meanwhile, Monty is dealing with his ever-present feelings for Percy and the knowledge that a public relationship with another boy would mean the end of his inheritance and everything he’s ever known.

I’ve been eagerly anticipating this book since the very first early reviews started rolling in, but the reviews since then have been pretty mixed.  I’m calling this my “book you don’t want to admit you’re dying to read” because of the overall silly tone of it and the mixed reviews.

To start off, I want to say that I understand the criticisms of this book.  Even as I was reading, I thought to myself, “I bet this is a section a lot of people took issue with.”  Monty is not perfect.  He’s privileged, he’s flippant, and he feeds into bisexual stereotypes.  He runs around at all hours of the day and night with boys and girls and, initially, it seems like he’s never really faced any consequences for his actions.

Certainly, sometimes he doesn’t.  Monty truly is privileged in many ways.  His family’s wealth and position mean that he can be as rude as he likes to the nobility with nothing more than a slap on the wrist.  He can be caught hooking up with a woman and not be punished.  He has never gone hungry, never been without a comfortable bed, never wanted for anything.  He has never considered the degree of his privilege.  I can absolutely see how Monty might be a frustrating character.  The thing is, it’s completely realistic.  Have you ever tried to tell someone like Monty that they’re privileged?  Yeah, good luck with that.

The thing that makes Monty a good character is that he learns from his mistakes and grows as a person.  At the beginning of the book, he can’t even comprehend other people’s struggles.  He’s never considered that his biracial best friend couldn’t get away with half of what Monty takes for granted.  He realizes that his sister, like many other females, might not be content to sit around waiting on her future husband.  He also realizes that he’s had it rather easy for much of his life and that things could most certainly be worse.

That said, I didn’t really expect this book to tackle quite so many issues!  The writing style is so lighthearted that sometimes I didn’t even notice that the author threw in a lesson until I took the time to think about it.  Through Monty’s eyes, we see racism, homophobia, ableism, anxiety, alcohol abuse, child abuse, and sexism.  When I first started this book, I wondered where Monty had found such liberal, accepting parents in the 1700s.  When we learn that Monty’s parents are actually anything but accepting and his father is actually an awful human being, I just wanted to adopt this fictional kid who lived 300 years ago.  Or at least just give him a hug.

Another big criticism of this book that I’ve seen, aside from the whole privilege piece, is Monty’s treatment of Percy.  I will agree that he does not behave in an ideal manner toward his friend.  However, I completely understand where he’s coming from.  He’s been released into the wild, so to speak, away from his abusive father and the confines of his home country.  Yes, he’s sassy and promiscuous and fancies himself an adult, but he’s just eighteen years old.  He’s the age of a high school senior and in love with his same-sex best friend.  He both desperately wants Percy to know on the off chance that something could happen, but he also absolutely doesn’t want him to know for fear of the repercussions.  How does he handle his feelings?  He jokes around.  He makes light of everything.  When asked if he likes Percy like that, he basically says, “Yes, no, maybe, I’m not sure what you want me to say.”  I get it.  I’m straight and living in the 21st century and this stuff is hard for me.  Imagine being bisexual in the 18th century!

So, all in all, the book isn’t without its faults, but it is a whole lot of fun.  It’s well-written with loveable characters and I was pleasantly surprised that I enjoyed it so much.  At the end of 2018, Mackenzi Lee is releasing The Lady’s Guide to Petticoats and Piracy, and I cannot wait.

Final rating: ★★★★☆

#mmdreading: a book you don’t want to admit you’re dying to read

2017 Modern Mrs. Darcy Reading Challenge

That’s that!  I have officially completed the 2017 Modern Mrs. Darcy reading challenge!

  1. a book you chose for the cover: Batter Up by Robyn Neeley
  2. a book with a reputation for being un-put-down-able: Infini by Krista & Becca Ritchie
  3. a book set somewhere you’ve never been but would like to visit: Seven Days of You by Cecilia Vinesse
  4. a book you’ve already read: Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda by Becky Albertalli
  5. a juicy memoir: Talking As Fast As I Can by Lauren Graham
  6. a book about books or reading: My Lady Jane by Cynthia Hand, Brodi Ashton, and Jodi Meadows
  7. a book in a genre you usually avoid: Damaged Like Us by Krista & Becca Ritchie
  8. a book you don’t want to admit you’re dying to read: The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue by Mackenzi Lee
  9. a book in the backlist of a new favorite author: The Allure of Julian Lefray by R.S. Grey
  10. a book recommended by someone with great taste: Milk and Honey by Rupi Kaur
  11. a book you were excited to buy or borrow but haven’t read yet: Faithful by Alice Hoffman
  12. a book about a topic or subject you already love: Glamour by A.L. Jackson, Sophie Jordan, Aleatha Romig, Skye Warren, Lili St. Germain, Nora Flite, Sierra Simone, and Nicola Rendell
  13. a Newbery award winner or honor book: Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson
  14. a book in translation: The Vegetarian by Han Kang
  15. a book that’s more than 600 pages: A Conjuring of Light by V.E. Schwab
  16. a book of poetry, a play, or an essay collection: Bad Feminist by Roxane Gay
  17. a book of any genre that addresses current events: The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas
  18. an immigrant story: Lucy and Linh by Alice Pung
  19. a book published before you were born: Beauty by Robin McKinley
  20. three books by the same author: Double Team, Prince Albert, and Prick by Sabrina Paige
  21. a book by an #ownvoices or #diversebooks author: If I Was Your Girl by Meredith Russo
  22. a book with an unreliable narrator or ambiguous ending: We Were Liars by E. Lockhart
  23. a book nominated for an award in 2017: The Passion of Dolssa by Julie Berry
  24. a Pulitzer Prize or National Book Award winner: A Visit from the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan

Book review: Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda by Becky Albertalli [re-read]

Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda by Becky Albertalli
Rating: ★★★★☆
Links: AmazonGoodreads
Publication Date: April 7, 2015
Source: Purchased

Sixteen-year-old and not-so-openly gay Simon Spier prefers to save his drama for the school musical. But when an email falls into the wrong hands, his secret is at risk of being thrust into the spotlight. Now Simon is actually being blackmailed: if he doesn’t play wingman for class clown Martin, his sexual identity will become everyone’s business. Worse, the privacy of Blue, the pen name of the boy he’s been emailing, will be compromised.

With some messy dynamics emerging in his once tight-knit group of friends, and his email correspondence with Blue growing more flirtatious every day, Simon’s junior year has suddenly gotten all kinds of complicated. Now, change-averse Simon has to find a way to step out of his comfort zone before he’s pushed out—without alienating his friends, compromising himself, or fumbling a shot at happiness with the most confusing, adorable guy he’s never met.

 

I hate (and I mean hate) re-reading books, but it’s something I used to do a lot when I was younger.

In elementary school, I think I re-read the same three or four Royal Diaries until my school’s librarian was like, “Sara, maybe check out something else for a change.”  In middle school, I switched over to Tamora Pierce and honestly, I probably read each of her books at least five times.  For the most part, I stopped re-reading by the time I was in high school.  I think it was around that time that I realized just how many books there were that I hadn’t read yet. I realized that the books I could read weren’t just limited to what I could find in my library or in the tiny bookshop downtown.  I also got my first debit card and realized I could buy totally new books online with my babysitting money.  The only books I re-read these days are my nephew’s storybooks. I’ll never stop appeasing him by reading it “just one more time.”

But sometimes, my yearly reading challenge will insist that I re-read a book.  Unfortunately, I don’t think reading the same board book sixteen times in one night counts.  If I’m being perfectly honest, I don’t understand the point of this prompt.  I think this is the third year that I’ve been asked to re-read a book, and I always leave it until the very end of the year because there are just so many other books that I could be reading.

Obviously, it would be better to re-read a book that I loved.  The problem with that is that most of the books I’ve loved are part of a series, and what, I’m just going to re-read one of the books?  No, once I get going, I’ll be in a ten-book rabbit hole and there goes a month of my life.  I’d initially chosen a cute, summery book that I planned to read in August, but then life got in the way.  So, in honor of Love, Simon, I decided to re-read Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda.  You can see my first review here.

I liked Simon vs. the first time around. The second time around?  I loved it.  Has Simon always been this goofy kid who stumbles through life not really knowing what to do with himself?  I mean, I suppose so, but he’s just so much more endearing than I remembered.

Another thing that was just more than I remembered was the whole blackmail aspect. In the two years since I first read this book, I had almost completely forgotten about it.  Talk about a conflict.  And Simon’s reaction!  And the eventual way that it all turns out.

And the romance.  First of all, it’s even more adorable than I remembered, and – I can’t believe I’m admitting this – I’m glad I re-read this book so that I could see all the little hints about Blue’s identity.  I’m so curious about how this is all going to play out on the big screen, and I couldn’t help but picture the actors as I was reading.

I never thought I’d say it, but this is one book that I could see myself reading over and over again.

As a side note, don’t you think everyone should have to come out? Why is straight the default? Everyone should have to declare one way or another, and it should be this big awkward thing whether you’re straight, gay, bi, or whatever. I’m just saying.

Final rating: ★★★★★

#mmdreading: a book you’ve already read

Book review: The Allure of Julian Lefray by R.S. Grey

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Fashion blogger Josephine Keller has just moved to New York City.  In a city of over eight million people, she knows exactly no one, but she’s determined to make it work.  When she shoots off her resume to Lorena Lefray Designs, she knows that she’ll excel as Lorena’s assistant.  But surprise, surprise – the job is with Lorena’s older brother, Julian.  Julian might be exactly Josephine’s type, but she’s not going to let his dimples or his muscles or his adorable personality get to her.  She needs this job and no man is going to jeopardize her future.

My specific reason for reading this book was my 2017 challenge, which prompted me to read a book on a favorite author’s backlist.  I’ve already read the entire catalog of books by several of my favorite authors, but I only started reading R.S. Grey’s books this year.  I’ve loved everything of hers that I’ve ever read and already plan on reading her entire backlist, so this prompt really wasn’t difficult.

I might have actually died while reading this book.  R.S. Grey manages, time and time again, to kill me with sexual tension.  And despite the fact that she does this in literally every single book, it always feels fresh and new.  I’ve never seen her recycle a scene or a feeling or a personality.  Every one of her books is different and every one of them is amazing.

R.S. Grey is one of those authors that never fails to make me happy.  Reading her books feels like sinking into the perfect bubble bath after the longest, most hectic day.  Her books are cute, they’re fluffy, they’re funny, they’re romantic, and they’re sexy.  The Allure of Julian Lefray didn’t disappoint.  Next up is The Allure of Dean Harper and I cannot wait.

And, just wondering, why isn’t Julian Lefray my boss?  It wouldn’t be such a struggle to get to work by 7:30am if I were heading into his office…

Final rating: ★★★★★

#mmdreading: a book in the backlist of a new favorite author

Book review: Beauty by Robin McKinley

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In this classic young adult retelling of Beauty and the Beast, Beauty Huston is a plain, bookish teenage girl whose family falls on hard times.  Moving from their comfortable city life to a more modest life in the countryside, Beauty finds that she much prefers manual labor over fancy balls.

Long after the family has adjusted to their new lifestyle, Beauty’s father becomes lost in the woods during a blizzard and stumbles upon a seemingly abandoned castle.  He stays for the night and finds himself well taken care of by invisible servants.  It’s only when he picks a rose to take home to Beauty that he finally meets the terrifying Beast.

After all his hospitality, Beast roars, how could this man try to steal one of his beautiful flowers?  Beast demands a life companion within the month, either  Mr. Huston or one of his beloved daughters.  Back home, much to the dismay of her sisters and her father, Beauty insists that she be the one to accompany Beast.

Despite his outward appearance, Beast is a kind creature.  He keeps to himself and ensures that all of Beauty’s needs are attended to.  She has more books than she’s ever imagined, a variety of delicacies for dinner every night, and the wardrobe of a queen.  Still, Beauty cannot bring herself to return Beast’s affection.

First things first, I would not have read this book if not for my #mmdreading challenge.  The prompt was “a book published before you were born,” and I went back and forth for months trying to figure out an acceptable book.  Thanks to Book Riot for posting about Robin McKinley, because I doubt that I would have found this book otherwise.  First published in 1978, this book is definitely from before my time.

This book is, more or less, what I’d expect from classic YA.  It definitely feels old-fashioned, and it’s not just the historical setting.  Beauty is very much filled with the boring day-to-day stuff: Beauty wakes up, eats breakfast, feeds her horse, reads a book, rides her horse, eats lunch, walks in the gardens, watches the sunset, eats dinner, goes to bed, and constantly muses about her life while she does it.  In contrast, modern YA moves fast, skipping all of this introspective nonsense in favor of the action.  I prefer today’s YA, but that’s just my personal preference.

The first half of the book is painfully slow and painfully boring.  I had to force myself to keep reading, telling myself again and again that this book couldn’t have all of those glowing five-star ratings if not for some payoff in the end.  It does pick up speed in the middle, and the last twenty pages or so barrel toward an abrupt and rather unsatisfying ending.  And that’s another problem – the love story between Beauty and Beast really doesn’t begin until the last few pages.  Despite the hundreds of reviewers classifying it as such, this is hardly a romance – there’s slow burn, and then there’s this, where the romance is practically non-existent.

Fairytale retellings are one of my favorite genres, but Beauty didn’t quite do it for me.  McKinley doesn’t expand too much on the original story, and as I just said, the romance leaves a lot to be desired.  I’m giving this book three stars because the writing is nice, it’s a classic, and it definitely paved the way for today’s YA.  I didn’t hate it, but I didn’t love it – more than anything, I was kind of indifferent to it.  All in all, it’s not a bad book.  It’s just not the book for me.

Final rating: ★★★☆☆

#mmdreading: a book published before you were born

Book review: Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson

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Brown Girl Dreaming is one of those books that’s been on and off my TBR for years.  I really, really tried to read it for last year’s reading challenge and it had an endless list of holds at my library.  It fell off my radar for a bit, but then popped back up with my current reading challenge.

I’m kind of disappointed in myself for not reading this sooner.

Honestly, I’m not the biggest fan of poetry or novels written in verse.  And, though I try my best to expand my horizons and read memoirs about interesting women, they so frequently fall short of my expectations.  Having just slogged my way through a pretty awful Pulitzer winner, my expectations for this Newbery winner were low.  Possibly non-existent, really.

But it was good.

Really good, in fact.

As I flew through the first fifty pages or so, all I could think was that the writing is absolutely beautiful.  I felt transported to Ohio, to South Carolina, to New York.  I was immersed in the time period.  In the current events.  In the political climate and Jacqueline’s home life.  As the book continued, I felt like I was growing up with her.

I never wanted to put this book down.  I never felt like I was reading a middle-grade book.  I can’t wait to explore this author’s other books.

Final rating: ★★★★☆

#mmdreading: a Newbery award winner or honor book