Wednesday, November 29, 2023

The Silent Woman by Minka Kent


I call books like these FULTs, or fucked up lady thrillers, and the requirement is basically that the female narrator hasn't got her shit together and there's a Suspicious Hot Guy (SHG) who might or might not be the villain. FULTs are the best kinds of thrillers and you absolutely cannot change my mind.

I found THE SILENT WOMAN in a Little Free Library and loved the cover and thought the summary sounded amazing. It actually sounded a lot like Freida McFadden's THE WIFE UPSTAIRS, and there are a ton of similarities, but I think this is because they're both clearly inspired by Jane Eyre. The twists and some of the core elements are different enough that they don't feel exactly the same.

If you're familiar with stories like Jane Eyre and Rebecca, you know the score. A woman marries a charming and rich man only to find out that he has baggage in the form of an ex-wife who's still kind of in the picture. I liked that Jade was a biographer and met her husband through her work. She felt fleshed out and competent and nice. Don't get me wrong, I love messy ladies, but I like nice ladies, too.

I don't want to say too much more because I don't want to spoil any of the twists, but if you enjoy books written by authors like May Cobb, Lindsay Marcott, or Emily Carpenter, you're probably going to enjoy this.

4.5 to 5 out of 5 stars

Food as metaphor in R.F. Kuang's YELLOWFACE

 So I just read YELLOWFACE by R.F. Kuang and it was the type of book that you can't stop thinking about once you put it down. And one of the things that I found most fascinating about it, that I didn't see too many people talking about, is the theme of metaphorical and literal consumption, specifically revolving around food.

Just in case you don't know what YELLOWFACE is about, I'll fill you in. YELLOWFACE is about a white woman who steals her dead Asian friend's manuscript for a book about Chinese laborers in World War I and then passes it off as her own. She "edits" the work (making it more palatable for the largely white publishing community and high profile reviewing community), and basically devours it, turning it into a product that she considers more "hers" than Athena's.

She consumes this untold story about Asian suffering and pain and, in turn, makes it easy to consume for her (white) audience. It becomes a best-seller because stories about minority pain that uphold and uplift the (white) status quo almost always do well. But what is really interesting while all of this is going on is how this woman reacts in every scene where she is presented with Chinese food.

Food is often how someone is introduced to a new culture. Food is prepared in the home and passed down from generations. Food is tied with family, home, tradition, and love. And Chinese food has a very rich and storied history, especially American Chinese food (check out Jennifer 8 Lee's THE FORTUNE COOKIE CHRONICLES, if you want to learn about the history of some popular American Chinese dishes). And June, the antiheroine of this book, cannot stomach Chinese food.

On an Asian panel she is invited to, that's devoted to Asian excellence and showcasing diversity, it makes her nauseous. When she goes to a hole in the wall Chinese restaurant run by two Chinese immigrants supporting their family, June once again feels ill. And when she goes to her mother's house, and her mother tries to feed her takeout, once again, June balks. To me, I feel like this is supposed to symbolize that June is only willing to accept the parts of Chinese culture that she can profit from (pain, specifically), but the parts of it that are tied into actual tradition, excellence, and joy, she has no interest in and literally recoils from.

Food, in YELLOWFACE, is the symbolic manifestation of June's unwillingness to look at or confront her own secret disdain for Chinese people and their culture, even as she profits from it by consuming the other parts.

At least that's how I interpreted it.

Monday, November 27, 2023

Bittersweet in the Hollow by Kate Pearsall


This is a pretty solid Southern Gothic. There's elements of Practical Magic and dabs and dashes of Roanoke Girls, but it's got too much Sarah Addison Allen in it to be truly creepy. What it ends up being is a pretty teen-friendly novel about first love and quiet scares that verges on but doesn't quite succeed at being horrifying.

Thanks to the publisher for sending me a copy in exchange for an honest review!

3 out of 5 stars

Yellowface by R.F. Kuang


I'm not the biggest fan of R.F. Kuang's work but I was so drawn into the premise of YELLOWFACE, which asks the question, "What would happen if a white woman literally stole an Asian woman's work and then published it as her own and sort of got away with it (maybe)?" It's a daring and troubling question that splits open the way the publishing industry works (and doesn't work), while also showing the desperation and bottomless need for approval that some authors feel while milling away in an industry that moves at a pace far faster than most authors are capable of writing at.

June Hayward is an interesting character. She's racist (but doesn't think she is), privileged (again), and incredibly narcissistic, but in her story, she is the tragic heroine fighting against the odds. I think it's always a challenge writing an unlikable character who still feels chillingly human and relatable, and reading YELLOWFACE actually gave me the same high I felt while watching House of Usher. There's something very Faustian and self-damning about June that feels like it could have come right out of a story by Poe.

I liked the ending but it wasn't quite the ending I was hoping for. I think it fits, though. And I think the discussions around this novel, because of the subject matter and also because of who wrote it, are interesting. The writing style is so beautiful and it's clear how much Kuang has grown from THE POPPY WAR, which also had a female antiheroine championing An Agenda. Unlike TPW, however, this feels like a very nuanced work.

4.5 to 5 out of 5 stars

Sunday, November 26, 2023

Remarkably Bright Creatures by Shelby Van Pelt


REMARKABLY BRIGHT CREATURES is such a cute story. Honestly if you had told me that I was going to fall in like with a literary fiction book where one of the POVs was narrated by an octopus, I would have rolled my eyes. But this was actually quite cute.

There are three primary narrators: Tova, an elderly woman who works at an aquarium who lost her husband to cancer and whose son mysteriously disappeared; Marcellus, the octopus, who is nearing the end of his life in captivity; and Cameron, a fuck up, who has just lost his job and doesn't know anything about where he came from or what he's going to do next.

I don't want to say too much about this book because that might ruin it, but REMARKABLY BRIGHT CREATURES is a very sweet, humanistic read. The ending is kind of bittersweet and made me tear up a little but I wouldn't say this is sad. It reminded me a little of A Man Called Otto, but way less tear-jerky.

3.5 out of 5 stars

Saturday, November 25, 2023

The Lady Upstairs by Halley Sutton


The premise of this book totally lured me in. A group of women blackmailing bad men in the era of Me Too? Um, hell yeah.

I thought the beginning was really well done but it felt like the author didn't really know how to end her book. I found that the beginning really slogged and it ended kind of disappointingly. At first I was like, "Oh my god, why does this have such a low Goodreads rating? What didn't people like about it?" but by the end, I was like, ahh.

Writing style isn't bad and I thought Sutton did a great job writing believably morally grey heroines. I just wanted more depth and sparkle from the story itself.

2.5 out of 5 stars

My Darling by Amanda Robson


I got MY DARLING on the cruise ship. It's a British thriller about two couples, Jade and Tomas and Emma and Alistair. All four of them have secrets and all four of them are unreliable narrators. When they have their narrative POVs, they alternate between first and second person, using the "you" form to talk to their partner or one of the people who are part of the other couple. It's an unusual format, which I've never really seen before, and I was intrigued by the blurb, which seemed to promise a smutty tale of obsession and murder.

MY DARLING is an okay read. It's definitely the throwaway kind of book that you can buy at an airport bookstore, but I was invested enough in the murder subplot that I wanted to see what happened. I feel like this is one of those books that will probably appeal to people who enjoy antiheroes. The writing is not the best but the chapters are ridiculously short which makes it a very quick-passed read. I'd recommend this to fans of B.A. Parris and Dan Brown. You could totally read this on a four-hour flight.

2.5 out of 5 stars

The Last One by Will Dean


DNF @ p.137

I found this in a cruise ship library and thought to myself, "Oho, what fun, a thriller set on a cruise ship! HOW DROLL." Going off the summary, I was kind of expecting something like Triangle of Sadness (2022), which I highly recommend, btw. This book started out that way, like it was going to maybe be a satire of cruise ships and how they work and how ridiculous the passengers can be, but then it ended up being something else entirely that wouldn't be out of place on one of the worst episodes of Lost. WHAT EVEN WAS THAT TWIST.

You might enjoy this book, so don't take my word for it. I will say that this author also wrote THE PINES and I did not realize that when I picked this up that this was by that same author. So maybe if you liked THE PINES you will like this book.

1.5 to 2 out of 5 stars

Friday, November 24, 2023

Happy Place by Emily Henry


DNF @ p.53

I can't do it. It's been a while since I wrote a DNF review but this book drove me to it at knifepoint. I couldn't stand these people. Miscommunication and second-chance are two of my least favorite tropes when done poorly, and this book basically wallowed in them like a dirty bath. Didn't help that the friend group was super WASP-y and pretentious, either. They reminded me of the families that were in E. Lockhart's book, WE WERE LIARS. So if you're into the coastal grandma aesthetic, you'll probably like this.

Sorry, guys. Hate to be a hater, but HAPPY PLACE just felt like a crowning example of a couple who broke up and probably shouldn't have gotten back together. I liked the last Emily Henry book I read and will definitely read more from her but this one just wasn't my cup of tea.

 2 out of 5 stars

Thursday, November 23, 2023

Normal People by Sally Rooney


This is my first Sally Rooney book and I wasn't really sure what to expect since she seems to be the kind of author that people either love or hate. NORMAL PEOPLE is a coming of age story set in the 2010s that follows Connell and Marianne, first as high school students from opposite ends of the social strata, and then as adults who are trying to navigate their increasingly unsatisfying and fucked-up lives.

I thought this book was really good. It reminded me of the depressed counter-cultural lady-lit that was popular in the early 2000s, which is maybe why reading it felt so nostalgic. But it's entirely character driven and pretty depressing, so unless reading about two moody and horny people avoid happiness like that little ship dodging the aliens in Space Invaders has any sort of appeal to you, I might not recommend this book. Luckily, I happened to be in the mood for literary-lite.

I'll probably read more from this author. 

4 out of 5 stars

Wednesday, November 22, 2023

It Happened One Summer by Tessa Bailey


I'm only just getting back into reading after a several month-long slump and I happened to be in a mood for a rom-com. This certainly rom-commed, and I think I enjoyed more than I would have if it had been something I'd picked up while craving something else, but it also had some problems that prevented me from giving it the much higher rating I'd initially planned.


First, things I loved. The heroine was great. She reminded me of those spoiled and ditzy heroines from the 90s/early 2000s, like Cher Horowitz or Elle Woods. Piper was so fun and I loved her a lot.

Piper's relationship with her sister, Hannah, and, later, her grandmother were so wholesome and well done. I was never close to any of my grandparents so seeing lovely grandparent characters in books (especially romances) always makes me feel so nostalgic for something I never had, which sounds sad, but it's very satisfying.

I also learned a lot about crab fishing, I guess, which I'm not mad at. I like it when heroes and heroines have interesting jobs.

That brings me to the things that I did not enjoy. The spicy talk was... not my fave. At one point Piper compares orgasm to being in a place that rains gumdrops, and at another Brendan tells Piper to "whine for his cock." Some of the words and euphemisms used made me cringe. Also, these two were doing it everywhere. They did it in a HOSPITAL, ffs, and also a changing room. Ma'am, those workers are not paid enough to listen to your throes of gumdrop ecstasy.

I also got really mad at Brendan. He kept telling Piper that he liked her for who she was, but then he also got mad at her for who she was?? Like?? I KNEW there was going to be a last-act breakup and that it would probably frustrate me, but I didn't expect it to make me smack Brendan upside the head. This is a dude who demanded to know the deets of her phone call with her friend, but then threatened to rage-quit their relationship because she wanted to have, I quote, a "fail-safe."

Meaning that she was still a little hesitant that their relationship would work out and wanted to not cut all her ties to LA in case she decided to move back there instead.

OK, Captain Brendan "Red Flaggert" Taggert.

Anyway, this book was fine except for the last-act thing. The first 70% was great, even though Brendan wasn't my type (I liked him for her). The last 30%  was eh. Averaged together I suppose this was a three-star book. I like Bailey's writing style a lot and this definitely won't be my last book by her. I'm especially interested in Hannah and Fox's story because I just loved her so much.

3 out of 5 stars

Saturday, November 18, 2023

Lady Tan's Circle of Women by Lisa See


Wow, it's the second book I've read this month! Go me!

LADY TAN'S CIRCLE OF WOMEN is a Goodreads Choice Awards Nominee and I can kind of see why it was picked. It vibes like one of those literary-lite books that are always so popular in book clubs, and has just the right amount of scandal to titillate the people who don't like scandal, replete with some gross-out cringe moments.*

*Oh yes, more on this.

Tan Yunxian is the granddaughter of two doctors and has learned a lot about medicine from her grandmother. Like SNOWFLOWER AND THE SECRET FRIEND, there's an element of forbidden friendship in the form of Meiling, a girl who is destined to be a midwife (which is looked down upon since they touch blood).

The book follows Tan from childhood to old age, and we see her endure marriage, childbirth, and the family drama that comes from being immersed in a new dynamic where women must grasp for whatever power is given to them. In this sense, the book is similar to basically every other See book I've read, including that gross cringe stuff I mentioned earlier.

See really does not hold back on describing the process of foot-binding. In this book, we're treated to the full process, including what happens when infection sets in. Given Tan's background in medicine, there's lots of other gross tidbits, including the consumption of smallpox scabs for inoculation (called variolation), the removal of a parasitic worm through emesis and chopsticks, and descriptions of miscarriage/abortion and the use of abortofacients. It's honestly pretty gnarly and by the time I got to the worm bit, I was like naaaaaaurr.

The pacing in this book feels way off and it doesn't feel like there's much happening. It also lacks the emotional depth of her earlier books, like SNOWFLOWER AND PEONY IN LOVE. This one felt quite removed and cold in comparison. Maybe it was meant to be that way to show composure, idk. But it ended up making the book really hard to get into. I liked the mystery towards the end, and the court trial, but then after that, it was a slow and grueling slide back into when-is-this-book-going-to-pick-up.

I didn't hate this book and voted for it in the GCA because I didn't read anything else, but I'm not sure I'd read any more of her newer books unless one of them just really jumped at me.

2.5 to 3 out of 5 stars

Friday, November 10, 2023

Lessons in Chemistry by Bonnie Garmus


Wow, it's the first book I've read in like a month.

I found this in the library of a cruise ship after my friend had just finished hyping up the TV show based on this book and it felt like kismet. I'd heard of the book but not actually anything about it, so I went into it completely cold, expecting it to be light chick-lit.


LESSONS IN CHEMISTRY is one of those women's fiction/bookclub type books, where it's like literature-lite. It's also very dark. There's like two attempted sexual assaults and a pretty tragic and graphic on-page death, as well as a tragic and semi-graphic recount of a loved one deciding to unalive themselves. Luckily, someone on Instagram warned me about the trigger warnings but I could see someone taking a look at that cutesy rom-com looking cover and being totally taken off-guard if they didn't know what they were getting into.

I would have given this a higher rating if the author hadn't made the questionable decision to narrate parts of this book from the dog's POV (a preternaturally smart dog who knows over 600 words of English and can talk to babies in the womb) and create a stereotypically precocious child character who is eight years old but reads Nabokov and Norman Mailer, and argues with her teacher about science.

The best part of this book was unquestionably the hilarious joke about poisoning douchey husbands with poisonous mushrooms and then claiming it was an accident. That's the kind of dark humor my sick and twisted brain finds funny. But that kind of dark humor is also at odds with child wizards and magical dogs in a story about historical girl-bossing that kind of feels like it also hates women.

But hey, I read it. Yay me.

2.5 out of 5 stars