On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous

Rating: ⭐⭐⭐.5
Author: Ocean Vuong
Genres: Poetry, LGBTQIA+
Pub date: Jun. 2019 (read July 2019 on Audible)
Narrator: Ocean Vuong

I was intrigued by this book, but it wasn’t super high up my TBR. However, I loved listening to the author’s voice in the audiobook sample, so I decided to read it. I’m so glad they got the author to narrate this one because I’m not sure anyone else could really have done it justice.

Initially I really liked it. The writing is poetic and it flowed really nicely. The author’s reading is emotional and I enjoyed listening to it, but I must admit, parts of the book were over my head and left me wondering how I should feel about it.

The book is crafted as a letter to the protagonist’s mother. It’s unclear to me whether this book is fiction or non-fiction, so I’d love some insight from other readers if you have it. It certainly read like non-fiction and I internalized it as such, but it could have been fiction.

Initially I liked that it was a letter from son to mother, Little Dog talks about the relationship he had with his mother and how it impacted him emotionally as he grew up. How their Vietnamese past influenced his childhood in America and shaped all of his relationships with his family members.

From there, Vuong moves on to the relationship Little Dog had with his friend Trevor and the struggle of being not only an immigrant, but a confused gay teenager. I found many parts of the story upsetting, but really appreciated their inclusion in the book and thought it brought a great depth to Vuong’s story. However, it did affect my reading of the book as a letter from son to mother. This format worked really well when confronting his childhood demons and the relationship with his family, but I thought the format had less meaning when it got into Little Dog’s exploration of coming to terms with his homosexuality. I don’t have the lived experience to really comment on its effectiveness, but personally I just found the ‘letter to mother’ format lost some of its potency in this part of the book. Just a comment on format, not content.

Mostly I’m left confused on how to rate the book though because parts of it were definitely over my head. I’ve been reading a lot more poetry lately (I used to never read it), but I definitely still struggle with the accessibility of poetry. I want to love it, but I think I just haven’t spent enough time reading poetry to really understand the nuance of it. I really enjoyed the writing, it was flowery, but not overwhelmingly so, but sometimes it’s just so overloaded with metaphors that I kind of missed out on the point. I really liked a lot of this book, but there were definitely some sections where I found myself tuning out.

Overall though, a very thoughtful book and debut for this young author, so well done! I would not be deterred from reading his stuff in the future.

November Summary

November has been the BEST reading month! Last month I sent a new PB for most pages read in a month, but it didn’t last long because I beat it again this month. I always read a lot of books in November because I get really into the Goodreads Choice Awards and always try and read as many of the nominees as I can (I decided to make this my November monthly challenge). This month I read a whopping 17 books, granted 6 of them were graphic novels and short stories, but it was still a new personal record for most books read in one month. Here’s what I read:

Books read: 17
Pages read: 5,221
Main genres: Graphic Novels, Fantasy, Fiction
Favourite book: So many good books! So hard to choose, but probably Our Homesick Songs by Emma Hooper

So, like I said, a lot of the books I read this month were nominees in the Goodreads Choice Awards. I read a lot of books, so I won’t spend too long on each one. To start things off I read two books by V.E. Schwab, Vicious (⭐⭐⭐⭐) and it’s sequel, Vengeful (⭐⭐⭐⭐), which was nominated in the Sci-fi genre. Vicious was published 5 years ago, but it’s only just geting a sequel, so I decided to read them back to back and really liked them. I don’t think the second book was quite as good as the first, but they’re fast-paced novels that examine morality and the things that drive good people to do bad things.

I also read a few non-fiction books, which is a genre I don’t normally read. I decided to read Phoebe Robinson’s new book, Everything’s Trash, But It’s Okay (⭐⭐⭐⭐), which was nominated in the humour category, and absolutely loved it! I read Phoebe’s debut novel in 2016, which was pretty good, but I think she really upped her game in this book and I would totally recommend the audiobook. I also received a free copy of Abbi Jacobson’s new book, I Might Regret This (⭐⭐⭐), from Hachette, which I was thrilled to read, but ended up not loving quite as much as I’d hoped. Through I’m still a huge fan of Abbi and Broad City. Hatchette also sent me an early copy of Wundersmith (⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐), the sequel to Jessica Townsend’s debut novel, Nevermoor. I read Nevermoor a few months ago and was pretty much obsessed with it, so I immediately jumped right into the sequel and was delighted that it was just as wonderful as the first book! It’s a middle grade fantasy series full of whimsy that gives me huge Harry Potter vibes. A solid 5 stars – this series is incredible and I would recommend to everyone!

I read a few very short books, Sea Prayer by Khaled Hosseini (⭐⭐⭐), which is a short illustrated picture book that he wrote for charity (which I didn’t review), and For Every One by Jason Reynolds (⭐⭐.5), which was nominated in the Poetry category. Both books were nice, but honestly, I thought they were both a little too short to pack that much of a punch.

For graphic novels, I read the latest volume of Saga, by Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples (⭐⭐⭐⭐). I absolutely love this graphic novel series, but the latest volume pretty much killed me, and it appears Vaughan and Staples may be going on a bit of a hiatus over the next little while, so that kills me even more. I also devoured the first 3 volumes of a new graphic novel series called Fence, by C.S. Pacat and Johanna the Mad (⭐⭐⭐⭐). Only the first volume is published at this time, but there are 12 issues available and I liked the first volume so much I actually had to seek out the individual issues instead of waiting for the next two volumes. It’s a series about a high school boys fencing team, which sounds kind of boring, but it actually excellent!

In addition to Phoebe Robinson’s new audiobook, I also listened to Kingdom of the Blazing Phoenix (⭐⭐), which is the second and final book in Julie C. Dao’s dualogy. I really liked the first book, Forest of a Thousand Lanterns, which I also read as an audiobook, but the second book was a huge disappointment. The narration changed characters and I found this one pretty boring compared to the delightful nastiness that was the first book. The first one was a retelling of the evil queen in snow white, where as this was one a more traditional snow white retelling, although they were both sent it an asian inspired fantasy world, which I liked. Speaking of asian- inspired fantasy worlds, I read R.F. Kuang’s debut novel, The Poppy War (⭐⭐⭐⭐), which was nominated in the fantasy category. It is a heavy book, but wow! Kuang’s story is rich is depth, setting and history. It examines the Sino-Japanese war and the atrocities people commit against one another in war and how we justify them. A heavy hitter, but very well written and plotted.

My book club’s November pick was You by Caroline Kepnes (⭐⭐⭐.5). I’ve been trying to get to this one for a while and with the TV series being released on Netflix in December, it was good timing. You is a mystery/thriller novel told from the point of view of a stalker and boy, is it creepy. I didn’t like it quite as much as I hoped, but it is still very well written and quite different than most other books out there. I finally finished reading Swing Time by Zadie Smith (⭐⭐⭐.5), which I started reading way back in July (shocking I know). I had put it aside around the 300 page mark, but I finally picked it up and read the last 150 pages. I quite liked this book, but it is not very compelling, and for that reason it was hard to pick up, despite liking the story.

Finally, two of my favourite books of the month, along with Wundersmith, were The Simple Wild by K.A. Tucker (⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐) and Our Homesick Songs by Emma Hooper (⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐). The Simple Wild was nominated in the romance genre and I was instantly motivated to read it when I found out it was about Alaska (I have a bit of an obsession with Alaska since reading The Great Alone earlier this year). It had a bit of a slow start and the main character was a little vapid at times, but I ended up loving this book! The main character was 26, which is refreshing since most of the books I read feature teenagers or families. I’m starting to really appreciate family dramas, and this one was a mix of family drama and romance that really worked for me.

Our Homesick Songs was my last read of the month and it was also a family drama, but this time historical, that completely captivated me. It’s about the disappearance of cod in Newfoundland in the early 1990’s and the impact it had on rural communities. It’s a simple story about a family living in a remote fishing town, but it is so beautiful written and evokes a strong feeling of homesickness and loneliness. Newfoundland is where I was born and raised, so it had particular meaning for me and I was incredibly impressed by Emma Hooper’s prose. I devoured this book and it is definitely going to be one of my top picks of the year.

So there you have it, all 17 of the books I read this month. There were some really great books. The fact that I rated three of them 5 stars is very rare since I sometimes go months without rating anything 5 stars. I feel like I’ve finally escaped the book slump that I was in over the summer and I’m feeling very inspired by all the great books I’ve been reading!

I’d love to know, what books did you read and love this month?

For Every One

Rating: ⭐⭐.5
Author: Jason Reynolds
Genres: Poetry
Pub date: Apr. 2018 (read Nov. 2018 as an Audiobook)

I got this as an audio CD from the library (BPL can I please say, NO ONE WANTS THIS, audio download straight to my phone PLEASE), and I spent about 20 minutes trying to figure out how to upload the disc on to my phone, before remembering that it was only going to be short anyways, so why not listen to it directly from the car (flashback to 2005, I know).

I knew this was going to be short, but it was like no more than 20 mins tops. I was so shocked when it ended. People are calling it motivational poetry, which is pretty accurate. It’s basically a letter Jason Reynolds wrote (to himself?) about dreams and being willing to take risks and not give up on those dreams, even if they don’t unfold the way you envision.

I wanted to like it and was pretty convinced that I would, but honestly it was just too short. I wanted more. I felt like Reynolds was just getting started and then it was over, so I was left feeling kind of meh. It is what it is though. His book, Long Way Down, has been on my TBR for a while and I am not deterred from reading it based on this short letter. 2.5 stars

June Summary

I know, it’s halfway through July and I’m only now posting my June Summary, it’s shameful, but it’s also summer and I am having so much fun doing all the outdoor activities! For this reason, I haven’t been reading quite as much and I feel like I’ve been in a bit of a slump. I had a great start to June, but things kind of floundered a bit after that. I struggled to finish my book club selection and I really only managed to read so many books because 2 of them were audiobooks and 1 was a poetry anthology. But enough excuses, here’s my June Summary:

Books read: 8
Pages read: 2,589
Main genres: Historical Fiction
Favourite book: The Great Alone

I have to start with talking about The Great Alone because I am obsessed with this book! It’s been a month and a half since I read it and still cannot stop thinking about it! It definitely tops my list so far as best book of 2018 and I’m not sure anything will be able to top it because I loved everything about this book, even though it tore my heart to shreds. It’s set in Alaska in the 1970’s and it has made me totally obsessed with everything to do with Alaska and I am now dying to go there. I don’t want to get too much into the plot of the book, I wrote a lengthy review of it if you want to check it out, but honestly, just get yourself a box of tissues and go read it immediately!

My love of The Great Alone inspired me to pick up two other books about Alaska in June. I finally read my copy of The Smell of Other People’s Houses, which believe it or not is set in the exact same time period, but in Fairbanks Alaska. This is a short YA book with the most gorgeous cover and the most disappointing story. I did not like this one, the plot was too shallow and lacked any really emotion. Secondly, I read Robert W. Service’s most popular poetry anthology from the early 1900’s, Songs of a Sourdough, which is mostly about the Yukon and Alaska. It’s referenced several times in The Great Alone and I was already familiar with some of his poetry (the cremation of Sam McGee), but I’m thrilled I picked this one up because it has some great poems in it and I love the rhythm of his poetry and sense of place.

I read one mystery novel in June, The Dry by Jane Harper. I quite liked it as it had a good balance of mystery, investigation, and flashback to a previous mystery, which I always love in a good PI novel. This book now has a sequel called Force of Nature, which I am dying to get to because it sounds like it might have a bit of man vs. nature conflict going on, which is always interesting.

I listened to 2 audiobooks. I ran out of credits on Audible and my library’s collection of audiobooks is truly shameful, so I found a free version of Jane Austen’s Emma that I decided to listen to. It took me like 2 months to get through this one though, and while I thought the narrator did a great job, it was just so flipping boring that I couldn’t love it. I also listened to Girls Burn Brighter, which I did like, but which was just so depressing that I found it hard to listen to. It’s a sobering book about human trafficking, but it was also much heavier than I was ready for. I gave both audiobooks 3 stars, because I do appreciate what both authors were trying to do with these books, but I didn’t love either.

Finally, I read two other historical fiction novels for my monthly challenge (The Great Alone was the first one): I was Anastasia and Fruit of the Drunken Tree. I did like both of these books, but sadly neither blew me out of the water and they were both pretty standard 3 star books. I did learn some neat history from both of them though, so I commend them for that.

And that’s it for June, I will try and be more speedy in July I promise!

Songs of a Sourdough

 

 

 

 

Rating: 
Author: Robert W. Service
Genres: Poetry
Pub date: 1907 (read June 2018)

There’s a land where the mountains are nameless,
And the rivers all run God knows where;
There are lives that are erring and aimless;
And deaths that just hang by a hair;
There are hardships that nobody reckons;
There are valleys unpeopled and still;
There’s a land – oh, it beckons and beckons,
And I want to go back – and I will.
– The Spell of the Yukon

Loved this! I was inspired to pick up this anthology after reading The Great Alone. It’s a mix of poetry by Robert Service about the Yukon and Alaska. It’s so wonderfully written and captures so beautifully what life in the North was like at the turn of the century. Similar to when I was reading The Great Alone, I could just picture the beautiful and barren landscape the whole time I was reading this. Robert Service has such a love and appreciation of the untamed wilderness – how rewarding and unforgiving the land can be to those who choose to make their living there. We must respect the land and the wilderness, because we are ultimately at it’s mercy.

As someone who loves to hike and camp and spend time in the great outdoors, I loved how vivid this writing was. Here’s a few of my favourite passages:

“There’s a race of men that don’t fit in,
A race that can’t stay still;
So they break the hearts of kith and kin,
And they roam the world at will.
They range the field and they rove the flood,
And they climb the mountain’s crest;
Theirs is the curse of the gipsy blood,
And they don’t know how to rest.”
– The Men That Don’t Fit In

“Dreaming alone of a people, dreaming alone of a day,
When men shall not rape my riches, and curse me and go away;
Making a bawd of my bounty, fouling the hand that gave –
Till I rise in my wrath and I sweep on their path and I stamp them into a grave.
Dreaming of men who will bless me, of women esteeming me good,
Of children born in my borders, or radiant motherhood;
Of cities leaping to stature, of fame like a flag unfurled,
As I pour the tide of my riches in the eager lap of the world.”
– The Law of the Yukon