Book Reviews: July 2018

I made it through five books in July, then I spent all of August procrastinating on writing reviews for said books. Oh well, I still technically posted this in August. 

  • The Diving Bell and the Butterfly by Jean-Dominique Bauby
  • The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas
  • Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates
  • Tower of Dawn by Sarah J. Maas
  • The Girls by Emma Cline

Minor spoilers are in the reviews for The Hate U Give and The Girls. The Tower of Dawn review has lots of spoilers, and I've marked when those start. 

 

The Diving Bell and the Butterfly by Jean-Dominique Bauby

Jean-Dominique Bauby suffered a severe stroke that caused paralysis of his entire body, except for his left eyelid. Using only blinks, he wrote this short memoir. 

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While reading I often found myself trying to figure out how Bauby planned out the chapters. He couldn't write an outline or restructure paragraphs, he just had to tell it in one go. I was amazed the transcribing process - I mean, truly, genuinely amazed, I don't think I could accomplish the same in his situation. I'd probably be able to blink out a few short letters to my closest loved ones and peace out.

That said, I wasn't overly impressed with Bauby as a person. I know, I know, this is harsh considering the context, but he seemed kind of full of himself. He barely mentioned his kids and I got the "women think I'm the greatest thing ever" vibe. Several passages were poignant and beautifully told and he certainly had an interesting life to talk about, I just wasn't too drawn to him.

If you check this one out, I'd recommend setting aside time to read it all in one go. I read it in bits and pieces and I think it's probably more enjoyable and motivating in one sitting.

Rating: 3.5 of 5 stars


 

The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas

The Hate U Give (THUG) is a fictional story heavily inspired by the Black Lives Matter movement. Starr, a high school student, witnesses her friend Khalil dying at the hands of a police officer. 

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The Hate U Give was on my TBR for ages and I finally got around to it when it was chosen for my book club. For full transparency, I read THUG as someone who leans heavily left politically, especially on social issues. I read many passages and found I already agreed with the author's message, so my mind wasn't really changed by anything I read. But there were certainly sections where I read new perspectives or a defense of something where I thought "Ah! I can use that" or "That's a good way to put it." Obviously, I am white, and much of this book contained things I cannot personally relate to. But I really, truly try to understand things from other perspectives and this book helped me do that. 

The story itself was pretty much what you'd expect; it more or less acts as a fictional vehicle for Thomas to explain her views and the plot echoes several of the real police shooting cases. And I think that's perfectly fine, and it's why this book succeeds - the subject is real. Thomas didn't dance around hard discussions either, take a look at some of her character choices: Starr's black uncle was a cop, Khalil sold drugs, and Starr was dating a white classmate. 

I think this book could benefit a lot of people, but it seems to me that most people reading this already have no problem with the phrase "black lives matter." I have yet to see a review from someone who says "all (or blue) lives matter," which is an ironic reflection on the whole problem.

This was a powerful quote from the book I thought was worth sharing:

“Drugs come from somewhere, and they’re destroying our community... You got folks like Brenda, who think they need them to survive, and then you got the Khalils, who think they need to sell them to survive. The Brendas can’t get jobs unless they’re clean, and they can’t pay for rehab unless they got jobs. When the Khalils get arrested for selling drugs, they either spend most of their life in prison, another billion-dollar industry, or they have a hard time getting a real job and probably start selling drugs again. That’s the hate they’re giving us, baby, a system designed against us. That’s Thug Life.”

I didn't give it a full five stars because there was a long stretch in the middle of the book where not much happened; the action was heavily focused on the beginning and end. As that's my only criticism, I highly recommend this. 

Rating: 4.5 of 5 stars

 

 

Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates

Between the World and Me is written as letters (more like essays) from Coates to his son. Coates muses on what it means to be a black man in America, specifically focusing on how black bodies have been treated throughout history. 

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I saw this one available on Kindle and I recognized the title, so I downloaded it. I wasn't looking for non-fiction but the non-fic found me.

This is a hard review for me to write because, as a white woman, my life experiences have been extremely different from Coates'. That doesn't mean it wasn't a great read; I don't recall another book that forced me into someone else's shoes the way this one did. I recommend it for the perspective alone, whether you agree with what he's saying or not.

Coates is a popular writer but I confess this is the first thing of his that I've written, so I don't know many of his political stances. I found his thought process easy to follow even though I'm 99% sure Coates is way smarter than me. He also had lots of historical references; the fairly recent story of Prince Jones stuck out to me. It was heartbreaking.

I think this quote summarized the book pretty well:

“As for now, it must be said that the process of washing the disparate tribes white, the elevation of the belief in being white, was not achieved through wine tastings and ice cream socials, but rather through the pillaging of life, liberty, labor, and land; through the flaying of backs; the chaining of limbs; the strangling of dissidents; the destruction of families; the rape of mothers; the sale of children; and various other acts meant, first and foremost, to deny you and me the right to secure and govern our own bodies.” And a few sentences after this statement: “America believes itself exceptional, the greatest and noblest nation ever to exist, a lone champion standing between the white city of democracy and the terrorists, despots, barbarians, and other enemies of civilization. One cannot, at once, claim to be superhuman and then plead mortal error.”

In summary, this is a great read for perspective but keep in mind it's often heavy. 

Rating: 4 of 5 stars

 


Tower of Dawn by Sarah J. Maas

Tower of Dawn is the sixth installment in Sarah J. Maas' Throne of Glass series; it parallels the timeline of book five and follows Chaol as he tries to recruit allies for his queen. 

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I bought Tower of Dawn (ToD) when it first came out but it took me almost a year to get around to reading it. After I read Heir of Fire, I decided I'd be finishing the series solely for Manon. Manon. Is. LIFE. All the other characters grate on my nerves, but here I am, reading a book that doesn't even feature Manon for the sole purpose of knowing how Manon's arc ends. *sigh*

You might be saying, "WHY DO YOU READ THIS IF YOU HATE IT?" Well, I don't HATE it. It's a guilty pleasure series for me. Obviously I'm team Manon, but the books are mindless entertainment and while they may not be found in the deepest ocean of literary content, the surface is still really shiny. They're fun, so I read.

*Note: If you still haven't read The Assassin's Blade novellas by this point, do so first.

SPOILERS FOR TOWER OF DAWN ARE AFTER THIS POINT!

If you've read the ToG series, you are probably aware that fans were not happy with SJM's sixth Aelin-less book. SJM made Chaol painfully unlikable after book two, but thankfully he gets better here. I read a few other reviews explaining SJM's research into Chaol's disability, and while I haven't personally experienced being paralyzed or know anyone who has, I thought she did a good job portraying it. Also this book has lots of diversity, which was needed after the first couple books. If you still don't want to read a book about Chaol, all I really can tell you is that Tower of Dawn does indeed progress the story and you'll miss out on a few key things if you skip.

Now, for my usual SJM book rants:

  1. It was way too long. 750+ pages that should have been capped at 500, max.
  2. The only scene I wanted to see in this book, when Yrene found out that Aelin was the one who helped her, was off screen!!! What!?!!!?!! That's literally all I cared about going into this.
  3. As always, annoying relationship things happen. Chaol and Nesryn faded away, Yrene took her place, and Sartaq and Nesryn came out from behind to be The Most Interesting part of this book. Seriously, Nesryn's chapters were page turners. My mental Sartaq was a hottie.
  4. I don't think SJM writes politics very well. The new king dude ignored his political guests for WEEKS. WEEKS! It reminded me of Aelin working alone in  book 4; it's just not how leaders operate. Aelin's selfish so that could explain her, but the new guy was supposed to be leading the world's most progressive, united, and strong country. There was simply no reason for him to refuse a meeting to ambassadors for so long, especially when he ATE DINNER WITH THEM EVERY NIGHT. Death in the family wasn't really a valid excuse, he wasn't ignoring all his other business.

Read this if you plan to finish the ToG series.

Rating: 3.5 of 5 stars

 

 

The Girls by Emma Cline

It's the 60's and Evie Boyd is searching for love and attention. When some carefree girls walk by, Evie finds what she's looking for in their confidence - and in their cult. 

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I didn't know what this book was about before I borrowed it from my library. Sometimes I just scroll through the available ebooks and download based on cover or name recognition, and that's what happened here. Once I was a few chapters in I went to read the Goodreads summary and had an "ah" moment. I know some people love serial killer/Manson-esque stories but it's not really my cup of tea. I chose to keep reading though, because the appeal is not the real-life story that it was based on. It's the unnerving look into what young girls will do for acceptance and love.

Adult Evie got on my nerves, but I did sympathize with her younger self. Her parents were awful, especially her mother. Her fourteen-year-old daughter was literally JOINING A CULT, and she had no idea. No wonder the kid had such self esteem issues!

My favorite scene was when Evie got a ride to the farm from a normal guy and he was horrified at the things around him. The rose-colored scales slipped from her eyes a bit, and she was uncomfortable. How many women have had that moment, albeit in less criminal circumstances? Haven't the majority of us woken up one day and said to ourselves, "Woah, how did I fall for this? Why am I letting him/her treat me like this? How could I be so blind?" I know I have. In Evie I recognized something women give control to.

Read if you like stories inspired by real events. 

Rating: 3 of 5 stars