Book challenge 2020

12 books

The Shadow of the Wind (The Cemetery of Forgotten Books, #1)The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafón
My rating: 4.5 of 5 stars

First time reading Carlos Ruiz Zafón and after The Shadow of the Wind, all I can say is what.a.storyteller! Outlandish, flamboyant, wickedly funny…at times I felt as if I were watching an Almodóvar film. The downside for me was figuring out the mystery behind Lain/Julian way before the end. At that point, the big reveal (per Nuria’s manuscript) was anticlimatic.

The Book of Negroes: Commonwealth Prize WinnerThe Book of Negroes: Commonwealth Prize Winner by Lawrence Hill
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Moving, engaging, and full of emotion. This novel pulled so much at my heartstrings that I found it hard to put down. Definitely earned a spot on my ‘read again’ list.

The Girl with Seven Names: A North Korean Defector's StoryThe Girl with Seven Names: A North Korean Defector’s Story by Hyeonseo Lee
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

I feel cheated. This is not the refugee story that I was expecting. Compared to so many others that have tried or are trying to escape an oppressive government, The Girl with Seven Names got it easy. In Chapter 8 ‘The Women’:
I spent my first night in Seoul in a general detention room shared with about thirty North Korean women. The moment I entered, faces turned toward me, and I knew I would have trouble. Most of the women were older than me. Their eyes took in my fashionable Shanghai clothes, and I saw resentment.

Y’think? Was she that daft? I mean, it is quite clear from the beginning that 7-name girl is from a priveleged status (songbun), and all through the story you can’t help but wonder how lucky she was to escape by a hair and never get caught. I am tempted to not finish this book.

There’s a book by human rights activist Yeonmi Park that looks interesting. I hope it doesn’t disappoint like this one.

Just a Little Run Around the World: 5 Years, 3 Packs of Wolves and 53 Pairs of ShoesJust a Little Run Around the World: 5 Years, 3 Packs of Wolves and 53 Pairs of Shoes by Rosie Swale Pope
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I read this while the Covid-19 lockdown was in effect and Rosie was just the ticket to add adventure and cheer to the endless days stuck at home. Round the world in 5 years? No problem! My favorite part was the segment through Russia and Siberia. What an admirable woman and an amazing, inspiring experience!

Sin EaterSin Eater by Megan Campisi

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Instead of comparing it to The Handmaid’s Tale meets Alice in Wonderland, how about Hannibal Lecter Had Some Weird Ancestry. They ate sins; he eats the rude! 😱 😱 😱

Food preferences aside, this dark and disturbing tale of a young girl condemned to consuming the sins of the dying (by way of certain dishes) was a bit too heavy in some parts. The concept of the story was fantastic, the pace just right, but what bothered me most were the scenes of extreme animal cruelty and abuse and the human sacrifice (insinuated as it turned out) of a newborn. I mean, really, did the story need to go there?

Minus a star because the ending was rather dull (of course the Queen’s bastard was still alive) after reading all of the gross stuff earlier on.

Sweet Bean PasteSweet Bean Paste by Durian Sukegawa
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I was drawn to this for the possibility of learning some cooking tips on making perfect an. A charming story with a bittersweet ending. Now I need to find the film.

What's Left of Me Is YoursWhat’s Left of Me Is Yours by Stephanie Scott
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Yikes. If I am to believe that the characters are Japanese then sorry, but I wasn’t convinced (with the exception of the grandfather, Yoshi). The initial 3rd of the book was interesting enough as the story is inspired by a real-life crime involving wakaresase-ya, the business of breaking up relationships. Compelling and exotic, or so I thought.

Unfortunately, the middle part largely dealt with the ill-fated romance between the female ‘target’ and male wakaresaseya agent. Poor lovebirds didn’t stand a chance. Explicit sex scene (notice no plural because then it would be more like soft porn), some swearing, and absolutely boring conversations that had me speed-reading to spare myself the pain. Can there be a twosome duller than this? And another off-putting thing, how is it that there is Asahi beer (well, duh) and Italian pasta (duh, duh) when later in the book the little kid drinks some Milo and the reader is left to wonder what the hell that is (I know what it is but the first thing that sprang to mind was Milo Ventimiglia – hubba! hubba!)

The final 3rd was the most interesting with the practical info presented. Japanese judicial system? Totally baffling and frickin’ unbelievable. Being brought to the police station is nothing like the USA (where you get one phone call, the right to have a lawyer present, and generally considered innocent until proven guilty). And woe to the couple with children. In Japan, joint-custody basically does not exist.

I would’ve given this 3 stars but the writing simply wasn’t engaging enough. If what’s left of you is mine, then please, just forget it.

Too Much and Never Enough: How My Family Created the World's Most Dangerous ManToo Much and Never Enough: How My Family Created the World’s Most Dangerous Man by Mary L. Trump
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Reading ‘Too Much and Never Enough’ (while chaos and mayhem abound) may not have been the wisest of summer picks, but I needed confirmation for what I already knew: that the president comes from a profoundly dysfunctional family. Thank you Mary L. Trump for telling it like it is.

Hungry for Miles: Cycling across Europe on One Pound a DayHungry for Miles: Cycling across Europe on One Pound a Day by Steven Primrose-Smith
My rating: 1 of 5 stars

The title should have been Hangry for Miles: Cycling through Europe like a Vagrant. What a completely useless blabfest. While the book does have one merit (on national soil where generous farmers are aplenty), once across the Channel, everything gradually goes downhill.

The days center around 3 things: food, more food, and where to pitch camp. If they had thought to budget only for food from the get-go, they might have been less hangry. Lots of dry and wry humor with the obligatory pubescent drollery (was there an imperative need to titillate with towns named Poo and Cuntis?). Don’t bother with this book. I quote my favorite part:

Yes, to travel a sizeable distance on £1 a day is possible, very, very possible. I just really, really, really wouldn’t recommend it.

Lovecraft CountryLovecraft Country by Matt Ruff
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Never heard of/read Matt Ruff (much less H.P. Lovecraft), but compared to HBO’s eponymously named tv drama, this was a lot easier to digest. An enjoyable mix of light horror, sci-fi, and fantasy that you can read well after midnight.

The Railway to Heaven: From the U.K. to Tibet on the longest and highest railways in the worldThe Railway to Heaven: From the U.K. to Tibet on the longest and highest railways in the world by Matthew Woodward
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

From what I’ve read, this is Woodward’s longest railway adventure so I’m glad to have chosen this book as a ‘first’ for armchair traveling. His experiences are described with an observant eye, a keen wit, and a great sense of wonder for exploring exotic locations by train.

Promise Me, Dad: A Year of Hope, Hardship, and PurposePromise Me, Dad: A Year of Hope, Hardship, and Purpose by Joe Biden
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I couldn’t have chosen a better time to read this book. He wasn’t my first pick, but what a relief that Joe Biden will be sitting in the Oval Office soon. We all need hope in the face of the current hardships and we need a humane leader to get us through.