With 21 books under my belt in the first quarter of 2017, it’s safe to say that I can definitely hit my goal of 50 books this year. At the pace that I read, 50 was a bit of an unambitious number, but I intentionally lowballed my reading goal for the year so I could concentrate on writing more. That, uh, hasn’t really happened. But I’m working on it!
I read a lot of really good books this quarter, including three books that began with “The Girl…” so I’m thinking that if I write a book, I can never use that to begin my title. Also, I am VERY big on memoirs with a cookbook bent (or cookbooks with a memoir bent?) If you have any favorite food bloggers that have come out with cookbooks or memoirs, let me know because I want to read them!
The Books I Loved
Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets by J. K. Rowling
I’m rereading the Harry Potter series and while Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets is arguably my least favorite book in the series, I couldn’t not rate it anything lower than perfect because Harry Potter holds such a special place in my heart.
Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban by J. K. Rowling
My thoughts on Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban mirror what I wrote above, although Prisoner of Azkaban is definitely one of my top favorite books in the series.
Molly on the Range by Molly Yeh
I love Molly’s blog My Name Is Yeh and so of course I adored her cookbook Molly on the Range. It’s one of those cookbooks you actually sit and read, because she intersperses bits of memoir throughout the numerous recipes and gorgeous illustrations and photography. I dreamed of hotdish the night I read this, which is no small feat because I’m pretty sure I’ve never had hotdish. I also have a hankering for devouring marzipan (and making my own marzipan butter) and a desire to bake cake after cake. Love!!
My Berlin Kitchen: A Love Story by Luisa Weiss
Luisa Weiss is the blogger behind The Wedneday Chef. My Berlin Kitchen is a love story, one all about the loves in Luisa’s life: food, Berlin, New York, and Max, the man she loved and lost and ultimately found forever with. I’ve been a fan of her blog for quite some time (her recipes are always on point) and I loved her book just as much. I especially loved how she wrote about her different European and American selves, and how she felt at home in both places but also no places — it’s something I can definitely relate to.
Shrill by Lindy West
I had a peripheral familiarity with Lindy West’s online writing; I never really followed her stuff unless I saw it in a retweet or a share. I wasn’t really sure what to expect when I read Shrill, but I wound up loving it. She’s sharp, witty, and unforgivingly honest. I highly recommend.
The Books I Liked
Another Brooklyn by Jacqueline Woodson
“A love letter to black girlhood,” was how Roxane Gay described Another Brooklyn, and I can’t think of a more fitting description. Poetic and lyrical, Another Brooklyn tells the story of August’s girlhood, where possibilities were endless despite danger lurking seemingly around every corner. My only complaint is that it was such a quick read, as I wanted it to go on for longer!
Difficult Women by Roxane Gay
A collection of short stories, Difficult Women is by the incomparable Roxane Gay. It wasn’t the easiest read, given that some of the themes in the book included domestic violence and poverty and emotional blackmail. But I loved it all the same, with my favorite essay being the title piece.
Dreams from My Father: A Story of Race and Inheritance by Barack Obama
There is many a time where I contemplate visiting the remote rural villages of Guangzhou or the fjords of Norway to retrace the steps my ancestors took, to go back to where it all began. Dreams from My Father is such a journey for Barack Obama, who, in an effort to better understand his place in the world as a man who was born in Hawaii to a Kenyan father and American mother and spent part of his childhood in Indonesia, went to Kenya to better know his father and his father’s side of the family. As someone who also is caught between both worlds, I very much appreciated this story.
Eligible: A Modern Retelling of Pride and Prejudice by Curtis Sittenfeld
While Eligible was a little long-winded at times, I liked that it was broken up into impossibly short chapters that seemed to make the book a quicker read. Pride and Prejudice has been retold to death, and I’m always wary of a retelling to begin with. However, Eligible was a good one, even counting the parts that had me raise an eyebrow in skepticism.
The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins
I’m late to the party with The Girl on the Train, the book that was compared to Gone Girl and one that everyone seemed to love or hate. Maybe it’s because I read it with zero expectations and the knowledge that if I compared it to Gone Girl, it would fall short, but I loved it. It was gripping enough that I read it in a day, and I didn’t “get” the plot twist till I was 82% of the way through the book, which was basically three percentages before it was revealed. It helps that books with unreliable narrators are my favorite kind of book!
The Girl with Seven Names by Hyeonseo Lee
The Girl with Seven Names is the story of Hyeonseo Lee, a North Korean who crossed the icy Yalu River into China one wintry night and defected from her country. She builds a new life for herself in China, then South Korea, and then does the unthinkable and returns to the border to help her mother and brother defect, too. This is a remarkable story that brings an element of North Korea to life that could (and should) be discussed more often — that, while it is ruled by a tyrannical despot, it’s still a country filled with regular, ordinary people with regular, ordinary hopes and wants and dreams.
The Girl with the Lower Back Tattoo by Amy Schumer
I can take or leave Amy Schumer’s brand of humor, but The Girl with the Lower Back Tattoo surprised me. Her stories were surprisingly relatable, despite her newfound stardom, and some of them contained such wisdom that I hadn’t expected to find. People who already dislike Schumer will likely dislike her book, but I definitely think it’s worth a read anyway.
Hard Choices by Hillary Clinton
Hard Choices was hard for me to read in the aftermath of 2016 presidential election, but I did it anyway. Foreign diplomacy is a field that I have always been interested and love learning about. Clinton’s book provided good insight into foreign diplomacy dynamics, and the vast amounts of hard work that goes into being a successful foreign diplomat. Many, if not all, of the events she recounts from her time as Secretary of State are ones I remember reading about in the news, and it was fascinating to revisit them from a State Department diplomatic standpoint.
Love Warrior by Glennon Doyle Melton
Melton is so unflinchingly honest in Love Warrior that at times, I almost felt like I had to blink and look away. While I could deal without the Christianity parts (though it was expected, as she’s a Christian blogger), the writing was raw and real and honest and it totally sucked me in. I’m still marveling at just how personal this memoir got; how does one write about addiction and disorders and marriage infidelity and learning to love yourself in a way that doesn’t alienate everyone around you? I wonder.
The Sympathizer by Viet Thanh Nguyen
The Sympathizer won the Pultizer Prize for Fiction in 2016, and it’s easy to see why. It’s a really, really good book. The writing is superb, it deftly tackles the issues of identity and American military imperialism without ever seeking to lay blame anywhere. I did find it tricky to follow what was going on at times, though, and I wish I had been able to forge a deeper emotional connection with the main characters.
The Books I Didn’t Like
Lilac Girls by Martha Hall Kelly
Lilac Girls was difficult for me to review. The premise was good, and I found myself in a Wikipedia black hole after I was done reading it so I could learn more about the specific parts of WWII this book took place in. But I had such problems with the writing. It was incredibly clunky and stilted. I also found the characterization was very thin, and it seemed like Kelly skated on a reader’s assumption (e.g. of course the Nazi doctor is bad, of course the philanthropic New York socialite would save the day) rather than doing any of the work to make a reader believe. And that I just couldn’t deal with.
The Books Somewhere in the Middle
East Wind: West Wind by Pearl S. Buck; Life in Motion: An Unlikely Ballerina by Misty Copeland; Orange Is the New Black: My Year in a Women’s Prison by Piper Kerman; Truly Madly Guilty by Liane Moriarty; White Teeth by Zadie Smith