Mina, by Matthew Forsythe

One star, read in March 2022. What a weird story. The illustrations are pretty, but nothing earth-shattering. The text is fine, but the premise is just bizarre. I’m not a fan of stories that make it look charming and eccentric when incompetent adults endanger their children by being blithe and careless (and I really dislike…

The Little Gardener, by Emily Hughes

Four stars, read in February 2022. Absolutely gorgeous illustrations, and I adore it despite the fact that the ending is a little disconnected from the rest of the story. The little gardener is so exhausted and discouraged by the impossibility of his task, he falls asleep for a month, and in the meantime, his wish…

Following Papa’s Song, by Gianna Marino

Three stars, read in February 2022. The illustrations are the reason to read this book. The text is fine, but a little too repetitive for me—it does that thing where almost every instance of dialogue involves the characters using each other’s names, which doesn’t happen in real life. “Papa? Are we going very far?”“Yes, Little…

The Big Bad Wolf in My House, by Valérie Fontaine and Nathalie Dion

Five stars, read in February 2022. Beautiful illustrations for a very well-written story about a young girl whose house is invaded by an abusive monster. Pretty grim, especially given that sexual abuse is implied in addition to physical, emotional, and verbal. But the book ends optimistically and introduces the idea of shelters in what I…

1, 2, 3, Off to School! by Marianne Dubuc

Five stars, read in February 2022. This is fantastically cute and I like it a lot, but I also have weird issues with it. The text is tiny, and all the little side dialogue makes the experience of reading it almost like one of those search and find books rather than a traditional story. It…

Survivor Tree, by Marcie Colleen and Aaron Becker

Four stars, read in January 2022. All right, look. I’ve been over 9/11 for a long time. I lived in Texas when it happened, and yes, it was truly awful. But in the grand scheme of violence done in this world, particularly by us? Let’s just have some perspective, right? All of which is to…

The Eye of the World, by Robert Jordan

Three and a half to four stars. Read for the first time in 2007, and again in February 2021. Some things Robert Jordan writes too much of: What songs are called in different places where the characters travel People using made-up swear words unbearably earnestly How Aes Sedai can’t be trusted (they never lie, but…

Educated, by Tara Westover

Five stars, read in April 2019. There was a lot about this that was depressingly familiar to me. I grew up in the same religion as Tara, though her family believed in it much more literally than mine did. Relatedly, her childhood was more violent than mine was; my version of the story is mostly…

Moranifesto, by Caitlin Moran

Five stars, read in April 2018. It is possible that, as an American under the age of 40, I have been so deprived of sensible and ethical political discussion that what seems like earth-shattering brilliance to me is just common sense to the rest of you. But as I read this book, Caitlin Moran officially…

Notes of a Crocodile, by Qiu Miaojin

Two stars, read in December 2017 Bewildering, to be honest. Interpersonal relationships are difficult to package in words, especially when nothing much happens, it’s all just conversations and body language and internal struggles. But this seemed deliberately opaque and kept me on the outside, unable to get a connection with any of the characters. Words…

A Man Called Ove, by Fredrik Backman

Two stars. Read in February 2019. I don’t like Ove very much—the character or the book. Rather, I don’t understand the near-universal insistence that this type of character is loveable. Because Ove is definitely a type, and while there’s no such thing as an unloveable person, that is an entirely separate issue from our indefatigable…

Wrapping Up Summer Reading (Mini Reviews)

The Door, by Magda Szabó Three and a half stars, read in August 2018. The story of a strange, dysfunctional relationship between two strange women who are both uniquely intimate with and completely closed off to each other. I found it difficult at times, how deeply (and pretty frequently) they hurt each other, but the exploration…

The White Castle, by Orhan Pamuk

Two stars, read in September 2018. I planned on two stars throughout the book and then was tempted to do more based on the last few pages—two and a half stars if not three—but for now, I can’t bring myself to rate it any higher. It’s only 145 pages but took forever to read, because…

Nine Rabbits, by Virginia Zaharieva

Four stars, read in August/September 2018. Practically incomprehensible at times, but at others, perfectly describes situations and emotions I’ve never seen articulated elsewhere. My perception of the protagonist kept changing in surprising ways, and I ended up making a lot of unexpected connections with her. I dream that I’m traveling to a seminar in Varna…

A Guided Tour Through the Museum of Communism, by Slavenka Drakulić

Three and a half stars, read in August 2018. Though I don’t know what the author’s intent was for her readers, I wish I’d had more background knowledge of how communism and socialism were implemented throughout Central Europe before reading this book. The format—eight fables, each told by an animal from a different country—makes for…

Beware of Pity, by Stefan Zweig

Three and a half stars, read in July and August 2018. This is one of those books in which perfect strangers sit down to tell each other their—or other people’s—life stories. Like Mr. Lockwood in Wuthering Heights, the narrator we first meet turns out to be nothing more than the impetus for one such story, that…

Mendelssohn is on the Roof, by Jiří Weil

Four and a half stars, read in July 2018. I’m tired of World War II stories, because their popularity in our culture seems saccharine, nationalistic, almost fetishistic—an excuse to pat ourselves on the back and fawn over the “glory days” of the “Greatest Generation”—while generally managing to sideline the sickeningly-relevant lessons we should be learning from…

Accident: A Day’s News, by Christa Wolf

Four stars, read in July 2018. Second stop on my literary backpacking trip through Europe: East Germany in the 1980s, the day after the Chernobyl accident. I’ve been wanting to read Christa Wolf for a while now, more especially Cassandra and Medea, but—once again—my choice was made for me by the limited collection of my local libraries. (For…

The Storm, by Margriet de Moor

Four stars, read in July 2018. I picked up this book for my first stop on the Reader’s Room Backpacking Across Europe Summer Reading Challenge, as I flew into the Amsterdam airport. I don’t tend to read disaster stories, so I probably wouldn’t have chosen this book if Utah public libraries had a better selection…

Harmless Like You, by Rowan Hisayo Buchanan

Four stars, read in May 2018. Good book, well-written, poignant, frustrating, a little heartbreaking, with a pretty satisfying conclusion. Emily Woo Zeller is an excellent narrator, but I didn’t care for P.J. Ochlan, who does irritating pseudo-falsetto for female characters’ voices. (Given that I already didn’t like Jay, the character he was narrating, I think…

Home, by Nnedi Okorafor

Three stars, read in June 2018. Good, but not as compelling as the first book was. I’d been thinking I might not read the third, but it turns out that this trilogy is more like one book split into three; since there was no conclusion here, I may end up finishing after all. Maybe. The world…

Storm Front, by Jim Butcher

First read summer 2010, read again summer 2018. Approximately four stars. Oh, Harry Dresden. I still really enjoyed this, but the way I read is so different now from eight years ago, when I first read it—fresh off the heels of N.K. Jemisin, Nnedi Okorafor, Becky Chambers, Garth Nix, Rat Queens, Saga, and all the other incredibly…

We Were Eight Years in Power, by Ta-Nehisi Coates

Five stars, read in November 2017. This book covers the eight years of Barack Obama’s presidency. For each year, there is an article Coates wrote for The Atlantic, preceded by an essay (“a sort of extended blog post,” I think is how he describes it) in which he looks back on his own work and assesses…

ME, by Tomoyuki Hoshino

Five stars, read in January 2018. I’ve had this post in my drafts for a few months now, because there was so much for me to work through. I did not expect the direction this book ended up taking, on more than one level. It was brilliant, disturbing, astonishingly incisive commentary on human nature and identity—and…

Pachinko, by Min Jin Lee

Two and a half stars, read in March 2018. I found this book very stressful. Given how long and sprawling it is, following so many characters throughout four generations, it often seemed strange how long we lingered on specific, not particularly meaningful conversations before jumping through time and space to continue the story. It just…