Welcome to my blog. I write about fitting in, sticking out, and missing the motherland as a serial foreigner.

October 2014 books

The Emperor of All MaladiesThe Emperor of All Maladies by Siddhartha Mukherjee

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

First of all, I don't know if I will ever read another book with a title as awesome as this one. Well done, Mr. Mukherjee.

I didn't know much about cancer before I read this book, and now - at least until my retention fades - I know ALL THE THINGS. I was especially interested in the sections that dealt with early forms of chemotherapy, the treatment of breast cancer, and how the connection between smoking and lung cancer was established. Significant developments in these areas were made during the 1980s and 90s, and it was fascinating to have all those vague childhood memories (and classroom Weekly Reader articles) explained and clarified a few decades after the fact.

Bellweather RhapsodyBellweather Rhapsody by Kate Racculia

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

3.5 stars. The kids in this book (high schoolers in 1997) are just my age, and you better believe that when Bert fires up his Discman to Track 2 of Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness, I knew it was "Tonight, Tonight" BEFORE the book told me so. The book is sprinkled with lots of moments like this, and not just in pop-culture throwaway bits. There were passages that spoke to me - or, rather they spoke to my teenage self, especially the part of me that was intensively studying music at the time. There was the one on pages 46-50 that left me speechless (I mean, you're already speechless when you're reading a book, but I actually put the book down and just gazed off into space for a while), particularly this bit:

"Viola's arm circled around her back, giving her a squeeze. 'Your best years are behind you, kiddo,' she said in a voice slicked with cheer. 'That's the way it is. Sure, you'll go on, you'll go to school. You'll learn how to write and how to teach music, and you'll probably teach but you won't write, and you certainly won't compose anything worth remembering. Then you'll marry someone and have children and you'll say you played piano once but you won't have sat down at yours in years. You'll get rid of it. You'll sell it, and you won't be happy, but you won't quite be able to put your finger on why. I'll tell you why. Because that's the way it is, Natalie. That's life when you're nothing special. And I'll tell you something else. This is a much easier lesson to learn when you're eighteen instead of forty.' Viola grinned."

Take away the abusive side of the music teacher and the beer-drinking side of Natalie and wow.

Despite the very rewarding nostalgia and spookiness of this book, I found the ending ultimately unfulfilling. I was also disappointed at the language used in the book, particularly the number of f-bombs. This is YA, first of all, and second of all, there was simply no need for it. Sometimes I read books and I get why there's cursing, but here it was such a disappointment and a distraction. Then, in the acknowledgements, the author mentions Ellen Raskin as a major inspiration. This makes the language even more inexcusable! If the author can read the treasure that is The Westing Game and come away thinking that her own book needs profanity to make it pop, WELL.

The Queen of the Tearling (The Queen of the Tearling, #1)The Queen of the Tearling by Erika Johansen

My rating: 1 of 5 stars

YIKES. A big fat DNF for this one. I thought it would be like The Girl of Fire and Thorns and it is, except for the completely out of NOWHERE R-rated scenes. What the heck? If this is YA, then our audience-based genre labels are officially broken.

(Seriously, is this YA?)

No god but God: The Origins, Evolution, and Future of IslamNo god but God: The Origins, Evolution, and Future of Islam by Reza Aslan

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

My favorite part of this book came early on:

"All religions are inextricably bound to the social, spiritual, and cultural milieux from which they arose and in which they developed. It is not prophets who create religions. Prophets are, above all, reformers who redefine and reinterpret the existing beliefs and practices of their communities, providing fresh sets of symbols and metaphors with which succeeding generations can describe the nature of reality. Indeed, it is most often the prophet's successors who take upon themselves the responsibility of fashioning their master's words and deeds into unified, easily comprehensible religious systems."

Well said and bravo.

I HAD to read this book after hearing Reza Aslan respond to Bill Maher's rantings about "Muslim countries." Fortunately, No God But God is similarly level-headed. It reminded me of a Rough Stone Rolling for Islam (not Mohammed) - thorough, unflinching, but believing. Also, fascinating.

Black IceBlack Ice by Becca Fitzpatrick

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

On a macro level, I thoroughly enjoyed this book. I looked forward to reading it, I stayed up late reading it, I couldn't stop thinking about it after reading it, etc. The story is gripping and exciting and scary and thrilling.

But on a micro level, it fell flat. I could not connect with the main character at all. She said and did illogical things and even when the author tried to show her thought process ("I wanted to tell him the truth, but I knew that if I did, such-and-such would happen"), I just...disagreed.

Ah, but if everyone acted rationally in this book, it would have been over in about three chapters, which would have cheated me out of two late nights reading it while shivering with fear in bed next to my sleeping husband.

In other words, this book is a total Monet - it looks good from far away, but up close, it's a big old mess.

Blue Lily, Lily Blue (The Raven Cycle, #3)Blue Lily, Lily Blue by Maggie Stiefvater

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I loved this book for what it did for the main characters. For advancing the overall story? Not so much.

The truth is that I would read Maggie Stiefvater's description of an ant crossing the street, though, so I still enjoyed the time I spent reading. (And you know it would be an unbelievably creepy ant with multiple eyes and pincers and something that goes click-click when it walks. And the road would be all conflicted and rage-y but with a heart of gold.)

These characters are so real and dear (at least the nice ones are dear) to me that this is the first time I've read a burst of profanity from a character in a novel and thought well, that's how that person is. These are people who seem to exist outside of the book itself. And I continue to think of this as some bizarro The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks where the boys let Frankie into their club and go hunting for a dead Welsh king.

The World Is Bigger Now: An American Journalist's Release from Captivity in North Korea . . . A Remarkable Story of Faith, Family, and ForgivenessThe World Is Bigger Now: An American Journalist's Release from Captivity in North Korea . . . A Remarkable Story of Faith, Family, and Forgiveness by Euna Lee

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This is a good access point for finding out more information about North Korea if you don't know anything about the place or haven't read any other books about it. Otherwise, it's more of the same, but with an interesting captivity narrative overlay. I think what happened to Ms. Lee is truly frightening - getting dragged across the border from China into North Korea. It's a worst nightmare come true. I am so glad her story had a happy ending.

Also, not gonna lie, my favorite part was when she got home after finally being released and the first thing she did was deep-clean her entire house. Because that is totally what I would do. She says it was a symbolic process for her that helped her get out some of her feelings and I totally get that.

Flashback Monday: A story about a pool on a balcony in Cairo

NaBloPoMo 2014