Reading Wrap-up: July, 2019

It is so hot here in Ohio! It’s the main reason summer is my least favorite season, because I’m like a flower: I wilt in heat. Anyway, this month I read twenty-two books, and two short stories. I’m proud of this, because I have been busy with college orientation and figuring out class schedule and ordering books. It’s just a lot to think about.

I even made excellent progress in my challenges for this year, especially since I know I won’t have much time to read once school starts at the end of August. Before we look at the books I read, let’s update my reading challenges.

Reading Resolutions

(my original post of my resolutions)

  1. Read 1 Indie book a month: I did do this.
  2. Read 2 short stories: I did do this.
  3. Read more challenging books: I did a lot of this. I read several books which were over 500 pages.
  4. Reread some books: I didn’t do this.

Reading Challenges

(my original post on my challenges)

  1. The Year of Asian Reading Challenge: I read a total of 49 of my 51+ books. I read eight books this month by Asian authors, which is amazing! It means I only have two more books by Asian authors to read this year to complete this challenge.
  2. Back to the Classics Challenge: I read a total of 10 of 12 books, reading Silas Marner this month. This means I also have only two more books for this challenge.
  3. Pages Read 2019: I read 6,963 pages this month, bringing my grand total to 35,088 pages this year, out of the 48,000 I need. Which means I have just under 13,000 words left to read this year. This is amazing, though I’m worried when college starts that I won’t be able to read enough. We’ll see.

And finally, let’s get to the reviews.

1 Star

  • The Bear and the Nightingale (Winternight Trilogy #1) by Katherine Arden (released 2017)
    • I tried to get into this book, but I gave up about halfway in. There are aspects to love about this book. It’s reminiscent to me of Deathless by Catherynne M. Valente. I liked the aspects of bringing Russian mythology into history, but the characters were the main failing of this book. They are all described and developed in a very detached way. I felt no reason to care about Vasilisa or her family. I was hoping that the magical elements would make the story better, but by the time I had stopped reading halfway through, there were only two scenes I enjoyed (when Vasilisa gets lost in the forest as a child and she talks with the domovoi). All the plotlines about Anna (Vasilisa’s stepmother) kind of losing her mind and Vasya’s family just felt pointless to me. I’m disappointed, because I’ve heard such amazing things about this book. Perhaps it is just not my cup of tea.
  • Death in Room 7 (Pine Lake Inn #1) by K. J. Emrick (released 2015) (indie)
    • I wanted so badly to like this book because it’s set in Australia, giving a very unusual setting for your average cozy mystery. But it was so…weird. The characters weren’t too complex, but I didn’t mind them. Many of them were likable, or unlikable, as the case may be. There was a little too much backstory in the beginning, but once the murder happened, I was really invested in the mystery. However, two things destroyed this book for me. First, the supernatural elements. Every time the characters were presented with a problem, instead of using their intellect to work their way out of it, a ghost turned up to set everything right. This reliance really lessened my enjoyment of the mystery. Second, in any good mystery you should have that “Ah-ha” moment at the end when the killer is revealed, that sense that the clues were there all along and you just missed the importance of them due to red herrings. In this one, the story just said, “Oh, you thought all these other suspects might be the killer. Well, here, let’s introduce another random character at the end as the murderer, with no connection to the mystery but a footprint in mud, which could have belonged to anyone.” It is a poor mystery indeed where there is no possible way for you to figure out the truth for yourself until the story tells you. Because of those two aspects, my enjoyment of this book was greatly diminished, which is sad because it could have been great mystery otherwise.
  • Watership Down (Watership Down #1) by Richard Adams (released 1972)
    • I really tried to like this book. I got through about half of it before I finally gave up. In many ways, this book has the pieces to be an interesting narrative: a unique world, complex examinations of philosophical debates, even surprisingly dark twists for being a story about rabbits. However, everything felt incredibly shallow to me. All the characters but a couple felt bland and underdeveloped. The bunny mythos was interesting, but it often took you out of the story too much. And the pacing was so slow-moving that I was yawning while read this. I was expecting a book like Animal Farm by George Orwell, but instead this book was a drag to get through. This surprised me, because I’ve heard nothing but good things about this book.

2 Stars

  • Sea Summit: Poems by Yi Lu (released 2015)
    • As I’ve said with other poetry translations, it’s just not the same to not read the poems in English. However, since I’m learning Chinese, it was fun to pick out the characters that I had already learned. Without this, though, I wasn’t a fan of many of the poems, though some of the imagery was quite interesting.
  • The People in the Trees by Hanya Yanagihara (released 2013)
    • I am chagrined to say I didn’t enjoy this book, because it is a fascinating story. The story starts near the end of a brilliant doctor’s life and is formatted as his journals (sent to a friend) about his excursions to a micronesian island to bring back a secret to lengthening life. In theory, it’s a brilliant book, but there are so many things I didn’t like. Paul Tallent is an insufferable protagonist, looking down on everyone (I won’t get into why he goes to prison). The book is slow-moving, and felt like reading a six hundred page book instead of three hundred and sixty-eight pages. I kept seeing this book as a type of Dorian Grey, where the protagonist is indeed his own undoing because of his lust for eternal youth. There are some interesting things in the book, and I appreciated the level of scientific research (both real and imagined) inserted into the story. But I can’t say I enjoyed it.
  • The Widows of Malabar Hill (Perveen Mistry #1) by Sujata Massay (released 2018)
    • While this book has a really interesting premise, I feel like the story fell apart really quickly. There are two stories, one from 1921 and one from a few years before. The mystery section in 1921 is quite interesting, and I loved the setting of Bombay. However, the moment I would start to get into the story, a section would throw back to Perveen’s earlier life. The moment I started getting into that second story, we’d be back to the present. And so the cycle continued. I never could really get into either story, and thus the ending of both felt anti-climactic to me. I thought the story could have been interesting, but as it was I just got frustrated with it.
  • Predator’s Gold (Mortal Instruments #2) by Philip Reeve (released 2003)
    • I loved the first book, but this one was such a far fall for me. The characters I loved in the first book (Hester and Tom) were complete idiots all the time. All their character qualities I loved in the first book were absent in this one. It was interesting to see more of the world, but the plot felt aimless, driven more by characters’ petty squabbles than anything concrete. I missed Katherine and she was replaced by intolerable characters like Freya and Pennyroyal. Caul, I will admit, was a great character, but one good character cannot save this book. Even Blinkoe wasn’t an interesting villain, and nothing compared to Valentine. The worldbuilding is the only thing that forces me to give this book two stars, as otherwise I would have no regrets in giving it only one. I disliked this book so much I’m not sure I can ever bring myself to read the next book in the series.
  • “Ex Oblivione” by H. P. Lovecraft (short story)
    • This is surely Lovecraft’s shortest story I have ever read, and instead creates more of a picture of a dream and less of a full story. I have a feeling that Lovecraft must have had a lot of weird dreams, since many of his stories have something to do with horrific dreams.

3 Stars

  • The Little Book of Skin Care: Korean Beauty Secrets for Healthy, Glowing Skin by Charlotte Cho (released 2015)
    • Being obsessed with skin care and the health of my skin, I love learning about Korean beauty secrets. I also enjoy Soko Glam’s products, so I was excited to read this book. There are parts of it I love, like products commonly used in Korea as well as an entirely different mindset then we have in the west about skincare. However, the book is a bit bogged down with stories about Korea. I love learning about Korea, but it did detract from the subject of this book. However, if you are interested in getting better, healthier skin, I highly recommend this book!
  • A White Tea Bowl: 100 Haiku from 100 Years of Life by Mitsu Suzuki (released 2014)
    • I haven’t read many Haiku, so I was excited to read this collection by such a famous Japanese poet. I won’t say I liked a lot of the poems, but I have a feeling that is more because they don’t translate as beautifully. The book does provide them in the original Japanese (including transliteration), which sounded so much more beautiful to pronounce out. Certain things like poetry just does not translate easily. Saying that, some of these poems have incredibly beautiful messages.
  • Dim Sum of All Fears (A Noodle Shop Mystery #2) by Vivien Cho (released 2018)
    • I enjoyed this book almost as much as I enjoyed the previous book of the series. The mystery was interesting, even if I figured out the murderer rather early on. I wasn’t as much a fan of the romance in this one (mostly because the conflict between Lana and Adam seemed too contrived and pointless), but I still enjoyed many of the characters, especially Lana’s friend Megan. All in all, it’s a nice, fun, murder mystery.
  • The Lost For Words Bookshop by Stephanie Butland (released 2017)
    • This isn’t a bad book, but I just didn’t connect to it. Loveday is a…unique protagonist, and one I had trouble relating to, despite suffering from social anxiety myself. The book focuses on internal conflict, and I just didn’t find it very interesting. There were some scenes I got into and there were some beautiful turn of phrases, but for most part I was bored out of my mind. Again, this is not a bad book at all, but perhaps it was not my cup of tea. There is no intense shift in perspective, or powerful themes. There just wasn’t enough substance in the book to keep me interested.
  • An Impartial Witness (Bess Crawford #2) by Charles Todd (released 2010)
    • While I did enjoy this mystery, it was a far cry from the brilliance of the first book. This book is very much an average murder mystery, with predictable plot and characters. You get introduced to a mystery, introduced to the suspects, and get a few red herrings thrown in before getting to the satisfying ending. There is nothing wrong with this type of story, but the first book to me stood out as defying the common mystery tropes, while this one fell into them all. So if you like this type of book, read and enjoy, but I was hoping for a bit more.
  • “The Picture in the House” by H. P. Lovecraft (released 1921) (short story)
    • This is a rather…unpleasant story. I can’t say I truly enjoyed it, though it was incredibly creepy. I love horror stories about a person who enters a strange house to escape a storm, and this one was particularly scary, more because there is a sense of realism that Lovecraft lacks in many of his more fanciful stories.
  • Sky Without Stars (System Divine #1) by Jessica Brody and Joanne Rendell (released March, 2019)

4 Stars

  • Ohio Archaeology: An Illustrated Chronicle of Ohio’s Ancient American Indian Culture by Bradley T. Lepper (released 2005)
    • Having just moved to Ohio, I was curious to get into the history of the state. I think most people assume that America doesn’t have much of an ancient history, just because we don’t have any writing system from the time which recorded the civilizations. Which makes it even more important, I believe, to try to stay informed of the history in the area around us. I thoroughly enjoyed this book. The pictures are beautiful and it is packed with detailed information about archaeology and history of Ohio. It’s even given me a wishlist of places to visit soon.
  • Silas Marner by George Eliot (released 1861)
  • A Duty to the Dead (Bess Crawford #1) by Charles Todd (released 2009)
  • Romances of Old Japan by Yei Theodora Ozaki (released 1932)
    • This is a short story collection of classic Japanese tales, written by a half-Japanese, half-British girl living in Japan at the turn of the century. Many of the stories are certainly more tragedies than romances, but there is something poignant and moving about the stories. They really show traditional Japanese philosophies about life and death, usually dealing with suicide. If you are curious to learn more about Japan, I highly recommend this book.
  • The Five: The Untold Lives of the Women Killed by Jack the Ripper by Hallie Rubenhold (released Feb. 2019)
  • Empress Dowager Cixi: The Concubine Who Launched Modern China by Jung Chang
    • This book isn’t just a biography, but instead a detailed survey of Chinese affairs during the 19th and early 20th centuries. Yes, Cixi is the center of this book, but she is hardly the only topic covered. I found it a fascinating book to read, though I would expect nothing less from the author of Wild Swans. I really appreciated how Chang looked at the perspective of everyone (the Chinese and foreigners alike), not painting anyone as the villain but instead explaining how flawed people were which ultimately led to the fall of the Qing Dynasty. If you are interested in Chinese history, I cannot recommend this book more.

5 Stars

  • Chinese Landscape Painting Techniques for Watercolor by Lian Quan Zhen (released 2013)
    • I’ve read a few books about different watercolor techniques, but none did I enjoy as much as this. It gives great tips that I’ve never heard of (like painting on a wet canvas versus a dry one) and walks you through painting completely different types of landscapes (snow, water, etc.). I can’t imagine I’ll ever be as good as this artist, but if I do decide to get actively into watercolor, this will be the first book I turn to.
  • The Jefferson Lies: Exposing the Myths You’ve Always Believed about Thomas Jefferson by David Barton (released 2012)
    • I remember visiting Monticello in my teenage years, and hearing of the story of Sally Hemmings by a so-called “informed” tour guide. It was strange to me, considering the more writings I read by Jefferson, this and many of the claims laid against him (his racism, secularization, etc.) didn’t fit with his beliefs. Thus, I picked up this book out of curiosity after seeing a few videos by David Barton. Many people claim Barton isn’t a real historian. I won’t attempt to argue what makes a historian, because I think an argument should stand on its own. A good argument, after all, is still good even if an imperfect person makes it. In reading this book, I was curious to see how effective Barton’s arguments would be. And I found them to be very effective. He uses many primary sources, quoting them to include context, which I rarely find in many modern history books. The level of details filling this book is astonishing. Saying that, clearly Barton has a pro-Christian, pro-Jefferson bias. The question is then: does that lessen his arguments? I personally didn’t find it to be, and I can say this book thoroughly impressed me with its detailed sources given to support Barton’s argument. Even if you don’t agree with Barton’s conclusion, I can easily say he makes a brilliant argument.
  • A Hobbit, a Wardrobe, and a Great War: How J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis Rediscovered Faith, Friendship, and Heroism in the Cataclysm of 1914-18 by Joseph Loconte (released 2015)

There is my reading wrap-up for this month. Wow, that took a long time to write. Hopefully, next month should slow down a bit and then the rest of the year will lack a lot of the active reading I’ve been able to do in the first half of the year.

Have you read any of these books? Do any of them look interesting? Let me know your thoughts down in the comments, follow my blog for more musings and, as always,

Best wishes in your life full of adventure,

Madame Writer

8 thoughts on “Reading Wrap-up: July, 2019

  1. I read the Widows of Malabar Hill and relate to your perspective. I found the switch between times slowed down my reading and it switched when I was really interested in what was happening.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Kinda glad you didn’t like Watership Down because even though that’s way back in my generation’s reading, I didn’t enjoy it. Similarly the classic Redwall Abbey series by Brian Jacques, beautifully recreated world of animals but not my scene.

    Liked by 1 person

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