The Perfect Son – A Review

The Perfect SonThe Perfect Son by Barbara Claypole White is rated 3 stars because while most of this book was very engaging and well done, the last few chapters of the book were too unbelievable to warrant a 4 star rating. This is a book which shows flawed and authentic characters, making a unrealistic ending more damaging to the story.

Note: I have listed trigger warnings at the end of this review. They can be considered spoilers, so I have marked them as such. I’m happy to answer any questions about the trigger warnings I’ve described below.

This book ended up being different from what I expected and it was a book I enjoyed more because of that. It is told from three points of view, Ella (the mom), Felix (the dad), and Harry (the son), but it heavily focuses on Felix’s point of view. I had expected to mostly read from Ella’s perspective, but hers with the least frequently used. While I expected this to be a story about Ella’s struggle to come to terms with her failing health and her inability to care for her son, this story is not really about her at all. In fact, she is much more of a side character used to further the story along. This is a story about a father struggling to accept who his son is while overcoming his own flaws. It is an incredibly powerful story and the depth of Felix’s character greatly adds to the impact.

The story was interesting and there was a lot of character growth, but some of it falls flat and doesn’t ring true. Felix is the most flushed out and most of his growth feels real, though at the very end, he makes a significant leap that feels a bit unrealistic. Ella grows the least and her growth is probably realistic, but there’s so little of her perspective, it’s hard to know. Harry is the least realistic character and his growth is a bit simplistic and not fully flushed out. The problem is that there’s not much depth to his thoughts or much internal conflict. Overall, he was way too happy and way too accepting of everything and while there are people with such optimism, even they must have some internal struggle which is just not depicted in Harry. There was a lot of potential there, but it wasn’t flushed out as well as it could be. Harry’s character probably would have felt more real if it wasn’t in such stark contrast to Felix’s character. Felix felt incredibly real and it was obvious the author understood his perspective well. But that made it more obvious she didn’t understand Harry’s perspective very well.

This book was a refreshing divergence from the standard family drama. In The Perfect Son, the drama is driven by clear health conditions, making it feel less like rubbernecking at a serious car accident. This family faces real, concrete problems and they put in substantial work to navigate and adapt to these problems. I loved this about the book. There were sections that were definitely 4 stars because of the depth and authenticity of every aspect of the particular situation and characters. Unfortunately, that made it all the more obvious where the book failed to do this. It’s particularly unforunate that this book was told from multiple perspectives since two out of three of those perspectives were of only partially developed characters.

That ending! That’s the part of the book that dropped this solidly to 3 stars. I would love to go on a rant her about how ridiculous the ending was, but I don’t want to spoil anything for you. What I will say is that the ending felt rushed and did not stay true to the characters or the style of the book. It’s jarring to have most of the book struggle and work to overcome various problems and then at the very end have a major event which is perfectly resolved and presents no future problems. It is really unfortunate that the ending was so bad otherwise this could have been an incredible book which shows diverse perspectives of a child with Tourette’s syndrome and a father with perfectionist issues.

Overall, the book was engaging and interesting and it was refreshing to see flawed characters. This probably would have been a 3.5 star read if not for the ending, which was too neatly wrapped in a bow, except for the one significant piece of the storyline which was not addressed or resolved. The neat bow in the last chapter set 5 years later would have been less annoying had the previous chapters (starting with a trip) not been so over the top perfectly played out. For a story which presented flawed and real characters, it was disappointing to have it all end in a not so realistic way. If the book sounds interesting to you, I recommend it, but do note that it is closer to a beach read than literary fiction since one has to suspend a bit of reality to enjoy the ending.

I listened to the audiobook version of this book and it was well done. I do recommend this narration if you are considering the audiobook. It’s the narration more than anything else that has really stayed with me after finishing this book. If you enjoy audiobooks, that is definitely the way to go.

Trigger warnings: [SPOILER ALERT] child abuse, graphically depicted; domestic violence, implied; mental illness (OCPD), graphically shown and described; fight scene with physical confrontation; bullying, minimally depicted [/SPOILER ALERT]

Note: part of this review was originally posted on Goodreads. New original sections were added to this blog post.

Station Eleven – A Critique

Station Eleven Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel is rated 4 out of 5 stars because I enjoyed it so much while I was reading it, but now it is less clear whether this book deserves 4 stars

NOTE: This critique contains spoilers, listed between the two spoiler brackets ([spoiler] to [/spoiler]. The rest is a spoiler free review.

This book really drew me in and I had a hard time putting it down. I was constantly thinking about it. I even watched American Experience: 1918 Flu Pandemic to better understand how such a situation could arise. I needed to know what happened and why. I needed to learn their stories. I just could not stop reading it.

Some of the books appeal is how well done symbolism and themes are throughout the book. [SPOILER ALERT] One such theme is the end of one story is the beginning of another. This comes up several times, sometimes after a character dies, but also in other ways. The theme is weaved throughout the story in such a way that it is not immediately apparent until one sits and contemplates it critically. Then one starts noticing all the other things that weave throughout the story. There are several objects that move with various characters, seemingly weaving together their stories, yet not exactly doing much of anything. But they are important because another theme of the book is what takes with them from the past interwoven with the theme of what one would miss the most. How these themes are intertwined and how they use symbolism to convey them is fantastic. A reader can read the whole book and not notice them, but they are impactful nonetheless. I did not expect to see this many literary tools in a contemporary work of science fiction, yet somehow, it works incredibly well.

A theme that was incredibly powerful for me was how different people respond to the same thing and how they understand and interpret its significance differently. It is hard to discuss this particular theme without spoiling the book for those who have yet to read it, but suffice it to say that there are two characters who start with similar things and end up on very different paths.

There are obvious themes that I suspect nearly all readers will find in Station Eleven. These are survival is not sufficient and the vitalness of art. Both of these themes are made strongly prevelant and come up often in the book, but in several different ways. For example, a character struggles with discovering that survival is not enough before the collapse of society. Characters value and thrive because of art before and after the collapse. These are likely the takeaways St. John Mandel wants her readers to feel and reflect on. They are powerful and in the book club I attended, they certainly were a significant part of the discussion.

Interestingly, another part of the discussion was how accessible the writing was for readers. This timeline jumps forward and back, not just around the collapse of society, but also within each. For example, at one point, the book may focus on the current period which happened right before the collapse and then jump back a decade to look at a character’s past. Or the reader might be 10 years in the future after the collapse, back to the beginning of the collapse, and then back 10 years before the collapse. It is a very contemporary writing style, not simply because of the disjointed time, but also because of the way St. John Mandel writes. There were several people in book club, of the baby boomer generation, who struggled greatly with this writing style and ended up strongly disliking the book because of it. They struggled to keep the characters and timelines straight and thus did not takeaway from the book the major or minor themes which are so critical to its success. What fascinated me about this discussion is that I found the writing style to work incredibly well for this book. To me, it said something about the fragmentation of collective memory and it showed how interconnected current events are to our past. [/SPOILER ALERT] I’m not sure I would have liked this writing style in another book, but for this one, it very much worked.

This book is successful at saying much more than what is immediately apparent on the page and I can understand why it was nominated for awards. Even if readers do not consciously understand the themes, they are working on the reader in such a way that the book is incredibly engaging and memorable. But, objectively, I don’t think this was particularly a 4 star book. There were some significant aspects left unexplained and some significant pieces were incredibly improbable. Not all the storylines resolved and there wasn’t a main story. Really the draw of the story is to understand what happened. I expected this to be a strongly character-driven story and it wasn’t exactly. There are small references to how they themselves changed, but there isn’t enough character development to see full shifts. In fact, several of the characters do not seem to change at all. This was disappointing.

This is by far the most critical 4 star review I’ve written. I’m not sure if a 4 star rating makes sense, but while I was reading it, I was greatly enjoying it and now that I’ve thought more about it, I realize it is because of how the book uses themes and symbolism to tell a story, though I’m not sure that makes it a 4 star book. But there is something to be said for a book I devour, so it’s a 4 star rated book with a fairly critical review. If the blurb interests you, I’d recommend you’d give it a go!

A note: the review part of this critique originally posted on Goodreads in early June 2018; however, the literary critique is entirely new material and only posted on this blog.

Sparrow Migrations – A Review

Sparrow MigrationsSparrow Migrations by Cari Noga is rated 2.5 stars, rounded up because there was decent character development and I was engaged, but the story wasn’t particularly memorable or interesting

When I read the summary for this book, I thought it was going to be a sad book and thus it spent a long time on my Kindle shelf. But this year, I’ve committed to tackle Mount TBR and have a quarter to half of the books I read be ones I already own. Plus, I enjoy listening to easy reads when I’m doing things around the house, so this one ended up being a book I finally got to. Thankfully it wasn’t an emotional story. Yes, it starts with the Miracle on the Hudson landing, but it quickly moves beyond that to look at the lives of three families who were impacted by this event. In addition, only one of those families was on the plane; the other two were on ferries which aided in the rescue. This is not a book about tragedy but rather a book about finding oneself.

The stories of each family vary quite a bit from each other, which makes their stories more interesting. It does make it a bit easier to keep their stories straight; however, in the beginning while the reader is still learning their stories, it is really difficult to keep track of all the characters. This is because the story does not follow the point of view of one character from each family, but rather nearly all family members. This constant change in perspective is frustrating and it only minimally adds to the story. There’s even a time when the point of view is from a minor character who is not one of the family members. It is simply too many perspectives, especially since all essentially told in the same voice. While I understand why the author did this, it simply did not add the depth to the story to the extent she thought it did. There were moments when these other perspectives were helpful in understanding the characters and their development; however, it would have been better to limit this to a few brief moments when the point of view was from the non-main family character. For example, Robby was the main character of his family and I would have greatly preferred to have his family’s story told from his point of view entirely, but it was useful to see his dad’s perspective at one particular point in the novel. Yet, it was less useful to see his point of view nearly as often as Robbie’s. This constant switching is particularly challenging in the beginning and I suspect some readers will bail early in the book simply because of this issue.

The best thing about this book was its character development, though it could have been better had the story stuck to one perspective per family. Mostly, the characters are developed enough that they feel like real people facing real challenges and this made it easy to finish the book. Unfortunately, the characters do not grow as much as one would expect in a book about how an event impacts one’s life. For example, Deborah does not really grow much as a person. There are some changes, but mostly those are external events that naturally cause a person’s life to change, not necessarily the person. Maybe Deborah did change internally because of these external events, but the reader doesn’t read about those internal conflicts. Again, this is because there are simply too many perspectives in this book. Unless this book was going to be 100 or 200 more pages, it’s simply not possible to develop this many characters and then have the reader inside each one of their heads to truly understand and see the full complexity of how external events are impact them. There is one family where their story is told nearly entirely through the perspective of the mom and she has the most growth of all the characters. This supports my conclusion that there were simply too many perspectives.

I was a bit disappointed that the storylines overlapped, but that was too be expected. It was a bit much that nearly each day covered in the novel was covered from the perspective of multiple families. I understand that it might have been easier to write this way, but I would have preferred to see each families timelines to progress in their own chapters instead of side by side in the same chapter about one particular day. It took me awhile to get used to this style and because of the sheer number of perspectives, it made it even harder to follow the book early on. I can see a decent number of readers bailing because it is just so much to keep track of.

There are two characters whose story did not always feel realistic: Robby and Brett. Robby is autistic and while there are moments when it appears to be an accurate depiction of an autistic person, there were moments when it was less clear. As someone who is neurotypical, I have no basis for determining whether this was an accurate portrayal, so do take my concern with a grain of salt. There were just a few times when it felt more like a neurotypical person writing about her perceived perspectives of a neurodivergent person than truly from the perspective of a neurodivergent person. This is also true with Brett. As she comes to terms with her sexuality, there are moments where her perspective feels more like it is the perspective of a person who has not seriously struggled with her sexual identity than an accurate portrayal. As a woman who has spent much of her life reflecting on and trying to understand her sexuality, her portrayal did feel inauthentic at points; however, I respect that my experience is not the only experience and there may be more truth to this portrayal than I felt there was. But ultimately, it did not feel like there was enough internal conflict to drive her changes.

This book was better than I expected, but was not as good as it could have been because of all the various points of view. If you are interested in reading this book, know that the beginning with be a bit slow going simply because of the number of perspectives. For readers who have difficulties tracking many viewpoints or simply do not like reading many viewpoints, this book is not for you. This book is best for readers who like developed characters and find many viewpoints interesting, even if it means a bit less depth for each character.

The Repeat Year – A Review

Repeat YearThe Repeat Year by Andrea Lochen is rated 2.5 stars, rounded up because the book kept me reading and I wasn’t particularly annoyed with it until the end.

This book isn’t something I would have picked up if it wasn’t for my library’s summer book club and wasn’t written by a local author in a local setting. This book is much more romance heavy than I would have preferred. The concept of the book is interesting: a woman wakes up on New Year’s Day in the previous year. She gets a repeat year to change things. There are so many directions this book could have went, yet it went for the romance path. The premise that her repeat year was entirely so she could fix her relationship with her “soul mate” was my first big problem with the book. There was so much potential in the book: she could have helped her friends or family more, she could have done more for patients in the ICU where she was a nurse, or she could have reflected more on who she was as a person and who she wanted to be. She could have done those things and tried to repair her relationship, but besides minor instances, she seemed to only care about her relationship. This is propagates the stereotype that women are nothing without a man and it was frustrating.

My second problem with the book was that there was no depth to it. The characters are barely developed. I didn’t feel I understood any of their inner workings. The scenes were sparse and much of the story is just told instead of shown. It’s a very basic writing style that makes it hard to get into the book. There’s no really connection to the characters or the things they go through. It’s written like a series of accounts instead of like a novel where we see things behind the scenes. This is a writing style I do not find engaging, though I acknowledge there are people who don’t agree with me.

The third problem I had with the book centers around her friendship with Kerrigan. I can’t get into the specifics without spoilers, but suffice it to say that the relationship felt fake. While we are constantly told they are the bestest friends ever, at no point do they act like they are. There seems to be nothing between them except a moment early in college when they connected so they wouldn’t be lonely. I wouldn’t have minded that too much, except then the relationship has to overcome some things and none of it makes much sense, even in the context of the relationship as described.

In some ways, it felt like this book tried to do too much and thus did none of it well. There were too many random storylines that didn’t seem to add much to the story. But if you are someone who really likes a plot driven story that’s an easy read, you might enjoy this book. There is enough going on to keep one engaged and it was a rather quick read. This book wasn’t for me, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t have potential for other readers, particularly those who enjoy contemporary women’s fiction.

Wonder – Review: Library

Wonder coverWonder by R.J. Palacio – 3/ 5 stars

Wonder, oh Wonder. I had avoided reading this book because I rarely find that hyped books live up to the hype. I am a critic. I nitpick. It is part of my personality and also part of my academic training. I can thoroughly enjoy a book while I’m reading it and then point out all its flaws while I’m reviewing it. I strongly suspected a book written by an author who saw a boy with a deformed face and decided she had the right to tell his story would be one I would suffer through. I was mostly right.

To start, it’s important we are all on the same page about what ableism is, since it’s central to the critique of this book. Ableism broadly is discrimination in favor of able-bodied people. More subtlely, it’s treating non able-bodied people as if there is something wrong with them that needs to be fixed. If you read Wonder, you might have cringed after reading that statement, because you probably remember how nearly every character in the book felt that there was something wrong with Auggie that needed to be fixed. That in fact, his parents spent a lot of time, money, and energy trying to fix him. Or that nearly everyone around Auggie was ableist in some way towards him at some point in the book.

In America, I constantly see quotes that go something like this, “Love is seeing his flaws and loving him in spite of them.” This is pretty much how every character approaches Auggie – they love or like him in spite of his deformed face. But really, true love is loving someone because of their flaws. Ideally, we love each other as they are, not as we want them to be. No one is perfect; everyone of has some sort of deformity. Auggie’s deformity was visible, but for most of us, our deformities are on the inside. Maybe we are too judgemental, maybe we are too harsh with other people, maybe we don’t help out when others have needs, maybe we are quick to anger. These are not things to hate in another person, but instead to embrace in them because it is part of who they are. If we as a society would embrace that we are all flawed humans, with great variation, and there is no such thing as normal, the world would be a safer, happier place.

Maybe the point of having all the characters treat Auggie like he was broken and needed to be fixed was Palacio’s way of showing how flawed that view is. But if that was the message, it was lost on me, partly because of how the school only accepted him once they heard about how Auggie was bullied. Aw, poor deformed Auggie, his life is really hard, but it would be so much better if he was normal because then he wouldn’t be bullied. We should be his friend even though we didn’t like him at all when he was just the deformed kid. That kind of patronizing, ableist attitude makes my stomach turn and I was frustrated to no end that this book is held up as the standard for books about deformed or disabled kids.

Outside of ableism, the book was fine. It was kind of nice to get other viewpoints, but it also felt forced in a lot of cases. I didn’t have as big of a deal with Justin getting his own chapter as other people did, but I don’t think it added a whole lot of value. But I didn’t really think a lot of the individual chapters added a lot of value. They all sounded a bit too similar to me.

Wonder was a bit too happily ever after for me, with everything nicely wrapped up in a neat little bow. I expect that some for a book at this age level, but children are resilient enough for there to be challenging situations that don’t wrap up perfectly well. I would have liked to see more grey than the black and white, good or bad, one size fits all story lines.

In the end, this wasn’t a book about Auggie, but instead a book about how other kids dealt with Auggie’s presence, and that was bothersome to me. This should be a book about Auggie and how he feels about a world which treats him as broken and disabled even when he is neither. Auggie says that he’s a normal kid, but he does not act as though he sees himself that way. In fact, there are several times where it seems like Auggie enjoys being treated differently, for example by having his mom prioritize his feelings over his sister’s. There was a lack of consistency in how Auggie talked about himself and how he behaved. What did he truly think and feel and how representative is his story of children in similar situations? I suspect it is not representative, but I cannot be certain. This is why it can be problematic for a person privileged on a topic to write a main character who is not privileged on that topic. It can be hard to step that far out of one’s comfort zone or to find a way to truly understand an experience one does not experience themselves. While I am disabled, I would not presume to know how to write a character like Auggie as my disability is invisible. Also, I became disabled as an adult. I do not have the same experiences as Auggie to be able to write from his perspective and I would not even call my experiences similar enough to feel comfortable writing his story. This is why I am not exactly critiquing the way Auggie’s character was written, though I am critiquing the lack of consistency. While I suspect the depiction of his inner thoughts and feelings are inaccurate based on accounts I’ve read in the anti-ableism movement, I cannot possibly say for certain. That is for someone who is more similar to Auggie to say and I hope one day such a person writes a better story than Wonder about their childhood experiences.

If you want to read a book that will make you feel warm and fuzzy and don’t plan on thinking too critically about how accurate it is, then this is a solid book choice. From that point of view, this was a 3 star read for me. It is definitely over the top and a happily ever after story that will leave you feeling that the world is a good place. But, if you are looking for an accurate depiction of a deformed child, I suggest doing your homework on this book first and then making a decision for yourself whether it fits your needs. From this point of view, this is a 1 star read for me.

Add to your Goodreads TBR! Wonder

Considering reading it? Check out a free Kindle preview! Ready to buy? Purchase on Amazon or Book Depository. Please note that Diversifying Perspective is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program and Book Depository Affiliates Program, affiliate advertising programs designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to free Kindle previews through Amazon.com and purchase pages at Amazon.com and BookDepository.com. This does not impact the selection of books nor the content of reviews.

The Golden House – Review: ARC

The Golden House coverThe Golden Houseby Salman Rushdie – DNF (no star rating)

The Golden House is the type of book I tend to love: high literary fiction which is satire and political commentary. However, even I have my breaking point with such novels and The Golden House has hit it. At almost 30% (chapter 13), this is a DNF for me and I suspect I won’t be picking it back up.

While I do not think literary fiction needs to reference other fiction or the like in order to be literary fiction, I don’t mind it in stories and I do find, when well done, it contributes greatly to the story line. However, in The Golden House, the name dropping is incessant and unnecessary. Very quickly it feels like Rushdie is simply doing it to prove that not only has he been well versed in the classics, like Greek mythology, but he is also completely up to date on news stories and happenings throughout the world. The references are all over the place and quite often add nothing to the story but frustration. The references are often obscure, almost on purpose, and many other times, are things only a few well read people would have come across. The reader is left feeling throughout the book that s/he must be missing something crucial by not understanding all these references. This will be a major impediment to this book finding an audience.

I personally have no problem reading a book that regularly refers to a few pieces of literature, even if I do not know them that well or even have never heard of them. I will stop reading the book to spend time going over the literary reference. Referring to other literature can be an effective literary device and I was interested in the Greek mythology references tied to the characters names in The Golden House. Readers of my blog will note that I highly recommended The Judgement of Richard Ritcher, which continuously throughout the book references a story I had not heard of going into the book. It was an effective literary device. I strongly suspect that had I finished The Golden House, the references to Greek mythology would have been highly effective literary devices. I am not critical of those references. I am critical of nearly every other reference, including to “famous” people and other very specific Manhattan snobbish, high-minded references.

Underneath the layers of random, unnecessary, obnoxious references is a typical literary fiction story, in which the first part spends significant time on character development. If one can ignore feeling in the dark because of the references, there is rich enough character development that I do not think it is entirely necessary to understand the random references (of course, the Greek ones are vital to the story). At about 15%, I decided to not slow down for the references I was unaware of and simply pushed through them. In doing so, I saw the beauty of Rushdie’s character development. It is an unusual style that is a bit challenging to get into, random references aside, but then at some point, it becomes crystal clear who the character is, was, and will be. The reader feels s/he is fumbling along through long sentences that do not seem to be going anywhere, until all of a sudden, one arrives at the destination. I fully grasp why people praise Rushdie’s writing. There is much beauty in it.

Ultimately, the random, incessant references were not why I gave up on this book. I was willing to look past them. By this point in the book, I am mostly invested in the characters and am interested in seeing how this plays out. The reason I gave up reading this book was personal. It is not something easily put into words, in part because of its intimacy and vulnerability, but mostly because it is simply a feeling I get from this book. It would be challenging to write a book about the Trumps, err Goldens, and not leave a bad taste in the reader’s mouth. There is something seedy, dirty, misogynistic, and unsettling about this book, but it is just a hint of a feeling, but a feeling strong enough it was becoming increasingly more challenging to read this book. As some one particularly sensitive to such threads in a book, I trust that this book will only become more challenging to read as it progresses and I am currently not in the head space to cope with those challenges. If my dog weren’t dying, maybe I would be, but right now, I am not in a space to read a book that goes down the rabbit hole of the Trumps, err Goldens. I do hope to get back to this book, but I won’t try to read it again until I am able to read reviews by people other than those whom excitedly requested the ARC or snatched up early copies. Only then will I get a true sense of what I am in for if I finish this book and without that sense, I do not see me picking this book back up anytime soon.

I received this book from Netgalley and Random House in exchange for an honest review.

Add to your Goodreads TBR! The Golden House


Considering reading it? Check out a free Kindle preview! Ready to buy? Purchase on Amazon or Book Depository. Please note that Diversifying Perspective is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program and Book Depository Affiliates Program, affiliate advertising programs designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to free Kindle previews through Amazon.com and purchase pages at Amazon.com and BookDepository.com. This does not impact the selection of books nor the content of reviews.

August Reads and an Update – Bookish: Reads

Welcome to August Reads! Overall, I read 7 books, including 2 audiobooks, 2 nonfiction books, 1 ARC, 1 eARC, 4 diverse books, and 2 books written by women. This month, 57% of the books I read were diverse, which is over my 50% goal. For July and August combined, 60% of the books I read were diverse, which I very happy with. Only 29% of the books I read this month were written by women, which is below my desired 50% goal. For July and August combined, 55% of the books I read were written by women, which meets my overall goal of at least 50%. The biggest change this month was not listening to audiobooks. This was due to my dog’s sudden and critical illness and the toll it took on me. It’s also why it took me longer to get through books as there were some days I just didn’t have the energy to read. For an update on Nica’s health, please scroll all the way to the end!

the judgment of richard richter coverThe first book I started and finished in August was the Judgment of Richard Ritcher. This was an interesting change of pace from my normal reads and I am so glad I decided to grab it through the Kindle First program. It’s been a long time since I read an Eastern European/ Russian author and it wasn’t the only book by such an author this month. This was a 4 star read for me, though note that it comes with trigger warnings.

The Power of Habit coverThe next book I finished was a hard one for me to determine what the star rating should be. I ranged from giving it a 2 to a 4 and finally settled on a 3.5. There are parts of The Power of Habit that are really good, but ultimately, there were several flaws, which are common in pop science journalism, that got under my skin as a scientist. But, I was able to take a few useful things away from it, so I decided on a positive star rating. This book was reviewed on Goodreads.

The Shadow of the Wind coverMy next read was also challenging to figure out a star rating. I was so excited to read The Shadow of the Wind and so let down by its sexism and poor finish. Honestly, this book combined with The Power of Habit probably contributed to the reading slump that was excerabated by my dog’s illness. This was not exactly my month for great books. But like The Power of Habit, there were things I enjoyed in The Shadow of the Wind and it made it hard for me to give it a low rating. Again, I was between a 2.5 and 4, but settled on 3.5 stars.

Still Here coverOnto a book I greatly enjoyed reading, even if I barely remember it now. Still Here was a book I couldn’t put down and read in no time at all, but it wasn’t that memorable. Because I enjoyed it so greatly while I read it, it was a 4 star read, but it won’t end up on a favorite list. I do expect to read Vapnyar’s books in the future as I loved the tone of this book. Plus, it was great to have a second Eastern European/ Russian book in one month!

How to Listen to and Understand Great Music coverI finally finished an audiobook I started back in June. It was very long, though it generally kept my interest and I moved through the early sections pretty quickly. Then I took a break and powered through again. How to Listen to and Understand Great Music is definitely an audiobook I would recommend to anyone interested in better understanding orchestral music. This was a 4 star read and I have already stated another audiobook by this author! This was reviewed on Goodreads.

The Circle coverAh, The Circle. I don’t think I’ve ever enjoyed a movie more than the book before, but it happened here. I chose to read this book to meet a reading challenge requirement to read a book that was being turned into a movie this year. This book sounded super interesting and I was really excited going in. Unfortunately, I didn’t much like the main character and the ending was the worst. Oddly enough, those issues were fixed in the movie, which was coauthored by the book author. So, maybe he ended up agreeing with me in the end. This was a 3 star read for me since the plot was interesting. It was reviewed on Goodreads.

Little Gold coverThe last read was Little Gold which was a unique story for me that was hard to get into, but absolutely worth sticking it out. I fell in love with Little Gold (the character) and was satisified with the book, even though the ending was a bit too perfect. This was one of those books that is hard to describe, but I want to push on everyone. I’m not sure it’s a book for everyone, but for that certain reader, it is a wonderful treat.

update-1672349_640Lastly, an update on Nica. Nica (pictured in the profile picture) has been recovering a little more every day from a major surgery which removed a large tumor, her gallbladder, a lymph node, and a small mass. Before surgery, she was suffering from severe adema and would have died without the surgery. Going into surgery, there was a greater than 50% chance that this was liver cancer, which has a median survival time of 2 years. Unforunately, this was a rare presentation of bile duct cancer, which is an aggressive, fast metatsizing cancer. The vet expects her to live 3 to 6 months, though median survival time in the medical literature is 6 months. I will try to keep up with this blog through this challenging time, but I may not go back to doing reflections for awhile. They are simply too much for me in terms of emotional energy and time. As it nears the end for Nica, I will likely take another hiatus. She is my world, my child, and my spirit animal. Losing her will be an incredible blow and I’m simply not sure at this point how it will affect this blog. I will keep you updated as I know more.

What book did you enjoy most in your August reads? Please comment below!

The Hate U Give – Review: Library

the hate u give coverThe Hate U Give by Angie Thomas – 5/ 5 stars

This book, The Hate U Give, has forever changed me. It is an incredibly powerful story, yet it is written in straightforward language, making it accessible to anyone. I read this book faster than nearly any other book I’ve read, partly because of this straightforward language and partly because I could not stop reading it. Every time I stopped to do something else, I found my mind coming back to this storyline, trying to process and cope with what had just happened while also trying to figure out what happens next.

It’s description is accurate and lays out the general progression of what will happen next, but it did not capture the intensity of this book. I went into this book knowing that Khalil was going to die and yet, when he was killed early in the book, I found myself crying. It was not the last time I cried either. Starr lives a life no child should be asked to live, balancing race, navigating gang politics, learning now to stay safe, and recovering from tragedy and trauma. Yet, she takes much of it in stride and still lives and enjoys life. She is an amazing narrator and captures the essence of the world around her in a way that transports the reader. She is an objective narrator while also feeling the effects of the world around her. She is raw and poignant and brave. She is the perfect young adult narrator.

The description also does not capture the breadth of this book. The Hate U Give covers many issues around race and racism, but often in a subtle way, which is integrated into the story. It covers cultural differences between white and black people, but in a way in which it does not overly highlight them or shut the reader down. The Hate U Give discusses all of these in a disarming way, allowing the reader to see their own mistakes, self-reflect, and decide if and how they want to make a change. In addition, the book does not over explain concepts, sometimes not explaining them at all and allowing the context to speak for itself. Other times, Starr explains the concepts in a way in which it seems natural conversation. Thomas’s amazing writing style gives the reader the chance to learn and grow without feeling ignorant or racist, which is a true gift.

I need to point out that I am not a typical fan of YA. While I have enjoyed a few YA books, for the most part, there are two things about them that I routinely dislike: love triangles and simplistic, non-descriptive writing. This book lacked both. Yes, there is a romance, but there is no triangle, at least not for Starr. And yes, the writing is straightforward, but it is not dumbed down and even though it is told in the first person, a style I typically do not like, the narrator captures so many details, emotions, connections, understandings, well, just everything. I lived this book, and now it is my proof that both YA books and first person narratives can to better than they typically do when it comes to providing depth.

I loved that Starr’s boyfriend was the role model of healthy relationships, even though the books starts with a moment where he was not the ideal boyfriend. Yet, he is not perfect. He grows and develops and is willing to learn. He makes mistakes, but works through them, and by the end is a great example of not only what a great boyfriend is, but also a great human being. We need more characters like this in books, especially YA books.

I do not know how to do this book justice, even though I so very much want to do it justice. Some reviewers find it more challenging to review a book they do not like, but I struggle with reviewing a book I love. I do not know how to capture the essence of the book, how it conveyed to me its secrets, how it moved me to a whole different place on my journey, how it will stick with me like a memory I actually experienced, or how much I want everyone else to read it. Some books speak to the soul, but that is a deeply intimate conversation which is hard to relay to others, or at least it is for me. This book not only spoke to my soul; it changed it. I can never look at the world the same way again and I am better for it. The hype for this book is not overrated and this is definitely a must read book. It will likely be in my top five reads of the year and has already made my favorite list. I likely will read this again, something I very rarely do, and I will devour everything else Angie Thomas writes. This is an incredible novel on its own, but to then realize that it is a debut speaks volumes to the quality of Thomas’s writing. Read this book; you will not regret it.

Add to Goodreads! The Hate U Give

Considering reading it? Check out a free Kindle preview! Ready to buy? Purchase on Amazon or Book Depository. Please note that Diversifying Perspective is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program and Book Depository Affiliates Program, affiliate advertising programs designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to free Kindle previews through Amazon.com and BookDepository.com. This does not impact the selection of books nor the content of reviews.

Still Here – Review: ARC

Still Here coverStill Here by Lara Vapnyar – 4/ 5 stars

The book blurb seems to imply the book will spend a significant amount of time on the “app designed to preserve a person’s online presence after death” which will “[spur] questions about the changing perception of death and the future of our virtual selves.” But this story isn’t really about the app, nor is does it set out to answer the questions “how do our online personas define us, and what will they say about us when we’re gone?” Instead, the description that is most accurate is that Still Here “follows the intertwined lives of four immigrants as they grapple with love, a new home, and the absurdities of the digital age.” It reminded me of a Seinfeld episode where nothing really happens, yet something does happen, all the while being amusing, with the added bonus of being about Russian immigrants.

This is an amusing tale about four Russian immigrants whose lives intersect in intricate ways, which is made all the more complex by the emerging situations they must confront. This is not a typical immigrant story as all four characters have all been in the United States for some length of time, but they do discuss current and previous struggles with how to fit in in New York City. These struggles to adapt to NYC are partly general identity struggles and ones which come up in a city with vast diversity in terms of income and ethnicity. I found myself relating to their struggles as I myself had struggled to find my place in NYC when I moved there. Still Here is a book about general life struggles and how four friends work on addressing those struggles. The struggles range from motherhood, employment, dating, housing, marriage, money, identity, among other things.Thus this is a story where everyone will have something to relate to.

While it took me awhile to get into Still Here, in the end, I found myself greatly enjoying it and I devoured it over two days. I found the story drew me in, though it is challenging to pinpoint exactly what this book is about or what it was that drew me in. The first four chapters are devoted to each of the four main characters: Vica, Vadik, Sergey, and Regina. While I was reading those chapters, they felt a bit like excessive backstory, but it becomes clear soon after that instead of being excessive, it’s the exact right amount of information needed in order to move the story forward while letting the reader understand the complexity of their relationships and the story unfolding. Their complex interconnectedness is what holds the book together throughout the novel and it is also is the heart of why this is such an intriguing story.

The most significant criticism is that the memory of this book is already failing. The feeling remains, but the details, the specific plot points, almost seemed to fade as soon as I finished the novel. While I greatly enjoyed the book, I struggle now to pinpoint why I enjoyed it or why I won’t remember it. In addition, while I enjoyed the prose, I won’t be running out to read another book by Lara Vapnar. I do hope to read some of her other books, but they will likely get buried on my to-be-read list. Maybe this is partly me; after all, I do not remember most Seinfeld episodes either, though I enjoyed everyone. Plus, it is not as though every book needs to stay with me. Entertainment is sometimes just that and like Seinfeld for me, this entertained, but won’t make a lasting impression.

If you are a reader who greatly prefers books with clear plots that have arches and end up resolved, this may not be the book for you. There are things that happen in the book and it is mostly wrapped up at the end, but the book also ends a bit open-ended while also not having strong plot points which drive the story. Instead, there are philosophical conversations and inner dialogues. There are personal internal struggles and misunderstandings. Much of what happens feels a bit like what happens in their everyday lives, though some of the events are not something which would occur every day. For me, this is what made the story so powerful. While not much happens, one becomes apart of their lives and ends up reflecting on death and social media.

I greatly enjoy books with strong character development and which make me think, especially along the lines of philosophy. This made Still Here a perfect novel for me. While it is less dark than many other novels I have read by Russian authors, it does have some elements of this; there is a decent amount of discussion about death after all. This novel also carries the tradition of philosophical and metaphysical questions which I love in Russian novels. If you also greatly enjoy Russian novels, than this book is for you. It is much more accessible than classical Russian novels and likely has a way of conveying its intended meaning better than them since there is no translator involved. If you enjoy literary fiction, you will also greatly enjoy this as it does an excellent job of transporting the reader through descriptive language. This is a book I would love for everyone to read, but I know there is a group of readers out there that strongly dislike books without strong plot and so I caution those readers before picking up this novel. But outside that, I recommend this book to anyone who enjoys reading. It’s deep and yet light; it’s literary and yet an easy read; it’s about nothing and yet it is about something. I encourage you to pick this book up as it may be interestingly different from the books you tend to read.

I received this book from Blogging For Books and Hogarth in exchange for an honest review.

Add on Goodreads! Still Here

Considering reading it? Check out a free Kindle preview! Ready to buy? Purchase on Amazon or Book Depository. Please note that Diversifying Perspective is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program and Book Depository Affiliates Program, affiliate advertising programs designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to free Kindle previews through Amazon.com and BookDepository.com. This does not impact the selection of books nor the content of reviews.

A Man Called Ove – Reflection: Representation and Diversity

8750275571_5fda61700d_zPhoto credit: The Diversity MaskGeorge A. Spiva Center for the Arts | CC by 2.0

Trigger Warning: Suicide mention

A few years ago, I suddenly and unexpectedly developed a chronic pain condition as a result of a very minor injury. That chronic pain condition had an autoimmune component, which triggered a long list of health-related issues. Within six months of the initial injury, I was no longer able to work. My life was ripped out from underneath me and all of a sudden, everything was different, harder, longer, worse, and I did not know if I could go on. Thoughts of suicide began to creep into my head. At the same time, something else phenomenal happened; I gained an entire community of people willing to give as much of themselves as they could in order to be there for me. After watching the movie, Collateral Beauty, I have been calling it my collateral beauty. I lost a lot, but gained even more.

That’s not to say that it is not hard sometimes to adjust to this new life, which constantly is shifting under my feet. I’ve wanted to see my story, my loss, my pain, my grappling with how to go on in someone else’s story. I have read a few books with the hope of hearing my life echoed in them, but none have resonated. Enter, A Man Called Ove, and my heart sang. Here was my story, for the most part – a person whose early life was filled with tragedy and loss; an introvert who believes in doing right and working hard, finds the one thing that brings sense, structure, calm, and meaning into the world is ripped away from her/ him. But among that loss is so much beauty, it is almost too bright to look at. I needed this story. I needed this story more than I knew and more than I can explain here. Because my soul has been dying and I needed to see that another person’s soul also was dying, but that the light they gained was enough. I needed to feel this in those dark moments when it is just still a tad bit too hard and the pain threatens to swallow me whole.

This is why representation matters. We need to see stories of ourselves and feel just a little less alone. We need to carry in our hearts the knowledge that we are not the only ones. Even in our hyper-connected world, it can be easy to feel alone. Other people on the internet can feel one-dimensional and even people in real life can hold a lot of themselves back. It is the magic of books where we get to see that internal struggle, those darks thoughts, the things we don’t talk about, and feel more whole for having seen we are not alone. Representation in books matters so much exactly because it can show all the sides of what it is to be a flawed, beautiful human.

But this leads to the question of who can write that representation? Does it matter that this story, the one I finally connected with, was written by a straight white Swedish guy? Does that make it less representative? Wouldn’t it have been better if an American disabled lesbian had written the story – someone more like me? I do not have a great answer for those questions. They are questions I have been grappling with for nearly two decades now. What I can say is that, on the whole, it is hard for authors to write outside of their own perspectives. This is not a critique, but a fact of life. We all are stuck in our realities and ways of viewing the world. At best, we can try to overcome them and sometimes succeed. But it is also important to remember that there are some aspects to life that are universal, loss being one of them. Because of that, I could have potentially seen my loss in nearly any story about loss, but this one resonated with me because it captured a few other aspects of myself as well. Which brings me back to the statement that representation matters. The problem with continuing to allow marginalized voices to be marginalized is that all sorts of important representation is not out there for people to connect with, but also, there are all sorts of universal aspects of representation that are not out there either. This means that there are stories we will not read with the potential to connect us and show us that even among our greatest differences, there are commonalities, namely, we are all human. If A Man Called Ove teaches us anything, it is that even the most different people can be connected through a bit of vulnerability and humanity and that connection is what makes life worth living. So yes, this blog will continue to focus on traditionally marginalized voices, and though one could make a case that a Swedish voice is uncommon in American literature and could thus fall under the concept of “traditionally marginalized voices,” it is a bit of a stretch. But from time to time, when extremely compelling, other books which do not strictly fall within traditionally marginalized voices may be reviewed here. After all, ways of diversifying perspectives comes in many forms and I’d rather error on the side of inclusivity over exclusivity. A Man Called Ove impacted my perspective, so for now, it is on this blog. Plus, it serves as a great launching point of discussion for what makes a book diverse.

What do you think? How do you feel about representation that comes from a person of a traditional majority group? What does representation mean to you? Is a perspective outside your country of origin diverse enough, or does it need to be outside a larger culture (for example, non-American versus non-Western)? Share your thoughts below!