January was a great reading month for me because I read 3 different 5-star books. Here are some quick thoughts about the books I picked up! Also, I am trying to update my reading progress on Goodreads this year, so you can follow me there as well (Username: Jen | Bluestocking Bookshelf).
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Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi: 5 stars
There's a reason this book has been everywhere the last couple years: it's beautifully written, meticulously researched, and the characters feel so real their stories will break your heart. But (there's no getting around it) it's a hard book to read. It's painful to read about the slave trade, and it's painful to read about the treatment of African-Americans throughout United States history.
However, as in cases like the Holocaust and Japanese internment camps, I believe that we as a society owe it to ourselves and future generations to remember our shameful histories and understand that, even if things are better than they were, we still have a long way to go. I think everyone should read this novel -- just get ready to cry when you do.
Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng: 5 stars
The subtle brilliance of this novel crept up on me as I read it. It took some time for me to become wrapped up in the story because at first I was underwhelmed with the nineties upper-middle class suburban setting (I guess I wasn't in the mood to relive my childhood). It's not a plot-driven novel, as Celeste Ng's true talent lies in character development, so once I appreciated that it became a much more enjoyable read.
Ultimately it earned 5 stars because I connected with the content on a deeply personal level; I found many different aspects of my life mirrored in the text, which made it one of the most thought-provoking novels I've read in a long time.
Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen (re-read): 5 stars
I'm re-reading all of Jane Austen's works this year, and I'm so pleased I started with Pride and Prejudice. My main takeaway from the novel was how completely misunderstood it is. Unfortunately, people tend to swoon over Mr. Darcy and ignore the sharp social commentary that makes the novel such a classic. I blame Jane Austen film adaptations for perpetuating the myth that her novels are "chick-lit" and only suitable for a girls' night in with a pint of ice cream.
Don't get me wrong -- I enjoy a Jane Austen adaptation as much as the next person, but if you find yourself quoting the line "you have bewitched me, body and soul" more than anything else, you may want to reacquaint yourself with the actual story, because (gasp!) Jane Austen never wrote that.
Little Leaders: Bold Women in Black History by Vashti Harrison: 4 1/2 stars
I purchased this book for Harrison's stunning artwork, and the wonderful concept. Representation is so important, and I love that a generation of children will grow up hearing the names of these incredible women, most of whom spent their lives silenced in one way or another.
The only trouble I had with the book was that, although Harrison is an undeniably gifted artist, she is not a writer. She used a lot of passive voice, making the phrasing a bit awkward and sometimes even dull. It is a wonderful book, but the execution was just a little clumsy.
Milk and Honey by Rupi Kaur: 3 1/2 stars
I started reading Milk and Honey one evening with the intention of trying out just a few pages. Instead, I found myself completely engrossed in Kaur’s bold, unstructured poetry and finished the book in one sitting. It was the melancholy bits that stuck most firmly in my mind; I’ve always been drawn to haunting, bittersweet words, and she is a master at them. It felt like I was reading the pages of her broken heart.
At the end, though, her poetry took on a disappointingly simple (dare I say cheesy) tone. It was equal parts condescending and absurd to me; lecturing about the importance of women sticking up for other women and doling out generic advice about how to love yourself. I do understand the hype, but I think I may have appreciated this book more if I had picked it up as a teenager instead of in my late twenties.
Red Rising by Pierce Brown: 3 stars
Part of my problem with this book is certainly the fact that I have not read much science fiction, so diving in was a jarring experience at times. But I still maintain that Brown is terrible at describing a character's actions and surroundings. He spends so many pages on the different settings, but it hardly does any good because it all reads like nonsense to me. And whenever there was a fight scene I just wanted to throw the book across the room because I had no f**king clue what was going on. He goes to very little effort to explain the weird jargon he's come up with for his dystopian society, and the context clues are scarce at best.
Additionally, his sexist view of women is extremely off-putting. Female characters are either beautiful and perfect, or beautiful and evil (the ugly ones aren't spoken about much). No in-betweens.
And yet, the book was fun, which earned it 3 stars. This book was the definition of a guilty pleasure read for me.
Golden Son by Pierce Brown: 2 1/2 stars
As is the case with the first book in the series, Golden Son is a blatant copycat. One line even comes straight out of Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back, and another comes out of John Green's The Fault in Our Stars. The EXACT LINE. Someone needs to explain to him that there's a difference between an homage and outright stealing. Other than that, the book reads like a mash-up of Game of Thrones and The Hunger Games.
I also take issue with Brown's obsession with his main character, Darrow. He's handsome and strong and stoic -- basically everything society tells a man to be. I was tired of him in the first book, and I was tired of him in this book. And it made the plot all the worse when a lot of my favorite side characters were pushed to the back of the story (any other Victra and Sevro fans?) so I was stuck reading about Darrow and his stupid brooding. Can we please, as readers, get over the notion that a man (or woman, for that matter) has to be damaged and angry in order to be a main character? Please?
Morning Star by Pierce Brown: 2 stars
By this point, you're probably wondering why I bothered to read the entire trilogy. All I can say is that the story is the literary equivalent of the show Riverdale for me: it's ridiculous and full of plot holes, but I have to know what happens -- even if I'm just going to make fun of it. In that respect, Morning Star did not disappoint because it was the silliest of the three. Half the time I had no idea what was going on (because somehow Brown manages to get even worse at world building and fight descriptions throughout the trilogy), and the other half I spent rolling my eyes at boring Darrow and his annoying love interest.
And no, I am not planning to read Iron Gold. I must break free from the ambulance chasing.