3.5 Star Books · Book Reviews · coming of age · contemporary fiction · Literary Fiction

Chemistry by Weike Wang

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Chemistry by Weike Wang 

Published: May 23, 2017

Publisher: Knopf Publishing Group

Pages: 224

Genres: literary fiction, contemporary fiction, coming of age

Rating: 3.5 stars

Recommend to fans of: young adults who don’t have it all figured it out, overbearing (to the Western culture) Chinese parents, parent – adult children relationships 

Foodie Vibes: leftover pizza #GradSchoolLife

 

Synopsis: 

Three years into her graduate studies at a demanding Boston university, the unnamed narrator of this nimbly wry, concise debut finds her one-time love for chemistry is more hypothesis than reality. She’s tormented by her failed research–and reminded of her delays by her peers, her advisor, and most of all by her Chinese parents, who have always expected nothing short of excellence from her throughout her life. But there’s another, nonscientific question looming: the marriage proposal from her devoted boyfriend, a fellow scientist, whose path through academia has been relatively free of obstacles, and with whom she can’t make a life before finding success on her own.

Eventually, the pressure mounts so high that she must leave everything she thought she knew about her future, and herself, behind. And for the first time, she’s confronted with a question she won’t find the answer to in a textbook: What do I really want?Over the next two years, this winningly flawed, disarmingly insightful heroine learns the formulas and equations for a different kind of chemistry–one in which the reactions can’t be quantified, measured, and analyzed; one that can be studied only in the mysterious language of the heart. Taking us deep inside her scattered, searching mind, here is a brilliant new literary voice that astutely juxtaposes the elegance of science, the anxieties of finding a place in the world, and the sacrifices made for love and family.

 

Review:

Chemistry is many different things. A grad student unsure about her academic future. A daughter feeling pressure from her Chinese parents. A girlfriend trying to figure out her relationship. And a friend asking for support. The book is essentially a coming of age story for someone in their mid 20s. I like that it’s funny, relatable and shows a woman in science. 

While the story is about a woman who doesn’t know where she’s going, the book doesn’t really go anywhere. The cultural explorations are great, but the rest is mediocre.

Overall, I can see why this book is popular and recommend it, but don’t expect it to be things its not. 

 

 

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Why do you think coming of age novels are so popular?

 

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3.5 Star Books · Book Reviews · coming of age · Literary Fiction · mental health · Young Adult

Drowning In Light by Anna Benoit

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Drowning in Light by Anna Benoit

Published: August 5, 2017

Publisher: Self Published

Pages: 350

Genres: young adult, coming of age, literary fiction, mental health

Rating: 3.5 stars

Recommend to fans of: flawed characters, books about drug abuse

Foodie Vibes: meals you don’t finish, more alcohol and pills can you can comprehend 

 

Synopsis: 

It all started with a single pain pill.

Up until that pill, high school junior Matt Davidson had it all—or, at least, everyone thought he had it all. A star athlete from a good family, no one suspected the trouble lurking beneath Matt’s carefully constructed façade. And Matt was just fine with that. Because if anyone could hear the dark thoughts that cluttered his mind, they’d know what a selfish, miserable mess he really was.

Matt thinks he can stop. He knows he can stop. And he will, just not yet. Because nothing but the pills can give him a break from his thoughts. Nothing else makes him invincible. Nothing else halts the sinking spiral of his depression.

Nothing… until he meets Amy, a mysterious and beautiful classmate who sparks a passion in him he’s never felt before. As their relationship progresses, Matt knows he can’t have them both. But he also knows he needs his pills. And when he’s finally forced to choose, the decision isn’t as easy as he’d hoped.

 

Review:

Thank you to NetGalley and Anna Benoit for an ebook copy to review. As always, an honest review from me.

Drowning in Light tells the story of Matt, a guy in high school. On the outside he seems to have to all. But if you look closer, his dad’s abusive and has alcohol problems of his own. His mom means well, but doesn’t realize the extent of her son’s problems. She’s content to let things go and believe it will all work out in the end. Matt struggles with drug abuse that has him in a downward spiral. He’s miserable, not coping well, and really doesn’t have a handle on anything anymore. 

The book is not your typical manic pixie dream girl type story. It’s real, raw and complex. His friend/girlfriend doesn’t magically make things better. She tries to help, but has her own baggage to deal with so it’s not a perfect recovery story by any means. I like that it’s a fairly realistic story of drug abuse. I don’t have personal experience with drug abuse, so maybe I’m way off base here. 

However, it was very frustrating at times to read about all of his mistakes and refusal for help. I felt very annoyed towards Matt at times. Also his lifestyle wasn’t that enjoyable to read about. Duh, it’s drug abuse, doing whatever you need to score more pills, and lying to everyone. But I guess I was hoping for more positivity at some point. I was also so frustrated with the adults in his life. Nobody was taking responsibility for making sure Matt got the help he so desperately needed. 

All in all, a realistic portrayal of drug abuse that made for a frustrating read. A good book that doesn’t gloss of the difficult parts of mental illness and drug abuse. 

 

Are you a fan of books with flawed characters? 

4 Star Books · Book Reviews · Middle Grade

Holes by Louis Sachar

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Another Random Question of the Review to start off with:

What book did you not enjoy the first time, but ended up loving as a reread?

 

Holes by Louis Sachar

Published: August 20, 1998

Publisher: Frances Foster Books ~ Scholastic for the paperback version

Pages: 240

Genres: middle grade

Rating: 4 stars

Recommend to fans of: books for the whole family, life lessons, character growth, redemption

Read with food: a tall glass of ice cold water

 

Synopsis:

A miscarriage of justice sends Stanley Yelnats to a harsh juvenile detention center. While the warden claims that the hard labor that the boys are subjected to is meant to build character, it becomes clear that she is really using the boys to hunt for a fortune buried by a Wild West outlaw. The outlaw’s story and a curse put on Stanley’s great-great-grandfather are part of a compelling puzzle that has taken generations to unravel.

 

Review: 

Way back in elementary school this book was required reading for me. I absolutely hated the book. I must have understood the general concepts, because I did well on all my tests. Straight A’s, thank you very much. #nerdalert However, I didn’t truly understand the nuances of the life lessons the author was trying to accomplish with the book. So I’m really glad the Book Riot Read Harder Challenge 2018 encouraged me to go back and reread this assigned book that I originally hated.

As an adult, I really enjoyed Holes. I’m not really a middle grade book reader, but it’s a book that people of all ages can enjoy and learn from. The relevant concepts introduced are child labor, jails, incarceration, the unfairness of the justice system and world in general, deceitful people, learning, personal growth, precious resources, friendship, and finding strength within yourself to accomplish great things. Wow! That’s a lot of hard hitting, important life lessons al jam packed into a middle grade book. No wonder it’s so popular.

I really enjoyed Holes and recommend you give it a read or reread. If you’re a parent, Holes could be a book you group read as a family, and discuss the relevant topics. Might even help explain some of the things going on in the media today.

4.5 Star Books · Book Reviews · contemporary fiction · contemporary romance · romance · Young Adult

To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before by Jenny Han

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Let’s start with the Random Question of the Review:

On a scale of 1 – 10, 10 being the best, how much do you enjoy young adult books? 

 

 

To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before by Jenny Han

Rating: 5 stars

Published: April 15, 2014

Publisher: Simon Schuster Books for Young Readers

Pages: 355

Genres: young adult, contemporary, romance

Recommend to fans of: nice teenagers, coming of age books, books that give you all the feels, happy sweet books, sister bonds, Asian character representation 

Read with food: mocha sugar donuts ~ featured throughout and so accurately represents the fun and sweetness of the book 

 

Synopsis: 

Lara Jean’s love life gets complicated in this New York Times bestselling “lovely, lighthearted romance” from the New York Times bestselling author of The Summer I Turned Pretty series.

What if all the crushes you ever had found out how you felt about them… all at once?

Sixteen-year-old Lara Jean Song keeps her love letters in a hatbox her mother gave her. They aren’t love letters that anyone else wrote for her; these are ones she’s written. One for every boy she’s ever loved—five in all. When she writes, she pours out her heart and soul and says all the things she would never say in real life, because her letters are for her eyes only. Until the day her secret letters are mailed, and suddenly, Lara Jean’s love life goes from imaginary to out of control.

 

Review: 

To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before is an incredibly hyped book in the book community. I’ve heard so many wonderful things about it, but I tend to be nervous that overhyped young adult books won’t live up to all of the hype. Not to worry, because the book is fabulous! I so enjoyed reading about Lara Jean that I forgot to write down notes for my book review. For me, that’s the mark of a wonderfully engaging read.

The premise of Lara Jean’s love letters getting mailed to the boys she wrote them about could go either way. It ends up making for a great setup, because she focuses on living her life, not worrying too much about what others will think of her. Lara Jean’s relationship with her father and sisters is a major point of the story. I absolutely loved the importance the author placed on family relationships. It’s okay for teenagers to have strong relationships with their family as well as their friends and boyfriend/girlfriend.

Occasionally I was a bit annoyed with some of the drama and fighting, but that’s to be expected in a character driven young adult novel. The tension didn’t take over the story for too long.

To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before is such a cute sweet novel that I can’t get enough of. I’ve already added the next books in the series to my TBR. 

5 Star Books · Book Reviews · Classics · Literary Fiction · Young Adult

Book Review: A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith

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A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith 

Published by Harper & Row in 1943

Pages: 493

Genres: fiction, classics, young adult, bildungsroman

Rating: 5 stars

Recommend to fans of: life changing books, classic literature that you will actually enjoy, coming of age novels

Read with food: roasted chestnuts and black coffee … treats of the era and enjoyed by France

 

Synopsis:

The beloved American classic about a young girl’s coming-of-age at the turn of the century, Betty Smith’s A Tree Grows in Brooklyn is a poignant and moving tale filled with compassion and cruelty, laughter and heartache, crowded with life and people and incident. The story of young, sensitive, and idealistic Francie Nolan and her bittersweet formative years in the slums of Williamsburg has enchanted and inspired millions of readers for more than sixty years. By turns overwhelming, sublime, heartbreaking, and uplifting, the daily experiences of the unforgettable Nolans are raw with honesty and tenderly threaded with family connectedness — in a work of literary art that brilliantly captures a unique time and place as well as incredibly rich moments of universal experience.

Review:

I had put the audiobook version of A Tree Grows in Brooklyn on hold at my local library … a year ago. I was hoping to read it for the 2017 Book Riot Read Harder Challenge. Obviously that didn’t happen. I read another book to meet that challenge. No big deal. I then figured that if I had waited this long, why not a bit longer to read it, and kept my place on the hold list at the library.

I am so glad that I did! A Tree Grows in Brooklyn is an amazing novel. A true literary classic that almost everyone can learn something from. 

I was captivated with Francie’s story from age 11 to 17. Her observations, intelligence, progressive nature, and life lessons are still relevant to me as an adult 100 years after the book takes place. I can absolutely see why people would read this multiple times. You could probably pick out a new life lesson with each reread. 

I can’t really say anything bad about this novel. Of course, there are some actions, societal rules, and words of the time that would be unacceptable today. But nothing that detracts from the story. 

I highly recommend this amazing novel! Don’t let the length deter your, it’s worth the time. 

 

Fun fact:

I learned a new word and book genre today, bildungsroman. Definition: a novel dealing with one person’s formative years or spiritual education. A sort of coming of age novel that focuses on psychological and spiritual growth. 

 

Also, bonus!

If you’re participating in the Great American Read, this is one of the books on the list. 

4 Star Books · Book Reviews · LGBTQIA+ Books · Literary Fiction

Book Review: Most Precious Blood by Vince Sgambati

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Most Precious Blood by Vince Sgambati 

Published by Guernica Editions On March 1, 2018

Pages: 300

Genres: literary fiction, LGBTQIA+ fiction

Rating: 4 stars

Recommend to fans of: authentic stories, struggles with one’s sexuality

Read with food: any sort of authentic Italian food . . . be sure to make enough for the whole family

 

Synopsis: 

Hard Luck Lenny Lasante is the quintessential good son, brother, and father. He fears a calamity will derail his son’s future the way his own dreams were derailed years ago and is adamant that Frankie leave home for college, but Frankie is preoccupied with thoughts of Gennaro DiCico, the son of a small-time mobster. Lenny’s fears are realized when a cabdriver’s son avenges his father’s murder. Most Precious Blood, set in the eleventh-hour of a declining Italian-American neighborhood, speaks of complex and often destructive loyalties, consequences, and forgiveness.

Review:

I received this book for free through Goodreads Giveaways. As always, an honest review.

Most Precious Blood tells the stories of Italian Americans living in New York City. Like most families, life is messy, filled with heartbreak, struggles, and attempts to find oneself despite what family might think. It’s Italian family life written into a story format.

At the beginning, I wasn’t really enjoying the book. It didn’t really draw me in. As I kept on reading, I learned more about all the characters and grew to enjoy their stories more and more.

Most Precious Blood mainly focuses on Frankie, a teenager growing up in the neighborhood. He’s in love with Gennaro, the son of a small time mobster. They don’t want to reveal their relationship to others, for fear of judgment and lack of acceptance. I ended up really enjoying the story as it continued to unfold. I could even see a sequel being written.

Overall, I would recommend Most Precious Blood for it’s traditional but open minded characters, rich storytelling, good food, and relevant topics.