April Reads

April’s been an up-and-down month for me. Aside from working on a variety of personal projects (which I may provide updates on here), I’ve also been busy with work/job hunting, leaving me with less time to read than usual. Still, I’m happy with the diverse books I had a chance to pick up and I’m excited for the 2021 Asian Readathon in May!

All Photos Courtesy of Goodreads

Unbowed by Wangari Maathai

Education, if it means anything, should not take people away from the land, but instill in them even more respect for it, because educated people are in a position to understand what is being lost. The future of the planet concerns all of us, and all of us should do what we can to protect it. As I told the foresters, and the women, you don’t need a diploma to plant a tree.

Short Description: The story of Kenyan Women’s rights activist and environmentalist Wangari Maathai’s tumultuous rise to fame.

Critic Quote: “Unbowed, a straightforward and unfussy memoir, is most moving when it details the challenges this outspoken, accomplished, passionate woman faced in a Kenya that had no tolerance for anything other than quiet girls, quiet matrons, and quiet grandmothers.” –Grist

My Verdict: Wangari Maathai is probably the coolest person ever – definitely read her memoir.

The Beauty in Breaking by Michele Harper

Brokenness can be a remarkable gift. If we allow it, it can expand our space to transform – this potential space that is slight, humble, and unassuming. It may seem counterintuitive to claim the benefits of having been broken, but it is precisely when cracks appear in the bedrock of what we thought we knew that the gravity of what has fallen away becomes evident.

When that bedrock is blown up by illness, a death, a breakup, a breakdown of any kind, we get the chance to look beyond the rubble to see a whole new way of life. The landscape that had been previously obscured by the towers of what we thought we knew for sure is suddenly revealed, showing us the limitations of the way things used to be.

Short Description: A Black woman ER doctor recounts the many life lessons she’s learned throughout her career.

Critic Quote: “A profoundly humane memoir from a thoughtful doctor.” –Kirkus Reviews

My Verdict: Each chapter varied in emotional strength, with writing that, while not distracting, was also not particularly unique, resulting in a so-so evaluation on my end. Consider your own tastes before picking up.

Act Your Age, Eve Brown by Talia Hibbert

She wanted to say, That’s what you think. Eve’s parents had never failed at a bloody thing. Eve’s parents knew who they were and what they were capable of, as did her sisters. But Eve? All Eve really knew was how to be fun, and experience had taught her she ought to stick to her strong suit and avoid reaching too high.

Short Description: Sunshine hot mess Eve Brown crashes (literally) into the hot-tempered B&B owner Jacob Wayne, the unlikely duo teaming up (and perhaps falling in love) to keep the business afloat.

Critic Quote: “The autistic representation is incredibly nuanced and Talia takes so much pride in crafting her characters, especially since this is an #OwnVoices book with a Black autistic heroine. ” –The Quiet Pond

My Verdict: Thought not my favorite of Hibbert’s, it’s a sweet, empathetic romance worth reading.

Full Review Here

The Crying Book by Heather Christle

They say perhaps we cry when language fails, when words can no longer adequately convey our hurt.

Short Description: Christle details the many manifestations of grief and sorrow in this book of collected reflections on crying.

Critic Quote: “Everyone who reads her book will find something that stays with them . . .” –The Guardian

My Verdict: Just could not get into this one. I felt like I was reading the same vignette over and over.

Writing into the Wound by Roxane Gay

The world as we knew it has broken wide open. There is a before and an after, and the world will never again be what it once was. That sounds terrifying, but it is an opportunity.

Short Description: Gay’s short essay describes the aftermath of her successful memoir Hunger and what she’s learned about writing on trauma since.

Critic Quote: “The writer Roxane Gay does not like to be called a brave person for exposing her own personal experiences and struggles and turning them into a book. And she has done so on many occasions, displaying a talent that she masters with sensitivity, empathy, and large doses of truth. ” –Al Dia News

My Verdict: Great for those who are fans of Gay’s writing, but perhaps too short for those new to her.

How much of These Hills is Gold by C Pam Zhang

And wasn’t that the real reason for traveling, a reason bigger than poorness and desperation and greed and fury—didn’t they know, low in their bones, that as long as they moved and the land unfurled, that as long as they searched, they would forever be searchers and never quite lost?

Short Description: Two Chinese-American siblings must journey through 19th century American West following the death of their parents, unraveling their fractured past and dangerous future along the way.

Critic Quote: “Zhang’s style can be densely, airlessly lovely .  . . But Zhang also unspools sophisticated ideas about land, ownership, rootedness, and history . . .” –NPR

My Verdict: What a beautifully written novel. Though I wasn’t sure what was going on 25% of the time, I really enjoyed following Sam and Lucy’s story and their growth as characters. Zhang nails the western atmosphere and her themes resonate without being hamfisted. There were quite a few time jumps that sometimes left me in the dust, but I think this was one of those rare times where reading via audiobook helped a lot.

The Thirty Names of Night by Zeyn Joukhadar

We parted. I wiped my face with the back of my hand.

“Tell me something beautiful,” you said. 

I opened my mouth and out came the only thing that I had ever known to be as beautiful as it was true, that I had once met a woman who knew how to fly.

Short Description: A closeted Syrian trans-boy grieves the loss of his mother, finding solace in a mysterious book about an illustrator connected to his mother and grandmother.

Critic Quote: “Standing at the crossroads of art, history, queerness, and community, The Thirty Names of Night presents two engrossing narratives whose convergence is astounding and heartbreaking in turn. Joukhadar writes with intricacy and care, and the dual narratives parallel each other in beautiful and unexpected ways in this culturally and linguistically rich novel.” –ZYZZYVA

My Verdict: Though not a personal favorite, it’s clear that Joukhadar is a skilled, observant writer. Consider your writing style tastes before picking up.

Full Review Here

Infinite Country by Patricia Engel

What was it about the country that kept everyone hostage to its fantasy? The previous month, on its own soil, an American man went to his job at a plant and gunned down fourteen coworkers, and last spring alone there were four different school shootings. A nation at war with itself, yet people still spoke of it as some kind of paradise.

Short Description: A novel following a Bogotan immigrant family navigate separation, loss, and reunion.

Critic Quote: “The rare immigrant chronicle that is as long on hope as it is on heartbreak.” –Kirkus Reviews

My Verdict: A short book full of complex, sympathetic characters, beautiful language, and powerful themes. Engel is definitely now one of my favorite writers.

Full Review Here

Catboy by Benji Nate

Who’s your pal?

My pet cat, Henry.

Short Description: A series of vignettes, told through comics, about a young artist in her mid-twenties finding her place in the world and her friend Henry, who also happens to be a cat.

Critic Quote: “The amount of work Nate has produced this early on in her career as a cartoonist is often staggering and much of it is worthy of further examination. Still, Catboy serves as both a high point and a strong introduction to her talents as a cartoonist. She is able to craft cartoonish characters that feel both deeply real and highly animated. Her ability to render emotion even on the face of an angry pug is superb.” –Broken Frontier

My Verdict: Fantastic art with a cute premise! I liked the characters, but I wish there was more of an overarching story or sense of continuity in the plot.

Women and Other Monsters by Jess Zimmerman

This is one of the legacies we’ve inherited from the classical era, which underpins so much of what Westerners see as “culture” and “civilization”: a suspicion of women in general, a feeling that every one of them may have claws and tails if you look below the waterline. The monsters massed together in this little room at the Met represented a series of cautionary tales. Women may look harmless on the face, they said, but look at their snake hair and dog crotches and claws. Look at them crouched over a male victim, ready to bite. Beware their ambition, their ugliness, their insatiable hunger, their ferocious rage.

Short Description: A series of essays intertwining Zimmerman’s insights on misogyny in her personal life and throughout Greek mythology and what they both say about women’s power.

Critic Quote: “A sparkling and perceptive critique of ancient ideas that still hold women back.” –Kirkus Reviews

My Verdict: For me, personally, I didn’t feel like I learned anything particularly new, though I did appreciate Zimmerman’s ability to condense a variety of intersectional feminist theories into accessible, short insights. I’d recommend this book to others, but only if they’re somewhat new to feminist non-fiction and are looking for a collection of personal essays (because that’s really what this is, essays loosely connected through Greek mythology).

The Secret Lives of Church Ladies by Deesha Philyaw

You can’t save me, because I’m not in peril.

Short Description: A collection of short stories about various Black women and their relationships with the Black church and their sexualities, families, and ambitions.

Critic Quote: “Her characters create intimacy and have hope, not despite their ugly odds but because of them.” –LA Review of Books

My Verdict: Well-written stories focused on complex characters – a recipe for a enjoyable read. Definitely pick up.

The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas by Ursula K. Le Guin

The place they go towards is a place even less imaginable to most of us than the city of happiness. I cannot describe it at all. It is possible that it does not exist. But they seem to know where they are going, the ones who walk away from Omelas.

Short Description: A short story about a nearly perfect town, a terrible secret, the people who leave both behind.

Critic Quote: “Nevertheless it was a fascinating read due to the undefined timeline and disturbing symbolism that forces the reader to think of comparative examples. It may provide no resolution, but it does leave the conclusive question: would you walk away from Omelas?” –Dystopic

My Verdict: Yes, I listen to BTS, but outside of that, I enjoyed this short story and its simple but precise messaging. Definitely recommend.

Love, an Index by Rebecca Lindenberg

Fragment, I am a fragment of us. I am a fragment composed of fragments. Mosaic, pastiche, ruin. Everyday consciousness proposes lightbulb, reposting, teapot, David Bowie, your sweater on, your sweater off, tomatillo all associated. Parts suggesting the whole they long to be gathered into.

Short Description: A poet recounts her grief over losing her partner through a collection of loosely connected poems.

Critic Quote: “ Lindenberg is a brilliant, modern architect of love and loss. Instead of keeping her grief all for herself, she shares it with us, and then translates it for us.” –Triquarterly

My Verdict: Not my cup of tea. If you prefer more academically dense poetry, then perhaps you may enjoy this. For me, while the language was beautiful, I quickly lost interest in each piece.

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