Book Review: My Name is Monster by Katie Hale

My Name is Monster

My Name is Monster by Katie Hale / ★★★★★

She is lost and alone in this big broken empty world. I can help her. I can teach her language, and I can teach her survival.

Wow, this book was really something. It begins with a young woman who only goes by her nickname, Monster. She believes herself to be the lone survivor of what appears to be the end of the world, which has been wiped out by war and sickness. She begins her trek home to Scotland, where she has accepted a lifetime of solitude, only to one day discover a young, untamed girl. She immediately takes this girl in as her own, with the intention of teaching and “creating” her from the apparent blank slate that she is.

I did not expect to love this book as much as I did, possibly because Robinson Crusoe was a book a I read in college and did not enjoy much, and seeing that this was partly inspired by it put me off. But I was hooked from the very first page of Monster’s journey. I found her character, an aloof engineer who prefers solitude to the company of almost any sort, and her journey through an empty world, fascinating. While the book never deeply delves into why the world is in its post-apocalyptic state, frequently mentioning war and “The Sickness,” I didn’t mind. The book didn’t necessarily feel about that, and it felt like a reflection of the characters’ mental states to not know, to not think about it.

The book is divided into two parts, the perspective of Monster the adult, and the perspective of the little girl, who is subsequently named Monster, as Monster renames herself Mother. I loved the contrast between their perspectives as the book explored themes of survival, of womanhood, of motherhood and of freedom. This book is not fast paced, but I finished it in just a few days because I found it so captivating. It’s not an easy read, either. It’s troubling and uncomfortable and encapsulates so many layers.

While undoubtedly this book will not satisfy every reader – it can be vague or too subtle, and it does not answer every question – I enjoyed it immensely and don’t think it could have been written any other way and have had the same effect. It’s one that will continue to leave me thinking.

Book Review: Call Down the Hawk by Maggie Stiefvater

Call Down the Hawk (Dreamer, #1)

Call Down the Hawk by Maggie Stiefvater (Dreamer Trilogy #1) / ★★★★★

“Do you understand? For you, reality is not an external condition. For you, reality is a decision.”

I loved every single part of this. This sequel series to The Raven Cycle is shaping up to be even more than I realized I needed from that universe. Not only was it a fun re-introduction to characters that I love, but it was an incredibly entertaining story all the way through.

I hesitate to compare it to The Raven Cycle, because this is completely different from the Raven Cycle. The mood, the atmosphere, the story, the characters- are incredibly different. I positively loved it.  We meet lots of new characters, and revisit several characters from The Raven Cycle that really get their time to shine in this book that didn’t in The Raven Cycle (Declan. I’m talking about Declan). This book was more concrete, darker, and spooked me out in a genuine way that the Raven Cycle never achieved. I just loved it.

Call Down the Hawk had some great new characters. It’s the Ronan show now, and the cast is full of lots of new members. And wow, I loved them. We get the thieving and forging Jordan Hennessy and her girls, and Farooq-Lane and her deadly mission. Sometimes, it can be hard to accept new characters in a place we feel comfortable with the old ones, but these ones fit right in, and brought so much more. It wasn’t hard to grow invested in their personalities and motives as they unfolded. I loved stepping away from Ronan and discovering what they had to add to this universe. And I gotta say, it was great to have a healthy does of female characters. The only new character – and possibly aspect of this book – I wasn’t feeling so much was Byrde, but he feels a little ambiguous right now. Mostly, he just talked too much and didn’t seem to be saying a whole lot.

And old characters! The Lynches. I loved Ronan before, and Declan and Matthew I liked well enough, but – and I feel like I keep saying this – this book just added so much more that I didn’t realize I needed from them. Declan, especially. I have so much I want to say about Declan that would be way too spoilery for a review, but man. The growth and nuance in his character was fantastic. I love Declan. Returning to Ronan was wonderful, especially since his story was so obviously not over at the end of the Raven Cycle. I’m already loving the growth there, and I can’t wait to see where he ends up at the end of this series.  And Matthew- Oh, Matthew.

As for the plot! It was full of intrigue and action and mystery that genuinely unnerved me. There are dreamers, and there are people hunting dreamers, and there are things in dreams that must be hunted. There wasn’t any point in this book that I got bored. It was entertaining, and fun, and funny, and dark. The only thing I’m sad about is that when I finished, I couldn’t move on to book 2.

I loved The Raven Cycle, but honestly, I think this is the story Maggie Stiefvater has really been meant to write. This story is her sweet spot, and it’s my favorite book by her so far.

Book Review: The Remains of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguro

The Remains of the Day

The Remains of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguro /  ★★★★★

Summary: At the end of his three decades of service at Darlington Hall, Stevens embarks on a country drive, during which he looks back over his career to reassure himself that he has served humanity by serving “a great gentleman.” But lurking in his memory are doubts about the true nature of Lord Darlington’s “greatness” and graver doubts about his own faith in the man he served.

What is the point in worrying oneself too much about what one could or could not have done to control the course one’s life took? Surely it is enough that the likes of you and I at least try to make our small contribution count for something true and worthy. And if some of us are prepared to sacrifice much in life in order to pursue such aspirations, surely that is in itself, whatever the outcome, cause for pride and contentment.

While I absolutely loved Ishiguro’s Never Let Me Go, and fully expected to enjoy this book, The Remains of the Day still came as somewhat of a surprise with me. The first thirty pages of this book took me an entire month to get through- I just couldn’t grasp all the talk of butlering. The life of our narrator, Mr. Stevens, revolves entirely around being a butler in the home of an old English Lord. He tries to be one of dignity and to simply be the best of the best. When I finally sat down and told myself to finish the book- the characters grasped me and story really began, and I couldn’t put it down.

It’s incredible how well Ishiguro is at telling a story explicitly through what is not said, and at evoking emotion where none is stated. Throughout this book Stevens recounts his time as a butler for the infamous Lord Darlington, alternating between past and present. Because of this, we have a vague idea of how things are going to play out, yet it didn’t make the end, or the events leading up to it, any less heartbreaking. I love how well Ishiguro writes an unreliable narrator. Stevens is very biased- but more than that, he’s seeking to reassure himself that his years of service were not wasted, and that the choices he made were not wrong. I loved how Ishiguro could write one thing, yet we as the reader can see it means the exact opposite- and it was heartbreaking to read.

This book is relatively short, only just over 250 pages, but so much is packed inside- a man’s journey of self-awareness, social and historical commentary, and a love story. I love Ishiguro’s writing, and even though this book had a tough start, I absolutely loved it, and can’t wait to read more of Ishiguro’s books in the future.

TL;DR review in 5 thoughts: A little slow. SO MUCH BUTLERING. Wait…these characters are really interesting. WAIT…is this a love story. Why did things have to be go way?? 😦

Book Review: The Idiot by Elif Batuman

The Idiot

The Idiot by Elif Batuman /  ★★★★★

Summary: The year is 1995, and email is new. Selin, the daughter of Turkish immigrants, arrives for her freshman year at Harvard. She signs up for classes in subjects she has never heard of, befriends her charismatic and worldly Serbian classmate, Svetlana, and, almost by accident, begins corresponding with Ivan, an older mathematics student from Hungary. Selin may have barely spoken to Ivan, but with each email they exchange, the act of writing seems to take on new and increasingly mysterious meanings.

“And you are different? You do not love truth?” 

I thought about it. “Truth is okay,” I said. 

For months, this book had been in the back of my brain, nagging at me to read it. I only had a vague sense about what it was about – a young Turkish-American girl and her first year as a Harvard student in the 1990s – but FINALLY I picked it up off of my dusty shelf, and wow. I loved it.

The Idiot is a meandering, surprisingly absurd tale, in which our main character Selin falls all-consumingly in love with a Harvard classmate, Ivan, who she first begins conversing with over email. I did not expect this book to be as funny as it was- there were times where I caught myself actually laughing out loud. But this book is not a romance. Because on the other hand, there is a pensiveness and uncertainty that pervades it, brought on by Selin’s puzzlement in her “place” in all of this- in the world, with other people, with herself.

She is a writer, but she doesn’t like to think about being a writer, or for other people to acknowledge that she is a writer. And it’s not just because I too enjoy writing that I found her to be extremely relatable -in fact, it’s amazing how much is said about writing, without Selin actually acknowledging writing very often. It’s that her confusion about her place in the world is done quietly, internally and furiously at times. She embodied my experience as an introverted and reserved person, who observes the world around her and how people go about their lives, and lets herself get roped along, regardless of the absurdity of it, or how much she’s actually invested. Selin tries many things in this book, goes through many of experiences in order to find answers to her uncertainty. Despite this, I never felt like Selin didn’t know what she was doing. She’s very aware, she knew what was good for her and what was not, but she chose to do certain things – good and bad – regardless, and never on some crazy impulse, but often because she was hoping for the best. Selin’s character struck me as someone who doesn’t always want to follow her head, and is sometimes disappointed in other people’s hearts, and I think that’s where her character struck a chord with me the most.

I would venture to guess that this is not the type of book that would please everyone, but I loved the humor of it, and I don’t mind a meandering story, especially if I like the characters.  I do think that it did get a bit too slow in the middle, and while I still enjoyed it, I found myself waiting a bit for the next turn in events. Regardless, I found this to be a very enjoyable read (even if the love interest, Ivan, was actually infuriating). It’s a book that, while quiet, has a lot to say, and one I feel like I could talk about for a long time. I think The Idiot could very well end up on my list of favorite books I’ve read this year. 

TL;DR review in 5 thoughts: LOL. Meandering plot. Extremely relatable main character. Can this guy LEAVE. A++ ending lines.

Book Review: Tin Man by Sarah Winman


Tin Man by Sarah Winman /  ★★★★★

Five years after the death of his wife, Ellis lives in a state of loneliness. His childhood best friend, Michael, is nowhere in sight, but as Ellis falls back into memories, their lives together – and apart – begin to unfold.

I wonder what the sound of a heart breaking might be. And I think it might be quiet, unperceptively so, and not dramatic at all. 

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Book Review: Normal People by Sally Rooney


Normal People by Sally Rooney / ★★★★★

Summary: Connell and Marianne both grow up in the same town in rural Ireland. The similarities end there; they are from very different worlds. But they both get places to study at university in Dublin, and a connection that has grown between them despite the social tangle of school lasts long into the following years.

How strange to feel herself so completely under the control of another person, but also how ordinary. No one can be independent of other people completely, so why not give up the attempt, she thought, go running in the other direction, depend on people for everything, allow them to depend on you, why not.

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Book Review: Human Acts by Han Kang


Human Acts by Han Kang / ★★★★★

Summary: In the midst of a violent student uprising in South Korea, a young boy named Dong-ho is shockingly killed. The story of this tragic episode unfolds in a sequence of interconnected chapters as the victims and the bereaved encounter suppression, denial, and the echoing agony of the massacre.

I grasped your hand and tugged you forward, toward the head of the column, while you muttered to yourself in blank incomprehension, our soldiers are shooting. They’re shooting at us. I pulled you toward them with all my strength, opening my throat to sing while you seemed on the point of tears. I sang along with the national anthem, my heart fit to burst. Before they sent that white-hot bullet driving into my side.

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Book Review: The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt


The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt / ★★★★★

Summary: Theo Decker survives a terrible accident that kills his mother, and he escapes the scene with a priceless 17th century painting that she loved. In the ensuing years, Theo bounces from  his rich friend’s house, to Las Vegas, to an antique shop in New York, the painting always in his mind. As Theo gets older, the painting, the influences around him, and his own aching heart lead him down increasingly dark paths.

But when I think of you, it’s as if you’ve gone away to sea on a ship – out in a foreign brightness where there are no paths, only stars and sky.

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Book Review: The Female of the Species by Mindy McGinnis

The Female of the Species

The Female of the Species by Mindy McGinnis / ★★★★1/2

Summary: Three years ago, when her older sister, Anna, was murdered and the killer walked free, Alex uncaged the language she knows best—the language of violence. While her own crime goes unpunished, Alex knows she can’t be trusted among other people. Not with Jack, the star athlete who wants to really know her but still feels guilty over the role he played the night Anna’s body was discovered. And not with Peekay, the preacher’s kid with a defiant streak who befriends Alex while they volunteer at an animal shelter. Not anyone.

Because there are others like him still. Tonight they used words they know, words that don’t bother people anymore. They said bitch. They told another girl they would put their dicks in her mouth. No one protested because this is our language now. But then I used my words, strung in phrases that cut deep, and people paid attention; people gasped. People didn’t know what to think.

My language is shocking.

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