The Girl Who Died
Author: Ragnar Jónasson
Publication Date: November 2018
Genre: mystery, thriller
Method: audiobook via TPL

Picked this up on whim because it fit for January’s #buzzword prompt (who, what, where, when, why, and how), and it was available as an audiobook, which was definitely a good call because there’s no way I would have been able to pronounce all of the traditional Icelandic names. I went in with little to no expectations and was pleasantly surprised! Not as thrilling as I had hoped but a page turner none the less.

This story had a lot of my favorite elements in mystery! Set in a small Icelandic town, the atmospheric setting was a perfect match for my winter in the states. I also loved the limited cast of characters – I had fun making a character web to keep everyone straight and see how characters were connected to one another. The emphasis on local legend and Icelandic history also piqued my interest!

Unfortunately, I felt very meh about the conclusion and wasn’t thrilled or satisfied with learning how the two storylines connected. But overall, I enjoyed! I’d definitely read more from Ragnar Jónasson.
Buzzword Readathon: January selection

In the Dream House
Author: Carmen Maria Machado
Publication Date: November 2019
Genre: nonfiction, memoir
Method: audiobook via TPL

An innovative and haunting memoir about the trauma, abuse, and manipulation author Carmen Maria Machado experiences in her same-sex relationship. Vulnerable, eye opening, honest, raw, and explicit, this memoir is nothing short of incredible.

How often did I think to myself that she needed to leave this horrifying relationship. How obvious it was that she was being manipulated and disrespected. That this isn’t love. This is torture. And that’s the point, isn’t it? That love can mask torture.

It seems cruel and unusual to pick a favorite chapter given the extent of abuse suffered by the main character, but Carmen Maria Machado’s writing style is brilliant, unlike anything I’ve ever read, likely on the market in terms of memoirs. Dream House as Word Problem was exceptional, “In one trip, she can listen to 75 percent of an audiobook. If she is driving at sixty-five miles per hour, and the average length of an audiobook is ten hours, how many months will it take for her to realize she was wasted half of her MFA program driving to her girlfriend’s house to be yelled at for five days? How many months will it take her to come to terms with the fact that she functionally did this to herself?”

A second favorite was Dream House as Choose Your Own Adventure, which is best when read through the physical copy. I had no idea this chapter was interactive, given I listened to the entire audiobook. But when flipping through my physical copy from the library, I came to this section where the author presents us a situation and we the reader get to choose a reaction and see how the story plays out. It’s brilliant. It’s heart breaking, but brilliant.

This is a memoir, which I didn’t plan to rate, but it’s 5 stars.

Fiona and Jane
Author: Jean Chen Ho
Publication Date: January 2022
Genre: contemporary fiction
Method: hardcover borrowed from TPL

First short story collection of the year and I really enjoyed it! This book depicts the friendship between two Taiwanese women as they grow together and a part from high school, college, and beyond. With themes of identity, resentment, friendship, sexuality, and regret, author Jean Chen Ho shines light on the Taiwanese-American experience.

I’ve seen some criticism about this book being marketed as a book about female friendship that actually just follows the main characters as they flip from one shitty partner to the next as they drift farther apart. And totally agree, as it turns out, the relationship between Fiona and Jane is not at the fore front of the story. But is it just obvious to me alone, that maybe that was the point? That Jean Chen Ho is providing commentary on how friendships change and evolve over time. I didn’t pick this book up solely on the promise of a female friendship, so this really didn’t bother me.

I picked this book up hoping for diverse representation and to learn about Taiwanese women and culture, and that’s what I got! I liked Jane and Fiona individually and the glimpses we got of their friendship. This book is about Fiona, and Jane, not Fiona and Jane. The synopsis states, “Spanning countries and selves, Fiona and Jane is an intimate portrait of a friendship, a deep dive into the universal perplexities of being young and alive, and a bracingly honest account of two Asian women who dare to stake a claim on joy in a changing, contemporary America.” Exactly, yes. It’s like the author wrote the book or something.

Side note: how interesting is it when books start to parallel one another. Prior to picking up Fiona and Jane, I listened to In the Dream House by Carmen Maria Machado, an innovative and haunting memoir about the trauma, abuse, and manipulation in her same-sex relationship. One of the main characters, Jane, also experiences control and jealousy in her same-sex relationship.

Unpopular opinion: I liked this book! I rated it 4 stars!

Counting Descent
Author: Clint Smith
Publication Date: September 2016
Genre: poetry
Method: paperback borrowed from TPL

Hear we go again, another year trying to get into poetry. I picked this up from the library after listening to conservation between authors Clint Smith and Ashley C. Ford at the end of the audiobook for Ashley’s memoir, Somebody’s Daughter, published last year.

Clint Smith explores what it means to be a black boy coming of age in America exploring subjects like race, politics, expectations, stereotypes, but also hope, love, and family. My favorite poem is titled, Today I Bought a Book For You, which opens with “it wasn’t one I had ever heard of but the first page had your favorite word and that was enough for me to unfold the dollar bills from my pockets.” I read that sentences back and forth. I couldn’t help but feel envy. As a book lover, isn’t this what we all want to hear? This sentiment felt so thoughtful and pure, made me feel hope.

My favorite selection regarding race and being black in America is For the Taxi Cabs that Pass Me in Harvard Square, which provides a look into how a black man hails a cab. So simple, yet so heart breaking and thought provoking.

What White People Can Do Next
Author: Emma Dabiri
Publication Date: June 2021
Genre: nonfiction, race
Method: paperback borrowed from TPL

This is going to sound mega harsh and no disrespect to the author, but this left little to no impression on me. Right book, wrong time. I just don’t think I was in the headspace to really engage with this text.
Buzzword Readathon: January selection

What’s up next on my TBR

Until next time, Meryn


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