I thought the world was off to a rough start back in January, but March really takes the cake this year. At the start of the month, I took some time off reading and blogging to be with my family for my grandmother’s wake, and just one week after we buried her, Metro Manila was placed under community quarantine (in effect, a lockdown). It’s already Day 17 of quarantine but every time I wake up I still feel that everything’s so surreal, this can’t be happening, our lives will never be the same, etc., etc.—and it’s all I can do to keep myself from panicking.
Thankfully, reading and blogging has kept me sane these past two weeks. I really wouldn’t know what to do with myself if I didn’t have this blog (and you guys to talk about books with!). This month, I’m really happy I was able to read 12 books, five of them from the Women’s Prize for Fiction 2020 Longlist. Here’s a rundown of everything.
Note: Titles link to my reviews.
The Flatshare by Beth O’Leary – ★★★★½ – This is a slow-burn, feel-good epistolary romance using the roommates / “there’s only one bed” trope. Leon is renting out his flat because he needs the money. Tiffy needs to find a cheap place to stay because she needs to move out of her ex’s flat fast. Of course, it makes perfect sense for Tiffy to move in. You’d expect the romance to ensue once she does, but Tiffy and Leon never actually see each other face-to-face until halfway through the book; instead, O’Leary uses that time to flesh out the characters and to build on their dynamic through their exchanging post-it notes. This was a very satisfying read and I highly recommend it.
The White Castle by Orhan Pamuk – ★★★★ – I picked this up thanks to Diana’s post on doppelgängers in books, and I ended up enjoying it immensely. Set in a semi-mythical 17th-century Istanbul, The White Castle follows a young Italian scholar who was sold as a slave to a man known as Hoja, or “master”, who happens to be a dead ringer for himself. The novella is a thought-provoking exploration of identity and self-reflection, as well as the fraught relationship between Turkey and the West. (On a side note, this turned out to be an unexpectedly topical read—there was a plague in the middle of the book, which they tried to contain by what we now know as social distancing. There really is no escaping COVID…)
Weather by Jenny Offill – ★★★★ – This book had a lot going against it for me: I generally don’t take to books that aren’t plot- or character-driven; I’m skeptical towards books that advocate for something, especially something as abstract as climate change; and I generally find it difficult to get into books with ‘poetic’ storytelling. So I was pleasantly surprised when I ended up liking Weather. The entire book revolves around a woman worrying about climate change and her loved ones, and I found myself resonating with her constant, low-level unease, restlessness, and anxiety. It reminds me a lot of how the world is dealing with the pandemic now. Full review to come next week.
Girl, Woman, Other by Bernardine Evaristo – ★★★★ – This was awarded the Booker Prize for Fiction last year and longlisted for this year’s Women’s Prize for Fiction, and now I see what the fuss is all about. In a series of loosely-connected stories, Girl, Woman, Other depicts the struggles and triumphs of twelve women of different backgrounds and ethnicities, and of all shapes and sizes and sexualities. The characters here are ‘woke’ and progressive, but Evaristo also gently makes fun of them for it, which saves them from becoming caricatures. While I was initially intimated by the prose-poem-like form, I eventually warmed up to it, as it had the rare combination of being experimental but feeling entirely natural to read. Full review to come next week.
Chemistry by Weike Wang – ★★★★ – There are novels that vividly remind me of a particular time in my life, and Chemistry is one of those. This brings me back to my grandmother’s wake, when, for some reason, this book was able to hold my attention when I couldn’t read anything longer than a takeout menu. Chemistry follows a young Chinese-American PhD student as she navigates grad school lab politics and her thorny familial and romantic relationships. The similarity to my own experience (I’m Chinese-Filipino and in grad school, albeit in psychology instead of chemistry) and the sharp, clear prose made it an easy and emotionally resonant read.
Red at the Bone by Jacqueline Woodson – ★★★★ – I felt like I was off to a good start on the Women’s Prize longlist when I finished this. In rhythmic and beautiful prose, Red at the Bone explores the lives of two black families across three generations. It interrogates our current notions of parenthood—especially motherhood—and offers an alternative to the traditional set-up of the nuclear family. A quick but thought-provoking read.
The Worst Best Man by Mia Sosa – ★★★★ – The Worst Best Man is an enemies-to-lovers romance between Lina, a wedding planner, and Max, the brother of her ex-fiancé who’d left her at the altar. The banter was great and Sosa really knows how to write sex scenes. Also, Lina is Brazilian, so there were a lot of references to Brazilian culture. I can’t vouch for the accuracy of the cultural representation, but I did find its incorporation into Lina’s identity and life very seamless.
After I’m Gone by Laura Lippman – ★★★★ – This was basically a murder mystery with a family saga tucked inside it, so of course I loved it. After I’m Gone follows the thread of two mysteries. The first is a traditional whodunnit: A detective unearths a cold case and tries to figure out who killed Julie Saxony, a businesswoman who was once famous for being the mistress of Felix Brewer, a wanted criminal who disappeared years ago. The second story follows what happens to Felix’s family after he disappears, told from the perspective of each family member. In the end, I was far more invested in the Brewer family than the murder, and I stayed up all night to finish this.
Introvert Power by Dr. Laurie Helgoe – ★★★★ – I’d say this book is similar to Quiet by Susan Cain, only with less historical anecdotes and more psychology. The author explains the key differences of introverts and extroverts in a way that neither maligns extroverts nor overly glorifies introverts, and offers very useful tips for navigating social situations where much extroverting is required. I should mention, though, that those who are most likely to benefit from reading this are those “accessible introverts”, as Helgoe calls them, who believe extraversion is a standard they can’t quite attain. I feel like I’m an accessible introvert, so I found this extremely helpful, if only as a reminder that I don’t “have to be” more extroverted.
Queenie by Candice Carty-Williams – ★★★ – Queenie follows a 25-year-old Jamaican-British woman as she deals with the aftermath of a break-up and her struggles with mental health. While I appreciated the unsparing portrayal of sexism and racism in dating and in the workplace, the first two-thirds felt repetitive, and there was a shift in the last third of the book that diluted the social commentary it tried to make in the first part. Overall Queenie is a buzzy and relevant “millennial” novel that sadly fell short in execution.
This Is How You Lose the Time War by Amal El-Mohtar and Max Gladstone – ★★★ – This Is How You Lose the Time War is a piece of speculative fiction with the premise of utilizing time travel to win a war, and it explores this through the letters of two top agents in opposing factions. The world-building felt too thin for me, and once the characters fell in love the letters became unbearably flowery. This had pretty high ratings on Goodreads from sci-fi fans, though, so I guess it worked for some people.
The Dutch House by Ann Patchett – ★★½ – The Dutch House follows a pair of siblings—Danny, the narrator, and Maeve, his elder sister by seven years—from their childhood in the titular Dutch house to their adulthood. For a book that’s supposed to be a character study, I found its characters to be rather flat and passive, the plot nonexistent, and its portrayal of women highly problematic. This was my most anticipated read from the longlist, so I was really disappointed at how this turned out.
Other Posts This Month
- Book Review: Such a Fun Age by Kiley Reid
- Book Review: Serpent & Dove by Shelby Mahurin
- Weekly Wrap-up #1 | March 15, 2020
- Weekly Wrap-up #2 | March 22, 2020
Well, that’s it for my March in reading. It’s ironic that the books I was most looking forward to—This Is How You Lose the Time War and The Dutch House—turned out to be huge disappointments, and the ones I was apprehensive about—Weather and Girl, Woman, Other—emerged near the top of my list. Other surprises this month were The Flatshare, The White Castle, and Chemistry, all of which I picked up on a whim. (Maybe there’s a moral here somewhere about lowering my expectations for books? Hmmm…)
My overall rating for this month was 3.75, which is my lowest average monthly rating for this year, but still higher than my average Goodreads rating of 3.37. (I’m surprised by how low my overall is but I suppose this was pulled down by my 2019 ratings, when, for some reason, I was stuck reading romances I barely enjoyed.) So I’d say that March was a great month. Huzzah! Hopefully I’ll have a great month in reading in April, too.
How about you, how was your March? What sort of books did you get to read during quarantine? I’d love to hear about it in the comments. 🙂
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