Book Review: On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous by Ocean Vuong

On Earth We're Briefly GorgeousON EARTH WE’RE BRIEFLY GORGEOUS by Ocean Vuong
Published by Penguin Press on June 4, 2019

My Rating: ★★★★

Everyone who’s read this book always remarks on the language first, and now I know why. Vuong’s command of language is simply astounding; I’ve never read anything like it before. Written in the form of a letter to his mother who can’t read, On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous follows its narrator, known only as Little Dog, over three significant developmental periods in his life: his childhood, where he grapples with the aftermath of the Vietnam War on his family and his fraught relationship with his mother; his late teenage years, where he explores his sexuality with Trevor, the “redneck” son of the tobacco plantation owner; and his young adulthood, during which he comes into his own as a writer.

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Mysteries/Thrillers | Darling Rose Gold, The Keeper, & Force of Nature

Aside from romance, I also find myself reaching for the occasional crime novel or fast-paced thriller as my comfort reads. It sounds strange if I put it that way, but what I consider to be ‘comfort reads’ are books that can quickly transport or distract me, and thrillers can be very absorbing.

Unfortunately, I haven’t been very lucky with the genre lately. Here are my reviews of Stephanie Wrobel’s Darling Rose Gold (2020) and Jessica Moor’s The Keeper (2020), two of my most anticipated thrillers this year which turned out to be disappointments. Thankfully, I just finished Jane Harper’s Force of Nature (2017) this week, which turned out to be very satisfying.

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Enemies-to-Lovers Romances | The Worst Best Man & The Unhoneymooners

I just adore a good enemies-to-lovers romance. Everything about this trope gives me life—from the completely ridiculous reasons the characters hate each other, to the petty pranks, the wicked banter, the bristling sexual tension, and finally to the ANGST of surrendering to their “”worst enemy””… I could go on and on. I just love it. I love all of it. I lap all that up to fill the void in my soul.

But as much as I love the trope, I can also get very nitpicky about it in a way that I don’t get with other tropes, mainly because I want the elements to be done a certain way—i.e., The Hating Game (2016) way. I like a lot of banter, competitiveness, and sexual tension, plus a lot of steamy scenes and maybe a couple of pranks tossed in on the side.

While the books below aren’t quite The Hating Game, Mia Sosa’s The Worst Best Man is probably closer to how I like my enemies-to-lovers done. The Unhoneymooners was cute, but it wasn’t steamy enough for me. (My rule for a hate-to-love romance is that the strength of hatred should be proportional to the steaminess of the sex. While I have no way to quantify this, the proportion just felt off-kilter for this book.) Also, weirdly enough, I only started liking The Unhoneymooners during the “lovers” part, and was bored out of my mind during the “enemies” part.

Still, both were fun, breezy reads, a great way to pass the time during this quarantine.

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Book Review: How We Disappeared by Jing-Jing Lee

How We Disappeared v2

HOW WE DISAPPEARED by Jing-Jing Lee
Published by Hanover Square Press on May 7, 2019

My Rating: ★★★★

How We Disappeared tells the story of a young Singaporean girl’s experience as a ‘comfort woman’, a euphemism for women forced into sexual slavery to Japanese soldiers during World War II. I was initially cautious about this book because stories about sexual violence (and especially sexual violence during wartime) can slide into the realm of trauma porn, but thankfully this book doesn’t fall into that trap. While Lee does zoom in on her protagonist’s traumatic experiences, she also situates them in the larger context of healing from the trauma, which makes the novel ultimately hopeful in tone rather than oppressively bleak.

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Book Review: Djinn Patrol on the Purple Line by Deepa Anappara

Djinn Patrol
DJINN PATROL ON THE PURPLE LINE by Deepa Anappara (Published by Random House in 2020)

My Rating: ★★★★

Djinn Patrol on the Purple Line follows the point of view of nine-year-old Jai in the basti (slums) of India and his two best friends, Pari and Faiz, as they investigate the disappearances of their peers. They form a Golden Trio of sorts, with Jai as the instigator of their ‘adventures’, Pari as the whip-smart Hermione figure, and Faiz as the reluctant sidekick (though reluctant only because he has work). Inspired by crime shows like Police Patrol and Live Crime, they travel around their basti to list down suspects and interrogate the people who last saw the missing children.

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Book Review: The Most Fun We Ever Had by Claire Lombardo

The Most Fun We Ever Had
THE MOST FUN WE EVER HAD by Claire Lombardo (Published by Doubleday Books in 2019)

My Rating: ★★

The Most Fun We Ever Had follows the lives of one white upper-class family over the course of four decades. We have the parents, Marilyn and David, who are still deeply in love after forty years of marriage; Wendy, the eldest daughter, who drinks and sleeps around to cope with the loss of her husband; Violet, the overachiever turned stay-at-home mom whose perfect life falls apart when her past resurfaces; Liza, a newly-tenured psychologist who finds herself unexpectedly pregnant by her unemployed long-time boyfriend; and Grace, the youngest and fresh out of college, who tells her family a lie that quickly spins out of control. When their secrets come out, old tensions and rivalries resurface, forcing each family member to confront and to rely on each other more than ever before.

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Book Review: Fleishman Is in Trouble by Taffy Brodesser-Akner

Fleishman Is in Trouble
FLEISHMAN IS IN TROUBLE by Taffy Brodesser-Akner (Published by Random House in 2019)

My Rating: ★★★★

I feel so torn over Fleishman Is in Trouble. On one hand, I found the writing brilliant, but the sheer density of the prose also wore me down. I like how it explores the unequal and gendered division of labor in marriage, but the upper-class context makes me wonder about the universality of its insights (i.e., is it just a case of “rich people problems”?). All this made for an uneven reading experience. If we’re talking about enjoyment alone I would’ve given it 3 stars, but since it’s so much better than most of the longlisted books I’ve read so far (bar Girl, Woman, Other, of course), I’m going with 4 stars.

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Book Review: Dominicana by Angie Cruz

Dominicana
DOMINICANA by Angie Cruz (Published by Flatiron Books in 2019)

My Rating: ★★

I always feel uncomfortable when I have to give a book a low rating, but I really can’t give this one any higher, so here we are. As other reviewers have mentioned, the biggest problem with Dominicana is that it’s a tired and overused story of the immigrant experience. It’s riddled with the melodrama of a soap opera, populated by one-dimensional characters, and narrated in a flat and detached manner. At the very least, I expected to learn something new about Dominicans and Dominican culture, but the details about that were so thin that they could have easily been any other marginalized racial group.

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Book Review: Writers & Lovers by Lily King

Writers & Lovers
WRITERS & LOVERS by Lily King (Published by Picador in 2020)

My Rating: ★★☆☆☆

I decided to take a break from reading the Women’s Prize longlist, so I picked up Lily King’s new novel, Writers & Lovers. Writers & Lovers follows Casey, a young writer who’s struggling to make ends meet while finishing the novel she’s been working on for six years. Sounds promising, but unfortunately Writers & Lovers was a snoozefest. I almost DNF’ed it because it took me ages to get through the first half.

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Book Review: Weather by Jenny Offill

Weather
WEATHER by Jenny Offill (Published by Knopf Publishing Group in 2020)

My Rating: ★★★★

If you’ve seen the sort of books I review on my blog, you’ll know that I’m the kind of reader who likes the reassurance of a plot, well-drawn characters, and straightforward storytelling. My favorite literary works are those like Tartt’s The Secret History (1992) and Fowler’s We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves (2013), which are plotted like mysteries and contain a lot of juicy family or relationship drama.

Weather isn’t like that at all. It doesn’t have a plot; most of the characters are sketches at best; and the storytelling feels like a bunch of poem fragments, bad jokes, fortune-cookie statements, and fun facts strung together. It’s a bizarre and oddly-shaped book with an equally bizarre and odd narrator. By all appearances, Weather shouldn’t be my thing.

And yet… I liked it a lot. I liked it so much that I right after I finished it I got a copy of Offill’s previous work, Dept. of Speculation (2014), and gobbled it up in a day; and after finishing Dept. of Speculation, I realized I still liked Weather more. In fact, while I still think that Girl, Woman, Other is the strongest contender for the prize, I’d say that as of today, Weather is my personal favorite.

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