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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Weekly Wrap-up | May 10, 2020

Happy Mother’s Day to all moms out there! This week was a little more ‘eventful’ than my normal quarantine week—we celebrated my brother’s birthday last May 7 by ordering some of his favourite food, and then we celebrated Mother’s Day also by ordering out. My brother and I (half-)joke that our interactions with the people who deliver our food are the only things we look forward to now, lol. Still, the food was pretty great, and we spent a lot of time reminiscing, which was nice.

I’m not sure if our overall situation is improving, though. Just this week, one of our country’s major media and broadcasting companies, ABS-CBN, ceased operations because of the failure of the Congress to renew its franchise permit. Many (me included) suspect this is intentional, because ABS-CBN has been vocal in its criticism of President Duterte (whose populist appeal is very similar to that of Trump’s). Aside from the implications of this on democracy and free speech, a more practical concern is that 11,000+ employees have just lost their jobs, which extremely concerning given the COVID situation. Please keep us in your thoughts—there’s a lot of collective fear and outrage again here.

In other news, things are also slowly beginning to pick up with school. We now have a revised calendar for the next academic year, and I’m just waiting for the final dates for our Comprehensive Exams (we have those on the MA level, for some reason). I’m not looking forward to studying for those but having some certainty and getting back to making plans will definitely be a relief.

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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

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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Weekly Wrap-up + Very Tentative Reading Plans for May and Beyond

Happy Sunday, everyone! I hope you’ve all had a great week. I know I just said in my April Wrap-up that I don’t do well with a TBR, but… here I am, making one anyway. This is all very tentative—I don’t do well with a strict TBR, but I find I’m more motivated to read if I have a set of options and a VERY loose time frame (much like my Women’s Prize reading), so I’ll try to do something similar for May and for the rest of the year.

A minor life update—my reviewing mojo is back!!! I was able to write and schedule a few posts again over the past few days. Thank you all for your encouragement last week; it really helped to know that a reviewing slump is normal. ☺️

On to the wrap-up!

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April 2020 Wrap-up

Wow, writing this wrap-up post feels like crawling out of a cave and squinting at the sun for the first time in awhile. Seriously, where did April go??? This month is just a huge blob in my mind. I think ever since my university called off classes because of our city’s crappy internet connection (it’s a legit concern—I can’t even turn my video on during calls), I lost all motivation to study. Plus, when classes were cancelled, my work as a graduate assistant was also cancelled, so I went from working and studying ~50 hours a week to just ~10 hours a week for revising our paper. Before this, I hadn’t realized how disorienting having so much free time is.

I know that I’m speaking from an extremely privileged position when I say this, since other people are facing job insecurity now or even risking their lives to treat COVID patients, but I think it’s possible to recognise their reality while seeking to understand mine. I’m starting to think don’t do well with too much free time—I’m more motivated and productive when I know that someone is holding me accountable, so unless someone expects something of me, I’m not inclined to set my own goals. Without the external pressures, my brain assumes it’s not needed and goes into hibernation.

So April is basically a ‘hibernation’ month for me—I hit pause on (almost) all my career plans and responsibilities and retreated to my happy place, i.e. reading and blogging. Does anybody else have these cycles of extreme productivity and extreme ‘laziness’ too? Back when I first started working I tried to be productive at a steady clip, but I found myself burning out easily and getting sick more often. Now I’m wondering if long fallow periods like this are actually essential to my ability to be productive… But anyway, that’s for another post.

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Weekly Wrap-up | April 26, 2020

Happy Sunday, everyone! I hope you’ve all had a great week. I was planning on posting a couple of reviews this week, but I was distracted by the Women’s Prize shortlist announcement, and after that I seemed to have momentarily lost the ability to string words together for a review. Like, I would stare at a blank document for half an hour, or else spend it writing one paragraph, which sounds so bad that I’d end up scrapping it. It’s beyond frustrating. Has anyone ever experienced this when writing reviews? I know writers often experience this, but I didn’t think it was possible to be blocked when writing a review. (Then again, I’m a very slow writer.)

I’m not sure how this happened, but I suspect that the fatigue of churning out all those reviews for the Women’s Prize finally got to me. Being new to blogging, I’ve never realized how much effort it takes to write reviews on a regular basis. This stuff is hard work for a non-income-generating hobby (for most people—I know some have been able to monetize it), so now I have so much more respect for the veteran book bloggers out there—it really takes some dedication to keep doing this. If you have any tips or experiences to share about blogging, please let me know! I’d really be interested to hear them.

In any case, I don’t think I’ll force it for next week. I have one more post queued, a monthly wrap-up to do, and maybe one or two tags, but maybe taking a little time off from writing reviews will be a good idea. I’m a little disappointed because I never feel like I’ve caught up with all my reviews, but I’m hoping it’s better to take a break than forcing it.

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Women’s Prize for Fiction 2020: Shortlist Reaction

Since the Philippines is 7 hours ahead of the UK, I stayed up until 2:30 AM to wait for the shortlist announcement, and couldn’t even take a short nap beforehand because I was so excited. You can watch the official announcement here, but here is the shortlist:

2020-03 Women's Prize for Fiction Shortlist

I was able to guess four out of six (Girl, Woman, Other, Dominicana, A Thousand Ships, and The Mirror & the Light), though guessing Dominicana right gave me no pleasure, as I didn’t like that one at all. But I was so pleasantly surprised when Weather made it; it’s my favorite read so far, so I’m glad that it’ll get more attention now that it’s advanced to the shortlist. I had to laugh when A Thousand Ships was announced—if there’s anything I can conclude about the judges’ tastes, it’s that they cannot get enough of Greek retellings—but a number of bloggers also found this to be a great read, so fingers crossed that this one deserves its spot there.

Overall, I don’t hate this shortlist, but I’m disappointed that Dominicana was chosen over the far superior How We Disappeared or even Djinn Patrol on the Purple Line for the ‘diversity’ book. I honestly don’t know what the judges saw in that one. I also wonder about why there seems to be just one slot for a ‘diverse’ book in the first place, and why a shortlist that honors women and women’s writing features two books with famous dead white men (though arguably Shakespeare is a peripheral figure in Hamnet).

Still, this shortlist is a LOT better than my predictions. I’ll still be reading the remaining books on my list, and I’m even considering giving Mantel’s intimidating trilogy a go, since I’m seeing even more positive reviews of it now. Besides, The Mirror & the Light and Girl, Woman, Other are the only ones with a real shot at the Prize anyway. I’m still firmly rooting for Evaristo, though—Mantel already has TWO Bookers to her name while Evaristo has only a half, so I think it’s only fair she gets this one. I’ll keep you guys posted if I ever do plan on reading it.

What did you think about the shortlist? Any thoughts or violent reactions? Did your favorites make it there? Let me know in the comments!

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Women’s Prize for Fiction 2020: Reflections and Shortlist Predictions

Only one more day to go before the Women’s Prize for Fiction shortlist will be announced, and I’m very excited to see what books will turn up! Unfortunately, because of the quarantine, I’ve only been able to obtain 9 of the 16 books on the list and I’m currently reading the tenth on Kindle, so I’ll be cobbling together my predictions from the books I have read along with what I’ve heard from the other Women’s Prize bloggers.

Once again, here’s a snapshot of the books on longlist, followed by my rankings so far:

2020-03 Women's Prize for Fiction Books 1

  1. Weather by Jenny Offill – ★★★★
  2. Girl, Woman, Other by Bernardine Evaristo – ★★★★
  3. Fleishman Is in Trouble by Taffy Brodesser-Akner – ★★★★
  4. Red at the Bone by Jacqueline Woodson – ★★★★
  5. Djinn Patrol on the Purple Line by Deepa Anappara – ★★★★
  6. Queenie by Candice Carty-Williams – ★★★
  7. The Dutch House by Ann Patchett – ★★½
  8. The Most Fun We Ever Had by Claire Lombardo – ★★
  9. Dominicana by Angie Cruz – ★★
  10. How We Disappeared by Jing-Jing Lee – Currently reading
  11. A Thousand Ships by Natalie Haynes – TBR
  12. Actress by Anne Enright – TBR
  13. Hamnet by Maggie O’Farrell – TBR
  14. Nightingale Point by Luan Goldie – TBR
  15. Girl by Edna O’Brien – Will not read; no rating
  16. The Mirror & the Light by Hilary Mantel – Will not read; no rating

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