The Neapolitan Novels by Elena Ferrante

(Forgive me cleaning out my 2019 book reviews, half of which I had written and never posted.)

Read for the June theme (friendship) of the 2019 ONTD Reading Challenge | My Brilliant Friend, The Story of a New Name, Those Who Leave and Those Who Stay, and The Story of the Lost Child on Goodreads 

This was the perfect beach reading for me. I don’t mind an action-slow read when there is a lot of juicy character development. While I only read one of these at the beach, if I’d had a month there, it would have been amazing to digest them all wrapped up in a blanket on a breezy balcony, watching the ocean.

I’m not sure I entirely like either of the two main characters, who we accompany on about sixty years of life throughout the four novels, but they’re so compelling and interesting that their likeability isn’t much of a factor. Each of them are sympathetic at times, and others, illogical and annoying. They feel like real people.

I’m writing about all four novels together as I am not sure that these books are truly separate in feel or topics, as they are laid out. It’s a 2000-some-page odyssey that I can’t imagine not taking all together, their lives, together and apart, build on the foundations of their childhood, their adolescence, etc. and the books mirror that. It’s an epic, for sure. I’ve said before, I so love sitting with characters and an atmosphere, being truly drawn into a world. There is so much that feels so real. Even choices I wouldn’t make and reactions I would never have all feel justified in the world of these books.

Given that this is a translated series, I was pleasantly surprised by the writing quality. It’s always hard to know what’s not coming through a translation, but I liked what’s there. The writing isn’t florid, for SURE. I wouldn’t mind a little more style, but I also wasn’t bored by it. There was only one thing that stuck out to me: 

In the English translation, it’s very obvious how differently dialogue would function in the original Italian, as the author constantly mentions that switching from local dialect to more classical Italian is weighted with so much context. In English, yes, we have accents that have good and bad connotations, and broken or heavily accented English, which can be looked down upon, spoken with insecure tongues. That is the closest comparison for me that is analogous to the constant code switching these characters perform when with certain others. From my own Italian family stories, I have heard that sometimes dialect could vary so much that it would be almost impossible to communicate with someone from a different city. That’s more than what happens with American slang, accents, even varying vocabularies. So I’m wondering what “she said in dialect” connotes. I can’t know what I’m not reading between the lines or how it would have appeared in the original novels. 

Also, a blind spot that came up for me was that I have very little knowledge (read: no knowledge) about Italian politics. I don’t think it’s necessary to know anything to enjoy the story, but it is surprisingly a big factor in the lives of the two women followed in these novels. Maybe surprising is not the right word, though it was that for me due to my lack of knowledge. 

Recommend? If you are looking for a world to settle into without a goal or expecting any certain resolutions, or even arcs, go for it. 
To Watch: For SURE, I am watching the HBO Miniseries.

Comics: Adulthood is a Myth by Sarah Anderson and How to Tell If Your Cat Is Plotting to Kill You by Matthew Inman

Read for the November theme (graphic novel) of the 2019 ONTD Reading Challenge | Adulthood is a Myth on Goodreads | How to Tell If Your Cat Is Plotting to Kill You on Goodreads 

It never really occurs to me to read comics or graphic novels. Because I do most of my reading on my phone and get most of my books as e-book rentals from my library, graphic-heavy books don’t really make the most sense. In fact, I did have a little trouble with the Matthew Inman book, when some of the graphics were large and I didn’t have the ability to zoom in.

Other than that small technical difficulty, I enjoyed both of these books a lot, Sarah Anderson’s in particular. Inman’s comics don’t always resonate with me, but Anderson’s was fun the whole way through.

Recommend? Yes to both. They’re easy reads and I found them both fun.
To Read: More Sarah Anderson!

Beauty Queens by Libba Bray

Read for the September theme (comic novel) of the 2019 ONTD Reading Challenge | Beauty Queens on Goodreads 

It has been years since I read any Libba Bray, so I wasn’t quite sure what to expect from Beauty Queens. From the cover image, I expected some kind of Miss Congeniality/Hunger Games mashup. It skewed way more toward the former. It was a very light and easy read, considering these girls were fighting for their lives. I didn’t love how one-dimensional some of the characters were, but with so many of the pageant contestants stranded on the island, I suppose that was bound to happen. Also, honestly, this is not Lord of the Flies With Teenage Girls, which is the book I really wanted to read.

If this ever gets made into a movie, I would watch it. Having girls with impossible but humorous injuries pop in and out for comic relief would go over a lot better that way. In the book, it felt a little forced.

Recommend? If you’re looking for a comedy, sure.
To Read: This hasn’t persuaded me not to read The Diviners and A Great and Terrible Beauty, which were already on my TBR list.

The Neighbor by Lisa Gardner

(Forgive me cleaning out my 2019 book reviews, half of which I had written and never posted.)

Read for the August theme (a female protagonist in danger) of the 2019 ONTD Reading Challenge | The Neighbor on Goodreads 

This book seems like an odd misstep in the Detective DD Warren series. I’m not one to get mad that I couldn’t solve a mystery or see twists coming, but this one went beyond being literally unpredictable. The intentional misdirection was obvious and it didn’t feel fun to read, just frustrating. The mysterious details ended up feeling more tedious than ominous. 

The Neighbor deals with a missing mother, whose four-year-old child was the only possible witness to whatever happened, with a registered sex offender down the block as a complicating factor. There is something clearly weird going on with the father and the missing mother, and it takes a very long time to figure out what. 

The resolution was…fine? There were some deus ex machina factors on the way to the ending that kind of made me roll my eyes. I read this series for the page-turning thrill and mental junk food of it all, which I didn’t get as much with this one as with previous books, but I will still pick up the next one in the series.

Recommend? No, skip this one, unless you’re a completest about series.
To Read: The rest of the D.D. Warren series.

Hide by Lisa Gardner

(Forgive me cleaning out my 2019 book reviews, half of which I had written and never posted.)

Read for the August theme (a female protagonist in danger) of the 2019 ONTD Reading Challenge | Hide on Goodreads 

Hide is the second book in Lisa Gardner’s DD Warren series, which is my current reading guilty pleasure. This installment is basically a Law and Order: SVU episode in book form, which means I enjoyed it immensely. This one involved the case of an underground bunker filled with mummified remains of young girls. 

It was actually adapted for a TNT Mystery Movie Night starring Carla Gugino. While Gugino is infinitely more charming than I find DD to be, the TV movie missed some of the twists and turns that made the book version of the story interesting. If you, like me, have watched all of the SVU episodes possible, go ahead and seek it out (I think it’s on youtube?) but otherwise, the reading experience is more enjoyable.

I can’t recommend this series enough if you’re in a reading rut and want a page-turner.

Recommend? Yes.
To Read: The rest of the D.D. Warren series

Pride by Ibi Zoboi

(Forgive me cleaning out my 2019 book reviews, half of which I had written and never posted.)

Read for the July theme (a retelling) of the 2019 ONTD Reading Challenge | Pride on Goodreads 

I found this Pride and Prejudice retelling a bit restrained by being an adaptation of a well-loved story. Zuri is living with her sisters in a tight-knit neighborhood in Brooklyn that is experiencing displacement and gentrification, which brings the Darcy family into her world. 

After nearly a year I don’t remember what I didn’t love about this book, but I do remember having some difficulty with the balance between an interesting story of Zuri trying to dream bigger than she thought possible, live with the changes in her neighborhood and herself, deal with her fears for her family and her future…all while hitting the Pride and Prejudice plot points. I don’t remember feeling like these story elements conflicted, exactly, but I have to wonder if I would have liked it more as a stand-alone novel without knowing or expecting a well-loved story to be interwoven.

Recommend? Yes, if you’re not too attached to the Pride and Prejudice story
To Read: American Street by Ibi Zoboi

The Little Stranger by Sarah Waters

(Forgive me cleaning out my 2019 book reviews, half of which I had written and never posted.)

Read for the May theme (set in a country you’ve never been to) of the 2019 ONTD Reading Challenge | The Little Stranger on Goodreads 

Moving on from my dismal March books, plodding through April just because I felt worn out from March, the May selection that I made for the ONTD book club was such a nice change of pace. It seems crazy to say that about a 466 page book, but I moved through it way more quickly than some of the previous books, which were half the size. 

I really loved settling into the world of the book and the characters with whom the narrator becomes somewhat obsessed. If I had known at the time I picked this book up that it was by the author of Fingersmith – another really excellent and long book, I might have predicted that I would enjoy the winding path of the story. I thought for sure it was gone one way or I would be sympathetic to certain characters and then wind up on the side of another.

Recommend? I don’t want to give anything away, but I would recommend this for anyone who enjoys atmospheric novels that really create a world around you that feels lived in and familiar, even if you’ve never encountered such a place or a time. If you love puzzling through mysteries and aren’t looking for a page-turner with clear and simple resolutions, this is definitely one you should pick up.

To Read: One down, the rest of Sarah Waters catalog to go. (2 out of 5 done, if we’re keeping score.)

Passenger by Alexandra Bracken

Read for the April theme (read a book that involves time-travel) of the 2019 ONTD Reading Challenge | Passenger on Goodreads 

I struggled with picking a book for this challenge, as I don’t really love sci-fi or fantasy novels, though I do enjoy books with elements of either genre. I picked this book knowing nothing about it from a list of time-travel books. Taking a chance on an unknown author in a genre I don’t love, what could go wrong?!

Actually nothing! Passenger was fine. The main character Etta is a time traveler, unbeknownst to her and she gets thrown into some hijinks when someone pulls her through a time portal. It sounds like a fun adventure, but the pacing is really wonky. The story only really seemed to pick up momentum about halfway through. Even then, there were fits and starts in the action that just felt weird. It seemed more like it should have been a screenplay.

I’m not sure I want to continue with the series. On one hand, it’s a duology, so there aren’t books upon books I’d need to track down to get to the conclusion. On the other hand, Wayfarer, the sequel, is over 500 pages and my TBR list is already ridiculously long. 

Recommend? If you like Bracken’s other work, yes. Browsing some of the reviews on Goodreads, it seems like people really love her or don’t. I didn’t love this, but I wasn’t pulling my hair out. If I wasn’t playing catch-up with my book club list, I might have felt differently about the languid pace. 

To Read: Wayfarer, maybe. 

To Watch: If this ever gets adapted into a movie, or maybe even a TV series that could explore the world and the families involved in the story more deeply, I’ll be all over it.

This Will Be My Undoing: Living at the Intersection of Black, Female, and Feminist in (White) America by Morgan Jerkins

(Forgive me cleaning out my 2019 book reviews, half of which I had written and never posted.)

Read for the March theme (Non-Fiction) of the 2019 ONTD Reading Challenge | This Will Be My Undoing on Goodreads

I’d heard really awesome things about this series of essays, though now I can’t remember where. Aside from a couple “fun” essays that did not quite fit in with the others in tone and seemed like filler, the book as a whole was great. It was well written, easy to follow, relatable, heartbreaking, enlightening. I highly recommend it. 

Recommend?: Yes, yes, yes.

How to Be a Bawse: A Guide to Conquering Life by Lilly Singh

(Forgive me cleaning out my 2019 book reviews, half of which I had written and never posted.)

Read for the March theme (Non-Fiction) of the 2019 ONTD Reading Challenge | How to Be a Bawse on Goodreads

This book was not for me. Lilly Singh is someone I’ve seen through the videos of other youtubers and always seemed awesome. I loved her energy and upbeat attitude. Unfortunately that didn’t translate to loving her book. As someone who once spent actual money on a (used) copy of Kimora Lee Simmons’ Fabulosity, I am no stranger to a word-inventing, motivational self-help book. 

However, having watched none of her individual videos, the tone of the book may have been a little lost on me. I’m not familiar with her usual style, but having read a little bit of other youtubers books, I am familiar with the casual, conversational style that tends to be used, bringing a bit of the video style into the book…and it doesn’t always translate well. (I’m honestly wondering if the editors ask them to do this, knowing their typical audiences.) I’m sure the audiobook, narrated by Singh herself, is closer to what she seemed to be going for – something friendly and intimate, inviting her fans into her world. I probably should have chosen to go that route, but I’ve always had a hard time with audiobooks. My mind wanders. 

It’s funny, because I appreciate a lot of the messages that Singh includes in her book – like the need to control your reaction and attitude when you cannot control a situation or refusing to beat yourself up over a mistake, but instead, using it as a learning opportunity. It’s so basic, yes, but it’s solid advice. Someone picking the book up, wanting to hear it from IISuperwomanII is not going to be mad about that. While these points are delivered are in clear, explicit language, they’re also shown through belabored metaphors. They are not ill-fitting comparisons, but they go on for pages, saying the same thing 12 different ways. I can see how, in a visual medium, this might go over better, if something is acted out or animated, or even just spoken straight to the camera as the point is driven home over and over, you can vary the expression. And honestly, when you need to self-motivate, sometimes it does help to be beat over the head a bit with your goals, just to see them really clearly in front of you. But I didn’t need the beating and it just exhausted me to read that way. I 100% get (now) that this book was aimed for a high-school or younger audience and I should have known that before I picked it up.

I did like the few glimpses into Singh’s life, particularly her writing about mental health. It wasn’t presented as juicy gossip to learn about her and she keeps it mostly surface-level, but it was worth mentioning all the same. Especially for someone who has to self-motivate and run her own business, she wrote well about the obstacles that her mental health can throw at her and how she worked (and continues to work) to get past those challenges.

I still like Lilly Singh just as much as I did when I picked up the book, even though I can’t say I enjoyed the book itself. I think she’s interesting and has a lot to say. I am way more interested in her video output now, more than if she writes another book.

Recommend?: Only if you already like the author and if you pick up a physical copy. The e-book formatting was bizarre and annoying.

To Watch: I’ll definitely check out her late night show