Much like everyone else, I’m doing my best to stay as positive and proactive as possible in the face of the pandemic; books and my new, impulse-buy Nintendo Switch are keeping me sane. During lockdown, I’m also enjoying plenty of TV and replacing coronavirus news reports with lighthearted podcasts. In terms of reading, last month, I was drowning in university work and I didn’t get around to sharing my February wrap-up. Although, I did talk about a couple of my favourites; gushing about Girl, Woman, Other on my blog, and singing Emma‘s praises over on my Instagram.
Conversely, March was a wonderful reading month for me, and perhaps the most diverse. I delved into 6 fiction books of various genres (including my monthly classic novel), one powerful graphic memoir, a weird and wonderful comic, I listened to an unforgettable autobiography, and I even dipped my toes back into some poetry. So, here are my reviews — some simply snippets, others extensive and effusive — on the ten books I read in March:
Pachinko by Min Jin Lee
Learn everything. Fill your mind with knowledge – it’s the only kind of power no one can take away from you.
Pachinko is a moving, multi-generational masterpiece encompassing four generations, two opposing nations, constant struggle, and war; an area of history oft-forgotten outside of East Asia. As someone who knows very little about Korea and Japan’s socio-political history, I found Lee’s narrative edifying and accessible but never overwhelming.
For me, the highlight of this book were the characters and the intricate relationships between them. Often, when a book has such a large cast of characters, I’m drawn to some of them and bored by others. However here, I was invested in each of their survival and success. I put this down to Lee’s third-person narration that shifted seamlessly from one character’s perspective to the next. Questions of home, nationality, and cultural identity permeate this 500-page bittersweet portrait of family and sacrifices. They all deal with their fair share of suffering and their life is filled with injustices, discrimination, and poverty. Nonetheless, at no point did the book veer into depression and hopelessness. 𝘗𝘢𝘤𝘩𝘪𝘯𝘬𝘰 is not a story of heartbreak and loss but a story of endurance and hope.
For such a long novel the pace rarely falters, and yet I chose to take it slow, page by page, soaking up every word of Lee’s elegant prose. Although not bustling with action, Pachinko keeps you turning the pages, grieving and celebrating with these characters who feel as close as family by the end. I cannot recommend this highly enough to fans of family sagas, historical fiction, fiction set in East Asia, or really any reader who just wants a good story. By far one of the best books I will read this year.
The Giver of Stars by Jojo Moyes
The Giver of Star is a touching story of friendship and an intricate, fictionalised account of the Kentucky Pack Horse Librarians. Between 1935 and 1943, inspirational women voluntarily rode horses laden with books many miles, often in inclement weather, determined to help educate and enrich the lives of their rural community. What I found most inspiring about this book was its emphasis on the importance of literature; a salutary reminder of the incredible impact books can make on individuals and the world.
Red, White & Royal Blue by Casey McQuiston
Is a book allowed to be this sappy and romantic? Red, White & Royal Blue is a fun, adorable read, perfect for these uncertain times.
In short, this book is about the first son of the president of the United States, Alex, falling hopelessly in love with the prince of England, Henry. It’s your typical rival to romance book with a royal twist.
Now, it would have been a 5-star read for me if rather than third person POV, which felt quite distant at times, it was told from first. And not only from Alex’s perspective either, but Henry’s too. I would have loved to get the low down on some fictionalised royal family drama. I also think it could be a solid 100 pages or longer; the American politics started to feel long-winded. Finally, it was drenched in pop culture references; funny when you know them, a quick Wikipedia search required when you don’t.
Don’t let my negativity dissuade you from picking up this book; I think the overwhelmingly melancholy, gloomy news headlines are getting to me. Nonetheless, I loved this sweet romance, and would love to see a film adaptation!!
Nightingale Point by Luan Goldia
A thought provoking story of a disastrous event that occurs in a London tower block in 1996, drawing on real tragedies that happened in Amsterdam and London. Full of interesting characters, it deals with how people cope in the aftermath of such a devastating event, how we as humans feel compelled to analyse the before, the after and perhaps the most heart breaking of all, the what-ifs. Incredibly sad yet uplifting too.
*Flèche by Mary Jean Chan
𝘍𝘭è𝘤𝘩𝘦 is a moving collection of poems about dislocation, queerness and love. Throughout it all presides the figure of a mother – not just Chan’s mother, who had difficulty accepting that her daughter was a lesbian, but also the relationship to the mother tongue (Chinese) and the mother country (Hong Kong). Chan is bilingual in English and Cantonese, and these poems detail her multilingualism, English as an imperialist tool, and how speaking different languages in different aspects of one’s life can create a splitting of the self. Chan’s experimental poems interweave Chinese characters that simultaneously invites and excludes speakers and non-speakers. This forceful anthology is also a nuanced and thought-provoking portrait of the relationship between mother and daughter. Overall, 𝘍𝘭è𝘤𝘩𝘦 is at once proudly defiant and self-consciously fragile. Beautiful.
Saga, Vol. 3 by Brian K. Vaughan (Writer), Fiona Staples (Artist)
A beautifully strange kaleidoscope of incredible art, laugh-out-loud humour and bizarre characters. Volume 3 was as weird and wonderful as ever. Roll on Volume 4.
They Called Us Enemy by George Takei
As charming as it is disheartening, They Called Us Enemy strikes you with the emotional weight that could only be experienced through a child’s eyes during war. Beautifully illustrated by Harmony Becker, this graphic memoir tells us of the time the author, acclaimed Japanese-American actor George Takei, was imprisoned inside an American concentration camp during the Second World War.
This was my first graphic novel memoir, and, I thought it was incredible. Takei’s story is raw and deeply personal. Woven throughout is a thank you and homage to his parents; to his father who guided the young family through tumultuous times despite their fear and humiliation, and his mother who was determined to make a home for her children no matter where they were cooped up. Moreover, it’s also a portrait of childhood; a childhood characterised by naivety and incomprehension. Takei recollects believing, at first, as if he was going on an adventure, and the juvenile innocence of the young siblings made this read even more devastating.
They Called Us Enemy is timeless with its too-many parallels with the present day, criticising how easy it is to “other” and vilify our neighbours. Even if I hadn’t loved it, I’d have found it impossible to give less than five stars to such a powerful and important book as this. This is a demoralising read, but necessary.
Becoming by Michelle Obama
I urge everyone to listen to this book. Michelle’s narration of her own story is incredibly impassioned. As cliché as it may be after having read a memoir, Michelle Obama is truly inspiring. Elegant, graceful, and down to earth, she seems to deeply care about everyone around her. Her relentless love for Barack, her family, and her dedication to supporting women and girls around the world shines through. Besides Michelle herself, the insight into life in the White House was also fascinating. Becoming is introspective, inspiring, and promotes hope in a time of great uncertainty.
North and South by Elizabeth Gaskelll
Oh how I wanted to enjoy this. North and South tells the story of Margaret Hale who is uprooted from her comfortable home in the tranquil countryside of Hampshire to move with her family to the north of England. Gaskell goes from capturing the delicacy of family and social life in Regency England to addressing the rampant social inequality of the time. Drop one of Austen’s heroines into a Dickens novel, and you’ll have a pretty solid idea of what Margaret Hale’s few years in Milton are like.
There’s no doubt that Gaskell’s writing is a joy to read; she describes even the smoggy Milton streets with grace. However, I may be in the minority, but oh did it drag. Perhaps it is down to the uncertainty and melancholy of current times, but I struggled to get through the few too many implausible dramatic dialogues and inner monologues. Also, although not in foreground, the will-they-won’t-they tension between Mr. Thornton and Margaret simmers beneath the surface up until the very last page yet did little to ignite any excitement.
I can’t help feeling slightly ashamed for not adoring such a beloved classic as this. But who’s to say a little bit of criticism is off-limits for classics? Ultimately, this book was lacking in charm and left me unmoved.
*The Switch by Beth O’Leary
During these uncertain times, The Switch is exactly the kind of wholesome content we all need right now.
The Flatshare was one of my favourite books last year. At the time of reading, I was working abroad, and O’Leary’s rom-com was the perfect book to alleviate my sky-high anxiety and homesickness. So, having delighted in The Flatshare, The Switch was one of my most anticipated releases for 2020.
Reader, I loved every second.
In London, 29-year-old Leena Cotton is mentally and physically exhausted and her boss orders her to take a two-month sabbatical. Meanwhile, her 79-year-old Grandma, Eileen Cotton, is recently single after her husband leaving her for another woman and she fancies a second chance at love. With Leena in need of a break, and there being a dearth of men in Eileen’s tiny Yorkshire village, the women swap places.
Once again, Beth O’Leary’s fluent writing swept me up. From the outset, I fell in love with Leena and Eileen. I honestly thought I would have enjoyed Leena’s chapters best, but they were both as charming as each other. Eileen is nearly 80 years old but that by no means encumbers her joie de vivre. Rather, she tackles London’s hustle and bustle with a pep in her step, quickly befriends Leena’s flatmates and neighbours, and even gives online dating a shot (I may have to take some tips). What’s more, she is so brutally honest that she had me laughing out loud. If I can bear semblance to her when I’m in my late seventies, I’ll be thrilled. She is simply inspiring.
Back in Hamleigh-in-Harksdale, it was a joy to watch Leena learn to love herself again. Over the course of the two months, she takes charge of the May Day celebration arrangements, nails a brownie recipe, and forms unconventional friendships; her interactions with her grumpy neighbour, Arnold, made my heart swell with happiness, and the romance was just as sugary sweet as it was in The Flatshare. The swap proves to be the perfect way to aid the healing of both women from the trauma of the past couple of years. The Cotton ladies by no means overshadow The Switch’s secondary characters. I would pack up and move to my own cottage in rural Hamleigh-in-Harksdale tomorrow if I could to live among such a charming close-knit community.
Overall, Beth O’Leary is quickly becoming an auto-read author of mine. The Switch is an uplifting read that will capture the hearts and minds of readers of all ages everywhere. The perfect book to curl up with this April.
Have you read any of these books? What are you planning on reading in April?
Stay home and stay safe,
*Kindly sent for free via publishers and NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.
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