Mini-Reviews (TSS edition)

Well another week has come and gone and not much happened for me blogging-wise.  There are a few reasons for this; primarily, my job is sucking the life out of me lately.  I have been working long hours and the days have been stressful.  I work in sales, and as anyone else who is in sales will tell you, when your team is behind on your goals it is just a nightmare.  At least the company I work for is pretty great about giving us overtime and things like that, but still – we feel the pressure, big time.  So I’ve been coming home from work exhausted every day, not feeling like doing much except read or watch TV.  The other thing going on in my life is that I’m trying to get in better shape, so I’ve been committed to hitting the gym 3-4 times a week.  I can’t say I’ve been too successful at this but I’m certainly trying.  So that takes up some of my extra time too.

Anyway, I figured a cure for getting so behind on reviewing is throwing a bunch of mini-reviews out there.  Besides knocking them off my list, I will feel better knowing that I got to tell you about all these great books I’ve been reading!  Because for the most part, they really have been great. 🙂

Bermudez First, I read The Bermudez Triangle for the GLBT challenge and also just because I’d been meaning to try Maureen Johnson for awhile now.  This young adult novel is about three best friends – Nina, Avery, and Mel – and when Nina goes away to college prep camp one summer, Mel and Avery fall in love.  That’s the premise, but it’s about so much more than that.  It’s about friendship, and crushes, and first love, and figuring out who you are, and navigating the treacherousness that is high school while being different, and so much more.  This novel was extremely refreshing.  The relationship between Avery and Mel was full of issues, just like any other relationship, and while some of the issues had to do with their being gay in a straight world, many of them did not.  Much of what happened was typical stuff that happens when teens find their first love.  The friendships between Mel, Avery, and Nina were about as authentic as possible, and it’s clear that Maureen Johnson really gets teens.  She so accurately portrayed real teens without being too angsty and/or annoying, and although this was my first Johnson it will definitely not be my last.  I really loved this one – YA fans, this is a must-read.

Next we have There Is No Me Without You by Melissa Fay Greene.  This is a nonfiction read about the AIDS epidemic in Africa, specifically about one woman,Haregewoin Teferra, who in Ethiopia has taken in dozens of AIDS orphans and created a sort of orphanage for these children.  The book is part memoir, as Greene herself had adopted two AIDS orphans before meeting Teferra, part political and social history of AIDS in Africa, and part journalistic investigation of Haregewoin’s life and what she’s done for kids in Ethiopia.  For me, this format worked extremely well.  I learned a lot about the AIDS pandemic and for that reason alone, I highly recommend the book.  But also, Haregewoin’s story is remarkable – she is an amazing person with this incredible gift for selflessness, for taking in those who have no other opportunity or chance at life, and for turning their lives around, and it is inspiring to read her story.  I really can’t recommend this one more enthusiastically – it is a must-read for lovers of nonfiction, for lovers of learning, and for those of you who deeply care about some of the more important world issues.  Although I must warn you, it will make you want to adopt an AIDS orphan – I definitely had visions of adoption dancing in my head after finishing the book.

What the Dog Saw: And Other Adventures by Malcolm Gladwell is a compilation of many of the pieces he wrote for the New Yorker and it is very typical Gladwell.  He writes about the obscure, mundane stuff that people normally don’t think twice about, yet he makes it interesting.  I listened to this one and as I’ve said before, Gladwell could read me the phone book and I’d be happy.  There’s just something about his narration that I adore.  Having said that, I found this to be the weakest of his four books simply because there wasn’t a core theme tying everything together.  I more enjoyed his other three books, where he was trying to make a larger point which ties everything together.  This one was just more random, and although I enjoyed many of the pieces, others bored me.  So, okay book, but as usual for Gladwell and me, great listening experience. 🙂

Short Girls by Bich Minh Nguyen was one I got on impulse, downloaded to my iPod, and began listening immediately.  This novel is about Van and Linny, Vietnamese-American sisters whose parents emigrated from Vietnam just before Van’s birth.  This is a character-driven novel at its best.  The book is not full of action, of plot twists, nothing like that.  Rather, it is about the relationships between the sisters, their parents, their significant others, and their heritage.  While both Linny and Van believe themselves to be regular American girls, free of their parents’ ties to Vietnam, over the course of the novel they realize their heritage is more important to them than they may have believed. Short Girls is an extremely accomplished novel, and I enjoyed every minute I spent with Van and Linny.  I absolutely recommend picking it up.

Nothing to Envy: Ordinary Lives in North Korea by Barbara Demick was a recommendation from Eva, and what a fantastic recommendation she gave.  I’d never read a book about North Korea, and probably because the country is so closed, I knew little about it before reading this.  Of course I knew the basics, but Nothing to Envy really gets in there and exposes the hidden realities of what life is really like in this isolated place.  Demick actually spent time in North Korea, but the meat of the book is taken from conversations and interviews she had with several people who defected and now life in South Korea.  I don’t know what else to say about this one except that it is fascinating and eye-opening, tragic and heartbreaking, yet it is a must-read.  I feel like a more educated, knowledgeable person having read it.

Last, I picked up Nothing but Ghosts by Beth Kephart because of the huge success it had around the blogs last year.  This novel is told from the point of view of high school student Katie D’Amore, who lives alone with her dad in their big house ever since her mother passed away last year.  The book is about Katie’s attempts to put her life back to normal since her mom’s passing, but also about a mystery she is trying to solve at her summer job working at a local estate.  The book is multi-layered and written beautifully.  Katie comes across as a completely authentic teen dealing with the loss of her mother, and yet there is so much more to Katie than grief.  She is a complex personality and much growth happens to her throughout the course of the novel.  I really enjoyed this one; it was a quick read but the writing was lush and beautiful and the characters were fully realized.  I now understand why people love Beth Kephart so much!

Well there you have it.  I’m caught up on much of my review backlog.  I still have three more to review, but those will all get their own posts, and I’m really hoping to finish another book today.  We might hit the beach later which is sure to give me some reading time in the hour’s drive there and back.

What are you up to today?  What are you reading this weekend?


30 thoughts on “Mini-Reviews (TSS edition)”

  1. I’m pretty sure that I just added every single one of these books to my TBR list. LOL! Thanks for adding to my addiction. But seriously both of the nonfiction titles sound like must reads which is a good thing as I’m trying to read more nonfiction. Hope this week goes better for you work wise 🙂

    1. Yes! Yours were some of the favorable reviews I was talking about regarding both books. I just loved Bermudez especially – such a fantastic read.

  2. What a great collection of reviews. The Bermudez Triangle and Nothing to Envy sound great. I have There is No Me Without You on my tbr shelf so hopefully I will get to it soon.

  3. I have my eyes on the Bermuda Triangle. AND I almost had it on PBS but missed the deadline from being in and out of town. I am only familiar with Maureen Johnson from Let It Snow (the three wintery young adult short story collection). I must have enjoyed it enough to put BT on my wishlist.

  4. I was interested in that one about North Korea. Glad to hear it’s worth the read… adding it to my WL! I recently read the book about Laura Ling’s imprisonment in North Korea and that opened my eyes to it a lot too.

  5. Yay: I’m so glad to have another Nothing to Envy fan! You put it so perfectly too. I’ve been hesitating to read the There is No Me Without You book, but since I’m now in the middle of an incredible book about AIDS in southern Africa, I’ll probably be on the lookout for it.

    1. I saw that review you just posted for the book about AIDS in Africa, and I definitely think you should read There Is No Me Without You. And thanks again for recommending Nothing to Envy, I wouldn’t have heard of it at all if it weren’t for you!

  6. Lucky you… our beaches are not that exciting. It must be nice to be so close to the ocean.

    I just finished a Japanese horror novel called Audition. It was a pretty crazy book but I enjoyed it.

    1. You know what, it IS amazingly wonderful to be less than an hour from the ocean. I lived in Chicago for the first 26 years of my life, so the last 6 months of living in Florida have been glorious in that respect!

    1. Actually, Amy you were one of the ones who inspired me to read Short Girls! (and definitely Nothing but Ghosts was influenced by you too!) So thanks. 🙂

    1. thanks! It’s Friday night and I’ve worked over 50 hours this week; however, I am off tomorrow and Sunday! So there is light at the end of the tunnel. 🙂

  7. Oh this is an interesting collection! The North Korean book particularly caught my eye. I am fascinated by books about North Korea as it gives me an insight into the lives of people who are so totally different. If this is your first North Korean book and you loved it, then don’t miss out on “This is Parasise!” by Hyok Kang and “The Aquariums of Pyongyang: Ten Years in the North Korean Gulag” by Chol-hwan Kang, Pierre Rigoulot. They are astounding more so because they are true stories…

    1. I will absolutely keep those two books in mind because I am very interested in reading more about North Korea. Thanks for the recommendations!

  8. […] There is No Me Without You by Melissa Fay Greene – This one is about AIDS orphans in Africa, and about one woman who runs an orphanage there for these children.  My heart went out to her for what she’s done for the kids, for how much of herself she gives up, and for the situation as a whole.  I also learned a lot about the politics of AIDS – I understand so much more about the various things that go into the epidemic than I did before.  Also, I’m now considering adopting an AIDS orphan (not tomorrow, just someday). […]

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