As a reminder, here is how I rate my books:
- (★★★★★): Loved it, won’t shut up about it for the foreseeable future
- (★★★★): Really liked it, enjoyable experience
- (★★★): Liked it enough, no strong opinions
- (★★): Didn’t care for it, would actively discourage people reading it
Another few notes: I will warn if there are any spoilers with (start spoiler) and (end spoiler) so you know when to stop reading and pick up again if you don’t want to ruin the book for yourself. I no longer go out of my way to watch adaptions, but will continue to mention them and their general critiques (from Rotten Tomatoes) in my reviews. Finally, you can always check out my book review index page if you’re looking for my extremely important opinion on any book in particular.
One Italian Summer by Rebecca Serle
Genre: Fiction, contemporary
GoodReads rating: 3.73 / 5 (35,900 ratings)
Medium used: E-book (borrowed from library)
PopSugar prompt: A book set during a holiday.
Summary: “When Katy’s mother dies, she is left reeling. Carol wasn’t just Katy’s mom, but her best friend and first phone call. She had all the answers and now, when Katy needs her the most, she is gone. To make matters worse, their planned mother-daughter trip of a lifetime looms: two weeks in Positano, the magical town Carol spent the summer right before she met Katy’s father. Katy has been waiting years for Carol to take her, and now she is faced with embarking on the adventure alone. But as soon as she steps foot on the Amalfi Coast… Carol appears—in the flesh, healthy, sun-tanned, and thirty years old. Katy doesn’t understand what is happening, or how—all she can focus on is that she has somehow, impossibly, gotten her mother back. Over the course of one Italian summer, Katy gets to know Carol, not as her mother, but as the young woman before her.”
Thoughts: It may be cheeky to use the term “holiday” as a vacation rather than annual celebration, but I’m giving myself some creative points for that. This book sucked. It was an empty vessel for descriptions of the Amalfi Coast/Italy that while those bits were stunning left for lazy writing and lackluster characters. I have been to Positano/the Amalfi Coast and it truly felt like I was back there walking through the tree-shaded streets and tasting the air, but I don’t know how much someone who hasn’t been would be able to connect to the place. I appreciated the exchanged e-mails between the author and the real-life Poseidon Hotel owners about its history, which confirmed my suspicion that the author was just looking for an excuse to write about the area and everything else felt thrown together. I couldn’t connect with Katy (unable to spend the night away from her mom or husband at 27? Give me a break) and her admittedly weird relationship to her mom. Katy felt no older than ten years old when she was meant to be in her thirties. There is zero romance in this book, I felt no spark or cared for even the platonic/familial relationships. Give this book a skip, there are a lot better summer reads out there I’m sure.
The Book Thief by Markus Zusak
Genre: Fiction, historical fiction
GoodReads rating: 4.38 / 5 (2,181,400 ratings)
Medium used: Audiobook (borrowed from library)
Summary: “It is 1939. Nazi Germany. The country is holding its breath. Death has never been busier, and will be busier still. By her brother’s graveside, Liesel’s life is changed when she picks up a single object, partially hidden in the snow. It is The Gravedigger’s Handbook, left behind there by accident, and it is her first act of book thievery. So begins a love affair with books and words, as Liesel, with the help of her accordian-playing foster father, learns to read. Soon she is stealing books from Nazi book-burnings, the mayor’s wife’s library, wherever there are books to be found. But these are dangerous times. When Liesel’s foster family hides a Jew in their basement, Liesel’s world is both opened up, and closed down.”
Warning: This book contains themes of anti-Semitism and the Holocaust.
Thoughts: Another flop. With its massive popularity and great reviews I was expecting more from this. I thought maybe the contents of the books she stole would be more significant (maybe she stole a leger of where each prisoner went or something, anything), but it fell flat. I liked the idea of Death Itself narrating the story, but I hate an overfamiliar narrator (“Now, reader” or things like “more on that later”) in any kind of story and don’t think the author did that on purpose (I don’t think the overfamiliarity of death was any kind of literary device, I think regardless of who the narrator would have been the writing would have been much the same as this book is for a younger audience). On a similar note, I didn’t care much for the children, they were just kind of boring and I didn’t really care what was going on in their lives or their point of view. Not much happened in this story as a whole (definitely not 500+ pages worth) and when the climax did happen, I didn’t feel what I suppose the author intended. One of my all-time favorite fiction books is The Storyteller (also WWII) so read that instead, few select, overrated WWII historical fiction books get the spotlight when there are so many better ones out there.
Other adaptations: The movie fared okay, but it was John Williams’s composing that really made it noteworthy.
Mutual Aid: Building Solidarity in This Crisis (And the Next) by Dean Spade
Genre: Non-fiction, politics, social justice
GoodReads rating: 4.44 / 5 (1,400 ratings)
Medium used: Audiobook (borrowed from library)
Summary: “As governments fail to respond to—or actively engineer—each crisis, ordinary people are finding bold and innovative ways to share resources and support the vulnerable. Survival work, when done alongside social movement demands for transformative change, is called mutual aid. This book is about mutual aid: why it is so important, what it looks like, and how to do it. It provides a grassroots theory of mutual aid, describes how mutual aid is a crucial part of powerful movements for social justice, and offers concrete tools for organizing, such as how to work in groups, how to foster a collective decision-making process, how to prevent and address conflict, and how to deal with burnout.”
Warning: This book contains mention of police brutality and domestic violence.
Thoughts: This was a great, succinct, informative read. I recommend this to anyone even a little interested in community-building. It was especially interesting to read about the differences between mutual aid and charity: charity “has origins in Christian European practices of the wealthy giving alms to the poor to buy their way into heaven” and in more modern days is run by elites who determine who is worthy of help, how exactly we will help them and under what conditions. With different charities competing for attention and funding for their own pet causes, a lot of time, money and resources are wasted with little outcome and failure to get to the root cause. In mutual aid projects, “people come together ib the basis of some shared need or concern in spite of their different lived experience,” making sure everyone’s voice is heard and they understand the ins and outs of the organization right from the beginning.
It was special that Seattle got both a good and a bad shoutout: bad for insisting on a “zero youth detention” policy while also giving minimal funding to diversion programs but millions to build a youth jail. Then after the days of protests, the police abandoned the East Precinct in Capitol Hill and an autonomous zone was built around it, acting as an experiment for self-governance. Mutual aid projects for every from haircuts to groceries and healthcare emerged at this time, it’s so interesting to read about.
My one complaint is about the audiobook: the narrator was kind of robotic, it sounded like he said each word of the book separately and stitched it all together in the end, it had no flow. And the tables in the book didn’t translate well to voice, reading the title of the column of each attribute before the contents (example: for a table similar to the one below, the author would read “Working compulsively” and “Working joyfully” before each point as if we couldn’t figure it out in context, it got old really quickly).
Finally, this book mentioned a great tool I will definitely be using called Mad Mapping: a way for you and your loved ones to help you navigate extreme states/mental crises.
The Book of Eels by Patrik Svensson
Genre: Non-fiction, nature, science
GoodReads rating: 3.93 / 5 (11,700 ratings)
Medium used: Audiobook (borrowed from library)
Summary: “Remarkably little is known about the European eel, Anguilla anguilla. So little, in fact, that scientists and philosophers have, for centuries, been obsessed with what has become known as the “eel question”: Where do eels come from? What are they? Are they fish or some other kind of creature altogether? Even today, in an age of advanced science, no one has ever seen eels mating or giving birth, and we still don’t understand what drives them, after living for decades in freshwater, to swim great distances back to the ocean at the end of their lives. They remain a mystery… we meet renowned historical thinkers, from Aristotle to Sigmund Freud to Rachel Carson, for whom the eel was a singular obsession. And we meet the scientists who spearheaded the search for the eel’s point of origin, including Danish marine biologist Johannes Schmidt, who led research efforts in the early twentieth century, catching thousands upon thousands of eels, in the hopes of proving their birthing grounds in the Sargasso Sea.”
Thoughts: This book was amazing, I don’t know how this has relatively low ratings. Actually, maybe I can: one of my favorite booktuber Olive’s main complaints were that there was a bit too much empty personal anecdotes that barely connected to the science and some of the flawed views of conservation. For example, the author says, “If people can no longer fish for eel – catch it, kill it, eat it, – they will lose interest in it. And if people have no interest in the eel, it’s lost anyway” and something about man holding dominion over all creatures, neither of which I agree with. Also my own personal complaint is that the narrator was a little nasal-y (sorry I’m a bit picky about my audiobook narrators, if I’m going to have someone talk to me for 5+ hours straight I will pick at the little things) and although this was mainly focused on freshwater eels, I was really hoping for something about the pharyngeal jaws of moray eels: the only animal to have a second set of jaws further back in the throat that actively captures prey. But despite these cons I still loved the book.
Even just the history of the study of eels is fascinating: for decades and decades the leading scientific theory provided by Aristotle on how eels reproduce was spontaneous emergence from mud and water, I suppose we have creationism to thank for that. Then, Sigmund Freud’s first scientific endeavor was to find a single male eel which after dissecting hundreds and hundreds, he failed. Perhaps it was this that started his career of outlandish psychosexual theories.
Have you read any of these?
Photo by Radu Marcusu.