Reading wrap-up #85

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.

Portrait of a Thief by Grace D. Li

Portrait of a Thief eBook by Grace D. Li - 9780593186077 | Rakuten Kobo United StatesRating: ★★

Genre: Fiction, thriller

GoodReads rating: 3.57 / 5 (10,200 ratings)

Medium used: E-book (borrowed from library)

Summary: A mysterious benefactor approaches Will Chen with the offer of restoring looted Chinese art from around the world back to China for $50 million. To pull off this heist, he contacts his friends: “A con artist: Irene Chen, a public policy major at Duke who can talk her way out of anything. A thief: Daniel Liang, a premed student with steady hands just as capable of lockpicking as suturing. A getaway driver: Lily Wu, an engineering major who races cars in her free time. A hacker: Alex Huang, an MIT dropout turned Silicon Valley software engineer. Each member of his crew has their own complicated relationship with China and the identity they’ve cultivated as Chinese Americans, but when Will asks, none of them can turn him down.”

Thoughts: I’m sorry, but this was so boring. Even suspending disbelief of the heists that went perfectly (seriously, were college students the best the benefactor could find?) and focusing on the characters, it somehow becomes worse. There were a handful of different POVs but all written in the third person and damn near every chapter starting with “For [character’s] whole life…” giving no characters any memorable moments. This book felt like walking through mud. For a great review by an actual Asian-American, check out Cindy’s review.

The Other Black Girl by Zakiya Dalila Harris

Amazon.com: The Other Black Girl: A Novel: 9781982160135: Harris, Zakiya Dalila: BooksRating: ★★★

Genre: Fiction, thriller

GoodReads rating: 3.42 / 5 (52,000 ratings)

Medium used: Audiobook (borrowed from library)

Summary: “Twenty-six-year-old editorial assistant Nella Rogers is tired of being the only Black employee at Wagner Books. Fed up with the isolation and microaggressions, she’s thrilled when Harlem-born and bred Hazel starts working in the cubicle beside hers. They’ve only just started comparing natural hair care regimens, though, when a string of uncomfortable events elevates Hazel to Office Darling, and Nella is left in the dust. Then the notes begin to appear on Nella’s desk: LEAVE WAGNER. NOW. It’s hard to believe Hazel is behind these hostile messages. But as Nella starts to spiral and obsess over the sinister forces at play, she soon realizes that there’s a lot more at stake than just her career.”

Warning: This book contains themes of racism and misogyny and mention of suicide.

Thoughts: Again, sadly, this book was just boring. The plot was excruciatingly slow with a dissatisfying ending. It felt a bit too much like Get Out (or rather a shell of it void of any effective message) with that train already long gone, like, three Jordan Peele movies ago. The changing points of view didn’t translate too well on audiobook which made the reading (listening?) experience not great. Here is a review speaking about my grievances through the lens of an actual Black woman through Myonna’s words.

Notes on an Execution by Danya Kukafka

Amazon.com: Notes on an Execution: A Novel: 9780063052734: Kukafka, Danya: BooksRating: ★★★★★

Genre: Fiction, thriller

GoodReads rating: 4.16 / 5 (18,000 ratings)

Medium used: E-book (borrowed from library)

Summary: “Ansel Packer is scheduled to die in twelve hours. He knows what he’s done, and now awaits execution, the same chilling fate he forced on those girls, years ago. But Ansel doesn’t want to die; he wants to be celebrated, understood. He hoped it wouldn’t end like this, not for him. Through a kaleidoscope of women—a mother, a sister, a homicide detective—we learn the story of Ansel’s life. We meet his mother, Lavender, a seventeen-year-old girl pushed to desperation; Hazel, twin sister to Ansel’s wife, inseparable since birth, forced to watch helplessly as her sister’s relationship threatens to devour them all; and finally, Saffy, the homicide detective hot on his trail, who has devoted herself to bringing bad men to justice but struggles to see her own life clearly. As the clock ticks down, these three women sift through the choices that culminate in tragedy, exploring the rippling fissures that such destruction inevitably leaves in its wake.”

Warning: This book contains themes of animal, child and domestic abuse and mention of self-harm and drug abuse.

Thoughts: I freaking loved this book, a total homerun. First of all, I’m a sucker for second person (during Ansel’s bits) as well as the other POVs in third person, but unlike Portrait of a Thief these characters were well-constructed and memorable. The long lifespan of this book packs so much punch in such a short book, it was so gripping I read it all in less than 24 hours on my flight and first day in Hawai’i. I also remembered, the last time I was in Hawai’i I read The Green Mile, another book about death row I gave five stars to… weird. The twists were great, I can’t put into words how much I enjoyed this, you have to read it for yourself.

Book Lovers by Emily Henry

Book Lovers: Henry, Emily: 9780593440872: Amazon.com: BooksRating: ★★★

Genre: Fiction, romance

GoodReads rating: 4.35 / 5 (237,500 ratings)

Medium used: Paperback (purchased at Aunties Bookstore in Spokane, WA)

Summary: When career-driven literary agent Nora goes on a long holiday with her sister to the small town of Sunshine Falls, she runs into her professional competition, Charlie. When they are forced to work together, they discover there is more to the other than meets the eye.

Thoughts: This book is extremely hyped in general and as well as Emily Henry’s best book. I recently read Beach Read and really loved it, it was damn near five stars. While Henry’s writing is easy and reliable, the plot felt too close to Beach Read and had the same flaws but more magnified in this. I didn’t believe Charlie and Nora’s “enemies” bit: even the GoodReads summary claims they’ve met “many times” but in the book it was just one slightly abrasive lunch years before the main plot. Also, the banter was exhausting (not everything needs a “witty” comeback) and the sex/teasing scenes were few and far between. There seemed to be not as much to move their romantic relationship forward (one of my favorite part of Beach Read was the fake dates) so when they end up loving each other it felt undeserved. Both male love interests felt like carbon copies of the other from Beach Read to this book and right off the bat Henry basically told us what to expect from this book (“this is not like a Hallmark story”). Don’t tell me, show me, girl! At the end of the day, this was readable and relatively quick so I’m not going to hate on it too much, I just prefer Beach Read so much more.

Have you read any of these?

Photo by Radu Marcusu.

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1 Comment

  1. July 27, 2022 / 9:28 am

    I’m sorry to hear that both Portait of a Theif and The Other Black Girl were boring. I’ve been hearing a lot about Book Lovers, so it was nice to read your honest review. It does sound like Beach Read is better!

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