Go Set a Watchman

Go Set a WatchmanGo Set a Watchman by Harper Lee (2015)

Summary

Two decades after To Kill a Mockingbird, Jean Louise “Scout” Finch returns home to visit her father, Atticus Finch. It is a bittersweet trip that painfully challenges Scout’s values and her opinions of the people close to her.

Review

Go Set a Watchman was an early draft of To Kill a Mockingbird, but it was recently rediscovered and controversially published this year.

The writing felt messy and sluggish, but that isn’t surprising since it’s a rejected and unedited manuscript. The book particularly dragged in the second half, where the conversations were too long and unrefined (not to mention sickeningly racist).

The thing that upset readers most about Watchman was the characterization of Atticus Finch. America’s beloved ethical hero from Mockingbird is a racist in Watchman. Some people think Atticus must have always been racist and search for signs of it in Mockingbird; others think he may have transformed as he got older. I don’t think either is true, because I don’t think it’s the same character. Watchman was written before Mockingbird Atticus existed. Watchman was an early draft and the character evolved into something different before the final version, Mockingbird, was published. Regardless, one of the themes of Watchman is that if you idolize someone, you set yourself up to to be disappointed. There’s something to be learned from that.

I don’t think Watchman should have been published and reading it makes me appreciate Harper Lee’s editors who helped her transform her ideas into Mockingbird.

You might like this book if you are interested in…

  • To Kill a Mockingbird
  • Racism
  • Life-altering realizations
  • The American South
  • Racists defending racist beliefs

To Kill a Mockingbird

To Kill a MockingbirdTo Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee (1960)

Summary

Scout Finch is a young girl growing up in the segregated south in the 1930s. Her father, Atticus Finch, is an attorney who takes a case to prove the innocence of a black man accused of rape.

Review

To Kill a Mockingbird is an American classic and I reread it in preparation for Go Set a Watchman‘s release.

You might like this book if you are interested in…

  • Classics
  • Racism
  • Injustice
  • Coming of age stories
  • The American South in the 1930s

The Girl Who Fell to Earth

The Girl Who Fell to EarthThe Girl Who Fell to Earth by Sophia Al-Maria (2012)

Summary

Sophia Al-Maria’s mother is a white woman from Washington and her father is a Bedouin from Qatar. As she grows up, Sophia is caught between these two cultures and families – not fully fitting into either – as she tries to figure out her identity.

Review

I got this book because it was on sale, I liked the cover, and it was partially set in Washington. 😛

The concept of the book was interesting and I liked it, but I really wish there had been more depth. I wanted to read more about things like how Sophia’s father got by on his own when he traveled to America and what it was like to experience 9/11 in the Middle East, but these were just glossed over. Characters other than Sophia also felt superficial.

You might like this book if you are interested in…

  • Memoirs
  • Coming of age stories
  • The Bedouin
  • Arab vs. American culture
  • Teenage angst

Yes Please

Yes PleaseYes Please by Amy Poehler (2014)

Summary

Comedian and actress Amy Poehler shares personal stories in this memoir.

Review

This isn’t the type of book I’d normally read, but I needed a memoir for the Seattle Public Library Summer Book Bingo and an audiobook for the Book Riot 2015 Read Harder Challenge, so I figured I’d kill two birds with one stone. Amy Poehler narrates the audiobook herself with the assistance of some famous special guests.

Yes Please was funny, honest, and enjoyable, but it’s not going to stick with me.

You might like this book if you are interested in…

  • Amy Poehler (duh)
  • Celebrity memoirs
  • Humor
  • Saturday Night Live
  • Behind-the-scenes of acting
  • Parks and Recreation

My Story: A Personal Testament

My StoryMy Story: A Personal Testament by Michael Haas (2015)

Summary

Dr. Michael Haas tells the story of his life, growing up as an ethnic German in a small country village in what is now Serbia, enduring life in Europe during and after World War II, and ultimately moving to America and becoming a doctor.

Review

This is an autobiography that a relative of mine wrote and self-published for his family, so I’m going to leave out a review. It’s pretty cool to read the life story of someone you know.

You might like this book if you are interested in…

  • Autobiographies
  • Europe during World War II
  • Danube Swabians
  • Overcoming hardships
  • Immigration to America
  • The life stories of my relatives

Annihilation

AnnihilationAnnihilation by Jeff VanderMeer (2014)

Summary

Area X was once a place of human civilization, but nature has since taken over. Four female scientists embark on an expedition (the twelfth such expedition) to learn more about the strange place that has been cut off from the rest of the world.

Annihilation is the first book in the Southern Reach Trilogy.

Review

Ugh, this book was really weird. I thought for sure I’d like it, so I bought the whole trilogy before I read the first book. Now I’m not sure if I should continue reading it (I heard the second book was very different from the first) or if I should just leave it alone and move onto something else.

The book didn’t explain any of the bizarre things happened, any of the history of Area X, or any of the rules about the expeditions. I get that it’s a mystery and only the first book of a trilogy, but I found it really hard to enjoy the book when I had no idea what I was reading.

At least it was short.

You might like this book if you are interested in…

  • Weird science-fiction
  • Female scientists
  • Arguing about whether to call a building a “tower” or a “tunnel”
  • Apocalypses
  • Creepy mysterious environments
  • Dolphins with human-like eyes

The Girl on the Train

The Girl on the TrainThe Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins (2015)

Summary

A woman named Rachel takes the commuter train every day where she imagines the lives of a couple who live in a home along the train tracks. When the wife goes missing, Rachel feels compelled to help in the investigation, which she might be more involved in than she realizes.

Review

I was eager to see what the hype for The Girl on the Train was all about. Overall, I thought the book was okay… not terrible, but not spectacular either. I liked the premise and the plot was fast-moving, but the characters weren’t very interesting. There were a few red herrings, but I predicted some of the ending fairly early in the book.

The Girl on the Train is often compared to Gone Girl. Both are thrillers that revolve around marital problems and have multiple narrators, but they’re definitely two distinct books. If you’re a fan of Gone Girl, though, I think you’d like this book (and vice versa).

You might like this book if you are interested in…

  • Psychological thrillers
  • People watching
  • Marital problems
  • Gone Girl
  • Alcoholism
  • Unreliable narrators
  • Learning British terms like “off-license”

Dead Wake

Dead WakeDead Wake: The Last Crossing of the Lusitania by Erik Larson (2015)

Summary

In May 1915, a luxury ocean liner called the Lusitania left New York for Liverpool, full of passengers. Believing the Lusitania to be safe from attack, passengers and crew traveled through a U-boat-infested war zone, ignoring German warnings. A single German torpedo took out the world’s largest passenger ship, claiming the lives of 1198 people.

Review

Dead Wake is an extremely well-researched non-fiction book. It tells the story of the sinking of the Lusitania through its passengers and crew, as well as the German U-boat captain who torpedoed the ship, a top secret British intelligence unit, and President Woodrow Wilson. I liked all the various perspectives, though there wasn’t enough to become attached to any of the characters. I also felt that including Woodrow Wilson’s courtship of Edith Galt should have been left out.

It was a good book and I respect the research that went into it, but I didn’t love it.

You might like this book if you are interested in…

  • The Lusitania (duh)
  • Well-researched non-fiction
  • World War I
  • American and/or European history
  • Sinking ships
  • U-boats

Everything I Never Told You

Everything I Never Told YouEverything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng (2014)

Summary

Lydia, the golden child of a mixed race couple, is dead, but it will be days before her body is found in the nearby lake. Lydia’s Chinese father wanted her to have the social life he never had while her white mother, who gave up her dream of being a doctor to have a family, pushed her academically. Now the lives of her parents and siblings are turned upside-down as they struggle to make sense of her loss and confront the secrets and strains that led to her death.

Review

Everything I Never Told You is told through Lydia’s family members — the father who wanted her to fit in, the mother who wanted her to stand out, and the overlooked siblings. It’s an emotional story about identity, unreasonable expectations, racial and gender prejudice, and family dynamics. Don’t expect a “feel good” story with this book.

You might like this book if you are interested in…

  • Parents projecting their hopes and fears on their children
  • Strong character development
  • Dysfunctional family dynamics
  • Racial and gender prejudice
  • Fitting in vs. being different

The Buried Giant

The Buried GiantThe Buried Giant by Kazuo Ishiguro (2015)

Summary

King Arthur helped put an end to the war between the Britons and the Saxons, but his reign has come to an end and a mysterious mist has swept the land, clouding the memories of its inhabitants.

The Buried Giant tells the story of an elderly couple who journey across the land to find a son they can barely remember. When they find what may be a way to remove the mist, they must decide whether it’s worth it to risk bringing back painful memories and disrupting the peace in order to remember the past.

Review

Kazuo Ishiguro has written other books like Never Let Me Go and The Remains of the Day, but The Buried Giant was the first book I’ve read by him.

As I was reading, I felt pretty ambivalent about The Buried Giant. It was slow-paced and lackluster, but I still kind of wanted to keep reading to see if it would get interesting. And that was how my whole experience reading the book went: not sure where Ishiguro was going with the story, but hoping there would be some fascinating revelation on the next page or chapter. It never came.

I didn’t care about any of the characters and the dialogue was frustrating and excessively repetitive. The story lacked focus and drive. This is one book I’d like to forget about.

You might like this book if you are interested in…

  • Memory loss
  • Saxons vs. Britons
  • Charon from Greek mythology
  • Allegory
  • Widows who taunt boatmen by repeatedly slitting rabbits’ throats
  • Fantasy settings (dragons, ogres, giants, pixies, etc.)
  • Arthurian legend