The Vegetarian by Han Kang – A Book Review

When I mentioned to a friend that I grew interested in reading novels written by international authors–especially those from Eastern cultures, she quickly recommended The Vegetarian by Han Kang. Because I completely respect her opinion, I put it on hold at my local library.

I just finished it, and, wow … there’s quite a bit to digest. (No pun intended.)

On the one hand, The Vegetarian is indeed unlike those books rooted in Western culture. On the other hand, it is an incredibly challenging, almost surreal, work.

Broken into three parts, The Vegetarian is about a women who has decided that she will no longer eat meat. This decision begins to impact her husband and family, and, before long, those other characters attempt to assert their control over her. As a result, conflict arises, but not the kind you would ever expect.

As I read over the above paragraph, I’ve made the plot sound very mundane, perhaps even inconsequential.

Believe me when I say The Vegetarian is anything but.

Because Han Kang is a South Korean writer, and because I read a translated version of the book, I cannot necessarily trust my instincts with this novel because I understand that I may not completely understand the deeper context. However, on the surface, it seems to be that The Vegetarian is very much about freedom of will, the ugliness of abuse in a male dominated society, the exploitation of others in order to achieve sexual satisfaction, and the unwillingness to accept behaviors by loved ones if perceived as being odd or eccentric. It’s rare that we are told to live in a way that makes us happy. It’s far more common to be chastised if we don’t live up to others’ expectations.

For such a slim novel, as you can see, it is stuffed with complexities.

I can’t pretend to completely understand The Vegetarian. I reread the ending several times and remain confounded. I also found it surprisingly eerie, brutally violent, and uncomfortably sensual. However, even with all of that being said, I really and truly did enjoy the book. It’s not quite like anything else I’ve ever read, which is exactly what I hoped for.

Sea Of Rust by C. Robert Cargill – A Book Review

Though I enjoy the science fiction genre, I often have trouble finding actual science fiction books that hook me. A friend thought Sea Of Rust by C. Robert Cargill might do the trick, and my friend was spot on!

The premise is not necessarily anything new. There’s been a robot uprising. Humans are the virus. Certain factions of robots band together and begin warring with one another. The landscape as we know it is obliterated. We’ve seen that kind of thing before.

What truly sets Sea Of Rust apart is the narrator–Brittle. Brittle is a scavenger. A robot bent on survival at all cost. A character willing to do almost anything for her own benefit. But what happens when that character is finally faced with something possibly more important than even herself? Of course, “possibly” is the key word there. Additionally, she’s got a great voice and is just incredibly engaging.

Furthermore, Sea Of Rust is a fast-paced, action-packed page turner. I flew through the last 25% of the book in a matter of hours because I simply had to know how it ended.

Of course, you know I’m going to be a little bit critical. My only issue with the book-and it’s a small one at that–is that while it’s science fiction in name, I felt as though this story could have fit virtually any genre with a few tweaks. Realism, fantasy, horror–any of them could have worked. I say that because Brittle and the rest of the robots are so very … human. Cargill is careful to include technological aspects and code jargon, but in the end, all of the characters seemed like what we think of as “human.” This obviously made them very relatable, but it also struck me as a little subversive in regards to the genre. Upon reflection, that’s likely why I enjoyed Sea Of Rust so much!

If you’re looking for a good science fiction book–or any good book, for that matter–I highly recommend Sea Of Rust.

Think Again by Adam Grant – A Book Review

I chose to read Adam Grant’s Think Again after hearing Angela Duckworth mention it on No Stupid Questions.

In Think Again, Grant challenges the reader to reconsider the thinking process. He provides ample evidence to reinforce the idea that thinking should not be a fixed exercise. The ability to change an opinion, the willingness to alter standard practices, and the power to admit being wrong can not only improve our lives, according to Grant, but even, in some cases, save our lives.

The format of the book reminded me a bit of Freakonomics or Outliers in that it introduces an idea and then offers several anecdotes in support of that idea. This structure makes for a fast pace and a quick read. As with those other books mentioned, I did find myself tiring of the stories by book’s end.

However, the main concept of the book certainly struck a chord with me both at a personal and professional level. I absolutely agree with many points Grant makes in the book regarding the importance of thinking again and hope to apply many of his strategies in my own life.

Star Wars: Light of the Jedi (The High Republic) – A Book Review

I must admit that I wasn’t that excited to hear about “The High Republic” campaign. This new Star Wars onslaught is set 200 years before the prequels and explores the Star Wars galaxy at a time when the Jedi were at their most powerful and the Republic was at its most efficient. I call it an onslaught because “The High Republic” includes novels, young adult novels, children’s books, comic books, talk shows, video games, and presumably a Disney+ event.

Personally, I enjoy moving forwards in terms of story, not backwards. I thought it was a mistake to do a “pre-prequel” storyline across so many mediums.

Frankly, I couldn’t have been more wrong.

I checked Star Wars: Light Of the Jedi out from my local library. Within the first twenty-five pages, I returned it and then bought a copy of my own. That’s how much it instantly captured my interest. Before I got anywhere close to finishing it, I wanted it on my bookshelves.

The premise involves a catastrophe regarding hyperspace that scientifically (in Star Wars’ reality) shouldn’t have happened. The book first executes the disaster, then explores the aftermath of the disaster, and then sets the stage for the ramifications of the disaster.

Furthermore, it introduces a whole new batch of Jedi and dives deeply into both the characters and their connection to the Force. The author, Charles Soule, presents a new philosophical take on the Force that I found both groundbreaking and riveting. I won’t spoil it too much, but he details how each Jedi interprets and uses the force differently, both in everyday life and in battle. These nuances were such thoughtful, fresh perspectives on the Force–it truly fascinated me.

I also consider the format of the book a real victory. It begins as a countdown of sorts and then reverses that format and introduces a build-up. It also alternates chapters between several different characters as they deal with the disaster and then the fallout of the disaster. Each chapter was relatively short, which made a fast paced plot move even more quickly.

The characterization proved engrossing, the storyline captured my interest, the structure and format of the book made reading it a pleasure, and the hints at things to come piqued my curiosity, which guaranteed my return for book two.

Despite my initial doubts, The Light Of the Jedi should be considered an unmitigated success. I highly recommend it to any and all Star Wars fans.

The Turn Of the Screw By Henry James – A Book Review

Pictured above is my actual copy of The Turn Of the Screw by Henry James. I bought it in the early 1990s at my local Walmart when they had a 2 for $1 special going on. Yes, even in high school, I loved books and read them for the pure joy of it.

This book has sat on my shelves decade after decade ever since. Finally, after watching The Haunting Of Bly Manor, a show supposedly based on The Turn Of the Screw, I decided to read the source material.

I have to tell you, even though this is a short read, I found it to be quite a chore. Henry James, like so many others of his era, delivered complex sentence that, while carefully constructed, tended to take a while to say anything. That fact, coupled with very little actual information being conveyed by the narrator, proved frustrating.

In fact, I found the premise of this novel rather unbelievable in that no governess would write in such a complicated, intricate manner. This style of writing seemed very specific to authors such as Henry James from that particular moment in time. The idea that a governess would write so similarly bothered me. Or, perhaps I’m wrong. Maybe all governesses wrote like world-renowned authors.

I also felt bothered by the fact that, by book’s end, we have no solid answers as to what exactly took place in The Turn Of the Screw. I’ve read some of the analyses regarding this novel, and I think they are all being quite gracious to Henry James.

Is it a ghost story? Is it a psychological story? Is it a story about induced hallucinations? Take your pick. All could be argued.

I must comment on one specific thing about the governess, though. Her infatuation with ten-year-old Miles troubled me to no end. Perhaps it was just me, but I picked up on some overt sexual overtones in The Turn Of the Screw. For example, the governess commented that, at one point, she kissed Miles. That was it. Not on the head. Not on the cheek. Just kissed. She also often described him as beautiful, charming, and perfect. She frequently held him, alone, when it was just the two of them. This coupled with the fact that the ten-year-old Miles spoke as though he was twenty-five, alarmed me. Remember, the governess is the narrator, so all information is flowing through her, including the depiction of Miles. By the book’s end, I was fairly sure our narrator was the story’s true villain. Maybe this is too modern of a reading … or maybe this kind of thing has always existed and it’s now more recognizable, even in books over a century old.

While I recognize that Henry James has been studied across the world for a very long time by some of our brightest minds, I honestly cannot claim to have enjoyed The Turn Of the Screw.

A Promised Land by Barack Obama – A Book Review

Though this 701 page book took me a very long time to read, I appreciated every minute of it. A Promised Land confirmed everything I already knew I admired about President Barack Obama–he’s intelligent, thoughtful, honest, studious, and devoted to his wife, his children, the American people, and democracy in general.

A Promised Land offers ample access into the grueling day-to-day affairs of a campaign trail, the difficulties in achieving even the smallest of things in government, and the highlights of President Obama’s first four years in office. After reading this book, I will never look at politics or the office of the president the same.

However, the most fascinating aspect of the book is the simple insight into Barack Obama as a human being. He reveals himself not just as the President Of the United States, but also as a husband, a father, a son, a brother, a neighbor, a friend, and a man. He doesn’t claim to be perfect, nor does he pretend to be. Though he certainly spent time discussing his victories, he also admitted his defeats and the mistakes that led to them.

This kind of authenticity really spoke to me. Granted, I understand Barack Obama wrote this very book about Barack Obama, so there is obviously the potential for cherry picking and sugar coating. But it didn’t strike me as either. To me, A Promised Land felt very candid.

As you know, A Promised Land initially intended to be a single volume. However, because President Obama is articulate, verbose, and a talented writer, he needed to split his two terms as president into two volumes.

This first volume obviously tackles his first four years in office–both how he got there and what he did during that time. However, it also subtly acknowledges those moments that, now in hindsight, led to Donald Trump’s presidency, the division within the Republican Party, and the schism attempting to rip America apart.

I won’t lie to you–this is not an easy read. It goes into great detail concerning the complexities of politics, the nuances of the presidency, and the intricacies of the geopolitical landscape. However, it’s a very informative read, and a rather rewarding one at that.

Regardless of your feelings about President Obama, if nothing else, I recommend A Promised Land simply to offer insight into what it means to be president.

Dune by Frank Herbert – A Book Review

I’m ashamed to admit that I’d never read Dune. With the new movie on the way, I figured I better rectify that omission. Believe it or not, I started reading Dune in early October and only just finished it in late December. So, did I like it? More importantly, do I recommend it?

To answer the first question, yes, I did like it. I liked that it took its time building a world, a culture, an entire existence within many, many pages. I liked that it proved a fully immersive experience, created very real characters, and allowed the story to unfold at a thorough pace. I liked that Frank Herbert developed a new language, a synthesized religion, and a unique ecology specific to the planet in which Dune occurs. I liked Dune’s intelligence, daringness, and ingenuity.

That being said, I’m in no hurry to read the subsequent additions to the plight. I’m an impatient reader. I want to read as many books as possible, and so I often naturally gravitate to smaller, faster reads. I can’t remember the last time I spent three months reading a single book.

Even so, I do recommend Dune. It is one of the few books out there that actually make you feel as though you’ve fully lived the characters’ lives. It is epic in every sense of the word, and, most impressively, it predates such sci-fi stalwarts as Star Trek and Star Wars. I can’t imagine Dune was quite like anything else at the time it was published, and though it’s obviously been often imitated, it still struck me as completely unique. To read Dune is to find yourself in an utterly familiar yet astoundingly innovative world.

Though it’s a tremendous time investment, I’m glad I finally read Dune.

By the way, the afterward by Herbert’s son, Brian, proved to be my favorite part of the entire book.

The Kind Worth Killing By Peter Swanson – A Book Review

A friend recommended this book to me after I requested a fast, action-packed read. The Kind Worth Killing did not disappoint.

The story is centered around Ted and Lily, two strangers who meet in an airport bar. During conversation, Ted reveals he’d like to kill his cheating wife, and Lily is more than happy to assist.

From there, things get very complex as their pasts become interwoven with the present. The author, Peter Swanson, also alternates perspectives from Ted to Lily with each chapter. As the book progresses, however, new perspectives enter the fray, which offers fresh insights into the overall story.

Swanson absolutely knows how to write a fast-paced story. The chapters are short, the plot races forward, and the dialogue flows smoothly. The twists and turns were very entertaining, and the book as a whole proved quite fun.

My only complaints are that the characters tended to sound the same to me. The men all seemed to have the same voice, as did the women. Their plots and circumstances set them apart, but their voices did not. None of their personalities were unique.

I also found the very last two pages of the book unnecessary. A revelation occurs that is executed in a manner inconsistent with the rest of the style, and this revelation really serves no purpose other than to suggest a sequel. As it stands, those last two pages usurp an otherwise satisfying ending.

This is a slight grievance, however. Overall, the book thrilled me for several days as I truly enjoyed it. If you’re looking for an exciting mystery or thriller, I recommend The Kind Worth Killing by Peter Swanson.

Click the image to view the author’s latest book at Amazon.com.

The Murder Of Roger Ackroyd by Agatha Christie – A Book Review

A good friend recommended The Murder Of Roger Ackroyd, and though it’s been in publication for almost 100 years, I’ve never read it. In fact, I’ve never read a single Agatha Christie book.

I have to say, I thoroughly enjoyed it! I’m often not a fan of mysteries because I feel that they usually don’t lay the serious groundwork needed to provide the reader with actual clues, but Christie more than satisfied me in that regard. She gave all of the characters a possible motive for the murder, and had them all in the vicinity of the murder near the time of death. Her details were quite meticulous. Furthermore, finding the answer to the mystery was quite possible. 

On that note, I also appreciated that Christie wrote quite a bit of this book using dialogue. She provided only the most necessary of description, which made for a very quick read. Many of her clues were revealed through characters talking to one another, which proved a pleasant experience. 

My only complaint is that the detective, Hercule Poirot, seemed to be an almost secondary character. Because he was not the narrator, we only got to know Poirot in a limited way. This was necessary due to the structure and narrative style of the book, but I’m curious to know if all of Poirot’s books feature someone else as the narrator.

I’ll find out soon enough! I am absolutely excited to read more Agatha Christie. She writes my kind of mystery books. 

Storm Front by Jim Butcher – A Book Review

A friend recommended this initial book of The Dresden Files. It’s called Storm Front, and it’s the first time we meet Harry Dresden, a Chicago private investigator and practicing wizard. 

Yes, you read that right.

I appreciated that Storm Front is a wonderful blend of genre. It often reads like hard-boiled detective noir, full of all the cliches and tropes you would expect. But then it blends in high fantasy with magical rods, demon trolls, and dark magic. I also liked that it moved at a very fast pace and proved pretty easy to follow.

That being said, I’m not sure I’ll revisit Harry Dresden. I found the dialogue a little too predictable, the writing technique felt a little too familiar, and the detective aspect never quite connected with me.

However, I know a lot of very smart people who love this series, so I may have to give the second book a try and assume that they get better and better as they progress.