Pop Song by Larissa Pham (DNFd at 25%)

Pop Song by Larissa Pham: 9781646220267 | Books

Something about the tone and writing style of this book just categorically did not work for me. I felt like the writing was straining for a level of insight or profundity that it simply didn’t have and couldn’t achieve. I also disliked how confused the essays felt; each one had so many ideas and incorporated so many sources that I struggled to parse out what point Pham was actually trying to make.

The Four Humors by Mina Seçkin (DNFd at 53%)

The Four Humors by Mina Seçkin | Penguin Random House Canada

I was SO excited to read this. First, the cover is GORGEOUS. Second, the synopsis convinced me I’d love this–I mean, just tell me this doesn’t sound amazing,

This wry and visceral debut novel follows a young Turkish-American woman who, rather than grieving her father’s untimely death, seeks treatment for a stubborn headache and grows obsessed with a centuries-old theory of medicine.

Twenty-year-old Sibel thought she had concrete plans for the summer. She would care for her grandmother in Istanbul, visit her father’s grave, and study for the MCAT. Instead, she finds herself watching Turkish soap operas and self-diagnosing her own possible chronic illness with the four humors theory of ancient medicine.
Also on Sibel’s mind: her blond American boyfriend who accompanies her to Turkey; her energetic but distraught younger sister; and her devoted grandmother, who, Sibel comes to learn, carries a harrowing secret.
Delving into her family’s history, the narrative weaves through periods of political unrest in Turkey, from military coups to the Gezi Park protests. Told with pathos and humor, Sibel’s search for strange and unusual cures is disrupted as she begins to see how she might heal herself through the care of others, including her own family and its long-fractured relationships.

I really gave this a fair shot–I read 200 pages–but unfortunately the execution let this down for me. The protagonist felt too disaffected, her narrative tone so dry and distanced that I struggled to connect with her as a character. The plot, too, felt a little aimless for my taste. It didn’t feel like there was any momentum in this novel to keep me engaged. I can definitely see people liking this novel though, so if it sounds like the kind of novel you’d like I’d still recommend you give it a shot.

A Memory Called Empire by Arkady Martine (DNFd at 16%)

A Memory Called Empire: Martine, Arkady: 9781250186430: Books -

I wanted to like this so badly, but I just hated the writing. I swear to god it felt like every other word in this novel was italicized. I want you to imagine what that does to a reading experience. Also I hated the character development; it didn’t make any sense to me and was all tell and no show (there was a moment when the protagonist was like hmm I like this character, she is funny! when that character had literally said nothing even remotely close to funny). That sort of lazy description irritates me so much; don’t tell me something about a character that that character has not shown me in the writing.

Light from Uncommon Stars by Ryka Aoki (DNFd at 11%)

Light From Uncommon Stars, Book by Ryka Aoki (Hardcover) |

Again, a matter of writing. This is a debut novel, and it showed. This novel has such a cool premise, but the writing just could not bring that premise to life. It was so simplistic to the point that it flattened all the novel’s characters, making them all feel very samey (which was all the more noticeable as a problem because the characters range in terms of age, background, experience, etc.).

Radiance by Catherynne M. Valente (DNFd at 43%)

Radiance by Catherynne M. Valente

Another novel I gave a fair shot–also 200 pages–before I DNFd it. Radiance isn’t the kind of novel I usually gravitate towards; it has a lot of moving parts, incorporating text from interviews, scripts, diaries, etc. And where many of the books I’ve mentioned in this post let me down writing-wise, my issue with Radiance was not its writing. My issue was that the more stylistic, flashy elements of this book took over the focus on character. Or rather, that the focus was never really on the characters to begin with. After 200 pages, I got tired of navigating this expansive world with very little engagement in the characters populating it.

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Five Days of Fog by Anna Freeman

“five days of fog” is right, because nothing in this book stands out in any way, shape, or form

This is easily the most vanilla, forgettable book I’ve read all year. Reader, if you’re looking for something eerie and atmospheric, you will not find it here. That this novel is set during the Great Smog–the titular five days of fog that came over London in 1952–seems to promise a story that is exactly that–eerie and atmospheric–but in actuality the whole five days of fog concept turns out to be nothing more than a gimmick. The fog is a bit of a hindrance to the characters, sure; it slows them down and gets in their way, but at the end of the day the fog itself is all flash and no substance. For a book that’s titled after the fog, you’d expect it to paint a more vivid image of that fog, and not just present it as a one-dimensional cardboard prop.

Aside from the atmosphere (or lack thereof), there’s not much else to say about this book because it is so deeply boring in terms of character, plot, and writing. Five Days of Fog is so aggressively boring that its characters felt like they were bored by their own existence in the novel. I didn’t ever think a book about a FEMALE GANG OF CRIMINALS could ever be boring, but here we are. Needless to say, Five Days of Fog was a huge disappointment, especially given that I absolutely loved Anna Freeman’s first novel, The Fair Fight.

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BOOK REVIEW: THE GREAT MISTAKE by JONATHAN LEE The Great Mistake: A novel (9780525658498): Lee, Jonathan: Books

“He would go looking for it everywhere in the years to come. Love, love, love. As if it were a coin to be found in a field, or a park. As if it could be obtained without forfeiture.”

I think I wanted to like this more than I did, but I still really did like it.

First of all: Jonathan Lee’s writing is absolutely exquisite. I could run through a whole laundry list of adjectives, here: beautiful, evocative, moving, earnest, endearing. Reading The Great Mistake, you get the sense that Lee is genuinely enjoying playing with language, stretching and shaping it to his own ends. If I were rating this novel on the basis of its writing alone, it would without a doubt get a 5 stars. As an example: Lee’s writing can take something as simple as a hug and turn it into this,

“And then, after a moment of hesitation, comes the embrace–one that seems to lack a center. A feeling of being held only by the very edges of who you are. Of wanting, so intensely, to be brought into the heart.”

One reason the writing works so well is because it almost effortlessly endears you to the novel’s main character, Andrew. You get such an intimate sense of his longing and his loneliness, his persistent sense of inadequacy and alienation. I’ve never felt so sympathetic towards a character so quickly.

Plot is where this novel falls short. The plot of The Great Mistake feels a bit janky, like an object with all its screws a little loose. The object still presents well, but when you hold it, you can’t help but feel like it’s about to come apart in your hands. Despite the beautiful writing, this novel was missing a strong, more streamlined plot. It has two timeliness, one following Andrew’s past, and one following the present investigation of his murder (the first line of the book is literally: “The last attempt on the life of Andrew Haswell Green took place on Park Avenue in 1903”). I was much more invested in the former plotline than the latter; the whole murder mystery aspect of it all didn’t really feel like it belonged to the novel, and as a plotline it felt shoddy, with characters I didn’t much care about doing things I also didn’t much care about.

Despite the weakness of its plot, though, the writing in this novel is so strong that it almost makes up for that plot’s inadequacies. Almost being the operative word, here, since the writing never fully picks up the slack from the plot. Still, though, an excellent novel.

Thanks so much to Granta for providing me with an e-ARC of this in exchange for an honest review!

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