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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Catch the Rabbit — Restless Books

I feel like every good thing I have to say about this book comes with a caveat.

First, Lana Bastašić can write. Her similes are just impeccable; they pack a punch–this is a good thing, but also a bad thing, because I feel like Bastašić’s descriptive writing is almost exclusively reliant on similes. If Bastašić wants to describe something, it’s always “X is like Y” or “X does Y as though it’s Z.” And that’s pretty much the extent of what you get in terms of formal variety in this book. As much as I loved the similes, they started to get old very quickly, especially when you start to notice three or four consecutive ones on the same page.

Second, I thought the character exploration in Catch the Rabbit was fascinating. Being inside Sara’s head was unsettling, especially as she’s the kind of character who fixates on everything where her friend Lejla is concerned. And “friend” is a very fraught term in this novel; Sara and Lejla’s relationship is far from clear-cut or uncomplicated. And to a certain extent, I liked that; I liked that you couldn’t ever really put a finger on what was happening between Sara and Lejla, on the kind of friendship that they had, or indeed if what existed between them could even be called a “friendship.”

What I didn’t like, though–and here’s that caveat–is that all this character exploration skewed a bit melodramatic. At a certain point, every moment in Catch the Rabbit started to feel like a Moment, and it grated on me. I don’t mind symbolism–what is fiction about if not things symbolizing other things–but when everything in your novel is Symbolic–when every event becomes imbued with monumental importance–the narrative ends up feeling incredibly bloated and frankly, exhausting. I love symbolic moments and all, and they suit given that Sara, the narrator, is writing this story down retrospectively, and so is liable to embellish and give meaning to events that might not have otherwise meant a lot, but Bastašić just took it too far. It got to a point where I couldn’t parse out what these characters were actually feeling beyond the overwhelming cloud of Literary Significance that crowded every single moment.

So all in all, a mixed bag.

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The Blood Miracles by Lisa McInerney - Books - Hachette Australia

Genuinely upset over how disappointing this was.

Where The Glorious Heresies had so much life, The Blood Miracles had almost none. And this novel’s lifelessness is its most fundamental problem. Ryan goes through so much shit throughout the course of its narrative, and yet we never really see him deal with any of it. There are the occasional glimmers of depth and insight, but other than that, it felt like he was just going from one fuck-up to another, with no time for him–or us–to properly process the psychological or emotional repercussions of those fuck-ups. Like, I can maybe buy that that’s part of Ryan’s character, that the point is precisely that he’s unable to grapple with his decisions and their consequences, but I don’t think it makes for very compelling reading to have so little insight into a character who is making the most infuriatingly frustrating and idiotic decisions possible. And of course, Ryan made bad decisions in The Glorious Heresies, but that novel worked because we got to see his pain, his anguish, his awareness that he was constantly letting himself and the people he cared about down. The Ryan of The Blood Miracles is not subdued so much as he is hollow. He fucks up and you’re like okay, I guess that’s another shitty decision out of the 29037129371 shitty decisions he’s already made… It was truly the most frustrating reading experience I’ve had all year.

I don’t know what happened between The Glorious Heresies and The Blood Miracles, but something got lost along the way. The wit, the spirit, the energy of the first book is nowhere to be found here, and the result is a novel that feels like such a drag–depressing in a way that invites irritation rather than understanding from the reader (at least this reader). I was so ready to love this book; I would’ve forgiven it so much, and it still let me down.

(Also if I have to hear about Natalie in the next book I am going to SCREAM. OH MY GODDDDD I have never cared less about a character.)

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