Top 5 Wednesday: Books To Read Without the Synopsis

It is very rare for me to pick up a book without reading the synopsis first. I actually find it really frustrating sometimes when the synopsis is too vague since I like to have at least some idea of what I’m getting myself into. I understand why it is sometimes necessary for authors (or whoever writes the synopsis) to leave things pretty vague, but it’s so hard for me to hear “I can’t tell you anything, or else it will spoil it!” It can be really irritating to try to find a decent synopsis that helps you figure out whether the book will interest you, but without revealing too much about what happens.

On the other hand, it is also just as frustrating when the synopsis does not quite match up to how the book actually goes. There have been a few cases where the synopsis seems to lead in one direction, but it does not really reflect the book at all. I didn’t even think of this kind of misleading summary for this week’s topic until I watched Sam’s video (here), where she explained the prompt a little more. In these cases, reading the synopsis is unnecessary since it gives the wrong impression of the story, so it is still pretty much going into the book blind.

Top 5 Wednesday is a meme created by Gingerreadslainey on Youtube, and is now hosted by Sam at ThoughtsOnTomes. The official GoodReads group with the weekly topics can be found here.

1) We Were Liars by E. Lockhart

16143347I heard about this book for a couple of years before I finally decided to try it, and the main reason I avoided it for so long was because I had no idea at all what it was about. The Goodreads page gives only a few lines about a family, and island, a group of friends, and lies. Even reading and watching online reviews kept running me into the same comment — “I can’t say any more because it will ruin it.” I ended up picking it up last year to finally see what all the hype was about, and while I enjoyed it, I didn’t love it quite as much as everyone else seemed to. I don’ t necessarily agree that nothing at all can be said without spoiling it, but it’s really hard to tell sometimes. People all have very different standards for what counts as a spoiler.

2) The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern

9361589This book tends to fall more into the second category that I mentioned above. The synopsis on Goodreads is actually quite long and detailed, but it doesn’t quite match up to the way the story progresses. The synopsis promises a duel between two competing magicians, setting the expectation for magical battles and a lot of action. Instead, the “battle” is more of a competition where the two magicians try to outdo each other, in a never-ending contest. I actually really loved this book because of the beautiful writing style and the incredible cast of characters, but I was thrown off because it was not at all what I expected from the synopsis. The book is much slower-paced and more character-driven than expected, and the duel is not really what I would have had in mind when hearing the word “duel.” I would still highly recommend this book, but be warned that the synopsis may be a little misleading.

3) The Slap by Christos Tsiolkas

6632916I am currently struggling my way through this book because of its misleading synopsis. This book is about a man who slaps a child who is not his own during a barbecue, and the aftermath of the slap for the adults who were there. I was under the impression that this book would be a Jodi Picoult or Liane Moriarty-style contemporary, possibly involving a court case or some kind of ethical dilemma. Instead, this book focuses surprisingly little on the slap itself. Although I knew that the book was more about the aftermath, I was still surprised to find how small a role the BBQ actually played. The book instead tries to flesh out all of the adult characters, but they are all quite unlikable and it is sometimes tough to understand how they are relevant to the rest of the story. This book was definitely not what I expected at all.

4) Because You’ll Never Meet Me by Leah Thomas

20649195I read this book fairly recently, and it was another case where I thought the synopsis was a little misleading. This book is about two boys who form an online friendship, but cannot meet in real life because of their strange medical conditions. Ollie is allergic to electricity and suffers from debilitating seizures if he comes in contact with it, and Moritz uses a pacemaker and also has incredible echolocation abilities due to being born blind. When I first picked this book up, I was led to believe that it was a fairly typical contemporary, social media-focused book, but it actually had a lot more of a sci-fi element to it. Since I went into it without knowing or expecting that, I found the sci-fi aspects very off-putting at first because it made the story so unrealistic.

5) The Girl with All the Gifts by M.R. Carey

17235026I actually did not go into this book blind, and given that it has been out for 3 years already, it may be tough to avoid the main spoiler, especially given that it is mentioned on the Goodreads page. This book is about a young girl named Melanie who loves going to school, but the synopsis hints that there is something unusual about her. By the time I read this book, I already knew what the “twist” was and if I remember correctly, it is not too long into the book before it all starts to come together. When this book was first released, it seemed that the mystery of what was different about Melanie was a central to the story so I would definitely recommend trying to go into this one blind to get the full impact of the story. Like We Were Liars, it seems to be one where the less you know going into it, the better.


Top 5 Wednesdays: Classes Based On Books/Characters

I have such a hard time with Top 5 Wednesday topics sometimes because they are so out of the box. As a bit of a back to school special this week, our prompt asked for classes based on books or book characters. Creative prompts like this are really challenging for me since it is not the way I think about my books at all, but after some thought, I thought of a few classes that I’d love to see taught by some of my favourite book characters.

It was especially tough since the prompt specifically requested that we do not include Harry Potter! There are so many classes from Harry Potter that I think would be really interesting, but I can see why we were asked to leave those out.

Top 5 Wednesday is a meme created by Gingerreadslainey on Youtube, and is now hosted by Sam at ThoughtsOnTomes. The official GoodReads group with the weekly topics can be found here.

1) Creative Inventions 101 with Violet Baudelaire (A Series of Unfortunate Events)

Violet Baudelaire has always been one of my favourite fictional characters, and also one that I think is very underrated. Violet is a skilled inventor who can put together very creative and useful inventions from very simple or very random items that she encounters. Violet has a great talent for looking around her surroundings and finding all of the available materials, and reconfiguring them into something that will help her or make people’s lives just a little easier. I think it would be great to have her talent!

2) Demon Lore with Rupert Giles (Buffy the Vampire Slayer)

I always feel like it’s a bit of a cheat to include Buffy on this list, but there are several books and graphic novels based on the series so I think it can still apply. As scary as it would be to live on the Hellmouth like Buffy, or in a world where demons really do exist, I find the demon mythology in this series so in-depth and fascinating. I would love to be able to take a class with Giles and learn more about the mythology and history of the demons of their world.

3) Hacking and Managing AI 101 with Kady Grant (Illuminae)

This is a book that I read very recently, and I absolutely loved the characters. I was especially interested by Kady’s abilities to hack and manipulate computer systems, and especially to deal with AIDAN, the ship’s AI system. Her interactions with AIDAN were some of my favourite sections of the book. I don’t think I would want to be a hacker in real life, but I think Kady would be a very interesting person to learn from.

4) Advanced Logic with L (Death Note)

This is another of my favourite characters that I don’t necessarily associate with books, since I first heard of L through the anime series. L is a detective who has an exceptionally high IQ and very advanced analytical skills, which he uses to try to uncover the identity of the person killing people using the Death Note. While I don’t think I could ever learn to be on the same level as L, I think he would be another fascinating, eccentric teacher.

5) Intro to Robotics by Linh Cinder (Cinder)

I can’t say that I have much skill with technology, but this seems like a class that would be very practical in the near future. When we are first introduced to Cinder at the start of the Lunar Chronicles, she is a very skilled mechanic who has a vast amount of knowledge about repairing devices and throughout the series, she uses her skills to help take care of her own cybernetic components, ships, AI and many other technological advances. I also think that Cinder would be a great teacher on a personal level, since I think she would be good at actually conveying the information to others in a way that is easy for them to understand.

Top 5 Wednesdays: Top 5 Books You Read Before I Started Doing Reading Challenges

This may be the easiest Top 5 Wednesday topic I’ve seen in a long time. Initially, I thought I would talk about books that I loved before I started blogging, but then I realized that would be a little too easy. My blog has not even reached it’s one year anniversary yet (October 23!), so it would not take much to look back to the past year or two and pick a few favourites. Not only that, but I’ve already covered those favourites in several posts (which can be found: 2015, Goodreads Around the Year 2016, PopSugar 2016, and Book Riot Read Harder). Instead, I decided to go back a little further and talk about some of my favourite books from before I started participating in reading challenges.

Top 5 Wednesday is a meme created by Gingerreadslainey on Youtube, and is now hosted by Sam at ThoughtsOnTomes. The official GoodReads group with the weekly topics can be found here.

1) Atonement by Ian McEwan

6867I actually can’t remember when I read this book, but I decided to read it quite a while after seeing the movie, which I really loved. The movie was released in theatres in 2007, but I did not see it until much later when it came out on DVD the following year. This book is about a young girl named Bryony who mistakenly accuses her sister’s lover of a crime, and the consequences of this accusation for all three of them throughout their lives. I thought this book was beautifully written and it was a very powerful and memorable story. It was by far one of my favourites, and just as strong as the movie.

2) The Time Traveler’s Wife by Audrey Niffenegger

18619684When I first started university, I decided to use my time between classes to read some of the books that I’d been meaning to read for a long time. This was one of the standout books that I remember reading during that time, and one that I absolutely devoured. This book is about the relationship between Henry, a man with a genetic problem that allows him to unexpectedly time travel to important moments in his own life, and Clare, the young woman he falls in love with. I was pretty surprised to find that so many people have issues with the way the relationship is portrayed in this book since Clare first meets Henry when she is a child. Personally, I had no problems with how their relationship played out and I thought the book was compelling and an amazing story. I think I’m due for a reread of this one!

3) My Sister’s Keeper by Jodi Picoult

10917This was another book that I devoured between classes. For some reason, I can never remember if this or Mercy was the first Jodi Picoult book I ever read, but either way, she immediately became my favourite author. My Sister’s Keeper is about a young girl named Anna who was conceived specifically to be a bone marrow match for her older sister who is dying of cancer. Anna decides to sue her parents for control of her own body and the ability to choose for herself if or when she wants to donate more to her sister. This book is a complex, controversial family story told from multiple perspectives. It raises so many ethical issues and questions about our rights, familial obligations, and how far people will go to save their child. It is a very powerful book, and I would highly recommend this (and just about anything else by Jodi Picoult).

4) The Other Boleyn Girl by Philippa Gregory

37470I have always been a little obsessed with Tudor family England. When I was younger, I loved the Royal Diaries series which were fictional diaries written by famous royal women, including Anastasia Romanov, Marie Antoinette, Elizabeth I and many others. This series started my love of historical fiction and the Tudors have always been a favourite. If I recall correctly, I also read this book after seeing the 2008 film version and I loved Philippa Gregory’s writing style! Like most historical fiction, I’m sure there are some inaccuracies but the book seemed to be quite well-researched. My approach to historical fiction has always been that it is meant to be an introduction to the topic, but not the only source of information, so I usually like to go back and fact-check afterwards to see how much was actually true. This book was an account of the life of Mary Boleyn, the lesser-known sister of Queen Anne Boleyn. I knew nothing about her beforehand, but I found this book a great introduction and a very interesting story on its own. It definitely left me interested in finding out more.

5) The Help by Kathryn Stockett

4667024I remember taking this book with me one year on summer vacation and devouring it at the hotel, but I can’t remember exactly when it was. I believe I read it somewhere around 2013 or 2014, making it the most recently read of all the books listed here. I was on the fence for a long time about reading this one because I was not sure how much the story would appeal to me, but the book quickly proved me wrong! This book is about a young woman named Skeeter who decides to write a book with the black servants in her town in Mississippi about the realities of their lives and the people they serve — the good and the bad. This book drew me in immediately with its compelling characters, and I fell in love with the writing style. It was by far one of the best historical fiction I have ever read, and I am so glad I gave it a chance!

Top 5 Wednesdays: Best Second Books in Series

Once again, my very limited number of completed series puts a serious damper on my ability to answer the question. As I discovered the other week when we were asked for series that got better as they went on, I have not completed very many series. To be fair, there are quite a few where I have read the first two books but I find it difficult to say that the second book is best when I don’t know yet what is coming next. I may need to revisit this topic at some point in the future when I have read more series! Instead of choosing series where the second was the best, I’m going to talk about 5 series which I thought had very strong second books.

Top 5 Wednesday is a meme created by Gingerreadslainey on Youtube, and is now hosted by Sam at ThoughtsOnTomes. The official GoodReads group with the weekly topics can be found here.

1) The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis

140212This may be a controversial choice since this book is viewed as both the first and second book in the series, depending who you ask. It was the first to be published, and the first that most people read, but in terms of when the events take place chronologically, it should be second. It may be cheating a bit to select this one, but given the limited amount of series I have read, I’m making an exception for this one. I have not completed the whole Narnia series, but this is by far the strongest and most memorable of all the ones I have read. This book is one of my all-time favourites!

2) Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets by J.K. Rowling

224912It is practically impossible for me to choose a favourite Harry Potter book, but I still remember being blown away by this one when I first read it. As much as I loved The Philosopher’s Stone, I enjoyed this book a lot more. I think the real brilliance of this book is how it is actually part of a much larger plotline throughout the later series, but works just as well as a standalone. This book also introduced Dobby, and led to many of the funniest moments in the series! I have no idea why, but I’ve always found Ron’s line “Of all the trees we could have hit, we had to get the one that hits back!” hilarious. This book was the perfect blend of creepy mystery, fantasy, and even a great story of the relationships between Harry and the people around him. I’m not sure if it is the strongest in the series, but it is definitely a very strong second book!

3) The Reptile Room by Lemony Snicket

78418I can’t emphasize enough how much I love this series! The Bad Beginning was an amazing introduction, and I thought The Reptile Room was just as strong. This book is a great follow-up, with the Baudelaire children moving in with their eccentric Uncle Monty, a herpetologist with a room full of reptiles to study. I thought this book did a great job of establishing the children as self-sufficient and compelling characters, especially given their horrible circumstances. This was also our first introduction to Count Olaf’s many disguises and plots to capture the children away from their well-meaning relatives. It was a very strong addition to the series.

4) Catching Fire by Suzanne Collins

6148028Again, I’m not 100% sure this is my favourite book in the series, but I thought it was a very strong follow-up to The Hunger Games. I loved how Katniss and Peeta had to try and keep up the charade they started in the first book, and this is a book that introduced some of my favourite characters (Finnick, for example). I was a bit worried when I first learned this book threw Katniss back into the arena, but I loved how it managed to create a different Hunger Games competition that was unique and just as compelling as the first. I was equally invested in this story as I was in Katniss’ fate in the first book. I often find the middle book in a trilogy is too much of a transitional book without much really going on, but that was definitely not the case in this series. All three books were equally strong for me.

5) The Lost City of Faar by DJ MacHale (Pendragon series)

215543Full disclosure: This was a 4-star book for me, and not my favourite in the series, but I still think it is a very strong book from an extremely underrated series. In this book, Bobby Pendragon visits a world called Cloral which is predominantly made of water, which has different islands responsible for different things to benefit the community. Like the other books in the series, this one does a great job of presenting real moral and ethical issues in the context of a fantasy world. In this case, the main issue had to do with food supply and crop contamination. Later books in the series deal with animal rights, overuse of technology, drought, etc. Although I have never found this book the most interesting or memorable of the series, it is still quite a strong addition and I think the series in general deserves more attention.

Top 5 Wednesdays: Top 5 Covers I Would Like To Live In

I have to be honest — I don’t really like topics about cover art very much, and I especially found this one tricky. I don’t mind it so much when topics come up about the most beautiful or most appealing covers, although I don’t really judge my books by their artwork either. In this case, I honestly had no idea what the topic meant. It seemed like an odd blend of a fictional world I would love to live in, but when looking for options, I found myself just looking for the covers that just attracted my attention visually, whether or not I actually wanted to be in that world.

I often find the Top 5 Wednesday topics very challenging because some of them are so out of the box. Part of the fun is that they make me think about books a different way, but it’s also a challenge for me since I can interpret them very literally. I always want to make sure I’m getting it “right” or at least what the topic was meant to be asking, even though I know that they are very open for interpretation. It was definitely hard for me to find covers that fulfilled this one! I originally intended to only choose books that I had already read, but found that my TBR list had much more interesting options.

As a side note — this topic really made me aware of just how many books there are that have beaches on their cover art! I’m sure that would be great for anyone doing this topic who loves the beach. Unfortunately, I hate beaches (for a variety of reasons), and although some of those covers were beautiful, I couldn’t see myself wanting to live there on a practical level. This is why I say I take the topics too literally sometimes.

Top 5 Wednesday is a meme created by Gingerreadslainey on Youtube, and is now hosted by Sam at ThoughtsOnTomes. The official GoodReads group with the weekly topics can be found here.

1) The House at Riverton by Kate Morton

1278752I have not read this book or any other of Kate Morton’s books, although I have several of them on my TBR. I chose this book because the cover art was stunning. Even though you can’t see the house itself, the image on the cover hints at a beautiful, elaborate home. It’s the kind of house I might dream of one day living in, but probably actually would not like very much if I actually had to live there. I don’t mind bigger houses, but sometimes they seem a bit silly unless there are a lot of people living there.

2) The Last Letter from Your Lover by Jojo Moyes

10163292This is a cover that seems a little more realistic in a sense. The cover art depicts some of London, England with an old-fashioned feel to it. I have not read this book yet either, but it is set in two time periods — 1960, and 2003. If I had to guess, I would assume the cover art is from the 1960 storyline, but I’m not sure how much London has changed since then. I actually think I would prefer the cover art without the couple in bottom corner, but it still looks like a beautiful setting.

3) The Forgotten Book by Mechthild Glaser

34499244This book has not even been released yet, but I’m already loving the cover art. According to Goodreads, this book is due out in January 2018. Because Goodreads is being extremely glitchy today, I’ve been having trouble figuring out whether this book is in any way connected to The Book Jumper by the same author, which has an equally beautiful cover. Either of these would actually be book covers that I would like to live in, and both seem to involve literally living in books. I think it would be amazing to be able to enter books and live in them, at least sometimes. Some of the worlds created in books are pretty scary!

4) The Night That Changed Everything by Laura Tait and Jimmy Rice

23346359I honestly can’t figure out what it is about this cover that makes me think I would like to live in it, but it was one of the few that really strongly jumped out at me and that I kept coming back to. I originally excluded it because I couldn’t see how to “live” in it, but the more covers I looked at, the more this one appealed to me. I think it helps that the colours on the cover are all basically my favourites, and I absolutely love the design. Actually, if I remember correctly, the cover art was the first thing that caught my attention about this book in general and made me decide to add it to my TBR (well, after checking the synopsis at least).

5) The List by Patricia Forde

31409131This cover reminds me quite a bit of Peter Pan, and the plot reminds me of Ella Minnow Pea. This is a middle grade book due out later this month, but it was another book where the cover art first caught my attention. I love the emphasis on the moon and the starry sky, but even the village across the bottom seems like it could be an interesting place to live. The buildings are all a little different and kind of cartoonish. Looking at the plot summary, which involves restrictions on speech and language, it is definitely not a world I would like to live in, but the cover makes it seem so peaceful!

Top 5 Wednesdays: Series that Got Better

Confession time: I have actually completed very few full series. As I sat down to prepare this post, I was surprised to find just how few series I have read from start to finish. I knew that in the past year or two, I’ve committed to trying several of the more popular series that I’d been hearing about all over the Internet, but I was shocked to discover that the vast majority of the books I read are standalones. To be fair, I’ve always known that I generally prefer standalones because series have always struck me as much more of a time commitment.

As I’m sure I’ve mentioned before, I don’t read series that often because I have trouble figuring out how to manage them. When I read all of the books in a row, they start to blend together and get boring, but when I space them out more, I forget what happened in the previous books. I also find that a lot of series drag things out unnecessarily to fill three or more books, when the story could easily have been shortened. The middle book especially tends to be where a lot of the bulking up happens, often with endless action sequences (which don’t necessarily interest me much), or a huge emphasis on romance (which I don’t mind if it’s done well).

It was a real struggle for me to find five series that I thought got better with each book, or at the very least stayed consistently strong all the way through. I am apologizing in advance if this list is a little on the generic/predictable side. I have several series that I am still partway through that are possible candidates, but I’m hesitant to add them until I know for certain how the last book is.

Top 5 Wednesday is a meme created by Gingerreadslainey on Youtube, and is now hosted by Sam at ThoughtsOnTomes. The official GoodReads group with the weekly topics can be found here.

1) Harry Potter by J.K. Rowling

8Of course this is the obvious choice, but I could not make this post without mentioning my favourite series of all time. This is a series that truly got better as it went on, and the first book was already easily a 5-star read, so that’s saying a lot. One of the things I love most about this series is how it grows with the reader. I was about the same age as Harry when I started reading it, so it was nice to have a character who grew up with me. I especially enjoyed how the books became darker and more mature as Harry got older as well. I find many series fall into a trap where the books become repetitive if the characters never really age. I love everything about this series — from the world-building to the character development to the snarky humour. While I’m not sure if the 7th book is my favourite, I would definitely say this series got better and better.

2) A Series of Unfortunate Events by Lemony Snicket

65113I’m sure many people will disagree with me on this one, but I have to give this series credit. For something that carried on for so long (13 books!), it was quite strong. To be fair, this is one of the main series that I’ve always had trouble managing. It definitely starts to feel repetitive if you read them all in a row, but it’s also one that I don’t generally put down in the middle. Possibly because I tend to read all the books in a row, I sometimes find a few toward the middle are not quite as strong, but there are more than enough great ones to make up for it. Judging by my Goodreads ratings, even the weaker books were still very highly rated (between 4 and 5 stars on my list). The Penultimate Peril is very underrated, and while I found the last book a bit underwhelming when I first read it, it is a pretty fitting end.

3) The Pendragon Series by D.J. MacHale

833710This is another quite long series consisting of 10 books, and one that I have trouble managing. This series is a prime example of one I find difficult to read all in a row, but too complex at times to space out. It is an extremely underrated series about a boy named Bobby Pendragon who learns that he is a Traveller, a person with the ability to travel to various worlds to help them through a “turning point” that can either maintain them or let them fall into chaos. This is another series where the books grow up with the character. One of the things I loved most about this series, aside from the variety of interesting moral dilemmas and topics covered by the worlds, was how the author was not afraid to have his characters fail. In many other series, the main characters always come out on top. In this series, there were legitimate stakes raised as Bobby fought Saint Dane, a villain who wants to push each world into chaos as part of a larger scheme to take control of them. It kept the books fresh, since you could never be sure who would win.

4) The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins

7938275This was another series that almost fell victim to my tendency to avoid overhyped books. I actually read it because my mom, who rarely reads YA, loved it and highly recommended it. I devoured the entire series in a matter of days while on vacation one summer, and I loved all three of the books. This is another series that I know people may disagree with me on, since many were very frustrated with the ending. I loved this series because I thought it was a perfect blend of action with strong character development. It was incredibly well-written, and I especially enjoyed how the world was built in a way that was not too far-fetched, yet still different enough from our own. I loved how the entire concept of the Hunger Games plays off of a twisted version of reality TV, and Katniss is one of my all-time favourite characters.

5) The Peculiar Children series by Ransom Riggs

missperegrinecoverI think this is another potentially unpopular opinion. I wouldn’t necessarily say that the books get better and better, but they remain fairly consistent. I absolutely loved Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children when I first read it because it seemed so unique compared to other books I had read at the time. I thought the use of old photographs was very creative (not to mention creepy!), and I loved the introduction of the Peculiars in the first book. I’ll admit I rushed the series a little when I read it since it was part of my first reading challenge in 2015. I’d already read the first two books, and had a challenge prompt requiring a trilogy, so I decided to re-read the first two and then the final book to fulfill it. I think it may have been a mistake to try and read them all so quickly because I don’t feel that I fully appreciated the story as much as I could have, but I thought all three books were quite strong.

Top 5 Wednesdays: Books That Are Not Set in Or Inspired By the Western World

One of my main regrets about my time in university was choosing not to take more classes about the histories of other countries, especially those in Asia. I majored in Psychology, but I had briefly considered doing a double-major in history. Ultimately, I decided against it because I was worried it would be too complicated to fit in all my required courses for both programs and still have room for a few electives. Plus, history and psychology would have been quite the workload! Although I still had the option of taking history classes, my focus was mostly on ancient civilizations and Europe. There were several classes in Asian history that really interested me, but most of them either conflicted with my schedule or were set for 8:30 in the morning which would mean waking up at 6 am to catch my bus to school. I was interested in the class, but definitely not interested enough to wake up so early! I am really not a morning person.

I have always been interested in reading and learning about other cultures, especially countries like Japan and China. Although I’ve never really studied them properly, I find historical fiction (when it’s done well) can be fascinating and through some of those books, I have learned so much about other cultures. I was pretty excited to see this week’s topic to get a chance to discuss some of my favourite books set outside the Western world. Like many readers, I have not read nearly as many non-Western books as I have read books set in Europe or especially the US, but I have many waiting on my TBR!

Top 5 Wednesday is a meme created by Gingerreadslainey on Youtube, and is now hosted by Sam at ThoughtsOnTomes. The official GoodReads group with the weekly topics can be found here.

1) Memoirs of a Geisha by Arthur Golden

374147I’d heard about this book a long time before I ever decided to read it, and it has ended up becoming one of the most interesting books I’ve ever read. This book is about a young girl named Chiyo who is taken from home and sold to work as a geisha around the time of WWII. I was very interested by the look into Japanese culture and especially the lives of the geisha. If I’m honest, I’m still a little confused about how much of this book is fact vs. fiction. Years after reading it, I learned there was a lawsuit initiated by one of the geisha that Arthur Golden interviewed for information as well as claims that the book was inaccurate. Either way, I thought this was a fascinating book and a compelling story.  Like all historical fiction, I think it needs to be seen as a starting point to learn more, and not solid fact.

2) Shanghai Girls by Lisa See

5960325Although I’ve always been interested in China, I know very little about the country’s history. I picked up this book because my mom read it and highly recommended it. It is about two sisters living in Shanghai who are sold as wives to American men after their father loses everything by gambling. The book follows Pearl and May as the travel from China to America, and is a powerful story both on a historical and a family dynamics level.  I went into this book not expecting very much, and it ended up being one of my favourites of the year when I read it. The main characters both seemed so real that I often forgot that the book was fictional.

3) With the Light series by Keiko Tobe

withthelight_1I’ve mentioned this series a few times before, but since it seems to be quite obscure, I thought it was worth mentioning again! This is a manga series about a Japanese family who are raising a young son diagnosed with autism. The series consists of 8 volumes that cover from the time the child is born, through his diagnosis, and into his teenage years. The series covers all kinds of issues including how children with disabilities and their families are treated by the school system, society in general, and even their own family members! Unfortunately, the author passed away and the final volume was published posthumously. I am ashamed to admit I have not completed this series yet, despite two attempts! My first try, the library was missing several of the volumes so I was forced to stop mid-way. On the second try, I read the first two and then got caught up in my reading challenge and didn’t have time to read anything additional. I’m hoping to be able to get back to it soon!

4) Purple Hibiscus by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

126381This is a book I read very recently, about a teenage girl named Kambili who has grown up in Nigeria. Kambili and her brother are sent to live with their aunt, who is much more liberal than their strict and religious father, where they begin to discover a different way of life. I went into this book knowing practically nothing about life in Africa in any country, and I thought it was a very interesting look at how religious and political influences affected people’s lives. I was especially interested in the contrast between those who had converted to Christianity, and how negatively they viewed the African traditions still practiced by many. I thought it was a very interesting look at the impact of the West on another country.

5) The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini

77203This was one of the only books that I was required to read in high school that I actually enjoyed. It follows the life of Amir, the son of a wealthy family in Afghanistan whose best friend is the Hassan, the son of his family’s servant. This book was a very compelling story of the two boys and how their class differences affected the course of their lives. Like the other books on this list, I enjoyed it because it introduced the culture in a very human context that really brought it to life. This has always stood out as one of the most powerful books that I read in school, and I’m glad the teacher chose it other commonly used classics. It’s probably been about 10 years since I read it, although I recently read the graphic novel version to refresh myself on the story (and I would recommend that version as well. It did an excellent job of capturing the story in a limited-text format).