Tag Archives: taboo

Book Chat – Books That Surprised Me

Sometimes when I read a book, I worry I won’t enjoy it. I look at it, read the synopsis, flip through the first few pages, and debate. Surprises can come in a variety of forms — enjoyment, disappointment, disgust, confusion, there’s a lot of emotions to describe when a book can surprise you. Sometimes it’s a plot element, maybe it’s overall enjoyment, it’s hard to gauge why something works or doesn’t work for you. I thought I’d share with you guys a few books that I’ve read that have surprised me in a variety of ways.

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The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian
by Sherman Alexie (2007)

If I’m being honest, I had some reservations going into The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, if only because I am Canadian and I am a Canadian who loves Native American Fiction, but also is depressed by Canada’s past towards indiginious peoples. While this novel isn’t about Canada or written by a Canadian, it offers a very important prespective on “native culture” and what it means to be white-washed.

What surprised me about this novel wasn’t the topic, but it was in how I read it. I listened to this on audiobook with Sherman Alexie as the narrator, and at first I didn’t entirely dig his reading voice. In fact, it out right annoyed me at times… yet then as the story grew, his voice grew on me as well. There is an authenticness to the novel in having him read it, and I could feel Arnold’s emotions and struggles in Alexie’s voice and feel it in a way that felt very different then reading words off the page. This book is clever, it’s funny, and it’s downright sad at times. It took me on a surprising emotional journey, and it totally deserves all the awards that it has won.

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The Raven King (The Raven Cycle #4)
by Maggie Stiefvater (2016)

I am going to avoid spoilers for this book given how new it is, but this book was a ball of surprises from start to finish. It’s one of those books where from book one you KNEW WHAT WAS GOING TO HAPPEN, but you always kept hoping Maggie Stiefvater wouldn’t actually do it. If you’ve read the series, you know what I am talking about, and the way in which she did left me emotionally spent. However, there were other parts of this novel that just surprised me (Chapter 33 is perfect, you guys), and it made me love the novel, its characters and the series a million times more. Sometimes when you know something is supposed to be predictable, author’s will throw a wrench and still manage to surprise the crap out of it.

Maggie: I want my tears back, dammit.

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The Princess in Black series
by Shannon Hale & Dean Hale (2014-)

You should all not be surprised that a middle grade series is on this list, but let me tell you: The Princess in Black series continues to get better and better with each installment. What surprised me with this series was that I worried I would find it too juvinile at times to enjoy. The child in me loves this series and the adult in me in me keeps wanting to say I shouldn’t enjoy this series, but I do. This is a favourite of mine to recommend to reluctant readers at my the public library I work at, and it’s a fun one to talk up and explain to parents as well. Cheeky and fun, this series is for kids who love adventure, and adults who miss the feeling of being a child again.

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Mayumi and the Sea of Happiness
by Jennifer Tseng (2015)

Mayumi and the Sea of Happiness was such a mixed bag of a book for me. Meanwhile it focuses on a more taboo subject matter (an adult woman sleeping with a minor), that actually wasn’t the aspect of the book that surprised me, even when it started to get rather heavy. What surprised me was how beautiful the writing was in this book, but how unrealstic and frusrating the plot was for such a beautifully written book. I spent a lot of the novel wanting to scream at Mayumi, and I was certainly annoyed by how literary the boy began to sound despite his distaste for literature. There’s a lot in this book that feels hapharzardly put together and yet I COULDN’T STOP READING IT. This book was such a weird reading experience and it’s one I have a hard time forgetting because I felt so confused and yet so involved in the development of this story.

What are some novels that have surprised you, for better or worse? I’d love to know how others experience “surprising” aspects of a novel and how it affects your reading experience. Let me know in the comments below what your thoughts are on the subject!

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Late to the Party ARC Review – Mayumi and the Sea of Happiness by Jennifer Tseng

23399029Title: Mayumi and the Sea of Happiness

Author: Jennifer Tseng

Rating: ★★★

Synopsis: Books may be Mayumi Saito’s greatest love and her one source of true pleasure. Forty-one years old, disenchanted wife and dutiful mother, Mayumi’s work as a librarian on a small island off the coast of New England feeds her passion for reading and provides her with many occasions for wry observations on human nature, but it does little to remedy the mundanity of her days. That is, until the day she issues a library card to a shy seventeen-year-old boy and swiftly succumbs to a sexual obsession that subverts the way she sees the library, her family, the island she lives on, and ultimately herself.
 
Wary of the consequences of following through on her fantasies, Mayumi hesitates at first. But she cannot keep the young man from her thoughts. After a summer of overlong glances and nervous chitchat in the library, she finally accepts that their connection is undeniable. In a sprawling house emptied of its summer vacationers, their affair is consummated and soon consolidated thanks to an explosive charge of erotic energy. Mayumi’s life is radically enriched by the few hours each week that she shares with the young man, and as their bond grows stronger thanks not only to their physical closeness but also to their long talks about the books they both love, those hours spent apart seem to Mayumi increasingly bleak and intolerable. As her obsession worsens, in a frantic attempt to become closer to the young man, Mayumi nervously befriends another librarian patron, the young man’s mother. The two women forge a tenuous friendship that will prove vital to both in the most unexpected ways when catastrophe strikes.

Huge thank you to Penguin Canada for this finished copy!

Sam’s Review:

When Mayumi and the Sea of Happiness came through my mailbox, I was both intrigued and worried. I don’t mind books with taboo subject matters, but I was sure I was going to feel quite uncomfortable with the relationship between Mayumi and the Boy. Oddly, I wasn’t as disturbed as I thought I would be, though I did find elements of this book weirder than the taboo relationship.

First I am going to praise the writing, because I did read this book in the span of two days and it’s pretty captivating. Tseng really envelopes the reader into her prose, even when there’s barely anything going on story-wise. The story itself goes through four seasons of Mayumi and the Boy’s relationship, her connection to Violet, his mother, and the worry that she will be discovered by her husband and others. That is the whole book in a nutshell, and yet the prose really makes the reader feel connected to what is going on.

That being said, I disliked Mayumi’s character and the stereotyping of librarians in the novel. That rubbed me the wrong way more than the relationship between Mayumi and the Boy, because there is this stupid assumption that library people, though friendly, don’t want to talk or really deal with patrons (not true, by the way). Mayumi plays into this stereotype so badly, and makes for frustrating character to care about. There’s no real drama in the novel, no real climax. The ending is pretty much a cop out given this larger build that were are given between Mayumi and the Boy. In a lot of ways, I felt rather cheated.

But I kept reading on, because seriously, Tseng’s prose and descriptions were what kept me going. Mayumi and the Sea of Happiness isn’t a bad book at all, but there’s larger holes that don’t get filled very well. If the taboo subject matter isn’t your thing, I’d definitely recommend staying clear, but if you can get past that, there is an interesting narrative being discussed here.