ten mini book reviews part 4 featured image

Ten Mini Book Reviews Pt. 4

Hello everyone! I’m back with another set of mini book reviews!


ten mini book reviews part 4 featured image

Can you believe I made it to a part 4 of this??? And much faster than I expected too, so that’s nice!


On the Come Up by Angie Thomas

I read this book because it’s by the same author as The Hate U Give, which was amazing. I didn’t end up liking On the Come Up nearly as much unfortunately, although it was still a fun book. I feel like it was mostly because I had expectations for it that didn’t end up being true at all. For one, I expected it to be as thought provoking as The Hate U Give when it really wasn’t. That’s perfectly fine, because Thomas does not have to stick to that same type of writing but it definitely affected how I approached the book. Two, I thought the book was going to go faster and cover more of a time span that it did. This is perhaps a minor spoiler but the description talks about Bri’s music going viral and how she was thrust into fame but in a negative light. I interpreted the description to mean that the story would talk about Bri’s career after her music goes viral, including her being a big star and dealing with those issues too but it really didn’t. Instead, it seemed like she really only went “viral” in her hometown and became more of a locally known rapper instead of a national star. But really, those are just issues I had with it because I’d had different expectations.

All in all, the book still conveys the message that for many viral stars, especially young black artists, their art can be interpreted in a very different way than the artist intended. By extension, so can any message that people of color send out. And thus, they can face very different consequences than they’d expected when they first started speaking out and sharing their work.

I gave this book three out of five stars (although I rated it when I’d first finished it and upon further reflection I think I would have rated it four out of five stars).

An American Summer by Alex Kotiowitz

For a long time, I’ve wanted to read more literature featuring Chicago. A bit before the BLM movement really took off, I’d put a hold on An American Summer, which features many victims of violence in Chicago. The city’s summers are, unfortunately, very violent. Kotiowitz writes about an entire summer of violence in the book, the victims range from both people who inflicted pain to people who were on the receiving end of it to those who are connected to both. I’m not doing a great job describing it but it was a really interesting book.

For me, I found myself getting very confused at times because the book is set up to be more of short stories. Each time I found myself understanding the story of the person(s) featured in that chapter, it felt like the story would end. Later on in the book, there would be “part two” though so then the rest of the story would be told, which was great so I could get the full picture, but a little annoying because I had to then recall which story it was finishing. It was still a great concept and I’m sure if I was more of a short story person I’d have enjoyed it more.

I gave this book three out of five stars.

Dia de Muertos by Artes de Mexico

I bought this book a during a trip to Mexico maybe two years ago and finally got around to finishing it! I picked it up at the Palacio de Bellas Artes (or the Palace of Fine Arts) in Mexico City. This book is a collection of short essays explaining various aspects of the Day of the Dead celebrations in Mexico. The book is written in Spanish but English translations are included in the back of the book. As for the essays, they discussed everything from the start of the traditions, the significance of the rituals, and how different areas in Mexico can celebrate the holiday.

Honestly, the translations were game changers as I am fluent in conversational Spanish but even then some of the words weren’t familiar to me. I was able to guess what they meant but when I was a little confused and misunderstood the text, I could read it in English and feel like I fully understood. I really liked the concise analysis of the traditions as I knew a lot of the basics already too, so I didn’t feel like I needed a ton of explanation.

I gave this book five out of five stars.

Milk & Cookies by Tina-Marie Casaceli

I checked out this dessert cookbook on Libby because I needed some ideas! Unfortunately I didn’t really see anything that new or exciting that I wanted to try but it had some solid ideas!

I gave this book three out of five stars.

TED Talks by Chris J. Anderson

I’ve had the goal of giving a TED Talk for forever now, so I figured I should read the book on how to give a good talk! I found it to be very straightforward and simple. It was a pretty good read and gave direct examples from TED Talks where those suggestions worked perfectly! It didn’t say the “best” way to give a talk but rather different options that have worked for different people, such as using visuals or not.

I gave this book three out of five stars.

The Gravity of Us by Phil Stamper

This book follows the character of Cal, who is a budding journalist in NYC until his dad becomes an astronaut for NASA and his family moves to Houston. In this book, the astronauts and their families are turned into reality show stars so his life changes even more drastically than it already sounds. Plus, Cal meets Leon, the son of another astronaut and they start a romance away from the cameras. I found the book pretty enjoyable, especially in the second half when it really gets going. At the start it was a lot of weird “problems” come up. For example, something that seemed like it was going to be a huge problem ended up being a non issue early, so it was confusing where the story was going to go since the conflict was seemingly resolved. Eventually there was a new conflict anyway so that worked out but it started out a little weird.

I gave this book three out of five stars.

The Glass Hotel by Emily St. John Mandel

I picked this book up because it was a previous pick for the book club podcast, The Readheads. It was pretty short and it was a sort of mystery book where all the characters, or at least a majority of them, are all tied together in very convoluted ways. I didn’t really enjoy the book as it felt like I was reading three or more stories all jumbled up into one for most of it. It did tie together quite nicely at the end but the start and middle of the book were just so annoying. I did power through it in order to listen to the podcast mostly, but it wasn’t a fun book for me.

I gave this book 2 out of 5 stars.

City of Ashes by Cassandra Clare

This is the second book of the Mortal Instruments series that I started a forever ago! I had done a separate review of the first book, City of Bones, so I thought about doing a full review of this one, but honestly I didn’t feel like it! I do regret waiting so long to read this one because I couldn’t remember any of the characters or plot, but eventually I got back into it. I don’t think this was anywhere near as interesting as the first book and the Clary/Jace relationship is so creepy and weird. But it seems to be going in a better direction and a lot happened in this one that made up for it like Clary’s friend becoming a vampire, their fight with the dad, and just learning more about their world that I am going to keep reading the series.

I gave this book 3 out of 5 stars.

Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates

I found this book on Libby on the recommended reading list about black experiences. I checked it out and really enjoyed it! It’s basically a letter or notes from Coates to his son, explaining difficult topics and offering deep thought about it. It’s so hard to explain this book so please just read it if you come across it.

I gave this book 4 out of 5 stars.

Between Inca Walls: A Peace Corps Memoir by Evelyn Kohl LaTorre

I’ll start this one off by saying that this book was sent to me free for review purposes but that didn’t influence my thoughts on it! As it was sent to me for that purpose, I hope you don’t mind that this “mini” review is a bit longer than usual!

Between Inca Walls is the memoir of a peace corps worker in the ’60s, Evelyn. I loved reading her story! Right away Evelyn establishes her independent nature and strength by starting her story in her childhood. She grew up in Montana where girls weren’t expected to go off to have grand adventures, which is exactly what Evelyn wanted. Her desire to help others and have adventures first led her on a mission trip to Mexico. While there is a debate on how helpful mission trips actually are, I think Evelyn’s did legitimately help as she really worked hard to get a new library set up. Right away it was easy to see her dedication and strong work ethic that would lead her to a successful Peace Corps mission later. Oh, fun little side note, one of Evelyn’s friends who had a different assignment in Mexico was sent to a town called Zinapecuaro, which I regularly visit when I go to Mexico! I thought it was a really cool little connection there that I wanted to mention.

Back to Evelyn, after her return to the US she finishes college and heads off to the Peace Corps, attending trainings in New York and Puerto Rico. I really enjoyed this portion of the book as I hadn’t realized how intense that training and selection process is. Evelyn describes tough physical ranging from swimming to rock climbing to running. But she also adds in the mental challenges too. Many other trainees end up dropping out or being sent home because of both. Evelyn herself struggles with the swimming portion of the training and allowing herself to rely on others at times to complete the activities.

One lesson she learned during training really stood out to me about cultural differences. Evelyn notices that the yard of the family in Puerto Rico is a bit messy, and she decides to rally her host’s children to help her clean it up. She thought she was doing her host a favor, but realized later that she’d actually undone her host’s method of composting left over food. In Evelyn’s own words, “this incident taught [her] not to impose [her] standards on other cultures before determining their customs”. As anyone else who travels to new places with different customs from their own, we all learn this lesson eventually! A traveller’s responsibility should be to seek to understand the culture they have the privilege to visit. We all have our own biases which can make this difficult and uncomfortable, but at the end of the day we’ll always learn and grow from these experiences, especially from our mistakes if we’re brave enough to allow it to be a learning opportunity. It was such a relatable story that left me vigorously nodding, and I’m sure many other fellow travelers will say the same.

Evelyn’s account of her two years in Peru were incredibly interesting. Her descriptions on the locations she visits in Peru, and even locations before Peru, are so beautiful and detailed. I could picture the landscapes she described so clearly as I read her stories. No matter what she was talking about, Evelyn gave a well thought out explanation on her perspective of her situation. The way she reflects on her feelings, particularly her romances, are very powerful too. It’s easy to understand her point of view throughout her story. Her memoir feels very genuine, almost as if she’s sitting next to you telling you this herself. Plus, I love how her memoir is presented in such a straightforward manner.

Also, I have to add some new things I learned about the Peace Corps. Honestly, I was so surprised that it was so strict! Evelyn and her colleague, Marie, had to be in Cusco for a mandatory medical appointment. They arrived in the city a little early so they took the opportunity to go to Machu Picchu. Apparently their boss thought that counted as an unapproved “vacation” when it was less than a day trip on a day when they literally had to be in the area to wait for their appointment anyway. Honestly I was completely on Evelyn and Marie’s side on that. Maybe it would be different now, or it was just something their particular boss was weird about, but I suppose the Peace Corps does have to consider that some people might try to take advantage and not do their work. While that wasn’t the case in this instance, any rules or restrictions the Peace Corps might have was honestly not something I’d ever really thought about previously so I’m glad she added those parts in.

Another thing I realized was how impactful each Peace Corps volunteer could be to their assignments. Evelyn and Marie worked to find their own assignments, advocated for themselves various times over the course of their two years together, and really worked to make the most of their time in Peru. I had previously had the impression that the Peace Corps would already have assignments ready and waiting, and to some extent they did but as long as they could demonstrate a real need, they could find their own. Evelyn and Marie really took initiative and created their own experience in Peru. That’s truly an admirable trait that anyone can be inspired by, no matter what adventure they’re currently on.

I’ll wrap this review up by saying that I really enjoyed this book! I went into it interested in the adventure aspect of the story, but it was so much more than that. This is a great book for someone who’s been interested in the Peace Corps, a travel enthusiast, or really anyone who just wants to read an inspiring and uplifting story. If you see this one, I do recommend you pick it up!

This book will be released THIS WEEK on August 11, 2020 so if it interests you, it’ll be available in a few days.

I gave this book 4 out of 5 stars.


That’s ten mini book reviews! I’ve already started part 5 so I’m super excited to keep reading and learning and exploring. Let me know your thoughts if you’ve read any of these books too!

Thanks for reading!

Pamela

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