Wednesday, February 26, 2020

Review: CITY OF THIEVES by David Benioff

Rating: 3/5 stars

Here’s the thing: this book is really well-written. Like so good that I immediately want to read everything David Benioff’s ever written. And I wanted to love it because it’s an amazing story. But I didn’t really enjoy my time reading this book just because of the subject matter. Let me explain.

I originally bought this book years ago because I used to read a lot more historical fiction and the synopsis sounded unique and interesting. Lev and Kolya are captured during the siege of Leningrad in WW2 but let go on the condition they will bring back twelve eggs for the colonel’s daughter’s wedding cake. During a time when there are close to literally zero eggs to be found in Leningrad and the city is cut off from supplies, these two young men go on an absurd adventure and cross enemy lines in search of these eggs, just so they can later gain their freedom.

It sounds cool. It’s definitely a WW2 plot I haven’t heard before. Despite owning this book for years, I’ve never had the desire to pick it up though. But this year I am trying to read the favorite books of all my coworkers, and City of Thieves is one of my manager’s favorite books, so that’s why I read it.

I really need to read books when I first become interested in them because I’ve fallen out of love with historical fiction (and fallen in love with epic fantasy instead). This book is full of humor and characters that feel like they are real people (more on that in a bit), but it’s also full of all of the depressing things that happened during the war, such as murder, rape, torture, death, hunger, etc., and I discovered that I don’t really like reading realistically depressing books anymore. It’s great to have these stories about what happened back then, but I also don’t like to feel sad while I read.

What’s great about Lev and Kolya though is their banter and voices were written in a contemporary style, and it actually felt more genuine to me than if Benioff had tried to give them a 1940s vernacular. They were funny and relatable characters and felt very real to me, and I loved that.

David Benioff starts this novel by saying how he interviewed his grandfather, who told him his story, which David then novelized and that’s what became City of Thieves. Except that’s a total lie because I looked up an interview with David and he said that this novel is entirely fictitious and that all of his grandparents grew up in America. It’s very interesting while reading though because you’re like, “Is this real? Did this really happen, or did he make this up?”

I think if you’re a fan of war-torn historical fiction then you will enjoy City of Thieves, although I think everyone should read it for the writing alone. I just can’t get over how amazing of an author David Benioff is: his plot, his characters, his diction, his imagery—everything was beautiful.

Saturday, February 8, 2020

Review: LOVEBOAT, TAIPEI by Abigail Hing Wen

Rating: 3.5/5 stars

I liked this book way more than I expected to. The only reason I read it is that it’s this month’s book club pick; I don’t normally read young adult contemporaries/romances anymore so I thought from the beginning that this wasn’t going to be my thing. It started okay: it was entertaining and funny, but it also seemed basic, average, and shallow to me. It was going along alright until we got to the part where Ever and her friends go out partying and get drunk and make poor decisions and just that whole section of the book had me almost quitting it, but I decided to push through because it was a quick read, and I’m so glad I did. The story picked up immensely, and Ever and all the characters started evaluating their actions and making much better decisions.

I loved the Chinese culture in this book. Ever is Chinese American, and both of those cultures are part of her life, but she doesn’t start to appreciate her Chinese heritage until she goes to Taipei and meets other people like her. The struggles she and her parents experienced felt very real to me, and I’m sure many readers can relate. I loved the little bits of information we got about Mandarin and food in Taipei and the nightlife there—basically, the setting was very genuine.

I also really loved Ever as a character. She really grows up in the short two months that span this book. At first, she’s making bad decisions just to rebel against her parents’ strict rules; eventually though, she learns that she doesn’t want to rebel, she just wants to be herself, who she has never felt she’s been able to be, which leads her to make different choices. She has to reconcile her parents’ desire for her to be a doctor with her desire to be a dancer, without disappointing them. This book really is about coming of age and learning who you are and what you want out of life, but it’s also about the importance of family and strong friends. Even though the word “Loveboat” is in the title and there definitely is romance in this book, I would say that the romance is a secondary plot to the storyline of Ever discovering herself.

Ultimately I ended up really enjoying Loveboat, Taipei, and I do plan to read the sequel whenever it comes out, which I would have been shocked to hear myself say a week ago. This book was cute and fun and a fast read, but it also was meaningful and empowering, and I loved that. I think anyone who has Chinese heritage would really connect with this book, but it can definitely be enjoyed by anyone else, too.