Review: ‘The Island of Sea Women’ by Lisa See

It’s starting to cool down here in North Carolina. September has brought a comfortable chill to the air, and the breeze is hinting at even cooler weather to come. With the weather changing, I’m looking forward to more time spent curled up with a book. My TBR stack is huge and continues to grow as the weeks pass. (How’s yours looking?)

Everytime I finish a book, it’s a satisfying experience. I love crossing that book off my list and getting to choose another one. But when I finish a book that I really loved, of course, it’s even better. I came within about 100 pages of the end of The Island of Sea Women a few nights ago, and I just couldn’t put it down until I finished it. I stayed up later than I should have, but it was worth it.

This book had everything I love to see in a work of historical fiction. It brought to life the experiences of people far removed from me in time and geography, and it didn’t hold back in revealing even the most mundane details about their lives. The characters felt like they truly could have existed and their experiences seemed authentic. The book was informative and incredibly well-researched, so I also came away from it feeling like I had learned something about a culture unfamiliar to me.

The story is focused around the friendship of Young-sook and Mi-ja, two women who became childhood friends after Mi-ja was caught stealing sweet potatoes from Young-sook’s family’s garden. Young-sook and Mi-ja grow up on Jeju, an island of Korea. Their friendship develops into something pure and seemingly unbreakable as they both train to be Haenyeo, women sea divers who provide the main source of income for their families. They dream of raising children with their husbands and spending much of their lives together under the water as they become efficient and respected Haenyeo.

Tragedy befalls their island as the world around them enters World War II, and Korea is later split by it’s occupiers into two separate nations. Koreans turn on other Koreans, and Young-sook’s and Mi-ja’s friendship isn’t immune to the division that exists on their island. As their married lives take them down very different paths, Young-sook begins to feel that maybe she doesn’t really know Mi-ja, and she begins to distrust her loyalties. This growing dissension culminates in one tragic event when Mi-ja refuses to help Young-sook and her family out of dangerous situation. Young-sook feels that she has suffered the ultimate betrayal and refuses to associate with Mi-ja ever again.

Eventually Mi-ja’s life takes her away from Korea and to the United States. Despite the distance between them, Young-sook continues to think of her lost friend often, holding on to her anger as a way of keeping Mi-ja close. Many years later, their lives become entertwined again, and Young-sook is forced to face her memories of the past head on.

The story is told from two perspectives and switches back and forth throughout. Most of the story is told from Young-sook’s first person perspective as she grows up with Mi-ja and then grows older. The remainder of the story is told from the third person when Young-sook has reached old age and is unexpectedly approached by members of Mi-ja’s family who are visiting from the United States. The story comes together beautifully at the end as Young-sook discovers things about Mi-ja that she never knew and has to decide if she is ready to let go of her anger and forgive her forever friend.

I highly recommend this book. It was a 5/5 star read for me. I featured it in my new blog series, Complementary Mondays, as I’ve recently read a memoir of a North Korean defector that I found paired really well with The Island of Sea Women. Check it out here!

What books have you read recently that you absolutely loved? I’d love to check out your 5 star reads. Leave a comment below!

And as always, thanks for reading!

Saturday morning recommendations: modern adaptations of Greek mythology

I can remember learning about Greek mythology when I was in school, but I must admit that I really don’t know that much about it. I’ve came across a few good reads lately that fall into the category of mythic fiction and feature characters from Greek mythology. I’m inspired now to learn more about classical mythology, so you may just find me reading something from Homer here soon. 🙂 Anyway, here’s some recommendations for your Saturday morning.

A Touch of Darkness and A Touch of Ruin by Scarlet St. Clair

These two romance novels, which I read via Kindle, are part of the same series by St. Clair, and they are modern retellings of the myth of Hades, the god of the Underworld, and Persephone, the goddess of Spring. I gave them both 3.5/5 star ratings. (I would have given 4/5 stars as indicated above if it hadn’t been for the amount of misspellings and grammatical errors in the writing.)

Entry in my reading journal about these two surprising romance novels that I came across on Goodreads.

I usually do not enjoy romance as a genre. I’ve read a little here and there but found the heavy focus on detailed (and often unrealistic) sex scenes to be more distracting than anything else. I was always left wanting a more genuine story and relatable characters, and I never seemed to get that from romance novels. (I’ve just been reading the wrong ones, right?)

A Touch of Darkness is the first installment in St. Clair’s creative retelling of the Hades and Persephone myth. Persephone is the goddess of spring and daughter of Demeter, the goddess of the harvest. In mythology, she becomes the queen of the Underworld after Hades abducts her. But in St. Clair’s retelling, which is set in a modern world, it is foretold to Dememter that Persephone will become queen of the Underworld. Demeter tries to prevent this as Persephone grows up by essentially keeping her locked up in her greenhouse and away from the mortal realm where so many of the gods/goddesses spend their time.

At the beginning of Darkness, Persephone has finally been given permission to live on her own and attend college in the mortal realm as long as she promises to stay far away from other gods/goddesses, especially Hades. Although she is immortal, she believes herself to possess no powers. In fact, it seems that every living plant she touches only shrivels and dies. So to make her own way in life and gain some independence from her mother, she has decided to pursue a career in journalism.

In a moment of rebellion against her overbearing mother, she decides to visit a night club owned by Hades and finds herself caught in an unbreakable wager with him. This sparks her interest in investigating Hades and his shady dealings with mortals, and as you might have guessed, also sparks her interest in Hades himself.

As the story unfolds, Persephone learns there is much more to the ancient god of the dead, and she also discovers a lot about herself. I loved seeing how the relationship between these two characters develops. It was certainly hot and heavy at times – *fans self* – and the characters felt authentic. I especially enjoyed the character of Hades in all his mystery, and I also liked how other characters from Greek mythology made their appearances throughout.

In the second installment in this series, A Touch of Ruin, Persephone’s relationship with Hades is tested as she begins to realize how little she knows about the god of the Underworld. She experiences jealousy and distrust regarding Hades’s past while also facing the imminent death of her best friend, Lexa, who is mortal. Hades refuses to spare Lexa’s life and Persephone desperately tries to save Lexa herself through rather unsavory means. She only ends up causing more trouble for herself and Hades, which further shakes the foundations of their relationship. Despite being a goddess and immortal, Persephone is still naive and has a lot to learn about life, especially what it can mean for her to live among mortals.

Ruin addresses some heavier themes, and I felt it was done very well while still holding true to the genre of romance. I enjoyed seeing the relationship between Hades and Persephone grow into something deeper and more mature and also seeing Persephone grow in her powers. A Touch of Malice is the third installment in this series, and it is due to be published in 2021.

Lovely War by Julie Berry

I read this back in June for a readathon. It’s a YA novel about four young people whose lives and fates are woven together during WWI. This book addresses some heavy topics as well including PTSD, attempted rape, and racism. All of the characters are directly impacted by the tragedies of the war, but they also find friendship, love, and hope for the future in each other.

I love this cover – absolutely stunning.

The unique twist with this novel is that it’s told from the perspective of Aphrodite, the goddess of love, who is angry with the god of War, Ares, for his constant warmongering which interferres with her favorite pasttime of matchmaking. She invites her husband, Hepheastus, to judge Ares’s guilt for the part he has played in causing the heroes and heroines of her story such heartache.

There is an interesting twist at the end, which I won’t mention here. But it really ties the novel together nicely in a meaningful way. I thought Berry’s writing was lovely, and I really enjoyed the book as a whole. 4/5 stars only because it felt like some of the heavier events of the story were recovered from a bit too easily. (I’m guessing that’s probably due to it being a YA novel.)

Circe by Madeline Miller

Oh my gosh, did I love this book! Miller has taken the classical myth of Odysseus and turned it on it’s head, giving a spotlight to an incredible female character.

In the original myth, Circe is only a minor character and is quite infamous for her witchcraft and use of it against sailors unfortunate enough to land on her island. But in Miller’s retelling, Circe is the protagonist and Odysseus only a passing acquaintance who manages to gain Circe’s favor.

Circe is a nymph who is largely ignored by other immortals as she possesses no real power, at least not at first. Once she discovers and begins using her power of witchcraft, she finds herself exiled and becomes the object of revenge from Athena, goddess of wisdom and war. We get to see her grow in her powers but also grow as a mother. I found her journey into motherhood to be the most compelling aspect of the story, and her triumphs and sorrows tugged at my heart strings. I definitely recommend this one. 5/5 stars.

So there you have it, folks – four recommendations. Have you read any of these? What modern adaptations of Green mythology have you enjoyed reading? Let me know in the comments, and thanks for reading!!

Complementary Mondays: An exploration of Korean history and culture

When I was a sophomore in college about 12 years ago, I applied to a study abroad program that would have taken me to South Korea for a summer internship. I don’t recall now what program it was or what the internship would have involved. I just remember telling my parents that I had applied and the looks on their faces that clearly said “let’s hope you don’t get in.”

Before you jump to conclusions about my parents, you should know that as a 19-year-old, I was quite naive about the world. I had never traveled outside of the United States at this point, let alone traveled on my own. I didn’t speak the language or have any knowledge of Korean culture or mannerisms. I’m not even sure I could have pointed out Korea on a map. To me, it just sounded like a fun adventure that would look really good on my resume. Luckily, I didn’t get into the program. (I’m sure the people who reviewed my application probably realized very quickly exactly what my parents already knew. I was not a good fit for this opportunity.)

As I’ve grown older, though, I’ve developed a more genuine and intellectual interest in learning about and experiencing the world around me. It’s important to me to read broadly about countries and cultures that differ from my own. I probably will never travel to South Korea or North Korea physically, but I have come to believe that I can “travel” and learn a great deal through the written word. Today, I wanted to share about two very illuminating books on the region of Korea.

The books I’m recommending are The Girl with Seven Names: A North Korean Defector’s Story by Hyeonseo Lee and The Island of Sea Women by Lisa See. The former is a memoir, and it is exactly as the title suggests, a story about escaping from North Korea. Although, there is so much more to Lee’s story than just her escape. The latter is a work of fiction. It is set mostly during World War II and the immediate years that followed the splitting of Korea along the 38th parallel into North Korea and South Korea.

A memoir…

In Lee’s account of her escape from North Korea, which occured in the 1990’s, she first describes her experience growing up under the totalitarian rule of Kim Il Sung and his son and successor, Kim Jong Il. After escaping and spending some time in China, Lee eventually seeks asylum in South Korea and later gains citizenship for herself. It’s a gripping story with moments of tragedy and triumph.

What I found to be the most interesting, though, was the insight into how North Korean leaders have managed to keep their citizens mostly in the dark about the world around them and especially ignorant of the more democratic and capitalist society of South Korea. She describes in detail the propaganda that was used on her as a child in the school system. Perhaps the most frightening to me was the way the government compelled neighbors and friends to spy on one another and report any activity that may suggest someone isn’t sincere in their devotion to the country and it’s leaders. Lee’s story also sheds light on the prejudice that exists in the minds of North Koreans towards South Korean citizens, and vice versa. It’s interesting that these prejudices have developed within just a few generations of the division of the region into two separate countries.

…and a fictional work…

Just a couple weeks ago, I started reading The Island of Sea Women, which is a fictional story about the lives of two women who are part of a diving collective of Haenyeo on the island of Jeju in South Korea. When the story begins, the nation of Korea has not yet been divided. The women are childhood friends, but their lives are torn apart by the aftermath of the war as South Korean citizens begin turning on each other while the country seeks to establish and gain control of it’s own government. It’s a truly heartbreaking story of betrayal and lost friendship.

I have the hardback edition. Isn’t this cover beautiful?!

The story references many real-life events including the Jeju uprising that occured in 1948. The tragedies that occur in relation to this event are horrifying, but they shed light on the division that existed among Korean people as a result of being invaded and then passed from one imperialist nation to another – from Japan to the United States.

The most enlightening aspect of this novel for me was the glimpse into Korean culture, specifically those of the Haenyeo families where the women were ultimately responsible for providing food and financial support for their families by engaging in a rather dangerous occupation, while their husbands were essentially homekeepers, spending most of their time caring for the children. I was also introduced to the traditions of ancestor worship in Korean culture and the mythology related to the island of Jeju and the Haenyeo themselves.

I have not finised The Island of Sea Women yet – still have a few chapters left to read. But I found this story and the memoir by Hyeonseo Lee both so engaging and complementary of each other that I wanted to write about them for this first post in my new series.

…and how they fit together.

In some ways, it’s obvious why these two books would complement each other well. Both stories are in some way about Korea and the history and culture of its people. Both stories are set within the 20th century, one occuring just 50 years after the other. But it goes a bit deeper than that. Some of the major themes that both books share are the importance of personal identity and being able to choose for yourself, the risks that people are willing to take to protect and care for their loved ones, and the consequences of, and suffering caused by, imperialism in the modern world.

What books about the region of Korea would you recommend reading? I’d love to learn more about this land and it’s people, so please leave a comment if you have a suggestion.

Thanks for reading!

Introducing ‘Complementary Mondays’: A new blog series about learning through reading

I’m sure every book lover and life-long reader has their own reasons that they adore the written word so much. And for most of us, I’m sure there are multiple reasons. The captivating characters. Being swept up in alternate reality or a favorite time period. Maybe even just the feel of the pages as we turn them or the smell of ink and paper that overcomes you when you first open a book. I love all of that.

More than anything, though, I love reading because I learn from doing it. It’s the knowledge and novel ideas that I gain that motivate me to keep reading. And I love it when I find that a book I’m reading is building upon the knowledge that I’ve gleaned from another.

Over the last few months, I’ve started reading more than I ever have before, and I’ve started to pay attention to books that complement each other well. Sometimes they are just books that explore similar themes. But more often, they are books that are discussing the same topics or events, whether fiction or non-fiction.

These pairings (or sometimes triads) of books are the inspiration behind my new weekly blog series, Complementary Mondays. My hope is that this series will inspire others to read books to delve into and learn about new topics of interest. I’ve always believed that reading is one of the best ways to learn, especially when you’re exploring intangible topics.

My first post in this new blog series will be posted tomorrow morning, September 14th, and will feature two books that I’ve read recently that I feel are a good exploration into the history and culture of Korea. One is a memoir and the other a work of fiction. I hope you will take the time to check it out and come back every Monday for more.

Thanks for reading!

August Reading Blog #1: Good habits and Shakespeare

I normally don’t read self-help books. It’s just never been a genre in which I felt interested. It seemed like most of the books were full of common sense suggestions, and I didn’t feel that I could learn anything that I didn’t already know.

And yet, I have to admit that I fall short on a lot of those good habits that seem like common sense. I’m terrible at sticking to exercise routines. I try to meal plan but usually end up throwing meals together at the last minute. If I’m really honest with myself, most of my good habits are performed haphazardly and inconsistently.

And why is that? Why do I have such a hard time sticking to routines and making lasting changes? I recognize the potential in myself to accomplish so much more, and there are so many things I want to learn and skills I want to master. But I usually feel like I’m only getting by, just doing enough to keep life from falling apart. I get my work done. I keep my house clean. My children are fed and bathed. But is that all that I am capable of?

That’s what I’m hoping to gain some perspective on from The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen R. Covey, a business and self-help book that was first published in 1989. Although it is rather dated at this point, it has remained a best seller. I was intrigued to read it because it kept popping up on Goodreads and my Kindle app, and I had been wanting to read something non-fiction that was different than the memoirs and biographies that I’ve been favoring lately.

At this point, I’m a little over 100 pages in, and I’ve been introduced to 2 of the 7 Habits, the first being “Be Proactive” and the second being “Begin with the End in Mind.” I appreciate the way that Covey invites his readers to consider his ideas in meaningful ways. He encourages the reader to read his book with purpose, read slowly, and absorb and reflect on the information that is presented.

With the second habit of “Begin with the End in Mind,” Covey instructs the reader to perform a thought experiment and imagine what will be said about them at his/her own funeral. He then recommends creating a sort of mission statement that essentially outlines a map for how to live your life. If you then approach every decision “with the end in mind,” you will be much more successful at becoming the highly effective person that you want to be. I was surprised at how eye-opening this exercise was. I thought I had a good understanding of what I wanted to accomplish with my time here, but thinking about it in this way revealed a lot to me about what really matters.

Journaling along with my reading this year. It has been a great way to reflect on all that I’ve red and learned.

I’m not even half way through with The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, and I already feel that it has been a good investment of my time. I look forward to putting into action what I will learn from this book.

Other August reading…

As for my other August reads, I recently finished The Selection by Kiara Cass. It was a quick and easy YA read that I ended up liking more than I expected to. Check out my review.

I’m currently listening to Hamnet by Maggie O’Farrell on Audible and really enjoying it so far. It was published this year and is based on Shakespeare’s family and his son, Hamnet, who died at an early age. I’ll post a review once I’ve finished. One of my reading goals for the year is to read 10 of Shakespeare’s plays, so I’m planning to reread Shakespeare’s Hamlet after I finish Hamnet. I was in high school the last time I read it, and I don’t recall much at all.

What are you reading this month? Do you have a favorite self-help book that you found particularly inspirational? Let me know in the comments. And as always, thanks for reading!

Review: ‘The Selection’ by Kiara Cass

This was an unusual read for me as I don’t normally read YA fiction. Up until recently, I wasn’t reading a lot of fiction at all. Being a bit of a history buff, I’ve prefered reading historical non-fiction and biographies for a while now. But I’ve recently had a change of heart and decided that I’d like to read more fiction.

I’ve seen The Selection series recommended many times on various platforms, and I decided to read it because I was intrigued by the dystopian aspect. Of all the fiction that I have read, dystopian novels have been the stories that stick with me the most.

Here is the synopsis fromt the back of the book:

For thirty-five girls, the Selection is the chance of a lifetime. The opportunity to be swept up in a world of glittering gowns and priceless jewels. To live in a palace and compete for the heart of gorgeous Prince Maxon. But for America Singer, being Selected is a nightmare. It means turning her back on her secret love with Aspen, who is a caste below her, and leaving her home to enter a fierce competition for a crown she doesn’t want. Then America meets Prince Maxon. Gradually, she begins to realize that the life she’s always dreamed of may not compare to a future she never imagined.”

As far as the world building, I also felt like the story was a bit shallow at first. The story is set in a kind of futuristic North America, where the United States has been dismantled by invasions from China and Russia. In this new futuristic world, everyone is divided into castes. America, a Five, is in the artist caste, and her family makes a living by entertaining members of the higher castes who pay for their services. (This was the part about America that I loved the most, her passion for music.

As the story progressed further, it did start to touch on some of the more troubling aspects of the dystopian future in which America is living, and I’m interested to see how the story unfolds in the remaining books of the series.

Overall, I would say I was pleasently surprised that I enjoyed the story as much as I did. I enjoyed America’s personality and rebelious spirit, even though she did have a few moments of immaturity and recklessness that made me question her resolve. Some of the other characters seemed a little one-dimensional and more like plot devices than anything else (Celeste), which is something I don’t like. I enjoy stories more when all the characters have some depth to them, and not every character is all bad or all good.

I was definitely not disappointed, though, and I plan to continue the rest of the series. This was a 3.5/5 star read for me.

Links: Goodreads | Books-a-Million

Have you read The Selection? If you haven’t read it, do you have a favorite dystopian novel that you would recommend? I’d love to hear your thoughts. Thanks for reading!

Review: ‘Kindred’ by Octavia E. Butler (*Spoilers*)

It’s a surprisngly comfortable Thursday for early August in North Carolina, patches of sun and puffy white clouds in between short showers of warm rain. It seemed like a good day to reflect on one of my most recent reads; Kindred by Octavia E. Butler. A eye-opening, intense read, but a good one.

Here is the synopsis from the back cover:

“Dana, a modern black woman, is celebrating her twenty-sixth birthday with her new husband when she is snatched abrubtly from her home in California and transported to the antebellum South. Rufus, the white son of a plantation owner, is drowning, and Dana has been summoned to save him. Dana is drawn back repeatedly through time to the slave quarters, and each time the stays grow longer, more arduous, and more dangerous until it is uncertain whether or not Dana’s life will end, long before it has a chance to begin.”

This story takes place in Maryland in the first half of the 19th century still a a few decades before the Civil War would take place. Dana, a women of the 1970’s struggling to make a professional life of writing, is married to Kevin, another writer who has managed to publish a few books. They are a good match, but even in the 1970’s, they are subject to disapproval by their families and uncomfortable stares from strangers because of Dana being black and Kevin being white.

However, this is nothing to the racism they will personally experience once Dana begins to endure unexplainable episodes of time travel that call on her to repeatedly save the life of Rufus, a white boy growing up under the thumb of his father, a plantation owner. Dana later discovers that Rufus is her ancestor, and he will one day have a child with Alice, a free black girl who lives with her mother outside of Rufus’s father’s plantation.

After a couple of trips to the past, Dana realizes that she will continue to be called until the child of Alice and Rufus has been born, therefore ensuring her own existance. However, this calling forces Dana to survive in a world where everything about her attracts danger and suspicion. She has no choice but to assimilate into slave culture and bend to the will of Weylin, the plantation owner. And Kevin, who is accidentally taken along on one of Dana’s trips, has to assume the part of her owner and master.

Dana receives some of the worst treatment that you can imagine would take place on a plantation in the antebellum South. Everyone, including the slaves that Dana tries to befriend, is suspicious of her motives because of her accent and the way she carries herself and wears “man clothes.” Even though her relationship with Rufus develops with some mutual respect and trust while he remains young, even Dana’s saving his life repeatedly does not stop Rufus from eventually treating Dana as he does his other slaves. He is, in the end, unable to see her as more than property that he can have and use in any way he wants to.

One of the points of Butler’s work that I found most intriguing was how powerful slave culture is and how easy it is for those involved to accept it as normal. One scene that stands out is when Dana witnesses a group of slave children pretending to participate in a slave auction. One of the girls that is involved is offended by a low price that is suggested by one of the other children. Dana is appalled at the thought of the children being so easily indoctrinated to slave culture and their acceptance of their eventual fate as slaves themselves, and she is upset that Kevin doesn’t seem to be as bothered by the scene.

She then becomes overwhelmed as she realizes how easily she herself has accepted her role and treatment as a slave and how easily Kevin has assumed his role as a slave owner. It’s more than fear and intimidation, the risk of death or torture, that keeps slaves in their place. It’s also the bond between families (families that can so easily be broken up at the whim of the slave owner) and the comfort and security of “home” that even Dana starts to appreciate after spending so much time on the plantation.

I don’t want to give away the ending, but it took me a little by surprise. After some time to reflect, it seems fitting, though. Dana really wanted to believe that she could have an influence on Rufus and persuade him away from his father’s abusive tendencies. And although she did impact some of his decisions in the end, he was always bound to be more heavily influenced by the systemic slave culture of the South that raised him.

Although Butler’s work is fiction, it is well-researched and pulls heavily from real-life slave narratives. It is in no way a light-hearted read and left me with a lot think about. I highly recommend it, and I rated it 5/5 stars. I plan to read more of Butler’s books in the future.

Have you read Kindred? What did you think about it? I’d love to hear your thoughts or if you have any suggestions for other books by Octavia E. Butler. Thanks for reading!

Complementary Mondays: A study in physics

Physics has been one of those subjects that always fascinated me. The first career I ever had in mind for myself was a career in astronomy. At the time, I didn’t really have a full understanding of what astronomers did other than observing the movements of planets and stars. (I definitely didn’t know that math would be involve.) I simply loved the idea of spending my time staring through a telescope into the depths of space and contemplating the mysteries of the universe.

Even though I didn’t end up going the scientific route for my career, I still love looking at the stars and trying to understand why everything in the universe looks and behaves as it does. I really enjoy reading about physics even if I can’t wrap my head around the mathematical principles that govern the physical world. It’s not an easy subject to understand, but that’s part of the appeal for me. I’ve always loved reading about science in general, but when I read about physics, my mind is forced to stretch and consider ideas completely novel to me. It makes me think about every day phenomena in a new light, question my own view of reality, and I’m reminded of how “magical” the universe can be.

I feel like I may be cheating a bit with today’s complementary reading suggestions as the second book is specifically mentioned in the first, and that’s the only reason I ended up reading the second book. But I wouldn’t recommend them together if I didn’t feel like they were both worth your time. While the second book is fiction and is not actually a work of science per se, it did have the effect of causing my mind to make new connections and gain a better understanding on the dimensions of space.

The first book I’m going to suggest is The Elegant Universe: Superstrings, Hidden Dimensions, and the Quest for the Ultimate Theory by Brian Greene, a renowned theoretical physicist (and in my opinion, an excellent speaker – watch his TED Talk about the possibility of a multi-verse here). Within this wonderful piece of literature, Greene mentions the 1884 work of Edwin Abbott titled Flatland: A Romance of Many Dimensions, and that is the second recommendation within this post.

It’s been a couple years since I read The Elegant Universe, but I still think about this book often. Within it, Greene covers a number of different theories that have been studied in the past or are still being explored by physicists today. As the subtitle suggests, a large part of this book focuses on string theory, and this is the part I enjoyed the most. As many physicists do, Greene uses musical metaphors to help explain string theory to his readers.

“The winds of change, according to superstring theory, gust through an aeolian universe.”

page. 135, The Elegant Universe

I found Greene’s explanations to be easy to follow, and his writing was often humorous. It made reading about topics that are beyond my understanding enjoyable, and I came away from the book feeling like I had really absorbed a good deal of information and new ideas. He also includes a lot of pictures and diagrams that help to visualize the complexeties of the theories addressed. I think this book would make a good introduction for readers who aren’t very familiar with physics, and I definitely recommend picking it up if you’re looking to explore this area of science.

As part of his explanation into multi-dimensional universes, Greene draws inspiration from Flatland: A Romance of Many Dimensions. This is a satirical work of fiction written by Edwin A. Abbott. It’s original intention was to comment on the society of Victorian England, and this is obvious in the beginning of the book when Abbott, writing as a “Square”, is describing the many beings (two-dimensional shapes) that exist in Flatland.

Later on in the story, though, the Square has a dream about Lineland, a world of only one dimension. He introduces himself to the King of Lineland and tries to explain to him who he is and how his existance in Flatland differs from the King. The King, however, is incapable of contemplating a two-dimensional world, and the Square’s explanations are received with doubt and distrust. Later the Square is himself visited by a being of another realm, a Sphere from Spaceland. The Square then becomes the doubtful one as the Sphere tries to explain to him the existance of a 3-D world.

I’ll admit that it took me a little while to get into this story. The beginning is slow, and I didn’t particularly enjoy the commentary on Victorian society or the description of how the various shapes within Flatland are able to recognize each other by “feeling” or by using mathematics. But when the Square begins to explore worlds of varying dimensions, it became really interesting and helped me to visualize what it would be like to live in a universe with less dimensions than our own. It also helped me appreciate the possibility that there may exist other dimensions to our own universe, but my perspective as a 3-D being limits my abilities to perceive or understand a world of higher dimensions. And I think that’s become the appeal of Flatland and why Greene included it in his book.

Check out these books on Goodreads here and here. If you have any suggestions for non-fiction books about physics, or even fictional works that feature elements of physics, please leave a comment below.

Thanks for reading!

Review: ‘Hamnet’ by Maggie O’Farrell (*spoilers*)

This is a review of the audiobook, narratted by Ell Potter.

I’m still on the fence about audiobooks. It’s just difficult for me to feel like I’ve read a book when I never physically held it in my hands and read the words with my own eyes. And as someone who likes to highlight and annotate the books I read, I also find not being able to do this with an audiobook a bit frustrating, like an itch that needs to be scratched whenever I hear a particularly delicious passage or interesting phrase.

I suppose I could write down the passages I hear that I like. But I’m usually listening while doing other things, usually cleaning house. If I had the time to sit down and read every book I want to read, I probably wouldn’t make use of audiobooks. It’s just the convenience of being able to “read” while doing something else that makes me want to like them.

When it came to my most recent audiobook experience, though, I was pleasantly surprised at how much I enjoyed just listening to it. Hamnet by Maggie O’Farrell centers around the life and death of Hamnet, the only son of William Shakespeare and Anne Hathaway. Quite a somber story in a lot of ways, and yet I found it gripping and emotional. I truly felt the impact of Hamnet’s death on the other characters, particularly Agnes’s (Anne Hathaways’s) as his mother who felt that she should have predicted it given her gift of foresight. O’Farrell’s writing was evocative, and I had no trouble envisioning the scenes she laid out before me as a reader.

The wonderful writing was only enhanced by the narration by Ell Potter. I loved her voice and the way she read for each character. I would definitely love to listen to another audiobook read by her.

My favorite thing about this book, though, is the way it tied into the real-life story of William Shakespeare. There is a lot of speculation on whether or not the death of his son had a clear impact on Shakespeare’s writing. O’Farrell explored this notion by implying that Hamnet’s death was the inspiration for the tragedy of Hamlet. When the story came together at the end with Agnes finding some solace in seeing the persona of her son forever captured in the character of one of her husband’s plays, it was a satisfying moment.

I plan to read (or maybe listen to) more of Maggie O’Farrell’s books, and I’m planning to read Hamlet sometime this month as a follow up to Hamnet.

What are you reading (or listening to) this month? I’d love to hear your suggestions for audiobooks that you found to be particularly enjoyable. Leave a comment below!

July 2020 Wrap-up (7 books)

Oh, July. You are my least favorite month next to August. July in North Carolina is hot and humid, and it’s only redeeming quality is the chance to see neighbors shooting off illegal fireworks on the 4th.

This month really seemed to drag on, and I’m glad we’ve reached the end, even if it does mean we’ve now entered August, which somehow always seems to be more hot and humid than July. However, it was a good month for reading! I finished seven books in total, two of which were poetry collections. I finally read a Jane Austen novel and started the Outlander series, which I’ve been wanting to do for some time now.

Read on for a brief description and review of my July reads. The five novels I read all received 5/5 star ratings, while the two poetry collections I rated 3/5 stars.

Emma by Jane Austen

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Like many people, I read Austen’s Pride and Prejudice in one of my high school English classes. I don’t remember enjoying it very much. But I think that’s because I didn’t give it my full attention. I mostly skimmed it, only comprehending enough of the text to feel comfortable taking a test.

When the 2005 movie adaptation came out, though, I fell in love with the story. And I’ve had all of Austen’s novels on my TBR since then. 15 years later, I’ve finally gotten around to reading one. And I’m so glad I did.

I enjoyed Emma so much. Even having seen Clueless and having some idea of how the story was going to end, I was still swept up in the subtle romance that plays out between Emma and Mr. Knightly, who has become one of my favorite literary characters. Austen’s writing style and the large cast of characters wasn’t easy to comprehend at first, but I began to understand everything pretty well after the first few chapters.

I plan to reread Pride and Prejudice next before moving on to the rest of Austen’s novels. Here is the edition that I purchased from Books-a-Million if you’re interested in purchasing a copy yourself. It’s a beautiful paperback copy from Harper Perennial with uncut edges.

My Blue is Not Your Blue by Aspen Matis

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Aspen Matis if the author of the memoir Girl in the Wood, which details her adventure hiking on her own from Mexico to Canada when she was 19. Her decision to take off on her own followed her survival of a rape on her second night of college as a freshman. On her hike, she met another adventurer, Justin, and the two fell in love. (I have not read this book.)

Her second memoir, My Blue is not Your Blue, picks up where her first memoir left off, detailing her and Justin’s first three years of marraige, their estrangement from both of their parents, and Justin’s sudden disappearance after he leaves to attend the funeral of a mutual friend. While these events are unfolding, Aspen is living in New York, attending college, and working on her first memoir to be published.

I think Aspen writes beautifully and honestly, and I felt a real connection with her as someone who has always wanted to write but doesn’t really know where to begin. I read this book on my Kindle app.

Outlander by Diana Gabaldon

Rating: 5 out of 5.

I’ve seen the first three seasons of the TV adaptation of Outlander on Starz, and I finally decided to give the books a chance hoping that they would be even better. That was definitely the case with the first noveOutlander.

The story follows Claire, an English WWII combat nurse and wife to Frank Randall, a professor and historian. Claire and Frank, who have been separated by the war for six years, travel to Scotland for a second honeymoon to get to know each other again. During their trip, Claire visits an ancient stone monolith and finds herself transported 200 years back in time where she is immediately almost raped by her husband’s notorious ancestor, “Black Jack” Randall, a captain of dragoons in the English army. She is saved by a Scottish Highlander and the story unfolds from there.

Although I don’t always like Claire or understand her decisions, I really enjoyed the story. There are some who would classify Outlander as a romance novel as it does focus heavily on Claire’s developing relationship with Jamie, who becomes her husband out of necessity for her protection from Captain Randall. While there are plenty of steamy scenes between Claire and Jamie, I think the book is more appropriately labeled a work of historial fiction.

I enjoyed Claire’s philisophical musings on the differences between war in the 18th and 20th centuries and her questioning of whether or not she should try and stop the Jacobite Rising of 1745, which she knows will ultimately fail and possibly cost Jamie his life. The story is well told, and it’s clear that Gabaldon researched her topic thoroughly. I plan to continue the series with Dragonfly in Amber next.

The Girl with Seven Names: A North Korean Defector’s Story by Hyeonseo Lee

Rating: 5 out of 5.

This was an incredible memoir. I didn’t know a lot about North Korea before reading this book. The author begins her story with details of her childhood indoctrination to the superiority of North Korea and the Kim dynasty. She later describes how her world view began to crack when North Koreans suffered a devastating famine in the 1990’s. (Here’s an article on the subject that I found interesting.)

The last part of the book focuses on her accidental escape from North Korea and her harrowing experience living as an illegal immigrant in China. I highly recommend this book and also would suggest watching the author’s TED talk, which you can find here.)

The Red Queen by Philippa Gregory

Rating: 5 out of 5.

The Red Queen is about Lady Margaret Beaufort and her role in the War of the Roses between the York and Lanister families of England. She was the mother of Henry VII, the first English monarch of the Tudor dynasty who’s ascent to the throne marked the end of the civil wars

This is the second of Gregory’s novels that I have read. The first was The Last Tudor, which I read in June. I enjoyed both books very much and plan to read more of her works. The Red Queen was a 5/5 star read for me, and I will definitely be keeping it on my shelves.

I’m Rising: Determined. Confident. Powerful. by Michelle Stratford

Rating: 3 out of 5.

This is a collection of poetry, and the overarching theme is exactly what the title suggests. It’s a collection of poems about self-affirmation and self-love. While I did connect with some of the poems, I found this collection to be redundant, and it became boring after a while. It almost seemed like I was reading the same poem over and over again. I will likely unhaul this book the next time I visit a used book store. 3/5 stars.

i saw you as a flower: A Poetry Collection by Ellen Everett

Rating: 3 out of 5.

I read this collection of poems on my Kindle app in about 30 minutes. I did not particularly enjoy this collection. I heard the term “instapoetry” recently, and I think this collection would be a good example of that. It’s a lot of one-liners and simple, flowery phrases that don’t really say anything new or original. It’s only been a couple weeks since I read this collection, and I can’t recall anything specific that stood out to me. I believe I gave a 3/5 star rating on Goodreads only because I did appreciate the cohesiveness of the collection and it staying true to the flower theme.

Have you read any of these books? I’d love to hear your thoughts or any recommendations for similar books.

Thanks for reading. Have a great day!