Goodbye, Vitamin: ARC Book Review

Hi friends,

At this point, you know how worthwhile my promises are so I won’t try and promise that I’ll be back more because it’s summer (though I hope I am). Regardless, here’s a book review for you all. Hopefully I’ll put up the past few months here in a bit!

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ARC cover – the final product may look differently

Ruth Young’s been dumped by her fiancé just in time for Christmas. She decides to spend the holiday with her parents, a first in several years. But things at home aren’t quite how she left it. Her father, esteemed history professor Howard Young, is grappling with the early stages of Alzheimer’s.  Her mother, whose neurotic enough on her own, only complicates issues further. Newly unattached, Ruth decides to move back in, just for the year, to help her dad and mom through the illness. Told in a series of diary/letter entries, Goodbye, Vitamin is a touching (and surprisingly comical) look at lives caught in the middle of a disastrous diagnosis.

Being that this is Khong’s debut novel (she’s written an encyclopedic cookbook on eggs), Goodbye, Vitamin is a bit messy. While the epistolary format is nice, it isn’t ever entirely sure what direction it wants to go in. First, it feels as though Ruth is writing to herself, a way to remember all that is happening before it’s gone. But as the novel progresses, she jarringly switches perspectives and seems to be conducting letters to her father. In the end, she switches back again to a more diary perspective. As a result, it was a bit hard to follow. Her characters, particularly in their infancy, feel a bit unsecured as well. As the novel progresses, they gain their footing, but by that point, it’s almost too little, too late. Ruth’s voice grew on me as well, but I could never shake the feeling that she was written too young. Ruth is a thirty year old, but, save for a few instances of cussing, feels like a schoolgirl. While Alzheimer’s, like any terminal diagnosis, is life-altering, it feels like Ruth’s reality has been too significantly altered, for she seems to have a hard time understanding much of life.

Yet Khong’s novel is still a treat. Her ability to weave humor effortlessly into a plot not made for it, without it coming off as overpowering, offensive, or unfunny, is a talent not overlooked by this reader. Her family portrait is beautiful too. The ways in which the Young clan struggle, and beautifully succeed, was an absolute delight to read. I was also surprised at the nuggets of brilliance laid throughout. Ruth, when she chooses to be, is wise narrator. Having just been through a breakup myself, my heart broke alongside hers, and, as she healed, was given permission to soar. The novel is currently slated for a 208 page release, making it the perfect length for a binge read. I, myself, read it in a glorious 4 hour sitting. Every time I tried to pull away, the early morning hours ticking by, my eyes wouldn’t let me leave. Whatever a novel’s faults might be, the one, overarching redeeming quality is if I actually find it addicting. In the scope of the novel, Khong’s shortfalls are dwarfed. Goodbye, Vitamin is a testament to the power of family, and a poignant tribute to the victims of Alzheimer’s (3 Stars).

Goodbye, Vitamin is currently slated for a July 11, 2017 release (subject to change) and can be added on Goodreads here and preordered on Barnes and Nobel here.

What new releases are you looking forward to? Drop a comment below!


You can follow Ben on Twitter, Tumblr, and read along with him on Goodreads.

* ARC provided by publisher through a Goodreads giveaway. This did not affect my review* 

 

Reconciling Skeletons

Hi Friends,

When I walked into my 12:50 abnormal psychology class, I didn’t expect to see a ghost. That’s the thing about being haunted: you never see it coming. On November 9th, 2009, my maternal grandfather finally died. He had been comatose for a while, after my mother found him unresponsive at his home. By the time we got his brain scans back, he had already been long gone – his lungs just preventing the flesh from decaying. But even in death, he was still finding ways to leave a tornado-like path of destruction through our lives.

He was, to be frank, a pathetic drunk. More correctly, though, he was a suffering alcoholic.

It wasn’t a secret growing up, though I never fully understood what it meant until after he had gone. I doubt there are many kids that don’t directly see the drinking who do understand it. I knew that Grandpa frequently went away to places called rehab; I knew he was rarely around, and when he was, he wasn’t around for long. It wasn’t until I was an adult that I learned about the affair, the absenteeism as a father, and the drunk driving.

He wasn’t alone in the alcohol problems department. Several cousins, my father, uncles, and a host of others in my family all wrestled (or wrestle) with alcoholism. Cognitively, I know it’s possible to drink for fun – my sister and mom do, but every time I consider taking a sip, I remember feeling like a stranger at my grandfather’s funeral (a funeral which, by the way, my mother and aunt were both banned from due to my grandfather’s mistress-turned-wives deep-seeded hatred. My cousin and myself were the only representatives from our side that were there.), and, worse, hearing people on the pulpit bemoan his loss. Two boys from Seattle (1,500 miles away), grand-nephews or something, were devastated. He was such an important figure in their lives. The mom could not stop crying. I was thirty minutes away, yet had only a handful of memories. In that pew the seeds for the decision to never drink were planted.

In my psychology class today, we were asked to share our experiences with drugs and alcohol. Each time I’m asked, there’s a moment of hesitation. How do I represent myself as not being on a high horse, not being a prude, but also not detailing my long history, the things I’ve shared with you, and the things I haven’t? It’s a question I get often, and will get even more often after I’m 21. And I still don’t have an answer.

Each time I think of grandpa, holed up in heaven somewhere, asking for a beer. How do you reconcile with someone who isn’t here to say sorry, to someone who maybe never even wanted to? How do you answer these questions?

I don’t share this to shame alcoholics. I share it for the kids stuck at a high school party who can’t take a drink. I share it for the college students in classes on addiction, who could almost teach the course with their first hand experiences. I share it for the middle aged woman at her daughter’s wedding who turns down the glass of champagne.

For the people who still don’t know how to answer the question (and the few who do): I’m sorry you’re walking this road. I know it’s a long one. But it is not one you walk alone. When your table mates stare you down after detailing their drunken adventures, and hearing that you’ve never drank, know that I’m with you in spirit. I’m with you to stare back.


Note: Also, I owe you all an apology. Remember when I said I’d post on Tuesday, like four weeks ago? Well… whoops.   

I was in and out of doctor’s offices, ER’s, and Urgent Care facilities for most of April, and trying to catch up on school and work when I wasn’t in waiting rooms. Regardless, I’m sorry for my absence (and I’m also cognizant of the fact that I owe you all lots of book reviews). Hopefully I’ll be able to get caught up on this blog now that I’m feeling better! 

Sunday

I’m thinking today about a morning spent after a weekend of imaginable grief. I’m thinking about the friends huddled together in a house, staring blankly at walls wondering how it all went so wrong, how temporary and unfair and hard life can be after one ends. I’m thinking about the trauma and the horror it is to watch someone you love die, and, worse, how you just stood by watching, letting it happen for fear of losing your own life. I’m thinking about the mother who lost her child, who watched him slip away, the same child she nursed and laughed with and was frustrated by.

And I’m thinking about getting up three days into your grief, the sadness replaced by a whole-body numbness, and getting dressed, and preparing spices, and grabbing your friend and walking down to the graveyard, her, leaning on you, and you, leaning her, still trying to comprehend and accept and move on. And I’m thinking about getting there, finding nothing and being told that my friend, my son, my brother, is not there but lives again. That fear and that hope and that surreal heart-stopping unbelievable statement. And I picture you running back to tell your friends, to wonder and laugh and cry again with them. To have sense talked back into you, to know it was all some cruel joke. And then how it felt to see him, to touch his scars and to feel him. To believe in that unshakable, unfaltering, tangible way you do when you see it with your own two eyes, and yet to still not fully understand it, to question even that which your hands have felt and your eyes have seen. And that moment: to know him again and to get a second chance to say whatever it was that you didn’t get a chance to before he was killed, to laugh, to cry, to spit in the face of death and claim your ultimate victory, your last laugh, your final word.

And then I think about the leaving again, the change in plan, in understanding. How you thought this meant you would get more time together, more chances to laugh and to cry, eternity stretching out in front of you like an endless summer day. And watching him ascend back into the heavens, back away from you, and feeling that pit settle back inside of you of facing every single day with the loss of him, this real, human friend. And those questions you have, and the doubt.

But most importantly, the hope. The hope of going home, of belonging, of wrapping him up in your arms and hugging so tight you can feel his heartbeat next to yours. And doing it again and again and again for forever, for eternity, for a lifetime of lifetimes.

This is what the Easter season means to me. The hope beyond all hope. The ugly tears and the bubbling laughter. The victorious question – “where is it? Where, O Death, is your sting?” The promises and the second chances and, above all else, the unshakeable, undeniable, unfettering knowledge that I don’t deserve any of it. That I was the denier, the blood-coin exchanger, the stoner, the whipper, the nails and the thorny crown. Yet still, this hope is mine. And on this Easter Sunday, on a bus ride from Portland to Seattle, I take refuge in that hope. I take joy. And I feel the closest to truly thankful that I ever do.
Happy Easter, my dear friends. May you take this hope in both hands, dirty as they are, and rejoice.

Book Requests – Norway/Scandinavian

Hi friends!

I’m sorry I haven’t updated in a couple weeks! I was on spring break and then trying to reenter into a new quarter (and am somehow already drowning). Regardless, new reviews will be coming at you Tuesday!

That said, I am desperately seeking books that are either:

a) Non-fiction books about Norway/Sweeden/Finland/Iceland/etc.

b) Fiction books written by Norwegian authors in ENGLISH

c) Fiction books written by Norwegian authors in NORWEGIAN

d) Middle-grade/beginning chapter books in NORWEGIAN

If you know of any, please comment below, message me, tweet me, or recommend to me on Goodreads!

I will seriously love you forever.

 

Thanks!! Like I said, I will have regular content every Tuesday again starting April 4th!

Love to you all,

Ben

Jeg Er Norsk

Hei! 

Let me briefly explain my friend group. There’s the native Alaskan, whose mom is from Mexico and whose paternal grandfather was a tribal chief. There’s the Hawaiians, one of which attended a cultural charter school and was recently featured in a documentary on the effects relearning native Hawaiian culture has on students. And there’s the friend who speaks fluent Spanish to her mother when she’s on the phone.

Then there’s me, not lacking in cultural heritage, but lacking any link to it. My great grandmother was full Norwegian, and raised by her grandparents who had traveled through Ellis Island in search of a better life in America. She spoke fluentely, and learned English, as many immigrant children do, as a means of survival. It is partially in honor of her, who tried desperately to get her children to learn norsk, and partially to have more respect for my own roots and life, that I decided, on the eve of my twentieth birthday, to learn Norwegian and more about my  Nordic heritage. I want to explore Norwegian culture, but not forget about the Danes and the Swedes (even though we’re supposed to hate them).

Who am I? Where do I come from? What is my purpose? All of these questions have haunted me, and now that I’m finally sitting down to pursue them, I’ve felt a joy and a passion I’ve never felt before.

Over the next few years, I’ll be blogging occasionally about my experience hunting down my Norwegian heritage. You can expect to see more Nordic books in my book reviews, hear about my struggles trying to pin down indefinite and definite nouns (which is somehow harder than I thought it would be), and (hopefully in a couple years) see some pictures from my Nordic vacation.

I’m excited to be going down this path, and I hope you’re looking forward to walking with me.

 

Books to Read In Pairs vol. 1

Hello Friends!

A new pair of shoes, lovers, and your kidneys (usually) all have something in common: they come in pairs. Sometimes, being alone is just what the doctor ordered, but other times we want to be with that special someone. Reading is no different! I thought it’d be fun to discuss some books to read together, or to read one right after the other. I got this idea after watching some videos on Youtube. Happy reading!

My sister Bri and I making a good pair on a hike

Awakening A Thousand Miles From Nowhere

Book One: The Awakening by Kate Chopin (Goodreads)

Book Two: A Thousand Miles from Nowhere by John Gregory Brown (Goodreads)

Get your classic and contemporary fix on, by reading these two books one right after the other (starting with The Awakening).  John Gregory Brown models his 2016 novel after the classic feminist novel of 1899 (and frequently references it throughout). The Awakening is an excellent book and one of my all time favorites. But your appreciation for the struggles it details will be deepened by the modern application of them in A Thousand Miles From Nowhere. 

* For another book-ception combination, try 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea and All The Light We Cannot See* 

The Heart and Soul of Protests

Book One: Your Heart is a Muscle the Size of a Fist by Sunil Yapa (Goodreads)

Book Two: When We Rise by Cleve Jones (Goodreads)

In today’s political climate, protests are a normal part of everyday life. To best understand them, why not take pick up a non-fiction and fiction perspective on protesting. In Yapa’s fast paced debut, you’ll walk alongside a host of different fictionalized characters set against the very real World Trade Organization protests. You’ll meet cops, activists, and businessmen caught in the middle. Add Jones’ memoir, and you’ll get a feel for his life in the LGBT+ rights movement. Both take place on the West Coast, and each has a distinctive attitude towards protesting. I think it’d be fun to read the two together!

November 22, 1963

Book One: 11/22/63 by Stephen King (Goodreads)

Book Two: The Kennedy Detail by Gerald Blaine (Goodreads)

Another pairing of non-fiction and fiction books, these are just two of a host of books about John F. Kennedy. In Stephen King’s novel, Jake Epping, a high school English teacher is tasked with going back in time to save President John F. Kennedy’s life. There’s just one problem: he can only go back in time on one specific date, years before the assassination takes place. In Blaine’s memoir, he paints a wonderful picture of who the President was, and the horrendous manner in which he died. Together, you’d get quite the picture of one of the nation’s most iconic presidents.

Complicated Mothers

Book One: Harmless Like You by Rowan Hisayo Buchanan (Goodreads)

Book Two: Happy Family by Tracy Barone (Goodreads)

These two are both fiction books that feature mothers abandoning their young children. In both cases, this abandonment plants deep seeds that affect their adult relationships. Both children are in sinking marriages and have complications with their own children (or lackthereof). I read these two separately, but close together, and I really feel the pair would work well together.

I hope you enjoy this list! Let me know if you read any of these combinations, or tell me what the best books to read in pairs are. Sometime in the distant future I’ll post another list.
Happy reading! 🌸

You can follow Ben on Twitter, Tumblr, and read along with him on Goodreads.

February Reading Wrap Up

Hi Friends!

Exciting news! I’m getting my act together and there will hopefully be posts every week from now on! This week is my reading wrap up for February (in case you couldn’t tell) and next week I’ll be sharing some ideas for books to read in pairs! Anyway, here’s this wrap up! Sorry it’s so short – bad reading month!

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View on the way to Eagle Harbor, a bookstore on Bainbridge Island, Washington 

To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee

If your reaction to this heading is “Ben, are you telling me this was your first time ever reading TKaM and you didn’t actually read it in my seventh grade LAS class?” then Hi, Mrs. Lloyd – I’m sorry for disappointing you. I also didn’t read Lord of the Flies (but I’ve read it now), but I did read Animal Farm so I think it balances out. Anyway, for the rest of you, I take it you either know what Mockingbird is about, or you’re basing your decision to read it/not read it, solely based on its legacy (which is why I did) so I just skipped the little blurb I normally put.

I might lose some readers over this, but I didn’t love this. My biggest issue with To Kill a Mockingbird was the characters. I thought the characters were shallow and undeveloped. Scout and Jem are very unlike children in their wisdom and predictability. Atticus and other town members are boring to accompany around, being entirely good, or entirely bad, with little character development or complexity. To read my full review click here. (3.5 Stars

When We Rise: My Life in the Movement by Cleve Jones

When We Rise is a deeply relevant, if somewhat boring, look into the history of Cleve Jones’ historic life of LGBT+ rights and protests. Jones covers his own journey into historic and widespread activism, including his friendship and apprenticeship under Harvey Milk. He details his long fight for equality, beginning on the streets of San Francisco and moving into D.C.

At a time of Milo Yiannopoulos, and other, predominately white, gay males, forgetting their history of activism and struggle, and a time when a large portion of Americans regard marches and protests as lazy entitlement, it is both refreshing and humbling to see the benefits of the activist culture. I would strongly recommend this to anyone irritated at Womxn Marches or the #BlackLivesMatter movement. Change is a slow and bitter uphill battle, and protests are sometimes the only way to wake others up. When We Rise isn’t a great book, but it is a necessary one.

*PS: If you’re looking to save space on your TBR pile, but are still interested in this story, check out When We Rise, a new miniseries airing Monday nights on ABC*

A Thousand Miles from Nowhere by John Gregory Brown

Henry Garrett speeds away from his home as Hurricane Katrina tears into the Louisianian coast, destroying everything in her path. But destruction is familiar to Henry. He has lost his marriage, his inheritance, his job, his sanity. So when he pulls up to a rundown motel in Virginia, hoping for a brief reprieve of chaos, it’s no surprise he finds himself in the middle of a horrific and unexplainable tragedy. What is surprising, however, is his journey to discover what a man possesses when everything he has has been lost.

Brown’s novel triumphs. His prose is haunting and lyrical, without ever sounding pretentious, and his style echos Henry’s transformation. In the beginning, Brown paints in confusing tones and jarring perspective shifts. But as Henry gains clarity, Brown does too. For anyone who has ever been loved by art, made mistakes, or reached rock bottom, John Gregory Brown’s disastrous novel will be a trusted and loved companion. (Full Review) (3.5 Stars)

The Backstagers #1 by James Tynion IV and Rian Sygh

Jory moves to an all boys, private school “St. Genesius” and struggles to fit in. After some encouragement from his mom, he joins the drama club. The two diva brothers who run the drama department send him on an assignment to travel backstage in search of a prop.  What Jory finds instead amazes him. A whole world exists beyond the backstage door, full of wonderful new friends and terrifying creatures. Could backstage be the place Jory finally belongs?

It isn’t my style to pick something up simply because it features LGBT characters, but when I stumbled on a list compiled by Book Riot, I was too intrigued not to click it. And when I found a graphic novel that surrounded technical theater, I could not not pick it up. I was a stage manager in high school, and worked professionally in the community circuit my freshman year of college. I had high hopes going in to this series, and the first instillation blew me away. The characters are so interesting and the story is compelling. The art is beautiful (even in my Kindle black and white) and I so look forward to what’s next!! I’ll do a full series review when I finish, so be on the look out for that! (4 Stars)

School Reading: Tally’s Corner by Elliott Liebow (3 Stars), All Our Kin by Carol Stack (4 Stars)

In March, I’m hoping to finish reading The Futures, and finish listening to Sing For Your Life and The Underground Railroad. I’d also like to start Britt-Marie Was Here and hopefully get a few more under my belt. Anything I should add to my TBR? Leave a comment below!

You can follow Ben on Twitter, Tumblr, and read along with him on Goodreads.