The Sympathizer by Viet Thanh Nguyen

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I loved this novel’s writing, but I have to admit that the story lagged for me. I think it’s because I know very little about the Vietnam War. I wish I had given myself a history refresher before diving into this book. However, I’m still compelled to research after the fact. And Nguyen’s comparisons and metaphors will stick with me – some really incredible writing.

Gwenamon says: Powerful writing, but a bit of an endeavor

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Swing Time by Zadie Smith

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Swing Time is about the childhood friendship of two girls and how that friendship continues to affect their adult lives even after severing ties as young teenagers. I love how Smith can string a sentence together that sounds amazing, and evokes vibrant characters and scenes. Her dialogue is also effortless to read and very convincing. But this novel is definitely not her finest. As hard as I tried, I couldn’t see its point. It lacks momentum and purpose. And the end just fizzles, leaving some grand revelation buried for only the eager to try to devise.

Gwenamon says: Meh

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All Quiet on the Western Front by Erich Maria Remarque

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Many critics label this novel as “The Greatest War Novel of All Time”. I can see why. It’s Paul Bäumer’s testament of losing his childhood innocence alongside his classmates in the German trenches of WWI. Remarque paints powerful, yet seemingly simple images and draws you believably into Bäumer’s tragic world. I found this account of the Great War’s atrocities vivid, moving, and unforgettable.

Gwenamon says: Yes!

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The Death of the Heart by Elizabeth Bowen

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Bowen writes of orphaned Portia who goes to live in London with her stepbrother and his wife. Both are wealthy and emotionally unavailable. Portia sets her sights on Eddie, a rough-around-the-edges player who manages to dazzle her because of her youth. I liked Bowen’s talented, witty writing. And how she evolves Portia as a character. But I was reminded that I don’t like how many classics, including this one, rely on unnatural, inflated dialogue to reveal so much of the story.

Gwenamon says: Good

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Days Without End by Sebastian Barry

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A victim of Ireland’s Great Famine, 17-year-old Thomas McNulty joins the U.S. Army with his friend, John Cole. They fight the Sioux and the Yurok on the frontier before the Civil War. This book is about the horrors and hardship of war. It also is about family, love, and being true to oneself. At first, I found it hard to listen to Thomas’ voice, but once I figured out its rhythm, I was hooked. This novel is beautifully written. I admire the revelations and word pictures.

Gwenamon says: Beautiful

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Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders

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I loved this book, from my initial confusion about who was narrating, to figuring it out, and to the incredible language and storytelling. “Lincoln in the Bardo” is, on the surface, about the death of Lincoln’s son during the Civil War. But overall, this book is about narration.

Gwenamon says: A masterpiece!

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All the Ugly and Wonderful Things by Bryn Greenwood

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This novel is about the complicated relationship between Wavy (a fairy-like little girl, then a teenager), and Kellen (a gentle giant and ex-con) who is one of her meth-dealing father’s helpers. I think the book does an excellent job of making you take a position on the relationship. What’s completely unbelievable is how Wavy’s mom, a meth addict, is conveniently out of commission in her room for most of the story. And how Sandy, also an addict, remains so healthy and beautiful.

Gwenamon says: Provocative

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