[Novel] Play It as It Lays (Joan Didion)

Play it as it Lays

Book

A brief account of a self-destructive actress’ life that despite its depth feels like a story I’ve already seen before.

Positive:
Negative:
Profound characters
Feels just like a hundred other stories with the same premise
Thought-provoking on life
Dull plot

[Novel] The Good Earth (Pearl S. Buck)

The Good Earth

Book

A fascinating historical tale about a Chinese farmer’s struggles with poverty and his eventual rise to power. Pearl S. Buck reads a lot like John Steinbeck, just in China.

Positive:
Negative:
Interesting, likable, profound characters
Relatively captivating plot
Solid, memorable story that covers the entire life of a great man
Enlightening on Chinese culture
Thought-provoking on human condition and life in general

[Novel] Southern Reach (Jeff VanderMeer)

Southern Reach

Book

I loved the mysterious sci-fi beginning of this trilogy, but later books ended up focusing more on the characters than the mysteries and science fiction, ultimately concluding without even providing most of the answers to what I actually cared about.

Positive:
Negative:
Fascinating sci-fi mystery
Doesn’t spend as much time on the mystery and science fiction as it should
Profound characters
Feels incomplete with lots of questions left hanging in the air

[Novel] The Ipcress File (Len Deighton)

The Ipcress File

Book

I’ve heard good things about this book, but they were either blown out of proportion, or I don’t get spy thrillers, because the plot  failed to engage me to the very end and I found none of the twists particularly memorable.

Positive:
Negative:
A cool, complicated conspiracy-mystery
The plot and characters are simply not that interesting

[Novel] Dog Soldiers (Robert Stone)

Dog Soldiers

Book

A very cool book about a bunch of people going in over their heads to smuggle heroin from Vietnam to USA that teachers you a lot about the sixties culture.

Positive:
Negative:
Interesting, likable, relatively profound characters
Lacks that final punch to truly become one of the greats
Cool villains
Captivating plot
Enlightening on sixties in USA and the rise of cynicism

[Novel] Chesapeake (James A. Michener)

Chesapeake

Chesapeake

An account of the history of the northwestern USA from native tribes and early colonizers to the American Revolution and Civil War, up to the modern era  — all written in pleasant and easy to digest prose. You can’t miss this novel if you’re into historical fiction.

Positive:
Negative:
Likable, interesting characters
The modern parts are not as interesting as the older history
Enlightening on the entire history and political situation of USA’s East Coast
Feels like a grand adventure through history

[Novel] The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym of Nantucket (Edgar Allan Poe)

The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym of Nantucket

Nantucket

The best part of this adventure novel is its horror elements, but unfortunately they are too few and far between to make this otherwise average adventure feel particularly special. It also ends abruptly as though Poe just got tired of writing it.

Positive:
Negative:
Beautiful, flowing old-school prose
The actual adventure, especially the latter half, feels a bit all over the place
Interesting characters
Never really delivers anything particularly memorable
Does a good job at expressing the horror of being stuck on the sea
Abrupt ending

[Novel] The Dispossessed (Ursula K. Le Guin)

The Dispossesed

Book

An interesting study of pros and cons of utopian socialist and capitalistic regimes that unfortunately comes off a bit dull at times due to bland characters.

Positive:
Negative:
Fascinating setting
Bland characters
Thought-provoking on various regimes humans could abide to
Can be hard to follow when it keeps jumping between two timelines

[Novel] The Alienist (Caleb Carr)

The Alienist

Book

A fascinating murder thriller in the late 18th century New York.

Positive:
Negative:
Flowing, easy-to-digest prose
The story is nothing necessarily groundbreaking
Fascinating historical setting
Cool noir-like atmosphere
Interesting, likable characters
Engrossing plot with lots of twists
Thought-provoking on psychopathy

[Novel] Sacred Hunger (Barry Unsworth)

Sacred Hunger

Book

An interesting historical novel centered on British slave trade in the early days of colonized America.

I ended up being more interested in the setting than the actual characters or the plot though… which was sometimes pretty hard to follow as it jumped between a million different points of view.

Positive:
Negative:
Interesting historical setting
So many characters and different POVs it’s easy to get lost
Enlightening on the early days of slave trade
The pacing can feel a bit slow at times

[Novel] Devil All The Time (Donald Ray Pollock)

The Devil All the Time

Book

A horror novel where the actual depiction of life in a rural part of the country fills you with more horror than any lousy boogeymen.

Positive:
Negative:
Interesting, likable, relatively profound characters
Doesn’t really offer anything to blow your mind or anything
Enthralling plot full of realistic horror
Enlightening on the rural societies in early-mid XX century in United States
Thought-provoking on how fucked up life could be

[Novel] The Sympathizer (Viet Thanh Nguyen)

The Sympathizer

Book

A novel about Vietnam War and American culture from the eyes of a Vietnamese communist spy.

Positive:
Negative:
Sarcastic, flowing prose
Profound, likable, interesting characters
Enthralling plot
Solid, profound story
Enlightening on Vietnam War
Enlightening on American and Vietnamese culture
Thought-provoking on human nature and how it’s incompatible with communism

[Novel] A Song for Arbonne (Guy Gavriel Kay)

A Song for Arbonne

Book

While not among the most original or ambitious, A Song for Arbonne is a realistic medieval fantasy novel inspired by actual history that delivers a believable no-bullshit setting and solid story.

Positive:
Negative:
Good, high-level prose, especially for a fantasy work
Doesn’t stand out from the rest of similar books that much
Believable, realistic, gritty setting
A lot of semi-important characters make the plot hard to follow sometimes
Characters fulfill their roles adequately
A bit slow on the pace
Solid medieval story

[Courses] The History of Ancient Egypt

History of Ancient Egypt

A comprehensive summary of Egyptian history from its prehistoric beginnings to the end of Cleopatra’s reign taught by a professor who’s a little bit obsessed with mummies (you’ll learn everything there’s to learn about them by the end of the course, lol).

I’ve listened to more fascinating presentations from great courses, but this lecture series is still one of the best resources to learn about Egypt I’ve found, especially if you’re a newbie to its history.

http://www.thegreatcourses.com/courses/history-of-ancient-egypt.html

[Novel] Tropic of Cancer (Henry Miller)

Tropic of Cancer

Book

While Tropic of Cancer may come off like ramblings of a sex crazed maniac at first, you soon realize it’s a fantastic satyric representation of the ridiculousness of modern life and human nature in general.

Positive:
Negative:
The text flows and is pleasant to read despite incorporating fairly heavy words
A bit hard to follow, especially when it enters its metaphysical passages
Wacky, interesting, likable, relatively profound characters
The story is basically just random episodes from the guy’s insane life
Full of genuinely funny black humor
Though-provoking on life in general