This was a month of nonfiction and heaviness, broken up only by Kerri Maniscalco’s lovely sequel to Kingdom of the Wicked, Kingdom of the Cursed.

Homo Deus by Yuval Noah Harari

Rating: 4 out of 5.

I started this book skeptical and ended it skeptical, but in a much more intelligent way. It is undeniable how astute of a writer Harari is, and his ability to combine disparate disciplines to shape a holistic worldview that is stunning. This novel, like Sapiens before it, insists the reader take a broad, informed, new perspective of the universe and our place in it. While I may quibble with some of the assumptions and projections in this novel, it certainly makes you think in new ways, and as a result, find out more about yourself.

…full review coming soon.

The Korean War: A History by Bruce Cummings

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Living in Seoul, South Korea, I was overdue to read this novel. It is sympathetic, disturbing, and incredibly clear. Cummings did thorough research in order to present all the facts of this war which really isn’t that long ago, and it shows. He also, impressively, packed years of brutal war, geopolitical chaos, and socioeconomic strife into a relatively brief, readable volume. I am in awe of the dexterity such a thing required, and I highly recommend this book.

A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini

Rating: 3 out of 5.

My complicated opinion of this book (and brutal ones like it) goes all the way back to questioning the purpose of novels and literature in the first place. It is clear that Hosseini did extensive research for this novel, and wrote it with empathy and tact. But it is brutal. And so is the world, sometimes. I’m not going to dock it just for that. But there is a delicate line between brutality that tells a story and communicates something exquisite and heartbreaking about being human and brutality for brutality’s sake. For shock. The kind that overpowers the humanity of even the victim and makes them only a victim. The Taliban have recently re-taken Afghanistan, and I shudder to read something that marinates in such descriptive misery when I know just such stories are unfolding in real time, in this universe, to real people.

Kingdom of the Cursed Kerri Maniscalco

Rating: 2 out of 5.

Kingdom of the Cursed feels like a bridge. A flat bridge, slightly unimpressive, that soars above all the interesting stuff really going on below.

Overall, this is a solid, incredibly readable piece of NA Fantasy. It has delicious tropes and Many Hot People. It is well-written. It includes some lovely descriptions of dresses and palaces and food and snowy vistas. But it also lacks anything particularly stunning and original that would have me raving.

The Red Tent by Anita Diamant

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

This novel was lovely! It was engrossing, pleasant, well-researched, and richly expressed. Many people I know list The Red Tent among their favorite novels, and I can see why. In its central, driving idea, its execution, and its overall tone, I’m not sure this novel could have done much better. This is the experience for which we come to novels.

Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov

Rating: 1 out of 5.

I don’t know why I was surprised—I knew what I was getting into. But I’ve read Nabokov before, and it was tongue-in-check, well written, and, well, readable. The narrator of Lolita is such a detestable figure that the whole novel is covered in a film of revulsion, and even the parts that might be great prose in another novel is colored beyond repair by the actual content. There are better classics in the world. Shoot, there is better Nabokov. The shock factor may have been significant back in the day when Lolita was in its heyday, but I think we can be done with it now.

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