Happy Friday, everyone!
We’ve made it to June! Which means I have two weeks off for Pentecost break starting tomorrow 🤗 I mean, I will probably need that break to catch up on all the stuff I need to do for work, but still… When given the choice between a busy break and no break at all, I think I’ll happily take the busy break!
Anyway, to put it briefly, my May was horrible. Thanks to the even greater horribleness that was the entire year of 2019, it doesn’t quite rank as one of the worst months of my life, but it comes close enough that I really don’t feel like dwelling on it too much. Although I suppose the month did include a few good things that deserve a mention, namely:
#1 Stranger Things 4, Part 1 came out! Although I spent most of this week in a zombie-like state because I binge-watched all seven episodes very late at night on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday, I have no regrets whatsoever 😇 I loved being back with these characters, coming up with theories, and, since this is me we’re talking about, analyzing the Russian! Of course I was in seventh heaven about all that extra language content!
#2 I discovered that a family of boars lives in the forest behind my apartment. And I’ve fallen in love with how cute they are! 🥰 Seriously, now that I know they exist, it takes a whole lot of self-restraint to not neglect everything else I am supposed to be doing and just go stay in the woods all day…
#3 COVID-restrictions have been reduced to a bare minimum, and Bavaria is back to being… well, Bavaria. The town I live in is currently caught up in full-on Kerwa craziness – for non-Germans, think “big fair with lots of rides, food, bands, and beer” or “Oktoberfest but without the tourists” – and, to celebrate the approaching break, several of us younger teachers decided to go together. After almost three years of no big celebrations whatsoever, the whole experience felt kind of surreal, but I can’t deny that it was nice to have a bit of a break in routine and also get to know my colleagues better outside of work! (Also, they had these chocolate-glazed strawberry skewer things that I’m absolutely crazy about but that you can only ever get at fairgrounds and Christmas markets… 🤤🍓😍)
#4 I’m going to Poland today! I guess that’s technically a June thing and not a May thing, but since my mom very spontaneously announced that we were going on this trip back in May, I have decided it counts. Besides, I am a) super excited because I’ve never been to Poland before and b) not sure what my Wi-Fi-situation is going to look like, so if I suddenly go radio silent over the weekend, at least you now have an explanation as to why.
But enough with the life stuff! Although I had abysmally little reading time in May, I did manage to squeeze in four books. So here are my thoughts on them!
Cloud Cuckoo Land by Anthony Doerr (3/5 Stars)
Before now, I’ve always adored every single Anthony Doerr novel I crossed paths with. All the Light We Cannot See in particular is one of my all-time favorite books, so of course, I was beyond excited to get to Cloud Cuckoo Land! The only reason I didn’t read it sooner was that I was counting on my family knowing this and giving me a copy for my birthday or Christmas, but to my severe disappointment, they ended up forcing book-buying-banned me to rely on Scribd instead…
In retrospect, though, I’m kind of relieved I don’t own a copy 😅 While Cloud Cuckoo Land was interesting enough, I just didn’t love it as much as I’d been expecting to and don’t see myself ever rereading it.
A multi-perspective novel following five different protagonists across three different time periods, Cloud Cuckoo Land is interconnected through a lost Ancient Greek tale about a man called Aethon, who dreams of becoming a bird and discovering a magical land in the clouds. Over 500 years in the past, we follow Anna, an orphan living in 15th-century Constantinople just before the collapse of the Byzantine Empire, and Omeir, a farmer’s boy who is shunned for his deformed face and forced to march on Anna’s city with the Ottoman army. In the present, we follow Zeno, an old man staging a children’s play at his local library, and Seymour, a troubled teenager who is about to enter the building with a gun and several bombs. And, in the future, we follow Konstance, a girl on an interstellar spaceship en route to an exoplanet called Beta Oph2.
And, in the beginning, I was sold! Anthony Doerr’s slow-moving, lyrical writing style is something I’ve always vibed with – especially since he uses it in a way that puts a lot of focus on his protagonists’ emotions – and Cloud Cuckoo Land immediately delivered on that front. I was mesmerized by the characters, by the weird situations they found themselves in, and by the strange manuscript that somehow seemed to play a role in all of their lives.
But then, as the book went on, I found myself growing increasingly bored with some of the timelines. Since there were so many characters, I felt like Anthony Doerr had kept each of their story strands relatively simplistic, and gosh, I just wasn’t particularly interested in reading about Omeir and Anna! All Omeir did was constantly walk around with his oxen, and Anna’s life wasn’t exactly the epitome of excitement, either… And, considering the fact that Konstance lived on a spaceship, it sure took a ton of time for her storyline to pick up! I just found myself more and more impatient to get back to Zeno and Seymour – Whom I loved!! 🥰 – and didn’t see why I had to read so many pages about Omeir’s oxen or Beta Oph2 in between all of that.
(Yes, I realize I am admitting to the fact that my favorite character in this book was a gunman planning a mass shooting… I don’t even know what that says about me 🙈 Even after Uvalde happened, shocking me to the core midway through reading this, I just couldn’t stop loving Seymour! Can I just blame Anthony Doerr for writing him so damn relatably?? 😫)
Overall, I did really like how introspective Cloud Cuckoo Land was and how all the storylines eventually came together. I would gladly have read hundreds more pages about Seymour and Zeno. But the rest of this book, in my opinion, simply dragged on and on unnecessarily. If you’re going to have that many characters, they’d better get more than a simple one-strand plotline! Otherwise, I’m just not going to care all that much…
First They Killed My Father: A Daughter of Cambodia Remembers by Loung Ung (5/5 Stars)
I randomly stumbled across this memoir while preparing lessons for my 11th-grade English class. We’ve been spending the past few weeks covering dystopian fiction, and since I wanted my students to compare the futuristic scenarios we’ve been reading about to past and current events in our own world, I decided it probably wouldn’t be the worst idea to not be completely unknowledgeable about this topic myself. As a result, I kind of fell into a rabbit hole researching the history of totalitarianism across the globe… Which, among other things, led me to Cambodia, the Khmer Rouge regime, and this book.
In First They Killed My Father, Loung Ung recounts the story of her childhood and how she survived what is now known to be one of the biggest genocides in modern history. Between 1975 and 1979, the Khmer Rouge wiped out an estimated 25-30% of Cambodia’s population – and changed five-year-old Loung Ung’s life forever. Forced to flee from their hometown Phnom Penh by the invading army, Luong’s family eventually ended up in labor camps, where they were separated, starved, killed, or, like Luong, forced to train as child soldiers.
A harrowing narrative told from the perspective of a child, First They Killed My Father is a story of unimaginable war crimes. Of a little girl’s refusal to give up. Of a family’s unfaltering love for one another, even in the face of extreme brutality. Of terror, desperation, courage, and hope.
It is beautifully written and unflinchingly honest. Informative, but also character-driven. I can only highly recommend you go read it!
The Girl Behind the Door by John Brooks (2/5 Stars)
I specifically picked this book up because I’d heard it was a memoir of a father trying to come to terms with his daughter’s suicide and thought it might be a heart-wrenching reminder of the effect a death like that could have on a person’s family. (Don’t even ask 😅)
However, instead of the sob-inducing pain I was bracing myself for, this book left me a) quietly simmering in anger and b) eternally grateful to my parents for the way they raised me and my siblings. Everything about how The Girl Behind the Door is written just put a really bad taste in my mouth, and if it hadn’t been for the fact that the story itself is quite engaging and that I genuinely believe John Brooks is shedding light on a topic that deserves attention, I would have rated this even lower.
After beginning with the morning John wakes to find his daughter Casey’s suicide note, the memoir flashes backwards to tell the story of Casey’s childhood: How the Brooks adopted her from Poland as a baby, how she was always a troubled child growing up, and how she eventually got to the point that she wanted to take her own life. The second part of the memoir then focuses on John’s quest for answers – and his discovery that Casey probably suffered from attachment disorder, an affliction that is common among children who were abandoned and neglected as infants.
To be frank, what bothered me a ton about this book was the portrayal of Casey. John Brooks spends the entire book describing how badly behaved she was, how she would talk back to her parents, how he should have seen that something was wrong with her and acted sooner. I didn’t get the impression that I was reading about a father who deeply loved his child at all – instead of depicting Casey as a nuanced, complex person who brought her parents both joy and frustration, it was almost all frustration. Which, considering this book was written in honor of Casey’s memory, struck me as strange to say the least! Casey was reduced to a problem that her father had, unfortunately, been unable to solve in time.
Even more annoying, though, was the enlightened way in which John Brooks preached the “revelations” he had about parenting a child with attachment disorder. Like, that it could be damaging to shout at, spank, or ground such a child if they misbehaved because that misbehavior probably had a very good reason that it would instead be helpful to talk about. Or that you should be truthful to your child about their past. Or that you shouldn’t continuously search their room because that could be seen as an invasion of privacy and make them feel unsafe. Seriously, the book was full of quotes like these:
“Instead of parking her stroller in front of a blaring TV – something she’d probably never seen before – we should have taken her into bed with us, held her and soothed her.”
“As a toddler, we tried to teach Casey manners, patience, and independence. When she acted out inappropriately and threw temper tantrums, we scolded and punished her. But we failed to see what was at the root of her outbursts, and our reactions only made matters worse. Rather than sending her off by herself, we should have stayed with her, helped her calm down and self-soothe.”
“So we read books such as Raising Your Spirited Child, tried reward systems and used TV, the computer, and playdates as leverage for good behavior. […] We didn’t realize that the provocation and aggression we saw in her may have been caused by her anxiety about further rejection, something she may not have understood herself.”
WOW, YOU DON’T SAY, JOHN!!! I’m so glad you were able to share these valuable insights with us because, of course, you can’t use parenting methods like these with children who may have had a traumatizing past. Though you should, most definitely, use them on “normal” children. After all, there’s nothing like a bit of yelling, emotional neglect, and corporal punishment to ensure that your child grows up to be a well-rounded, independent person… 🙄
So yeah – overall, I was not a fan. I was invested in Casey’s story and genuinely felt for her, but her father’s self-righteous way of blaming his daughter’s death solely on the neglect she had faced pre-adoption and on how he and his wife had been ill-equipped to deal with that seriously rubbed me the wrong way. I mean, sure, the guy is grieving, so maybe I should cut him some slack. But somehow, I’m just not entirely convinced of John Brooks’ parenting expertise…
Nick and Charlie (Solitaire #1.5) by Alice Oseman (3/5 Stars)
Due to the extreme Nick-and-Charlie hangover that watching Heartstopper over and over again had put me in, I decided it was high time I read this! However, while I did enjoy Nick and Charlie, it unfortunately didn’t live up to the absolute amazingness of the graphic novels for me.
The novella takes place about two years after the events of the Heartstopper, Volume 1 – and outwardly, things couldn’t be better. Charlie and Nick are still going strong, Charlie has started to come to terms with some of his inner demons, and Nick is excited to be starting university soon. Nonetheless, there’s part of Charlie that can’t help but feel like Nick is leaving him behind. While his boyfriend is venturing out into the adult world, Charlie still has one whole year of school left. And everybody always says that long distance relationships never work out…
Overall, I thought Nick and Charlie was cute and loved getting more of these characters! However, the story was also a tad too simplistic for my tastes. Maybe it’s just me – after all, this is a problem I have with most novellas 😅 – but I really wish the plot had been more complex! All of it depended on a rather banal case of miscommunication that could easily have been resolved if the characters had just talked to one another…. And judging by what we learn about Charlie and Nick‘s relationship from Heartstopper, I just found it kind of unbelievable that they wouldn’t have done so much sooner.
So yeah – if you’re simply here for more Nick and Charlie fluff, I guess this book delivers! But if you want a bit more depth, you’re probably better off sticking to the webtoon/graphic novels and the Netflix adaptation.
Considering I reduced my blog-hopping to a bare minimum this past month, this section has turned out surprisingly full. Which I suppose is a tribute to our community’s incredible creativity and writing skills! Can I just steal some of you guys’ brains, please?! 🙃 Anyway, here are some of my May favorites from around the blogosphere:
- Rachel @ A Bookworm’s Paradise gave us a chaotic jumble of excited Heartstopper thoughts – and they were absolute perfection!! 🤩 Her enthusiasm immediately made me want to watch the series all over again, even though the number of times I’d seen the episodes was already beyond ridiculous…
- Line @ First Line Reader basically spent the entire month discussing books I love, which means she’s getting annoyingly many pingbacks again today 😁 Even if you didn’t fully appreciate The Golden Fool, Line, your apology cupcakes and that lengthy The Girl in the Tower discussion more than made up for it!!
- Carl @ The Pine-Scented Chronicles wrote a wonderfully long review of Hanya Yanagihara’s To Paradise. And even though we don’t agree on much, I loved hearing his thoughts on it! 😊
- Anoushka @ Dipped in Ink and Ash @ Ink Words and Ash created Pretty Deadly Words, a meme for writers to share thoughts on their writing processes! 📚 All contributions I’ve seen so far are super interesting, so I am very excited to see what else the two of them have in store for us!
- Moi @ Bookish Blunders blessed us with an ingenious review of Sarah J. Maas’ A Court of Thorns and Roses – and almost made me choke to death due to a combination of contemptuous snorting and laughter 🤣 Please, please, please, can you read the rest of the books and review them, too, Moi?
- Since May was Eurovision month, I was expecting to be graced with interesting musical content. 🎶 But the blogosphere went all out this year and gave us a bunch of cool book-related Eurovision content, too!!! Posts that definitely deserve a mention here are Line @ First Line Reader and Maria @ The Character Study‘s takes on paring their favorite Eurovision songs with books, which instantly put me into fangirl mode again, and Azucchi @ The Book Nook‘s “Eurovision Outfits as Fantasy Book Covers”, which was so hilariously creative that just thinking about it has me grinning again!
- As far as discussions on controversial topics are concerned, Emily @ Frappes and Fiction is an absolute pro. This time, she decided to dive into cancel culture within the book community, and, like always, she more than delivered! 🤓
- Marie @ Drizzle and Hurricane Books wrote one of the most relatable posts I’ve ever read – a discussion on why she blogs in English. If you’ve ever wanted to know why I so heinously neglect my native language and have only ever written one blog post in German (despite starting this blog with the intention of doing that regularly 🙈), look no further!
- Saima @ Stories with Saima gave us a carefully curated list of dark academia recommendations. Being obsessed with the genre to an almost unhealthy degree, I obviously very much appreciated this!! 🤗
- Mint @ Mint Loves Books also has the whole writing-discussions-thing down! Her posts on why she’s uncomfortable with marketing books as #OwnVoices and why she doesn’t use StoryGraph were so interesting that I procrastinated replying way too long, just so I would have the time to write out all of the things I wanted to say in response 😅
Which brings us to the end of this wrap-up! Let me know how your May went down below; and if you’ve read any of the books I mentioned here, I’d love to hear your thoughts on them!
Or on Stranger Things 4, for that matter… Did you guess the big twist at the end? (Because I did and am insanely proud of this 😇) Do you have any predictions as to what will happen in the rest of the season? My siblings are taking forever to finish watching those episodes, and I need somebody to talk to!!!
Also, for anyone who is impatiently waiting: I will be posting my emoji quiz answers a bit later today, so keep your eyes peeled!