Top Ten Tuesday: Underrated Books I Enjoyed

2000 rating

This week’s Top Ten Tuesday, a meme hosted by The Broke and the Bookish, is interesting, because it’s all about the books that don’t get enough love. Out of all the novels that I’ve kept track of reading on the ultimate literary social platform Goodreads, I’m supposed to choose my top ten with fewer than 2,000 ratings.

Unfortunately, it seems that my favorite books are also everyone else’s, so finding these diamonds in the rough was more difficult than I expected (hence why I’ve reduced my top ten to my top five!).

That said, there is a lot of diversity in this list, from junkie thriller to geeky romance. There’s historical fiction, a modern retelling of a classic novel, and even a two-sided love story. So pick the book less traveled and enjoy!

Bait by J. Kent Messum
590 Goodreads ratings: avg. 3.4 stars
My rating: 3 stars

The Gendarme by Mark T. Mustian
1,467 Goodreads ratings: avg. 3.68 stars
My rating: 3 stars

Gilded Age by Claire McMillan
730 Goodreads ratings: avg. 3.08 stars
My rating: 3 stars

The Thorn and the Blossom by Theodora Goss
823 Goodreads ratings: avg. 3.3 stars
My rating: 4 stars

Talk Nerdy to Me by Vicki Lewis Thompson
1,454 Goodreads ratings: avg. 3.78 stars
My rating: 4 stars

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101 Years and Counting: Remembering the Armenian Genocide

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Another year, another moment to reflect on one of our world’s most devastating tragedies. April 24th marks Armenian Genocide Remembrance Day, commemorating the massacre of 1.5 million Armenians by the Ottoman Turks during World War I.

If you’re wondering why anyone outside of Armenia and its diaspora should care about this event, it is important to note that to this day Turkey denies that the genocide ever occurred, or at the very least asserts that the death toll is extremely overestimated (untrue) and that the Armenians started the conflict and therefore deserved their retribution (grossly untrue). Even worse, despite the outrage of millions of Armenian-Americans like myself, the United States also does not formally recognize the Armenian Genocide for fear of damaging its military alliance with Turkey.

If you’re a new reader of Book Club Babe and were unaware of my Armenian ancestry and of the cultural significance of the genocide, then I urge you to educate yourself today and spread your knowledge with others. You can do your part by sharing this blog post to your social networks with hashtags, such as #RememberAndDemand and #TurkeyFailed. And if you’d like to read some historical fiction, then I recommend The Sandcastle Girls by Chris Bohjalian and The Gendarme by Mark T. Mustian.

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And for more information on the Armenian Genocide, please read my posts from previous years (20152014, 2013, 2012). Thank you for your support!

Book Review: The Gendarme

Rating: 3.5 out of 5

Last night I commemorated the centennial of the Armenian Genocide by visiting San Francisco’s city hall, which was lit up in red, blue, and orange to match the Armenian flag.

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Unfortunately, the fire department forbid me and the hundreds of people waiting outside to join the speeches and dance performance in the already packed hall, so I left with nothing but a few good photos.

Image via Goodreads

This experience mirrored my minor disappointment while reading Mark T. Mustian’s The Gendarme (2010). The historical fiction novel is narrated by Ahmet Khan, or his preferred Americanized name Emmett Conn, who is in his 90s and suffering from disturbing dreams caused by a brain tumor.

These dreams are actually flashbacks during the Armenian Genocide, in which Emmett participated as a gendarme–a Turkish soldier. His job was to send Armenian deportees through the desert to Syria, but he quickly learned that this march was to their deaths as both countries’ governments had no intention of keeping them alive.

During the trek, Emmett falls in love with an inappropriately young Armenian girl named Araxie. Despite the barbarity he commits on this journey, he risks his life to protect hers. When they finally arrive in Syria, he must decide how to escape their wretched fate.

I must warn you that this book is horrifyingly graphic. Not only do Emmett and his fellow gendarmes sexually assault and murder innocent people, those who are spared succumb to debilitating diseases. It takes a long time before the reader can sympathize with Emmett for being on the wrong side of history.

However, in the end, I felt pity for this man for his life of suffering, both when he was young committing atrocities and in his old age when his family commits him to an institution for his mental instability. You are already aware that Emmett and Araxie did not escape the genocide together, and it’s especially heartbreaking to watch Emmett realize his crimes after decades of post-traumatic repression.

The Gendarme isn’t the most well-written story, and many readers will find its nonlinear structure aggravating. I should also point out that although Mustian and I are both Armenians, I appreciated reading a Turk’s perspective–however abhorrent it may be.

This book cannot compare to The Sandcastle Girls in terms of literary prowess, but both are excellent tales of this historical tragedy that does not get enough attention. The Gendarme made me sob at the end, but more importantly, it made me grateful for what my ancestors suffered so that my family could live on.

Never Forget 1915: Commemorating the Centennial of the Armenian Genocide

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For those who know me closely, you’ll know that April 24th is an important day to me, but because I’ve gained quite a few new followers since last year, I’ll explain why.

I’m Armenian, one of many in an ethnic group that usually goes unnoticed. Most odars, or “outsiders,” only know about us if they live in Californian cities like Fresno and Glendale with large Armenian populations, or are otherwise big fans of the Kardashian Klan.

April 24th is culturally significant, because it marks the commemoration of the Armenian Genocide, a historical tragedy in which 1.5 million Armenians were massacred by the Ottoman Turks during World War I due to religious differences and political agenda.

This year is especially monumental, because it’s the centennial anniversary of the genocide, which historians estimate as beginning in 1915 and ending in 1923. 100 years have passed since our ancestors were stolen from their homes and sent on death marches, either killed by mass shootings, burnings, and hangings, or by the starvation and disease they suffered in the desert.

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Why does this event matter after all this time? Because to this day, Turkey denies that a genocide ever occurred, citing these deaths as grossly overestimated and merely casualties in a time of civil war. Even in 2015, it is illegal to criticize the Turkish government, and many journalists have been arrested for speaking the truth. The United States, fearful of losing a strategic military alliance, has cowardly remained silent on the issue and also refuses to recognize this monstrosity as genocide.

My ancestors may have survived such a terrifying time, but we Armenians are all affected by this injustice. Unlike the Jewish population who has received recognition of Germany’s wrongdoings during WWII via the Nuremberg Trials, Armenians are ignored and dismissed year after year.

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“Who, after all, speaks today of the annihilation of the Armenians?” – Adolf Hitler, before invading Poland in 1939

This centennial is no different, and I fear that generations of Armenian-Americans–including myself–will die having seen no change, until the diaspora has become so small and diluted that there’s no one left to care. After all, I’m only 25% Armenian. I highly doubt that someone 1/64th Armenian is going to be all that bothered by what her ancestors suffered long ago.

Regardless of this bleak outlook, I believe that everyone in the world needs to hear our story. Every year until my very last, I will spread awareness of this abominable crime, and I urge you to do the same. You don’t have to be Armenian to tell someone about the meaning behind today, so please educate those around you. The more people who know what truly happened, the less likely it will be forgotten.

For those of you in the Bay Area, I will be at San Francisco City Hall tonight to commemorate the genocide’s centennial. The rest of you should come back to Book Club Babe tomorrow for my book review of The Gendarme by Mark Mustian, a story about a Turkish soldier who falls in love with his Armenian deportee.

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I also recommend The Sandcastle Girls by Chris Bohjalian

And for more information on the Armenian Genocide, please read my previous posts (2014, 2013, 2012). Thank you for your support!

Top Ten Books on My Spring TBR List

Meme hosted by The Broke and the Bookish

Happy St. Patrick’s Day! So far, I’ve read six books in 2015, so I’m ahead of schedule for completing my annual reading quota of 20 books. Today’s Top Ten Tuesday, a weekly meme hosted by The Broke and The Bookish, is about the stories on the top of our TBR (to-be-read) list this spring.

  

Currently reading:

1. Bet Me by Jennifer Crusie
2. Beowulf translated by J.R.R. Tolkien
3. The Buried Giant by Kazuo Ishiguro

We all have TBR lists that are miles long, but I’ll start with the three that I’m currently reading. Bet Me and Beowulf have been put on hold, so I can finish The Buried Giant before I meet author Kazuo Ishiguro! The book signing is less than three weeks away, so it’s crunch time!

  

   

Will be reading:

4. The Gendarme by Mark Mustian
5. Sisterhood Everlasting by Ann Brashares
6. When in Doubt, Add Butter by Beth Harbison
7. Perfectly Matched by Heather Webber
8. Flowers from the Storm by Laura Kinsale
9. Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell

The next four books that I’ve listed are ones that I have already purchased and are waiting for me on my shelf. I’m particularly excited about The Gendarme, since its subject matter will coincide with the centennial commemoration of the Armenian Genocide next month. I have yet to buy Flowers from the Storm and Fangirl, but they come so highly recommended that it’s only a matter of time before they’re added to the shopping cart!

Bonus! Non-fiction:

10. Selfish, Shallow, and Self-Absorbed: 16 Writers on Their Decision Not to Have Kids by Meghan Daum

Lastly, I don’t officially count non-fiction toward my quota, but I can’t wait to get my hands on Selfish when it’s published at the end of this month. It will be so refreshing to hear from other writers on their decision to live childfree lives. I have a feeling I’ll be nodding along in agreement through the entire book! So what’s next on your TBR list? Let’s share our reading suggestions!