11.11.2021

October Book Reviews


An Offer From a Gentleman by Julia Quinn

Romancing Mister Brigerton by Julia Quinn

To Sir Philip with Love by Julia Quinn

I plowed through three Bridgerton novels at the beginning of the month, as it was kind of a crappy time around these parts. Reading during times of high anxiety is always difficult for me, but thank goodness for these novels! It’s rare that I go from one book in a series right into another, but after finishing An Offer From a Gentleman, I immediately got the next two in the series.
Julia Quinn makes these characters come to life in such endearing ways, her pacing is PERFECTION, the dialogue crackles, and I love that sometimes the central conflict isn’t so straightforward.
I completely lose all sense of time and my surroundings when reading these and always highly recommend.

My Monticello by Jocelyn Nicole Johnson

How the Word is Passed by Clint Smith

I HIGHLY recommend both of these books, and reading them back to back was unplanned but perfect pairing.
I’m so glad My Monticello was in my latest Third Place Books signed first editions box. A collection of short stories (finishing with the titular novella) that were lyrical, visceral and absolutely haunting.
Clint Smith’s How the Word is Passed (on the National Book Award long list for nonfiction) begins with his visit to Monticello. It’s beyond eye opening, heartfelt, and so necessary right now when such a loud minority of our great nation is trying to ignore learning from our past, or push completely false narratives (The civil war wasn’t about slavery! Enslaved people were happy!🤥🤬) And it is excellent on audio.

Cloud Cuckoo Land by Anthony Doerr

I finished Cloud Cuckoo Land over a week ago and have been struggling to find the words to describe why I loved it so much. I think that many book reviewers can agree, it is really hard to review a book that you love! (And pretty easy to explain why you dislike a book!)
If you want to read about why Doerr’s latest is well written and excellent, definitely check out the New York Times book review. It’s what convinced me to buy it, rather than waiting for my library hold.
I’m pretty sure this doorstop of a novel landed on my all time favorites because I am a sucker for interconnected stories that come together in a surprising and poignant way, recurring motifs, and secular musings on the meaning of life. It also came out came at the right time for me: when I was really wanting to sink my teeth into something after devouring a lot of romance, and feeling a little sad and lost - like each of the protagonists in the story. I found such lovely reassurance about the human spirit, of perseverance, of hope. I was reminded that pain and loss, our impermanence, are also what makes life meaningful. And books about the wondrous nature of the written word? Yes, please.

“By age 17 he’d convinced himself that every human he saw was a parasite, captive to the dictates of consumption. But as he reconstructs Zeno’s translation, he realizes that the truth is infinitely more complicated, that we are all beautiful even as we are all part of the problem, and that could be part of the problem is to be human.”

Displacement by Kiku Hughes

I stole this graphic novel from my 11 year old's school library pile and read it in an evening, and it it is a wonderfully told story based on Hughes' grandparents story of being sent to Japanese internment camps after WWII. The way she presents the harsh realities of this often overlooked piece of history is perfect for young readers, as the main character in present day is transported back in time and swept up into this terrible situation, forcing one to put themselves in the shoes of those who lost so much.

The Beautiful Mystery by Louise Penny

Slowly, but surely, I'm making my way through the Inspector Gamache books and I loved spending time with beloved characters again. This installment was a departure from most of the others in the series. Similar to Bury Your Dead, the setting was not in Three Pines, and it focused much more on the relationship between Gamache and his right hand man Beauvoir. A monastery of monks who have taken vows of silence was a fascinating backdrop for a murder mystery and Penny's writing was so atmospheric and immersive. Really liked this one and the ending was a bit of a cliffhanger, so I might move on to the next one soon!

The Seed Keeper by Diane Wilson

The Seed Keeper was my book club pick for October and would be an excellent choice for November, Native American Heritage month. This is a multi generational story of a Dahkota family and their enduring spirit despite the horrors of colonialism, past and present. It’s a beautifully told story about how our past affects our future and reminded me of of reading Barbara Kingsolver, with threads of historical fiction and current themes on environmentalism. My only critique was that I wanted MORE. More of Rosalie’s story in the present day, and more details of her great grandmother prior to their subjugation. Braiding Sweetgrass was mentioned in the author’s note, which is our nonfiction November book club pick, and I’m looking forward to reading more indigenous literature this month!


10.17.2021

September Book Reviews


And Now I Spill the Family Secrets by Margaret Kimball

Periodic reminder! Illustrated/graphic novels and memoirs are such a wonderful way of comprehending an author’s art.
And Now I Spill the Family Secrets was such an engrossing memoir. The nostalgic and melancholy tone (as well as a family dealing with the fallout of mental illness) reminded me of Fun Home, but more linear and accessible.
There is a lot to absorb on the subject of mental illness, how society affects each generation in different ways, and the devastation it can wreak on a family. Yes, it’s often sad, but so moving and well done.
*Major trigger warning for suicidal behavior.

The People We Keep by Allison Larkin

This coming of age novel has one of the more endearing main characters I have come across, albeit frustrating in her choices, and the author examines very realistic scenarios of how children can become homeless. I felt invested in April’s journey, and the pages went by quickly as I was eager for her happy ending. However, the overly solicitous kindness of strangers and insta-love seemed too far fetched, and things became increasingly unrealistic as the plot snowballs towards an ending that was rather twee. But we can all use a little schmaltz right now, right?

The Silent Patient by Alex Michaelides

I’ve started listening to backlist thrillers on audiobook, which has been a lot of fun. Normally I’m a nonfiction audiobook reader, but I have been in the mood for less reality and it’s been a perfect way to see what the fuss is about with books I normally wouldn’t pick up. This psychological thriller was pretty compelling on audio, but still a little slow paced for my liking.

Anxious People by Fredrik Backman

I keep trying Backman books because they are so popular, and I find the discussion around them fascinating. Yet there definitely seems to be a polarizing component to his work. And increasingly I find myself in the ‘it’s just not for me’ camp. I disliked A Man Called Ove, felt that Beartown was quite good, but now Anxious People is swinging back towards that sense of emotional over-manipulation I got with Ove.
I will say that I absolutely admire his sense of humor and prose: he deftly conveys complex facets of the human condition.

“That’s an impossible thing for sons to grasp, and a source of shame for fathers to have to admit: that we don’t want our children to pursue their own dreams or walk in our footsteps. We want to walk in their footsteps while they pursue our dreams.”

Yet his stories feel more like parables, and characters typecast. The narrative structure for Anxious People was odd and hard to get my bearings. Though I eventually found it entertaining and found myself intrigued by the story and the interaction between the characters, but… in a detached way. The Midnight Library by Matt Haig landed similarly for me, which is also a hugely popular novel. So, your mileage will definitely vary! I will say if you are a fan of the one author you will probably be a fan of the other.

The Last Time I Lied by Riley Sager

This was another attempt at trying out thrillers on audiobook, and my first Riley Sager book. I was sucked into the atmospheric writing straight away, which had a very Gothic feel even though it’s a “camp experience gone awry" narrative which I found uninspiring. It seemed to drag on when the action should have set in midway through, too many red herrings, and an ending that left me with more questions than answers. It was a surprising one I didn’t see coming, at least, but doesn’t seem to hold water. I don’t know. I just don’t think thrillers are for me.

A Thousand Ships by Natalie Haynes

The only retellings of Greek mythology that I have read are Madeline Miller’s books, and I have been meaning to read other authors. This was really well done and all encompassing. While I enjoyed getting such a broad view of the women of The Odyssey the author packed in to this novel, admitting that she couldn’t fit all that she wanted, I think I would have enjoyed a more narrow story about just one of the women. Or perhaps even just the women of Troy who anchor the book with their story told throughout. Though, if you are new to Greek mythology and don’t mind juggling a lot of names and relationships, it is a fantastic overview that gives a taste of just how fantastic the stories are in Greek myth.

9.10.2021

August Book Reviews



The Anthropocene Reviewed by John Green

I forgot how much I enjoy Green‘s voice, and this book was like a balm during a trying summer. I think it’s the first book I’ve read that was written during Covid and acknowledges our current reality, which helped give me perspective. I found his essays fascinating, funny, heartbreaking and hopeful. You would think that an essay on “researching strangers on the Internet” would be totally tongue-in-cheek, but it brought me to tears. All around really powerful and wonderful stuff - excellent on audio.


Grown Ups by Marian Keyes


A lovely family saga with all of the Irish colloquialisms (Grand! Right, so!), of which I am a sucker for. The characters are all deeply flawed, but not unlikeable, and the narrative took turns in some unexpected directions. I would say it was a tad too long (didn't need to be over 500 pages) and MAJOR trigger warning for disordered eating. But if you are looking for a lovable and dysfunctional family drama (with a side of European vacation) to immerse yourself in, it’s a good choice. 


People We Meet on Vacation by Emily Henry


Last book of the summer reading season for me, and it was a JOURNEY reading People We Meet on Vacation!
I used my Book of the Month birthday credit grab this buzzy book, and I have to admit, it stated off on the wrong foot for me. I kept thinking what kind of college age humans that are clearly attracted to each other stay “just friends“ for so long, and is this ripping off when Harry Met Sally!? Alas, the author was intentionally honoring the great Norah Ephron, and being “just friends” that meet during a drive home from college are where the similarities end.
Soon I became drawn into their inside jokes which felt so authentic, Henry has my kind of sense of humor. And I also felt that she treated the high school trauma that Poppy carries with such care and authenticity.
Usually I get frustrated with romance novels where the basis of tension is miscommunication or no communication at all. Yet when the threads of the story come together between Alex and Poppy, it actually makes perfect sense and I adored the ending. Deserving of the hype! Recommend!


The Space Between Worlds by Micaiah Johnson


I was in the mood for some fast paced and engrossing sci-fi, and I am glad I picked up this novel that published last summer. The story grabbed me right away, I was hooked on this authors concept of a multi-verse and excellent world building. Though when the plot went in the weeds with political/palace intrigue, my interest started wane. Overall, though, the ending was satisfying, and the themes were thought provoking.


Nobody Will Tell You This But Me by Bess Kalb


This memoir as ode to the author’s grandmother was so wonderful and moving. Everyone should be so lucky to have a grandmother like Bobby. I kept thinking I hope I get to have children to spoil and be a part of their lives the way Bobby was for Bess. Not that their relationship was perfect, and Kalb writes with such sincerity the realities of maternal relationships. I also quite enjoyed the way she outlined her family history, which could be the same story of so many immigrants that came to New York, told in such a loving, funny and bittersweet way. This was such a fabulous book - excellent on audio.



Only When it’s Us by Chloe Liese


Liese’s Bergman brothers romance novels are favorite series on Bookstagram, so I decided to dive in and see what all the fuss was about! The character development in the book is excellent, but the constant non-communication gets a little old for me as a romance trope. Although there are very specific reasons in the beginning of this book, then more emotional reasons why the characters hold their cards close to the vest as the book goes on - understandable, but still got a bit stale and repetitive. The non-romantic relationships (Willa and her mother/Ryder and his family) kept me engaged while the romantic leads kept repeating mistakes. When the HEA finally arrives, it gave me all the warm and fuzzies. I also thought that grief, disability, and mental health were written with such care.

8.11.2021

July Book Reviews


 Shoulder Season by Christina Clancy

(Many thanks to Netgalley and St. Martin's Press for the complimentary advance review copy!) Despite some good reviews from folks I trust, this novel of a small town girl taking a job as a bunny at the Playboy resort just didn’t work for me. I was going into it with a lot of high hopes, as I have actually stayed at the resort at the center of the story (now The Grand Geneva), and my mom worked for Playboy’s Chicago offices back in the 70s (first in data entry, then in purchasing, ahem!) and, yes, she met Hef on occasion. I was hoping to love it and recommend it to her. Alas.
It was just one of those books that felt as if someone were describing a story, rather than putting me into the story - a lot of tell, and no show. Even foreshadowing was announced, rather than implied with the writing, which is a peeve of mine: Little did she know! This is a pivotal moment! Make note! Then big swaths of time go by in the second half of the book in order to come to an ending that was a big slap in the face for the main character that just left me kinda sad.
I also found it weird that it was set in the 80s. There weren’t many markings of the time, except for a concert at Alpine Valley (which I have also frequented!), and I felt as if this was a missed opportunity. Maybe it is because I recently finished an excellent and immersive book set in the 80s where the author wrote multifaceted characters while supplying me with every scent, sound, taste and feel of the time and place. (Malibu Rising, obvi.)
Again, this one just did not work for me, but I believe that there’s an audience for every book! The fun tidbits and all of the idiosyncratic rules about working as a playboy bunny ALONE made this book worthwhile. So, definitely pick this up if that sounds entertaining and you want to read a book that does not demand too much of you as a reader this summer.

Project Hail Mary by Andy Weir

Project Hail Mary was definitely the most fun reading experience I’ve had so far this year! Like most of the readers who loved it and convinced me to pick this up, I was VERY hesitant despite loving The Martian, because I did not like Artemis. I even ended up buying a copy because I didn’t put Hail Mary on hold at the library (convinced I wouldn’t read it) and when I finally caved, the list was just too long to wait! Now I’m so glad I have my own copy to put on the ol’ favorites shelf.
Because of my ignorance around this novel, I went in pretty blind and I definitely suggest this approach. I was surprised at several turns, especially a few whoppers near the end. There’s so much I’d love to tell y’all about why I adored this story, but I’d be giving a lot of plot away. Generally speaking, it has that sense of urgency (much late night reading) mixed with humor that worked so well in The Martian and, dare I say, even better in this novel. The heartwarming feels, too, are off the charts. Like The Martian, it’s an absolutely universally appealing book, not just geared towards sci-fi fans. Amaze! (IYKYK) Please read it and gush about it with me!

Nobody, Somebody, Anybody by Kelly McClorey

(Many thanks to Bibliolifestyle and Ecco Books for the complimentary advance review copy!) If I were to summarize this novel, it would seem pretty straightforward. It’s about a woman trying to turn her life around when she goes to shambles after the death of her mother. And yet…
There was something foreboding about Amy’s inner thoughts, about her feelings of unworthiness and self-loathing that seemed tied to some horrible actions on her part. I kept expecting a major reveal as to why she acted the way she did, sometimes rather alarmingly. Alas, even though the narrative is reminiscent of Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine, there was no real denouement and the ending was open to interpretation.
I did find Amy to be a fascinating character, the relationship she began to forge with her landlord was endearing, and it was a super fast read. But, contrary to the publisher’s description, I never once laughed out loud - or quietly. The overall tone felt sad and anxiety ridden, a tale of someone in desperate need of mental health care. I think it’s a read-alike for fans of Convenience Store Woman, and it would definitely an interesting book club selection.

The Secret Lives of Church Ladies by Deesha Philyaw

This collection of short stories was INTENSE. I laughed, I cringed, I gasped, and I smiled big. I'm always so impressed with short stories that can pack so much emotion and story in fewer words. Not a single one wasted. Listening to the audiobook definitely added to the intimate feeling of each woman's story, like a girlfriend whispering some JUICY gossip in my ear. 

Finlay Donovan is Killing It by Elle Cosimano

Chalk this one up to 'Bookstagram made me do it' and it was cute, it was fine. This story of a divorced mother mistaken for a hitman in a Panera bread and hilarity ensues is just not my bag. If you are looking for something that doesn't require a lot of your attention, this makes for very easy listening on audiobook. For me, the far fetched and silly just didn't grab me. I needed something more and this didn't deliver much more than exercising my suspension of disbelief.

Golden Girl by Elin Hilderbrand

(Thank you to Little Brown for the the complimentary finished copy!) I went into this with trepidation. On one hand, it's a summer ritual for me to read her latest book. On the other, I have been disappointed with some of her choices as an author - practically bullying folks who give her book even a slightly negative (but not mean) review, and the thought process behind a few lines in this particular book. However, given that she has apologized and owned up to her mistakes rather than digging in (looking at you JK Rowling) I gave Golden Girl the benefit of the doubt. It was a usual Hilderbrand read: the pages flew by, the food and atmosphere of Nantucket sumptuous. Her concept of the main character experiencing the afterlife was fun, in a 'Good Place' kind of way, too. However this story was a little too creepily close to her real life. The main character Vivi is also a novelist, of beach reads, on Nantucket, not a native to the island, has three kids plus a Black friend of the family considered a fourth kid, is divorced...THE LIST GOES ON. The first quarter of the book I seriously was wondering if Elin had broken up with her boyfriend the way Vivi did, thinking hmmmm - he hasn't made much of an appearance on her Instagram... Just all around weird feeling! It also felt like a creative shortcut. But, if you are a fan of her novels, this will definitely scratch that yearly summer itch.

The Guncle by Steven Rowley

Yep, I am in agreement with all of the glowing reviews: The Guncle is very cute and sweet. It was a perfect summer read, full of brunch (and linner!), caftans, cocktails and Palm Springs atmosphere. The story had some heft and thoughtfulness about a tough topic. No - not about gay uncles, but grief. Each character was dealing with grief in different ways and it felt real, not saccharine. 

The Star Crossed Sisters of Tuscany by Lori Nelson Spielman

This novel really hit all the sweet spots for a perfect wanderlust summer read. Even though I've been to Italy (main tourist spots like Rome, Venice, Florence) I've never been to the coasts and I think the Amalfi coast will be the first vacation my husband and I will take when we are finally able to travel without kids again one day! It's a sweet story about unrequited love and becoming who you are meant to be, not what is expected of you. My only beef is that I have a hard time with characters that let people walk all over them, I get a lot of righteous anger on there behalf and Emilia made me want to scream on multiple occasions. There were one too many missed opportunities for her to stand her ground, and it got a little exasperating. But the adorable great aunt Poppy and her sweeping love story made up for my quibbles! 

7.07.2021

June Book Reviews

 


Fire Keepers Daughter by Angeline Boulley

Yep. The hype is warranted with Firekeeper’s Daughter. It grabbed me from the beginning and didn’t let go until the last page. Boulley has written exceptional YA, mixed with thriller and family drama, that sheds light on so many important issues, while being much needed representation for indigenous people in published literature.

One thought I kept coming back to after reading it, was how the history that has been whitewashed in our schooling I inevitably learn through novels or film. I finished this book just before the 215 murdered children’s bodies were found at the residential school in Canada. There are parts of Firekeeper’s Daughter that address these schools, and my thoughts also went to Anne with an E on Netflix, which my daughter and I devoured this year. The show took liberties with LM Montgomery’s source material and included a storyline about an indigenous girl taken from her family. It was excruciating for us to watch, yet so important to understand. I am glad that if kids aren’t being exposed to atrocities we need to learn from in school (yet), they will learn about them through books and other art forms.

I am so glad Higher Ground productions optioned this for Netflix, giving even more of an audience for this wonderful story. I definitely plan on putting in my kids hands, too.

The Age of Innocence by Edith Wharton

The story of Newland Archer (who is just as pretentious as his name sounds), and his struggle with the status quo/keeping up appearances while falling for an independent woman he can’t have, and courting another who is his destined match, was slow going for about the first quarter of the book. There is a lot of superfluous detail that bogged me down. Though, much of this detail would be illustrative for readers during the era in which it was published in 1920. Down to the type of furniture, art, opera seats, or cross streets of homes gave so many clues about the characters. But to someone in 2021? Not so much. I’m reading a book now that references Instagram stories, and I wonder, just as with this novel, how will it be received decades from now?

By the halfway point I began to see Wharton’s subversiveness in regards to Archer, and what a rather ridiculous character he is, while the women seem to be cunning and calling the shots - all while the men remain oblivious. Her narrative choices made me think more about perspective and who’s telling the story. I so wish that she wrote another version from one of the women’s point of view.

Overall, I am glad I read it and the ending was quite memorable. I am so grateful to StephanieReads for providing such interesting material to chew on while reading - from articles about Wharton’s life (which is definitely imbued in her work) to pictures of homes during that period. (The summer homes of rich Gilded Age New Yorker’s are something else!) Everyone should subscribe to her newsletter to reference whenever you might decide to pick up a classic from her list of buddy reads!

Yolk by Mary H.K. Choi

“It’s easier to watch myself be sad than actually feel sad.” 

Oof. If you are into books that wreck you just a little bit, but leave you hopeful, Yolk is IT.

It took me a few dozen pages to get my footing in the narrative. Things felt abrupt and unexplained at first, being thrust into Jayne’s gritty reality as a cash poor art student in New York. But I quickly became invested in her life, and the reconnection with her sister June. Choi’s writing is phenomenal, from the searing quote above, to oddly perfect lines that made me chortle: “The bottoms of the produce drawers looked like the contents of a sharks stomach during an autopsy.”

I’m so glad I had recently finished Crying in H Mart - Michelle Zauner’s memoir perfectly compliments this novel of two girls growing up as Korean Americans and all of the family dynamics at play.

I would also classify this as ‘new adult’ rather than the YA it’s shelved under at my library. I know the YA classification can steer some readers away, and I would absolutely not want that to happen with Yolk - I highly recommend this multifaceted and poignant novel.

Think Again by Adam Grant

As the title implies, Think Again is a thought-provoking book about changing minds, and most importantly, changing our own mind. Though a lot of what I took away from Grant’s work seems like common sense, it’s hard to put into practice because of all the self-imposed road blocks he describes. But his words give incentives to continually work on rethinking, adapting, and changing.

One nugget that stood out to me was that we don’t use the same computers or technology today that we did 20 years ago, so why should our opinions stay the same for that long, too? Our goals and perspective should adapt as we change and grow.

I think that this book would be most valuable to someone who manages others and wants to excel in business, but the data conveyed can be useful to all readers. As a stay at home mom, the information about keeping our children’s minds open to possibilities and change was eye opening and impactful - yes! We should definitely stop asking kids what they want to be when they grow up! It’s limiting! I am learning that the data does not support straight A students become more successful adults, and that it shouldn’t be a focus - successful individuals are empirically those that question the status quo, adjust well to change and think outside the box.
“Ultimately, education is more than the information we accumulate in our heads. It’s the habits we develop as we keep revising our drafts and the skills we build to keep learning.”

The Happy Ever After Playlist by Abby Jiminez

What a perfect escapist romantic read! I’ve had Abby Jimenez on my TBR for awhile now, and even though The Happy Ever After Playlist is the second book in a series, it sounded like the most fun and well-reviewed, so I just dove in! And I’m so glad I did. Seeing as how happy ever afters are guaranteed in romance novels, I don’t think the spoiled me for reading The Friend Zone: which I immediately put on hold at the library.

This one starts off a little far-fetched, with the meet cute involving a lost dog jumping into the love interest’s car. But, the sweet and flirtatious banter that ensures between the two characters was adorable and I genuinely liked them both. So when things started to get intense with the inevitable ‘boy loses girl’ roadblocks, I was super stressed out! These people went through some THINGS.

I also found it admirable how Jimenez addresses grief in a thoughtful way, based on the similar experiences of her good friend. Excellent binge-able summer fare that I highly recommend!

What Kind of Woman by Kate Baer

Stunning. It has been ages since I read a book of poetry. And such a slim volume that can be read in an hour sometimes feels like cheating when it comes to counting a books read. But the thoughts and feelings that Baer evokes are as moving as any novel.

Her hypnotic words evoke such visceral emotions about love and the realities of life as a wife and mother. That an oft used phrase like “When will you be home?” can be crafted into something so lyrical. Reading ‘What Kind of Man’ literally made me tear up with love and gratitude for my husband, and ‘Like a Wife’ made me fist pump and laugh aloud. Just so good.
My experience reading this reminded me of Heating and Cooling by Beth Ann Fennelly. While not poetry (it’s a collection of ‘mini-memoirs) it’s slim, similar themes, packs a punch, and is written by a poet. I highly recommend both!

She Come by it Natural by Sarah Smarsh

I remember a while back explaining to my kids who Dolly Parton is - beyond a famous country music singer. I read an article to them about her charitable giving and philanthropic efforts in literacy and putting books in the hands of children all over the world. She is responsible for donating over 130 MILLION books for children. I teared up talking about her, and I teared up a few times listening to She Come by it Natural.

I wouldn’t say that this was a very in-depth biography of Parton, but a really well done journalistic look at how she has affected and represented women from her small town Tennessee roots, to women worldwide. Learning more about her business choices, how she faced a lot of intimidation, and followed her gut to great success was fascinating stuff.

It’s inspiring and infuriating and equal measure how far we have come and how far we have to go in treating everyone with the dignity and respect we deserve. Dolly deserves it in spades, and it is very cool to see this happening for her in her lifetime.

The Most Fun We Ever Had by Clarie Lombardo

"And it was weird, she thought, feeling adult and aware, how a thing so terrible as losing someone could yield goodness in the ones who were left.“

The synopsis of this book was uniquely appealing to me: multigenerational family drama, spanning decades, set in Chicagoland! I am glad I finally read it, as I enjoyed becoming completely immersed in the Sorensen clan.

Peppered with poignant and familiar scenes of life, Lombardo’s writing is sharp with characters that leap off the page. To that end, I’m not sure I would recommend this novel to folks who have a hard time with really flawed/unlikable characters. I usually don’t have a problem with it, especially when the writer can illustrate why they are flawed. But it took a long time to come to the realizations about why some of the characters were kind of awful in this book. This story requires some patience and probably could have been edited down from it’s 600+ pages.

If you like a slow burn, character driven, and intricate family saga, I highly recommend this novel. Also recommend if you loved Ask Again, Yes or A Place for Us - they’re very similar in scope and tone.




6.04.2021

May Book Reviews

 


The Book of Longings by Sue Monk Kidd

I recently saw a tweet that referenced book lovers feeling like they have failed when an unread hardcover on their shelf comes out in paperback - hilarious because it’s TRUE. The paperback release of The Book of Longings spurred me to read my Book of the Month from last May.
Even though I have loved every book I have read by Sue Monk Kidd, I was hesitant to grab this one because of the religious material - a story about Jesus’ wife, which he could very well have had, and the author’s note definitely gives evidence it was highly likely. Let’s just say I have a lot of side eye for religion and I am an agnostic. But, it might be better going into it that way than as someone who has deeply held beliefs.
It reads beautifully as the historical fiction it is, and gave me similar vibes to reading Circe, which I loved. Ana is just as indelible and her story is a beautiful tribute to strong women invisibly shaping history, working against the patriarchy - an unexpected surprise for a book about the beginnings of Christianity.
“All shall be well… I don’t mean that life won’t bring your tragedy. I only mean that you will be well in spite of it. There’s a place in you that is inviolate. You’ll find your way there when you need to. And you’ll know then what I speak of.”

Malibu Rising by Taylor Jenkins Reid

Many thanks to Random House for the advance digital copy of Malibu Rising. The latest from Taylor Jenkins Reid is THE summer novel to read.
How does TJR do it? With every one of her books I just fall so easily into the story and when I look up, hundreds of pages have flown by. This novel harkens back to her older books, with romantic and family drama taking center stage, and no narrative devices employed like Evelyn or Daisy. A great multiple POV of characters that quickly wormed their way into my heart. I felt so much anger and sadness, hope and happiness, on their behalf. There is a lot to unpack about the repercussions that echo from our family dynamics, and there are several passages about motherhood that were so clearly written from the author’s heart.
The crazy 80s vibe was a trip, and I felt such a strong sense of time and place: miniskirts, aquanet, coconut suntan lotion, Heather Lockear, surfer culture, fried clam sammies and sand stuck everywhere. I just loved it. I also love how she wove Mick Riva into her last three books. The 60s with Evelyn Hugo, 70s with Daisy Jones and 80s with the Rivas - are the 90s next?! Whatever the time frame or place, California or not, I am here for it and will snatch it up ASAP.
“June knew that her children had found a previously undiscovered part of themselves that day. She knew that childhood is made up of days magnificent and mundane. And this had been a magnificent day for all of them.”

We Keep the Dead Close by Becky Cooper

OK y’all, I think I am going to call it: I do not like true crime books about murder. Not that I I am squeamish or have the heebie-jeebies about it - I mean, The Silence of the Lambs is one of my favorite books of all time!
For me, these books seem to either drag on with red herrings, too much detail, or the author’s personal story. And in some cases I can see why that is a draw, and why many people enjoyed I’ll be Gone in the Dark. But... I didn’t like that one either.
We Keep the Dead Close was only interesting to me when the author expounded upon the idiosyncrasies of Harvard (women had different diplomas until 1999!) and the rampant misogyny. I could read a book that focused on those type of things, fascinating stuff I can’t understand with a quick Google search. It’s also morally conflicting, consuming someone’s death as entertainment.
So, yeah, the thing about murder investigations is that you can easily Google how things went down, but you can’t tell me a whole story about the inner workings of Harvard, or THERANOS, or a guy faking an orchestra from a quick internet search. (The last two referring to two of the crime-y types of books I actually enjoyed: Bad Blood and Sounds Like Titanic.)

House of Salt and Sorrows by Erin Craig

House of Salt and Sorrows was this month’s pick for my #evergreenreaders book group, and I had mixed feelings about this gothic YA fantasy, inspired by Grimm’s 12 Dancing Princesses.
What worked for me: the world building and spooky prose. Craig creates a lush and sinister atmosphere that was transportive. I am also a sucker for a slowly building sense of foreboding, and was definitely creeped out by many of the scenes that bordered on horror.
What didn’t work for me: the reveal of the villain and their machinations was intriguing, but it comes so late in the text that everything felt rushed and confusing as I turned the final pages. It became hard to suspend my disbelief and the explanation seemed highly convoluted, unearthing more questions than answers. It would be interesting to go back and re-read knowing the ending, but I don’t think I am that invested.

Crying in H Mart by Michelle Zauner

Recently I was striking out with audiobooks... Well, that is certainly no longer the case! I’d compare the experience of listening to Zauner as a mashup of Kelly Corrigan and Ruth Reichl. YEP - total GOATs. I received Crying in H Mart as part of my first editions subscription from Third Place Books - but since I cannot resist memoirs read by the author on audiobook, I also got a copy from libro.fm. This is the first time that I’ve had both mediums of a book and it was perfectly serendipitous.
Listening to Michelle tell her story was so real and raw, I teared up multiple times. I think most women can relate to the complexities of the mother daughter relationship, which is usually fraught at one time or another, and I empathized so much throughout the evolution of their relationship.
I also learned so many new things about traditions and food! It is a feast for the senses, and listening to Michelle talk about food was transcendent. If I was only taking in the print version, I might have glazed over the many, new to me, words involving her Korean heritage. I am so glad to have the print copy to look back at and see on paper. The way that food is so intertwined with family, traditions, memory and love is powerfully illustrated in her prose.

“There was no one in the world that was ever as critical or could make me feel as hideous as my mother, but there was no one, not even Peter, who ever made me feel as beautiful.”

I cannot recommend this book enough, especially the audiobook. And thank you so much to Third Place for putting this on my shelves with my other favorite books.

Yearbook by Seth Rogen

Oh my GAWD, this book was such a hilarious ride and I didn’t want it to end!!
I’m definitely a fan of Seth Rogan's films and his Twitter account. So, when I heard about his new book, and that so many people read their own parts in the audiobook (from his family members to Billy Idol), I snatched it up from libro.fm ASAP.
Obviously, his delivery is fantastic and I was laughing to the point of tears at least a dozen times. But, I also loved the poignancy that breaks through the hilarity of his childhood stories, and the love he has for his friends and family radiates through his words. He’s just a really lovely human, unabashedly himself.
Personal favorite bits that I can’t wait to rehash with my husband after he reads it: Seth’s dad’s sock organization, the Mohel, meeting George Lucas, Kanye, Steve Wozniak, Barack Obama’s press conference, and his flawless hot take on Twitter / anti Semitism.
This is totally going on the all time favorite audiobooks list. I hope he writes more volumes!

5.06.2021

April Book Reviews

 

Why We Swim by Bonnie Tsui

As a constantly injured runner, I have been incorporating swimming into my routine more often. Going back to the sport I adored in my youth, now in my old-ish age feels like symmetry Bonnie Tsui would appreciate.

This book is filled with fascinating facts about how immersion in water affects the body and seemingly superhuman feats of strength explained by science, if that is your thing. It is also filled with thoughtful insights about meditation and mindfulness, if that is your thing. And it is chock full of lovely lyrical prose, if that is your thing.

My only critique would be that for type-A folks like myself that crave organization, the structure felt a little haphazard, making it hard for me to remember everything that I read. But, overall, this was a fascinating read that I absolutely recommend to everyone - especially my fellow swimmers. It is also excellent on audio!

Code Name Helene by Ariel Lawhon

Who am I, reading another World War II novel!? Alas, I’ve heard so many great things about this book, and you know it’s got to be good when the library hold queue still has almost 50 people waiting when the book has been out for over a year. No renewals for me, so it moved to the top of the pile!

This is the first novel I have read by Ariel Lawhon it was excellent. Code Name Helene is a fictional account of Nancy Wake, a member of Britain’s Special Operations Executive leading resistance fighters in France. It is one of those novels that sends you straight to google every few chapters, which I love.

Bringing a plucky heroine to life without seeming trite is a difficult needle to thread, and Lawhon really nails it. Helene is portrayed in absolute technicolor: fallible, relatable, endearing, funny, and I could understand all of her motivations. I loved the way the two very close timelines, of her meeting her husband before the war and of her time with the resistance just a few years later, come together. Little details that seem small become significant, and significant scenes gain clarity with small details. I just love a full circle moment, and Helene is rife with them.

The sections of the book detailing Nancy’s time during the war were quite dense in the beginning and I felt like I was being delivered facts and names through a fire hose. For some, that might not be as appealing as the timeline of her romantic drama before the war. But I was riveted by both and look forward to reading more of Lawhon's work!

Meet Me in Another Life by Catriona Silvey

Many thanks to NetGalley and William Morrow for the advance copy - this was an amazing ride, and so hard to describe without giving away the mind blowing ending. My best attempt is say that it is like the masterpiece Life After Life by Kate Atkinson, but heavier on plot that includes an EXPLANATION of why these two characters can remember past lives.

The pacing of the story is like a boulder gathering speed as it careens down a hill. At first I was sucked in by each chapter, putting the same people together in different dynamics: coworkers, lovers, student/teacher, parent/child. As they begin to realize the nature of their existence, the tension mounts as they try to find a reason, to find meaning. And when the reason is revealed, it’s like falling off of cliff into an ending that took my breath away a few times over.

I absolutely love this kind of novel that straddles several genres and explores existential themes in an accessible, but not cloying, way. Also, I have an absolute favorite book series to recommend if you read and enjoyed this novel, but only once you’ve finished so as not to spoil the ending! So, so good! 

Raybearer by Jordan Ifueko

“Why does everyone hate change so much?“ I demanded.

“Because things could get worse.“

“Maybe. But do you know what I think?” My chest throbbed. “I think deep down, we’re afraid that things could get better. Afraid to find out that all the evil —all the suffering we ignore— could have been prevented. If only we had cared enough to try.”

Raybearer was so unique, lush, immersive and just really smart sci-fi/fantasy world building. The mythology and magic Ifueko creates is beyond clever and the characters leap from the page right into your heart. Not since The Hunger Games have I been awed by such a creative plot with a story of found family and a fierce, yet vulnerable, female lead.

Halfway through the book I put the sequel on hold at the library, and couldn’t believe there weren’t already hundreds ahead of me in the queue. Get on it, y’all! This feels destined to be a YA fantasy classic.

Parachutes by Kelly Yang

This was a solid YA story on a subject that I knew very little about: parachutes, aka - teenagers dropped off to live in private homes and study in the United States while their wealthy parents remain in Asia. I was filled with righteous anger reading this book, not only for the micro aggressions suffered by the Asian community, but young girls within the community and writ large. Definitely read if you want to get fired up about smashing the patriarchy. Be forewarned that every character suffers some sort of sexual abuse, and the author's note is a must read. Would be a good accompaniment to reading the current articles about Philip Roth and his biographers...

Libertie by Kaitlyn Greenidge

I guess all the books I read in April can’t be five star reads. Libertie is described as a coming of age story, and I suppose the main character comes of age, but the story doesn’t include any hallmarks of a Bildungsroman.

Libertie does not seem to have any grand self realizations, and goes through life vicariously, never finding her own calling. Inexplicably, the pace of the novel was very slow, while her life choices moved at warp speed. Each time another set of characters she encounters was introduced, I thought perhaps this is where things will dig deeper and I’ll get more character development as she finds her people. But, nope, the narrative moved quickly on, and yet another half dozen characters I’ll forget were introduced.

All of these interactions gave an interesting look at life during that time, for sure, but no real depth. I felt like someone watching a roller coaster ride at a theme park, but never able to actually get on board.