10.06.2020

September Book Reviews

 


Sort of unpopular opinion on this one. Perhaps it was due to my super high expectations going into it - I’ve seen nothing but rave reviews, and decided to buy it for my Independent Bookstore Day purchase.
Alas... This story of a caseworker evaluating an orphanage of magical children (set in the future? The past? An alternate universe? There’s no clear indication.) was just too saccharine and vapid for my taste. The setup is exactly like X-Men, and I wish it had been similar: messy and imperfect characters instead of precious and unquestioning, real talk instead of platitudes, and real tensions when it comes to prejudice instead of a world where bigotry can be solved with a feel good bromide. IF ONLY.
For sure it’s a warm and fuzzy read, like cozy slippers and a mug of tea. Which is the PERFECT book for so many right now. So your mileage may vary! For me, it was if somebody spiked my tea with Splenda and hit me over the head with messaging.
I peeped the negative reviews on Goodreads, and many readers were fans of TJ Klune that felt disappointed with this particular novel. I definitely wouldn’t rule out reading his other books!

The Lager Queen of Minnesota  by J. Ryan Stradal
I put off reading The Lager Queen of Minnesota for too long! After adoring Kitchens of the Great Midwest, I was worried my expectations were going to be too high. I shouldn’t have worried!
This story of multiple generations of Midwest women struggling through different challenges, societal and familial, was utterly absorbing. Stradal poignantly conveys the obstacles that women and people in poverty so often encounter in our society. I love how he captures that quiet stoicism, as well as the petty grievances, that seem so prevalent and familiar to the part of the country where I come from. It resulted in laughter and heartache in equal measure while reading.
“...she wouldn’t leave the legacy she desired simply through prideful public displays, like some men did. There were advantages to a low profile. It was like a man to scratch his name on the banister of history, but Helen had come to believe that it was better to be the stairs.”

The Nickel Boys by Colson Whitehead
Y’all. I absolutely get it now. This book blew my mind.
I thought I knew mostly what I was getting into, having some surface level knowledge of the unforgivable travesty of the real life Dozier School. The Nickel Boys is Whitehead’s fictional take on the life of one student and his, all too common, incarceration for no reason other than being in the wrong place at the wrong time while Black.
The story unfolds in the way I thought it would, given history and Jim Crow laws, and I put the book down to take quite a few breaks. But I’d pick it back up quickly, as I was so invested in Elwood and the other students with such vibrant personalities.
And. The. Ending. Of course I won’t spoil it, but a perfectly executed and emotionally resonant ending MAKES a book for me. Whitehead’s writing knocked my socks off. Perfectly illustrating that you don’t need flowery prose to create something so emotionally resonant. The use of a simple phrase like “this...or that” employed in different contexts throughout the novel echoes with meaning. Just.... All the stars. If you’ve been stalling on this one, hop to it.

How to be an Antiracist by Ibram X. Kendi
I don’t know if there is much more I can add to the conversation about how essential this topic continues to be. I appreciated Kendi’s passion in the narration of the audiobook and all of the salient points made with eye opening, detailed research while relating to his lived experience.
I will constantly be thinking about this book and the idea of lifting up individuality instead of assimilation into a fixed hierarchy, equalizing instead of ‘civilizing’, and the interconnection of racism and capitalism in our society. Absolutely a must read, but you probably knew that.

The Switch by Beth O'Leary
The Switch was a perfectly lovely little comfort read! This story of a twenty something city dweller switching lives with her nearly 80 year old grandmother was full of adorable humor and quirky characters. The romantic plots are completely transparent from the first pages, but it’s fun to see how O’Leary gets the story from A to Z. I think I liked The Flatshare a tad more, as it had much more depth than breadth. I got discombobulated a few times with who was who amongst the dozens of characters in The Switch. Still, a fluffy good time. I highly recommend this one for fans of Jenny Colgan’s books!

With the Fire on High by Elizabeth Acevedo
This was the one of Acevedo's three novels I had not read and it was lovely, as I expected it to be. Depending upon how you feel about YA stories, your mileage may vary. This story of a teen mom felt as if it was leaning very heavily into tropes of the genre. Obviously she's an outsider, parents are out of the picture, she has a spunky sidekick girlfriend, there's a mean girl and a love triangle with the perfect guy. But, I loved the cultural undercurrents and the way Acevedo brought intersectionality issues to light, as well as her characters to life. 












9.09.2020

August Book Reviews

 


Lovely War by Julie Berry
I usually don’t reach for historical fiction centered around a world war, as my reading experience with them tends to feel predictable and uninspired. But the buzz around Lovely War, plus a very original sounding plot device (the story is narrated by Greek gods) got my attention.
What held my attention were the adorable characters, I was really rooting for all of them, and the inclusion of Black narratives from that time period. Berry brings the story of many real historical figures into the novel, and had me googling afterwards - always an indication of a great book.
I will say that, despite the sweet and romantic storylines, it did fall into the category of a little predictable, a little tied up neatly with a bow. But it was a solid WWI historical fiction, and if you are a fan of the genre (which I think SO MANY are) this one is a must read.

Fun Home by Alison Bechdel
Given my love for graphic memoirs, I felt like I needed to go and make up some back list titles. Fun Home by Alison Bechdel (yes, of the excellent ‘Bechdel Test’) seemed like something I should absolutely read.
I knew it was adapted for the stage, and I remember the controversy around it being required summer reading for Duke University and, in my opinion, the baseless claims that it is considered pornography. I could absolutely see why it was assigned reading for new college students, given that a huge focus of Bechdel’s coming of age was at university. And, where the book lost me, it almost seems like a textbook on literature and philosophy.
The sections of the book where Alison delves into her family relationships, especially with her mother and her father, absolutely grabbed my attention and I found them heartbreaking and fascinating. But, for long swaths of the book, especially near the end, she becomes tedious drawing so many literary parallels. I really think I’ve had my fill of learning about Proust. Perhaps not for an incoming freshman, though?
I’m glad I read it, and I’m glad for more LGBTQIA+ literature getting attention. Just not my cuppa.

Check Please by Ngozi Ukazu
Caved to a non-memoir graphic novel I’ve been seeing alllllll over bookstagram! Check Please was super cute, fluffy, palate cleansing brain candy. I thought the main character Bitty was adorable and compelling (and he inspired me to finally start baking with our blueberry picking haul) but I really wasn’t wowed by the book overall. 
I did appreciate the point that cis-gender bro dudes being young, silly and fun can also be smart, empathetic, accepting and kind.
I would say that this would definitely be a great pick for the intended YA audiences! 

What We Carry by Maya Shanbhag Lang
One of the things I love about memoirs is how I automatically hone in on how my personal experiences relate to the author. I suppose that’s true of ALL books, but memoirs are special in this way. There was SO MUCH I could relate to in What We Carry - mostly about our relationships with, and expectations, of our mothers and as mothers. What are the stories we tell each other? Tell ourselves?
It was heartbreaking, affirming, and really a book that can be helpful during this sh*tshow of a world we live in - there is much to chew on about how the unexpected or unasked for can make us stronger, more the person we’re meant to be.
I could also strongly identify with her fitness routine being that time to connect with herself, time not spent taking care of others. I, too, tend to push myself, and it’s a good reminder that health is more important than fitness and I need to care for my body for the long haul.

The Summer Wives by Beatriz Williams
I REALLY enjoyed this novel! It has perfect summer vibes, vacationing with the wealthy on an exclusive east coast island. And throw in an innocent girl, a big ol’ family estate, and a murder for a Gothic mystery feel.
The narrative told in three different timelines (1930, 1951, and 1969) perfectly converged to keep me turning pages until the heart pounding conclusion. Some reveals I saw coming, but there were still perfectly plotted surprises.
If you’re looking for a beach read to squeeze into the last days of summer, this is a PERFECT choice.

Summerland by Elin Hilderbrand
It is September, and school has started, but it is still summer and I’m going to keep cramming summer reads until the 21st!
I finished Summerland over the weekend, and oh my heart.
She tackles heavy stuff in all of her books, but this one felt even more so. TW, especially for parents, it is about two families and how they navigate loss of a child - an infant in one family, a teen in another. Understandably, the frothy factor is dialed down compared with her other books. But the characters, in all of their heartbreaking fallibility, are as endearing as always. I flew through this novel, hoping for their happy ever afters and it tied together perfectly.


8.06.2020

July Book Reviews


The Duchess Deal by Tessa Dare
 I was excited to see what all the fuss was about with The Duchess Deal and to read my first regency romance. Maybe my expectations were sky high, but I ended up skimming quite a bit.
There is definitely comfort in the predictability of reading romance, which must always end happily, but the journey to that end should keep me engaged. I just felt as if I knew how every single moment in this book would play out and got bored real quick. I also think the idea of using Shakespearean insults has been done already, and I certainly give points for humor on that score... to Shakespeare. I do think the main characters banter was fun, and it made me chuckle.
If anyone has a good regency romance to recommend that might fit a less predictable pattern, please do let me know! I might try reading the Bridgerton books/The Duke and I before the Netflix show comes out...

What You Wish For by Katherine Center
Thank you to St. Martin's Press for the complimentary copy! What You Wish For delivers on what I’ve come to expect from Center’s novels: sweet, funny, romantic, lovable and poignant stories of fallible characters figuring out their lives in the face of trauma.
Last week I posted about a romance novel that felt too predictable to keep me engaged, even though familiar narratives can be comforting. In this novel, and others I’ve read by Center, I generally know where things are going to shake out by the end. But the journey to that comforting ending involved many scenarios I could not have predicted, definitely keeping me on my toes and fully engaged!
If you are new to this author, I’d say that How to Walk Away is my favorite and a great way to get hooked, and What You Wish For has a timely feel that might be inspiring during these trying times we all find ourselves in...
”Joy is an antidote to fear. To anger. To boredom. To sorrow."

All Boys Aren't Blue by George M. Johnson
Adding my praises to the pile for George M. Johnson’s All Boys Aren’t Blue. I love that this memoir covering gender identity, sexuality, toxic masculinity, structural racism, family bonds and Black joy is geared toward a YA audience. Johnson’s family love shines through on every page, and is one of the most honest and brave memoirs I have read. Definitely recommend the audiobook, too.

I can see why people are loving The Girl with the Louding Voice.
The story of Adunni’s coming of age, while surviving all kinds of abuse and oppression, felt familiar and not terribly complex. Though the plot did not grab me, the 14 year old Nigerian village girl who longs for an education absolutely stole my heart. It was eye opening to learn more about Lagos and Nigeria alongside her. I also thought that her non-standard English narration was the most compelling and unique aspect of the novel.
Overall, I found this to be an impressive debut and look forward to more of Daré’s writing!

Snapdragon by Kat Leyh
 A wonderful middle grade graphic novel about self discovery, family, friendship, magic and inclusiveness. LGBTQ+ representation is an integral part of the narrative, which is written so seamlessly and lovingly - it just all around warmed my heart. 

Crossings by Alex Landragin
Many thanks to St. Martin's Press for the gifted ARC of Crossings by Alex Landrigan! I haven’t seen this one on the early reader bookstagram radar, and I’m surprised because it’s a wildly fun premise...
A little bit fantasy, a little bit historical fiction, and a little bit mystery that can be read in two different ways. If you read it cover to cover, it is like reading the story from three separate, subsequent perspectives. If you decide to read in the “Baroness“ sequence, directions are given at the end of every section where to turn next, giving it an alternating perspective of telling of the story (and the nostalgia of Choose Your Own Adventure books). Naturally, I chose this method and thoroughly enjoyed watching the pieces of the puzzle come together. I also thought it would be easier to skim the opposite method of reading once I was done!
I won’t say too much about the contents of the book to avoid spoilers. But it felt reminiscent of Anne Brashares novel My Name is Memory, and the more recent Ten Thousand Doors of January by Alix Harrow. I love the idea of souls destined to be together across time and space.
If that, along with Paris after the turn of the century, sounds like your cup of tea, definitely check out this book!

Go to Sleep, I Miss You by Lucy Knisley
Ah, Lucy Knisley just perfectly illustrates real life with her drawing and wit in every book she writes. I feel pretty far removed from the crazy baby days with a 10 and 13 year old, but ‘Go to Sleep, I Miss You’ made all those hazy memories rise to the surface. I even got out the baby books to peruse. Short and sweet, it’s a hilariously fun read for parents of any age!

Clap When You Land by Elizabeth Acevedo
This was as gorgeous, haunting, and of course, lyrical as I expected it to be. Usually I share a favorite quote from a book, but with  it is IMPOSSIBLE to choose. Her novels, written in verse, carry such emotional heft and absolutely captivate with her beautiful words.
It’s good going into this story about two girls who’s lives are mirror images, and yet worlds apart, without knowing too much. The way Acevedo masterfully lays out the plot and builds incredible tension, while also clearly illustrating the effects of race, class, misogyny and the power of women despite the patriarchy, is perfection.
Run, don’t walk to pick up this book. I’d also recommend The Poet X, and I’m so glad I already have With the Fire on High in my stacks at home!



7.02.2020

June Books Reviews



There's not much I can add to the conversation about this book, other than to say that it does feel like an actual conversation with a friend (I especially enjoyed the audiobook). Oluo clearly lays out the structural racism and bias we all live with, and it was even more impactful as a fellow Seattle dweller. I could vividly picture the story she told of staying with her mother's friend in the small mountain town we have driven through countless times, and I knew exactly where she was going when talking about cultural appropriation when traveling at our local airport. Ooof, the Africa Lounge really ought to go...

Normal People by Sally Rooney
Okay, I GET IT. I like to know what’s up with polarizing books, and I wouldn’t say that I came down on either extreme of ‘all time fave’ or ‘worst book ever’ for Normal People. But I REALLY liked it - 4 stars. And I confess that I LOVED the BBC series - 5 big stars.
As for the book, I was enthralled by Connell and Marianne’s back-and-forth through their coming of age, the very real feeling breakups and makeups. Sure, they were insufferable in their constant miscommunication. But they’re teens/young adults figuring sh*t out. And they DO FIGURE IT OUT, which is wonderful and heartbreaking by the end. I also appreciated that they never cheated on each other and acted deferential towards one another.
In my reading experience, I felt very empathetic towards Marianne. Who doesn’t love a story of the bookish nerd girl glowing up and getting the guy? My heart ached for her as she dealt with Connell’s immaturity and her family trauma. It was harder for me to get my arms around Connell and his struggles with anxiety. He didn’t leap off the page for me. But after watching Paul Mescal’s performance on screen, I saw scenes from the book differently. Looking back on what I highlighted, I don’t know how I missed such a beautiful character study the first time around.
“He finds himself rushing to the end of the conversation so they can hang up, and then he can retrospectively savor how much he likes seeing her, without the moment-to-moment pressure of having to produce the right expressions and say the right things.”
Rooney’s writing was hypnotic, nostalgic and so thoughtful about socioeconomic status, family, mental health, trauma, and learning self-worth through it all. And I actually liked how it flowed without quotation marks! I think it lent itself well to such an interior focused narrative.

The Revisioners by Margaret Wilkerson Sexton
I finished the Revisioners on a typical June gloom day here in the PNW and it felt like the perfect fit for this amorphous and mystical novel. I am a sucker for a dual timeline narrative, and the common threads that Sexton weaves between present day Ava, and her mother’s great grandmother Josephine, a formerly enslaved woman who becomes a sharecropper, was beautifully nuanced and thoughtful. For only 288 pages, it’s quite an epic family story about the power of mothers and Black women. I do wish it was a tad longer, as I felt that it ended too abruptly and I was just beginning to learn about the Revisioners magic.

Good Talk by Mira Jacob
I am realizing that one of my favorite genres is the graphic memoir. Good Talk is as FANTASTIC as every person I know that’s read it says it is. It is ‘timely’ for sure, about a dark skinned south Asian woman raising a mixed race child with her Jewish husband. But, in any time, the whip smart art paired with heartfelt prose is utterly compelling and completely gutted me.
“We think our hearts break only from endings - the love gone, the rooms empty, the future unhappening as we stand ready to step into it – but what about how they can shatter in the face of what is possible?”
As with all graphic memoirs, even if you don’t think they’d be for you, I strongly urge giving them a try. Similar to memoirs on audiobook, there is something about the visual arts paired with the prose that gives the reader so much more. In addition to Good Talk, I’d recommend anything by Lucy Knisley, and The Best We Could Do by Thi Bui. 

Anne of the Island by LM Montgomery
It’s been over two years since I picked up where I left off in reading my beautiful Tundra Books Anne of Green Gables box set. Spending time with Anne is always a perfect respite, and I need to remind myself of this more often! In book three, Anne of the Island, we’re treated to the halcyon days of her college life. It’s filled with all of the drama of young adulthood, immersive scenery, and the mirthful humor of all L.M. Montgomery books.

28 Summers by Elin Hilderbrand
Another summer, another Hilderbrand novel! I can now see why people are raving about her latest, it is indeed fantastic. It’s a testament to how much I love her storytelling, despite utilizing one of my least favorite conflict tools in storytelling: people just not being truthful and saying how they feel. Ugh. As a riff on Same Time Next Year, it’s built on two people in love who only meet once a year and go back to their separate lives. Normally I get frustrated with the characters obtuseness in these situations and just tap out. For the first part of 28 Summers I was wary of how I would feel by the end. But, Hilderbrand knocks it out of the park with this cast of characters, intricate plot and the realness she brings to each fraught relationship: spouses of course, but also mothers and sons, best girlfriends and, what stood out to me most, the relationship between siblings.
She is one of the few authors I can immerse myself in for hours and wonder where the time went (4 hours of reading until 2 a.m. to read the entire second half of the book). It’s like listening to a friend relay an unbelievable story, filled with sumptuous atmosphere (oh, Nantucket), humor (“Mallory’s breathing is so shallow, she feels like she’s playing a dead person on television.” ha!), nostalgia (especially for us Gen X’ers - I mean, how many people get the Yaz or Michael Hutchence references??), and so much heart.
If you love Hilderbrand’s work, this is a no-brainer. And if you’re new to her novels, this is an excellent place to start.

6.09.2020

May Book Reviews


A housekeeping note, I’ve begun using  Bookshop affiliate links to support independent bookstores instead of the big A, which gets me a small percentage of sales if ya purchase books through my link. I’m working on setting up a storefront soon!

A Good Marriage by Kimberly McCreight
This book lives up to the hype, and is definitely my kind of thriller: thought provoking social commentary, nuanced characters, and absolutely believable twists and turns.
McCreight creates a rather large cast of characters, but I could completely understand each and every one’s motivations, which I find lacking in a lot of thrillers. And she thoughtfully ties in the theme of ‘a good marriage’ leaving no couple behind. Even those on the fringes are analyzed, from divorced or seemingly perfect, to those with an open marriage. Nothing is what it seems and I absolutely was guessing until the last. Not since I read Miracle Creek last year did I enjoy this kind of provocative legal thriller (with Angie Kim’s excellent social commentary on parenthood). Methinks I need to seek out more thrillers written by women with law degrees...
Thank you to Harper Books for the complimentary advance copy!

Hidden Valley Road by Robert Kolker
The story of the Galvin family, with six out of twelve children diagnosed with schizophrenia, is as fascinating and compelling as it sounds. I can see why Oprah chose it for her book club! If there is any criticism I’ve seen, is that more readers are drawn in by the family narrative, and less so by the scientific and bureaucratic interludes about schizophrenia research. But, those are the parts that I am finding truly remarkable! Science, y’all.

A Court of Mist and Fury by Sarah J. Maas
I stayed up way past my bedtime finishing A Court of Mist and Fury (book two in this series), and I’m so glad I did.
The world building of the Night Court is spectacular, the character development of the heroine Fayre is much more empathetic (as is Rhys, obviously), I was on the edge of my seat for much of the book. And llast, but not least, the swoon factor is OFF THE CHARTS. I also appreciated the very strong theme of valuing consent and being autonomous, equal partners in a relationship.
I’m so glad that I started these after all the books were published, as I just popped the third book into my recent Target order.

Stepping Stones by Lucy Knisley
Oh, I am SO HAPPY that Lucy Knisley is doing middle grade fiction with her amazing drawing and storytelling.
In Stepping Stones, Jen’s coming of age story is told in the aftermath of her parents divorce, moving to the country from the big city, and gaining new family members she certainly did not ask for. It is heavily based on the author’s own experiences, and the emotions of Jen’s highs and lows are certainly on-point and easily identifiable. I couldn’t help but root for her, and her new family by the end.
My daughter and I gobbled up our (signed!!) copy, and we are eagerly awaiting the next installment in this TRILOGY. My love for this author knows no bounds, and I highly recommend all of her books, reviews can be found in the tab above 'by author' and my favorites are definitely Kid Gloves and Something New.

Go with the Flow by by Karen Schneemann and Lily Williams
This boooook!! I would love to put this graphic novel into the hands of every school principal and every girl in the world, as a start.
I’ve been breaking into some of my daughter’s library stash, and Go With the Flow was an absolute delight while confronting the insufferable stigma around menstruation, and exposing period poverty. I was also so impressed with the diversity of the book - not just with race, but body types, sexuality, family structures and even our cycles, and how they can be vastly different. It’s full of heart and a call to action. Highly recommend!!!

Welp. I am in agreement with most of the reviews that I have seen for A Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes. The consensus is that the first two parts of the book are engaging, and then the third falls flat. I would argue that it ALL felt dull.
At first I was sucked back into the world of Panem, and the idea of seeing the origins of the hunger games. I just wish Collins would have gone in a less predictable direction with Snow’s character. He was just wooden, predictable, and uninspiring - as a villain or a hero.
On the bright side, I do love how it matches and rounds out my beloved trilogy

5.06.2020

April Book Reviews

Godshot by Chelsea Bieker
Thanks to the folks at Catapult, I was able to get a complimentary early digital copy of Godshot. This story of a girl coming of age, while stuck in a dead-end town and being brainwashed by a cult was a WILD ride. Lacey May is an utterly authentic and compelling character, whom I wanted to hug and smack upside the head in equal measure. The same goes for her mother, the town beauty who is the focus of the evil pastor’s designs. Godshot offered up a lot to think about when it comes to the relationship between mothers and daughters, what makes a family, and what it means to forgive.
I flew through this book wanting to know how things would end up for Lacey May. I find books about cults rather fascinating, even though this was fictitious. One might wonder where the author drew her inspiration, as some of the details were pretty horrific (Lots of trigger warnings - definitely research before reading, or shoot me a DM.) but she grabbed my attention in a visceral way. Bieker certainly nails the inherent misogyny of cults.
“But my body did exist and was only growing bigger. I would only keep existing more and more, and then when the baby came she too would exist, angering men and boys all on her own. When did this end? I wondered.”
If you think a sinister, and also weirdly charming story about a young girl in throes of a cult sounds fascinating, for sure grab this singular debut!

The Blue Bistro by Elin Hilderbrand
I normally save Elin Hilderbrand books for the summer. However, with my waning attention span and anxiety these days, I decided that getting to some unread backlist might be a good idea! The Blue Bistro wasn’t my favorite narrative of her novels, but the food writing sure was! If you know Hilderbrand’s work, you know that the love she puts into talking about food is such a huge part of her appeal. That, and being so vividly transported to beautiful Nantucket, which was SO NICE RIGHT NOW.
If you haven’t read any of her novels, hit me up and I can try to recommend one that might be perfect for you! I especially like to recommend her to fans of Louise Penny, because they have many of the same enchanting elements.

Here for It by R. Eric Thomas
 I’m really glad that I had R. Eric Thomas to keep me company in the last few weeks at home doing the thousands of dishes and loads of laundry that come with going absolutely nowhere. Anyway! Anyone that can tie in my favorite childhood read aloud (The Monster at the End of This Book) from the beginning of their memoir, to the heartwarming ending is TOPS in my book! This was an astute, eye opening, and obviously good humored collection of essays on his coming of age and confronting issues of race, class, LGBTQ, and religion. Highly, highly recommend!

Bury Your Dead by Louise Penny
I hadn’t planned on reading the next winter-y installment of Inspector Gamache in April, but here I am craving those comfort reads. Bury Your Dead was excellent, of course, and each book just compounds upon the last. I rather enjoyed the tied up loose ends from the previous novel, while also taking in Québéc through Penny’s eyes in this volume. It’s like being given the gift of travel right now.

A Court of Thorns and Roses by Sarah J. Maas
I finally CAVED to this series that is all over Bookstagram. I dabble in fantasy books a few times a year, but many of the hyped series didn’t suck me in past the first book - Six of Crows, Caraval, A Darker Shade of Magic... All great, just didn’t have that something that made me want to devour them. (Sorry! I know how beloved those titles are!) ACOTAR is reminding me of my reading experience with The Selection or Twilight series: kind of ridiculous, but so ADDICTIVE. It’s like Katniss mashed up with Cinderella whilst being rather sexy (PSA: not all fantasy written by women is YA). I have already ordered the next book!

The Whisper Man by Alex North
This was the first fiction novel I have ever listened to on audiobook! I tried to when I first started listening to audiobooks, but learned quickly that nonfiction holds my attention best, preferably memoir. But I had a complimentary advance copy sitting in my Libro.fm account and thought that I'd give this thriller a go. I listen to books at normal speed (or sometimes 1.1 speed, which is so awesome this is available on Libro.fm), but I pushed this one up to 1.25 in the final chapters, absolutely riveted. The ending was downright unsettling. If you are into creepy thrillers, I would definitely recommend this story about a child killer who whispers in victim's bedroom windows, complete with a scary rhyme about 'The Whisper Man.' *shudder*

4.09.2020

March Book Reviews

Valentine by Elizabeth Wetmore
This novel, reminiscent of Kingsolver, will definitely go down as one of my favorite books this year! Full review here

Middle School Matters by Phyllis L.  Fagell
Well, I guess I don't need to worry so much about school dynamics for awhile now... ANYWAY. This book was pretty dry, and there was a lot of information within that I have taken in from various articles and books. But, it does contain a lot of good information. Funny enough, there were many gems that I had already gleaned YEARS ago from Connecting Boys with Books, which is a great read.

Scythe by Neal Shusterman
It’s been a RULL LONG time since I dipped my toes into YA dystopian fiction. But, my 7th grader chose is for his book club in English class, so I figured it was time to pick it up - especially after hearing so many of y’all singing it’s praises. I must say that I found it very entertaining, and cinematic in tone. Is there a screen version in the works? I can’t imagine there not being one. It definitely evokes excellent philosophical discussions about life, death (obviously), and purpose. Though I felt the pace sag in the middle, it comes to a heart pounding end that is equally satisfying and tantalizing. I for sure plan to finish the series.

The Vanished Birds by Simon Jimenez
I didn’t burn through it very quickly, and I thought it sagged in the middle. But would I have felt that way when reading it a month ago, pre-covid 19?? Overall, I’d say Jimenez drew me in immediately with his eerie, somber and vivid world building. I was reminded a bit of A Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet. Though the tone of Vanished Birds is much more introspective and dark, I’d definitely recommend it as another example of thought provoking literary sci-fi.

Nothing to See Here by Kevin Wilson
I felt ambivalent about Perfect Little World, but Catherine at Gilmore Guide to Books convinced me to give this a try. I appreciated Wilson’s fantastical story, his take on class and power, and completely unique and convincing characters. How an author can make spontaneously combustible children seem like a plausible storyline, while balancing a sweet as well as sinister tone, I can't quite articulate. It has to be read to be believed, which I'd certainly recommend.

Maybe You Should Talk to Someone by Lori Gottlieb
This one definitely lived up to all of the hype! Gottlieb gives a fascinating glimpse into the work of a therapist, some excellent nuggets of wisdom through which we can look at our struggles in a more constructive manner, and a string of excellent narratives that propel the book forward. I was so invested, not only in her life story, but those of her patients Rita, Julie and of course JOHN. The raw humanity she shares in herself and others instills such empathy - just a lovely book.

3.30.2020

Valentine by Elizabeth Wetmore (ARC Review)

Valentine by Elizabeth Wetmore
Publisher: Harper Books (March 31, 2020)
Description from the publisher:
Mercy is hard in a place like this . . .
It’s February 1976, and Odessa, Texas, stands on the cusp of the next great oil boom. While the town’s men embrace the coming prosperity, its women intimately know and fear the violence that always seems to follow.
In the early hours of the morning after Valentine’s Day, fourteen-year-old Gloria Ramírez appears on the front porch of Mary Rose Whitehead’s ranch house, broken and barely alive. The teenager had been viciously attacked in a nearby oil field—an act of brutality that is tried in the churches and barrooms of Odessa before it can reach a court of law. When justice is evasive, the stage is set for a showdown with potentially devastating consequences.

So many feminist books of late center on the harrowing 'what-if' of a potential dystopian future. Yet this story of amazing and powerful women needs only to look into our very recent history: west Texas in 1976... What a phenomenal debut by Elizabeth Wetmore - I went into this novel blind, and was completely blown away: the lush prose, vivid sense of place, powerful storytelling, and authentic characters all culminated in such an emotionally moving way.
The plot begins with heart pounding scenes from Gloria's perspective as she escapes from attack, then bounces to Mary Rose as she answers the door, and eventually to a kaleidoscope of different women who each have a compelling narrative in their own right. The brutal crime and the way it's repercussions unfold certainly propels the story forward, but it almost feels secondary after getting caught up in these fantastic characters’ lives. I felt so much sadness, rage (oh the RAGE), and ultimately hope on their behalf.
The comparisons to Kingsolver are completely legit, and I felt echoes of The Poisonwood Bible while reading Valentine. I'd say her writing is also comparable to Ann Patchett, with such perfect unique and compelling character studies that punch you in the gut - but in the best way!
Thanks to Harper Books for gifting me a review copy! This indelible novel is definitely going on my yearly favorites list. It comes out tomorrow - March 31st, and I would recommend preordering and getting those library holds in!

3.05.2020

February Book Reviews

Oona Out of Order by Margarita Montimore
Oona is definitely making the rounds on social media right now, and I was lucky to be one of the folks to receive an advance copy in a promotion from Flatiron Books.
This was a fun and fluffy take on the idea of time travel/alternative realities, wherein the main character switches into a different year of her life at the stroke of midnight every January 1st. I think we can all agree is no longer a unique concept in fiction nowadays, and it needs to be done exceptionally well to stand out. I think this one will stand out because it is the first I’ve noticed that has popped up in the women’s fiction/contemporary fiction genre in a long time. 
The plot kept my attention, wanting to know what lay ahead for Oona and how she would handle the year she was given. There’s also an emotionally manipulative plot twist later in the book that gave it some heft, but I was left wanting more. It is nowhere near the epic level of literature it is being compared to, like Life After Life or The Time Travelers Wife, which are two of my all time favorite books. If you are intrigued by the premise and are looking for something quick and light, definitely give this a read. If you are looking for epic and indelible, read the latter two - you won’t be disappointed!

Something New by Lucy Knisley
I’m officially out of new Lucy Knisley content and I’m so sad! Luckily, she has TWO new books out this year. I adored Something New. It had personal, heartfelt vulnerability paired with insightful anthropology that all of Knisley’s books share. I loved the fascinating cultural tidbits (and hot takes) on matrimony, as well as the nitty gritty details of her wedding planning. It, obviously, made me nostalgic for our wedding almost 18 years ago... I’m also a sucker for Chicago nostalgia, and felt as if I took a rocket ship back in time at the mention of Too Much Light Makes the Baby Go Blind!! Any of my fellow Chi-town peeps remember that show?? Anyhoo! Pick up Knisley’s books - they’re fantastic

How to Be Alone by Lane More
This memoir was an overwhelmingly sad listening experience. I was certainly moved by Moore's account of how her broken family and upbringing shaped her life. And it helps to explain where so many people are coming from who have difficulty with relationships. Given her humor writing background, I was just hoping for a bit more levity than this book offered. However, if you are someone who's had a freakout over whom to put as an emergency contact on forms (which is highly relatable) and find holidays difficult, this will definitely make you feel less alone.

Fish in a Tree by Lynda Mullaly Hunt
Being a fourth grader, my younger kiddo was so excited to finally be able to participate in King County Library Global Reading Challenge! Her team didn’t win her school competition, but they came in third place despite being down two teammates. She had so much fun and can’t wait to do it again next year. Of the books in the challenge I decided to read Fish in a Tree and thought it was a perfect middle grade book about all the things kids grapple with: learning differences, new teachers, feeling alone, bullying, and making new friends. I loved the endearing characters in this book, especially the way Ally sees the world, and would definitely recommend for elementary/middle schoolers.

Such a Fun Age by Kiley Reid
I don’t know how much more I can add to the conversation about Such a Fun Age, since it is everywhere (most notably, Reese Witherspoon's book club pick). But, I think it’s for good reason. As many have noted, it takes on difficult topics like race, class, and feminism. Yet it doesn’t feel heavy or didactic. It’s fast paced, topical, and the characters are expertly nuanced - they each have CRINGE WORTHY moments (some more than others..) and empathetic ones. I was really impressed by this debut and highly recommend!

Open Book by Jessica Simpson
It seems as if Open Book is THE audiobook that everyone I know is listening to, and I’m just going to add my praise to the pile! I was a little too old to be caught up in her music and the boy band craze. But, my husband and I totally watched Newlyweds! I love that she has taken control of, and rewritten, her narrative. This was definitely emotional, juicy and entertaining, as a good celebrity memoir should be - it was also very well written, and I love that she gives credit to her ghostwriter Kevin Carr O'Leary, which is NOT usual for a celebrity memoir. Kudos to her all around, this was fantastic.

In Five Years by Rebecca Serle
I had mixed feelings about this one: full review here.

The Bromance Book Club by Lyssa Kay Adams
I thoroughly enjoyed The Bromance Book Club! I was dubious at first, because it starts at the ‘boy loses girl’ portion of the story and I wondered how I would be moved to care about the fate of a relationship between characters I didn’t know. But the humor and patriarchy-smashing themes made me smile and pulled me in as I got to know these, ultimately, complex characters. Definitely steamy in parts, if that is or isn’t your thing - would highly recommend if you’re looking for a refreshing take on romance. 

2.27.2020

In Five Years by Rebecca Serle (ARC Review)

In Five Years by Rebecca Serle
Publisher: Atria Books (March 10, 2020)
Description from the publisher:

When Type-A Manhattan lawyer Dannie Cohan is asked this question at the most important interview of her career, she has a meticulously crafted answer at the ready. Later, after nailing her interview and accepting her boyfriend’s marriage proposal, Dannie goes to sleep knowing she is right on track to achieve her five-year plan.
But when she wakes up, she’s suddenly in a different apartment, with a different ring on her finger, and beside a very different man. The television news is on in the background, and she can just make out the scrolling date. It’s the same night—December 15—but 2025, five years in the future.
After a very intense, shocking hour, Dannie wakes again, at the brink of midnight, back in 2020. She can’t shake what has happened. It certainly felt much more than merely a dream, but she isn’t the kind of person who believes in visions. That nonsense is only charming coming from free-spirited types, like her lifelong best friend, Bella. Determined to ignore the Todd experience, she files it away in the back of her mind.

That is, until four-and-a-half years later, when by chance Dannie meets the very same man from her long-ago vision.

This novel is getting alllll the buzz right now and was recently chosen for the GMA book club. I can see the wide appeal of the story, but I have conflicting feelings overall...
On one hand, I flew through the story of a woman who gets a fleeting vision of her life five years into the future. I love a little fantastical element in novels, and I kept wanting to know how it would unfold. The chemistry with Dannie and Aaron was compelling, which also kept me hooked. Are they destined to be together? 
There also were many aspects of Dannie and her best friend Bella’s lives with which I could identify. But it’s also where things started to break down for me. Much of their personalities seemed cliché, the type-A lawyer (Dannie is totally Meg Ryan in Sleepless in Seattle) and Bella is an ‘adventurous free spirit’ of the spoilt trust fund variety. There wasn’t much beyond flashbacks of sleepovers or post grad trips abroad to reinforce their bond. 
I’m all for some misdirection and a ‘big twist’ ending – but I felt as if there wasn’t a foundation there to support it, and it didn’t pay off emotionally for me. It’s definitely worth a read if you are looking for fast paced and thought provoking - I just wouldn’t go so far as prepping the tissues for an ugly cry. Though, it definitely seems as if I'm in the minority on this one - so your mileage may vary!
Many thanks to Atria Books and Netgalley for an advance copy for my honest review!



2.07.2020

January Book Reviews

Just a little housekeeping note: you may have noticed from the photo above that I changed the title overlay. I recently decided to change my Instagram and Twitter handles to be less confusing about the fact that I don't live in Chicago anymore - and haven't for over 15 years, which is WILD. Anyhoo, it was getting a little confusing in social media land, and that's where I primarily talk books! The new IG is @EvergreensAndBookishThings and Twitter is @EvrgrnBookThing.

The Better Liar by Taneen Jones
This was a solid thriller! Full review here.

Displacement by Lucy Knisley
Another fantastic graphic memoir from an absolute go-to author. In Displacement, Knisley tells the story of chaperoning her very old and frail grandparents on a cruise. It's equal parts hilarious and bittersweet. She doesn't hold back on all the gritty details of life with the elderly. I especially loved her incorporating her grandfather's book about WWII into her writing. The complicated love she has for them and her family is beautifully evident through the pages.

Long Bright River by Liz Moore
I can already say that this book is going on my favorites for the year. I thought The Unseen World was great, but Moore's latest was phenomenal. This story of two sisters, one a cop and the other befallen by addiction and crime, kept me on the edge of my seat with each page. Suspenseful, yes, but also a visceral and emotional look at humanity in all of it’s frailty. I cannot recommend it enough.

Monsoon Mansion by Cinelle Barnes
This was a riveting and lushly told memoir of Cinelle's coming of age in her parent's opulent Manilla mansion, that goes from riches to terrible rags. It shed a light on the politics of the Philippines during the 90s that I had little knowledge about, while telling a captivating story of her resilience, strength and hope.

Hollow Kingdom by Kira Jane Buxton
“If you are alive - whether of blood or bark - you will be struck by pain, love, longing, fear, anger, and the particular ache of sadness. There will be joys that quiver your leaves and betrayals that will sever your roots, poisoning the water you pull. These are the varying notes in the music of living. Look up, to close your eyes is to stagnate. To rot and stop the song.”
I’ve seen Hollow Kingdom here and there on social media and it sounded so unique and intriguing. And this story of the apocalypse narrated by a domesticated crow was definitely that, hella hilarious (NSFW), and rather touching. I also appreciated that it felt like a love letter to the city of Seattle, and the inside jokes made me cackle even more.

Heavyby Kiese Laymon
This is probably the most apt title of a memoir ever written. It was indeed heavy reading, Laymon's personal essays written in a sort of epistolary way to his mother. Eye opening and heartbreaking with themes of racism, male feminism, addiction and family bonds, I found it profoundly moving and sad.

Evvie Drake Starts Over by Linda Holmes
“In the months without him, she’d forgotten and somehow not forgotten at the same time; it was like hearing the first lyrics of a song and realizing you can sing all the rest.”
I’m so glad I finally read Evvie! This book was full of so many excellent nuggets, like the quote above. It’s a compelling romance that seems wildly unrealistic (superstar baseball player finds love in a small town) but is grounded in very real relationships. It covers the gamut: emotional abuse, single parenting, friendships with the opposite sex, complicated parent dynamics and the relationship we have with our own head - and the importance of getting that sorted before anything else.

The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet by Becky Chambers
I am so glad that I finally made time for this back list title that has been on my radar for so long. It has also been a long time since I read sci-fi, which is not my go to genre. Yet, when it’s done in a more literary way, I really love it - definitely the case for The Long Way to a Small Angry Planet. It is not very plot driven, and kind of meanders a bit in the middle, it's more character driven - oh, the cast of characters captured my heart. I love that it is full of thought provoking scenarios on humanity and our place in the universe.


1.14.2020

My Favorite Books of the Year: 2019

Every year it's hard to narrow down a list, but this one felt REALLY hard. I always think I should be able to keep it to a top ten, but inevitably add a couple more. Perhaps this year was tougher because I tackled the most books ever in one year - 92! 
I am surprised by this because I can't think of anything that I did differently, and I even did some binge television viewing early in the year, which is not normally my thing - I finally caved to the screen version of OUTLANDER! This summer I also had a hard time getting through books while our lives were in flux weighing the option of a cross country move. I thought it might be the fair amount of middle grade books and graphic novels I read pushing up the numbers (Lucy Knisley was my favorite discovery of 2019), yet I still managed an average of 340 pages per book. Either way, I'm pleased, because it was a well rated year - the highest since 2011 when my average rating was 4.1 stars. Of all the excellent books, here are my favorite from the year, in no particular order:

A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles
I got this one in my Book of the Month subscription ages ago, and even though I loved Rules of Civility, I just never felt the call to pick this one up. Obviously, I was glad I finally did! If you, too, think this sounds boring or not up your alley - I'd urge you to give it a chance.
Original review here.

A Heart in a Body in the World by Deb Caletti
This was such a gut punch of a book, and one of the few that I put on blast from my personal social feeds as well as the blog. It's an important story for young adults/middle grade readers. But, I think it's SO worthwhile for all ages.
Original review here.

This Tender Land by William Kent Krueger
Like A Gentleman in Moscow, the praise for this book finally inspired me to give it a read, even though the description did not really grab me. Riveting and full of heart, I adored this adventurous coming of age story set during the Great Depression.
Original review here.

Ask Again, Yes by Mary Beth Keane
I do love a good family drama, and Keane's book is in a category above most others. It's thought provoking and achingly beautiful.
Original review here.

Miracle Creek by Angie Kim
A courtroom drama that was so engrossing, I uncharacteristically stayed up past my bedtime to read on several occasions. It reminded me of when I used to mainline Jodi Picoult books, but Kim's work feels much less didactic.
Original review here.

Daisy Jones and the Six by Taylor Jenkins Reid
I love how Taylor Jenkins Reid keeps changing things up, and writing fresh and unexpected stories. This fictional oral history of a rock band was so fun, dishy and unique and I fell into the 'love it' camp.
Original review here.

City of Girls by Elizabeth Gilbert
This was my favorite book of the year, for sure. And no one was more surprised than me! I was not a fan of Eat, Pray, Love, mainly because I was irked by her privilege. Although, now I'm starting to rethink my perspective on that, thanks to this great article: I love Elizabeth Gilbert, and you can, too. "Gilbert and her work possess a female power our culture and society are just beginning to recognize."
Regardless! City of Girls is EVERYTHING I love in a novel.
Original review here.

Sounds Like Titanic by Jessica Chiccehitto Hindman
A sleeper hit from my favorite audiobooks of the year, I feel as if more people need to know about the brilliance of this fantastically told story - not just about the craziness of a fraudulent orchestra (playing to prerecorded music), but her own crazy coming of age from Appalachia to the big city.
Original review here.

Kid Gloves by Lucy Knisley
Lucy Knisley was my greatest discovery in 2019! Reading her graphic memoirs has been such a treat, and I only have one left before I'm out of new material, WAH! Kid Gloves is a story about her pregnancy, but on the whole it's about the history of women's health and sexual discrimination. I strong armed my husband into reading it, and he really enjoyed it, too!
Original review here.

The Dutch House by Ann Patchett
Will there ever be a year that Patchett writes a book that DOESN'T end up on my favorites list? I sure hope not! This nuanced and authentic story of siblings Danny and Maeve is one of her best. 
Original review here.

The Starless Sea by Erin Morgenstern
Probably the most polarizing of books on the list, this was definitely a book that doesn't leave readers feeling lukewarm. Yes, I was confused for large swaths of this fever dream of a novel. But, I adored the unforgettable journey.
Original review here.

Know My Name by Chanel Miller
Another favorite audiobook of the year, but also one of the best books I've read in years. A must read for all audiences about the realities of our justice system for victims, and brilliantly written. I look forward to her future work.
Original review here.


Links to previous best of lists below!
Favorite Books of 2018

Favorite Books of 2017 

Favorite Books of 2016 

Favorite Books of 2015

Favorite Books of 2014


Favorite Books of 2013 


Favorite Books of 2012