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!


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.