4.06.2021

March Book Reviews


Good Company by Cynthia D'Aprix Sweeney

I was thrilled to be invited on this blog tour for Good Company, the new novel by Cynthia D'Aprix Sweeney out today! This family drama about two struggling couples was engrossing, heartwarming, and thoughtful.
From the beginning, I loved the ‘inside baseball’ aspect of show business. Lots of frothy, dishy and scathing takes on life in Hollywood and then on Broadway. The unraveling of long buried secrets keeps the narrative propulsive, but I think the character development is where the author really shines. Sweeney perfectly encapsulates, with precise minutiae of everyday life, what it is like to be a young and in love, a young mother and a seasoned one, a best friend, even a teenager on the precipice of flying the nest. (Hey look! I managed to incorporate the title of her previous book, also excellent, The Nest!)
If you enjoy family drama, told from multiple POVs, flawed character study and not necessarily a neat and tidy ending, I HIGHLY recommend this accessible and engaging novel.

The Stationery Shop Marjan Kamali

The Stationery Shop was a Bookstagram influenced pick and, though I can see it’s broad appeal, I wasn’t wowed by this novel. It’s a quiet and sweet love story of two teenagers torn apart during the 1953 coup in Iran, and how it affects the young girl’s life as she eventually moves to the United States and crosses paths with her lost love decades later.
What I enjoyed: learning details of Iran’s political history, Persian traditions and FOOOOOD.
What didn’t work for me: insta-love, big reveals that were obvious, threads that could have been expounded upon that were not, a whole lot of breadth and not a lot of depth.
If you are a fan of a comfortably predictable love stories and being transported to a different part of the world to learn a bit about a culture that might be unfamiliar to you, I’d give this one a shot!

Milk Fed by Melissa Broder

I went into Milk Fed without knowing much about the story, just that it might center around the main character’s eating disorder. And, certainly that was prevalent throughout the book: Rachel’s relationship with food, and how it changes based on her surrender to happiness and untethering from her overbearing mother. But the narrative centers mostly around her sexual desires and how one relationship helps her change into her truest self.
I was not bothered by the overtly erotic nature of the text, just a little... WOAH, what? It was honestly much easier to identify with Rachel as someone falling in total LUST as opposed to someone so rigidly controlled by food. Sadly, I feel like one of the few women in society who dodged that bullet and didn’t have a fraught relationship with food for most of my life. Fair warning, it may be VERY triggering for those who have struggled with eating disorders, and um... not your cup of tea if you skip open door sex content in books!
Overall this was a surprisingly sweet and empowering story of self actualization and overcoming one’s demons. And it was a hypnotic listening experience, read by the author on audiobook.

Made For Love by Alissa Nutting

Made for Love was my Evergreenreaders book club pick for March and it was all my fault we read this WILD novel (or ‘thanks to me’ depending on one’s point of view). Although, I did give three selections to choose from - yet it seems no one could resist the cover and what indeed sounded like a wild ride. And I’m glad I read it! I think the rest of the club is too, whether we enjoyed the reading experience or not. It is rife with inside jokes for us now and laugh out loud material to dissect, which is one of the reasons I put it on the list!
This story of a woman running away from her psychopath husband who has implanted her brain with a chip to monitor her thoughts, while she hides out with her father and his sex dolls, (also there is a subplot of a man who is turned on by dolphins) is full of dark and satirical comedy. I haven’t guffawed out loud at a book in a long time. (If you have read this book, all of the stuff with Dolphin Savior had me cry laughing.) The plot also had me turning pages wondering what crazy sh*t was going to happen next, and the ending goes full pedal to the metal. But there is also a lot to unpack about how we interact with trauma, groupthink, technology and media.
I know I will think about the themes in this book for a long time and NEVER forget it! In the book the main character recalls a time when she went to an art museum with her mother and says:

“what’s it called when you’re looking at something, I mean staring at something, like how we are doing, but not at something pretty? That’s the whole reason to stare usually, right? Because something is beautiful. What about when something isn’t nice to look at but you’re still looking at it and thinking and stuff?”

The mother goes on to say that is REALITY, and I’d venture to say that also includes art - the provocative variety of which category this novel certainly falls under. It will undoubtedly be one of the most interesting television adaptations in recent memory, out next month on HBO Max. If anyone else has read this book, I would love love love to hear your thoughts on it! And if you plan to watch the show.

Infinite Country by Patricia Engel

It is absolutely no surprise that this book has been chosen for so many book clubs and subscriptions, including my first installment of the Third Place Books signed first editions club!
Infinite Country is one of those slim volumes that packs a lot in a little. From the very first sentence “it was her idea to tie up the nun” I was riveted by Talia’s story. After escaping from said nun, it was impossible not to be completely invested in her fate as well as the fate of her family, fractured between Columbia and the United States. Novels with multiple narrators always appeal, and Engel masterfully switches between them - as well as timelines, to build the narrative.
What is so important about reading Own Voices work is that we get a better picture of the realities for the people being represented. This story felt so very real, extraordinary but also ordinary in that it actually represents the lived experience of so many immigrants. It does not need to be flashy or full of action in order to be utterly compelling. A must read and beautiful book about home and family, heartbreak and hope.

The Electric Kingdom by David Arnold

It’s been a loooong time since I read a YA dystopian novel, but the buzz around The Electric Kingdom was irresistible and I feel like I’m in a headspace now where I can handle a post apocalyptic tale.
The beginning chapters are cryptic, purposely so, and once I was introduced to the main characters journey, as they wind their way together in this vivid landscape, I was hooked. I never give a synopsis in my reviews, but even the usual amount of plot I supply would be spoiler-y for this book. It’s best to go in without expectations, even if some of the mystery might be easy to figure, the ‘how and why’ is original and cunning.
As with most dystopian fiction, there is a lot to chew on regarding our shared humanity. Arnold did this in a such a moving and poignant way, not at all saccharine as some YA can tend to be, and not excessively didactic as some dystopian tends to be. If, like me, you enjoyed The Fifth Wave, The Passage or Blake Crouch’s novels - DEFINITELY pick this one up!

Caste by Isabel Wilkerson

Just like every other person who has read this book, I encourage all to read it. What made Caste so impactful for me was Wilkerson’s very organized journalistic structure - it definitely soothed my type A brain.
She gives a clear definition of Caste, how it undergirds our society, how it affects us all in the most harmful ways, and what the future may hold. All of this is laid out with compelling and clear comparison to caste systems throughout the world/history, easy to grasp metaphor, and her (infuriating) personal stories. Many books I’ve read on racism focus mainly on impactful personal stories, but Wilkerson really lays down the irrefutable case for structural racism in our society. This is one that my kids will be reading, FOR SURE.
Also, the audiobook is excellent and Robin Miles’ voice is soothing and personable at any speed.

A Trick of the Light by Louise Penny

Ah, it’s always such a comfort being back in Three Pines and checking in on beloved characters! A Trick of the Light brought all the usual excellence I expect when reading Louise Penny‘s novels: great atmosphere, character study, humor and wit, as well as intricate and thoughtful themes. Additionally, this book introduced a lot of drama that will continue throughout the books between the main characters Chief Inspector Gamache and Inspector Beauvoir. I have been consuming Penny’s series at a nice and slow pace, this is book seven and I read Still Life almost four years ago, in order to enjoy them for as long as possible. But now I am kind of anxious to see how some of these underlying plot threads will unravel! If you haven’t delved into these novels yet, I am yet another Penny Pusher encouraging everyone to do so. They are magical.

3.04.2021

February Book Reviews

The Paris Library by Janet Skeslien Charles

“Books and ideas are like blood; they need to circulate, and they keep us alive.”

It is not often that I pick up a World War II historical fiction novel, but the early buzz around this book, and the fact that it’s centered on a library made me pull the trigger on requesting. I’m glad I did, but there were elements I felt lacking and I wanted more from the story.

The narrative is set up in a dual timeline, one obviously during the war when the main character Odile is a young librarian at the American library in Paris, and the other in the 1980s when Odile is a widow living in Montana. The author creates that sense of urgency to learn how she ended up so far from home, but I felt as if the journey to that understanding was packed with unnecessary character building and seemed to sag in the middle. Once I learned how fate brought her to the United States, the book is almost over and that’s when I wanted to know MORE. There is a lot to unpack about friendship in both timelines, and was what made the book so compelling. Things JUST GOT INTERESTING with the young Lily in the 80s and potentially her friend Margaret from the war years when the book abruptly comes to an end.

I definitely recommend this novel for fans of historical fiction, and it was fascinating to read the prologue about the characters from the book that were actual historical figures. I honestly wouldn’t mind a small sequel perhaps, so that I could find out what became of Lily, Margaret and Odile!

In the Dream House by Carmen Maria Machado

“The truth is, there is no better place to live than in the shadow of a beautiful, furious mountain.”

Wow wow wow. I listened to In the Dream House on audio, and I felt in a little over my head at first. Machado reads with a singular cadence that took a few passages to get used to, but then her voice became utterly hypnotic. And her cerebral prose is dense at the outset, but settles into the very unsettling and menacing account of the abusive relationship with her ex-girlfriend.

The entire time I listened, I kept thinking about how hard this must have been for her, on so many levels, to examine. Her grief, vulnerability, and trauma is so sharp in this memoir with the visceral writing and (actually successful!) use of the second person.

Lots of TW regarding mental abuse, to be sure, but I highly recommend this indelible book.

The Lost Queen by Signe Pike

I first put The Lost Queen on my TBR when I saw it blurbed as ‘The Mists of Avalon for a new generation.’ SOLD! Mists was one of my favorite reads as a young adult, and I was looking for something magical, epic and immersive that wasn’t high fantasy.

There’s absolutely a similarity between the books: both follow the life of a strong female lead, are filled with ancient Celtic magic and the complex politics of tribal kings, religion and power. I have seen Outlander and Game of Thrones mentioned as similar reads, but I think The Lost Queen isn’t as romance focused as the former, and much more character driven than the latter. Pillars of the Earth would be a good comparison with similar themes and story elements.

The plot might have lingered a little too much on the men in the story than I would have liked, as their power struggles dragged for me. I wanted more about Languoreth’s mother, and her mentor Ariane. But on the whole I thoroughly enjoyed this reading experience and look forward to picking up the next in the trilogy soon. I was also in complete awe of the detail and research that Pike put into the novel - absolutely fascinating stuff. As someone of Scots/Irish heritage who dreams of visiting that part of the world one day, this made my wanderlust grow exponentially.

The Fixed Stars by Molly Wizenberg

“The constellations we see are temporary creations, our effort to draw order and meaning from a mostly unknowable universe, to tell ourselves stories, to guide our way home across oceans.”

I read Molly Wizenberg’s ‘A Homemade Life’ many years ago, so I only have vague recollections of her love of family, food, and falling in love with her husband. So going into The Fixed Stars, the account of her evolving sexuality and dissolution of her marriage, was disorienting. Then again, I think that was sort of the point - those stars aren’t really fixed and can shift into a different pattern, depending on your perspective.

While lyrical, especially when espousing on the cosmos metaphor, this read like a friend sitting down over a bottle of wine and telling her equally ordinary and extraordinary tale of marriage woe. I felt so genuinely happy for her in having the courage to make a life of her choosing. I appreciated her honesty about her privilege, and that she doesn’t have all the answers. None of us do in this world and we should accept the story that people tell about themselves, not one we write for them.

Real Men Knit by Kwana Jackson

I read this feel-good comfort read along with my Instagram book club and wasn't really wowed by the story. Things started out promising, as it reminded me a little bit of Insecure, one of my favorite tv shows. Kerry is trying to get her life started and works for a nonprofit serving children in the community - there's even an eye rolling 'woke' white coworker. Alas, there were a LOT of side characters and no one got a real deep dive, even the main romantic interests. It was cute, but a little to cliché for my liking.

In the Quick by Kate Hope Day

I want to preface this review by saying that I found In the Quick to be a unique and absorbing character driven novel. It should get a lot of traction with people looking for something other than what the blurb describes... The way the book is marketed might unfortunately result in some unnecessarily negative reviews.

The description claims a fiery love affair within the first sentence, which I think is terribly misleading. This novel felt like a quiet, introspective story where June’s relationships help showcase her coming of age, but do not take center stage. The romantic relationship, which is a stretch to call it as such, is barely a tenth of the book.

Readers picking this up thinking they are getting action packed sci-fi, might also cast it in an unfair light. To be sure, there are a number of well-timed scenes throughout that are very tense and rife with action.

But the beauty and the drama in this story is getting inside the mind a brilliant and flawed character. It reminded me of less fleshed out version of The Unseen World by Liz Moore, which I also recommend.


2.09.2021

January Book Reviews

 



A Court of Frost and Starlight by Sarah J. Maas

I’m glad it worked out that I read this in the week between Christmas and New Year's, because A Court of Frost and Starlight was basically a ACOWAR holiday book. I definitely ain’t mad about it! It was fun to finally spend some time in Velaris, see the characters take a respite for once, and get even more backstory. Maas clearly had fun setting up the next book/books and has me definitely wanting to continue reading!

This new graphic novel series was such a delight to read. A young girl joins with a rare and heartwarming creature (a Galdurian) to find her missing grandfather, and it echoes some of my favorite children’s stories like The City of Ember and Labyrinth. Probert also addresses anxiety - how it can overwhelm kids at times, and also empower them. It ends on a bit of a cliffhanger, and my daughter is chomping at the bit for the next installment.
If you have fans of Amulet by Kazu Kibuishi in your household, or fantasy graphic novels, you should definitely pick up this book.

Tomorrow Will be Different is an absolute must read. Her story about coming out as trans, working in politics, meeting and then dealing with the loss of her husband is a roller coaster of emotions. But I felt relentless optimism and faith in humanity undergirding the entire book.
It’s also so informative, and made me so much more aware of the perspective from a trans person’s point of view - from assumptions made about their sexuality, about the right people seem to have in asking about their bodies, about their given names, or the myriad tasks of daily life that are made difficult as trans in order to avoid confrontation.
Most importantly, we should all be loved for who we are, not who we could have been. Trans people are no different.
I’m excited to see McBride’s intelligence, charm, and optimism carry her far - since the publication of this book, she’s already become the first transgender state senator.
Oh, and some guy named Joe Biden wrote the foreword and it made me like him that much more. 

Writers and Lovers by Lily King
“I squat there and think about how you get trained early on as a woman to perceive how others are perceiving you, at the great expense of what you yourself are feeling about them. Sometimes you mix the two up and a terrible tangle that’s hard to unravel.”
Gahhhh. I loved this book! I hesitated for so long to read it, thinking it just didn’t sound like something I would enjoy, even though the hardcover of Euphoria sits on my all time favorite books shelf. I started to think perhaps I loved that novel because I seem to gravitate towards crazy books about a stranger in a strange land, like The Poisonwood Bible and State of Wonder (also on the revered hardcover shelf). But then I realized I adore Patchett and Kingsolver even when they aren’t taking me to the depths of the jungle, and I HAD to pick up Writers and Lovers by Lily King.
Like the aforementioned authors, her writing is so lovely and accessible, shocking me at times, and just made me feel some type of way.
It’s a slice of life and a beautiful coming-of-age story arc, wherein I wanted to hug the protagonist and the whole book when I was done. It can be bleak at times, especially when examining the grief over her mother’s death, yet it’s an immensely satisfying and, dare I say, happy ending? I think we could all use one of those.

Greenwood by Michael Christie
“All the rings of inner heartwood are essentially dead, just lignin-reinforced cellulose built up year after year, stacked layer upon layer, through droughts and storms, disease and stresses, everything that the tree has lived through preserved and recorded within its own body. Every tree is held up by its own history, the very bones of its ancestors.”
Greenwood was such a moving and thoughtful novel (and reminded me of another great book: This Tender Land, set after the great depression, a protagonist jumping the railways). Christie’s story ties to the future in a clever narrative structure, set up like a cross-section of the rings of a tree. It begins in 2038, hops to 2008, 1974, 1934, 1908 and then forward through those same years back to 2038.
The bulk of the story is told in the year 1934 with a cat and mouse chase between protagonist Everett Greenwood who saves a baby abandoned in the woods, and the wealthy RJ Holt who fathered the baby out of wedlock, sends a lackey to retrieve the baby and keep things under wraps.
While compelling and suspenseful, with books that span great swaths of time, I tend to get invested in some characters and wish more time was spent with them. At times the cat and mouse chase seemed to drag, but when the plot did come back around to characters from the later years, I was moved to tears. It’s a beautiful and heart wrenching reflection on the environment, what makes a life, and a family. Bonus points for a gorgeously rendered depiction of the PNW.

Seance Tea Party by Reimena Lee
Another fantastic middle grade graphic novel! Seance Tea Party is a poignant coming of age story about that in between time when kids still just want to be kids and play, while many of their peers are exploring more mature pursuits.
Lora is such an easy protagonist to empathize with, as I was definitely a kid who was not interested in growing up fast, and my daughter seems similar at almost 11: still running around on playgrounds, still acting silly, still loves animals and fuzzy things. But it is bittersweet, because we know what is inevitable. We both give this one two big thumbs up.
The book does such a wonderful job illustrating Lora’s very gradual shift in viewpoint on what it means to grow up. Her friend Alexa the ghost is a melancholy, but beautiful message about the privilege of aging. Highly, highly recommend for tween readers and fans ofRaina Telgemeier's books or The Babysitters Club!

1.14.2021

Favorite Books of 2020

 


Long Bright River by Liz Moore
This was one of the first books I read last year and the utterly suspenseful and human story of two sisters with divergent lives.
Original review here.

Valentine by Elizabeth Wetmore
Such an impressive debut from Wetmore, I think Valentine deserves a bit more hype! It's pretty bleak, but perfect if you love a tense and compelling read.
Original review here.

A Court of Mist and Fury by Sarah J. Maas
I escaped into this fantasy series last year, reading all four books, which is something I never do. If I DO read a series, I usually take my time. These books were such fun, and ACOMAF was definitely my favorite of the bunch.
Original review here.

Good Talk by Mira Jacob
Over the years I've been discovering how much I love graphic memoirs and Jacob's book was such a unique take on the genre with her collage inspired depictions of her life. The way she uses color and repeating pictures is so clever, and the writing is beautiful.
Original review here.

Go With the Flow by Lily Williams and Karen Schneemann
Speaking of graphic novels, this was my favorite kids read this year by a mile. This book takes on all kinds of issues around the stigma of menstruation and was so uplifting and empowering. A must read.
Original review here.

The Nickel Boys by Colson Whitehead
Yes, I am late to this party! I understand now! I love, love, love a book that turns everything on it's head with an amazing ending. It left me breathless, and enraged, but mostly in awe.
Original review here.

Mexican Gothic by Sylvia Moreno-Garcia
Thrillers or horror are not normally my thing, but the buzz around this book had me so curious. I'm SO GLAD I read Mexican Gothic! So atmospheric, creepy, and with a great build up to a completely nutty ending that had my jaw on the floor. Such a fun ride.
Original review here.

The Undocumented Americans by Karla Cornejo Villavicencio
This was definitely the best nonfiction book I read this year. Raw and eye-opening. A must read.
Original review here.
The hype was REAL with this book! I flew through the pages of this lovely story of an immortal woman who will never be remembered.
Original review here.

The Vanishing Half by Brit Bennett
Last book of the year and one of the best books of the year! I loved The Mothers by Brit Bennett, too, and this one did not disappoint. A great story with thoughtful layers on what it means to be our authentic self.
Original review here.

1.11.2021

December Book Reviews

 


Cantoras by Carolina de Robertis
“She’d never lived in such a place before; the freedom dizzied her. It was strange, she thought, how you could live all your life in a home defined by people who loved you and took care of you and shared ancestors with you and yet did not entirely see you, people whom you protected by hiding yourself.”
This novel about a queer group of women who establish a home together, literally and figuratively, during the dictatorship in 1970s Uruguay was just beautiful and heartbreaking.
I am really glad that I waited until after our elections here in the US to start reading it, because it is quite terrifying how Uruguay went from a modern democratic society to a fascist rule (and back again). Definitely an eye opening read on that front, but mostly this was an epic character driven story about friendships and how they grow and change. I wanted to reach out and embrace each of these women, they felt so authentic. If a novel that follows beloved characters through decades of heartbreak and triumph appeals, definitely pick up Cantoras.

In a Holidaze by Christina Lauren
Adding my Holidaze post to the pile that has been all over the ‘gram! If you saw my book stack thoughts last week wherein I was hesitating on this one, I obviously went ahead and let curiosity get the better of me. The reviews seem to be all over the place, and it also seems that people are are all over the place on their CLo favorites! I have only read two of their books, one I loved (Love and Other Words) and one that I felt was meh (Josh and Hazel) if that helps give context for my thoughts on Holidaze.
I guess I have a soft spot for the childhood friend turned romantic interest, because I actually ended up enjoying this one! A lot of folks had issues with the time loop theme, but I thought it served the story, and the impetus for Maelyn’s decisions, very well. It reminded me of Groundhog Day of course, but also of the very excellent Netflix show Russian Doll, and Before I Fall: a fantastic YA novel by Lauren Oliver. Though, that book is NOT light in tone. Holidaze was a perfectly fun and light holiday romance, and I’m glad I dove in.
The second in the Bridgerton series is just as entertaining as the first. Julia Quinn does a fantastic job with setting a scene, witty and humorous banter, and most importantly, empathetic characters. I really felt for Anthony and Kate, especially as someone who lost a parent at a young age.
I have a love/hate relationship with great book series. Like Louise Penny, it’s wonderful to have a trove of reliably great books to read. But on the other hand, finding the balance of not binging and fitting in ALL THE BOOKS is painful.
This book seemed to come out of nowhere to win the Goodreads Choice award for fiction, and I’m glad I finally read it! It’s a lovely, albeit melancholy, novel about a character who gets the opportunity to explore the parallel lives she could have lived, while in a sort of purgatory after attempting suicide. So, fair warning on that front.
I found the idea of fixing past regrets and trying on different lives so compelling, and flew through this relatively short book, curious to see where Nora’s choices would take her. But somewhere along the way, I realized that I wanted more depth than breadth from the story. I mean, the existential themes of the book are DEEP, but my connection to the main character and her relationships were not. Although, one of the things I think Nora has to learn is that she needs to live for herself and not others, so delving into her relationships was not the focus. For me as a reader, a novel focused mostly on plot and messaging makes for a REALLY GOOD read, but not a GREAT one.

A Promised Land by Barack Obama
The longest it’s taken me to read an audiobook is now six weeks! But this behemoth, with another to come (!), was worth it and did not feel like a slog at all.
What can I add to the discussion on A Promised Land!? It’s deserving of all the accolades. I found that it bounced nicely between the political and personal, and there’s something for everyone - whether it’s foreign policy, environmental issues, or family life in the White House. Obama moves seamlessly through myriad of subject matter.
I am always glad to listen to the audiobook when the author narrates, and the emotion comes through in this memoir. I was especially moved when he talks about climate, as well as the anecdote about coaching his daughter’s basketball team.
I think I enjoyed Becoming a smidge more, probably because I could identify with Michelle more easily. But I miss Mom and Dad equally, and it was a joy to listen to his soothing ‘everything is gonna be okay voice’ for the last months of 2020. 

The Vanishing Half by Brit Bennett
“You don’t have to explain anything to me,” she would say. “it’s your life.”
“But it’s not,” Stella would say. “None of it belongs to me.“
“Well, you chose it,” Loretta would tell her. “So that makes it yours.“
Last book review from 2020! And this is one of the reasons why I do not post my favorites of the year until well into January.
I was quite confident that I was going to love The Vanishing Half by Brit Bennett. The Mothers landed on my favorite books of 2016 - I even got to meet the author and get my book signed that year! And, of course, all of the reviews are glowing, rightly so.
The story of twin light-skinned Black women, one deciding to ‘pass’ as white, and how it reverberates with their daughters was propulsive, gorgeously written, and so thought-provoking. What does it even mean to be white? Aren’t we all playing a part in our daily lives? The way Bennett layers these ideas with each and every character is fantastic. I don’t know how much more praise I can add to the pile other than to absolutely recommend picking it up, and share another favorite quote...
“Her death hit in waves. Not a flood, but water lapping steadily at her ankles. You could drown in two inches of water. Maybe grief was the same.”