Category: Fiction

Daisy Jones & the Six by Taylor Jenkins Reid: Don’t Skip It Just Because You’re Not a Music Fan

March 19, 2019 Fiction 14

Daisy Jones and the SixFiction – Literary
Released March 5, 2019
368 Pages
Bottom Line: Read it.
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon
Source: Book of the Month (Ballantine Books)

Headline

I almost didn’t read Daisy Jones & the Six because I’m not that interested in music, but I couldn’t put it down and it will absolutely be one of my top books of 2019.

Plot Summary

Daisy Jones & the Six, a hot 1970’s rock n’ roll band, mysteriously broke up after a Chicago concert. This is the story of their rise and fall, told in an oral history format.

Why I Read It

I almost didn’t read it…because music isn’t really my thing. What a mistake that would’ve been! But, so many people I trust (Gilmore Guide to Books, Novel Visits, Annie Jones and Ashley Spivey) loved it that I decided to give it a shot. I also like the oral history format.

Major Themes

Music industry, love, addiction, creativity, group dynamics, life on the road.

What I Loved

  • I almost didn’t read this book because music is not my thing at all. But, Reid made the process of making music and the industry dynamics fascinating. In my opinion, the mark of a brilliant author is one who can make almost any topic exciting to the reader…whether or not the reader is interested in that topic (other examples for me are classical music in The Ensemble, rowing in The Boys in the Boat, and ice hockey in Beartown).
  • The book opens with a segment from an interview with Daisy’s biographer and I don’t think I’ve ever read another snippet that made a character come so alive. I texted a blogger friend right after reading it and said “I’m a goner.”
  • The oral history format made this book. It made the story seem incredibly fast-paced. There’s a quick ricochet between multiple perspectives of the same events that felt like watching a tennis match. And, it clearly illuminated how multiple people can have completely different interpretations of the same events.
  • I thought I knew where this story was headed. There was an easy and obvious reason for the band to break up, but Reid takes the more complicated path, making for a far richer story.
  • Daisy Jones & the Six is not, on the surface, a badass lady book, but that theme kept bubbling up for me in subtle ways. The women in the story (Daisy, Karen, and Camila) all showed immense strength in their own ways and I thought each was her own version of badass lady by the end of the story.
  • There are the rare books that burrow their way into your heart and Daisy Jones & the Six is one of those. The characters are all flawed (some more than others), but incredibly human and nuanced. Reid repeatedly comes up with perfect turns of phrase, and there is an immense rawness to the entire story.
  • I felt the whole range of emotions, which is another mark of a great book for me. I laughed, I felt like my heart was getting ripped out, and I cried.
  • Like many other readers have said, even though I knew it was fiction, Reid made all of it seem so real that I desperately wanted to hear their music, see that iconic album cover for Aurora, watch a video of Daisy and Billy singing together, etc.
  • I’ve only read Taylor Jenkins Reid’s latest two books (the other one is The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo), but they both blew me away even though they couldn’t have been more different. She’s now an auto-buy author for me and I’d like to read some of her earlier work (ex: One True Loves and After I Do).

What I Didn’t Like

  • There was one thing about the ending that I thought was unnecessary and felt like the publisher tacked it on for drama’s sake. It didn’t take anything away from the story, but it didn’t add to it either.

A Defining Quote

Daisy doesn’t value anything that comes easy to her. Money, looks, even her voice. She wanted people to listen to her.

Good for People Who Like…

Oral histories, stories focusing on group dynamics, stories that hit all your emotions, rawness, the music industry (but, not a requirement!)

Other Books You May Like

Two other oral histories (nonfiction):
Live From New York: An Oral History of Saturday Night Live by James A. Miller and Tom Shales
These Guys Have All the Fun: Inside the World of ESPN by James A. Miller and Tom Shales

Another book about musical group dynamics:
The Ensemble by Aja Gabel (my review)

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A Ladder to the Sky by John Boyne: Darker Than The Heart’s Invisible Furies, But Still 5 Stars!

November 15, 2018 Fiction 5

A Ladder to the SkyFiction – Literary
Release Date: November 13, 2018
384 Pages
Bottom Line: Read it.
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon
Source: Publisher: (Hogarth Books)

This post contains affiliate links (plus: here’s your Amazon Smile-specific affiliate link), through which I make a small commission when you make a purchase (at no cost to you!).

Headline

I’m two for two on 5 star books by John Boyne…though, A Ladder to the Sky is much darker and not necessarily for the exact same type of reader as The Heart’s Invisible Furies.

Plot Summary

Maurice Swift is single-mindedly focused on becoming a world famous author (despite having trouble coming up with story ideas) and will use anything and anyone to get there.

Why I Read It

Because The Heart’s Invisible Furies (my review), obviously!

Major Themes

Ambition, literary world, using people, relationships, writing process

What I Liked

  • Y’all know I loved Boyne’s 2017 novel, The Heart’s Invisible Furies, so A Ladder to the Sky had huge shoes to fill! While it didn’t fill that exact pair of shoes, it did fill a pair of equal size, just in a different style.
  • It’s much darker (I don’t mean sadder…I mean more messed up) than The Heart’s Invisible Furies. For that reason, I wouldn’t recommend it to everyone who loved The Heart’s Invisible Furies, but Boyne’s writing style is absolutely there and I 5 star-loved it.
  • Maurice is an operator / manipulator to a degree I don’t think I’ve seen all that much in fiction. He’s much like many of Herman Koch’s characters in that he’ll say incredibly unsettling things that most regular people may not even think, much less say aloud. He’s not the least bit likable (readers who want to see likable characters in your reading, this is your warning!), but he sure is disturbingly fascinating.
  • A Ladder to the Sky, particularly its structure, unfolds brilliantly. Each section is told from the perspective of someone Maurice impacted on his quest for literary dominance…including the real life literary legend, Gore Vidal. These sections feel a bit like extremely interconnected novellas. I loved it more and more with each new section.
  • The story begins in the 1980’s and moves forward, but a large chunk of the opening section is told through flashbacks to World War II in Germany. Parts of the book felt like historical fiction and parts felt very contemporary. Y’all know I have a finicky relationship with Historical Fiction, but I loved this mash-up of the historical and contemporary.
  • I loved the look into the dark side of publishing and the literary world. I’m hoping Boyne’s portrayal is a bit exaggerated, but it made for delicious reading. I can’t help but wonder how much of this stuff actually goes on in real life.
  • This one could’ve gone on my list of 16 Character-Driven Novels I Couldn’t Put Down and my list of 12 Memorable Villains of Fiction if I’d read it in time!
  • This would be an excellent book club selection!

What I Didn’t Like

  • This isn’t truly a criticism…more of a nit-picky observation about A Ladder to the Sky compared to The Heart’s Invisible Furies. But, one of the things I loved most about The Heart’s Invisible Furies is that it made me feel a  wide range of emotions (joy, sadness, delight, amusement, etc.). A Ladder to the Sky is not that kind of book…it’s more like watching a series of massive betrayals one after the other. You know it’s coming, the surprise is in what form it will take. The prevailing emotion throughout the whole thing is horrified incredulity.

A Defining Quote

“And you’ve heard the old proverb about ambition, haven’t you?”
He shook his head.
“That it’s like setting a ladder to the sky. A pointless waste of energy. […]”

Good for People Who Like…

Dark stories, dislikable characters, a memorable villain, stories set in the literary world

Other Books You May Like

Another book starring authors that features dislikable characters:
Dear Mr. M by Herman Koch (my review)

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A Cloud in the Shape of a Girl by Jean Thompson: A Bleaker Anna Quindlen

October 18, 2018 Fiction 10

A Cloud in the Shape of a GirlFiction – Literary
Release Date: October 23, 2018
336 Pages
Bottom Line: Read it.
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon
Source: Publisher: (Simon & Schuster)

This post contains affiliate links (plus: here’s your Amazon Smile-specific affiliate link), through which I make a small commission when you make a purchase (at no cost to you!).

Headline

Though not perfect, A Cloud in the Shape of a Girl is an astute observation of different generations of women’s roles in marriage and motherhood and reminded me of a bleaker Anna Quindlen.

Plot Summary

The story of Evelyn, Laura, and Grace Wise, three generations of women living in a small, Midwestern town and trying to find their place in life.

Why I Read It

A Cloud in the Shape of a Girl was blurbed by Tayari Jones (author of An American Marriage) and the premise of three generations of women appealed to me. However, it originally came to me unsolicited from the publisher and I hadn’t heard much about it, so it was a bit of a risk!

Major Themes

Marriage, motherhood, women’s roles, parenting, addiction, generational differences, small town life

What I Liked

  • I’ve been gravitating towards books about marriage, motherhood, and women’s roles lately (as evidenced by my recent post: The “Women Who Get Women” Authors Club) and that’s the crux of what this book is about.
  • Thompson beautifully unpacks the small, everyday trials of marriage and parenting: coddling your kids, bonding with your kids, different parenting styles within a marriage, different generational views on the roles of women, addiction, and mild alcoholism. So, don’t expect fireworks from a plot perspective…just astute commentary about life, especially for women.
  • Thompson reminded me of a somewhat bleaker Anna Quindlen (if you like happy books, this one is not for you!) and A Cloud in the Shape of a Girl reminded me of a less explosive The Wife by Meg Wolitzer (my review).
  • I love the focus on women of three different generations and think Thompson painted an accurate picture of the different generational outlooks on the role of women in the home. Grandmother Evelyn is actually very modern for her time and was career focused before reluctantly giving up it up when she became a mother. Mother Laura is a stay-at-home mom who coddles her husband and son. Laura’s husband, Gabe, is infuriated by Laura’s coddling of their son, but fully expects the coddling to apply to himself. Grace is Laura’s daughter who constantly barbs her mother for martyring herself in service to her husband and son and desperately wants to get out of her small town, but can’t seem to find the energy to make it happen.
  • These characters are all flawed and every one will annoy you in some way. But, they’re realistic and represent types of people I see often in daily life…the housewife who martyrs herself to serve her husband and kids, the husband who expects the service of his wife, the millennial who is used to his parents to doing everything for him, and the woman who “gave it all up” to care for her family and now feels stifled.
  • This would be an excellent book club selection!

What I Didn’t Like

  • I absolutely hate the title and the cover. I still don’t get the point of the title. It references a tiny, inconsequential scene in the book that I don’t think carries any overarching message. And, the cover gives off a buttoned-up, historical fiction vibe, when this book is not that at all.
  • The first chapter could have been cut entirely. It’s about a woman in the process of dying and it doesn’t use any names. Who is this chapter about? One of the characters we meet later in the book? Someone else? A metaphor? I couldn’t focus on what was happening because I kept trying to figure out who these people were. And, I still don’t know the answer!
  • There’s a bit of an annoying obsession with flowers that I didn’t really see a purpose for. 

A Defining Quote

Conversation between Laura and Grace:

“Nobody said you have to give things up for us.”

Oh but they did. The whole world did. It was beat into you so many different ways. In spite of a million women’s magazine articles about good career moves, and claiming your own interests and hobbies, and your right to your own sphere. Just try and get away with putting yourself first. Maybe younger women no longer felt such pressures. Maybe they were now free to be selfish. […]

“Well, don’t. Quit it.”

Good for People Who Like…

Quiet books, astute life observations, dysfunctional families, small town stories, stories about marriage and motherhood

Other Books You May Like

Another book about a woman feeling trapped by her marriage:
The Wife by Meg Wolitzer (my review)

Another story about the breakdown of a family with astute writing about the woman’s perspective:
Every Last One by Anna Quindlen (my review)

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Where The Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens: A 5-Star Coming of Age Story Set in Marsh Country

August 16, 2018 Southern Fiction 15

Where the Crawdads SingFiction – Literary
Released August 14, 2018
384 Pages
Bottom Line: Read it.
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon
Source: Publisher (Putnam)

Headline

I was worried Where the Crawdads Sing would be a beautiful, but boring book, but I couldn’t be more wrong. The writing is gorgeous, the story is propulsive, and it’s 5-star immersive.

Plot Summary

When local star quarterback Chase Matthews is found dead, suspicion falls on Kya Clark (the “Marsh Girl”), who is not at all who the town residents think she is.

Why I Read It

This book came to me unsolicited from the publisher and it’s North Carolina marsh setting intrigued me (i.e. made me think of Pat Conroy just a bit).

Major Themes

The marsh, nature, living outside the grid, love, prejudice

What I Liked

  • Where the Crawdads Sing is a bit of a genre mash-up. There’s a coming of age element, a mystery, and a bit of romance that I did not expect from this book, but that totally worked for me.
  • I was completely immersed in this story from start to finish. I read it quickly and looked for every opportunity in the day to pick it up.
  • There’s a bit of a Sweet Home Alabama (the movie) feel to certain parts of the story.
  • The story is told in dual timelines…one starting in the past and working forwards and one in present day. I love how this structure kept the story moving by keeping you wondering how the characters got from point A to point Z.
  • I had somewhat muted expectations going into Where the Crawdads Sing and it defied everything I thought it would be. I knew Owens was known for her nature writing, which I thought would be beautiful, but boring. She did write beautifully about nature, animals, and marsh life, but it wasn’t boring at all. It fit with the story, conveyed what the marsh meant to Kya, and how it shaped her into who she was. And, the story was much faster-paced than I expected.

    As always, the ocean seemed angrier than the marsh. Deeper, it had more to say.

  • Not surprisingly, the marsh setting comes alive and feels like it’s own character in the story.
  • I also expected Kya to be a weird and unrelatable character…eccentric and “woo-woo.” But, Owens does a great job of letting her have thoughts and feelings that most regular teenage girls have. She just had some different layers over top as a result of her background and living alone in the marsh. She’s dealing with feeling like an outsider, prejudice from the town residents, surviving on her own, love, and heart-break. She’s incredibly likable and I was rooting for her.
  • Some plot elements should have felt cliche (they’re out of a rom-com), but they didn’t. I was totally sucked in.
  • I waited a week after finishing this book to write my review and I’m still thinking about this story. More layers keep materializing.

What I Didn’t Like

  • There were a couple plot choices at the very end that I thought were overkill. The story didn’t need them and I almost felt like the publisher might have pushed the author to add them to make the plot even more intricate.

A Defining Quote

She feels the pulse of life, he thought, because there are no layers between her and her planet.

Good for People Who Like…

Southern fiction, books with a strong sense of place, unconventional love stories, great writing, a fast-moving plot

Other Books You May Like

Another book with a fast-moving plot about a girl with a close relationship with nature:
Our Endless Numbered Days by Claire Fuller (my review)

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Why I Didn’t Like Circe by Madeline Miller

May 22, 2018 Fiction 31

CirceFiction – Fantasy
Released April 10, 2018
394 Pages
Bottom Line: Skip it.
Affiliate Link: Amazon
Source: Book of the Month (Publisher: Lee Boudreaux Books)

This post contains affiliate links (plus: here’s your Amazon Smile-specific affiliate link), through which I make a small commission when you make a purchase (at no cost to you!).

Headline

Though I could tell it was well-done, I didn’t like Circe. I felt like I slogged through it and thought I needed to have better base knowledge or at least more interest in Greek mythology to appreciate it.

Plot Summary

When Circe, the under-rated daughter of the god Helios, begins interacting with mortals and discovers she has a power, her father banishes her to a deserted island as part of an agreement with Zeus.

Why I Read It

I decided to ignore my lack of interest in Greek mythology and read Circe anyway because of the multitude of rave reviews, including some from trusted recommendation sources (Gilmore Guide, Novel VisitsBook of the Month, author Ann Patchett).

Major Themes

Greek mythology, feminism, motherhood, adventure

What I Liked

  • Despite this book not being for me at all, I recognize that it was extremely well-done. I’m actually stressing out over my rating because of this. I didn’t like Circe at all, but I also feel like it doesn’t deserve a 1 star rating because I could see how well-done it was.
  • There were a few parts where I was riveted by the adventure and I couldn’t stop turning the pages (both parts had to do with The Straits).
  • Right when I finished Circe, I went away for a night with some girlfriends I grew up with. I arrived to find two of them reading and loving Circe. We then had a pretty in-depth discussion about the messages it conveys and I liked those messages. I also liked that it sparked this type of discussion at a girls’ weekend!

What I Didn’t Like

  • Circe reminded me of how I felt about A Gentleman in Moscow (my review). I could see it was well-done, but I felt like I was slogging my way through it. I couldn’t concentrate, the story was going in one ear and out the other, I felt like I was fighting with the language, it felt like a school assignment, and I felt like I was viewing the action from 50,000 feet in the air through a layer of clouds..I did not feel present in Circe’s world (except for those two periods in The Straits).
  • The language is formal and of the time of the Greek gods. I had no idea what she was talking about in some passages, like this one:

His voice rolled like a bard’s: Achilles, prince of Phthia, swiftest of all the Greeks, best of the Achaian warriors at Troy. Beautiful, brilliant, born from the dread nereid Thetis, graceful and deadly as the sea itself. The Trojans had fallen before him like grass before the scythe, and the mighty Prince Hector himself perished at his ash- spear’s end.

  • Particularly in the beginning, there are way too many characters and I couldn’t keep track of them. It felt like Miller included every minor god in Greek mythology in this book in some way, no matter how tangential. There was a glossary of characters at the back of the book, but I didn’t know it was there until I was finished…that should absolutely have been at the front of the book!
  • Circe is the kind of book that I’ve found it almost impossible to read these days. I fit reading into my life in small snippets throughout the day amid taking care of my young children. Often while I’m reading, my children are around me talking, interrupting, participating in sports practices, etc. And, I rarely have larger chunks of time to really focus on getting immersed in a book. So, I need books that I can easily get immersed in. A part of me felt like my brain just couldn’t handle Circe. But, I also think a great book shouldn’t feel like hard work…
  • I’d heard you don’t have to know much about or even be super interested in Greek mythology to love Circe. I totally disagree. I think you need somewhat of a foundation in Greek mythology to make heads or tails of this or the time and inclination to do some outside research as you go (i.e. looking up all these tangential gods and learning their stories).
  • You may ask why I finished Circe if I disliked it so much…the answer is I wanted to review it. There are very few contrarian reviews out there about this book and I thought the discussion needed an opposing viewpoint. That being said, this reading experience sure did remind me why I’m usually a big DNF’er of books that aren’t working for me.

A Defining Quote

I thought once that gods are the opposite of death, but I see now they are more dead than anything, for they are unchanging, and can hold nothing in their hands.

Good for People Who Like…

Greek mythology, intricate books, more formal writing

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Alternate Side by Anna Quindlen: When a Favorite Author Stumbles

March 22, 2018 Fiction 23

Alternate Side by Anna QuindlenFiction – Literary
Released March 20, 2018
304 Pages
Bottom Line: Skip it.
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon
Source: Publisher (Random House

Headline

I adore Anna Quindlen (both her fiction and nonfiction) and saw instances of her brilliant, trademark writing in Alternate Side, but the plot was a bit boring and I know she can do better.

Plot Summary

When a violent incident happens on Nora and Charlie Nolan’s wealthy Upper West Side block, Nora begins to see cracks in her marriage, friendships, and throughout the neighborhood.

Why I Read It

Anna Quindlen is one of my go-to authors. I’ve adored most of what I’ve read by her (Every Last OneOne True ThingMiller’s Valley and Lots of Candles, Plenty of Cake) and think she just “gets” women. 

Major Themes

Marriage, New York City life, class, friendship

What I Liked

  • Alternate Side is a true New York City book. The setting stood out far more to me than any of the characters…and Quindlen brilliantly captures its quirks (and there are many).

The dirty little secret of the city was that while it was being constantly created, glittering glass and steel towers rising everywhere where once there had been parking lots, gas stations, and four-story tenements, it was simultaneously falling apart. The streets were filled with excavations and repair crews, the older buildings sheathed in scaffolding cages.

  • It’s an easy, relatively uncomplicated read (which I sometimes need and suspect you do too!).
  • The title is brilliant and will truly resonate with anyone who has lived in NYC. NYC has something called “alternate side parking” (a law that dictates which side of the street cars can park on specific days to improve traffic flow and make room for street sweepers, etc), which causes residents who park on the street to go temporarily insane every time they have to move their cars. It brings out everyone’s true colors and is sort of a microcosm of New York City B.S.
  • While the writing didn’t bowl me over like it did in Lots of Candles, Plenty of Cake and Every Last One, it is quintessential Quindlen and there were numerous passages that reminded me why I love her writing…especially when she talks about women’s experiences.
     

The slightly aberrational spouse was a status symbol, too. The husband who cooked. The wife who played golf. The husband who took his children to school. The wife who ran her own business. Of course, it was chancier with the women than with the men. You couldn’t push it too far. The marathoner wife who made partner – perhaps. The wife who could benchpress her own weight and made the cover of Fortune – too emasculating. The men, on the other hand, got unlimited mileage out of performing so-called women’s tasks as long as they also had substantial disposable income and significant business cards.

What I Didn’t Like

  • Alternate Side is about a lot of things, but is also kind of about nothing. Is it about an Upper West Side neighborhood, but a somewhat boring one? Is it about a New York marriage, but a somewhat boring one? Is it about an incident in the neighborhood, which wasn’t as earth-shattering as promised? I couldn’t figure it out. An American Marriage and The Mothers were both about a lot of things, but they all gelled together into a coherent story that worked. Unfortunately, I’m not sure Alternate Side had much of a plot and what plot was there felt muddled. 
  • Some people prefer Quindlen’s nonfiction to her fiction, but I know from Every Last One and One True Thing that she can write novels where the plot and the writing shine. That didn’t happen here.
  • I think this book would have worked better as a nonfiction essay collection about life in New York City for, as Quindlen says, “New Yorkers of a certain sort”, where the “life in New York part” is intentionally the star.

A Defining Quote

There was a shadow government on the block, a shadow government that knew where all the bodies were buried, a system of mutual dependence, one group needing services, the other employment. Nora was never certain where the balance of power fell.

Good for People Who Like…

Quiet stories, social commentary, New York City books.

Try These Books Instead…

Anna Quindlen at her best:
Every Last One (Fiction, my review)

Lots of Candles, Plenty of Cake (Memoir, my review)

Two books that tackle a lot of issues, but aren’t overwhelmingly about any one of them:
An American Marriage by Tayari Jones (my review)

The Mothers by Brit Bennett (my review)

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An American Marriage by Tayari Jones: My Favorite Novel of 2018 So Far

February 8, 2018 Southern Fiction 27

An American Marriage by Tayari JonesFiction
Released February 6, 2018
320 Pages
Bottom Line: Read it.
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon
Source: Publisher (Algonquin Books)

Headline

An American Marriage is an intimately written novel that tackles a number of weighty current issues in an organic way…and is my favorite novel of 2018 so far!

Plot Summary

When Roy goes to prison for a crime he didn’t commit only a year and a half into their new marriage, Celestial must figure out how to cope with his absence and shape her life in the face of this massive upheaval.

Why I Read It

This year, I’m trying to select books that come highly recommended by people whose recommendations I trust and that have already read the book (rather than are just excited to read it). An American Marriage came with a 5 star review from Nicole Bonia of The Readerly Report Podcast. Since then, it’s been chosen as an Oprah Book Club pick and a Book of the Month February selection.

Major Themes

Marriage (obviously), race, class, incarceration, love, friendship, family, grief, fidelity, recovery

What I Liked

  • You see how many major themes An American Marriage tackles? You’d think the story would feel cluttered with all that, but it doesn’t. It’s about so many things, but not overwhelmingly about any one of them (kind of like The Mothers). And, Jones handles them in a completely organic way that doesn’t make the book feel overwhelmingly like “an issue book.”
  • I loved the writing. It’s not “gorgeous” in the traditional sense, rather it’s casual, intimate, and has personality. I felt like I was hanging out in the backyard with each character (the story is told through multiple perspectives) as he/she told me his/her side of a crazy story.

    I hate using that word, career. It always feels like the word bitch is hiding out between the letters.

  • Roy and Celestial’s story digs deeper into race to the class divisions within the African American community. Roy comes from poverty and is driven to improve his station in the world, while Celestial comes from an upper class family. The ripple effects of these different mentalities has a large impact on their marriage.
  • The last quarter of the book is absolutely riveting. You want action? You’ll get it here.
  • With all the issues addressed in An American Marriage, it’s not surprising that it would make a great book club selection. There’s a ton to discuss here including a big “what would you do in their shoes?” question.

What I Didn’t Like

  • When I heard Nicole talk about this book on The Readerly Report Podcast, she advised to go in blind and I’m so glad I did. The publisher’s blurb gives away far too many plot details and I’d advise you to avoid it if you’re interested in reading this one! Sadly, I feel like I’ve had to list this item under “What I Didn’t Like” for far too many books over the past couple years…
  • I’m not a fan of Epilogues in general and this one didn’t drive me crazy, but it didn’t add much to the story.

A Defining Quote

We were properly married for a year and a half, and we were happy for that time, at least I was. Maybe we didn’t do happy like other people, but we’re not your garden-variety bourgeois Atlanta Negroes where the husband goes to bed with his laptop under his pillow and the wife dreams about her blue-box jewelry. I was young, hungry, and on the come-up. Celestial was an artist, intense and gorgeous. We were like Love Jones, but grown. What can I say? I always had a weakness for shooting-star women.

Good for People Who Like…

Southern fiction, marriage, hard-hitting writing, books about “issues” that don’t feel like “issue books”

Other Books You May Like

Another book that tackles weighty issues, but isn’t overwhelmingly about any one of them:
The Mothers by Brit Bennett (my review)

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Sing, Unburied, Sing by Jesmyn Ward: On Appreciating, Yet Not Loving A Book (Part 2)

October 19, 2017 Southern Fiction 18

Sing Unburied Sing by Jesmyn WardFiction
Released September 5, 2017
285 Pages
Bottom Line: Skip it.
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon
Source: Publisher (Scribner)

Headline

Though I can see why the critics love Sing, Unburied, Sing, I didn’t particularly enjoy reading it and had trouble connecting with the story.

Plot Summary

Set in Mississippi, the story of JoJo and Kayla, two mixed race children who grow up in their black grandparents’ house (with the sporadic presence of their drug addict mother, Leonie), and the road trip to pick up their white father (Michael) from prison.

Why I Read It

Though I didn’t finish Ward’s previous National Book Award winner, Salvage the Bones, I wanted to give her latest a try since it, too, was a Finalist for the National Book Award.

Major Themes

Childhood Trauma, Abuse, Drugs, Race, Poverty, Family

What I Liked

  • The writing is unquestionably the star of this book. Its first line and chapter (and really the whole book) are raw and vivid and I was highlighting like crazy throughout. It’s the kind of writing that’s sparse, hard-hitting, and can really gut you at times, which usually works well for me.
  • JoJo and Kayla are heart-breaking characters and I wanted to wrap them up and take them home with me. They go through an incredible amount of trauma caused by the adults.
  • And, Pop (Jojo and Kayla’s grandfather) does his best trying to parent them in their parents’ absence. He’s the wise character trying to shape JoJo into a good man and I adored him.
  • The story has a mystical quality similar to Sara Taylor’s The Shore (my review). Ward’s writing about the land, the weather, the animals and their connection to the human spirit sets the atmosphere and there is also a bit of herbal medicine going on. I liked all these elements, but the mysticism went a bit too far for me in other ways (see below).

What I Didn’t Like

  • The feeling I had while reading Sing, Unburied, Sing was similar to how I felt while reading A Gentleman in Moscow (Part 1 of this post topic) and, to a certain extent, Exit West. These books are critical darlings and I could objectively see the elements that have the critics falling all over themselves. But, something in each book didn’t quite connect with me and I kept zoning out while reading. I’m glad I read them, but was never dying to pick them up along the way. And, while I can tick off a number of positive attributes about each one, I can’t say I loved reading them or would widely recommend them to others.
  • A large element of the story involves a ghost named Richie and that entire storyline didn’t work for me. I didn’t see the purpose in him having such a big role in JoJo and Kayla’s story and, even if I accept that role as it was, I don’t understand why he had to be a ghost. His story could have been told another, less perplexing way.
  • This is absolutely not the book for you if you’re looking trying to read for entertainment or to escape…it’s an emotionally tough read.

A Defining Quote

All’s quiet in the house, and for a stupid second I wonder why Leonie and Michael ain’t arguing about him hitting Kayla. And then I remember. They don’t care.

Good for People Who Like…

Grit Lit, emotional gut-wrenchers, gorgeous writing, serious literary fiction, critical darlings

Other Books You May Like

Another emotionally tough book that mystically roots you in its setting:
The Shore by Sara Taylor (my review)

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Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng Has Broader Appeal Than Everything I Never Told You

September 14, 2017 Fiction 27

Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste NgFiction
Released September 12, 2017
384 Pages
Bottom Line: Read it.
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon
Source: Complimentary from Publisher (Penguin Press)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This post contains affiliate links and I will be compensated if you make a purchase via my links.

Headline

Little Fires Everywhere is an engrossing story about a family and a community that you can sink right into…and may have even broader appeal than Everything I Never Told You.

Plot Summary

When nomadic artist Mia Warren and her daughter (Pearl) rent an apartment from Elena Richardson in Shaker Heights, Elena’s entire family becomes enmeshed in the Warrens’ lives, resulting in uncovered secrets, unanticipated consequences, and a raging debate about what it means to be a mother.

Why I Read It

Ng’s debut, Everything I Never Told You, was a smash hit with me and others (it was Amazon’s Best Book of 2014), so Little Fires Everywhere might be the 2017 book I’ve been anticipating the most!

Major Themes

Family Life, Secrets / Betrayal, Motherhood, Teen Angst, Art, Suburbia

What I Liked

  • Little Fires Everywhere‘s premise didn’t jump out at me initially. It’s not entirely clear what this book is about. Yet…the way Ng told this story had me engrossed immediately. It’s the kind of story where you sink right into the community and the characters’ lives. I’m a bit hard-pressed to pick out specific things I loved about it…yet, I loved the book as a whole. Little Fires Everywhere is greater than the sum of its parts.
  • The set-up for this story reminded me a bit of the tv show The O.C. – an outsider sort of infiltrates a wealthy family and supposedly idyllic community with far-reaching consequences (Pearl Warren = Ryan Atwood).
  • It starts out as a story of a family and a community…and then takes an interesting turn. Ng presented a Jodi Picoult-esque situation (i.e. one with valid arguments for both sides and where there is no clear right answer) and forced me to think about what I’d do in a similar situation
  • Ng painted a vivid picture of the Shaker Heights community while making you feel that it was the only place this story could play out the way it did:

    In fact, the city’s motto was – literally, as Lexie would have said – “Most communities just happen; the best are planned”: the underlying philosophy being that everything could – and should – be planned out, and that by doing so you could avoid the unseemly, the unpleasant, and the disastrous.

  • Little Fires Everywhere is more action-packed than Everything I Never Told You and, I believe, has the potential for even broader appeal.
  • And, the debate-starting issues it deals with make it a great book club selection!

What I Didn’t Like

  • I had to suspend belief and just roll with some of the plot points…the coincidences were a little too big. But, while I recognized this as I was reading, it didn’t bother me or influence my opinion of the book as a whole.

A Defining Quote

Sometimes you need to scorch everything to the ground, and start over. After the burning the soil is richer, and new things can grow. People are like that, too. They start over. They find a way.

Good for People Who Like…

Dysfunctional families, Secrets/Betrayal, Motherhood, Engrossing Plot & Characters, Suburban Life

Other Books You May Like

More stories about families facing unconventional situations:
Every Last One by Anna Quindlen (my review)

Miller’s Valley by Anna Quindlen

Another story about what it means to be a mother:
The Mothers by Brit Bennett (my review)

And, of course, Celeste Ng’s debut novel:
Everything I Never Told You (my review)

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Am I the Only One Who Didn’t Love Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine?

July 20, 2017 Fiction 56

Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail HoneymanFiction – Debut
Released May 9, 2017
336 Pages
Bottom Line: Read it…if you like heart-warming stories with tidy endings. Otherwise, Skip it.
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon
Source: Purchased (published by Pamela Dorman Books)

Headline

I liked Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine alright, but I’m not on the bandwagon with the level of hype it’s getting.

Plot Summary

Quirky and broken Eleanor Oliphant is living a solitary life when she strikes up a friendship with Raymond, the IT guy at her office, which opens her eyes to a different way of living.

Why I Read It

This book has been getting tons of buzz and two book bloggers whose taste I generally agree with recently loved it (Susie at Novel Visits and Tara at Running N Reading).

Major Themes

Childhood Trauma, Abuse, Family Secrets, Friendship, Redemption

What I Liked

  • I loved Eleanor…and I suspect she is why this book is getting such high praise from some. She’s quirky, solitary, and doesn’t fit in well with the world, but she makes no bones about who she is and is completely endearing. And, with her tragic childhood, I was rooting for her to figure out how to actually participate in the world rather than just skim the surface of life.
  • I was super curious about Eleanor’s past. How did she get her scars? How did she end up in foster care? What happened with her mother? What was the big incident that blew up her life? These questions kept me reading, but I wish the book had delved deeper into them.
  • Eleanor went on some spectacular rants about things that irked her about everyday life. They were salty and funny and I completely agreed with most of them. Here’s one:

    On wedding gifts/registries:
    Of all the compulsory financial contributions, that is the one that irks me most. Two people wander around John Lewis picking out lovely items for themselves, and then they make other people pay for them. It’s bare-faced effrontery. They choose things like plates, bowls and cutlery—I mean, what are they doing at the moment: shoveling food from packets into their mouths with their bare hands? I simply fail to see how the act of legally formalizing a human relationship necessitates friends, family and coworkers upgrading the contents of their kitchen for them.

What I Didn’t Like

  • While I can see appeal of this book for some people (it’s a heart-warming, feel-good story), it didn’t live up to the hype for me. I liked it fine, but I expected to like it much more based on the reviews and the hype. That being said, I am still recommending it for a certain type of reader (those that like heart-warming stories that are neatly tied up) because I know there are lots of this type of reader out there…it’s just not me.
  • I was so curious about Eleanor’s childhood and her relationship with her mother. Those issues were one of the main hooks that kept me reading. But, I felt like the story focused more on Eleanor’s friendship with Raymond and learning how to interact with the world again. I wish Honeyman had gone darker and delved deeper into Eleanor’s childhood and the nitty, gritty of what went down. I kept thinking it would happen, but it never really did.
  • While the story is certainly heart-warming, it felt a little cliche to me…in a bit of a rom-com way.
  • The ending was too neat and tidy. And, there was one particular element that is often used in novels that absolutely drives me crazy every time I see it. It feels like a cop out. I don’t want to spoil anything, so I won’t say anymore.

A Defining Quote

My life, I realized, had gone wrong. Very, very wrong. I wasn’t supposed to live like this. No one was supposed to live like this. The problem was that I simply didn’t know how to make it right. Mummy’s way was wrong, I knew that. But no one had ever shown me the right way to live a life, and although I’d tried my best over the years, I simply didn’t know how to make things better. I could not solve the puzzle of me.

Good for People Who Like…

Dysfunctional childhoods, heart-warming stories, neat and tidy endings, quirky characters

Other Books You May Like

Another heart-warming story about people facing an unconventional situation:
This Is How It Always Is by Laurie Frankel (my review)

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