Category: Mini Book Reviews

February 2019 Books to Read (and Skip)

February 14, 2019 Mini Book Reviews 15

February 2019 Books to Read

 

I was excited about my February reading since there were a number of books I was really looking forward to, but the brightest stars came from unexpected places (i.e. books that were late adds to my TBR list based on glowing recommendations from trusted sources).

I read one 5 star book and a second 4.5 star book…with only one unsuccessful book that I DNF’d quickly. 

I’ll take that for a reading month!

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Favorite Book of February 2019

Last Romantics by Tara ConklinThe Last Romantics by Tara Conklin
Fiction – Literary (Release Date: February 5, 2019)
368 Pages
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon
Source: Publisher (William Morrow)

Plot Summary: The story of the Skinner family – the four Skinner children, their father’s unexpectedly passing in his thirties, their mother’s years long depression (which the children call “the Pause”), and how their lives unfold into adulthood. 

My Thoughts: Finally….my first 5 star book of the year! I almost bypassed this one, but a few of my go-to recommendation sources rated it 5 stars (Mind Joggle, Happiest When Reading, Novel Visits) and it was compared to Ann Patchett’s Commonwealth (my review) and Meg Wolitzer’s The Interestings (my review). I thought it was more Commonwealth than The Interestings with shades of My Sunshine Away (my review) in the beginning sections, but for once a big-time comparison proved accurate! The Last Romantics can be called a dysfunctional family novel, but the dysfunction is normal enough to be relatable…the type of dysfunction you see in real life all the time. It’s a novel of sibling dynamics and how parenting decisions/style impacts children in later life. Joe, the lone son among three sisters and the “golden boy” as a child, slides by on looks, charm, athletic ability, and, later in life, his wealthy friends…each sister has her own relationship with Joe and it’s these relationships that drive much of the drama later in the book. My one complaint is that the ending was a bit too tidy…it read a bit like an Epilogue and I felt it was unnecessary. But, that didn’t kill the book for me…I loved every other second of it and it’s one of those character-driven novels I couldn’t put down! PS – I loved the fact that a blog plays a role in story!

The Pause could not go on forever. We knew this. There were dangers. We were children alone, the four of us, without protection or instruction, and while Renee played the part of quasi mother, she buckled under the weight. Unsustainable, I wrote later. Unsupportable, hazardous, perilous, unsafe.

But, Also Read These

American Pop by Snowden WrightAmerican Popby Snowden Wright
Fiction – Historical (Release Date: February 5, 2019)
400 Pages
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon
Source: Publisher (William Morrow)

Plot Summary: The story of an American dynasty…the fictional Forster family who started Panola Cola, the world’s largest soda company.

My Thoughts: Though American Pop is fiction, I’m guessing you automatically think of the Coca-Cola family when you hear the premise of this book (especially since the author lives in Atlanta, GA). Wright mentioned in a Publisher’s Weekly interview that he was inspired by Coca-Cola “with a little bit of Dr. Pepper.” One of my complaints about the book was that there was no Author’s Note laying out what was true and what was fiction, which is my favorite parts of books based on real people and events, but Google can help you out with this a bit.

The story kicks off with a glitzy party scene at the Peabody Hotel in Memphis and it’s immediately apparent that most Forster family members have skeletons in their closets…making American Pop most definitely a dysfunctional family novel. It was hit and miss for me, but overall more hit than miss. The writing is really fun and glittery, but sometimes veers into “what is he talking about?” territory. I loved that the book was juicy, pulling back the curtain on this prominent family, but he tried to pack a lot into it. There was lots of jumping around between time periods and characters, which made it hard to follow at times, and I wish he’d pared back the scope of the story a bit. But, I loved the spot-on social commentary on the South. It’s not a perfect book…it’s ambitious, but messy. But it’s overall an interesting twist on the dysfunctional family novel with flashes of brilliant writing and commentary.

The Forsters, like most Southern families, typically had one of two intentions when conversing among themselves: to make each other laugh or to make each other bleed.

Otherwise Engaged by Lindsey J. PalmerOtherwise Engagedby Lindsey J. Palmer
Fiction – Brain Candy (Release Date: February 26, 2019)
304 Pages
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon
Source: Publisher (Skyhorse)

Plot Summary: When Gabe publishes a novel that’s very closely based on his steamy, volatile relationship with his ex-girlfriend (Talia…or the fictional “Dahlia”), his relationship with his new fiancee (Molly) hits some speed bumps.

My Thoughts: Y’all know I’m not normally big on the rom-com style brain candy books…they can easily venture into cheesy for me. But, there have been two over the past few months I’ve actually liked (How to Walk Away and One Day in December) and I can now add Otherwise Engaged to the list! The beginning is a touch cheesy, but then the story turns a corner. The premise is totally intriguing…Palmer’s juxtaposition of excerpts of Gabe’s book with Molly’s thoughts and commentary as she’s reading it brings all this intrigue to light. And, boy does this book(understandably) get in her head! Gabe’s book shatters the core of who Molly thinks Gabe is and has her constantly analyzing details from his previous relationship and details from her own relationship that appear in the book. Of course, Talia (Gabe’s ex-girlfriend) also re-appears on the scene to stir things up. Palmer takes all this upheaval in Gabe and Molly’s relationship to levels I’d never considered, but that were certainly interesting to ponder (i.e. in general, how do the family and friends of any author feel when details from their actual lives appear in their family member’s / friend’s book?). Great pick if you’re looking for something light, easy, and happy!

So, did Talia steal that little speech from the book? Or did Gabe take it from Talia to insert in his book, attributing it to Dahlia? Or did Gabe put into words something that Talia had felt, and then Talia borrowed Dahlia’s words to describe it back to me? The possibilities spin out like anagrams in my mind, making me dizzy. The more I deliberate, the less of a grip I feel I have on what’s real and true.

Age of LightThe Age of Light by Whitney Scharer
Fiction – Historical (Release Date: February 5, 2019)
384 Pages
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon
Source: Publisher (Little, Brown)

Plot Summary: Set in 1930’s Paris and inspired by the real-life love affair between former Vogue model and photographer Lee Miller and the artist Man Ray.

My Thoughts: I don’t normally love historical fiction or love stories (and The Age of Light is both), but I loved Scharer’s take on it! Mainly because it’s not just a love story or historical fiction…it could also be called a “badass lady book.” It’s the story of a woman who is defined by the man in her life trying to break out on her own…to be known for her own work. And, I do have an excellent track record with these kinds of historical fiction love stories (ex: Z: A Novel of Zelda Fitzgerald, Loving Frank). Scharer immediately immerses you in 1930’s Paris and I was engrossed in the story right from the beginning. Man Ray and Miller have a complicated relationship…he’s her teacher, boss, mentor, lover, and creative partner, but she also teaches him. I appreciated the fight in Lee…her drive to be known for her own work and her gumption at the end of the book. My one complaint is that I always love the Author’s Note in these kinds of books because it usually tells you where the story is historically accurate and where he/she took liberties for the sake of the story…this Author’s Note just contained the usual thank you’s to her team, family, etc. I should also warn you that this one is steamy…if that bothers you. 

The prow of myself, she thinks. Lee doesn’t know – or really care – if she has fully understood what Claude was getting at, but she wants to be how the words made her feel: alone but not lonely, needing no one, living her life with intention.

Care and Feeding of Ravenously Hungry Girls by Anissa GrayThe Care and Feeding of Ravenously Hungry Girls by Anissa Gray
Fiction – Literary (Release Date: February 19, 2019)
304 Pages
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon
Source: Publisher (Berkley Books)

Plot Summary: When Althea and her husband (Proctor) are arrested, Althea’s sisters become caretakers for Althea’s two teenage daughters (Kim and Baby Vi).

My Thoughts: This was a tough book…not emotionally tough to read, but tough because my expectations were so high. I peeked at the first 10 pages or so well before actually reading it and was immediately pulled in by the writing. From that glimpse, I was expecting a 5 star book. And, I did end up liking it, but more lukewarmly than a 5 star book. It’s been compared to The Mothers (my review) and An American Marriage (my review)…but, to me, it felt more like The Mothers in style and the An American Marriage comparison is coming from the fact that Proctor and Althea are in prison. It’s a sad portrait of what prison and betrayal does to a family. It’s a quiet book, which I’m okay with since I did really love the writing, but I was waiting the whole time for it to blow me away…and, it never did. Althea is a tough character. I kept thinking she would be more sympathetic, but it never happened. She’s hard to read and I was confused by her; however, there are other likable characters in this story. I did really like the ending, which was more hopeful than the rest of the book, and I loved hearing in the Author’s Note that Gray pulled some elements of the story from her own life (ex: eating disorders and gay marriage). Overall, this one suffered from my inflated expectations, but I still more or less liked it.

How does time heal the want of time, such crucial time, with someone you miss? You learn to get by with a loss like that, but something is always off.

The DNF’s

Bowlaway by Elizabeth McCrackenBowlaway by Elizabeth McCracken (February 5, 2019)
DNF at 8%
I just couldn’t get past the language…it felt really old-timey and required more concentration than I felt like devoting.

 

 

What’s the best book you’ve read so far this month?

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Two Final 2018 Winners: The Ensemble and My Sister, the Serial Killer

January 29, 2019 Mini Book Reviews 10

The Ensemble and My Sister the Serial Killer

 

You’re probably wondering why I’m posting something titled “Two Final 2018 Winners” in late January 2019! I read both these books at the very end of 2018…after I’d stopped posting book reviews for the year. But, I loved these two so much (one made my Best Books of 2018 list) that I still wanted to tell you about them! They aren’t quite an Alcohol & Advil pairing, but My Sister, the Serial Killer would make a fun follow-up to The Ensemble.

The Ensemble by Aja GabelThe Ensemble by Aja Gabel
Fiction – Literary (Released May 15, 2018)
339 Pages
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon
Source: Publisher (Riverhead Books)

Plot Summary: The story of the Van Ness string quartet…four elite musicians, their rise to prominence in the classical music world, and their relationships with each other.

My Thoughts: I was initially super excited to read this book right when it came out based on Annie Jones at From the Front Porch podcast‘s recommendation…then, some other readers I trusted came back with mixed reviews, so I put it off. I’m thrilled I finally made the time because I adored it! It’s one of those character-driven novels where there’s not much action, but completely pulls me in anyway. Gabel opens the book with a chapter that immediately lays out the dynamics between the members of the Quartet…and they are subtly complicated. These people clearly love each other, but you also get the feeling one could kill another in the night. And, that’s what makes this book so engrossing. It’s all about the simmering dynamics of this group and it explores the implications of having an essentially business relationship that supersedes all other relationships in their lives…even the ones that probably should come first (spouse, kids, etc). How do they manage this tension over the course of their lives? And, Gabel’s writing is just gorgeous, especially for a debut novel. If you loved The Interestings (my review), The Ensemble should be next on your list. PS – you do not have to love classical music to love this novel…I no nothing about classical music and don’t particularly care about it either.

When you were on your own, in whatever career, whatever you did affected only your own job. But with the quartet, they had to share a goal, distribute the dream between them, and trust that each of them had an appropriate sense of commitment. The commitment had a way of bleeding into their lives off stage, as well. There were so many ways to betray each other.

My Sister the Serial Killer My Sister, the Serial Killer by Oyinkan Braithwaite
Fiction (Released November 20, 2018)
226 Pages
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon
Source: Publisher (Doubleday)

Plot Summary: Korede, the “good” sister, does everything right and always cleans up after Ayoola, the beautiful sister, who sails through life without a care in the world…yet kills her boyfriends and manages to be their mother’s favorite.

My Thoughts: The premise of this book is ridiculous in a campy way and specific parts are preposterous, but it works! It’s a story of sibling dynamics…obviously taken to the extreme…but, the underlying point is one many people can relate to. And, it’s weirdly funny…even though people keep dying. Honestly, I picked up this book because of the fantastic title and because it’s so short…but, I couldn’t have been more pleasantly surprised. Despite the murderous title, this one is a fun, light read and would make a perfect palate cleanser!

“It’s because she is beautiful, you know. That’s all it is. They don’t really care about the rest of it. She gets a pass at life.”

Have you read either of these books? What did you think?

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January 2019 Books to Read (and Skip)

January 15, 2019 Mini Book Reviews 23

January 2019 Books to Read

I’ve had a pretty good start to 2019 reading! But, it’s not what you’d normally expect from me. The books that worked for me were almost all brain candy and mysteries / thrillers! And, the two books that didn’t were both literary fiction…my usual go-to genre. I have no idea what’s going on with my reading, but I’m rolling with it.

Also, stay tuned for a Spoiler Discussion of An Anonymous Girl on Thursday!

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Read These

An Anonymous GirlAn Anonymous Girl by Sarah Pekkanen and Greer Hendricks
Fiction – Mystery / Thriller (Release Date: January 8, 2019)
375 Pages
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon
Source: Publisher (St. Martin’s Press)

Plot Summary: Jessica Farris signs up for a supposedly anonymous study only to find that Dr. Shields (the psychiatrist conducting the study) seems to be able to get into her head in a much deeper way than she imagined.

My Thoughts: I have an incredibly finicky relationship with psychological thrillers. But, I think I’m starting to figure out one element that can make me like them: having part of the story told from the perspective of a psychologist or psychiatrist. I like to dig into people’s minds and have always had a weird fascination with the brains of serial killers. So, psychological thrillers that are heavier on the psychological and lighter on the thriller tend to work for me. An Anonymous Girl fits this bill. It’s less reliant on action and outlandish plot twists…the suspenseful question is not what will happen, but who can you trust? The beginning of the story sucked me in in a creepy, unsettling way. There was a “WTF is going on” vibe (What exactly is this study about? What does Dr. Shields want with Jess?) and Dr. Shields, the psychiatrist in this story, gives off a Herman Koch vibe (especially like Dear Mr. M and Summer House with Swimming Pool). This book is a giant mindf*ck!

It’s all so proper and precise and insane.

Talk to Me by John KenneyTalk to Meby John Kenney
Fiction – Brain Candy (Release Date: January 15, 2019)
320 Pages
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon
Source: Publisher (G.P. Putnam)

Plot Summary: When star news anchor Ted Grayson gets caught on video berating a female make-up artist, the media (including his own journalist daughter) attacks and Ted is forced to re-evaluate his entire life.

My Thoughts: Talk to Me is definitely Brain Candy, but it’s Brain Candy with substance (my very favorite type of Brain Candy). It’s a snarky story that’s ultimately about regret…taking place in today’s media world. Kenney’s commentary on today’s brand of journalism is spot-on and pokes fun at pretty much all parties involved. He skewers political correctness and those who don’t buy into political correctness, traditional news anchors and click-bait “news” websites…no one escapes unscathed. But, buried under all the snark is some actual heart. Ted’s struggle with his family (both wife and adult daughter) is sad, yet so common in today’s highly driven world. By the end, I felt bad for pretty much every character in the book (well, all except one side character). I also got a kick out of the quirky personalities in Ted’s newsroom…especially Murray, a Dwight Schrute-type who writes for Ted’s broadcast. My one complaint is that it dragged a bit through the third quarter. If you’re interested in stories about falls from grace, today’s media climate, and life regret, Talk to Me is for you.

How do you explain to people that after a while the money ($11 million a year) doesn’t matter, that houses don’t matter, the fame doesn’t matter? How do you explain to a nation that prizes those very things above almost all else? How do you say to your eight million viewers each evening, viewers who think you have a dream life, a dream wife, a perfect daughter, that you are a vapid, empty shell of a person with almost no real relationships and little to no integrity, that you’ve given up long ago on being a journalist?

The Dreamers by Karen Thompson WalkerThe Dreamers by Karen Thompson Walker
Fiction – Literary (Release Date: January 15, 2019)
320 Pages
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon
Source: Publisher (Random House)

Plot Summary: A “sleeping sickness” (i.e. people fall asleep for long periods of time and have vivid dreams) befalls one floor of a college dorm in a small town in the California mountains (Santa Lora), but then begins to spread to the town, putting everyone on high alert.

My Thoughts: Many people raved about Walker’s debut novel, The Age of Miracles, but I missed that one. I’ll definitely be going back to it, though, because I almost 5 star loved The Dreamers! It’s like a more literary version of Megan Abbott’s The Fever (which I loved). The Dreamers is not a thriller by any means, but it still had me on the edge of my seat with incredible tension and suspense. Walker did a fantastic job conveying the fear that an epidemic of a never-before-seen disease can cause…and it reminded me of the early days of the AIDS epidemic when the general public didn’t know how it was transmitted, etc. This is a novel about fear, hysteria, isolation, and human behavior in the face of those things. And, I love her writing style…it’s simple, yet incredibly compelling, and sets a just slightly mystical mood (which is about all the mystical I can tolerate). The Dreamers has been compared to Station Eleven (my review) and I’d say the epidemic portion of the book is somewhat similar, but overall The Dreamers shines on its own. My only small complaint (and what made me rate it 4.5 rather than 5 stars) was a somewhat anti-climactic ending. This one has a shot at making my Best Books of 2019 list! 

This town, these neighbors walking their dogs on the streets – this does not look like a place where a plague is right now unfolding. You can draw a lot of comfort from the normalcy of others – if this thing were really spreading, would the neighbors be raking their lawns? Would the mailman be delivering catalogues?

The Suspect by Fiona BartonThe Suspectby Fiona Barton
Fiction – Mystery / Thriller (Release Date: January 22, 2019)
416 Pages
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon
Source: Publisher (Berkley Books)

Plot Summary: When two British girls go missing while backpacking in Thailand, journalist Kate Waters tries to piece together what happened to them. 

My Thoughts: Fiona Barton is a popular mystery writer (The Child and The Widow), but this is the first time I’ve read her books. Y’all know mysteries aren’t my usual reading fare and this one didn’t blow my mind, but I solidly enjoyed it (which is more than I can usually say about mysteries!). It’s more police procedural than thriller and it doesn’t try to play “gotcha” with anything outlandish…which I appreciate in a mystery or thriller. It’s just a solid story untangling what went wrong when two girls go missing while backpacking in Thailand. It explores the dynamics of foreigners traveling in Thailand and the Thai government’s philosophy of handling incidents involving foreigners (i.e. try to avoid needing the Thai police if you’re a foreigner traveling there). It reads quickly and I was interested in how it was all going to come together. This is the third book in the Kate Waters series, but I didn’t feel lost at all jumping in without having read the first two books. A compelling mystery and a perfect palate cleanser.

Everyone wants to know the truth. Except those who don’t. Those who stand to lose by it. I know that now.

The DNF’s

Sugar Run by Mesha MarenSugar Run by Mesha Maren (January 8, 2019)
DNF at 18%
I was really excited about this one…the premise seemed right up my alley. But, I ended up feeling really disconnected from the characters and felt like too large a percentage of the writing described scenery and surroundings rather than focused on the characters.

 

 

Talent by Juliet LapidosTalent by Juliet Lapidos (January 22, 2019)
DNF at 8%
I know, a quick DNF. There was just a bit too much navel-gazing and entirely too much pontificating about Pop Tarts (yes, really). And, I heard from someone who actually finished it that the Pop Tart pontificating continues throughout the whole novel. 

 

What’s the best book you’ve read so far this month?

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January 2019 Books to Read

 

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Alcohol & Advil: Waiting for Eden and Sadie

October 25, 2018 Mini Book Reviews 16

Alcohol and Advil Literary Style

 

Welcome to Alcohol & Advil, where I pair a book likely to cause a “reading hangover” (i.e. the alcohol) with a recovery book (i.e. the Advil)! For me, the “alcohol” is usually a book that I either absolutely loved or one that punched me in the gut in an emotionally depleting way…and, in this case, it’s both.

It’s been awhile since I’ve done an Alcohol & Advil post, but these perfect pairings don’t come along every day. Both of these books are pretty dark, but one is a total gut-punch, while the other is a quick and fairly easy read.

This post contains affiliate links (plus: here’s your Amazon Smile-specific affiliate link).

The Alcohol

Waiting for EdenWaiting for Eden by Elliot Ackerman
Fiction – Literary (Release Date: September 25, 2018)
192 Pages
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon
Source: Purchased (Knopf)

Plot Summary: After Eden returns burned over every inch of his body and barely alive from his second deployment in the Iraq war, his wife (Mary) keeps vigil at his bedside waiting for him to die.

My Thoughts: Normally I roll my eyes when publishers exaggerate in their marketing descriptions, but this one was no exaggeration: “a breathtakingly spare and shattering new novel.” Particularly the word shattering. That’s exactly what this novel is (plus, gut-punching). It’s rare to find an author that can tell such a powerful, immersive story in so few pages, but Ackerman (himself a Marine who served five tours of duty in Iraq and Afghanistan, where he received the Silver Star, the Bronze Star for Valor and the Purple Heart) did. The first chapter absolutely gutted me. I recovered a bit during the second chapter, only to be gutted again at the very end of it…and again and again. I kept making a noise that sounded something like “unh” (imagine an audible exhale along with that).

The story is narrated by Eden’s comrade who was killed in the blast that injured Eden…he’s waiting for him in the no-man’s-land between the living and the dead. You hear the progression of Eden’s post-combat journey juxtaposed with his life before that last deployment, which is complicated and messy. If you’re the kind of reader who likes stories that make you acutely feel, Waiting for Eden is a must read. I give up on trying to do this book justice here…just read it.

Still, sitting at the burn center’s main desk, alone, and on Christmas morning, she wondered about him. Even though he powered the relentless pounding of vital signs that surrounded her desk, she didn’t know if you could call what was in that room a person. Not alive, not dead, what it was didn’t have a name.

The Advil

Sadie by Courtney SummersSadie by Courtney Summers
Young Adult (Released September 4, 2018)
311 Pages
Bottom Line: Read it.
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon
Source: Publisher (Wednesday Books)

Plot Summary: When Sadie’s younger sister, Mattie, is found murdered in a field in their small, Colorado town, Sadie goes on the run to find her killer…as journalist West McCray puts together a Serial-esque podcast about the case.

My Thoughts: Y’all know I don’t normally read YA, but the fact that Sadie is partially told through a Serial-esque podcast transcript really intrigued me. Plus, some trusted recommendation sources that also don’t normally read a ton of YA liked it. It’s getting a ton of buzz right now and I liked it, but I’m not on board with quite the level of hype it’s getting. However, it was the perfect, easy read for me following Waiting for Eden.

I loved the podcast transcript sections of the story and really did feel like I was listening to an episode of Serial. However, I felt the YA-ness more in the sections narrated by Sadie as she’s on the run. I like that Sadie’s viewpoint was told and the subject matter is super dark, but I wish the writing of those sections had felt a little less like YA (I know…an unrealistic wish for a YA novel). Some people will be extremely frustrated with the ending, but I really liked it. It’s realistic and definitely not typical of a YA novel. Despite some flaws, Sadie was the right read for the right time for me and I appreciated the podcast transcript format!

I’m going to kill a man. I’m going to steal the light from his eyes. I want to watch it go out. You aren’t supposed to answer violence with more violence but sometimes I think violence is the only answer.

What’s the last book that gave you a reading hangover?

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October 2018 Books to Read (and Skip)

October 12, 2018 Mini Book Reviews 17

October 2018 Books to Read

 

My October reading has been stellar! I’ve got a couple successful books to share with you today and stay tuned for my review of one more, A Cloud in the Shape of a Girl, on Thursday, October 18.

Hosted by Modern Mrs. Darcy.
This post contains affiliate links (plus: here’s your Amazon Smile-specific affiliate link).

Read These

A Well-Behaved WomanA Well-Behaved Woman by Therese Anne Fowler
Historical Fiction (Release Date: October 16, 2018)
400 Pages
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon
Source: Publisher (St. Martin’s Press)

Plot Summary: To save her family from financial ruin, Alva Smith finagles a marriage to the extremely wealthy, but socially shunned William K. Vanderbilt, but it doesn’t turn out to be everything she’d hoped.

My Thoughts: I absolutely adored Fowler’s 2013 novel, Z: A Novel of Zelda Fitzgerald (my review)…so, A Well-Behaved Woman had big shoes to fill. While I liked A Well-Behaved Woman, it was a lukewarm like and it didn’t come close to filling Z‘s shoes. Alva is interesting, but not nearly as dynamic a character as Zelda. I liked that Alva was a modern woman in some ways (i.e. her desire to have a hobby beyond social obligations, her belief that husbands shouldn’t be allowed to treat their wives badly, etc) and had a sassy side. I liked the fact that it made me think about class, the working rich vs. the inherited money rich, and women’s roles in society and the household. But, I got tired of all the rules of society and machinations people went through to rise to the top. I just didn’t care all that much and couldn’t understand why they did. Overall, it’s a decent read, but it just didn’t knock my socks off like I expected. 

These men must believe themselves completely beyond reproach! And, well, why wouldn’t they? Wives permit all of it. Because of course if we’re to believe what we read in the Lady’s Book, the True Woman is completely fulfilled by her domestic duties – her home, her children, her charity functions. The True Woman understands that men have needs of a different kind. 

But I don’t believe a word of it. We accept their behavior because of what would happen if we didn’t.

Witch ElmThe Witch Elm by Tana French
Fiction – Mystery (Release Date: October 9, 2018)
464 Pages
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon
Source: Publisher (Viking)

Plot Summary: After lucky golden boy Toby gets beaten in his apartment during a burglary, he goes to Ivy House (his ancestral home) to recover and care for his dying uncle Hugo…but, a skull is found in the trunk of a massive elm tree in the garden.

My Thoughts: The Witch Elm is only my second Tana French (I read The Secret Place years ago) and expectations played a big role in my reading experience this time around. I consider Tana French a “mystery” author, but The Witch Elm doesn’t start out with a “mystery” feel. It’s more of a family drama / mystery hybrid, which I knew was absolutely up my alley once I aligned my expectations. It’s a mystery with a level of complexity and character development generally uncharacteristic of the genre…and that’s a good thing! It’s a slow build but, especially by the quarter mark, I was engrossed in the story. I wanted to find out what happened, but I also wanted to enmesh myself with this flawed family. It’s a story filled with shades of gray…the characters aren’t entirely likable or dislikable, the revelations about the mystery aren’t entirely blame-worthy or understandable, and there is no obvious honorable path to take. I loved these elements and think they’d make for great book club discussion if your club is cool with 500 page books. But, on that note, I do think editors could’ve cut out about a hundred pages or so (specifically, there was a great ending point to this story, but then a couple extra plot points were tacked on…almost like putting a tacky topper on a delicious wedding cake).

I think my luck was built into me, the keystone that cohered my bones, the golden thread that stitched together the secret tapestries of my DNA; I think it was the gem glittering at the fount of me, coloring everything I did and every word I said. And if somehow that has been excised from me, and if in fact I am still here without it, then what am I?

Skip This One

November RoadNovember Road by Lou Berney
Fiction – Historical (Release Date: October 9, 2018)
336 Pages
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon
Source: Publisher (William Morrow)

Plot Summary: Frank Guidry, a lieutenant of New Orleans mob boss Carlos Marcello is on the run because he knows too much about JFK’s assassination, and Charlotte, a mother of two girls on the run from her husband and previous life, meet up for a road trip West.

My Thoughts: November Road was my September Book of the Month choice and it appealed to me because I’m pretty much in for anything JFK assassination conspiracy theory-related. However, for a book that was supposed to have a thriller-style plot, it was kind of boring. Once Guidry’s connection to the assassination became clear, I got really intrigued, but the story veered from there to a run-of-the-mill chase across the country. Guidry really could’ve been on the run from pretty much anything and the story would’ve played out the same…the JFK assassination ceased to really drive the story. The pace did pick up at the end, but I didn’t buy some of Guidry’s feelings or decisions. The writing style was gruff…I could hear a bunch of old men more or less grunting at each other through a haze of smoke, using two or three words instead of full sentences. This style fit the story’s plot, but I didn’t particularly enjoy reading it. Overall, I just didn’t see the point of the book and didn’t particularly care about these characters. If you’re looking for fast-paced fiction about JFK assassination conspiracy theories, try The Bone Tree by Greg Isles (my review) instead.

It was a big, big world. How hard could it be to disappear off the face of it? Oh, so hard if Carlos Marcello was the man searching for you.

The DNF’s

Bitter OrangeBitter Orange by Claire Fuller (October 9, 2018)
DNF at 24%
Sigh…I loved Fuller’s previous two novels, Our Endless Numbered Days (my review) and Swimming Lessons (my review), but this one was sloooow. The writing was too descriptive and focused too much on architecture. I also couldn’t get a good sense of Frances (the main character)…she felt vague and the whole story felt hazy. There was supposed to be simmering tension similar to Tangerine (my review), but I felt absolutely zero tension.

 

Virgil WanderVirgil Wander by Leif Enger (October 2, 2018)
DNF at 18%
When I started reading this story about a small, down-on-its-luck Midwestern town and its residents, I’d get into the story, but then completely forget what I’d read when I picked it up the next day. I kept zoning out and couldn’t keep track of all the characters. But, I also tried to read it right after finishing a 5 star book that absolutely blew me away and I don’t think it was the right choice for that moment.

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September 2018 Books to Read (and Skip)

September 13, 2018 Mini Book Reviews 25

September 2018 Books to Read

 

Well, my September books didn’t turn out swimmingly. I really liked two of them (and they’re both super unique!), but DNF’d the other three. That’s a lot of DNF’s.

The good news is I have a stellar October line-up and hope to report back with lots of fantastic books for you!

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Read These

Foe Foe by Iain Reid
Fiction – Literary / Science Fiction (Release Date: September 4, 2018)
272 Pages
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon
Source: Publisher (Gallery / Scout Press)

Plot Summary: Set in the near future, Junior is selected to participate in a partially government-run endeavor that requires him to leave his wife (Hen) on their isolated farm for a long time…but, the powers that be will make sure Hen is not alone in Junior’s absence.

My Thoughts: I’m don’t typically love Science Fiction, but I have been known to occasionally enjoy genre mash-ups that dip their toes into Sci-Fi (e.g. Dark Matter, The Beautiful Bureaucrat). Part literary fiction, part page turner, part Sci-Fi (and definitely creepy), Foe falls in this category. From the moment the book opened (and, really, well into the second half), I had no idea what was going on. It was clear that some omnipresent higher power had control over regular citizens and something wasn’t quite right with Junior’s wife, Hen. Outside of that, Foe had that “WTF is going on” vibe that permeated The Beautiful Bureaucrat. And, I was incredibly curious to find out. My overwhelming curiosity and very short chapters had me turning the pages quickly. The best thing about Foe for me was that, in addition to the unsettled feeling about what was going on, it examines a marriage (power dynamics, life choices, and isolation) and makes you consider big life questions (What is humanity? How do you feel about progress?). Foe is a unique book and a great choice if you’re looking to try out some Science Fiction without jumping headfirst into the deep end (plus, make sure you don’t mind creepy, but not in a scary way!).

Everything changes. Change is one of the only certainties in life. Human beings progress. We have to. We evolve. We move. We expand. What seems far-fetched and extreme becomes normal and the outdated pretty quickly. We move on to the next thing, the next development, the next frontier.

The WildlandsThe Wildlands by Abby Geni
Fiction – Literary (Release Date: September 4, 2018)
368 Pages
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon
Source: Publisher (Counterpoint)

Plot Summary: After the McCloud children lose everything in a Category 5 tornado in their hometown of Mercy, Oklahoma (thus attracting considerable media attention), their brother (Tucker) runs away leaving the three McCloud sisters to fend for themselves. He returns three years later amid further tragedy and thrusts the family into the spotlight yet again.

My Thoughts: The publisher describedThe Wildlands as a literary thriller…and while I don’t think that’s quite accurate, it is a fast-paced story about children that have lost literally everything trying to find their way again. This story touches themes far and wide…humans’ place in the ecosystem, environmental terrorism, children surviving on their own, the media spotlight, Patti Hearst-esque Stockholm syndrome, and complicated sibling relationships. There was lots in this book that reminded me of other books I read, but it all came together in its own unique way…making it very hard to find a single read-alike for it. It has the love of animals and nature of Where the Crawdads Sing (my review), the focus on media attention following a tragedy of Before the Fall (my review), and the family manipulation of Wiley Cash’s This Dark Road to Mercy (my review). There’s also some similarity to Christian Kiefer’s The Animals (my review). The place where I really did see the “literary thriller” come out was the ending, which was surprising and riveting, if not a tad improbable. A solid start to Fall book season! P.S. the publisher’s synopsis gives away way too much of the plot for my taste…I went in pretty blind and recommend you do too!

Maybe it all came back to the tornado. Maybe everything, in the end, came back to the tornado. Darlene wondered whether the storm transfigured her brother – shattering his temperament and reforming the shards into a new structure – or whether it had merely been a catalyst for a tendency already inside him. She would never be certain. Maybe the seeds of instability were present in his brain since birth, lying dormant, awaiting the right trigger to flourish. If it had not been the tornado, it would have been something else. Perhaps Tucker was always destined to chase wildness.

The DNF’s

Ordinary PeopleOrdinary People by Diana Evans (September 11, 2018)
DNF at 1%
Yep, 1%. Again…writing style. And huge blocks of text about some party that sounded pretentious and boring.

 

 

The Golden StateThe Golden State by Lydia Kiesling (September 4, 2018)
DNF at 3%
I immediately didn’t like the writing style…it was wordy, overly descriptive, and full of run-on sentences. I knew pretty quickly I wouldn’t be able to tolerate 300 pages of it.

 

 

Real LolitaThe Real Lolita by Sarah Weinman (September 11, 2018)
DNF at 34%
This true story of the 1948 abduction of Sally Horner and the connection to the classic novel, Lolita sounded incredibly fascinating and right up my alley (true crime and books? yes!). Alas, the execution wasn’t there. The sections about Lolita read like a term paper and the sections about Sally Horner were hit and miss…with frequent tangents that I didn’t see the point of.

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August 2018 Books to Read (and Skip)

August 14, 2018 Mini Book Reviews 22

August 2018 Books to Read

 

This August line-up is a little deceiving. It seems light (mainly because I’ll cover Where the Crawdads Sing all by itself on Thursday), but my August books were really solid overall. Also contributing to this light load is publishing’s annual August slowdown (in case you didn’t know, this is a thing)…not many new books are published during this month!

In addition to the August 2018 Books to Read in this post, I read and LOVED Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens. Stay tuned for my full review coming on Thursday!

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Distance HomeThe Distance Home by Paula Saunders
Fiction – Literary (Release Date: August 7, 2018)
304 Pages
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon
Source: Publisher (Random House)

Plot Summary: In 1960’s rural South Dakota, siblings Rene and Leon both find outlets for their differentness and their sometimes stressful family life in a local ballet studio.

My Thoughts: This debut novel is part coming of age and part dysfunctional family story…though the dysfunction is much more subtle than the outrageousness you usually find in dysfunctional family novels. It’s not about one outrageous thing that happened within the family…more about a lifetime of small slights stacked on top of each other. Again unlike many dysfunctional family novels, this family has many positive and loving characteristics in addition to the darkness and mistreatment. It’s about children not fitting in at school, parents picking favorites when a child doesn’t match their expectations, children finding excellence in their chosen escape routes, and parents having completely disparate views on the appropriate paths for their children. And, the writing is fantastic…especially for a debut. If you like beautifully written, character-driven novels, Paula Saunders (who is George Saunders’ wife!) might be your best new find. I’ll absolutely be watching what she does next.

And as Rene sat in her bed that night, looking across the hall at Leon’s closed bedroom door, she couldn’t help but wonder where all the hurt and anger went after something like that. Did it just disappear, as a person grew older, dissolving in a mist of resignation and forgetfulness? Or did it crystalize, so that you carried it with you, building layer upon layer as the years went by, each incident adding to a more solid core of pain, until you came to face the world more rock than flesh?

The Line That Held Us by David Joy
Fiction – Grit Lit (Release Date: August 14, 2018)
272 Pages
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon
Source: Publisher (Putnam)

Plot Summary: When Darl Moody enlists a friend to help him cover-up a hunting accident, it ignites a violent feud in their Appalachian community.

My Thoughts: David Joy writes gritty, Southern fiction (aka Grit Lit) set in Appalachia and I really liked his debut novel, Where All Light Tends to Go (my review). The Line That Held Us has a very similar feel to Where All Light Tends to Go…gritty, bleak, yet containing characters trying to do their best within their messed up world. It’s rare to find characters you can root for in a Grit Lit novel, but I found them here. The plot clips along and I turned the pages quickly. The ending fizzled a bit for me on the action front, but I appreciated its overall message. I should warn you that there are some graphic descriptions of a body decomposing that lots of Goodreads reviewers mentioned; however, they were as bad as I expected. If you liked Bull Mountain (my review), The Line That Held Us will be right up your alley!

The unthinkable had suddenly become one more thing a man had to do to survive.

The DNF

Ohio by Stephen MarkleyOhio by Stephen Markley (August 21, 2018)
DNF at 30%

Originally, I put Ohio down at the 7% mark, but I ended up picking it back up last week. There were long sections about the characters’ high school experience that sucked me in, but as soon as the story went somewhere else (these other places were generally pretty self-indulgent), I hated it again. After wrestling around with it for a few days, I finally decided that, if I’m going to invest my time into a 500 page novel, it shouldn’t be this hit and miss. One Goodreads reviewer said it perfectly: “This really needed to be tightened up. In places, it’s a total mess. In others, it’s brilliant.” I just thought the % mess vs. brilliant was too heavily weighted to the mess side. Ohio has gotten a lot of pre-publication buzz, but I think it’s one of those critical darlings that probably won’t resonate with many regular readers.

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4 More Books Perfect for Summer: Calypso, The Banker’s Wife, The Book of Essie, The Favorite Sister

July 19, 2018 Mini Book Reviews 23

More Books Perfect for Summer Reading

 

I posted my 2018 Summer Reading Guide back in May and I told you I’d be adding more books to that list throughout the summer because I tend to find more books perfect for summer as the summer goes on! This is the last crop of books I’ll be adding…and they’re some good ones! After today, The Book of Essie will take over the top slot in the “Something Fun” category from Woman Last Seen in Her Thirties!

Coincidentally (or maybe not so coincidentally since I do love the behind-the-scenes of reality TV), two books on this list are set on reality TV shows and do a great job of portraying what goes on behind the scenes of those types of shows. And, two of these are Book of the Month picks!

4 More Books Perfect for Summer

CalypsoCalypso by David Sedaris
Nonfiction – Memoir/Essays (Released May 29, 2018)
288 Pages
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon
Source: Book of the Month (Publisher: Little, Brown)

Plot Summary: Sedaris’ latest essay collection focusing on middle age.

My Thoughts: David Sedaris is generally known for his dark humor and his ability to make readers sob and laugh hysterically on the same page. Personally, I didn’t cry or laugh hysterically while reading Calypso, but I did chuckle and get sad and appreciate the crap out of his dark humor. I love how Sedaris says things that most people probably think, but are too scared to say out loud. He’s not worried about offending anyone and talks frankly about his own family. In this collection, Sedaris talks a lot about his sister’s downward spiral and eventual suicide and his father’s aging process and how seeing him age impacts his complicated relationship with him. But, it’s not all serious. He also talks about the outrageous and hilarious…like wanting to feed a tumor he had removed to a special turtle at his beach house. I read one essay a night before bed and was always tempted to keep going for one more essay. And, though I read this one in print, Sedaris is fabulous on audio!

My father has done this all his life. You’ll be talking to him and he’ll walk away – not angry but just sort of finished with you. I was probably six years old the first time I noticed this. You’d think I’d have found it hurtful, but instead I looked at his retreating back, thinking, We can get away with that? Yippee!

Banker's Wife The Banker’s Wife by Cristina Alger
Fiction – Thriller (Released July 3, 2018)
352 Pages
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon
Source: Publisher (G.P. Putnam)

Plot Summary: When a private plane carrying a Swiss banker and his wealthy client goes off the radar, his wife is left to piece together the shady dealings Swiss United Bank was involved in.

My Thoughts: I needed a fast, easy read after a heavier book and The Banker’s Wife hit the spot! Despite it’s unfortunately domestic sounding title (really…can publishers try for at least one thriller without “Wife” or “Girl” in the title?!!), it’s more of a conspiracy / financial thriller. It’s purely plot driven (so much so that I forgot to highlight passages to share in this post!) and will keep you turning the pages. There are characters who resemble real life people enough to make you wonder, which I always love to see in my reading (see if you can spot Donald Trump, the Fanjul Family, and the late crime/society journalist Dominick Dunne)! If you’re a sucker for a good conspiracy theory involving powerful people, The Banker’s Wife should be right up your alley!

Book of EssieThe Book of Essie by Meghan MacLean Weir
Fiction – Brain Candy (Released June 12, 2018)
336 Pages
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon
Source: Book of the Month (Publisher: Knopf)

Plot Summary: When the youngest daughter (Essie) of a evangelical reality TV family becomes pregnant and realizes her mother is working with their show’s producers to come up with the best way to spin it for the show, she decides to take matters into her own hands.

My Thoughts: The Book of Essie is the type of brain candy I love…a story about weighty topics that reads quickly and easily. The first line will grab you immediately and I was dying to find out how all this was going to turn out. Essie has had enough of the tight leash her family has her on and the glaring media spotlight, so she hatches a plan that involves a male classmate (Roarke) and a reporter with past ties to a religious cult (Liberty). Essie is sneakily subversive and I loved her…she’s someone you can root for. A lot of bad stuff went on with this family, but the story is ultimately hopeful. And though I did have to suspend disbelief at some of Roarke’s decisions, I just went with the story and it was a 100% satisfying vacation read. Bonus: you get an interesting behind-the-scenes look at reality TV and image management in the media spotlight.

First Line:

On the day I turn seventeen, there is a meeting to decide whether I should have the baby or if sneaking me to a clinic for an abortion is worth the PR risk. I am not invited, which is just as well, since my being there might imply that I have some choice in the matter and I know that I have none.

Favorite SisterThe Favorite Sister by Jessica Knoll
Fiction – Brain Candy (Released May 15, 2018)
384 Pages
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon
Source: Purchased (Publisher: Simon & Schuster)

Plot Summary: A shocking death occurs during the filming of a Real Housewives-esque reality TV show.

My Thoughts: I DNF’d Knoll’s first novel, Luckiest Girl Alive, but decided to give The Favorite Sister a chance once I heard it was about reality TV. I’m glad I did because it was just the type of brain candy I love: smart, a bit different, and containing an ending that’s surprising, yet makes sense with the story looking back on it. I’ve always been intrigued by how the sausage gets made in reality TV and The Favorite Sister doesn’t disappoint in that department. In addition to the reality TV scoop, you also get a big dose of passive-aggressive sister dynamics, feminism, and motherhood (although she does occasionally get a bit heavy-handed with all the issues). If you read Reality Steve’s blog, liked Bachelor Nation by Amy Kaufman (my review), or love the TV show Unreal, The Favorite Sister is for you! Warning: if dislikable characters ruin books for you, steer clear of this one!

We don’t need to draw knives and weapons. The most effective way to destroy someone on the show is to disengage, to deprive her of the drama, of the meaningful connections, of the great and powerful storyline. In our world, your sharpest weapon is a polite smile.

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July 2018 Books to Read (and Skip)

July 12, 2018 Mini Book Reviews 18

July 2018 Books to Read

 

Well…July was a bit of a letdown after my excellent June reading. I only really enjoyed two books (but, I’ll be adding both to my 2018 Summer Reading List!) and suffered through two others that didn’t work out…then, there are the DNF’s. 

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Charlotte Walsh Likes to WinCharlotte Walsh Likes to Win by Jo Piazza
Fiction – Brain Candy (Release Date: July 24, 2018)
320 Pages
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon
Source: Publisher (Simon & Schuster)

Plot Summary: When Charlotte Walsh leaves her high powered job as COO of a Silicon Valley tech darling to run for Senate in her home state of Pennsylvania, she’s forced to confront the impact on her marriage, her sanity, and her past.

My Thoughts: I’ve been loving books about substantial topics that read easy this summer and I can now add Charlotte Walsh Likes to Win to that list! Though it reads easy enough for the beach, it’s full of astute commentary on women in politics, women in business, managing your image in public life, marriage, motherhood, and gender roles. It makes you feel how truly soul-sucking campaigning and politics can be. But, it also has snappy dialogue, a badass sister-in-law (Kara), and a Friday Night Lights name-check (the easiest way to my heart). Charlotte is a complex character and your sympathy level for her will probably flip-flop throughout the story. The ending will drive some people bonkers and made me say “WTF,” but the more I thought about it, the more it fits with the overall message of the book. An excellent choice for fans of The Hopefuls by Jennifer Close, for book clubs, and for your beach/pool bag!

“You’re thinking, ‘Why does it matter?’ Why does your husband matter?” Josh read her mind. “Your husband matters. Your marriage matters. As a woman, you bear the burden of having to appear to be charismatic, smart, well-groomed, nice, but not too nice. If you’re married, you need to look happily married. If you have kids, you should be the mother of the year.”

Give Me Your HandGive Me Your Hand by Megan Abbott
Fiction – Thriller (Release Date: July 17, 2018)
352 Pages
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon
Source: Publisher (Little, Brown)

Plot Summary: When Diane and Kit become lab partners in high school, Diane shares an explosive secret. And, when the two women meet again as star lab scientists, the secret comes back to haunt them both. 

My Thoughts: Megan Abbott is one of my go-to authors for intense summer reads…generally about demented high school girls (The Fever and You Will Know Me are my favorites). She’s kept her streak alive with Give Me Your Hand…her most grown-up novel yet. This story is set in the world of science and Abbott’s writing makes the lab, the competition for limited positions on important studies, and the researchers’ dedication seem like the pressure cauldron of an Olympic Trials (similar to how Michael Ruhlman wrote about the Culinary Institute of America in The Making of a Chef). The players are intriguing: the enigmatic legend who seems almost non-human (Dr. Severin), the star researcher who is possibly unstable (Diane), the flirty and slightly reckless researcher (Alex), and the obedient worker bee (Kit). I guessed some of the twists, but not nearly all of them, and each twist revealed deeper layers to one of the characters. Ultimately, this is a story of two women locked in competition…and how a secret that gets told can tear apart both the secret-teller and the person she tells. Grab this one if you like dark and twisty with some substance…and I’ll be adding it to my 2018 Summer Reading Guide!

I wanted to know her secrets, but I didn’t want them to be this. And now I was in there, in that heart of hers, the coldest, darkest place I’d ever been.

Skip These

Baby TeethBaby Teeth by Zoje Stage
Fiction (Release Date: July 17, 2018)
320 Pages
Affiliate Link: Amazon
Source: Publisher (St. Martin’s Press)

Plot Summary: When four year old, non-verbal Hanna begins to escalate her terrible behavior towards her mother, the whole family must decide how to handle their only child.

My Thoughts: This book left me kind of speechless. It’s horrifying, but also weirdly intriguing. I kind of hated it, but also needed an explanation for what was going on (which was why I finished it). Hanna is hands-down the most diabolical child I’ve ever read about and I felt bad for her parents. But, they have their own faults. Hanna’s father is in denial about Hanna’s behavior and coddles her. Before Hanna’s behavior got really bad, her mother made her feel unwanted. Hanna is jealous of the affection her father gives her mother and sort of pits them against each other. If you need likable characters in your reading, you won’t find them here. The overall family dynamics and premise of the book could have been really fascinating, but Stage took the plot way over the top (won’t say more to avoid spoilers!). If she’d left out one particular element and cut back on another, I think I could’ve liked it. The ending did bring things down to earth, but I wish the culmination of the story had happened earlier (maybe 60-70% of the way through?) so we could explore the aftermath and how it impacted the family. I wanted more psychology and less shock value. If you’re on the fence about having kids, Baby Teeth might just push you into the “hard no” camp.

It was unacceptable; Mommy was failing her tests to prove her motherly love. And the more she failed, the more opportunities Hanna tried to provide for her to redeem herself. Though she wasn’t always sure of the rules to their war games. And when she scrunched up her brain, she couldn’t quite remember who had started it.

Fruit of the Drunken TreeFruit of the Drunken Tree by Ingrid Rojas Contreras
Fiction – Literary (Release Date: July 31, 2018)
304 Pages
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon
Source: Publisher (Doubleday Books)

Plot Summary: Amid the violence of Pablo Escobar-era Bogota, Colombia, a wealthy young girl (Chula) and her maid (Petrona) become friends while growing up side by side, but end up with very different stories.

My Thoughts: Fruit of the Drunken Tree is a debut novel inspired by the author’s life. That, the juxtaposition of Chula’s privileged perspective and Petrona’s perspective of poverty, and Pablo Escobar (I’ve always had a weird fascination!) were what attracted me to this book. And, all the pieces for a home run were there, but it was missing the intangibles for me. I loved seeing the drug wars through the eyes of a child and I identified with Chula’s combination fear / fascination with Pablo Escobar and the violence that accompanied him (on a far less personal level, I remember feeling similarly about the Russians as a child during the Cold War). And, the story had explosive plot elements that should have kept me frantically turning the pages. But, something about the way the story was told made all of it feel very distant and kept me from getting invested in these characters. Overall, I wavered over whether to recommend it, but decided against since I found myself frequently zoning out, checking Instagram, and sampling other books while reading it. 

I knew there was no gate surrounding the invasiones where Petrona lived, no iron locks on the doors, no iron bars on the windows. When I asked Petrona how she and her family stayed safe, she laughed. Then because I was embarrassed she shrugged her shoulders. She thought for a moment then said, “There’s nothing to lose.” Five syllables.

The DNF’s

What We Were PromisedWhat We Were Promised by Lucy Tan (Released July 10, 2018)
DNF at 18%

I was just kind of bored. Nothing was happening and I didn’t care about the characters.

 

 

 

The IncendiariesThe Incendiaries by R.O. Kwan (July 31, 2018)
DNF at 10%.

This debut novel about a girl who gets wrapped up in a cult and the boy who is obsessed with her has gotten tons of pre-release hype (and Annie Jones and Tyler Goodson both rated it 4 stars), but it just seemed weird to me. I kept spacing out and the writing was really distant.

 

 

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June 2018 Books to Read (and Skip)

June 14, 2018 Mini Book Reviews 14

June 2018 Books to Read

 

I’ve gotta say, my June books were excellent overall! Two of these books will definitely be on my Best Books of 2018 (So Far) list (coming soon). And, I managed to DNF the ones that weren’t working rather than force my way through them.

In addition to the June 2018 Books to Read in this post, I reviewed Social Creature by Tara Isabella Burton last week. It’s certainly not for everyone, but is a “Read It” for a certain type of reader (i.e. the one who loves dark and demented).

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Visible EmpireVisible Empire by Hannah Pittard
Historical Fiction (Released June 5, 2018)
288 Pages
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon
Source: Publisher (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt)

Plot Summary: Following the 1962 plane crash at Orly Airport that killed over 100 Atlanta art patrons (a massive chunk of the city’s social elite), Atlanta citizens connected to the crash must figure out who to recover amid the Civil Rights Movement.

My Thoughts: I know many people have mixed feelings about fiction based on real life events, but I’m a fan! In Visible Empire, the Orly plane crash is the big event that ties lots of disparate people and perspectives together (and the opening chapters recounting the crash are riveting). The overall book is more a portrait of Atlanta in the 1960’s from all these different perspectives (the Mayor’s wife, family of the crash victims, an African American teenager that has a chance encounter with a member of Atlanta’s elite, and an ambitious young woman) than about the plane crash itself. Pittard gives us a somewhat gossipy take on the crash’s impact on Atlanta’s elite and those who come in contact with them…and her social commentary is excellent. I felt like this would be the book that Dominick Dunne (former Vanity Fair columnist and author of “fictional” novels about real life crimes involving the wealthy) could have written about the crash…and it reminded me of a less epic A Man in Full (by Tom Wolfe). But, I did miss the Afterward that normally accompanies these types of books that lays out where the author stayed true to real life and where she took liberties for the sake of the story.

Don’t you understand, Lulu? The world – not just the governor, not just the president – the world is watching. Right now, I am being watched. You and I and our dear, dear city are being watched. Do you understand? They want to know if we’ll ever stand up again. They want to know if this is the beginning of a spiral into the ground, or if we’ve got fight and life in us yet.

We Are GatheredWe Are Gathered by Jamie Weisman
Fiction – Literary (Released June 5, 2018)
288 Pages
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon
Source: Publisher (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt)

Plot Summary: The story of an inter-faith wedding (between Jewish Elizabeth and Christian Hank), told from the perspectives of various wedding guests (mother of the bride, grandfather of the groom, childhood best friend of the bride, etc).

My Thoughts: The publisher says We Are Gathered is a debut novel, but I think it reads more like a series of closely interconnected short stories (similar to Elizabeth Strout’s Anything is Possible). Each chapter is told from the perspective of a different wedding guest, but much of the book is the each guest’s backstory with a smaller portion focused on the wedding itself. Before reading it, I thought We Were Gathered would be a light, fun read and a potential candidate for my 2018 Summer Reading Guide. It was immediately clear I’d judged wrong because many of the characters’ backstories are dark and sad and the overall tone is subdued. These people have demons and some are dealing with big challenges. There’s the childhood friend of the bride with a birthmark that covers half her face, the grandfather of the groom who can’t move or speak but whose mind is works just fine, yet no one knows it…and more. Despite it being different than expected, I liked We Were Gathered‘s unique perspectives and the astute life observations. But, the ending focused on two of the characters I was least interested in and was somewhat odd compared to the rest of the book. I’d recommend We Were Gathered if you like quieter books with life observations from interesting perspectives…and don’t mind depressing.

I was twenty-one years old; she was seventeen. We were children. I know that now, but that’s how old people were when they got married. Elizabeth is twenty-eight. She would have been considered an old maid. No one told us that marriage would be hard. There were no therapists or counselors. You got married, maybe for love, for lust, for comfort, because it was time and you didn’t want to die alone. You had children. You didn’t think about what you wanted.

Us Against YouUs Against You by Fredrick Backman
Fiction – Literary (Released June 5, 2018)
448 Pages
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon
Source: Publisher (Atria Books)

Plot Summary: Amid the wreckage of the previous winter, Beartown residents face their beloved ice hockey team being disbanded and a volatile rivalry with nearby Hed Hockey.

My Thoughts: Let me start by saying that Us Against You is the sequel to last year’s Beartown (one of my favorites of 2017) and I highly recommend you read Beartown before reading Us Against You. The minute I picked up Us Against You, I breathed a sigh of relief to be back among these people in this town. Like in Beartown, Backman masterfully plunks the reader right into the center of things and makes him/her feel deeply for these characters and the town. But this time around, Beartown has lost its innocence. The story is even darker, more sinister, and more focused on the adults and the politics of sports (a very real thing). The town is reeling amid the wreckage of what happened in Beartown (the book) and trying to find its way forward. Like in Beartown, the story is about far more than hockey…friendship, rivalry, marriage, parenting, power, sexuality, and violence. Backman captures general human nature and its basest elements beautifully. While I didn’t love Us Against You quite as much as Beartown, I was still completely engrossed in the emotion of sports, which Backman captures better than anything save Friday Night Lights (and if you’re missing FNL, these are the books for you!).

Side Note: I thought this series was supposed to be a trilogy and Us Against You did feel like a “bridge book” right up until the end. But, the ending made me question whether a third book is on the way. I couldn’t find anything online confirming the third book. Does anyone have any answers?

Have you ever seen a town fall? Ours did. We’ll end up saying that violence came to Beartown this summer, but that will be a lie, the violence was already here. Because sometimes hating each other is so easy that it seems incomprehensible that we ever do anything else.

Great BelieversThe Great Believers by Rebecca Makkai
Fiction – Literary (Release Date: June 19, 2018)
432 Pages
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon
Source: Publisher (Viking)

Plot Summary: A group of gay friends and their female friend (Fiona) navigate the AIDS crisis and deal with the death of one of their own in 1980’s Chicago…and decades later, Fiona sets out to Paris to find her estranged daughter and encounters the past in the process.

My Thoughts: The Great Believers is one of those “issue” book that makes the issue an organic part of the characters’ lives…and these are the types of “issue” books that work for me. It’s ultimately a gorgeous story about friendship in the face of disaster and is the kind of book you can just sink into. It’s got a little bit of The Heart’s Invisible Furies (sexuality, the AIDS crisis, characters you can root for wholeheartedly) and a little bit of A Little Life (a group of male friends facing terrible circumstances, but without the overwhelming violence), but retains its own uniqueness. These characters worked their way into my heart, even as it was breaking for them. Makkai’s writing wasn’t the kind that had me highlighting right and left…it was more the kind that just pulled me right into the story. And, the dual timelines come together in a surprising and satisfying way. This book has heart…and it’s seriously literary, but will still keep you turning the pages because you just have to find out what’s going to happen to these characters.

And was friendship that different in the end from love? You took the possibility of sex out of it, and it was all about the moment anyway. Being here, right now, in someone’s life. Making room for someone in yours.

Skip These

Florida by Lauren GroffFlorida by Lauren Groff (Released June 5, 2018)
DNF at 17%

Short stories are always hit and miss for me, so I hesitantly picked up this collection (mostly because I liked Fates & Furies). I wasn’t a fan of the first story, did like the second, but the third totally lost me. From the bit I read, this collection seemed like a very dark, depressing take on life in Florida.

 

 

A Place for UsA Place for Us by Fatima Farheen Mirza (June 12, 2018)
DNF at 29%.

I had high hopes for this novel because of its rave reviews and I liked it alright, but I just kept waiting for something to happen. I read the 3 star Goodreads reviews and the main complaint was the novel didn’t have much of a plot. So, I figured things weren’t going to pick up. For a novel like this to work for me, the writing has to sparkle and I thought this writing was just average.

 

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