Category Archives: Reviews

Book Review: Fates and Furies + Perfect Little World

March 26, 2017

Hello readers! Two book reviews for you today. One was fine, the other was one of the best books I’ve ever read. Surprise!

Their reviews below. As always, they are spoiler free.

Sidebar: I also recently started All The Ugly and Wonderful Things by Bryn Greenwood and loved it so much (gripping story, great writing), but couldn’t finish it because the content was making it hard for me to sleep at night (child abuse). But if you can stomach it (or don’t have young children the same ages), I definitely recommend. I still keeping wondering what happened!

Happy reading! And thank you to those who recommended these books! Suggestions always welcome.

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1. Fates and Furies.

If You’re Looking For: Literary fiction

If You Like: I don’t know what to compare this to. It’s like a mix of Gone Girl, Margaret Atwood, and a long, beautiful poem.

My Review:  I stopped and started this book over a dozen times until a friend encouraged me to keep going as the perspective shifts from one character to another halfway through the book (think: Gone Girl, but then stop thinking Gone Girl). And so I pushed through, partly because I trust this friend and her taste in books, and partly because I did enjoy the first part. I was simply unsure of where it was going and how it could possibly keep up the rhythm and tone without becoming boring. And I’m so glad I did. This novel unfolds and reveals itself slowly, making it all worth the wait in the second half. Even more striking is the language itself. Lauren has a way with words that may be hard to accept (at first), but soon becomes so perfect and real and right. (And if you are a writer yourself–will make you want to throw your whole manuscript in the garbage). The subjects of this novel are well worn; marriage, career, broken childhoods–but Lauren Groff makes them new and compelling. Here’s my advice if you start this book: keep going, keep going, keep going. This is one of the best books I’ve ever read. 5/5. No wait, 6/5. Outstanding.

Their Review: “[Fates and Furies] is a stunning 360-degree view of a complex relationship… There’s almost nothing that [Groff is] not interested in and her skill set is breathtaking…It’s an incredibly ambitious work, she writes like her hands are on fire.” Richard Russo, NPR’s Morning Edition

Quoted: She was so tired of the old way of telling stories, all those too-worn narrative paths, the familiar plot thickets, the fat social novels. She needed something messier, something sharper, something like a bomb going off.

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2. Perfect Little World.

If You’re Looking For: Fiction

If You Like: Utopian novels

My Review: I was very excited about the premise and first few chapters of this book, but ultimately found it less than thrilling by the end without understanding why. Fortunately the internet has blessed us with lots of opinions on Goodreads, and I found Joshua R.’s review a great summation of my exact feelings (see below). I understand this is a cop out, sharing someone else’s review of a book you’re supposed to be reviewing yourself, but I am very tired and grouchy and have little desire to discuss this book in any other fashion. As an aside, if I ever publish a book that ends up on Goodreads, I will never, ever read the reviews. How horrifying! I will say this about Perfect Little World: Anytime I finish a book instead of tossing it into the “return to library” pile, I know it deserves at least three stars for holding my attention over sleep, snacking, or Netflix. And really this book had all the makings of a great read. Utopian millennial cult premise with a Wes Anderson writing vibe? Sign me up! But then see Joshua’s review below. 3.5/5 stars.

Their Review:  “A perfect little premise with a cursory, yet at times enjoyable, execution. I was excited about this book, a crazy experiment where 10 children are raised by 19 adults in a communal-like home. The book’s first pages outlines the complicated tree of adults and children. This should have been the first clue that this book would have to embrace brevity over depth, given that it is just over 300 pages.

The book starts out the first 150 pages following “Izzy” and sometimes Doctor Preston Grind who is in charge of the family experiment. While the background is nice, it left only 150 pages to discuss 18 other characters and the actual premise of the book, which is the family experiment.

Once you get into the family experiment, there are twists and turns that are enjoyable. However, I was confused which character was what, and nor did I care because they are introduced with very little detail. Maybe the idea is that all the characters get muddled together to make it feel more like a community to the reader. That’s a positive outlook anyway. From my perspective though, by the time I got to the climax(es) that takes place during the experiment, I felt like I neither knew most of the characters nor cared too much what was happening to them.

Overall, it’s a decent, but perhaps overly simplistic, read. Expect to get to know two characters in some detail. But don’t expand a grand adventure into the premise of the book.” – Joshua R. on Goodreads

“Charming. . . . Wilson pulls off his sweet-and-tart tone. . . . The novel delights in the project’s Willy Wonkaesque sense of antic chaos.” – Washington Post

Quoted: It amazed Izzy the way the children rushed through so many complicated emotions without space between each one. Everything rose so quickly to the surface and then subsided, like firecrackers, and what had originally been so jarring to her, their unguarded emotion, now filled her with great comfort, that anything, no matter what it was, would eventually give way to something else.

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The Girl With The Lower Back Tattoo + The Particular Sadness Of Lemon Cake

February 2, 2017

Hello reader friends. Two book reviews for you today. As I’ve mentioned before, there is always some strange commonality between the books I read back to back that I only end up realizing when I go to write their paired reviews. This time it’s in the author’s names, something I realized only seconds ago.

Ms. Schumer’s book is, sadly, the last memoir I’ll be reading for awhile (focusing on fiction while writing fiction)–but it was a pleasure to read. The other Amy book is a brilliant work of fiction.

Their reviews below. As always, they are spoiler free.

Happy reading! And thank you to those who recommended these books!

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1. The Girl With The Lower Back Tattoo.

If You’re Looking For: Humor, memoir, pop culture read

If You Like: Celebrity memoirs, the person Amy Schumer

My Review: I liked this book. It had enough funny parts and well written essays to make it worth my time and I was excited to sit down and read it every night. It wasn’t my favorite celebrity memoir by any means (its own genre now, it seems), but I like Amy and if you do too, I think you’d enjoy this book as well. You will not enjoy this book if you find Amy Schumer annoying, don’t enjoy celebrity memoirs, or think vagina jokes are for sinners. There isn’t really much more to say.

Their Review: “Beyond the many powerful and empowering takeaways of The Girl with the Lower Back Tattoo—from loving the hustle to self-love—perhaps the most overlooked is that of a woman’s right to not only make mistakes, but to make art out of them.” –Salon

Quoted: I’m of the belief that in most industries, women have to work twice as hard to get half the credit. After putting in so much effort to make a good movie, it felt pretty demeaning when they called it a “female comedy.” This meaningless label painted me into a corner and forced me to speak for all females, because I am the actual FEMALE who wrote the FEMALE comedy and then starred as the lead FEMALE in that FEMALE comedy. They don’t ask Seth Rogen to be ALL MEN! They don’t make “men’s comedies.” They don’t ask Ben Stiller, “Hey, Ben, what was your message for all male-kind when you pretended to have diarrhea and chased that ferret in Along Came Polly?

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2. The Peculiar Sadness Of Lemon Cake.

If You’re Looking For: Strange fiction, great writing, magical realism

If You Liked: The Rabbit Back Literature Society

My Review: Before I tell you what I thought of this book, I’ll say this: I like a lot of books most people like and love a lot of books most people hate. The best example of this is my favorite book, Oryx and Crake by my favorite author, Margaret Atwood. Whenever I pass this book along to friends, the reaction is 20% “that was okay” and 80% “what did I just read.” And that’s okay! I stand by the idea that our reviews of books, tv, and movies are subjective and reflect nothing more than our little opinions and not some larger truth (this is me saying it’s fine to watch The Bachelor and love it). The Peculiar Sadness Of Lemon Cake has gotten very mixed reviews. A lot of readers say it is too strange. But I happen to like strange, and I loved this book. Simple, moving, and the kind of writing I can only dream of. Every thought is so clear and lovely that it’s almost as if Aimee wrote this novel over and over until each phrase reflected its exact meaning. Five out of five stars and added to my favorite book list. An outstanding work of fiction.

Their Review:  “Bender is the master of quiet hysteria. . . . She builds pressure sentence by sentence. . . . A little hiss of steam comes off the novel.” —Los Angeles Times

Quoted: I didn’t mind the quiet stretches. It was like we were trying out the idea of being side by side.

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Book Review: Hillbilly Elegy + The Girls

January 17, 2017

Winter is death, but books offer a small antidote. Two for you today, with another memoir and another novel review coming soon. Suggestions always welcome. Most of my library requests come from the comments in these book review posts.

As always, reviews are spoiler free.

Happy reading. May warmth and sanity find you even on the most wintery days. I’m trying my best, too.

xo

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1. Hillbilly Elegy.

3.5/5 stars (Would recommend to some)

If You’re Looking For: Memoir, current events, the ability to reference what everyone else is reading

If You Like: Real life family dysfunction mixed with political and social commentary

My Review: It is going to seem like a cop out to not give my full reaction to this book (it is kind of a cop out), but in my experience it’s better to actually read the book before reading all the various critiques, controversies, and commentaries (there are plenty for this one). What’s important (I guess?), is that I enjoyed it. It’s interesting, engaging, and a window into a culture in America that is foreign to most. PS: You’ll have a long wait if you request this at the library, so special thanks to my friend Bethany for lending me her copy in time for our book club discussion.

Their Review: “What explains the appeal of Donald Trump? Many pundits have tried to answer this question and fallen short. But J.D. Vance nails it…stunning…intimate…” – 50% of the reviews

“I read this before it was popular. This has nothing to do with Trump. Isn’t the author a Republican? This book is offensive and inconsistent. I lived there and this is false.” – The other 50%

Quoted: Barack Obama strikes at the heart of our deepest insecurities. He is a good father while many of us aren’t. He wears suits to his job while we wear overalls, if we’re lucky enough to have a job at all. His wife tells us that we shouldn’t be feeding our children certain foods, and we hate her for it—not because we think she’s wrong but because we know she’s right.

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2. The Girls.

4/5 stars (Would recommend to a friend)

If You’re Looking For: Fiction, a good story

If You Liked: The Boston Girl

My Review: This is the story of Rose and Ruby Darlen, the world’s oldest surviving craniopagus (conjoined at the head) twins. When I first started reading their “autobiography,” I had to check several times to make sure it wasn’t a true story. Lori Lansens, HOW DID YOU DO THIS. How did you take the very rare premise of twin girls joined at the head and create a novel so believable that it’s almost unbelievable that it isn’t real. Truly funny, fascinating, and beautiful. A brilliant portrait of two very different people, connected by biology and sisterhood. Couldn’t put it down.

Their Review: “It is the true test of a writer’s mettle to create a convincing narrator, and Lori Lansens has done it not once but twice in her remarkable novel about conjoined twins. The two fascinating protagonists of The Girls live their lives together in every way, and yet nevertheless emerge with beliefs and desires all their own, and with distinct outlooks on their difficult circumstances. Lori Lansens is clearly a novelist with a very delicate touch.” – Arthur Golden, author of Memoirs of a Geisha

Quoted: If heaven is tolerant and writers are allowed (bunch of liars though they are), I wonder if they gather for coffee to ponder the prose they should have written instead.

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Book Review: The Grownup + The Nest + You’ll Grow Out Of It

October 27, 2016

Three books I actually finished while having a newborn, which definitely counts for something.

Liked two, loved one. The first is perfect for Halloween, the last is perfect if you just want to laugh.

Their reviews below. As always, they are spoiler free.

Happy reading!

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1. The Grownup.

thegrownup

If You’re Looking For: a creepy book for Halloween

If You Like: Gillian Flynn, spooky stories, short stories, ghost stories

My Review: Have you read a Gillian Flynn novel before? If not, this isn’t the place to start. Start here–> Gone Girl. And if you can swallow that and want something even more haunting, read Sharp Objects (but don’t say I didn’t warn you). First of all, this book is not actually a full length novel, something I didn’t know before I got my hands on it (I was very confused). Instead it’s a short story! When I started it, I really liked it. The main character is intriguing, the plot thrilling, and by the middle you are turning the pages as fast as you can. The end was a little lackluster, however, and left me wanting more (or at least something different). I did enjoy it though. Very scary and psychologically trippy. To sum it up: This little ghost story isn’t perfect but is perfect timing for our current Halloween season.

Their Review: “A short story written for George R.R. Martin’s Rogues anthology, The Grownup is a tightly wrought psychological thrill ride that will leave readers replaying every well spent moment.” -Seira Wilson

Quoted: I lack formal education. So I’m left with the feeling that I’m smarter than everyone around me but that if I ever got around really smart people—people who went to universities and drank wine and spoke Latin—that they’d be bored as hell by me. It’s a lonely way to go through life.

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2. The Nest.

thenest

If You’re Looking For: Dysfunctional family fiction

If You Liked: This Is Where I Leave You

My Review: Have you read This Is Where I Leave You? This book is kind of like that. Similar dysfunctional family, slightly more unlikable characters, with a brand new set of flaws and quirks. It’s also about New York and its elitist art/parenting/literary culture. I liked it. Definitely a quick read. My biggest complaint was too many side characters with not enough reason to have them. I did laugh a bit, and it is structurally sound and well written. To sum it up: Breezy, entertaining, predictable. A nice way to pass the time.

Their Review: “A masterfully constructed, darkly comic, and immensely captivating tale…not only clever, but emotionally astute. Cynthia D’Aprix Sweeney is a real talent.” -Elizabeth Gilbert

Quoted: Everyone’s always on the hunt for a mirror. It’s basic psychology. You want to see yourself reflected in others. Others—your sister, your parents—they want to look at you and see themselves. They want you to be a flattering reflection of them—and vice-versa. It’s normal. I suppose it’s really normal if you’re a twin. But being somebody else’s mirror? That is not your job.

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3. You’ll Grow Out Of It.

youwillgrow-outofit

If You’re Looking For: Humor, memoir

If You Like: Irreverent reflections on womanhood, Liz Lemon

My Review: First of all, let me say that this book is right up my alley. Funny, forward, self-deprecating, silly. Basically it was written for me. Klein’s chapter on how to be a comedian should be required reading for anyone going into a creative or non-traditional field. Other favorite topics include birth, epidurals, the bar method, The Bachelor, baths. Over and over again I found myself laughing out loud at her reflections on everything from career struggles to romance. She also tackles serious topics like depression and infertility with honesty (and light-heartedness too). To sum it up: Funny, sharp, entertaining, real. Like having a 300 page conversation with a great friend. Will read it again. PS: I’m a wolf (you’ll get it after you read it).

Their Review: “YOU’LL GROW OUT OF IT does an amazing job making me understand what my life might be like if I were a woman. Or if I were Jessi Klein. I laughed. Lots. Not at what it’s like to be a woman! That would be sexist. I laughed at the parts that you’re supposed to. Which are plentiful. Because Jessi Klein is truly really funny.” – Ira Glass

“A stand-up comedian and former writer for “Saturday Night Live,” Klein is currently the head writer and executive producer of “Inside Amy Schumer.” In these 24 short pieces, her irreverent and inventive brand of humor almost seamlessly transfers to essay form. Riffs on dating, aging, marriage, infertility and childbirth have the zing-and-run rhythm of sketch comedy, but structured for the page.” – Sloane Crosley for The New York Times

Quoted: I wanted to structure a day where a hypothetical random snapshot of me looked like Carrie Bradshaw in her kimono, totally relaxed, not Brittany Murphy in Girl, Interrupted, diddling an old chicken under her bed.

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Book Review: Kitchens Of The Great Midwest + I’ll Give You The Sun

April 27, 2016

Hello to the sevenish book lovers who still read these book reviews! I have two good ones for you today. One was inspired by book club (and by “inspired” I mean it was chosen for me and I had to read it) and the other was recommended by a friend. Both worth the time and energy it took to not get anything else done.

I believe it was Emily Dickinson who said, “To read is to not do the laundry, and that is okay because others are capable.” (Just kidding, it was me).

As always, all book reviews are spoiler free.

Happy reading.

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1. Kitchens Of The Great Midwest.

KOTGMW

If You’re Looking For: Fiction, Foodie Fiction, Contemporary Fiction

If You Liked: Olive Kitteridge, The Amateur Marriage

My Review: I read this book after a lot of positive buzz but without any background knowledge on what it was about. For a long time I thought it was a cookbook so I tuned it out, but then my local book club picked it for this month’s read and informed me that it’s actually a novel and to maybe pay attention when people talk. Truth: it’s slow to start, and if it wasn’t for book club–I might have given up due to the overwhelming number of books waiting to be read on my nightstand. That’s why I love book club. It forces me to read the things I might have otherwise returned to the library without a fair chance. About halfway through Kitchens, I started to really love the pacing and story. I couldn’t put it down! Warm, entertaining, interesting narrative structure (reminded me a lot of Olive), and solid writing. It made me hungry for good food and more books about foodies and food culture. 4/5 stars. Definitely recommend.

Their Review: “Kitchens of the Great Midwest is a terrific reminder of what can be wrested from suffering and struggle – not only success, but also considerable irony, a fair amount of wisdom and a decent meal.”—Jane Smiley, The Guardian

Quoted: When Lars first held her, his heart melted over her like butter on warm bread, and he would never get it back. When mother and baby were asleep in the hospital room, he went out to the parking lot, sat in his Dodge Omni, and cried like a man who had never wanted anything in his life until now.

Goodreads Summary: When Lars Thorvald’s wife, Cynthia, falls in love with wine–and a dashing sommelier–he’s left to raise their baby, Eva, on his own. He’s determined to pass on his love of food to his daughter–starting with puréed pork shoulder. As Eva grows, she finds her solace and salvation in the flavors of her native Minnesota. From Scandinavian lutefisk to hydroponic chocolate habaneros, each ingredient represents one part of Eva’s journey as she becomes the star chef behind a legendary and secretive pop-up supper club, culminating in an opulent and emotional feast that’s a testament to her spirit and resilience. Each chapter in J. Ryan Stradal’s startlingly original debut tells the story of a single dish and character, at once capturing the zeitgeist of the Midwest, the rise of foodie culture, and delving into the ways food creates community and a sense of identity. By turns quirky, hilarious, and vividly sensory, Kitchens of the Great Midwest is an unexpected mother-daughter story about the bittersweet nature of life–its missed opportunities and its joyful surprises. It marks the entry of a brilliant new talent.

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2. I’ll Give You The Sun.

sun

If You’re Looking For: Fiction, Young Adult Fiction, Contemporary Fiction

If You Liked: Eleanor and Park, Fangirl, some John Green books

My Review: I love finding a Young Adult book that isn’t too young adult (if you know what I mean). I’ll Give You The Sun is just that; emotional, entertaining, surprising, and funny. One of those books you pass around to help everyone get in the reading mood again. Most noteworthy is the unique writing style. Very contemporary, very figurative, very oh-she’s-doing-something-different. I found it wonderful, others might find it annoying. I would suggest keeping an open mind and being prepared for predictable coming-of-age romance with well written dialogue and a few twists. Mostly it’s a great example of showing verses telling and layering two points of views in a way that keeps you reading all night long. 4/5 stars.

Their Review: “Both structurally virtuosic . . . and emotionally wrenching. That alone is a rare combination in literature, YA or otherwise. But then add in the characters . . . This book is a rebuttal to anyone suggesting YA, because it tells stories of young people, is somehow of lesser stuff. I’ll Give You The Sun is literature. Full stop. In my opinion, it’s not just the best YA book of the year, but one of the best books of the year.”—Gayle Forman for Parade

Quoted: Or maybe a person is just made up of a lot of people,” I say. “Maybe we’re accumulating these new selves all the time.” Hauling them in as we make choices, good and bad, as we screw up, step up, lose our minds, find our minds, fall apart, fall in love, as we grieve, grow, retreat from the world, dive into the world, as we make things, as we break things.

Goodreads Summary: Jude and her twin brother, Noah, are incredibly close. At thirteen, isolated Noah draws constantly and is falling in love with the charismatic boy next door, while daredevil Jude cliff-dives and wears red-red lipstick and does the talking for both of them. But three years later, Jude and Noah are barely speaking. Something has happened to wreck the twins in different and dramatic ways . . . until Jude meets a cocky, broken, beautiful boy, as well as someone else—an even more unpredictable new force in her life. The early years are Noah’s story to tell. The later years are Jude’s. What the twins don’t realize is that they each have only half the story, and if they could just find their way back to one another, they’d have a chance to remake their world. This radiant novel from the acclaimed, award-winning author of The Sky Is Everywhere will leave you breathless and teary and laughing—often all at once.

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