Book Review: The Dearly Beloved by Cara Wall

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“What a privilege, Nan thought, to believe oneself completely independent, to feel unshackled by social conventions and the worry of what other people might think. What a blessing, to be lonely in that particular way.” 

This book follows two couples – Charles and Lily, James and Nan. They meet in New York when Charles and James are hired to be joint pastors for the Third Presbyterian Church and we follow them through their journey of faith, marriage and family over the years.

Charles is the son of an esteemed Harvard professor who was already on his way to becoming a professor also,  when he hears a lecture in school that leads him to God. He meets and falls in love with Lily who does not believe in God, who warns him to not have hope in his heart that she’d ever believe.

Nan is a pastor’s kid who grew up and spent all her time in church, her father insists she leaves Alabama to study in Chicago and expand her world view. She meets James in college, drags him to church and even though James isn’t sure he believes, he develops an intellectual curiosity about Christianity and decides that this would be his avenue to help the world.

“Dearly beloved,” he began. They were the words that started weddings, not baptisms, but the people in the church were his beloved, so dear that as he spoke his heart and throat grew tight.”

I went into this book with really high hopes because of the glowing reviews and high praises I had read about it, but I think it fell short of my expectations. I like how this book deals with the various ways faith manifests and also deals with the lack of faith really well. There was no judgment or preaching to the audience about what faith or a lack of it should look like or represent. The author presents you with the facts of our characters’ lives and leaves any other presumption up to her readers. This book spans 50 years and Wall does a great job of telling this story with a solid backdrop of historic events surrounding each year – civil rights, Martin Luther King, segregation, etc.

“Nan had known, as a child, that God did not answer prayers for more candy or new shoes. Those were worldly things, not sacred. God answered prayers about being a better friend, or being able to get a good grade on a test. God gave wisdom and the ability to work hard. God did not change the circumstances of your life, God changed you. ”

I really liked how the friendship between the couples wasn’t stereotypical, they didn’t hit it off and become friends for life and forever without any struggles. Wall portrayed these couples’ friendship very well. The gossip,  jealousy and incompatibility between four people from completely different places and different belief systems. The dynamic between the women was especially intriguing. I enjoyed that even though they were two very different people, they showed each other compassion when they both needed it most. They gave each other space to be flawed and human and I think this relationship was my favorite in the book.

“Don’t we just have to find the thing that lets us not be scared to die? The thing that lets us not be scared, so we can live?”

I found Lily and Charles’ marriage to be very stifled and unfulfilling. I don’t understand why a pastor would ever marry an atheist who never even went to his services. I just kept wondering why they were together. Charles believed wholeheartedly in God and in the Bible but still decided to marry someone unequally yoked with him? It didn’t make any sense to me. Also, I wish we would have gotten more about the pastors when they were older and better established in their faith and jobs instead of focusing mainly on their college and early ministering years.

Ultimately, this book didn’t make it past 3 stars for me. This was a debut novel so it is definitely a solid effort from the writer and I’ll be reading more from her. If you don’t like gentle and slow reads, this book is definitely not for you. If you loved, Crossing to Safety by Wallace Stegner, then consider giving this book a read.




Book Review: The Farm by Joanne Ramos

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The Farm is a nickname for the Golden Oaks surrogacy center in Boston where rich patrons known as Clients, pay exorbitant amount of money to have their kids carried for them by women referred to as Hosts. Most of the Hosts are minorities. White Hosts are so scarce/hard to find that the few they have are referred to as “Premiere Hosts” because as you can guess they are considered “white, pretty and smart, but not intimidatingly so”. The Hosts are nicely compensated by their Clients but what makes it a little uncomfortable is that the women are very closely monitored from the moment they have  viable pregnancy. Their diet, their emails, their every move is being watched by Coordinators and they are not allowed contact with the outside world.

Our protagonist, Jane is a single, Filipino mother of a 6 month old who has recently split from her husband. She is living in a dorm with her resourceful cousin, Evelyn who she refers to as Ate. Ate does all she can to make money to send back to her kids in the Philippines and has now become a sought after baby nurse in NY. After suffering a heart attack, she enlists Jane to sub for her but when that goes awry she suggests being a surrogate at Golden Oaks. Being desperate for money, Jane agrees and begins this new life for the next 9 months.

Mae Yu is the ambitious manager of the center who comes off as the villain in this book because she would stop at nothing to get wealthy clients including Madam Deng. She keeps a special eye on Jane who becomes friends with two fellow white Hosts – Reagan, an idealist who wants to believe doing this is her helping the world in some way while dealing with her family issues and Lisa, the wild free spirit who is doing this for the third time and is the person who coined the center “The Farm”

You guys, I could go on and on about this plot of this book because it was that rich and that layered. I’ve been in a reading rut for a while and it was great to finally read a book I was excited about. I have seen a lot of comparisons to The Handmaid’s Tale or saying it is a dystopian book, but I don’t think so at all. I think it is a realistic plot that is current (Goodreads tells me there is a center similar to this called Golden Generations – scary).

What did I like about this book? So many things.

This book was written through the lens of an immigrant and Ramos gets it right using the personal stories she has heard and experienced as a Filipina herself. She touches on the guilt so many immigrant parents face when faced with making the choice between being able to provide from afar or being close to them but not being able to provide. I liked how the book made me think.

Jane just always had an internal battle but there is a scene where Evelyn says Jane seems to have a knack for making the worst decisions at the wrong time and I agree. Jane is so ruled by her emotions, it got frustrating sometimes. Reagan just wanted to do the right thing and represented the white person that is cognizant of their privilege and racked with white guilt but at what point do you make it make sense and live your life? Mae is of Asian descent but seems to be one of those who sees herself as white, there is a point where she doesn’t get why her classmate who is black has been considered one of Forbes 30 Under 30 and doesn’t think she would have achieved that if she wasn’t black – which is probably the thought process for a lot of Americans.

“The colonizers let us tell stories. Even angry stories … They please the colonizer, make him feel hip and cool … What the colonizer would be frightened of is an uprising where the colonized took the means of representation and production and made them equal, for everyone, of all backgrounds.”

I liked how intelligent the book was with tackling racial and social status without being too preachy. Ramos made this very multi faceted with superb writing skills. I wish she had expanded more on what happened at Jane’s baby nursing job and the ending didn’t leave me fully satisfied or had me convinced but everything else was good enough for me to overlook. I fully recommend.



Book Review: The Rage of Dragons by Evan Winters

The Rage of Dragons (The Burning, #1)


“I can’t imagine a world where the man holding a sword does not have the last say over the man without one.” 

The Omehi people have been fighting an unwinnable war for 200 years with the natives of a land they tried to claim as their new country. The entire society is built and structured for war. Their castes are built around people who are stronger, faster, bigger and more gifted than others and is maintained strictly with a punishment of death if ever challenged. Born of a lower caste, Tau knows his fate in life is to be killed or used as fodder for the war but he has a plan to avoid that.

He plans to get injured, receive an honorable discharge and live out the rest of his life with the love of his life, but his plans get interrupted when his father is brutally murdered in front of him because of a perceived insult to a higher born. Tau decides to become the greatest swordsman that ever lived in an effort to avenge his father’s death. All of this is going down with a backdrop of a struggling empire, queendom and plans of treachery and coup afoot.

“He was not the strongest, the quickest, or the most talented, not by any measure. He knew this and knew he could not control this. However, he could control his effort, the work he put in, and there he would not be beaten.” 

I bought this book not knowing the author was Black. I stumbled upon it on Goodreads, read the many glowing reviews and bought it. Then I saw some super Nigerian character names and decided to google who exactly wrote this book and out pops a Black man! I was pleasantly surprised. This book was originally self published in September 2017 but was given new life when it was acquired by Orbitz and Winter signed on to write a 4 book series for them.

I’m a sucker for blood thirsty, vengeful protagonists so I ate this book up. I love fantasy where a sort of training school is involved and we get to watch the main character grow in skill and purpose. Tau goes to such limits to perfect his swordsmanship. He lived for his revenge and didn’t care if it led to his death or not. He was out to prove that his caste had nothing to do with his ability to be greater, faster and stronger than the higher born and went about it with such doggedness.

“The days without difficulty are the days you do not improve.” 

I enjoyed how fast paced this book was, it hit the ground running right after the prologue. We get a look at the thinking of the colonizers, the Omehi people crashed unto this land that already had occupants but believed their gods led them there and therefore, they felt entitled to it. We get a look into the caste system, privilege and a lot of other concepts that are relevant to our world today without being preachy. Tau is such a hot headed boy, he almost reminds me of Harry Potter, always rushing into dangerous situations believing that they’re in the right and then letting other people clean up their mess. I was so frustrated with some of the actions he took in this book but is revenge ever a rational, and utterly noble pursuit?

“That’s the price. Life is nothing more than moments in time. To achieve greatness, you have to give up those moments. You have to give your life to your goal.”

I really enjoyed this book. Gave it 5 stars on Goodreads! If you are at all interested in fantasy or looking to get into it. Please give this book a go!




Book Review: Born A Crime by Trevor Noah


I heard so much about this book and for no good reason at all, I just had no desire to read it, so I stayed away from it. Sometime, late last year I was looking for an audiobook to listen to and it was available in my library so I decided to go for it. Born A Crime is an autobiography of sorts that focuses on Noah’s childhood in South Africa. The title, Born A Crime is because being born in the times of apartheid where having a black mom and a white dad was illegal, he literally was the product of a crime.

The book is written as a collection of essays and Noah talks about his childhood in depth right from the moment his mother made a decision to get pregnant with him. He talks about how mischievous he was as a child, how his mother – who is really the heroine of the book – did so much to protect and raise her child to be his own person in the most unconventional way, how he grappled with religion as a child and basically navigating this world he was in as a biracial child.

This book was great. I started it and was instantly drawn in. Noah’s intelligence seeps through in the way this book is written because he is able to tell his story even when it is at its most gruesome in a light hearted way. He finds a way to come out with a lesson  and how it contributed to who he is today.

As mentioned earlier, his mother was a major character in the book and wow what a woman or should I say, what a human being. Patricia Noah’s fearless energy shone throughout the book. She made bold decisions and was a determined person who fiercely loved her children. She had interesting child rearing tactics but it worked for her. It was also so fascinating to me that a woman with her characteristics still ended up with bottom barrel men who were abusive towards her, to the point where she almost lost her life.

The essays were not written in chronological order, so in one chapter Noah could be 19 and in the next he is back to being 11 years old. I didn’t quite like that. And even though I know it was about his childhood, I would have liked to know how he veered into comedy. Other than that this book really was an absolute delight. I feel like I say it a lot but listening to it via audio was a treat. Noah’s inflections, voices/accent imitation, singing and comedic chops made it even funnier and really took you to the setting of the book.

If you are looking for something fun that’s also serious, I definitely recommend.



Book Review: Recursion by Blake Crouch


“Life with a cheat code isn’t life. Our existence isn’t something to be engineered or optimized for the avoidance of pain. That’s what it is to be human – the beauty and the pain, each meaningless without the other.” 

Neuroscientist Helena Smith, in a bid to find a cure for Alzheimer’s and save her mother’s life, accidentally builds a machine totally unprecedented. This machine allows you to store a memory, then go back and relive that memory and your life from the day of the stored memory all over again.

New York city cop, Barry Sutton, is investigating a devastating phenomenon called False Memory Syndrome, where residents are waking up with false memories of lived full lives, different from ones they are living now. Suicide skyrockets and Sutton tries to get to the bottom of the phenomenon before memory as we know it is destroyed. Needless to say, these two stories collide in a way that’ll make you question time, memory and love.

“There are so few things in our existence we can count on to give us the sense of permanence, of the ground beneath our feet. People fail us. Our bodies fail us. We fail ourselves. He’s experienced all of that. But what do you cling to, moment to moment, if memories can simply change. What, then, is real? And if the answer is nothing, where does that leave us?” 

Who doesn’t want a do over in life? Personally, I don’t trust people who say they have no regrets. If you’re offered a way to go back in time and relive it, with all the knowledge you have now still intact, who wouldn’t be tempted to take that chance? This and so many questions are asked and answered in this book. Crouch writes a very human novel. Infact, I’d argue that this book is basically a love story. We see how much love pushes us to be the best or worst versions of ourselves, how desperate love makes us and ultimately, how love breaks us.

Other questions like, would you go back and stop Hitler? What are the consequences of that? If World War 2 never happens, then half the population on earth now stops existing and we get a totally new world. Blake Crouch turns his incredible imagination loose in his latest thriller and your mind will be racing trying to keep up with him.

“He has wondered lately if that’s all living really is—one long goodbye to those we love.” 

Ignore the science. Honestly, don’t try to understand all the facets of this. Get the gist of how the base science works then let everything else go. I find that’s why people think they can’t read science fiction because they get bogged down by the science. Understand the basics of how this world Crouch is creating works and then let everything else go. Reviewing Crouch’s book is not an easy task; there’s a huge limitation on how much of the plot I can talk about without spoiling something, and I don’t want that.

I will say that when Helen Smith relives her life over and over and over again till the readers are out of their minds with the familiarity of it all, it gets to a point where you just want it to freaking end. This gives you a glimpse of how Helen feels and your heart absolute breaks for her. I think this section of the book pushed the book up a star for me because if  I went crazy as a reader,  just imagine what the protagonist felt, living her life over and over again, trying to stop the inevitable from happening.

“My soul knows your soul. In any time.” 

If you’re looking to venture into science fiction, I think you should give Blake Crouch a try. Underneath all that science, Crouch writes human stories. I gave this book 4 stars on Goodreads. If you read this and enjoy it, you should give his first book, Dark Matter, a shot.




Book Review: Ask Again Yes by Mary Beth Keane

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“The thing is, Peter, grown-ups don’t know what they’re doing any better than kids do. That’s the truth.”

The book begins with two young Irish cops who are partners, Francis Gleeson and Brian Stanhope, talking about their future and suddenly we are fast forwarding a few years and Brian moves next door to Francis with his new wife, Anne. Francis lives there with his wife, Lena and they already have their first child.

We fast forward again, Lena has two more kids and Anne has a son. The two never hit it off but Lena’s last born, Kate and Anne’s son, Peter become best friends. Kate is an escape for Peter, whose home life is not the best given his mom’s instability and his dad looking the other way and not doing anything about it.

Now teenagers, Peter and Kate sneak out one night and pledge undying love to each other and share their first kiss. Something major also happens that night that changes the trajectory of all their lives because, it unfortunately is also the last time Peter and Kate see each other for a long time and sets the stage for occurrences in the next decades in the lives of these two families.

FOMO led me to this book. It was everywhere on our feeds and in the book community and even though I didn’t know what it was about, I promptly got on the list for it at my library. I am glad I did because I quite enjoyed it. I’d classify it as a slow build that never really becomes a full fire but was still rich.

“There was no real way for a person to try something out, see if he liked it…because you try it and try it and try it a little longer and next thing it’s who you are.” 

What I liked about the book was how human it was. It showed how generational patterns are hard to break. You see something you didn’t like growing up or you swore you would never do from your parents and somehow you end up there in the same place. And just how flawed we are as human beings. Keane was skilled enough to make some of her characters empathetic even through their ugliest moments. I liked how no character was left to be a saint and when you least expected it, their flaw would pop up and we would be immersed in a journey of the characters trying to work through it.

“They’d both learned that a memory is a fact that has been dyed and trimmed and rinsed so many times that it comes out looking almost unrecognizable to anyone else who was in that room or anyone who was standing on the grass beneath that telephone pole.”

It’s no spoiler to tell you that Kate and Peter reconnect and get married and their marriage and how everyone else reacts to it is an integral part of the story because it begs the question of how were they able to move past that fateful night? The book reminds you of how we get to see our parents as actual human beings as we get older and get a better understanding that they were trying to do the best they could. Except that some of these characters could have done better.

“She’d learned that the beginning of one’s life mattered the most, that life was top-heavy that way.” 

Ultimately for each of these characters, Keane reminds us that no matter how old they got, their childhood eventually played a huge part of who they became as adults. Peter by all accounts was a good man but his demons eventually came to light and was stronger than his will to be a good human being.

When Francis and Brian become neighbors, I wish Keane had taken the time to let us know why the two weren’t close anymore. They didn’t even seem like they liked each other, so why did he move by him at Francis suggestion? I thought that was a bit weird. I wish Lena was dealt a better hand in life but again…life. Like I mentioned earlier, I liked this book. It’s not a feel good, happy book but it’s also not depressing. It’s more of an introspective one that reminds you that life can be complex but sometimes, there are rays of hope that usually comes with a lot of work.



Book Review: City of Girls by Elizabeth Gilbert


“I always hated hearing old people yammering on like this when I was young. And I do want to assure you: I’m aware that many things were not better in the 1940s. Underarm deodorants and air-conditioning were woefully inadequate, for instance, so everybody stank like crazy, especially in the summer, and also we had Hitler.” 

It’s 1940 and Gilbert’s narrator, Vivian, has just been kicked out of Vassar College for a terrible freshman performance (she was ranked 361 out of 362, just ahead of the girl who contracted polio). Not knowing what to do with her, Vivian’s parents send her off to New York to live with her Aunty Peg who owns a crumbling theater, off-off-off Broadway, called the Lily Theater. Vivian has no interest in acting or writing but is quite talented with a sewing machine, so Peg makes her the theater’s costume designer and what was intended to be just one regular summer in her life becomes the defining summer that drives the rest of her life. Now at 95, our narrator is looking back on her life and mapping out the effect of that time in New York on the rest of her life.

“I was long and tall, that’s all there was to it. And if it sounds like I’m about to tell you the story of an ugly duckling who goes to the city and finds out that she’s pretty, after all-don’t worry, that is not that story. I was always pretty, Angela. What’s more, I always knew it.”

Gilbert said – “My goal was to write a book that would go down like a champagne cocktail- light and bright, crisp and fun.” and she definitely achieved that. This book is light even though it’s set in the 40’s with the war looming, during the war and after the war. It is fun and easy to read. This book started very well, I loved the main character, her voice was strong and funny. Everybody in this book had so much life and energy, it was a parade of very interesting people in the theater world all with a hint of glamour. The amount of detail Gilbert put in her descriptions were very impressive. The way she described the dresses, the society, the theaters, the effects of war on people, made everything so tangible and easy to imagine. This book had these burst of humor that really shined and Vivian’s retelling of how she lost her virginity was absolutely hilarious.

“The world ain’t straight. You grow up thinking things are a certain way. You think there are rules. You think there’s a way that things have to be. You try to live straight. But the world doesn’t care about your rules, or what you believe. The world ain’t straight, Vivian. Never will be. Our rules, they don’t mean a thing. The world just happens to you sometimes, is what I think. And people just gotta keep moving through it, best they can.”

Ultimately, this book was way too long. This book is almost 500 pages but should have been edited down to 300 pages. This book is essentially a letter Vivian writes to her friend’s daughter describing how they met and their effects on each other’s lives but honestly, that entire part could have been cut out. I didn’t think this line of the story moved the story forward in anyway. I was bored and kept wondering what this had to do with anything. This book shines when it is all about Vivian, when we are hearing about her promiscuity, the war, the professional scandal that sends her out of New York for the first time, and an inner look into the workings of the theater world in 1940 New York. I don’t think light books that go down like champagne should be almost 500 pages long.

“The secret to falling in love so fast, of course, is not to know the person at all. You just need to identify one exciting feature about them, and then you hurl your heart at that one feature, with full force, trusting that this will be enough of a foundation for lasting devotion.”

Even though I thought this book was longer than it should have been, I quite enjoyed it and definitely recommend it. It’s essentially a beach read and perfect for summer. I gave this 3 stars on my Goodreads.  Have you read this book? Are you going to? Let me know in the comments!

P. S – If you enjoy this book, you should check out Amor Towles’ “Rules of Civility”.