Chick-Lit, Fiction

Book Review: The Flatshare by Beth O’Leary

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“Being nice is a good thing. You can be strong and nice. You don’t have to be one or the other.”

Tiffy just broke up with her boyfriend and needs to move out from their shared flat ASAP,  but living in London on an assistant editor salary is no joke. She finds an ad in the paper asking for a flatshare. Leon works nights as a nurse in a hospice and needs the extra money, so he decides to rent out his flat for the time he isn’t there. He offers Tiffy the apartment from 6pm to 9am. They never have to meet and it’s temporary – just for 6 months. Leon’s no-nonsense girlfriend Kay handles the transaction, thus ensuring Tiffy and Leon don’t even meet during the lease signing. And since Leon will be spending weekends with Kay, there’s no reason for any interaction. What starts as Tiffy leaving a note to remind Leon to leave the toilet seat down turns into a correspondence between friends. The two interact via post-it notes and memos, which grow from basic requests to much more personal conversations.

“…there is no saving of people–people can only save themselves. The best you can do is help when they’re ready.”

The best types of books are books that absolutely surprise you when you have little or no expectations at all. This book checked out to me and I had no memory of even requesting it from my library but I didn’t have anything else to read so I downloaded it and gave it a go. I absolutely adored this book. It’s fun but very well written and manages to deal with some serious topics like gaslighting, emotional abuse, false incarceration, friendship, family etc. I really like romance novels where the people involved build a friendship first, it made their coming together seem so logical and authentic. There was no love at first sight here and the two individuals were fully developed human beings who had real life problems. It was so amazing to see how they supported each other through their life struggles even before anything romantic occurred.

“My dad likes to say, ‘Life is never simple’. This is one of his favorite aphorisms.
I actually think it’s incorrect. Life is often simple, but you don’t notice how simple it was until it gets incredibly complicated, like how you never feel grateful for being well until you’re ill, or how you never appreciate your tights drawer until you rip a pair and have no spares.”

Beth O’Leary writes a captivating novel that shines thanks to her stellar characterization. You cannot help but fall for Tiffy and Leon, and the brilliant supporting cast of Richie (Leon’s brother), Gerty, Mo and Rachel (all Tiffy’s friends). Even Leon’s patients at the hospice are so endearing and show how much of a wonderful nurse Leon is, even though he is a man of few words. His patients’ love for him makes it easy for readers to fall absolutely in love with him and seeing him root for them and vice versa, was fantastic to read.

This book was absolutely lovely and charming and made me happy. I like books that don’t pretend to be more than what they are and what they are is done really well. It was a typical rom-com that didn’t pretend to be anything lofty and that’s exactly what I wanted from it. I gave this book 4 stars on Goodreads and this is hands down my favorite romance book of the year.

 

Leggy

Fiction

Book Review: The Nickel Boys by Colson Whitehead

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“The country was big, and its appetite for prejudice and depredation limitless, how could they keep up with the host of injustices, big and small. This was just one place. A lunch counter in New Orleans, a public pool in Baltimore that they filled with concrete rather than allow black kids to dip a toe in it. This was one place, but if there was one, there were hundreds, hundreds of Nickels and White Houses scattered across the land like pain factories”

Based on the real story of a reform school in Florida that operated for one hundred and eleven years and warped the lives of thousands of children, The Nickel Boys is a dramatization of real American history. Set in the early 1960s Civil Rights time and all the horrors of the Jim Crow era in Frenchtown, segregated Tallahassee, Florida. The civil rights movement is gaining ground, the bus boycott happens, restaurant sit-ins, demonstrations, Martin Luther king’s words are spreading across America. Elwood Curtis believes Martin Luther King that he is just as good as his white counterparts, he gets an early enrollment into college to take a couple of college classes during his senior year of high school but one small mistake on his first day of college gets him sentenced to The Nickel Boys Academy.

“Make a career of humanity. Make it a central part of your life.”

The Nickel Academy is a segregated juvenile reform school run by sadistic and racist Maynard Spencer. Elwood finds himself in a terrible school filled with vicious brutality, sexual abuse, torture, and actual killings. As Elwood struggles to maintain King’s higher ideals of love, trust and freedom in the face of his new reality, he meets Turner. Turner has a more cynical and honestly, quite accurate view of the world, believing Elwood to be naive, as he plots and schemes, trying to avoid as much trouble as possible.

“Perhaps his life might have veered elsewhere if the US government had opened the country to colored advancement like they opened the army. But it was one thing to allow someone to kill for you and another to let him live next door.”

I never read Whitehead’s blockbuster book, The Underground Railroad. I don’t know why, I was adequately assured that it was fantastic but I never had any interest in it. So, this is my first Whitehead book and I loved it. It’s short and still manages to convey a great deal of details and emotion. This book is under 250 pages, I read it in one afternoon. This book is an incredibly devastating story that deserved to be told. The goal at Nickel Boys is to rack up points for good behavior and graduate early or just serve your time sentenced at the school but with school officials who have it out for the boys and a corrupt system in place to exploit the students, nobody ever gets reformed. You either graduate when you’re due or you end up dead and buried in the dirt behind the school.

“Problem was, even if you avoided trouble, trouble might reach out and snatch you anyway. Another student might sniff out a weakness and start something, one of the staff dislikes your smile and knocks it off your face. You might stumble into a bramble of bad luck of the sort that got you here in the first place.”

The Nickel Boys is based on the accounts of the real life Dozier School for Boys, once the largest training and reform school in the country. Hundreds of boys died while wards of the state at Dozier, including from gunshot wounds, blunt force trauma, numerous broken bones, or being locked in solitary confinement when a fire broke out. Archaeology students at the University of South Florida have been working for years to uncover graves, document remains and try to trace them where possible to their families of origin. While Whitehead’s dramatization was intense and made me cry, the real true story is even more devastating and insane and it blows my mind that nobody has been punished for it.

“The boys could have been many things had they not been ruined by that place…. denied even the simple pleasure of being ordinary. Hobbled and handicapped before the race even began, never figuring out how to be normal.”

The ultimate sadness of this book is watching so many colored boys’ futures and potentials wiped out. This was supposed to be a school but there was no serious learning, they loaned the boys out to the men on the school boards to be practically slaves, using them to tend farmlands, house chores and in many cases, for sexual favors. The Nickel Boys packed quite a punch and was really difficult to digest considering how even worse the real life events were. I gave this book 5 stars on Goodreads.

 

Leggy

Fiction

Book Review: A Little Hatred by Joe Abercrombie

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“Nothing like being wanted, is there? Wanted by someone you want. Always seems like magic, that something can feel so good but cost nothing.”

Abercrombie is a prolific fantasy author who has written a lot of his books in the same fantasy world so you already know a lot of the players and what the world’s magical or non magical setting is like. I first found Abercrombie when I read his First Law series which is absolutely fantastic and is the same setting as his new series, The Age of Madness (of which A Little Hatred is the first book), is set in. The characters in this book are descendants of the players in his First Law series. Do you need to read the First Law series to understand this book and enjoy it? No. Would reading it provide a better understanding and enjoyment of this book? Absolutely!

“Believe it or not, we all want what’s best. The root o’ the world’s ills is that no one can agree on what it is.”

In A Little Hatred, we mostly follow the perspectives of seven characters: Rikke, Leo, Savine, Orso, Vic, Broad, and Clover. These are all different characters who have been dealt different cards in life and from different economic classes so we get a lot of different perspectives.

  • Savine is the daughter of Sand dan Glokta, the extremely feared leader of the inquisition, she is a ruthless business owner who will stop at nothing to turn a profit.
  • Orso is the crown prince and heir to the throne, a burden which he both enjoys and detests.
  • Broad just got out of the military, is trying to stay out of trouble and make a good life for his wife and daughter.
  • Leo was raised with the Northmen and is obsessed with making a name for himself in battle.
  • Rikke still has a little of the old magic present in her and is trying to get a hold of her long eye which allows her see the future.
  • Vic was raised in the prison mines and has been recruited by the inquisitor.
  • Clover is a Northman who goes wherever the wind blows, he is loyal to anyone who is on the winning side.

Each character’s internal struggles, different motivations, and their characterizations were extremely well-written; seeing how their paths connect with one another made this book worthwhile.

“Call it art, you can get away with anything.”

Abercrombie continues to do what he does best. He doesn’t write cookie cutter stereotypical characters. He sets up his characters and their political game play and lets you decide which faction to cheer on. And oh, your faction might support slavery but Oh, the other faction just murdered a whole army just because and Oh, your favorite character just argued for racism. If you’re expecting a hero, you’re not going to find that here. A Little Hatred is set in a society with pockets of magic that is on the cusps of industrial revolution. People have started regarding a lot of magic as superstition and tall tales, science is taking over, and the people are waking up to how terrible the monarchy is.

Abercrombie also writes really strong female characters, the women in his books are just as ruthless and heartless as the men. He makes them multidimensional and their actions and motivations are just as complex and compelling as the men. He creates female characters that are full human beings. He creates really vivid action scenes filled with grit and blood with plenty of humor mixed in as you watch hundreds of people hanged and murdered.

“She was not a woman to be deterred by hatred: not from her workers, not from her rivals, not from the men she bullied, bribed or blackmailed to get her way. It is when they truly hate you, after all, that you know you have won. So she met the seething dislike with effortless superiority, paraded past with her shoulders back and chin high. If she was to be cast as the villain, so be it. They were always the most interesting characters anyway.”

I really recommend this book. This book was witty, bloody and just plain FUN. I also strongly recommend the First Law trilogy which was amazing and will make the enjoyment of this book even better. I gave this book 4 stars on Goodreads.

Leggy.

Fiction

Book Review: Forever, Interrupted by Taylor Jenkins Reid

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“Have you ever heard of supernovas? They shine brighter than anything else in the sky and then fade out really quickly, a short burst of extraordinary energy. I like to think you and Ben were like that . . . in that short time, you had more passion than some people have in a lifetime”

Elsie is planning to have a low key New Year’s Day and is looking to get nothing but pizza from her local pizza place but instead she finds Ben and the passion and love blossoms so quickly, in a way they had never experienced and they elope just months after meeting. But 9 days after they get married, Ben is in a fatal accident [not a spoiler] when he goes out to get Elsie cereal.

Their marriage is so new that no one except Elsie’s best friend, Ana knows. Neither Ben nor Elsie told their parents so it is very awkward when Elsie runs into Ben’s mother, Susan at the hospital. She has no idea who Elsie is and refuses to acknowledge their marriage. To make matters worse, the marriage certificate never made its way to them, so Elsie has no proof.

The book then alternates between the past – taking us through Elsie and Ben’s relationship and the present – taking us through Elsie’s grief and finding her way through healing as she gets to know Susan and they both find solace in and with each other.

“No matter how strong you are, no matter how smart you are or tough you can be, the world will find a way to break you. And when it does, the only thing you can do is hold on.”

A friend of mine gave me this book about 4/5 years ago but I couldn’t bring myself to read it since I was going through a grieving process myself. I’ve been impressed by two of Taylor Jenkins Reid books (The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo and Daisy Jones & The Six) and I am now on a quest to eventually read all her books so as soon as I was ready I went for this one.

I was interested when I started this book and somewhere along the line, I became disinterested. I kept wondering what the problem was till I realized the book was just boring. This took me by surprise because part of what I like about TJR is that she creates a world that feels oh so real but this read like one of those British chick-lit books where the protagonist is childish and bratty. I know it’s unfair to call Elsie this because she was grieving and not in her right mind, but she was so mean to her best friend, Ana!

“Things happen in your life that you can’t possibly imagine. But time goes on and time changes you and the times change and the next thing you know, you’re smack in the middle of a life you never saw coming.”

I do think what TJR did well was she captured the emotions of the characters very well. Whether speaking about the rapid love Ben and Elsie shared, or the friendship between Elsie and Ana, Susan’s grief or Elsie’s very confusing thoughts. It felt very human and didn’t seem unrealistic but as I write this maybe what took away from the book was Elsie’s character.

I’ve seen a lot of people mention how this book hit them right in the feels and it was emotional for them but I think part of my disappointment was just that – I felt nothing. Obviously, I was disappointed at reading a TJR book I couldn’t gush over but I felt better when I found out that this was her debut novel and obviously she has become much, much better.

This book wasn’t for me but I can see how people would like it. Also, it is a quick read so if you just need something filler, it’s the material for it. As Leggy always says, art is subjective.

Taynement

Fiction

What I’ve Been Reading Lately: 4 Quick Fire Reviews

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Here are four books that I’ve read lately that you might enjoy!

  1. Ayeesha At Last by Jalaluddin Uzma:

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“Just remember to pack light. Dreams tend to shatter if you’re carrying other people’s hopes around with you.”

This is a Pride and Prejudice retelling set in a muslim community in Canada. Ayeesha is a smart, liberal muslim woman who is trying to navigate the complexities of her religion, love and family. Khalid is nothing if not devout and he’s super judgemental about everything he thinks is a transgression and super outspoken about it too. They meet, they hate each other and drama ensues. This book had everything that could have made it great but I thought it was overwritten and the characters were stereotypical caricatures. The villains were super villains, the author hit us over the head with it. Nothing was subtle, she told us everything she wanted us to feel. And oh my God, the drama! So much drama and twists that were not useful at all. I gave this book 2 stars on good reads.

 

2. The Bookshop on the Corner by Jenny Colgan:

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“Because every day with a book is slightly better than one without, and I wish you nothing but the happiest of days.” 

Nina Redmond just got laid off from her librarian job because libraries have been shutting down all over the UK. She decides to buy a van and start a mobile library in a sleepy village many miles from where she lives. She gets to have a lot of adventure and experience a new culture while discovering herself, falling in love and doing something she loves. I really enjoyed this one, I thought it was cute and a great coming into yourself story. What I did not like about this book is the love story. I didn’t understand why the author wrote the male love interest’s character like that- he was married, a grump and just plain ridiculous. I ended up giving this book 3 stars because the love story just wasn’t for me but it was a super sweet book with a likable heroine that I continually rooted for.

 

3. Promise of Blood by Brian McClellan:

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“The age of kings is dead, Adamat, and I have killed it.” 

This is the first book in Powder Mage series. Field Marshal Tamas’ coup against his king sent corrupt aristocrats to the guillotine and liberated the common man. But it also provoked war with the Nine Nations, internal attacks by royalist fanatics, and the greedy to scramble for money and power by Tamas’s supposed allies: the Church, workers unions, and mercenary forces. Also, on the dying lips of mages killed during the coup is a promise of disaster to come because the gods promised the king’s family that they would rule forever but no one believes in silly legends do they? I really enjoyed this one. I gave it 4 stars on good reads. McClellan is a fantastic story teller and I loved this book. I’m going to continue and finish the entire series. Totally recommend this one.

 

4. The 71/2 Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle by Stuart Turton:

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“How lost do you have to be to let the devil lead you home?”

This book was a mind turner. Evelyn Hardcastle will die tonight at Blackheath, that much we know, and she’ll die every night until Aiden can figure out who killed her. Aiden gets 7 days and 24 hours in 7 different bodies to figure it out. And if he doesn’t at the end of the 7 days, the clock starts all over again without any of the knowledge he gained in the past cycles. He’ll start on a clean slate every 7 days and he’s stuck at Blackheath until he figures out the answer. I quite enjoyed this book, I thought the premise was fantastic and the execution was good even though I think the author lost a hold on it a little bit towards the end. I enjoyed trying to figure out who killed Evelyn, I love a good whodunnit. I gave this one 3 stars on good reads.

 

I hope you enjoyed these quick fire reviews. Let me know if you’ve read or intend to read any of these books in the comments. Have a great reading week everyone!

 

Leggy

Fiction

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.

 

Leggy

Fiction

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.

Taynement