Book Related Topics, Fiction

Book Review : Writers and Lovers by Lily King

Writers & Lovers

“I squat there and think about how you get trained early on as a woman to perceive how others are perceiving you, at the great expense of what you yourself are feeling about them. Sometimes you mix the two up in a terrible tangle that’s hard to unravel.”

Blindsided by her mother’s sudden death, Casey is devastated. She’s 31, broke, riddled with anxiety and trying to finish writing a book she started 6 years ago. This is in fact a coming of age story except our protagonist is 31 and has had a long wild youth immersed in creative pursuits and spontaneous love affairs that leave her mostly broken. She’s now at the cusp of selling her novel and finds herself in the middle of a love triangle trying to decide between her love interests.

I think as more people read this book, the reviews are going to be a mixed bag. I really wanted to love this one, I chose it as my Book of the Month pick and even the title called to me. I think the author is good at slice of life novels but a lot of this book still completely underwhelmed me. I never connected with Casey, I didn’t like or dislike her but I found some of her decision making process to be extremely lacking. Some of the decisions she made that got her to the point of being a 31 year old server riddled in debt was atrocious to say the least. The way she let emotions and men drive so much of her life was quite appalling.

“I can tell he lost someone close somehow. You can feel that in people, an openness, or maybe it’s an opening that you’re talking into. With other people, people who haven’t been through something like that, you feel the solid wall. Your words go scattershot off of it.”

There was so much about her family that could have been explored that King just flies pass through. Her father was a pervert who lost his job for spying on young girls in their locker rooms and that was never deeply explored. Her mother left her father for a younger dying man and that also just didn’t get as much light in the story.

I would have preferred a slightly different book as Casey’s current life really didn’t have that much of an appeal to me and her love interests were a bit lack luster for that to really draw me into the story. This book is completely internal and largely takes place in Casey’s head, we see everything through her eyes, it’s really hard to write a compelling and readable story that has this format. This is a character driven book so if you need a strong plot to enjoy a book, this will not be the one for you.

“It’s a particular kind of pleasure, of intimacy, loving a book with someone.”

That being said, I enjoyed King’s writing style. She has a lot of great lines about being a woman and struggling with achieving within the creative space. I think she succinctly captures that stage in our lives where we’re feeling unmoored with deep anxiety about getting our lives together, torn between achieving stability especially financially and pursuing our passion.

A lot of Casey’s friends gave up pursuit of the literary life and just went to grad school or law school to be able to make an actual living. This book picked up half way and ended on a happy note which made me happy and excited for Casey. I really enjoyed a lot of the witty conversations between the characters especially with one of her love interests’ children. King gives us a glimpse of the end of a long youth and I left the book feeling satisfied with the state of the characters’ lives when the book ends.

If you enjoy character driven books, you should definitely pick this one up. I’m also going to pick up her previous novel, Euphoria because I’ve heard a lot of good things about that one as well. Have you read this one? Are you going to? I gave this book 3 stars on Goodreads.

Leggy

Book Related Topics, Fiction, We Chit Chat, Young Adult

We Chit Chat -Trust Exercise by Susan Choi

Trust Exercise

“Thoughts are often false. A feeling’s always real. Not true, just real”

Plot: In an American suburb in the early 1980s, students at a highly competitive performing arts high school struggle and thrive, ambitiously pursuing music, movement, Shakespeare, and, particularly, their acting classes while dealing with teenage issues and predatory teachers. 12 years later, they look back on their lives in this performing arts high school and try to dissect what actually happened to them there.

Taynement: It’s been a while since we had a chitchat. We ended up with Trust Exercise because I was seeing it win so many awards

Leggy: You know, I went into this book without reading any description whatsoever because you picked it. I was like Taynement likes plot driven books so this will be good.

Taynement: Ah, is that a first for you? Going in blind, I mean.

Leggy: It’s not a first but I usually read plot blurbs before I pick a book to read, just to see if it’s my cup of tea.

Taynement: Ah okay. At the risk of sounding like a broken record, I went in completely blind

Leggy: I kept reading it and when I got to the 20% mark on my kindle, I had to go see what the book was supposed to be about. I just wasn’t getting any consistent plot.

Taynement: I think this was my thought for the entire book. I see what the main theme was but man, it did NOT work for me.

Leggy: I truly thought I was going to give this book 1 star. The beginning just didn’t work for me at all. The middle I liked more when the voice switched to Karen’s. I thought Karen had a stronger voice and point of view than Sarah.

Taynement: So I did this on audio and with each switch I wondered what I missed. It took me a minute to get back into the groove and realize the story switched and it honestly confused me.

Leggy: Karen is the only voice that worked for me and the reason for my one additional star. I thought this book could have been so much more but it’s very obvious it was written for awards. This book was a freaking Pulitzer finalist.

Taynement: The thing is if this book had the main goal of highlighting sexual assault or predators I think it did a piss poor job. I think my issue with this book was it tried to be smarter than itself and ended up all over the place.

Leggy: That’s exactly what I mean by it was written for the awards.

Taynement: I was so confused by their teacher’s story line. I thought it was borderline abuse and predatory but it was so vague I couldn’t tell if it actually was or if it was normal in the theater world. I’m referring to when he made Sarah and David reenact their breakup.

Leggy: I guess the theme seems to be that no one knows what exactly “truth” is. We’re all locked into our own points of view. Everybody has a spin. Sarah and Karen and David all lived the same things but came out of it with completely different views. David became friends with his abuser. Sarah is mad when she sees Mr. Kingsley at David’s show and wonders how David can be friends with him. Sarah portrays Mr. Kingsley as gay but Claire portrays him as extremely straight and masculine.

Taynement: Oooh, that’s an angle I can see. I really do not think this book should be done on audio. I was so disinterested by the characters, I just went through the motions of finishing the book.

Leggy: I think it shows the effects of grooming. They were all being groomed by Mr. Kingsley. In her retelling, Sarah makes Kingsley gay and invents Manuel as a character he was molesting. But then in the second part, Karen tells us it was actually Sarah Mr. Kingsley was having a “special” relationship with. And then Martin grooming Sarah and getting her pregnant. It’s all rife with abuse, different points of view and the subjectivity of truth. But my thing with this book is okay, so what’s the point?

Taynement: Yeah it never really wrapped things up in a clear manner. So you feel like you’re taking this journey and taking in the scenery but you never get to any destination.

Leggy: For such a popular book it barely has 3 stars on good reads. Ordinarily, I enjoy unreliable narrators and narratives and I do think this will make a good book club pick to discuss the subjectivity of truth and what actually happened to those kids in high school but I don’t think it was executed well.

If I wasn’t reading this for a chitchat, I would have dropped it after the first 50 pages. I found the first part of this book overwritten with these huge emotions and I understand that those emotions seemed so huge because they were teenagers. But if you’re going to write from an omniscient point of view and not a first person, then it’s just over written.

Anyway, this book is more fun to discuss with your book people than it is to actually read. My advice? Skip this one. I gave this 2 stars on good reads.

Taynement: The execution was shoddy. I agree, skip it!

 

Leggy & Taynement

Book Related Topics, Fiction

Book Review: Dear Edward by Ann Napolitano

Dear Edward

“There was no reason for what happened to you, Eddie. You could have died; you just didn’t. It was dumb luck. Nobody chose you for anything.”

Twelve-year-old Edward Adler, his beloved older brother, his parents, and 183 other passengers board a flight in Newark headed for Los Angeles which tragically crashes leaving Edward as the sole survivor. Now living with his aunty and uncle, Edward struggles to make sense of whatever life he has left while trying to heal physically, emotionally and mentally. Along with the devotion of his aunty and uncle, Edward develops an unconventional relationship with a neighbor his age called Shay who offers him honesty and friendship. This story follows Edward’s coming of age journey, as he copes with the aftermath of the crash. The author was inspired by a true life story of a plane crash that occurred in 2010. The plane was going from South Africa to London when it crashed, killing everyone on board except a 9 year old boy.

Traveling back and forth, the book toggles between the incidents on the plane and Edward’s life post crash. I did not enjoy this set up at all. At first, it was interesting but after a while it just came off as trauma porn. We all know these people are going to die, it’s on the blurb, so following every thought and hope they had for themselves got exhausting after a while.

Also, every passenger on the plane was just a caricature and the author employed every stereotype in the book. There’s a leering young business man, a flight attendant who is a sexy tease, a closeted gay soldier, a ruthless old business man who’s been married more times than he can count, a woman who finds out she’s pregnant while on the flight (I’m sorry but who takes a pregnancy test on a plane?). Every one of these stories felt gimmicky especially because none of these stories had anything to do with the crash or Edward, so they just felt unnecessary.

I went into this book expecting a heart wrenching read but for some reason, I didn’t connect with this book at all. There wasn’t much of a story. Even Edward’s life post crash was underwhelming. I did not connect with Edward. I felt bad but I found him extremely annoying. I waited and waited for something poignant to happen, for a switch to occur, for Edward to do something with his life but nothing happens.

We follow Edward from 12 till he goes off to college at 18 and he never does anything. I just don’t understand the people who were ugly crying at this book. Edwards lacks a sense of self and depth. The character of the therapist he sees for most of his life felt pointless as they never explored anything of value that added anything to the book. This could have been a great way to explore Edward’s emotional life but it just didn’t happen. Even the lives of the people in his life were not explored. His aunt and uncle’s marriage problems were just mentioned in passing, the fact that they couldn’t have kids was mentioned then abandoned, his aunty’s grief at losing her only sister was also mentioned in passing.

Trauma and healing are nuanced topics that require a delicate hand and deep understanding. Sadly, this author missed the mark on this. I know I’m in the minority with this review. Everyone loved this one. I didn’t. This book started slow, continued slow and ended slow. All the characters were strangers to me and lacked depth. Maybe I’m heartless but this book was a bore to read. I gave this 2 stars on my good reads.

Leggy.

Book Related Topics, Fiction

Book Review: American Dirt by Jeanine Cummins

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“That these people would leave their homes, their cultures, their families, even their languages, and venture into tremendous peril, risking their very lives, all for the chance to get to the dream of some faraway country that doesn’t even want them.”

Lydia is forced to flee the Mexican city of Acapulco with her son, Luca after her entire family was brutally murdered by a cartel chief. This is not a spoiler as the book opens with this brutal scene. What follows, is a journey of a mother trying to survive with her child and escape the reach of a powerful man. Lydia and Luca journey North, hopping on trains and walking so many miles trying to cross the border into the United States. On the way, they meet so many people and characters that make their experience one that’s fascinating to read.

“…if you can’t trust a librarian, who can you trust?”

One good thing this book has going for it is that the author knows how to create characters that you want to root for. Cummings makes you want her characters to succeed on their journey North. Your heart is pounding as they jump on trains,  dodge gang members, get kidnapped, get lost and everything horrible in between. Whether you met the character from the beginning or the last 100 pages of the book, you have this intense desire to see them come to no harm and when that doesn’t always happen it completely breaks your heart. I also think the author did a lot of research for this book and reading her author’s note at the end of this book confirmed that.

“From now on, when we board, each time we board, I will remind you to be terrified,’ she says. ‘And you remind me, too: this is not normal.’

‘This is not normal.’ Soledad nods.”

It’s also super obvious that the author of this novel is a white person writing about brown bodies because, she spends so long describing these brown bodies. I can’t tell you how many over written lines and metaphors included the word “brown” or a metaphor representing the word “brown”. It was like being a black girl on a dating site and being called “chocolate” over and over again. The main character, Lydia comes off very naive and not Mexican at all. I found her surprise at everything I’d think a typical Mexican who grew up in Mexico would be familiar with, very hard to believe. The choices she made that led her and her family to that point, the way her husband who was a reporter and had seen the deadliness of the cartels just trusted her to make those naive decisions. She was very much akin to being a white woman in a horror movie.

I waited until I finished reading this book before I read the many articles about the controversy surrounding this book. I’m not going to lie, I enjoyed this book. This novel is an over written melodramatic thriller which has sparked a war in the literary world but I still enjoyed it for what it was. I completely understand where the criticisms are coming from. This white author was paid a 7 figure sum for this book deal and received accolades from so many big name authors and is now currently on Oprah’s book club list. All to tell stories about a group of people that you are not a member of and a group of people that are not afforded these opportunities to tell their own stories themselves.

I have also read the author’s notes and some of her responses to the criticisms on her book tour, and I do feel some sympathy for her. It all feels very white savior-esque but I wonder what the average Mexican illegal immigrant would think of this book. Would they be worried about the appropriation or be thankful that a book exists that might help push the conversation on immigration in this country forward and make more people sympathetic to their plight?

Anyway, I gave this one 3 stars on Goodreads. Are you going to read this book? Have you heard of the controversy surrounding it? Do you have any opinions about them?

Leggy

Fantasy, Fiction

Book Review: Nothing To See Here by Kevin Wilson

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Lillian and Madison are friends in an elite boarding school. Madison is from a rich family while Lillian is in through a financial assistance program. The unlikely pair are roommates and that’s how they become friends. They go through a scandal in which Lillian gets a raw deal and is expelled. The two don’t speak for a while but begin to exchange letters where they update each other on their lives.

Madison is now married to a wealthy man who is prominent in the political scene and Lillian is lost and still living with her not-so-great-at-parenting mom. One day she sends a letter to Lillian letting her know she needs her help. The help in question is for Lillian to move in with her family and take care of her 10 year old twin step kids. The catch is the twins burst into flames whenever they get agitated regardless of where they are. Never able to say no to Madison and with her life back home dreary, Lillian agrees to take care of the kids. The three quickly form a bond and Lillian begins to forge a new path for her life.

This might be the first book I read because of its cover. It just had this 70’s/80’s simplistic crayola look and the fire shooting out of pants made me chuckle. I didn’t expect to be as impressed as I was by the book. I liked this book because of its many layers. It wasn’t just about combustible children. In fact, as you get into the story, you realize at some point that Wilson has found a way for you to forget that bursting into flames is not exactly normal but in your brain it just becomes the norm as you focus on the other aspects of the book.

Madison and Lillian’s relationship was infuriating to me even though I think the explanation for it was a lazy story line. What I enjoyed most were the twins. Wilson makes them smart kids who are aware of how everyone sees them as a burden and balance their trauma (they experienced something major). You see them childlike and realistic at the same time and trusting no one but each other. I love how the characters were so fully fleshed out that you know Bessie is the captain of the twin ship and she was very protective of her brother, Roland.

I know I am partial to books that delve into human relations and the many curve balls we have to face but this was a well written book that I would recommend.

 

Taynement

Chick-Lit, Fiction, romance

Book Review : Evvie Drake Starts Over by Linda Holmes

Evvie Drake Starts Over

“Your head is the house you live in, so you have to do the maintenance.”

Evvie married her high school sweetheart. Everyone considers them the perfect couple and her husband especially, to be the perfect husband. On the day Evvie makes a decision that would shatter that illusion, her husband dies in a car accident leaving her reeling from the events that follow. Her guilt for not feeling as much grief as expected and coming to terms with her marriage and the man she married.

Dean Tenney was living the dream – a star pitcher for the New York Yankees until one day he just couldn’t pitch anymore. He was pitching wild balls and not hitting any of his targets and was forced to retire from a game he loved before he was ready. Dean heads to Maine, searching for answers and trying to understand his life after being forced to retire so young. He rents a room from Evvie and they become friends.

This is a charming book. There is no other word for it. It’s also a very adult novel. This is definitely  a romance novel but with fully developed characters who talk like adults. I enjoyed the different relationships in this book and the exploration of all the nuances. I really enjoyed watching Evvie and Dean fall in love. You watch them become friends, and then other things get slowly added to the equation. They both struggle to understand each other’s issues. Dean tries to understand Evvie’s actual marriage struggles that she hadn’t shared with anybody else – not her dad, not her best friend, Andy- and Evvie in turn tries to understand his pitching woes.

No matter how predictable this book is, Holmes still does a great job of walking us to the destination. This is a well written book. The character development was stellar. The characters have their flaws and Holmes does not lean on stereotypes to bring her story to life. I enjoyed these characters and found their back stories compelling and fascinating. I can’t imagine waking up and not being able to do the very thing you’ve loved and done for the longest. This book deals with a lot of serious issues but it also has a lot of humor and hope for the future.

Evvie Drake Starts Over definitely dragged in the middle. It was not a fast paced book all the way through, but I understood the reason for the slow build in the middle as our characters got to know each other. Also, the whole angle of trying to “fix” each other made me cringe a little bit because it just seemed a tad bit intrusive and codependent.

Overall, I enjoyed this book and gave it 3 stars on Goodreads.

 

Leggy.

 

Fiction

Book Review: Such A Fun Age by Kiley Reid

⚡P.D.F⚡ Such a Fun Age by Kiley Reid

It’s 2015, Alix Chamberlain has just moved to Philadelphia, with her husband and two kids, from New York. She is a well known personality with a social media following who rarely has to pay for anything. She is a wealthy white woman who is used to getting what she wants, when she wants. Emira is a 25 year old black girl who is Alix’s babysitter for her oldest child, Briar. Emira loves Briar to death and is good at her job. She lives a normal young person’s life and parties with her friends on the weekends but as she watches her friends become adults and being responsible, she realizes she cannot be a babysitter forever and has to figure out her life in general. She can barely afford rent and she is about to lose her health insurance via her parents and needs a job with health benefits.

One night as Emira is out partying with her friend, Alix calls Emira in a panic to watch her oldest, 2 year old Briar. Emira is all dressed up with her friend, Zara and they go to a nearby grocery store where a security guard accuses her of kidnapping Briar (of course after a white woman expresses concern). Everything escalates as a bystander films the whole thing. Emira calls Alix’s husband, the confusion is cleared and Emira wants to pretend that the incident never happens and never brings it up again.

Alix on the other hand is racked with [white woman] guilt and suddenly takes an unusual interest in Emira. She decides to get to know her better and does everything she can to impose herself in Emira’s life.

I really, really enjoyed this book. Beyond the summary above, a whole lot more incidents occur that involve the past and the present merging and affecting both women’s lives. This book really was a social commentary on race and class privilege but it was not written with a heavy hand. In fact, it might be missed if the story lines presented on the surface are the only focus. That’s how well written it was.

I liked how friendship among women was depicted in the book. Alix is an unlikable character but her friendship circle, although misguided, was still fun to read about. Same went for Emira’s circle, always there for them when they needed. It’s always nice to see strong, supportive female circles. I used to live in the Philadelphia area and it was fun recognizing some of the locations mentioned. I also really liked that the ending was not an expected or cliche ending.

I gave this book 5 stars on Goodreads (which is a feat for me). Considering this is a debut novel, I expect for the author to only get better from here. As expected, Hollywood already has its hands on this book as Lena Waithe has optioned the rights to it. Looking forward to her future works.

Taynement