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.

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Fiction

Book Review: Recursion by Blake Crouch

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“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.

 

Leggy

Fiction

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.

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Fiction

Book Review: City of Girls by Elizabeth Gilbert

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“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”.

 

Leggy

 

Fiction

Book Review – Daisy Jones & The Six by Taylor Jenkins Reid

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I’d seen this book EVERYWHERE on our instagram feed (follow us!: @nightstands2) and my strong FOMO made me tell myself that I have to read this book. I have had Forever Interrupted in my TBR list forever and just haven’t read it because at the time I got it, a friend told me I might not be emotionally ready for it, so I kept putting it off. I had read Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo some time ago and enjoyed that. I had seen in the comments that it was best to do this as an audiobook, so I put this on hold at my library and jumped on it when it came through.

Daisy is an up and coming artist who is a free spirit and doing what people did in those days – drugs, sex & rock n roll. The Six is a band trying to make it big and led by Billy Dunne, a rocker who gives in to the whims of fame and becomes an addict and isn’t always faithful to his loyal girlfriend, later wife, Camila who finds out she is pregnant with their first child the day before The Six leaves for their first tour.

The story of Daisy & The Six begins when Daisy joins the band and is in close paths as writer and lead singer with Billy Dunne. The band becomes one of the biggest bands in the 70’s up until their split and the book is about all the ups, downs and turmoils behind the scenes.

Guys, after reading this I think Taylor Jenkins Reid shot up as one of my favorite authors. The structure of this book was amazing and really impressive story telling by Reid. The book is told in documentary style a la Behind The Music, so it is told from the various character’s point of view (another reason why the audio is better). By the time you get sucked into the story, it’ll be so hard to not believe that this is NOT an autobiography and it is NOT about a real band.

Reid makes the characters sound so real and details their struggles with love, addiction, egos, turmoil etc so well which is probably why they sound so real. Based on the two books I have read of her, I have noticed that she knows how to write flawed human beings so well. It’s crazy how she can make a character who is doing shitty things still be charming and you still are on their side. That’s a skill, I tell ya.

As if the book wasn’t real enough Reid also wrote original music (which can be heard in the audio book), talk about commitment. I love the way the female characters were written. They were all strong women who weren’t taking shit from men and stood in their own truths and convictions and also were there for each other. I especially liked Karen and Camila’s friendship.

I can see how people could find the format annoying but it worked for me. It especially worked because it has been optioned as a TV show and I can literally see it playing out in my eyes in it’s transcript style. I promise I am not trying to sell the audio book but one last fun thing about it was the celeb voices such as Judy Greer, Benjamin Bratt and Jennifer Beals as Daisy.

If you couldn’t tell already, I liked this one and I recommend it (in audio of course)

🙂

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