Fantasy, Fiction

Book Review: The Immortalists by Chloe Benjamin

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The premise of this book is amazing. It’s 1969 and 4 siblings go see a traveling psychic who claims to be able to tell people when they will die, right down to the age and exact date. With this information – Daniel, Varya, Klara and Simon- go ahead and live their lives with this information with Varya the only one who shares her age. They live their lives not knowing whether it was living out a destiny or a self-fulfilling prophecy. The book follows the life of each sibling and gives more insight into how they live.

With such a captivating cover, I feel like I saw this book everywhere and I had high hopes for this but unfortunately, this book was a let down. It had my interest in the beginning and I was curious to see how they would go ahead with life having an alleged expiration date, especially getting the info as teenagers. I feel like the first sibling story was quite interesting and captivating but as we progressively went through each sibling, it became more boring. By the time, we got to the story of the last sibling, I was bored out my skull and uninterested. There was so much focus on their work too, and while I got the connection, I just didn’t care.

Nothing about the writing stood out and it’s quite forgettable. I don’t have much to say about it to be honest. If this is on your TBR list, I honestly let you know that you won’t be missing much if you skip it.

Taynement

Fiction

We Chit Chat: Us Against You by Fredrik Backman

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“Unfairness is a far more natural state in the world than fairness”

Taynement: It’s been months but I finally finished the sequel to Beartown which I loved! (it was my favorite read of 2017)

Leggy: Yes, finally. How was your reading experience?

Taynement: When I first started, I kept wondering what the point of the sequel was and you can’t get lightning in a bottle twice. Then, I think somewhere around chapter 20, something switched and I don’t know why I ever said that and I was all in.

Leggy: I felt that way through out the book. Why did he feel it was necessary to write this sequel? I think he’s a fantastic writer and don’t get me wrong, It’s hard to read a Backman book and not think this man is so damn talented but I do not think this book added anything to the Beartown universe. It wasn’t a story that needed to be told.

Taynement: I beg to disagree. If we look at it from that point of view, honestly all sequels that aren’t part of a series would be stories that didn’t need to be told. His fantastic writing made it a story I didn’t know I wanted. He was able to carve out a focal point and theme of community.

“Culture isn’t just what we encourage but what we allow to happen”

Leggy: How did you feel about Maya’s family in this book and the journey each of them took?

Taynement: The one thing I liked about this sequel was how real it was. More specifically, about the many struggles we all face in life and how it’s easily misunderstood. I’ll just say right now that my least favorite character was Peter Andersson. What a coward.

Leggy: He was my least favorite character too. I couldn’t stand the passages that were about him. He was honestly a terrible husband. He was way too obsessed with the game at the expense of his family. At some point, I felt like he was willing to put his family through anything horrible for a game in a town that hates him so much. I would have moved. He should have moved. His wife sacrificed so much for him and he expected her to keep sacrificing even when it became her turn to shine.

“It’s impossible to measure love, but that doesn’t stop us coming up with new ways to try”

Taynement: The book has always focused on the hockey obsession and their devotion but at this point i’m not sure what he was getting out of it, that he was willing to put his family through what they went through. But that shouldn’t be surprising, he was totally a man, super selfish. The obsession I could deal with, they all were obsessed. He kept harping on their obsession but I could see what each person was getting out of it except Peter.

Also, thinking about the rivalry between Hed and Beartown I kept thinking this is kind of ridiculous and it suddenly occurred to me that the depiction in the book could be seen as a metaphor of where we are as a country with the left and right wings.

Leggy: The way the grownups participated and escalated the situation blew my mind. I think my favorite character in this series is Benji.

Taynement: He was definitely my favorite in book 1 but I think my favorites kept alternating. There were a lot of likable characters. I liked Zackell, the new female coach, also Kira.

Leggy: I liked Zackell too. And I really like Bobo’s family, that is one family that you don’t expect to work but they do and they love and protect each other so fiercely.

Taynement: Which goes back to the book being all heart. Because Kira was real – a strong woman just trying to keep it together. She’s lost a child, she’s had a daughter raped, an obsessive husband and she’s still trying to be a career woman but she was scared of nothing.

Leggy: I absolutely agree. I felt frustrated for her most of the time. Just seeing her life getting more and more complicated and her having to turn down taking shots at her dream for her family.

Taynement: Can we talk about Backman’s writing? How does he do it? This book solidified that he is the answer now whenever I’m asked “Who is your favorite author?” This is his third book of his I like.

Leggy: Backman is a fantastic writer. Sometimes, I’m like you’re just showing off now.

Taynement: Ha ha ha ha and I bet he isn’t even trying. The point where the book does a turn for me there are so many events that I felt my heart was being squeezed till the end of the book.

Leggy: There are so many quotes that just hit you in the heart and mind you, Tayne, these books are all translations!

Taynement: Yes! (which is why I have them sprinkled over this post for a taste) So I was going to to touch on this. Is he still great in Swedish or is it the translation that makes him great?

“You know why you can never rely on men? Because they love men. No one loves men as much as men do. They can’t even watch sports if it’s not played by men”

Leggy: He has to be so damn fantastic in Swedish because he’s so huge in Sweden. We’re just getting him now because A Man Called Ove was translated and did so well here but he’s been big there for so long. Can you imagine if he’s even better in Swedish? Like how is that even possible?

Taynement: It’ll be too much! Can’t tell you how many quotes I have highlighted. I don’t remember how the first book went but I also enjoyed how he went deep into the minds of the individual characters. For example: how a character explained why he was impulsive and what it’s like in his brain, or how Bobo explained how everything outside of playing hockey is so hard but in the rink he knows who he is.

Leggy: The premonition in a lot of the passages was nerve wracking because you know something terrible is coming and you’re just holding your breath wondering who it’s coming for.What did you think about Maya’s brother’s storyline? I was really frustrated by his actions because I kept wondering why he was doing what he was doing and why nobody was noticing?

Taynement: I think it could have been better but then what could be? It’s not easy being the overlooked child and I think the not noticing was to highlight the disintegration of Peter and Kira’s marriage.

Leggy: That’s true. How did you feel about the way it ended?

Taynement: Much better than Beartown! I think it wrapped everything up while giving an epilogue in a subtle way BUT why the caginess on who Zackell’s father is? I don’t want any more sequels!

Leggy: I loved how Beartown ended. I was satisfied with the end of that book. I think this is the last book in this universe, at least I hope it is because I don’t think I will be reading another one.

Taynement: Can I say I totally see this being a movie? Did you know A Man Called Ove is being remade in English with Tom Hanks? The Swedish one was nominated for an oscar.

Leggy: Really? I actually think that book would make such a good movie. That’s one of the things I thought when I read it even though I didn’t love it, I thought it would make a much better movie. I’m excited about that.

Taynement: Anyway, loved loved loved this book. I want to give it a 4 stars because it took sometime to rev up but I might forgive that and give it a 5, we’ll see.

Leggy: High praise. I gave it 3 stars. I enjoyed it but honestly, I could have done without it.

“When terrible things happen, most people become waves, but some people become rocks. Waves are tossed back and forth when the wind comes, but the rocks just take a beating, immovable, waiting for the storm to blow over”

Leggy & Taynement

Fiction, romance

Book Review: The Perfect Couple by Elin Hilderbrand

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The Perfect Couple is centered around Benji’s and Celeste’s fairytale, high society wedding in Nantucket. It’s wedding season there and this Island is overrun with tourists and wedding guests alike when the maid of honor is found drowned on the morning of the wedding day by the bride herself. As Chief of Police Ed Kapenash digs into the best man, the maid of honor, the groom’s famous mystery novelist mother, and even a member of his own family, the chief discovers that every wedding is a minefield–and no couple is perfect.

Through the investigative work of Chief Ed Kapenash, an unraveling of the many alibis and a host of memories from multiple perspectives, Elin takes us back to the beginning—to how Benji and Celeste came to be the perfect couple set to say “I do”. We find out how they met, how their relationship progressed to the proposal. We find out the dirty secrets and the secret love affairs between the most surprising characters and everyone takes a turn being a suspect. Was this drowning a murder or an accident?

Hilderbrand is the queen of beach reads (all her book covers are people sitting in front of the ocean) and multiple book releases a year, this woman knocks them out like books are going out of style soon. In fact, she already has a new book out just a couple of months after this one (4 months to be exact). She is also quite good at writing such distinct characters that actually make you feel things. I did not care for the main character, Celeste, her actions and the holier than thou attitude were just too much for me to take. I know that good people do bad things but I got tired of being told how good, kind and so independent she is while watching her make shitty decisions that would hurt her supposed fiance if she is ever found out.

If you’re looking for a murder mystery book, this really isn’t it. I mean there is an investigation for 24 hours and you quickly realize that this was just a plot by the author to tell us about family secrets and forbidden love. This is chick-lit through and through. I could not stand the love at first sight story line between two of the characters, it was dumb and it was a bit insulting to the reader’s intelligence. I rolled my eyes so hard during all their interactions and did not root for them at all. I thought they were selfish and hurting people whose intentions were clear and pure just for their own stupid gain. Also, the end was pretty anti-climatic for me.

I gave this book two stars. It was a quick read and I think if you’re looking for something easy to read, this is the book for you.

 

Leggy.

 

Fiction

Book Review: The Great Alone by Kristin Hannah

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This is my first Kristin Hannah book. She’s the writer of the super popular WW2 book, The Nightingale but I was so tired of the many WW2 books on the market, that I just decided to give that a pass. 13 year old Leni Allbright and her family move to Alaska and go off the grid as a possible cure for her father, Ernt’s illness. He just came back from Vietnam and is suffering from PTSD. He is extremely paranoid and volatile. At first, they do well in Alaska, they moved to Alaska during the summer so extremely longer days and shorter nights. Their neighbors are super welcoming and pitch in to prepare them for the winter coming. Winter shows up bringing with it a lot of darkness and snow, Ernt’s mental state starts deteriorating all over again and the family starts falling apart. Leni and her mother have to tiptoe around his violent rages and soon, they realize that they are alone in a city with 18 hours of night and nobody to hear them or save them from Ernt.

Hannah really takes her time laying the foundation to the Allbright family and showing us the tedious work it took to survive in Alaska in the ’70s. Spending every summer preparing for the winter – canning, smoking every animal and fish in sight, hunting- and then buckling down every winter just trying to get through the harsh temperatures and snow. I really appreciated this part of the book, the slow burn, getting to know your characters and their environment. I think this is where Hannah is a genius, she weaves these tales so well that you can actually see this place that you have never been to in your mind.

I enjoyed the first 70% of this book (this book is about 440 pages), I thought it was so well written and I was already itching to give out my second 5 stars this year on Goodreads to a literary fiction novel butI think this book fell apart in its last 100 pages. First of all, I did not like how the author described love. It was like some kind of compulsion that you can’t help or get away from. The love she described in the book was outright abusive and I couldn’t understand how she didn’t see it. Cora Allbright, Leni’s mother, stays with her abusive husband because she loves him so much and she constantly tells Leni that this is what love is and how she doesn’t think she can live without Ernt so she keeps her and her daughter in this violent home.

Leni falls in love with her next door neighbor, Matthew, and tells us how she finally understands what her mother has been describing all these years. When she uttered those words, my red flags went off so much and suddenly the love story between Leni and Matthew that Hannah is trying to sell me fell apart. If Hannah really wanted to sell us the love story between Leni and Matthew she should have set it up as the exact opposite of whatever Cora’s idea of love is not parallel to it.

I also just did not feel the chemistry between Matthew and Leni, I wasn’t rooting for them. I just wanted Leni to leave such a terrible home and go off to college and find herself. I was glad that she found a friend in Matthew who she could confide in and be herself with and I wish Hannah could have left it at that. Almost every woman in this book is weak and under some kind of patriarchy influence, except of course the stereotypical strong, black woman who is big and tall and is called Large Marge.

I was holding my breath the first 70% of the book waiting for Ernt’s paranoid doomsday prepping  to come to a head but the ending left me very unsatisfied and it needed an editor to clean it up. Hannah goes from literary slow burn to soap opera real quick towards the end and I couldn’t catch my breath going from one extreme to the next.

I know this is definitely going to be an unpopular opinion, as this book has a lot of good reviews. And don’t get me wrong, save for the gripes mentioned above, I can see why it has the positive reviews it received. Kristin Hannah is a fantastic writer and knows how to weave a tale but this was not the book for me. I ended up giving this book 3 stars because of the issues I had with it. I will definitely check out some of her other popular works and give her another try.

Have you read this book? Did you enjoy it? Have you read any Kristin Hannah? Let us know in the comments!!

 

Leggy.

Fiction

Book Review: This Is How It Always Is by Laurie Frankel

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This is the official description of the book:

This is how a family keeps a secret…and how that secret ends up keeping them.
This is how a family lives happily ever after…until happily ever after becomes complicated.
This is how children change…and then change the world.

This is Claude. He’s five years old, the youngest of five brothers, and loves peanut butter sandwiches. He also loves wearing a dress, and dreams of being a princess.
When he grows up, Claude says, he wants to be a girl.

Rosie and Penn want Claude to be whoever Claude wants to be. They’re just not sure they’re ready to share that with the world. Soon the entire family is keeping Claude’s secret. Until one day it explodes.

This Is How It Always Is is a novel about revelations, transformations, fairy tales, and family. And it’s about the ways this is how it always is: Change is always hard and miraculous and hard again, parenting is always a leap into the unknown with crossed fingers and full hearts, children grow but not always according to plan. And families with secrets don’t get to keep them forever.

I put this description on here because it is one of the few that gives a true picture of what this book is about. What do you do as parents when your 5 year old tells you that he is a girl? This comes after Rosie and Penn have had 4 boys and tried for a 5th girl in hopes that it will be a girl this time. Rosie secretly hoping for a girl to name Poppy – the name of her sister who she lost as a child.

At first Rosie and Penn think it is a phase and treats it as such, but as the years go by they come to see that it is real and the dilemma and issues they face as parents are basically the foundation of this book. 

It’s easy to think this book is simply about a transgender child but I think it covers a multitude of things. I liked how Frankel makes you question what it is to be a parent. When you become a parent do you really consider ALL the possibilities that it comes with and are you equipped to handle it?

With Claude wanting to be a girl, there are 4 other kids to consider but inevitably, a lot of attention is given to Claude and the other kids have to suffer with less attention and also keep this secret within the family, which is a lot to ask of kids. Also, having to deal with a spouse who has different ideas of dealing with things. What is your boundary as a parent considering your kid is still young and needs guidance? How do you know if you are stifling or guiding?

This book is different in that in this case, Claude has supportive parents who are willing to go through far lengths to help with his transition, which usually isn’t the case. Some may consider it unrealistic but I think some people, albeit not the norm, do hit the jackpot with supportive family. I do think, Frankel was balanced in that I didn’t get the sense she was saying this is the best way to handle a situation like this. You could very clearly see that Rosie and Penn were just doing the best they can or rather what they thought was best.

75% into the story, the location shifts to Thailand and for me that is when the book lost the plot for me and kinda went into boring mode. It just didn’t gel with the first part of the story. 

Overall, it was a good read and I think it is a good entry point for anyone who is wary of LGBT topics because the truth about it is as a parent, what do you do if this happens to you? There is a difference between keeping your kid safe at home but there is a whole world out there that is not as friendly and you have to account for that. I found a point in the book interesting when a character said when a girl wants to only wear pants and kick a ball, no one bats an eyelid and she is called a tom boy but when a boy wants to play with dolls and wear skirts everyone is in a panic.

Laurie Frankel is the mother of a transgender child but insists that this book is not autobiographical as everyone will deal with this differently. I’ll leave you with this quote from Frankel’s acknowledgements (yes, I read those):

“For my child, for all our children, I want more options, more paths through the woods, wider ranges of normal, and unconditional love. Who doesn’t want that? I know this book will be controversial, but honestly? I keep forgetting why”

We’d love more interaction from you guys, so please feel free to let us know what you think. Do you think you will read this? How do you think you will react as a parent if your kid came up to you as a 5 year old insisting they were the opposite gender of what they are? Drop a comment!

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Fiction

Book Review: The Place For Us by Fatima Farheen Mirza

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“The first sound we want our children to hear is the voice of their father, telling the child where it has come from, who its creator is, and whose care it will be in now. Telling the child, there is no God but God, and God is Great.” 

The Place For Us is about an Indian-American Muslim family in their small town in California. We are introduced to them on the wedding day of the oldest daughter and are informed that they are all together and complete, for the first time in three years. It is from here that the family has to confront the past and contend with all the decisions and choices made that has led them to this point. The parents, Rafiq and Layla, have to go through the reckoning of  trying to raise their kids the best way they could. Passing on the traditions, culture and religion that they know, to children who were born on foreign soil and with the burden of straddling two worlds at the same time.

“We pray together and when it is time for us to ask for what our hearts desire, my first wish is that he remain steadfast in faith, and then if he does not, that he never believe that God is a being with a heart like a human’s, capable of being small and vindictive.”

The book provides many beautiful moments. We read scenes from this family’s life over a span of decades. We watch them grow, make mistakes and watch the parents, parent the best they know how. It is written from every family member’s point of view. Through out the novel we get each version of events via everybody’s eyes except the dad’s, which comes at the very end of the book. There are no chapter markers or heads up about whose POV is coming up but I never felt lost or confused.

I felt like I got an honest glimpse into an unfamiliar culture, and the similarities between every culture, faith and the stories we tell ourselves and the concept of family kept me sitting at the table listening to their stories. I think what Mirza does best is the ability to create a story that uniquely belongs to this family but we as outsiders can recognize our own families in them even if we are none of the markers that the family identifies as.

Mirza creates complete and complex characters who are not stereotypes or caricatures of themselves. The siblings who are at the forefront of this novel – Amir, Huda and Hadia – are so beautifully crafted and recognizable that you root for them to make the right decisions. We see how this family is forced to deal with the repercussions of 9/11, the overt and open racism and Islamophobia that it gave rise to – there is a stunning scene where the father makes his two girls take off their hijab to protect them from the backlash they are likely to face in the aftermath of the terrorist attacks.

“But I did fight. I tried to leave every human I have interacted with better than or the same as when I encountered them….It was the way I wanted to move through the world….That was my fight: to continue to do little things for people around me, so no one would find fault in my demeanor and misattribute it to my religion.” 

I love the closing section of this book which is the only one from the father’s POV, because it puts things into perfect clarity. Even though, I loved the ending, I do not think a lot of people will because everything is not resolved with a big bow, in fact we are left with a lot of questions unanswered – even I wanted to know more about Amir’s life and his choices.

I utterly enjoyed this book, I love complex family stories and slow burns as long as it’s written really well which I believe this book was. If you’re one for a lot of action, i’m not sure this is the one for you. I gave this book five stars on good reads.

Have you read this book? What did you think? Do you think you’d pick it up now after this review? Let me know in the comments!

Leggy

Fiction

Book Review: Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng

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“Sometimes you need to scorch everything to the ground, and start over. After the burning the soil is richer, and new things can grow. People are like that, too. They start over. They find a way” 

It has been a minute since I started this book. I checked it out from my library months ago and it expired before I got to finish it. I had to go back on a wait list to get it and after I got it back it took me some time to get back into it. 2 days before it was going to expire again, I decided to just go for it (also helped that I listened to a podcast where someone was completely raving about the book) and I finally got through with it.

Little Fires Everywhere is a novel by Asian-American author, Celeste Ng. It’s about two families – The wealthy Richardson family that consists of 4 kids – Tripp, Lexie, Moody and Izzy and the mother-daughter duo of Mia and Pearl. Mia and Pearl have been on the move for so long that Pearl is used to it. But she is 15 now and Mia promises that their stop in Shaker Heights, OH (the real hometown of the author) will be more permanent and it is probably time to settle down.

Mia is renting a flat from Mrs. Richardson and Pearl and Moody become best friends and is always at the Richardson’s house. Mia is an artist but does odd jobs to stay afloat and being a cleaner and cook for the Richardson’s become two of her jobs. While Pearl is always at the Richardson’s house, the youngest Richardson, Izzie is always with Mia. She feels more at home with Mia than with her family especially her mom Elena, who does not understand her and is not always kind to her.

We get to know the family and then we are hit with the main story line in which the Richardsons family friend try to adopt an Asian-American baby and get into a custody battle that divides the families and the whole town. This division leads Elena to delve into Mia’s past and the action trickles down into a myriad of events that culminate into little fires everywhere (you see what I did there?)

You guyssss, my book slump might be over! I didn’t know what to expect (as always, I did not know what the book was about). I liked Ng’s other novel “Everything I Never Told You” enough but it wasn’t great or anything so my expectations weren’t high.

This book was so beautifully written, I felt like I could feel all the love and care Ng put into each and every character. You completely felt that you knew what each character was about and who they were. I found Elena very selfish and unlikable and I guess that was her role to play as the villain but even then, she still felt very real. She was the embodiment of certain type of people in America who live and die by “morals”

Many topics were addressed that made it so real:

Racism – “Everyone sees race, Lex,” said Moody. “The only difference is who pretends not to.” 

Nature vs. Nurture – “It came, over and over, down to this: What made someone a mother? Was it biology alone, or was it love?” 

Life philosophies – “One had followed the rules, and one had not. But the problem with rules… was that they implied a right way and a wrong way to do things. When, in fact, most of the time they were simply ways, none of them quite wrong or quite right, and nothing to tell you for sure what side of the line you stood on.” 

Parenthood – “To a parent, your child wasn’t just a person: your child was a place, a kind of Narnia, a vast eternal place where the present you were living and the past you remembered and the future you longed for all at the same time. You could see it every time you looked at her: layered in her face was the baby she’d been and the child she’d become and the adult she would grow up to be, and you saw them all simultaneously, like a 3-D image. It made your head spin. It was a place you could take refuge, if you knew how to get in. And each time you left it, each time your child passed out of your sight, you feared you might never be able to return to that place again.”

I could go on forever. But besides being humane, this was an intelligent book. While I was invested in the characters, it also made me think, made me examine where I stood on certain topics and as I type this, I still don’t know where I lie on the custody battle. The first chapter seems pretty unremarkable but by the last two chapters, it made more sense and I returned to read it before going back to finish the book.

The only thing I’d say I didn’t like was, the end. I’ve said before how endings must be really difficult to write because very rarely do I find endings I am satisfied with. I still don’t know how a certain event in the book happened and things were left vague. I was so tense reading the book just wondering how this will unfold that when I didn’t get a nice little bow, I was a little let down.

Just in case you couldn’t tell by everything I have said above, I completely enjoyed this book and totally recommend it.

P.S If you’d like to purchase the book it is $2.99 here

Taynement