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

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

A Little Hatred (The Age of Madness, #1)

“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.