Chick-Lit, Fiction, literary fiction, race, romance, Uncategorized, women's fiction

Book Review: Mika in Real Life by Emiko Jean

“It seems the tighter I try to hold on, the more things slip through my fingers. It is a reminder to me of how impermanent life is.”

Mika Suzuki’s life is a mess. She’s 35 and has just been laid off from her paralegal job. She’s living with her best friend but still can’t make ends meet. She is an absolute disappointment to her traditional Japanese parents. Her last relationship ended in flames. Mika is at her lowest when she gets a call from her daughter Penny – the daughter she gave up for adoption 16 years ago. Penny wants to get to know her birth mother and Mika is determined to be a woman who daughter would be proud of. Mika spends the entire month talking to her daughter and making up the perfect life for herself – the perfect career, the perfect romantic relationship, and even the perfect house. As the lies snowball into a fully fledged fake life and Penny decides to come visit Mika in Portland with her adoptive widower dad, Thomas Calvin, Mika must figure out a way to keep up with her lies while forming a relationship with her daughter.

I really liked all the family dynamics portrayed in this story especially the one between Mika and her mother. Mika and her parents have a very difficult relationship where she has never felt understood. Her parents being immigrants has shaped a lot of their experiences and has made it hard for them to understand each other. Their relationship involves church, her parents trying to introduce her to eligible Japanese men and Mika asking them for loans which she always promises to pay back but never does. I like how the author portrayed Mika’s mother as complex instead of demonizing her as an absolutely bad mother. She was just a woman who was limited in her world view and moved to a country she didn’t want to be in in the first place and then was saddled with a daughter who didn’t want the traditional path to success her parents had set out for her to follow. I enjoyed reading about her experiences and what made her into the person she was today.

I didn’t expect this book to grab me as much as it did. Sure, there’s romance in it and a few spicy scenes but that is not all this book is about. The romance lends a certain layer of lightness to this story that would have otherwise been depressing. The relationship between Mika and Penny’s adoptive father, Thomas comes across very organic and believable. The relationship Penny and Mika build throughout the book was so well done to me. Seeing Penny being accepted into Mika’s family and beginning to explore her Asian identity was very touching. This book explores interracial adoptions and some of the pitfalls. Even though Penny’s adoptive parents tried to expose her to Asian culture, their whiteness still gave them a lot of racial blind spots.

I really enjoyed this book. Are there some aspects that felt predictable? Sure. But it explores so many topics and does them in a nuanced way. I really recommend this book. I gave it 4 stars on Goodreads.

Leggy

Fiction, literary fiction, women's fiction

Book Review: Notes On Your Sudden Disappearance by Alison Espach

Sally is Kathy’s younger sister and she looks up to Kathy. She thinks Kathy is the coolest, smartest person and hangs on to her every word. They had a great summer going to the pool, taking family trips and obsessing over Billy Barnes who is a senior. Kathy has had a crush on him for a while and he eventually becomes her boyfriend. By the time school starts, Sally might also have a crush on Billy even if it seems like her sister only spends time with Billy.

One morning, Billy is driving them to school and they get into an accident that kills Kathy. Billy has severe injuries but Sally is unscathed. The book becomes Sally narrating her life to Kathy over the next fifteen years as she navigates life with her parents who are grieving differently and her interesting relationship with Billy.

I’d seen this book everywhere and hopped on it as soon as it checked out to me at the library. I liked it because it was an easy, straight forward read. The book was written in the voice of Sally and it was as if she was writing letters to Kathy. I liked that it was written progressively in time, so there were no worries about going back and forth in time.

I saw afterwards that this book was marketed as a thriller and I wonder why because I don’t think there was any element of thriller in it. This book explores grief, emotions and family dynamics. I didn’t have a problem with how the book was written but I didn’t quite like Sally. Now I know everyone grieves differently but I didn’t understand Sally’s grief. She actually seemed detached but that might have been her trauma. It was interesting that even though the accident wasn’t technically her fault, in some way I still blamed her and I was a little surprised she never seemed to blame herself or feel any guilt. All those emotions seemed to have been written into Billy’s character and I understood his complicated emotions. Sally’s parents truly were something else. Very quirky.

Overall, even though it’s nothing really extraordinary, I would still recommend the book. The author lost a brother when she was young as well so I can imagine that this might have been cathartic for her. Even though grief/death is the topmost theme, this is not a dark book. In fact, there is a weird romance thrown in for good measure.

Taynement

Fiction, literary fiction, race, romance, women's fiction

Book Review: Love Marriage by Monica Ali

“She was greatly moved by her mother’s love marriage, more than she had been in years. Love, Ma was telling her, not only in words but by example, conquers all.”

Yasmin is of Indian descent and lives in the UK with her family (mom, dad and brother). She is training to be a doctor like her dad and is engaged to Joe, who is white and also a doctor. He lives with his single mom, Harriet. The two families couldn’t be any different as Yasmin’s family is a typical immigrant family who puts their head down and does what is expected and the family never discusses anything and sweeps things under the rug while Harriet is a loud and proud well known feminist who is very open about her sexuality.

Wedding planning is underway and as the families get to know each other a bunch of things are uncovered along the way that threaten the wedding day ever happening. The book uncovers all the things they all have to face as everyone starts being honest with themselves and for better or worse, start living in their truth.

Whew! I am not going to tell you guys how long it took me to read this book but just know it was a long time! This was my first time reading Ali’s work, so I had no frame of reference. This book was the epitome of throwing everything but the kitchen sink and hoping something sticks because let me tell you that there were A LOT of stories flying everywhere.

It took a while to lay the ground for the characters and the minute you thought you had an idea of who they are, everything was unraveled as we begin to see the secrets unearthed and boy was there much to unearth. From sex addiction to rape to infidelity to racism, culture differences, ambition, corporate red tape and much more, there was so much that was covered.

I think Ali managed to do the social commentary better than some other topics but it just didn’t need everything. I wish there had been a singular focus on the central characters but there seemed to have been a desire to have even the side characters get their own shine but that could be because the main characters weren’t quite interesting per se. I found Yasmin to be unsure of who she was, which is realistic at age 26 but nevertheless, still annoyed me. Joe seemed a tad boring and at some point I wondered if he really did have a sex addiction?

What I enjoyed about the book where psychiatric nuggets that we get from Joe’s therapy sessions that seemed to be based on true life medical research and the introspection by the characters at the end, to help forge some better life living. I think Ali was trying to show how children judge their parents based on what they know but sometimes they have no idea.

That being said, I thought the ending was a bit vague and rushed and its ironic that its also when it kind of tongue in cheek addressed the title of the book and what a love marriage truly means. But I welcomed it because this book was way longer than it should have been and an editor should have earned their paycheck on this one.

Overall, this book has all the ingredients for an interesting read but failed to get us there because of writing and editing choices. I wouldn’t recommend this as I think there are better family with secrets books out there that would be worth your time.

Taynement

Fiction, literary fiction, romance, women's fiction

Book Review: Flying Solo by Linda Holmes

“I find the way you approach this exhausting.”

Laurie Sassalyn returns to her Maine hometown of Calcasset to handle the estate of her great-aunt Dot who lived till she was in her nineties. Aunty Dot was a great adventurer who never married and whose life Laurie greatly admired. Still flustered by her canceled wedding and about to turn forty, Laurie dives into cleaning out her aunty’s house and settling her estate. When she finds a mysterious wooden duck at the bottom of a cedar chest, her curiosity is piqued because Dot isn’t a woman who hid beautiful things away. She’s even more intrigued when she comes across a love letter from one of Dot’s ex-boyfriends that ends with the line – “And anyway, if you’re ever desperate, there are always ducks, darling.”

Laurie is told that the duck is worthless so when it’s taken from her in a very unethical way, she wonders why anyone would want a worthless duck. Desperate to uncover the real reason Dot hid away the duck and its origins, Laurie embarks on an adventure that leads her to discover so much about her aunty, her family, her friends and challenges the rules she’s set for her life.

If Holmes’ name sounds familiar to you, it’s because she wrote Evvie Drake Starts Over but this book is nothing like that. Her first book was a purely romance novel but Flying Solo is more women’s fiction. If you ever wonder what the general consensus of what publishers consider women’s fiction, just read this book, it ticks every box.

Laurie has decided that she does not want to get married and she does not want kids. She likes living alone and coming back to her hometown in Maine gives her a chance to confront the choices she has made for herself. Cleaning out her aunt’s house gives her a chance to see her future clearly and helps her wonder who will be doing the clean out of her house when she dies childless. Also complicating her future is her ex boyfriend who is now twice as hot and is the librarian in their small town. He wants all the things Laurie doesn’t want – for her to move back to Maine and marry him.

This book was an easy read but the quote at the top of this post is how I felt about Laurie. She never got off her soap box. I found her exhausting, she reminded us every 3 minutes that she wants to live alone and never have kids. I really enjoyed how her best friend called her out on how judgmental she came off to people like her who had chosen the traditional path of getting married and having kids.

I liked the overall message that romance does not need to fit into any box to be legitimate and good but I still felt that the romance in this book felt very one sided with Laurie holding all the cards. But who knows? Maybe I’m so used to seeing women compromise for men that it just felt off to me to see a woman get everything she wanted without having to ever bend? This is one of those books you pick up if it’s available in your library or the paperback goes on sale. It’s an easy read that I doubt I’d remember by the end of the year.

Leggy