Who is in desperate need of a good book to read? I read some fantastic books last month.
And I’m honestly curious here; since when has it become a trend to write without quotation marks to denote dialogue? Not. A. Fan.
The Near Witch (The Near Witch, #1) by Victoria Schwab–published 2011–YAL fantasy–two stars: Can I start by saying that I love Schwab? Her Shades of Magic series shades me 8 different kinds of fangirling any time I read her name, so OF COURSE I had high expectations for TNW, her debut novel. Lexi lives in Near on the edge of a moor, and years ago, the town’s councilmen killed a witch, who they thought was responsible for the death of a boy. When the wind starts singing and children start vanishing, their disappearances are blamed on a stranger who’s come to town. This book just isn’t the same kind of caliber as Schwab’s later novels. It nearly bored me into binging Schitt’s Creek on Netflix instead of finishing, but I plodded along, barely avoiding picking up the remote. This may sound strange, but I had an issue with Lexi’s name. The book possesses an old-world magic vibe, so Lexi sounded too contemporary.
If I Never Met You by Mhairi McFarlane–published 2020–chick lit–three stars: When Laurie’s boyfriend of 18 years dumps her out of the blue, she and her coworker Jamie, a hottie who’s trying to make partner at their law firm, decide on a fauxmance to make Laurie’s ex jealous and to help Jaime look like less of a womanizer in the eyes of their bosses. I’m sure you can figure out where the majority of the plot goes from there . . . I might have missed something, but I’m unsure how the title fits in with the book. I struggled with the dialogue in places too; my not-up-to-date-status with British slang left me missing some things. Also, are you aware that the British equivalent of MILF is yummy mummy? Mind blown. (Also, gag.) However, I did love that this was solely from Laurie’s first-person point of view. It seems like every romance novel I’ve read recently alternates chapters from one love interest’s perspective and then jumps to the other’s.
American Dirt by Jeanine Cummins–published 2020–contemporary fiction–two stars: American Dirt has been surrounded in controversy since its release. While I was hesitant to read it, I decided to open it to make my own decisions about it. Lydia and her small son, Luca, are the only survivors of a drug cartel massacre in Acapulco. Facing the cartel’s retaliation, Lydia and Luca are left with no choice but to try to make it to the United States for safety. While I understand this is a work of fiction written by an author who researched her topic, this book is a prime example of why the #ownvoices movement matters. I even have a really hard time reading books written by men anymore where there’s a female protagonist, let alone a book like this. I’ll give Cummins the benefit of the doubt because I don’t think she meant any harm in writing this book, but I had other issues with this book as well. It’s written in third person omniscient, my least favorite point of view, and I didn’t feel like the narrative benefitted from it. The narrative was painstakingly slow. It seemed as if every waking moment was described. Especially towards the end of the book, there were paragraphs that were pages long. Granted, I was reading it on my Kindle on a size four font, but did there really need to be a five-page paragraph that only had ten sentences in it? Cummins also does that really annoying bit that C-list historical fiction writers are known for where they try to teach you about things instead of letting the narrative happen.
Dear Haiti, Love Alaine by Maika Moulite and Maritza Moulite–published 2019–YA contemporary fiction–three stars: A family curse? A shipwreck? Extremely early-onset Alzheimers? Shoddily constructed embezzlement plot? Modern epistolary (cringes–#deathtotheepistolary)? This book was too much, but it has that whole cutesy writing vibe I like, even though I didn’t quite buy into some of the allusions Alaine made. Would a teenager bring up Jeff Goldblum?
Cork Dork: A Wine-Fueled Adventure Among the Obsessive Sommeliers, Big Bottle Hunters, and Rogue Scientists Who Taught Me to Live for Taste by Bianca Bosker–published 2017–nonfiction–four stars: Totally in the running for being the book with the longest title that I’ll read this year. Yeesh. Bosker quit her day job, which was working at The Huffington Post as a technology writer, to try to become a certified sommelier. I found this book fascinating. Not only does it weave in her trials and tribulations of navigating working in restaurants and the complexities and rigorous training of becoming a sommelier, but it also discusses the history of wine, wine table service, and the science of smell and taste. This book may not be for everyone, but I particularly loved it because, duhhhh wine, and how it highlights just how hard it is to work in the service industry. Bring on the riesling. Cheers.
City of Ghosts (Cassidy Blake #1) by Victoria Schwab–published 2018–middle-grade fantasy/horror–four stars: Both of Cassidy’s parents are bonafide ghost story writers; however, her parents don’t know that Cassidy can actually see ghosts. In fact, her best friend is one. When her parents get offered to turn their books into a TV show, they pack Cassidy and their cat up and head to Edinborough, the City of Ghosts, to film their first episode. For a middle-grade book, these ghosts are legit scary. This book is everything Katherine Arden’s Small Spaces wasn’t but could have been.
Untamed by Glennon Doyle–published 2020–memoir/self-help–four stars: Even though I rated this four stars, I plan on recommending the shit out of this book. It’s the best self-help book, a genre I typically eschew, I’ve ever read. Doyle, a well-known Christian author and motivational speaker who left her husband after she fell in love with a woman, writes exquisitely and honestly. It’s empowering in one sentence, and then in the next, she’ll write a truth that will tear you apart. And what I love about this book is that Doyle never stops questioning the world that she finds herself in. I loved the structure of the book: pithy essays (chapters?) layered with a few longer ones. However, I didn’t relate to what she had to say about “Knowing.” She talks about looking deep within yourself instead of relying on others and society, and trust what your mind and the “Knowing” are telling you. And while I do believe that to a certain extent and I know she’s trying to say you’re the only one who knows you and can make the best decisions for you, I don’t always trust my decisions. Also, anytime she relayed dialogue, it was full-blown sentences that didn’t really read like a true conversation. Let me leave you with this quote from the book: “It is difficult for a woman to be healthy in a culture that is still so very sick. It is the ultimate victory for a woman to find a way to love herself and other women while existing in a world insisting that she has no right to.” Preach, Doyle. Preach. Plus–how gorg is this cover?
A Good Neighborhood by Therese Ann Fowler–published 2020–contemporary fiction–two stars: Brad moves his blended family into an older neighborhood, leveling the original house and raising a McMansion in its place. Valerie, a black woman who is also an ecologist, files a lawsuit against him and the city when her beloved oak tree starts dying, a byproduct of Brad’s inground pool. Despite the animosity between the two families, Juniper, Brad’s stepdaughter, and Xavier, Valerie’s son, begin dating. Don’t bother with this book. I know I’m a white girl, but this book read like the author, an older white woman, is trying to show off how woke she is. A black boy gets unjustly accused of raping a white girl, there are southern good ol’ boys, there’s gaslighting, there’s pedophilia, there’s a teenage girl who makes a chastity vow, and there’s suicide. Fowler tries to do too much at once, and I don’t think white women should be telling the story of what it’s like to be a black male, again #ownvoices. Speaking of storytelling, what the actual f*ck is going on with the POV? It’s third-person omniscient, and then there are parts that are narrated by the collective “we” of the other neighbors. Fowler does try to share a message with the “we” POV at the end of the novel, but aren’t “we” a little past the point of blatantly stating the message at a story’s end?
The Black Prism (Lightbringer #1) by Brent Weeks–published 2010–high fantasy–four stars: Why are high fantasy books so long? I really would have liked this one a bit more (This is close to a three for me, but I rounded up.) if it had been 200 pages less. I still haven’t figured out who the black prism is either, but I do no know that Gavin is the Prism and there’s a pretty great twist pretty early on in the story. It was heavy on the war parts and light on the parts really pivotal to the storyline. There were a few places where I didn’t know what was happening or how other characters knew that some characters had gotten captured or switched sides or whatever. At one point I even went back through five previous chapters to see where a character got captured because I had thought I missed it, but I hadn’t. It just wasn’t described. I thought Liv’s character was written pretty ship-shoddily. I don’t know if I’ll continue this series.
Sadie by Courtney Summers–published 2018–YAL–five stars: Whoa. This is unlike any YAL book I’ve ever read. It’s like the best kind of mash-up of Taylor Jenkins Reid and Gillian Flynn. It’s the darkest YA read I’ve ever encountered, but I think YAL needs more literature like this. It was slow to get into, but a quarter of the way through the book, I couldn’t put it down. I like how it switched between the podcast about the mystery of Sadie’s disappearance and then Sadie’s narrative. I love how the ending left me, and will leave you too, unsatisfied. And the writing in general. Wow. Take a look at these two magnificent sentences: “It’s the kind of motel that makes you feel every one of your secrets. The cost of the stay is only how much you’re willing to live with yourself.”
A Heart So Fierce and Broken (Cursebreakers, #2) by Brigid Kemmerer–published 2020–YAL fantasy–four stars: Do yourself a favor, and pick up the first book of this series (a retelling of Beauty and the Beast), so you can get to this second one. The writing in both novels is less than stellar, but the storyline more than makes up for it. This book switches gears and introduces new characters as the main ones, a smooth move and the perfect way to move the story along.
The Overdue Life of Amy Byler by Kelly Harms–published 2019–chick lit–three stars: When Amy’s estranged husband comes back to Pennsylvania from a three-year parental hiatus in Hong Kong to try to reconcile with their children, Amy heads to a library conference in New York City and ends up staying for the entire summer, facing a major case of mom guilt the whole time. Her college roommate Thalia, who runs a woman’s magazine, features Amy in the magazine, giving her a make-over. Amy gets laid, Amy gets a blow-out, Amy has white wine lunches, Amy gets better bras, Amy trends on Twitter, yadda yadda yadda. While the writing at times was witty, particularly the missives from her daughter, it just wasn’t anything I hadn’t seen already. I found the term #momspringa cringe-worthy, and the ending of the book failed to tug at my heartstrings as it should have.
Pretty Things by Janelle Brown–published 2020–thriller–three stars: Nina, a grifter with her sexy Irish boyfriend by her side, heads to Lake Tahoe to pull a con on a rich social media influencer named Vanessa whose father wronged Nina’s family when she was in high school. For starters, no thriller needs to be nearly 500 pages like this one is. The story alternated chapters between Nina’s and Vanessa’s first-person points of view, often resulting in the same plot events being told from both characters’ perspectives. Why? Why? Why? Why? As a reader, I don’t want to read a plot event that I just read AGAIN even if it is told from someone else’s POV. So many pages could have been saved if the storyline could have just moved ahead. This is my biggest hindrance to rating this a four because I really liked the storyline. If you want to read something shorter and faster-paced that touches on the dangers of social media usage, read Followers or Follow Me instead.
Such a Fun Age by Kiley Reid–published 2019–contemporary fiction–four stars: I had to wait eons to get this delivered to my Libby app, but it was worth the wait. Don’t let this novel fool you. It’s got a The Nanny Diaries vibe simply because Emira is a nanny to a wealthy family and has a sweet, tender relationship with her charge Briar, an inquisitive, loquacious toddler ignored by her mother, but it’s also a discourse on race, privilege, and ageism. It starts with Emira, Briar in tow, being accused of kidnapping while at an upscale supermarket because Emira’s black and taking care of a white child. Then Briar’s seemingly well-meaning mother, Alix, attempts to make Emira one of her friends. You will hate Alix. Emira’s boyfriend will make you uncomfortable. If you’re white, this book will make you check your privilege and question your implicit bias.
Minor Dramas & Other Catastrophes by Kathleen West–published 2020–contemporary fiction–three stars: It’s refreshing to a see a story set in a high school that focuses on professional, knowledgeable teachers and administrators instead of a story about teachers with a devious plotline where teachers are criminals or caricatured as idiotic for comedic effect. There are too many Bad Teachers, AP Bios, and Dark Vanessas to view or read. There are so many novels that focus on students instead of teachers. West, a veteran teacher herself, writes a tale about a liberal English teacher (ohhhh hello there) who manages to get a smear campaign issued against her due to helicopter parents and a nasty, secret Facebook parent group that gossips about the teachers and happenings at a privileged high school. One over-involved parent, Julia, even interferes with the theater department casting, sneaks into the school, and accidentally punches a student when the cast list is posted. And of course there’s a viral video capturing it all. People who don’t work in schools have no idea how much scrutiny and criticism that teachers face due to parents, particularly those at high performing schools. I liked this book, and it was probably closer to a 3 1/2 star rating, but there were far too many alternating third-person limited narrators.
Afterlife by Julia Alvarez–published 2020–contemporary fiction–four stars: Antonia, recently widowed, helps an undocumented immigrant get his girlfriend safely from Colorado to Vermont at the same time that her mentally ill sister goes missing. Read this instead of American Dirt. The prose, literary and fresh, propels the story at a nice pace. However, be warned that the book lacks quotation marks to signal dialogue.
Catch and Kill: Lies, Spies, and a Conspiracy to Protect Predators by Ronan Farrow–published 2019–nonfiction–four stars: I’ve been an avid NBC news freak since I was a tiny person watching the Today show because my mom had it on every morning. My friend and I have even been those people who on a girls’ trip to New York City a few years ago braved the cold to be part of the plaza crowd to catch a glimpse of Savannah, Al, and Matt. I even shook Lauer’s hand that morning, like thousands before me, and he told me it was nice to meet me. Anyway, I had no clue that Farrow was the one who broke the Harvey Weinstein scandal for The New Yorker, let alone that he had begun working on the piece during his time as a correspondent for NBC. Who knew that Farrow was followed–with real spies–once he started his inquires. Ultimately, 70 percent of this book is really fascinating and does a great job of fleshing out corruption in the movie and news industry as well as making sure the victims’ stories are told, but 30 percent of this book is slow. I’ve also seen in the past few days criticisms of Farrow’s version in a few news outlets, describing him as a sellout looking for a way to further his career, but that doesn’t detract from the hard investigative work that it took to out the criminal sexual behavior of powerful men.
Beach Read by Emily Henry–published 2020–romance–four stars: January moves to her deceased father’s Michigan lake house to heal and write her next romance novel. Her next-door neighbor ends up being her college rival, also a published author. Deciding to swap writing genres for their upcoming books, the two make a bet about who can sell theirs first and spend their weekends doing research for the two genres together. So, I rounded up to four on this one. The plotline is cute and so’s January and Gus’s rat-tat-tat. There are some stunner insights written quite well. I underlined more parts of this novel than I have any other romance. But, the writing dragged here and there, and I had a hard time swallowing when the characters called the University of Michigan “U of M.” Like a good little Big 10 alum, I’ve always referred to it as simply Michigan and owned a “Muck Fichigan” t-shirt for game days. Is it really called U of M? Somebody help this Illinois grad out.
All Adults Here by Emma Straub–published 2020–contemporary fiction–three stars: This is a perfectly fine family drama that’s well written and hits on several social themes. But this reader is ever so fatigued, and I was hoping for a mindless read when I picked this book up. I’ve read other Straub novels, and I wasn’t expecting this one to be so deep. The novel chronicles Astrid and her adult children–Elliot, Porter, and Nicky–by switching out chapters told from a different character’s perspective using a limited third-person POV (for the most part). You see Astrid’s, Elliot’s, and Porter’s points of view. There are chapters told from Cecelia’s, Nicky’s daughter, POV, and then also her new middle school BFF’s perspective. Then there are a few other chapters told from other character’s points of view as well. Here’s the reason why I’m tired: I’m tired of working so hard while I’m reading. Are eight different perspectives needed to tell a stand-alone novel in a 368-page space? I get it when you’re trying to build suspense, it’s a novel in a series, or focusing in on a few key characters, but what other point is there? Is it necessary to introduce a brand new perspective in the second to last chapter when that character has been dead from the first chapter and the story has been told chronologically from the get-go? No. Is an epilogue needed? The last two chapters really didn’t even need to be included in the novel at all. Why. Are. There. So. Many. Long. Paragraphs? Give the readers a break! However, Straub nails middle school angst on the head.
Valentine Gloria, a 14-year-old Mexican-American girl living in Odessa, Texas, in the 70s, makes the worst decision of her life and gets in a vehicle with a boy who later rapes her. She escapes across the desert, finds a farmhouse, and comes upon a pregnant Mary Rose and her little girl, begging for their help. First and foremost this is a tale about women and oppression. Nobody listens to Gloria and nobody listens to Mary Rose. You forget that just 50 years ago women still had it pretty shitty. But I’m going to be a bit of a broken record here; I would have liked this book a whole lot more if there weren’t so many damn perspectives and long paragraphs. It does the same POV thing that All Adults Here does but then throws in Mary Rose’s chapters from a first-person point of view. It even waits until the second to last chapter to introduce a new character’s POV, unnecessary to the storyline and told from some weird “we” perspective. And furthermore, this is like the second book in a week that I’ve read that uses ABSOLUTELY NO QUOTATION marks for dialogue. Why? No dashes even to set it off for the most part and often dialogue would just happen in the middle of a paragraph too. Why make the reader’s job harder? I’m all for being innovative with writing and whatever, but Wetmore isn’t James Joyce, and at least Joyce had the decency to use dashes instead.
P.S. After writing this post, it appears I’m a POV snob. Sorry not sorry.
P.P.S. All cover art is taken from Goodreads.com.
P.P.P.S. As always, any discussion is welcome.
P.P.P.P.S. Please pardon any unsightly typos/grammatical mistakes. 1. WordPress and I are not getting along today. 2. I can’t get Grammarly to work properly right now. I’ve proofread this until I’ve gone cross-eyed and just need to be done with it.