Who is ready for some quasi-coherent (I haven’t been sleeping and have been putting too much distance between finishing a book and actually writing a review! Meep!) mini book reviews?
I had a great reading month and promise there’s a book on this list for every type of reader!
Home Before Dark by Riley Sager—published 2020—horror—four stars: I’m conflicted on this rating. No joke: this is a wannabe Haunting of Hill House. If you ask me, it’s a mashup of Shirley Jackson’s novel and Netflix’s interpretation. But I’m wary of the “horror” genre: most aren’t scary. I also thumbs-down dislike reading books within books (BWBs) because BWBs have shitty writing. But. But. But. It’s a great thriller.
Felix Ever After by Kacen Callender—published 2020—YAL/LGBTQIA+ romance—four stars: Felix—Black, transgender, and queer—attends a private art school in New York City. He bounces between staying with his dad, a doorman, and his privileged bestie, Ezra, who has his own apartment close to school. A mystery student at the school hacks into Felix’s Instagram account, stealing images of him from before his transition. The perpetrator blows the photos up and puts them in the school gallery, also deadnaming Felix. Felix, angry and embarrassed, resolves to discover who the culprit is. An important YAL book. I learned things from this book. The cover is gorgeous. My only criticism is that I didn’t think it feasible for a NYC doorman to be able to afford private high school tuition and still be able to rent an apartment in the city. And you know how I feel about YAL protagonists yearning to attend Ivy League universities.
From the Desk of Zoe Washington by Janae Marks—published 2020—middle-grade fiction—four stars: Oh, I needed a good middle grade read, and this hit the spot. When the mail arrives on her birthday, Zoe finds a letter from her father, who’s in prison and has never written to her before. She starts sending him letters and, convinced of his innocence, tries to prove that he’s been imprisoned for a crime he didn’t commit.
Hood Feminism: Notes from the Women That a Movement Forgot by Mikki Kendall—published 2020—nonfiction—five stars: Holy shit. A must-read. White feminists? We’re doing it wrong. I’m just going to leave this quote right here: If mainstream white feminism wants something to do, wants to help, this is one area where it is important to step back, to wait to be invited in. If no invocation is forthcoming? Well, you can always challenge the white patriarchy. There’s always space to combat the prison industrial complex, to advocate for the reduction of incarceration as a solution for societal concerns. There’s space to limit the harm done to marginalized communities without intruding on the internal work that insiders can and must do. And that space can operate from the outside.
The House in the Cerulean Sea by T.J. Klune—published 2020—fantasy/LGBTQIA+–four stars: T.J. Klune has written a story with Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett style. At first, this feels like it should be a children’s fantasy, vibing Peter Pan and A Series of Unfortunate Events, but the love story weaves in a beautifully written adult romance. Think whimsy meets universal truths. Can we talk about Chauncey? He’s perfect.
You’re Not Listening: What You’re Missing and Why It Matters by Kate Murphy—published 2020—nonfiction—four stars: As a teacher and as a human being, I find this book fascinating. Here are some gems I highlighted:
- “To listen does not mean, or even imply, that you agree with someone. It simply means you accept the legitimacy of the other person’s point of view and that you might have something to learn from it.
- “Good listeners know that understanding isn’t binary.”
- “Good gossip smells like bourbon to me.”
- “While gossip often has a negative connotation, it actually has a positive social function. There’s a reason why as much as two-thirds of adult conversations is gossip…”
- “Evolution gave us eyelids so we can close our eyes but no corresponding structure to close off our ears. It suggests that listening is essential to our survival.
- “Early humans had to listen and collaborate or die. Norms of behavior and rules of civility emerged from those early joint activities, which later informed our ideas of morality.”
- “Our modern selves talk more and listen less despite the fact that understanding and responsiveness to one another’s stories, ideas, and concerns have defined all our achievements from hunting wooly mammoths to putting a man on the moon. Not listening to one another diminishes what we can achieve and in that way, too, can be seen as a moral failing. We not only fail one another as individuals, we also fail to thrive as a society.”
And who knew that everyone literally possesses an emotional ear—the left one—versus a logical ear—the right???? Mind blown emoji.
The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue by V.E. Schwab—published 2020—fantasy/romance—four stars: If you need a slow burn fantasy romance with lyrical prose, then Addie LaRue is for you. Addie makes a deal with the devil so she can live forever, but he, in return, curses her. He makes her easy to forget. Over the centuries, she learns to manage and leaves her impression in famous works of art. When Addie meets someone who can finally remember her, she must face the devil once again. I love Schwab’s range as a writer and how distinctly different all of her middle grade, young adult, and adult stories are. I loved the language motif woven into her story like here: “Bad Night.” A question without a question mark. I loved the repetition of “palimpsest.” I loved the little snippets of gorgeous writing sprinkled throughout like here: The world goes muffled, a cotton kind of quiet. And if it were not for the icy damp leaching through her clothes, she thinks she could stay here forever. She decides she will at least stay here for now. And then this: So she longs for the mornings, but she settles for the nights, and if it cannot be love, well, then, at least it is not lonely. However, I did hate this book at certain points too. It’s long. I felt it read more like young adult literature. I wasn’t happy with the ending. Because I’m a terrible human being, I found myself rooting for Stockholm syndrome. But lawd have mercy, what a lovely ride.
Malorie (Bird Box #2) by Josh Malerman—published 2020—horror—four stars: Who wouldn’t want to read a sequel to Bird Box? You learn more about the monsters. Malorie’s children are teenagers. When Malorie learns that her parents might still be alive, she packs up the teens, and they set off on an adventure, including a ride on a blind train. Despite its repetitiveness and not being as good as the original, I enjoyed reading it.
The Switch by Beth O’Leary—published 2020—chick lit—three stars: A mediocre read in the middle of a great reading month. I enjoyed O’Leary’s The Flatshare more. When Leena is forced to take leave from her high-powered job, she decides to move into her granny’s house, taking on the old lady life. Meanwhile, her granny, Eileen, moves into Leena’s London flat and tries her hand at online dating. Meh? Very predictable.
Anxious People by Fredrik Backman—published 2020—contemporary fiction—four stars: I hated this book at first. I couldn’t get into it. Backman kept repeating parts of the story that had already been established, ugh. Despite finding the repetition nauseating, Backman must have slipped some Zofran into his narrative because by the end I’d settled in and my appetite was restored. He makes it clear from the beginning that it’s a story about idiots—but they’re endearing idiots, except for the real estate agent, she’s awful. The worst bank robber in existence tries to rob a bank, but it’s a cashless one. When trying to get away, the bank robber stumbles into an apartment viewing and takes the would-be buyers hostage. The book tackles death, suicide, homelessness, and love with such a light, humorous touch while at the same time being deeply moving and respectful–Backman signature style. And this line kills me: But if there’s one thing modern life and the internet have taught us, it’s that you should never expect to win a discussion simply because you’re right. And Zara, where do I start with Zara? She rivals Chauncey from The House in the Cerulean Sea as my new favorite character.
All cover art taken from Goodreads.