Alert Alert Alert: This list contains two “it” books that were huge misses for me, two fantastic LGBTQ+ books, and a Bill Gates-does-not-understand-farmers tangent.
The Garden of Small Beginnings by Abbi Waxman—published 2017—368 pages—chick lit—two stars: Lilian, a widow of four years, isn’t ready to look for love again, but her family keeps encouraging Lilian to date. When Lilian’s boss forces Lilian to attend a beginning gardening class, her attraction to the class’s instructor blindsides her. Gah. That’s not a good gah. I love Waxman’s The Bookish Life of Nina Hill, and The Garden of Small Beginnings just doesn’t compare to how good Nina Hill is. The Garden of Small Beginnings is a garden that was planted without a plan. Waxman cultivates sprouts of funny writing in between the storyline’s confusing bramble of weeds though.
I’m Still Here: Black Dignity in a World Made for Whiteness by Austin Channing Brown—published 2018—185 pages—nonfiction—four stars: Another important, enlightening social injustice read, but this time through Channing Brown’s eyes as a Black Christian working for evangelical nonprofits.
Where the Grass Is Green and the Girls Are Pretty by Lauren Weisberger—published 2021—368 pages—chick lit/contemporary fiction—three stars: Not my favorite Weisberger novel? Weisberger stole the plotline right from the college admissions scandal, but instead of a Desperate Housewife as the protagonist, there’s a female morning news anchor, a terrible mash-up of Felicity Huffman and Matt Lauer. When I think of Weisberger novels, I think of overindulgent New York City glitz and glam, snappy dialogue, and subtle critiques of the upper echelons, melding together for a guilty pleasure read. Weisberger attempted all three here again, but the book tripped over its six-inch, red-soled Louboutins and fell flat on its botoxed/lip-fillered face on a sidewalk. The only highlight was me screeching “Take. Me. Home. Yeah-e-yeah” off-key and on repeat while reading.
Malibu Rising by Taylor Jenkins Reid—published 2021—369 pages—historical fiction—three stars: Unpopular opinion alert. This book didn’t impress me. It’s The Great Gatsby but set in the 80s and on the opposite coast with California surfers and Hollywood A-listers. I wanted to face punch every character, except for Tarine—because she DOES face punch a chauvinistic cop, my favorite part. The entire story was overdone and underdone simultaneously. All the familial revelations unravel on the same night at a cocaine-fueled party. Overdone. Chandelier swinging. Overdone. Mick. Overdone and predictable. And the underdone part? I guess that boils down to the third person omniscient narrator. Don’t get me wrong, Reid nails it, but she covers too many characters over too long of a time frame. It made the story feel underdone to me? Too sweeping without enough development. Definitely my year’s biggest reading disappointment. Will it be some people’s jam? Sure, but not a Mrs. Ram’s jam. Sidebar: Am I the only person who throws up a little in her mouth every time she thinks about how books set in the 80s fall under historical fiction now??????
Darkfever (Fever #1) by Karen Marie Moning—published 2006—309 pages—urban fantasy—three stars: After Mac’s sister is murdered while studying abroad in Dublin, Mac hops on a plane to investigate her sister’s death against her parents’ wishes. At first she doesn’t uncover many answers, but she soon finds herself in over her head when she discovers monsters lurking beneath human exteriors. When a hyper-masculine, dangerous man named Jericho learns Mac is poking her head around Fae matters and that Mac possesses special powers of her own, Jericho shelters her and makes her help him seek Fae objects of power. So real talk, I could easily rate this a four because it’s super engrossing and Jericho and Mac have ample chemistry, but 1. This urban fantasy didn’t age well—Jericho, when trying to warn Mac off, essentially tries to scare her off by using physical force, bruising her ribs, but also there’s sexual chemistry there? Did this type of thing really work in 2006? It sure as hell doesn’t work now, but also, I liked it? So? What does that say about me? And 2. Moning frequently describes parts of the story before she identifies what’s happening in the story. Does that make sense? I know it makes little sense, but it should.
The Bookshop of Second Chances by Jackie Fraser—published 2021—448 pages—romance—two stars: Thea’s world is shattered. She’s been sacked from her job. Her husband of nearly twenty years has been cheating on her with one of her friends. Forced out of her own home, she rents a flat and is about to move when she inherits a handsome sum of money and a house from a distant relative in Scotland. After Thea and her friend drive there to sort through Thea’s inheritance, she stays for the summer to sort through the mess of her life, too. She takes a job at a bookstore despite the boss, Edward, being a grump and normally unwilling to hire women—because he either falls in love with them or they fall in love with him. (Like, for real before he hired her he had a sign posted on the door that was basically the Little Rascal equivalent of the “He-man Womun Hater’s Club” sign.) She assures him that neither of those scenarios will happen—but guess what, it’s a romance so it does. I wish I could be glowy about this book, but it’s so terribly bland. I didn’t laugh once or find a sentence that I found endearing. Edward is estranged from his duke brother because Edward slept with every single one of his brother’s girlfriends and both of his wives for revenge for a teenage slight. TF? There are pages of literally nothing happening with lots of tiny words making up sentences—which I guess is why it’s a whopping 448 pages? This book is easily 150 pages too long.
The Guncle by Steven Rowley—published 2021—336 pages—LGBTQ+ fiction—four stars: When his best friend/sister-in-law passes away, Patrick, aka GUP which stands for Gay Uncle Patrick, takes in his niece and nephew while his brother sobers up at at rehab center not too far from Patrick’s Palm Springs home. This book is adorable and hilarious. It has a The House in the Cerulean Sea vibe sans the fantastical elements. Ultimately it’s a novel about overcoming grief. It made me sob in three different places. Also, I will now forever be stealing and quoting this line from the book: You can’t spell nemesis without me sis. I need this on a T-shirt, stat! Who’s got a Cricut?
Real Life by Brandon Taylor—published 2020—329 pages—LGBTQ+ fiction—four stars: Literary. Beautifully written. Doesn’t have a conventional plot, as in there’s one, and it’s vague, but it works. My eyes glazed over every time the scientific experiment descriptions happened. There’s hard-to-read gritty, graphic violence. Be prepared to be uncomfortable, but that’s real life, and the book’s point.
One Last Stop by Casey McQuiston—published 2021—422 pages—LGBTQ+ romance—three stars: (And at this point it will become obvious that I forgot I was supposed to write book reviews. Whoops. Taking that blog hiatus made me forget my process.) I feel like a lot of rotten tomatoes are about to be thrown my way, but I’m not a huge fan of McQuiston’s latest. August moves to New York City to finish her education and escape her wannabe private detective mother. A girl, all beat up leather jacket and 70s retro cool, snags August’s eye on the train, and the girl, Jane, magically is on every single train that August catches for her commute to school. After Jane turns August down for a date, August finds a picture of Jane from decades earlier, looking exactly the same as she does now, at August’s own workplace (hello happenstance!). Then August races against the clock to save Jane from being stuck in time. The writing charms and shines just like in McQuiston’s earlier novel, but the witty writing hides a whole lot of fluff. And I know I write this ad nauseam, but it was too long. And the plot was overly tied together. (I know, #brokenrecordstatus with this point, too.)
Bloodfever (Fever #2) by Karen Marie Moning—published 2007—303 pages—urban fantasy—four stars: What is wrong with me? I like book two better than book one. I texted a friend, who has read the series, and told her I felt deep book shame for compulsively reading this terrible series. Gah. On to book three?
The Ruthless Lady’s Guide to Wizardry by C.M. Waggoner—published 2021—371 pages—LGBTQ+ fantasy/historical fiction—three stars: The title? Badass. The cover? Same. Delly the protagonist? Hilarious, unassuming, and brilliant. She calls her mouth a gin hole and another character a foot cramp and makes up words that sound fancy and thinks things like: Not that she didn’t say worse six dozen times a day herself, but she’d always been under the impression that young ladies weren’t supposed to know what knickers were, even while they were putting them on in the morning. And Buttons the skeleton mouse that’s really an old wizard? He’s legit. But the storyline though? Bizarre, which sucks because it breaks the book.
Faefever (Fever #3) by Karen Marie Moning—published 2008—327 pages—urban fantasy—three stars: Well, I’m taking a pause from the series after reading book three. The ending twisted unexpectedly and graphically.
How to Avoid a Climate Disaster: The Solutions We Have and the Breakthroughs We Need by Bill Gates—published 2021—272 pages—nonfiction/science—three stars: Bottom line—I learned some startling information about climate change (like, I really had no idea about cement), but the. Writing. Was. Drier. Than. A. California. Drought. (Is this an inappropriate comparison to draw when reading a book describing an impending climate disaster? Yikes.) Also Mrs. Ram grew up on a farm, not because she is a ram, but because her family raises Angus beef cattle and performs other agricultural magic, and I (I’ll stop talking in the third person now thanks) thought while Gates tried to be nice about farmers and farming, he missed the mark when he says this: Imagine you’re a prosperous young farmer raising corn, soybeans, and cattle in Nebraska in 2050. (Excuse me while I transform into a battering Ram here.) I realize many prosperous farmers exist in America, but I know a cow-manure ton of farmers, and the humble, hard-working farmers I know would never describe themselves as something as pompous sounding as prosperous. Furthermore, many small farms have been struggling for decades, the antithesis of prosperity. And young and prosperous together? Where does he think these speculative young farmers are getting this land required for farming prosperity??? And I hate to break it to him and I know he set his hypothetical in 2050, but according to salary.com, the average Cornhusker farmer’s salary in 2021 is $40,033. What a prosperous sum to live on!!!!!! (Disclaimers: 1. I’m not attacking his sound argument that he’s making in the book about how to avoid a climate disaster. I’m just aggravated over this one sentence and needed to vent about it. Even if it is a hypothetical. 2. I also have never claimed to know anything about farming or cattle. I leave that to my dad, my siblings, and nephews. If anything, I’m farmer-adjacent and bovine-avoidant and always have been.)
As always, any discussion is welcome.