Kids of Appetite by David Arnold

This one was a major departure for me and I feel like I am pretty happy about that.  I had seen several articles lauding this book for its originality and interest as Arnold wrote a bestseller entitled “Mosquitoland” (which I have not read) and this was a highly anticipated follow up.  Our story centers on Vic who is coming to terms with the loss of his father to cancer.  Vic also has a very rare neurological disorder that causes him to have significant facial paralysis (cannot smile, close his eyes, cry, etc).  This detail is really not all that crucial to the story, it is however alluded to frequently.  Vic falls in with a gang of misfits really and from there the story pays homage to “The Outsiders” quite a bit.

The writing is very quirky which I did see that many people had an issue with.  I saw at least one very prominent book blogger who did not finish the book because of the style.  It did take a minute for me to get into it but once I was in, the book moved very fast… to the point where I felt like it ended and I has just scratched the surface.  I rated this book a three based on several factors.  One is that I felt like the storyline went too fast for all of the characters and I did not get to “know” them as much as I wish I had.  The relationships were really beautiful and interesting and I wish I would have had more time with each character.  I also did struggle to keep focused on the point of view and who was speaking at the time.  I had times where I thought it was Vic and then had to go back and saw it was someone else.

The genius of the book is that all the typical tropes of YA are represented (young love, kids who are just so misunderstood, kids who talk like they are 40 and philosophers) but it didn’t feel contrived or forced.  Many of these tropes were background to the larger story about loss and moving on in the face of great pain and grief and also just learning how to be a good human in a world that can be a soul sucking nightmare.  I absolutely recommend this book, it’s definitely worth a read!

A Word for Love by Emily Robbins

“The madam of the house where I lived always said that if you can write, it means you have a clear conscience.”

Classic case of judging a book by its cover… I saw this one on the shelf at the library and I thought it was so pretty that I figured I would risk it and just read the book with no knowledge of what it was about.  I normally would never do this but I may start- this one worked out great!

The story is set in Syria which was already out of my typical reading and we are looking from the perspective of Bea who is an American.  She is studying abroad in the hopes of learning Arabic and reading “The Astonishing Text”, which is a very old and beautiful text about Qais and Leila (sort of like Romeo and Juliet).  Bea wants to read the text and have it move her to tears so she can grow her heart and learn all she can about love.

The novel is written in very poetic and melodic form and so it feels a little disjointed at times but that drew me in more and more.  I wanted to keep going to find out what was going to happen and how it would pan out.  Bea’s time in Syria begins to resemble the astonishing text as she befriends Nisrine, an Indonesian maid, who falls in love with Adel, a policeman.  Their love is forbidden as Nisrine is married and her husband is home in Indonesia with their son and Adel is “the enemy” as he is locking up members of the resistance.  So many dynamics play out far beyond the love story and the description and wording is just beautiful the whole way through.  The ending is absolutely heart breaking as one would expect from a book that champions tragic love stories but it was such an amazing experience the whole way through.  I felt like I had a further education on love and it was so worth it.

Behind Her Eyes by Sarah Pinborough

“You think you know how it ends?  You have no idea.”

That premise alone is what sold me on this one as my Book of the Month Club pick for February.  While I am not sorry I chose it, this book is one of those where you either love it or love to hate on it.

The plot centers on married couple Adele and David as their marriage crumbles around them.  David has taken up with a new woman Louise and she becomes both David’s mistress as well as Adele’s best (and only friend).  Neither of them knows this though.  Per the reviews you’ll find online, the book pulls the trump card early and you find out rather quickly that nothing is what it seems.

Now as for that ending… I vacillated between “what?” and “what the hell?” The thing is, I rarely read thrillers so I was still fairly content with the book overall because it was such a change of pace for me.  The ending requires you to suspend quite a bit of disbelief and buy into a premise that is faulty at best.  I will say that this is more in the vein of the kind of ending I thought “The Girl on a Train” was going to have and I am glad that I was wrong there.  This kind of ending would have felt supremely cheap if it had occurred in that novel.

If you’re a diehard thriller reader, this may not be the one for you as you may feel that the narrative choices pulled the rug out too early.  If you’re someone like me who just dabbles in thrillers, I say check this one out and enjoy the ride!

Favorite Female Authors

In honor of International Women’s Day and Women’s History Month, we want to talk about the ladies that we love to read!

Gia:

Tana French- This author pops up on a lot of my “favorite” lists. She has strong characters, strong storylines and beautiful writing. Some of the best crime books I’ve read.

JK Rowling- I credit JK Rowling with making reading trendy among many young readers (and adults) who might not have picked up a book otherwise. I’ll forever be a Potterhead and I don’t feel even a little bad about that!

Harper Lee- “To Kill a Mockingbird” is one of my favorite classics. Harper Lee captured what racial inequality and injustice looked like in the South, something that the North may not have seen firsthand and something that today’s America never truly saw firsthand and I think it’s really important to be reminded of what that time was like. I always loved Scout, but I loved her even more in “Go Set a Watchman.” (If you haven’t read GSAW because of the controversy surrounding Atticus, just let that go and read it already!)

Lisa Genova- This is a fairly new author who writes about neurological diseases and injuries. Genova has a Ph.D. in Neuroscience from Harvard and you can tell when reading her books. She does a fantastic job of balancing the explanations of various neurological diseases/injuries to the reader and developing the storyline and relationships. I love reading her books because I get to enjoy fiction while still learning the truths about things like Alzheimer’s and Huntington’s Disease.

Lauren:

Sylvia Plath- If I could only read one book for the rest of my life it would be “The Bell Jar”.  Favorite poem of all time is “The Night Dances” (check it out, so worth it.)

Patti Smith- I was late to the Smith party so I feel like I’m catching up a little bit.  Patti is a singer/songwriter/author/artist/journalist/goddess and her writing is just amazing.  Haunting and beautiful but also straightforward and unflinching.

Joan Didion- “The Year of Magical Thinking” has become required reading at this point but “Slouching Toward Bethlehem” which is her collection of short stories is just brilliant.  Didion is a female icon for a reason.

Roxane Gay- I know, I know, I harp on how much I love her frequently but I am so not sorry.  Read any of her short stories and you will immediately be hooked on her honest and open portrayal of people.

Honorable Mention:

Liane Moriarty-  I’m new to Moriarty as well but I checked out “Big Little Lies” last year and was not sorry.  I have read one of her others and I will certainly check out more.  Great storytelling and she has such an amazing style.

Rainbow Rowell- So I dabble in the YA from time to time and Rowell is a current staple but the thing is: it’s so good.  She can tell a great story in almost no space.  Her short stories are incredible and developed and her adult fiction is fun and insightful.

 

The Trespasser by Tana French

Holy murder mystery!  This book was a huge change of pace for me and I would describe this book as dense.  You are thrown deep into the setting and characters from the get go and while the book moves at a good pace, it is certainly happy to let things unfold.

Our story centers on Antoinette Conway, a newer member of the Dublin Murder Squad.  She is by far one of the greatest female characters I have ever been acquainted with.  She’s smart and cunning and she does not give a crap who likes her or pleasing others.  In a world full of female characters who dream of love and marriage, it is fantastic to read a story about a woman who is good at her job, proud of her life, and doesn’t need people telling her what she should value.   Along with her partner, Stephen Moran, they are called to investigate the murder of Aislinn Murray.

This book is old fashioned class A story telling.  No crazy tricks or twists to throw you off or to try and follow.  You spend the book inside Antoinette’s head as she works this case.  It felt so amazing to look at a murder through the perspective of the detective and all the angles that exist.  Which ones are to be trusted and which ones are figments of fairy tales?  Just because something plays out, doesn’t make it possible or even plausible.

This was my first foray into Tana French’s writing and I’m totally hooked.  Ready to go back for more!

The Futures by Anna Pitoniak

Maybe it wasn’t that her flaws were balanced out by the good.  Maybe it was that the flaws were merely one side of a two-sided coin.  What made a person good also made a person bad.  Confidence could easily become arrogance.  A sense of humor was only ever a few rungs away from cruelty.

I happened to read some reviews about this book prior to picking it up and I do agree that this is a book about first world problems, problems that come as a result of privilege.  But I also felt like this book had more to offer than that.

Our story switches between Julia and Evan each chapter and we get to see the rise and demise of their relationship as they meet in college and then graduate and venture out into the real world.  Evan comes from a small town in Canada and grew up in relative simplicity.  His parents work hard to make ends meet and do their best.  Evan wants out and he wants to make something of himself.  Julia comes from wealth and with that comes security.  She has the option to fail or not succeed because she has money at the ready should she need it.  Julia clearly has no idea what she wants or how to go about figuring that out.

Julia is quite self centered and that is difficult to deal with for much of the book and they both make some bad choices in their relationship.  This book rings true to the idea of what people believe about millennials and their choices and desires in life, which can be a pretty unfair shake.  They are portrayed as naïve, power hungry, discontent children who don’t know how to appreciate what they have.  Sure there are aspects of that in any generation but this one gets a particularly bad rep for the idea that everything that doesn’t spark “passion” and “joy” is disposable.  Nevertheless, Julia and Evan felt real to me.  Like people I would know or interact with.  It is a very intimate look at two flawed people and that part made it worth the read for me.

I knew where the book was heading about halfway through and I was right in how it all shook out but it didn’t make the journey any less enjoyable.  This is a great read if you want something with a little substance that won’t push you too hard.

 

Review- My Grandmother Asked Me to Tell You She’s Sorry by Fredrik Backman

This author has a quirky writing style and if you’ve already read A Man Called Ove you probably know what I’m talking about. It’s not a bad thing, but the beginnings can be a little long and rough. For the first 100 pages or so I struggled to understand what this book was supposed to really be about. 

This story is a little complicated and messy in the beginning- it’s written from the perspective of a 7-year-old girl (who comes off as more of a teenager/young adult in parts) and there is the idea of a land called Miamas which is an alternate-universe between sleep and awake and was somewhat confusing for me.

 

Overall, the story is about mothers-daughters, grandmothers-granddaughters, family, friends who are like family, second chances and forgiveness. Even though I really enjoyed this book, I needed to read it in small amounts of time. Again, this kind of goes back to the quirky writing style and I was the exact same way with Ove. 

 

If you haven’t read A Man Called Ove, I’d suggest that one first (although, please note that the two books are in no way related, I just recommend reading Ove first to get you acclimated to the writer). If you can deal with the writing style, then you should read this one too. Also, I know a ton of people that read Ove and most gave it 5-stars, everyone else gave it 4.
Also, side note- has anyone read Britt-Marie yet? She’s a secondary character in this book and for about 80% of the book she’s ultra-annoying and I couldn’t believe there would be an entire book about her. But we learn some truths about her life in the last 75 pages or so and now I’m really looking forward to reading that book in the near future!

Holding Up the Universe by Jennifer Niven

Full disclosure:  I did not love “All The Bright Places” which I read late last year.  As a licensed therapist, I took issue with the portrayal of very serious topics such as suicide and how they are shown in the book.  I really wanted to like it and I was actually pretty into sections of it.  It’s a well written book but the whole manic pixie dream boy/trying to fix someone with love trope isn’t my thing so I was left with a pretty bad taste in my mouth about that one.

Moving on, I thought I would give Jennifer Niven a second chance because ATBP was well written and maybe it would be a one off for me.

It wasn’t.

Holding Up the Universe is about a boy named Jack who suffers from prosopagnosia (meaning facial blindness) and a girl named Libby who was “America’s Fattest Teen.”  Each is hiding various aspects of themselves and are thrown together after Jack wrangles Libby in a game called “Fat Girl Rodeo” in an attempt to prevent someone else from bullying her.  Insert eye roll here.

The thing for me was that neither character was particularly likeable for me.  Jack was extremely wrapped up in his image and maintaining his image so people wouldn’t get that he is face blind.  Libby was so used to being isolated after being confined to her home that she essentially pushes everyone away that tries to get near her.  The idea is that both have so much in common because they are trying to find their true selves but I didn’t get that either.  Jack was like Peter Pan to me, never wanting to grow up and he asserts himself in all kind of destructive ways.  When he finds out his father is having an affair with his teacher, he addresses it in several ways, none of which involve him actually speaking to anyone directly about it.  I liked how Libby addressed the various tropes in which she did not want to be pigeon holed such as the “Sassy Fat Friend” and she was definitely more self assured than Jack and comfortable with who she is.

I also get that I am a card carrying grown up which means that I do have a different perspective on things.  Niven frequently portrays adults in her book as stupid, wrapped up in their own problems, and completely missing signs of danger or concern from their children.  There was one adult character in this book who seemed to “get it” but we see her twice (Libby meets her on the park bench) and she has little impact on the storyline.  I’m not saying all adults are super smart and get their kids but all of them are certainly not so ignorant and selfish as to basically miss warning signs of issue at every single turn.

So with that I would say I am officially retiring myself from reading more of Niven’s books.  I gave it a shot but now I’ll have to call it.

 

Truly Madly Guilty by Liane Moriarty

I saw this one in the “Fresh Picks” at my library and couldn’t resist after reading and loving “Big Little Lies” last year (planning to binge watch the miniseries soon).  Moriarty definitely has a style and she loves to play the long con– that is, she builds up around one singular event of tragic nature and then sort of teases you with it until about 3/4 through and then fallout ensues.  This book is set up that fashion and centers around three couples: Clementine and Sam, Erika and Oliver, and Vid and Tiffany.  Clementine and Erika have been friends since they were children and are now grown ups trying to navigate all that comes with it.  Erika, and Oliver by extension, were my stand out favorites.  Erika is a bit neurotic and loves order but what I love about her is that she is just straight forward.  She doesn’t play by the rules, she isn’t worried about being likeable, she just says what she means and keeps emotion out of it.  The book builds up to The Day of the BBQ which is talked about constantly until the final moment when we find out what actually happened at said BBQ.

I won’t spoil the “twist”, except to say it wasn’t a twist or really that major of a plot point and it really just felt like background noise to try and reason out why all these couples are the way they are.  Clementine was all sorts of unlikeable to me, I wanted so badly to get her and understand her but really I thought she was selfish and childish.  Despite the BBQ not being some off the wall major moment, I was totally sucked in to the dynamic and seeing what made each of these people tick and how they viewed everything that happened.  This book would be a perfect rainy day read or beach read if you want something frothy and that keeps pace and interest.

Difficult Women by Roxane Gay

I read “Bad Feminist” a few years back and loved it so I was more than ready to get my hands on Gay’s newest book.  I was on my library waiting list for quite awhile so when I finally got the email that it was in, I immediately went to pick it up and then devoured it story by story.

If you read only one book this year, make it “Difficult Women.”  It is so much more than just a compilation of stories.  It is transformative and beautiful.  I felt like there was a point in each story that just hit me at my core.  Many times when you pick up a book that is a compilation, you can expect to be really into about 60-70% of what you read and you might skip around on a few stories.  This book had me from beginning to end.  There was not one throw away piece in there, it all felt so vital and cohesive.  The way she writes feels so unbelievably personal, like you almost feel you know too much and you’re too close to these characters but also you can’t look away.

This book is not for the faint of heart.  Gay writes about women’s issues like miscarriage, rape, incest, domestic violence, racism, and infertility.  She is not afraid to be honest, clear and she doesn’t flinch or dance around any of these topics.  So be warned but read this book with an open heart and an open mind and allow yourself to feel for all the difficult women in the world and for the difficult woman that you may know or be.