BOOK REVIEW | Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng

Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng

4/5 stars

Celeste Ng’s latest work is a heartbreaking story about mothers and daughters, right and wrong, morality and reality, the wealthy and the not so wealthy. Little Fires Everywhere is the perfect title for this book, in which many polarizing controversies are littered throughout. I absolutely adored Ng’s debut novel, Everything I Never Told You, and was beyond thrilled to win an advance copy of her latest book through Goodreads. Ng has created another special book that fans of EINTY will be sure to love.

In the picturesque town of Shaker Heights, Ohio, the Richardson family is the portrait of happiness and success. Elena and her husband are successful, and their 4 children, each 1 year apart, are well rounded and popular. Izzy, the youngest, doesn’t necessarily fit in with her family – she is a wild spirit with a knack for getting into trouble. Elena struggles to understand her youngest daughter, leading to a tenuous relationship.

When an artist, Mia, and her teenage daughter, Pearl, move into town and begin living out of the Richardson’s rental property, both families are inevitably changed. Elena values order, rules, structure. Mia moves from town to town whenever she loses her artistic inspiration, raising Pearl in an unsettled life. The longer they remain in Shaker heights, the more Pearl sets down roots. She befriends the Richardson children, often fantasizing about life in their family, while Izzy, never feeling comfortable with her own mother, finds a connection with Mia. A legal battle soon takes over Shaker Heights, leaving each family on opposite sides of the argument. Ng navigates both sides of the debate – as a reader I didn’t know where to stand. This battle shapes the later half of the story, ultimately revealing unexpected parts of both Elena’s and Mia’s pasts.

Ng has a way of drawing out qualities in her characters that capture who they are, such as the way Elena subtly leaves a cash donation on her way out of a museum. In one beautiful passage, Mia contemplates a parent’s need to touch their children, to hold them and breathe them in, and how over time the moments lessens. This nearly broke my heart; Ng’s writing is no less impactful than in her debut. I question the choices that some of the characters make towards the end, but felt safe in Ng’s capable hands. In some ways, I wish it ended differently, but I think it’s because wasn’t ready for the story to end.

 

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BOOK REVIEW | Final Girls by Riley Sager

Final Girls by Riley Sager

3.5/5

I’m a huge fan of slasher movies. Huge. For me, the ultimate in horror is a crazed maniac, yielding a knife, hell-bent on plunging it into you. Yet, I love those movies, and with Halloween right around the corner I get giddy with excitement thinking about some of the classic horror I’ll be watching soon – I’m not sure what that says about me. Who is scarier than Michael Myers? No one. The answer is no one. When I heard about Final Girls, a book marketed for fans of slasher films, I knew I would be picking it up as soon as it was released.

This is the story of the last women standing. After any slasher movie style bloody massacre, there is always a single woman who survives. Final Girls seeks to tell the story of three of these women, all who endured, and survived, the unthinkable. Sam, Lisa, and our narrator, Quincy, are bound by their similar experiences, though they all handle the other side of their trauma uniquely.

I liked this book, I really did! I found myself wrapped up in the lives of these women, and it’s an easy story to get lost in. This is a twisty book, but all fairly predictable. I called certain elements right away, though there was one pretty major reveal that I didn’t see coming. Much like many of the thriller / horror books that I have read lately, I didn’t find it scary. I don’t know if it was meant to be scary, but it was a really solid and enjoyable thriller. If you go into this book know that it is not a slasher book, it is a thriller about the women who a massacre.

A fun, engrossing read that fans of thrillers will be sure to enjoy.

BOOK REVIEW | Into the Water by Paula Hawkins

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2/5 stars

My thoughts:
This is one of the more frustrating books I have read lately. A talented writer with an intriguing plot, and a story bogged down by a ridiculous amount of characters make for a confusing, convoluted read.

A woman is found dead in the river, and shortly after a teenage girl is found in the river as well. Are these deaths suicides, or something more malicious? It’s been said that the river is a place to get rid of difficult women…

I was initially drawn in to this story and the fates of these women, but it quickly started to fall flat. As I mentioned, there are way too many characters in this book, and they are primarily women making it even more difficult to keep everyone straight. A simple character map at the beginning of the book would have helped immensely!

Hawks created a chilling atmosphere that I was so ready to get behind, but I was so disconnected with this story that it just wasn’t enough to save this for me. There are a few notably powerful passages within, but overall, this was a huge disappointment. I wont be comparing this to its blockbuster predecessor, because while I liked that book more, I believe that every novel should be able to stand on its own.

I found that I had to force myself to finish the book, and I considered quitting with just 50 pages left to go. I powered through to the end, but unfortunately it offered nothing much in terms of redemption. Something about seaside / small towns always resonates with me, so 2 stars for a promising concept and great atmosphere.

BOOK REVIEW | You Can’t Touch My Hair and Other Things I Still Have to Explain by Phoebe Robinson

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4/5 stars

Let me start by saying that this title is everything. I have curly hair, and people ask to touch it ALL.THE.TIME. As soon as I heard about this book, I knew I had to read it. Phoebe Robinson is hilarious. I want to hang out with her, and I feel like she’s my new literary best friend. This was a total blast, but a smart one filled with perspective and power. I switched between the audiobook and physical book,  and laughed out loud many times throughout. Nothing is better than listening to a comedian narrate their own book. It’s amazing. She’s a comedian and writer, and her talents come together beautifully in this short book of essays. Phoebe is bold and unapologetic in her takes on race, feminism, sexuality, and more.

I loved, LOVED, Phoebe’s sections on music. I may not love U2 the way she does, but I don’t listen to much music that would be expected for a non-white person. She talks about how people assume she knows what’s new in hip hop, when in reality she’s about to listen to Arcade Fire or Phil Collins. Cultural stereotypes, gotta love them.

Phoebe, you’ll never read this, but I need to talk to you! This book is written as though only people of colour (POC for short) will be reading it. I wanted Phoebe to be a little more inclusive with her audience, to assume that enlightened or curious (or any!) white people may want to read this book! I think she may keep her non POC readers a little at bay with this assumption, but hey, I’m a biracial reader, so maybe I just see both sides of the fence?

Speaking of being biracial, I adored Phoebe’s letters to her infant niece Olivia. She offers solutions for getting through life female and biracial. She even offers her a plethora of biracial celebrities to look to for identity: Lisa Bonet, Prince, Bob Marley, and more!

Don’t let all the fun fool you, Phoebe is on a mission with this book. She dives deep into her personal experiences with sexism and racism with a strength that I truly admire. She puts herself out there, exposing times when she felt weak and used, and made to feel less than. She discusses the young black people killed at the hands of police in America, and injustices that are difficult to swallow.

I loved reading about these topics in a practical, everyday sort of manner. Phoebe, at least for me, is so relatable that it made this book feel like a conversation with a good friend. I really enjoyed this, and will be looking out for whatever Phoebe does next.

BOOK REVIEW | All the Ugly and Wonderful Things by Bryn Greenwood

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5/5 stars

My thoughts:
This book is stunning. It’s challenging, disturbing, and will make you uncomfortable. Bryn Greenwood creates a relationship that by all practical accounts will make your stomach turn, and flips the table so drastically that you will question everything you know to be right and moral. I found myself struggling with some of the scenes, but also found myself justifying so much of it. I had to ask myself, what defines love?

It’s 1975 and Wavy is a little girl at 5 years old. Her parents are addicted to drugs, and she is living with her aunt Brenda and her cousins. As a result of her trauma, Wavy doesn’t speak, leaving everyone to think she’s mentally challenged. Wavy eventually goes on to live with her he grandmother, and finally ends up back with her mother.

Living with her mother, Wavy takes care of herself and her younger brother, Donal, cleaning and preparing food. A few years have passed and she is 8 years old when a chance encounter with 19 year old Kellen occurs. Kellen, a criminal who works for Wavy’s father, crashes his motorcycle by her house, and Wavy rushes out to see if he is OK. There is clearly a connection between the two, and after her becomes aware of Wavy’s living situation, Kellen steps in to help. Kellen cleans the house, buys food for Wavy and Donal, and begins to pay for Wavy’s school fees. Over time, Wavy begins to trust Kellen, and the two become inseparable.

As the years pass, Wavy and Kellen’s relationship evolves from something innocent to something more – there are many moments that gave me pause. Their connection, however, is something hard to define, something more than love. Is Kellen a pedophile? Is he taking advantage of Wavy in her disadvantaged situation? There is no sexual attraction between Wavy and Kellen initially. Kellen states “that’s not the only thing love means. You just got your mind in the gutter”.

Told from multiple points of view, we gain other character’s perspectives on their relationship. Naturally, many characters are horrified by their bond and work to keep them apart. Greenwood herself is the ” daughter of a mostly reformed drug dealer”, and has stated that this book was partially inspired by her relationship with an older man when she was 13 years old. Greenwood has created a world in which this relationship feels right, regardless of how inappropriate much of it is. As a mother and a fierce protector of children, I’m blown away by her feat. Only a skilled writer can craft a story like this and have you rooting for the couple. I’m looking forward to more from Greenwood, and may have to check out her backlist.

BOOK REVIEW | The Corrections by Jonathan Franzen

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4/5 stars

From the publisher:
Enid, long-time matriarch of the Lambert family, sets her heart on an elusive goal: bringing her family together for one last Christmas at home.
Published to universal acclaim, Jonathan Franzen’s novel about a post-modern family breaking down in late-twentieth-century America is a comic, tragic masterpiece. Richly realistic, darkly hilarious, and deeply human, The Corrections has been a fixture on bestseller lists since its debut and was one of the most talked-about books of the year.

My thoughts:
Finally, after way too long, I have read Franzen. Yes, this was my first. I’m not sure what my expectations were going into this book, but I must say I really liked it. I think I was prepared to hate it purely based on Franzen’s reputation for being, you know, a pretentious asshole. I love confident, bold writers, but cannot stand it if there is no merit behind the big personality. Thankfully, I was able to connect with it and understand his appeal.

This is the story of a family, the Lamberts. Enid and Alfred, the matriarch and patriarch, are living together in a way that many couples live together after a lifetime – as roommates. Enid longs for Alfred’s touch and attention, while Alfred grows increasingly irritable and senile. Alfred has always been moody and distant with his family, while Enid fantasizes about romance and the ideal family. Enid wants, more than anything, to have one more Christmas celebration in their hometown of St. Jude. This means attempting to rally her three children, Gary, Chip, and Denise, together for the event. This sort of sounds like the setup for a fun holiday movie, but I can assure you that is not what this is.

I’m finding this review difficult to write – there’s a lot going on with this book, but there’s also not a lot going on – which I realize makes no sense. There’s action and advancement of the story line, but this is heavily character driven. Franzen shines with his characters. He has created a cast of flawed people with messy lives that many will hate, but I found myself relating to each member of this family for different reasons. Enid’s desire for love and family, Alfred’s internal space and need for privacy, Gary’s depression and the pressures of family life and responsibility, Denise’s search for identity, and Chip’s hunt for success. Some of the moments that hit me the hardest in this book are so quiet and unassuming that they can easily be missed. For example, a family meal that no one is enjoying only to be topped off with a desert of pineapple, igniting Alfred to become angry with Enid. It’s not a loud moment, but it also is. If that makes sense.

There’s a lot of unpack with this book, and a lot more going on than I will touch on here: economic crisis, sexuality, depression and mental illness, elder care, and so much more. Readers who enjoy beefy books that call for analysis will likely be at home with the Corrections.

BOOK REVIEW | Choke by Chuck Palahniuk

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4/5 stars

From the publisher:
Victor Mancini, a medical-school dropout, is an antihero for our deranged times. Needing to pay elder care for his mother, Victor has devised an ingenious scam: he pretends to choke on pieces of food while dining in upscale restaurants. He then allows himself to be “saved” by fellow patrons who, feeling responsible for Victor’s life, go on to send checks to support him. When he’s not pulling this stunt, Victor cruises sexual addiction recovery workshops for action, visits his addled mom, and spends his days working at a colonial theme park. His creator, Chuck Palahniuk, is the visionary we need and the satirist we deserve.

My thoughts:
On the surface, Choke is a seedy look into the world of a sexual compulsive. Our central character, Victor, is a sex addict and we follow him through his many explicitly detailed trysts.

However, it becomes quickly apparent that Victor is lost: a self-proclaimed “doormat” who works as a historical interpreter and caretaker to his sick mother, Victor’s sexual deviance is the more or less his only selfish endeavor. He gives his time and money away easily, asking for little in return. His mother seems to be holding onto a family secret, and much of this story is Victor’s journey to uncover the truth. He discovers early in life that if you nearly die by chocking, the person who saves you will want to continue saving you forever. All of this cumulates with an oddly satisfying ending.

Stylistically, this book is unique. Highly satirical with lots of repetition, and strangely poetic prose. This was my first Palahniuk, but I’m curious to read more and see how these elements translate in his other work. Learning Palahniuk’s story and inspiration for this book makes it that much more fascinating – be sure to look it up after you’ve read it!

This book is not going to be for everyone – not by a mile – but for those willing to think outside of the box, or those who are interested in the darker side of things, this is definitely worth the read.