BOOK REVIEW | The Water Cure by Sophie Mackintosh| Man Booker Prize 2018

3/5 stars

I didn’t know what to expect going into The Water Cure, but comparisons to The Handmaid’s Tale are no joke, so I guess I was expecting a lot. This is an eerie book, telling the story of three sisters living on a secluded island with their parents (“mother” and, aptly, “King”). Women’s bodies are under siege, and on the island they are safe from the outside world and its “pollutants”.

Grace, Lia, and Sky share a sisterly bond that is beautiful and touching at moments, dysfunctional and violent at others. The sisters must navigate treacherous waters, both metaphorically and physically, as they seek survival with their tyrannical parents, and then later on as men arrive on the island. The arrival of the men marks a turn for the sisters, and they must learn to handle the complex emotions and circumstances that inevitably arise. At the heart of this story, I believe, is the enduring power of their relationships with each other.

There’s depth missing in this story, a greater significance that could have put this book on another level  –  something felt distant and cold, and the plot never fully connected for me. I wasn’t able to connect with the characters and was unsure of this book’s message, but Mackintosh writes with dreamy, lush prose that I raced through in the first third of the book. Something slowed in the pacing in the middle section of the book for me, but things did pick up again at the end. This was a really unique and atmospheric read, though I’m not sure it’s one that will stay with me in the long term.

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BOOK REVIEW | White Teeth by Zadie Smith

3/5 stars

I’ve delayed writing this review because I’m struggling a little with placing it appropriately. Zadie Smith is an immaculate writer and this book is witty and insightful, with razor sharp prose. Smith writes dialect beautifully, crafting characters that feel real. Something is lacking in the plot for me though, and while this is a character driven story, something is missing from each character’s arc that would push this into 5 star territory. This is a multi-generational saga that follows 2 two very different families as they overcome immigration, racial tension, war, and the pressures to raise their children in modern society without losing connection to their heritage. Throw in some genetic engineering and The Godfather, and that about sums it up.

There is a weighty plot here with a lot going on, but it essentially boils down to the story of Archie and Samad, two friends who meet at war, and their families. Archie, an Englishman, marries a Jamaican woman named Clara, and they have a daughter, Irie. Samad and his wife Alsana are Bengali immigrants and they have twin boys, Magid and Millat. I absolutely loved Clara but she disappears before long, becoming a secondary character. There was an interesting friendship between Clara and Alsana which could have been fleshed out into something significant as well.

I felt the deepest connection with Irie and I wanted so much more from her story; I would have loved to follow Magid and Millat further, to find out how they reconciled after a lengthy separation. Too many narratives felt incomplete and I wanted to go deeper. We are introduced to a third family, the Chaulfens, resulting in a completely unexpected turn in the plot. I found many scenes with the Chaulfens to be worthwhile, but ultimately felt like I was reading two different books – it felt disjointed.

Smith’s style is reminiscent of my favorite writer, John Irving: confident, bold, a little over the top, but never lacking in the right amount of sentimentality. Even though this wasn’t a home run for me, I’m really looking forward to reading more of Smith’s work.

BOOK REVIEW | The Comewdown by Rebekah Frumkin


3/5 stars

A sweeping family epic that covers a lot of ground without turning into a paperweight, Rebekah Frumkin’s The Comedown is perfect for readers who enjoy dysfunctional family narratives.

The basic plot: a drug deal goes wrong, thus entangling the dealer’s and the addict’s families for generations. There’s a mysterious yellow suitcase that everyone wants to get their hands on, issues of race and religion, and a whole lot of characters named Leeland or Lee. There are a lot of characters, time frames, and multiple family lines to follow – bookmarking the character map at the start of the book is a must.

The first half of this book felt like a 5 star read for me, and then it eventually started to feel like a chore. I could have been the problem – I just isn’t care to decipher which Leland I was reading about in any given moment, and therefore started to fall off track with the book. Sometimes I want my books to feel like work, especially when the payoff is there. This wasn’t one of those cases.

Frumkin is clearly a fantastic, clever writer – I initially though this book would be a slam dunk for me. I could very well pick this up for a re-read in a year and absolutely love it from start to finish, but I just wasn’t fully jiving with it this go around. It’s a good book that lost it’s way by becoming unnecessarily complicated.

BOOK REVIEW | The Great Alone by Kristin Hannah

5/5 stars

In the vast expanse of this unpredictable wilderness, you will either become your best self and flourish, or you will run away, screaming, from the dark and the cold and the hardship. There is no middle ground, no safe place; not here, in the Great Alone. 

Wow, what an epic journey! I was not prepared to become so deeply invested in this book; in fact, I resisted it. I’m not sure why I thought it would be hopeful and light, but boy was I wrong.

1974. Ernt Allbright was a POW in the Vietnam war; there are signs of ptsd, but nothing too overwhelming yet. When he receives word he has inherited some land and a cabin in Alaska, he jumps at the opportunity for a fresh start. His wife, Cora, is steadfast in her dedication to Ernt, so they pack their lives into a VW bus, and head to Alaska with their 13 year old daughter Leni. They are unprepared as they head into the desolate landscape, and resistant to help when they arrive. They soon learn that Alaskans take care of one another, as they are welcomed into their new community.

Through hard work, they family settles in and their new life begins. As the cold arrives, Ernt begins to unravel. He becomes angry, rages, and is violent with Cora. As the years pass, Ernt’s condition worsens, creating a danger in the home that is as frightening as the dangers of the Alaskan wild. We watch Leni grow up, fall in love with a boy named Matthew, and stay by her mother’s side no matter the cost. The story takes a turn that had me cheering (literally), but then the journey swerves into unexpected territory.

I was hooked from the first page; the narrative is gripping, fast paced, and visual – it reads like a movie. Part adventure story, party dysfunctional family narrative, and part coming of age, this book has it all. This is a story of survival, perseverance, home, and the extremes, both good and bad, that we will go to for love.

BOOK REVIEW | A Small Indiscretion by Jan Ellison


5/5 stars

It has always amazed me how far broken glass can fly – and how often you find a sliver after you’ve swept the mess away.

My thoughts are a little scattered after finishing A Small Indiscretion; there’s so much more to this book than I was expecting. There is an element of mystery that initially drew me in, but I wasn’t expecting such a rich, complex story.

We follow the life of Annie Black through an explanatory letter she is writing to her son, Robbie. We know that Robbie has been in an accident, and that a mistake Annie made around 20 years ago was a contributing factor. What we don’t know is how the pieces will connect – through alternating timelines, Annie recounts the year that she spent in London and reveals how a past obsession has caught up with her in an unimaginable way.

At age 19, Annie flees an unsatisfactory life in California for adventure in London where she will work in an office by day, and drink too much at night. She quickly becomes entwined in her boss Malcolm’s life, and discovers facets of his marriage that shock and intrigue her. By way of Malcolm, she meets a young photographer named Patrick, and an obsession begins.

Ellison’s writing is quiet and poetic, and at times staggeringly beautiful. I found myself so caught up in Annie’s life that I wasn’t trying uncover the mystery surrounding Robbie, I was truly along for the journey. This is a family drama, certainly, but it’s also so much more. This is a book about the implacability of the past, the complexities of marriage, and the damage that secrets can create. This is not a perfect book and Annie fell a little flat for me at times, but when a final sentence brings tears to my eyes I know I can’t give a book less than 5 stars.

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.