Review: The Seas

Okay – So I’d be lying if I said that I didn’t pick up this book originally because of its cover. But if we’re being honest, and if this is a safe space (which obviously it is because it’s mine), how could you blame me? The cover screams fairy tale and I’m nothing if I’m not a sucker for a fairy tale.

Samantha Hunt’s debut novel, which was rereleased by Tin House in July of 2018, is about an unnamed narrator, a 19 year old outcast living in a small fishing town, holding vigil for her father who walked into the ocean and never returned and in love, although unrequited, with an Iraq war vet thirteen years her senior. She also happens to believe that she is a mermaid.

Hunt tells a haunting, beautiful novel of a young woman. Her obsession with two of the significant men her life, her father and her first love. Her belief that she is a mermaid. And her inability to escape the world that she lives in. The story is one that flows from fantasy to reality in a way that makes it hard for the reader to determine what is real and what isn’t, just like how our narrator suffers from the same thing.

I wouldn’t say that it is done seamlessly however. The choppy way that it bounces back and forth, from one reality to the next, reminds me of the very thing the book is named after; the sea. The sea which is never calm and easy but choppy and constantly flowing and moving, forcing you to be able to stay a float and be sucked underneath and swept away with it. This book will sweep you away with it and it is worth every minute of it.

“If there was no rain, we would see how our poor town sits in a pit of sadness like a black hole or a wallowing cavity or an old woman.”

Her wonderfully detailed prose is poetic. Similes and metaphors are used constantly through out the book really set up the imagery and painted a picture of this little town and the key players involved in our narrators life. The metaphors are heavy handed at times, they are impossible to miss, almost beating the reader down with how many of them their are but it really serves to the sweeping and volatile nature of the story and our narrator.

 

My Rating: 4/5 Stars

– Hannah

Review: City of Ghosts

Hey Hi Hello my friends, I know its been a long time between posts and I’m really hoping life calms down soon but if we’re going to be honest I’ll sleep when I’m dead. I’m coming to you today to talk to you about Victoria Schwab’s latest: City of Ghosts. Friends, Schwab did it again, proved exactly why she’s at the top of my list for favorite authors, and why I buy multiple versions of the same book because I can’t imagine not having ALL of the Victoria/V.E. Schwab books.

City of Ghosts is Schwab’s newest middle grade novel about a girl who almost drowned, the ghost boy who saved her, and her exciting jaunt through Edinburgh, Scotland and its many ghosts. I don’t read a lot of middle grade novels, so I wasn’t sure what to expect when I opened its pages, and those thoughts were swept away as I devoured this book from the first page to it’s last in one day.

“In the end, I guess mom was right.

I have one foot in winter and one in spring,

One foot with the living, and one with the dead.”

Schwab’s storytelling is what kept me rapt as I read this middle grade novel as a 28 year old woman. It maintains some of the darker elements of her other YA or Adult Fantasy novels, while also maintaining a whimsicality that worked well to keep it perfect for a young reader to follow along with 12 year old Cassidy Blake. The book was also so perfectly atmospheric, it made me feel like I was in Edinburgh with Cassidy experiencing the sights and sounds with her. It definitely would be the perfect spooky fall read if you’re looking for something “Stranger Things mixed with Ghost Hunters”-esque.

While I did really enjoy the book, I did have a couple of quibbles. The first is I thought characters could have been more fleshed out. I enjoyed Cassidy Blake, however I wish I had gotten to know a little bit more about Jacob (maybe thats to come in book 2?) or even Lara Jayne Chowdhury. I am looking forward to where she brings these characters in book 2 and will definitely be picking it up once released.

The second is that the plot seemed fairly simplistic and pretty straight forward. There weren’t many twists and turns that kept me guessing as to how the story was going to end. However, this may be a situation of not having read enough middle grade, and having too high expectations.

Over all, City of Ghosts was a delightfully spooky story with easy to devour writing, a friendship I’m a little bit jealous of (who doesn’t want to be best friends with a ghost), and lots of dead things. I would highly recommend this book to anyone who is looking for a fun, quick fall read.

My Rating: 4/5 Stars

– Hannah

Review – Next Year in Havana

I picked up Next Year in Havana by Chanel Cleeton after Reese Witherspoon announced in as her July book pick for the Reese’s Book Club. Not only was this the first book I read for Reese’s Book Club but it was also my first read by Chanel Cleeton and I was not disappointed by either.

We follow two women, Elisa Perez living in Havana before the rebellion until her family’s exile in 1958 and her granddaughter Marisol, visiting Cuba for the first time in 2017. And through Elisa and Marisol we get to experience Cuba. Cleeton’s writing is so atmospheric that if I closed my eyes, I could picture Cuba, the sights, the sounds and smells. Through these characters and their experiences we also learn about the people of Cuba as a whole – those who left Cuba with their belongings on their backs, passing along memories to their descendants and those who stayed behind with hopes of change that would not happen.

One of the things that I loved about this novel, was the way that Cleeton addressed Marisol’s view of herself as a Cuban-American. How she was concerned that she wouldn’t be welcome in Cuba, that she wasn’t “Cuban” enough. It was particularly clear in the way that Cleeton described Marisol feeling both at home while still feeling like an outsider in a country that meant so much to her and to her family.

“You speak as though politics is its own separate entity,’ he says. ‘As though it isn’t in the air around us, as though ever single part of us isn’t political. How can you dismiss something that is so fundamental to the integrity of who we are as a people, as a country? How can you dismiss something that directly affects the lives of so many?”

I didn’t know very much about Cuba before I read this book. I knew some basic information but the depth of Cuba: the politics, the way Cuban’s live, the history, etc – was all new to me. The politics of Cuba come up a lot in this book as the undercurrent of the story, it pushes it forward.  Not just the politics of the government, but also the politics of the social classes. How each social class viewed the rebellion, who agreed and who disagreed, and the the politics of why. And not just that, but how those who stayed in Cuba viewed those who left and vice versa.

One of my favorite things about the genre of historical fiction is that you can learn about history in a way that is almost hands on. With characters like those of Chanel Cleeton’s in Next Year in Havana, they help the reader view the situation through their own eyes in a way that a history book doesn’t. It allows you to experience it instead of just getting the facts. Chanel Cleeton describes this book as a “book of my heart”, stating that her family also escaped Cuba and that she credits their stories with some of the bases for this book. The fact that her family lived through these experiences only adds to that feeling.

Ultimately I loved this book, and I am really looking forward to more of Chanel Cleeton’s writing, especially to hear Beatriz’s story in When We Left Cuba in 2019.

My Rating: 4/5 Stars

– Hannah

Review: A Place For Us

Recently Sarah Jessica Parker released the first book published by her imprint, SJP for Hogarth, of Penguin Random House and if the first book she chose says anything about future releases, you better believe that I will be buying everything that she publishes.

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Fatima Farheen Mirza’s debut novel A Place for Us tells the emotionally evocative story of a Indian-American family and each family member’s struggles in their own ways with their sense of identity and belonging. The story is set in Northern California, and we start the story at Hadia’s wedding, where we find out the whole family is there, struggling with what will happen that day as the prodigal son, Amar, has returned after being absent for three years. And while Mirza will come back to the wedding multiple times throughout the novel, it is through her flashbacks that we learn about the family, their triumphs, failures, betrayals and secrets.

Through the characters memories we travel back in time, to before the parents, Layla and Rafiq, arranged marriage, throughout the building of their family, the children going through adolescence, Amar falling in love for the first time, the tragedy of 9/11 and Hadia going off to medical school and making her own love match. Mirza doesn’t focus on telling us the story chronologically, hopping back and forth between timelines and characters flawlessly, allowing us to view each individual incident from multiple points of view, each one changing the meaning of simple actions like a spelling test.

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Fatima Farheen Mirza’s writing is in a word: breathtaking. It is mature, elegant and beautiful in a way that when you realize that she was 26 when this book, her debut, was published, becomes mind-blowing. Her capability of switching perspectives gracefully is just one of the things that make Mirza’s writing stunning, we sense each of the character’s feelings strongly. The loss of love, the panic of parents who are watching a son making decisions they do not understand, the struggle of an immigrant family trying to find balance between their culture, tradition and religion in America today.

I was fully invested in this story, staying up until 1 in the morning when I had work the next day, when I realized that I wasn’t going to finish the novel without crying. A Place for Us was heart-wrenching in all of the right ways. I am emotional going back to think about all the ways that I loved this book. My heartbreak for each of the characters feeling fresh in my mind and my heart. My heart is heavy as I go back to talk about this book and the characters in the most satisfying way.

“When I watch the old tapes, and look through the old photographs, it’s as if I wasn’t there at all. But they are mine, I remind myself, they are my memories, they are exactly how I stood and saw them.”

When I say that I have no doubt that A Place for Us will go down as my all time favorite book of 2018 I do not say that lightly. I know that no other book I have read this year (and in a very long time) has affected me the way that this book has. Fatima Farheen Mirza has proven herself to be a wonderful and strong new voice in the literary world.

My Rating: 5/5 Stars

– Hannah

 

Review: The Great Alone

The Great Alone was the first novel by Kristin Hannah that I have read, and I absolutely loved it. I read this book in about two sittings, mostly spending one Saturday curled up on the couch where I didn’t stop reading until I was sobbing and turning the last page. This then prompted my daughter to ask “Mommy, why do you always read books that make you cry?” That may need to be a post for another day, but I was so engrossed in Hannah’s characters and the story of a teenage girl trapped in her parents toxic relationship that tears were bound to happen. The Great Alone left me heartbroken and at peace all at the same time, and honestly books that manage to do that are always my favorite books.

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The Great Alone tells the story of Ernt Allbright, a Vietnam vet and POW, who finds out that he has inherited a piece of land in Alaska from one of his friends from his time in the military. This comes at the perfect time for Ernt because, unable to keep a job and unable to quit drinking, he is running out of options. Cora, his wife, unfailingly devoted to her husband agrees to move to America’s last frontier with him. Leni, their 13 year old daughter hopes that in Alaska she will finally find a place where she belongs.

At first, Alaska is everything they have dreamed of. They find a close knit community of strong men and even stronger women who are willing to help them learn how to navigate the wilderness around them, and Ernt finally seems to be doing better. Unfortunately, Alaska’s wilderness isn’t the only thing that is volatile, as winter approaches and the days get shorter and darkness falls upon Alaska, darkness also starts to fall on Cora and Leni, as Ernt’s mental state deteriorates.

“In the silence, Leni wondered if one person could ever really save another, or if it was the kind of thing you had to do for yourself.”

The thing I loved most about this novel was the characters. Each character was so different to the rest, but they were all fully fleshed out. There was Large Marge, a former D.C lawyer, intense and strong, willing to do what she needed to do to protect her unprepared neighbors. There is Matthew, who brings romance to Leni. The two of them turn into Alaska’s Romeo and Juliet once Ernt starts to have a problem with Matthew’s father. There is even a family of survivalists, the family of the friend who gives Ernt his property, whose patriarch doesn’t help Ernt’s state of mind with their ranting and raving of the collapse of their great country. Each character brings something to this community of Kaneq that helps propel this story along.

Leni and Cora Allbright were the strength of this story however. Leni finds herself in Alaska, she learns to take care of herself, she becomes strong, willing to do what she needs to do in order to survive. She starts to see the cracks in her own parents relationship but doesn’t let that stop her from finding love of her own. Cora, at first glance, is a battered woman. She follows Ernt blindly, willing to do whatever it takes to make him happy, even though she knows that it’s only a matter of time before he explodes. Cora finds her strength in Alaska too, although it’s not Alaska where she finds her happiness. Hannah does her leading ladies justice, they find peace and happiness in their own way.

The Great Alone is a tour de force of drama, emotion, and tragedy. Hannah writes a novel that forces us to look at the way that wilderness lives within us, and the way that sometimes in order to survive what we need to do is look inside ourself for the strength that lies within us.

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Kristin Hannah is an author I now need to go out, buy, and read, everything that she has ever written. For those of you who have read her other novels, let me know which one I should read next in the comments!

My Rating: 5/5 Stars

– Hannah

Review: The Woman in the Window

“Watching is like nature photography: You don’t interfere with the wildlife.”

In his debut novel A. J. Finn tells the story of a troubled heroine that will have you unable to put it down until you have finished it. This book is film noir in novel form. The plot is fantastic, the twists are surprising, and The Woman in the Window is going to be the novel new upcoming psychological thrillers will have to beat.

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Anna Fox is a 38 year old, agoraphobic, who hasn’t left her home in uptown Manhattan in over a year. She spends some time logged on to a website counseling other agoraphobes, watching old film noir movies, and spending time with her cat, but, mostly she drinks wine and spies on her neighbors.

Among her neighbors is a family who she has particularly become invested in. The Russells are a troubled family. After Ethan, the Russell’s 16 year old son, hints to Anna that his father is violent towards both him and his mother, Anna starts watching them more intently. After she witnesses something violent happen in their home, and the police tell her to let it go, Anna becomes obsessed with what happened, while everyone else believe that her excessive wine drinking and her prescription drugs have impaired her judgement.

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Before I go spoiling the rest of the book I want to talk about some of the things that I absolutely loved about this novel. Finn writes a believable woman. I think there can be disconnects when men write female characters, making them do or say things that are maybe a little too cliché or that just aren’t believable characters but Finn’s Anna Fox is completely believable as a woman. And not just a woman, but a woman suffering from mental illness and trauma, and she’s struggling to preserve her sanity. One of the reasons that I think Finn triumphed in this feat is because he himself has struggled with depression, and he used his experience to develop his “tortured heroine”.

And, if we want to talk about unreliable narrators, all other unreliable narrators can sit down because Anna Fox takes the cake. There were so many times in the novel that I wasn’t sure if I was supposed to believe the things that Anna was seeing or saying or not. While Finn does do a great job in making Anna unreliable, mainly with the help of her alcoholism and the mixing of her alcohol with her prescription drugs, one thing that is a little tiring is the woman who are alcoholics trope. I wish the thriller/mystery novel would find a different way to make female characters unreliable.

Overall this novel was thrilling, Hitchcockian, suspenseful, and most of all beautifully written. I am anxiously waiting for A.J. Finn’s next novel.

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Have you read The Woman in the Window yet? Tell me what you thought of it down in the comments!

– Hannah

Review: An American Marriage

Tayari Jones’s fourth novel and Oprah’s 2018 Book Club pick, An American Marriage, is an emotional, powerful and gripping novel about love, family, and the criminal justice system and its injustices. It is an intimate portrait of love and how tragic events can cause that love to falter. How sometimes, love, just isn’t enough.

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Synopsis from Goodreads: “Newlyweds Celestial and Roy are the embodiment of both the American Dream and the New South. He is a young executive, and she is an artist on the brink of an exciting career. But as they settle into the routine of their life together, they are ripped apart by circumstances neither could have imagined. Roy is arrested and sentenced to twelve years for a crime Celestial knows he didn’t commit. Though fiercely independent, Celestial finds herself bereft and unmoored, taking comfort in Andre, her childhood friend, and best man at their wedding. As Roy’s time in prison passes, she is unable to hold on to the love that has been her center. After five years, Roy’s conviction is suddenly overturned, and he returns to Atlanta ready to resume their life together.”

An American Marriage was my Book of the Month pick for February and I am so happy that I ended up choosing it. The writing was spectacular, the characters were rich, and the story was moving. Jones does not pull any punches, her writing hits you in the gut with emotion from all sides. I read this book in two days, and on the first day I started crying on page 35 and didn’t stop until I put the book down on page 138.

Told in part by letters between Roy and Celestial, and then told from the perspectives of the three main characters, this isn’t the story of courtroom drama, like one might expect when you find out one of the characters is wrongly committed of a crime, but one of the devastation of a family. Both Roy and Celestial are doing all of the right things, they are hard working, in love, and young, they still suffer the fate of having their lives dashed. An innocent man, confined to a prison cell for 12 years, the action of someone else derailing Roy’s life, leaving him powerless to stop what is going to happen – it is this that makes the slow burn of the book all the more powerful.

“Love makes a place in your life, it makes a place for itself in your bed. Invisibly, it makes a place in your body, rerouting all your blood vessels, throbbing right alongside your heart. When it’s gone, nothing is whole again.”

While this story is very much about the personal story of Celestial and Roy, you can not dismiss the racial context of the story. Roy is a black man, convicted wrongly of rape, and he loses his freedom for it. However, throughout the story, the characters mainly remain thankful that he is even alive, Celestial says at one point that there is “no appealing a cop’s bullet.” While even though Roy has done everything right, he has a good job, he is a good man, he makes good choices, even his family have lived good middle class lives, he recognizes that what happened to him could have happened to anyone, and when he says this, his friend, Andre responds with, “You think I don’t know that? I been black all my life.” Now released, he is set to become someone that society all too frequently casts aside and dismisses: the ex-convict. Although Jones makes it clear that this doesn’t have to be Roy’s future. That there is still hope.

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This book moved me, and it stuck with me for the next couple days after I finished it. It still sticks with me now as I think about it. My conflicts with the characters and the decisions that were made, my heartbreak for them, and the overwhelming sense of hopelessness that I felt with Roy for most of the book. All I wanted was for these characters to find happiness, and I think Jones gives it to them, and for that I am grateful.

– Hannah

p.s. After I finished reading I immediately cast my perfect movie adaptation and it goes as follows:

Roy: Michael B Jordan

Celestial: Lupita Nyong’o

Andre: Daniel Kaluuya

It would be perfect. You’re welcome to the future production company that chooses to make this book into a film. I’ve done all your hard work for you.