REVIEW – I Know This Much is True by Wally Lamb

Oh, boy. This book is full of unlikeable men that we’re, for some reason, supposed to be rooting for? Bad thing after bad thing piles on, until the book (after almost 900! pages) wraps up everything hunky-dory with a neat little bow.

There’s so much potential in this story – Thomas and Dominick are fascinating (at first). Thomas, although being such a key part of the story, doesn’t really get much page time. You know who does? Thomas and Dominick’s arrogant, sexist, horrible grandfather – via his haphazardly constructed memoir. The memoir eats up almost 200 pages of the book (at least that’s what other reviewers have said, I didn’t count). And we aren’t even introduced to the memoir until more than 500 pages in.

Content warnings abound in this one, and pretty much zero good things happen to anyone until the last 20 or so pages. We have multiple mentions of rape (one of which we’re apparently supposed to ignore because the perpetrator is MISUNDERSTOOD and CONFUSED and DIDN’T MEAN IT). We have an abusive husband and stepfather that is somehow kind of redeemed towards the end of the book? We have some pretty severe self-harm. Multiple suicides (definitely two but probably three?) Horrific accidents. AIDS! SIDS! What else am I missing? Oh, a child is murdered but it’s briefly mentioned and really more of a plot device than anything. And that child’s twin is also sexually abused.

Needless to say, I have a hard time rating this below three stars because it did hold my interest enough to want to finish. And I did enjoy some parts. I just thought it would be more about the relationship between two brothers (one neurotypical, one severely mentally ill). I thought i’d get something a bit more cohesive.

REVIEW – The Vanishing Half by Brit Bennett

“She hadn’t realized how long it takes to become somebody else, or how lonely it can be living in a world not meant for you.”

The Vanishing Half has been receiving a LOT of hype in the book world lately. The book explores the lives of twin sisters who run away from home (and end up going in different directions). Desiree and Stella are light-skinned black girls from Mallard (no, the town can’t be found on a map). When we meet up with the twins 14 years after they have left home, we find out that Desiree married a very dark-skinned black man, and Stella has been passing as a white woman for years.

“You could never know who might hurt you until it was too late.”

What we learn about their lives and families is incredibly fascinating. We get the perspectives of a handful of characters in this book – each having their own experiences with and ideas about race, racism and identity. These relationships are COMPLICATED. This book probably won’t end the way you expect (and I love it). There are things here that never come to a head or get resolved and it’s honestly better that way – the fact that Bennett didn’t feel the need to wrap everything up in a nice little bow is refreshing.

REVIEW – Truths I Never Told You by Kelly Rimmer

{Available April 14, 2020} Presented in dual timelines (the early to mid-1950s and a few weeks in 1996) The Truths I Never Told You is somewhat presented as a mystery, with maybe a thriller edge, but is really a story about family secrets, the seemingly mysterious death of our main character’s mother, and the surrounding events. This book is sad, but it’s also filled with love and hope.

The family’s strength really shines through in this one – both the present-day situation with the four siblings and the sacrifices made in the past.

I think this story will resonate most with mothers – women who have experienced the ups and downs of pregnancy, childbirth and the early months and years of parenting. As someone without children, I could still understand the anxiety, fear and depression that both Grace and Beth faced, but only on the surface level.

Content warning: mentions of abortion and suicide.

Thank you Graydon House for sending me an ARC of this book!

REVIEW – Little Women by Louisa May Alcott

“Rich or poor, we will keep together and be happy in one another.”
I think it’s safe to say that everyone who enjoys this book desperately wishes they could be part of the March family (which makes Laurie so incredibly relatable at times). This is a great read for the Christmas season, but honestly holds up any time of year – it’s cozy, it’s funny, it has so much heart. I figured the best way to review it would be to break it down by character – particularly the March sisters and Marmee.

“Call yourself any names you like; but I am neither a rascal nor a minx, and I don’t choose to be called so.”
Meg’s story is incredibly important – she’s the only sister who dreams of what’s “expected” of her. And for Meg, she gets exactly what she wants and ends up thriving. Alcott outlines some marriage and parenthood struggles in Meg’s life, but they’re relatable – she and her husband grow closer as a couple because of them, and Meg ends up living a lovely life that she’s proud of.

“I like good, strong words, that mean something,” replied Jo.
Many of us avid readers (and writers) identify with Jo – she’s technically the “main” character of the novel, and her story is the most interesting (arguably tied with Amy). Jo’s journey from bookworm tomboy to published writer has you rooting for her every step of the way. I will admit, i’m not really pleased with how her story ends (however, I am glad she doesn’t end up with Laurie) but I also understand why Alcott made the choices she did for Jo given the time period (and Little Women is loosely based on Alcott’s life).

“If Jo is a tom-boy, and Amy a goose, what am I, please?” asked Beth, ready to share the lecture. “You’re a dear, and nothing else,” answered Meg.
Dear, sweet Beth. The unfairness of her story has always been apparent to me. After contracting scarlet fever (that she was exposed to only because she was being kind and helping others), she spends the rest of the book sitting idly by, while her sisters grow up, travel and marry. Somehow, Beth’s faith and sweetness never change – she gladly welcomes death and worries most about how her loved ones will carry on once she’s gone.

“I want to be great, or nothing.”
I think Amy gets a lot of unfair criticism for being the “worst” March sister. Amy grows the most throughout the novel – she starts as a sometimes silly, often selfish 12-year-old girl, but she grows into a thoughtful, smart and determined young woman. Amy seems the most “real” to me, because she has the most to learn.

“Once upon a time there were four girls, who had enough to eat, and drink, and wear, a good many comforts and pleasures, kind friends and parents, who loved them dearly, and yet they were not contented.”
Marmee is, in my opinion, the best literary mother of all time. Although her character does take a bit of a backseat to the four sisters, her influence is evident. She has managed to raise four kind, intelligent, caring girls – the lessons she teaches them still (mostly) hold up today, and I always love coming across her nuggets of wisdom while reading.

At its core, Little Women is truly a feminist piece of literature (there are some antiquated thoughts and statements in the text, but they are merely a symptom of their time). There are timeless life lessons about growing up, family, friendship and individuality.

REVIEW – The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller

“I will never leave him. It will be this, always, for as long as he will let me.”

Circe was one of the best books I read this year, and I knew I had to pick up The Song of Achilles. Miller is an incredible writer – she has a way of turning words into something beautiful and heartbreaking and hopeful at the same time.

Patroclus is a wonderful narrator. I felt bad from him from the beginning – a disappointment to his father, his involvement in a fatal accident results in his banishment. He meets Achilles and the two become fast friends.

This is easily one of the most romantic, most beautiful books I’ve ever read. I cannot wait to see what Miller writes next.

REVIEW – White Oleander by Janet Fitch

“I had seen girls clamor for new clothes and complain about what their mothers made for dinner. I was always mortified. Didn’t they know they were tying their mothers to the ground? Weren’t chains ashamed of their prisoners?”

I picked this book up from the library not knowing a thing about it (just knowing that a lot of people list it as one of their favorites). This book is HEAVY. It wasn’t at all what I expected, but it was good. It’s hard to say it was enjoyable because poor Astrid never catches a break or really experiences any love or joy.

“How it was that the earth could open up under you and swallow you whole, close above you as if you never were.”

Oh, Astrid. A practically invisible child thrust into the foster system after her mother poisons an ex-lover. She makes misguided, childish mistakes (understandably) and ends up with a string of foster mothers and other figures who each provide their own wisdom, but are also terribly lost in their own ways.

“I hated labels anyway. People didn’t fit into slots – prostitute, housewife, saint – like sorting the mail.”

There are so many complex women throughout this book. Some are explored more than others, but the examination of different women, their thoughts, their struggles, their weaknesses, is likely what makes this book so memorable for so many readers.

“Loneliness is the human condition, get used to it.”

Ingrid is arguably the most complex character in the book and also the worst. I think we’re supposed to believe that she loves her daughter but everything she does and says is to the contrary. She’s frustrating and heartless and pretentious. There isn’t a “villain” in this story but she’s as close as it gets.

REVIEW – The Testaments by Margaret Atwood

“Why did I think it would nonetheless be business as usual? Because we’d been hearing these things for so long, I suppose. You don’t believe the sky is falling until a chunk of it falls on you.”

The Testaments picks up approximately 15 years after the events in The Handmaids Tale. Told from the perspectives of three different women affected by Gilead, The Testaments gives a more detailed look into the day-to-day workings of the region (and the lies and deceit that run below the seemingly pious exterior).

“She, too, has been alone in the dark, I thought…She, too, has gazed into herself, and has seen the void.”

Much like The Handmaids Tale, The Testaments is uncomfortable and disturbing to read, especially given our current political climate. I would recommend that readers wanting to pick up this book also check out the series on Hulu – The Testaments references plot points from both the original book and the show.

“It was always a cruelty to promise them equality, since by their nature they can never achieve it. We have already begun the merciful task of lowering their expectations.”

Overall this is good. It’s a somewhat satisfying conclusion to the original book, but can be predictable and almost cliche at times. I also feel that the show is going to have to take a certain path now that the fate of some characters has been revealed in this book (unless it will be like Game of Thrones and the show will end up in a different direction).

REVIEW – The Nickel Boys by Colson Whitehead

“The boys could have been many things had they not been ruined by that place. Doctors who cure diseases or perform brain surgery, inventing shit that saves lives. Run for president. …but they had been denied even the simple pleasure of being ordinary.”

As you can imagine from the synopsis, this is a difficult book to read. But it’s an IMPORTANT book. So many victims of our nation’s twisted, sordid, racist past (and present) are forgotten or overlooked. The Nickel Boys is fiction, but it’s based on a real place. This book should make you uncomfortable and it should make you angry.

Whitehead’s writing is simple and direct – not flowery or elaborate – but packed with emotion, wisdom and vivid imagery.

“You can change the law but you can’t change people and how they treat each other.”

REVIEW – The Seven or Eight Deaths of Stella Fortuna by Juliet Grames

“The problems inside the pot are known only by the spoon who stirs it. In other words, only a family can know all its own secrets.”

Stella Fortuna has cheated death seven (or eight) times. With a name that means “lucky star” that must mean she has good luck, right?

Unfortunately, it’s the life that happens between each death that makes Stella’s story so sad.

Mostly family drama with a little bit of historical fiction sprinkled in, The Seven or Eight Deaths of Stella Fortuna is bleak, gritty, raw and disturbing.

This book is beautifully written but the subject matter is tough and it’s not for the faint of heart. It’s incredibly depressing without a single joyful story or event.

REVIEW – Ask Again, Yes by Mary Beth Keane

“Love isn’t enough. Not even close.”

This book was just okay for me. I need to learn my lesson that drawn out, character driven family dramas are not my thing.

I was waiting for something to happen (I made the same mistake with Commonwealth).

I should be saying that it was a brilliant book about family, failure, forgiveness, but I was honestly just bored more than anything.

However, if you enjoyed Commonwealth or Little Fires Everywhere, I think you’ll like this book.