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.

REVIEW – The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath

“I thought how strange it had never occurred to me before that I was only purely happy until I was nine years old.”

I’ve been meaning to read The Bell Jar for years, and I’m glad I finally did. Plath’s writing is engaging and easy to read. Esther Greenwood is a likable character, and I found myself rooting for her the entire time.

I think this book will resonate with anyone who has experienced anxiety or self doubt; a lot of Esther’s thoughts really hit the nail on the head when it comes to believing we aren’t enough. (I don’t have any personal experience with depression so I don’t want to comment on that.)

I think, even given the time in which it’s set, this book tackles mental health issues pretty well.

REVIEW – Commonwealth by Ann Patchett

Commonwealth had my interest at the beginning, and slowly lost it as the book went on…eventually losing it completely by the end.

The characters are barely likable. The overall vibe is just kind of odd and depressing and seemingly unrealistic. I feel like important details aren’t explored enough, and unimportant parts are brought up again and again…and again.

REVIEW – Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens

This is a very hyped book that fell flat for me. The writing is beautiful, don’t get me wrong.

But I must be too much of a cynic, not enough of a romantic, someone who reads too many “twisty” books for this one to affect me.

I just didn’t find the storyline realistic – I know it’s fiction, but I felt that it was intended to be a “real” story and it just wasn’t believable. And I couldn’t connect with the romantic plot(s).

I didn’t think the “murder mystery” part of the story was really necessary, either. The rest of the book would have worked without it.

REVIEW – Circe by Madeline Miller

Circe is a beautifully written, emotional story.

It covers abuse, family drama, jealousy, heartache, personal growth, friendship and love.

I could picture everything so vividly, every character and setting. I often found myself wishing I could live on Aiaia with Circe.

The end was absolutely perfect, and I felt like I had lost a friend once I finished the book.