So Apparently I Like Shakespeare

I’ve been in the mood for Shakespeare re-tellings lately. Got my hands on the ARCs of Mona Awad’s All’s Well that Ends Well influenced novel All’s Well, and Samantha Cohoe’s Bright Ruined Things, which is a re-telling of Shakespeare’s The Tempest. Both of these books are well written, and I would highly recommend.

Mona Awad, author of Bunny, responder to my tweet, and all-around amazing writer, has proven her mettle once more with an astounding magical realism novel that will make you feel all the feelings on the spectrum of feelings if you have a soul featuring has-been actress, current perpetually unwell acting director at a small university Miranda Fitch.

Miranda Fitch was a beautiful actress giving generally well-received performances in the Shakespeare oeuvre, in the midst of the dramatic bloody hands scene in Macbeth when she accidentally fell off of the stage and damaged her back. Since that moment, her life has been a torment. She is in terrible, constant, debilitating pain, with few to no allies. The doctors she goes to cannot find a source for the pain, the physical therapists make it worse, and some of the people in her life seem to think she is making it up for attention or that she might feel better if she’d just adopt a more chipper attitude or that she has maybe crossed the line between sanity and madness. The fact that Miranda pops pills the way my toddler eats candy, and is so focused on her internal self that she sometimes misses people and events until she is no longer able to avoid them makes the reader unclear about exactly what is happening.

Miranda is pitiable – there is no other way to describe her. She is pitiable, and it is difficult to spend time with her, in her unending and unendurable existence of pain and unhappiness. One night, however, she happens upon three unusual men in a bar, and a web of magic begins to furl itself around Miranda and those around her. As Miranda’s life changes, she realizes that she is a caught in a web bigger than illness, bigger than love, and that lives and souls are at stake. Miranda is forced to confront herself, and to determine what is most important to her and how she wants to live her life… or what’s left of it.

#webofmagic

This book took longer for me to become invested in than Bunny. It is, frankly, just very difficult to spend that much time reading about, and thereby empathizing with, someone else’s pain. Particularly when you’re not exactly certain if the pain is real, or if there is mental illness causing Miranda to feel a phantom of something that no longer exists. Awad’s writing, however, is always spectacular, her skillful craft thrumming through each line. And once Miranda does begin to think about other things, the pace of the novel picks up at a manic pace that will leave you marveling at the author’s skill and desperate to know what happens next.

Slated for release August 3, 2021. I highly recommend that you pre-order from an indie bookstore so you can get your hands on a copy ASAP.

4.5 Stars

Samantha Cohoe, from my cursory search of her website, seems to write YA novels. Her debut novel was A Golden Fury; I have not read it, but it has a Goodreads rating of 3.67, and is about a girl who is a talented alchemist trying to create the philosopher’s stone, which has caused her mother to go insane. Bright Ruined Things, on the other hand, is a story that primarily takes place on an island filled with magical beings whom the paternal figure (whom we will call “Poppa Prosper” in this blog post, although most of the characters in the novel call him grandfather because they are unimaginative and don’t like alliteration) has bound to get them to create a fuel called aether that has replaced gasoline.

The Prospers are a powerful and wealthy family, but our story is told by May, the orphan girl the family adopted when her father begged Poppa Prosper to take care of her from his (father’s) deathbed. May has never left the island, and she doesn’t want to – it is her home, and she is trying to stay quiet about the fact that she’s 18 and figure out a way to learn magic so that she can be useful to the family and Poppa Prosper will keep her around.

As the story opens, the Prosper family who live off the island all return for First Night, an annual celebration of the first time that Poppa Prosper tamed the spirits on the island. If you keep wanting to read Bright Ruined Things as Bright Young Things, you are not alone – I keep mis-typing the title, and I think this may have been done on purpose, given that the time period during which this novel is set and this fabulous party is slated to occur is the 1920s. The environment is wealthy, glamorous, on the cusp of ripe and spoiling. Something is happening to the spirits that no one has ever encountered before, and as May investigates, she is forced to confront the reality of her beloved island and the source of the Prospers’ wealth, and learns about herself and what she is willing to do for the love and power she has desired for her entire life.

Slated for release October 26, 2021, I also recommend this book, particularly if you are a fan of YA fantasy.

Sharpen Your Claws

In San Antonio, Texas, the Torres sisters live with their father. Ana, Jessica, Iridian, and Rosa are four beautiful roses blooming in the muck of death and decay that is their house. Unlike most roses, they have legs, and are desperate for escape – some day, some way – from the existence they are experiencing on a daily basis.

This existence doesn’t necessarily end when they die.

The Torres sisters are spied on by the boy who lives across the street and his three friends. Stalkers who hesitate to interfere with the girls after their actions ruin an escape attempt, and so, they just watch. Filtering the lives and personalities of these girls through their male lenses:

  • Ana, the beautiful enigma
  • Jessica, the angry and slightly inept
  • Iridian, the introvert who brings a novel and a notebook with her wherever she goes
  • Rosa, the old soul

Reflecting on their inaction after the fact, and realizing that they could have offered friendship to these girls, which may have been more helpful than obsessive semi-worship.

Because they are girls, of course, there is plenty of conflict and abuse to content with – their father is neglectful, their mother is dead, so these girls are mostly on their own. Boys suck. Most people suck. Add grieving to the mix, and these poor girls go through a lot.

Samantha Mabry’s Tigers, Not Daughters is well-written and mysterious. The story is sometimes magical, sometimes realistic, and sometimes it is difficult for the reader to discern whether the events are occurring or being interpreted in an elevated way by the characters. If you like well-written fiction, multiple points-of-view, hot climates, stories that center around smart women, and magical-realism, I would highly-highly recommend.

Have you read this novel, or do you plan to pick up a copy soon? Let me know in the comments below!

Lazy Blog Post: ARCs I Read & Only Reviewed on Goodreads

Hey guys –

I’m bone tired. Not 100% sure why, to be honest. Possibly because I’m trying to plan a novel on top of working full time and wrangling two energetic kids and my husband and keep the house clean. So today, I thought I would briefly go through the ARCs that I have read since starting this blog, but not created a blog post for –

  1. One Day by David Nicholls – had this one for approximately a decade before I read it, which is a shame, because it is an amazing book:

2. The Last Collection by Jeanne Mackin

3. So We Can Glow: Stories by Leesa Cross-Smith

4. The Paris Model by Alexandra Joel

5. The Memory Thief (Thirteen Witches #1) by Jodi Lynn Anderson

6. Read This for Inspiration: Simple Sparks to Ignite Your Life by Ashly Perez

I write a mini-review for almost every book I read on Goodreads, and give a star rating approximately 95% of the time (sometimes, I need time away from the book to sift through my feelings, and promptly forget that I have never rated, so it’s just not going to happen). If you found this blog post entertaining, you would probably enjoy following me on Goodreads. If you didn’t fine this blog post entertaining, I promise, they’re not all this half-assed. I really just have no energy at the moment. But wouldn’t you like to follow me, and see if I’m telling the truth? #winkwink

Black Buck

Now that this book has officially been published, I can finally post about Mateo Askaripour’s Uh-Maze-Ing novel Black Buck (this book is difficult for me to discuss without spoilers). If you haven’t read it yet, run to your nearest indie bookstore, because it’s better for your health and the environment and the local economy, and nab a copy. This post can wait.

Now that you have read it, can we share a mutual squeal of delight over this thought-provoking novel featuring a black salesman who achieves fame & fortune, delivers great advice, and is imprisoned because his white racist adversary teams up with the grandson of a man he treated unfairly, and the latter has decided karma needed some help?

There is so much about this book that I loved. But the best thing about it is that my brain continued mulling it over long after I was technically done reading. How I realized subtleties in Askaripour’s book that could easily be missed amidst the bravado and dramatism that a novel full of salespeople and realistic American sentiment contains. Some people may think this novel is satire – I think this novel is, unfortunately, all too believable.

#sofuckingood

The part that sticks with me is how employees at Sumwun are so upset about the Happy Campers, which essentially provides the same advantages to people of color as the Duchess received from her father’s connections. It was okay for her to breeze through training and new hiring, because she was white and rich and thin. But the Happy Campers, who receive a similar “leg up” are absolutely not okay, because they are generally not white and not rich, so they’re “stealing jobs” whereas it is fine for Duchess to pretty much yawn her way through work, where she probably doesn’t need training at all, since her father’s contacts will buy from her without need of a sales pitch anyway.

This novel is sharp – I could tell it was going to be a good read from the opening sentence:

The day that changed my life was like every other day before it, except that it changed my life.

Black Buck

The wit is sharp and smart:

My teeth are status quo and powerful, also known as white and straight…

Black Buck

I truly cannot think of a better book to help you experience the anger, the outrage, the unfairness, as you read the ultimate underdog, what-the-fuck-is-work-life-balance, mentoring-is-not-bullshit-even-though-it-did-land-me-in-jail, story. This book is fiction, but don’t misjudge – the experiences in here are, unfortunately, not that far off what many people-of-color face every day. And it would be nice to think that this book is just making blatant what is underlying the microaggressions that are often experienced. But the truth is, a large portion of the country is just outright aggressive, and people-of-color are often their targets. Read this book, if you are blissfully unaware of what it is like to be considered less than because of attributes you cannot help, with which you were born. Read this book to get legitimate, useful business advice. Read this book because it is well-written. But read this book – and recommend to the other people in your life who could benefit from empathy, or who want to feel understood, or who are looking for an intelligent, eloquent read.

The Cheerleaders is a Rollercoaster

So I read the Cheerleaders by Kara Thomas. This book was all over the place. [Fair warning: This post is full of spoilers.] It started off very strong. The opening two sentences are amazing:

This house was made for someone without a soul. So I guess it makes sense that my mother wanted it so badly.

Immediately set the tone. We have a strong, intelligent, very dramatic teenage protagonist. We discover quite quickly that Monica (which for some reason doesn’t sound like a real teenager’s name, in present day, to me) made some stupid decisions over the summer, got knocked up, and is physically reeling from the abortion she has instigated via pills.

So to take her mind off of her physical pain, she begins digging into the seemingly too-coincidental deaths of 5 cheerleaders that happened within a few months of each other 5 years ago. One of the rah-rahs was her sister. Oh, and maybe she made poor decisions over the summer to try to poke through the numb veneer that has covered her soul since her sister’s death. Or maybe she’s just a melodramatic fucking teenager who prefers to delve into a dark web of potential conspiracy rather than face the fact that her sister committed suicide.

Cheerleaders. Conspiracies. Convenient Deaths.

Sounds pretty good so far, right?

Of course, the problem with an unintentional roller coaster is that although you clink to a great height up, there are dips that can take you just as far down ahead.

First, there is the fact that Monica is not very good at using her intelligence. She breaks into her stepfather’s locked desk drawer, and only afterward is like, “Oh, wait! He’s going to realize it used to be locked and now it’s… not.” How was that not something she considered as she peeled apart paper clips? Also, there’s the fact that her stepfather is a police officer. I just think someone would generally know how to be sneakier if she had a police officer for a stepfather.

#ennui

Or there’s a whole section of the book where she makes a total leap in logic, assuming she knows who wrote certain notes and she knows what they mean, and I was rolling my eyes so hard, thinking I see this twist that is coming, Ms. Thomas. And then… it turns out Monica’s right. Which was even worse.

Then, there are the randomly disconcerting bits that seem like the book just didn’t have a very good editor. For example, on page 150, there is this little exchange:

‘That’s crap,’ she finally says.

It’s the first I’ve heard Ginny curse and it’s like a jolt to my brain, waking me up.

This section completely pulled me out of the story. Is there a high school student out there who considers “crap” cursing? Because, like… it’s not. We all know the curse equivalent is shit. And frankly, even that is not much of a curse-word. I would probably be more “jolted” to hear a high school girl using “excrement” instead of a curse-word. But “crap…?” Pretty lame. If you’re going to curse, fucking curse.

#letzbeereal #wordsofwisdom

Or there’s this nugget of idiocy near the end of the novel. I literally had to read it like 10 times, wondering if I was just blind or just completely misremembering. But Monica says:

I read it again to make sure I have it right. Ginny said her father left on October 18, a full three days before this report says he was last seen.

The “report” (which is actually an e-mail written by a reporter of a National Enquirer-ish paper) says:

Anyway, the motion to have Phil declared dead states that the last time his wife saw him was the morning of October 27.

October 18th is 9 days from October 27, not 3. I checked my math with Excel and everything. Maybe it used to be 3? Or used to be 9? And the length was changed for added drama or something but only in one spot? It’s such an odd, glaring error to not be caught, though.

The worst, though, is definitely the ending. It’s a confrontation scene, where Monica has finally figured out what the reader has known for about half of the damn book, and decides to get the killer soliloquizing. First, though, she is interrupted by her younger brother, and she gets through to the killer by saying, he’s “not a kid killer.” Except that the whole thing is that he killed a 15-year-old, because she wanted to be his girlfriend and not just a warm, young receptacle for his sperm. And he claims he didn’t mean to do it, but he still killed her, and her friend. So this guy who is “not a kid killer” has, in fact, killed two girls. And Monica later taunts him by calling him a pedophile – which is accurate, but also supports the idea that he’s a kid killer…

In short, excellent beginning, murky middle, terrible ending, and mediocre editing. I… do not recommend.

Book Review: Why She Wrote

As someone who considers herself a feminist and likes literature, I know embarrassingly little about famous female writers. So when Netgalley gave me the opportunity to read Why She Wrote: A Graphic History of the Lives, Inspiration, and Influence Behind the Pens of Classic Women Writers, I jumped at the chance. Slated to be released April 20, 2021, this very pink book is a light history of times in the lives of 18 women writers that the writers consider poignant:

This novel is a great introduction to the lives of women writers. If you have no idea where to start, this novel provides a glimpse into the lives of a diverse group of fiercely intelligent women who successfully published works in spite of difficulties, tragedies, and in the case of Emily Dickinson, disposition. Every woman mentioned in this book is amazing, and reading this made me curious to know more about these fascinating women.

The downside of this book, of course, is that while it does feature interesting women, by focusing primarily on one specific moment in their life, it can be frustrating if you actually want to be able to talk intelligently about the women, because there is so much that is not present. In addition, if you have even a glimmer of knowledge about these women, you will likely already know the information present in this book. I do not consider myself a scholar in the area of literary analysis, but I was well aware of pretty much everything in the volume concerning Mary Shelley, Jane Austen, Charlotte Bronte, Emily Bronte, and George Eliot.

However, as a brief overview, as well as inspiration for what can be achieved in spite of life’s difficulties (which we all face). As someone with personal literary aspirations, reading about what these women accomplished made me want to begin writing something of my own. Not that I think I am going to write the great American novel, but – I don’t really know what I am capable of if I don’t try.

I would recommend if you’re looking for a high-level glimpse into the lives of some famous female writers (seems like it could be a fun gift).

My Reading Year in 2020: Thanks, Goodreads, for Making this Easy

2020 is over, which means that I can finally reflect over the literature I consumed.

In 2020, I read 67 books and 22,486 pages, or an average of 335 pages per book.

The shortest book, which is actually just a short story that I listened to the audiobook for, is 67 pages. The longest book, Plain Bad Heroines , is 623 pages, which I didn’t realize, since I read an e-book ARC on my phone.

The most popular novel I read was Jane Austen’s Pride & Prejudice, which we all know is amazing, so if you’ve been putting off reading it, stop doing that. Read it now. You never know what’s going to happen, but P&P is legitimately good literature that you will not regret consuming. The least popular was How to Write like Tolstoy, which is a shame, because I really, really enjoyed this book. It’s a book about writing, but I think you will enjoy it also if you are an avid reader with no writing pretensions. So I would also highly recommend this one if you’re in the mood for a book about the writing craft. Particularly if you are in the mood for a book about the writing craft, and you like celebrity gossip. Richard Cohen has worked with so many amazing writers, and this book has a mix of literary history and personal anecdotes that is highly entertaining while also containing decent literary analysis/writing advice.

I know this rating looks exorbitantly high, but I think that I just got lucky and read a lot of good novels during this year.

Not sure if you can tell from the picture, but the highest rated book I read in 2020 is the Wayside Stories audiobook, in which author Louis Sachar reads all 3 of his Wayside collections. If you haven’t read Wayside in awhile, you should check it out. It’s available on the Libby app, and Sachar’s writing is so good. I giggle every time I listen – silly noises that I cannot prevent from escaping from my person. Do I look deranged while driving on the highway and listening to this audiobook? Probably. Is it worth it? Fuck. Yes. Seriously – worth a listen; I highly, highly recommend.

First review of the year was The Plain janes. I have a blog post about this book, but honestly, my Goodreads review sums it up pretty succinctly.

Last review of the year was Murder in the Mystery Suite, which I couldn’t even finish.

That’s my year! Pretty good, reading-wise. Having said that, I am so, so glad that 2020 is over. Here’s hoping that 2021 isn’t quite as much of a shitshow.

How was your reading year? Do you want to be my friend on Goodreads? Please let me know something fun about your 2020 reading in the comments!

Awhile back, I mentioned that I had read Sue Miller’s Monogamy, and that a post would be forthcoming. From the first glimpse of this book, I was intrigued. I mean, they say not to judge a book by it’s cover, but look at that cover:

This book left me transfixed – I liked pretty much everything about it. To save you from my babbling fan-girling, I thought you might prefer a succinct list.

  1. The writing – Miller’s actual word choice and sentence structure is eloquent – generally simple word choice arranged in a pleasing order that conveys the information succinctly and connotes the feelings and impressions readily. There is a difference between writing simply and using each word carefully. Miller doles out words precisely, resulting in a book filled with beautiful writing.
  2. The characters – No Mary Sue’s in this book! Miller’s characters are real. In reading this book, you are delving into the intimate thoughts and feelings of people who do amazing things, and love fully, who reminisce, and feel betrayed, and make mistakes, and live (or don’t) complicated lives. To be completely honest, this book doesn’t have a ton of plot, but if you’re a character reader, reading this book is the culinary equivalent of biting into a warm slice of apple pie.
  3. The marriage – Probably not shocking, given the novel’s title, Monogamy analyzes a marriage. The good, the bad, the beautiful, the ugly, and the questioning. What does it mean to tether yourself to another person in a civil and/or religious ceremony? Is it possible to remain in love with the same person for the rest of your life? Can you ever really know the people you are with, even the ones you are very close to? As someone who is married, this novel resonated with some of my own thoughts. I don’t think you need to be married to appreciate this thoughtful and in-depth analysis of one, but since I am married, to be fair, I may be wrong.
  4. The creativity – As a vein running throughout this book is the idea of creativity. Annie, one of the main characters, is a photographer who has had some success. Graham, her husband, founded a bookstore. Both of them interact with other artists – writers, musicians, painters, etc. The book itself is a work of art. Reading this novel was inspiring to me, personally, and reminded me that art can be difficult, but if you feel fulfilled by creating something, then it is worthwhile.
  5. The setting – Miller writes about the town of Cambridge, Massachusetts, wherein much of the novel takes place, with love but not so much detail you want to throw the book across the room. I’m not the biggest fan of exposition, but reading this novel makes me want to visit Cambridge. Being stuck at home due to COVID-19 could be a factor in this desire, as well, but at least part of the credit goes to Monogamy.

Of course, my perspective on this book is biased, and not everyone can have the correct (i.e., my) opinion. Monogamy, the ARC I am woefully behind on posting about, has now been available for sale since September. Have you had a chance to nab a copy and read it? Do you agree/disagree with my assessment, or possibly have your own points to add? Please let me know in the comments below; would love to hear your thoughts!

This Girl is Not on Fire…

Because She’s Too Pretty to Burn.

Oh yeah, I went there…

So, like, there’s this chick named Mick (short for Micaela). She’s, like, really pretty. People yearn to take her picture, and have trouble thinking of her as an actual person, because she’s too pretty and therefore pretty much made for objectification. She doesn’t like having her picture taken. She just wants to be taken seriously for her swimming and get the hell away from her mom.

Mick meets a girl. Veronica is all curves and femininity, an aspiring photographer. Veronica tricks Mick into taking an amazing photo, pressures her into allowing the picture to be shared on social media, and introduces Mick to subversive artists while herself potentially on the verge of becoming a commercial one.

Veronica know this guy named Nico. Nico is so close to Veronica he calls her “wife.” Nico is also an artist.

Three young people, none of them necessarily the picture of mental health, becoming entangled results in… Arson. Murder. Alfred-Hitchcock-movie-craziness.

I really enjoyed this one. The characters, when left to themselves and their own thoughts, are often a bit annoying. But teenagers are annoying, so this is reasonable. The plot moves along fairly quickly, and the novel is told from the three main characters’ points of view, with this rotation of voice preventing you from getting too annoyed and hurling your e-reader across the room. There is also just some batshit crazy in the plot of this novel. If you’re a plot reader, I highly recommend. Also recommend if you’re looking for a frothy, amusing read – like a pumpkin spice latte, there’s not a ton of meat to this story, but it’s definitely a fun, wild ride.

The Well-Written Book that Sucked Me In Against My Will

… or, at least, my inclination.

… Did I spend too long making this rather pointless comic? Why, yes. Yes I did.

I was a lucky recipient of Sarah Goodman’s forthcoming debut novel Eventide. I’m not quite sure why I picked up this book, dark green in hue, with an ephemeral woman in a white dress immediately after reading Sue Miller’s Monogamy (post forthcoming). Monogamy was so realistic, filled with such beautiful writing, I think I just grabbed another book because it was time to read another book, and with the assumption that regardless of what I chose, it would be a letdown. Like the book nerd equivalent of waking up when you know it’s too early and you really want to go back to bed, but you just can’t, for some reason, and so you’re like: “Fine,” but then you’re noticeably cranky all day.

I’ll get up… but I won’t be happy about it.

So there I was, already cranky with Eventide, prepared to be disappointed. But try as I might (I’m pretty stubborn, so I did try to hold on to my grumpiness, like a child), Eventide was not disappointing.

Just let. Me. Be. Miserable!

To begin with, the author, a former journalist, uses many off-the-cuff remarks in the beginning of the book that gave me pause, due to the early-twentieth century setting. But when I did my cursory Google-search fact-checking, bitch had done her homework. All of the remarks made in Chapter 1, such as the petri dish, and potential employment in a typing pool, are reasonable. The narrator’s temperament, while feeling somewhat modern, also seems appropriate for someone young and from a city for that time period. So Goodman did good on not writing something implausible or historically inaccurate in her historical fiction (one of my personal pet peeves).

Bitch did her homework

I will say, I did not much like the protagonist, and while the lack of diversity in this novel was noticeable to me, it is period appropriate. Despite not particularly liking Verity Pruitt, she was well-written. She was annoying in the way that cocky young people can be, but she was also smart and brave and someone who will do anything for the people she loves. So annoying, but also someone you can’t help but root for at least a little bit.

Yet what really makes this book stand out and kept me reading is the story. The first few chapters are necessary, well written, but ultimately, not that engaging, exposition. There are also short chapter breaks interspersed amongst the main story that provide back story and are completely unnecessary. Like, do they help tell the story? Yes. But could the story be told just as well without them? Also yes. Do they add to the atmosphere? I guess. But again, in a way that I found annoying, much like the protagonist. I think, actually, that this entire book might be a set-up for a YA series. It works as a standalone novel, but it feels as though it is written with the idea of adding to it if it gains enough of a fangirl base. About mid-way through the novel, the story picks up within the main storyline, and that is when your eyes will be glued to the page, and you’ll be flipping pages faster than you can blink.

#touche

The story is melodramatic and crazy and frightening, a roller coaster of a latter half of the novel. It has twists and mental illness and faerie folklore and family and love and magick. And I didn’t much like the protagonist, although I didn’t want her to lose, but did love the villain, whose unveiling is like a mix between a car wreck that you can’t help looking at and the glamour of [insert name of beautiful, famous person you can’t help but online stalk here], with a hint of malice. Like, I don’t want to meet the villain in real life, but I loved reading her.

Verdict: You should read this.

Fine print – Slated for release in October. If intrigued and if you can afford it, please consider pre-ordering from an indie bookstore. #shoplocal #oratleastnotamazon