So Sad Today by Melissa Broder

This week was just the week where I felt incredibly conflicted about books.  I read So Sad Today on my lunch breaks.  I was so excited about it.  A book about a woman navigating the world and dealing with depression and other anxiety issues?  Yes please!

Sadly, what I encountered was a series of essays that felt to me like they were trying to shock me with their use of language.  Almost every other sentence discussed some graphic sex things.  It felt like Broder was constantly looking for ways to talk about sex in a crude manner, even when it didn’t move the story forward or add anything.  I’m not a prude but most of it felt incredibly unnecessary.  Instead of the feeling of solidarity I was expecting, i found myself feeling alienated.

I also had some problems with the writing and formatting of the book.  Many of the essays talk about the same people (in particular one person) but without referencing that they have been talked about before, making the person in question seem mysterious even though we know everything about them.  I understand that these essays were written separately but, once the book was put together, this should have been remedied.

All of this said, there were some really powerful essays.  Both “I Took the Internet Addiction Quiz and I Won” and “Under the Anxiety Is Sadness but Who Would Go Under There” felt like essays from the book I was hoping to read.  Border discussed feeling that I know I have dealt with myself and made me feel less alone.  I just wish the whole book could have been more like these essays.  I am thinking of these as separate from the book and, even though they were worth 5-sequinbeasts, my enjoyment of them doesn’t change my overall judgement of the book.

I also found that the book improved as it went on.  My problem, though, it that she had mostly lost my trust as an audience and I had decided how I felt about the book after the first few essays and had a hard time adjusting these views.  Once she alienated me, I had a hard time feeling comfortable reading (with the exception of the two essays I talked about before).  I feel like I would have really enjoyed this if it were just released as individual essays instead of as a whole book.




City of Saints & Thieves by Natalie C. Anderson

I have been incredibly conflicted about this book.  It has gotten starred reviews everywhere and everyone I have heard talking about this book absolutely love it.  It honestly wasn’t a book that really spoke to me when I was reading the back of it but I read it because I was invited to a dinner with the author (which I have just gotten home from).

Both this book and the dinner confirmed for me that I am not a big YA reader.  While I understand the importance of this book and I believe that teenagers will enjoy it.  Tina is a strong female character who tells a very important story about refugees in Africa.  All of this is on top of an intriguing mystery and some adventure.  All of that said, I found that the plot dragged quite a bit.  I usually power through YA and middle grade books but, this time, I had a really hard time getting through it.  Many times I felt like the book was just stalling instead of going on the adventure or solving the mystery.  I believe that this was probably because of the hope for character growth but for me the book just felt like it didn’t feel like it needed to be as long as it was.  Natalie told us at dinner tonight that she never took and English class in college and this is her first book (as well as telling us how jealous she is of other authors’ ability to plot really well) and I felt like this showed for me.  This book was very much paced like a first book.

I very much enjoyed getting to meet Natalie and hear her talk about why she wrote what she wrote.  So much of the book is based on the stories that she heard day in and day out when she was taking refugee statements.  I’m glad that she is finding a way to share these stories and that she is trying to get the youth of the world interested in world affairs.  More now than ever it is important to have young people realize what is going on in the world.


The Guineveres by Sarah Domet

I have to admit that I picked this book because of its cover.  There are some really awesome book jacket designs right now.

I feel like this book didn’t live up to its own hype.  So many times throughout the book, the narrator would say things that would set up intrigue and a sense of impending adventure and yet very little actually happened.  The events that did occur were written about in an incredibly dramatic manner were, for the most part, not very dramatic.  Overall, the plot was mostly a let-down.

I also felt like this book was confused about what it wanted its larger message to be.  Between the interludes that told the stories of different saints (which I also found confusing to the overall format of the story), the religious teachings from the nuns, and the religious beliefs of the main character, it seemed to be very much a Catholic book that was teaching the views of Catholicism and the importance of those views.  Then things would happen that would make it seem that really the message was the opposite of that.  I think the overall message was probably supposed to be something like, “one isn’t better than the other.  People can believe what they want to believe,” but I really don’t feel like this message was clear or very well done.

I fluctuated between whether or not I wanted to give this 2 sequinbeasts or 3 sequinbeasts. The plot definitely felt like a 2 to me but I did enjoy the writing, which kept me reading this book all the way through.   I look forward to seeing what Sarah Domet does next.  I just hope that she decides to write something more simple.  I think she got lost in the amount of different things she was trying to accomplish in this book.


What It Means When a Man Falls From the Sky by Lesley Nneka Arimah

In my attempts to expand my reading life, I have decided that I will be reading more short stories this year.  And this collection was a great place to start.

I met Lesley at Heartland Fall Forum in October where she was a speaker at the Adult Author Dinner and I was lucky enough to get to sit at her table.  Her talk was absolutely beautiful and I knew her book would also be great.  (Wow, I finished two books today and they were both books by authors from this dinner.)

I read this book on my lunch breaks, looking forward to getting to take a break and enter one of the many different stories that Lesley has masterfully created.  Some take place in a very recognizable world while others take place in very interesting and conceptual places.  Each story was completely new and different and I couldn’t wait to see what was going to happen.

Each time I finished a story, I felt both satisfied and yet wanting more, which is the exact way I want to feel while reading a short story.  Lesley beautifully crafted each and every moment to perfectly mess with the readers emotions.  Sometimes I would end up returning to work in complete shock because of a twist or turn at the end of a story.

Sadly, this book doesn’t come out until April but trust me, it’s worth the wait.  Keep an eye out for Lesley Nneka Arimah.  She is going to take the literary world by storm.


The Lost City of the Monkey God by Douglas Preston

I am not usually a non-fiction reader but I tend to enjoy reading books about history when I actually sit down and read them.  I do find, though, that I tend to read these books really slowly.  I have a hard time reading more than a chapter at a time which means that I spend a lot of time on a single book.  As a really fast reader, this kind of drives me crazy and I start questioning whether or not I am actually enjoying the book I am reading.

That said, I really did enjoy this book.  I got a galley at Heartland Fall Forum in October.  Douglas Preston was one of the guest speakers at the Adult Author Dinner and his talk about this book was amazing.  I turned to the people I was with and we all agreed that we needed to read that book immediately.  Of course, as it is with the book world, immediately became January and, when the book came out last Tuesday, I realized that I hadn’t actually read it yet.  So I decided that it was finally the time.

This book was filled with so many different things.  Archeology.  History.  Adventure.  Poisonous snakes.  Incurable diseases.  A were-jaguar.  Preston did a great job of balancing stories of his excursion with the history of the area as well as the history of past expeditions in search for “lost cities.”  I learned so much, not just about South America and these “lost cities,” but also about the politics involved in exploring areas as well as how archeological language has needed to change over time.  Preston did a great job of breaking everything down and explaining concepts that I personally was not familiar with.   I think that this is a good book for anyone looking better understand how a single archeological expedition affects the greater world.


The One Memory of Flora Banks by Emily Barr

Being seventeen is hard. It’s even harder, though, if you can’t remember anything since you were ten-years-old. So it is for Flora Banks. That is, until she experiences her first kiss and suddenly has a new memory. Flora is the teenager I wish I could have been; brave, adventurous, and filled with wonder. I laughed with her, cried with her, and couldn’t believe how proud I felt of this wonderful fictional teenager. This is a book for anyone who is doubting his or her abilities or feeling lost in life. If Flora can do it, you can too. I read this book in less than 24 hours.

My one complaint is that, because Flora can only remember for small periods of time, the book became incredibly repetitive for huge chunks of the book (which, I know I know, is the point).  But, it did make the times when this repetition didn’t occur all the more powerful and fascinating.  I almost wish that Flora was a real person so that I could check up on her and see how things are going for her since the book ended.

The One Memory of Flora Banks comes out May 2, 2017.


Perfect Little World by Kevin Wilson

Alright.  This was the first book I read in 2017!

So many books ask the question “What is a family?” but none of that tackle it in as interesting or entertaining a fashion as Kevin Wilson in Perfect Little World.  Filled with thought-provoking questions and interesting ideas, I had a hard time putting this book down. (My coworkers had to put up with a lot of me saying “I just want to finish my book.  Why do I have to work when I could be finishing my book?”)  Wilson gives the reader a view into an incredibly well thought out world that pulls you in and doesn’t let go.  And I absolutely fell in love with each of the characters.

My only critique of this book would be with the romantic plot line.  It was very short and didn’t really feel motivated.  That said, it was a tiny portion of the book and I liked what Wilson did with the relationship after it was awkwardly established.  I definitely recommend this book.

Perfect Little World comes out on January 24th, 2017.


Furthermore by Tahereh Mafi

This book is AMAZING.  Alice is a 12-year-old girl who wants nothing more than an adventure.  Little did she know that he adventures would take her to many interesting places (such as a town made of paper and a city that only appears at night).  Perfect for fans of The Phantom Tollbooth.  Mafi’s writing is fantastic and the worlds she creates are superb.  I’m sad that it had to end.  Great for boys and girls alike.  This story shows every child that they can do anything they put their mind to as well as reminding everyone that there is magic in all of us.

My favorite middle grade book of the year.


The Nix by Nathan Hill

This book is rare for so many reasons.  First of all, rarely does a book come along that has something for everyone.  Secondly, it is rare that a book of this length would read so incredibly quickly.  I loved each and every character in this book, including the absolutely horrible ones.  Nathan Hill has a great grasp of, well, everything.  Through the many different methods of storytelling (including a chapter that was all one long sentence, which I didn’t realize until many pages in), I found myself feeling the full range of emotions.  I would be laughing one moment and crying the next.

The Nix was a favorite of our staff.  In fact, we chose it as our staff pick of 2016.


Eleanor by Jason Gurley

OK, so technically I read this a year and a half ago but it only came out last January so it counts as one of my favorite books of last year.

Beautifully blending reality and a fascinating look at purgatory and the dream world, Eleanor makes you think about the world beyond what we can see.  Gurley creates a fully realized other world that pulls you in and doesn’t let go.  A beautiful piece of writing a quite a feat of creativity.  This one is weird in the best way.


Be Frank with Me by Julia Claiborne Johnson

When one-hit-wonder author M.M. Banning needs to write her second book, she has her publishers send her an assistant which is how Alice finds herself caring for Frank, Banning’s eccentric 9-year-old son who loves old movies and wearing morning suits.  Frank is one of the best characters I have read in a long time.  This strange family pulls you in and makes you want to laugh and cry.  You won’t want to put this book down because it means leaving these characters behind.

I chose this wonderful novel as my favorite book of 2016.

(If you happen to be in the Chicago area, Julia Claiborne Johnson will be at The Book Cellar on February 7th at 6pm!)





Hello all!

My name is Portia and I am a bookseller at The Book Cellar in Chicago.  I love to read and read way too much.  In the past I tried to have a blog that talked about my reading and had reviews but it fell apart. So I am starting over fresh!  My New Year’s Resolution was to work on writing more about what I am reading and to have a more active voice in the literary community.  So I plan to write reviews of most books I read on here and even write about the literary events happening around me.  We will see how this goes!  And, I love feedback.  So, if you like something or something isn’t working, please let me know!  I am going to start out by posting some reviews of books that I LOVED this last year and then will start reviewing books as I finish them.

Happy reading!