Whiskey When We’re Dry by John Larison

I am doing the Book Riot 2018 Read Harder Challenge this year and one of the requirements was to read a western.  I am not a big western reader (I am incredibly squeamish and don’t handle blood and violence very well) so I was daunted by this one.  That was, until our Penguin rep, Brian, came into the store and said, “I have a book I need you to read.  It’s a Western.”  I jumped on the opportunity.

What I got was Whiskey When We’re Dry, a western that focuses on Jessilyn, a 17 year-old girl who finds herself alone in the world following the death of her father.  What I really enjoyed about this book is that nothing came easily to Jessilyn.  She doesn’t just happen to magically be the best sharpshooter.  She doesn’t just happen to survive shootouts.  She doesn’t succeed because of happenstance, which is the feeling I’ve gotten from other genre fiction like westerns (including westerns).  This book felt very realistic while still telling the story of an awesome kickass girl who involves herself in a world that is actively against her.  I am so glad there is a character like Jessilyn out there.  We need more of her.

4-stars

Heart Spring Mountain by Robin MacArthur

I wanted to like this book.  It’s a gritty, dysfunctional family drama, which is usually my cup of tea.  But this book just didn’t work for me.  It wasn’t bad, it wasn’t great, it just didn’t work for me.

I think part of that has to do with the fact that I listened to the audiobook.  Parts of this book felt very overwritten and the narrator of the audiobook read in a very histrionic way, making things feel more dramatic than they needed to be.  The combination made for some eye-rolling on my part.  Yes, I understand that this is a rough time the main character is going through but it doesn’t need to be this dramatic.

The book jumps through a variety of perspectives and I did actually really enjoy that aspect.  MacArthur jumps through time and does a good job of dropping lines that get picked up and pulled into other perspectives.  I liked the story and the way the plot was crafted.  My problem mostly came from the writing itself.  If you don’t mind overwriting, which I know not everyone minds, then definitely check this book out.  Otherwise, don’t worry about it.

3-stars

Enigma Variations by Andre Aciman

I loved Call Me By Your Name and so I knew that I needed to check out Andre Aciman’s other work.  I decided to read his most recent book, Enigma Variations, in which he tells the story of Paul, a man who tries to discover himself at different points in his life.  The story is broken up into five different periods of time.  I loved being able to see Aciman use his deep and amazing understanding of the human experience to follow one person over a lifetime, especially since he focused on such a short period of time in Call Me By Your Name.

Aciman is a poet.  His writing is lyrical and beautiful while still being gritty, raw, and incredibly honest.  He doesn’t hold back on any topic, making you absolutely love Paul at some points and making you hate him at others.  He is an author I will definitely be tracking, waiting for what he has for us next.

4-stars

American Panda by Gloria Chao

Don’t let the cover fool you.  This is not a light, fluffy read that will make you feel like you are smiling and drinking a hot chocolate.  American Panda tells the story of Mei, a 17 year-old who finds herself as a freshman at MIT.  As well as starting at a new school, she is dealing with the fact that her brother has been kicked out of the family due to the woman he has decided to marry.  On top of all that, Mei finds herself confronted with her culture and her parents who want her to go to school, marry a nice Taiwanese boy, and become a doctor.  But Mei doesn’t want any part of that life.  She wants to dance and avoid germs.  She wants to date the cute boy she sees around campus.

This book is so out of my realm of experience but it was fascinating to get to read it and enter this world for a while.  I have met Gloria and she writes from a very real place.  This book walks through a lot of things she dealt with growing up and she allows Mei to say the things she was never able to.  (She was a dentist, y’all.)

Gloria’s writing is wonderful and she has really created a three dimensional world that I enjoyed climbing into.  Each character has a full range of emotions and a backstory.  When she wants to be funny, she’s hilarious, and when she wants you to feel emotions, she makes you cry.   So grab a hot chocolate and curl up with this book.

4-stars