An American Marriage by Tayari Jones

This book is amazing even though I never knew how I felt about it while I was reading it.  All I knew was that I needed to keep reading it.  It wasn’t until I had finished the book that I knew that it was a very special book.

Jones has taken on a heavy and difficult topic, dealing with wrongful imprisonment and the way that it affects the world around them.  She has created three very different characters who can never all be happy at the same time but I couldn’t help but root for all of them at the same time.  This book made me so incredibly mad at the world.  Our prison system is broken and needs to be changed.  Fiction like this is important because it brings issues like this to the forefront and really helps show a whole new audience what is happening.  Combine that with Jones’s amazing prose and you have an unstoppable book.

5-stars

Wizardmatch by Lauren Magaziner

This book is SO MUCH FUN!  Magical children, a wizard competition, lots of references to goats.  What more could you ask for?  This is a true underdog story as well as a great girl power tale.  Magaziner’s writing is hilarious and filled with adventure and whimsy.  She has created a fully formed world that I never wanted to read.  A must read for children and adults alike.

5-stars

French Exit by Patrick deWitt

Undermajor Domo Minor is one of my all time favorite books and so I was very excited to see that Patrick deWitt had a new book coming out.  That said, I was quite disappointed.  I think that this would have been a fine book if I didn’t have such high expectations going in.

Let’s start with the good.  I really love the way deWitt writes dysfunctional people.  His characters are terrible people that I want to hate so badly yet I want them to succeed and have good lives, something I don’t usually feel with unlikable characters.

Not much actually happens with those characters, though.  The plot is underwhelming and I didn’t feel like I actually got anything out of the book when I finished reading it.  The story didn’t stick with me and I probably won’t think about this book much.

3-stars

Love a la Mode by Stephanie Kate Strohm

Have I told you all how much I love Stephanie Strohm?!? So much love for her and her books. This is a great and very Stephanie book. Taking place in Paris at a cooking school for teenagers, Love a la Mode is filled with love, love-triangles, jokes, and so so so many sweet treats. I don’t think I stopped smiling the entire time I was reading this book (except when I was worried for the characters and who in the triangle they were going to choose). The characters are such real teens and I am pretty sure that I could taste every food item from just reading Stephanie’s great descriptions. I can’t wait to see this book turned into a cake (a cake ON A CAKE) at Stephanie’s launch!

5-stars

Miss You by Kate Eberlen

I recently went on vacation and wanted to take a fun “beach read” but I usually hate beach reads. I was really excited to see this on my bookshelf. And it was exactly what I wanted! Miss You is not a typical rom-com. Following two characters for over 10 years of missed connections, it made me respond out loud on many occasions. “Come on, guys! Just meet!” Eberlen’s writing is delightful. I’m always looking for well-written fun books and this is definitely one of those. I read it at the perfect time because I can’t wait to start recommending it for the summer.  Also, it is so delightfully British, another fun plus.

4-stars

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

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

The Philosopher’s Flight by Tom Miller

Shout-out to Pam Parker for telling me to read this one!  This book completely blew me away.  The cover blurb made me nervous.  Magic and science in one book?  That probably isn’t a book I would enjoy.  But boy was I wrong.

Miller has created a fascinating story placed in the midst of the very real history of WWI.  He calls out the gender issues that were in place by turning the tables.  Sure, women weren’t allowed to do things at the time but that is because they were women and it was the turn of the century!  Instead of going with this view, he flips it, following a male character who isn’t allowed to help out with the war efforts due to the fact that women are the only one with the magical abilities to do so.  And this isn’t just a book that sets out to prove a point.  It is a well-written, fascinating story that I didn’t want to leave.  I was actually shocked to find myself at the end of the novel.  I didn’t want to let these characters go.

5-stars

Tangerine by Christine Mangan

It starts out as a nice story. A woman moves to Tangier with her new husband. Suddenly a friend from her past appears, and the perfect exotic-ness of Morocco begins to fall apart. In her debut, Christine Mangan has created a thrilling, page-turning read. Her characters are rich and she takes an interesting look at the psychology of friendship. This book leads you to believe that it is just going to be a traditional piece of historical fiction, from the opening chapter to the cover design.  But boy does it take a turn and become so much more than that.  This book is straight up terrifying at times.  (Not like spooky monster terrifying but a reminder of how messed up people can be.)  I look forward to what Mangan has in store for us next.

4-stars

The Prince and the Dressmaker by Jen Wang

Words cannot explain how much I love this book!  When I saw it was about a prince who secretly puts on dresses, I was hooked.  Jen Wang has created a beautiful and powerful story.  It is a story of friendship, of acceptance, and of bravery.  This book has been a hit with everyone I have given it to.  This book made me cry so many different kinds of tears throughout the course of reading it.  Don’t even think about skipping this one.

5-stars

Educated by Tara Westover

Tara Westover has lived a like I could never imagine.  Growing up in a survivalist Mormon family, she never went to school and doesn’t even know the date of her own birthday.  Somehow she managed to teach herself enough to get into college.  Her story is both terrifying and inspirational. More than just a discussion of religion, Westover looks at mental health and family, questioning what it means to be a member of a family.  I can’t stop thinking about her and what she has been through.  I didn’t realize how much I have taken for granted in my life.  Westover is so incredibly inspirational.

4-stars