The Paragon Hotel by Lyndsay Faye

It’s 1921 and gun moll Alice has run away from her life in New York, carrying very little with her apart from a bullet wound, and finds herself a guest at The Paragon Hotel, a black hotel in Portland, OR.

Faye explores the racial tensions of Oregon at the beginning of the 20th century, starting each chapter with a shocking quote from a variety of sources that she found during her research.  She takes a topic that we believe to be very Southern, the KKK, and explores what was happening in the Pacific Northwest.  Spoiler: it’s shocking and upsetting.  She flips between two story lines, exploring the mysteries in each.  I was sucked in right away and the crazy cast of characters kept me hooked.  Faye’s writing is just a joy to read.

4-stars

If You Want to Make God Laugh by Bianca Marais

Bianca Marais has knocked it out of the park again with her new novel If You Want to Make God Laugh.  Taking place in South Africa from the day Nelson Mandela is elected onward, following three very different women as they deal with the changing world around them.  Race and class are explored, as well as tensions that came from the ending of apartheid.  The characters are strong, powerful women and I rooted for them on each and every page.  Marais left me picking up the pieces of my broken heart multiple times.
5-stars

The Storyteler by Pierre Jarawan

In The Storyteller, German-Lebanese author Pierre Jarawan has created a work of art that explores the importance of family and nationality in the creation of an identity.  Jarawan fills the book with stories of the Lebanese civil war, teaching the history of the country and the event without making it feel like you are learning anything or reading a history book.  Samir, the main character, is incredibly relatable in his search for understanding of himself even though his circumstances are not something even close to anything I have experienced.  Jarawan creates a cast of characters in which I cared about each and every one of them, despite their faults.  A definite must read.

4-stars

Death Prefers Blonds by Caleb Roehrig

Holy crap this book is amazing! I can’t handle the book hangover I am currently experiencing.  Hamlet meets drag queens who are also incredibly teenage thieves.  What more could you want?

Margo Manning is a rich, LA socialite with a secret.  In her spare time, she dresses up in drag with a group of her guy friends and pulls of incredible heists.  But while her social life is full of intrigue, her family life is falling apart.  Her father is sick and her mom lives in Italy.  What is a girl to do?

Roehrig has created amazing characters who you root for the entire time, even when they are doing things that are less than legal.  And boy oh boy is this book stormy.  I just want someone to look at me the way these characters look at each other.  This book is such a delight to read.  I can’t even handle how much I love this book.  I wish it was longer because I didn’t want it to end.  Make sure to pick this one up the second it comes out on January 29th.

(Want a signed copy?  Order it HERE and put what name you want it signed to in the comments!)

5-stars

You Have Me to Love by Jaap Robben

This debut novel by Dutch author Jaap Robben is absolutely beautiful.  Robben is a poet and children’s book author and you can see the influence of both of those writing styles in the books,  His writing is poetic yet sparse.  You Have Me to Love tells the story of a young boy, Mikael, as he grows up on a remote island.  Robben really explores what it would be like to go through puberty in a void, away from other teens and with his mother as the only female in his life.  I feel completely in love with Mikael and only wanted the best for him.  The entire time I was reading it, I just kept telling everyone at work, “You have to read this.  It’s amazing.”  A tough but definitely worthwhile read that will have you thinking about it for a long time after you finish reading it.

5-stars

The Kiss Quotient by Helen Hoang

This book is so adorable (and steamy, if that’s what you’re looking for). Stella Lane is an econometrician who has Autism. After a comment from a co-worker who she might have a crush on, Stella realizes that she doesn’t know how to be in a relationship. So she hires Michael, a super attractive escort, to teach her how to date people. This book is incredibly addicting and fun, as well as a great reminder that you don’t always appear to others in the way that you think you do. I love these characters so much.

5-stars

Tin Man by Sarah Winman

This short novel sure packs a punch.  It took me about 20 pages to relax into the writing style as it is very unique but once I was there, I was fully absorbed into this book.  Tin Man tells the story of different kinds of love, whether it be romantic or just friendly.  The three main characters are fascinating and I just wanted them to live the best lives possible.  Winman uses dramatic irony to completely rip your heart out.  Make sure to have tissues handy. A perfect quick, cathartic read.

4-stars

Freddie Mole: Lion Tamer by Alexander McCall Smith

Freddie comes from a poor family and never feels like he has a purpose in the world.  That is, until he joins the circus.  He learns all about the circus and even becomes an understudy for some acts.  This was a fun beginning chapter book.  I loved the beginning the end but just felt like middle sagged a bit.  Kate Hindley’s illustrations, though, are so adorable.

3-stars

Relative Strangers by Paula Garner

I read this one for the Chicago Young Adult Book Festival and was shocked to find that my college, Lawrence University, was in this book!  That was such a great surprise in a great book.  Paula Garner deals with questions of identity in such an interesting way, telling the story of a teen girl who learns that she lived in foster care as a child.  Her adventure to find these lost years brings up questions of what really makes a family.  Plus, there is some impossible romance, which always is fun to read in a way that hurts at the same time.

4-stars

Noir by Christopher Moore

Christopher Moore is the king of weird.  This book started out so normal, following the format of a typical noir.  I was concerned that it wasn’t going to be his normal weird but I soon found that to not be the case.  Moore plays beautifully with the style and manner of storytelling that comes with a noir.  He takes real, historical events and weaves them into a tale involving aliens and government cover up.  The perfect fun read when life is getting you down.  Because no matter how bad you might have it, you won’t have it as bad as these characters.

4-stars

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

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