Book Review: Other People's Houses

I loved this novel, hands down no questions asked. The novel was incredibly real, with heavy topics and themes, yet hilarity, drama, and snarkiness. I don't know how the author managed to do all that in one story, but it created an incredibly relatable story that I could not get enough of.

The novel follows a neighborhood and its families, with a focus on four families all dealing with different, yet similar problems. The novel explores families, marriage, parenthood, and of course what goes on behind closed doors in other people's houses. Do we really know other people? I guess you'll find out.

This novel feels kind of like Real Housewives, except without the side of awful. I LOVED all of the characters, they were all relatable and just felt so real. That's really the best way I can try to explain this book and its characters: real; they felt like they could be my own next door neighbors.

The best part of this novel was its humor. It was so funny, the main character (the novel is told from various viewpoints) Frances was HILARIOUS. She had me cracking up, and she honestly felt like my spirit character. Somehow this author understood how many women feel and put it all into one amazing character, Frances. I cannot applaud that enough.

Overall, this novel was drama-filled, laugh-filled, and felt relatable and down to earth despite some of the themes it explored. I loved every minute with these characters and didn't want it to end!

Overall rating: 5/5

Book Review: An American Marriage

This novel wasn't what I was expecting, but after some thoughtful contemplation I realized that the novel has stuck with me and the unexpectedness of it ended up being for the better.

An American Marriage is a thought-provoking, well-written novel that explores many relevant topics, including a marriage on the brink and being a successful black American.

Celestial and Roy are a young couple living in Atlanta who have been married for a little over a year when Roy finds himself arrested for rape and sentenced to 12 years in prison. Will their already immature, young and fragile marriage survive? And did Roy commit the crime he is being imprisoned for?

This marriage focuses mostly on Roy and Celestial's marriage and its fragility, but the novel also brings in other themes that really made this a thought-provoking novel: race, class, tradition, parenthood, family, and incarceration in America.

I really loved the way this story was told, from varying viewpoints in addition to written letters while Roy is in prison. This novel was very well-written, with in-depth descriptions allowing me to be totally immersed in the story.

The themes of this novel were its strongest component. When I first picked up this book, I thought I was mostly reading a book about marriage and love; I had no idea I'd be contemplating other things like race and incarceration, but this ended up being the strongest part of the novel in my opinion.

What I enjoyed the least about this novel was my inability to relate to the main characters. I know one of the main points was to show human nature and especially that the choices we make in life are not always black and white, cut and dry. But, I still struggled with some of the decisions they made, especially Celestial. Sometimes the decisions they made seemed to completely lack empathy for others, which I think is something most humans possess, at least to an extent.

Overall, this was a great, yet unexpected story that I really enjoyed and recommend to others! And of course you know this novel is worth it when it's an Oprah pick.

Overall rating: 4.5/5

Book Review: Hot Mess

I was back and forth about whether I really liked this book, but as I got deeper into the story I grew more attached. I think this is an enjoyable read with an interesting story line, that is likely relatable to a lot of people. I enjoyed the story and most of the characters, but I didn't find the story ground breaking.

This novel is about twenty-something Allie Simon dating chef Benji Zane, a recovering drug addict. Allie seems convinced she is the answer to all of Benji's problems and the cure to his addiction. Let's just say she ends up in a bit of a situation.

My favorite way of describing this novel is it's like a much-more accessible Sweetbitter. If you've kept up with my blog, you'll remember that I am one of the few people who did NOT like Sweetbitter. I didn't like the writing and I found the story really confusing, with porn-like food terms thrown in there attempting to make really complicated analogies that just did not make much sense to me. Hot Mess also allows you to enter the restaurant scene as Sweetbitter did, and the fine dining scene, but in what to me was a much more relatable and easy to understand story. With no weird food metaphors.

My absolute favorite part of this novel is a little biased: it's set in Chicago! I love learning more about my city, and this book was no exception. I loved entering a world I know very little about (except being a customer), the fine dining scene, while learning it about Chicago's restaurants! I loved reading my city being depicted and thought it was the perfect setting for this foodie novel.

My least favorite part of this novel was, at least at first, the main character. I found her so annoying and really unlikable! For an independent, twenty-something career woman, she was incredibly stupid. In the beginning of the novel I could not help but feel angry with her as she honestly made one stupid decision after another, getting herself into the situation she did. She easily could have avoided it all, but I suppose the point of the novel was a lesson well-learned the hard way? But honestly, to think you could cure a recovering cocaine addict, I mean come on! I wanted to grab her by the shoulders and shout at her to stop living in this fantasy land! She made very little effort to help her boyfriend with his addiction, not going to meetings with him, not going to enabler meetings like Nar-Anon, and not listening to Benji's sponsor! I mean she had all of these resources and yet she thought all Benji needed was her? I mean what planet was she living on? I suppose you have to learn the hard way and enablers everywhere struggle with this, but her delusion was incredibly frustrating to me. She was blind.

I'll admit, Allie got better. She got stronger and wiser, and I came around to her. Her stupidity in the beginning was somewhat forgiven as I experienced her growth, but I have to warn everyone who wants to read this novel that I, and a lot of other reviewers, agree that the main character is kind of annoying and harder to like.

I also felt like this novel at times was trying a little too hard to "be hip" (which I know saying that statement automatically makes me totally un-hip). The novel tried really hard to relate to the social media generation and the hipster generation - there were constant and I mean constant references to Instagram and blogs and it felt kind of exhausting. I also hated being told that everyone loves man buns and if I say I don't "I'm lying". I HATE man buns. Thank you very much.

Overall, this was a more enjoyable read than I expected. I loved the Chicago foodie scene, and I thought the story was relatable and I enjoyed the journey. Allie was challenging to love at times, but she learned a lot and for that I applaud her. I enjoyed the chick-lit type read this was, and think girls my age will enjoy it. Don't expect anything groundbreaking; it's chick-lit in my opinion, which is great when you need a quick, enjoyable read for vacation for just relaxation at home.

Overall rating: 3.5/5

Me and food:

Book Review: The Broken Girls

I LOVED this novel! All I can say is read, read, read it!

This novel goes back and forth between present day and 1950 in a small town in Vermont. Idlewild Hall sits on the cusp of this town, a boarding school for troubled girls that now sits empty (or is it?) but still has an air of mystery about it.

I honestly don't want to share much more about what this novel is about, although you can easily get more just by reading the back cover. But, I think the going in semi-blind part makes this novel all the better. This novel includes murder, ghosts, a love story...what more could you want?!

I've never seen a mystery/thriller include a paranormal aspect but I LOVED it. The eeriness and creepiness of this novel is just unparalleled to any other novel in my personal opinion. The author did such a great job of including both mystery and paranormal without this novel seeming unbelievable or cheesy. I was completely creeped out the entire time, while it all still felt so real (let's not get into the whole 'do you believe ghosts are real thing'). I loved every minute I was completely engrossed in this novel. I turned the pages so fast and devoured this novel in a matter of days.

The writing was wonderful, the characterization astounding. The characters were relatable and well-drawn out, I felt like I knew all of them. The story is completely unique. This is not your average mystery folks, but if you like that kind of thing, and wouldn't mind including a really captivating ghost story, then please pick this one up!

Overall rating: 5/5

My emotional sequence reading this novel:

Book Review: Everyone Brave is Forgiven

I had a little trouble connecting with this book at first, but once I got my groove going this is another book that proved why I love WWII books so much, and yet again I learned new things and saw things from new perspectives.

This book follows Mary, an elite socialite who decides to volunteer for the war effort and finds herself teaching children the countryside rejects protecting, such as a colored student and mentally disabled children. The novel also follows Tom and his friend Alistair; Alistair, an art restorer who joins the army and finds himself in shockingly different and violent situations than his usual museum location, and Tom who is first Mary's employer, but soon their relationship begins to develop into more.

Some of you might be thinking what I could have possibly gotten out of yet another WWII novel, but I find that all of these novels are always so different from each other! One thing about this novel is that I've never quite felt as heavy as I did while reading this one. This novel did such a good job of making me feel the weight of this war, especially for those left behind in the city of London. You often think that those impacted heaviest by the war are the soldiers, nurses, etc. but the citizens of London were going through so much as well as their world changed around them. That's the best I can do explaining this novel, I felt the weight of the war and the heartbreak it caused.

Chris Cleave's writing is wonderful, and it clearly did a great job of actually reflecting the time period. You don't always get that with historical fiction novels. I felt like I was part of that time period, and although it took me awhile to get use to the language and writing, once I did, I definitely enjoyed that touch to the story.

I also enjoyed the different perspectives this novel shared with me; you saw things from the soldiers, from the elite, the disenfranchised, the bereaved, and of course the embattled. It was interesting to see how just your location within London, which had a lot to do with your social status, could completely impact how the war impacted you. I never thought about it that way. I also liked the time period of this novel; you learned a little bit about the earlier years of the war as this novel began in 1939. It was interesting to see how pretty much the British were in denial about the war coming to their shores until well, it came to their shores.

Being an American living in suburban Chicago, I've never experienced a war on my own soil. I've only experienced terrorist attacks, which although awful and devastating, are not the same thing as a war on your doorstep that spans many years. No matter how many books I read about it, I can and never will understand what these people went through, but this novel definitely makes a really amazing attempt at sharing that perspective with its readers.

Overall rating: 4/5

Book Review: Red Clocks

Red Clocks is a dystopian novel that feels contemporary; Zumas drew on themes of our current political climate and honestly she hit so close to home that at times I couldn't help but feel a little nervous for the future. If you enjoy novels like the Handmaid's Tale, with an even more dose of reality, then give this one a try.

This novel follows four women in a small Oregon town living very different circumstances in the world where abortion is illegal, in-vitro fertilization is banned, and the Personhood Amendment grants rights of life, liberty, and property to every embryo. On top of all this, the Every Child Deserves Two is close to becoming law requiring all kids be in a home with two parents. 

I love dystopian novels (big Handmaid's Tale fan over here), so I knew I had to read this one. I loved the themes of abortion, pro-life vs. pro-choice, women's rights, and what constitutes a good home for a child. I'm of the opinion that every circumstance is different, every person is different, and therefore everyone deserves to make their own choice. There is no reason men in politics should dictate what choices I make about my own body. This is not a political rant, though, so that's all I'm saying about that. Moving on. 

I really liked the characters and the span of experiences they were living, running the spectrum of having given up their child, being under-age and pregnant, being a single woman who wants a child, and a mother of two who is unfortunately dealing with her own battles stuck in an unhappy marriage. 

So, I loved the dystopian fiction aspect, I loved the contemporary feel, the relevance and timeliness of this novel, and the various characters and perspectives we experienced throughout. However, I felt a distance from every character. It felt like a I read at a distance, not always getting to know these characters as much as I wanted to, feeling their emotions almost through a lens. I thought the writing was good, but felt more structured and lacking emotion. I could have gone for a little bit more on the emotional side of things, because these are BIG things these women were dealing with, and I wanted to experience that closer alongside them. 

All in all, I recommend this novel if only for its timeliness pulling on the themes of today. 

Overall rating: 4/5

Book Review: The Anatomy of a Scandal

I was lucky enough to be provided an advanced copy of Anatomy of a Scandal thanks to TLC Book Tours and Atria Books. I really enjoyed this novel, though it took me a little bit of effort to fully get into it. If you enjoy crime fiction with some suspense and mystery, then I'd definitely add this novel to your to be read list!

This story is about Kate who is currently prosecuting James, who is a loving husband and father to Sophie and their children, and yet is currently standing trial for rape. Without giving anything away, we travel back and forth between the current and the past as we learn more about these interrelated characters' stories, their current motives, and witness a trial that is anything but clear-cut. My most notable mentions for this novel are its themes, its relevance and timeliness, the characters, and of course the suspenseful drama.

I always enjoy a good crime fiction novel, and especially this one because it felt really timely. One of the main themes of this novel is the definition of rape and what exactly constitutes rape, sexual assault, and consensual sex. With the current #metoo movement and all of the women coming forward right now who say they have been sexually assaulted, this novel felt very timely as it attempted to demonstrate how gray this area may seem, when in reality, it isn't. If a women does not consent to sex, even if she hesitates, or is confused, if she is saying no it means she does not consent! I also thought this novel did a brilliant job showing how women who have been sexually assaulted struggle with coming forward. Because of how our society has and still is treating these women, they often blame themselves (was it what I was wearing? Did I not say no forceful enough?) and are incredibly scared to ever come forward. I hope this is changing, and I think this novel's themes are very relevant and important for everyone. More novels like this may one day help our society progress.

Another theme of this novel I really enjoyed was the theme of privilege. James is incredibly privileged and as a result has gotten away with a lot in the past. Should being privileged allow you to get away with your transgressions? Should all of these male politicians, film directors, actors, etc. be allowed to get away with sexual misconduct just because of who they are? This novel attempts to shed some light on this.

What I liked best about the characters was trying to understand their motives. I honestly did not trust any of these characters; they all threw me for loops and I was never fully sure of their underlying motive. I liked that about these characters because they kept the suspense and drama going.

I have two negatives about this novel, neither of which ruined this novel overall for me. First, if you like your drama more action-packed, then this novel may not be for you. I would definitely call this one more of a slow-burner. Second, some parts were a little too law-heavy for me. When I first started this novel, it took me a little bit to get use to that and I didn't always understand all the terminology. Once I got over it, though, the slow-burning suspense kept me turning pages and overall kept my interest peaked.

Overall rating: 4/5