Review: ‘Less’ by Andrew Sean Greer

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Andrew Sean Greer’s “Less” is my fourth five-star book of the year! I laughed out loud at Less’s antics and mishaps and loved how Greer was able to use humor and fun to also make poignant points about life.

Less won the Pulitzer Prize this year, an honor I think it is most deserving of.

The book focuses on Arthur Less, a failed novelist whose boyfriend of nine years is about to get married to another man. Less descides the best way to avoid the wedding is to skip town. But not just to the other side of the country, but the other side of the world. Less accepts invitations to speak, write or just travel in Mexico, Germany, Italy, Spain, Morocco and more. It’s a trip he uses as an escape, and one that opens his eyes much more to the world around him.

However, Less also is kind of a mess, and has plenty of missteps and mishaps on his adventures; all which are hilariously executed by Greer’s deft hand.

“Where was he? Somewhere in there he lost the first phase of youth, like the first phase of a rocket; it had fallen, depleted, behind him. And here was the second. And last. He swore he would not give it to anyone; he would enjoy it. He would enjoy it alone. But: how to live alone and yet not be alone?”

This book made me laugh more than any in recent memory (though to be honest, books don’t make me laugh that often), and I grew to adore Less as a character, even if he is quite self-pitying and at times needs to be more self-aware.

Throughout the book Greer peppers great insights about what it means to be human, and all the love, loss, heartbreak, hilarity, melancholy and excitement that goes with it.

Five out of five stars.

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Review: ‘The Hate U Give’ by Angie Thomas

“What’s the point of having a voice
if you’re gonna be silent in those moments you shouldn’t be?”

HateUGive_10-10Snap-770x1163Angie Thomas’ debut novel, The Hate U Give, is a heartbreaking an important work. It speaks to the time we are now living in now in America, but also to our past and to our future.

The audience this book is particularly geared toward, young adults, can start important and vital conversations about race and police relations in the United States. For any educator or parent looking to have talks with teens about the Black Lives Matter movement, this book offers a place to start. But it’s also a book all adults should read; although I’ve followed the news and read a lot about the shootings of unarmed black men and women in the United States, I still found this book eye-opening, I still learned from it more than I knew before.

The book focuses on Starr Carter, a 16-year-old black girl who lives in a lower-class neighborhood called Garden Heights. One night Starr attends a neighborhood party and accepts a ride home from a childhood friend, Kahil. On the ride home, the car is stopped by a white cop for no apparent reason. The police officer forces Kahil out of the car, and when Kahil leans over to check that Starr is all right, the cop shoots him, killing him. The murder makes national news, with young Starr in the spotlight, trying herself to understand what happened, to understand her place in the Black Lives Matter movement, and to mourn her beloved friend.

This novel shows an honest and real portrayal of people who every day live in fear of what might happen to them at the hands of the police or others simply because of the color of their skin. Starr is a young women brimming with life and humor, and the people who surround her in Garden Heights are caring and loving as any family would be. The violence that touches them all is violence that should not occur, the burdens she carries at such a young age are burdens no person should have to carry.

My only criticism would be that I wish there were a few more stories about Starr’s friendship with Kahil, or even a chapter written in his voice. Starr fights so hard in Kahil’s name, and I just wish we had known him even better.

Four stars out of five.

Summer Reads

beachreadingMemorial Day has come and gone, and in the U.S. that means summer is here! It’s my second favorite season (fall always comes first), and a time I just want to read, read, read.

I don’t often create a strict summer to-read list, but there are some books I’m determined to get to in the next few months! They include:

  • How to Love a Jamaican by Alexia Arthurs  (thanks to an ARC from Ballantine Books!)
  • Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman
  • Welcome to Lagos by Chibundu Onuzo (thanks to an ARC from Catapult!)
  • The Map of Salt and Stars by Jennifer Zeynab Joukhadar (gotta get my hands on a copy!)
  • Born a Crime by Trevor Noah
  • Puddin’ by Julie Murphy
  • To Kill A Mockingbird (my almost annual reread, going strong for the past 10 years or so)

Those are just some on the list, which is definitely subject to change. I’m hoping to average about four books a month, with a goal of 12 by September.

Do you have any summer reading goals or must-reads!?

Review ‘I’ll Be Gone in the Dark’ by Michelle McNamara

This review has been a hard one for me to write, because I have mixed feelings about Michelle McNamara’s “I’ll Be Gone in the Dark.”

I’ll start by saying I honestly did not know that much about the Golden GSK.jpgState Killer before reading McNamara’s book. I had heard the name GSK before and knew vaguely of the case, but the finer details were unknown to me. When I heard the news of his capture, and subsequently of this book (which has flown under the radar for me), I immediately wanted to get my hands on a copy.

And, for those who don’t know, the Golden State Killer is a serial rapist and murdered who terrorized California in the 1970s and 80s. The mystery of who he was went unsolved for decades, until just about a month ago.

I didn’t read too many articles or too many reports on the GSK’s arrest before reading the book, because I wanted to see the case through Michelle’s eyes. Her writing in this book was fantastic and the research that went into it remarkable. It was creepy in all the best ways, and the descriptions of the neighborhoods this man stalked and how his acts were carried out made you feel like you were walking beside him. Yet, she also did a fantastic job of not sensationalizing the case, or making his attacks to detailed and horrifying to bear.

All of that makes me on the line between giving this book three stars and four.

One issue I had with it, unfortunately, is the timeline. I read this book in spurts over a few weeks, and maybe not reading it straight through is what got me mixed up. In some parts McNamara jumps back and forth in time, and I often felt lost as to when we were, the year and the number of attacks in. It also became clear that McNamara

was not part of the finished project (for those who don’t know, she died unexpectedly before publication, which is so sad.) There were chapters that didn’t flow as well as others, some where the writing wasn’t as captivating or crisp.

In the end, this is about 3 1/2 to 4 stars for me. I definitely recommend it for people interested in the Golden State Killer and lovers of true crime, it’s a meticulously researched and at times captivating read. It just left me wishing there was a bit more organization to the chapter arrangement and a clearer timeline to keep me hooked.

Review: ‘Circe’ by Madeline Miller

CirceIn January 2013, I read the book “The Song of Achilles” by Madeline Miller. I don’t remember why I picked it up, probably because I heard about Miller winning the Orange Prize for Fiction for the book, or maybe because it got rave reviews.

Either way, I read it and I loved it. When I heard Miller would be releasing a new book this year, this time about the goddess Circe, I was so excited. And it did not disappoint. It was my first selection for Book of the Month club, and the perfect way to kick-off my subscription.

Circe is a goddess, one with magical abilities who was banished by her father, Helios, god of the sun, to a desert island. It is on that island she learns more about her magic, and crosses paths with legends in Greek mythology: the Minotaur, Daedalus and his son Icarus, Hermes, and Odysseus. Eventually she finds herself fighting against Athena to protect what she most loves.

“I would say, some people are like constellations
that only touch the earth for a season.”  – Madeline Miller

This book is beautiful, gripping, exciting, and heartbreaking. Circe is a complex character, so fully realized I felt as if she could be someone who walks this earth. She’s strong and stubborn and brave and vengeful and Miller gives her more agency than I’m sure Homer did in his original telling.

If you love novels that are vibrantly written,  thrilling and character-driven, epic in scope but still hold quiet, beautiful moments, this is a book for you.

This book made me want to learn more about Greek mythology and these characters that Miller brought to life. It also made me yearn for more of Miller’s writing; I can’t wait to see what she comes up with next.

Five out of five stars.

A Slow May of Reading

This year of reading so far has been really good, both in the quality of the books I’ve read so far and my ability to get a lot of reading time in. Well, that was until this month. I haven’t yet finished a single book, and have been slowly making my way through I’ll Be Gone in the Dark and Circe, but still haven’t finished either one. It’s not because they’re not good, but because some days I’ve felt too tired to read, others I was busy with end of the semester school work, and some have been busy with fun outings and friend visits.

Still, it’s a little disappointing to be halfway through a month and still have a pile of books waiting to be read and two half-way read. I’m setting a goal for myself to finish Circe (which is so good maybe it’s slow-going because I don’t want it to end) and I’ll Be Gone in the Dark by mid-week.

I have both The Hate U Give and Illuminae out from the library, and need to finish those pretty soon because they’re library books due back at the end of the month. Hopefully if I can get through those and my two aforementioned reads, I’ll be able to check four books off the list for May. Next weekend is the 8-in-2 readathon through bookstagram (you can find me at @kmdbookworm) where the challenge is to read for eight hours in two days. I think that’s definitely do-able!

Then, it’s summer! And that means getting my summer reads in order. I’ll post about that in June, once I come up with my to-read stack for the summer (my TBR stack is always pretty flexible, but I like kind of laying out what books I want to try to tackle in any given month, otherwise I get overwhelmed with all the unread books vying for my attention!)

Review: ‘Children of Blood and Bone’ by Tomi Adeyemi

Image result for children of blood and bone charactersSet in the enchanted world of Orïsha, Tomi Adeyemi’s “Children of Blood and Bone” is a powerful, magical read from a new author. The story is compelling, the characters fully fleshed out and her world-building, inspired by African mythology, is some of the best in current YA fantasy.

The story follows Zélie Adebola and her quest to return magic to the land of Orïsha, magic that disappeared one night and allowed for the killing of all maji. Zélie watched her mother die that night, and the memory has haunted her every step.

But a fateful encounter with a runaway princess gives Zélie the chance to bring magic back, and return lost powers to her people who have long suffered the king’s vengeance. Along the way, there are people to help Zélie, and people who will do anything to stop her. There’s also people she must learn to trust, even if they have the power to betray her and all those she loves.

I greatly enjoyed this book, especially the action-filled ending. It left me wanting more and glad that this is only the first book in a series. I thought Zélie was a terrifically developed character, as well as that runaway princess, Amari.

My only complaint is that the book dragged a little toward the middle, and there was a romance plot that felt too forced to be believable. However, those two things aside, this book was beautifully written, and I can’t wait to see what Adeyemi has in store for us next. She is a promising talent.

Four of five stars.