Thursday, May 16, 2019

Everything I Never Told You (Celeste Ng)

The opening lines of Celeste Ng's Everything I Never Told You shocks you from the very beginning: "Lydia is dead. But they don't know this yet." Based on these lines, the reader obviously assumes that this book is some type of mystery. But what Ng surprisingly does instead is make what happened to Lydia the secondary part of the story. Instead, this is a book about a family in turmoil, both before Lydia died and after.

Set in the 70s, Everything I Never Told You is about Marilyn and James Lee and their children, a Chinese American family living in a small town. Even though she has two other children, Marilyn's attention is focused on Lydia, making sure she has the opportunities (whether or not she even wants them is beside the point) that Marilyn never had. The family struggles to overcome the hardships in their lives until one day, Lydia goes missing.

This is a page-turner at the beginning, but I found the last quarter of the book dull and even confusing. However, Ng does create here a profoundly moving narrative of a family trying to understand each other and wondering if it's too late to mend its connections.


Sunday, April 28, 2019

The Dreamers (Karen Thompson Walker)

I was really excited about the premise of Karen Thompson Walker's The Dreamers, especially because the book got major buzz in the publishing world. Unfortunately, at least for me, the premise was far more exciting than the execution.

A "sleeping disease" is going around a California college town. One day, a college girl falls asleep in her dorm room and never wakes up. It doesn't take long before the disease travels around the dorm floor. Some of the other people in the town become infected, and the National Guard is called in to enforce a quarantine. How did the disease start and what is the cause? Will the "dreamers" ever wake up, and if they do, will they ever be the same?

The ultimate problem of The Dreamers is that many of the questions the reader will definitely expect to be answered are not. The book also bounces from character to character so much that we never really get to know them (and therefore, care about them). I did enjoy the "dream-like" quality of the prose, but because there are so many plot points left open-ended, I ultimately wondered what the point of it all was.


Wednesday, April 17, 2019

Beartown (Fredrik Backman)

I'm not that much of a sports enthusiast, but author Fredrik Backman made me understand completely the passion that goes into a sport like hockey. Beartown is a small community and having a great hockey team is really the only thing it's known for. People "survive" in Beartown, but they take unbelievable hope from their teams.

When the book begins, the Beartown junior hockey team is about to compete in the national semi-finals. This burden to win is heavy on the shoulders of these teenage boys, who believe that hockey is in their blood, sweat, and tears. Most people in the community think that if the team wins in the semi-finals, Beartown will change forever, but what really changes it is a violent crime that occurs on that same night.

No member of the town will be unaffected by the crime, and it is in this moment that the book's pace really picks up. Backman has a way of making the reader feel that they are flies on the wall IN Beartown, and it is his writing and unforgettable characters that make it such a heart-pounding read.


Thursday, April 11, 2019

Between the Lies (Michelle Adams)

Michelle Adams's Between the Lies has a premise that should hook you immediately: What would happen if you woke up and couldn't remember a thing? Such is the case with the main character Chloe Daniels. She wakes up in a hospital with absolutely no memories of how she got there or who her family members are. Sounds interesting, right? It certainly does, but the payoff at the end is just not there.

As Chloe goes through her recovery at her parents' house, she tries to put together the puzzle pieces of her life. She knows she was in an accident and that the accident involved her young son. Was she responsible for it? Her father specifically attempts to help her, but Chloe is not sure the methods he is using is good for her. As the narrative evolves, Chloe begins to figure out bits and pieces until she finally remembers what truly happened.

I am usually not one to figure twists out easily, but this is actually pretty simple. I think the problem was that I didn't find the story as a whole plausible, which I believe a mystery novel needs to be. In addition, the reader doesn't find out much of the backstory behind what led up to the accident, so the payoff isn't rewarding. This is one I just didn't enjoy all that much.


Tuesday, April 9, 2019

Gumbo Life (Ken Wells)

Ken Wells’ newest book is a reflection of his life’s journey through the Louisiana Bayou. It’s the story of how a dish became one of the signature Cajun cuisine creations but also a mirror in many ways of the American melting point. Gumbo Life is an entertaining, soulful collection of Wells’s journeys through Louisiana as he seeks out answers to the evolution and development of this distinctive dish.

Gumbo, if you are not a foodie, is a stew-like dish of meat, sometimes with or without shellfish, with peppers, celery, onion, and okra. It is well-seasoned and slow-cooked before often being served over white rice. The origins of gumbo come from a blending of several different cultures and cuisines, each adding a little more flair and flavor to the dish as it developed. We learn in the book that this dish has local flair, regional variety, and even international renown and Wells expertly details that evolutionary process in two distinct paths. The first is through the work of others like Paul Prudhomme, the second is the evolutionary process within his own family and his own life.

Gumbo Life reflects much about life on the Bayou and the namesake dish of the book; a melting pot of traditions, flavorful and authentic, simple in explanation yet an evolution of complexity that takes time and patience to properly figure out. This book will fill your soul with a feel-good tale of a dish that’s reflective of our nation’s blended heritage...and will leave you wanting to find a hearty bowl of gumbo. Let’s eat!


Tuesday, April 2, 2019

The Last Mrs. Parrish (Liv Constantine)

Novels featuring two women and one man have been done to death, but none quite in the same way as Liv Constantine's The Last Mrs. Parrish. Some have said there is a similarity between this and the stellar The Wife Between Us. While I can definitely see where there would be a comparison, the fact of the matter is that they are both highly original and utterly addictive.

Amber Patterson wants a new life and sets her sights on getting the gorgeous and rich Jackson Parrish away from his current wife, Daphne. Jackson and Daphne seem to have it all -- a spectacular house on the water, two beautiful children, and everything money can buy. Amber wants Jackson and the life he can provide and will do anything to get her way. 

But, of course, all is not what it seems. While the first part of the book focuses on Amber's scheming, the second part goes into Daphne's life. This part is so much better than the first, with each page revealing more secrets and twists that had me gasping. That's really all I can say without giving too much away. Just know that if you think you know where The Last Mrs. Parrish is going, you probably don't.


Monday, March 25, 2019

The Liar's Child (Carla Buckley)

The premise of Carla Buckley's The Liar's Child is definitely an attention-grabbing one. It seamlessly combines the stories of a woman in the Witness Protection Program and an entire family in crisis. Throw a deadly hurricane into the mix, and you have all the makings of an absolutely gripping novel. At times, it certainly was that, but in other instances, it didn't quite live up to its potential.

Sara Lennox (a fake name, of course) has had a troubled past and is taken to create a new life for herself in the Outer Banks of North Carolina. She becomes a housekeeper and resides in the community of Paradise, which it most definitely is not. Whit and Diane Nelson, along with their two children, Cassie and Boon, live next door. Sara almost instantly can pick up that things are not right with this family. Their lives intertwine in a few ways throughout the book, most notably when a hurricane hits the Outer Banks. Sara must make a quick decision, one that may turn out to have dire consequences.

When The Liar's Child began, I could not turn the pages fast enough. I found the middle to be a slow read, but Buckley does throw in a few twists that left me genuinely surprised. The ending is what caused me to have very mixed emotions. There were questions that were left unanswered and that was deeply unsatisfying. However, there are a few pages in the book that make no sense when you read them but come together for a heartwarming conclusion at the end.