Books I Read This Week 2019 – 04

This was a fantastic of reading. Several really wonderful reads across multiple genres. I read a fantasy (Every Heart a Doorway), a historical fiction (The Widows), a non-fiction (Brave, not Perfect) and a literary fiction (Normal People) I loved in one week and I don’t even know how to classify Karen Thompson Walker’s book. Despite a few books I wasn’t crazy about, I am very happy with this week’s reading. Here are my goodreads reviews. If you’re on goodreads, add me as a friend so I can see your books too! 

Every Heart a Doorway (4.5 stars):  This book is unlike anything I read in all the ways that’s hard to explain. It’s the first in a series and the last book just came out last week. Emily May’s review of the first book convinced me to give it a try. I figured it was reasonably short and if I didn’t like it, I could only stop at the first one.

I read it pretty much in one sitting and was entranced right away. I was pulled into the story, and the atmosphere, the characters, the unusual plot all came together to create something magical. I loved the range of the characters and their unique worlds. I loved all the gender-focused undertones that were smart and thoughtful but yet didn’t hit you in the face with any of it.

Most of all I loved the way the characters interacted with each other and had their own unique personalities and goals but also came together in their apartness from other, “normal” people. I loved that being at Eleanor West’s Home for Wayward Children was closest they could get to belonging in this world.

When you read 200-300 books a year, it’s rare to find a book that’s so unusual. Especially one that’s quietly atmospheric, thought provoking, enjoyable and well written. This one checks all the boxes. I am looking forward to reading the others in the series.

The Au Pair (2.5 stars):  2.5 stars. I don’t know what is wrong with me that I can’t seem to rate with whole numbers. 2 stars seems too stingy for this novel and 3 stars seems too generous. So there we go.

If you’re looking for a quick read that will keep you occupied and entertained without annoying you too much, The Au Pair is not a terrible choice. The story alternates between two characters and two moments in time. I liked the present day character more though both of them were a bit whinier than I like in general.

Here’s the thing: there’s almost no character development in this book anywhere. Not an inch of depth into any of the characters. She wants to know who she is and she loves the house she grew up in and that’s pretty much all you really know about Seraphine, one of the main characters. The alternate narrator, The Au Pair, is even shallower than that, in my opinion. For someone who cares way more about characters than plot, this book was likely a poor choice from the beginning.

There are twists and turns, though not super unpredictable since, you know, there aren’t a huge number of possibilities. The one thing the book has going for it is the pacing. It’s reasonably fast paced and you do want to keep reading it. So I read it in one gulp.

Now that I’ve written all this, 2.5 stars might even be a tiny bit generous.

The Water Cure (2 stars):  Not even sure where to begin…

Here’s another book that is blurbed with labels that have nothing to do with the book. I don’t know what the marketers are thinking when they try to compare a book to a classic. I understand it might have initial appeal and might cause me to pickup the book but then the let down after reading it and, finding out that you have completely lied to me, makes me so mad that I am now skeptical of anything and everything that comes after this. I can’t imagine the one single sale based on a lie is so much better than all the sales you’re now not getting because of the lie.

Ok rant done. This book is nothing like Handmaid’s Tale. Nothing. So I want to set that expectation first and foremost.

The only reason I gave this book two stars is because the author’s lyrical language is powerful and it was, for me, the best part of the book. I don’t usually prioritize paying attention to the language because if I am prioritizing the plot, it means your characters don’t have the depth I need and if I am prioritizing the language, well it means there isn’t much else that’s getting my attention enough. But in some rare cases, the language is beautiful and really adds to the story. This was one of those cases. Especially in the beginning and the ending.

This is where my positive feelings about the book stop. I have so many questions and so many complaints. If you’re going to have three narrators, they need to be distinctly different from each other so as to have a reason that the constant switching helps the story (instead of just giving the reader whiplash.) While there are small differences between the sisters, there is really not enough distinction (besides their plot of course) to make the rotating narration worthwhile.

The plot is convoluted and there are so many holes in the story that at some point I just gave up. I didn’t even care what was going on in the outside world, why they were here, where the others were, and on and on. This wasn’t a slow building story where you can understand the background of the characters and see how they ended up in the completely messed up places they ended up. I am not sure if the author’s goal is for me to conclude “men are evil” and “don’t mess with women” but those are not lessons. This is not a valuable take away. This is not feminist. It’s just another way of stereotyping. These topics are so complicated and so layered that writing a story like this and then selling it as feminist dystopia does it a disservice.

I was confused, horrified, angry and frustrated for most of this story. Maybe that was the intent. But to me, a book that makes me feel those things and doesn’t teach me anything or give me some questions to grapple with is just there to mess with my emotions. And, that makes me mad. I don’t think this is a powerful story. I think this is a missed opportunity.

I did love the author’s lyrical prose, however, so I’ll give her that.

The Widows (4 stars):  What a fantastic book!

Historical Fiction is not my favorite genre. It’s not generally what I would lean towards but I’ve read many in my time and, as with most other genres, what makes or breaks the novel for me is the characters. The character development in this novel is deep, rich and layered. The writing is solid and has just enough texture to envelop you in the atmosphere and is not so flowery (which I feel is sometimes the case for historical fiction) that it gets in the way. The fact that her characters happen to be a strong female characters is just an icing on the cake.

This novel doesn’t move fast. While there’s a crime (or two) at its center, it’s also not a who-did-it. While the characters are motivated by the events that precipitates their meeting, it’s so much more than that. It takes place in the 1920s and speaks to issues around coal mining, unionization, power balance (or imbalance), women and their place in society, and just so much more. All of these are the underpinnings and they are the layers of this story.

But all of that would have been nothing without the amazing character work. At its core, it’s a character-driven story and that is, by far, the very best part of this novel. I really enjoyed it and look forward to reading more from this new author!

Brave, Not Perfect (4.5 stars):  What a fantastic book!

Reshma Saujani’s TED talk was recommended to me by several colleagues at work, so when I saw the book, I knew a little about its premise. I have two boys, and yet, I am a girl 🙂 So it was quite interesting reading this book with both my mom filter on and as a woman myself. I’ve already recommended it to all the parents I know, because so much of this book is about highlighting behavior that exists in a way that feels indoctrinated. Things we don’t do consciously maybe because we’ve done them this way such a long time. It’s highlighting the invisible hidden in plain sight.

And like most truths, once you see it, you can’t unsee it.

A few years ago, I picked “brave” as my word of the year so that I could become braver. And one of the biggest shifts that happened that year wasn’t that I became brave but that I realized how brave I already was. The author talks about the positive cycle of how bravery begets bravery and that is very much the case. So does realizing how brave you are because it shifts the way you see yourself and now you’re no longer “afraid” to be brave. It is imperative that we turn this cycle around for our girls. The subtle (and not so subtle) push towards perfection is one of the most damaging signals women receive (and then internalize.) I still see this people-pleasing, “looking perfect on the outside but falling apart on the inside” every single day. Not only does it curb our potential as women, it also keeps us disconnected from each other because it’s not possible to have real connection/belonging without authenticity.

I’ve highlighted so much of this book and I will continue to recommend it to every parent (and woman) I know. We can only do better when we know better and this book is a solid step forward in that direction. And it also has tangible, specific next steps you can take to move into the practice of bravery.

Thank you Reshma Saujani for helping us all get less perfect and braver. (and thank you netgalley for the early preview of this awesome book!)

Normal People (5 stars): I loved every bit of this book. From the moment I read the first few lines, I knew I would have a hard time putting it down. I had a visceral connection to it almost immediately and I couldn’t put it down. I didn’t want to.

The books I love fall into two categories: books i have no qualms about recommending to everyone and books I love but I wouldn’t feel comfortable recommending without a bunch of caveats. This book falls in the latter category. (Plainsong, however, falls in the former.)

I want to start with the caveats:
– this might be boring for many, there’s no plot, nothing really happens and there’s no “ending” either. It’s almost like a glimpse into the lives of these characters over the course of a few years.
– there is a lot of sex and drinking and some drugs in the book. not many graphic descriptions of any of it but if you’re sensitive it will bother you.
– the secondary characters are not well developed and are so not the point of the story that writer clearly couldn’t be bothered to work on them.
– it’s hard to tell what the “point” of the story is or if there even is one.

I will also say while I liked it ok, I didn’t love Rooney’s first novel and I didn’t go into this thinking it was going to be amazing. Man Booker prize long lists are a mixed bag in my opinion so I wasn’t sure what to expect.

Ok, now that I have all the other caveats out of the way, I am going to come back to: I loved this book. I will thinking about it for a long, long time. I’ve underlined many parts of it. So much of this book connected with me.

I don’t even know how to describe what spoke to me so deeply. It’s so human is the best way I can think to describe it. The emotions the two main characters have, the deep conflict, the constant miscommunication (or lack of communication) that is a result of their own insecurities, their own feelings of inadequacy can be felt so acutely in this story that it made me wince several times. There are so many moments of realizations for the characters, moments where they see how their idea of something doesn’t really match up with the reality of the world and how their distorted thinking ruins their chances of joy again and again. It felt so true and real to me.

Here are a few quotes that really spoke to me::

Marianne sometimes sees herself at the very bottom of the ladder, but at other times she pictures herself off the ladder completely, not affected by its mechanics since she does not actually desire popularity or do anything to make it belong to her. From her vantage point, it’s not obvious what rewards the ladder provides, even to those who really are at the top.

The ladder is complicated for all people, at all rungs.

Even in memory she will find this moment unbearably intense, and she’s aware of this now, while it’s happening. She has never believed herself fit to be loved by any person. But now she has a new life, of which this is the first moment, and even after many years have passed she will still think: Yes, that was it, the beginning of my life.

This was such a touching moment for me. Those times in your life when you can experience something monumental and be aware of it’s hugeness at the same time. Sort of like both living and observing your life simultaneously.

He knew that the secret for which he had sacrificed his own happiness and the happiness of another person had been trivial all along, and worthless.

Isn’t this the saddest moment when you find out this thing you were so afraid of being “found out” for was meaningless to others? What you made so big in your mind, what you contorted your life for.

You learn nothing very profound about yourself simply by being bullied but by bullying someone else you learn something you can never forget.

i wish this were true. I don’t know if it is.

No one can be independent of other people completely, do why not give up the attempt, she thought, go running in the other direction, depend on people for everything, allow them to depend on you, why not.

this might be the crux of this story in the end. if only we could.

I can’t even tell you what the story is about. I just know that there’s so much of it that spoke to me. And I can totally see that at another time, in another place, I might have found all of it sappy and pointless. But I didn’t. I connected with this deeply and felt rewarded again and again throughout the story.

huge thanks to netgalley and the publisher for an advance copy in return for an honest review

The Dreamers (4 stars):  I really enjoyed making my way through this story. It teetered between a 3 and a 4-star book for me while I read it depending on how much of it I was reading at a time. The more I read, the more engulfed I was in the story and the more I enjoyed the sweet softness of it.

Even though this sounds like a disaster, mysterious illness story, it’s not about that. It’s really about people and their connection to each other and there’s this added layer of an inexplicable sickness that’s spreading across the town that may or may not overtake you at any moment for no reason. The anxiety this causes is palpable in the novel.

The book tells the story through the experiences of different sets of people. A couple with a newborn baby, two young girls and their dad, the college students where the whole things begins, etc. Each story is touching and interesting and thoughtful from its own perspective. There are also small but poignant bits about immigrants, marriage, parenthood and more.

If you pickup this book because you want to know what happened and the mystery behind the illness, etc. you will be sorely disappointed. This is a quiet novel with slow, soft moving progress. It asks more questions than it answers. But it’s very beautiful and I really enjoyed my time with it.

And there we go, a really solid week of reading. Here’s to another fantastic week.

Books I Read this Week 2019 is a year-long project for 2019. You can read more about my projects for 2019 here. I am also tracking my books in real time on Good Reads here. If you’re on Good Reads add me so I can follow you, too!

Leave a Reply

You can use these HTML tags

<a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>




This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.