Mini-Reviews Are the Best I Can Offer

My kids book to adult book ratio is still standing strong at about 100:1. I have tried to be more discerning with my adult books (I am much quicker to abandon a book that doesn’t catch my interest–like, most recently, Maggie Stiefvater’s All the Crooked Saints and Nancy Pearl’s George & Lizzie). Nevertheless, sadly, I haven’t read a great book since Goodbye, Vitamin (if you missed that review, you can read it here).

But I have read some decent ones. Unfortunately, I can’t be bothered to write full-fledged reviews of books that aren’t great, so mini-reviews are the best I can offer . . . but you’ll get the gist, I assure you. Here are the books I’ve read in the past month or so, presented in order from best to worst:

download-2.jpgLittle Fires Everywhere
Celeste Ng
352 pages
Published September 12, 2017

Rating: 3.5/5

What it’s about: The book opens with the Richardsons’ family home (in the progressive, but very Stepford Wives-y, community of Shaker Heights, Ohio) on fire. Three of the Richardson kids (there are four, all in high school, spaced one year apart) watch, perched on a car across the street. The fourth—and suspected culprit—Isabelle, is nowhere to be seen. “The firemen said there were little fires everywhere,” Lexie, the eldest, tells her brothers. “Multiple points of origin. Possible use of accelerant. Not an accident.” Oh, Izzy, what have you done?

What follows is the back story. There are several (too many, in fact) interwoven parts. You have the Richardsons—all four kids, plus rule-following Mom and lawyer Dad—with plenty of interpersonal drama. Then there’s Mrs. Richardson’s vagabond tenants, Mia and her daughter, Pearl, and the drama of their past. And, finally, there’s the drama surrounding the legal guardianship of Mirabelle/May Ling (depending on who you ask), the baby who was abandoned by her biological mother and taken in by one of Mrs. Richardson’s life-long friends.

What I liked: The book is well-written and has lots of interesting characters and realistic struggles (sibling rivalries, first loves, parenthood, secret histories, comings-of-age). It raises a lot of questions about choices and right-versus-wrong. And it wraps up with one of the most satisfying endings I have read in quite some time.

What I didn’t like: It’s unnecessarily complex. Removing the Mirabelle/May Ling storyline completely would have made the book cleaner and would have allowed for more attention to be paid to some of the more important and interesting characters (like Izzy, the arsonist). It also would have prevented some of the draggy bits in the middle of the book.

Is it worth reading? A resounding yes. I still haven’t read Ng’s debut (Everything I Never Told You), but it’s supposed to be amazing . . . and it’s now on hold for me at the library.

*****

download-3.jpgOrphan Island
Laurel Snyder
288 pages
Published May 30, 2017

Rating 3.5/5

What it’s about: Nine orphans, each one year apart, live together on an island. Once a year, a new, teeny orphan arrives by boat, and the eldest, pubescent orphan climbs aboard, leaving the island for good. Where do the old orphans go? From whence do the young orphans arrive? Why are they all sent to live on the island (are they, indeed, orphans)?

What I liked: The thing that impresses me most when I read a good book is not great writing or fun characters. It’s a really interesting, creative idea (plot, setting, whatever)—something that I couldn’t have come up with in a million years. Orphan Island is an excellent example of that kind of idea.

In addition to the super-creative and thought-provoking premise, there are a lot of good themes and issues raised. Parenting plays a huge role in the book (the oldest orphan on the island is responsible for teaching the newest arrival—they must teach them at a minimum 3 things: 1) how to read, 2) how to swim, and 3) how to cook a meal), which is appealing for a newish mom like me.

What I didn’t like: When I started reading this book, I texted my friend who lent it to me and said, “This has a lot of promise. I hope I’m not disappointed by the ending.” Her response? “Oh, you’re going to be disappointed.”

And she was right. The ending feels like it’s the set-up for a sequel (despite the fact that the author has said in multiple interviews that she never intended to write one). Nothing gets explained; everything is left to interpretation.

Is it worth reading? Yep. This is my book club’s selection for this month, and it is a PERFECT book club book. Why? Because it leaves soooo many questions (all of the above and more) unanswered. Huzzah! Good fodder for book-club discussion and debate!

If you’re looking for something that wraps up neatly, read Little Fires Everywhere. If you’re OK with filling in the blanks yourself, this is the one for you.

*****

download-1.jpgSourdough
Robin Sloan
272 pages
Published September 5, 2017

Rating: 3/5

What it’s about: A newly graduated computer chick (Lois) is recruited by a robotic-arm firm in San Francisco. She moves out there and works 24/7, subsisting off of Slurry, a “nutritive gel.” One day, she comes home and finds a flier for “CLEMENT STREET SOUP AND SOURDOUGH.” There are three things on the menu: “Spicy Soup,”Spicy Sandwich,” and the “Combo (double spicy).” Feeling adventurous, she orders the “double spicy” and is immediately hooked. For weeks, she comes home and orders the “double spicy” for dinner every night . . . until one day, the owners tell her they are moving back to Europe (because: visas). But, before they go, as a gift for being their “Number One Customer,” they bestow upon her their sourdough starter. And, thus, a hipster is born! 

What I liked: This is a short, quick book with short, quick chapters. It is SUPER readable and lots fun. It is packed with quirky things like Lois’s visits to her local chapter of the Lois Club (these are a real thing!):

A handwritten sign on the door read: Welcome, Lois!

It made me smile. I could tell whoever wrote it was very pleased with herself. Not without reason.

What I didn’t like: Like Mr. Penumbra (Sloan’s debut novel), this book has great potential, but veers into the outlandish. I’m a fan of the bizarre and silly . . . but this is eye-roll-inducing at times.

Is it worth reading? The book is packed with farmers markets, hipsters, robot arms, cricket tacos, goats, pink-light crops, Alice Waters-esque celebrity chefs, and bread with faces. What a romp! It’s silly and irreverent and just the kind of book I love to breeze through on a long plane trip.

*****

51VFrzslYiL._SX329_BO1,204,203,200_The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo
Taylor Jenkins Reid
400 pages
Published June 13, 2017

Rating: 2.5/5

What it’s about: Evelyn Hugo is an aging screen actress who has had seven very public marriages (hello, Liz Taylor). She hasn’t given an interview in decades, but purposely seeks out a certain young and hungry writer and offers to do a tell-all story of her (sordid, conniving, glamorous) life.

The question that everyone wants answered: Who was the love of Evelyn Hugo’s life? Evelyn knows the answer will come as a surprise.

What I liked: This is pure, mindless fluff. It does not take a lot of brainpower, which can be appealing when you don’t have tons of free time to read. And it does a decent job of illuminating the choices and sacrifices one must make to be successful. It’s also like reading a long, in-depth (and better written) US Weekly exposé. For the record, I am an unabashed fan of US Weekly.

What I didn’t like: This is pure, mindless fluff. It’s predictable (while trying to be twisty). And it tries too hard to raise important questions (about love and happiness and priorities) through Evelyn’s life choices.

Is it worth reading? This is the very definition of a beach read.

*****

download.jpgMrs. Fletcher
Tom Perrotta
320 pages
Published August 1, 2017

Rating: 2/5

What it’s about: Eve Fletcher is a divorcee who works at a senior center. Until now, her life has (thanklessly) revolved around her son. But now he’s leaving for college. She struggles to figure out her next step in life . . . until one night she gets a text from an unknown number that reads: “U R my MILF!” Eve doesn’t even know what a MILF is, but a quick Google search clears up that mystery. It also leads to a bit of a porn addiction (MILFateria.com, a site full of homegrown porn posted by real-life MILFs, becomes Eve’s go-to). Before long, Eve finds that her porn habit is emboldening her sexually IRL. And this leads to some sticky situations.

What I liked: It is well-written and very readable (classic Perrotta). And there are some fun, realistic observations, like this one about Eve packing her son up to leave for college:

When she finished, she took a few pictures of the van with the back hatch open, the cargo area stuffed with luggage and plastic containers, a rolled-up rug and lacrosse stick, an Xbox console and an oscillating fan, a mini-fridge and a milk crate full of emergency food, plus a jumbo bag of Cool Ranch Doritos, because they were his favorite. She uploaded the least blurry photo to Facebook, along with a status update that read, Off to college! So happy for my amazing son, Brendan!!! Then she inserted the obligatory emoticon and launched her message into space, so her 221 friends would understand how she was feeling, and could let her know they liked it.

What I didn’t like: The characters aren’t consistent, particularly likable, or, frankly, very believable. This is one of those cases when a man writing a female character didn’t quite hit the nail on the head.

Is it worth reading? Meh. You can skip this one. 

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