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Three Young Adult Novels to Read this Winter—Clara

Dear reader, As you know I love seasons and according everything to them. I have been recommending you books based on seasons since 2018, and I’m not ready to stop yet. When last year I focused on three different moods you can have for each time of the year, for 2020 I decided to focus […]

Three young adult novels to read this Winter | The Winter Diary 2020 #3 📘☃️ — Clara
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CHIN MUSIC RHUBARB – Eamon Loingsigh

CHIN MUSIC RHUBARB can be pre-ordered for Kindle HERE.
I HIGHLY recommend.

I wanted to find out why some of my friends in publishing are tweeting about this book. What I found was an ingenious little story that imbibes progressive values to young men through a young adult, coming-of-age novel they can relate to.

Considering this book is about baseball in the 80s, I wasn’t sure if I was going to like it. BUT THE CHARACTERS! Yes, the characters and their struggles made this a very fun read. The storyline is easy enough to follow and offers a nice mix of drama, edged with comedic dialogue. But let’s talk about those CHARACTERS. . .

The barriers in front of Layton, a troubled 15 year-old, seem too difficult to overcome. Not only is his mother dying of cancer, but he is also homeless because he punched his stepfather in the face for cheating on his mom. He fights everyone, in fact, and oftentimes he’s totally justified in doing so. Yet is he? Really? It takes the calming presence of his smart girlfriend (a total queen) to turn Layton into the leader he is meant to be.

The smart one I mentioned? The queen? That’s Monique, a thoughtful, over-achieving senior with a strong moral compass. Her mother is Black and father is white and this is the 80s, so. . . She just wants to be a journalist, but systemic obstacles quickly alter her plans because of the way she looks, while others (who are less qualified) are able to map their futures accordingly. But does she freak out? No, in fact Monique is the one who pulls the strings on the entire story, since she can’t map out her own.

The cutest, most lovable of all is Furble, a Black kid from the poorest apartment complex in this small southern town. You can’t help but notice that he cracks jokes throughout the whole book. Especially when there’s conflict. But when it’s revealed he struggles with his sexuality in a time when it simply was not acceptable to be gay during the AIDS epidemic, let alone Black and gay, those jokes turn bittersweet and my heart went out to him.

Then there’s Gina (and her big 80s hair) who doesn’t mean to be funny, but will make you belly laugh throughout. There’s also Sucio, a Latino from the Dominican Republic who everyone loves, but who can’t seem to come into his own because he is just trying to fit in. Coach Nick, the story’s main antagonist, is unlikeable and does cruel things to his players throughout the book, but his arc at least helped me understand why he is such a cold disciplinarian.

Maybe my favorite character in this character-driven YA novel is the teacher, Ms. Diamochoulos, who chooses the kids in her class that are the neediest to give special attention. Her change, from the screaming stickler all the students call “The Black Widow” is tear-jerkingly beautiful at the end.

The story centers around Layton’s struggle, but the relationships between Layton, Monique, Furble and Sucio are central, not to mention heart-warming as they go through difficult times together, struggle to make the right decisions but stand by each other no matter what happens. CHIN MUSIC RHUBARB reads like a fun 80s movie; think St. Elmo’s Fire or Karate Kid. Hearty laughs, tears of happiness along with a feel-good redemption story make this a YA fan favorite.

I highly recommend CHIN MUSIC RHUBARB. I received a bunch of ARCs from publishers looking for reviews this year, but I was intrigued by this one as it is by the same author who wrote DIVIDE THE DAWN, one of my favorites last year.

~Special thanks to the publisher for the ARC.

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The Gilded Ones – Namina Forna

The story is about a patriarchal society and a girl who just wants to everyone to stop being murdered. Not kidding, she keeps being killed. If you don’t want a book with graphic violence and trauma you may want to sigh at the pretty cover and move along. There are a lot of trigger warnings in this book, but it is necessary to read, in my opinion.

The cover of the book is beautiful, and so is the story itself. Depth, growth, and female warriors in abundance. I highly enjoyed it and will be keeping this one to reread.

Deka is 16 years old and awaiting a Purity Ritual – all girls must complete their Purity Ritual to make sure they are pure of heart, body and blood. If a young girl doesn’t bleed red, she is impure and gets punished by the Elders and priests. After an incident at her Purity Ritual, Deka’s blood is revealed to be gold, YES GOLD! identifying her as a demon and unclean. Deka, who always tries to be a perfect and submissive woman, is devastated. And she becomes the subject of torture before being saved by an unknown benefactor who brings her to be trained as an Alaki – or a Demon Warrior. But things aren’t as they seem in Otera and the more Deka trains, the more she changes, while learning about Otera’s horrific past.

You should definitely read this book for the amazing womanliness – young girls who are strong and fast being trained by Karmoko’s who are literally the best. I especially loved Thandiwe and Karmoko Huon. I want to see this turned into a movie so I can fan cast it. There are significant themes of the impacts of patriarchy and extreme misogyny which can be hard to read but feel extremely realistic. I also loved that Forna created a world that is complete fantasy – sure there are similarities to some countries and cultures but her worldbuilding is fabulous. There are a few twists and surprises, most of which I guessed, but that didn’t change my love of this story. I can’t wait for the sequel (and the cover!) and congratulate Forna on a wonderful debut.

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The Babysitter, Liza Rodman and Jennifer Jordan — Rae’s Reading Lounge

For the bulk of Liza’s childhood, she raised herself. Her mother was abusive to only her and lavished all her attention on her younger sister. The girls had much more freedom than most children their age. Enter Tony, the son of one of the women who cleaned the motel. Tony was the cool guy and […]

The Babysitter, Liza Rodman and Jennifer Jordan — Rae’s Reading Lounge
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The Darkest Hero: Character Study

What are the labors of a hero during the darkest of times? A question many of us are asking in this day and age is also an important plot point in the historical novel Divide the Dawn.

If after you’ve read this and you’re interested in getting the book, I’ve provided links below. Thank you!! USA – 
Eire/UK   CAN

My readers may have noticed that I have written more on this book than any other new release this year. That is because it is by far and away the most exciting book out there.

Harry Reynolds is a dour and secretive character who rarely speaks or acts out, but when he does the impact propels the storyline. He disappears when the story is in set-up mode, then bursts onto the scene during the payoff amidst fire and chaos to deal the antagonists decisive blows. Only to disappear again afterward. When the true hero of the story (the idealistic leader of a benevolent street gang) is in desperate need, Harry appears to again undermine villainy. Harry Reynolds is the man behind the hero. The one whose terrifying means lead to good ends.

But the mystery surrounding Harry Reynolds obscures his motives. We can only try to understand him by his actions which, judging by his limited dialogue, is exactly how he wants to be judged. He does not want credit, refuses the power his colleagues hand him and avoids attention altogether. In fact Harry’s enemies, who have murdered a police officer and raped and planned to execute a woman who knew too much, would call Harry a terrorist.

We could use a few more Harry Reynolds in our day. People who shun social media, refuse power and never engage in rhetoric and sophistry. Just straight-up action.

One of the biggest questions Divide the Dawn asks is: When is doing something bad, or against the law, justifiable? It’s a dark question. A question seeped in subjectivity and opinion. Combing through history, the most dramatic and justifiable example I can think of is Operation Valkyrie, a plot to murder Adolf Hitler. Is it terrorism to murder a megalomaniacal dictator who oversaw the death of millions? Or is it an act of heroism?

Vigilante justice is not a new theme in historical novels, but in Divide the Dawn it is presented in a brilliant, if not bittersweet manner.

“Harry Reynolds is a sort of benevolent terrorist,
something that is both enthralling to our current
political predicament and ingeniously re-invents

the American gangster at the perfect time.”

We are already asking and answering this important question, actually. Protesting is a form of civil disobedience. And people are coming out in droves to support of black people in America, who lose their lives at an alarming rate to police brutality. Only racists would argue that what the protesters are doing is terrorism, but I don’t think we can put anything past this president in his bid to retain power.

The author of Divide the Dawn, Eamon Loingsigh is a master of the Trojan horse set-up with an explosive payoff. He recently posted a video of a song called “Ballad of Harry Reynolds” (yes Divide the Dawn has its own soundtrack. Wha?). The video, posted below, got me thinking about Harry again.

After re-reading the novel I have concluded that Loingsigh has a secret concerning Harry. In the first chapter after the prologue Liam, the protagonist, mentions that he has heard about Harry’s dark and treacherous past.

Later, the gang leader publicly banishes Harry under mysterious pretenses. But Liam is confused by this since Harry is the most loyal gang member. Many chapters later there are rumors that Harry was publicly banished so that he could go underground to terrorize the antagonists from the cover of darkness.

Conspiracy Theory: I speculate that Harry had some sort of relationship with the gang leader’s wife, Sadie years earlier. More on this some other time.

For me, Harry Reynolds redefines the American gangster and continues a long tradition in its evolution. Harry’s nickname is “the Shiv,” which confirms that yes, at heart he is a gangster. But his decisions are very different than anything Sergio Leone, Scorsese, Puzo/Coppolla, Cagney, Pacino or DeNiro could ever create or portray. Harry’s deep longing for family (he is an orphan) brings him closer to a young Vito Corleone in comparison. The violence he commits is only to ensure that his gang stays on top, since it feeds the many immigrant Irish families in Brooklyn’s waterfront neighborhoods of 1919. Harry’s arc does not include the typical American gangster’s rise to great riches and violent end. Instead he is a sort of benevolent terrorist, something that is both enthralling to our current political predicament and ingeniously re-invents the American gangster at the perfect time.

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All Adults Here by Emma Straub

If you could write a novel with the attitude of Twitter, All Adults Here would be one of the best. I say “one of the best” because it’s very popular these days to write books with the same righteous, cold outrage and sophistic affect. The opening lines give you a hint at things to come. When the protagonist’s friend of 40 years is hit and killed by a bus, the protagonist felt something “indistinguishable from relief.”

I’m not really sure why I kept reading. Because my pride tells me never to stop reading a book I start? Because I wanted to see the protagonist change? Whatever the case, I slogged through. I would recommend you do not though. You’ve been warned.

As I moved forward in the story I realized it wasn’t going to change, it just left me feeling like I had just wasted a day while being quarantined. The story could have been interesting but it lacked depth in plot development. 

I know some people don’t like it because it has homosexuality in it and some weird sexual deviances. That doesn’t bother me at all, other than it seemed the author was simply trying to get a rise out of the reader.

I didn’t really feel all that connected to any of the characters. The book had the tone of a children’s novel with a very basic narrative, but the characters never really come to life, and is really just trying to make a point. It seemed like a race to touch on every single progressive issue, except that the characters were way too shallow for me to put myself in their shoes.

Just don’t.

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2020 Top Five Books (so far)

Well we are a third through 2020 and I’ve read twelve books so far (thank you lockdown!). So I thought I would update on my Top Five Favs for 2020. Let’s go.

Number One – You may not have heard of Divide the Dawn, but I promise you will soon! This book really took me by surprise. I hadn’t heard of this author before, though he was shortlisted a couple years ago for a historical novel award. I was blown away at how original and smart the storyline is. It features a few POV characters, but what makes it easy to follow along is that the author uses very fundamental, yet individualized storylines for each that all work together. I called Divide the Dawn my “dark horse darling,” and I meant it! (Read my review HERE)

Number Two – Hilary Mantel’s long-awaited final book in the Wolf Hall Trilogy came out and did not disappoint. The author is a well-versed professional. Although I have never been morally behind the idea of making Thomas Cromwell the hero of any story (pretty much a horrible human being), Mantel was fair. From the opening lines of Wolf Hall where he is beaten close to death by his father, to the end where he is beheaded, Cromwell was not spared any soft treatment. And rightfully so, as he ruined and caused the death of many others. (Read my review HERE)

Number Three – We carried Suzy Approved Book Reviews for My Dark Vanessa because it was better than I could have written. I just love when a debut author pushes through and creates a great story, and Kate Elizabeth Russell really succeeded here. Suzy wrote “a compelling, distressing, and haunting story that will stick with you for days.” (See her review HERE)

Number Four – Quirky and fun, I had to have something a little more upbeat in my top five. I mean I love drama, but you can’t live on drama alone. The Astonishing Life of August March reminded me of watching a Wes Anderson film. It has smart things to teach you, but through a very strange lens. (Read my review HERE)

Number FiveAmerican Dirt came out of the gates like wildfire. In fact it had been in the works for a long time. It rocketed to the top, only to be dragged down by criticism due to its author not being hispanic. Well then we found out she is hispanic, but maybe not enough(?). In any case, I liked the story. It read like an action movie and I felt a deep connection to the main character. (Read my review HERE)

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Writers & Lovers by Lily King

When I was in my early twenties I used to follow websites like Lithub religiously. Back then I wasn’t sure exactly what types of books made me happy, but I did want to know what types of books were popular. Eventually I learned that sites like that are not as concerned about good books as they are about how their site can continue to attract regular views and clicks.

Recently I went back to Lithub and read their “Most anticipated books of 2020” and found Writers & Lovers, so I thought I’d give it a shot.

Immediately I was struck by its attempt to glorify a woman’s aspirations to become a writer by having cardboard cutout characters make fun of her for it. It’s an angle, I get it. It’s a good angle if you see your readers as naive about the struggle to become a writer. But the problem is, most readers are not naive.

There’s something detatched about Writers & Lovers. It’s both insubstantial and pretentious. The writing is occasionally interesting, with some amusing dialogue, but the book never takes flight and the characters are mere shadows of what they could be. I never got a chance to care about what happens to Casey, the POV character, or any other characters. There are a couple cute kids that I wanted to know more about, but I think that’s my biological arrow that points toward all children in books, lol.

I had read all of King’s novels previously, with Euphoria as my favorite. So Writers & Lovers was a real disappointment for me.

In the end, I didn’t want to finish this book and stopped about 280, which is really sad because I was almost done. But it does go to show that I just didn’t care what the ending had in store because I wasn’t invested.

I think I’m officially done with Lithub now.

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Divide the Dawn by Eamon Loingsigh

We’ve reviewed many new books, but 2020’s dark horse darling is the powerful, exquisitely written historical novel Divide the Dawn.

Every once in a great while a book comes along that alters my perspective. This one succeeded. I wasn’t familiar with New York City’s history going in, but the intimate relationship the author creates with the characters made me feel at home in industrial-era Brooklyn. The struggle to survive in a world rocked by the Spanish Influenza, bone-chilling poverty and a devastating snowstorm is intensely palpable.

Everyone must choose a side as a gang war approaches. But an existential threat looms over them all: The ghosts of the past. Cinematic, mystical and gorgeously lyrical, right away we learn that this is not a book solely about gangs in New York, but the lengths we will go to feed our loved ones as well as the eternal struggle between honor and power, as a haunting prophecy augurs early on in the book: “T’is dawn when the darkness of the past and the light of the future clash.”

The book has a Dickensian gallery of memorable characters: Honorable and naive Liam, the young Irish immigrant protagonist who ushers us through the underworld. He soon finds himself caught up in a whirl of murder plots, counter-plots, vendettas, blood feuds and double-dealings. Sadie, the gang leader’s wife has run away to protect her son, though her journey takes her to dark places. Anna, a favorite of mine, is a young woman who must bury the love in her heart to make brutal decisions in order to support her twelve siblings. I also love Detective Brosnan, a soft-hearted veteran of Irishtown who sees the snowstorm as a harbinger of horror. Yet they all have one simple goal: To feed and protect their families, a chilling reminder that the line between a hero and a villain is imperceptibly thin when necessity eclipses civility.

Divide the Dawn is available USA –
Eire & UK –
Canada –

In my opinion the story might suffer from too many characters and also features some gruesome violence, but it’s the depth and breadth of style that makes it a superbly sweeping saga. A smart character list in the book helps too. There is also a very practical map of the area that guides those of us who are not so familiar with Brooklyn’s layout.

Based on “The White Hand,” which was a true Irish-American gang of the early 20th Century, the gang members dedicate the “tribute” money it earns to feeding the needy inhabitants of Irishtown, a now-defunct neighborhood along the waterfront. The gang has good intentions (well, mostly good), but are under siege from both its enemies and its allies. Their fate is the fate of all street gangs before Prohibition when organized crime displaced them. The Italian Black Hand, unions, waterfront businesses, newspapers, the police and even a splinter gang are all dead-set on taking the White Hand’s territory and earnings.

It’s been fascinating to watch this book catapult from obscurity to a legitimate contender for best book of 2020. Writing in prose that’s pictorial and tactile, lyrical but streetwise, Eamon Loingsigh does for Brooklyn what a young James Joyce once did for Dublin: he conjures the place for us with such intimacy that we feel we’ve walked its cobblestoned streets and crawled its riverine saloons.

Loingsigh has a magical gift for storytelling and Divide the Dawn stands out by virtue of its superbly developed characters and sheer danger that haunts them. Heartrendingly tender moments with helpless personifications are juxtaposed against shocking scenes that shake their realities.

But just as you are getting a feel for the story, a scene occurs that is likely to leave some readers catatonic with shock. (No Spoilers!) It is a scene that is so impactful that it flies in the face of the reassuring “good will triumph over evil” themes that historical novel fans have come to expect and sends you careening through the remaining chapters.

Propulsive and affecting, Divide the Dawn is historical fiction with arresting language, yet the narrative hurtles forward with the intensity of a suspense novel. Loingsigh hits the mark and has written a brilliant story that belongs in the elite company of world-renowned classics like The Godfather, The Maltese Falcon and A Game of Thrones.

Still, don’t expect a satisfying resolution. You won’t get it.

Thanks to the publisher for the ARC.

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The Astonishing Life of August March by Aaron Jackson

Sometimes you just need something a little quirky. Especially being cooped up inside all the time during this age of quarantin-ism, lol. This one made me laugh and tested the bounds of my ability to suspend disbelief. But sometimes disbelief is fun to suspend, just look at all the lovers of the Outlander series.

“Abandoned as an infant by his actress mother in her theater dressing room, August March was raised by an ancient laundress. Highly intelligent, a tad feral, August is a true child of the theater able to recite Shakespeare before he knew the alphabet.”

For those who love the theatre and early twentieth century New York, this is for you. This tongue-in-cheek debut novel has Shakespearean humor along with quirky absurdities. Yet somehow keeps you turning the page. It’s like a performance in and of itself.

In this sweet, although sometimes vulgar, rags-to-riches story, August Marchs bizzare and astonishing story will be sure to evoke a broad range of emotions. 

A delightfully charming read, but a read that is certainly not going to test your intelligence. It’s entertainment for entertainment’s sake. Don’t look to this book to solve the difficult questions in life. Look to it to make you smile while your stuck inside.

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The Girl with the Golden Scissors by Julia Drosten

I love stories with a strong female POV, and I have read a few books by Drosten now. I also love historical fiction and the fact that this is female oriented without it being a typical romance is a plus for me. This book does not disappoint. Although I would stop short of calling it great, though it is a solid choice.

Born into a foundling home for orphans of unwed mothers, Fanny Schindler spends most of her life proving herself to Josepha, who had taken her in. First she obtains good grades in school and longs to continue her education, she then works as a lady’s maid for several rich young women. After several failed attempts in prominent houses, she decides to follow her dream of becoming a seamstress and buys herself an apprenticeship to one of the most prestigious clothing shops in Austria-Hungary.

I like how Fanny is a strong character learning to take care of herself through several failures and finally finding her calling in fashion. And how she was able to eventually buy the clothing store she started in. Interesting historical fiction before and during WWI.

This book seems to check all the correct boxes in attracting and, in the case for many readers, proves to be a good story. I would argue, however, that it lacks a certain amount of depth and complexity to the character that would allow this book to reach much bigger heights.

It is certainly adept at keeping the reader turning the page, just as the Hallmark Channel knows how to leave you wanting more just before the commercial break. This will be a good book for long days stuck in isolation during the Covid crisis, but let’s not jump to conclusions and call this a classic.

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Uncanny Valley by Anna Wiener — Celebration of Books

Millennials unite! This is my first millennial autobiography/memoir (I think?), and I absolutely thought I was not going to be able to relate to Anna, but I was oh so very surprised by her story, and my experience reading it. Synopsis From the Front Flap:In her mid-twenties, at the height of tech-industry idealism, Anna Wiener […]

Uncanny Valley by Anna Wiener — Celebration of Books
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Ghosts of the Missing by Kathleen Donohoe

A friend of mine who works with a publicist team for McNally Jackson Bookstore told me about this one. And I’m very glad for it.

Ghosts of the Missing is a somber tale of an old, upstate New York house that is haunted. The beginning of the book is laid out so that you get a good sense of the history of the generations of people, from the 1850s to the 2020s) who lived in the house and lived in the shanties in the woods outside of it as well.

For many years, people were haunted by the curse of their children dying. But as it happens, only the boys die (add your own feminist agenda as you see fit).

In 1994 Rowan, a twelve year-old girl, disappeared. Adair, her best friend back then, is haunted by Rowan’s ghost. By now the house has been a writer’s retreat since the 1950s.

When a male writer shows up in 2010, Adair quickly finds out that he wants more than to become a writer. He wants to write about the house’s curse. The big secret though, is that Rowan is not just someone he is interested in finding out what happened to her. Rowan was his sister!

I won’t give away any more than that, but I will say Ghosts of the Missing is a great read for a rainy weekend. I devoured this book with my hands tucked up into my sleeves and my hair drooping down into my eyes, lol.

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My Dark Vanessa by Kate Elizabeth Russell — Suzy Approved Book Reviews

Check out this review from Suzy Approved Book Reviews. It’s a review of a book I’ve been watching, but just simply don’t have the time to read right now. I will put up a review of the book I’m currently reading SOON ! —Janey

Release Date: January 28, 2020 Vanessa Wye was a student at a prestigious boarding school. When she was fifteen, she became romantically involved with her forty-two-year-old English teacher, Jacob Strane. She formed a deep connection with Jacob who gave her extra attention and books to read, including the aptly titled ”Lolita”. Vanessa was vulnerable and […]

My Dark Vanessa by Kate Elizabeth Russell — Suzy Approved Book Reviews
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Big Lies in a Small Town by Diane Chamberlain

If you haven’t heard of Diane Chamberlain by now, you’re probably male. Just kidding, the prolific writer is at it again and has, in many people’s eyes, finally hit the jackpot.

BIG LIES IN A SMALL TOWN is about a woman’s life that was derailed. Her dreams of becoming an artist have to be put on hold when she is sent to a women’s prison. Then a stranger shows up and offers her a deal that will get her out. But at what cost?  

She is tasked with restoring an old mural in a small southern town. She knows next-to-nothing about restoration, but she will do anything to get out of prison, so she accepts. What she finds under the layers of grime is a painting that tells the story of madness, violence, and a conspiracy of small town secrets.

Close to eighty years separates the alternating narratives of the two women artists. I love mysteries, and weaving through the two (very well written) storylines, was page turning, for me. I was taken with wanting to know the secrets that the mural held and with the story of the two protagonists. And how would be connected in the end.

If you like a good clean story written by a professional writer, here’s your book. Solid and entertaining.

What the best reviewers on Goodreads are saying:

The Good: Thank you, Diane Chamberlain, for pulling me out of my two-month book slump. Big Lies in a Small Town is an intriguing read. . . I am one happy girl knowing there are many more left for me to dive into. Kudos to a wonderful storyteller!” ~Christine

The Bad: The first half of the book was slow going and a bit bogged down in the painting project details (in my opinion). There are plenty of clues that may lead you to solve the big reveal and predict the end as I did.” ~Holly B

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Cleanness by Garth Greenwell

Similar (very similar) to Greenwell’s What Belongs to YouCleanness considers the relationship between sex, power, and communication for gay men traumatized by terrible childhoods. The linked short stories follow an unnamed gay American expat living and teaching English in Bulgaria (again) as he seeks out hook-ups and worries about his adopted nation’s politics. All the stories focus on queer characters’ inability to form lasting bonds and their desire to dole out, or receive, abuse during sex.

The Good from Goodreads: “What a book – audacious, innovative, sometimes disturbing, sometimes romantic. It feels like a short story collection but in many ways functions as a novel, or perhaps more like a symphony.”

The Bad from Goodreads: More than anything, this book, not only does it just not work as a narrative for me – too “this x makes you feel y, doesn’t it?”, too not the sum of its parts, nor its parts operating singularly – but it feels, plainly, unnecessary. Sure, Greenwell can write, and writes beautiful prose at that, but the story should have ended with WBTYCleanness adds nothing new.

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The Glass Hotel by Emily St. John Mandel

Fresh off the success of Station Eleven, Emily St. John Mandel has a new book coming out on March 24 called The Glass House.

The first thing you need to know is that this book is not the dystopian novel Station Eleven is. The Glass House is very different. The second thing you need to know is that the character named Vincent is female.

With those two things out of the way, The Glass House is one of the most highly anticipated novels of 2020, if you ask the publishing industry, that is. Just look at the promotional material:

New York Times “20 Books We’re Watching For in 2020”

An Entertainment Weekly, Newsweek, Bustle, Buzzfeed, GoodReads, The Millions, Boston Globe, USA Today, and Women’s Day Most Anticipated Book

As we have already learned this year (see American Dirt), the publishing industry is not always right, so let’s keep an open mind about The Glass House. Here is a good review, and a bad one too.

The Good – From Paromjit “Emily St. John Mandel writes an exquisite other worldly novel, slightly surreal as if peering through a misted looking glass, of alternative realities, paths not taken, ghosts, of a diverse and disparate cast of characters, their lives and connections revealed as the narrative goes back and forth in time. It is a story of greed, immense wealth, a financial empire built on the shifting sands of an international Ponzi scheme, reflecting the real life example of Bernie Madoff, and the financial collapse in 2008. Mandel tracks her victims and perpetrators with their interwoven lives, the characterization sharp yet subtle, nuanced, with the capacity to see the humanity of both in a profoundly moving way. She intricately pieces together different lives, structured to intrigue, with answers that comes together holistically at the end.”

The Bad – From Bethany Everett “This is a really hard book to rate for me because I feel as if this simply was just not a book. This was a collection of life struggles and lessons and observations through a million different characters, and you never really get the satisfaction of understanding. There was no real story to this, in the traditional sense. This felt to me like a book of short stories all mashed together into a confusing ball of a book. I enjoyed the start, as it follows one character (Paul) through grief and understanding that his actions can cause a ripple in the lives of others, but then everything quickly changed perspective… many times. I think if the story would’ve stuck with Paul and Vincent, I would’ve been fine. But to get all this backstory of other characters through random outside sources just threw me off. I can’t even properly explain or express the book I just read, I’m just left with confusion and a feeling that I’m missing something big, that this was some sort of puzzle and I’m not seeing the full picture. Or maybe the message of this novel is that life is made up of a mash of wayward memories and grief and regret and past mistakes, all tangled up in a completely meaningless life in the grand scheme of things.”

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Apeirogon by Colum McCann

I have never been a big Colum McCann fan, but this one cements it for me. I read Let the Great World Spin with an open mind, but by the end of it I had been battered so hard with cliches, tropes and an author constantly trying to peel the onions under my eyes to make me cry, that I threw it against a wall (not really, but you know?).

Apeirogon (April 2020): An Israeli man and a Palestinian man search for peace in an ancient Middle Eastern conflict when both of their daughters are killed.

Publisher’s Weekly seems to be jumping on the train with hardly a critical word for Apeirogon in its review: “McCann evokes the experience of its protagonists and their region through 1,001 brief numbered segments that incorporate sequences in the men’s own voices and interconnect topics including bullet manufacturing, Jorge Luis Borges, and birds. Balancing its dazzling intellectual breadth with moments of searing intimacy.”

But Kirkus Reviews has a very different take: “Rarely does McCann incorporate the voices of women. Smadar and Abir are necessarily rendered silent by their deaths, but McCann doesn’t make much space, either, for Rami’s and Bassam’s wives to inhabit. Nor does he assemble women writers, artists, and intellectuals with anything approaching the frequency with which he defers to figures like Darwish and Borges.”

In an age when we are confronting stereotypical depictions of silent, voiceless women in fiction, McCann can’t seem to get out from under the rock. Worse, the smug, supposedly high-minded literary world (who looks down their noses at genre fiction) can’t get enough of him. Maybe this tone deaf novel to the #MeToo movement will turn them against him. Doubtful though, the National Book Award winner is entrenched in the lit world. But he has proven himself again to me as Captain Cliche and Patriarch of Tropes.

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American Dirt by Jeanine Cummins

Boy has the world turned against this book. It went from publishing industry’s biggest darling and Oprah’s recommended list, to the recipient of rage from the Latinox community.

“This path is only for people who have no choice, no other option, only violence and misery behind you,” a priest warns the protagonist who is about to set out on a perilous journey. “Many will be maimed or injured. Many will die. Many, many of you will be kidnapped, tortured, trafficked or ransomed … every single one of you will be robbed.”

Jeanine Cummins’s third novel,  American Dirt (January 21, 2020), is an action-packed wild ride. A middle-class wife of a Mexican journalist is suddenly forced to flee with her eight-year-old son and find themselves miles and worlds away from their comfortable existence. Instantly transformed into migrants, the mother and son ride la bestia—trains that make their way north toward the United States. As they join the countless people trying to reach el norte, the mother soon sees that everyone is running from something. But what exactly are they running to? Trump’s America.

Cummins researched the background to American Dirt by spending time in the borderlands and listening to the personal stories of migrants and those who support them. But doing the research is not enough anymore. You have to be born into it for readers to allow you to write a story. The debate rages, but the two sides are “No, you can’t write about something that you don’t know about,” “Yes, we should all be able to learn about new topics, then write about them.”

I can understand both sides. White people have treated Mexicans very badly since 2016, why should a white person write this story? Then again, identity politics is a slippery slope. Even Ms. Cummins’ grandmother was Latino, but apparently that does not make her Latino enough.

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Winds of Winter – Summer 2020

Could it be true? We have been waiting for this since 2011 When A Dance with Dragons was released, which ended with Jon Snow’s murder. What a cliffhanger! (until we saw the beginning of Season 6 Game of Thrones).

Still, for those pure book lovers who prefer A Song of Ice and Fire books to the HBO series, this is huge, HUGE news! Here is a quote from author George R. R. Martin.

Recent photo of George R. R. Martin where he confirms he is an actual wizard.

“As for finishing my book… I fear that New Zealand would distract me entirely too much.   Best leave me here in Westeros for the nonce.  But I tell you this — if I don’t have THE WINDS OF WINTER in hand when I arrive in New Zealand for Worldcon, you have here my formal written permission to imprison me in a small cabin on White Island, overlooking that lake of sulfuric acid, until I’m done.”

GRRM was formally invited by the country of New Zealand to come and finish his book in relative quiet (umm, there was a volcano eruption recently, so, yeah). Anyhow, no word on when the RELEASE of the book will be. Ugh!

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William Gibson – Agency

Agency is a forthcoming science fiction novel by William Gibson, to be released on January 21, 2020.

I don’t know about you but I have been a William Gibson fan ever since my father clued me into him when I was a kid. I cannot WAIT until this one comes out. I tried to get an ARC, but to no avail so we’ll just have to wait until the book comes out to review it. BUT an Amazon reviewer was able to get one and I copied his review below.

Agency is a ‘sequel and a prequel’ to his previous novel The Peripheral (2014), reusing the time travel technology from the novel to explore an alternative 2017 where Hillary Clinton won the 2016 Presidential election The story line further explores the concept of the “Jackpot”, a back-story element of The Peripheral.

One plot will be set in the alternative 2017, with a young woman named Verity testing a new form of avatar software developed by the military, for a start-up in San Francisco . A second plot line involves people in a post-apocalyptic 22nd Century meddling with 2017.

 The year is 2017, and Verity Jane is a talented “app whisperer” who is hired to test a new artificial intelligence called “Eunice.” Verity soon becomes aware that the AI is quite powerful, something that she hesitates to share with her employers. But she can’t hide for long. While Agency opens in 2017, it is a book with both feet placed firmly in the future—a novel of variable timelines, including one set in London where shady characters can reach back into the past to manipulate Verity’s present. The book is a sequel of sorts to Gibson’s 2014 novel The Peripheral—it is set in the same universe and shares some characters—but it can be read on its own. With its pithy short chapters and mind-bending plot, with the recognizably erudite characters and Gibson-esque language and dialogue, and with the inventiveness of a great science fiction, this is a fun first read of the new decade. Agency will entertain you, but it will also leave you with thoughts to chew on. —Chris Schluep, Amazon Book Review

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The Yellow Bird Sings

The Yellow Bird Sings by Jennifer Rosner

If you haven’t gotten your fill yet on World War II books, this is expected to be a very good one.

During World War II in Poland, a Jewish mother and her musical prodigy daughter hide in a neighbor’s barn as Nazis round up the Jews in their town. Anxious to keep her young daughter Shira quiet and safe, Roza tells her a story about a girl who lives in an enchanted garden. The girl is not allowed to make any noise so instead, a yellow bird sings: the bird sings whatever the girl composes in her head. While the enchanted tale keeps Shira safe initially, the Germans decide to use the barn where they are hiding, and Roza is forced to make a choice no mother should have to make.

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The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes

A prequel? Yes! This new novel takes place in Panem 60 years before the events of The Hunger Games. Collins’s best-selling trilogy ushered in a new phase of Y.A. literature, earning young and adult fans alike; even if a small fraction of those readers pick up this prequel, it will be a hit.

The book is due in stores May 19, but the big question is, will there be a movie? Joe Drake, Chairman of the Lionsgate Motion Picture Group (which adapted The Hunger Games) said, “As the proud home of the Hunger Games movies, we can hardly wait for Suzanne’s next book to be published. We’ve been communicating with her during the writing process and we look forward to continuing to work closely with her on the movie.”

Adoring fans are going wild and the memes have been continuous. There seems to have been some undercover writing going on here as most of us had no idea this was in the works. What!? Happy surprise? Well, not for everyone. Some people see this as just another way for a book publisher, author and possibly movie studios to cash in on a known brand.

Still though, Katniss! I admit that YA books are limited in their scope of topics and themes, but I love to hear about kids reading books. When I was younger Harry Potter got me reading at a young age. I was hooked on reading ever since. If this can continue to get kids to open books, I’m all for it.

Suzanne Collins is the author of the groundbreaking Hunger Games trilogy for young adults: The Hunger Games, Catching Fire, and Mockingjay. She is also the author of the picture book Year of the Jungle, a Publishers Weekly Best Book of the Year, and the New York Times bestselling Underland Chronicles series for middle-grade readers, which started with Gregor the Overlander.

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Great Fiction from 2019 — The Irresponsible Reader

Once I settled on dividing this chunk of my reading out for its own list, I knew instantly half of the books that’d make it before I even looked at my reading log. After my first cut (which was pretty hard), I had 20+ candidates for the other 5 spots. Whittling those down was difficult, […]

My Favorite Crime/Mystery/Detective/Thriller Fiction of 2019 — The Irresponsible Reader
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Hilary Mantel in 2020

Probably the most popular historical novel series, Hilary Mantel’s Wolf Hall trilogy will most likely take center stage in the book world come March when The Mirror & the Light will be published.

Publisher HarperCollins says the novel will offer “a defining portrait of predator and prey, of a ferocious contest between present and past, between royal will and a common man’s vision: of a modern nation making itself through conflict, passion and courage”

I am not a big fan of the idea of a series that puts Thomas Cromwell in a positive light, particularly after some of the things he is known to have done, but then again. . . Sometimes the most interesting characters are those who have done terrible things.

I also found the writing style a bit confusing. The use of the word “he” and the inordinate amount of characters that go by the name “Thomas,” left me turning back to pages I already read. Eventually, like the rest of us, I caught on.

Wolf Hall (2009), which outlined Cromwell’s rise to power, and Bring Up the Bodies (2012), which covers the beheading of Anne Boleyn. Both novels won the Booker prize and have sold a combined 1.5m copies, making the third one of the most anticipated novels of the decade.

I admit to some British history fatigue, however. Having been born and lived in other countries beside those in Europe and the US, I often feel the market is over-saturated with Anglophilic novels.

Don’t get me wrong though, I’m going to read The Mirror & the Light happily. The political backstabbing between characters is fascinating and the series often underscores the malevolent genius of British politicians. And can certainly inform us today.

Mantel said of the third book, “When I began work on my Thomas Cromwell books back in 2005, I had high hopes, but it took time to feel out the full scope of the material. I didn’t know at first I would write a trilogy, but gradually I realized the richness and fascination of this extraordinary life. Since then I have been on a long journey, with the good companionship of archivists, artists, booksellers, librarians, actors, producers, and—most importantly—millions of readers through the world. I hope they will stay with me as we walk the last miles of Cromwell’s life, ascending to unprecedented riches and honour and abruptly descending to the scaffold at Tower Hill. This book has been the greatest challenge of my writing life, and the most rewarding; I hope and trust my readers will find it has been worth the wait.”

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Books I Hope to Find Under My Tree — lenikova | tia nicole

Top Ten Tuesday was created by The Broke and the Bookish and is hosted by Jana at That Artsy Reader Girl I’ll admit it: I’ve already purchased most of the books on my wishlist during the mad rush of Black Friday sales. Still, there are a few I’m crossing my fingers are in some of the boxes […]

Books I Hope to Find Under My Tree — lenikova | tia nicole
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I Love Fiction

hello and welcome!

There is nothing I love more than to read books. I have a day job that has nothing to do with books (unfortunately!), but a few of my close friends are editors or agents or work for PR agencies and I have even met a few writers. All of them have told me I should start my own blog. For a couple years I debated it, but for the new year I decided I’d give it a whirl.

Fiction is my bag. Whether it is genre fiction or literary fiction, I love it. Anything from Charlotte Bronte to Anne Rice, Herman Melville to JK Rowling, I am all over the spectrum.


Good advice. My friends tell me that I always give measured, good advice. That’s what my aim is here. I don’t want to color stories in a negative light, but I don’t want to be effusive either. That’s my style. Straight shooter, but I’ll let you know when something touches me in the soul. That’s what I love most about books anyway.

Thank you!

I’m a pretty private person. But I know people will be asking, so here goes: I grew up in Virginia. Went to college in California & NYU. Travelled the world for two years and now live outside New York City. I don’t like to talk too much about myself unless I’m face-to-face with you, so I’ll just say this: I’m 31, I am of mostly of Southwest Asian heritage, I love animals, I’m worried about having a child (I always get asked about children, ugh), my job is important to me, I only drink wine WHILE cooking so I can think straight while reading myself to sleep.

I wish you good will,