Category Archives: Fiction

Red at the Bone

Finished Red at the Bone by Jacqueline Woodson. I received a copy for review.

Summary (from Goodreads):

“An unexpected teenage pregnancy pulls together two families from different social classes, and exposes the private hopes, disappointments, and longings that can bind or divide us from each other, from the New York Times-bestselling and National Book Award-winning author of Another Brooklyn and Brown Girl Dreaming

Moving forward and backward in time, Jacqueline Woodson’s taut and powerful new novel uncovers the role that history and community have played in the experiences, decisions, and relationships of these families, and in the life of the new child.

As the book opens in 2001, it is the evening of sixteen-year-old Melody’s coming of age ceremony in her grandparents’ Brooklyn brownstone. Watched lovingly by her relatives and friends, making her entrance to the music of Prince, she wears a special custom-made dress. But the event is not without poignancy. Sixteen years earlier, that very dress was measured and sewn for a different wearer: Melody’s mother, for her own ceremony– a celebration that ultimately never took place.

Unfurling the history of Melody’s parents and grandparents to show how they all arrived at this moment, Woodson considers not just their ambitions and successes but also the costs, the tolls they’ve paid for striving to overcome expectations and escape the pull of history. As it explores sexual desire and identity, ambition, gentrification, education, class and status, and the life-altering facts of parenthood, Red at the Bone most strikingly looks at the ways in which young people must so often make long-lasting decisions about their lives–even before they have begun to figure out who they are and what they want to be.”

I snagged an e-galley of this without knowing anything about it except for “Jacqueline Woodson wrote this.” I haven’t read all or even most of her backlist, but everything I HAVE read has been completely extraordinary.

Red at the Bone is no exception. It’s incredibly short (barely 200 pages, according to Goodreads) but it contains an entire family. I want to know so much more about what happens to everyone (both in the past, as well as in the future) and I think I could get a 20-volume series of at least 500 pages each, and it still wouldn’t be enough.

I don’t want to talk too much about the plot, because I think it works really well when you learn things as you are being told. But you guys, this book is amazing and it’s serious genius. (Obviously, because Jacqueline Woodson wrote it.)

Highly recommended.

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Akin

Finished Akin by Emma Donoghue. I received a copy for review.

Summary (from Goodreads):

A retired New York professor’s life is thrown into chaos when he takes a young great-nephew to the French Riviera, in hopes of uncovering his own mother’s wartime secrets in the next masterpiece from New York Times bestselling author Emma Donoghue.

Noah Selvaggio is a retired chemistry professor and widower living on the Upper West Side, but born in the South of France. He is days away from his first visit back to Nice since he was a child, bringing with him a handful of puzzling photos he’s discovered from his mother’s wartime years. But he receives a call from social services: Noah is the closest available relative of an eleven-year-old great-nephew he’s never met, who urgently needs someone to look after him. Out of a feeling of obligation, Noah agrees to take Michael along on his trip.

Much has changed in this famously charming seaside mecca, still haunted by memories of the Nazi occupation. The unlikely duo, suffering from jet lag and culture shock, bicker about everything from steak frites to screen time. But Noah gradually comes to appreciate the boy’s truculent wit, and Michael’s ease with tech and sharp eye help Noah unearth troubling details about their family’s past. Both come to grasp the risks people in all eras have run for their loved ones, and find they are more akin than they knew.

Written with all the tenderness and psychological intensity that made Room an international bestseller, Akin is a funny, heart-wrenching tale of an old man and a boy, born two generations apart, who unpick their painful story and start to write a new one together.”

The easy comparison here is to A Man Called Ove, if Ove were less of a curmudgeon and then forced to be a guardian to an 11-year-old boy. But this isn’t quite accurate, either.

Emma Donoghue is one of the best writers around, and she proves it again here. This is the kind of story we’ve seen play out a lot of different times (the movies Raising Helen and Baby Boom, but there are a lot of examples) but this is also a great deal more poignant. None of the characters here are stereotypes; they’re fully realized and while I know that it’s incredibly snobby to say that a trope is elevated based on the author’s skill, I’m not sure of another way to put it.

She’s not one of the more prolific authors out there (a new Emma Donoghue novel is an EVENT in my world) but with that comes an actual 100% success rate. Every story she writes is hard to compare to the others but they’re also all amazing.

Highly recommended.

The Institute

Finished The Institute by Stephen King.

Summary (from Goodreads):

“In the middle of the night, in a house on a quiet street in suburban Minneapolis, intruders silently murder Luke Ellis’s parents and load him into a black SUV. The operation takes less than two minutes. Luke will wake up at The Institute, in a room that looks just like his own, except there’s no window. And outside his door are other doors, behind which are other kids with special talents—telekinesis and telepathy—who got to this place the same way Luke did: Kalisha, Nick, George, Iris, and ten-year-old Avery Dixon. They are all in Front Half. Others, Luke learns, graduated to Back Half, “like the roach motel,” Kalisha says. “You check in, but you don’t check out.”

In this most sinister of institutions, the director, Mrs. Sigsby, and her staff are ruthlessly dedicated to extracting from these children the force of their extranormal gifts. There are no scruples here. If you go along, you get tokens for the vending machines. If you don’t, punishment is brutal. As each new victim disappears to Back Half, Luke becomes more and more desperate to get out and get help. But no one has ever escaped from the Institute.

As psychically terrifying as Firestarter, and with the spectacular kid power of ItThe Institute is Stephen King’s gut-wrenchingly dramatic story of good vs. evil in a world where the good guys don’t always win.”

I feel like this took me forever to read, and that isn’t a reflection on the quality of the book. I’ve been a little scattered, and that doesn’t lend itself to a book like this. And, since this would be a dealbreaker for a lot of people, bad things happen to kids.

As one of his Constant Readers, I really enjoyed this book. It’s like a lot of his other books: very fun, very intense, incredibly fast-paced for a book that’s not exactly tiny (almost 600 pages), but I would caution that it’s also a brutal read. Horrible things happen, and they happen to good people. (As tends to be the case with his books, as you know.)

It’s not for everyone, but it was absolutely for me. I loved it and it made me want to re-read all of his others again. Proceed with caution, but I’ll definitely be reading it again.

Well Met

Finished Well Met by Jen DeLuca.

Summary (from Goodreads):

“All’s faire in love and war for two sworn enemies who indulge in a harmless flirtation in a laugh-out-loud rom-com from debut author, Jen DeLuca.

Emily knew there would be strings attached when she relocated to the small town of Willow Creek, Maryland, for the summer to help her sister recover from an accident, but who could anticipate getting roped into volunteering for the local Renaissance Faire alongside her teenaged niece? Or that the irritating and inscrutable schoolteacher in charge of the volunteers would be so annoying that she finds it impossible to stop thinking about him?

The faire is Simon’s family legacy and from the start he makes clear he doesn’t have time for Emily’s lighthearted approach to life, her oddball Shakespeare conspiracy theories, or her endless suggestions for new acts to shake things up. Yet on the faire grounds he becomes a different person, flirting freely with Emily when she’s in her revealing wench’s costume. But is this attraction real, or just part of the characters they’re portraying?

This summer was only ever supposed to be a pit stop on the way to somewhere else for Emily, but soon she can’t seem to shake the fantasy of establishing something more with Simon, or a permanent home of her own in Willow Creek.”

I’m not a huge fan of renaissance festivals but I do love books set in Maryland and I also love books about people rebuilding their lives. So when I got a chance to read this one early, I jumped at it.

And this book was a complete joy to read. I loved Emily and how she throws herself into everything she does. She’s a wonderful person to have on your side.

Like Emily, I hated Simon at first. But as her feelings changed, so did mine. By the end of the book, I couldn’t believe either of us had ever hated him at all.

This is an incredibly fun read and is perfect for any vacation (or for taking your mind off of a hard week where you don’t have a vacation). Public transportation in my city isn’t doing well right now and my commutes are getting increasingly longer and more annoying, but this book made it all a lot more bearable. Recommended.

Here’s to Us

Finished Here’s to Us by Elin Hilderbrand.

Summary (from Goodreads):

An emotional, heartwarming story from New York Times bestselling author Elin Hilderbrand about a grieving family that finds solace where they least expect it.

Celebrity chef Deacon Thorpe has always been a force of nature with an insatiable appetite for life. But after that appetite contributes to Deacon’s shocking death in his favorite place on earth, a ramshackle Nantucket summer cottage, his (messy, complicated) family is reeling. Now Deacon’s three wives, his children, and his best friend gather on the island he loved to say farewell. The three very different women have long been bitter rivals, each wanting to claim the primary place in Deacon’s life and his heart. But as they slowly let go of the resentments they’ve held onto for years and remember the good times, secrets are revealed, confidences are shared, and improbable bonds are formed as this unlikely family says goodbye to the man who brought them all together, for better or worse–and the women he loved find new ways to love again.”

I loved this one, too. It’s not quite as good as Summer of ’69, but the thing I love the most about Elin Hilderbrand is the way she writes families. It’s a complicated relationship, and there isn’t a family that’s more complicated than Deacon’s. He has three children with three different women, his wives. Two ended in divorce and the third almost definitely would have, too, had he not died.

There’s the wife he’s closest to (the first, Laurel) and the child he’s closest to (the second, Angie) and the man that they knew is different than the man the other two women and two children knew. My favorite part is seeing how each person viewed Deacon and how he changed based on who was remembering him.

Recommended.

Things You Save in a Fire

Finished Things You Save in a Fire by Katherine Center. I received a copy for review.

Summary (from Goodreads):

From the New York Times bestselling author of How to Walk Away comes a stunning new novel about family, hope, and learning to love against all odds. 

Cassie Hanwell was born for emergencies. As one of the only female firefighters in her Texas firehouse, she’s seen her fair share of them, and she’s excellent at dealing with other people’s tragedies. But when her estranged and ailing mother asks her to uproot her life and move to Boston, it’s an emergency of a kind Cassie never anticipated.

The tough, old-school Boston firehouse is as different from Cassie’s old job as it could possibly be. Hazing, a lack of funding, and poor facilities mean that the firemen aren’t exactly thrilled to have a “lady” on the crew, even one as competent and smart as Cassie. Except for the handsome rookie, who doesn’t seem to mind having Cassie around. But she can’t think about that. Because she doesn’t fall in love. And because of the advice her old captain gave her: don’t date firefighters. Cassie can feel her resolve slipping…but will she jeopardize her place in a career where she’s worked so hard to be taken seriously?

Katherine Center’s Things You Save in a Fire is a heartfelt, affecting novel about life, love, and the true meaning of courage.”

Katherine Center has become one of my favorite authors. I immediately fell for Cassie (who is a kickass firefighter and who is so cynical, she makes me seem like a complete sap) and I was very nervous for her in her new town, with her job full of guys who don’t like her very much and with only her mom (who is maybe one small step away from “estranged” for company).

The synopsis is very accurate but this is also just a really fun book. It’s a love story but it’s about multiple kinds of love. And best of all, it’s about a woman who’s completely excelling at her job. She may have had to prove herself repeatedly to her new colleagues, but she’s more than capable of doing it. They may not immediately respect Cassie, but they learned pretty quickly that they needed to.

Katherine Center is one of the authors who’s an auto-buy for me. I think you’d love her, too. Highly recommended.

Summer of ’69

Finished Summer of ’69 by Elin Hilderbrand.

Summary (from Goodreads):

“Welcome to the most tumultuous summer of the twentieth century! It’s 1969, and for the Levin family, the times they are a-changing. Every year the children have looked forward to spending the summer at their grandmother’s historic home in downtown Nantucket: but this year Blair, the oldest sister, is marooned in Boston, pregnant with twins and unable to travel. Middle sister Kirby, a nursing student, is caught up in the thrilling vortex of civil rights protests, a passion which takes her to Martha’s Vineyard with her best friend, Mary Jo Kopechne. Only son Tiger is an infantry soldier, recently deployed to Vietnam. Thirteen-year-old Jessie suddenly feels like an only child, marooned in the house with her out-of-touch grandmother who is hiding some secrets of her own. As the summer heats up, Teddy Kennedy sinks a car in Chappaquiddick, a man flies to the moon, and Jessie experiences some sinking and flying herself, as she grows into her own body and mind.

In her first “historical novel,” rich with the details of an era that shaped both a country and an island thirty miles out to sea, Elin Hilderbrand once again proves her title as queen of the summer novel.”

I don’t want to get into specifics because there are a lot of potential spoilers here. Suffice to say that there are things most people will see coming, but there are also a lot of surprises along the way.

This is such an amazing book! It’s over 400 pages but don’t be intimidated—it feels like it’s so much shorter…although that could be because you’ll have a hard time putting it down.

Depending on your age and personality type, you’ll probably have one narrator (Kate, Blair, Kirby or Jessie) that you prefer. It won’t surprise you that my favorite is Kirby, but I loved all four women—well, girl in Jessie’s case—and would have been happy to have had the entire book be told from any of their viewpoints.

I love Elin Hilderbrand’s books so much and I am so tempted to spend next summer reading her entire backlist. I think it would be the best possible decision.

Recommended.

Well Met

Finished Well Met by Jen DeLuca.

Summary (from Goodreads):

“All’s faire in love and war for two sworn enemies who indulge in a harmless flirtation in a laugh-out-loud rom-com from debut author, Jen DeLuca.

Emily knew there would be strings attached when she relocated to the small town of Willow Creek, Maryland, for the summer to help her sister recover from an accident, but who could anticipate getting roped into volunteering for the local Renaissance Faire alongside her teenaged niece? Or that the irritating and inscrutable schoolteacher in charge of the volunteers would be so annoying that she finds it impossible to stop thinking about him?

The faire is Simon’s family legacy and from the start he makes clear he doesn’t have time for Emily’s lighthearted approach to life, her oddball Shakespeare conspiracy theories, or her endless suggestions for new acts to shake things up. Yet on the faire grounds he becomes a different person, flirting freely with Emily when she’s in her revealing wench’s costume. But is this attraction real, or just part of the characters they’re portraying?

This summer was only ever supposed to be a pit stop on the way to somewhere else for Emily, but soon she can’t seem to shake the fantasy of establishing something more with Simon, or a permanent home of her own in Willow Creek.”

I’m not a huge fan of renaissance festivals but I do love books set in Maryland and I also love books about people rebuilding their lives. So when I got a chance to read this one early, I jumped at it.

And this book was a complete joy to read. I loved Emily and how she throws herself into everything she does. She’s a wonderful person to have on your side.

Like Emily, I hated Simon at first. But as her feelings changed, so did mine. By the end of the book, I couldn’t believe either of us had ever hated him at all.

This is an incredibly fun read and is perfect for any vacation (or for taking your mind off of a hard week where you don’t have a vacation). Public transportation in my city isn’t doing well right now and my commutes are getting increasingly longer and more annoying, but this book made it all a lot more bearable. Recommended.

Genesis

Finished Genesis by Shauna Kelley.

Summary (from Goodreads):

“The end has begun.

After a bloody confrontation with her father and members of Genesis, Lenora wakes to find the Matriarch in shambles. Her head now houses memories of one of the Ancients, but she can’t see the whole story they have to tell. Michael, his powers growing, stands by her side as the threat of Genesis grows. The two of them set out across the world to find help as they stand against the coming evil. With humanity caught in the crossfire, it is a race against time to see if they can stop her father and save us all.”

This is the third in a trilogy, which means that it’s almost impossible to discuss without spoiling something.

What I CAN say is that there’s something for every reader in here. There’s intrigue and suspense and love and surprises…for a book that’s under 200 pages, there’s a lot packed in.

I wish it had been longer but the length means that everything goes at a rapid pace. Much like Lenora and her friends, the reader doesn’t have much chance to catch their breath, either.

I’ve loved this series and I’m sad that it’s over. Highly recommended.

Keeping Lucy

Finished Keeping Lucy by T. Greenwood. I received a copy for review.

Summary (from Goodreads):

From the author of Rust & Stardust comes this heartbreaking story, inspired by true events, of how far one mother must go to protect her daughter. 

Dover, Massachusetts, 1969. Ginny Richardson’s heart was torn open when her baby girl, Lucy, born with Down Syndrome, was taken from her. Under pressure from his powerful family, her husband, Ab, sent Lucy away to Willowridge, a special school for the “feeble-minded.” Ab tried to convince Ginny it was for the best. That they should grieve for their daughter as though she were dead. That they should try to move on.

But two years later, when Ginny’s best friend, Marsha, shows her a series of articles exposing Willowridge as a hell-on-earth–its squalid hallways filled with neglected children–she knows she can’t leave her daughter there. With Ginny’s six-year-old son in tow, Ginny and Marsha drive to the school to see Lucy for themselves. What they find sets their course on a heart-racing journey across state lines—turning Ginny into a fugitive.

For the first time, Ginny must test her own strength and face the world head-on as she fights Ab and his domineering father for the right to keep Lucy. Racing from Massachusetts to the beaches of Atlantic City, through the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia to a roadside mermaid show in Florida, Keeping Lucy is a searing portrait of just how far a mother’s love can take her.”

It’s so weird how far we’ve come. In the 1960s and 1970s, when Keeping Lucy is set, children with various diseases and disorders (Down Syndrome, in Lucy’s case, but also cerebral palsy and I’m sure others) were institutionalized. Parents were told that they didn’t have the resources to take care of the children and that they were sick and would likely just die soon anyway. They were told that it was better for everyone if their child was institutionalized. And the parents believed it.

That’s what happened in Keeping Lucy. Ginny was never on board but it happened without her knowledge and approval, and she trusted her husband to do what was best. And then, two years after Lucy was born, her best friend Marsha called. The institution (called a school) was being investigated. Ginny goes to investigate herself and gets to check Lucy out for a long weekend visit. And then she realizes two things: she was lied to about the kind of care that her daughter was receiving and that she cannot, under any circumstances, let her daughter go back there.

This novel absolutely broke my heart. I don’t know the true story behind Keeping Lucy (and I imagine there are more than a few that could’ve inspired it) but I did hear about the one institution that sounds similar to Willowridge. (I’m guessing there’s more than one place that could’ve inspired it, though.)

This isn’t an easy read, per se, but it’s not heartbreaking the entire time. There’s a lot of hope and since, ultimately, this book is about love, it’s definitely worth the tears.

Highly recommended.