Category Archives: Fiction

A Woman is No Man

Finished A Woman is No Man by Etaf Rum. I received a copy for review.

Summary (from Goodreads):

Introducing a brave, new Arab-American voice, an unflinching debut novel that takes us inside a world where few of us have been before: the lives of conservative Arab women living in America.

In Brooklyn, eighteen-year-old Deya is starting to meet with suitors. Though she doesn’t want to get married, her grandparents give her no choice. History is repeating itself: Deya’s mother, Isra, also had no choice when she left Palestine as a teenager to marry Adam. Though Deya was raised to believe her parents died in a car accident, a secret note from a mysterious, yet familiar-looking woman makes Deya question everything she was told about her past. As the narrative alternates between the lives of Deya and Isra, she begins to understand the dark, complex secrets behind her fragile community.

Set in an America that may feel removed yet is all too close at hand, A Woman Is No Man is both a gripping page-turner and an intimate family portrait. Fans of The Kite Runner and Everything I Never Told You will be drawn to this powerful novel.”

This is an amazing and intense debut novel. I think a lot of actively literate women will relate to the bookish heroines here, regardless of their lives up to this point. (I’m white and somewhat Christian; I’ve never been to Palestine and am very removed from the lives that Isra and Deya had, but I can definitely identify with the idea of wanting more from life and from finding escape in books.)

I mention all this because sometimes it seems like people think that books are not necessarily for them, which makes me sad. Good books are for everyone, and this is a great book. (Not even a “great debut novel,” but a great novel full stop.)

This story completely broke my heart and I will never forget it. If you’re in a book club, suggest it. I guarantee the best discussion you’ve had in ages.

Highly recommended.

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Lady in the Lake

Finished Lady in the Lake by Laura Lippman. I received a copy for review.

Summary (from Goodreads):

“The revered New York Times bestselling author returns with a novel set in 1960s Baltimore that combines modern psychological insights with elements of classic noir, about a middle-aged housewife turned aspiring reporter who pursues the murder of a forgotten young woman.

In 1966, Baltimore is a city of secrets that everyone seems to know–everyone, that is, except Madeline “Maddie” Schwartz. Last year, she was a happy, even pampered housewife. This year, she’s bolted from her marriage of almost twenty years, determined to make good on her youthful ambitions to live a passionate, meaningful life.

Maddie wants to matter, to leave her mark on a swiftly changing world. Drawing on her own secrets, she helps Baltimore police find a murdered girl–assistance that leads to a job at the city’s afternoon newspaper, the Star. Working at the newspaper offers Maddie the opportunity to make her name, and she has found just the story to do it: a missing woman whose body was discovered in the fountain of a city park lake.

Cleo Sherwood was a young African-American woman who liked to have a good time. No one seems to know or care why she was killed except Maddie–and the dead woman herself. Maddie’s going to find the truth about Cleo’s life and death. Cleo’s ghost, privy to Maddie’s poking and prying, wants to be left alone.

Maddie’s investigation brings her into contact with people that used to be on the periphery of her life–a jewelery store clerk, a waitress, a rising star on the Baltimore Orioles, a patrol cop, a hardened female reporter, a lonely man in a movie theater. But for all her ambition and drive, Maddie often fails to see the people right in front of her. Her inability to look beyond her own needs will lead to tragedy and turmoil for all sorts of people–including the man who shares her bed, a black police officer who cares for Maddie more than she knows.”

This is probably my new favorite Laura Lippman book. (I don’t know how each book gets better but they do.)

This is a stunning achievement; there are multiple narrators (although two of them are the main ones and then various secondary characters show up for a chapter to give their own perspectives). I can’t even imagine how difficult it was to do, but it seems effortless here.

It’s impossible to discuss without spoilers, so I just want to add that Laura Lippman’s recent tendency of updating noir is my actual favorite. It’s incredibly fun.

Highly 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.

Why We Lie

Finished Why We Lie by Amy Impellizzeri. I received a copy for review. This post originally ran in December 2018.

Summary (from Goodreads):

“Rising star politician and lawyer, Jude Birch, is clearly keeping secrets about his past from his wife, Aby Boyle. And Aby worries that Jude’s relationship with his campaign manager, Laila Rogers, is more complicated that he has let on. Jude has been the bystander victim of a seemingly gang-related shooting, but as the secrets Jude and Laila have kept since law school begin to unravel – with the help of a zealous news reporter and the Capitol Police – Aby is forced to consider that Jude might not have been an unintended victim of the shooting after all.

Meanwhile, Aby’s own secrets are revealed, despite her best efforts to clamp a lid down on a past marked by abuse and lies, and even a false accusation that still haunts her.

Unpredictable and unexpected, WHY WE LIE is a contemporary political thriller that examines the real life consequences of those who tell the truth about abuse and those who don’t, and asks the question: is the truth always worth the cost?”

There is a lot packed into this slim novel (under 250 pages). It’s a political thriller mixed with a regular thriller and a thought-provoking concept. It’s perfect for book clubs, because there’s a lot to discuss.

Aby is a complicated and unreliable narrator. Even so, I liked her and rooted for her throughout the book. She’s done a lot of things and most of them were forgivable and understandable. One was understandable but not really forgivable. To say more is a spoiler.

You need to read this book. It’s timely but it’s also suited for every time. Highly recommended.

Run Away

Finished Run Away by Harlan Coben. I received a copy for review.

Summary (from Goodreads):

A perfect family is shattered in RUN AWAY, the new thriller from the master of domestic suspense, Harlan Coben.

You’ve lost your daughter.

She’s addicted to drugs and to an abusive boyfriend. And she’s made it clear that she doesn’t want to be found.

Then, by chance, you see her playing guitar in Central Park. But she’s not the girl you remember. This woman is living on the edge, frightened, and clearly in trouble.

You don’t stop to think. You approach her, beg her to come home.

She runs. 

And you do the only thing a parent can do: you follow her into a dark and dangerous world you never knew existed. Before you know it, both your family and your life are on the line. And in order to protect your daughter from the evils of that world, you must face them head on.”

This is such an insane story and I couldn’t stop reading. There are a lot of things going on, and every aspect was intense and gripping. I cared most about Simon and Ingrid trying to find their daughter, Paige, but everything was fantastic.

I know most families are now connected to the opioid epidemic in one way or another, and that’s really driven home here. We don’t get much of a sense of Paige before she became addicted to drugs, but we see how it’s affected the family and how desperate her parents are to get her back.

The ending may feel a little rushed but that’s the only problem I had. (Now to wait for his next book.)

Daisy Jones and the Six

Finished Daisy Jones and the Six by Taylor Jenkins Reid. I received a copy for review.

Summary (from Goodreads):

“Everyone knows Daisy Jones & The Six, but nobody knows the reason behind their split at the absolute height of their popularity . . . until now.

Daisy is a girl coming of age in L.A. in the late sixties, sneaking into clubs on the Sunset Strip, sleeping with rock stars, and dreaming of singing at the Whisky a Go Go. The sex and drugs are thrilling, but it’s the rock and roll she loves most. By the time she’s twenty, her voice is getting noticed, and she has the kind of heedless beauty that makes people do crazy things.

Also getting noticed is The Six, a band led by the brooding Billy Dunne. On the eve of their first tour, his girlfriend Camila finds out she’s pregnant, and with the pressure of impending fatherhood and fame, Billy goes a little wild on the road.

Daisy and Billy cross paths when a producer realizes that the key to supercharged success is to put the two together. What happens next will become the stuff of legend.

The making of that legend is chronicled in this riveting and unforgettable novel, written as an oral history of one of the biggest bands of the seventies. Taylor Jenkins Reid is a talented writer who takes her work to a new level with Daisy Jones & The Six, brilliantly capturing a place and time in an utterly distinctive voice.”

I’m pretty sure that anyone who’s read Taylor Jenkins Reid loves her books. They’re both fun and clever, and perfect for any other occasion. The book before this one, The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo, is probably my favorite (old Hollywood! family secrets!) but this is a very close second.

It’s written like an oral history and it really does feel that way. Like with Evelyn Hugo, most readers will feel like these are legitimately famous people, ones that we grew up watching or, in this case, singing along with on the radio.

Parts of this story are actually devastating. It’s not always easy or fun to read, and many of the people within its pages are self-destructive in heartbreaking ways. That obviously only adds to the realism factor; we’ve all seen this story play out a dozen different times on those VH1 and MTV documentary series (or in the pages of checkout stand magazines).

This book is amazing and you should read it and you should make every actively literate friend you have read it.

The Kiss Quotient

Finished The Kiss Quotient by Helen Hoang.

Summary (from Goodreads):

A heartwarming and refreshing debut novel that proves one thing: there’s not enough data in the world to predict what will make your heart tick.

Stella Lane thinks math is the only thing that unites the universe. She comes up with algorithms to predict customer purchases — a job that has given her more money than she knows what to do with, and way less experience in the dating department than the average thirty-year-old.

It doesn’t help that Stella has Asperger’s and French kissing reminds her of a shark getting its teeth cleaned by pilot fish. Her conclusion: she needs lots of practice — with a professional. Which is why she hires escort Michael Phan. The Vietnamese and Swedish stunner can’t afford to turn down Stella’s offer, and agrees to help her check off all the boxes on her lesson plan — from foreplay to more-than-missionary position…

Before long, Stella not only learns to appreciate his kisses, but to crave all the other things he’s making her feel. Soon, their no-nonsense partnership starts making a strange kind of sense. And the pattern that emerges will convince Stella that love is the best kind of logic…”

I don’t read that many romance novels, but I really enjoyed this one. (I picked it up after hearing a lot of friends talk about how good it is, and it makes me want to read them more often.)

I really liked Stella, although she’s a little prickly. It’s not on purpose, but she doesn’t really do well in social situations, because she tends to say the wrong thing. And when I say that, I mean that she says the most wrong thing that’s possible in any given situation. She doesn’t make a few tiny errors; she tends to leave people in tears or furious. (Now granted, we really only saw it one time in here, but I’m pretty sure it happened on the regular.)

This is a completely delightful book and I can’t wait for her second novel (out in May). Recommended.

The Silent Patient

Finished The Silent Patient by Alex Michaelides. I received a copy for review.

Summary (from Goodreads):

Promising to be the debut novel of the season The Silent Patientis a shocking psychological thriller of a woman’s act of violence against her husband—and of the therapist obsessed with uncovering her motive…

Alicia Berenson’s life is seemingly perfect. A famous painter married to an in-demand fashion photographer, she lives in a grand house with big windows overlooking a park in one of London’s most desirable areas. One evening her husband Gabriel returns home late from a fashion shoot, and Alicia shoots him five times in the face, and then never speaks another word.

Alicia’s refusal to talk, or give any kind of explanation, turns a domestic tragedy into something far grander, a mystery that captures the public imagination and casts Alicia into notoriety. The price of her art skyrockets, and she, the silent patient, is hidden away from the tabloids and spotlight at the Grove, a secure forensic unit in North London.

Theo Faber is a criminal psychotherapist who has waited a long time for the opportunity to work with Alicia. His determination to get her to talk and unravel the mystery of why she shot her husband takes him down a twisting path into his own motivations—a search for the truth that threatens to consume him…. ”

This is a hard book to describe. From the synopsis, it seems like a thriller; I didn’t have that experience at all. Instead, it seemed more like watching Theo destroy his life in bits and pieces. He was consumed by Alicia and his impressions of her almost immediately and kept researching, even after being told repeatedly to let it go. His personal life is also falling apart, for unrelated reasons.

We learn Alicia’s story in bits and pieces, through diary entries. It’s obviously interesting (how did Gabriel die? Why isn’t he talking?) but Theo is definitely the focus. (Even as Alicia is portrayed as basically the femme in every noir movie ever.)

Still, this book is fascinating and I think it’ll get a lot of attention.

Circe

Finished Circe by Madeline Miller.

Summary (from Goodreads):

“In the house of Helios, god of the sun and mightiest of the Titans, a daughter is born. But Circe is a strange child—not powerful, like her father, nor viciously alluring like her mother. Turning to the world of mortals for companionship, she discovers that she does possess power—the power of witchcraft, which can transform rivals into monsters and menace the gods themselves.

Threatened, Zeus banishes her to a deserted island, where she hones her occult craft, tames wild beasts and crosses paths with many of the most famous figures in all of mythology, including the Minotaur, Daedalus and his doomed son Icarus, the murderous Medea, and, of course, wily Odysseus.

But there is danger, too, for a woman who stands alone, and Circe unwittingly draws the wrath of both men and gods, ultimately finding herself pitted against one of the most terrifying and vengeful of the Olympians. To protect what she loves most, Circe must summon all her strength and choose, once and for all, whether she belongs with the gods she is born from, or the mortals she has come to love.”

I’m pretty sure everyone’s read this now, right? I know it exploded when it was first released and I feel like a lot of people I know read it.

I loved this book so much! I was a little skeptical (I’m not very familiar with the Greek myths and I’m not usually huge on retellings, especially if there’s a fantasy element) and I’m not sure I’ve ever been more wrong in my life.

I loved Circe. Initially she’s timid and I didn’t have much of a sense of who she was (which is clearly a deliberate choice, because she didn’t have that sense, either). Once she’s exiled, she completely flourishes and it was amazing.

I completely love every aspect of this story. It feels especially timely now but I’m pretty sure it’s applicable to every generation. I cannot wait for her next novel and I am also eager to read her backlist.

Highly recommended.

The Dreamers

Finished The Dreamers by Karen Thompson Walker. I received a copy for review.

Summary (from Goodreads):

“In an isolated college town in the hills of Southern California, a freshman girl stumbles into her dorm room, falls asleep—and doesn’t wake up. She sleeps through the morning, into the evening. Her roommate, Mei, cannot rouse her. Neither can the paramedics who carry her away, nor the perplexed doctors at the hospital. Then a second girl falls asleep, and then another, and panic takes hold of the college and spreads to the town. As the number of cases multiplies, classes are canceled, and stores begin to run out of supplies. A quarantine is established. The National Guard is summoned.

Mei, an outsider in the cliquish hierarchy of dorm life, finds herself thrust together with an eccentric, idealistic classmate. Two visiting professors try to protect their newborn baby as the once-quiet streets descend into chaos. A father succumbs to the illness, leaving his daughters to fend for themselves. And at the hospital, a new life grows within a college girl, unbeknownst to her—even as she sleeps. A psychiatrist, summoned from Los Angeles, attempts to make sense of the illness as it spreads through the town. Those infected are displaying unusual levels of brain activity, more than has ever been recorded. They are dreaming heightened dreams—but of what?”

I requested this book on a whim and I’m so glad I did! I like pandemic stories and this is such a weird one: people fall asleep and don’t wake up. They’re not dead and it actually seems like they’re having really intense dreams but they don’t wake up. And it keeps spreading throughout the town.

Stop and picture that for a second. What would happen if it actually happened somewhere here? Probably a lot of car accidents as people fell asleep while driving. Some accidental drownings in bathtubs. Fires, maybe, as people fell asleep cooking. But how many kids would die because their parents fell asleep and they were too little to take care of themselves? How long before the electricity went off or there were riots because people ran out of food?

But this doesn’t deal with speculation. It’s presented in a very straightforward manner. And, as would probably be the case in real life, we don’t know what happened or why. (So if a lack of resolution bothers you, don’t read this one. But you’ll be missing out because it’s excellent.)

Recommended.