Review of Little Fires Everywhere

I literally just finished Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng. I have had this book since right after it was published back in September. I have wanted to read it so badly since then, but I have had SO much to read, I just haven’t gotten to it. Luckily, my book buddy, Priscilla (on Instagram @2.ps.in.a.bookstagram), was game to read this at the beginning of the New Year. After being derailed and delayed a bit by life, we finally read it this month, and oh, it was so worth the wait.

First, Ng’s masterful writing is truly something to behold. She has the ability to capture a feeling in words that I just haven’t found in a lot of the books I have read lately.

Second, I love the way Ng writes Elena and Mia, the women who are the focal point of this story. Two characters who I, at first glance thought were very different, actually are more similar than I thought possible. That being said, they have very different approaches to their children and to the situations that arise during the course of the narrative.

Third, the way Ng unfolds the narrative is at times disorienting, but ultimately works. I enjoyed the stories that occur in the present, but I found the way Ng intertwined Mia and Elena’s back stories to be the truly compelling piece for me. These women are not without their flaws and at times I found them both completely repugnant, but at others I completely empathized with them. In less skilled hands, Mia and Elena could have become stereotypes for women hailing from different socioeconomic classes, but that is not the case here.

Lastly, I realize it is a narrative choice for an author to not wrap up loose ends upon the conclusion of a book. And, I do appreciate and respect that choice. But, selfishly, there were a couple of plot points I wanted a bit more fleshed out at the end.

Before I conclude this review, there is a particular paragraph that stands out to me, even now after I have finished this novel and I feel I would be remiss not to mention it. Ng writes when referring to Elena,

“All her life, she had learned that passion, like fire, was a dangerous thing. It so easily went out of control. It scaled walls and jumped over trenches. Sparks leapt like fleas and spread as rapidly; a breeze could carry embers for miles. Better to control that spark and pass it carefully from one generation to the next, like an Olympic torch. Or, perhaps, to tend it carefully like an eternal flame: a reminder of light and goodness that would never–could never–set anything ablaze. Carefully controlled. Domesticated. Happy in captivity. The key, she thought, was to avoid conflagration.”

How beautiful is this selection? I just cannot get it out of my head.  There were so many times while I was reading this, that I had to take a moment and close my eyes and think about the writing. That is how good it is.

Little Fires Everywhere is Ng’s second novel and was published in September of 2017. Her first novel Everything I Never Told You was published in May of 2015 and comes with high praise as well. I haven’t read her debut, but I can assure you, it has been moved to the top of my list.

Bottom Line: 4.5/5 Beautiful writing. Compelling Story. I hope you read it.

Review of Might Jack and Mighty Jack and the Goblin King

Thanks to Kid Lit Exchange network for this review copy of Mighty Jack and Mighty Jack and the Goblin King. All opinions are my own (and my son’s).

Guest post today!

I received Mighty Jack and Mighty Jack and the Goblin King from Kid Lit Exchange, and my 9 year old son DEVOURED them. He is a graphic novel connoisseur, so I trust his judgement. What follows is my interview with him about these graphic novels.

What is Might Jack about?

Mighty Jack is about a boy, Jack, and two girls, Maddy and Lilly, growing a magical garden and having adventures in it, such as fighting a huge snail at their house and fighting a snapping plant.

What is Mighty Jack and the Goblin King about?

Jack, Lilly and Maddy go into an alternate world and fight giants. Lilly becomes a half-goblin, and Maddy gets taken by a giant brown part of the garden. It is so exciting!

Did you like these graphic novels? Why?

Yes, because the books have a bunch of action between Jack , Maddy, and Lilly and the giants. My favorite part of these graphic novels is when Jack eats special plants and grows to be a giant!

Who is favorite character? Why?

Jack is definitely my favorite. He is usually the one involved in the action. His overall design as a character is cool.

What do you mean by “design as a character is cool?”

I love how he has his star in the middle of his shirt, and he has a one shoulder pad because it helps him look cool!

What was your favorite part of Mighty Jack?

My favorite part was when they first started growing the garden. I liked when they realized the garden was magical!

What was your favorite part of Mighty Jack and the Goblin King?

Definitely when Jack grew big and fought the giant!

What would you say to someone your age to help them decide whether they should read this series or not?

The Mighty Jack series is a very exciting graphic novel series, because the journey of the characters keeps the reader on the edge of his or her seat until the very end.

Bottom Line: My son gives this 4.5/5. It is not perfect, but it is really good!

Friends, if you have questions about this, please do not hesitate to contact me at meaningfulmadnessblog@gmail.com. Ty read both of these in one sitting. If you have graphic novel lovers in your life, I feel sure they will like them too!

 

Review of Young Jane Young

And here we have another book club pick. Just so you know I am actively involved in two in real life book clubs and one online book club. Yowza! That keeps me super busy with reading. And, I LOVE it. There is nothing I enjoy more than discussing all the bookish things with people who also love books. It is my absolute favorite. Some further information in case you are interested–one of my in real life book clubs is a work one. We meet after work once a month for happy hour at a local restaurant and discuss the book. The other book club I moderate and participate in is at a lovely winery in my area. Honestly, if you can meet at a winery–DO IT. You will not regret it. Wine + Books = Magic. (That should be on a shirt, don’t ya think?)

Anyhoo, Young Jane Young by Gabrielle Zevin is a book I read for my work book club. Before I get to the ins and outs of the book, I have to say that this book really did foster some great discussion. The book’s main conflict calls to mind all of the news stories involving men in power and the treatment of women who work with them. It is especially reminiscent of the Clinton-Lewinsky scandal that occurred during the mid nineties.

The book begins with Rachel Grossman, a divorcée, whose daughter Aviva has begun an illicit affair with a congressman, she works for. The book follows, in alternating perspectives, the timeline before, during, and after the affair. We hear from the women, in their own voice, whose lives are affected by the affair, including Aviva, Rachel, Aviva’s daughter Ruby, and the congressman’s wife, Embeth. This is the novel’s strongest point. Hearing from each of these women is illuminating, and being able to “hear” each perspective allows you an opportunity to empathize with all of them.

I liked this novel. The pace is spot on. It reads quickly and it is funny at times and poignant at others. I particularly enjoyed the epistolary portion of the novel written between Ruby and her Indonesian pen pal. The theme of this novel felt particularly timely in the wake of the #metoo and #timesup movement involving the sexual harassment/assault of women in the TV and film industry and beyond. In addition, it brings to mind a host of (recent) historical scandals such as the previously mentioned Clinton/Lewinsky scandal, Chandra Levy and the scandal surrounding her affair with Gary Condit and her suspicious death, and the Clarence Thomas/Anita Hill sexual harassment scandal of the early nineties. As a woman reading this book about women in the present social climate, I felt incredibly moved by Aviva’s story and the fallout surrounding it.

The book does a stellar job at giving the perspectives of ALL the women involved, including my personal favorite, Embeth, the wife of the congressman. I enjoyed getting to see her perspective and her struggles in being the wife of a congressman. Zevin does a great job of relaying the sacrifices Embeth makes throughout her life in order to support her ambitious husband, including stifling her own ambitions.

Now for the bad news. (Well, it is not so bad, but, you know, the things I didn’t like so much.) There were parts of the book that were head scratchers for me. For example, the part that involves a parrot named El Meté. I don’t want to give away any spoilers, but you will understand when you read this part of the book. While I understand the bird’s contribution to moving the narrative forward, I am befuddled as to why this particular choice was made.

In addition, I would have liked the story to have been a little more fleshed out by the end. I wanted to know more about these women and their lives not informed by the scandal.

Lastly, the author took a risk with last fifth of the book. It is creative and effective, yet also, somehow, frustrating. It left me wanting more. However, I loved the format of the ending (I am not going to give away anything!) I will say that after I finished the book, I kept wavering on what my rating would be. Young Jane Young kept me thinking about the past and the present and the question, How far have we really come?

Bottom Line: I give this book a 4/5. It is timely, enjoyable, and will keep you thinking.

Review of The Wife Between Us

Thank you to St. Martin’s Press for my advanced copy of The Wife Between US in exchange for my honest review. All opinions are my own.

I am a sucker for a good twisty suspense book. When Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn was all the rage, I literally had it in the passenger’s seat of my car to read at red lights. (Sorry to all the drivers circa Fall 2012 that had to honk their horns to get me to move when the light turned green.) Since the Gone Girl craze, there have been A LOT of read alikes that have been published with a similar premise with similar twists. I am not so fond of the read alike. I just feel like it never lives up to the original.

At first glance, I thought that The Wife Between Us might be a read alike, and I was nervous. (Luckily, that was not the case!) The book begins in alternating chapters between Nellie, a hopeful young preschool teacher engaged to the older, wealthy, distinguished Richard, and Vanessa, Richard’s bitter ex-wife with a drinking problem. (At the beginning of this novel, I worried that the authors were going to borrow from The Girl on the Train with Vanessa’s affinity toward wine, but thankfully, that did not happen.) As the narrative progresses, we get to know each of these women’s motivations and histories.

As with many suspense novels, I hesitate to summarize too much, because I do not want to give any spoilers. (There is no fun in that!)

Parts of The Wife Between Us are brilliant. There was one twist I never saw coming. When I read it, I literally stopped and sat in my big cozy chair, and said to myself, What the…, then I went back and re-read the preceding chapters.

I would give the first half of the book five stars. It is that good. I read a lot of suspense, and the first twist in the book was hall of fame level. However, in the last half of the book, the narrative falls apart a bit. Because the first half of the book is so good, and there is a big pay-off (twist) midway through, the rest of the book struggles to keep up.

Toward the end of the book, there are a few plot choices that feel very contrived. Particularly the appearance of an aforementioned irrelevant character who ends up having a substantial role in the resolution.  b\But I must admit, I this book was a page turner, and even with its weaker plot points, at the end I felt pretty satisfied with the resolution.

I think this book would be an excellent beach read. So, if you haven’t read it, maybe wait until summer vacation to pick it up. It is the perfect read for that moment when your toes are buried in the warm sand, a cold margarita in one hand, and an intriguing page-turner in the other.

For a debut suspense novel, I say bravo to Greer Hendricks and Sarah Pekkanen. If you read this book, I would love to discuss it with you. (Suspense books lead to a pretty sparse review, because I am so hesitant to discuss too much for fear of spoiling!) Leave a comment or come find me on Instagram (@meaningfulmadness)!

Bottom Line: I give this a solid 3.5 stars. I liked it, and it definitely kept me interested. The front half is stellar, but the back half is not. That being said, it is definitely worth a read if just for the first twist.

A New Year Reflection

One of my dear friends, Jenni (she is a delight),  is a big proponent of choosing a word to guide her year. Last year, in January, I was certain I would choose a word too. I spoke at length with Jenni about her word (Last year’s was story.), and how she developed and determined which word she would pick. But, alas, I never did pick a word, and here I am on January 2, 2018, still thinking about a word for this year. (In case you are wondering, Jenni’s for this year is enough.)

It is really kind of funny, because I really didn’t think about having a word until this past Sunday, on New Year’s Eve. I was sitting in church listening to my (awesome) pastor (Pastor Jim) speak about new beginnings and renewing commitments to our faith and to God. (Which don’t get me wrong, I fully endorse and plan to do.) But that is not what struck me. What struck me is when he used this analogy involving Jacob Marley from A Christmas Carol. (And, hello, I am nothing if not a sucker for an allusion to one of my most beloved Christmas stories.) If you don’t remember, Marley is Scrooge’s dead business partner who appears to him wrapped in chains as punishment for being greedy and selfish during his life on earth. What Pastor Jim said is, “How often do we wake up, and wrap our chains around us and drag them throughout our day?” And, I thought, Yes, I do that. I don’t know why. This pertains to how I show God’s love for my fellow humans and how I approach and react to the things that come up all day, every day. How many of us do that? Wake up. Wrap chain. Drag through the day. The point of the message was to let it go. Just stop wrapping the chain. Easier said than done, right?

So, now, here we are back at the point of this post. My word for the year. The message my pastor delivered is my starting off point. I know that there will be days when I drag the chain, just like good ole Marley did in A Christmas Carol. Days when I carry over the things that happened the day prior, and I just can’t let it go. BUT, I am going to strive to not do that. I am going to strive to be present, to let go of the things I cannot control, and embrace the positives. I am going to be intentional with my choices. I am going to be intentional with my actions (and, let’s be honest, with my inactions). Intentional will be my word for the year. So, many words ran through my head while thinking on this. Grace was a close second. (Maybe next year.) But, I think that being intentional in all the things will help me keep looking forward and not dragging all my baggage with me from day to day.

By now, most of you know that I use Instagram primarily for all things bookish. (Bookstagram is my favorite. And also smiling.) Intentional will help me so much in my reading life too. I am participating in The Unread Shelf Project 2018, which is a project (coordinated by Whitney (@theundreadshelf)) that simply encourages readers to tackle their shelves of unread books. I have 77 unread physical books. (I didn’t do an official count of my ebooks, but I think it is somewhere around 27.) My intention is to read more of the books I already have and spend less on books in 2018. (Honestly, I want to be more intentional in my spending overall.) So intentional just really fits, both in my personal and professional life, and also in my reading life.

Here’s to a wonderful and intentional 2018!

Do you make resolutions or set a word for the year? Let me know on Instagram (@meaningfulmadness) or in the comments below!