Category: Contemporary Fiction

Jun 30

The Little Paris Bookshop by Nina George

Contemporary Fiction, Psychological 9

Bonjour Bookworms!

You know how deep down everyone wants to own a bookstore on a river barge? I didn’t know that was a thing I wished for either, until I read The Little Paris Bookshop by Nina George. *I received a complimentary copy of this book from the publisher via Netgalley. I pinky promise this review will be honest in spite of the freebie.*

littleparisbookshopMonsieur Perdu runs a little bookshop. In Paris. (Clever title, no?) It’s located on a river barge and he fancies himself a “literary apothecary.” He has the uncanny ability to match people with the books they emotionally need to read. Pretty cool gift, if I do say so myself. The problem with Perdu is that he’s shut himself off emotionally from the world for the past twenty years thanks to a heartbreak from which he never recovered. He never could bring himself to read his “Dear Jean” letter in all that time. Once he’s finally tempted to read the parting words of his lover, Perdu pulls up his anchor and sets off on a quest to put his tortured soul to rest.

I have mixed feelings on this book, you guys. It reminded me of a cross between The Storied Life of A. J. Fikry (review) which I loved, and The Alchemist (review) which I did not. Perdu’s business and neighbors and family were delightful. I absolutely adored the idea of literature’s healing properties and Perdu’s gift for connecting people with books. However. There was a lot of introspective soul searching, which is great, if you like that sort of thing. Unfortunately, I’m a big pragmatic cranky pants who thinks people are, in general, better off dealing with their problems with the help of therapists and/or pharmeceuticals than uprooting their lives and seeking their fortunes with half baked ideas and no preparation. I am, apparently, one thousand years old and devoid of sentiment. My apologies. If your heartstrings are less jaded than mine, The Little Paris Bookshop might be a huge win for you.

Talk to me Bookworms! Do you think subscribe to the belief that literature has healing properties?

*If you make a purchase through a link on this site, I will receive a small commission.*

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Apr 06

Hausfrau by Jill Alexander Essbaum

Contemporary Fiction, Women's Studies 12

Salutations, Bookworms!

In case you hadn’t already seen it EVERYWHERE, Hausfrauby Jill Alexander Essbaum is the new “IT” book. I’m not great at being “in the know” but sometimes news even reaches under my personal rock. I’m going to try to keep this post spoiler-free, but if you’ve read Hausfrau and want to discuss all the dirty details, head over to The Socratic Salon and check out their fabulous discussion. *I received a complimentary copy of this book from the publisher through NetGalley for review consideration.*

hausfrauAnna Benz is an American woman living in the suburbs of Zurich, Switzerland. She and her husband Bruno are raising three children, and Anna is a stay-at-home parent. Beneath the veneer of their picture perfect family, Anna is struggling. As an expatriate with a very limited command of the local language, Anna finds herself isolated and lonely. When Anna finds her German language classes and psychotherapy unfulfilling, she falls into a series of extra-marital affairs. Anna’s life spins utterly out of control and chaos ensues.

You know the opening credits of Mad Men, where this cartoon dude is just free falling and there’s nothing around to catch him? That’s kind of what Hausfrau reminded me of. Holy crap, Anna. This book has been compared to a lot of your typical classic tales of philandering women (Madame Bovary, Anna Karenina, The Awakening, A Doll’s House, etc.) but because it’s set in the present, it adds a new element. Yes, Anna is depressed. Yes, she’s isolated and living in a foreign country. Yes, she (sort of) loves her husband. But unlike the heroines of these classic novels, Anna has options. I mean, divorce is totally a thing that can happen nowadays when marriages are as miserable as Anna and Bruno’s. I think that’s what makes her so fascinating. She’s not really a victim of circumstance, she’s a victim of her own passivity. There is so much complex and meaty commentary on the human condition in this book that it would make phenomenal book club fodder. I mean, as long as you don’t mind arguing, because Anna is one polarizing lady.

I don’t normally discuss prose or writing style because I don’t feel qualified to do so, but Essbaum does some gorgeous work with her words. Maybe it’s her background in poetry, but homegirl can turn a phrase, y’all. I also usually don’t mention when a book contains a lot of sexy-times, because when I’m usually talking about a romance when such things come up and it’s pretty much expected there. This is one of the, um, naked-est pieces of literary fiction I’ve encountered in a while, so if that sort of thing really bugs you, this might not be the book for you. However, if you’re looking for an awesome and fiery book club discussion or just a lot of moral dilemma brain chewing, Hausfrau delivers.

Talk to me, Bookworms. Are you the sort of person who enjoys a lively debate in book club discussion?

*If you make a purchase through a link on this site, I will receive a small commission.*

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Mar 26

Repeat by Neal Pollack

Contemporary Fiction, Time Travel 11

Hello, Hello Bookworms!

Want to know a secret? One of my all-time favorite movies is Groundhog Day. I’m sure that says disturbing things about my psyche, but it’s the truth. When I ran across Neal Pollack’s latest release Repeat on NetGalley and saw it compared to the cinematic gem, I knew I needed to give it a whirl. *I received a complimentary copy of this book from the publisher via NetGalley for review consideration. I swear on the threat of living in an infinite time loop that this review is honest.*

repeatBrad Cohen is a failed screenwriter living with his wife and two daughters in Los Angeles. On the evening of his 40th birthday, Brad takes an herbal concoction brewed by his wife and wakes up in his mother’s womb. Yep. He is born and has to deal with being an infant, a toddler, a child, a teen, etc, all with the brain of a 40 year old man. And then? He has to do it again. And again. And again. Brad Cohen is stuck living his own life (but only up to age 40) in an endless loop.

What would you do if you had infinite do-overs? Brad does all sorts of things. He becomes a political pundit, a fabulously wealthy investor, a Jeopardy! champion, and everything in between. After a while, Brad realizes that none of his alternate lifetimes compared to what he had with his wife and daughters, but try as he might, he can’t seem to get them back. Doing seemingly innocuous things differently sends Brad down paths he could never have anticipated, but all he wants to do is get back to the life he didn’t appreciate the first time around.

Repeat was a decent read for me. I found it funny in places, tragic in others, but in the end a pretty run-of-the-mill “you don’t know what you’ve got ’till it’s gone” allegory. It’s a trope I rather like, though, and I’m always pleased with the idea that money can’t buy happiness (given the fact that I do NOT live in an infinite time loop and therefore cannot invest my religious rights-of-passage money in Apple stock.) There were a few instances when I wanted to punch Brad for being an insufferable douchebag, but considering he was under extreme psychological distress at having to go through puberty a zillion times, I’m inclined to forgive him. Fellow Groundhog Day fans, I’d love to hear your thoughts on Repeat!

Tell me something, Bookworms. Since we’re in hypothetical land with no herbal concoctions or haunted carnival machines or voodoo practitioners nearby, is there anything in YOU life you’d try to do differently given a second (or third, or fourth…) chance?

*If you make a purchase through a link on this site, I will receive a small commission. I still won’t invest it wisely, because I lack omniscience.*

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Mar 16

The Leftovers by Tom Perotta

Contemporary Fiction, Post-Apocalyptic Fiction 23

Howdy Bookworms!

It’s Monday again, and it seems like the best possible day of the week to discuss The Leftovers by Tom Perotta. It’s not exactly a happy-go-lucky book and Monday is basically the opposite of a happy-go-lucky day, so it makes sense. What makes less sense is taking The Leftovers on vacation as a poolside read, but I’ve never been one to make perfect decisions.

theleftoversThe Leftovers takes place 3 years after the Rapture. Or what some people assume to have been the Rapture. Basically, millions of people just vanished into thin air with absolutely no scientific explanation. Friends, family members, neighbors, strangers, enemies, your weird checkout clerk from the supermarket just POOF. Gone. Because humanity is extraordinarily bad at dealing with this sort of uncertainty, a lot of weird reactionary crap starts to happen. The people who disappeared seemingly had no connection. They were just PEOPLE- good, bad, religious, atheist, kind, rude- whatever. The fact that it was clearly not *just* the righteous and that so many apparently God-fearing folk were left behind threw a major wrench into the traditional religious communities. A whole new crop of religions cropped up, mostly of the cult-ish variety. The Garvey family of Mapleton has imploded in the aftermath of the Sudden Departure despite all members remaining on their current astral plane, and through them we’re able to view all sorts of aspects of this strange new world.

I found the premise of The Leftovers utterly fascinating. I’ve often wondered about how thin the fabric of society is and just what it would take for things to unravel. I mean, say aliens landed tomorrow just to say “hey.” How would the world’s major religions handle the certain knowledge that humanity was not alone in the universe? Talk about your major upheaval, right? The concept of the book was so appealing that I think I expected too much out of it. I was frustrated at what I felt was a lack of resolution and complete lack of explanation as to what actually happened. I’m sure those were intentional artistic choices, but dangit, I like having answers and it drove me a little batty! Still, I think The Leftovers is definitely worth a read.

Talk to me Bookworms! What do YOU think would happen if millions of people suddenly and mysteriously disappeared? (I’d blame the aliens, but that’s just me…)

*If you make a purchase through a link on this site, I will receive a small commission. I’m going to invest in aluminum foil to make myself a jaunty anti-alien hat.*

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Feb 23

Ruth Reichl’s Debut Novel is Delicious!

Chick Lit, Contemporary Fiction 23

Bon Appetit, Bookworms!

I’ve never considered myself a foodie, but I sure do like to eat. My aunt-in-law (is that a thing? It is now. Howdy, Barb!) recommended Delicious! to me recently and it it totally made me want to eat all the fancy cheese in the land. Because I’m not a foodie, I had no idea until after reading this book that the author, Ruth Reichl, is a noted restaurant critic and food writer. It now makes ALL THE SENSE that she’d wax philosphical about seasonal parmesan cheeses in her novel, but I digress.

deliciousBillie Breslin is at a crossroads. She’s just uprooted her life from California and moved cross country to New York City. She soon lands a job at iconic food magazine Delicious, which she owes in part to her perfect palate (which is like perfect pitch but for food.) To the entire food world’s utter consternation, though, she refuses to cook. Because REASONS. When Delicious closes its doors, Billie is forced to confront her past, her reticence toward cooking, and, you know, luuuurve.

I found Delicious! charming, if a bit predictable. I immediately knew Billie’s REASONS even though they weren’t officially revealed until midway through the novel, and it included a lot of your standard rom-com tropes. That said, it also had a host of fun colorful characters and incredible food descriptions. After reading this book, I wanted to eat my weight in fancy cheese and gingerbread. If you’re a foodie or you just like fun, give Delicious! a taste.

Yeah, I’m going to talk about cheese now. What’s your favorite cheese, Bookworms? And can you tell the difference between parmesan that’s made in the spring versus the fall?

*If you make a purchase through a link on this site, I will receive a small commission. I will use that commission to purchase fancy cheeses. I’m seriously fixated.*

 

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Feb 16

An Untamed State by Roxane Gay

Contemporary Fiction 18

Hellooooo Bookworms!

Do any of y’all pay attention to The Tournament of Books? I don’t usually, since it’s rare I’ve read many (if any) of the contenders. This year, though, I’ve been hearing oodles of great things about An Untamed State by Roxane Gay. I was lucky enough to have a copy of this one sitting on my night table thanks to Shannon at River City Reading, so on Superbowl Sunday, I took the plunge and started the book. I missed the entire game (not upset) and the commercials (mildly disappointing) because I was completely engrossed in this book!

anuntamedstate I was kind of surprised at how hooked I was because this is not my normal fare. Mireille is the daughter of a pair of Hatian immigrants. The Duvals emigrated to the US to make their fortune and raise their family but chose to return to Port au Prince as wealthy business owners. Mireille, her husband, and her infant son were visiting Port au Prince and on their way to the beach when they were ambushed. Mireille was kidnapped and held for a huge ransom. It soon becomes clear that Mireille’s father is not willing to capitulate to the kidnappers’ demands, and Mireille pays the price for her father’s desire to negotiate and her own stubbornness. She is held for thirteen days, and suffers unimaginably.  An Untamed State covers Mireille’s ordeal and her struggle to regain her life in the aftermath.

Holy smokes, you guys. I tend to shy away from books that I know are going to be utterly tragic, particularly if they’ve got a sexual abuse element. It’s not like I’ve got any personal experience on the subject (and thank heaven for that!) but it’s heart wrenching to read about. (It also bears noting that this book could be a MAJOR trigger for survivors of sexual abuse, kidnapping, or other trauma. Be gentle with yourself and skip the book if you must.) Mireille was abused and broken and tormented, but the book was so compelling and so well done I didn’t even want to hide. This book was, in a word, fabulous. Even if you’re hesitant to tackle it because of the subject matter, I urge you to give it a shot (assuming it’s not going to trigger all sorts of unpleasantness for you. Mental health trumps literature every time, y’all!)

Talk to me, Bookworms! Have you ever been blown away by a book you very nearly didn’t read?

*If you make a purchase through a link on this site, I will receive a small commission.*

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Feb 05

The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins

Contemporary Fiction, Mystery, Psychological 21

Greetings Bookworms,

There’s little that drives me as crazy as when EVERYONE is raving about a book and I haven’t read it yet. Right now, that book is The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins, and heck yes I read it! How could I not? I mean, everyone is calling it the next Gone Girl (review). I wouldn’t necessarily go there, but it’s still a good book, so let’s get to it!

thegirlonthetrainSo there’s this gal named Rachel. She commutes into London on the same train every day. She’s a bit of a sad sack, mourning the loss of her marriage and drowning her sorrows in booze. (Uh, side note. Since when are pre-mixed gin and tonics in a can a thing? Is this only available in England? I love G&T but I don’t drink often so my seltzer always goes flat before I use it up. I need these in my life.) She spends her commute fantasizing about a couple she often sees out on their terrace, as one does. One day, she sees something that shatters her view of the perfect couple and a whole lot of crazy goes down.

You know thrillers aren’t normally my thing so I don’t have a much in the way of grounds for comparison, but I thought The Girl on the Train was pretty great. I wasn’t wouldn’t say I was fully gobsmacked at any point during the book, but I certainly didn’t see where things were going until Hawkins was good and ready for me to know where things were going. It really irks me when I figure things out way ahead of time, so this was a HUGE factor in me digging this book. Well played, Ms. Hawkins! If you’ve got a hankering for a little psychological thriller goodness, you need to check out The Girl on the Train

Talk to me, Bookworms! Do you ever make up stories for people you regularly pass? Perhaps people watch and make up lives for folks? 

*If you make a purchase through a link on this site, I will receive a small commission. Which I will spend in my quest to find canned Gin and Tonics stateside!*

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Feb 02

Top Five Things I Loved About High Fidelity by Nick Hornby

Contemporary Fiction 28

Happy Monday, Bookworms!

I’ve been on a reading bender which is AWESOME because I was slogging through some slumpiness at the beginning of the year and I’m just beginning to feel like I’m getting my reading mojo back. In order to get that mojo back, I made a concerted effort to pick up books I was pretty sure I’d like. I needed to get back to my roots. And my roots? Well. Beneath this facade of well-adjusted adult who is totally functional an normal (STOP LAUGHING) lives an angsty teenager listening to late 90s grunge music. (In the dark. And probably crying.) This is why High Fidelity by Nick Hornby was the perfect choice for a slump busting read.

highfidelityquote

I can’t pin the teen angst on the music, I’m pretty sure that’s the fault of puberty, but the quote speaks to me!

Instead of doing a proper review for this one, I’m going to take a page out of Rob’s book and hit y’all with a Top Five list of stuff I dug in High Fidelity. It will be fun, dangit!

1. Britishness: Confession. I saw the movie version of High Fidelity ages before I read the book. I love John Cusack, what can I say? I was, therefore, rather surprised to find that this book is NOT set in Chicago, but in London. I love British things. I mean, I loved what they did with setting the movie in Chicago, but it was fun to go to London.

2. Top Five Lists: Yes, I just put “top five lists” on a top five list. It’s getting very meta up in here. Rob and his pals are constantly challenging each other to list their top five songs/albums related to any given topic. Really, y’all. You KNOW how much I love lists. A book with all sorts of lists? Yes, please!

3. The Art of the Mix Tape: Alright, the book totally dates itself with the making of cassette mix tapes, but I don’t care. My teenage self LOVED making mix tapes for people. LOVED. I’d try to find the more obscure tracks on albums from my favorite bands and create pretentious themes and cover art and everything. I wasn’t cool enough to have imports and b-sides and all that jazz, but I had aspirations. Weird, lame, 16 year old aspirations, but aspirations none the less.

highfidelity

4. Love/Hating Rob: The main character in this book, Rob, is reeling from a breakup with his live-in girlfriend Laura. I loved this guy. I hated this guy. I wanted to shake this guy and tell him he was 35 and not 16 and to stop being an immature prick. I wanted to hug him because he was hurting and didn’t know how to deal. It’s all very complex.

5. Getting In Touch With My Inner Teenager: A guy who is way too into his music who walks around bleeding heartbreak all over the place? My 16 year old self is doing a dance of joy and singing “Someone Finally Gets Me!” Not that I really had a whole lot of heartbreak going on at that age, mostly unrequited crushes, but still. FEELINGS.

Talk to me, Bookworms! Is there a book that speaks to your inner teenager? I want to hear about it! 

*If you make a purchase through a link on this site, I will receive a small commission.*

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Jan 26

Lost & Found by Brooke Davis

Contemporary Fiction 23

G’Day Bookworms!

I was engaging in a little behind the scenes book chatter recently (it is every bit as glamorous as it sounds, I assure you) when some serious raving began over Brooke Davis’s debut novel Lost & Found. I am highly susceptible to peer pressure, so naturally, I clicked my way on over to NetGalley to see if I could snag myself a copy of this novel. Fortune smiled, and I was granted access to a complimentary copy of Lost & Found for review consideration. No worries, though, my review will still be honest. I’m a little like Agatha Pantha that way, but you’ll have to keep reading to get that reference…
9780525954682_medium_Lost_&_FoundMillie is a 7 year old girl living in Australia. After her father passes away, her mother slowly withdraws until one day she takes Millie to a department store and abandons her in the lingerie section. While hanging around said department store, Millie joins forces with an unlikely elderly ally, Karl the Touch Typist. He engages in air stenography and makes friends with mannequins. The odd little duo is soon joined by Agatha Pantha, an elderly widow and shut in. She has spent the years since her husband died shouting vitriolic honesty out her window and listening to TV static. Can you think of a better trio to go on a cross country quest to chase down Millie’s mother?

I really wanted to LOVE this book, but my feelings are rather conflicted. On the one hand, I loved the quirky characters. Precocious children and eccentric elderly folks are a pretty irresistible combination. That said, the subject matter was unbelievably heartbreaking. The book is well written, but seeing as it’s January and I’m in the midst of the winter blahs, I had hoped it would be a little more uplifting. When I finished it, I didn’t have a life affirming feeling, it was more of a vague foggy sadness. It makes me wonder if I’d feel differently had I read the book in the summer, seeing as I’m less of a moody basket case when the sun doesn’t set before I leave work. Even though this wasn’t a super fantastic 5 star read for me, I can see a lot of y’all loving it. Seriously, if you like oddball characters and laughter-through-tears Lost & Found might be a big winner for you.

Talk to me, Bookworms. Do you ever think that the timing of when you read a book affects your opinion of it?

*If you make a purchase through a link on this site, I will receive a small commission. I’m going to put it toward a pair of red gum boots because Millie has killer fashion sense.*

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Jan 19

First Frost by Sarah Addison Allen

Contemporary Fiction, Supernatural 16

Greetings Bookworms!

Sometimes I need a little magic in my life. I was really excited when I saw that Sarah Addison Allen had a new book on the horizon. I navigated straight to NetGalley where I requested (and was granted) a complimentary review copy of First Frost. This in no way affects the integrity of the following review. My integrity is questionable regardless of free books.

firstfrostThe Waverley women are a bit different. They live in a small southern town where they are renowned for their unique and magical gifts. Claire has a way with food and flowers- she can infuse her concoctions with feeling. Her sister Sydney has the ability to make good hair days happen (a magical gift anyone can appreciate when they wake up faced with mad bedhead.) Sydney’s teenage daughter Bay knows exactly where everything and everyone belongs. The Waverley homestead has a personality all its own, and the apple tree in the back yard is fond of passive-aggressively flinging apples in the direction of people it doesn’t like. (It’s rather Oz-ian that way.)

Things never run smoothly when you’ve got magic to contend with, do they? A mysterious stranger shows up in town intent on disrupting the delicate Waverley balance and things go a bit wonky. Teenage heartache? Pining for a family? Desperate attempts to help the self destructive? This book has ALL THE THINGS. Plus, you know, MAGIC. This book was the perfect read for me at the perfect time. I’ve got a soft spot for this sort of Southern charm, and I really needed this bit of magic to brighten up my winter blahs. Sarah Addison Allen is often compared to Alice Hoffman, which is apt, but where Hoffman goes dark, Allen goes light. That, my friends, is pure magic. Get thee a copy of First Frost post haste!

Talk to me, Bookworms. How do you feel about magic in books? 

*If you make a purchase through a link on this site, I will receive a small commission.*

 

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