Mini-reviews: The one with all the girls.

Don’t you love it when you look back and every book you read during the past week was written by a woman – and not by design? It was happy circumstance!

I also passed the 125 books benchmark, but I’m a little sad. Have I told you this already? I feel like I have. In my book journal (I keep a hard copy and an online version), I make little hash marks after every 25 books. It’s an easier way to look back and total up the number of books. Well, I thought I was approaching the 150 book benchmark – something I’ve never done so early in the year, even at my velocireader speeds. I lived on that high for an entire day before I entered another book, looked back, and realized I was nearing the mark for 125, not 150. And then I was inconsolably sad. I know the record had never been mine to begin with, but dangit! I wanted it back! So then I read a lot of books because: spurned on.

Book124The Things We Keep, by Sally Hepworth (2016, St. Martin’s Press, 338 pages, library ebook). Things We Keep tells the story of a very young woman with early-onset Alzheimer’s, who is placed into a home. She, of course, meets a new love interest at the home, causing all kinds of scandal. A nurse, with drama of her own, risks all to help the two lovers create one last story. I did know going into it that this would be an all or nothing book for me. Sometimes the sappy romances work for me, and sometimes not. This one was a miss. Everyone acted exactly the way they were supposed to, and even the character shading was easy to spot way off. I’d recommend for fans of Kristin Hannah and Nicholas Sparks. 2 of 5 stars.

Book125We Should All Be Feminists, by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie (2014, Fourth Estate, 49 pages, ebook). Yes, I splurged and bought it on a Deal of the Day, but I have to say the published TEDx talk is worth they money at any price. One of my favorite authors talks about what it means to be a feminist today in her native Nigeria, in diaspora, in publishing, and in the world. It was interesting how Adichie tied in classism and racism (can we ever separate the three big discriminators?) and the particular examples she used to point out how institutionalized discrimination against women is. This was the first piece of non-fiction writing I’ve read by Adichie and I loved that her voice was just as sarcastic, nuanced, and unapologetically clever as her fiction writing. I would read anything by this world-class author. 5 of 5 stars.

Book126Scarlett Epstein Hates It Here, by Anna Breslaw (2016, Razorbill, 288 pages, library ebook). This YA story is about a high school girl whose favorite Twilight-esque show has been canceled, sending her from being a BNF (Big Name Fan) online back to her lonely Real World existence. So what does Scarlett do? She stops writing about her TV show online and starts writing about her real world peeps – her two (ahem: only) BFFs and her crush. The predictable happens and it all comes crashing down when she’s found out. Yeah – that predictableness would have done me in if the screechy, whiny voice of the teenagers didn’t do it. I get that there’s this backlash right now about making teenagers sound too grown-up, but that doesn’t mean we need to paint them so two-dimensional. This was painful to read, but could be a good way to pull in a tween/teen-aged reluctant reader, especially if their thing is more TV and fandom-centered. 1 of 5 stars.

Book127Girls on Fire, by Robin Wasserman (2016, Harper, 368 pages, ebook). Ms. Wasserman is turning into an author I will pre-order. Her previous novel The Waking Dark, is a five-star favorite of mine and should be read by every horror fan (especially of the Stephen King/Joe Hill variety). Girls pivots slightly away from the plague/horror genre and takes a giant step back towards the girls-centric young adult genre with this psychological thriller. But Girls is more than just psychological thriller; it’s as much about Lacy and Dex (formerly known as Hannah) and their blossoming obsession with each other. On the surface, it’s a story of good-girl-turned-bad-girl when she pairs up with a fellow destructive bad girl. They romp about town destroying everything in their path and wrecking havoc with whatever they will. But underneath is brilliant commentary on why we feel compelled to explore other sides of our self, why such friendships call to us, why we’re fascinated by and yet rush to judge these good girl/bad girl pairings. Girls is a very different novel that Waking Dark, and I can’t wait to see how many more sides Wasserman has to show off. 4 of 5 stars.

Book128Becoming Nicole: The Transformation of an American Family, by Amy Ellis Nutt (2015, Random House, 279 pages, hardcover). I splurged and bought the hardcover during a Mother’s Day run to the bookstore. It was absolutely worth every penny. Nicole was so compellingly readable, that I found myself blowing straight past bedtime to get in a few more chapters. Amy Ellis Nutt had access to every diary, journal entry, school paper, and medical record the Maines family had, and it showed. This book was so well-researched that it transformed into a completely fleshed out story of a conservative, All-American family from West Virginia, upstate New York, and the Midwest who just happened to have a son who is transgender. Nicole was born Wyatt, one half of identical twin boys born to Maines’ niece while she (the niece) was a teenager. The Maines’, unable to have biological children, decided to adopt the boys. Very early on (from about age 2), Wyatt displayed confusion about being a boy and asked when his genitals would fall off so he could become a girl. He wanted to wear feminine clothes like dresses and skirts, would play with dolls, and wear a shirt over his head to simulate long hair. We are shown how the Maines family educated themselves about gender dysphoria and transgenderism, how they struggled to accept Wyatt for who he was, and the battles they fought for their child at school and in their community as Wyatt transitioned into Nicole. The book was impeccably researched and compassionately written. My only criticism is that I wish we got to know Nicole’s twin, Jonas, a little more. Because he accepted Wyatt as Nicole from the very first and didn’t have a transformation story from reluctance to acceptance, I feel we didn’t get to know his take on everything as much as I would have liked. 5 of 5 stars.

Book129The Pearl That Broke Its Shell, by Nadia Hashimi (2014, William Morrow, 452 pages, paperback). I know I’m in the minority, but I just didn’t love this book. I was hoping for the grand, sweeping narrative of Khaled Housseini, or the quiet lyricism of Jhumpa Lahiri, but I didn’t find either one. Pearl is about three young Afghani girls who treated ridiculously  by their worthless father. Rahima, our protagonist, creates a bit of hope through the tradition of bacha posh, in which she can dress and act as a boy until she is of marriageable age. This gains Rahima a bit of freedom, which turns into hope. See, it all sounds good, but the characters just never jumped off the page for me. They were only ever so many words on a page, never filled with warmth. It’s hard for me to get invested when that happens. 2 of 5 stars.

Book130The Life of Elves, by Muriel Barbery (2016, Text Publishing, 258 pages, library ebook). I had high hopes for a new novel by the author of The Elegance of the Hedgehog, but found this tale of elves and little girls and magic and the Saving Of The World to be a bit too hodgepodge. It felt unanchored, bereft of the magic they seemed to be shooting for. It was just not the book for me. Readers, I did not finish. 1 of 5 stars.

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