Book Review: Real Life by Brandon Taylor

The Review

Real Life by Brandon Taylor

In a world full of sex comedies, could there be such a thing as a sex drama? Perhaps? Brandon Taylor’s debut novel follows Wallace, a grad student, through a weekend which will forever change his life. As a reader, I picked up the book prepared for the truncated timeline. Knowing the short period of exposition only heightened the drama.

Wallace’s father has just passed away, unknown to his grad school friends at the beginning of the novel. In fact, many things are unknown to those friends. Their grad school life is centered as much on their labs as on the lake near their university. Wallace is one of the few students of color in the department, and while many of his friend group are also gay, the forces of whiteness and straightness still find their default forces to push against Wallace’s sense of worth and work.

Without giving away major plot details, Wallace and Miller’s relationship is the taut string of the tennis racket that everything else bounces off of. I’ve never read dialogue like those between Miller and Wallace before. Read it and talk to me about the fried fish scene, and what comes before. I’m dying to have this conversation with someone.

Some literary novels have little forward momentum– this one flies. I read it in three sittings, afraid that if I stepped away too long, I would miss something.

Read it. You’ll be glad you did.

The Details

Real Life by Brandon Taylor

Release: Riverhead Books, February 18, 2020

Add on Goodreads, or purchase on BookShop, Indiebound or Amazon

Thank you to NetGalley for a free advanced copy in exchange for my honest review.

Book Review: And I Do Not Forgive You

The Review

And I Do Not Forgive You is a 2020 release, and the short story collection from Amber Sparks with the subtitle “and other revenges.” Boy does it live up to that subtitle. At its heart, the collection shows modern people in the quasi-fantastic, mostly-all-too-real world of technology, familial betrayal, and city life. The princesses, kings, and queens which people some of the most fairy-tale-esque of the stories don’t reside in some 1400s Europe that never was– they live now, here, and struggle as we do now, here. A stand-out in that department was “The Dry Cleaner from Des Moines,” where the magical-realist elements meshed so nicely with the themes that I found myself bookmarking it again to read later.

While I didn’t love every story in the collection, I could find myself wanting to read them all again to find new depths. My absolute favorite story was “A Short and Slightly Speculative History of the Lavoisier’s Wife,” which was honestly one of the best short stories I’ve read in a while in terms of form and voice.

In general, the stories have distinct tones and themes, but each shine with a lush mixture of gritty vernacular (“#Bullshit, I said, and you said the #endtimes was no place for #haters”) and taut phrasing.

And I Do Not Forgive You is a collection you’ll want to share and discuss, both for its feminist themes and commentary on modern life as well as for its prose. Brava to Sparks.

The Details

And I Do Not Forgive You: Stories and Other Revenges by Amber Sparks

Publisher: Liveright (February 11, 2020)

Find it on Goodreads, or order on Indiebound or Amazon

Thank you to NetGalley who gave me a free advanced copy in exchange for my honest review.

Book Review: The Everlasting Rose

The Details:

The MUCH anticipated sequel to The Belles is on its way in 2019– and it is worth waiting for! If you’re unfamiliar with The Belles, it may be helpful to check out my review of Dhonielle Clayton’s first book in this YA Fantasy series lush with commentary on societal beauty expectations and power. Basically, the Belles have control of arcane magic to shape the bodies and manners of human beings. Without them, people fade to gray (gris). When a twisted monarch takes the throne, however, the Belle power is under attack, as are the Belles themselves.

Camille, former favorite of the Queen, is on the run with two Belle sisters and her former body guard, Remy. Together they must avoid capture and lead the resistance against the queen, which includes uniting with some unusual allies. Who can Camille trust? The answer is: almost no one.

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Lots more interesting world-building in this book, including more details about how Belles are “born” and mythology on where they came from. The idea of beauty is less of a focus here. The tagline “The Resistance is Here” on the cover really hits at the essence of this book. Corrupt power has to be met with resistance, both violent and nonviolent. The development and use of Belle magic in battle scenes is a real change here– and an interesting one.

Only downside for me was a bit too much reliance on newsprint and letters to build the plot in the first quarter of the book. When a character is “reading” so much important information rather than gathering it in a more active way, it can slow down the flow a little. Otherwise, tons of great scenes, awesome character development, and a new host of teacup pets to wish were real.

Over all, a satisfying second book, with hints that a third could be possible here? No cliffhanger, exactly, but lots of details that leave the reader eager to return to Orleans.

 

The Details:

The Everlasting Rose by Dhonielle Clayton, out March 5, 2019 by Freeform

Add it to your Goodreads shelf and pre-order on Amazon or IndieBound.

 

Thank you NetGalley for an advanced copy in exchange for my honest review!

Book Review: The Gilded Wolves

The Review

I have to admit, it took me a few chapters to catch the tone and premise of The Gilded Wolves, but once it hit its stride, I was hooked.

39863498NY Times Bestselling author Roshani Chokshi’s newest fantasy novel follows a group of down-and-out teens– smart, wily outcasts, artists, and academics on the run. Thick with magic and lush worldbuilding, Chokshi takes the reader into an 1880s Paris and introduces us to powerful Houses who must safeguard historic religious artifacts known for their immense power. Which Houses can be trusted, and should one of our narrators be allowed his place of honor in the Houses again? Only time will tell.

There are several adventure plots in this novel that made me think Six of Crows , as well as a similar need of multiple third-person narrators to tell the story well. The strongest sections, I thought, came from the points-of-view of Laila, a performer with a mysterious past, and Zofia, our STEM-loving fish-out-of-water. Love subplots add interest, but aren’t the major focus of the book (which I appreciate).

A few downsides: the ending wrapped up a bit strange, timeline-wise, but there’s a clear lead in to at least another book. Will I pick it up? Probably! Chockshi builds her universe with so many interesting mythological and pan-religious ideas that I find myself already wanting to pick up the next in the series.

Great group of heroes, fun adventure, and neat magic– what else can you want?

The Details

The Gilded Wolves by Roshani Chokshi

Publication info: out January 15, 2019 by Wednesday Books

Add it on Goodreads, or pre-order from Amazon or IndieBound

 

Thank you NetGalley for an ARC in exchange for my honest review.

Book Review: Illegal

The Review:

Illegal is a graphic novel by Eoin Colfer and Andrew Donkin, with a primary audience of 35963837children (probably ages ten and up), and this is the kind of book that every child should have access to.

Colfer and Donkin trace the fictional path of Ebo, a young Ghanian boy, as he makes his way to Europe in search of his siblings Kwame and Sisi. Ebo encounters sickness and peril on his journey, all written by Colfer (of Artemis Fowl fame) and Donkin (DC comics work) and illustrated by Giovanni Rigano. The illustrations are beautifully colored, with lots of wide shots to give readers an idea of what kinds of places Ebo travels through.

illegal screenshot 2Colfer starts the book with an epigraph from Elie Wiesel’s “no human being is illegal” quote. What this graphic novel does, even more than a traditional novel would, is let a young (or not-so-young) reader place themselves in the shoes of an immigrant attempting to find refuge. In this particular story, the person is a young Ghanain boy seeking Italy’s shores, but the wider message is applicable to all people searching for safety.

In short, beautiful illustrations of a fictional, but realistic, story. Highly recommended.

The Details

Illegal by Eoin Colfer and Andrew Donkin (Sourcebooks Jabberwockey)

Publication Date: August 8, 2018

Add it to Goodreads or puchase on IndieBound or Amazon

 

Thank you to NetGalley for an ARC in exchange for my honest review.

Book Review: BABY TEETH by Zoje Stage

The Review:

This novel is the heartwarming story of a mother-daughter bond unlike any other…

Just kidding. I originally requested this book because of the blurb in the PW announcement which compared it to THE BAD SEED:

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While I’m a bit of wimp when it comes to horror and thriller as a genre, “bad children” stories have always been a bit of an interest. The original BAD SEED showed a young girl who terrorized classmates, killing one with a pair of tap shoes, all the while cuddling up to Daddy during bedtime stories. Only the mother suspected her bad behavior, which eventually drove her mad. BABY TEETH lives up to the comparison, but luckily takes its own path at this kind of story.

Stage’s debut follows Suzette, mother to seven year old Hanna, as she struggles with the increasingly more disturbing behavior. Hanna shows one face to her mother and one to her father, and her choice to not speak makes education and home life very difficult– meaning that Suzette is homeschooling Hanna as the novel opens and experiencing some troubling moments as her daughter not only begins to talk to her, but also talks about being possessed by a 17th century French witch.

I won’t spoil anything here, but Stage builds the suspense well in this book, stacking complications on top of each other like Jenga blocks. I stayed up late more than one evening trying to get through a difficult section. You can almost feel the unsteady sanity of the household start to topple. One really interesting aspect of this book is the physical health of Suzette, whose history with Crohn’s is a major component of her character (as well as making up some of background with her own mother.)

The alternating perspectives of Hanna and Suzette can be jarring, but they are necessary. I found myself actually cringing while reading some of Hanna’s sections, but Stage doesn’t let the reader look away and keeps the voices separate enough to suspend disbelief.

If you’re looking for a creepy read, make sure you add it to your to-read stack.

The Details

Baby Teeth by Zoje Stage, St. Martin’s Press out July 17, 2018

Add it to your Goodreads  or preorder on Amazon, B&N, or IndieBound

 

Thank you to NetGalley for an ARC in exchange for my honest review

Review: So You Want to Talk about Race by Ijeoma Oluo

The Review:

Part memoir and part handbook, Ijeoma Oluo’s new book is not just about talking: it’s about action. Oluo addresses two distinct audiences: people of color and white people who hope to engage in dialogue about race. She makes it clear early on that her book is not some magic cure for white supremacy, but is instead a tool to open doors. Using chapter titles which focus in on key terms in the discussion about race in America (like tone-policing, the school-to-prison pipeline, and intersectionality), she creates an easy to engage with collection of short essays.

Each chapter balances some amount of personal experience with tips for both of her communities. For instance, in her chapter about about natural hair, she not only discusses stories where her personal space was invaded, she explains ways for white people to support black beauty without feeling the need to touch it. Every chapter reinforces the experiences of communities of color facing daily microaggressions while also giving questions to consider for how to improve dialogue.

I read Oluo’s book in less than twenty-four hours. Her direct prose will not apologize and doesn’t want your apologies either (at least if they are just empty words). The chapters are brief enough for a single sitting, or for later reference, but long enough to reflect fully on the topic at hand.

Readers hoping for hand-holding or reassurances that their good intentions are enough should look elsewhere. This book is for today. It recognizes that we all fail, that we are often blind to our privilege, and it suggests a path forward in the final chapter in real and tangible ways that move beyond performative allyship.

Pick up Oluo’s book if you’re looking for ways to steer conversation inside or outside of your racial community, engaging on the internet or in person.

The Details:

So You Want to Talk About Race by Ijeoma Oluo

Release date: January 16, 2018 from Seal Press

Add it on Goodreads, or find it on Amazon or Indiebound

Thank you NetGalley for an ARC in exchange for my honest review.

Book Review: The Belles

The Review:

I am obsessed with Dhonielle Clayton’s The Belles, and I know the world will be, too.

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A quick summary: Set in Orléans (a city very much French regency meets old-school New Orleans), beauty is a limited commodity. Camellia Beauregard is a Belle, a class of magical women who can sculpt and perfect the mood and appearance of those around her. As trendsetters and practitioners, Belles have incredible power to shape the tastes of the day for the upper classes.

Only one Belle will be stationed at the palace, however. The book opens on a contest to judge the abilities of the Belles. Not all is well in Orléans, however. At the palace, a princess is asleep, a queen is sick, and the youngest princess seems, at best, a little flaky. Tricky politics and court uproar threaten to not only test Camellia’s moral mettle, but also her safety. In the aftermath of the Belle placements, Camellia and her sisters discover danger, deception, and more about the nature of Belles themselves.

If you’ve read Clayton’s Tiny Pretty Things or Shiny Broken Pieces (a collaboration between her and Sona Charaipotra), you know that Clayton knows how to weave a compelling, dramatic story. I found the characters in The Belles even more interesting. Cut free from the bounds of realism, Clayton’s magical realm still feels real. The idea of beauty magic and beauty as a commodity feels so applicable, especially to a YA audience– or to women in general. The wish to change ourselves is one of the most common, and Clayton doesn’t preach on body image or romanticize the painful process of beauty changes. The limits placed on magic in a world often set how real they feel to the reader, and Clayton’s execution of that magic and setting of its limitations is clear.

This book has all of the makings of a good series. Strong set up of internal and external complications, a few hints at romantic side plots, and funny and interesting secondary characters (loved the sister relationships, especially). I finished this book, sighed, and wished that the next was already out.

Add this one to your to-read list.

The Details

The Belles by Dhonielle Clayton (Disney/Hyperion)

Release date: February 20, 2018

Add it on Goodreads, pre-order on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, or Parnassus

Book Review: ARTEMIS by Andy Weir

The Review:

I nearly bailed on this one– but am glad I didn’t.
Like many readers, I was blown away by THE MARTIAN. With such a huge breakout book, a second book has high expectations.

What this book isn’t: like THE MARTIAN in theme or character
What this book is: a rouge-ish caper for the future of the moon

Jazz , our narrator, was born in Saudi Arabia, and her single father moved her to the moon colony Artemis at age six. Because of the reduced gravity, Jazz’s prospects for ever living a safe life back on Earth are limited, but no fear– she’s made a life– or multiple lives– for herself on the moon. Not only is she a delivery girl, but also a smuggler with big ambitions, all while trying to get her permit to lead expeditions on the surface to rich tourists.

When offered a job with a fee she can’t turn down, Jazz gets more attention than she’d like and that kind of attention comes with knives and death threats. A caper helps ensure not only Jazz’s survival, but the future of a democratic moon colony, and her crew is up to the challenge– almost.

The reason I nearly ditched the book early on was a “man writing woman” tone to Jazz’s character. For instance, she describes how good she looks in an ensemble she’s putting on as a disguise. Similarly, Jazz talks often about liking sex, or having it a lot, but never seems to have sexual attraction at all on the page. When it does happen, it feels forced. However, Jazz is entertaining to follow because of her wry sense of humor and distinct, if twisted, understanding of right and wrong.

Much of Weir’s first book laid on the shoulders of the title “Martian,” but the strengths in this book come in the ensemble cast of complicated, riotous personalities. Jazz’s father is a favorite character in the book, as are her various personalities in power that she comes up against– the policeman Rudy, the head of the tourist tour program, Bob, and former best friend, Dale.

Weir paints an interesting setting for this novel. Unlike THE MARTIAN, ARTEMIS focuses not one what is possible in the very near future, but what could be possible in the next fifty years. The characters live in interconnected bubbles with all the necessary components of life. Weir’s books are “sciencey” sci-fi, but never so overly technical that the reader gets lost.

Over all, the first fifty pages are a bit of a character study and the “love” plots of the book don’t work well for me as a reader, but the rollicking plot and chemistry of the characters kept me hooked. As far as I’m concerned, a good follow-up book with room to grow for his third.

The Details:

ARTEMIS by Andy Weir (Crown Publishing)

Release Date: November 17, 2017

Find it on Amazon, B&N, Parnassus, or add it on Goodreads!

 

Thank you to NetGalley for an advanced copy in exchange for my honest review

Book Review: Spoonbenders

The Review:

The Amazing Telemachus Family was disgraced on national TV years ago and hasn’t been the same since. A generation later, and minus the family matriarch, Teddy and his now-grown children Irene, Frankie, and Buddy view their psychic gifts as more curse than blessing. Add into the works a mob boss calling in his due, a secret government program, plus all of the trappings of the early 1990s and you have the recipe for a raucous new novel by Daryl Gregory.

I’ll keep this review as spoiler-free as possible, but let me start off with a few comparative books and movies that came to mind. Spoonbenders has the hilarious dialogue of Arrested Development with all of the flawed and complex characterization of The Corrections. Unlike Franzen’s deeply unlikeable characters, however, Spoonbenders shows the depths– funny and tragic– while also keeping you solidly on the side of the Telemachus clan. Standout characters for me included Irene. She, perhaps more than her siblings, showed how truly double-edged a “talent” can be.

This novel is told in alternating perspectives from the POVs of family members. Each chapter advances the overall plot and helps describe the “how we got here” portion of the backstory. In my experience, it’s hard for an author to balance the back and front story, but Gregory did it with ease and I tore through this book in three solid sittings. At points, I even found the backstory portions of this novel hilariously Infinite Jesty. And while Gregory’s book delves into the weird with unabashed joy, it doesn’t range as far as David Foster Wallace does– to the book’s credit. Simply put, this book is a twisty family drama, heavy on the humor and light-to-medium on the sci-fi.

Completely taken by surprise by this book. Add it to your TBR if you’re looking for a funny, thrilling book.

The Details

Spoonbenders by Daryl Gregory

Published by: Knopf on June 27, 2017

Find it on: Goodreads, Amazon, B&N, and Parnassus

 

Thank you to NetGalley for an advanced copy in exchange for my honest review.