Review: The Mothers by Brit Bennett

the-mothersLength: 286 pages

Publication: October 11, 2016 by Riverhead Books

Source: Library

What it’s about: It is the last season of high school life for Nadia Turner, a rebellious, grief-stricken, seventeen-year-old beauty. Mourning her own mother’s recent suicide, she takes up with the local pastor’s son. Luke Sheppard is twenty-one, a former football star whose injury has reduced him to waiting tables at a diner. They are young; it’s not serious. But the pregnancy that results from this teen romance—and the subsequent cover-up—will have an impact that goes far beyond their youth. As Nadia hides her secret from everyone, including Aubrey, her God-fearing best friend, the years move quickly. Soon, Nadia, Luke, and Aubrey are full-fledged adults and still living in debt to the choices they made that one seaside summer, caught in a love triangle they must carefully maneuver, and dogged by the constant, nagging question: What if they had chosen differently? The possibilities of the road not taken are a relentless haunt.

What I thought:

I probably came to this book with too many expectations. I’d seen it talked about on other book blogs and literary social media, so I was pretty sure I would like it based on the almost universally positive feedback I’d been reading.And I did like it, to a degree, but it didn’t work for me overall.

This a first novel from a talented writer and it reads as such. The language is simple but powerful, the characterizations strong, but there is also an emptiness to it and as such it wasn’t as convincing to me as it could have been. The character of Nadia is a troubling one because it presents a girl who at 17 knew exactly what she wanted. Her only doubts come in the form of her feelings about Luke, with whom she seems to have a very natural and easy relationship except for the fact that he wasn’t there for her when she needed him the most. Even though he later explains to her why he behaves this way, she doesn’t ever completely accept it and remains equivocal in her actions towards him.

Nadia never really shows uncertainty in her decisions, even if she might regret them later. She acts without any internal deliberation–she decides what she wants to do and she does it. This applies not only to the choices she makes at 17 but also when she is older and returns to her hometown to pick up old relationships. She doesn’t give any evidence of considering the feelings of those her decisions may affect.

I believe the purpose of the novel was to illustrate the “what ifs” of being in a similar situation to Nadia (even the description above would suggest that), but I wasn’t convinced by this because she never seems ambivalent to me. She makes choices and they have consequences, but she doesn’t hesitate or falter. In this way she is very like her mother, a point that is made throughout the book.

The trope of the Mothers didn’t work for me, either. I never understood the importance of their narrative voice or why they had any say in things, anyway. The story belongs to Nadia, Luke and Audrey, and the figures of the church leaders and members didn’t resonate with me as anything more than background noise.

I would read more from Bennett because she is a good writer, but I wasn’t invested enough in this novel to be able to recommend it.

The November Wrap-Up

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About a year ago I stopped blogging, and that was absolutely the right thing for me to do. Since then, we found out my husband’s company was closing their Atlanta office, we debated staying in the U.S. or going back to the job that was waiting for him in France, and we ultimately decided to move back.

We returned to France in July, and life since then has been a whirlwind. We looked for a house, lived in a temporary apartment while waiting, then finally closed on a house and moved in early October. The girls started new schools and I adjusted to working from home (temporarily) until I can look for a new job. We started over, again.

Starting over is something we have some practice doing, although it never really gets easier. I tend to go into survival mode until the worst of the stress is behind me, and I think I’m just finally starting to come out of that. I’m feeling more like myself than I have in a while, and I truly think this move will end up being the right thing for us. Transitions are hard, though, especially for an introvert. I turn to reading as an escape, so I’ve been doing a lot of it these past months.

In November, I finished four books:

The Shadowy Horses by Susanna Kearsley

A Desperate Fortune by Susanna Kearsley

Pretty Girls by Karin Slaughter

My Not So Perfect Life by Sophie Kinsella

I enjoyed all of these, though the last two were probably the best of the lot. Pretty Girls is a solid Slaughter book–if you’ve read her before, you know what you’re getting. The two Kearsley novels were not bad but not great, either. The Shadowy Horses feels like an early novel, and A Desperate Fortune is better written but really dragged for me, particularly in the sections that were set in 1700’s France.

As I’m slowing starting to feel settled, blogging again feels right. I don’t know if this will be a long-term thing but I’m glad to be writing again, for now.

Wishing you a magical December and a very happy holiday season. Happy reading!

Review: My Not So Perfect Life by Sophie Kinsella

not-so-perfect-lifeLength: 368 pages

Publication: February 7th, 2017 by Bantam Press

Source: Random House

What it’s about:
Katie Brenner has the perfect life: a flat in London, a glamorous job, and a super-cool Instagram feed.

Ok, so the real truth is that she rents a tiny room with no space for a wardrobe, has a hideous commute to a lowly admin job, and the life she shares on Instagram isn’t really hers.

But one day her dreams are bound to come true, aren’t they?

Until her not-so perfect life comes crashing down when her mega-successful boss Demeter gives her the sack. All Katie’s hopes are shattered. She has to move home to Somerset, where she helps her dad with his new glamping business.

Then Demeter and her family book in for a holiday, and Katie sees her chance. But should she get revenge on the woman who ruined her dreams? Or try to get her job back? Does Demeter – the woman with everything – have such an idyllic life herself? Maybe they have more in common than it seems.

And what’s wrong with not-so-perfect, anyway?

What I thought:
I have a weakness for Sophie Kinsella novels, mainly because of their spunky main characters, comical scenarios, and light touch with romance. However, the last one I had read (Wedding Night) was a bust for me, so this upcoming one wasn’t even on my radar until I received a free review copy from Random House. I started reading it over Thanksgiving break and it was exactly the kind of book I needed–fun and zippy and satisfying.

I particularly liked the way the book skewers our social media culture, which encourages people to depict their lives through a rosy filter. In reality, no one’s life is perfect, and Katie learns this is true not only for herself but for those she has put on a pedestal as well. The scenes where Katie gets revenge on her oh-so-perfect boss by using her own worship of the latest fads and buzzwords against her are pure poetic justic.

There were certain fairy-tale elements to Katie’s happy ending that stretched belief, but overall the story shows us that if you work hard, treat others fairly, and stand up for yourself, you can make your own dreams come true. The book doesn’t take itself too seriously, though, and it’s laugh outloud funny at times. Recommended.

Thanks so much to Random House for providing me with a copy of this book.

A Blogging Farewell

If 2015 taught me anything, it’s that I don’t blog when I’m stressed. It’s like my brain just has no extra energy to spend on reflection, or making connections, or general frivolity. Instead it goes into autopilot, only focusing on the next immediate thing that needs to get done, until it crashes and I end up sprawled on the couch, binge-watching Veronica Mars for the 17th time (I may exaggerate, but you get the idea.)

I went through some tough periods last year, and I even stopped reading for a while. Luckily I managed to get back into the reading groove, but the enjoyment I used to get from blogging about books and being part of the book-blogging community just went away. To be honest, it’s still gone, and I’m not sure that it is coming back. I just don’t feel the need for it anymore, and let’s face it–I was only ever doing it for myself, anyway.

I still enjoy writing, and I will always love reading, but I think the blogging part of that is pretty much over. Thanks to those of you who stopped by over the years and kept me company here, for sharing bits of yourselves and your own love for the world of books. I wish you all the best in your own future projects, whatever they may be, and I wish you happy reading.

The (October and) November Wrap-Up

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I’m a reading machine! Clearly, posting only once every two months is doing wonders for my reading habits, if not my writing ones.

It’s been a busy couple of months in my non-reading life as well. I started a new job mid-October which is going well so far. My commute is almost an hour long, which means I have plenty of time to listen to audiobooks.

In October and November, I manage to finish eleven books:

  1. A God in Ruins by Kate Atkinson*
  2. The Rest of Us Just Live Here by Patrick Ness
  3. Sunny Side Up by Jennifer Holm
  4. The Accident by Chris Pavone
  5. Behind the Beautiful Forevers by Katherine Boo (audio)
  6. Lottery by Patricia Wood (audio)
  7. Carry On by Rainbow Rowell*
  8. Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn (audio)
  9. Looking for Alaska by John Green
  10. The Orchid Affair by Lauren Willig
  11. Career of Evil by Robert Galbraith*

Three of these were five-star reads for me (signified by *), which isn’t too shocking considering they are some of my favorite authors. I probably enjoyed Carry On the most, however, simply because it completely surprised me. Having read Fangirl and not been crazy about the Simon Snow parts of that book, I wasn’t expecting to fall in love with a book all about him, but I did. Rowell’s take on the ‘Chosen One’ was hilarious and touching and much more thought-provoking than I expected. So, so good.

My least favorite read this month, hands down, was Gone Girl. I waited a long time to read this much-hyped book, and I wish I had never read it at all. Getting in the car everyday and turning on this audiobook made me a little sick, and I wish I had just stopped listening rather than feeling that I had to finish it. What a depressing read. This may be my least favorite of the year.

I finished an item on my 40×40 list this month as well–I took my girls camping! We had the best time and I hope I won’t have to wait until I’m officially 40 to do it again. So much fun.

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Hope everyone has a great December and end of the reading year!

The (August and) September Wrap-Up

monthly-wrap-upTime flies when you’re having fun, right? I honestly don’t know where the time has gone since school started back in August. With the addition of Girl Scouts and other outside activities, our calendar has been pretty full.

But I’m not complaining. As much as I love having downtime, it’s been nice to get back into a routine and I’ve been having a lot of fun, so the saying must be true. In addition to reading, I finished FIVE things on my 40×40 list (woohoo!) The pictures below sum those up pretty nicely.

In August and September, I read eight books:

  1. Broken Harbor by Tana French
  2. Invisible City by Julia Dahl
  3. An Age of License by Lucy Knisley
  4. Wolf in White Van by John Darnielle
  5. French Milk by Lucy Knisley
  6. Run You Down by Julia Dahl
  7. The Secret Place by Tana French
  8. Last Ragged Breathe by Julia Keller

The one thing I could say overall is that with each of these author’s books I’ve read, they just keep getting better. Both the Dahl, French, and Keller books are in a series, with each book being stronger than the last. Knisley, who writes graphic novels, shows a marked improvement in her later works; French Milk was her first and it definitely showed. The one exception to that is John Darnielle. Wolf in White Van is the only book I’ve read by him so I can’t judge the rest of his writing, but in this case one was enough. I found WIWV (which received a lot of critical attention and praise) to be incredibly depressing. Not recommended.

Coming up in October, I’ve got a pretty blank slate, reading-wise. Plenty of room for surprises. On the 40×40 front, I’m taking my girls camping for the first time towards the end of the month and I’m almost finished making a quilt for my new niece. I’ll leave you with some photos of the things I got to check off recently!

Hope everyone has a great October and happy reading!

Library Loot: August 26 – Sept 1

badge-4Library Loot is a weekly event co-hosted by Claire from The Captive Reader and Linda from Silly Little Mischief that encourages bloggers to share the books they’ve checked out from the library. If you’d like to participate, just write up your post-feel free to steal the button-and link it using the Mr. Linky any time during the week. And of course check out what other participants are getting from their libraries.

Hello, my name is Beth and I’m a library addict. I know, I know. I just can’t help myself, especially when I’m home during the day and have plenty of time to indulge all my interests and hobbies and “oh, wouldn’t I just love to know more about this and that” tendencies.

The books with the red stickers are recent ones which means I can’t keep them out of the library as long, so I’ll have to finish those first. I’m proud of the diversity in the mix, though, with some fiction and non-fiction and even a graphic novel thrown in there for fun.

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So here’s what I’ve got on the shelf for this week:

  1. The Gift of Failure: How the Best Parents Learn to Let Go So Their Children Can Succeed by Jessica Lahey. A writer whose work I admire recommended this and I’m finding it interesting so far. I don’t think of myself as a ‘helicopter’ parent, but I do help my children more than I should, and as my oldest just started middle school I need a timely reminder to take a step back and let her successes and her failures be her own.
  2. Black Dove White Raven by Elizabeth Wein. I’ve loved other books by Wein but I’m having a hard time getting into this latest one for some reason. This is actually the second time I’ve checked out this book, so I may need to try the audio instead.
  3. Run You Down by Julia Dahl. The second installment in a mystery series about a young reporter with roots in the New York Hasidic community. The first one was just okay, I thought, but I’m a sucker for a series.
  4. Last Ragged Breath by Julia Keller. Another series book, this one being the fourth novel in the Bell Elkins series about a West Virginia county prosecutor.
  5. Living with a Wild God by Barbara Ehrenreich. I don’t really talk about religion here, but I grew up as a preacher’s kid in the Deep South. Since I’ve been an adult, I think I would best classify myself as a ‘seeker’–I’m not a fan of organized religion (for lots of reasons I won’t go into here) but I do believe we all have a spiritual connection to each other and the universe as a whole. Ehrenreich’s latest book is about her own quest for Truth.
  6. The Path of Druidery: Walking the Ancient Green Way by Penny Billington. See above.🙂
  7. Doodle Stitching: Embroidery and Beyond by Aimee Ray. I checked this one out because it has a pattern for a quilt I’m going to make for my soon-to-arrive niece, Guilia. (Shhh, it’s a surprise!)
  8. French Milk by Lucy Knisley. I just love her graphic novels about life and traveling and art. They make me homesick for Europe, but in a good way.
  9. And finally…How to Raise a Wild Child by Scott Sampson. I’m trying to work on spending more (and quality) nature time with my kids and to encourage their own love of the outdoors. I’m hoping to find some good ideas here.

What are you reading this week? Any good ‘loot’ from your local library?