Category: Contemporary Fiction

Review: My Dark Vanessa by Kate Elizabeth Russell

I didn’t know if I’d like this book, but I found myself listening to it at every opportunity and I couldn’t stop thinking about it.  It’s the story of Vanessa, a fourteen year old in a boarding school in Maine who has a sexual relationship with her English teacher .  Years later, when other victims come forward and they look to her for support, she doesn’t know how to respond. This is her story, told over 17 years.

I’m finding it much harder to describe this book than I thought I would, because the words we use for sexual abuse (like rape, and victim, and power) are so important, and that’s what makes this book so interesting and so challenging.  Vanessa loves Strane and refuses to see herself as a victim — yet Strane is clearly manipulating her, and the effects on Vanessa as both a teen and an adult are absolutely devastating.  As are the many ways school authorities and even Vanessa’s parents fail her.

Review: The Beauty of Your Face by Sahar Mustafah

This book about a Palestinian family in Chicago, Illinois begins with a school shooting.  Afaf, the principal of a school for Muslim girls, is praying when the gunman opens fire.  Then the book goes back to Afaf’s childhood.  Afaf is raised in Chicago in the 1970s with her not very religious parents, her older sister,…

Review: The Most Fun We Ever Had by Claire Lombardo

I enjoyed and appreciated this character-driven family drama by Claire Lombardo.  I read it for my book club, which didn’t end up happening last month, and that was actually good because I never would have finished in time.  It’s a long one — but for those who like complicated family dramas that cover many years,…

Review: The Herd by Andrea Bartz

As mystery/thrillers go, The Herd has an interesting premise.  Eleanor is a beautiful and successful woman who created The Herd, which is a woman-only workspace and social clique.  It’s basically a boy’s club without the boys.  Her three closest friends, Hana, Katie and Mikki, both work for her and semi-worship her, in what is clearly…

Review: Amnesty by Aravind Adiga

I found this a really interesting read about what it’s like to be an undocumented immigrant in Australia. Adiga tells the story through the eyes of Danny, who has fled his native Sri Lanka after torture. He comes to Australia through a school program, applies for refugee status but is denied, and then stays on…

Review: Pride by Ibi Zoboi

I have a list of recent Austen adaptations I want to read, like Ayesha at Last, Unmarriageable, and Pride, Prejudice and Other Flavors.  I’d seen great reviews of Pride by Idi Zoboi and was happy to find the audiobook narrated by Elizabeth Acevedo.  I thought her reading was terrific and I really appreciated Zoboi’s fresh look at…

A Double Review: The Dry and Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter

I read these two books nearly back to back, and their plots and characters were amazingly similar, though I had no idea when I chose them.  I love a totally random reading coincidence.  Here’s a comparison of the two novels. The story: both The Dry and Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter are mystery/thrillers about an unsolved…

Review: The Dutch House by Ann Patchett

This was only my second read by Patchett, after the excellent Commonwealth, and I was struck again by Patchett’s thoughtful development of characters and understanding of family dynamics.  This is a story that covers decades in the lives of a single family in Pennsylvania, from about the 50s to today, told through the eyes of…

Review: Olive, Again by Elizabeth Strout

Great news for Olive Kitteridge fans — author Elizabeth Strout has published a sequel and it is fantastic.  Olive, Again is written in Strout’s signature style of introducing new characters in each chapter so that the book feels like connected short stories rather than a novel. The sequel begins with Olive mourning the death of…

Meeting Angie Kim, Author of Miracle Creek

Last week my book club had the opportunity to meet with Angie Kim, author of Miracle Creek, a courtroom drama about a Korean-American family.  Kim was fantastic and spent a lot of time with our group.  She shared a lot of interesting details about how her life experiences influenced the book, and the kinds of things she…