Category: First Novels

Reading the 2021 Women’s Prize Longlist – Mini-Reviews

A few months ago I posted about the 2021 Women’s Prize longlist.  At the time I had only read two of the books, Transcendent Kingdom by Yaa Gyasi and The Vanishing Half by Brit Bennett (both excellent). Since then I’ve read four more of the books from the longlist: Piranesi, Luster, How the One-Armed Sister Sweeps…

Review: Big Girl, Small Town by Michelle Gallen

I really enjoyed this story about a week in the life of a young woman in Northern Ireland.  Majella is in her mid-twenties and lives with her mother in the very small fictional town of Aghybogey during the time of “The Troubles”.  Her day to day life is ordinary – she cares for her mother…

Review: Firekeeper’s Daughter by Angeline Boulley

Angeline Boulley is a former co-worker of mine, and though I don’t know her well, I was excited for her first novel to come out, and even more excited to receive an advanced review copy.  I hoped I wouldn’t be disappointed, and I wasn’t. In fact, this book was everything I could ask for, with…

Review: Shuggie Bain by Douglas Stuart

You’ll have heard of this book because of the awards it won in 2020, including the Booker Prize.  This story of a young boy growing up with an alcoholic mother in 1980s Glasgow is worth the read.  It’s dark, but once I finished it, I missed the characters.  By the time you finish it, Shuggie…

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,…

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