Category: First Novels

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…

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…

Review: The Hating Game by Sally Thorne

I wasn’t expecting this book to suck me in as much as it did.  The office rom-com isn’t my usual type of book, but I was feeling the need for something lighter.  It starts out silly and a bit annoying — I didn’t like…

Review: Autonomous by Annalee Newitz

I wasn’t sure I’d like this book at first.  I don’t love science fiction that focuses too much on technology at the expense of character development, and this book features a high-tech robot as a main character. I read it because I needed a…

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…

Review: Miracle Creek by Angie Kim

I really enjoyed this debut novel that combines courtroom drama with a moving story about a Korean-American family.  Even better, the author is local and writes about a small town in Virginia that doesn’t exist but felt very real. The Yoo family runs a  a…

Review: The Farm by Joanne Ramos

I really liked this slow-burner of a novel about a program for the wealthy who want surrogate parents.  Ramos creates what I found to be a very believable scenario and raises a lot of really interesting issues regarding parenthood, wealth, immigration, race and class.  A…

Review: Ghostwritten by David Mitchell

I love David Mitchell – I love how every book by him is more of an experience than just a read.  This book felt like a whirlwind, or a roller coaster.   It’s told in nine slightly-interlocking chapters.  At first the chapters feel very distinct…

Review: A Place for Us by Fatima Farheen Mirza

This is my favorite book of the year so far.  It was everything I like in a book – really character-driven, about complex family relationships. It’s about a family where the parents are immigrants to the U.S. and they struggle to raise their children…

Review: Empire of Sand by Tasha Suri

I loved this debut fantasy novel by Tasha Suri.  It’s well-written and creates a fascinating world with a terrifying villain.  It’s inspired by the Mughal Empire of India, something I knew absolutely nothing about before reading this book — which is why fiction by…

Review: The Mermaid and Mrs. Hancock by Imogen Hermes Gowar

I loved this book, set in 18th century England, about a lonely merchant who comes upon a mermaid that changes his life.  Gowar’s debut novel is one of those rare books you can’t possibly categorize – is it historical fiction, fantasy, romance, or just…

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