Now that I look at it, December was a pretty stacked reading month for me. I had some five stars and some duds. Some heavy historical fiction, some lighthearted literary fiction, some devilishly good dark humor and even some *gasp* romance! Check out my reviews below and add these to your list.
Now is Not the Time to Panic
Unfortunately, this book kept me bored and left me unfulfilled. I enjoyed Nothing to See Here for its quirkiness and expected more of the same from Now is Not the Time to Panic. Instead, I felt like I got a great plot idea with poor execution. The concept of small-town boredom mixed with teenage angst is something I can relate to. It drew me in, and I was invested in this story of two misfit teens creating a poster that riles everyone up in town, but I felt like the book did not deliver. The entire time I wondered to myself, where is this even going? And the ending.... flat is an understatement. Unfortunately, this one wasn't for me.
All That's Left Unsaid
When I saw comparisons to Celeste Ng's Everything I Never Told You and Brit Bennett's The Mothers, I knew I needed to read All That's Left Unsaid. The reader is thrown into the story from the first chapter as we learn Ky's younger brother Denny was brutally murdered at a restaurant the evening of a school dance. By all accounts, Denny is a "good boy," but maybe Ky has misjudged him? The town they come from in Australia is heavy with drugs and gangs with a large Vietnamese-Australian community. The story alternates between Ky's perspective and other characters that piece together the night of Denny's murder. There is a lot of tragedy in this one and it is complex with trauma. For a debut, I felt it was impressive and it taught me about a part of the world that I knew little about. I always appreciate a story that teaches me something. Overall, this was in the 3.5-star range for me. This is a sad story and is far from a feel-good book. Content warning: drug use, death, violence
This story is beautiful in a way that show both that wonderful and the painful sides of human character. Sara and Emilie cross paths in numerous ways, but they are destined to keep finding each other. Both carry pain and grief from past traumas, and both are searching for their place in the world. Filled with literary references around the restaurant and bartending industry, it had my former server/bartending self-swooning. I truly love books that show the good, bad and ugly of the world. I’m not one for romance, but a love story like this is right up my alley. Packed into just over 300 pages, this is a beautiful novel to fill your day. Content warnings: drug use/overdose, death, sexual assault, childhood neglect.
Remarkably Bright Creatures
Who knew an octopus could make such a curmudgeonly wonderful character? After finishing Remarkably Bright Creatures, I have added Marcelles to my list of all-time favorite literary characters. Remarkably Bright Creatures is witty, sarcastic and heartwarming. Tova Sullivan's husband died years ago and she works at the local aquarium where she cleans the building overnight. She finds herself befriended by a giant Pacific octopus named Marcelles who helps her cope with the grief she carries from her son tragically disappearing years ago. How does an octopus help her you may ask? Well, read and find out! I really enjoyed this book.
What better way to celebrate the holidays than read a book set in Hell?! Sign Here is a devilishly good debut novel about Peyote “Pey” Trip, who works in Hell and is on the cusp of a huge promotion if he can get one more member of the wealthy Harrison family to sell their soul. Literally, that’s what he does, makes deals with people for their souls, then reports back to his horrid boss in Hell. I cracked up over this book and was surprised there was actually some depth to it. While Pey is monitoring humans on earth, seeing who is ready to make a deal with the devil, he is living in Hell which isn’t so much the fire and brimstone you automatically think of. It is more a constant series of annoyances and inconveniences, such as every bar ONLY serves Jägermeister, car alarms go off constantly, every fifth pen you try to write with actually works, puddles end up being deeper than you think and the bottoms of your pants are consistently wet. When I say I cackled to parts of this book, I truly did. Genius.
Apart from the humor, there is some depth with this story, including elements of family love, dark secrets, sexism, revenge and consequences to life’s choices. I really enjoyed it and am impressed this was a debut novel. Book reviewers compare this one to the TV show The Good Place and I would agree with that comparison. The chapters are short, easy to read and switch character perspectives and location, between Pey in Hell and members of the Harrison family on earth.
The Kite Runner
This is one of the many modern-day classics I have on my #tbr and, after finishing, I cannot believe I let this sit unread on my shelves for so long. A true modern-day classic, The Kite Runner is set in 1970s Afghanistan, where 12-year-old Amir is desperate to win the local kite fighting contest with his friend, and servant, Hassan. A series of horrible events divide the boys and set them on different life paths where Amir must eventually reconcile with his past choices by returning to the Taliban run Afghanistan to make amends. This book blew me away. It was heartbreaking and I was fully invested. I love when a book carries you away into the story, to the point where you gasp, cry, and laugh while reading. This is that book. There were so many parts of the story that had me emotional and that, to me, is the sign of a good book.
The Many Daughters of Afong Moy
I met Jamie Ford at an author event this past August, where he was promoting The Many Daughters of Afong Moy. He was a new to me author and, since then, I have read Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet and now Afong Moy. I'm officially a Jamie Ford fan. Afong Moy was the first Chinese woman brought to American in the early 1800s. She was treated like a circus sideshow act-forced to perform for Americans and show off her bound feet. To them, she was an oddity. To her, she was a human with hopes and dreams. The story follows her legacy, which involves women throughout the centuries who descend from her bloodline yet carry generational trauma that stems back to her. This book was fascinating, and I honestly could have read an entire book on every character. It reminded me so much of Yaa Gyasi's Homegoing in the sense that each character has a story of their own that could easily fill 400 pages, yet the restraint shown by the author to encompass that in a few chapters is impressive. Loved it. Easily 5 stars in my book.
Thank You for Listening
Thank You for Listening by Julia Whelan ranks up there on my list of books outside of my comfort zone that surpassed my expectations. I love a messy, deep literary love story, but am the first to say that I don't like romance. Welp, I read a romance and I liked it, people! I guess I'm slowly converting? Or maybe I am becoming less cynical. Either way, I really enjoyed this book. The story follows Swanee, an audiobook narrator who formerlly narrated romance books, but swore them off years ago. She's a bit like me in the sense that a happily every after or "HEA" as they say in the biz, seems far from reality. That is until she crosses paths with the famous romance narrator Brock McNight. I really loved their story. It was far from cliche, cringy or surface level. There was so much depth in the characters and stories that I was fully invested. This book was also a great one to read after reading so much heavy historical fiction. It's always nice reading a book once in a while where no one is murdered....