Am I missing something here? | An American Marriage by Tayari Jones

An American MarriageRoy and Celestial had only been married for 18 months when Roy is falsely accused of rape. Despite Celestial’s testimony that he had been with her all night, Roy is convicted and sentenced to 12 years in prison. 12 years is a long time and Celestial and Roy both have to come to terms with what this sentence means for their relationship and for them as individuals.

eBook | Hardcover | Paperback

TL;DR – In a book where the characters are super important, I found Celestial and Roy both to be mildly unlikable.

I really feel like I’m missing something here, guys. I’ve only heard good things about this book! Now don’t get me wrong, I thought the writing was good (probably even great) but I just found Roy and Celestial both unlikable and was not a fan of their relationship. Even from the beginning.

Roy is a confident man–maybe too confident for my liking. To me, he just seemed immature, manipulative, and entitled. And he doesn’t seem to have any qualms about flirting with other women–even going so far as to get their phone and room numbers (even if he doesn’t actually go their room). It’s just…disgusting to me. How can he claim to actually love Celestial if he’s pulling crap like this? The entire book he’s setting himself up as this victim–and to an extent he is–but sometimes I just wanted him to own up to the other stuff.

When I really think about it, what happened to Roy is clearly awful–I wouldn’t wish that on anybody. I also recognize that going to prison would change anybody, but I had such a hard time pitying him because of his attitude. He’s going around like everyone in his life (especially Celestial) owes him something and I don’t feel like they do? Am I just a horrible and callous person?

Celestial, while more sympathetic, is no more likable to me. Both Roy and Andre describe her as being this super strong and admirable woman, but I feel like the reader doesn’t get to see any of that. She doesn’t ever really stand up for herself and she let’s both Roy and Andre tell her what to do. In the end, she chooses the path of least resistance and it’s just so frustrating to me! There were so many times when I wanted Celestial to show a little backbone, but she always ended up disappointing me.

In the end, I just couldn’t get over my dislike for the characters. Secondary characters were pretty good–I liked Andre and both Roy and Celestial’s parents. I liked how Roy’s time in prison was told through letters, but I wish that there had been dates maybe? Sometimes it would skip a few years and you wouldn’t find that out until halfway through the letter. I thought the ending happened suddenly and it felt too tidy and convenient to me. I feel like there was no win-win situation here, but somehow the author created one. I don’t know…I just feel like I’m missing something.

Overall Rating: 3
Language: Moderate
Violence: Moderate
Smoking/Drinking: Moderate
Sexual Content: Moderate

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Cartoon Strips and Wedding Disasters | Save the Date by Morgan Matson

Save the Date

The Grant siblings are all about to be in the same place for the first time in what feels like forever and Charlie can’t wait. She loves her siblings and they’ll all be together for her older sister’s wedding. What could go wrong?

TL;DR – Wedding planning/shenanigans/disasters, comic strip characters come to life, and a random dog. If these things sound good to you, you will like this book.

I am a big fan of Morgan Matson in general and this was another solid showing. I loved the premise of the main character’s mom being a cartoonist with a strip based on the family. I grew up reading Calvin and Hobbes, Garfield, Foxtrot, etc. and Grant Central Station felt really nostalgic to me. Another small thing I liked was the premise of the cartoon characters aging with the actual family members–I always did wonder how that was supposed to work with Foxtrot.

Charlie is a typical Matson main character. She’s a little quiet and wants to be helpful to other members of her family. I loved her devotion to her family, though. While I thought the drama this caused between her and her best friend was a bit unnecessary, I loved the FAMILY theme of this book.

There is a bit of a mystery hanging over the reader throughout the book. What exactly happened between Charlie’s brother and her mom? For the record, I do believe that Charlie’s mom was in the wrong here but…that’s just my opinion. There are so many fun little things throughout the book. I love the cameos of course, I love seeing the strips scattered throughout, I love the relationship between siblings, I love the little quirks that the characters have like the way JJ says “Scoff”. It feels like a real family.

The ending is…sad, but realistic and hopeful at the same time. I feel like the ending is much more realistic than a lot of other contemporary YA novels and I appreciated that. While this isn’t my favorite Matson novel, I would definitely still recommend it.

Overall Rating: 4
Language: Moderate
Violence: None
Sexual Content: Moderate
Smoking/Drinking: Moderate

I find it weird that these books never mention Dylan Thomas once | This Raging Light and But Then I Came Back [ARC] by Estelle Laure

Lucille and Eden have been friends forever. But the summer before their senior year, Lucille’s mom decides to take off on a solo vacation. She promises to come back before school starts, but Lucille and her little sister Wren are left waiting long after that deadline has passed. Meanwhile, Eden is struggling to come to terms with her future in ballet and the new feelings that have arisen between Lucille and her twin brother, Digby.

Just to start off, I really liked This Raging Light and¬†But Then I Came Back was also enjoyable, but I didn’t like it AS MUCH. I just really had so many feelings about Lucille and Wren. Lucille has to be so tough and is put in this impossible situation. I noticed that some reviewers haven’t liked how mean she is to Eden and Digby after a little while, but I feel like I can understand it completely. She has to be so stressed out and she can’t REALLY talk to anyone about her situation. But one thing this book does do is make me believe in the kindness of strangers. So…there’s that.

The relationship between Lucille and Digby is…a little weird. It feels completely one-sided at the beginning of the book and it’s not completely clear what makes Digby have a change of heart. He’s got a girlfriend at the beginning of the book and he cheats on her with Lucille which is NOT OKAY. That being said, I did end up liking their relationship in the end. Mostly, though, the relationship that I really liked was between Lucille and Wren. I LOVE a good sister relationship and I felt that this book definitely delivered in that area. There’s a sizable age difference between the two girls, but they love each other and are there for each other through everything. My heart was seriously just breaking for these girls throughout the whole book.

There wasn’t too much of a plot beyond trying to survive while Lucille’s mom is gone, but I was okay with that. Again, there have been some reviewers that disliked how the first book ends because they felt like there wasn’t a resolution. I can definitely see that, but I finished the first book and immediately went into the second which picks up right where the first one left off so…I didn’t really mind the lack of a resolution.

The title is something that really drew me to this book initially. The poem it’s quoting is great (who doesn’t love it?) and the girls discuss it a little in the book. But then they never mention Dylan Thomas to my recollection. There’s no real reason why the NEED to talk about him, but perhaps it could have added an interesting layer or dimension to the book.

This is the point where I’m going to transition into my review of the second book, so if you don’t want some things spoiled from the first book, do not continue reading.

I didn’t like Eden as a narrator as much as I liked Lucille. There’s just something a little…chippy about her? I felt like she had this undercurrent of anger throughout a lot of her interactions with people. Then because Eden’s just woken up from a coma, there are some weird things that she sees that almost gives this book a magical realism feel to it where that was NOT present in the first book. It almost feels like a different genre.

The new characters that were introduced in the second book are interesting. I was a little confused, though, because apparently Eden has these two really good guy friends who are over all the time but who are never mentioned in the first book. I didn’t like the way that her new guy friends or even her parents and brother reacted to Eden at times. They got really angry with her when she didn’t want to do something–the girl just got out of a coma! I would think she’s allowed to not want to go to a club or party.

This book was interesting because we really get Eden’s point of view in the whole fallout between her and Lucille. Lucille really isn’t painted in the BEST light in this book, which was hard for me since I liked her so much in the first book. At the same time, I thought it was a great way of showing that there are two sides to every story, you know? I understood why Eden felt the way she did and ultimately why she reacted to Lucille how she did in the first book.

Overall, I thought these books were pretty great. I think it would make more sense to read them in order, but you could definitely read them separately and I think the second book would still make sense…mostly.

Overall Rating: 5 (TRL), 4 (BTICB)
Language: Moderate for both
Violence: Moderate (TRL), Mild (BTICB)
Smoking/Drinking: Moderate for both
Sexual Content: Moderate (TRL), Mild (BTICB)

Note: I received But Then I Came Back free from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

Summer Cleaning Mini-Reviews

If Spring Cleaning is a thing, that means Summer Cleaning is too, right? I have so many backlogged ARCs to review, it’s not even funny. Covers link to Goodreads.

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Say No to the Bro by Kat Helgeson [ARC]

Okay…to be perfectly honest I read this back in April and I’m having a hard time remembering everything. The notes that I wrote down for this, though, are as follows: “I’m not really buying their relationship. I feel like it doesn’t fit with who I think the characters are.” From what I remember of the book, all of a sudden the two main characters were dating and I was like, “Okay, that’s random.” Like, not random plotwise, but random because it didn’t feel genuine. I also remember not really liking any of the characters–they all just seemed really selfish to me. 2/5

Seeking MansfieldSeeking Mansfield by Kate Watson [ARC]

I always love a good Jane Austen retelling and I’d heard good things about this book, so I was super excited. The issue I had with the original Mansfield Park is that I felt like Edmund just randomly decided to like Fanny in the end. Like, what was going on? Fanny deserves better than Edmund shrugging his shoulders going, “Well, I guess I’ll just marry Fanny now since that last relationship didn’t work out.” So I was hesitant going into this book in case it was the same thing. To some extent it was, but I did like the ending of this retelling better than the original ending. One thing that really bugged me is that I don’t feel like Harlan would have acted how he did towards Finley if he really respected her dad as he said he did. There was also a lot of angst that I could have done without.¬†4/5

A Million Junes

A Million Junes by Emily Henry [ARC]

First of all, stunning cover. My first impression was that the main characters were both super likable which is always nice. I also rejoiced to find a main character who loved both her biological father as well as her step-dad. I’d been searching for such a book and I absolutely loved the relationships that June had with both her father and her step-father. The plot itself was a little abstract and I did find myself confused a time or two, but I was still okay with it. The magical realism aspect of the book was so well done and definitely gave the entire story a dreamy quality. In my opinion, this book was a definite step up from Henry’s last book. I also thought this book was a really great look at grief and grieving in general. 4/5

Follow Me Back

Follow Me Back by A.V. Geiger [ARC]

So…this book is CRAZY. As I was reading, I thought that this was a nice departure from my normal genres–I don’t read a lot of thrillers (psychological or otherwise). I honestly didn’t expect too much from the plot. I thought it would just be a very basic twist at the end. But about halfway through I started to suspect that things weren’t going to end up being the way I thought they would be. Was Eric going to end up being the stalker instead of Tessa? What about that weird Mrs. Eric Thorn from Twitter? How does she fit in? What the heck happened to Tessa last summer? Then the ending kind of came out of nowhere, but it also makes sense. At this point, however, I find myself very uncertain about the very end (was it an epilogue?). I didn’t anticipate this being more than one book and I’m very confused as to what is actually happening. Confused in a good way though. The only thing I didn’t particularly care for is the way that Tessa’s mom and boyfriend treated her mental issues. I mean, I don’t know how I would react in their shoes, but they seemed so insensitive! Also, WHAT IS UP WITH TESSA’S PSYCHIATRIST???¬†4/5

Songs About a GirlSongs About a Girl by Chris Russell [ARC]

I had high hopes for this book because I thought it was going to be something a little more similar to Audrey, Wait! by Robin Benway. Like, the main character goes to school with a guy who ends up¬†being a massively famous pop star and turns out he carried a secret torch for her all through high school and so all the songs on his band’s new album are about her. That’s not what this book was about (but that would be an awesome book, right?). I didn’t really understand the plot all the way and I was really confused as to why Charlie felt so strongly that she needed to lie to her father. And I didn’t understand why she was being targeted at school. Also, to be honest, I thought this was going to turn into an accidental incest situation. It didn’t, but I had no idea where the plot was going for a while if not in that direction. 2/5

They All Fall DownThey All Fall Down by Roxanne St. Clair

This book could have been so good, but instead it was just freaking weird. I don’t know…somehow I thought there was going to be a little bit more of a mystery involved that the reader could try to solve. Instead, it’s just a big conspiracy thing that’s plopped in your lap in the last 50 pages. The characters were strange while also being blatant stereotypes (brooding bad boy, aggressive jock, mean girl cheerleaders). In addition, I thought Kenzie’s best friend was basically the most annoying side kick of a character I’d ever read. She only cares about becoming more popular and gets super upset when Kenzie isn’t interested in being popular as well. That drama was so unnecessary and just made the book that much harder to get through. Don’t read this. 2/5

Crazy Rich AsiansCrazy Rich Asians by Kevin Kwan

Okay, let me stop you right there. This is not a book about Asian people who are crazy and rich. This is a book about Asian people who are¬†crazy rich. Get the difference? This book was surprisingly funny and exasperating all at the same time–there are some seriously ridiculous characters and situations. As someone who is half-Chinese (I’m descended from Hong Kong peasants–no shame) I felt like this book was so refreshing. 99% of the characters in this book are Asian (with the exception of an Au Pair here or there). This book depicts such a wide range of Asian people and I loved it. We’re not all the same, you know? And even though the characters in this book are crazy rich (and I’m not) I still felt like I could relate to them? Anyway, this book gave me a giant hankering for some dim sum. I need a pineapple bun, stat. 4/5

Note: ARCs were received for free in exchange for an honest review.

No traveling pants, but still a good read | The Whole Thing Together by Ann Brashares [ARC]

The Whole Thing TogetherRay and Sasha are more or less part of the same family. They grew up in the same house, with the same sisters, in the same bedroom…but they’ve never met. A long time ago, Ray’s mom used to be married to Sasha’s dad. A nasty divorce and two remarriages later, Ray and Sasha were born. 17 years later, their¬†worlds are about to collide for the first time.

Okay, so I know that Brashares has written more things than¬†JUST¬†The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants, but I honestly haven’t read anything else by her. I remembered really like that series though, so I decided to give this one a shot since it had a really intriguing premise to me. Right away, I really enjoyed the writing. The narration and dialogue all flowed together really well and the writing made the book very easy to read. The plot wasn’t super predictable, but there also wasn’t much that happened that was super surprising. This book is more about the characters anyway.

Family dynamics are very interesting. I’m going to say that it’s impossible for a family to be completely drama-free and the family in this book is definitely not an exception. The narration rotates between the five kids: the original three sisters (Emma, Quinn, and Mattie) and the new kids (Ray and Sasha). That, at times, got confusing for me. I was reading a digital ARC and sometimes there wasn’t a clear indicator that the book was changing narrators–I hope that’s something that is fixed or different in the physical book. That being said, if the narrators had very different tones or voices, this wouldn’t have been so confusing. Unfortunately, all of the narrators pretty much sound alike. It was very difficult to tell them apart just from the language. The only signals we get are from context.

The good thing about having so many narrators, though, is that I really felt like I got to know each of the siblings on a pretty deep level. If there had just been one or two narrators, we would have only gotten to know the other characters on a superficial level from our narrator’s perspective. I enjoyed getting to know how characters were perceived but then also having the internal viewpoint for each of them. I expected to not like at least one of the siblings, but I honestly really came to care for each of them in separate ways. Obviously they each had some less desirable traits, but I was willing to overlook them because I felt like I knew each of them on a deeper level so those things didn’t matter.

The only kind of negative thing that really stood out to me was that Jaime’s family seemed a little random. They had a ton of drama as well, but then they’re not really explored at all. I would have either liked more exploration there, or less description of it.

After reading (and pretty much loving) this book, I was surprised to see that there were many negative reviews for this book on Goodreads. One reviewer in particular (who admits to being a straight, white, female) thought that this book displayed “blatant sexism, body-shaming of all sorts, stereotyping, and some racism”. While I could see her points, I just wanted to give my two cents on some of those things. I’m also straight and female, but I’m only a quarter white so I might have a slightly different perspective.

“Blatant Sexism”. The reviewer points out a section of the book where one of our main characters, Ray, is looking at another character’s body–specifically her chest. The reviewer’s response: “This is a direct example of the ‘boys will be boys’ attitude that results in the normalization of rape and sexual assault. What could Ray do? Well I’ll tell you–he could have not looked down at Sasha’s dress, and kept his eyes to himself…” I see her point and I’m not at all trivializing the normalization of rape and sexual assault that is happening. However, I was listening to an interesting podcast the other day. It was a rerun for¬†This American Life (great podcast if you’re not already a subscriber). It was an episode completely about testosterone (listen here). In one of the sections the reporter was interviewing a transgender man about his transition. As part of the¬†transition, he had to be injected with a very high dosage of testosterone. It was really interesting to hear him talk about how he thought about women pre-transition (and testosterone) versus post. There was a stark difference. Obviously, we all have agency and can make our own choices, right? However, as a woman, I felt that my eyes were opened to this chemical thing that happens in boys that doesn’t happen in girls that I really had no idea about. It seems apparent to me that it’s not just a moral or ethical thing, but that natural chemicals and hormones are coming into play as well. I guess what my point is, is that even though I agree that Ray shouldn’t have been looking at Sasha’s chest, I¬†don’t feel that this interaction was necessarily out of place. I was uncomfortable when I read it too, but I’m not necessarily angry at Brashares for including it–I feel like I get it.

“Some Racism”. The reviewer describes her frustration that an Indian American man (actually he was raised in Canada)¬†is stereotypically a “tech genius”. Just as an aside here, I thought he was in finance, but I could have gotten that wrong. Another reviewer criticized the fact that this same character, Robert, was really trying to downplay the fact that he was Indian and wanted nothing more than to be just like all the white men out there. I can see why that’s bothersome, but I feel like we need to look at the overall context here. He was adopted by white parents and it sounded like he was raised in a white community. So from that perspective, it makes sense that he might not identify as being Indian–he wasn’t raised that way. In addition, it can be frustrating for people to make assumptions about you based on your physical appearance (I speak from personal experience here). I can understand why Robert would want to be “as white as possible” (for lack of a better term) since that’s more or less what he identifies as.

Those are just some of my thoughts about the negative comments that have been made about this book. I think a lot of the problems that people have with this book just need to be viewed in the appropriate context instead of being taken out and examined under a microscope. I, personally, was not offended by the book as a woman or as a person of color–in fact, I actually really enjoyed it! I’ll allow you to judge for yourself, but I don’t think these negative reviews should be enough to keep you from reading it if you would have picked it up otherwise.

Overall Rating: 5
Language: Heavy
Violence: Mild
Smoking/Drinking: Moderate (some drinking and some underage smoking)
Sexual Content: Moderate (nothing explicit).

Note: I received this book free from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

A book about grief and growing up too early | Letters to the Lost by Brigid Kemmerer [ARC]

Letters to the LostThe accident happened months ago, but to Juliet, it feels like it was just yesterday. Her mom took an earlier flight home as a surprise because Juliet begged her to. Now she’s dead. Hit and run. So Juliet writes her letters. Of course, she knows that her mom will never read them, but it feels good sometimes to put those emotions down on paper. When Declan finds one of Juliet’s letters at the cemetery where he’s doing community service, he can’t help but respond. They become pen pals of sorts and under the cover of anonymity they can admit things that they never had the courage to admit before.

I did not expect this book. It was deep and meaningful and was a really intense look at grief from all kinds of different angles. All of the characters in this book are flawed and the author doesn’t shy away from the ugly parts of their lives or personalities. Juliet and Declan are both kind of angry people, but I didn’t find that I minded like I have with characters from other books. Mostly I just felt sad for both characters. They’ve both had these huge events in their lives that completely change how they interact with the rest of the world. I wouldn’t say that either of them are particularly likable, but I still felt for them and I think that’s a sign of really well developed characters.

The cast of secondary characters was also amazing. I loved both Rev and Rowan, but especially Rev and I’m very excited that he’ll be getting his own book¬†coming out next year. They were a great support system for the two main characters and honestly just seem like really good people. At the same time, they had their own flaws that we don’t really have time to get into in this book–but they’re there. I also just want to give a shoutout to the fact that Rev is an unashamed Christian and isn’t portrayed as a complete freak. Then there are the adult characters. Frank, Juliet’s dad, Declan’s mom and step-dad, Rev’s parents, Mrs. Hillard, and Mr. Gerardi. A lot of times YA books portray adults as the enemies or like they just don’t understand or completely absent. There is a little bit of that in this book, but there are also a lot of times when adults are present and they are every bit as flawed as our teenage protagonists. Despite those flaws a lot of the adult characters are also super enabling. I especially loved the interactions that Declan had with Frank and Mrs. Hillard. It’s not always an us vs them thing when it comes to teens and adults–sometimes adults are on your side! So I give a big thank you to the author for illustrating that. I also loved Juliet’s gradual appreciation for her father.

There is a bit of a plot that runs as a constant thread throughout the book, but it’s definitely not the focus–we’re much more focused on the development of our main characters. I think my overall takeaway from this book is that we really shouldn’t judge other people before getting to know them. I think this is most apparent in the judgments that Rowan and Brandon make about Declan and Rev. Rowan and Brandon are nice, good people, but they don’t take the time to try to get to know either Declan or Rev. They only listen to the things they’ve heard about Declan and Rev is guilty by association and because he dresses strangely. How many of us are exactly like Rowan and Brandon? Let’s get to know and love the Declans and Revs of the world.

Overall, I thought this book was really great. While there were some¬†overused¬†elements (the “evil stepparent” for one), I also thought that the author included several refreshing elements. I think this book will, deservedly, stand apart from other books in the YA category.

Overall Rating: 4
Language: Moderate
Violence: Moderate. Some brief descriptions of child abuse.
Smoking/Drinking: Moderate
Sexual Content: Moderate. Mostly due to one scene at the end of the book–not graphic.

Note: I received this book free from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

The Evil Library Strikes Again | Paper & Fire by Rachel Caine [ARC]

Warning: This is the second book in a series and so may contain spoilers for the first book. Click here to read my review on the first book, Ink & Bone.

JesPaper and Fires Brightwell has been adjusting to life as one of the High Garda, but that’s not all he’s been doing. He has reason to believe that his friend, Thomas Schreiber, is not actually dead like he’s been told. Jess thinks that finding the Black Archives may be the key to locating where Thomas is being kept, but nobody knows if the Black Archives actually exist.¬†As Jess and his fellow former-postulants research this sensitive topic, they will find that they have uncovered much more than they bargained for. In order to survive, each of them will have to choose: Friends? Or the Library?

This was a great follow-up to the first book. Each character stays true to their original descriptions and I felt like their motivations and actions in this book still made sense. I like the variety that we have with characters too. We have Glain who’s super tough, then there’s Dario who we all still kind of hate, and then there’s Khalila who is smart and just so kind. They all contribute to make the group dynamic really interesting and enjoyable. There are a couple of characters who I don’t enjoy as much–mostly I feel like they tend to stand in the way of moving the plot forward–but overall the group is enjoyable.

Something that I didn’t necessarily anticipate is the depth of the characters’ relationships with each other. Thinking back on the events of the first book I guess it makes sense that they’ve all formed such a strong bond, but I didn’t feel like that bond was ever really shown or developed all that much in the first book. At least, I didn’t see it. This carries over to¬†Jess’s relationship with Morgan. All of the sudden they’re really serious about each other and I’m just left going, “Wait, what? Where did all of these super strong feelings come from?”

Overall, I’ve really enjoyed this series. This book ends on such a cliffhanger! I can’t wait for the third book to come out. Another thing is that I LOVE these covers! They’re just colorful and interesting, yet kind of subtle at the same time. I definitely recommend these books.

Overall Rating: 4
Language: Mild
Violence: Heavy
Smoking/Drinking: Mild
Sexual Content: Mild

Note: I received this book free from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.