Book Reviews: January and February 2017

the mothers review, the snowman review, jo nesbo, closed casket review, january reads the thunder beneath us, grace review, nicola yoon, the sun is also a star review, the sellout review, february reads

The Mothers

I finally read one of the buzziest books of 2016 and I enjoyed it quite a bit. In fact, it wasn’t what I was expecting it to be, so I guess I did a decent job of avoiding spoilers!

The novel follows a black girl named Nadia, and begins soon after her mother’s suicide. As she grieves, Nadia searches for other relationships to fill the void her mother left, and starts seeing the pastor’s son, Luke. Nadia becomes pregnant with his child and has to make a decision that will have consequences throughout the rest of her life.

I thought the tone of this book was very well done. After her mother’s death, Nadia is changed forever, and there’s a sadness and sense of emptiness pervading the novel. Nadia meets another motherless girl, Aubrey, who is her opposite, but the two of them strike up an unlikely friendship. They are both constantly searching for something: for their mothers or the people they used to be, for happiness, for love.

There are lines in this book where Bennett really nails it. I applaud her ability to capture emotions and her development of characters who feel like real people. However, there’s a narrative device she used that I’m not sure I liked- the Mothers. The Mothers are a group of women in Nadia’s church and they also function as a chorus (similar to the chorus in Fates and Furies). Even though there are some great passages in these sections, I generally found The Mothers’ observations distracting. Though I see how The Mothers are connected to the rest of the characters and the story, I’m not certain that they were necessary.

This book was quieter than I expected it to be, and I really liked that. It’s about difficult decisions, life-changing events, and being disappointed by the people you love the most.

The Snowman

I’ve heard a lot of talk about Jo Nesbo and I think the sticker on the book says that over 22 million copies have been sold (!!). Well, I thought it was time to find out what everyone was raving about. My overall takeaway can be summarized in three words: it was fine.

On the first snow day of the year, a woman goes missing in Oslo. There’s one detail that strikes detective Harry Hole as odd- the snowman found outside her house. This clue ultimately leads him to connect this case with others and makes him realize that he’s dealing with a dangerous criminal who enjoys playing games.

I feel like most of the mysteries/thrillers I read are based in America, so it was nice to read one in a completely different setting. The writing was acceptable, although I found some of the sentences strange and a bit off (I’m not sure if that was intentional, or as a result of translation). On a random note, there were several references to American politics, albeit politics of the past. I wasn’t sure how these were relevant to the story. Honestly, anything political is a really sore subject right now, so I had to wonder, “Was the author trolling me?”

I will give this point to Nesbo: it was a dark and twisted story, just the way I like it. The author kept me guessing throughout and I was thrown off by red herrings. However, there’s a real misogynistic streak in this novel, which I did not like one bit and which made me feel queasy. I won’t go into the details in order to avoid spoilers, but just be warned.

So there was enough intrigue in this story to keep me flipping the pages, but I wasn’t really blown away. I might try another Nesbo novel sometime in the future, but I won’t be rushing to do so.

Closed Casket*

When I heard that Sophie Hannah would be continuing the Agatha Christie books, I was really curious about she’d handle it. If you’ve read any of the original Agatha Christie novels, and then one of the new ones, I feel like you can’t help but compare them. My ultimate verdict is that Hannah did a good job of carrying on Agatha Christie’s legacy. It’s not perfect, but it’s certainly not a disgrace either.

In this book, Poirot and his colleague Edward Catchpool, another detective, are invited a dinner party at the estate of a famous children’s novelist named Lady Playford. The guests consist of some of Lady Playford’s family and people who are complete strangers (sounds a bit like And Then There Were None, no?). Naturally, Poirot is suspicious about Lady Playford’s decision to randomly invite two detectives to her home. Lo and behold, he’s right to be suspicious since someone is murdered on their first night at the estate.

I loved the premise of this novel and thought that Hannah did a pretty decent job of capturing Christie’s tone. But the characters in this novel, you guys. They were insufferable! For me they were very one-note and I wished that there was a lot more nuance to their actions/words. I did love the portion at the end when Poirot launches into his spiel and explains who committed the murder. I think that section in particular gave me the strongest Agatha Christie feels.

Again, Christie is a very difficult name to live up to. If it were me, I’d be terrified to try to tackle another writer’s work! I think this is a solid effort from Hannah and I would read the other book she’s written as part of the new Hercule Poirot series.

The Thunder Beneath Us*

Best Lightburn (love that name, feels kind of like a superhero name) is a top writer at a women’s magazine. It’s not easy being a black, female writer trying to advance in her career, but Best is doing everything she can to move up the ladder (I’d written a terrible pun here, but I decided to spare you instead, so you’re welcome ;). It seems like she has a great boyfriend, job, friends, and life in general, but she’s haunted by a traumatic event from her past. Ten years ago, Best was in an accident with her two brothers and was the only person to survive. As her past starts to catch up to her, her present-day life begins to unravel, until it seems like nothing is under her control anymore.

My description above makes this book sound rather bleak and it does begin with the terrible event. But there are moments of humor and levity in here too. I really enjoyed the writing style, which was rather conversational. When Best narrates, it’s like you’re gabbing with your girlfriend.

As I was reading, I thought the plot and structure was a bit loose. There were scenes and characters that felt more like tangents, rather than additions to strengthen the story. In parts, I wanted more background. I felt like I was supposed to know and care more about certain characters, but I wasn’t shown enough to understand the relationships between these characters.

Still, I thought the underlying story was raw and real. There were moments that, for reasons, made me pause to catch my breath. The pain that Best felt resonated with me. In general, I really enjoyed this novel and I would definitely read more of the author’s work.

Grace

This book is excellent and I feel like there aren’t enough people talking about how good it is. The main character is Naomi, a slave in the South in the mid-1800s. The book begins with Naomi’s murder, hours after she’s given birth to a child. Naomi dies that night, but she doesn’t quite move on. Instead, she reflects on her experiences before her death, and those of her daughter after her death.

Deon wrote this story beautifully and Naomi was such a rich character. She has a heartbreaking life. I think the idea of having a dead narrator could easily go wrong, but it works really well in this novel. The helplessness and lack of control that Naomi experiences in her life is also reflected after her death. As she watches over her daughter, she wants to care and intervene for her, but she can’t.

This is an important story that’s beautifully written. Y’all should read this one!

The Sun is Also a Star

I enjoyed this even more than Everything, Everything, which I really liked. I had no idea what this novel was about before I started reading it, but I knew from the first few pages that I was going to love it. When the book begins, Natasha’s family is being deported back to Jamaica, and Daniel has a college interview that could decide his future. The novel follows Natasha’s and Daniel’s story as their lives intersect on this pivotal day.

First of all, let’s give a round of applause to this book for featuring a romance between a young black girl and Korean boy. More of this, please! Aside from interracial relationships, this book also explores other topics, such as immigration and identity. I wasn’t expecting the immigration aspect of the novel. It felt particularly timely and relevant since I was reading this right after He-Who-Shall-Not-Be-Named announced the Muslim ban. I learned some things about the deportation process. Natasha struggles with being forced to return to a country that she barely remembers and having to leave behind the place that she calls home. Daniel wonders if he can still live up to his parent’s strict expectations if he decides to follow his own path. I could certainly identify with Daniel’s story, but Natasha’s story was especially moving to me. I felt her pain and helplessness as she tries to do everything she can think of to avoid being deported.

Despite dealing with such heavy subjects, this book has many humorous and charming moments. It gave me similar feels to those I had while reading Eleanor & Park, which is one of my favorite books. I’m really enjoying what Nicola Yoon is doing in the world of YA and I’m definitely going to keep following her work!

The Sellout

Get ready to go for a wild ride when you read this book! It’s irreverent and incisive from the first few pages and it doesn’t really slow down. The narrator, whose first name we never learn, is a black man living in Dickens, California. He describes Dickens as the original ghetto and is distressed when Dickens is literally erased from the map. The narrator comes up with a plan to get Dickens noticed and put it back on the map- bring back segregation.

This novel is as wacky as that plot description sounds and it’s a satire on race relations in America. Beatty is not afraid to go there, and several times I was wincing at his accurate observations about race. The plot can be unbelievable, until you remind yourself of the current political climate. There’s a lot of truth in this book and a lot to digest. It’s certainly left me reevaluating and taking a hard look at the current state of affairs.

I’m really glad I got around to this one in February. As with all of my Black History Month reads, this story feels even more timely and necessary than ever.

*Disclaimer: These books were sent to me by the publisher or author for review purposes, but these are my honest thoughts and opinions.

  • I love Agatha Christie! The Hercule Poirot books are a favorite of mine, so I’ll probably read the new one. I’m glad it somewhat lives up to Christie’s works. I definitely need to read Everything, Everything and The Sun Is Also A Star! I always hear how amazing her books are!
    ~Sara

    • I love Agatha Christie too. Every book I’ve read of hers has been reliably good and she always manages to surprise me. I love Nicola Yoon’s work and I’d definitely recommend both Everything, Everything and The Sun is Also a Star!

  • Thanks! I’m always looking for new books to read :)

    xx, Melissa
    https://elephantontheroad.com

    • Great! I’d love to hear what you think if you read any of these :)