Oh, William! by Elizabeth Strout

Elizabeth Strout is such a talented and flawless writer. I liked this book even better than, “My Name is Lucy Barton.” Once again, Strout creates these lonely and amazingly flawed characters and gives the reader such detailed insight into their emotions and lives.

William is Lucy’s ex-husband. She has recently lost her husband and as she grieves, she examines the relationships in her life, specifically the one with her ex-husband, William. As Lucy explores her past and tries to understand people, she makes it clear that, “we are all mysteries.”

I love that the title is “Oh, William,” and throughout the book Lucy finds herself saying, “Oh, William” over and over with different meanings. Sometimes she says it out of anger, sometimes out of love, sometimes out of empathy.

The moral of this story could be, “This is the way of life: the many things we do not know until it is too late.” But luckily for Lucy, she does seem to figure things out and come to terms with them before it is too late. Strout’s unique and lovely way with words makes her characters so vivid and human and endearing. They are characters that you won’t ever forget. Another great book from one of my favorite writers!

Long Bright River by Liz Moore

I could not put this book down. It is a mystery/thriller, but it could almost be considered literary fiction because of the way it explores the complexities of family relationships.

The story centers around the lives of two sisters. Mickey is a police officer and her sister, Kacey, is a junkie living on the streets. Both sisters spend their days searching the streets of Philadelphia for very different things. The author alternates between the past and the present so that the reader understands how the paths these two sisters took ended up being so different.

The book really provides insight into the minds of those people you see strung out and living on the streets. When some of these women that live on the streets begin being murdered, Kacey also goes missing. Mickey is desperate to solve the case and find her sister. This book really pulls at your heartstrings while it also is a thriller that you just can’t turn the pages fast enough when reading. There were several shockers that I did not see coming and that’s what makes a great mystery/thriller in my opinion.

Bright Burning Things

Bright Burning Things by Lisa Harding. Sonya is the mother of a four year old son and she is battling an addiction to alcohol. Her failed career as an actress and her troubled childhood haunt her and she soothes the pain by turning up the bottle. Suffering and neglected because of her addiction are her young son and their beloved dog.

Sonya’s usually absent father intervenes and she agrees to check into a rehab facility so that she doesn’t lose her son. While she is there she confronts old demons and vows to never get drunk in front of her child again. It is a tremendously hard, yet somehow still beautiful path for Sonya. I thought the writing in this novel was itself a bright and burning thing. I found myself tearing up more than once and I was so scared something bad was going to happen. It was really a poetic, poignant and moving portrayal of one woman’s battle with addiction versus her love for her son. This was yet another “Read with Jenna” selection that I loved.

Crossroads by Jonathan Franzen

Let me start by saying that I adore Jonathan Franzen. He is an amazing writer and I have enjoyed all of his books. Crossroads fell just a little flat for me and I think it may be because the characters to me were mostly unlikable. The reason they are so unlikable is probably because Franzen really gets to the ugliest and most unattractive parts of their minds and hearts and really what he says of his characters is probably a good portrayal of humanity. Even though I mostly disliked the characters, I could not read fast enough to find out what was going to happen to them.

Dysfunctional family is my favorite thing to read about. This family really takes the cake in that perspective. I found myself eagerly wanting to find out what each of these crazy and unstable family members were up to next. Franzen touches on many different themes and aspects of life such as faith, morality, selfishness, sibling relationships, and the consequences of the decisions we make.

Another reason that I find myself slightly unsatisfied with this novel might be the fact that it is the first book in a trilogy, therefore it isn’t really the end of the story. I will continue to read anything that Franzen writes and will always be awed by the fact that he has written yet another literary masterpiece.

Apples Never Fall

Apples Never Fall by Liane Moriarty

Moriarty’s newest book is about the dysfunctional lives of the Delaney family, centered around the disappearance of their mother/wife, Joy Delaney.  They might appear to be the perfect family on the surface, but it becomes apparent that “dysfunction is bubbling ominously beneath their sporty matter-of-fact demeanors.” 

Before Joy’s disappearance, she finds herself wondering: “Did I just skim the surface of my entire damned life?” This is a family whose lives have revolved around tennis and now that Joy and her husband Stan have retired from coaching tennis, they find themselves forced to face the issues that have been buried under their busy lifestyles.

There are four Delaney siblings. Logan who feels he is just average and never good enough.  Amy who “could break down at the most inconvient of times.” Troy who is very rich and successful and always on the road. Brooke who is struggling after opening up her own business.

One night, a stranger named Savannah shows up at Joy and Stan’s house and it isn’t long before all hell breaks loose, Joy disappears and the family begins to fall apart.

 “The past could look very different depending on where you stood to look at it.”  It seems that each member of the Delaney family has a different perspective about the things that have happened.  I won’t spoil the ending, but I did enjoy this book and the time I spent with the Delaney family.

The Paper Palace

The Paper Palace by Miranca Cowley-Heller.

When I finished this book, I felt as if I needed to talk to a therapist. It gave me all the feels and whatever I say in my review will be inadequate. The novel is told from the point of view of Eleanor/Elle and it switches back and forth from the present to various haunting memories from her past. Elle and her family return every summer to their cabin in Cape Cod. This place is almost a character itself, because it is described so vividly and it has really shaped each of their lives in one way or another.

As this complex and layered novel progresses, secrets from the past are uncovered. It is gritty, raw, and honest. It can be a little dark, but it also includes a little humor. It is dysfunctional family at its best. It explores how the smallest decisions can have the biggest effects on one’s life. It is powerful and lyrical and it will evoke so many emotions that when you get to the end of the book you will feel as if you have been through a trauma yourself.

Golden Girl by Elin Hilderbrand

After a long hiatus from my book blog, I am returning with a review of one of my favorite author’s books, during my favorite time of year- summer reading!  It just isn’t summer unless there is a new beachy Elin Hilderbrand book to read while lying out in the sun (or sitting inside enjoying the ac). I was super excited that I was able to meet Elin Hilderbrand on her book tour and have my book signed. 

Golden Girl, begins with one of the central characters, Vivian Howe, being ran over and killed in a hit-and run accident on the island of Nantucket. Vivi watches from the beyond as the ones she left behind cope with her death. I was scared that this watching from beyond business would be too far-fetched for my liking, but I was pleasantly surprised that it seemed perfectly natural.

Vivi’s children are all struggling with their own issues and as they face the loss of their mother, they begin to deal with other things in their lives as well.  All the while, everyone is trying to figure out who is responsible for her death.

This book was a little romance and a little family drama mixed with a lot of sunshine.  I really enjoyed the characters in this novel and even though I had things figured out before the book ended, I enjoyed the time that I spent with Vivi and her family and as with all of Elin Hilderbrand’s books, I was left with the longing to visit Nantucket.

the four winds

Kristin Hannah knows how to gut you by putting her characters through horrific experiences. Her most recent novel, The Four Winds, is about the harrowing account of one family’s plight during the dust bowl and depression.

The setting is brutal. The heat beats down on them. They suffer through raging dust storms. Everything around them is dying- people, the animals, and even the land. Elsa is the heroine of this novel and her courage and strength are tested daily as she makes sacrifice after sacrifice in order to save her family.  When you think things can’t possibly get any worse for them, it does, again and again.

Hannah vividly describes the harsh realities that those living during the depression faced. She paints a bleak picture that will stay with you long after you have finished the book.

the other americans

The Other Americans by Laila Lalami. Nora Guerraoui returns to her small home town in the Mojave of California when her father is killed by a hit and run driver. While she is dealing with his death she begins to look into her past and examine her own life. “I had never been enough. I had always been found wanting. “
She struggles with her grief and the loss of her father. “I wondered whether there would ever be a time when I would be at peace, when my heart would not feel as though lead had been cast inside it.”

Nora is a musician and her music has always been, “a refuge from sorrows and disappointments.”

Nora has always had a troubled relationship with her mother, Maryam. Maryam always makes Nora feel like she isn’t good enough and always tells her to get her head out of the clouds. Maryam is also dealing with loss in her own way. Maryam: “Time passed yet I still found myself reaching for two glasses when I made mint tea in the morning, or looking for my husband’s socks when I folded the laundry, or wanting to hand him to hand me a fresh towel when I stepped out of the shower. These little moments were painful, they reminded me I was no longer his wife, that I was his widow now, a state of being I was still trying to accept.”

Nora soon reunites with a friend from high school named Jeremy. Jeremy is an Iraq war veteran and while he becomes a shoulder for Nora to lean on, she also helps him deal with his suppressed memories from the war.

There are other characters in the book as well. All the characters are, “deeply divided by race, religion, and class.” They each tell their stories from their own point of view. One such character is Efrain. Efrain witnessed the accident, but fled from the scene of the crime. He felt the cost of going to the police was too high because he was scared he would be deported and separated from his family. The guilt weighs heavily on him and he is haunted by dreams of the man he saw die.

The Mojave is always present in the background of the novel, the sun and wind impossible to escape.

“The desert was home, however much I had tried to run away from it. Home was wide-open spaces, pristine light, silence that wasn’t quite silence. Home, above all, was the family who loved me. Only now, after my father’s death, did I come to understand that love was not a tame or passive creature, but a rebellious beast, messy and unpredictable, capacious and forgiving, and that it would deliver me from my grief and carry me out of the darkness.”

“Memory is an unreliable visitor.”

“The present could never be untethered from the past, you couldn’t understand one without the other.”

a woman is no man

A Woman is a Man by Etaf Rum is the story of the voicelessness and despair of several Arab women living in America. The book sheds light on the Arab culture. Women were expected to have boys because girls were looked at as a dilemma and burden, while boys were a way to secure the family lineage and keep an income.  “A women’s worth is measured by house, home, marriage, motherhood.” Family reputation is everything. I was angered and saddened by this “controlling and closed cultural world” and the women who had to live this way.  All the women were powerless and had no control over their lives or their fate.

“Women were raised to believe they were worthless, shameful creatures who deserved to get beaten, who were made to depend on the men that beat them.”

The book begins with Isra. The year is 1990.  Isra is seventeen years old and is shipped off America to marry a Palestine man. She is hopeful that things will be better for her as a woman in a different country.  She finds herself, “displaced from home, torn between two cultures and struggling to start anew.”  She ends up being ashamed to be a woman and is even more ashamed of her pathetic weakness.

Deya is one of Isra’s daughters and her story takes place in Brooklyn in 2008.  Deya is a lot like her mother. “She had learned that there was a certain way she had to live, certain rules she had to follow, and that, as a woman, she would never have a legitimate claim over her own life.” Deya is at the age where it is her turn to be married. She “felt trapped by the confines of the world” and “spent her life trying to please her family, desperate for their validation and approval.”  All she really wants is her freedom and the chance to find real love. “She had lived her entire life straddled between two cultures.  She was neither Arab nor American.  She belonged nowhere. She didn’t know who she was.” She doesn’t believe happiness is real.

Fareeda, the matriarch of this family, is Isra’s mother-in-law and Deya’s grandmother. She is distraught about how her daughter Sarah is disobedient and shuns her Arab culture. Fareeda:  “Hadn’t she taught them what it meant to be tough, resilient? Hadn’t she taught them what it meant to be Arab, to always put family first? She couldn’t be blamed for their weaknesses. For this country and its low morals.” Fareeda herself has come from poverty and survived an abusive father and husband. She has accepted that, “Sadness was an inescapable part of a woman’s life.”

Sarah is the most outspoken of all the women. She refuses to be forced to marry someone she doesn’t love and she makes her feelings known to everyone, including her suitors. She becomes a friend and sister and a light in the dark for her sister-in-law Isra.

What I loved most about this story is the role that books played in these women’s lives. Books were a comfort for loneliness.  Books kept them company and made them feel alive.

For Isra, books provided, “a surge of happiness.” They helped her “escape from the ordinary world.” They made her feel worthy and gave her hope.

Deya said, “Books were her only reliable sense of comfort, her only hope.” “How many people were hoping to find their story inside, desperate to understand?”

For all these women, it is safer for them to submit and be silent instead of standing up for themselves and fighting for what they want in the world. By the end of the book, there has been so much heartache that you can’t help but desperately want these women to find some sort of happiness. Will any of them be brave enough to fight for their happiness or will they continue to be tied down by the oppressive chains of their Arab culture?

“To want what you can’t have in life is the greatest pain of all.”

Loved this book and these amazing female characters.