Audiobook Review: Only Child by Rhiannon Navin

Readers of Jodi Picoult and Liane Moriarty will also like this tenderhearted debut about healing and family, narrated by an unforgettable six-year-old boy who reminds us that sometimes the littlest bodies hold the biggest hearts and the quietest voices speak the loudest.

Squeezed into a coat closet with his classmates and teacher, first grader Zach Taylor can hear gunshots ringing through the halls of his school. A gunman has entered the building, taking nineteen lives and irrevocably changing the very fabric of this close-knit community. While Zach’s mother pursues a quest for justice against the shooter’s parents, holding them responsible for their son’s actions, Zach retreats into his super-secret hideout and loses himself in a world of books and art. Armed with his newfound understanding, and with the optimism and stubbornness only a child could have, Zach sets out on a captivating journey towards healing and forgiveness, determined to help the adults in his life rediscover the universal truths of love and compassion needed to pull them through their darkest hours.

Be careful reading Only Child. There’s a good chance it’ll rip your heart out.

As Only Child opens, six-year-old Zach is crammed into a closet in his classroom, listening to popping sounds from somewhere outside the door his teacher is desperately holding closed. When the police finally move in and escort the children to safety in a nearby church, Zach can see that there are some people lying on the floor in the school hallway, and he sees splashes of red, even though the police officer keeps telling the kids to keep their eyes forward and not look around. When Zach’s mother arrives at the church to get him, we hear the terror in her voice as she asks Zach where his brother is. At that moment, the world begins to fall apart for Zach and his parents.

Zach’s older brother Andy is one of nineteen fatalities in a horrific school shooting, along with many of Andy’s classmates and the school principal. The shooter is the mentally ill adult son of the school’s long-time security guard Charlie — a man who has cared for the children of McKinley Elementary for 30 years.

How do we learn about these events? Through Zach. Only Child is narrated throughout by Zach Taylor, so we see all events unfold from this six-year-old’s perspective. We’re with Zach as he undergoes confusion, discomfort, misunderstanding, and terror. Zach’s first-person narration lets us into his thoughts, as he sorts through his feelings about Andy, who wasn’t always the kindest of brothers. We also can feel Zach’s terror at thoughts of returning to school, his boundless loneliness in his house, and his need for parents who are so wrapped up in their own grief and horror that they can’t always see what’s going on with Zach.

Look, this book is heart-breaking, no two ways about it. At the same time, I found it hard to spend the entire book looking at the world through Zach’s eyes. I had a similar response to Room. It’s a powerful story, but the limitations caused by having a child narrator can be frustrating. We never know more than Zach knows. We can only participate in conversations that Zach’s present for, so even though he does a fair bit of lurking in hallways to hear what his parents are talking about, we only ever get bits and pieces.

I had a hard time too suspending my disbelief in places where Zach recounts what he’s heard on TV or comments made by adults he’s overheard. His inner thoughts are a little precious on occasion, and maybe a bit more sophisticated for his age than is truly believable. My other complaint (sorry, I realize I’m being a curmudgeon): As you might expect in a story told by a six-year-old, I think I heard more than enough about pee, poop, snot, and puke. Oh my, little boys can be gross. (Sorry, truly.)

Still, I was very engaged by the story and the characters throughout. I had the unusual experience while reading this book of trying to analyze why I felt certain ways about characters, and forcing myself to embrace empathy even when I was having a visceral reaction against a particular person. For example, Zach’s mother comes across as pretty awful for much of Only Child, when viewed through the lens of Zach’s fears and unmet emotional needs. She’s unable to see past her own fury and loss to truly see Zach’s suffering, consumed by the need to get revenge on the parents of the shooter, pursuing TV interviews and making  lots of noise about their role and their responsibility for the children’s deaths.

Meanwhile, I typically have little sympathy for unfaithful spouses in novels, but despite the fact that we learn that Zach’s dad was having an affair prior to Andy’s death, he comes across as the supportive, loving, gentle parent who’s present for Zach and who attempts to find a way toward healing. I ended up liking the father much more than the mother, and had to continually remind myself that there’s no wrong way to grieve. She was not being a good mother to Zach following the shooting, but who among us can say how we’d behave in that unimaginable, terrifying type of situation? As much as I wished for better for Zach — like for his parents to be on the same page long enough to get him counseling — I couldn’t hate the mother for being swallowed up by her pain and grief.

Kudos to the talented young narrator of the audiobook, Kivlighan de Montebello, who does a terrific job with Zach’s voice, really giving life to Zach’s emotions. The audiobook is an immersive listening experience, and in places the raw emotions of the characters are almost too painful to hear.

I’m thankful to my book group, as always, for choosing terrific books to read and discuss. I finished Only Child right in time for our discussion, and can’t wait to share impressions and thoughts with my bookish friends. Only Child is a powerful, timely, deeply affecting book, and I strongly recommend it.

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The details:

Title: Only Child
Author: Rhiannon Navin
Narrator: Kivlighan de Montebello
Publisher: Knopf Publishing
Publication date: February 6, 2018
Print length: 304 pages
Audiobook length: 9 hours, 10 mintues
Genre: Contemporary fiction
Source: Library

Put this on your nightstand: Gmorning, Gnight! by Lin-Manuel Miranda, illustrated by Jonny Sun

From the creator and star of Hamilton, with beautiful illustrations by Jonny Sun, comes a book of affirmations to inspire readers at the beginning and end of each day.

Good morning. Do NOT get stuck in the comments section of life today. Make, do, create the things. Let others tussle it out. Vamos!

Before he inspired the world with Hamilton and was catapulted to international fame, Lin-Manuel Miranda was inspiring his Twitter followers with words of encouragement at the beginning and end of each day. He wrote these original sayings, aphorisms, and poetry for himself as much as for others. But as Miranda’s audience grew, these messages took on a life on their own. Now, at the request of countless fans, Miranda has gathered the best of his daily greetings into a beautiful collection illustrated by acclaimed artist (and fellow Twitter favorite) Jonny Sun. Full of comfort and motivation, Gmorning, Gnight! is a touchstone for anyone looking for a lift.

Sometimes it’s nice to give yourself a little treat… and so I did! I bought myself a copy of Gmorning, Gnight! a few months ago, and finally cracked the cover and started reading it.

And was totally charmed.

Lin-Manuel Miranda’s introduction explains the genesis of this sweet book:

I’m really quite hooked on the Twitter,
They should take my phone out and lock it.
The biggest distraction for someone like me?
An audience up in my pocket.

So I start the day with a greeting.
And end with a night variation.
It safeguards my evenings and weekends at home,
To sign off, a mini-vacation.

Each double-page spread features a good morning wish and a corresponding good night wish. Sometimes these are variations on the same thing, sometimes they’re basically the same with only a few words tweaked for getting up and going to bed.

The simple black-and-white line drawings highlight each set of wishes and adds a little visual treat to go with the words.

This is a fun, sweet book with a positive message throughout. It feels like it would be too much if read straight through. That’s why I consider this a great nightstand book. Leave it handy for a few weeks, pick it up and read one or two pages at a time, or maybe just grab it and open at random when you need a little pick-me-up.

I got a bit of a Shel Silverstein vibe from the layout and presentation — the line drawings, the simple rhymes, the overall cheery, you-can-do-it attitude.

Really, this book is just full of smiles waiting to happen, and it would make a great feel-good gift (for yourself, or for someone else!)

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The details:

Title: Gmorning, Gnight! Little Pep Talks for Me & You
Author: Lin-Manuel Miranda
Illustrator: Jonny Sun
Publisher: Random House
Publication date: October 16, 2018
Length: 207 pages
Genre: Advice/Affirmations
Source: PurchasedSave

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Take A Peek Book Review: Trail of Lightning (The Sixth World, #1) by Rebecca Roanhorse

“Take a Peek” book reviews are short and (possibly) sweet, keeping the commentary brief and providing a little peek at what the book’s about and what I thought.

Synopsis:

(via Goodreads)

While most of the world has drowned beneath the sudden rising waters of a climate apocalypse, Dinétah (formerly the Navajo reservation) has been reborn. The gods and heroes of legend walk the land, but so do monsters.

Maggie Hoskie is a Dinétah monster hunter, a supernaturally gifted killer. When a small town needs help finding a missing girl, Maggie is their last—and best—hope. But what Maggie uncovers about the monster is much larger and more terrifying than anything she could imagine.

Maggie reluctantly enlists the aid of Kai Arviso, an unconventional medicine man, and together they travel to the rez to unravel clues from ancient legends, trade favors with tricksters, and battle dark witchcraft in a patchwork world of deteriorating technology.

As Maggie discovers the truth behind the disappearances, she will have to confront her past—if she wants to survive.

Welcome to the Sixth World.

My Thoughts:

What a cool set-up! Sometime after the world we know is left mostly underwater and the United States is no more, survived by pockets of humanity living in rogue states, the Navajo nation is thriving within the magical walls erected before the flood by prescient elders. Within the walls, the Dinétah people live in a world where magic and gods have returned. And for some of the mortals, clan heritage has manifested with special powers and gifts — among these, Maggie Hoskie, whose speed and ability to kill have made her a powerful monster-slayer.

Maggie struggles with the emotional upheavals that have brought her to this point, and is joined by Kai, a former outsider who has secret clan powers of his own, to try to tame the evil that has brought monsters to the land. The story combines the grit and violence of urban fantasy with the natural beauty and starkness of the Dinétah land.

It’s a rich and fascinating world, although the world-building itself felt incomplete to me. While we’re introduced to Maggie and some of the elemental powers and gods, I felt that the story needed a bit more grounding and expansion. I always felt as if I was missing some tiny element that would push this book over the edge into full-on greatness for me. I would have liked to get to know Maggie more as a person, and the same is true for Kai.

Still, I loved the use of language and culture to paint a picture of the people, the land, and the magic. Trail of Lightning is the first book in a series, and I really can’t wait for more. I’m hoping the next book will give me the greater picture of this world that I’m dying for, so I can feel fully immersed.

As a side note, my city’s public libraries have chosen this book as the citywide “On the Same Page” book for January/February, which I think is all sorts of awesome. It’s really terrific to get a taste of fantasy fiction with a Native American heroine and cast of characters — really a unique set-up, and a world I want to know more about!

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The details:

Title: Trail of Lightning (The Sixth World, #1)
Author: Rebecca Roanhorse
Publisher: Saga Press
Publication date: June 26, 2018
Length: 287 pages
Genre: Speculative/dystopian science fiction
Source: Library

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Top Ten Tuesday: Books I Meant to Read In 2018 but Didn’t Get To

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Top Ten Tuesday is a meme hosted by That Artsy Reader Girl, featuring a different top 10 theme each week. This week’s topic is Books I Meant to Read In 2018 but Didn’t Get To.

I could easily come up with way more than 10… but I’ll stick to ten books I bought in 2018 but still haven’t read:

1) Becoming by Michele Obama

2) Someday by David Levithan

3) There There by Tommy Orange

4) A Map of Days by Ransom Riggs

5) The Fated Sky by Mary Robinette Kowal

6) Time’s Convert by Deborah Harkness

7) Death of an Eye by Dana Stabenow

8) Spinning Silver by Naomi Novik

9) Witchmark by C. L. Polk

10) The Book of M by Peng Shepherd

Have you read any of these? What books from 2018 do you still need to read?

Please share your thoughts… and if you have a TTT post, please share your link!

Top Ten Tuesday: New-to-Me Authors I Read In 2018

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Top Ten Tuesday is a meme hosted by That Artsy Reader Girl, featuring a different top 10 theme each week. This week’s topic is New-to-Me Authors I Read In 2018.

Looking back, I see that I spent a big chunk of my reading time in 2018 with authors already familiar (and much loved), but I did manage to try a bunch of new ones too. Here’s a selection of my favorites:

1) Kristin Hannah — loved The Great Alone! I just picked up a copy of Firefly Road to try next.

2) Christina Lauren — who would have thought I’d enjoy their contemporary romances so much?

3) Susan OrleanThe Library Book was fascinating. Must read The Orchid Thief!

4) Celeste Ng – I read Little Fires Everywhere with my book group, and am looking forward to reading Everything I Never Told You.

5) Josh MalermanUnbury Carol was so strange and wonderful. I’ve read another book and a novel by him so far in 2019, and can’t wait for his new book, Inspection, coming out this spring.

6) Madeline MillerThe Song of Achilles was beautiful. Can’t wait to read Circe with my book group this summer.

7) Jennifer Ryan – I loved The Chilbury Ladies’ Choir, which was a debut novel. I hope this talented author releases another book soon — her writing is terrific!

8) Jenny Han – Got totally hooked on the Lara Jean books after watching To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before on Netflix. Should I read her other books too?

9) Neal Shusterman — how had I not heard of him before? I loved Scythe and Thunderhead, and thought Dry was pretty good as well.

10) Jasmine Guillory — yet another contemporary romance writer. I read two of her books in 2018. Between those and the Christina Lauren, maybe I need to stop saying that I don’t read romance?

Are you a fan of any of these new-to-me authors? Are there any of their works that you’d particularly recommend?

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Top Ten Tuesday: The best books I read in 2018

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Happy New Year! Welcome to 2019! 

Top Ten Tuesday is a meme hosted by That Artsy Reader Girl, featuring a different top 10 theme each week. This week’s topic is Best Books I Read In 2018.

According to Goodreads, I gave a 5-star rating to 73 books in 2018, and a 4-star rating to 83. That makes 156 books that I pretty much loved. Yowza, what a year! I don’t think I can limit myself to just 10 books here… so I’ll highlight a few, include a few others by category, and see how it all works out…

Here are (just a few of) my favorites from 2018:

1) Powerful family drama set in Alaska: The Great Alone by Kristin Hannah (review)

2) Two views of an an ancient classic: The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller and The Silence of the Girls by Pat Barker (review)

3) Terrific historical fiction that I read because of my book group: The Tea Girl of Hummingbird Lane by Lisa See (review) and The Chilbury Lady’s Choir by Jennifer Ryan (review)

4) A surprising moving short novel by Stephen King:  Elevation (review)

5) Amazing woman-power science fiction:  The Calculating Stars by Mary Robinette Kowal (review)

6) Action/adventure with THE BEST heroic duo: Hope Never Dies by Andrew Shaffer (review)

7) New books in beloved series:

8) Deliciously fun contemporary romance: 

9) Intriguing story collections:

10) A couple of classics that I finally read!

 

What were your favorite reads of 2018? Please leave me your link!

♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥

Wishing one and all a terrific new year filled with wonderful books!

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2018: My year in books

2018 has had its ups and downs… but one thing has remained constant, and that’s the joy of spending time with great books. Here’s a look back at my reading life in 2018.

I love the little words of encouragement from Goodreads! My 202 books reads this past year include novellas, children’s books, audiobooks, and graphic novels, in addition to novels and a handful of non-fiction books. It’s always fun to mix things up.

 

Goodreads stats as of 12/31/2018:

I don’t particularly like that Goodreads uses “least popular” in this context. Maybe it should just be “least read”? In any case, Rat-Catcher is a story set in the Toby Daye world, I loved it immensely, and I think more people should read it!

According to my average rating, I’ve been pretty successful this year when it comes to choosing book that appeal to me:

Star rating used most often: 4 stars (83 total)
Star rating used least often: 2 stars (4 total — and I didn’t give any books only 1-star. I think if I thought that little of a book, I just DNFd.)
DNFs: 3 – I gave up on three different books this year — one science fiction, one fantasy, and one historical fiction. With the historical fiction, I just wasn’t in the mood at that moment (and needed to return it to the library). For the other two, the tone of the writing simply didn’t work for me, and I decided not to push myself to continue something I wasn’t enjoying.

First and Last on Goodreads:

Interestingly (or not), my first and last (and bunches of others) were re-reads. I’ve definitely become fond of re-reading the previous book in a series right before the newest gets released. What can I say? I value a good refresher.

Highlights from my series reading:

2018 was the year of the series for me. I started the year with some idea of a few series I wanted to try — and was happy to discover that I picked some great ones! My best series reads this year were:

The October Daye series by Seanan McGuire: 12 novels, plus all sorts of related novellas and short stories.

Newsflesh by Mira Grant: 4 novels and a collection of stories.

From the world of Tortall by Tamora Pierce: I read three quartets and a duology (and am now reading the first book in a trilogy), for a total of 14 books set in Pierce’s amazing fantasy world.

Old Man’s War by John Scalzi: 6 novels

Eye-candy covers:

Let me just take a minute to appreciate some of the most beautiful and/or eye-catching covers from my reading this year… because who doesn’t love a great looking book?

 

But wait! What were my favorite books of the year?

It’s too hard to narrow down! It’s like choosing my favorite child! But, okay, if I must… I’m working on my Top Ten list for tomorrow, when I’ll finally have my list whittled down to just 10 (or so) books that I loved to pieces in 2018. Stay tuned!

Book Review: Fire & Blood by George R. R. Martin

 

With all the fire and fury fans have come to expect from internationally bestselling author George R. R. Martin, this is the first volume of the definitive two-part history of the Targaryens in Westeros.

Centuries before the events of A Game of Thrones, House Targaryen—the only family of dragonlords to survive the Doom of Valyria—took up residence on Dragonstone. Fire and Blood begins their tale with the legendary Aegon the Conqueror, creator of the Iron Throne, and goes on to recount the generations of Targaryens who fought to hold that iconic seat, all the way up to the civil war that nearly tore their dynasty apart.

What really happened during the Dance of the Dragons? Why did it become so deadly to visit Valyria after the Doom? What is the origin of Daenerys’s three dragon eggs? These are but a few of the questions answered in this essential chronicle, as related by a learned maester of the Citadel and featuring more than eighty all-new black-and-white illustrations by artist Doug Wheatley. Readers have glimpsed small parts of this narrative in such volumes as The World of Ice & Fire, but now, for the first time, the full tapestry of Targaryen history is revealed.

With all the scope and grandeur of Gibbon’s The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, Fire and Blood is the ultimate game of thrones, giving readers a whole new appreciation for the dynamic, often bloody, and always fascinating history of Westeros.

This massive 700+ page book is not for the faint of heart or noncommitted. By no means an easy read, Fire & Blood takes determination to get through — but now that I’ve finished it, I’d say the effort is well worth it.

You know how people often describe great non-fiction as “reads like fiction”? Well, here the opposite is true. While a work of fiction (to the best of my knowledge, Westeros and Valyeria are not real places, although after soldiering through this book, they certainly feel real to me), Fire & Blood is written as a work of history, not as a novel, and reading it definitely feels like reading a densely researched piece of non-fiction. There are no overarching plotlines, and little in the way of dialogue or character development. Instead, Fire & Blood is a history of the reign of the Targaryens, starting at a point some 300 years prior to the beginning of A Song of Ice and Fire, as the first Targaryen king, Aegon the Conqueror, flies on dragon-back from Dragonstone to Westeros to claim a kingdom.

The amount of detail in this book is staggering. Written as a history book from the pen of an Archmaester of Oldtown, Fire & Blood takes us through the bloody, violent years from the conquest through the early period of the reign of Aegon III, leaving off with still over a century to go before the events that begin A Game of Thrones.

Don’t even attempt to read this book without a strategically placed bookmark on the chart of the Targaryen Lineage at the back of the book. I must have flipped back to it at least once every 10 – 20 pages, from start to finish. The names are mind-boggling to try to keep straight. Among the Targaryens in this 130 year period are notable women such as Rhaenys, Rhaena, Rhaella, and Rhaenyra, not to mention Alysanne, Alyssa, and Alicent. Men’s names are just as hard to keep straight, like Jacaerys and Jaehaerys, or the numerous Aegons, Aemons, and Baelons. Unfortunately, this book does not include a map of Westeros or a guide to the many dragons, but luckily I had a copy of The World of Ice and Fire on hand for quick reference.

Fire & Blood is a fascinating read. While I’ve read the five novels published to date in the ASoIaF series, I haven’t delved much beyond these book in terms of additional histories and the myriad of supplemental materials out there in the fandom. As a first encounter with a Westerosi history, my reading experience was intense but ultimately enjoyable. I can’t even begin to fathom the intricate working of George R. R. Martin’s mind, to be able to come up with a world so complete that its history makes for compelling reading, with no details left unexplored.

While I sometimes felt like I’d be reading this book FOREVER, once I got into the rhythm of it, it didn’t take me nearly as long as I’d imagined. Parts go more slowly than others, and there are a lot of lords and ladies, houses, bannermen, etc to keep track of. The most compelling (and horrifying) part of the book is the section about the war of succession known as the Dance of the Dragons. Lasting a relatively brief number of years, it inflicted devastation upon the kingdom and its people, and brought about the destruction of nearly all of the Targaryen dragons. Maybe it should be obvious from the title — Fire & Blood is very heavy on war and death and horrible cruelty, and like any account of war, while the names remembered are those of the knights and the rulers who set the course of battle, it’s the common people who consistently pay the largest price.

Fire & Blood is part one of a two-part history, and while I’m afraid that we’ll end up waiting years for the next installment, I’m definitely committed to wanting to read part two. This was really an engrossing, rewarding read… and has had the added side-effect of making me even more excited for the final season of the GoT TV series. What a world George R. R. Martin has created! If you’re a fan, don’t miss Fire & Blood.

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The details:

Title: Fire & Blood
Author: George R. R. Martin
Publisher: Bantam
Publication date: November 20, 2018
Length: 706 pages
Genre: Fantasy
Source: Purchased

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Book Review: The Proposal by Jasmine Guillory

 

The author of The Wedding Date serves up a novel about what happens when a public proposal doesn’t turn into a happy ending, thanks to a woman who knows exactly how to make one on her own…

When someone asks you to spend your life with him, it shouldn’t come as a surprise–or happen in front of 45,000 people.

When freelance writer Nikole Paterson goes to a Dodgers game with her actor boyfriend, his man bun, and his bros, the last thing she expects is a scoreboard proposal. Saying no isn’t the hard part–they’ve only been dating for five months, and he can’t even spell her name correctly. The hard part is having to face a stadium full of disappointed fans…

At the game with his sister, Carlos Ibarra comes to Nik’s rescue and rushes her away from a camera crew. He’s even there for her when the video goes viral and Nik’s social media blows up–in a bad way. Nik knows that in the wilds of LA, a handsome doctor like Carlos can’t be looking for anything serious, so she embarks on an epic rebound with him, filled with food, fun, and fantastic sex. But when their glorified hookups start breaking the rules, one of them has to be smart enough to put on the brakes…

Ah, another fluffy romance that worked perfectly for me! What a fun read.

In The Proposal, Nik and Carlos meet and connect on what could be the worst day of her life. Their easy banter makes them want to keep in touch, and occasional texts and quick bites to eat turn quickly into terrific sexual chemistry and a natural, enjoyable friendship. Or is it more? (Yes. It’s more.)

Both have baggage in their lives. Both think they’re just looking for casual hook-ups with someone they like spending time with. Neither is willing to even entertain the idea of a relationship or emotional involvement… but emotional involvement sneaks in anyway, and throws them both for a loop.

As in the author’s previous book, The Wedding Date, the cast of characters in The Proposal is nicely diverse, and features strong friendships that give a well-rounded sense of balance to the story. It’s not just about two hot people meeting and having hot sex (although that happens) — it’s about two adults, both professional, who’ve been through some tough times, take their family and friends seriously, and think deeply about what they do and what they want.

The Proposal is quite a romp, with great dynamics between Nik and Carlos, plus lots of fun details like cupcakes, home-made enchiladas, a trip to a bookstore, and an amazing women’s gym with a terrific self-defense program. (If it existed in real life within driving distance of my house, I’d be there in a heartbeat!)

This really was a great choice for me this week, providing a much needed break from some heavier reads. I read it all in one day, which gives you some idea of how engaging the story is and how smoothy it just flows. This isn’t exactly a deep or serious read, but it does make some great points about women in relationships and the importance of having a circle of supportive friends. Nik and Carlos are both the kind of people who just sound great to be around, so it was a very cheery and upbeat experience reading a book that’s basically all about the two of them figuring out for themselves that they’re right for one another, long after everyone else in their lives knows it. If you enjoy contemporary romance, check it out!

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The details:

Title: The Proposal
Author: Jasmine Guillory
Publisher: Berkley
Publication date: October 30, 2018
Length: 327 pages
Genre: Contemporary fiction/romance
Source: Library

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Take A Peek Book Review: Love and Other Words by Christina Lauren

“Take a Peek” book reviews are short and (possibly) sweet, keeping the commentary brief and providing a little peek at what the book’s about and what I thought.

Synopsis:

(via Goodreads)

Macy Sorensen is settling into an ambitious if emotionally tepid routine: work hard as a new pediatrics resident, plan her wedding to an older, financially secure man, keep her head down and heart tucked away.

But when she runs into Elliot Petropoulos—the first and only love of her life—the careful bubble she’s constructed begins to dissolve. Once upon a time, Elliot was Macy’s entire world—growing from her gangly bookish friend into the man who coaxed her heart open again after the loss of her mother…only to break it on the very night he declared his love for her.

Told in alternating timelines between Then and Now, teenage Elliot and Macy grow from friends to much more—spending weekends and lazy summers together in a house outside of San Francisco devouring books, sharing favorite words, and talking through their growing pains and triumphs. As adults, they have become strangers to one another until their chance reunion. Although their memories are obscured by the agony of what happened that night so many years ago, Elliot will come to understand the truth behind Macy’s decade-long silence, and will have to overcome the past and himself to revive her faith in the possibility of an all-consuming love.

My Thoughts:

This is my 3rd book in about a month by Christina Lauren, a relatively new-to-me writer duo. I’ve been consistently finding their writing engaging, hard to put down, and emotionally compelling — but that said, Love and Other Words didn’t wow me as much as the other two I’ve read.

In Love and Other Words, there’s an aura of sadness that permeates the entire book, driven mostly by the “Then and Now” structure that keeps the narrative flipping back and forth between past and present. In the present, we know that Macy has never gotten over the heartbreak that Elliot represents, and that as a consequence, she keeps herself safe by never really opening herself up to feeling deep emotions. In the past, we see the growing friendship that turns into love, which is sweet and nostalgic, but even there, the feeling of sorrow hangs over everything as Macy mourns her deceased mother and tries to find a place for herself in the world. None of this is a negative exactly, but it does give the book a heaviness that keeps it from being an upbeat, fun read.

And having now read a few books by these authors in a relatively short space of time, I have a quibble that I can’t ignore: This is the 2nd of their books in a row (after My Favorite Half-Night Stand) where the main character is a woman with a very impressive professional life, which clearly required dedication and years of study — and yet their careers end up feeling like window dressing. In My Favorite Half-Night Stand, she’s a university professor; here’s, she’s a pediatric resident. Specifically in this book, we mainly see Macy coming and going from work shifts, but never actually see her working. What’s more, I don’t remember ever getting a clue from her “then” chapters that she had an interest in medicine or science. It’s great to see women in powerful, learned roles — but I want to actually see them in their professional capacity at least a little bit, rather than having their careers being just another fact that makes up the whole. If that makes any sense…

But back to the love story — Macy and Elliot are awfully sweet together, and it’s not exactly a surprise (so I won’t include a spoiler warning) that these two crazy lovebirds find their way back to one another by the end. “Then” Elliot and Macy take a long time to move beyond friendship, and it’s kind of lovely to see them navigating how to deal with first love. As an added plus, young Macy and Elliot bond over their love of words and books, and that’s never not a good thing! Give me a love story built around shared reading material any day!

I’ll close by sharing this sweet little exchange from a “Then” chapter, when Elliot asks Macy if she thinks about him when they’re apart:

It took me a second to process what he meant. When I was back home. Away from him. “Of course I do.”

“When?”

“All the time. You’re my best friend.”

“Your best friend,” he repeated.

My heart dipped low in my chest, almost painfully. “Well, you’re more, too. You’re my best everything.”

_________________________________________

The details:

Title: Love and Other Words
Author: Christina Lauren
Publisher: Gallery Books
Publication date: April 10, 2018
Length: 432 pages
Genre: Contemporary romance
Source: Library

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