Take A Peek Book Review: Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng

“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)

Everyone in Shaker Heights was talking about it that summer: how Isabelle, the last of the Richardson children, had finally gone around the bend and burned the house down.

In Shaker Heights, a placid, progressive suburb of Cleveland, everything is meticulously planned – from the layout of the winding roads, to the colours of the houses, to the successful lives its residents will go on to lead. And no one embodies this spirit more than Elena Richardson, whose guiding principle is playing by the rules.

Enter Mia Warren – an enigmatic artist and single mother – who arrives in this idyllic bubble with her teenage daughter Pearl, and rents a house from the Richardsons. Soon Mia and Pearl become more than just tenants: all four Richardson children are drawn to the alluring mother-daughter pair. But Mia carries with her a mysterious past, and a disregard for the rules that threatens to upend this carefully ordered community.

When the Richardsons’ friends attempt to adopt a Chinese-American baby, a custody battle erupts that dramatically divides the town and puts Mia and Mrs. Richardson on opposing sides. Suspicious of Mia and her motives, Mrs. Richardson becomes determined to uncover the secrets in Mia’s past. But her obsession will come at unexpected and devastating costs to her own family – and Mia’s.

Little Fires Everywhere explores the weight of long-held secrets and the ferocious pull of motherhood-and the danger of believing that planning and following the rules can avert disaster, or heartbreak.

My Thoughts:

I read Little Fires Everywhere all in one sitting (on a flight from east coast to west), and that may not have been the best approach. I tore through the book to see how it would all work out, but didn’t give myself much breathing or digesting room. That said, Little Fires Everywhere is an absorbing read. I wouldn’t describe it as action-packed by any means — it’s really a character study, looking at families and neighborhoods and the strange and unintended dynamics that can overtake people and change their lives.

The story is a little too scattered for me to fully embrace. I would have liked to understand the characters better, especially the members of the Richardson family, but some of them are presented as sketches rather than fully formed people. This felt particularly true with Izzy — we only see her sporadically throughout the book, and I never felt that I truly had a sense of her as a person. Mr. Richardson is basically absent from the story, which maybe is indicative of his traditional father role — his realm is outside in the world, rather than in the domestic life of the family. Even Trip and Moody, the two Richardson sons, felt vague to me. I would have needed to know these characters in a more meaningful way to fully embrace the story and care about them.

On the other hand, I did really enjoy the parts of the story more focused on Mia Warren. Her backstory was the most interesting part of the plot. However, the adoption/custody battle seemed an odd choice as the event that divided the neighborhood and the families.

All in all, I did enjoy Little Fires Everywhere, especially the depiction of suburban life in the 90s — but the scattered feeling of the story and the lack of deeper character development keep me from calling this a five-star read.

_________________________________________

The details:

Title: Little Fires Everywhere
Author: Celeste Ng
Publisher: Penguin Press
Publication date: September 12, 2017
Length: 338 pages
Genre: Contemporary fiction
Source: Purchased

**Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Take A Peek Book Review: Stay With Me by Ayobami Adebayo

“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)

Yejide and Akin have been married since they met and fell in love at university. Though many expected Akin to take several wives, he and Yejide have always agreed: polygamy is not for them. But four years into their marriage–after consulting fertility doctors and healers, trying strange teas and unlikely cures–Yejide is still not pregnant. She assumes she still has time–until her family arrives on her doorstep with a young woman they introduce as Akin’s second wife. Furious, shocked, and livid with jealousy, Yejide knows the only way to save her marriage is to get pregnant, which, finally, she does, but at a cost far greater than she could have dared to imagine. An electrifying novel of enormous emotional power, Stay With Me asks how much we can sacrifice for the sake of family.

My Thoughts:

Stay With Me is a powerful look at the tragedies that befall a young Nigerian woman for whom the pressure to provide children becomes the dominating force in her life. Yejide’s mother was one of her father’s many wives, and polygamy is still prevalent in her culture. Although she and her husband married for love and agreed to have a monogamous relationship, the absolute focus on reproduction and providing an heir eventually causes her husband to accept a second wife, which begins a downward spiral for Yejide.

The books is so much more than simply Yejide’s struggle to have children. It’s about marriage and family, the cost of lies, and the role of women in a society that places men’s needs first. Stay With Me provides a glimpse into a culture that’s probably unknown to most Western readers, and weaves folklore into the narrative in clever and meaningful ways. The violence and upheavals of Nigeria’s political climate provide a backdrop to the story of family and loyalty. Stay With Me is a quick read, but provides a lot of food for thought.

Yet another great book club pick! I can’t wait to discuss it with my group.

Read more about Stay With Me:

New York Times review
NPR
The Guardian review
Chicago Tribune review

_________________________________________

The details:

Title: Stay With Me
Author: Ayobami Adebayo
Publisher: Knopf Publishing Goup
Publication date: August 22, 2017
Length: 260 pages
Genre: Contemporary fiction
Source: Library

**Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Take A Peek Book Review: Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman

“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)

No one’s ever told Eleanor that life should be better than fine.

Meet Eleanor Oliphant: She struggles with appropriate social skills and tends to say exactly what she’s thinking. Nothing is missing in her carefully timetabled life of avoiding social interactions, where weekends are punctuated by frozen pizza, vodka, and phone chats with Mummy.

But everything changes when Eleanor meets Raymond, the bumbling and deeply unhygienic IT guy from her office. When she and Raymond together save Sammy, an elderly gentleman who has fallen on the sidewalk, the three become the kinds of friends who rescue one another from the lives of isolation they have each been living. And it is Raymond’s big heart that will ultimately help Eleanor find the way to repair her own profoundly damaged one.

Soon to be a major motion picture produced by Reese Witherspoon, Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine is the smart, warm, and uplifting story of an out-of-the-ordinary heroine whose deadpan weirdness and unconscious wit make for an irresistible journey as she realizes. . .

The only way to survive is to open your heart.

My Thoughts:

I had very wrong expectations when I started this book. Based on the synopsis, I was expecting something quirky, potentially funny, maybe reminiscent of The Rosie Project or something similar. I was shocked to discover just how misleading the synopsis is.

Yes, Eleanor has extreme social awkwardness. She lives a desperately lonely life and expects nothing else. But she’s not merely awkward or an odd duck waiting for her chance to shine — she’s the survivor of terrible childhood trauma that informs every moment of her life and keeps her trapped in her contact-free, isolated life.

Don’t get me wrong — Eleanor Oliphant is a terrific book. It’s deeply moving and horribly sad. Eleanor herself is a memorable lead character, lovable despite her coldness and judgmental nature. We understand early on that there’s something terrible lurking beneath the icy, unfeeling exterior. As we get to know Eleanor better, it’s easier to understand what has made her the way she is, and to cheer her on as she takes the necessary small steps toward recovery.

Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine is a lovely, powerful book. Once again, I’m grateful to my book group for picking such a great book to discuss. I’ve had this book on my TBR list for a while now, but having a set date on the calendar is what finally made me pick it up… and once I started, I just couldn’t put it down until I finished it.

A final note: I bought my copy via Book Depository. The UK version has a very different cover, which I believe gives a truer sense of the book:

_________________________________________

The details:

Title: Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine
Author: Gail Honeyman
Publisher: Pamela Dorman Books
Publication date: May 9, 2017
Length: 327 pages
Genre: Contemporary fiction
Source: Purchased

**Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Take A Peek Book Review: LaRose by Louise Erdrich

“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)

In this literary masterwork, Louise Erdrich, the bestselling author of the National Book Award-winning The Round House and the Pulitzer Prize nominee The Plague of Doves wields her breathtaking narrative magic in an emotionally haunting contemporary tale of a tragic accident, a demand for justice, and a profound act of atonement with ancient roots in Native American culture.

North Dakota, late summer, 1999. Landreaux Iron stalks a deer along the edge of the property bordering his own. He shoots with easy confidence—but when the buck springs away, Landreaux realizes he’s hit something else, a blur he saw as he squeezed the trigger. When he staggers closer, he realizes he has killed his neighbor’s five-year-old son, Dusty Ravich.

The youngest child of his friend and neighbor, Peter Ravich, Dusty was best friends with Landreaux’s five-year-old son, LaRose. The two families have always been close, sharing food, clothing, and rides into town; their children played together despite going to different schools; and Landreaux’s wife, Emmaline, is half sister to Dusty’s mother, Nola. Horrified at what he’s done, the recovered alcoholic turns to an Ojibwe tribe tradition—the sweat lodge—for guidance, and finds a way forward. Following an ancient means of retribution, he and Emmaline will give LaRose to the grieving Peter and Nola. “Our son will be your son now,” they tell them.

LaRose is quickly absorbed into his new family. Plagued by thoughts of suicide, Nola dotes on him, keeping her darkness at bay. His fierce, rebellious new “sister,” Maggie, welcomes him as a co-conspirator who can ease her volatile mother’s terrifying moods. Gradually he’s allowed shared visits with his birth family, whose sorrow mirrors the Raviches’ own. As the years pass, LaRose becomes the linchpin linking the Irons and the Raviches, and eventually their mutual pain begins to heal.

But when a vengeful man with a long-standing grudge against Landreaux begins raising trouble, hurling accusations of a cover-up the day Dusty died, he threatens the tenuous peace that has kept these two fragile families whole.

Inspiring and affecting, LaRose is a powerful exploration of loss, justice, and the reparation of the human heart, and an unforgettable, dazzling tour de force from one of America’s most distinguished literary masters.

My Thoughts:

A beautiful, complicated, stunning book by the masterful Louise Erdrich! What a powerful follow-up to her award-winning The Round House (review).

LaRose is a story about family, loss, retribution, and atonement. It shows the complex connections between parents and children, and the unusual ways in which new families can be formed and held together. LaRose also demonstrates the power of old wounds, never fully healed, to affect people’s actions and emotions years after the fact.

The author weaves in the story of earlier generations in the family, each with its own LaRose, showing the challenges of growing up in the reservation and boarding school systems, and the lasting impact of tradition on people being forced to assimilate.

The characters in LaRose are well-drawn and unforgettable. There’s Landreaux’s family, with his smart, loving daughters who take in Maggie and declare her their sister too. And there’s LaRose himself, a good, loving boy who is put in an impossible situation — and, impossibly, grows, thrives, and gives his two families what they need, while also forging his own strong connection to the spirit world. Myriad other characters flesh out the community and give life to the ties that bind the various characters together.

LaRose is unusual and beautifully written. Highly recommended.

_________________________________________

The details:

Title: LaRose
Author: Louise Erdrich
Publisher: Harper Perennial
Publication date: May 10, 2016
Length: 400 pages
Genre: Contemporary fiction
Source: PurchasedSave

Save

Save

Save

Take A Peek Book Review: Rules of Civility

“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)

On the last night of 1937, twenty-five-year-old Katey Kontent is in a second-rate Greenwich Village jazz bar with her boardinghouse roommate stretching three dollars as far as it will go when Tinker Grey, a handsome banker with royal blue eyes and a tempered smile, happens to sit at the neighboring table. This chance encounter and its startling consequences propel Katey on a yearlong journey from a Wall Street secretarial pool toward the upper echelons of New York society and the executive suites of Condé Nast–rarefied environs where she will have little to rely upon other than a bracing wit and her own brand of cool nerve.

Wooed in turn by a shy, principled multi-millionaire and an irrepressible Upper East Side ne’er-do-well, befriended by a single-minded widow who is a ahead of her time,and challenged by an imperious mentor, Katey experiences firsthand the poise secured by wealth and station and the failed aspirations that reside just below the surface. Even as she waits for circumstances to bring Tinker back into her life, she begins to realize how our most promising choices inevitably lay the groundwork for our regrets.

My Thoughts:

Why is it that the best books are sometimes the hardest to write about? I truly loved Rules of Civility, but I’m having a hard time trying to figure out how to explain why.

Rules of Civility captures late 1930s New York brilliantly, with dialogue that snaps and a briskness to the tone that conveys the bustle and high spirits of people constantly on the go. Katey is a young woman with ambition, who starts with nothing and yet somehow ends up on top. Over the course of her year, she sees friends rise and fall, mingles in society with the upper crust wealthy elite, and slums it in low-rent jazz clubs and drinking holes. The characters occasionally feel like types we’ve seen before — the spoiled son of money, the striver with a secret, the party girl who always winds up with a free drink or two — but they still sparkle with individuality and practically zip through the ups and downs of the story.

Through it all, there are insights on secrets, ambition, and what truly makes for a happy life. The writing is lovely (although conversation can become hard to follow, as this author seems to have an aversion to quotation marks). Some of the plot twists seems to come out of nowhere, and I found myself repeatedly flipping backward through the book to find the hints and side comments that I’d missed. This is not at all a negative — there’s a lot of nuance hidden amidst the clever repartee and frantic energy of the action, and it makes for an especially engaging read overall.

Highly recommended — and once again, I need to give a shout-out to my awesome book club for picking Rules of Civility for our August read.

_________________________________________

The details:

Title: Rules of Civility
Author: Amor Towles
Publisher: Viking Adult
Publication date: July 26, 2011
Length: 335 pages
Genre: Historical fiction
Source: PurchasedSave

Save

Save

Save

Fields & Fantasies: What’s Coming Up

Fields & Fantasies is a monthly book club, in which I team up with my bookish pal Diana (of Strahbary’s Fields) to pick a book to read and discuss. We’d love for you to join us!

Our posts and discussions always take place on the last day of the month.

Here’s what’s coming up in the next few months:

November:

gillespies

December:

hyperbole

 

January:

station eleven

What you might have missed:

Want to see what we’ve discussed already? Check out our earlier Fields & Fantasies picks:

July: The Fever by Megan Abbott

August: The Museum of Extraordinary Things by Alice Hoffman

NEW: September/October: Horns by Joe Hill