#69 My Absolute Darling by Gabriel Tallent

33572350Available August 29th, 2017

This book stole my heart, broke it, and stitched it back together.

It’s the story of Turtle Alveston, a 14-year-old girl more at home roaming the sea-swept Mendocino coast with her gun slung over her shoulder than in a classroom. More at home outdoors than in the remote, ramshackle house she shares with her misogynistic and dangerously abusive father. It’s the story of an all-consuming tangled mess of love and violence, of growing up, of survival. It’s brutal and beautiful and brave, and completely riveting.

Tallent’s writing carries and surrounds you, immerses you in Turtle’s world so intensely that you can’t pull away even when it punches you in the gut. You can’t, and you don’t want to. The story demands you bear witness to Turtle’s suffering, to her desire to be loved, to her struggle to break free.

An absolutely stunning debut. Read it.

Trigger warning: rape

 

#68 The Bed Moved by Rebecca Schiff

9781101910856When I was in Brooklyn a few weekends ago we made a pilgrimage to Books Are Magic, because in my family indie bookstores are destination spots, and I knew I’d finish the two books I’d brought with me and needed a book for the plane ride home. I found The Bed Moved, short stories by Rebecca Schiff, and was drawn in by that great cover and the “stellar collection” blurb from The New York Times Book Review.

At 38 I’m not young anymore, but this collection made me feel old. I so wanted to love the acerbically witty exchanges, the sexually adventurous/naive characters, and the emotional remove of the stories. There’s a smart, craft-driven quality to Schiff’s writing, a gem of something funny and sad and lonely inherent in each piece; reading story after story I expectantly hoped maybe this is the one I will love, but I didn’t find the one and ultimately failed to connect with the collection as a whole.

#67 My Name is Lucy Barton by Elizabeth Strout

25893709After finishing Elizabeth Strout’s beautiful collection of interwoven stories, Anything is Possible, I couldn’t wait to read My Name is Lucy Barton. Strout’s Lucy Barton appears in a few of the stories in Anything is Possible; her life is talked about, touched upon, speculated over.

My Name is Lucy Barton is told from her perspective. Sick in the hospital after an operation, Lucy unravels the trajectory of her life for the reader: the extreme poverty of her youth, her escape from a small town in Illinois, her move to New York City, her path to motherhood, and success as a writer. When Lucy’s mother, a cold and distant woman, flies to Lucy’s sickbed to be with her, memories and old insecurities surface.

Strout is a writer of masterful, elegant prose, and there’s a complexity to her characters that never feels forced or contrived. I thoroughly enjoyed the novel, though the narrative felt slightly unbalanced. As Lucy attempts to reconcile her past and present selves, important threads of her story, particularly that of her marriage and children, and her life as a writer, are told with certain carelessness and ultimately feel underdeveloped.

#66 Anything is Possible by Elizabeth Strout

32080126Anything is Possible is just charming.

Elizabeth Strout, author of Olive Kitteridge and My Name is Lucy Barton, has crafted a beautiful collection of overlapping stories, rich with distinctive characters, alive with strikingly elegant prose. My Name is Lucy Barton was written at the same time and Lucy and the Barton family make appearances in a few of these stories.

Set in Amgash, a small town in Illinois, and beyond, each story acts as a character portrait, each paragraph shapes the identities of the townspeople, and, as the book progresses, the stories simultaneously forge and peel back those identities. Characters are drawn from various perspectives as they struggle to find meaning in life and to connect. Relationships are exposed. Personality strengths and flaws are actualized.

Strout writes with a quiet, assured power. As a reader, you can trust that wherever she takes you within a story, you are in good hands.

#65 Vicious by V.E. Schwab

13638125If you’ve been following Brief Book Reviews from the beginning, you’ll have read all about my fondness for the highly entertaining Shades of Magic series by V.E. Schwab.

Vicious, the first (and, so far, only) book in Schwab’s Villains trilogy, is a coming-of-age superhero/villain creation story with a quirky cast of damaged characters.

Though I knew it was unlikely, I wanted to be as taken with Vicious as I was with the Shades of Magic trilogy. The writing was fine. The story had some charm. But, by the end of the book I realized this: I love magic (no surprise there), I don’t love superhero myths.

 

#64 Crooked Kingdom by Leigh Bardugo

22299763Crooked Kingdom, follow-up to Six of Crows, is the fast-paced and entertaining second book in Leigh Bardugo’s YA duology featuring teenage criminal mastermind Kaz Brekker and his motley crew of miscreants.

If you haven’t read Six of Crows, I won’t give too much away here about the sequel, only that Bardugo crafts unique, idiosyncratic characters who carry the story from start to finish and engineers fantastic plot twists to keep the reader engaged and guessing until the very end.

And, yes, there’s MAGIC.

#63 The Essex Serpent by Sarah Perry

32075861Set in Victorian London and the countryside of Essex, Sarah Perry’s The Essex Serpent follows Cora Seaborne as she journeys with her son and his nanny, Martha, to the marshy (fictional) village of Aldwinter for a change of scenery after the death of her cruel husband. There, Cora learns about sightings of a mythical sea serpent whose potential is fueling the imaginations of the locals and inciting creature panic.

While in Essex, superstition and religion intersect, friendships are born and tested, and the lives of Perry’s characters are forever changed.

I was hoping for something intensely readable like Sarah Waters’ Fingersmith or Michael Cox’s The Meaning of Night, but the reading of this was fairly laborious. It’s a hefty book with some smart writing and well-crafted passages, but the story never fully grabbed me and the book put me to sleep a few nights in a row.

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#62 milk and honey by Rupi Kaur

23513349Rupi Kaur’s poetry arrives from a raw and deeply personal place. Kaur is young, still in her early 20’s, and her milk and honey poems flow with an eager and easy earnestness, an earnestness so achingly present at that age. Reaching for big feelings in a pared-down and approachable way, Kaur writes about early sexual abuse and trauma, intense young love, the pains of breaking up, and what it means to be a young woman today. She pairs her poems with simple line drawings, and the result is like reading a teenager’s intimate journal about sex and heartbreak and identity. There’s not a lot of depth here, but parts of my younger self could identified with the acute longing, the hunger for connection and for experience.

A good gift for a young woman heading off to college in the fall.

#61 Nutshell by Ian McEwan

30008702Darkly comic, Ian McEwan’s Nutshell brings a loose retelling of Hamlet into modern-day London and positions the tragic “prince” in utero, a witness to the murder machinations at play between his mother and her lover as they plot to kill his father.

Nutshell is definitely clever, in concept and execution, with fine writing throughout, though the novel bows under the weight of that heady cleverness. The plot hinges on one unsurprising act, and the story leaves no real emotional impact. While it is unlikely that there has ever been a more erudite or insightful womb-bound being, the other characters, blandly conniving caricatures, cannot live up to the narrative technique.