The Optimist’s Guide to Letting Go: A Review

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1. Get through to your daughter. 2. Buy more cheese. 3. Don’t forget to call your mother.

Grilled G’s Gourmet Food Truck is where chef, owner, obsessive list-maker, and recent widow Gina Zoberski finds the order and comfort she needs to struggle through each day, especially when confronted with her critical mother Lorraine and sullen daughter May.

Image-conscious Lorraine always knows best and expects her family to live up to her high expectations, no matter what. May just wants to be left alone to mourn her father in her own way. Gina aims to please, but finds that her relentlessly sunny disposition annoys both her mother and her daughter, no matter how hard she tries.

But when Lorraine suffers a sudden stroke, Gina stumbles upon a family secret kept hidden for forty years. In the face of her mother’s failing health and her daughter’s rebellion, this optimist might find that piecing together the truth is the push she needs to let go.

I won this early copy in a Goodreads Giveaway hosted by publisher Gallery Books.  This is my honest review!

This was my first time reading author Amy Reichert.  I was familiar with her previous works.

The Coincidence of Coconut Cake/ The Simplicity of Cider/ Luck, Love & Lemon Pie

I do not normally choose contemporary women’s fiction as a must read which is why I have yet to read any of the above titles.  However, The Optimist’s Guide to Letting Go  seemed like a good one to try and win.  I was happy to learn that I was a winner!  This novel was a wonderful read in between many heavier reads.  While the premise deals with widowhood, a stroke and family secrets heavy it was still a welcome change of pace.  It was an incredibly fast read and so enjoyable.

I have always liked plots centered around family secrets.  I am always fascinated by the family dynamics depicted.  It is always intriguing to ‘witness’ the coping skills and method in which individuals handle the challenges in their lives. While it is hard to believe that a plot which includes a huge, life-changing family secret, a stroke and widowhood can still be positive, uplifting and hopeful…it really is.  Do not get me wrong.  I still had moments of sadness.  Some tears did fog up my glasses while I was reading late at night.  I told my husband that he is not allowed to leave me.  The only options are that I go first or we go together simultaneously.

The story is very predictable but that is always expected with women’s fiction.  The interesting and relateable story and characters with an encouraging and hopeful tone are the definition of women’s fiction.  As I went into the story knowing that the outcome of the story would be predictable, I was not setting myself up for disappointment.  I was still able to thoroughly enjoy the novel.  I connected immediately with the characters.  I was able to identify and see what would  also be my reactions to the situations.  I become ravenous with the descriptions of Gina’s grilled cheese creations.  I really want to try some of the creations because they just sound amazing.

All in all.  I really enjoyed this one.  I will be reading her previous novels and I will keep an eye out for the new.  Sometimes those feel-good stories with delicious grilled cheese sandwiches mixed in are just what you need!

The Optimist’s Guide to Letting Go will be released on May 15th.  

 

What Should Be Wild: A Review

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Cursed. Maisie Cothay has never known the feel of human flesh: born with the power to kill or resurrect at her slightest touch, she has spent her childhood sequestered in her family’s manor at the edge of a mysterious forest. Maisie’s father, an anthropologist who sees her as more experiment than daughter, has warned Maisie not to venture into the wood. Locals talk of men disappearing within, emerging with addled minds and strange stories. What he does not tell Maisie is that for over a millennium her female ancestors have also vanished into the wood, never to emerge—for she is descended from a long line of cursed women.

But one day Maisie’s father disappears, and Maisie must venture beyond the walls of her carefully constructed life to find him. Away from her home and the wood for the very first time, she encounters a strange world filled with wonder and deception. Yet the farther she strays, the more the wood calls her home. For only there can Maisie finally reckon with her power and come to understand the wildest parts of herself.

Harper Books provided me with an early copy of What Should Be Wild by Julia Fine in exchange for an honest review. This will be released on Tuesday May 8th!

First let me start by saying that this book was quite a stretch for me. I do not normally gravitate toward fantastical books like this. Anything that requires me to extend the scope of what is real is not my first choice. When I read the description I was intrigued so I decided to give it a go. Those who know me well were shocked that I was reading this. They knew this was way out of my preferred reading zone.

With that being said, I have to admit that I really enjoyed this novel. I could not stop reading this. I did not want to stop reading it! Yes the premise is unique and unusual but Julia’s writing makes it a very beautiful story despite the inclusion of death and curses. Oh the writing. I firmly believe that Julia is the only person who could have woven this story. Her writing is eloquent, precise and just lovely. The forest around the manor grounds is very much a character in the story. That is made abundantly clear by the way Julia chose to describe it. The forest is very much a living and breathing thing. It has its own needs. It has its own desires. It has its own personality. She brilliantly made it real. I could not wait to get to know it more because there was so much mystery to unlock. I had to know it better. That need to know and learn is a testament to Julia’s writing abilities.

There are many moving parts in this. Normally I would find that adding in curses and the “touch of death” would put it over the top. In this case it did not. I was so committed to the story, to the characters and unraveling the mystery surrounding the forest that I did not get lost in the fantastical elements of the story. They really added to the story as was intended. I was so incredibly drawn to Maisie’s female ancestors. I have to say that was probably my favorite aspect of the book. I loved the way in which their stories were slowly unfolded as Maisie was searching for her father. I was very much drawn to those women and their connection to the forest. I found their stories and connections to be so interesting that I really could not stop myself from reading.

While I would really like to go further into the story those are not the sort of reviews that I enjoy reading let alone writing. I prefer to discover the core of the story myself while I am reading it. It is not my style to spoil the plot especially in a novel like this. This is the sort of novel that you let unfold for you in due time. By that I mean let the story reveal itself to you the way the talented author, Julia Fine, intended.

My First Zadie Smith Reading Experience

Two brown girls dream of being dancers–but only one, Tracey, has talent. The other has ideas: about rhythm and time, about black bodies and black music, about what constitutes a tribe, or makes a person truly free. It’s a close but complicated childhood friendship that ends abruptly in their early twenties, never to be revisited, but never quite forgotten, either.

This is an update on my Female Voices Reading Challenge!  If you need a refresher on my Female Voices Reading Challenge follow this LINK. Zadie Smith has always been an author that I have been curious about.  Along with five novels she also has a handful of essay collections.  I thought that my reading challenge was the perfect push to get me to finally read Zadie Smith.  I chose to start with Swing Time because it was her most recent novel (published in 2016) and I already had a copy.  I found it for a steal in a second hand book store right after I had established my reading challenge.  Aside from being a great bargain the dust jacket is a bold yellow.  I cannot say no to that!

I had already decided to read Swing Time at some time in 2018.  I decided to read it now in April because one of my favorite bookish podcasts will be discussing it on April 24th.  It felt like the universe was telling me to read it.  So I committed myself to reading in time for the April 24th episode.

After saying all of that it is now time to reveal my thoughts on Swing Time.  I did not like this book.  In fact,I actually feel quite comfortable saying that I hated this book.  Yep.  I hated this book.  This book is 453 pages long.  This is typical for a Zadie Smith novel.  For me and my HUGE stack of books that are waiting for me to read, that’s alot of reading time spent on a book that I was not enjoying.  However, I was committed because I kept thinking that it was going to get better.  As I got to the 300 page mark I realized that it was not going to improve.  At that point it made no sense to give up so I finished it.

My primary hang up with this book is that I while I am preparing a review of sorts I have absolutely no idea what the point of this novel is.  I honestly am at a loss to even share the premise of it. The basic description that you read at the beginning of this is conflicting to me because I feel like that was not the book that I read.  Yes the girls’ friendship begins in a dance class and grows into an appreciation of old Fred Astaire films; especially Swing Time.  However that is pretty much the extent of dance being a focal point.  One of the girls, Tracey, does go on to a brief career of a theater dancer but as it stated the friendship ends in their twenties.

The other big issue that I had with this novel is how it was organized.  It flips back and forth from the narrator’s childhood to present time. Actually  present time represents  roughly ten years after the friendship ends.  I found this time flipping to take away from my fully engaging and enjoying the story.  I found the back and forth to be clunky.  The transition between past and present were not seamless in my opinion.  By the time I hit the midway point I was frustrated and annoyed by the flip flopping.

I was in no way connected to the characters.  Honestly, is the narrator even given a name?  That is a very good question because if there is….it is completely lost on me.  While I did feel sorry for Tracey and her troubled upbringing with her mother.  When it came down to it she was just incredibly unlikable in my opinion.  There was very little that was redeeming in her.  The same goes for the narrator.  I was not a a fan of hers.  She was constantly driving me nuts.  I loathed her career path of being a personal assistant to a famous pop performer.  I was incredibly annoyed when she took it personally that she was not seen as the singer’s BFF.  Come of it woman.  You really think that was going to be the case?  Well she did and for that I call her obnoxiously naive.

So those are my top three reasons for hating this book.  While I hated reading this book I am still glad that I read it.  Despite having many issues with the novel overall I can still see and appreciate that Zadie is a talented writer.  I plan on giving Zadie another go with her first novel White Teeth.  Here is the description:

On New Year’s morning, 1975, Archie Jones sits in his car on a London road and waits for the exhaust fumes to fill his station wagon. Archie—working-class, ordinary, a failed marriage under his belt—is calling it quits, the deciding factor being the flip of a 20-pence coin. When the owner of a nearby halal butcher shop (annoyed that Archie’s car is blocking his delivery area) comes out and bangs on the window, he gives Archie another chance at life and sets in motion this richly imagined, uproariously funny novel. 

The feedback that I have gotten from others is that this is their favorite of her books.  I probably should have started off with that one first…..

My April Reading Goals

So I almost did not make a April Reading Goals post because I really thought that I had failed miserably with my March Reading Goal list. I took a look back at the image and realized that I did far better than I thought I did! Here is the March list:

Killers of the Flower Moon/South and West/Hannah Who Fell From the Sky/The City Baker’s Guide to Country Living/Alone/The Hazel Wood

Those in bold are the books that I read. All together in March I read eleven books! This month is going to be a whole different can of worms because I mostly have galley editions to review. This is not me complaining because I am absolutely love reading advanced copies to review. It is something that I wanted to tackle for awhile now. Here are the books that I will be reviewing this month!

The following are from Harper Books: The Perfect Mother by Aimee Molloy/ What Should Wild by Julia Fine / Barracoon by Zora Neale Huston/ Pops by Michael Chabon

Surprise Book Mail from Harper Collins: Stray City by Chelsey Johnson (this was a finished hard cover edition. SCORE!)

This was a Goodreads Giveaway: The Optomist’s Guide to Letting Go by Amy Reichert

Sometimes the books are tough topics or just heavy in other ways so I have learned that I really enjoy some palette cleaning reads. This month those will be the graphic novel series Paper Girls by Brian Vaughn. Here is a brief snyposis of the first volume:

In the early hours after Halloween of 1988, four 12-year-old newspaper delivery girls uncover the most important story of all time. Suburban drama and otherworldly mysteries collide in this smash-hit series about nostalgia, first jobs, and the last days of childhood.

So there it is. All laid out and I have committed to it. Well I am committed to the galleys because I want to continue receiving them. I have become incredibly fond of book mail!

The Magnificent Esme Wells: A Review

Esme Silver has always taken care of her charming ne’er-do-well father, Ike Silver, a small-time crook with dreams of making it big with Bugsy Siegel. Devoted to her daddy, Esme is often his “date” at the racetrack, where she amiably fetches the hot dogs while keeping an eye to the ground for any cast-off tickets that may be winners.

In awe of her mother, Dina Wells, Esme is more than happy to be the foil who gets the beautiful Dina into meetings and screen tests with some of Hollywood’s greats. When Ike gets an opportunity to move to Vegas—and, in what could at last be his big break, to help the man she knows as “Benny” open the Flamingo Hotel—life takes an unexpected turn for Esme. A stunner like her mother, the young girl catches the attention of Nate Stein, one of the Strip’s most powerful men.

Narrated by the twenty-year-old Esme, the story moves between pre–WWII Hollywood and postwar Las Vegas—a golden age when Jewish gangsters and movie moguls were often indistinguishable in looks and behavior. Esme’s voice—sharp, observant, and with a quiet, mordant wit—chronicles the rise and fall and further fall of her complicated parents, as well as her own painful reckoning with love and life. A coming-of-age story with a tinge of noir, and a tale that illuminates the promise and perils of the American dream and its dreamers, The Magnificent Esme Wells is immersive, moving and compelling.

-Synopsis via Goodreads

I was provided a galley from Harper Books in exchange for an honest review.

The Magnificent Esme Wells by Adrienne Sharp was a very enjoyable jaunt into historical fiction.  For me personally, this had all of the right ingredients for a strong historical fiction read. The Golden Age of Hollywood.  Gangsters. The creation and rise of Las Vegas.  Showgirls. It was all morphed into a great fictional account of the time featuring an honest, witty, and intriguing narrator in Esme Wells.

Esme takes the reader between Hollywood and Las Vegas so the story alternates in time.  I really liked this feature of the story because part of what Sharp is trying to do is compare the power and crookedness of Hollywood and Vegas; primarily through Hollywood moguls like Louis B. Mayer and casino bosses/gangsters.  As much reading as I have done on both of those subjects the comparison, while it seems obvious, did not entirely occur to me until now.  They were all immigrants, most were Jewish and they are responsible for their own fortunes.  They also, ultimately, experienced sad downfalls of their power.

Along with a fascinating account of Hollywood and Las Vegas, this novel is also a story of dreamers.  Esme’s parents have dreams.  They are lofty dreams that consume them.  Dina Wells wants to be one of Louis B. Mayers MGM stars.  She is not satisfied with being just another dancer on the lot.  She wants her name at the top of the marquee.  Ike Silver is looking for money and power.  However, he cannot stay away from the race track and his next big win.  Both of her parents are desperate to achieve their dreams so much so that they let it consume them.  I am not giving away much when I admit that neither of them are huge successes.  Despite being along for the ride of constant failure, Esme has her own goals; which involve becoming a Las Vegas star.

I enjoyed this one.  I had not really read a historical fiction like this in awhile.  I had some heavier topic driven reads before picking this one up so it was nice to follow up with this.  However, much to my dismay, Esme’s story ends on a sad one.  I will not give specifics but I will end by saying that in Vegas…the house always wins.

Thank you Harper Books for providing my copy to review!  The Magnificent Esme Wells by Adrienne Sharp will be released on April 10th!

 

Joan Didion and the Female Voices Reading Challenge

So I think it is safe to say that I am not a fan of Joan Didion.  Her recent publication of essays South and West was my second reading experience.  I previously tried to read an earlier essay collection called The White Album but I could not bring myself to finish it.  I just could not do it.  Follow the link to my past post regarding my first Joan Didion Reading experience.

Here is a synopsis of South and West.

Joan Didion has always kept notebooks: of overheard dialogue, observations, interviews, drafts of essays and articles–and here is one such draft that traces a road trip she took with her husband, John Gregory Dunne, in June 1970, through Louisiana, Mississippi, and Alabama. She interviews prominent local figures, describes motels, diners, a deserted reptile farm, a visit with Walker Percy, a ladies’ brunch at the Mississippi Broadcasters’ Convention. She writes about the stifling heat, the almost viscous pace of life, the sulfurous light, and the preoccupation with race, class, and heritage she finds in the small towns they pass through. 

And from a different notebook: the “California Notes” that began as an assignment from Rolling Stone on the Patty Hearst trial of 1976. Though Didion never wrote the piece, watching the trial and being in San Francisco triggered thoughts about the city, its social hierarchy, the Hearsts, and her own upbringing in Sacramento. Here, too, is the beginning of her thinking about the West, its landscape, the western women who were heroic for her, and her own lineage, all of which would appear later in her acclaimed 2003 book, Where I Was From.

So Didion goes from traveling around the South of the 1970s to discussing a notorious kidnapping of a rich girl.  While this seems like it should be interesting and insightful to the time period I just cannot get past the pretentious writing of Joan Didion.  In my opinion, Didion is the wrong person to providing a snapshot into the lifestyles of Southerners.  I see her strictly as an entitled, pretentious and stuck-up woman.  Again, that is just my opinion.  Is Didion really all of those things?  I have absolutely no idea.  The praise that this book has received, as well as Didion’s past work, indicates that I am wrong.

Admittedly, I did enjoy South and West more than The White Album.  I will choose to ignore that South and West is one hundred twenty pages long so that essentially is a one sitting read for me. It was interesting to get a glimpse into the area of the country at that point in time.  Was it a necessity that I read it?  No.  Am I glad that I did?  Yes and no.  I am glad to be able to wage an opinion on the writing of Joan Didion.  In the past five years it seemed like the universe was telling me to read and fall in love with Joan Didion.  I really did think that I was finding another female voice to add to those I admire.  However, it is not meant to be.  I would rather read and fall in love with the writing of a woman less pretentious.

Because We Are Bad: A Review

By the age of thirteen, Lily Bailey was convinced she was bad. She had killed someone with a thought, spread untold disease, and ogled the bodies of other children. Only by performing an exhausting series of secret routines could she make up for what she’d done. But no matter how intricate or repetitive, no act of penance was ever enough.

Beautifully written and astonishingly intimate, Because We Are Bad recounts a childhood consumed by obsessive compulsive disorder. As a child, Bailey created a second personality inside herself—”I” became “we”—to help manifest compulsions that drove every minute of every day of her young life. Now she writes about the forces beneath her skin, and how they ordered, organized, and urged her forward. Lily charts her journey, from checking on her younger sister dozens of times a night, to “normalizing” herself at school among new friends as she grew older, and finally to her young adult years, learning—indeed, breaking through—to make a way for herself in a big, wide world that refuses to stay in check.

Charming and raw, harrowing and redemptive, Because We Are Bad is an illuminating and uplifting look into the mind and soul of an extraordinary young woman, and a startling portrait of OCD that allows us to see and understand this condition as never before.

-Description via Goodreads

Let me first begin by saying that I had to read this memoir in small doses because it triggered my own anxiety.  Mental illness is no joke.  It is a very real entity that has the ability and power to consume a person.  While I do not have experience with OCD personally, I related to the constant battle of intrusive thoughts.  Lily’s account of growing up with OCD is one of the most truthful accounts that I have encountered.

A statement in the memoir that truly resonated with me and I feel best describes the state of Lily’s mind is this:

“Mindfulness is the fucking problem: my mind is too full”

There are clearly two narrators to this story.  One is Lily and the other is “She”.  The separation of Lily into two distinct personalities was important in conveying the battle that never ceased in Lily’s mind.  She was constantly convinced that every action she made was offending someone.  She was paranoid that she smelled unpleasantly, that people found her disgusting, that a lingering glance could be interpreted as perverted.  There were countless examples in this memoir that I found to be exhaustive.  My heart broke for Lily because all of this was occurring when she was just a child.  She did not find it abnormal that she would check to make sure that her sister was alive and breathing while sleeping.  With every check on her sister she would have to go through her normal OCD bedtime routine of checking doors and such.  She would function on a few hours of sleep if she were lucky.  As exhaustive as my own brain can be I cannot fathom what a life like that would be like.  It sends me into a panic just thinking about it.

Because We Are Bad covers Lily’s life from an early age up to college age.  In that time you are privy to the exhausting actions that are result of her compulsions, her treatment and how Lily overcomes her compulsions.  I was fascinated to learn more about OCD through Lily’s experience with her therapist.  If you are interested in learning more about OCD and overcoming it this is a perfect choice because it is incredibly honest.  If you have suffered from mental illness yourself this memoir will connect with you.  I  was able to relate to several descriptions of Lily’s intrusive thoughts.  Intrusive thoughts are all consuming.  Intrusive thoughts are truly invasive and they do not make one bit of sense.  While I was reading Because We Are Bad I could not help but think of myself as two distinct personalities.  Their is my ‘logical self’ and my ‘illogical self’.  Every day I struggle with those two entities; just as Lily did with ‘She’.

If you are searching for an honest depiction of mental illness Because We Are Bad fulfills that need.  If you are struggling with OCD and other forms of mental illness you will find someone to relate to with Lily.  I was glad to receive this galley copy of Because We Are Bad by Harper Books in exchange for an honest review.  I highly recommend this book.  Even if you cannot relate to the depiction of mental illness it will still provide invaluable insight to the struggle that so many people experience on a continuous basis.