May Monthly Wrap Up by Chatti Brown

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May was one of those crazy months where the weather never fully cooperated but I spent all my time outdoors anyway. It was a month of reflecting on how bookstagram changed my reading life and how I was over-consuming, buying too many books, and on social media more than I'd like to admit. So as everyone gears up for summer reading, I'll be taking this time to slow down and read less.

Inside Out & Back Again: I first learned about this book from the Diverse Book Club. Written in verse in the voice of ten year old Hà, this book tells the story of her life in Vietnam during the fall of Saigon and subsquently, her family's immigration experience in Alabama. I cried during so many parts because her story resonated with me and reminded me of my family's own refugee experience. What I enjoyed about this book was that the words were simple, yet I was able to stand in Hà's shoes and empathize. This is a children's book so a very quick but important read.

I now understand
when they make fun of my name,
yelling ha-ha-ha down the hall
when they ask if I eat dog meat,
barking and chewing and falling down laughing
when they wonder if I lived in the jungle with tigers,
growling and stalking on all fours.

The Summer List: I wrote a review over here but I can't tell you enough how good it is. It's tender, sweet and well, how should I put this? Let's just say shit gets real. It comes out on June 26th but you can preorder it here or put it on your library list. *Thank you Graydon House for the free review copy.

Circe: If you're a fan of greek mythology like I am, this one is for you. This also has to be one of my favorite sub-genres, a retelling from the perspective of the villain (e.g. Wicked). You may know Circe from The Odyssey in which Odysseus encounters her on a secluded island, but here you get to know her intimately. Madeline Miller's expert storytelling had me mesmerized all the way to the very end.

How to Walk Away:  While quite predictable, there was something about this book that made me smile. It had such a satisfying full ending which made my heart ache with happiness and gratitude for the life I have. There's a full cast of characters, some very unlikeable (can we talk about that Chip guy?) and others will grow on you. A word of warning: although this book tackles a big issue it's done in a lighthearted way. Like me, you may be left wanting a lot more emotional depth. But because this is contemporary lit. it does what it came to do, and gets four stars in my book.

Pachinko: I've been waiting to read this book at the right time because I wanted to do it justice. It's a big one - think sweeping, epic, multigenerational drama if made into a television series would take 125 one hour episodes. With no commercials. The book details the life of an immigrant Korean family in Japan in the early 1900s all the way to the 1980s. My heart broke for Sunja, Isac, and Noa - those stories were stunning and filled with emotional complexities. But my interest dwindled a bit towards the end and I didn't feel a connection with the characters introduced later in the book. I would recommend this still- it's worth the 484 pages.

November Wrap Up by Chatti Brown

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The Heart's Invisible Furies: "Long before we discovered that he had fathered two children by two different women, one in Drimoleague and one in Clonakilty, Father James Monroe stood on the altar of the Church of Our Lady, Star of the Sea, in the parish of Goleen, West Cork, and denounced my mother as a whore." And so begins the life of Cyril Avery a gay man born in 1940s Ireland to an unwed teenager. I went through every emotion while reading this book-it utterly slayed me. At about 570 pages it's quite a read, but felt quick due to Cyril's fascinating and often times, heartbreaking journey. 

Ginny Moon: I read this for the Diverse Book Club rather late in the game, and it was as great as everyone said it would be. Ginny is a fourteen year old girl on the autism spectrum, trying to make sense of her life with her "forever parents" and rightfully obsessed with keeping her baby doll safe. Told in her perspective, you can't help but empathize and root for Ginny as she makes mistakes, gets frustrated, and find her way in her new world. Benjamin Ludwig wrote our heroine in such a beautiful and honest way. Ginny was such a gift.

Buried Child: I picked up this Pulitzer Prize play by Sam Shephard after listening to the podcast Literary Disco (episode 111). So while I knew the entire premise, I was completely taken aback by how skillful Shephard created madness in three simple acts and one backdrop. Bizarre and unsettling, you get to witness an extremely dysfunctional American family fall apart. And of course, there's the buried child in the backyard. I'm dying to see this on stage. 

Here We Lie: I received the ARC through a Goodreads contest so this won't be out until late January 2018. A story of two college friends-one from a prominent New England family, the other from the middle of nowhere-this book is so relevant in today's social climate. I went back and forth hating and loving the two friends and felt drawn into their experiences. The story goes back and forth between the past and the future unveiling what sadly happened the summer of senior year that tore the friends apart. I'll be reviewing this book closer to the publication date, but it was one of my favorites this season.

The Name Of Dead Girls: The sequel to All the Silent Girls. While I love the first book more, this was still enjoyable and equally atmospheric. Eric Rickstad makes Vermont spooky. Think cold and foggy. Lots. Of. Fog. I won't say much about the plot for fear of spoiling the series, but do know that things pick up immediately where it left off in the last book. Former detective, Frank Rath, is the central character and he continues to track Preacher, the man who brutally killed his sister and brother-in-law as his infant niece slept upstairs. Be warned the description of this, especially in the first book, is gut wrenching. A great thriller/mystery. 

Hello, Sunshine (audio book version): Probably better if I had read the book. The audio version wasn't bad, the story predictable but fun, and yet I can't stand when female narrators use husky "male" voices when reading the part of men. Why?! This is the story of Sunshine Mckenzie, celebrity chef and cookbook author, whose world comes crashing down when she gets hacked. Losing her friends and husband she runs, tail between her legs, back to her hometown. This book tries to be fresh but is saturated with superficial "enlighten" moments. Sunshine isn't all that different, she just got caught. The ending was hasty but frankly, do I really need to follow the life of an unlikeable character for another 50 pages? No, thank you.

The Breakdown: The psychological thriller that could have been so much more. Rarely do I give a rating lower than a three stars but this book, ugh. This isn't my first run in with B.A. Paris. There was Behind Close Door, which I liked despite it being a bit unbelievable and horrific. This just was not my cup of tea. On a raining night, Cass decides to take a shortcut through the woods. She sees a car stopped on the side of the road with a woman in the driver's seat. The next morning she is horrified to learn that the woman was murdered. Her guilt eats her up and worse, the phone keeps ringing (and boy does that phone ever rings). I liked a majority of this book, but then the ending came and the ratings dropped significantly. Predictable.