book review

The Summer List by Chatti Brown

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AUTHOR: AMY MASON DOAN
PUB DATE: JUNE 26, 2018 (preorder here)
PUBLISHER: GRAYDON HOUSE

“I wanted to ask her if she felt like I did, if the years when we’d been friends still seemed more important than anything that had happened since.”

SUMMARY:

Laura and Casey were once inseparable: as they floated on their backs in the sunlit lake, as they dreamed about the future under starry skies, and as they teamed up for the wild scavenger hunts in their small California lakeside town. Until one summer night, when a shocking betrayal sent Laura running through the pines, down the dock, and into a new life, leaving Casey and a first love in her wake.

But the past is impossible to escape, and now, after seventeen years away, Laura is pulled home and into a reunion with Casey she can’t resist—one last scavenger hunt. With a twist: this time, the list of clues leads to the settings of their most cherished summer memories. From glistening Jade Cove to the vintage skating rink, each step they take becomes a bittersweet reminder of the friendship they once shared. But just as the game brings Laura and Casey back together, the clues unravel a stunning secret that threatens to tear them apart… 

Mesmerizing and unforgettable, Amy Mason Doan’s The Summer List is about losing and recapturing the person who understands you best—and the unbreakable bonds of girlhood.

MY THOUGHTS:

The Summer List was a compelling read- I struggled to put this down and finished it in the wee hours of the morning. If you don't have this in your summer reading list, hurry and go get it asap. I loved the nolstagic summer (and 80s) vibes, and the second chance for Laura and Casey to mend their broken friendship. Who doesn't have a friend that they've lost touch with? That said, the book isn't just about female friendship. The author did a beautiful job touching on the fragile mother/daughter dynamics. At first glance this is a feel-good-take-to-the- beach read, but a closer look will find you mesmerized by the intricacy of it all.  

My only critic is that I absolutely hate the overhead misunderstanding scenerio which could be easily cleared if people stopped eavesdropping and communicated to one another. Like seriously, please step out of the shadows and declare, "Hey, it's me. I'm here. Did I hear that right?!" Perhaps this happens in real life more than I know because I see it so often in books and tv and it frustrates me to no end. But to be fair, it is this little interaction (or lack of) that drives the story. Nonetheless, it must be telling that I highly recommend this book despite that little irritation.  It was an addictive read and by the end, the truth left me a bit breathless. 

*Thank you Harlequin/Graydon House for the free review copy.

Everything Here is Beautiful by Chatti Brown

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Being so early in the year, I find this quite bold to say but Everything Here is Beautiful is my favorite book of 2018! I read it without knowing too much of the plot, which I suggest you do too. Hint: skip the Goodreads synopsis. I honestly think it gives away too much. Just pick it up and dive right in. You'll thank me later. The story is about Chinese-American siblings, Miranda and Lucia - the first older and responsible, the latter a free-spirit and suffering from schizophrenia. Knowing little about the story allowed me to go into it without any expectations. It is a story that is heavy, rich and often times uncomfortable to read. As little as we talk about mental illnesses, we talk even less about Asian-Americans living with them. I see this book as a good stepping stone in beginning this crucial discussion. I have a family member with a mental illness and I have been looking so long for a book that made me feel not so alone.  

The story is told in multiple perspectives, sometimes in third person, other times in first person. It shouldn't work but it does, giving you a 360 degree look at how mental illness affects not only the person but those close to them. And when it is Lucia's turn to speak about her actions, you get an intimate portrait of a person struggling to reined in her "serpents." Lee does it with such sensitivity that my heart ached for Lucia. I was taken through an array of emotions, jumping from empathizing with the characters one minute to feeling frustrated by them the next. And I love that. It's what I look forward to in a book- characters so complex and multilayered that you can imagine them walking down your street.

...they said I “suffer” from schizoaffective disorder. That’s like the sampler plate of diagnoses, Best of Everything. But I don’t want to suffer. I want to live
— Lucia in Everything Here Is Beautiful

While this book is about sisterly bond, it also touches on immigration, parenthood, cultural misunderstandings, and interracial relationships. I felt connected, inspired, and sadden by the characters' choices. I plunged into the book, reading into the early morning, eager to see where the characters ended up. There was a whole section where I felt extremely anxious and mad. I can't tell you which section- you’ll have to read the book so we can compare notes. This book is so good it shook me when it was over and I hated saying goodbye. All the stars!

Side note:  This may sound weird but if you’re planning a literary dinner party, this book mentions a lot of food and would be the perfect inspiration. 

*Thank you Pamela Dorman Books (Penguin Group Viking) for the galley in exchange for an honest review.

The Perfect Winter Read: The Snow Child by Chatti Brown

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In my old age, I see that life itself is often more fantastic and terrible than the stories we believed as children, and perhaps there is no harm in finding magic among the trees.

It snowed yesterday and my neighborhood was covered in a thick blanket of white. During our family walk I thought of The Snow Child by Eowyn Ivey and the Alaskan landscape so vividly painted in this mesmerizing story about love, survival and hope. It was one of the last books I read in 2017 and it is easily my favorite book from that year.

Set in the 1920s Frontier Alaska, the story follows homesteaders, Mabel and Jack, as they set out to establish a new life. After two years of isolation, the couple is "fading away without the other's notice." Mabel is finding life in the wilderness less romantic than she imagined. The grief she ran away from, the very motivation that fueled her leaving Pennsylvania, has followed her. She is often left alone with her thoughts while her husband works the field and go trapping. Their marriage is tinged with sadness as they lose themselves in their individual despair. Jack comes home, they eat dinner silently, and he retreats to bed thereafter. 

It was beautiful, Mabel knew, but it was a beauty that ripped you open and scored you clean so that you were left helpless and exposed, if you lived at all

But in a rare moment of playfulness, the couple makes a snow child accessorizing it with a scarf and mittens- even carving out a face. In the morning, the snow child has melted, the clothing gone, and there are footprints leading away from where it was built. Jack spots a little girl with her pet fox and we are eventually told her name is Faina. She appears as quickly and unexpectedly as she disappears. Is the child real or fantasy? We are never sure as the story does a delicate dance between fairy tale and realism.

What hooked me aren't the moments Jack and Mabel has with Fiana, but the in-betweens when they are waiting for her to come to them again. Unlike most books I've read, Mabel and Jack are not newlyweds or young, they are both nearing fifty and childless, a stigma that's even more so in the 1920s. Jack and Mabel's relationship is complex, riddled with a lack of communication yet also full of devotion. As much as they silently push away from each other, they also need one another- for love, for companionship, for survival. I adore the relationship between the pair and how Ivey spends equal attention with these two characters. 

The landscape also plays a central part in this story. So skilled was Ivey in describing the cold forest, the frozen lakes, and snowcap mountains that I found myself shivering involuntarily at one point. Before me I saw the modest log cabin, Jack chopping wood, Mabel baking a pie, and a little chill dashing between the trees with a fox trailing closely. The Snow Child is a breathtaking story that I will be reading again and again.