A recap of all January book reviews from @overeducatedwomenwithcats.
➡️ Scroll through to see all the photos ➡️
1. The Candy House by Jennifer Egan
The Candy House is the newest novel by Jennifer Egan. The novel is a composition of various characters and their intersecting story lines over a course of several decades, with the POV also shifting with each chapter. Chapters at first do not appear to be linked in any clear way, but we discover that one of the threads weaving the story together is a technology (and by extension, its repercussions in society) called Own Your Unconscious, that allows people to save all their memories, share them with others- and in exchange, see all others' memories. One of the central characters is Bix Bouton, the creator of this technology, who although he gets little space in the book, is another commonality among the long cast of characters that appears (and often feels) quite random- Bix's son, childhood friend, people he meets, children of the people he meets, people who use his technology, children of those who use his technology, etc. The novel is by all measures ambitious, pushing the reader to think about how we interact with technology and then handle its unintended consequences. While it fails to fully bind itself together, it is definitely worth a read!
2. I'm Glad My Mom Died by Jennette McCurdy
I'm Glad My Mom Died is Jennette McCurdy's memoir. This book has received the @goodreads accolade of best memoir of 2022. Jennette McCurdy was a former child actor on a few Nickelodeon shows (but don't remind her of that), a role that she was pushed into by her mother. Jennette's mother tried to live out her dreams through her daughter, and in this process, she became emotionally (and physically, at times) abusive to her daughter. Jennette is very candid throughout, as is becoming of a memoir, and while she covers some heavy topics (including eating disorders- so be forewarned), she writes with humor. Given the title of the book, we thought this would be an indictment of her mother, but we were glad to see that while there was a bit of that, there was nuance and the memoir is more about how she heals after her mom died. If you're looking for a memoir, and want raw emotion tinged with comedy, look no further. 4 stars!
3. Forward: Stories of Tomorrow
Forward is a collection of sci-fi short stories featuring speculative fiction powerhouses Blake Crouch, Andy Weir, Amor Towles, Veronica Roth, N. K. Jemisin, and Paul Tremblay. Each author was asked for a story that captured their thoughts and fears regarding the rapid pace of technological progress (and the inherent uncertainty that accompanies it). They tackle a wide variety of topics from predictive genetics to sentient AI to quantum computing. While each is unique in voice and style, the collection as a whole forms an ominous chorus. Highly recommended for those who enjoy the more literary end of sci-fi: prepare to speed read through these thrilling tales of tech.
We always suggest supporting your local independent bookstore, but for anyone looking to use up kindle & audible credits, this is a recommendation that can only be found there. Plus, it counts for the “Collection of Short Stories” prompt for the OWCreadingchallenge2023!
4. All the Dangerous Things by Stacy Willingham
Thank you @Netgalley and @Macmillan.audio for the Advanced copy of this audio book (peep Harvey holding the "book"). Stacy Willingham’s debut novel A Flicker in the Dark was a finalist for @bookofthemonth Book of the Year and a @goodreads finalist for best mystery and thriller of 2022. Coming close off the success of her first novel, Willingham gives her fans another suspenseful, psychological thriller, All the Dangerous Things. This novel introduces Isabelle Drake, a mother distraught and still searching for her toddler, Mason, one year after he went missing from his crib. Since his disappearance, Isabelle cannot sleep. Her insomnia and single-minded obsession with finding her son drove a wedge between her and her now ex-husband, Mason’s father. Reaching a state of desperation, Isabelle agrees to key note a “true crime” convention and meets Waylon Spencer, a true crime podcaster. Paired with his persuasive nature and her dead-end search, she agrees to tell her story in the hopes that a new, outside perspective will unearth details to find her son. However, while we’re experiencing the distressed Isabelle in present day, the novel provides intermittent flashbacks of her childhood where something else sinister lurks. This novel was a slow burn and the narrator’s insomnia created an air of unreliability where we weren’t quite sure what was real or a delusion of her sleep deprived mind. We also loved the duality of her childhood secrets unraveling with her present day search for truth. While some of the climactic reveals were predictable, the end was still very satisfying. This is not a “cozy mystery,” but rather a dark look into the lives of people with trauma and the ways the mind can play tricks on reality. We definitely recommend this book if you’re looking for a contemporary thriller.
5. Remarkably Bright Creatures by Shelby Van Pelt
Remarkably Bright Creatures by Shelby Van Pelt is the charming story with a heart of gold that you’re looking to kick 2023 off with (and which garnered the @goodreads choice award for fiction and for debut novel in 2022).
The story follows the unlikely converging paths of Tova, a resigned woman who has lost both her son and husband, and Cameron, a man who is, simply put, struggling to adult. The star of the cast is of course Marcellus, the sentient giant pacific octopus that likes to escape his cage at the aquarium.
While the plot may have one coincidence too many, the characters were easy to love for their quirkiness and their wounds. And if you are looking for an audiobook, Marcellus’s voice actor is spot on. Recommend for a feel good, light hearted page turner.
6. At Night All Blood is Black by David Diop
At Night All Blood is Black by David Diop is a TRIP. This book is odd yet enthralling- really capturing some of the fever dream of war. The novel finds Alfa, a Senegalese man, fighting for the French in World War I. Alfa is in the trenches with his fellow countryman and friend, Mademba, who dies in the opening of the book. However, while Mademba calls on Alfa to put him out of his misery, as he is suffering a torturous death, Alfa is unable to perform this act of mercy. This failure then plagues Alfa throughout the book and becomes the driving force for his, shall we say, innovative way of killing German soldiers. This book is short, quick and crazy. While the beginning is more clear-cut in terms of story-telling, be prepared for the ephemeral wave that is the last section of the book documenting Alfa's descent into madness- we recommend just letting it wash over you and absorbing it.
7. No Name In The Street by James Baldwin
First published in 1972, No Name In The Street is a book-length essay from James Baldwin grappling with the upheaval of the 1960s. Part memoir, part social commentary, topics range from the assassinations of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr and Malcolm X, the civil rights struggle, the criminal justice system, race relations in the north and the south, and Baldwin's childhood and life in France. The book is rather unstructured and non-linear, divided only into two parts with no chapters and few pauses in the text, which gives it the feel of a stream of consciousness narrative; it's like you are coming along with Baldwin as he processes the trauma, anger, and betrayal of the 60s. Its another example of how Baldwin is one of the most clear-eyed, prescient commentators on American culture and racism to date; but compared to some of his other works, this one feels as though it stems from grief with little room for hope. Although it's one of Baldwin's lesser-known books - perhaps due to its anger, pessimism, or scathing criticism of White people - it's striking how many of his observations remain true today. Change some of the names and dates, and Baldwin could be talking about George Floyd, Black Lives Matter, and the continued shape of white supremacy today. Recommended for anyone interested in the contours and constancy of American racism and the struggle for justice.
8. Demon Copperhead by Barbara Kingsolver
Demon Copperhead is the newest novel by the venerable Barbara Kingsolver. This novel draws inspiration from and parallels David Copperfield by Charles Dickens. As such, the novel follows a boy (Damon Fields, aka Demon Copperhead) born to a single, teen-mother and his experiences being raised in poverty in Appalachia, the foster system, high school, the opioid crisis, and many other varieties of crises. However, this is a coming-of-age story, and Demon injects humor throughout the telling of his life, which can be seen to the untrained eye as a series of unfortunate events. Barbara Kingsolver also uses her main character to make points about how the U.S. treats people from Appalachia and "red-necks" more generally, urging us towards understanding and empathy. Ultimately, this is a tale worthy of its renown author, it is a pleasure to read, and we highly recommend.
9. Thrust by Lydia Yuknavitch
Lidia Yuknavitch is an artist to her core, and it shows in her latest novel, Thrust. This story is ambitious and while we admit it is disorienting more times than not, Yuknavitchs poetic prose makes it easy to keep reading.
The structure of Thrust is broken into sections where we follow several story lines in bits and pieces, spanning the construction of the Statue of Liberty in the 19th century to a dystopian future in the late 21st century. The heroine is Laisve, who can move through time by traveling through water, and whose confidantes are talking animals.
With a strong emphasis on themes of freedom, liberation and defiance, we left Thrust feeling moved, if more than a little confused. For readers open to riding the wave of Yuknavitch’s one of a kind mind and for whom a coherent plot is secondary, you are in for a wild ride with Thrust.
10. Now Is Not the Time to Panic by Kevin Wilson
Kevin Wilson strikes again! We loved Nothing to See Here and are equally enthusiastic about Now Is Not the Time to Panic. This novel tells the story of Frankie, a 16 year old loner who aspires to be a writer, and her new friend, Zeke, an aspiring artist who just moved to town. When they meet at the public pool, their separateness from others bounds them together in fate. They want to make art, they want to create something meaningful and lasting and shocking, but where do they start? As a pair of teenagers in the 90’s they use the only resources they have- paper, pens, and a Xerox machine. Together they create a poster and make copies, like a lot of copies, and place them all over the small, forgettable town of Coalfield, Tennessee. This simple act creates a frenzied panic and tragic repercussions echo beyond the city limits. Kevin Wilson’s talent for witty prose and nuanced story telling is at the heart of this novel. It’s a unique coming-of-age story, full of humor and heart ache, that we couldn’t get enough of. It’s safe to say we are fans of Kevin Wilson and will continue to read anything he publishes.
11. The Light Pirate by Lilly Brooks-Dalton
Lilly Brooks-Dalton wrote Good Morning, Midnight (liked😸) in 2016, which was turned into a Netflix movie, The Midnight Sky (disliked😿), in 2020. Now she has released her second novel, The Light Pirate, and it has exceeded all expectations! The Light Pirate is considered Cli-Fi, or climate fiction, and set in the not-so-distant future of massive hurricanes, rapidly rising sea levels and uncontrolalble wildfires. The novel starts out with a heart pounding narrative as a category 5 hurricane slams into the Florida town of Rudder. Brooks-Dalton uses devastating imagery and the story follows suit. It’s hard to describe this novel without revealing too much, but saying it’s a timely read would be an understatement. While the story follows the life of one family as they navigate the challenges of living in a disappearing town, the haunting descriptions of a country on the brink of collapse stays with you. This is an excellent novel and we highly recommend it.
12. Horse by Geraldine Brooks
Horse by Geraldine Brooks is a multi-layered treatise on horse racing, slavery in America and lingering structural and overt racism in the U.S. We follow several stories and narrators that span time, all focused around "the greatest racehorse the world has ever seen", aka Lexington. There is Jarret, who is Lexington's caretaker and best friend, protecting Lexington from over-use and abuse, while himself suffering the indignities of being a slave in the antebellum south. Jess and Theo (present day), the former a Smithsonian scientist who is tasked with unearthing a horse skeleton from storage- soon to be determined to be Lexington himself, and the latter a student of art, who happens to be a Black man in American (albiet raised overseas), determining that his thesis will be on paintings of Lexington and other racehorses with their Black and often enslaved jockeys or caretakers- especially some paintings that include Jarret. Lastly, we have Martha Jackson, a gallery owner who is focused on modern art (Pollock and the like) but finds herself with one of these aforementioned paintings in-hand, resurfacing difficulty memories from childhood. While this book is well-written and well-told, we did find ourselves struggling to marry the disparate story lines together, despite Lexington and the art he inspired, along with slavery and persistent racism, being throughlines. Moreover, we must say it is a little jarring to read a novel on slavery and present-day racism in America by a white woman from Australia. Still, we think you will enjoy this read.
13. Four Treasures of the Sky by Jenny Tinghui Zhang
Four Treasures of the Sky is a beautiful piece of historical fiction telling the story of Lin Daiyu, a young girl who loses her family and her country. Its the debut novel from Jenny Tinghui Zhang, who in an author's note relays how she was asked to write this story by her father after he encountered a historical marker in Idaho memorializing the site of a lynching of Chinese men. The novel explores the anti-Asian history of the American West in the 1880s, a chapter of history that does not often see daylight. As we hope for in historical fiction, you learn not only something about that period in time, but understand how it impacted people who lived through it, and how our past is still with us today. Zhang skillfully navigates plumbing these depths without traumatizing the reader by rooting Daiyu's story in her search for self through all the obstacles she faces. She often does this through the recurring motif of calligraphy, deploying it as an art form, a philosophy, and a grounding practice. We highly recommend picking this one up, and are excited to see what comes next from this author.