Book Review, Comedy, Fiction, Mystery, Review, Thriller, Women's Fiction, Young Adult

Book Review Round-Up: May 2022

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Review of ‘Every Summer After’, by Carley Fortune

Sam and Charlie live in the house beside Percy’s family’s summer chalet.  The trio meet when they are pre-teens, with Percy and Sam becoming fast friends.  As the years advance, their friendship turns to more.  But then everything falls apart and the two don’t speak for twelve years, when Percy returns for Sam’s mother’s funeral.  Their connection is still there, but there is, obviously, a lot to talk about before any kind of friendship, let alone a relationship, can continue.

Carley Fortune has a way of making you feel all the aches and pains of her characters.  Written in the POV of Percy, the chapters alternate between before the big break and 12 years after it.  Charlie is the one calling up Percy after the boys’ mother passed, which is something interesting seeing how everything ends.  It isn’t easy for Percy to return, and I felt terrible for her, reading how what happened 12 years ago was affecting her so profoundly even to this day.  The sweetness of the years before the big break comes in such sharp contrast with the way this older Percy lives her life.

Yet again, so much pain and anguish could have been avoided if only the two of them had had a talk—and a big hurrah for the person who really pushed for this conversation to finally happen.  A beautiful, poignant story that hopefully will remind readers of the importance of communication, else they, too, lose something incredibly precious in their lives.

Review of ‘See You Yesterday’, by Rachel Lynn Solomon

Barrett and Miles are stuck in a time loop; they keep reliving the first day of college over and over again.  Miles got stuck in this loop before Barrett and is understandably both delighted to have someone to talk to about it, but at the same time, a little rusty with his social skills.  And cue some great comedic moments as well as some deep, insightful commentary on the nature of relationships and life itself.  This book is marketed as a YA romance, but it is so much more than that.  As Barrett and Miles realise they might be stuck in this time loop forever, they end up asking themselves some extremely important life decisions that everyone should be asking themselves, stuck in a time loop or not.  It also helps that it is a funny book, snarky at time and a pleasure to read.  Barrett is immediately likeable and Miles is totally adorable.  A relaxing read with great potential for reflection on the meaning on life.

Review of ‘Jasmine Zumideh Needs A Win’, by Susan Azim Boyer

Jasmine needs to win her high school senior class presidency so that she can get into her dream school, NYU.  Because she kind of already mentioned on her application that she actually is the class president.  The only probably is that her opponent plays dirty and is not willing to give up easily.  And since this book is set at the time of the Iranian Revolution of 1979, and since Jasmine is Iranian, well…  You see where this is going to go.

It’s fun to read about pre-internet and pre-cell phone times.  I found myself wondering why they didn’t just pick up the phone and call and then remembering the setting of the book.  It was also interesting to explore the meaning of self-acceptance through the difficult journey of a Persian teenager living in the United States at the time of the Iranian Revolution, when anti-Iranian sentiment was so strong.  Unsurprisingly, I absolutely loved the glimpses of different aspects of Persian culture, some of which made me snicker.  The conversations around the Iranian Revolution were very interesting and still much needed in 2022, in a much more global way.  One only needs to listen to the news about big events in lesser known countries to realise that the same misconceptions from 1979 still exist today, despite the internet (which is a little disconcerting to realise, quite honestly).  The big take away is that these stories are always so much more complicated than anyone realises, and that we need to move away from trying to solve the problems of the past by completely rebuilding a new society from the grounds up.

Review of ‘We Deserve Monuments’, by Jas Hammonds

Mama Letty is dying, and although Zora doesn’t have much of a relationship with her, she and her husband take Avery out of her high school right as senior year is about to begin to move from DC to a small town in the middle of nowhere.  Something happened to Mama Letty’s husband when Zora was very little (or maybe before she was even born?  Honestly I don’t remember this detail, sorry!) and this something has completely broken the bond between mother and daughter.

And this something is still heavy in the air, not just at Mama Letty’s, but also in part of their little town she lives in.  At the heart of the plot is Avery navigating toxic friendships (hello, racist microaggressions), falling in love, and building a relationship with her grandmother both without and with her mother.  But at the same time, there is a mystery that reveals itself in its full shocking glory at the end of the book, making everything you’ve read up to that point, everything that was perfect except that it was just a teeny bit off, come suddenly into perfect focus.

I can’t recommend this book enough.  Difficult at times to read for all the right reasons, it is at its core an exploration of the ways that racism impact family and community relationships, with a realistically messy yet undramatic romantic relationship.  I loved the contrast between Avery’s toxic DC friends and the healthier relationships she made in the little town of Bardell.  I loved the contrast between the toxicity of the relationship between Mama Letty and Zora and the work done by Zora to not repeat this pattern with Avery—and I also deeply appreciated the marks of Mama Letty’s relationship with her daughter on Zora’s relationship with Avery.  Even without that mystery I would recommend this book.  The mystery is just that cherry on top of that perfect sundae.

Review of ‘The Garden of Small Beginning’, by Abbi Waxman

I absolutely love Abbi Waxman.  On my bookshelf, her books live right by Jennifer Weiner’s books—that’s really high praise, in my book (ha).  I picked up this one not knowing anything about it other than it was on clearance, the cover was pretty, and it was written by Abbi Waxman.  It was, just as with her other books I’ve read up to now, funny and irreverent at times, while being realistic and hopeful.  I can’t tell you the number of times I snorted out coffee or water while drinking, to the point that this became a no-drinks-allowed read!

Lillian’s husband died in a terrible car accident, right outside their family home.  Three years later, Lillian is successfully navigating life as a window with two young children, one of whom was too young to remember her father and the other just old enough to remember him but not quite able to understand, let alone process her grief.  But this success isn’t perfect, as there are a lot of emotions that are still undealt with, and they all come to the surface when she meets someone at a gardening class her employer asked her to take.

The most beautiful thing to me about this book is the community that emerged from this class.  Every student has something in their lives weighing on them, and the other students—and their teacher—step up to help.  I also deeply appreciated Lillian’s relationship with her sister, Rachel; the moments with her two little daughters were quite poignant as I found myself running away from the thought of how I would handle conversations about the loss of her father with my own child.

A definite must-read; my Abbi Waxman run has yet to yield anything less than impeccable reading.

Review of ‘Other People’s Houses’, by Abbi Waxman

Because I loved The Garden of New Beginnings so much…  I read a second Abbi Waxman book in the same month.  My apologies to the books that have been on my TBR pile for such a long time!

The best part of this book were the inner monologues of mother of three Frances.  I laughed so hard at some of her thoughts because quite honestly they have made their way through my own head.  Frances and her neighbors’ lives in the suburbs is rocked when one of them is caught cheating on her husband.  When he finds out, all hell breaks lose.  Oftentimes, stories about cheating are centered on the person who was cheated on, or, at most, on the family of the couple struggling through infidelity.  Taking the perspective of a neighbour helped understand the impact of this highly intimate decision on the entire community.  And in an era where community life is struggling to keep together in the face of the forces of materialism and of the ego, it’s so much more important for all of us to realise the impact our personal, intimate decisions have on the entire community.  This book also reflects how backbiting can destroy a community’s very fabric.

It’s also just plain hilarious and poignant at times, making for yet another impeccable reading experience, deserving to share the shelf with Jennifer Weiner.

Review of ‘The New Girl’, by Jesse Q. Sutanto

This boarding school story started interestingly enough, with Lia starting the year on a scholarship at an exclusive school for kids from very, very rich families.  But this is definitely not your Enid Blyton boarding school.  On account of their every whim being acquiesced to, there is just so much drama at this boarding school.  Like, incredible, jaw-grinding amounts, especially in the first half of the book.  And this review is being written by someone who is toughing through the last seasons of Riverdale just because I want to know how it all ends (and also because I love the acting and the outfits, but that’s a conversation for another day).  It really felt too over the top at times; there is a line between making a point that there is a lot of drama in a school versus actually including way too much angst and drama into the pages of a book.  I did find myself rolling my eyes many a times.

The second half of the book was focused on the unfolding of a mystery and its culmination into Lia having to literally run for her life.  Her decisions are quite bad and get worse with time.  She seems to be unable to learn from her mistakes and sinks into her rage.  I guess this could be a lesson in the effects of a toxic school culture on anyone.  And I guess it could be a good read, if the drama from the beginning of the book was cut at least by half, and replaced instead with some insightful commentary on the effects of this toxic culture on Lia and how she is going to be able to get through the year without it affecting her morals.  The resolution was also a little troubling and I had a hard time wrapping my brain around it.

Thank you to Raincoast Books and Simon & Schuester Canada for ARCs, to Orca Book Publishers for review copies, and thank you to all the publisher who sent me electronic ARCs through Netgalley!

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