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MOAM Book Club – COVID-19 Edition (Part 1)

First off, wash your hands. 20 seconds (don’t cheat).

Kudos to those of you whose creativity has sparked and who have been doing on-line workouts and organizing their cupboards and taking freebie courses. Me? Between the compulsive checking of social media and forwarding of funny memes and gifs I find it hard to focus on anything else, meal-planning and stretchy pants aside.

Until today that is. Today, I put on jeans (to ensure they still fit) and am self-isolating in my bedroom office to bring you my latest MOAM Book Club. You’ll find no classics, should-reads, or any sort of pandemic fiction. You will, however, find some great books I’ve enjoyed recently. I hope you’ll enjoy them too.

UPDATE: I started writing this post earlier this week. I am no longer wearing my jeans, but I did put in my contact lenses as I was starting to get those annoying dents on my nose. I’ve been doing a lot of chatting on the phone, enjoying zoom drinks, and didn’t get as far as I thought I would.

Consider this the first part of my list, to be continued as the week(s?) goes on. Another thing to consider: if you click on the book titles, or the pretty pics, you should be redirected to Amazon. And if you buy from that link, I just may make around $0.14… Every little bit helps…

So, without further ado – here are some books reccos. Would love to hear what you think..

Ask Again, Yes This story about two NYPD families reads like a movie. Two rookie cops live next door to one another in the ‘burbs. All is peachy keen until The Event that tears them apart. The book follows the kids from each family as their paths cross and uncross. An examination of love, memory, mental illness and forgiveness.

The Nickel Boys by Colson Whitehead: Another brilliant novel by the author of The Underground Railroad (which you should also read. See review here) If you’re looking for uplifting, move on. This one’s a killer. A black boy in the deep south in the 60’s finds himself in the wrong place at the wrong time. Instead of heading off to college, he is sent to a juvenile corrections centre with disastrous results. Based on the true experiences of ward in a reform school in Florida, this is a brutal, yet amazing read.

The Testaments by Margaret Atwood: Forget about this being a sequel to the book The Handmaid’s Tale. Think of it as a continuation of the TV series. This felt like Atwood wanted to ensure that the future seasons of the show followed her vision, as opposed to the show runners (remember Game of Thrones going off-book?) No question it’s a great book – a Booker winner? Hmm….I needed to read it to tie up the stories of Gilead. And the book does just that. With a bow.

The Last Book Party by Karen Dukess: Twenty-something Eve is an aspiring writer with zero confidence. After quitting her entry-level publishing job, she lands a job as an assistant to a bigwig writer, ready to embrace life in the summertime cottage fast lane that is Cape Cod. Cue bad choices, unrequited crushes, family dynamics and angst and you’ve got yourself a fun, somewhat soapy read. Some may also over-identify with their own experiences in similar worlds in their ‘20’s….Maybe.

Turbulence by David Szalay: This is a super short, super swift read about connection and turbulence – both in the air and on the ground. Each chapter follows a different situation in a different city (divided by airport code – pretty cute framing device). These little snapshots left me wanting more, but I liked ’em while they lasted.

Dear Edward by Ann Napolitano: Speaking of turbulence….Dear Edward is the story of a 12-year old boy who is the sole survivor of a plane crash. That’s right. I was terrified to read this book but I’m so happy I did. Napolitano flips back and forth from the flight, and the stories of those on board, to Edward’s new life. This is a fast-paced, devastating yet exhilarating story. Even though you brace yourself for what you know if coming, you can’t look away. With all travel on pause for the next while, it’s the perfect time to crack this one open. Get your kleenex handy.

The Dutch House – Anne Patchett: This family drama takes place over the course of 50 years. After growing up in a Gatsby-esque world of splendour, a brother and sister find themselves booted out of the family home when their dad remarries. This is their story as they back to check on “their” house year after year, reflecting on their lives, where they were, where they are, and where they think they’re going.

A Woman is No Man by Etaf Rum: This story takes us inside the lives of a Palestinian family in Brooklyn. Old school rules clash with modern expectations with tragic results. This is the generational story of the daughters of tradition trying to raise their voices – and have them heard. I loved it.

All We Ever Wanted by Emily Griffin: Looking for a good, fun, cheese-read? Look no further! This one reminded me a tiny bit of Celeste Ng’s books mixed with the Netflix show Elite. New money, old money and no money all clash at a fancy Nashville school when nudey pics get sent around. And while we always want to be on our kids’ side, should we?

The Water Dancer by Ta-Nehisi Coates. If magical realism isn’t your thing, move on. But if it is, you’ll get right into this poetic novel. Slavery, separation of families, justice and reunification. There is a lot going on in these pages in terms of people, places, time and space. I keep re-writing and deleting plot summaries but each time I either complicate, or over-simplify, what this book is all about. It’s brutal and beautiful and reminds me so much of Toni Morrison’s work. It haunted me long after I finished it.

American Dirt by Jeanine Cummins: Oh, where to begin with this one? There is so much noise surrounding this book. Short version: the novel was getting a lot of positive press, even receiving Oprah’s coveted blessing. And then the controversy and criticism took over: cultural appropriation, trauma porn, right-story-wrong-voice, the list goes on (google for more info). This movement of who can tell what stories makes me very uncomfortable (see: Joseph Boyden, author of one of my all-time faves, The Orenda – which you should read if you haven’t. Review here). Every reader must make their own decision on what books they will read. This one is a fictionalized tale of a mother and son escaping gang violence in Acapulco, trying to make their way North to the US. I could write an entire blog post on this book alone, and am happy to have an actual book club meeting about it anytime. But for now, read it for yourself. Or don’t.

…MORE BOOKS…AUDIBLE RECCOS…HONOURABLE MOAM MENTIONS…..
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March 26, 2020   2 Comments

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MOAM BOOK CLUB

Winter is coming so bundle up and break out the books!

Your texts and emails and posts and hints have not gone unnoticed. The list has been brewing for months but getting it out there has taken a little longer than I’d hoped. Being distracted by the news and by life doesn’t help much either. But as the days get darker and we snuggle in to prep for the long cold days ahead, there really is no better time to whip out your book/e-reader and get lost.

Despite the many books I have adored, there were others that left me lukewarm, and even cold. Pre-ordering a bunch of eagerly anticipated titles and then finding them beyond dull was a lesson in ditching. Life really IS too short to waste on a book that doesn’t grab you (unless you’re at school. Sorry suckers…I mean…students). Arundhati Roy, Michael Chabon, Madeleine Thien, Jonathan Safran Foer, Nicole Krauss and even my beloved Ian McEwan totally disappointed me. Anyone else feel that way? I managed to finish Forest Dark and Nutshell but not the others. Should I? Do let me know…

In the meantime, check these out:

 

THE UNDERGROUND RAILROAD by Colson Whitehead

Pulitzer Prize Winner. National Book Award Winner. Oprah Book Club. MOAM. Clearly this is one fine book. After being abandoned by her mother, Cora is an outcast among her fellow slaves on a Georgia plantation. Determined to make a better life for herself, she plots her escape via the Underground Railroad – a literal subway system that heads north. With each stop on the line she encounters a different life, and a new struggle. Cora’s unbelievable odyssey will leave you breathless, feeling both elated and disgusted with each passing chapter. An important, beautiful piece of art.  Also – coming soon to a screen near you, adapted by Barry Jenkins, of Moonlight fame.

 

13 WAYS OF LOOKING AT A FAT GIRL by Mona Awad

Another award-winner (and shortlisted for the Giller), this fabulous first novel tells the story of a suburban girl who can’t see herself as anything other then the Fat Girl. Sharp and funny, heart-breaking and sad, and oft-times downright uncomfortable, this reflection on body image and what it means to be thin and gorgeous – or not – in an looks-obssessed world is one for everybody. And every body.

 

THE MOTHERS by Brit Bennett

Another debut, another fantastic voice. Haunted by the recent suicide of her mother, high school senior Nadia is forced to make a life-changing decision. Friendship, teen romance, an unwanted pregnancy and what could have been all come in to play as Nadia looks back on that eventful final year of high school and the reckoning that comes with the passing of time.  A powerful look at motherhood in all its guises – being a mother, wanting a mother, having a mother.

 

A LITTLE LIFE – Hanya Yanagihara

Warning: this is not so much of a book as it is a masterpiece. And it is massive. Seriously – 737 pages that admittedly took me a couple of tries. The first time, I didn’t think the plot was grabby enough, though the writing was. The second time, I had a hard time focusing on who was who, yet was intrigued by the characters. The third time I couldn’t put it down.  Four friends from college try to make their way in NYC. Sounds simple, and is anything but. An operatic, gorgeous and devastating read. Challenge yourselves. It’s unforgettable and well-worth it.

 

EVERYTHING I NEVER TOLD YOU – Celeste Ng

When a 16-year old dies tragically, her family, the only mixed-race family in their small town, tries to figure out what happened.  Celeste Ng is a brilliant and totally accessible writer as she explores the effects the tragedy has on the family and their relationships with the town – and each other. I had heard about Little Fires Everywhere (see below) and started this book while waiting for the next one’s release. I was totally transported – and transfixed. Racial issues, trying to belong, the fragility of happiness – it’s all here and it’s all amazing.

LITTLE FIRES EVERYWHERE – Celeste Ng

Family dynamics meet small town politics in another gorgeously written novel by Celeste Ng. Lives intersect as two totally different families are thrown together in unexpected ways. A white family tries to adopt a Chinese baby and relationships are tested as the characters are forced to take sides. In this book and the one above, seemingly simple prose that is deeply sharp leaves you thinking about the characters long after the last page has been turned. Celeste Ng could be one of my new favourites.

 

THE HATE U GIVE – Angie Thomas

There was a shitload of hype surrounding this novel – it debuted at the top of the NYT YA best seller list. But make no mistake, this is not just another young adult novel.  A poignant and ridiculously relevant story about what it’s like to be a person of colour in today’s USA. When narrator Starr witnesses the murder of her unarmed BFF by the police, everyone wants to know what really happened. So many reviews use the word “necessary” and that’s exactly what this is: a must-read that is timely without being preachy, channeling all the love, laughter and anger that we all can’t help but feel so often these days. Totally necessary reading.

 

EXIT WEST – Mohsin Hamid

Two young people meet and fall in love against the backdrop of a city under siege in a brutal civil war. He is a restrained prodigal son, she is an independent fiery spirit. Leaving their families and lives behind, they join the flood of refugees popping up in other countries through mystical and magical doorways. They may make it out alive, but will their relationship survive? Another timely read for an uncertain time.

 

MARLENA – Julie Buntin

“The Story of two girls and the wild year that will cost one her life, and define the other’s for decades”. That’s the official log line. The unofficial one should read “a year in the life of two 15-year old girls and how it can go spectacularly wrong spectacularly fast”. At 15 every little thing means everything. A lot of firsts. A couple of lasts. And a whole lot of shit that sticks with you forever. Great read from a great voice.

 

RABBIT CAKE -Annie Hartnett

Another story of family dysfunction and loss, another amazing voice with a gift for story telling. Our narrator, Elvis, is a young girl trying to figure it all out after her mom’s death. She can’t and she won’t but at least she can try to keep some kind of normalcy in her eccentric and suffering family. A great coming-of-age novel that is smart, engaging, funny and sad. Kind of absurd without being too crazy, this book had me from page one.

 

HOW TO BEHAVE IN A CROWD – Camille Bordas

Izidore aka Dory is the youngest in a family of six super smart and trippy kids. Only he’s kind of normal, which means he doesn’t quite fit in with the rest of the fam. So while they’re busy prepping PhD theses and creating symphonies, he is the one who is actually noticing things, feeling feelings, and trying to live a real life. And when tragedy strikes, Dory tries to make sense of it all. This is an incredibly charming and quirky coming of age story.

 

YOU’LL GROW OUT OF IT  – Jessi Klein

If you like Amy Shumer, you’ll LOVE Jessi Klein, one of Shumer’s writers. And if you don’t like Amy Shumer, you’ll still like Jessi Klein. Her memoir is like the smarter, deeper and, dare I say, funnier version of Shumer’s The Girl with the Lower Back Tattoo. I laughed out loud – a lot. And was moved too. She’s got all the (written) humour of Shumer but with a lot more sensitivity and intelligence.

 

THE FUTURES – Anna Pitoniak

I kept hearing about this book, and it never really appealed. Until I picked it up and couldn’t put it down. It’s a New York story of two college students who fall in love and move to the big city to pursue their hopes and dreams. When the financial crisis hits, they find themselves at the very center of it. Alternating between their points of view, the book explores those trying times in our early twenties when we’re trying to figure out our world, our place in it and who we really are.

 

THE BEST KIND OF PEOPLE – Zoe Whitall

When a beloved husband, father and teacher is arrested and charged with sexual assault, his family must deal with the fall out. Apropos, no? This exploration of loyalty, trust and truth is a gripping read as the author explores the toll one person’s actions can take on those around him. I found this to be a real page turner BUT the ending did fall a little flat. Still, when I enjoyed reading it, I really enjoyed reading it….

 

WHEN BREATH BECOMES AIR – by Paul Kalinithi

Proceed with caution and get your kleenex ready, because this is one devastating read. This memoir is written by a brilliant young neurosurgeon who has been diagnosed with terminal cancer. Really. And yes, he dies while writing this book and his wife finishes it (no spoilers – it’s apparent from the first page). Examining what makes life worth living, this  superb book is an examination of life, love and how we live when we know we’re going to die. A wonderful, life-affirming tear-jerker that is no way shmaltzy.

 

ANOTHER BROOKLYN – Jacqueline Woodson

This sparely written novel is an exploration of 1970’s Brooklyn as seen through the eyes of a young black girl and her friends as they set out to navigate the mean streets of the city – and of adolescence. Powerful, evocative and emotional, you’ll be transported between now and then just like the narrator. This is a short book, but don’t let its size diminish its stature. Pure poetry.

 

GOODBYE VITAMIN – by Rachel Khong

This book started off quirky and funny and soon had me in tears. When Ruth’s engagement is called off, she returns to her hometown where is she is soon put “in charge” of her father who has been grappling with dementia. As she reconnects with her friends, family and former life, Ruth tries to figure out what she’s been running from all these years – and where she is actually going. Her journey through the best and worst of times is something we can all relate to, especially those who wonder if you can ever really go home again – wherever that may be.

 

CRAZY RICH ASIANS / CHINA RICH GIRLFRIEND / RICH PEOPLE PROBLEMS -Kevin Kwan

Oh, yes I did! After hearing about Crazy Rich Asians for ages and wondering if it was funny, racist or just plain cheesy, I decided to have a look. And I’m so glad I did. The sgtory revolves around the scandal unleashed in the rarified world of Chinese billionaires when the heir to one of the biggest fortunes in Asia brings home -gasp! – an American-born Chinese girl. Soon the backbiting and infighting begins – and doesn’t stop. I finished the first book in 3 days, becoming completely lost in a very different world – and I loved it! So much so, I picked up the other two books and downed them in quick succession. Is it a brilliant series? Hell no. Is it fabulous fun? F&ck yeah! Enjoy – because why not?!

 

To purchase any of these books, click on the links below!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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October 30, 2017   1 Comment

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