As if how you feel about your family ever makes any sense at all. I should know better than most. Because forgiveness is exactly what I gave my own parents years ago.
The Book of Essie by Meghan Maclean Weir was my Book of the Month selection for June. I almost didn’t choose it, but Annie Jones from The Bookshelf recommended it as a weird, good but not great, and interesting book, especially if you’ve watched reality shows like the Duggars before. (Full disclosure: I absolutely have.) And it was exactly what she said it was: entertaining, very readable, good but not great. This is a good choice for a summer beach read if you want something entertaining or to snuggle under a blanket and read about someone else’s crazy life.
The story is about Esther Ann Hicks, or Essie, and her family. They are super religious, the head of a mega church, and their lives are documented on a reality TV show called Six for Hicks. When Essie’s mom finds out that she’s pregnant, they must decide if, when, and how they’re going to reveal this to the public. While it seems as if Essie’s life is being manipulated out of her control, she’s quietly planning something bigger behind the scenes. With a new friend, Roarke, and a TV show host with her own interesting past, Liberty Bell, Essie plans to discover the truth of her family’s past and reveal her own way to freedom.
If this sounds like 19 Kids and Counting, the reality show about the Duggar family . . . that’s because it’s very clearly taking a lot of elements from that show. And I’m here for it. In my opinion, the first two-thirds of the book was a little slow, but I still wanted to keep reading to find out what happened to Essie’s family and what Essie was planning. The writing isn’t bad, the story just wasn’t as thrilled as I wanted it to be. However. The last 110 pages of the book? They made the entire book worth the read. As in, I kept saying, “Whoa. Whoa!” I don’t want to describe anything in particular so that I won’t ruin the story, but I will say that the story resolves in a very satisfying (but also weird) way.
If you like the dynamics of family reality TV shows or are interested in books centered around cults, I think The Book of Essie is worth a read. I wish the entire book had been as compelling as the last third, but that last third is a doozy and I flew through it!
There’s something about swimsuits that make you think you’ve got to earn the right to wear them. And that’s wrong. Really, the criteria is simple. Do you have a body? Put a swimsuit on it.
I read a lot of Young Adult literature. I love it, and some of it is more well-written than adult books. I have never read one that is so body positive, with a character that not only has an amazing attitude but isn’t afraid to stand up for herself, as Dumplin’ by Julie Murphy. Murphy is now going to be an auto-buy author for me, and I ordered all of her books after reading this. Dumplin’ is what I want all YA books to be: funny, insightful, honest, and entertaining.
Willowdean Dickson (nicknamed Dumplin’ by her mother) is the daughter of a former beauty queen and pageant winner. She is also fat, outspoken, and proud. She’s happy with her body and her life (for the most part), and she goes through life with her best friend, Ellen. When a new boy named Bo starts working at the same place Willowdean works, she is immediately attracted to him. Surprising to her? He likes her back. For the first time, Will doesn’t feel so confident, and wonders why he would like her. To gain back her confidence and prove to herself (and everyone else . . . and her mom) that she is worthy of everything good in her life, she decides to enter the Miss Clover City beauty pageant. Everyone is shocked that someone who is not a typical pageant contestant would even enter, but Will inspires a movement that changes the view of everyone in the town. And, more importantly, reasserts her faith in herself.
The plot in Dumplin’ is so good, but it’s the characters who I really love. Willowdean is so real. Her characters doesn’t feel forced at all. Everything she says and every action she takes feels like exactly the right thing for her character. All I really want to do is find the adult version of her and be friends with her. I love that she doesn’t shrink into the background and basically says, “screw you” to all the jerks in the novel by doing the least expected think of all: entering the pageant. She does it unapologetically and not as a joke or with the goal of making a huge deal about it: she does it for herself.
And we can just talk about body positivity for a minute or ten? In my experience, there are very few novels that portray actual overweight characters in a positive way. They are usually quiet or mean, and are always side characters. Here we have an overweight main character who is proud of herself, happy with herself, and doesn’t spend the majority of the novel lamenting her size. Yes, she’s real, and while she is comfortable and confident in her body, she’s also ashamed at times. Everyone can relate to that feeling, no matter what size they are. But she doesn’t let it get in the way and doesn’t spend a lot of time focusing on it. This is all about confidence, and how much we can actually accomplish in our lives if we stop getting in our damn ways with negative thoughts. I am here. For. It.
If you love YA, or if you’re not sure you love YA, or if you have a middle grade to high schooler in your house, please get Dumplin’ (and the sequel, Puddin’, which should be arriving at my house soon) and read it. Have your kids read it. It’s entertaining and fun, but it’s also an important commentary on how girls are “supposed” to see themselves in public, and how they should see themselves. How we all should see each other: as human beings capable of accomplishing anything we want to do. Size is not important here, just heart.
Love is an enchantress—devious and wild. It sneaks up behind you, soft and gentle and quiet, just before it slits your throat.
Today happens to be the last day of Summer Solstice, which plays a huge role in this book!
I want to stand on a rooftop somewhere (but like, a nice rooftop with a garden, not a dirty one filled with A/C units) and yell my undying love for The Wicked Deep by Shea Ernshaw. It’s not quite magical realism, and it’s not quite fantasy, but it’s a fantastic combination of the two, and I will be the first in line for Ernshaw’s next book.
Two hundred years ago, the three Swan sisters were sentenced to death by drowning for being witches. Ever since, the town of Sparrow has been cursed. Every summer during the Summer Solstice, Swan season begins. The sisters return from the sea, take over the bodies of three girls in the town, and lure boys to their deaths in the water. Penny Talbot has ignored Swan season and the boys who die every year. But when Bo Carter shows up, Penny tries to protect him from the danger he’s unaware surrounds the town. Penny must choose whether to save Bo or herself, and whether she can trust Bo with the deepest of secrets.
This book is immediately addicting. The storyline is mysterious, fast-paced, and very well written. I won’t compare anyone to the queen of magical realism, Alice Hoffman, but there are some very strong Practical Magic vibes here. (In a wonderful way, not in a copycat way at all.) The entire book is unique, and quite different from other witchy novels that I’ve read before in that it balances a fine line between mystery, magic, romance, and paranormal activity. I don’t know how Ernshaw did it, but she’s written a pretty perfect book.
If you want a great, witchy mystery, definitely add The Wicked Deep to your summer reading list. I was absolutely transported to the town of Sparrow, and it’s a fun, immersive book to disappear into on a summer afternoon. (And today is the last day of Swan season, so it might be the perfect day to start reading this book!)
For fans of: The Hazel Wood, Practical Magic[Top]
There were drifts of clutter in every corner, like sticks and leaves in the edges and eddies of a stream. Half-finished craft activities. Library books that had become so overdue it would have been cheaper to buy them in the first place.
I had to put that quote in this review because it could have been written by me. And people everywhere, let’s be honest. Other People’s Houses by Abbi Waxman is not only thought-provoking, it’s hilarious. I laughed out loud multiple times throughout this book, which is rare for me with books. Smile? Yes. Smirk? Yes. Actually laughing out loud? Rare. This book did it for me. If you’re looking for a gossipy, straightforward story about friends, neighbors, and family, I would definitely suggest this book.
Frances Bloom is the ultimate mom. She runs the carpool, is a member of all the committees, knows whose projects are due on what days, and always has snacks. She is the most trusted woman on the block, and knows everyone’s secrets. When she walks in on a close friend making love to a man NOT her husband . . . on the kitchen floor . . . she has to decide whether to break the news to her husband or keep quiet. Her decisions, and the guilt her friend feels, will impact the entire neighborhood and make her question every moral she has.
When I started reading this book, I wasn’t sure I was going to like it. Waxman uses a lot of curse words, which I don’t have a problem with, but a lot of them seemed just thrown in and not what the characters would actually say. I still think it’s excessive, but I can ignore that for what is so good about this book. The story is about neighbors and family and how well we really don’t know each other, but it’s really about relationships and marriage and what happens to those out in the real world. The book got under my skin very quickly: the author unapologetically gets right at the heart of marriage and parenting in a humorous way. I laughed out loud and cried while reading this book, and that is rare for me. She has taken serious situations (infidelity, lackluster marriage, a child running away) and turned them just a bit to show not only the serious side but the humorous side of life. Because isn’t life like that? There are terrible and hilarious things about a lot of situations, and this book will make you laugh at them all.
Other People’s Houses gives a hilariously honest view of all different marital relationships, and if you’re married, with or without kids, I guarantee you’ll find something to relate to. It’s really a perfect summer read, and a wonderful option if you’re looking for something light that still has some literary heft to it.
Thank you to NetGalley and Algonquin Books for the free digital review copy of this book. All opinions are my own!
Sometimes when you like where you end up, you don’t care how you got there.
Sometimes when there is a lot of hype surrounding a book, I put off reading it because I’m afraid it won’t live up to what everyone is saying. That’s what happened with An American Marriage by Tayari Jones. I put it off for awhile, and finally started listening to the audio version. And then I was mad at myself for waiting for so long to start it! I started with the audio (which is very, very good) and when my library hold on that ran out, I finished up reading the digital copy I had because I couldn’t stand to wait any longer to finish it. This book lives up to the hype and is truly an amazing book.
Celestial and Roy are newlyweds, just starting out on their journey. They’re both figuring out what they want out of life and starting out their careers. When Roy is falsely accused of a crime, he is sentenced to 12 years in prison. Celestial and Roy’s relationship changes unequivocally as a result of their time apart. When Roy is released after five years, nothing is the same for either of them, and they have to figure out how to make a life out of what they have left. The book alternates chapters between Roy, Celestial, and their good friend Andre telling the story of what happens through those years.
In my opinion, this is one of the best books written this year, although certainly not the most uplifting. And that’s ok. The relationship between Roy and Celestial is so very real, and Jones does not take lightly how people’s feelings for each other change over the years, especially during an exacerbating situation. The way they speak to each other, the way they interact with each other and each other’s families, and the way they behave as strong individuals rang so true to me, and I was heartbroken for the decisions they had to make. This story is about marriage, and what happens when you put a marriage through the ringer.
As much as this is about marriage, I can’t fail to mention that it is also about race and justice in America. The story lends itself to an honest discussion about being black in America and what that means, and how biased the justice system truly is. I think it’s an important topic, and this book is a great starting point for some of those difficult discussions.
An American Marriage lived up to the hype for me, and I’m so glad it did. I absolutely love books that really delve into personal relationships and how people react to hard situations. This book does that and more, and I guarantee it will make you wonder what you would do in the same situation if nothing else.
This book is very reminiscent of One True Loves by Taylor Jenkins Reid (Check out my review of that book HERE.), and I think they would make great companion reads.[Top]