Review: Assembly by Natasha Brown

Assembly is a sharp, vignette-style novella that follows a young, black, and unnamed protagonist who is disillusioned by her life. On the surface, she is living the dream: she’s making good money at her job at a bank, she recently bought her own apartment, and she’s in a relationship. But underneath, she feels like she’s performing in every aspect of her life. She’s also hiding a dark secret.

If you like slow, literary, and character-driven stories with commentary on race, class, and the corporate world, you should think about picking up Assembly. It really feels like the unraveling of life that’s perfect on the surface. In my opinion it was a little too short and I wanted to learn more about the protagonist, but it will make you think about a lot of societal issues and evaluate your own life and choices.

I’d love recommendations for other culturally relevant, slim fiction like this one!

Anna’s Favorite Books of 2021

It’s that time of year again! That time when we start thinking about everything we read in the past year—what we loved, hated, and everything in between. This year, I revolutionized my reading by keeping a reading journal within my bullet journal. I kept notes there on each book I read. I found that this helped me internalize each book, think critically about the plot and writing style, and more clearly remember the books I read throughout the year. 

Looking back on my reading in 2021, here’s what I found:

My top genres were mystery and thriller, which I’ve never read much of before this year. Many of my favorite books of the year fall into this genre, including my favorite series of the year, Tana French’s The Dublin Murder Squad and Anthony Horowitz’s Susan Ryeland’s series. In contrast, I also read some really bad thrillers and came to the conclusion I prefer crime/murder mysteries over physiological thrillers. We’ll see if this genre sticks!

I didn’t read much nonfiction at all, coming in with one essay collection, Disability Visibility, and just one memoir, Flesh and Blood by N. West Moss. I love memoirs, especially, so that’s something I want to read more of again in 2022!

Let’s get to the best books I read this year, by genre but in no particular order:

Literary Fiction

The Rain Heron by Robbie Arnott

Summary: In a world divided by a coup, climate disaster rages. The Rain Heron follows different characters as they try to survive as well as the appearance of a mythical rain hero. 

Dystopian; environmental; climate control; lyrical; magical realism 

If you like: Abby Geni & books like Severance 

Ghost Wall by Sarah Moss

Summary: Silvie’s dad is an Ancient Britain/Iron Age enthusiast. He forces his family to spend 2 weeks a year living in the woods with an Archeology class and professor. This year, things change.

Favorite Quote: “Without a house, it occurred to me, it is much harder to restrict a women’s movement. Harder for a man to restrain a woman.” – page 59 

This coming-of-age novel manages to have a conversation about misogyny and abuse in so little pages. 

Content Warnings: Physical & Emotional Abuse 

 

The Water Cure by Sophie Mackintosh 

Summary: Three sisters grow up on an isolated island with their father and mother. They’ve been told the outside world isn’t safe, and they are made to perform horrible experiments on each other. When men arrive from the outside world, they realize their parents might not be telling the truth.

Content Warnings: Sexual, Emotional & Physical Abuse

If you like: The Handmaid’s Tale

Hamnet by Maggie O’Farrell

Summary: This is a fictionalized account of William Shakespeare’s family and the death of his son, Hamnet, during the Black Plague.

Warning: This book will make you cry. I loved the magical element and creative liberties O’Farrell took with Shakespeare’s history. 

Content Warnings: Death; Grief

Beautiful World, Where Are You by Sally Rooney

Summary: Lifelong friends and penpals Eileen and Alice live very different lives. One is a wealthy, successful author post-mental health collapse and the other has been stuck in the same job for years. When they finally decide to visit each other, tensions mount. 

Don’t come at me, Sally Rooney haters. No one writes characters, dialogue, and life like Sally Rooney. This is a beautiful novel about mental health, fame, and how friendships change over time.

Thriller & Mystery 

The Likeness by Tana French

Summary: When a woman named Lexie is found dead, Detective Cassie Maddox, who looks just like her, goes undercover as Lexie.

This is my favorite of the Dublin Murder Squad books so far and has dark academia elements.

The Woman in White by Wilkie Collins

Summary: Drawing Master Walter Hartright teaches art at an estate and becomes intrigued by a crime and the mysterious presence of a woman in white. 

This massive book is surprisingly readable and reminded me of my love for Victiorian fiction. 

Like all Victorian fiction, there are themes of madness, surveillance, and lack of women’s agency in society. 

Northern Spy by Flynn Berry

Summary: Tessa’s word unravels when she finds out her sister is a member of the IRA. 

This is a twisty novel about family, loyalty, and lies that helped contextualize the conflict in Ireland for me.

The Sun Down Motel by Simone St. James

Summary: Carly drops out of college and travels to the haunted town of Fell, New York to investigate the disappearance of her Aunt Viv 20 years earlier.

There are some really terrifying ghost scenes in this, but this is ultimately one of the most heartwarming thrillers I’ve ever read.

Content Warnings: Sexual abuse

Moonflower Murders by Anthony Horowitz

Summary: A woman, Cecily, disappears from Branlow Hall and the answer is hidden in a book by the late mystery writer Alan Conway. The family asks his ex-editor, Susan Ryeland, to find Cecily. 

This book-within-a-book may be even better than the first book in this series! The plotting and double mystery is so cleverly written. 

Young Adult

Yolk by Mary H.W. Choi

Summary: Jayne moves from Texas to New York for college and to flee from her first generation Korean parents. There she reunites with her older sister, June, who reveals she has cancer.

This is one of the most intense and emotional books I’ve ever read. Unlike other tear-jerker YA books that deal with cancer very badly, Yolk treats it with respect. 

Content Warnings: Cancer; Eating Disorders

The Valley and the Flood by Rebecca Mahoney

Summary: Following the death of her best friend, Rose struggles with PTSD. One day, trying to escape her grief, she ends up in a strange town that she can’t leave. 

Warning: You won’t have a clue what’s going on for the first 100 pages or so, but this book is so creative, emotional, and interesting that you’ll want to keep reading. It’s all one big metaphor for PTSD. 

The Ones We’re Meant to Find by Joan He

Summary: In a futuristic world destroyed by climate change, Kasey searches for her lost sister, Cee. 

This book asks big questions about science and humanity, such as, if we don’t act to save the world now, when will we? And, when will we hold big polluters responsible? But at the center of all this is the complicated relationship between two sisters. 

The Electric Kingdom by David Arnold

Summary: A group of kids try to survive a post-apocalyptic world ravaged by flu flies. 

I loved everything about this book. It’s about sacrifice, found family, hope, survival, and it had a huge twist that blew my mind.

Plain Bad Heroines by Emily M. Danworth

Summary: Dual timelines one-hundred years apart follow creepy happenings and strange deaths at The Brookhants School for Girls. 

Admittedly this book could have been a lot shorter, but this sapphic mystery includes some of the best characterization I’ve ever read in YA.

The River Has Teeth by Erica Waters

Summary: When Natasha’s sister Rochelle disappears, she turns to the witchy girl, Della, who lives by the woods where she went missing.

Set in rural Tennessee, this is a really atmospheric and original fantasy/mystery with LGBTQ+ rep.

Fantasy 

Black Sun by Rebecca Roanhorse

Summary: A fantasy based on Pre-Columbian American mythology. 

This is a complex, perfectly paced fantasy that follows multiple characters. One of the biggest problems I usually have with fantasy as an adult is the length, and this book didn’t lag for one second. Black Sun ended on a huge cliffhanger, and I can’t wait for the sequel. 

Middle Grade

A Place to Hang the Moon by Kate Albus

Summary: When orphaned siblings Anna, Edmund, and William are forced to leave London during World War II, they make a pact to find a new family in the countryside. Instead, they’re placed with several horrible families. Their only solace: the library . 

If you liked: The War that Saved My Life

I binged this cozy middle grade treasure in one sitting. This is a great story about found family, the tenacity of children, and how books can save lives. 

Happy reading! I’m excited to see what 2022 brings and hope that everyone has a great year, reading wise and otherwise.

Anna’s January Wrap Up

Between continuing to distance from others and the wintery weather, my reading was a major comfort and escape this month. I’m also happy with the diverse genres and authors I was able to read this month. I read two nonfiction books (one memoir and one cookbook), and two books by Indigenous authors, both of which work in favor of my 2021 reading goals. Here’s what I read: 

The Woman in White: Started off the year with an atmospheric, satisfying classic mystery. 

Elatsoe: Spooky magical YA by an Indigenious author. My only criticism is that this read VERY young to me. 

Moon of the Crusted Snow: actually a literary dystopian as promised (unlike Migrations) Written by an Indigenous author.

Migrations: The low point of my reading month. Do not recommend this one. Read my review.

Salt Fat Acid Heat: Mastering the Elements of Good Cooking: This made-to-be-read cookbook changes the food game! Check out my review.   

After the Eclipse: A Mother’s Murder, a Daughter’s Search (audiobook; not pictured); A heartbreaking memoir about the author’s mother’s murder. Also a criticism of the explorative nature of true crime as a genre. 

Review: In Five Years by Rebecca Serle

Alexis:

I only have a couple of weeks left of my summer break, and while I’m excited to start my second year of grad school (even if it’s only 50% in person) it means I’ll have less time to read and review books in my free time. So I’m trying to get as much reading in as possible, though I’m planning on continuing my Harry Potter re-read this fall!

Let me start out by saying that In Five Years isn’t my usual genre. In case it wasn’t obvious, I’m usually a YA fantasy type of reader.

Here’s the synopsis from Goodreads in case you’re interested:

“Where do you see yourself in five years?

When Type-A Manhattan lawyer Dannie Cohan is asked this question at the most important interview of her career, she has a meticulously crafted answer at the ready. Later, after nailing her interview and accepting her boyfriend’s marriage proposal, Dannie goes to sleep knowing she is right on track to achieve her five-year plan.

But when she wakes up, she’s suddenly in a different apartment, with a different ring on her finger, and beside a very different man. The television news is on in the background, and she can just make out the scrolling date. It’s the same night—December 15—but 2025, five years in the future.

After a very intense, shocking hour, Dannie wakes again, at the brink of midnight, back in 2020. She can’t shake what has happened. It certainly felt much more than merely a dream, but she isn’t the kind of person who believes in visions. That nonsense is only charming coming from free-spirited types, like her lifelong best friend, Bella. Determined to ignore the odd experience, she files it away in the back of her mind.

That is, until four-and-a-half years later, when by chance Dannie meets the very same man from her long-ago vision.”

I really enjoyed the first half of the book. Rebecca Serle’s writing is good, and the beginning sucked me into the story. I thought Dannie was an interesting, flawed character. And I thought the theme of not letting your panned idea of life getting in the way of your actual life was good.

But the second half is where the story began to become too melodramatic for me. A lot of the events just didn’t really make sense. The story becomes more focused on friendship, which I liked, but it didn’t really align with the beginning of the book. I don’t want to give too much away, but the ending felt like Serle saying “I’m trying to put as many plot twists as possible to make my ending not predictable.” But to me, it felt cliche and like a cop-out. This book had the potential to deal with the themes and Dannie’s problems in a profound way, but the Hallmark movie ending took away what could’ve been a much more powerful message. 

VERDICT: 📚📚📚/5

SPOILERS BELOW:

I could handle Bella’s cancer diagnosis. I wasn’t expecting a cancer story, but I thought Serle handled it with care despite the fact that it also felt like killing off Bella was the only way to make her plot work.

The fact that the apartment ended up being an apartment that Bella got for Dannie was weird, especially because she got the apartment for Dannie before Bella knew she was dying…? And before Dannie broke up with David?

The whole backstory of Bella’s mother telling Dannie that she knew they were destined to be best friends so she enrolled Bella in Dannie’s school was so weird and unnecessary. 

Having Dannie’s little brother die and then having Bella die was a little much, like somehow the brother’s death was supposed to foreshadow Bella’s.

And, of course, having Dannie and Aaron’s relationship actually be a weird one-time stand brought on by grief from Bella’s death…yikes. That didn’t sit right with me at all. 

Finally, the very end. Oh boy. With some suspended disbelief, I could deal with everything else. But the fact that Dannie feels weird about getting with Aaron because of Bella, but then gets together with Bella’s oncologist…That was such a cheap ending. And unfortunately, the ending of a book is what sticks with you.

Our Favorite Books of 2019

Happy New Year’s Eve! And what a year it’s been! Anna’s highlights were starting work full time, getting married, and adopting her dog! Alexis started her MFA program, got a short story accepted for publication, and adopted her cat! 

Here are some of our favorite books of 2019:

Anna:

The Glass Castle by Jeanette Walls

Small Fry by Lisa Brennan-Jobs

Normal People by Sally Rooney

We Are Okay by Nina LaCour

Long Live the Tribe of Fatherless Girls by T Kira Madden

The Witch Elm by Tana French

In the Woods by Tana French

Borne by Jeff VanderMeer

City of Ghosts by Victoria Schwab 

Burial Rites by Hannah Kent

The Goldfinch by Donna Tart

 

Alexis:

Children of Blood and Bone by Tomi Adeyemi 

The Wildlands by Abby Geni 

Airborn by Kenneth Oppel

The Book of Dreams by Nina George

A Court of Mist and Fury by Sarah J. Maas

The Scent Keeper by Erica Bauermeister 

Grim Lovelies by Meghan Shepherd

Etta and Otto and Russell and James by Emma Hooper

Gods of Jade & Shadow by Silvia Moreno-Garcia 

The Island of Sea Women by Lisa See

City of Ghosts by Victoria Schwab

Florida by Lauren Groff

The World That We Knew by Alice Hoffman

 

Here’s to a great 2020!

 

Anna’s September Reading Wrap up

Anna: It’s the end of September! The leaves are officially starting to change, and it was cool enough today to break out my boots! It’s supposed to be 90 degrees on Wednesday, but I’m still embracing fall to its fullest! Here’s what I read this month:

5 stars:

The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls

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4 stars:

The Wise Man’s Fear by Patrick Rothfuss

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Bloomland by John Enlehardt

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3.5 stars

California by Edan Lepucki 

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3 stars:

Eden by Andrea Kleine

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The take away from this month’s wrap up is that if you haven’t read The Glass Castle, you need to. There will be a review coming soon! What did you read this month?

Library/Library Sale Haul

Anna: Happy Saturday, bookish friends! Here’s my library/library sale haul from this morning. My currently reading pile is about to get a whole lot bigger!

Disappearing Earth and Mostly Dead Things are long-awaited, very-anticipated holds. I have high expectations!

I’m stocking up for My Harry Potter re-read. I grew up reading my family’s copy of Order of the Pheonix which is completely falling apart and now bound together by tape. I snagged this copy for 50 cents! 

One of my current reads is The Glass Castle by Jeanette Walls, so when I saw another book by her I couldn’t resist. I’m captivated by her writing and excited to try some of her fiction!

Have you read any of these? Check them out!

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In the Woods and mood reading!

Anna: It’s finally (slowly!) feeling a bit more like fall! 

As cooler weather approaches, I’ve been in the mood for crime fiction. This is the second Tana French novel I’ve read in a month. The first in her Dublin Murder Squad series, In the Woods follows Detective Bob Ryan and his partner Cassie Maddox as they investigate the murder of a twelve-year-old girl found dead in the woods…the same woods where Ryan’s two childhood friends went missing years before. I didn’t enjoy this as much as The Witch Elm, but I’ve heard this series only gets better, and I think it’s one I could easily binge this fall.

Are you a mood reader?

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Review: Bel Canto by Ann Patchett

Alexis: Happy National Read A Book Day!

Yesterday, I finished reading Bel Canto by Ann Patchett. This was my first Ann Patchett read, and I’ve been meaning to read her books for a long time. 

Bel Canto was not my usual read. Here’s a quick summary: In an unidentified South American country, famous opera singer Roxane Coss is invited to sing at Mr. Hokosowa, a businessman’s, birthday party. During the party, a group of terrorists burst into the house and keep the entire party hostage. What ensues is an unusual hostage situation that goes on for months and months. 

This book is basically a giant character study. As a reader, you are launched into the minds of a multitude of characters. You learn about their families, their fears, and their interests in life. You learn about their inner lives.

The book itself is very slow moving. Plot wise, not much happens. About halfway through, the hostage dynamic changes, which leads to some interesting developments. 

To be honest, I was a little bored with the first half. Patchett spend pages and pages on characters that I wasn’t interested in learning about. But most of the book is about Gen, Mr. Hokosowa’s translator. He was by far my favorite character. It was really interesting to see life from his language-based perspective.  

My biggest issue with this book is the ending. After spending so much time learning about the characters, the book ends abruptly. I know Patchett probably did this on purpose, but still. As the reader, it was jarring. Despite the fact that I guessed the ending, it still felt melodramatic when it happened. With some much time dedicated to talking about opera, this book did tend to lean on the melodrama. 

And then there’s the epilogue. I could deal with the ending, but the epilogue was wholly unneeded, and it honestly made no sense. Unfortunately, the epilogue is the thing I was left with, so I still have its bitter aftertaste in my mouth.

Overall, I enjoyed some sections of this book, and found other sections very slow moving. It wasn’t my favorite, but I enjoyed the overarching message. 

VERDICT: 3 stars

Currently reading: Late Summer

Anna: Happy Monday from my two current reads!

I’m finally getting to the second book in the Kingkiller Chronicles series. I’m 300 pages in and completely swept up once again into Kvothe’s story! I’m finding that it mimics the first book maybe a little too closely so far, but I’m excited to see the direction it goes. Will Patrick Rothfuss ever finish the third book?

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I’m also loving We Are Okay, a novel that’s deep, character-driven, and introspective in a way that YA novels sometimes aren’t. I’m finding the slow pacing  a great contrast to an action-packed fantasy.

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