Mini Reviews: Now My Heart Is Full by Laura June and The Space Between Us by Thrity Umrigar

Now My Heart Is Full by Laura June

My Rating: ? / 5 stars (This book was a DNF for me.)

Verdict: Buy Borrow Bypass

Synopsis (from Goodreads):

Laura June’s daughter, Zelda, was only a few moments old when she held her for the first time, looked into her eyes, and thought, I wish my mother were here. It wasn’t a thought she was used to having. Laura was in second grade when she realized her mother was an alcoholic. As the years went by, she spiraled deeper, becoming borderline abusive, and by the time of her death a few years before Zelda’s birth, the two had drifted apart entirely.

In Now My Heart Is Full, Laura June explores how raising her daughter forced her to come to terms with her own mother’s tragic legacy and recognize the connective tissue that binds together the three generations of women. She also confronts the complicated place that women’s drinking often occupies and interrogates the culture of drinking that surrounds our ideas of motherhood, reflecting on her own decision not to drink.

In beautiful and irreverent prose, she describes how coming to grips with the fact that Zelda would never know her grandmother, while trying to be the best mother she could be, forced her to reevaluate her own mother, who tried her best to raise her children while struggling with addiction. By confronting the day-to-day frustrations of new motherhood she exposes how, even a generation later, we still do not have the language to fully discuss the change that a woman undergoes when she becomes a parent. And only by experiencing the pain and joy of it herself is she able to make peace with her mother’s memory at last and find that, to her surprise, the two have more in common than she ever knew.

My Thoughts:

As mentioned above, I did not finish this book. I read around 50 pages before calling it quits. There was just something about the writing style that wasn’t grabbing me, leaving me disinterested. I even tried setting the book down for two days before trying again. This is the sort of memoir that I would normally really enjoy, which is the reason I’m sharing these few thoughts here. I didn’t read enough of the book to give a full review, but I was very underwhelmed by what I did read. I would not recommend this book.

Publisher: Penguin Books

Genre: memoir

Page Count: 272

ISBN: 0143130919

Available here from IndieBound.

The Space Between Us by Thrity Umrigar

My Rating: 3 / 5 stars

Verdict: Buy Borrow Bypass

Synopsis (from Goodreads):

Set in modern-day India, it is the story of two compelling and achingly real women: Sera Dubash, an upper-middle-class Parsi housewife whose opulent surroundings hide the shame and disappointment of her abusive marriage, and Bhima, a stoic illiterate hardened by a life of despair and loss, who has worked in the Dubash household for more than twenty years.

My Thoughts:

Overall, I liked this book. The story is very well written and the language is often so beautiful, I would stop to reread lines. That being said, this book does not receive a higher rating from me for two reasons. One, being that this book is incredibly sad, and two, being that this story is nonstop heartbreak. Personally, I don’t mind when a book is sad, but I need some moments of levity to break things up. I need at least a few moments of hope to entice me to keep reading. Unfortunately, this book does not deliver. I would not recommend this book unless someone were very specifically looking for a sad story about two families in India.

Publisher: Harper Perennial

Genre: fiction

Page Count: 321

ISBN: 006079156X

Available here from IndieBound.

Have you read The Space Between Us? What novel set in India would you recommend? Any interest in Now My Heart Is Full?

I am an affiliate with IndieBound and as such, receive a tiny commission should you choose to click through any of the above links and purchase the book(s). Thank you for supporting A Word is Power!

Review: The Summer Wives by Beatriz Williams

My Rating: 3 / 5 stars

Verdict: Buy Borrow Bypass

Synopsis (from Goodreads):

New York Times bestselling author Beatriz Williams brings us the blockbuster novel of the season—a spellbinding novel of romance, murder, class, power, and dark secrets set in the 1950s and ’60s among the rarified world of a resort island in the Long Island Sound . . .

In the summer of 1951, Miranda Schuyler arrives on elite, secretive Winthrop Island in Long Island Sound as a naive eighteen year old, still reeling from the loss of her father in the Second World War. Although a graduate of the exclusive Foxcroft Academy in Virginia, Miranda has always lived on the margins of high society. When her beautiful mother marries Hugh Fisher, whose summer house on Winthrop overlooks the famous lighthouse, Miranda is catapulted into a heady new world of pedigrees and cocktails, status and swimming pools. Isobel Fisher, Miranda’s new stepsister—all long legs and world-weary bravado, engaged to a wealthy Island scion—is eager to draw Miranda into the arcane customs of Winthrop society.

But beneath the Island’s patrician surface, there are really two clans–the summer families with their steadfast ways and quiet obsessions, and the working class of Portuguese fishermen and domestic workers who earn their living on the water and in the laundries of the summer houses. Uneasy among Isobel’s privileged friends, Miranda finds herself drawn to Joseph helps his father in the lobster boat, but in the autumn he returns to Brown University, where he’s determined to make something of himself. Since childhood, Joseph has enjoyed an intense, complex friendship with Isobel Fisher, and has a catastrophe that will shatter Winthrop’s hard-won tranquility and banish Miranda from the Island for nearly two decades.

Now, in the summer of 1969, Miranda returns at last, as a renowned Shakespearean actress hiding a terrible heartbreak. On its surface, the Island remains the same–determined to keep the outside world from its shores, fiercely loyal to those who belong. But the formerly powerful Fisher family is a shadow of itself, and Joseph Vargas has recently escaped the prison where he was incarcerated for the murder of Miranda’s stepfather eighteen years earlier. What’s more, Miranda herself is no longer a naive teenager, and she begins a fierce, inexorable quest for justice to the man she once loved . . . even if it means uncovering every last one of the secrets that bind together the families of Winthrop Island.

My Thoughts:

Per usual, I enjoyed how Beatriz Williams used multiple characters and timelines to flesh out her story. The Summer Wives is slightly different from many of her other stories, in that the focus is primarily on one character and the narration alternates between two time periods in her life. And then we do occasionally hear from another character, but always from the same point in time. While I enjoyed reading so much from one person’s perspective, I prefer when the two timelines are more disparate, like in most of Williams’s other novels. But the overall story was interesting, and includes romance, murder, and theatre! The plot is pretty interesting throughout, despite some slow pacing at times. The last 50 pages or so are a wild ride, and I can honestly say I did not expect things to wrap up the way they did.

I really appreciated how Williams explores class dynamics and how the characters in The Summer Wives navigate these differences. The different generations handled these dynamics in their own ways, with the older adults demanding distance and safety and the younger adults wanting to shake things up, and desperately. Williams also notes how gender dynamics of the 1950s and 1960s intersect with class and race, and that no two people have the exact same options or paths before them.

I thought all of the characters in The Summer Wives were interesting and complex. My favorite character is Miranda, our protagonist. As a bookworm myself, I appreciated how much Miranda loved reading and performing. Once again, Williams crafted several great women lead characters in The Summer Wives. And I appreciate that Williams knows there are many ways to write strong women. The characters featured here are courageous, weak, outspoken, understated, violent, and cautious. That being said, I do wish a few more of the characters were more fleshed out during the 1969 timeline. I felt there wasn’t quite enough explanation as to why certain characters developed as they did, which left some of these characters feeling rushed and forced.

Wrap Up:

Overall, I enjoyed this book! It took me a few days to get into it, but once I did,I flew through the rest. Williams is great at writing historical fiction and adds just the right amount of details and atmosphere to place the reader right in the middle of the story. If you’ve enjoyed any of Williams’s previous books, or if you’ve been meaning to give her work a try, you’ll definitely enjoy this one.

This book is…

well-written

lush with detail

surprising

moving

full of unique characters

Publisher: William Morrow

Genre: historical fiction

Page Count: 384

ISBN: 0062660349

Available here from IndieBound.

Will you read The Summer Wives? What historical fiction book would you recommend?

I am an affiliate with IndieBound and as such, receive a tiny commission should you choose to click through any of the above links and purchase the book(s). Thank you for supporting A Word is Power!

Review: The Astonishing Color of After by Emily X.R. Pan

My Rating: 3 / 5 stars

Verdict: Buy Borrow Bypass

Synopsis (from Goodreads):

Leigh Chen Sanders is absolutely certain about one thing: When her mother died by suicide, she turned into a bird.

Leigh, who is half Asian and half white, travels to Taiwan to meet her maternal grandparents for the first time. There, she is determined to find her mother, the bird. In her search, she winds up chasing after ghosts, uncovering family secrets, and forging a new relationship with her grandparents. And as she grieves, she must try to reconcile the fact that on the same day she kissed her best friend and longtime secret crush, Axel, her mother was taking her own life.

Alternating between real and magic, past and present, friendship and romance, hope and despair, The Astonishing Color of After is a novel about finding oneself through family history, art, grief, and love.

My Thoughts:

Astonishing Color handles suicide and depression quite well. Leigh’s mother Dory was never written as being ‘broken’ or ‘at fault.’ She was receiving medical care and was supported by her immediate family. I was not a huge fan of the magical realism in this story but I think that’s more about a personal preference than anything else. I also wish that the secondary story, about Leigh and Axel’s changing relationship, wasn’t present. I read this as a story about loss and grief in one family. Each time Pan cut to a memory of Leigh and Axel the plot became disjointed. This storyline felt unnecessary to the central themes.

Leigh and her parents felt very real to me. Their family dynamic genuinely reflected a family that loved one another but also was unsure how to handle some shifting circumstances. It was very clear that Leigh was surrounded by people who loved her but also had their own ideas about what was best for her.

I really enjoyed learning so much about Taiwan and Taiwanese culture. Taiwan is not often a setting in books, particularly YA books, so this was a pleasant change. It was great to learn more about Taiwan through Leigh, who was getting to know more about her family and history for the first time. I also appreciated the frank depiction of being mixed race and the uncomfortable microaggressions faced on a frequent basis. As someone who is also mixed race, I recognized the racist and inappropriate questions, stares, and insults Leigh faced.

Wrap Up:

Overall, I liked this book but I wouldn’t read it again. I had a hard time connecting with the plot and the characters because of my own backstory. My mother died several years ago and I was unable to get on board with some of the magical realism in this story as a result. I did enjoy the colorful writing, exploration of a new culture, and the focus on mental health. I don’t think I would recommend this to someone who was young when their parent died, but otherwise I would recommend this book. It’s worth noting here that this book is incredibly well reviewed on Goodreads and I am clearly of the minority opinion.

This book is…

imaginative

colorful

slow-moving

full of magical realism

a coming of age story

This book contains content warnings for…

suicide

depression

Publisher: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers

Genre: young adult

Page Count: 472

ISBN: 031646399X

Available here from IndieBound.

Have you read The Astonishing Color of After? What book about refugees would you recommend?

I am an affiliate with IndieBound and as such, receive a tiny commission should you choose to click through any of the above links and purchase the book(s). Thank you for supporting A Word is Power!

Review: The Light We Lost by Jill Santopolo

My Rating: 3 / 5 stars

Verdict: Buy Borrow Bypass

Synopsis (from Goodreads):

He was the first person to inspire her, to move her, to truly understand her. Was he meant to be the last?

Lucy is faced with a life-altering choice. But before she can make her decision, she must start her story—their story—at the very beginning.

Lucy and Gabe meet as seniors at Columbia University on a day that changes both of their lives forever. Together, they decide they want their lives to mean something, to matter. When they meet again a year later, it seems fated—perhaps they’ll find life’s meaning in each other. But then Gabe becomes a photojournalist assigned to the Middle East and Lucy pursues a career in New York. What follows is a thirteen-year journey of dreams, desires, jealousies, betrayals, and, ultimately, of love. Was it fate that brought them together? Is it choice that has kept them away? Their journey takes Lucy and Gabe continents apart, but never out of each other’s hearts.

My Thoughts:

This book is difficult to review. I enjoyed aspects of it but also felt other parts of this book were blown out of proportion. The plot of this book and its overall premise are mediocre. Although many people lose their first love, I imagine that very few people are unable to let them go. Lucy’s immaturity and obsession with Gabe felt very unrealistic to me. Despite years passing and her eventual long term relationship with someone else, Lucy remains absurdly committed to Gabe. This choice by Santopolo felt like a slap in the face to anyone who has ever loved more than one person. It’s particularly bizarre to me that Santopolo preferred the Lucy/Gabe relationship over the Lucy/Darren one, despite Lucy and Gabe breaking up for very real and reasonable reasons. Absolutely none of these characters were perfect or very deserving of one another.

This book was needlessly long but somehow also very quick to read. To be quite honest, I skimmed the last fifty or so pages. I’d heard that the ending was quite the tearjerker, which I think affected how I read the ending. I went into this book knowing it had a sad ending and therefore could not be caught off guard by how this book ends. That being said, I thought the ending of this book was manipulative. Santopolo made unnecessary choices in order to make the ending as devastating as possible, despite the book now feeling like a soap opera.

What I did appreciate about this book was how Santopolo played out some difficult conversations between the main characters. Lucy struggled with how to balance her relationships with her career, how to focus on her dreams, and how to balance all of that with motherhood. For me, this was the most realistic and honest part of the book. No one is a pro at these types of conversations but they are, nonetheless, necessary to have.

Wrap Up:

Overall, I liked this book. I think I was in the right mindset to read it and appreciated some of the themes that Santopolo writes about. But I also did not think this book was worth the hype and was ultimately let down. If you’re looking for a very quick and easy to read book, look no further. Otherwise, I would not recommend this book.

This book is…

predictable

thought provoking

a quick read

manipulative

frustrating

Publisher: G. P. Putnam’s Sons

Genre: literary fiction

Page Count: 338

ISBN: 0735212767

Available here from Book Depository.

Have you read The Light We Lost? What book did you read this weekend?

I am an affiliate with Book Depository and as such, receive a tiny commission should you choose to click through any of the above links and purchase the book(s). Thank you for supporting A Word is Power!