What You Don’t know about Charlie Outlaw by Leah Stewart 

What You Don’t know about Charlie Outlaw by Leah Stewart 

Stewart, Leah 2018.03
Cover image included with permission from G.P. Putnam & Sons

Charlie Outlaw is a television celebrity who has problems. He’s said some extremely honest (and therefore embarrassing) things in an interview, angering the showrunner, his fans, and most of all his girlfriend Josie Lamar, who ends up dumping him over it all. Charlie decides to escape by going on a vacation on a far-away tiny island when he finds that he has real, serious problems, namely that he is kidnapped, unsure if he will ever make it out alive.

The book ensues with parallel narration, going back and forth between Charlie and Josie as they remember their past together and the current situations they both are in. Josie is also a celebrity, although her peak has come and gone, as she was the star of a huge cult show 20 years ago (I imagined her as Sarah Michelle Gellar from Buffy). This book has so many interesting insights on being a celebrity, from interreacting with fans, auditioning, the costs (literal costs, such as how much publicist and stylists charge), and the stress of fame, that I was convinced that Stewart was perhaps a celebrity I had never heard of. Turns out she’s not, but she did extensive research on sets, watching auditions, and interviewing casts and crew, but she could have fooled me. I loved learning about the insights of being an actor, the sincerity and practice of it all, as well as the techniques actors used to fulfill different role types. I have always been aware that acting is difficult, but I had never really considered how it is done or what that experience would be like, and putting myself “in the actor’s chair” was the best part of the novel for me. Stewart is also very good at thinking through emotions, showing the complex way each person feels and how that drives their decision making and reactions.

The story-line is very much character driven, so it’s good that both Charlie and Josie are extremely likeable and sympathetic, their back-stories tying into their current situation as they recall the highs and lows of their relationship. At first the book reminded me a lot of Maria Semple’s books, but then with the kidnapping the story-line turns, well a bit dark at points. While the take on celebrity is novel and very fresh, the story itself moves a bit slowly, doing a thorough job of really fleshing out the characters and their relationships with each other. I would recommend this to someone looking for a new take on a love story, with interesting, realistic, insightful and sympathetic characters, and definitely someone interested in life in Hollywood.

What You Don’t Know About Charlie OutlawWhat You Don’t Know About Charlie Outlaw by Leah Stewart

Published on: March 27, 2018

I read this as: A NetGalley ARC

The Great Alone by Kristin Hannah

The Great Alone by Kristin Hannah

Hannah, Kristin 2018.03
Cover image provided with permission from St. Martin’s Press

Leni Allbright, her mother Cora and father Ernt move to Alaska in 1974 after Ernt is bestowed a piece of land from his fellow Vietnam POW soldier who died in combat. The war has broken Ernt, who drinks heavily and is unable to control his violent outbursts and nightmares from undiagnosed PTSD. The family hopes that a change in scenery and wide open spaces will help him to heal before his anger is taken too far. When they arrive they are little prepared for the wild weather, and Leni begins to truly understand toxicity of her parents relationship. The local community is a great source of support and Leni finds roots and strength outside of her family. While her love of the wild land grows, the bonds of her family become more strained and dangerous, building to a breaking point and leaving devastation in its wake.

The description of Alaska, America’s last frontier with its mountains, water, animals, weather and sunshine (and lack thereof) were all beautifully done in this novel. The experience of living on the land, with its dangers and highs, really gave me the experience of what living in Alaska might be like; Hannah has first-hand knowledge, her family having lived there during the 1980s. Hannah is known for her engaging and heartbreaking prose, and this story hits on every mark, including a star-crossed love in the form of Matthew, the Sam to Leni’s Frodo, who hails from an affluent Alaskan family Ernt despises. Their friendship and eventual romance does not exactly help curb the danger Leni’s father poses, continually giving the reader the feeling of this cannot end well.

If you’ve read the Nightingale or Firefly Lane (Hannah’s most popular previous works), and are concerned that this will have as sad an ending as those two, don’t worry. While The Great Alone is heartbreaking and tear-inducing, its ending was hopeful, having many wrongs made finally right. This story includes a lot of domestic violence that was painful and angering to read about, but it also puts you in these people’s shoes, and reminds you that nothing is as easy or as clear-cut as it might seem from the outside. The characters were engaging, flawed, and interesting, combining with the beautiful descriptions these are truly the highlights of the book. I would recommend as a compelling family drama set in a beautiful and artfully described landscape, building slowly to create an emotionally powerful story that ultimately ends with a happy outcome.

The Great Alone by Kristin Hannah

Published on: February 6, 2018

I read this as: Hardback borrowed from a friend

Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng

Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng

Ng, Celeste 2018.03
Image included with permission from Penguin Press

Everyone in Shaker Heights was talking about it that summer: how Isabelle, the last of the Richardson children, had finally gone around the bend and burned the house down.

Izzy Richardson does not follow the rules, and this is a problem for her mother, Elena Richardson, born and raised in Shaker Heights, and life-long rule follower. The older three Richardson children have all fallen in line with the life prescribed by their mother and their community, but when single mother Mia Warren and her daughter Pearl move into the family rental property, the children begin to see all sorts of new possibilities.

Pearl quickly finds a place in the solidity of the Richardson household, where everything is planned, steady and organized, a life very different from the one she has lived with her artistic mother, who has moved them around the U.S. her entire life. Meanwhile Izzy latches onto Mia, who seems to recognize something in Izzy that her family has neither seen or understood. As their worlds begin to thread together, a local polarizing incident causes everyone to take sides, lines are drawn, and secrets begin to come out.

Today there are many set rules for how things should be done: do well in school, drink eight glasses of water a day, get regular haircuts, don’t have a child out-of-wedlock, don’t watch too much TV, the list goes on and on. Not that these are bad rules to follow, the problem lies with believing that anyone who doesn’t play along is wrong or has made a mistake, as Ng so eloquently summarizes:

One had followed the rules, and one had not. But the problem with rules… was that they implied a right way and a wrong way to do things. When, in fact, most of the time they were simply ways, none of them quite wrong or quite right, and nothing to tell you for sure what side of the line you stood on.”

The story also had some amazing insight on race, motherhood, and life as a minority in America. I would recommend this to someone looking for an insightful, deep, yet hopeful novel with a building pace, flawed characters who experience growth. If you were born in the early 80s you will probably enjoy the throwbacks to your youth as well, the novel is mostly set in the mid-late 90s.

Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng

Published on: September 12, 2017

I read this as: an eAudiobook from Audible

The French Girl by Lexie Elliott

The French Girl by Lexie Elliott

Elliott, Lexie 2018.03What would happen if you crossed How I Met Your Mother with What Lies Beneath, moved the story to England and remade it into a book? While that kind of sounds like a mess, these are the comparisons what I kept thinking while reading Lexie Elliott’s first novel.

The body of French beauty Severine has turned up ten years after her disappearance, and the last people to see her were a group of six college friends, who have all gone their own way over the last decade. The re-opening of the case starts to bring them all back together in ways they may or may not welcome, as each is forced to re-live the fateful night they last saw her alive. As secrets begin coming out about each of them, a clock starts ticking down in the rush to uncover the true killer, before someone else is framed for the crime.

This book is not a complex “whodunnit”, as there are only six suspects and many of the clues are known early on, however it kept me turning the pages to find out why they did it, and the details of the crime. The characters are all enjoyable, the story-line has an air of suspense without any cringe-worthy or gruesome moments, and the outcome is neat and clear. I recommend this for anyone looking for a : lite on scary suspense, non-gruesome murder mystery, thriller with good outcome.

The French Girl by Lexie Elliott

Published: February 20, 2018

I read this as: ARC from Netgalley

Women’s History Month Challenge

Women’s History Month Challenge

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March is Women’s history month so to honor my fellow women I’m only reading books by female authors this month. Here are the books I’m committing to reading in March, hopefully I am able to get to them all (all blurbs are from Goodreads)

The French Girl by Lexie Elliott, published 2.20.18 – They were six university students from Oxford–friends and sometimes more than friends–spending an idyllic week together in a French farmhouse. It was supposed to be the perfect summer getaway–until they met Severine, the girl next door. 

Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng, published 9.12.17 – Everyone in Shaker Heights was talking about it that summer: how Isabelle, the last of the Richardson children, had finally gone around the bend and burned the house down.

The Great Alone by Kristin Hannah, published 2.6.18 – Ernt Allbright, a former POW, comes home from the Vietnam war a changed and volatile man. When he loses yet another job, he makes an impulsive decision: he will move his family north, to Alaska, where they will live off the grid in America’s last true frontier.

The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas, published 2.28.17 – Sixteen-year-old Starr Carter moves between two worlds: the poor neighborhood where she lives and the fancy suburban prep school she attends. The uneasy balance between these worlds is shattered when Starr witnesses the fatal shooting of her childhood best friend Khalil at the hands of a police officer. Khalil was unarmed. 

What you don’t know about Charlie Outlaw by Leah Stewart, expected publication 3.27.18 – After a series of missteps in the face of his newly found fame, actor Charlie Outlaw flees to a remote island in search of anonymity and a chance to reevaluate his recent break-up with his girlfriend, actress Josie Lamar. But soon after his arrival on the peaceful island, his solitary hike into the jungle takes him into danger he never anticipated.

Ayiti by Roxane Gay, expected publication 6.12.18 – bestselling powerhouse Roxane Gay, Ayitiis a powerful collection exploring the Haitian diaspora experience. Originally published by a small press, this Grove Press paperback will make Gay’s debut widely available for the first time, including several new stories.

The Widows of Malabar Hill by Sujata Massey, published 1.9.18 – Bombay, 1921: Perveen Mistry, the daughter of a respected Zoroastrian family, has just joined her father’s law firm, becoming one of the first female lawyers in India. Armed with a legal education from Oxford, Perveen also has a tragic personal history that makes her especially devoted to championing and protecting women’s rights.

I’ve got a few of these on hold at the library and I’m relying on them coming in the next few weeks, so keep your fingers crossed for me that I get them soon! If you’ve read any of these let me know what you think, or read along with me and we can chat about them.

“Feminism isn’t about making women strong. Women are already strong. It’s about changing the way the world perceives that strength.” —G.D. Anderson

The Philosopher’s Flight by Tom Miller

The Philosopher’s Flight by Tom Miller

Miller, Tom 2018.02The Philosopher’s Flight creates an alternate history where Emperical Philosophy (which looks very much like magic), is practiced and taught as regularly as Geometry or French, its use ranging from growing larger tomatoes to gruesomely murdering ones enemies. It’s also mainly practiced by women: in the matriarchy of Emperical Philosophy men are treated as not-quite-as-capeable and are not allowed the same opportunities or to move up the ranks with the same ease as their female counterparts. Hmm, this seems familiar…

The novel is set in the midst of World War I, and our narrator is Montana teenager Robert Weekes. His mother was well-known for her daring bravery for flying wounded soldiers from the front lines of battle for the Rescue and Evacuation (R&E) Department of the US Sigilry Corps, the Emperical Philosophy branch of the United States Armed forces. Robert dreams of joining the R&E, but doesn’t have a shot (remember the aforementioned matriarchy) until a chance of luck and a brush with death lands him with a scholarship to Radcliffe, a prestigious Boston College where the various branches of philosophy are taught. The book launches from there as Robert encounters many obstacles and enemies, but gathers support as he strives towards his goal.

This details and complex characters of this book are woven carefully with the creation of an alternate universe that is the same, yet not quite ours. This alternative US history makes it a good read for both lovers of fantasy as well as historical fiction. Miller subtly threads themes of war, violence, friendship, politics, and even feminism while keeping the overall tone of this book light and fast-paced. There is also a charming love story so this novel really does appeal to a wide-ranging audience.

The book’s use of magic to fight in real wars, mention of actual historical figures, and creation of a complex form of magic reminded me a lot of “Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norell“, although at 400 pages it is long, but not quite as a long as Susanna Clarke’s 2004 volume. The Philosopher’s Flight is in the works for a sequel, which is a well-deserved opportunity for first time novelist Tom Miller, and a treat for his readers.

The Philisopher’s Flight by Tom Miller

Published on: February 13, 2018

I read this as: a library book

The Immortalists by Chloe Benjamin

The Immortalists by Chloe Benjamin

Bejamin Chloe 2018.02I cannot think of a way to begin this post without a morbid thought so I’ll just come out and say it: this book is about death. Not just about the end of life, but life itself, and how would you spend it if you knew when your last day was coming. The four Gold siblings seek out a fortune-teller in 1969, who tells each of them the day they are going to die. The rest of the book is how each of them live with this knowledge, both in denial and obsessed with it, knowing their last day changes their courses and behavior, or was that how it was always meant to be?

I believe that while we see things as linear, with time progressing from beginning to end, our souls live outside of the dimensions of time, so that in a way, everything is always occurring. This gives me peace when loved ones have passed, I believe that somehow, our happy moments never leave us and somewhere they live on (my husband calls these my “hippie thoughts”, but hey, like I said it gives me peace). Of course, if everything is always occuring, that means that the date of death is already set, and there’s really nothing we can do to change it. The Immortalists is written with a similar premise, with each character continuing to their last day, even though the reader and the characters keep wondering if there is anything they can do that will alter it:

‘What if I change?’ she asked the fortune teller, all those years ago, sure that knowledge could save her from bad luck and tragedy. ‘Most people don’t,’ the woman said.”

When I started this book I thought it would have a bit of magical realism, but aside from the fortune telling, it is set firmly in reality; there is no whimsy in this book, I don’t even think there was one joke. As one could expect in a book about death, there is a good amount of heartache in this story, but the writing was beautiful and I think Benjamin did a good job of showing how each sibling felt and how that impacted their decision-making. This book is also about life, as each sibling chooses to spend it quite differently, and about family and sibling relationships, and Jewish culture. I would recommend it to anyone looking to read a strong piece of literary fiction or someone who enjoys philosophical questions of fate and destiny.

The Immortalists by Chloe Benjamin

Publication Date: January 9, 2018

I read this as: an audiobook from Audible