The Red Labyrinth, by Meredith Tate (Review)

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The Red Labyrinth
by Meredith Tate

Genre: YA, Fantasy

Length: 352 Pages

Release date: June 4, 2019

Publisher: Flux

Synopsis: 

The massive labyrinth was built to protect Zadie Kalver’s isolated desert town. Unfortunately, living in the maze’s shadow makes her feel anything but safe. Even without its enchanted deathtraps and illusions, a mysterious killer named Dex lurks in its corridors, terrorizing anyone in his path.

But when Zadie’s best friend vanishes into the labyrinth-and everyone mysteriously forgets he exists- completing the maze becomes her only hope of saving him. In desperation, Zadie bribes the only person who knows the safe path through-Dex-into forming a tenuous alliance.

Navigating a deadly garden, a lethal blood-filled hourglass, and other traps-with an untrustworthy murderer for her guide-Zadie’s one wrong step from certain death. But with time running out before her friend (and secret crush) is lost forever, Zadie must reach the exit and find him. If Dex and the labyrinth don’t kill her first.

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My thanks to NetGalley and Flux for sending me an ARC of this book in exchange for an honest review. All opinions are my own and are not influenced by the publisher. 

“People are more than the worst things they’ve ever done.”

Oh, gosh, this book had so much potential. There’s something so terribly frustrating about a fantasy novel with an interesting concept but paper-thin world-building. The world Zadie inhabits is intriguing, but seriously lacking in development. Zadie lives in a small town surrounded by a massive and ominous labyrinth. The town’s Leader lives in a remote mansion inside the labyrinth, seriously isolated from the people he’s meant to be leading and protecting, which doesn’t seem ominous at all to anyone, for some reason. Also, there’s Absolutely Nothing beyond the labyrinth beyond a total wasteland (according to Dear Leader), and no one really questions this much, either.

I’m not necessarily opposed to stories about brainwashed populations revering an undeserving leader; certainly this can be portrayed convincingly… but the dynamic here feels very odd. The Leader’s characterization of the outside world is accepted at face value despite the dismal conditions in Trinnea, but it doesn’t seem like there’s a cult-like level of devotion to the Leader which would make sense of this wholesale acceptance. Particularly among the “blanks” like Zadie, who are treated as second class citizens in every possible regard, one would expect more skepticism and resentment than is really seen in the story.

And, goodness, the character arcs. The two major male characters have painfully predictable developments from start to finish. (Minor spoilers ahead, I guess, but really it’s painfully obvious very early on that this is how things will develop.) Zadie has a huge crush on her best friend, Landon, and it’s obvious to everyone except the two of them that the feeling is mutual. (This is the friend the blurb mentions disappearing into the labyrinth.) Zadie has to rely on Dex, a ruthless killer and “devil of Trinnea,” to lead her to the center of the labyrinth if she has any hope of helping Landon.

Dex, of course, turns out to be a bad boy with a heart of gold who obviously just needed Zadie to bring out the good in him. (Ugh.) This leaves Landon on the outs, and since the good guy always has to get the girl, it turns out that Landon was a secret villain all along. Because of course he was.

The whole concept of the journey through the labyrinth was fun, but I wanted more from it. The trials felt a bit underwhelming and it always felt like the stakes could be a lot higher than they were. In one stage of the labyrinth, for example, Zadie has to give up her most treasured memory in order to get through. This could have been such a poignant moment were it not for the fact that Zadie feels rather under-developed as a protagonist.

Finally, the ending feels very rushed and abrupt, and the main focus there is clearly trying to set up a sequel. Unfortunately, given the lackluster opening of this story, I don’t think I’ll be able to stick around long enough to get a real conclusion.

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Thank you for reading! Who is your favorite author in terms of world building and why? Let me know in the comments!

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WWW Wednesday 05/22/2019

Welcome to another WWW Wednesday! This meme is hosted by Taking on a World of Words. To participate, just answer the following three questions:
What are you currently reading?
What did you recently finish reading?
What do you think you’ll read next?

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I’m currently reading…

readingBad Blood: Secrets and Lies in a Silicone Valley Startup
by John Carreyrou
This is a nonfiction book about Elizabeth Holmes and her infamous startup, Theranos. It’s exactly as wild and weird as you think it is.

The Red Labyrinth
by Meredith Tate
(Review copy provided by NetGalley.)
This is a YA fantasy novel. It has a pretty interesting concept, but it feels very YA.

The Plot to Cool the Planet
by Sam Bleicher
(Review copy provided by the publisher.)
I’ve kind of stalled out on reading this one. I need to get back to it.

I recently finished reading…

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Everything I Never Told You
by Celete Ng
Full review to come! I’d been meaning to read this for ages. I read Little Fires Everywhere when it came out, and that was my first Celest Ng book. Everything I Never Told You is kind of a family drama told in two separate timelines, detailing the events leading up to a young girl’s death and the aftermath.

The Radium Girls
by Kate Moore
Full review here. This is a nonfiction book about the medical and legal struggles of a group of women who worked with radium in factories around the time of the first world war.

How We Disappeared
by Jing-Jing Lee
Full review here. This is a WWII historical fiction novel with several different point of view characters; it takes place partially during WWII and partially in the year 2000, and the story focuses on Japanese occupied Singapore.

The Seven or Eight Deaths of Stella Fortuna 
by Juliet Grames
Full review here. This is another historical fiction novel which takes place during WWII, but it focuses largely on other things. The main character, Stella, is a young girl when her family immigrates to America from Italy. The narrator is a modern woman who is a member of Stella’s family, and the novel is presented as her best attempt to piece together their family history.

Up next…

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The Space Between Time

Charlie Laidlaw
(Free review copy provided by the publisher.)
There are more stars in the universe than there are grains of sand on Earth…

Emma Maria Rossini appears to be the luckiest girl in the world. She’s the daughter of a beautiful and loving mother, and her father is one of the most famous film actors of his generation. She’s also the granddaughter of a rather eccentric and obscure Italian astrophysicist.

But as her seemingly charmed life begins to unravel, and Emma experiences love and tragedy, she ultimately finds solace in her once-derided grandfather’s Theorem on the universe.

The Space Between Time is humorous and poignant and offers the metaphor that we are all connected, even to those we have loved and not quite lost.

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What are you reading this week? Any thoughts on the books listed in this post?  Please feel free to discuss or share WWW links in the comments!

 

The “Pancake” Book Tag

The Paperback Piano tagged me to participate in this tag!

Here are the rules for the tag:

  • Link back to the original creator in your post.
  • Feel free to use any of my pancake graphics in your post, or create your own!
  • Tag 5 other people at the end of your post, and let them know you’ve tagged them.

So let’s just jump into this! 🙂 pancake-book-tag-1.png

“Two weeks later, I wore a coat to school for the first time that year. Fall had made its presence known in the form of wet, earthy smells and shivering tree limbs shedding leaves in various shades of exotic cat. I walked to school that morning, listening to the crisp sounds that punctuated each one of my footfalls and the honks of geese flying overhead. I found it strange that there could be so much beauty in the death of all these living things. Maybe it was only beautiful because we knew they would be resurrected next spring. I don’t think I would enjoy fall quite as much if I knew there was an eternal winter to follow.” 

Beasts of Extraordinary Circumstance, by Ruth Emmie Lang

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7235533Shallan Davar from the Stormlight Archive books, by Brandon Sanderson.

“You have quite the clever tongue on you!”
“I’ve never actually had someone’s tongue on me,” Shallan said, turning a page and not looking up, “clever or not. I’d hazard to consider it an unpleasant experience.”
“It ain’t so bad,” Gaz said.” 

“The only time you seem honest is when you’re insulting someone!”
“The only honest things I can say to you are insults.” 

Shallan is a treasure and she’s truly at her best when she is bickering with someone.

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“It does not do to dwell on dreams and forget to live.” 

The Harry Potter books are the ultimate comfort read for me. The Sorcerer’s Stone was the first book I remember absolutely falling head over heels in love with, and to this day it gives me the warm and fuzzies.

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“People think that intimacy is about sex. But intimacy is about truth. When you realize you can tell someone your truth, when you can show yourself to them, when you stand in front of them bare and their response is ‘you’re safe with me’- that’s intimacy.” 

The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugoby Taylor Jenkins Reid hit me so hard. I stayed up way too late to finish reading it the first time, and I cried like a baby when it was over. Evelyn felt so real to me and I was so emotionally invested in the story that it felt really hard to move on to another book after that.

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The Editorby Steven Rowley. I have to admit that I felt kind of lukewarm towards Rowley’s first novel, Lily and the Octopus, but this one was a treasure. The perfect blend of emotion and humor, it was just so cozy.

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Eleanor Oliphant! (Excuse the cameo from my chubby Wendy, but I’ve just realized I’ve never taken a “proper” bookstagram photo of this book.) If it hadn’t been for all the hype around this book, I would have dropped it like two chapters in. I’m so glad I didn’t. Eleanor wormed her way into my heart in a big way.

“If someone asks you how you are, you are meant to say FINE. You are not meant to say that you cried yourself to sleep last night because you hadn’t spoken to another person for two consecutive days. FINE is what you say.” 

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Not a lot of books surprise me, but The Silent Patient probably had my favorite twist of all time!

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“I used to think soul mates were two of the same. I used to think I was supposed to look for somebody that was like me. I don’t believe in soul mates anymore and I’m not looking for anything. But if I did believe in them, I’d believe your soul mate was somebody who had all the things you didn’t, that needed all the things you had. Not somebody who’s suffering from the same stuff you are.” 

I’m not big on romances in general, but I will say that the relationship between Daisy and Billy in Daisy Jones & The Six was a lot of fun.

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Okay, to be fair, I know the author didn’t intend for me to like the protagonist of Lookerbut it was seriously insufferable being in her head. The POV character has been recently left by her husband after a long struggle with infertility and she has become obsessed with an actress who lives in her neighborhood. She’s… all kinds of awful.

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The Gilded Wolves, by Roshani Chokshi! This book has a fairly large cast of major characters, and there’s diversity in terms of race, sexuality, and more. Also, it has a super fun heist story and a magic system. This book made my heart happy in all sorts of ways.

I know I’m supposed to tag other people to participate, but I always feel like people will feel pressured even if they don’t want to post it. 🤷 If anyone wants to participate, feel free to join in! 🙂

 

The Radium Girls: The Dark Story of America’s Shining Women, by Kate Moore


The Radium Girls
by Kate Moore

Genre: Nonfiction, History

Length: 497 Pages

Release date: April 18, 2017

Synopsis: 

The incredible true story of the women who fought America’s Undark danger

The Curies’ newly discovered element of radium makes gleaming headlines across the nation as the fresh face of beauty, and wonder drug of the medical community. From body lotion to tonic water, the popular new element shines bright in the otherwise dark years of the First World War.

Meanwhile, hundreds of girls toil amidst the glowing dust of the radium-dial factories. The glittering chemical covers their bodies from head to toe; they light up the night like industrious fireflies. With such a coveted job, these “shining girls” are the luckiest alive — until they begin to fall mysteriously ill.

But the factories that once offered golden opportunities are now ignoring all claims of the gruesome side effects, and the women’s cries of corruption. And as the fatal poison of the radium takes hold, the brave shining girls find themselves embroiled in one of the biggest scandals of America’s early 20th century, and in a groundbreaking battle for workers’ rights that will echo for centuries to come.

Written with a sparkling voice and breakneck pace, The Radium Girls fully illuminates the inspiring young women exposed to the “wonder” substance of radium, and their awe-inspiring strength in the face of almost impossible circumstances. Their courage and tenacity led to life-changing regulations, research into nuclear bombing, and ultimately saved hundreds of thousands of lives…

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The Radium Girls sat unread on my shelf for a ridiculously long time before The Girly Book Club chose it for the June selection and finally gave me an excuse to move it up on my TBR. This was so incredibly difficult to read at times, but I don’t think the importance of this story can be overstated. What really struck me over and over throughout this book was the blatant disregard for (and at times the outright denial of) women’s pain.

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A Woman Painting a Clock Face with Radium – 1932 (Daily Herald Archive/SSPL/Getty Images)

The ladies employed by Radium Dial suffered, in addition to the physical health issues related to radium poisoning, what I can only characterize as psychological torture. They were mislead about the safety issues  surrounding their work by the grossly negligent management over a long period of time, resulting in the ongoing exposure and subsequent creeping health issues. Radium Dial then denied any wrongdoing, insisting for years on end that there was no such thing as  radium poisoning, despite the existing scientific literature at the time unequivocally stating otherwise. They used every possible tactic to deny any liability, from claiming that their health issues predated their employment to denying  that they had any health issues at all.

Kate Moore’s deep respect for these women truly shines through in her telling of their stories. She notes in the post-script that, in trying to research the Radium Girls, she was able to find existing books, but these tended to focus on the legal elements or the scientific elements of the events. While these are certainly present in Moore’s book and they are necessary and interesting, there is a clear focus on these women as, first and foremost, people who lived, breathed, had hopes and dreams, and were deeply wronged all in the name of profit.

The Radium Girls brings to light an important time in history which helped open the door for sweeping reform in regards to workers’ rights and safety. The book contains endless food for though on topics such as bodily autonomy, workers’ rights, and patients’ rights… and it’s a timely and necessary reminder of the need to value people over profits.

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“And Grace Fryer was never forgotten. She is still remembered now—you are still remembering her now. As a dial-painter, she glowed gloriously from the radium powder; but as a woman, she shines through history with an even brighter glory: stronger than the bones that broke inside her body; more powerful than the radium that killed her or the company that shamelessly lied through its teeth; living longer than she ever did on earth, because she now lives on in the hearts and memories of those who know her only from her story.

Grace Fryer: the girl who fought on when all hope seemed gone; the woman who stood up for what was right, even as her world fell apart. Grace Fryer, who inspired so many to stand up for themselves.”

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How We Disappeared, by Jing-Jing Lee (Review)

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How We Disappeared
by Jing-Jing Lee

Genre: Historical Fiction

Length: 352 Pages

Release date: May 7, 2019

Publisher: Hanover Square Press

Synopsis: 

Singapore, 1942. As Japanese troops sweep down Malaysia and into Singapore, a village is ransacked, leaving only two survivors and one tiny child.

In a neighboring village, seventeen-year-old Wang Di is strapped into the back of a troop carrier and shipped off to a Japanese military brothel where she is forced into sexual slavery as a “comfort woman.” After sixty years of silence, what she saw and experienced still haunts her.

In the year 2000, twelve-year-old Kevin is sitting beside his ailing grandmother when he overhears a mumbled confession. He sets out to discover the truth, wherever it might lead, setting in motion a chain of events he never could have foreseen.

Weaving together two time lines and two very big secrets, this stunning debut opens a window on a little-known period of history, revealing the strength and bravery shown by numerous women in the face of terrible cruelty. Drawing in part on her family’s experiences, Jing-Jing Lee has crafted a profoundly moving, unforgettable novel about human resilience, the bonds of family and the courage it takes to confront the past.

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My thanks to Hanover Square Press and NetGalley for sending me an ARC of this book in exchange for an honest review. All opinions are my own and are not influenced by the publisher. 

How We Disappeared is a beautiful, heartbreaking historical fiction novel with an element of mystery. There are several different story lines woven together with different point-of-view characters, but the strongest part of the novel while, also perhaps being the most difficult to read, was Wang Di’s experience. Wang Di is taken from her family during WWII and forced into sexual slavery as an innocuously named “comfort woman.”

Jing-Jing Lee’s writing is beautiful and the character of Wang Di brings a personality to a very real tragedy that could otherwise feel quite distant and abstract in today’s day and age. Despite the plethora of WWII historical fiction, there seem to be comparatively few novels which acknowledge the horrific abuse which “comfort women” suffered, much less the lack of understanding these women would have received from their fellow countrymen after the war. Despite the reality that this was a situation of sexual slavery, Wang Di knows that she cannot expect sympathy, and people will treat her as if she consented and, in doing so, betrayed her country to the Japanese invaders. Lee has portrayed that heartbreak and internalization of shame flawlessly.

While Wang Di’s story was much more dramatic, 12-year-old Kevin definitely won me over as well. His grandmother’s deathbed confession turns his understanding of his family upside-down, and he is determined to solve the mystery without the aid of his father. While his story isn’t exactly lighthearted, it definitely provides a counter balance to Wang Di’s much darker storyline and feels like an adventure.

Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed How We Disappeared, and definitely recommend it to fans of historical fiction. I’ve seen it recommended to fans of Pachinko several times, and while I understand the comparison, I do think How We Disappeared has much better pacing (and it’s also about 150 pages shorter.) Jing-Jing Lee has brought an under-represented bit of history to life in this novel.

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Thank you for reading! Have you read How We Disappeared? Please feel free to share your thoughts in the comments!

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The Seven or Eight Deaths of Stella Fortuna, by Juliet Grames (Review)

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The Seven or Eight Deaths of Stella Fortuna 
by Juliet Grames

Genre: Historical Fiction, Cultural

Length: 464 Pages

Release date: May 7, 2019

Publisher: Ecco Press

Synopsis: 

In this stunning debut novel, a young woman tells the story behind two elderly sisters’ estrangement, unraveling family secrets stretching back a century and across the Atlantic to early 20th century Italy

For Stella Fortuna, death has always been a part of life. Stella’s childhood is full of strange, life-threatening incidents—moments where ordinary situations like cooking eggplant or feeding the pigs inexplicably take lethal turns. Even Stella’s own mother is convinced that her daughter is cursed or haunted.

In her rugged Italian village, Stella is considered an oddity—beautiful and smart, insolent and cold. Stella uses her peculiar toughness to protect her slower, plainer baby sister Tina from life’s harshest realities. But she also provokes the ire of her father Antonio: a man who demands subservience from women and whose greatest gift to his family is his absence.

When the Fortunas emigrate to America on the cusp of World War II, Stella and Tina must come of age side-by-side in a hostile new world with strict expectations for each of them. Soon Stella learns that her survival is worthless without the one thing her family will deny her at any cost: her independence.

In present-day Connecticut, one family member tells this heartrending story, determined to understand the persisting rift between the now-elderly Stella and Tina. A richly told debut, The Seven or Eight Deaths of Stella Fortuna is a tale of family transgressions as ancient and twisted as the olive branch that could heal them.

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My thanks to Ecco Press for sending me an ARC of this book in exchange for an honest review. All opinions are my own and are not influenced by the publisher.


“This is the story of Mariastella Fortuna the Second, called Stella, formerly of Ievoli, a mountain village of Calabria, Italy, and lately of Connecticut, in the United States of America. Her life stretched over more than a century, and during that life she endured much bad luck and hardship. This is the story how she never died.”

This book was an absolute dream. Let me get the negative out of the way first and say that the only thing that’s keeping me from rating it a full five stars is that the pacing sometimes felt a bit slow. That being said, the writing style was phenomenal and Grames really made these characters feel intimately real.

This novel is the life story and family history of Stella Fortuna, with a series of near-death instances providing the backbone of the plot. Stella was born in a rural Italian village about a hundred years ago. Her father is about as useless as can be, but her mother loves her dearly and Stella is fiercely protective of her younger sister, Tina (at least when they are young.) The story follows the family from their origins in Italy to the end of Stella’s life in the US, long after her family emigrates on the cusp of WWII.

This may sound odd, but one of my favorite things about this book was Grames’ choice of narrator; the book is told from the point of view of a descendant of Stella. The narrator’s voice is understated for most of the book, but there are moments when her personality shines through, and I think telling the story from the point of view of one of Stella’s distant family members was a perfect choice. She is distant enough from the events of the story that she doesn’t seem to have a vested interest in skewing her telling, but she is close enough to Stella as a person that there’s a real sense of emotional connection.

Grames explores Stella’s difficult transition in America so convincingly. Dragged across an ocean by a father she never even loved, Stella feels cut off from a vital part of herself. What was supposed to feel like a new beginning simply leaves her feeling unmoored, and it’s not long before her parents are rushing to marry her off. Having grown up witnessing her father’s treatment of her mother, the very last thing Stella wants is a husband.

I spent a lot of time reading this book thinking of how different things would have been for Stella had she been born in another generation or another place. Living in that time period and having the extra pressure as an immigrant to fall in line with what’s considered “acceptable” behavior for a woman, there’s a great tragedy in knowing that in another time, Stella could have lived the life she wanted without scrutiny.

The Seven or Eight Deaths of Stella Fortuna is a lovely novel and an excellent choice for those who enjoy reading historical fiction and family sagas.

Content warnings: rape, sexual abuse of children

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Thank you so much for reading! Let’s talk in the comments! Tell me about a novel you love that follows the main character’s entire life story.

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WWW Wednesday 05/08/2019

Welcome to another WWW Wednesday! This meme is hosted by Taking on a World of Words. To participate, just answer the following three questions:
What are you currently reading?
What did you recently finish reading?
What do you think you’ll read next?

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I’m currently reading…

CaptureThe Seven or Eight Deaths of Stella Fortuna
by Juliet Grames
(Copy provided by publisher)

This novel is the story of Stella Fortuna, her childhood in an Italian village, and making a new life in the US as her family immigrates on the cusp of WWII. Lisa See calls it the “quintessential American immigrant story.” Grames’ writing is so lovely and particularly impressive for a debut novel!

The Plot to Cool the Planet
by Sam Bleicher
(Copy provided by publisher)

This is a weird one to categorize… It has some mystery and science fiction elements. The book begins with the murder of an inconveniently outspoken climate change scientist. I’m not quite sure what I think about it yet.

I recently finished reading…

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Shout, by Laurie Halse Anderson
I think most people have read Anderson’s novel, Speak, at some point in their lives. (If you’re not familiar with it, it’s a young adult novel about a young girl in high school struggling with the aftermath of a sexual assault. Read it. Really.) Shout is a book of poetry that shares a lot of thematic elements with that novel. I don’t do full reviews of poetry on this blog, because it feels even more subjective than reviewing a novel and I don’t like that, but I do highly recommend this book. (Content warning for sexual violence, obviously.)

Lili de Jong, by Janet Benton
This is a historical fiction novel about a young woman who finds herself in the unfortunate position of being pregnant and unwed in 1883. She goes to a home for unwed mothers with the intention of giving her baby up for adoption once she is born, but Lili finds herself unable to do so. It’s a really lovely novel about love, resilience, and injustice.

Middlegame, by Seanan McGuire
(Copy provided by NetGalley.) You can read my full review hereMiddlegame is a seriously fun adult fantasy novel about two young almost-twins who were made, not born, and about the dark forces that threaten them.

Shrill: Notes from a Loud Woman, by Lindy West
Lindy West has packed this essay collection with a balance of humor and vulnerability. West has never been quite what the world wanted her to be, from her time as a painfully shy and awkward kid to an outspoken, large woman. She’s open about her insecurities, but seems to have largely overcome them. I really loved this essay collection.

Looker, by Laura Sims
This is categorized as a thriller; a lot of other reviewers have pointed out that the label doesn’t feel quite right, and I’m inclined to agree. Looker follows the downward spiral of a professor who has recently been left by her husband. She is obsessed with her neighbor, an actress, and her seemingly perfect life. It’s a really odd book, and it was disconcerting spending time in the head of such a venomous POV character. (Content warning for harm to animals.)

The Girl He Used to Know, by Tracy Garvis Graves
I don’t read much romance, but I was lucky enough to meet the author of this at a recent book signing, so I decided to give it a shot. I’m glad I did. This is a super sweet love story about second chances. The main character, Annika, is on the autism spectrum, and the way that impacts her life features heavily in the story. The main narrative is about Annika and her college sweetheart, Jonathan, rekindling a romance after losing touch for years.

Up next…

42550681How We Disappeared
by Jing-Jing Lee
(copy provided by NetGalley)

Singapore, 1942. As Japanese troops sweep down Malaysia and into Singapore, a village is ransacked, leaving only two survivors and one tiny child.In a neighboring village, seventeen-year-old Wang Di is strapped into the back of a troop carrier and shipped off to a Japanese military brothel where she is forced into sexual slavery as a “comfort woman.” After sixty years of silence, what she saw and experienced still haunts her.In the year 2000, twelve-year-old Kevin is sitting beside his ailing grandmother when he overhears a mumbled confession. He sets out to discover the truth, wherever it might lead, setting in motion a chain of events he never could have foreseen.Weaving together two time lines and two very big secrets, this stunning debut opens a window on a little-known period of history, revealing the strength and bravery shown by numerous women in the face of terrible cruelty. Drawing in part on her family’s experiences, Jing-Jing Lee has crafted a profoundly moving, unforgettable novel about human resilience, the bonds of family and the courage it takes to confront the past.

jennabookish

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What are you reading this week? Any thoughts on the books listed in this post?  Please feel free to discuss or share WWW links in the comments!