American War by Omar El Akkad

In the year 2074, a civil war rips apart the United States of America. The North has prohibited the use of fossil fuels in the country to help preserve the environment and the South disagrees. American War by Omar El Akkad is thought provoking and horrifying at once in the way that it examines a second civil war and two deeply passionate and opposing sides.

At the center of this story is Sarat Chestnut, who was born in Louisiana. As the war builds, Sarat and her family are displaced and move to Camp Patience with other refugees. The tragedies she faced hardened her and drove her to make a tremendous impact in the war. While she’s the hero for one side, she’s another person’s villain. It interesting to think that one person could play both roles simultaneously.

American War explores themes of loyalty, revenge, pride, and what right and wrong means in capacity of war. This is a really well written book and I would like to read it again.

Into The Water by Paula Hawkins

A river runs through the town of Beckford and within that river, there’s The Drowning Pool. The pool lives up to its bleak name when a mother and a teenage girl are both found dead within the water’s depths one summer. There’s a large cliff above that leads to the question: Did they jump? Paula Hawkins’ latest release, Into The Water, shares the story of the women who’ve been lost to The Drowning Pool.

When Nel Abbott died, her daughter is left alone in a large creaking house with an estranged aunt who she’s never met. It turns out that Beckford, like many small towns, is filled with underlying connections and affairs. Throughout the book it seemed like half the town was looking for answers as to how these women died while the other half was keeping secrets.

My feelings about Into The Water are mixed. On the one hand, I was fascinated (and horrified) by the idea of The Drowning Pool and the myths that it’s a place where “troublemakers” are “taken care of.” The writing was infectious and I didn’t want to put the book down (similarly to Hawkins’ previous book, The Girl on the Train). On the other hand, the book is told from at least 10 different perspectives and all of the switching back and forth between characters took away from the depth of the story. I was lucky enough to attend an author event with Paula Hawkins a couple weeks ago and these alternating perspectives was an aspect of the book that she experimented with while writing.

Overall, I recommend reading Into The Water, but I also recommend having a pen and paper handy in order to jot down quick notes of each of the characters mentioned.

Standout quotes: 

“Beckford is not a suicide spot. Beckford is a place to get rid of troublesome women.”  

“It must take a strange sense of entitlement, I would have thought, to take someone else’s tragedy like that and write it as though it belonged to you.”

Hello, Sunshine by Laura Dave

When it rains, it pours and in Sunshine Mackenzie’s case, it’s pouring cats and dogs. Hello, Sunshine by Laura Dave shares the story of Sunshine Mackenzie, a celebrity chef with a huge social media following. She’s living the perfect life…until she isn’t. A mysterious hacker begins to leak Sunshine’s devastatingly personal secrets out for the world to see. Just like that, everything she had built begins to fall.

When it seems like things can’t get any worse, Sunshine returns to her hometown and the doorstep of her estranged sister, Rain. Yes, you read that correctly, the sister’s names are Sunshine and Rain. I don’t want to give away any spoilers, but it’s not exactly smooth sailing from there for Sunshine.

While there were portions of the story that I thought were cheesy (starting with the sister’s names), I was really interested in the way Laura Dave examined the idea of living a “curated” life. During a time when social media rules all and sucks up so much of our time, we’re seeing people not only share, but share content intended to make their lives look a certain way. Is it possible to share authentically? If anything, Hello, Sunshine is a conversation starter. 

I enjoyed Hello, Sunshine – it’s a quick read that’s great for long summer days!

Standout Quote:

“‘Did it ever occur to you that if you weren’t living in fear of other people’s opinions of you, no one would have the power to take anything away?'”

The Twelve Lives of Samuel Hawley by Hannah Tinti

Sometimes you read a book that feels completely separate from and relevant to your life at once. The Twelve Lives of Samuel Hawley by Hannah Tinti is that novel for me. This father-daughter story stars the gun-toting Samuel Hawley and his daughter, steel-toe boot-wearing Loo. Despite their rough exteriors, the duo charmed me.

Loo and her father have been on their own for as long as she can remember, her mother gone before she could walk. Moving from motel to motel, they have never stayed in one place for long. One day though, Sam decides that Loo deserves a “normal” childhood and takes her to Olympus, Massachusetts, the town where Loo’s mother grew up. As Loo gets older, she learns more about her father’s dark past (a life on the run) and she’s not sure how to reconcile this information with the father she knows and loves.

Throughout the book, there are twelve chapters that describe the stories behind each of Sam’s bullet wounds. Sam is a character who has done bad (illegal) things, but does that make him a bad person? The Twelve Lives of Samuel Hawley made me stop and think.

I really enjoyed the book and definitely recommend it!

 

 

Standout quotes: 

“’But the past is like a shadow, always trying to catch up.’” 

“…Never quite understanding the reasons but feeling the cause must be some personal defect, some missing part of herself that the others recognized…” 

“Changing where you were could change how much you mattered.”

“Hawley took her face into his hands and kissed her forehead, her eyes and then her lips, slow and grateful and brimming with the hundreds of ways he wanted to touch her.”

“My God, Loo thought, these men do it to all of us.”

What You Don’t Know by JoAnn Chaney

“We’re all waiting to die aren’t we?” – What You Don’t Know

What You Don’t Know by JoAnn Chaney made my skin crawl. It’s one of those stories where almost every character is disturbed and quite interesting at the same time. It’s all very dark, but that makes for a good crime novel right?

Detective Hoskins and Loren are looking for a serial killer. They’re unlikely partners, but Hoskins is the only one who can put up with Loren. The book begins as they arrest Jackie Seever, a man who had done unspeakable things. Seven years later, people begin dying again in ways similar to Seever’s victims. The problem is that Seever is still in jail and detectives are stumped.

The book switches between quite a few points of view including detectives, reporters, and even the wife of the serial killer. Everyone is a suspect and as the story moves forward, some of them move further from reality.

The pace of What You Don’t Know was a little slower than I would have liked, but I was intrigued by the dark story and twisted ending.

The Women in the Castle by Jessica Shattuck

In an interview with Harper Audio Presents (the podcast) Jessica Shattuck said that she hopes for readers to describe her book, The Women in the Castle, as compelling. I can confirm that it most definitely is. This story is told from the perspectives of three German women before, during, and after World War II. I’ve read a lot of books set during this time period and I was fascinated by the controversial points of view presented here.

“She was the last man standing, the decoy left holding the key.”

After the war ends, Marianne (who can be described as a “camp director” type) fulfills her promise to protect the wives and children of the men who participated in the Hitler assassination attempt. She finds two of these wives and their children and brings them to the abandoned castle that belonged to her husband’s family. The three women are very different and yet they compliment one another. They are left to recover after a brutal war and it turns out that all are not necessarily who they seem to be.

It was inspiring to see such determination during a terrible time. I really recommend The Women in the Castle, even to those who have already read many World War II based novels!

Bleaker House by Nell Stevens

If you could go anywhere in the world, all expenses paid, where would you go? Rome, Paris, and London all cross my mind. For Nell Stevens (who actually received this absurdly lucky opportunity through her fellowship), her destination is Bleaker Island where she will live alone for weeks on end.

Bleaker House by Nell Stevens is made up of her time on the island (in the style of journal entries), memories, and her fictional writing (including what she had originally set out to write on Bleaker Island). While I wouldn’t choose to spend three months on a dreary island, Nell’s choice was intriguing. There were quite a few points while reading when I was internally shaking my head at her – why didn’t she pack more food? Another book? But it’s entirely possible that she wanted to suffer a little bit for her art.

 Bleaker House is a slower paced novel, but it didn’t just feel like an extended diary. It’s interesting that she went to the island to write a fictional novel and ended with an entirely different book.

Above all else, reading Bleaker House motivates me to continue writing myself along with eating lots of fresh food, which weren’t available on Bleaker Island. I enjoyed this book because it’s different from what I typically read in both genre and pace.