Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng

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Elena Richardson lives in a planned community that her grandparents helped start. But her plans are run amuck when Mia Warren, an artist, rents a house from Elena. Mia is also a single mom to Pearl, a teenager who hasn’t had enough roots to explore her autonomy. Ng tells a story that is absorbing, and quick to read. I also liked the exploration of motherhood. My best friend was shocked when I initially gave this book five stars. But I had to demote it – I found Elena to be a very unbelievable character.

Gwenamon says: A page-turner, but Elena is a poorly developed character

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Marjorie Morningstar by Herman Wouk

marjorie

Two things fuel Marjorie: she wants to be an actress and she’s in love with Noel Airman. Wouk is a master and he does an amazing job of drawing you into Marjorie’s life as a young, Jewish woman in the 1930’s. I got totally wrapped up in this book and the characters, even though their choices often infuriated me with my current-day lens.

Gwenamon says: I loved Wouk’s writing much more than the story

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Pachinko by Min Jin Lee

pachinko

Sunja is born to loving and poor parents in a small Korean fishing village. As a teenager, she falls in lust with a married, Japanese yakuza. A minister offers her and her unborn child a new beginning in Japan as his wife. And what a beginning it is. Lee writes of the racism between Korea and Japan, and how it crept into the layers of everyday life. She also writes about love, war, regret, and history.

Gwenamon says: Yes!

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The Nix by Nathan Hill

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Samuel Andresen-Anderson is a failing college professor who’s addicted to a video game. His mother deserted him when he was a pre-teen, but current events bring her back into his life. I liked a lot of things about the first half of this novel – his childhood, the mom’s stories, his twin friends, and his description of teaching (because Laura Potsdam is an amalgamation of quite a few students whom I’ve experienced). But I couldn’t bear the pace of this book — so much attention is given to the minutiae of a video game or Periwinkle’s favourite ad, yet hardly any is given to Samuel’s reunion with his mom or her next departure. Also, I really disliked and thought it was unnecessary to stick Allen Ginsberg into the second half. Seriously? It’s like too many ideas (or posturing) are jam-packed in and not enough is explored.

Gwenamon says: It has a couple of good moments

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Heroes of the Frontier by Dave Eggers

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Josie runs from her life as a dentist, and decides to drive with her young son and daughter through the Alaskan wilderness. On Goodreads, this novel is dubbed as “a powerful examination of contemporary life”. Really?! I say it’s about a mom making bad decisions, overthinking, meeting interesting characters, and seeking redemption. I think I read the whole book because I wanted to see if they all survive. And although I didn’t like Josie, I always like Eggers’ writing. However, I’ve seen reader reviews that talk of his inaccuracies regarding Alaska. My son was a preemie (like the novel’s daughter) and Eggers gets those details wrong too. Think he could stand to do better research.

Gwenamon says: OK

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The Portable Veblen by Elizabeth McKenzie

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This is a quirky book that tells the love story of Veblen (who thinks a squirrel is trying to communicate with her) and Paul (her fiancĂ© and a neurologist who just took a job at the Department of Defense). Throw in her institutionalized father and hypochondriac mother, and his hippie parents and disabled brother. Many say this novel is laugh-out-loud funny. I didn’t find it that way, but thought it was charming and liked how the meatier theme of values was weaved in.

Gwenamon says: Decent

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The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot

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Skloot tells the fascinating and frustrating story of the first human cells (HeLa) ever grown in a lab. They were taken unknowingly from a black woman named Henrietta Lacks. We hear the tales of Henrietta, her cells, her family, and science as Skloot pieces everything together, from John Hopkin’s Hospital in the 1950’s to current laboratories.

Gwenamon: Incredible in scope and tenacity

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