We’ll All Be Burnt in Our Beds Some Night by Joel Thomas Hynes

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This novel is narrated by the main character, Johnny, in his unique vernacular. The story begins with him waiting to go to trial for allegedly assaulting his girlfriend, Madonna, with a teapot. Johnny is very unlikeable. But that makes his odyssey to leave behind crime both darkly funny and stirring at times.

Gwenamon says: Probably not for everyone, but well done

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March by Geraldine Brooks

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I’m astounded that this novel won the Pulitzer. “March” has a really interesting premise; it follows the father of Louisa May Alcott’s “Little Women” during the American Civil War. On the plus side, much of the writing is very well crafted. But the father’s character? He’s a weak, philosophy-espousing man who lacks any self-awareness. And the mother is always flying into a rage. Together, they make it incredibly hard to believe that they could have ever conceived or raised the interesting characters from the original novel.

Gwenamon says: Short-sighted

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Before We Were Yours by Lisa Wingate

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Based on the true story of American child-trafficker Georgia Tann, this book is an easy and captivating read. When Avery Stafford returns home to help her father overcome health problems, she also discovers some discordant family facts. She’s compelled to look into their history and begins to uncover shocking surprises. I really enjoyed this novel, but I often didn’t like the writing, which I found very mainstream. Key facts are repeated unnecessarily, descriptions are sometimes hackneyed, and Avery’s love story is so predictable, I felt like I was being hit over the head each time it surfaced in the plot.

Gwenamon says: An easy-to-read page-turner

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Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck

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Steinbeck beautifully writes about two drifters, George and simple Lennie, who share an unusual, strong friendship and a dream to one day have their own land. They eventually find work on a ranch, but their time there is threatened by a man’s jealousy and Lennie’s strength.

Gwenamon says: Succinct and moving

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The Orphan Master’s Son by Adam Johnson

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This novel tells of Pak Jun Do’s (John Doe’s) epic life, inextricably tied to the North Korean government’s bizarre whims. While reading, I felt like I was along for the journey and often was as confused as a captor being interrogated. I loved Johnson’s writing style – he plops you into the thick of it, letting you get immersed into all of the dumbfounding communist layers as the story enfolds.

Gwenamon says: I quite loved it

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Peony in Love by Lisa See

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This novel tells of Peony who succumbs to lovesickness in the exact same way a character from a famous opera does. We then experience Peony’s afterlife. I wish this novel was half as good as See’s Snow¬†Flower and the Secret Fan. But this novel is stilted, even boring at times, and often the character becomes too self-aware and explanatory as a cop-out (or so it feels) to move things along. The only thing I found interesting about this book, which I really don’t know why I finished, is See’s research. I really enjoyed the afterword. She could have done so much more with her hard work.

Gwenamon says: Avoid

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Manhattan Beach by Jennifer Egan

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“Manhattan Beach” tells Anna’s tale, from when she’s constantly by her father’s side as a 12-year-old during the Depression to during WWII, when she works at NYC’s naval yard as the provider for her family, since her father had by then deserted them. It’s a tale of love, familial loyalty, feminism, war, and organized crime. I loved “A Visit from the Goon Squad” and wanted to love Egan’s first work of historical¬†fiction. But I didn’t. I found the fractured telling which worked so well for Goon Squad to be lackluster here, only reaping a reward at the very end. I also felt that Anna’s character wouldn’t have changed her mind about a crucial decision. However, I wholeheartedly appreciated Egan’s wonderful descriptions of emotion and memory.

Gwenamon says: Very good, just not great

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