Cherry by Nico Walker


I’m mystified that this made the New York Time’s list for Best Fiction of 2018. Really? Let me save you some time: A college drop-out joins the army after his girlfriend and fellow ecstasy taker, Emily, moves away. They then marry before he’s sent overseas. By the time they reunite, they’ve both become heroin addicts. Maybe the fact that Nico Walker wrote the book (with a lot of coaching from the sounds of it) while in jail makes it special. Or the fact that he served his country since he had few other options. What I do find remarkable is that he lived to tell his tale, which is extremely repetitive once he’s on heroin. Score, shoot up, repeat. His writing has some grisly stark moments, especially of his time in Iraq.

Gwenamon says: Readable, but not worth the hype

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The Great Believers by Rebecca Makkai


This is a captivating, moving story about the AIDS epidemic. The novel splits itself between two timeframes and characters. In the 1980s, we follow Yale Tishman in his career as a development director for a university’s art gallery, and in his relationships during the recognition of and fallout from AIDS. In the almost present day, we follow Fiona (the sister of Nico, one of Yale’s friends) as she travels to Paris to find her estranged daughter. I found Yale’s story to be the strongest of the two timeframes. There’s always a winner with different timeframes. This novel is so easy to read and so deeply affecting…at least for Yale’s story. Fiona’s story is weakened because her daughter isn’t developed as a character and an old friend reappears unexpectedly without much purpose. Or so it seems.

Gwenamon says: Well worth it

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An American Tragedy by Theodore Dreiser


This is the very long story of Clyde Griffiths’ demise, showing a very dark side to the American Dream. Full disclosure: I only read half of this tome. However, I was invested enough to care what happens. So I found a summary online. I know that the classics are often more detailed than today’s novels, but this still could have stood an edit. Griffiths’ downward spiral (and the reasons around it) didn’t need so much explanation.

Gwenamon says:  Decent, but it’s way too long

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We, The Survivors by Tash Aw


Having grown up in a Malaysian fishing village and served time for his crime, Ah Hock tells a journalist of how he came to commit murder. The writing is poignant and quite vivid. I’ll always remember the images created around a flooded house. The story also, brutally at times, traces the dividing line between the well off and the impoverished.

Gwenamon says: I didn’t love it, but I really liked it

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Boy Swallows Universe by Trent Dalton


I really liked this first novel by Dalton about a 12-year-old boy, Eli Bell, who has to navigate a world of crime as he grows up in a suburb of 1980’s Australia. This is a fantastic tale about family, crime, fate, and love. I came to appreciate this novel more when I listened to an interview with the author, who actually lived a similar life, complete with the red telephone.

Gwenamon says: Overwritten at times, but still well done

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The Friend by Sigrid Nunez


Maybe I missed something about this book? People seemed to really love it. I really liked parts of it. Those are the parts actually about the book’s purpose or claim: a woman’s best friend and mentor dies; as a result, she inherits his dog while coping with grief. Don’t get me wrong, there’s some great writing and I think I’ll check out some of Nunez’s other novels. But there’s a lot of meandering. The phrase “losing the plot” literally applies to this book. I’d say it could be broken into two novellas – one about writing (and the difficult life of a writer), and one about the dog.

Gwenamon says: Decent, but quite a hodgepodge

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The Testaments by Margaret Atwood


I think rereading “The Handmaid’s Tale” made me dislike this novel even more. It’s unbelievable that this won a “joint” Booker prize, and shows how the publishing machine and Atwood’s rank must have so much clout. I would have tossed this book aside, if it weren’t for (parts of) Aunt Lydia’s tale and the fact that I was reading this book for book club. “The Testaments” pales so in comparison to its lofty predecessor. “The Handmaid’s Tale” is literature. This is young adult pulp fiction. I’ll avoid spoilers and just say there are so many gaping holes in the plot. So many. And the tone of the two teenagers’ testaments is painful.

Gwenamon says: Too neat, predictable, and illogical. So disappointing!

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The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood


I was hesitant to re-read this novel since I remembered it fondly from its debut in my late teens. But I decided to at least try again, before I read “The Testaments.” And full disclaimer – I’m not an Atwood fan. This novel is incredible – the tone, the pacing, the subtlety, the tight plot. What a dystopian vision. I was sad for it to end.

Gwenamon says: A marvel

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There There by Tommy Orange


This novel.  It’s so well told. Each chapter introduces and weaves characters together in a a multigenerational story that’s tethered by each of them making their way to the Big Oakland Powwow. “There There” is about identity, culture, substances, fear, love, violence, hope, family, and reckoning.

Gwenamon says: Well done

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The Snow Queen by Michael Cunningham


This novel is about unambitious Barrett who can’t find love and sees a vision in the park one night. He lives with his older brother, Tyler, a tired musician who is hitting a wall whenever he tries writing a wedding song for his dying girlfriend, Beth. The three of them live together in Brooklyn. There’s little plot and lots of meandering days in this novel. It’s lack lustre except for Cunningham’s beautiful writing. But even that didn’t redeem this novel for me.

Gwenamon says: Meh

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