Valencia and Valentine is a contemporary fiction debut from Suzy Krause that came out just a few days ago. The novel is described as quirky and charming and perfect for fans of Maria Semple, Graeme Simsion, Fredrik Backman and even Gail Honeyman — all of whom I’ve enjoyed. Naturally, with those comparisons, I was excited to have the opportunity to join the blog tour hosted by TLC Book Tours!
Mira T. Lee’s debut novel, Everything Here Is Beautiful, is a tough book to discuss—though we attempted to do just that for my last book club meeting. It was suggested by one of our members last year, shortly after it was released, and when it finally got chosen as our monthly pick, I was looking forward to reading it. It’s a story about sisters, about immigrants, about mental illness. It’s a raw and powerful debut that I can’t recommend enough.
The novel follows two Chinese-American sisters, Miranda the oldest and Lucia the youngest, in the years after their mother dies from cancer. Lucia is adventurous and full of life, and when it’s determined that she has schizoaffective disorder, Miranda does everything in her power to keep Lucia grounded and get her the help she needs.
When Etaf Rum’s A Woman Is No Man was shown as an option for the February Book of the Month, I didn’t hesitate to select it. The description of her debut novel ticked a lot of boxes for me. Rum takes us inside the lives of conservative Arab women living in America and leaves us gasping for air.
The novel is the story of three generations of Palestinian women — Deya, who is 18 and begrudgingly beginning to look for suitors; her mother, Isra, who desperately wants to find love, ultimately leaving her family in Palestine to marry a man living in Brooklyn; and Fareeda, Isra’s mother-in-law, who pressures Isra to bear sons and Deya to find a husband, even though both women want more for their lives than what is traditionally expected of them.
Joanne Ramos’ novel The Farm comes out on May 7, and I’m so excited that I was able to get an advance readers’ copy from NetGalley. Golden Oaks Farm, or the titular “Farm,” is a blissful paradise where women live during pregnancy to ensure they they deliver the healthiest baby in the safest environment. For nine months, the women are pampered with spa treatments, custom menus, and the best medical care. But these women are not allowed to leave the grounds, and they not even allows to keep the babies they carry.
These women are “hosts,” chosen and paid for by super-wealthy patrons who can’t or won’t have their babies themselves. For the hosts — mostly immigrants, becoming a surrogate opens up a world of possibility, but it’s not always an easy choice. Jane, a Filipina host, makes the decision to be able to better support her family, a daughter of her own and an elderly cousin, Ate. But it also means she will be leaving her newborn behind so she can bring someone else’s into the world.
When Delia Owens’ Where the Crawdads Sing was selected for Reese Withersoon’s book club, it became an instant must-read. Equal parts coming-of-age story, mystery, legal drama and love story, I can see why! I came by it through my first HealthTea Book Crate, in which I received a signed copy, and I was excited that it was selected as one of my recent book club reads.
Kya Clark lives in Barkley Cove, North Carolina, and has watched her family leave her one-by-one, until — at the age of 10 — she is left quite alone. As she grows up, Kya chooses to stay close to home, preferring to get her supplies from a small store on the docks, where she can also fill up her boat with gas, rather than venturing into town. This fierce independence earns her the nickname Marsh Girl.
Whereas years past have seemed to be filled with WWII-centric historical fiction, I don’t think I’ve read a single book about it this year — until The Alice Network. Kate Quinn’s novel was a recent book club selection, and I was excited about it because I also happened to have a newly-purchased used copy at home. Unfortunately, I waited too long to start the 500-page monster and was still 100 pages short when it came time for our book club meeting. Still, despite some spoilers during our discussion, I couldn’t wait to finish the story. (Don’t worry, there are no spoilers here!)
The Alice Network follows two storylines — one during WWI (the mid- to late-1910s) and the other just after WWII ends. Both feature uncertain women who find themselves, their strength and their courage over the course of the story. Eve Gardiner is a stuttering typist when she’s recruited to become a spy, part of the so-called “Alice Network,” and go undercover as a waitress in German-occupied France. Charlotte St. Clair, more often called Charlie, is an American who travels to Europe after WWII to take care of a “problem” and find her missing cousin.
My book club recently selected Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi, a book that was selected in one of my other book clubs last year. It’s a book that’s gotten a lot of attention and praise since its release, and though it has an appealing premise, I’ve not felt compelled to read it — until now. I didn’t read it last time, but I knew I couldn’t neglect it again. I dove right in and didn’t look back.
Gyasi’s sweeping novel is about two half-sisters separated at birth and their descendants. Effia and Esi are born in different villages in eighteenth century Ghana. They share the same mother but have different fathers and very different upbringings. Effia marries an Englishman and lives her life in a castle on the African country’s coast. Esi, however, is sold into slavery, passing through the castle’s dungeons on her way to America. Each chapter following their own focuses on an immediate descendent for generation after generation.
Lisa See’s historical fiction novel The Tea Girl of Hummingbird Lane is a family saga that begins in a remote mountain village in China in the late 1980s. Life there revolves around tradition and tea farming, until a stranger arrives, bringing a glimpse into the modern world — and a proposal that will transform all of their lives.
Interspersed with Li-Yan’s story, as she struggles against the traditions of her village and family but fully embraces the rituals and importance of tea in their culture, is the story of a young girl growing up in Los Angeles, searching for a key to her past. The story is full of heart, and the plot full of coincidence. Some of the village’s traditions were a bit hard to stomach, but I think Li-Yan’s personal rebellion against them made her more relatable, at least to me.
I absolutely loved Andy Weir’s The Martian. When I read it, I recommended it to anyone and everyone, and now that I blog, I’ve even included it on a few bookish lists (here and here). So, I was more than a little hesitant to pick up his second novel – hello, high expectations! – and managed to avoid it for about six months. That is, until Artemis was selected as our next read for one of my book clubs. I had no choice but to take the leap.
In Artemis, which is the only city on the moon in the 2080s, our main character Jasmine, or “Jazz,” is a porter who smuggles on the side to make extra income. When a regular client brings her an offer with a payday too good to pass up, Jazz’s life takes a dangerous turn.
I got the opportunity to read Annie Harnett’s novel Rabbit Cake recently when it was selected for my office’s Diversity Book Club, but it first grabbed my attention when it was recommended on a podcast as a book pairing for the classic To Kill a Mockingbird. Though nothing alike in tone or subject matter, I see the similarities in the wizened child narrators – Scout, in TKAM of course, and in this contemporary novel, 11-year-old animal-loving Elvis.
I found Annie’s story to be quirky but heartwarming. Elvis is a smart, curious little girl who wormed its way into my heart. We meet her shortly after the sudden death of her mother, who drowned in a sleepwalking accident. Scientifically-minded, Elvis decides to follow a mourning chart that is meant to help her know how long to grieve. For an 11-year-old, she is doing her best, but the rest of her family isn’t exactly thriving. Her older sister is also affected by sleepwalking and her father deals with his grief by buying a parrot and wearing his late wife’s lipstick and bathrobe.