“On the Come Up” by Angie Thomas – Review

By: Angie Haddock


Sixteen-year-old Bri wants to be one of the greatest rappers of all time. Or at least make it out of her neighborhood one day. As the daughter of an underground rap legend who died before he hit big, Bri’s got big shoes to fill. But now that her mom has unexpectedly lost her job, food banks and shutoff notices are as much a part of Bri’s life as beats and rhymes. With bills piling up and homelessness staring her family down, Bri no longer just wants to make it—she has to make it.

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This one was on my shelf for a minute, and I’m so glad I finally got to it! Did I happen to finish it the same day the (streaming) movie came out, without even realizing they were making a movie? YES. But I’m not watching the movie version yet, so it won’t influence my review.

Our main character here is Bri, who lives with her mom and brother in a neighborhood called The Garden – the same neighborhood Thomas wrote about in “The Hate U Give.” The characters from these two books don’t directly intersect, but the events of that prior book still weigh on the residents of the neighborhood in this book.

Like all well-written characters, Bri has a lot going on – her home life and family, school stuff, and her hopes for someday being a famous rapper. Her dad was a rapper, too, but Bri gets tired of always being compared to him. She wants to make it on her own merits.

She and a few friends get bused into a different part of the city to go to an arts school. The school needs a certain percentage of minority students to get certain grants, but the school’s security guards (and some teachers) are used to treating black and brown kids with a little more suspicion than white kids. This leaves the BIPOC kids feeling like they are just “numbers” – like the school wants them for the dollars they bring in, but is not worried about them as actual people.

When this all boils over, it prompts Bri to write a song, titled “On the Come Up,” that talks about her being a thug. She’s not – but the point of the song was that people are going to see her that way no matter what she does. The song blows up – but also creates controversy. Some white moms want the song banned, pulled from streaming platforms, etc. because they don’t think it’s appropriate for kids to hear about toting guns. This brings up issues of censorship, of course, but also reiterates the points the kids are mad about at the school – like, which kids are worth protecting? Some parents think their kids shouldn’t even hear about this stuff, but some kids are actually living around it every day.

There are a few things I love about Thomas’ characters here. First, they are teens, and have some teen stuff going on in their lives – who likes who kind of stuff. But it’s not the focal point. It doesn’t even really affect the plot all that much. It’s present, but not the point. (Of course, you could make the argument that some kids have to “grow up” sooner than others, leading them to focus less on usual teen things.)

Also, there are a lot of big political issues here – but they are brought up through the interactions of these kids with their school, online critics, their own parents, or others in their environment. It’s not like Thomas has to go on some lengthy diatribe about censorship – Bri deals with it incrementally as the issue comes up in her life. And other issues of safety, cops in schools, etc. are brought up in similar fashions.

This is the second book by Angie Thomas that I’ve read, but if you’re at all interested in the YA genre, or books about black characters in America, I’d definitely recommend checking out her catalog.


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“Lessons in Chemistry” by Bonnie Garmus – Guest Review

By: Abby Phoenix


Hi, I’m Abby! Like a lot of people, I have gone through several ebbs and flows in life with reading, from a childhood with my nose buried in a book, through various love-hate relationships with school-assigned reads, to the exciting rediscovery of reading again for pleasure in adulthood. 

Nowadays, I’ve settled into a life routine where I try to always make space for my current read, because it just helps my mood so much when I have some sort of book that I can dive back into in my spare moments. I love being absorbed into a good story, so I mostly stick to fiction. That love of being immersed into a story’s world means that I’m one of the few avid readers I know who cannot (I’ve tried and always fail!) read more than one book simultaneously. 

In the last five years or so, I’ve also tried to make it a habit to primarily read books not written by white men, in an effort to balance out all the reading I did until that point. Initially I thought that might be a difficult or overly limiting restriction, but instead, I’ve found it to be both easy to do, and incredibly enriching in terms of expanding and challenging my perspectives on the world – the very thing that we hope all books can do for us!


Chemist Elizabeth Zott is not your average woman. In fact, Elizabeth Zott would be the first to point out that there is no such thing as an average woman. But it’s the early 1960s and her all-male team at Hastings Research Institute takes a very unscientific view of equality. But like science, life is unpredictable. Which is why a few years later Elizabeth Zott finds herself not only a single mother, but the reluctant star of America’s most beloved cooking show Supper at Six. Elizabeth’s unusual approach to cooking (“combine one tablespoon acetic acid with a pinch of sodium chloride”) proves revolutionary. But as her following grows, not everyone is happy. Because as it turns out, Elizabeth Zott isn’t just teaching women to cook. She’s daring them to change the status quo.

Goodreads


“History is written by the victors” – a quote that is so true that, of course, even its own origin underscores the point that the loudest and most famous voice gets to claim sole ownership of our collective story.

Most of us know this to be true with just a little bit of critical thinking: life never has been a single, streamlined story fitting the clean few paragraphs we read in our history books. Countless stories are discarded (often forcibly) from our histories in favor of the narrative most favored by those in power, until enough time passes that we accept that story as solid fact. 

But on the other side of fact is fiction, oh, fiction. 

Fiction has always been a welcoming home for the stories untold, the ones that we know have always existed too, and might be even better. One such narrative is found in the extremely appealing period novel “Lessons in Chemistry,” by Bonnie Garmus, which introduces us to Elizabeth Zott, a woman who seems to exist completely outside of her time.

Elizabeth’s 1960s American setting expects women to be homemakers whose sole priority is keeping their husbands and children happy. As a brilliant chemist who’d love to be laser-focused on her work and nothing else, Elizabeth’s only request of the world around her is to be taken seriously as a scientist. But when she’s of course stymied in her original path by the standard tools of repression (the one-two punch of structural discrimination and societal shame), only one life option opens up to her as a possible path forward. That option, combining the identities deemed appropriate for a woman of her time (cook, teacher, and actress) and the era’s shiny new medium: a television chef.

Giving Elizabeth this platform though proves to be a mistake for those who would prefer she stay in her pre-assigned place. Looking through our 2022 lens, we all now know something that they were still waking up to in the 1960s: television has a way of lending automatic authority to anyone on its screens, and flattening their identity in the process. Elizabeth’s newfound notoriety helps her achieve a version of her original goal of establishing herself as a scientist, by the simple act of calling herself one on television. 

Additionally, and more powerfully, by using a medium that gives her direct access to women around the country (“this is a show for normal housewives!” is a message she receives repeatedly) Elizabeth is able to broadcast her profound expectations for all other women in the world. This is based in simple fact: modern society only operates as well as it does due to the consistent hard work that half of the population puts into keeping it moving. That work has tangible value, whether or not it’s socially and economically recognized. Crucially, Elizabeth both sees and inspires others to see the potential in this women’s work: women can do this, and they are capable of so much more too.

It’s a heady journey to witness, and Elizabeth and the characters who surround her (both human and canine) are largely likable compatriots on that path. But while the story itself may make you pump your fist or at the very least, nod along towards its satisfying conclusion, it’s worthwhile to examine this enjoyable read a bit more closely. Characters like Elizabeth star in so many of our favorite fictional stories that purport to tell some of the real story of the history we know: the single person who thinks differently from everyone around them and stands up to the system. This story of a charismatic iconoclast like Elizabeth igniting change in a whole society that never encountered someone quite like her is certainly cathartic as we try to reconcile how times seem to shift so quickly, turning American women from Donna Reeds to Gloria Steinems in the space of a mere decade. But it’s also a lie. 

Just like in the 1960s, and in all times before and since: there is no one Elizabeth Zott coming to save us – instead, it is incumbent upon us all to tap into our internal Elizabeth in ways small and large as we work together to build our own stories of what will hopefully one day become our history.


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“Jane Eyre” by Charlotte Bronte – Review

By: Angie Haddock


Orphaned as a child, Jane has felt an outcast her whole young life. Her courage is tested once again when she arrives at Thornfield Hall, where she has been hired by the brooding, proud Edward Rochester to care for his ward Adèle. Jane finds herself drawn to his troubled yet kind spirit.

Goodreads


This one was first published in 1847, so I’m not going to worry about spoilers with my review. And if you haven’t guessed it, this was my pick for this year’s #SummerClassic.

The story takes place in roughly five places. The first is the mansion of Jane’s aunt, where the orphaned Jane lives with her aunt, three spoiled cousins, and various servants. The family of the house treats Jane like a second-class citizen, and she is utterly miserable. Around the age of ten, she is sent away to a boarding school. At first, this stage of her life looks like it will be just as miserable as the first. But, Jane proves herself and actually ends up thriving at the school. She even goes on to teach there for 2 years after she finishes her schooling. But eventually, she wants to see more of the world, and interact with other people.

This brings her to Thornfield, where she is hired as a governess to a young French girl who is the ward of the master of this old mansion. She befriends the girl, and several servants there, but the master of the house is initially absent. She eventually does meet Mr. Rochester in an eventful scene, where he injures himself making his way home.

Jane and Mr. Rochester strike up an odd relationship (in my mind). They enjoy each other’s conversations, in part because they feel they can be honest with each other – including being a little antagonistic at times. In fact, Rochester pretends to be engaged to someone else for almost a month just to see if Jane will be jealous.

Jane is in love with him, but doesn’t really consider herself lovable. So it’s quite a shock to her when he asks her to marry him. She does say yes, though.

Here’s the thing: we’re only 55% through the book at this point. So is the back half her married life? Nope.

All along, something’s been weird at Thornfield. Jane assumed it was one crazy servant named Grace, and couldn’t understand why Rochester was protecting her (not firing her, or wanting to talk about it). Then, as Jane and Rochester are about to be married, we learn that… he is already married! And the first wife is both crazy and locked upstairs at Thornfield. Grace, in fact, is actually her caretaker.

So the next morning, before anyone else is awake, Jane runs away. She spends a few days on the road, but eventually finds shelter with some siblings who are just a bit older than her – two sisters and one brother – and their sole servant. The brother is a local minister, and has recently set up a girls’ school, so Jane ends up working there. She eventually comes to learn, through the passing of a distant uncle, that these three are her cousins. They also inherit money from the uncle, which changes her circumstances.

In the year or so she lives with her cousins, she does write to Thornfield to check on Rochester, but no one answers. Her male cousin is pressuring her to go to India as a missionary with him, and she is conflicted about it. She decides she needs to know for sure what happened to Mr. Rochester before she can decide on leaving the country. So she heads back to find that the mansion had burned down not long after she left. The crazy wife set the fire, and did not survive the incident. Most of the inhabitants have gone on to different places, while Mr. Rochester – now blind – lives with just two servants in a nearby cottage.

Jane finds him there, and they finally marry. She lives the rest of her days with him, but continues to see her cousins semi-regularly. The male one does travel to India, so she only hears from him by mail. We learn that Jane is telling this story ten years into her married life, so she is only about 30 years old at the time, but that is where this story ends.

This was my first foray into any of the works of the Bronte sisters! Having finally read it, my question for you, readers, is… is there a particular movie version you love that I should check out? Hit me with the recommendations!


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“Nothing to See Here” by Kevin Wilson – Review

By: Angie Haddock


Lillian and Madison were unlikely roommates and yet inseparable friends at their elite boarding school. But then Lillian had to leave the school unexpectedly… and they’ve barely spoken since. Until now, when Lillian gets a letter from Madison pleading for her help.

Madison’s twin stepkids are moving in with her family and she wants Lillian to be their caretaker. However, there’s a catch: the twins spontaneously combust when they get agitated, flames igniting from their skin in a startling but beautiful way.

Goodreads


Everything I’d seen about this one going in prepared me for it being comedic. I didn’t realize, however, that it takes place in Franklin, TN – which is only about 30 minutes from where I live! So that did add an extra layer of fun for me.

Lillian leads a slacker life – working at a grocery store, living in her mom’s attic. When she was a teen, she had dreamed of getting out of her hometown, doing bigger things, and proving everyone wrong. But now she’s nearing 30, and doesn’t know what she wants out of life.

Madison is rich, married to a U.S. Senator, and has a seemingly perfect toddler named Timothy. She reaches out to Lillian occasionally. Lillian loves and admires Madison, but also keeps her at a distance. She’s a constant reminder of how much Lillian hasn’t accomplished since their school days.

But when Madison offers Lillian a job, she accepts without even knowing what the job is. Enter the “fire twins,” Bessie and Roland. Lillian also enters into a world that includes a posh mansion, with a guest house for her and the twins. A few quirky servants round out life on Madison’s premises.

Lillian knows nothing about raising kids, but she figures she should try to earn their trust first. She lets them eat sugary cereal, reads them mystery novels, and teaches them about her favorite past time, basketball. She does earn their trust, in small increments, and she starts to learn more about them… including how their mom committed suicide in front of them.

All along, the Senator has been blaming their mom (his first wife) for their condition. After all, she was crazy, so the fire thing must come from her side of the family. And Madison is all too willing to send them to boarding school in Europe, where they’d be far away from the perfect family of three that she’s cultivated.

So imagine the confusion and shock when Timothy bursts into flames on live TV. Madison isn’t about to have her child taken from her, or sent off to be studied. So now, she has to rethink her stance on the twins, as well.

This book was both absurd and poignant. A lot of it is about comparing the haves and the have-nots, and how they have different priorities. It’s also about trust, being accepted for who you are, and figuring out what’s important.


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“How You Grow Wings” by Rimma Onoseta – Review

By: Angie Haddock


Sisters Cheta and Zam couldn’t be more different. Cheta, sharp-tongued and stubborn, never shies away from conflict—either at school or at home, where her mother fires abuse at her. Timid Zam escapes most of her mother’s anger, skating under the radar and avoiding her sister whenever possible. In a turn of good fortune, Zam is invited to live with her aunt’s family in the lap of luxury. Jealous, Cheta also leaves home, but finds a harder existence that will drive her to terrible decisions. When the sisters are reunited, Zam alone will recognize just how far Cheta has fallen—and Cheta’s fate will rest in Zam’s hands.

Goodreads


We dive right into this book with Zam walking home from school – and in short order we meet her whole family, learn about the family dynamics, and learn about some of their local customs. Zam and Cheta live with their parents in a small town in modern day Nigeria.

As mentioned in the description at top, Zam gets out of her anger-filled home by moving in with her rich aunt and uncle. She gets this proposal because of how well she’s doing at school, and Cheta immediately resents that she was never offered this deal.

Their uncle is super rich (in the oil business), and life at his house takes some time to adjust to. There are two other teenage girls in the house – Kaira, Zam’s cousin, and Ginika, a family friend who often stays with them while her parents are traveling abroad. Kaira is initially standoffish, but Ginika is sociable. They both harbor anger at their mothers, and the girls all eventually bond over this common problem.

Cheta comes to visit for one week. She has recently graduated from high school, and comes with the idea that she will ingratiate herself to their aunt and get a job with her. It doesn’t work. She was already so set on leaving home, though, that she does it anyway, without a real plan.

After an incident leaves Zam’s aunt and uncle feeling shaken, they decide to move – with all three girls – to London. Kaira is finally able to start breaking down the wall that had grown up between her and her mom, before the girls leave for boarding school. Another family member who is helping them there also sheds some light on Zam and Cheta’s family, and how the two girls actually got along better when they were younger. Zam feels compelled to reach out, but gets no answer.

On a trip home for Christmas, Zam sees her family again, after months of being away. Cheta also rolls back into town from Benin, where she’s been keeping her distance. Their mother treats Cheta like she is basically disowned already, but Zam still wants to try to help her sister. There is one startling revelation near the end of the book, and Zam has to make a drastic decision. Finally, both girls head back out into their separate worlds.

I don’t want to reveal too much about the ending, but I will say that I’ll be thinking about it for quite some time!

This compelling Young Adult novel comes out today, August 9th. I was able to read an advanced copy through Netgalley, and the publisher, Algonquin Young Readers.


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“True Crime Story” by Joseph Knox – Review

By: Angie Haddock


In the early hours of Saturday 17 December 2011, Zoe Nolan, a nineteen-year-old Manchester University student, walked out of a party taking place in the shared accommodation where she had been living for three months.

Seven years after her disappearance, struggling writer Evelyn Mitchell finds herself drawn into the mystery. Through interviews with Zoe’s closest friends and family, she begins piecing together what really happened in 2011.

Goodreads


If you’re a fan of true crime shows or podcasts, this one’s for you! But a note up front: this book is completely fictional. It just mimics true crime as a genre. Misleading, I know.

But, the format works. The story is told entirely through interviews and emails, with a few (also fake) “editor’s notes” along the way. It makes it fast and easy to read.

Overall, I liked the story here. We’re given a lot of random details, and a lot of twisted characters. Which details are actually important to the case? Which characters had enough of a motive to make someone disappear? And is Zoe dead, or just hiding out somewhere?

One core group of characters are her school mates. Zoe lived in a university flat with several other girls, including her twin sister, Kim. Kim has always lived in Zoe’s shadow, and resents being stuck with her at college. Other flatmates include Alex, who is battling depression, using drugs, and possibly juggling two boyfriends. And Liu Wai, who is kind of a suck up who thinks Zoe is perfect.

Zoe also has a boyfriend, Andrew, who comes from a rich family. They barely get along. His roommate, Jai, is a photographer and a drug dealer who is hard up for money.

There are various other characters introduced – parents, police, professors, etc. – but I think you can already see that everyone has kind of a messy life, which leaves no one’s motives and whereabouts totally “clear cut.”

There are also several mysteries within the bigger one of Zoe’s disappearance. One that comes up in a few different ways relates to the fact that people can sometimes mistake her for Kim, and vice versa. Kim comes out with a confession, years later, that she had been kidnapped a month before Zoe’s disappearance. So, had those kidnappers been after Zoe the whole time? Are the events linked?

If you like a good mystery with lots of tangled storylines, this one could be right up your alley.

I was able to read this book for free through the Sourcebooks Early Reads program.


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“The Mad Girls of New York” by Maya Rodale – Review

By: Angie Haddock


In 1887 New York City, Nellie Bly has ambitions beyond writing for the ladies pages, but all the editors on Newspaper Row think women are too emotional, respectable and delicate to do the job. But then the New York World challenges her to an assignment she’d be mad to accept and mad to refuse: go undercover as a patient at Blackwell’s Island Insane Asylum for Women.

Goodreads


While I was reading this one, several friends added it to their “to read” list on Goodreads – so, I think the world is hungry for more great historical fiction based on real life badass women. (I’ll call that the “Marie Benedict effect.”) How exciting!

Nellie Bly had worked as a reporter for a few years already, in Pittsburgh, but she eventually moved to New York City with hopes to work for one of the bigger papers. But just getting in the doors to get an interview proves hard for a woman, because women weren’t considered good choices for reporter jobs.

She’s been in the city for four months, and she’s struggling to pay her rent. She is also very aware that women who are considered “inconvenient” often end up in insane asylums, with no way to prove their sanity. So she needs to land on her feet, soon.

Which is how she comes up with the crazy plan – to act crazy. To see how easy it is to get herself locked up, and to report on the actual conditions and practices inside the asylum, which does not open its doors to reporters. Specifically, she aims to get inside the asylum on Blackwell’s Island, which is rumored to be the most inhumane. She does this “stunt” with the cooperation of the deputy editor of the New York World, who promises to get her out in a week or so.

She does get in, and is there for about 10 days. She meets other women, and of course, most are not really crazy at all – some are heartbroken and/or depressed, sick and in need of medical care their families couldn’t provide, foreign and unable to understand English, or maybe just poor (and therefore a nuisance).

The conditions are deplorable, and they are given no reasons to hope for more. They have to sit on hard benches all day and not talk or move. Nelly reasons that some of them may become insane while there, because they are given no mental or physical stimulation. It’s also freezing cold (she is there in October), and they don’t get enough to eat.

The title – “The Mad Girls of New York” – refers to the women of the asylum. But the story also follows some of Nellie’s acquaintances in the city, as well as her time before and after this assignment. Women trying to support themselves financially, and not just depending on a man to take care of them. And these girls could also be considered “mad” for their time (the 1880’s).

This whole scenario is based on actual events, which Bly wrote her own book about at the time (“Ten Days in a Mad-House“). The author used info from that book, but also based characters on other people and stories from that era.

If you’re a fan of historical fiction, I’d definitely recommend this one. Even though we know Nellie will get out eventually, the stakes still seem high for her comrades in the asylum. And there’s one more fun twist after she gets out, too.

This book comes out today, April 26th. I was able to read an advanced copy through the publisher and Netgalley.


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“The Department of Rare Books and Special Collections” by Eva Jurczyk – Review

By: Angie Haddock


Liesl Weiss has been (mostly) happy working in the rare books department of a large university, managing details and working behind the scenes to make the head of the department look good. But when her boss has a stroke and she’s left to run things, she discovers that the library’s most prized manuscript is missing.

Goodreads


I picked this one just because it’s a book about books – and what book-lover wouldn’t enjoy one of those once in a while?

Specifically, this one takes place in a library of ancient and rare books and manuscripts, housed on the campus of a university. The library has its own bevy of big donors, which makes it important to the university at large.

So when Liesl Weiss has to take over for her ailing boss, she doesn’t mind the real work. In fact, she loves looking at upcoming events and catalogs to see what rare items she could collect for the library. But dealing with donors – boozing, schmoozing, and stroking big egos – is not quite her thing.

She had been on sabbatical, writing her own book, when the head of the library fell ill. So, she wasn’t actually there when the newest addition had arrived, and she hasn’t seen it yet herself. The donors who paid for it are eager to view it, but Liesl can’t find it. The boss does have a safe, which she doesn’t have the combination for, so originally she assumes it’s just in there. She is in charge of the place for a good week or so before she starts to realize it’s actually missing.

And so sets the stage for the mystery here. At various points in the book, suspicion is thrown on each of her other long-time coworkers at the library: Francis, an older James Bond type who’s now a semi-bitter grandfather; Max, a former priest who was outed as gay and is the library’s expert on religious texts; and mousy Miriam, who mostly keeps to herself.

I hadn’t read a mystery in a while, and I really enjoyed this one. As with most, I feel like the pace really picks up in the final third or so – as I got closer to finding out who did it, I couldn’t help but keep turning pages. (I will say, though, without giving it away – that the perpetrator was exactly who I thought it’d be from the beginning!)

The copy I read had a little conversation with the author at the end, and she mentioned that one of her reasons for writing this book is because there are so few middle-aged women protagonists. Liesl is around 60, has worked at the library for decades, and is used to playing second banana. Her daughter is college-aged, and her husband has struggled in the past with depression. So she’s lived some life, if you will. But, as this is her first time dealing with anything of this magnitude, she often wrestles with how much she should go along with what the university president thinks, or how much she should stand up for her own opinions. I think a lot of women will find that relatable.

I was able to read this one for free through Sourcebooks Early Reads.


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“Memphis” by Tara Stringfellow – Review

By: Angie Haddock


Unfolding over seventy years through a chorus of voices, Memphis weaves back and forth in time to show how the past and future are forever intertwined. It is only when Joan comes to see herself as a continuation of a long matrilineal tradition–and the women in her family as her guides to healing–that she understands that her life does not have to be defined by vengeance.

Goodreads


TW: Physical abuse and rape of a child.

This story follows one family through three generations. We first meet Hazel in the 1930s, when she is a teenager in Memphis. Later, she has two daughters, Miriam and August. Miriam also has two daughters, Joan and Mya. The story ends in the early 2000s, when Joan is about to graduate from high school.

The story alternates between the perspectives of Hazel, Miriam, August, and Joan. It is not told chronologically. There are other characters, of course – including Hazel’s husband Myron, Miriam’s husband Jax, and August’s son Derek. The house these women leave in – which Myron built – is almost a character of its own. And the neighborhood is filled with other strong characters, mostly women.

These characters live through many trying times, both in their personal lives and on a bigger scale. We see them continue lives at home while their husbands are off at war, participate in the Civil Rights Movement and react to the assassination of Dr. King, and have a personal connection to the events of September 11th.

As mentioned at top, some of the personal events they have to overcome could be upsetting to some readers. I think this was the hardest part of the book, for me. I was rooting for these characters, but also mad at some of the things that happened.

I expect to see this book on a lot of lists – it’s ripe for being an Oprah pick. (Full disclosure, I read it in the fall of 2021, so this is totally a guess from me.) The multi-generational, non-linear storytelling alone lends it a certain epic quality. And the situations discussed – even the ones I did not enjoy – are certainly real for some people. I think it’s a bit of a hard read, but maybe that’s exactly the point.

This book comes out today, April 5, 2022. I was able to read an advanced copy through NetGalley and the publisher, Random House Publishing Group.


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“Campfire Confessions” by Kristine Ochu – Review

By: Angie Haddock


Annie, Sondra, and Jo were the best of childhood friends—but they haven’t seen each other in far too long. To the outside world, their lives are perfect. But appearances can be deceiving…

Goodreads


The story idea here is that three women reconnect on a canoeing trip. They were childhood friends, but two of them have moved away from the small Midwestern town where they grew up. All three are facing big life problems – depression, divorce, overwhelm, recovery from addiction, a sexless marriage, etc.

The first third of the book introduces us to the characters – Annie, Jo, and Sondra – and all the aforementioned issues (and then some). In 100 pages or so, we see multiple sex scenes (plus one with a vibrator), an overdose, and an attempt at blackmail. This all seemed a little too “soap opera-y” for my personal tastes, but I realized that it was just set-up.

The next section of the book has Jo and Sondra returning to their hometown to see Annie. They reconnect with family and old friends, and hatch a plot with Annie’s four sons.

Eventually, they get out onto the river, with two canoes, a tent, and some basic provisions. This part is where the action really picked up. But it also got to be a little too much at times. All three women end up hurt and/or sick before this excursion is out, and many of their encounters were dramatic.

There’s an interesting dichotomy here, in that the book kind of honors multiple spiritualities. For example, Annie is a preacher’s wife, and so the Christian perspective is represented. But Jo’s husband’s family – who live in the area, and interact with our characters a few times – are Indigenous. Especially out in nature, the women talk a lot of spirit animals and the like, so this perspective is also prevalent.

While I enjoyed that the book included multiple perspectives like this, all of them seemed a little too “in your face” at times. For example, when Annie falls and breaks her arm, she passes out and sees Jesus. They have a conversation, and she writes a song about it – while unconscious – that she remembers and sings after she wakes up. I’m not saying that it couldn’t happen, but it was a little over the top for my personal tastes.

This was a decent book – I didn’t love it, but didn’t dislike it, either. And it moved at a good pace, especially in the final two-thirds.

This book comes out today, March 8th, 2022. I was given an advanced copy from the author through the Books Forward program.


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