Our Missing Hearts by Celeste Ng had a strong start and a good ending, but left me cold in the middle. If I wasn’t reading it for a book group, I might not have finished. However, I am glad I did, since it did get better in the end. Amazon: “Twelve-year-old Bird Gardner lives a quiet existence with his loving father, a former linguist who now shelves books in a university library. His mother Margaret, a Chinese American poet, left without a trace when he was nine years old. He doesn’t know what happened to her—only that her books have been banned—and he resents that she cared more about her work than about him. Then one day, Bird receives a mysterious letter containing only a cryptic drawing, and soon he is pulled into a quest to find her. His journey will take him back to the many folktales she poured into his head as a child, through the ranks of an underground network of heroic librarians, and finally to New York City, where he will finally learn the truth about what happened to his mother, and what the future holds for them both.” While this wasn’t a favorite, it was an OK read.
Another day, another Colleen Hoover book. I thought I was getting close to having read all of them, but there are about nine more, it seems. Fortunately, they are quick reads. Maybe Now is the third in the series about Ridge and Sydney. I read that you didn’t have to read the second one to appreciate the third and they came in the wrong order from the library, so I went with it. “Ridge and Sydney are thrilled to finally be together guilt-free. But as the two of them navigate this freedom, Warren and Bridgette’s relationship is as tumultuous as ever, and Maggie grapples with her illness. When she comes across an old list of things she wanted to do “maybe one of these days,” Maggie decides to live life to the fullest and accomplish these dreams. Maggie keeps Ridge updated on her adventures, but he can’t help but worry, even as Sydney grows more and more suspicious about their friendship. But if she’s going to move past this jealousy, she’ll need to reconcile how she and Ridge came together with the fact that Maggie will always be in their lives somehow…or end up walking away from the man she loves so much.” (Amazon) This was a satisfying, if not terribly exciting read and a good wrap up to the series.
I grabbed Too Late at the library when looking for other Colleen Hoover books and was almost afraid to read it with all the disclaimers. However, while dark and difficult, it certainly wasn’t any worse than The Last Housewife. Strange to have read them back-to-back. Amazon: “Sloan will go through hell and back for those she loves. And she does, every single day. After finding herself stuck in a relationship with the dangerous and morally corrupt Asa Jackson, Sloan will do whatever it takes to get by until she’s able to find a way out. Nothing will get in her way. Nothing except Carter. Sloan is the best thing to ever happen to Asa. And if you ask Asa, he’d say he’s the best thing to ever happen to Sloan. Despite Sloan’s disapproval of Asa’s sinister lifestyle, he does exactly what he needs to do in order to stay a step ahead in his business. He also does exactly what he needs to do in order to stay a step ahead of Sloan. Nothing will get in his way. Nothing except Carter. This book was originally written as a side project by the author. Please note that the content of this book is more graphic than the content of other books written by this author, hence the distinction between the names. This title is recommended for mature audiences only due to extreme graphic content.” It was fine, not one of her best, but certainly an interesting premise.
The Last Housewife
I picked up The Last Housewife by Ashley Winstead at the library. It, and the book I read next, Too Late, by Colleen Hoover, were a bit hard to read/take. “While in college in upstate New York, Shay Evans and her best friends met a captivating man who seduced them with a web of lies about the way the world works, bringing them under his thrall. By senior year, Shay and her friend Laurel were the only ones who managed to escape. Now, eight years later, Shay’s built a new life in a tony Texas suburb. But when she hears the horrifying news of Laurel’s death—delivered, of all ways, by her favorite true-crime podcast crusader—she begins to suspect that the past she thought she buried is still very much alive, and the predators more dangerous than ever. Recruiting the help of the podcast host, Shay goes back to the place she vowed never to return to in search of answers. As she follows the threads of her friend’s life, she’s pulled into a dark, seductive world, where wealth and privilege shield brutal philosophies that feel all too familiar. When Shay’s obsession with uncovering the truth becomes so consuming she can no longer separate her desire for justice from darker desires newly reawakened, she must confront the depths of her own complicity and conditioning. But in a world built for men to rule it—both inside the cult and outside of it—is justice even possible, and if so, how far will Shay go to get it?” (Amazon) It was a fine read, but as I said, a little hard to take and dark.
Happy for You
Happy for You by Claire Stanford was an interesting read, but I didn’t love it. “Four years into writing her still-unfinished philosophy dissertation, and anticipating a marriage proposal from her long-term boyfriend, Evelyn Kominsky Kumamoto is wrestling with big questions about life: How can she do meaningful work in the world? Is she ready for marriage—and motherhood? But no one else around her seems to share her ambivalence. Her relentlessly optimistic, Midwestern boyfriend has no hesitation about making a lifelong commitment; her best friend, Sharky, seems to have wholeheartedly embraced his second-choice career as a trend forecaster; and her usually reserved father has thrown himself headlong into a new relationship—his first since her mother’s passing when Evelyn was fourteen. Swallowing her doubts, Evelyn makes a leap, leaving academia for a job as a researcher at the third-most popular internet company, where her team is tasked with developing an app that will help users quantify and augment their happiness. Confronting Silicon Valley’s norm-reinforcing algorithms and predominantly white culture, she struggles to find belonging: as a biracial person, as an Asian American, and as someone who doesn’t know how to perform social media’s vision of what womanhood should look like. As her misgivings mount, an unexpected development upends her assumptions about her future, and Evelyn embarks on a journey toward an authentic happiness all her own.” (Amazon) The premise of this one was interesting and it wasn’t terribly long, but I didn’t love the characters and was eager to finish it.
Metropolis by B. A. Shapiro was an unusual and interesting book. Amazon: “Six people, six secrets, six different backgrounds. They would never have met if not for their connection to the Metropolis Storage Warehouse in Cambridge, Massachusetts. When someone falls down an elevator shaft at the facility, each becomes caught up in an intensifying chain of events. We meet Serge, an unstable but brilliant street photographer who lives in his storage unit, which overflows with thousands of undeveloped pictures; Marta, an undocumented immigrant finishing her dissertation and hiding from ICE; Liddy, an abused wife and mother, who recreates her children’s bedroom in her unit; Jason, a former corporate lawyer now practicing in the facility; Rose, the office manager, who takes illegal kickbacks to let renters live in the building; and Zach, the building’s owner and an ex-drug dealer, who scans Serge’s photos as he searches for clues to the accident. But was it an accident? A murder attempt? Suicide? As her characters dip in and out of one another’s lives trying to find answers and battling societal forces beyond their control, B. A. Shapiro both questions the myth of the American dream and builds tension to an exhilarating climax. Taut and emotional, Metropolis is impossible to put down and impossible to forget.” This book reminded me of one I used to read to Fourth Graders: The Westing Game. In any event, I really enjoyed it.
As I often lament (and should be better at keeping track of by now), I don’t know how Eleutheria by Allegra Hyde ended up on my TBR list. “Willa Marks has spent her whole life choosing hope. She chooses hope over her parents’ paranoid conspiracy theories, over her dead-end job, over the rising ocean levels. And when she meets Sylvia Gill, renowned Harvard professor, she feels she’s found the justification of that hope. Sylvia is the woman-in-black: the only person smart and sharp enough to compel the world to action. But when Sylvia betrays her, Willa fears she has lost hope forever. And then she finds a book in Sylvia’s library: a guide to fighting climate change called Living the Solution. Inspired by its message and with nothing to lose, Willa flies to the island of Eleutheria in the Bahamas to join the author and his group of ecowarriors at Camp Hope. Upon arrival, things are not what she expected. The group’s leader, author Roy Adams, is missing, and the compound’s public launch is delayed. With time running out, Willa will stop at nothing to realize Camp Hope’s mission—but at what cost?” (Amazon) On the whole, I enjoyed this book, though it certainly makes one freak out even more about the state of the world. I do felt as though Hyde rushed at the end and didn’t fully detail many answers to the questions I had. However, I do think it was a good read and would recommend it.
Portrait of a Thief
Portrait of a Thief by Grace D. Lee was good, but not great. Amazon: “History is told by the conquerors. Across the Western world, museums display the spoils of war, of conquest, of colonialism: priceless pieces of art looted from other countries, kept even now. Will Chen plans to steal them back. A senior at Harvard, Will fits comfortably in his carefully curated roles: a perfect student, an art history major and sometimes artist, the eldest son who has always been his parents’ American Dream. But when a mysterious Chinese benefactor reaches out with an impossible—and illegal—job offer, Will finds himself something else as well: the leader of a heist to steal back five priceless Chinese sculptures, looted from Beijing centuries ago. His crew is every heist archetype one can imagine—or at least, the closest he can get. A con artist: Irene Chen, a public policy major at Duke who can talk her way out of anything. A thief: Daniel Liang, a premed student with steady hands just as capable of lockpicking as suturing. A getaway driver: Lily Wu, an engineering major who races cars in her free time. A hacker: Alex Huang, an MIT dropout turned Silicon Valley software engineer. Each member of his crew has their own complicated relationship with China and the identity they’ve cultivated as Chinese Americans, but when Will asks, none of them can turn him down. Because if they succeed? They earn fifty million dollars—and a chance to make history. But if they fail, it will mean not just the loss of everything they’ve dreamed for themselves but yet another thwarted attempt to take back what colonialism has stolen.” This was a creative story and I liked the ending, but it dragged a little for me. I thought there was going to be a lot more action than there was.
The beginning of 2023 brought a motherlode of both digital and actual library books – they all seemed to rain down at once. Memphis by Tara Stringfellow has been on my list for a while. It’s a family saga that takes place back and forth in time, which I love. “Summer 1995: Ten-year-old Joan, her mother, and her younger sister flee her father’s explosive temper and seek refuge at her mother’s ancestral home in Memphis. This is not the first time violence has altered the course of the family’s trajectory. Half a century earlier, Joan’s grandfather built this majestic house in the historic Black neighborhood of Douglass—only to be lynched days after becoming the first Black detective in the city. Joan tries to settle into her new life, but family secrets cast a longer shadow than any of them expected. As she grows up, Joan finds relief in her artwork, painting portraits of the community in Memphis. One of her subjects is their enigmatic neighbor Miss Dawn, who claims to know something about curses, and whose stories about the past help Joan see how her passion, imagination, and relentless hope are, in fact, the continuation of a long matrilineal tradition. Joan begins to understand that her mother, her mother’s mother, and the mothers before them persevered, made impossible choices, and put their dreams on hold so that her life would not have to be defined by loss and anger—that the sole instrument she needs for healing is her paintbrush.” (Amazon) It was a bit of a tough read, but I enjoyed it.
I am not sure how The Verifiers ended up on my list, but it was a good read and a mystery, not my usual choice. “Claudia is used to disregarding her fractious family’s model-minority expectations: she has no interest in finding either a conventional career or a nice Chinese boy. She’s also used to keeping secrets from them, such as that she prefers girls—and that she’s just been stealth-recruited by Veracity, a referrals-only online-dating detective agency. A lifelong mystery reader who wrote her senior thesis on Jane Austen, Claudia believes she’s landed her ideal job. But when a client vanishes, Claudia breaks protocol to investigate—and uncovers a maelstrom of personal and corporate deceit. Part literary mystery, part family story, The Verifiers is a clever and incisive examination of how technology shapes our choices, and the nature of romantic love in the digital age.” (Amazon) This was a good read and keep me guessing until the end, which makes for a solid mystery. I recommend.