Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng #Review @pronounced_ing @penguinpress

Little Fires Everywhere cover

I have a confession to make: I almost passed on reading this book. I saw other book bloggers talking about how excited they were to read it, but my decision on not reading it remained firm—until it didn’t. I’d been hearing some serious buzz about this book for quite a while when I saw it was available on Edelweiss,  and I knew it was time to find out for myself what all the fuss was about.

Best book decision EVER!

Little Fires Everywhere is a wonderful book. The title is perfect in both the literal and metaphorical sense. The book begins at the scene of a house fire (started by “little fires everywhere”), but as you read further you realize it also references events experienced by most of the featured characters in the book. Shaker Heights is bursting with drama—sometimes private, sometimes very public—and newcomers Mia and Pearl Warren are connected to all of it, in one way or another.

Mia and Pearl have never stayed in one place very long. Mia, an artist, says her work is inspired by this itinerant way of life, so once she finishes a project, they move on, taking only what will fit in their car and leaving everything else behind. Such a life isn’t so great for Pearl, however. She never complains, but deep down she longs for the stability that will only come if they stop traveling and settle down somewhere. Mia has promised they will do this in Shaker Heights, which is how they came to be tenants in Elena Richardson’s rental house.

The Richardson’s seem to have it all. They are an affluent family living in a large, lovely home with four children—Lexie, Trip, Moody, and Izzy. Lexie is the smart one, Trip is a jock, Moody has the soul of a poet, and Izzy is the rebellious one. With the exception of Mr. Richardson, everyone in the family was born and raised in Shaker Heights. They have perfect lives… or do they? Things are rarely what they seem to be, after all.

Pearl and Moody struck up a friendship the day she and Mia moved into their new home, and it wasn’t long before she started spending most of her time hanging out with the Richardson kids at their house. Mia worried about Pearl’s infatuation with the family, so when Elena asks her to work as their part-time housekeeper, she agreed in order to keep an eye on her daughter.

Meanwhile, the Richardson’s friends—the McCulloughs—are in the process of adopting a Chinese-American baby they named Mirabelle. The family recently attended Mirabelle’s first birthday party, and Lexie fell in love with the her and is excited about the adoption. Izzy, on the other hand, is troubled by it because the McCulloughs don’t know for certain when Mirabelle’s birthday is, nor is Mirabelle the name she was given at birth. They have a heated disagreement about this one afternoon while Mia is working at the house, and she can’t help but wonder if Mirabelle is the daughter of Bebe Chow—a woman she works with at another job—who is searching for the baby she left at a fire station in a moment of desperation. Her decision to tell Bebe about Mirabelle will have lasting repercussions that affects the lives of everyone involved, including her own.

It probably seems like I’ve told a lot about what happens in the book, but trust me when I say I have barely scratched the surface on the events that take place in this novel. There is so much more going on in Shaker Heights than the few examples I’ve given here.

This book was my introduction to Celeste Ng, as I’ve not (yet) read her debut novel, Everything I Never Told You. (This is clearly an oversight of epic proportions that I intend to rectify sometime in the near future.) Ng’s writing is stellar, with wonderfully vibrant characters readers will easily connect with as they go through the motions of trying to sort out their problems. And it must be noted that Mirabelle’s adoption story is written in such a way that not only the characters in the book, but the readers themselves, are led to consider the importance of cultural identity when the child is of a different ethnicity than the adoptive parents. It’s something I’d never considered before, so I appreciated the issue being raised within the story because it made me see things in a different way. Fiction or not, I love a book that makes me think!

To sum it all up, this is a great book. Don’t make the mistake I (almost) made… just do yourself a favor… go read the book. This one is WAY too good to miss. And keep an eye out for Celeste Ng’s next book, because I certainly will be!

I received an advance reading copy of this book from Penguin Press via Edelweiss.

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Author: Celeste Ng

Title: Little Fires Everywhere

Genre: Women’s Fiction

Length: 384 pages

Publication Date: September 12th, 2017 by Penguin Press

Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐


Purchase Links

Amazon | Barnes & Noble


About the Book

In Shaker Heights, a placid, progressive suburb of Cleveland, everything is planned – from the layout of the winding roads, to the colors of the houses, to the successful lives its residents will go on to lead. And no one embodies this spirit more than Elena Richardson, whose guiding principle is playing by the rules.

Enter Mia Warren – an enigmatic artist and single mother – who arrives in this idyllic bubble with her teenaged daughter Pearl, and rents a house from the Richardsons. Soon Mia and Pearl become more than tenants: all four Richardson children are drawn to the mother-daughter pair. But Mia carries with her a mysterious past and a disregard for the status quo that threatens to upend this carefully ordered community.

When the Richardsons’ friends attempt to adopt a Chinese-American baby, a custody battle erupts that dramatically divides the town–and puts Mia and Elena on opposing sides. Suspicious of Mia and her motives, Elena is determined to uncover the secrets in Mia’s past. But her obsession will come at unexpected and devastating costs.

Little Fires Everywhere explores the weight of secrets, the nature of art and identity, and the ferocious pull of motherhood – and the danger of believing that following the rules can avert disaster.


About the Author

Author Celeste Ng
Author Celeste Ng

Follow Celeste Ng on Social Media:

Twitter | Facebook | Pinterest | Goodreads

Celeste Ng is the author of the novel Everything I Never Told You, which was a New York Times bestseller, a New York Times Notable Book of 2014, Amazon’s #1 Best Book of 2014, and named a best book of the year by over a dozen publications. Everything I Never Told You was also the winner of the Massachusetts Book Award, the Asian/Pacific American Award for Literature, the ALA’s Alex Award, and the Medici Book Club Prize, and was a finalist for numerous awards, including the Ohioana Award, the John Creasey (New Blood) Dagger Award, and the VCU Cabell First Novelist Award.

Celeste grew up in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and Shaker Heights, Ohio, in a family of scientists. Celeste attended Harvard University and earned an MFA from the University of Michigan (now the Helen Zell Writers’ Program at the University of Michigan), where she won the Hopwood Award. Her fiction and essays have appeared in One Story, TriQuarterly, Bellevue Literary Review, the Kenyon Review Online, and elsewhere, and she is a recipient of the Pushcart Prize.

Currently, she lives in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Her second novel, Little Fires Everywhere, will be published by Penguin Press in fall 2017.

 

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The Goddesses by Swan Huntley #Review

The Goddesses cover

This is going to be a another tough review for me, because I don’t really have a lot to say about this book. I checked to see if I’d left any comments on Goodreads as I was reading, and found only one:

July 26, 2017 – 51.0% “First half was a slow burn, but hasn’t lost my interest. Seems to be picking up the pace a bit at the start of the second half. Curious to see where the story goes from this point on.”

Quick Recap: Nancy and her family move to Hawaii after her husband cheated on her, hoping for a new start. Ana leads a yoga class, which is how Nancy meets her. Nancy is captivated by her wisdom and approach to life, and before you know it, the two are inseparable. Nancy neglects her family in favor of Ana, and finds herself doing things she would never have done without Ana’s influence—good things, as well as bad things.

I didn’t dislike this book (if I had, it would have been relegated to the virtual DNF pile), but I didn’t love it, either. And I’m pretty sure that’s because I had Ana pegged as a manipulator with an agenda from the start, and it flabbergasted me that Nancy was clueless about it for so long.

It’s no surprise Nancy fell under Ana’s spell… she was feeling vulnerable after her husband’s affair, living far from home in a place where she doesn’t know anyone, and her teenaged twin sons are becoming juvenile delinquents. What bothered me is how rapidly it happened. It felt unrealistic to me that a woman newly arrived in her new home, determined to work on her marriage and give her sons the guidance they (desperately) needed, would toss all of her responsibilities aside to spend (all) her time with a woman she barely knew.

Not only that, but Ana almost immediately starts telling her sob stories about how incredibly hard her life has been—and Nancy feels more and more sympathy for her with each one, rather than becoming suspicious. Is it just me, or is that odd? Maybe her reaction strikes me as being unrealistic because I’ve been around that particular block of manipulation before. Regardless, it just didn’t ring true for me. If Nancy were a younger woman, perhaps it would have felt reasonable that she did that… but not a middle-aged woman.

This is a novel that struck me as having a lot of potential for a great story, but it didn’t quite get there, in the end. The explosive finale I envisioned as I read the last pages never happened, which is such a shame because the way it ended was lackluster compared to what I expected to happen.

Having said all that… I did keep reading all the way to the end, and I thought Huntley’s writing was pretty good, even though the story itself didn’t enthrall me as I’d hoped. So I’m going to rate this one at three stars (even though I considered changing it to two and a half stars) based on that.

I think this is one of those novels that each individual reader needs to judge for themselves—based on their particular likes and dislikes—whether or not this is a good fit for them as a reader. A quick skim through the ratings on Goodreads shows ratings from low to high, so clearly—while this may not be a book everyone enjoys reading—some people will.

It’s your call, readers.

I received an advance review copy of this book courtesy of Doubleday Books via Netgalley.

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Author: Swan Huntley

Title: The Goddesses

Genre: Women’s Fiction

Published: July 25th, 2017 by Doubleday Books

Rating: ⭐⭐⭐


Purchase Links

Amazon | Barnes & Noble


About the Book

The Descendants meets Single White Female in this captivating novel about a woman who moves her family to Hawaii, only to find herself wrapped up in a dangerous friendship, from the celebrated author of We Could Be Beautiful.

When Nancy and her family arrive in Kona, Hawaii, they are desperate for a fresh start. Nancy’s husband has cheated on her; they sleep in separate bedrooms and their twin sons have been acting out, setting off illegal fireworks. But Hawaii is paradise: they plant an orange tree in the yard; they share a bed once again and Nancy resolves to make a happy life for herself. She starts taking a yoga class and there she meets Ana, the charismatic teacher. Ana has short, black hair, a warm smile, and a hard-won wisdom that resonates deeply within Nancy. They are soon spending all their time together, sharing dinners, relaxing in Ana’s hot tub, driving around Kona in the cute little car Ana helps Nancy buy. As Nancy grows closer and closer to Ana skipping family dinners and leaving the twins to their own devices she feels a happiness and understanding unlike anything she’s ever experienced, and she knows that she will do anything Ana asks of her. A mesmerizing story of friendship and manipulation set against the idyllic tropical world of the Big Island, THE GODDESSES is a stunning psychological novel by one of our most exciting young writers.


About the Author

Author Swan Huntley
Author Swan Huntley

Swan Huntley earned her MFA at Columbia University. She’s received fellowships from the MacDowell Colony and the Ragdale Foundation. She lives in California and Hawaii.

Slightly South of Simple by Kristy Woodson Harvey #Review @kristywharvey @GalleryBooks

Slightly South of Simple cover

I love reading women’s fiction, particularly those set in the Southern portion of the United States. So when I see a book that is both women’s fiction and Southern fiction, I’m immediately drawn to it in hopes of a good read… and that’s what I got with Slightly South of Simple: a very good read.

Harvey’s story of three sisters who—for various reasons—move back into their mother’s home in Peachtree Bluff, Georgia, is simply fantastic. The sisters have vastly different lifestyles and reasons for coming home. Caroline is a pregnant Manhattan socialite whose perfect life has been destroyed by her husband’s (excruciatingly public) affair and, with her daughter in tow, returns to the quaint seaside town seeking solace and distance from the vicious gossip about her marriage. Sloane is an military wife whose husband has been deployed again; she returns home along with her two sons in order to spend time with her mother and sisters. Emerson, the youngest, is an actress who comes home to work on the movie she’s starring in that could be her big break. Their mother, Ansley, is delighted to have them home, but feels overwhelmed when an old love comes back into her life; even more so when her mother moves in, needing Ansley to care for her as she recovers from an injury.

The story is told through Caroline and Ansley’s perspectives, with a fair portion of Ansley’s story being told in her memories of the past that slowly reveal secrets she’s kept from her daughters, and her fears that those secrets will come out. Ansley’s secrets were of particular interest to me, and the more I learned, the more I wanted to know. Honestly, Ansley’s memories could have been an entire novel in itself, in my opinion—I wanted to know every detail of her fascinating past! Caroline’s story—and her memories—were equally fascinating to me, and despite her having some less-than-desirable personality traits, I felt especially moved by the uncertainties she faced in her life. The characters of Sloane and Emerson weren’t quite as fleshed out as I would have liked, but I’m sure that will change as the series progresses and is told (I suspect) through each of their perspectives. This is the beginning of a series, after all… so while I noted that, it’s not something that can be held out as a point of criticism.

I thoroughly enjoyed this book, and was sad to reach the end. I’m highly anticipating the release of book two, and I am eager to spend more time reading about these fascinating women!

I received an advance review copy of this book courtesy of Gallery Books via Netgalley.

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Author: Kristy Woodson Harvey

Title: Slightly South of Simple

Series: Peachtree Bluff #1

Genre: Women’s Fiction, Southern Fiction

Published April 25th, 2017 by Gallery Books

Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

Book Worth Reading Ribbon

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Purchase Links

Amazon | Barnes & Noble

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About the Book

From the next “major voice in Southern fiction” (New York Times bestselling author Elin Hilderbrand) comes the first in an all-new series chronicling the journeys of three sisters and their mother—and a secret from their past that has the potential to tear them apart and reshape their very definition of what it means to be a family.

Caroline Murphy swore she’d never set foot back in the small Southern town of Peachtree Bluff; she was a New York girl born and bred and the worst day of her life was when, in the wake of her father’s death, her mother selfishly forced her to move—during her senior year of high school, no less—back to that hick-infested rat trap where she’d spent her childhood summers. But now that her marriage to a New York high society heir has fallen apart in a very public, very embarrassing fashion, a pregnant Caroline decides to escape the gossipmongers with her nine-year-old daughter and head home to her mother, Ansley.

Ansley has always put her three daughters first, especially when she found out that her late husband, despite what he had always promised, left her with next to nothing. Now the proud owner of a charming waterfront design business and finally standing on her own two feet, Ansley welcomes Caroline and her brood back with open arms. But when her second daughter Sloane, whose military husband is overseas, and youngest daughter and successful actress Emerson join the fray, Ansley begins to feel like the piece of herself she had finally found might be slipping from her grasp. Even more discomfiting, when someone from her past reappears in Ansley’s life, the secret she’s harbored from her daughters their entire lives might finally be forced into the open.

Exploring the powerful bonds between sisters and mothers and daughters, this engaging novel is filled with Southern charm, emotional drama, and plenty of heart.

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About the Author

Author Kristy Woodson Harvey
Author Kristy Woodson Harvey

Kristy Woodson Harvey is the author of Dear Carolina. She blogs at Design Chic about how creating a beautiful home can be the catalyst for creating a beautiful life and loves connecting with readers at kristywoodonsharvey.com. She is a graduate of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill’s school of journalism and holds a Master’s in English from East Carolina University. She is a regular contributor for The Salisbury Post, Domino magazine and Houzz. She lives in North Carolina with her husband and three-year-old son.

Author photo and bio via Goodreads.

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The Forever Summer by Jamie Brenner #Review @jamielbrenner @littlebrown

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A broken engagement. A forbidden affair. The loss of a prestigious job. The announcement that her parents are getting divorced. What else could possibly happen to shake up Marin Bishop’s already wrecked life?

The final bombshell comes with the arrival of twenty-two year old Rachel Moscowitz—Marin’s half-sister—and the painful discovery that Marin’s beloved father isn’t really her father, after all. Shattered and in denial, Marin nevertheless agrees to travel with Rachel to the Beach Rose Inn in Provincetown, to meet their grandmother, Amelia Cabral. Against her wishes, Marin’s mother, Blythe, accompanies them. The group of women spend the summer getting to know one another as decades-old secrets are finally spoken, and the pain of the past confronted at last.

The Forever Summer is an enjoyable story with some surprising twists thrown into the mix. The characters were well written, with vivid personalities. There were times I found myself annoyed with some of the things Rachel did or said, but in hindsight I think it was because she’s a young woman doing/feeling what young women do, and I wasn’t able to identify with it at this time in my life. (I think I may have just insulted myself there, and inferred I was getting old? Yikes!)

My favorite characters were definitely Amelia and Kelly. Their backstory—as well as Blythe’s—was the most interesting part of the story for me. Nadine, Amelia’s daughter, was extremely unlikable, but she had her reasons for behaving the way she did. There were a few twists in the latter part of the book (some good, others not so good) that really surprised me.

I’m giving this one a solid 3.5 stars. I couldn’t decide between three and four stars, so 3.5 felt right in the end.

If you’re looking for books to add to your summer reading list, I would suggest adding this one to your list.

I received an advance review copy of this book courtesy of Little, Brown, and Company and Netgalley.

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Author: Jamie Brenner

Title: The Forever Summer

Genre: Women’s Fiction

Published: April 25th, 2017 by Little, Brown and Company

Rating: ⭐⭐⭐½

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Purchase Links

Amazon | Audible | Barnes & Noble

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About the Book

When a DNA test reveals long-buried secrets, three generations of women reunite on Cape Cod for the homecoming of a lifetime.

Marin Bishop has always played by the rules, and it’s paid off: at twenty-eight she has a handsome fiancé, a prestigious Manhattan legal career, and the hard-won admiration of her father. But one moment of weakness leaves Marin unemployed and alone, all in a single day. Then a woman claiming to be Marin’s half-sister shows up, and it’s all Marin can do not to break down completely. Seeking escape, Marin agrees to a road trip to meet the grandmother she never knew she had. As the summer unfolds at her grandmother’s quaint beachside B&B, it becomes clear that the truth of her half-sister is just the beginning of revelations that will change Marin’s life forever. THE FOREVER SUMMER is a delicious page-turner and a provocative exploration of what happens when our notions of love, truth, and family are put to the ultimate test.

Full of delicious descriptions of coastal New England and richly imagined characters, THE FOREVER SUMMER is an emotional, hot-topic page-turner and a summer must-read.

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About the Author

jamie_brenner
Author Jamie Brenner

Jamie Brenner is the author of The Forever Summer. Her previous novels include The Wedding Sisters and the historical The Gin Lovers (St. Martin’s Press), named by Fresh Fiction as one of the Top Thirteen Books to read in 2013, and Ruin Me, a coming-of-age story set in the art world. She lives in Manhattan with her husband and two daughters.

Author photo via Goodreads. Bio via publisher’s website.

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