No, You Can’t Disguise

  • What: Tell Me Lies
  • Who: Carola Lovering
  • Pages: 384 pages, hard cover
  • Genre: Contemporary fiction
  • Published: 2018
  • The lit: 1463390917-2400px1463390917-2400px1463390917-2400px of 5 flames

C’mon, this book takes its title from a Fleetwood Mac song. How could I not be drawn to this?

Most women have that one guy in their past. You know the one. Most likely, but not always, a cliché bad boy. Someone who drove you crazy in both good and bad ways. The one who took a long time to get over. The one who still pops up in your memory every now and then.

Well, that drama, of which we all have a relatable anecdote, is the subject of Carola Lovering’s debut novel. Because it’s a story we all know, it’s a story that can be challenging to tell. How can you write this dilemma in a way that feels fresh yet relatable? Lovering sort of accomplishes this in her sexy book, but the ways that make it feel new are also the ways that make it incredibly frustrating.

Tell Me Lies

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Heaven Can’t Help Me Now

  • What: The Great Alone
  • Who: Kristin Hannah
  • Pages: 438 pages, hard cover
  • Genres: Contemporary fiction and historical fiction
  • Published: 2018
  • The lit: 1463390917-2400px1463390917-2400px of 5 flames

I’m a sucker for scenery. It’s true. As much as I love stories about human interaction and purpose, there’s something so refreshing about reading poetic lines that perfectly depict the alluring lost corners of this world and how people connect with them.

I also crave new storylines. Don’t get me wrong: I will never scoff at boy-meets-girl and happily-ever-after plots. But my mind desires something different too. Something that allows me to explore topics and places I never thought about before or personally experienced.

For these reasons, I’ve been intrigued by Kristin Hannah’s The Great Alone since it was published in early 2018. In short, it’s a story about a family that moves to Alaska to live off the land. Check out my library, and you won’t see many titles with similar summaries. I couldn’t wait to get lost in it on my trip to Africa (now that was a solid 10 flames); unfortunately, I didn’t willingly escape to another world. Instead, I couldn’t find my way out of a book that dragged on, had random and too many plot twists, and dramatized to the nth degree.

The Great Alone

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A Secret to Hide

I try to title every review after a pop culture reference — usually song lyrics — some of which are more obvious than others. The minute I finished Where the Crawdads Sing I knew I’d be choosing a song by one of two badass women: Martina McBride or Carrie Underwood. Both women are known for singing songs about wronged women who are often misunderstood and who take control of their destiny. Main character Kya Clark, aka the “Marsh Girl,” would be the perfect muse for a McBride or Underwood hit.

The Marsh Girl is the epitome of what happens when judgment innate in humans runs rampant. Author Delia Owens captures this societal flaw beautifully in her story that is still sitting pretty on the New York Times best seller list. That’s 38 weeks, people. Not too shabby. It’s easy to understand why when you read the lyrical ways Owens describes nature, specifically the marsh; the plight of a young girl who only ever yearned for some company; and how our judgments really could ruin someone’s life. Owens captures it all in this coming-of-age meets whodunit tale.

Where the Crawdads Sing

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Say You Won’t Let Go

  • What: Border Child
  • Who: Michel Stone
  • Pages: 250, hard cover
  • Genre: Contemporary fiction
  • Published: 2017
  • The lit: 1463390917-2400px1463390917-2400px of 5 flames

I received Border Child from a publisher sometime in 2018. I delayed reading it though because it seemed too real and too close to real-world problems. Books are powerful in that they call attention to immoral circumstances in our everyday lives; they’re also powerful because they can be an escape from that reality. With our current tumultuous landscape and with the U.S. border such a fiery topic, I strayed from this novel. I didn’t think my heart could take it.

I knew its purpose likely had meaning and influence and hoped it was a book that would change people’s minds, give them that “ah ha” moment that sadly this growing nationalist world needs. But I couldn’t bring the nastiness of the world into my literary one, not yet anyways.

Until I finally did — and was disappointed. Border Child has foundational power for issues that are often ignored when talking about immigration reform; however, it lacks strong storytelling to really bring these problems and challenges to the forefront of conversation. It didn’t captivate me like I had wanted, and it doesn’t do the real-life people and problems that inspired it much justice.

Border Child

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When All is Said and Done…

Erotic Stories for Punjabi Widows proves Ariana’s point: God is a woman.

Too often, society boxes female authors and their stories about sex into sweeping tales of love, romance, and magic. Balli Kaur Jaswal’s novel confirms that women — even conservative women — are humans too and that they have fantasies just like men. Sex doesn’t have to be folded into a fairy tale, and it doesn’t have to be forbidden (unless, of course, that’s part of the fantasy per some of our characters here). Women want and need to talk about it too.

This novel breaks cultural boundaries by questioning gender and cultural stereotypes and bringing taboos to the forefront. It challenges the concept of “other,” which confirms we’re more alike than different, and it’s really fun to read. There’s a lot to be said for that.

Erotic Stories for Punjabi Widows

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This One’s for the Girls

My feminist awakening wasn’t spurred by some emotional moment that shook my whole being. Rather, my awakening happened in the driveway of my parents’ house as I lounged in a lawn chair reading The Scarlet Letter. My 17-year-old self was nearing the end of the book when I had my ah-ha moment. The injustice of Hester Prynne’s plight sickened me, but the way she endured and owned her predicament empowered me. I even texted the guy I was sort-of-but-not-really seeing at the time and essentially said “I GET IT NOW.” (I think he wrote back “lol” as one high school boy does.)

The main character in The Female Persuasion happened upon her feminist awakening in a much bigger, more significant way: after she was sexually assaulted at a fraternity party her freshman year of college. In the midst of the #metoo movement, Meg Wolitzer’s most recent novel speaks to a society that also needs to be roused awake. It’s calculated and necessary; the only downfall is the book doesn’t carry the spunk and power needed to really make its mark. Where her novel soars with meaning and relevance, it lacks in poignancy. Unfortunately, it doesn’t quite do the topic justice.

The Female Persuasion

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Just Because You Feel It

  • What: There There
  • Who: Tommy Orange
  • Pages: 290, hard cover
  • Genre: Contemporary fiction
  • Published: 2018
  • The lit: 1463390917-2400px1463390917-2400px1463390917-2400px1463390917-2400px1463390917-2400px of 5 flames

Wow. Some books just hit you where your emotions run deep. Some books bring unspoken conflict right into your hands. Some books make you question everything around you. And some books make you say “Wow.” There There is all of those, right from the beginning.

Read 10 pages of this powerful novel, and you’ll understand why it was on the best-of-2018 lists from Barack Obama, the New York Times, the Washington PostEntertainment WeeklyEsquire, ThrillistTime … you get my point. It’s easy to scoff a little at some of these lists. Reviewers (cough *me*) don’t know everything, and they’ve let readers down before (see here). But There There and its genius author, Tommy Orange, deserve every bit of prestige and attention they garnered in 2018. Orange’s heartbreaking story about Native American identity and experience is just that good.

There There

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