No judgment on yet another Swift-inspired book review title. I can’t help who influences me!
OK, so thrillers and mysteries don’t find themselves on Big Little Literature that often. I can’t provide an explanation for this other than I usually get swept up in other genres. So I was looking forward to something different with my latest read, My Sister, the Serial Killer.
Despite what the title says, I didn’t get any thriller or mystery vibes — though a lot of readers and critics certainly did. Yes, there are some murders, and there is tension about the culprit being caught. But this novel, with themes of abuse, family, and loyalty, doesn’t remind me of any other book I’ve read in those genres. In fact, it’s completely different than any book I’ve read.
It’s funny and dark and has just the right amount of f**ked-upness. Do I feel weird saying I appreciated how refreshing this book was? Even if the “refreshment” stems from a serial killer and a sister who takes care of the body? Ehhh I never professed normalcy.
I’ve talked several times about not growing up with people who looked, lived, or believed differently than I did, and that lack of diversity influenced my life. When it comes to family, though, it doesn’t matter where you grow up or how you’re raised; we can all relate to having familial disputes.
If there were ever a year for family disagreements, 2020 would smoke the competition. With a heated election, a pandemic, and racial conversations heightening all of the emotions, there are bound to be intense disagreements among family. I’ve definitely experienced my fair share in recent months.
So I was interested that varying viewpoints and morals between a daughter and her family served the focal point for Amulya Malladi’s The Mango Season. Traveling to a new country and reading about a culture completely different than my own made it that much more dynamic.
I’m no stranger to suburban families with more than enough drama to keep them busy. No, not my family. (We’re actually very rural and very boring.)
No, I mean the families that race into my life via the novels that tell their story. I didn’t really know suburban turmoil was a genre I loved (or that it was even a genre) until my latest read, Ask Again, Yes. From this novel, I learned I have a strong tendency to pick up books that relay familial drama and read them at lightening speed. These types of books absolutely enthrall me. There is something so appealing about the simplicity of everyday people’s lives and the fact that everyone and every family has some story to tell; we just might not see it on the surface. And those backgrounds speak volumes about who we are as individuals, how we interact with others, and the decisions we make. Not to mention we can all relate to them.
If you look through my library, you’ll see quite a few novels with this theme. Commonwealth, the best of the best, ignited my life in 2017, and Little Fires Everywheredid the same thing last year. I guess Ask Again, Yes won this year for heartbreaking and compelling family drama. I take that back: I know it has won.
Educated was one of those books that I was a wee bit hesitant to read. Since it was released in February 2018, I’ve seen it everywhere: in the windows of bookstores, every time I log into Amazon, on all of the lists, and even on Ellen.
Could a book really be this good? You know I’m a skeptic! Furthermore, could a memoir be this good? Then, I wondered if I’d had a change of heart about the genre. Before Educated, I had read three memoirs in a little over a year; that totaled the amount I had read in the previous 10 years. With Michelle Obama’s, Tiffany Haddish’s, and The Glass Castlenow in my repertoire, did I want more, or did I prefer to not take the risk (I had been choosing the best of the best in the genre after all)?
I’m thrilled to say that Tara Westover’s devastating yet uplifting book about her unorthodox upbringing and her even more unorthodox rise to success and happiness fell right into line with the above-mentioned books. I’m also happy — yet still slightly weary — to report that Educated has shifted my opinion of its genre. My negative feelings toward memoirs are a thing of the past, and I think I’m onboard — or at least in line to board. Let’s be honest: I’ve always been a little late to the party.
One of my first memories with my sister occurred when I was around five years old. I kicked her in the face because I wanted to know what a black eye looked like. Anger had nothing to do with it. I was notoriously the question-asker of the family after all, and my curiosity simply got the best of me.
As you can probably imagine, my parents — and my sister who is four years older — were not very happy with me. I don’t remember what my punishment was, but I insisted it wasn’t personal. Fortunately, Erin hasn’t held a grudge against me, and even though I spent a lot of my youth being jealous of my crazy smart and talented older sister (that’s not why I kicked her!), we’ve become close friends. She inspires me every day.
My close sisterly bond is one reason why I wanted to read Before We Were Yours. This incredibly tragic story about sisters who are separated and try to find their way back to each other is well-written and different from the plot of most novels. And it reminds you of the importance of family, especially of the sister who forgives you for any hurt and harm you may have caused in the past.
Moms are the world’s real-life heroes. I know my mom holds that title, and I’m grateful every day for this wonderful human who brought me into the world and who taught me every thing I know. So it’s only fitting that the day before I left for a Bostonian expedition with my mother, my new e-reader — yes, I finally caved and bought one — suggested The Red Coat: A Novel of Boston, a book where one mom’s power is a central character.
The book has its flaws, but there’s something sweet and special about it too. In summary, it’s a story about young women trying to navigate this tricky world of love, life, and death with the guiding hand of their own mother. And it proves that their influence and presence are felt long after they leave us. It’s a story line we can somehow all relate to.
My family weighs heavily the ability to tell a story. If you lack it, there will be judgment. Just ask my sister, who unfortunately has been made fun of countless times over the years for her infamous stories of “Remember that one time with that one person?” Sorry, sis, but I had to. Thankfully, she’s improved, which confirms there’s hope for even the worst storytellers.
This high standard my family shares stays intact when I read and review books. I can sniff out a poor storyteller within a few pages, and a great one introduces him or herself right away.
It was pretty obvious after reading the prologue of Michelle Obama’s 2018 memoir, which has been on the New York Times bestseller list for 10 out of 10 weeks (sittin’ pretty at the top too I might add), that Obama was no phony. She’s not a famous person who found pages with her name on them simply because of that name. No, Michelle Obama was born to write and to tell stories. The Steffens clan would hold these abilities in high regard. I know I do.
Every so often I come across a book that I just can.not.put.down.
Kevin Kwan had already given me one of those masterpieces in the first book of his showstopping series, Crazy Rich Asians. After feeling slightly disappointed with the sequel, Kwan lifted me back up in a triumph that completely took over one weekend.
You’re batting .667, Kwan, which is not too shabby.
Rich People Problems is a culmination of everything great about its predecessors: crazy characters, hilarious encounters, jaw-dropping money, exquisite details, twisting plots, and did I say jaw-dropping money? It’s almost as if Crazy Rich Asians and China Rich Girlfriend were the opening acts for this grand finale that possesses all the signs of a classic.
Textbooks can never do history or its victims much justice. That’s where novels supplement them, add context, and bring them to life. They teach us something new and evoke feelings that textbooks never can; that’s exactly what The Patriots did for me.
Sure, every American kid learned that the Cold War threatened the institution that was the “Beacon on the Hill” and all of its principles. But somehow my history classes glazed over the passion, the unity, the rumblings, and even the atrocities of the Soviet Union during this time. But just as important, it left out stories of those Americans who felt a connection to the U.S.S.R., took a chance, and left their homes for this place of the future. Sana Krasikov vividly showcases these narratives in her 2017 debut novel. With her evocative words and strong storytelling, The Patriots doesn’t allow these defining (and more importantly, those less so) moments to go unnoticed by making a four-flame impact.