Hello everyone! I’m back with another set of mini book reviews! This post will feature the titles of The Dutch House, Reminders of Him, Crossroads, Where the Crawdads Sing, Invisible Child, Beautiful Country, Empire of Pain, Olga Dies Dreaming, Intimacies, and The Last Cuentista.
Well, with these ten books, I reached my 2022 reading goal of 65 books! Guess I’m done reading for the year, see you in 2023! Just kidding, I do still have a ton of books on my TBR and on my library card so I’ll still be reading a lot, it’s just that I know I do feel like the pressure to meet the goal is off now. Normally I would up my goal now, but I think I’ll leave it as is for now on StoryGraph so I don’t put that pressure back on. But go me!
Something funny that happened recently was that I mentioned how many books I had read already to a friend who wasn’t aware that I’m a big reader. She was so baffled, and said “wow you must spend a lot of time reading”. Which I do! I often read in the evenings after work and over the weekends when I’m not blogging or walking my dog or doing other activities. It’s so relaxing for me (well, unless I’m not enjoying the book I suppose), but it’s still a big time commitment.
Note about my ratings: I’ve switched to using the StoryGraph to track and rate the books I’ve been reading. This site uses 1-5 stars, 5 being the highest, in 0.25 increments. Feel free to friend me on the StoryGraph – my username is StarringPamela there!
One more promo, I started a Bookstagram! Follow me at Instagram.com/StarringPamelaReads!
The Dutch House by Ann Patchett
I read this book because a friend recommended it! I’d already read another book by Patchett and enjoyed her writing style so I was really excited to read it.
This novel follows the lives two siblings as they are kicked out of their home after the death of their father. Their stepmother manages to take almost their entire inheritance. As their mother had abandoned them as children after their father built his wealth, the two live in poverty as they try to rebuild their lives.
I loved this book! The siblings were so interesting and handled the situation quite well, all things considered. They were funny and pragmatic, and never forgot the injustice that was done to them by their parental figures. I really appreciated that they stayed close as they grew up, and always looked out for each other. It was interesting that they kept going back to the house to see it from afar, as if checking in on their rightful lives, but still not fighting to regain it necessarily. I did really enjoy the storytelling and the writing, so I was thankful for this recommendation.
I gave this book 4 out of 5 stars.
Reminders of Him by Colleen Hoover
I picked up the newest CoHo book when I saw it on the library shelves!
This novel follows the main character, Kenna, as she attempts to rebuild her life after spending five years in prison for a horrific accident she caused. She hopes to reconnect with her four-year-old daughter, who she was separated from after giving birth in prison, but finds that the entire town is set against her due to the accident. Even so, she manages to make one important connection who may be the key towards earning back the trust she lost and could lead her back to her daughter.
I was hooked onto this book! Kenna was such a sad but resilient character and the way the story unfolded was so beautiful. I also really enjoyed the character of Ledger and how he bridged the gap between Kenna and Scotty’s family. It was honestly a great read and I could not put it down until it was finished.
I gave this book 4.25 out of 5 stars.
Crossroads (A Key to All Mythologies #1) by Jonathan Franzen
I picked this one up as it was a President Obama 2021 pick!
The novel starts in the 1970’s, following a small family from Chicago and their lives. The parents, Russ and Marion, are in a joyless marriage and their kids are struggling as well. Clem, the oldest, is morally conflicted by using his university acceptance to stay out of the military. Becky, the only daughter, is rejecting her status as the queen bee of her school. Perry, the sort of black sheep of the family, wants to rebuild his life by finally befriending his sister and ending his side hustle as a drug dealer to his middle school peers. The youngest kid is pretty much ignored by the rest of the family. The entire family also struggles as the kids’ religious group kicked out their father and indoctrinated them to prioritize the group over all other relationships, further breaking them down.
I did finish this book but I never managed to get into it! The religious cult group the kids were in and that Russ wanted to get back into was so unsettling. And I didn’t find any of the family members to be very compelling. I know this is the first of a series that will follow the family through generations, but I am not planning to read anymore. I will say though, it was nice to see a midwest family featured in a novel. I feel like most books I’ve read are always New York/east coast families and characters.
I gave this book 3.25 out of 5 stars.
Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens
I read this book because a friend recommended it! (Same friend that recommended The Dutch House!) Since the movie is coming out soon, I really wanted to read it before then.
This book is set mostly in the 1960s and 1970s, following the life of Kya Clark, also known as “Marsh Girl”. Kya lives in the marshes of North Carolina, which is where her nickname came from, and is the last remaining Clark in the area. The rest of her family fled the home, hoping to escape poverty and the violence of the patriarch. After Kya is left alone, she adapts by finding a way to support herself, making connections with some of the nearby locals in town, and even building a career from her marsh. Kya even explores romantic relationships with two young men from town. But when the investigation following the mysterious death of one of the men turns it’s lens to Kya, her solitary and independent life is threatened.
This was such an amazing and beautiful book! I really, really enjoyed it. Kya’s status as the outsider was so vividly conveyed on the pages, and the entire story was wild. Kya’s sad, lonely childhood was so heart-wrenching. As her past unfolded, it also wove in and out of the investigation. It was so cool to read the story and I really enjoyed the writing. I really loved Kya’s character and loved seeing her success despite her circumstances.
I gave this book 4.5 out of 5 stars.
Invisible Child: Poverty, Survival, and Hope in an American City by Andrea Elliott
This was another President Obama pick!
This biography covered eight years of the life of Dasani Coates as she grew up in New York City. Dasani’s family is living in extreme poverty, with the family of ten living in one room at a homeless shelter. Dasani is an intelligent girl, becoming the face of poverty in New York as a child, moving from shelter to shelter before securing a spot at a boarding school in Pennsylvania. Her future looks bright once she moves away, and it seems like she’s finally escaping the cycle of poverty and could soon lead her family up with her. Soon after her acceptance, her family experiences even more challenges back in NYC and Dasani struggles to chose between chasing her best possible future and the feeling that she is abandoning her family.
I’ll start with some spoiler-free thoughts so this will be a rare “not-so-mini” review. It was crazy to see how many ways Dasani and her family was failed by the systems meant to help the family. Their life at the homeless shelter was horrific! It somehow seemed like a prison, with strict curfews and banned items, and yet it was so unsafe that women didn’t feel safe and their reports of abuse went unanswered. It was also so gross how Dasani kept referring to her seven siblings as her kids just because her parents were so incompetent. It was insane how bad things got for the family, to the point that the kids called Elliott for help because they couldn’t reach their parents at one point. I believe this book was meant to show how the system failed the family, and it did show that, but I thought it was far too nice to the parents who really failed the poor kids.
I think I’ll also share some spoiler-y thoughts for this one because I have so much to say. Feel free to skip this part if you don’t want to be spoiled. I was so disappointed in Dasani at the end! Of course, she was always set up for failure by her parents, her mom specifically. Elliott did acknowledge that, no matter what, Dasani would never say her mom was a bad parent. Dasani was so brainwashed into thinking it was her job to make up for the poor parenting she received and it was so sad! Even though the boarding school tried their best to support Dasani and get through to her, she really did waste that opportunity because her parents couldn’t keep their siblings in check. The most heart-wrenching moment was when the brother left the house after Dasani left because the mom was napping and the dad was out of the house so no one was watching him. He had left the house in the middle of winter without any proper clothing because he watched Annie and decided he wanted to be a foster kid and try to get a stable home. It was so sad that it took all of that for the kids to finally be taken and placed into homes, and by then it seemed like too little, too late. Honestly, the parents were terrible. It was so annoying when the mom got an inheritance that, even though it wasn’t much, it would have really helped the family if it had been well spent. Even though the parents had been through multiple financial courses, they completely wasted it, and would do so with most of the funds they received. The stepdad was also such a religious fanatic and only seemed to try to step up when the mom was in prison, but failed miserably because everything was in the mom’s name only and the government wouldn’t allow him to change it. Honestly, my thoughts at the end of the book was that the kids should have been taken away so much earlier and could have potentially stood a chance. By the time they were placed into foster care, it seemed like they were already indoctrinated by the parents against foster care, so they rebelled against it because they thought they should be together even though they never had a chance at a stable life when they were together. And poor Dasani just never learned to consider the consequences to her actions. It was so infuriating to read how she regretted her horrible behavior only after getting kicked out of boarding school. I was curious where Dasani is now, and it seems that while she has managed to reconnect with most of her family, she’s since joined or tried to join a gang. It was very much a disappointment that she ended up even worse off than where she started.
I gave this book 4 out of 5 stars.
Beautiful Country: A Memoir by Qian Julie Wang
This was another one of the President Obama’s 2021 book list! In this memoir, we follow Qian, a young child who moves to the United States from China. Although she doesn’t realize it at first, she and her parents are undocumented immigrants, and Qian soon faces hardships she never expected from the USA. In Chinese, the USA is called Mei Guo, which translates directly to “beautiful country”. Qian struggles to understand how un-beautiful Mei Guo is when living in fear and in poverty. Qian has trouble in school, since she does not know English when she arrives and has a less than eager translator in a fellow student who was asked to sacrifice her own attention it her studies to help Qian. Qian’s family does not always have food so she is often going to school on an empty stomach, her mother gets incredibly ill when Qian is still quite young, and eventually she takes refuge in the library.
This was a difficult memoir to get through for many reasons! To be honest, it was a little boring… I get it was a memoir and meant to show the difficult reality of those who are both incredibly poor but also forced to hide, but it was just so slow paced and, well, nothing really happened. We spent a long time following Qian to school and then to her parents’ various jobs in factories and sweatshops, as Qian explained her thoughts on the situation. The problem was, her parents never explained their situation so Qian often had no idea what was going on and so her thoughts were pretty disconnected from reality. But it did showcase how fragile the “American dream” is when there is no support system to those most vulnerable.
I gave this book 3.5 out of 5 stars.
Empire of Pain: The Secret History of the Sackler Dynasty by Patrick Radden Keefe
This was another President Obama book list book! Empire of Pain tells the story of the Sackler family, who continue to enjoy and grow their ill-gotten fortune after hiding the addictive nature of their powerful pain medication that lead to the opioid crisis in the US. While not all members of the Sackler family were directly involved in the harmful drugs that destroyed lives, it’s clear that they all benefited from it nonetheless.
This was a crazy book to read. Overall I’d say my thoughts on Empire of Pain were actually similar to Invisible Child in a way. I was completely aghast how easy it was for the Sacklers to make the wrong choices when there were clear and easy good choices to make instead. It was so sad to read how the greed of the Sacklers overcame the goodwill they had for the public when sponsoring museum wings and such. Honestly, it was crazy to read how much they were sticklers to displaying their name and wealth yet weren’t ashamed when facing how they got their wealth to begin with.
I gave this book 4.25 out of 5 stars.
Olga Dies Dreaming by Xochitl Gonzalez
I have had this book on my TBR for forever it seems! I’ve seen it everywhere, and was really looking forward to reading it.
Olga and her brother, Pedro, have established themselves in New York despite their hardships growing up. Olga is a sought-after wedding planner and Pedro is a popular congressman representing Brooklyn. They struggle with hiding their most authentic selves and strive to protect their images, toeing that line between embracing their Hispanic heritage and integrating with what the elite clients and supporters expect from them. Soon, their estranged mother reappears, having become a radical activist, just as a devastating hurricane reaches Puerto Rico.
I loved this story. While the siblings are Puerto Rican and I am Mexican-American, there were still sooooo many relatable moments. Also, I loved that both Olga and Pedro had their own separate struggles but still supported each other throughout it all. Olga does everything she can for her brother, who in turn does the same for her. It might sound bad too, but I really enjoyed reading about successful Hispanics, as it often seems like the most popular Hispanic stories are about poor, undocumented Hispanics and that’s it. I love that there’s more diversity within Hispanic stories now too!
I gave this book 4.5 out of 5 stars.
Intimacies by Katie Kitamura
I read this book since it was a part of the books President Obama recommended in 2021.
This is a novel featuring an interpreter in Hague, working for the International Court. The interpreter’s life is pretty shaky, personally and professionally. At work she is interpreting for a former president accused of war crimes. In her personal life, she left New York and has wandered ever since, looking for a new home, and is in a relationship with a married man. She also seeks out and becomes friends with a woman who’s brother was recently a victim of a violent crime.
This book was totally not for me. I just didn’t enjoy reading about a character who seemed to actively look for problems to invite into her life. And even with all the problems, there wasn’t a lot of action that followed. Overall, I found the story a bit boring and weird.
I gave this book 3.5 out of 5 stars.
The Last Cuentista by Donna Barba Higuera
I think I saw this book featured on a few TikToks and the cover and title totally caught my eye.
This is actually a middle-grade novel, set in a dystopian future. Petra is chosen, along with her immediate family, to voyage on a space ship to a new planet, in an effort to save the human rate. Petra and her family will be some of the many voyagers asleep for the journey, and be tasked with the responsibility of continuing the human race. The remaining portion of the population will be awake to care for the sleeping passengers, so they and their descendants will spend their lives keeping the ship running and protecting the sleeping voyagers. Petra does not wish to leave her remaining family on Earth, and technically should not be going on the ship at all due to her poor eyesight, but she goes along with the plan anyway. When she awakes, Petra realizes something is not right, as no one remembers Earth except her. Petra, who grew up wishing to be a storyteller instead of her predetermined future as a scientist, uses her stories to tell the other passengers about their nearly lost legacy.
I loved this book. Since it was middle-grade it felt super simple but it was still really thought-provoking and riveting. I really enjoyed reading Petra’s story. Her character’s resourcefulness and her courage were admirable and I really enjoyed the story. I honestly do wish it had been longer, but I think middle-grade was the perfect genre for it.
I gave this book 3.75 out of 5 stars.
So that’s my ten mini (or not-so-mini) book reviews for today! Let me know if you’ve read any of these and what your thoughts are on them if so.
Thanks for reading!
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