Hey Ladies! – Michelle Markowitz & Caroline Moss

Screen Shot 2018-08-08 at 7.35.02 PMPublisher: Harry N. Abrams

Publication Date: May 1st, 2018

Page Count: 272 (Paperback)

From the Jacket:

Based on the column of the same name that appeared in The Toast, Hey Ladies! is a laugh-out-loud read that follows a fictitious group of eight 20-and-30-something female friends for one year of holidays, summer house rentals, dates, brunches, breakups, and, of course, the planning of a disastrous wedding. This instantly relatable story is told entirely through emails, texts, DMs, and every other form of communication known to man.

The women in the book are stand-ins for annoying friends that we all have. There’s Nicole, who’s always broke and tries to pay for things in Forever21 gift cards. There’s Katie, the self-important budding journalist, who thinks a retweet and a byline are the same thing. And there’s Jen, the DIY suburban bride-to-be. With a perfectly pitched sardonic tone, Hey Ladies! will have you cringing and laughing as you recognize your own friends, and even yourself.

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Hey Ladies!: The Story of 8 Best Friends, 1 Year, and Way, Way too Many Emails, follows a group of friends as they attempt to plan a wedding and all of the craziness that goes along with that. I’ve been dying to read this one since I first heard about it on Bookstagram several months ago.  It’s written in the epistolary style, which is one of my absolute favorites and such a fun and unique way to tell a story. The entire plot is conveyed through email, text messages, drawn maps, and even selfies (also drawn, which makes them downright hilarious). Hey Ladies is over the top in its ridiculousness, and is as equally hilarious as it is frustrating. The plot is addicting, racing from one outlandish thing to the next, and once I started I could not put it down. In an effort to keep track of all the characters, I flipped regularly to the back of the book to refer to this picture. However, the authors did a wonderful job giving each character a unique voice, and I was able to stop checking after the first couple of chapters.

 

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Katie – Sweet and fun and completely wrapped up in her burgeoning love life. Katie is the kind of friend that asks if she can bring her new boyfriend to the destination bachelorette party.

Ali – The Queen B. She’s assertive in every aspect of the word and pulls the trigger on decisions her friends have been waffling on, often picking the most expensive option and then sending everyone a Venmo invoice. She means well, but her financial success makes her oblivious to the idea that money can be an obstacle for friends.

Gracie – The chillest one in the bunch. She’s got her own life, is rarely able to attend group functions, and almost never reads the mountain of emails that come in each day. I think I identified with her the most and also found her to be the most realistic.

Ashley – Poor Ashley is never around as she is currently teaching in Connecticut, where she gets shoddy wifi and is usually the last to find out about what the group has been up to. She pops in and out throughout the story with funny school anecdotes and brings welcome comedic relief when things get tense with the rest of the group.

Morgan – Lives in Brooklyn and is defined by living in Brooklyn and is always trying to convince her friends to come and visit her in Brooklyn. I’ve had friends that lived in Brooklyn and this is just too accurate. I love Morgan so much.

Nicole – She’s constantly broke but is always there for her friends and never wants to miss out on anything. Her email responses are the first to come in with an RSVP, but almost always begin with a plea for financial help.

Caitlin – Self-made health and lifestyle guru, the spirit in her salutes the spirit in you, and she’s ready to help you Caitlin Your LifeTM. She’s constantly changing her diet from one extreme to another and at one point refers to herself as celiac. The authors nailed the ridiculousness that can sometimes be social media, and I found Caitlin to be one of the funniest parts of the book.

Jen – Also known as Brad’s Jen (self-named). He’s the love of her life and all of her decisions are wrapped up in him…until they’re not. Her love hate struggle will give you whiplash and leave you in giggles.

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This was just a delight to read and I highly recommend reading this one with your friends or bookclub.

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There There – Tommy Orange

Screen Shot 2018-07-25 at 8.03.39 PMPublisher: Knopf

Publication Date: June 5th, 2018

Page Count: 304 (Hardcover)

From the Jacket:

Tommy Orange’s “groundbreaking, extraordinary” (The New York Times) There There is the “brilliant, propulsive” (People Magazine) story of twelve unforgettable characters, Urban Indians living in Oakland, California, who converge and collide on one fateful day. It’s “the year’s most galvanizing debut novel” (Entertainment Weekly).

As we learn the reasons that each person is attending the Big Oakland Powwow—some generous, some fearful, some joyful, some violent—momentum builds toward a shocking yet inevitable conclusion that changes everything. Jacquie Red Feather is newly sober and trying to make it back to the family she left behind in shame. Dene Oxendene is pulling his life back together after his uncle’s death and has come to work at the powwow to honor his uncle’s memory. Opal Viola Victoria Bear Shield has come to watch her nephew Orvil, who has taught himself traditional Indian dance through YouTube videos and will to perform in public for the very first time. There will be glorious communion, and a spectacle of sacred tradition and pageantry. And there will be sacrifice, and heroism, and loss.

There There is a wondrous and shattering portrait of an America few of us have ever seen. It’s “masterful . . . white-hot . . . devastating” (The Washington Post) at the same time as it is fierce, funny, suspenseful, thoroughly modern, and impossible to put down. Here is a voice we have never heard—a voice full of poetry and rage, exploding onto the page with urgency and force. Tommy Orange has written a stunning novel that grapples with a complex and painful history, with an inheritance of beauty and profound spirituality, and with a plague of addiction, abuse, and suicide. This is the book that everyone is talking about right now, and it’s destined to be a classic.

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The wound that was made when white people came and took all that they took has never healed. An unattended wound gets infected. Becomes a new kind of wound like the history of what actually happened became a new kind history. All these stories that we haven’t been telling all this time, that we haven’t been listening to, are just part of what we need to heal. Not that we’re broken. And don’t make the mistake of calling us resilient. To not have been destroyed, to not have given up, to have survived, is no badge of honor. Would you call an attempted murder victim resilient?

Trying to find a quote from There There to highlight was a near impossibility because this entire book is like one long, beautiful, and powerful quote. I read a review by Omar El Akkad that initially compelled me to pick this one up, and in it he said, “Tommy Orange writes the way a storm makes landfall.” It only took a few pages for me to realize how incredibly accurate his words were.

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There There explores the lives of twelve urban Indians through continually shifting third person perspectives. To me, it read very much like a collection of connected short stories, each voice vibrant and unique, but ultimately tied together by the shared struggle of trying to find a place in the modern world while preserving a history and a culture that have been all but obliterated. Orange writes about teenagers and grandmothers, drug dealers and absent fathers. He writes about a young mother trying to make the best choice for her unborn child and an old woman who struggles to deny where she came from. Each perspective is teeming with so much life and raw emotion and juxtaposed against these voices are bits of folk lore and horrifying accounts of history. Even knowing a good deal about this chapter of American history, I was unprepared for the way it would feel to read it through the voice of a person of native descent. It is precisely this feeling that makes this book required reading. If we all read accounts of history written by the oppressed rather than the oppressors, the world would be a very different place.

The pace of this book is swift with mercurial prose that demands to be read from start to finish without pausing. Reading it was like hurtling down river rapids in a small boat, hanging on for dear life and unsure of what was coming around each bend, but unable to shut my eyes. The realities of being a mother of five with a full time job mean that I do not often have a chance to read a book from start to finish in one sitting. This was no exception, and I lost momentum every time I had to put it down and step away. Each time I returned, I was forced to go back and try to figure out which character’s perspective I was reading from and what I already knew about them. If you’re going to pick this one up, make sure you wait to start it until you’re guaranteed a day with no interruptions.

There There is small and unassuming from the outside, adorned with a simple red-orange cover. It’s sitting here next to me as I write this review, and I find it impossible to believe that it is not crackling with energy. If words were powerful enough to generate electricity, this one would be lit up like the Empire State Building at night. My only complaint is that there weren’t at least another 100 pages. The ending does not feel like an ending at all, but rather the beginning of another set of journeys yet to be told. With a debut like this, I have no doubts that Tommy Orange has an incredible career ahead of him, and I’m very much looking forward to reading more from him in the future.

**Trigger warning and minor spoiler** I do feel like this book should come with a trigger warning and so I’m going to give you one, dear readers.  Quite frankly, given the climate we find ourselves in, I was very surprised not to find any in the reviews I read prior to starting this one. If you are triggered by graphic depictions of active shooter or mass shooting situations, please proceed with caution.

 

A Discovery of Witches – Deborah Harkness

Screen Shot 2018-07-25 at 8.12.45 PMPublisher: Viking

Publication Date: February 8th, 2011

Page Count: 592 (Hardcover)

From the Jacket:

A richly inventive novel about a centuries-old vampire, a spellbound witch, and the mysterious manuscript that draws them together.

Deep in the stacks of Oxford’s Bodleian Library, young scholar Diana Bishop unwittingly calls up a bewitched alchemical manuscript in the course of her research. Descended from an old and distinguished line of witches, Diana wants nothing to do with sorcery; so after a furtive glance and a few notes, she banishes the book to the stacks. But her discovery sets a fantastical underworld stirring, and a horde of daemons, witches, and vampires soon descends upon the library. Diana has stumbled upon a coveted treasure lost for centuries-and she is the only creature who can break its spell.

Debut novelist Deborah Harkness has crafted a mesmerizing and addictive read, equal parts history and magic, romance and suspense. Diana is a bold heroine who meets her equal in vampire geneticist Matthew Clairmont, and gradually warms up to him as their alliance deepens into an intimacy that violates age-old taboos. This smart, sophisticated story harks back to the novels of Anne Rice, but it is as contemporary and sensual as the Twilight series-with an extra serving of historical realism.

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To say that I love this book to the point of obsession would be an understatement. With A Discovery of Witches, Deborah Harkness wrote a book that felt like it was intended for me. It’s full of bad ass female characters, magic, books, history, libraries, witty flirtatious banter, sweet forbidden love, sexy devoted vampires, and just so much more.

As if I need to further my point, the very first scene of the book takes place in Oxford’s Bodleian library! Diana Bishop (as in the Bishops from the Salem Witch Trials) is conducting research when she unintentionally calls up a very old alchemical manuscript known as Ashmole 782, that has very clearly been bewitched. After losing her parents at the hands of other witches at a very young age, Diana has turned her back on her magic and lived a life as free from it and her powerful family as she can. It is because of this that she decides she wants nothing to do with the manuscript and sends it back to the stacks as quickly as she can. Completely unbeknownst to her however, Ashmole 782 has been missing for over a hundred years, and her short interaction with it sets off a domino effect that cannot be stopped.

It took me a few pages to really get into the story, but once I was in nothing could have stopped me from finishing. The action picks up quickly and never lets up, and the steady stream of mysterious new characters including vampires, daemons, and other witches was completely addicting.

After her unsettling interaction with the manuscript, it’s not long before Diana finds herself back in the stacks and face to face with Matthew Clairmont. Clairmont is a very old and very powerful and VERY DREAMY vampire who is initially drawn to her because he overhears that she has found Ashmole 782. However, after a few terse initial interactions, the two become inseparable while they work together to discover the mystery of the manuscript before it’s too late.

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I will not get into too many plot details to avoid major spoilers, but I will discuss some of the stuff that I loved about this book. There are just so many things about it that worked for me, and basically nothing that didn’t. One of my favorite aspects are the settings Harkness creates. They are so vivid and rich in detail that I felt like I was there. I could smell London in the fall, and feel the crisp breeze when Diana was out rowing on the river. She adds so many cozy elements to her scenes like thick soft clothing, warm fires, and a seemingly endless supply of hot tea. Some of the most memorable parts of the book take place in Matthew’s tower rooms in his fortress in France. I never thought I would want to live in a fictional place more than the Gryffindor common room until I read this book. And speaking of Harry Potter vibes, the house where Diana’s aunts live is alive and very opinionated. It slams doors to get their attention and adds rooms when visitors are coming, it hides things it takes a fancy to and keeps other things safe until they are needed. It was like a giant, sassy room of requirement, and I loved everything about it.

A Discovery of Witches is also bursting at the seams with so much history. Matthew is old, like VERY old and Diana is a historian. The conversations they have about historical figures and events and the books that Matthew has in his personal collection made all my nerdy parts sing with joy. The action and magic and romance would have been enough to draw me in and keep me hooked, but these extra details made this book something more for me. And speaking of romance, I am complete Diana and Matthew trash and will ship them until I die.

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(This is from the TV show because apparently there is a TV show and I need to watch it IMMEDIATELY!)

Another thing Harkness mastered in this book, was her creation of well imagined and dynamic characters. They are realistic, relatable, and memorable and she does a phenomenal job explaining their personalities and personal motivations. I fell in love quickly with Diana and Matthew, but also with Ysabeau, Marthe, Hamish, Sarah and Emily. In the wrong hands, such a large cast of characters introduced so quickly could have fallen flat, but she builds each one up expertly and even her minor characters have depth. Additional characters are weaved into the plot up until the very end of the book, and I felt as engaged with the newcomers as I did with the rest.

I could go on and on and on about this book and how much I loved it, but mostly I just want to go start the next one! I hope you will read this series and come chat with me about it. If you’ve already read it, please let me know. I’m running out of people to flail with and could really use your emotional support.

Happy Reading!