Book Review: Such a Fun Age by Kiley Reid

Such a Fun Age by Kiley Reid
Rating: ★★★★☆
Links: Amazon • TBD • Goodreads
Publication Date: December 31, 2019
Source: Borrowed
In the midst of a family crisis one late evening, white blogger Alix Chamberlain calls her African American babysitter, Emira, asking her to take toddler Briar to the local market for distraction. There, the security guard accuses Emira of kidnapping Briar, and Alix’s efforts to right the situation turn out to be good intentions selfishly mismanaged.
 

Going into Such a Fun Age, I knew two things. First, that it was incredibly, incredibly hyped. And second, that it had something to do with race. I assumed, given the title, that it also had something to do with a toddler, because whenever someone says, “that’s such a fun age!” they’re always talking about toddlers. (Clearly I did not read the synopsis, or I would have seen it right there.)

This book is somehow a light, fun read about a bunch of interesting characters and an incredibly important, well-written commentary on the white savior complex and performative allyship. It all begins when Emira, a Black woman who babysits for a rich white couple, is called in late one night to watch the couple’s three-year-old amid a crisis. She’s been out at a party, she’s been drinking a little bit, and she’s not dressed like a normal babysitter, but her boss doesn’t care. She just wants Briar out of the house. So Emira arrives, whisks Briar away to a grocery store (one of her current favorite places), and attempts to distract her until it’s safer to go home. All is fine and good until a security guard accuses Emira of kidnapping Briar, a bystander captures the incident on camera, and everything begins to change.

There are so many levels to this book that I’m not entirely sure where to start. On the surface, we have the blatant racism that led to the accusation against Emira. Everyone agrees that this is wrong. But there are also much subtler incidents of racism in this book as well as people trying so hard to prove that they’re not racist that they end up doing some pretty questionable things. Reid is not afraid to call out people who try to prove that they’re not racist by having the “correct” number of Black friends. She’s not afraid to comment on the use of the N-word by non-Black people. She shows, rather than tells us, how awkward and inappropriate it is to “save” someone who doesn’t need or want saving. And aside from discussions of race, there’s also a great commentary on parenting in this book! Emira’s boss, Alix, treats her two children very differently. While she dotes over her infant daughter, she constantly brushes Briar off on Emira. It’s so heartbreaking to read about her different reactions to Briar and Catherine, and very telling, I think, that she never really leaves Catherine with Emira. There’s also a discussion of Alix’s past and how it’s shaped her into this person who needs to prove that she’s not racist. All in all, there’s a lot going on in this book, but in a really good way.

There were two things that kept me from giving this book five stars, one big and one small. The small thing is that I felt some of the dialogue could have been tightened up. There are some conversations that seem to go on forever when they really don’t need to. The big thing was the ending. I don’t want to spoil it, but it just felt… over the top. I’m not sure that such a dramatic ending was really necessary, but I also can’t think of a better way to have ended it, so it’s still a four-star read.

Side note: I will protect Briar at all costs. That girl is perfect and her random comments were my favorite part of this book.


Have you read Date Me, Bryson Keller? What’s the last book that disappointed you?
Let’s talk in the comments!

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Mini-Reviews: Recent DNFs

So, it turns out that once I get on a DNFing streak, I really get on a DNFing streak. Here are some more mini-reviews from books I’ve abandoned.

Trust Exercise by Susan Choi
Links: Amazon • TBD • Goodreads
Publication Date: April 9, 2019
Source: Borrowed

Pulitzer Finalist Susan Choi’s narrative-upending novel about what happens when a first love between high school students is interrupted by the attentions of a charismatic teacher

In an American suburb in the early 1980s, students at a highly competitive performing arts high school struggle and thrive in a rarified bubble, ambitiously pursuing music, movement, Shakespeare, and, particularly, their acting classes. When within this striving “Brotherhood of the Arts,” two freshmen, David and Sarah, fall headlong into love, their passion does not go unnoticed—or untoyed with—by anyone, especially not by their charismatic acting teacher, Mr. Kingsley.

The outside world of family life and economic status, of academic pressure and of their future adult lives, fails to penetrate this school’s walls—until it does, in a shocking spiral of events that catapults the action forward in time and flips the premise upside-down. What the reader believes to have happened to David and Sarah and their friends is not entirely true—though it’s not false, either. It takes until the book’s stunning coda for the final piece of the puzzle to fall into place—revealing truths that will resonate long after the final sentence.

As captivating and tender as it is surprising, Trust Exercise will incite heated conversations about fiction and truth, friendships and loyalties, and will leave readers with wiser understandings of the true capacities of adolescents and of the powers and responsibilities of adults.

DNF @ 3%

This book was so, so hyped (even Obama recommended it!) but I made it to 3% before I couldn’t take it anymore. THREE PERCENT. Between the constant descriptions of how unattractive the characters were (I get it, you don’t have to remind me on every page) and the weird groping in the middle of class, I just can’t. I know I hardly read any of this book, but based on what I did read, I don’t understand how this book won any awards.


The Hero and the Hacktivist by Pippa Grant
Links: Amazon • TBD • Goodreads
Publication Date: November 9, 2018
Source: Borrowed

For anyone who’s ever been on the receiving end of an unsolicited dick pic…

He has the muscles of Adonis, an ego bigger than the sun, and a very clear desire to get back in my pants. Which would be fantastic if he weren’t a SEAL and I wasn’t a criminal.

Although, I prefer the term avenger.

I’m a hacktivist, cleaning up the cesspool of cyberspace one scam artist and troll at a time, and I sometimes bend a few rules to get justice done.

He’s a military man with abs of glory, sworn to uphold the letter of the law no matter its shortcomings. And if he’d known who—or what—I was, I doubt he would’ve banged me at my best friend’s wedding reception.

Or come back for more.

Which is why he’s now the only thing standing between me and one very pissed off internet troll who’s figured out where I live.

I’m pretty sure he’ll get me out of this alive—and quite satisfied, thank you very much—but I’m also pretty sure this mission will end with me in handcuffs.

And not the good kind of handcuffs.

The Hero and the Hacktivist is a romping fun SEAL / Best Friend’s Brother / Robin Hood in Cyberspace romance between a meathead and an heiress, complete with epic klutziness, terrible leg warmers, and an even worse phone virus gone wrong. This romantic comedy stands alone with no cheating or cliffhangers and ends with a fabulously fun happily ever after.

DNF @ ~5%

It’s actually been a while since I DNFed this one, so I’m estimating about how far I got before I gave up. This book was just one nope after another for me, and it got to be too much really quickly. The book starts with someone randomly throwing up in a corner and then progresses almost immediately to a hate-fuck between two people who’ve never met. Add to that characters who annoyed me from their first mention, and it was a recipe for a DNF.

#romanceopoly: military mews


A Short History of Nearly Everything by Bill Bryson
Links: Amazon • TBD • Goodreads
Publication Date: May 6, 2003
Source: Borrowed

In Bryson’s biggest book, he confronts his greatest challenge: to understand—and, if possible, answer—the oldest, biggest questions we have posed about the universe and ourselves.

Taking as territory everything from the Big Bang to the rise of civilization, Bryson seeks to understand how we got from there being nothing at all to there being us. To that end, he has attached himself to a host of the world’s most advanced (and often obsessed) archaeologists, anthropologists, and mathematicians, travelling to their offices, laboratories, and field camps. He has read (or tried to read) their books, pestered them with questions, apprenticed himself to their powerful minds. 

A Short History of Nearly Everything is the record of this quest, and it is a sometimes profound, sometimes funny, and always supremely clear and entertaining adventure in the realms of human knowledge, as only Bill Bryson can render it. Science has never been more involving or entertaining.

DNF @ 42%

As much as it pains me to say it, I had to DNF my latest attempt at education via Bill Bryson. I loved The Body, but A Short History of Nearly Everything did not hold my attention at all. It’s well-written and full of information, but it’s not what I expected. Rather than give it a bad rating, I just DNFed.


Have you read any of these books? What’s the last book you DNFed?
Let’s talk in the comments!

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Book review: Less by Andrew Sean Greer

Less by Andrew Sean Greer
Rating: ★★★☆☆
Links: AmazonTBDGoodreads
Publication Date: July 18, 2017
Source: Borrowed

Who says you can’t run away from your problems?

You are a failed novelist about to turn fifty. A wedding invitation arrives in the mail: your boyfriend of the past nine years is engaged to someone else. You can’t say yes–it would be too awkward–and you can’t say no–it would look like defeat. On your desk are a series of invitations to half-baked literary events around the world.

QUESTION: How do you arrange to skip town?
ANSWER: You accept them all.

What would possibly go wrong? Arthur Less will almost fall in love in Paris, almost fall to his death in Berlin, barely escape to a Moroccan ski chalet from a Saharan sandstorm, accidentally book himself as the (only) writer-in-residence at a Christian Retreat Center in Southern India, and encounter, on a desert island in the Arabian Sea, the last person on Earth he wants to face. Somewhere in there: he will turn fifty. Through it all, there is his first love. And there is his last.

Because, despite all these mishaps, missteps, misunderstandings and mistakes, LESS is, above all, a love story.

A scintillating satire of the American abroad, a rumination on time and the human heart, a bittersweet romance of chances lost, by an author The New York Times has hailed as “inspired, lyrical,” “elegiac,” “ingenious,” as well as “too sappy by half,” LESS shows a writer at the peak of his talents raising the curtain on our shared human comedy.

I had actually forgotten that I put a hold on Less until I got the email that, a good three months later, it was finally ready for me. My TBR was honestly already derailed enough, but August’s Monthly Motif was “award winners” and this won the Pulitzer, so I guess it worked out in the end. It was also an audiobook, which is a little easier to sneak in than an actual physical book.

I don’t really have any strong feelings about this one. The writing is good, I can say that. The book can be funny, it can be sad, it can be emotional. But it’s hard to feel very bad for a man with the resources to literally travel the world for the sole purpose of avoiding his ex’s wedding. I know it wouldn’t have been as good of a story, but couldn’t he have just… I don’t know… declined the invitation? I mean, I hate conflict and confrontation more than the average person, but I don’t think that I would fly to Morocco to avoid my one and only ex. (Although, admittedly, he didn’t invite me to his wedding, so maybe I would have.)

In the end, I was entertained by Less, but I wasn’t blown away.

#mm18: award winners


Have you read Less? Do you usually read Pulitzer winners?
Let’s talk in the comments!


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Book review: Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng

Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng
Rating: ★★★★★
Links: AmazonTBDGoodreads
Publication Date: September 12, 2017
Source: Borrowed

Everyone in Shaker Heights was talking about it that summer: how Isabelle, the last of the Richardson children, had finally gone around the bend and burned the house down.

In Shaker Heights, a placid, progressive suburb of Cleveland, everything is meticulously planned – from the layout of the winding roads, to the colours 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 teenage daughter Pearl, and rents a house from the Richardsons. Soon Mia and Pearl become more than just tenants: all four Richardson children are drawn to the alluring mother-daughter pair. But Mia carries with her a mysterious past, and a disregard for the rules 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 Mrs. Richardson on opposing sides. Suspicious of Mia and her motives, Mrs. Richardson becomes determined to uncover the secrets in Mia’s past. But her obsession will come at unexpected and devastating costs to her own family – and Mia’s.

Little Fires Everywhere explores the weight of long-held secrets and the ferocious pull of motherhood-and the danger of believing that planning and following the rules can avert disaster, or heartbreak.

“Sometimes you need to scorch everything to the ground and start over. After the burning, the soil is richer, and new things can grow. People are like that, too. They start over. They find a way.” 

As much as I want to like this kind of slow-moving, character-driven literary fiction, I often don’t. In general, I tend to feel like I’m missing something when I read literary fiction. Like there’s some integral part of it that I just didn’t grasp. With Little Fires Everywhere, I never got that feeling. With Little Fires Everywhere, aside from a bit of a slow start, I was hooked.

I think this is probably going to be the most hyped book that I read in 2018 (we’ll see) — but the hype is totally worth it. At the time of writing this review, there were 198 (electronic) holds on this book at my library! Luckily they have 34 electronic copies. Surprisingly, I only had to wait about a month for my copy.

A confession: I didn’t read the blurb. I just knew that everybody loves this book and I jumped in blind. Because of that, the book went in some directions I really didn’t expect! (Although even if I’d actually read the blurb, I think there were still some twists I wouldn’t have seen coming.)

At first glance, the book seems to be about the teenagers. And, truly, all of the teenagers were wonderful in their own ways. (Even Moody, as he was saying unforgivable things at the end, was at least acting realistically.) I loved the strong friendship that developed between the teenagers throughout the book, but this isn’t a book about them. Not really, at least.

More than anything, I think, this is a book about the parents. Their decisions. Their actions and the reactions they caused. Mrs. Richardson thinks she’s doing the best thing for her four children, but she’s so blind to her mistakes and the pain that they cause. Mia is a great mother, but moving Pearl all over the country has surely shaped her personality. Then we have Mrs. McCullough, a white woman who adopts a Chinese-American baby under controversial circumstances and has no idea why people are asking her if she knows a single thing about Chinese culture.

The book ends in a way that’s somehow, at the same time, shocking and completely expected. I was so pleasantly surprised by how much I enjoyed it. Highly recommended if you’re in the mood for a character-driven novel.


Have you read Little Fires Everywhere? Are you planning to?
Let’s talk in the comments!


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Book review: Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman

⭐ Goodreads ⭐ Amazon ⭐

Eleanor Oliphant is completely fine, except that she’s not fine at all.  The large scar on her face and her oddly developed social skills mean that she’s the butt of the joke for her gossipy coworkers.  She lives by herself, going entire weekends without human contact, downing bottle after bottle of vodka alone in her flat. Her one human connection is with her vicious Mummy, who contacts her once a week seemingly just to insult and berate her.

When Eleanor and office IT guy Raymond witness an elderly man collapsing in the street, they take him under their wing to ensure that he gets to the hospital safely. Thus begins Eleanor’s first friendship in decades, and, maybe, the first step to repairing her heart.

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