Review of Sing, Unburied, Sing by Jesmyn Ward

“Sometimes the world don’t give you what you need, no matter how hard you look. Sometimes it withholds.”

— Sing, Unburied, Sing, Jesmyn Ward

While beautifully written, I don’t think Sing, Unburied, Sing by Jesmyn Ward was the book for me. Knowing that Ward is a fellow University of Michigan alum and that Sing, Unburied, Sing was on Barack Obama’s 2017 reading list, I desperately wanted to love this book, but I only liked it.*

*Which, I should note, is still a good thing and I do recommend this book if you are a fan of literary fiction!

Sing, Unburied, Sing tells the story of one family, their struggles, and their strengths. The story starts with Jojo, a thirteen-year-old boy who idolizes his grandfather and wants to be a man just like him. Jojo’s mother, Leonie, is struggling even more. With her children’s father in jail, past traumas haunting her, and a drug addiction, Leonie is not equipped to raise Jojo or her daughter.

The bulk of this story revolves around the journey of the family as they go to pick up the children’s father from jail. On the road, the family face more struggles that challenge their ways of thinking and makes them question the lives they are living.

There was no question that this book was beautiful and heartbreaking. As a literary fiction, it excelled. However, some logistical problems kept me from fully falling in love with this family’s story.

Just to quickly list them out:

  • The timeline was unclear. 
    There were times when it was obvious there was a flashback happening, but other times the flashbacks or memories were nestled into the chapters. This threw me off at times and I found myself having to go back and reread sections to figure out where in time I was.
  • I didn’t truly understand the character of Richie.
    While I know Richie was a very important part of Pop’s backstory, I don’t know why he had to be included in Jojo’s story. It seemed like Jojo was not at all receptive to Richie or his message. It didn’t seem like Richie served much of a purpose except to weave some supernatural elements throughout the story.
  • The magical realism wasn’t clear.
    The magical realism throughout this novel is what left me confused most of the time. It was never clear if the “ghosts” the family were seeing were actual ghosts or hallucinations or something else entirely. While Ward wrote these moments beautifully, I didn’t quite understand how the family was seeing these supernatural occurrences and why.

My biggest issue with this novel is that, by the end, I didn’t understand why I was told this story. The issues presented at the beginning were not resolved by the end. A lot of this novel could have been removed and the ending would have stayed the same. While I felt Ward’s prose was masterful, I felt like it didn’t progress the story at times.

Despite those negatives, I do think Sing, Unburied, Sing is an important novel that needs to be out in this world. It doesn’t shy away from racism or drug abuse. It talks about these issues and doesn’t glamorize them. It shows how racism has caused many of the family’s struggles. From Pop’s time in prison to the murder of Given to Leonie’s children having a white father, the family in this novel has always faced struggles due to racism. Sing, Unburied, Sing also shows how drug use has kept Leonie from being a mother to her children and how it has pulled them away from her. This novel takes the ugly things from this world and writes about them lyrically, which left an unsettled feeling in my stomach.

Overall, I liked this book. It gets a solid three out of five stars from me.

Review of Bird Box by Josh Malerman

“How can she expect her children to dream as big as the stars if they can’t lift their heads to gaze upon them?

— Bird Box, Josh Malerman

*Note: Bird Box is the middle book in this photo. The other two novels were pretty great too!

If you’re in need of a chilling, horrifying novel, Bird Box by Josh Malerman is absolutely something you need to pick up. It didn’t matter what page of this book I was on, there was always something terrifying that took place.

Bird Box tells the story of a post-apocalyptic world in which it is not safe to open your eyes. If you do open your eyes, you risk going mad. The world is filled with “creatures” that the human mind can’t comprehend and their presence has completely changed the way the world works. Bird Box centers around Malorie who has just found out she’s pregnant as the world is falling apart around her. Five years later, Malore is trapped in an abandoned house with her two children. Her children have been raised and trained for the perfect moment to leave the house in search of a safer life. One foggy day, it’s time.

This book chronicles Malorie’s and the children’s journey down the river to safety as well as Malorie’s life leading up to this moment. Each chapter alternates years and events, but stays centered on Malorie’s story.

The premise of this novel was different from the other post-apocalyptic novels I’ve read and I thought Malerman did a phenomenal job of creating such a chilling world. He weaved tension and anxiety throughout each of the pages expertly. I was kept on my toes with each page turn, unsure of what was about to happen next. Bird Box was the perfect length. Malerman edited his book so that each word was crucial to the story and nothing was lost.

I enjoyed this read immensely and the chills stayed with me for days. Also, Josh Malerman is a metro-Detroit native just like myself so he gets even more props for that! He’s also in a local band, check out The High Strung!

A solid 4 out of 5 stars for Bird Box. If you need a chilling, horror novel then you need to pick this book up!

“I wish you more happiness than can fit in a person”: A review of We Are Okay

“I was okay just a moment ago. I will learn how to be okay again.”

— We Are Okay, Nina LaCour

There is no doubt in my mind that We Are Okay by Nina LaCour is a five-star book.

We Are Okay is a heart wrenching, beautiful, and uniquely human. LaCour did an amazing job with capturing human emotion within the pages of this book. I felt for every character – even ones who only appear for short stretches.

We Are Okay tells a story of grief, love, and betrayal through experiences of Marin. Marin leaves her hometown for the quiet, lonely sanctuary of a New York college campus. Marin has isolated herself from everyone, the only exception being her roommate, as she quietly suffers a devastating loss. It isn’t until her best friend from home, Mabel, arrives that Marin must face her grief and events from her past.

Personally, I believe the best part of this book is LaCour’s writing. She makes the reader feel Marin’s pain as her words bring grief and loss to life. Marin’s past unfolds on the pages in front of you as she is struggling to deal with the events. It is almost like LaCour wanted you, as the reader, to discover what happened to Marin as she is coming to terms with it herself.

My biggest complaint is that I wished the book were longer. I wanted to dive into Marin and Mabel’s relationship, learn how Marin became reliant on her roommate, and see into the thoughts and feelings of Marin’s grandfather. LaCour made these characters so real and I wanted to know everything about them. That being said, I think We Are Okay was the perfect telling of Marin’s story. It made the people in her life as real as she was, but ultimately was her telling of how she handled loss and betrayal.

I cannot recommend this book enough. It was a quick read, but so worth your time.

The Alienist by Caleb Carr: A review

In celebration of the premiere of The Alienist on TNT last night, I thought I would tell you my thoughts on the book.

I read The Alienist by Caleb Carr to prepare myself for the TV show and because my mom highly suggested (and when your bookworm mom suggests something, you listen). I’ve mentioned before that I am a sucker for true crime. I love reading, listening to, and watching all things true crime. While The Alienist is a work of fiction, it felt like it drew a lot of inspiration from true crime and that’s what made me love it.

The Alienist tells the story of Dr. Laszlo Kreizler and his work to solve some of the first serial killings in Gilded Age New York City. Kreizler is an “alienist” or, what we now call, a psychologist. This book starts with Dr. Kreizler summoning his friend John Moore to view the mutilated body of a young boy. This moment sparks an investigation that causes uproar and danger to those around them.

My biggest issue with this story is how slow the pacing is at the beginning of the novel. Carr writes a lot of exposition and back story through the eyes of John Moore. It takes a little while to get into the novel and into the crime solving aspect of it, but once you do… wow, does this book really take off. Once I got to that point, I did not want to stop reading. I texted my mom so many times asking her if my theories were right (she did the right thing by not telling me anything until after I had finished) because I wanted to non-stop talk about this book. I even bored my boyfriend and talked to him about it! It was just that thought-provoking.

I loved the dynamic between all of the characters. Each character brought something important to the team and without them, the case couldn’t have been solved. There was always intrigue about each character as well. Carr, master of exposition, provided you with back stories to each character throughout the novel. He really created the sense that these could have been real people solving horrendous murders in the late 1800s and I really enjoyed that.

Carr also brought the murderer to life on the pages. You don’t meet the murderer until the very end, but they feel like a very real entity throughout the entire novel. Kreizler’s method of piecing the person together brought a sense to the reader (and the characters) that the person committing the murders was a very real person with very dangerous tendencies.

I found myself completely sucked into this book throughout the last half. It was entertaining, creepy, and a little chilling how realistic Carr made his murderer. I cannot wait to watch how TNT brings this book to life on screen. I’m sure it’ll be great though!

The Alienist got four out of five stars from me! I am definitely planning on reading the next book that features Dr. Laszlo Kreizler and his team.

If you’re interested in learning more about the show, click here.

No visitors. No contact. No return.: A review of The Blinds

“There’s nothing special about this place, he thinks. We all forget. Then we forget what we forgot. And that’s how we survive.”

 —  The Blinds, Adam Sternbergh

I was very impressed with The Blinds by Adam Sternbergh. It was well-developed, well-written, and incredibly interesting.

The Blinds is a modern Western thriller that takes place in the town of Caesura. It is  populated with criminals who have been pulled from their lives and had their memories altered. These people were granted a second chance to live a quiet life away from the prying eyes of society. They are free to leave at any time, but, if they do leave, they’ll end up dead.

Caesura has been running smoothly for eight years thanks to Sheriff Cooper (I pictured him as Hopper from Stranger Things). However, after a murder and a suicide in quick succession, the town begins to question their safety. Not only does Cooper need to protect his residents, but he needs to protect his secrets. With a deputy that keeps prying and outsiders that are threatening to tear the town apart, Caesura is no longer the quiet escape from the world it once was.

I would say calling this book a modern Western is incredibly accurate. It has elements of a Western as well as a thriller. This book was a page-turner for me. I kept reading because I had to find out what in the world was going on in the town of Caesura and what Cooper was hiding.

I found the characters incredible interesting, especially when their backstories were revealed. It was obvious to me that Sternbergh put a lot of thought into his characters and the memories they wanted to forget. This book begs the question, if you don’t remember what you did and you are a completely different person, isolated from the world, should you still be held accountable for your actions? What warrants a second chance?

There were many interesting themes explored at a quick pace. There were surprises at every turn and I was kept guessing throughout most of the story. My only complaint (and it’s a small one), is that the ending wrapped up a little too neatly. After the huge reveals at the end, it seemed difficult for me to believe that things would have been that easy to wrap up.

All that being said, I give The Blinds a three and a half out of five stars. I really liked this book and was completely engrossed in the story. If you’re looking for an interesting, western style thriller, this book is for you!

How to Find Love in a Bookshop: A review

Have I got a book for all of you book lovers.

The whole premise of this book is love and, well, books.

How to Find Love in a Bookshop by Veronica Henry tells the story of all of the people who have had their lives impacted by a local bookshop and it’s owner. Most of the story focuses on Nightingale Books and Emilia Nightingale’s struggles to save the business after her father’s passing; however, stories of others are spread throughout its pages to give you an idea of just how much influence Nightingale Books had on the people of Peasebrook.

A great of this book was how the characters came to life throughout the story. I found myself feeling like I knew Emilia and her father, Julius, as if I lived in Peasebrook myself. I felt for Thomasina and found myself encouraging her to power through her shyness. I wanted to hug Alice and tell her what a terrible decision she was making with Hugh… Henry did an amazing job making me feel like I truly knew the characters in the world she had created.

How to Find Love in a Bookshop was a truly lovely read. Despite the sadness woven throughout, the book told a happy tale about love and human connection. I think that my favorite part about this book was its message about connection and how just one person can have such an impact on everyone, even in death. Although Julius was not physically present in the book (save for the exposition chapter about how Emilia came into his life), you could feel his influence through all of Peasebrook.

Henry’s writing style was lovely and got me lost in the book’s pages. In the story, the lives of the characters, the city of Peasebrook… everything. Everything in this book was so heartfelt and had me wishing I could experience the love created by Nightingale Books.

If you love books and find yourself happy when you’re surrounded by them, I highly suggest you lose yourself in the world of How to Find Love in a Bookshop. It tells the story of so many types of love (especially a love of books) and I don’t think you’ll regret reading this book.

Distractions from reading: TV shows that I highly recommend

I got a cold during the holidays. One that made my life a little miserable. I could barely get through books because I was so exhausted and did not want to get out of bed.

This is where binge-watching TV shows came in handy.

I recently caught up on a few that I feel are worth mentioning:

5. Outlander

Most bookworms probably know all about Outlander. This show was created off of a series of books written by Diana Gabaldon. It follows the story of Claire Beauchamp Randall and Jamie Fraser. Claire travels to Scotland with her husband in 1946 as a second honeymoon. It is on this honeymoon that Claire discovers a circle of standing stones, which she travels through and disappears from 1946.

Claire wakes up in 1743 with nothing but the clothes on her back. It is in 1743 where she meets (and has to marry) highlander, Jamie Fraser,  and their love story begins.

This show is currently on season 3, which is well into Claire and Jamie’s story. If you haven’t watched this show, I highly suggest it. It’s a great historical fiction love story that is filled with adventure and interesting politics. I also can’t complain about Sam Heughan and his looks.

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I mean… c’mon.

I will give you a fair warning though! Season 1 is quite slow and I had to power through the first couple episodes. I think the last few episodes of season 1 is where the show really finds its stride and is definitely worth watching by that point.

4. Ultimate Beastmaster

I might need to explain this one a little for you.

I love competition shows.

I especially love obstacle course competitions.

Ultimate Beastmaster is both of those things. This show has competitors from around the world (season 1 and 2 focus on different countries) to take on, what they call, “The Beast”. Each episode focuses on 12 competitors (2 from each country) as they make their way through a physically demanding obstacle course. The winner from each episode then goes on to compete in the final episode for a prize of $50,000 and the title of “Ultimate Beastmaster”.

This show is ridiculously fun and exciting. My favorite part of the show is the hosts. There are two hosts from every country so there is diversity and fun rivalry. This is a great show to have on in the background when just need something mindless.

Ultimate Beastmaster currently has two seasons on Netflix so, if you have any interest, go watch it!

PS. Did I mentioned Terry Crews is a host in season 1?

3. The Good Place

Kristen Bell is my idol. She is fun and bubbly and adorable and, of course, loves sloths. So when I found out she was in a new show, I knew I had to watch it.

The Good Place is about the afterlife. Eleanor Shellstrop (Kristen Bell) wakes up in “the good place”, but it doesn’t take her very long to figure out she’s not supposed to be there. She hides in plain sight from the good place’s architect, Michael, and enlists the help of her neighbors and soulmate so she can earn her place in “the good place”.

This show is bizarre, fun, and utterly hilarious. The chemistry between all of the characters is amazing. All of the characters are eccentric and are what make the show so good.

The Good Place is a classic sitcom. The characters find themselves in some far-fetched mess that they need to clean up by the end, but the twist at the end of season 1 turned the whole show up on its head. It also has funny jokes throughout each episode that I can’t help but laugh at.

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Quite possibly my favorite joke in the show: The Shrimp Dispenser

I cannot recommend this show more. It takes a boring trope and surrounds it with such strangeness that it turns it around completely. The jokes are well thought out and I will sing the praises of the cast until the end of time.

2. MINDHUNTER

Do you like true crime? If the answer is yes, then MINDHUNTER is for you.

MINDHUNTER is a fiction retelling of the conception of the Behavioral Science Unit of the FBI. It follows young FBI agent, Holden Ford, and veteran agent, Bill Tench, as they begin to study a new type of criminal: serial killers.

The best part about this show is Jonathan Groff (of Glee, Frozen, and Hamilton fame). Groff plays Holden Ford and does a stellar job. He captured the essence of the character so perfectly and made me forget that he was the king in Hamilton any time I watched the show.

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Kind of hard to forget Groff’s performance as King George… but he made it happen!

MINDHUNTER is classic true crime. It features prolific serial killers, questionable characters (even those who you think are supposed to be the “good guys”), and intense themes. Every minute of this show put me on my toes and made me want to watch more of it.

It’s definitely not a quick watch and you have to focus on it while you’re watching it, but I think it’s totally worth it!

1. Brooklyn Nine-Nine

Let me tell you about my favorite show ever. It stars Andy Samburg and it is the most important cop show ever.

Brooklyn Nine-Nine a sitcom about the 99th precinct of the Brooklyn police force. The show starts with a new captain joining the force, Ray Holt. Holt’s commanding presence throws a wrench in the life of Jake Peralta (Samburg) an immature, but talented officer.

This show is the perfect balance of chemistry between characters, cold opens, and witty humor. It is funny without being insulting to any groups of people. There, of course, is the right amount of stupid humor. There are jokes that have made me laugh uncontrollably. Andy Samburg has had stare-downs with a corgi, Terry Crews constantly refers to himself in third person, Chelsea Peretti’s character is a role model… I could go on.
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There are so many reasons to love this show, but the friendships between all of the characters is what keeps me in it. Sure, they all make fun of each other, but you can tell it’s because they all love each other. The 99th Precinct is a team that compares to no others.

If you need a show to put you in a good mood, to make you laugh, or to revel in how amazing human friendships can be… Brooklyn Nine-Nine is for you.

Honorable mentions: