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Category Archives: Must Read

The Sisters Brothers by Patrick DeWitt

So, this book has been waiting to be reviewed for ages. And it has nothing to do with the quality of this book. Or, actually, it does. It’s like a negative correlation: the better the book the harder it is for me to review it. Ah, first world problems.

What I’m trying to say is that this book is really good. It’s about these two brothers – Charlie and Eli Sister – who are basically hired guns in the mid-1800s. They are the de facto arm of the law in the western territories where state or federal government hasn’t really been established. I know what you’re thinking: vigilantes? No, fanks! But guys, these brothers don’t only answer to money or their boss. They operate under a higher and more sacred system: honor. You know when honor is involved, things get real. And quick.

So: these Sisters brothers are on their way West (near present-day California) looking for a gentlemen who has wronged their boss. And everywhere they encounter greedy-eyed cut throats in search of gold:

This perhaps was what lay at the very root of the hysteria surrounding what came to be known as the Gold Rush: Men desiring a feeling of fortune; the unlucky masses hoping to skin or borrow the luck of others, or the luck of a destination…To me, luck was something you either earned or invented through strength of character. You had to come by it honestly; you could not trick or bluff your way into it. (115-16)

Because this is the gold rush and money is what it’s all about. And whores. There are plenty of those, too. So, a little something for everyone. Well played, Mr. DeWitt.

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Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand by Helen Simonson

You know how after you read Pride and Prejudice you were like, “I am never going to find a book so well written with such a meaningful love story but I’m still gonna try”? Well, stop looking!

Before I go into reviewing the plot and characters and what have you, can we just talk about this cover. Ugh. So adorable!

Okay, focus. So Major Pettigrew has just found out through a phone call from his insufferable sister-in-law that his brother passed when he hears a knock at his front door. Mrs. Ali – a widow who owns a tea shop Major Pettigrew frequents – immediately recognizes his distress and takes measures to calm him down. And in Britain this means tea.

Thus begins a beautiful relationship. I am not going to go into the minor characters or the subplots except to say they only add to the complexity of the bond Mrs. Ali and Major Pettigrew share. There are so many forces pulling them apart – racism, age, colonialism, religion, family, class, etc. – but somehow their lives keep leading them to each other. And they see in each other what they need to get by in the world.

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The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows

Okay, first, would you take a look at this title? It’s like Don’t Be a Menace to South Central While Drinking Your Juice in the Hood all over again! But it has such purpose you guys!

The book is almost entirely made up of letters: correspondences between various characters in the book. When I saw this, my thoughts went straight to Dear Mr. Henshaw and how much I disliked that book. But it works because 1) there is more than one character writing the letters, 2) each character has dimension, and 3) the characters actually carry conversations instead of writing to someone who never responds (ahem…Mr. Henshaw).

Henyways, the novel is set in post-WWII Britain and centers on Juliet Ashton, a recently-published and successful author in search of a new subject. She is also lightly batting off the attentions of a new beau, approved of only by her best friend but not the friend’s brother. Raised eyebrows,right? In the midst of all this, Ashton receives a letter from a stranger residing in Guernsey, a little known island off the coast of Britain that was occupied by Germany during the war. And this place exists, people. Like, it’s on a map and everything. Who knew?

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What Alice Forgot by Liane Moriarty

When Alice comes to after falling off her exercise bike and hitting her head on the handle bars during her spin class, her first thought is about her unborn child. Is little Sultana (the nickname that Alice and her husband – Nick – came up with for the baby) all right? Her second thought is of Nick. He is going to be so worried about her and the baby. And once he realizes it’s no big D, he’s going to laugh at Alice’s characteristic klutzy-ness.

But it is a big D. And Alice realizes this soon after she gets to the hospital. When her sister – Elizabeth – comes to visit her, Alice can’t help but notice the coldness in her eyes and words. Her mom is also unrecognizable when she comes in. It isn’t until the doctor comes in and begins asking routine questions to check for brain damage that we realize the extent of Alice’s injury. She thinks it’s 1998. It’s really 2008.

Alice forgot everything, ya’ll. This would be bad in the best of circumstances but, you guys! Things. Have. Changed. And Alice realizes this most painfully when she calls her husband, Nick, to explain the ordeal and all she gets back is an angry and profane response accusing her of being a manipulative wretch. A dumbstruck Alice hangs up the phone after the tirade and only then is told by Elizabeth just what she’s forgotten. Alice is not 29, newly married, and expecting her first child. She is 39, has three children, and is in the middle of a divorce and a nasty custody battle.

That sucks.

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Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? (and Other Concerns) by Mindy Kaling

Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me?Everyone should go find a copy of this book if for no other reason than just to see the picture of Ms. Kaling as a child. I literally lol’d when I saw it. Aside from the innate hilarity of the picture, it shows just what lengths Mkale is willing to go to in order to make people laugh. And that’s kind of the theme of this book.

Mindy Kaling loves comedy. Like, seriously. When we were spending our times watching inane cartoons, collecting stickers, playing video games/sports, or ogling the guys in the latest issue of Seventeen, Kaling was putting on skits that she co-wrote with her weekend-friend (Oh, it’s a thing. Read the book.) for her family.

There are two chapters in the book that I absolutely loved. The first one is titled, “Chubby for Life,” where Kaling discusses her weight. According to her, she’s always been chubby except for two periods in her life: 1) when a middle school classmate embarrassed her into eating less and 2) when she exercised regularly in college with the help of an incredibly generous friend who seemed to have a lot of time on her hands. Otherwise, Mindy Kaling = Chubby. And she’s okay with that. Really. The point of this chapter is to show how unsupportive Hollywood is. I know what you’re thinking: duh. But Kaling explains it like this: in Hollywood, it’s okay for people to be skinny or fat. But if you are somewhere in between, you’re frustrating. Stylists don’t know how to dress you and people have a hard time casting you. Mindy gets around this problem by writing her own characters (e.g. Kelly Kapoor in The Office).

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The Road by Cormac McCarthy

The Road by Cormac McCarthyFirst of all, please don’t think I picked this book up because of the Oprah endorsement. I’m made of meatier things than can be swayed by an Empress. But when it comes to Viggo Mortensen, I’m JELLY. It might have something to do with his hair/face/body. Anyhoo, I remember seeing the cover of the book whilst shelving at the unnamed bookstore I worked for and thinking, “Oh, Viggo, when will we stop playing these games?” At around the same time my brother saw No Country for Old Men and was all, “I’m scared to sleep alone.” That movie being based on a McCarthy book paired with Viggo on the cover of THIS book slayed me. So I began the reading.

And let me tell you. It is not a happy read. Clinically depressed people and people prone to over-sympathizing, stay away. You will not have a happy thought for days. Not exaggerating.

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A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness

A Monster Calls by Patrick NessA monster calls on Conor just after midnight in the shape of a yew tree looming over his bedroom window.  But Conor is not afraid.  “I’ve seen worse,” he says.  And he has – his waking life is filled with helping care for his mother during another round of cancer treatments, a father who has largely disappeared to be with his new family in America, a gang of bullies at school, and losing faith in his one true friend.  Amid all this turmoil, it is almost a relief to be visited by the yew tree at night.  Or at least it’s a nice change of pace from the monster in his other nightmare – the one that truly frightens him.

The idea for this book came from a Young Adult author named Siobhan Dowd, who unfortunately passed away from breast cancer in 2007.  (I am not familiar with Dowd’s work, but will certainly be looking it up now.)  Patrick Ness was called in to shape the idea into book form, along with illustrator Jim Kay, and the result is something special.  The language is simple but haunting, and Conor’s pain and uncertainty show in stark and heartrending ways.  The illustrations are dark, textured, and expressive, and add immeasurably to the overall atmosphere of the book.  Simply put, this is a beautiful volume in terms of story, prose, and presentation.

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