PREVIEW: The Four Winds by Kristin Hannah

Newly released this year, Kristin Hannah’s novel The Four Winds has already garnered critical acclaim and a place on bestseller lists. It is a story of the Great Depression and the Dust Bowl, and of America and difficult choices. I am particularly excited to read this new book because I enjoy a good historical fiction novel.

Check out The Four Winds from your local library, or if you would like to purchase a copy, visit your local book store. In Ann Arbor, The Four Winds can be found at Literati Bookstore (where it recently earned the distinction of Staff Pick).

Happy reading!

 

REVIEW: The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue by V.E. Schwab

“…it is sad, of course, to forget.
But it is a lonely thing, to be forgotten.
To remember when no one else does.” 

Adeline LaRue, a young girl in 18th century France, makes a deal with the devil. Or, something like the devil. She’s given the chance to live and be free–but with all dark deals, there is a catch, and that is that she will live until she wants to give up her soul, but that no one can ever remember her, and in this way she walks through the memory of the world as invisible. She cannot say her name, she cannot write, she cannot create or break things. Until, three hundred years later, someone remembers her. 

I’m surprised at the speed with which I devoured this book. I felt like everywhere I turned I was hearing about this novel–from the internet, from friends, from the UofM Honors Reads program that’s scheduled a discussion of the book for early March. Wanting to get a head start for the Honors Reads session, I picked up the book early. I had not predicted that I would be done with the ~450 page sucker in the matter of a few days.

I didn’t want to like this book as much as I did. The books I tend to gravitate towards are typically dark and almost pretentiously intellectual–think Donna Tartt’s The Secret History or Kazuo Ishiguro’s Never Let Me Go. This bestseller, while still possessing some dark and gothic elements, in tone was relatively fluffy and light-hearted. It still managed to captivate me. 

V.E. Schwab has spun a tale that reads smoothly and effortlessly, though at times the pace is slow and repetitive–a flow fitting for the world of our spirited, immortal heroine Addie.

If you’re like me and romance in books has never really struck your fancy, you may find yourself frustrated with the love story of the novel. Beginning the book, I was intrigued to discover how Addie would choose to handle her curse, and was a little disappointed when the story shifted more than I had hoped into a somewhat cliché love triangle trope (albeit with some interesting twists). However, even I was able to set aside my cynicism and enjoy how love and connection mattered in the life of a girl cursed to never experience any.

Despite the heterosexual romance, the representation of bi, pan, and queer characters in the book was, as NPR’s Caitlyn Paxson describes, “refreshingly casual for fiction.” I also appreciated the use of art to weave together the story of Addie LaRue throughout each of the book’s sections.

If not just a fun and entertaining read that I was begrudgingly sucked into for a few days, this book did cause me to think about the idea of living forever with the curse Addie carried. How would I spend my time if I had as much of it as I wanted? In the end, I realized my answer was still relevant to the finite time we all have living now. No matter how many limited or unlimited years, months, days, hours, minutes, seconds we get: it’s not as much about how much time we get, but instead how we choose to savor every bit of it.

3.5/5 stars

REVIEW: The Book of Two Ways

While I was excited to read Jodi Picoult’s newest book, The Book of Two Ways, it turned out to be less enjoyable than I had hoped. Although it is a masterful piece of writing, for me, the death-centric subject hit a little too close to home during the COVID-19 pandemic. In fact found myself avoiding the book and even starting another book at the same time. (Gasp!! I do not usually read multiple books at once.)

Death permeates nearly every page of The Book of Two Ways, and though this may be cathartic for some, it had the opposite effect on me. The novel centers around Dawn Edelstein, a death doula (a job described as like a birth doula, but “at the other end of the life spectrum”), and the divergent paths that her life could have taken. Readers learn that years in the past, she had been a doctoral candidate in the Yale Egyptology program, but she did not complete her degree. The story line alternates between past and present, and in the present-day, she finds herself caught in what could have been. Her dissertation was going to be on The Book of Two Ways, an ancient Egyptian text that is “the first known map of the afterlife.” As a result, there is no escaping the endless theme of death in either of the two storylines. However, what I think finally put me over the edge was a guided death meditation that Dawn completed with one of her clients she has as a death doula. Described in excruciating detail over multiple pages, readers contemplate what it feels like to die alongside the characters. Perhaps my futile desire to avoid this death-talk was all too human (Dawn aptly points out during the meditation that “not a single sentient being – no matter how spiritually evolved, or powerful, or wealthy, or motivated – has escaped death”), but it is the truth, nonetheless. The writing was excellent and the theme important, but I just was not in the headspace to appreciate it.

On the other hand, however, I did enjoy the book’s rich details that engross readers in its world. For one thing, reading The Book of Two Ways whet my appetite to learn more about Egyptology, and though some of the specifics in the book are fictional, many of the facts are real. Additionally, Dawn’s husband, Brian, is a physicist, and this leads to crash-course summaries of the multiverse, electron spin, and Schrödinger’s cat, all of which become instrumental to the plot.

Though I did not personally enjoy reading The Book of Two Ways, it is still a skilled piece of writing that I probably would have appreciated more in non-pandemic times. Indeed, if the quality of a book is measured by the amount of time that it haunts readers’ minds after it has been completed, I was still thinking about The Book of Two Ways for days after I had finished it.

REVIEW: Crushed Marigold

Crushed Marigold is a bountiful expression of love. That was the first thought that came to mind as I read the final words of this poetry chapbook. The warmth and power of Christiana Castillo’s words are radiant, inviting the reader into her story of healing, gratitude, and celebration of roots. 

Castillo is part of one of my most treasured U-M communities: my cohort of future educators. Born in Brazil and currently based out of the Detroit area, she is a Latina/Chicana poet, teaching artist, and gardener. Her contributions to class discussions are always eloquent and meaningful, so when I heard she was publishing a collection of poetry, I knew I would be excited to read it.

The words, both in English and in Spanish, spill onto the page in different shapes and decorate the page with text. When read aloud, these shapes of text create rhythms that change from page to page, rhythms that help tell the stories of each poem. Additionally, the colorful illustrations reinforce the imagery of Castillo’s poetry. Karla Rosas’s whimsical and expressive strokes perfectly capture the imagery and character of each poem. 

Throughout the chapbook, the repetition of “mija” emphasizes a love for community, for family, for tradition, and for brown girls. This love is further sustained by a sense of intergenerational connection that feels deeply sacred and deeply feminine. Many poems in the collection are told through the voice of the Castillo’s grandmother. “Life is buzzing within you mija, / you can transform your hands to carry rain drops. / You can remove withered leaves and make room for new life” (26). These words create vivid images of the beauty of nature and the beauty of self. 

Here, we see that themes of connectedness and femininity extend not only to family and community, but also to the earth. Crushed Marigold urges readers to notice the nature around them that embraces and blesses them every day. Poetry that emphasizes gratitude gives me a feeling of wholeness and grounding, and Castillo’s words do just that.

While moments in the collection serve as poignant reminders of displacement, loss, and oppression, resilience is woven into each page. One of the ways that Crushed Marigold seeks to cultivate this sacred resilience is through self-love, as depicted in the comparison of the female body to a shrine. Here, we see the body connected to history and holiness. This empowering, metaphorical image asserts that one’s heart and body are worthy of abundant respect and love.   

As a whole, Crushed Marigold is a blessing, it is community, it is resistance to colonization, and it harbors an immense love for womxn--especially for brown girls. 

Crushed Marigold is available for purchase: www.flowerflowerpress.press/shop/crushed-marigold

Read about the poet: www.christianacastillo.com/

PREVIEW: The Book of Two Ways by Jodi Picoult

Having read and enjoyed a number of author Jodi Picoult’s novels, including Small Great Things, A Spark of Light, and Leaving Time, I am excited to start on her brand new novel, The Book of Two Ways.

Just released on September 22, the novel’s story is centered around a plane crash and is, according to Picoult’s website, “about the choices that change the course of our lives.”

If you are in need of an escape from school year stress and the news cycle, head to a library or local bookstore to check out The Book of Two Ways. The hardcover edition of the book currently retails for $28.99, or you can get it for free at the library!

REVIEW: The Dutch House

Though Ann Patchett’s novel The Dutch House tells the story of a brother and sister, Danny and Maeve, the real star of the story is the titular estate of their early childhood. The descriptions of it are lavish: the Dutch House “was a singular confluence of talent and luck,” and “seen from certain vantage points of distance, it appeared to float several inches above the hill it sat on.” Its front windows “were as big as storefront windows and held in place by wrought-iron vines.”

In fact, the house takes on a sort of mythical quality as the novel progresses, both in the mind of the reader and in the minds of Danny and Maeve. For the two characters, it comes to represent both an idealized version of the childhood that was taken from them, as well as their mutual hatred of the woman who took it from them. The Dutch House was originally purchased at the end of World War II by Danny and Maeve’s father, marking the beginning of his real estate empire. He was not an affectionate man – according to Danny, “the only thing our father really cared about in life was his work: the buildings he built and owned and rented out” – but he thought the house was wonderful. Danny and Maeve’s mother, on the other hand, felt entrapped in this grand home that once belonged to the since-deceased VanHoebeeks, and she left them when Danny was too young to really remember her. Later, their father was remarried to a woman named Andrea who already had two daughters. The pivotal event of the story, however, is that when Danny and Maeve’s father died, Andrea kicked them out of the house. Danny was still in high school, and Maeve was left to be his guardian, and neither of them had any claim to the Dutch House or any of its contents. The only thing left to them was an educational trust fund, which Maeve strategically drains by forcing Danny to go to medical school.

Though it is by all indications a work of historical or realistic fiction (the story inches closer to modern-day as it follows the siblings through adulthood), the enormous character of the Dutch House makes it read almost like a tragic fairy tale of sorts. It is a place of pain and a place of memories, and it nearly overshadows those of the living characters. The Dutch House’s mythical quality is reinforced by Danny and Maeve’s longstanding ritual of sitting in a parked car on the street in front of the house. It takes the whole story for readers to understand the relationship between the house and the two siblings, as well as the relationship between Danny and Maeve. I will not spoil the ending here, but I will say that the novel comes full circle at its conclusion.

The Dutch House is an engrossing novel of loss, relationships, and loyalties, and I would recommend it to anyone looking for something thought-provoking and enjoyable to read!