Tehlor Kay Mejia's Paola Santiago and the River of Tears - The Perfect Blend of Middle School and Folklore
Check out my review of this great, middle-grade fantasy book over at unabridgedpod.com.
Thanks to partner Edelweiss for the digital ARC of Roselle Lim’s Vanessa Yu’s Magical Paris Tea Shop in exchange for an honest review. The book will be published on Tuesday, August 4, 2020.
The course of Vanessa Yu’s life changed on her third birthday, when she made her first tea leaf-prompted prediction. Part of a family history of women gifted with the ability to tell fortunes, Vanessa wants nothing more than to be able to stop seeing the future. While her family loves having the inside track, Vanessa dreads hurting those whose fortunes pour out of her in an unstoppable flood.
The other wish her family has for Vanessa? A love match. She’s the oldest unmarried person in her generation, and she vividly feels the pressure to find love.
After a matchmaker shares some bad news with Vanessa and then Vanessa describes an unfortunate future that she can’t take back, Vanessa--eager to escape--agrees to go to Paris with her glamorous Aunt Evelyn, who is opening a tea shop. Vanessa will help her, and in return, Evelyn--who also has the gift of prophecy--will help her develop and control her gift.
Lim includes elements of romance here--Vanessa would love to build a relationship that she doesn’t ruin with an ill-timed prophecy--but the novel is more about Vanessa, as she comes to understand herself and this central part of her identity that she can’t control. The author tells a story full of magic--of course, there’s the fortune telling, but there’s also magic all around, with gold appearing on her skin at a key moment and painted butterflies coming to life. The style immerses the reader in this world in a way that is just lovely.
For those who enjoyed Lim’s first novel, Natalie Tan’s Book of Luck and Fortune, Vanessa Yu’s Magical Paris Tea Shop is a worthy follow up, and I enjoyed this magical book even more!
Summer took over my life (and my motivation!) for a little while, but I'm back! After a lovely--and socially distanced--beach trip, it seems as if summer is coming to an end . . .
Here's a look at what we've had going on for the past month at unabridgedpod.com. Hint: we've chatted with a ton of guests, we've read so many great books, AND we realized that we've hit the midpoint of 2020, which meant it was time to do some reflecting . . .
Thanks to Corie Adjmi for the ARC of Life and Other Shortcomings in exchange for an honest review. The book will be published on Tuesday, August 4.
Corie Adjmi’s short story collection Life and Other Shortcomings circles around a central group of friends who we meet in the first story. “Dinner Conversation” introduces three couples whose ties originated in different ways: childhood friendships, new meetings, parenthood. The connections seem tenuous at times, but as Adjmi builds her collection, she reveals the subtle whims of all relationships, the way that friendships can be cemented or shattered in a moment.
Adjmi’s writing is spare and beautiful. There’s a subtlety that means the power of each story sneaks up on the reader, building to climaxes whose impact can take time and thought to process. These epiphanies hit harder because of their gentleness: they aren’t huge, obvious moments but instead minute shifts of perception.
Even without the power of the stories, I would have loved this book because of the writing. I found myself digging into my tin of book darts on nearly every page, eager to mark each perfect turn of phrase. I was enchanted by Adjmi’s exploration of the transforming definitions of parenthood; of the truth of what holds couples together; of the rules that we’re willing to accept and those we feel compelled to challenge. The idea that we cherish most those things that are denied to us permeates the collection.
There’s joy in finding the connections between the stories, in completing the puzzle of each character, that stayed with me through the book. I found Life and Other Shortcomings to be a beautiful, satisfying reading experience, and I absolutely look forward to devouring Adjmi’s next book.
Thanks to Partner NetGalley for the digital ARC of Byron Lane's A Star Is Bored in exchange for an honest review. The book will be published on Tuesday, July 28.
Byron Lane’s fictional A Star Is Bored details the relationship between fabulous film star Kathi Kannon, daughter of Hollywood royalty, and her assistant, Charlie Besson (our protagonist). I pictured Carrie Fisher in every scene between Kathi and Charlie. But ultimately, that mental casting doesn't matter because the book, at its heart, is about Charlie. (I will admit that, the minute I finished the book, I headed to Google to see: was author Byron Lane really Carrie Fisher's assistant? And the answer is yes. It doesn't *truly* matter because the world he created, and the people within it, are real enough to stand on their own. But I also wanted to know.)
Charlie is depressed and adrift, anchorless after the death of his mother when he was 12 and his father's constant verbal abuse. Charlie's memory is haunted by attacks from his father's attempts to shame and scream Charlie into denying his homosexuality. Miserable in a job writing nightly news updates, Charlie jumps at the chance to interview with Kathi Kannon, who is looking for a new assistant.
From the moment Charlie enters through the gate of her mansion, he is swept into a world where he is running slightly behind, off kilter in the face of Kathi's bizarre requests, brilliant and playful and crass language (she calls him Cockring through the entire book), and expectation that HE should know what to do. I felt a sense of dread in those early moments of their relationship because it's so clear that Charlie has no idea what he should be doing and is ill prepared for the force that is Kathi's will. But Charlie soon resolves to be a good assistant, to figure out what he needs to do, to carve out the best way to take care of Kathi.
Ever-present through the novel is Charlie's awareness of Kathi's drug addiction and the disapproving, yet supportive enabling of Kathi's famous mother, Miss Gracie, who lives on the same estate. In Miss Gracie's assistant, Roger, Charlie sees a potential future, one in which he is inseparable from Kathi, both elevated and doomed by his willingness to sacrifice his autonomy to her glamour and charisma, her Shine, as she calls it.
The book is funny and sad and hopeful and beautiful. There are times that it's almost painful to read--there's some secondhand embarrassment, but there's also a sense of fear when we as readers can see Kathi's path, while Charlie is in denial. I enjoyed the entire book, but the last third, which is so, so tender, made A Star Is Bored a triumph for me.
Thanks to #partner @NetGalley for the digital ARC of Jennifer Weiner's Big Summer in exchange for an honest review. The book is available now.
Somehow, before Big Summer, I had read only one Jennifer Weiner book, but I’ll definitely be adding her backlist books to my wishlist. This novel contains multitudes: a toxic friendship, important messages about body image, a compelling murder mystery, and lavish descriptions of wealth and privilege.
Daphne Berg’s long-time friendship (since sixth grade!) with Drue Cavanaugh ended on the night her career as an influencer began. Drue had set up Daphne with a guy who mocked her weight and then compounds the offense by repeating his criticism. At that point, Daphne knows she’s done with Drue . . . but not what’s happening next. When a bystander releases the video of Daphne going off on him, her social media presence explodes. Now, anchored by her blog Big Time, Daphne makes a career out of self-acceptance.
Daphne has worked hard to purge what’s toxic from her life in favor of focusing on her burgeoning career, her real friendships, her wonderful parents, and the adorable kids she babysits. Then, years later, Drue forces herself back into Daphne’s life with a bizarre request for Daphne: the glamorous Drue wants her former friend to be a bridesmaid in her wedding. Daphne resists at first but eventually gives in to the same magnetic pull that kept her under Daphne’s influence before.
From there, we enter spoiler territory, so I’ll proceed carefully. Drue’s upcoming wedding to a reality tv star means more attention for all involved, and her wealth means that there are ample opportunities for Weiner to set extravagant scenes. Daphne’s skepticism and envy compete as she fights to maintain her autonomy from her former friend. And then, there’s a tragedy and a subsequent mystery that spans the remainder of the book.
I just couldn’t put this book down. Daphne is a likable and empathetic protagonist, someone who is strong and confident but is tempted by self-criticism. I loved her story, I was drawn in by the mystery, and I swooned over the romance (yes, there’s a romance!). Because Weiner is such a great storyteller, these disparate parts are all woven into one, compelling narrative. Big Summer really is a perfect summer read.
I'm Jen Moyers, co-host of the Unabridged Podcast and an English teacher.