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Hamnet by Maggie O'Farrell

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When I picked up this novel, I was skeptical. There was so much praise for Hamnet that I had readied myself for disappointment. What I didn’t expect was to be on the verge of tears a handful of times, despite knowing the outcome.

Maggie O’Farrell’s novel is a moving and unforgettable piece about Shakespeare’s family and the weight of losing a child in the time of the plague. Agnes (better known as Anne), Judith, Susanna, and Hamnet were given personality and depth that mere documentation could never convey. Hamnet breathes life into the family behind the world’s most beloved playwright.

Though a work of fiction, I appreciate how close O’Farrell stayed to the truth. Despite not having a ton of material at her disposal, O’Farrell weaves a realistic — though occasionally mystical — version that’s both gripping and poignant.

If you’re a fan of Shakespeare or historical fiction, I highly recommend giving it a shot.


The New Manifesto by Sam Ernst

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*I received an ARC in exchange for an honest review.*

This novel was a delight to read. The tone of each section varied, offering a unique and thought-provoking reading experience. I found the smaller sections regarding the life of a writer both hilarious and achingly true. Although there was one section I found a little slow, the rest was witty, occasionally satirical, and intriguing.

Sam Ernst is an emerging author to watch out for.


Thin Girls by Diana Clarke

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Diana Clarke does a phenomenal job painting an accurate image of anorexia and how it feels to live with an eating disorder. Unfortunately, the book began to drag about halfway through. There were many instances where the narrator (Rose) repeated herself. There was also too much time spent on particular issues throughout. I feel it would have worked better if less time was given to her time in the facility.

I appreciated how the backstory was interweaved with the present but felt the story was lacking in character development. For the most part, it seemed that neither Rose nor Lily changed much throughout the novel. Sure, recovery was involved, but that isn’t enough to make me truly care for either of them. The main plot was interesting but the execution didn’t really work.


Let Me Tell You What I Mean by Joan Didion

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I have always been a fan of Didion’s work. Let Me Tell You What I Mean is no exception. Though I’ll admit the final essay regarding Martha Stewart was longer than I felt it needed to be, I appreciated her take on MS’s success and fan base. The rest of the pieces were concise, intriguing, and poignant — as is Didion’s signature.

If you haven’t already picked this one up, I recommend it. If you haven’t had the pleasure of reading Didion’s work, now is the time to dip your toes in.

There’s something for everyone. She is known for her contributions to New Journalism (alongside the great Norman Mailer) but has written a number of novels as well; my personal favorite is Play It As It Lays.


Tell Me When You Feel Something by Vicki Grant

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*I received an ARC from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. The following post contains spoilers.*

I was pleasantly surprised by this novel. I was gripped almost immediately by the story; the way it was structured made it easy and pleasant to read. Where many novels make the back and forth of past and present timelines difficult to follow, Tell Me When You Feel Something does it in a way that doesn’t result in whiplash.

The main characters — Davida, Viv, and Tim — are given the amount of backstory needed for the plot to be effective. My only criticism regarding character development relates specifically to Viv; I still don’t completely buy what triggered her alcoholism. Sure, a need to feel in control is important (especially at such a young age), but there were many other ways she could have gone about taking control. She also mentioned never having drunk prior to that year; neither was she particularly close to the partiers. It didn’t jibe with everything else.

The latter section of the book could have been handled with a little more finesse. Sexual assault is such a controversial and triggering topic, and I feel it could have been a larger part of the novel. If the reader was offered the truth behind what happened to Viv closer to the beginning of the third act, there would have been room to expand on her emotions and trauma. Instead, we are offered this information knowing the book ends with her in the hospital. There isn’t much closure on Viv’s end which I believe a story like this needs.

All in all, I enjoyed this book and would recommend it to YA readers nearing the end of high school.


Across the Winding River by Aimie K. Runyan

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Across the Winding River centers around three narrators who become intertwined as the story progresses. Both a story of love and war, this novel has something for every historical fiction reader.

Though the story is captivating and a breeze to get through, I didn’t appreciate the two main coincidences of the plot. Some of the plot points were far too convenient, resulting in a story that felt too clean by the end.

Despite the coincidental plot threads, I really enjoyed this read. I will definitely be picking up Runyan's other work.


Creatures of Charm and Hunger by Molly Tanzer

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Molly Tanzer weaves an enticing bildungsroman centered around two young diabolists. Though Creatures of Charm and Hunger is the final book in a trilogy, the novel works just as well as a standalone piece.

Set in England nearing the end of the Second World War, the reader is confronted with what life was like during wartime… if you were part of a secret society of diabolists. Rife with interesting characters and suspense, this novel plays to both the history buff and lover of all things witchy.

If you enjoy magic realism, witchy/diabolical plots, or historical fiction, this book (and the trilogy with which it is a part) is for you.


Klara and the Sun by Kazuo Ishiguro

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Klara and the Sun is a quick yet fun read about an AF (Artificial Friend) and her relationship with her child, Josie.

Though I enjoyed the prose and the way the plot played out, I was hoping for more depth in the characters. I thought much more could have been done with Klara’s character and the individuals whose lives she touched. Some of the interactions were fleshed out, but a great majority fell short; I would have liked to see more of Klara and the Mother’s relationship because it seemed like there was room for more than what was represented. On another note, Rick’s story storyline line didn’t seem necessary. Sure, his role in the novel affects Klara and Josie, but I felt the book could have done something similar without his existence.

Overall, I found the reading experience enjoyable and plan to give Ishiguro’s other works a read sometime in the near future. I just don’t think the novel’s overarching themes reached their full potential.


The Scarring of the Roshanra by Kara SB Brown

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The Scarring of the Roshanra by Kara SB Brown is a phenomenal fantasy debut. Though the writing and story is great, I would like to preface this review with a trigger warning; the book deals with rape, torture, and PTSD and might prove too much for some readers with traumas of their own.

The story follows Kala, Daniel, and James — three linked individuals with gritty pasts. Much of the novel focuses on their “scarring,” hence the title of the book. The fantasy elements are executed well and I look forward to seeing more of the worlds in the books that follow.

The characters are at the forefront of the book, and there’s nothing I love more than a character-driven plot. The world-building is also effective without being overwhelming; you’re given enough detail to paint an image but there’s still a great deal of mystery to evoke intrigue and suspense.

If you enjoy character-driven plots, fantasy, or adventure novels, I recommend picking this one up.


Mayflies by Andrew O'Hagan

Courtesy of Faber

Mayflies offers a nostalgic look at friendship and the memories we hold onto well into adulthood.

Though I enjoyed the setting of the first half of the novel and felt the dynamic between friends was realistic, I ultimately found I didn’t feel an emotional pull toward anyone — especially Tully. As the book centers around Tully specifically, this meant I didn’t care much about the latter half of the novel and was mostly waiting for compelling character arcs that never came. It seemed that, apart from what little was offered in the first half of the book, I knew nothing about Tully and found myself waiting for the book to reach its conclusion.

Overall, I thought the prose was fun and the setting interesting. I just didn’t care about the characters because they weren’t fleshed out enough.

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