HottReads: Volume Eight [Summer Reads Redux]

According to my Facebook page, which lives to shame me in oh-so-many ways (yes, internet, I did see that yet another person who graduated 8 years after me is now the owner of a 4 bedroom home, including their own washer dryer, and is busy filling said 4 bedrooms with beautiful offspring), it has been 69 days since I Iast blogged.

Oops.

One could call this extreme creative laziness or assume I did it on purpose, to indulge my puerile sense of humor.

69! Tee hee!

Regardless, it’s been a long, long while and the more time that passes, the harder I find it is to start back up again. Words bounce and scatter, ideas scrabble around around in my mind like squirrels in an attic, only to scamper away when I try to put them on the page. One of these days I’ll find a way to trap them, train them, make them my pets. But until then, I’ll ease back in doin’ what I do best, talking about books.

Summer 2016 is rapidly drawing to a close (sob!), with one last long weekend into which we must attempt to squeeze out every last drop of the season. A last grasp at beach days, lobster rolls, rose and oh indeed, summer reads.

So for anyone needing a literary accessory to toss in their weekend bag, here are three more big summer releases you may yet have had a chance to discover. 

homegoing yaa gyasi hottsauce hottreads book review

 

Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi

Gyasi is one of the buzziest young authors of the year and rightly so. Homegoing is an ambitious epic, spanning centuries and continents to tell the story of two branches of one family with their roots in Ghana’s red soil.

Effia and Esi are two half sisters born in different villages in the 18th century and unaware of the other’s existence. Effia is married off to a British general and lives in comfort in the Cape Coast Castle where, unbeknownst to her, Esi is imprisoned in the dungeon below her before being sold into American slavery. The story then unfolds in alternating chapters, telling the stories of sisters’ descendents, Effia’s pulled into centuries of warfare and colonization in Ghana, Esi’s living through the horrors of slavery, Jim Crow, police brutality, right up to modern day.

It’s a hugely ambitious novel and for the most part, I think Gyasi pulls it off. Some critics and reader pals lamented that the chapter-by-chapter storytelling made it difficult to get pulled into any one tale and that some of the sections felt allegorical, shoehorned into checking off Key Moments in Black American History. I hear those criticisms but none of that bothered me. In Esi and Effia’s families, as in all families, fables and legends play a huge role in honoring and remembering the past and the art of storytelling is crucial in building the novel. To me, each of these short chapters was a fable itself, a little story within a bigger family story within an enormous story of two countries linked by a dark and painful history.

It’s a testament to Gyasi’s incredible writing, character building, and attention to detail that every segment leapt off the page for me, that I would have happily continued along in any of them, endlessly. I can’t wait to see what she does next.

Recommended for: Everyone. Really! Gyasi is immensely talented and a writer to watch and I think that in this moment, as we consider the tumultuous state of race relations in America, it is vital to look back on the sins of our past and the deep wounds than linger (rightly so!), before we can move forward.  

Your Summer Reading Scene: Your comfiest deck chair, next to an XXL box of tissues.

you will know me megan abbott hottreads book review hottsauce

 

You Will Know Me by Megan Abbott

Y'all know I love me some Megan Abbott and have been eagerly awaiting her latest release since the moment I heard of its publication. And praise Bey, it did not disappoint.  No one can tap into the complex minds of teenaged girls better than Abbott and here she turns her eye on the world of competitive gymnastics. At the center of the novel is Devon Knox, a hugely talented teenage gymnast, and her family, including her overlooked younger brother, overworked father, and overwhelmed mom Katie, who tries to hold it all together and narrates the novel.

The Knoxes are part of a close-knit community of gymnastics families, tied together by a gnarled web of ambition, jealousy, support, and obligation. The mysterious death of Ryan, a young man who works at the gym, splinters the community and threatens to upend everything they’ve worked so hard to achieve.

While the mystery of Ryan’s death is the central crux of the novel, it - like all of Abbott’s novels - is much more than a whodunit. Instead, she digs into the psyche of a family unraveling, discovering secrets that even the closest of families can hide from one another, exploring how far parents will go to protect their children, the lives they’ve built.

I absolutely inhaled this book in one sitting. Granted, I had nowhere else to go,I was on a cross country flight, but still! I was so absorbed I didn’t even realize I was stuck in a middle seat and the second I finished, had to restrain myself from running to the front, grabbing the flight attendant microphone and giving an impassioned book report for all the flight to hear.

That would have been a good story, huh?!

Recommended for: former gymnasts, Simone Biles superfans unable to let the Olympics go, readers of domestic suspense, family drama, teenage angst

Your Summer Reading Scene: Snuggled up on the very same couch upon which you glued your ass in front of the Rio Games mere days ago.

 

cabin 10 ruth ware hottreads book review

 

The Woman in Cabin 10 by Ruth Ware

I found myself deeply entrenched in this psychological thriller, so much so that I opted out of a happy hour in favor of reading by myself in the park one Friday evening. I packed a La Croix and some crackers and was happily having a little picnic for one when a gentleman approached me and said “Oh, I think we’re reading the same book!”

Ever enthused to talk about reading, I sat up straighter and gasped “really, cool!”

“Uhhh, not really…” he stammered…”I just thought I knew you. Actually no, that’s not true, I didn’t think that, I just saw you reading and needed to some up with something to say.”

It dawned on me: this was a pickup! And a terrible one at that! Neill Strauss would be cringing at the sight. Pick one strategy and stick with it, this poor guy was wavering between “comment on something the person is wearing/holding,” “pretend you know them,” and just “bold-faced sheepishness.” Oh, dude, this isn’t going well.

Also upon further inspection he was French, which doesn’t matter, and wearing tall black socks with boat shoes and shorts, which very much matters, and he was very, very nice but oy. He continued to try to converse. He asked me what the book was about and I told him it was a psychological thriller, to which he replied “Oh, like Agatha Christie?” I said “Yes! Do you like mysteries?” To which he replied “No.” He then invited me to come listen to jazz with him, which I politely declined while awkwardly touching my face a lot with my left hand so he could see I was wearing a wedding ring.

GUYS. When I was single it was my dream of dreams that a man would hit on me vis a vis literature. Every weekend I would doll myself up and wander the streets of New York City waving David Foster Wallace novels like a flag, hoping some literary minded hottie would notice how intellectual and interesting I was and propose marriage on the spot. Of course zero men ever hit on me re: my book choices (or much else, tbh) UNTIL NOW!!! Dreams finally do come true but never quite how you imagined them. 

This story has literally nothing to do with the book I’m about to recommend, but it was funny and I wanted to make sure the whole world knows that your girl’s still got it!! Men find me irresistible, what can I say.

Anyway, I digress. What am I talking about? Oh yes, The Woman in Cabin 10. I will admit, it was a bit of a pleasant surprise to find myself so wrapped up in this novel. Ruth Ware’s previous thriller was a big smash which everyone in the world seemed to love...except me. But I believe in second chances in life as in literature (but not so much in bad pickup attempts) and am pals with her publicist who sent me a copy of the book just as I needed something captivating for a weekend read and the next thing I knew I was on board.

On board is a great pun because this book is set on a ship!

Lo is a 20-something travel writer on assignment to cover the the maiden voyage of an exclusive cruise ship in the stark but stunning North Sea. Her first night aboard she hears the sound of a woman being thrown overboard, sees blood on the glass window of Cabin 10, yet when she calls in the staff to investigate, none of the passengers are counted as missing, no signs of struggle remain and no one believes her. Lo becomes slowly obsessed with finding the truth even as her investigations bring her deeper into danger herself.

At times I found Lo to be a bit of a dum dum but I was entirely hooked by the storytelling and genuinely surprised by the ending. The unreliable narrator psychological thriller genre is having a bit of a boon these days. It’s a tricky conceit to do well and I think Ware does it very well. I was never quite sure if Lo was right or, indeed, just crazy and my nerves built as the walls of the ship seemed to close in around her. If you don’t like psychological thrillers like The Girl on the Train, Gone Girl, The Widow, etc, you will probably hate this book. If you DO like that genre, this is a worthy addition to the list and a perfect long weekend read. 

Recommended for: Agatha Christie devotees, thriller fans looking for the latest spooky escape, French men who need fodder for chatting up married women, travel writers with a taste for murder.

Your Summer Reading Scene: on a dock or better yet, way up near the dunes on very, very dry land.

And there you have it, friends! Just five more days of summer to go. DON'T BLOW IT! 

xoxo 

Liz Ho