Friday Bookbag, 6.7.19

FridayBookbag

Friday Bookbag is a weekly feature where I share a list of books I’ve borrowed, bought, or received during the week. It’s my chance to buzz about my excitement for books I might not get the chance to review.

I missed Friday Bookbag last week so this is an extra-super-duper stuffed version, full of some of the most exciting books I’ve bought in awhile. I’ve been enjoying the nice weather we’ve been having here in the Twin Cities, so I’m ready to get some serious summer reading done. (In fact, I might grab my Kindle and head down to the patio as soon as I’m finished writing this.)

Let’s dive in!


Tampa by Alissa Nutting

Goodreads | Amazon | Barnes & Noble | IndieBound

Tampa Cover
cover description: A closeup of a buttonhole on a pink shirt. It’s deliberately styled to look like labia/a vagina.

the premise: From Goodreads:

“Celeste Price is an eighth-grade English teacher in suburban Tampa. She’s undeniably attractive. She drives a red Corvette with tinted windows. Her husband, Ford, is rich, square-jawed, and devoted to her.

But Celeste’s devotion lies elsewhere. She has a singular sexual obsession—fourteen-year-old boys. Celeste pursues her craving with sociopathic meticulousness and forethought; her sole purpose in becoming a teacher is to fulfill her passion and provide her access to her compulsion. As the novel opens, fall semester at Jefferson Jr. High is beginning.

In mere weeks, Celeste has chosen and lured the lusciously naive Jack Patrick into her web. Jack is enthralled and in awe of his teacher, and, most important, willing to accept Celeste’s terms for a secret relationship—car rides after school; rendezvous at Jack’s house while his single father works late; body-slamming encounters in Celeste’s empty classroom between periods.

Ever mindful of the danger—the perpetual risk of exposure, Jack’s father’s own attraction to her, and the ticking clock as Jack leaves innocent boyhood behind—the hyperbolically insatiable Celeste bypasses each hurdle with swift thinking and shameless determination, even when the solutions involve greater misdeeds than the affair itself. In slaking her sexual thirst, Celeste Price is remorseless and deviously free of hesitation, a monstress driven by pure motivation. She deceives everyone, and cares nothing for anyone or anything but her own pleasure.”

why I’m excited: This is a satire, a sort of gender-swapped Lolita that examines the way we view the vulnerability of young boys and young girls differently. It looks like it’s going to be a very challenging read, but I’ve been intrigued by it ever since it came out in 2013, so when the ebook came on sale, I finally decided to take the chance. Not sure if I’ll like it, but “like” might not be the right metric to use here anyway, since this novel is so deliberately inflammatory.

The Wangs vs. The World by Jade Chang

Goodreads | Amazon | Barnes & Noble | IndieBound

The Wangs vs The World Cover
cover description: a gold background with red circles of varying shades forming an irregular shape in the middle.

the premise: From IndieBound:

“The Wangs vs. the World is an outrageously funny tale about a wealthy Chinese-American family that “loses it all, then takes a healing, uproarious road trip across the United States” (Entertainment Weekly). Their spectacular fall from riches to rags brings the Wangs together in a way money never could. It’s an epic family saga and an entirely fresh look at what it means to belong in America.”

why I’m excited: This is being marketed as similar to Crazy Rich Asians, a book I didn’t always love but was definitely always entertained by. A road trip story, family story, rags to riches story, healing story, funny story? That all sounds pretty great to me, and I’m really happy to see this recent crop of humorous (or at minimum, bittersweet rather than just plain tragic) novels about Asian American families getting traction in publishing. Goodbye, Vitamin by Rachel Khong had a somewhat similar vibe and I really dug it.

All Grown Up by Jami Attenberg

Goodreads | Amazon | Barnes & Noble | IndieBound

All Grown Up Cover
cover description: a stylized drawing of a woman’s face, with skyscrapers reflected in her sunglasses.

the premise: From Barnes & Noble’s site:

“Who is Andrea Bern? When her therapist asks the question, Andrea knows the right things to say: she’s a designer, a friend, a daughter, a sister. But it’s what she leaves unsaid—she’s alone, a drinker, a former artist, a shrieker in bed, captain of the sinking ship that is her flesh—that feels the most true. Everyone around her seems to have an entirely different idea of what it means to be an adult: her best friend, Indigo, is getting married; her brother—who miraculously seems unscathed by their shared tumultuous childhood—and sister-in-law are having a hoped-for baby; and her friend Matthew continues to wholly devote himself to making dark paintings at the cost of being flat broke.

But when Andrea’s niece finally arrives, born with a heartbreaking ailment, the Bern family is forced to reexamine what really matters. Will this drive them together or tear them apart? Told in gut-wrenchingly honest, mordantly comic vignettes, All Grown Up is a breathtaking display of Jami Attenberg’s power as a storyteller, a whip-smart examination of one woman’s life, lived entirely on her own terms.”

why I’m excited: I love this kind of personal/family drama. Reading about other people’s baggage makes my own a little more tolerable. Plus, this one looks funny as well as poignant, which is always a nice quality.

The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue by Mackenzi Lee

Goodreads | Amazon | Barnes & Noble | IndieBound

The Gentleman's Guide to Vice and Virtue Cover
cover description: An old fashioned portrait of a young white man in fancy clothes. The title is in a modern cartoonish font and there are tiny illustrations of cards, a ship, a violin, and more.

the premise: From Goodreads:

“Henry “Monty” Montague was born and bred to be a gentleman, but he was never one to be tamed. The finest boarding schools in England and the constant disapproval of his father haven’t been able to curb any of his roguish passions—not for gambling halls, late nights spent with a bottle of spirits, or waking up in the arms of women or men.

But as Monty embarks on his Grand Tour of Europe, his quest for a life filled with pleasure and vice is in danger of coming to an end. Not only does his father expect him to take over the family’s estate upon his return, but Monty is also nursing an impossible crush on his best friend and traveling companion, Percy.

Still it isn’t in Monty’s nature to give up. Even with his younger sister, Felicity, in tow, he vows to make this yearlong escapade one last hedonistic hurrah and flirt with Percy from Paris to Rome. But when one of Monty’s reckless decisions turns their trip abroad into a harrowing manhunt that spans across Europe, it calls into question everything he knows, including his relationship with the boy he adores.”

why I’m excited: If you’re not excited about that description, then I don’t know what to tell you. Check your wrist for a pulse? This looks FANTASTIC, with a legion of glowing reviews to back it up. I can’t wait to dig in.

All the Ugly and Wonderful Things by Bryn Greenwood

Goodreads | Amazon | Barnes & Noble | IndieBound

All the Ugly and Wonderful Things Cover
cover description: A field of wheat under a starry sky.

the premise: From Goodreads:

“As the daughter of a meth dealer, Wavy knows not to trust people, not even her own parents. Struggling to raise her little brother, eight-year-old Wavy is the only responsible “adult” around. She finds peace in the starry Midwestern night sky above the fields behind her house. One night everything changes when she witnesses one of her father’s thugs, Kellen, a tattooed ex-con with a heart of gold, wreck his motorcycle. What follows is a powerful and shocking love story between two unlikely people that asks tough questions, reminding us of all the ugly and wonderful things that life has to offer.”

why I’m excited: This looks like it will either be very satisfying or absolutely terrible. I decided to take a chance because I like reading about characters who need to take care of their younger siblings. I lived in an area torn up by meth for years so I’m always interested in reading stories about that, too. Describing the boyfriend as having a “heart of gold” is the biggest red flag here, but hopefully that’s just the description. Fingers crossed that the actual book is much more nuanced.

The Poppy War by R. F. Kuang

Goodreads | Amazon | Barnes & Noble | IndieBound

the premise: From Goodreads:

The Poppy War Cover
cover description: A woman firing a bow. The illustrations and font on the cover have a smoky, ashy look.

“When Rin aced the Keju, the Empire-wide test to find the most talented youth to learn at the Academies, it was a shock to everyone: to the test officials, who couldn’t believe a war orphan from Rooster Province could pass without cheating; to Rin’s guardians, who believed they’d finally be able to marry her off and further their criminal enterprise; and to Rin herself, who realized she was finally free of the servitude and despair that had made up her daily existence. That she got into Sinegard, the most elite military school in Nikan, was even more surprising.

But surprises aren’t always good.

Because being a dark-skinned peasant girl from the south is not an easy thing at Sinegard. Targeted from the outset by rival classmates for her color, poverty, and gender, Rin discovers she possesses a lethal, unearthly power—an aptitude for the nearly-mythical art of shamanism. Exploring the depths of her gift with the help of a seemingly insane teacher and psychoactive substances, Rin learns that gods long thought dead are very much alive—and that mastering control over those powers could mean more than just surviving school.

For while the Nikara Empire is at peace, the Federation of Mugen still lurks across a narrow sea. The militarily advanced Federation occupied Nikan for decades after the First Poppy War, and only barely lost the continent in the Second. And while most of the people are complacent to go about their lives, a few are aware that a Third Poppy War is just a spark away . . .

Rin’s shamanic powers may be the only way to save her people. But as she finds out more about the god that has chosen her, the vengeful Phoenix, she fears that winning the war may cost her humanity . . . and that it may already be too late.”

why I’m excited: Holy shit, this looks amazing! I don’t have much to say about it except that. I’m a sucker for “warrior school” fantasy novels (ditto “finishing school” types) and the special powers in this novel sound original and fascinating. This just leapt to the top of my TBR list.

Claire DeWitt and the City of the Dead by Sara Gran

Goodreads | Amazon | Barnes & Noble | IndieBound

Claire DeWitt and the City of the Dead Cover
cover description: A stylized illustration of a green parrot over a bright yellow background.

the premise: From Goodreads:

“This knock-out start to a bracingly original new series features Claire DeWitt, the world’s greatest PI—at least, that’s what she calls herself. A one-time teen detective in Brooklyn, she is a follower of the esoteric French detective Jacques Silette, whose mysterious handbook Détection inspired Claire’s unusual practices. Claire also has deep roots in New Orleans, where she was mentored by Silette’s student the brilliant Constance Darling—until Darling was murdered. When a respected DA goes missing she returns to the hurricane-ravaged city to find out why.”

why I’m excited: I’m intrigued by the idea of a Girl with the Dragon Tattoo-style series that seems to take much better care of its central female characters. I love books set in New Orleans, and I love the idea of a teenaged detective prodigy. (I started rewatching Veronica Mars for the fifth or sixth time this week, so I must really have a craving for this sort of thing). I’m excited for this one.


What’s in your bookbag this week? Do you have any exciting weekend reading plans? Let me know in the comments, and feel free to link to your own book reviews and blog posts!

Hot, Humid, Sleepy, Sexy: The Best Books About Summer

background image beautiful blur bright
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

At least in the Northern Hemisphere, this week feels like summer’s apogee, complete with record heat and bad weather. To me, the 4th of July is to summer what Christmas is to winter: once it’s over, the season and its weather feel overwrought and pointless, except the 4th of July is nowhere near as fun as Christmas, so what’s the point at all?

Can you tell I’m not a summer person? Maybe it comes from growing up lackadaisically homeschooled: the season doesn’t have the same lazy magic when you’re off school all year round. Instead it’s just too hot, too sticky, and too full of bugs. Swimming’s good, though.

As it turns out, the reading’s good, too. Summer seems to inspire more great novels than any other season. The claustrophobic heat, the long vacations full of people you’ll never meet again, the bone-deep languor, no school, sleepaway camp, the smell of the chlorine at the community pool, the beach…it’s all a recipe for stories as thick with tension and unrequited feelings as pea soup.

In honor of what I’m officially dubbing Peak Summer Week, I’ve compiled some of my very favorite books about summer and its aftermath below.


A Loving, Faithful Animal by Josephine Rowe

Goodreads | Amazon | Barnes & Noble | IndieBound | My Review

9781936787579This novel is set in Australia, so summer is turned on its head, at least as far as the calendar year goes. If you’re an American reader like me (especially one from the frigid North), you’ll probably be charmed by the idea of a blazingly hot December in the bush. If you celebrate Christmas, it’s especially weird to read about how different seasonal tradition becomes when it’s 90+° Fahrenheit outside instead of -28°, like it was this year where I live.

But A Loving, Faithful Animal‘s appeal goes way beyond that novelty. It explores what happens to a family when a father, tormented by his memories of service in the Australian military during Vietnam, runs away one last time. It’s about a once-privileged mother, viciously abused by her husband, who’s desperately trying to hold it together. It’s about two sisters trying to escape the gravity of poverty and desperation. It’s one of the best novels about the working class that I’ve ever read (though even that’s an oversimplification) and it’s a gorgeous summertime coming-of-age novel, too. Just read it.

September Girls by Bennett Madison

Goodreads | Amazon | Barnes & Noble | IndieBound

September Girls CoverTo say this book is polarizing would be an understatement. If you look at its Goodreads page, it’s a pretty even mix of 1-star reviews and 5-star reviews. The biggest critique of it seems to be that it’s piggishly sexist, but one of the biggest praises of is that it deftly deconstructs sexism. If you’ve read it, I’d love to hear where you fall in the comments below, but I, for one, unabashedly love this book.

It’s a YA novel (with lots of crossover appeal for adults, too) about teenaged Sam, who gets whisked off to a beach vacation with his brother by their absent-minded father. The town is full of Girls: beautiful blondes who occupy every possible summer job in town. When Sam begins to fall for Dee Dee, one of the Girls, he uncovers a bizarre secret: they’re all mermaids. The secret is mermaids! And if you’re thinking that a coming-of-age story about a boy who falls in love with mermaids would be corny and weird instead of achingly sad and fascinating, well, I don’t blame you…but you’ll have to trust me when I say it’s the latter.

The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath

Goodreads | Amazon | Barnes & Noble | IndieBound

The Bell Jar CoverIf you’ve read it, how could you possibly forget the way Plath opens this novel by talking about the summer the Rosenbergs were electrocuted? The Bell Jar is classic anytime, but it’s especially a classic summer novel to me. Plath captures the hot, stinky claustrophobia of a New York summer perfectly, as well as the way summers can feel much quieter but just as dangerous everywhere else. It follows Esther, a gifted writer and intern at a fashion magazine who spins out into a frightening episode of mental illness.

As you may know if you’ve stuck around this blog awhile, I have bipolar disorder, so this book has a particularly special place in my heart: summer’s long days and short nights can be very hard on people with mood disorders. (I literally have to schedule extra mental health appointments in the summer to compensate.) In Plath’s hands, summer isn’t a time for vacation, but rather a sinister and unescapable force, which is how it’s felt in my own life since my bipolar onset in my teens. Even if you don’t have that experience, The Bell Jar is unforgettable and lovely–you won’t regret making the time to read it, if you haven’t already.

Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng

Goodreads | Amazon | Barnes & Noble | IndieBound | My Review

9780735224292Where to begin? This book is flawless. It follows two families, one stubbornly suburban and set in their ways and the other free-floating and untraditional, as they become irreversibly intertwined. There’s an unforgettable contested adoption and court case that had my loyalties switching every other page. There are several coming-of-age stories happening at once, each distinct and achingly beautiful. And it all happens during a heady, sordid summer during the Clinton/Lewinsky scandal–a setting Ng makes deft use of to make her characters’ loss of innocence all the more bittersweet and palpable.

Ng does things with words I had previously thought were impossible. She manages to make a quiet literary novel about suburbia feel like a thriller. Little Fires Everywhere feels subtle while you’re reading it, but at the end you realize that your heart has taken quite a beating while your eyes were glued to the page. This book is un-missable. Seriously.

The Wedding Date by Jasmine Guillory

Goodreads | Amazon | Barnes & Noble | IndieBound

9780399587665

I’ve packed this post full of heavy-hitting reads, so I wanted to include something lighter and uplifting for those who need it. And even if you don’t think you need it, this one is worth checking out this summer anyway.

The Wedding Date isn’t as heavily summer-themed as others on this list, but 1) it’s set in California, where it’s always kind of like summer (at least in this Minnesotan’s imagination),  2) wedding season and all its fake date potential is totally a summer thing, and 3) it’s the absolute perfect, platonic ideal of a beach read. When Drew invites Alexa to be his fake date for an ex’s wedding, things get more deliciously complicated (and sexy) than either of them could have dreamed. Even if you’re not into romance, I can practically guarantee you’ll love this book. It’s got everything you could want in a book: sweet, sour, salty, umami, and even a touch of bitter. (That analogy made sense in my head, I swear.) It’s an entire reading palate unto itself. Don’t miss it.


What summer classics did I miss? Drop your favorites in the comments below–I’d love to hear them.