Three Things About Elsie // Joanna Cannon

Thank you to Scribner, Simon and Schuster, and Netgalley for an early review copy of Three Things About Elsie by Joanna Cannon, which was published August 7, 2018.  All thoughts are my own.


From the publisher:

“There are three things you should know about Elsie.  The first thing is that she’s my best friend.  The second is that she always knows what to say to make me feel better.  And the third thing… might take a bit more explaining.”

Eighty-four-year-old Florence has fallen in her flat at Cherry Tree Home for the Elderly.  As she waits to be rescued, she thinks about her friend Elsie and wonders if a terrible secret from their past is about to come to light.  If the charming new resident is who he claims to be, why does he look exactly like a man who died sixty years ago?


When Joanna Cannon’s Three Things About Elsie was longlisted for the Women’s Prize, I read review after review but never gathered any intention of reading it.  Then, I decided to request it from Scribner on a complete whim because I have no self control, at least when it comes to books.  The result of my momentary weakness was a quirky, heartwarming story about growing old, being young, and the tough questions we must ask ourselves as we age.

Three Things About Elsie has a little bit of everything.  There’s a little romance, a little mystery, and a little suspense, but at its center is the sweet friendship between Florence, the main character, and Elsie, her childhood best friend.  The pair have a special relationship; they know each other better than anyone else, and I imagined them as those cute little old ladies I see while I’m out grocery shopping.  They were hysterical together, and I enjoyed reading about the unique bond they shared with one another.

Beyond Florence’s relationship with Elsie is her role as an unreliable narrator.  I have a growing admiration towards unreliable narration, so I fell in love with that aspect of Three Things About Elsie. While reading about Florence’s mishaps, I wondered if someone was actually setting her up for misfortune or if she was just losing her marbles. I believe Cannon intended for her audience to question Flo’s sanity, just like she intended for it to be a page-turning mystery.

Though I found a lot to admire with the characters of Three Things About Elsie, I found it too predictable when it came to plot, and unfortunately that ruined it for me.  The “surprise” ending was all too obvious, and something I’d assumed from the start.  I’m sure it would’ve been less predictable if I didn’t read so much, but it made me lose interest around the halfway point.  I enjoyed the quirky characters and the unreliable narration, but the awkward writing style and predictability made this one a miss for me.

Find this book on Goodreads.

The Bucket List // Georgia Clark

Thank you to Atria Books, Emily Bestler Books, Simon and Schuster, and Netgalley for an early review copy of The Bucket List by Georgia Clark, which will publish August 7, 2018.  All thoughts are my own.


From the publisher:

Twenty-five-old Lacey Whitman is blindsided when she’s diagnosed with the BCRA1 gene mutation: the “breast cancer” gene.  Her high hereditary risk forces a decision: increased surveillance or the more radical step of a preventative double mastectomy.  Lacey doesn’t want to lose her breasts.  For one, she’s juggling two career paths; her work with the prestigious New York trend forecaster Hoffman House, and her role on the founding team of a sustainable fashion app with friend/mentor, Vivian Chang.  Secondly, small-town Lacey’s not so in touch with her sexuality: she doesn’t want to sacrifice her breasts before she’s had the chance to give them their hey-day.  To help her make her choice, she (and her friends) creates a “boob bucket list”: everything she wants do with and for her boobs before a possible surgery.  This kicks off a year of sensual exploration and sexual entertainment for the quick-witted Lacey Whitman.  The Bucket List cleverly and compassionately explores Lacey’s relationship to her body and her future.  Both are things Lacey thought she could control through hard work and sacrifice.  But the future, it turns out, is more complicated than she could ever imagine.


I read Georgia Clark’s The Bucket List over the course of one insomniac night, flying through its majority in a solid four hours before my eyelids felt heavy, then finishing up the remaining fifteen percent in the morning over breakfast.  I couldn’t get enough of The Bucket List, which was a bit of a surprise for me given that I never read chick lit, but it was such a fun read and I wholeheartedly enjoyed every word.

The Bucket List is the work culture of The Devil Wears Prada meets the love story of Me Before You meets the hot sex of Grey’s Anatomy.  (I didn’t know this going into it, but fair warning: The Bucket List is full of sex scenes.)  It’s cute, cliché chick lit that manages to be smart and sexy at the same time, all while taking on the tough subject of breast cancer.  Cancer is definitely at the forefront of this novel, but I wouldn’t categorize this as a “Cancer Book”; it’s also about love, family, friendship, and being a struggling twenty-something in New York, working too much and struggling to figure out what you want to do with the rest of your life.  In Lacey’s case, it’s more than just career-wise, as she is forced to make the tough decision about getting a double mastectomy.  Throughout the novel, I really felt for Lacey and the difficulty of her decision-making; Clark presents the pro’s and con’s of each choice in a way that I could understand why someone would choose either option, getting the mastectomy or not.

The Bucket List really opened my eyes to the realities of serious illness.  Clark writes about the emotional, romantic, and financial difficulties of facing a BRCA1 gene mutation with intelligence and wit; she brings awareness to a difficult topic through a heartfelt, honest story that manages to be relatable and unputdownable.

Find this book on Goodreads.

The Family Tabor // Cherise Wolas

Thank you to Flatiron Books and Netgalley for an early review copy of The Family Tabor by Cherise Wolas, which will publish July 17, 2018.  All thoughts are my own.


From the publisher:

Harry Tabor is about to be named Man of the Decade, a distinction that feels like the culmination of a life well lived.  Gathering together in Palm Springs for the celebration are his wife, Roma, a distinguished child psychologist, and their children: Phoebe, a high-powered attorney; Camille, a brilliant social anthropologist; and Simon, a big-firm lawyer, who brings his glamorous wife and two young daughters.

But immediately, cracks begin to appear in the smooth facade: Simon hasn’t been sleeping through the night, Camille can’t decide what to do with her life, and Phoebe is a little too cagey about her new boyfriend.  Roma knows her children are hiding things.  What she doesn’t know, what none of them know, is that Harry is suddenly haunted by the long-buried secret that drove him, decades ago, to relocate his young family to the California desert.  As the ceremony nears, the family members are forced to confront the falsehoods upon which their lives are built.

Set over the course of a single weekend, and deftly alternating between the five Tabors, this provocative, gorgeously rendered novel reckons with the nature of the stories we tell ourselves and our family and the price we pay for second chances.


The Family Tabor is thick with words and full of sentences so wonderfully crafted, I wanted to revisit them out of sheer admiration.  The book is dazzling in its descriptions but not so much its plot and characters.  I fell in love with the writing from the start and tried my best to push through the story in order to enjoy Wolas’s prose, but found myself bored to say the least.  I wasn’t interested in the characters, and their so-called “secrets” were just watered down first-world problems, which grew to be incredibly aggravating for me.  If I felt connected to the character, I would’ve felt compassion towards their struggles, no matter how trite, but I was so disinterested in the Tabors that I couldn’t convince myself to care.

The Family Tabor is a slow-burn story in the truest sense of the term, and I just didn’t jive with it (this coming from someone who loved Elif Batuman’s The Idiot).  Though I haven’t read Wolas’s debut, The Resurrection of Joan Ashby, I’ve heard so many fantastic things about it, which is why I was so disappointed when I had to set this one down.  I love a good multi-generational family saga, and that’s what I expected with The Family Tabor, but it fell flat for me.  Unfortunately the beautiful writing did not make up for the severe lack of plot or the dull characters.

I made it about thirty-percent through before I had to set down The Family Tabor.  If you’re a sucker for dazzling writing, it won’t disappoint, but if you’re a stickler for plot or characters, skip this one.

You can find this book on Goodreads and Amazon.

A Terrible Country // Keith Gessen

Thank you to Penguin Viking and Netgalley for an early review copy of A Terrible Country by Keith Gessen, which will publish July 10, 2018.  All thoughts are my own.


From the publisher:

When Andrei Kaplan’s older brother Dima insists that Andrei return to Moscow to care for their ailing grandmother, Andrei must take stock of his life in New York.  His girlfriend has stopped returning his text messages.  His dissertation adviser is dubious about his job prospects.  It’s the summer of 2008, and his bank account is running dangerously low.  Perhaps a few months in Moscow are just what he needs.  So Andrei sublets his room in Brooklyn, packs up his hockey stuff, and moves into the apartment that Stalin himself had given his grandmother, a woman who has outlived her husband and most of her friends.  She survived the dark days of communism and witnessed Russia’s violent capitalist transformation, during which she lost her beloved dacha.  She welcomes Andrei into her home, even if she can’t always remember who he is.

Andrei learns to navigate Putin’s Moscow, still the city of his birth, but with more expensive coffee.  He looks after his elderly- but surprisingly sharp!- grandmother, finds a place to play hockey, a café to send emails, and eventually some friends, including a beautiful young activist named Yulia.  Over the course of the year, his grandmother’s health declines and his feelings of dislocation from both Russia and America deepen.  Andrei knows he must reckon with his future and make choices that will determine his life and fate.  When he becomes entangled with a group of leftists, Andrei’s politics and his allegiances are tested, and he is forced to come to terms with the Russian society he was born into and the American one he has enjoyed since he was a kid.


Russia and Russian literature have been popping up a lot in literature lately, at least in my reading, with books like Invitation to a Bonfire by Adrienne Celt and The Idiot by Elif Batuman.  Keith Gessen’s A Terrible Country is no exception; it follows twenty-something Andrei as he leaves his life in New York behind and returns to Moscow, the city of his birth, to care for his ailing grandmother.

Told in first person, A Terrible Country felt so true to life and read autobiographical at times; I could really see Gessen’s perspective shining through the narrative.  After I finished the book, I came across an interview with Gessen conducted for The New Yorker, in which he said, “I love nonfiction, and I really love oral history.  I like fiction that is made up, but I really love fiction that is thinly veiled autobiography . . . I think if I’d had enough material for a memoir, I’d have written a memoir.  But I didn’t- my life in Russia was even less interesting than Andrei’s.  But I did want it to sound like a memoir.”  He definitely succeeded in that.

A Terrible Country is written with simple prose and plot.  The majority of the book follows Andrei’s day-to-day life in Moscow.  He plays hockey, spends time with his forgetful grandmother, struggles trying to advance his career in New York, argues with his brother Dima about money, gets involved with an “extremist” party, and develops feelings for young activist Yulia.  There’s a lot going on but it never felt like too much; it almost felt like not enough because nothing is explored deeply.  A Terrible Country is told in a diary-like format as Andrei tells the audience what happened after-the-fact, instead of narrating as things are happening.  The so-called love story felt especially weak as it was written about very briefly; as a reader, I knew nothing about Yulia, so I struggled caring about her relationship with Andrei.

In general, A Terrible Country was an enjoyable story to read, though its storytelling techniques were frustrating at times.  If you like Russian literature or history, you’ll adore this novel.

You can find this book on Goodreads and Amazon.

The Great Believers // Rebecca Makkai

Thank you to Penguin Viking and Netgalley for an early review copy of The Great Believers by Rebecca Makkai, which will publish June 19, 2018.  All thoughts are my own.


From the publisher:

In 1985, Yale Tishman, the development director for an art gallery in Chicago, is about to pull off an amazing coup, bringing in an extraordinary collection of 1920s paintings as a gift to the gallery.  Yet as his career begins to flourish, the carnage of the AIDS epidemic grows around him.  One by one, his friends are dying and after his friend Nico’s funeral, the virus circles closer and closer to Yale himself.  Soon the only person he has left is Fiona, Nico’s little sister.

Thirty years later, Fiona is in Paris tracking down her estranged daughter who disappeared into a cult.  While staying with an old friend, a famous photographer who documented the Chicago crisis, she finds herself grappling with the devastating ways AIDS affected her life and her relationship with her daughter.  The two intertwining stories take us through the heartbreak of the eighties and the chaos of the modern world, as both Yale and Fiona struggle to find goodness in the midst of disaster.


I was excited to receive a copy of The Great Believers just a few days ago (thus it wasn’t included in my Summer 2018 ARC List!).  It’s a thought-provoking reflection on relationships, how they change and grow over time, what they can survive and what they can’t, with the 1980s Chicago AIDS crisis at the center of it all.  Two seemingly unconnected characters are tied together through their relationship to one person, Nico, who has passed away when The Great Believers opens, and through the art world their stories become surprisingly related.  It just about broke my heart into a million pieces.

The Great Believers smoothly transitions between two stories, the first being Yale’s point-of-view in 1985 Chicago, as he begins to see AIDS affecting his life with the death of his mutual friend Nico and slowly says goodbye to everyone he loves; we also visit Fiona, Nico’s sister, in 2015 Paris, as she struggles to come to terms with her life and her relationship with her daughter.  Each section ended on a little cliff-hanger and then the story would return to the other time period, so I always wanted to keep reading to find out what would happen.  I truly became invested in the characters and was interested in their lives, which is one of my favorite things about reading and made this book memorable for me.

The Great Believers is a sweeping, heart-wrenching story about love, loss, and identity.  As it deals with such a tough topic, I wouldn’t call it an “enjoyable” book, but it’s well-written and well-researched with memorable characters and two interconnected stories.  Reading it now during Pride Month will make it all the more powerful.

Want to support a great cause?  Post a photo of your copy of The Great Believers using #TheGreatBelieversDonate.  For every use of the hashtag, author Rebecca Makkai will donate $1 (up to $5,000) to Vital Bridges, a Chicago-based food pantry supporting people living with HIV.  For more information, click here.

You can find this book on Goodreads and Amazon.

Number One Chinese Restaurant // Lillian Li

Thank you to Henry Holt & Co. and Netgalley for an early review copy of Number One Chinese Restaurant by Lillian Li, which will publish June 19, 2018.  All thoughts are my own.


From the publisher:

The Beijing Duck House in Rockville, Maryland, is not only a beloved go-to setting for hunger pangs and celebrations; it is its own world, inhabited by waiters and kitchen staff who have been fighting, loving, and aging within its walls for decades.  When disaster strikes, this working family’s controlled chaos is set loose, forcing each character to confront the conflicts that fast-paced restaurant life has kept at bay.  Owner Jimmy Han hopes to leave his late father’s homespun establishment for a fancier one.  Jimmy’s older brother, Johnny, and Johnny’s daughter, Annie, ache to return to a time before a father’s absence and a teenager’s silence pushed them apart.  Nan and Ah-Jack, longtime Duck House employees, are tempted to turn their thirty-year friendship into something else, even as Nan’s son, Pat, struggles to stay out of trouble.  And when Pat and Annie, caught in a mix of youthful lust and boredom, find themselves in a dangerous game that implicates them in the Duck House tragedy, their families must decide how much they are willing to sacrifice to help their children.

Generous in spirit, unaffected in its intelligence, multi-voiced, poignant, and darkly funny, Number One Chinese Restaurant looks beyond red tablecloths and silkscreen murals to share an unforgettable story about youth and aging, parents and children, and all the ways that our families destroy us while also keeping us grounded and alive.


Number One Chinese Restaurant has some of the most realistic characters I’ve read in a long time.  I have to say, the first chapter was a bit overwhelming as everyone was introduced at rapid fire, but once I grew to get to know everyone individually, I had no trouble at all working my way through the novel.  This book is less a saga than a quick glimpse into the lives of restaurant staff as something unspeakable happens to their second home.  Thus, the characters felt a bit under-developed, and not much time was spent explaining the motivations behind their actions, but I think this story is more about the restaurant collectively than the individual people inside of it, so Number One Chinese Restaurant was successful in sharing the story Li meant to tell.

Li really emphasizes the strong, intimate connections between restaurant staff workers and the unique, family-like bond that they share.  The restaurant itself felt like a character, and that’s one the the things I loved most about the book.  The ambiance that Li created surrounding the Beijing Duck House (and later the Beijing Glory) was truly phenomenal and unlike anything else I’ve read.  This ambiance paired with a complex ensemble of characters resulted in a heavily enjoyable reading experience.  The whole time, I couldn’t help but think about what an amazing film Number One Chinese Restaurant would make.  Li really sets the scene and makes you feel a part of the story.

Lillian Li’s debut is a quick, fun read that will have you ordering dim sum faster than you can say “Number One Chinese Restaurant!”

You can find this book on Goodreads and Amazon.

Summer 2018 ARC List

I’ve been a slow reader lately, but I’m pretty excited about the ARCs I received to read this summer, so I thought I’d share them with you!  I’ve been trying to exhibit self control when it comes to requesting ARCs so, thankfully, I only have six to read.  I’m hoping to crank them out this month before my literary agency internship starts in July and reading becomes my actual job!

Number One Chinese Restaurant by Lillian Li

June 19, 2018 from Henry Holt & Co

I generally adore everything Henry Holt publishes, and Number One Chinese Restaurant sounds like it will not disappoint.  It takes place at the Beijing Duck Restaurant in Rockville, Maryland and follows a family of waiters and kitchen staff after “disaster strikes” at the restaurant.  I love multi-generational, multi-voiced stories, so I’m looking forward to this ensemble story, the debut novel from author Lillian Li.

A Terrible Country by Keith Gessen

July 10, 2018 from Penguin Viking

A Terrible Country is Gessen’s first novel in ten years, and it’s been praised by George Saunders and Elif Batuman, which I’ll admit swayed me into requesting it.  Russia has been popping up everywhere in literature lately, and this novel is no exception: it follows Andrei Kaplan, whose older brother Dima convinces him to leave New York and go to Moscow to take care of his elderly grandmother.

The Family Tabor by Cherise Wolas

July 17, 2018 from Flatiron Books

Wolas is the author of The Resurrection of Joan Ashby, which I haven’t read but heard great things about.  Her sophomore effort is about the Tabor family: Harry, Roma, and their three children, as the patriarch, Harry, is about to be named “Man of the Decade,” but is suddenly haunted by a secret from his past that will change everything.  My favorite kind of book explores a unique family dynamic, and The Family Tabor sounds like exactly that.

The Bucket List by Georgia Clark

August 7, 2018 from Atria Books

I love the idea of bucket lists (and I’ve even tried to make a few of my own through the years), and this novel by Georgia Clark, author of The Regulars, sounds like such a cute read!  It follows twenty-five year-old Lacey Whitman, a small-town girl juggling two careers in New York, who learns she has a high risk for developing breast cancer.  Before a possible double mastectomy, Lacey wants to fulfill what she calls her “boob bucket list.”  Despite the cancer background story, The Bucket List seems silly and fun, perfect for fans of Sophie Kinsella and the like.

A River of Stars by Vanessa Hua

August 14, 2018 from Ballantine Books

A River of Stars has been generating steady buzz since it made a few book lists back in January, and I’ve had my eye on it for a while.  Once I saw that Celeste Ng praised it (and Emma Cline too), I knew I needed to request it!  It’s a road-trip story about immigration and motherhood, following two expectant mothers from a secret maternity home in Los Angeles: Scarlet, fresh from China, where she got pregnant with her married boss’s child, and Daisy, an unwed American teenager.  Scarlet hijacks a van and flees to San Francisco’s Chinatown with Daisy as her unexpected passenger, each with their own competing motives.  Asian women have been slaying the lit game lately, so I’m excited to dive into this one by Vanessa Hua!

Ohio by Stephen Markley

August 21. 2018 from Simon and Schuster

Ohio is another majorly-buzzed-about debut, so much so that I was shocked to receive it.  I don’t know too much about it, just that it’s about four former high school classmates, now in their 30’s, who return to their hometown one night, each on their own mission.  It’s been called “a murder mystery and a social critique,” which in itself sounds entirely intriguing.  Though I don’t read many dark books, I’m curious about Ohio, which is already getting an overwhelming amount of rave reviews!

What books are you looking forward to this summer?  Are you excited about any of these?  I’d love to hear your thoughts!

xx,
Hannah