Mini Reviews: General Fiction edition

I can’t believe it’s March, where did the time go?? I haven’t posted anything on the blog in a few weeks, life has been extra busy. I’ve also been reading a lot more books than I have time to write reviews for, so I’m going to try out this mini review format. This time, I’m reviewing four general fiction/literary fiction novels I read and enjoyed in February.

Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens

Synopsis: For years, rumors of the “Marsh Girl” haunted Barkley Cove, a quiet fishing village. Kya Clark is barefoot and wild; unfit for polite society. So in late 1969, when the popular Chase Andrews is found dead, locals immediately suspect her.
But Kya is not what they say. A born naturalist with just one day of school, she takes life’s lessons from the land, learning the real ways of the world from the dishonest signals of fireflies. But while she has the skills to live in solitude forever, the time comes when she yearns to be touched and loved. Drawn to two young men from town, who are each intrigued by her wild beauty, Kya opens herself to a new and startling world–until the unthinkable happens.

My thoughts: 4/5 stars
This is a very atmospheric and slow-paced book, despite involving a murder investigation! I would say this book is much more about Kya’s alienation and experiences growing up abandoned in the marsh than it is about the murder mystery. Although there are a few people who are kind to her and help her throughout her life, she is largely left to fend for herself. I found the characters generally quite charming, and even when the book delved into heavy topics such as abuse and abandonment, it did so with care. It is quite slow though, so don’t go into it expecting an adventure in the wild or a plot-twisty murder.

Utopia Avenue by David Mitchell

Synopsis: Utopia Avenue is the strangest British band you’ve never heard of. Emerging from London’s psychedelic scene in 1967 and fronted by folk singer Elf Holloway, guitar demigod Jasper de Zoet, and blues bassist Dean Moss, Utopia Avenue released only two LPs during its brief, blazing journey from the clubs of Soho and drafty ballrooms to Top of the Pops and the cusp of chart success, and on to glory in Amsterdam, prison in Rome, and a fateful American fortnight in the autumn of 1968.
David Mitchell’s captivating new novel tells the unexpurgated story of Utopia Avenue; of riots in the streets and revolutions in the head; of drugs, thugs, madness, love, sex, death, art; of the families we choose and the ones we don’t; of fame’s Faustian pact and stardom’s wobbly ladder. Can we change the world in turbulent times, or does the world change us?

My thoughts: 5/5 stars
I have loved most David Mitchell books I’ve read, so no surprises here! I thought this book was a lot of fun, and far less depressing or disturbing than the other ones I’ve read. There is one subplot that leans very heavily on the magical alternate universe he fleshed out in The Bone Clocks, but besides that it reads as a general fiction book about the exploits of a rock band in the 60s. Some characters took longer for me to like than others, but overall I enjoyed the book. I don’t think it’s necessary to read his other books to enjoy this one, but finding the easter eggs is fun if you have. The wry humor and writing style were the highlights of the book for me.

An American Marriage by Tayari Jones

Synopsis: Newlyweds, Celestial and Roy, are the embodiment of both the American Dream and the New South. He is a young executive and she is artist on the brink of an exciting career. They are settling into the routine of their life together, when they are ripped apart by circumstances neither could have imagined. Roy is arrested and sentenced to twelve years for a crime Celestial knows he didn’t commit. Though fiercely independent, Celestial finds herself bereft and unmoored, taking comfort in Andre, her childhood friend, and best man at their wedding. As Roy’s time in prison passes, she is unable to hold on to the love that has been her center. After five years, Roy’s conviction is suddenly overturned, and he returns to Atlanta ready to resume their life together.
This stirring love story is a deeply insightful look into the hearts and minds of three people who are at once bound and separated by forces beyond their control. An American Marriage is a masterpiece of storytelling, an intimate look into the souls of people who must reckon with the past while moving forward- with hope and pain- into the future.

My thoughts: 4/5 stars
This book is kind of hard for me to review. It’s a book full of flawed people and messy relationships, and at times you don’t know who is right or who to root for. Is it selfish of Celestial to decide to stop waiting for Roy to get out of prison, when he was wrongfully convicted, or is Roy entitled for expecting his wife to put her life on hold to support him? Is it really love if it isn’t unshakeable, or is that an unrealistic romantic ideal peddled by media and society? The book examines not only the experiences of an incarcerated Black man, but also how he carries the experiences of all Black men, and the burden others place on their mere existence. As the book comes to a close, no one is blameless, and I felt that this only made the book more compelling.

The Water Dancer by Ta-Nehisi Coates

Synopsis: Young Hiram Walker was born into bondage. When his mother was sold away, Hiram was robbed of all memory of her — but was gifted with a mysterious power. Years later, when Hiram almost drowns in a river, that same power saves his life. This brush with death births an urgency in Hiram and a daring scheme: to escape from the only home he’s ever known.
So begins an unexpected journey that takes Hiram from the corrupt grandeur of Virginia’s proud plantations to desperate guerrilla cells in the wilderness, from the coffin of the deep South to dangerously utopic movements in the North. Even as he’s enlisted in the underground war between slavers and the enslaved, Hiram’s resolve to rescue the family he left behind endures.

My thoughts: 3/5 stars
I will begin by saying I very much admire and enjoy Ta-Nehisi Coates’ essays and nonfiction. He has a lyrical way of writing that captures the imagination and drives his message home with force and eloquence. Somehow that same lyrical writing style felt like too much in this novel, and I had a sense that the words were flowing and twisting like river eddies and I struggled to follow the train of thought. I switched back and forth between the audiobook and physical book to see which was easier to process, but I struggled with both. Most likely the fevered and dreamlike quality of the writing was intentional and added to the thematic elements of the story, but my brain was too tired and I was struggling with my mental health as I read this, which made it extra hard to process. I also felt like it was an odd choice to attribute much of Harriet Tubman’s incredible work to magic (along with the idea that the protagonist of the story had a major hand in helping her), but it’s not my place to judge how a Black man interprets and retells the story of his people.

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