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Book Review | Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi

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Homegoing follows the generations of two half-sisters, separated by forces out of their control. One sister is sold into slavery, and the other is married off to a powerful British slaver, but each sister’s story lasts for only one chapter. The book follows their children, and their children’s children at various points in time, following their bloodline from Ghana to Alabama to Boston and New York.

Homegoing is not an easy book to read, despite being a short one. It’s not meant to be a comfortable book; it doesn’t exist for leisure, with the intention of making the reader lose herself in the story, or to find comfort in the characters like so much other fiction does. Homegoing is harsh and brutal; its punches land true to their mark, forcing you to look in the past and the present and analyze what’s happening around you. It’s honest, it’s dark, it’s bleak, and it’s infinitely important with its unflinching portrayal of history and the persistence of human cruelty. It holds nothing back, and in a time where minorities in the US – especially African Americans – are expected to maintain idle niceties in the face of severe oppression and persecution, Homegoing is a resonating voice. If I could be in charge of school reading, this would be a book that I would make required reading because it’s so much more than ink on paper. It’s a living, breathing narrative that exists just as much to convey stories as it does to show you the mirror.

It’s a book that covers so much ground – warring villages in Africa, honor, power and culture starting from eighteenth century Ghana, while also tackling race relations in the United States, from slavery to the Civil War to segregation to the struggles faced by the black community in modern day. It shows you that unlike what you may believe, persecution and oppression did not end when slavery did, or segregation did, but its ugliness continues to thrive like a slower, lethal poison.

Homegoing is so many stories within one, with each chapter following a different character. The book spans 300 pages in the hardcover edition, and each character gets 20 pages, give or take a couple, meaning that it follows 15 different characters. Fifteen characters, each at a different point in time, each with a different story – it sometimes reads like a short story collection, but also not really, because somehow Gyasi makes all the different stories connect. Whether it’s through the mention of another character halfway through the chapter, or a flashback to something that happened a couple chapters ago, the stories – despite being different – all flow together. That, in itself, is a triumph.

But what makes this novel so technically striking, apart from its narrative flow, is how well fleshed-out each and every character is. I’ve never been one for generational stories – granted, I haven’t read too many, but the few that I have suffer from one major flaw: the characters’ development is always sacrificed, never fully appreciated and explored. But Homegoing, somehow, manages to rectify that flaw, because each character has a distinct voice, a personality and a being. With each chapter-end, you feel a profound sense of loss because you know that chances are that you’re not seeing this character again in the story. But with that sense of loss comes the more powerful sense of hope with the knowledge that Gyasi’s going to surprise you more, and sweep you in with the tale of another character, a promise of another friend.

Perhaps the only flaw that the book has falls towards the end, which I felt was rushed – perhaps even unnecessary. I won’t say more at the risk of spoilers, but I felt that the very last chapter perhaps should’ve been longer than the others, to give the entire story the closure that it needed. The book spans two centuries, and I would’ve liked to see a longer end than just twenty pages, if you know what I’m saying.

But apart from that very minor flaw, Homegoing truly is an incredibly important read with characters that feel real, a writing style that keeps you captivated and above all, thinking, and stories that will stick with you for a long, long time. It doesn’t matter what your preferred genre is – be it young adult or fantasy or romance – you need to read this book. It’s a powerful debut, a force to be reckoned with, and will be remembered and revered as such for a long, long time – I’m sure of it.

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Faithful: Enjoyable, but the protagonist brought it down

Faithful by Alice Hoffman


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I received a free ARC of this book via Netgalley; this, in no way, has affected my thoughts and review.

29430788Shelby Richmond was the golden girl of her small suburban town in Long Island. She had friends, she was beautiful, she did well in school- everything was good until one fateful night when one car accident upturned her entire life. Shelby was driving with her best friend, Helene, in the passenger seat. The accident left Helene in a coma, and Shelby – overcome with guilt, rage and the sheer unfairness of it all – gets sent to a psychiatric clinic, shaves her head and becomes a recluse. When she moves to New York City with a ‘friend’ from home, Shelby is broken, isolated and distraught… but will the city give her the healing and power to move on with her life?

Faithful is one of those books that you can’t put down, simply because it’s so addictive. Hoffman writes with poise and grace, never overdoing her metaphors but never leaving her writing bare either. Her writing flows beautifully, pulling you in with its simplicity. The pacing, too, in this book is so well-done. Each scene serves a purpose, and even if it doesn’t, it provides a much-needed balance to the complex themes at play in the rest of the novel.

But perhaps what made this novel soar above and beyond my expectations was the abundance of strong female relationships. Friendships, caretaker, mother-daughter, the-other-woman, even complete freaking strangers- Hoffman does such an incredible job at crafting and developing nuanced, layered female dynamics, something which I’ve seen so little of in books. Moreover, I have read very few books where each and every secondary character has drawn me in so completely, and this was one of them. All the side characters were given concrete personalities, all lovable even though they exhibited clear flaws. I can go as far as to say that there were several secondary characters that I liked more than I liked the protagonist.

Which is where my eventual issue lies. Towards the beginning, Shelby’s in a broken state; she’s undergone severe trauma, both with her car crash as well as with the sexual abuse she endured when she was at the psychiatric clinic. She’s experiencing extreme depression, and turns to substance abuse to keep her grounded and sane. We were given the impression that Shelby was a damaged young lady who would have to overcome her mental illness, her flaws, every obstacle thrown at her to become a stronger person eventually. But as the narrative progressed, I came to realize that Shelby was – frustratingly – a Mary Sue.

Everything, and I mean everything, was handed to her. Her difficulties occurred before the novel took place- after the story starts, she was surrounded by a large network of people who loved and supported her, and she pushed them away – but endearingly so. Shelby’s good at everything when she wants to be. She’s an animal-person, she’s great with kids, she’s great at her job, she’s beautiful, she’s strong, she’s the perfect daughter. She’s quite literally perfect. Which is perhaps the worst thing that a protagonist can be, because it diminishes their struggle, and spoils any semblance of conflict because we are certain that the protagonist will overcome all difficulty with her perfection. I enjoyed seeing Shelby develop from a reclusive young girl to a forgiving, open woman but her actual path of development was so… homogenous and un-complex that I simply did not care. On top of this, her struggles with mental illness were tossed aside after the initial chapter, and the tone took such a drastically different path that I almost thought I was reading a different story.

Ultimately, this is a book that had a lot going for it- a book that you can get through in a ridiculously short amount of time because the very prose is amicable and addictive. But when the strong themes and superficial messages are stripped away, you realize that the protagonist’s struggle is so unrealistic and uninspiring that the magic is severely dented.


Trigger Warning: Sexual abuse

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The Wangs vs. the World: I really wanted to like this, but alas…

The Wangs vs. the World by Jade Chang


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I received a free copy of this book from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. Thanks so much to the publisher for granting me the opportunity to read this in advance.

28114515Charles Wang moved to America from China with nothing. And with nothing but a brain made for success, and just a little bit of knowledge about manure, he built himself a multi-million dollar cosmetics empire. He has three children: Saina is a New York-based artist who’s juggling her love life. Andrew’s in university and is aspiring to be a stand-up comedian, and Grace is still in high school, but her sense of style and fashion blog dominate her life more than academics ever could. When the financial crisis comes rolling into town, Charles’s reluctance to listen to his financial advisors proves to be his downfall; in a blink of an eye, Charles loses everything: his house, his estates, his companies, even his car. In an effort to gather what’s remaining of his pride, he decides to take his family back to China where his ancestral lands are surely awaiting his return. And so begins a road trip from Los Angeles to New York, in a beat-up car with a family contained inside that has no idea what’s in store for them.

You know sometimes you read a synopsis, and you are sure that you need the book in your life? The Wangs vs. the World was that book for me. It sounded like a hilarious, light-hearted read revolving around the sheer entertainment of the riches-to-rags trope, with a heart-warming tale about the importance of family at its core. I think that was my problem with this book: I went into it with pre-conceived notions about what I would receive. And while it did deliver on some of these fronts, the overall experience was severely underwhelming. For starters, this is not a riches-to-rags novel. I wanted to see these rich, spoiled kids try to navigate a world where you’re not handed everything on a silver platter. I wanted to see them struggle with their new lifestyle, and we didn’t get any of that. If it had even been a little bit of the book, I might have enjoyed it more instead of just enjoying one scene here, another over there.

The book promises some laughs, and you get them. Chang writes with snark. Her language is often crude, but never gratuitously so. She has a talent when it comes to hooks. This book starts off by clearly establishing Chang’s voice- just the right amount of vulgar, just the right amount of intelligent snark. Case and point: “America was the worst part of it because America, that fickle bitch, used to love Charles Wang.” (Please note that this is quoted from an ARC, and might not be in the final product.)

But despite having a strong, intelligent voice, and despite its promising synopsis, this novel fell flat. I suspect that has something to do with the characters. I won’t say that they were one-dimensional or flat, because that is not true. In fact, they felt quite like real people- people that I interact with almost every day. But I just didn’t like them, and I don’t think that was the intention here. I didn’t care about their passions, or their motivations in life. I didn’t relate to them, and so I wasn’t immersed in the experience. Watching characters’ lives unfold in front of your eyes while you’re stuck behind a thick wall perforated with holes- that’s what this book felt like. You know the people on the other side are real, and you know most of what is going on, but you just can’t get to them. Ultimately, there are better things in life than looking into these people’s lives, so looking at them becomes a chore rather than an enjoyment. Which is how I felt by the 50% mark of the book- I was only reading to get to the end, rather than reading to find out what happened next.

With characters out of the way, let’s talk about the plot. There was none. If you were to ask me what this book was about, I would not be able to tell you anything apart from what I just stated above as the synopsis. Most of that happens within the first 25% of the novel, and after that mark, it’s a lot of introspection on the characters’ parts, a lot of dialogue, a lot of flashbacks that don’t seem to contribute anything to the story, but are rather used as devices to flesh out the characters. You can argue that there was a climax, but it can hardly be called that. And despite there being several different storylines in play, I can’t really say that I was invested in even one of them.

However, I can appreciate The Wangs. vs the World for its thematic material. I enjoyed looking at the Wangs’s family dynamics; I have grown so accustomed to reading about broken, fractured families in American literature, and I have never related to that. It was refreshing to see family dynamics that I could see myself in: overbearing parents who ultimately love you more than anything else in the world, close relationships with siblings, the realization that home is where your family is. That’s not something that I see too often in the books that I read, so it was much-needed. Moreover, Jade Chang explores things like micro aggressions, the myth of the model minority, racial stereotypes, etc. It so aptly depicts the love-hate relationship many of us have with America. And not only that, but these themes were seamlessly integrated into the novel without ever seeming in-your-face. What did seem in-your-face was the unapologetic use of an untranslated foreign language, which I saw many complaints about on the Goodreads page, but I don’t complain. I felt it was done intentionally- maybe even making a statement, that I fully admired. Sure, it was a little alarming to be missing the exact meaning of some parts of the text, but that’s okay. No writer should have to accommodate a reader who is reading a galley on a digital device, but is feeling too entitled to look up the translations of a few words.

Ultimately, I would recommend this book to anyone who is mainly concerned with writing style and a compelling voice, rather than the plot. If you are someone who looks at themes before anything else in a novel, this is for you. And if you are a person who can enjoy a book without necessarily feeling anything towards the characters, you will be fine. In other words, this book has a lot going for it – it just wasn’t for me.

The Wangs vs. The World releases on October 4th.

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Saving Sophie: entertaining but underwhelming

Saving Sophie by Sam Carrington


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I received this book via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. Thanks so much to the publisher for granting me the opportunity to read an ARC of this.

Saving SophieKaren Finch’s daughter, Sophie, is delivered to her doorstep by the police at 10:30PM on one seemingly normal Saturday evening. It’s clear that Sophie is drunk, but when she seems to be talking gibberish and can’t remember a thing about the night before in the morning, Karen is certain that something more than alcohol is at play. Sophie’s friend Amy hasn’t turned up after that Saturday night, and Sophie is trying her best to try and remember what took place so she can get her friend back. But Karen is certain that Sophie isn’t telling the police everything she knows; she’s taking it upon herself to fix what’s going on. She was attacked in the past, and now she’s sure her daughter is in danger, but the fact that she has agoraphobia and can’t make it past the front door without having a vicious anxiety attack is something she needs to navigate around if she wants to save her daughter.

I’m a big fan of psychological thrillers. When executed well, they have the potential to evoke such strong responses from readers. Saving Sophie had all the potential to be one of these thrillers. It involves a family-centered relationship between an emotionally vulnerable mother and a daughter who is obviously hiding something, even though her friend is missing. But unfortunately, the book just didn’t grip me. I was mostly aggravated throughout the novel, frustrated that the characters were taking all this responsibility onto their shoulders when they could have easily gone to the police. Realistically speaking, this story wouldn’t have existed had the characters simply told what they knew to the cops- I know that it was important that the authorities were uninvolved from a storytelling perspective. But I’d at least hoped that the characters had a valid motive for not telling them- Sophie didn’t go to the police because she’d look like a “slag,” and Karen didn’t go to the police because, well, I have no idea. I didn’t buy their reluctance, and it made me frustrated more than anything else.

The mystery itself felt overly simplistic. It wasn’t predictable, but perhaps that was because I wasn’t invested enough in the story to start predicting what was going to happen. I was reading just to be reading, rather than reading to know what happens next. The only hurdles in the characters’ way were their strange reluctance to contact the authorities and Karen’s anxiety, which I felt could have definitely been explored more. As it existed now, it felt more like a plot device than an empathetic exploration of agoraphobia, or a way to develop Karen’s character.

Speaking of characters, most of these people fell flat. I suspect that has a lot to do with the inconsistencies in their personalities. I was a little skeptical that Karen’s husband Mike would be completely unsympathetic to her condition one second, and then full of worry immediately after. From the beginning, the reader gets the impression that Karen and Mike’s relationship is strained- their marriage was failing, I can say, but this wasn’t explored at all. It was given so much emphasis initially that I expected it to come into play somewhere along the mystery, but it was completely dropped. Another storyline that was dropped after being emphasized was Karen’s relationship with her best friend. Again, it wasn’t explored and the loose end bothered me. Back to characterization: Sophie would one second be a typical brooding, mean teenager, and the next second she’d be the most empathetic character in the novel. Karen would be on one of two extreme ends: overreacting with worry where anyone else would be relaxed, and completely at ease when the best of us would be concerned. I never felt that I knew these characters and who they were- they were all over the place, which made it extremely difficult to get attached to them.

Carrington’s writing style is entertaining enough to get you to keep reading. I would have preferred if the narrative wasn’t riddled with questions, but I liked her writing enough. I just didn’t think that it paired well with all the other problems in the novel.


saving sophie rating


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A Little Life: tragic and memorable

A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara


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A Little LifeYou know when someone talks to you about a “sad book,” and you immediately think, “well, someone precious is going to die at the end?” A Little Life has been called tragic, depressing, a masterpiece that you cannot get through without a wad of tissues nearby, and so naturally, I assumed someone would die at the end. I went into this book prepared to not get too attached to the characters, but it’s inevitable to not connect with people who are the subjects of an 800-page book with minimal spacing and tiny font. I’d like to think I went into this book prepared, but my preparation got me nowhere.

This novel does not lead up to a sad ending. Let me explain. Calling this novel “sad” is a massive understatement. It is 800 pages of tragedy after tragedy, because the “sad” doesn’t follow the pattern we are used to. It’s not happy and pleasant until the end where something sad happens- no, this book is a depressing hunk of paper with very little happiness in it. A Little Life is a long, winding tunnel spotted with skylights. You walk forward in the darkness with a couple of friends, and you are struck with sadness after sadness. Your friends get lost in the tunnel, you fall and break your arm, and then the tunnel gives you a foot of light where you can look around and take a breather before plunging yourself into the darkness. You don’t know what’s at the end, because the tunnel gives you no hints. You don’t know if you’ll exit into the open. You don’t know if you’ll hit a dead-end, but you keep on walking because by this point, your masochism has kicked in and you’re addicted to the torture.

We follow the stories of four characters, all college-friends who have moved from Boston to New York City in order to fulfill their dreams. Malcolm is an aspiring architect- timid and shy, whose overbearing parents are his pride and shame. JB is a painter- arrogant, optimistic and full of life, JB is the only one among his friends who is certain he will make it in life. Willem is an actor, calm and steady who has no family but his three best friends. But while the three have their own lives, their bond is strengthened by the presence of one Jude St. Francis. Jude is enigmatic. Despite having been friends for years, nobody knows anything about him; not his ethnicity or his sexuality. They don’t know anything about his childhood or his years before attending university. Jude has an injury; an accident severely limited the use of his legs, but nobody even knows how this came to be. But Jude is quiet, and he is kind and generous and dependent. And so the three friends lend their shoulders silently for him to lean on. This book is not set in one time period: years and decades pass, and each character matures, develops and experiences success and the perils of life, sometimes together, other times apart. As the narrative progresses, one thing becomes crystal clear: Jude has gone through an unspeakable childhood trauma. He is fragile and broken, battling so hard with inner demons that never seem to leave him.

If you’re looking for a fast-paced, action-packed, plot-centered novel, put this book down and walk far, far away. A Little Life reads more like an in-depth character study than anything else. Despite there being a large, diverse, well-fleshed out cast of characters- make no mistake: this novel is about Jude. This novel is about Jude’s life, his depression, his experiences, his feelings of pain and insurmountable shame. It is a story about Jude’s relationships and his impact on the people around him. It is a story about love and loss, of betrayal and friendship,  of perseverance and giving in. And because it follows the story of such a broken, intense young man, it is a difficult read.

It is a difficult read in more ways than one. Firstly, it is 800 pages long with very little action, with large chunks of paragraphs detailing the little moments in life, detailing theorems and laws and art and literature. Large chunks that talk about family, sex, career and the meaning of love- things that may not even need to be in the book. These large chunks familiarize you with our characters’ backgrounds, their introspections and streams of consciousness, their experiences with each other and outside of their immediate relationships. The characters in this novel feel real; more than once, I felt like I could reach out and touch them. They feel like friends, comrades you’ve known for a long, long time. Their happiness genuinely excites you, and their sadness genuinely devastates you. You also become so invested in their relationships with each other, almost as if you’re a mediator.

“Why wasn’t friendship as good as a relationship? Why wasn’t it even better? It was two people who remained together, day after day, bound not by sex or physical attraction or money or children or property, but only by the shared agreement to keep going, the mutual dedication to a union that could never be codified.”

Apart from the thematic material, what makes this novel so hard to digest is the characters. I’m not exaggerating when I say that they feel like friends- watching them suffer through unimaginable things hurt me. I have never felt this way before. Halfway through the book, I had already cried at least twice, excluding the point where I sobbed for ten pages straight. And then again after. Yanagihara’s empathetic portrayal of human nature, of human decency and monstrosity is so spot-on. I don’t know what else I can say.

Secondly, it is brutal in its honest, unflinching portrayal of mental illness. There were several moments in this novel where I had to set the book aside and steady my breathing. It is uncomfortable. It depicts self-harm and depression graphically but not gratuitously, with sensitivity without doing it for “the shock factor.” Finally, the constant jumps in time frame makes this book far from a casual read. You need to keep up. Each ‘section’ takes place a few years after the previous one, but sometimes Yanagihara alternates time within paragraphs as well. One time you’re seeing the friends’ lives when they are 35, and you jump back in the middle of a paragraph to when they are 28. It can be quite jarring if you’re not paying attention.

But having said that, Yanagihara’s writing is easy to keep up with. Daunting as it may be with its intelligent discussion of many themes (some of which I mentioned above) and the sheer scale of the book, her writing is welcoming. Complex, full of emotion and genuine feeling, full of ‘quotable’ things without it ever being overbearing or ‘too much.’ Authors writing in the literary fiction genre so often give off the impression that they need to prove something, but Yanagihara writes with effortless grace and poise. She’s not trying to prove anything; this is her in 800 pages- take it or leave it.

“Do you remember the time you told me you were afraid that you were a series of nasty surprises for me?” he asks him, and Jude nods, slightly. “You aren’t,” he tells him. “You aren’t. But being with you is like being in this fantastic landscape,” he continues, slowly. “You think it’s one thing, a forest, and then suddenly it changes, and it’s a meadow, or a jungle, or cliffs of ice. And they’re all beautiful, but they’re strange as well, and you don’t have a map, and you don’t understand how you got from one terrain to the next so abruptly, and you don’t know when the next transition will arrive, and you don’t have any of the equipment you need. And so you keep walking through, and trying to adjust as you go, but you don’t really know what you’re doing, and often you make mistakes, bad mistakes. That’s sometimes what it feels like.”

They’re silent. “So basically,” Jude says at last, “basically, you’re saying I’m New Zealand.”

But despite all my praises, this is not a perfect book. My main complaint is the length. Bear with me. I have no problems with lengthy books, as long as the length is justified. Many will probably disagree with me, but I felt that the novel could have been cut short by at least 50 or 100 pages. For example, towards the beginning, we get such an in-depth look into JB and Malcolm’s characters, much of which doesn’t come back after the first section. Perhaps their backgrounds could have been weaved more seamlessly into the narrative as the book went along. A lot of the objective discussions about science and mathematics were beautifully written, sure, but didn’t feel like they needed to be there. But I’ve got to give Yanagihara this: despite the length, and despite the discussions on objective topics, I was hanging on to her every word. I didn’t skim a single page- I was just that invested.

So, here we are. You and me at the mouth of the tunnel. I made it out, and you’re asking me if you should take the chance. “It’s difficult. It’s long. It’s even terrifying at times, but-” and I prod you into the darkness, “it’s also exhilarating and beautiful and one hell of an experience.”


4 stars all


Trigger Warning: (highlight the text below)

Sexual and physical abuse, self-harm, severe clinical depression, rape, abusive relationships


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Q&A with Tiffany McDaniel: Author of the Summer that Melted Everything

author interview


The Summer that Melted Everything is my favorite book of the year, and one of my favorite reads of all-time. It is provocative, deeply unsettling and beautifully written. You can read my full review here.

Hello everyone! Today, I have for you an author interview with the wonderful Tiffany McDaniel- author of the Summer that Melted Everything. I’m deeply honored that Tiffany volunteered to be interviewed on my blog. I don’t have enough praise for this book; I finished it over a month ago, and not a day has passed by that I haven’t thought of the shockingly moving story and the characters who feel like people I knew and loved. I sincerely hope some of you will consider picking up Tiffany’s story.


1460410454009Well first off, would you mind introducing yourself to everyone reading this post? Tell us more about yourself and your debut!

I’m an Ohio poet and novelist who loves Ray Bradbury, Shirley Jackson, Harper Lee, Donna Tartt, and the poet James Wright.  We mustn’t forget Agatha Christie too.  I wish I could give you a more exciting author bio like I wrestle alligators or something, but outside of my writing I’m rather quiet and boring.  As far as the novel is concerned, The Summer that Melted Everything is my fifth or sixth novel written, but my first published novel.  It’s about an eighty-four-year-old man named Fielding Bliss, who is looking back on his life during one summer in 1984 when he was thirteen-years-old and his father, Autopsy Bliss, invited the devil to their small town Breathed, Ohio.  Who answers the invitation ends up being a boy in overalls and with bruises.  This boy’s arrival comes the first day of a hell-hot heat-wave that carries through the entire course of the summer.  This is not just a story about the heat, but a story of everything that melted in that heat.  Family, friendships, innocence, and even lives.  Puddles of all of these things melted down.  That is what this story is.  A man trying to survive ferrying these puddles, which to him have become oceans he must cross to once again find the bliss of his name.

When did you first realize that you wanted to be a writer? What were some of your early works like?

I’ve been writing since I was kid.  The desire to do so was something that has always been with me.  I just knew I wanted to read story, create story, and live with story.  I wouldn’t realize writing was a profession I could have until I was in middle school and the guidance counselor came to my class to talk to us about what we wanted to be when we got older.  Writing was just so wonderful to me I didn’t associate it with work.  My parents had jobs, very hard jobs that made them tired and not a lot of money.  So I thought that’s what I would have to do.  Have a job I didn’t like.  My early works were short stories, plays, poetry.  I wrote my first novel when I was eighteen, just after high school.

You have such a distinct writing style- so full of vivid imagery and lyrical language. Who would you say some of your influences are?

I think that’s just my natural writing style.  I do think life itself is a major influence.  Life adds layers to oneself, and these layers help turn the creative wheel inside us all.

What is the perfect writing atmosphere for you?

For many years I didn’t even have a desk to write on so I’d type with the laptop on my lap on my bed in a room with three broken windows that would not open.  It wasn’t the most creative of atmospheres, but I wrote.  Now I do have a desk in the small corner of my bedroom.  I dream of that perfect writing nook all writers do, but as long as the story is there, all I need is the time to write it out.

Creating tentative playlists for my favorite books is something I love to do, and I was wondering if there’s a song that you think captures at least some of the essence of your book?

I think the playlist companion to your favorite books is a great idea.  I tend to think of instrumental music in terms of fiction, and I think with The Summer that Melted Everything something with that 1980s synthesizer vibe that picks up on the eerie quality of the story.  But for something with lyrics I’d go old school and say Johnny Cash’s recording of Hurt.  He recorded the song later in life when his voice was aged to a beautiful fragility and tone.  It’s a song and a voice I think Fielding, the narrator of the novel, would possess.

What else can we expect from you in the future? Any projects you’re currently working on?

I have eight completed novels and am working on my ninth.  The novel I’m hoping to follow The Summer that Melted Everything up with is titled, When Lions Stood as Men.  It’s the story of a Jewish brother and sister who escape Nazi Germany, cross the Atlantic Ocean, and end up in my land of Ohio.  Struggling with the guilt of surviving the Holocaust, they create their own camp of judgment.  Being both the guards and the prisoners, they punish themselves not only for surviving, but for the sins they know they cannot help but commit.

Finally, do you have any advice for aspiring writers or people who are trying to get their work published?

I wrote my first novel when I was eighteen.  I wouldn’t get a publishing contract until I was twenty-nine.  It was eleven years of rejection and perseverance.  This is the narrative so many authors have.  The road to publication can be long, heartbreaking, and discouraging.  I say to those still on the journey to publication, or just starting out on it, to never give up.  Don’t allow rejection to defeat you.  Believe your name is meant to be on a book, and never lose faith it will be.

Thank you so much for answering my questions, Tiffany! Could you tell us where we can purchase a copy of your book?

Thank you so much for giving me these questions.  They were indeed a pleasure to answer.  You can find The Summer that Melted Everything at all major retailers.

Here’s a handful of links:

Amazon:  http://amzn.to/2dm0ihJ

Barnes and Noble:  http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/the-summer-that-melted-everything-tiffany-mcdaniel/1122537894?ean=9781250078063

Waterstones:  https://www.waterstones.com/book/the-summer-that-melted-everything/tiffany-mcdaniel/9781925228519

I also encourage you to support your local indie store and find your nearest location at Indiebound: https://www.indiebound.org/book/9781250078063

All buy links can be found on my website at: www.tiffanymcdaniel.com

I don’t have social media, but readers can always email me direct through my website.

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Night Film: too topsy-turvy for comfort

Night Film by Marisha Pessl


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night filmMarisha Pessl’s Night Film has been on my radar for a while now. I love reading creepy thrillers during the summer months, so I thought this would be the perfect read. It follows the investigation of the death of a notorious cult horror-director’s daughter, Ashley Cordova. Ashley killed herself after breaking out of a psychiatric clinic, and normally suicides do not interest our protagonist, Scott McGrath – an investigative journalist-  but he has a certain history with Ashley’s father. Scott is certain that there is something very sinister at play within Cordova’s family, and since Cordova keeps himself behind a thick veil of mystery and silence, Scott needs to investigate Ashley’s murder, uncover the truth and perhaps expose the darkness he’s certain the director is shrouded in. Scott’s sidekicks are a nineteen year old aspiring actress and a handsome young drug dealer; set in a dreary depiction of New York City, this strange trio are constantly required to delve into darkness to discover what happened to Ashley.

Perhaps the biggest mistake I made when going into this book was to expect a psychological thriller. It’s psychologically challenging, yes, but I don’t think it can really be categorized as a thriller; it’s more a mystery, and perhaps some horror, than anything else. I’m not the biggest fan of mysteries, especially if they are as big as this one is. Pessl constantly changes the direction of the story; is this a good old murder disguised as suicide, or was there something paranormal at play, or was Ashley just a troubled young girl who could not handle the darkness she grew up around? And more than just the investigation, there’s the mystery of Cordova: who is this elusive man? Is he evil, given the uncomfortable, dark content of his productions. Is he cursed, considering people around him drop like flies? Or is he just someone who likes staying out of the spotlight and is struck with misfortune? The premise was fascinating, to say the least, but did the mystery really need 600 pages and several curveballs to resolve? I’m not so sure.

Pessl threw her audience so many curveballs that I found myself doubting everything, which isn’t something I want to do in a mystery. Being a skeptic throughout the novel didn’t blow my mind at the end or surprise me when there was a twist, because I was expecting something to be off. I was expecting something to be turned upside down, and sometimes, simply the expectation takes the fun out of the narrative. As for the investigation itself- as interesting as it was, it was a little unrealistic. Everything seemed to be dropping into our characters’ laps. Considering how elusive Cordova is, how completely hidden and mysterious, our characters had a ridiculously easy time getting to information that should’ve been very hard to obtain. Pessl didn’t give them a hard time, and I enjoy when characters work hard and get beaten down before they get back up and ultimately win.

But while their luck was unrealistic, the characters themselves were not. I really enjoyed how the personalities of our three leads clashed, yet complemented each other too. I liked how each of them brought different things to the table. Nora is an eccentric, sweet young girl who’s been through a lot in life to get to where she is – which is not anywhere great, I may add. But her kindness and her persistence makes her endearing. Hopper is a handsome young dealer who is the typical charming yet brooding dude, but his profession and his moral ambiguity makes him a nuanced character. Scott took some time getting used to, but he grew on me eventually.

Pessl is obviously an accomplished writer; her ability to construct atmosphere and come up with interesting stories while immersing her reader into the narrative with interesting layouts in the form of blog pages, forums, articles and slides is commendable. And perhaps I’ll pick up something else by her- I’m just not sure if I’ll pick up another mystery, especially if it’s as long as this one was.


night film rating


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The Luxe: a bad 1880s version of Gossip Girl

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the luxeGossip Girl is one of those TV shows that you feel like should be a guilty pleasure, but it’s not. It should be because it centers around a privileged class of society that is so out-of-touch with the realities of their surroundings, focusing on irrelevant drama like high school cliques, queen bitches and fashion. But it’s not a guilty pleasure because the characters are inherently flawed and complex- each with an intricate web of relationships that are complicated, frustrating yet completely endearing. The women, despite being part of a class that is usually stereotyped as ‘superficial’ and ‘materialistic’ are actually so much more than that; the women in Gossip Girl are independent, passionate, ambitious, and incredibly smart. They may be bitches when they want to be – but they are inherently good people whose lives are as multi-faceted as anybody else’s, as complicated, and as full of joy.

The Luxe had all the potential to be a stunning version of this show. Often marketed as Gossip Girl set in the nineteenth century, you’d expect a story about a privileged society, about drama and the ugliness that simmers beneath the glamorous surface. Instead, what I came across was an incredibly lackluster novel with virtually no real plot, more angst than I could possibly digest, and characters that felt like caricatures of every trope out there. Instead of exploring the ugliness of the top 1% – the drugs, the betrayals, the ambition verging on evil, the deceit and politics, the Luxe focuses solely on one woman’s loveless arranged marriage to a guy. Elizabeth is betrothed to Henry- who was Elizabeth’s best friend Penelope’s sex buddy. Penelope was in love with Henry, but he does not feel anything for her. Instead, when he encounters Elizabeth’s free-spirited little sister, Diana, he is drawn to her. The result? Not even a love triangle – a weird love polygon THING.

Now, the romance would have been interesting had it not been literally the main plot. And again, if this were a romance novel, I wouldn’t have minded it if the characters weren’t throwing away their lives for the sake of one boy or another. Elizabeth is, I believe, our main character and we are constantly told that she is prim and proper only on the surface, that there is a rebel simmering underneath but I don’t see that. I see it in the story, but not in the character itself. She was so… dull. Her younger sister, Diana, had all the potential to be a heroine worth rooting for- she’s the rebel in the family. She doesn’t care about dresses and manners, because she wants to live her life as she sees fit. That would have been great had she not constantly reminded her reader what a special snowflake she was. Being condescending towards other women just because you are different is not likable.

At the turn of the last page, I didn’t want to know more. Heck, I didn’t think there needed to be any more- everything worth caring about was wrapped up. If Godberson wanted to pursue the story, at the most she could have written one more book with the same plot – romance, angst, marriage, half-hearted rebels. But I cannot, for the life of me, understand why there are three more books? What is there to write about?!

Ultimately, I’m giving this book 2 stars rather than 1. Why? Because I finished it. Also, Godberson’s technique of writing was pretty good- it didn’t feel overcomplicated, nor juvenile but a good balance between simplicity and complexity. But there was little else of merit in the book. I think it’s safe to say that I will not be continuing on with the series.


luxe rating

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Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore: started off strong, then went downhill

penumbras review


13538873Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore follows the story of Clay Jannon, a computer programmer who finds himself unemployed in the era of the Great Recession. Desperate for a job so he can make a simple living, Clay stumbles across a strange little bookstore. On a whim, he decides to apply for a job. But after being hired, Clay realizes that there’s something strange going on in the bookstore; the owner, Mr. Penumbra, is rather eccentric with a weird set of rules. There are virtually no customers- perhaps the reason is that most of the books in the store are completely unheard of. Even Google can’t find them. As events unfold, Clay uncovers that the secrets and mysteries of the bookstore form a large network even outside its walls.

The title of this book suggests that Robin Sloan has written a book that is a must-read for book-lovers everywhere. For the first half or so, I’d say that it was exactly that. Full of strange details and whimsy about this unusual bookstore- largely abandoned with one or two customers every day. It’s a sharp reminder of the tragedy that has befallen our society: people simply do not care for bookstores. This is a recurring theme throughout the novel; people who read avidly are considered eccentric, old-fashioned in this day and age. Sloan treads this concept carefully yet masterfully; the integration is seamless while also being explicit enough for even the most clueless readers to catch.

This is a thematic novel, made obvious from the nature of our protagonist. Clay is a narrator who many of us can relate to, even if we’re not smart web-designers; he’s grown up in a digital age where technology forms a big chunk of his life, but he loves to read and the “smell of books.” He’s part of the generation that’s trying to make sense of the bridge perched in uncertainty between the old and the new – or books and technology, respectively. Sloan gives this narrator a refreshing voice, simultaneously humorous and grounded in the moment. Full of literary and digital pop culture references, the novel draws the reader in with the sheer absurdity yet possibility of it all. Moreover, the justice Sloan does to both sides of the debate was both commendable and thought-provoking. The people obsessed with the old ways are too rigid to recognize that technology has means of doing things much quicker, while the skeptics of the new-era-sect fail to recognize that computers are not invincible.

Unfortunately, much of this balance was lost going into the second half of the book. You know when you take a Physics class in college because you’re a Doctor Who fan and think learning about time travel and black holes academically will be the single greatest thing in the world, only to later learn that it’s mostly talk about atoms and numbers? It’s disappointing, which is how I felt about this book. The second half of the book delves deep into the technological, digital aspect of the world. The bookstore and the larger context of books is left behind to make way for a mystery/adventure that almost feels gimicky considering the tone of the first half of the book. There was so much technical talk in the second half that I found myself either getting lost or simply not bothering. It’s unfortunate that a book I was enjoying so much went into a downward spiral so steep that I had to skim the last few chapters.

Overall, I think this novel is a wonderful piece of thematic literature, which discusses a hot topic in a sensitive, humorous light while remaining fair to both sides of the debate. From a story point of view, I feel that this book would be rather enjoyable if people knew what they were getting into. After all, had the Physics student known that the class would be mostly numbers may have enjoyed it much more had he not been caught totally unawares.


penumbras rating

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Top 5 Wednesday | Settings I Want to See More of

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Top 5 Wednesday is a weekly meme hosted by Sam. You basically get a new topic every Wednesday, and you list your Top 5 books related to that topic. Head over to the Goodreads group, and add your name to the list of Wednesday-ers if you’re interested in participating!

Today’s topic is “Settings I Want to See More Of.” I think this is a brilliant topic, if only because I’ve never really thought about it. I know there are plenty of settings where I think, “oh this is really cool,” but I’ve never actually sat and thought about what settings I’d be more interested in. I haven’t fully thought this post through, but let’s see where I end up. Without further ado, let’s get started.

In descending order

5. 1920s America in YA

I recently read Lair of Dreams by Libba Bray, which is the sequel to the Diviners. Both books are set in a paranormal 1920s USA, and while the world-building in the Diviners was brilliant, Bray took it up a notch in the sequel. The truth is: Americans tend to glorify the 1920’s. It was called the Roaring 20s where parties and glamor and Hollywood had taken over life after the war, but there was so much ugliness brewing beneath the superficial surface. Racism, prejudice, discrimination, bootlegging, the illusion of freedom. It was a messed up era where people tried their hardest to ignore the sufferings of those who did not fit the mould. I haven’t read a ton of 1920s in YA, and while I’m sure there are many books out there, I’d like to see even more.


 4. The Pakistan-India Partition in 1947

The separation was such an important part of history, at least it is in my eyes. I know many people do not know about the close relationship between India and Pakistan, especially since it gets buried underneath modern enmity, but we are so alike. Our food is virtually identical, we wear the same clothes, speak variations of the same language, watch the same movies, listen to the same music, love the same sport, and share the same history (apart from the last 70 years).

And while I have never regretted or felt like separation from India was a bad idea, on both countries’ parts, I often think about the millions of lives lost to achieve the outcome. The partition itself was sloppy – families found themselves torn apart, one member in one country and another member in the other. Best friends could no longer just walk out of their house and see each other because there was now a border in between them. I have heard so many first-hand stories from older people because there are many people alive today who were alive then too, including both my grandmothers. There is so much potential to write beautiful, tragic stories that both commemorate the lives lost and remain respectful of the situation today, and I have yet to read a piece of fiction set in this era. Which is not to say it doesn’t exist – I know there are a few novels here and there, but I’d just like to see more. 


3. Civil War Dystopians

I don’t want dystopians where the government is oppressing its citizens, where the citizens finally rise to power and fight back against oppressive regimes. That’s cool and all, but it’s so overdone at this point. You know what I want? I want dystopians where citizens rise up against fellow citizens and fight. Because civil war is messy; if a government is oppressive, we know we’re rooting for the people. But if the people are fighting against the people, the lines aren’t so clear. Both sides have valid points, there isn’t one villain and one hero. Much like The Chaos Walking trilogy where good, average people found themselves going up against other good, average people. With a certain few in the muddled area in between where they know nobody is going to win unless they lay down their arms and just talk.


2. Academic Settings in Fantasy

I’ve read a lot of fantasy, guys. Granted that most of it is YA, and there’s a whole world of fantasy if I wasn’t so hesitant about diving into the adult tome-filled genre, but I’ve still read a shit ton of fantasy. And I can count on one hand the number of fantasy books I’ve read that contain a school. And perhaps the reason the setting is largely overlooked is because authors don’t want to feel like they’re living under the shadow of legacies like Harry Potter, where a school was the primary setting. I know for a fact that the fantasies that do contain a school are immediately compared to Harry Potter.

I love Harry Potter as much as the next person, if not more but it’s incredibly unfair to hold authors to a certain standard. Rowling did something magical, but it’s time to let others do their own magic without constantly lumping the two authors together! School settings in fantasy are some of my favorite things to read, especially since school is such a huge part of my life and I enjoy reading books where the classes just sound so much cooler. Classes on potions and magic and weaponry- man, that is so cool, and I doubt authors don’t like writing such settings!


1. Alternate Universes

I don’t mean parallel universes in this, although those are awesome as well, but I mean universes where certain things in our history didn’t happen. I want to read a book about a time when the British were colonized instead of the colonizers, about a time where Adolf Hitler won the war and caused the end of the world, a time where Copernicus thought the Earth was the center of the universe and then nobody just figured it out after him. There are so many possibilities, no? History has so much raw material that you can work with, and fiction can do so much with history other than just setting novels in said history. If I were to ever write a non-fantasy novel, I’d probably do something like this: take a significant event in history, flip it on its head and start writing.


So that’s my Top Five Wednesday for this week! Do you have any recommendations for me based on these settings? What are some settings you would like to see more of? Let me know in the comments below and as always, thanks for stopping by, and happy reading!

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