Back with mini-reviews!
In Five Years by Rebecca Serle 💛
If you could get a glimpse into your life in 5 years, would you? If there was no context, just an hour of time in which you see an hour of your life in the future, would you want to see? I always thought the answer to this question was yes, but after reading this, I’m not so sure. Like Dannie, the protagonist of In Five Years, I am a planner. I like to know what’s coming, to know where I’m headed. In this short novel, Dannie spends one hour five years in the future. Without context, she wakes up to find herself in a strange apartment that doesn’t fit her at all with a man who is not her fiancé. After the hour ends, she wakes back up a few hours after getting engaged. The reading experience mirrors Dannie’s panic. I couldn’t put this down because I figured I knew where it was going, but I was so very wrong. Dannie spends the five years after that one hour trying to figure out how she got to that moment, and we, as readers, are right there with her, trying to pick up on clues.
Some parts of this novel reminded me of One Day In December, a novel I loved. While this a short read, it’s much heavier than I expected. 💔 It explores how life curves and weaves in ways we never expected. It reminds us that we don’t know where our lives are going for a reason. Sometimes, if we know where things are headed, we begin to change course in ways we shouldn’t or we become so hyper-focused on sticking to the plan that we forget to live. Overall, this book wasn’t at all what I expected but I thoroughly enjoyed it and loved that the urgency Dannie feels is mimicked for the reader.
Unsheltered by Barbara Kingsolver
3.75 ⭐️ —
On the corner of Sixth and Plum resides a brick home that is beautiful but structurally unsound. In the present day, the structure is the inherited home of Willa Knox and her husband, Iano. Willa and Iano move into the house after both lose their jobs, and soon the house becomes a physical representation of the stage of life Willa finds herself in. A woman who prides herself on hard work and creating a stable environment for her family, Willa is shaken when a contractor tells her that the best thing to do is demolish the house and start over. Suddenly, it feels like much more than the house is starting over – Willa and Iano struggle with unemployment; Iano’s ailing Greek father requires care; Tig, Willa, and Iano’s free-spirited daughter, arrives to live with them; and Zeke, their Ivy-educated son, shows up with an unplanned child after his girlfriend commits suicide.
In an attempt to save the house, Willa begins investigating whether the structure has historical significance and could be protected as a landmark. What, or rather who, she finds is the man who resided in the house in the 1880s, Thatcher Greenwood. A science teacher who is struggling with a prohibition against teaching Darwin, Greenwood develops friendships with a woman scientist and a newspaper editor, which sends him into a struggle with the town’s men in power. He lives in the home with his new wife and her mother, a woman whose decisions are informed by status or the appearance thereof. His mother-in-law ignores warnings that the structure is unsound, and her ignorance is felt in present-day, as Willa scrambles to save the home. Weaving through time, this novel explores the concept of shelter and how four walls can offer stability or concern simultaneously. We often look at homes from the outside, intrigued by what the walls contain—people, secrets, histories—but we rarely get to see the intimacy of another’s home. Offering commentary on economic struggles that persist over two centuries and exploring where we can find shelter, this read is particularly interesting at the current juncture.
Ask Again, Yes by Mary Beth Keane —
If you’ve followed along for a while, you know that three things make a book a win for me—family dynamics + complicated relationships + self-exploration. If a book has those three things, I will like it barring terrible execution. This book had all three and was beautifully crafted.
The novel follows two families – the Stanhopes and the Gleesons. Brian Stanhope and Francis Gleeson are NYPD cops who happen to be neighbors. Brian’s wife, Anne, and Francis’s wife, Lena, don’t exactly hit it off, lacking the built-in rapport that sharing a career offers their husbands. Kate, the Gleeson’s youngest, and Peter, the Stanhope’s son, build a friendship that turns into young love that is fractured one tragic night when a violent act transforms the trajectory of both families. Following the repercussions of that night until Kate and Peter are well into adulthood, this novel explores whether we can escape the actions of our families, whether we will become the very people we always swore we would never be, and why it’s often easier to forgive before it is too late to say anything at all.
A slow burn, this novel expertly examines life’s quiet moments that leave both visible and imperceptible scars on each character—moments we cross lines we thought we’d never cross, moments when we choose love over family loyalty, moments when something that felt like a choice that a relative made feels genetic (a part of our fabric—inescapable) when it comes to our own actions. Mary Beth Keane captures little life truths throughout the novel, the story expanding and contracting in scope as years pass and the characters sink into who they are. One quote I particularly loved: “They’d both learned that a memory is a fact that has been dyed and trimmed and rinsed so many times that it comes out looking almost unrecognizable to anyone else who was in that room…” Have you read this one? 💛
The Winemaker’s Wife by Kristin Harmel 🍷💔😱 4⭐️
A book about World War II and wine is pretty much an auto-buy for me. The Winemaker’s Wife is a compelling story that chronicles the repercussions that decisions made in Champagne, France in 1940 have in New York in 2019. —
In 1940, Inès and Michel, the owner of Maison Chauveau (a champagne house), are newly married and life should be serene. Theo is the head winemaker and he lives on the grounds with his wife, Celine. By the time the Germans arrive, Inès feels that everyone treats her like a child and is deeply unhappy. Celine and Ines don’t get along very well and as Inès grows increasingly annoyed that Celine is brought into the fold by the men more and more, tensions increase.
In 2019, Liv is recently divorced and doing poorly when her French grandmother arrives and whisks her off to France, where she is ready to share a dark secret that will transform Liv’s understanding of her family history. —
This novel is heartbreaking in its exploration of mistakes that have grave consequences, naiveté coupled with a desire to be heard, and whether mistakes are truly mistakes. Obviously when terrible things happen as a result of your actions, it’s easy to carry the burden with you for the rest of your life, but what does that mean for the positives that comes from those decisions? This book attempts to answer that question. —
Have you heard of this one? Have you read it? 💛 3/20 #20backlistin2020
What’re you currently reading?