Book Review: “Little Fires Everywhere” by Celeste Ng

little fires

The library ladies chose Little Fires Everywhere for our third book club pick. This bestselling novel by Celeste Ng debuted in 2017 and has since been adapted as a popular show on Hulu. We have Little Fires Everywhere as a hardback in our Recreational Reading section.

This novel tells the story of an insulated community, Shaker Heights, and what happens when neighbors disagree over the controversial issues of transracial adoption, single parenthood, socioeconomic differences, and unplanned pregnancies.

Mild spoilers ahead.

What Little Fires Everywhere gets right: First off, what a 10/10 book cover. It grabs your attention- especially with that title- but the color scheme is beautiful.

This book tells everyone’s story, from the seemingly random best friend of a main character to the Chinese immigrant who wants her baby back. Author Celeste Ng somehow expertly weaves all of these stories together, connecting the threads between each character and giving a voice to each perspective. You’ll probably find yourself empathizing with each of them at some point in the novel.

What Little Fires Everywhere gets wrong: It gets off to a slow start. I just wasn’t that interested in Shaker Heights or the many characters that were introduced right off the bat.

Once I did get to know the characters, I worried about them. Teenage Pearl was surprisingly sheltered despite her freewheeling upbringing, and I worried that she would get her heart broken. I felt sad for the characters who struggled to become pregnant, and for the ones who did and had to make difficult choices. Little Fires Everywhere was a well-written book, but it was a hard one to read as it seemed like every page introduced a new, emotional, controversial issue where both sides were fairly well-represented.

Who should read Little Fires Everywhere: Readers who want to tackle challenging issues and enjoy reading about different perspectives on the same problem. Readers who enjoy books about families and neighborhoods.

Who shouldn’t read Little Fires Everywhere: Readers looking for a happy, light story or who need a break from controversial issues.

 

Little Fires Everywhere is available in the Recreational Reading section of the library.

Content note: brief sexual scenes, language.

Most book reviews on this blog are written by Olivia Chin and reflect her personal opinions of the books, not the library’s view as a whole.

Book Review: “Children of Blood and Bone” by Tomi Adeyemi

child

Children of Blood and Bone took the Young Adult book world by storm when it was published in 2018. For one thing, the cover is absolutely exquisite. For another, this is a fantasy book about people of color; diversity can be hard to find in the fantasy genre. Author Tomi Adeyemi uses her background as a Nigerian-American and her studies in West African mythology to create an intricate world with cultures and problems that real-life people can relate to.

This novel introduces us to two pairs of very different brothers and sisters: Zélie and Tzain, the underdogs in a society built on racism and the fear of magic; and Amari and Inan, the princess and prince who have everything but shrink under their cruel father’s abuse. As the four collide, and suppressed magic begins to make a comeback, their cities will never be the same again.

Mild spoilers ahead.

 

What Children of Blood and Bone gets right: I enjoyed reading about the complex, but ultimately loving, brother-sister relationships in this story, as well as each character’s development and growth throughout their journeys. The animals in this book are really cool as well. For example, Zélie has a lionaire (Nailah) whom she and her friends can actually ride like a horse.

Plot-wise, Children of Blood and Bone reminds me of Avatar: The Last Airbender. Zélie is a special girl who can bring magic back into the world, just like Aang is the avatar who can bring balance back to his world. And Zélie has wisdom beyond her years at times; her quote “I won’t let your ignorance silence my pain” gave me chills.

What Children of Blood and Bone gets wrong: There are a lot of rules and regulations about magic that don’t come out until later in the book. It can be difficult to keep up with, and some of it doesn’t fully make sense to me in regards to how it works in the story. And while the action scenes were exciting, they were hard to follow for me. I wasn’t too sure what was going on at times.

Although Zélie was the main character, I actually liked her the least out of the sibling pairs. While she means well and has a good cause, she’s constantly reckless. I wanted to see the story from Tzain’s perspective, as he was probably my favorite character due to his practicality and protectiveness, but we never got that.

Who should read Children of Blood and Bone: Fans of magic, fantasy, heroic stories, and West African mythology.

Who shouldn’t read Children of Blood and Bone: Readers who don’t enjoy fantasy.

 

Children of Blood and Bone is available in our Recreational Reading section. The sequel, Children of Virtue and Vengeance, is also available!

Content note: a brief suggestive scene, violence, racism.

Most book reviews on this blog are written by Olivia Chin and reflect her personal opinions of the books, not the library’s view as a whole.

Book Review: “The Sun Also Rises” by Ernest Hemingway

sun

I was in eighth grade when I fell violently and happily into Ernest Hemingway’s writing. We were reading his famous novella, The Old Man and The Sea, and I remember everyone in my class hating it. I loved it, though. Here we were, reading what I understood as literature, and not only was it about an interesting subject (a washed-up fisherman trying desperately to catch and keep a giant fish alone in the open ocean), but it was accessible. My eyes flew over the pages, and I couldn’t stop myself from getting lost in the words.

Authors have been trying to write like Hemingway for years for a reason: his writing is legible. You can understand what he’s trying to say. It’s that brilliant writing that not only says something worthwhile or meaningful but says it in a way that you can grasp without having to open up a dictionary.

Hemingway was my favorite author until I became a feminist and started reading Haruki Murakami (who is not a feminist, either, but I still like him). Hemingway isn’t known for writing well about women, and he wasn’t always the best in his relationships with women in real life. Still, I come back to his books because they have something to say, even if it isn’t always my favorite way of saying it. Plus, it’s a joy to read stories that are well-written but still easy on my tired eyes and blessedly not that long. That’s why I decided to re-read The Sun Also Rises during quarantine.

Mild spoilers ahead.

What The Sun Also Rises gets right: I’ve read this book maybe twice, when I was in high school and wanted to read everything Hemingway had ever written. I’ve got to say that reading it as an adult was very different. Suddenly all of the subtext made sense to me, and not really in a good way. For example, one of the main characters, Brett, is impulsive and promiscuous, hurting every man in her path. However, when we learn about her background as a victim of domestic abuse, her current actions seem like coping mechanisms instead of just selfishness. Hers is a sad story- in fact, most of the characters in this book are sad due to their physical and emotional scars from past problems. That’s why they treat one another so badly.

Although it made for a sad read, it was good to learn more about each character and put two-and-two together about the hints that Hemingway left in this book. The main themes are unrequited love, struggling with feelings of uselessness, dealing with alcohol addiction, and the thrills of traveling and experiencing other cultures. You will feel like you, too, are in Spain with this wild group of people- for better or for worse.

 

What The Sun Also Rises gets wrong: This book is infamous for the characters’ anti-Semitic views. Even if it is an accurate representation of the time, it’s still not fun to read about the slurs and racism shown toward the Jewish character, Robert Cohn.

There are a few minor characters who are black, but they are more stereotypical caricatures than real people, and this “casual” racism will make you squirm. A racial slur is used to reference the black characters.

 

Who should read The Sun Also Rises: Fans of crisp writing, weird characters that are loosely based on real people, lots of drama, and the 1920s.

 

Who shouldn’t read The Sun Also Rises: If you didn’t like F. Scott Fizgerald’s The Great Gatsby, don’t read this one. It’s similar to Gatsby in that it’s about a group of people with annoying habits and problems that they don’t communicate well about. It’s an examination of a generation that people now don’t know much about personally- we only really know them and their struggles through books like this.

 

The Sun Also Rises is available at the library.

Content note: violence (in particular, bullfighting), racism, some suggestive scenes (which are mostly inferred or referenced in conversation), language, substance abuse.

Top 5 Books Over 500 Pages Long

long long book

Ah, the indoors: a perfect place to crack open a good book. What with the extra time spent indoors these days, a really long book could be a productive way to stay busy. If a long book for long weeks at home sounds ideal to you, take a look at our list of lengthy tomes below and get reading!

 

Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy

*Available as an eBook

Pages: 850+

Basic plot: A restless woman starts an affair that leads to high-society drama; Tolstoy’s views on Russian politics and philosophy coincides with an examination of a landowner’s life.

For readers who like: drama, politics, Russian history, and characters with multiple names.

 

East Of Eden by John Steinbeck

Pages: 601

Basic plot: Two brothers struggle with their rivalry and family secrets in a reflection of Cain and Abel.

For readers who like: sociopathic villains, intense dialogue, and major catharsis.

 

Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte

*Available as an eBook.

Pages: Depending on the publisher, around 400 or 500

Basic plot: A diligent woman with a hard and lonely upbringing goes to work for a mysterious, wealthy man who has a lot of secrets.

For readers who like: suspense, romance, a hint of the supernatural, and lots of plot twists.

 

1Q84 by Haruki Murakami

Pages: 1000+

Basic plot: A math teacher and an assassin attempt to cross time and space to find each other.

For readers who like: magical realism, science fiction, espionage, and romance.

 

The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt

Pages: 784

Basic plot: A boy steals a famous painting for personal reasons and becomes involved in the art underground.

For readers who like: coming-of-age stories, suspense, and vivid descriptions.

 

 

 

 

 

 

People’s Choice Book Review: “The Handmaid’s Tale” by Margaret Atwood

hand

Recently, I asked the Union community via Instagram to pick a book for me to review (these are the kind of fun shenanigans I’ve been up to while working from home). The choices were Race Matters, The Sun Also Rises, and The Handmaid’s Tale.  Each of these books are available at the library, so patrons can read the review and then pick out the book. The votes came in, and The Handmaid’s Tale was chosen!

Spoiler-free description of The Handmaid’s Tale: a woman in a dogmatic society, the Republic of Gilead, must play the hated role of a Handmaid while grappling with memories of a past life.

I first read The Handmaid’s Tale a year or two ago. I’d heard of it before, and as the show based on the book gained more media attention, the buzz put the book back on my radar (although I still haven’t watched the show). I remember reading The Handmaid’s Tale as fast as my eyes could skim the words- the story was so engrossing and equal parts mind-numbingly sad and frustrating. As soon as I finished, I handed the book over to my husband, and he also read it blazingly fast. I strongly believe that The Handmaid’s Tale is a book by women, for women (and it attracts a largely female audience because it’s talking about female experiences, and boys don’t read “girl” books starting at an early age). But this story is also very much for men, too. In fact, I wish more men would read The Handmaid’s Tale.

Let’s get one thing straight about The Handmaid’s Tale before we dive in to the review: this is a book about a very messed up society. If you’ve kept up with author Margaret Atwood at all, then you know that she is obviously not promoting the mistreatment of women with this book. She is fighting against it in real life by showing how terrible it is in fiction. This is one of those books where some really rough acts and crimes are committed, but that doesn’t mean that the book is promoting this kind of behavior- it’s actually the exact opposite. Yet, The Handmaid’s Tale still winds up on banned book lists because people are afraid to read about real problems (that’s just my opinion there, but hey, this is a book review, so most of this is my opinion).

Mild spoilers ahead.

What The Handmaid’s Tale gets right: This is a very insulated story. It’s told from one woman’s perspective, and since she’s been subjected to brainwashing and abuse, sometimes her perspective is shocking. A lot of books about crazy government regimes focus on the politics or the activists, but this book zeroes in on one Handmaid’s story. I love that. It’s so much more personal and relatable than if we had 300+ pages about every terrible law that Gilead passed.

The Handmaid’s Tale is fictional. Some might call it satire, but it’s also a warning to the real world. Sometimes you can reach a wider audience by instilling your values and fears into fiction, and Atwood does this beautifully in The Handmaid’s Tale. A very paraphrased and basic version of her message is this: women are equal to men, but a lot of societies don’t treat them this way; biological differences are often used by those in power to subjugate women; and systemic oppression is wrong. As a feminist, I appreciate these messages being brought to the general public in the form of a story- this makes hard facts and opinions more accessible to everyone.

What The Handmaid’s Tale gets wrong: There are some slower parts to the book, but honestly you probably won’t notice. You’ll be too caught up in how awful Gilead is. Also, there’s a cliffhanger and we had to wait over 30 years for a sequel. So, if you’re just now picking up this book, you will be excited to know that you can read The Testaments right after (and you can read my review of The Testaments here).

Who should read The Handmaid’s Tale: Readers who enjoy dystopian books, feminist literature, and finally knowing what all of the hype is about.

Who shouldn’t read The Handmaid’s Tale: Younger audiences should wait until they are mature enough for the heavy content.

The Handmaid’s Tale is available as a print book at the library.

Content note: there are scenes of rape and abuse all throughout the book. Reader discretion is advised.

Top 5 Books About Writing

pex writing 1

At some point in your life, you’re going to have to write something important- an article, an academic essay, or website content for your company. Thankfully there are books that can help you improve on your writing (as well as great professors and the Writing Center here at Union). Listed below are some of the library’s best books on writing.

 

Bird By Bird by Anne Lamott

Lamott has written novels (Blue Shoe, Hard Laughter, etc.) as well as nonfiction, so she’s had a lot of writing experience. Bird By Bird teaches you not only how to write better, but how to use your own personal strengths and weaknesses as a writer. It’s about your personal growth through the context of writing.

 

Everybody Writes by Ann Handley

A solid manual to writing better copy, social media posts, emails, and first drafts. See a more in-depth review here.

 

On Writing Well by William Zinsser

Zinsser takes a more critical approach to writing as he warns against common mistakes and grammatical errors. On Writing Well is extremely practical and will teach you about the difference between good and bad writing.

 

Storycraft by Jack Hart

Storycraft is a how-to guide with helpful examples from classic essays and books. This book is specifically about nonfiction writing, but fiction writers can pick up some tips, too.

 

Death in the Afternoon by Ernest Hemingway

What? Isn’t this a book about bullfighting? Well, yes, but it’s just as much about writing (you’ll see). Countless people have tried to write like Hemingway since The Sun Also Rises, so it’s safe to say that taking writing advice from the man himself might be helpful.

 

 

Book Review: “Shoji Hamada: A Potter’s Way And Work” by Susan Peterson

ruth book

In my opinion, I find that sometimes the most interesting biographies are the ones whose people aren’t too well known. Oftentimes household names have so much in the way of lore and common knowledge that, in many ways, we already know some of the best parts. This trend continued in the book Shoji Hamada: A Potter’s Way and Work. For those who don’t know, Shoji Hamada is a former living national treasure in Japan due to his work as a folk potter. He has become internationally renowned in the ceramics community, his works becoming synonymous with Japanese mingei (民芸 meaning “folk arts” or “art of the people”) ceramics. Having spent four months with Hamada, author Susan Peterson has written a charming glimpse into his life, home, and work.

The book is based in the small town of Mashiko located in Tochigi prefecture and about a two-hour drive north of Tokyo. As the book was written in 1970, the context is of what Mashiko was like during Hamada’s time. However, I had the privilege of visiting Mashiko during this past spring break, and it was wonderful to compare with what was written during Hamada’s life with how the town has changed throughout the years since Hamada’s fame. Shoji Hamda’s house has been turned into a museum of his life and work, and it was fascinating to compare the images from the book’s photo galleries to the real thing. After reading the book, I can’t imagine not wanting to visit.

This book covers anything and everything one might want to know about the potter and his work, but even so, it is still an incredibly easy read. The language is accessible to people who have not studied pottery, but also enriching for those that have. The book covers everything from his workflow, techniques, glazes, kilns, family life, and even the way Hamada himself thinks. The book is not a detached biography written by historians years after the death of the person, but rather a living telling complete with the thoughts and actions recorded in these first-person accounts. The photo albums scattered throughout the book are both an enjoyable and invaluable addition to the biography, as seeing the work for oneself is both contextually important as well as very interesting to see the stages of his work and life. If you are at all a fan of the arts, even just a little, I would definitely recommend this book.

 

*written by Ruth Duncan

Featured Book: “Lost In Wonder, Love, And Praise” by Justin Wainscott

Print

 

Justin Wainscott, a member of Union’s Board of Trustees and pastor of First Baptist Church in Jackson, recently released a new book. Lost In Wonder, Love, And Praise is divided into 2 sections: hymns and poems. The hymns section draws heavily from Scripture; Wainscott adds recommendations of familiar tunes for each hymn to be sung to. The poems section focuses on different themes such as God’s grace, dealing with anxiety, and family.

One poem that particularly stands out is “Shared Wonder,” which is about our relationships to art:

The art we most enjoy-

whether stories or sketches,

paintings or poems,

music or movies,

sermons or songs-

is the fruit of private wonder

being made public.

Wainscott goes on to write about the joy of shared wonder, which he concludes is the end result of art.

Lost In Wonder, Love, And Praise is a great resource for worship leaders, pastors, and laymen alike. Whether you’re looking for a new hymn to sing or a poem to resonate with, this book is here to help you worship God. You can check out Lost In Wonder, Love, And Praise from the library.

Spotlight On “Books & Authors” Database

 

pex books and authors

 

Are you looking for a new book to read but aren’t sure where to start? Do you need to find a list of books in a specific genre? What about a list of award-winning books?

Books & Authors is a user-friendly database that answers all of your book-related questions. Here you can find recommendations on what to read next from famous authors, lists of award-winning novels, and descriptions of each literary genre. You can also search for specific books and authors or simply click on a link to learn more about a broader topic (such as mystery books or books written in a certain time period).

Another great aspect of Book & Authors is the unbiased, spoiler-free description of each book. You can browse through books to learn more about them without having anything spoiled. It’s a great way to become familiar with a new title that you might like to read.

You’ll find access to this fun, helpful database via our Databases, E-Books, and Media tab on the library website. If you need help accessing a database, please contact us on our library chat, through phone at 731-661-5070, or in person at our Research or Circulation desks.

Featured Book: “Surprised By Oxford”

surprised by oxford

 

Christians should never underestimate the power of their priesthood among nonbelievers. I was hooked, and drawn deeper into the faith, by the character of various believers and how it spoke of their God: by their humility, humor, compassion, perspective, even priorities. – Carolyn Weber

Surprised By Oxford by Carolyn Weber is a memoir that shares the author’s testimony. Weber arrives at Oxford ready to hit the books but is surprised when she instead begins wrestling with what she believes about the afterlife, the Bible, and theology in general. She also meets a fellow student who intrigues her, but she is wary of dating and Christian men in particular. What follows is a beautifully written tale of discovery, faith, friendship, and a little bit of romance.

If the title of the memoir sounds familiar, you may be thinking of Surprised By Joy, the autobiography of C.S. Lewis. Like Lewis, Weber also struggled with theology before coming to accept Christ as her Savior. And also like Lewis, Weber recorded her story so that others might have hope and believe.

To learn more about Carolyn Weber and her book, you can read her interview with The Gospel Coalition. Surprised By Oxford is available at the library in our main book stacks.