Book Reviews: Dumplin’ and The Mothers

I LOVED Dumplin’, by Julie Murphy. It’s a YA book about a gal, Willowdean, who loves Dolly Parton, her best friend, and her late aunt. At her after school job, she meets a very attractive guy (“an 8”), and he likes her back. The issue is that Willowdean can’t stop doubting herself because of her weight. She eventually decides to surprise everyone by joining a beauty contest. 

I really enjoyed this one. It’s very funny and a little steamy (I kept imaging the love interest as Adam Driver 😍). Like some YA novels, it seems a little far -fetched for teenagers to do and talk the way the teens in this one do,  but it was still a great read. I’m ready for the Netflix series that is currently under way. 

Sigh. The Mothers, by Brit Bennett. On paper, this one seems perfect me. A teenage girl gets pregnant while dealing with the suicide of her mother. She has an abortion, and the story follows the main character and how the decision follows her into the rest of her life. 

There is a lot of discussion on the role religion holds in a person’s life and how they view themselves. The guilt it can cause. But the characters seem a little flat, and I just couldn’t get into it or deeply care about anyone in the story. 


So Many Books! 

I’ve been on a good run lately, and I can’t keep up with my reviews! I guess that’s a good problem to have, right? 

The Silence of the Girls, Pat Barker

Man. This one surprised me. The Silence of the Girls is a retelling of the fall of Troy from the POV of Briseis, the girl Achilles and Agamemnon fought over in the Iliad. This book is totally out of my usual reading, but I thought I’d give it a try. 

And I loved it. I actually went back and reread a bunch of passages after I read it. It was that good. 

Modern, feminist, and plain old gorgeous writing. The title tells everything. The price women often pay in war time. 


I am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter, Erika Sanchez

Julia is a teenage girl trying to come to terms with her sister’s death. I think this YA book is really important for teens to have access to. Not only because of its portrayal of a feisty young Latina and her immigrant parents.  Not only because it shows what a healthy sex experience looks like to teens. Not only because it discusses the taboo topic for the Latinx community, child abuse. But because it discusses mental illness in an authentic ways and offers concrete steps a person can take to get well. 


Hunger, Roxane Gay
This memoir is very sad. It is a memoir exploring Roxane Gay’s relationship to her body and food. She discusses being gang raped as a young teen and how the devastation took a toll on every aspect of her life. 

I’m a fan of Gay, and I found this book to be very moving. 4/5

The Poet X, Elizabeth Acevedo

I abandoned this book. I tried to get into it, but I just couldn’t. 

Book Review: Salvage the Bones

Coincidentally, I started reading Jesmyn Ward’s Salvage the Bones almost exactly one year after Hurricane Harvey attempted to swallow my home, the city of Houston. Salvage tells the story of a family in the days leading up to and after Hurricane Katrina. 

For that reason, the novel was a hard reason. It hurt to read as the family prepared for the storm, gathered their food and boarded up their home. I felt so anxious, I would sometimes have to take a break from reading. But I always went back for more. 

“The air that had been still before swoops and tunnels through the clearing, raising dust, making the boys close their eyes. Maybe Daddy is right; maybe Katrina is coming for us.”

Esch is a young girl, poor and living with her alcoholic father and three brothers on the Gulf Coast. Her mind is filled with books, specifically Edith Hamilton’s Mythologies. Esch compares her life to Medea, and the story is filled with beautiful symbolism and imagery, but more than that, Esch’s hopelessness is devastating. 

This is probably one of the best books I’ve read in a long time. 

I sobbed. Literally sobbed through certain sections. The book is so earnest and deep, but it’s not pretentious nor cloying. 

One thing I loved is that Ward claimed myths for her African-American protagonist to connect with too. As a POC, this really resonated with me because I believe the cannon of literature belongs to me too. I too am a product of Western Civilization, and I too love to read the myths. The weaving in of Medea and her journey was a perfect framework. 

“In every one of the Greeks’ mythology tales, there is this: a man chasing a woman, or a woman chasing a man. There is never a meeting in the middle.”

Salvage the Bones has it all: family drama, suspense, action, and devastating heartbreak. 

Read it! 


Book Review: The Line that Held Us, by David Joy

The Line that Held Us, by David Joy, was billed as “Appalachian Noir” by The Book of the Month Club. Intriguing, right? I selected it, and instantly was hooked. Check out this opening paragraph: 

I was instantly gripped and couldn’t put the book down. 

Darl Moody is illegally poaching deer when he accidentally shoots the younger brother of Dwayne Brewer. Moody calls his best friend to help him hide the body but to no avail. Violent, bloody revenge is what happens next. 

I learned a lot from this novel. I’m a Tejana born and raised in Houston, the fourth largest city in the US. The lifestyle of the desperate, hard-working mountain people really surprised me, and I really empathized with them. Joy describes the poverty but doesn’t exploit, nor is he looking pity. He just tells it like it is. 

After I finished this novel, I read more articles from him about the region he writes about. I even looked up things like ginseng poaching, and it was all brand new learning, which I always appreciate. 

Once or twice, I rolled my eyes at some of the plot developments, but I still enjoyed the novel. The writing is gorgeous and layered with surprising imagery. I would definitely recommend. 


Book Review: A Good Scent From a Strange Mountain

I really wanted to love this book, A Good Scent from a Strange Mountain, by Robert Olen Butler. It is a Pulitzer Prize winning collection of short stories about Vietnamese immigrants living in America after the Vietnam war. 

The stories are affecting and really nicely written. As a Houstonian, I loved the Gulf Coast setting. I just couldn’t get past the fact that Butler is clearly not Vietnamese, yet he is trying to take on this POV. Butler is a Vietnam vet, and he lived in the country too. He clearly loves and respects the culture, yet I found this collection to be off-putting.

Book Reviews: Summer Bookstack

I keep seeing the hashtag #bookstack all over the internet, so I thought I’d make my own little stack of books I’ve read this summer but haven’t reviewed. 

The Book of Essie

This was one of my Book of the Month Club choices, and I was riveted. A teenage reality TV star finds out she’s pregnant. Her family has made its fame by being one of the most loved Christian families in America, and Essie’s pregnancy does not fit into their narrative. Her mother forces her to get married, and all kinds of family drama ensues. 

I love a family drama, so I really enjoyed this story. It takes a pretty critical eye on dogmatic Christianity, reality TV, and celebrity worship.  4/5

Small Country 

Another Book of the Month Club choice, this one takes place on Africa around the time of the Rowandan genocide. I really appreciated that this novel shows what it was to be a kid before unspeakable devastation and violence hit. Beautiful, lyrical writing. 

Crazy Rich Asians and China Rich Girlfriend

These are the first two books in the Crazy Rich Asians trilogy by Kevin Kwan. I read the first book, about 500 pages, in a day and a half. It’s fun, decadent, and hilarious. The second book is okay, but it almost seemed like a skeleton in some sections. But I laughed out loud a bunch of times. 

These are great summer books, and I’m ready for the movie. 

Charlotte’s Web

I have six-year old twin girls, and my husband and I decided they’re ready for their first chapter book to be read aloud. They had several books to choose between, and they chose Charlotte’s Web. 

I hadn’t read this one since I was a kid, and I found it to be perfect. That’s all I can say. It’s beautiful and perfect. My daughters loved it too.

Sideways Stories from Wayside School

Louis Sachar was my favorite writer when I was a kid, so I’m not going to lie, I was a little nervous about sharing this with my kids. If they didn’t like it, I would be crushed. 

But, they loved it! We laughed out loud as we read the antics of the crazy kids and yard teacher Louis. My girls would beg me to read another and another chapter. They gave it five stars! 

Here’s to a late summer of great reading! 

Book Review: Goddamned “Moby Dick”

I like to read. I like to read classics. Tolstoy is my favorite, and I even gave my child a name from one of his novels.  But Moby Dick, by Herman Melville, kicked my butt. Like for real. 

It has taken me a full month to read it. My local book store has declared this the Summer of Moby Dick, so I thought I’d give it a try again. I tried in college and only made it a few pages before I switched to Sparknotes. I tried two years ago, and only made it a couple of chapters. 

Here I am outside Brazos Bookstore last month, all young and innocent, optimistically determining that this time, I would do it: 

It was rough, y’all. 

I had a real hard time with the infamous descriptions of whaling history, biblical retellings, and whale skeletons. But after a while, I caught on to Melville’s pattern: history and then it connects to an incident on the Pequod. This made it easier. When Melville describes the tail of a whale in detail, I knew that there was a reason beyond just seeming like a whale dictionary. So I was able to power through. 

I found Ishmael, the unreliable narrator, to be hilarious in the beginning, then the book this awful, horrific turn, that I was not expecting. 

Like the descriptions of the first whale that was killed and the sharks. That is going to haunt me. 

The tension between Starbuck and Ahab. 

Ahab. Crazy old Ahab. 

The Rachel. 

And that goddamned Moby Dick himself. 

The last 150 pages or so, I was so ready to be done. But man. The build-up at the end. As I made it through to the final fifty pages, I found myself reading at a snail’s pace, pen in hand, annotating, and really actively, insatiably reading the final three days of the Pequod’s journey. 

The writing was beautiful. The language, fresh. I’m glad I read it. But Moby Dick is easily the most challenging book I’ve ever read. 

I could get into all the themes and lessons of the novel. Why it stands the test of time. But I won’t. Only, the narrator describes the ocean as unknowable and representing the darkness in all of us. The land is safety. Yet, water covers two-thirds of the earth. That idea really resonated with me. 

Anyway, here is one last picture, me and Moby Dick on the coast of Grand Cayman.