September 2017 @BookOfTheMonth Reviews: Little Fires Everywhere, Exit West And Emma In The Night

September 2017 Book Of The Month Reviews On Novels And Nonfiction

Book Of The Month is a subscription service that sends you one hardcover book per month out of five selections for a low monthly subscription fee. You can add 2 more titles to your monthly delivery for $9.99 each, and the price overall is very cheap for full-size hardcovers.

Book Of The Month is not paying me to promote their service. I just love it so much that I’ve turned my monthly deliveries into a feature on my blog 🙂 I do encourage you to try it though, because if you like hardcovers it’s a great deal. You can use my referral link to sign up if you’re interested in trying it. You’ll get your first three months for just $9.99 each plus a cute tote. And I’ll get a free book when you join. Win, win!

I’m close to getting caught up with my Book Of The Month reviews, though my October books include a 600 page tome, so that might slow me down slightly. For September, I picked three books I’ve been hearing a fair deal about, and mostly on the positive side: Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng, Exit West by Mohsin Hamid and Emma In The Night by Wendy Walker. Read my reviews below to see what I thought!

LineLittle Fires Everywhere Book Review On Novels And NonfictionLittle Fires Everywhere 

by Celeste Ng

Publication Date: September 12th 2017
Published By: Penguin Press
Length In Hardcover: 352 pages
Goodreads Rating: 4.14

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Plot TeaserIn Shaker Heights, a placid, progressive suburb of Cleveland, everything is planned — from the layout of the winding roads, to the colors of the houses, to the successful lives its residents will go on to lead. And no one embodies this spirit more than Elena Richardson, whose guiding principle is playing by the rules.

Enter Mia Warren — an enigmatic artist and single mother — who arrives in this idyllic bubble with her teenaged daughter Pearl, and rents a house from the Richardsons. Soon Mia and Pearl become more than tenants: all four Richardson children are drawn to the mother-daughter pair. But Mia carries with her a mysterious past and a disregard for the status quo that threatens to upend this carefully ordered community.

What I LikedTheme of motherhood. This is really central to the novel, which in its essence is an exploration of not only what it means to be a mother, but what it means to be a good mother. We get very different examples of motherhood from Mrs. Richardson and Mia, as well as multiple others throughout the narrative, providing different variations on economic and physical stability, emotional support or lack thereof, biology versus history. There is a trial which is central to the secondary plot of the novel, and which very directly brings into question what motherhood truly means. It definitely made me think about the concept in all its different ramifications.

The interwoven plots. There are actually at least four plots to the novel that each touch on the central themes of the book and also on secondary themes that are specific to each plot. The author did an exceptional job at pulling all these different plots together by the end of the novel into a crescendo of action and discourse. From the mystery of Mia’s past, to the literal fire that the novel’s title hints at, to the difficult life choice which one of the Richardson children find herself having to make, to the trial which involves two different women in the Shaker Heights community, each plot felt relevant and effortlessly combined into the narrative.

Theme of economic privilege. The novel is set in an ‘idyllic’ suburban neighborhood, in which prosperity, opportunity and stability are givens. The main character of Mia charges through this reality with her disregard for earthly possessions and her focus instead on being able to barely subsist effectively enough to pursue her art. Mia and Pearl challenge the expectations of the teenage Richardson children on they way in which they’ve been taught they should look to shape their lives, from good colleges to homes in similarly controlled neighborhoods and lives of corporate servitude. I found the juxtaposition of Mia and Mrs. Richardson’s different economic philosophies really compelling, and I felt drawn to Mia’s necessary minimalism.

The writing. Celest Ng’s prose is the kind of lyrical, descriptive prose I like. There’s a timeless nature to it at the same time that the book is about a world that, though set in the 90s, feels very close to the modern one. I’m going to share a quote here because showing is sometimes better than telling.

“All her life, she had learned that passion, like fire, was a dangerous thing. It so easily went out of control. It scaled walls and jumped over trenches. Sparks leapt like fleas and spread as rapidly; a breeze could carry embers for miles. Better to control that spark and pass it carefully from one generation to the next, like an Olympic torch. Or, perhaps, to tend it carefully like an eternal flame: a reminder of light and goodness that would never – could never – set anything ablaze. Carefully controlled. Domesticated. Happy in captivity. The key, she thought, was to avoid conflagration.” 

What I Didn't LikeThe ending felt a bit cheesy. The ending of the novel is foreshadowed at the beginning, so in that at least there isn’t much of a surprise. You know what Mia and Pearl will ultimately do, and you know what happens to the Richardson’s home, but of course there are lots of elements of the ending that are still unknown until the actual end of the book itself. Still, there were aspects of the way in which Celeste Ng chose to end the novel that I found to be supremely cheesy, particularly in the symbolic art left beind (no spoilers). Once you read the book you’ll understand.

The character of Izzy was barely developed. Izzy has a pretty big role in the actual plot of the book. Yes, she’s one of the many Richardson teenage children, and it would have been impossible to develop each of them completely without turning this into a much longer and probably also much less interesting book. The boys, Trip and Moody, feel barely fleshed out themselves. But Izzy is supposed to be important based on her role in the plot and also based on her relationship to Mia. I found her completely one-dimensional though, and really failed to connect with her to understand what the author was trying to say through her.

Final Verdict

4 Rabbits Rating On Novels And Nonfiction

A beautifully written novel on the meaning of motherhood and prosperity, with several captivating interwoven plots, and plenty of action and plot developments to keep the reader engaged.

LineExit West Book Review On Novels And NonfictionExit West 

by Mohsin Hamid

Publication Date: March 2nd 2017
Published By: Riverhead
Length In Hardcover: 240 pages
Goodreads Rating: 3.82

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Plot TeaserIn a country teetering on the brink of civil war, two young people meet—sensual, fiercely independent Nadia and gentle, restrained Saeed. They embark on a furtive love affair and are soon cloistered in a premature intimacy by the unrest roiling their city.

When it explodes, turning familiar streets into a patchwork of checkpoints and bomb blasts, they begin to hear whispers about doors—doors that can whisk people far away, if perilously and for a price. As the violence escalates, Nadia and Saeed decide that they no longer have a choice. Leaving their homeland and their old lives behind, they find a door and step through.

What I LikedHighly topical. Immigration is obviously very high on a lot of people’s minds right now, regardless of what corner of the world you’re living in. Concepts of nationality, origin and identity are being challenged by the increasing interconnectedness of the world. Hamid takes this idea one step further, showing what might happen if the movement of people between cities and countries was easier and more instantaneous than it is right now. For those fleeing from impoverished or violent situations, this chance to relocate nearly effortlessly is a boon, while for those living in stable and sheltered realities, the arrival of so many newcomers forces them out of their ‘splendid isolation’.

The doors. This was really the cleverest part of Hamid’s plot – and also the only magical realism element in the novel. It allows Hamid to focus on the effects of immigration, rather than the process of immigration, and also to magnify these effects and multiply them exponentially throughout the world. Suddenly, people in an urban center in Europe are not comfortably removed from scenes of shipwrecked immigrants on their news shows. The problem is at their doorsteps and they can no longer harbor utopian dreams of a reversal in the tide, which means they need to re-evaluate their outlook on the issue and the solutions they want to apply to this new reality.

The global vignettes. Most of the story is focused on Nadia and Saeed’s journey, but there are also several small scenes that Hamid constructs, in which the reader gets glimpses of the effects of the magical doors on other people in countries around the world. Typically they are only a couple paragraphs, but I found each one poignant and interesting. One in particular brings together two elderly men from The Netherlands and Brazil, and had a very sweet ending. These mini sub-plots really brought more depth and character to the novel, which, had it just been focused on Nadia and Saeed, may have felt limited.

What I Didn't LikeThe run on sentences. I’m not one to shy away from an elaborate writing style, and some of my favorite authors have written British and Russian classics whose prose can only be described as ornate. I found Hamid’s writing, however, to be strangely run-on in a way that only rarely edged toward the beautiful, and more often ended up as convoluted and confusing. There were a few instances in which a single sentence comprised an entire paragraph. What did periods ever do to him, I wonder?

Didn’t get to know the main characters. The novel is heavily focused on Nadia and Saeed’s relationship and the effects on this relationship of the violence and uncertainty around them. I felt that as much as I really understood the dynamics between Nadia and Saeed well, I didn’t get a real sense for who they were as individuals. There were glimpses of them through descriptions of their homes, clothes and families, and of course their actions, but I still felt it hard to connect with either due to the lack of deeper character development. Not surprising in a shorter novel.

The end of the novel. The last third of the novel is pretty heavily focused on new dynamics (no spoilers) in Nadia and Saeed’s relationship, and I felt I wasn’t nearly as interested in reading about the progression of their union than about some of the technical consequences of the immigration brought about by the doors. What happens between Nadia and Saeed feels predictable and like you can see it coming from pretty much the beginning of the novel, which made it kind of boring to finally read.

Final Verdict

3 Rabbit Rating On Novels And Nonfiction

Highly current and interesting take on immigration, which uses a magical realism device of doors between countries and cities to bring questions surrounding immigration to light in a very immediate and thought-provoking way.

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Emma In The Night Book Review On Novels And NonfictionEmma In The Night

by Wendy Walker

Publication Date: August 8th 2017
Published By: St. Martin’s Press
Length In Hardcover: 320 pages
Goodreads Rating: 3.80

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Plot TeaserOne night three years ago, the Tanner sisters disappeared: fifteen-year-old Cass and seventeen-year-old Emma. Three years later, Cass returns, without her sister Emma. Her story is one of kidnapping and betrayal, of a mysterious island where the two were held. But to forensic psychiatrist Dr. Abby Winter, something doesn’t add up. Looking deep within this dysfunctional family Dr. Winter uncovers a life where boundaries were violated and a narcissistic parent held sway. And where one sister’s return might just be the beginning of the crime.

What I LikedThe suspense built steadily initially. At first I liked Cassie’s character and found both her and her mother supremely creepy. I knew they must be hiding something truly horrible, based on some of the foreshadowing the reader is exposed to in Cassie’s inward thoughts. There were also enough mini plot twists in the narrative to keep me reading. I have to say that eventually these dried up somewhat in the book, but it did lure me in quite well at the beginning.

Not a lot of dialogue. Yes, weirdly enough, this is a positive for me. I don’t really like novels that include tons of dialogue in the writing. Emma In The Night had mostly narrative prose and only little sections of dialogue, which worked well for me. This is typically true of books I enjoy reading out loud, and the monologues taking place within Cassie’s mind made for particularly fluid reading. At least until they got so repetitive that I almost wished she hadn’t been found.

I think others will like this. This is actually the main reason I gave the book 3 rather than 2 stars. For me, it was a two, maybe two and a half star read. However, I also think about how readers of my blog might react to the book, since part of my role here is to provide recommendations for books you might or might not enjoy. Maybe because of the teenage protagonist, maybe because of the policewoman trope, I didn’t really like this book, but I think others would and it’s by no means a failure of fiction. It’s a solid psychological thriller that had elements that I personally disliked.

What I Didn't LikeThe detective character. For some reason, I struggle with novels that have policeman/detective/investigator characters at their center, regardless of their gender. In this case it was an FBI psychologist by the name of Abby Winter, whose backstory connecting her to the protagonist Cassie feels barely developed at best. These characters so often end up being just caricatured versions of the stereotyped ‘investigative mind’ and to me Abby was no exception. I typically love alternating narrators, but because I was so not invested in Abby, I actually found each of her chapters a bit annoying.

It was repetitive. Like I mentioned above, the beginning of the novel felt engaging and suspenseful. A little less than halfway in, though, the plot developments start to peter out, and you really get only a few elements of new information per chapter. The remainder is a lot of paragraphs of Emma talking to herself and going over and over many of the same fears and concerns about the work of the investigators and about her mother’s reactions to her story. I found myself skimming through these sections more and more.

The ending was a let down. For thrillers, the ending is really where you want the shock and awe to be. I won’t say the ending of Emma In The Night was completely predictable – it is still a twist – but it was just an uninteresting twist. I was hoping to discover something darker about Cassie’s character or have there be more of a psychological element to how the story of Emma’s disappearance turned out. In reality the novel sort of ends in a more regular murder mystery style. Hard to get into without spoilers, but if you’ve read it you might know what I mean.

Final Verdict

3 Rabbit Rating On Novels And Nonfiction

Average psychological thriller that might effectively engage fans of the genre but may prove to be too repetitive and not surprising enough for others.

LineHave you read Little Fires Everywhere, Exit West or Emma In The Night? What did you think of them? Do you agree with my ratings? Let me know in the comments.

If you want to read my previous reviews for my Book Of The Month deliveries here are links to my August 2017July 2017June 2017May 2017April 2017March 2017February 2017January 2017December 2016, November 2016October 2016 and September 2016 posts.

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  11 comments for “September 2017 @BookOfTheMonth Reviews: Little Fires Everywhere, Exit West And Emma In The Night

  1. Susie | Novel Visits
    November 7, 2017 at 2:47 pm

    I’ve read all of these and totally agree with your thoughts on Emma in the Night. It was a bit of a disappointment to me. I liked Exit West a lot more than you (and many others, too). To me the story wasn’t really about the relationship. I thought of the relationship more as a catalyst to a story about displacement and struggles of refugees. In that I thought Hamid did a beautiful job. And I also loved the doors!

    Like

    • November 7, 2017 at 6:06 pm

      Yes, I loved the doors too! I think I took off half a star for the writing (which I found really distracting at times with the run on sentences) and half a star for the focus on the relationship at the expense of character development and further focus on the actual consequences of the doors towards the end (in my opinion). Otherwise it would have been 4 stars 😉

      Like

  2. November 7, 2017 at 7:21 pm

    I really liked Little Fires Everywhere, but I do agree with your point about Izzy not being well-developed. Something about her whole dynamic with Mia bothered me, but I couldn’t put my finger on it and I think that’s exactly it. I didn’t have a good sense of her or of how Mia felt about the time she spent with her.

    I’ve been avoiding Exit West despite the positive reviews because magical realism isn’t generally my thing. Finding out that it’s just the doors, though (which actually kind of intrigues me, as a concept), makes me feel much more open to reading this.

    Liked by 1 person

    • November 7, 2017 at 7:34 pm

      Yes aside from the doors there’s no other magical realism that I can think of in Exit West, and it is a very interesting concept. Personally, as someone who hates to fly, I’m waiting for teleportation to become an option.

      Like

  3. Sarah's Book Shelves
    November 8, 2017 at 12:14 pm

    I felt the same kind of blah about Exit West. I thought it was great in the beginning, but it kind of fell apart for me. The story really didn’t go anywhere.
    But, I did love Emma in the Night! And I didn’t see the twist coming…maybe b/c I was in the middle of moving and was just reading at face value, not really trying to figure things out. Come to think of it, that’s probably how I should read thrillers moving forward…haha!

    Liked by 1 person

    • November 8, 2017 at 1:41 pm

      Yeah you were one of the ones I was thinking of when I didn’t completely pan the book, because I knew others would like it 🙂 I like the beginning but it just got too repetitive sadly for me.

      Like

  4. November 15, 2017 at 6:53 pm

    You have almost caught up on your BOM posts!! That’s super exciting. I am really impressed because it means you’re focused and dedicated to this effort. I’m sure it hasn’t been easy. Are you much of a mood reader? Did you ever get distracted or want to give up on pushing through? I can’t wait to see you get caught completely up. 😀

    Sadly, I haven’t read any of these yet. But now I’ve definitely added Little Fires Everywhere to my TBR. Have you read Ng’s other works? I’ve heard great things, but I don’t know if I should start with Fires; it’s gotten such great reviews that perhaps her other works would leave me wanting? I know there’s only one other novel, but plenty of short stories…

    Liked by 1 person

    • November 15, 2017 at 10:52 pm

      My plan is to be caught up completely by end of December. Fingers crossed! The Book Of The Month books I pick are actually usually pretty varied between thrillers, literary fiction and also sometimes nonfiction. In my general reading I do try to alternate nonfiction and fiction pretty regularly so I don’t get bored.

      I haven’t read other books by Ng but I’ll have to look into her other novel now that you mention it!

      Liked by 1 person

      • November 17, 2017 at 10:49 pm

        That’s super exciting! I’m rooting for you. I know you can get them done.

        I think it’s interesting that you can get bored reading only fiction or non-fiction consecutively. Any ideas why?

        Liked by 1 person

      • November 17, 2017 at 11:53 pm

        I think it’s because nonfiction is more education and less imaginative typically. The nonfiction books that truly read like novels are few and far in between, and sometimes it’s because they’re only loosely based on actual facts 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

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