Hello, fellow bibliophiles! So far in 2018, I’ve been reading up a storm. Which means today on the blog I have book reviews for you; check out these four great books to read now.
Goodreads—the site I use to track the books I’ve read and the ones want to read—recently informed me that I’ve read my eleventh book of 2018. That’s roughly one book per every six days, which is a good pace, though not fast enough to meet my goal of reading 70 books this year. I’m going to need to step it up. If only I could read while sleeping…
My love of reading has made me a go-to book recommender. Last month, in the days before February school break, three friends asked me what they should read on their vacations. It’s a lot of fun to suggest books, and I’m here today on Red Shutters to tell you about four books I’ve recently read in case you’re looking to dive into a great story. Let’s begin…
The Last Black Unicorn by Tiffany Haddish
If anyone deserves rock star success, it’s Tiffany Haddish. That was my #1 takeaway from finishing The Last Black Unicorn, her 2017 memoir. When the book ended, I thought, I hope she makes it all the way to super stardom and success. She deserves it.
Don’t know who Tiffany Haddish is yet? You can Google her–look for her interview with Trevor Noah to promote the book or her recent visit to The Ellen Show when she catches up with Oprah or the hysterical bit she and Maya Rudolph did at the 2018 Oscars. The comedienne, actress, and now writer has skyrocketed to the Hollywood A list, after a career-defining performance in last year’s blockbuster, Girls Trip. Haddish’s memoir came out a few months after the movie’s release, and in it, she recounts her childhood, years trying to make it as a stand-up comedienne, and the ups and downs of her love life.
Despite time in foster care as a child, homelessness, and an abusive husband, Haddish exudes positivity and confidence that’s infectious. Her unwavering belief in herself and in her comedic skills can be found throughout her memoir.
I listened to The Last Black Unicorn as an audio book, which was narrated by Haddish. I honestly don’t know how this book translates to the written page, as Haddish’s performance for the audio book is what I found most engaging. She’s funny (a chapter about taking Will and Jada Smith on a swamp tour had me in stitches) and heartbreaking (especially recounting her mother’s troubled life). She’s jubilant (the chapter in which she meets Arsenio Hall had me laughing so hard I had to stop my run so I could catch my breath), and she’s hurt (her ex-husband was very cruel). Her personality is what makes the book successful; she sells her story well, so well, in fact, that reader/listener will overlook the fact The Last Black Unicorn is not that well written.
I don’t think being literary or well written is the point of this memoir, though. Haddish’s goal is to be real, to show readers (and listeners) who she is and how she got where she is today. She wants her audience to know she’s not an overnight success, that she loves her mother even though her mother was a difficult parent, and that she still believes in love, no matter her past history. Most of all, Haddish wants us to see her strengths and her flaws, which reminds us how stars can be just like the rest of us.
Recommendation: Read this if you loved Girls Trip, if you love Haddish’s work, and if you’re a comedy fan. Also read it if you want to learn how to make it as a comedy star (hard work + talent + confidence) and if you want to see resilience in action.
Rating: 3 out of 5 stars
Have You Met Nora? by Nicole Blades
I’m a traditional reader, meaning I read the chapters of a book in order—I don’t jump ahead. But in the case of Have You Met Nora? the new novel from Nicole Blades, after about 20 pages, I had to read the last chapter. This book stressed me out! I was so worried for Nora and needed to know she was okay before proceeding. I’ve never had that response before when reading a book—it was fascinating.
When the novel begins, Nora, the main character of Have You Met Nora?, is a successful fashion stylist days away from marrying the love of her life. She seemingly has everything someone would want—beauty, career success, a great relationship with her fiancé, solid friendships—but she harbors secrets. These secrets threaten the control Nora has on her life, and keeping them hidden, at all costs, drives her to make some radical choices.
I can tell you one of the secrets (it’s in the book’s description after all): Nora lives life as a white woman but her mother was black. Nora denies that she is biracial and pretends to be white, carrying this lie throughout high school and well into adulthood, refusing to tell her fiancé or close friends who she really is. Nora carries so much pain for denying her heritage, yet admitting the truth is something she cannot bring herself to do. Then, one day, someone from her past appears, and Nora has to make a choice about revealing her truth or protecting the life she has meticulously created.
Have You Met Nora? brings up important issues about identity, race, and honesty. It was interesting to me that Nora seems suspicious whenever she met another black person, as if they were able to see through her lie in a way the white people (including her fiancé and best friend) in her life cannot. There’s a statement there about white privilege that I wished was explored more deeply in the novel.
Blades is a skilled writer and crafts a compelling story in Have You Met Nora?, her novel (check out her previously published book, The Thunder Beneath Us, for another memorable read). There is so much for a reader to unpack in this novel, which makes it a relevant selection for book clubs looking to dive into deep conversations. It definitely stayed with me for a long time after reading it; I found myself thinking about Nora and her choices well beyond the last page.
Recommendation: Read Have You Met Nora? if you’re looking to spend some time thinking about resiliency and the choices people make to overcome difficult experiences, like loss, abuse, and loneliness. Add Have You Met Nora? to your book club to read list, and read and discuss it with a friend.
Rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars
Pachinko by Min Jin Lee
In the author’s note to Pachinko, Min Jin Lee recounts her nearly 30-year odyssey to research, write, and publish her moving novel, which was a 2017 National Book Award finalist. She explains that she spent several years writing a draft of the book, and then moved to Japan where she was able to dive into the reality of the Korean-Japanese community only to realize her book was completely wrong. So she started over, writing a brand-new novel! That she didn’t give up is astounding to me. It’s testament to Min Jin Lee’s skill and her commitment to her story that she persisted and that the result is so beautiful.
The story of Pachinko is a sweeping tale of four generations of a Korean family living in Japan during the twentieth century. I am embarrassed to say that I had no idea about the discrimination Koreans living in Japan faced and still face to this day. As depicted in Pachinko, Koreans live as second-class citizens, even as they raise children, attend school, build communities, and establish businesses. How the different members of this family respond to this discrimination is what makes Pachinko so compelling.
I read Pachinko in the weeks leading up to the Winter Olympics in South Korea, which made the novel timely and likely contributed to how I viewed the games. It was also a read for my book club, and the other members and I found much to celebrate in this novel.
Recommendation: Read this book! I loved it, and I am thrilled to recommend it here on Red Shutters. It’s especially good for lovers of historical fiction, people traveling to Japan or South Korea who want to learn more about the region, and anyone who wants to read a well-crafted, engaging story that will remain with me afterward.
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman
I fell in love with Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine on page one, and the rest of the book did not disappoint. Eleanor Oliphant, the main character of this novel, is a young woman with a traumatic past that she avoids dealing with at all costs. This leaves her isolated from the people around her. Then, one day, she and a co-worker help an older man who collapses on the street, and Eleanor’s isolation unravels.
The supporting characters in this book are well developed, the story is intriguing, and Eleanor is both fierce and sympathetic. The story is full of wit and warmth, and I devoured it. There’s a twist at the end with Eleanor’s mother that completely surprised me (in a good way), and I loved that a book about a quirky woman’s journey could develop in an unexpected ways.
Recommendation: Bring this novel on your next vacation, or download it to your Kindle now. I’ve been recommending Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine over and over to friends, and I’ve heard great feedback from those who have read it.
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
How about you? Have you read anything so far this year that you’ve enjoyed? Anything you’d recommend to a friend—or me? Let me know in the comments!
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