Fiction

REVIEW: The Midnight Library

“Between life and death there is a library, and within that library, the shelves go on forever. Every book provides a chance to try another life you could have lived. To see how things would be if you had made other choices… Would you have done anything different, if you had the chance to undo your regrets?”

The average adult makes approximately 35,000 decision a day – some consciously, others not. And each decision results in a specific direction or outcome that would be different, were we to make a different choice.

At 35, Nora Seed is sad. She’s just lost her retail job at String Theory, a guitar shop, that she’s held for 12 years. Her cat, Voltaire, was found dead on the side of the road. She’s estranged from her older brother. She does not want to live and is certain she will not be missed. So she makes a choice to end her life.

But life had different plans.

Nora doesn’t die. She ends up in a sort of limbo, in between life and death, at the Midnight Library. Staffed by her elementary school librarian, Mrs. Elm, Nora is presented first with a doorstop of a book that holds all of her regrets. There are so many, she can only read a couple at a time. Mrs. Elm has her close the book and focus on the choices she can make. Each book in this infinite collection, is a version of her life that goes a different way simply by making a different choice.

But Nora is done making choices and she’s ready to die. She want’s to die.

Mrs. Elm says if that were the case, she would not have ended up at the Midnight Library.

“Want,’ she told her, in a measured tone, ‘is an interesting word. It means lack. Sometimes if we fill that lack with something else the original want disappears entirely. Maybe you have a lack problem rather than a want problem. Maybe there is a life that you really want to live.”

And so, an adventure of sorts begins. Whenever Nora steps into a new life, she can stay and settle in, or if she remains disappointed, she can return to the library. There is a catch though, while there are infinite books meaning and endless amount of lives and possibilities, there is not an endless supply of time. The duration of her time to decide is unknown.

What could end up being a book of doom and gloom or pointless repetition ends up being a gem of a story — no, stories — about the possibilities that life can offer. The audiobook version narrated by Carey Mulligan as extra depth. Author Haig delivers so many good nuggets about patience, kindness, creativity, and curiosity. And there are important reminders, like this one:

“There are patterns to life . . . Rhythms. It is so easy, while trapped in just the one life, to imagine that times of sadness or tragedy or failure or fear are a result of that particular existence. That it is a by-product of living a certain way, rather than simply living. I mean, it would have made things a lot easier if we understood there was no way of living that can immunise you against sadness. And that sadness is intrinsically part of the fabric of happiness. You can’t have one without the other. Of course, they come in different degrees and quantities. But there is no life where you can be in a state of sheer happiness for ever. And imagining there is just breeds more unhappiness in the life you’re in.”

The Midnight Library came into my life at an important time. When I, along with so many others, are dealing with major Covid pandemic fatigue. When I, along with so many others, have a loved one that deals with depression. When, I along with so many others, are getting by turning off the news, and turning to books. Especially books that remind us there is so much to experience in this life, even if every day isn’t picture perfect.

REVIEW: Anxious People

The first book of a new year is important. I always want to start strong, with a book I really enjoy. It feels like a way of starting the year off on a good note. Last year, despite all that was bad in 2020, I read some really good books. I kicked off the year with The Dutch House by Ann Patchett and Ask Again, Yes by Mary Beth Keane and adored them both. This left me equal parts thrilled and terrified that I had read the best books I would read in 2021 before the end of February. And that was mainly true. You can check out my best and worst reads of 2020 column I co-authored with my Snotty Literati partner, Jennifer Spiegel.

So after the complete shit-show that was 2020, I was excited to turn a new page, pun intended, and was hoping my first pick of the year, Anxious People by Fredrik Backman would deliver.

The premise is a failed bank robber bursts into an open house and takes eight extremely anxious people hostage. Everyone, including the bank robber, is not who they seem. On appearances, they are annoying, irritating, total idiots. But as time passes, and times is invested, we learn there’s so much more than that superficial first layer. And as I read it, I knew this was the best book I could have chosen to kick off a year that is still recovering from the pain of the previous twelve months.

I hope Mr. Backman knows how special this book of his is. I am considering writing him a letter. Do people still do that? In the meantime, I will address him here.

Dear Mr. Backman,

Thank you.

Thank you for writing a book that so fully captures how idiotic, complex, annoying, beautiful, flawed, genuine, short-sighted, short-tempered, and insightful, and caring people can be. Thank you for writing a book that reminds us how far patience and a kind gesture can go. Thank you for writing a book that made me roll my eyes, laugh out load, and catch my breath. Thank you for writing a book that is a great reminder that it’s really hard some times to not be an idiot, that we are all idiots at one time or another, and we would all be a little better off if we offered up a little grace.

Consider me a forever fan.

The Nix

My Snotty Literati column for March is here!

Check out why you won’t want to nix Nathan Hill’s The Nix from your reading list!

The Nest

The NestMonths away from each inheriting a massive sum of money—life-changing money—Jack, Melody, and Bea Plumb learn the cash they have been counting on is gone. The Nest has been drained to cover up eldest, favorite, and married son Leo’s indiscretion involving a 19-year old waitress, a car accident, and rehab. This executive decision by Mama Plumb results in the already dysfunctional family kicking it into high gear.

Sweeney writes with a good balance cleverness and snark while weaving in some tenderness as the Plumb siblings’ secrets and fears unravel across the pages of this engaging debut. Jack has secretly borrowed against the vacation home he shares with his husband to keep his antiques business afloat. Melody and her husband are upside down on their mortgage and have twin daughters just a year from college, and baby sister Bea is a published author that had to return the publishing advance on her second novel when she couldn’t produce. In a nutshell, they all needed The Nest and are after Leo to get it back.

The Plumbs aren’t perfect. In fact, most of them are a bit self absorbed in the way that we all are. But Sweeney has crafted a family of imperfect people, who act in selfish, dysfunctional, unimaginable, sweet, and, ultimately human ways. If you need an escape, The Nest, is a great distraction.

3 Stars
368 pages or 11 hours via Audible
Fiction

The Girls by Emma Cline

The GirlsHere’s some free advice: When you meet an author that wrote a book you love, love, loved and you ask him what book he recommends you should read next… read it… next. I am talking about Bill Clegg, author of last year’s NBA Finalist Did You Ever Have a Family, and the book he recommended I read, Emma Cline’s debut, The Girls.

It would also be good to make sure you have six uninterrupted hours, because The Girls will pull you in about as quickly as the book’s charismatic cult leader Russell Hadrick seduces our lost and impressionable protagonist, Evie Boyd. But, I am getting a bit ahead of myself here.

It’s 1969 in northern California and 14-year old Evie Boyd is bored, directionless, and seeking attention anywhere she can find it. Lazy summer days lead Evie to the park where one day she sees them. The Girls. Evie cannot take her eyes off of them, their dresses, their hair, and their utter insouciance–especially, the dark-haired girl Suzanne. Evie continues to see these strange and alluring older girls and quickly and naively assimilates with the group.

Evie finds herself on a black school bus riding out to “the ranch”, the next devotee of child molester, pimp, and cult leader Russell Hadrick (picture Charles Manson). Despite the rancid property and feral inhabitants, Evie can’t get enough. For the first time in her short life, she feels like she belongs. Cline does an exceptional job showcasing the vulnerability of young girls and the desperation that can lead to short-sighted choices with unimaginable consequences. The writing is exquisite, although a little heavy handed in the beginning chapters. Cline quickly finds her groove and keeps you invested in this literary page turner that is likely to be the hit of the summer.

This book will be published on June 14, 2016. Many thanks to Random House and NetGalley.com for making this book available to read and review prior to publication. 

Me Before You by JoJo Moyes

Me Before You

Infinite Home by Kathleen Alcott

Infinite HomeIf supermodel Kate Moss and superpopstar Taylor Swift had a love child, I am convinced it would be Kathleen Alcott. But super looks aside, this young woman is super talented and has written what I am confident will be one of my favorite books this year. And because I loved it so much, I want everyone to read it and love it just as much as I did! I loved it so much that if you read it and don’t love it, I probably won’t be able to take it, and I certainly won’t want to hear about it. But I will still like you. Probably.

Kathleen Alcott’s Infinite Home is the story of misfits and castaways connected by their physical home—a New York brownstone managed by Edith, a widow, who is estranged from her adult children. Edith’s residents include Edward, the depressed stand-up comic who is no longer funny; Adeleine, a gorgeous and anxious agoraphobe, who connects to life through things, not people; Thomas a young artist rediscovering life after a stroke; and my favorite, Paulie, a thirty year old man living with Williams Syndrome and the innocence and wonderment of a child.

At the start of Edith’s declining health, her absent son Owen intervenes seeking to evict everyone and take over the building. This threat creates fear, connection, and experiences the the tenants could have never imagined. The result is at times humorous and heart wrenching.

The writing is lovely. I went back over a number of the passages… needing to savor them more. Passages like these:

Regarding Edith’s husband’s death:

“In the first months without him, Edith marveled at how many different types of quiet there could be.”

A glimpse of the endearing Paulie:

“One night he got out the Christmas decorations Claudia had asked him to please leave in the closet for the rest of the year and he pulled out the string of white lights that pulsed. He brought them up to Thomas’s floor and bunched them into a knot and put them in a big glass jar and plugged them in right next to his door. Hell thought Thomas would like how he had put everything bright in one place and tangled it all together.”

It’s because of sweet Paulie, that I want to travel to see the magic of the fireflies. Read Infinite Home and you will want to go too.

5 Stars

Fate and Furies

Fates and Furies by Lauren Groff is one of the most talked about books from 2015. After Snotty Literati read it, we couldn’t stop talking about it.

Check out our conversation about Fates and Furies and chime in with your own thoughts in the comments!

Fates and Furies Cover Image

Sunday Sentence | January 31, 2016

Maisie Dobbs

“Even if she hadn’t been the last person to walk through the turnstile at Warren Street tube station, Jack Barker would have noticed the tall, slender woman in the navy blue, thigh-length jacket with a matching pleated skirt short enough to reveal a well turned ankle.”

Signs Preceding the End of the World by Yuri Herrera

Signs Preceding the End of the WorldEvery year, I try to read a handful of books I might not normally read. These aren’t books that are “out of my comfort zone” like zombie apocalypse, vampire YA stuff… but books that can expand my reach and reading experience. Signs Preceding the End of the World by Yuri Herrera is the perfect kind of book to do this.

Signs, written in Herrera’s native Spanish and translated by Lisa Dillman, tells the story of Makina, a young Mexican woman making the dangerous trek across the U.S./Mexican Border to deliver an unmarked package and find her brother. Marina’s brother crossed over a year ago, with the sketchy promise of land acquisition.

In just 107 pages, Herrara give us a glimpse into a world many of us don’t know, but may talk–or even argue–a lot about. It’s a world of many unknowns and uncertainties; and one that delivers a solemn punch about the realities of how humans choose to treat one another.

4 Stars