Love & Other Disasters (CBR14 #3)

I received an ARC of Love & Other Disasters from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. Love & Other Disasters publishes January 18th, 2022.

Love & Other Disasters

I love when you can tell that a book was written from an authentic place, that the author is taking their own feelings, their own emotions, and building out from there to tell an honest story that they hope will resonate with readers. Anita Kelly does just that in Love & Other Disasters and I’m so glad to have been able to spend time with it and its characters over the past several days. I was initially pulled in by its arrestingly pretty cover which I was pleased to discover is a faithful representation of the actual  characters.

Love & Other Disasters is an nb/f adult contemporary romance centered around contestants on a televised cooking show for non-professionals. There’s a significant cash prize for the winner, and it would make an immense difference in the lives of our leads Dahlia and London. Neither dream of becoming a professional chef, but each wants to take their love of cooking, and what it gives them, and turn it into something more. Anita Kelly built characters of equal footing on parallel arcs, and it serves the story so well – each are struggling with emotional baggage from their “real” lives, each have uncertainty waiting for them upon their return, each are not really sure what their next steps are, and each is hesitant about what even to do with all these emotions they are feeling about each other.

One of the dynamics I loved about this was that Dahlia and London don’t necessarily instantly fully grapple with their attitudes and attraction to one another but find that they are drawn to each other over time and have feelings that they can’t ignore, and everyone else has already noticed. Since the narrative is handed back and forth, we are also treated to each character’s inner monologue and motivations, which makes some scenes so funny (the cows!) and others so painful (the fight!). Kelly makes sure the reader has the information to understand the full emotional landscape of her characters, weaving it in as they go, and then drops the reader in to enjoy the fully realized ride.

This is Kelly’s full length debut, and it is a stunning work. It is also first in a series of three and I am SO intrigued by what will come next based on Anita Kelly’s website blurb and mood boards.

I Hope You Get This Message (CBR12 #34)

I Hope You Get This Message

My Cannonball Bingo tradition is to sit down with the square descriptions and plan out options for what books to read for each category. I Hope You Get This Message by Farah Naz Rishi could qualify for several squares (this is her debut published October 2019, we read it for CBR The Future is Queer Book Club) but I’m using it for UnCannon. The ‘Canon’ is often made up of books written by old, white men and the goal of this square is to read as far from the stereotypical version as possible and this book does just that. Farah Naz Rishi is a Pakistani-American Muslim writer who is writing specifically for the YA audience – one that is often overlooked by the arbiters of taste. I Hope You Get This Message is also focused on queer relationships, mental health struggles, and income inequalities told from the all too real voices of its young cast, UnCannon indeed.

What is the book about? Oh, nothing too important, just what happens when you’re trying to survive your teenage years and the Earth might end in seven days. Earth has been contacted by a planet named Alma, the world is abuzz with rumors that the alien entity is giving mankind only few days to live before they hit the kill switch on civilization. For Jesse Hewitt nothing has ever felt permanent: not the guys he hooks up with, not the jobs his mom works so hard to hold down, so what does it matter if it all ends now? But what can he do if it doesn’t all end? Cate Collins is desperate to use this time to do one more thing for her schizophrenic mother, to find the father she’s never met. Adeem Khan has always found coding and computer programming easy, but not forgiveness. He can’t seem to forgive his sister for leaving, even though it’s his last chance, but he wants more than anything for her to forgive him for his silence when she dared to speak her truth. With only seven days to face their truths and right their wrongs, Jesse, Cate, and Adeem’s paths collide even as their worlds are pulled apart.

In all honesty the world of I Hope You Get This Message is not a very hopeful future, before Alma accidentally sends its death message, and in fact it is in most ways the future that we are living in now. The book however is about carving out a little piece of hope when everything feels hopeless. Rishi is playing around with survival and redemption, with love and feeling like you can accept it when you don’t feel like you deserve it.  As the POV shifts between the three leads: Jesse, Cate, and Adeem we are deeply entrench in the character-driven as opposed to the plot-driven (although it has some forward movement too), we are here for the interior journeys of these characters as they work towards their own goals in the lead up to the possible end of the world. And as the reader, we want them to discover more beyond their initial goals, because that’s what we want for ourselves.

Emergency Contact (CBR11 #39)

Image result for emergency contact choi

When Rainbow Rowell says a book is her favorite of the year, I am going to add it to my to-read list and am likely to track it down relatively quickly. In the case of Mary H.K. Choi’s Emergency Contact it fitting into a CBR11 Bingo Square category (Youths!) made it all the better.

Let’s get the big verdict out of the way early: this debut is very good and Choi does the thing that I like best about Rowell’s work, she builds imperfect and entirely understandable and relatable characters who feel real and whose world feels lived in. If Rowell is your jam, or you are in the mood for a college age YA (several of our main characters are 18, one is 21) then this one should be on your list.

Now to the less fun portion of the review. It would be poor form on my part to ignore the rabble being roused on the internet (and specifically on Goodreads) about this book. There is the debate about between flawed and unlikeable, as well as the notion that a book that contains problematic characteristics for its main characters is, in and of itself, problematic. To the first, I believe that’s a matter of taste – whether a character is too “unlikeable” for you to read the book is something only you will know for yourself, but I find it to be a method of judgement that I have simply moved passed. Penny’s as a character is judgmental and a tough cookie, someone difficult to get to know. She is also at times quite immature and has internalized some trauma – in other words she is 18.

As to the problem of problematic contents… a lot of the criticism I’ve seen elsewhere leave out authorial intent. Or, if they are discussing it, they are undervaluing the craft. Choi’s book contains shaming, assumptions, stereotyping, sexism, and racist comments because the realistic characters she is writing exist in a world that also has these things. This is YA, not a morality tale.

Is it perfect? No, of course not. Choi doesn’t nail the vernacular of young adults today, instead her characters sound more like the young adults we were (Choi and I are of a similar age). Choi’s next book Permanent Record will be released September 3rd, 2019.

My Sister, the Serial Killer (CBR11 #7)


Reviews for this one kept popping up on Cannonball Read following its November 2018 publication. I’m a bit squeamish and while I like mystery books I don’t read horror. Pluiedenovembre assured me that this one wasn’t scary or gory so I requested it from the library. Like ASKReviews mentioned in her review of this book a few days ago, it is also a very quick read. The chapters are short and crisp, with rapid fire information.

Our point of view character is Korede, a nurse in one of Lagos hospitals. She is detail oriented, and likes things to be just so. She is next up to be head nurse and has a crush on one of the doctors she works with who is calm, patient, and sweet to children. She also has a history of literally cleaning up after her sister Ayoola’s murders.

When the book begins Korede is responding to the scene of Ayoola’s third murder of a boyfriend. Ayoola claims its self-defense but Korede is starting to wonder how true that excuse is, while tossing the body over the edge of a bridge. The novel tracks Korede’s evaluation of who Ayoola is, and how her responses to the situations she finds herself in are more and more firmly defining who she really is. What are the limits of Korede’s loyalty? Who will she act to defend, her sister, or the man she has fallen for who is now in Ayoola’s grip? Will she find her way out of this criminal loop, or is she the more dangerous sister?

This one lands at a four star rating because while it is funny, has some amazingly tense moments, and it has great characters it is still missing that slight something that would have pushed my appreciation across the invisible line into five stars. But as this is Ms. Braithwaite’s debut I am intrigued by what her mind comes up with next and if her style will be different in her next outing.


This book was read and reviewed as part of the charitable Cannonball Read, where we read what we want, review it how we see fit (within a few guidelines), and raise money for the American Cancer Society in the name of a fallen friend.

One of Us is Lying (CBR10 #10)

Image result for one of us is lying

Five students walk into detention, they have little in common, other than that they were all caught with phones in class, and all five claim that they were framed and that the phones weren’t theirs. But only four walk out of that detention alive. Number five is dead and the other four all have motive and opportunity. Who is guilty? What really happened? That is the story which unfolds in One of Us is Lying.

However, it isn’t the only story that Karen McManus is telling. The book is told from the four perspectives of the suspects and the plot naturally expands from dealing exclusively with the murder to each character’s personal lives.  Here, instead of providing differing perspectives of the same scene, as many contemporary whodunits do the story lines simply separate as each character deals with the notoriety as well as the pressures after their deepest secrets are revealed.

We begin with each character in their stereotype: a princess, a jock, a brain, a criminal, and the self-described omniscient narrator.  But they don’t stay there, McManus builds these stereotypes out and deals with the pressure to succeed, having to survive on your own too young, coming to terms with your sexuality, dealing with unhealthy relationships, notoriety, mental illness, and addiction all get dealt with on the page, which makes it for an even more believable jaunt into a high school setting. It had its faults, but as a debut I can already see what McManus’s potential looks like and I’m cautiously excited in that regard.

I was able to piece together what really happened without too much difficulty, but that didn’t make it any less enjoyable. In fact I read this book in big gulps, it reads fast. I found myself absorbed in the goings on, interested in the various perspectives, and waiting (impatiently) for the next shoe to drop. The way that this book is structured it could translate to visual media quite easily, and I wouldn’t be surprised if we see it on the big screen or small screens via a streaming service limited series.

This book was read and reviewed as part of the charitable Cannonball Read where we read what we want, review it how we see fit (within a few guidelines), and raise money in the name of a fallen friend for the American Cancer Society.

My Heart and Other Black Holes (CBR8 #16)

My Heart and Other Black Holes is the debut novel from Jasmine Warga from last year. It is a YA novel that deals with two depressed protagonists in some of the truest descriptions of being a teenager with depression that I have ever read. This is a good book, but probably not for everyone.

I was alerted to this book’s existence by the five star review from Annie for Cannonball Read 7. While she and I agree on some points, I only rated this book at 3.5 stars. My Heart and Other Black Holes is the story of sixteen-year-old physics nerd Aysel. Aysel (rhymes with gazelle) is severely depressed and suicidal since her father’s violent crime rocked her small town a few years ago. She is friendless, and a stranger in her own home. Aysel is ready to turn her potential energy into nothingness. There’s only one problem: she’s not sure she has the courage to do it alone. But a website with a section called Suicide Partners provides her solution: a teenager a few towns over is haunted by a family tragedy is looking for a partner of his own.  Even though Aysel and Roman have seemingly nothing in common, they slowly start to fill in each other’s broken lives. But as their suicide pact becomes more concrete, Aysel begins to question whether she really wants to die, and if she can bear to let Roman end his life.

Spoilery discussions from this point on.

My biggest concern with this book, one that I read quickly and was enraptured with most of the time, was the seeming hijacking of Aysel’s story by Roman’s at the end. Instead of the reader following Aysel‘s path to get the closure she’s been desperately craving, we instead get Aysel worried over Roman and his suicide attempt. It was… less than I hoped. But part of that is the limited structure of Warga’s work. By focusing on the immediacy of the days leading up to their agreed upon suicide date Warga infuses the writing with the appropriate stakes. But, by stopping her work on that date, she also leaves many plot threads up in the air. Is Aysel going to pursue physics? Is she going to go to therapy? Is her family going to deal with their own dysfunction? Will she visit her father? Will that help or hurt? What about Roman? Will he also begin the journey towards and through therapy? Should he (and she) be on medication? What about college? What about his parents own issues with guilt and trust? There is so much more to the story, and while it’s a nice YA bow to have these two committed to being there for each other and fighting their depressions, it felt like not enough.

In her author’s note Warga talks about her motivations for writing this book, and her personal insights really show through. She has an amazing way with describing the feelings of depression.

Depression is like a heaviness that you can’t ever escape. It crushes down on you, making even the smallest things like tying your shoes or chewing on toast seem like a twenty-mile hike uphill. Depression is a part of you; it’s in your bones and your blood. If I know anything about it, this is what I know: It’s impossible to escape.

I also loved the thematic work she was doing with physics, energy, relativity, and philosophy. There were lovely little layers to unpack and think about. I am looking forward to her second book which is scheduled to be published sometime this year.

This book was read and reviewed as part of the charitable Cannonball Read.

Shotgun Lovesongs (CBR6 #44)

Shotgun Lovesongs caught my eye a few months ago while I was perusing my local bookstore. The book flap synopsis sold me:

“It’s a place like hundreds of others, nothing special, really. But for four friends – all born and raised in this small Wisconsin town – it is home. And now they are men, coming into their own or struggling to do so. One of them never left, still working the family farm that has been tilled for generations. But others felt the need to move on, with varying degrees of success. One trades commodities, another took to the rodeo circuit, and one of them even hit it big as a rock star. And then there’s Beth, a woman who has meant something special in each of their lives. Now all four are brought together for a wedding. Little Wing seems even smaller than before. While lifelong bonds are still strong, there are stresses – among the friends, between husbands and wives. There will be heartbreak, but there will also be hope, healing, even heroism as these memorable people learn the true meaning of adult friendship and love.”

Butler tells us this story through the voices of a group of friends. Each chapter is designated by the first initial of that character and the reader experiences the forward momentum of the story from their perspective, while also being given insight to the events of the past. Perhaps my favorite part of this construction is that we often hear about the same event from multiple perspectives, giving the elusive hint of truth.

But truth, and to an extent loyalty and trust, are the through lines of the narrative. Through much of the early part of the book, I was convinced this was merely a character study, without much of a plot. And perhaps that’s why it took me quite a while to get through it (Goodreads tells me I spent 2 weeks with this book which barely clocks in over 300 pages). But the plot is centered so heavily on what builds a friendship, what destroys it, and how it can be repaired that it felt like nothing was really happening, but everything was happening at the same time.

Nikolas Butler’s first novel is a statement. It’s bold, but not overblown. And for that reason alone, I suggest you read it, I may be giving it 3 stars here, but it’s really a 3.5 book that I just couldn’t quite find my way to giving a 4. Even though it had the following quote:

“America, I think, is about poor people playing music and poor people sharing food and poor people dancing, even when everything else in their life is so desperate, and so dismal that it doesn’t seem there should be any room for any music, any extra food, or any extra energy for dancing.

This book was read and reviewed as part of the charitable Cannonball Read.

Tell the Wolves I’m Home (CBR6 #19)

I normally do pretty spoiler free reviews, but I cannot think of how to talk about my reactions to this book without spoiling the heck out of it, so if that’s a thing you want to avoid then you probably need to click right along to another review.  Go ahead, I won’t judge. Promise.

Anyway, now that we have that done, let’s talk about Tell the Wolves I’m Home.  Our protagonist is June, age 14. She is telling us about the death of her Uncle Finn, her godfather and best friend. It is 1987 and the President of the United States won’t utter the word AIDS for a few more months but it’s the disease that took Finn from June and her family. June’s as up to date as it was possible to be 27 years ago, but the world at large isn’t. It’s a charged climate, and as much as that affects June, and how others react to her and Finn’s death, she’s busy processing the loss of the person she felt she knew entirely, and who knew her.  The problem is that through machinations between her mom and her uncle, there is much about Finn’s life that June does not know, and it all comes screaming into her life with the arrival of Finn’s boyfriend Toby at the funeral.

I wish the book had been told from Toby’s point of view. I want to read Toby’s story. I want to know about  his childhood in England, I want more information about how he and Finn fell in love because what we are told feels like being short changed, how Toby dealt with his  AIDS diagnosis when there was little to nothing to be done and AZT hadn’t been announced yet, what it felt like to get diagnosed with an illness that meant everyone would be terrified of  being in physical proximity to you, how he coped with the decisions to accept being banned from Finn’s family’s life and subsequently let them believe he was the reason Finn had AIDS and not the other way around,  and how he then attempts to survive losing the love of his life. But most importantly I want to know what it took from deep inside of him to attend Finn’s funeral and know that he would likely be turned away, at the very least, in an attempt to make a connection with the niece he was denied a relationship with and on whom his great love’s final wish rested.

After a few fits and starts, June and Toby begin a clandestine friendship. What evolves is the type of relationship which they should have been allowed to have since Toby had spent the last decade with Finn – living in the same apartment that June visited – but she had no idea he even existed. Not his name, not his stories, she didn’t even know his belongings were his. She thought it was all Finn. This is a great story – the story of Finn orchestrating that his two loves are able to help each other process their loss after his death, even if they had been forcibly kept from each other during his life. But that isn’t really the story we get, although it is by far the best part of the book.

What we do get is another coming of age story set against the backdrop of crisis. But it isn’t as good as others in the genre, such as The Age of Miracles. We spend a lot of (possibly wasted) time with June interacting with what death by AIDS means to the people who must now interact with the Elbus family following Finn’s death. And, how it relates to their individual interactions with the portrait.

And here’s a plot device that eluded me. I loved the early parts of the book where Finn is painting the portrait of his nieces. I enjoyed immensely reading about the work and detail that he put into it, including the wolf’s head between the two bodies in the all-important negative space.  But what happens after – the article in the New York Times, the displaying of the work in the living room, the removal to the safe deposit box, the additions made to the painting by the various members of the family, the fixing of said painting, the art professor – all of it, was simply too much. It was another example of the too much factor in this book. There are just too many storylines to be covered adequately. To name only a few I haven’t yet spoken about:

  • June has no friends and is generally a social recluse who prefers her imagination and pretending to be a girl in Medieval Europe
  • Finn was a renowned artist who left the art world and the portrait he paints of June and her sister Greta is his last and an image of it is ‘leaked’ to the press. We never find out from who or why
  • Greta is a 16 year old high school senior who is battling her demons about being pushed to grow up too fast, unreal expectations, the dissolution of her relationship with her sister, and feeling shunned from June’s relationship with Finn.
  • Greta has taken to getting drunk at parties and roping her sister into attending them so that she can ‘rescue’ her in her inebriated state without telling June why. (This one was particularly bothersome to me, because I kept expecting to find out that the Drama teacher was abusing Greta in some way).
  • Their mother, Danni, gave up her own dream of art after Finn left home to travel and study art on his own. Danni has an equivalent talent to her brother and seems to be holding on to a lot of anger about the life she could have had if Finn had stuck to ‘the plan’.
  • Their dad is an accountant, like Danni, and they are so busy with tax Season as to leave June and Greta without supervision for the entirety of the spring. He is often also in the position of apologizing for Danni’s behavior.

Brunt could have written a story about familial relationships and how they can disintegrate so easily without layering all these storylines over the plot.  With that said, yes, the writing is good, the word choice is evocative and emotions are inspired, the characters are well drawn, but they can often be difficult to care about and their motives are vague if present at all. But this book still gets three stars because what Brunt does well is the sincere and the heartfelt and this book is teeming with it. I just wanted more.

This book was read and reviewed as part of the charitable Cannonball Read.

Burial Rites (CBR6 #18)

burial rites

I have had a bit of luck with first time authors of late, and Hannah Kent is no exception. Her debut work, Burial Rites, is a gripping novel- all mood and emotion. It’s a story gaining speed like a stone rolling downhill, for there is only one way to go.

Ms. Kent writes in Burial Rites about the last instance of capital punishment in Iceland. Its 1829, moving quickly into 1830, and everyone is waiting for word from Denmark allowing the beheading of Agnes Magnusdottir for her role in the murder of two men, one of whom was her employer. This is not a spoiler, as the entire book is built around Agnes’ death sentence, and her life between her trial and her execution. But I don’t really want to talk about plot in this review; I want to talk about language and intent.

In her Acknowledgements Ms. Kent describes this work as her “dark love letter to Iceland”. She became acquainted with the story of Agnes Magnusdottir on a Rotary exchange trip to Iceland from her home in Australia, and researched the murders at Illugastadir to a magnificent depth, mining archival sources and academic writings to deliver a story based on the historical record. In fact, each chapter of Burial Rites begins with a primary source related to Agnes’ case, in a similar way to how Lyndsay Faye begins each of her Timothy Wilde books. What the reader receives is a story that is based in fact and embellished with fictional likelihoods which delivers, as Ms. Kent intends, a more ambiguous portrayal of Agnes and the people who interacted with her in the last few months of her life. The reader also discovers what life in northern Iceland was like nearly two hundred years ago through Ms. Kent’s evocative use of language.

The language is the star of the show in Burial Rites. While one of my very few complaints about the book is that sometimes the characters’ voices blended together Ms. Kent’s word choice and craftsmanship are simply stunning. The bleak landscape, the harsh weather are felt in each sparse and multifaceted sentence. “Up in the highlands blizzards howl like the widows of fishermen and the wind blisters the skin off your face. Winter comes like a punch in the dark. The uninhabited places are as cruel as any executioner.” But it isn’t just Iceland that we come to know through Ms. Kent’s language, it’s her characters. And none so intimately as Agnes. Through her conversation with her young priest Toti and the farmer’s wife Margret, Agnes’ life and crimes are seen in the light. But Agnes is no ordinary woman of her class, she found herself in learning and is therefore a well-spoken and well-read reporter of her life. She is also highly aware of her future, and what now lies ahead of her, and her voice is the clearest, and the most haunting. In reflecting on what good Toti may be able to do for her, Agnes has this to say, “though prayer could simply pluck sin out. But any woman knows that a thread, once woven, is fixed in place; the only way to smooth a mistake is to let it all unravel.”

It is hard to believe that Ms. Kent is only 28 and this is her first novel. I am excited to see what else this author might bring to us moving forward.

“To know what a person has done, and to know who a person is, are very different things.”

While I can’t seem to pinpoint where I heard about Burial Rites based on when I added it to my to-read list other reviews of Burial Rites include ElCicco’s from CBR6 and Miss Kate’s from CBR5.

This book was read and reviewed as part of the charitable Cannonball Read.

Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore (CBR6 #16)


“There is no immortality that is not built on friendship and work done with care.” (288).

It’s hard to know what to make of Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore. It’s a quest, it’s a mystery, it’s one man finding himself, and it’s the coalescing of a group of friends. It’s all this and more. Clocking in at fewer than 300 pages, Robin Sloan manages to craft an epic adventure for his protagonist and his merry band of players.

And it’s simply delightful.

The story is based on Clay Jannon a San Francisco based web-design lackey who finds himself out of work when the small company he works for goes under and in turn starts working at Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore. It only takes a few days working at the store for Clay to discover that the store is more curious than either its name or his slightly odd boss. The customers are few, and they never seem to buy anything—instead, they borrow large, obscure volumes from the way back shelves. Bored and looking to practice his programming skills for his eventual escape from clerkdom, Clay maps the behavior of the customers which only uncovers more questions.

At this point Clay starts on a quest to understand the data. While set, at least in part, in a bookstore, Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore is more the story of the digital future, the art of printed books, and data visualization. To say much more would give the plot away, but it’s worth the read so I won’t spoil it.

Quibbles about this book are limited to the following: that the supporting cast is not well developed. Everyone has the ‘thing’ they are useful for, but we don’t really learn more about them. Clay tends to say he cares about Mr. Penumbra without truly demonstrating it, and there is a reference to an all-museum database which took me out of the narrative because I know no such thing exists and the ease of it made me jealous of the fictional reality in which it does exist. But that’s a museum professional specific complaint.

My only real regret about this book is not reading it in one sitting.

“…I prefer bookstores…” (270).

This book was read and reviewed as part of the charitable Cannonball Read.