Matt’s Weekly Reads, January 21, 2023


Begin Again, Emma Lord (NEW! – January 24, 2023)

College Freshman Andie shows up at her dream school, her parents’ exclusive alma mater, as a second-semester transfer hoping to surprise her boyfriend. But much to her shock, he’s transferred back to the community college in their hometown, leaving her to tackle her parents’ legacy and make her own mark at the new school.

Emma Lord is a wonderful author in the young adult / new adult milieu, and this is no exception. Andie and her new friends in the dorm are great characters, and the college setting is atmospheric in ways that made me nostalgic for my own (far less interesting) undergraduate days. In addition to being a lot of fun, it also deals with some important themes, particularly around grief, family legacy and being ‘enough.’ I had some quibbles, particularly related to the jam-packed premise that made the book feel a little over-stuffed, but overall I really enjoyed this. (I wonder how many triumphs it will take for me to stop being pleasantly surprised by Lord’s work. She’s become one of the most reliable authors for me in her genre.)

Read this if you’re interested in:

  • College Life
  • Coming of Age
  • Found Family
  • Family
  • Grief and Loss
  • Bagels

My Rating: Premise 7, Main Character 10, Atmosphere 10, Plot 9, Intrigue 8, Relationships 10, Success 10, Writing 8, Enjoyment 9, Lasting Impact 7: TOTAL 88

Weekly Roundup

  • Spells for Forgetting, Adrienne Young (2022), 89: The last thing August Salt ever thought he’d do is return to Saoirse (that’s pronounced ‘sir-sha’) Island, but when his mother’s last wish is to have her remains scattered there, he goes back to this place he’d been forced to flee under a dark cloud of suspicion, stirring up the past in unsettling and dangerous ways for the entire island. This is a fantastically eerie book, with the perfect mix of small-town politics, old-time grudges, and witchcraft to keep you wondering until its tremendously satisfying conclusion. I didn’t always love the plotting — the first half of the book in particular relies on the needless withholding of information — but the journey is well worth those minor quibbles and annoyances. (Mystery, Small Towns, Conspiracy, Magic, Witchcraft)
  • The Swimmers, Julie Otsuka (2022), 74: The routines of a group of swimmers — and one in particular — are disrupted when a crack appears at the bottom of their pool, forcing it to close. This was a difficult book for me to rate. I absolutely loved the first 20% of this novella, with its brilliant, first person plural, Greek-chorus-like narration describing the collective habits of the titular swimmers. But then it quickly went off the rails for me, with the crack taking on metaphysical significance that felt completely unnecessary and out of place in the story she seemed to be telling. Then the second half of the book transitions quite unexpectedly into a lengthy list of the many small humiliations of life in a longterm care facility. For this reader, at least, it just didn’t work. (Routine, Swimming, Dementia, Aging)
  • The Enigma of Room 622, Joel Dicker (2020, trans. 2022), 80: A writer struggling with the loss of his publisher and mentor teams up with a brilliant young woman to solve a cold case involving the hotel where they are staying in the Swiss Alps. This is another title I have mixed feelings about. There was a lot I really loved about this, particularly the writing (even in translation, I was hooked from the opening lines), and the success of the nested-doll style plotting. Unfortunately, I was mostly interested in the present-day sleuthing storyline and most of the book is focused on recounting the events leading up the murder, a whole series of plots and characters and settings about which I did not care at all. So on the whole it evens out to a 4-star read for me. But if you’re the kind of person who finds the world of banking and board politics compelling, this is sure to be a winner for you. (Murder, Mystery, Amateur Detectives, Switzerland, Banking, Board Politics)
  • Waves, Ingrid Chabbert, illustrated by Carole Maurel (trans. Edward Gauvin) (2019), 95: This gorgeous and heart-felt graphic memoir tells the story of the author’s experience of infertility and child loss, and her process of working through these traumas and disappointments. This is very sad, and if you have any triggers surrounding reproductive traumas, this probably is not the book for you. But, it is truly beautiful and a great use of the graphic novel medium. (Graphic Novel, Reproductive Trauma, Fertility Issues, Child Loss, LGBTQ2S+)
  • Eight Night of Flirting, Hannah Reynolds (2022), 83: Shira Barbanel may be approaching the end of high school, but she has never lived down her embarrassing public declaration of love to boy-next-door Tyler from years before. After a storm forces the two of them to spend the first night of Hanukkah alone together in her family’s Nantucket homestead, they develop an unlikely friendship and bond over the mystery of an old box they discover in the attic. In a lot of ways, this is exactly the formulaic YA romance the description makes it out to be; but there are other elements that make it stand out from the pack, such as the beautiful Jewish representation, the loving yet realistic family dynamics, and references to Nantucket history. (YA, Romance, Judaism, Hanukkah, New England)
  • The Westing Game, Ellen Raskin (1978), 85: When a multi-millionaire is found dead in his long-abandoned mansion, things only get stranger when the residents of a nearby apartment complex are named as his heirs and invited to solve the mystery of his death to win the full inheritance. This book presents an interesting puzzle and a remarkably diverse set of characters for a book of its era, and I enjoyed it a lot. (Puzzles, Prejudice, Friendship, Community)
  • Forbidden City (City Spies 3), James Ponti (2022), 87: The UK’s secret team of middle school super-spies is called back into action when they find out the evil organization Umbra is after a North Korean nuclear scientist whose son happens to be a world-class chess player. I loved the first two books in this series, and somehow Ponti manages to make this one just as exciting. He’s truly a master of middle grade adventure fiction! (Middle Grade, Chess, Children Doing Espionage, Russia, China)

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