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review 2017-11-11 07:05
LITTLE FIRES EVERYWHERE Review
Little Fires Everywhere - Celeste Ng

Unless I read something world-shattering between now and December 31, this will be my book of the year. A high-octane literary tale of the highest order, Celeste Ng tackles heady topics like racism and classism and morality and societal rebellion in smart, tactful strikes.

 

Like the best literary fiction, this one unfurls slowly while keeping the reader totally engaged. I read this one in two sittings, my mouth agape and my hair on fire. More than once Ng pulled the rug out from under me; the characters she has created are ones the reader can root and mourn for. Several revelations here have the power to delight, shock, and upset.

 

A beautifully told tale about a wandering artist, her daughter, and the upscale family they become close with, this is an honest, heartbreaking look at motherhood and identity and suburbia. I am in awe of Celeste Ng — it’s that simple. And I will be picking up her debut novel posthaste. Highly recommended to all readers.

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review 2017-11-04 17:21
But it started so well...
Little Fires Everywhere - Celeste Ng

After the disappointment of Ng's debut I thought I'd skip this one. But there seemed to be a lot of hype and I got around to reading a general synopsis of how a suburb of Cleveland (where Ng grew up) that values its order and ways of doing things gets shaken up when new tenants move to the neighborhood and we are treated to a story of surrogacy, adoption, race, parenting and family and more. I decided that I'd try really hard to hold my expectations in check after being let down so hard after Ng's first book (which I strongly believe was badly mis-marketed). It seemed like the book would open up with a bang as Ng describes a house being set on fire and burning to a crisp (everyone survives). Well. What a way to start things off!

 

Initially it seemed interesting when we meet the Richardsons, a family with children who are about high school age dealing with what many suburban families do: the children nearing the ages of moving onto college, dealing with the new tenants of a house they inherited, and more. Of course, there are issues bubbling under the surface, drama just waiting to be unleashed. The order that Shaker Heights has known is about to be shattered in ways they couldn't expect.

 

Or something like that. Like with Ng's first book the premise just sounded so darned interesting. Since Ng is from the area it seemed like a fictional book based on her personal knowledge (and maybe even people or situations in her life) it seemed like the hype was warranted. Alas, it was not. The book is slow. I had a lot of trouble keeping the Richardson children straight. The big secrets and hidden pasts and chaos that comes to the surface wasn't compelling. There was very little that was interesting about the book's characters or storyline.

 

I feel bad because it sounded good and I appreciate what Ng has to say on Twitter (which is how I found out about her second book) and wanted to support her. But after these two attempts I'm not sure I'll be reading any of her future books ever again. Oh well. I borrowed it from the library and back it goes.

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review 2017-10-28 20:00
Dashing All the Way
Dashing All the Way : A Christmas Anthology - Celeste Bradley,Eva Devon,Elizabeth Essex,Heather Snow

Dashing All the Way is a set of Four Novella Books by Four Different Authors!
I always love box set like these so that I can get a taste of other Author's writing. Along with having a Novella for that quick read need when I am waiting for an appointment or when I would like a quick read before bed. Also this set has a Christmas Theme to get you in the mood for the coming Holiday Season and also for people like me that love a Christmas Story.
Here are the books that are in this set:
“A Rake for Christmas” by Eva Devon; Evangeline is a Wallflower but she doesn't want to be anymore so she looks to Anthony for help. Anthony has his own issues and vows to never feel the upsetting Passion that seem to effect his parents.

“Up on the Rooftops” by Elizabeth Essex; Cally is a widow looking for the Season's Holiday Cheer but when a string of jewel thieves upset the town it seems anything but cheer. Toby is being accused of the crimes but he is out to clear his name and Cally goes forward with him to do so.

“The Very Debonair Lady Claire” by Heather Snow; Claire sets out to find out who killed her brother by working at the War Department. But Claire finds out that Andrew is the new Spymaster. Andrew walked away from her taking her heart at the time...but Andrew plans never letting her go now.

“A Liar Under the Mistletoe” by Celeste Bradley; Amie attends the towns balls to get access to the Lock boxes. Elliot tries to gain access to some of the Towns Lock boxes also for the Crown and Country working as a Spy. Thief and the Spy end up working together on more than taking from Lock Boxes it seems.

I cannot say enough about how much I enjoyed these Christmas Theme Stories!
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Source: www.amazon.com/Dashing-All-Way-Christmas-Anthology-ebook/dp/B076NDCGB6/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1509212805&sr=8-1&keywords=Dashing+All+the+Way+Celeste+Bradley
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text 2017-10-15 17:22
Did progressive values skew the path of this book? Sometimes the message seemed to be it is better to be irresponsible.
Little Fires Everywhere - Celeste Ng

Little Fires Everywhere, Celeste Ng, author, Jennifer Lynn, narrator

If I had to use one word to summarize this book, I would use motherhood, motherhood in all of its possible definitions. What does it mean to be a mother? What makes a good mother? Who has the right to decide what is or who is a good mother? Who has the right to decide the timing for motherhood?

The story has several interesting female characters. One, Elena. Richardson, basically unconsciously, picked mercilessly on her last born child, daughter Izzy, because she was afraid she would suffer from health issues as she grew up. She was premature, and the doctor had warned her of possible repercussions in her future. Her overly critical treatment of the child hurt her emotionally. Her other children were self-confident, privileged and a bit irresponsible, assuming everyone lived in the comfortable way that they did. Mrs. Richardson (Elena) can be described as a creature of habit and structure. She expects others she has been kind to, to return the favor. She is a bit of a good-natured busybody. Therefore, one has to wonder if her intent is truly kind. She has been a local reporter for a small neighborhood paper for years and would like a good story to help her break out into real journalism. The Richardson’s live with material excess, what today is called “white privilege”. Is that a fair term of description?.

Mia is unconventional and her mothering is as well.  In her youth, struggling to pay for her education in photography, Mia agreed to be a surrogate mother, but, instead, after a change of heart, she ran away and kept the baby, named Pearl. She continued to run for the rest of her life to avoid dealing with what she had done. Her parents rejected her because they believed she was selling her baby. Was that what she was doing? Mia and Pearl subsist on what she earns from selling her work or from odd jobs. They move when the mood strikes Mia and are not attached to material possessions. They live minimally.

Mrs. Riley wanted a surrogate mother to bear a child for her, one that looked like her. She and her husband had the wherewithal to pay someone to have a baby for them. Should that contract be binding legally and subject to criminal charges if broken?

Mrs. McCullough could not conceive a child. She had had several miscarriages. She and her husband desperately wanted a baby. Many attempts at adoption had been unsuccessful, until, one day, they were offered an abandoned child to adopt. What happens if the biological mother shows up and wants that baby back? Who should raise that child? Who is the rightful mother?

Bebe, a Chinese immigrant, is impoverished. She abandoned her baby because she could not afford to care for her when she was abandoned by the father. Her English was poor and she was unable to care for the child properly, although she tried her best. Did she do the right thing? Was it criminal? Did she give up her rights to the child in the future?

Lexi is a teenager who engaged in unprotected sex and decided to have an abortion when she discovered she was pregnant. She was supposed to go to Yale and the baby would have negatively impacted the lives of herself and her boyfriend. She wondered, did she make the right decision? Should she have discussed it with her boyfriend? Did he have the right to know? Did her mother have the right to know? Should she, as the adult and guardian have been consulted? Will Lexi carry that decision with her for the remainder of her life, always wondering if it was right or wrong?

For me, the title holds several meanings. One would pertain to an actual fire, one would pertain to creativity, coming up with a new idea, and one would pertain to the idea of encouragement, to figuratively lighting a fire underneath someone to propel them into action. This book, explores those ideas with regard to motherhood and life, in general, through the experiences of the characters.  It also exposes the different ideas that define all types of motherhood. Should class, status, social standing, culture or ethnicity influence any of the choices regarding motherhood, behavior and rights?

The story takes place in the community of Shaker Heights, an affluent community in Cleveland, Ohio. It is essentially a bubble filled with similar people who have similar goals of upward mobility. The Richardson family lives there. Mia and Pearl Warren arrive there looking for a suitable community to settle in with good schools and a safe environment. Mia has decided that Pearl would benefit from a less nomadic life. They rent an apartment from the Richardson’s. They live in a minimalist way while the Richardson’s live with obvious abundance. The Richardson’s and the Warner’s learn about and react to each other’s way of life.

Moody Richardson and Pearl Warren are high school sophomores. They become fast friends as they are the same age and are in many of the same classes in school. Pearl loves her new home and also becomes friends with Lexi Richardson who is a senior. When she meets Trip Richardson, a junior, a romance develops. Izzy, is the youngest Richardson child who has always been singled out as a troublemaker by her mom, and so she has subsequently taken on that persona of a troublemaker. She becomes close to Mia Warren who opens up her mind to being less rebellious. She is kind to her and accepts her as she is, but her advice is often ill thought out. Izzy remains “a loose cannon”.

The ideas of abortion and unwanted pregnancies are examined along with the idea of who is the real or true mother in a custody battle between a parent who abandoned her child and the parent who hopes to adopt the child, the surrogate or the one engaging her. What rights does a surrogate mother have when she signs an agreement to deliver the child to the family? Which idea of parenting is more beneficial to children, the structured or unstructured approach? When an underage female has an abortion, who should decide whether or not it is appropriate, who should counsel her?

Each of the female characters in the book engages in behavior that is not always by the book, ethical or even legal. Yet they all seem to get away with pushing the envelope. The person who behaves least responsibly seems to come out the winner, in the end, although that irresponsible behavior was the catalyst that caused many catastrophes that can not be reversed. I wondered why that has become acceptable behavior. I wondered, also, who was the greater villain of the mothers featured. Was it the busybody Mia, who chose her nomadic life over her daughter’s need for structure, or the busybody Mrs. Richardson? Was it the would-be mother seeking a surrogate or the mother seeking to keep an abandoned child after the biological mother wants her back? Does the mother who abandons her child retain any rights? The meddling of others, the lies told and the secrets kept continue to come back to haunt many of the characters, but they are resilient and seem to find ways to adjust.

One parent taught with compassion and by example, not always good ones, and the other seemed impetuous, rushing to judgment and meting out acts of retribution. The children learned from those parents, imitating their behavior. The Richardson children learned self-confidence, but they also learned to be arrogant and to feel entitled, entitled to what they possessed and to use others to serve their needs. Pearl Warren, on the other hand, learned patience and consideration from her mother. She learned to appreciate and accept what little she had, but was amazed and enthralled by how the Richardson’s lived. Although Pearl’s life of a drifter seemed the more unstable than the structured life of the Richardson’s, was it really less stable or was it actually more enduring and flexible?

The paramount idea of breaking out of one’s “box” and beginning again, seemed to work for all of the characters with minimal repercussions. The book intensely examines motherhood, with regard to surrogacy and biology, the idea of giving up a child, losing a child and the rights to a child is dissected. Family values with regard to class, culture, wealth, poverty, parental influence and legal rights and the bubbles within which we all live are explored. Behavior, often illegal, seems to be encouraged in some ways, and I found that confounding. Did the book bite off more than it could chew? Are there too many social issues introduced? In an attempt to be progressive and open minded has common sense sometimes flown out the window.

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review 2017-09-24 12:43
The Sweet Smell of Magnolias & Memories by Celeste Fletcher McHale
The Sweet Smell of Magnolias and Memories - Celeste Fletcher McHale

Jacey and Colin shared the three most intense days of their lives together, waiting for help as Mississippi floodwaters surrounded them. Jacey knew Colin was the love of her life—until her rescue boat went under water, along with Colin’s last name and pieces of Jacey’s memory.

 

The last thing she remembered was being submerged in water. Again.

 

As Jacey walks down the aisle as the maid of honor in her friend’s wedding a year later, the last person she expects to see is Colin. The biggest surprise, though, is that the man of her dreams is not wearing jeans and flip-flops as he did when he held her through those long nights of the flood. He’s the preacher.

 

As Jacey’s memories come flooding back, it’s almost more than she can take. The fate of the young family trapped with them haunts her. The unwavering honesty—and support—of her best friend Georgia forces her to take a fresh look at herself. She’s spent her life afraid of love. But this flood is opening Jacey’s heart in the most unexpected ways.

Amazon.com

 

 

 

Jacey is a writer for a regional Southern life magazine, on location for a story in Mississippi. Colin is a traveling minister specializing in disaster relief (specifically, building houses for the needy). As life would have it, Colin finds himself caught in one such disaster when the Mississippi town he's currently located in -- the same as our Miss Jacey -- is hit with a storm that brings devastating flooding. Both caught in the storm, Jacey and Colin meet when Colin pulls her onto the roof he and a local family are clinging to while awaiting rescue. 

 

Three days pass while the sodden group awaits rescue of any kind. The reader is told that something magical happened between Colin and Jacey, but honestly we're not given many details about what went down that was so world-rocking between them other than some hints that they talked about the need for survival and then there was some time for cuddles and make-out sessions. But what led to those stolen kisses? Your guess is as good as mine 'cause I kept waiting for those deets that never seemed to come. A couple swears they fell in love in 3 days -- is that not a story the reader deserves to know in ally its swoon-worthy details?!

 

Anyway, when help finally does arrive, Colin makes sure Jacey and Lillian, the mother with the 4 boys that shared the roof with them, all make it into the boat, his plan being that the boat now looks crowded so he'd just wait for the next boat to come around. But he doesn't let Jacey go without writing down all his contact info on a piece of paper and shoving it in her pocket. Just moments after being saved, Jacey's rescue boat collides with another, throwing all the passengers back into the water. Jacey suffers injuries that leave her hospitalized for a time with months of physical rehab after. She also finds that the trauma has left her with not only PTSD but also temporary amnesia regarding events of that harrowing day.

 

Fast forward a year later and we meet the chick-lit standards McHale includes in the plot: the group of besties who met in college and have sailed through thick & thin together since. Best girl Willow is now getting married while other best girl Georgia is struggling with having recently lost the love of her life to his lapse in fidelity. Jacey is at Willow's side as maid of honor and gets the shock of her life to find that none other than Colin is officiating! Now back in each other's lives, the two have to discover if what felt real truly was or if it was just a case of fear-of-death-fueled emotions.

 

This one proved to be yet another case of a novel where the secondary characters entertained me far more than our leads. Maybe it was because I as the reader wasn't made privy to any of the heart-melting conversations that must have went down between Colin & Jacey... must have been something pretty heady to feel love after 3 days ... but I don't know the details of their romance, if it can be called that, so for much of the book I wasn't that invested in their story. In fact, their back and forth cold-shoulder drama and hurt feelings based on assumptions got tiring.

 

It's generally presented as a given in romances that our female lead be irresistible to those around her but I wasn't entirely sold on Jacey in this sense. It was undeniably kind and moving what she did for Lillian's boys later on in the book but the way she was with Colin at times struck me as gratingly childish. Especially a moment near the close of the book, where Colin just wants to put all the miscommunication behind them -- he approaches her humbled, ready to explain his side of things -- and can I just say, about the worst thing he did IMO is send an insensitive text which masked some of his unspoken insecurities, a text he shortly after profusely tried to apologize for --  and she bald-face lies to him (more than once in one convo!) and then boots him out her door! Girl, what?! And then she has the gall to call Georgia and whine that she wishes Colin would just explain things if he really care. He tried, you goob! Then the inevitable make-up scene -- she admits to lying but gets away with giggling and telling him, "It's your fault though!" which he seems to gladly accept? Colin, in response, admits to being tempted to take her right there on his buddy's ottoman.. okay, I'm done with these two and I see them as the type that ends up divorced in 5 years or less lol 

 

But yes, those secondary characters came in to save my interest! Colin's bartender friend Julie was an admirable tough-as-nails type with a quick wit, and my heart immediately warmed to the elderly Mrs. Ernestine. Shame she didn't have more book time.

 

They heard screaming and both turned their heads to see Georgia running up the back steps, chickens nipping at her heels. 

 

"These freakin' chickens are trying to kill me!" she said, a short but piercing scream escaping her lips every few seconds.

 

Mrs. Ernestine looked at Jacey. "Does she belong to you?"

 

"Yes, ma'am." Jacey laughed.

 

"God help you."

 

 

 

The real show-stealer though -- Miss Georgia. Girl had SASS for days and I loved every bit of it! 

 

Jacey :(after a date with Colin): He was quite the gentleman. 

Georgia: Oh, how boring. 

 

Colin: Gotta be some kind of record, eight seconds in the door and the interrogation begins.

Georgia: I must be slipping. 

 

Georgia was the definition of the perfect best friend. Day or night, if Jacey called and said she needed her, Georgia was there in minutes. If someone hurt Jacey, she was quick to say, "Oh no, I'm not having that." But she also wasn't shy to set Jacey right when her behavior was sometimes slightly out of line. Also, in a nod to McHale's previous novel, The Secret To Hummingbird Cake, Georgia has a story about binging on hummingbird cake while working through a heavy bout of depression, "And I hate hummingbird cake!" {Sidenote: In the author acknowledgements it is revealed that Georgia and Jacey are named after two close friends of McHale.}

 

There are some good thought-provoking themes that stand out in this novel. For one, the reader is introduced to Colin's moneyed background. His story of stepping away from the family fortune to pursue a life of service and the challenges that brought him, in regards to familial relationships, will give the reader pause, having one consider that yes, maybe now that grass over there doesn't seem so green! Colin, through his family struggles, is also given a rough crash-course in the lesson of forgiveness. He carries a lot of deep-seated anger and resentment towards his parents, but over time discovers that perceived sins or mistakes often have more complicated backstories to them that must be considered. As one line in this novel points out, "Forgive people even if they're not sorry." Again, something that readers will likely find applicable in difficult areas of their own lives. 

 

Aside from the dud of a romance (at least for me) between Jacey & Colin, another area of the story that left me somewhat troubled was how the topic of race was handled. It was disappointing to see McHale lean on racial stereotypes to craft the personalities of so many of the African-American characters in this book. Lillian, the mother of the four boys, was a single mother, the father of her children serving a life sentence in prison, Lillian herself described as having little education, living what seemed (by the few descriptions given) to be a low-income neighborhood. The black servant working for Colin's rich white parents, even though this story takes place in present day... Sometimes it just struck me as there being this whispered tone of "well, that's just the way things are around here." I feel as if an opportunity was missed to shed life on these impoverished communities that do indeed exist but also commonly have a rich sense of community behind them. Had that been worked in a bit better, I think the novel would have had some more depth to it. Instead, the plot's focus, in regards to the African-American characters, seemed to be on how the misfortunes of these characters ended up (in a roundabout way) bettering the lives of already-privileged white characters. That undertone made me a bit sad, if I'm being honest. But again, I can appreciate what Jacey ended up doing for those boys, and the willingness to serve and love that that act demonstrated. 

 

While the plot itself wasn't a slam dunk for me personally, I applaud author Celeste Fletcher McHale for announcing her intent to donate a portion of the proceeds for this book to the victims of Louisiana's devastating floods of 2016. She also provides contact info for relief organizations working in the area should you yourself wish to contribute to relief / rebuilding efforts there. 

 

FTC Disclaimer: TNZ Fiction Guild kindly provided me with a complimentary copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. The opinions above are entirely my own. 

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