Do you tend to read books that were recently released, or books that have stood the test of time? While I wish I could say that I read a healthy mix of both, I have to admit that in the past few years I’ve read predominantly recent releases (likely thanks to the influence of book blogs and podcasts that focus on current books). Of the titles I’m reviewing today, four were published in the last year and one is a backlist title from an author whose latest novel I reviewed last month. Are any of these books currently sitting on your bookshelf or nightstand?
Followers, by Megan Angelo: In the year 2015, Orla Cadden is an aspiring novelist living in New York, where she’s stuck in a dead-end job writing clickbait for a celebrity blog. Orla’s life takes a pivotal turn when she meets Floss, a wannabe actress willing to do just about anything for fame. Through the magic of the internet (and some rather shady publicity stunts) Orla succeeds in launching both of them into instant stardom. . . . but they soon learn that being an “influencer” comes with a hefty price tag.
Fast forward to the year 2035, where Marlow is a full-time celebrity living in a California community in which government-appointed actors live every moment of their lives on camera. Marlow has never known a life that wasn’t being constantly scrutinized by her millions of followers, but a shattering secret about her past leads her to do the unthinkable: leave the comfort of her orchestrated life to discover the truth about her personal history and what exactly took place thirty-five years earlier.
The narrative alternates back and forth between the stories of Orla and Marlow, whose paths converge in a cataclysmic event that permanently altered the course of life in America. The specifics of the event remain vague until the last few chapters, and though I found this catastrophe itself disappointingly unrealistic, the fallout from this event—and the subsequent dystopian reality—was frighteningly believable.
The concept of Followers is remarkable: it’s part satire, part chick-lit, part dystopian suspense, and 100% sadisticly absorbing. There are many moving parts to this novel, and they don’t always play nicely together: the book starts out strong and ends on a satisfying note, but the middle is unevenly paced with a clunky plot and erratic character development. However, the poignant social insights and relevant themes truly carry the novel and kept me riveted from start to finish.
In an interview with Marie Claire, Megan Angelo stated, “It’s partly a cautionary tale about what happens if you try to get famous, but it’s also just a story about what can happen if you share too much. And sometimes the two things kind of blur together actually because these days it seems like we’re all curating ourselves in a way that makes it look like we want to get famous…even if we don’t. All of the social media sharing stuff is definitely what makes it timely even though I didn’t really set out to lecture anybody.”
This timely book certainly has me thinking differently about social media, technology, the interplay between government and culture, and the power of influence. As we are currently living out our own strange dystopia, it was interesting to think about an equally plausible—and even more terrifying—alternate to our present reality. This dark tale won’t be for everyone, but I found it to be a very entertaining and also thought-provoking read.
My Rating: 4 Stars.
28 Summers, by Elin Hildebrand: Labor Day Weekend, 1993: Mallory Blessing has just inherited her aunt’s beachfront Nantucket cottage and has agreed to host her brother Cooper’s bachelor party. Attending the Nantucket boys’ weekend is Cooper’s college room mate, Jake McCloud. Sparks fly between Mallory and Jake, but the two are unwilling to commit to a long-term relationship. Instead, they agree to meet up the same weekend the following year . . . a promise they keep to each other for the following 28 summers. In that time, Mallory becomes a mother and Jake marries his high school sweetheart, Ursula, who goes on to a successful career in politics. Despite all that is at stake if their covert romance were to be discovered, both Mallory and Jake live for those precious annual visits.
This book has a lot going for it: I loved the Nantucket setting and fun summer vibes. The characters are engaging (albeit unlikable), and the storyline is straightforward enough to be an easy read (or listen, as I did this on audio) with enough intrigue to maintain my interest through the end. I also really loved the format of a chapter for each of the 28 summers, with nostalgic recaps of the talking points of each year. (These paragraphs about the favorite shows and headlines and songs of the year brought back SO many memories for me! And it was surprising but intriguing to read about race riots and quarantine in the 2020 recap. Talk about timely!)
That said, I really struggled with the premise of the book. The entire story revolves around an extramarital affair that is not only condoned, but outright celebrated as the book’s true love story. Infidelity and deceit are massive hangups for me (in literature and real life too, of course) and it was hard to root for protagonists who were (mostly happily) living out such duplicitous lives. I’m surprised (though maybe I shouldn’t be) that so few reviewers have a problem with this premise.
My Rating: 3 Stars.
Euophoria, by Lily King: Inspired by the life of Margaret Mead, Euphoria tells the stories of three young anthropologists living in the jungle of New Guinea in 1933. Nell Stone and her husband Fen have just left the violent tribe they were studying and have joined the lonely and depressed Andrew Bankson in studying a new tribe along the Sepik river. Soon the trio has garnered the trust of this people group and are making some of the greatest observations of their careers. Meanwhile, a fierce and potentially tragic love triangle unfolds between the scientists, and the dynamics between them become just as much of an anthropological study as their observations of the people groups among whom they are living.
This is a fascinating novel with a unique premise and poignant, insightful prose. I picked up this book after loving Lily King’s recent novel (Writers and Lovers). On the surface, this book—with its historic setting—is quite different, yet both novels contain love triangles and both books are about much more than meets the eye. Here, a book about scientists studying other people is really an examination of the scientists themselves. Their story—and their work—provide a compelling study of cultural norms, behaviors, customs, and romantic practices, and the intersection between science and life. As the novel unfolds, we begin to see how a scientist and his/her work are inseparable, and how scientific study can say more about the examiner than the subject. (“Perhaps all science is merely self-investigation.”) The anthropological element to Euphoria was by far my favorite aspect to this book and it had me wanting to dig deeper into the history and practices of anthropology and specifically the work of Margaret Mead.
Despite its casual tone, Euphoria is perceptive and refreshingly free of broad generalizations or reductive characters. While I wasn’t a fan of the love story (see infidelity disclaimer in the review above) or the focus on the sexual practices of the tribes, I found the setting and setup very intriguing and well-executed.
My Rating: 4 Stars.
So You Want to Talk About Race, by Ijeoma Oluo: The Black Lives Matter movement is certainly having a moment—a moment that, I believe, is long overdue. I have amassed a number of titles that I hope to read in my efforts to continue listening to and learning from people of color, and I will be working through them slowly so as not to get burn out on this subject but keep it front of mind. I don’t want this to simply be a cause I care about for a while and then move on. To that end, this much-buzzed book was my monthly pick for an anti-racism read.
In So You Want to Talk About Race, Oluo provides a brutally honest look at the racial landscape in America, diving into topics none of us want to discuss (but need to). Oluo defines racisms and privilege, drawing a broad picture of the problems of systemic racism while also offering a more personal glimpse at her own experiences with racism as a woman of color. The book is divided into helpful chapters that explained many aspects of racism I had not understood or even thought of, such as cultural appropriation, intersectionality, microagressions, and the minority model myth.
I found this book incredibly educational and appreciate Oluo’s willingness to engage in these challenging topics. Her ideas are well-presented and I found her opinions and experiences enlightening. That said, there is a lot about this book that I struggled with. I believe that many of her arguments are flawed, and while much of the book is informative and helpful, a few sections seem to have little purpose beyond shaming and silencing white people. In order for true anti-racism healing to occur, we need to be having solution-focused discussion rather than simply shutting off people with whom we disagree. Refusing to acknowledge others’ perspectives—including the perspectives of “hateful racist bigots”—simply perpetuates ignorance and hatred.
While So You Want to Talk About Race is a useful tutorial, I resonated much more with the Gospel-centered, solutions-focused approach that Latasha Morrison takes in Be the Bridge. The difference is Jesus: without Him, I’m not sure the notion that black lives matter (or that any lives matter) carries much weight, and apart from Him, I doubt that there is any hope for racial reconciliation in our country. I’m glad that Ijeoma Oluo is willing to talk about race with us; I wish she were just as open to talking about faith.
My Rating: 3.5 Stars (Rounded up to 4 Stars on Goodreads).
In Five Years, by Rebecca Serle: Dannie is an ambitious, Type A Manhattan lawyer whose personal life and career are going exactly to plan. But at the end of one perfect day—in which she nailed an interview for her dream job and accepted a marriage proposal from her prototype-perfect boyfriend—Dannie falls asleep and wakes up five years into a future that does not look at all like the one she’d laid out for herself. In this vision of her life in the year 2025, she is in a different apartment and wearing another man’s engagement ring.
After this intense vision, Dannie returns to her life in 2020, but she can’t shake the notion that her original plans might not have been so perfect after all. She continues on with life as usual, but then, four-and-a-half years later, Dannie has an encounter with he dreamboat from her vision, and once again her life’s trajectory takes a turn.
This book is being compared to Josie Silver’s The Two Lives of Lydia Bird (which I’ll review next week), and they do have remarkably similar beginnings. Despite the comparable premises, though, this is a very different book, and one I liked slightly more due to its streamlined plot, more substantial themes, and stronger writing.
Like Lydia Bird, In Five Years has a romantic storyline but is much more than a straightforward love story. Instead, it is an exploration of love and friendship, of paths not taken, and of the amount of agency we truly have (or lack) over our futures. There are a number of unique dichotomies present within the narrative: control vs fate, rationality vs sentimentality, giving vs receiving care and attention. . . . I was impressed with Serle’s ability to pack so many powerful themes and emotions into such a short book.
In Five Years is definitely a tear-inducing read, but I didn’t find it to be emotionally manipulative or unnecessarily sentimental. My favorite aspect of the book was the realistic yet unpredictable ending.
My Rating: 4 Stars.
I’m sharing this post over on Modern Mrs. Darcy, where Anne hosts a monthly link-up inviting readers to share our recent book reviews. If you’re here from MMD, thanks for stopping by! Check back here next Wednesday to read Part Two of this month’s Quick Lit reviews:
And come back in two weeks, when I’ll be sharing reviews of five more books I’ve read this month.
Have you read any of these titles? What did you think?