Point of No Return by John P. Marquand

Point of No Return by John P. Marquand
Publisher/Year: Academy Chicago Publishers, 1985
Format: Paperback
Pages: 559
Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐
Goodreads

Summary

Point of No Return is the story of Charles Gray, an apparently successful New York banker who has come to a pivotal point in his career: he is competing for the vice presidency of the elegant private bank, a job he must win if he is to become a success in the eyes of society.

Gray travels back to Clyde, the Massachusetts town where he grew up and looks with as much objectivity as he can muster on the background which produced him. He wants to decide which way his life will go, and discovers eventually, as C. Hugh Holman points out in 20th Century American Literature, that “all the decisions had already been made without his being aware of it, and that he has passed ‘the point of no return.'”

What I thought

Initially, I was unsure what to make of this book. Here is a book written in the 1940s by an author who, by all appearances, was wildly popular during his time. So, why has this book seemingly fallen to the wayside? Well, now that I’ve finished, I can’t really say. I enjoyed this novel immensely. It wasn’t a pageturner, by any means, but I kind of liked it all the more for that. It reminded me of a book you’d curl up with under a blanket in your comfy chair next to your reading lamp to while away the hours on a dark and chilly night. (Can you tell I’m a mood reader?) It was a quiet, thoughtful read, and I very much enjoyed getting to know Charley Gray. He’s a bit of an “every man,” but that’s something that doesn’t bother me. I think Charley is a character that will stick with me for a while. Yesterday’s “rat race” might look slightly different than today’s, but in a lot of ways, it’s the same. And, at least for me, it’s something I frequently give thought to, so Charley was somebody I felt very sympathetic towards.

All in all, I thought this was an excellent book, and I truly think it is a misplaced classic. I will certainly be on the lookout for more of John P. Marquand’s works.

Valentine by Elizabeth Wetmore

Valentine by Elizabeth Wetmore
Publisher/Year: Harper, 2020
Format: ARC – paperback
Pages: 308
Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐

Summary

Mercy is hard in a place like this…

It’s February 1976, and Odessa, Texas, stands on the cusp of the next great oil boom. While the town’s men embrace the coming prosperity, its women intimately know and fear the violence that always seems to follow.

In the early hours of the morning after Valentine’s Day, fourteen-year-old Glory Ramírez appears on the front porch of Mary Rose Whitehead’s ranch house, broken and barely alive. The teenager had been viciously attacked in a nearby oil field–an act of brutality that is tried in the churches and barrooms of Odessa before it can reach a court of law. When justice is evasive, one of the town’s women decides to take matters into her own hands, setting the stage for a showdown with potentially devastating consequences.

Valentine is a haunting exploration of the intersections of violence and race, class and region, in a story that plumbs the depths of darkness and fear yet offers a window into beauty and hope. Told through the alternating points of view of indelible characters who burrow deep in the reader’s heart, this fierce, unflinching, darkly funny, and surprisingly tender novel illuminates women’s strength and vulnerability, and reminds us that it is the stories we tell ourselves that keep us alive.

What I thought

Thank you to Harper for the free ARC of this book in exchange for an honest review!

This was one of the most breathtaking books I’ve read this year. At times heart-wrenching, at times infuriating, at times empowering, this was one of those books that I know will just stay with me, y’know? It will never cease to amaze me that someone can write like this with their debut novel. I swear, I’ve underlined at least half of this book, because I was so in awe of Wetmore’s atmospheric and hard-hitting writing. I’ve never been to Texas, but I could have sworn I was there as I read. And even though I want to say this isn’t an easy read (let’s be clear, it isn’t), I hesitate to say that. It’s not easy because it’s real. I dare any woman out there to read this one and tell me that you don’t relate to at least some part of it. But at the same time, this was just as much about the strength and resilience of women and the camaraderie (even if oftentimes reluctant) between women. Not to mention, we all known how much I love character driven stories, and I was highly a fan of this one. My only complaint was that the ending left me feeling a little indifferent.

A stunning, atmospheric work of literary fiction that begs to be discussed during book club!

Saint X by Alexis Schaitkin

Saint X by Alexis Schaitkin
Publisher/Year: Celadon Books, 2020
Format: ARC – paperback
Pages: 343
Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐
Goodreads

Summary

Hailed as a “marvel of a book” and “brilliant and unflinching,” Alexis Schaitkin’s stunning debut, Saint X, is a haunting portrait of grief, obsession, and the bond between two sisters never truly given the chance to know one another.

Claire is only seven years old when her college-age sister, Alison disappears on the last night of their family vacation at a resort on the Caribbean island of Saint X. Several days later, Alison’s body is found in a remote spot on a nearby cay, and two local men–employees at the resort–are arrested. But the evidence is slim, the timeline against it, and the men are soon released. The story turns into national tabloid news, a lurid mystery that will go unsolved. For Claire and her parents, there is only the return home to broken lives.

Years later, Claire is living and working in New York City when a brief but fateful encounter brings her together with Clive Richardson, one of the men originally suspected of murdering her sister. It is a moment that sets Claire on an obsessive pursuit of the truth–not only to find out what happened the night of Alison’s death but also to answer the elusive question: Who exactly was her sister? At seven, Claire had been barely old enough to know her: a beautiful, changeable, provocative girl of eighteen at a turbulent moment of identity formation.

As Claire doggedly shadows Clive, hoping to gain his trust, waiting for the slip that will reveal the truth, an unlikely attachment develops between them, two people whose lives were forever marked by the same tragedy.

For readers of Emma Cline’s The Girls and Lauren Groff’s Fates and Furies, Saint X is a flawlessly drawn and deeply moving story the culminates in an emotionally powerful ending.

What I thought

Thank you to Celadon Books for the free ARC of this book in exchange for an honest review!

You guys. I LOVED this book. I’m talking LOVED like every time I (reluctantly) put it down, I felt like I was coming up out of a trance kind of LOVED. I was 100% sucked into this book, and I’m legitimately sad that it’s over. Not only that, but I am completely blown away by the fact that this was a DEBUT novel.

So, let’s talk about the elephant in the room. I went into this book VERY hesitantly, fully expecting a “meh” read. I had seen SO many mediocre review of this, and even though I’m one to keep an open mind, I couldn’t help but feel uneasy as I went into this one. So, imagine my surprise as I fell in love with this book–was I even reading the same book as everyone else? And now that I’ve finished, I think I understand. Obviously, everyone is entitled to their own opinion and not everyone’s going to enjoy the same books–that’s what makes reading so great. However, I went into this knowing not to expect a fast-paced, murder mystery, thriller–and I truly think that made all the difference.

Saint X is, instead, a deep and riveting character study that looks at all of the ripples created by tragedy and how it affects those closest to it, as well as those on its periphery. Alexis Schaitkin has some serious writing chops like I haven’t seen in some time. The settings and especially the characters felt so real and vivid to me that this book hardly felt like fiction. And there was so much to delve into, I think any book club discussion could go on for days.

If you enjoy reading about real (and flawed) characters, if you enjoy contemplating how we all have an effect on others we encounter, and especially if you have ever pondered a question like, “I wonder how it would have all turned out if I had turned left instead of right?”–get your hands on this book. So, so good!

A Good Neighborhood by Therese Anne Fowler

A Good Neighborhood by Therese Anne Fowler
Publisher/Year: St. Martin’s Press, 2020
Format: ARC – paperback
Pages: 279
Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐
Goodreads

Summary

In Oak Knoll, a verdant, tight-knit North Carolina neighborhood, professor of forestry and ecology Valerie Alston-Holt is raising her bright and talented biracial son. Xavier is headed to college in the fall, and after years of single parenting, Valerie is facing the prospect of an empty nest. All is well until the Whitmans move in next door–an apparently traditional family with new money, ambition, and a secretly troubled teenaged daughter.

Thanks to his thriving local business, Brad Whitman is something of a celebrity around town, and he’s made a small fortune on his customer service and charm, while his wife, Julia, escaped her trailer park upbringing for the security of marriage and homemaking. Their new house is more than she ever imagined for herself, and who wouldn’t want to live in Oak Knoll? With little in common except a property line, these two very different families quickly find themselves at odds: first, over a historic oak tree in Valerie’s yard, and soon after, the blossoming romance between their two teenagers.

Told from multiple points of view, A Good Neighborhood asks big questions about life in America today–What does it mean to be a good neighbor? How do we live alongside each other when we don’t see eye to eye?–as it explores the effects of class, race, and heartrending star-crossed love in a story that’s as provocative as it is powerful.

What I thought

Thank you to St. Martin’s Press for the free ARC of this book in exchange for an honest review!

This book gave me some serious FEELINGS, which to me is a sign of a great book. I was very impressed with Therese Anne Fowler’s writing, and I will definitely be looking to read her previous works.

For being such a short novel, A Good Neighborhood truly packs a powerful punch. I fell in love with Fowler’s writing style–I thought this was a stylistically beautiful novel. I, for one, love when narrators break that fourth wall. It’s unique and something you don’t see too often, and I thought it totally worked here. It added to my sense of unease as I was reading, which made this book virtually impossible to put down.

I also love good character development, and while the characters here were a bit one-dimensional, I still felt like they were fleshed out enough to make me feel invested in their story. My favorite part of this story was the budding romance between Xavier and Juniper. Man, it’s been a while, but Fowler really hit the nail on the head in describing the nervousness and excitement of teenage first love. And then, on the reverse end of the spectrum, there was Brad, who is the worst possible example of a human being that I could imagine and who I frequently day dreamed about setting on fire. This book was a first for me in that it not only made me physically sick to my stomach, but it also made me actually GAG.

For the sake of not giving way the plot, suffice it to say that this book touches on a number of difficult and uncomfortable topics–race, class, the environment, politics, criminal justice, the prison system, religion, pedophilia, sex, you name it. My first inclination was to suggest that this felt a little gimmicky, but when I stepped back and thought about it, it feels less like a gimmick and more like an overwhelming reminder of the current state of the world we live in. The ending was heartbreaking and infuriating and, unfortunately, all too realistic.

A Good Neighborhood is a book that I know is going to stick with me for a while and is one that begs to be discussed. I’m very much looking forward to conversing with my fellow B&N book club members about this one!

Inland by Téa Obreht

Inland by Téa Obreht
Publisher/Year: Random House, 2019
Format: Hardcover, B&N Edition
Pages: 390
Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐
Goodreads

Summary

The New York Times bestselling author of The Tiger‘s Wife returns with a stunning tale of perseverance–an epic journey across an unforgettable landscape of magic and myth.

In the lawless, drought-ridden lands of the Arizona Territory in 1893, two extraordinary lives collide. Nora is an unflinching frontierswoman awaiting the return of the men in her life–her husband, who has gone in search of water for the parched household, and her elder sons, who have vanished after an explosive argument. Nora is biding her time with her youngest son, who is convinced that a mysterious beast is stalking the land around their home.

Lurie is a former outlaw and a man haunted by ghosts. He sees lost souls who want something from him, and he finds reprieve from their longing in an unexpected relationship that inspires a momentous expedition across the West. The way in which Nora’s and Lurie’s stories intertwine is the surprise and suspense of this brilliant novel.

Mythical, lyrical, and sweeping in scope, Inland is grounded in true but little-known history. It showcases all of Téa Obreht’s talents as a writer, as she subverts and reimagines the myths of the American West, making them entirely–and unforgettably–her own.

What I thought

Unlike many readers, I have not read Téa Obreht’s debut novel, The Tiger’s Wife. After having finished this, her sophomore novel, however, I am eagerly looking forward to diving into that one.

Inland was a struggle for me, I won’t lie. I’m already a slow reader to begin with, but I inched along at a snail’s pace with this book. I don’t know that I’d say that’s a bad thing, though. Admittedly, it took me a while to get into her writing style, particularly due to the fact that Lurie’s and Nora’s storylines were written so stylistically different. But as I settled into this story, I became utterly entranced. It was still slow-going, don’t get me wrong, but Obreht has such a beautiful, lyrical way of writing that certain passages took my breath away and all but begged to be re-read and pored over.

I also couldn’t help but fall in love with Lurie and Nora. Call them “unlikeable” all you want, but I found Lurie oftentimes hilarious and Nora was so relatable that she became almost dear to me. Both of them, but especially Nora, were the types of characters that will travel with me, even though I ended this book days ago. I knew, at some point, that their stories would connect, which, besides the gorgeous writing and the character themselves, was what kept driving me to turn the pages. And when they did, my goodness, let me tell you–that ending was stunning. I think I held my breath for the final three pages.

Inland is very much a love-it-or-hate-it book (as evidenced during my local B&N book club meeting last night). For some, the magical realism and the open (or is it?) ending work. For others, they don’t. I’m not often a fan of endings that lack definitive answers. Here? I loved it. I feel like I could go on and on and ruminate about this book forever. My thoughts are still constantly churning about this one. (Have I talked about memory as a driving force for Lurie and Nora? No? I’ll shut up now. But seriously, if you’ve read this, message me.)

All I’m trying to say is that this is literature, at its finest. Books such as this one are why I love to read–I want to think and I want to discuss my thoughts. Reading doesn’t always look like this for me, but when it does, I know that that book is special. Inland is one of the special ones. All I can say (read: highly recommend) is to try it.