Author: Celeste Ng

Book Review – Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng

November 9, 2017 Bonnie Adult, Book Reviews, Read in 2017 6 Comments

I received this book free from Edelweiss in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

Book Review – Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste NgLittle Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng
Published by Penguin Press on September 12th 2017
Pages: 352
Genres: Contemporary
Format: eARC
Source: Edelweiss
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Also by this author: Everything I Never Told You

three-half-stars

In Shaker Heights, a placid, progressive suburb of Cleveland, everything is planned -- from the layout of the winding roads, to the colors of the houses, to the successful lives its residents will go on to lead. And no one embodies this spirit more than Elena Richardson, whose guiding principle is playing by the rules.

Enter Mia Warren -- an enigmatic artist and single mother -- who arrives in this idyllic bubble with her teenaged daughter Pearl, and rents a house from the Richardsons. Soon Mia and Pearl become more than tenants: all four Richardson children are drawn to the mother-daughter pair. But Mia carries with her a mysterious past and a disregard for the status quo that threatens to upend this carefully ordered community.

When old family friends of the Richardsons attempt to adopt a Chinese-American baby, a custody battle erupts that dramatically divides the town--and puts Mia and Elena on opposing sides. Suspicious of Mia and her motives, Elena is determined to uncover the secrets in Mia's past. But her obsession will come at unexpected and devastating costs.

“Sometimes you need to scorch everything to the ground, and start over. After the burning the soil is richer, and new things can grow. People are like that, too. They start over. They find a way.”

In Shaker Heights, Ohio, the residents believe themselves to live in a pseudo-bubble of perfection. The garbage trucks collect trash in alleys so as to not create an eyesore on the streets, their children are all raised to be productive members of society, and any hint of wrongdoing is always brushed off as an impossibility. Mia Warren, a “starving artist” single mother, and her teenage daughter Pearl move to this small town surrounded by an air of mystery, peaking the inquisitiveness of the town’s inhabitants. The duo has lived a nomadic existence since Pearl was born, but they find something in Shaker Heights that they hadn’t found before: a reason to stay. Pearl befriends the Richardson children, whose mother is actually their landlord, and their friendship to Pearl is something that she had never experienced before. Pearl and Mia’s presence, in turn, is a curiosity to the children, not having witnessed anything less than a perfect family before. The secrets of Mia and Pearl’s past and the underlying tension when a family tries to adopt a Chinese-American baby will inadvertently leave an unending change in this community.

Little Fires Everywhere opens with, well, little fires everywhere. Months after Mia and her daughter have moved to town, Mrs. Richardson wakes to find her house on fire, with small fires having been started on each of her children’s beds. Izzy, her youngest, has always been the rebel of the family and is the only one missing and is, therefore, the likely culprit. But no mystery is ever that simple, and figuring out what led up to it is the best part. Flashback to Mia and Pearl’s arrival in her VW Rabbit with their only possessions contained within, they breeze into town much like the obscure Vianne and her daughter, Anouk, breezed into that small French town in Chocolat. They’re looked upon as outsiders, but they quickly make themselves at home in this sequestered community. But when the McCulloughs decide to adopt a Chinese-American baby that was abandoned at a fire station, Mia Warren begins to involve herself in the spectacle for more reasons than one. The sole issue I had with this story was that the topic of race is clearly meant to shine a spotlight on the intricacies of the situation but ended up becoming too simplified in order to achieve an “end” to the storyline. This is also clearly meant to be the main storyline but it’s muddied by Mia’s own story, even when its inclusion was meant to show a reasoning behind her involvement.

Celeste Ng’s sophomore novel proves herself to be incredibly perceptive at bringing contemporary America to life. The foundation of her plot is based on simple legitimacy without the unnecessary addition of drama making her stories feel wholly genuine. Her stories never lack for complexity with Little Fires Everywhere tackling race, class, adoption, abortion in addition to the intricacies of motherhood and the everlasting weight of secrets. Contemporary has never been my favorite genre, but Ng makes it so incredibly appealing that I’m not sure I’ll ever stop seeking out her stories.

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Short & Sweet (Family Dramas) – Everything I Never Told You, Big Little Lies

February 24, 2017 Bonnie Adult, Book Reviews, Short & Sweet Reviews 10 Comments

Short & Sweet (Family Dramas) – Everything I Never Told You, Big Little LiesEverything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng
Narrator: Cassandra Campbell
Published by Blackstone Audio on June 26th 2014
Length: 10 hrs and 1 min
Genres: Contemporary, Mystery
Format: Audiobook
Source: Freebie
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Also by this author: Little Fires Everywhere

four-half-stars

A haunting debut novel about a mixed-race family living in 1970s Ohio and the tragedy that will either be their undoing or their salvation.

Lydia is dead. But they don't know this yet....

So begins the story in this exquisite debut novel about a Chinese American family living in a small town in 1970s Ohio. Lydia is the favorite child of Marilyn and James Lee; their middle daughter, a girl who inherited her mother's bright blue eyes and her father's jet-black hair. Her parents are determined that Lydia will fulfill the dreams they were unable to pursue - in Marilyn's case that her daughter become a doctor rather than a homemaker, in James' case that Lydia be popular at school, a girl with a busy social life and the center of every party.

When Lydia's body is found in the local lake, the delicate balancing act that has been keeping the Lee family together tumbles into chaos, forcing them to confront the long-kept secrets that have been slowly pulling them apart. James, consumed by guilt, sets out on a reckless path that may destroy his marriage. Marilyn, devastated and vengeful, is determined to find a responsible party, no matter what the cost. Lydia's older brother, Nathan, is certain the neighborhood bad boy Jack is somehow involved. But it's the youngest of the family, Hannah, who observes far more than anyone realizes - and who may be the only one who knows the truth about what happened.

A profoundly moving story of family, history, and the meaning of home, Everything I Never Told You is both a gripping pause-resister and a sensitive family portrait, exploring the divisions between cultures and the rifts within a family and uncovering the ways in which mothers and daughters, fathers and sons, and husbands and wives struggle, all their lives, to understand one another.

‘Before that she hadn’t realized how fragile happiness was, how if you were careless, you could knock it over and shatter it.’

Lydia is the third child of Marilyn and James Lee and is undeniably their favorite. Her absence from breakfast one morning arouses suspicion but never would they have imagined that her body would be found at the bottom of the lake near their house. Lydia’s death, while tragic, ends up being the catalyst for unveiling the multitude of issues within the Lee household. The year is 1970 and the steps that led to this tragedy began over a decade ago when Marilyn, a white woman from Virginia, and James, a first-generation Chinese-American, married despite the ill opinions on their interracial relationship. When Marilyn gets pregnant, she gives up her dream of becoming a doctor and instead devotes her time and energy to Lydia so that one day she can become what Marilyn could not, never stopping to consider what Lydia actually desired. James, after a difficult life of always being the outsider, he constantly pushes his children to fit in and be social so they never have to experience what it’s like to be an outsider. We may know from the very first sentence that Lydia is dead, but the path that brought her to this point remains a mystery. Ng rewinds to the very beginning and allows Lydia’s story to finally reveal the truth that she never dared speak aloud.

‘It would disappear forever from her memory of Lydia, the way memories of a lost loved one always smooth and simplify themselves, shedding complexities like scales.’

I have had this book on my shelf for an obscenely long time simply because family dramas usually possess suburban type spectacles that I’d rather do without. But this book had depth, it had the most well-written characters that I have read in recent memory, it had a captivating storyline, and it completely broke my heart. Ng gracefully unmasks the secrets kept by the Lee’s and their two surviving children, Nathan and Hannah, through multiple storylines without it once getting convoluted. Marilyn and James’ lifetime of broken dreams and of the racism that they faced is egregious, but it’s their complete lack of familiarity and understanding with one another and their own children that was truly terrible. The emotional intricacy of this superbly written tale and the devastating ending will resonate with me for a long time to come.

Short & Sweet (Family Dramas) – Everything I Never Told You, Big Little LiesBig Little Lies by Liane Moriarty
Published by Berkley on July 29th 2014
Pages: 460
Format: eBook
Source: Library
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two-half-stars

Big Little Lies follows three women, each at a crossroads:

Madeline is a force to be reckoned with. She’s funny and biting, passionate, she remembers everything and forgives no one. Her ex-husband and his yogi new wife have moved into her beloved beachside community, and their daughter is in the same kindergarten class as Madeline’s youngest (how is this possible?).
And to top it all off, Madeline’s teenage daughter seems to be choosing Madeline’s ex-husband over her. (How. Is. This. Possible?).

Celeste is the kind of beautiful woman who makes the world stop and stare. While she may seem a bit flustered at times, who wouldn’t be, with those rambunctious twin boys? Now that the boys are starting school, Celeste and her husband look set to become the king and queen of the school parent body.

But royalty often comes at a price, and Celeste is grappling with how much more she is willing to pay.
New to town, single mom Jane is so young that another mother mistakes her for the nanny. Jane is sad beyond her years and harbors secret doubts about her son. But why? While Madeline and Celeste soon take Jane under their wing, none of them realizes how the arrival of Jane and her inscrutable little boy will affect them all.

Big Little Lies is a brilliant take on ex-husbands and second wives, mothers and daughters, schoolyard scandal, and the dangerous little lies we tell ourselves just to survive.

“Did anyone really know their child? Your child was a little stranger, constantly changing, disappearing and reintroducing himself to you. New personality traits could appear overnight.”

In the coastal seaside town of Pirriwee, everything and everyone is covered in a thin veneer of gloss, though it only does so much to hide the imperfections underneath. And the fact that someone is dead after Trivia Night at the local school goes terribly wrong. But who it is and how it happened remains a mystery… or so it seems.

Madeleine’s youngest child is entering kindergarten, but so is her ex-husband’s daughter. The ex-husband that left her and their baby girl to survive on their own fifteen years prior. Celeste, a stay at home mom, and her husband Perry, a hedge fund manager, are the parents of twin boys and they live in a palatial house on the beach. Things definitely look perfect from the outside but Perry has an uncontrollable anger problem that is only getting worse. Jane is a single mom who’s little boy Ziggy was the product of a one-night stand; a one-night stand that left her mentally scarred and unable to heal. The adults all have their fair share of drama going on but to make matters worse there is a terrible ongoing situation of bullying happening at the kids’ school and the truth is far from easy to ascertain. Family drama, infidelity, domestic abuse, and bullying are all adequate plot points on their own but Big Little Lies combines them all for an intense story about the imperfections that many endeavor to hide from the world.

“They say it’s good to let your grudges go, but I don’t know, I’m quite fond of my grudge. I tend it like a little pet.”

This is my first Moriarty book and I’m still struggling to establish whether I actually liked it. The mystery and the anticipated big reveal was all that kept me going because the writing style felt very haphazard and slightly sloppy, written in a flippant and emotionally disjointed way. I would understand that demeanor for some of her characters, but everyone is written in such a way. The story starts off with a Quentin Tarantino type hook: someone is dead but you don’t know who it is and you don’t know what led up to this point. Now, let’s rewind it to six months before the death and go back through everything with a fine-tooth comb. Let’s also intersperse it with gossiping mothers (and the occasional father) who are all convinced it has something to do with a shocking affair, or it was because of some fight that happened between a couple of mothers months back on the playground, or maybe it was when one of the kids handed out birthday invitations to all but one child, or maybe it was Madeleine’s Erotic Book Club. Absolutely no one has any clue what’s actually going on.

idk chris pratt middle finger i dont care who cares

Okay, so basically if you didn’t guess, I gave zero fucks about their petty squabbles. But still, I zoomed through these 460 pages (honestly, that many pages were completely unnecessary). While the mom drama is pretty horrifying in the heavy doses we’re given, it’s despairingly accurate, I know because I have had to personally refuse to participate in that shit (fuck the PTA, honestly). There is also this constant veil of humor over everything, despite the seriousness of a few of the storylines, and I can’t say that I liked it, especially when the domestic abuse storyline had me breathing like I needed a paper bag. Moriarty’s stand against domestic violence isn’t handled poorly (although it could have been handled better), I just felt that the inclusion of comic relief in the story to lessen the seriousness only ended up leaving a bad taste in my mouth. View Spoiler » Many readers may be pleased to have this comic relief to lighten the seriousness of domestic abuse, bullying, and infidelity, but I for one could have done without it. All it managed to do was lessen the depth and seriousness of these grim issues.

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