This was really wonderful on a number of levels. The family elements were so well-done, the immigrant experience was so complexly portrayed and the veThis was really wonderful on a number of levels. The family elements were so well-done, the immigrant experience was so complexly portrayed and the verse form was gorgeous. I wrote more here: http://cleareyesfullshelves.com/blog/......more
I read this in one sitting and it was a major nostalgia trip for me. So much reminded me of my own high school years in small town Oregon, football, dI read this in one sitting and it was a major nostalgia trip for me. So much reminded me of my own high school years in small town Oregon, football, driving around, going for Slurpees because that's the only thing to do, all of that. This is a quiet story, but it also packs a lot of feeling and heart into the story (which I could say for all of Lisa's books), which is just the way I like it.
I am so excited there's going to be a new Lisa Schroeder YA novel next year. And it's half-verse!...more
This book was full of authentic emotion, humor and messy realness than worked for me on a number of levels. And Frannie is probably my favorite main character from Liza Palmer's novels.
But! Even more importantly.... This book features Justin Timberlake as an important reference point for the story AND the last scene made me cry at 2am thanks to a J.T. (yes, that's what the cool kids call him) reference.
(Also, David Gray's music is featured in an important scene and he was pretty much the soundtrack to my 2000, when I was living oversees and my life was weird.)
So, yeah, I loved this as much as Nowhere But Home and like NBH, can't really rationally talk about why it resonated with me so intensely.
(It would probably be a good idea to write a blog post about my binge on Liza's books and why they work for me.)...more
Love, love, love. This is going to definitely be one of my favorites of 2013. It's aching in the best of ways, and perfect for anyone who has a complicated relationship with their roots. I'll write a longer review on the blog, but Nowhere But Home ticked so many boxes for me, and I adored it so, so, so much. Basically, this is such a "Sarah Book" and I'll be reading the author's backlist ASAP.
From Angie's review - "Recommended for fans of Friday Nights Lights" Obviously, I will be reading this one....more
This was really wonderful, a hidden gem. If you liked Caridad Ferrer's Adios to My Old Life or Jennifer Echols' Dirty Little Secret, you'll probably lThis was really wonderful, a hidden gem. If you liked Caridad Ferrer's Adios to My Old Life or Jennifer Echols' Dirty Little Secret, you'll probably like this one even more. (And I liked both of those books a lot, especially the first one.)
Highly recommended if you like books about girls with big dreams. ...more
I really, really loved this. It's super emotional, but not at all manipulative. I also loved the romance more than I have in a YA novel in some time--I really, really loved this. It's super emotional, but not at all manipulative. I also loved the romance more than I have in a YA novel in some time--it just worked for me. I'll post a longer review closer to the release date.
I am excited for this book. I've really liked Elizabeth Scott's books, but it always feels like they're not marketed well (hello, Miracle, which was one of my favorites last year that no one even knew about). Hopefully, her new publisher, Harlequin Teen, will do a better job of getting her books into the hands of the right readers....more
My reviews of Molly O'Keefe's Crooked Creek Ranch series are probably starting to get aThis review was originally posted on Clear Eyes, Full Shelves.
My reviews of Molly O'Keefe's Crooked Creek Ranch series are probably starting to get a bit dull.
Here's a quick synopsis of the crux of each of my reviews,
Wow! These characters are fully fleshed-out, complex people. I completely believed in their romance because their path toward happiness was hard and took work, but the payoff was completely worth it! This pushes the boundaries of what we talk about when we talk about characters and stories in romance! Exclamation points!
Each of these three novels explores the path of challenging, driven, damaged people as they find happiness together. Crazy Thing Called Love features Madelyn (formerly known as Maddy), a rising star who hosts a morning talk show in Dallas, and Billy, an aging hockey enforcer whose career is at rock bottom.
Oh, and Billy and Maddy used to be married.
This is a scenario I usually would avoid reading, because generally speaking, it seems that relationships run their course for a reason, so the reconciliations generally read as superficial or not long lasting in the context of real life. However, in the case of Crazy Thing Called Love, the setup works.
Billy and Maddy married young--way young--and while they were in love, they were also immature and their marriage was rooted in their mutual desire to escape their lives. Billy's hockey career was their ticket out.
Maddy left Billy, having lost herself and her identity amidst Billy's rising stardom and remade herself into a polished, confident local media star. But in a strange way, within her job she also loses a piece of herself,
AM Dallas needed her to be the trusted, knowledgeable, well-dressed, and skinny best friend every woman in Dallas wanted to have. She didn’t have opinions, or outrage or passion. She smiled and told people about the delicious wonder that was gluten-free cheese.
Billy's in desperate need of a new image after spending the season riding the bench for the Dallas Mavericks (yes, this makes me snicker, because the Mavericks are a basketball team, not a hockey team). He has a lot of anger and bitterness and has the potential to go in a very dark direction.
When Maddy's talk show proposes proposes a makeover of Dallas's notorious bad boy hockey player--clothes, hair, etiquette, the works--she balks, not wanting to revisit that part of her life and definitely not wanting her coworkers to know her past. But Billy embraces the chance to reconnect with his ex-wife.
Their forced renunion after 14 years is challenging, to say the least.
As a rule Billy didn’t believe in fate, but having her come back into his life when it was at its very darkest, that seemed important. Like something he shouldn’t ignore. Something he didn’t want to ignore.
I'm not going to sugar-coat it, these characters will be hit or miss for readers. However, I immensely enjoyed the challenging personalities in Crazy Thing Called Loved. Both are difficult personalities because they have carefully cultivated public identities which absorb them.
That grin, macabre and strange, pulled and twisted by the pink knot of his scar. She knew there were millions of people in the world who believed the scar made him ugly. In her eyes, however, it was one of the most beautiful things about him. Maybe because she knew how he’d gotten it. She looked at that scar and remembered him leaning out the window, telling her everything was going to be fine.
Billy is known for his aggression on the ice--that's what he's let people see. But as we get to know him, he's a lot more complicated an vulnerable than he lets people see.
Billy swore to himself. He was going to have to mingle and shit. In his excitement to see Maddy, he’d managed to forget that small detail.
Billy's character walks a very fine line, and some people may not buy that Billy's anger isn't a dangerous sort of anger, that it was one which festered because of sorrow and hurt. Some readers will probably interpret Billy as volatile and possibly violent, and I understand that perspective. However, my reading of his character is that he's never dangerous to anyone other than himself and he doesn't actually want to be the embodiment of the on-ice character he's constructed--he just doesn't know any other way to be.
As with Can't Buy Me Love, the perspective of the athlete character was handled really well (and you know how picky I am about that). Like Luc in that earlier Crooked Creek Ranch book, Billy has defined himself as only a hockey player for such a long time that seeing beyond that is really, really hard and it messes with his self-identity. It's sad and authentic. Because of the nature of his profession the role he plays on his team, some people will be put off by him and that's really unfortunate, because I really enjoyed his story arc and his figuring out for himself that he was allowed to expect and want more and as a result give more of himself to Maddy.
But again, he showed this surprising understanding—this heartbreaking empathy—and stepped back, granting her some distance.
Madelyn is actually a tougher nut because we don't know a whole lot about what went wrong in their marriage, aside from that she really lost herself (which is a common affliction, especially among young people who marry to escape their circumstances) and wanted more than simply being an athlete's wife.
Maddy was right, she was a different person than the girl she’d been. More exciting. More interesting. More realized. Like all the promise in that young girl had not only been fulfilled, but surpassed.
Her public image as the perfect newscaster is in some ways less sympathetic, but I really felt terribly for her because she was so closed off from other people in a way that wasn't healthy. It saddens me that I've read a number of reviews of this book calling Maddy "a bitch." I don't think she's a "bitch" at all. She's very sympathetic, but not in the way that traditionally elicits sympathy for female characters in romance novels. Maddy's focused on her career and not much else and she doesn't apologize for it. Though, she does haveta weird, all-white apartment which she probably should apologize for.
I really respect that Maddy is never a victim. Despite that she's had a tough road, she's strong and focused. She's made herself into a success against the odds of her upbringing and has built up walls around herself.
Somehow, she’d figured out how to curb all that. The ice queen at the top of the table didn’t look like she ever screamed, and she certainly didn’t look like she’d faced off against Kevin Dockrill in the cafeteria of Schelany High School or destroyed every single CD in Billy’s extensive Bruce Springsteen collection. No, in fact, the woman sitting there looked kind of stupid. And like she barely gave a shit. She was pretty, sure—but she cultivated a certain emptiness. A cool distance. For a stark and stomach-spinning moment, she seemed like a stranger.
We learn about Billy and Maddy's teen years together through a series of flashbacks, which explains so much about their history and why their relationship couldn't work the first time around. Billy, in particular, has a reason for all his anger and bitterness and Maddy was the only good thing in his life before hockey.
About halfway into Crazy Thing Called Love, an important secondary character is introduced & she makes this book. The thing is, this character is a 13 year old girl (Becky) and I usually shy away from stories with kids (I know, I'm awful, but they usually don't add a lot to the plot) but she and her little brother are realistic and believable and heart-breaking. Because of these characters, Billy and Maddy are forced to look outside themselves, and it's the jolt they both needed.
“Don’t. Oh God, Becky.” He stood there, helpless, and watched her pick herself up, get back on her feet. His entire body ached to touch her, to pick her up and carry her out of danger. But she wasn’t going to let him. No one took care of Becky. Tears ached behind his eyes.
I would be thrilled to read an entire novel about Becky, to be quite honest. Unlike kids in so many romance-centered novels, she's complicated and leaps out of the page. Interestingly, I guessed that the introduction of the children into the plot would take that characters--especially Maddy--in a predictable direction. However, I couldn't have been more wrong.
That's what distinguishes the Crooked Creek Ranch series--it subverts readers' expectations.
Take the makeover story, for example. It's been done approximately one zillion times. But in Crazy Thing Called Love, it's the guy who's rough and uncouth and is ultimately transformed.
“Holy crap, are they supposed to fit like this?” he asked, doing up the button and zipper. The boots he slipped into were brown and worn but so soft they felt like butter. “Do I look ridiculous?” Sabine’s eyes were round in her face, her mouth open. “Oh God,” he muttered. “This is a huge mistake—” “No. No, Billy.” She stopped him from taking off the vest. “You look incredible! Honestly … incredible.” Oh. He felt himself blushing and he ran a hand down the vest. It did feel nice, the fabric. And the pants. He turned to glance in a mirror beside the rack of clothes. His package looked awesome!
Even though much of the makeover plot-line adds (very needed) humor, it's refreshing to see the ugly duckling transformed as a male character and, frankly, it works better in that context. It's funnier and actually more sensitive than it is when it's a female character, probably because men's appearance is a less loaded and judgment-laden subject than that of women.
Similarly, the plot which introduces Becky and her little brother to Billy and Madelyn's story surprised me. I was initially annoyed because I assumed that their insertion into the plot would result in a particular outcome, and outcome I didn't think felt right for the characters, especially Maddy. However, I was totally and completely wrong about the direction of that storyline.
In the world of Crazy Thing Called Love and the other Crooked Creek Ranch novels, characters are allowed to find themselves--and each other--and those concepts aren't mutually exclusive like they are far too often in romance fiction.
No one suddenly decides that everything they wanted out of life is moot simply because they've found love; no one decides that they don't need that career they worked for hard for because they met a hot dude; It's a refreshing, modern perspective and makes this book and series stand out and push envelope of genre conventions.
I need you, he thought, fighting the instinct to grab her, to cling to her. I need you to do this with me. I can’t do it alone, and don’t want to think of doing it without you. But he knew that was her great fear. That she’d get sucked into his life and lose herself in the process. If she was going to help him, she needed to be there by choice.
I know Molly is a huge Friday Night Lights fan (yes, it all really does come back to FNL, folks) and the way relationships are explored in the Crooked Creek Ranch series really reminds me of the arc of many of the romantic relationships in that television show. Tim and Tyra*, Matt and Julie, Coach and Tami, they all have to figure out how to make their love work without the other without allowing that love to suffocate their individuality. That nuance is one of the biggest reasons I recommend Crazy Thing Called Love--and the rest of this series--so very highly.
Kind of surprised that this ended up being my favorite of the books in this series, since the setup isn't one I usually like. But this was pretty awesome and it kind of choked me up about three quarters of the way in.
I'll post a longer review on CEFS around the release date, but here are some initial thoughts on this one:
- I think these characters will be hit or miss for people. Both are odd because they have carefully cultivated public identities that have absorbed them. Billy is a hockey enforcer and known for his aggression. But as we get to know him, he's a lot more complicated an vulnerable than he lets people see. I think because of the nature of his profession the role he plays on his team, some people will be put off by him and that's really unfortunate, because I really enjoyed his story arc and his figuring out for himself that he was allowed to expect/want more. Madelyn is actually a tougher nut because we don't know a whole lot about what went wrong in their marriage, aside from that she really lost herself (which is a common affliction, especially among young people who marry to escape their circumstances). Her public image as the perfect newscaster is in some ways less sympathetic, but I really felt terribly for her because she was so closed off from other people in a way that wasn't healthy.
- I usually shy away from stories with kids (I know, I'm awful, but they usually don't add a lot to the plot) but the two children in this book (they are NOT the children of either main character, but are important to the story) are realistic and believable and kind of heart-breaking.
- Y'all know how I feel about epilogues (they make me stabby), but I didn't hate this one--it kind of made sense and wasn't picture perfect, but showed progress.
- I really appreciated the role-reversal of the makeover trope.
- Scorpio Races shout-out, FTW!
- Like in the first book in this series, Can't Buy Me Love, I thought the perspective of the athlete character was handled really well (and you know how picky I am about that). Like Luc in that book, Billy has defined himself as only a hockey player for such a long time that seeing beyond that is really, really hard and it messes with his self-identity. It's sad and authentic.
- I could read an entire book about Becky, the 13 year old in this book. When she comes into the story I was legitimately stressed out, even though I knew that this book guaranteed a happy ending. ...more
“We're broken. It's like we have all these jagged edges that scare other people off, but when we're with each other, our jagged edges fit together and we're almost whole.”
On paper, Sarra Manning's Unsticky has all the trappings of a novel I should hate: a wealthy man; a desperate, naive young women and an outlandish scenario throwing the two together.
And yet, it came highly recommended by Angie, whose taste is excellent and is very similar to my own. (also excellent) taste. And where other books with similar plots enrage me, Unsticky enthralled me. I lost sleep and fought through weary eyes to get through this captivating 550-page novel.
Grace is a recent almost-grad (there was an incident at her senior show that prevented her from actually graduating from college) who partied too hard, hooked up with too many losers, is drowning in debt and working in a dead end job at a fashion assistant at a magazine where she seems destined to never get her shot. Grace is not particularly likable, and she's certainly not an easy character. She makes bad decisions and doesn't own up to her self-created problems. Being drunk really brought out her inner vicious bitch. At one of her lowest moments, Grace meets Vaughn, an older--extremely wealthy art dealer--who has an intriguing, and disturbing proposition for her: in exchange for thousands per month, she'll be at his beck and call, host his parties, and be his arm candy whenever she's needed. Desperate for cash and in need of something--anything--different in her life, Grace signs a six-month agreement and she's quickly drawn into Vaughn's world of privilege and society.
Actually, Unsticky isn't what you think.
Quickly, a line blurs, and Vaughn and Grace's agreement gets complicated. They're both difficult, not-particularly-likable people, and yet there's something between them that works. They have a prickly sort of friendship that works. They also have chemistry, despite that even their sexual relationship is "just business." Sort of.
And that's where Grace's interesting internal conflict emerges. What is she? Employee? Friend? Prostitute? Because there's no doubt about it, she sold herself for money and clothes, but there's something real between she and Vaughn, though neither of them really understands that because they're both such emotional disasters. In a lot of ways, the dynamic between these two characters reminded me of Victoria and Eli from Molly O'Keefe's Can't Hurry Love. Like Victoria and Eli, Grace and Vaughn are using each other, and intellectually speaking, that's a disturbing, dysfunctional dynamic.
This thing with Vaughn wasn't built to last, but while it did, Grace felt as if it was giving her the potential to change; to be the Grace she wanted to be or at least, more like the Grace she wanted to be. It wasn't just the outside stuff, the spa-ing and the pretty clothes and the posh weekend breaks. It was being with a man like Vaughn who'd obviously seen something in her that she still couldn't see in herself. If she took her cues from Vaughn, let him guide her, got used to being in his world, then it would all rub off on her. She'd have that glossy patina that the posh girls, the successful girls, the sophisticated girls had that was nothing to do with how shiny their hair was but came from walking in a world which was always good to them.
Grace finds herself believing in this new version of herself, seeing that she's more than a mess of a career and a pile of debt. And Vaughn, despite his surly and difficult personality, seems to believe in Grace too.
Despite this, life gets very, very complicated for Grace.
The arrangement with Vaughn has extreme requirements. She has miss friends' (if you can call them that--Grace isn't so great at forging relationships) events and Christmas with the grandparents who raised her, all to be at Vaughn's beck and call. At one point, she becomes so ill with flu she can't get out of bed and yet she still has to "perform" at yet another one of Vaughn's meetings.
Grace stared at him for as long as it took until he turned away from the snowy vista and met her eyes. "I fucking hate you," she enunciated slowly and clearly. Vaughn shrugged and his lips quirked maybe a half of a millimetre upwards. "I know," he said, sounding not the least bit surprised.
The bulk of Unsticky involves the question of what direction Grace will go in her life. Will she figure out how to stand up for herself--at work, with Vaughn? Will she figure out how to support herself or is she destined to be some guy's arm candy?
These questions are what differentiated Unsticky for me, compared to the million other iterations of this storyline.
Unsticky is really about broken, messed up people figuring out a way to make life work for them, as individuals first. I honestly didn't care what the outcome of Grace and Vaughn's arrangement would ultimately be. Rather, as the story developed, I rooted for them as individuals. I hoped that Grace would figure out that she could be more; I hoped that Vaughn would realize that he is more than his money. If they could help one another do that, all the better.
"We're a good team, though neither of us is particularly house-trained, are we?" She knew exactly what he meant. Despite their differences, because of their differences, they were a perfect mismatched set. Two sides of the same tarnished penny. An out-of-step Fred and Ginger. Vaugn was just as fucked up as she was--he was just so much better at hiding it.
It's hard to share much else about Unsticky without ruining Unsticky, which I highly recommend--particularly for readers looking for a meaty read with characters that challenge the notion of "likability" in favor of complex character development and emotional authenticity. With Unsticky, Manning has crafted a story that, well... sticks.*
FNL Character Rating: Tyra Collette
Note: While Sarra Manning's adult novels are only published in the U.K. (her YA fiction is published here), she recently self-published both Unsticky and You Don't Have to Say You Love Me for Kindle--complete with all the British-isms preserved.
*I know, I know... puns.
Initial reaction: This was really really good. I'll definitely be glomming other Sarra Manning books asap....more
Love is real and real love lasts. I used to feel sorry for people who didn't believe in it--the people who were lonely with someone else or lonely alone. For awhile I was was one of the lucky ones.
C.K. Kelly Martin, who's written several marvelous young adult novels, couldn't find a traditional publisher for her first book for adults, Come See About Me.
According to Martin, no one knew how to market a novel with a 20 year old protagonist. Come See About Me certainly isn't a teen novel, it's mature and addresses themes that are not seen in the YA category. And since "Adult" fiction typically features older narrators, not a recent college dropout, it couldn't be marketed as "Adult." Essentially, a marketing problem* prevented this novel from hitting bookstore shelves.
This is absolutely perplexing to me.
Luckily for us, Martin couldn't keep to herself the story of Leah, a young woman who's life has wholly stalled following the death of her boyfriend, Bastien, who was killed while crossing the street in Toronto. She flakes on her job, fails out of school, hides from her friends and family--she can't move forward because of the loss. She wants to be alone with her memories and sadness over what should have been, over their lost future together.
Alone is what's easier. Everyone else would prefer that I pretend my life hasn't been hollowed out. They believe their expectations should carry some weight with me. Only Bastien truly carries any weight and people try to use that fact against me too and tell me what he would want for me. Some of the things they say about that might be right, but since he's not here he doesn't get to decide how I should handle his absence.
The early chapters, in which Leah recounts her relationship with Bastien, were incredibly difficult for me to read. The two went to high school in British Columbia together, though they weren't even friends--acquaintances is a better description--and connected later, when they both went to college in Toronto. Their love was the forever sort, not the college dating temporary sort.
I found myself absolutely gutted by Leah's devastation at losing Bastien. While I'm an admitted book crier (oddly, I rarely cry in movies and TV shows, with the exception of Friday Night Lights reruns), I became choked up and teary at nearly every paragraph in the first chapters of Come See About Me. This is a testament to the realism and craft of Martin's writing. I met my husband when I was Leah's age, and her reflections on the early days of their relationship very relatable on a personal level. I felt an increasingly sick feeling for Leah during those first chapters detailing her life post-Bastien, thinking of how unimaginably unbearable a situation like hers would be, particularly with everyone's expectations being that she "move on," because she is so young and has her whole future in front of her. This is wholly, understandably, inconceivable to Leah.
On the verge of losing her apartment, which she shared with Bastien and doesn't want to give up because of the memories alive in that space, Leah is rescued by Bastien's aunt who gives her a feel place to live in Oakville, a Toronto suburb with a village-like quality.
Initially, Leah maintains her same routine: hiding from the world, paralyzed by the loss of Bastien. However, a dental emergency necessitates her finding a part-time job and a repeated chance encounters with Liam, an Irish actor from a Fair City-style television show, who's hiding from his own life that disintegrated in a very public manner back home in Dublin, slowly draws Leah out of her reclusion.
Lest I've given the impression that Come See About Me is about moving on, finding a new love or anything like that, it's absolutely not.
Rather, Come See About Me is about Leah finding a new way to be, of finding hope and a new way forward, different from the future she'd imagined prior to her boyfriend's death. Her relationship with Bastien was special, so when she starts a casual sexual relationship with Liam (not a spoiler--this is in the blurb on Martin's website), Leah feels like she's cheating on Bastien. Not his memory, but him.
Leah and Liam's relationship is extremely close, and yet, they both keep their distance too. Neither is ready for a "real" relationship, and yet what happens between them feels very real to Leah. They both need intimacy after isolating themselves so intensely, but it's hard for them too. It could seem lurid or trashy that there's significant amount of page time devoted to the pair's hookups, but it's not at all. It's actually oddly sweet. (And, um... steamy. Not in a gratuitious way, though. In her Goodreads review, Kelly from Stacked used the word "sexy" to describe Come See About Me and I think that's a very apt way of saying it--which is also very unexpected for a novel dealing with this subject.)
Interspersed are moments between Leah and Liam of real emotional connection and longing--longing for more.
When you’re part of a couple, or at least part of the kind of couple Bastien and I were, someone does things for you all the time and you do things for them. There’s always someone there to pick up the slack for you or for you to talk difficult matters over with. I miss Bastien as a person, all the amazing things he was, but now I realize that I miss the idea of being part of a couple too.
I loved the arc of Leah's character. It's hard to say much without spoilage, but I found her path and resolution to be very realistic and believable, but also very satisfying--it was worth becoming emotionally invested in her story, as hard as it was at some points. I find this characterizes of all of C.K. Kelly Martin's novels (or at least all of them I've read--I have an ARC of Yesterday, but haven't gotten to it yet.)
But, I also felt for Liam as well, and wanted him to be okay. Come See About Me is Leah's story, and it's told from her first person point-of-view. However, Liam is simultaneously charming and maddening, because he's not in an emotional place much better than where Leah is--I wanted him to be able to do more for her, but he couldn't and that wouldn't have been realistic, nor would Come See About Me have been as good of novel at it is if he had. And yet his humor and (very Irish**) dialogue at moments prevents Come See About Me from spiralling into a depressing read.
A couple of minutes later Liam’s standing back in front of me, setting down a package each of Bourbon cream cookies and Barry’s tea for me to ring up. I put Offred’s story down and approach the counter. “Is it better than the tea we have over here?” I ask, holding up the package of Barry’s.
Liam flashes me a comical what do you think? look. “I don’t want to mess with any of your national delusions, Leah, but I’m Irish, we take our tea very seriously. And these”—he scoops the cookies into his hand—“are the very best biscuits to go with the tea. The perfect combination while you’re reading the newspaper or sitting in front of the telly.”
Also, Liam is dead sexy,*** if that's the sort of thing that matters to you. Ahem.
The secondary characters also made Come See About Me memorable and satisfying.
Try not to pass out from the shock, but there are actual, diverse characters in this novel. And they're not just present to be The Diverse Characters, but instead they all make sense in the context of the story and are a realistic reflection of modern society. I know, right? More of this please.
When I love, love a book, I become a psychotic book pusher, trying to get everyone to read said book. Come See About Me is definitely one that brought on Book Psychosis Syndrome. I really, really enjoy C.K. Kelly Martin's YA novels. Her writing is very special, it's real and raw and authentic, but her skill with telling a story that makes you feel all the things right along with the narrator is so, so, so much more pronounced with the freedom that comes along with writing for an adult audience. While I know the self-publishing route is a tough one, I hope that Come See About Me has some success so that we'll maybe see more adult fiction from Martin--it's just that wonderful.
Come See About Me is the sort of contemporary adult fiction I'm always wanting to read, but what doesn't seem to exist in the marketplace.
That absence is what drives me to YA when I want a contemporary read. It's an adult novel that deals with emotions and growth and connection--not with divorce, money problems, infertility, parenting or what it means to be human. There's zero pretention in Martin's writing, instead, it's simply real, with raw emotion and a thread of hope shining through in a story that lingers.
FNL Character Rating: Matt Saracen in the heart-achingly beautiful and difficult "The Son" episode.
Note: You can read a couple of sample chapters from Come See About Me on C.K. Kelly Martin's website. It's available right now in ebook form and paperbacks should appear on Amazon any day, according to the author's blog. While it's disappointing that this special book isn't going to be popping up on store shelves, I'm thankful that digital publishing has allowed Martin's first adult novel to get into the hands of readers, despite the publishing world's lack of creativity about how to sell this book.
*As someone who's worked in marketing departments in the past, I feel confident in saying that marketing really shouldn't drive business decisions. Not that there aren't creative, brilliant people working in marketing, but marketing departments are often led by very risk-averse people, in my experience. But, hey... that's the way of the world.
**I lived in Ireland and received my graduate degree from an Irish university. So, I loved the subtle details or Liam's speech patterns. It made me long for that very specific sort of humor that characterizes that country.
***Also: In all the time I spent in Ireland, I saw very few Liam's running around. They're rare outside novel pages--sorry, ladies.
Initial reaction after reading:
Love, love, love, love.
Reaction after finding out CK Kelly Martin wrote an adult novel:
So fabulous! The Day Before is still my favorite Lisa Schroeder but this one is really wonderful. I have a completely irrational/wholly justifiable feSo fabulous! The Day Before is still my favorite Lisa Schroeder but this one is really wonderful. I have a completely irrational/wholly justifiable fear of getting trapped in a car while lost on an Oregon back road, so this book kind of freaked me out.
And look at me: My mother gave me a punk-rock name, but my spirit is composed of elevator music: Tra-la-la-la./Don’t mind me./I’m a nice girl./I have good manners./I’ll not bother you./Tra-la-LA!
Mary O'Connell's The Sharp Time is a unique, quiet novel that sneaked up on me.
I credit Trish Doller with my discovery of The Sharp Time, as she posted about it on her (fabulous, must-follow) Tumblr, and since I adored Trish's book (my review will be published closer to the book's release date), I figured that The Sharp Time was worth the read based on her recommendation.
The Sharp Time begins shortly after ADD-afflicted 18-year-old Sandinista Jones--her free spirit mother named her after the Clash album--has left school following a bizarre conflict with a teacher. Sandinista's mother has recently died in a fluke accident and the incident at school was the last straw. She's lonely and angry and lost, wrestling with violent urges.
My feelings are that a granite toad tossed through a window is a lame-ass gesture that barely constitutes revenge. My feelings are that Jesus himself would not be all turn-the-other-cheek–esque about Catherine Bennett, that he’d kick it like: Whatsoever you do to the least of my brothers, that you do unto me, so don’t be so lame and let Alecia Hardaway s-u-u-ffer.… I cannot shake this off. But what else is there to do except drive home with these bad feelings and attend to the business of the day?
She says "so long" to school and gets a job (after a truly bizarre interview) at The Pale Circus, a vintage clothing store run by the eccentric Henry Charbonneau. While working at The Pale Circus, Sandinista becomes friends with Bradley, the other employee of the shop who has secrets of his own, and makes connections with the other neighborhood characters, including a pawn shop owner, erotic candy maker and a monk.
These characters combine to create a lively story of a week in the life of a character on the edge. This is illustrated brilliantly when Sandinista visits her local gun range (yep, the gun range).
“Hello! I’m Shirley, the range master. Tell me what I can help you with. And by the way, you’re so pretty. Your hair is darling! Aren’t you a doll?” She turns and stage-whispers to the receptionist, “What a living doll!”
I smile, suckered by her compliments. “Thanks. I just wanted to learn a little bit about self-defense. I just thought I would be proactive. There are a lot of burglaries in my neighborhood.”
“This is the place! Did you bring your own firearm or do you want to rent one?”
I answer her question with my own: “I’ll rent one? I guess?”
“We’ll get it done,” Shirley says. And God bless America, I can rent a handgun simply by filling out another form and plunking down my Visa card.
This urban setting absolutely dazzles with its realism. I'm always on the lookout for fiction set in urban environments, so this was an unexpected treat. While looking through the notes in my Kindle, I found on several occasions that I'd make a notation along the lines of, "This setting seems so real!"
And, frankly, that's kind of unexpected, because on its face The Sharp Time's setting seems like it could any city, yet The Pale Circus' neighborhood is lively and distinct, without ever reading as artificially "Quirky!" and "Funky!"
Beyond the setting, each scene is beautifully crafted, jumping off the page with a cinematic* feel.
As I’m lighting a cigarette I hear rap music, loud as sirens, flooding the street, and then a Volvo wagon parks in front of Erika’s Erotic Confections. Two white college-age guys get out of the car, trailed by the sounds of Common and Kanye West: I got two kids and my baby mama late, uh-oh, uh-oh, uh-oh. They go into Erika’s Erotic Confections, the car engine still running, the song still pumping—I did what I had to did cuz I had the kid, uh-oh, uh-oh, uh-oh.
Each passage in this slim novel reads beautifully, yet is also purposeful.
Bright floodlights switch on, trapping us in a rhombus of golden light. Bradley looks handsome and electric and we freeze like startled, experimental lovers: Uh, what exactly are we doing?
While The Sharp Time is published by the children's imprint of Random House, I am not entirely sure that the people who will enjoy this novel the most are the YAs. More likely, I see this appealing to Gen-Xers (due to a number of eighties references) who appreciate smart, surprising contemporary fiction with literary leanings. The fact that it has a narrator who is a teen means that it could be a gateway into reading YA for folks who are turned off by the "teen fiction" label. That's not to say that some teens wouldn't enjoy The Sharp Time, but it's definitely got a more mature vibe,
I crank up the Clash all the way home, my adrenaline harnessed in perfect pitch. My gun is on the passenger seat and I am Sandinista Jones, motherfuckers, all the way home.
At its core, this is a novel about friendship and its transformative power. It's rare to find this theme trackled in fresh ways, making The Sharp Time a different little novel that's best savored for the beauty of the words.
FNL Character Rating: Early Tyra Colette, before she had Tami Taylor as a mentor. I really hope Sandinista finds her Tami and writes an amazing college essay.
*Speaking of "cinematic," Mary O'Connell is a big Friday Night Lights Fan and told me on Twitter that she even mentally cast Kyle Chandler as Henry Carbonneau. This is further evidence supporting my argument that authors who love FNL write the most awesome books. :)
4.5ish stars (I'm a rounder upper not a rounder downed.)...more
Emma Cameron's Cinnamon Rain embodies the Trifecta of Awesome in my reading heart: a contemporary older YA, Novel in Verse, from Australia.
Fortunately, after a long (very, very long) wait for my order of this book from Fishpond, the Trifecta of Awesome didn't disappoint--Cinnamon Rain is one of my stand out reads of the year.
Cinnamon Rain interweaves the stories of three friends: Luke, Casey and Bongo (yes, Bongo--his real name is David). They live in a rural town in Australia, each hoping to escape their lives. Luke plays cricket, hangs out at the beach and pines away for Casey. Casey's dream is to escape their town and everyone she knows, while Bongo drinks to avoid his abusive stepfather and the memories of his little brother taken away by social services.
The whole group seems lifted by one small success.
Each character narrates a third of Cinnamon Rain (this seems like a more common narrative style in Australia than in the U.S. or U.K., am I right?), painting a rich picture of three lives in transition. We follow them separately out of their hometown in their first steps into adulthood.
But somewhere in the mix, I realise that she's not just running away. Her life has focus. I've got nothing.
What's most remarkable to me about Cinnamon Rain--aside from the writing, which I'll get to in a minute--is that the characters are in Year 10 (the Aussie equivalent of sophomore year), but it read as very universal. The characters could have been far older and the story of Luke, Casey and Bongo would have rang just as true. As someone who grew up in a small community in Oregon, I instantly connected with Luke, Casey and Bongo's experiences, and I think anyone who's every wondered, "What else is out there?" will instantly see a bit of their own experiences in the story of these three Australian friends.
It sure is blind, or at the very least, stark, raving mad.
Cinnamon Rain doesn't tie anything neatly up with a bow as is often the case young adult literature.
[This is where it gets hard to talk about the book without being spoilery.] I had very much hoped for a certain outcome, and that outcome wasn't what happened. However, therein lies the beauty of Cinnamon Rain's story--it made me root for something to occur, but when that didn't happen, I felt satisfied nonetheless with the realistic resolution. And really, the conclusion of the novel stays true to the theme of new beginnings.
Frankly, if I had to say anything critical, my only issue with Cinnamon Rain is that I didn't really understand why the two male narrators were so enamoroured with Casey. I loved the section of the novel from her point of view, and I kept thinking that I wanted to hit Luke and Casey over the head with a cricket bat (are they called bats in cricket?) for not understanding that she needed to get out of town and just live. But, that's also Cinnamon Rain's strength--the trio's relationship is such a small town reality (think Tim/Jason/Lyla in Friday Night Lights).
I think, if Casey lived in another time or place she'd be like a fountain-- bubbles reaching everyone around her. Instead, she's as still as a leaf-littered pond, dark water evaporating, waiting desperately for rain.
Cameron's debut (and, gosh, it sure doesn't read like a debut--this is one sophisticated novel) is written in free verse, which I love. I know there are folks out there who cannot stand free verse, and I completely understand why it may seem like just a bunch of disjointed sentences strung together. However, free verse is so much more.
Like all successful free verse novels, Cinnamon rain is rich with metaphor and intriguing literary devices.
It's about (as Laura referenced) the "space between the words" as much as the words that are present. There's a continuity between each verse that works brilliantly (I leave it for you to discover). With this type of free verse, you'll find yourself savouring the words, the descriptions and the rhythm of the story. Don't expect bloated poetic writing, however. The writing in Cinnamon Rain is quite sparse, which is an engrossing contrast, as it is also very visual and emotive.
I walk the city, through its crush of people and its smells: body odour, rotting food, vomit and urine. A cocktail of oppression and freedom. I walk further and further, sometimes left, sometimes right. And I am lost.
Sadly, Cinnamon Rain is only published in Australia.
That means that if you want to read this marvelous novel in verse and you're not in Oz, your only option is to order from Fishpond. I know that Maggie has had great luck with them, but it's not been a great experience for me--I think it took over six weeks for this book to ship and I was constantly bombarded with mysterious emails about how it would be sourced and dispatched soon and my bank flagged their transaction as non-PCI Compliant and potentially fraudulent.
Anyway, despite all that, Cinnamon Rain was wholly worth the wait and annoyance as it is a remarkable little book and one of my favorite 2012 debuts.
Edit: we posted a joint review on Clear Eyes, Full Shelves.. Basically, we all loved this book, and cannot wait for the next book. One of my favoritesEdit: we posted a joint review on Clear Eyes, Full Shelves.. Basically, we all loved this book, and cannot wait for the next book. One of my favorites of 2012. (Sorry for the obnoxiousness of having a click through to read the review, but I don't know another approach to cross-posting joint reviews to Goodreads, since not all the content is mine to post on my account.)
Initial thoughts: This is pretty excellent. I always have a hard tine putting my finger on what it is about Maggie's books that work for me, but this one really, really did. I'll post a real review in Sept. ...more
I ordered Love & Leftovers soon after I finished Audition because I'd really enjoyed that novel in verse and I'd remembered that April h4.5 stars
I ordered Love & Leftovers soon after I finished Audition because I'd really enjoyed that novel in verse and I'd remembered that April had really enjoyed this one as well. The verse in Love and Leftovers is actually far more enjoyable than in Audition, as it plays with form to build tension throughout the novel. If you're nerdily interested in that sort of thing, L&L is worth reading for that aspect alone.
What I was really surprised by was how compelling and "edgy" (ugh, I hate that word) this one is. The marketing for L&L made me assume it was a "cute/sweet" read (I've got no problem with that at all), but it actually dealt with a lot of issues in a realistic manner, particularly teens and intimacy in many of its forms.
Marcie is dragged on a permanent vacation from her hometown of Boise to New Hampshire by her mother. Once summer is over, their vacation doesn't end, and her mother enrolls Marcie in school in New England, where she's incredibly lonely. Despite that she has a boyfriend, Marcie begins a sort of relationship with J.D. The fluid nature of young adult relationships was handled extremely well, and while I am often uncomfortable with themes of cheating (and frankly, I have a hard time categorizing this as cheating) in novels for any age, the very real consequences (positive and negative) of this plot-line were extremely well-done.
When Marcie returns to Idaho, she's reunited with her group of friends, The Leftovers, and boy did I love the scenes involving all of them. It reminded both of when I was that age and my friend pool was very similar and was relatable for me now as a supposed grown-up who still has a motley mix of friends. The results of what happened while Marcie was marooned in New Hampshire come to a head in interesting and believable ways and there are some moments in which I was absolutely cringing in a way I do whenever I watch Freaks & Geeks ("It's too real! Make it stop!").
I have a few thoughts that are of a spoilery nature, so click through at your own risk:(view spoiler)[
There's a theme throughout this novel of the results of being the person from which intimacy (emotional or physical) is witheld. I don't think I've seen this in a YA book, at least in such an overt manner, and boy is it something that's overdue. Marcie, her father and her sometimes boyfriend Linus all at some point suffer from the results of being emotionally or physically, for lack of a better word, abandoned--and, wow, they all dealt with it in realistically intense ways.
I normally have an issue with YA novels in particular where teen boy characters are judgy regarding female characters' sexuality. In L&L, Linus freaks out because he assumes that Marcie had sex with J.D. back in New Hampshire. Later on, he discovers that he assumed wrongly. However, this is not the catalyst for mending the pair's relationship; there's none of that, "Oh, since you're still this perfect virginal girl, we can get back together." nonsense. Instead, the tables are turned, and the Leftover he starts dating does the same to him, remaining emotionally and physically distant. That is what causes him to realize that what he did to Marcie prior to her leaving for New Hampshire was just as bad as what she did to him by starting a sort of relationship with J.D.
Finally, while we have a "happy for now" resolution for this book, I didn't get the feeling that there was an overblown "happily ever after" assumed in L&L. As someone who is married to a wonderful guy I met when I was 17, I get pretty offended when I read reviews saying that teen love isn't real love, but at the same time, I always get the icks when a contemporary YA implies that the young couple will be happy forever. Hurray to Sarah Tregay for walking that line beautifully, ala Sarah Dessen. (hide spoiler)]
- I had a hard time with J.D. as a character, because I kept thinking he was J.D. McCoy, and he was totally not a J.D. McCoy. If anything, he was kind of a male Lyla. - Hallelujah to the rare YA novel that embraces teen girl sexuality in a positive way. Seriously. I'm sure for this reason, some folks will have a problem with L&L. - I wish I could ask the book designer if the use of Lobster font for the poem titles was a shout out to New England. - If someone had told me you could use the word "boner" in a poem, I probably would've enjoyed poetry more as a teenager. - This poem stuck out to me as articulating something that a love of women of all ages wrestle with:
If my mom says women are not property
how come I want to belong to someone?
-My favorite line (aside from the boner poem, obviously):
That's how we spent the day
drizzling sarcasm over the truth dropping bad jokes like f-bombs
I highly recommend this one for folks who love realistic, contemporary YA and for people who're interested in checking out novels in free verse. This one is super-approachable and beautifully executed. I usually buy books in digital form, but I did buy the hardback of this one and it's full of post-it notes with favorite lines marked out. Sarah Tregay will definitely go onto my auto-buy list.
Love! Must remember to actually review.["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>...more
Definitely not a book for everyone, but I loved it. Siobhan Vivian explores some of the most interesting concepts in her books. I'm glad I gave this aDefinitely not a book for everyone, but I loved it. Siobhan Vivian explores some of the most interesting concepts in her books. I'm glad I gave this a shot despite that I know it didn't work for a lot of folks.
But what has been done can’t be undone. My best friend is dead and I’m never going to be the same Travis Stephenson.
Trish Doller's remarkable debut, Something Like Normal, is one of those rare books that I recommend to nearly everyone. It's an important, timely novel--one that's lingered with me in the months since I read it.
Well before SLN was published (it's out on June 19), I found myself on seemingly every social media site insisting the everyone--absolutely everyone--read this novel about 19 year-old Marine Travis Stephenson, who's home on leave in Florida following a tour-of-duty in Afghanistan where his best friend, Charlie, dies before his eyes. Suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder (a fact kept hidden from the Marines, as that would torpedo his military career), Travis finds himself feeling like and outsider in his own home and hometown.
As we head toward the beach I notice the differences in the landscape of the city. New businesses that weren’t there last year. Old businesses that are gone. It’s like a whole chunk of time has just … disappeared. The songs on the radio are different. The faces on the celebrity tabloids at the airport newsstand were people I didn’t recognize. There’s even a new American fucking Idol.
The Romance Early in SLN, Travis reconnects with a girl from his past, Harper, but Something Like Normal isn't another story of "girl saves troubled boy." This is a story of Travis saving himself and allowing people in his life to care about him, to help him. It's a story of Travis finding his path, and finding his own version of normal in the wake of a devastating loss. And it's ultimately a story of forgiveness and redemption.
Travis' and Harper's relationship is the backdrop for much of the story (though I have to reiterate that SLN is not about The Romance). It's beautifully crafted and feels very real.
Our eyes meet for a moment and I look for something. Anything. But then her gaze falls to her flip-flops with a shyness that kills me in the best possible way.
Also, Harper takes Travis turtle watching, which is just about the most romantic thing in life. (Seriously.)
The romance develops between the two in a believable, realistic way. Something Like Normal is categorized as young adult, but it most definitely doesn't contain any of the weird, unrealistic YA relationship development that's become so common (i.e., platonic sleeping WTFery, shivery kisses that never progress, artificial conflicts over ridiculous Big Misunderstandings). Harper and Travis' relationship grows and hits bumps in a heady, difficult way that actually makes sense for the place the two--both as individuals and as a couple--are at in life. In a word, it's refreshing.
The Comraderie One of the most striking elements in Something Like Normal is the tight friendships between Travis and his friends in the Marines--so much so that he's almost at a loss when that type of closeness doesn't exist within his own family.
Even so, shouldn’t it feel good to be with them again? Why do I feel closer to a group of guys I’ve known less than a year than I do my own family?
Their tight-knittedness is remarkable in that they're all so different, but they're (to state the obvious) bound together by the shared experience of their deployment, all isolated in a way from their previous "normal." For me, this was where much of the magic of Something Like Normal lies--in the familiar banter, the almost-mean teasing, the pranks, the bets,
"Solo, man, that was so not fair," Kevlar protests.
I snap the bill between my fingers. "I'd say it almost makes us even."
Moss laughs and fist-bumps me, and I feel the most normal I've felt since the day we got back from Afghanistan--except when I'm alone with Harper. These are my brothers. This is my family.
The Realism There were moments in which Something Like Normal make me a bit uncomfortable, quite frankly. Travis is a 19 year-old Marine and being in his headspace was a challenge at times. This isn't a criticism, it's actually a compliment. There's a moment early on in with Travis is thinking about his experiences in Afghanistan (Laura pointed this out to me and I ended up going back and re-reading that section) and Travis' narrow view on the country and people of Afghanistan is pretty jarring. But, at the same time, it felt real. If Travis had been super-enlightened and had incredibly nuanced thoughts on the subject, it would have read strangely.
The raw realism of Travis' thoughts are tough to read and the same goes for the language in the dialog between the Marines--both were often way out of my comfort zone.
But, I wouldn't want it Something Like Normal written any other way.
It's true. We say the most offensive stuff to each other.
Racist. Homophobic. Insulting each other's mom. Sometimes, every once in awhile, it leads to knock-down-roll-around-on-the-ground fistfights, but mostly we laugh because we don't mean it. Any one of us would take a bullet for the other.
One of my favorite aspects of the raw realism is SLN is the way in which Travis' PTSD is integrated into the story. I know that sounds strange, but it's important, because at no point does SLN devolve into an "issue book," yet at the Travis' PTSD is always there, bubbling under the surface, threatening his tenuous grasp on "normal." For example, while Travis is turtle-watching with Harper [swoon], his brain flips bank to Afghanistan, unable to stop himself from worrying about bombs hidden on the Florida beach,
Harper moves past me and I fight the urge to grab her arm and stop her, momentarily forgetting there are no bombs buried here. In Afghanistan, they could be anywhere. One time we were sweeping a road because we knew there was a bomb on it, but even with a metal detector we couldn't find it. We gave up, got in the truck, drove a little farther down the road, and hit the bomb we'd been looking for. None of us were hurt--just a little tossed around--but it messed up the truck. Even after my brain gets the memo that we are not going to blow up on Bonita Beach, I can't stop my eyes from scanning the sand for explosives.
"Is this a problem?" she asks.
For a moment I have to remember what we were talking about, but then I look up at her, the sea breeze lifting the stray hair around her face. "Nope, not a problem at all."
Even in this quiet moment, his experiences in the war creep into his psyche. Later, during that same night on the beach with Harper, Travis experiences an even more intense flashback when he hears a stick crack. It's these moments that made real for me what it must be like to be back home, back to normal, for men and women who've experienced war.
[Note: I deleted and added the following part of my review multiple times, because I always feel skeevy talking about myself in a book review. But, I believe that our reactions to what we read are deeply rooted in our own experiences, and I don't mine sharing my own, so in it stays.]
Something Like Normal thrust me back to my own experience, in which for years following 9/11 (I was living in Washington, DC during the terrorist attacks), when I'd hear low-flying airplanes (and even worse, military aircraft like what buzzed over the city for days after 9/11), my hands would start shaking and I'd panic. I'd then have to consciously work to force that panic out of my head, with varying degrees of success. It was the most awful feeling (and, honestly, sometimes still--because I live near an airport--it sneaks up on me when I hear low-flying aircraft).
Even with my relatively mild experience with post-traumatic stress, I feel confident in saying that Doller captured that "flipped switch" feeling masterfully in Something Like Normal. And, frankly, my own experience with panic is nothing--nothing--like what it must be like for people who've experienced war, seen friends--the people they're trying to protect--violently killed and been required to do things they'd never fathomed they'd have to do.
That's why I think that Something Like Normal is so special.
It brings home to anyone who takes the time to read it, and experience Travis' "new normal," something we'll never experience and does so in a relatable, compelling way. Travis isn't some remarkable guy (as much as I liked him)--instead, he's a guy we all know. He's someone who's easy to identify with, even if his experiences are far removed from our own. Travis joins the Marines because he doesn't really know what to do with his life and he discovers that it's a job that works for him--even though it's a really, really hard job.
I can think of many, many Travises I grew up with. Some joined the military, some went to community college, some got jobs. Travis could be my neighbor or yours. And yet, where I live (Portland, Oregon, which is very different from the small-town Oregon I'm from), guys like Travis who choose the military as their path are often dismissed, stereotyped and derided with sanctimonious bumper stickers.*
I'd love to put Something Like Normal in the hands of the adults in communities such as the one in which I live so they could understand that the guys (and girls) they lump together as "The Military" are people just like their friends and neighbors. I know this sounds dramatic and overwrought, but SLN really hit me with the uncomfortable feeling that in places like Portland it is common to dehumanize the real Travises with our language, attitude and assumptions.
[Stepping off my high horse now and returning to our regularly-scheduled programming.]
The other element that struck me in Something Like Normal is the sensitive transformation of Travis and his mother's relationship.
There's not a lot I can say about what transpires, because to do so would be tremendously spoilerific, but they begin to see one another as individuals, not just in the parent-kid context. Despite my voracious reading of contemporary YA, I don't see this a whole lot and I'd love to see more YA authors explore this theme.
I don’t know what to say to this. My mom is seeing a therapist? I run my hand over my head. “Hey, um, Mom, I’ve gotta go because we’re having breakfast with Charlie’s mom, but I wanted to tell you—” I don’t remember the last time I said the words. “I, um—” The line is silent for a moment as my mom waits for the words, but then she finishes it for me. “I love you, too, Travis.”
If I had to point to one thing that bothered me about SLN, it's that I didn't need the epilogue-like final chapter. By the penultimate chapter, I'd decided for myself what I though was going to happen in Travis' life, and what direction he was headed. It was nice to see that my assumptions were indeed correct, but my time with Travis could have just as easily ended without revisiting Travis. However, it also brings closure to the Travis-Charlie plot, so it serves an important purpose. So, my feelings remain mixed on that final piece of Travis' story. Regardless, that minor point in no way diminishes my enthusiastic declaration that Trish Doller's Something Like Normal is a "must-read" of 2012.
FNL Character Rating: Vince Howard. Vince's relationship with his team reminded me so much of Travis' relationship with his Marine buddies; Travis' redemptive storyline is very much akin to Vince's; and Travis' relationship with tough and smart Harper reminded me very much of Vince's challenging, and ultimately transformative, relationship with Jess. The easier choice would have been Luke Cafferty (given that Luke eventually opts for a military career), and Travis does share some of Luke's "Every Guy" qualities, but in terms of character arc, Travis and Vince are kindred spirits.
Something Like Normal releases on June 19, 2012 and is available for preorder now--and I highly recommend you do so.
*For real, y'all... the bumper stickers in this town. You have no idea.
A word (well, a lot of words) on the cover design.
I really believe that Bloomsbury did a massive disservice to to this marvelous book by going in the direction it did with this cover. By choosing the typical YA almost-make out cover, it limits SLN's audience. Teen boys would probably love the hell out of this book, but it looks like a teen romance--and you'd not guess in a bookstore that the narrator is a 19 year-old Marine. It also conveys the impression that the romance is a huge part of the story, and while it's very important, it isn't the story. This is Travis' story of loss and redemption.
Why not create a cover akin to the new U.S. edition of The Piper's Son?
This cover (while not as awesome as the Australian version) has universal appeal, not limiting its audience like the SLN cover does. It's on-trend in terms of YA, but it also conveys that there's a male narrator and wouldn't be a turn-off to adult readers either.
SLN's cover really, really bothers me, y'all. Like, probably more than it should a rational person--but I think that points to how much I care about this book. Please don't let SLN's completely wrong cover keep you from reading this book. It's one of my favorites in a long, long time.
Disclosure: I received a copy of SLN from the publisher via NetGalley. Additionally, the author is a friend of a friend (which I was unaware of at the time I read this book). Neither of these facts impacted my my honest review of this book. ...more
Arg, Goodreads--way to eat my review that I just spent more time than I should have writing...
So, I'll try to reconstruct my thoughts more briefly. (Arg, Goodreads--way to eat my review that I just spent more time than I should have writing...
So, I'll try to reconstruct my thoughts more briefly. (My original review was awesome, though, haha.)
I have a feeling that Bittersweet will be one of those books that people read in very different ways. Some will read it as a "cute" book with a cupcake theme, some with grasp onto the sports themes or the small town story, while others will see it more as a divorce novel. It certainly took me by surprise--I loved Sarah Ockler's other books, but since most of the early reviews I'd read of this one had focused on the cupcake/bakery theme, I was expecting something less emotional--Bittersweet has a lot of depth and it really surprised me.
The following is a quick rundown of my lovefest for this book:
-It's quietly a sports novel--and handles the sports stuff so much better than most of the YA novels I've read that are marketed as sports stories. -It encapsulates the feeling of growing up in a small town in which people feel stuck so very well. By the time kids in those towns (and I grew up in one just like Watonka, minus the snow) reach Hudson's age, there's a division between those that are leaving and those that are staying, and it's largely unspoken. This was brilliantly depicted in Bittersweet. For example:
For as long as I live in this crazy, lake-effect, chicken-wing-capital-of-the-world town, that old train howling up at the moon will always be the sound of someone leaving, the promise of another place."
-The secondary characters were fabulous. This is one of those things that makes Sarah Ockler stand out. In this novel, Dani (best friend), Will and Josh (two boys on the hockey team), Bug (little brother) and Hudson's mom all feel so real. None of them are caricatures and all have depth. -The season and place are captured so well. I've never been to upstate New York, but the exurbs of Buffalo and the miserable winter came alive for me. -The humor. So much wonderful, wry humor. Love it. For example:
W.W.H.D (What Would Hester Do)? I wonder. Then I totally laugh at myself, because Hester didn’t have it so hot, either, what with all the public scorn and sneaking around. Not to mention the fact that I’m seeking advice from a four-hundred-year-old fictional character about high school boys—never a good sign.
Attention, ladies and gentlemen, this is not a test. I repeat, this is not a test. This is a bona fide, break-the-glass cupcake emergency.
-Finally: There is a Friday Night Lights reference in this book!!!!!
I've loved all of Sarah Ockler's novels. Twenty Boy Summer made me cry and will likely be considered a YA classic at some point. Fixing Delilah warmed my heart. But Bittersweet impacted me on a personal level the most. I buy mostly ebooks, because I live in a very small house with limited space for bookshelves, but upon finishing Bittersweet, I immediately ordered myself a hard cover as well.
(Book #4 read in 2012.)
Actual review to come. Needless to say, I loved it. So much of it reminded me of the place (and people with whom) I grew up....more
I don't even know where to start with this one. But in a weird way, this reminded me of Tomorrow, When the War Began. TiNaT is a really, really toughI don't even know where to start with this one. But in a weird way, this reminded me of Tomorrow, When the War Began. TiNaT is a really, really tough read that has stuck with me since I finished reading it.
Sloane’s life is hard, really hard. Her world fell apart six months ago when her sister left home, leaving her alone with their abusive, controlling father. She doesn’t want to go on and is planning her suicide. Sloane’s world is simply that bleak. It has one of the most intense and disturbing opening chapters I can recall, the sudden arrival of a zombie hoard thwarts her plans, and she, along with five other teenagers, find themselves thrown together, struggling to survive, when they take refuge in their high school.
The problem is—aside from the zombie horde banging THUD, THUD, THUD on the school’s doors and windows—Sloan doesn’t want to survive. Nothing has changed for her. She’s still alone, she still has no reason to keep going—even less reason, really. The thing is, Sloane finds herself surviving, despite her intentions otherwise. The events that unfold are absolutely gripping, and beautifully ambiguous in Summers' trademark style. This is definitely one of my favorite reads of the year.
I wrote a longer review that I had every intention of posting here too, but every time I do any copy-paste, everything goes all wonky and I'm getting really annoyed... *sigh* So, I'm going to be annoying and just post a link to my long review (sorry). Here it is on Clear Eyes, Full Shelves....more
Another one of my favorites that I read in grad school (I was skewered for reading a book with the title "Map of Love" in a women's studies MA programAnother one of my favorites that I read in grad school (I was skewered for reading a book with the title "Map of Love" in a women's studies MA program, haha). I was livid (LIVID) that it only shortlisted for the Booker prize instead of winning the whole thing. At the time, I was convinced it was because it had a love story at the core of the novel, and I tend to agree with my 20-something self today....more