I feel like I've been waffling on whether or not to read this book for years now even though it's only been a few...moreOriginally reviewed here @ Angieville
I feel like I've been waffling on whether or not to read this book for years now even though it's only been a few months. The thing is, I really enjoyed the first half of Rainbow Rowell's Attachments. I really, really did. And then I was summarily disappointed with the second half. I don't know if it was me or the fact that I read it immediately after giving birth and that just rarely ever works out for me or what. But the direct result was that I stayed away from Eleanor Park, despite it's adorable cover and quirky premise. And I was apparently still shell-shocked enough that I was going to just go ahead and pass on FANGIRL if it wasn't for Janice's enthusiastic review some weeks back. I thought I was just sort of waltzing around lacking the Rowell gene, when in fact I simply hadn't found my gateway book. So, Janice. Can I send you a book bouquet or a fruit basket or some such gift of gratitude? Because I'm kind of having a hard time imagining my reading year without this book. This hilarious, complicated book that induced all the feelings in the general vicinity of my heart.
Cath doesn't do social situations. Outside of her twin sister Wren and her dad, few people have been able to penetrate the force field of solitude with which she surrounds herself. Even her high school boyfriend Abel was really just a placeholder, a nice idea of a boyfriend. But there has always been Simon. And Baz. Ever since they were kids, Cath and Wren have teamed up to write Simon Snow fan fiction. And when the more vivacious Wren's social life took flight, Cath soldiered on alone. Dedicated to the fictional world of Simon Snow, her followers grew to number in the tens of thousands and sating their voracious appetites became a full-time job. Which is why college seems to be getting in the way so much. Having to make small talk with her roommate Reagan and Reagan's kinda sorta ex Levi sends Cath into paroxysms of exhaustion. Not to mention her demanding class schedule and not knowing where the cafeteria is and worrying about leaving her dad all alone at home to fend off loneliness. Cath is a basket case. Fortunately, her roommate can read the writing on the wall and stages an intervention. And thus begins Cath's tentative exploration of life off the page. But when Wren's life threatens to run off the rails and their long-estranged mother re-enters their lives, Cath's only refuge remains with Simon and his sometime nemesis, sometime partner Baz.
I fell on page one. It was laughable how fast I fell. And I'm not even a little bit hesitant to admit it, because I laughed and giggled and gasped my way through this absolutely delightful book. And not just your run-of-the-mill out loud laughing either, but the silent smiles that slowly grow until they take over your whole face and you have to stop and just let the moment happen and savor it before continuing on. Those moments occurred basically any time Cath was thinking, speaking, writing, or sitting in the same room with Levi. Honestly, the boy deserves a moment of silence all his own. I don't remember the last time I grew so fond of a nice guy so fast. In fact, here are a couple of my favorite Levi moments:
She didn't look over at Levi again until they were standing together in front of the elevator. (Condition: smiling, stable). When it opened, he put his hand on her back and she practically jumped in.
"What's the plan?" she asked.
He grinned. "My plan is to do things that make you want to hang out with me again tomorrow. What's your plan?"
"I'm going to try not to make an ass of myself."
He grinned. "So we're all set."
And now a somewhat spoilery exchange (because I literally cannot help myself with these two and trust me, there were way more spoilery bits I somehow managed to resist):
"I just want to know—are you rooting for me? Are you hoping I pull this off?"
Cath's eyes settled on his, tentatively, like they'd fly away if he moved.
She nodded her head.
The right side of his mouth pulled up.
"I'm rooting for you," she whispered. She wasn't even sure he could hear her from the bed.
Levi's smile broke free and devoured his whole face.
I will never tire of Levi's smiles. But as smitten as I was, the focal center of the book remained Cath for me. And I'm so glad Ms. Rowell kept the whole thing so tightly focused on Cath's struggles, both with the world inside her head as well as with the world around her. Initially, I was wary of the actual Simon Snow excerpts (to say nothing of Cath's fan fiction sections). But Rowell surprised me with her deft interweaving of Cath's own life and the life she breathed into Simon and Baz and the whole Watford School gang. To be perfectly frank, she surprised (and wowed) me with the level of nuance on the grand scale. And before long, Cath's dorm room felt like home to me, felt disturbingly like my own dorm freshman year, papered with clippings and memorabilia declaring who I had been, threaded through with anxiety and hope for who I would become. I knew who Cath was. I could see her with perfect clarity. Last of all, one of the most visceral moments in the book, in which Cath confronts the woman who gave birth to her and abandoned her ten years later.
"You don't just leave somebody alone in a hospital," Cath said. It came out aflame.
"Wren's not alone," Laura said sternly. "She has you."
Cath jerked to her feet and swayed there. Not Wren, she thought. I didn't mean Wren.
Laura wrenched her handbag straps higher. "Cather—"
"You can't leave like this—"
"It's the right thing to do," Laura said, lowering her voice.
"In what alternate universe?" Cath felt the rage burst up her throat like a cork popping. "What sort of a mother leaves the hospital without seeing her kid? What sort of a mother leaves? Wren is unconscious—and if you think that has nothing to do with you, you are skimming the surface of reality—and I'm right here, and you haven't even seen me for ten years, and now you're leaving? Now?"
"Don't make this about me," Laura hissed. "You obviously don't want me here."
"I'm making it about me," Cath said. "It's not my job to want you or not want you. It's not my job to earn you."
"Cather"—Laura's mouth and fists were tight—"I've reached out to you. I've tried."
"You're my mother," Cath said. Her fists were even tighter. "Try harder."
And that is how it's done. That is how you secure my everlasting loyalty for a character. She's so strong in that scene. Her fists are tighter. And I love her so much for saying what she needed to, for getting it out. I loved every word of FANGIRL. As my friend Laura says, some books move in. I had a bed all made up for this one faster than Levi can crack a smile.(less)
Nothing draws me to a book like a passel of reviews that are all over the board. I literally cannot help myself....moreOriginally reviewed here @ Angieville
Nothing draws me to a book like a passel of reviews that are all over the board. I literally cannot help myself. Where will I fall on the spectrum? Will my feelings be ferocious or will they dwindle away after leaving the pages and characters behind? The questions, the questions. So it was that I came to download a copy of THE COINCIDENCE OF CALLIE & KAYDEN by Jessica Sorensen awhile back. Pretty kissing in the rain cover aside (I might be a bit of a sucker for those), I had previously stayed away because of the said all over the board-ness. Originally self-published new adult contemporaries are turning into quite the beast of late. Some readers are immediately turned off. Others have enjoyed enough of them to keep their engines running, so to speak. I tend to go on a case by case basis. I've been burned before, but I've also been taken by delightful surprise. This was happily a case of the latter. For those interested, Grand Central picked this one up and will be publishing it in paperback next month (it is already available in ebook), at which time the ebook of the sequel will be released with a paperback edition to follow early next year.
Callie quite simply cannot wait to escape to college. For the last six years, she's avoided contact with pretty much everyone outside of her immediate family. Her older brother is already off at college, coming home occasionally to relive the glory days. And now Callie is just days away from her own sort of freedom in the form of her freshman year at the University of Wyoming, hours away from her unhappy home. Then, just a few months before she's scheduled to leave, she finds herself witness to a scene of violence at her neighbor Kayden Owens' home. Without thinking, Callie rushes in to stop it and, in doing so, forms an unwitting bond between herself and Kayden--a boy she hasn't spoken to since they were in elementary school. Four months later, their paths cross again at school in Laramie. Kayden is there on a football scholarship, while Callie is blissfully flying under-the-radar and crossing one item a week off her list of things to do that scare her. When Kayden literally runs into her, it jogs his memory and he becomes determined to thank the lonely girl who saved him from further beating that night. But, of course, there's a reason Callie fell off the face of the earth all those years ago. And it will take more than gratitude and a growing attraction to overcome the demons lurking in both of their closets.
A word of warning: Trigger issues abound and the whole thing ratchets up to one massive cliffhanger. But I loved it nonetheless. To each her own, of course.
It's a moment I'll remember forever, because it belongs to me.
To be perfectly honest, THE COINCIDENCE OF CALLIE & KAYDEN was everything I was hoping The Sea of Tranquility would be and wasn't. There is plenty of pain and bleak pasts and uncertain futures within its pages, but the pain and bleakness and uncertainty are justified by a fundamental belief in hope and healing that underscores the characters' struggles to survive. There is also a very sweet affection that crops up between them, and not just between the two principals but among their tiny cohort of real friends as well. It's that affection that buoyed me through the story when I found myself confused and afraid along with Callie and Kayden. The writing is simple and unpretentious, the subject matter a sort of dark fluff, if you will. The chapters alternate point of view between the two, each chapter beginning with a numbered item from Callie's list. I appreciated the believably slow way in which she scaled her mountain. And while the romance is most definitely simmering along the entire time, it is never so overwhelming as to force the underlying issues aside. Equal time is spent on both of them, and I appreciated that equality. This is not a story where anyone rides in on a white horse. Instead it is more realistically a story of two individuals meeting and being stretched outside of their own troubles for the sake of the other. I think my overall response was so positive because I never felt like the writing was trying too hard. In other similar books, I have felt so buffeted about by the overwhelmingly present effort that went into it that I was left unable to connect with the characters or lose myself in the story. But Jessica Sorensen isn't trying to sell you something in the guise of something else. She's merely recounting a simple, sad story about two people moving somewhere in the direction of hope, a story I found myself perfectly content to fall for. But I really do need that sequel. Soon. (less)
Suffering from a severe lack of emotional engagement here. Fun setup. Formulaic execution. In fact, I'm inspired to inaugurate a brand new shelf: Empt...moreSuffering from a severe lack of emotional engagement here. Fun setup. Formulaic execution. In fact, I'm inspired to inaugurate a brand new shelf: Empty Chairs at Empty Tables - for those books with, as my friend Diana says, blank characters in blank stories. Come on, NA. You can be better than this.(less)
I will admit, I liked the cover of Allison Parr's debut novel RUSH ME right off the bat when I first saw it float...moreOriginally reviewed here @ Angieville
I will admit, I liked the cover of Allison Parr's debut novel RUSH ME right off the bat when I first saw it floating around the blogosphere. I could tell it was going to be marketed new adult as soon as I saw it, and that's probably a marketing win right there. But the reason I liked it was because everything I knew about the book seemed to come together in the cover. The bold stripes of color and the font work really well for this sports romance. I particularly liked the colors set across the black and white photo, and that the couple was sort of naturally or ordinarily presented (and attired). It was both a relief and an eye-catcher, if you will. I still waffled back and forth a bit on picking it up until I read Li's review over at Me and My Books. In it, she compared it to another new adult title she'd read and found this one to be decidedly preferred. Li has excellent taste, in case you were wondering. And so that (and the extremely attractive price) was all it took to push me over the edge from waffling to buying.
Rachael can't seem to gain any traction. She took the unpaid internship with a small-ish publishing house in the hopes that it would open doors to a career in the industry. But it seems she's just biding her time, blowing through her savings, not getting anywhere. The same could be said for her love live, or lack thereof. These days the only kind of social life she engages in is when her roommate Eva drags her out with her gaggle of fellow theater friends. Which is how Rachael finds herself one night in the wrong apartment at the wrong party. Surrounded by a host of men too brawny and women too clingy to be Eva's crowd, she realizes she's crashed some sort of sports-related party or other. Infinitely outside her comfort zone, she attempts to beat a path out of there. Unfortunately, said path is barred by a couple of bruisers who assume she's just another in a long line of groupies. The situation devolves from there. Utterly disgusted, she walks out without her scarf. And it's a nice enough scarf that she's forced to return to retrieve it. And wouldn't you know in the cold light of day, some of those big, bad football players don't look all that big and bad. They invite her in. They're interested in what she has to say. All but Ryan Carter. The star quarterback is convinced she's there for one reason and one reason only. He wants her gone in no uncertain terms. But by the time he makes his opinion known, the team has already sort of adopted her. And perhaps most surprising of all, Rachael finds herself . . . wanting to stay.
I love a good prickly protagonist. Or two. Together, Rachael and Ryan are definitely the kind of stiff, stubborn immovable forces I love. Plenty of push and pull (and swoon) for your buck. I'm not sure exactly what I was expecting going into RUSH ME, but what I got was more substantial and enjoyable from the word go. These characters possessed fully developed lives and, happily, all the different aspects of those lives made appearances on the page. The palpable presence of family, education, co-workers, teammates, and religion helped me construct a vision of people I could love, who could love each other, despite their very normal, very real fears and the miles of vastly different experiences separating them. I've never lived in Manhattan, but I've visited several times over the years, and I thoroughly enjoyed living inside Rachael's Manhattan for the duration of this book. Her observations and insights about the people and places around her held my attention. While she may have struggled discerning the motivations of some key players in her life, her point of view felt continually real to me. Here, a favorite passage that immediately landed me right at her side:
The room's centerpiece, a seven-tiered fountain, obscured the flock. Bubbly champagne frothed downward as waiters reached out to catch the golden ambrosia. They circulated through the room with their balanced platters, passing by women in long gowns and men in black jackets. Murmured voices were underlain by the slightest whisper of classical music. Precious stones winked in earrings and cuff links, and guests appraised each other from behind their champagne flutes. A young woman in a red dress tossed a flirtatious glance at a young man on an older lady's arm, while two men huddled together in the shadows, trading secrets over empty glasses. People touched and parted, a dance of consequence, as everyone tried to break into circles higher than their own.
It was a pleasure accompanying her through that dance of consequence, especially as she got to know Ryan and the team and was able to see her city and its people in an entirely new way. It was another pleasure absorbing the wry humor of this story. A quick exchange between Rachael and her roommate:
"Ryan Carter wants to have dinner with me on Friday. And like a dozen other people. But still." I collapsed onto the sofa and kicked off my shoes.
Eva frowned. "But aren't you in a fight?"
"Yes. I don't know. Is this a really bad idea? Apparently he suggested it."
Eva's grin broadened and her dark eyes twinkled. She peeled off the rubber dish gloves and dropped down next to me on the sagging cushions. "I think it's a great idea."
"But what if he's a Wickham?"
She shrugged. "Maybe you're a Lydia."
I shuddered. "Don't say such things." Lydia might have caught Wickham in the end, but she was still vain and flippant and unlikeable. "I want to be Elizabeth."
Eva gave me a look.
"Fine." My head dropped against the back of the couch. "I'm a Jane. I'm a Jane, okay?" The staid older sister.
"There's nothing wrong with being a Jane."
"That's what the Elizabeths always say," I muttered darkly.
What can I say? I appreciate a quietly tossed in Pride and Prejudice moment. In fact, I appreciated everything about this sweet, surprisingly grounded story of opposites attracting against a backdrop of professional football and the big city.(less)
I was warned about reading this book. And I did go back and forth for awhile before deciding it wasn't for me. Or I wasn't fo...moreOriginally reviewed here.
I was warned about reading this book. And I did go back and forth for awhile before deciding it wasn't for me. Or I wasn't for it. That I wasn't that intrigued. Or that I didn't want to hate myself in the morning. Take your pick. You're familiar with the hype/trainwreck induced cycle of warring self-doubt and insatiable curiosity, yes? Then you understand. And I honestly didn't give it a second thought after making that decision. Then I read and loved Easy. And I immediately started running across comparisons, mentions of similarities. Plus, several of these new-ish, self-published new adult authors have been all over the place lately, and, well, all that curiosity washed over me full force once more. So I decided I wanted to decide for myself. I think I went in expecting one big hot mess from start to finish, albeit a hot mess I couldn't look away from and would be compelled to see through to its inevitable overwrought ending. You see? I had been warned. But BEAUTIFUL DISASTER still managed to surprise me. In both good and bad ways.
Abby is cardigans and pearls. She's straitlaced and together and interested in finding a dependable, going places boyfriend. Except she's totally not. Abby is dedicated to getting good grades and keeping all her ducks in a row. She's not at all interested in attending one her university's underground fight clubs just to see what it's like. Except she totally is. And that's how she meets the infamous Travis Maddox. His name alone inspires men to sit up straighter and glance over their shoulders. His rakish reputation precedes him, and it seems women fall at his feet as a matter of course. But when these two seeming opposites meet at one of Travis' fights, sparks fly as it were. And a friendship is born in lieu of a romance, as Abby is determined not to become another one of the hapless females Travis leaves in his wake, and for his part, Travis seems unable to look away from a girl who seems to like him well enough but clearly doesn't want him. While their respective friends are somewhat skeptical, somewhat intrigued by their burgeoning friendship, it's what they're hiding from each other--the combustibility of it all--that might cause this fragile new thing to go up in flames before they can figure out just what it is they're dealing with.
I loved the first half. Loved it, I say. Right from this first encounter:
When I finally reached the front, Marek grabbed Travis with his thick arms and attempted to throw him to the ground. When Marek leaned down with the motion, Travis rammed his knee into Marek's face. Before Marek could shake off the blow, Travis lit into him; his fists making contact with Marek's bloodied face over and over.
Five fingers sank into my arm and I jerked back.
"What the hell are you doing, Abby?" Shepley said.
"I can't see from back there!" I called to him.
I turned just in time to see Marek land a solid punch. Travis turned, and for a moment I thought he had dodged another blow, but he made a complete circle, crashing his elbow straight into the center of Marek's nose. Blood sprayed my face, and splattered down the front of my cardigan. Marek fell to the concrete floor with a thud, and for a brief moment the room was completely silent.
Adam threw a scarlet square of fabric on Marek's limp body, and the mob detonated. Cash changed hands once again, and the expressions divided into the smug and the frustrated.
I was pushed around with the movement of those coming and going. America called my name from somewhere in the back, but I was mesmerized by the trail of red from my chest to my waist.
A pair of heavy black boots stepped in front of me, diverting my attention to the floor. My eyes traveled upward; jeans spattered with blood, a set of finely-chiseled abs, a bare, tattooed chest drenched in sweat, and finally a pair of warm, brown eyes. I was shoved from behind, and Travis caught me by the arm before I fell forward.
"Hey! Back up off her!" Travis frowned, shoving anyone who came near me. His stern expression melted into a smile at the sight of my shirt, and then he dabbed my face with a towel. "Sorry about that, Pigeon."
Adam patted the back of Travis' head. "C'mon, Mad Dog! You have some dough waitin' on ya!"
His eyes didn't stray from mine. "It's a damn shame about the sweater. It looks good on you." In the next moment he was engulfed by fans, disappearing the way he came.
They were just too much fun. In fact, my favorite thing about Abby and Travis was their friendship. The motorcycle rides, the dancing, the doing homework together, the laughing. I mean, it was always headed for a conflagration relationship-wise, but the friendship was honestly just so much fun while it lasted. So for the first half of the book, this book and I were BFFs. The problem came at right about the halfway mark, at which point things got monumentally sketchy. The romantic tension was pretty high throughout. The good kind of high. So I was strangely underwhelmed (when the romance actually started going places) at how uninvolved Abby seemed to be when it came right down to it. The character depiction led me to believe Travis was utterly invested, but Abby never seemed to be on the same page. She said she was. But I never felt it. Which resulted in the whole thing feeling very one-sided just at the moment when it should be expanding and growing. It through me right out of the narrative, this empty gap in the arc of their relationship. I bought that he loved her, in as unhealthy a fashion as he did. But Abby's lack of response confused and disappointed me. And it really did feel like a flaw in characterization. Then right on the heels of this blip, the whole book goes right out to lunch. And it never recovers. The plot, the characters, the writing spin away into the void. All that fun, careful development (much more restrained than I was expecting) of the beginning disappeared in what felt like the space of a page.
So I didn't hate myself in the morning. On the contrary, I actually mourned the characters in the morning. How's that for unexpected? The Travis and Abby of the first half were hard to let go. They were so full of life and danger and laughter and jagged edges that I loved them. I went through my day wanting to be around them. Unfortunately, they up and left on me. And the characters who took their place left me utterly cold. The what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas, frothing at the mouth frantic, we suddenly haven't learned a thing from the past 200 pages shenanigans that littered the second half had me dropping my nook in my lap in bewildered exhaustion. To be led to care so much for half the book and then to wind up caring so little it didn't even register on the scale was quite the feat and an ignominious one at that. I don't regret my time with them. I just regret their premature loss. It was always a bit of freak show, but it could have pulled it out in the end instead of crashing and burning so spectacularly. Turns out violence and angst and absolute dysfunction for violence and angst and absolute dysfunction's sake just doesn't do it for me. And the thing is, the characters of the first half deserved better. I suppose I can't complain too much. After all, I was warned. So long Travis & Abby. You rocked. And then you really, really didn't.(less)
Are you getting a certain vibe from the covers of the books I'm reading lately? Yeah, me too. Though it's purely by chance, I...moreOriginally reviewed here.
Are you getting a certain vibe from the covers of the books I'm reading lately? Yeah, me too. Though it's purely by chance, I think it's worth noting that after I read the books themselves, I often feel their covers are somewhat of a mismatch. Not that I don't like them. In fact, I quite like the cover for SOMETHING LIKE NORMAL. It's part of what made me investigate the book further. But I do think they lead you to believe there's going to be more . . . shenanigans . . . going on inside than there really are. Make of that what you will. This is Trish Doller's debut novel, and I had to smile when I looked up her GoodReads profile and she had listed her influences as Kirsty Eagar, Cath Crowley, and Melina Marchetta. Point to you, Ms. Doller. Way to reel in us Aussie YA-obsessed fangirls with just a few well-chosen strokes on your keyboard. But the thing that really drove me to read it was that it is part of the growing New Adult genre. Protagonist Travis is just back from Afghanistan when the story begins, and he can therefore in no way, shape, or form be considered an inexperienced teen. Though he is still very much a young adult. It is exactly this time period that I'm so enjoying reading about these days. So I tracked down an ARC with a few well-chosen strokes on my keyboard and settled in.
Travis would rather be anywhere but home. Even back in Afghanistan. It's just that facing his dysfunctional family in all its glory and all his old friends from high school just after coming off a tour in the war seems ludicrous at best. It doesn't help that his best friend and fellow soldier Charlie was killed in front him. But home he is. Travis is willing to put on a good face for his mother's sake if nothing else. But being constantly faced with his mother's anxiety, his father's disapproval, his ex-girlfriend's defection to his brother's arms, and . . . oh, a nice healthy dose of PTSD, it's well nigh impossible to get through the day, let alone figure out what he's going to do with the rest of his life. Then a chance encounter with a girl he used to know introduces something approximating normal into his life again. The problem is Travis wasn't all that nice to Harper way back when. He realizes that. What he doesn't realize is just how profoundly his lack of care impacted her life. And what kind of a grudge she's been carrying around ever since. Not to worry, though. Her fist to his face quickly puts these things into perspective for our young vet. As for Harper, running into Travis after all this time is like a slap in the face. All those feelings and doubts she thought she'd done away with come rushing back to haunt her. Even though he's clearly done some growing up in the intervening years, she's just not sure it's enough to warrant putting her heart in his uncertain hands.
My absolute favorite thing about this book is that it's written from a male point of view. I thought Travis himself was impressively drawn, and his reactions felt consistently genuine, even if they occasionally bothered me. And they did. I really liked him, but he drove me batty from time to time with a few of his less-than-stellar choices in regards to his personal life, or, more accurately, his avoidance of said choices. Otherwise, I felt for him deeply. His struggles with his family and his complicated relationship with his mother were the high points of the novel. I like that the focus remained on that and on his experiences in the war, that these key issues took precedence over other secondary matters. As a result, I felt firmly centered in Travis' head by the time a few of the usual suspects rolled around. So much so that when faced with the sheer awesomeness that is Harper, I felt myself reaching out along with Travis. Like she was a drink of cool water in the desert. The relationship development is pretty restrained, which is just as it should be given the fact that Harper is one smart cookie and Travis is all sorts of damaged. When we meet him, he's pretty evenly straddling the emotional maturity line between hormonal teenager and sadder-but-wiser young man. Together they fumble their way toward a sort of middle ground. After the aforementioned avoidance tactics. I loved the arc of Travis' story, his flashbacks to Afghanistan, his tenuous overtures to his mother and to Harper, and especially his interaction with his fellow Marines. Both the ones who made it home and the one who didn't. The ending left me with mixed feelings. While I definitely would not have changed a thing about the place Ms. Doller left her characters in, I (cue refrain) felt that what had been a thoughtful and controlled narrative simply . . . ended. The impact was lessened a bit for me, and I would have welcomed another 40 or 50 more pages. It could be argued that I simply have issues letting go. I merely felt that the sheer distance Travis had traveled merited an extended close. Because I enjoyed my time with him. I harbor hopes for him. And for Harper. SOMETHING LIKE NORMAL went down smooth in a single night.(less)
I bought the ebook version of FLAT-OUT LOVE when I saw what a good deal it was right now. I'd seen it read, reviewed, and lov...moreOriginally reviewed here.
I bought the ebook version of FLAT-OUT LOVE when I saw what a good deal it was right now. I'd seen it read, reviewed, and loved here and there for several months now, but for some reason nothing pushed me over the edge into trying it out myself. I know. Then when I found myself in between books and casting about for the next great thing, I remembered I had it on my nook and pulled it out to see how we got on. The answer is: famously! This is one of those books you kick yourself for not picking up sooner and then attempt to make reparations by singing its praises in the hopes that others will be quicker and savvier than you. I also just ordered the paperback, because I can tell that a digital copy is not going to be enough. This is one I'll want to have on my shelves for lending and rereading and the like. Plus, it's pretty, that cover. I mean, it kind of fills me with a maelstrom of emotions after the fact. But pretty it is. This is my first book by Jessica Park and I'm eager to find out what she's working on next and what we have to look forward to.
Julie is a bit down on her luck already and it's only her first day in Boston. She's come all the way out east to go to college, leaving her mother and the Midwest behind. But it turns out using Craigslist to secure an apartment wasn't the brightest idea. Fortunately, after one harried phone call with her mother and one minor meltdown in front of the burrito shop that was supposed to be her apartment, Julie is saved when the son of her mother's old college roommate shows up. Her mother's old roommate Kate and her family live in town and offer to let Julie stay with them until she finds an actual apartment where she will not be mugged or killed. Putting aside the fact that she really didn't even know Kate existed, and that she's just about as different from her mother as it's possible to be, Julie settles in to life with the eccentric Watkins family. And eccentric doesn't even really touch the surface when it comes to these people. Kind and generous, they are also incredibly . . . different. What with professor parents Erin and Roger never being around at all, MIT student Matt's over-the-top nerd shirts and doubtful social skills, and 13-year-old Celeste carting around a life-size cardboard cutout of her big brother Finn, whom she has dubbed Flat Finn. Between searching for a place to live, trying not to make a nuisance of herself, and navigating the obviously treacherous waters going on in this family, Julie has her work cut out for her. Doesn't help that she appears to be developing a crush on one far-flung member of the family along the way . . .
What is it about me and books set in Boston? It may come from having devoured a large quantity of Ellen Emerson White books as a young adult, but hand me a book about a girl and Boston and I am one happy clam. The hilarious thing is, I've never even been there! I dream about parts of this city I feel like I know like the back of my hand, I've read about them so many times. But I have yet to see them with my own eyes. One of these days . . . So, rather unsurprisingly, I fell in love with Boston and the Watkins family right along with Julie. Quite frankly, it's impossible not to. They are wonderfully obtuse and endearing. The banter between Julie and Matt has a hilariously natural flow to it, as she ribs him for being hopelessly uninterested in Things Not Math, and he responds in kind teasing her for being too preoccupied with pop culture and caffeinated drinks and other lower aspects of life. Honestly, it is such a good time following the way Julie organically becomes a part of the family. She takes a special interest in Celeste, determined to get to the bottom of why she felt the need to create Flat Finn and what she's afraid will happen if she doesn't have him by her side (talking to him) every minute of every day. Finn himself is off traveling the world and his communications with Julie via Facebook had me grinning ferociously. As it happens, this book engaged every one of my emotions. The romance is of the heart-palpitating variety, somehow managing to be sweet, genuine, and seriously intense all at the same time. And even as I laughed out loud at one of Finn's many digital witticisms or one of Celeste's oddball contraction-free responses, fear crept up on me reading from behind. Fear of what Julie would find and that her finding it would shatter the fragile peace Matty, Celeste, Erin, Roger, and Finn had constructed. I wiped tears away more than once, and my love for every single one of the characters only grew and never diminished. FLAT-OUT LOVE is not only incredibly addicting but packs an emotional punch I felt in my gut for days after. Highly, highly recommended.(less)
RAW BLUE has been skirting the edges of my consciousness for awhile now. I knew it was a debut novel. I knew it was written by an Australian author. A...moreRAW BLUE has been skirting the edges of my consciousness for awhile now. I knew it was a debut novel. I knew it was written by an Australian author. And I vaguely knew that it wasn't really available here in the states. But I wasn't really interested until a few days ago, when for some odd reason I started investigating it seriously. I'm not sure what made me do it. All I can say is, I saw a reference to it somewhere and I got a feeling. You know what I mean. So I went on the hunt. As far as the cover goes, well, I'm not wild about it. I like the title font and color just fine. But nothing about the rest of it reels me in and, having read it, this neither looks like how I picture Carly, nor does it really capture the many complexities of what is going on in this novel. But. As I looked into tracking down a copy, I remembered I'd read very positive reviews on several of my favorite sites, and after checking out Kirsty Eagar's site, it quickly became clear that my best (and fastest and cheapest) shot would be downloading the eBook and going from there. So I did. And, wowzers, am I glad!
Carly is 19. She's on her own. She dropped out of university awhile ago for reasons both complicated and painful. She lives in a messy apartment, which she shares with a Dutch woman named Hannah. She works nights as a cook at a somewhat dicey cafe. She avoids answering calls from her disapproving mother. But most of all--Carly surfs. She lives to surf. Eats, sleeps, and breathes the sport. And she has very carefully arranged everything in her life to accommodate that one pursuit in the hopes that she'll be so absorbed in it, she'll never have to think about what happened to her two years ago. And life is . . . well, if not precisely stimulating, it's her life. And as unbelievably private as she is, Carly is comfortable with the way things are. Until she meets Ryan--another avid surfer who starts showing up at Carly's favorite spot. Ryan is older and seems to have a slightly checkered past. But he seems genuinely interested in Carly. He's quiet and not intimidating. He loves the sport she lives for. And gradually she begins to wonder if it might be worth responding to one of his many offers of friendship. If she might be ready, finally, to not be alone anymore. At the same time, Carly runs into a quirky kid named Danny. Danny is fifteen and has synesthesia, which means he sees people as colors. For reasons passing Carly's understanding, this young kid latches onto her, and suddenly Carly has two people trying to be her friend, to claim pieces of her heart.
I loved this book from start to finish. It dropped me into another world, full of surfing lingo and weather reports, charmingly different speech patterns, and the ubiquitous word "mate." I have absolutely no familiarity with surfing whatsoever, but I love reading about characters who are so passionate about what they do. No matter what it is. The surfers in this book are bonded together by their common passion and, as a result, the detailed descriptions of waves and tides and impending storms fascinated me to no end. But even more than surfing, this book is a love story. And it is an exploration of what happens after. How survivors survive. And just how much it takes to move on and reach out to another human being in the aftermath of violence. A favorite passage from early on (I know it's long, but it's worth it):
We're still sitting there when my mobile starts ringing an hour later. I decide to leave it, thinking it must be Emilio.
'But Cookie, your phone is ringing.'
So I get up and run inside--leaving a phone ringing is the sort of thing that messes with Hannah's mind.
The phone dies as I pick it up and I check the menu for missed calls. It wasn't Emilio who called, it was Ryan.
I wait to see if the message icon comes up, but it doesn't.
What to do? Maybe my board's ready. Maybe he wants Hard Cut back. Maybe curiosity is killing me.
He answers on the first ring, which sort of jolts me.
'Carly, how're you going, mate? Mark's rung to say the boards are done.'
'Oh, okay. Thanks.'
There's a pause long enough to be filled in with static.
'Been getting out much?' he asks.
I clear my throat. 'Yeah, a bit.'
'Haven't seen you down there for awhile.'
'Um, I've been going different times. Because of work. Different shifts and stuff.'
'Yeah? What do you do?'
'I'm a chef. Sort of.'
'Like a cook?'
Another long pause. The air feels heavy.
I make myself say it. 'I'm sorry for being rude to you the other day.'
'No biggie, mate.'
'And thanks for getting me a board to use.'
'How is it, all right?'
'Yeah. Bit harder to duck dive through, and turn.'
'Don't tell Mark that. He fancies himself a gun shaper.'
I laugh. 'So anyway, when you're ready to pick it up they're down in Harbord Road,' he says, sounding like he wants to wind this up. 'You know it? I've forgotten what number, but just drive along slow and you can't miss it.'
'I can find it.'
'Big Hard Cut sign out the front. I've told Mark if you try and give him money not to take it. He did it as a favour.'
'Are you sure?'
'Yeah, no worries. All right then, catch you later.'
I put the mobile down and rub my face. I feel like my stomach's dropping away. And that's that, then, I think, walking towards the deck. Before I get there my mobile rings again.
'So, it's me again--Ryan.' His voice is different this time, not as brisk.
'So, ah, there's supposed to be a big swell building for the weekend, from the south. They reckon it's going to hit Sydney on Sunday. Biggest swell in twenty years or something. Hear about it?'
'Um, yeah.' Coastalwatch has been going on about nothing else all week, sounding like the voice of doom: If you want to live, do not venture out on Sunday.
'So I'll be down at the break, 'bout eight or so. They'll be towing in for sure. And probably off the Long Reef Bombie, too. Be worth a look if you're interested.'
He stops talking as though he's waiting for something. I'm quiet because I'm not sure if he means I should go with him. I'm not sure what he means at all.
'That's if you wanted to--ah shit, this is hard.' He blows out some air. 'I've been thinking about you, Carly. If you want to come down, come down. And if you don't want to come down, don't come down. It's up to you.'
'Okay.' I would like to ask for some clarification, but I don't have the guts.
'So--yeah. I'll leave it there. All right?'
'Might see you Sunday.'
He hangs up before I can say okay again.
Hannah doesn't look up when I come back outside, and she doesn't ask me who called either. But when I'm sitting down, flexing my feet and pointing them, eyes shut and face raised up to the sun, she says, 'But you're happy, eh?'
I blink at her, surprised. She's right.
My happiness is crunchy. Snapping, crackling and popping in the sun.
I think that passage gives you a feel for Carly and Ryan and the halting way their relationship begins and progresses throughout the novel. I fell for them both immediately. Kirsty Eagar does such a fine job of pacing the story and allowing the reader to really take the time to get to know Carly, her past, and what makes her tick, before introducing new characters and new elements. The result was that I was thoroughly on her side for the long haul. And it should be pointed out that this is not an easy story to read. It is definitely for the more mature reader of YA, as the language, tone, and subject matter are all quite gritty and not for the faint of heart. I, for one, loved it because the characters were a bit older, definitely more in the New Adult region. Carly's out of high school, done a stint at college, and is living on her own and holding down a job. Ryan is a few years older at 26, and he has seen his share of life as well. It's refreshing to read about characters in this particular stage of life. RAW BLUE is painful, dangerous, beautiful, and wonderfully romantic all at the same time. For the space of time I was reading it, I, too ate, slept, and breathed surfing. I was with Carly every step of the way, and I was incredibly satisfied with the ending she carved out for herself by the skin of her teeth. Definitely one of the best reads of my year so far.(less)
I have had my eye on this book ever since I saw it pop up around the blogosphere a few months back. As you know, I am a sucker of the largest order fo...moreI have had my eye on this book ever since I saw it pop up around the blogosphere a few months back. As you know, I am a sucker of the largest order for a good retelling. Retold fairy tales in particular are a weakness of mine, but when I saw that April Lindner's upcoming novel JANE was, in fact, a modern retelling of Jane Eyre, I didn't know my heart could beat quite that fast. I got my masters in literature, specifically Victorian lit, and Jane Eyre has been a special favorite of mine ever since I first read it on a cross country road trip when I was 14. As I am also a huge fan of historical fiction and YA, I think we can safely say I am sitting just about dead center in this novel's target audience. But it should also be noted that quite a bit of that quickening heartbeat can be chalked up to this breathtaking cover. I want to marry this cover. I think it perfectly conveys what you are getting with this package--from the misty moors landscape feel, to the girl in the timeless outfit that could be either Victorian or present day, to the bold pink lettering of the title. It's a modern Jane Eyre. It's got some excellently updated twists. It is at once faithful and fresh. In other words--it's the real deal.
Jane Moore walks up the stone steps of Discriminating Nannies, Inc. with several desperate hopes in her heart. Having just completed her freshman year at Sarah Lawrence, she is forced to drop out and search for work as a nanny when her parents are killed in a car crash and her indifferent siblings make off with what inheritance there is, leaving Jane to give up her education and scramble to support herself as best she can. An art major with only a few child development classes under her belt to qualify her for the job, she feels certain the agency won't deign to look twice at her short resume, but will send her packing in short order. It turns out, however, that she does have one rare and highly sought after qualification. Shy and somewhat taciturn by nature, she does not bother to keep up with popular culture. And, as such, she just might be the perfect nanny for one of the agency's high profile clients. Nico Rathburn, an enormously famous rock star who is trying to mount a comeback tour, has recently found himself in need of a nanny to look after his five-year-old daughter Maddy. And, just like that, Jane is off to Mr. Rathburn's Connecticut mansion Thornfield Park. With a single suitcase containing all her meager belongings, she approaches her new position with some hope but much more trepidation, wondering if she'll be up to the task of being in such close proximity to the rock star's infamously wild lifestyle and temperament in addition to taking care of his little girl. But Thornfield Park turns out to be not at all what she expected. And neither does Nico Rathburn.
Reader, I loved this book so much I can't stop thinking about it. I had such a gut feeling about JANE from the first time I heard about it and it really is one of the most satisfying feelings in the world when your first uninformed impressions of a book come true. It was honestly difficult putting this one down at night and then getting through the next day all the way until reading time once more. I kept eying it, sitting there in my purse. I finished it somewhere in the vicinity of 2 AM a couple of nights ago, with an enormous grin on my face and no one to talk to about it. You see, this is an incredibly faithful retelling. I was actually caught off guard at how closely it sticks to the original tale. What made it even more astonishing, however, was how April Lindner managed to keep so much from the original story and make it her own at the same time. It exists in the marvelous space, where the old and the new meet and wonderful things happen. Nothing about it felt odd or disjointed. This Jane is definitely a descendant of the original. She is just as independent, just as practical and plainspoken and consistent. And Ms. Lindner delicately brought out her vulnerable side, born of such a solitary upbringing, and my heart went out to her. I loved her and worried about her. I wanted to protect her from what I knew was coming. But the thing is? She didn't need me. She was fully up to the task of her story and I was free to sit back, mesmerized, and enjoy the whole thing unfold. A favorite passage from one of Jane's few remembrances of her childhood (taken from my uncorrected ARC):
On one of my days off, cold rain kept me in my room until late afternoon when the sun finally broke through. I pulled on my rainboots, grabbed my raincoat and my tackle box full of art supplies, and hurried out the door. It felt so good to be outside that for once I didn't stop at the high iron fence surrounding Thornfield Park. The guard on duty was a young, open-faced man with long blond hair. He waved me through the gate, smiling, and looked for a moment as though he wanted to speak to me. I considered stopping to introduce myself, but the very thought brought a flush to my cheeks. I looked down at my feet, letting my hair fall forward to curtain my face, and kept hurrying on.
"Smile at the other children," I remember my mother telling me at the little playground near our house. "Don't cling to me. Go over to the monkey bars and say hello."
I followed her instructions and walked over to the monkey bars. I even tried to say hello to the laughing girls hanging upside down from the topmost bars, but they were so happy and familiar with each other, their long hair sweeping from side to side like banners, that I felt the words die in my mouth. I stood frozen a long time until, still laughing and chattering, the girls unfurled down to the ground and ran off to the swings.
My mother's anxiety about my social skills grew more acute the older I got. "By the time she was your age, Jenna had three boys fighting over her," she would say. "Why don't you ever go on dates?" Usually I would brush the question off and retreat to my room, but once I made the mistake of answering.
"I'm not as pretty as Jenna," I said, as though it needed saying.
"If you smiled you'd be more approachable." She put a hand on my arm. "Isn't there a boy you like?"
There was: Michael, a popular boy with creamy skin, roses in his cheeks, and dark brown eyes, a basketball player. I'd liked him since fourth grade. Unlike the other popular boys, he wasn't unkind to girls like me. Once in junior high when the bell rang, I left my pencil case on my desk, and he ran after me, shouting my name.
"You forgot this." He pressed the case into my hands. "It's nice. You wouldn't want to lose it." He was gone before I could thank him. But he knew my name. And he had cared enough to run after me. The next time I saw him, I wanted to speak to him but hadn't dared to.
"Well?" asked my mother. "There's no boy you like?"
I couldn't bring myself to utter his name, to break the magic spell of secrecy and expose my crush to the ordinary light of day. "Not really."
My mother withdrew her hand. "You're a cold fish," she said.
Tears rose to my eyes. I knew there was no use pleading my case, and before I could think of anything more to say, she turned and walked away. "I'm not," I whispered to the empty room.
I love that whisper sent out into the void. She is not. And her spirit will not be dimmed by rough treatment on the part of people who ought to love her. And--while we're on the subject of love. JANE features a splendid one. I have noted that, despite my love for the original book, I often have trouble with May-December romances, in which there is a large age gap between the two principal characters. But I was immediately and fully behind Jane and Nico. Nico is . . . well, Nico is hot. Yeah. You're going to love Nico. The rock star angle works exceedingly well and definitely adds a sexier tone to the novel as a whole. His history is nothing if not cringe-worthy and it is in turns painful and hilarious watching these two beings from different worlds interact. Their relationship is handled so simply and naturally that it somehow becomes its own entity, both echoing and extending the relationship that inspired it. I fell in love with them on their own merits, if you will. At times, my pulse raced for them. This book has the potential to be an excellent crossover novel as these two are old souls and their romance reflects that, enhanced as it is by the modern setting. Happily, the writing matches the characterization. Assured and smooth, I felt shored up by the words. How many books have you read where you already knew exactly what was going to happen, and yet they still held you spellbound? Because that's exactly what happened to me here. As with the best retellings, JANE will leave you utterly satisfied, and with a strong desire to pull out that old copy of Jane Eyre and settle in for a nice, long visit with old friends. (less)
A little over three years ago I decided to try my first Markus Zusak book. I had heard everyone and their grandmother go on about what an amazing acco...moreA little over three years ago I decided to try my first Markus Zusak book. I had heard everyone and their grandmother go on about what an amazing accomplishment his later novel The Book Thief was, so naturally I walked right past that one in the bookstore and grabbed a copy of I AM THE MESSENGER. Will I never stop being so obstinate when it comes to hype? But in this case, though, I have to say I'm sort of glad I read this book first. It's just so freaking unique. And hilarious. And moving. And that is not to say that The Book Thief isn't all those things and more. Because it is. And let it be known that I think it is a perfect piece of literature and I love it with every fiber of my bookish being. But today I want to talk about his earlier book. The one I read first. The one that introduced me to the wonder that is Markus Zusak's gift with the written word. And the one I think fewer people have read, which is a problem that must be rectified at once. Today, if possible! Originally published back in 2003 in Australia as THE MESSENGER (a title I like almost as well), this remarkable novel has been the lucky recipient of several awesome covers as well as the Children's Book Council Book of the Year award (for older readers) in Australia and the Printz Honor here in the states. And I promise you two things. You have never read anything like it. And you do not want to miss it.
Ed Kennedy is the most underachieving 19-year-old cab driver you'll ever meet. He lives in a dump of an apartment with his atrociously lovable dog the Doorman, who is--among other things--a diehard coffee slurper. And Ed spends his days driving cabs and mooning over his fried Audrey, and his nights playing poker poorly with his best mates Marv, Ritchie, and Audrey. Then one day Ed does something unusual. He stops a bank robbery in progress and barely escapes with his life. A short while later, cards are delivered to him. Playing cards. All aces. One by one, they appear in his path. One by one, they change his life. For with each ace comes a message that needs to be delivered and Ed--poor, average, no expectations Ed--is the messenger. The messages drag him around the city, searching for their chosen recipients. Ed stumbles along in his role and receives a heady and shocking glimpse into the lives of the people living around him every day. Sometimes he's bringing comfort. Sometimes a warning. And sometimes he is the punisher. Finding it difficult to cope with the weight of his sudden, unwelcome responsibility, Ed turns to his longtime friends for support. But even they, after awhile, are unable to truly understand what he's going through. And Ed becomes inevitably obsessed with finding out who is sending the aces, who is behind the strange and prescient messages, and--most of all--why they've chosen him to be their messenger.
I stayed up into the wee hours of the morning finishing this book the first time. On the cold tiles of the bathroom floor I sat, knees drawn up to my chest, absolutely frozen with my sympathy for the characters and my need to know how it would all turn out. Zusak blew me away. It's just that the words were always right. A good story, great characters, it's not enough. The individual words have to be right. And not even just good words. The best ones for the job. Zusak has this talent in spades (no pun intended). A good early passage on a typical poker night with the gang:
"I'm telling you," Marv points his finger at Ritchie. "I did knock. I don't care what you say."
"Did he knock?" Ritchie asks me.
"I can't remember."
She thinks a moment and shakes her head. Marv throws his hands in the air. He has to pick up four cards now. In Annoyance, that's the way it works. You get down to two cards and you knock. If you forget to knock before you put down that second-to-last card, you pick up four. Marv forgets to knock quite frequently.
He scowls as he picks up the cards, but secretly he'll always try to get away with it. It's part of the game.
We're at Audrey's place, on her balcony. It's dark but the floodlights are on, and people look up as they walk past the lot of town houses. It's a street around the corner from mine. A bit of a dive, but nice enough.
In the first hour of play, I look at Audrey and know that I'm in nervous love with her. Nervous because I don't know what to do sometimes. I don't know what to say. What can I tell her when I feel the hunger rise in me? How would she react? I think she's frustrated with me because I could have gone to university and now I just drive a cab. I've read Ulysses, for God's sake, and half the works of Shakespeare. But I'm still hopeless, useless, practically pointless. I can see she could never really see herself with me. Yet she's still done it with others who are pretty much the same. Sometimes I can't bring myself to think about it. Thinking about what they've done and how it feels and how she likes me too much to consider me.
Even though I know.
It isn't just sex I'd want from her.
I'd want to feel myself mold with her, just for a moment, if that's all I'm allowed.
She smiles at me when she wins a round, and I smile back.
Want me, I beg, but nothing comes.
And (because I can't help myself) a little bit later on, one of my favorite scenes:
"It's just . . . I wish it was easier, for me, you know?" I make a special point not to look at her. "I wish it was someone else who was chosen for this. Someone competent. If only I didn't stop that robbery. I wish I didn't have to go through with it all." It comes gushing out, with words like spilled milk. "And I wish it was me with you and not that other guy. I wish it was my own skin touching with yours . . ."
And there you have it.
Stupidity in its purest form.
"Oh, Ed." Audrey looks away. "Oh, Ed."
Our feet dangle.
I watch them, and I watch the jeans on Audrey's legs.
We only sit there now.
Audrey and me.
Squeezed in, between us.
She soon says, "You're my best friend, Ed."
You can kill a man with those words.
Just words and a girl.
As you can tell, I was really struck with Ed and Audrey's complicated and often painful, but always true, relationship. I love Ed. I love Audrey and Marv and Ritchie. And I freaking love the way the language wrapped itself around me and made me laugh and cry and gasp. This book isn't just a story. It's a comprehensive experience. I felt better the next morning. Like the world was brighter, more vivid. I inhaled this book, but it swallowed me. I imagine Mr. Zusak would be pleased with that result.(less)
In the spirit of summer reading lists of yore, I thought I'd focus on another book that was on one of the many lists I went through. Or rather the seq...moreIn the spirit of summer reading lists of yore, I thought I'd focus on another book that was on one of the many lists I went through. Or rather the sequel to one of those books--MORNING IS A LONG TIME COMING--the sequel to Summer of My German Soldier. Reading Summer of My German Soldier kind of wrecked my twelve-year-old self. I loved it, but man did it hurt. I was on Patty's side from the beginning and I was frankly horrified at the way her family treated her. Particularly her atrocious mother. In fact, it was probably the pains she suffered at the hands of her parents that lingered in my heart far longer than the loss of her sweet friend. I remember being outraged and bereft at the end of it, having come up hard against Patty's many injustices, both social and personal. It's a beautiful book, but man does it hurt. Fortunately, this lovely sequel went a long way toward healing that hurt. Just as it did for Patty. And every time I read it it makes me want to go to sleep and wake up in Paris.
MORNING IS A LONG TIME COMING opens six years after the events of Summer of My German Soldier. Patty is graduating from Jenkinsville High and heading to visit her grandparents in Memphis to celebrate. While there, they present her with a check for college and she begins entertaining the possibility of fulfilling her dream and traveling to Europe to find Anton's mother. Unable to set the circumstances of his death behind her, Patty longs to meet his family and explain her story to the mother of her friend. Against the wishes of her family (and the entire closeminded population of Jenkinsville), she sets sail for Europe, making a few friends on the voyage who help her come out of her shell a little and who remind her there is so much more to the world than Arkansas. In Paris, Patty meets a young photographer and English instructor name Roger who opens up another view of the world to Patty. And even as she experiences a happiness and freedom she has never known before, her obsession with Anton's death and with finding and meeting his mother rears its head, lurks in the back of her mind, pressing on her, prodding her to leave Paris and Roger for Germany and the possibilities it represents.
I love this book. It is such a simple, sweet story. And I love it as a sequel because, even set six years later, it addresses the implications of its predecessor with just as much gravity and attention as they deserve. Patty was just twelve years old when she met Anton. The fact that she has reached the legal age of adulthood has nothing on the power of the impressions that were made at that tender age. At the same time, I was proud of how strong she'd gotten in the interim. She stood up to her mother and father, she defied everyone who ever told her she was dirt and she left them in the dust and traveled to the Old World, which for her was so breathtakingly new. It's a fine line presenting a protagonist with a true obsession. And Patty was a slave to hers. But she was cognizant of it. That fact is what always strikes me about her. She knows it's killing her, dragging her under with its constant emotional assault. And yet she moves through it, trying to keep her head above water and do the right thing and accomplish what it takes to lay her ghosts to rest and move on with her life. I love her for her doggedness and her earnestness. And I love Roger for his quintessential Frenchness and for the wholehearted and compassionate way he embraces life and Patty.
I bought MARCELO IN THE REAL WORLD for its beautiful cover. Isn't it gorgeous? I love the warm light in the treehouse, the cool sky full of stars, and...moreI bought MARCELO IN THE REAL WORLD for its beautiful cover. Isn't it gorgeous? I love the warm light in the treehouse, the cool sky full of stars, and the two black silhouettes walking hand in hand. The title is wonderful as well and, having read it, I can't think of a better one for this lovely book. And we might as well go ahead and acknowledge that Francisco X. Stork has got to be the best author name I've come across in ages. Seriously. Put the three together and I don't see how you can not pick this one up.
Marcelo (pronounced mar-SEL-o) is different from other 17-year-old boys. He has what doctors and other "normal" people call a cognitive disorder. As Marcelo is constantly forced to explain to people, the closest thing his condition can be likened to is a mild form of Asperger's. But that is not what Marcelo would call it. Certainly not a disorder. In fact, Marcelo experiences a heightened sense of order. The way he sees the world is governed by a rigid set of principles self-imposed to help him function and make sense of the often baffling people and predicaments that surround him. His mother has always been supportive of his interests: an obsession with religion in all its forms, the tending of ponies at the private school he attends, the treehouse room he lives in outside his family's home. His father, on the other hand, has a few problems with Marcelo. He offers him a deal. If Marcelo agrees to work at his dad's law firm for the summer, he can choose which school he'll attend his senior year--the public high school that intimidates the hell out of him or the private academy for other kids like him where he feels safe and accepted. Backed into a corner, Marcelo agrees and enters the real world.
This book had me from the beginning. Despite his inhibitions and seeming inability to express emotion, Marcelo is an entirely sympathetic character. I thoroughly enjoyed following him from safe haven to real world, even though it was periodically extremely painful to watch him stumble through social interactions he had no preparation for and deal with ruthless people who had no understanding of him and no inclination to acquire any. I loved the simple, almost imperceptible way Marcelo and Jasmine became friends in the copy room and I loved Marcelo's theological debates with his friend Rabbi Heschel. There is nothing flashy about this story. It builds slowly and organically, in such a subtle way that several chapters later you find yourself looking up suddenly at the clock, wondering where the time went. There's really no way not to fall in love with Marcelo. His story is layered and full of compassion and I would not be at all surprised to find it on my Best of 2009 list. Recommended for fans of Madeleine L'Engle, Meg Rosoff, and Lisa Ann Sandell.(less)
I was having a truly mediocre day. Nothing was going right. I couldn't snap out of it. And the whole thing was rapidly approaching a complete wash. In...moreI was having a truly mediocre day. Nothing was going right. I couldn't snap out of it. And the whole thing was rapidly approaching a complete wash. In a last ditch attempt to jar my mood, I went out to check the mail. An ARC of TAP & GOWN was waiting for me and presto! Crappy day salvaged. Ironically, writing this review has been hard. Truth be told, I've actually been avoiding it. And it's not because I didn't love it. Because let me tell you, I loved this book like George Harrison Prescott loves women. No, I've been avoiding it for a much more cowardly reason. You see, I kept getting a lump in my throat every time I went to write it. Because writing it would mean it was really over. The book, the series, the whole Amy at Eli saga. And, yes, I know Rampant will be out soon and I am seriously looking forward to that. But this series will always hold a special place in my heart and it's hard to see it come to a close. Even the kind of close that leaves you with a big, ear-to-ear grin on your face.
Amy's made it to her last semester at Eli. Time is running out and she has a thesis to finish, a brand new boyfriend she'd like to spend some "quality" time with, and an appropriate replacement Digger to find who will supposedly take her place within the tomb of Rose & Grave. And though she's studiously avoided thinking about it up until now, she also has to deal with her own personal post-traumatic fallout from the events at the end of spring break. Feeling rundown, anxious, and like senior year is kicking her butt seven ways from Sunday, Amy finds herself the unexpected recipient of rather a lot of attention from a few very hopeful, very accomplished undergrads. Of course, in true Bugaboo fashion, when she does stumble across the perfect tap, her potential choice comes complete with the kind of baggage guaranteed to scandalize the venerable patriarchs of R&G. It seems she is once more surrounded by secrets, some of them harmless, and some of them poised to wreck everything she's worked so hard to achieve.
Amy is such a strong character. She's an everygirl and, as a result, it's just so dang easy to empathize with her, particularly when we've had the opportunity to follow her through four books and watch her progress from an uncertain, unwelcome, uncomfortable-in-her-own-skin fledgling Diggirl, to a confident lynchpin member of a whole new order of Rose & Grave. Perhaps most satisfactory of all, she becomes brave in her honesty. Even when it scares her. She learns to be careful with (and protective of) the relationships she formed in her time at Eli. She understands how she fits into the larger scheme of things and she knows what (and who) is important. Frankly, I was proud of the girl. I have to say, it is extremely gratifying to finish a series feeling like the characters would be people worth knowing, like it played out the way it was meant to, like the author knows the score. Diana Peterfreund delivers with TAP & GOWN.
In this third installment of the Ivy League Novels, Our Girl Amy finds herself sludging through the gloom that is New Haven in late winter/early sprin...moreIn this third installment of the Ivy League Novels, Our Girl Amy finds herself sludging through the gloom that is New Haven in late winter/early spring, wondering who named her whipping girl in the latest intercollegiate secret society rumble. Meanwhile, her ex-friend-with-benefits makes a sudden reappearance in her life and the already nigh unto crippling confusion factor gets ratcheted up a dozen or so notches. Fortunately, the annual Rose & Grave spring break excursion to Cavador Key looms on the horizon and Amy is given a chance to escape and recoup. Her only problem now is avoiding getting in the water while living on an island for an entire week. Natch.
This book...how I loved this book. I loved the increasingly mature way Amy deals with her friends. Her experiences with Jenny in the previous volume have made her more sensitive, I think, to the delicate emotions and motivations at work among her fellow Diggers. Despite their rank, wealth, brains, looks, or attitude. I loved how the class of D177 coalesces in this book. They stand up for each other. They notice things. They're not so quick to judge. And I loved that Poe takes it upon himself to give Amy swimming lessons. Because the swimming lessons? They are top notch. And the sneak peak at the first chapter of the fourth and final Ivy League Novel? It is tinglingly good. If only it wasn't a year till it comes out. Ah, well. Either way, Diana Peterfreund is now on my automatic buy list.
I hereby confess: I find myself with a sudden craving for Life Savers.(less)
Reading Secret Society Girl put me in righteously indignant mode for two days straight. Now, admittedly, it doesn't always take much to send me there...moreReading Secret Society Girl put me in righteously indignant mode for two days straight. Now, admittedly, it doesn't always take much to send me there but, since my indignation was on behalf of fictional characters and couldn't hurt anyone, well, real, I figured it was okay to let the wrath reign. Besides, some of those dudes really deserved it. My wrath, that is. Reading Under the Rose was an entirely different experience. I spent the majority of the time grinning madly, silently egging certain characters on while berating others for their a) lack of the barest trappings of a conscience or b) inability to just come out and say what's really bothering them.
And boy was there a lot of bothering going on. At the start of the book, it quickly becomes apparent someone within the secret society is leaking information to outsiders intent on destroying them. Amy, known within the Rose & Grave annals as Bugaboo, is dismayed to find out she's lived up to her society nickname when none of the other Diggers will listen to her pleas for help investigating the leak. Caught up in their own lives and dramas, her fellow Diggers leave Amy alone to fret and fester over the fraying society she's been so loyal to (and so instrumental in saving in the last book). And Amy has her own heady distractions in the form of her senior thesis, her roommate Lydia's love life woes, and the persistence of one George Harrison Prescott.
I thought Under the Rose was an even stronger story than its predecessor. The pace never flagged, the dialogue was sharp, and the characters became more interesting and more dear, as evidenced by the fact that my heart went out to two of them who'd done nothing but irritate me in the first book. I love it when that happens! I was particularly enamored by the unwilling alliance Amy forms with a certain caustic law student and the verbal sparring that ensues. Ah, the things she gets roped into doing in the name of the greater good. This book was a smooth, delicious treat and when I closed it I felt like we'd all of us had a good time. And now was a darn good time to discover this series as it's just a week and a half till Rites of Spring (Break) comes out. I'm all jumpy.(less)
So I stayed up too late two nights in a row finishing this one. I found myself alternately morbidly fascinated by and completely frustrated with a wor...moreSo I stayed up too late two nights in a row finishing this one. I found myself alternately morbidly fascinated by and completely frustrated with a world that (though "real") so utterly alien to the one I experienced at college. More to come on that further down.
Amy Haskel is your average overachieving junior at Eli University. Editor of the school's lit magazine, she's up to her elbows in a reading of War and Peace, sorting writing submissions, and negotiating a very tenuous friends-with-benefits relationship with her assistant editor. Amid all this, Amy is shocked when Rose and Grave, the most prestigious secret society on campus, taps her for their annual initiation. Btw, it's clear from the get-go that Eli is not-so-loosely based on Yale, while Rose and Grave is patterned on the infamous Skull and Bones secret society.
The notion of a secret society is so outside my realm of experience, that that alone made the book interesting. It's hard for me to wrap my brain around the fact that these groups actually exist and have persisted into the present day, albeit in altered and, one would hope, slightly more enlightened forms. In fact, the admission of women forms the backbone of this story as Amy's initiation class is the first to include a female contingent. Rather unsurprisingly, I spent a good portion of reading time railing away in my head at the archaic, misogynist, preposterous ways the men of Rose and Grave viewed the world. Don't even get me started on the so-called "patriarchs" who threaten (and come through on said threats) to make Amy's and the other girls' lives a living hell if they insist on remaining members, aka Diggers. Suffice it to say, I was ready to lose it long before Amy did. And I'm not at all sure I would have made the choice she did in the end.
That said, I sank into Peterfreund's clean, light prose. Just when the whole thing seemed too much to take, she'd include a quiet scene where Amy reminded me why I liked her so much.I finished the book still conflicted over Amy's choice and that of her fellow Diggirls. Still unsure which (if any) of her male friends can be trusted, particularly the intriguing GHP. Still supremely relieved I'm not living her life. And still satisfied in a I'll have another dish of pie, please, kind of way. I've got the sequel on my nightstand and I'm thinking I'll "dig" right in.(less)
I have to preface this review by saying I've been an Ellen Emerson White addict for years. Ever since I found a used copy of Life Without Friends an...moreI have to preface this review by saying I've been an Ellen Emerson White addict for years. Ever since I found a used copy of Life Without Friends and took it home with me because I liked the girl on the cover so much. I've never read a "new" EEW book in my life. They've all been out of print or used when I've come across them. So sitting down with a brand spanking new copy of a brand spanking new book of hers...well, let's just say it was a religious experience and leave it at that. Long May She Reign is a sequel to the President's Daughter trilogy written in the 80s. The series follows Meg Powers, daughter of the first female president of the United States, and her experience moving to the White House and adjusting to life in the public eye. In the last book, Long Live the Queen, Meg is abducted by terrorists, forced to endure days of starvation, beatings, and emotional torture, only to be dumped in a mine shaft, shackled to the wall, and left to die. In an act of breathtaking determination, she breaks the bones in her hand in order to escape and is later reunited with her family.
Long May She Reign picks up where Long Live the Queen left off. Meg is in bad shape, to put it unbelievably mildly. She's a wreck, physically and emotionally, and her family isn't far behind. At best, they're able to skirt the issue of what happened to her. And none of them can answer the omnipresent question: what happens next? So Meg closes her eyes and makes the decision to go ahead and go to college hoping her absence will make it possible for her family to move on. At Williams, Meg finds it even harder than she imagined to function as a college freshman, surrounded by paranoid secret service agents and a slew of students who regard her with, at best, timid curiosity and, at worst, outright hostility. Fortunately Meg meets a couple of people who are determined to insinuate themselves into her life whether she wants them or not: her JA Susan (the main character in Friends for Life) and an Ultimate Frisbee-playing, love 'em and leave 'em California boy named Jack. Having been through her own personal hell when her best friend was murdered during their junior year of high school, Susan is familiar with the seemingly insurmountable challenge Meg faces in attempting to reclaim her life. Slowly, these two survivors strike up a tenuous friendship. Meanwhile, Meg negotiates an equally fragile relationship with Jack. Both relationships are unusually compelling. I love that Meg and Jack are equals--two extremely flawed, extremely interesting, extremely complicated people attracted to each other precisely because they are flawed and interesting and complicated. I love that he calls her on things. That it makes her mad when he scores higher than she does on a psych test. That they get angry at each other and talk it out and laugh together and move on. As I've mentioned before, I get tired of the Tireless Good Guy and his counterpart the Reformed Bad Boy. It was so refreshing to find that Jack was neither of these. And, as ever, White's sarcastic, thought-provoking dialogue kept me absolutely glued to the page. There's something so satisfying when a writer treats her reader as though she is smart. The whole time I was reading it I felt in the company of old friends, that I had been here before, and that I was comfortable here. Long May She Reign was hands down the book I was most excited about this year and it exceeded all my expectations. I cannot recommend it highly enough.(less)
This is one of my all-time top comfort reads. I know. Minutely researched Vietnam War novel=comfort read? What can I say? My favorite characters tend...moreThis is one of my all-time top comfort reads. I know. Minutely researched Vietnam War novel=comfort read? What can I say? My favorite characters tend to endure mountains of suffering before attaining (hopefully) a modicum of happiness. Lt. Rebecca Phillips is no exception. A Radcliffe-educated nurse, Rebecca comes from stalwart, intellectual New England stock. She's the last person anyone expects to enlist in the Army and voluntarily get herself shipped off to Vietnam. But after the boy she loves is killed in the war and the brother she idolizes flees to Canada to escape the draft, Rebecca has to do something to deal with the pain and confusion that suddenly is her life. The War, unsurprisingly, turns out to be a million times worse than her worst nightmare, and gets progressively awful until Rebecca finds herself racing for her life through the jungle on a broken ankle, having been shot down in a helicopter she never should have been on in the first place. Yeah. White doesn't pull any punches and Rebecca goes through hell and back again before she finds herself home once more, utterly unable to deal with the ramifications of The War and the friends she gained and lost there. And Michael is at the top of the list. Michael Jennings--the bad-tempered private Rebecca meets while MIA in the bush. The second half of the novel follows Rebecca's stilted attempts to reconnect with her family and Michael. To somehow fit together the pieces of her two lives: Before and After The War. It's a tour de force, in my opinion. White's prose and dialogue are as rapid-fire as ever and my pulse races every time I read it. Rebecca and Michael are such wonderfully strong, tangible characters. They deserve every scrap of happiness they can get.(less)