If you don't like YA but you like coming of age stories, you'll like this book. If you DO like YA, I think you'll like this book. It hits that reallyIf you don't like YA but you like coming of age stories, you'll like this book. If you DO like YA, I think you'll like this book. It hits that really sweet spot of being about young people and appealing to a wide audience.
Signal to Noise is a little bit Ready Player One, a little bit High Fidelity, a little bit The Craft, and also more than those. Meche, the main character, has been branded a "loser" by most of her peers; she runs with a crew of other misfits, but they love each other and they don't *feel* like losers. They want to fit in and they want to be accepted--or, at the very least, stop being bullied. Especially Sebastian, who loves to read and gets picked on constantly for that . . . I can definitely relate.
One day, a bully pushes Meche too far and she discovers that she has magic abilities. (Normally, this is the part where I'd groan and check out of a book, but I thought it was done well enough to suspend my disbelief.) The bully suffers an accident, and Meche knows it's because she wished it. She gathers her friends together and they start trying to figure out how the magic works--and they figure out it comes at a pretty steep price.
What I really loved about the book:
+ The characters were so. well. written. They were sometimes painfully real (in that awkward teenager way). I was happy to follow them on their journeys--so much so that I read the whole book in one day.
+ There were enough pop culture references to make me feel like I was back in the 80's, but not so many that I felt like it was just a fan wank. The story really shone through.
+ MECHE LOVES COMPUTERS! It was so great to see a female character who is passionate about math and science, and who actually goes after it.
+ It takes place in Mexico City. I love Mexico. Not in a "omg let's get plastered in Tijuana this weekend guyz" kind of way but in a "let's drive past the border towns to somewhere that barely has a road and never come back" kind of way. It also gave a whole other spin to the "disaffected almost-punk teen" story; in some ways, it was universal, but in others, it was very specific to Mexican culture.
+ The magical parts of the book were balanced really well with the "real" bits of the book. And the magic was handled well--it wasn't a panacea and the potential downsides to being magical were definitely displayed. It didn't feel like one of those books where the author said, "Oh hey, wouldn't it be fun to have magical powers and be able to DO ANYTHING I WANT?!" and then wrote a wish-fulfillment story.
+ DAT COVER ART, THO
I would have given the book 4.5 stars, but I bumped it up to five (which I usually reserve for almost-perfect books) since it's super-new and indie press published. It's a really fun book that also tugs at your heartstrings....more
I gave this book/short story 4.25/5 stars at InsatiableBooksluts.com. A digital review copy was provided by the publisher.
"Gunk was pretty fabulous shI gave this book/short story 4.25/5 stars at InsatiableBooksluts.com. A digital review copy was provided by the publisher.
"Gunk was pretty fabulous short fiction (super-short fiction, even), I have to tell you. I read it on my phone, and that was a first for me, but it seemed fitting with the subject matter–fashion models, “the industry,” agents, and what-have-you. It’s clearly a quick read, but it develops very well in 14 pages; Feehily did a brilliant job of including exactly what you need to know alongside exactly what he wanted you to know. I don’t know how short fiction authors are able to make characters come so alive in such short spans. It’s a magic that I do not possess.
The story centers around a rather unusual happening at a modeling agency–an unusual client-who-is-not-a-client. Gunk begins in medias res, as it would nearly have to: the unusual client has won a contest to pose with Boy George in a magazine. Despite the fact that this kid “just looked like no-one, looked like who the fuck . . . like someone whose name you might have to ask ten times because otherwise you’d get it wrong”, the narrator’s boss decided to sign him to the agency. You know that moment–when your boss has just created a massive pain in the ass for you on nothing but the barest whim, and you’re left to sort it.
Only, everything goes a bit weird. Only, it’s not your routine pain-in-the-ass to deal with. What should have been a simple “see-ya-later, kiddo” doesn’t go at all as planned and the narrator seems on the verge of a nervous breakdown when it comes to a head.
The book flirts with magical realism just a touch; to give much detail would be to give it away, but there are moments where you’re not at all certain if the narrator’s realistic view of events is the truth, or if Jude, the wannabe-model, is the truth. Moments in which they are opposed and you’re not sure who is lying to themselves, but you know one of them must be.
It’s not a cliche of the 80s, either, and that’s nice. There is mention of Boy George and a few references to cocaine, but it’s not steeped in nostalgia-trivia.
Being short, it’s a fairly inexpensive addition to your collection, and an addition that I recommend (digital is the way to go if you don’t neeed that cover art, imo). I’m definitely going to take a hard look at Feehily’s novel, Fever, in which “the town’s one gothic punk, communist and poet laureate (self elected), wants to ‘find out about love’.”
I originally posted this review at InsatiableBooksluts.com with a rating of 4.25/5 stops at the casino before the rapture.
A review copy was provided bI originally posted this review at InsatiableBooksluts.com with a rating of 4.25/5 stops at the casino before the rapture.
A review copy was provided by W.W. Norton & Co.
First things first: I would not call this book YA. I have seen it listed as YA, and that doesn't feel particularly right to me as a designation. So if you're like me and you tend to de-prioritize books in the YA category, don't be too quick to put this one aside. (But if you're looking for mature YA-esque books for your young'uns, this one would be a good candidate.)
I caught this book on Goodreads; a friend had it listed as "to-read", and that bright orange cover just screams "road book." I love road books. Shit, I worship at the altar of Kerouac. So I clicked, and I found out that The Last Days of California is so, so much more than a road book.
The Last Days of California follows the Metcalf family as they travel from Alabama to California. The reason for their road trip? They're evangelist-types and their cult clan is convinced that the rapture is imminent. Dad is the primary believer (Mom used to be a--gasp!--Catholic), and he decides to pack up the car and max out the credit cards, because The End is Near and they're on a pilgrimage to their leader. Fifteen-year-old Jess is the awkward main character; her older sister, Elise, is rebellious and a little pregs.
To recap: southern evangelists, road trip to California, teenage rebellion and awkwardness. I pretty much had to read it, you know?
And Ms. Miller didn't disappoint on any count. I was left a little breathless at times, actually, with how much I was reminded of my own teenage years, specifically the need to sneak around so I could have my own adventures. One might think that conservative, Christian parents might always have the thumb on their kids, but it isn't so; every time Jess and Elise circumvented their parents with almost pathetic ease, I practically had flashbacks.
The story is primarily Jess's story, and your heart aches for her. She's the younger, chubbier, supposedly less-pretty, expected-to-fill-the-obedience-void sister. She's the one who wants to strike out on her own, but has mixed messages about what that means. Elise sleeps with boys, swears, and questions her father's faith at every turn; she's the reigning champ of teenage rebellion in the family, and she has a push-pull relationship with Jess that makes it both inevitable and impossible for Jess to follow directly in her footsteps.
And Jess is a lovely person, though she doesn't know it yet. She's got an amazing loyal and loving side that balances out the mild teenage brat tendencies, that smooths over her conflicts with Elise. She's a character you want to know more; she and Elise both drive you through the book because you don't want to leave them.
Miller painted all of the characters beautifully, and their relationships feel real; it's like reading a memoir, almost. The father has almost the perfect mix of hardcore believer and not-really-believer; you know the type: he has a gambling addiction and wrecks his body with shitty food, but he puts on a very pious face and really thinks he believes what he says. It would be easy to go overboard on a character like that, to make him too much, or make the sister too rebellious, the mom too long-suffering, but Miller's deft touch kept her cast of characters from being caricatures. She balances them beautifully.
I don't think it's a spoiler to say that, clearly, the rapture doesn't happen. But so much happens on the way--the characters grow so much--that I don't think you'll mind. Do recommend. ...more
"This book was a tad disappointing, I have toI gave this book 3.5/5 stars on InsatiableBooksluts.com. A review copy was provided by Two Dollar Radio.
"This book was a tad disappointing, I have to admit. Nothing in this book surprised me--which, for a book that is partially built around some mysterious unanswered questions, that's not good. BUT. That having been said? Nothing is still better than probably 85% of what's being published. It's a fairly strong offering from Anne Marie Wirth Cauchon and I'll be watching for her work in the future.
The story: Ruth is a girl who finds herself having made friends with a needy pretty girl, a former Mean-Girl type who hasn't lost the meanness, just the support system. Ruth talks about how they found each other because they both have style, but it's clear that Ruth is the stereotypically less-desirable of the two girls, and she has a giant chip on her shoulder because of this.
James comes into the story early. He's running away from a rich not-really-daddy and toward answers to a shitload of questions. He fancies himself a hobo, a hard motherfucker who can take care of himself without comforts, but the real hobos can see right through him.
Two stories are unfolding during the book, and they're only tenuously connected at first. Bridget and Ruth are growing apart, and Ruth is having kittens about it (while, of course, feeling nothing); James is searching for information about his real father, and every puzzle piece he finds multiplies the missing pieces. Their paths cross a few times. The more entangled they get, the worse things get.
Also, drugs and parties.
Cauchon's writing has a strong voice, but I thought the story was a bit weak. I actually groaned out loud when she referenced American Beauty, because if you took the struggles of the parents out of that movie, the stories are extremely similar. Vain pretty girl hanging out with "ugly" girl to get validation and feel superior to someone. Mysterious new boy goes for "ugly" girl, also has problems of his own; everyone's problems converge into a massive clusterfuck.
And then, on top of that, there's the drug cliches: a neglected baby. A dead girl. PEER PRESSURE.
The characters were drawn well, if a bit cliched. Cliches exist for a reason and all that; Bridget did exactly what a Bridget would do, Ruth what a Ruth would do. Still, I would have liked to have been surprised. I would have liked to have seen more depth or growth from at least one of the three major characters.
I did figure out the "mystery" (which I assume was supposed to be a big plot twist at the end--I don't know, I'm never sure if I'm meant to figure it out in advance or if the author accidentally revealed her hand too soon) on page 83, about halfway through the book. I AM BAD AT READING BOOKS WITH MYSTERY ELEMENTS, YOU GUYS. I always figure them out too early.
Also, I felt like the author worked "nothing" into the book far too much. Ruth was always feeling "nothing" or seeing "nothing" or, just, lots of nothing. On the whole, I felt the book tended toward being thematically heavy-handed.
Sigh. I think it's a book I could have appreciated much more ten years ago. I probably would have given it five fucking enthusiastic stars in my early 20's. I don't think I'm the intended audience for this book anymore.
Overall: I don't feel angry that I spent time reading it. It definitely has an audience and the writing is good. That audience is probably not me; if you think the audience might be you, I recommend it. Will still read Anne Marie Wirth Cauchon in the future and will definitely continue to anticipate Two Dollar Radio selections."...more
This review was originally posted at InsatiableBooksluts.com with a rating of 2.67 literary translators working under a playboy pig.
A copy of this booThis review was originally posted at InsatiableBooksluts.com with a rating of 2.67 literary translators working under a playboy pig.
A copy of this book was provided by Atticus Books.
In theory, Daring to Eat a Peach was a great fit for me. Right off the bat is the reference to "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock" by T.S. Eliot, which is one of my favorite poems of all-time. I also love a book about someone who is so interestingly fucked-up that he spawned an whole book's worth of adventures. Add in that the book is small press and that the blurb compared Zeppetello to Raymond Carver? I was sold.
But I was not happy when I actually read the book.
There will be spoilers ahead.
I was okay until about page 19. That far in, Denton was a guy bogged down in routine. He had a good enough job, but the job came with considerable ass-pain in the form of his boss's secretary, Deirdre. A translator, Denton was working on a project that involved figuring out a way to put the line "The blonde woman came to me / I fucked her again and again" poetically into English. He spoke briefly to the poet on the phone and I was intrigued. (Indeed, the poet ended up being one of the best characters in the book. More on that later.) Change seemed imminent. Indeed, the blurb promised some carpe diem-ing.
Then Peter showed up. Peter was a long-time friend of Denton's and needed a place to crash. His entrance wasn't terrible--it was fine, really, but nothing spectacular. I didn't really believe their friendship; their dialogue seemed stilted and overly formal. I didn't get excited about Peter being there, even though he was clearly supposed to be the catalyst for Denton taking his life by the horns. Peter was a Guy Who Had Adventures.
Instead of turning Denton's life upside down, Peter got a job and a Toyota. The two friends settled into a comfortable life of double dates with a coworker of Denton's and her friend. Everyone involved was stand-offish and not really very passionate about the relationships. Even when Denton sneaked out the morning after he fucked his girlfriend for the first time, she just sort of shrugged and forgave him after being nominally mad.
Wha? Where's the day-seizing? Where's (checks blurb) the "series of watershed events"? Most things that happened in the book didn't seem particularly life-altering. Even when Denton loses his job, he literally gets another job the next day doing exactly the same thing he did at his last job: translating poet Serge Krakow's work. Denton's big life changes by the end of the book are that he is in a relationship that I would describe as lukewarm at best, and also, his new boss isn't a bitch.
I don't think Zeppetello captured the spirit of Eliot's poem. Prufrock, unlike Denton, shook with anticipation of what could be. If only he dared. And Prufrock was struck with deep, existential fear: "I have seen the moment of my greatness flicker, / And I have seen the eternal Footman hold my coat, and snicker, / And in short, I was afraid." Prufrock was a held breath away from changing his whole life.
Denton? Not so much with the anticipating or the seizing of the day or the fear. Denton shrugs his way through the book almost as though he can't be bothered. There was one point where I thought he might have some emotional growth--his dad died and he was forced to come to terms with his Wicked Stepmom who actually turned out to be a pretty nice lady and all--and then, inexplicably, Zeppetello picked the next moment to devote three chapters to a character that we hadn't previously met. When we return to Denton, he's back to being the same comfortably-domesticated dude he's been all along.
An issue that contributed to Denton's stunted growth was that Zeppetello kept switching points of view. We got to see life from Peter's point of view, and Denton's girlfriend Judy's, and Peter's girlfriend Rita's, and a few other minor characters. Maybe 3/4 of the way through the book, it switches point of view to a throw-away character, which frustrated me. Telling everyone's story prevented Zeppetello from developing any of them, most of all his main character who supposedly "fail[s] in elegantly profound ways." (Spoiler: Denton doesn't really face massive failure and actually has a pretty nice go of it despite his dad dying and all.)
Not much happens after that--oh, wait, Peter dies. Which made me angry--not because I cared about Peter, but because I did not care about Peter and I should have. Denton didn't seem to care that much, either. Got a lil choked up at the funeral. I also felt like Peter dying was kind of a cheap shot at making anything significant happen in the book--but it's only significant if the rest of the book supports it, and it doesn't.
This book could have been titled, "Daring to Eat a Peach, but Only If I Haven't Already Eaten Too Much and if Peaches Are Not Too Expensive Right Now, Are They Even in Season and Also Is It Organic? I Don't Even Know If I Like Peaches." And then there's Peter, who nibbled delicately on the peach and keeled over from an un-diagnosed severe peach allergy.
What could have been the best part of the book doesn't even pan out. In the beginning, the poet mid-morning-drunkenly answers the phone and tells Denton to translate the line about fucking the blonde woman exactly how he wrote it. "What are you, a fucking critic?" Serge asks. He and Denton are immediately at odds, and Serge is clearly a Guy Who Has Adventures. He, not Peter, should have been the one to pull Denton out of his rut when they are forced together in the name of creating literature. He should have led Denton astray, pushed him to grow. Denton should have lived and loved and ached and felt anything, and maybe ended up in jail.
It is a testament to the skill of Hervé Le Tellier that this novel can be so compelling while also featuring as its main character a man who, had he been born 25 years later, would have been a prime candidate for Nice Guys™ of OKCupid. Vincent is so much of a textbook case that I was furiously making notes about his Frustrated Beta Male Syndrome within the first chapter or so. Most authors couldn't tackle a character like Vincent and make him anything other than a whiny, absurd caricature; Le Tellier manages to do the improbable and makes Vincent a character that, while you still kind of hate him, you feel just enough sympathy for him that you can read the book fluidly and enjoy it without complications.
Le Tellier does this by cheating the perspective a tad; in paintings, artists often take liberties with "true" perspective to get more of the picture in the fame. You end up with impossible tables that couldn't hold up a bowl of fruit in real life, but you get to see everything the artist wanted to paint. I feel that, in writing Vincent, Le Tellier employed a similar technique; Vincent is self-aware enough that he is able to admit his flaws, even while being fully captive to them. I don't think most people like Vincent would be that self-aware, but it is a necessary cheat.
The book starts with Vincent, our tragically unloved hero, fleeing Paris to escape the wiles of the beautiful Irene. Irene has dragged his heart through the muck and stomped all over it by rejecting his constant mewling to be loved. He sets up house in Lisbon, picks up a few hobbies, and tries not to cry every time he thinks of her (which is all the time).
Sidenote: it is a fact that I once was friends with a man who, despite my clearly telling him over and over and over that I was not in the slightest romantically attached to him, persisted in trying to win my heart. I was approximately twenty-one years old at the time, and not smart enough to realize that this wasn't a real friendship; I let him fly across the country to meet me, against my better judgment, and I shit you not, he was already trying to make out with me within 24 hours. There were no mixed signals; my signal was a clear no. He sobbed like a child when I wouldn't kiss him; he had been fully expecting me to succumb to his charms against everything I'd ever said. So, Irene, I feel you, girl.
A serial killer is caught in Lisbon, and Vincent is assigned by the newspaper to cover the trial along with photographer Antonio Flores. Antonio is everything that Vincent wants to be, and Vincent kind of hates him for it from the get: Antonio is a man who has women approach him, who has an achingly romantic lost-love story, who has gained notoriety for his photographs. Vincent, on the other hand, drags the albatross of the feeling of failure everywhere he goes. He claims it is a necklace of quirkiness and underdoggish victory, but we can see its true feathers.
The two men form a tenuous friendship (if you can call a relationship where one person is wildly jealous a friendship), but that is largely undone when Vincent learns the identity of the French woman who pines away for Antonio: of course, it is Irene. And she is coming to Lisbon, where the men have adjacent hotel rooms. Vincent crafts quick (and terrible) lies to save face; he invents a girlfriend, Lena Palmer. Secretly, he hatches a plot to reunite Antonio with his long-lost love so that he will abandon Irene, and Irene will be as wounded as Vincent (and, he won't let himself admit, available to him).
Things go awry, as do they always. Irene does turn out to be a flaming bitch, but again, Le Tellier masters his craft in such a way that we can see her without being filtered through Vincent's lens of bitterness. She does not stand in for all women who turn down Nice Guys™; she is her own woman, and she just happens to be a bitch, even though she's totally right about not going out with Vincent (because honestly, he's kind of a creepo). There are other women who wander into the story: Aurora, who is a bit Manic Pixie Dream Girl for my tastes; and Manuela, who doesn't put up with any of Vincent's shit, much to the reader's delight. Also to my delight, there is character growth. Vincent makes a few choices differently than the old Vincent would have. He turns right a few times instead of left. They are small choices, but they are redemptive.
This is a book that made me think, and I think I like that most of all. I have little Kindle notes (and I so love being able to do Kindle notes, y'all) about literature sprinkled all through the book, ones that make me feel like kind of a smarty-pants, and I enjoy that feeling. His writing style is smooth; the translation is wonderful. The setting is lovely and the book is interesting. (And, did you see that cover art? I didn't notice it until after I finished reading, because Kindle. LOVE.) Overall, I highly recommend it. ...more
I gave this book 4/5 stars at InsatiableBooksluts.com. The following review was first posted there. A copy was provided by Whitepoint Press.
I discoverI gave this book 4/5 stars at InsatiableBooksluts.com. The following review was first posted there. A copy was provided by Whitepoint Press.
I discovered this book through Goodreads. I KNOW. I almost never actually find stuff to read through Goodreads--not that the site isn't designed so that's easily accomplished, I'm just not that kind of site user. So it was awesome when the timing aligned just right for me to stumble across this book--and more importantly, a status update that mentioned the title of the first story, "Fag Hag in Fuchsia."
I mean come on. Like I'm not going to be all over that.
Courtney McDermott was a Peace Corps volunteer in Lesotho, a landlocked country in the middle of South Africa; her collection, much like História, História by Eleanor Stanford, takes place in the area where she volunteered. Characters in the story put faces on problems that we privileged don't always see: the prevalence of AIDS, the willingness of women to put up with nearly anything--anything--to maintain a job, the familial decisions that direct young women's lives without any thought to their desires or dreams, rape and patriarchy, the miserable educational system. She does this without being preachy; the stories are polished-raw and lay bare the people in them. McDermott condenses words into powerful bursts of understanding. The writing in this book is five-star.
So why a four star review?
Partially because of the organization of the book. There are three parts to the book, and . . . idk, it seemed a little off to me. The first part is the general stories; part two is shorter, microfiction stories, more like narrative snapshots; part three has a vampire story (a good one, really--don't think Twilight), a spec-fic end-of-days type story where everyone disappears, and a retelling of Cinderella. I can see the thought behind this--really, I can--but I think it might have been better to try to integrate the book into a whole work instead of breaking it up into sections. The last two sections are quite short and don't seem as complete as part one; the third one seems almost like an afterthought, though the stories are good.
The other thing--this might just be my issue, and this would have been four-star based on the organizational thing anyway, but. But. In the back of my mind, I was aware while I was reading that, while many of the characters were African and the points of view are African and they were people of color, the writer is a white girl from Iowa. And I would think, is this part distorted through the lens of privilege, or is it true to character? It's not that I don't trust Ms. McDermott. I didn't get the sense she was whitewashing anything (but then, how would I know?).
While I write this review, I am being torn by two entities. There's the author, looking at me sadly: "I was there," she says. "I wrote a good book. Why do you doubt me?" And then, there is the rising swell of voices of women of color; I have seen them stand tall, turn to face us fully, and say: "We don't need you, don't want you, to tell our stories for us. We deserve to tell our own stories. We have the right to tell our own stories." And Ms. McDermott, again: "But this is my story now, too. I went. I was there."
And I don't know what conclusion to come to on the issue. If the book had sucked, I could tell you not to read it; it was a good book, though, and on the merit of the writing alone, I'd recommend it. But I won't ignore those women, some of whom want (and with tremendous justification) white ladies to fuck right off, out of their lives, their struggles. So, if you decide to read How They Spend Their Sundays, read it with this caveat: May or May Not Contain Cultural Insensitivity and Misconceptions Due to Privilege. Because this reviewer simply doesn't know. ...more
This review was originally posted at our blog, InsatiableBooksluts.com. A review e-copy was provided by Ooligan Press.
Recommended if you like: On theThis review was originally posted at our blog, InsatiableBooksluts.com. A review e-copy was provided by Ooligan Press.
Recommended if you like: On the Road, reading about vices, characters who are a little (or more than a little) lost, coming-of-adulthood stories.
Up Nights is a great example of how a book can grab my attention against the odds. I received a pitch for this book by accident; it was addressed to another set of bloggers, but it came to me. Normally, I would have scrolled through, slightly amused. Possibly I would send the publisher a nice note letting them know that they’d made an error so that they could get the email addressed to the right person; I wouldn’t actually making any offer to review the book, though. Up Nights, though, was a rare pitch for a book I really, really wanted to read, and it wasn’t even addressed to me.
I’m glad that I read Up Nights. While it wasn’t a perfect book–and while I have no idea if it was enhanced by my recent reading of another junkie book, Spoonful, or the opposite–it was a book I enjoyed very much. I almost felt like it was a continuation of On the Road, set in modern times and with a twist: in Kerouac’s story, the shiftless and wild Dean abandons Sal in Mexico, but in Up Nights, Arthur abandons his wild friend in Mexico. This happens just before the story starts, but everything in the book spins out from this event.
Kine’s characters are young and uncertain; pretty much anybody who’s ever been through their twenties can identify, I think. They explore regret, sexuality, friendship, love, loss, and existentialist crises. Who are we? Where are we going? Will we ever get there? Kine captures the deep doubt of youth in a way that balances it with the freedom of youth. While searching for the meaning of life, Arthur and company are getting high, getting laid, and dropping everything to drive across the country on a moment’s notice. Oh, and you know, hopping a plane to Cuba. For reasons.
The only things I didn’t love about the book: the very, very beginning was a touch awkward. If I didn’t have a 50-page rule, I could very well have put it down . . . hence, why I have the 50-page rule, because I’m very happy I finished the book. Kine found his rhythm and the awkwardness smoothed out. The other thing that pinged at me was his style of drawing out certain details in a ‘suspenseful’ way. We learn early on, for example, that Bill is still in Mexico and that Arthur is really uncomfortable about it; Kine feeds us details about this, and a few other things, as we go. I don’t have a problem with that at all; what I found disappointing was that I didn’t feel the teaser-feeding had a proportional payoff to the built-up suspense. I would have liked more revelation about those topics. Fortunately, they aren’t crucial to the enjoyment of the book.
You know what is crucial to the enjoyment of the book? Reading it. And I totally think you should. I mean, if you want to. And stuff....more