books and reading · reviews

Book Review: The Wedding Date by Jasmine Guillory

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Drew Nichols and Alexa Monroe meet in an elevator when it stops working. They’re strangers, but when they leave the elevator some time later, Alexa has agreed to go to a wedding as Drew’s fake girlfriend. Destined to be a one-night thing, the two find themselves drawn to each other and embark on a long-distance fling that might actually have the makings of something real.

Guillory’s debut novel is a charming and sexy look at a fake romance that becomes totally real. Fully realized characters help flesh out this at times cyclical romance, creating a captivating story. The characters in this are likable, with hopes and dreams, and their chemistry leaps off the page. Readers will root for their deserved happy ending.

While on the whole the novel is fairly light in its tone and content, it doesn’t shy away from the fact that the two main characters are in an inter-racial relationship. Alexa experiences racial aggressions throughout the book, and when she tells Drew about them, he accepts what she says as fact, which is refreshing. In this, the book is more grounded than others, and it’s an appreciated touch.

A fast-paced plot keeps the pages turning, and the genuine chemistry between the leads makes it compelling. While the two start out their relationship as a casual hookup, their connection deepens in a satisfying way, and while there are plenty of love scenes, Guillory engages in a lot of fade-to-black writing, so this doesn’t fall into the “erotica” category.

Romance readers, rejoice: this modern-day rom-com is completely engrossing and really, really fun. I loved it.

The Wedding Date by Jasmine Guillory. Berkley: 2018. ARC received from NetGalley.

 

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Book Review: Bonfire by Krysten Ritter

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Abby Williams hasn’t been back to her tiny hometown since she graduated high school ten years ago. But when her Chicago law firm sends her back to Barrens, Indiana to work on an environmental case that involves the town’s biggest employer, she finds herself drawn back into a mystery that has haunted her since she left: the disappearance of her childhood best friend, Kaycee. Is there a connection to the case she’s working now? Is it part of a larger conspiracy? Obsessed with finding answers, Abby doesn’t realize that the town’s mysteries might consume her, too.

This unputdownable thriller from Ritter, best known as an actress, was one of the best reads of 2017. Fast-paced, brilliantly written, and featuring a compelling and fascinating narrator, this is a knockout of a novel, guaranteed to keep readers breathless until the last page is turned. While it doesn’t reinvent the wheel as far as mystery/suspense novels go, it does provide a really unique take on the genre, with very satisfying results.

Abby is a compelling narrator, clearly smart but also clearly broken. Much of that is related to her upbringing in the desolate town of Barrens, Indiana, a setting that becomes as much of a character as anyone else in the novel. She’s an extremely well drawn character, and feels very real. She also makes a ton of mistakes, but they all make sense in the context of what’s happening.

Gripping, suspenseful, and unrelentingly dark. This would make a great movie but stands alone as a great piece of fiction. Put this in the hands of readers who like their mysteries complex and their heroines complicated. Absolutely fantastic. I will read whatever Ritter does next.

Bonfire by Krysten Ritter. Crown: 2017. Library copy.

 

books and reading

What I Read This Week

Back in the swing of things. Here’s what I read this week:

36595101Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House by Michael Wolff: Wolff spent much of the first year of Trump’s presidency inside the White House, privy to the “private” conversations the administration had as it fumbled throughout the first months and literally hemorrhaged people and classified information.

At times hilarious, infuriating, and terrifying, this sloppy book was a thrill ride of a read. It’s in desperate need of editing, but it’s also so timely and so fascinating it hardly matters. If even half of it is true (and it is), it’s worth reading. What a time to be alive.

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All the Dirty Parts by Daniel Handler:  Cole is in high school and obsessed with sex. Hooking up with girl after girl, he thinks about sex constantly, when he’s not watching or sharing clips with his best friend. But then he meets a girl that might actually be his match, and he starts to learn about consequences.

A one-sitting read, this experimental novel by the author also known as Lemony Snicket provides a very adult look at the teenage boy mind. I loved it: it was weird and sexy and disturbing and subversive. Definitely not for everyone: there’s a ton of explicit sex to be found in this slim little novel.

35099035Red Clocks by Leni Zumas: Abortion is illegal once again in America, and women who try to cross into Canada to seek abortion services are imprisoned. Four women living in this America try to do just that: live in it.

I wanted to love this one so much more than I did. It’s been called a modern take on The Handmaid’s Tale, but it isn’t, unless the only parallel readers are looking for is that women can’t have abortions. This is a much more stylized look at a theoretical future. It was hard to connect with the characters and some narratives were so much more compelling than the others that the plot as a whole suffered.

What did you read this week?

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January 2018 Recap

January flew by, and I’m not sure I got as much done as I hoped I would. But let’s see how the month shook out:

Books:

Total: 51
Picture Books: 36
Middle Grade: 0
YA: 5
Adult: 10
Fiction: 48
Non-Fiction: 3
Audiobooks: 2
Total Pages Read: 4350

Favorite Reads in January:
31207017Love, Hate, and Other Filters by Samira Ahmed:

American-born Maya Aziz wants to be a good Indian Muslim daughter, but she also wants to make her own way in the world. She loves filmmaking and wants to attend NYU, but her parents are completely against it. And don’t even get them started on what it would mean to date a white boy. When a terrorist attack close to home threatens everything she loves, Maya has to figure out how to stand on her own.

A very well done book about coming of age in the modern era, with a narrator whose voice is authentic and compelling. This sweet story was really great and holds a ton of teen appeal. It reminded me in many ways of an updated version of Marie G. Lee’s Finding My Voice.

Next Year for Sure by Zoey Leigh Peterson: Chris and Kathryn have been together for 30201150nine years, and they’re pretty happily ensconced in their domestic life. But then Chris meets Emily, and Kathryn tells him to ask her out on a date. The two embark on open relationships that alter their perceptions of romantic love and of themselves.

Read for my book club, I really loved this weird literary novel about polyamory and bucking convention. It was well-written, thoughtful, and totally ambiguous, which I like. Full of complicated and garbage-y characters, too. It’s definitely not for everyone, but it was for me.

Viewing

Total Movies: 3
New: 2
Re-Watch: 1

Favorite Movies in January:

ladybirdLady Bird: I loved this movie by Greta Gerwig about a girl’s senior year of high school. It’s a quiet, weird little movie, set in 2002-2003, which is when I graduated high school, so I’m sure that’s partly why I liked it so much. But it’s also about mothers and daughters, and being a weird girl, and it was a total delight.

I’m already way behind in my “watch 52 new movies in 2018” thing, so we’ll see how the rest of the year goes.

Other Things I’ve Been Watching:

I’m nearly done with a re-watch of The Fosters, which I can’t even explain. I really like the first two seasons of the show, but I have to say that as I approach the end (with the understanding that new episodes are still airing, for now), it’s become so sudsy and silly that it’s hard to stay with it. Callie makes the dumbest choices and Jesus is the WORST, no matter who they cast to play him.

I’ve gotten really into 911 on Fox, and I’m embarrassed to say that that is the only thing I’m current with (except for The Bachelor, but that is another story entirely).

I’m also watching One Day at a Time on Netflix, because the second season just premiered, and it is as great as I remembered it. Seriously, it’s a show you should be watching.

books and reading

The Best Picture Books I Read in January

As part of my goal of reading 365 picture books this year, I’m trying to start off strong (and maybe get a little ahead for when I inevitably slack in the future). This month, I read a lot of great picture books, and these were the best of the best:

31019568Lexie the Word Wrangler by Rebecca Van Slyke: Lexie is the best wrangler in the West–the best word wrangler, that is. She can turn a SPOT into a POST and make a CAT a CATTLE. When she finds that some bandit is changing words around her ranch, she sets off to solve the mystery.

Vivid, quirky illustrations and genuinely clever and funny wordplay make this one a hit. Kids and adults will like playing with the words in the book (there’s even a dictionary of “wrangler words” in the back) and pouring over the illustrations.

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Far Apart, Close in Heart: Being a Family When a Loved One is Incarcerated by Becky Birtha: A close look at what kinds of feelings and emotions children can experience when a parent is incarcerated. Told from multiple perspectives, the book aims to answer questions about what it’s like when a parent is away, and provide helpful tips on how to process and deal with feelings.

Exceedingly well done, with a diverse cast of children and parents, multiple perspectives are presented. A helpful author’s note at the end provides additional resources and tips for adults caring for children with incarcerated parents. It’s an issue book that’s done with great care and compassion.

34144489Crown: An Ode to the Fresh Cut by Derrick Barnes: The barber shop is where boys go in “like lumps of clay” and come out princely in their form. It’s magic, and this book is magic, too.

Gorgeous illustrations accompany Barnes’ smart prose. This is a sweet, clever look at barbershops, black boys, and the power of a good haircut. I loved this one and think it’s an important title for every library serving kids to have on its shelves.

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After the Fall: How Humpty Dumpty Got Back Up Again by Dan Santat: The story of Humpty after he falls off the famous wall. The king’s men put him back together, but he develops a fear of heights, which puts him at a disadvantage as an avid birdwatcher.

Lots to like here as Santat twirls together his text and his images. There’s a lovely message to the story that doesn’t overwhelm the narrative, and the images, especially near the end, are breathtaking.

 

 

 

 

books and reading

What I Read this Week

These are the things I read this week. Without further ado:

28588390A Study in Scarlet Women by Sherry Thomas: Charlotte Holmes is smart and asks a lot of questions. She’s never quite fit in with the expectations of society, but it isn’t until she ends up a social pariah that she realizes she’ll have to use all her wits to survive. Then there’s a rash of murders, and Charlotte’s sister is one of the suspects. It’s up to Charlotte to clear her sister’s name.

A smart re-imagining of Sherlock Holmes, this first book in a series by Sherry Thomas is pretty delightful. While historical fiction (and cozy mysteries) is not my preferred genre, I liked this sneakily feminist, smart take on the classic detective.

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The Woman in the Window by A.J. Finn:  Anna Fox is an agoraphobic former child psychologist who hasn’t left her home in over ten months. She spends her days drinking wine, watching classic movies, and spying on her neighbors using her Nikon camera. When she witnesses something across the street–the apparent murder of her new neighbor–no one believes her. After all, she’s been mixing her medication and alcohol, and her memory isn’t what it once was. But she knows what she saw, and she might be in the killer’s crosshairs.

This is definitely another book written by a man using sneakily vague letters in his name in an attempt to cash in on the “grip-lit” phenomenon (his author bio in the back of the book lacks pronouns in a very conspicuous way), and that makes me feel weird about the book. That said, it’s certainly a fast-paced thrill ride, and it will find a readership. It’s way too long, clocking in at over 400 pages, and could have used a much stronger editing hand. But it was pretty fun, and it made me want to re-watch Rear Window.

books and reading · reviews

Book Review: Heather, the Totality by Matthew Weiner

Heather, the Totality (October 2017) by Matthew Weiner

Mark and Karen have built their family and their own marriage around their daughter Heather. Beautiful, smart, and compassionate, the world adores her as much as they do. But she’s so magnetic that she attracts unsavory elements as well, and it isn’t long before everything the Breakstones have worked for is in jeopardy.

Matthew Weiner’s (yes, the Mad Men guy) debut novel is very slight and is best read in a single sitting. A whip-fast pace helps this novel go down easier, but the fact remains that it’s short on many merits, including believable characters, and believable situations. Clearly aiming to fall into the “literary” side of fiction, it certainly succeeds in being “pretentious.”

The novel is on the whole not a particularly challenging read. While Weiner does well enough creating a sense of genuine suspense, it takes more than half of the book to get to the point, which is way too long in a novel that’s only 140 pages long. There’s also way too much time spent on the entire history of the Breakstones’s marriage, a marriage that is super boring and whose details don’t relate in any way to the central crux of the story. All of this seems to contradict the novel’s lofty aims of being one of those sparse suspense novels that are so eerily effective. By weirdly trying to do both, Weiner succeeds at neither.

There’s also the fact that the people populating this story are bizarrely vague in their characterization. There’s no real consistency in any of their actions or personalities, and the reader is not given much to go on, either. The result is that it’s hard to care about what fate awaits any of them.

The writing leaves a lot to be desired, too. Told in a stylized narration that will rankle most readers (there are a few critics out there who seem to think it’s brilliant, but they’re definitely in the minority). There’s virtually no showing done here. Instead, Weiner tells his readers–again and again–and the result is kind of like reading stage directions for a play. This reads like a treatment for a movie script more than it does a novel.

A total disappointment, and a hard pass. Maybe put it in the hands of hardcore Matthew Weiner fans, but even they deserve better.

Heather, the Totality by Matthew Weiner. Little, Brown & Company: 2017. Library copy.