books and reading · reviews

Book Review: Secrets in Summer by Nancy Thayer

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Darcy Cotterill is one of Nantucket’s year-round residents. A children’s librarian who inhabits her late grandmother’s large home, she likes her life the way it is: working hard, spending summer weekends at the beach with a good group of friends, and exploring a new relationship with a carpenter named Nash. She usually doesn’t meddle much in the lives of the renters who surround her house in the summer months. But then her ex-husband Boyz shows up with his new wife and 14-year-old stepdaughter, renting the house behind hers. And the other renters around her seem to pull her into their orbits as well. Before long, Darcy’s having a summer most unlike those of her past, and she’s got enough secrets to last her a lifetime.

Thayer is considered the queen of the beach read, and it’s easy to see why. Frothy, light, and full of lovely descriptions of the island, Thayer knows her niche. A colorful cast of characters round out a pretty basic plot, and the result is a sweet (if very forgettable) novel perfect for a summertime read.

By far the book’s best moments are when Darcy is forging inter-generational friendships with 14-year-old Willow and elderly neighbor Mimi, who reminds Darcy of her late grandmother. There’s also the overworked Susan, mom to three boys, who joins the group and bonds with them. The women’s scenes together are some of the book’s most natural ones, and they’re wholly enjoyable.

Less realistic are the romantic aspects of the book. There was something off about Darcy’s burgeoning relationship with Nash, and I could never quite put a finger on it. She’s supposed to be 30, and he’s got to be around the same age, but they act like they’re from another era, and the reinforced gender stereotypes were only part of the problem with the portrayal of their relationship. Darcy’s inability to speak up for her own needs rankled this reader, especially because it didn’t seem like an intentional characteristic of the book’s heroine. The two also didn’t interact in a realistic way, and that was distracting.

There are some characters who feel like easy targets to move the plot along, and that’s to be expected in a novel like this. The writing isn’t anything spectacular, but it goes down easy and is very likely to appeal to fans of Elin Hilderbrand. There’s a reason these books are called beach reads, and this one fits the mold perfectly.

Secrets in Summer by Nancy Thayer. Ballantine: 2017. Library copy.

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books and reading

What I Read this Week

I didn’t have a stellar reading week this week, for reasons I don’t really know. These are the books I read this week:

32148219Perennials by Mandy Berman: Rachel and Fiona went to Camp Marigold together as children, and now they’re back for the summer as counselors. But their first year of college has changed them both, and while they used to be inseparable, the two find that now they keep secrets from one another. Over the course of a tumultuous summer, the two grow up, and the summer’s events alters their lives forever.

I devoured this debut from Berman, and it’s a fast, compelling read. But the longer I sit with it, the more questions I have about it, so I’m going to have to think on it some more before I review it.

Saints and Misfits by S.K. Ali: Janna Yusuf is an Arab Indian-American hijabi teenager31123249 trying to figure out how to blend her secular life with her religious one. She has a crush on a non-Muslim boy, which is bad enough, but she can’t date him. Or shouldn’t. Or won’t, because Muslim girls don’t date. As she grapples with what kind of person she wants to be, she also struggles with what kind of people other people are…even when they’re pretending to be something else entirely.

This sweet, smart novel by S.K. Ali has plenty to offer teens and adults alike. Featuring a smart, realistic Muslim girl dealing with contemporary life makes for a captivating read, and there’s a lot of great stuff here. I do think the book could have used a stronger editing hand as it feels longer than necessary, but on the whole this is a great debut.

32333302Such a Good Girl by Amanda K. Morgan: Everyone knows that Riley Stone is perfect. She’s such a good girl, always organizing charity drives, volunteering in the community, and is on track to be valedictorian. But she’s also crushing majorly on her French teacher, and she’s pretty sure he’s interested, too. It’s a dangerous game to play, but Riley’s always a few steps ahead of everyone else.

I wanted to like this one, and I did indeed tear through it, as it’s compulsively readable, but it’s also a complete mess of a book. It can’t decide what it is so it tries to be everything, and the result is super uneven and more than a little bit perplexing. But there’s definitely teen appeal here.

What did you read this week?

pop culture

Internet Things I’ve Been Reading and Thinking About This Week

These are the things that got me thinking this week:

What Happens When Reality Enters the ‘Reality’ of the Bachelorette? (NYT)

I watch The Bachelorette (and I know it makes me garbage), and this piece about the current season is great, because it delves into the actual reality of what is transpiring on arguably the most manufactured thing on television:

Our Bachelorette was visibly upset that her family didn’t seem as charmed by Bryan as she has been. Her mother’s response: “You are in a bubble.” Rachel and her suitors are seeking to get engaged before ever (1) hanging out off-camera; (2) getting to spend the night together unsupervised more than once; and (3) performing a quick Google search that could reveal a potential partner’s reality-television pedigree or pseudoscientific marketing scheme of choice.

It’s Never Been about R. Kelly. It’s Always Been About Black Girls (Bitch Media)

This is a short, horrifying piece about R. Kelly and male abusers in general, and how we as a society see black girls:

While R. Kelly is in the eye of the storm, as he should be, it’s never just been about the “pied piper,” the creepiest name he could’ve chosen. It’s about the vulnerability of Black girls, and an incessant need to deny them the protection they need from predators. There’s a reason why R. Kelly purposefully prowls schools in the poorest communities of Chicago. Those girls are even more vulnerable: They attend schools that routinely push them out; are surrounded by violence borne from lack of resources; and are burdened by intergenerational poverty. R. Kelly knows they’re easily malleable.

It’s worth a read, and it’s worth reading the pieces the article links, to, too.

Foster Care as Punishment: The Reality of ‘The New Jane Crow’ (NYT)

This is probably the must-read of the week: an in-depth look at what happens when CPS gets involved in the removal of children from their homes. The article looks at demographics who are specifically targeted: poor, young women of color.

“It takes a lot as a public defender to be shocked, but these are the kinds of cases you hear attorneys screaming about in the hall,” said Scott Hechinger, a lawyer at Brooklyn Defender Services. “There’s this judgment that these mothers don’t have the ability to make decisions about their kids, and in that, society both infantilizes them and holds them to superhuman standards. In another community, your kid’s found outside looking for you because you’re in the bathtub, it’s ‘Oh, my God’” — a story to tell later, he said. “In a poor community, it’s called endangering the welfare of your child.”

Snopes Faces an Ugly Legal Battle (The Atlantic)

Snopes has been around for what feels like forever, and I remember using it back when it was one of the only internet hoax debunking sites around. I have a tremendous fondness for the site, and I’ve been following the publicity of the site’s troubles this week with interest and a bit of dismay.

This piece offers a bit of insight into the legal troubles the site is facing, and what could happen if things go even further awry.

 

 

books and reading

Stand-Out Picture Books in July 2017

These are the picture books I read this month that were stand-outs to me. I try to only feature books that were published in 2017, but your mileage may vary.

31247841Triangle by Mac Barnett, illustrated by Jon Klassen (3/17): 

Triangle lives in a triangle-shaped house. One day, he decides to play a trick on Square, who lives in a square house. What results is a bare-bones narrative that’s darkly funny, with striking visuals that are classic Klassen. I loved this one, and I used it immediately for one of my storytimes.

 

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Life on Mars by Jon Agee (2/17): A silly, sneaky book with great illustrations (in the same vein of Klassen, actually), this book is about a space explorer so determined to find life on Mars that he’s blind to what’s really going on. Kids will love the visual jokes in the book, and adults will get a kick out of the sparse text, too. I thought this one was really clever and can’t wait to add it to my storytime repertoire.

30312840This House, Once by Deborah Freeman (2/17): Gorgeous watercolors complement the simple text about the things that make up a house (and the house remembers). A great bedtime book, because the colors and the text make for a kind of sleepy, dreamy read. I loved this one.

 

 

I’m always taking picture book recommendations, so let me know if there’s something I’ve got to check out.

books and reading · reviews

Book Review: The Weight of Lies by Emily Carpenter

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Megan Ashley’s life is privileged, and she owes much of her wealth to her mother’s best-selling horror novel, written decades before. But she’s sick of pretending that their family is perfect, and so when a publisher offers her the chance to write a tell-all memoir, she jumps at the chance. This means traveling to Bonny Island, Georgia, to investigate her mother’s past–and the murders that inspired the novel. What she finds is that there’s more to the original story than meets the eye–and that discovering the truth could have some deadly consequences.

This sudsy mystery will keep readers guessing until the last few pages. Part family drama, part book-within-a-book, and party searing mystery, this one is sure to delight hardcore mystery fans as well as those new to the genre. A genuinely twisty plot means that there’s plenty of surprises for readers to uncover alongside Megan, and no matter how many times they think they have it figured out, Carpenter is several steps ahead.  The result is a ton of fun.

It’s also well written, with nuanced characters that feel very real. The result is a surprisingly strong novel that blends different genres with a great deal of success. I was hooked from the start and finished nearly the entire thing in one sitting, so compelling was the plot and its characters.

Carpenter uses snippets of Megan’s mother’s novel at the beginning of each chapter to help ramp up the book’s tension, and it works beautifully. Each snippet is compelling on its own (there are many readers who are going to wish the fictional novel in the book actually existed), but each excerpt also mirrors what is happening as Megan delves deeper into the central mystery.

This is a thrill ride of a novel, begging to be devoured and worthy of readers’ time. Recommended.

The Weight of Lies by Emily Carpenter. Lake Union Publishing: 2017. Library copy.

 

books and reading

What I Read this Week

These are the books I managed to finish this week:

140075All Together Dead by Charlaine Harris: Sookie’s got a new beau in mysterious weretiger Quinn, and she’s got an upcoming vampire summit, where she’s going to have to bear witness to a trial of the queen of Louisiana. The vamps from her state are in bad shape after the hurricane, and this impending trial doesn’t help matters. There’s also the fact that there are some vamps who want to hurt the Louisiana delegation even further, and Sookie’s caught in the middle–again.

Chugging away at a reread of the series. I think I read through book 10 before, so I still have a ways to go, but these are less and less familiar as I read them. They’re also less and less interesting, which is a big bummer.

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cover all sorts of territory, including Gay’s sexual assault as a young teen and the subsequent healing she’s undergone.

Hunger: A Memoir of (My) Body by Roxane Gay: Gay’s highly-anticipated memoir of her struggles with eating doesn’t disappoint. Told in short, sparse chapters, Gay focuses on her girlhood and adolescence as well as on society’s obsession with policing women’s bodies.

I’ll have a lot more to say about this one when I review it, but it was very well done and also a hard read. Which is expected, given the topic.

32195204The Weight of Lies by Emily Carpenter: Megan Ashley’s life is privileged, and she owes much of her wealth to her mother’s best-selling horror novel, written decades before. But she’s sick of pretending that their family is perfect, and so when a publisher offers her the chance to write a tell-all memoir, she jumps at the chance. This means traveling to Bonny Island, Georgia, to investigate her mother’s past–and the murders that inspired the novel.

I tore through this one, and I enjoyed every minute of the twisty, convoluted plot. I stayed up way too late to finish the book, and I want to talk about it so badly! It was a hell of a read.

From Dead to Worse by Charlaine Harris: Sookie’s boyfriend Quinn is missing, there’s 2233407someone in the were pack who wants to kill her, and there’s a hostile takeover of the vamps of Louisiana in the works. It’s clear to say that things are a mess in Sookie’s corner of the south, and she’s stuck smack in the middle.

I’m determined to finish the series once and for all, but I’d be lying if I said these books hold my attention the way they did at the start of the series. It feels like each plot gets thinner and yet more convoluted at the same time, and it’s just not as charming as it used to be.

32935123Secrets in Summer by Nancy Thayer: This has been my audiobook of choice for my commute the past two weeks, and I finally finished it this week. Darcy has lived on the island of Nantucket for most of her life. A children’s librarian with a solid group of friends, she tries not to meddle too much in the lives of the summer residents who rent houses on the island. But one summer, she finds that she can’t stick to her rule, and before long she finds herself embroiled in the drama, as well as creating some of her own.

Nancy Thayer is apparently the queen of the beach read, and I can certainly can see why. The book is frothy, fun, and full of beachy goodness. But Thayer also writes her characters in an oddly old-fashioned, almost sexist way, and there were things that happened in the book that didn’t feel realistic (and weirdly dated). She’s kind of like a less-edgy Elin Hilderbrand (and that is a high bar to clear).

 

pop culture

Internet Things I’ve Been Reading and Thinking About This Week

These are the articles that caught my attention this week:

Real Men Might Get Made Fun Of (NYT)

This short, thoughtful piece from Lindy West, who appears to have a new weekly column with the NYT (I’m here for it!) asks straight (white) dudes: “Do you ever stick up for women?” It’s a gentle prodding, but it’s an effective one:

What we could really use, my guys, is some loud, unequivocal backup. And not just in public, when the tide of opinion has already turned and a little “woke”-ness might benefit you — but in private, when it can hurt.

It’s worth a read, and a conversation with your white dude friends who insist they’re feminists.

To the Bone and the Trouble with Anorexia on Film (The Atlantic)

Last week, Netflix’s new (and controversial) movie To the Bone premiered, and launched the necessary think pieces. This is one of the better ones, which gets at many of the films (myriad) issues:

It’s a whole genre, a culture, that has a morbid and complex fascination with emaciated female bodies. To the Bone, inspired by its director Marti Noxon’s own experiences with anorexia, is a largely sensitive and thoughtful treatment of the disorder, but it can’t dodge the fact that any truthful depiction of anorexia will, by its nature, trigger those who struggle with the disease. The question is whether the usefulness of recovery narratives is worth the damage done in feeding a cultural curiosity that’s deeply unhealthy.

The movie is far from perfect, but reading this piece after viewing it provides a great deal of valuable insight.

What did you read this week that stood out to you?