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).

 

books and reading · reviews

Book Review: Imagine Wanting Only This by Kristen Radtke

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While in college, Kristen Radtke lost her favorite uncle to a rare genetic heart disease that runs in her family. A trip to the nearly totally abandoned Gary, Indiana not long after his funeral sparked an interest and then obsession with abandoned properties all over the world. Traveling all over the world in search of abandoned properties while also looking for meaning, Radtke struggles to make sense of her own illness while also looking for why she feels so alienated from the world.

Radtke’s graphic memoir is part narrative about her search for meaning, and part historical construct of empty, abandoned places. Her drawings are sparse and her figures, in particular, are fairly hollow. This stylistic choice is clearly intentional, and it’s also a style that won’t work for every reader. But it’s effective in conveying its meaning.

This is not a book for every reader. Radtke is heavy on the existentialism as well as the ennui, and these things can be alienating, to be sure. But Radtke’s struggles with finding meaning, and with finding connection, both to the people in her life as well as the spaces she inhabits, is an interesting and at times frustrating thing to watch. There are no easy answers here, and it’s not even clear if Radtke feels like she’s accomplished anything by the end.

The book is strongest when Radtke marries the concept of decay both literally and figuratively: there’s a moment where she portrays her disintegrating relationship with her boyfriend with a toxic sort of mold that begins to climb the walls of their tiny apartment, taking over their shared space. It’s moving and powerful and one of the book’s best illustrations.

It won’t work for everyone, but this one worked for me. Radtke’s illustrations are interesting and arresting, and the book hit me at a time when I was feeling the ennui, too. Recommended for fans of travel, of abandoned place porn, and of graphic memoirs.

Imagine Wanting Only This by Kristen Radtke. Pantheon: 2017. Library copy.

books and reading · reviews

Book Review: One of Us is Lying by Karen McManus

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Five students at Bayview High sit in a classroom for detention one afternoon. Before the day is over, one of them is dead–and the other four are being treated as murder suspects. Although the four teens don’t have much in common, they find that there are plenty of secrets to go around–and one of them might be pretty guilty.

Karen McManus’ debut novel is a fast-paced, twisty surprise of a book. The beginning might feel like a modern-day rehash of The Breakfast Club, but the plot quickly turns that on its head and presents readers with something completely different, and the result is a ton of fun. Fairly distinct characters (though not always distinct in their narrative voices) and mostly believable dialogue as well as a romance that feels authentic makes this a crowd-pleaser for even the pickiest of teens.

Super-savvy mystery readers might figure out at least part of the mystery before it fully unfolds, but there are still twists and turns that will surprise. There’s a surprising amount of depth to each of the characters, turning this novel into something a bit more substantial than what it looks like on the surface. I devoured this in a single night, and it was well worth the lost sleep.

Take one part Pretty Little Liars, one part John Hughes, and a little inventiveness on the part of McManus, and you’ve got this book. It’s compulsively readable, and teens (and adults) won’t be able to put it down until they’re finished. McManus is an author to watch. Recommended.

One of Us is Lying by Karen McManus. Delacorte: 2017. Library copy.

 

 

 

books and reading · reviews

Book Review: Last Seen Leaving by Caleb Roehrig

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Flynn’s girlfriend January has disappeared. Her official status is “missing,” but you can tell that people think the worst. Flynn can’t believe she’d just up and leave without a trace, but as he starts to unravel her secrets, he realizes there’s more going on than he initially realized. And Flynn has secrets of his own that he’s desperate to keep hidden. How can he solve January’s mystery without revealing things about himself?

Roehrig’s debut novel tackles a bunch of different issues while presenting a twisty, provocative mystery for readers to devour. Vivid characters help ground the novel’s more unbelievable aspects, and young gay teens will especially relate to Flynn’s issues regarding his process of coming out. This is a smart novel with realistic dialogue (Roehrig excels particularly in this regard).

Seasoned readers of mysteries might figure out the twists well before they’re revealed, but it’s still a heck of a ride. There are enough twists and turns to keep the pages turning, and the oftentimes witty dialogue races by. There are moments where the book feels overly long, though, and a tighter editing hand might have made for an even stronger story.

On the whole, a very entertaining debut. Roehrig is an author to watch, and this is a strong entry into the YA mystery genre. Recommended.

Last Seen Leaving by Caleb Roehrig. Feiwel & Friends: 2016. Library copy.

books and reading

What I Read This Week

These are the books I read this week:

32571395One of Us is Lying by Karen McManus: Five teens enter after school detention. Although the group doesn’t have much in common at the start, by the end of the afternoon they’ll find themselves embroiled in a nightmare situation: one of the teens is dead, and the remaining four are murder suspects. Who is lying? Who knows more than they’re saying? Working together seems like the only way the teens can get to the bottom of what happened, but what if they can’t trust one another to tell the truth?

Part Breakfast Club and part Veronica Mars, this whip-fast novel is pretty smart, holds plenty of teen appeal, and will keep readers guessing until the final pages. Fairly well-rounded teen characters and mostly smart dialogue writing make this a true pleasure to read. I really enjoyed it and tore through it.

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Imagine Wanting Only This by Kristen Radtke: This graphic memoir recounts Radtke’s experience losing her favorite uncle to a genetic heart condition, and her subsequent interest (bordering on obsession) in photographing abandoned places all over the world. Jumping around a bit, this memoir traces crucial moments in her young life, her late adolescence, and early adulthood.

Radtke’s drawings are sparse, gorgeous, and moving, and her prose is so powerful. Radtke is a talented writer whose prose rivals her artistic skill. I devoured this one in a single sitting and can’t wait to recommend it to people.

140079Definitely Dead by Charlaine Harris: I’ve started watching True Blood as I continue my read-through of all the Sookie Stackhouse books, and the sixth one in the series sees Sookie travel to New Orleans to deal with her deceased cousin Hadley’s estate, as well as a huge vampire summit. The books are still enjoyable–I think Sookie is one of the most charming, quirky characters one can find between the pages of a book–but I definitely think the books continue to decline in quality of story as they progress. I never much cared for Quinn as a love interest (though literally anyone before Bill–ANYONE), and the books are getting longer in page count while still feeling

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shorter in content.

So Much I Want to Tell You by Anna Akana: Part memoir, part open letter to her sister who committed suicide when Akana was a teenager, this frank, honest, and emotionally engaging book is a quick read. Known mostly for her YouTube channel, Akana is a decent writer whose aim is to connect with young-ish fans about everything ranging from dreams to relationships. Sweet and slight.

What did you read this week?

books and reading · reviews

Book Review: Take Me Back by Meghan March

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Kat and Dane met on a beach and got married on one. Now they’re two years into their marriage, and they might as well be strangers to one another. Kat is obsessed with her work and married to her phone, constantly checking in with her company. Dane is drowning in his own secrets, secrets he’s never told Kat but knows he must if they can salvage their relationship. On a last-ditch effort, the two take a 10-day trip to Belize to try to reconnect and see if there’s anything left worth saving.

Meghan March’s Take Me Back is best categorized as romantic suspense. The book favors euphemisms for its sex scenes (“to the hilt” is used several times, and it is never not completely distracting), is heavy on the dialogue and unbelievably light on the character development. It’s a quick read, to be sure, and is guaranteed to attract fans of the romantic suspense genre in general, but it’s also kind of a mess as a whole.

Neither Dane nor Kat are at all developed as characters (Kat’s main trait is that she’s work obsessed, but her actual job is never mentioned, a detail I found both hilarious and weirdly upsetting), and the book jumps so quickly into the action that there’s no time to get a sense of either character, nor their relationship to one another. The other characters, the few there are, are so underdeveloped it hardly matters. The villains are one-dimensional and the plotting is obvious.

Of course, that’s not really the point of a book like this. It hooks readers from the start and keeps the pace so quick that the book flies by. Dual narration on the part of Kat and Dane allows readers insight into what little motivation each one has, and the sex scenes are plentiful. This is standard romantic suspense, with a happy ending readers will see coming from page 2.

Give this one to fans of Maya Banks and Lora Leigh.

Take Me Back by Meghan March. Red Dress Press: 2017. Library copy.

books and reading · reviews

Book Review: Do Not Become Alarmed by Maile Meloy

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Cousins Liv and Nora take their families on a holiday cruise instead of spending the Christmas vacation at home. Lulled into a sense of security on the luxurious ocean liner, the families decide to take a day trip into one of the Central American countries when the ship docks. But things go quickly awry, and it isn’t long before the children have gone missing. Lost in a country they don’t know, away from their parents who begin to turn on one another in a game of who’s to blame, the children must tap into resources they didn’t know they even had at their disposal.

One of the things that works so surprisingly well in Meloy’s excellent, taut novel is the way in which she distinguishes between her myriad characters. There are a great many characters in play here, and nearly all of them are given a chapter or two in which they are the narrator. While this could become overwhelming or even collapse the narrative, it doesn’t–Meloy keeps a firm grip on each of these people, and each one is distinctive in memorable ways. The result is an ensemble that propels the narrative while also grounding the reader in a multitude of different lived experiences.

The book is at once a “what-would-you-do?” thriller while also a deceptively deep rumination on life’s coincidences and unlucky moments as they inform a given individual’s character. The plot relies heavily on the concept of “ifs,” for example, if the the children had not swam to shore, if the paper bag with diabetic medicine had not fallen out of a pocket, if the mothers hadn’t fallen asleep on a beach…and the result is a genuinely suspenseful and completely plausible nightmare.  This is made stronger by the fact that Meloy knows her characters so well and allows them to be kind of the worst at times.

This harrowing novel from Meloy is a gripping read from start to finish. It’ll be next to impossible for readers to put it down once immersed in the book’s pages. Tightly plotted, beautifully written, and full of vivid, memorable characters–no easy feat as there are over a dozen important people at play–this is a knockout of a suspense novel. Highly recommended.

Do Not Become Alarmed by Maile Meloy. Riverhead Books: 2017. Library copy.