books and reading

What I Read This Week

Not a great reading week for me this week. Here’s what I finished:

Heather, the Totality (October 2017) by Matthew WeinerHeather, the Totality by Matthew Weiner: Heather’s parents have devoted their entire lives to the raising of her. She is their diamond, their star, and there is nothing they wouldn’t do for her. She is beautiful and smart and compassionate, and she attracts attention wherever she goes. This includes attracting the attention of unsavory characters, and things come to a head in the most dramatic fashion possible.

Matthew Weiner (Mad Men, etc.) has his fiction debut with this slim little literary experiment that is designed to be read in one sitting. It’s a quick read, and it’s a harrowing story, but because it’s so short and because the sentences are so stylized, readers won’t ever come to know any of the characters well enough to be fully invested. I wanted to like it much more than I did.

 

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books and reading · reviews

Book Review: Genuine Fraud by E. Lockhart

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Jule Williams is 18 and an orphan. Her best friend is heiress Imogen Sokoloff, who lives off a trust fund and jet-sets all over the world. The two are inseparable, or are they? Jule seems to be running, but from who?

The convoluted plot of Lockhart’s latest is best left to the vague description above, as trying to explain it further will confuse readers. Starting with chapter 18 and working backward in time, Lockhart’s latest is a pale imitation of her previous (and far superior) effort We Were Liars. I’m frankly stunned by the starred reviews this one has garnered, because it isn’t nearly as good as it thinks it is.

It is, however, fast-paced, and it reads very quickly as a result. As Jule moves from New York to London to California to Mexico, her intense narrative keeps readers turning pages to discover what’s really going on. As narrators go, Jules is completely unreliable, and the mysteries surrounding her are equal parts compelling and aggravating.

There is some suspense to be found here, and there’s certainly some teen appeal, especially for readers who like their stories twisty and their characters complex. There are moments that are truly unsettling, and even more moments that are actually quite gruesome, which might put some readers off the story.

On the whole, though, the book never quite gelled for me. It feels too much like an attempt to recapture the magic of Lockhart’s last book, and it’s as though I could see the author pulling the strings to move the plot along. Perhaps it just wasn’t for me, but there’s certainly an audience for this one. Might make a good movie, too.

Genuine Fraud by E. Lockhart. Delacorte: 2017. Library copy.

books and reading · reviews

What I Read this Week

These are the things I read this week:

32600769The Blinds by Adam Sternbergh: Former criminals live in an isolated town in Texas, in a sort of social experiment where none of the criminals can remember their pasts or their crimes, but they know that they have chosen this life instead of a life in prison. Sheriff Calvin Cooper keeps the peace in the town, where they’ve never had any violence in eight years. Until someone turns up dead. And then another person turns up dead, too.

A smart, twisty little western that kept me guessing, I enjoyed this one as a whole. It’s told through multiple perspectives, which helps readers get a sense of the town, but it never allows the reader to get very close to any of the characters, which is intentional. This was a read out of my comfort zone, and I liked it.

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Young Jane Young by Gabrielle Zevin: Aviva Grossman gets involved with a very married much older congressman when she’s still in college. The affair is revealed, and she becomes a social pariah, unable to find work. So she changes her name and moves far away to start a new life as a wedding planner in Maine. Raising her 13-year-old daughter Ruby on her own, she decides to run for office, and that’s when all her secrets are revealed.

I really liked this one–I read it in a day–but the first part of the book is by far the strongest section. Told in alternating narratives by four very different women, it’s a quick, captivating read about sexism, feminism, slut shaming, and much more. I really enjoyed the hell out of this book.

5Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban by J.K. Rowling: Harry’s third year at Hogwarts is marked by increased security in the form of dementors, after notorious wizard Sirius Black escapes from the wizard prison. Everyone is sure Sirius is after Harry, but Harry realizes that Sirius might have answers about his past.

This has always been my least favorite of all the Harry Potter books, and it remains so to this day. While I enjoyed Jim Dale’s narration of it, it’s still the book I feel the least connected to. I’m not sure if I don’t think the rising action is nearly as compelling as the other books or if I just don’t care about all the animal stuff (which is a departure for me), but I always rush through this one to get to the good stuff later on.

I Hate Everyone But You by Gaby Dunn and Alison Raskin: Ava and Gen are best 33916153friends headed off for their first year of college on opposite sides of the country. The book chronicles their first semester through texts and emails as each girl explores newfound independence, college experiences, and new relationships. Can their friendship survive the distance and different experiences?

Told entirely through texts and emails, this frenetic (there’s literally no other word for the pacing and tone of this one) book about two best friends has some really authentic (read: self-absorbed and completely obnoxious) narrators, and some interesting things to say about the complexities of female friendship, but it’s also a pretty surface-level novel. I have complicated feelings about it.

What did you read this week?

books and reading

Stand-Out Picture Books in October

31145060Stay: A Girl, a Dog, a Bucket List by Kate Klise: Eli the dog has been with Astrid the girl since her parents brought her home from the hospital. Astrid is getting older, and so is Eli. Knowing that Eli won’t be with her forever, Astrid wants to create happy and fun memories with him, so she creates a bucket list of activities for the two to experience together.

I straight up ugly cried through this one, but even if stories about dogs and their stupid mortality weren’t my emotional kryptonite, this would have been a standout. Beautifully illustrated (by Klise’s sister), with simple, sweet text, the book allows readers to fully experience the very real relationship between the book’s two main characters. Hands down one of my favorite picture books of the year.

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You Must Bring a Hat by Simon Philip: The one rule for attending the party of the year is that attendees must bring a hat. But what if you don’t have a hat? Will a monkey wearing a hat suffice?

Cute, silly, and full of vivid pictures, this one will be a hit with kids who like their stories repetitive but very funny. I really liked this one and thought it might work for a storytime in the future.

Not a lot of stand-outs this month, but I didn’t seek them out, either. I expect I’ll be reading a lot of picture books over the next two months as “best of” lists start appearing.

 

books and reading

What I Read This Week

Another slow week for me. Here’s what I read this week:

31931941Eliza and Her Monsters by Francesca Zappia: Eliza Mirk is shy to the point of being friendless. But that’s in the real world, because in the online world, she has friends. And she’s Lady Constellation, the author of the super popular webcomic Monstrous Sea. When new kid Wallace Warland enters her life, she realizes he’s the author of the most popular Monstrous Sea fanfic around. And the two become friends, but she can’t seem to bring herself to tell him who she is.

I was surprised by how much I loved this one. Sweet and funny, with serious respect for the world of fandom, I devoured this in just a couple sittings. Definitely one of the best YA books of the year.

Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets by J.K. Rowling: Harry’s second year at15881 Hogwarts is marked by mysterious whispering from something in the walls, people are turning up petrified solid, and there’s the mystery of the diary that seems to be blank until it isn’t. But who is the heir of Slytherin, and how is the chamber opening again?

I’ve been listening to the Harry Potter books on audiobook, and they aren’t disappointing this time around. It’s been years since I listened to Jim Dale’s narration, and it’s like delicious comfort food. One of my least favorites of the series, I actually enjoyed it this time around, but I can’t wait to get further into the series.

9303735Backstage Pass by Olivia Cunning: Brian Sinclair hasn’t written new music in months. His band, Sinners on Fire, needs new tunes to entertain their fans, but he’s blocked. Then he meets Myrna, a sex psychologist, and the two have steamy encounters that ignite his muse. But she’s not looking to for a relationship, and he’s on the road constantly.

Pure erotica garbage. It’s not particularly well written, the characterization is a mess, and there’s no actual story here, but I couldn’t stop reading it because it was so silly.

books and reading · reviews

Book Review: How to Find Love in a Bookshop by Veronica Henry

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After the death of her bookstore owner father, Emilia has returned to her tiny English town to run the family business. While Nightingale Books is a book lover’s haven, it’s also struggling financially. Determined to keep her father’s dream alive, Emilia must find a way to reinvigorate the business while also dealing with the regular customers, whose lives intersect with Emilia’s own.

Very light, very frothy, and a bit romantic, Henry’s novel about a tiny English town and the book lovers who live there is a sweet little gem of a novel. With a robust cast of characters (who are hard to keep track of at times) and an interesting (if not totally riveting) plot, this is a book that will find fans, especially when put in the hands of total bibliophiles. As much about the characters as it is about the love of reading, Henry’s novel is a quiet little distraction from the chaos of everyday life.

There’s certainly not a whole lot of substance here, but there is a great deal of heart, which makes for a delightful read. Henry’s book has a very specific sense of place, and she loves her characters. The plot moves along at a good pace, making the turning of the pages quite easy, and while there’s definitely a happy ending for the book’s characters, the journey to get there is at times a bit bittersweet. There are perhaps too many characters for the book’s own good, and some of these characters are total stereotypes, but on the whole the book is a lot of fun.

How to Find Love in a Bookshop by Veronica Henry. Viking: 2017. Library copy.

books and reading · reviews

Book Review: The Breakdown by B.A. Paris

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Cass takes the road through the woods to get home one night, and she sees a car on the side of the road. It’s raining and dark, so Cass doesn’t stop, but the next day, the news reports that a woman was brutally murdered on that same road. Filled with guilt over what she could have done, Cass also starts to forget things, like where she put her keys and plans she made with friends. Fearful that she’s developing early onset dementia like her late mother, Cass tries to hide her fears from her husband, Matthew.

Paris’s thriller Behind Closed Doors was a hit last year, and her latest offering takes a different take, providing readers with an unreliable narrator who can’t seem to remember simple things in her life. But there’s so little character development across the board here that Paris’s novel doesn’t ramp up the tension so much as provide a very shallow account of what appears to be the stereotypical “hysterical” woman. It’s boring.

Nothing about the story is all that compelling, even in its best moments when it’s a bit claustrophobic. There’s not enough development of characters to care about their motivations, and there’s something very generic about the dialogue so that it often doesn’t feel very authentic. By the time Paris reveals all the (improbable) answers that savvy readers will have already figured out, it’s too little too late. It’s also an unsatisfying conclusion.

This one is kind of a snore. I’d give it a pass, and recommend her first to readers looking for a suspenseful story.

 

The Breakdown by B.A. Paris. St. Martins: 2017. Library copy.