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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.

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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

What I Read This Week

I’m going to hit my unofficial goal of 365 books read this year thanks to the sheer number of picture books I read, but everything else is still a pretty slow grind for me. Here’s what I read this week:

15797848There’s Someone Inside Your House by Stephanie Perkins: The students at Osborne High School are being brutally murdered. One by one, they’re dying in increasingly gross and macabre ways. But who is the killer, and what is their motive? Time is running out, and secrets are going to be spilled like blood.

Fun, fast-paced, and genuinely scary. Perkins is well-known for her romantic comedies, and here she does something completely different: writes a very compelling horror novel. There are shades of Scream here, and it will keep readers reading until the last few pages. I enjoyed it quite a bit.

Enchanted Islands by Allison Amend: Frances Frankowski was born in Duluth in 1882,26192488 and runs away with her best friend Rosalie when they’re just teenagers. After a betrayal in Chicago, Frances ends up on her own in San Francisco, working for the Office of Naval Intelligence. Then she’s asked to marry an intelligence officer and move to the Galapagos Islands, and Frances’s ordinary life becomes a bit more extraordinary. But both Frances and her husband harbor secrets of their own.

I read this for book club. It wasn’t my pick. It wasn’t for me. It’s historical fiction, based on real-life people (and the subsequent memoir by the real-life Frances), and it suffers from a lack of compelling plotting or even compelling characters. It feels much like a retread of what the memoir must have been, and there’s very little new stuff here to warrant a fictionalized take on it. I was disappointed. And very, very bored.

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Book Review: You’re Welcome, Universe by Whitney Gardner

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Julia gets kicked out of her deaf school after her best friend turns her in for graffiti she did on school property. Julia can’t believe it, especially because she was covering up a slur about said best friend. Her moms send her to a “mainstream” school all the way out in the suburbs and forbid her from engaging in any street art. But it’s Julia’s only outlet, and when she realizes that another artist is tagging her stuff, she sees it as a challenge. Determined to figure out who is changing her art, she ends up embroiled in a graffiti war.

Gardner’s novel is smart, compelling, and features a heroine who is prickly, angry, and realistic. The novel presents Deaf culture well, allowing Julia to narrate the book with an authentic voice, and allowing the reader to experience the frustrations Julia faces in the hearing world. Spoken dialogue is punctuated with blank lines, representing the words that Julia wouldn’t be able to lip read. Throughout the book, Julia’s art offers additional insight into her world.

A varied cast of characters, including an at-times patronizing interpreter, teachers who have no idea how to best meet Julia’s needs, and an eager white girl Julia refers to as Yoga Pants, help round out the novel. There are moments where it feels as though there’s too much going on in the narrative, but Gardner’s strong grasp of Julia as a character helps readers wade through the myriad issues that pop up. The ending isn’t as tight as it could be, but it’s still a fun read all the same, offering readers insight into Deaf culture as well as the world of street art. Put this in the hands of people who liked the TV show Switched at Birth, because there are a lot of similarities to be found.

You’re Welcome, Universe by Whitney Gardner. Knopf, 2017. Library copy.

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Book Review: Little & Lion by Brandy Colbert

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Suzette is home for the summer after being away at boarding school.  Reunited with her step-brother and good friend Lionel, she also wants to rekindle friendships she largely left on pause while she was away. But Lionel’s been diagnosed with Bi-Polar disorder, and he tells her he wants to go off his meds. Suzette feels responsible for Lionel, but she also feels guilty, because she’s crushing on the same girl that Lionel has started dating.

The long-awaited follow-up from Brandy Colbert doesn’t disappoint. Filled with interesting and layered characters, as well as a fully engrossing narration by Suzette, this is a strong sophomore effort. Although it could easily fall into the trap of being an “issues” book, Colbert navigates a whole host of tricky topics with total sensitivity and confidence. Easily covering issues like mental illness, bisexuality, and identity politics, Colbert has crafted a novel that’s compelling, memorable, and very realistic.

Perhaps the novel’s weakest point is the sheer number of characters present in the novel. There are moments where it feels as though there are too many characters stuffed in the book’s pages, and as a result there’s too much going on. But the characters that do appear are well-rounded and interesting, and Colbert’s clear love for them helps ground the narrative. A strong sense of place also helps make this novel stand out.

On the whole, a very thoughtful look at coming of age and grappling with all sorts of real-life, messy stuff. Colbert is one of the best authors writing YA right now. This one is not to be missed.

Recommended.

Little & Lion by Brandy Colbert. Little, Brown: 2017. Library copy.

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Book Review: Grit by Gillian French

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Darcy Prentiss lives in rural Maine. When she isn’t raking berries with her sister Mags and cousin Nell, she spends her time drinking and swimming in the quarry. She’s got a reputation, but she also knows how to have a really good time, and her reputation as the town “slut” means that everyone is watching her every move. When someone nominates her for the Bay Festival Princess, Darcy realizes that it might be as a joke–but it might have a more sinister meaning behind, it too. As the summer heats up, so do the secrets that Darcy’s been trying to keep hidden.

Gillian French’s novel about girlhood and sisters and secrets is so gorgeously written that this review could stop right there. But French’s prose is just the tip of the iceberg on this memorable, smart, and captivating book. Darcy’s narration is riveting and real, and she’s a heroine who is flawed but so strong and determined it’s impossible not to root for her even as she makes mistakes.

Secondary characters are also given care and consideration, rounding them out from the caricatures they could easily become in a less gifted writer’s hands. The bonds between Nell and Darcy and Mags are fully realized, and French spends time examining the prickly bonds of sisterhood and family. There’s a lot of exploration of what it is to be a girl in the world, of what it is to be a sexual being, of what it is to be poor.  It’s really excellent.

Although it’s not a straight-up mystery, there are secrets that help propel the narrative forward. French does a beautiful job of weaving hints into the narrative without every being too obtuse nor too obvious, and the result is very satisfying and realistic. Readers will be guessing until the end, and even those who figure it out early will find the ending emotionally resonant. I loved this one. One of my favorite reads of the year.

Grit by Gillian French. Harper Teen: 2017. Library copy.

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Book Review: When Dimple Met Rishi by Sandhya Menon

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Dimple Shah is ready for her college life, and she thinks that a special coding summer course is the thing to give her a leg up when she starts her program in the fall. She’s surprised when her parents agree to it. Enter summer course classmate Rishi Patel, a boy who is a hopeless romantic…and apparently Dimple’s future husband. Unbeknownst to Dimple, both sets of parents have set in motion an arranged marriage for the two. Dimple fights it, but Rishi is actually pretty sweet. Maybe opposites do attract?

Told in alternating chapters, Dimple and Rishi narrate this lighthearted novel about culture and identity. Menon’s book has garnered a great deal of praise, and it’s easy to see why people are attracted to it: she blends Hindi language and traditions into the narrative without it ever feeling jarring, and she manages to distinctly encapsulate the personalities of two very different protagonists. It’s a heartwarming story with a happy ending that many readers will gobble up.

That said, it’s also way, way too long. Nearly every conflict presented in the book is resolved about two-thirds of the way through, leaving readers with another 100 pages where the narrative threads largely unravel. The result is a flabby mess of an ending, and one that could have been avoided with a stronger editing hand. Menon is also a debut author, and there are moments where the prose isn’t nearly as strong as it could be.

There’s a lot to like here, and Menon should be commended for writing about a touchy subject (especially in a YA novel) with such grace and generosity. Menon is an author to watch, because there’s enormous teen appeal here. I just wish it had been more tightly constructed.

When Dimple Met Rishi by Sandhya Menon. Simon Pulse: 2017. Library copy.