ellaminnowpea

The Perfect Order of Things - David Gilmour I guess this probably violates the new super-secret policy that suggests that readers can't or shouldn't make decisions about what to read when authors who say sexist things, but this is coming off my to-read list: http://www.randomhouse.ca/hazlitt/blog/david-gilmour-building-strong-stomachs
Brewster - Mark Slouka

It’s really hard, I think, to write a book where it feels like almost nothing significant is happening and yet the reader does not want to stop turning to pages. 

Mark Slouka’s pulled that off with Brewster, a slow burning book about sixteen-year-old Jon Mosher growing up in late 60s upstate New York. Jon’s parents never got over the death of his brother twelve years earlier, which leaves him feeling very isolated and disconnected. He is recruited for the track team and becomes determined to prove himself. He is also befriended by Ray, whose main motivation in life is to get out of Brewster and away from his violent, alcoholic father.

This book is about a lot of ideas: loyalty, the bonds of friendship, the turbulence of the late 60s, feeling trapped in a place that doesn’t want you. On the surface, Jon and Ray don’t seem like natural friends but they forge a connection because each is burdened with difficult family lives – Jon reflects that he can’t remember a time when his mother loved him because she’s too busy grieving for her first son; Ray gets into street fights to account for the bruises his father leaves behind. As Jon becomes a stronger piece of his track team, he and Ray share the dream of running away from Brewster with their third friend Frank and Ray’s girlfriend Karen.

This book devastated me, and that’s mostly due to the fact that I just wasn’t expecting it to be as powerful as it was. There are times when his narration is full of dread, a foreboding use of foreshadowing and I found myself worried that it might be too heavy-handed, especially because a lot of what was happening on the page itself seemed to be almost mundane. It’s just two teenagers trying to get by as they’re counting down the days. 

But don’t let Slouka fool you – he’s gradually driving you into some very powerful territory. This book didn’t just make me cry the way that a love story with an unhappy ending makes me cry. This book left me emotionally raw, wishing that it wasn’t inappropriate to call up my therapist at 11 at night to discuss the feelings that a book had stirred up inside of me. 

This is a book that sneaks up on you, then grabs you by the ribs and refuses to let go. I haven’t even figured out how to write about it without sounding like a blubbering idiot, so it’s entirely possible that I’ll scrap this and write a new review in a few days once I can wrap my brain around things again. 

We Killed: The Rise of Women in American Comedy - Yael Kohen Few things in this world will make me dislike someone more than if they utilize the tired, "Women aren't funny" argument.

Few things in this world made me happier than the episode of 30 Rock that addressed the moronic statement by pointing out just maybe men and women just find different things funny.

Few things have made me laugh as hard as a Tig Notaro stand-up show, and I'd give my left tit to be best friends with Amy Poheler. Women are funny, dammit.
Brewster - Mark Slouka It’s really hard, I think, to write a book where it feels like almost nothing significant is happening and yet the reader does not want to stop turning to pages.

Mark Slouka’s pulled that off with Brewster, a slow burning book about sixteen-year-old Jon Mosher growing up in late 60s upstate New York. Jon’s parents never got over the death of his brother twelve years earlier, which leaves him feeling very isolated and disconnected. He is recruited for the track team and becomes determined to prove himself. He is also befriended by Ray, whose main motivation in life is to get out of Brewster and away from his violent, alcoholic father.

This book is about a lot of ideas: loyalty, the bonds of friendship, the turbulence of the late 60s, feeling trapped in a place that doesn’t want you. On the surface, Jon and Ray don’t seem like natural friends but they forge a connection because each is burdened with difficult family lives – Jon reflects that he can’t remember a time when his mother loved him because she’s too busy grieving for her first son; Ray gets into street fights to account for the bruises his father leaves behind. As Jon becomes a stronger piece of his track team, he and Ray share the dream of running away from Brewster with their third friend Frank and Ray’s girlfriend Karen.

This book devastated me, and that’s mostly due to the fact that I just wasn’t expecting it to be as powerful as it was. There are times when his narration is full of dread, a foreboding use of foreshadowing and I found myself worried that it might be too heavy-handed, especially because a lot of what was happening on the page itself seemed to be almost mundane. It’s just two teenagers trying to get by as they’re counting down the days.

But don’t let Slouka fool you – he’s gradually driving you into some very powerful territory. This book didn’t just make me cry the way that a love story with an unhappy ending makes me cry. This book left me emotionally raw, wishing that it wasn’t inappropriate to call up my therapist at 11 at night to discuss the feelings that a book had stirred up inside of me.

This is a book that sneaks up on you, then grabs you by the ribs and refuses to let go. I haven’t even figured out how to write about it without sounding like a blubbering idiot, so it’s entirely possible that I’ll scrap this and write a new review in a few days once I can wrap my brain around things again.
The Gravity of Birds: A Novel - Tracy Guzeman This one's mostly my fault. It's not at all what I thought it was going to be, and had I known that, I probably wouldn't have picked it up.
How to Love - Katie Cotugno I keep going back and forth on this one. I liked the writing and the characters, but I kind of hated the love story at the center of the plot (though Cotugno maaaay have won me over in the end....I haven't decided).
The Girl You Left Behind - Jojo Moyes Rather underwhelming. Full review to come.
Fangirl - Rainbow Rowell I’ve had an incredibly difficult time writing a coherent review for this book, because I loved the characters but I wasn’t such a fan of the actual construction of the story. At one point, I was actually pretty sure I'd be rating this three stars, so you can consider this a solid three and a half but I'll round it up because of how damned appealing it is...and the fact that I got a little sniffly reading it on the Metro.

In her second book of 2013, Rainbow Rowell introduces us to Cather, who is anxious about starting college at the University of Nebraska in Lincoln. Her twin sister Wren (get it, Cather and Wren? Womp, womp) doesn’t want to be roommates so that they can become their own individuals, so Cather is stuck with a rather grumpy junior named Reagan whose high school boyfriend, Levi, is always hanging around. Cather loves writing, but - much to her creative writing professor's chagrin - her niche is slash fanfiction about Simon Snow, the main character in a Harry Potter-style phenom book series. Cath's fic gets tens of thousands of hits every day, and she'd rather stay in her dorm and write than go to a party. She's the quintessential Nerd girl -- awkward and insecure, but intelligent and charming. She’s a fantastic protagonist, completely realistic and relatable. It’s hard not to root for this girl, even when she’s making bad decisions.

She’s also got a pretty serious case of social anxiety, which is not something that’s often addressed honestly and empathetically in fiction. I’ve struggled with social anxiety, to different degrees of severity at different points in my life. It’s not just about being nerdy or shy and quiet, it’s about feeling like you can’t have successful social interactions with others because the fear of criticism or rejection or judgment is so intense. What I saw in Cather wasn’t just a girl who didn’t want to drink and go to frat parties because she liked nerdier pursuits, but a girl who doesn’t know how to interact with people in the real world because it makes her so uncomfortable. She lived off protein bars for the first few weeks of college because she was afraid that she’d walk into the dining hall and commit a faux pas in the form of getting in the wrong line or sitting at the wrong table. I could whole-heartedly relate to this and Rowell’s exploration of that side of Cather was a very emotional thing for me -- hence the need to pretend I was pulling an eyelash out of my retina so strangers wouldn’t stare at me for getting misty on the train.

I expected that I’d be giving this a lower score because there’s often just too much going on. Cather’s academic and social concerns are further complicated by a mother who took off when the girls were eight (on September 11, no less, which was a weird thing to be reading about on the anniversary), a twin sister who has distanced herself and begun to drink to excess, a classmate who might be stealing her work, and a father whose bipolar disorder is barely controlled. A lot of this is meant to serve as exposition for Cather’s anxiety – and that’s important. It makes sense. I just think it would have worked a little better if the story had stayed just a bit tighter. It needed some more focus, especially considering that most of these threads weren’t really addressed by the time the book suddenly ended.

It’s weird to suggest that a 400 page book ends suddenly, but this one does. The few threads that do end felt kind of rushed. I ultimately didn’t find it satisfying.

Still, I get why so many people love this book. The appreciation of fandom, the empathetic main character. There were some fun scenes (Emergency Kanye Dance party was pretty awesome) and some great writing. It’s very engaging, so I bumped up the rating a bit.
A Hundred Summers - Beatriz Williams I don't know about you, but I rarely have truly visceral reactions to books. I obviously love reading and get really excited about them sometimes, but I can't remember the last time that I was so thrown by a plot twist that I've reared back in my chair, shouted creative expletives, and slapped something.

I got to a certain point in A Hundred Summers, though, and that's exactly what happened. I had to slap something.

Graham gettin' it on with the teenage neighbor?


When I was the merchandising supervisor in my bookselling days, I always put together an endcap of beach reads for the summer months. I went through the shelves and grabbed anything with images of sand and surf on the cover. It's actually a little disheartening how many women's fiction books have such similar covers and it's easy to dismiss them all as homogeneous, mindless stories of sex and crying.

If I were still in merchandising, I'd be putting this book up on top of the endcap: the cover fits in thematically (though a little more interesting than most) but it's also the best kind of diversionary reading. It's a little fluffy -- kind of soapish, even -- but it's so well done that I didn't really even notice.

This is a love-and-backstabbing story set in 1930s New England. In 1938, Lily Dane is summering in Rhode Island with her mother, Aunt Julie, and young sister Kiki when an unwelcome blast from the past shows up: her former best friend Budgie and former fiancee Nick -- newly married to each other. The story flashes back and forth between the "present day" and 1931, when the two women were in college and Lily was first meeting Nick. As the story unravels, we learn why their relationship fell apart, secrets come spilling out, and the drama ratchets up.

This is definitely a plot-driven book and the characters aren't the most well-developed or dimensional, but it's fairly well-written and I found myself completely absorbed. I liked how Williams handled the back-and-forth storytelling, slowly revealing pieces of the plot, and I was genuinely shocked by many of the plot twists. This isn't great literature, but it will surely make for a great weekend of reading in the sun.

Sorry, I don't do the beach. Or the pool. This girl doesn't swim, hates sand, and is practically bathing suit-phobic. So it would be a lie to say this was my beach read. I imagine it could be yours, but I read it mostly while sitting on dry land in a park.
Songs of Willow Frost - Jamie Ford Review to come!
Instructions for a Heatwave - Maggie O'Farrell Why have I not read Maggie O'Farrell before?!

I don't know, 'cause she's gooooood. Like, sit in the bathtub until you're a prune good. Miss your stop on the train good. Refuse to split the driving time on a weekend road trip good.

I may or may not have done all of these things while reading this book.

In all honesty, this is a pretty standard Family in Crisis novel. The basic plot is a rather familiar one: husband leaves one day and doesn't come home, mother requests the presence of her far-flung adult children who are each so burdened with their own little dramas that their relationships with each other have disintegrated. O'Farrell has set her version of these events in the midst of the 1976 heatwave that sent London into a drought, at a time when the Irish were still viewed suspiciously and traditional values clashed with modern attitudes in the worst way.

Gretta is the mother with a larger than life presence that her children find more embarrassing than anything. Michael Francis, the eldest, is struggling to keep his marriage together despite his resentment that is has cost him all of his professional aspirations. Monica, the favorite, lost her first marriage to an ill-kept secret and now feels beleaguered by how much her second husband's daughters resent her. Aiofe, the baby, has run off to New York after a falling out with Monica and struggles to hide the fact that she can not read. Robert, the absent father, has long used his bookish nature and difficult war experiences as an excuse to avoid discussing his equally difficult personal history.

So I saw Jami Attenburg speak at the Gaithersburg Book Festival earlier this spring, and she mentioned that she had been asked to blurb this book. It's her blurb that ultimately sums up the best thing about this book: "It's just the kind of family drama I love: Nobody gets off easy in it, but everybody gets treated with compassion.”

I love, love, loved these characters. They're complicated and flawed, but entirely realistic and deserving of empathy. Each character made me - in equal parts - root for them and exclaim, "What the fuck, dude?" They were so, so human.

Then there's the fact that O'Farrell could write the face off just about anyone else currently sitting pretty in the new release bins. I've read a long string of "meh" books over the last few months and I was long overdue for a book that I could not put down. Her prose just rolled around in my head and I didn't want it to stop. I was impressed by the way that she laid out tiny little ironies -- the illiterate character with the name no one can properly pronounce -- just waiting to be picked apart and mined for meaning, yet never so in your face that I wanted to pat her on the head and say, "We get it, sweetie."

My one complaint, the only thing that I can see being a problem for other folks, is that it feels as though O'Farrell rushed through the ending in order to tie every loose thread up but didn't quite address everything. I got to the end and I wanted...just a little more. The bows she tied everything up with were a little too vague. Regardless, this book is fantastic, exactly what I needed.
The Tilted World - Tom Franklin, Beth Ann Fennelly I grabbed the ARC of this one because of the Dennis Lehane blurb. I should've just waited for the sequel to Live By Night instead -- my favorite prohibition novel to date.

This one was fine, just kind of slow moving and boring. I kept setting it down and picking it back up long enough to read ten or twenty pages.
The Bookstore - Deborah Meyler "A witty, sharply observed debut novel about a young woman who finds unexpected salvation while working in a quirky used bookstore in Manhattan."

That right there? Whoever wrote that marketing copy deserves a prize for best fiction writing of the year. This novel is neither witty nor sharply observed. Nope, it's tedious and dull. I mean, if anyone should appreciate a lighthearted tale about a young woman finding herself while working at a bookstore, it's me. That's kind of the story of my life. But this? I couldn't get past the first fifteen pages.
The Time Between - Karen White I read the first ten pages of this on my disaster commute, and I've already made this face:



It has such good reviews I feel I have to keep going but why is the husband not taking care of Eve? Why is everybody being so mean to the main character? Why are these people already pissing me off so much?

It's possible I was just bitter because I was the only one on the extra crowded Green Line willing to give up my seat for the pregnant lady and I can't read while standing up -- precious reading time, gone! Still, this skeptical hippo is a little skeptical.

ETA: Nope, I'm giving up. I got twenty-five pages in and said to myself, "I bet I know where this is going." So I read the last five pages and it turns out I knew where it was going. I think Karen White writes very nice prose and I understand why it's so popular, I just found the actual plot kind of cliche. Not for me, moving on.
Their Eyes Were Watching God - Zora Neale Hurston Installment #2 in the Old Chestnut Hill Gang Book Club. I don't know how I managed to have never read this one.
Just One Year (Just One Day, #2) - Gayle Forman I have super mixed feelings on this book, just as I did with its predecessor. This is a sequel of sorts to Just One Day, arguably the hottest teen romance of 2013, in which Allyson travelled to Europe, met Willem, and spent a whirlwind day with him in Paris. The next morning, she woke up and he was gone. She resumed her life, but was never able to let go of the feelings she had for Willem and decided she had to track him down to find out what had happened. Just One Year is Willem’s side of the story, picking up on that morning after. We learned why he never came back to Allyson and how he spends the next year.

Note: I doubt that you can really read this book and appreciate it without having read the first one. Just something to keep in mind.

I think Forman is an awesome writer, with a fantastic voice and great stories to tell. I love, love, LOVED how well she constructed these two separate stories without confusing the characters’ perspective – Willem’s story did not contain anything of Allyson’s story that Willem shouldn’t have been privy to given what happened in Just One Day. Her consistency is pretty rock solid in that regard and that’s fucking impressive.

The thing that caused me to be all skeptical hippo about Just One Day is mostly that I didn’t think that the time they spent together was particularly romantic, especially given the fact that Willem seemed to have such a history as a player. I understood why Allyson would be confused about the situation and have unresolved emotions, but I also felt that most of her growth came from other aspects of her life and that searching for Willem was counterproductive to that growth. I just didn’t see why he continued to occupy such a significant portion of her brain and heart – and I didn’t reach the end of the book hoping they’d be together.

Honestly? I wanted her to realize she was better off without him. But I think that may be my own personal experiences seeping in to view.

I think I like how Willem’s side of the story handles that aspect. He makes an initial attempt to find Allyson in order to explain himself but realizes the relative futility of his search and gives it up. He occasionally thinks about her – and his friends even convince him to look one more time – but it wasn’t as consuming for him as it was for Allyson. He only thinks about her when he is spurred to and that felt very realistic to me.

That being said, I’m not sure how I feel about Willem’s back story. I think it was fairly realistic, and that his response to his family troubles was to run was believable to me. But I didn’t think that it made him some sort of tragic, wounded soul that would/could/need to be saved by Allyson’s love. I kind of got the impression that’s what Forman wanted me to feel, with the constant references to Allyson’s “I’ll take care of you” line. At the very least, I suspect that’s how many fans will interpret the situation. I guess my skepticism just goes back to how I didn’t find their time together all that remarkable: I didn’t see what made Allyson more special to Willem than anyone else.

Regardless of what I say, though, I’m sure the vast majority of people who loved the first installment will love this just as much. As far as YA literature goes, Gayle Forman is clearly in a league of her own.