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NYT bestsellerish roundup– The Interestings and All Fall Down

I have been reading so much but not posting as often! I blame job, travel, summer, and illness.

I’m still kinda sick (immense ear pressure– ouch!)– and on my way out the door to work, so I’ve quickly grouped together two of the recent “best seller” types that I’ve read.

The Interestings by Meg Wolitzer

The Interestings

This is  one of the more stylish book covers I’ve seen in a while. It was in my bag one day and it matched a bunch of the other things in there (zipper pouch, glasses case…). And as a reader, you really get a lot of “value” from this single volume. Basically, the story starts back in the 1970’s at arty summer camp, and follows a select few of the campers (who have all kept in touch) into adulthood in the present day. I don’t think I felt the passion that the author wanted me to feel, but I still enjoyed reading about most of the interesting things that happened, and getting hyper-personalized peeks into characters’ lives. I felt like some of the plot devices were kind of trite and draggy, but again, all the different little parts were compelling and well-written enough that I will still be recommending this book to people as something nice to read on the plane/beach/park/lunch break.

get a copy here

All Fall Down by Jennifer Weiner

All fall down : a novel

I’m usually silly-obsessed with Jennifer Weiner’s books. They’re full of little pops of brilliance and allusions to contemporary pop culture and they have a delightful really personal feel that makes you really, really love the protagonist. All Fall Down has some of that. But it’s about painkiller addition, which is a kind of ugly subject that nobody’s really talking about. It’s the story that nobody really wants to read: privileged white woman has a lot going on, gets hooked on pills, hits a pretty ugly bottom, goes to rehab, and starts to get a little better.

But it’s a solid story, and a culturally relevant one. And I think that it takes someone with the mainstream clout of Jennifer Weiner to get a book like this out to the world on a mainstream publisher.

I don’t mean to say that it’s a drag to read– I read it in about a day; I put off doing other “important” and “fun” things because I wanted to find out what happened next. It’s a good book. Just different from her other stuff. Find a copy here.

 

Book Review: The Opposite of Loneliness: Essays and Stories by Marina Keegan

The opposite of loneliness : essays and stories

I hate to get all sentimental and shit about an NYT Best Seller, but this collection is pretty great. It’s a bummer that Keegan died young and unexpectedly because it would have been awesome to read more of her stuff. And to see how much more awesome her writing would get with age.

These essays and short stories are full of optimism, self-awareness, some darkness, idealism, and realness.There’s simultaneously universality and incredible specificity. Some are clearly fulfilling a school assignment– others not so much.

One of my favorite elements is that the introductions to her essays are brilliantly structured. It’s like there’s an explosion and its trails lead you into the topic and suddenly you’re just there.

ch ch check it out (though you’ll probably have to wait in the reserves line for a while)

Double-teen Book Reviews Edition!

I am so busy, so here is a 2fer.

Book Review: Lauren Yanofsky Hates the Holocaust BY Leanne Lieberman

Lauren Yanofsky hates the Holocaust

I appreciate that this book plays with a topic that is so often ignored by YA lit: religion. And in particular, discomfort with religion.

Our protagonist Lauren has grown up Jewish in a pretty observant family; she had a bat mitzvah, she used to go to the Jewish youth group, and she had to beg her parents to allow her to exchange the fancy Jewish private school for the ordinary public school. Oh, and she might be questioning her belief in the religion– but that’s to the side of the main point. The main point is that the boy who she’s been flirting with plays Nazi games when he gets drunk and this really appalls her because you see, in addition to it being generally messed up, she has built up multiple layers of holocaust-related trauma. And it’s starting to  seem like the entirety of her and her religion is based around the holocaust and her friends don’t understand… My description may seem clunky, but the author actually deals with it all pretty smartly.

This is a really solid book in lots of ways. It’s well-written and has surrounding friendship drama plots, coming of age stuff, imperfect relationships and choices, problematic parenting, familial imperfection.

This unusual book is quite good and it won’t take you too long to read. Check it Out!

The Secret Ingredient by Stewart Lewis

The secret ingredient

Olivia is 16 and lives with her 2 dads in LA. The family owns a fancy little restaurant that Olivia (genius cook that she is) cooks the weekly specials for. But Oh No! the bankers are coming after the family’s restaurant and house because the business hasn’t been doing so hot. Meanwhile, Olivia gets a really cool part time job, bends some legal rules to try to meet her birth-mom (she’s adopted), spends time with a boy from her past, and encounters a lovely little dose of magic. What will happen?!?!

This is a nice read that covers lots of ground and has a good amount of dimension. I wish there was more character depth and physical description of people and outfits, but that’s just me. There are some really good and detailed descriptions of the food– and I guess that’s closer to where the plot’s at anyway. I’d been missing magic, and this had a tidy little dose of it. Get a copy!

Book Review: Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell

Fangirl

Fangirl was so worth the 3 month wait at the library. This book is a lovely package: there’s romance and family and relationships and new things and life changes and personal development. You’ll love this book in the park or on the train, on the couch, or in a waiting room (or at least I did)…

Plus, it’s about a twin. The wonderful World of Sweet Valley predisposes me to love anything about twins. Especially twins with different personalities.

Cath’s a twin who writes online fan fiction about a popular Harry Potter-ish book character. She followed her sister to a college a few hours from home, and instead of continuing to be twinny BFF’s, her sister becomes a popular partygirl, and Cath becomes a lonely dorm room fan fic writer who has thousands of fans online but no friends in real life. On top of her sister’s new habit of binge drinking, her dad’s  fluctuating mental health, and her MIA mom’s reappearance in the periphery, Cath might sorta be finding her voice, finding herself, and falling in love.

Fangirl is super well-written, and you’ll be sad its world is over when you get to the last page.

Get a copy!

Book Review: A Tale for the Time Being by Ruth Ozeki

A tale for the time being

I love reading bad reviews. For household items and clothing, for example, they can so often let you know what an advertiser doesn’t want you to know (oh, it breaks after 2 uses, kthx, I’ll choose something else)– but they can also bring out people’s feral critical sides, which read almost as delicious as gossip– or as dumb as a half-assed drunken shout at an afternoon tv show. The thing about the bad Amazon reviews for this ultra-famous book– are that the bad reviews totally missed the point (and that they maybe didn’t actually even read the book). But what’s even crazier is that the good reviews missed the point too. And so did the description on the back.

On the surface, this is a teenage girl’s (Nao’s) story as told through her diary which is being read by a middle-aged woman (Ruth) who found it on the other side of an ocean. Their two existences/stories are kind of tied together by the Japanese tsunami and  Ruth’s reading of the diary and interest in trying to find Nao to make sure she survived. BUT this is part where you should kindly stop reading and move onto another post if you want to read the book without a “SPOILER.”

OK. Here goes.

Go ahead and read the publisher’s description and the positive Amazon reviews– because that’s a part of what you’re going to get. Don’t worry, they won’t mislead you too much (except for maybe the part where you’re told that you’re gonna learn all about Jiko’s life story- you actually only get a little). These chunks of writing (reviews, descriptions) will allude (sometimes quite a bit) to the book’s focus on “Now” (there’s a character named “Nao,” get it?), the present, and perception of time, which is still pretty right-on (but this gains in importance in the next paragraph).The reviews are all like “oooh, zen, isn’t that neat” (yeah, there’s some zen stuff too).

But they all ignore the important and heartbreaking and ugly (and in my opinion, biggest) part of the story. Memory. And memory loss. When I had maybe 1/4 of the book left to read I started to realize that maybe Ruth’s perceptions weren’t as reliable as we first thought they were. Nao’s narrative crumbles a little. The amount of filled pages that Ruth sees in the diary on some days is different from what  she remembers. She’s able to affect Nao’s family’s story with her dreams. Things that Nao mentions are sometimes very similar to what Ruth experiences/knows. Sometimes Ruth writes things, forgets about them, and when she re-reads them it’s like nothing she thinks she’s ever seen before. Sometimes an entire day has passed and she doesn’t remember.

I’m suggesting that this is not actually a book about 2 different people. But does it actually matter in the grander scheme of things?

(it did to me).

  I’m not going to pretend to understand zen or philosophy (though the book takes an excellent stab at teaching), but the book is gorgeously written and cleverly put together. I didn’t necessarily like the direction that the last fraction of the story took– but I certainly can’t say that it was badly done. It’s just that it scared me a little. Even though there’s awesomeness to the present, I’d prefer to keep my memories too (all of them). Still, though, there are lots of awesome messages and ideas and factoids that will appeal to lots of different readers: there’s history, nature, philosophy, spirits… You get a teenage narrator and a middle-aged narrator. You get a story that can be read on lots of different levels, which might make it a really good pick for a book club (if participants choose to actually read it).

Get a copy at the library.

Book Review: If there’s a Heaven Above by Andrew Demcak

If there's a heaven above

Small press gem! It’s the 1980’s. 18 y/o gay goth Matt lives in the ‘burbs near LA with his mom and step dad. Works at May Company. Spends his free time with his gothy girl bff’s getting fucked up, listening to music, buying stuff, going to clubs.

Interesting, upbeat writing, and if you were around in the 80’s– or know a lot about 80’s music (specifically the band Love and Rockets), you’re gonna be pretty jazzed. The writing in general is pretty good– you can tell that it might secretly be a just little bit autobiographical, and that the author might’ve been smirking a little (at himself) as he wrote it. Some of the plot devices kind of bugged me– but now that it’s been a couple weeks I’ve forgiven them. I saw Demcak read at a Radar reading and he’s a delight irl.

Check it out!

Get a copy at the library or buy one from the publisher.

Book Review: Ballads of Suburbia by Stephanie Kuehnert

Ballads of suburbia

I totally would have loved this book as a 15 year-old. At my library it’s cataloged as an adult title, and I don’t think that fits. It’s about Kara– our protagonist– and her coming-of-agey teenage times dealing with sex, drugs, music, divorce, independence, and more. Ultimately things go bad at home, she meets some new kids, gets into some bad relationships, falls into using heroin, and OD’s. The bulk of the book is her looking back on these happenings as a now-sober youngish adult. The story itself is pretty captivating, and those of us who grew up in the 1990’s will appreciate the alternative pop culture nostalgia.

For me, it got a little too Go Ask Alice-y near the end, which was kind of a drag. But hey, it’s only one story.

I think it would do really well as a series of interconnected artistic short films.

Find a copy here.

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