Tuesday, July 31, 2018

Top Ten Tuesday: Popular Books that Lived Up to the Hype

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly linkup of book bloggers hosted by That Artsy Reader Girl! If you've ever read a book everyone told you was really good, and thought "really?" when you finally finished it, you've been bitten by the hype bug. I think a lot of us have gotten a little gun-shy over the years about the next hyped release! So here are ten books that (at least for me, everyone has different tastes) actually lived up to high expectations!

Jane Eyre: Classics, especially "beloved" classics, have literally hundreds of years of hype. I thought this book was going to be a straightforward romance and was delighted to find a story about a young woman coming into her own that happened to end with marriage. It's really good, y'all!

War and Peace: I tell everyone I've read War and Peace both because it's a gigantic classic and half the point of reading it is to brag about it but ALSO because it's honestly an incredible book that people think is intimidating and likely serious and boring and it is long but it is wonderful.

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo: I resisted this one for a long time because mystery/thriller is not a genre I've had particular luck with and I figured that its bestseller status confirmed that it was dumb. Joke's on me for being snobby, once I read it I raced to get the sequels because I looooved it.

The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay: I remember a list I read several years back that said this was the best book since the turn of the century, which made me raise my eyebrows because it's a book about dudes writing comic books. How good could it be? The answer is: phenomenal.

The Hunger Games: I don't read a ton of YA. I'm not trying to sound like I'm hating on it, but I usually find that I'm looking for books with more complex characters/plots and more elegant prose styling for my personally most enjoyable reading experiences. So when this series got a ton of buzz, I kind of wrote it off as not for me and then I raced through all three of them because they're so good.

Gone Girl: A missing wife. A husband with a secret. Sounds like something you pick up at the airport to read on the plane and immediately forget. But I found myself staying up late and reading while I ate because I didn't want to put it down and that Cool Girl breakdown is a masterpiece.

Americanah: I read this just recently and there have been years of continually low-level hype about it that made me almost sure it would inevitably disappoint. Nope, turns out it really is that good.

A Game of Thrones: I actually watched the first season of the show before I picked up the books. Though I love The Lord of the Rings, I'd tried reading some other fantasy epics before and they'd just never clicked, but these books are so damn good and I re-read one over the holidays every year and I just want the sixth one nowwwwwwww.

Me Talk Pretty One Day: People love David Sedaris, which had always made me a little wary. Humor can be tricky on the page, and I've often found myself reading things that are supposed to be funny and being completely flummoxed. But happily, this book kept me laughing and I've picked up several of his other works to read.

Big Little Lies: I literally just posted my review of this last week, so I won't belabor the point. I read it as the miniseries (which I STILL haven't watched) was airing and getting raves so I read it at Peak Hype and still really liked it.

Monday, July 30, 2018

A Month In The Life: July 2018

We're at the point in summer where it feels like it'll never be over. Though it's nowhere nearly as bad as Las Vegas, Reno gets very toasty in the summer, and our swamp cooler is one of the best things we've bought ourselves for our apartment! And thankfully, we were able to escape the heat a bit with a little weekend vacation mid-month!

In Books...

  • Perfect Murder, Perfect Town: This is an extremely comprehensive account of the murder of JonBenet Ramsey. If you're already very familiar with the facts, this likely won't do much for you, but since my own memories of the coverage of the case were fuzzy, I found it informative. It doesn't have the kind of narrative flow that distinguishes the best true crime, but it's very competently written and is a solid foundation on what happened...even if the question of who did it remains frustratingly beyond reach.  
  • Disgrace: It's quite short, less than 250 pages, but this novel about a college professor in South Africa whose fling with a student lands him out of academia and into the countryside with his only daughter is rich with meaning and deeply layered. It's not an easy book or enjoyable in the traditional sense, but it's powerful and very good.
  • The Looming Tower: I'll admit I was a little concerned about reading this just six months after Ghost Wars since it seemed like it would have a lot of the same information, but I needn't have worried. This book focuses less on Afghanistan and more on Osama Bin Laden and the development of al-Queda, and for my money was the better of the two. Despite containing a lot of information, it was clearly told and resisted diverging too far from its central narrative. 
  • My Own Words: This collection of pieces of Ruth Bader Ginsburg's writings and speeches, dating from middle school all the way through her long and continuing career on the Supreme Court is a solid work. An enjoyable portrait of a keen-minded lady, though I'll confess I'm more looking forward to the biography that's on the way from the same writers. 
  • Olive Kitteridge: I feel like I've read a lot of books lately in that "interconnected vignettes" style, so I was dreading picking up this set of loosely intertwined short stories. But there's a reason Elizabeth Strout won the Pulitzer...each story is a full story and Olive was a character I found myself interested in reading about. She's a mess of contradictions in such a human way. There are some stronger stories and some weaker ones, of course, but it's a very solid collection.
  • The Romanov Empress: I used to read a lot more historical fiction and enjoyed it, so I was intrigued by this story of the life of Tsarina Maria Feodorovna. She was the mother of Tsar Nicholas II and outlived not only him, but three of her other children as well. The book was competent but not exemplary...she lived such a long, full life that it ended up being more of a highlight reel than a story that I could really get into. I do want to read an actual biography of her now, though!
  • The Pleasing Hour: This novel about a young American woman who goes to France to work as an au pair has some truly lovely writing and does some good work with characters at points, but never really finds a compelling plot or comes completely together. It's a debut, though, so I'm looking forward to read more of Lily King's work. 

In Life...

  • Weekend in San Francisco: There was a motive behind this one that I'll let you all know about if it develops into anything, but honestly any excuse to go enjoy the Bay Area is good enough! I flew in on a Wednesday night and Drew drove over to join on a Thursday, and after a brief obligation Thursday, we had the rest of the weekend to explore the city and Berkeley, where we stayed on the spendier weekend nights to save some money. We ate, we drank, I made TWO bookstore stops. It was really fun, San Francisco is a great city.

One Thing:

Every once in a while there's a big Reddit thread about the best phone apps you've never heard of. The last time I browsed one, I downloaded TripIt! for my phone and this weekend's trip to the Bay was the first time I used it and I really liked it! You can either sign up to let them have access to your emails so it will scan them for things like confirmation numbers, or forward your emails directly (I did the former) and it'll organize them by trip so you have all your information together in one place. Maybe more naturally organized people have a system that works for them, but for me I found it really helpful to have and I recommend trying it out if that sounds like something that would work for you!

Gratuitous Pug Picture:

Thursday, July 26, 2018

Book 139: Big Little Lies

"It was stupid for them to be fighting about this. A rational part of her mind knew this. She knew that Ed didn't really blame Jane. She knew her husband was actually a better, nicer person than she was, and yet she couldn't forgive him for that 'silly girl' comment. It somehow represented a terrible wrong. As a woman, Madeline was obliged to be angry at Ed on Jane's behalf, and for every other 'silly girl', and for herself, because after all, it could have happened to her too, and even a soft little word like 'silly' felt like a slap."

Dates read: April 9-13, 2017

Rating: 7/10

Lists/Awards: New York Times Bestseller

I'm a lobbyist, and my sister is a nurse. We're both "high achievers", so to speak. Part of that is because of who we are, but part of that is because my mom pushed both of us to be academically successful too. On the one hand, she wanted us to always be able to support ourselves...being able to take care of not only herself but two little girls enabled her to escape a bad marriage. On the other hand, she was one of very few single mothers in the small town I grew up in and she didn't want to have to face the patronizing pity of the stay-at-home moms who would have judged her for it if we turned out anything less than model students.

Mommy wars are hardly anything new, of course. They've probably been going on as long as there have been moms (i.e. forever). Liane Moriarty's Big Little Lies has its roots in drama between mothers, but there's a bigger story here. It begins on the first day of kindergarten in a small seaside Australian town, drawing together a group of women who all have children starting school that day: hotheaded Madeline, her ex-husband's serene yoga instructor wife Bonnie, her beautiful best friend Celeste, and the new arrival in town, young and insecure single mother Jane. Of these women, only Madeline is much like she seems to be on the surface.

It seems frothy, this story about the bonds between women, and in some ways it is, but there's a lot of darkness behind the surface veneer of fun. I hope enough people have seen the HBO show or read the book by now that this won't be considered much of a spoiler, but lovely Celeste with her perfect life and doting husband is hiding years of domestic abuse, Jane's sweet little boy is the product of a one-night stand with a sadistic jerk, and Bonnie's secrets are too much a part of the suspense to give away. All we know when we begin the book is that there was a death a school function, and interviews with the police frame the chapters, dropping little hints about what might have happened and to whom.

I'll be honest...this is a genre of book that I tend to see on airport bookstore shelves and walk right past. But Big Little Lies is a great example of why it's often a fruitful exercise to get outside my comfort zone every once in a while. I found the story of the relationships that grew (and frayed, sometimes) between the women to be well-told and emotionally resonant, which meant that by the time all is revealed at the end, the payoff was earned and carried weight. The mystery of what happened keeps the plot moving forward through character-building beats, resulting in a book that's well-balanced between the story and the people who populate it (in other words, both plot and character lovers will find something to enjoy here).

After I finished this book, I found myself wondering why domestic drama stories are so often relegated to the pile of "chick lit" and treated as insubstantial. A book like Jonathan Franzen's The Corrections is entirely the story of a family and their relationships, but it's treated as Serious Literature while something like Big Little Lies, which actually wrestles with weightier topics, is considered to be Women's Literature, For Women Only. There's still a great deal of institutional bias against books written by women about women: Liane Moriarty is very successful, but her work is treated as niche interest instead of relevant to everyone. If stories about men engaging in self-discovery, exploring the world around them and finding their places in it are marketed widely, why shouldn't stories about women doing the same be given the same treatment?

Tell me, blog friends...do you turn up your nose a bit at "women's books"?

One year ago, I was reading: Station Eleven

Two years ago, I was reading: Behave

Tuesday, July 24, 2018

Top Ten Tuesday: Books with Vivid Reading Memories

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly linkup of book bloggers hosted by That Artsy Reader Girl! This week, we're talking about books for which we have particularly vivid and detailed reading memories. I don't often have super strong recollections of where I was and who I was with when I read (even if I really like the book!), but for some books, I do, and here are ten of them.

Fifty Shades of Grey: I KNOW, okay? I have very vivid memories of reading these blissfully brain-engagement free books on the boat at my mom's house when I was studying for the bar exam. I raced through them, because goodness knows I needed something easy on the gray matter that summer.

The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo: Another memory very tied to the boat...years after their big popularity boom, I read them over the summer after my first year of law school. That year in particular was not great for me in a lot of ways, so I relished getting lost in these twisty, propulsive books.

Never Let Me Go: I can still picture the little purple bookcase in my room my senior year of college that this book sat on after I read it for the first time...and the couch in our living room that I read it on.

The Virgin Suicides: I remember picking this up at the bookstore and starting to read it while sitting in the backseat on the way home with my mom and sister and getting really excited about seeing Bon Secours Hospital, where I was born, turn up in the text.

A Wrinkle In Time: This is very unglamorous, but in the interests of honesty, this book was always sitting in a basket in the bathroom with reading material growing up and so I read and re-read it over and over again in there in little bits at a time.

Bridget Jones' Diary: I remember getting this book in high school and staying up late to read it (my light dim so I could turn it off quickly if my mom came to tell me to go to sleep), trying desperately to stifle the sound of my laughter.

Zodiac: This isn't really honeymoon reading, but that's when I read it. There was one night we were in Chicago that we had a just crazy thunderstorm (the night we were going to go down to the fireworks at the Navy Pier, in fact) and I remember sitting on the little loveseat by the window and just hearing the thunder crash while I read.

A Suitable Boy: This isn't just one memory, because this book is crazy long, but I remember very much living at home after my sophomore year of college and reading this book when I wasn't working my very short-lived stint as a checkout clerk at the local grocery store. I would stay up in my room for hours because it was so absorbing.

The Awakening: We read this book late my senior year of high school in AP English and got these really cheap paperbacks, and I remember very much freaking out because I'd managed to rip off a big chunk of the cover accidentally. Thankfully it was only like $5 to replace it.

Gone With The Wind: My mom once dated a guy who had a cottage in northern Michigan on Torch Lake and I remember that we went up there for a long weekend one summer to open it and this is what I was reading...it's forever linked in my mind with the slightly musty smell of a house that's been shut up all winter.

Monday, July 23, 2018

Dreamcasting: Tess of the D'Urbervilles

It's time for another round of Dreamcasting, my ongoing series about the books I love and the movies I'd want to see made of them! This time around, I'm looking at a classic that I think could actually do well with modern audiences, because the themes around sexual coercion, slut-shaming, and both secretly and not-so-secretly garbage dudes that put you on a pedestal still resonate in today's world. So who would I cast in the lead roles?

Tess Durbeyfield: Sophie Turner

I've tried not to just reflexively go for the Game of Thrones "kids" (they aren't kids anymore really but they're still the kids in my head) when looking for British actors, but sometimes they're right. I don't know if her red or blonde hair is her natural look, but I'd love to see her in the red for this role. I've been impressed with her range over the years on Thrones, and I think she can pull of Tess's fundamental goodness throughout hardship and she's such a classic English rose.

Alec d'Urberville: Aaron Taylor-Johnson

Aaron Taylor-Johnson is an interesting actor, and I really liked him as Vronsky in what was honestly not an especially great version of Anna Karenina a few years back. He's got the kind of intensity I think works for Alec and I think he could play a sort of simmering malice well.

Angel Clare: Nicholas Hoult

Angel seems like a good dude at first but turns out to be pretty damn problematic (intentionally). Hoult's big blue eyes lend him an innocence that works for his initial presentation, he's both good looking and seems sweet so the appeal for Tess makes sense, and he's got enough edge for the turn Angel's character takes later in the book.

Liza-Lu: Maisie Williams

Liza-Lu's not a huge part, so this feels like a waste of Maisie Williams, but she and Sophie Turner already play sisters on Thrones, so having them play sisters again here just feels right.

Thursday, July 19, 2018

Book 138: Moonglow

"My grandfather never would have lied to exonerate himself, make himself look good, or evade responsibility. Unlike my grandmother, he did not seem to find pleasure or release in telling lies. But while he was a family man and loved us all in his wordless way, he was also, to the core, a solitary. If there was suffering to be endured, he preferred to withstand it alone. If he made a mess, he would clean it up himself. Unlike his wife, he was uncomfortable with make-believe, but his fetish for self-reliance made him secretive. So while it was true that psychiatrists, who got paid to know such things, had instructed him over the years to keep upsetting news away from my grandmother, it was also true that this advice suited his furtive nature. She was always threatening rain; he had been born with an umbrella in his hand."

Dates read: April 4-9, 2017

Rating: 8/10

Humans love to tell each other stories. It's a tradition that dates back thousands of years. One of our favorite subjects, of course, is ourselves...we're constantly shaping the narrative arc of our lives by telling our stories to other people. Our family, our friends, our lovers...they're all supporting characters in the book of our lives, fading into and out of importance around our central protagonist. Sometimes I wonder how I show up in other people's stories: am I a villain? A small but important recurring player? Or just an offhand reference at the bottom of page 147?

I've always been attracted to stories that are fundamentally about mostly ordinary people and their lives. Michael Chabon's Moonglow, based in part on the actual recollections of his great uncle, is exactly that kind of story. It's semi-autobiographical in form as well as function: the main character is a professional writer named Michael Chabon. In the book, Michael is spending time with his dying grandfather while he tells him the story of his life, which took him from the Jewish neighborhoods of Pittsburgh, to a military academy, to Nazi engineer-hunting in Europe, back to the US, to prison, and eventually to a Florida retirement community, where his life finally ended.

But the real main event of his life was his marriage to a beautiful French concentration camp survivor. By the time they met, she'd already had Michael's mother, then just a small girl, who he raised as his own. That isn't all that she brought into the marriage, though...she also brought mental instability, haunted by periodic breaks with reality in which she was haunted by a being she called the Skinless Horse. Presented with the opportunity to learn the truth about her life after a bout of hospitalization, Michael's grandfather chooses to not, and instead goes on loving his wife the way he's always known her until her premature death.

As might be expected from a book called Moonglow, the moon is a constant reference point and  plays a dominant symbolic role. For Michael's grandfather, obsessed with rockets, it has a traditionally masculine meaning: he wants to explore and conquer it. But the moon is tied throughout history to the feminine, from Greece's Artemis to China's Chang'e. It's also tied to madness, like that which haunts Michael's grandmother. Like the fortunes of both parts of our central couple, it constantly waxes and wanes.

This was my first experience with Chabon, a writer I'd heard great things about, and this was a wonderful introduction to him. He created characters that felt real, especially with the grandma and grandpa (the modern-day characters who frame the story, though, Michael and his mother, feel a bit underdeveloped) and created a relationship that felt honest and lived-in. That these two would come together and stay together and have the impact on each other that they did made sense. I've always been a fan of the character-driven story, and this is exactly that. But there's a decent amount of plot in there for those who prefer that, and I enjoyed the way Chabon developed his story. It's a small detail, but I especially liked the way he left Augenbaugh's lighter unresolved. Tying everything up with a nice little bow isn't how life works, closure doesn't always happen, and I liked that he left that little mystery hanging. I'll definitely be reading more of his work, and would highly recommend this book.

Tell me, blog friends...do you like full resolution to a story or do you not mind some ambiguity?

One year ago, I was reading: Valley of the Moon

Two years ago, I was reading: The White Queen

Tuesday, July 17, 2018

Top Ten Tuesday: Favorite Short Story Collections/Short Books

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly linkup of book bloggers hosted by That Artsy Reader Girl! This week's topic is meant to highlight short stories, but here's the problem...I don't actually read much in the way of short stories. I have included one collection I enjoyed, but I chose to highlight mostly quite short books I've read that have packed a punch.

What Is Not Yours Is Not Yours: My token short story collection...I don't usually read short stories because I tend to find them uneven and this book was no different, but these stories centering on keys and possession were powerful and still pop back up in my head sometimes when I least expect it.

Animal Farm: Absolute classic based on the Russian Revolution, except with barnyard animals. I reference that "some are more equal than others" line at least once a month.

Anthem: This is a solid little dystopian novella about a world in which individuality itself has been stamped out. Yes, it's Ayn Rand so you've got that whole thing going on but it's a good book.

12 Years A Slave: The memoir from a free black man in the antebellum north who's kidnapped and sold into slavery and held for over a decade is very eye-opening and very good.

Siddhartha: This book is quite short but I found it profoundly moving, both in message and in style.

The Alchemist: I loved this book when I read it in high school and am honestly a little bit afraid to re-read it because I'm worried it will have lost some of the magic.

The Stepford Wives: If you've ever used the phrase but haven't read the book, it's a very quick read and very good.

Between the World and Me: What this book lacks in page count, it makes up for in power. As a white lady, I sometimes felt uncomfortable reading this...which was the entire point.

The Prince: I work in politics, of course I've read this. If all you know about it is a general idea of what people mean when they say "Machiavellian", it's worth it to read it for yourself. Very interesting insights into leadership.

I Am Legend: The Will Smith movie they made out of this completely changes the ending of the book and therefore completely subverts its very real message. Read the book instead!

Thursday, July 12, 2018

Book 137: Innocent Traitor

"When I open my eyes, I am still lying there. I realize, aghast, that not one person, not even my mother or my husband, has stirred to help me. Is that what being a queen will mean? I am alone, utterly alone, and will be so for the rest of my life. This realization is just too much to bear, and my composure breaks. Lying on the floor, I bury my head in my arms and fall to weeping piteously, great racking sobs tearing at my body. This is wrong, I know it! We must surely be damned to hell for all eternity, I along with them, even though I am forced to be their accomplice in this evil."

Dates read: March 30- April 4, 2017

Rating: 5/10

When I was in high school, I was on the mock trial team for three years. So when I became a lawyer, I went back and worked with them a bit. I was struck by how young they were, these 15 and 16 year olds. When I was that age, I was sure I was basically an adult, but coming from the perspective of actual adulthood, even less than a decade later, they were definitely not adults yet. But of course, cultural definitions of adulthood have shifted and changed over time. A couple hundred years ago, people of the same age would have been considered perfectly old enough to have jobs and be starting families.

Noble children in the late Middle Ages/early Renaissance, especially, were placed in a double bind: from the time they were old enough to appear in public, they were dressed as and expected to behave like tiny adults, but they were simultaneously completely at the mercy of their parents. Historian Alison Weir's first fictional novel, Innocent Traitor, illustrates the way this played out, by looking at the life of Lady Jane Grey. Known as the "Nine-Day Queen" when she's remembered at all, she was briefly crowned after the death of Edward VI, the son of Henry VIII. She was deposed quickly by Mary I and less than a year later, she was executed.

Weir tells Jane's story from several perspectives: her mother's, her cousins', her governess', and of course, her own, throughout her 19 year life. Weir depicts Jane's parents, Henry and Frances (herself the niece of King Henry VIII), as grasping social climbers deeply disappointed in Jane's gender. The couple are Protestants who raise their daughter (and later, her younger sisters) to follow in their religious footsteps. They are harsh parents, even by the standards of their time, but Jane herself grows into a quiet, obedient, and devout teenager (she is given a top-quality education and has the love of a devoted caretaker, Mrs. Ellen, which certainly helps). While it is hoped that she'll be considered a suitable bride for her cousin Edward VI, she is eventually married off to Guildford Dudley to form a political alliance. When the king finally succumbs to tuberculosis, her family, as well as her husband's and their allies, proclaim her queen on the grounds that Edward's sisters are bastards and therefore ineligible to inherit...and also to ensure that a Protestant monarch takes the throne rather than the rabidly Catholic Mary. When Mary musters troops, Jane is rapidly deposed and imprisoned. While Mary is initially inclined to show mercy, she eventually realizes that Jane makes too attractive a figurehead for Protestant foes and has her beheaded.

I love Alison Weir's histories...she has a light, lively touch with her subjects, creating a real sense of the person behind the recorded deeds. So I had high hopes for her fictional debut. But those hopes were disappointed. It's honestly not very good. Her characters are, for the most part, very one-dimensional: Jane and Mrs. Ellen are good, her parents and husband are bad. I found it jarringly anachronistic that Jane's wedding night rape is conceived as such by her...is "rape" even a word that would have been in common use then for someone of Jane's class? Especially to describe nonconsensual-but-within-wedlock sex (which was perfectly legal in many states in the US well into the 1900s)? Weir does not handle her multiple perspectives with particular skill and it often feels like just when you're getting into the groove of one character that it shifts to another.

Weir clearly feels a great deal of sympathy for her subject, and paints a picture of a life that seems cruelly harsh to a modern eye: abused and manipulated and finally killed. But from my own reading, it seems different more in degree than in kind for noble childhoods of the era: distant, uninvolved parents who expected their offspring to be seen and not heard and made plans for their future in order to create or cement alliances with other families. Jane's short life is certainly a tragedy and her father's continued scheming around her even after her imprisonment, without seeming consideration about putting her life in very real danger, certainly evinced an unusually high level of disregard for his child. But the book creates no real tension or interest in the interplay between characters...it's just waiting for the historical events to play out as you know they will. I have a few of her later novels still on my TBR because I think some of these issues are simply mistakes by a rookie novelist, but I can't affirmatively recommend this book.

One year ago, I was reading: The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay

Two years ago, I was reading: The Shipping News

Tuesday, July 10, 2018

Top Ten Tuesday: Best Books I’ve Read In 2018 (So Far)

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly linkup of book bloggers hosted by That Artsy Reader Girl! This week, we're looking at our top ten reads of the year so far now that the year is a little over halfway over. I usually try to restrict my year-end list to year-of releases, but for this one (since I haven't even read ten 2018 releases yet), I'm just going to talk about the best things I've read this year without including the 2018 releases, only a couple of which would have made my list anyways.

Exit West: I chose this as a Book of the Month selection last year, but hadn't gotten around to reading it by the time my book club moderator chose it for us a couple months ago and holy smokes did I love it. Spare, lyrical, and powerful (and I didn't even hate the magical realism).

Good Omens: If you enjoy British humor, this tale of two angels (one fallen, one not) trying to deal with the pending rise of the Antichrist and associated end of the world will delight you. Both funny and clever.

Stiff: Mary Roach examines some of less conventional ways to deal with dead bodies with her trademark warm curiosity and it's fascinating.

The Girl With All The Gifts: I don't usually read heavily in the horror genre, so I was pleasantly surprised by how much I really did enjoy this twist on a zombie story.

Possession: I can already tell that I'm going to want to read this deeply-layered, parallel-storylined book again to appreciate more of its subtleties and richness.

An Untamed State: I'd never actually read one of Roxane Gay's books before this year, despite knowing I liked her Twitter presence and editorial pieces and the raw power of her talent and skill, despite an extremely difficult subject matter, blew me away.

Thank You For Smoking: I watched the (excellent) movie version of this in college, but now that I myself work in the general public affairs arena, the sharpness of the satire was something I appreciated even more.

Far From The Madding Crowd: I'll be honest, I thought Tess of the d'Urbervilles was a stronger work from Hardy. But this beautifully told tale of romantic misadventure in the countryside is still a very good book with an indelible heroine.

The Color of Water: I'm not always big into memoirs, but when they're done right they can be profoundly moving and this one about a mother told by her son is definitely done right.

Mansfield Park: Fanny Price isn't the lively, spunky heroine many of us expect from Jane Austen, but that doesn't mean Austen's sharp wit and keen observations are any less enjoyable.

Thursday, July 5, 2018

Book 136: The Love Song of Jonny Valentine

"Even if I was way more famous, Lisa acted like she was twice my age, and I should've known from the beginning she'd say no to going out. It'd be like me dating a six-year-old. She'd make it as an actress and singer, because she wasn't a normal kid. She was an adult in a kid's body. If you were just a kid in a kid's body, you might make it, too, as long as you had good management."

Dates read: March 27-30, 2017

Rating: 7/10

Drew Barrymore. Miley Cyrus. Lindsay Lohan. For as long as there have been child stars, it seems, there have been child stars gone awry. How could they not? While most of us are playing and making mistakes and learning under no harsher gaze than those of school bullies, famous kids are working, oftentimes supporting at least some of their family members. So when they start to push at the boundaries and rebel like most teenagers eventually do, they've got further to fall...and a much more public stage to do it on.

Speaking of child stars gone awry, there's always one of our most recent examples: Justin Bieber. And it's not hard to see who was the inspiration behind the protagonist of Teddy Wayne's The Love Song of Jonny Valentine. A preteen singer with a trendy haircut, discovered on social media, with a mother who manages his career, Jonny is on his second nationwide tour when we meet him. It becomes obvious pretty quickly that for all his stardom, Jonny is actually very lonely: besides his mother (whose "momager" position means that her monetary interests are bound up in what's best for Jonny's career, not necessarily what's best for Jonny, and who he refers to by her first name, Jane), his closest confidants are his tutor and his bodyguard.

Jane keeps a very close eye on Jonny's access to the internet, and it's this that kicks off the action: one night when she's out, he sneaks into her hotel room to read about himself. And it's there that he finds a message from a man claiming to be his long-lost father. As his tour continues, Jonny tries to figure out if the commenter is really his father (and what to do if he is), watches his mother struggle personally and professionally, has his own professional struggles, negotiates a fake date with a fellow preteen star, and breaks out of his cloistered bubble a little when a 20something rock band becomes his new opening act.

This sounds like a lot of plot, especially when you're talking about a 300 page book, but Wayne handles it well. Part of the reason he's successful is the way he structures his book: with sections for each day of each stop on the tour, it keeps a constant sense of propulsive motion forward, building naturally towards the climax, the final show. A bigger part of the reason the book works is the voice he creates for Jonny. Simultaneously hopelessly naive in the way that 11 year-olds should be, and cynically jaded about his career and the industry in which he works, there's a tricky balance Wayne pulls off, making Jonny neither a complete sap nor completely bitter.

Some of the themes are handled in a way that's a little too on-the-nose: Jonny's coming-of-age is symbolized by his attempts to figure out how to successfully jack off, and his tutor assigns him a unit on slavery in a clear attempt to draw the parallels with Jonny's situation to both the singer himself and, of course, the reader. And while the story is about Jonny, from his own perspective, I actually found Jane the most interesting character and wish I'd gotten more about her. But having too many interesting and well-rounded characters is a good problem for a book to have. I really enjoyed this book and would definitely recommend it!

Tell me, blog friends...did you ever wish you were famous when you were younger? Do you still?

One year ago, I was reading: Too Fat, Too Slutty, Too Loud

Two years ago, I was reading: The Six Wives of Henry VIII

Tuesday, July 3, 2018

Top Ten Tuesday: Books with Red, White, And Blue Covers

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly linkup of book bloggers hosted by That Artsy Reader Girl! This week, we're highlighting books with red, white, and blue covers because tomorrow is Independence Day! Or as my very British brother-in-law calls it, Unruly Colonists Day. Since this is a cover-focused list, I'm not going to write about my choices, but I will note for the record that all of these books take place in the USA!

The Great Gatsby

Into The Wild

A Tree Grows In Brooklyn

Sex, Drugs, and Cocoa Puffs

From Dead to Worse


Fahrenheit 451

We Need To Talk About Kevin


All The King's Men