& Vacation Reading: See you later!

Hello all! And goodbye, because
I’M GOING ON VACATION!!

I’ll be out of town for two weeks, visiting a special someone in the Southern United States, then heading wayyyy north for a cruise with the rest of my family.

If you are about to swoon prematurely, for your lack of scintillating book reviews from yours-truly (is scintillating the word I want? Sounds scandalous!), do not fear. Prop yourself up on that fainting couch. Because I have stuff planned and prepared! I’ve scheduled posts to go up in my absence. Per my posting settings (and because I’m not 100% sure how to turn it off), a Twitter update (a “tweet,” if you will, although why did they settle for a bird motif for that website? It’s not unpleasant, it’s just weird…) will go out with each update. Of course, for those of you lucky/amazing/awesome/splendiferous followers, you’ll get an e-mail when each one goes out!

I hope you enjoy everything while I’m gone! And I hope all of you get to relax this summer, maybe go somewhere, spend time with the ones you love 🙂

I have also loaded up my handy e-Reader with books to consume while I’m gone. I have (so far) selected the following, and I’m stoked!

annihilation theislanders theloveaffairsofnathanielp thevacationers

Annihilation by Jeff VanderMeer
The Islanders by Christopher Priest
The Love Affairs of Nathaniel P. by Adelle (Dazeem! Sorry! I HAD to!!) Waldman
The Vacationers by Emma Straub

First of all, look how similar those titles are. And how beachy. Three of them start with “the,” we have the “vacationers,” the “islanders,” and then….ANNIHILATION. Which also takes place on an island, so…

I will also bring along the huge tome that is House of Leaves by Mark Z. Danielewski. It’s a book a friend of mine keeps shoving in my face. So I might as well start it 🙂 It seems intriguing and right up my alley: creepy and just a little odd. I mean, look at my Favorites link (^^!), most of those I’ve described as “creepy!” Which is weird, because I’m the world’s hugest Wimp. With a capital “W.”

Anyway, I’ll see you all later! Look forward to those reviews!

Advertisements

& Review: Crazy Rich Asians by Kevin Kwan

Crazy Rich Asians by Kevin Kwan

Crazy Rich Asians by Kevin Kwan

Book Title: Crazy Rich Asians
Author: Kevin Kwan
Pages: 530
Genre: Literary Fiction
Publisher: Anchor
Date Published: January 1st, 2013
Date Read: June 16th, 2014
Format: Paperback
Cover Love: Simple and graphic – my hot button words! Reminds me of Where’d You Go, Bernadette by Maria Semple – a mysterious, pop-art style woman, eyes hidden by glasses. And the earring is eye-catching here, which meshes well with a book about money-hungry, money-spending families.
Given Synopsis: “When New Yorker Rachel Chu agrees to spend the summer in Singapore with her boyfriend, Nicholas Young, she envisions a humble family home and quality time with the man she hopes to marry. But Nick has failed to give his girlfriend a few key details. One, that his childhood home looks like a palace; two, that he grew up riding in more private planes than cars; and three, that he just happens to be the country’s most eligible bachelor.

On Nick’s arm, Rachel may as well have a target on her back the second she steps off the plane, and soon, her relaxed vacation turns into an obstacle course of old money, new money, nosy relatives, and scheming social climbers.”
What I’d Add: 
The synopsis makes it sound as if the book is all Rachel’s POV. It isn’t. Kwan tries to let everyone in everyfamily have a moment to narrate. And these families are HUGE. You’ll be hearing a lot of voices!
It’s Sorta Like: An obnoxious Joy Luck Club, plus those chick lit books that mention the designer of every item of clothing a person is wearing.
My Grade: C
Review: The copious blurbs by other authors did let me know what I was getting into (anybody read those, by the way? I get annoyed when the first couple pages in a book are merely plugs from other authors, all saying roughly the same thing). This was going to be a “light read.” A “romp,” if you will. I think someone even called it “sudsy,” whatever that is supposed to mean when describing literature (squeaky clean? Like a bar of soap? A soap opera?). So it was not necessarily meant to be analyzed, probed for a deeper meaning. If you didn’t like a simple, “sudsy” novel every now and then, this one wasn’t for you.

But I like me some nonsense, fun fiction in my life. So off I went.

The first pages are a good indication of the complexity of this family, and thus, this narrative. A family tree gets a two-page spread in teeny little print, outlining names you won’t remember and relationships at a similar convoluted level. There were times I had to refer back to this list: families are connected by confusing marriages, and who is cousins with who again? (whom?) And a complex family would be fine…if the book didn’t try to tell all of their stories.

I’d say there were two main storylines. Rachel and Nick, who grace the book blurb, and whom you think the book is exclusively about. And Astrid (one of Nick’s many cousins) and her husband Michael, who seem perfect on the outside, but have problems of their own. BUT THEN you also hear from the bad egg in the family, Eddie. And Nick’s mother and her crazy biddy Bible group with lots of other crazy mothers. And the couple getting married (Colin and Araminta, how’s that for a name?). And even a girl who recognizes Colin in the States because of his fame in Singapore. That’s a lot of people. That’s too many people.

I’ve read books where the author has done this before: trying to do too much, include too many people. But it’s especially unfortunate in this case, because I really liked those two storylines. Rachel is thrust into an impossible situation, for which her boyfriend does not prepare her at all. And poor, flat Nick. We only hear from Nick’s POV a couple of times. Which is tough, because he could be said to be the crux of the story. He certainly puts all the events in motion. If he hadn’t invited Rachel to Singapore, the story wouldn’t be a story. But even when you do hear from him, it is in small moments, when he looks adoringly at his girlfriend and muses about how beautiful she is, or expresses anger at his family. It’s like those are his only two emotions: love=Rachel, frustration=family. You hear way too much from every one of his family members, and not enough from him! If he’s the “most eligible bachelor in Singapore,” I’d like to know why. Besides his good looks. And family money. Never mind, that’s usually good for a lot of girls in regards to celebrities. But I’d like, as a reader, to see some of his personality.

The book also does this thing where it mentions the brand name of the clothes everyone’s wearing. Which I’ve never really understood. Maybe for fashion mavens, people who know every fashion designer and collection out there, these clothes would be easier to picture. But I have no idea what a Nicholas Kirkwood stiletto looks like. Or a dress from a yet-to-be-released line by insert-famous-designer-here. Those are just words that mean essentially nothing on the page. And unless I look up every designer as I read it, it doesn’t add to the story for me. It’s clutter. I get it: they wear nice clothes. Expensive clothes. But it’s name dropping and it doesn’t turn me on as a reader.

And I’m not sure whose POV the footnotes are from. The author? Nick? I found them rather distracting.

So it is a light story that is needlessly complex. I wanted the scope to be narrowed a lot more. The biggest moment for me that pinpointed the problem was a story that Rachel’s mother tells in the book’s final pages. I found that backstory so compelling, so interesting. Where was the book on that?! Rachel’s mother is made more interesting in ten pages than Nick was in the entire book. And that’s a bummer.

& Review: The Opposite of Loneliness by Marina Keegan

The Opposite of Loneliness by Marina Keegan

The Opposite of Loneliness by Marina Keegan

“I used to think printing things made them permanent, but that seems silly now. Everything will be destroyed no matter how hard we work to create it. The idea terrifies me. I want tiny permanents! I want gigantic permanents! I want what I think and who I am captured in an anthology of indulgence I can comfortingly tuck into a shelf in some labyrinthine library.”

Book Title: The Opposite of Loneliness
Author: Marina Keegan
Pages: 240
Genre: Fiction, Essays
Publisher: Scribner
Date Published: April 8th, 2014
Date Read: May 23rd, 2014
Format: Hardcover
Cover Love: It’s very affecting, even if you don’t know the story behind the picture and behind the author. Just a girl (in a cute coat!) staring you down.
Given Synopsis: Marina Keegan’s star was on the rise when she graduated magna cum laude from Yale in May 2012. She had a play that was to be produced at the New York International Fringe Festival and a job waiting for her at the New Yorker. Tragically, five days after graduation, Marina died in a car crash.

As her family, friends, and classmates, deep in grief, joined to create a memorial service for Marina, her unforgettable last essay for the Yale Daily News, “The Opposite of Loneliness,” went viral, receiving more than 1.4 million hits. She had struck a chord.

Even though she was just twenty-two when she died, Marina left behind a rich, expansive trove of prose that, like her title essay, captures the hope, uncertainty, and possibility of her generation. The Opposite of Loneliness is an assemblage of Marina’s essays and stories that, like The Last Lecture, articulates the universal struggle that all of us face as we figure out what we aspire to be and how we can harness our talents to make an impact on the world.
What I’d Add: The synopsis is very focused on Keegan’s fate, her short life. It doesn’t really say anything about the stories and essays inside. You know her famous title essay will be included, but other than that, you have no idea what to expect. Her death was truly a tragedy, but that should not be what sells her book.
It’s Sorta Like: The synopsis compares this book to The Last Lecture, the big similarity between to the two seeming to be that their authors are now deceased.
My Grade: B
Review:
I saved Marina Keegan’s now very famous essay, “The Opposite of Loneliness” to one of my browser’s bookmarks a couple of years ago, the day after a friend on Facebook posted it. The first thing you see when the page loads is her picture – the same picture that makes up the cover of her book here (here’s the link to the original post from the Yale Daily News). My first reaction upon opening the page was Cute coat! (I have a things for jackets. Scarves. Boots. If I could live perpetually in fall weather, I would.) The first paragraph, in italics below that picture, is short and sweet. She wrote for the newspaper. She had just graduated. She died shortly afterward. It already lends a tragic tone to her essay. The essay itself was incredibly relatable. It hit home for me. I was facing down the summer before my senior year of college. I was feeling a lot of the same feelings, thinking a lot of the same thoughts. I too, loved my school and the environment there, loved the people I’d come to know as friends. It was already hurting, thinking about leaving that structured setting of papers and exams, having to navigate the Real World and work for a living.

And of course, the whole thing was very sad. This was clearly a girl who could affect people with her writing. She could capture a spirit and a mood and now she wasn’t here anymore. When I saw the book on a promo table at my work, I immediately remembered the essay. It was still saved on my browser. I reread it when I graduated. I read the book jacket and purchased it after one of my shifts.

It is hard to critique something like this. First of all, I do not read a whole lot of anthologies or short story collections or essay collections. It’s true that some of those things have made it to the “Favorites Shelf” (linked above up there), but I tend to reach toward fiction or sci-fi for a read. So I don’t feel overwhelmingly qualified to criticize how cohesively the stories fit with one another or how themes were developed or how well constructed her essays (articles?) were. Second of all, the whole set up to this book is centered around grief. About the loss of Marina Keegan, and how this is what she’s leaving behind: the beginnings of a promising writer. And really, the endings. You read this knowing that this is it from her. The point that she is gone is so driven into the reader’s head that it becomes a little difficult to enjoy the collection. To appreciate the lovely insights some of her fiction can bring (how to mourn someone who was clearly more special to someone else in her story “Cold Pastoral,” the conflicted emotions so often associated with adoption in “Hail, Full of Grace”). I read this collection (with no clue what to expect, because, like I said: the synopsis gives you nothing to go off of) in sadness, in solemnity. And some of the stories and essays didn’t need that tone. They didn’t deserve to be read in mourning. Many of the stories were sad in and of themselves!

I’m not saying that Keegan’s death needed to be completely omitted from the collection, that it should have been at all glossed over or brushed aside. But the synopsis, the introduction, the pointed choosing of essays and stories that focused on loss and the impermanence of the things we as a human race do and think and create was overdone. I felt bashed over the head with this loss. I think most of Keegan’s writing speaks for itself.

For the most part, the stories are strong. Keegan’s a gifted writer who can write metaphor without making it too strained, describe moments and landscape with just enough detail, and write a multitude of stories and scenarios that seem vastly different from each other. This collection includes scientists stranded on a submarine, an architect thrust into the politics and battles of war torn Iraq, and more than one college student analyzing her love life and relationships to family in a time of transition. The variety is refreshing. My favorite story is probably “Reading Aloud,” where a sixty year old woman volunteers to read to a twenty year old blind man…and takes off her clothing while doing so. Passages in that story were beautiful, and the plot well organized and touching.

I found the essays to be less strong. Many of them felt exactly like her short stories. Keegan wrote for the Yale Daily News, and probably a couple of these essays were published as articles in various issues. One such essay/article outlined the reasons why a staggering number of Yale student go on to become “consultants” right after graduation (it’s 25%. Keegan is floored by this number). It’s kind of interesting, but I don’t go to Yale. I don’t really know what a consultant is. What do they supposedly do? Amidst the articles was an obtuse conversation between Keegan and an exterminator who also served in WWII, Keegan waxing nostalgic and philosophic about the car she drove in high school, and a sad story (sorry, essay) about how whales die and why we care. Most of them feel stilted. Like Keegan couldn’t quite figure out how to turn them into stories, so she dubbed them essays.

I obviously loved “The Opposite of Loneliness.” And in the book’s final essay, “Song for the Special,” Keegan expresses some of her eerily ominous thoughts on the impermanence of everything and her lasting desire to make something that stands some kind of test of time. Both of these are beautiful. Impactful. If only her other essays were similar.

So after ALLLLLL that, I have to say that in my very amateur opinion, this collection is good. It’s not spectacular, and unfortunately I am always conscious of the fact that there will be no second collection, but these stories can be powerful. Even if some of that power comes from the knowledge that Keegan is no longer with us, and that toys (a little cruelly) with some of our emotions.

 

& Review: Don’t Worry, It Gets Worse by Alida Nugent

Don't Worry, It Gets Worse by Alida Nugent

Don’t Worry, It Gets Worse by Alida Nugent

“You think it was bad when you were pulling all-nighters in college? Don’t worry, it gets worse.”

Book Title: Don’t Worry, It Gets Worse
Author: Alida Nugent
Pages: 290
Genre: Humor/Essays
Publisher: Plume (Penguin)
Date Published: May 7th, 2013
Date Read: May 25th, 2014
Format: Paperback
Cover Love: It’s cute! It’s apt – you might look put together, but really you’re completely messed up in the head. It’s attention-catching, which all covers need to be.
Given Synopsis: Alida Nugent graduated college with a degree in one hand and a drink in the other, eager to trade in parties and all-nighters for “the real world.” But post-grad wasn’t the glam life she imagined. Soon buried under a pile of bills, laundry, and three-dollar bottles of wine, it quickly became clear that she had no idea what she was doing. But hey, what twentysomething does?

In Don’t Worry, It Gets Worse, Nugent shares what it takes to make the awkward leap from undergrad to “mature and responsible adult that definitely never eats peanut butter straight from the jar and considers it a meal.” From trying to find an apartment on the black hole otherwise known as Craigslist to the creative maneuvering needed to pay off student loans and still enjoy happy hour, Nugent documents the formative moments of being a twentysomething with a little bit of snark and a lot of heart. Based on her popular Tumblr blog The Frenemy, Don’t Worry, It Gets Worse is a love note to boozin’, bitchin’ ladies everywhere.”
What I’d Add: It’s actually a great blurb – definitely what the book is about!
It’s Sorta Like: Now this one reminds me of Sloane Crosley’s humorous essay collection, I Was Told There’d Be Cake. Which is an awesome book. It’s one I’d consider a favorite because it did what I seldom do with books (even if they’re flat-out fantastic): laugh out loud.
My Grade: B+
Review:
Not only did I want to read this because graduation season is coming up and I wanted to at least read some of my suggestions for gifts/have the possibility of actually gifting things that I read and approved to friends of mine who are graduating (If that makes sense. Anyway!), Nugent is also writing from a perspective that I’m particularly primed to hear. She writes this as a college graduate a couple of years removed from the school scene, trying to figure out how to support herself (i.e. not have to live with her parents forever), how to navigate romantic pitfalls like online dating, and things you learn in this particular workplace we call RETAIL. I too, am working in said work sector (Nugent has since found her way out, but her essays dealing with the scary universe of job hunting and the total crap you put up with when you take a retail job is spot-on and often genuinely hilarious), AND am trying to find a way to be self-sufficient AND not have to live with my parents forever.

The most important thing for a book of humorous essays, in my opinion, is that it matches your humor as the reader. You could have every other person say “Oh! But have you read David Sedaris/Chelsea Handler/Nora Ephron? They’re my FAVORITE!” and you buy a copy, read a couple stories, and just not get it. I mean, technically, the same is true for fiction, but humorous essays need to be specifically relate-able. You have to see something in the subject matter that you at least somehow relate to. And the humor has to be right. If you’re not into crude, drunken debauchery, don’t read books like I Hope They Serve Beer In Hell (Tucker Max). If you don’t get or don’t use super sarcastic anecdotes, and you aren’t around people who talk like that, then you might not appreciate this book and others like it.

Nugent’s humor sat right with me. She talks like my friends and I talk when we’re around each other, she portrays the very real fears and insecurities that we feel with a heaping spoonful of sarcasm (which is just how we like it served). I cannot claim to be a humorous essay connoisseur, but I have read a few that I’ve loved, and a few that I didn’t get. The good ones made me laugh out loud. Often, in public. And I won’t get embarrassed (not that laughing aloud while reading a book would be sufficient enough to embarrass me. I have experienced far worse in many a coffee shop and restaurant). Don’t Worry, It Gets Worse had me giggling at work, in the passenger seats of cars, and had me reading aloud passages to friends and family.

And not only is the humor great, but the little gem of advice, the moral to every story, seems very genuine to me. Nugent makes you snort your soda through your nose, and then gets sweet. She makes you feel like she cares about you and your very real and normal fears. My favorite piece in the book is her spoof on inspirational graduation speeches, “It’s Your Day, Now Let Me Talk”. It’s got all the great hallmarks of those YouTube-d speeches, with a heavy dose of self-deprecation, wit, and genuine good advice. Plus, it’s where she takes her great title from.

I would have liked the book itself to be longer, maybe include a couple more stories, expand beyond some tropes that Nugent relies on a little too often (jobs, wine, and friendship…although on second thought all of those topics are pretty rife for storytelling). But overall I thought this collection was funny and relateable, which is exactly what you’d want it to be.

Books of My Life

Photo credit: all over tumblr! Via thegeekfey.tumblr

Photo credit: all over tumblr! Via thegeekfey.tumblr

Anyone a fan of Entertainment Weekly out there? Anyone? Bueller….Bueller?

(Please appreciate the 80’s movie reference)

I love the questions EW (and can I just say that I love that their initials are “ew”?) asks authors and musicians right before their next work comes out. They’re published under “Books of My Life” and “Music of My Life.” I love reading them, because knowing what an author you like, likes themselves, helps you maybe discover a new author or two, and understand where your author is coming from. And not that I’m an author (yet), let alone a bestselling one, but I really like some of the questions. So I’m going to answer a few!

My favorite childhood books:
I remember most clearly the books my parents read to my brother and I before we went to sleep. I associate Wishbone novels with my Dad, as we’d go to the bookstore together and pick out the next one and he’d read it to me over the course of a month or two. My mom read us the His Dark Materials series by Philip Pullman (The Golden Compass, The Amber Spyglass, and The Subtle Knife), of course, most of the mature themes and blatantly obvious religious connotations flew completely over my head. Which is probably for the best 😛

The books I enjoyed most in high school:
I didn’t enjoy most of the classic literature that was curriculum for my classes, although Shelley’s Frankenstein was one I found genuinely interesting and accessible. But I clearly remember the weekly contests my AP Literature teacher had, where if your number was pulled, you received that week’s book, which would be one acceptable to analyze on the big test at the end of the year (they were books of “literary merit” as the committee deemed). The one I received, White Oleander by Janet Fitch, became one of my favorite books of all time. It took my breath away. My teacher, sensing that I was a voracious reader, gifted me a copy of The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver. I read it that summer and loved it as well.

bookmovies

My favorite movie versions of great novels:
I’m terrible about watching movies of books I’ve read and really enjoyed. I still haven’t seen The Cider House Rules or Chocolat, both movie versions of books I really enjoyed. I’ve been assured by others that both are great, but I still balk at it. The recent movie franchises, and attempt at franchises, are take it or leave it for me. I midnight premiere-d it with the best of them for Harry Potter and will continue to do so for the rest of The Hunger Games films (although I HATE the trend of splitting the final book into two films. Just…WHY?), but there have been some obvious copycats that just haven’t been as successful (I’m looking at you, City of Bones, Beautiful Creatures

The classic I’m embarrassed to say I’ve never read:
Okay, confession time. I’m AWFUL at reading the classics. I cannot honestly recall the last “classic” (or “book of literary merit,” as the Advanced Placement people might call it) that I read after high school. A book has to grab me! It has to take me in with it’s language, it’s characters. It has to not have me skimming, rolling my eyes, or exasperatedly mumbling about why do people like this? So I’m severely lacking in the classic-reading category. You name it, I’ll be embarrassed to say I haven’t read it…

A book I consider grossly overrated:
Most recently? Life After Life (Kate Atkinson). I’m not one for historical fiction to begin with, but this one intrigued me, with it’s sort-of-sci-fi/time-travel twist (the protagonist lives her life over and over again, with all the memories of her past lives every time she starts anew), and I could. Not. Finish. It. And it was almost universally LOVED. People went crazy over it! While I found it tedious, repetitive, and boring. And I’m cringing to say it, but I’m slogging my way through The Goldfinch right now. I find the protagonist too much of a cardboard pushover (that is to say, flat), and I cannot tell what the plot is about! What is the end goal? It’s a fresh Pulitzer prize winner, but I’m not seeing it so far.

The last book that made me cry…and the last one that made me laugh:
I cried at the end of The Forever Watch (and wrote a review about it/that here!) most recently. Before that, Unremarried Widow by Artis Henderson, about a young woman whose new husband dies during a tour of deployment. But the latter is because I’m currently seeing someone who is about to be deployed in a couple of weeks (so really starting to read that one in the first place was a huge mistake to begin with! :P) Don’t Worry, It Gets Worse by Alida Nugent, is a collection of humorous essays having to do with the struggles of getting out of college and into this thing we call The Real World. I giggled to myself in public, and people stared.

A book I read in secret:
I stole away my mom’s Harlequin Romance series books for a while, before she found out and just said I could take them whenever I wanted 😛

What I’m reading right now:
Bellweather Rhapsody by Kate Racculia, one I borrowed from work. It’s a creepy murder mystery and ode to band and singing/theater geeks everywhere, at the same time. I LOVE it so far!

The book I’ve read over and over:
I Am the Messenger by Markus Zusak. It’s a favorite of mine, and I just love the way it’s written, the characters, the premise, everything 🙂 And of course, the Harry Potter series!

What’s the last book you bought?
Crazy Rich Asians by Kevin Kwan. I bought the physical copy because I can’t quite finagle footnotes on my eReader, and this book uses them a lot! It’s supposed to be funny/light reading – perfect for a vacation I have coming up!

The books people might be surprised to learn that I loved:
Fluffy, romantic books. Although I have a special dislike for Nicolas Sparks (he has zero respect for reader’s feelings and expectations, and I fully believe he chooses and crafts characters just to throw daggers in people’s hearts when he kills them off. True story. I really don’t like this guy), I love the tried and true storyline of guy meets girl, they overcome obstacles together, and then they go off into the sunset together. My mom and I read the new Jodi Picoult books every year, even though others I know accuse them of being too formulaic. Sometimes you need a writer you know will be solid, a book you might know the endgame, but you’ll still enjoy the time it takes to read it and get there.

& Review: The Word Exchange by Alena Graedon

The Word Exchange - Alena Graedon

The Word Exchange – Alena Graedon

Book Title: The Word Exchange
Author: Alena Graedon
Pages: 384
Genre: Fiction
Publisher: Doubleday
Date Published: April 8th, 2014
Date Read: April 24th, 2014
Format: Hardcover, borrowed from work
Cover Love: I love me some ombre (letters). And the background looks like a word search!
Given Synopsis: “In the not-so-distant future, the forecasted “death of print” has become a reality. Bookstores, libraries, newspapers, and magazines are things of the past, and we spend our time glued to handheld devices called Memes that not only keep us in constant communication but also have become so intuitive that they hail us cabs before we leave our offices, order takeout at the first growl of a hungry stomach, and even create and sell language itself in a marketplace called the Word Exchange.

Anana Johnson works with her father, Doug, at the North American Dictionary of the English Language (NADEL), where Doug is hard at work on the last edition that will ever be printed. Doug is a staunchly anti-Meme, anti-tech intellectual who fondly remembers the days when people used email (everything now is text or videoconference) to communicate—or even actually spoke to one another, for that matter. One evening, Doug disappears from the NADEL offices, leaving a single written clue: ALICE. It’s a code word he devised to signal if he ever fell into harm’s way. And thus begins Anana’s journey down the proverbial rabbit hole . . .

Joined by Bart, her bookish NADEL colleague, Anana’s search for Doug will take her into dark  basements and subterranean passageways; the stacks and reading rooms of the Mercantile Library; and secret meetings of the underground resistance, the Diachronic Society. As Anana penetrates the mystery of her father’s disappearance and a pandemic of decaying language called “word flu” spreads, The Word Exchangebecomes a cautionary tale that is at once a technological thriller and a meditation on the high cultural costs of digital technology.”
What I’d Add: I mean, doesn’t that just sound so freaking cool?!
It’s Sorta Like: The first thing that springs to mind is Wall-E. You know, where all the people on the ship live their lives in those hover chairs and never actually talk face to face. There’s some Steve Jobs/Apple stuff going on here too.
My Grade: C-
Review:
This is a book written by someone who loves words, and the intricacies of language. That sounds both promising and incredibly ambitious. But where Graedon cleverly tricks the reader into examining our relationship with language today, and our dependence on technology with a few tricky turns of world building, there are greater flaws in the big picture.

People are dependent on devices called memes in this book (so tempted to write this review completely in memes, like Grumpy Cat and cats that want Cheezburgers, but that would require too much work). But I don’t really know what a Meme is. Or what it looks like. There was mention of a circlet like device once, and I assumed throughout the novel that there was a cell phone-like screen linked to a shell-like ear piece that ostensibly made it easier to call people. But if you put a device that is essentially the eye of the storm for a huge, sweeping epidemic that encompasses perhaps the entire world by the time the novel closes, I should know what it looks like.

And I should know what it does. There were constant mentions of what the Meme is capable of: it orders food when it realizes you’re hungry, gives you information, downloads books, calls for a cab, etc. etc. etc. But only some people opt to get a chip implanted in them so that the meme can better suit their needs. I don’t really know how the meme tells its owner is hungry if they don’t have a chip in their brain. It is an All Powerful Device that can and does have powerful implications on the world it exists in. But it seems almost magic based rather than technology based. And the book blatantly cautions against relying on technology…with a device that doesn’t seem driven by feasible, logical technology.

So the science part of this science fiction-y book (this is in the fiction section of my store, technically, but it walks a fine line) is very flawed.

The characters and writing style are inconsistent. I mentally noted a lot of quotes in this book. Jotted them down in this journal I keep of great passages from novels. But I also feel like big swaths of text in the middle of the book could have been missing and I would not have missed them. It lagged. It dragged me through the main character’s terrible sleuthing and terrible mystery (clues seem to suddenly come to her, and the later explanation of their creation is not convincing). I didn’t find most of the action compelling. The author’s clear devotion to language bogs down real action and movement of plot.

But about that love of language. I did find its use and symbolism in this novel like no other novel I’ve read. People catch “word flu” from their dependence on technology and begin to use words that don’t really exist and forget commonplace words. One such character comes down with this word flu and at first the discrepancies are annoying. Needling, but passable. But as soon as you start to be able to ignore the slips (as everyone in the novel seems to do – seriously, the people in this society are clueless and lazy if they aren’t alarmed until catastrophe having to do with this erasure of language occurs. It’s a slow. Moving. Disease. They could have totally caught it early and the rest of the book would have been moot), they pop up more frequently. Finally, not a paragraph goes by without an annoying little slip. But Graedon is clever, forming language in the novel like that. At first we ignore it, until it becomes un-ignorable. Then its pervasive. You can’t get away from it and it gets a little spooky (the first time it happens I literally got chills).

Graedon also likes her words. Big words. Sometimes in need of a quick trip to a dictionary (I see what she did there, seeing as the characters work for a dictionary). But for the most part, I did think it was a nice touch: flourishing vocabulary in a world where it is a dying art.

It is such a patchy book, and I so wish the whole was more like the little bits I liked so much. The premise is amazing. The relationship to language wonderfully crafted and developed. But the characters fell flat for me, and the situations lacking in both plausibility and tension.

The Review-Machine Speaks!

shelsilversteinquote

^^That right there is my favorite quote and poem of all time. It’s from Shel Silverstein, that marvelous man (even if his author photo on the back of The Giving Tree is a tad frightening…). The book this poem came from, Where the Sidewalk Ends, was one of the first that got me thinking about the power of words and books to make people think, to make people imagine.

I wanted to do a post that wasn’t a review, because I’d like you to know that I am a person, and not just a review-churning-out-machine. This is a total mish-mash of questions, mostly because I couldn’t even figure out how to search for a standard “Personality Profile” type list of questions. So I cobbled together questions from different sites, as well as a few I thought I’d add just because I had good answers to them 😛 Without further ado, hello there!

Name:
Sarah

Siblings:
I got ’em. One. A brother. Younger.

Favorite Color:
Yellow. And Burgundy. Not necessarily together.

Robin Williams is one of my Five. You know: "The Five People You'd Most Like to Meet, Alive or Dead"

Robin Williams is one of my Five. You know: “The Five People You’d Most Like to Meet, Alive or Dead”

Favorite Movies:
Mrs. Doubtfire, Down Periscope, Moulin Rouge, Pretty Woman, Dirty Dancing, 
and all the Disney movies I can sing along to. Which is all of them.

Favorite TV Shows:
Pushing Daisies was amazing, and deserved WAY more than two seasons! I should be ashamed about the number of times I’ve seen every single episode of Gilmore Girls. But I’m not. So You Think You Can Dance makes me wish I spent my formative years in ballet class and jazz class just so I can express myself like the dancers on that show can (and just an FYI: my favorite routine is still “If It Kills Me” from Season 5 with Jason and Jeanine). The Big Bang Theory, Criminal Minds, and I love me some binge-watching-Food-Network afternoons.

Hobbies (besides reading):
Writing (long fiction and short stories), knitting, watching awesome TV shows, and BAKING. I LOVE to bake stuff. Cookies, cupcakes, cakes, anything really. I’ve tried my hand at cake pops, brittle, and am getting into bread-making. I love the way a warm cookie makes people happy, and a cupcake decorated a certain way lights up someone’s face and day. So I basically have the habits of an 80-year-old agoraphobic woman…

What Chore Do I Absolutely Hate Doing?
Well, first of all, I know some people love doing chores, but I don’t personally know anyone like that. And I am not one of them. So the chore I actually don’t mind doing is sweeping floors, because you physically see what your doing, the result of your labor aka the nasty dust and chip crumbs that magically appeared there on your kitchen floor during the one measly week between sweepings. I love Swiffering stuff. I’m not a fan of nasty dish-washing (when I don’t rinse something right away, getting peanut butter out of measuring cups, stuck on bacon grease, etc.), or cat box cleaning (‘Nuff said).

If I Could Be Any Fictional Character, Who Would I Choose?
Hermione Granger. Duh!

Just look at that cheesy gnocchi...oops, I'm drooling on my keyboard.

Just look at that cheesy gnocchi…oops, I’m drooling on my keyboard.

What is the Best Meal You’ve Ever Had?
There is a looooong story that goes along with it, but to keep it short, I ate it in Croatia, after an adrenaline-filled day in which me and a friend ran up and over a mountain in five minutes. We hadn’t had lunch, and stopped at the restaurant we’d had dinner at the night before. That four cheese gnocchi, and ćevapi (pronounced “che-vap-chi-chi,” who would have thought?!) sandwich was heaven. Beyond heaven. That and the cold water we guzzled down.

Where is the Favorite Place You’ve Ever Traveled To?
I have been unbelievably lucky and fortunate to have been able to travel several places. I have been to Australia, Hawaii, Europe (on a couple different occasions), and I studied abroad in college in the Mediterranean. My favorite place was an accident – while in Portugal during that study abroad trip, my friend and I heard from a fellow traveler that the city of Sintra was absolutely gorgeous and we had to go there. So we did. And it was incredible. I don’t think I could recreate that experience, even if I travel back there someday. (More on Sintra down there under the “Prettiest Library I’ve Ever Seen” question ;))

Two Things I’d Like to Be an “Expert” In:
Baking without a recipe! And knitting something other than a scarf…

My Million Dollar (Book-Related) Idea:
Struck me once after I read this quote:
“We shouldn’t teach great books; we should teach a love of reading” – B. F. Skinner

There should be a college class that gives students a book budget (gift card to the student bookstore on campus/the local bookstore, etc.) to buy the books they’ve been wanting/meaning to read. There would of course have to be discussions about themes and probably papers and tests, but it’d give people a chance to read what they want to read, even if it’s the symbolism of ab muscles in Harlequin Romances, instead of ones they have to read and that have been taught, analyzed, and picked to death.

The Prettiest Library I’ve Ever Seen (In Person):
The Library of Congress is supremely beautiful. When I took a class trip to Washington D.C. in middle school, my camera ran out of film RIGHT BEFORE we got inside. I was so upset that I couldn’t take pictures of that beautiful ceiling at the time, but I think that I remember it better now because I didn’t get a chance to capture it on film. Funny the way memory works.

BUT it’s a two-way tie between that one and the library in the Quinta da Regaleira in Sintra, Portugal. Sintra is gorgeous. It’s like walking through a fairy tale, every place you go. There are five, six castles and grounds (complete with waterfalls and wells you can walk down) within walking distance. And every castle is a different mood, a different fairy tale. ANYWAY. At Quinta da Regaleira, the library is a small, dark room, the walls are bookcases from the floor to the ceiling, and at the base of each case is a mirror embedded in the floor, so the shelves look like they repeat into infinity past the floor. It’s AMAZING.

Mirrors in the floor to make the books go on forever!
Mirrors in the floor to make the books go on forever!
Books to the ceiling!!
Books to the ceiling!!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

One Word Would-You-Rathers (No Explanations Allowed!):

Play or Musical? Musical
Theater or a Movie? Theater
Hike or Bike?
Hike
Plane, train, or automobile? Plane
Climbing or zip-lining? ZIP-LINE!
Night out or evening in? Evening in
Facebook or Twitter? Facebook
Go on a free trip/vacation, or win a lot of money? Free trip
Win the lottery or find your perfect job? Find my perfect job
Sailboat or cruise ship? Cruise ship!!

Coming Up: More reviews, of course! AND more about me – in an interview ripped straight from a celebrity magazine 😉

& Review: Me Before You by JoJo Moyes

Me Before You by JoJo Moyes

Me Before You by JoJo Moyes

Book Title: Me Before You
Author: JoJo Moyes
Pages: 352 e-pages
Genre: Literary Fiction
Publisher: Pamela Dorman Books/Viking
Date Published: December 31st, 2012
Date Read: January 17th, 2014
Format: ebook on my nook
Cover Love: I’m a sucker for those simple, bold covers! And this is almost as simple as it gets: just the title, on a solid color background. Some covers stand out to me as a reader because they’re bright, loud, extroverted. This one really stood out to me from the other covers on the shelf because of its sheer simplicity. I like it 🙂
Given Synopsis: Lou Clark knows lots of things. She knows how many footsteps there are between the bus stop and home. She knows she likes working in The Buttered Bun tea shop and she knows she might not love her boyfriend Patrick.

What Lou doesn’t know is she’s about to lose her job or that knowing what’s coming is what keeps her sane.

Will Traynor knows his motorcycle accident took away his desire to live. He knows everything feels very small and rather joyless now and he knows exactly how he’s going to put a stop to that.

What Will doesn’t know is that Lou is about to burst into his world in a riot of colour. And neither of them knows they’re going to change the other for all time.”
What I’d Add: Short, simple synopsis. I prefer this to the ones that give a lot away before you even crack the cover. The information it gives is pertinent and just enough to bring you in.
It’s Sorta Like: Those cute British films that can get really serious, really fast.
My Grade: C-
Review:
Did this book elicit an emotional response in me? Yes, definitely. Was it well-written, and for the most part well-constructed? Yes. Did I enjoy it? Not really. And my main problem, my main bone to pick, is with the main character, “Lou.”

Lou is annoying. She is an incredibly immature twenty six years old, having fights with her older sister that sound more like two little children squabbling. Yes, she has a very sheltered upbringing – she has lived in the same few-block radius her entire life and she only desires to live down the street when she eventually moves out of her parent’s house (with her boyfriend who is so clearly not interested in this relationship anymore). To some degree, that small town upbringing, that closed off mentality, and lack of dreaming and desire does explain away some of her cloying immaturity. But it doesn’t make me, as a reader, like her or root for her. I had to drag myself through this book because I couldn’t stand Lou. A tragedy from her past, revealed later, seems out of the blue and tacked on, as if to justify her annoying behavior even more. I’m still not buying it.

I also wasn’t a fan of the random chapters from the perspective of other characters. They were unnecessary! I didn’t feel like I learned any additional insight from these people on the periphery of the story.

I did feel for the characters when the story closed. I did shed some tears over the beauty of some of the words. But I didn’t like the characters and some of the story choices, which, overall, lessened my opinion of the novel.

& Review: The Interestings by Meg Wolitzer

The Interestings by Meg Wolitzer

The Interestings by Meg Wolitzer

Book Title: The Interestings
Author: Meg Wolitzer
Pages: 464 e-pages
Genre: Literary Fiction
Publisher: Riverhead Books
Date Published: April 9th, 2013
Date Read: April 12th, 2014
Format: ebook on my nook
Cover Love: When you need to catch a reader’s eye, make your cover a RAINBOW! This definitely stands out. Even the spine looks beautiful on the shelf. And while none of the characters are really painters, I can appreciate the nod to artistic brush strokes in the cover design.
Given Synopsis:
The summer that Nixon resigns, six teenagers at a summer camp for the arts become inseparable. Decades later the bond remains powerful, but so much else has changed. In “The Interestings,” Wolitzer follows these characters from the height of youth through middle age, as their talents, fortunes, and degrees of satisfaction diverge.

The kind of creativity that is rewarded at age fifteen is not always enough to propel someone through life at age thirty; not everyone can sustain, in adulthood, what seemed so special in adolescence. Jules Jacobson, an aspiring comic actress, eventually resigns herself to a more practical occupation and lifestyle. Her friend Jonah, a gifted musician, stops playing the guitar and becomes an engineer. But Ethan and Ash, Jules’s now-married best friends, become shockingly successful–true to their initial artistic dreams, with the wealth and access that allow those dreams to keep expanding. The friendships endure and even prosper, but also underscore the differences in their fates, in what their talents have become and the shapes their lives have taken.

Wide in scope, ambitious, and populated by complex characters who come together and apart in a changing New York City, “The Interestings” explores the meaning of talent; the nature of envy; the roles of class, art, money, and power; and how all of it can shift and tilt precipitously over the course of a friendship and a life.”
What I’d Add: Such a promising synopsis! And I kind of wish it didn’t point out which of the campers becomes successful…seems to me that synopses are getting full of spoilers lately.
It’s Sorta Like: It’s a part coming of age, part flawed adulthood documentary. Think that Young Adult movie with Charlize Theron, plus a close, kind of backstabby group of friends.
My Grade: C
Review:
The Interestings sounds like a good premise: a set of kids with the burning beginnings of talent who meet and bond at a summer camp for the arts. The book promises to follow these talented teens through their different lives to explore “their talents, fortunes, and degrees of satisfaction.”

The book does all this. But in a needling, annoying fashion that leaves every character’s story arch unresolved and ultimately, unsatisfactory. 

The main protagonist, Jules (formerly Julie, although that gets dropped immediately at camp when she so desperately wants to be part of these people she perceives as more talented and popular than her) is the most annoying. She spends 90% of the book ranting her jealousy about the same set of people from camp, repeating the same annoyances to her beleaguered husband. Jules is never satisfied. With anything. Ever. Even through successful romantic relationships, a marriage that is still intact by the end of the book, and a daughter who still loves and supports her parents. Yes, it is true to life that some people are never satisfied, even when their life seems pretty plush. But if I never hear Jules whine again about her friends’ more successful lives, it will be too soon.

The Big Event in the novel, a highly dramatic scenario that should be the crux of the novel, is abandoned several times. Without giving away who or what is involved (not that it matters, since it is smoothed over almost immediately and is never resolved), characters take sides in the matter, bicker with each other for much of their lives about what really happened and what it really means….and then eventually give up on discussing it because I guess it’s just become so exhausting.

The writing style suffers through terribly unsexy sex scenes that are rather frequent and dispassionate, gaps in time and discussion that could deepen each character (and thus, none of the central characters are truly round or complete), and lack of an interesting, compelling event that could make this novel live up to its name.

The premise is promising, the beginning a solid start. But you never get to know anyone enough in this book to actually like or care about them. Disappointing.