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As of my "maternity leave," here are the stats of the past year: 74 books reviewed 9 guest posts 4 independent bookstores 3 d...

Friday, October 30, 2015

The Child's Child: A Novel

This one was a doozy and thought-provoking. This is Barbara Vine's The Child's Child

Siblings Grace and Andrew inherit their grandmother's mansion--and with it comes love, betrayal, and a long lost secret. They both inhabit the mansion, and with them comes Andrew's boyfriend, James. He and Grace grow close until one night, they sleep together and Grace finds herself pregnant. Meanwhile, in the house she finds a long lost manuscript, The Child's Child, that also has a pair of dysfunctional siblings from a century ago. Their stories mirror each other and twist together in a web of sex and betrayal.

Let's just lay it all out on the line – this book was creepy. I kind of didn't know what I was getting myself into, but it was really well reviewed and I figured, why not?

Why not, indeed.

That being said, I will say that I did like the book. It's two stories in one, the first story being a woman who accidentally sleeps with her brother's boyfriend, and in the meantime she's searching for a book that will inform her dissertation. That book is about another set of siblings who have an equally screwed up relationship. The young sister gets pregnant in her teens, and her gay brother decides to take a job in another town and play her off as his wife in order to kill two birds with one stone. It's the early 20th century, so she can't be a teen mom and he can't be gay man. It works beautifully until the sister becomes utter and complete ungrateful brat. It was around the middle of the book when I decided I hated the sister, and not in the way that I hated really good characters who turned out to be evil. She was just a shit. When her life completely changes in adulthood, you would think she'd get better. Nope, still a jerk.

One thing I would have liked to see is more of the story of the modern brother and sister. I thought that they were really fascinating, and while the middle section that was essentially the novel being sought out was interesting, I found the front relationship between the protagonist, her brother, and her brother's boyfriend to be most interesting part of the story. Perhaps we can get a follow up, Ms. vine?

For purchase below.

Monday, October 26, 2015

The Good Luck of Right Now: A Novel

Oh, Matthew Quick, how you steal my heart. You've done it before, and now you've just continued it with The Good Luck of Right Now. Take it all, buddy.

Bartholomew Neil is 38 and has just lost his mother. She was his rock, and his reason for living. He's never held a job and doesn't have a clue how to live on his own. He suddenly finds their priest living with him and his counselor, Wendy, telling him he needs group therapy. He agrees to go, meets a new best friend, and discovers that the love of his life from afar, the Girlbrarian, happens to be his new friend's sister. On an unexpected road trip, this motley crew finds that life is so incredibly dependent on the good luck of right now.

Quick just gets me and my humor. I loved Bartholomew with my whole heart and soul. Here is this man who is basically a child. He can't take care of himself, doesn't know how he will pay bills, and he adored his mother more than anything in the world. She told him as a child that his father was a martyr, killed defending their Catholic faith by the KKK, and Bartholomew had no reason to not believe this. When he discovers that his father is actually alive, and that his priest will take him to meet his father, I got so excited for Bartholomew. This road trip with his new friends was everything to me. It was hilarious and lovely and surprisingly deep. Cat Parliament is the final destination in Canada, which is the dream stop of his new best friend. I now want to go see cat Parliament for myself.

The chapters are all long letters to Richard Gere. Why Richard Gere, you are asking yourself right now. Because this is the man his mother was in love with. When she was dying, she often mistook Bartholomew for him, and Bartholomew played the part to keep his mother happy. After all, who embodies manliness and loveliness more so than Richard Gere? He is the ultimate hero who also happens to be sexy in reachable way. (Yes, I agree with you, Bartholomew. Good choice.) Richard Gere is an important component to the story, and I'm sure he was proud to be the recipient of Bartholomew's correspondence that was little more than a diary.

The last chapter of this book slayed me. I wasn't at all expecting it, and I actually teared up on the beach this past summer when I read it. It was shockingly moving, in a way that I completely did not expect. How on earth did Quick know to do that to me? The book was cute and funny, and then all of the sudden, when it all came together, it spoke to me in a way that moved me. It reminded me of the goodness of humanity, and that what we do for others really does matter. Thank you, Matthew Quick. Just thank you. 

For purchase below. 

Friday, October 23, 2015

In the Still of the Night: The Strange Death of Ronda Reynolds and Her Mother's Unceasing Quest for the Truth

You know me and my Ann Rule. This is is In the Still of the Night: The Strange Death of Ronda Reynolds and Her Mother's Unceasing Quest for the Truth.

Ronda's most important dream in life was to become a police officer. As one of very few women on the force in the 1980's, she became a force to be reckoned with. Her personal life, though, was another story. Already divorced, she found love with the man who was supposed to be counseling her first marriage through their new found religion. The only problem was that they didn't really get along -- and when he went back to his first wife, Ronda just wanted to move on with her life. Then one Christmas she doesn't make it on her flight home to her family, and what has happened to her will defy investigators' best efforts to come to the truth. Who was in the Reynold's house that night -- and who shot Ronda?

First of all, I have to say that I was very saddened to hear about Ann Rule's recent death. I enjoy her books very much, and I know she was a beloved writer for many. Her unending need for justice was what drove her, and I am grateful for what she was able to accomplish in her illustrious life.

As usual, I enjoyed this book to its core. This is one of Rule's full-scale stories (as opposed to one her true crime collections). I read it back in the summer when I was on the beach in Ibiza, and it was an absolutely delightful tale of murder and mayhem (as my mother so fondly calls it). I remembered hearing about the Ronda Reynolds case, because we are, after all, talking about a true crime junkie all up in this joint. It was incredibly fascinating to read the details and let me tell you -- there are details. That is probably what I love the most about Rule; she digs deep and doesn't stop until she has an answer. It's what makes her true crime books some of the best. 

Everyone loves a good "mother's search for justice" story, and this book is certainly no exception. The evidence never once pointed to Ronda committing suicide. (I'm no expert, but I am a junkie, remember?) I can't even imagine what it would be like to lose a child, and watching Ronda's mom never stop until the very end was moving. We all know what happens, and the end of the story isn't a surprise, but there is a smidgen of hope that every story of domestic violence will bring more and more awareness to the issue and hopefully save some life somewhere. 

For purchase below.

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Did You Ever Have a Family? A Novel

I am a big fan of Bill Clegg's two memoirs, so when I found out that he was releasing a novel this fall I ran to get it at BEA. I very thankfully snatched one of the last spare copies they had, and thank goodness all over the world that I got it. Did You Ever Have a Family was incredible. 

June's house explodes the morning of her daughter's wedding. The wedding was scheduled to be in the backyard, and June is the only survivor. She loses her daughter, her daughter's fiance, her ex-husband, and her beloved boyfriend Luke, all of whom were asleep in the house. Immediately after the funeral, June leaves and doesn't look back, living in a motel at the edge of the world. Everyone in the small town is still hurting from the disaster, and everyone has a story to tell. Told from multiple perspectives, the aftermath of the deaths affect friends and family far and wide, from coast to coast, from family to family. 

This was one of the most moving and stunning books I have read as of late. I know we get a lot of great releases in the fall, and this one just stole my heart and ripped it apart. First of all, I loved the different perspectives that tell the story. It provides a full bodied experience of a tragedy that could have very easily become melodramatic when told from just June's perspective. Having others look at June and interact with her and wonder what her story is heightened the heartbreak that you knew she was going through. Hearing from her and from Luke's mom as well as the fiance's parents also added a level of gravitas to the story, and it was a deep and searing reminder that when tragedy strikes, more people are affected than you might ever realize or remember. Arguably, June suffered the most, but when we lose a child or a lover or a parent, whether it's one or multiple, we all suffer deeply.

We follow the story out of order, after the fire has been put out and the house has been razed. We see June in her overwhelming grief and we see the small town in it's gossipy glory. As we begin to understand June's story -- because really, it's June's story -- we see what happened that day, moving through the muck of the gossip about Luke's past and the tangled relationships that come with family. The title comes from a question that a future in-law asks of her new relative. The question is, "Why are you crying?"

 The response is, "Did you ever have a family?"

Yes. Yes, I did.

[Thanks for the punch in the gut, Bill. Because while this question happened in the story's past, it's ramifications in the story's present could never be predicted and are heart-wrenching when you know the answer to that question.]

Clegg has written a stunning and arresting piece of literature that moved me to my core, and this novel goes to show that Clegg is a true and brilliant writer. His memoirs were equally moving, but this novel goes to show that regardless of the genre, this man is one hell of a writer, and I look forward to more from him.

For purchase below.

Friday, October 16, 2015

David Foster Wallace's This Is Water

(Yes, Mom, I bought this book even though it has a goldfish on the cover. David Foster Wallace trumps my fear of fish. Also, This is Water is a part of my soul.)

This book, subtitled "Some Thoughts, Delivered on a Significant Occassion, about Living a Compassionate Life," was Wallace's 2005 Kenyon College commencement address. I had read it before, but on a beautiful day on Vassar College's campus, I had an hour to kill and didn't want to work on my dissertation so I bought this at a cute little bookstore. I keep it on my shelf and I revisit it often because it is one of the most lovely, profound pieces of work I own.

How do we live our lives to the fullest -- become active citizens who avoid complacency and learn to care about others? The truth is that life is about more than us as individuals regardless of what our American ethos tells us. The easiest way to become unhappy in life is to hoard ourselves -- our money and our selves and our talents and our minds -- in our refusal to step outside of our comfy homes and just be

David Foster Wallace pours himself so eloquently and so openly on to the page that reading this piece feels like sitting across from him at the bar and listening to him barrage you with all of the reasons that you should quit being a fuck up. Stop refusing to care about life and about yourself and about others. Open you mind to a world of possibility that can only happen when you realize you are not alone on this earth. He addresses the purpose of college, which is to teach you how to think. We all, selfishly and irrationally and subjectively, believe that we know how to think, but we don't. The purpose of a higher education is to push you outside of your comfort zone and find compassion in the way others live their lives. It's one of the reasons that the refusal to read literature that makes you uncomfortable in college incenses me. I believe Wallace would say exactly what I'm saying here: "Grow a pair."

The title of this small book comes from an anecdote Wallace tells in the beginning of his speech. Two fish don't know what water is because they are surrounded by it. They don't understand it's what they live and breathe and it's their life force. They take for granted all that we have. Look around sometimes. Remind yourselves that this, this life and these people and your mind, in fact, is water. 

For purchase below.

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

We Should Hang Out Sometime: Embarrasingly, A True Story

Hi There,

I think this is the first true story I’ve read all year—outside of AP Euro. Josh Sundquist takes us on a data driven journey to discover why it is that he’s had such difficulties with the opposite sex. The result is a super lighthearted and hilarious recounting of the many cringe moments, misunderstandings, and episodes of obsessive over-analysis that got him all the way through college without ever having a girlfriend.

Josh Sundquist was a normal kid until the age of nine. Then he was diagnosed with cancer and lost his left leg from the hip down. Things changed. Josh was forced to figure out how to navigate his disability socially when everyone around him still had all their appendages. There were two rules to doing this:

1.     Never be a burden
2.     Never be different

Despite his obvious differences, Josh refuses to be treated differently. He strives for normalcy, but never truly comes to terms with his disability.

This not coming to terms continues in his interactions with the opposite sex, specifically: Sarah Stevens, Liz Taylor Smith, Francesca Marcelo, Evelyn Williamson, Lilly Moore, and Sasha Wright. They all get their own sections of the book and the stories are hilarious. The graphs are hilarious. The book’s title is based on an interaction with Francesa Marcelo where the Josh decides that the best way to ask her out is simply by saying, “We should hang out sometime.”

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By the end of the book I found myself rooting for Josh and he totally makes it happen. You’ll love him. You’ll love is anecdotes and his insights. You can totally finish this book in an afternoon and it will make your day.

~ Charlotte

Monday, October 12, 2015

My Year of Running Dangerously: A Dad, A Daughter, and A Ridiculous Plan

I originally picked up this book at BEA last year for a friend of mine who is running the New York City Marathon in just a couple of weeks. Talking to Tom Foreman was such a delight -- he is sweet and kind, and he is so supportive of runners in general. Reading his memoir, My Year of Running Dangerously: A Dad, A Daughter, and A Ridiculous Plan was such a delight. 

Tom Foreman was your typical 51 year-old guy -- sure, he was active as a young man, but raising two children and a hard-hitting career in journalism had made him a bit soft. Still good looking and moderately fit, he was hit by a ton of bricks when his college freshman daughter asked him to run a marathon with her. He agreed. They trained, and after they succeeded, he ran two more in a short period of time. He then sets his sights on something even bigger: an ultramarathon. 55 miles of nonstop goodness. Can he make it, or will it be the final frontier?

I am the very first to tell people about my being a runner that I only run if I'm being chased. That's not entirely true -- I do run for exercise. In fact, yesterday I ran a 10-minute mile, which is kind of huge for me. I am curvy and I like being curvy, so exercise beyond yoga and walking just doesn't appeal to me. (What do those things have to do with one another? Nothing really. But in my mind it makes sense.) I had a feeling I would still enjoy this book, however, and I thoroughly enjoyed it from start to finish. Foreman has a writing style that appeals to the casual reader, and his journalistic point of view comes through when talking about his own journey from couch-past-5k-to-ultramarathon. We all know what it's like to grasp on to a new challenge and then take it to an extreme and sometimes even farther into fanaticism, so it's easy to like this book.

Of course, I'm also a little giddy when I read about my hometown, and his first race with his daughter in Atlanta was fun to read. I knew all of the route he was talking about as I have spent plenty of time in, on, and around it having lived there and attended Georgia State University (GO PANTHERS!) for my first round of graduate work. However, it was really the personal revelations that Foreman came to in his own life about himself and his dedication and why he became who he did in love and life that kept me hooked into this memoir. It is well worth picking up whether you are a runner or not. His journey will sound like yours but it will also be his own, distinct from yours. That's the magic of this book.

For purchase below.

Monday, October 5, 2015

In a Dark, Dark Wood: A Novel

I had heard rumors of this book -- that is was one hell of a thriller and well worth a read. No one was lying. This is Ruth Ware's In a Dark, Dark Wood.

Nora is shocked when she opens her email one day to find an invitation to Clare's hen do. She hasn't spoken to Clare in more than a decade, and frankly, Nora is more than happy to forget that part of her life in high school and college. She has moved on and become a successful writer, and she would prefer to not dredge up the past. Her best friend convinces her to go, and they set of for an isolated cabin deep in the wood, made of all glass -- and they are all on stage. It's awkward at first, then becomes weird, then it all goes terribly, terribly wrong, and no one's lives will be the same. If, that is, they get out alive. 

This book had me flipping pages like I was getting paid per word to read. Not a joke. I couldn't put this book down and I desperately needed to figure out what was happening. Ware jumps back and forth in time, between Nora waking up in the hospital and not knowing what happened to her and to the chronological story of the weekend in the cabin. Nora is a runner -- it's her coping mechanism -- and it's clear that this has something do to with her being in the hospital. But what are these whispers of murder she's hearing? That's what I had to find out, and fast. Hence the flipping of pages like a freakin' flip book. 

I loved the dark twisty-ness of Nora as a character. I loved that she had secrets that she didn't want to share even with the reader, and Ware did a fantastic job of weaving in her story with her friendship with Clare and her other best friend so that when we finally found out the twistedness of the relationship with Clare and how much of a horrible person Clare really is (honestly, you know she's horrible but you don't find out HOW horrible until late in the book), we actually want Nora to have killed Clare. I'm not saying Clare was even dead at the end of this book (wouldn't you like to know???), but that was my feeling. I wanted the ultimate revenge on this character who has done unspeakable deeds to people she claims to love.

I absolutely loved this thriller and I couldn't recommend it more highly. It wasn't long, but it was enough to keep me engaged and engrossed and ignoring the outside world for hours. 

For purchase below.

Friday, October 2, 2015

Another Day: A Novel

A few years back I posted on David Levithan's Every Day, the story of a person who wakes up in a different body everyday. It doesn't bother him until he meets Rhiannon, the girlfriend of one of his bodies. Another Day is Rhiannon's story. 

Rhiannon's life is just what it is. She's fine, really. Her boyfriend, Justin, is difficult and frustrating and won't give her what she wants, but she's fine, really. Her parents are distant and she's not close with her sister, but she's fine, really. Moving right along, until the one day that Justin becomes the boyfriend she's always wanted him to be -- loving, caring, attentive. Except he goes back to his normal self the next day. Then other things start happening -- she starts meeting new people, and one day, one of those people contacts her to let her in on a very big secret, one that is almost unbelievable. One that will change her life.

I fell hard for this book, like a ton of bricks. I found myself falling into Rhiannon's life like I knew her. The thing is -- maybe at one point I did. I also dealt with depression in high school, and that lack of just a smidgen of self worth that is so desperately needed to say, "You can't treat me this way." She is a girl that is so real, and so easy to relate to, that I even see her desperation for Justin in grown women who should know better. That fear that if he leaves, this may be the end for her. You and I and everyone else all know that just isn't true, but her addiction to Justin is so strong and forceful that she can't walk away, even when it's for her own sanity. How real is that? (Very.)

It was also so very amazing to watch this story unfold from another perspective. I am unsure if I would even answer A's emails if I were Rhiannon because the story would just be so unbelievable. That's the thing with Levithan's writing though. It's completely not realistic, but is it? Is this idea of a being that wakes up each day in a different body really that far fetched? Of course, it entirely depends on what you believe about souls and people and what makes humans humans, but it's an interesting concept to think on. I found it lovely and beautiful how Rhiannon was willing to take a leap of faith with A and open herself up to someone that is in a different form everyday. The scene where she helps A get help for a suicidal person is quite moving and honest.

This was a lovely companion piece to Levithan's first novel, and the undercurrent of Levithan's work on gender and sexuality make for a beautiful book that asks big questions: "What if?" "What do I really believe about myself and others?" "What do I really believe about love?" There is a great interview with him from Mashable, and the book is well worth the read.

For purchase below.