I enjoy reading essay collections because they are so often relatable even when the things that take place are way too outrageous/horrific/just plain interesting to ever happen to me.

Sadly, that wasn’t really the case with Ashley Cardiff’s Night Terrors. It had its funny moments, and maybe even a poignant moment or two, but overall, it kind of just felt like self-indulgent rambling to fill in the gaps between the two or three good pieces that had already been published online. And then there were a few things that Cardiff wrote with which I vehemently disagree and kind of just made me frustrated and angry reading. I won’t go into it here, but let’s just say we might disagree on some word usage, among other things.

All of that sounds way harsher than I meant it to, so let me clarify that I didn’t hate this or anything; it was just OK.

I guess “just OK” is just not that impressive when I’m inundated with awesome books on a daily (and nightly) basis. You could read it and skim for the funny bits, but I’m not sure I’d recommend investing any significant amount of time (or money) in it.

In reading The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie, I think it was another case of the book coming into my life at the wrong time because it was a complete miss for me.

Objectively I can look at it and see why people like it and why it’s important, especially for young adult readers (so for the love of all that is holy stop trying to ban it, people!), but I was left feeling kind of meh.

Junior has spent his whole life on the Spokane Indian Reservation. Every member of his family has spent their whole life on the rez and they have nothing to show for it. Junior wants to make something of himself and escape the black hole of despair that the rez seems to create, so he makes a drastic decision — he leaves (at least part-time) and attends the all-white high school in the farm town outside the rez.

By taking his life and future into his own hands, Junior faces the racism of the teachers and students at his new school and the anger and resentment of the community back on the rez. He quickly goes from a wimpy kid who could never stand up for himself to a kid who stands up for a whole lot more.

Like I said, this book wasn’t my favorite. The narrative just didn’t really click with me. But I think it will resonate with a lot of readers, especially young adults/teens (who are, after all, the intended audience) dealing with feelings of belonging and taking charge of their own lives.

This book also has really important messages about acceptance and diversity and also about struggles that many Native Americans face in society, which is a topic less often covered in school or other books. And so people really need to stop challenging it when it shows up on school reading lists. It provides a staggeringly underrepresented perspective and it’s important! Your ninth grader will not be scarred for life by reading a reference to masturbation. Really. I promise.

OK. Let kids read the book. Even though I didn’t like it. Rant/rambling review over.

To put it bluntly, Meg Wolitzer’s The Interestings is about six teenagers at a summer camp for the arts and the self-involved adults that they become. Wolitzer follows these teens — praised and admired for their talents and charmed at age fifteen — as they move through their youth and into middle age and shows how fortunes play out in different ways and relationships survive, but at certain costs.

It is a glimpse into the world of the sickeningly rich and the devastatingly middle-class in New York and how they might intersect. The book also provides a portrait of that most vile of human emotions — envy — particularly of a beloved friend and how it can tear a person (or people) apart.

When it comes down to it, this is another book where the characters aren’t necessarily “likeable” (perhaps, in this case, because each is a little too relatable in one way or another), but that might just be part of the book. The characters’ flaws make them who they are and while they’re occasionally insufferable, they make a good story.

If you have a low tolerance for obnoxious, annoying, or self-involved characters, skip this one, but otherwise give it a read because it really is worth it.

Oh my God you guys this book. I have such mixed feelings about it. And that’s really the main take-away of this book: so. many. feelings.

Our story follows Theo Decker and a priceless painting — the titular Goldfinch. Theo and the Goldfinch survive a horrific incident that kills many, leaving our “hero” effectively an orphan and bringing the painting into his possession.

Theo bounces around from the hoity-toity Upper East Side dwelling of a wealthy friend, to the outskirts of Las Vegas with a devil-on-the-shoulder-esque Russian sidekick, down to the dusty Village antique store.

Maybe it’s pop psychology, but Theo seems somewhat stuck as the damaged 13 year old (possibly with PTSD) longing for the mother he’s lost and the mysterious girl he can’t have. He consistently makes the worst decisions. And yes, bad things happen that are legitimately out of his control, but especially as this saga moves into Theo’s adult years it becomes a bit more difficult to sympathize — mostly because you just want to smack him. Or was that just me?

And the thing is, this book just takes so long to get anywhere. Donna Tartt knows how to bring the feels and this combination makes the reading experience emotionally exhausting (and kind of physically exhausting as well — that book is heavy).

There are times when this book is a slog and times when it’s absolutely riveting.

I kind of can’t tell if this was a positive or negative review and therefore I have no idea if this will be helpful to anyone. The Goldfinch is masterfully written. Tartt’s characters jump off of the page and her scenes are filled with powerful language and suspense. Hopefully I’ve given you some idea of what to expect if you decide to tackle this tome. Overall I’m glad that I read it, but I’m not sure I’ll be rereading it any time soon.

Cut Me Loose — Review

June 18, 2014

Cut Me Loose: Sin and Salvation After My Ultra-Orthodox Girlhood is Leah Vincent’s raw memoir of growing up in and cutting ties with the ultra-Orthodox Yeshivish community.

I have very mixed feelings about this book. Vincent cases the community in a fairly negative light and yet she doesn’t paint a particularly clear picture of what it was like to grow up in that environment. She focuses so much on her acts of rebellion and sexual discovery that other parts of the story kind of get lost.

She expresses bewilderment at her family’s withdrawal of support, yet continues to make choices that go against everything they believe and everything that they tried to teach her. I’m certainly not making excuses for her family and the way they treated her, but given the way her behavior deviated from their values, it isn’t surprising.

Honestly, a lot of this book felt like an exhibitionist exercise — Vincent saying “look at all the shocking things I did” — while other parts were her showing just how victimized she was by the community and her family and that’s  why she did many of the things that she did. It was bizarre.

I do think that she has a very interesting story. It was worth telling and it is worth reading, but as with most memoirs, there are some blind spots and some things that should be taken with a grain of salt.

I received a free e-galley of The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry by Gabrielle Zevin through NetGalley.

This book is great for so many reasons, but its greatest appeal may be that it is very much a book for book lovers. There are many love stories contained within the pages of The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry, but the greatest love story of all is that of readers and books, and that is just, well, fantastic.

A.J. Fikry, the proprietor of the island’s only bookstore, has suffered a succession of losses and with sales at an all-time low he begins to lose hope. Then Maya enters his life and, without immediately realizing it, A.J. begins to remake his life and become a part of the community in a way he never was before.

This book is somewhat bittersweet and as it progresses certain inevitabilities become clear. I won’t say anything else beyond the fact that it took me longer than it probably should have to connect the dots simply because I was in denial.

But really, this book is so beautifully written and the characters are dynamic and spectacular.

Just go read it.

The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry came out in April. It is fantastic and should be in every bookstore and library system (though libraries might have a waiting list). Basically, it’s readily available, so you have no excuse not to read it right this moment.

Hollow City — Review

June 12, 2014

I found out about Hollow City at BEA last year and finally (finally finally) got to read it. I loved reading this book.

It picks up pretty much right where Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children left off, but I think this leg of the story moved way faster. While MPHFPC had the build up of mystery and intrigue, Hollow City has the action and suspense (and a bit of intrigue).

I also think that Hollow City used the vintage photos in a way that really added to the story (you might recall that I was iffy on their usage in the first book). A couple of the photos were ones that we’d seen before, but the majority were new, equally cool/creepy photos and they were incorporated into the book really well.

Seriously, just go read these books. They’re fun and fantastic.

& Sons — Review

June 11, 2014

It’s been a while since I read & Sons and, to be honest, I’m still not entirely sure how I feel about it. At its core it is a family saga, which I generally love, but there are some bizarre twists and turns where it kind of lost me along the way.

There was so much dysfunction. And while that can of course be interesting to read, the dysfunction of the characters in & Sons was kind of just exhausting.

This was just one of those books that, for whatever reason, didn’t click with me. It is incredibly well written though, and the characters are well-developed. Given these considerations I would still recommend it for readers who enjoy literary fiction and family sagas. It just wasn’t my cup of tea.

You guys know I love historical fiction and Hilary Mantel just does it so well.

I don’t even know what to say about Bring Up the Bodies beyond the obvious: read it.

It’s atmospheric and the characters have depth and even though you know the ultimate outcome (because, you know, history) you’re much more focused on what’s going on at that moment and the individual dilemmas and dramas of the characters.

It has its slow moments, but patience pays off.

This is the second book in a trilogy (the first book, Wolf Hall, is also awesome) and I can’t wait to read the conclusion. I’m impatient, so I wouldn’t blame you if you waited until all three books were out before you started reading.

BEA14 Recap

June 3, 2014

Let us rejoice, fair readers, for I have returned triumphant. Book Expo America — the one day of it that I could attend — was a success!

I arrived in New York Friday night after quite a few wrong turns and extra bridges (my GPS and I had a disagreement — she really wanted me to go to Staten Island) to my friend’s lovely and welcoming apartment. After some food and conversation it was off to bed and a few hours later we were up, grabbing bagels (oh, how I miss NY bagels) and heading to the Javits Center.

I checked in and got my badge and we waited in line until the exhibition floor opened at 9. Then it was GoGoGo until the show closed in the afternoon.

Unlike in previous years, the Power Readers (or Book Con-ers, this year) were segregated to one section of the floor. While this made certain parts blissfully open, the other section, where much of the action was happening, was horrifically crowded and claustrophobic.

Even with all the extra people, I got tons of books.

I’d like to think I was more discerning this year, and perhaps I was, but all the same, I am already out of bookshelf space. There are just so many books and they all look so good! So yeah, this should prove interesting.

Now, I know you actually care very little about my experience at the expo. You just want to know what books I got. So, without further ado, I present my BEA14 Book Haul:

The BEA14 Book Haul Pile

The BEA14 Book Haul Pile

The Tastemakers: Why we’re for cupcakes but fed up with fondue by David Sax
The Happiest People in the World by Brock Clarke
Nothing is True and Everything is Possible by Peter Pomerantsev
How Star Wars Conquered the Universe by Chris Taylor
Birth of a Bridge by Maylis de Kerangal, translated by Jessica Moore
Zac & Mia by A. J. Betts
The Magician’s Lie by Greer Macallister
Tell Me Again How a Crush Should Feel by Sara Farizan
Letters from Skye by Jessica Brockmole
Jacob T. Marley by R. William Bennett
On Immunity: An inoculation by Eula Biss
Juliet’s Nurse by Lois Leveen
The Black Butterfly by Shirley Reva Vernick
Laura Ingalls Wilder: A writer’s life by Pamela Smith Hill
Pioneer Girl edited by Pamela Smith Hill
Mrs. Lincoln’s Rival by Jennifer Chiaverini
My Real Children by Jo Walton
All Roads Lead to Jerusalem by Jenny Jones
City of Lies: Love, sex, death, and the search for truth in Tehran by Ramita Navai
The Illusion of Separateness by Simon Van Booy
The Dogs Were Rescued (and So Was I) by Teresa J. Rhyne
Empire’s Crossroads: A history of the Caribbean from Columbus to the Present Day by Carrie Gibson
Alice + Freda Forever: A murder in Memphis by Alexis Coe
Madame Picasso by Anne Girard
Straight White Male by John Niven
Let’s Get Lost [excerpt] by Adi Alsaid
Little Mercies by Heather Gudenkauf
Misdiagnosed: One woman’s tour of and escape from healthcareland  by Jody Berger
Good Chinese Wife by Susan Blumberg-Kason
The Last Breath by Kimberly Belle
The Good Girl by Mary Kubica
Stars of the World Cup
Landline by Rainbow Rowell
Fridays at Enrico’s by Don Carpenter, finished by Jonathan Lethem
Brutal Youth by Anthony Breznican
Rebel Souls: Walt Whitman and America’s first bohemians by Justin Martin
If Only You People Could Follow Directions by Jessica Hendry Nelson
The Girl Who Never Was by Skylar Dorset
Turkish Coffee Culture
A Millennium of Turkish Literature
The Aegean Mythology
Fire Shut Up in My Bones by Charles M. Blow
Rainey Royal by Dylan Landis
Wolf in White Van by John Darnielle
Drawing Amanda by Stephanie Feuer
Turkish Coffee by M. Sabri Koz and Kemalettin Kuzucu
The Geek’s Guide to Dating by Eric Smith
Jackaby by William Ritter
The Black Hour by Lori Radder-Day
Neverhome by Laird Hunt
The Miniaturist by Jessie Burton
Liberty’s Torch by Elizabeth Mitchell
Stitching Snow by R. C. Lewis
The Jewel by Amy Ewing
10:04 by Ben Lerner
We Are Not Ourselves by Matthew Thomas
The American Plate: A history of the United States in 100 bites by Libby H. O’Connell