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My 2016 reading challenge stipulates that I am supposed to read “a book recommended by someone you just met.” At first I wondered, how am I going to get a person I just met to recommend a book to me? Then I realized that I work in a busy medical office, in which people are constantly recommending various books, TV shows, and movies to me. 

This book was recommended to me by a first-time patient’s wife, who was going around telling literally everybody in the office that they should read it. This woman was about ninety years old, but let me just say that she apparently as better taste in books than most people I’ve met. 

I was a little nervous at first about reading this book, because we all know that I have a problem with hyped books. If everybody in the universe is telling me how absolutely incredible a book is, I tend to think it’s the worst thing I’ve ever read. It’s happened countless times and I hate it. But I went in anyway. For the sake of the reading challenge.

Surprisingly, I had no idea what this book was about when I started it. I’d managed to avoid every spoiler out there. I hadn’t even watched the movie trailer. I didn’t know what I was getting myself into.

From the start, I loved Lou and her quirky personality. I could relate to her struggle to find a job. I could relate to her feeling out of place among the wealthy people in her town. I could relate to her feeling that she was being harshly judged by her employer. She was a refreshing, imperfect, hilarious heroine.

And from the beginning, Will is cranky. He’s rude and insulting and mad at the world – and who can blame him, because this once active, once adventurous, once vibrant man is now stuck in a wheelchair after a traffic accident. I’m glad that Will wasn’t falsely cheerful. I’m glad that his character responded what I think must be accurately to his circumstances.

The thing about this book is that everything is very realistic. Lou’s feelings are realistic. Will’s feelings, I imagine, are exceptionally realistic. The actions and reactions and events of this book are at times frustrating, at times awful, but entirely realistic.

I really don’t want to say too much here, because I think that blind is the best way to go into this book. I had planned on reading only a few pages a night (I have very little free time at the moment) but ended up saying awake until after 2am to finish this book, tears streaming down my face.

Don’t be put off by the hype. I loved this book.

Final rating: ★★★★★

For my 2016 reading challenge, I’m crossing off #12: a book recommended by someone you just met.

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Nothing is exactly as it appears.
The closer you look, the more you see.

This is a difficult book to read.  And by that, I don’t mean that it’s poorly written, or full of cliches, or actually hard to read at all.  What I mean is that this is a book about the rape of a young woman, and how a town responds to it.  This is a book that puts a new spin on the Steubenville High School rape case from a few years ago.

In case you don’t remember, in Steubenville, a young girl was sexually assaulted at a party by several of her classmates.  She was drunk.  She was dressed provocatively.  Witnesses says she had been flirting with the guys earlier that night.  The perpetrators were members of the school’s star football team, young men who had a bright future ahead of them.  They might have gotten full scholarships to good colleges if they hadn’t decided to rape their classmate.  On camera.  And distribute it for the world to see.  In the Steubenville case, the town labeled the girl the villain. If she hadn’t been at that party, nothing would have happened.  These boys would still have those bright futures ahead of them.  It certainly wasn’t the fault of those who raped her.  It was her fault for daring to go to a party.

Hartzler takes a good, hard look at that mentality in this book.

Stacey Stallard was just another girl at Coral Sands High School.  A girl from the wrong side of town who had little parental supervision.  She was known to flirt with lots of boys, and sometimes dated more than one boy at a time.  She went to a lot of parties.  Some students say she was an alcoholic.  On the night in question, she’d been flirting with the boys from the basketball team.  She’d come to the party wearing revealing clothes, and after a few drinks, she’d lost her top.  When she passed out, she was taken down to the basement, where a number of boys on the basketball team raped her.  The incident was filmed, photographed, and widely distributed throughout the school.  Stacey filed charges against the boys, igniting a controversy in the town.

The book is narrated by Kate, a student at the high school who, back in middle school, was a friend of Stacey’s.  But as time went on, and Kate joined the soccer team while Stacey joined the drill team, the two grew apart. Kate’s perspective is unique not only as a former friend of Stacey’s, but also because she is close friends with the boys.  Her boyfriend is on the basketball team.  She was at the party.

At times, it seems that Kate is the only person who really cares what happened that night.  Most of the town blindly accepts the word of the boys.  Those who don’t refuse to cause trouble by looking into it.  Kate, though, can’t shake the feeling that something awful happened.  That it could have happened to her or one of her friends.  That a girl shouldn’t have to worry about being raped if she passes out at a friend’s party in the company of people she’s known her entire life.

This book opens a discussion into victim blaming, slut shaming, and misogyny:

“Whoa, whoa, whoa,” says Christy. “It’s Stacey’s word against theirs. She’s accusing them.” … “Look, this is not rocket science.  It’s common sense. If you don’t want to work a guy into a lather, keep your cooch covered up.”

“Why would Deacon and Dooney rape anybody?” he asks. “They can both have any girl they want.  You saw Stacey hanging all over them at the party.”

“You heard Rachel’s ‘rules.’ If you learn what we learn here–that Dooney and all those guys are entitled to tell you if you’re pretty or not, that it’s up to you to make sure you don’t give boys a reason to hurt you? Then you don’t think it was a crime. You think what happened to Stacey was fair game. It was boys being boys. Just a trashy girl learning the hard way what can happen when she drinks too much and wears a short skirt.”

And it also opens a discussion into consent:

“What if she didn’t tell them no because she couldn’t?” Lindsey asks quietly. “What if she was too drunk to say anything?”

What does it mean to say yes? To consent to a kiss? To a touch? To more than that?

“Words have meanings. When we call something a theory in science, it means something. Reggie, when you say that you ‘can’t help yourself’ if a girl is wasted, that means something, too. You’re saying that our natural state as men is ‘rapist.’ That’s not okay with me, Reggie.  That’s not okay with the rest of this class, either.”

This is a very important book that I think all teenagers should read.  It forces you to examine your own opinions, your own biases, your own reactions to the news.  Do we believe the victim?  Do we side with the accused?  Is a rapist innocent until proven guilty?  Should we need to see video of the assault to believe that it happened?

Come to think of it, I think everybody should read this book.  Not just teenagers.  I think we could all stand to have our worldview challenged every once in a while.

Final rating: 

★★★★★

Book review: Where’d You Go, Bernadette by Maria Semple

Where’d You Go, Bernadette by Maria Semple
Rating: ★★☆☆☆
Links: AmazonGoodreads
Publication Date: August 14, 2012
Source: Borrowed

A compulsively readable and touching novel about misplaced genius and a mother and daughter’s role in an absurd world.

Bernadette Fox is notorious. To her Microsoft-guru husband, she’s a fearlessly opinionated partner; to fellow private-school mothers in Seattle, she’s a disgrace; to design mavens, she’s a revolutionary architect, and to 15-year-old Bee, she is a best friend and, simply, Mom.

Then Bernadette disappears. It began when Bee aced her report card and claimed her promised reward: a family trip to Antarctica. But Bernadette’s intensifying allergy to Seattle – and people in general – has made her so agoraphobic that a virtual assistant in India now runs her most basic errands. A trip to the end of the earth is problematic.

To find her mother, Bee compiles email messages, official documents, secret correspondence – creating a compulsively readable and touching novel about misplaced genius and a mother and daughter’s role in an absurd world.

 

I read this book because supposedly it is considered satire, and my reading challenge stipulates that I must read a satirical book this year. Having finished this book, I am not 100% convinced that it’s satire. I think it may just be a book about awful adults and their daughter who has miraculously turned out to be a productive member of society.

Bernadette Fox was once a revolutionary architect, so talented that she won a MacArthur grant for her work. Then, after disaster struck one of her projects, she never so much as drew another floor plan. These days, Bernadette is an antisocial recluse who outsources even her grocery shopping to Manjula, her Indian virtual assistant. Bernadette’s husband, Elgie, is a famous employee of Microsoft. His TED Talk is the #4 viewed of all time, and his work could change the world.

These two intelligent, Ivy League-educated parents manage to screw up their daughter’s life in just about every way possible, and yet somehow, Bee is a clever, well-adjusted young woman. All the ways in which these parents screw up Bee’s life is basically the premise of this book.

I couldn’t figure out how I was supposed to react to this. It was written in such a way that I think I was supposed to find it funny, or maybe I was just supposed to see Bernadette and Elgie as these unpredictable, eccentric people? But I didn’t. I thought they were irresponsible, their relationship was unhealthy, and the way that they acted with blatant disregard for their daughter was just too much.

The premise of this book, of course, is that Bernadette disappears. (That much is clear from the title.) Her frustration is understandable: her little quirks have been blown out of proportion by a neighbor that she doesn’t get along with. Rather than stay to defend herself, though, she falls off the face of the earth.

My first problem with this is that it doesn’t fit at all with the Bernadette we’d met earlier in the book. Bernadette is quirky, yes. She doesn’t like to leave the house except to take her daughter to and from school. She hires Manjula to make phone calls for her. Her home is in such a state of disrepair that a gardener comes to weed-whack… indoors. She has blackberry bushes growing out of control in her basement. Yet, though all of that, it’s clear that she loves her daughter. Bernadette and Bee are best friends. They stand up for each other. They have a special bond. So the fact that Bernadette would just disappear without giving Bee a heads up doesn’t fit with her character at all.

My second problem with this is that Elgie doesn’t really care. Again, this doesn’t seem to fit with his character. Sure, he’s focused on his work. His job takes up a good portion of his life, especially since he’s the head of a huge project and has a large team to supervise. But we never get the impression that he doesn’t care about Bernadette. Actually, at the beginning of the book, it would seem that, despite Elgie’s annoyance at some of Bernadette’s antics (he’s not a huge fan of Manjula), the two are still very much in love. That’s why a lot of what happens toward the end of this book is utter nonsense.

I think I’m actually in the minority, having actually enjoyed the writing style. It’s almost like a scrapbook, almost, with emails, faxes, letters, and articles interspersed with Bee’s observations. It reminded me of some books that I really liked when I was younger.

Overall, I guess this really depends on the reader. (But don’t all books?) For me, it was just too much and too unbelievable. For someone else, it might be engaging and dramatic and hilarious.

For my 2016 reading challenge, I’m crossing off #38: a satirical book.

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This is the only book of the Lunar Chronicles that I haven’t purchased. And why? Because four of these short stories, which is almost half the book, are available online. I’d already read them. It’s not so much that four of the nine stories are online freebies; it’s more that I don’t see the sense in buying something when I’ve already read a large chunk of it. That said, I recommended it to my library and they bought it, so it’s a win-win all around.

There’s not a lot that’s new here. Even setting aside the stories that I’d already read, the amount of actually new information is minimal. What this collection does is fill in the blanks between books. It provides another point of view for scenes we’ve already seen. It’s because of this that, despite how much I may have enjoyed some of these stories, I don’t think I can give this collection more than three stars. At this point, it seems almost like milking this franchise for all it’s worth.

Read on for my impressions of the nine stories. Note that I did not do any re-reads. Links to my original reviews below.

The Keeper (★★★☆☆): Snippets of Scarlett’s childhood, including a lot of new information about Michelle Benoit. It’s a little disjointed, but it fills in the gaps regarding the connection between Cinder and Scarlett pretty nicely.

Glitches (★★★★☆): You can see my original review here.

The Queen’s Army (★★★★☆): You can see my original review here.

Carswell’s Guide to Being Lucky (★★★★☆): You can see my original review here.

After Sunshine Passes By (★★★★☆): Poor baby Cress. This is the story of how she came to be alone on that satellite. Excuse me while I cry.

The Princess and the Guard (★★★★☆): A very cute story about Winter and Jacin while Winter was growing up. Also includes some not-very-cute parts which made me very sad and/or angry.

The Little Android (★★★☆☆): You can see my original review here.

The Mechanic (★★★★★): Cinder and Kai, the original couple. My original ship from this story. I loved going back to the start and seeing Kai’s perspective when he first met Cinder in that mechanic shop.

Something Old, Something New (★★★☆☆): Like an epilogue to the epilogue, this short story focuses on the wedding of one of our four couples. It’s cute and sweet, but I could have done without the other couple getting in on the action. (No names to avoid spoilers as much as I can.)

In my original review of The Little Android, I said that it was a worthy read for a fan of the Lunar Chronicles, but not Meyer’s best effort. I think that applies also to this collection. It’s a brief, rather enjoyable read, but it’s nothing new or exciting. Still, worth it for those who want to hang on to this series for just a little while longer.

Final rating: ★★★☆☆

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Let me first give you some background information about myself.  I am a Catholic school girl through and through.  I went to Catholic school from kindergarten through my senior year of high school.  (That’s thirteen years of daily prayers, by the way.)  I would go to the rectory with my grandma when I was young to help count the money after mass.  Priests were an everyday fixture in my life.  They are certainly not something I associate with a romance novel, so I just had to see where Jen McLaughlin was going with this.

The good news, for the faint of heart like myself, is that Thorn isn’t a priest.  He’s still in the seminary and has not taken any vows.  Thank goodness, because I don’t think I could have handled it if he were actually a priest.  But a lot of guys go into the seminary thinking they want to be priests, and then go on to get married and have children.  Not a big deal.  But still, it definitely has a forbidden romance vibe to it.

In short, I was blown away by this book.

If you want to get into details, here we go.

I did not expect to get such fully formed characters.  Rose and Thorn have pasts, presents, and futures.  They have a deep connection that goes back to their early childhood when Thorn was Rose’s brother Mikey’s best friend.

After Mikey died in a car accident many years ago, Thorn was lost.  He’d spent his teenage years drinking, getting high, and sleeping with a different woman every night.  Mikey’s death was a wake up call: something needed to change.  The quickest path to the straight and narrow was the seminary, in which he promptly enrolled after a life-changing conversation with Father John.

Now, eight years later, Thorn has completed his studies and is waiting to take his vows when he gets a call that Rose is in trouble.  Her relationship with the guy she’d been living with went bad, and she found herself forced to take a job at a strip club that also offered housing.  She didn’t want Thorn to know because she knew he wouldn’t approve, but he’s listed as her emergency contact and he’s the one who gets the call when an overexcited client attacks her outside the club.  This begins Thorn’s renewed interest in keeping his promise to Mikey.  The promise that he would take care of Rose no matter what.

One of the things I loved about this book was Rose’s resilience.  She hasn’t had a good life.  Her parents were abusive.  She’s had a string of horrible boyfriends.  She works in a strip club.  But she’s not ashamed of anything.  She’s not looking for handouts.  She would rather do what has to be done than ask anybody for help.  In so many books, we see the heroine accept the hero’s gifts without a second thought.  A house, a car, a whole new wardrobe.  And I get that.  But Rose?  She has trouble accepting a coffee pot from Thorn.  She’s that independent.  Rose is fine on her own.  She doesn’t need a man.  And that is so refreshing to see in a romance.

And what about Thorn?  This guy blames himself for so many things in life.  He’s been punishing himself for years, choosing a life that he knows will deny him everything that he wants.  He has so much restraint and so much respect for Rose.  He cares for her and legitimately wants what’s best for her, even if what’s best for her is a life without him in it.

I’m not going to say a whole lot more about this book except that I am still fanning myself over that bathtub scene.  I will definitely be checking out Jen McLaughlin’s other books!

Thanks to Netgalley and Loveswept for the ARC!

Final rating: 

★★★★☆

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Simply put, this book made me happy.  Most of the essays made me smile.  A number of them made me laugh out loud.  I devoured this book over just a few hours.  It’s written in a very accessible way, and I never felt that I was missing out if I hadn’t seen a particular sketch or movie that she was talking about.

Honestly, it’s exactly what I’d expect given what I know about Amy Poehler.

Final rating: 

★★★★☆

For my 2016 reading challenge, I’m crossing off #28: a book written by a comedian.

ARC review: You Know Me Well by David Levithan & Nina LaCour

You Know Me Well by David Levithan & Nina LaCour
Rating: ★★★★★
Links: AmazonGoodreads
Publication Date: June 7, 2016
Source: ARC via Netgalley

Who knows you well? Your best friend? Your boyfriend or girlfriend? A stranger you meet on a crazy night? No one, really?

Mark and Kate have sat next to each other for an entire year, but have never spoken. For whatever reason, their paths outside of class have never crossed.

That is, until Kate spots Mark miles away from home, out in the city for a wild, unexpected night. Kate is lost, having just run away from a chance to finally meet the girl she has been in love with from afar. Mark, meanwhile, is in love with his best friend Ryan, who may or may not feel the same way.

When Kate and Mark meet up, little do they know how important they will become to each other—and how, in a very short time, they will know each other better than any of the people who are supposed to know them more.

Told in alternating points of view by Nina LaCour and David Levithan, You Know Me Well is a story about navigating the joys and heartaches of first love, one truth at a time.

It’s been eight years since I graduated from high school, but the feeling that David Levithan and Nina LaCour capture in this book, in the last few days of the school year, is exactly what I remember.

Mark is finishing up his junior year of high school, trying to decide whether he wants to let his best friend/often-more-than-a-friend Ryan know that he wants to step firmly into more-than-friends territory. While out at a bar, Ryan dares the usually subdued Mark to compete in an underwear dancing contest. To Ryan’s surprise, Mark obliges. To Mark’s dismay, this does not make Ryan see him as any more of a romantic prospect than he did five minutes ago.

What this does, though, is get the attention of Kate, a senior in Mark’s calculus class. While this could have been disatrous, Mark and Kate actually form a fast friendship, bonding over their mutual love disasters. Kate is in love with her best friend’s cousin, Violet, from afar. The two have never met, never spoken, never even texted, but Kate knows that she’s in love. Her best friend tells her that Violet feels the same way. But for some reason, when it comes time for the two of them to meet, Kate bolts. She runs right into Mark’s underwear dance, and the rest is history.

(Well, not really. This is just the setup for the book. The rest is about 200 pages, featuring Kate’s anxiety at leaving for college, Mark’s very real struggle to accept Ryan’s feelings, and the friendship that builds between these two former strangers over the course of just a few days.)

This book took me right back to my childhood bedroom, a thousand miles from where I am now, both literally and figuratively. It took me back to that feeling of being terrified about my future, excited about moving on but unsure of what would happen to all of my relationships as I moved on to the next chapter in my life.

This book is coming-of-age at its best, when you’re forming new friendships while trying not to leave the old ones behind. When you want desperately for things to stay the same, but you’re also ready for a change. When you struggle with staying in your familiar friendship, or letting your friend know that you’ve developed more-than-friendly feelings for them. It perfectly encapsulates that feeling of growing up and having to make all these decisions and not knowing which one is right.

I can’t imagine not giving this book five stars. Because this is the David Levithan I remember. This is what kept me reading his books, one right after another, when I was the same age as Mark and Kate. I loved this book so much, and now, please excuse me while I check out all of the David Levithan and Nina LaCour books in my library.

A big thank you to Netgalley and St. Martin’s Griffin for the advance copy!