Posted in Author Wellness Plan, Book Lists

10-minute Author Wellness Plan: Gabrielle Zevin

Young Jane Young*This is a new feature I’m trying out for the blog: instead of 5-minute book prescriptions, I will occasionally suggest an author, who has written multiple great books and of whom I suggest embarking on a study. 

A few weeks ago, as the official end of summer approached, I quickly inhaled Gabrielle Zevin’s new book Young Jane Young, which tells the story of college student Aviva Grossman, who takes an internship with a charismatic Florida congressman named Aaron Levin. As a result of the complicated web of desire, flattery and normal young adult impulses, Aviva embarks on a months long relationship with the much older man. Since the story takes place around 2001, blogs are just starting to become a thing and Aviva decides to write about her experiences on what she thinks is a completely anonymous website. But when a car accident reveals the congressman and intern together in a car, people start digging and the truth comes out, along with the sordid details Aviva wrote about on her blog. The senator, as one might expect, emerges somewhat unscathed over the years, continuing his career. Aviva, on the other hand, becomes a punch line, a joke. Unable to get a job, notorious nearly everywhere she goes in South Florida, Aviva falls into a deep funk, floundering the days away at her parent’s house, immobilized by shame, fear, misery and anger.  Eventually she decides to make a change–literally. She legally changes her name to Jane Young, borrows money from her kind grandma and moves all the way North, to a small town in  Maine called Allison Springs. Oh and did I mention that she is pregnant?

storied life of aj fikry

It was charming and funny and quirky– not unlike another novel of hers that I read and loved last year: The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry.  In that funny, sad, hopeful tale, we meet a widowed bookstore owner who finds a baby on his doorstep one morning and decides to become her caretaker.

As I finished up Young Jane Young, I found myself pondering Zevin and her unique literary voice. In addition to featuring cranky but lovable characters, Zevin often deploys some kind of interesting plot detail or point of view choice, that feels… well, weird! In Young Jane Young, the philandering congressman’s wife, who has recently been through cancer, has an invisible pet parrot that is always with her, squawking the truth whether she wants to hear it or not. elsewhereIn Elsewhere, an utterly delightful and moving story that features more than a little weirdness, the book begins with the narrative perspective of the deceased teenage girl’s dog. Shortly after, the girl herself, 15-year old Liz, wakes up on a boat and learns that she has died after being hit by a taxi, and is on her way to the afterlife, where she will age backwards before being sent back to earth again as a baby. Although this ambitious plot is not without holes, I found it to be an incredibly moving and comforting way to think about life after death. Give this to someone who has recently lost a person near and dear to them.

Sorry, I digressed a bit about Elsewhere. Back to the weirdness I was talking about before. It almost seems as if Zevin sometimes starts to write one kind of book and ends up writing another. And yet– it always works! Despite, or maybe because of her quirkiness, Gabrielle Zevin has recently become one of my favorite working novelists. She is an author you can give to almost anyone: your aging parents, your 1- year old niece, your 30-year old coworker. Zevin’s stories are wonderfully universal, exhibiting a lovely understanding and forgiveness of human nature. Her stories will absolutely stick with you long after you finish reading them and will encourage you to think about life and death in ways you maybe haven’t before.

Last night as I wondered one of my favorite bookstores, I looked for extra copies of each of the three books of hers I have read so far, so that I could stockpile them to give as gifts. If there’s a better endorsement for an author, I don’t know what it is. I recommend starting with The Storied Life, as I did, followed by Young Jane Young, and, finally Elsewhere. Happy Reading!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Posted in YA

Two YA Books I Can’t Stop Thinking About

You know when you read a book and it just stays with you for days, weeks, months on end? The two YA books I write about below are great examples.  I read them this summer, along with many other books, and they are just stubbornly refusing to leave my brain. And my heart. Such great books. Read them now, you must.

The Serpent King by Jeff Zentner 

serpent kingEvery once and a while, I read a book that feels like something more. All of my favorite reading boxes are checked: the urge to know what will happen next, an emotional attachment to the characters and, finally, a sense of wonder that transcends the action in the story. The Serpent King did all of those things for me. It tells the story of three teenage outcasts living in small town Tennessee: Dill, the son of a Pentecostal minister in prison for possessing child pornography; Lydia, a budding fashion designer and successful blogger with dreams of escaping small town life; and sweet Travis, obsessed with a Game of Thrones-like series of books and its fandom.  All three lean on each other as they  make their way through their final year of high school.

I listened to the amazing audio version of this book on my headphones while doing a host of mundane things in my life: the dishes, the cleaning, packing my kids’ lunches for camp, washing their clothes, etc. As is the case with all great audio books, I didn’t mind doing these things while I had this story to keep me going. I felt like my heart was being squeezed right out of my chest. And I definitely paused to weep a few times!

Prescription: A gorgeous book full of memorable characters an ideal read for those times when you just want to have your heart broken wide open by a book. A cathartic experience.

Midnight at the Electric by Jodi Lynn Anderson

midnight at the electricWhen the world feels like a loud and frightening place, sometimes the best refuge is a quiet book. I picked up Midnight at the Electric this summer during a particularly hectic week in the news and at work. Friends, it was a relief. A quiet but satisfying tale of three distinct times and places: Adri lives in Kansas in 2065, after leaving an underwater Miami; Katherine lives in Kansas in the 1930s, during the height of the dust bowl storms; and Lenore lives in England in 1919, following World War I.  As she is preparing to leave with a group of Mars settlers (yes Planet Mars), Adri finds a trove of letters written from Lenore to Beth, Katherine’s mother. How is everyone related? What are the stories about? You will have to read to find out…

Prescription: Ideal for anyone who loves a quiet story and an intriguing plot. No fireworks here, no heart stopping action. Just a fascinating, peaceful, well-told tale that works like a balm for a trouble soul.

 

Posted in Book Lists

#Read a Book Day, or How I spent my Summer Vacation

Well, it’s officially curtains for summer and my reading sabbatical. I find it necessary to take periodic breaks from blogging to spend all of my free time reading as many books as I possibly can.  And since today is #Read a Book Day, I thought I would come back and start dishing on all the fabulous things I read and listened to this summer.

But first, a quick word about my reading choices and selection. Like most book lovers, I use reading as my main form of “self care.” I am not religious and I consider myself equal parts introvert and extrovert, so when I feel overwhelmed with anxiety and the news and our Dumpster Fire President, I turn to books. This summer I moved back and forth between comfort reads, middle grade fiction, juicy thrillers and YA. I try to balance the dark with the light when I read, to preserve my sanity.  I read a lot of books this summer, from the super intense to the light and fluffy. I will share many of them in brief reviews over the next month or so, but for now, here are the three adult titles that stood out the most for me.

  1. little Fires EverywhereLittle Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng. I read this on vacation in a less than stellar hotel room, in which I was kept awake all hours by the stomping feet of the people in the room above, who were partying hard. I’m so grateful I had this book to keep me company. I’m sure you have heard or read about her first novel, Everything I Never Told You, about a dysfunctional family living in the suburbs of Ohio who grapple with the loss of their daughter. It is spectacular and sad and gorgeously written. Ng’s newest, Little Fires Everywhere, is, I would posit, even better than her debut. She has that rare, writerly gift in which she can masterfully control both plot and characterization. She gets people and the intricacies of their emotional lives and manages to balance a fast moving plot at the same time.  Celeste Ng is going to be with us a long time, and I am so looking forward to gobbling up every little thing she writes.  Prescription: An ideal read if you’re in the mood to lose yourself in some other family’s issues, while marveling at the gorgeous prose and storytelling prowess of a great writer. 
  2. The NixThe Nix by Nathan Hill. I also read this book on vacation, and was delightfully surprised at how fast I blew through it.  At 640 pages, this book is dauntingly long and I avoided it for almost a year, thinking I would rather get through my pile of shorter books rather then spend so much time on one big book. What a fool I was! To  borrow an expression from Rebecca Schinksy on the All the Books podcast, The Nix reads like a house on fire. Hill’s humor and tone draw you in to a story that covers a broad range of time and place and people, seamlessly blending pop culture, the 1960s protest movements, suburban America in the 1980s and the 1960s, as well as the modern absurdity of our social media culture. It is a bit too complicated to provide a succinct summary, as it covers and tells so much. At its heart, The Nix is a story about a mother and son that follows the meandering paths of their lives together and apart. Rumor has it that Meryl Streep and JJ Abrams are working together to bring this to HBO. How amazing is that?  Prescription: Ideal for fans of Michael Chabon, Jonathan Franzen and Phillip Roth who enjoy a sweeping, acerbic and painfully honest look at the culture. 
  3. Rules do not applyRules Do Not Apply by Ariel Levy. I had heard some buzz about this book before finally picking it up on a whim one day at the library. Years ago, I read Levy’s book Female Chauvinist Pigs, about the self-objectification of many women in the face of the widespread popularity of porn culture. I found it fascinating and honest and it really helped me understand something I had observed for a long time without being able to explain well. So I was curious to read this memoir of hers that was drawing equal parts praise and criticism.  In short: I liked it a lot. Levy writes so well and so intimately. The reader is immediately invited into her life, which she explores with a clarity and thoughtfulness that I found refreshing. Yes, she is a privileged white woman, and she doesn’t go to great lengths to acknowledge that. She has some interpretations of feminism and the role and impact it played in her life that rub some people the wrong way, but I didn’t see that as an issue. I do understand where people were coming from with their criticism of her tone–I have a similar issue with Lena Dunham, who I just can’t warm up to. Her book annoyed me. Her show annoys me. But I still respect her right to be who she wants to be. Anyway, I digress. Ariel Levy tells the story of her life, including her marriage to the woman of her dreams and their journey to have a child together. She describes her affair with a transgendered man with whom she had formerly dated when he was a woman, and her almost pathological sexual attraction to him. Without giving away too much, I will just say that things happen, tragedies occur, and Levy writes about it in an honest, contemplative voice that made me think about my own life and choices and what could have happened if I had changed one little thing such as taking a different job or getting into a different college. Whether or not you agree with Levy and the interpretation of her own life, it’s hard to deny that this isn’t a great memoir–one that will make you look back at your own life with wonder, awe and a little bit of sadness.

 

What about you ? What were your favorite books of the summer?

In my next post, I’ll share my favorite middle grade and young adult reads from my summer sabbatical.  Cheers! And Happy #Read a Book Day!

 

 

Posted in Five Minute Book Prescriptions, Romance, YA

Five Minute Book Prescription: When Dimple Met Rishi by Sandhya Menon

when dimple met rishiIt may be past Memorial Day, and into the beginning of June, but here in New England, it’s still raining and cold. We seem to have these little pockets of perfect weather that only last half a day every two weeks.  Otherwise, it’s just raining. Constantly. But no matter, today I am recommending a book that feels like the perfect summer read.  It is smart and sweet and funny and romantic. What more could you ask for in a book that begs to be read on a plane or by the ocean, or even in your bed on a lazy Sunday?

Written in alternating perspectives, this charming read takes us through the summer when, as the title says, Dimple met Rishi. Dimple has just graduated high school and is laser focused on her future dreams of becoming a coding superstar. Her parents, on the other hand, are more interested in her future as a wife. Her mother begs her to wear make up and pay more attention to her appearance so that she will have a better chance of attracting a husband. Uninterested in romance, especially marriage, Dimple wants to attend a summer program, Insomnia Con, where aspiring web developers compete to create the best app. When Dimple asks her parents to go, she is shocked and delighted at their quick and positive response. It’s only when she arrives and is approached by Rishi, who introduces himself as her future husband, that it all starts to make sense: Dimple and Rishi’s parents have arranged a marriage for them. No wonder they were so eager to let her go!

In stark contrast to Dimple, Rishi is a hopeless romantic. He knows his parents have picked out a potential bride for him, and he trusts them enough to be excited.  He respects the tradition of arranged marriages and likes the idea of being part of something bigger than himself.  But it may not be as simple as it sounds. Angry and frustrated and feeling betrayed by her parents, Dimple wants nothing to do with Rishi. At first….But then, as they work together creating an app and getting to know each other, Dimple finds herself in the very unexpected position of falling for Rishi.

Dimple, Rishi and their small cast of supporting characters are well drawn, unique and realistic. The romance between the two young Indian-American teens is thoughtful and sex positive without being overly sentimental or gauche and with just the right amount of swoon. Mendon explores the pressures of family, culture, friendship and self-esteem in a gentle coming of age story that feels altogether fresh.

Prescribed for : YA fans, readers in search of something irresistibly pleasant and transporting.  You will fly through this book. Bring it along on a trip to the beach or a quick airplane ride! Or give it as an easy and uplifting gift for a high school graduate looking to blow off steam and enjoy the summer.

 

Posted in Five Minute Book Prescriptions, Romance, YA

Five Minute Book Review: Alex, Approximately by Jenn Bennett

Alex, ApproximatelySometimes one needs to relax and unwind and be carried away on a light breeze of someone else’s problems–someone else’s not-too-big-to-be-overcome problems, that is. For me, this is what a perfect escapist read is: good writing, good story, minor issues and a tidy little ending. I use these kind of stories for palate cleansers in between heavier books and for days where I don’t want to be disturbed or sad (birthdays, holidays, vacation). So when I read about  Alex, Approximately in several review journals, where it received lots of good reviews, I mentally filed it away for a day that I would need it.

That day, it turned out, was this past Saturday, during my Birthday weekend. It was a warm and sunny day, one of the few we’ve had this season, and I just wanted to relax on the porch with a book. Alex, Approximately, turned out to be the icing on this relaxing cake of a day. Described as a kind of YA version of You Got Mail, this delightful teenage romp follows 17-year old Bailey “Mink” Rydell, as she moves across the country to live with her Dad in an idyllic California coastal town. Bailey is a classic movie buff and has made online friends with a fellow movie buff named “Alex,” who also happens to live in this idyllic coastal town. Unsure whether she is ready to tell this online person that she has moved close by,  the guarded and (literally, it turns out) gunshy Bailey decides to scope him out in person before revealing herself as his online friend. He could be a creep for all she knows! As you can imagine, hijinx ensue as Bailey quickly falls for her cocky, handsome surfer boy coworker.  I’ll let you fill in the You’ve Got Mail parallels for yourself.

I fully expected the usual romantic comedy plot line of meet cute, misunderstanding/breakup, resolution/reunion. While some of the usual tropes exist in this sweet story, it features an edge and a depth that I didn’t expect. Both Bailey and her love interest have a traumatic experience in their past that keeps them from being completely straight forward with each other and others. And a troubled local teen with a serious drug problem frequently shows up to bring real menace to their otherwise idyllic life. Still, Bennett has written an entirely pleasurable story that will keep you interested, invested and most importantly, distracted. I was sad to see it end!

Prescribed for: Anyone in need of a sweet pick-me-up of a story who doesn’t mind teen drama and perspectives. And all YA fans.

Posted in Inbox / Outbox

Inbox/Outbox: My Week in Reading / Listening / Watching

It’s been a full few weeks of work, family life, and of course, reading, listening, and, occasionally, when I can sneak it in, watching!  I’ve decided to start including blurbs about my favorite podcasts, music, movies and TV because they tend to compliment what I’m reading.

OUTBOX: Just Finished.

Simon vs the homosapiens agendaAudiobook: Simon Vs. The Homosapien’s Agenda by Becky Albertalli. Read by Michael Crouch.

I just loved this story so damn much. It’s hard to convey the way I felt these characters in my heart, but I’ll try. Fifteen-year old Simon Spier has been exchanging emails with a mysterious boy called “Blue,” whom he met through his school’s Tumblr page. Their true identities are unknown to each other, but they confide their deepest fears and concerns and eventually, their feelings for each other. Both are gay but not out to anyone but each other… until Simon slips up and leaves his email open one day, and a classmate who sees his emails with Blue threatens to out him unless Simon helps him get closer to a girl he likes. The friendships and characters in this book are so well drawn and so emotionally satisfying. I love Simon’s relationship with his family, his friends. I love how he relies so heavily on music to get him through the rougher patches of his life. The whole experience of listening to this audiobook was like watching a John Hughes movie. Wonderful wonderful wonderful.  And it is being made into a movie as we speak! So excited.

big little lies tvTV Show: Big Little Lies on HBO.

This was definitely worth the wait. Although there were a few changes to the story that I had trouble with (Madeline’s affair), I was ultimately very satisfied. Each character was perfectly cast and every single woman involved gave an amazing performance. The men were alright, too. Everyone has been talking about how great Nicole Kidman was in her portrayal of Celeste, and it’s true, she was sensational. But I would just like to point out that Nicole Kidman has ALWAYS been sensational. Did you see The Hours? I mean, come on. She takes on such a wide variety of interesting characters and refuses to be type cast. I really admire that. Anyway, Big Little Lies was great! I’m sad it’s over.

Books: I was swamped with a box of books to review for The Horn Book Guide and didn’t get in much pleasure reading for the past few weeks.

INBOX: Currently Reading / Listening

princess xI am Princess X by Cherie Priest.

I kept coming across this book at the library and was very curious about it based on the cool cover. When I finally picked it up and brought it home, I realized that the story was just as cool and unique. After sitting out gym class together in 5th grade, two girls become best friends and co creators of an imaginary character named Princess X. Libby draws the pictures and May tells the stories. Then Libby dies in a tragic car accident, and May is left sad, lonely, and an outcast once again. Then one day, a few years after the accident, Libby starts noticing Princess X stickers all around Seattle, where she spends summers with her dad. Then she finds a website: http://www.IamPrincessX.com, on which an elaborate web comic has been written…one that begins with the story of a girl who seems to die in a tragic car accident but has actually been captured by a deranged man. May is transfixed with curiosity and hope. Could Libby be alive? With the help of a teenage computer hacker who lives in her building, she dives head first into an absorbing mystery and search for her lost best friend.

This story is utterly original and compelling. Readers get May’s narrative as well as full panels of the I am Princess X web comic. I’m halfway through and desperate to have more time to read…

Podcast: S-Town

I finally gave in and started listening to S-Town, the hot new podcast from the creators of Serial and This American Life. Everyone is talking about this podcast right now, and I decided I needed to jump on it while I was in between audiobooks, before someone spoiled the ending for me. I can’t say much of what it’s about without giving away too much already. I’m three episodes in (there are 7), and it feels like a modern day Flannery O’Connor story crossed with William Faulkner. A southern gothic tale filled with (mostly) unsavory characters and mysteries.

Up Next

Books: So many books. So little time. Seriously, it’s a problem. I have several ARCs that I’ve been approved for through Edelweiss, that I really need to read. They include I Liked my Life by Abby Fabiaschi, The Upside of Unrequited by Becky Albertalli, Do Not Become Alarmed by Maile Meloy, Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng and Ramona Blue by Julie Murphy. So many!!! We are going on vacation for four days next week. It will be a glorious weekend on the beach in Florida (hopefully) with my whole extended family present. I’m bringing along a loaded Kindle and hoping to power through a lot of those books.

TV Shows: I’m going to finish up The Crown on Netflix, which we watched half of and start 13 Reasons Why, also on Netflix, which is an adaptation of one of the very first YA novels I ever read.

And that’s me! What about you? Please tell me what you’re reading and watching. I really want to know.

 

Posted in Five Minute Book Prescriptions, YA

5 Minute Book Prescription: The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas

THUGThis book has been blowing up all over social media, and with good reason: it is, simply put, essential. The fact that this is Angie Thomas’s debut novel is so exciting and wonderful because if this is what she can do on her first go, then wow, are we in for a treat.

The Hate U Give tells the story of high school student Starr Carter who feels divided between two identities: the Starr who goes to an exclusive, mostly white boarding school several towns away, and the Starr who lives in a poor neighborhood with bars on the windows and parties that end with gunshots. One night, leaving one of those parties with her childhood best friend Khalil, Starr watches as a police officer shoots and kills her friend during a routine traffic stop.  Traumatized, heartbroken and confused about the reluctance of the authorities to charge the police officer whom she feels murdered her friend in cold blood, Starr’s world is turned upside down.

Sure the premise alone is interesting, but it’s the clear, engaging writing that makes this book so memorable. Yes it is heartbreaking and infuriating and all too familiar, but it is also funny and warm and dead on in its portrayal of family life. Carter also manages to nail her description of and interaction with both privileged white people who want to understand and privileged white people who don’t want to understand. Everyone in Starr’s life is so interesting and complex and well drawn, you will feel like you know them. When the story finally ends, you will be sad to leave them, as I was.

Prescription: Everyone who lives in this country should read this book. It would be particularly effective, however, for people who just don’t understand why people are angry when an unarmed black person is shot by the police. Anyone who doesn’t understand the “Black Lives Matter” movement and why it deserves our attention should read this book. But also: it’s just a damn good story, no matter what your beliefs are. #readitnow!