It’s Thursday! And while it’s not really official, Thursdays are when I usually bring you a round-up of what I’ve been reading this week, even weeks when I don’t feel like there’s much worth shouting about and waving above my head, screaming READ THIS! Some weeks are just gonna be like that.
But there are a few that you should definitely keep an eye open for, even if I’m not begging you to please go hunt them down right this minute, so let’s see what we have…
Bright Lines, by Tanwi Nandini Islam (Penguin, 2015, 304 pages, paperback). This was one of the books I got in one of my Book Riot Quarterly Boxes, and I can see why they chose it. It’s smart, multi-culti, and a wicked debut. Who doesn’t want to feature all of those things? But you know when you’re just not feeling a book? And how you kinda kick yourself because you know if you had maybe read it at a different time, you might have had an entirely different experience? That was me. I could see how smartly written it was, how carefully constructed, but that was part of my problem. Everything felt on purpose. I never really lost the sense that I was reading a story. I never fell under its spell. The characters got bogged down under all of that intent, at times, and I wanted to just shake them loose and see what happened. It reminded me a bit of a stiff Khaled Hosseini, so keep an eye on it – just be prepared for heavy reading. 2 of 5 stars.
Cutting Teeth, by Julia Fierro (St. Martin’s Press, 2014, 322, ebook). This has been on my TBR list since it debuted and I finally snagged a loaner. This is where the “paranoia” part of our lead comes in, in the guise of a young mom intent on raising the perfect suburban little white boy. That got old, fast. Every unhappy family is a new story, yes, but this was more like grinding teeth than it was about the unhappy toddler who’s cutting them. Or maybe society was gnawing on our mama Nicole. Or the media who cuts into everything, turning the most mild symptom or event into fodder. There was certainly a lot to think about, but who could hear any of it or be bothered to care over such a whiny protagonist? Ugh. 1 of 5 stars.
The Rest of Us Just Live Here, by Patrick Ness (Walker Books, 2015, 343 pages, library hardcover). A lot of people liked this book more than I did, and you might be one of them. More paranoia here, but turned up even higher was the meta. And I mean meta meta. The Rest of Us was shooting for something along the lines of The Eyre Affair (Thursday Next series) by Jasper Fforde and missed, slightly. It’s about a group of high schoolers who aren’t the Chosen Ones, fighting dragons, staving off vampires, or dying of cancer. They’re the other characters, ignoring the end of the world and minor characters who die in front of them. They’re the Rest of Them in the stories, who have to go on, very much in spite of themselves and the stories around them. If I liked shitty characters a little more, I would have been far more into this. Alas. I have enough an easy enough time making fun of the world around me with people I like. The writing was crisp and quick-moving and I have to note that it would be a good entry into the Magical Land of Meta for the YA set – or a grown-up who hasn’t visited. 2 of 5 stars.
Underwater, by Marisa Reichardt (Farrar, Strauss & Giroux, 2016, 288 pages, hardcover). I broke my #ReadMyOwnDamnBooks pledge to buy this – but I had a coupon and a $10 gift card! So it was like I hardly bought any of it. I assuaged my guilt by reading it in a few hours. It was very compulsive writing, and not very difficult to read, although it didn’t have much meat to it, despite the content. I didn’t even realize this book was about (yet another) school shooter until I was halfway through – I knew only it was a YA book about a high schooler who was so wrecked with anxiety and trauma that she couldn’t leave her crappy apartment, not even for the little brother who adored her. Oh, until a love interest moves in next door and maybe changes all of that. Because, of course. The bit of requisite campiness was forgivable, partly because of how very honestly and faithfully Reichardt handled Morgan’s anxiety and PTSD. As someone who knows more than I want to about anxiety, I can say there was a lot that was pitch-perfect. And that is important for teens. The trigger subject can get swapped out – it’s almost not important. But showing kids that it can maybe be treated and handled is something we need more of. 3 1/2 of 5 stars.
Woman with a Secret, by Sophie Hannah (William Morrow, 2015, 384 pages, library hardcover) and The Edge of Normal, by Carla Norton (Minotaur Books, 2013, 308 pages, library hardcover). You guys. Okay, I’m thinking I have a problem. It might be me – I am too picky. I must be. Because these books? Were awful. I couldn’t even read them to make fun of them! The writing was campy, the female protagonists unbelievable, the situations the authors were setting up were preposterous – I just couldn’t do it! I don’t know why. I enjoy thrillers, I do. I let myself suspend belief just fine. I even lower my standards…just maybe not enough. Why is it so hard for me to find a thriller good enough to actually read? …And is that necessarily a bad thing? 1 of 5 stars.
The Famished Road, by Ben Okri (Jonathan Cape, 1991, 519 pages, library ebook). You guys! (A different kind of “You guys.”) I can’t believe I waited so long to read this! A new classic about a Yoruba spirit child who journeys through fires, captivity, destitution, searching for family, redemption, and the elusive overlap between the land of his family and the spirits. I studied Nigeria and Yoruba culture quite a bit, so this story rang so many of my bells. I didn’t realize how much I missed this kind of storytelling until I was rolling in it, banging the book against the steering wheel of my car (at lunch), yelling “Yes!” Now, it is a bit of The Wizard of Oz meets A Hundred Years of Solitude, so there are points where the story sticks in the mud a bit and you just want to get it going again. But it’s worth the patience. (Or, um, skipping ahead a bit.) 3 1/2 of 5 stars.
Goodbye Stranger, by Rebecca Stead (Wendy Lamb Books, 2015, 289 pages, library hardcover). Stead’s When You Reach Me, which plays heavily with A Wrinkle in Time, is one of my favorite books, so I was tempted to pre-order this new YA novel. I’m glad I didn’t. It was a good story, about three teenage girls who stumble their way through junior high, trying to figure out the rules of friendship and dating and life. Really, it’s a bit of a modern Judy Blume. And that’s high praise! It’s just not as lofty or as whip-smart as I had set it up in my head. Definitely borrow, though – it’s a solid YA read. 3 of 5 stars.
My Name is Lucy Barton, by Elizabeth Strout (Random House, 2016, 193 pages, library hardcover). Wow, I read a lot of library books this week. It’s rare that I read everything I borrow! This was a solid read and my god, it made me miss my mom. Fierce aching, you guys. Lucy Barton had an operation, a simple one, but is feverish and not recovering and so is stuck in the hospital. Her husband has sent for her estranged mother, all the way from the impoverished mid-west, and Lucy Barton unfolds as the two become reacquainted through small-talk and gossip and remember-whens. The writing is a bit stark and distanced, but absolutely true to Strout, so if you’re a fan, you’ll enjoy it. Or if you’re looking for a good character-driven book, because I’m not a Strout fan and I read every single page, digging for the next revelation. 4 of 5 stars.
Tags: Ben Okri, book reviews, Books, Bright Lines, Carla Norton, Cutting Teeth, Elizabeth Strout, Fierro, Goodbye Stranger, literature, My Name is Lucy Barton, Ness, reading, Rebecca Stead, Reichardt, Sophie Hannah, Tanwi Nandini Islam, The Edge of Normal, The Famished Road, The Rest of Us Just Live Here, Underwater, Woman with a Secret