Book reviews: Dithering romances, quickly approaching apocalyptic events, and different approaches to abandonment issues.

Morning, all! It was a decent haul of Books Finished this week, so let’s see what’s in our queue to discuss. (Yes, I’m rushing because: The 2017 Tournament of Books has begun!)

DearMrKnightlyDear Mr. Knightly, by Katherine Reay (2014, Center Point, 399 pages, ebook). This was a Deal of the Day purchase, which makes me feel slightly better when I think I only spent two dollars on it. Because my review basically goes: Nope. Our narrator has a rather unfortunate lot in life and to hide from it all, she fashions herself after the heroines of Jane Austen’s (and everyone else’s) novels. And in a rather remarkable coincidence, a benefactor offers to pay for our little narrator to attend a prestigious journalism graduate school in exchange for Sam writing to him of her experiences. And that could all be written off as wish fulfillment (it’s fiction; hello), if any of it were at all believable. But narrator Sam spouts off nothing but book quotes at the most inconvenient times, is supposed to be drowning in street cred (having grown up in the foster system), but has a meltdown over having to live in a crappy apartment when she matriculates out, runs into caricature after caricature (a black street kid who speaks only in ebonics, whom she befriends after challenging him to a race)… You guys, it was DNF kind of bad. Not a dang thing worked. Not even the cover art. 1 of 5 stars.

LearningToSwearInAmericaLearning to Swear in America, by Katie Kennedy (2016, Bloomsbury, 346 pages, ebook). This was a Deal of the Day that worked a lot better than Dear Mr. Knightly, thankfully. It was already on my official TBR when I saw the deal come up, and at a convenient window in my reading schedule. An asteroid is hurtling towards Earth and is threatening to destroy half the planet (“only” half) in 17 days. Russian prodigy Yuri Strelnikov, 17-years-old, is “loaned” to the U.S. to help destroy the asteroid. What we get is a wonderfully quirky and gifted novel about finding our people and place to fit in, only here it’s with a backdrop of doom and global destruction. The characters were unique and allowed to be multi-faceted. Not one felt boxed-in or tied to a certain, predictable trajectory. The book was never, ever about the science – or even the apocalypse. Except as handy plot machine. Definitely worth full paperback price and entertaining enough to keep you busy during an airplane ride. I’d say between 3 1/2-to-4 of 5 stars.

DaredevilsDaredevils, by Shawn Vestal (2016, Penguin Press, 320 pages, ebook). I was caught after reading the first chapter and plunked down full price for this story about a 15-year-old Mormon who is caught sneaking out to be with her “gentile” boyfriend…and so is sold into a polygamous marriage. The rest of the synopsis promises the book is about Loretta’s break for freedom, and so I spent a good deal of the time I was reading waiting for Loretta’s escape. Most of the story, however, focused on getting her ready for her break. She worked through her parents abandonment of her, of her boyfriend’s abandonment (for lo and behold, guess who shows up in disguise?) of the plan to help her run away, even her abandonment of herself because what if she’s too tied to her “family” and life to dare to take that first step? Once Loretta and her family reunite with the other half the book’s focus – teenage Jason, Loretta’s husband’s nephew, who has no idea at first that his uncle is living such an alternative lifestyle – things start to pick up. It was a fascinating read for me, well balanced in looking at the “what ifs” from all angles. Because it was all the “but…”s that I loved the most – those moments when Vestal let the characters take pause and get caught up in doubt and examination of the shades of gray. Because every life has those. Even every horrible situation has something about it (usually) that will make you stop and give pause, even if just for a moment. Jason’s ties to his land, his memories of his grandfather. Loretta’s ties to the innocent children who will be abandoned of all hope if she leaves. And then there’s the whole trip of the Eval Knieval character. When are you abandoning an ideal, and when are you cutting your losses and walking towards something new and better? Such a well-shaded examination. 4 of 5 stars.

EileenEileen, by Ottessa Moshfegh (2015, Penguin Press, 272 pages, ebook). Oh, the Deals of the Day are my bread and butter these days! This was another one that lived on my TBR until I patiently (er, um, coincidentally) picked it up as the deal skittered across my desk. It’s interesting because it also plays with themes of abandonment and desires that live in dark, secret places. But whereas Daredevils seemed to live them out in the light (hiding them in the open of the desert air), Eileen was definitely about dark, winter, claustrophobic places, like small-town Boston prisons for boys in the 1960s. Eileen promised a crime by the long-suffering daughter of an abusive, delusional alcoholic. And I spent most of the novel waiting for that to play out, too. Here, though, the plot kept moving, and you didn’t realize that most of the book had gone by and you were still waiting for what you thought was the flashpoint. With Daredevils, it was light that hazy, heavy moment before the giant crack of thunder, when everyone was looking at each other, daring each other to make the first move. It’s reactionary. Eileen is more of an intense character study, as we watch one woman unravel, constantly reevaluating why as we get fed morsels of information. It’s wickedly delightful, I’m almost embarrassed to say. 4 1/2 of 5 stars.

So there you go! A good harvest of books for you guys to choose from. Just stay away from Knightly and no one will get hurt.

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