Landline

by Rainbow Rowell
First line: “Georgie pulled into the driveway, swerving to miss a bike.”
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Review copy nabbed off the ARC shelves at my place of employment.
Content: It’s all about marriage, so I don’t know how appealing it would be to teenagers. It’s also full of f-bombs and illusions to sex and drinking (but no actual, I don’t think). It’s in the adult fiction section of the bookstore.

After 15 years of marriage, Georgie and Neal are broken. Well, Georgie doesn’t really like to think they are; she loves her husband and her two ¬†young daughters. But she’s gone all the time, writing for a popular TV sitcom. Neal stays home with the kids, and does a fantastic job, but increasingly it seems like it’s not enough for him. And so when an opportunity comes for Georgie, and her best friend Seth, to pitch a new show — their own show — just after Christmas, Neal digs his heels in. They were supposed to go to his mom’s house, in Omaha. And now Georgie is putting work first, again. So, he packs up the kids and takes them, leaving Georgie stranded a week before Christmas.

But then, Georgie discovers that her old yellow landline phone connects her to a Neal in the past, one the year they got engaged. And maybe, by talking to Neal-in-the-past, she can figure out what is wrong in the present.

Rowell is a talented writer; don’t get me wrong. There were some fun moments, and some beautiful turns of phrase in this book. But, I think she writes better about falling in love than about staying in love. There wasn’t much drive, much reason to stay connected to this book (and I didn’t cry!), much reason to care about the characters. It all felt very rote, very run-of-the-mill, and not at all fresh or original. Perhaps we were supposed to think it was, since Georgie is the breadwinner and Neal is the stay-at-home parent, but it felt like the same old conflicts with just a role reversal. And perhaps there was growth, but I just didn’t feel it. They are both self absorbed and unfit for each other, and although Rowell wanted us to believe that love is “enough” she never gave me enough proof to convince me that, in the case of Georgie and Neal, it would be.

Not bad, but not great, either.

The Lost

by Sarah Beth Durst
First sentence: “For the first hundred miles, I only see the road and my knuckles, skin tight across the bones, like my mother’s hands, as I clutch the steering wheel.”
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Content: The publisher is marketing this one as fiction, but I think it’s because the main protagonist is 27. There’s some mild swearing, and lots of kissing, but other than that, nothing. I’d give this one to a teenager who is interested.

I’ve had a difficult time getting into adult fiction lately. Too often, I picked it up and it’s just Words and no Plot or Characters or anything interesting. But, I saw that Sarah Beth Durst (whom I love) had an adult book (!) out, and I figured if there was an adult fiction book I’d love, it’d be one written by Durst.

I was right.

Lauren Chase is in a holding pattern in her life. She’s given up on her art to get a practical job because her mother has been diagnosed with cancer. But on this particular day, the day in which the book starts, her mother is off to get Bad News, and Lauren can’t handle it. So she runs away. And finds herself in Lost. A place where all the lost things go, once you arrive in Lost, you’re pretty much stuck. Until you find the thing you lost, and then the Missing Man can send you back.

Except the Missing Man, when he saw Lauren, bolted. Which means, she’s got half the town out to get her, and has to figure out how to survive. Thankfully, she has Claire, a precocious 7-year-old, and Peter, who is the Finder, to help her.

It sounds a little trite, writing it all down, like it’s been something that’s been done before. But Durst made it new and fresh for me. Told from Lauren’s point of view, we got her panic when she initially encountered Lost, as well as her confusion and determination as things got worse for her. And the end, while open for the intended sequel, also gave me a sense of closure.

Perhaps I’m just a genre-fiction reader, but I found reading this one to be so much more enjoyable than many of my other forays into adult fiction. Which is something that made me very happy.

Everything Leads to You

by Nina LaCorr
First sentence: “Five texts are waiting for me when I get out of my English final.”
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Content: There is some swearing, including a half-dozen f-bombs scattered throughout. And a mention of older teen drinking. Plus, it’s really a growing-up story. For those reasons, it’s in the Teen (grades 9+) section of the bookstore.

Emi Price is a golden California girl. (Except, for the record, she has a black grandfather and is NOT the blonde thing you see on the cover.) She as loving parents, a cool older brother who has a job as a site scout in a production company, and a fantastic best friend. She has a job as a set-design intern at the same production company as her brother (nepotism works).

She just broke up with her off-again/on-again girlfriend, though, and that’s getting her down. And so, when her brother leaves his posh Venice apartment to Emi and her best friend, Charlotte, for the summer with the one catch — do something amazing here! — she feels hopeless.

Then she and Charlotte discover an old letter written by a famous actor Clyde Jones (think John Wayne) that is a clue to a mystery: he had a daughter. And a grandchild. And so, Emi and Charlotte set out to find them and deliver the letter.

That’s really only the beginning of the book, and perhaps the least important part of it as well. It’s much more about Emi figuring herself out. The letter helps, but it’s also this job on an indie movie that she lands, thanks to her ex-girlfriend. And when they find Clyde’s long-lost granddaughter, that opens up a whole new avenue for Emi.

I loved this book. Wholeheartedly and unabashedly. I loved the peek into the way movies work, the facts behind the fantasy. I loved the way Emi thought about characters and set design. And I loved how sometimes she let fantasy overtake her reality. The characters were so real, so deep, so complex, that I couldn’t help but be drawn into their lives.

An absolutely perfect summer book.

The Secret Hum of a Daisy

by Tracy Holczer
First sentence: “All I had to do was walk up to the coffin.”
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Review copy downloaded from Edelweiss.
Content: The subject matter — death and forgiveness — is a bit mature, but not so much that I don’t think a fourth-grader could handle it. There is some talk of crushes and bras, but even that is pretty tame.

It has always been just Grace and her mother. For 12 years, they’ve been wandering from city to city, finding work and a place to live here and there, never really settling down. When they finally make it to Sacramento, moving in with another single mom and her daughter, Grace finds she’s had enough of moving. She and her mother argue, and later that night, her mother dies in a tragic accident.

Suddenly, Grace is faced with moving in with her grandmother, whom she’s never met (and has a terrible opinion of, since she kicked Grace’s mom out when she got pregnant). To say it’s not something she wants to do is an understatement. At first, she tries to resist moving in with her grandma; she takes to sleeping in the shed, and tries to pull pranks to get her grandma to send her back to her friends’ house, where she was living. But, slowly, as she gets accustomed to the town, she learns that clues to her mother’s past, and therefore hers, are there, and slowly builds a home for herself.

I’ve read a lot of books with dead parents, so it takes something special to make one stand out of the pack. And I think, in many ways, this one had that something special. First: it was death-by-accident, and Grace was the first one to find her mom. It was realistic in that they argued, it was sudden, and Grace has to live with that. There’s also the non-shiny way everything fit together. Grandma was curt and doesn’t deal with loss well. Grace was petulant and stubborn and doesn’t deal with loss well. People are selfish, and unhappy, and yet…. it all works to make it feel more real than grating (it sounds grating. It isn’t. Well, maybe a little. But that helps give Grace her growth arc.). I also enjoyed the artistic thread that weaved its way through the book; Grace’s mother was an artist, her grandmother a landscape designer, and she’s a writer. The words of Robert Frost also tie this book together, giving it a poetic feel. It’s also a very hopeful book, one that looks past grief and loss to find a new beginning.

And one I found that, in spite of being about death and loss, I thoroughly enjoyed.