Young Jane Young

by Gabrielle Zevin
First sentence: “My dear friend Roz Horowitz met her new husband online dating, and Roz is three years older and fifty pounds heavier than I am, and people have said that she is generally not well preserved, and so I thought I would try it even though I avoid going online too much.”
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Review copy provided by the publisher.
Content: There’s swearing, including several f-bombs, as well as some off-screen sex. It will be in the adult fiction section of the bookstore.
Release date: August 22, 2017

The relationship between mothers and daughters (and between women in general) is not a new topic for fiction. It’s been Done.  And yet, Zevin — through this tale of an intern, Aviva, who has an affair with her boss, who just happens to be a congressman — manages to make this tired trope fresh. We get the story from four perspectives: Rachel, Aviva’s mother ; Aviva — both then and now, as Jane; Ruby, the intern’s daughter; and the congressman’s wife. It’s a unique way of telling the story, in bits and pieces (you don’t get Aviva’s then perspective until the very end, and it comes as a sort of “choose your own adventure” tale, one in which she wishes she could change her decisions), and from different perspectives. Choices have consequences, more so for women in these situations (so, whatever did happen to Monica Lewinsky?) than for men. It’s a fascinating study of our scandal-obsessed culture (really, are famous people’s private lives really news?) and how we’re much more willing to forgive men than we are women. (I think that’s the most biting thing: that Aviva is much more harshly judged than the congressman ever was.) And how relationships between mothers and daughters are not always straightforward. And what one person says isn’t always what the other person hears.

I love the way Zevin spins a story, and the way she is able to make characters pop to life. She doesn’t dumb down the kids (or make them too precocious; Ruby was the right balance of nerdy and eager), and she makes everyone sufficiently complicated.

Definitely highly recommended.

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Audiobook: Al Franken, Giant of the Senate

by Al Franken
Read by the author
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Content: There are six f-bombs in one chapter, mostly because there are two in the title of something Franken wrote and he said it three  times. It’s in the biography section of the bookstore.

I suppose, if you don’t know who Al Franken is, you probably won’t have any interest in this book. That said, I knew who he was, but wasn’t a huge fan.  But, I’d heard enough good about it that I decided to download the audio book.

Franken is in his second term as the junior senator from Minnesota, a former writer for Saturday Night Life, and a very, very smart writer. This book is basically a memoir of his time at SNL, his family life, his first election, and his thoughts on being in the Senate as a whole.

It’s a very smart book. And while it’s not always hilarious, it IS very funny. And insightful. Be aware that Franken is a Democrat, and so there’s definitely a partisan flavor to it (he blames Newt Gingrich, Rush Limbaugh, and Mitch McConnell for the current state of politics), but he also recognizes a need to work together, and has some good things to say about many Republicans (just not Ted Cruz). It’s insightful, interesting, and incredibly engaging.

And on audio? Very delightful. I loved listening to Franken read his words (I often enjoy celebrity memoirs more in audio) and thought it was a definite value-added to the book. He kept me engaged in the book, and I looked forward to turning it on whenever I got in the car.

A very, very good read.

Mortal Heart

by Robin LaFevers
First sentence: “For most the bleak dark months when the black storms came howling out of the north is a time of grimness and sorrow as people await the arrival of winter, which brings death, hunger, and bitter cold in its wake.”
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Others in the series: Grave Mercy, Dark Triumph
Content: Like the other two, it has death (though no murders, I think), some sex (off screen) and more mature themes. It’s in the Teen section (grades 9+) of the bookstore.

Annith is the one who was always left behind. Quiet and dutiful, the Abbess always passed her over when it was time to go on missions. First Ismae left, and then Sybella. And Annith is the one to babysit the new novices. However, when the resident seer gets ill and Annith overhears the Abbess say that Annith would be perfect for the position, Annith panics. And takes off in the middle of the night: dang it if she isn’t going to get her adventure.

She ends up being overtaken by hellequins — servants of the God Mortain, like Annith herself — and their leader Bathazar, takes it upon himself to protect her from the, shall we say, less savory of the bunch. They ride around together — nominally to get Annith to some city I can’t remember the name of right now — for a couple of weeks, falling in love. And then Annith — and this is what I liked most about the book — decides that she really wants to be Independent and Have and Adventure, so she takes off. And she does. She never really becomes as Awesome as Ismae (who is still my favorite) or Sybella, but she holds her own.

Of course there are twisty twists and swoony swoons, and over it all is some very interesting (if only vaguely) historical setting. At some point, though, the twists made my eyes roll, and the swoons stopped being swoony, and I was predicting things right and left, which is never much fun for me.

It’s not my favorite in the trilogy, though it does wrap things up nicely. Even so, it’s a good series, and one worth reading.

The Tyrant’s Daughter

by J. C. Carleson
First sentence: “My brother is the King of Nowhere.”
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Review copy downloaded from NetGalley
Content: Some mild language, and some indirect violence. It sits in the YA section (grades 6-8) of the bookstore. I don’t know if I’d give it to a 5th grader or not. I think it depends on how news-savvy the kid is.

Laila is the daughter of the ruler of an unnamed Middle Eastern country. She has a good life — trips to Paris with her mother, a private tutor, a resort by the sea. Then one day her world turns upside down when her father is assassinated right before her eyes.

Suddenly Laila, her mother, and her younger brother, Bastian (the “little king”) are exiled, taking refuge in the United States as Laila’s fundamentalist uncle takes over the country. Not only is Laila exiled from her country, she’s thrown into a world that — for all the riches and opulence she was used to — is vastly different from her own. And, on top of that, as she meets other refugees from her country, she discovers that her loving father was actually a brutal dictator.

I think the publishers are billing this as a thriller — J. C. Carleson is a former CIA operative, after all — but it’s not. It’s much more one girl’s story of awakening, and the harsh realities that brings, as well as of the plight of immigrants and how difficult it is to make a new home. Although she makes friends in her Washington D. C. school, Laila never quite belongs here, being uncomfortable with little things: from wearing short skirts to the dance to the seeming nonchalance that the students have to a bomb threat. Laila is constantly a fish out of water, and I think Carleson captures that perfectly.

There are some thriller-esque elements; Laila’s mom is a constant schemer, and there’s a CIA guy hanging around ominously. And I felt the ending was a bit too pat, not quite fitting in with the rest of Laila’s story. But, for the most part, it was a fascinating exploration of one girl’s attempt to come to terms with her family and the outside world.

Audiobook: I am America (And So Can You)

by Stephen Colbert
read by the author
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I picked this up on a whim because I needed something short, and I was in the mood for something funny. And, even though I’m not a fan of his show, I had hopes Colbert would be both.

Well. It was short, anyway.

As for the funny, sometimes it was. There were moments — I can’t remember them now, though — when I did chuckle, guffaw, and few when I snorted. But, mostly I had to constantly remind myself that he doesn’t mean any of this. I’m not quite sure if this was a parody of or a commentary on conservative thinking, but either way, I spent a good part of the time thinking “What’s the point?”

If his point was commentary, then sometimes it was brilliant. Sometimes, he went on rants that I thought worked if you heard (in this case) them ironically. And sometimes, I thought that it was a terrific parody of conservative culture. But — perhaps like all good parodists (is that a word?) — it was uneven. Sometimes it worked. Mostly, though (and this is because humor is really subjective), it didn’t work for me. Every time I found myself ticked off or agreeing with something Colbert said, I had to remind myself he doesn’t mean ANY of it. Or if he does, it’s so hard to filter what’s “real” and what isn’t that I just gave up.

I did come to one conclusion, though: give me Jon Stewart and I’m a happy person.