Sold

by Patricia McCormick
First sentence: “One more rainy season and our roof will be gone, says Ama.”
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Content: There is violence toward women and a (non-graphic) rape scene. It’s in the teen section (grades 9+) of the bookstore.

Lakshmi is a 13-year-old girl in the mountains of Nepal who is just getting by with her mother and step-father and baby brother. Their existence isn’t great: they depend on the weather to make sure their livelihood — growing rice — is secure, and Lakshmi’s stepfather is a gambler and a drunk, spending all their money on cards and booze. Still, it’s not a terrible life. That is, until one monsoon season wipes out their entire crop. There’s nothing else to pay their debts with, and so Lakshmi’s stepfather sells her to a buyer that’s passing through. Lakshmi thinks she’s off to be a maid, and that the wages will go home to her family. Turns out, though, that she’s been sold into slavery, and that her “job” is prostitution. (I loathe to use that word, because I feel it implies some sort of choice, and Lakshmi has NO choice in the matter; in fact, she’s drugged and repeatedly raped at the beginning since she’s unwilling to do what she’s told.)

Eventually, some well-meaning Americans come in and shut the business down and rescue the girls who want to be rescued (go white savior moment?) but there’s a lot going on culturally with the girls.

This is such a hard book to read. Not technically; it’s written in loose prose verse (they weren’t simple enough to be poems, but it wasn’t really a prose book either), and so it went quickly, but emotionally? It packs a wallop of a punch. Toxic masculinity and patriarchy and class divisions are going to kill us all. That someone would sell their child to be a sex worker, that men would want to come visit them, that women would imprison these girls for their own gain? It’s a lot to stomach and it makes me feel both incredibly angry and incredibly hopeless.

It’s an excellently written book, and I’m grateful someone told their story (even if it’s a white woman). Even if it is emotionally draining and difficult.

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.”
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
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.

Audiobook: The Best of Adam Sharp

by Graeme Simsion
Read by David Barker
Content: There’s a couple of f-bombs, some other general swearing, and lots of sex, most of which is not tasteless.

I picked this one up because I liked The Rosie Project well enough, and I thought the premise of this one — a man who met the love of his life when he was in his 20s, though it didn’t work out, and 20 years later reconnects with her — sounded like something I’d like. And, for a good long while, it was. Adam, the main character, is a pianist by hobby (and a good one, though with a tortured relationship with his musician father) and there was a lot of music and musical references running through the book. I liked the falling in love, the wistfulness when remembering how it didn’t work out.

But, then, once he reconnects with his ex-lover, it just does sideways, and turns into a middle age wet dream. Or something that felt a lot like that. And when he ends up in a ménage à trois with his ex-lover and her current husband (about 2/3 of the way through), I bailed. Yep, I do have limits and there they are. I have to admit there’s a part of me that’s curious to know where the book went from there, but it’s not strong enough to pick it back up.

As for the narration, it was good, though I really couldn’t tell much of a difference between the Australian and English accents (is there much of a difference?) and his women’s voices were abysmal.

So, really: not worth the time at all.

Alex, Approximately

by Jenn Bennett
First sentence: “He could be anyone of these people.”
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Review copy provided by the publisher.
Content: There is some talk of drug use (by a minor character), some teenage drinking, and some non-graphic sex. There is also some mild swearing and two f-bombs. It’s in the teen section (grades 9+) of the bookstore.

Bailey has just moved to California to live with her dad, and it just happens to be in the same northern California surfing town as her on-line BFF (and crush), Alex. He’s everything she thinks she wants: they share the same taste in movies, they love to banter… the only thing is that she doesn’t know who he is.

And then she meets Porter Roth. He’s everything Alex is not: annoying, irritating, and a surfer. And Bailey’s stuck working with him at her new summer job. But then, she finds herself falling for him and starts to wonder whether or not she needs Alex after all.

That kind of sounds lame, doesn’t it? But, truthfully, it’s the perfect mix of retro, sassy repartee, and romance (with a few steamy bits). There’s California surf culture (though it felt more southern than northern, but that’s nit-picky), there’s a bad egg of a former best friend to keep things exciting. There’s a friendship story as well as a boyfriend story and it’s summery and just perfect. And yeah, the “big” reveal at the end is pretty obvious (you can figure it out a mile away), but you know what? I didn’t care.

It hit the spot.

Spontaneous

9780525429746by Aaron Starmer
First sentence: “When Katelyn Ogden blew up in third period pre-calc, the janitor probably figured he’d only have to scrub guts off one whiteboard this year.”
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Content: Um, well. You name it, it’s got it: sex, drugs, drinking, many many f-bombs. It’s all out there. And it’s in the Teen (grades 9+) section of the bookstore, but it’s not for sensitive souls.

The senior class of  Covington High starts out thinking that this year will be like any other: go to school, apply for college, take the tests, graduate. But then, people start blowing up. Seriously: spontaneously combusting for no reason. They just… explode. First one, then four, and soon it’s an epidemic. It only affects the senior class, and soon they become pariahs in their town. Is it catching? What’s the reason? Who is going to live and who’s going to be the next one to blow up.

And Mara Carlyle is in the middle of it. She witnesses the first few deaths, and suddenly is swept away in the macabre fascination of it all. The FBI get involved and Mara’s there. Scientists come to try and figure out why, and Mara’s there.  She gets a boyfriend, trying to find love in all this (spoiler: he explodes). She tries to keep the school together. She and her best friend try to keep their friendship together. It’s all falling apart around her.

This is the WEIRDEST book I’ve ever read. And I read Grasshopper Jungle. In fact, that’s an apt comparison: it’s a lot like Smith’s book with its sex and drugs and just out-there plot. I think this book was trying to explore what happens to a group when everything (literally) blows up around them. Most authors go for dystopian (or giant, man-eating grasshoppers), but Starmer picked the weirdness of people blowing up. And, for a long time, it worked. As it was going along, people were trying to figure out they why behind it, so there was a bit of a mystery. Is it DNA? Is it government conspiracy? Is it bad drugs? It was foul and it was weird, but it wasn’t really bad. Until it made a sharp left (after the boyfriend exploded) and became bitter and hopeless. The last quarter of the book just wasn’t, well, good. (At least for me.) I wanted some sort of answer, some sort of reason, some sort of solution, but it all fell apart in hopeless bitterness. At least with Grasshopper Jungle, there was a hope that things would work out in the future. But, with this, it was just passive acceptance, a knowledge that every. single. person. in the senior class was doomed to die. And it was depressing, frankly.

And weird. Definitely very, very weird.

Another Brooklyn

anotherbrooklynby Jacqueline Woodson
First sentence: “For a long time, my mother wasn’t dead yet.”
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Review copy provided by the publisher.
Release date: August 9, 2016
Content: There’s some swearing, including a few f-bombs, and a lot of illusions to off-screen sex as well as drug use. It will be in the adult fiction section of the bookstore.

The death of August’s father, and her return to Brooklyn for the first time in many years, sets off a chain of memories from her childhood. When she, her brother and father left the farm down South, soon after her mother committed suicide. The friendships she had with girls her age, and the different paths their lives eventually took. The way her father and brother turned to Islam and the hope and guidance their religion gave them. It all comes crashing down on her, in a series of reflective snippets, as she tries to make sense of her childhood.

I’m not sure I fully unpacked all that this novel had to offer. In fact, I know I didn’t. It’s deceptively short and it goes quick, and I know I missed things. Not only Big Things (not that there was much of a plot; it really was a series of short, almost poetic vignettes), but the Meaning behind those Things. It’s a harsh place, Brooklyn of the 1970s, a sexist one as well as a dangerous one. And August, through Woodson, tries to unpack what it all Means. And even though I enjoyed the lyrical flow of the book, and related to the women in it, I’m not sure I understood what Woodson was trying to do.

That said, I think it’s an Important book, and one that will be great for book groups to sit and hash over. (I’d love someone to talk to about it.) And, I can’t deny the beauty of the writing; Woodson is supremely talented. I just wish I were a better reader.

Two DNFs

I suppose each  of these could have gotten their own post, but I didn’t want to work that hard.

hatersThe Haters
by Jesse Andrews
First sentence: “Jazz camp was mostly dudes.”
Review copy provided by publisher
Content: So many swear words, including a bucketful of f-bombs. Realistic, sure, but it lands it squarely in the Teen (grades 9+) section of the bookstore.

Wes and Corey are at jazz camp. They’re not the world’s best musicians; mostly what they do is mess around on the bass and drums, respectively, and be super snobbish about the music they listen to. They figure it’s going to be a halfway decent camp, until they meet Ash, who is a lead guitarist. But not a jazz one. She’s also the only girl at the camp. And then, one night, she talks Wes and Corey into ditching camp and going on a “tour” as a band — just the three of them.

I wanted to like this one, and sometimes I did. Sometimes I laughed. Sometimes I thought that Andrews’ observations on music and hipsters and snobs and possibly even teenagers were spot-on. But, that just wasn’t enough to make me care. I made it nearly halfway before I realized that I had no desire to find out what happens on this “world tour of the south” or how Wes, Corey, and Ash deal with everything. It was funny at times. It just wasn’t interesting.

Which is too bad.

maestraMaestra
by L. S. Hilton
First sentence: “Heavy hems and vicious heels swooped and clacked over the parquet.”
Review copy provided by the publisher.
Content: Um. Well. Let’s just say that it’s a smarter 50 Shades of Grey.  It’s in the Mystery section of all places.

I think there’s a plot to this one. By day, Judith works at an art house as a lackey — she’s super informed about art, smarter than everyone else at the art house, but she just doesn’t get respect. So, by night, she works at a house of pleasure (of sorts). I’m sure more stuff happens, but I bailed after she accidentally killed a guy in France (or was it Italy?) and went on the lamb.

I’ll admit I don’t mind sex in my books. I like sex when it’s smart, when I like the chemistry between the characters, when there’s a plot to attach itself to. I don’t go in for erotica, mostly because it’s sex and no plot. This one, I was assured, balanced the both: hot sex, interesting character, good plot.

Um. I never got past the hot sex part to see the other two. Sure, Judith was intriguing, but 100 pages in there really wasn’t much of a plot. And it’s rumored that this is a series? Seriously? I decided I was much too innocent for this one (the sex wasn’t so much hot as it was disturbing), and since the characters and plot weren’t enough to hold my interest, I bailed.