Friday, May 19, 2017

All Grown Up by Jami Attengerg

What is adulthood, really, if you don't get married or have a family? No mortgage, a steady but boring job, no serious responsibilities ... things are less complicated for Andrea Bern than for many other 40 year olds. So why isn't she happy?

In vignette stories we get an idea of Andrea's life: a friend's wedding, getting to know a neighbor, conversations with her therapist, on a date, on the phone with her mother, watching a coworker give her first big presentation. Andrea's featherweight life is a contrast with her brother's huge and heavy responsibility to his own tiny family.

It's funny and a little sad, but very well written and quick to consume. The story is complex in the way life really is, and I understood this character because I have been her, at times. Loved it!

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Love, Alice by Barbara Davis

In the 1960s, a young English woman is sent away in shame. In the now, a young widow wonders where things went so wrong. The two stories meet and intermingle under the guard of a sad South Carolina cemetery angel.

The most famous marker in the cemetery sits not far from Dovie's fiance's headstone, where she visits every day to eat her lunch and wonder why he committed suicide. But one day her attention is drawn over to the Tate angel when an elderly woman leaves a letter (and her glasses) there.

Dovie's beating herself up about something she had no control over, and she's falling apart at the seams. Suddenly, it's much more interesting to get involved in somebody else's drama, even though she can clearly see this meddling is going to be bad for her career and future.

I'm not sure why I picked this book up, and I'm even less sure why I kept reading - it's way too saccharine for my taste, but I persisted. It's not a bad book - if you like romance novels and fated love stories you'll enjoy it. There are twists and minor surprises along the way. It resolves well. (Blech.)

Monday, May 1, 2017

Truly Madly Guilty by Liane Moriarty

Something happened in the backyard, with six adults and three children in attendance, and everybody has the feels about it.

But you'll have to wait more than 200 pages to find out what happened, because the author keeps you in suspense through half the book as chapters flip back and forth between "we still haven't recovered from the barbecue" and "the day of the barbecue."

If I hadn't been reading this for book discussion, I probably would have quit at about page 25: too glossy and suburban for my taste. But I can't actually say I disliked the book overall - I'm gonna give it more of a meh, with bonus points for the quality of discussion that can (and did) spin out of it. Friendship, marriage, responsibility, guilt, sex, mental health - it's all in there.

Tuesday, April 4, 2017

The Other F-Word by Natasha Friend

When a severely allergic teenager decides to track down his sperm donor in order to do genetic testing, he ends up with more than he bargained for: a passel of half-siblings, too.

I loved this book - it does a stellar job dealing with all the conflicted feelings about "genetic source material" since there are so many diverse families involved: the book includes lesbian parents, heterosexual parents, mothers who gave birth and mothers who did not, kids with siblings, singletons, and even twins who disagree about this life-altering decision. There's a best friend who's adopted, which allows a conversation about the decision to donate sperm versus giving away a baby. The kids are teens - so they're a bit more adult in perspective and yet still very involved in family units. They're in turn curious, scared, anxious, and unexpectedly delighted to find someone with whom they share DNA.

And in spite of all these emotions and potentially heavy subject matter, it's a quaint book that's funny and utterly captivating. I'm not giving too much away to reveal the story's also about teen crushes, bullying, troublemaking/underachieving, and childish grudges. Highly recommended.

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Optimists Die First by Susin Nielsen

Grief can make you do weird things. In Petula's house, it's made Mom a cat hoarder, it's made Dad a workaholic, and Petula has turned to statistics, probability, and news of the strange in an all-out effort to reduce risk and stave off danger in all its disguises.

When the kids in (lame) art therapy class realize they're actually becoming friends, together they find ways to move past their problems and let go of some of their fear. Petula may even learn to walk the short way home past the construction site. But a big secret changes everything, and they're all forced to reevaluate their hearts: forgiveness may be harder to conquer than fear.

I loved this book, and I read it in a single sitting. They're quirky, fun teenagers with relatable lives and fears. They're each working through some heavy shit, and together they may just make it out alive.

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Talking to Girls About Duran Duran: One Young Man's Quest for True Love and a Cooler Haircut by Rob Sheffield

With each chapter titled by a song, music critic Rob Sheffield uses this memoir to tells stories about his sisters, their influence on his listening (and fashion), and his ongoing affection for 1980s pop music.

His summer as an ice cream truck driver (titled not with Van Halen's "Ice Cream Man" but with Prince's "Purple Rain"), his almost-seduction by a former teacher, his love of cassingles, a season in the discos of Spain, his high school wrestling career - these are all stories told with nostalgia through their links to songs of the 1980s.

You don't have to love the music to understand the book, but it helps (it also helps that I'm roughly the same age as the author with a similar familiarity to John Hughes movies and MTV) But Sheffield is a guy who writes about music and its effect on our emotions in a really accessible way (see also Love is a Mixtape). This is really a series of stories about growing up and figuring things out.

He's a brave man to admit some of his more bubblegum proclivities, to sing the praises of recreational karaoke, and to analyze what it is about Duran Duran that makes them so irresistible (along with their baffling career longevity). Also, it's adorable the way he dotes on his sisters.

Friday, March 24, 2017

The Animators by Kayla Rae Whitaker

After meeting in a college art class, Sharon and Mel(ody) become inseparable, their lives absolutely intertwined as they start their own animation company, drink and smoke, work, and even live together in the studio. Just as they're becoming legitimate stars, an unexpected emergency derails everything.

The book's about creative energy and inspiration, and it's about friendship and how close two people can be and still not really see one another. These women mine their personal lives to make intimate, biographical films, but not everyone is estatic to find themselves part of the movies.

I loved this book - they're self-absorbed, self-destructive artists in the prime of their lives. But they're forced into a delayed adulthood that ultimately expands their perspective and their work. It's sometimes hard to watch them sleepwalk through life with such oblivion - hard to watch because it's easy to recognize yourself in these characters.