Book Review: Welcome Thieves by Scott Beaudoin

 

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After veering way off-track from the Litsy A to Z challenge, I returned to my year-long task with this collection of short stories. Beaudoin is best known for his YA novels, and this is his first venture in adult literature. I honestly used to hate short stories because I never felt like I got enough, I always wanted more plot and more from the characters. I’ve grown to appreciate short stories for their concise snapshots of a character and situation, and I want to read more short stories.

Beaudoin’s collection is funny, dark and very thought provoking. These stories follow mostly young people in what seems to be the present or the near future, there are some references to technology that is a bit more advanced than what we currently have. His characters make questionable (at best) decisions but he makes them unique and endearing so you can’t help but root for them. He brings these great slices of life with really odd and unique characters, usually with bad attitudes but are also hilarious.

It’s hard to be more descriptive without giving storylines away, but please read this book if you like short stories, you’ll enjoy it.

-Lauren

Book Review: Hillbilly Elegy by J.D. Vance

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I spent January 20, aka Inauguration Day, reading this book in hopes it would help me understand how the United States got here. I don’t get into politics really at all on this blog but I’m not ashamed of my views. I am terrified of this administration and I’m already appalled at their actions. During the campaign, I thought that there was no way that Donald Trump would get elected, so I was in shock when he did. I want to try and understand the people who voted for him, the biggest group is the white lower to middle class, which is what this book said it would explore.

I commend Vance’s storytelling, he introduces us to his family and the larger than life character of his maternal grandmother. I enjoyed reading about his childhood and understanding how he got to where he is today. J.D. has graduated from Yale Law School and is a successful lawyer and now author. He lives with his wife in San Francisco. Vance is from Middletown Ohio which is not very far from where I grew up in Cincinnati. He talks about poverty, domestic abuse, drug abuse and alcoholism. He attempts to weave in some social science studies here and there but I don’t think it was frequent enough to achieve what he wanted.

At the book’s core, Vance seemed to preach that he came from poverty but he made it, so everyone else can too. I agree that he overcame so much; poverty, absent father, drug addict mother, poor school system etc. but he also had privileges that he doesn’t acknowledge. He had some great family members who supported him and took him in at important moments in his life. Vance often references “welfare queens” but never explains his judgments.

I liked exploring Vance’s story and I commend him for all that he has overcome but I didn’t think his social commentary had enough facts to back him up and I disagreed with his judgments.

-Lauren

Book Review: The Grownup by Gillian Flynn

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Per usual, I’m super behind on book reviews. January was a fantastic month for reading, I was able get through 8 books this month! Unfortunately, unemployment does help free up reading time, but hey, silver linings. In my January Book of the Month box, there was a bonus book, The Grownup by Gillian Flynn. This is a super short novella by the author of the insanely crazy hit, Gone Girl. I absolutely love Flynn’s writing style and narrative voice so I was very excited to read this.

This story follows an unnamed narrator, a young woman who is a con artist. She also is a sex worker, of sorts, it’s hard to explain. I do have to say, this has one of the funniest first lines that I have ever read. But, be warned, it is very NSFW. The narrator is a fortune teller (think cheaper Miss Cleo) and she gets caught up with a woman who is determined that her house or her stepson is cursed. The narrator sees the potential of a big payday and begins to travel to the house when she starts to see odd things happening and she has to decide what she believes.

True to Flynn form, there is a great twist to this story that will keep you guessing. She brilliantly sucks you into a funny and spooky story in only 60ish pages. If you need a quick read, I recommend this!

-Lauren

Book Review: The Year of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion

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This review is going to be emotional and probably a bit difficult to write, but it is important. For those of you who don’t know me personally, I lost my mother on December 31, 2016. Her death was unexpected and sudden and has left me with debilitating grief. I turn to books for everything in my life, so I tried to find comfort in them during this time. I asked the wonderful Litsy community for recommendations of books dealing with grief and this is the book that was recommended the most.

This was my first time reading Joan Didion, but I knew she is absolutely legendary in the literary world. The Year of Magical Thinking is a memoir chronically her husband’s sudden death. During the time of her husband’s death, her daughter Quintana was in a coma. This book details her grief of these events.

Didion can make the most simple sentence sound poetic and lyrical. Her description of grief really resonated with me, it was so raw and real. At times it was intensely painful to read, seeing my feelings put into words. But I also couldn’t put it down, I finally felt understood. Everyone around you offers thoughts and prayers when going through a loss but you feel that no one really understands the pain that you are feeling.

Didion described the feeling of shock, helplessness, anger and guilt that plagued me in the hours, days and weeks following my mom’s death. This book is gorgeous and heartbreaking. I feel like I’ve barely begun my grieving process, but this book made me feel understood and most importantly not alone. If you’ve ever gone through a loss or know someone who has, I wholly reccomend this book.

-Lauren

Book Review: The Most Dangerous Place On Earth by Lindsey Lee Johnson

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My second January Book of the Month selection was The Most Dangerous Place On Earth by Lindsey Lee Johnson. I am a bit of a sucker for teenage drama, and this book is centered around a cyberbullying incident. Cyberbullying has become such a huge part of adolescence but I haven’t seen the jump from real life to the literary world quite yet. I was excited to read a book that really shows what current children and teenagers need to deal with in this new age of technology.

The story begins with a class of kids in the eighth-grade in a very affluent California town. Cally Broderick is the main focus, a pretty and popular girl who is blowing off her homework and trying to attract attention from the most popular boy in school, Ryan Harbinger. We are also introduced to Cally’s best friend, Abigail Cress, who is described as the stereotypical mean girl. Finally, we meet Tristan Bloch who is billed as the classic outcast. He doesn’t dress like the other kids, he spends his time with the school counselor, and his mom is very overbearing.  He tries to connect with Cally, but in her naive desire to fit in, she shares his heartfelt note with Abigail and Ryan which leads to cyber bullying. The cyber bullying eventually ends in Tristan tragically taking his own life.

After eighth-grade, we jump to the Junior year of this class of kids. Each chapter switches POV between different students and their brand new English teacher, Molly Nicoll. We meet a lot more of the students in the class then we did in the eighth-grade chapter. We see how Tristan’s death affects each of them. Cally now goes by Calista and has become a hippie-beach kid. Abigail is in a relationship with one of her teachers and has Ivy League dreams. We also meet drug addict Damon Flintov, drug dealer Nick Brickston, dancer Emma Fleed, stressed out Dave Chu, and quiet Elisebeth Avarine.

These chapters are cut with Molly Nicoll intensely trying to connect with these students, bordering on and then falling into inappropriate territory. All of these personal stories lead up to a party gone out of control and a car accident which affects five of the students. This is really the climax of the story. We check back in on Cally and some classmates in her senior year but nothing big really happens.

I felt like this story had a lot of good components. I liked the shifting POV and interconnecting story. But a lot of things just didn’t come together for me. I would’ve liked a mirror of characters in the eighth-grade chapter and the junior chapter. I felt like a lot of characters were introduced that I didn’t quite care about because I didn’t know them before their stories. There were also a lot of stereotypes that didn’t work for me, bad boys – Damon, Ryan, and Nick, and Dave Chu the Asian kid who has huge expectations on his shoulders. I also don’t know why the Senior year chapter was included, I don’t see a lot of reasoning for that. And I wanted more consequences after the car crash, the person who deals with it most is Emma Fleed, a character we aren’t invested in.

The story is intriguing and fast moving, but I feel like it could have been so much more.

-Lauren

Book Review: Lucky You by Erika Carter

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I’ve recently finished both of my January Book of the Month picks, and I can’t wait to tell you guys about them. First up is Erika Carter’s Lucky You. This is the second advanced release that Book of the Month has done, so it’s not even out yet. That being said, there will be spoilers below. So if you haven’t read it yet and you don’t want to be spoiled, stop reading now!

Lucky You three girls in their twenties living in Fayetteville, Arkansas. All three are utterly bored with their lives and unsure of what they want in their career, love life, and friendships. Rachel reinvents herself for every guy she dates (think Julia Roberts character in the Runaway Bride). Her current reinvention finds herself in a cabin in the Ozarks with her environmental obsessed boyfriend (think off the grid hipster). She begs her two friends ( I use this word very loosely) to join them.

Ellie is the gorgeous blonde that everyone is in love with but she is self-destructive and picks the wrong guys. She begins the novel by dating Jim, a musician using her for a place to stay when he’s in town. She is an alcoholic and uses sex as a distraction from her life. She gets entangled in a relationship with her married boss before taking Rachel up on her offer.

Chloe is mentally unstable, she rips her hair out of her head and stands in the shower for hours. She has a contentious rivalry with Ellie, which shifts into a love triangle involving Jim. She’s looking for an escape when she accepts Rachel’s invitation.

The narration shifts between Rachel, Ellie, and Chloe. Each chapter jumps a few months, showing a snapshot of their lives. None of the characters are necessarily likable, but they are unique and intriguing. The events feel realistic, while each character does change during the novel, they still fall to familiar faults.

I wished Chloe was featured more throughout the novel, I was most interested in her mental health journey but she seemed to take a backseat through the back half of the novel.

Overall, I really enjoyed this book and felt connected to the characters as I am in a similar place in my life, a place of uncertainty. Though I hope I am more likable.

-Lauren

Book Review: We Have Always Lived in the Castle by Shirley Jackson

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I’m back with another 2017 book review! I decided to go with a classic for my second read of the year and went with the iconic Shirley Jackson’s We Have Always Lived in the Castle. This is my first experience reading any of Jackson’s work, and I was not disappointed! This book also counts as my “J” entry in the Litsy A to Z challenge.

Shirley Jackson is best known as a horror writer, which is why I haven’t read her before. Horror really isn’t my genre, though I have read some of Stephen King’s work (I mean come on, he’s Stephen King!). I really wanted to expand my reading horizons this year so I decided to go with Shirley Jackson’s most famous title. I think this is also being made into a movie this year?

We Have Always Lived in the Castle is narrated by eighteen-year-old Mary Katherine Blackwood or “Merricat” as she is commonly called. Mary Katherine lives in almost complete isolation with her older sister Constance and their ill Uncle Julien. The town has shunned the family since the rest of the Blackwood family (their mother, father, brother and aunt) were poisoned with sugar laced with arsenic. Constance was tried and acquitted for the crime but they have become an urban legend, with songs created by the townspeople to taunt them for the crime. Constance does not leave the house, only Mary Katherine dares to enter town twice a week to buy food.

Something that really struck me in this novel was how young Mary Katherine and Constance act. Constance often says “Silly Merricat” and seems to ignore anything difficult. Mary Katherine buries things and has several superstitions that she follows to protect her and her sister. She even has a feline sidekick, Jonas, to whom she speaks to like he is human. The three remaining Blackwoods live in their own detached world until their cousin Charles visits.

Charles only wants to take advantage of their money and old family heirlooms but only Mary Katherine sees his true nature. She goes on a mission to stop him, no matter how much damage she causes to succeed.

The prior poisoning looms in the book, but you never get a full explanation on what happened. I understand that this is done intentionally to add an eerie tone and it is successful. But I really wanted to know why they were poisoned and why these two women really didn’t care. But I was terrified of the Blackwood’s at the end of the novel, just like the townspeople. Such an engrossing read.

-Lauren

Book Review: Hag-Seed by Margaret Atwood 

Well hello there, it has been quite awhile I know. But I’m back, it’s a brand new year with brand new books to read and review. To kick off 2017, I have set some reading goals for myself:

I began my Litsy A to Z Challenge by reading Hag-Seed by Margaret Atwood. I was extremely excited to read this, it had been on my TBR list for months and it did not dissapoint. Shakespeare + Margaret Atwood – what’s not to love?

This book is part of the Hogarth Shakespeare series in which contemporary authors write a retelling of one of Shakespeare’s famous plays. I love a good Shakespeare retelling (10 Things I Hate About You, The Lion King, She’s The Man – just to name a few).

Hag-Seed is a retelling of The Tempest. I have never read The Tempest – I seemed to have avoided Shakespeare’s fantastical works, but that didn’t effect my view of the novel. Atwood introduces us to Felix Phillips a famed and eccentric artistic director for a theatre company. He is setting up an extravagant performance of The Tempest when he gets fired as a power move from his partner Tony.

He exiles himself to a cabin in the woods and changes his name as he plots his revenge. He also sees the ghost of his dead daughter, Miranda. Felix takes a job as a literature teacher at a local prison. He teaches the inmates Shakespeare and they perform a play at the end of each course. His program becomes very successful and has drawn the attention of the government, including his old partner who now works in government and the head of the theatre that allowed him to get fired.

He plots his revenge by having his inmates perform The Tempest and tricking his rivals into admitting their guilt. As you can imagine, hi-jinx ensue.

This book is very entertaining, I was hooked from the beginning. The plot moves very quickly and it’s quite a page turner. Atwood gives us these wonderfully quirky characters that make this read so fun. It’s funny, intelligent and exciting. If you like Shakespeare, you’ll love this book. If you don’t like Shakespeare, this book will make you love it.

-Lauren

Book Review: The Hopefuls

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Want a timely and fun summer read? Look no further, The Hopefuls is for you! I really enjoyed this dip into the political world with some great relatable characters. Close tackles relationships, marriage, career aspirations, and jealousy while also keeping a lightness that makes this a great beach read.

The story follows Beth a young writer married to Matt, a man with political aspirations. She leaves New York to live in D.C. with Matt while he works on the 2008 Obama campaign. Beth hates D.C. but she puts up with the elitest attitudes and traffic for Matt. Soon they meet another couple, Jimmy and Ashleigh and become fast friends. Jimmy and Matt have similar aspirations, but Jimmy has a charisma that quickly puts him far ahead of Matt.

As Matt struggles with jealousy, Beth feels more and more isolated in her marriage. She clings to her friendship with Ashleigh but soon she realizes that she may not be the person she thinks she is. The suspense builds in both politics and relationships until it reaches a fever pitch for all parties.

I loved that Close was able to exhibit jealousy between men with such honesty. That trait is majority seen in women, it’s nice to see it exhibited in the other gender for a change. Both Beth and Ashleigh are lacking in career aspirations, which is fine but it was sad to see them hang on their husband’s dreams. I also wasn’t completely on board with the ending, but it did seem realistic just not particularly satisfying. Overall I enjoyed this story though, it provides a great look inside of “entry-level’ political scene and the sacrifices that come with it.

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Book Review: Sharp Objects

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I have so many book reviews to post, my procrastination has reached an all-time high! But I’m back and ready to review. Guys, I’ve read some AMAZING books, I seriously can’t wait to tell you all about all of them. I’m going to go in the order that I read them, first up is Gillian Flynn’s Sharp Objects.

Ever since I read Flynn’s highly celebrated masterpiece Gone Girl, I’ve been interested to read more of her work. I’ve also been hesitant. I mean nothing can really stand up to the absolutely mind-bending plot of Gone Girl. In fact, one of my literary pet peeves is the insistence of publishers to relate every mystery involving a woman to that book. But if anyone can match it, then it would be the author herself.

Flynn wrote Sharp Objects before Gone Girl and it is interesting to see her growth in characterization and darkness. This book is dark, very dark but still not nearly as dark as Gone Girl. I can see her evolution, and that is something pretty cool to be able to look at.

This story follows Camille, a mentally unstable journalist in Chicago. She is a cutter and was just recently released from a mental hospital. She is sent on assignment back to her very small town to investigate the disappearance of two young girls. She has a very complicated relationship with her mother Adora who is cruel and callous. She also must face her thirteen-year-old half-sister Amma an odd child that she barely knows. Camille is haunted by the death of her younger sister Marian, who died from an unspecified illness.

As she delves further into this case, Camille reveals the horrors of her own family. Amma acts like a child for her mother, playing with dolls and often being sick. But outside of the home she takes drugs, is cruel to other kids, and flaunts her sexuality. Adora shows no compassion to Camille, and is dismissive of her pain.

Camille herself is no saint. She is an alcoholic and uses sex to get what she wants but she is very tortured from her past. She must face the fact that her mother and half-sister are responsible for these crimes and that her sister was killed as well.

This book is a great thrill ride, one that the reader can catch on to unlike Gone Girl which is unpredictable in any way. Flynn begins to dabble in character darkness, something that she finesses later in her career.

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