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What Was Mine

what was mineThe structure of this book reminds me a lot of Jodi Picoult’s writing, in that each chapter is a perspective and the stories slowly get closer and closer until they are all telling the same one. I call it puzzle storying but I’m sure that actual literary people have a term for the form. You pick up a piece here and a piece there, and at the end all the characters are looking at the complete work and we’re all finally in the same place. Different books do this for different reasons, but I especially enjoy it when it’s like a detective story that you already know the answers to. The suspense is in watching the characters figure it out.

Part 1

Part one covers the events leading up to, including, and the immediate aftermath of the kidnapping. In some cases we briefly reach far into the future, but for the most part we see the toll it takes on the family that loses the baby, and the thought process that Lucy goes through as she slowly decided to keep her (Natalie/Mia). You know that the act was wrong, but you feel bad for everyone involved. This is hands down the strongest part of the book and you will be hooked right from the beginning. Ross does an excellent job grabbing your attention and making you hold your breath.

Part 2

I call this section “discovery and escape.” This was the place in the book where everything felt a little too convenient. Everyone seemed to be in the same place at the right times, just curious enough to discover things that had otherwise been hidden all this time, and just resourceful enough to accomplish what needed to happen. If you believe Lucy wasn’t thinking about escaping to China when she booked that trip to that conference, then I have some bridges to sell you and they cost as much as I owe in student loans.

Part 3

I call this part of the book “Mia goes to live with crazy hippie family in California and does a lot of yoga.” It’s hilarious to me how she goes and does all of these things with her birth mom: yoga, psychic readings, camping, eating vegan. Going from living in Manhattan to this should be a nightmare for her, but we are led through her experience in the most dry way possible, like she just did it no questions asked, no suffering involved. This is the weakest part of the book and I could have done without most of the kale salads.

***

This is a book that I am glad I read, but that I wouldn’t have missed if I hadn’t read it. The ending was disappointing. Please feel free to comment with your thoughts on the ending, because I feel like they left out the entire point of the book, which is reconciling the love you have for a person you thought was your mom with the fact that she committed a crime to be your mom in the first place.

I wish that instead of taking so much time to show Marilyn (the birth mom) and Mia struggling to reconnect, that Helen Klein Ross had instead shown us how Mia deals with Lucy, the legal and emotional aftermath of that and how they come to be a larger family unit. The last part of this book felt unnecessary and uninteresting for that reason.

Give it a go, but if you’re looking for a great, suspenseful kidnapping story there are probably other books out there for you.

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Requiem: Delirium Part 3

requiemThis lazy, terrible trilogy made me furious and so I anger-read this final stupid book in one day and I am excited to write this review because I want to save you the time of reading this stupid trilogy. I’m using the work stupid a lot because books 2 and 3 don’t deserve a fancier synonym. They don’t deserve the investment of time of accessing a thesaurus to try to make myself sound smarter. Because why should I try harder when Lauren Oliver obviously did not. Also there are spoilers because I give zero fucks.

This trilogy made me feel the same way The Matrix trilogy did, just on a smaller scale. The first installment had me like “yeah! Neat!”and then the second one was like “um..okay, but why?” and the third book has left me with anger and no sense of resolution AT ALL.

Alex is back and oh boy is he a jerk. We’re treated to a jealousy match between Lena and Julian and Alex and Coral (vomit), a girl that pops out of nowhere to help Oliver give us this lover’s quarrel. Could someone explain to me why Alex is mad at Lena for moving on? He helped her escape. He sacrificed his safety for her freedom. THAT WAS THE POINT OF THE FIRST BOOK. Why is he so fucking surly? Why the revenge relationship? Was she supposed to wait for you? Why not just give her the chance to figure things out and win her back? Why you gotta act like a teenage girl Alex?

Oh, and by the way, are these three books supposed to be over the course of like 2 months? Lena’s best friend Hana has had her procedure and is getting married to the mayor’s son in like 2 weeks at the beginning of the book. Guys, this part was SO unnecessary. Why did Fred Hargrove have to be abusive? Why did this have to be in the book at all? It’s not like she and Lena reconcile at the end. Hana just walks away from the house into the woods to escape the bomb that the resistance has planted in her future husband’s house when Lena warns her to get out and we never see her again.

Thanks Ms. Oliver for throwing in all this complicated political bullshit in like one chapter too, like we have time at this point to appreciate it. Oh, so Fred planned the explosion at the prison for uncured people/ex-wives/political prisoners to kill his dad and strengthen his position to become mayor and bring the hammer down on the community and now he’s going to get all North Korea on Portland, Maine? Please. And we see none of the suffering caused by his “energy policy” because we don’t have time. We just see Hana’s family and Fred’s family showing off how much electricity they can waste like we’re in France in the 1800s.

This book has zero depth. Zero. At least the Hunger Games trilogy made us FEEL things. We have a main character for a reason. They become a central figure. We rally to them. Why is Lena the person we’re paying attention to? Who cares? At the end they defeat the Capitol, bringing peace to everywhere. At the end of this trilogy they are tearing down the wall in Portland (with what, their bare hands? It’s cement, you dummies.) and THE ENTIRE UNITED STATES is supposed to be like this. Like the neighboring town isnt’ gonna send helicopters and soldiers to bomb the shit out of them. This trilogy is focused on a nobody girl from a small “city” in Maine that walks around New England “surviving” with her new Wilds friends, only to come back to Portland and bomb a building and….? This whole trilogy was Matrix Revolutions level disappointing. At least she and Alex decide they still love each other at the end, right? *throws computer out of the window*

*retrieves computer* I still maintain that the first book is well written. If I was a reading/English/creative writing teacher I would have my students read it, and then create their own version of what happens afterward. I am 100% sure that what they would come up with would be better than the two books that Oliver has written. I am mad that she wasted the paper it took to print however many of these books that have been distributed. The subject matter and plot have potential, but they have fallen embarrassingly flat.

Book Review

The Madwoman Upstairs

madwomanPicture your favorite ice cream sundae (or sandwich, honestly I could do both). Nuts, hot sauce, a cherry? Or like those fro-yo places where you can cover your ice cream with fucking breakfast cereal and full size peanut butter cups if you want. Colorful and multi-flavored, it has everything you want in a sundae (or sandwich, god I want a good club sandwich right now).

Oh readers, this book has everything. It is the ice cream sundae/club sandwich of books. The last time I loved a book this much was when I finished Kitchens of the Great Midwest. Our protagonist deals with unwanted fame, grief, learning to navigate college, falling in love, learning to stand up for herself, fear, a cool scavenger hunt, and reconciliation. There was one page where I had to put the book down because I was so surprised and also laughing so hard that my husband came in to make sure I was okay.

I must admit though that it was a slow start. Samantha Whipple is the last remaining Bronte, meaning that the first few chapters are about Jane Eyre, Wuthering Heights, and ZZZzzzzzzzzzzz ugh. I love books, but I have to really dedicate myself to slogging through the classics, and for some reason I never got to the Brontes. I have never read a lot of the novels from that time. So at first I was like, oh jesus, this author is going to try to back-door teach me about/make me appreciate these novels. But then magic happens and the books are just the vanilla ice cream/bread that holds this magnificent delight together.

Her father dies making her the last known Bronte, she gets placed in a weird tower room in her first year at Oxford because the regular dorms are full and our adventure begins. You will love her professor. James Orville III is a fast, witty, dry match for Samantha’s lost, sassy, grieving mouth. Her father is dead and after hearing her will Samantha is headed on a scavenger hunt to find “The Warnings of Experience,” which is supposedly her inheritance. She has a nemesis, a professor that is trying to find the “vast Bronte estate” and insists that she is hiding it from the (academic) world. And there is a ghost who delivers her father’s books to her one at a time, with clues as to where to search for the inheritance.

This books starts slow but opens petal by petal into one of the most complex, beautiful, fun, interesting, suspenseful books I’ve read in a very long time. Catherine Lowell is so amazing at keeping secrets, and things are only revealed to you when she absolutely means them to be. As I’ve mentioned before I am very alert for patterns and solutions in books and that tendency often ruins them for me, and I was legitimately surprised several times in this book. And it takes about two thirds of the book to get one of the resolutions you’ll be wanting, and it’s sooooo satisfying. 😀

Please read this book. Please enjoy it as much as I did. I plan to make this a book that I own, not just borrow. I have to read it again and again.

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How to Set a Fire and Why

Fire and WhyHave you ever truly been poor? Needy? And I don’t mean that one time you couldn’t afford something or maybe you had to sleep on an air mattress for awhile until you bought a bed for your new apartment. I mean like hanging on by your fingernails, any slip up could destroy you, anyone has the power to fuck up your life POOR.

When you talk about being poor, often it becomes a contest to decide who had it the worst. Every time I try to share my childhood and twenties with people as a way of explaining who I am or sharing my past, suddenly everyone around me feels like their poor has been called into question, and the only way to relate to me must be to out-do the stories I am presenting. Dealing with the poor is not something we as a society are super great at or fluent in.

But this isn’t a blog about how people who live in poverty are mistreated and mishandled, although that is a blog post I would love to pen another time. Reading Jesse Ball’s How to Set a Fire and Why made my heart beat a little faster and my breath catch so often that it was like I was living my high school years again. No please understand that I wasn’t a young woman joining an arson club, but Lucia’s situation with her elderly aunt just had me from the go. The idea that you are constantly trying to hide your poor from others, that you have to either be the best or shut up and do what you are told. That “opportunities” are few and far between.

It’s so difficult for me to explain. It’s just a feeling. Will I make rent? Can I afford to eat? Will I have to steal? Do I pick up the phone and deal with a bill collector or let it go to voicemail? It’s like crouching at the start line of a race, feeling the anticipation that comes with waiting for the sound of the starting pistol, but the pistol never fires. You are constantly on edge, constantly waiting for the other shoe to drop, just surviving to the next paycheck, to the next bill, to the next meal.

This book just follows one girl through a life filled with terrible circumstances. The way Lucia handles things isn’t the best, it also isn’t the worst. We see hints of talents and intelligence that are generally missed by her high school. She seeks out acceptance in good places and bad. Slowly we witness the walls of her life closing in – and I have to be honest and say that I knew what would happen. My situation is the exception, and I still have not entirely escaped the long, sharp claws of poverty.

Jesse Ball presents us with a social weathervane in this novel. Feeling judgmental? Sympathetic? Empathetic? Pity? What would you do? When would you have intervened? Is there anything to be done? Read this book and ask yourself, when should we start a fire over this kind of situation, and why?

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Dairy Queen

Dairy QueenThere are young adult books that are meant to be love stories. Books that, as you are reading them, you cringe just a little as a woman in her mid-thirties reading about two teenagers getting hot and heavy with each other. I’m sure that tweens and teens read this as a love story. I would even say that it would be read as an inspirational story for young women to pursue their dreams despite the boundaries that society places on certain activities. This is a perfect book for the young woman looking for a great, short, fun read with some kissing and some broken glass ceilings.

In this story we find our main character in a small town that worships sports (see: Friday Night Lights) but isn’t quite as good as the neighboring towns and schools (see: Pawnee vs. Eagleton). Her older brothers have moved on to college and pro ball, her younger brother is in Little League baseball, and with her mother a busy principal/teacher at the local elementary school and her father with an injured hip, D.J. basically runs her family’s dairy farm all by herself. This increased responsibility causes her to leave her spot on the basketball team and fail sophomore English, and is now in a place where she isn’t sure what she is doing with her life.

Enter whiny QB from rival town, sent to the farm to help with the load and to learn some discipline by the family friend who used to coach with D.J. ‘s dad and now coaches for rival rich town. He quits a bunch of times, comes back, eventually she agrees to train him for his QB role on the farm like she did with her older brothers. She discovers that she actually wants to play football too, tries out for her high school’s team, brings up her English grade, plays against whiny love interest, they fight, reconcile, the end.

Seems simple enough right? Reading this book with the life experience of a teenager would be an uplifting experience. I would argue that, more so than normal, reading this book from the point of view of a thirty-something is a vastly different experience.

This quote really did me in. I almost stopped reading at this point, because it made me say WELP out loud:

“…maybe everyone in the whole world was just like a cow, and we all go along doing what we’re supposed to without complaining or even really noticing until we die. Stocking groceries and selling cars and teaching school and cashing checks and raising kids, all these jobs that people just one day start doing without even really thinking about it, walking right into their milking stall the way heifers do after they’ve had their first calf and start getting milked for the first time. Until we die. And maybe that’s all there is to life.”

Look. If that one paragraph isn’t where we all are right now. Today. In this time. I don’t know what is. My milking stall has iron bars and about 5 locks on it and there are many days where I wonder how I got here but realize there is no way out, but this isn’t about me, it’s about this book. Does this paragraph echo for you the same as it echoed for me? It made me think about how cartoon movie companies put little jokes into their movies that parents totally get but kids aren’t old enough or developed enough to catch. Kind of like I know you have to sit through this fucking movie a million times, here’s something just for you to make you chuckle because you and I know that’s a sex joke but Junior there just likes the bright shiny colors.

Catherine Murdock saw me there. Saw us there. And this paragraph would pass a teenager by but it grabbed me by the horns.

This book is so small it risks being underestimated. This book says to us “there is so much in life you have to do, make sure that you stand up for a few things that you WANT to do.” It also makes the point that just because you are good at something, doesn’t mean you have to do it and you especially don’t have to love it. And visa versa, sometimes there are things you don’t want to do that you HAVE to in order to do the things you WANT to do.

This book is a small, brilliant gem. It teaches balance. It teaches self-advocacy. It teaches compromise and growth. And Murdock does all of this while keeping the plot entirely realistic. I believe this happens every day in America, it’s just that some kids never have that inspiration (or opportunity) to escape their inevitable milking stall. Dairy Queen says we should have a choice, we should know that choice exists, and we should have the support necessary to make it for ourselves.