I’m Holding Out for that Teenage Feeling

eleanor and park

 

I’ve spent half the day trying to properly describe how much I love this book and nothing is doing it justice. This book is such a beautifully realistic depiction of teenage love that I was equal parts nostalgic for those feeling and glad I’m a fully formed adult whose passion has been tempered with wisdom. Rainbow Rowell’s characters are realistically flawed and familiar in a way that makes you identify with them almost immediately.

Eleanor and Park takes place over the course of a school year in Nebraska over the course of a school year in 1986. Eleanor lives in poverty level conditions with her mother, siblings and abusive stepfather. She is forced to wear her limited clothing creatively to disguise the fact that she has very little to wear. Park comes from a relatively well adjusted middle-class family. However he’s quiet and likes punk, new wave and comic books. He’s also one of only two Asian kids in his school (technically he and his brother are half Korean but, as Park points out, he is the only once who looks it). The two are thrown together by chance on the school bus. While they first do their best to studiously ignore each other, they soon form a bond which grows into a deeply romantic relationship. Everything they go through should be incredibly familiar to anyone who’s experienced their first teenage love; the intensity of the feelings, the misunderstandings, the insecurities.

Although the fate of their relationship is given away at the beginning of the book, I won’t spoil anything for you. But if you’re looking for a story with realistic characters that make you care deeply for them I can’t recommend this book enough.

I still haven’t found What I’m Looking For

who killed these girls

 

This is an extremely frustrating book to read. This is not because it’s not a well researched and compellingly written work of true crime. It’s because after 25 years, the brutal murders of 4 young girls in an Austin, Texeas yogurt shop have still not been solved and likely never will.

On Friday, December 6, 1991, 17 year olds Jennifer Harbison and Eliza Thomas were working the closing shift at an I Can’t Believe It’s Yogurt (aka ICBY) in Austin. Tagging along with Jennifer were her 15 year old sister Sarah Harbison and Sarah’s 13 year old friend Amy Ayers. The two younger girls had a sleepover planned that night. Sometime right around closing, unknown persons entered the store, subdued the girls, forced them to strip, shot all four of them to death and then set the store on fire to cover their tracks. The murders would rock then (then) sleepy town of Austin, Texas. Despite a great deal of media coverage and a huge public outcry, no suspects were brought to trial until well into the 2000s and those convictions would be later overturned.

There is no one person or event to blame for the lack of results in this case. There is no “ah-ha” moment like those in Making a Murderer. Many little things would contribute to its extremely frustrating outcome. But at the core of the issue was the fact that this complicated and emotional crime was simply too much for what was then a rural Texas town.

A science fiction master’s early work

I have no mouth

 

The best way to describe Harlan Ellison’s prose would be “lyrical.” This short collection of stories varies from from a hopeless, post-apocalyptic landscape to the a contemporary California in an emotional spiral after his divorce. Just describing the plot likely won’t hook you. It’s Ellison’s words that do all the heavy lifting in his stories. This collection of stories was published in the late 1960s and Ellison’s views on women tend to reflect this. But this shouldn’t let it deter you from reading one of the masters of speculative science fiction.

“Closing the door, you leave the world behind.”

you-will-know-me

 

Sometimes a good mystery leaves you guessing until the very end. Sometimes you think you have it all figured out but you find out you didn’t know anything. While reading You Will Know Me by Megan Abbot, I figured out pretty early on where the book was going. The interesting part was watching the protagonist come to that conclusion.

Katie and Eric Knox are the proud, dedicated parents of gymnastic prodigy Devon. She is the star of their local gymnastics gym and is expected to become an elite, Olympic level athlete. Their local gym community has pinned a lot of their hopes and dreams, along with the gym’s future success on Devon. When a member of their team is killed, everything is thrown into disarray. The story is told through Katie, Devon’s mom. As the mysterious death is investigated, many secrets come to light and Katie is forced to rethink everything she knows about the people who are closest to her.

This book is such a compelling fast read and the first one I’ve read by Megan Abbot. After enjoying this one so thoroughly, I’ll be moving her bumping her other books up in my TBR pile.

School’s out. Thank goodness!

jeanbrodie

I really wanted to like this book more based on the description and the reviews. But overall the book left me feeling rather flat and I was glad to move on to a more compelling story. The story follows the lives of Jean Brodie, a teacher in a private girls school and her six students known as “The Brodie Set” whom Miss Brodie mentors through their school years.

Miss Brodie seems like a pretty lousy teacher from the outset and eschews things like math and science lessons for lecturing the girls about what she considers “classical learning” which mostly consist her telling them about her travels or the great love of her life who was killed in The Great War (the book takes place in the 1930 in Scotland). Miss Brodie is manipulative, a fan of Mussolini and carries on an affair with the schools music teacher. None of her students are particularly compelling. It seems the reason Miss Brodie chose them is that they were easily led.

Given the high praise for this novel I almost wonder if I missed something. It really didn’t appeal to me all that much and I was glad that the book was only a brief 120 pages.

“Quit these pretentious things and just punch the clock”

the-age-of-innocence

 

Perhaps my introverted nature is the reason that I so enjoy books where people are polite on the surface but all full of emotions underneath. I also like stories where peoples desires are constantly being repressed by societal constraints. I read Edith Wharton’s The House of Mirth and loved it even though the end is incredibly depressing. The Age on Innocence has similar themes but without the dark ending.

Newland Archer is a young gentleman from one of the best families in New York society in the late 19th century. He is engaged to the equally well-bred May Welland. He’s extremely happy with how his life is going until he meets his wife’s cousin, the Countess Ellen Olenska who has fled a bad marriage in Europe (scandalous!). Having spent a great deal of her life in Europe, Ellen is unfamiliar with New York Society many social rules and is unlike any woman Newland has ever met. He begins to question the institutions and rules he once thought were so important and becomes more and more determined to be with Countess Olenska.

In lesser hands, this book would simply be a couple hundred pages of back and forth between two people saying “But I WANT to,” and “But we CAN’T,” However Wharton is a master of unrequited desire. The interactions between Ellen and Newland are minimal but each one is full of meaning. Additionally, the character of May Welland is more than just a silly society girl to be a foil for the two lovers. This book is a wonderful little slice of New York Society in the 1870s and the unrequited love it spawned.

“Color our world blackened”

the-final-empire

 

My honest rating would be more like 3.5 but since I liked the book enough to read the next one in the series, I bumped it up to 4. Brandon Sanderson does a lot of things really well. He spins a hell of an epic yarn and he writes great fight and battle scenes. However I often find his characters fall a little flat for me, which I’ll address later in the review. Overall, the first book in the Mistborn series was engaging and fun and left some interesting plot points that hopefully get addressed in the next book.

The Lord Ruler has presided over The Final Empire for centuries. Beneath him are varying degrees of nobles and beneath them, the ska who are a permanent underclass said to be physically and mentally deficient though it becomes clear very early on that this is not the case. There’s a pretty obvious parallel to American slavery here. Kelsier, a former thief has become a legend by being the only ska sentenced to work in the Pits of Hasthin and escape with his life. He returns to the capital city with newly acquired powers of Allomancy, the power to use magic by burning ingested metals. He reunites with his former thieving crew and Vin a young vagrant with remarkable Allomantic powers with a plan to overthrow The Final Empire and The Lord Ruler. The plan is outrageous and unthinkable but his crew follows him along resulting in an engaging story.

My one quibble with this book, and Sanderson in general is that he can beat you over the head with his characters’ defining traits. Vin is MISTRUSTFUL. Kelsier is IRREVERENT. They are by no means one note but his books might be a hundred or so pages shorter if people didn’t spend so much time dwelling over their natures. Overall though, this and his Stormlight Archive are worthwhile reads. He creates amazing worlds and stories.

I have seen the future baby, it is murder.

the-shining-girls

 

I read this book as part of the book club I run for fans of the My Favorite Murder podcast. This was our non-fiction selection for the month of January. Some people who started reading the book before me complained that book jumping around in time made for a confusing read. Perhaps the advance warning helped because I did not find the time jumps confusing at all. I was also concerned that the premise of a time traveling serial killer would wind up being silly but Lauren Beukes book is a gripping, fast paced read that never feels ridiculous despite its far fetched plot.

Harper Curtis is a serial killer who stumbles onto an abandoned house that opens into other times. Using clues from the house, Harper insinuates himself into the lives of pre-selected girls who “shine” at different periods in modern history. He visits them in their childhood, promising he will visit them later. When he does visit them in adulthood, he murders them brutally. Unbeknownst to him, Kirby Mizrachi, one of his “Shining Girls” survives and is determined to find the man who nearly killed her. Kirby teams up with former Homicide reporter Dan Valesquez to solve the case that has left police baffled.

One thing I really appreciated about this book is that (Possible spoiler?) at no point were there any great leaps of logic on the part of the investigators. Even when the evidence starts to mount, the theory seems fantastical. Additionally, Kirby has done her homework on serial killers. Watching her try to apply clinical criteria that won’t fit together is equal parts satisfying and frustrating (satisfyingly frustrating?) because she’s smart and she *should* be right but she isn’t because the reality is so unreal. The only reason I can’t give it a full five stars is that I’m not entirely sure if I like the ending. However, The Shining Girls is a nice addition to serial killer crime fiction that never feels stale or tired.

Cheese! Cheese! Cheese!

the-cheese-chronicles

 

It was probably unwise to start a book dedicated to cheese right after I made a resolution to start eating more healthy. I was completely unable to handle the descriptions of all the many cheeses as I waited for my lunch hour. My carefully prepared healthy meal suddenly seemed woefully inadequate after the descriptions of delicious and luxurious sounding milky delights. And while this book is not entirely what I expected, I learned a lot about American cheese production that I never knew before.

This book is exactly what is says it is. If you are a cheese connoisseur looking for more information on great American cheeses, (note: when I say “American cheese,” I mean cheese made in America, not the toxic yellow squares your mom put on your grade school sandwich with baloney) then this is the book for you. However, if you are like me and consider a wedge of brie from your local grocery to be high living, you are more in need of a cheese primer. That’s not to say there isn’t some interesting information to be gleaned for the cheese novice. Liz Thorpe takes us into to the cheese making process and gives a brief history of cheese in America. The book is well written, engaging and informative. It just wasn’t my speed.

Corazon Rebelde

dreaming-in-cuban

 

I picked up Dreaming in Cuban from my TBR pile after a much needed break from a ton of true crime, murder mystery and horror novels. It’s a lovely little book about 3 generations of Cubans (mostly women) and their starkly different reactions to the Cuban revolution of 1959. It’s a bit of history, magical realism and the complicated relationships between mothers and their children all rolled into one. And while it’s not a standout example of either, Cristina Garcia’s writing is lyrical and reads beautifully.

The family in question is the Del Pino clan who live on the North coast of Cuba. The matriarch, Celia, embraces the Revolution and Castro fervently. Her oldest daughter Lourdes flees to Brooklyn with her family and his fanatically pro-American and anticommunist which causes strain between her and her artist daughter Pilar who embraces the punk scene of the late 1970s. Her younger daughter Felicia seems to have mental problems and moves from one troubled relationship to another before embracing Santeria. Her son, Ivanito, seems to struggle to find his place in this family of vastly different women.

The story moves from the early 1970s and follows the Del Pino women for ten years as they struggle with their own pasts and the choices they’ve made. Overall it was a lovely little read and a good choice for someone looking to read more non-white female authors.