Oh Yeah, Audrey! By Tucker Shaw

audreyContrary to what you (or, let’s be honest, I) might think, this has absolutely no relation to the book Audrey, Wait! My brain kept insisting they were connected but they are not. Gemma adores Audrey Hepburn and maintains a Tumblr that is all photos of the beautiful things Audrey Hepburn wore. She has made online friends with Bryan and Trina and the three of them have planned an amazing weekend in NYC.  The highlight will be a midnight showing of Breakfast at Tiffany’s.  Gemma is so excited and prepared, complete with the right clothes, an itinerary, and the highest hopes ever. Meeting Bryan and Trina is awesome, but things don’t go a planned, both for good and bad. THey go to an auction of Hepburn’s clothes and things get crazy from there.  There’s backstory about Gemma’s mother having recently died, and they all idolize Hepburn for different reasons.

I enjoyed this, though Gemma didn’t always act the way I hoped she would and I was glad it was fairly short. I’ve never actually seen Breakfast at Tiffany’s and this made me want to have a viewing.

My True Love Gave to Me ed. by Stephanie Perkins

trueloveThis was a terrific collection. I adore Christmas story collections and each year try to find one to buy or check out (I’m partial to Christmas Regency romances.) This year I bought a YA collection, as well as got this new one from the library. A couple were just ok for me, and I skipped two, but these were the standouts I really liked:

Midnights by Rainbow Rowell-solid Rowell story. I liked checking in with the characters on each New Year’s Eve

Polaris is Where You’ll Find Me by Jenny Han-I can only describe this as “girl Elf.” A human child who Santa found as a baby and raised at the North Pole? Except she’s sadly aware that she’s human and everyone else is not. I loved the details about the elves and life with Santa (aka “Papa”).

It’s a yuletide miracle, Charlie Brown by Stephanie Perkins- you know how in Anna and the French Kiss and the other two Perkins book I say that her characters are so ridiculously talented in interesting and quirky ways that you can’t help but be jealous of these make believe people? I felt this story had that hallmark because Marigold is a super talented animated video creator. But beyond that I just loved this. Her hoarder like apartment (not hoarding-just the entire contents of a house left by movers in the same spot for over a year), the hunky guy and his family’s tree farm, it was all just lovely.

Welcome to Christmas, CA by Kiersten White-like a Hallmark Christmas movie! Seriously, this should be a tv movie. A tiny town that’s not even a town it’s so small, a teenage girl who can’t wait to get out and leave her mom’s annoying boyfriend, they’re poor, everyone is crabby, and then a new cook comes to town who somehow knows just what people need to make them happy and cooks it. And then the wonderfully touching ending that, if you’re sappy like me, brings a tear to your eye.

Star of Bethlehem by Ally Carter-also ripe for a tv movie. Swapping identities on the spur of the moment and going to a small town in Oklahoma where everyone thinks you’re an Icelandic exchange student but you’re really a superstar hiding out. Away from fame and your creepy manager you love the warm and big family that welcomes you. The perfect ending. This was like watching a wonderful and funny tv movie.

The Girl Who Woke the Dreamer by Laini Taylor- initially I thought this was a terrible choice for the last story in this holiday collection. It’s very fantasy and dreamy and really not Christmassy at all. Very different from the Hallmark Christmas movie entries. But! Laini Taylor is an awesome writer and you get so caught up in this beautiful and strange story that who cares where it is? I really liked it. It was like a magical fairy tale.

Us by David Nicholls

usI have mixed feelings about this book. I had high hopes for it and couldn’t wait to start reading it, as I’d loved One Day when that came out. The writing was really good, the story was good,  but the best part was the last 50 pages and when 300 pages precede that….well, it was incredibly slow. And not very compelling. And took me forever to read. Fortunately Melissa told me that it picked up once it hit the halfway mark, so I stuck with it. And that did prove to be true, but half a book is a lot to slog through just to get to the picking up part.

The story is told by 50-something rational scientist Douglas. His wife of almost 25 years, Connie, has said she’d like to leave him, but not quite yet. First they embark on a planned Grand Tour style vacation with their only son, Albie.  Douglas tells about the trip, alternating with stories of when he and Connie met and the early years of their marriage. They were an unlikely couple-he so stiff and rational, she a passionate artist. But somehow they fell in love and genuinely loved each other.  The way Douglas is written you can see why he might be unlikable to some people, but I definitely aligned myself with him and felt like his wife and son were terrible to him. And when Connie leaves the trip early and Albie runs off on his own and Douglas decides to track him down across Europe I couldn’t help but think why bother? Your son is a total ass to you and everyone picks on you.

I really felt like the last 50 pages of the book were the best-adding new depth to the characters, their relationship and the novel as a whole. I should have known from One Day that there would be some sort of surprise (to me), and indeed I was startled by some events at the end (I wouldn’t call it a surprise or twist ending.)

It was a pretty melancholy book and a slow read and that combination just made it almost painful and dutiful to get through. But why did I continue? I really admired the way certain parts were written and I did want to find out what happened to Connie and Douglas (Albie, not so much.)

Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire by J.K. Rowling

hp4Gah! It’s been so long since I’ve finished a book. The problem lies in choosing to read a book I was super excited about, having it be the only book I brought on vacation, not being really into it. When we got back from vacation I picked up HP because the time was right having just spent two days at Universal Studios immersed in the Wizarding World of Harry Potter. My slow book didn’t stand a chance against HP. So, I know I keep saying this as I am rereading this series, but I’m really really enjoying this. Possibly more than the first time? I love reading the books so much more closely together than as published because this time I’m really appreciating the story arc, the momentum, the turn towards the dark, and I’m feeling very caught up in it without having forgotten any prior details. It’s also fun to read them after we see the movies because the movie leaves out so much of the book that it’s like the movie is an exciting teaser for the full story. [I’ll probably switch to just reading the books now because I don’t think our kids are up for watching #5 yet, but I don’t want to wait to read it.]

As a reminder, this one is the one with Cedric Diggory, the tri-wizard tournament, and the ultimate return of Voldemort, leaving the ending one filled with the threat of impending danger, battle, and sides being drawn. The Malfoys are proven to be aligned with the Dark Lord, Snape continues to confound, and the Weasleys are becoming more prominent characters. Also, Ron, Hermione, and Harry are aware of boys and girls now and thus the beginnings of romantic and confusing feelings.

Belzhar by Meg Wolitzer

belzharI could not WAIT to read this book. All I needed to read of the description was “boarding school for highly intelligent emotionally fragile teens” and I immediately placed myself #1 on the hold list. In fact, I didn’t even read more of the description than that so I could enjoy just letting the story unfold and surprise me. (if you like that experience you can take my word that it’s great and stop reading this review now, otherwise read on and I will give away a few details.) Let me say that I loved The Interestings, but have not been very interested (sometimes actively disinterested) in Meg Wolitzer’s other novels. But really, she is a terrific writer.

Jam (short for Jamaica) is very sad and unable to interact well with the world ever since her boyfriend died. Finally her parents send her to this boarding school, The Wooden Barn, in Vermont that specializes in teens who have had troubles.  When she arrives she finds out that she has been assigned to the mysterious “Special Topics in English” class. Her roommate tells her no one ever gets into it who applies, they only study one author, and all the students claim it changes their lives buy won’t say why. It turns out that Jam is in the class with 4 other kids and they can’t figure out what they have in common. Their teacher tells them are going to study Sylvia Plath (and only Plath) for the entire semester. In addition to other work they receive leather journals that the are required to write in. The teacher tells them she won’t read the journals, but will collect them at the end of the semester and never return them.  She also asks that the students care for and look out for one another.  It’s hard for Jam to see that happening because she’s so wrapped up in her grief and doesn’t want to make friends. But then they all write in their journals and something happens that does bind them all together.

I loved the supernatural/mysterious element of this book. I loved the surprises, the emotions, the construction of it. It was all around terrific. And I’ll be honest-I also appreciated that it wasn’t 500 pages and was a fairly quick read, very engrossing, but not dragged out.
I want to call out one bit of the book that I loved and am sure is Meg Wolitzer’s own voice coming through and to it I say, “right on sister! I totally agree and love it that you call this out so specifically.” Near the end, when Jam has had her life changing semester, she says:

“People are always saying these things about how there’s no need to read literature anymore–that it won’t help the world. Everyone should apparently learn to speak Mandarin, and learn how to write code for computers.  More young people should go into STEM fields: science, technology, engineering, and math.  And that all sounds true and reasonable. But you can’t say that what you learn in English class doesn’t matter. That great writing doesn’t make a difference….Words matter.  This is what Mrs. Q has basically been saying from the start. Words matter.  All semester, we were looking for the words to say what we needed to say. We were all looking for our voice.”

Words and stories do matter. They are worth studying, enjoying, interpreting, internalizing, and more.

Oh My Stars by Lorna Landvik

starsI honestly don’t know whether or not I’ve read this book before. I may have-I really liked Landvik for a period of time and was happy to rediscover her. This is a marvelous book. Just the sort of story to wrap yourself up in and enjoy.  It’s heartwarming and heartbreaking.  The conceit is that you are a visitor to a diner and an old lady starts telling you a story, and it’s the story of her life.  And what a story it is.

Violet grows up poor and homely with a drunk mean bitter father (after her mother has run off when she was very young.) At 16 Violet seems to be making a way for herself by having found a job at a thread factory, which is nice for her because not only is she working and surrounded by nice people, but she has dreams of being a fashion designer. Sadly and dramatically, though, she loses her arm in a machine. That clinches it for Violet-her terrible life needs to end. So she boards a bus for the Golden Gate Bridge, where she plans to jump to her death. Along the way, rather fatefully, the bus breaks down in a small town in North Dakota. And it’s there that Violet’s life turns around. She meets Kjel-a handsome Nordic young man with a beautiful voice and charisma, and his friend Austin-a black man with an amazing musical ability.  Somewhat improbably the three of them set off on the road together.  The story of their lives is filled with ups and down galore, wild success (Elvis level success) and failure, and historical detail, too.

I loved this.

The Infinite Sea by Rick Yancey

yanceyI’ll give it three stars, but this was a huge disappointment to me. It felt very convoluted and frankly I barely even care for the characters (who I couldn’t keep straight) anymore. Picking up (I think?!) where the first book left off, but it was actually pretty hard for me to remember who was who and what was going on. The beginning did a pretty good job of recapping that, and I was initially delighted that right away on page 8 a main character called someone out on what I considered a flaw in the first book(spoiler : if the aliens are so pure and have no bodies, what do they need with Earth?)  But I felt like that was still never fully resolved. The entire writing style of this book seemed different too. Different sections tell different points of view, there seems to be a lot more stream of consciousness, and again sort of vague theories and “explanations.”  The villains are definitely villainous and the action and fighting scenes seemed straight of Tomorrow When the War Began, which is good. Overall, though I am annoyed that I opted to pay 20 cents a day to keep it out so I could read it, and I was very excited about it, but it just did not live up to what I thought it should be.