March 6, 2014

Review: Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell

There was something about the music on that tape. It felt different. Like, it set her lungs and her stomach on edge. There was something exciting about it, and something nervous. It made Eleanor feel like everything, like the world, wasn’t what she’d thought it was. And that was a good thing. That was the greatest thing.

Synopsis:

Two misfits. One extraordinary love.

Eleanor… Red hair, wrong clothes. Standing behind him until he turns his head. Lying beside him until he wakes up. Making everyone else seem drabber and flatter and never good enough… Eleanor.

Park… He knows she’ll love a song before he plays it for her. He laughs at her jokes before she ever gets to the punch line. There’s a place on his chest just below his throat, that makes her want to keep promises… Park.

I love this book. I mean LOVE. It’s been a truly long time since a book has made me feel so many different emotions all at the same time. And I have a confession to make. While I had heard of Eleanor & Park and had added it to my “to read” list awhile back, my interest was peaked when a Twitter friend (the truly talented photographer Jamey M. – seriously, go check him out) tweeted about reading it. After that, I had to run to my local library and borrow it.

Eleanor & Park is set in 1986, which makes me ridiculously happy. As an 80’s baby (though I was only 6 in 1986), I was giddy from all the nostalgic references. Cassette tapes, walkmans, vintage punk bands, landline telephone calls, postcards … all of it makes me homesick for times passed long ago. Aside from the nostalgic mind trip, reading this brought up memories of falling in love for the first time. The familiar feeling of butterflies in the stomach when you see them in the halls, sharing private smiles, passing notes in class, holding their hand for the first time. Ahhh. There is nothing like holding someone’s hand for the first time, and Eleanor & Park isn’t shy with the hand-holding. Not even a little. It’s breath-taking and even a little intense. In fact, this simple act is described in the most beautiful way possible: “Holding Eleanor’s hand was like holding a butterfly. Or a heartbeat. Like holding something complete, and completely alive.”

Eleanor & Park isn’t just about a first love. It’s about being different, bullying and growing up in a difficult and, often times, painful, household. Eleanor isn’t your typical high school protagonist. She’s a misfit. Brand new to the school, a “big girl,” dresses in an unusual style and her mass of curly red hair all makes her stand out and causes her to be a major subject of ridicule. Park on the other hand, has a fairly normal home life and several friends but because of the fact that he is the only Asian kid at school, he often feels that he cannot connect with the other kids his age.

And then one day, Eleanor sits down next to Park on the bus ride to school. And their lives change. Not immediately. In fact, at first they never even talk. But eventually, Park introduces Eleanor to the wonderful world of 80’s music (such as The Smiths) and comic books and they begin to talk. And fall in love. And it gives Eleanor a chance to escape from her horrific step-father and less than happy home life.

Beautifully written and told in alternate voices from both Eleanor’s and Park’s point of views, Eleanor & Park isn’t just about finding love and discovering romance. But also about surviving the hardships that life can fling at you and pushing through all the crap just to see the good at the end of the day.

FIVE STARS

March 1, 2014

Bookshelf Porn #1

Ever since reading Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn, I have been looking for some similar books. I’m deeply in love with psychological thrillers, the darker the better, and I stumbled across these books the other day when I popped into Barnes & Noble for one book. (Of course. Isn’t that how it always goes?) The John Green book isn’t new to me. I’ve read it several times but needed a copy of my own. While it doesn’t fall under the category of psychological thrillers, it’s still a truly wonderful novel, one that I recommend to everyone.

Reconstructing Amelia, Kimberly McCreight – Litigation lawyer and harried single mother Kate Baron is stunned when her daughter’s exclusive private school in Park Slope, Brooklyn, calls with disturbing news: her intelligent, high-achieving fifteen-year-old daughter, Amelia, has been caught cheating. But by the time she arrives at Grace Hall, Kate’s faced with far more devastating news. Amelia is dead. A despondent Amelia has jumped from the school’s roof in an act of “spontaneous” suicide. At least that’s the story Grace Hall and the police tell Kate. And overwhelmed as she is by her own guilt and shattered by grief, it is the story that Kate believes until she gets the anonymous text: She didn’t jump. Sifting through Amelia’s emails, text messages, social media postings, and cell phone logs, Kate is determined to learn the heartbreaking truth about why Amelia was on Grace Hall’s roof that day-and why she died.

Dare Me, Megan Abbott – Addy Hanlon has always been Beth Cassidy’s best friend and trusted lieutenant. Now they’re seniors who rule the intensely competitive cheer squad, feared and followed by the other girls — until the young new coach arrives. Cool and commanding, Coach Colette French draws Addy and the other cheerleaders into her life. Only Beth, unsettled by the new regime, remains outside Coach’s golden circle, waging a subtle but vicious campaign to regain her position as “top girl” — both with the team and with Addy herself. Then a suicide focuses a police investigation on Coach and her squad. After the first wave of shock and grief, Addy tries to uncover the truth behind the death — and learns that the boundary between loyalty and love can be dangerous terrain.

The Next Time You See Me, Holly Goddard Jones – The disappearance of one woman, the hard-drinking and unpredictable Ronnie Eastman, reveals the ambitions, prejudices, and anxieties of a small southern town and its residents. There’s Ronnie’s sister, Susanna, a dutiful but dissatisfied schoolteacher, mother, and wife; Tony, a failed baseball star turned detective; Emily, a socially awkward thirteen-year-old with a dark secret; and Wyatt, a factory worker tormented by a past he can’t change and by a love he doesn’t think he deserves. Connected in ways they cannot begin to imagine, their stories converge in a violent climax that reveals not just the mystery of what happened to Ronnie but all of their secret selves.

Looking for Alaska, John Green – Before: Miles “Pudge” Halter’s whole existence has been one big nonevent, and his obsession with famous last words has only made him crave the “Great Perhaps” (François Rabelais, poet) even more. Then he heads off to the sometimes crazy, possibly unstable, and anything-but-boring world of Culver Creek Boarding School, and his life becomes the opposite of safe. Because down the hall is Alaska Young. The gorgeous, clever, funny, sexy, self-destructive, screwed-up, and utterly fascinating Alaska Young, who is an event unto herself. She pulls Pudge into her world, launches him into the Great Perhaps, and steals his heart. After: Nothing is ever the same.

Have you read any of these books? Let me know what you thought! But, no spoilers please!

January 22, 2014

Review: Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn

There’s something disturbing about recalling a warm memory and feeling utterly cold.

Synopsis:

On a warm summer morning in North Carthage, Missouri, it is Nick and Amy Dunne’s fifth wedding anniversary. Presents are being wrapped and reservations are being made when Nick’s clever and beautiful wife disappears from their rented McMansion on the Mississippi River. Husband-of-the-Year Nick isn’t doing himself any favors with cringe-worthy daydreams about the slope and shape of his wife’s head, but passages from Amy’s diary reveal the alpha-girl perfectionist could have put anyone dangerously on edge.

Under mounting pressure from the police and the media–as well as Amy’s fiercely doting parents–the town golden boy parades an endless series of lies, deceits, and inappropriate behavior. Nick is oddly evasive, and he’s definitely bitter–but is he really a killer?

As the cops close in, every couple in town is soon wondering how well they know the one that they love. With his twin sister, Margo, at his side, Nick stands by his innocence. Trouble is, if Nick didn’t do it, where is that beautiful wife? And what was in that silvery gift box hidden in the back of her bedroom closet?

Wow. That was literally the first things I said, after closing my copy of Gone Girl. Just. Wow. It’s not often that a book surprises me, and it’s certainly not often that a book completely floors me. But this one sure did.

Told in alternating voices, we get an inside look into the less than idyllic marriage of Nick and Amy Dunne. I personally love a novel with dueling voices. When done badly, it can be a huge failure. But Ms. Flynn executed it perfectly. Each voice has their own (if quite ugly) personality which enhances the storyline, tenfold. One thing you have to remember? This story is completely manipulative. You think you’ve read stories with unreliable narrators before? Well, Flynn is a master of the unreliable narrator.

I won’t lie, when I first started the novel, I was feeling a bit let down. It’s a slow start. I already disliked Nick, not because of the growing marital problems that Amy’s private journal described, but because he comes across as a narcissistic and selfish coward who completely ignores his doting wife. But as the pages kept turning, I began to change my opinions and started hoping for a twist to this crazy story. A twist I wasn’t expecting at all but thought would be utterly delicious. And wouldn’t you know, as I reached Part Two of the story, I got my wish. And it was glorious.

What started out fairly slow, gained crazy fast momentum. I couldn’t put the book down and actually found myself losing sleep for work because I was so glued to the dark and intense storyline that Part Two provided. My opinions on the both Nick and Amy completely changed as well. I still found Nick to be narcissistic and cowardly. But I started to feel pretty damn sorry for him as well. Truth be told, many reviewers intensely disliked the characters. They simply are not easily likeable characters. But they are fascinating. And I have to admit, I may have a tiny girl crush on Amy. Which I don’t even want to speculate as to what that says about me! I apologize for being so vague, but unless I’m about to give spoilers (NEVER) I have to remain somewhat vague.

There is a reason that Gone Girl has remained on the bestseller’s list for two years. It’s worth the read. It’s a manipulative, gritty, deliciously dark psychological thriller and that twist … holy hell.

FOUR STARS