Review: Broken People

Broken People: A Novel by [Sam Lansky]
Click to purchase Broken People on Amazon.

Sam Lansky’s Broken People, I suspect, will be quite divisive amongst the literary-minded folk who pick it up. On one hand, its masturbatory millennial philosophizing is tiresome to the point that it seemingly comes back around to satirize itself, an ouroboros for the 21st-Century intellectual elite. The characters are selfish, self-centered, unlikable, and mostly unremarkable, while the plot is nonexistent, despite its being at least 50 pages longer than necessary.
On the other hand, Lansky’s writing is maddeningly relatable, conveying all of life’s questions and existential angst with eloquence. The book is beautifully written, to the point that I’m struggling to narrow down quotes to use here. Do I focus on the purely poetic turns of phrase, a la “desire browned to loneliness, like fruit oxidizing”?, or stick with thematically-relevant passages?
This “novel” (I suspect it’s rooted far more in the author’s life than most novels, given its strong, singular point of view, which feels deeply personal at all times… Oh, and that the central character shares a name with the author) is angsty in the way that so many others try to be, but fail for winding up too whiney or else eye-rollingly dramatic. There’s nothing dramatic about Sam– the character, not the author, but maybe him, too– and I mean that in both the most positive and negative sense. But here is a portrait of a man almost crippled by his depression, though he doesn’t crave death. Instead, he occupies an eerily-relatable, suicide-adjacent space,

“He did not want to die, in a practical sense– the corporeal permanence of death terrified him– but rather, to already be dead, to skip the death process and coast into a static condition of un-being… Certainly that had to be better than sustained consciousness.”

What I liked best about this book is that it feels reminiscent of Martin Amis’s Time’s Arrow or Julian Barnes’ Sense of an Ending, in that it is a meditation on memory, and what it is to be human, both in the abstract and corporeal senses. It’s an updated version, though, so it doesn’t risk being derivative.

You’re afraid of your shadow. But as you move, so does it. You and it are inextricable. And still you run from it… You think telling stories is a way of facing yourself. But it’s actually how you run from yourself.”

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4/5 Stars

Review: The Royal We

Buy The Royal We on Amazon Here.

Dun dun da duuunnnn.

A blast from the past, friends! But not really, since I’ve just finally gotten around to reading The Royal We. I remember when this book came out in 2015 and immediately landed on all of the bestseller lists. Not being a particular fan of modern monarchs– I didn’t make it through season one of The Crown and, *GASP*, I didn’t watch either of the royal weddings– this wasn’t in my ‘to be read’ pile. However, I can’t resist a good romance. I requested an ARC for the much-anticipated sequel, The Heir Affair, and was granted a copy, so figured I’d go back and start with the first book in the series.

Let me just paint a picture for you really quickly, of my reading habits. Every morning, I wake up and do two hours of fasting cardio. That’s over ten miles on the treadmill, per day. This is my prime reading time, and really the only way I can keep going for that long. What does that mean? I’m not always the most patient or forgiving reader. This book had me excited to wake up and get on the treadmill. What a great surprise, to become so invested in and entertained by this silly, but endearing, novel. I’ve no clue how much of this is or isn’t “true”, as I don’t know much about the contemporary royals and their wives. I do think it’s interesting, reading it after Kate Middleton and Meghan Markle both married into the House of Windsor, as Bex reads like an amalgamation of both of those women, rather than solely Kate, after whom she was apparently modeled.

Regardless of the truth/lack thereof, there’s so much to enjoy. The plot is strong, the characters are mostly lovable, though they’re all flawed and have their own complexities (as far as characters in a romance have complexities, I mean). Usually, I’m the first to point out flat characters, a lack of overall edginess, and a book being too long. But here, where characters are boring/lack edge, it’s expected– hello, these are royals— if Bex were a drug kingpin or Wills Nick were turning tricks for play money, it would be insufferably unbelievable. There’s just enough scandal, but it all lies within the realm of possibilities, including the final, almost-relationship-ending scandal. (Yes, it’s far-fetched, but could I see it happening? Sure. There’s a reason such cliches exist. Though would a royal couple still go on to marry after such a scandal? That, I’m not necessarily buying. Though I will, for the sake of the sequel.) Which brings me to the length. Absolutely, this could’ve been shorter. But it’s such a fun ride, I wouldn’t have wanted it to end any sooner. In fact, I fully intend to ride this wave through the next installment of Bex and Nick’s story. Hey, we’re in quarantine. There are no rules here regarding guilty pleasures. Gotta make the best of it.

Stay tuned for my next review, of The Heir Affair, which is due for release June 16th, 2020.

Rating:

Assessment, four stars, like, rated, rating scale, rating stars ...
Rating: 4/5 stars

Review: My Dark Vanessa

My Dark Vanessa

“People will risk everything for a little bit of something beautiful”

First thing’s first: My Dark Vanessa is extremely well written. But it is not an easy or comforting read. If you are at all triggered by sexual misconduct, manipulation, or statutory rape, be warned. Though, to tack onto that– the author’s treatment of the subject here may actually open the door for difficult conversations, allowing victims to relate and feel understood and heard without judgment.

This book has been on my radar for quite some time, as I had requested to review an advanced copy (but was denied). Since I’ve got so many other approvals– and, because, let’s be real, I’m often quite bitter when I’m rejected– I rarely go back and read books where I’ve not gotten an ARC. However, this one really stood out to me because the teacher and willing student relationship is a situation about which I’ve always wanted to write a novel myself.

Having been in the position where lines have been crossed with older, more authoritative figures, I understand the complex relationships and feelings, both positive and negative, that can develop. Russell does an impeccable job conveying the convoluted dynamics– so much so, that she had to add at the beginning a disclaimer that the story was in no way borne of nonfictional events that occurred to her. The success of the book is largely due to its reading like a memoir rather than a fictional character study. I agree with other reviews which have found problems with its length, as it easily could’ve been half the length and been as effective, if not more so. However, the strength of Russell’s writing– her weaving of poetry and classical literature into the narrative, so that it isn’t gratuitous or derivative, but rather an integral and enriching part of the story.

“Your life is like a movie. She didn’t understand the horror of watching your body star in something your mind didn’t agree to. She meant it as a compliment. Isn’t that what all teenage girls want? Endlessly bored, aching for an audience.”

Perhaps one of the things I loved most about the novel was that, while it’s clear that Vanessa (and all of those like her) has suffered greatly, it also allows the space for her to hold contradictory beliefs without judging her. What I mean by this is that often, people refuse to acknowledge that there may be legitimate feelings of love or attraction on the part of the “victim”. To negate those feelings because the victim is ‘too young’ or was being ‘coerced/manipulated/seduced’ is to undermine that person, who has already been through so much already. Russell never once strays into that territory, always giving her character the benefit of the doubt and allowing her to voice her various beliefs.

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Rating: 4/5 stars

Review: The Body: A Guide for Occupants

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I’m not sure exactly how I came across this book, but I have been meaning to read it for months now, and started listening to the audiobook, which is read by Bryson himself. There’s really no one better to do the recording, as Bryson is not only a master at writing science that is easily digestible, but is also a deft storyteller, with his posh British accent and inflections ensuring engagement. And, you guys, BILL BRYSON IS THE KING OF SNARK. Part of me wishes I had read it in print, as so often, Bryson’s wording skewed towards the poetic, especially in the first half of the book. However, listening to the audio form felt like an extended TED Talk, carefully treading the lines between too much and too little information and giving a bit of a pop-science feel to it all, with its quick facts, statistics, and historical bits woven together. He’s also so devilishly clever, and I loved being able to hear his sometimes-macabre humor and sense of irony and slight sarcasm come through his voice.

My only ‘con’ about this book is that it did feel a bit long-winded. I wouldn’t say any chapters should (or could) be struck, but I think there are places where some of the more dense science bogs down the rest of the book. It took me over a month to get through it, so I could see how it might lose readers as it dives into the body at a cellular level. Nevertheless, this book should be required reading or listening. I think if science/biology were taught like this in school, far more bright, if disinterested, minds would be engrossed in the material.

Rating: 4.5/5 stars

Buy The Body: A Guide for Occupants on Amazon here. 

Review: Follow Me

Follow Me

As if my anxieties about social media weren’t heightened enough, here comes Kathleen Barber’s Follow Me to tug on my nerves even more! I’ll be Amazon Prime-ing myself a webcam cover now, thank you very much.

Truth be told (and I never hold back), I wasn’t expecting much of this book when I requested it for review. Social media stars and stalkers, sounds interesting but sort of played out at this point. However, this book is actually well done, with its multiple perspectives keeping you on your toes at all times. Barber is skilled at planting clues that are obvious only in hindsight. Looking back, I’m not sure how I didn’t know who “Him” was, but that’s the draw of this book. While a lot of mystery fiction tries to mislead you by portraying the person who did it as innocent, here the author populates the narrative with several viable suspects, trying to convince you that any one of them is the likely culprit. At each moment, you’re convinced ‘oh, it must be _______’, but that person keeps changing. So, in the end, you’ll likely find you’ve guessed it at some point, but you likely didn’t know for sure until it’s revealed.

The end, for me, was where this book lost me as it really goes over the top. Can I suspend my disbelief over the whole ‘neighbor breaks and enters on the regular, but the protagonist overlooks it’ plot line? That was trying, but I went along with it. But once the ‘Him’ is revealed, there’s another ‘twist’ that jumped the shark. This is all the more frustrating given that it’s unnecessary. The book was strong enough to stand without that last point, but it seems like the writer and editor(s) didn’t quite know when to quit.

Overall, Follow Me is a strong entry in a dense space, with its timely subject matter, effective but not preachy message, and great pacing.

Rating; 4/5 stars

Order Follow Me on Amazon here.