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:

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Rating: 4/5 stars

Review: In Five Years

Click the link to purchase In Five Years on Amazon.

I’ve been eagerly anticipating the release of Rebecca Serle’s In Five Years for the comparisons to One Day in December. Overall, I really enjoyed the book; it was a quick read that I didn’t want to finish. But weirdly, in examining its parts, I didn’t love the individual elements. The characters didn’t particularly grab me, nor did I feel strongly for either relationship (with long-term fiancé David or premonition-fling Aaron), and I thought the concept had much more potential than the book actually delivered. I was on the fence about the relationship between Dannie and Bella, because both of them could be quite frustrating, but I did feel for them once the major struggle manifested *don’t want to ruin a major plot point there*.
My favorite thing about this book is the jumping off point: where do you see yourself in five years, and what would you do if you could actually see a snapshot of where you end up? It’s similar to the device Serle employed in her previous effort, The Dinner List, that one being: if you could have dinner with any five people, who would they be? In this book, Dannie sees a snapshot of her life that is completely out of alignment with what she thought her life would be like in five years. I think what’s great is that, while she doesn’t overhaul her life in an effort to change the outcome, she does make small changes that wind up leading her to the same conclusion (however, it should be noted that said conclusion is not what one might expect).

Have you read this book? If so, what did you think?

Review: The First Date

The First Date: A heartwarming and laugh out loud romantic comedy book that will make you feel happy by [Zara Stoneley]
Click to buy The First Date on Amazon!

I don’t usually do too much research on a book before I request to read it, save for a quick scan of the synopsis and a look at the comps, so this one was my bad. I saw “from the author of New York Times bestseller The Wedding Date” and got the author confused for Jasmine Guillory. Oops. Anyway, the concept here is rom-com-cute: convinced she’s terrible at first dates, a broken-hearted bookstore employee doubles down on her conviction when she’s stood up before meeting her opposite, a serial dater who takes her on as his de facto student. Surprise, surprise, as their dates/lessons proceed, they reluctantly fall in love with one another.
What bothered me most with this book is not that it’s populated by cliché characters, nor that the plot refuses to veer from the expected. Instead, it is the insistence of the central character, Rosie, on comparing Noah to her father. I ‘get’ the abandonment issues, and I have compassion for the residual problems caused by an absent father, however, the constant reminder of her ‘plight’ was simultaneously a reminder of the story’s weaknesses. Instead of trusting in the reader’s ability to buy into the story and Rosie’s reticence in letting go or embracing her feelings for Noah, the author seems to have felt the need to ‘motivate’ this, but I think it wound up hurting the story. Clearly I wasn’t the only one bothered by this particular issue, as it’s mentioned in nearly every other sub-4-star review I’ve read.

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2.5/5 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: Sin Eater

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Did ever a more perfect cover exist? I think not. That, coupled with the fascinating synopsis, made me more excited than I’ve been in a while for a new book. What a phenomenal concept, right? Somehow, I’ve made nearly three decades without having ever heard of a ‘sin eater’. According to Wikipedia, “A sin-eater is a person who consumes a ritual meal in order to spiritually take on the sins of a deceased person.”, though it seems there actually isn’t a ton of information on the subject. Given that, I assume Campisi must have made up a lot of the practices, as well as creating from scratch the experiences a sin eater might have had. Though imagined (i.e. fantasy), the world feels vivid, almost historical, in its depiction. But it is the unique plot of this novel that really sets it apart from other novels and makes it a worthwhile read. Where it fails to forge a connection with/between characters– due to the difficulty inherent in writing a story in which the protagonist cannot converse with others– it succeeds in its originality and storyline. I think this is one of those rare instances where the movie adaptation would be better than the book, because this world is so visceral and visual.

Comparing this book to Alice in Wonderland makes absolutely no sense to me. Handmaid’s Tale, I sort of get in that it’s dystopian (though it could be described as such, rather than compared to a book to which it bears little resemblance). I would describe this as dystopian YA-meets-historical fiction, as its tone is more like historical fiction than fantasy. The dark content may make it a tough read for strictly-YA readers, so perhaps this would be best for those more advanced readers who have graduated from Hunger Games, The Selection, etc., but aren’t yet ready for (or interested in) more literary works.

Rating: 3.5/5, rounded up to 4 for Goodreads.

Pre-order Sin Eater on Amazon here.

Review: Such A Fun Age

10 Books We Can't Wait To Get Our Hands On In 2020 ...

 

Oookay, so I’m a bit behind the times on this one. Just as it took me a while to finally read Queenie, which I also wound up loving, I was slow to dive into Such a Fun Age. Why? Because honestly, there’s enough divisiveness and racial tension in the world, and quite frankly, I usually look to reading as an escape. For the same reasons, I often pass up heavier literary fiction because my reading time is sort of a meditative thing I do for pleasure. However, these books that take me a bit to decide to actually commit to reading frequently become some of my favorites. See: anything by David Foster Wallace and Julian Barnes, The Secret History, The Unbearable Lightness of Being, etc.)
ANYWAY, let’s focus. Kiley Reid’s debut novel, Such a Fun Age is phenomenal. It does exactly what great contemporary fiction is supposed to do in that it feels effortless and easy to digest, but underneath it lies a cultural commentary which provokes further thought. I love when a book stays with me, and this one certainly has. The story here is simple, without much in the way of action, and focuses on domestic issues, with race, wealth inequality, and societal status all playing a role. It all feels completely believable, and Reid succeeds in creating tension among the characters without having to cram anything down your throat. There’s no ‘bad guy/gal’ here, nor is there a ‘good guy/gal’; instead, the characters are all flawed in their own ways, but we get the sense that each of them is trying to do their best to get by, which is generally the case in real life. So often, authors get trapped in their own story, letting their own emotions get the best of them so that they create one-dimensional characters in order to force their agenda.

Here, I think all of the characters are likable to an extent– maybe because I know so many people who are exactly like Alix and Kelley, as well as Emira and Zara. It was great to see some satirical moments in which Reid subtly calls out the woke folk for their hypocrisy and their use of ethnic friends as a way to gain cultural currency. I think this book really hit home for me, though, because I was raised by an African American nanny, and I have always consistently felt more comfortable around African American people, or a ethnically mixed group of people, than I do around a group of people who are my own race. Why? I have no idea. Maybe it brings back my childhood. Or maybe because I find African American people in particular to be more warm and welcoming of me (just speaking from my own experiences here, not generalizing). I don’t know. But whatever the case may be, I am aware that this is odd, and as I look back on my childhood, I can see how complicated the relationship can become when people are paid to essentially be a part of the family. There’s a commodification of love and care, but also there’s a question as to whether the relationship, forged only as a result of an exchange of money, is made false because of its very nature? Or is it possible that the relationship is real, regardless of the transactional element? I think this book does a great job exploring that, as Emira does truly grow close to Briar and vice versa.

Rating: 4.5/5, rounded up.

Buy Such A Fun Age on Amazon here.

Review: The Love Solution

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I’d give Ashley Croft’s The Love Solution a 2.5, as it really was just okay, but after having looked at the other reviews, I decided to round up to 3 stars (on Goodreads) because I don’t believe a book’s quality should be assessed based on the moral judgements of its readers. It’s one thing to say a book is poorly written, constructed, plotted, or its characters are one dimensional, etc. But to say ‘this book is not good because I disagree with the morality of the characters, choosing to use a love potion’, is silly. Not that I think the Love Bug story points add to the quality of the book as a whole; in fact, I actually think the book could’ve done without that bit entirely, and would’ve perhaps been stronger, as that whole back and forth was ultimately a bit pointless, and the characters and relationships were interesting enough on their own. Also, characters are meant to be flawed– and sure, maybe *you* are the kind of person who maintains utmost integrity, even in the face of heartbreak, and you would never succumb to your own desperate misery. But I’m not going to pretend for one single second that I couldn’t be led down a ‘dark path’, or that I’d label someone who did resort to something like a magic love pill as a ‘bad person’. Yeah, there are ethical issues with that– that’s precisely why we have Science Fiction (or, in this case, Romantic Comedies with Sci-Fi-Light elements), to extrapolate and tease out the potential pitfalls of such medical and technological advancements.

Outside of all that, The Love Solution is truly mediocre. It’s the kind of thing you pick up because you’ve exhausted everything other option, or because there’s a secondhand copy on sale for $1.99. Funny enough, after I wrote this review, I went to pull the Amazon link and it is indeed being offered for… $1.99. At least the publisher is aware what they have here, and they’re not price gouging their customers. It feels like it has been churned out, a bottom of the barrel tale that the author spruced up so she could make that next mortgage payment. It all feels very dated, in its language and domesticity, as if it was either created twenty years ago, or else is intended for an audience of senior citizens who prefer a more tame story. And, by the way, I don’t mean that as a cut down; I think it could be successful in assisted living book circles, and there’s not a ton geared towards that demographic.

Rating: 2.5/5 stars

Buy The Love Solution on Amazon here.

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Whoa, okay, so it’s been a while since I’ve posted here on the blog. This has been primarily due to an intense six months of work, but is also owing to a lack in solid, new releases. I’ve been going back through authors who I already like, for tried and true stories (i.e. I’ve read everything Taylor Jenkins Reid has written). But I’m back, friends.  And the best way to come back? Sharing a brand new author, with a brand new book– one that I actually liked! WHAT!? Yes. I have nothing snarky to say. Well.. Maybe a little something to the effect of “don’t look up the author’s own story or Instagram account before you read this”, but overall, I’d say this should go to the top of your TBR beach reads pile.

Let’s start with this: the PR department over at Atria clearly knows me a little too well, as Breathe In, Cash Out is pretty much tailored for me. As much as I relish in the cleverness and beautiful use of language in highbrow literary fiction, there’s really nothing like a solid piece of chick lit to get me excited. I know, I know, “chick lit” is no longer a phrase we use, but I say it in an entirely non-pejorative, proud of my not-so-dirty and not-so-secretive, way. That’s not to say that the genre is without its problems– it is, and I’d say they’re mostly of a qualitative nature; many of the offerings wind up being of the mediocre mommy porn variety, and let’s just say that’s not helping. But, okay, let’s look specifically at Madeleine Henry’s debut novel, about a young woman on Wall Street whose ambitions involve a different kind of upward (and downward, as in, ‘dog’) mobility than most of her peers. My enjoyment of this novel is likely owing to narcissistic tendencies, as I’m also an avid practitioner of yoga, with Ivy League credentials, working in a male-dominated field, dating a finance bro. The story hits home, yes, but I think there’s an informative component that sets it apart from may other offerings in the genre. If you come to this with a finance background, I would expect you’d pick up some yogic knowledge and perhaps some desire to self evaluate; if you come to this with a yoga background, you’ll likely learn a bit about finance, and the cutthroat atmosphere of working at the bottom rung of banking. In addition, the writing has a great bite to it, as if the author expects the reader to keep up without coddling.

 

Starred Rating: 4/5

Pre-Order Breathe In, Cash Out on Amazon here.

Review: Stay Up With Hugo Best

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I moved Stay Up With Hugo Best to the top of my list when I was approved to read it, as it sounded like the perfect thing for me, as a woman in entertainment with an affinity for comedy. I wanted to like it, I really did– and perhaps the issue was that my expectations were too high? To me, almost every attempt at humor or cleverness fell just short of being truly humorous or clever. It was actually frustrating, how many times I felt that “this is going to be it!” during the set up, only to be let down by the punch line. Despite the promising plot and characters, the story roams about, with nothing of import really happening. There was a lot of ‘tell’ here, rather than ‘show’, like an extended obituary– not even as interesting as a New Yorker profile.

Now, with all of that being said, Somers is a capable writer. There’s nothing truly bad here, and she’s actually quite good at constructing concise, clear sentences, and telling a story. It’s just that this particular story is like watching paint dry. Her writing actually makes the overall even worse, because, coupled with the overall concept, there’s so much potential here. A has-been, millionaire late night television host and his young, impressionable writer’s assistant spend the weekend together? That is a great hook! Give me something more! Give me the ‘wit’ and ‘hilarity’, the ‘enigma’, the ‘less predictable’, as promised in the description! After being thoroughly confused, I returned to the description to see whether I had mistaken the book; was this meant to be funny? YES. THEY PROMISED. I wanted more debauchery, more scandal, more romance, or at least more searing commentary from June about Hugo, or from Hugo, about the cultural climate. If it was meant to just reflect a sad reality, I think the description should reflect that and not use words like “hilarious”, because that sets the reader up for something… Well, HILARIOUS; not an understated, slow-burn character study. I’ve witnessed this same bad-branding/poor marketing in films, with Our Idiot Brother (starring Paul Rudd) and Funny People (starring Adam Sandler), which were both portrayed as being comedies in the trailers, but were ultimately more about the melancholy side of humor.
Rating: 2.5/5

Buy Stay Up With Hugo Best on Amazon here.