Keeping It Brief #2

You’ve probably noticed that I don’t post on this blog very frequently over the summer. That’s largely due to the fact that my husband is a teacher and has most summers off, so I take advantage of the opportunity to spend lots of time out and about with him and our two boys. I think there’s also a bit of residual summer vacation attitude involved: I like the idea of summer as a break from routine and obligations. And, while the blog isn’t exactly an obligation, I like the freedom to fly through books all summer without taking notes or writing reviews. I read some excellent books this summer, though (and some not-so-excellent ones…), so I want to put a few thoughts together about the two-foot stack of books I read (that’s not counting ebooks). Here goes!

Reawakened by Colleen Houck. Delacorte Press. 400 pp.

Reawakened by Colleen Houck. Delacorte Press. 400 pp.

I got an advance copy of this book at BookCon; I’d been waiting in line at Penguin Random House’s booth and things were getting so hectic that I thought I wouldn’t be able to get my hands on one. Penguin was so busy (and the crowd so crazed) that the line wasn’t moving; people kept pushing ahead, so those of us waiting patiently in line weren’t getting anywhere. They eventually started to send a security guy back and forth from the book table to the back of the line with armloads of books. And that’s how I got this one.

The cover is stunning; I’m in love with the colors and design. I was not, however, in love with the book. I was interested in the ancient Egyptian elements, and the action and adventure scenes were pretty good. Not the best I’ve ever read, but readable. The romantic aspects were…disturbing. I wanted to find out what happened to the couple, primarily because I didn’t know how the author would write them out of their particular dilemma (you know, an immortal falling in love with a mortal and all that). I didn’t feel emotionally invested, though, since they’d only known one another for a few days and their initial bond was based on a spell. I mean, Amon forces Lily to help him; she’s bound to him until he accomplishes his duty. She tells him that she will never forgive him for doing this to her. And then…she falls in love with the guy?! No, thanks. [Side note: I loved Disney’s Beauty and the Beast as a kid, but the falling-in-love-with-your-jailer theme becomes more and more troublesome for me as the years go by. I’m still working through it.]

Also, the narration drove. me. crazy. I hate it when a character TELLS me who they are instead of just showing me, and Lily tells the reader, time and time again, in lengthy asides. I kept getting yanked out of the flow of the story, and it was terribly frustrating.

Not the worst book I’ve read this year, but not a particularly great one, either.

When We Were Animals by Joshua Gaylord. Mulholland Books. 336 pp.

When We Were Animals by Joshua Gaylord. Mulholland Books. 336 pp.

I requested a copy of this one from the Novl newsletter. I love their request form because it doesn’t tell you whether or not you’ll get a copy. They send the books out in the order that requests were received, so if you requested it in time, you’ll get one with no advance notice. I love checking the mail and finding a book that I wasn’t anticipating!

This one’s about a community where all the teenagers “breach” on every full moon. The rest of the town stays indoors and the youths run, naked and wild, abandoning all rules. It’s narrated by a girl named Lumen who insists that she has never breached, that she was the only one in her town who didn’t. As she delves deeper, though, looking back on her life, some disturbing memories surface.

The writing in this book is clean, evocative, and chilling. The story is wonderfully symbolic, frightening and moving all at once. I initially thought it sounded interesting, but I enjoyed it so much more than I expected to. I’d love to teach this one to a high school or college literature class.

Another Day by David Levithan. Knopf. 336 pp.

Another Day by David Levithan. Knopf. 336 pp.

This is a companion piece to Every Day, which tells the story of A, a bodiless individual who spends every day occupying a different person’s body. He doesn’t know how he came to be this way, and he’s mostly content with it…until he meets Rhiannon, the only person so far that’s made him want to stay in one place. Another Day tells things from Rhiannon’s point of view, showing the reader how difficult it is for her to wrap her head around A’s way of existence.

I loved Every Day because of how it explores gender and relationships; A isn’t male or female, and it’s beautiful to see Rhiannon’s preconceptions about the type of person she’d fall in love with being challenged. (I describe “A” as “he” in this review because it’s generally how Rhiannon thinks. “They” is probably more appropriate, though I struggle with that one for grammatical reasons. I so wish there was a singular gender-neutral pronoun in use!)

I didn’t love this book as much as Every Day because I didn’t enjoy the writing as much. Levithan’s usually-gorgeous, almost gauzy language wasn’t as present in this book, at least for me. I also didn’t like how much Justin was villainized when he doesn’t seem like a horrible guy, just maybe not-quite-right for Rhiannon. But I still adore the concept, and I also have a major thing for reading the same story from two different points of view. You should read this one if you loved Every Day and want to hear it from a different perspective, but don’t start here.

Aaaannnd that’s it for now. More soon!

(Im)Partial Reviews: Second Installment

It’s that time again: time for me to tell you a bit about the books that I just couldn’t slog through. I tried, I really did, but I love reading and refuse to ruin my favorite pastime with books that just aren’t doing it for me. Here goes!

High Crime Area by Joyce Carol Oates. Mysterious Press. 224 pp.

High Crime Area by Joyce Carol Oates. Mysterious Press. 224 pp.

Let me start by saying that I usually enjoy Joyce Carol Oates. I haven’t read a ton of her work, but I’ve enjoyed the stuff of hers that I’ve read…until now. My first exposure to Oates was as a college freshman; we were assigned “Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?” I found it chilling then, and thinking back on it still terrifies me. The other work of hers that stands out in my mind is “ID,” featured in The Best American Short Stories 2011, which I also enjoyed.  When I saw High Crime Area was an offering on Edelweiss, I thought I’d finally pick up a collection of short work solely by Oates. And I just…couldn’t stay interested. I got about halfway, and although a couple of the stories were somewhat chilling, none of them grabbed me or made a lasting impression. I still think Joyce Carol Oates is a talented writer, but the stories in this collection just weren’t for me. I can’t read well-crafted sentences if they don’t say anything interesting.

Carniepunk. Gallery Books. 433 pp.

Carniepunk. Gallery Books. 433 pp.

This was billed as an “urban fantasy anthology” in which every story took place at a circus. I think there’s a lot that can be done with a circus setting (if you read my review of The Night Circus, you know I’m dying to visit that fictional venue), but these stories fell flat for me. Many of them were based on characters from series that I hadn’t read, but none of them interested me enough to make me want to check out the related novels. After a few attempts, I let this one fall by the wayside.

Betrayed by Lisa Scottoline. St. Martin's Press. 352 pp.

Betrayed by Lisa Scottoline. St. Martin’s Press. 352 pp.

Okay. Last one (for now). I got a review copy of this one at BookCon, read the first fifty pages, and jumped ship. The writing is overly simplistic and inconsistent; the main character sounds like a lawyer at times (which she is) but at other times her thoughts and words are those of a precocious middle schooler. The “mystery” was just getting started when I gave up, and I considered sticking around to give the plot a chance, but I hated the writing too much to continue.

Aaand that’s my latest list of books you should probably leave unopened. Until next time!

Summer Reading List: Miscellaneous, Part Two

Wrapping up my Summer Reading List catch-ups today (phew!). Here goes.

Greenglass House by Kate Milford. Clarion Books. 384 pp.

Greenglass House by Kate Milford. Clarion Books. 384 pp.

This was a Goodreads win that I was more than happy to receive. It has a sort of Westing Game feel, and I thoroughly enjoyed reading it. It’s smart and engrossing, with a fun mystery to solve, a colorful cast of characters, and a bit of holiday charm. I can’t wait to read it to my son when he gets a little older. (There’s no inappropriate subject matter; it’s just that he’s two, and this is middle grade. He’s bright, but not that bright.) The only thing I found disappointing was the weird, all-too-convenient ending. Overall, though, a great book, one that kids and parents can enjoy together.

Black Crow White Lie by Candi Sary. Casperian Books. 160 pp.

Black Crow White Lie by Candi Sary. Casperian Books. 160 pp.

Another Goodreads win, one that sat on my shelf for months before I finally got around to picking it up. It was…so-so. The writing was okay, the plot was okay, and the character development was — you guessed it! — okay. I was tempted to stop reading this one, but I plowed through…and I wouldn’t recommend it.

Horrorstör by Grady Hendrix. Quirk Books. 243 pp.

Horrorstör by Grady Hendrix. Quirk Books. 243 pp.

This one was being given away at BookCon. I love the cover, the way the ghost in the picture frames doesn’t pop out at you immediately but has a sort of time-release fright effect. The story is clever, a sort of ghost-possessed Ikea (except it’s Orsk, not Ikea, because…you know…lawsuit potential!). It’s a quick, easy read with fun-and-eerie product descriptions at the beginning of each chapter. I don’t read much horror, but I found this one to be creepy enough. It’d make a good scary movie.

Rumpelstiltskin, retold by Edith H. Tarcov, illustrated by Edward Gorey. Scholastic. 48 pp.

Rumpelstiltskin, retold by Edith H. Tarcov, illustrated by Edward Gorey. Scholastic. 48 pp.

I grabbed this one at a book sale; I’m a sucker for fairy tales and picked this one up even though it’s yellowed and crumbling. It’s a simple, straightforward retelling, which I enjoyed (although I’m partial to the version in which Rumpelstiltskin splits himself in half at the end of the story…). The illustrations are what you’d expect from Edward Gorey (I mean that in a good way, because I enjoy his style), but I’d prefer them to have been either entirely black and white or to incorporate more colors. (The cover is colorful, but the interior illustrations are black and white with bits of yellow — and only yellow. It seemed like a budget-friendly way to incorporate color, but I didn’t love it.) I try not to keep every book I buy, especially if I think I’ll never read it again, but I’m holding on to this one. I’ll give it a good tape job and read it with my son!

Summer Reading List: Miscellaneous, Part One

Trying to wrap up my summer recap, but some of these books didn’t quite fit anywhere else, so I’ve shoved ’em all into the oh-so-clever catchall category of “Miscellaneous.” Here goes!

The Love Affairs of Nathaniel P. by Adelle Waldman. Picador. 256 pp.

The Love Affairs of Nathaniel P. by Adelle Waldman. Picador. 256 pp.

This was a BookCon freebie, and I unexpectedly had the chance to meet the author, who was very pleasant and friendly. I hadn’t yet read the book (or heard much about it), so I didn’t have much to talk about with her. If I saw her again now, I’d ask her how difficult it was to get into the head of a guy like Nate, someone so conflicted, so inconsiderate and yet so overthinking at the same time.

The writing is pretty good, and it’s overall a decent book, but I felt at times like I was forcing myself to get through it; I didn’t find it terribly interesting. It’s worth reading if you read a lot of contemporary/literary fiction, but it’s far from one of the best books I’ve read this year.

Brutal Youth by Anthony Breznican. Thomas Dunne Books. 416 pp.

Brutal Youth by Anthony Breznican. Thomas Dunne Books. 416 pp.

Another BookCon freebie! The antics, pranks, and hazing in this book are so over-the-top that I found them unbelievable after a while. I know you’re supposed to suspend your disbelief when reading a work of fiction, but it was increasingly difficult to do that with this book. I found it impossible to accept that a principal — and a nun, no less! — would willingly allow these things to happen for as long as she did. It’s not a terrible book, but I found it unimpressive; I’m not sure why I bothered to finish it.

The Geek's Guide to Dating by Eric Smith. Quirk Books. 208 pp.

The Geek’s Guide to Dating by Eric Smith. Quirk Books. 208 pp.

Yet another BookCon giveaway. I stumbled into this signing line unintentionally (I hadn’t incorporated it into my schedule) and decided to stick around, and I’m glad I did. The author was a sweetheart, which was all the more impressive since I was about third-from-last in a rather long line. (Note: Every author I met at BookCon was personable, though they must have all been exhausted. Are readers/writers generally more polite people? I’d like to think so.) This book covers such topics as “Select Your Character: Your Quest Begins” (determining your personality type, strengths, and weaknesses) and “Do or Do Not, There Is No Try: Asking Her Out.” Geeky references abound (I got maybe half of them, to be honest), and it’s funny. Worth checking out if you’re looking for a nerdy version of a dating manual, or if — like me — you’re looking, not for a relationship, but an entertaining read.

Summer Reading List: YA

Next installation in my Summer Reading List: Young Adult! I usually enjoy YA, but this batch of books left me feeling underwhelmed. Hopefully I’ll find a new book to love soon; I need my faith in Really Good Books to be renewed.

We Were Liars by E. Lockhart. Delacorte. 227 pp.

We Were Liars by E. Lockhart. Delacorte. 227 pp.

This was heavily promoted at BookCon, with chapter samples handed out and a huge board which guests were encouraged to graffiti with their own lies. There was a blurb from John Green, which also caught my eye, and, well…it seemed promising.

But…no. When will I learn that the Next Big Thing isn’t usually my thing? When will I remember that I like John Green infinitely more as a YouTube personality than as a writer? (Note: I still find him very readable, but he’s not in my list of favorites.) Maybe I set myself up for failure with this one. The characters weren’t all that likable or interesting, the romance fell flat, and the “huge plot twist,” although a little surprising, wasn’t mind-blowing. I think this might be one of those YAs that lacks cross-generational appeal.

Feuds by Avery Hastings. St. Martin's Griffin. 272 pp.

Feuds by Avery Hastings. St. Martin’s Griffin. 272 pp.

Confession time: I didn’t read Romeo and Juliet until a year or two ago. I have both undergrad and graduate degrees in English literature, but I guess everyone assumed we’d read it in high school (I hadn’t) and didn’t assign it. I was in no hurry to read it myself because I figured I’d just be annoyed by the main characters…and I was right, although there’s also some great writing, of course.

So if a tale by the Bard couldn’t do it for me, you can imagine how I felt about a dull, sloppily-told remake. Love at first sight needs to be done ridiculously well in order to be believable; this wasn’t. The scenes of dramatic tension were ineffective, and by the end of the book, I really didn’t care what happened to any of the characters. I feel that the concept of this one has promise, but it needs to be stronger to work.

Salt & Storm by Kendall Kulper. Little, Brown. 398 pp.

Salt & Storm by Kendall Kulper. Little, Brown. 398 pp.

Another freebie from BookCon, this one is based on an interesting premise: a family of witches protects the interests of a small whaling island until one woman decides not to step into her role, refusing also to allow her daughter, Avery, to become the witch. Obviously, the islanders are none too thrilled about this — and neither is Avery, for that matter, who has been eagerly awaiting the day that she could take her grandmother’s place. The writing is clean enough and easy to read, and I enjoyed the story.

But (yes, there’s a but) it reminded me of a sort of B-level Gemma Doyle story. (How much did I enjoy the Gemma Doyle trilogy? Find out here.) There’s a family history of magic, a mother who’s determined to keep her magical-powers-budding daughter safe, an exotic and magical romantic interest, a protagonist who’s just not ladylike enough for the time into which she was born…too similar for my tastes. It’s not a bad book by any means, but I think Libba Bray did better with the subject matter — and she did it first.

Are We There Yet? by David Levithan. Alfred A. Knopf. 215 pp.

Are We There Yet? by David Levithan. Alfred A. Knopf. 215 pp.

A pair of brothers, one in high school and one in his early twenties, are tricked by their parents into taking an Italian vacation together. Elijah and Danny couldn’t be any more different, and it’s not just because there are seven years between them. Elijah, a dreamer who lives solely in the moment, is baffled by Danny, a straitlaced ad executive. As their travels progress, though, they are able to find a bit of common ground and end their trip accepting of their differences.

If you’re new here — or if you forgot — I love David Levithan. Love. Him. It’s not about the plot, or even about the characters…it’s about the language. I can’t seem to get enough of his poetic prose and find myself re-reading most of his books at least once. (The only exception so far is Love Is the Higher Law, which I found to be just average.) This wasn’t one of my favorites by him, but it’s still a beautiful, above-average YA novel. I’d say it’s worth checking out.

Afterworlds by Scott Westerfeld. Simon Pulse. 608 pp.

Afterworlds by Scott Westerfeld. Simon Pulse. 608 pp.

I think the best word to describe Afterworlds is “ambitious.” It’s the story of Darcy Patel, a debut author who scored a ridiculously-high advance just out of high school. As she spends her first year on her own, writing in New York, Darcy learns and grows and all that jazz. In alternating chapters, though, the reader also gets to read Darcy’s novel. So basically you spend a chapter following Darcy around New York, then you spend a chapter following Lizzie, Darcy’s protagonist, as she learns to navigate the Underworld. You get used to the story changes after a while, and it’s a really interesting concept, though at 600 pages the two-books-in-one thing gets a bit lengthy.

I was more impressed by the concept of this book than I was by the execution. Bouncing back and forth between two stories makes it difficult to get to know any of the characters…or maybe they were just sort of flat. Nisha, Darcy’s younger sister, was by far my favorite. She’s spunky and has her own voice and I would totally read a book featuring her. Everyone else, though, started to sound the same after a while, and there was a time or two when I couldn’t tell whether I was reading a Darcy chapter or a Lizzie chapter because the writing was so similar. (To be fair, the narrative point of view is different for each girl, but they still manage to sound the same.) If you don’t mind the page count and are hooked by the concept of the book, check it out. If you want a moving storyline or engaging characters, you may feel like you wasted your time. I’m finding myself somewhere between the two.

Summer Reading List: Literary Fiction

I’m back!!! I took a sort of summer hiatus, largely due to never-ending morning sickness, and am up and running again now. Well, not really running. My doctor says walks are best during pregnancy, especially if — like me — you weren’t much of a runner pre-pregnancy. But I think you knew what I meant. Also, I’m still sick as a dog. I just missed writing. 🙂

Although I wasn’t blogging for the summer, I was sure as hell reading; my physical stack of books to be reviewed is almost as tall as my two-year-old. To catch you up on what I’ve been enjoying (and not), I present to you…my Summer Reading List! It’ll be separated by genre and everything (’cause otherwise the pile was too threatening to tackle). First up? Literary fiction!

Wolf in White Van by John Darnielle. Farrar, Straus & Giroux. 224 pp.

Wolf in White Van by John Darnielle. Farrar, Straus & Giroux. 224 pp.

I got a copy of this one after Macmillan’s literary fiction panel at BookCon. Although I’d heard of the Mountain Goats before (mostly from a T-shirt worn by John Green, if I’m being terribly honest), I’d never heard any of their songs. After a brief YouTube excursion, I’d gotten a sampling and was ready to dive into the book.

Wolf in White Van is smart and scary. I love the idea of a handwritten, snail-mail RPG in today’s technology-drive society; it’s clever enough to be worthy of such a complicated narrator. The transitions between past and present — as well as game and reality — are managed clearly. Somehow, even though it’s clear to the reader which is which, these transitions still somehow manage tho show the ways in which a role-playing game can start to blur the line between fantasy and reality. The narrator’s brilliance and disturbance are fascinating and terrifying at the same time. He’s not entirely honest — either with the reader or with himself, I suspect — but he’s interesting. Worth a read if you don’t mind some heavy/disturbing subject matter.

The Steady Running of the Hour by Justin Go. Farrar, Straus & Giroux. 224 pp.

The Steady Running of the Hour by Justin Go. Farrar, Straus & Giroux. 224 pp.

I really enjoyed reading this one. Part travel diary, part quest for knowledge, part bildungsroman…I was surprised by how good it was. Sometimes historical fiction can be a bit dry for me, but this one was beautifully written and featured a storyline that pulled me in.

I know some people were frustrated by the ending, and I can see why, but I think it was the right choice. Even though it’s nice to have a big happily-ever-after sometimes, it’s also refreshing to read a story that’s both well-crafted and realistic.

All in all: Long and sometimes slow-moving, but well written and interesting. Looking forward to more by this writer.

The Rise & Fall of Great Powers by Tom Rachman. The Dial Press. 384 pp.

The Rise & Fall of Great Powers by Tom Rachman. The Dial Press. 384 pp.

I first heard about Tom Rachman when The Imperfectionists came out and a friend of mine said that it was one of the best books he’d read in quite some time. He’s a reader, so that’s high praise; I immediately added it to my list of books to read. And — this is rare for me — I got around to it by the end of that summer, and I adored it. Rachman’s writing was that rare combination of easy to read, cleanly written, highly moving, and memorable. I still can’t shake the visual of the reclusive woman scrambling through decades of newspapers, hungrily devouring the news items that she had accumulated over the years. I can see it in my head as clearly as if I’d watched a film version of the book. It was brilliant. So when I saw that Rachman had a new book coming out, I begged for a review copy. (Okay, I pressed “Request” on Edelweiss. But there’s no “Beg” button, you know?)

This book is just as good, though in a different way. It’s slow-moving at times, but it’s one of those journeys that’s worth it in the end. You know how there are certain actors whose movies you always have to see because they’re so damn watchable? Well, replace “watchable” with “readable” and that’s Rachman. He’s similar to John Irving, but not in a knockoff way…just in the “stick with it and you’ll be glad you did” sort of way.

Dear Committee Members by Julie Schumacher. Doubleday. 181 pp.

Dear Committee Members by Julie Schumacher. Doubleday. 181 pp.

I won this one from Goodreads, and it was pretty much what I expected: a cleverly-written epistolary campus novel. (All good things in my book, in case you’re new here.) The protagonist reminded me a great deal of a friend of mine, which made it even more fun. It’s worth reading, smart and entertaining, but not mind-blowing or life-changing. A cute gift for English majors, though, especially ones in/finishing grad school.

The Hundred-Year House by Rebecca Makkai. Viking. 352 pp.

The Hundred-Year House by Rebecca Makkai. Viking. 352 pp.

Another Goodreads win. I entered to win this one because of a blurb from Richard Russo (it really doesn’t take much to get me to enter to win a free book if it sounds remotely interesting). I was pleasantly surprised by this one; it’s great. It covers the history of a house over the course of a century, as it transitions back and forth from a historic estate to an artists’ colony.

Aaand…that’s the end of my literary fiction segment. Stay tuned!

Review: Life by Committee by Corey Ann Haydu

Life by Committee by Corey Ann Haydu. Katherine Tegen Books. 295 pp.

Life by Committee by Corey Ann Haydu. Katherine Tegen Books. 295 pp.

Some secrets are too good to keep. 

Tabitha might be the only girl in the history of the world who actually gets less popular when she gets hot. But her so-called friends say she’s changed, and they’ve dropped her flat. 

Now Tab has no one to tell about the best and worst thing that has ever happened to her: Joe, who spills his most intimate secrets to her in their nightly online chats. Joe, whose touch is so electric, it makes Tab wonder if she could survive an actual kiss. Joe, who has Tabitha brimming with the restless energy of falling in love. Joe, who is someone else’s boyfriend.

Just when Tab is afraid she’ll burst from keeping the secret of Joe inside, she finds Life by Committee. The rules of LBC are simple: tell a secret, receive an assignment. Complete the assignment to keep your secret safe. 

Tab likes it that the assignments push her to her limits, empowering her to live boldly and go further than she’d ever go on her own.

But in the name of truth and bravery, how far is too far to go?


I’d like to start this review with an apology: I’ve been posting (and checking up on blogs I enjoy) less frequently lately. The spring was crazy busy — it seemed like we had big plans-slash-commitments every week — and now it’s summer vacation and I’ve got a very outdoorsy husband and two-year-old on my hands, so I’ve been trying to be a good sport and do something fun with them just about every day. (Not easy when you’re three and a half months pregnant, but I do what I can.) That means that I may be updating a bit less for a few months, but I’m hoping to be able to keep my head above the blogging waters. We shall see!

I got a copy of this book at BookCon, but this wasn’t one that I accidentally stumbled upon. Ohhh, no. I read Corey Ann Haydu’s OCD Love Story last year and really enjoyed it (read my review here), so I was thrilled at the chance to get to meet her and nab a signed copy of her latest release. She was very nice, especially considering how absolutely mobbed the event was. (I was impressed by all the authors that day, now that I think about it. No one seemed stressed or made meetings feel rushed, even though they were seeing dozens upon dozens of readers.) It also gave me a chance to tell her how much I’d enjoyed her other book, which I always enjoy. I don’t know if authors get tired of hearing how great their fans think they are, but I don’t think I would if I were in their shoes. I tend to think the worst of things, so it’s always nice to hear when someone thinks I’ve done a good job, and I try to pass that sentiment along whenever possible.

Now on to the book itself. Tabitha is a great protagonist because she’s flawed and in denial about a handful of things, but she has potential and is still somehow likable. Her parents are unconventional and lots of fun to read. I love when stories feature family businesses, especially coffee shops, though I am NOT a morning person and would cry if I had to make scones before starting my day. (It takes me an hour and some hot, hot coffee before I start to feel human.)

The Life by Committee website pretty much terrifies me. Here are the rules:

RULE ONE: Post at least one secret a week to keep your membership active.

RULE TWO: Assignments will be given for every secret. Assignments must be completed within twenty-four hours to keep membership active.

RULE THREE: An active membership is the only way to protect your secrets.

The scary thing is, I can think of a handful of people I’ve known that would actually do this. Not me, though; I am wayyy too much of a control freak to put my life in someone else’s hands. The idea of a digital roomful of people knowing my secrets and having the potential to spill them if I don’t follow the rules sounds absolutely awful. I think that’s another reason I couldn’t put this book down: I was dying to see how Tabitha was going to get herself — and all of her secrets — out of the committee’s clutches.

I figured out the “twist” about halfway through the book, but that didn’t detract from the book at all for me. I really enjoyed reading this one. It wasn’t about being surprised; it was about being along for the journey. Sometimes, even when you know that a character is royally screwing up, you find yourself rooting for her anyway. That’s how I felt about Tabitha. She got herself in way over her head, but instead of hoping for a rude awakening, I found myself cheering for her to fix it all and get back on track. And she does, in a courageous (and sort of adorable) way. Sure, the ending isn’t exactly realistic, but that’s not the point. It’s like a big happy movie finale; sometimes you need a feel-good conclusion, and on that point, this book truly delivers. Also, side note: Why do so many heartwarming endings take place in school assemblies? (I’m looking at you, Wonder and Will Grayson, Will Grayson [both excellent books, by the way].)

All in all: Worth reading, particularly if you like YA. Or marginalia. (Tab’s obsession with annotating her books and reading other people’s notes in used books was a really cool little detail.)

Review: The Last Kings of Sark by Rosa Rankin-Gee

The Last Kings of Sark by Rosa Rankin-Gee. St. Martin's Press. 288 pp.

The Last Kings of Sark by Rosa Rankin-Gee. St. Martin’s Press. 288 pp.

‘My name is Jude. And because of Law, Hey and the Obscure, they thought I was a boy.’ 

Jude is twenty-one when she flies in a private plane to Sark, a tiny carless Channel Island, the last place in Europe to abolish feudalism. She has been hired for the summer to give tuition to a rich local boy called Pip. But when she arrives, the family is unsettling – Pip is awkward, over-literal, and adamant he doesn’t need a tutor, and upstairs, his enigmatic mother Esmé casts a shadow over the house. 

Enter Sofi: the family’s holiday cook, a magnetic, mercurial Polish girl with appalling kitchen hygiene, who sings to herself and sleeps naked. When the father of the family goes away on business, Pip’s science lessons are replaced by midday rosé and scallop-smuggling, and summer begins. Soon something surprising starts to touch the three together. 

But those strange, golden weeks cannot last forever. Later, in Paris, Normandy and London, they find themselves looking for the moment that changed everything. 

Compelling, dark and funny, The Last Kings of Sark is tale of complicated love, only children and missed opportunities, from an extraordinary new writer.


I got a copy of this book after Macmillan’s literary fiction panel at BookCon. I hadn’t heard anything about it at that point — still haven’t, really, only I’ve read it now. I’m looking forward to hearing what other people have to say about this little gem. I, for one, rather enjoyed it.

The book opens with the following paragraph:

If this were a film, I would want it to start with leaves, and light coming through them. The sun would hit the camera straight on, and splinter out and catch dust. Light and leaves are how I’d want it to begin.

That paragraph not only matches the cover beautifully but also fits the feel of the book. The things that Jude, Sofi, and Pip experience during their island summer are — like light and leaves — temporal yet recurring. Throughout the course of life, we have golden days then wax nostalgic over them; we fall in and out of love; we strive to figure out over and over again just exactly who we are. The fact that these things happen more than once doesn’t detract at all from the magic of the first time we experience them, and that’s what this book portrays so well: first times and beautiful awakenings.

I especially enjoy books that take place over a longer span of time than a few months; I like staying with characters long enough to really get to know them. This book allows you to see where the characters go and how their pasts shape them, and although it didn’t lead anywhere in particular, this was a journey I was happy to take. Good character development doesn’t have to be about a big, blockbuster-type series of events; it takes place even more in the quiet moments, the vignettes that stand out in your mind years later, and Rankin-Gee understands that. The plot isn’t anything revolutionary, but that’s not the point: the characters are vividly drawn. They are special, and they change over the course of the novel while retaining glimmers of their beautiful island selves.

All in all: Worth reading for the prose and for the spot-on portrayal of the way life moves us forward and yet sometimes away from those we love.