Recent Reads and Recs: October 2012 Edition

Brief thoughts on books you may or may not want to explore on your own. 

By the way, I need y’all to start reading these books, too, so we can talk about them in more detail. I don’t like to reveal the ending in these “reviewlets”, but dang, sometimes I WANT TO TALK ABOUT THEM. Well. Anyway.

 

ADULT FICTION

How to Eat a Cupcake cover How to Eat a Cupcake, by Meg Donohue

Donohue’s debut novel alternates between two character perspectives – two women who grew up together in the same house. Annie is the daughter of Julia’s family’s housekeeper. They grew apart, but with Julia moving back into town years later, they find themselves coming together again in a joint venture to start a cupcake bakery. Annie is less certain, as Julia betrayed Annie back in their high school days.

While I had some difficulties with the treatment of Annie’s heritage (Ecuadorian) because it didn’t feel as authentic to me and felt one of the twists at the end (related) was unnecessary, the other twist and the development of these two characters both with each other and individually was worthwhile and definitely overshadowed these other issues. How they each dealt with problems that came her way and how they evaded their own issues with each other rang true.

The Sense of an Ending, by Julian Barnes The Sense of an Ending cover

Given my fluctuating attitude about literary fiction, I wasn’t sure what I would make of this novel. I enjoyed it – although the ending, interestingly, matches its title. There are some good quotes in this novel, especially at the beginning, and probably a definitive one to describe the story is this: “How often do we tell our own life story? How often do we adjust, embellish, make sly cuts? And the longer life goes on, the fewer are those around to challenge our account, to remind us that our life is not our life, merely the story we have told about our life. Told to others, but—mainly—to ourselves.”

The narrator, Tony, starts his story with backstory – and a lot of it gave me the sense of not being overly fond of the two other primary characters he describes. This is probably the first clue that helps the reader understand the embellishments and cuts we create for our memories. Tony has gotten news that his old friend from high school ended up leaving a diary for him long after his death. The diary, however, is in the hands of Tony’s old girlfriend from university days, a relationship that did not progress or end especially well. In an effort to regain the diary, Tony tries to re-connect with this old girlfriend, and through her we find there are many holes in Tony’s story indeed.

On the other hand, the girlfriend (Veronika) is frustrating in her unwillingness to provide much information about the truth in her memory as it matches up with Tony’s. “You don’t get it. You never did” is something she says more than once, and that wraps up my exact reaction to her. I don’t understand her and the twist we get at the end is just barely to be understood (for me, anyway) and where one mystery gets cleared up, the mystery of Veronika’s behavior as a whole does not. Perhaps this is as it should be when we are still looking through the eyes of Tony’s narration. He is merely telling his story to himself, after all.

I liked the book pretty well, mostly for the great quotes about memory and storytelling vs the story itself. If you were to newly foray into literary fiction, this is a decent one to start with as it is short and a smooth read. 

What More Could You Wish For cover What More Could You Wish For? by Samantha Hoffman

This is Hoffman’s first novel – I believe it might have been self-published before under a different title, which I like better, Mr. Right-Enough. It is a combination of romance and a “coming-of-age-at-age-50” story for the protagonist, Libby. Libby’s current boyfriend, Michael, proposes to her on her birthday, and under the gaze of the restaurant clientele, Libby feels pressured to accept. Right around the same time, she re-connects with an old high school boyfriend online. Added to her confusion is the sudden death of her father, which propels her into the direction of accelerating plans to marry Michael, in spite of her many misgivings. As can be imagined, the emotional tension builds around Libby’s difficulty of following her own instincts, and ultimately, this is the conflict that must be resolved.

There is plenty of authentic tension in this story and I often sided with Libby as everyone around her kept giving her conflicting advice and confusing signals of support. I was often as irritated at her friends and family as she was. A pivotal conflict development is the death of her father, and it took a bit for me to get pulled into how meaningful this was to Libby. I would have liked feeling the close and special relationship she felt with her father before his death so that the emotional impact would have been more clear and powerful. If you can get the heads up about it here, you will be drawn into that aspect of it more quickly.

I liked the ending for being both not what I expected, and therefore open to possibilities. I’m always pleased by an ending that can be somewhat surprising, yet satisfying.

YOUNG ADULT FICTION

Catching Jordan, by Miranda Kenneally Catching Jordan cover

Another debut novel! Kenneally does well with this one, hitting all the right YA notes. Jordan is a high school senior and had the unique position of being the captain of her school’s football team as the starting quarterback. She is on a mission to get a scholarship to the University of Alabama and nowhere else. To complicate things, the university seems to be missing the point that she can actually play the game, a new (and first) romance enters into the picture, and things get mucked up with her best friend Sam Henry, another player on the team.

I felt that Jordan was unusually naïve about how college coaches would feel about a potential female team member and that there was a lot of casual, cavalier sex. (I’m not opposed to sex in YA novels, but I think it’s realistic to show some levity with it.) However, what I liked best was that each time something happened that made me say, “um, I’m not sure about this”, Kenneally would bring me around and resolve my uncertainties. I liked the complicated father-daughter relationship, loved how Jordan’s teammates both treated her like “one of the guys” AND as the sister they protected. That relationship felt very authentic. All of the characters are enjoyable and the story had a very satisfying ending.

Code Name Verity cover Code Name Verity, by Elizabeth Wein

When this novel came out, I saw tweet upon tweet praising it, so that sealed the deal with adding it to my reading list. Set during WWII in England and Resistance France, Verity is taken prisoner and interrogated. In order to extract as much information as possible from her, she is allowed paper to write out what she knows…. and what she knows comes out as a story about her pilot friend, Maddie. Verity, by her own admission, admits her weakness in giving away too much information. A little over halfway through the novel the narrative changes over to Maddie, and this marks a definitive shift in the novel at which point I began to understand its praise. I had enjoyed it well enough until then, but the changeover is very well done.

From a writer perspective, I was very interested in the tone of this novel. It is classified as young adult, and while this is accurate, I can see where a not quite accepted genre of “New Adult” might work. The protagonists are young, but out of their high school years. Their experiences are not the young adult norm, although the writing style is definitely young adult. Could this novel have been written any differently and still have been as effective? Perhaps not – which is probably also what makes it so successful. 

Looking for Alaska, by John Green Looking for Alaska cover

I love John Green. In fact, I have confessed to several that I may be a bit of a fan-girl for him. He’s a great author and his public persona is equally impressive. I’ve two more books of his to read until I become impatient for him to finish the next.

This novel was his debut and won a Printz award in 2006. Miles “Pudge” Halter has decided to attend a boarding school in hopes of meeting his “Great Perhaps”. There he meets his roommate, “The Colonel” and Alaska. At one point, Miles compares himself and Alaska to rain, stating that while he is drizzle, Alaska is a hurricane. Alaska is vibrant and magnetic, yet moody and troubled. For as much as her drama annoys Miles, he is drawn to her. The book is divided into two parts: “Before” and “After”. It’s not giving anything away to know that obviously something major happens for the these labels to come into play and what happens after is equally important as what happens before.

Where Keanneally’s novel treats issues like sex and alcohol as though it is an automatic part of high school culture and nothing more, Green does the same, but we see that the decisions behind them not only don’t always come easily, there are consequences. Green’s characters in this novel grow from their experiences and choices.

And that is my month.

Currently I am reading A Good American, by Alex George.

More importantly: what are YOU reading? What should I be reading next?

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2 Responses to Recent Reads and Recs: October 2012 Edition

  1. I’m going to download Code Name Verity and A Sense of an Ending to take with me to Ethiopia, so thanks! Right now I’m reading a novel a friend passed onto me. It’s called “The Innocent,” and it was described to me as “an airplane novel.” It should be something I like- it has suspense, a creepy cult, and a kick-ass female protagonist, but dear Lord it gets on my nerves. I’m telling you this, because I’ve thought several times, “I wish I could talk to Janet about all the things wrong with this novel.” We should start a Skype book club. 🙂

    Like

    • ProfeJMarie (Janet Rundquist) says:

      I would have greatly enjoyed trashing discussing that novel with you. Jot down your notes and send them along when you can about the other books!

      Like

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