Recent Reads and Recs: August 2013 Edition

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

 Care to chat with me more about these books or others? Leave a comment or find me on Twitter – @ProfeJMarie.

ADULT FICTION

The Sweet Spot cover The Sweet Spot, by Laura Drake

This romance focuses on how the death of a child can break up a relationship – and break a parent, too. In this way, her story focuses on a reconciliation instead of a “new” relationship – although one could certainly argue that her characters’ relationship by the end of the novel is “new” in its own way.

Charla and JB lost their son, and subsequently lost their marriage due to grief that could not be managed together. Charla turned to Valium and JB turned to another woman. The story picks up after their divorce has gone through and Charla is learning to take care of their ranch on her own – without the help of the Valium. Though JB and Charla were separated at the time, Charla is still angry with JB and the short-lived affair he had during that time. It is through time, a new friend, and learning how to be completely independent that allows her to work through her grief and approach the possibility of being with JB again.

I remember reading once that Drake had originally written this novel to be women’s fiction instead of romance and was convinced to change it over to romance (although I could be getting the titles mixed up – it might be the one she has out now that was originally designed to be women’s fiction, instead – Her Road Home). While I enjoyed this novel as romance, I sometimes found JB’s perspective lacking and not caring about his direct experiences as much as Charla’s. I cared about him, but only through Charla’s eyes. Regardless, I look forward to more of Drake’s work.

 

Maid for Love, by Marie Force Maid for Love cover

I read this book right after reading Drake’s novel and discovered that as much as I enjoy straight romance novels every once in awhile – two in succession might be my limit (this not being the first time I’ve run into this problem).

Of course, it probably didn’t help that this particular novel was much more extreme in the genre. The female protagonist (Maddie) and the male protagonist (Mac) meet in a bike-pedestrian collision. Mac pretty much falls in love with Maddie at that very moment. I really don’t have an issue with love-at-first-sight stories, but this one had Mac as an over-the-top male who ended up messing up sometimes, but essentially within one week solved all of Maddie’s problems and turned her whole life around.

Drake’s novel was a smart romance with a strong heroine who grew within her own right and her ex-husband did the same. Force’s novel made me want to tell Maddie that she’d better wait at least a few months before marrying because Mac was clearly in the wooing stage and not the “let’s show how we can have a real relationship” one.

 

The Ocean at the End of the Lane cover The Ocean at the End of the Lane, by Neil Gaiman

The last Gaiman novel I read, American Gods, underwhelmed me, but he is such a popular and beloved author, that I knew I had to give him another shot. His latest, The Ocean at the End of the Lane, was much better. The genre is one I don’t know how to describe – fantasy-fairy tale, maybe? Except more like the real fairy tales and not the Disney versions. It starts with a man who is back in his hometown for a funeral, but is drawn to a childhood friend’s house. His memories are vague of how he knows this family, but when he sits behind their house next to a pond – the “Ocean” – a story comes back to him of a terrible time period from when he was 7 years old.

When he is 7, he unwittingly opens a door for another creature to come into his world. The creature is in the form of a young woman, but she has undue influence over his family, trapping him in his home. Only Lettie Hempstock, an 11-year old girl, along with her mother and grandmother, can help release him and send the creature away. There are a lot of unanswered questions in this novel, but Gaiman has woven them in such a way that you have just the barest glimpse of the answers, but enough to both satisfy and keep you imagining.

He might still not be my go-to novelist, but this book definitely helped me better understand his appeal as a storyteller.

 

Lotería, by Mario Alberto Zambrano Lotería cover

“Lotería” is a Mexican version of “Bingo” – except with a lot more nuance. The lotería card has pictures, instead of numbers, and when a caller draws a card, s/he sings a riddle that makes you guess the picture rather than just calling out what it is. There are a few more differences, but the cards create the backdrop of this novel. Each chapter is the title of a card, which triggers a memory for the narrator, an 11-year old girl who is in a psychiatric detention center. The reason for her presence there is the ultimate conflict of the story.

Luz lives in a dysfunctional, abusive family. Her memories weave in a few happy stories in with mostly difficult ones that frequently have the undercurrent of pain and unhappiness. The primary consequence of her story is tragic, and while some might possibly see the ending as hopeful (It seemed like maybe the author was painting it this way? I guess I’m not sure.), I saw it as troubling.

It’s a short read and full of interesting Mexican and Chicano color, but also a bit sad.

  

YOUNG ADULT FICTION

Dreamland cover Dreamland, by Sarah Dessen

This novel is the most powerful one of Dessen’s I have yet read. It has been sitting on my Kindle for quite some time and because of that, I forgot what it was going to be about… which means when the protagonist, Caitlin, gets hit by her boyfriend, Rogerson, I felt like I was struck, too.

Caitlin is 16 and her 18-year old sister has run off without leaving behind any way to contact her. Caitlin’s parents are logically upset and lose some sight of Caitlin. Caitlin, who has always felt like she has lived in her sister’s shadow begins to lead a life that she feels is completely different than her sister’s in an effort to be her own person. Unfortunately, it leads her to Rogerson, who ends up being an abusive boyfriend.

This book is a difficult, painful read, but Dessen does a fantastic job of creating the scenario of how a girl (and any woman, frankly) can get caught in such a relationship. For Caitlin, she feels invisible, and soon seeks to be invisible and letting her life slip away to her boyfriend, marijuana, and social avoidance. Like many other YA books of its kind, Dessen also shows how when you fall into a trap of self-destruction, you become very good at hiding it from others, even if a part of you desperately hopes someone will discover it.

 

The Moon and More, by Sarah Dessen The Moon and More cover

Coming off from the intensity of Dreamland may have tarnished a little bit of my view of Dessen’s latest, but I still enjoyed this novel a lot. I really don’t think I’ve read a Dessen I haven’t liked. In this one, Emaline has just graduated from high school and is working through the transition to all of the change that going away to college at the end of the summer brings. She breaks up with her long-term boyfriend and on the same day starts a new relationship with a visitor to the area. A greater cause of anxiety comes in the form of her biological father and half-brother also coming to town.

With 2 more of my nieces and nephews having just graduated and working through a similar transition, I felt especially wrapped up in the themes of this novel as Emaline worked out a new relationship with all of her parents (that’s handled quite realistically) and came to terms with her own life changes.

 

MIDDLE GRADE FICTION

warriors_intothewild Warriors: Into the Wild, by Erin Hunter

My kids have read all of these book series by Hunter and they have been wanting me to start reading them, too – my oldest, especially, has been prodding me. I finally read the first series (well, almost all of it – haven’t read book 6, the final one, yet). The series explores the wild cat (housecat variety) community that lives in the forest. Rusty is what the forest cats call a “kittypet”, a soft, domestic cat that lives with “Two-Legs”. However, he feels called to the woods, and leaves his Two-Leg nest to become part of Thunder Clan, one of 4 cat clans in the forest.

The first book, like many in multi-part series, was a little harder to get into as an adult, but the subsequent ones had strong plots and interesting internal conflicts for several of the characters. I can see the appeal of this series for younger readers and while it carries some sophisticated themes, many of them are also handled cleanly. Probably the strongest and most important running theme is the effort of Rusty – who quickly becomes Firepaw/Fireheart as he joins his new cat community – influences the way the clans communicate and deal with conflict.

 

Bottom-line recs of “must-reads”: Dreamland

 

Currently I am reading In Caddis Wood by Mary François Rockcastle

 

More importantly: what are YOU reading? What should I be reading next? Have you read any of these books? What did you think? Leave a comment or send me a shout out on Twitter – let’s chat!

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