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Contemporary

15808493Title: Hand Me Down
Author: Melanie Thorne
Pages: 336
Year: 2013
Publisher: Plume (Penguin)
Time taken to read: 1 week
Rating: 5/5

Goodreads synopsis: Fourteen-year-old Elizabeth Reid has spent her life protecting her sister, Jaime, from their parents’ cruel mistakes and broken promises. When their mother chooses her second husband and their new family over raising her firstborn girls, Elizabeth and Jaime are separated and risk losing the shelter of each other. Hand Me Down indelibly captures a contemporary family journey–how two young people, against incredible odds, forge lives of their own in the face of an uncertain future.

I was gifted this book by the agent I work for. She represents Melanie, and she thought I’d like this contemporary-YA crossover. This is the type of book that makes you feel like a different person after you’ve read it. I honestly read the first three pages and had to put it down and wonder if I could really continue, because it’s very heavy–much heavier than the synopsis suggests. Now that I sit down to write this, I realize I really don’t have a lot to say about it because my experience with this book was deeply personal and painful. I will say that Liz is a really strong main character living in a world where nothing feels safe and no adults seem to have any control and few have any competence, and all her pain and confusion felt very real to me. I sort of feel the urge to keep the rest of my thoughts to myself and just tell all of you that you must read this one. It was hard to get through because of the emotional content, but it was worth it. What Ms. Thorne did here is very important, and I’m grateful for her courage in telling this story.

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9781408834671Title: State of Wonder
Author: Ann Patchett
Pages: 384
Year: 2011
Publisher: Harper Perennial
Time taken to read: 10 days
Rating: 5/5

Goodreads synopsis: In a narrative replete with poison arrows, devouring snakes, scientific miracles, and spiritual transformations, “State of Wonder” presents a world of stunning surprise and danger, rich in emotional resonance and moral complexity. As Dr. Marina Singh embarks upon an uncertain odyssey into the insect-infested Amazon, she will be forced to surrender herself to the lush but forbidding world that awaits within the jungle. Charged with finding her former mentor Dr. Annick Swenson, a researcher who has disappeared while working on a valuable new drug, she will have to confront her own memories of tragedy and sacrifice as she journeys into the unforgiving heart of darkness. Stirring and luminous, “State of Wonder” is a world unto itself, where unlikely beauty stands beside unimaginable loss beneath the rain forest’s jeweled canopy.

I started out giving this four stars, but after a day to reflect, I am bumping it up to five stars. I never expected to like this at all. Adult fiction just isn’t my thing. Adults are boring. From my 22-year-old perspective, adults are lucky because they already have their lives figured out, so I don’t care about their stories. But the agent I work for absolutely loves Ann Patchett, and this one had the coolest cover and title, so I went for it, and I’ll tell you, State of Wonder was really incredible.

All the characters had me feeling so many emotions. I was surprised by how much I related to Marina despite the fact that we have pretty much nothing in common besides being human females. I think it was mostly her anxiety and the way her last surgery haunted her. I felt her embarrassment, her shame, her guilt. I felt it through every little time I’ve let someone down. And of course there was Easter–he melted my heart over and over. And even Anders, who was absent for about 99% of the book. The things he left behind affected me, all his letters and everything, and the remnants of his time with Easter, the notebooks with the words written out. I was also really fascinated by the science. As far as I can tell the Lakashi tribe is completely made up, and I don’t know if there are any tribes that can be pregnant well into old age, but I felt the intrigue and the need for answers right alongside Marina. And I felt Dr. Swenson’s urgency and passion. I think the book started off slow, but it becomes clear that it’s worth it pretty soon, and by the time you get to the end, it’s like you’re being punched in the face with emotions and hugged by the writing. I felt devastated when it was over–I wanted to stay in the jungle with Marina and the Lakashi forever. I just never felt like I was reading a book while I was reading this. It was always more like I was being swallowed by it.

Yeesh, these are hard to write after a full day of writing similar reviews of terrible/average manuscripts. My reviews have been slowing down anyway since I have manuscripts to read all the time now. Hash tag lit life.

23492671Title: The Rosie Effect
Author: Graeme Simsion
Pages: 352
Year: 2015
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
Time taken to read: 5 days
Rating: 5/5

Goodreads synopsisThe Wife Project is complete, and Don and Rosie are happily married and living in New York. But they’re about to face a new challenge. Rosie is pregnant. Don sets about learning the protocols of becoming a father, but his unusual research style gets him into trouble with the law. Fortunately his best friend Gene is on hand to offer advice: he’s left Claudia and moved in with Don and Rosie. As Don tries to schedule time for pregnancy research, getting Gene and Claudia back together, servicing the industrial refrigeration unit that occupies half his apartment, helping Dave the Baseball Fan save his business and staying on the right side of Lydia the social worker, he almost misses the biggest problem of all: he might lose Rosie when she needs him most.

I didn’t tear through this book quite as fast as I did its predecessor, The Rosie Project, but I still loved every second of it. I didn’t expect to love this quite one as much, but every main character and secondary character is so incredible, so alive, and once again I am really impressed with Simsion’s writing.I think this one started out a little slow compared to The Rosie Project, but once it picked up, it had me on the edge of my seat while laughing hysterically. Like I said in my last review, I have a bit of a bias because I sort of have my own Don Tillman, but I really believe that these books are amazing separate from my personal connection to them. My Don is actually reading The Rosie Project now, and he is loving it so far, which I honestly didn’t expect, because this is so not his style. However, he makes himself laugh all day long, so it stands to reason that Don would make him laugh too. Anyway, I was telling him how much I love being in the world of this book, and he pointed out that that makes no sense because The Rosie Effect takes place on Earth in the present time with no sci-fi or fantasy elements, so I already do live in that world. So I revised my statement: I love being in Don Tillman’s mind. He is so freaking genuine it melts my heart, and something about him feels comfortable and safe. I never ever EVER buy books, but I’ve been considering buying these because I feel certain I will read them again. This is really an emotional one for me–seriously, as I got to the last hundred pages, I was tearing up on the subway. I really cared about these characters, and they are making me look at my own life in a different light. Thank you, Mr. Simsion, from the bottom of my heart, for telling Don and Rosie’s story.

16181775Title: The Rosie Project
Author: Graeme Simsion
Pages: 295
Year: 2013
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
Time taken to read: 24 hours
Rating: 5/5

Goodreads synopsis: Don Tillman, professor of genetics, has never been on a second date. He is a man who can count all his friends on the fingers of one hand, whose lifelong difficulty with social rituals has convinced him that he is simply not wired for romance. So when an acquaintance informs him that he would make a “wonderful” husband, his first reaction is shock. Yet he must concede to the statistical probability that there is someone for everyone, and he embarks upon The Wife Project. In the orderly, evidence-based manner with which he approaches all things, Don sets out to find the perfect partner. She will be punctual and logical—most definitely not a barmaid, a smoker, a drinker, or a late-arriver. Yet Rosie Jarman is all these things. She is also beguiling, fiery, intelligent—and on a quest of her own. She is looking for her biological father, a search that a certain DNA expert might be able to help her with. Don’s Wife Project takes a back burner to the Father Project and an unlikely relationship blooms, forcing the scientifically minded geneticist to confront the spontaneous whirlwind that is Rosie—and the realization that love is not always what looks good on paper.

I don’t really know where to start with this one. The Rosie Project hit very close to home for me because I sort of have my own Don Tillman, though he doesn’t want me to reveal his identity on here because he’s very private. But my point in mentioning it is that my review and my rating are pretty biased because I already loved Don before I started reading, and I saw myself in Rosie too. So I read this book obsessively in just 24 hours, some of those hours being on the subway, which typically makes me nauseous, but I had no choice. I was addicted to this story.

I saw a lot of reviewers on Goodreads saying that they are “no expert on Asperger’s” or even that they had never even met someone with what is now called Autism Spectrum Disorder, but they believe Don is “nothing like people with Asperger’s” and other obviously ridiculous statements. I guess I’m not technically an expert either, but after living with a person with ASD and spending every day for almost four years interacting with them, I think I maybe know what I’m talking about a little bit, and I have to say as far as my knowledge goes, Don was a great portrayal of the disorder. I read one review about how it was terrible that Don debates with himself whether or not he’s capable of love, because people with ASD have very deep feelings that they just can’t express. This is true, and the book showed that. Rosie wanted love to be expressed in a certain way, and Don just didn’t, and that made him doubt his ability to love until the two of them realized, as I have realized, that everyone shows love differently, and sometimes, when people are really different and their brains work in seemingly opposite ways, you have to train yourself to recognize that person’s way of expressing love. And doing that is really hard, but you do it when you have a connection with someone that defies all logic, like with Don and Rosie. I also think that this book brings up a really important topic even for those without ASD about how much you should change for a person. I think if the changes you’re making are clearly for the better, like how Don is trying to be a kinder person, not just for Rosie but for everyone in his life, then it’s okay. A lot of people on Goodreads also said that it was unrealistic that he changed so much, but I think they’re wrong too. In the time I’ve known my Don, he has become drastically nicer and more understanding and open. He’s still very much himself, but he’s softer, and his whole family has noticed the changes. And he works on himself for me, but also for his family and friends and coworkers, and it feels right to him.

My one criticism (spoiler alert) is that his proposal and her acceptance of it seemed a little odd. I wasn’t sure exactly how long they had known each other at that point, but I thought it would have been better if he proposed and Rosie was like, “Hey pal, love the enthusiasm, but let’s try dating normally first.” But they’re much older than me, so that might account for the rush. Either way, I’m giving this five stars and no one can stop me, and I’ve been recommending it to people at B&N all week. I convinced my Don to read this book, and I told him, “I know you’re going to hate this. Don would never read this book.” But he really understood that it’s important to me, and I’m excited to hear his opinions, which I will share with you all in my future review of the sequel, The Rosie Effect.

30183198Title: History of Wolves
Author: Emily Fridlund
Pages: 288
Year: 2017
Publisher: Grove Atlantic
Time taken to read: 4 days
Rating: 5/5

Goodreads synopsisLinda has an idiosyncratic home life: her parents live in abandoned commune cabins in northern Minnesota and are hanging on to the last vestiges of a faded counter-culture world. The kids at school call her ‘Freak’, or ‘Commie’. She is an outsider in all things. Her understanding of the world comes from her observations at school, where her teacher is accused of possessing child pornography, and from watching the seemingly ordinary life of a family she babysits for. Yet while the accusation against the teacher is perhaps more innocent than it seemed at first, the ordinary family turns out to be more complicated. As Linda insinuates her way into the family’s orbit, she realises they are hiding something. If she tells the truth, she will lose the normal family life she is beginning to enjoy with them; but if she doesn’t, their son may die.
Superbly-paced and beautifully written, HISTORY OF WOLVES is an extraordinary debut novel about guilt, innocence, negligence, well-meaning belief and the death of a child.

I got an ARC of History of Wolves from my BN, or rather my old BN, because tomorrow I start at a new BN in Union Square, New York City. I’ve been living in New York for a week now, and I love it, but I am really nervous for tomorrow!

Anyway, I wasn’t completely sure how I felt about this book as I was reading it, but as I got near the end, I realized that this is kind of a little bit of a literary masterpiece. And I don’t say things like that a lot. I truly felt like this book is a piece of artwork that should be on display in a museum or something. History of Wolves is so complicated and so mysterious. None of the characters were actually likable, including the child Paul, possibly with the exception of Lily, but everyone felt very real. The book is honestly so descriptive and so visual, and I really feel like that will have some influence on my writing from now on because I was really sucked in by the amount of detail that we get in moments that seem so insignificant but actually do so much for the reader. The way the story jumps in time too is really excellent. The whole trial and the science/religion thing was like the best small town gossip of all time. History of Wolves really just makes you think. I don’t know exactly what about. Maybe just life and the way/how much or how little we take in what’s in front of us, and how much or how little we do about it.

This is a debut novel, so I am excited for Emily Fridlund to write more, and I’m kind of surprised this wasn’t picked up by a bigger publishing house. They missed out for sure. I can see this being taught in English classes in college, probably. I definitely recommend this one even if it’s not your usual style because it is really, really well done.

20312470Title: The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry
Author: Gabrielle Zevin
Pages: 288
Year: 2014
Publisher: Algonquin Books
Time taken to read: 3 days
Rating: 4/5

Goodreads synopsisA. J. Fikry’s life is not at all what he expected it to be. He lives alone, his bookstore is experiencing the worst sales in its history, and now his prized possession, a rare collection of Poe poems, has been stolen. But when a mysterious package appears at the bookstore, its unexpected arrival gives Fikry the chance to make his life over–and see everything anew.

This is another one of those books that my dad has told me about multiple times, each time thinking he’s introducing it to me for the first time. Well, finally he just went and picked it up from the library and brought it to me. I wasn’t really sure how much I was going to like it at first. I felt like it was sort of improbable that this grumpy, poor, single man was going to take in a baby. And I still feel that way a little bit, but people are full of surprises, and either way, I eventually forgave the author for this, because the story was so sweet. I wish someone would drop a baby girl on my doorstep and I could teach her to be a little book nerd like me.

Anyway, it made me sad/angry when A.J. says he hates YA books. He is the literary snob type that I hate in real life, but I liked him and the other characters well enough. Daniel Parish was obviously garbage, and I didn’t like Ismay a whole lot, but Lambiase is great and Maya is an angel. I don’t know how I feel about Amelia. She wasn’t completely brought to life for me, and I had trouble picturing her with A.J., since, for some reason, in my mind he was a lot older. (I kept picturing Jay from Modern Family.) She kind of seemed to be just a collection of quirks, like an older version of the Manic Pixie Dream Girl.

I’m still not really sure if I like Maya’s short story. The writing is mechanical, and I know that’s the point, but I’m not completely sold. I like the idea, but I think it could have been executed a little better. I feel like if that was going to work, there needed to be less detail. Or different details. But that’s just an idea. I would need to think about it more. In any case, if you are a fan of books and stories, this is a good one, however possibly improbable and pretentious. However, if you suffer from derealization like I do, be prepared to suddenly feel like you are in a book, or suddenly be upset that you are not in a book and that your life isn’t interesting enough to be a book. This type of narration will do that to you. But I digress.

8477057Title: Daytripper
Author: Fábio Moon & Gabriel Bá
Pages: 256
Year: 2011
Publisher: Vertigo (DC Comics)
Time taken to read: 3 weeks, 1 day
Rating: 5/5

Goodreads synopsis: What are the most important days of your life? Meet Brás de Oliva Domingos. The miracle child of a world-famous Brazilian writer, Brás spends his days penning other people’s obituaries and his nights dreaming of becoming a successful author himself—writing the end of other people’s stories, while his own has barely begun. But on the day that life begins, would he even notice? Does it start at 21 when he meets the girl of his dreams? Or at 11, when he has his first kiss? Is it later in his life when his first son is born? Or earlier when he might have found his voice as a writer? Each day in Brás’s life is like a page from a book. Each one reveals the people and things who have made him who he is: his mother and father, his child and his best friend, his first love and the love of his life. And like all great stories, each day has a twist he’ll never see coming…

My high school English teacher mailed me this book while I was in residential. I don’t have much experience with graphic novels, but I really enjoyed this one. Even though the main character is male and from Brazil, I related to him strongly because technically he was writing, but he didn’t exactly have a passion for obituaries, in the same way that I’m editing, sure, but I’m not passionate about whatever random topics I get from my pseudo-freelancing job, which range from Queen Elizabeth I to the average temperatures in apartment buildings. I’m not really sure yet how I feel about stories that are kind of told out of order, but I thought the patches of Brás’s timeline that the story used and the order they were put in made learning about Brás really interesting. I think I felt confused for a lot of the beginning, but still I really cared about the characters, which I think says a lot about the storytelling.

As for the theme, this book kind of reminded me that I only get one chance at life, and it could end at any time. (I should make the most of every day! I think to myself as I lie in bed on my laptop.) And I thought the images with all their vibrant colors and exotic places were so inspiring. (I want to take a life-changing trip! I think to myself as I pay my student loans online and cry.) Maybe it was because I was in treatment and my teacher wrote a really sweet letter to me on the inside that may or may not have made me cry more than once, but I really felt something while reading this.

I dunno, man. There’s something about books given to you by a teacher. It makes you feel special, and somehow it feels like the book was meant for you all along.