April 21, 2015

Review: Spinster: Making a Life of One's Own

Spinster By Kate Bolick
Available now from Crown Publishing (Penguin Random House)
Review copy

I'm finding it hard to review SPINSTER: MAKING A LIFE OF ONE'S OWN.  Kate Bolick is a gifted writer.  She weaves together biography and sociology and history in a compelling blend.  I certainly learned things about her five "awakeners" - Maeve Breenan, Neith Boyce, Edna St. Vincent Millay, Edith Wharton, and Charlotte Perkins Gilmore that I never knew.

Much of the book is devoted to biography of those five women, discussing how their writing and their unique, vivid lives inspired Bolick and helped her through tough times in her personal and professional life.  Those chapters are absolutely fascinating, both for the literary criticism and the glimpses of feminist history through the past century or so.

However, they don't actually have much to do with spinsterhood, no matter how Bolick tries to spin it.  All five women were married at some point in their life.  They led unconventional lives and made art, both worth celebrating in their own way, but that does not make them unmarried women.  Bolick has good taste in personal heroes, but that doesn't make them on topic.

I do like that Bolick acknowledges both the benefits and disadvantages of single life.  You might get to decorate your apartment entirely as you like (and pick out the one with all the details you want), but you've got to pay for it on one income.  It doesn't mean never dating.  (Although for a book about life on one's own, Bolick writes a great deal about her many long-term relationships.  She might not be married, but she's rarely single, and often seems like she doesn't know how to be.)  She also acknowledges one of SPINSTER's weaknesses - that it can't even begin to approach the way that being permanently single is different for white women than black women, or for other women with less privileges.

SPINSTER is a wonderful story of Bolick's life and of the ways women have struggled to have their own independent, sufficient lives even within the bonds of matrimony and motherhood.  It is not really about single women, as it promises, but it is a fascinating look at the changing ideals of femininity.  I've also made a list of some new books and collected columns that I must read.  I liked the book, but it definitely isn't the book I was sold on based on the covers.

April 20, 2015

Jody Gehrman's Message in a Bottle

The Truth About Jack Jody Gehrman is the author of THE TRUTH ABOUT JACK as well as nine other novels and numerous award-winning plays.  She currently lives in Northern California and is a professor of English and Communication Studies.  Today she dropped by my blog to share her story of the strangest letter she's ever written.

Dakota McCloud, the heroine of THE TRUTH ABOUT JACK, finds love after writing a message in a bottle and throwing it into the ocean.


The strangest letter I’ve ever written also happens to be my favorite message in a bottle story. When I was in the third grade, my family moved from California to Vancouver Island, British Columbia for a year. I made a wonderful friend up there: Kristen Alexander. Kristen, if you’re out there, send me a message! Anyway, my best friend Kristen and I decided to write a letter and launch it in a bottle. I remember my dad helping us throw it really far, to be sure it would catch the currents. My dad was a fisherman, so he knew about these things. The sunset was all violet wisps and burning apricots. I remember watching the bottle get swallowed by the sea, feeling all hopeful and excited.

A few weeks later, we’d all but forgotten about it. We were eight, after all. Out of the blue we got a massive envelope. Inside were like thirty letters, all written from third graders. A teacher from one of the nearby islands had found it, and had her entire class write to us.

It was so magical. I think that’s when I decided to be a writer.

Review: The Truth About Jack

The Truth About Jack By Jody Gehrman
Available now from Entangled Crush
Review copy

Dakota McCloud is on cloud nine when she gets her acceptance to Rhode Island School of Design (RISD).  It's the art school she's always wanted to go to, plus she'll be able to reunite with her boyfriend next year.  But before she can share the good news, her best friend emails her to let her know that she's hooked up with said boyfriend.  To deal with the extreme emotions of the day, Dakota writes it all in a letter which she stuffs into a bottle and throws into the ocean.  A bottle Jack Sauvage picks up, because he wanted to meet Dakota and it came right back in on the next wave.

It's a pretty good setup for a romance, but I felt like yelling "No, no, no!" at the book when Jack decides to write back ... as Alejandro Torres from Barcelona.  He knows Barcelona is the hook since Dakota says she wants to go there in the cafe where he first say her.  And he feels like he can't introduce himself to her as himself because he's been idealizing her like whoa.

Now, I felt for Jack.  He's pretty socially awkward, particularly since he was homeschooled after his best friend ODed.  His last girlfriend dumped him because he didn't spend enough money on her, so he's not all that confident in his looks and personality as an attraction.  But man oh man was I put off by the way he romances Dakota, both as Alejandro and Jack.  He uses things she writes to Alejandro to make himself more appealing as Jack.  Jody Gehrman does a good job of establishing in THE TRUTH ABOUT JACK that Dakota would like Jack without this malarkey, so the borderline stalking really left a bad taste in my mouth.

Dakota is the easier protagonist to like, since she isn't romancing anyone under a false identity.  She's struggling with how to proceed next, and wondering if RISD is really her dream or if there are better ways to become a professional artist.  I love that she's shown working on her art, even going to the landfill for parts.  I also like how Dakota and Jack both reach out to other people in their lives for advice and help with relationships.

I think THE TRUTH ABOUT JACK is a super cute book with very real chemistry between the leads.  But you just have to go with the premise.  It's not something I would ever accept in reality, even though Jack does try to make things right.   I preferred Gehrman's Triple Shot Bettys books, because I did have so much trouble with Jack's actions.

April 17, 2015

Review: Denton Little's Deathdate

Denton Little's Deathdate First in a series (?)
By Lance Rubin
Available now from Knopf BFYR (Penguin Random House)
Review copy

DENTON LITTLE'S DEATHDATE  is one of those stories that switches genre partway through.  It starts out as a black comedy about a teenage boy who knows he's going to die tomorrow and struggling with how he wants to go out and what he wants to do in the limited time before he dies.  Then, it shifts into a paranoid conspiracy thriller.  (Admittedly, this shift is seeded early in DENTON LITTLE'S DEATHDATE.)

I found the world debut author Lance Rubin created fascinating.  He only makes one big change to the world as it is, but he clearly thought through the consequences of that change. Due to future genetic developments, a simple test can find out on what day you're going to die.  There are a small percentage of people who are undateable, including Denton's best friend Millie.  The US is one of the few countries to make deathdate testing mandatory.  There's a pretty elaborate set-up for the whole thing: a funeral the day before, then a Sitting the day of.  (This helps ensure that people who are about to die aren't on a plane, for instance, since that indicates that the plane might crash.) 

These are also all recent changes: Denton's grandfather remembers what life was like before everyone knew their deathday.  (This also helps explain why none of the other technology in the book seems that different.)  I particularly liked the detail, sad as it was, that Denton's best friend Paolo is set to die one month later.  That is the kind of thing kids would bond over.

Denton's voice is extremely appealing.  He's a funny guy, and one who tries to look on the bright side even though he's been dealt a bad hand.  He could be unlikeable, since DENTON LITTLE'S DEATHDATE starts with him cheating on his girlfriend.  But he still worked for me as a sympathetic narrator, because he acknowledges that a) he thought they were broken up and b) he was blackout drunk, but c) that doesn't absolve him of guilt and if he did it while drunk, it was potential lurking in him all along.  Of course, that doesn't mean he immediately wants to fess up and hurt his girlfriend.  Except he may have just given two girls a (fatal) STI.

I'm not entirely sure the shift in genre and tone worked for me.  It comes so late in the book (about the last 1/5) that there isn't really time for the explanation of what's really happening to breathe.  Even though there are solid hints about what's going on beforehand, the change in pace is massive.  It also causes some of the humor of Denton's voice to get overwhelmed by the action.  It also builds to an ending that I'm not sure stands on its own.

DENTON LITTLE'S DEATHDATE is a funny, clever book.  I enjoyed the first part of the book more than the ending, but I still found the whole delightfully weird and fun.  I hope for future adventures with Denton, and I'm sure Rubin has plenty of great books ahead of him.

April 16, 2015

Excerpt: Jesse's Girl

Jesse's Girl If you're like me, you've been reading and loving Miranda Kenneally's Hundred Oaks series.  In fact, I'm going to be hosting her on her next blog tour on June 24th.  There's going to be an interview, so be sure to visit that Wednesday!

The newest book in the series, JESSE'S GIRL, comes out on July 7th.  If you buy it before then, there's a cool pre-order campaign sponsored by the publisher (Sourcebooks Fire):

Everyone who emails teenfire@sourcebooks.com will automatically receive an email of the EXCLUSIVE Jesse’s Girl Playlist, and will be invited to attend a LIVE online author event on July 6, the day before JESSE'S GIRL goes on-sale!

In addition, if you pre-order the book and send your proof of purchase (and mailing address) to teenfire@sourcebooks.com, you’ll not only get the exclusive playlist and event invite, but you’ll also receive a signed/personalized bookplate, a super-cute custom guitar pick, and entered to win a $300 gift card to TicketMaster so you can go to a concert or musical or some other fun event. 

And here's an excerpt to whet your appetites:
As much as I love music, I am generally not a fan of country. I don’t like banjos. I don’t like sappy lyrics about trucks and hauling hay. Dolly Parton is my mortal enemy—my mom plays “Jolene” over and over and over and over, and it makes me want to chop my ears off like van Gogh. Yeah, yeah, I’m from Tennessee, where it’s a crime if you don’t love country, but I like deep, rumbling beats and singing loud and fast and hard. I do not like closing my eyes and crooning to a cow in the pasture. Yet here I am at a Jesse Scott concert, getting ready to meet him and to see if he’ll let me shadow him next Friday.

My school requires every senior to “shadow” a professional for a day. It’s their way of helping us figure out what kind of career we want. Like, if you want to be president when you grow up, you might get to shadow the mayor. Want to be a chef? Have fun kneading dough at the Donut Palace. When I said “I want to be a musician,” I figured they’d send me to work in the electronics section at Walmart.

I certainly never expected to shadow the king of country music.


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...