The Return of the Full-Length Review: Young Jane Young by Gabrielle Zevin

I went to a very small (as in, the entire undergraduate student body was smaller than my high school’s senior class) liberal arts school in Portland, Oregon. I had grown up in Virginia, so my school shouldn’t have been on anyone’s radar. But when I told people where I was going, the response was always, “Wait. That sounds familiar. Why does that sound familiar?”

Why, indeed? Well . . . this was roughly two years after the Clinton/Lewinsky scandal broke. And I was going to Lewis and Clark College, Lewinsky’s alma mater. In those days, Lewinsky was such a household name that even her teeny college became familiar to the masses.

Fast forward twenty years, and Monica Lewinsky is still a household name, forever associated with cigars and a stained Gap dress. Google her, and you’ll find a TIME “article” entitled “Top 10 Mistresses.” Do a search for “slut-shaming,” and one of the top hits will be a blog post entitled “The Truth about Slut-Shaming” with a picture of Lewinsky as its hero image.

Last year, Jon Ronson (author of So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed) wrote an article about Lewinsky in The Guardian in which she is quoted as saying, “The shame sticks to you like tar.” But, thankfully, the article contains a glimmer of hope: “Lewinsky was once among the 20th century’s most humiliated people, ridiculed across the world. Now she’s a respected and perceptive anti-bullying advocate. She gives talks at Facebook, and at business conferences, on how to make the internet more compassionate.” 

Unknown.jpegYoung Jane Young
Gabrielle Zevin
304 pages
Published August 22, 2017

Rating: 4/5

Young Jane Young is about Aviva Grossman, a fictional Monica Lewinsky. As a college-student intern, she has an affair with her boss (an attractive, married Congressman with two kids). Oh, and she naively decides to document their lurid affair in an “anonymous”–and very explicit–blog. Continue reading

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Mini-Reviews Are the Best I Can Offer

My kids book to adult book ratio is still standing strong at about 100:1. I have tried to be more discerning with my adult books (I am much quicker to abandon a book that doesn’t catch my interest–like, most recently, Maggie Stiefvater’s All the Crooked Saints and Nancy Pearl’s George & Lizzie). Nevertheless, sadly, I haven’t read a great book since Goodbye, Vitamin (if you missed that review, you can read it here).

But I have read some decent ones. Unfortunately, I can’t be bothered to write full-fledged reviews of books that aren’t great, so mini-reviews are the best I can offer . . . but you’ll get the gist, I assure you. Here are the books I’ve read in the past month or so, presented in order from best to worst:

download-2.jpgLittle Fires Everywhere
Celeste Ng
352 pages
Published September 12, 2017

Rating: 3.5/5

What it’s about: The book opens with the Richardsons’ family home (in the progressive, but very Stepford Wives-y, community of Shaker Heights, Ohio) on fire. Three of the Richardson kids (there are four, all in high school, spaced one year apart) watch, perched on a car across the street. The fourth—and suspected culprit—Isabelle, is nowhere to be seen. “The firemen said there were little fires everywhere,” Lexie, the eldest, tells her brothers. “Multiple points of origin. Possible use of accelerant. Not an accident.” Oh, Izzy, what have you done? Continue reading

Fluff, You’re Looking Mighty Fine These Days

I have extolled the virtues of fluff on numerous occasions. Now, more than ever, fluff is my literary drug of choice. I hate to admit this, but I just don’t have the time or the brain power to handle true literature (pronounced like this, of course).

In the past couple months, I have checked out the following books from the library . . . and returned them all unfinished:

imgres-1 Swing Time by Zadie Smith (I really gave this one its due, too. I read about 250 pages before giving up. I wanted to like it, but it just dragged on and on and didn’t get anywhere. The characters were unconvincing, shallowly drawn, a bit stereotypical, and not very likable. Sad.)

imgresMoonglow by Michael Chabon (On the other hand, I did not give this one a fair shake. I read maybe 50 pages before I had to return it to the library. It started out fine, but it obviously didn’t grip me. I mean, 50 pages in three weeks? Sad, sad.)

imgres-4Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead (OK, this one I really don’t understand. It’s a National Book Award winner, and people whose opinions on books I respect have raved about it. But I wasn’t a fan. It started pretty strong with some striking—albeit gruesome—imagery . . . but then it faltered. Once they hit Baltimore, things came to a screeching halt. I was too bored to read any more. Oh, and the underground railroad as a real-deal train? I just found that a bit too trite. Sad, sad, sad.)

I used to be one of those people who COULD NOT abandon a book midway. I was compelled to finish even the worst novels. But now? Nope, nope, nope. I ain’t got time for that. Unless you’re the best book I’ve read in ages (see, e.g., Homegoing) or super easy/super fun/super fluffy stuff, chances are, I’m not going to read you right now. I only have so much free time, and I’m trying to make my way through Gilmore Girls, thank you very much.

Despite this new view on reading (and my radio silence on the blog), I have been reading. And here’s proof: Continue reading

Time to Play Catch-Up

My last post was at the end of August. Yipes. I can make a lot of excuses (my daughter turned one, and I threw a huge shindig; holidays and houseguests; lots of baby time, not as much me time), but the truth of the matter is this: I just haven’t felt like wasting my time writing reviews of mediocre books.

So, I’ve made an executive decision. I will not write reviews of mediocre books. I have a massive stack of to-be-reviewed books, and I have pared it down to four: two books that you should read and two books that you might think you should read but you absolutely should not read. The rest? They are going straight to Little Free Libraries around town without being reviewed. Done and done.

To celebrate the new year, I’m giving myself a clean desk. And I’m giving you these four reviews! Continue reading

Single White Female Fiction

I couldn’t have planned this better if I’d tried. Not only are the last two books I read historical fiction, but they are both of the Single White Female variety. Yes, I am referring to that creepy (and terrible) movie from the early-nineties in which a woman becomes obsessed with her female roommate:

These two books feature female friendships that go beyond the typical BFF-relationship and stray into the dangerous, you-really-need-to-see-a-therapist realm. Continue reading

Everyone Brave Is Forgiven by Chris Cleave

imgres.jpgEveryone Brave Is Forgiven
Chris Cleave
Published May 3, 2016
432 pages

Why I read it: I am a huge fan of Chris Cleave’s Little Bee (a powerful, beautifully-written novel that you MUST read if you have not already). His other books (Incendiary, Gold) aren’t as good, but this, his latest, showed a lot of promise. It was an Amazon Best Book of the Month, an Indie Next List pick, and a LibraryReads List selection for May 2016, and it earned rave reviews. Hoping that it would live up to the hype, I also recommended it as the July selection for my book club.   

What it’s about: Set primarily in Britain during World War II, the book follows a cast of flawed characters driven to assist in the war in a variety of ways. There’s the rich and clueless Mary, who signs up for war with visions of espionage and covert ops (but ends up teaching at an elementary school and, later, driving an ambulance). There’s the bumbling but sweet Tom, who runs the schools for the undesirable children still left in London. There’s the witty Alastair, who enlists. And there’s Hilda (an always-the-bridesmaid type), who becomes a nurse. Their intertwined stories show the many faces of war (the creation of enduring friendships, unspeakable tragedies, unlikely bravery).

Rating: 3.5/5 Continue reading

In the Country We Love: My Family Divided

imgresIn the Country We Love: My Family Divided
Diane Guerrero with Michelle Burford
Published May 3, 2016
272 pages

Why I read it: I have no shame in admitting that I have a very real love for trashy television. One of my current favorites (the first season of which I binge-watched when my baby was a newborn and doing nothing but nursing and sleeping all day long) is Jane the Virgin, a super campy telenovela about a virgin who was mistakenly artificially inseminated:

Continue reading