Category Archives: fiction

Review: We All Looked Up by Tommy Wallach

Title: We All Looked Up
Author: Tommy Wallach
Genre: Fiction
ISBN: 978-1-4814-1877-5
Published: Simon & Schuster, 2015
Purchase: Amazon, Simon & Schuster
Bonus: Full-length companion album

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Main Characters: Peter, Eliza, Andy, Anita

Synopsis: One evening, a blue-tinted star appears in the sky. Not “appears” as in something only careful astronomers and amateur star-charters would notice, but “appears” as in everyone on the planet notices at pretty much the same time and won’t stop talking about it. It’s only a couple weeks before NASA tells the world that yes, it might hit us. In fact, there’s a 2/3 chance that it will. What would you do in the months leading up to impending doom? Wallach’s novel, told through multiple perspectives, takes us through the lives of four teens and their friends as they try and figure out what’s worth keeping around… either for the continuation of the world, or the end of it.

Memorable Quotes:

  • “… The best books, they don’t talk about things you never thought about before. They talk about things you’d always thought about, but that you didn’t think anyone else had thought about. You read them, and suddenly you’re a little bit less alone in the world. You’re part of this cosmic community of people who’ve thought about this thing, whatever it happens to be. I think that’s what happened to you today. This fear, of squandering your future, was already on your mind. I just underlined it for you.”
  • She believed photography to be the greatest of all art forms because it was simultaneously junk food and gourmet cuisine, because you could snap dozens of pictures in a couple hours, then spend dozens of hours perfecting just a couple of them. She loved how what began as an act of the imagination turned into a systematic series of operations, organized and ordered and clear, mixing up the processing bath, developing the negatives, choosing the best shots and expanding them, watching as the images appeared on the blank white paper as if in some kind of backward laundromat– a billowing line of clean sheets slowly developing stains, then hung up until those stains were fixed forever. And then there was the setting, crepuscular and shadowy, everything about it perfectly calibrated for creativity, from the sultry red glow of the darkroom lights to the still and shallow pool in which her prints rested like dead leaves on the surface of a pond…
  • … “Anita, do you every worry that you’re wasting your life?”
    … “I think everybody does,” Anita said. “But we’re only eighteen. You can’t have wasted your life at eighteen. We haven’t even lived our lives yet.”
    “But you have to decide, you know? It’s like that poem with the road in the woods. You don’t want to end up running down the wrong road, because you’ll probably never get back to that place again. The place where the road splits, I mean.”
    “Actually, the point of that poem is that it doesn’t really matter which road you pick.”
  • After it was over, Peter sat on the couch and let his mom hold him. His dad kept changing the channels on the TV, hoping to find someone able to contradict some parts of the president’s speech. Both of them were crying, his mom steady as a stream, his dad like an imperfectly sealed pipe– just a slow drip around the edges. Peter loved his parents, but right then he would’ve given anything to get away from them. Their anxiety burned away all the oxygen in the room; his own feelings couldn’t breathe. He was only eighteen! There were so many things he hadn’t experienced yet– world travel, bungee jumping, sushi. And what the hell had he been waiting for? Why had he assumed time was some sort of infinite resource? Now the hourglass had busted open, and what he’d always assumed was just a bunch of sand turned out to be a million tiny diamonds.

Review: This book was an easy sell. I was intrigued by the cover, first of all, and then I flipped it open to read the blurb. I didn’t even read the first part, but my eyes were immediately drawn to: “They said the asteroid would be here in two months.” That was all I needed. Bam. Sold.

I’m going to throw it back a bit here, but do any of you remember Animorphs? You know, that series about the kids that were able to turn into animals to save the world from the invading aliens? Anyway, that’s one of my favorite series of all time, and its author, K.A. Applegate, has continued to write books that blow my mind. Shortly after Animorphs ended, she released a series called Remnants. It didn’t quite have the longevity of Animorphs, but the first book in the series began with a similar premise to We All Looked Up: the end of the world. An asteroid impact. The rest of Remnants involves the 100 or so people chosen to escape the planet on a dilapidated space shuttle and their adventures once cryostatis wakes them up 500 years later, which is pretty divergent from WALU, but anyway. The point is that Remnants #1 is absolutely one of my all-time favorite books (within the top 10) and it’s a brilliant reflection on human nature.

Which is to say, that human nature is unpredictable. There is no “default” setting for human nature. What you assume humans are going to do… well, they won’t. Some will. Others will exist completely outside the realm of plausibility.

WALU follows the story of four interconnected teens and their lives leading up to the Big Impact. The book begins with Peter, already having an existential crisis before the asteroid even appears in the night sky; obviously, learning that there’s a 66% chance that humanity will be wiped out just like the dinosaurs doesn’t do much to help him.

Anita is perfect. She gets perfect grades, has a perfect family, always looks perfect. But she’s tired of being perfect. She gets a C on a test for the first time ever, just to see how her parents will react. Spoiler: it’s not good.

Eliza’s home life sucks, so she’s taken to meeting boys at clubs and sleeping with them, just so she can feel something. To try and make someone care. But ultimately, no one seems to.

Andy is torn between loyalty to the guy who has always been his best friend, and the knowledge that his best friend is … well, not a good person. Andy wants to help Bobo, but might soon realize that Bobo is either beyond help or just not worth saving…

One of my favorite aspects of the book was the descriptions of what other people were doing. The randoms. The people you’ve never met and undoubtedly never will. Strangers in cities, strangers on islands, strangers in penthouses, and strangers on the street. Some, like Peter’s parents in the quote above, can’t find it in themselves to do anything but cry. They fall into the pit of depression, of hopelessness, of “what’s the point,” and there’s no one who can help them climb back out. Others decide it’s finally their chance to do whatever the hell they want; what’s a two-week jail stay in the long run? It’s all going to burn anyway. Others, though, others spread love: tell their loved ones they love them, make an effort to DO those last things on their bucket lists, find the money or the excuses to visit those beautiful places they’ve only dreamed about.

Not that any of those is a right or wrong response, really, which is sort of the point. You can’t predict how you’ll react. Honestly. You can ponder it day and night for the next 50 years but until it actually happens to you, you just don’t know.

Spoiler: the book ends before the meteor hits. Or doesn’t hit. I was slightly disappointed at first, because come on that’s the best part– but then I realized that the moral of the story is that it doesn’t matter. What matters is the person you are leading up to that moment. You can die in jail, or you can spend the next seventy years in jail. Or you can fill your life with light and love and go out surrounded by the people you care about the most… or if the world doesn’t end, wake up to a new world surrounded by the people you love.

Which one sounds better to you?

Rating: ★★★★½

P.S. The author is also a great musician, and he wrote an album to go along with the book. Check it out on bandcamp! You can download it for $5, or if you really love it, get yourself the vinyl for $20. Why not? After all, life is short.

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Review: Ready Player One by Ernest Cline

Title: Ready Player One
Author: Ernest Cline
Genre: Fiction
ISBN: 978-0-553-45938-8
Published: Random House, 2011
Purchase: Amazon, Barnes & Noble

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Main Characters: Wade/Parzival, Art3mis, Aech

Synopsis: In the not-so-distant future, technology companies own… well, pretty much everything. The development of fully-immersive virtual-reality gaming (the OASIS) catapulted its inventor to multi-billionaire-dom, and while he used his wealth and power for good, there are plenty of others who would like to obtain and use that power for evil. Wade, known in-game as Parzival, is a very average kid: his home life sucks, so he spends most of his time in the virtual world. When an opportunity arises to solve the world’s biggest virtual riddle and inherit the billions of dollars the OASIS’ founder has left behind, Wade jumps at it. Can Wade solve the riddle and change his future forever, or will the evil corporations and their less-than-orthodox methods win out?

Memorable Quotes:

  • “You’re probably wondering what’s going to happen to you. That’s easy. The same thing is going to happen to you that has happened to every other human being who has ever lived. You’re going to die. We all die. That’s just how it is.”
  • “Very well!” he said. “You shall prove your worth by facing me in a joust!” I’d never heard of an undead lich king challenging someone to a joust. Especially not in a subterranean burial chamber.
    “All right,” I said uncertainly. “But won’t we be needing horses for that?”
    “Not horses,” he replied, stepping away from his throne. “Birds.”
  • I considered giving them what they wanted. I really did. But I thought it through, and I couldn’t come up with a single good reason why they would let me live, even if I helped them clear the First Gate. The only move that made sense was to kill me and take me out of the running. They sure as hell weren’t going to give me five million dollars, or leave me alive to tell the media how IOI had blackmailed me. Especially if there really was a remote-controlled bomb planted in my trailer to serve as evidence.
  • I felt no shame about masturbating. Thanks to Anorak’s Almanac, I now thought of it as a normal bodily function, as necessary and natural as sleeping or eating.
    I would argue that masturbation is the human animal’s most important adaptation. The very cornerstone of our technological civilization. Our hands evolved to grip tools, all right—including our own. You see, thinkers, inventors, and scientists are usually geeks, and geeks have a harder time getting laid than anyone. Without the built-in sexual release valve provided by masturbation, it’s doubtful that early humans would have ever mastered the secrets of fire or discovered the wheel. And you can bet that Galileo, Newton, and Einstein never would have made their discoveries if they hadn’t first been able to clear their heads by slapping the salami (or “knocking a few protons off the old hydrogen atom”). The same goes for Marie Curie. Before she discovered radium, you can be certain she first discovered the little man in the canoe.
    It wasn’t one of Halliday’s more popular theories, but I liked it.
  • I sat there in my stronghold, staring at the monitors, watching all of this unfold in stunned horror. There was no denying it. The end of the contest was at hand. And it wasn’t going to end like I’d always thought it would, with some noble, worthy gunter finding the egg and winning the prize. I’d been kidding myself for the past five and a half years. We all had. This story was not going to have a happy ending. The bad guys were going to win.

Review: I received this book as part of a LootCrate and it took me an embarrassingly long time to get around to reading it. Like, on the order of months. I hadn’t heard anything about it and wasn’t really intrigued by the blurb on the back, and honestly, I thought it might’ve been too geeky for me! I play a myriad of video games across all kinds of genres (like World of Warcraft, Transistor, Borderlands, Counter-Strike, what have you), which… okay, yeah, I’m pretty geeky. But I’ve never delved into the lore of such games, and I figured that’s the kind of thing this book would be about.

Then one day I was staring at my shelves, trying to decide what to read, and this was one of the few left untouched. So I grabbed it, and it did not leave my side until I’d finished it. I carried it around in my purse for a few days– to work, to dinners, and then up and down the steps with me at home. It was so, so quick to catapult itself to the top of my favorite books list that I was almost in shock. My review on GoodReads was quite brief, amounting to: “This is it. This is my favorite book in the world.” Let me tell you a bit about it.

As I mentioned in my synopsis, we begin in the not-so-distant future: the year 2044, to be precise. The world is quite different. The wage gap continued to grow and numerous environmental crises took root. There are few habitable areas left, and those that do exist are wrought with poverty. There’s pretty much one place left in the United States where there’s any sort of money or power, and it’s in Columbus, Ohio. Most people’s lives are pretty shitty, and most people take to the OASIS to escape. That’s the name of the fully-immersive virtual-reality world created by James Halliday, which quickly became the go-to computer operating system in the world, and made Halliday the king atop a pile of gold. (Well, not literally. But he wound up kinda rich. Like, the most rich.) However, the OASIS is a free service. You have to buy the computers and headsets, of course, and the internet, but once you can log on, you’re home free.

At any rate, Halliday died (like people are wont to do), and instead of a will, he left a riddle. A riddle that would culminate in the finding of a golden egg. A riddle so ridiculously intricate that it was five whole years before anyone managed to figure out the very first steps. Five years of studying every piece of 80s trivia available (Halliday’s favorite era), five years of studying gameplay of video games long since forgotten, and five years of “gunters” (egg-hunters) slowly throwing their hands up in defeat.

Wade, our hero, thinks it could be him. He’s a smart kid, and he’s put in some hard work. He spends all his free time on the OASIS, either attending virtual school or ingesting more potentially-useless trivia. There’s no real reason for him to go anywhere else, because he lives in a trailer stacked atop approximately twenty others, and he lives with his aunt, who doesn’t seem to care what he does. Pretty much his only possessions are the interfaces that allow him to connect to the OASIS, and he’s got them sequestered away in his hideout, which is pretty much a cave deep within a pile of old, rusting cars.

But not even Wade realizes what will happen the instant his username appears in the first-place slot, or what dangers will arise. It’s been blank for five years, and there are some people– or companies (companies are people, right? Right…?)– who would do anything to get their hands on the golden egg (and Halliday’s fortune). Namely IOI (Innovative Online Industries), the internet service provider that has monopolized that industry, headquartered in the only city left in the United States that isn’t a slum: Columbus, Ohio. The IOI wants Halliday’s money. They want his legacy. They want to make even more money by being able to charge people to log into the OASIS. And they want it really, really badly.

Badly enough to kill.

Wade has never really had a problem going it alone, but he had met some online friends along the way. One such friend is Aech, whose whereabouts are unknown but has always been there for Wade as a gaming partner or a confidant. Aech is pretty equally matched with Wade in terms of 80s knowledge and video game expertise. They’ve spent the past few years collaborating on their research, but decided that if they’d figured out the first steps, they’d keep it to themselves. Nothing like a little friendly competition, right? But they’ve got plenty of learning to do about each other, first, and when Wade’s situation turns desperate and he winds up turning to the real-world Aech for help… well, let’s just say there are surprises in store for both of them.

A second person he meets along the way is Art3mis, the wickedly intelligent blogger who Wade had always admired from the safety of his terminal but had never attempted to interact with. When he runs into her virtual avatar outside the tomb where the first clue is located, they begrudgingly spark a friendship that quickly turns into something else… or does it?

I really don’t want to give away too much here. I want you to read this book. I want you to love it. I was barely alive in the 80s (late ’88) so some of the references are lost on me, but a lot of it is stuff that is firmly ingrained into the public consciousness and won’t be going away any time soon! And look, it’s 2016– if you don’t know what something is, you can flop the book down and open a new tab for Google. There’s no excuse for not “getting” anything that happens in this novel. Besides, if people in 2044 are still loving the 80s, you can too!

The point is that I loved this book. I loved it so much. The ending made me bawl. Like, flat-out “put the book down and cry”-cry. And that is honestly not something that books can achieve for me very often. I want to buy this book for every person I know. Actually, I started toward that goal today– I was at Books Inc. in Mountain View this evening with my friend Alex, and I bought it for her. I hope she loves it as much as I did.

A lot of this story rang true for me because I’ve been there. I’ve gotten lost in the virtual world. It allows you to be a person you can’t be in real life– to fly, to use magic, to be strong– and allows you to see places straight out of other people’s dreams. I’ve met so many people through virtual platforms, friends and lovers alike. I started playing World of Warcraft in 2009 and I still talk to people from my first guild on a regular basis. Sometimes the friends you make are thousands of miles away, but it’s never stopped any of them from being there for me when I needed them most. Just like Wade’s friends.

Whether you’re a gamer or not, I hope this book inspires you to take the first steps of something. Maybe nothing so drastic as a challenge to win yourself billions of dollars, but maybe something you’ve always wanted. Make an effort to meet the person you’re in love with… for real. Change your stripes. Write a book. Record an album. Do something, but do it because life is short and it will be worth it. I promise.

Rating: ★★★★★+

P.S. they’re making a movie out of this, due in 2017. You’ll want to have read the book first. I’m hoping the movie will be awesome but as we all know, it’s never quite as awesome as the book. 🙂

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Review: Never Always Sometimes by Adi Alsaid

Title: Never Always Sometimes
Author: Adi Alsaid
Genre: Fiction
ISBN: 0373211546
Published: Harlequin Teen, August 2015
Purchase: Amazon

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Main Characters: Dave, Julia, Gretchen

Synopsis: Dave and Julia are best friends. Nothing strange about that. Prior to the beginning of their high school careers, desperate to avoid turning into the cliché high schoolers you see on TV, they collaborate on a list: things they should Never Do. With three months left of their senior year, they decide that maybe it’s time to give the Nevers list another look…

Memorable Quotes:

  • “Well, it’s part of a longer quote, this really beautiful passage about how the best anyone can ever do is to leave the world a little better than you found it. It doesn’t matter how you do it. Invent a new toaster or reach out a helping hand; just, you know, leave it a little better than you found it.”
    Dave noticed that their knees were touching. Amazing what kind of warmth could come from such slight contact. “What book is it?”
    Timbuktu by Paul Auster,” she said. “I know it’s weird to say or even think this, but that book has made me who I am. Not entirely, obviously. It didn’t help me at soccer, or make me so good at telling jokes with a straight face. But certain lines felt like they were thoughts I’d had my whole life that just hadn’t taken shape yet until I read them. ‘A little better than you found it’ is how I see everything now. Not just the world, but everything. People, too. I want people I know to be a little better off than when I found them. God, that sounds pretentious, doesn’t it?”
  • How Julia had felt something so deeply for so long without knowing it herself was a mystery. As if love was a fugitive harboring in an attic, hidden even from the people residing in the house.
  • “That’s not enough,” Gretchen said after a moment. “To be sorry you hurt me is not enough for me to forgive you.”
  • Gretchen took a step closer to Dave, so she was less of a silhouette, the details of her face coming into focus. He couldn’t tell what she was feeling, if she was about to slap him or hug him. The moment stretched on and on without a clue as to what was on Gretchen’s mind. People walked all around them as if on fast-forward, like a film-editing trick. Dave realized he had no idea what was on anyone’s mind, not even a little.

Review:

It’s been a long time since I’ve read something so good that I actually wanted to accumulate the energy to review it. (It’s really hard to do this when your job sucks the life out of you, you guys. Hold out as long as you can.) But this book, especially the last third, resonated with me on a level that a novel hasn’t in quite a good while.

Spoilers ahead!

So, let’s face the facts: Dave and Julia are best friends. The book starts off in third-person-Dave, so we know right off the bat: he’s in love with her, he’s been in love with her as long as he can remember. He’s memorized her face, he’s tortured by her touch, he adores when she smiles (especially if he’s the one who caused it). When he and Julia decide to start breaking the Nevers, he can’t tell her that he’s been breaking one this whole time: #8. Never pine silently after someone for the entirety of high school.

Most of the Nevers are silly, things that most kids in high school take for granted. Never go skinny-dipping. Never hook up with a teacher. Never go to a beer party. They’re fun to break, and any time spent with Julia is time well-spent, no matter what they’re doing. But when they get to the lower Nevers on the list, things start to get complicated. Never date your best friend. Can that one be broken? How? Why?

Dave meets Gretchen at a party and a few things fall into place: one, Julia is never going to feel for him the way he feels for her, and two, Gretchen is pretty awesome. She’s smart, funny, pretty, and genuine. And she’s interested in him.

Naturally, it takes the lightning bolt of seeing Dave and Gretchen together for Julia’s heart to kick-start into motion: she’s in love with Dave. Of course she is. But she can never tell him. Not now, not that he’s finally found someone he loves. Who wouldn’t love Dave? Julia expresses surprise that no one’s ever taken an interest in him before. He’s handsome, intelligent, funny… oh God, she’s so in love with him.

The dance of love/not-love/platonic love that follows in the wake of this revelation is fantastic, especially as someone who’s been through (is in the throes of) a similar scenario. Julia can’t hold down her feelings for long, and this culminates in a night of passion on a beach– a cliché to end all clichés, if we’re keeping score! Waking up with Julia in his arms was just as he’d dreamed it would be: perfect. It was perfect.

Before, when Dave had dreamed about love, this is what it looked like:

It was lazy. Love was lazy as hell. Love laid around in bed, warm from the sheets and the sunlight pouring into the room. Love was too lazy to get up to close the blinds. Love was too comfortable to get up and pee. Love took too many naps, it watched TV, but not really, because it was too busy kissing and napping. Love was also funny, which somehow made the bed more comfortable, the laughter warming the sheets, softening the mattress and the lover’s skin.

But. (There’s always a but.)

It isn’t long before Dave realizes something is off. As much as he loves Julia, as perfect as this friendship-turned-relationship has turned out, he can’t escape from the fact that when he’s looking at Julia, sometimes, just sometimes, he’s thinking of Gretchen. The doubts manifest into a dark cloud that follows him around, and he has to face the truth: that his affection for Gretchen had grown into something that not even this finally-requited love from Julia could squelch. For so long, Julia had been all he wanted– and now he’s gotten it, and he wants something else.

Gretchen gets hurt along the way, of course. It was unavoidable. As someone who is currently standing in Gretchen’s shoes and hasn’t gotten her happy ending yet, I almost couldn’t bring myself to finish this book because I couldn’t bear to find out how it ended. (Seriously, there were tears.) Would Dave make the right decision? Would he follow his heart to Gretchen, and where it would be truly happy? Or would his guilt, obligation, and fear of breaking Julia’s heart make him stay with her?

Spoiler: he makes the right decision.

In a scenario like this, someone getting hurt is unavoidable. But there comes a point where you can’t worry about the other people who will be hurt: you have to decide what’s best for you. It took a lot of courage for Dave, to break off this relationship with this person he’d wanted for as long as he could remember, who’d finally given him her entire heart. How could he ever hurt her? He’d already hurt Gretchen; that wasn’t the issue. But he had to figure out where his heart truly lay, and it was with Gretchen. To stay with Julia because… that was how he’d always wanted it, or because that’s how she wanted it, or because he didn’t want to hurt her… isn’t fair to either of them.

You’d be surprised how difficult this decision is for some people. Some people never make it. They settle. They never get to live a life less ordinary, or experience the difference between great love and mediocre love.

Jump. If you take one piece of advice from me, ever, it is to jump. Take that leap.

I’ll never fault anyone for following their heart.

Rating: ★★★★★

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Review: The Museum of Intangible Things by Wendy Wunder

Title: The Museum of Intangible Things
Author: Wendy Wunder
Genre: Fiction
ISBN: 1595145141
Published: Razorbill, April 2014
PurchaseAmazon, iBookstore

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Main Characters: Hannah, Zoe, Danny

Synopsis: Hannah and Zoe are best friends. They always have been and they always will be. In a classic case of “opposites atrract,” Zoe is the thunderstorm and Hannah is her lightning rod. When Zoe’s health issues take a turn for the worse, Hannah has to try and keep her friend safe while she sifts through her own shit: self-pity, daddy issues, and love. A whirlwind tour around the country carves etchings of jackalopes, buffalo, and casinos on each of our three characters’ hearts.

Memorable Quotes:

  • Whereas I am grounded and mired in this place, she’s like milkweed fluff that will take off with the first strong breeze. Stronger than fluff, though. She’s like a bullet just waiting for someone to pull the trigger.
  • So, what is the opposite of a “helicopter parent”? I wonder. A subway parent? A sinking ship parent? A hibernating bear?
  • “You’re a glass-is-half-empty kind of girl, aren’t you?”
    “No, not really. I just like surprises, so I keep my expectations low.”
    He seems to think for a moment and then says, “The difference is subtle.”
  • “Don’t break up with her. You don’t want any part of this,” I say, swirling my hand in the air. “I don’t mean to be presumptuous or anything, but you seem to be testing the waters. And these waters are seriously polluted. With scorpion venom and Crown Royal and all sorts of toxic whatnot. Stay with Rebecca.”
  • I’m reluctant to steal a car. And I’m really reluctant to steal a car from a McDonald’s employee whose entire paycheck goes into the upkeep of the car just so he can drive back to work. Like that story of Sisyphus rolling the rock up the hill and never getting anywhere.
  • “No, Zoe, it’s not enough,” I say, and I think how my love for Danny, at the outer limits, might last until he goes to college. My love for Zoe is supposed to last through graduations and weddings and baby showers and games of bridge. Forever.

Review: This is the greatest book I’ve read in a while. I’m sure you’ll notice the dearth of posts lately; it’s not that I haven’t been reading, but I haven’t come across anything that screams, “Review me! Tell the world how great I am!” This was definitely a yelling book.

I’m going to warn you straight off the bat, though, that this book does not have a happy ending. It’s not that kind of story. It’s a story that rings true, a tale of struggle. Zoe has bipolar disorder, and it’s about as bad as it gets: hallucinations and altered experiences. Hannah is Zoe’s rock, and has been since they were both very young. Hannah has seen Zoe’s disorder manifest itself over and over; she’s learned the signals, and she’s learned how to cope. How to help Zoe cope.

But this time, it’s not working. The Pippi stockings aren’t working. The threats of lithium aren’t working. The last stop on Hannah’s “Help Zoe” train, Zoe’s autistic little brother, Noah… isn’t working.

Zoe has her heart set on the college of her dreams: New York’s Fashion Institute of Technology. She is a wizard of a seamstress, breaking fashion boundaries and helping the girls at the prep school keep their skirts too short. But somehow, Zoe isn’t accepted, and something inside of her snaps. She blows out of town like a hurricane, dragging stick-in-the-mud Hannah along with her.

Hannah has her own crap she’s in the middle of, though. She’s been hauling a hot dog stand around town for two summers, trying to earn enough money to attend the local community college. Her mom is poor, and her dad is squandering every cent he makes on booze when he’s not attending AA meetings or being a weatherman. After an on-air meltdown, Hannah discovers that her father has siphoned her hot dog money. All $2000 of it.

So, what the hell? Why not run off with Zoe? It’ll only be for a day or two tops, right? It’ll give her time to cool off, time to think of some way to face her father without smashing his head in. Or sending him to rest peacefully at the bottom of the lake, which is where her hot dog stand now resides.

Except Zoe doesn’t want to turn around. When she’s not turning the car north to follow tornadoes, she’s turning it west to chase buffalo. She’s setting Kermit the Frog free the night before the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. She’s bleaching her hair blonde in a Walmart bathroom on Black Friday. Above all, though, she’s not eating. Or sleeping. She doesn’t need to anymore, she tells Hannah. The aliens have been reformatting her DNA.

Hannah has to match her every step, because she doesn’t know what else to do.

Is Zoe crazy? What is crazy? If someone creates a world for themselves that’s better than the one they’re in, can you really blame them? She’s not harming anyone– except, okay, maybe the elderly security guard at IKEA whom she tazed in the middle of the night. Except herself, as she continues her path into starvation and sleepless madness. But she’s Hannah’s best friend. She’s the girl who creates museums in her basement for her brother to understand emotions. She’s the girl who teaches Hannah the meanings of audacity. Gluttony. Destiny. Betrayal. Insouciance. None of the meanings that you can glean from a dictionary, but the meanings that invoke life.

“If you won’t come with me, I’ll go with you,” Hannah tells Zoe. When forced to make a choice, I chose her.

Rating: ★★★★★

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Review: Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn

Title: Gone Girl
Author: Gillian Flynn
Genre: Fiction
ISBN: 978-0-307-58837-1
Published: Broadway Books (Random House), 2012
Purchase: Amazon, Barnes & Noble

gone girl

Main Characters: Amy, Nick

Synopsis: Nick and Amy appear to have the perfect marriage. They’ve got it all: looks, money, love. But one morning, Amy has disappeared, and all that is left are signs of a struggle. Was their marriage really as good as it looked? Is Amy dead or just missing? Is Nick the fragile, worried husband or is he… a killer?

Memorable Quotes:

  • They’re baffled by my singleness. A smart, pretty, nice girl like me, a girl with so many interests and enthusiasms, a cool job, a loving family … I know that they secretly think there’s something wrong with me, something hidden away that makes me unsatisfiable, unsatisfying. (Amy, p. 29)
  • I know I am going to be angry– that quick inhale, the lips going tight, the shoulders up, the I so don’t want to be mad but I’m going to be feeling. Do men not know that feeling? You don’t want to be mad, but you’re obligated to be, almost. (Amy, p.65)
  • I have never been a nag. I have always been rather proud of my un-nagginess. So it pisses me off, that Nick is forcing me to nag. I am willing to live with a certain amount of sloppiness, of laziness, of the lackadaisical life. I realize that I am more type-A than Nick, and I try to be careful not to inflict my neat-freaky, to-do-list nature on him. Nick is not the kind of guy who is going to think to vacuum or clean out the fridge. He truly doesn’t see that stuff. Fine. Really. But I do like a certain standard of living– I think it’s fair to say the garbage shouldn’t literally overflow, and the plates shouldn’t sit in the sink for a week with smears of bean burrito dried on them. That’s just being a good grown-up roommate. And Nick’s not doing anything anymore, so I have to nag, and it pisses me off. (Amy, p. 85)
  • My husband is the most loyal man on the planet until he’s not. I’ve seen his eyes literally turn a shade darker when he’s felt betrayed by a friend, even a dear longtime friend, and then the friend is never mentioned again. He looked at me then like I was an object to be jettisoned if necessary. It actually chilled me, that look. (Amy, p. 100)
  • Until Nick, I’d never really felt like a person, because I was always a product. Amazing Amy has to be brilliant, creative, kind, thoughtful, witty, and happy. We just want you to be happy. Rand and Marybeth said that all the time, but they never explained how. So many lessons and opportunities and advantages, and they never taught me how to be happy. I remember always being baffled by other children. I would be at a birthday party and watch the other kids giggling and making faces, and I would try to do that too, but I wouldn’t understand why. I would sit there with the tight elastic thread of the birthday hat parting the pudge of my underchin, with the grainy frosting of the cake bluing my teeth, and I would try to figure out why it was fun. (Amy, p. 224)
  • My body was a beautiful, perfect economy, every feature calibrated, everything in balance. I don’t miss it. I don’t miss men looking at me. It’s a relief to walk into a convenience store and walk right back out without some hangabout in sleeveless flannel leering as I leave, some muttered bit of misogyny slipping from him like a nacho-cheese burp. Now no one is rude to me, but no one is nice to me either. No one goes out of their way, not overly, not really, not the way they used to. (Amy, p. 250)

Review: My friend Caroline and I picked this up at the bookstore a couple weeks ago. I hate seeing a movie adaptation before reading the book; I’d rather have the book ruin the movie than the other way around. We were going to read it together and do our own personal sort of book club, but she works a lot more than I do and I simply couldn’t put this book down. Caroline, stop reading this right now and finish your book!

If you’re planning on seeing the movie and haven’t read the book yet, I’d advise you don’t read this review. Spoilers ahoy.

First and foremost, this book is a masterful piece of work. Amy is a masterful piece of work. Nick is a smarmy, spoiled baboon along for the ride.

Amy is… brilliant. She’s sharp, conniving, and knows what Nick is going to do before he even thinks about it. Amy does not like to be taken for a fool, and when she finds out that Nick is cheating on her with a ditzy twenty-three year old, she sets her sights on the ultimate revenge. She spends an entire year crafting this; every single spoken phrase, every single action is meticulously calculated. She doesn’t move unless she knows how it will be read once the plan is set in motion.What’s the plan? Why, to frame her husband for her murder, of course.

Like I said, Amy is meticulous. Her husband thinks she’s got an adorable affection for crime novels, but she’s really doing her research. She spends her evening writing a fake diary for the cops to find; she picks out real events from their shared history and twists them just slightly in her favor. She mentions real historic events that were happening at the time, things that would be sourced to ensure their plausibility. In the diary, she mentions feeling sick, describing textbook symptoms of antifreeze poisioning: yes, that’s right, she poisoned herself with antifreeze, then saved the vomit to later be wielded as evidence against her husband. She performed Google searches on his computer, things that would seem innocent until the police were looking for them: body float Mississippi river.

Somewhere along the way, Nick figures out what is going on. Of course he did– he’s a bumbling baboon, but he’s not a complete nitwit. All the proof that the cops are going on are things that were set up by Amy. Nick’s a deep sleeper? Perfect opportunity for Amy to plant his fingerprints all over the murder weapon. Nick’s cheating on Amy? Plant some underwear in his work office. Amy’s pregnant with a baby Nick didn’t want– wait, what?

I honestly think this is my favorite of Amy’s tricks. Her friend Noelle was pregnant with her fourth child. Amy invited Noelle over for lemonade and just happened to have drained the toilet– oh, it’s broken. When Noelle needed to pee, Amy later went and collected it, swapped it out at a doctor’s appointment, and voila– iron-clad laboratory proof that she, Amy, is in fact pregnant. What kind of monstrosity would kill his pregnant wife?! jeers the crowd. So cruel, so cruel. Because Nick did actually want a baby.

After hiring the best lawyer in the country, Nick finally learns how to act, and begins pleading with Amy via the national news. Come home, he says. I love you. He paints such a good picture of his adoration that even Amy begins to fall for it. He knew she would; that’s how well they know each other. Amy literally doesn’t believe she’s unlovable. She expects admiration, so when it’s granted, she believes it completely. Of course Nick loves her. Why wouldn’t he? Amy’s plans begin to change.

This is such a completely brilliant novel. Like I mentioned earlier, I legitimately did not want to put it down. I brought it to work with me and read over my sandwich at lunch. Amy’s plot is so precise, the lines so taught, that Nick never even had a chance. I read somewhere that we’ll never hear about the perfect crime, but this, my friends, is the perfect crime.

I chose the quotes above because they resonated with me the most. Amy and I have very little in common, but every good piece of writing has moments you can relate to. Especially that first quote; that’s me in a nutshell. To the outside world, I have plenty of redeemable qualities, and yet… single. So single. Anyway, for that second quote: I know what it’s like to be angry and then have it written off as “irrational.” I think every woman does, which is why the “do men not know that feeling?” was such a great piece of writing. The rest of the quotes are there not because they echo in familiarity against the inside of my skull, but because they’re some damn good quotes.

Check out the trailer for the upcoming movie here.

I’m having a hard time wrapping my head around this story as a movie, especially because 50% of Part I is a fabrication. The events are mostly true, sure, but all the feelings behind them are not. It’s easier to throw a plot twist like this at you in a book, I think. But it comes out next Friday and I will be there for sure, that you can count on!

Rating: ★★★★½

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Review: Finding It by Cora Carmack

Title: Finding It
Author: Cora Carmack
Genre: Fiction
ISBN: 0062273280
Published: William Morrow Paperbacks, October 2013
PurchaseAmazon

finding it

Main Characters: Kelsey, Hunt

Synopsis: Kelsey is on a mission to find herself. She’s been running from herself and her twisted past ever since graduation: drinking, dancing, and fucking her way across Europe. One night, in a drunken stupor, she lays eyes on the hottest man she’s ever seen, a man with one name: Hunt. Somehow, he’s immune to her charms, which naturally just makes her want him even more. Kelsey thinks she’s finally had enough and is about to give up and head home, but a few more encounters later, Hunt issues her a challenge: spend a week with him, and if he can’t give her the adventure she’s been looking for, then she’s free to hang her head and go home.

Memorable Quotes:

  • There was no room for unhappiness when squeezed between two sets of washboard abs.
  • All of my friends were off chasing their dreams, moving into their futures, and I just wanted to want something with that kind of desperation, that kind of fire. I was an actress. I’d spent nearly half my life stepping into a character, searching out her desires, finding what drives her. But for the life of me, I couldn’t do the same for myself. It had been a long, long time since I’d let myself want something enough for it to matter.
  • A haunted expression stole over his face, filled with ghosts and shadows. It was the kind of look that told me more about him than any words he could ever say. He meant it when he said that he would protect me. It was written as plainly across his face as whatever tragedy tore through his memory because of my words.
  • I’d thought before that gravity pulled me toward Hunt, but it was more than that. He was the gravity. In that moment, he was the push and pull that held my universe together.
  • “You’re not horrible, Kelsey. You are vibrant and beautiful, and you burn. Burn so vividly. Fires can damage, but they’re also beautiful and vital and they can purify and give the chance to start fresh. You’re not horrible. Not at all.”
  • I opened to him immediately, his tongue tangling with mine. He tasted like warm summer days and hurricanes, like everything I wanted and everything I didn’t know I needed.

Review: So somehow I missed that this was the third book in a trilogy. I did my research after the fact though, and luckily, the other two books focus on different characters. So I didn’t really miss anything important, just other stories that happen to take place in the same world. Phew!

At any rate, I completely fell in love with this book. It’s absolutely brilliantly written. It’s just Kelsey and Hunt, traveling around Europe. And it’s fantastic.

I don’t even really have the words for this. You’re just going to have to take my word for it. If you like realistic characters with realistic backgrounds and realist feelings and reactions, this is the book for you. Check out the quotes up there and how brilliant and evocative they are, and go get this book right now!

As soon as I get a job, I’m snatching up the rest of her books. If they’re half as good as this one, it’ll be money well spent!

Rating: ★★★★★

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Review: Attachments by Rainbow Rowell

Title: Attachments
Author: Rainbow Rowell
Genre: Fiction
ISBN: 0-52-595198-9
Published: April 2011, Dutton Adult
Purchase: Amazon, Indie Bound

attachments

Main Characters: Lincoln, Beth, Jennifer

Synopsis: Lincoln is your average 20-something. He’s got a few college degrees, and he’s got a boring night job. He works for the local newspaper, and he’s in charge of the IT department. Mostly, the job just requires him to check the email filter to see who’s naughty and who’s nice. Usually, there’s nothing to see. But one day, a set of correspondences from Jennifer and Beth shows up in the web. They’re not really being naughty; they just used a few of the search’s flagged terms. But what they write is interesting, and it keeps showing up in the web, and Lincoln can’t stop reading.

Memorable Quotes:

  • <<Jennifer to Beth>> What if he decides to cut his losses and find some perfectly normal woman who– on top of being naturally thin and never having turned to prescription antidepressants– also wants to have his babies ASAP?
  • <<Jennifer to Beth>> Aren’t you missing the point? Clark Kent doesn’t want to be famous. He doesn’t want people to look at him. If they really look at him, they’d see that he’s just Superman with glasses. Plus, he needs to be someplace like a newsroom, where he’s the first to hear big news. He can’t afford to read “Joker attacks moon” the next day in the newspaper.
    <<Beth to Jennifer>> You make an excellent point. Especially for someone who doesn’t know that Superman never fights the Joker.
  • <<Beth to Jennifer>> Just assume that my response to your next 12 statements is, “Say what?”
  • <<Jennifer to Beth>> I thought to myself, “My marriage is the most important thing in my life. I would rather have a happy marriage than anything– a good job, a nice house, opposable thumbs, the right to vote, anything. If not wanting a baby is destroying my marriage, I’ll have a baby. I’ll have 10 babies. I’ll do whatever I have to do.”
  • The next morning, Christine made him oatmeal and tried to tell him to hold onto the momentum in his life, to try to channel it into a healthier direction. “Remember,” she said, “not all those who wander are lost.”
  • <<Beth to Jennifer>> I can’t believe you met him. I’ve been following him around for months without making more than passing eye contact, and you actually met him. And you didn’t just meet. You had a meet-cute. Is it warped for me to be jealous of you right now?
  • “I want someone whose heart is big enough to hold me.”
    “You want someone whose love will fit around your finger.”
    “You should write that down,” I said. “It sounds like a song lyric.”
  • “Yesterday,” he said, “you were all mine. Every freckle. And today, we’re talking about who gets the VCR.”
  • “I didn’t know someone could love me like this,” she said. “Could love me and love me and love me without… needing space.”
    Lincoln wasn’t asleep. He rolled on top of her.
    “There’s no air in space,” he said.

Review: The brilliance of Rainbow Rowell strikes again! I went on a bit of a binge, if you hadn’t noticed– I read all three of her books in three days. (Now I just have to patiently twiddle my thumbs and wait for the next one.)

This one was no letdown! (Not that I’d expected it to be, but three great books? What are the chances?) The hero of our story is Lincoln, and we are introduced to the other two main characters by way of Lincoln surreptitiously reading their emails. (It IS his job.) That’s how the story plays out: Lincoln lives his life, and reads emails. (They’re very well-written emails, of course. Very detailed, with separate paragraphs and dialogue! It’s a good thing these two characters are journalists, otherwise their emails would probably be like, “Today sucks. Mitch said he wants a bb. Idk what to do.”)

Lincoln is a great character, in a sort of angsty way. He’s floating along (in the late 90s) the way most of us 20-somethings are doing today. We have degrees, and jobs, but they’re not really related or what we want to be doing the rest of our lives and we’re just sort of biding our time waiting for something great to come along. Lincoln’s never recovered from a breakup his freshman year of college; he thought he and Sam were going to be together forever. (She didn’t feel the same.) Lincoln spends his time between his mom’s house, the gym, and work, waiting for life to get on with it.

Something I didn’t like about this story is that you got to see very, very little of the couple’s actual time together. You get enough to know that there’s instant chemistry and that they plan to be together a while, but that’s it. The whole novel is just personality-building for both of their characters. Do they stay together forever? What do they fight about, if they fight at all? Do they just lie around every day and have sex? I realize that no book can truly give you the whole story, and that you should be able to figure out the rest on your own, but to spend so much time rooting for these two characters to be together and then have them barely together is a bit… frustrating.

Rowell’s stories are always very realistic and true to life. She doesn’t bother with heavy scenic descriptions, relying on her characters and their interactions to carry the story forward. I greatly enjoyed reading her books (like I said, three in three days) and I’m eagerly awaiting the next.

Rating: ★★★1/2

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Review: Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore by Robin Sloan

Title: Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore
Author: Robin Sloan
Genre: Fiction
ISBN: 1-25-003775-1
Published: October 2012, Picador
Purchase: Amazon, Barnes & Noble

penumbra

Main Characters: Clay, Mr. Penumbra, Kat, and Neel

Synopsis: Clay is laid off from his techie job, so he applies at the only place that’s hiring: a tall, skinny, 24-hour bookstore in chilly San Francisco. He ends up working the night shift, which sees an average of three visitors a week. Some of these visitors, though, are rather odd. They come in looking for something very specific, and every time, it’s from the section Clay is forbidden to look at. Naturally, one lonely evening, curiosity gets the better of him, and he opens a forbidden book. It’s full of… jibberish. What in the world?! Clay embarks on a mission of discovery: what’s in these books? Who are these people? Who is Mr. Penumbra? With a little help from his friends, Clay enlists the power of technology to aid in his quest, and ends up making a discovery that no one in 500 years has been able to unmask.

Memorable Quotes:

  • This girl has the spark of life. This is my primary filter for new friends (girl- and otherwise) and the highest compliment I can pay. I’ve tried many times to figure out exactly what ignites it– what cocktail of characteristics comes together in the cold, dark cosmos to form a star. I know it’s mostly in the face– not just the eyes but the brow, the cheeks, the mouth, and the micromuscles that connect them all.
  • Programming is not all the same. Normal written languages have different rhythms and idioms, right? Well, so do programming languages. The language called C is all harsh imperatives, almost raw computer-speak. The language called Lisp is like one long, looping sentence, full of subclauses, so long in fact that you usually forget what it was even about in the first place. The language called Erlang is just like it sounds: eccentric and Scandinavian. I cannot program in any of these languages, because they’re all too hard. But Ruby, my language of choice since NewBagel, was invented by a cheerful Japanese programmer, and it reads like friendly, accessible poetry. Billy Collins by way of Bill Gates.
  • There’s a stack of books on the table and a metal cup with pointy pencils that smell fresh and sharp. In the stack, there are copies of Moby-Dick, Ulysses, The Invisible Man— this is a bar for bibliophiles.
  • Kat comes slowly up the steps. She looks dejected and disheartened– worse than when she thought she’d been passed over for the PM. “Well, I guess they’re wrong,” she says, waving weakly at the fellowship. “There’s no message here. It’s just noise. We tried everything.”
    “Well, not everything, right–”
    She looks up hotly. “Yes, everything. Clay: we just dialed in the equivalent of, like, a million years’ worth of human effort. It came up empty.” Her face is flushed– angry, or embarrassed, or both. “There’s nothing here.”

Review: I completely adored this book. I wasn’t immediately enthralled with the prospect– all right, the books are in jibberish, so what?– but once Clay figured out who the people were, I was hooked. The idea of a secret society whose lifetimes are bound up in the translation of these books, figuring out a secret code, and writing their own life stories in said code, all for the promise of eternal life? Fascinating! Some might call it dedication, some might call it nutty, but to Clay, it was just a puzzle that needed solving.

Being originally from the San Francisco area and having many Googler friends was a real treat for me as well. I loved his descriptions of the city. I loved the trips to Google. I loved being able to say, “Hey, I’ve been there!” as I read.

I love that it ended up being a code not even Google could break. Nothing but regular ol’ human detective work. Traveling, thinking, seeing. People worry sometimes that computers are going to take over the world, and yes, Google has some programs that have gotten away from their programmers (see this article about Google’s photo recognition), but stories like this give me hope that they won’t. There are just always going to be some things that computer cannot understand.

Another good example of that feeling comes from the second Star Wars movie (Episode II, that is, not Episode V). Obi-Wan Kenobi is trying to find out whose poison dart he has, but the robots cannot figure it out. So he takes it to someone with a brain. Someone who can analyze niches and curves and the way the interact in a way a robot will never be able to, even in a world as futuristic as the one Star Wars presents us with.

At any rate, let’s get back to the story at hand. Clay is an amazing character. He reads very well. As a female reader, I wasn’t ever convinced for a second that this was a story that could only be happening to a man. There were no overt “manliness” reference, no call for brute strength. This story had a complete absence of both explosive action and sex. Don’t get me wrong: “complete absence” here means simply that it wasn’t there. It wasn’t missing. There was no need for it. This novel was brilliant without it. Adding it in would’ve been completely unnecessary fluff.

Kat was also an amazing character. A woman who was both beautiful and completely, utterly brilliant. She’s one of the top Googlers. This is no small feat– do you know how many  people Google employs in Silicon Valley alone?! She wields incredible technological power and isn’t afraid to use it.

I think probably my favorite part out of the entire book was when Clay drives to Nevada to look through a museum archival warehouse. Naturally, as the author explains, not everything historical can ever be on display in museums at once. So there are huge warehouses where things pick up dust, waiting for their chance to be once more cycled into the soft lights of an exhibit. Remember Harry Potter’s Room of Requirement in the seventh novel, when it’s displaying its true form as a thousand shelves full of knick-knacks? This warehouse is rather like that. The shelves even move! They are all on tracks, and when something is needed, the warehouse has the ability to call up whatever shelf they need and have it zip to its destiny.

I’m not usually one for mystery novels, but this isn’t your traditional mystery novel. It’s really just a story about a couple people and a fantastic bookstore who happen across one of the most well-kept secret societies in history. Do yourself a favor and pick this one up.

Bonus: the cover glows in the dark.

Rating: ★★★★½

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