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Bite-sized book reviews: The Help, What Alice Forgot, Russian Winter, and Swamplandia!

2 Aug

Okay, so:

The Help by Kathryn Stockett. Go read it. It’s as good as everyone you know has said (wailed, screamed) it is. As if it wasn’t enough to write a compelling novel about a very real time in American history, Stockett has the nerve to be an excellent writer who created vivid, interesting characters and a delicately suspenseful plot. Skip whatever else you’ve got on the TBR pile. Go read this now.

What Alice Forgot by Liane Moriarty is the kind of book I dream about finding on the shelves. (You know the ones. They suck you in and keep you there, blissfully, for days.) I don’t know why I bother mentioning that Moriarty is a good writer, given that I don’t bother reading anything by anyone if it’s not well-written, but she is a good writer. This novel’s creative plot, coupled with realistic and complicated family dynamics probably anyone can relate to, makes this story about one woman’s unexpected and accidental amnesia a perfect one to disappear inside.

Russian Winter by Daphne Kolatay. My grandmother told me to read it, and really, she’s never wrong. Kolatay has crafted a fascinating and atmospheric historical novel, and I’m not even into ballerinas. That she manages to jump through both time and perspectives with no loss of momentum or character development is a testament not only to her writing ability but to the pull of a great story. I’m also pretty sure that right about now you’re willing to read anything that involves winter.

Swamplandia! by Karen Russell is the best book I’ve read so far this year, and it will take a lot to change that opinion by December 31. The only thing more breathtaking than the haunting, imaginative, and sad tale of the Bigtree siblings is Russell’s tremendous talent. This was some of the most incredibly creative writing I’ve read in years, with line-by-line inventiveness that positively ripped my head off (read the first few pages to see exactly what I mean). My grief at the end of this expertly woven, heartbreaking novel was palpable.

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So hey, you may have noticed this post is different from the ones that came before. Congratulations. You’ve figured out that things around here are going to change. Turns out I am better with short and sweet, especially if you’re into short more than sweet. (This surprises no one, I’m sure.) Anyway, thanks for your patience.


Book review: The Lover’s Dictionary: A Novel by David Levithan

23 Feb

Every relationship has three distinct parts: the beginning, the middle, and the end. Whether the whole exists for mere days or goes on for decades doesn’t detract from this simple dissection: beginning, middle, end.

The Lover’s Dictionary: A Novel by David Levithan is the story of one such relationship, told in the form of dictionary entries:

imperceptible, adj.

We stopped counting our relationship in dates (first date, second date, fifth date, seventh) and started counting it in months. That might have been the first true commitment, this shift in terminology. We never talked about it, but we were at a party and someone asked how long we’d been together, and when you said, “A month and a half,” I knew we had gotten there.”

It’s the choice of this form where Levithan’s talent shines through, the structured lack of structure that gives the reader a guided tour through the cycle of one relationship. Its well-crafted roller coaster of a ride matches its subject matter perfectly. What better way to chronicle the ups and downs? What better way to make sense of the senseless?

It’s just a perk that Levithan’s prose is spare and poignant, that his writing is just as excellent as the idea of the book. In a small space, he manages to capture the enormity of this specific love.

Yet it’s the tenderness and the doubt, the rage and the joy this book contains that makes it a book about every love.

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This book was published by Farrar, Straus and Giroux in January 2011. For more information, visit the author’s website. You can also follow The Lover’s Dictionary on twitter. Please consider purchasing this book from an independent bookstore, and showing me some love as an IndieBound affiliate. As always, happy reading.

FTC Disclosure: This review was based on my own copy of this book.

Blue Truck Recommends: Books About Love

10 Feb

Valentine’s Day: at its core, it’s not about roses or candy hearts, grand gestures, pina coladas, or getting caught in the rain. Out somewhere beyond all that commercialism and making people feel bad, it’s about love.

(I think once upon someone even said, love is all you need, but I can’t be sure.)

Kicking off the first in a series, Blue Truck Recommends, here are my by-no-means-exhaustive suggestions for a few love-ly reads:

If you’ve lost some love…
Love is a Mixtape: Life and Loss, One Song at a Time by Rob Sheffield

If you want to lose some love…
Mr. Peanut by Adam Ross (reviewed here)

If love has been under your nose this whole time…
One Day by David Nicholls (sort-of reviewed here)

If you’ve got mad mama love…
Room by Emma Donoghue

If you’re having a rough time with this thing called love…
Say When by Elizabeth Berg

If you’re unsure whether marriage is compatible with love…
Committed: A Skeptic Makes Peace with Marriage by Elizabeth Gilbert

If you want a little magic with your true love…
Petty Magic by Camille DeAngelis (read my interview with the author)

If you know that friendship is its own awesome love…
Sideways by Rex Pickett

If love is different than you remembered it…
You Lost Me There by Rosecrans Baldwin (read my review)

If you want love that inspires you to make tremendous discoveries…
Radioactive: Marie and Pierre Curie: A Tale of Love and Fallout by Lauren Redniss (review forthcoming, hopefully)

If you believe love can be both huge and tender…
The Giant’s House by Elizabeth McCracken

If you really love your coworkers…
Then We Came to the End by Joshua Ferris

If you really love your grandmother…
The Night Journal by Elizabeth Crook

If you’re full of complicated familial love…
This is Where I Leave You by Jonathan Tropper (or anything by Jonathan Tropper, really)

If you believe in bravery and self-love…
Pretty is What Changes: Impossible Choices, the Breast Cancer Gene, and How I Defied My Destiny by Jessica Queller
The Wonder Spot by Melissa Bank

If you know that “it’s complicated” is sometimes the only reasonable facebook relationships status answer to love…
Come Together by Josie Lloyd & Emlyn Rees

Happy Valentine’s Day, readers. But way more importantly: happy reading!

(photo credit to Keturah Weathers)

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