An Exaltation of Larks: A 2016 must read.

an-exaltation-of-larksAn Exaltation of Larks is both all-consuming and surprising.  After reading the description of this book, I was all in.  A multi-generational story of an immigrant and his journey to the United States, along with a love story–this book had all the makings of something epic.  Alejandro, a native of Chile, finds himself fleeing to the US parentless to live with his uncle.  Befriending another family, Alejandro is eventually taken in by another family, the Larks where he then falls in love with one of their daughters.  The build up to their relationship and the subsequent story building afterward is unlike any book that I have ever read before.  Simultaneously, you are also introduced to another character, Javier, whose story unfolds throughout the book.

This book is long…550 pages of exquisite character development.  I loved that this book was so long.  Once you start reading it, you don’t want it to end.  At the same time, with the multitude of characters that are introduced and developed, you will often find yourself asking how is this book going to end and how are these characters related.  It’s not often that I find myself surprised of shocked by books, however, this one is right up there. Suanne Laqueur’s details and plot planning throughout this book is something to be admired.  The details, many of which you may not pick up on (if you’re like me) won’t reveal themselves as important until much later in the book causing you to have many “aha” moments and appreciation for the author’s craftiness.  Although many books have these details, it’s not often that authors are able to do without being hokey or cute.

Another thing that I loved about this book was that many of the relationships the characters have are very unconventional.  It was refreshing to read something new that challenged the way I previously viewed relationships.  This book, although very, very different, was reminiscent of All The Ugly and Wonderful Things—both in content as well as my love for the writing.  I don’t want to spoil the book for anyone but I will leave you with this: behind All The Ugly and Wonderful Things, this was the second best book that I read this year.  An Exaltation of Larks will make you want to find someone else who has read the book so that you can discuss it.  Any takers?

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All the Ugly and Wonderful Things: Best Book of the Year

All the Ugly and Wonderful ThingsAll the Ugly and Wonderful Things was probably one of the most difficult books that I have read since Jeanette Walls’ memoir The Glass Castle.  Like Wall’s memoir, All the Ugly and Wonderful Things explores the ugly side of poverty and child abuse.  This book was powerful, gritty, raw, disturbing, and moving all at the same time.  There were several points throughout this book where I took a break–not sure if I could stomach what I reading, points where I stopped to think about whether or not it was even ethical for me to continue reading, and many points where I couldn’t put this book down.

I was pleasantly surprised and a little dismayed at the misleading book description.  After reading the description, I thought I was in for reading about a forbidden romance between a young girl and her father’s drug runner.  This book is so much more than that.  From the first chapter, you know that this book is unlike anything else.  As the story unfolds, we meet Wavonna, or Wavy, the daughter of a drug dealer and a mother with severe psychological issues.  Their neglect and abuse leaves Wavy to fend for herself and her little brother until she finds an ally in a man that she rescues in a motorcycle accident.

Told through a multitude of view points throughout the book of people involved in Wavy’s life, Greenwood masterfully unfolds a multi-layered story that makes you think.  One of the most surprising things about this book was the depth of story building and the time span of the novel.  I loved that this book took the reader on a journey from Wavy at eight years old to a young woman of twenty-twoof.  This book encompasses many of the ugly and wonderful things in life, the journey and perseverance that it takes to get to it, and the fact that love takes many shapes and forms.  This book will make you uncomfortable but I believe that the author’s ability to shed light on this uncomfortable subject in such an endearing way makes this worth the read.  All the Ugly and Wonderful Things is one of the best books of the year.

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The Girls: An Instant Cult Favorite

The_GirlsThe Girls, by Emma Cline, is a writing breath of fresh air.  This book, which made the 2016 Summer Reading List, was one of the most hyped books of the year.  You couldn’t log on to any social media and not see someone mention this book.  With that being said, going into this book, expectations were high.  That can be both a good thing and bad thing.  One of the things that immediately stood out to me was the quality of writing.  Emma Cline’s sentences were little gifts in and of themselves.  Ones that you had to go back and reread just because her thoughts were worded so beautifully.  You immediately felt like your IQ and sophistication levels were going to increase simply from reading this book.  Am I the only one that feels that way about certain books? It’s not that Cline’s words or sentence complexity is so great that it requires an advanced degree, but the words themselves and how they were strung together were magical.

The Girls is set during the late 1960’s and follows teenager Evie Boyd in a quasi-coming of age tale.  Limited in experience, both in friendships with girls and boys, Evie is desperate to belong—to anything, to something.

“I waited to be told what was good about me. […] All that time I had spent readying myself, the articles that taught me life was really just a waiting room until someone noticed you- the boys had spent that time becoming themselves.”

 

Evie’s desire for friendship and love lead her to fierce admiration of an exotic group of girls that occasionally made appearances in town—often dumpster diving for food to take back on their converted school bus to their ranch.  Evie’s fascination with the group’s de facto leader, Suzanne, drives her quest to join their group.  Soon, Evie finds herself going to and from the ranch at her whim.

“So much of desire, at that age, was a willful act. Trying so hard to slur the rough, disappointing edges of boys into the shape of someone we could love. We spoke of our desperate need for them with rote and familiar words, like we were reading lines from a play. Later I would see this: how impersonal and grasping our love was, pinging around the universe, hoping for a host to give form to our wishes.”

Evie encounters the group’s magical and mythical leader, Russell, who Cline largely based off of Charles Manson.  The cult, and their characters, including the girls, all desperately seek his approval, attention, and affection.  For someone who has little knowledge of the Manson cult, I know little of how to compare it.  However, the events that unfolded, and Evie’s interaction with the cast of characters, along with Cline’s writing, made this book one to be read into the late hours of the night.

Told from alternating time periods, Evie in present day and Evie in the late 1960’s, The Girls delivers magnificent writing.  Despite the beautiful words, I was a little underwhelmed at the conclusion of the book but perhaps the most magic in things is the journey and not necessarily the destination.

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Happy People Who Read and Drink Coffee Should Not Read This Book

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Happy People Who Read and Drink Coffee—isn’t that a great title (aren’t you thinking “that’s me! That’s me!”)? Intriguing right?  My hopes were so high for this book.  They’re making a movie out of this book.  It’s experienced international success.  A US publisher picked up the rights to this book.  All of this, including the books description, has all the makings of a great read.  And, in fact, the first half of this book had great potential.  The story building was there.  The plot intriguing–Diane, the novel’s protagonist and Parisian owner of the bookstore Happy People Read and Drink Coffee, finds herself in the depths of grief after her husband and young daughter are killed in a car accident.  After wallowing in her pain for a year and becoming a recluse, Diane decides to move to a remote town in Ireland in order to save herself.

While in Mulraney, Ireland, Diane befriends her new landlord and makes enemies with her insolent neighbor who is as much as a recluse as Diane. What ensues is a series of meetings between Edward and Diane that eventually evolves to a tentative friendship followed by love.  Read the book if you wish, but I found the relationship between Edward and Diane to be full of plot holes and many, many things that left me scratching my head, if not a little mad at the main character.  The only part that I was happy about was the fact that this book was so short—you should be able to read it in the time it takes to drink a few cups of coffee.

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Eligible: A modern Pride and Prejudice, worthy of a read

Eligible

“….the characters and the plot line were very entertaining.  At the very least, Eligible will leave you yearning to reread Pride and Prejudice, which is always a great idea.”

Eligible is a modern day retelling of Pride and Prejudice complete with the original cast, including swoon-worthy Mr. Darcy.  Eligible follows the Bennett family as they navigate their seemingly endless array of problems—some recognized and others not.

Liz Bennett is a late thirty-year-old who is still trying to get her life together along with all of her other family members.  Her mother, a well to do (or so it seems) lady who lunches, is oblivious to her surroundings which fit her conservative and prejudicedviews and simply wishes for all of her four daughters to be married.  Mr. Bennett is full of snarky one-liners and hovers just on the periphery of his family’s life and offers very little support in the way of participating in solving his own problems.

The sisters-Lydia, Mary, and Jane- each come with their own set of problems.  In fact, Eligible was full of never ending problems for the Bennett family and problems that Liz sought, either willingly or unwillingly, to solve herself.  Jane, the eldest, and frankly, the most level headed Bennett sister finds herself desperate for a child but lacking a male counterpart.  Lydia and Mary, the youngest Bennett sisters, find themselves still living at the Bennett family home, neither married nor with careers—unless you count their affection for Crossfit (If you have ever done Crossfit, like myself, or been around people who Crossfit, and let’s face it—you have and you know this because they tell you—you will appreciate the snark and Crossfit-laden humor throughout the book).

Interspersed throughout Eligible, Mr. Darcy makes appearances and you find yourself longing for more interaction between Darcy and Liz Bennett.  Perhaps this was what kept me interested in the book the most.  Although you know from reading Pride and Prejudice that Darcy and Liz are paramours, Eligible’s modern retelling of their story is different enough, and modern enough, to keep you wanting to know more.

Curtis Sittenfeld’s style of writing was unique and took some getting used to. Perhaps it was because of the ode to Jane Austen, but the overall style of Sittenfeld’s writing was very reminiscent of more classical works.  Sittenfeld also had drastic differences in the length of his chapters—some were as short as two paragraphs while others lasted for pages.  This was intriguing to me and I’m not really sure I enjoyed it as a reader.  It was almost as if you were watching a sitcom and you got brief segments of what was going on with the main characters.

Eligible was a fun, playful read.  It largely reminded me of the readership experience of Big Little Lies, a quick read, and one that you could imagine turned into a movie. There was no major angst or strong emotions with Eligible, but the characters and the plot line were very entertaining.  At the very least, Eligible will leave you yearning to reread Pride and Prejudice, which is always a great idea.

 

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