Waiting on Wednesday: Sway by Kat Spears

Waiting on Wednesday is a weekly meme hosted by Jill at Breaking the Spine.  Its purpose is to spotlight eagerly-anticipated upcoming releases.

This week I’m eagerly awaiting:

Sway by Kat Spears

Expected Release Date: September 16, 2014

In Kat Spears’s hilarious and often poignant debut, high school senior Jesse Alderman, or “Sway,” as he’s known, could sell hell to a bishop. He also specializes in getting things people want—term papers, a date with the prom queen, fake IDs. He has few close friends and he never EVER lets emotions get in the way. For Jesse, life is simply a series of business transactions.

But when Ken Foster, captain of the football team, leading candidate for homecoming king, and all-around jerk, hires Jesse to help him win the heart of the angelic Bridget Smalley,  Jesse finds himself feeling all sorts of things. While following Bridget and learning the intimate details of her life, he falls helplessly in love for the very first time. He also finds himself in an accidental friendship with Bridget’s belligerent and self-pitying younger brother who has cerebral palsy. Suddenly, Jesse is visiting old folks at a nursing home in order to run into Bridget, and offering his time to help the less fortunate, all the while developing a bond with this young man who idolizes him. Could the tin man really have a heart after all?

A Cyrano de Bergerac story with a modern twist, Sway is told from Jesse’s point of view with unapologetic truth and biting humor, his observations about the world around him untempered by empathy or compassion—until Bridget’s presence in his life forces him to confront his quiet devastation over a life-changing event a year earlier and maybe, just maybe, feel something again.

(summary via Goodreads)

I mean, this is basically a teen romantic comedy in book form, right?  What’s not to love?  I don’t even have much to say about this because it’s not like my expectations of this one are super high.  I don’t mean that in a bad way–it’s just that it looks like it’s going to follow some pretty standard tropes.  That’s totally fine, and it makes for great comfort reading.  Here’s to hoping this is as smart as funny as I hope it is.

What are you waiting on this week?


Book Review: The Chance You Won’t Return by Annie Cardi

Alex Winchester has enough on her plate in trying to navigate her junior year of high school.  She’s feuding with friends, dealing with a crush that might be something more, and attempting to overcome a crippling fear of getting behind the wheel in driver’s ed.  But then her mom starts acting strangely, and it isn’t long before she’s in a full-blown psychosis where she thinks she’s aviator Amelia Earhart.  As Alex struggles to help her mom while concealing her from other parts of her life, she worries that her mother will go out on Earhart’s final voyage and disappear forever.

Cardi’s thoughtful, authentic novel about a family struggling with the very real effects of mental illness is getting a fair amount of critical praise, and for good reason.  Cardi’s debut could veer into the too-quirky side of things based on the premise alone, but a firm grip on the plot, its characters, and the writing keeps this from ever happening.  The result is a realistic, gripping portrayal of a family in turmoil.

What works especially well is Cardi’s characterization.  Alex is a fully-realized, very flawed teen who uses humor to cope with the huge amount of responsibility she has to shoulder.  Notably, Alex’s younger siblings are also given enough page time to develop as secondary characters, and their evolution as they deal with their mother’s illness is particularly well done.  There’s a lot of exploration of different issues here, including concepts of love, acceptance, and identity.  All of this is woven seamlessly into the narrative.

One of the novel’s only weaker aspects comes in the form of the bantering dialogue between Alex and Jim as they get to know each other.  While it’s meant to be funny and witty, it never quite gets there, perhaps because Cardi is trying so hard to make it so.  But this is so minor a detail it almost feels unnecessary to mention.  The rest of Cardi’s dialogue largely works, and the light romance will satisfy readers who like their realistic tales to have a touch of love in them.

A very strong debut dealing with very real, very hard things.  This is a great example of a contemporary YA novel where the author doesn’t offer her readers nor her characters a neat, tidy ending.  While the novel ends on a hopeful note, it doesn’t sugar-coat anything.  Recommended.

The Chance You Won’t Return by Annie Cardi. Candlewick: 2014.  Electronic galley accepted for review.

My Weekend in Pop Culture

These are the pop culture items I consumed this weekend.  Without further ado:

gg7Gilmore Girls Season 7: Surprise, surprise, right?  I’m well into the 7th season of the show, and while I was busy this weekend because my sister is in town and she trumps a re-watch of one of my favorite shows, I still had time to fit in a few episodes.  I don’t love this season, though–it’s not the same when Amy Sherman-Palladino isn’t writing for the show.  But I’ll still feel like there’s a hole in my heart when I finish my re-watch.

Tabloid: My sister, mom and I watched this weird, completely crazy documentary on Sunday.  I highly tabloidrecommend it–it is absolutely one of the most bizarre stories I’ve ever seen put to film–and I can’t believe I waited this long to watch it.  It’s this crazy story of a 1970s former beauty queen (with a genius IQ) who falls in love with a Mormon and then kidnaps him from what she believes is the cult of Mormon.  The rest of the story gets weirder from there.  Seriously.  Go watch it–it’s on Netflix.

What pop culture did you consume this weekend?

What I’m Reading and Thinking About This Week

These are the things I’ve been reading and thinking about this week.  Without further ado:

Apologia (The Hairpin)

This is something that I’ve been thinking about a lot lately (not the Pantene commercial that this writer uses to broach the subject, but the actual content of her essay, natch).  Because this essay is me:

It’s the worst type of un-feminist stereotype: the woman who feels ashamed of existing, ashamed of taking up space, ashamed of asking for what she wants or needs. I apologize even when I absolutely don’t feel that I’m in the wrong. I apologize when I’m furious. In fact, the more strongly I feel like someone should be apologizing to me, the faster “sorry” falls from my lips.

Yeah, it’s definitely a problem.  And it’s definitely depressing as hell:

The tragic thing about apologizing is that it works. It makes you seem less aggressive, less threatening, less obnoxious. A woman crying because you did something that hurt her feelings is scary, she’s demanding, she’s raw. A woman crying while saying “Sorry, I don’t mean to be so emotional, I know this isn’t really a big deal”–well, that’s much less uncomfortable. That’s someone you can continue having a conversation with, because she’s acknowledged that her emotions are entirely her own fault and she’s asking you to take no responsibility. That girl is likable. She’s easy. She’s low-maintenance.

This entire piece is incredible and tackles so much of what frustrates me about the bullshit pseudo-feminism ads like the Dove “Campaign for Real Beauty” and the stupid Pantene ad perpetuate.  Go read it.  It’s really brilliant.

Saying “women should stop apologizing” without even trying to address the root cause of the behavior–which, again, is misogyny, not “women being crazy”–is, well, about the level of feminist discourse I would expect from a shampoo commercial. This is advertising, not empowerment. Just like the Dove “Real Beauty” ads that went viral a while back, it exists to sell a product, not kickstart the revolution. And that’s fine. But it really rubs me the wrong way when people start talking about it as though it’s genuinely transformative.


Girls Ruin Everything: Stephenie Meyer, Lois Duncan, and Childhood Nostalgia (Book Riot)

It’s no secret that I love Kelly Jensen’s writing, and this piece over at Book Riot is an excellent example of why.  By taking a piece of pop culture news that’s gotten the internet up in arm this week (Stephenie Meyer adapting a Lois Duncan book into a movie), Jensen is able to more fully explore the concept of women’s success and what it means.  And it is, unsurprisingly, quite brilliant:

In 2014, there are still people who are fine with women’s success as long as it’s not too successful. But once they hit a certain level of success, they should step back and allow others to move forward. While women can be successful within established constraints, they better not reach beyond that. Success must be met with grace – being thankful for what one has rather than striving for more – as well as the understanding that it was luck rather than hard work, drive, dedication, or, god forbid, ambition, that drove their success.

What’s so fucked about the outcry over Meyer’s adaptation of this is that it flies in the face of what the internet has been clamoring for all this time: more female-centric stories being told in movies and TV.  Meyer is taking her own success (and she is successful, no matter what your thoughts on Twilight are) and using it to support and promote other females.  If anything, she’ll bring a new audience to an author that another generation loved.  Whatever, internet.  You can’t have it both ways.

All The Crazy Ones (Tomato Nation)

I think Sarah D. Bunting is completely amazing for many reasons, but this piece at her blog is really quite moving.  It’s kind of about the loss of a personality like Robin Williams, but it’s mostly about other things:

This is pretty much every funny person you know, and most of the writers. The actors, too, a lot of them, and the people who sing, and the late-night Al-Anon meeting. What if nobody is laughing or humming along? What if we try even harder? What if I drink this thing, and it still hurts but I don’t care as much, so I’ll drink and drink and drink it, do something human, and remember: I am a shame. A terrified, frantic, desperate, annoying, ugly, boring shame, unique in my unsuitability for love.

It’s not a long piece, but it is riveting and well worth your time.

The Power of 29: An Ode to Being Almost 30 (NY Mag)

As a 29-year-old, this article obviously hits my sweet spot of playing right into my narcissism while also making me feel better about the course my life has taken thus far:

But even for women who realize they still have a lot of things to figure out, around age 30 a sense of acceptance begins to settle in. It’s when many of us experience our first big career payoffs, and allow ourselves to exhale a little because for once it doesn’t feel like we’re building our lives from scratch. On the cusp of 30 — in stark contrast with prior milestones like college graduation — you’re set up to finally start living your best life, or at least a realistic approximation of it. You realize you’ll never be a wunderkind, and you’re okay with that. In general, you give way fewer fucks.

It’s a pretty short, fairly interesting look at what it means to be entering your third decade.

For Women on the Internet, It Doesn’t Get Better (Daily Dot)

I’ve linked to posts about this before, but this is a really thoughtful piece about the completely wrong idea that things will just continue to get better.  This myth is perpetuated by our society, but it’s not actually a thing, and historians have been talking about it for years.  This piece chooses to focus on the idea that as a woman on the internet, just by opening your mouth, you subject yourself to harassment:

Most worrying of all is the fact that many female content creators leave YouTube after their very first video because of the sorts of comments they receive. These women learn all too quickly that the price they have to pay to be a YouTube personality is a sense of security and emotional wellbeing. If you’re a man, imagine walking into a store only to be greeted by waves of employees throwing dog shit at you. You’d leave, too.

The push-back on this, of course, is that it’s “just the internet” or that women need to grow a thicker skin.  This is, of course, bullshit.

 The Internet didn’t make men into sexist assholes; they were sexists assholes to begin with. The Internet just provides them with easier and more public ways to display their terribleness at the expense of women’s health and well-being…YouTube comments aren’t “just the Internet.” They’re not the product of a group of otherwise nice guys who suddenly become evil when they wear a veil of anonymity. YouTube comments are actually a nightmarish glimpse into the sexist attitudes that define the fabric of our own existence in the “real world,” a world that, like YouTube, is owned and dominated by men.

Word of advice: don’t read the comments, because obviously.

What got you reading and thinking this week?


Book Review: Dorothy Must Die by Danielle Paige

Amy Gumm has never fit in.  Raised in a trailer park by a mother whose struggles with addiction have made her parenting sporadic at best, Amy has had to fend for herself.  So when a tornado hits her trailer and whisks her away to the land of Oz–no, seriously, that Oz–she can’t believe her eyes.  Only, this Oz isn’t like the one in the books.  Here, Dorothy has changed the land and has mined the magic to fulfill her own desires.  Now, the land of Oz is in trouble, and citizens of Oz want Amy to be their chance for freedom.  In order for that to happen, Dorothy must die.

Danielle Paige’s dystopian tale set in the familiar fantasy land of Oz is guaranteed to attract attention.  It’s the time for fractured fairy tales and their ilk, so it’s perfect timing for this novel to hit shelves.  This edgy take on The Wizard of Oz will probably work better for older teens, as it’s quite gory at times.

The problem is that as fun as Paige’s inventions are here in the world of Oz, they’re flashy additions that can’t wholly disguise the fact that there’s nothing new happening.  This is a standard dystopian romance that’s been set in place of a familiar fantasy landscape.  All the well-worn tropes are here, and while it might be fun to see Paige’s re-imagining of the Tin Man or Dorothy herself, at its core, this is kind of a disappointment.

It’s also overly long, despite the fact that once the novel gets going, it keeps going at a good pace.  There are more than a few gaps in the logic of the story and its characters, and this is likely to distract and frustrate readers who pay close enough attention.  The fact that the writing itself isn’t stellar and is at times quite clunky and awkward only adds to the unevenness of the novel.

Overall a disappointment, but it will probably work for fans of fractured fairy tales or fans of shows like Grim or Once Upon a Time.  There will be a sequel, because of course there will.

Dorothy Must Die by Danielle Paige. Harper Collins: 2014. Library copy.


Waiting on Wednesday: Winterkill by Kate A. Boorman

Waiting on Wednesday is a weekly meme hosted by Jill at Breaking the Spine.  Its purpose is to spotlight eagerly-anticipated upcoming releases.

This week I’m eagerly awaiting:

Winterkill by Kate A. Boorman

Expected Release Date: September 9, 2014

Emmeline knows she’s not supposed to explore the woods outside her settlement. The enemy that wiped out half her people lurks there, attacking at night and keeping them isolated in an unfamiliar land with merciless winters. Living with the shame of her grandmother’s insubordination, Emmeline has learned to keep her head down and her quick tongue silent.

When the settlement leader asks for her hand in marriage, it’s an opportunity for Emmeline to wash the family slate clean—even if she has eyes for another. But before she’s forced into an impossible decision, her dreams urge her into the woods, where she uncovers a path she can’t help but follow. The trail leads to a secret that someone in the village will kill to protect. Her grandmother followed the same path and paid the price. If Emmeline isn’t careful, she will be next.

(summary via Goodreads)

I’m not sure what it is about this one–it reminds me a little bit of The Forest of Hands and Teeth meets The Village?  But something about it is creepy and perfect.  I can’t wait to see what the story has in store, and if it’s done well (and doesn’t devolve into your standard dystopian love story thing), it could be really great.

What are you waiting on this week?

Book Review: Charm & Strange by Stephanie Kuehn

Andrew Winston Winters has a monster inside him.  A wolf.  He’s convinced of it, and the full moon is approaching.  Torn between the teen boy he is on the outside–a loner at his Vermont boarding school, shrouded by the ghosts of his terrible past–and the monster he knows he holds on the inside, Win works hard to deal with his demons.  Over the course of one night at a party in the woods, Andrew deals with the painful memories of his past as well as the pain he inflicts on himself now in isolation.

It’s interesting to read Kuehn’s debut shortly after reading her excellent, chilling Complicit.  While both definitely explore some of the same themes, Charm & Strange is more of an experiment in exploring the psychology of someone completely, irrevocably damaged by their past than Kuehn’s sophomore effort.  It’s also a bit more uneven than her follow up, but her strong writing and excellent ability to build tension helps to distract from that.

Told in alternating chapters that tell the story of Andrew’s past with his family in Virginia (anti-matter) and the present at his boarding school (matter), the book pulls no punches when it comes to presenting Andrew as a teen who is dark, haunted, and maybe quite violent.  It’s clear to readers that he has a host of problems and could be diagnosed with a myriad of things, but Kuehn is smart and never labels Andrew’s issues.  The novel is about Andrew’s coming to terms with his past and present.  It’s not about a clinical diagnosis for him.

Kuehn is great at teasing her readers with details about what has happened to Andrew without ever really giving away the details.  This helps build suspense, but it also raises a great deal of questions for readers.  What happened to Andrew’s siblings?  Why is he so damaged?  Is he really a wolf?  Kuehn’s controlled prose makes all of this work much better than it would have in a lesser writer’s hands.

Because the novel flips back and forth in time, there is a little stalling with regards to the plot.  The novel is definitely a slow burn, and that is going to put some readers off of it.  But for those who love a dark contemporary–and make no mistake, this is not a paranormal story in the least–and don’t mind a slow burn of a novel, this is a must-read.

Charm & Strange by Stephanie Kuehn. St. Martin’s Griffin: 2013. Library copy.