Book Review: All the Rage by Courtney Summers

Romy Grey is a girl from the bad side of town, and because of that, she’s automatically tainted.  It doesn’t help that something bad happened with the sheriff’s golden-boy son Kellan Turner and no one believes her.  Now she’s lost everything: the trust of the town, her friends, everything resembling a normal teenage life.  Her only safe space is the diner she works at in a nearby town, where no one knows her past or her unfair reputation.  When a girl who is connected to both Kellan and Romy goes missing and rumors of another girl’s assault surface, Romy faces hard choices between staying silent or finally speaking up.

Courtney Summers is a damn treasure.  Her latest offering is further proof of that.  All the Rage is a knockout of a novel, one guaranteed to find traction with readers, grip them wholly, and not let go until they finish the last breathless pages.  It is one of the best books of the year.

Summers doesn’t shy away from the ugliest aspects of humanity.  She drops her readers into the middle of a town steeped in rape culture, but it’s also full of simmering resentments.  There’s a ton of generational history at play here, and all the characters are fully-developed and play into the larger plot.  The result is a powerful look at small-town life and the repercussions of being a girl in the world.

Romy is a fully-realized character full of realistic flaws.  She makes a ton of mistakes, and all of them feel authentic and completely believable.  She hurts people without meaning to, which also makes for a real, relatable heroine.  Her narration is both beautiful and unsettling, and her rituals around lipstick and nail polish (coping mechanisms in the aftermath of her sexual assault) make for a great metaphor.

This is a must-read book and one that won’t stay on library shelves for more than a minute.  It’s a thoughtful, powerful examination of girlhood, rape culture, and redemption.  It doesn’t have a cookie-cutter ending, and the powerful emotional conclusion will guarantee that readers will be thinking–and talking–about it long after they finish.  Highly recommended.

All the Rage by Courtney Summers. St. Martin’s Griffin: 2015. Purchased copy.

Waiting on Wednesday: The Summer of Chasing Mermaids by Sarah Ockler

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:

The Summer of Chasing Mermaids by Sarah Ockler

Expected Release Date: June 2, 2015

The youngest of six talented sisters, Elyse d’Abreau was destined for stardom—until a boating accident took everything from her. Now, the most beautiful singer in Tobago can’t sing. She can’t even speak.

Seeking quiet solitude, Elyse accepts a friend’s invitation to Atargatis Cove. Named for the mythical first mermaid, the Oregon seaside town is everything Elyse’s home in the Caribbean isn’t: An ocean too cold for swimming, parties too tame for singing, and people too polite to pry—except for one.

Christian Kane is a notorious playboy—insolent, arrogant, and completely charming. He’s also the only person in Atargatis Cove who doesn’t treat Elyse like a glass statue. He challenges her to express herself, and he admires the way she treats his younger brother Sebastian, who believes Elyse is the legendary mermaid come to life.

When Christian needs a first mate for the Cove’s high-stakes Pirate Regatta, Elyse reluctantly stows her fear of the sea and climbs aboard. The ocean isn’t the only thing making waves, though—swept up in Christian’s seductive tide and entranced by the Cove’s charms, Elyse begins to wonder if a life of solitude isn’t what she needs. But changing course again means facing her past. It means finding her inner voice. And scariest of all, it means opening her heart to a boy who’s best known for breaking them…

(summary via Goodreads)

I love the idea of taking the tale of the little mermaid and giving it a brilliant twist.  I also love basically everything Sarah Ockler does, so this one is a no-brainer for me.  I can’t wait to see how she subverts expectations.  This one looks like a total delight.

What are you waiting on this week?

Book Review: Unsticky by Sarra Manning

Grace Reeves is a financially struggling twenty-something working her way up the corporate ladder at a fashion magazine when she meets the mysterious, brusque Vaughn.  He’s an art dealer, and he takes an immediate interest in Grace.  She’s flummoxed when he offers her an arrangement that would help her get out of debt but would entail her to act as a professional girlfriend of sorts.  But as she enters Vaughn’s world of money, she realizes that there’s more at stake than she originally bargained for–including real emotions.

Sarra Manning has definitely established herself as a writer of compulsively readable pieces of fiction, and Unsticky is no different.  Full of flawed characters, witty dialogue, and a compelling premise, Unsticky will hook readers from the start and spit them out at the end, fully satisfied by total escapism.

It helps that Manning has crafted two characters who are equally broken, albeit in very different ways.  Grace tries to fix herself by spending way, way outside her means.  She shops as a way to fill a void within herself.  Vaughn is much more broken in an outward way, choosing to engage in professional romantic relationships with clearly established boundaries than risk a real, messy emotional entanglement.  They are both deeply flawed individuals who end up meshing very well when together.

A bit overly long, as is the case with most of Manning’s work (this could have easily been 100 pages or so shorter), it’s still wholly readable.  Although it feels a bit long in the tooth, readers will tear through it at a very fast pace.  It’s quick, it’s fun, and the ending is wholly satisfying.  Perfect summer reading.

Unsticky by Sarra Manning. Headline: 2009.  Purchased copy.

Book Review: Love Me Back by Merritt Tierce

Marie is a woman who had a baby very young and tried to make the traditional life work for her.  Now single and working as a waitress in an upscale Dallas steakhouse, she excels at her job while hiding her pain adeptly.  She indulges in extremely self-destructive behaviors once the restaurant is closed, choosing to find oblivion in sex and drugs.  Marie isn’t looking to be saved.  She’s just looking to survive.

Hailed as one of the most promising new writers under the age of 35, Merritt Tierce’s dark, disturbing novel offers readers a character study of a woman beyond redemption.  This brutal piece of fiction is beautifully written, fiercely unapologetic in its portrayal of its characters, and wholly memorable.   Tierce is an author to watch.

Make no mistake: this is not an easy book to read.  Tierce doesn’t shy away from Marie’s most self-destructive tendencies, and her descriptions of the men she has sex with and the drugs she does are unrelenting.  The story swivels from being so uncomfortable it’s almost unbearable to being so brilliant it’s impossible to stop reading.  Each chapter jumps around in time, which makes for an intentionally jarring read (and in its weaker moments, makes it feel more like a collection of short stories than a piece of complete fiction).  But it remains riveting throughout.

What’s so interesting about this book is how well it portrays both the incredible demands of the service industry as well as the struggles of a single woman desperate to survive.  Tierce’s descriptions of the minutiae of restaurant work are fascinating and horrifying, as are Marie’s day-to-day interactions with the people she uses to find obliteration.  It’s exceedingly well-done.

Highly recommended, but not for the faint of heart.

Love Me Back by Merritt Tierce. Doubleday: 2014. Purchased copy.

Waiting on Wednesday: Hold Me Like a Breath by Tiffany Schmidt

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:

Hold Me Like a Breath by Tiffany Schmidt

Expected Release Date: May 19, 2015

Penelope Landlow has grown up with the knowledge that almost anything can be bought or sold—including body parts. She’s the daughter of one of the three crime families that control the black market for organ transplants.

Penelope’s surrounded by all the suffocating privilege and protection her family can provide, but they can’t protect her from the autoimmune disorder that causes her to bruise so easily.

And in her family’s line of work no one can be safe forever.

All Penelope has ever wanted is freedom and independence. But when she’s caught in the crossfire as rival families scramble for prominence, she learns that her wishes come with casualties, that betrayal hurts worse than bruises, that love is a risk worth taking . . . and maybe she’s not as fragile as everyone thinks.

(summary via Goodreads)

Not only is the cover looking pretty good, but early buzz on this one has been overwhelmingly positive.  I’m interested in the exploration of privilege here, as well as the exploration of an illness that money can’t heal.  It looks like it should be a really interesting, thought-provoking read.

What are you waiting on this week?

Book Review: Get in Trouble by Kelly Link

Kelly Link’s collection of short stories offers readers a different fictional universe with each chapter.  Here, there are creepily realistic dolls that are stand-ins for actual boyfriends.  There are demanding fairies who guest in summer houses and offer gifts as well as malice.  There are evil twins, superheroes, dentists, Ouija boards that actually predict the future, and much more.  All of it comes to life at the hands of Link, and all of it is compelling.

This is Link’s first book of stories for adult readers in a decade, and it’s well worth the wait.  In this collection of short stories, Link brilliantly blends the minutiae of real life with the stuff of urban fantasy, myth, and the fantastical.  A grounding in emotional realness makes this collection of stories a complete standout.  This is magical realism done exceedingly well.  Link brings the notoriously difficult genre to a new level and blows her competition out of the water.  This is excellent.

There are so many things that Link succeeds at in this book that it’s hard to pick a few to focus on.  Her attention to her prose is remarkable, and her ability to craft emotionally real, resonant scenes even in the most fantastical of situations is unparalleled.  She also manages to surprise readers with each story by creating a depth to her fictional worlds that isn’t visible at first glance.  Each story goes deeper and wider than one can imagine.

All of the stories in the collection are great.  In the first story, “The Summer People,” Link explores a young caretaker’s experiences with a group of fairies who live in her property during the summer.  The blend of real life with fantasy makes for an engrossing, haunting read, and the tension in the story will keep readers on the edge of their seat.  The same goes for “I Can See Right Through You,” a fascinating look into an aging actor revisiting his past with his former lover.  The blend of commentary on the Hollywood machine, reality TV, and the macabre makes for a truly chilling read.

The stories are entertaining, bitingly sharp, and pack and emotional punch.  Each one has ghosts, and the stories will stay with the reader for a long time.  Highly recommended.

Get in Trouble by Kelly Link. Random House: 2015. Library copy.

Waiting on Wednesday: P.S. I Still Love You by Jenny Han

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:

P.S. I Still Love You by Jenny Han

Expected Release Date: May 26, 2015

Lara Jean didn’t expect to really fall for Peter.
She and Peter were just pretending. Except suddenly they weren’t. Now Lara Jean is more confused than ever.
When another boy from her past returns to her life, Lara Jean’s feelings for him return too. Can a girl be in love with two boys at once?

In this charming and heartfelt sequel to the New York Times bestseller To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before, we see first love through the eyes of the unforgettable Lara Jean. Love is never easy, but maybe that’s part of what makes it so amazing.

(summary via Goodreads)

I loved the first novel in Han’s “To All the Boys…” series (duology? Who knows), despite its many imperfections.  I think Han is one of those charming authors who knows what she’s good at writing and sticks to it, and the result is always satisfying and wholly immersive.  I’m excited to see what the incredibly innocent Lara Jean gets up to in this next installment.

What are you waiting on this week?