Pre-Summer Book Post

Wherein I review books I’ve read:

YA Contemporary:

Turtles All the Way Down by John Green.

Yes, I gave Green another go after the depress-fest of Looking for Alaska, and I’m glad I did. This book is so good–more like The Fault in Our Stars, (imho) which I loved. It’s about Aza Holmes, a teen living with profound anxiety. Maybe it’s because so many of my students cope with anxiety, maybe it’s because my children have it, maybe it’s because I moderately have it, or maybe it’s because it’s the current plague of humanity (who knows!)–this book gives timely and profound insights into the effects of spiraling thoughts and physical sickness induced by anxiety. While this diagnosis is a huge a big part of who Aza is, it isn’t the only part. Green is so good at exploring teen relationships, while recognizing that just because one isn’t yet an adult doesn’t mean that life is still uncomplicated and carefree.

Literary Fiction:

The Essex Serpent by Sarah Perry.

Sarah Perry wrote this contemporary novel in the voice and tone of Victorian writers like Charles Dickens and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, and it’s surprising how effectively she does it. To me, it read like a Victorian novel. It did contain some thematic elements which were decidedly modern (references to gay and lesbian relationships, for instance). It’s about Cora Seabourne, a recent young widow, adrift and somewhat exultant as her marriage was abusive. She retreats from London, with her son, Francis, and companion, Martha, to the Essex countryside, where she hikes and explores, wishing to solve for herself the mystery of the fabled Essex serpent, rumored to emerge, winged and scaled, from the sea to snatch unsuspecting humans and livestock. I liked the depth of exploration of the relationships in this novel. The actual serpent, as well as the way the character’s lives unfold, isn’t what I expected. It was real, and it made me reflect on what it means to love.

Faith Fox by Jane Gardam.

I’m currently reading this book, about a baby girl whose mother, Holly Fox, dies while giving birth. It is set in early 1990’s Yorkshire and Surrey, where the unexpected death of this young, vibrant woman sends her family into a kind of unhinged grief fugue. The first third of the novel explores Holly, her husband Andrew, and her mother Thomasina. Andrew’s brother and parents also figure prominently in the story. Everyone’s character, in fact, is weighted with equal importance, as each person comprises the webbing of the figurative safety-net which catches the motherless infant, Faith. The cast of characters define her background and create the unorthodox backdrop against which she will grow up. Gardam is a deft writer of people and their motivations as she weaves the lives of a great many people together with BIG dose of quirkiness.

Memoir/Near-Death Experience:

The Message by Lance Richardson and his family.

I’m obviously rather into this genre at the moment. This author lived in Idaho and endured years of massive health challenges before breaking his leg one Christmas Day and, while hospitalized, contracting pneumonia and MRSA. He was incredibly sick and in a coma for weeks; his caregivers did not expect him to live. During this time while his body was unresponsive, he experienced a journey into the Spirit World, or Paradise. He describes seeing his loved ones who died before him. He saw people passing through an opaque veil where their family members waited for them, as well as a great many other…lessons, I guess? He learns about the purpose of life and the way to achieve happiness, essentially. He and his wife wrote the book and have a folksy approach to telling their unusual story. At times, it read like a extended LDS testimony meeting, but it never struck me as being insincere. It was quite honest and forthright. I found it quite comforting in its specificity of what life looks like after mortality.

Psychological Thriller:

I Know My Name by C.J. Cooke

Carolyn Jess-Cooke and I have been online friends for several years. She lives in England and teaches creative writing in Glasgow. This is her first book I have read and while this isn’t a genre I typically seek out, I was completely intrigued. It’s a novel about a woman who has washed up on an almost deserted Greek island, with no memory of her life or even her name. Meanwhile, in London, a young mother has gone missing and her husband and the police attempt to piece together her whereabouts. The answers which materialize to these dual conundrums are not at all predictable. In fact, there is a brilliant twist in this story, which oozes moody suspense. I think I need more books like this in my life.

Women’s Fiction:

The Unscripted Life of Lizzy Dillinger by Marianne Hansen

Chick Lit gets a bad rap, which is unfortunate and sexist if you ask me. I don’t read it all the time, but when I do on occasion, I generally really like it. This was the case with Lizzy Dillinger, written by Hansen, who I met at a writing conference several years ago. I was lucky enough to read and respond to a draft of this novel, which is characteristic of Hansen’s distinctive voice. She is FUNNY. And engaging and creative and not at all boring or trope-y. It’s a novel about a thirty-something mother of two, whose autobiographical novel is being turned into a movie, which is set in Mexico, but which is being filmed in Arizona. It’s a story about reflecting on one’s life trajectory, and the “what if’s” we sometimes ask ourselves as we grow up and live with our choices. It’s a fun read, a beach read, a summer-apropos read–for women, and by women. Funny women. Amen.

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