Book Review – “The Changeling” by Victor Lavalle

 

The ChangelingAs I was wading knee-deep through The Changeling, my primary thought was, “How is this book not a bigger deal? How was it not talked about more when it came out??” I was in the thick of it, and I couldn’t help marvelling at how simply good it was. A little research showed me that the book did get a fair bit of acclaim, but not nearly as much as I would have expected for a book this . . . showstopping. It’s not often that I’m flabbergasted by a novel, but this was one of those times when I was just blown away.

The Changeling tells the story of Apollo Kagwa. He is raised by his single mom because his father mysteriously vanishes when Apollo is four, leaving Apollo with nothing but a recurring nightmare and, later, a box of ephemera – including the book Outside Over There. As an adult, Apollo, a rare bookseller by trade, is deeply in love with his wife Emma, and they are expecting a baby. But he is still grappling with the effects of his past, the nightmare resurfacing as he eases into the idea of fatherhood. When the baby arrives, all seems to be well, though neither he nor Emma, now a part-time librarian, is particularly flush with cash. When Apollo starts taking the baby, Brian, with him to work, Emma starts receiving increasingly disturbing third-person, candid pictures of Apollo and Brian from Apollo’s phone. The photos disappear shortly after they arrive, and the last one comes with a terrifying message. In a short period of time, Emma begins to experience what appears to be some severe symptoms of postpartum depression, as well as exhibiting some alarming behaviors that set Apollo on edge. It all culminates in one gut-wrenching scene, when Emma finally reaches *ahem* her boiling point (I’m so sorry) and disappears. An angry and bewildered Apollo then sets out on a quest to find Emma, and to salvage what is left of the life he has known so far.

There is so much going on in this book that it is nearly impossible to categorize. Horror, fantasy, fiction, allegory, fairy tale, folklore, mystery…. I finally settled on “horror”, but that still doesn’t exactly feel right. The Changeling is unsettling, and horrific things happen, but it doesn’t fit neatly into any one category. It is a truly unclassifiable work of fiction. That’s what seems to make it such a wonderful mystery – it’s impossible to speculate about what comes next, or to guess who is culpable for the events that unfold, because the reader’s perception is Apollo’s perception, and he doesn’t know what the hell is going on either.

Many of the story’s elements are meant to confuse, and I loved that about it – the more fantastic mysteries tend to have very rational explanations, and the traditional mysteries have wild, often folkloric explanations. Moreover, we are seeing and experiencing it all through Apollo’s eyes, at first disbelieving, then incredulous, then finally resigned. When I thought I had something figured out, I realized that there was much more to the story than I had ever anticipated.

There is also a lot of subtle social commentary here surrounding race, class, and our dependence on technology. Apollo is half black, and his best friend an confidante Patrice is black. The two men constantly have to think about their actions, how they are perceived by the world, whether or not they are going to be stopped by the police, and what that might mean for them. These worries are just part of their lives, and it’s such a subtle thing, but so realistic. A lot of the story also focuses on the reach of technology, and who we are consciously and unconsciously letting into our lives. This facet of the story felt like very real modern-day horror to me.

One of my personal favorite aspects of The Changeling is that Victor Lavalle’s love of books is evident in every page. Outside Over There, one of the creepier Maurice Sendak books, is the most important book in this story, for various reasons. There are also several literary references hidden throughout the story like tiny clues. I love a good treasure hunt, and was delighted every time I came across one. The references are relevant to the particular events of the story when they appear, which feels like an added bonus if you catch the reference. (My two favorite finds were a nod to Shirley Jackson’s We Have Always Lived in the Castle and a quick but deft allusion to Wuthering Heights.) I’d like to reread The Changeling at some point, if only in an attempt to identify more of those references. I know I missed a ton of them simply because I didn’t expect them, or even really register one until I was smacked over the head by it.

I would be doing the book a disservice by trying to explain everything, so I am being purposefully vague about the intricacies of it. The Changeling is something best experienced personally, and if you step into this story with an open mind, you will not be disappointed. Please, do yourself a favor and go read it.

Recommended For:

Anyone who likes horror, folklore, and smart novels. Also, there is a little bit of gore, so also recommended for those who are not excessively squeamish (I am a wuss, but the quality of the writing and story line definitely outweighed the cringe factor for me).

 

Book Specifics:

Author: Victor Lavalle

Publish Date: 2018

Publisher: Spiegel & Grau

Genre: Horror? (See above)

Format: Paperback

Pages: 431

ISBN / ISBN13: 9780812985870

US Price: $18.00

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Book Review – “A Semi-Definitive List of Worst Nightmares” by Krystal Sutherland

 

Semi-DefinitiveAs a general rule, I try not to judge books by their covers, or even by their synopses. I’ve found that typically, neither one can fully capture the essence of a book, which is of course understandable and expected. Having said that, I admit that I initially judged A Semi-Definitive List of Worst Nightmares by its cover, to the extent that I put it down without even bothering to read the synopsis at first. The cover is a somewhat cutesy lilac color – not quite what I would have chosen for a story about mental illness, murder, and fear. And what with the disembodied skeleton arm holding a purple orchid and the stereotypical black cat staring out from the bottom, it all just felt like a desperate attempt to cutely convey that THIS BOOK IS SPOOKY.

Once again, though, the old adage has proven true – you can’t judge a book by its cover. This book is much darker than one would think at first glance. The story centers around the Solar family curse, which leads each member of the Solar clan to their own unique death via one major fear (i.e. developing a fear of germs and ultimately dying of a common cold). But there are also heavier themes explored in the book, including severe and debilitating mental illness, rape, murder, neglect, and physical abuse. Had I given into my natural instinct to steer clear of a book with a cover like this one, I never would have discovered this strange and delightful story.

Esther Solar is a quirky, costume-wearing teenager whose family curse has been the stuff of legend for decades, and has set the family quite apart from the rest of society. The curse originated with her grandfather Reginald, a retired detective who is now deteriorating rapidly due to dementia, but whose stories about the curse have plagued the family for a long time. As the family legend goes, Reg met Death himself during the Vietnam War, with Death disguised as a soldier on the battlefield. This “man who would be Death” was just an apprentice reaper at the time, and divulged that Reg would die of drowning. So, convinced that he has been cursed by Death, Reg survives the war but avoids water for the rest of his life, and plants the fear of the curse into his own children and grandchildren.

Now suffering under the curse are Esther’s brother, who is a depressive artist-type with a deathly fear of the dark, her agoraphobic father, who has not left their basement for six years, and her mother, who obsessively gambles and fears bad luck enough that she’s surrounded the family house with rabbits, charms, and a “lucky” rooster. Esther hasn’t discovered her own worst fear, nor does she ever plan to. She creates the titular “Semi-Definitive List of Worst Nightmares” which lists every single thing she is afraid of (many of which seem to come from her screenings of various scary movies), and naturally aims to avoid everything on said list because each item might end up being her undoing. However, after she is charmed and then hilariously pickpocketed by her childhood friend Jonah Smallwood, the two forge a somewhat unlikely bond and start facing Esther’s fears together, one by one, so that fear doesn’t take hold of and destroy her life.

This book flirts with some magical realism, which I always love in a story. Did Esther’s grandfather Reg really know Death as a real person? Does her brother Eugene really flicker in and out of vision/existence? Is her mother’s rooster really a goblin? There are lots of oddities in this book that strain credibility in that wonderfully magical way. There is also a pretty cute love story between Jonah and Esther, and much of the book is centered around them conquering and documenting Esther’s fears together, falling in love in the process. However, I found that the real meat of the book had to do with one of the central questions presented: Does the Solar family misfortune truly lie in the mystical, or is it simply a result of their shared and inherited mental illness?

Having been raised in a family fraught with generations of mental illness, but also raised with an unspoken, innate belief in the extraordinary, I connected with this book almost immediately. I wanted to see where the author would take such a story. Part murder mystery, part love story, part exploration of mental illness, and part commentary on the nature of belief, the book treads all kinds of ground very gracefully. Though it sounds convoluted, the story is actually pretty straightforward, and it’s compelling to boot, told in a way that doesn’t give away every plot point. Finding my way along with Esther, I too constantly wondered what was real and what wasn’t, not knowing if the fantastical happenings were truly inexplicable, or if they were just the result of garden-variety mental illness and family mythology run amok.

Although the ending is a little more outlandish than I would have liked (I preferred the ambiguity of not knowing if the fantastical elements were real or not), I found the conclusion to be satisfying, and the revelation of Esther’s fate to be appropriate, if a little on the silly side.

 

Final Impression:  

All in all, two thumbs up. I’m glad I ended up buying this one on a whim because, cover and all, it definitely deserves its place on the shelf.

 

Recommended For:

Fans of darker stories with a comic twist, and those who enjoy magical elements in a book. Also for those who can tolerate some mild but definitely off-putting descriptions of child/teen abuse and child murders.

 

Book Specifics:

Author: Krystal Sutherland

Publish Date: 2017

Publisher: Penguin Random House

Genre: YA Fiction

Format: Paperback

Pages: 349

ISBN / ISBN13: 9780399546600

US Price: $10.99

Book Review – “The Winter People” by Jennifer McMahon

The Winter PeopleI am a wimp. I don’t like scary things in general – I can’t even watch horror movie commercials without getting freaked out and paranoid that something sinister is hiding in every dark corner of my house. I do like the general spookiness of Halloween-time, but I’ve typically gotten my Halloween fill by watching themed competition shows on Food Network, or from cheesy “scary” movies like Killer Klowns from Outer Space. Occasionally I’ll branch out and watch something fantastic like Suspiria or the A Nightmare on Elm Street franchise, or read something truly frightening like The Shining, but I typically can’t do modern horror.

That being said, in the past few years I’ve really started to gain interest in more horror-type things, like the old and new TV/movie iterations of It, and, more recently, things that fit into both the horror and mystery camps, like The Winter People. Something about reading a spooky mystery in October really appealed to me this year, so I just went for it. This book is a supernatural horror/mystery about the power of lore, waking the dead, and how far we might go to get back what we’ve loved and lost.

Set in the fictional town of West Hall, Vermont, the story takes place both in 1908 and in the present day. The 1908 storyline centers around Sara Harrison Shea, who has just lost her beloved daughter Gertie and is in the deepest throes of grief. These sections are mostly told through Sara’s diary entries, and in them we learn that she has lived an unlucky life, losing her entire biological, immediate family by the time she’s an adult (except for the one sister who got married and skipped town). She lost her mother at birth and was raised by her father and “Auntie,”  a witchy woman who is famous for doling out remedies to the townspeople who venture out to see her. Auntie lives in a cabin close to a gigantic hand-shaped rock formation dubiously named “The Devil’s Hand,” and she is full of all kinds of innate gifts and knowledge. When Sara is little, Auntie writes down and seals the instructions for how to wake the dead, specifying that Sara should not break the seal until she needs to. Young Sara can’t imagine when she’ll ever need that ability. I think you can imagine when Sara needs that ability.

In present-day West Hall, 19-year-old Ruthie and her 6-ish-year-old sister Fawn live with their mother in Sara’s old house, almost completely off the grid. When their homey, hippie, dependable mom disappears one day, Ruthie and Fawn take it upon themselves to figure out what might have happened to her. In the process, they uncover secrets about their house, their family, and Sara Harrison Shea. Some of the creepiest things happen in and around the house; the girls find lots of hiding places, a secret passageway or two, an ominously boarded-up closet in their mother’s bedroom, and a copy of Sara’s diary, which was published by her niece Amelia after Sara’s untimely and gruesome death. A more minor but still important storyline in the present day involves a woman named Katherine whose husband recently died in a car accident close to The Devil’s Hand. When Katherine finds and reads her husband’s copy of Sara’s diary, she is compelled to move to West Hall to figure out what might have happened to him, and to find out if his death was truly an accident.

There is a barren, eerie atmosphere to this book. Lots of snow, silence, woods. Glimpses of movement in between trees and by The Devil’s Hand. Scrabbling sounds in the closet. The feeling that you’re being watched at all times. A disturbing, off-putting sensation permeates the entire thing, and I had an increasing sense of alarm and confusion as I got closer to the end. This, to me, marks great writing. Experiencing every bump, scratch, and shadow right along with the characters, panicking at the disappearance of little Gertie, feeling a sense of dread at the closed and boarded closet door. Jennifer McMahon’s storytelling pulls you right in.

Maybe I’m just sensitive because my grandparents had a closet in their room that held some weird energy, but the closet thing in particular freaked me out for days. There is one scene with a plate being dragged into the closet, and for some reason it was as vivid, mesmerizing, and horrifying as if I were watching it on a screen. I can still see it in my mind’s eye. It didn’t help that I had no idea what the hell was really going on through 75% of the book – that definitely added to the sense of panic, and made the whole plot all the more terrifying. Grade A, chilling stuff. At least to a wimp like me.

But. I was honestly a little disappointed by the ending. Once the truth of the situation was revealed and everything fell into place, nothing was quite as scary as it originally seemed. I guess I didn’t expect all of the mysteries to be solved so succinctly – I expected to be left with some level of unease at the end. As with most mystifying things, once we’ve gotten an explanation, the allure fades a little. The good thing, though, is that the creepiness and chilling beauty of the first three quarters of this book more than make up for the neat ending. I still can’t shake the image of that closet, or what might be scrabbling around in it.

I might be a relative horror literature newbie, but I know good writing when I read it. This is good.

 

Final Impression:  

Well, now I’m afraid of closets.

 

Recommended For:

Horror literature lovers. Anyone who likes eerie, atmospheric books.

 

Book Specifics:

Author: Jennifer McMahon

Publish Date: 2014

Publisher: Anchor Books

Edition: First Anchor Books Edition (2015)

Genre: Fiction

Format: Paperback

Pages: 382

ISBN / ISBN13: 9780804169967

US Price: $15.95

 

Book Review – “Anne of Green Gables” by L.M. Montgomery

Anne of Green GablesWhen I was about 13, my grandparents gave me special editions of both Anne of Green Gables and Anne of Avonlea, the first two books in the series about beloved Canadian wonder Anne Shirley. I watched the Anne of Green Gables and Anne of Avonlea miniseries endlessly, but for some reason, I never felt the inclination to crack open the copies so thoughtfully purchased for me. The little book duo was eventually relegated to one of my book drawers, and when I moved away from home, I forgot about them completely. Luckily, I’m a nostalgic kind of person, and a few years ago when I was visiting home and reliving my childhood, I came across the books in that wooden drawer, perfectly preserved, with that lovely, papery book smell still intact. Now, 19 years after the gift was given, I’m finally reading them. I wish I hadn’t waited so long. Anne is a plucky, charming orphan with plenty of temper to spare, and she spends the book getting into all kinds of mischief. I definitely would have identified with her as a 13-year-old, and would have devoured the entire series.

Set in the early 1900s, the book opens with aging Matthew and Marilla Cuthbert (brother and sister, not husband and wife, as I thought for about 75% of the book) setting out to adopt a young boy to help out with the farm and land they live on. Through some miscommunication, they receive a little girl instead, much to shy Matthew’s trepidation and sharp Marilla’s chagrin. The siblings want to trade Anne in for a boy, thinking that she’ll be a nuisance rather than a help, but the positive, whimsical little thing charms Matthew immediately, and eventually wins Marilla over too. And so, after some dramatics, Anne is allowed to stay at Green Gables, where the entirety of the story takes place.

Introspective and incredibly smart, Anne is a child with little upbringing and almost no formal education. Surprisingly, she speaks as well as some highly educated adults, and much better than most of the residents of Avonlea, her flowery sentences starkly contrasting with the clipped, countrified ones of Avonlea’s inhabitants. We don’t get too much explanation about this, but we do get the idea that Anne spent a lot of time reading as a young child. She is also prone to daydreams and finding “scope for imagination” almost everywhere, and we get more hints that this sort of escapism is, at least in part, the result of a troubled past.

Anne purposely doesn’t dwell too much on her life before Green Gables, but we do find out that she was orphaned in infancy, and by age 11 has bounced between something like three homes, raising other women’s broods of children while never being treated like a child herself, or loved, or even paid much attention to, really. Her only friend has been a girl she named “Katie Maurice” who is, quite literally, her own reflection. Which is heartbreaking, but in all honesty, the fact that this poor, neglected girl found her truest friend in herself is maybe not the worst lesson someone could learn…. Anyway, her preoccupation with seemingly frivolous and superficial things like having puffed sleeves on her clothing, or having black hair, or changing her name to Cordelia, belies a need to focus on something lighter than what probably threatens to consume her thoughts – loneliness, neglect, abandonment, and feeling unwanted. It also hints at some self-hatred, probably also borne from her tumultuous childhood. She hates her red hair and her freckles, and even goes so far as dying said hair, with unfortunate results, and asking Marilla to rename her Cordelia. (The ever-practical Marilla of course insists that she regrow her natural hair, and keep her given name, which Anne agrees to, of course with the caveat that “Anne” must be spelled “with an ‘e’”.) This focus on the superficial feels like a defense mechanism, which would have been interesting to see explored a little more. It’s clear that there’s much more to Anne than meets the eye, and the reader is never privy to all of the harsh realities of what made Anne who she is.

Most of the story focuses on her foibles as a young girl, such as when she unwittingly gets her best friend drunk, or accidentally breaks her ankle on a dare, or bakes a cake filled with painkillers. A lot of the story is also consumed by Anne’s disdain for a friendly but mischievous boy named Gilbert Blythe who joking calls her “Carrots” because of her hair. She holds it against him for YEARS. I’m talking a won’t-look-in-his-direction, change-the-subject-when-his-name-comes-up type of grudge. It’s sad and kind of hilarious, mostly because Gilbert clearly adores Anne, but she wants nothing to do with him until they’re teenagers. She learns, far too late in my opinion, that making rash decisions and holding fast to early judgments can alter the course of our lives and reflect our own shortcomings. She eventually befriends Gilbert, and it’s clear that there will be more to that story as the series progresses.

Over time, we witness Anne grow from a small, hot-tempered, dreamy little thing into a quieter, calmer, less hot-tempered, lovely young woman. When we see the person Anne grows into, we see what effect Matthew and Marilla’s care and attention have had on her. Matthew’s indulgence and unadulterated love for the girl has healed her in many ways. Matthew is, to her, a “kindred spirit.” Marilla is strict, to be sure, and has tried – and succeeded – in taming the girl and shaping her into a poised, fiercely intelligent, driven young woman. However, I was bitterly disappointed, to the point of feeling a sense of loss, when I realized that Anne had lost some of her wildness in the midst of growing up. Of course, Anne lived in a different time, and all women were expected to be reasonably mild-mannered, even when it went against their very nature, so I understand the decision to dial Anne’s frivolity back. But I liked her best when she spoke her mind without caring what anyone thought, stumbled into scrape after scrape, and floated into reveries mid-task. Even Marilla laments that her grown Anne isn’t as bubbly or talkative as she used to be, despite the fact that Marilla tried to stamp both the energy and loquaciousness out of Anne at every turn. (I kept thinking, “This is what you wanted, Marilla! This is what you did! And now we all have to suffer!”) But despite the radical change in Anne’s behavior, she is still an engaging and lovable character, and we find that though she has been subdued by custom and age, and touched by loss and heartache (I won’t divulge anything, but I definitely cried), she hasn’t lost all of her spark by the end of it all. I was so taken by the story that I immediately jumped into the sequel upon finishing.

I do have to note that this book is not all sunshine and roses – there are hints of racism in here. Marilla and Anne have a small interchange about the door-to-door salesman who sells Anne some hair dye, a man who Marilla thinks is Italian but Anne says is Jewish. I don’t want to delve too far into it, but it is a blight on the book. This incident forced me to start thinking about (rather than just noticing and moving on) how many mentions there are of “pale” complexions, and how only they seem to be revered and desirable in this fictional little world. Ugh. I hate that so much classic literature is problematic. This kind of thing draws me right out of the story and right back into myself, a self which I know they would have looked at with distrust and maybe hatred if they’d had the chance. But, as we do, I am chalking it up to the time period and ignorance, and choosing to move on. With one eye open, of course.

My next task is to tackle the Netflix series, which I hear is much darker and explores Anne’s past a bit more. We’ll see if I love it as much as I loved the original television series and the books.

 

Recommended For:

Anyone who loved the Canadian Anne of Green Gables TV series from the ‘80s. Any spunky, wild, imaginative kid, or any spunky, wild, imaginative adult who, like me, is still a kid inside. And anyone who, also like me, loves redheads AND their freckles indiscriminately.

 

Book Specifics:

Author: L.M. Montgomery

Publish Date: 1982 (originally pub. 1908)

Publisher: Bantam Books

Edition: Special Collector’s Edition

Format: Paperback

Pages: 314

ISBN / ISBN13: 055321313X / 9780553213133

US Price: $3.99

Book Review – “Carry On” by Rainbow Rowell

Carry OnI was reading the staff review of Carry On at my favorite local bookstore the other day, and the staffer who wrote their own little synopsis captured the twisty back story of this book so perfectly. This entire book review, like the staff member’s synopsis, is a little wacky, so bear with me. The synopsis basically said something about this book being fan fiction based on fan fiction that was originally fan fiction. Accurate, I think…. Carry On was originally conceived as fan fiction by the main character in Rainbow Rowell’s novel Fangirl. The (fake) Harry Potter-esque series in Fangirl was a favorite of the main character Cath, and so she writes her own spinoff fan fiction called “Carry On, Simon.” That fan fiction is actually fleshed out in this book, but Cath isn’t the author of the actual novel Carry On, Rainbow Rowell is, so I guess technically Rowell wrote fan fiction about her own fan-fiction? Whew.

Although I did read Fangirl before Carry On, there is no real need to have read one before the other – this novel can stand on its own. Carry On is about an orphaned “chosen one” named Simon Snow, the strongest magician ever born and consequently the only hope for the “magickal” world. This world is currently besieged by enemies without and within. There is a civil war a-brewing among magickal folks, and on top of that, the magickal world is being attacked by something called The Insidious Humdrum. The Humdrum is a strong, anti-magickal force that eats up magic wherever it appears, leaves nothing in its wake, and just happens to look like Simon did at 11 years old.

The real, 18-year-old Simon can’t really control his magic and is prone to dangerous eruptions. In addition to this, he also struggles with his longtime nemesis and roommate Baz, a Malfoy-esque vampire. He also has to deal with his girlfriend Agatha, who like-likes Baz and yearns to escape the magickal world, his bossy, Hermione-like bff named Penelope, and a mentor called The Mage who is the head of the magickal world and of the school. Much like Harry Potter, Simon has a lot on his shoulders, tasked with saving the world just because he was apparently sort of born to do so. But unlike Harry, he has no exceptional aptitude for it.  Though in this story, the spells are all cliches and common turns of phrase, Simon is not that great at casting. However, it’s kind of fun (and sometimes eye-roll-inducing) to hear him utter phrases like “Up, up, and away!” to cast flying spells, or witness other characters recite Queen lyrics while enacting horrific rituals.

Honestly, there is so much going on in Carry On, it’s hard to condense. The damn thing is over 500 pages long. When I started reading, I was initially a little irritated by how self-referential and cliched it was right out of the gate. I wondered how I was going to make it through the whole thing because from the get-go it seems that the reader has missed something. Simon speaks as if we should already have some sort of knowledge of his world and personal history, and although I did because I read Fangirl first, this method of narration was still a little off-putting. However, after I remembered that this was supposed to be the last book in a Harry Potter-like series, and that the reader in the fictional world (Simon’s or Fangirl’s, I’m not sure) would ideally know what was going on, I was able to accept it and move on. I’m not sure someone who was just jumping into the novel would be able to get past it so easily though.

Anyway, despite my initial reticence, I whipped through all 500-ish pages. Rainbow Rowell’s writing is magical. The story is part mystery (who/what is The Insidious Humdrum?), and part love story (who is really in love with whom?). It all sounds a little silly, but it’s actually pretty engaging. Especially the love story – because let’s not kid ourselves. Anyone who knows anything knows that anyone reading a Rainbow Rowell novel is at least partly reading it for the love story.  And though it’s only after the first 200 pages that Rowell gets to the lovey-dovey stuff, it is worth the wait. I warn you to stop reading now if you don’t want spoilers about the romance at the heart of this book.

Simon and Baz are sworn enemies, but forced to live together due to some ancient, Goblet of Fire-like roommate-choosing rule at their boarding school. Simon is on the outs with Agatha, partly because he caught her and Baz in the forest the previous year, holding hands and staring at each other intently (oh, youth). Simon, muscled and ginger and beautiful and fiery and wild, is a little lost. Baz, lithe and gorgeous and pale and elegant and mysterious and moody, is a little depressed. These two inspire such anger and obsession in one another, especially with Agatha thrown into the mix. But – twist – Baz is not into Agatha. He’s secretly in love with Simon, and always has been; the Agatha thing was just a ruse, at least on his end. He’s worried that Simon really hates him, and so tends to treat Simon like a clumsy oaf, which he admittedly sometimes is. For his part, Simon feels hunted, sure that Baz is going to kill him at every turn, and treats Baz with abject suspicion. But when Simon finally realizes that his incessant need to monitor Baz’s behavior and know his whereabouts is actually affection and concern, rather than fear, it’s incredibly sweet. It is also a surprise to Simon (but not to us), and he does have a brief struggle with understanding his sexual identity. Regardless, we get to see Simon and Baz’s tumultuous enemy relationship transform into what it probably always was under the surface: a strong but sometimes-turbulent bond with affection and passion at its core. And, true to form, these teenagers in love connect so easily, yet continue to treat each other with varying degrees of affection and venom. There was always a hint of competitiveness at the core of their bond too.

I have to break away and mention that I read Rainbow Rowell’s Eleanor & Park first, then Fangirl, then Carry On. I became beguiled with Rowell’s writing probably within the first 20 pages of Eleanor & Park, and after reading three of her YA novels, I have definitively confirmed that her writing is, again, magical. I’m not kidding. She is somehow able to transport this seasoned reader back to the days of heart-pounding, unrequited love and naive, optimistic hope. I get butterflies in my stomach every time I read one of her books. Every time. Being an adult in a long-term relationship, that doesn’t really happen to me much anymore. And she does this with WORDS ALONE. I can’t figure out how, but can conclude that maybe that particular part of adolescence is still alive and well in her.

Moving on, all of this mushy stuff is wonderful, of course, but it quickly takes a backseat when things start to get serious with The Insidious Humdrum’s “dead spots” appearing more frequently, Simon’s magickal outbursts getting more out of control, and the impending civil war bubbling up in the magickal community. It’s a mad dash to the end of the book, as dots are connected and everything comes to a head. I won’t go any further plot-wise, mostly because too much happens for me even attempt to explain. Suffice it to say that the sequence of events is wild.

I’m not really doing an adequate or concise job of reviewing this book. Briefly, I really enjoyed it. It’s detailed, engaging, and strange, and once I banged it closed, I immediately wished that it wasn’t over. Rainbow Rowell’s winks at the reader, with her references to other works of fantastical writing, are funny and satisfying. I wouldn’t say that I was particularly invested in the magickal world and all that it had to offer, but I did become invested in the main characters. And she did leave some room for the possibility of a sequel, which left me with some hope. After reading this book, you’ll probably want a sequel too. Trust me, if you pick it up, bear with all of the cheesy puns, and get past the confusing magick-speak in the first section, you will absolutely be rewarded.

 

Recommended For:

Rainbow Rowell fans, fantasy fans, love story lovers, and those who are interested in the fan fiction so central to the plot in Fangirl.

 

The BSC Project – #0.5/The Prequel “The Summer Before”

The Summer Before
goodreads.com

And so The Project begins. I was a little apprehensive about reading this book, partly because starting this whole project is a daunting task, partly out of fear that I very well might have roped myself into reading a mountain of books with gigantic print, and partly because I have a deep-rooted fear of commitment that apparently extends to long-term reading projects. I was able put it off for a bit because I had a surprisingly hard time finding this book in my local bookstores, and had to order it online (boo). But once I had it, I couldn’t justify delaying for much longer. Sometimes you just have to do the damn thing, so I jumped in.

This book, a prequel that was actually written 10 years after the original stories ended, is set before the Baby-Sitters Club is officially formed. It revolves around the four original babysitters, Kristy, Claudia, Mary Anne, and Stacey. Fittingly, the prequel starts with 11-year-old (!!!) Kristy, a seasoned babysitter (AT 11) who was clearly born to be a boss babe. She is a tough little thing whose vulnerability only tends to show when she is struggling with the harsh realities of her father’s abandonment and her mother’s desire to move on. Then there’s Claudia, the gifted artist with strict-ish parents, a genius older sister (literally), and a kind grandmother who is her best friend and ally. Claudia, almost 12, has a growing interest in fashion and boys, and is afraid she’s outgrowing Kristy and Mary Anne, who have been her closest pals since forever. Mary Anne is trying to grow up, but her controlling/obsessive-compulsive dad is determined to keep her in pigtails, frilly outfits, and a vomitous pink bedroom. She is also struggling to know more about and connect with the memory of a mother who died when she was an infant. And Stacey, still living in New York through most of the book, is trying to cope with a disease her parents want to keep secret (it’s just type 1 diabetes, for god’s sake), and with her former friends who mysteriously start bullying her at school. So, these girls are dealing with a lot. I think most of us can relate to that.

In this book, each chapter is narrated by a different girl, so we get to see how different plotlines play out from different perspectives. For example, we see how Claudia’s blinding infatuation with her new boyfriend (who is 15…while she is just barely 12…) quietly distances her from Kristy and Mary Anne, or how Kristy’s misguided hope for her dad to be a better person inspires sadness, graciousness, and strength in the other two girls. We also see how Mary Anne’s father’s issues (setting down his paper involves adjusting it to perfectly fit the corner of the table) and suffocation affect the way people view Mary Anne. We even get glimpses of how something as simple as Mary Anne’s effortless act of decency towards new girl Stacey makes Stacey feel included and good again after the weeks (months?) of bullying and ostracism at her old school.

I was initially somewhat skeptical of the content, format, and style of this book. However, I very quickly remembered why I loved this series so much. The writing is simple but not overly juvenile, and the quality of the plot far outweighed any issues I might have had with the writing style. These girls are just young people dealing with universal problems, making mistakes, and trying to learn from them. It’s really the small moments that make these characters so lifelike and endearing, like watching Kristy waste her whole birthday, which her mother and brothers try to make really special, wishing and waiting for a dad who never shows up. Or when, at the end of the disastrous birthday night, Mary Anne sits down next to Kristy and wordlessly puts her arm around her friend. Ugh! The bond these girls share is enviable. A major part of what is really fantastic about these books is that they show young girls helping each other out and supporting one another, rather than the tired old tropes of girls constantly in competition for a boy’s interest, or girls putting each other down, or girls fighting over who’s prettiest. These books portray female friendships as they really are: complex, sometimes confusing, and generally pretty rad. It’s this portrayal, rather than some twee or sensationalized, cheap, unreal TV version of how girls treat and compete with each other, that helps make this series so wonderful.

I want more friends like these four little ladies in my life, but making friends as a grown up is as hard now as it was as a kid, if not harder. So until some awesome new lady friends magically appear, I suppose I’ll stick with the ones I find in books. These ones set a pretty good friend precedent, anyway.

Book Review – “Delicate Edible Birds” by Lauren Groff

Delicate Edible BirdsI originally bought this book of short stories for my sister, but the description on the book jacket sounded so intriguing, I decided to get a copy for myself.  Full disclosure, it’s been a while since I’ve read this book, so I’m writing with a few notes by my side. However, I think my distance from the book has been beneficial, as I remember with greater clarity the stories in this collection that really stood out to and stuck with me.

One of my standouts was “Blythe”, narrated by a bored stay-at-home mom who was previously a busy attorney. Boredom leads this woman to join a poetry class, where she unexpectedly meets and befriends a glamorous, commanding fellow mother – the eponymous Blythe. A suicidal, dramatic poet and artist, Blythe rips the narrator out of the dullness of her everyday existence and draws her into a wild, lifelong friendship that ends up warping both of their lives. Over the years, the narrator’s life follows a more traditional trajectory, while Blythe becomes a well-known and provocative artist. Their friendship is at turns exhilarating and draining, but it’s overarching characteristic is its toxicity. The narrator comes to feel beholden to Blythe, catering to her every whim and playing stand-in mother to her neglected young sons. With time, Blythe becomes more and more volatile, growing in popularity, size, ego, and personality, and her very being seems to threaten to consume those around her, the narrator in particular. To me, the story felt very true to life; as someone who has experienced my share of toxic friendships, this story depicted all too well how easy it is to get dragged around and bled dry by the domineering Blythes of the world.

Another story I enjoyed was “Sir Fleeting”, recounted by an old woman looking back on her life after being visited by an old lover. As a very young woman on her honeymoon, the narrator falls in love and lust with a wealthy, wandering French traveler she meets in Argentina. As this man drifts in and out of her life over the years, she seems to want to hold on to him, but also enjoys the fleeting nature of their trysts, knowing that she can never have a true relationship with him. No matter where they are in their lives and personal relationships, the two always happen to bump into each other and rekindle the common spark that attracted them in the first place. But this playboy is slippery, and usually disappears before she can fully understand what she is to him, or what she even really wants from him. However, upon their final meeting as old friends and lovers, things take an interesting and rather melancholy turn as the veil of infatuation is lifted and truth finally begins to break the spell he has on her.

Two of the most heartbreaking stories in the collection were “Watershed” and “L. Debard and Aliette”. The former revolves around a woman who falls in love with, marries, and then loses a man in a tragic accident following a newlywed marital tiff. Again told by a woman recounting her past, this story is arguably the saddest of them all. I will not do it the injustice of trying to relate all of the particulars – you just need to read it. The latter follows the lives of a young poetry-loving girl with polio and the much older, very accomplished Olympic swimmer and poet she falls in love with. Set in the early 1900s, the two eventually begin an illicit affair that challenges the mores of the day, and when they are finally found out, their lives are violently and irrevocably changed. The story manages to be dark, romantic, weird, and somehow sadly uplifting. Wikipedia tells me that this is a more modern depiction of the story of Abelard and Heloise. I’m no expert on that story, but I did enjoy this one.

Overall, I found this short story collection to be odd, gloomy, and therefore satisfying. Each story has dark undercurrents flowing beneath the surface, and nothing is tied up quite neatly in the end. I like that women are centrally featured in these stories, and there is an intense examination of women’s expected roles in society, and of the consequences of breaking from convention. Maybe it’s because of the reference to the grossly inhumane “delicacy” ortolan in the book’s title, but when I think of this collection, I imagine each of the stories as a tiny little bird, beautiful and ostensibly fragile, but full of crunchy, sharp little bones that are revealed upon delving in. The bones of these stories definitely stick in the mind for quite a while.

 

Recommended For:

Those who like reading about the nuances in the female experience from different perspectives. Also for those who enjoy stories that end up being much darker than they first appear.

Book Review – “Vampires in the Lemon Grove” by Karen Russell

vampires-in-the-lemon-grove
goodreads.com

I was never too keen on short stories growing up. I’ve always liked getting completely immersed in lengthy novels, losing myself in another world, and the short stories I was reading always felt too . . . well . . . short to get lost in. But as I’ve gotten older, I’ve come to appreciate the artistry of short stories. In my humble opinion, a well-rounded reader should be able to at least appreciate written work in all forms (I still struggle with reading plays, but can appreciate their merit). I recently read this beautifully written article by Junot Diaz on LitHub about the beauty of the short story, and it deserves a read; it really reflects how I’ve been feeling lately about them. Earlier this year I read The Turn of the Screw and Other Short Fiction for the first time, and each story in the collection completely blew me away. My ill-advised, half-formed opinion about short stories not providing a world to get lost in was shot to hell. And I’m so glad it was, because I probably would never have given Vampires in the Lemon Grove a real chance otherwise.

This collection, by Karen Russell of Swamplandia! fame, is dark, hilarious, introspective, and eerie. Each story includes a supernatural element, which gives the reader the unsettling feeling that virtually anything can happen at any time in these stories. Nobody is constrained by the rules of this world, and it can be off-putting, but in the best, creepiest way. The stories were all very, very good, but in the interest of time, I’ll only talk about three I loved and one I thought was just okay.

Reeling for the Empire is about a group of girls in feudal Japan who are basically sold by their fathers to a mysterious businessman in order to make money for the family and serve the empire by reeling silk for one year. In reality, these poor girls are enslaved indefinitely, turned into humanoid silkworms who must spin their uniquely-colored silk constantly to avoid death. The one girl who actually volunteers to go, as opposed to being sold, is the one who starts shaking things up in the factory after she finds out what is expected of the girls. This story is just bizarre, perfectly imagined, and exquisitely executed. Russell takes an outlandish premise and (dare I say) spins it into a story that explores the strength of women and the power of unity.

In The New Veterans, a massage therapist takes on a new client – a young veteran fresh from the front lines, who has a full-back tattoo memorializing the day a colleague died in a bombing. As the therapist works on this young man, she mysteriously finds herself able to physically manipulate his massive, intricate tattoo and slowly taking on his memories and, consequently, his PTSD. The more she works on him, the less he remembers and the more he physically and mentally heals – for better and for worse. I don’t pretend to know what veterans have to live with on a daily basis, but this story presents a different take on the traditional narrative about what civilians know and think of what homecoming soldiers deal with in everyday life. For me, it emphasized the fact that although we can listen to stories, unless we’ve actively engaged in battle or lived in a war-torn country, we can never truly know what that experience is like.

The final story in the collection, The Graveless Doll of Eric Mutis, is the story that haunted me the most. In it, the main characters, a group of bullying teenage brats, come upon a scarecrow that seems like any old scarecrow, until they look at it a little closer. After a bit of teenage-boy joking and general tomfoolery with the scarecrow, the boys begin to realize that it very closely resembles a boy they used to bully who just disappeared one day – Eric Mutis. What is so freaky about the scarecrow is that the more they look at it and the closer they get to it, the more it appears that someone has transformed the real Eric into something made out of wax, glass, and straw. The description of this scarecrow straight up freaked me out. It has dead, staring, but humanoid eyes, and later we find that the body is stuffed with the same grass-like substance Eric used to put in his bunny’s cage. These boys used to really go after poor Eric, both physically and mentally, and through flashbacks we find that despite it all, he was still kind to them. Eric was treated like trash by his peers and teachers alike, and when he just stopped showing up for school one day, they all quite literally forgot about him. Heartbreaking. It is revealed that he had a troubled home life (to what extent we don’t know), and now it seems he may have come to a terrible fate. And because these boys harassed him instead of protecting him, they are all partially responsible. I think I’d have to reread this one to fully grasp the entire subtext, but I found it to be a rumination on bullying and what happens to kids like Eric who fall through the cracks every day. This story was mesmerizing and terrifying all at once. I loved it.

The story I liked the least was actually the most overtly comedic of the bunch. Reading Dougbert Shackleton’s Rules for Antarctic Tailgating is like reading a football-tailgating manual, only the teams are whales vs. krill. Dougbert is rooting for the little guy, hoping that this year the krill will overpower the whales. He is also actually mourning the dissolution of his marriage, and it’s hilarious to read. This story is objectively a good and funny one, it’s simply just out of place in this collection. I think it’s more fit for the amazing website McSweeney’s than for this particular book.

Part of what sets this collection apart and makes it so enthralling is the latent supernatural element, which left me unsure of what was real and what wasn’t most of the time. These stories are quite a departure from what I’ve read in short stories before, and on the whole they are so layered and complex that I felt like I only picked up on a fraction of their meanings. As with horror movies, it’s not knowing what’s around the corner that is the worst, and also the most captivating thing about this collection.

Recommended For:

Readers who like short, engrossing narratives, supernatural tales, and a dash of horror in their stories.

Read What You Want – A Mini Book Review and Rant

among-the-janeites
http://www.goodreads.com

Ever since I chanced upon it while wandering around a bookstore, Among the Janeites sounded like my kind of book. I don’t naturally tend to gravitate toward nonfiction, but at first glance, this little paperback sounded just like my cup of tea – a tome filled with personal stories of people obsessed with books.  Among the Janeites features the lives of (mostly) women whose lives were changed by Austen’s works. They relate what their day-to-day lives are like, how they prepare for the annual Jane Austen Society of North America gatherings, and exactly how their lives have been altered by their favorite Austen tales. Though not a “Janeite” myself, I am fascinated by books and documentaries about people who love basically anything enough to embrace that thing body, mind, and soul. Fandoms are so interesting to me. Dressing in the appropriate garb, speaking in the customary fashion, living life as if in another world; I find all of it to be so compelling. So, after perusing the back cover, I was excited to delve into Among the Janeites and read about one woman’s foray into the vaguely familiar world of kooky Austen fanatics in their natural habitat, the convention.

I had very romantic notions about this book before I even cracked the cover, to be honest. I think I was expecting some light confection about frilly Austen-lovers, solely informed by my love of the offbeat and woefully underrated movie Austenland, about a superfan who stays at an immersive, 1800s-themed Austen resort (yes, I know there’s a book and no, I’ve never read it). After I grabbed Among the Janeites from my library’s shelves and dove in, I was greeted with a little anecdote involving author Deborah Yaffe and a deck of Jane Austen tarot cards. Not quite as romantic as I’d pictured, but interest piqued! That anecdote was followed by a more personal story about Yaffe’s young life and how she grew up loving literature and the works of Jane Austen. Eventually, she started to make her way to the meat of the story and began discussing the people she had interviewed. She related stories about these Austen fans’ everyday lives and how they came to be obsessed with Jane Austen, and also wrote quite a bit about her unsuccessful attempts at trying to find the right corset and dress for the annual convention. While reading these first few sections of the book, I learned lots of facts, including that the term “Janeite” was coined by some British dude in the late 1800s. All intriguing enough, right? 

Well, yes, it was at first. But that’s where all the fanciful pretense ended. What followed this long and engaging introduction was continual chatter about dress shopping, alternating with strangely analytical biographies.  There was so much talk about finding the perfect gown and corset for the convention, Yaffe sounded as if she was trying to hunt down a wedding dress. She  was so distressed, moaning and lamenting her misfortune, that I actually said out loud, “UGH. I. Don’t. Care.” Perhaps she was attempting to hearken back to times when English gentlewomen had nothing more important to worry about than the gowns they would wear to each ball and the men they intended to marry. But those tropes are best left to Jane Austen, not to a modern woman lamenting the $200 corset she was simply forced to buy. Yikes. No. I could only read about it for so long. 

Yaffe’s personal quest for THE dress (eye roll) might have been tolerable if the stories breaking up her personal anecdotes were appealing. But the way in which she wrote about these everyday women who are so deeply passionate about Jane Austen lacked any, well, passion. The stories, which I’m sure were actually delightful, came off as very factual and clinical. They weren’t presented in a compelling manner, and I felt almost as if I was reading case studies in a scientific journal. To put it bluntly, I could not have been more bored. Over time, I found myself picking this book up and putting it down over and over again, my attempts to read more than a page totally fruitless. I struggled with this book for a long time, desperately wanting to like it, but just frankly not caring for it. After wrestling with myself for a couple of weeks, I finally gave in to my despair and returned it to the library.

The whole process of finally giving up on a book, while not foreign to me, has always been so disheartening. This time especially, I was really disappointed in the book, and in myself. It’s not often that I put any reading material back down after starting it, because I don’t like giving up. But for some reason, this book made me hit my breaking point. I beat myself up about it for a while, thinking that if I had only stuck with it, the story probably would’ve gotten better. However, as disappointed as I was, I got a small but substantial bit of consolation from the fact that I’d only checked the book out and hadn’t bought it. And after all was said and done and I’d started an excellent new book, that feeling of small consolation turned into a flood of relief. I ended up being pretty proud of myself for not wasting my time slogging through something I wasn’t enjoying.

Which leads me to my point/piece of advice, and it’s a simple one: Don’t read stuff you don’t want to read. I know, it’s genius. It took me a long time to get here, but I’ve finally made it. It’s very freeing, not feeling beholden to a burden of a novel. There are simply too many good books out there to waste my time trudging through the dull ones. It was tough to get to this point, because I feel such loyalty to any book I choose to read (not unusual for a book lover, I’m sure). For me, that loyalty owes itself at least in part to the amount of time it takes me to pick out a new book after I’ve finished the last one. So when I do finally make that decision, it’s like the book and I are heading into unknown territory together, and after I’ve spent my hard-earned time and money, I don’t expect to be abandoned by my partner. If that partner ditches me, then I have no choice but to curse the day I ever met him/her and give up the journey. And I have no regrets about this now, either. I know they say you can’t appreciate the good without experiencing the bad, and that is true, but I can definitely read three chapters of a mediocre book and appreciate that I’ve read better. I’m not sticking it out in the muck while my partner wanders off, prattling on about corsets.

It’s important to read what moves you. We’re not going to live forever (probably), so we should spend time doing what we love and actually, I don’t know, enjoying ourselves while doing it. Maybe you’ve been telling yourself that you must read that Proust because all well-read and intelligent people read Proust, but you’re finding it to be long and confusing and boring. Just put it down. It’s okay. Maybe Proust doesn’t speak to your soul. I mean, on my shelf sits Swann’s Way, and I like to think I’m going to read it someday. But if I’m being totally honest with myself, I know that barring some major catastrophe that leaves me with only a flashlight and that behemoth of a book, I’m probably never going to make it all the way through. When I die, I doubt anyone will be impressed or even know that I read some stuff from the Western Canon once. It doesn’t matter. And I’m okay with it. I want you to be okay with it too. What does matter is the pleasure of reading, what we learn from our books, and how we grow from that knowledge. Whether you get that readerly satisfaction from Henry James or Helen Fielding or a bunch of clinical stories about women who dress in period costumes and obsess over Mr. Darcy is inconsequential. You have the right to like whatever you want, others’ opinions be damned.* When it comes to books, we owe no loyalty to anyone, man, book, or beast, dead or alive. We only owe it to our ourselves and our precious time.

So read what you want and tell that negative inner voice to kiss your ass (effing Prudence).

 

* I do, however, reserve the right to judge you harshly if you enjoy Twilight or Fifty Shades of Grey. Because I can.

Book Review – “Love, Loss, and What We Ate” by Padma Lakshmi

love-loss-and-what-we-ate
lovelossandwhatweate.com

Like most of America, I first came to know Padma Lakshmi through a little TV show on Bravo called Top Chef. She is the beautiful, willowy, modelesque host who speaks very deliberately, doesn’t look like she eats food all day long, and escorts some of the country’s best chefs all around the world to compete with one another for prizes. I somehow peripherally knew some bits about her personal life, in the way that we all tend to know too much about celebrities these days – that she was in a relationship with and married to Salman Rushdie for quite some time, and that at some point she had a child with super rich dude Adam Dell – but otherwise I just knew her as the seemingly haughty host of a cooking competition.

When Padma’s book came out earlier this year, I honestly didn’t have any desire to read it. I like her fine, but have never been super interested in knowing her life’s details. But then she visited the studio of my favorite podcast, Buzzfeed’s Another Round – a fantastic podcast, by the way – to speak about her childhood, the book, and her struggle with endometriosis. Hearing her talk about these topics, and then hearing that Heben (one of the two whip-smart hosts) read the book, enjoyed it, and was pleased by Padma’s writing ability, I decided to go ahead and check it out from the library.

The book opens with Padma’s thoughts, just after she has moved out of her marital home and into a hotel. She is struggling to pick herself back up after a heartbreaking divorce, finding solace and her appetite in a forgotten box of kumquats that her mother grew and sent to her. Her discovery of these kumquats launches us into a reminiscence about how Padma met her future husband Salman, and from there she leads us through the events of her life a less chronological, more sensory- and remembrance-driven order. One memory leads to another in this narrative.

The absence of true chronological order in these events was hard for me to deal with at first. There is a small linear thread running through the book, but I wasn’t ever sure where in her life I would end up from chapter to chapter. This isn’t a complaint, though. At first it was confusing and seemed like an amateur writer’s foible, since most of the autobiographies I’ve read generally follow a traditional beginning of life to current/end of life structure, but I realize that this was a stylistic choice. As it goes, what annoyed me at first ended up keeping me interested throughout the rest of the book, and actually set this book apart from most other memoirs I’ve read. 

Padma chronicles her life shuttling back and forth between India and America, her various modeling and television stints in Europe, her relationships and marriage, the birth of her daughter, binding them all together with her love of food. Her deep fondness for and enjoyment of various cuisines is central to the book; her descriptions of the dishes closest to her heart exemplify how important the combination of love, family, and meals are her life. At times she in fact seems overly eager to explain to us that she actually DOES eat, that food is one of the great loves of her life, though she also quietly mentions the pressures of her life in the public eye, and that she is often vain about her figure and doesn’t typically allow herself to eat food in large quantities. Hmmmm….. A little more off-putting are the times when she tells us that her life hasn’t always been easy, that she is actually a smart person and not just a beautiful one, and that she is truly grateful for all of the luck and opportunities she’s had. Not a surprise, but I find it a teensy bit disingenuous when very thin, successful, attractive people present themselves as “just like us.” I found myself rolling my eyes from time to time while reading, unfortunately.

Funnily enough, though, some of the most compelling and real parts of the book were when Padma was talking about things that actually make her just like us – her 30+-year struggle with endometriosis, the dissolution of her marriage, her custody battle, and the incredibly sad death of the man she loved, billionaire Teddy Forstmann. Yes, of course she would be involved with a string of powerful, wealthy, influential men, right? But I was actually fighting back tears during that last one. The touching way she chronicled her love for him and dealt with her grief during his illness and passing moved me. These were the most poignant, raw,and arguably best parts of the story, by far.

If nothing else, Padma’s life has been glamorous and interesting, and for me her stories served as a nice respite during lunch breaks at my recently-started new job. As a nice little bonus, the personal recipes peppered throughout the book are mouth-watering, and I regret not writing them down before I returned the book.

While I can’t say Love, Loss, and What We Ate was the most engaging read from the get-go, I did actually end up liking this book much more than I anticipated. All in all I wouldn’t categorize the book as particularly deep or inspirational, but it was amusing and varied enough to suit anyone who wants a sentimental little read about the life of a famous TV host.

 

Recommended For:

People who love memoirs that include recipes. Top Chef fans, or anyone with a passing interest in Padma Lakshmi.