Sunday Salon: Trauma and Grief

Posted 13 November, 2016 by April @ The Steadfast Reader in musings

sunday salon books

I wrote the bulk of this post early Wednesday morning. Since then I’ve been too shell-shocked, upset, and anxious to open it back up to edit it.

 

I sit here staring at my screen completely unbelieving of what has taken place in our country last night.

We’ve been told for years that sunlight is the best antiseptic. This piece of conventional wisdom was shot to hell last night. I thought that when the light was shined on Trump’s racist, xenophobic, misogynistic bullshit – the country would come together and reject that message. Instead, what we have seen is an embrace of said bullshit by millions of Americans. I understand and accept that many people who voted for Trump did so for economic reasons or because of jobs, or the way they felt about national security. This doesn’t change the fact that what he said, the way he acted, how he treated people wasn’t enough to turn voters away.

I am currently in the bargaining phase of grief this morning. I feel a lot like Republicans probably felt at the polls. ‘He’s awful, terrible, and completely incompetent… but maybe he’ll surround himself with people more competent with himself?’ Maybe he didn’t mean all those things that he said…? and he can’t do anything because surely Congress will block anything absolutely crazy he tries to do. I mean… they’re not actually going to let him build that wall. Are they?

What this election has led me to, I think more than anything else – is anger. I’m angry at the good people who rationalized Trump. I’m more angry at the people who gave a protest vote to Johnson, Stein, or anyone else – because Hillary just wasn’t likable enough. And those emails. I’m angry with the Democrats who just couldn’t get that excited about Hillary, so they stayed home.

A positive symptom of this anger is energy. This is how I hope these feeling play out for me in the coming weeks, months, and years. It’s what I want to encourage everyone else who is as angry, disappointed, surprised, and as frightened as me to do.

Get active.

Everyday Americans are affected an awful lot by local politics. It’s not as sexy as national politics, but it’s where most of us can make real, meaningful change. Go to city council meetings. Investigate local ordinances being passed. Inform yourself. Then inform others. Join a service club like Optimists International or Rotary, get to know your local politicians and what they’re doing – or not doing – for your community. Run for office yourself. Volunteer as a mentor to a kid. Volunteer as an escort for Planned Parenthood. Protest with Black Lives Matter. Do you. Whatever that means – do you. Need ideas? Jezebel has a great list here.

 

I don’t have any words to console you or fix anything. I’ve not been able to read much news since Wednesday morning, though I’m slowly easing back into that. My anxiety, social and otherwise, is off the charts. I went running on Friday and have intentions to go running again on Monday. I’ve never been so grateful that I deactivated my personal Facebook account in my entire life.

Go in peace.

April @ The Steadfast Reader

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Today Will Be Different

Posted 3 October, 2016 by April @ The Steadfast Reader in Reviews

Today Will Be DifferentToday Will Be Different by Maria Semple
on October 4th 2016
Genres: Fiction, Contemporary Women, Family Life, Humorous, General, Literary
Pages: 420
Format: Paperback ARC
Goodreads
four-half-stars

I received this book for free from the publisher in exchange honest review consideration. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

Eleanor knows she's a mess. But today, she will tackle the little things. She will shower and get dressed. She will have her poetry and yoga lessons after dropping off her son, Timby. She won't swear. She will initiate sex with her husband, Joe. But before she can put her modest plan into action-life happens. Today, it turns out, is the day Timby has decided to fake sick to weasel his way into his mother's company. It's also the day Joe has chosen to tell his office-but not Eleanor-that he's on vacation. Just when it seems like things can't go more awry, an encounter with a former colleague produces a graphic memoir whose dramatic tale threatens to reveal a buried family secret.

Eleanor Flood, the main character in Maria Semple’s new novel Today Will Be Different, is self absorbed, overprivileged, whiny, bitchy, and awful. I love her. In Today Will Be Different Semple manages to capture all the first world difficulties of being a white, upper-middle class woman with humor, grace, and a touch of zaniness. There is a delicate balance that this novel straddles between chick-lit and literary fiction and Semple does it perfectly.

Eleanor is a well fleshed out and fairly dynamic character, she has feelings that are tangible and completely relatable to me. The scene where she takes her son to the doctor after the school calls her (again!) to tell her he has a stomachache. The doctor’s judgmental gaze that causes her to change her plans from lunch (with a friend she hates) to ‘Mommy time!’ I have been there. Complete with avoiding my friends that I hate. The boring (wo)men that you meet through networking or play dates who have nothing of any interest to talk about. I know those (wo)men!

Today Will Be Different had me nodding along at every turn, empathizing with Eleanor’s moods and feelings. Semple throws in some of the craziness that made Bernadette such a lovable book and capitalizes on that style with a fun story, easy reading, and likable characters. My sole complaint with Today Will Be Different is the ending. It’s such a minor complaint but it takes just a touch of the polish off of what otherwise is an excellent and enjoyable book.

Months after writing this review I had a chat with Catherine at The Gilmore Guide to Books about it. She pointed out some of the flaws in the book – some of which I remembered and some of which after all this time – that I didn’t. The conclusion that I came to after our discussion was that I found Eleanor to be so relatable… the weird little plot flaws just didn’t matter for me.

I devoured Today Will Be Different in about a day and a half. It is highly readable, very enjoyable, and overall a great time. Recommended for anyone looking for some fun, light reading where you might recognize yourself.

Anyone out there who loved this book? Who loved Where’d You Go Bernadette?? Hated it? Thoughts, Reader?

April @ The Steadfast Reader

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Whatever Wednesday: The Last Days of Night

Posted 14 September, 2016 by April @ The Steadfast Reader in Reviews

Whatever Wednesday: The Last Days of NightThe Last Days of Night by Graham Moore
Published by Random House on August 16th 2016
Genres: Historical Fiction
Pages: 368
Format: Kindle Paperwhite
Goodreads
three-stars

I received this book for free from the publisher in exchange honest review consideration. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

New York, 1888. Gas lamps still flicker in the city streets, but the miracle of electric light is in its infancy. The person who controls the means to turn night into day will make history—and a vast fortune. A young untested lawyer named Paul Cravath, fresh out of Columbia Law School, takes a case that seems impossible to win. Paul’s client, George Westinghouse, has been sued by Thomas Edison over a billion-dollar question: Who invented the light bulb and holds the right to power the country?

The case affords Paul entry to the heady world of high society—the glittering parties in Gramercy Park mansions, and the more insidious dealings done behind closed doors. The task facing him is beyond daunting. Edison is a wily, dangerous opponent with vast resources at his disposal—private spies, newspapers in his pocket, and the backing of J. P. Morgan himself. Yet this unknown lawyer shares with his famous adversary a compulsion to win at all costs. How will he do it?
In obsessive pursuit of victory, Paul crosses paths with Nikola Tesla, an eccentric, brilliant inventor who may hold the key to defeating Edison, and with Agnes Huntington, a beautiful opera singer who proves to be a flawless performer on stage and off. As Paul takes greater and greater risks, he’ll find that everyone in his path is playing their own game, and no one is quite who they seem.

The Last Days of Night grabbed my attention before and at BEA. The clever title and the idea of a historical fiction account of the patent war over the lightbulb between Thomas Edison and George Westinghouse. What I am sad to report is that for me, The Last Days of Night didn’t really deliver on this rich subject matter.

Beginning with the characters. I felt like all of the characters up to and including Paul, Agnes, Tesla, and Westinghouse were incredibly static. The dialogue was rather stilted and quite frankly I didn’t really buy into much of it, though I knew that The Last Days of Night was based on real events. Much like the way many historical fiction novels pan out for me, I found the most interesting part of this novel was the afterword where Moore explains where his novel differed and expounded on the actual events of this case.

While I know that other readers found the book too technical, especially when it came to the litigation of the patent suit, that’s actually what I would have liked more of. To be fair, my opinion on that as an attorney may be really different than that of an average reader.

I said before that I was dubbing 2016 as the year of ‘could do worse on an airplane’ books. That’s squarely where The Last Days of Night falls. What about you, Reader? Has anyone else read this one?

April @ The Steadfast Reader

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30 Authors: Rufi Thorpe on ‘After Birth’

Posted 12 September, 2016 by April @ The Steadfast Reader in Reviews

30 Authors

Preliminaries

#30Authors is an event started by The Book Wheel that connects readers, bloggers, and authors. In it, 30 authors review their favorite recent reads on 30 blogs in 30 days. It takes place annually during the month of September and has been met with incredible support from and success in the literary community. It has also been turned into an anthology, which is currently available on Amazon and all author proceeds go to charity. Previous #30Authors contributors include Celeste Ng, Cynthia Bond, Brian Panowich, and M.O. Walsh. To see this year’s full line-up, visit: www.thebookwheelblog.com/30authors or follow along on Twitter @30Authors.

30 Author’s Book Review

Rufi Thorpe

“Bitch, I mean, come on: do you think I don’t know I’m wearing enormous pants?”

Reading Elisa Albert’s After Birth

When I don’t know what to read next, I usually turn to Rachel Fershleiser, who is a unique personage in the online book world. She is part taste-maker, part cheerleader, part guardian-angel of authors trying to find an audience, and she is one of those people who has found her power in being absolutely herself, by which I mean she is a fucking delight. She reads everything, and if you want to read something about kick-ass women processing their shit, she is the person to ask. (You should follow her on Twitter immediately is what I am saying.) So I asked, and she recommended After Birth by Elisa Albert.

I hadn’t heard of it, and I usually read this kind of thing. It didn’t have that many reviews, but it did have some impressive blurbs from Karen Russell, Emily Gould, Lydia Davis. The cover was sort of ugly in an interesting way. I didn’t know what to expect. Before I was thirty pages in, I had already texted my mother, my best friend, and my sister-in-law that they had to read this book.

Part of After Birth’s allure is its humor. The narrator, Ari, is scathing in a way that is particularly appealing, a kind of Dorothy Parker naughtiness, a willingness to be mean. “Yes, clearly I am not as lithe as before I fabricated and surgically evacuated a new human being. At any opportunity my stepmother will still give me the Scan, let’s call it, that classic down-up as common to the female of the species as is the vagina— and offer a specious don’t worry, sweetie, you’ll get back to normal soon. Bitch, I mean, come on: do you think I don’t know I’m wearing enormous pants?” (p. 15)

But part of the book’s allure is its philosophical insight, which is as furious and cutting as its humor. Ari is willing to say things that are unlikable, unfashionable, questioning our relationships to our bodies, our fear of death and birth, women’s place in the power structures of the world, and this gives the book an intriguing force and freshness. Ari is not fundamentally likable, and she is not always right, in fact often she is stubborn and stuck. But this is hardly a fault in a book that is questioning, among other things, why women have to be so fucking likable all the time.

After Birth tells the story of what happens to one woman, Ari, after the birth of her first child. I want to say it simply like that, because it makes clear one thing: I don’t think I have read another novel that takes this stage of life as its chief plot. There is no love interest in this book. (Ari’s husband is neither the solution, nor the problem; he is a good guy doing his best.) Subplots are scarce, and the major arc of the story follows her friendship with another woman who has just given birth.

If there is a major critique to be made of the book, it is that its internal nature, its psycho-spiritual subject matter, are not the stuff of traditional plot, and the effect can at times be claustrophobic. To create movement, Albert skillfully interrupts the current action with flashbacks which account for Ari’s relationship to her own mother who died when she was young and who was a bitch even before she died, and her grandmother who survived the Holocaust. (“Exactly what primal torments did she endure and escape? Everyone always wants to know. They ask around it. But you can’t un-know, okay? She survived by sucking Nazi cock. Nineteen years old. Survived with her mouth full of throbbing Nazi sausage. All righty?” p. 140)

The narrative is also constantly interrupted by what becomes a litany of failed female friendships: Molly with the clear gray eyes, Jess from Jewish summer camp, Rachel the “ano-fucking-rexic,” Shira the beautiful idiot with the sweetest gap-tooth grin, and of course, Mina, whose friendship Ari is desperate for, and who carries the bulk of what little current-action plot there is.

The book makes a commentary on its own lack of plot, asking serious questions about whether plot, which revolves around a series of decisive actions set up almost as an alter to cause and effect, a painstaking diorama of the forces of action, is in fact a male cultural construct which is of little use to a woman wanting to write about having babies.

Ari ruminates: “Adrienne Rich had it right. No one gives a crap about motherhood unless they can profit off it. Women are expendable and the work of childbearing, done fully, done consciously, is all-consuming. So who’s gonna write about it if everyone doing it is lost forever within it? You want adventures, you want poetry and art, you want to salon it up over at Gertrude and Alice’s, you’d best leave the messy all-consuming baby stuff to someone else. Birthing and nursing and rocking and distracting and socializing and cooking and washing and gardening and mending: what’s that compared with bullets whizzing overhead, dazzling destructive heroics, headlines, parties, glory, all that Martha Gellhorn stuff, all that Zelda Fitzgerald stuff, drugs and gutters and music and poetry pretty dresses more parties and fucking and fucking and parties? Destroy yourself, says my mother. Live it up. That’s what makes for good stories. She should know. Nurturance, on the other hand . . .The time it takes to grow something . .  . BORING.” (pp. 185-186)

It is a stubborn book. It is an important book. It is a glorious and flawed and incandescent book. And you should go read it right now.

Find Rufi Thorpe

 

Website   |   Twitter   |   Facebook   | Amazon

 

 

 

About After Birth

 

Website   |   Twitter   |   Facebook   |   Amazon

 

 

 

 

 

Thanks again to Allison for organizing 30 Authors and Rufi for her fabulous review! After Birth wasn’t my cup of tea when I read it, but Rufi’s written an excellent review. What about you, Reader?

April @ The Steadfast Reader

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Terrific Tuesday: Children of the New World

Posted 6 September, 2016 by April @ The Steadfast Reader in Reviews

Terrific Tuesday: Children of the New WorldChildren of the New World: Stories by Alexander Weinstein
Published by Picador on September 13th 2016
Genres: Fiction, Literary, Science Fiction
Pages: 240
Format: Paperback ARC
Goodreads
four-half-stars

I received this book for free from the publisher in exchange honest review consideration. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

Children of the New World introduces readers to a near-future world of social media implants, memory manufacturers, dangerously immersive virtual reality games, and alarmingly intuitive robots. Many of these characters live in a utopian future of instant connection and technological gratification that belies an unbridgeable human distance, while others inhabit a post-collapse landscape made primitive by disaster, which they must work to rebuild as we once did millennia ago.
In “The Cartographers,” the main character works for a company that creates and sells virtual memories, while struggling to maintain a real-world relationship sabotaged by an addiction to his own creations. In “Saying Goodbye to Yang,” the robotic brother of an adopted Chinese child malfunctions, and only in his absence does the family realize how real a son he has become.

Children of the New World is fantastic. In fact, as of writing this review (30 July 2016), I have read 42 books this year. There are only two or three others that were as well written and enjoyable as Children of the New World. I picked up this book thinking that it was a novel, it wasn’t until I got halfway through the second story that I realized it wasn’t a novel but a collection of short stories. At that point I almost set it aside, (because I was in the mood for a novel) but ultimately decided to press on. Jeeze-o-pete, I’m so glad that I did.

I kind of relate this to the short story collection The Tsar of Love and Techno by Anthony Marra. Each story can absolutely stand on it’s own, but the collection as a whole is infinitely more enjoyable and most of the stories build off of the others in subtle and delightful ways. This method is how Weinstein has managed the extraordinary feat of excellent world building within the length of a short story. To be fair, the world building gets better the more stories that you read, but each story in Children of the New World is completely insular and most are 5 star stories in their own right.

A few of my favorites. Moksha takes the delightful idea that enlightenment is now something that has been digitized and can be downloaded into your brain – it’s now a drug that is illegal in most western markets. Phrases like:

There had been nonstop busts at yoga studios and health spas in the U.S.

made me giggle a little, but the chilling reality of where technology is going was, at times, sobering.

Later in the book with The Pyramid and the Ass the tenants of Buddhism are nearly criminalized and Weinstein makes ‘radical Buddhism’ synonymous with what the media calls ‘radical Islam’ today. Complete with kidnappings and mutilations. These kind of details are what I’m talking about when I say that Weinstein world builds within his collection of short stories. Both Moksha and The Pyramid and the Ass are excellent in their own right, but taken together they are phenomenal.

Another story in particular that I really enjoyed was the title story Children of the New World. In this story people are able to log into a virtual reality network and experience pleasures beyond their wildest dreams. They are also able to procreate, build houses, and lives in this reality (think The Sims). Children of the New World grapples with questions that I find to be extremely complex, even if they’re not quite ripe for discussion.

The only story that seems completely out of place and more incongruous than the others is the last one in the collection, Ice Age, I enjoyed this story, but it stood out – perhaps because of it’s placement – to be not quite a part of the same universe as the others.

So, Reader, has anyone has the pleasure of reading this collection yet? Thoughts and feelings on where technology is going for us? Is it out of control? 

April @ The Steadfast Reader

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Magnificent Monday: A Gentleman in Moscow

Posted 5 September, 2016 by April @ The Steadfast Reader in Reviews

Magnificent Monday: A Gentleman in MoscowA Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles
Published by Viking on September 6th 2016
Genres: Fiction, Literary, Historical Fiction
Pages: 448
Format: Paperback ARC
Goodreads
five-stars

I received this book for free from the publisher in exchange honest review consideration. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

A transporting novel about a man who is ordered to spend the rest of his life inside a luxury hotel. A Gentleman in Moscow immerses us in an elegantly drawn era with the story of Count Alexander Rostov. When, in 1922, he is deemed an unrepentant aristocrat by a Bolshevik tribunal, the count is sentenced to house arrest in the Metropol, a grand hotel across the street from the Kremlin. Rostov, an indomitable man of erudition and wit, has never worked a day in his life, and must now live in an attic room while some of the most tumultuous decades in Russian history are unfolding outside the hotel’s doors. Unexpectedly, his reduced circumstances provide him a doorway into a much larger world of emotional discovery.
Brimming with humor, a glittering cast of characters, and one beautifully rendered scene after another, this singular novel casts a spell as it relates the count’s endeavor to gain a deeper understanding of what it means to be a man of purpose.

A Gentleman in Moscow is a beautiful character driven novel that really hit me square in the heart-space. To be fair, I only stood in line for Towles’ second novel because Catherine, Shannon, and other trusted bloggers ensured me that I should. A Gentleman in Moscow is not something I would have picked up on my own as I normally don’t go for historical fiction. But jeeze-o-pete, am I ever glad I got peer pressured into that signing line.

Despite being an American who spent twenty years as an ‘investment professional’, Towles has a real talent for rendering well formed and interesting characters from the Bolshevik revolution and also the U.S.S.R.. When my biggest complaint about a book is that I wanted more at the end – I consider that a win.

A Gentleman in Moscow is a sprawling novel a little in the vein of John Irving that follows a series of characters over decades. Count Rostov’s relationships with others at the Metropol hotel from the Bishop to Nina to Andrey are nearly flawlessly executed and completely believable. This novel is about the little things that make life worth living, if you’re looking for a plot driven action novel – you’re going to be disappointed with A Gentleman in Moscow. However, if you’re looking for a thoughtful character study that gives hope on the decency of humans as a whole – Towles has you covered.

I felt some sort of emotional connection with every character in this novel. If Towles were to write spin-offs describing the background and life trajectory of most of these characters — I would read those books.

A Gentleman in Moscow is an excellent novel and I can’t recommend it highly enough.

What about you, Reader? Have you read Towles’ Rules of Civility? Does A Gentleman in Moscow sound like your bag? Who else has read this?

April @ The Steadfast Reader

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Sunday Salon: Reading on Vacation

Posted 4 September, 2016 by April @ The Steadfast Reader in memes, Reading

sunday salon books

Good morning, Readers! It’s been a hot minute since I checked in here, but there are things going on and there is reading being done. While on vacation I made it through a fair amount of books. I hit up a wide array of books, making it through all of the current Wicked + Divine graphic novels that are available to date, as well as the first volume of Chew, which was not nearly as gross as I had anticipated. I managed to get through Graham Moore’s novel, The Last Days of Night, Lionel Shriver’s amazing economic dystopia The Mandibles: A Family, 2029 – 2047, and last but definitely not least was Amor Towles’ excellent historical fiction piece A Gentleman in Moscow. What I realized by the copious amount of reading I was able to get through on my vacation is that my main problem with my lack of reading these days is work. C’est la vie.

Now, a week back in the real world, I’ve started Herman Koch’s newest Dear Mr. M, so far its just as twisty as his other two novels, but I’m not sure where it’s going yet. I’m still working on Mischling, though not very studiously – it may be a bit too harrowing for what I need to be reading right now. We’ll see. I’m also thinking of starting The Mothers by Brit Bennett.

Had the pleasure of going to the Decatur Book Festival with Katie yesterday. We agreed that we’re super psyched about books in the moment, listening to the authors on the panels but over dinner got realistic on what we were actually going to read. Garrard Conley gave a pretty brilliant talk on a panel about changing ideas of masculinity that definitely piqued my interest in his memoir Boy Erased, which tells of going through conversion therapy as a boy. Jim Obergefell was there too, and he was incredibly inspiring when talking about why he chose to go forward with what became the landmark Supreme Court case making marriage equality the supreme law of the land. I’m extremely interested in his book, Love Wins.

We went and heard a few more talks which were all interesting in their own rights, but didn’t strike me the way Conley and Obergefell did.

So Reader? What have you been reading? 

April @ The Steadfast Reader

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Meh Monday: The City of Mirrors

Posted 15 August, 2016 by April @ The Steadfast Reader in Reviews

Meh Monday: The City of MirrorsThe City of Mirrors by Justin Cronin
Series: The Passage #3
Published by Ballantine Books on May 24th 2016
Genres: Fiction, Horror, Science Fiction, Suspense, Thrillers
Pages: 602
Goodreads
two-half-stars

I received this book for free from the publisher in exchange honest review consideration. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

"The world we knew is gone. What world will rise in its place?"

The Twelve have been destroyed and the hundred-year reign of darkness that descended upon the world has ended. The survivors are stepping outside their walls, determined to build society anew and daring to dream of a hopeful future.

But far from them, in a dead metropolis, he waits: Zero. The First. Father of the Twelve. The anguish that shattered his human life haunts him, and the hatred spawned by his transformation burns bright. His fury will be quenched only when he destroys Amy – humanity's only hope, the Girl from Nowhere who grew up to rise against him.

One last time light and dark will clash, and at last Amy and her friends will know their fate.

Praise the lord and pass the ammunition, this trilogy is over. Honestly, the only reason I’m actually writing a review for The City of Mirrors is because I have this need to make things complete. I’ve reviewed the other two so you, lucky Reader, are going to get to hear me bitch about this one. Because that sounds so inspiring, let’s get to it!

There are large (novel-sized) chunks of this monster that are just downright dullThe City of Mirrors, much like the previous two novels, jump around in space and time. The reader is forced to slog through hundreds of pages of sappy writing about a poor Harvard undergrad who falls in love with his roommates girlfriend to get the genesis of Zero. Familiar characters like ‘Lish and Peter have long epic sojourns where not much of anything happened and I wanted to weep with boredom at times.

My biggest problem with this novel however, was the heavy handed Biblical allegory. Don’t get me wrong I love good Biblical allegory. Good being the key word. Cronin hits readers over the head with a slab of Adam’s ribs with the allegory that he tries to create in The City of Mirrors and for me it was completely ineffective and distracting. You have Michael working to fix his ship, like a post-apocalyptic Noah. Of course there’s Amy, who is the Christ figure. There’s Peter (PETER!) the disciple. Which brings me to the name of the characters: Caleb, Sara (very motherly in the Bible, very motherly here)… it doesn’t hold true for all the characters, but throughout the trilogy it held true for enough.

There are sections with lots of action and violence, but the literary mixed with the fun that was so appealing in The Passage has completely evaporated in The City of Mirrors. The end of the book is probably the most satisfying part of it, I don’t mean that in a snarky way the last hundred pages or so take a total right turn to the rest of the novel, and while there are certain believability and ‘what’s the point, then?!’ problems with the end, I’ll leave it there for the sake of not spoiling. If you want to discuss it in the comments – let’s do it.

For a not quite as harsh, but naturally better written, and of course spoiler-y review, I liked the one at The Washington Post. The Discriminating Fangirl also breaks down some of her problems with the novel here.

Soooo Reader. Insert big sigh here. How did everyone else feel about this? Has anyone else taken the plunge and read it? Anyone more forgiving than me?

April @ The Steadfast Reader

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Fabulous Friday: All the Ugly and Wonderful Things

Posted 12 August, 2016 by April @ The Steadfast Reader in Reviews

Fabulous Friday: All the Ugly and Wonderful ThingsAll the Ugly and Wonderful Things by Bryn Greenwood
Published by Thomas Dunne Books on August 9th 2016
Genres: Adolescence, Fiction, Literary
Pages: 352
Goodreads
five-stars

I received this book for free from the publisher in exchange honest review consideration. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

As the daughter of a meth dealer, Wavy knows not to trust people, not even her own parents. Struggling to raise her little brother, eight-year-old Wavy is the only responsible "adult" around. She finds peace in the starry Midwestern night sky above the fields behind her house. One night everything changes when she witnesses one of her father's thugs, Kellen, a tattooed ex-con with a heart of gold, wreck his motorcycle. What follows is a powerful and shocking love story between two unlikely people that asks tough questions, reminding us of all the ugly and wonderful things that life has to offer.

I read All the Ugly and Wonderful Things in a single sitting while I was sick as a dog. Greenwood wields her prose like it’s a sword and manages to completely eviscerate the reader. This book is indeed filled with all the ugly and wonderful things, but Greenwood leaves it up to the reader to decide what is ugly and what is wonderful. Her prose, while gorgeous and nearly perfectly rendered, is almost… hmm… she’s like a reporter – showing the reader what’s going on but never telling the reader how to feel about it.

This book left me constantly questioning my own morality for feeling the way that I did. Wavy and Kellen’s relationship often felt icky and wrong – ugly – to me, but at the same time almost justified. This is a book that demands to be discussed among friends. There is so much here. Never for one second did I feel icky the way I felt when I was reading Lolita, Humbert is obviously a pervert and a manipulator using Lo for his own ends. In All the Ugly and Wonderful Things Kellen is honestly more of a protector and a caretaker for the majority of their story.

For me the most disturbing part was (oddly) not the relationship between the two main characters but Wavy’s relationship with her mother. Parents can do horrible things to their children and Greenwood manages to capture that in vivid and aching detail. The imagery of Wavy eating out of the trash is enough to make me weep. Additionally, what good people like Wavy’s aunt are unable to handle in the face of adversity is also a depressing theme that Greenwood fleshes out in the most awesomely heartbreaking way.

On a personal note, Wavy’s family reminds me very much of my shitbag aunt and her children. She’s a shitbag who marries shitbag men. My grandmother is a constant enabler to the shitbaggery. My cousins are not works of fiction and despite the blood, sweat, and tears of my grandmother at least one of them has already done stints in juvie and will probably end up in prison for drugs before it’s all over. I also watched my own mother try to save that same cousin from himself for nearly two years, until much like Brenda, she couldn’t handle it anymore. So perhaps this is why I found the (lack of) parental relationships much more disturbing than the relationship between Kellen and Wavy.

Anyway. The narrative in All the Ugly and Wonderful Things is gorgeous. The characters are well fleshed out and largely believable. The story is heartbreaking. I highly recommend this one.

While she hasn’t written one yet, I know that Catherine at The Gilmore Guide to Books will eventually publish a more eloquent and insightful review soon.

What about you, Reader? Does this sound way outside of your comfort zone? I felt a little discomfited at first, but eventually got swept away.

April @ The Steadfast Reader

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Sunday Salon: Where Does the Time Go?

Posted 7 August, 2016 by April @ The Steadfast Reader in blogging

sunday salon books

Time // 8:15 PM EDT

Howdy, ho friendly readers! The past couple weeks have been a blur, things are busy at work and at home. Two weeks ago I second-chaired a particularly nasty trial against a particularly nasty defense attorney. Last week I had usual court things to do as well as prepping for a trial that will likely go sometime next week. The week after that I leave for Europe for two weeks, when I come back I’ll have to hit the ground running again because I’ll be up for jury trials again.

I went to see a regional production of Lin Manuel Miranda’s In the Heights on Friday and it was surprisingly excellent. I was extremely pleased and can definitely recommend The Aurora Theatre in Gwinnett County.

At home, The Girl starts kindergarten tomorrow so there have been the usual school prepping for her with handwringing from The Husband (Dad) and Grandmother. I’m sure she’ll be fine.

Around the blog, I’ve created a login for Katie who will start making posts as she feels the need, so get ready  for a new voice, y’all! I’ll wait for her to get up and running before I say more.

How was your week, Reader?

April @ The Steadfast Reader

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