Book Review: We Play Ourselves by Jen Silverman

We Play Ourselves by Jen Silverman

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

We Play Ourselves is a wry, spicy critique of the pursuit of artistic fame on two different American coasts. Watching the narrator’s past and present derailing creates a metafictional experience, as we also gain pleasure from knowing the private and public details of her life, all her failures and fantasies, complicit in a facsimile of voyeurism that is just… really, really smart. Darkly funny, but also resonant. Made me want to go to L.A. without a plan.

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Book Review: Someone Should Pay for Your Pain by Franz Nicolay

Book Cover

In his first novel Someone Should Pay for Your Pain, Franz Nicolay comes at his story with a lyricist’s love of beauty and a seasoned performer’s world-weariness. The resulting tension creates a story with a sticky floor and a hazy smell, where moral ambiguity abounds. You could tell a young, starry-eyed scenester “It’s not all it’s cracked up to be”, or you could just hand them this novel. Both rough-edged-honest and blithely cynical, Someone Should Pay for Your Pain is an ode to all the acts who never made it big, fell in love too hard with the life to let it go, and are scheduled to play a weeknight basement show somewhere in Ohio, wondering what it all means now.

Book Review: How to Make Friends with the Dark by Kathleen Glasgow

How to Make Friends with the Dark

How to Make Friends with the Dark by Kathleen Glasgow

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Like many YA novels, this one starts with a protagonist whose mother dies. But what makes this title stand apart is the way it lingers and sinks into the grief that actually accompanies such a monstrous loss. Grief is not an aspect of the plot line in Glasgow’s How to Make Friends with the Dark; rather, it is the plot line… the horrible, inescapable plot line that all of us must follow at one time or another. As such, it’s a painful read, but also a revelatory and important one. I applaud Glasgow for having the bravery to go here, in such a realistic and three-dimensional way. This book is about death and the aftermath–no sugared-over love story among the rubble, just the truth.

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Book Review: After the Fall by Kate Hart

After the Fall

After the Fall by Kate Hart

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

After the Fall is a gossipy YA read with a real beating heart behind it. The way that the narration plays with our perceptions of the characters ultimately reveals a criticism of stereotypes, a reminder that people are rarely what we think we know about them. I appreciate the way Hart refuses to shy away from edgier content–her treatment of sexual assault from multiple perspectives has important and strong messages for her young adult readers. This book could be the difference that makes a kid speak up about something important.

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Book Review: Emergency Contact by Mary H.K. Choi

Emergency Contact

Emergency Contact by Mary H.K. Choi

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

A snackable YA read that serves up quirky characters and romantic chemistry with a side of complicated parental relationships. I appreciate the way that Choi represented the flow of modern relationships from digital to physical and back again. Wish we could have seen Penny confront her own insecurities and evasiveness a little but more without the romantic interest as the vehicle for it, but hey, it’s true to the genre. The thing I respect most about this book is the encouragement to be honest with another person about the big things that define yourself, to share, admit, disclose, and acknowledge rather than hiding it away.

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Book Review: The Great Alone by Kristin Hannah

The Great Alone

The Great Alone by Kristin Hannah

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The Great Alone is one of those emotionally-driven novels that will have you tearing through it like a VW bus careening over icy roads, hungry to know how everything will turn out for the memorable characters that Hannah weaves into this wilderness tale set in 1970s Alaska. Even though several of the characters edge hard into archetype, she breathes such detail into them that they feel real despite it. (And as we all know, some people really are living breathing archetypes… so hey.) While the book spans a multigenerational struggle against patterns of domestic violence and definitely mediates on the ways the wild works on us as human beings, the true shining gem of the novel is the love story at its core. A great read for those who want an emotionally dramatic story that is both harrowing and satisfying by the end.

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Book Review: My Sister’s Keeper by Jodi Picoult

My Sister's KeeperMy Sister’s Keeper by Jodi Picoult
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

My Sister’s Keeper is melodrama done well, with a side of interesting ethical quandaries. The premise itself is the book’s biggest strength–should a young woman who was born for the purpose of being a blood and organ donor to her leukemia-stricken sister be allowed medical emancipation from her parents, even if it’s at the cost of her sister’s life? It’s fascinating and emotionally taxing territory to ponder. This is the chess board upon which Jodi Picoult plays her pieces: characters who have exaggerated, caricature-like personalities but also moving, true inner dialogues that almost make up for it. Some of the plot conveniences are certainly too convenient to be believed, but they create a resulting environment of heightened emotion that sets Picoult up to spike her best moments right into reader’s hearts. While elements of the story itself were overwrought, certain truths about parenthood, sisterhood, and human rights get explored along the way, and make this novel worth the quick read.

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