Monday, June 27, 2016

The Fill-In Boyfriend by Kasie West

Once upon a time I requested some book that I now forget the title of from William Morrow Paperbacks blogger blast.  Ok, two books, I requested two books.  There was some sort of mix-up at the book publishing factory or shipping center or whoever shuffles off the finished copies when they run out of ARCs, and I ended up with one of the books I requested and one shiny new copy of The Fill-In Boyfriend by Kasie West instead of the other book I requested.  Happily, I've been known to enjoy some YA contemporary romance on occasion, so I didn't miss that other book for long and ended up with some top-notch summer reading to enjoy.

Gia Montgomery is obsessed with what people think of her and her perfect image, and she doesn't even realize it.  That is, she doesn't begin to realize it until her boyfriend Bradley breaks up with her just before they were to enter the prom and prove to Gia's friends that Bradley isn't a figment of her imagination.  As senior year draws to a close, the thought of having to face her friends, including frenemy Jules who seems to determined to dislodge Gia from their group, dateless at the prom is beyond the pale. Desperate to avoid looking like a liar in front of her friends, Gia enlists the help of a guy dropping his sister off for the night to pose as Bradley.  With one fake date, Gia starts to get tangled up in a web of lies that pave the way for her to learn the truth about herself.

The Fill-In Boyfriend is perfect summer reading, easy to read with a main character who becomes more and more sympathetic as the book wears on and, naturally, a love interest that readers won't find it hard to fall for.  Gia, at the start, is benignly reprehensible, choosing to be a liar in order to not look like a liar, obsessed with her image and portraying a perfect, put-together version of herself even when she's starting to come apart at the seams.  Happily, her nemesis in the book, Jules, is just enough worse that even Gia at her least lovable looks better.  The benefit from starting out so bad is that Gia has plenty of room to grow, and grow she does, discovering that she hardly knows herself beneath the perfect exterior she presents.

There's something Sarah Dessen-esque about The Fill-In Boyfriend, a sort of formula that pairs up a perfect always-fine girl with a guy who is unexpectedly dashing and self-aware, who helps peel back the layers of artifice to reveal the decent human being inside all that fakey perfection.  As we've probably established a few times already as I've fallen hard for a few Sarah Dessen books, that formula is one of my most beloved "guilty pleasures."  The Fill-In Boyfriend is fast read that brings back all those high school feelings, good and bad. It's definitely a great entry into the YA contemporary romance genre that satisfies without wrapping things up too easily, making it that much more enjoyable for its authenticity.

(Thanks to the publisher, for, uh, accidentally shipping me the wrong book?  In exchange for review consideration?  Or something?)

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Choose Your Own Comment Adventure! (3)

It's been a little longer than I planned since my last one, but it's time for yet another Choose Your Own Comment Adventure where I let the comments lead me on a little book blogosphere adventure and write it up for you to follow my wanderings.  You can read more about my "rules" for adventuring in this post, if you so desire.

My latest comment adventure starts with Ti at Book Chatter, who claims that her life is slowing down for the summer but still has a busy day planned that includes seeing Darryl Strawberry at church and going out to an Automotive Museum. Ti is also plugging and participating in a readalong of Joe Hill's The Fireman, which I really should take part in. Decisions, decisions.

The comments lead me to JoAnn at Lakeside Musing who has been celebrating Father's Day all weekend long. In an ironic twist, I add a book to my wishlist that she DNFed, Sweetbitter by Stephanie Danler. I might just have to try out the recipe for the delicious turkey burgers she's been cooking, too.

Audrey at Books as Food is jumping the gun to celebrate Margaret Kennedy Day a day early with an excerpt from Lucy Carmichael that made me chuckle. I'm not familiar with the author, but it seems like I ought to be!

Next up is Lisa at TBR 313 who gives a glimpse into what she's a reading, Harriet Tubman by Catherine Clinton. I'll admit I have a 5th grader's level of education when it comes to Harriet Tubman, so it should come as no surprise that I learned a few things just from what Lisa shared!

Onward to Lark Writes. Lark has gamely re-read Edith Wharton's Ethan Frome despite not liking it very much the first time, a courageous feat that I would never attempt, preferring generally to avoid classics, most especially ones I didn't enjoy on the first go. Happily Lark emerged with a greater appreciation of the book!

Jenclair's at A Garden Carried in the Pocket is reviewing something a little newer, Age of Myth by Michael Sullivan. I think I'll keep this one on file for those times when I need a little high fantasy in my life. They exist! I swear!

Ooo, up next is Kelly whose Instagram I heartily enjoy but whose blog, The Written World, I don't pay near enough attention. Unfortunately, she's struggling with post broken ankle depression that's taking a toll on her reading, something I can easily relate to, having an almost year old repaired ankle of my own. Stupid things take a second to break and forever to get better. I distract myself from the slippery slope of rejoining the broken ankle depressed by once again ogling the cool pics of colorful cement houses I recognized from Instagram!

Katherine at I Wish I Lived in a Library made me laugh out loud with her post about some home improvements that may involve taming some of the bedroom "book creep." You know how unread books tend to just fill up empty spaces, right?

My next stop is with Laura at fuonlyknew who is contemplating how her pets have changed with age which leads her to reflect on how *she* has changed with age.

Last but not least is Deborah at who has a most fantastic header image for her blog. This week she finished Wuthering Heights on audio and had less than glowing things to say about it, like me. She's also got a book review published in the newspaper. Fun branching out!

As always, I invite you to take your own comment adventure.  You'll be surprised, like I always am, but the amount and diversity of book blogs out there for the viewing.  I'm debating throwing  a linky on these posts for people to officially join in, but if you do before then, please leave your link in the comments!

Sunday, June 19, 2016

Loose Leafing: Currently

It's been forever since I've just written a nice little (little, bwahaha! Yeah, I'm so concise) personal post about what's happening in my life, the universe, and everything.  Usually because nothing much is happening.  Nothing much is happening this week either.  I just, uh, bought more stuff than usual and feel compelled to tell people about it.  But let's pretend that not what it's all about and start out with what I'm...

Reading:  Just finished Kevin Baker's 650-some page historical Dreamland, the longest book I've read since....wait for it.....2012.  I know I tend to shy away from really large books on occasion because I am the slowest reader, but I still can't believe it's been that long since I read a really long book.  Thanks go to Kindle for making it seem much more approachable than, say, an epically large hardback.  I enjoyed the book, though I did think there were a few storylines that could have been dispensed with.  Review to come.  Also, I'm accepting pats on the back for having actually read a few e-books this year thus far instead of just buying cheap ones by the dozen. 

Anyhow, I've decided to take a break from the overlong and the very literary with Kasie West's The Fill-In Boyfriend, which is proving enjoyable, and just the YA romance-y thing I need right now.

Watching: Baseball!  I'm so excited to have just subscribed to MLB.TV at a steeply discounted Father's Day discount (Happy Father's Day  I used to watch a ton of baseball when I was younger (I was a crazed Yankees fan - still a fan, just less crazed now), but I didn't get to watch too much when I was living with my parents. Then when I moved I cut the cord and went to all streaming TV which is great but not so friendly to the sports lover.  So now, I will stream all the baseball. 

Hating:  Social media in the wake of any national tragedy.  Or even less, say, "widespread" tragedy.  I hate how being so easily in communication with each other seems to encourage more division instead of less.  I hate that we skip right over grief and sympathy to get to fear, anger, judging, arguing, and self-righteous, often uninformed, political rhetoric.  I can't help feeling like this immediate, often insensitive reaction to everything that ever happens plays as big a role in our extremely disturbing political climate right now as anything else. 

On a lesser scale, I am hating screen fatigue.  I have a computery job, and I'm starting to realize that my lack of blogging has less to do with lack of time then it has to do with lack of interest in gazing at a computer screen for a couple more hours after doing it all day.  Most weekdays, I'm actively repulsed by the idea of computers by the time I get home, and I'm not sure what to do about it.

Loving:  Summer.  I am, on the whole, so much more ambitious and social and active in the summer, and with the ankle breaking incident, it's been even longer than usual since I've been ambitious and active.  It's been great hanging out with friends and family and having leftover ambition to read and blog with more regularity.  Also, I love that the hanging plant that I bought 5 weeks ago is still alive.  Unprecedented!  His name is Robert.  (Robert Plant?  Get it?  I'm sorry, my whole life is pretty much just a really long dad joke).

Traveling: Speaking of life in the post-ankle break world, I was stoked to discover that my recently unbusted ankle, though not completely back to its former self, will now tolerate some light vacationing, something I've been worried about for a while.  My dad and I took a short vacationlette to Baltimore and rode the Water Taxi and shopped/ate our way around Fells Point and shopped at the awesome Inner Harbor Barnes and Noble (okay, so we shop a little much when we're together) and took in a baseball game - Yankees vs. Orioles.  It was good to get away for the first time in a long time, and I'm duly encouraged that I'll be able to do a little more of that again!

Buying:  All the things!  I went to a book sale and bought some books this week (though, admittedly fewer than usual).  I bought a mystery box of lovely fake flowers made from recycled materials from  Eco Flowers after being mercilessly prodded by a friend.  Glad she's a good "salesgirl."  I love my flowers!  The OrganATTACK card game from Awkward Yeti, the only comic I've ever been known to fangirl over.  So hilarious and on point.  This t-shirt from Montgomery Biscuits because, come on, that mascot is adorable regardless of whether I've ever been to Alabama or like the Tampa Bay Rays or whatever.  Cute mascot and their team store is called the Biscuit Basket!  And, oh, somebody stop me.  Really. 

Pondering: Having an actual schedule and a linky for the Choose Your Own Comment Adventures.  Okay, I pondered having a schedule for about a minute before I decided that would probably wreck at least half the fun for me.  You know, obligations and me being kind of contrarian and the screen fatigue and everything.  But a linky, maybe?  I dunno, would any of y'all play along with me and link up even if I wasn't on a specific schedule?  Maybe I just post one, say, once a week (any day!) and if anybody happens to have an adventure that week, they can link up?   

That's all for me this week.  Hope you're having a lovely Sunday!

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Top Ten Tuesday: Most Anticipated

I love these Top Ten Tuesdays that are all about getting excited about the books slated for release this year.  I don't think I did one for the first six months of the year, but after reading a lot of BEA recap posts and realizing how many authors I like who have new books coming out in the latter part of this year, this list practically wrote itself.  So in conjunction with The Broke and the Bookish, I give you my top ten most anticipated releases for the rest of 2016.

1. Darktown by Thomas Mullen (Atria 9/13/2016) - You may have heard me go on (and on and on) about Mullen's book The Many Deaths of the Firefly Brothers, so there's no doubt that I'll need to track down his next round of historical fiction which features Atlanta's first black police officers.

2. A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles (Viking 9/6/2016) - Speaking of historical fiction, I can't wait to get my paws on the sophomore work by the author of Rules of Civility, which I lovedGentleman is about an unrepentant aristocrat sentenced by Bolshevik tribunal to live out his life under house arrest in a Moscow hotel.  Sounds very different but equally enticing!

3. Commonwealth by Ann Patchett (Harper 9/13/2016) - Ann Patchett is another author I've been loving for a while between Bel Canto and The Magician's Assistant and Truth & Beauty.  Her latest sounds like a true family saga that follows the reverberations from one misplaced kiss.

4. This Must Be the Place by Maggie O'Farrell (Knopf 7/19/2016) - I loved O'Farrell's style in The Hand That First Held Mine and After You'd Gone (the book that contributed my header quote!), so a new book by her is always cause for celebration. I don't have too awful long to wait for this one about an American professor who falls in love with a world famous actress while on holiday in Ireland. 

5. The Motion of Puppets by Keith Donohue (Picador 10/4/2016) - Donohue's The Stolen Child is another book I rave about, and this one sounds like it has a bit in common with it, except creepier and with puppets.

6. Nobody's Son by Mark Slouka (W.W. Norton 10/18/2016) - I was totally captivated by Slouka's writing in his last novel, Brewster, so I'm hoping the same magic carries over to this memoir that centers on his parents, Czechoslovakian refugees.

7. I Will Send Rain by Rae Meadows (Henry Holt 8/9/2016) - This one keeps landing on my radar, historical fiction about a woman trying to keep her family together in 1930s Oklahoma, where drought and dust storms threaten.  I love the cover, and the story sounds compelling, too.

At this point in my list, I became uncertain of which book to feature as number eight, so naturally I got sucked into a Goodreads vortex of "Omigosh this one sounds good!  And this one sounds good!  And this one sounds good, too!" until I had to take a break to tremble in a corner for a while and cry out to all my friends that it's not fair that there are so many books to read and so much time that I spend not reading them.  Hold on, let me gather myself here.

But this one...  And that one...  And...and...uh, one more minute.  Okay.

8. Mischling by Affinity Konar (Little Brown/Lee Boudreaux 9/6/2016) - I am a sucker, a total and complete sucker, for Holocaust related historical fiction.  I have been since I was but a young reader. There are twins and Auschwitz and Mengele and liberation...and I must have it. 

9. The Wonder by Emma Donaghue (Little, Brown 9/20/2016) - In the authors I don't read so much as I collect, is Emma Donaghue with a new book that sounds every interesting.  A girl in Ireland is fasting and surviving only on "manna from heaven."  Is it a miracle or a murder?

10. The Infinite by Nicholas Mainieri (Harper 11/15/2016) - And then, out of left field comes this debut I heard about during Harper's fall books preview webinar-y thing that I totally left work early to attend before BEA.  It's a post-Katrina love story of sorts.  There are undocumented immigrants and babies and violence, and I am enticed all over again.

I could go on and on and on.  I mean, I didn't even hazard a glance at the YA side of things lest be reduced to a quivering mass of to-be-readness.  I trust that there will be a boat load of YA focused Top Ten posts that will reduce me thus, anyhow.  What's one (ha, one!) book you're looking forward to that's coming out later this year?

Monday, June 6, 2016

Bright Lines by Tanwi Nandini Islam

Bright Lines is the story of the Brooklyn-dwelling Saleem family that has immigrated from Bangladesh to enjoy the American dream.  However, behind the perfect facade of their restored Brooklyn home, Anwar and Hashi are struggling with secrets from the past and discontent with the present.  Their two college age daughters are stumbling their way into their futures. Much to her mother's dismay, Hashi and Anwar's biological daughter Charu seems in no hurry to make something of herself, instead choosing to wile away her time with boys and attempting to design clothes for the fashion label she dreams of.  Adopted daughter Ella is quiet and awkward but has an unparalleled way with plants.  In one transformative year, the family will have to face up to their secrets and the country of their past to learn to live again in the country of their future.

To be quite honest, I struggled with Bright Lines at the outset.  It's slow to get started, and while the characters sprang to life, occasionally the dialogue was awkward and wooden.  Anwar's dialogue in particular is sprinkled with pedantic tangents that allowed my attention to wander.

That said, Bright Lines really grew on me.  Islam has that rare talent that can render New York City into something that seems somehow magical.  The Saleems' Brooklyn house with its carefully tended oasis of a garden springs off the page.  Maya, Charu, and Ella's adventures to parties and to the beach have the New York City grit stripped away to reveal a new place with undercurrents of possibility.

Islam's characters are undeniably unique and all are fully realized.  Anwar, haunted by the war in his home country and the loss of his best friend, has become an herbal pharmacist and a shameless good-natured pothead.  Hashi, more educated by far than your average salon worker, uses her understanding of psychology to transform people's outsides to mirror their true selves when she isn't busy coiffing bridesmaids for weddings.  Charu is the pampered princess receiving all the benefits her immigrant parents have striven to give her and squandering them on boys and temper tantrums.  Ella, uncomfortable in her own skin and plagued by vivid hallucinations since the death of her parents, is still struggling to find her own identity. 

Islam renders Bangladesh with the same artful hand she uses to bring NYC to life, contrasting beautiful beaches with wretched slums.  She sets present day Bangladesh in stark contrast to the war torn state of Anwar and Hashi's youth.  In a country that endured a painful transformation, Islam expertly guides the Saleem family through a terrible transformation of their own until the scars and the rebirth of both are gently intertwined. 

Bright Lines, while not perfect, is an extremely promising debut for Tanwi Nandini Islam.  I'll be looking forward to the next novel from this author who easily draws the magical out of the ordinary.

(Thanks to the publisher for providing me with a copy in exchange for review consideration.)