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Sweet Tooth

Sweet Tooth - Ian McEwan

** spoiler alert ** Oh, interesting. I never read books like this; I favor YA, which tend to be quick reads, familiar characters, lots of feelings and lots of passion, not a lot of introspection or self-examination, no lengthy descriptions of characters that only matter as background for the ones that do matter. Certainly no lengthy descriptions of the short stories a character has read or of the political and social climate of England in the 1970s. But my, it is nice to step out of one's comfort zone every so often, isn't it? I kind of feel like I got slapped by a big, salty ocean wave and forgot to close my mouth.

I wasn't expecting to like this, to be honest, because I tried to read one of Ian McEwan's books before and I don't think I finished it, and also, I saw the movie adaptation of Atonement and, though I think it was pretty nicely done, I didn't enjoy it. Not my kind of movie. And for the first, I don't know, 100 pages, I was still thinking that this wasn't going to be a book I enjoyed very much, although I was finding it interesting. I wanted to know where we were heading with Tony Canning, I wanted to know what sort of disaster Serena was heading for, but I wasn't exactly loving the book. But THEN. Then the description of Haley's short story about the twins, which I LOVED. I actually usually hate books-within-a-book (unless there's a thing framing device, The Turn of the Screw-style, which is okay) (I also hate dream sequences pretty much without exception), but I really was into this one. And then we met Tom Haley, and I pretty much gobbled down the rest of the book. 

Well, don't get me wrong, this is not the sort of book that gives you paper cuts from flipping pages so fast. The writing is demanding, the pace steady and smooth, the voice thoughtful. It takes time to move those pages if you really want to get the most from this book--ahh, and isn't that interesting, because you could definitely read it Serena-style, skimming the passages about the communists and the conversations about books, but you wouldn't get to know the book the way it wants to be known, if you did that. 

I actually liked Serena, and I found her extremely relatable. I liked her pretension and the snobbery that she could only cop to in a roundabout way, how she thought she was so much more than she was--no, how she wanted to want to be more than she was, but actually, she was fairly middling in a lot of ways and was perfectly content to be that way. I liked her flaws, is what I'm saying. She had the right kind of flaws and just enough self-awareness for them not to grate overmuch. I appreciated how it never once occurred to her that any of the men in her life might actually not have wanted to sleep with her or love her just because of her--they were gay, they were engaged, they were dying. Such a beautiful girl way of thinking, to assume first that you're desired, then locate a reason why you weren't that is down entirely to the man and has nothing at all to do with you. 

I liked Tom Haley, and I liked their relationship. I wanted to know what Max's deal was. I was expecting a little more from the Shirley Shilling angle, but I was happy with what we got. I hated the ape story, wasn't into the mannequin, really liked Pawnography, kind of dug the novella. And the end. Well, I mentioned, didn't I, that I hate a book within a book, but the ones here really worked for me? And I didn't mention, but will now, that I usually wish narrators were reliable, and that while literary trickery can ultimately be very satisfying, I generally find it annoying while I'm reading it. So, actually, I should have hated this book. Instead, I didn't. I really, really liked this book. I didn't see it coming, the fact that this book I was reading was the book Haley was writing, but I knew there would be something. I actually underlined this passage, from just after Serena finishes reading the ape story (ahh, the joys of owning books!):

I instinctively distrusted this kind of fictional trick. I wanted to feel the ground beneath my feet. There was, in my view, an unwritten contract with the reader that the writer must honor. No single element of an imagined world or any of its characters should be allowed to dissolve on authorial whim. The invented had to be as solid and as self-consistent as the actual. This was a contract founded on mutual trust.

And that passage stayed in my mind, and it was so very--I agreed with it so very much, as a person who prefers to read quickly and really just for fun rather than for thinking about (recovering English major?), but I recognized it as foreshadowing in a major, major way. But the twist there was--oh, well, I liked Haley's short stories so much! Why would I not like his novel? It just really worked for me, especially the fact that it came at the very. end. of the novel, so I didn't have to read for pages upon pages newly certain that the author (the real one, you know, Mr. McEwan) wasn't to be trusted. Instead, it told you what the what was, and everything ended. 

And obviously, Serena and Tom lived happily ever after, and I really like that, too. (Initially gave this four stars, but then I wrote the review and realized it needed five. I like it increasingly upon consideration!)

Amelia Anne is Dead and Gone - Kat Rosenfield A dead girl found on the side of the road in a small town where there just aren't really murders to be solved. Another girl, ready to get out of dodge, get to college and never look back. A mystery, just the way I like them: short on adrenaline (a couple of spikes at the most climactic of moments, but no amateur detectives running from mob bosses for chapters on end), long on character development. This was an extremely well-written book, really atmospheric and descriptive, with a protagonist who isn't out to get involved in...well, anything in her hometown. I liked that it was a mystery, but it wasn't a high-speed chase toward the identity of the killer. It was more about riding the slow swells of lake waves toward the conclusion, and at times, just treading water and enjoying the view of the shoreline. Excellent.
Lone Wolf - Jodi Picoult I was not interested in the premise of this book, I was not interested in the characters in this book, I am surprised that I finished this book. It was very Jodi Picoult--a moral dilemma, a family divided, a court of law. I found it pretty boring, because it was clear from the beginning how it was going to end, and I STILL stayed up an hour past bedtime to finish it.

Ms. Picoult is sneaky like that. She doesn't write anything like mystery novels, but there's always one or two secrets that the characters keep from the reader until the end of the book. And I need to know people's secrets! It's a compulsion! So I have to finish her books once I start them, but darn it, I don't have to like them. Especially when the secrets turn out to be not-so deep and dark, as was the case here.
Insurgent - Veronica Roth I finally got around to reading this, after having loved Divergent so very much. I'm like that with series, though. If the books were all there to be read immediately after finishing the first, I would read them, immediately. But after a year, I'm just not that eager, anymore. Which is a shame, because really, reading a second book years after the first one means that I've forgotten a lot, and I can't remember what it was that I loved so much.

And maybe that's what happened here. I didn't love Insurgent. I liked it. It was fun. It was fast-paced, I was interested, I was curious, but I wasn't invested. I wasn't worried about the state of the relationship between Tris and Four, though clearly, I was supposed to be. I didn't care enough about the characters who were in danger, even the ones who died, for it to hit me in the gut. I was missing that heart-pounding sense of urgency that has the pages flying. I feel like this was a book I was meant to read in one sitting, or to only very reluctantly put down when the real world called, but I spread it out over a few days, and I wasn't thinking about it when I wasn't reading it.

I think I'll be reading Allegiant, when it comes out, because I'm curious about what'll happen in relation to the Big Reveal at the end of Insurgent. But I'm not on tenterhooks, you know? And I wish I were.
Sing You Home - Jodi Picoult I was a little disappointed in this book. I mean, I always find Jodi Picoult's books somewhat dissatisfying, mostly because they're not so big with the answers. This one I found disappointing because there were too many answers. There were good guys and bad guys, a right side and a wrong one. It's not that I didn't agree with Picoult's very obvious position--I really really do--but it's not exactly what I expect from her, or what I wanted when I settled into the book.

I was looking for something more complicated, less...uh, you know, not so much with the Harry Potter epilogue, right?
Butterfly - Sonya Hartnett This is a book that reads like a short story. It's dense, a bit pretentious, and not a whole lot happens. It's emotionally intense, though, and the characters all have secrets and sadness. It's quiet and haunting. But it felt like it was taking forever to read, like I was treading water at some points, because nothing was happening. It's...interesting, in retrospect, but it wasn't a reading experience that I enjoyed.
Keeping the Moon - Sarah Dessen Ahh, Sarah Dessen. She does what she does so well. I love the setting, familiar and believe from here other books. I love her characters, the girls that she writes so well that you might want to be each and every one of them, even though they all have very real flaws and woes. I especially love the way she does relationships and those moments of gasping for breath, through laughter or tears or both, that remind you of every best and worst night of your life.

I zipped through this book, and while it wasn't maybe as deep or thoughtful as I generally prefer, it was a sweet, nice read. A book you don't have to work for, you know?
The Lifeboat - Charlotte Rogan It's 1914, the Empress Alexandria has sunk, and Grace is on trial for her part in the events that took place on an overcrowded lifeboat in the middle of the Atlantic.

The story of what happened unfolds through a journal of Grace's account that she is to provide her defense attorney with and, as such, isn't entirely reliable. Obviously, Grace wants to make herself look good, and we get the definite impression that she knows more than she's willing to admit. It's not that she's lying, but she's definitely concealing things, things like, how did her husband secure her place on that lifeboat? and what did Hardie keep in that box? and maybe even what happened to Mary Ann? Grace is manipulative, we can see that through her story of how she met and eventually married her husband, newlyweds at the time of the sinking.

So this book is...unsettling. Actually, I nearly put it down after reading the first couple of pages, because it seemed too bleak and terrible. Human nature, when it comes to survival, can be ugly, and all of that ugliness is aboard the lifeboat. But I kept on, and I'm glad I did, because this book was fascinating. I wish I had all of the answers, I wish I knew just how much deception Grace put into her journal, but I'll be thinking about this book for a while, precisely because I don't have all the answers. Or any of the answers, actually.
Wishing for Tomorrow: The Sequel to A Little Princess - Hilary McKay So, I have very fond memories of A Little Princess from childhood, and the story is lovely and magical and candlelit in my mind. And obviously, when a book that's been adored for a century suddenly begets a sequel, there's a concern that it'll go the way of Scarlett, and you'll have to divorce it entirely in your mind from the original, to pretend that it's a stand-alone, mediocre romance. Or a children's wish-fulfillment novel, whatever. Anyway, it's a concern.

Here's the deal: Hilary McKay did an amazing job on this book. The tone and writing style stay true to Burnett's original, and the characters are easily identifiable as those from the book as well. And, I hate to have to say this, because...A Little Princess, right? But I think McKay actually improved on Burnett's work. The characters are the same characters, but because they're not seen through the eyes of Sara Crewe (who I love, right, but she was extremely self-righteous, spoiled, superior, and classist), they're so much more. They're people in they're own right. And this book is much more self-aware of all those issues, especially the classism, but it fits right in with Burnett's work because the characters who we're seeing things through are characters who would be more aware of it than Sara was.

So, I loved the fire, which was a frightening adventure (without being terrifying), but was also cleansing, a rebirth for everyone at the Select Seminary. And I love that every single person got a happy ending, because A Little Princess gave Sara such an exultant one and left all of the other characters to sighingly stagnate.

And I teared up in that moment, after the fire, when this happened:
Tristram's uncle said, “Perhaps after all there is a God.” The vicar, who had never doubted it, knelt in the mud and ashes and gave thanks.
Because I loved those girls, you know? And I'm not one for religion, but...that'd give you cause to wonder, if anything would.

So anyway, this was a winner, for me.
To the Power of Three - Laura Lippman A school shooting...but really, more of a shooting that happened to take place at a school. It's straight-forward, the where what and who and how laid out for the police to read easily, and if all that wasn't enough, an eye-witness that tells it just like it seems. But it wouldn't be a book if it were that easy.

I really love Laura Lippman. All of the books I've read that she's written have a fantastic moodiness to them, an urgency even when the crime is done and no one's in danger anymore. They have great characters, who are imperfect and believable, flawed but sympathetic--you might love or hate any of them, and you'd be right to do so. And they all have a great sense of place--the setting is a second protagonist, as complicated and important as any of the characters.

I just think she's a great writer, and really, there's no other mystery writer I'd rather read. I really really liked this book.
Pieces of Us - Margie Gelbwasser Oooohkay. So. Hm.

I actually don't even want to write about this. I read it, quickly. It's extremely dark, extremely disturbing, a horror novel masquerading as realistic fiction. It made me nauseous, and maybe that's the part of me that's a mother of a daughter now, because I couldn't help but think...how do you protect your babies from that?

I didn't like anything about it. I don't think it was gratuitous, and I don't think it was intentionally exploitative, I just. Don't want to think about it anymore, thank you.
Texas Gothic - Rosemary Clement-Moore Oh, I really enjoyed this. I mean, it's not the best book I've ever read, and I'd put the writing at the "perfectly serviceable" level, and, I mean, the mystery isn't exactly miles above an episode of Scooby Doo, BUT. I love books set in Texas, and I love a good cowboy love story, and I like me some ghosts. So, I liked this book. I liked that the main character's name is Amaryllis (Amy) Goodnight and that her sister is Delphinium (Phin). I am also ever so fond of the Family of Witches trope (Practical Magic, yah?). Basically, this book hit a lot of my buttons, and it could've been better, sure, but I really liked reading it.
Imaginary Girls - Nova Ren Suma I'm not sure what to say about this book. It's haunting, beautifully written, really an expertly crafted novel that, for the story it tells, is probably close to perfect. But I didn't really like it. I ended the book still as confused as when I started it. I loved a lot of the ideas, the imagery, and the whole picture of a town flooded to make a reservoir still sitting, silent beneath calm waters, waiting to add to its populace by pulling foolish teenagers under.

My reservations are that there was no resolution. For some people, that's okay, preferred even. It keeps you thinking about a book for days and weeks after you've finished it. But I...well, I'm a person that feels deeply cheated when an episode of Dateline ends without somebody wearing an orange jumpsuit, you know? I want to know what was going on with Ruby. Was Chloe losing her mind, imagining everything? And seriously, what was the deal with London? There were virtually no questions answered, and I found that so frustrating.
The Mermaid's Mirror - L.K. Madigan I found this book...unconvincing. I think the dialogue was mostly stilted, the relationships between the characters were pretty shallow, and I didn't see much in the way of character nuance or development in Lena, our protagonist. I was expecting a YA book when I picked it up, and Lena is definitely 16, but the book read middle grade. It would be an acceptable middle grade novel, if we aged down Lena and her friends--and by acceptable, what I mean is, I don't think a 5th grader looking for books about mermaids would be turned off. I don't think a teenager would find much to love, here.

The mermaid village wasn't as detailed as I'd want to see, and I didn't buy Lena's connection to either world enough for the Extreme Turmoil she was apparently supposed to have been feeling...

Ugh, not my jam, but I don't think this was one of those books I read at the wrong time or was just wrong for me, as a reader. The cover/marketing was wrong for the book, and the book wasn't that great.
The Madman's Daughter - Megan Shepherd I made it 30% of the way through this, and I can't take it anymore. The writing isn't bad, but it's not enough to make up for the fact that I don't care about the characters and am already pretty sure of the direction this is heading.
The Scorpio Races - Maggie Stiefvater There really wasn't a thing I liked about Stiefvater's Shiver series, so I pretty much expected to hate this as well. Not so, my friends, not so! Part of it (and the reason I put this on my TBR list, despite hating everything I'd ever read from the author) is that I love the idea of water horses. I wasn't familiar with any of the mythology surrounding them, but the thought of Stiefvater's capaille uisce, beasts that are made from the sea, then emerge starved and ferocious only to be saddled...isn't that gorgeous? I'm thanking the red bull from The Last Unicorn (the movie) for the image in my head and how in love with it I am. More than that, though, I loved the characters, Puck and Sean and Finn (Finn! How I love Finn! I so hope that he gets apprenticed at Palsson's) and Dory Maud and everyone in between. I loved the relationship between Puck and Sean, how slowly it develops, a wary, tightly furled thing at first.

Aaand the setting. I loved Thisby. I breathed salt air and fish scent while I read, heard the cymbal crash of the waves on the cliffs. For 400 pages, I got to be an islander, a lifelong resident of Thisby through Puck and Sean. For 400 pages, I couldn't imagine living anywhere else, even though in reality, like Gabe, I probably wouldn't be able to bear it.