Tell Me How This Ends Well by David Samuel Levinson (book review)

Image result for tell me how this ends well david samuel levinsonOverview: In 2022, increasing antisemitism threatens American Jews. The disturbingly plausible vision of the near future features dystopian shades while remaining uncomfortably familiar. The book’s descriptions of driving highway 101 in LA, for example, will be recognizable to anyone who has experienced it, except for the addition of the suicide bombings that have become common, and the wet weather brought on by the effects of climate change.

Against this backdrop, the drama of the Jacobson family unfolds. The three Jacobson children – Mo, Edith, and Jacob – have come together to decide what they can do to help their ailing mother, who they fear is being driven to an early grave by their controlling father, who by all accounts is a terrible person. Their solution is patricide.

Complicating the plan to off their dad is the fact that the family has been the subject of a reality TV show, and the family gathering coincides with the filming of a reunion special.

Analysis: This novel fits a lot into its 400 pages. Each of the three younger Jacobson’s stories are intimate and relatable, the world is both familiar and terrifying in its plausibility, and the plot engages the reader to ask questions. For example, is the father truly as bad as he seems, or does he have his own story to tell? In all, an enjoyable, memorable novel that will appeal to fans of family dramas, humorous novels, and light speculative fiction.

Hardcover, published by Hogarth, New York. 2017.

I received a copy of this book from bloggingforbooks.com in exchange for an  honest review.

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Pretty Little Liars by Sara Shepard [Review]

Pretty Little Liars by [Shepard, Sara]Details:
Title: Pretty little liars
Series: Pretty little liars, bk 1
Author: Sara Shepard
Published: HarperCollins, 2006
Blurb:
[From the author’s website, saracshepard.com]

“I’M STILL HERE, BITCHES. AND I KNOW EVERYTHING. —A

Everyone has something to hide—especially high school juniors Spencer Hastings, Aria Montgomery, Emily Fields, and Hanna Marin.
Spencer covets her sister’s boyfriend. Aria’s fantasizing about her English teacher. Emily’s crushing on the new girl at school. Hanna uses some ugly tricks to stay beautiful.
But they’ve all kept an even bigger secret since their friend Alison vanished. How do I know? Because I know everything about the bad girls they were, the naughty girls they are, and all the dirty secrets they’ve kept. And guess what? I’m telling.”

Review:
I was completely prejudiced against this book before I started reading it. I thought it was a trashy novel, a waste of time, vacuous, vapid, stupid, trivial, and probably a bad influence. After reading it, my prejudices were both challenged and confirmed, and I discovered something else. While the book was all the things listed above, it was also at least one other thing. Fun.

Sure, the characters are all horrible examples of people — or perhaps good examples of horrible people — but as messed up, amoral, and unlikeable as they are, they are also fascinating and human. Also, I was relieved to see at least one character exhibit signs of emotional maturity by the end of the book, which shows that the characters can learn and grow. The thing that really redeemed the story in my eyes, though, and helped to explain the series’ continuing popularity (not to mention adaptation into a tv show), was the writing.

Critically the writing is not especially good; but then neither is James Patterson’s in my opinion, yet that does nothing to dampen his enormous popularity. Like JP, Shepard writes well because her writing suits her purpose well, which is to tell an entertaining story. The language is simply a bare-bones structure designed to give the story a place to exist and to move the action along, and as such it works very well. I was not distracted by glaring errors or by bad composition. In effect, the writing was good.

It took a while for my opinion about this book to change. At a quarter of the way through I noted that my impressions were largely negative, mostly because I disliked the characters as people. Even at the end of the book, the thing I find most troubling is that there is very little to admire in any of the characters – the same problem I have with adult literature of the same type (Gone Girl, for example). However, I also noted that the story was quite evocative of a certain type of tween/teen girl experience. Although my own experience was vastly different from anything in the book, the story still brought up old memories and feelings from middle school and high school, which I wondered at and appreciated.

Verdict
Yes, it’s trashy, and yes, it’s stupid, and yes, it showcases the worst of teenage girl behavior. But it’s also fun and entertaining and escapist. I don’t see any problem with indulging in reading something like this from time to time. After all, just because you read National Geographic, The Wall Street Journal, and the NEJM, doesn’t mean you can’t sneak a peek at the National Enquirer or Vogue once in awhile. So here’s the breakdown of my ratings:

Intellectual value: F
Entertainment value: A
Characters: C+
Plot: B
Writing: A
Overall: B

For more info:
Author website: saracshepard.com
Series info: wikipedia.org/wiki/Pretty_Little_Liars_(book_series)
Amazon page: Pretty Little Liars

Originally published by me on http://yablrb.blogspot.com/

March Reading Recap & Review

Happy April First! I can’t believe it’s already April! I don’t have any funny April Fool’s jokes in store, but I thought some of the ones showcased by TIME were pretty funny (http://time.com/4720892/april-fools-day-pranks-jokes-2017/).

This past month I got some good news – I landed my first professional job after finishing my degree! I’m now officially a librarian.

giphy

My position is in youth services, so I will be selecting materials and designing programs and services for tweens, teens, and young adults. I’m very excited, and I will be reading and reviewing more YA literature from now on!

This month I didn’t get around to reading a book published before I was born, but I did manage to read my fiction, nonfiction, and other format titles.

Other Format or GenreSkin Trade by George R. R. Martin, adapted by Daniel Abraham and illustrated by Mike Wolfer. Graphic novel; 2014; My rating ★★★☆☆

The Vampire Gift 1: Wards of Night by [Knight, E.M.]FictionThe Vampire Gift 1: Wards of Night by E. M. Knight. YA fiction; e-book; 2016; My rating ★★☆☆☆

The Indifferent Stars Above: The Harrowing Saga of the Donner Party by [Brown, Daniel James]NonfictionThe Indifferent Stars Above: The Harrowing Saga of the Donner Party by Daniel James Brown; paperback; 2009; My rating ★★★★☆ (I will post a review soon)

FavoriteThe Indifferent Stars Above. 

January Reading Recap

At the beginning of the month, I set my 2017 reading goal as reading one nonfiction and one fiction book each month. Since this turned out not to be very challenging, I decided to add two more goals – reading one book that was written before I was born (BIWB) and one book of a different genre or form each month. This month I selected The Plague by Albert Camus as the BIWB book, and a book of poetry – Notes on the Assemblage by U.S. Poet Laureate Juan Felipe Herrera for the “other form” category.

Here’s what I read this month:

  • Nonfiction –
    •  The Gene: An Intimate History by Siddhartha Mukherjee (Scribner, 2016)
    • Packing for Mars: The Curious Science of Life in the Void by Mary Roach (2011)
    • Zika: The Emerging Epidemic by Donald G. McNeil Jr. (2016)
  • Fiction –
    • The Children’s Home by Charles Lambert (2016)
  • BIWB –
    • The Plague by Albert Camus (1947)
  • Other form / other genre
    • Notes on the Assemblage by Juan Felipe Herrera (2016)

Favorite book:  The Plague by Camus. It reminded me of why I loved literature as a teenager and young adult, and why, when I give myself the chance, I still do. Perhaps fortuitously, Camus’s book is mentioned in The Gene. This excerpt captures what I liked about both books quite well:

We need a manifesto – or at least a hitchhiker’s guide – for the post-genomic world. Historian Tony Judt once told me that Albert Camus’s novel The Plague was about the plague in the same sense as King Lear is about a king named Lear. In The Plague, a biological cataclysm becomes the testing ground for our fallibilities, desires and ambitions. You cannot read The Plague except as a thinly disguised allegory of human nature. The genome is also the testing ground of our fallibilities and desires, although reading it does not require understanding allegories and metaphors. What we read and write into our genome is our fallibilities, desires, and ambitions. It is human nature. — Siddhartha Mukherjee, The Gene: An Intimate History

 

 

 

The Children’s Home by Charles Lambert [book review]

 

Summary: Morgan Fletcher is a disfigured recluse living on an isolated country estate with only his housekeeper, Engel, as company.

One day, mysterious children begin to appear at the house. Where they come from and why they are coming is unknown.

Morgan and Engel take the children in and give them a home (as though this is the usual and expected thing to do when strange children appear at one’s door).

Morgan finds the children to be both a source of great happiness and of horror. As he gradually unravels the tangled threads of the children’s purpose and its connection to him, he comes to understand something about his own past and purpose in the world as well.

Thoughts: The Children’s Home is a brief, deceptively simple story featuring elements of surrealism, magical realism, mystery, and horror.

The tone and style suggest what the result might be of a collaborative effort between A. A. Milne and Stephen King, combining the quiet charm of the former with the abrupt violence and insidious unease of the latter.

The plot is vague, and much is left up to the imagination of the reader (i.e. not explained or made clear). I didn’t find the story very enjoyable or interesting, but I did find it worthy of some thought.

I would describe the arc of the story as unsatisfying, like glimpsing a form in mist. Many things are hinted at or suggested, but never made certain. The ending leaves the reader largely in the dark, still groping for explanations. It seems as though the characters discover or learn something, but the reader is never let in on the secret. This provokes the reader to wonder if she’s wasted her time, or if she simply missed something, or if she needs to think about the story differently.

The book never truly becomes anything, which may be the main source of frustration. Rather like someone trying to write a story based on a vague dream, and having filled in the gaps in the background and setting, and peopled it with a cast of characters, still finds it to be little more than an idiosyncratic curiosity – a creation with no point or significance outside itself. Which some might argue is a definition of art.

Conclusion: I would recommend this curious novella only if one’s tastes run to the odd and vague, and the presence of creepy children in a story is viewed as an unqualified asset.

Book Details:

  • Title: The Children’s Home
  • Author: Charles Lambert
  • Date published: January 5, 2016
  • Publisher: Scribner
  • Length: 224 pages
  • Format: Hardcover
  • My source: Public library