Unraveling Oliver by Liz Nugent

Book–Oliver Ryan, famous children’s book writer, and his loyal wife Alice, who illustrates his books, have a seemingly happy life until one night, after a very good dinner, he hits her, leaves, then comes back to beat her into a coma. The rest of the book is like peeling the layers of an onion. Nugent jumps around in chronology and in viewpoint, each character giving their take on Oliver, their past with him, and why he did it. From his harsh upbringing in a Catholic boarding school, to a fateful summer in France, to his current success, the reader gets more insight into Oliver’s character and motivations with every chapter. By the end, the reader should understand why he did it. Whether you find him sympathetic or a monster is up to you.

Like many books with this structure, it can get a little repetitive. We read tellings of the same scene from so many viewpoints that the details can wear thin by the second character’s take. Also, the story is full of too-convenient coincidences that stretch belief. Nevertheless, I read it in one sitting and found myself sucked in to Unraveling Oliver the way the best domestic thrillers suck you in. While I still found him absolutely monstrous at the end, I could see a different reader coming around to find him at least pitiable, if not sympathetic. This should appeal to people who like the recent spate of compelling Girl novels (Gone Girl, Girl on the Train, etc). If you’re looking for your next read, try B. A. Paris’ Behind Closed Doors, or, in fact, any of B. A. Paris‘ domestic thriller novels.

The Selection Series by Kiera Cass

Book – The Selection Series by Kiera Cass is my #1 guilty pleasure reading. It’s “The Bachelor” (Dating competition) meets The Hunger Games (Caste system). America Singer lives in a society divided by castes. Each member of the kingdom is assigned a number based on their relatives. A One can afford all the luxuries and never have to worry about lack of shelter, food, or money. Eights are the lowest, the handicapped, drug users, those who have nothing.  It’s rare for someone to rise about their status to a higher number. America is lucky to be a Five, meaning she and her family are artists who make money by performing for others, though they still struggle to support themselves.

Enter “The Selection.” Thirty-five girls are chosen to compete for the hand of the prince. All the young women of age are invited to apply. It’s a fairytale, the chance of finding true love with the prince. Participants also receive financial support for their families during their time in the competition. America has already found the (secret) love of her life, but reluctantly submits her application and is chosen. On arrival to the royal castle, America finds that Prince Maxon is not at all what she expected. As she forms friendships with the other applicants, America struggles to decide what she really wants. Will America stay true to her love back home? Will life in the royal castle change that stubborn, proud girl who first entered it’s gates? With the additional threat of rebels attacking the castle, will America be able to find what her heart desires?

I really love the character of America; she fights for what she believes in no matter the consequences and is fiercely loyal. We have the entire series in print at the library, as well as in Ebook on a pre-loaded Kindle available for 2-week Checkout. Visit Goodreads for a complete list of the series order.

Finding My Elegy: New and Selected Poems 1960-2010 by Ursula K. Le Guin

Book – I think it’s impossible to overstate the influence that Ursula K. Le Guin had on modern literature. She wrote books that broke open ideas of what science fiction could be, and she did it so well, with such grace and compassion and beauty, that people couldn’t keep dismissing it as “just” science fiction any more. The daughter of legendary anthropologist Alfred Kroeber, she understood on a bone-deep level the ways that our culture and society shape us, and she used that understanding to dream of better worlds, and the problems that those worlds had, and possible solutions to those problems. She was a champion of women and minority writers in science fiction, a fierce believer that the future can only be better if it includes all of us. And every time you thought she was done, she came out with something new.

After her death in January I returned to her book of poetry to remember her. If her novels are complex webs of character, plot, ideas, and language, her poems are beads of dew on that spiderweb, delicately magnifying her skill and her brilliance. Oh, and they’re gorgeous, too. If you don’t have time to re-read The Dispossessed (although you should, it gets better every year), you’d do worse than to pick up a poem or two.

Goodbye, Things: The New Japanese Minimalism by Fumio Sasaki

Book–If your primary complaint about Marie Kondo’s best-selling The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up is that it just isn’t hardcore-minimalist enough for you, Fumio Sasaki’s Goodbye, Things will be just your speed. Sasaki recounts his journey toward minimalism that stemmed from his dissatisfaction with his life. He was, in his own words, “an unmarried adult with not much money to speak of.” Interestingly, after embracing minimalism, he is still in the same boat, but is now happy with his life. He owns an air mattress, wallet, keys, iPhone, a few dishes, multipurpose liquid soap, and a hand towel. Sasaki makes some decent points with regards to owning possessions to appear a certain way to others (DVDs to seem like a movie buff, books to appear cultured) and suggests minimalism as a way to strip away pretense, but I personally think he takes his obsession with minimalism a bit far. For instance, he mentions how much happiness he derives from using full-size bath towels when he travels in hotels as opposed to the scratchy hand towel he uses at home and recommends routinely denying yourself so that things you used to take for granted become sources of happiness.

I might sound like I’m ragging on this book, but the fact is I quite liked it. While I think Sasaki’s brand of minimalism sounds like torture, he has an interesting writing style and I enjoyed my glimpse into his life which is so different from mine. If you enjoy reading about minimalism, I recommend The 100 Thing Challenge; if you just like keeping up on popular lifestyle trends whatever they are (hey, me too), I recommend How to Hygge.

The Deepest Secret by Carla Buckley

Book – How far would you go to protect a family member?  “The Deepest Secret” explores that loyalty on various levels.  Tyler would like nothing more than just be a normal teenager, but unfortunately he suffers from Xeroderma pigmentosa (XP).  This is a rare condition that makes sunlight and artificial UV light fatal.  He can only leave his house at night and only go to those areas where neighbors have complied with requests to use special light bulbs.  His mom, Eve, is understandably over-protective to the point that her concerns annoy some neighbors and Tyler’s teachers. By being confined indoors during the day, Tyler wants to observe how normal people live. So under cover of darkness he spies on his neighbors through their windows and takes photos of them.  Tyler’s sister, who is slightly older than him is rebellious and feels neglected and his Dad only comes home for the weekends commuting from a job to help cover all the medical expenses.

When the 11 year olf daughter of Eve’s best friend in the neighborhood disappears and is found dead, distrust flows freely among the neighbors.  It seems that the resident families have many secrets and aren’t above false accusations and cover ups.

This is a psychological thriller high in family drama. The story would make a great choice for a book club.  This would appeal to fans of Jodi Picoult, Lisa Scottoline, and the book Defending Jacob.

Crash Override by Zoë Quinn

Book – If you are a person who lives on the Internet, you probably know who Zoë Quinn is – or at least you know the movement that sprung up after her ex-boyfriend posted a long, defamatory screed about her online, and then grew into an online harassment machine. Even if you don’t, though, you’ve seen some of its effects in the rise of online hatred, the never-ending stream of YouTube-star scandals, and the recent death of a man in Kansas by “swatting” – the practice of calling in a fake report to a police department that will result in a SWAT team being sent out.

Quinn’s book is part memoir, part guide to this environment of a new kind of harassment, one that disproportionately targets women, people of color, and other minorities, and which police and the legal system are woefully unprepared to cope with. She describes how she survived the initial onslaught, and the barrage of harassment and privacy violations she continues to struggle with, and how she founded an organization to help other victims do the same. She also offers some valuable information on how to protect yourself from a similar harassment campaign (without “just getting offline”). But even if you’re not concerned about attacks from the Internet, this is a valuable book to read. Internet culture is a part of our culture now, and we all should be aware of the ways it can go horribly wrong. (Also, Quinn has a great sense of humor. Seriously, just read the chapter titles.)

Noteworthy by Riley Redgate

Book— At scholarship student Jordan Sun’s elite, arts-focused boarding high school, getting cast in the school musical isn’t just a fun diversion–it’s a make-or-break-your-career proposition. After she gets passed over for the musical the third year running, Jordan gets some hard advice. For an alto 2 like Jordan, the deepest register for female voices, there just are not many parts, leading or otherwise, in musical theater. Shortly after, Jordan hears that there is an open spot in the Sharpshooters, the most prestigious a capella octet on campus, and decides to audition. The only catch? The Sharpshooters is an all-male group. Can alto 2 Jordan be just the tenor the Sharpshooters need?

Redgate’s characters, especially the Sharpshooters, are a diverse, tight-knit bunch and it’s a pleasure to see Jordan become a member of their little family. I was worried that I wouldn’t be able to enjoy this story because I know next to nothing about music and even less about a capella, but I needn’t have worried. Noteworthy should appeal equally to music neophytes and music buffs. If you like realistic, well-drawn characters, high school stories with a dash of romance, and stories exploring gender, you’ll definitely want to read this book. If you enjoy this one, you might also enjoy the manga series Ouran High School Host Club, which has a fairly similar premise (girl cross-dresses and gets in with a popular club of boys at a prestigious school) but a sillier tone.

Why’d They Wear That? by Sarah Albee

Book – Did you know that traditional Inuit sealskin mittens have two thumbs, so they can be flipped and worn the other way when the palms get wet?

That’s not the kind of intriguing tidbit I’d expect to pick up from a book on the history of fashion, but it’s only one of the ways that Why’d They Wear That? exceeded my expectations.  Most books on historical clothing are big, glossy coffee table books from museum presses.  That’s great as a visual feast, but the focus of such books tends to be narrow, and the text is often dense, dry and in tiny font.

Why’d They Wear That? gloriously smashes that mold, but without sacrificing either visual pleasure–it’s bright, bold and gorgeous–or quality of information.  It’s playful in tone, deeply readable and, most importantly of all to me, focuses on whys as well as whats, delving into the practical and societal causes and consequences of what people wear, such as the significance of indigo dye to colonialism and Anglo-Indian relations.  And it’s wonderfully broad in scope, not only covering a vast stretch of time but also–as in the Inuit example above–maintaining a truly global perspective.

Obviously with so much to cover in a slim 200 pages, Why’d They Wear That? provides more of an overview than an in-depth examination.  But as a casual read for a cozy afternoon, it’s a fabulous choice for anyone (adults too, despite its home in Juvenile Nonfiction!) who’s interested in costuming, fashion or history.

I Believe in a Thing Called Love by Maurene Goo

Book–High school senior Desi Lee likes to have her life under control. With perfect SAT scores, high school popularity, and a great relationship with her goofy, Korean-drama-obsessed widower dad, Desi’s drive and methodical determination have gotten her almost everything she wants in life. The only thing she’s missing is a boyfriend. When she feels an instant connection with impossibly cool and handsome new student Luca Drakos, she decides to apply her scholarly single-mindedness to the project of snagging Luca. Using her father’s Korean drama formulaic romances as a template, she devises a step-by-step plan to win Luca over. Staged near-death experiences and contrived K-drama hijinks ensue.

I had mixed feelings about this book; Desi’s plans cause real harm to real (well, fictional-real) people and she is upfront about how bonkers her plans get. I found that this book was immensely fun if I didn’t take it too seriously, sort of like Korean dramas themselves, in fact. Desi is a charming, strong-willed protagonist with an out-of-whack moral compass who, without spoiling anything, gets off a bit too easy for some of the dangerous stunts she pulls. If you enjoy I Believe in a Thing Called Love, I recommend books by Jenny Han and Sarah Dessen.

Sh*t My Dad Says by Justin Halpern

Book – Sh*t My Dad Says is the hilarious, wonderful memoir detailing the quirky relationship between author Justin Halpern and his father.  As the title implies, readers will quickly discover the foul mouth of Justin’s always blunt, yet caring dad.  The memoir began online as a Twitter page titled “Sh*t My Dad Says,” which featured all the many quotes of Justin’s beloved dad.  All of Justin’s friends that his Dad’s quotes were hilarious and it soon became clear that the internet loved him too. The Twitter account quickly accrued a mass following with news stations requesting interviews with the writer and the man of the hour himself.

Justin is a very relatable narrator, chronicling life after college, moving back home, and trying to survive in the chaos of adultdom. The introduction starts with Justin’s longtime girlfriend breaking up with him, the catalyst that causes him to seek refuge at home while searching for new life prospects.  The life lessons his father instills upon him as a child, adolescent, and adult are often filled with-tough love, and are downright brutal.

Each chapter is titled with a different theme/life lesson and relevant Dad quote.
Justin traces stories of his childhood with his family and details the lessons he learned from his father.  Many of these stories are experiences that everyone shares, though of course with the special touch of Justin’s father.

The humor reminded me of author Jack Gantos, specifically his series featuring a young man named Jack Henry.  Gantos’ writing is full of crude, weird humor, very similar to Justin’s novel.