The Wonder by Emma Donoghue

indexBook–Based on some 200 cases of ‘fasting girls’ in the US and Great Britain throughout the 19th century, The Wonder follows Lib Wright, a no-nonsense nurse who trained under Florence Nightingale in the Crimean War, who is contracted to determine the veracity of the titular Wonder, a young Irish girl named Anna O’Donnell whose family claims she, of her own volition, has not eaten since her birthday several months ago. Together with taciturn nun Sister Michael, the two women watch Anna in shifts, Lib hoping to expose the O’Donnell family as frauds and secure her own reputation back home. Lib begins to realize, though, as she gets closer to Anna, that their watch is rather cruel. If, up until their watch, Anna has been fed in some covert way and their watch has put an end to it, they are complicit in starving Anna. As Anna begins to grow weak with undernourishment, Lib must decide if she will watch Anna’s slow death, as the village seems to wish her to do, or put a stop to it.

Set just after the Great Famine, the reader can easily see how Anna and her family have made a virtue of not eating. A child who claimed to be full quickly would be a source of relief to her struggling parents. The unique setting, religious faith, and a web of irresponsible adults and family secrets conspire to keep Anna trapped in her fasting and it is difficult to read. The reader feels culpable for Anna’s abuse just as Lib does. This intense read combines the richly detailed, thoroughly researched historical fiction that Donoghue is known for with the pulse-pounding immediacy of her 2010 breakthrough hit Room.

The Summer of Skinny Dipping By Amanda Howells

Book– Sixteen year old Mia Gordan spends the summer at her cousins lavish beach home in the South Hamptons. She expects a wild fun summer of reconnection with her favorite cousin and endless day’s of swimming in the ocean. What Mia didn’t expect was to find out her cousin is spiraling out of control into a world of drugs and partying, or that her cousins golden family exterior isn’t quite what it seems, and she definitely didn’t expect to fall in love this summer. After swearing off boys after having her heart broken by the one boy she thought she loved, she meets a boy, Simon, on the docks of her beach house one night when she is avoiding a raging party. Shrouded in mystery and excitement she meets him every night to go swimming. After weeks of meeting in secret they finally get together in daylight, not too soon after tragedy strikes and its left Mia’s world in pieces.

The Summer of Skinny Dipping by Amanda Howells Is a beautifully written novel about a girl and discovering who she is. I personally loved this novel and while it could be a little predictable at times it encompassed what it is like to be a teenager with typical boy and family problems. Would defiantly rate this a ten/ten.

American Street by Ibi Zoboi

Book – Although high schooler Fabiola Toussaint grew up in Haiti, she is an American citizen.  Her mother is not.  They’ve both been planning to come and live with family in Detroit, but when Customs and Immigration stop her mother at the airport, Fabiola finds herself flying alone to a strange city in a strange country to live with an aunt and three cousins she knows only over the phone.

It’s a rough dunking in the deep end of adulthood, and Fabiola’s three cousins, while loving and supportive in their own way, don’t always make her transition easier.  Tough and street-smart, they have a neighborhood rep as the Three Bees–Brains for the eldest, Chantal, and Beauty and Brawn respectively for twins Donna and Pri.  Nor does Aunt Jo, partially paralyzed from a stroke and often bedridden with pain, play much of a role in welcoming Fabiola to Detroit.

Bit by bit, Fabiola feels her way through assimilation to a new culture and a new family.  Her cousins’ fierceness soon translates to an equally powerful protectiveness and love.  Donna’s abusive, drug-dealing boyfriend is a blot on all their lives, but Fabiola is drawn to his sweet friend Kasim.  A police officer offers Fabiola a chance to help her mother through the immigration process, for a price.  And Fabiola can never feel too disconnected from her roots as the daughter of a Vodou mambo when Papa Legba spends his nights on the sidewalk across from her new home, singing cryptic riddles under the streetlights at the corner of American and Joy…

American Street is a powerful, original and deeply relevant first novel from a talented writer.  Anyone who objects to profanity would do best to steer clear, but for other adult and older teen readers this is a strongly recommended exploration of the present-day American experience.

The Keep by Jennifer Egan

Book – In a remote castle somewhere in Eastern Europe, a young man joins the crew that’s working on turning the castle into an unplugged resort, a place you can go to really escape from everything. The crew is led by his cousin, who our narrator once abandoned in a cave when they were both children. In prison, a convict begins to write a story, trying desperately to impress the pretty young writing instructor he’s falling in love with. Which one of these stories is real, which one is true? Better not to try to figure it out, but just to go along for the ride – and what a ride it is.

I always enjoy stories with unreliable narrators, and this one has two, which is pretty terrific. The story in the castle is a little surreal and more than a little Gothic; the story in the prison is emotionally complex and exciting – not your usual writing-about-a-writer scenario. And I loved both of them, which is unusual for me; usually in a book with two parallel narratives I strongly prefer one or the other. Jennifer Egan is a strong, compelling writer, and I look forward to exploring more of her books. I’d recommend this to fans of Claire Messud and Haruki Murakami.

Confessions of a Wannabe Fashionista: Fashion Comedy Films

Film List – I have a confession; I am wannabe fashionista.  My addiction to fashion-themed romantic comedies knows no bounds and is ever growing.  Here are a few recommendations for a rainy night in:

The Devil Wears Prada

Andrea dreams of being a journalist, and having just graduated from Northwestern University, she is finally ready to start her writing career.  But her dream never involved working as the assistant to demanding Miranda Priestly, Editor-in-Chief of a famed high fashion magazine.  Andrea soon finds herself in way over her head.  How will this young woman survive the deadly world of fashion.  It’s normal girl transforms into fashion goddess; one of my all-time favorite films.  And to top it off the film has a killer cast with the incredible Meryl Streep, Anne Hathaway, Stanley Tucci, and Emily Blunt.

Confessions of a Shopaholic

Rebecca Bloomwood is a shopaholic; she dreams of writing for a fashion magazine and sharing her addiction with the world.  But Rebecca is in some serious credit card debt from all her shopping escapades and needs a job fast.  She manages to land a job at a financial magazine.  Now Rebecca has to write about personal finances and saving money while battling her inner shopaholic.

The Dressmaker

Though more eccentric-depressing drama than comedy, I still think this film is worth a nibble.  Kate Winslet portrays fashion designer Tilly Dunnage, who’s had an exciting life traveling the world.  When Tilly returns to her childhood home, she is an outcast, even to her eccentric mother, Molly.  In spite of her efforts, Tilly falls for the childhood friend turned handsome flirt.  To gain the approval of the local townswomen, Tilly begins designing custom apparel for them, but a dark secret from her past threatens to destroy everything.  Is it too later to start over and move on from the past?

 

 

 

The Girl Before by JP Delaney

Book – Emma and her boyfriend Simon are looking for an affordable flat. Emma is still reeling after a break-in at her previous home and none of the places available in their budget seem safe. Until the agent shows them One Folgate Street, a spectacular modern structure, with sleek, minimal furnishings. It also includes a lease with hundreds of stipulations. Emma is delighted with the house, because its electronic systems and sensors will provide a safe haven for her. The owner of the home, Edward Monkford, is also the architect. Once Emma moves into the house, her life begins to change. She questions her relationship with Simon, revisits the evening of the break-in and eventually is forced to confront her past demons. Jane, who moves into the house after Emma, also has had some recent troubles. She begins to wonder what happened to Emma and the people who lived in One Folgate Street before she moved in. All is not as it seems in this suspenseful story of love, trust, betrayal and madness. I couldn’t put this book down and was surprised by the twist of events. If you enjoyed Gone Girl, Girl on the Train or The Woman in Cabin 10, you’ll be intrigued by The Girl Before.

Who Fears Death by Nnedi Okorafor

Book – Onyesonwu is a child of rape, a child of war. Her mother named her “Who fears death?” because after being attacked and impregnated, she didn’t any more. Onyesonwu is Ewu, the light-skinned offspring of a dark Okeke woman and a pale Nuru man, and she encounters disrespect and fear wherever she goes. But she’s also a sorcerer, thanks to her mother’s fervent prayers, and the older she grows, the more powerful her sorcery becomes. And then she learns of a prophecy, about someone who will turn the whole order of the world upside down…

It took me a little while to get into this book, because it’s got some pretty rough going – Onyesonwu’s mother’s rape; the genocide of the Okeke by the Nuru; and Onye’s Eleventh Year Rite, with an explicit description of female genital mutilation, all feature heavily in the first hundred or so pages. But Onye is such a strong character, so full of promise and determination, that I had to see where she was going to go. Your reward for making it through the brutality of her early years, like hers, is an amazing story of love, female friendship, solidarity, and the pursuit of justice. Onyesonwu isn’t perfect – she frequently loses her temper, and sometimes does irreversible things as a result – but she loves life and she loves her people and her world, and is determined to make all of them better. By the end of the book, I couldn’t put it down.

Norse Mythology by Neil Gaiman

Audiobook – I could recommend the book version of this title, but I won’t.  Don’t get me wrong, the paper version of Norse Mythology is not in any way bad; it’s beautifully written, lyrical and fascinating, every bit what you’d expect of America’s leading myth-drenched fantasy writer retelling the tales of his favorite pantheon.  But a large part of the charm of the book is its essentially aural nature.  This is a text that is written to be heard, prose as hyper-aware of its cadence and meter as any poetry, and the voice it’s written for is the author’s own.  So do yourself a favor and borrow the audiobook version instead of the paper book for the full Neil Gaiman experience–unless, and only unless, you plan to read it aloud yourself to a very lucky loved one.

As a book, Norse Mythology does exactly what it says on the cover: it retells sixteen of the most important myths from the Norse tradition.  As a kid I devoured every scrap of Greco-Roman mythology I could get my hands on and had a fair grounding in the Egyptians, but the Norse myths were somehow more intimidating, hedged in with unpronounceable names and grim doomesday scenarios.  This is the book I wish I’d had then–once again, especially with the audio version to make those names a little less scary.  I’d be most eager to hand this book to anyone looking for a basic grounding in the subject, but the writing is so lovely that I think it’d be enjoyable even for a reader already familiar.  Accessible and timeless, it’s a book destined to preserve its popularity for many years to come.

P.S. Gaiman’s breakout mythological hit, American Gods, is premiering as a TV show on April 30, so if you haven’t had the utter delight of reading that novel, now is the perfect time!

My Best Friend’s Exorcism by Grady Hendrix

9781594748622Book–Abby and Gretchen have been best friends since Abby’s E.T.-themed birthday in the fourth grade, where Gretchen was the only girl who showed up. Their friendship has been the most significant relationship in both girls’ lives, despite class differences between Abby’s and Gretchen’s families and the vagaries of school friendships. The book is set in Abby and Gretchen’s sophomore year, where they  have climbed up to popularity at their selective high school. Trouble starts, though, at a house party at their friend’s lake house, where the girls decide to try LSD. Gretchen has a bad reaction and disappears into the nearby forest for the night. When she reappears, she is…different.

She ceases bathing, wears the same clothes everyday, scribbles listlessly in a notebook, and, most damningly, ignores her nightly telephone date with Abby. Naturally, when your friend takes a turn for the crazy, your first thought is not that she is possessed by a demon, but eventually it becomes clear that there is more wrong with Gretchen than one bad night can explain. I won’t spoil any of the gratuitous-but-fun demonic evil here, but all of the hallmarks of demonic possession are present and accounted for. Abby must decide whether saving Gretchen’s life is worth risking her own; not only her life, but her precarious standing as a poor scholarship student and all of the success that she has fought so hard for. My Best Friend’s Exorcism is part tongue-in-cheek love letter to the 1980s, part touching best friend story, and part gut-curdling horror, but all fun. Hendrix has mastered the tiny niche genre of injecting over-the-top horror into really unlikely and banal scenarios.

Matched By Ally Condie

Book- What if society was perfect? No pollution, no dieses, everybody was just as equal as their neighbor, sounds great…right? Somewhere in the near future we accomplish this, the perfect society. After generations of working on eradicating all inequality in every single aspect of life a new form of government rises. Now known as The Society.

This is the story of Cassia Reyes, a seventeen year old girl who’s dream of a perfect life was to live in The Societies rules, be matched at the age of seventeen, get her final work position and live a long and happy life until her Farewell Ceremony. But all this changes when she is looking over her card from her Match Banquet, instead of seeing her best friend Xander Carrow’s face, for a brief second she see’s someone she recognizes…Ky Markham the other boy who lives down the street. After seeing this image for only the briefest of moments she knows only one thing, Ky was meant to be hers. A mistake by the otherwise perfect Society gives her the one thing she would never have thought she would have, a chance to choose. A story full of surprising twists and turns, the reader follows the story of Cassia Reyes and her road to societal freedom.

Matched by Ally Condie is a wonderful book about love, loss, and the power to choose your own destiny. While the book could get a little hard to follow at times it was very fun to read and it kept me guessing until the very end.