Monday, October 15, 2018

Book Review: "Soon the Light Will Be Perfect" by Dave Patterson

Dave Patterson's Soon the Light Will Be Perfect is spare, beautiful, and haunting. It's one of those books that feels a little like a ticking time bomb, because while everything that happens seems relatively benign, there's an underlying sense of tension that makes you wonder when, or if, everything is going to explode. But that doesn't detract at all from its appeal.

A 12-year-old boy and his family live in rural Vermont at the start of the Gulf War. For the first time in a long time, things are stable for their family—they finally have enough money to move out of the trailer park (which dooms you to ostracism, as even his fellow students in the gifted program at school want nothing to do with trailer park kids) and live in a home of their own.

It's not quite a comfortable existence, in that they still have to watch every penny, but with their father's job at a weapons manufacturing plant, things finally seem to be going their way. The boy's 15-year-old brother is rebellious, experimenting with girls, drugs, cigarettes, and mischief, but he still serves as an altar boy at their local church, so all is not lost. And then their mother is diagnosed with cancer, and everything starts to fall apart.

This is a family for whom religion is tremendously important, and as their mother's illness worsens, they depend more and more on their church. Whether it's attending anti-abortion rallies, which get increasingly more disturbing, or watching the members of the church pray for their mother's recovery, the boy doesn't quite understand the power of religion, but he wants it to work for his mother. (A segment where he finds his confirmation saint and tries to emulate him is a disturbing and emotional one.)

This is the story of a boy on the cusp of young adulthood, even if being an adult certainly doesn't seem all it's cracked up to be. When he meets a young girl named Taylor, he is intrigued by the way she seems so much more mature and worldly than he does, even if she may be only a year or two older than him. But he quickly realizes that Taylor's bravado is a mask for something else, although he isn't sure how to help her, or if she really wants his help.

Soon the Light Will Be Perfect is a poignant story about a family in the midst of crisis, in which two siblings are forced to essentially raise themselves without any real supervision or explanation of all that is falling apart around them. They toy with rebellion but truthfully want a "normal" life back—that is, anything that doesn't send their family back to the trailer park. It's a novel about family, about belief, about realizing your parents don't have it any more together than you do at times, but you still rely on them.

Patterson is a tremendously self-assured writer, and it's hard to believe this is his debut novel. At times it moved a little slower than I liked, and I felt like things were a little more graphic than they needed to be at times, but I couldn't pull myself away from the book, even though I read it expecting everything might go horribly awry at any second.

Soon the Light Will Be Perfect is the first real glimpse of Patterson's talent, and it's worthwhile to read. I can't wait to see what's next.

NetGalley and HARLEQUIN – Trade Publishing (U.S. & Canada)/Hanover Square Press provided me an advance copy of the book in exchange for an unbiased review. Thanks for making this available!

Saturday, October 13, 2018

Book Review: "Odd One Out" by Nic Stone

Courtney Aloysius Cooper IV ("Coop") has been in love with his best friend Jupiter for as long as he can remember. He knows she is a lesbian so he knows a romantic relationship between the two will never happen, but that doesn't stop him from thinking about her all the time. Plus, it doesn't help that they spend almost all of their free time together since they live next door to each other and their families are intertwined. Heck, he even pledged his virginity to her when they were in seventh grade.

"Do I realize it's dumb to have secret feelings for my lady-loving best girl friend and to want said best girl friend to be my first sexual intercourse experience? Yes. But being reminded of the dumbness doesn't make me feel very good."

Every romantic relationship Coop has tends to end because of Jupiter, since none of the girls he dates can handle him having a gorgeous female best friend, regardless of her sexuality. Truth be told, Coop never seems too broken up about the relationships ending. But his best guy friends think he's just setting himself up for heartbreak, and want him to put together a "game plan" that doesn't involve Jupiter.

Jupe loves Coop (they refer to themselves as "Jupe-n-Coop") as a brother and a best friend, but she doesn't think of him romantically. She's waiting to feel something special for a girl instead of the myriad crushes she's had through the years. She's proud of who she is, even though some in school treat her as if she just needs a guy to help solve her problems, while some female classmates think she'd be fun to experiment with.

Enter Rae Chin. The new girl in school, she and Jupiter quickly become friends, which leaves Coop feeling left out. But when Rae and Coop realize they share a traumatic memory from childhood, the two begin a friendship which turns into a flirtation whenever Jupiter isn't around. And no matter how much Jupe tries to downplay Rae's flirty advances toward her, she starts falling for Rae. It's enough complication to rattle every side of the triangle.

Who wins and who loses when friends try taking their relationship to the next level? How do you know when you have true feelings or if you're acting out of fear, jealousy, lust, loneliness, or betrayal? Can you really trust anyone with your heart? How can you truly understand your sexual identity, and if it differs from what you told people, what does that mean for everyone else?

Odd One Out is a poignant, sweet, thought-provoking exploration of the bonds between friends and how romance can both blur and possibly damage those bonds. It's a well-written book about being honest with yourself and those around you, and how easy it can be to take advantage of someone whose feelings may be stronger for you than yours are for them. It's also a look at sexual identity and how it is shaped, and whether declaring who you are is really important.

I really enjoyed this. At first I worried if the characters would be stereotypical or one-dimensional, but Nic Stone is such a talented writer that I needn't have been concerned. These characters are ones you want to root for and know more about, but in the end, they're still high school students—they don't speak as if their dialogue was written by Aaron Sorkin and they're not wise beyond their years. That's one of the keys to this book's appeal, that it feels so genuine.

In Stone's author's note, she says the following: "Being who you are and loving who you love may not be easy, but it's always worthwhile." As I've said many times when I've read great YA fiction, this is one of those books I wish existed when I was growing up, but I'm so glad it exists at this time, and hope it falls into the hands of those who will benefit from it.

What I loved so much about Odd One Out is that it didn't try too hard to convey its message, but its heart definitely won mine over. This is a special book for those who explore it.

Friday, October 12, 2018

Book Review: "November Road" by Lou Berney

Yes, it certainly was!!

"Guidry had always taken a simple approach to life: live it loose and easy, let it roll off and over you. Well, easier said than done these days. But he couldn't let himself brood about it, just how badly fucked he was."

Frank Guidry has always been a loyal foot soldier to Carlos Marcello, the mob boss of New Orleans. Carlos, and his lieutenant-of-sorts, Seraphine, have always been able to count on Frank for whatever needed to be done. And Frank has reaped the benefits—he's treated with respect, and sometimes fear, by those looking to do business with Marcello; he carries his clout with him wherever he chooses to go; and it's not just his good looks that entice women to want to sleep with him.

But in November of 1963, it looks like Frank's luck has just run out. The world has just been stunned by President Kennedy's assassination, and Frank realizes he may know a little more about that crime than he should, as he was down in Dallas on an errand shortly before the president was shot. And when Seraphine sends him back to Texas to tie up a loose end, he realizes he's just one more expendable detail—but he's not quite ready to give up without a fight.

In an effort to save himself, Frank tries numerous diversionary tactics which take him across the country, and all the while he's wondering if there's anyone left he can trust. When he runs into Charlotte, a housewife who took her two young daughters and fled her humdrum existence in Oklahoma to pursue a more exciting life, Frank realizes that he may have just found the perfect camouflage—no one will be looking for a man traveling with his wife and daughters.

Charlotte thinks Frank is just being a Good Samaritan, as he poses as an insurance salesman who offers to help Charlotte and her daughters get to their final destination in California. She has no idea of the danger that he's in, nor what that could mean for her. And while Charlotte is exactly what he needs, Frank is surprised to realize how independent and feisty she is, and how irresistible the path she represents suddenly seems.

As Frank tries to outrun his fate, and figure out his next steps, Charlotte wants to prove to herself and her daughters that she can give them the life she believes they deserve, and she isn't sure if Frank is a distraction or a choice worth pursuing. Will what Frank initially saw as his salvation ultimately be his undoing?

"With every decision we create a new future. We destroy all other futures."

Lou Berney follows up his fantastic The Long and Faraway Gone (see my review) with another stellar book which is part thriller, part character study, and part historical novel, as it so accurately captures the mood and social issues of the early 1960s. Berney is such an exceptional storyteller that I was hooked from start to finish, even if I had suspicions about how things would end up.

This book is so rich in character development. Even though you don't get to know some of the characters as well as you do Frank and Charlotte, there are incidents in the book that really wowed me. You know Frank hasn't been an entirely good person but you find yourself rooting for him, hoping he may outsmart all of those looking to destroy him.

My dad used to read thrillers, and I used to introduce him to all of my favorite authors. When I found a book or author that impressed me, I couldn't wait to recommend it to him. He passed away before I read anything by Berney, but I know that he would have loved him, too, and he also would have found November Road a fantastic achievement by an author who deserves significant notoriety.

Whether you're a thriller fan, or just a fan of exceptional writing, this is one to pick up and savor.

Tuesday, October 9, 2018

Book Review: "What If It's Us" by Becky Albertalli and Adam Silvera

I got up super early this morning to download Becky Albertalli and Adam Silvera's new book, What If It's Us, and I have officially devoured it. All it took was reading during lunch, at every red light on the way home from work, at the chiropractor, and then after dinner this evening.

One book written by two of my favorite YA authors equals ALL. THE. FEELS.

"I believe in love at first sight. Fate, the universe, all of it. But not how you're thinking. I don't mean it in the our souls were split and you're my other half forever and ever sort of way. I just think you're meant to meet some people. I think the universe nudges them into your path."

Arthur is in New York for the summer before his senior year of high school, working as an intern at a branch of his mother's law firm. For a boy from a small town in Georgia, New York is everything he dreamed it would be—although he hasn't made any friends save the two summer associates who serve as his supervisors, and he hasn't met any boys.

Then one day, en route to pick up a coffee order for the law firm, he spots a cute boy carrying a box to the post office. He does the supremely non-Arthur thing and strikes up a conversation. Despite the fact that the boy is mailing a box of things back to his ex-boyfriend, the two definitely have a meet-cute, but then they are separated before they can get each other's phone numbers.

While Arthur believes the universe is trying to tell him something about this boy, Ben doesn't believe in signs from the universe. He'll be the first to admit that this cute boy intrigues him, although he can't figure out how to find him. But eventually they are reunited, and tentatively embark on a roller coaster of a relationship, even knowing that Arthur will be returning home to Georgia at the end of the summer.

Are two people destined to be together? If so, can they weather the storm of jealousy, meddling best friends, parental drama, tardiness, miscommunication, and fears of inadequacy? Is it worth trying—and trying again—if you know you have a finite amount of time to be together?

What If It's Us is an absolutely lovable, poignant, adorable book about two boys trying to listen to the universe—and fight it—in their quest to be together. It's a book about friendship, family, jealousy, and finding yourself, and having the confidence to realize you're worth being fought for. And it's a book about trying to make a relationship work in one crazy world.

Albertalli and Silvera have written some of my favorite YA books over the last several years, so I had so much anticipation for this book. I'm so happy to say that this book was as good as I was hoping it would be—it didn't depress me like so many of Silvera's books but it made me feel the full range of emotions that both authors have made me feel previously.

You know what will happen in this book for the most part (I was briefly off course with one plot thread, but pleased my thoughts didn't come to fruition) and you want to take this ride anyway. And hopefully, in the end, you're glad you did. I know I am, despite being sad it's over now!!

Book Review: "Evidence of the Affair" by Taylor Jenkins Reid

Dear Mr. David Mayer,

My name is Carrie Allsop. Please accept my apologies for contacting you out of the blue. I am writing to ask a quite humbling favor. I recently found some love letters in my husband's briefcase that I believe to be from your wife, Janet...

With those words, this potent short story by Taylor Jenkins Reid begins. It's December 1976, and Carrie Allsop has taken every last ounce of courage to write the man whose wife she believes is having an affair with her husband. She asks him if he has seen any letters her husband wrote to his wife, and if he has, she asks him to send them to her. She offers to do the same if he'd like to see his wife's letters, but Carrie imagines his first reaction to her letter will be shock.

"It is funny the crazy things our brains make up to save us from the truth. I have had fantasies that Ken is writing a screenplay and that he had the letters for research. Isn't that wild?"

David is, as Carrie surmised, shocked by the news she has sent him and is hurt by his wife's betrayal, but isn't really surprised, as their marriage had been strained for some time. As he tries to recover from the blow, he realizes that the only person he can rely on is Carrie, and the two begin to build a friendship based on such an awkward common bond.

As their friendship grows, they struggle with what to do. Should they confront their spouses, which could lead to the end of their marriages? Is that what they want? Do they want to start life anew, or do they want one more try at recapturing the magic they once had with their spouse? Both Carrie and David aren't sure what they want, and they aren't sure at first what their spouses' next steps will be either.

"I've always been struck by the idea that you can't be all that happy something has returned if it doesn't go away in the first place. But what if the thing goes away and never comes back?"

Reid holds your attention from start to finish, and throws in a bit of a twist for good measure. It's amazing how satisfying, how powerful, how poignant a story like this can be, and while I felt like she took you on a complete journey in a short number of pages, I'd still love to see what came next for these characters.

I read Reid's The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo a week or two ago, and it will undoubtedly be on my list of the best books I read this year. Once again, she proves she is an expert storyteller, and I can't wait to jump in and devour more of her fiction, because I love the way she writes.

Some may not love short stories, but this epistolary story feels more like a conversation than anything else. It won't take you long to read it, but definitely read it.

Monday, October 8, 2018

Book Review: "Someday" by David Levithan

Every single day A becomes another person. The person's gender may change, their race may change, their age may fluctuate. Each day A has to navigate that person's life and try not to do any damage, simply stay the course so that no one around them notices anything different. It's a hard way to live, and A is lonely, longing to make a connection and feel the love that so many of the bodies they reside in get to feel.

One day, A met Rhiannon and felt that connection. But once you feel that, how can you give that away, even if that's the rule your life has always followed. After taking over the body of Nathan for one day, A had the chance to spend more time with Rhiannon, finally telling her the truth of why they can't be together. But that one day changes them irrevocably, and leaves them longing for more, for forever.

"What kind of rational person would ever believe the truth? Who wouldn't laugh when someone tells them it's possible to move from one body to another? That's how I reacted at first. The only reason I stopped being rational was because something irrational happened to me. And I knew it."

As A and Rhiannon try to find each other again, Rhiannon also has to decide whether disrupting her life and the lives of those around her is an adequate price to pursue a relationship which might never be able to fulfill. And as she explains to Nathan how the two of them are connected, she realizes there is so much more at stake. But how can she pass up that chance?

A always wondered whether they were the only one who has their kind of life, but it turns out they're not alone. Yet not all of those like A are resigned to living their lives the same way—at least one acts nefariously, causing wreck and ruin in the lives of those they inhabit.

"To love and be loved is to leave traces of permanence across an otherwise careless world."

In Someday, the third book in David Levithan's series of books featuring A, Levithan raises more existential and fundamental questions about life, love, connection, and the effects people have on our lives, sometimes without even realizing it. If you've read the other books in this series—Every Day (see my review) and Another Day (see my review)—you know you have to seriously suspend your disbelief to appreciate this story and feel the emotions the series piques.

Levithan is one of my favorite YA authors out there—he's written some of my all-time favorite books—and I love the way he tells a story. Yet while I absolutely loved the first two books in the series, this third book really left me wanting. Perhaps it was the multiple perspectives through which the story is narrated, perhaps it is the juxtaposition of what motivates A's character versus what motivates the character X, or perhaps it tries too hard to be more philosophical than the first two books. I guess this happens in many multi-book series, but I still was a bit disappointed.

If the concept of these books appeals to you, and you can suspend your disbelief, I'd highly recommend you read the first two books in the series. It's probably best you read them in order, because this book doesn't make as much sense without knowing what happened in the first two.

Even though I didn't like this book as much, I still love the concept, and I can't wait to see what Levithan comes up with next. It's definitely a refreshing spin on the angst-ridden issues we often see in YA novels.

Wednesday, October 3, 2018

Book Review: "The Night Before" by Wendy Walker

Well, that was a wild ride!! At some point I figure my pulse will stop racing.

Laura is getting ready for a blind date. She isn't quite sure if she's ready to date again after a bad breakup not too long ago, but something about this man's picture, his profile, their conversations, makes her hopeful and excited.

It hasn't been easy for Laura since she moved back to her hometown, moved in with her older sister Rosie and her family. Because years ago Laura was involved in a tragic, mysterious incident, and no one really knows the truth of what happened, but it's haunted her every day since then. She doesn't like when people judge her or mistrust her—or even fear her—but she knows some do. And inherently, she knows Rosie is still worried about her.

Laura goes on the date—and then disappears. Rosie, her husband, and a family friend are left trying to figure out what happened that night. But to do so, they must uncover the truth about what happened to Laura all those years ago, and what other incidents that night has set off in her life since then.

The less said about the plot the better, because there is a lot going on and there are a lot of twists and turns to navigate. Wendy Walker definitely takes you on a ride, ratcheting up the suspense as you wonder what all of these characters are hiding. (I trust no one, so I suspect they're all hiding something.)

The Night Before alternates narration between Laura getting ready for the date and as the date happens, and the present, as Rosie searches for answers. It's a fascinating, compelling read that hooked me from its very innocuous start, as Laura is getting dressed for her date. But Walker only hints at what's to come.

This book doesn't come out until mid-May of next year, so if you can't get your hands on an advance copy, I'd definitely recommend one of Walker's earlier books, Emma in the Night. (See my review.) I think this new book is a little better than that one, but it still gives you an idea of Walker's storytelling talent.

We're in the midst of a real glut of thrillers, so it's not always easy to tell which are worth your time. The Night Before definitely is. You'll see everyone reading it come next year!

NetGalley and St. Martin's Press provided me an advance copy of the book in exchange for an unbiased review. Thanks for making this available!