Landline by Rainbow Rowell
Landline gave me a hangover. I started it on a Sunday and finished it that evening. (Which isn't incredibly surprising, because—after receiving Landline in the mail—I told Rowell that "the pages smell delicious. They smell like delicious, glorious BOOK.") Rowell, who lives in Omaha, has written a few other novels, including Eleanor & Park (her most renowned), Fangirl (which I haven't read), and Attachments (my personal favorite). In Landline, Georgie McCool "knows her marriage is in trouble. That it's been in trouble for a long time. She still loves her husband, Neal, and Neal still loves her, deeply—but that almost seems beside the point now." When Georgie chooses to stay in California and work over Christmas—instead of fly to Omaha with her husband and their two children--she wonders if she's finally "ruined everything." Desperate to speak to Neal, Georgie plugs in a yellow rotary phone and discovers, to her surprise, that she's able to converse with Neal in the past. The presence of the phone is a touch of fantasy in an otherwise contemporary novel about marriage. I found myself laughing at the bra-shopping scene, and—as always—admired Rowell for incorporating the small inconveniences people face every day in real life (like the under-wire of a bra coming loose and stabbing your under-boob). And, like Attachments, Landline made me love (and hate) Rowell. I loved that the story was intoxicating, and loved that the words were introspective, sassy, and realistic. (I hated Rowell for the exact same reasons because, damn it, I wish I were as magical as a storyteller.)
A Short History of Nearly Everything by Bill Bryson
Bryson is known for his travel writing (and for his wit), and his books are a pleasant blend of humor, fact, and observation. (A Walk in the Woods is probably his most popular book, though I've yet to read it. I have, however, tackled Mother Tongue, Down Under, and Notes from a Big Country.) A Short History of Nearly Everything is the lengthiest Bryson book I've ever read and, at 544 pages, it took me about a month to read. The text isn't as light-hearted as some of Bryson's other books, but I still found myself fascinated. You don't have to be a scientist or an astronomer or a physicist to understand this book. In fact, Bryson intended for it to be read by "non-specialists." He finds ways to explain, easily, particle accelerators, gravity, plate tectonics, chemistry, evolution, cosmology, fossils, physics, and the science behind how we (humans) came to exist. And though it is a bit of a tome, the various chapters make it easy to read a few pages here and there. I found myself most interested in the first three-fourths of the book, but found the material about evolution less engaging--not because Bryson is less engaging, but because evolution is a topic by which I'm not generally intrigued. That said, I highly recommend reading A Short History of Nearly Everything. Bryson did extensive research (did you know the human body contains twenty million kilometers of coiled DNA?) and gave readers a book that educates and entertains. If you're interested in tackling just a few pages at a time, then I suggest putting this book in your library. And by "library," I mean bathroom.
Counting by 7s by Holly Goldberg Sloan
Counting by 7s is a book I plan to shelve next to Mockingbird, Wonder, and The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time. The story focuses on twelve-year-old Willow Chance, a gifted child whose adoptive parents are killed in an accident. In the aftermath, Willow—who has always been viewed as "strange"—finds companionship with other misfits. Said misfits are often given their own perspective, which allows the reader to see how each character perceives Willow—as a genius, as a weirdo, as an annoyance, as an angel. Willow certainly has her peculiarities—she's obsessed with disease, and she diagnoses the individuals she encounters with various maladies—but she's affable, curious, and heartbreakingly strong. Though I had expected to see the number "7" appear more throughout the book, I felt as if Willow's other fixations—medicine and the growing of plants—appeared more often. Regardless, I read the book in just a few hours—Counting by 7s is a middle grade book, after all—and was left with yet another book hangover. Counting by 7s gave me feelings, you guys. Feelings about how hard it is to be an outcast, and how wonderful it is when when a few "oddballs" form their own family. To borrow the words of John Corey Whaley, "Holly Goldberg Sloan writes about belonging in a way I've never quite seen in any other book. This is a gorgeous, funny, and heartwarming novel that I'll never forget."
Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil by John Berendt
“He was tall, about fifty, with darkly handsome, almost sinister features: a neatly trimmed mustache, hair turning silver at the temples, and eyes so black they were like the tinted windows of a sleek limousine—he could see out, but you couldn’t see in.” Thus begins Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil, a nonfiction book that spent four years on The New York Times bestseller list. (Impressively, it was Berendt’s first book.) The book is set in Savannah, and highlights the various characters of the city—elitists, “old money,” a foul-mouthed drag queen, promiscuous singers and piano players, a voodoo priestess, and—as the back of the book summarizes—“a redneck gigolo whose conquests describe him as a ‘walking streak of sex.’” I was entranced by each character, and was eager to learn more, more, more—more of their secrets. As you can imagine, several loads of proverbial dirty laundry were aired in the second part of the book, when the entire city of Savannah is focused on a murder trial. It was a damn fine read—part gossip column, part true-crime story—and, after finishing it, I found myself browsing the Internet, looking up the drag queen, the elitists, and the “redneck gigolo” Berendt had written about. In fact, reading Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil made me incredibly eager for my visit to Savannah later this year. I would highly recommend reading this book; its Southern Gothic tone is as intoxicating as a half-dozen mint juleps. And remember, it’s real.
Like No Other by Una LaMarche
Since 2006, author Una LaMarche has managed the blog The Sassy Curmudgeon. I found her words back in 2009, when I used to browse the "Blogs of Note" list. I was fond of LaMarche's humor and approved of her attachment to '90s pop culture. (Plus, she advocates pantlessness and the eating of chocolate mini donuts.) After commenting on a blog post about Like No Other, LaMarche kindly offered to send me a signed copy. I was stunned, humbled, and excited—especially since she also included a copy of Five Summers, her first novel (which is reviewed below). Like No Other, however, was released just last week, and is a fine companion to books like Eleanor & Park. It's another YA tale about forbidden love and how the intensity of first love changes you. The book is set in Brooklyn, and focuses on Jaxon and Devorah. Jaxon is described as a "fun-loving, book-smart nerd who has never been comfortable around girls." Devorah, on the other hand, "has always known how her future will look; she'll marry young and have a family, like her grandmother, mother, and sister before her. She has never wondered about the world outside of her strict Hasidic community." When a hurricane strikes the Northeast, the two become trapped in an elevator. They become intrigued with each other even though their first meeting isn't entirely fireworks and unicorns (Devorah’s religion prohibits private interactions between a man and a woman who are not married to each other). Though it was a little difficult to believe that Jaxon and Devorah fell in love so quickly, I greatly enjoyed the read. Learning more about Hasidic Judaism was really interesting, and certain parts of the book read like a thriller; I just had to read the next chapter.
Five Summers by Una LaMarche
Fifteen years ago, the Disney Channel began airing a reality TV series called Bug Juice. The show featured a number of young teens at summer camp. It was a show that I, as a pre-teen, was enraptured by. At the time, the campers’ adventures in life and love were foreign to me. Looking back, however, I have fond memories of watching Bug Juice; it’s nostalgic. Reading LaMarche’s debut YA novel, Five Summers, was similar. Though I never attended an extended summer camp myself, the book might feel familiar to a former camper, as laughter, tears, broken hearts, sass, sex, skinny dipping, tipped canoes and capture-the-flag are all featured. Specifically, Five Summers focuses on four characters—Emma, Skylar, Maddie, and Jo—who met at the age of ten. At the end of that summer, their first summer together, the girls vowed to remain the best of friends. The book spotlights some of their adventures together, like the time Jo refused to play spin-the-bottle (age twelve), and the year Emma almost kissed her long-term crush, Adam (age fourteen). The main storyline, however, takes place when the girls are seventeen, when all four of them are back at camp for a reunion. Of course, as the summary states, “the weekend isn’t quite as sun-washed as they’d imagined.” Though the book itself may be a little predictable, it was a fun read. I particularly enjoyed Emma and Skylar’s final decision regarding boys. I also found myself looking at the characters and comparing them to those in The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants. (Over-achiever Emma was most like Carmen, while tomboyish Jo was a blend of Tibby and Bridget.) It’s a good book if you’re in the mood for a nostalgia-inducing read, or if you enjoyed the Summer Boys series or any Sarah Dessen novel. I have a feeling that, with each book she writes, LaMarche is going to strengthen and solidify her voice.