Book Review: A Selfie as Big as The Ritz – Lara Williams

“Imagine being that lacking in wonder, aspiring to jobs in logistics or IT services, imagine never entertaining frothy careers scouting bands, imagine never picturing yourself in front of a glossy iMac. Did it make the heartbreak easier or earlier?”

As soon as I’d read those words – and on page 3, mind you – I knew I’d like this collection. I’ve had that exact thought before and there it was, on the page right in front of me.

Lara William’s A Selfie As Big as The Ritz is an interesting, introspective short story collection, which perfectly depicts the confusion of millennial life. There’s a sure, taught point of view here – the collection is well composed and ties together nicely. You never have to wonder if Williams scrambled to fill her collection. While a many of these stories have appeared in other publications, they still feel natural together, as though Williams wrote them with the intentions that they should form a collection.

The stories are comprised of first, second and third person perspectives. I really enjoyed that as it allows the stories (for me, at least), some room to breathe and to not feel as though all the protagonists were merely clones of one another.

I do have to say, though – A Selfie as Big as The Ritz isn’t for everyone. While it’s obvious that Williams is extremely talented, it’s also obvious that this collection really lends itself to be enjoyed by a particular sort of person and they seem to evoke a certain spirit of being. This is a collection, I think, that wouldn’t exist if not in this time and place; it really seems to call to mind the thoughts, fears, pains and fleeting fortunes of a specific generation – millennials. Even still, this collection feels like it’s meant for those millennials who haven’t even begun being settled.

The first story, “It Begins” resonated with me the most, but standouts also include  “Sunday’s at the Tipping Yard”, “One of Those Life Things”, “This Small Written Thing”, “Dates”, and “Treats”.

*I, of course, must divulge that I received an ARC of this collection from Flatiron Books as a Goodreads Giveaway

 

Book Review: Running

Cara Hoffman’s Running centers on a small group (two guys, one gal) who eek out a living scamming tourists into staying at a rundown Greek hotel during the 1980s. This group, Milo, Jasper and Bridey are close and tightknit adoptive family, living in each others’ pockets, until one of their scams backfires and gets them uncomfortably close to an act of terrorism. The female, Bridey, ran to Athens to escape a dysfunctional life back in the US. Boyfriends Milo and Jasper are British expats seeking running from their own existences (one privileged and one not).

Hoffman’s writing is quite good – it’s obvious that she’s a very talented woman and she’s someone I can see myself reading again. The relationships aren’t flimsy constructs, which is important as these relationships are the pillars on the novel. Bridey, Milo and Jasper feel real and lived in.  There’s an interestingly slippery, somewhat dreamy quality to Running; you feel as though you’re sort of slipping through the words and through time. This quality is quite helpful – the action of Running shifts between the group’s existence in Athens and Bridey’s childhood in Washington state. The shifts can feel somewhat disconcerting at times and periodically, it can feel difficult to grasp the meat of a scene. The dreamy quality of the prose really benefits those structural choices – it makes it seem and feel that those shifts are more than just a structural, stylistic choice . It really does truly enhances the haunting atmosphere of the novel and allows you to get a clearer feel for the disorientation the characters themselves feel.  Her prose also never becomes overly involved – it’s restrained and allows you to focus more on what is happening and the feelings it evokes in you, the reader. Reading Hoffman’s prose does not feel like work, nor does it feel as though she’s simply attempting to show off what she’s capable of.  Considering the obvious talent and work that she’s put in, this is a high compliment to pay. Continue reading

Book Review: American Street

Ibi Zoboi’s American Street is very nearly exactly what a YA novel should be.

The protaganist, Fabiola Toussaint, boards a plane from Haiti to the US along with her mother, planning to move to Detroit to live with family members. During a routine security check while changing planes in New York, Fabiola’s mother is detained by immigration officials and Fabiola’s left to go on to Detroit alone. There, Fabiola’s left to navigate her American cousins, a romance and her attempts to secure her mother’s release.

I have no experience as an immigrant – while I did complete a Study Abroad during college, I have lived my life as a citizen and resident of the country of my birth. I can’t speak – at all – to how real to life Fabiola’s experiences actually are. But I can say that the book felt so real to me – I felt as though the events could actually happen.

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Book Review: The People We Hate at the Wedding

Back in April (May?), I won an ARC of Grant Ginder’s The People We Hate at the Wedding as a Goodreads Giveaway. Because I am, as always, somewhat behind in my reading, I didn’t get a chance to read this until a few days ago.

If one only looks at the cover image – the headless figures of a bride and groom atop a wedding cake, you would guess that the novel centers on the a bride, a groom, and preparations for their wedding. You’d be wrong. The groom actually doesn’t figure into the story much at all –  The People We Hate at the Wedding centers around the bride, Eloise, her mother, Donna and her half-siblings Paul and Alice in the lead-up to the wedding.  

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Paul and Alice have always had a particularly fraught relationship with Eloise, caused by the fact that Eloise has always lived a life of privilege, thanks to the her father’s wealth. Alice and Paul’s childhoods were far less lofty and there’s always been a wedge between them and Eloise, no matter how Eloise has worked to bridge it. Additionally, Paul has been icing Donna out of his life since his father’s death a few years prior due to her attempt to erase him from her life. He also has an iffy relationship with his boyfriend, Mark. On her end, Alice is still reeling from a tragedy which occurred five years prior and is currently carrying on an affair with Jonathan, who’s entirely unavailable to her.  Continue reading

Book Review: 3 YAs

About 3 months ago, I was lucky enough to be approved for several YA ARCs. While I’ve read several of them, I’ve been incredibly remiss in actually getting down what I think about the lovely books publishers have allowed me to read.

First, I started with Becky Albertalli’s The Upside of Unrequited.

I was pretty darn excited about this as I’d read her debut,  Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda on a whim last year and loved it. Albertalli’s prose is nothing particularly special – it’s somewhere above workman but below beauty. It’s strong and sufficient enough for the tales she spins. For me, what made ‘Simon’ such an unrestrained joy to experience was the protagonist, Simon. I found him delightful and just the sort of person my younger self would have wanted to be friends with in high school. Sadly, I didn’t feel this way about Molly in The Upside of Unrequited. I’m not sure if I can explain it well enough – but I never really felt drawn into Molly – or for that matter, her friends or her family. They were well drawn, funny but still, I didn’t feel a spark there. I didn’t feel as riveted by Molly’s drama. It’s not to say that the book isn’t a worthwhile read, because it is! Albertalli is just as amusing and wry as she is in her debut and her commitment to diversity is just as wonderful – it never feels false or unearned, or as though she’s doing it simply to make a point. The characters who populate this book feel like the world in which we live. It’s simply that I cared for them and their situations less than I cared for those of Simon’s world. It’s a 3 star book for me. Continue reading

Book Review: Miss Treadway and the Field of Stars

Sometimes, a novel will surprise you. That in and of itself isn’t really a surprise. What is a surprise is how the novel surprises you. Do you hate it when you thought you’d love it? Was it not as wonderful as you heard? Or was it better than your friends told you it was?

And, sometimes, the surprise is that it’s so much more than you ever anticipated.

When I requested an ARC of Miranda Emerson’s Miss Treadway and the Field of Stars, about 85% of the thought process that went into that decision was based on the over. I mean, look at it – it’s lovely!

The other 15% percent was the synopsis – it seemed like it’d be a fun romp. I only expected what I was promised – a group of people, lead by the titular Anna Treadway traipsing around London, investigating the disappearance of an actress, Iolanthe Green, who may or may not wish to be found. What I found within the pages was much more than this.

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Book Review: The V Girl

AKA: Why Did I Read This?

With Mya Robarts’ The V Girl, I took a step into New Adult fiction. I want to go back home because it must be said: The V Girl is simply not very good.

The V Girl has a super interesting concept, but here, that concept really reads more as a means to an end, rather than something that the author wanted to seriously explore. It feels like concept was really just a highbrow way to get sex into a book.

So, essentially, Lila Velez is a resident of a post-apocalyptic North America where rape and sexual slavery are legal. She’s a virgin, so she’s trying to lose her virginity before it’s taken from her. This sounds really good, right? Like it could be really gritty, really profound and something special? Well it’s really, really not. Robarts’ world building and characterization bears much of the fault for that.

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