Landline: A Review

Landline by Rainbow RowellGeorgie McCool knows her marriage is floundering. She knows her husband Neal is unhappy. But they’ve been floundering for a while. And hasn’t Neal always been at least a little unhappy?

She still loves Neal. And Neal still loves her. But that isn’t the point. When Neal takes their daughters to Omaha for Christmas, Georgie wonders if that was ever the point.

Floundering without her husband and daughters, Georgie tries to throw herself into work as a TV writer in Los Angeles. After all, that’s why she stayed behind in the first place. But she doesn’t want to go home to an empty house. She can’t focus when so much of her life is somewhere else.

Then Georgie uses the landline at her mother’s house to try and call Neal. Finally, he answers. But it isn’t Georgie’s Neal. Not really. Instead she’s talking to Neal in the past–at the one other moment their relationship fell apart, almost before it started. With a chance to correct past mistakes, Georgie wonders if the right answer this time is holding Neal tight (the way she always does) or finally letting him go in Landline (2014) by Rainbow Rowell.

Rainbow Rowell is an incredibly talented writer who covers a range of subjects in her novels. Landline uses the lens of a marriage on the brink to tell the story of Georgie and Neal. Flashbacks follow their relationship from the day they met through significant moments including their wedding, the birth of their daughters and other stickier points including an almost breakup and Neal’s proposal (both of which become pivotal to the plot).

While a magic phone (or a mental-breakdown-hallucination depending on your outlook) plays a key role in the story, there isn’t enough foundation to call this novel a fantasy. While Georgie contemplates issues with time travel and the implications therein, nothing is ever really explained. Georgie and Neal’s entire relationship is imbued with a certain sense of inevitability that allows issues of causality, and whether or not time travel is at play, to be glossed over.

This is a novel for an adult audience with characters in their thirties. Die-hard Rowell fans will still find a lot to love here, but teen readers (or readers like myself who are not married with kids even) may find it a stretch to get into the same head space as Georgie. That said, things pick up immensely in the second half of the novel. Even with the slow start, I finished this book in a couple of days.

Landline is often quite sweet and romantic. There are several moments with very grand gestures. The main problem with the final grand gesture is that it suggests Georgie has to choose between her marriage and her work. The entire structure of the story (from Georgie’s breakdown and lack of focus when Neal takes the girls to Omaha to the final big moment) suggests that is impossible to balance both. While that is fine and allowed, I would have liked more balance to show that while it is hard there is room for both work and love.

The other problem is that all of those grand gestures lead to exactly zero closure. We never learn what will happen with Georgie’s show–the one she stayed in LA to work on in the first place. We never see if the unresolved issues with Seth and Neal hating each other will shake out. And even though the novel ends on an up note, very few of the fundamental problems with Neal and Georgie’s relationship are actually fixed. They are both present and they both still care, but we (and perhaps they) still don’t know if that will be enough.

Rowell’s writing is as vibrant and literary as ever in Landline. (Readers familiar with Rowell’s work will recognize common themes popping up and even some familiar characters.) The dialogue and observations here are snappy and move the novel along at a fierce pace from one intricately-plotted vignette to the next. While Rowell’s voice is always inevitably behind Georgie’s narration in Landline, it is a good voice with many things to say.

Week in Review: June 29

missprintweekreview

This week on the blog you can check out:

Last week I didn’t get around to making a week in review because I was sick all last week and spend Saturday sleeping and Sunday being a blob. I’m feeling a lot better now although I still have a lingering cough.

New Job is going great. I have decorated my desk with toys, magnets and book sculptures. I love the work. It’s still hard adjusting to a full time schedule (I’m working Monday to Friday this week and Saturday as well so it’s like “ah no time!”) but I’m still feeling very, very lucky.

I entertained one of my bookstore friends this week as well giving her a behind-the-scenes tour of my library while she considers applying to library school.

I’m still sticking to my June Reading Challenge though I’m afraid I went a bit off list for some (most) of the books.

In other news, I’m also reviewing for School Library Journal now. You can see my first and second reviews from them on their site and if you check the editorial review section of the books at Barnes and Noble’s website. I’m having a lot of fun with it and am working on re-tooling the reviews so they can appear on my blog as well.

That’s it for this week. As you read this, I’m probably busily doing the mounds of laundry that have piled up from my sick week and my long work week. ttfn

 

 

Struck by Lightning: The Carson Phillips Journal: A Rapid Fire Review

Struck by Lightning by Chris ColferStruck by Lightning: The Carson Phillips Journal by Chris Colfer (2012)

**This post has a lot of spoilers**

Chris Colfer is an actor on the TV show Glee. You might have heard of him. He is also a talented author with a bestselling middle grade series to his name as well as credits for this novel and the screenplay by the same name.

I like Chris Colfer. I do. I will never, ever question his talents.

But I still have so many questions about this book.

The initial story was interesting. Carson is driven and motivated and talented. He’s also a little neurotic and a lot callous to his other classmates (as evidenced by, you know, blackmailing everyone to submit to the magazine). Fine. Everyone gets to be self-centered and obnoxious now and then.

Then things get weird.

In one of the most contrived plot points I’ve recently read, Carson is poised to get everything he wants. Only to be foiled by his mother throwing out his acceptance letter. This made no sense. There are emails and phones and a thousand ways to contact college admissions offices not to mention attempts to woo applicants. I call shenanigans on Carson not catching this until it’s too late.

But fine. I can let that slide too. Reality can be harsh and absurd. Fine. Not everyone gets into their first choice college. That’s reality. Carson has obviously grown as a result and is much more positive and hopeful and experienced now. This is a guy who is going to be okay.

Then, as the title might suggest, he gets struck by lightning and dies.

Obviously, given the title, I should have expected this. But at the same time I was so angry when I read final page. In fact, I was so angry I considered tearing the last page out and pretending it didn’t exist.

What is the point of reading about Carson’s growth as a character and following him for an entire year only to have him killed by a freak accident? One page managed to invalidate any positive feelings I had for the book. I’m sure there was a reason for the ending, but it just felt like a hopeless waste and utterly ridiculous.

The writing was fine and the characters are fine but that hardly matters when the ending was a slap in the face.

The Space Between Trees: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

The Space Between Trees by Katie WilliamsSixteen-year-old Evie is always ready to share a good story. The problem is that sometimes those stories start to look a lot like lies. Especially when Evie tries to claim the story as her own in the telling.

That’s how things start with Jonah Luks. Before she knows it, Evie is spinning out a largely imagined relationship with the older college dropout she encounters every week on her paper route. It’s a harmless story and an even more harmless crush. Nothing else.

Until Evie sees Jonah report the dead body he found in the woods. Until Evie watches the body being pulled out of the woods in a bag.

In her efforts to write herself into this new, worse, story Evie’s lies become bigger; harder to contain and impossible to ignore. Everything changes after the body is found in the woods and people begin to wonder what sort of violence has come into their secluded community. What Evie doesn’t realize, at least not right away, is that in the wake of this story she might change too in The Space Between Trees (2010) by Katie Williams.

The Space Between Trees is an expertly told story with flawless pacing. The mystery surrounding the murder unfolds in a natural and believable way that makes for a seamless plot. Evie is a fascinating narrator. She is unreliable on a very basic level with everyone she interacts with during the story. Nothing Evie says can be taken as the exact, full, truth. Yet to readers Evie is achingly honest as she shares her observations and hopes in equal measure.

This is a deceptively short story with layers upon layers of interpretation and a nice bit of substance under the mystery elements. Williams raises interesting questions here about what it means to tell stories versus the truth as well as pondering along with Evie how experiences (both told and lived) can shape a person.

The Space Between Trees is literary and thoughtful in a way that feels effortless. Evie is a strong and utterly original narrator who is as flawed as she is insightful. Like its heroine, this mystery that will stay with readers long after the final story is told. Highly recommended.

Possible Pairings: Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson, Shift by Jennifer Bradbury, What I Saw and How I Lied by Judy Blundell, All Fall Down by Ally Carter, The Devil You Know by Trish Doller,The Midnight Dress by Karen Foxlee, Liar by Justine Larbalestier, We Were Liars by E. Lockhart, All the Wind in the World by Samantha Mabry, Lock & Mori by Heather W. Petty, I am Princess X by Cherie Priest, Amelia Anne is Dead and Gone by Kat Rosenfield, A Map of the Known World by Lisa Ann Sandell, Imaginary Girls by Nova Ren Suma, Black Dove, White Raven by Elizabeth Wein, Wherever Nina Lies by Lynn Weingarten, Paper Valentine by Brenna Yovanoff

The Night She Disappeared: A Review

The Night She Disappeared by April HenryGabie drives a Mini Cooper. She works at Pete’s Pizza where she makes deliveries. She’s the girl the customer asked for on Wednesday when Kayla was making deliveries. Gabie is the girl that would have been taken if she and Kayla hadn’t swapped shifts.

Now Kayla is gone. Gabie can’t stop thinking about how it should have been her that night. Drew–the boy who took the call–keeps wondering if he should have done something.

With Kayla dead or maybe worse, Gabie becomes obsessed with the investigation and–if she can–with finding Kayla. Riddled with guilt and his own desire to see help both girls, Drew decides to help. With time running out and few leads, Gabie and Drew will have to work together to prove that Kayla is alive and to find Kayla before she isn’t anymore in The Night She Disappeared (2012) by April Henry.

The Night She Disappeared is a well-assembled page-turner with a multimedia aspect as receipts, news clippings and other ephemera are interspersed to help tell the story. Short chapters with varied viewpoints and Henry’s straightforward prose make this book very readable with appeal for both avid and reluctant readers.

Although Gabie’s connection to Kayla pushes the limits of plausibility in this contemporary mystery, it still does add a unique dimension to the story. With no supernatural sideline and minimal romance, The Night She Disappeared is more in the vein of traditional mysteries as Gabie and Drew move through their investigation. Every piece works well here to create a tense narrative that builds to a surprising, action-packed conclusion.

Possible Pairings: Find Me by Romily Bernand, Breaker by Kat Ellis, I Hunt Killers by Barry Lyga, Acceleration by Graham McNamee, Amelia Anne is Dead and Gone by Kat Rosenfield, Living Dead Girl by Elizabeth Scott, Missing Abby by Lee Weatherly, Wherever Nina Lies by Lynn Weingarten, Cathy’s Book: If Found Call 650-266-8233 by Jordan Weisman and Sean Stewart

Synchronized Reading Roundup: Imaginary Girls by Nova Ren Suma

Synchronized Readings are a semi-regular feature The Book Bandit and I will be running together every few months.

This month Nicole and I read Imaginary Girls by Nova Ren Suma.

Here’s a rundown of all the posts I wrote up for the Synchronized Reading:

You can also head over to Nicole’s blog to see her posts:

I’m also giving away a copy of Imaginary Girls. Details here!

 

Imaginary Girls Synchronized Reading Post #1: Local Legends

Synchronized Readings are a semi-regular feature The Book Bandit and I will be running together every few months.

Our current Synchronized Reading is Imaginary Girls by Nova Ren Suma.

Since the mythical town of Olive plays such a big role in Imaginary Girls, we decided a fun post for this Synchronized Reading would be one on local legends.

Now, you would think I would have a lot since New York City is filled with cool and historically significant places.

What I do have instead of a pile of urban legends, are building that I am constantly drawn to.

One of them is my local library: Jefferson Market. This branch is where my library career started when I was in high school. It’s where I got my first library card. It’s where I spent many a summer day picking up books for me and (mystery) books for my mom.

I also have some fun facts about this building including that, contrary to popular belief, the building was never a church. Instead it was a courthouse where Mae West infamously appeared during the “lady on the swing” court case. The garden next to the library used to be a women’s house of detention as featured in David Duchovny’s film “House of D.”

There aren’t a lot of rumors about the library being haunted. But with that kind of energy, you do wonder. In a fit of peer induced hysteria myself and two fellow pages managed to convince ourselves that we saw a ghost or some kind of unnatural presences in the reference room in the basement. Now, years later, I’m comfortable saying that probably wasn’t true. But I also still don’t like being in the references room. So you can draw your own conclusions.

The other building that I refer more than any other is the Flatiron Building. It is my mom’s favorite building (possibly mine as well although I also quite like the Chrysler Building). It is probably the building I photograph most when I am wandering the city.

The building has a unique shape (reminiscent of an old-time flatiron) thanks in part to the nature of real estate in New York City. It was one of the city’s first skyscrapers and even created a wind tunnel when it was first built.

As far as I know there aren’t any ghosts in residences but with so many occupants coming and going, who can really say?

Speaking of spooky stories in libraries, I recently learned that my new place of employ, Brooklyn’s Central Library, has a local legend of its own. (True story, this was the second thing I learned on my first day at the new job. It’s that important!)

Let me direct you now to the story of Agatha Cunningham who disappeared on her school’s trip to the library in 1977: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CSO946WWjSY

You may be thinking, surely this can’t be real. And, being the age of the Internet, you might find articles online debunking this story. Then again, you might also find people disputing the reality of the tree octopus and saying that they and Agatah are not real.

I’ll leave you all to draw your own conclusions (as long as that conclusion is that Brooklyn Public Library did not in fact lose a child in the lower decks and instead helped some very talented teens make a documentary about it).

Imaginary Girls: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

“It sounded impossible, something no one would believe if anyone other than Ruby were the one to tell it. But Ruby was right: The body found that night wouldn’t be, couldn’t be mine.”

Imaginary Girls by Nova Ren SumaChloe’s older sister, Ruby, has said a lot of things over the years. She’s said that Chloe would never drown. She said she was there when Chloe first opened her eyes. Sometimes she would say that Chloe was her baby when Ruby herself was only five years old.

Everyone always believes Ruby. Believing her is easy.

Loving her is easy.

Anything Ruby wants, she can get. Until one night a party by the local reservoir goes horribly wrong and a dead girl is found floating in the water. The body of London Hayes does the unthinkable driving Ruby and Chloe apart when Chloe leaves.

Returning two years after that horrible night, Chloe finds that nothing is how it used to be in town anymore. Nothing, in fact, is quite right. Soon secrets, and even some lies, stack up between Chloe and Ruby that threaten to tear them apart. But bonds like theirs–like sisters who love each other better than anyone else–are not easily broken in Imaginary Girls (2011) by Nova Ren Suma.

Imaginary Girls is an eerie blend of suspense and magic realism. Suma’s prose is taut and filled with tension as narrator Chloe works to unravel the lies and secrets surrounding her larger than life big sister. Suma also weaves elements of a local legend into the story as Ruby (and by extension Chloe) become fascinated by the town of Olive–a town supposedly buried underwater when the area was flooded to create a new reservoir.

Filled with subtle writing that is equal parts vivid and razor sharp, Imaginary Girls is a surprising mystery that will keep readers guessing. There is a constant struggle here as Chloe works to determine what is real and what is something else. By creating a character like Ruby with so much power and charm throughout the novel, Suma offers a powerful commentary on the limits of both belief and persuasion in this story.

Imaginary Girls is a sophisticated book, a slow burn of a read that will linger. It’s impossible to say what, exactly, happens over the course of the novel. The entire plot lends itself to multiple interpretations and discussions. What is certain is that Imaginary Girls is filled with wit, humor and love. As much as this story can be a mystery or a thriller, what remains at the end of the novel is an ode to the enduring strength of sisterly love.

Possible Pairings: The Moon and More by Sarah Dessen, The Devil You Know by Trish Doller, The Lost by Sarah Beth Durst, Charlie, Presumed Dead by Anna Heltzel, Golden by Jessi Kirby, Tragedy Paper by Elizabeth LaBan, We Were Liars by E. Lockhart, Amelia Anne is Dead and Gone by Kat Rosenfield, The Hundred Lies of Lizzie Lovett by Chelsea Sedoti, Wherever Nina Lies by Lynn Weingarten, The Space Between Trees by Katie Williams, Paper Valentine by Brenna Yovanoff

You can also read my exclusive interview with Nova about this book.

Author Interview: Nova Ren Suma on Imaginary Girls

Nova Ren Suma author photoNova Ren Suma is here today to talk about her novel Imaginary Girls. This year also marks the three year anniversary of the book being published. To celebrate, in addition to our nifty interview, Nova is running a blog series with guest posts from authors about the “book of their heart” so be sure to check that out. (You may also want to enter to win a copy of Imaginary Girls! Just saying.)

Miss Print (MP): Can you tell us a bit about your path as a writer? How did you get to this point?

Nova Ren Suma (NRS): It’s a long and convoluted story about how I came to be a published YA author—because writing YA wasn’t my original intention, and I started off writing novels for adults. During those years I worked a series of day jobs in book publishing in New York City—I was a production editor, the in-house person who handles the copyediting of the books. It was at one of these day jobs that I started reading YA novels that blew my mind. Novels by Laura Kasischke. Laura Ruby. Rita Williams-Garcia. Bennett Madison. I realized what was possible in YA, and I wanted to be a part of it. I took a short story I’d written and shifted and reshaped and expanded it, and it became Imaginary Girls. That’s one part of the story, but I’ll leave it at that.

MP: What was the inspiration for Imaginary Girls?

NRS: Place and a person. Most of my novels start out that way. The place is my hometown and the reservoir where I used to sneak swims with friends when I was a teenager. And the person is my little sister, Laurel Rose. I wanted to write about the bond between an older sister and her baby sister, and throw in some magical thinking to see what happens…

MP: Obviously, Imaginary Girls is a story about sisters among other things. You have written on your website about this book being written largely for your sister and also interviewed your sister about the book. When you started Imaginary Girls did you always know this story would center around two sisters?

NRS: Oh yes—that’s the heart of the book. Imaginary Girls first started off as a short story about two sisters, Ruby and Chloe. They were always there, from the beginning. My little sister was born when I was nine and a half years old, and I delighted in helping take care of her, so it felt like she was mine. I guess this makes me the Ruby of the story, but actually Chloe is more like me and my sister is a lot more like Ruby—beautiful and magnetic. We both see ourselves in the book in different ways, and I would never have written it if not for my sister.

MP: Although ultimately fictional, the town Ruby and Chloe call home is based on a real one. Did any actual locations make it into this novel? What was it like writing about a real place where you spent some of your formative years?

NRS: The town in Imaginary Girls is taken and distorted from the Woodstock area in the Hudson Valley of New York, which is where I lived during high school. The reservoir is the Ashokan Reservoir, which was a short walk across the highway and through the woods from one of the houses where I lived back then. The Town Green, in the center of Woodstock, where I wasted many hours waiting for something interesting to happen on weekend nights is there in the book. The rec field and the artists’ cemetery are both there. The Youth Center, where I hung out with my friends, is there. Cumby’s, the convenience store at the edge of town, is there. Sweet Sue’s in Phoenicia, where I’d get strawberry-banana pancakes on weekends is there… I can’t even remember all the places that ended up in the book. Yet at the same time, I shifted and distorted and played with the place. It’s totally real and yet entirely made-up.

I often take real things, places, and people and distort them for my novels. The weirdest—and yet coolest—thing is when people from my past recognize things, like a night we went skinny-dipping in the reservoir and ran from the cops. We’re immortalized in a way, even if the story took a magical turn none of us lived through.

MP: During the story Ruby (and sometimes even Chloe) manages to say something strongly enough to make it true. If you had the same power of conviction, what would you say into being?

NRS: If I had that kind of power, I would save those pronouncements for the people I love. There is someone I want to be healthy. I would speak those words for her. And there is someone I want to be recognized for his talent. I would make that happen for him and then I’d step back and applaud.

MP: Is there any character or scene in this story that you especially enjoyed writing? Is there any character or scene you were excited to introduce to readers?

NRS: I loved writing about Chloe swimming across the reservoir. In reality, I am too afraid to swim far, and I’m not such a good swimmer—I would never have attempted that, no matter who asked me. I also loved imagining what might be under that water, still breathing beneath her, after all these years. Those were the most exhilarating pieces to write.

MP: You describe your books as including elements of magic realism and have written about the subject of magical realism in YA on your website before. What is your favorite part of writing magic realism into your stories?

NRS: I like playing with the surreal, and twisting a bit of the fantastical into the everyday world. I guess I’ve always believed there could be more than what we see out there, even if we’ll never understand it or know for sure. It all feels perfectly realistic to me.

MP: Can you tell us anything about your next project?

NRS: My next book is a ghostly story of suspense called The Walls Around Us, set partly inside a girls’ juvenile detention center and partly in a ballet school, and told in two voices, one living and one dead. It’s coming out in Spring 2015 from Algonquin Young Readers.

MP: Do you have any advice to offer aspiring authors?

NRS: The first manuscript you write may not always be the one that gets published. Or the second, or others beyond that. As someone who wrote and tried to publish two novels before my first book deal and securing an agent, I will tell you that I was very close to giving up. I reached a moment when I thought it just wasn’t going to happen for me, that maybe publication wasn’t in my future. I thought I’d failed.

So I took some time to wallow—I’ll be honest here, wallowing was part of it—but after that, I realized I could never give up, and so I reinvented myself, and I tried again.

Successes are all the more delicious when you’ve struggled to get them. I’m glad, now, that it wasn’t too easy.

Thank you again to Nova for taking the time to answer these questions and happy 3 year anniversary to Imaginary Girls!

To find out more about Imaginary Girls you can read my review.

You can also visit Nova’s website for more information about her and her books or read her blog for more smart thoughts on writing from her and guest authors.

I’m also giving away a copy of Imaginary Girls. Details here!

Synchronized Reading: Imaginary Girls

Synchronized Reading is back! This time Nicole and I will be reading Imaginary Girls by Nova Ren Suma.

Be sure to check here this week and also check out Nicole’s blog to get the full reading picture! I’ll also be running an interview with Nova. And you might want to check her blog out since this week also marked the third anniversary of the publication of Imaginary Girls.

I can’t remember everyone on the panel, but I saw Nova talking about Imaginary Girls shortly after its release at Books of Wonder during one of the first book events I attended (with Nicole obvs) so it feels a bit like coming full circle to be talking about the book here.

As is tradition now I also had a manicure to match the cover:

imaginary girls nails

In summary: Nicole and I will be reading Imaginary Girls by Nova Ren Suma together. We will be blogging about it. It will be awesome. You, too, can read Imaginary Girls by Nova Ren Suma as it is now out in both hardcover and paperback.

I’m also giving away a copy of Imaginary Girls. Details here!