Eleanor and Park, by Rainbow Rowell

It’s been a while since I read a YA book that chewed me up the way that this one did. Think John Green and The Fault in Our Stars, or Martine Leavitt’s My Book of Life by Angel. It’s that powerful. And what was great was what was not there. There were no long pages of exposition explaining why each character was the way they were, no real back story. We get to know Eleanor and Park as they get to know each other. And another thing, with one important exception there are no “bad guys” and “good guys.” The main characters are nuanced, and if we don’t always understand the peripheral characters I got the sense that it’s because Eleanor and Park don’t either.

Eleanor thinks Park’s family is perfect compared to her dysfunctional life. But they’re not, and as she gets to know them she sees the cracks. But just when you think you should hate Park’s dad, he comes through, and big. Even the bully girl turns out to be more than she appears on the surface (not much, but just enough).

This book is unashamedly a love story and it’s a love story that broke my heart. It’s a story of mix tapes and comic books and is conveniently set before cell phones and the internet; the tension these two share when they’re together and when they’re apart is contagious — my heart was often in my throat. The ending may not be dramatic enough for some, but I thought it was fitting.

Positron by Margaret Atwood

I'm Starved for YouPositron is a serialized novel by Margaret Atwood, published by Byliner. I read the first installment (I’m Starved For You) a while ago and really enjoyed it. Deliciously Atwood: dystopian, darkly humorous. Recently I discovered that there were two new “chapters,” and to my mind, this doesn’t work as well as it did when I thought it was a stand-alone. Still, I love the idea of a novel in serial, and I hope this happens with more authors. Buying a chapter at a time is affordable (although I imagine not in the end) and creates tension and anticipation just as watching a favourite TV series does. Sign me up.

Every Never After

Every Never After (Never, #2)Every Never After by Lesley Livingston

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I like everything Lesley Livingston writes. She combines smart sassy characters with a depth of historical and mythological knowledge and time-shifting plots. In this book, her second in the series about Clarinet Reid and her sidekicks Allie and Milo and their interaction with a Druid Blood Curse they are working a summer dig at Glastonbury Tor. Things get weird, as we should expect by now, and hijinks ensue. Just a touch too much teen swooning in this one for my taste, but your mileage may vary.

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Flight Behavior by Barbara Kingsolver

Flight BehaviorFlight Behavior by Barbara Kingsolver
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Despite the obvious parallels between the butterfly life cycle and the metamorphosis of the main character, Dellarobia, Kingsolver has managed to tell many stories here without hammering us with the symbolism. Married and pregnant at 17, ten years later Dellarobia is about to walk away from a marriage that should never have been. That she loves her children is obvious, but that doesn’t mean she loves her life. She’s on her way up the mountain for a tryst, to cross a line from which there can be no return, when she sees the butterflies for the first time. Without her glasses on they look like a valley of fire. She turns back, the line never crossed, yet her life will never be the same.

Monarchs in the Appalachians instead of Mexico is Kingsolver’s way to talk about global warming in this book, and although other readers have found it too heavy handed, I managed to learn through Dellarobia’s eyes, as someone who didn’t know anything about climate change, but who, ultimately, as a farmer, is living with the consequences of it every day. Her life is changed forever with the arrival of the butterflies, and those who come to study them, and as each layer is pulled back we can see her emerging from the gloom.

Kingsolver never denigrates the simple life of the characters in this book. In contrast, one scene in which Dellarobia is being lectured by one of the many visitors to reduce her carbon footprint is a testament to the folks who have no such need. “Fly less?” Dellarobia thinks, incredulously? Each character in this book is well crafted, even those we encounter for a short time, and they are unfolded for us as Dellarobia’s awakening reveals them more fully to her for the first time.

Highly recommended.

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Bruce, by Peter Ames Carlin

BruceBruce by Peter Ames Carlin
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

In more recent concerts Bruce Springsteen is like a preacher, and he whips the crowd to a frenzy in revival tents around the world. But what I remember, what I hold dear, are the shows I first saw in the early 80s, where he could command the audience to silence for up to 15 minutes or so while he told a story — a story about coming home to find his dad sitting in the dark kitchen, about having to sit at the table with him in the dark and listen for a while before he was allowed to escape upstairs. After this and other stories like it Bruce would either slide into a quiet tune or explode all over the stage, granting the audience relief from holding their collective breath.

This book is the first biography of Bruce Springsteen that made me feel like this, and it made me inch just a little closer to knowing what makes the man tick.Although it’s easy to tell the author is a fan, the book doesn’t fawn, and in fact shows Springsteen in an unflattering light at times as someone who likes to be tightly in control and can be nasty when challenged. But, hey, who wants their heroes to be perfect? Not me. This book is full of stories: about the man, about his family, about the band members, some of whom are still touring with him. And most of all about the music, about Springsteen’s unrelenting quest for excellence and his refusal to compromise.

The only complaint I have is that I would have liked the latter half of his career to have received as much attention as the early days, but perhaps the material just wasn’t there, Bruce too busy living a “normal” settled life between bursts of creativity. I haven’t listened closely to a lot of the later recordings, but after reading this book I’m tempted to start at the beginning, with Greetings from Asbury Park, N.J., and not stop again until the last note of Wrecking Ball. I’ll see you all in a few months.

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Two Pints by Roddy Doyle

Two PintsTwo Pints by Roddy Doyle
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I read the ebook version of this, and it might just be one of those rare books I buy a hard copy of just to have it on my shelf to lend to the right person. I laughed so hard during parts of this — what a perfect way to start of my 2013 reading. I know these two guys in a pub — I know them as Scottish and not Irish — but I know them, twenty times over. They take on world politics, pop culture and even poetry (“some bollix called Robert Frost”) and dispense a lot of “truths” on their bar stools. “It’s Magnums or nothing, I told her. If we can’t afford Magnums for the grandkids, we might as well turn on the gas.” “Yeh posh c**ts.* (Language warning throughout)

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Ink Me by Richard Scrimger

Ink MeInk Me by Richard Scrimger

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I almost put this book down a few pages in because I struggle with books riten lik this, and the entire book was narrated by the main character, who appears to have a mild intellectual disability. But I trust Richard Scrimger so I stayed with it. Miraculously that aspect disappeared and I became riveted by the story. It’s hard not to give too much away in a review of a short book, but essentially this tells the story of Bunny, a 15-year-old boy who, in fulfilling a task left to him by his grandfather finds himself, arguably, in the wrong place at the wrong time, complicated by his new tattoo. This is a sweet story of a trusting boy who doesn’t know his own strengths. Although he becomes wrapped up in something he cannot understand, he also finds community, something that had been lacking in his regular life. This book is part of the Seven series by Orca Publishing– seven grandsons left quests or tasks in their grandfather’s will, each book written by a prominent Canadian author.

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