Sunday, August 19, 2012

Let's Pretend This Never Happened, AKA Stream of Consciousness I Actually Liked

Ok, I suppose that technically this book is not actually written in purposeful, literary stream of consciousness, but Let's Pretend This Never Happened: A Mostly True Memoir is so full of the rambling thoughts of the author, Jenny Lawson, that it may as well be.  That sentence actually makes that sound like a bad thing, but in fact Lawson's book is a hilarious look at the inner workings of a very intense, interesting mind, and the outer ramifications of those thoughts entering the world through word or deed.

Let's Pretend This Never Happened details Lawson's rather, shall we say, unconventional upbringing in west Texas, her journey to adulthood, and her relationship with her husband over 15 years of their marriage. There's taxidermy, animal attacks (real and perceived), disastrous dinner parties, awkward conversations, vultures, homemade colon cleanses, and a five foot tall metal rooster.  Luckily there are photos to prove some of the more fantastic stories-since frankly no one would probably believe them otherwise.

If you are a fan of Jen Lancaster's books (Bitter is the New Black, My Fair Lazy, etc...), then you will probably love this book.  Lawson had that same brand of snarky, sarcastic humor, which is only not obnoxious because most of the time she turns it against herself.  Her relationship with her husband, Victor, reminded me so much of Jen Lancaster's husband Fletch that I am almost convinced that there is a secret group of men out there who are tasked with marrying women who will need to be talked down off the metaphorical ledge on a daily basis.  Unlike Lancaster, however, Lawson has the most bizarre life history of any real person I can think of.  And she the most hilarious parts of the book come from the fact that she is basically a social cripple-if her stories are to be believed, she is pretty much incapable of having a normal conversation with someone she's just met, or her husband's co-workers, or pretty much anyone in real life.  There are many examples in the book, and most of them seem to involved using the word vagina...a lot!  IN the end, Lawson concludes that it is not the triumphs in life that define us, but those moments we'd just like to pretend never happened.

Thursday, August 09, 2012

Blackberry Winter, by Sarah Jio

Sarah Jio's new book, Blackberry Winter (release date Sept. 25, 2012), follows The Violets of March and The Bungalow.  Jio has quickly made a name for herself writing high quality women's fiction-fiction that focuses on relationships familial and romantic, and the common experiences that bond women into strong friendships.  Blackberry Winter is a satisfying  blend of mystery and love story.

In Blackberry Winter, a title taken from a cold weather phenomenon that happens in mid to late spring, we have two main characters separated by several decades.  First, we have Vera Ray, a poor single mother during the first years of the Depression.  One night, she tucks her three-year old son Daniel into bed and leaves to go to work at a nearby hotel.  When she returns, Daniel is missing.  The only clue she can find is his teddy bear lying in the snow that fell in a freakish late spring storm, erasing the tracks of the kidnapper.  Despite the obvious fact that three-year olds don't run away, the police refuse to help her.  Fast forward to the present, and you find Claire Aldridge, a reporter at a daily in Seattle.  When an unexpected late spring snow storm blankets the area, Claire is tasked with writing a feature on the event.  She discovers the story of Vera and Daniel, and becomes determines to find out what happened to the boy.  Little did she know how closely she and Vera Ray would be connected.

This book has the benefit of being more than one thing.  On one level, it is a mystery, and a pretty decent one. It kept me guessing, which is fairly hard to do given the number of mysteries and thrillers I read.  Even when I thought I had something figured out it ended up being slightly different than I thought.  On another level, it is the story of one woman and her journey from grief to healing, from betrayal and guilt to acceptance.  While Vera's experiences are the driver for most of the action in the story, the emotional impact comes not just from her grief and anxiety at the loss of Daniel, but from Claire's painful journey through her own tragedy.  The way her relationship with her husband changes from the beginning to the end of the story mirrors what I know happens to many couples who experience the loss of a child, even a miscarriage.

My only (tiny) criticism was the character of Charles, Vera's love and father of Daniel.  He was fairly one-dimensional to me, and frankly a little too good to be true.  Maybe it's just the cynic in me, but I had trouble believing his transformation from son of wealth and privilege to crusader for the poor, and I didn't find it very likely that he would honestly believe that he could introduce his poor servant girlfriend to his family and expect them to embrace her.  But, as I said, that is a teeny, tiny criticism.  Overall, I think that this is another solid performance for Ms. Jio!

Wednesday, August 01, 2012

The Old Broads Network

A couple of weeks ago  took part in the blog tour for the AudioGo audiobook for Karin Slaughter's new novel, Criminal.  At the time of the tour, I was only about a third of the way through the book, and loving it. Now that I am finished, I can honestly say that Slaughter has done something that is well-nigh impossible.  She took a formula serial-killer thriller and turned it into an emotionally powerful, incredibly moving story.

Criminal is the latest installment in the Will Trent series.  I've enjoyed all of Slaughter's recurring characters, but Will is my favorite.  He is an agent with the Georgia Bureau of Investigation, but with a past that was more likely to produce a criminal than a cop.  Will grew up in a children's home-too old and awkward for anyone to want to adopt him, he was eventually kicked out of care at 18, with nothing but his brains and the clothes on his back.  But through hard work and a few lucky breaks, Will overcame his background and his learning disabilities to graduate from college and join the GBI.

In Criminal, Will and his partner Faith are investigating the murder of a university student.  Her case sets off some kind of alarm bells for his boss, Amanda Wagner.  Thirty years previous, she and Faith's mother Evelyn caught and sent to jail a man with the same M.O.  The story jumps back and forth from present day to 1975, and as the story plays out we see that there is more at stake than just the lives of the kidnapped women.

Sounds like your basic serial killer novel.  But this is a serial killer novel with heart, based entirely on the flashback story of Amanda Wagner and Evelyn Mitchell, and how they are connected to Will Trent.   The flashbacks don't just explain Will's past, but the early days of women in the Atlanta PD, and specifically the case that bonded Amanda and Evelyn and the rest of their old broads.  It made me love and respect the elder females so much more, and the image of all of these women spending their careers looking out for the baby they saved actually made me a little teary.  This story is so much more than just another crime procedural.  If you haven't been following the story, go back to the beginning of the Will Trent series and catch up.  It will be totally worth your time!