Review: A Matter of Life

I’ve read a few of Jeffrey Brown’s books. They are often short and sweet, filled with quiet and compelling moments. The first book I read by Brown was Clumsy, a story of falling in and out of love. The book is an excellent read: equal parts sweet, funny, and sad. I found myself almost cringing at parts (particularly he and his girlfriend’s distaste for safe sex) because it is such a deeply personal read. But that’s just how Brown writes. He wrenches his heart out and illustrates it in detail on the page.

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The back cover of A Matter of Life calls the book an “autobiographical  meditation on fatherhood and faith.” Having read some of Brown’s previous work, seeing him progress to where he is in this book is really fascinating. He couldn’t be farther from Clumsy. He has a wife named Jenny and a son; they make up an adorable family unit.

The book explores Brown’s diminishing faith in Christianity as he grows up and how this is complicated by his devout family, his father being a minister. He expresses this evolution through a series of vignettes varying from childhood recollections to high school, college, and more present moments. As I’ve come to expect from Brown, these moments are personal and poignant. The way he connects all these bits of information makes for a cohesive and interesting book. It explores his relationship with his parents, his wife, and his son and how this relates to these themes of faith and fatherhood then and now. Brown may have lost faith in God but found it in other places, namely, his belief in science. Ultimately, I believe it could be argued that his faith turned to fatherhood. Now the same kind of devout energy is put into raising his son and being a family.

A Matter of Life is a fun, quick read, as is most of Brown’s work. I found parts of it hard to connect to, specifically the child raising bits, but overall I found it a good and engaging read.

Until next time!
xx

P.S. I went to the beach today for the first time this summer. It was basically a bajillion degrees outside but I LOVED IT. As I will say forever and always about the heat: At least it is not snowing. Yay summer!

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Review: So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed

The Internet is one of the most powerful and terrifying tools ever granted to humanity: all the world’s information at our fingertips, access to completely unfettered communication. It’s near miraculous. But the Internet also has a darjk side. It erects a barrier that allows for a distance and anonymity that has the unfortunate effect of letting society reveal its worst self. You are probably familiar with the cruelty and mercilessness of Internet users. But how about the shame?

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So You’ve Been Publicly Shames by Jon Ronson explores the horribly upsetting world of modern shaming on the Internet, specifically the madness wrought by Twitter and online forums. He discusses the cases of a host of people who have said or done something stupid online and was basically crucified for it. This is civilians ruining other civilian’s lives by public shaming: getting them fired, harassment, death threats, you name it. This kind of “in the public square” shaming harkens back to our ancestors and the pillory; the Internet allows a sort of mob to gather and completely destroy a person without feeling too bad about it. Ronson sheds light on the fact that these kinds of shamings have lasting effects on these people’s lives, both materially and emotionally.

It is difficult when the public becomes judge, jury, and executioner and take it upon themselves to decide that something someone has said or done is worth destroying them over. It is even more difficult when these mobs don’t realize that their comments and raking over has actually detonated these people’s lives.

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Review: Gone Girl

Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn has no fat; it is lean and trim of anything superfluous. Every detail hearkens back to something else. Each little thing drives along the plot in devious ways. It is one of the craziest books I have ever read. I don’t usually read thrillers, it’s just not my thing, but I had to see what all the hype was about.

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The book follows the lives of Nick Dunne and Amy Elliott Dunne, a couple of five years with what appears to be a stagnated, vaguely turbulent marriage. First of all, this book is not what you think it is. As soon as you think you have your thumb on what it is about… TWIST! You are wrong! There is something even crazier than what came before. The book opens on Nick and Amy’s five-year anniversary. Amy goes missing. There appears to be signs of a struggle. Let the intrigue begin.

Because of the nature of the novel, I can’t get too much into the details. Suffice it to say, this book is an examination of marriage and relationships and who we are versus who we pretend to be. It is also one of the most terrifying books I have ever read. I was nauseated after I finished, legitimately sick to my stomach. I’ve never quite experienced anything like it. The story flip flops between Nick and Amy’s points of view in a way that is innovative and exciting. I enjoyed the structure.

I had a good time reading the book, in so far as my disbelief at the events that were transpiring was amusing. It is a decent read. It’s not the best book I’ve ever read, but it does keep you on the edge of your seat. I have no idea how they turned this thing into a movie.

I am now going to discuss some SPOILERS. Do not read on unless you have also read the book because SPOILERS are about to follow.

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Review: Soppy

It’s no secret that I love love. I’m a big fan. I melt when hearing other people’s love stories and cry easily whether at weddings, romantic books, movies, and television, or even artfully done credit card commercials. So, it is no wonder that Soppy by Philippa Rice was everything I’ve ever wanted out of a graphic novel love story.

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        Soppy by Philippa Rice

Soppy is the visual representation of Rice’s relationship with her real-life boyfriend Luke. It details how they met (at what appears to be a comics convention). It shows the initial messages and the first dates. Most beautifully, it completely visualizes the ways in which one life becomes slowly but thoroughly intertwined with another.

It is a very subtle book told predominately through pictures rather than words. My favorite part is how it highlights all the quiet moments that are at the heart of any close, long-term relationship. Sure, there are big milestones, but there’s also making dinner and cups of tea. There’s integrating all of your stuff when you move in together (and all the things you learn about the other!). There’s the quiet time spent reading in the same room or watching movies, cuddling and sleeping, and just feeling satisfied with their presence whether you’re speaking or no. There’s all the ways you fit together like a puzzle (and some of the ways you don’t). There’s taking trips and running errands, making plans and planning surprises. It shows having fights and making up, the frustrations and tears. It details the sweet moments and the grumpy ones that lead to yet more sweetness. It’s an excellent representation of how certain aspects of a relationship become second nature: a wordless understanding. It embodies the serene simplicity that can come from that kind of closeness. It is one of the most heartwarming books I’ve ever read. At 106 pages and mostly without text, it is a quick read, but it is an endearing and emotional one. Rice is a very talented artist and her illustrations are full of detail and vibrancy worth poring over. I am quite enamored of her chosen color palette. It’s clear this book was a labor of love.

As a person in a committed relationship, I could identify with many of the sketches (both good and bad). I saw a lot of my own relationship mirrored in theirs, which is both strange and reassuring. If you are not in the mood for love, I could see this book being a bit unpalatable. It is all in the title. This is a sappy, soppy love story. But it is very cute and I very much recommend it.

In other news, spring has arrived! It’s been so nice out. Hooray! To celebrate, I cut about a foot of hair off my head.

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It seemed like the thing to do. I’m enjoying the featherless feeling.

Until next time!
xx

Review: The Paying Guests

I’ve only ever read one other book by Sarah Waters and that was Fingersmith, which was excellent, so my hopes were really high for The Paying Guests, perhaps a little too high.

The Paying Guests is set after World War I in 1920s England in a quiet, upper class neighborhood, not untouched by the war. The Wrays have suffered much, both sons taken overseas and after Mr. Wray’s death, it is left to the spinster Frances Wray and her mother to look after the ailing house and their dwindling finances. The solution is to take on lodgers, paying guests, so to speak: Lilian and Leonard Barber, a young, married couple. But their entrance into Frances’ life leads to intrigue, secrets, and scandal.

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Review: This One Summer

Growing up, summers felt impossible and infinite. Every day was taking you steps closer to a new school year, yet everything was golden. The sun was warm and time was yours to enjoy at your leisure: reading, running, playing, swimming. Summer nights were warm and full of laughter and secrets. There was nothing better than summer break, growing up. Winner of the 2015 Caldecott Honor and Michael L. Printz Honor, This One Summer by Jillian and Mariko Tamaki is a young adult graphic novel that captures a single summer in the life of one Rose Wallace.

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Rose and her parents spend every summer at Awago Beach, their home away from home. There Rose has her slightly younger, summer friend Windy as her companion and compatriot of the Awago experience. Everything begins the same, her dad cracking jokes, the air smelling sweet and salty, but something about this particular summer is different. Her parents, for one, won’t stop fighting, creating a constant tension. And Rose and Windy get ensnared by the local teens’ drama, a troubled and complicated tableaux the girls uncover little by little.

The novel is full of strong characters and engaging plot. It’s a quietly powerful book, slipping along at the pace of summer days, both languid and over before you know it. Awago is a magical place, an in between place, where time doesn’t quite match the outside world: it’s only sunny days, swimming, running, and gasping and laughing at scary movies with your friends. But the dark underbelly that plagues the novel is always surging beneath. It is a twisted pleasure to slowly uncover the secrets of Rose’s family and the heart of its unrest.

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Review: Persuasion

It is no secret that I am a Janeite. I live and breathe Jane Austen. My bound collection of her novels is one of my most prized possessions. And though my admiration for her is strong, it has taken a while for me to get through her entire body of work, mostly because of my rigorous reading schedule (so much to read, so little time). I first read Jane in high school. It was Pride and Prejudice and my love was instantaneous and thorough (I am a Darcy girl myself). I’ve never looked back.

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These soft cover paperbacks are the best. I highly recommend. Also thanks to the Boston Public Library.

Persuasion is Austen’s last complete novel and was published after her death. I found it to be one of her more serious novels, having an older and more mature protagonist (at the age of seven and twenty) with a boatload of heartache. (There are a lot of sailors in this book, so that was really funny if I do say so myself.) The novel follows Anne Elliot, our good and warm-hearted heroine, daughter of the vain and neglectful Sir Walter and sister of the equally vain, cold, and selfish Elizabeth (she is not doing great in the way of supportive family members, her own dear mother having passed away many years earlier). Despite these circumstances, Anne is the ideal lady, always looking to see how she can be of service, lending an ear or a hand, knowledgeable of her duty, agreeable, well-learned, and eloquent. However, she is plagued by heartbreak, having previously broken off an engagement with the man she loved when she was nineteen, the young and confident sailor Frederick Wentworth, who at the time was penniless but sure of his coming wealth and success. Her good friend and maternal guardian in the stead of her deceased mother Lady Russell, hoping for more of a match for her beloved Anne, persuades her to break off the engagement, leaving Anne forever heartbroken. All the while, she refuses any other man and embraces spinisterhood. Eight years later, Anne meets this man again, now Captain Wentworth with 20,000 pounds to his name and an esteemed naval rank to boot. From there, the drawing room antics and anxieties we know so well take off in rare form!

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Review: IQ84

Have you ever had a dream so vivid and strange that upon waking you’re unsure of whether you’d been dreaming at all? Perhaps, instead, it was some half-recalled memory or distant, bygone thought and not a dream at all. Reading IQ84 by Haruki Murakami was more dream than reality, yet rooted in a style and world so vivid and vibrant as to hint at lucidity.

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I’ve been a Murakami fan since Professor Shippy had my class read After the Quake in Postmodern Faerie Tales. I’ve never been disappointed by a Murakami novel and IQ84 is no different. In the interest of full disclosure, it is long. It took me a good month to read through. Clocking in at a hefty 1,157 pages, it is easily the size of three novels.

At it’s heart, IQ84 is the story of the connection between two people, Tengo and Aomame, whose relationship tests the boundaries of space and time. It is a story about love, power, and the indomitable forces that govern the universe.  It’s simultaneously a romance, mystery, and fantasy with a smattering of action and intrigue thrown in the mix. The book is set up in a three act structure with three “books” taking place over different months in the year 1984: April to June, July to September, and October to December. Throughout, the point of view switches back and forth between Tengo and Aomame.

A friend of mine described Murakami’s novels as books where nothing really happens and yet you find yourself riveted. He writes fascinating novels with plausible supernatural angles. IQ84 isn’t a terribly action packed novel. It  meanders, moving at its own pace and taking its time getting to the finish line. But that is not to say it isn’t interesting. There are certainly some heart pounding and nerve wracking scenes. A few times I had to put the book aside in my anguish. Yet, the most engaging part of the novel is not the action but the characters, inhabiting Tengo and Aomame’s worlds and minds so fully I felt as if I knew them personally. Murakami also takes his time in acquainting you with the characters, revealing dribs and drabs about their past and personality so that it almost does feel like you’re getting to know them in real time, being slowly fed spools of their lives. IQ84 is a novel to luxuriate in. I enjoyed just being along for the ride, not knowing until the end where on earth (or not earth) we were heading.

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Review: Seconds

As I may have mentioned before (here), I’ve never read Scott Pilgrim, but I’ve read both of Bryan Lee O’Malley’s standalone works. His newest graphic novel is called Seconds or, as I like to refer to it, a trippy, whirlwind, fable of wonder.

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Seconds by Bryan Lee O’Malley

Seconds is a lot more grown up than Lost at Sea, whose protagonist is so reserved and adrift. Lost is very much a story for young adults, while Seconds’ protagonist Katie is no kid. Seconds tells the story of the sharp-tongued, clever, and talented chef Katie. She’s nearly thirty and well established in her life as a professional chef at her successful restaurant Seconds (see what they did there?) and is in the process of opening her new, dream restaurant. However, things quickly begin to go wrong as her ex-boyfriend makes an appearance, her relationship with the new chef at Seconds begins to sour, her new restaurants becomes entrenched in contractual purgatory, and one of her waitresses is badly injured on her watch due to said “workplace canoodling.” And then Katie is faced with an out: a mushroom, a notebook, and a set of instructions reading, “1. Write your mistake. 2. Ingest one mushroom. 3. Go to sleep. 4. Wake up anew.”  Katie is given a second chance (again, see what they did there?) and is able to erase her past poor choices. From there, things quickly begin to spiral out of control as Katie embarks on a series of “revisions,” abusing what was supposed to be a one time only opportunity and has to deal with the consequences of her actions. Katie is impulsive and has the tendency to be a “hot mess,” but she’s also sweet with good intentions. She is desperately searching for the right thing to achieve her happy ending.

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Review: Displacement

Displacement: A Travelogue by comic artist extraordinaire Lucy Knisley examines the realities of our own mortality and the strain of age. When her ailing grandparents decide they want to go on a luxury cruise in their 90s, no one in the Knisley family is very keen on the idea. Lucy steps up and offers to accompany them on the Caribbean trip hoping it will be an opportunity to bond with her grandparents and somehow not be too frustrating. It ends up being a quite moving examination of familial relationships, the ability for compassion, and the need for sensitivity in the most discomfiting situations told with a humor and grace that is awesome to behold.

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Displacement by Lucy Knisley

I’ve loved Lucy’s work for quite a while. She has quite a number of graphic novels available for purchase including French MilkRelish, and An Age of License (all of which I have read and are truly excellent). She has quickly become one of my favorite artists. I love her style. It is so elegant. No matter whether it’s ink or water color (her water colors are gorgeous), it is always beautiful. It’s like she beams whatever is in her heart directly onto the page. Her writing style is equal parts wit and honesty. She shares so much of herself with her audience and does so with a wholly original voice. Lucy’s thoughts are very easy to relate to. She has a universality about her experience that is wonderful to inhabit.

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