Review: We Were Liars

We Were Liars
We Were Liars by E. Lockhart
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

A devastating but very well told story. While reading, you will know something not quite right is going on, but you may not be able to tell exactly what it is. It is a brief and compelling book, but resist the urge to rush. Read slowly. And when you’re done, you may find yourself flipping back to re-read those tricky passages.

It’s YA, but so sad. I loved it, but won’t recommend it. Despite their wealth and privilege and ignorance and callousness, I loved Cadence and Gat and Johnny and Mirren. But I’m not sure that the kiddos in my life need to experience their grief or their story.

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Review: Here Comes Everybody: The Story of the Pogues

Here Comes Everybody: The Story of the Pogues
Here Comes Everybody: The Story of the Pogues by James Fearnley
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

If you are a fan, you will hear every song as Fearnley chronicles the writing, performing, and recording of each. Oh, lamentations — all my Pogues albums are on cassette. Thank goodness for you tube, but it’s not the same as listening to a whole album all the way through.

I love that they were from England and not Ireland (though some had Irish roots) and they were, at first, rejected by traditional Irish singers, and later embraced. Their punkish edge made all those songs more enjoyable for me.

I remember seeing the Pogues in NY some time in the late 1980s — the whole crowd swayed together and belted out “Dirty Old Town,” and the dancing was wild — I lost a lens from my eyeglasses. It shot across the club floor, never to be found, even though we waited for the lights to come up and the clean-up crew to sweep. I was grateful for the color-coded subway lines. Just get me to the big purple orb that means the 7 line and I’ll find a way to explain the missing glasses to Mom later.

The only part that stuck in my craw was Fearnley’s scathing words for Cait. They were all drunkards, all badly behaved, most learned their instruments as they went along. Several of the bandmates missed gigs, were jerks, etc. But only Cait gets such ugly words, as if he’s still mad at her after all these years. His treatment of her felt beneath the rest of the story.

After reading this, I wanted to re-live a little more — Tried to buy the movie they made with Joe Strummer, “Straight to Hell.” $65! I saw it in the theater and, though it was fun, there’s no way to justify that expense. Sigh. I did order the Shane Macgowan documentary (If I Should Fall From Grace) for my library. What will it be like to look at those teeth for two hours?

It’s great to read these rock & roll memoirs. If you’re ever sorry you didn’t choose the glamourous life, it’s good to be reminded of the cramped tour buses, motel rooms shared with bandmates with odd and grotesque habits, and the near-constant drunkenness, filth, and sorrow of being on tour. Hi diddly dee, it’s a nice clean librarian’s life for me.

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Review: In Deep

In Deep
In Deep by Terra Elan McVoy
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Brynn is horrible and Grier is horrible and Gavin is horrible and they behave horribly toward one another. Brynn and Grier have reasons for their bad behavior (but it’s still inexcusable). Gavin may, but McVoy doesn’t let us get to know him beyond the fact that he’s a manipulative asshole (pardon my languages). Since Brynn is our main character, we only get to see the glimmers of her slight personal growth. She is a single-minded teen who is focused on swimming and nothing else. Her mother, despite being re-married, is completely out to lunch when it comes to Brynn’s well being. How could she have missed that Brynn no longer has friends beyond the destructive Grier, or that she is getting the minimum passing grade in every class? It’s not that she is pushing Brynn to be an elite swimmer; that comes from Brynn herself.

I think McVoy is pretty brave, writing compelling books with so few characters you can actually like. I’m interested to know what teens think. (These books have a lot of ‘bad’ behavior – drinking, drugs, cheating, etc. – They’re definitely for older teens.) Teens pretty often don’t like themselves and go through intense hate/love times with their friends, and they DO behave so badly — It’s part of the growing time.

It may sound weird, but I did really ‘enjoy’ this book.

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Review: Criminal

Criminal by Terra Elan McVoy
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

An engrossing and well-told tale of a young girl so starved for love and attention that she ignores all the signs that her boyfriend is no good. Exceptional in that, once she wakes up and realizes what she’s allowed him to lead her into, she recognizes her personal responsibility for her own choices, the changes she must make, and the reality that she is not a blameless victim.

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Review: The Word Exchange

The Word Exchange
The Word Exchange by Alena Graedon
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

In a not too far in the future New York, people are dependent on their electronic devices for phones, entertainment, ordering food, hailing a cab, experiencing their memories, accessing their money, looking up words. (Sound familiar?) As each upgrade comes on line, more and more of human communication happens through the devices rather than between individuals. And then, people start to get sick. Nauseous. Debilitated. Their speech becomes scrambled and then – unintelligible. Some go completely silent. Is it a virus? Is it a corporate scheme? Is it a terrorist attack?

I love meeting and spending time with people who are smarter than I am. And Alena Graedon is way smarter than I am. This book is delightful and insightful and exciting and timely and important without ever being pedantic. The characters are interesting. This is a political thriller centered on the power of the written and spoken word, asking what is the value of communication? If I had talent and could write a book, I would want to write this one.

I wish I could write a better and more interesting review of this. You should just read The Word Exchange.

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Review: On the Road to Find Out

On the Road to Find Out
On the Road to Find Out by Rachel Toor
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Alice is focused. She knows what she wants, knows what her goals are, and knows how to get there. She makes straight As, loves to study, and intends to go to Yale. Until she doesn’t get in.

This book started out slowly, with a little too much chatty character description, and I began to wonder why I had thought I wanted to read it so much. And then – wow – Alice and her world become much more interesting. This book is about recovering from disappointment, experiencing grief, learning to be a real friend, and about taking a little time to think things through and re-group and re-direct. And it surprised me by making me cry in two places: once, when the college interviewer asks Alice who from history she would invite to dinner and I immediately thought of my two grandmothers, who I miss so so much. (And Gloria Steinem and Nelson Mandela.) The second time, at the end, which I won’t give away.

Though the first quarter of the book is dull, the last 3/4s are excellent. I suspect this is the kind of book many moms will want their college-leaning daughters to read. (It feels a little directed at that parent audience, despite being YA and having BFF issues and first boyfriend fun.) I was one of those Alice kids, afraid to do an internship or take a semester abroad because, (other than not having the money), I just knew horrible things would happen to me if I never took that second semester of high school chemistry. Um. Yeah. We want our kids to have happy, fulfilling lives and be able to pay their bills. Who knows which paths they’ll take to get there?

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Review: The Fracking King: A Novel

The Fracking King: A Novel
The Fracking King: A Novel by James Browning
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

So, I don’t know what to say about this one. Browning can write. He’s invented an interesting character in Winston Crwth, a boy who, for unexplained reasons, keeps choosing high schools poorly and is on his third in three years. He’s also a Scrabble champ, and is the recipient of a hefty scholarship that’s bestowed by what he comes to realize is a pretty much evil fracking outfit.

Over the course of the story, Winston’s political consciousness is raised (a little). Scrabble is talked about but plays a pretty small role so, you’ll disappointed if you seek a little nail-biting word tournament action. Science is talked about, but not developed. Poetry is discussed a whole bunch, but you don’t get to read any. Politics and power are talked about but, just as things start to become a titch interesting, the book . . . ends. There I was, reading the last page on the back porch going ‘What?’

This is a good idea and there are some interesting scenes and characters but, in the end, it does not deliver.

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