Stay by Deb Caletti

Stay by Deb Caletti
Published by Simon Pulse, an imprint of Simon & Schuster

Clara met and quickly fell in love with Christian, and their relationship was intense, crazy, fun – like nothing she’d ever experienced. But fun and intense turned fast into terrifying and intense, and Clara began to imagine the lengths Christian might go to make her stay with him. Now Clara and her father have moved to a new town, and nobody knows where they are, but Clara still can’t relax. She knows the depths of Christian’s obsession with her, and she can’t let go of the feeling that he won’t stop until he has her back with him again – whatever it takes.

To say that Stay hit close to home for me would be a massive understatement. In fact, it hit so close to home that I don’t think I’m capable of writing a proper review. You see, years ago, I was in a relationship with an emotionally abusive, manipulative, and controlling person. He hurt me and broke my spirit in more ways than I can count or begin to explain. It’s been more than five years since I’ve spoken to this person, but the ways in which he destroyed my self-esteem, belief in myself, and my soul still have a profound affect on me to this day. Sometimes I feel bad for my husband because I need a little more TLC than most people probably do in average situations because this relationship messed with my head to such a large degree.

This is to say that I get how terrifying and paralyzing these relationships can be, and I am here to tell you that Deb Caletti got it right in this book. She got it so right that I found myself reliving moments from my past – moments I wish I could forget but I know I never will – as I was reading Clara tell her own story. The way I felt about Clara goes beyond empathy – truth be told, I was her at one point in my life. I know firsthand how this type of relationship can destroy one’s soul, how it can make a person question every single decision, every step, every action and wonder how the other person will react. This type of relationship made a person like me, a reasonably intelligent, decent-looking, and extremely rational girl believe that she is nothing. And Caletti made this come to life with Clara and Christian. It was difficult for me to read, yes, but almost cathartic in a way. Because it made me remember that this happens to girls (and guys, too) all the time. That there are manipulative, emotionally abusive people out there just waiting for a person to abuse, and it was not my fault that this happened to me. And if you ever find yourself in a situation like Clara, or ever have in the past, it is not your fault either. Emotional abuse is still abuse, and it can hurt just as much if not more than being hit.

Anyway, like I said, I clearly don’t have the ability to properly review Stay but what I will say is that I suggest you read it. These manipulative and abusive relationships are probably more common than we’d like to think and Caletti did an amazing job bringing such a terrifying situation to light. Although it wasn’t easy for me to read this book, I’m so glad I did and I cannot more highly recommend it.

Dreams of Joy by Lisa See

From the Hardcover editionDreams of Joy by Lisa See
Published by Random House
Review copy provided by the publicist

After her father’s devastating suicide and her discovery of long-buried family secrets, nineteen-year-old Joy flees to China to meet her biological father, the artist Z.G. Li. Joy is overwhelmed with respect for this man she’s never met but who seems almost godlike to her, so she goes with him into a commune of the New Society of Red China, believing that the communist regime is doing the right thing for her parents’ home country. Her mother, Pearl, follows her into China, believing with every fiber of her being that Joy is making a mistake in settling down in such a totalitarian and communist country. Desperate to be reunited with her daughter, Pearl confronts the pain of her past and challenges that seem near impossible, making every attempt to get her daughter out of this terrifying country. While both Joy and Pearl fight to understand how their pasts have so deeply tinged their present, one of the most deadly events in Chinese history threatens both of their lives.

I absolutely loved See’s Shanghai Girls (the predecessor to this novel) so there was no question in my mind that I would read Dreams of Joy as soon as I could get my hands on a copy. I’m very happy to report that this book was just as good everything else I’ve read by Lisa See (I have to admit, I’ve come to expect excellence from her and she always delivers) and it was the perfect conclusion to Shanghai Girls.

Admittedly, Joy bothered me a lot at the beginning of this novel. True, she had just learned some pretty major things about her life which her parents had kept secret from her for almost twenty years, but she acted very rashly and without any forethought. She spent a huge portion of money on a ticket to an unknown and unfamiliar country – a country which had strict rules on who can come and go across its borders. And when she arrives in China, she’s told she must surrender her passport in order to be admitted in, and she does! She doesn’t think about the consequences of her actions, not in terms of how they affect her own life and definitely not in terms of how they will affect the people who love her. Part of me admired her plucky spirit and sense of adventure, but the biggest part of me got annoyed with how spoiled and selfish she was acting, putting herself in an extremely dangerous situation with no ability to get herself out of it. All that being said, she won me over by the end of the book. There was such humanity in her character – she was just so honest, so true to herself, and eventually she displayed a deep level of regret for what she’d done and eventually forgiveness for what her family had done to her.

I loved the sense of time and place that See displayed within this novel. Red China was a terrifying place, and Lisa See captured that terror so accurately. At the same time, there were people who felt this society was a paradise, and she captured their feelings of hope, comfort, and confidence in this new regime so well. I found myself feeling fearful as I read about some of the things the characters dealt with. Lisa See really evoked in me a sense of what it must have been like to live in China during that period of history.

Of course, what I most hoped from this novel was some kind of resolution to the tumultuous ending Shanghai Girls gave me. While I loved being along for the ride on this journey with Joy and Pearl, what I most hoped for was a happy conclusion to their story. Obviously I’m not going to get into any spoilers here but I will say that I was happy with the overall plot of the novel, including the ending. Things were very, very difficult for Joy and Pearl while in China and as I was reading it, I found it difficult to imagine how See could end on a positive note. As with all of her novels, she managed the perfect resolution to an excellently told story.

I have one word for Dreams of Joy and it is this: LOVE. I strongly suggest reading Shanghai Girls before reading this book, though, or you’ll find yourself very confused. But please read both books, they are excellent and Lisa See is fabulous as ever.

My One and Only by Kristan Higgins

My One and OnlyMy One and Only by Kristan Higgins
Published by Harlequin
Review copy provided by the publicist

Divorce attorney Harper James is shocked when her younger sister, Willa, announces that she’s engaged to the brother of Haper’s ex-husband, Nick. Harper and Nick married young, divorced quickly, and haven’t spoken much since – but as soon as Harper sees Nick again, she remembers exactly why she fell for him in the first place. Due to a weather issue, Harper’s flight back home after the wedding is cancelled, and Nick offers to drive her – which means the two of them are alone together for a few days. Although Harper has a boyfriend of several years back at home, she can’t help thinking about what might have been with Nick as she realizes that they truly might get another chance to make things right.

It is extremely rare for me to even think about picking up a romance novel. Therefore, when I received a copy of My One and Only as a surprise from the publisher, I set it aside, thinking I’d hold on to it for a giveaway or something, but most likely would not actually read it myself. For whatever reason, though, I needed a light read one day so I decided to just go for it. I told myself it was more of a contemporary romance, more like chick-lit than an actual romance novel, and why not give it a try.

Did I enjoy the book? Yes and no. It was kind of what I expected – very on-the-surface characters, funny and fun to read about but lacking depth. The story was humorous and sweet at times but too predictable for my tastes, as I don’t much enjoy when a book does everything you expect it to do, without exception. But I have to admit that it was an entertaining ride. And at a time when I was looking for something a little more on the fluffy side, that didn’t require me to think too much, this book did the trick. That’s not an insult at all, so please don’t take it as such – all I mean is that these kinds of books are easy to consume and can be very fun for that reason, but I tend to like my fiction to be a little more thought-provoking.

What I want to say, though, is that I can very much appreciate the market for a book like My One and Only. The main character is ballsy and independent yet you know from the beginning that she will get her happy ending. Sometimes we all need to read a fairy tale to be reminded of what is possible in life – and these kinds of books are like fairy tales for grownups. So yes I enjoyed the experience of reading it but overall, this kind of novel is just not my cup of tea.

I can’t really compare My One and Only to other books of its kind because, as I’ve made quite clear, I don’t read romance novels hardly at all. But for a romance novel newbie like myself, the book fit exactly what I was looking for. It was fun, funny, and very sweet. I definitely think readers who are more accustomed to this kind of fiction will enjoy the book.

Revolution by Jennifer Donnelly

From the Unabridged Compact Disc editionRevolution by Jennifer Donnelly
Published by Delacorte Books for Young Readers, an imprint of Random House

High school senior Andi Alpers is busy grieving over the death of her bother and failing out of her private school in Brooklyn, finding her only happiness in her music, when her father decides that she must accompany him on a trip to Paris. While in Paris, her father is kept away by his work – he’s a scientist testing the DNA of a preserved heart thought to have belonged to the son of Marie Antoinette – so Andi is free to roam about the city. She is supposed to be beginning the work on her senior thesis when she comes across an old red journal. This journal was written by a girl named Alexandrine, companion to the young prince Louis, the same son of Marie Antoinette whose heart Andi’s father is studying. Andi is captivated by the diary, and she comes to find connections between her own life and Alexandrine’s experiences she never could have expected.

Would you believe Revolution was my first Jennifer Donnelly reading experience? Well I’ll tell you for sure, it won’t be my last. I’ve been meaning to pick up her books for ages now and finally spotted a copy of this one on audio at my library, so I grabbed it right away. I’m very satisfied with that decision because the book worked remarkably well on audio. The narrators, Emily Janice Card (Andi) and Emma Bering (Alexandrine) did a wonderful job bringing these characters to life, and I thought both of their voices really worked for the characters they were portraying.

As for the book itself, I absolutely enjoyed it. The story kept me on my toes and I was just as desperate to find out what would happen to Alexandrine and Prince Louis as Andi was. I definitely saw connections between the two girls’ stories, and it was fun to listen as Andi gradually began to see these connections too.

Andi herself is the kind of character who is difficult to like, but eventually she did win me over. She is a spoiled and petulant teenager in the beginning, treating her father horribly and wallowing in her own self-pity instead of focusing on more important things, but as the story went on I began to see things more clearly from her point of view. She couldn’t see anything through the grief she was suffering over her brother’s death, her father had basically abandoned their family in favor of his work, and her mother had become almost unable to take care of herself due to her own suffering. While Andi was a major brat in the beginning of the book, she was bratty and self-involved for good reason, and her character did grow on me as I listened further. Also, it helped matters that she had quite a transformation in her own right over the course of the book, which made me like and respect her even more.

There was one aspect of the book that was mildly confusing for me and I’m still not sure how I feel about it (THIS IS A MINOR SPOILER), which was the time traveling thing. I sort of felt like it came out of nowhere, I wasn’t expecting it at all and I’m still not sure if I think it fit in well with the rest of the book. I actually enjoyed that part of the story, but I didn’t like how there was never any explanation of why and how Andi was able to do that. It almost seemed like a too convenient, too easy way for Donnelly to resolve both girls’ stories. However, as I said, I did enjoy that section and once I forced myself to stop asking questions and just go with it, it became very fun for me. But still – I remain confused. (OK SPOILER OVER)

Overall, I really enjoyed Revolution and will be reading more of Donnelly’s books very soon. I love historical fiction for teens, and this one was not only satisfying YA, but it was impeccably researched, well-written and interesting historical fiction as well. Highly recommended.

Armchair BEA: Nurturing Relationships

Today’s topic for Armchair BEA is all about nurturing blogging relationships. While I have formed relationships with various authors, publishers, and bloggers over the past three and a half years of blogging, I want to talk about one particular (very recent) relationship that has meant a lot to me.

Just over a month ago, I met up with several Florida bloggers for a dinner after the UCF Book Festival. I was sad that I wasn’t able to attend the book festival, as my work schedule got in the way, but thrilled that I was going to meet bloggers in person for the first time ever. We all had such a fabulous time and I’m definitely hopeful that we can do something again in the future with these Florida bloggers.

While at dinner, Sandy and Heather mentioned that they are in a book club together (which I think I already knew, hazily, from reading their blogs) and invited me to join. I can’t tell you how excited I was – would you believe I’ve never been in a book club before? So I happily accepted, and last week I came to their book club meeting for the first time to discuss Bent Road by Lori Roy. All the ladies were so welcoming and friendly, and I honestly had such a fantastic time. I felt so much a part of them from the moment I walked into the woman’s home. It was really a fantastic experience.

So, thank you Heather and Sandy for inviting me, and I’m looking forward to getting to know you both even more in the months to come. :)

Now I have a book club, and new friends, all thanks to blogging. Yay for book bloggers – they are really the best people around.

Armchair BEA Introduction: Hello Everyone!

Hi everybody and welcome to Book Addiction, a place where I talk about my crazy addiction to all things bookish. I’m thrilled that you’ve stopped by and very excited to be participating in Armchair BEA this week. Of course I’m sad that I can’t go to the BEA in New York City this week – vacation time at work and my travel budget for the year did not allow me to do so – but I know that the organizers of Armchair BEA have created something really special and we will have an awesome time this week from the comfort of our own homes.

As far as this blog goes, I read and review books across multiple genres – adult fiction, YA, nonfiction about various topics, graphic novels, mysteries, “chick lit”, historical fiction, you name it. I welcome new visitors and of course I always love comments. So don’t be shy, introduce yourself!

I’m excited for Armchair BEA because I definitely want to meet new bloggers (always) and am looking forward to the blogger interviews. Although I am not participating in that particular event, I’m interested in reading other bloggers’ interviews! Physically, I’ll be blogging from my home in Central Florida and while of course I wish I could be in New York City this week instead, Armchair BEA is going to be extremely fun too!

I hope to get to know many of you this week. Thanks for stopping by!

Dancing with Gravity by Anene Tressler

Dancing with Gravity cover optionDancing with Gravity by Anene Tressler
Published by Blank Slate Press
Review copy provided by the publisher in conjunction with TLC Book Tours

Father Whiting, a St. Louis priest, feels like he’s asleep in his own life. He is worried about how well he’s performing in his job at a local teaching hospital, he’s concerned by his mother’s increasingly strange behavior, and he has just found out that one of his oldest friends has terminal cancer. The one bright spot in his life these days is Sarah James, the hospital’s head of public relations and someone who has become a very good friend to Father Whiting lately. When Sarah informs him of the fact that a Central American circus is going to be taking up residence practically in their backyard, he decides to minister to the people of the circus and while doing so, his bond with Sarah grows even deeper. It is his relationships with Sarah and later a trapeze artist named Nikolai that illuminate for Whiting how lonely he’s become and inspire him to make changes to his own life.

I am of two minds about this book. On the one hand, the characters were charming and held my interest, but on the other hand I found many of the events in the story rather difficult to believe, as well as confusing in parts. Overall I can’t say I particularly liked the book but I didn’t dislike it either – it’s one of those in-between situations. Allow me to explain in better detail.

I definitely appreciated the characterization in this novel. Father Whiting is an extremely interesting character – while easy for the reader to like, he also frustrated me multiple times throughout the book as he has moments of extreme selfishness. I definitely rooted for him to “find himself” as they say, but at the same time he was so wishy-washy about his feelings towards everyone – first he was annoyed with his mother and then he loved her, first he was obsessed with Sarah and then she irritated him, etc. His character was just a bit inconsistent. I did still, however, find him charming, probably because he was adorably unsure of himself, didn’t know how to properly give and receive love, and was truly just trying to figure his life out. One character I genuinely liked was Sarah. She, to me, was a realistic character who behaved and spoke very naturally – I was absolutely drawn to her. She clearly had innocent, friendly feelings toward Whiting even though his feelings may not have always mirrored that and I appreciated that Tressler did not make their relationship into something more than it was, even though it did seem to be heading in that direction for a while there.

The writing in the novel was sort of touch and go for me. At times, I was captivated by the prose and there were some really beautiful passages for me to enjoy. But other times, unfortunately, the writing felt awkward and clunky and the dialogue felt forced. Maybe it was just me but I did feel that the writing was inconsistent.

One thing I really did like about Dancing with Gravity was the fact that I was treated to an insider’s view of life in a circus. The characters in the circus were vivid and interesting and I loved reading about what the circus life really is about. It reminded me of Water for Elephants (a book I LOVE) in that sense.

Here’s the tricky part because I really did not like where Tressler decided to take the plot in the last third of the book. It went in a direction I simply didn’t understand and I’m not sure what the point of it was. I don’t do spoilers so all I can say is that the ending just did not make sense to me. And sadly enough, it negatively affected my feelings towards the book as a whole.

I didn’t mean for this review to sound as negative as it has, but I was as honest as possible about my feelings towards Dancing with Gravity and I think that showed. I didn’t hate the book by any means but it definitely has not been one of my favorites. There were a lot of aspects to the novel that I saw as being inconsistent and I simply could not get on board with the ending. For these reasons I probably would not recommend this novel. Of course there have been other readers who did enjoy the book (check out Heather’s review at Raging Bibliomania for starters) but it just wasn’t my cup of tea.

The Violets of March by Sarah Jio

The Violets of MarchThe Violets of March by Sarah Jio
Published by Plume, an imprint of Penguin
Review copy provided by the author

Novelist Emily Wilson truly thought she had a perfect marriage until her husband of over a decade decides to leave her for another woman. Stunned, Emily heads to her aunt Bee’s home on Bainbridge Island, Washington to recover and reevaluate her life. One night, when Emily has difficulty falling asleep, she finds a red journal in the nightstand next to her bed and can’t resist reading for a few pages. What she discovers in the journal is the story of a woman from the 1940’s that seems to have real connections to Emily’s life. Emily is determined to find out these connections, and in the process she begins to put her own life back together.

The Violets of March is the type of book that had me at hello. Truly, I was about twenty pages in when I realized how much I enjoyed Emily and I gobbled up her story as quickly as I possibly could. There are so many things to love about this novel that I don’t know where to start!

I truly enjoyed Emily as a character. I really felt for her – she was completely surprised by her husband’s actions and she had to do something drastic with her life in order to get some perspective. I liked all the characters in the book, actually – Aunt Bee is a fabulously fun older lady as is her friend Evelyn, and Emily meets two guys her first week at the island, both of whom add fabulous details to the story. I always like a little romance in my fiction, you know! Emily is truly the star of the novel as she tries to put her life back together while spending time on the island, but I enjoyed getting to know each and every one of the characters.

The island itself is a character in a sense. Sarah Jio did such a great job depicting what life on Bainbridge Island is like – I could smell the salty air, could see the ferry as it pulled in to the island, and I could feel the sand between my toes as Emily walked along the beach. When I visited Seattle several years back I absolutely fell in love with it, and Sarah Jio has made me want to visit some of the surrounding islands. She definitely brought Bainbridge Island to life.

I have to admit that I enjoyed reading the story in the red diary almost as much as the book itself! This technique of a “story within a story” is one that I’m not always a fan of, but in this case it worked beautifully. I was just as compelled with Esther’s story (the woman in the diary) as I was with Emily’s, if not more so! I was completely anxious to find out the connections between their lives and I was just as sucked into Esther’s life as Emily was.

Overall, I enjoyed The Violets of March immensely. I loved the characters, the setting, the story itself, basically everything! Highly recommended.

Guest Post by Diana Spechler

Today is the release date for Diana Spechler’s fabulous novel, Skinny. Yesterday I reviewed the book (I loved it) and today Diana is stopping by with a guest post. I asked her to tell me about some of her favorite authors, or the authors who have inspired her, and here is what she had to say.

When I got to graduate school, I found out I’d read all the wrong books.
On the first day of workshop in my new MFA program, my classmates and I introduced ourselves by divulging where we’d been and what we’d been reading. I’d been in college. Specifically, I’d spent the summer working at a bar in Boulder, Colorado, where my uniform had included a miniskirt. And all I’d read, really, ever, were the books high school and college students nationwide are required to read, and books my mom had given me, most of which I adored, but which I suspected weren’t cool. I loved The Catcher in The Rye. I might have kind of loved Huckleberry Finn, except I wasn’t sure I’d actually finished it.

In graduate school, everyone else was really old. Like twenty-seven. They’d lived. Some of them were married. And they all seemed to know the same authors. There was a club for literary grownups, and I totally wasn’t a member. Lorrie Moore, Raymond Carver, and Joy Williams—names that, a decade later, are among the most significant in my life—were then foreign to me. It turned out that the literary canon was not welcome in my MFA program. There was a whole other canon, a writers’ canon, and if I didn’t start familiarizing myself with its contents, everyone was going to know I was, like, really freakin’ young.
So for the next two years, whenever I heard one of my classmates mention a writer I didn’t know, I wrote down the name, went to the library, and read at least one of his or her stories. (Lucky for me, in graduate school, we worship short stories over novels.) If I liked the writer, I read more, but the goal was just to get to know the “writers’ writers.” I wanted to be able to talk the talk. But moreover, I got the impression that immersing myself in these authors would help me walk the walk.
In many ways, I learned to write in graduate school by reading George Saunders, Alice Monroe, Antonya Nelson, and all the other writers’ writers I scrounged up in the University of Montana library. What I’d felt at thirteen when I read The Catcher in The Rye—that racing-heart, dry-mouthed excitement, that certainty that I was going to Be A Writer—I was feeling again at twenty-two, as I discovered Tobias Wolff, Junot Diaz, and Aimee Bender. An amazing thing happened when I started reading the writers who excited me: Somehow, I kept finding more. There were so many great writers! (But of course, to exclaim so aloud was uncool.)

Now, the writers who excite me the most change all the time. I still have my staples, like Raymond Carver, who can get my pulse going with a sentence or two. But the books I keep near my laptop, my literary porn, so to speak, change pretty frequently. Right now, my nearest stack includes Suzanne Rivecca and Ann Beattie.

Finally, when anyone asks me if I’ve read an author I’ve never heard of, I feel okay saying no. I used to lie—“Oh yeah, I love her stuff”—which I don’t condone. Lying is terrible. Now I just lie about music. Of course I know some band from some suburb that sounds so much like some other band from some other suburb.

Okay, truthfully, I know The Beatles. I really dig Bob Dylan. And until I decide to pursue a life as a musician, that’s good enough for me.

LOVE HER! Do yourself a favor and get a copy of Skinny – you will not regret it!

Diana SpechlerDiana Spechler is the author of the novels Who by Fire and Skinny . She has written for the New York Times , GQ , Esquire , Details.com, Nerve, Glimmer Train Stories , and other publications. Spechler has an MFA from the University of Montana and was a Steinbeck Fellow at San Jose State University. She teaches writing in New York City.

Skinny by Diana Spechler

Skinny by Diana Spechler
Published by Harper Perennial, an imprint of HarperCollins
Review copy provided by the author

Gray Lachman is miserable. After her father’s sudden death, which she feels responsible for, she finds herself overeating and over the course of a few months gains quite a bit of weight. She also discovers, much to her surprise, that she has a teenage half-sister named Eden, courtesy of  her father’s affair, which she also didn’t know about. She decides to take a job as a counselor at the weight-loss camp Eden is registered for, hoping that she will get skinny, clear her mind of her issues surrounding her father’s death, and somehow explain to Eden how they are connected and build a relationship with her new sister.

I very much enjoyed Diana Spechler’s Who by Fire [my review] so when I found out she had a new book coming out, I knew I had to read it. Skinny is very different from Who by Fire, but I was pleased to discover it’s just as fantastic.

What made this story for me was the character of Gray. She is the kind of character the reader can easily sympathize with even though she’s not necessarily likable. She’s flawed and makes mistakes, she jumps to conclusions and sometimes hurts those she cares about, but she’s incredibly realistic. She’s the kind of person I am in my truest moments – vulnerable, sometimes a little sad, sometimes unhappy with myself, but ultimately just trying to figure life out. And it helps that Gray and I are roughly the same age. While my life is a little more “put-together” than hers (I have a house, a husband, etc. and she is sort of untethered) I still related to her emotionally. I related to her struggle to accept herself – her body and her personality – and to her struggle to accept the events in her life and move past them. I think a lot of people struggle with these things and consequently many readers will see aspects of their own lives and feelings mirrored in Gray’s.

I love the way Spechler writes. The words are put together just so, nothing fancy or anything, but in such a perfect way that the reader can’t help turning the pages. I found this to be the case with Who by Fire and also with Skinny. The dialogue is interesting and very realistic and the writing just works.

This book made me feel so many things – it is both funny and heartbreaking, happy and deeply sad. The events in the novel were all over the place – apparently a lot can happen in a few weeks at weight-loss camp! Everything came together perfectly in the end, and it was the kind of bittersweet ending I love – wrapped up well but with semi-loose ends, in a realistic kind of way. In life, things do not end perfectly, so why should things end perfectly in books? That’s the way I typically feel, anyway, and I for one was very happy with how Spechler chose to end this particular novel.

I feel like I haven’t been all that coherent with this review because I liked this book so much but I don’t have the perfect words to explain why. This is one of those times where I say: just read it!

Stay tuned tomorrow because Diana Spechler will drop by with a guest post which you will not want to miss!