I’ll Take You There by Wally Lamb

I'll Take You ThereI’ll Take You There by Wally Lamb
Published by Harper

From the publisher:

I’ll Take You There centers on Felix, a film scholar who runs a Monday night movie club in what was once a vaudeville theater. One evening, while setting up a film in the projectionist booth, he’s confronted by the ghost of Lois Weber, a trailblazing motion picture director from Hollywood’s silent film era. Lois invites Felix to revisit—and in some cases relive—scenes from his past as they are projected onto the cinema’s big screen.

In these magical movies, the medium of film becomes the lens for Felix to reflect on the women who profoundly impacted his life. There’s his daughter Aliza, a Gen Y writer for New York Magazine who is trying to align her post-modern feminist beliefs with her lofty career ambitions; his sister, Frances, with whom he once shared a complicated bond of kindness and cruelty; and Verna, a fiery would-be contender for the 1951 Miss Rheingold competition, a beauty contest sponsored by a Brooklyn-based beer manufacturer that became a marketing phenomenon for two decades. At first unnerved by these ethereal apparitions, Felix comes to look forward to his encounters with Lois, who is later joined by the spirits of other celluloid muses.

Against the backdrop of a kaleidoscopic convergence of politics and pop culture, family secrets, and Hollywood iconography, Felix gains an enlightened understanding of the pressures and trials of the women closest to him, and of the feminine ideals and feminist realities that all women, of every era, must face.

Okay, so I like the idea of what Lamb has done here. We have a feminist man who truly loves and respects all of the women in his life, who sees them as independent from their relationship to him (for example – his daughter is not just his daughter, she’s this independent, incredibly smart, talented person who he admires AS A PERSON not just as his daughter), who gets a rare peek into aspects of their lives that he never really considered before. I like that Lamb, who clearly has a ton of respect for women and I would hope considers himself a feminist, decided to explore the topic of the difficulties that women face simply for the fact of being born with a vagina and explore it through the eyes of these fictional characters. As I said, I like the idea here. I was definitely looking forward to the book.

I would say that the actual execution of Lamb’s great idea was successfulish. By that I mean, I liked the book well enough but I certainly didn’t love it, and overall thought the feminism contained within was fairly benign and the main character didn’t have much in the way of revolutionary thoughts or any real lightbulb moments, if you will. The start of the book was incredibly slow for me and I almost put it down a few times – in fact, I would have given up on it had it not been my book club read. However, once I got going and the book started delving into Felix’s past, my interest was piqued and I sped through the second half of the book in a matter of a couple of hours.

A good chunk of the book was focused on Felix’s older sister, and for fear of spoilers, I won’t explain why but let’s juts say that his fairly average looking family had its share of secrets and those are revealed through the portions of the book about his sister. She was actually the character I was most drawn to, even though she’s portrayed in a pretty negative light in the beginning of the book, Lamb carefully crafts the picture of her life and makes it very clear to readers why she’s got the hard edges to her personality that make her seem unlikable on the surface. I really felt for her and it made me immensely happy to see Felix begin to understand her and feel for her in a way he seemingly never did before this little adventure of his.

While I liked I’ll Take You There, I didn’t love it, and I think it’s probably Lamb’s least successful novel. Most of his books are sweeping, all-encompassing, emotional stories with tons of characters and complicated stories, and this was a much simpler, more relaxed novel. I guess it’s a departure for Lamb and shows a different side to his writing, but for me personally I like his other stuff much better. Still a fun read, just nothing to write home about compared to what kinds of masterpieces I know this author is capable of creating.

The Guests on South Battery by Karen White

The Guests on South Battery (Tradd Street, #5)The Guests on South Battery by Karen White
Published by Berkley
Review copy provided by the publisher

From the publisher:

With her extended maternity leave at its end, Melanie Trenholm is less than thrilled to leave her new husband and beautiful twins to return to work, especially when she’s awoken by a phone call with no voice on the other end—and the uneasy feeling that the ghostly apparitions that have stayed silent for more than a year are about to invade her life once more.
 
But her return to the realty office goes better than she could have hoped, with a new client eager to sell the home she recently inherited on South Battery. Most would treasure living in one of the grandest old homes in the famous historic district of Charleston, but Jayne Smith would rather sell hers as soon as possible, guaranteeing Melanie a quick commission.
 
Despite her stroke of luck, Melanie can’t deny that spirits—both malevolent and benign—have started to show themselves to her again. One is shrouded from sight, but appears whenever Jayne is near. Another arrives when an old cistern is discovered in Melanie’s backyard on Tradd Street.
 
Melanie knows nothing good can come from unearthing the past. But some secrets refuse to stay buried….

So. You guys know I’m a Karen White fangirl, right? Especially the Tradd Street series – I have loved watching Melanie solve mysteries as she uses her powers of talking to ghosts to understand long-buried family secrets and drama, as well as watching as she slowly fell in love with Jack Trenholm, denied that love to herself, then watched with glee as he loved her back and they lived happily ever after. So fun, right?! So you’d think that another volume of the same stuff would be music to my ears, yes? I thought the same thing. Unfortunately, The Guests on South Battery was just okay to me and I’m left wondering if maybe I’m done with the series and I should leave Melanie and Jack in the happily ever after stage of my brain.

I honestly got super annoyed with Melanie. She’s just so oblivious to so many things – like the fact that she gained weight while pregnant and never really lost any of it (who cares, honestly, but everyone around her seemed to want to point it out and she either ignored them or really didn’t see it herself, either way is fine, but it was an annoying aspect of the book). She is suspicious of Jack’s every move and always concerned that he’s going to leave her – almost like she can still not let herself believe that this man loves her. He MARRIED you and the two of you have two children together – I wanted her, at some point, to just trust this guy and let go, to love him with her whole heart instead of continuing to hold back. It aggravated me to no end.

The mystery part of the book I actually quite enjoyed. It had to do with a house haunted by a mother and daughter, people who Melanie’s mother Ginnette knew when she was much younger. The mother, Anna, was a terrifying ghost and this continues to be one of the reasons I read these books – I love how Karen White makes these ghost stories scary-ish but still a lot of fun. That element of creepiness was definitely there, but it is done with a light touch. I have to admit that when the secrets these ghosts were keeping were revealed, there were really no surprises to me, but still I enjoyed this part of the story.

I enjoyed this book to a degree, but on the other hand, Melanie in general is just beginning to grate on my nerves. I’m not sure I’ll continue with these books if White keeps writing them, unless I hear somehow that Melanie’s personality drastically changes in the next novel (not likely). I’m okay with enjoying the first few books in the series and just leaving it alone after that. I’d still recommend the series, for sure – but perhaps I’d suggest reading the first four and stopping there.

Lumberjanes Volumes 3 & 4

Lumberjanes, Vol. 3: A Terrible PlanLumberjanes, Vol 3: A Terrible Plan by Noelle Stevenson, Shannon Watters, and Carolyn Nowak
Published by BOOM!Box

The third installment of the fun and feisty comic Lumberjanes has Mal and Molly going on a date (yay!) and being interrupted by none other than the Bear Woman. Meanwhile, back at camp, Jo, April and Ripley are focused on earning every badge they possibly can (and these badges are ridiculous).

This was my favorite of the series yet. I loooooooved seeing the character development here, especially between Mal and Molly – both individually and as a couple. I loved seeing the two of them separate from the rest of the group, how they navigated the craziness that was thrown at them in a particular way that only the two of them together could have done. I also quite enjoyed the silliness of the tasks the other girls were trying to complete for the most random, odd-ball badges ever. It was hilarious and fun to read and the adventures in this book were more exciting than some of the previous ones, I thought. I REALLY liked this volume in particular, but the series as a whole is just tons of fun.

Lumberjanes, Vol. 4: Out of TimeLumberjanes, Vol 4: Out of Time by Noelle Stevenson, Shannon Watters, and Carolyn Nowak
Published by BOOM!Box

This volume focused more on Jen than it does the campers – it starts with Jen trying to teach the girls basic survival skills, until a mysterious blizzard hits camp, Jen is separated from the group, and a taxidermist who says she has all the answers “saves” her. Jen quickly realizes that this person is not the safe place she claims to be, and she must save the day and find her way back to the campers.

I really enjoyed the focus on Jen in this volume, as she’s a character that has only really gotten development through the eyes of the other characters. This one was a chance for her to come into her own and show the reader more of her personality. There was also more in terms of getting the back story of the camp and of Rosie’s past. I liked this volume a lot even though it wasn’t my absolute favorite of the series, it brought development to the story and held my attention big time. This series is great; seriously, if you’re not reading it, you need to start now.

Mini-Reviews: Last Books Read in 2016 part 2

Behind Closed DoorsBehind Closed Doors by B.A. Paris
Published by St. Martin’s Press

This book was one HELL of a ride. It’s about this couple, Jack and Grace, who appear absolutely perfect from an outsider’s view: beautiful home in the suburbs, both physically gorgeous and fit, they host the best dinner parties in town, and his affluence and professional success allow her to be a stay-at-home wife and perhaps mother in the near future. But it is obvious from the first few pages that things with the two of them are nowhere near the image they project for their friends and neighbors to see. Once the reader is clued in to what’s really going on here, the novel picks up the pace and I couldn’t stop turning the pages, desperate to find out what would happen with the insanity that I was reading about. I don’t want to give too much away, but this is one of those unputdownable books that everyone raves about for good reason. Read it!

Leave MeLeave Me by Gayle Forman
Published by Algonquin Books

Maribeth is the stereotypical working mother who spends absolutely all of her time on everyone else – between work, her kids and her husband she barely has time to make sure she eats, let alone takes care of her own health needs. So when she goes two days avoiding the pain in her body only to realize she’s been having a heart attack that entire time, after a few weeks of recovery during which she was still responsible for taking care of absolutely everyone except for herself, she does the unthinkable and leaves her family.

Okay, so I really liked this book even though I can say that it definitely had its issues. For me, I enjoyed getting to know Maribeth and I really felt sorry for her. There was very little appreciation shown by anyone in her family for what she sacrificed for them on a daily basis, and while I know that’s the plight of many women, working mothers or otherwise, it was taken to another level here, with her having to take all responsibilities back on herself just five days after having open-heart surgery. There were several things she needed to understand about herself, her past, and what she wanted for her future (and what she was willing to put up with in order to get it), and I enjoyed spending time on this journey with her. The one thing I will say that disappointed me was the ending – it was wrapped up just a bit too neatly for such a difficult situation. There were other things about the book that weren’t perfect, but overall I really enjoyed it.

Cruel Beautiful WorldCruel Beautiful World by Caroline Leavitt
Published by Algonquin Books

Lucy is sixteen in 1969 when she decides to run away with an older man, one of her teachers, to live in an off-the-grid tiny home in rural Pennsylvania. As Lucy’s older sister, Charlotte, and their guardian, Iris, come to terms with Lucy’s disappearance (although they have no idea where she went or why), the three of them must learn to forge ahead in their new lives independently, while never losing hope that Lucy will reunite with the other two again in the future.

I thought this book was so phenomenal, it truly blew me away. Lucy’s decision to leave her family and home for the “security” of this older man had far-reaching consequences, not just for her own life, but for all the people who knew and loved her as well. The way Leavitt crafted this story, while it’s not intended to be a page-turner by any means, kept me on the edge of my seat, frantically wishing and hoping that things would turn out okay for Lucy, Charlotte, and Iris. Leavitt perfectly captured the unique balance of crushing loneliness and feeling like you’re on top of the world and can do absolutely anything that is so unique to certain teenage girls – Lucy struck this balance in such a way that she was the perfect target for her teacher to take advantage of, and he certainly did. Leavitt gave the reader the opportunity to get to know all of the major players, not just Lucy, giving an even more complete picture of what forces propelled Lucy throughout her life to make this seemingly insane choice. Also the writing – SOOOO good. I loved this book so much.

Mini-Reviews: Last Books Read in 2016 Part 1

I think it’s safe to say that 2016 was a crazy year for me in a lot of respects. One thing that happened towards the second half of the year, due to a lot of personal stuff, is that my reading slowed down a LOT. But there are still a few books that I managed to get through these past few months that I haven’t told you guys about. So I thought I’d start 2017 by wrapping up 2016 in the form of mini-reviews of my final six reads of 2016. Here are the first three.

The Trespasser (Dublin Murder Squad, #6)The Trespasser by Tana French
Published by Viking

This was one of my most anticipated books of the year and, as expected, the genius of Tana French did not disappoint. I really loved detective Antoinette Conway – there’s something so incredible about French writing a female character, as she wrote Cassie in The Likeness. Of course, all of her characters are fantastic, but I have been particularly drawn to those two out of the six she’s written so far. In this book, Conway and her partner, detective Stephen Moran, are assigned to a murder case that seems pretty simple at first – a young woman is found dead from a head injury after it appears that she had a dinner date all set up and ready to go – but it becomes clear right from the start that things are not what they seem with the victim and those around her. As only French can do, she pulls together all of the different threads of this story, mixed in with intricate character development and snappy dialogue, and she had me riveted throughout the entire novel. I absolutely loved it and am ready for the next book in the series.

I'm Just a PersonI’m Just a Person by Tig Notaro
Published by Ecco

I’d heard of Tig Notaro before picking up the book from watching the Ellen show and seeing her talk about her HBO special, but I didn’t know too much about her before picking up her memoir. She’s a fascinating woman with an incredible story about going through so much personally with her own health, losing her mother at a relatively young age, dealing with heartbreak and professional setback, and she dealt with all of that by using humor and a positive attitude to mostly make it through unscathed. She’s got a dry, sarcastic kind of humor that I am drawn to and really appreciate, so I really enjoyed her take on her own life story. Also, I listened to the audio, which she narrates, and I thought it was definitely the way to go. I found myself admiring her and I really enjoyed getting to know her through reading this memoir.

Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, Parts 1 & 2Harry Potter and the Cursed Child by John Tiffany, Jack Thorne, and J.K. Rowling
Published by Arthur A. Levine Books

I FINALLY got around to reading this one, months after it was published, and while I liked it enough, I definitely wasn’t wowed by it. I’ll admit that it took me a bit to get into the format of reading a Harry Potter book as a play instead of a novel, but even with that issue aside, I didn’t love this like I had hoped that I would. It was definitely an interesting take on where these characters’ lives went, years after the final book in the series concluded, and I certainly appreciated getting to know the children of the characters I fell so deeply in love with while reading books 1-7, but I felt just meh about where the plot went and the choices that were made about how these characters would have reacted to certain events throughout this experience. I don’t know – on the one hand, I was grateful to get another look into these characters’ lives and to spend “extra” time with them, but on the other hand, I was disappointed with exactly how everything turned out here. Meh.

What Alice Forgot by Liane Moriarty

What Alice ForgotWhat Alice Forgot by Liane Moriarty
Published by PanMacmillan Australia

From the publisher:

Alice Love is twenty-nine, crazy about her husband, and pregnant with her first child.

So imagine Alice’s surprise when she comes to on the floor of a gym and is whisked off to the hospital where she discovers the honeymoon is truly over — she’s getting divorced, she has three kids and she’s actually 39 years old. Alice must reconstruct the events of a lost decade, and find out whether it’s possible to reconstruct her life at the same time. She has to figure out why her sister hardly talks to her, and how is it that she’s become one of those super skinny moms with really expensive clothes.

Ultimately, Alice must discover whether forgetting is a blessing or a curse, and whether it’s possible to start over.

Okay, so Liane Moriarty can do no wrong. Every time I read one of her novels I find myself saying, “now THIS one is my favorite of hers!” only to remember that I keep saying that … turns out they are all pretty awesome, including What Alice Forgot.

What is interesting about this novel is that Alice is almost an unreliable narrator, a thing I like a lot in books, but her unreliability is far from intentional. In fact, throughout the book it is clear that she’d like very much to be a reliable source on her own life, but that simply isn’t possible, what with the amnesia and all. What this does to the reader is forces you to get to know Alice through the eyes of people who know her as well as what she’s telling you about her thoughts and feelings and find a way to sort of pair those two things together to come up with a complete picture of this character who doesn’t even know herself. It was strange and interesting and made the novel a ton of fun to read.

I liked her so much, though! As I continued to read the novel and piece together aspects of her life and personality, I continued to like her more and more. I continued to feel empathy for her situation and hope desperately that things would work out in her favor – although what that meant exactly was unclear for most of the book.

Moriarty does an amazing job at giving the reader hints and clues throughout a novel that slowly get at the real picture of what’s going on without revealing too much, too soon. She excels at this particularly in What Alice Forgot, because since Alice doesn’t remember the big events that made up her life for the past ten years, neither does the reader have that information. Slowly, as Alice remembers things and as her family fills in the details, the reader gets to fill in the gaps right alongside her. There were frustrating moments when I just wanted someone to TELL me about a particular person or situation, but I loved that because it truly got me inside Alice’s head and I understood exactly how she felt – the immense frustration at not knowing your own life, can you imagine? Moriarty did this SO well.

I really loved What Alice Forgot. Moriarty crafted an intense, compelling and ultimately heartwarming story featuring a flawed but very real and wonderful character in Alice. I will continue to be here for whatever Moriarty wants to deliver.

The Things We Wish Were True by Marybeth Mayhew Whalen

The Things We Wish Were TrueThe Things We Wish Were True by Marybeth Mayhew Whalen
Published by Lake Union Publishing
Review copy provided by SheReads

From the publisher:

From the outside, Sycamore Glen, North Carolina, might look like the perfect all-American neighborhood. But behind the white picket fences lies a web of secrets that reach from house to house.

Up and down the streets, neighbors quietly bear the weight of their own pasts—until an accident at the community pool upsets the delicate equilibrium. And when tragic circumstances compel a woman to return to Sycamore Glen after years of self-imposed banishment, the tangle of the neighbors’ intertwined lives begins to unravel.

During the course of a sweltering summer, long-buried secrets are revealed, and the neighbors learn that it’s impossible to really know those closest to us. But is it impossible to love and forgive them?

I read this book over two months ago so please forgive my short but sweet thoughts on it. This is Whalen’s grittiest novel to date and I absolutely loved every second I spent with it – these characters were realistically flawed in the best possible way, their interactions rang true to life for me, and WOW was there drama. This community is extremely fractured, it is a total mess, and the people who live in it have some serious issues. Everything is intertwined, everyone knows everyone and has a history, many have secrets, and all of it just comes together so well. Many of the twists and turns surprised me but, for the most part, all felt natural and entirely feasible.

Whalen weaves such a complicated and intricate web of characters and situations that are all related, but the cast of characters never feels overwhelming or too much here. It all just works together seamlessly, her storytelling is perfection, and I truly could not put this book down. As I said, it’s been a while since I finished the novel but the characters have found a place in my head and in my heart and I would absolutely read another novel set in this same fictional neighborhood.

I have to add as a sidenote that I have met Marybeth in person a few times and she is an absolutely kind, funny, warm, incredibly sweet person. I received this book for review as part of the SheReads blog network that she co-founded. The fact that I’ve met Marybeth did not affect my feelings of the book – this is for sure her best novel that I’ve read and had I not enjoyed it I just would have skipped talking about it. 🙂

Highly recommended!