It’s all About Love, in Andrew Sean Greer’s “Less”

What does it take to win a Pulitzer Prize for Fiction, Genius? Luck? Heck if I know.  This past month it was my turn to pick the next novel in a book club, so I chose Less by Andrew Sean Greer, the Pulitzer prizing winning novel for fiction in 2018. Fre

How do win a Pulitzer?

Reading Less isn’t going to give you the answer.  I have no idea what the committee of high brow intellectuals uses to award the prize.  But here’s what I can surmise…they choose stories that try to illustrate the human condition.  Less is an examination of love; a nostalgia of love had and lost.  Arthur Less is about to turn fifty and his ex, Freddy, is about to be married.  So he does what any other normal human would do-anything and everything to get your mind off these two events that you are helpless to stop. Thus, Less accepts every invitation he has received (readings, prizes, teaching, etc.) to travel around the world in a futile attempt to escape. He will travel to New York, Italy, France, Germany, Morocco, and India, all to try to forget Freddy, to lament his age, and to come to terms that he may never be loved by anyone ever again.

The problem with trying to escape, is that for as much as want we can’t escape our brains.  So throughout the novel and his travels he remembers his past loves, he remembers his time with Freddy.   The book reviews call it a romantic comedy, but I didn’t find that much funny about it. Sure I chuckled here and there, but that doesn’t mean I didn’t like it.  Because Arthur Less is me.  Yeah okay, sure, I’m not a fifty-year old gay man who has written novels that win awards and nor have I had two great loves: but I, and probably many others, walk around every day asking ourselves, is this what we want from life? is this who we are meant to love? will someone love me? Will this person always love me? Does he love me? Is this my life? Is my life complete without love? Can I live without it?

And the answers, well the answers are subjective.  Arthur’s problem is that he’s so wrapped in his self-pity he doesn’t see how great his life really is.  He’s told this multiple times throughout the novel.  Mr. Greer’s use of the past and the present to give us a picture of Arthur’s life is a technique that perfectly illustrates how certain smells, people, sites, and sounds transport us to the past, when we remember happier or sadder times.  And how we try to understand how all those past decisions bring us to where we are standing at present.  Would we change anything? Would we do it different? To be happier? Do we regret what has brought us to this very moment?

So I know why they chose it.  Because it is beautiful and it is unflinchingly and unabashedly human.  What do you want the book asks you? What do you want and what will you do to get it? Is happiness worth it? Is love worth it?

Mr. Greer thinks it is.  And so did …..  Well, you’ll see who.

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To All The Movies I’ve Loved Before-A Teen Rom Com Has Stolen My Heart

When I was in high school, before I started dating, I used to watch Sabrina, with Julia Ormond, Harrison Ford, and Greg Kinnear, over and over and over again.  As you can guess, LJ and I have a lot in common.  TATBILB stands for To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before, a Netflix original film that yes, I wholeheartedly admit, has been on repeat since Guernsey.  Officially, this is my second favorite movie of 2018.  It is beyond fantastic because of LAURA JEAN COVY AND PETER KAVINKSY.

PETER.KAVINSKY.

After the jump is my list of the small details, that you might’ve missed on first viewing, but they are definitively why I LOVE this movie. Love.  Read this list after you watch, and then you can squeal along with me. SPOILER ALERT.

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A Blog Resurrection & Two New Novels

Hello book friends.  Heather here, and I am officially guilty.  I let my little blog wither away.  That was a mistake. I realized lately, due to a little movie on Netflix, how much I miss writing, particularly writing about books.  So I’m going to endeavor to return here full time, writing every weekend about the books I finish the past week.  Here we go. I hope you still like what I have to say and if you don’t, well try to be nice as possible in the comments. Or don’t read my blog anymore.  The common theme in the two stories I will be writing about today is the issue of “morality.” Who is truly moral? Who is truly good? No one is truly “good” all the time, every day, in every aspect of our lives.  We aspire to be, but life, funny life, has a way of testing those boundaries. So here we go.

The Guernsey Literary & Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer & Annie Barrows

Confession:  I saw this movie first.  Have you seen it? It’s available 24/7 on Netflix.  Once I viewed it, I was never the same. FUNDAMENTALLY altered. That seems…a DRAMATIC statement to make, but it is true. It has awoken something in me that I had buried and now won’t go back to sleep.  The novel is written through a series of letters between the residents of Guernsey, a Channel Island, to a writer named Juliet Ashton.  These residents are members of the The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society formed as a result of the German occupation of the island during World War 2.   The film keeps that letter writing spirit, but I found the adaptation a much more fluid narrative than the novel.  The morality questioned in the novel centers around a character whose voice you never hear,  Elizabeth McKenna.  To avoid spoilers we won’t get to the heart of it, but as Juliet journeys to Guernsey to meet the people who have become her friends through correspondence, she discovers there is more to what has been put in the letters and what she discovers is not a scandal, but a knowledge of herself.   All thanks to the choices made by Elizabeth.  To some those decisions were unconscionable, but she was protected by those she left behind, who knew why she did what did.  You’ll see.  Watch it, then read it. You’ll love it.

It would be easy to say that the ending of this movie is why I love it. It’s one of the reasons, but not the only one.  I think I fell madly in love with the collection of small moments:  when Dawsey brings Juliet azaleas grabbed by the side of the road juxtaposed with the roses given to her by Mark occupying the entirety of her London flat; Eli’s grimace to Juliet about staying with Charlotte Stimples, Juliet’s hesitancy to enter Dawsey’s house because she knows how she feels, the moment Dawsey sees Juliet and recognizes her, when Eben has to evacuate Eli…. Then there were the looks, the glances through the sides of their eyes, what the directors and these actors use to bring these characters to life.  SIGH. It’s fantastic.

Next Year in Havana by Chanel Cleeton

I’m going to say up front that I don’t know anything, really, about Cuban politics. I don’t pretend to be an expert or be able to speak intelligently about the matter.  That being said, this book, is a love story, a dual love story. It is told through two perspectives: Elisa Perez in 1959 and her granddaughter Marisol Ferrera, in 2017 (pre-Trump changes).  Elisa, an heiress to a Cuban sugar empire, meets and falls in love with Pablo, a revolutionary fighting against the world that made her life (or rather her parent’s life) possible.  Then there is Marisol, Elisa’s granddaughter  who is returning to the island to scatter her grandmother’s ashes in accordance with her will.  Marisol arrives in Cuba, and rapidly begins to learn the truth about her Grandmother, her heritage, the island, where she comes from, what it really means to call herself Cuban.

The morality issue here once again has to do with who you choose to love, mostly centered around Elisa. Like Guernsey, one of our main character’s destiny is forever shaped by those that came before and the choices they made.  Elisa has to make a choice: Follow your heart even though it goes against her family.  Then there is the political plot, what do you do when you know the person you loves does something  (or is affiliated with something) that is at best unethical, at worst illegal, and somewhere in the middle immoral? And sure it sounds like I’m talking about Elisa falling for Pablo, but it also could be flipped, how could Pablo fall for Elisa (a living embodiment of all he is fighting to end)? I guess both books are trying to say that it doesn’t matter.  We reconcile ourselves, compartmentalize, rationalize, to make room for feelings in our hearts that just cannot be denied.  Is Elisa a bad person because of her choices? Is Pablo? Are they both selfish? Are they moral?

Here’s what I get out of both books.  There are unwritten rules that at the end of the day, good people, truly good ones,  work hard every second of every day to stay within. But when those unwritten rules don’t make sense, you change them in the most positive way possible.  Towards something good. Something built out of hope and love and family. Because what is that they say…aren’t those the only things that matter?

Before I leave you, this movie.  NETFLIX. Oh my gosh, I love you.

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Heather’s Game of Thrones Season 7 Finale Deep Dive

So my friends, here we are.  Almost to the end. I have so, so, so many thoughts about this season that I decided to get back to blogging and do a huge deep dive about the Season Finale and the penultimate season generally.  So here we go.  Join me after the jump.  And while it goes without saying, but I’ll say it anyway…SPOILER ALERT.

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Beware the Reality of the Game and Men in Top Hats

The grass is always greener, goes the saying.  It describes how people are never satisfied with their circumstances and seemingly always attempting and working to escape them, to something better, a place where the grass is just a bit greener. For those with insatiable greed, sometimes they desire much greener grass.

In Stephanie Garber’s new young adult fantasy novel, Caraval, we are introduced to two sisters, Scarlett (our heroine) and Donatella (Tella) Dragna  who are condemned to life with an abusive and contemptible father, the notorious Governor Dragna.  Growing up they’ve always heard the stories of the game of Caraval.  A game located on a faraway isle, and for those daring enough to play, a chance to win valuable and priceless reward.  Run by the mysterious Master Legend, Scarlett has written to him thoughout her childhood, begging him to invite her to and her sister to play or bring the Caraval to her land of Trisda.  When her letters ultimately go unanswered, Scarlett resigns herself to an arranged marriage to a Count, a man she has never met, believing the marriage is the escape her and Tella have been waiting for.  And just when she’s lost all hope, a correspondence arrives from Master Legend himself, along with two tickets to attend and play Caraval.

Tella distrusts her father’s motives and with the help of a brigand, a sailor named Julian, she attempts to persuade Scarlett that they must flee and journey to Caraval for their salvation.  But Scarlett’s fear of her father is too great and thus she refuses to agree to her sister’s harebrained scheme.  However as you will see should you choose to play (I mean read), Tella and Julian force Scarlett’s hand to leave Trisda and journey to the isle to play the game of Caraval.

Here’s the thing about Caraval, you are instructed from the beginning that nothing, nothing should be taken as true.  In fact, trust no one. (Aside: How many times in our lives, have we’ve been told that of others? End Aside). However, it becomes readily apparent that such a warning isn’t just meant for Scarlett, Ms. Garber seems to be warning the reader as well. Trust nothing in this book. Nothing is at is appears.  It is all a game, and in five days time (or by the end of the book), all will be set to rights.

I confess, never has a industry categorized “young adult” fantasy novel used such a gimmick to great advantage.  Throughout the story the reader is forced to question the characters’ motives and even Scarlett’s perception of her reality.  It is often the case that when faced with an unreliable narrator it takes a storyteller of great skill to allow such narrators to garner empathy. But such is the case with Scarlett.  I often found myself just as frustrated and confounded with the clues as she was.  She must locate her sister, because Tella has disappeared (yeah there’s that conundrum too). With nothing but a brigand for an ally she must circumnavigate this crazy world where you can never be certain of any person’s motives or even your own eyes.

Many of the story’s themes are prima facie evident early on: trust should be earned, look not just a tree but too the forest, trust your heart, your eyes will deceive you, you lie to yourself everyday, how much would you sacrifice for those that you love, and finally…question everything.

Heady stuff for a young adult novel, but as I’ve said before on this blog, I have considerable issue with the designation of these novels as “young adult”-because more often than not these stories deal expertly with “adult” issues.  That being said, since the book is marketed and targeted for teenage readers Ms. Garber should be applauded for her attempts to make teens think about the consequences of their decisions and to question everything.  A top hat doth not a gentlemen make.  Caraval teaches us that finery should not be equated with altruism immediately. Master Legend’s motives are never apparent until the very end (although arguably…maybe not).  And Scarlett’s journey leaves the reader deeply unsettled-yet that’s not at all a negative consequence.   Ms. Garber easily brings the reader into Caraval, but the question remains,  is her game really over?

 

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By the Light of the Moon; The Worlds of Sarah J. Maas

From the beginning you have to understand,  the story Ms. Maas starts to tell you won’t be the same story when she’s finished.

Looking back, I try to remember what it was exactly about Ms. Maas’ books that caused me to buy them.  I couldn’t tell you. Just a feeling, that this could be an okay story-another means of escaping a world descending into madness.  When I finally got around to her new series, A Court of Thorns and Roses, I expected excellence.  And I was justly rewarded.  The Court series is the story of Feyre (Fay-RAH) a mortal human girl who is forced to pass into the Fae realms and live at the Spring Court with it’s High Lord, Tamlin as punishment for murdering another High Fae. There she must discover the secret everyone in the palace is trying to hide.   Sound a bit like Beauty and the Beast? Good, because Thorns is loosely based on that classic fairy tale.

But here is the kicker.  This is not Beauty and the Beast.  This is not a classic.  Thorns, combined with the newly released A Court of Mist and Fury is a triumph of fantasy story-telling.  Incorrectly categorized in the YA genre (insert wide-eyed emoji here ’cause these books in no way fit or mold themselves to popular YA tropes) it is a story of strength, adventure, love, hope and the sheer force of will.   By the end of Mist, Feyre isn’t the same girl we first meet in Thorns.  She is powerful, determined, strong and projects a level of confidence that can only come forth after it’s been nurtured by that one person who is willing to believe in you and stand beside you as an equal.

What makes these novels so utterly captivating, isn’t the magic, the love or the setting, although all of that helps.  It is her effortless character development that is the soul of these novels.  A story, a good story, only works if you care.  And boy does she make you care. Not just about a Feyre, Tamlin or Rhysand, but about Lucien, Cassian, Azriel, Mor, Amren, Nesta, Elain, and the people of Velaris who remain nameless but are so realized it doesn’t matter that you don’t know all their names.  This is her secret.  This is her gift.  Her stories make you wish that you would never have to stop turning pages, and are so captivating that you would even read by the light of the moon.  For what other light would you read by when you escape to the Night Court and the worlds of the High Fae?

 

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Booking it Back Into Gear in 2016

Hello. Hello.  It has been so long since I’ve written to all of you. I hope that you are well, happy, and recovered from the crazy comings and goings of the holidays.  Where have I been? Busy. So busy.  I wanted to write, I really, really did. But, life you know? Yet I never stopped reading. I filled the final quarter of 2015 with historical romance, YA fantasy of EPIC proportions, historical romance, YA awesomeness and Mindy Kaling’s memoir.    Read Mindy Kaling’s book.  It’s short and it’s great. You will love. The BJ chapter alone is completely worth it.

So yes, books! So many books.  I’m deep, way deep, deeper than deep, fathoms actually, into historical romance novels.  I can’t even begin to describe how many I read towards the end of last year.   Some of the best included Lisa Kleypas’ Hathaway series, Wallflower series and her new novel Cold- Hearted Rake (not her best, but still wonderful). Sarah MacLean also released her long awaited new historical A Rogue Not Taken that is thoroughly delightful.  And then there was Julia Quinn, author and creator of my beloved Bridgerton family.  I read a few of her other novels and found them enjoyable as well.  So which are my favorites? Obviously The Bridgertons win “all the things,”* but Lisa Kleypas’ Hathaway series is now a very, very close second.  Cam Rohan and Kev Merripen are epic insofar as swoon-worthy heroes go.  In fact there is one particular scene in Cam and Amelia’s story that just left me utterly breathless.  And, wait for it, it has nothing to do with romantic statements or what I like to call “sexy fun time.”  The love between the Hathaway siblings is not unlike that of the Bridgertons, so there is that as well.  At the end of this post I’ll list the titles so you can check them out for yourselves-in order of my favorites.

YA novels occupied the other half of my reading life this past fall/winter. Ladies and gentlemen, the YA reading was epic and, I’m not kidding when I say loud and proud with all capital letters, EPIC.   It’s a testament that Book-sister Ronnie and I know each other so very well when it comes to libros.  She gave me the first novel I’m going to discuss and I gave her the latter series, sending each other on amazing wild, reading adventures that only friends-that-are-family can.

First there was Rainbow Rowell’s Carry On, which I need to add to my favorite books list as soon as I finish here.  Arguably a Harry Potter satire/fan fiction, it is a story whose primary virtue is the pen of Rainbow Rowell. Talk about a woman who can write.  Immediately, I am in. All in. 100%.  I cared about the characters and not about the looming mystery that lingers as a subplot in the novel.  I cared so much that I felt nothing but pure and unadulterated joy when an event/twist comes to pass.  The brilliance lies in her ability to take something that unfortunately is still controversial to some, and make it utterly normal.  Truly real. So real. So perfect.  Also it illustrates the importance of diverse books, the importance of teaching kids to see the person. Only the person.  It is humanity and love personified.  It is fantastic. I recommend times 100.

And then (dramatic pause) and then there is Ms. Sarah J. Maas.  Oh Sarah. Sarah, Sarah, Sarah.  Yes, I’m impertinent enough to speak as if I know her, because she has completely turned my reading heart upside down and inside out.  Not only did I devour her Throne of Glass series with Harry Potter -like enthusiasm, I also ran (okay I drove) to the book store to buy the first book in her new series A Court of Thorns and Roses.  Who knew this imagined Fae world of Ms. Maas’ would be so fantastically captivating.  But Throne of Glass.  Buy it. Read it yesterday.  Give yourselves book hangovers.  But you MUST read all four books to understand what I’m saying.  And no, the first two are not a waste of time, because you need to have lived through those two before you arrive at Heir of Fire and Queen of Shadows.  The shifts, the turns, in all honesty I don’t even think it’s fair to call this story YA fantasy, it’s straight-up high fantasy.  I’m speaking some veritas here.   Caleana Sardothien is a heroine for the ages.  I love this series as much as I loved Daugther of Smoke & Bone in 2013/2014.  Ms. Maas’ stories stole my heart five times over and I cannot wait for the release of the next installments.  I won’t say anymore because Ronnie and I are going to go full on deep dive soon with our next joint-post about this series so look for that.  But don’t wait for us! Go buy them and read them for yourselves.

Other novels of note included Victoria Aveyard’s The Red Queen and Susanna Kearsley’s The Winter Sea.  Both were also amazing and great get cozy by the fire winter reads.  In fact the sequel to The Red Queen is due out in early February so this month would be a good time to check her out.

So for 2016, I have so much on deck.  While I read an insane amount of books, I also bought an insane amount of books and really need to work hard in getting through them this year.  They include non-fiction, highfalutin’ fiction and books that I dub “things get real.” Recent world events have kept me away from these genres, but with a new year I’m hoping to push away the negative and objectively dive in.  Hopefully it will be worthwhile.

How about you? Anything amazing you read? I want to know! Please share with me your awesome books I have to read yesterday! I can’t wait to see what you all suggest.  Until my next post, Happy New Year and Happy Reading!

-Heather

My friend coined this phrase, so I feel I can’t use it in written conversation without air quoting. You know who you are.

___________________

The Hathaway Series by Lisa Kleypas

  1. Seduce Me at Sunrise (Win & Kev Merripen)
  2. Tempt Me at Twilight (Poppy & Harry Rutledge)
  3. Married by Morning (Leo & Catherine Marks)
  4. Mine Til Midnight (Amelia & Cam Rohan)
  5. Love in The Afternoon  (Beatrix & Capt. Christopher Phelan)

The Wallflower Series by Lisa Kleypas (whose characters show up in the Hathaway series)

  1. Devil in Winter ( Evie Jenner & St. Vincent)
  2. It Happened One Autumn (Lillian Bowman & Westcliff)
  3. Secrets of a Summer Night (Annabelle Peyton & Simon Hunt)
  4. Scandal in Spring (Daisy Bowman & Matthew Swift) –Truth I haven’t read this one, but I’m 100% confident it’s amazing.

 

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