Friday, July 8, 2016

June Reads

Perfected - Kate Jarvik Birch

Synopsis:  Perfection comes at a price.

As soon as the government passed legislation allowing humans to be genetically engineered and sold as pets, the rich and powerful rushed to own beautiful girls like Ella. Trained from birth to be graceful, demure, and above all, perfect, these "family companions" enter their masters' homes prepared to live a life of idle luxury.

For fans of Keira Cass's Selection series and Lauren DeStefano's Chemical Garden series, Perfected by Kate Jarvik Birch is a chilling look at what it means to be human, and a stunning celebration of the power of love to set us free, wrapped in a glamorous—and dangerous—bow.

My take:  I'm not sure how it maps to the Selection series, but I'm definitely seeing the connection to the Chemical Garden. With its tales of manipulation of women's bodies and crooked politics, you also wouldn't be wrong to see connections to  Margaret Atwood's  Handmaid's Tale.

The maiden-in-distress love story plot isn't particularly new, but the setup is thought-provoking. If you've ever owned pets, this novel will make you squirm just a little bit as you imagine Ella as one of the trophy dogs you see Paris Hiltonypes carry onto an airplane. It's dystopia redefined for a new generation. It might make your skin crawl, but it's a perfect read for a hot summer day. Then, it will keep you up all night wondering about what it says about humans.

There is a second book, which I'm probably not going to read. I'm a little weary of the YA cliff-hanger approach. As my friend CE Roberson says in her post called The Trilogy Curse: "Too many good YA novels become a hot mess when they string the reader along into a second or third book." Perfected was a satisfying read on its own. Why ruin a good thing?

Game of Crowns: Elizabeth, Camilla, Kate, and the Throne - Christopher Anderson

Synopsis:  The #1 New York Times bestselling author of William and Kate and The Day Diana Died takes a compulsively readable look into the relationships and rivalries of Queen Elizabeth, Camilla Parker Bowles, and Kate Middleton.

My take:  So, the first two chapters speculated about what might happen when Elizabeth II dies, and it was amazing. The corgis, apparently unloved by all members of the Royal Family except the Queen, are shuffled off to new homes. At first there is an outpouring of love and enthusiasm for Charles and Camilla, but then it all sort of fades away, much like the interesting part of the book.  Yes, it dishes all the gossip particularly about the so-called rivalry between Kate and Camilla, but to be honest it's a bit regurgitated. If you're a royal watcher, you've probably already seen most of it in Celebrity Dirty Laundry and Vanity Fair.  It's a guilty little pleasure read for when the weather is hot and you just want to curl up with a Gin and Tonic and live in fantasy world for a little while.

After last month's Eligible, I went full on Curtis Sittenfeld for June. I think it's safe to say after this month, I might give Prep another read, as well as American Wife and Sisterland. Let this be my summer of Curtis Sittenfeld.

A Regular Couple (From The Atlantic Archives)  by Curtis Sittenfeld

Synopsis: Available exclusively for Kindle, Curtis Sittenfeld's A Regular Couple follows Maggie, a star lawyer who while on her honeymoon encounters her one-time nemesis, Ashley, the faded queen bee of her high school. Discovering that the erstwhile prom queen is married to a bore, Maggie might have felt pity for Ashley. But old resentments surge, and she can't quell the questions that rage within her. Could her wonderful new husband really love her, plain as she is despite her star-lawyer status? Or is he only with her for her money? Is she still that same gullible high-school girl? Shouldn't Maggie be married to the bore, and doesn't her new husband belong with Ashley.

My take:  This is a short story that all women who haven't been the head cheerleader can identify with and live to regret. I felt myself cringing and recognizing bits and pieces of myself. Ah, Curtis, you know us all too well.

The Man of My Dreams: A Novel by Curtis Sittenfeld

Synopsis: In her acclaimed debut novel, Prep, Curtis Sittenfeld created a touchstone with her pitch-perfect portrayal of adolescence. Her prose is as intensely realistic and compelling as ever in The Man of My Dreams, a disarmingly candid and sympathetic novel about the collision of a young woman’s fantasies of family and love with the challenges and realities of adult life.

My take:  Again, there was that cringe-worthy moment (several of them in fact) when you recognize yourself and your love life from decades past. Your search to discover the perfect man while escaping from the embarrassing foibles of your family all comes back to you. You relieve those awkward mistakes: the man who got away, the one who was too good (in an angelic sort of way) for you to consider seriously, you know the drill. The Man of My Dreams was a bittersweet novel told by narrator whose sarcasm and wit  I appreciated. While not as good as Prep, as many reviewers are quick to point, I thoroughly enjoyed this novel.

The Girls by Emma Cline

Synopsis: An indelible portrait of girls, the women they become, and that moment in life when everything can go horribly wrong—this stunning first novel is perfect for readers of Jeffrey Eugenides’s The Virgin Suicides and Jennifer Egan’s A Visit from the Goon Squad.

Northern California, during the violent end of the 1960s. At the start of summer, a lonely and thoughtful teenager, Evie Boyd, sees a group of girls in the park, and is immediately caught by their freedom, their careless dress, their dangerous aura of abandon. Soon, Evie is in thrall to Suzanne, a mesmerizing older girl, and is drawn into the circle of a soon-to-be infamous cult and the man who is its charismatic leader. Hidden in the hills, their sprawling ranch is eerie and run down, but to Evie, it is exotic, thrilling, charged—a place where she feels desperate to be accepted. As she spends more time away from her mother and the rhythms of her daily life, and as her obsession with Suzanne intensifies, Evie does not realize she is coming closer and closer to unthinkable violence.

My take:  Who isn't sucked in by tales of Charlie Manson and the Tate/LaBianca murders? There must be somebody, but I haven't yet met them. I was 16 when the murders occurred, about the same age as Evie, the protagonist of this novel. Her slow seduction by the cult members could have happened to me or many other girls I knew who struggled with many of the same issues as Evie. Didn't many of us long to be cool? Yearn to belong to a clique even as we disparaged the idea? Secretly dream of the hippie lifestyle awaiting us if we ever summoned the courage to run away from our boring life, our boring and embarrassing families? Didn't we wonder (OK, obsess) about sex, drugs, and rock and roll? Just a nudge might have pushed many of us across the line in that summer of 1969.

Cline does a remarkable job of capturing a moment in time and the girl who lived it. You are there. Sometimes, the shift forward in time to the grown-up Evie is a little jolting and snatches you out of the hallucinatory narrative, but overall it works. The last line is chilling and reminds us of the innocence  lost that summer.

Sons and Daughters of Ease and Plenty by Ramona Ausubel

Synopsis: Labor Day, 1976, Martha's Vineyard. Summering at the family beach house along this moneyed coast of New England, Fern and Edgar—married with three children—are happily preparing for a family birthday celebration when they learn that the unimaginable has occurred: There is no more money. More specifically, there's no more money in the estate of Fern's recently deceased parents, which, as the sole source of Fern and Edgar's income, had allowed them to live this beautiful, comfortable life despite their professed anti-money ideals. Quickly, the once-charmed family unravels. In distress and confusion, Fern and Edgar are each tempted away on separate adventures: she on a road trip with a stranger, he on an ill-advised sailing voyage with another woman. The three children are left for days with no guardian whatsoever, in an improvised Neverland helmed by the tender, witty, and resourceful Cricket, age nine.

My take:  This book was on one of those "Summer Must Read" lists. I usually enjoy a Gatsby-esque novel where the characters ". . .smashed up things and creatures and then retreated back into their money or their vast carelessness, or whatever it was that kept them together and let other people clean up the mess they had made. . ." I like the object lessons and (to be honest) the schadenfreude of it all. This book seemed promising.

I made it about 40% of the way through, according to my Kindle. The last 20% with the hope that it might get better. It didn't. I gave up. Enuf said.