Tag Archives: fiction

Tomorrow, and Tomorrow, and Tomorrow by Gabrielle Zevin

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Tomorrow, and Tomorrow, and Tomorrow by Gabrielle Zevin

Zevin, Gabrielle. Tomorrow, and Tomorrow, and Tomorrow. Knopf, 2022. ISBN 978-0593321201 416 pp. $28.00

*****

In 2007, when I wrote a book about gaming in libraries, Will Wright was exploring how games could make people feel emotions (like guilt), and the US was slow in recognizing video games as an art form while the UK had already established an award category for video games at BAFTA, while I was arguing they were valid ways of telling a story that involved the player in the creation of that story. Zevin pesents a world where creators set out to make works of art, even based on the style of a famous work of art, in this brilliant, intricately plotted novel about friendship and gaming.

Tomorrow, and Tomorrow, and Tomorrow follows the trajectory of two friends who love one another but never get together. Their partnership at Unfair Games, their video game company, is more important At twelve, Korean-American Sam is recovering from a car accident in the hospital while eleven-year old’s Sadie’s sister Alice is getting cancer treatment. They form a friendship playing Super Mario Bros. and the staff begs Sadie to come back and visit–Sam, coming to terms with his mother’s death and a crippling injury hadn’t spoken until she showed up. She makes him her bat mitzvah volunteer project and wins a community service award from Hadassah. When he finds out, they don’t talk for six years, until he spies her in a subway station–she’s attending MIT and he is at Harvard. Hollering “you have died of dysentery!” gets her attention, and they resume their friendship and eventually talking about designing a game together. His friend and roommate Marx bankrolls an apartment and they name Marx their producer; he takes care of many details for their company, their friendship, their lives. The narrative follows their intertwining paths through the games they design together.

With characters that attend Ivy league schools, the vocabulary is smart and lush: nihilistic, verisimilitude, deictic, obfuscation, jejune, azure, simulacrum, portmanteau, fecund, echt, tautology. The allusions reference The Phantom Tollbooth, Emily Dickinson, Shakespeare, the Illiad… and indirectly, Grand Theft Childhood. The timeline spans nearly twenty years and is set squarely in Generation X, with many familiar touchstones: Tamagotchis, Magic Eye, texting, same-sex marriage, MMORPGs, groundbreaking video game titles, September 11th.

The writing is spectacular and frequently, beautifully profound as the characters reflect on their abilities and disabilities; their identities and ethnicities; love and loss; mazes, puzzles, and maps; immortality and do-overs; art and sex and death and play. The narrative moves back and forth in time and yet never gets lost. So many details come back full circle, like when you die in a game and go back to the save point. Throughout the novel, the narrator breaks the fourth wall, such as when the reader is invited to consider an interview with game designer Sam Mazer in Kotaku. This also allows us to review events through a more modern lens of systemic racism, appropriation, and sexism. Another section goes meta like a game and changes the perspective to second person, playing on interactive text adventures. Another is in third person, narrating the lives of the avatars the characters create. Full disclosure: this book made me weep.

Sometimes the writing reminded me of Lev Grossman’s The Magicians, with its detail on coding and debugging akin to the drudgery of magic drills at Brakebills Academy and flawed dynamic characters who stick together no matter what. Sometimes it called to mind Francesca Lia Block’s Weetzie Bat, with it’s LA setting and evocative lists of things and strong sensory detail. And as a gamer about to turn 48, who cut her teeth on the Oregon Trail on a classroom’s Apple IIe and Donkey Kong on a cocktail arcade table at the local Papa Gino’s, I kept seeing this as a love letter to gaming that recognizes video games for the art they are.

I checked this out through OverDrive at my local public library and logged onto bookshop.org to order a copy and it’s currently out of print and backordered! I blame Harry and his 2 million copy first print run.

Love & Saffron: A Novel of Food, Friendship, and Love by Kim Fay

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Love & Saffron: A Novel of Food, Friendship, and Love by Kim Fay

Fay, Kim. Love & Saffron: A Novel of Food, Friendship, and Love. Penguin Putnam, 2022. 192 pp. ISBN 9780593419335 $24.00

***

This short and sweet novel focuses on correspondence between a food columnist and a fan that evolves into a wonderful friendship. They exchange recipes, ingredients, and details about their lives. Each voice is distinctive and their letters give a glimpse into life in the Northwestern US in the 1960s and touches on politics, history, love, race, and food trends. A fast, richly detailed read.

I borrowed this one from my local public library.

Holiday Read by Taylor Cole

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Holiday Read by Taylor Cole

Cole, Taylor. Holiday Read. Aria, 2023. 400 pp. ISBN 978-1804545348 $16.99

****

An American abroad to escape her marriage opens a surf school, lives in her van, and waitresses in a local cafe, where she meets a hot author on holiday. Alexis is struggling to finish his work in progress, a romance novel. His agent thinks a summer fling will jumpstart his creative juices and Candice falls for it until she discovers he’s transcribing their interactions as fiction. She’s pissed until his agent Daniel shows up, makes an appeal and an apology, and suggests they write the book together, since it turns out Candice can write. Many adventures follow as Alexis and Candice try to get into the head of their characters, and the romance focus shifts from assholey Alexis to stalwart Daniel.

There are several subtle mysteries: what happened in Candice’s marriage? Why did she flee from Hawaii to Cornwall–is it really just the surf scene? Details are unraveled with masterful pacing. The novel reads more like literary fiction with strong romantic elements than a romance novel for most of the tale; it’s really about Candice’s growth, self-confidence, boundaries, and the strong friendships she makes. The romance is slow building and consummated off the page. The author pays some homage to the creation and defense of romance novels (clearly the author is a Christina Lauren fan, and I’m dying to know which romance with a red stiletto heel on the cover she references). Cole has has some very beautiful thoughtful passages throughout the book, the waxing on about sand and what is means to Candice (and what it didn’t mean to her ex, Joseph) is downright lyrical. The setting of Cornwall came to life beautifully through the descriptions of the places the characters visited. While the surf details are thorough and the seaside setting undeniable, I would not classify this as a beach read or an Emily Henry readalike.

Alexis was an unsympathetic character and not terribly likeable, and if the reader can’t suspend their disbelief at Candice’s forgiveness, it will be an easy book to drop. I powered through to see if my suspicion about the love interest would pan out.

I received a free advance reader’s review copy of #HolidayRead from #NetGalley.

Great or Nothing by Joy McCullough, Caroline Tung Richmond, Tess Sharpe, & Jessica Spotswood

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Great or Nothing by Joy McCullough, Caroline Tung Richmond, Tess Sharpe, & Jessica Spotswood

McCullough, Joy; Caroline Tung Richmond, Tess Sharpe, & Jessica Spotswood. Great or Nothing. Delacorte Press, 2022. 400 pp. ISBN 978-0593372593 $11.99

****

Four authors voice the infamous March sisters in this novel based on Little Women, set during WWII. Beth, already dead and gone, is present through verse and in her sister’s memories. The remaining three sisters have had a falling out that disperses them. While Meg stays home in Concord with Marmee, missing her fellow schoolteacher John; Jo is working in a factory building parts for airplanes; and Amy is supposedly in art school in Montreal but has actually registered for the Red Cross where she has been shipped out to London and is serving as a Doughnut Dolly. More modern subplots address Japanese interment, Jo’s lesbianism, classism, bullying, and coping with grief.

The story contains many period details–music, makeup, brands, hairstyles, books and movies, and slang–that position it during the 1940s. Many are just name dropped in without context. A fan of the original who is of a certain age or older will hear the Glenn Miller orchestra, or envision Victory Red lipstick, but a Gen-X or younger will skim over the references.

The authors skillfully blend in many details from Little Women, referencing the time Amy burned Jo’s manuscript, the time Laurie rescued Amy from falling through the ice, the time Beth got the piano from Mr. Lawrence. Other favorite scenes are incorporated into the present timeline: the time Laurie proposed, the time Sallie lent Meg a dress and Meg made a fool of herself at a party, the time Meg defended John to Aunt March, the time Amy fell for Laurie, the time Jo found a love of her own, the time Marmee confessed her own inner anger (although here, it’s Meg she’s confiding in, not Jo). The faith, hope, yearning and moral compass of the original is here too, and never saccharin.

Beth’s poem(s) at the end of each chapter are a heart-wrenching reminder of her loss. As if writing from heaven, her omniscience view encompasses the past and hints at the future.

The digital version of this book contains letters from the various characters to one another; I found the font difficult to read. The cover, showing the four sisters from the back, in period clothing, allow the reader to imagine herself as one of the faceless characters.

I received an advance reader’s review copy of #GreatOrNothing from #NetGalley

Shmutz by Felicia Berliner

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Shmutz by Felicia Berliner

Felicia Berliner. Shmutz. Atria, 2022. ISBN 978-1982177621 272 pp. $27

****

A young ultra-Orthodox woman details her discovery of porn in this fascinating novel about religion, sexuality, and rebellion. Eighteen year old Raizl has always had a head for numbers and gets a dispensation to work as an accounting assistant in a jewelry company, and a scholarship to attend college and take accounting courses. The scholarship comes with a shiny laptop (it’s not clear how she connects to the internet) which is presumably for assignments, and access to therapy.

The Internet is full of people having sex, discovers Raizl. She learns the English words for names of body parts she only knows in Yiddish, and from watching illicit videos it’s a slippery slope to eating bacon and egg sandwiches, cheeseburgers and fries, changing into tight jeans in the restroom at school, and fooling around with boys at the beach. In the midst of this, she has increasing responsibility in the accounting job, increasing belligerence towards her therapist. She shares a Maccabeats video with her little sister, and goes on several dates arranged by the shidduch, eventually accepting a suit from an auburn-haired young man who informs her no computers will be allowed in their home.

Bonus points for clever placement of hamantaschen on the cover. The writing is immediate and both authentic teenager and authentic ultra-Orthodox. Scenes detailed the porn Raizl watches and later, her fantasies, are untitalling for this reader, reduced to observation of the mechanics. The story ends were any good YA novel leaves off: at a launch point for a new beginning of sorts.

I received an advance reader’s review copy of #Shmutz via #NetGalley

The Beach Trap by Ali Brady

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The Beach Trap by Ali Brady

Brady, Ali. The Beach Trap. Berkley, 2022. ISBN 978-0593440155 352 pp. $17

***

Told in alternating voices, The Beach Trap follows the story of Kat, an Instagram influencer who grew up Jewish, wealthy and popular, and Blake, a nanny struggling to make ends meet, who grew up with a single mom and a dad only occasionally around. The two meet at the summer camp their dads attended, and when fate throws them together, become best friends… until they discover they are actually half-sisters and have the same dad. Fast forward fifteen years; their father has died and left the family beach house that Kat visited every year and that Blake has never seen to the two of women.

The Kat and Blake agree to fix up the decrepit property and sell; Kat is all about the interiors, and crossing over from her “Life is a Fashion Show” themed stream to expand into home decorating. She’s also working on an essay for a competition that leads to a lot of introspection. Blake, meanwhile, is not afraid to get her hands dirty and takes on much of the demo and reno herself, and begins wondering if she can turn this hobby into a career and get off the nanny carousel.

Each woman meets a guy that at first seems her opposite, so The Beach Trap is also a dual romance. And as in traditional romance novels, Kat and Blake have an enemies to lovers sort of arc, friends who split up, get a do-over, are mean, become friendly, have a misunderstanding, and then must make it right.

The writing is solidly plotted, characters believable in their meanness, selfishness and epiphanies, the romance is well-done, and the narrative compelling. The cover is attractive and as balanced as the storytelling, and the epilogue very satisfying.

I received an advance reader’s review copy of #TheBeachTrap via #NetGalley

See You Yesterday by Rachel Lynn Solomon

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See You Yesterday by Rachel Lynn Solomon

Solomon, Rachel Lynn. See You Yesterday. Simon & Schuster, 2022. ISBN 978-1665901925 432 pp. $19.99

*****

Barrett (named for the poet) Bloom is looking at her freshman year of college as the opportunity of a do-over. High school was hell: her expose in the school paper on a corrupted grading system for star tennis players led to her being a social pariah, but also bullying, the loss of a good friend, and a deceptive, mean prom date who took her virginity just so he could brag about deflowering her as revenge for her getting his brother kicked off the tennis team. On her first day of classes, Wednesday, September 21, Barrett discovers her no-show roommate is Lucie, the former friend (whose boyfriend was the one who got kicked off the team!) and the day gets worse from there. She botches her interview with the school paper, is unprepared for physics 101, and accidentally sets fire to a frat house. She runs away, gets lost, finds her way to campus, passes out in the common room, and…. wakes up again on Wednesday, September 21.

Stuck in a Groundhog-Day like time loop, the only bright and shining part of her day is getting to know Miles Kasher-Okamoto, the son of her physics teacher, who seems to be stuck in a time loop of his own. Their bristly temperaments towards each other slowly become sparks as they try to figure out why they are stuck, and agree to approach getting unstuck together from Mile’s more scientific leanings and Barrett’s magical ones. They enjoy going on adventures with no consequences, traveling, exploring, getting tattoos, buying a lot of rescue dogs, and narrowly escape death.

Another approach to find their way back to their reality is to right past wrongs, and this becomes an opportunity for Barrett to try to repair her relationship with Lucie, for Miles to allow his addict brother Max to make amends, and for Barrett to face the shitty things that happened to her on prom date–including confronting Cole Walker– and clue both Miles and her Max in, so she can begin to heal. The pair even tries to track down a former professor from UW who taught a very popular class on Time Travel for Beginners, and while her advice is ultimately helpful, nothing helps, until a missing sock provides an epiphany.

I was thinking of this book as Rainbow Rowell’s Fangirl meets Casey McQuiston’s One Last Stop: while only two are about the college experience and two are about time loops, all three novels have deeply fleshed out, real new adult characters alongside interesting and non-stereotyped supporting characters, strong setting, a compelling story, a sweet first time romance, great pacing, and honestly? just perfect voice and writing.

I loved See You Yesterday for the theme of acceptance and the author’s normalizing what might still be considered marginalized people. Barrett’s mother has dated both men and women, and her current love interest is on the verge of proposing; another character isn’t so sure she likes men all that much and is looking forward to exploring; Barrett is curvy and (mostly) unashamed and gets comfortable being adored as she is; Miles is Asian American, and both are Jewish, but Miles says he is not half anything when he’s telling Barrett about some of the comments he’s heard (presumably from other Jews) about not being a matrilineal Jew. As a Jew by choice, I love seeing myself reflected back in what I’m reading, and their improvised Shabbat on a Wednesday was just so lovely. Barrett’s observation that “Much of Judaism is about making do with what you have, and I’ve always loved that there are so many ways to observe” resonated with me. It should be noted the setting of the book takes place close to the High Holidays, and while they are not mentioned, it is a time of reflection, apologies, atonement, and new beginnings.

I also really loved the pop culture woven throughout–the age of the protagonist means she has a mom that grew up in the 2000s and her introduction to the Gilmore Girls and love of all things from the turn of the 21st century is a nicely woven thread throughout the narrative.

The title is great and I don’t love the pink cover, which features a sketch of the characters at three points in time and coordinates with the author’s last YA book, Today, Tonight, Tomorrow.

I flipped to Good Reads to note I’d finished the book, and realized Rachel Lynn Solomon wrote my favorite book (thus far) of 2022: Weather Girl! As in Weather Girl, the Seattle setting features strongly into the narrative.

One of my favorite things to tell kids embarking on their higher education journey is that college is what YOU make of it. Watching Barrett come to this realization that it’s not college that will change her, but that she will change, is so satisfying.

I received an advance reader’s review copy of #SeeYouYesterday via #Netgalley

The Christie Affair by Nina de Gramont

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The Christie Affair by Nina de Gramont

de Gramont, Nina. The Christie Affair. St. Martin’s Press, 2022. ISBN 978-1250274618 320 pp. $27.99

*****

I readily admit to being a bit of a lazy reader: I read to escape, I want to be entertained, and I read nonfiction, not mystery, to exercise my brain. I was attracted by the jazz-age cover (those pearls!) and scintillating title, and it took midway through chapter two to realize the narrator was speaking about THAT Agatha Christie, of mystery novel fame. I almost put the book down several times, and am SO glad I stuck with it.

Nan O’Dea is in love with Archie Christie, who has promised to leave his wife for her. When he breaks the news to his wife Agatha, she goes missing for almost two weeks, amid scandal and intrigue (which is amazing for book sales!), and upon her return, does divorce, and both former spouses remarry. This inventive historical novel imagines why Nan, why now, and what happened during those pivotal eleven days. While the narrative gives insight into multiple characters, including the police inspector, it’s all as imagined by Nan (who may not even be a reliable narrator!) The story moves back and forth in time from Nan’s unsavory experience as an unmarried pregnant girl in a corrupted convent and a seductive mistress. The timeline is usually easy to follow (though there are one or two muddled times that took a little re-reading). In the midst of Christie’s disappearance, there is a murder mystery involving two guests near where the author is holed up.

Without giving away too much plot, I will say the voice and story are compelling, the plot brilliantly woven, and the tone reminiscent of Christie herself. Period details seem to be well-researched and the ending is extremely satisfying. I fully expect this to be an Edgar Award contender if not winner this year.

I received an advance reader’s review copy of #TheChristieAffair from #NetGalley

The Girl in White Gloves: A Novel of Grace Kelly by Kerri Maher

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The Girl in White Gloves: A Novel of Grace Kelly by Kerri Maher

Maher, Kerri. The Girl in White Gloves: A Novel of Grace Kelly. Berkley, 2020. ISBN 978-0451492074 384 pp. $26

****

BioFic about the life and loves of Grace Kelly, b. 1929, American actress who married the Prince of Monaco in 1956–who promptly made her quit her film career. Lots of history, travel, drama and romance in this historical fictionalized biography.

Start Without Me by Joshua Max Feldman

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Start Without Me by Joshua Max Feldman

Feldman, Joshua Max. Start Without Me. William Morrow, 2017. ISBN 978-0062668721 288 pp. $

I apparently read this a few years ago, and read half of it and have no recollection of it. Black sheep and recovering alcoholic runs away from family holiday and connects with another lost soul: a married flight attendant pregnant with her high school boyfriend’s child. Drama, redemption and lots of coffee ensue.