The Long Run: A Memoir

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Thank you to Crown Publishing for providing me with an advanced copy of Catriona Menzies-Pike’s memoir, The Long Run, in exchange for an honest review.

PLOT – When she was in her early twenties, Catriona Menzies-Pike was dealt a major life-change, when her parents both died in a plane crash. She spent the following decade finishing her education, while dealing with both her profound grief, and the extensive probate process to close her parent’s estate. She had never considered herself very athletic, but when she turned thirty, she decided that she wanted to change her lifestyle and began running. The Long Run chronicles her journey to becoming a marathon runner, including an examination on how running helped her cope with loss and the history of female runners.

LIKE– I’m not a runner. I’ve finished a handful of half-marathons and other athletic events, but I’ve always been more of a slow finisher, mostly walking. I’ve never had the drive to turn myself into a runner. Running is not what drew me to Menzies-Pike’s memoir. Like Menzies-Pike, I also lost my parents at a young age and this is what made me interested in her story.

The Long Run is half a history of running, specifically female runners. I was not expecting her memoir to be so heavy on the history, but I’m glad it was, as it was fascinating. I had recently heard the story of runner Kathrine Switzer, who in 1967 was the first woman to run the Boston Marathon as an official participant. Switzer registered using her first initial, rather than her name, and snuck by in a time when women were not allowed to participate. Famously, a race official tried to physically remove her from the course, but her boyfriend at the time, stepped in and Switzer kept running. The Long Run is filled with stories of other female runners from around the world who helped break down barriers. I may have zero interest in running, but I’m grateful to these women who took risks so that I could have opportunities. It’s amazing to me to think that Switzer’s Boston Marathon run was just ten years before I was born. I feel like I grew up in a world where I could aspire to anything.

Menzies-Pike also writes about the fear that women have, a fear that has been drilled into them, regarding things like running alone or running at night. Until last summer, when I moved to downtown Portland, I’ve never felt unsafe in my environment. Now, I live in a place where I would not walk outside of my building at night without my husband. In the daytime, I even feel nervous. A big part of this, is that we live right next to a pretty park, where unfortunately, bad things have happened. This fear has limited my life. I don’t go to writing events or other things, stuff that I wouldn’t have hesitated to do when we lived in Los Angeles. Fear is powerful and controlling.

DISLIKE– I wish Menzies-Pike had made her memoir more focused on her grieving and transformation. It could have been more introspective. If I was a runner, I think I would have been more interested in the specific details of her major races. As a non-runner, these portions were a little tedious and I found my attention drifting.

RECOMMEND– If you’re a female athlete or interested in the history of marathons, The Long Run would be a great pick.

The Fact of a Body

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Thank you to Flatiron Books for providing me with an advance copy of Alexandria Marzano-Lesnevich’s memoir, The Fact of a Body, in exchange for an honest review.

PLOT– In The Fact of a Body, Alexandria Marzano-Lesnevich blends memoir with true crime, exploring the dark secrets of her own family, alongside the 1992 murder of six-year old Jeremy Guillory in Louisiana.

LIKE– Wow. Marzano-Lesnevich has written a book that I’m positive will forever stick with me. It’s surprising, shocking, and wrought with emotion. I can’t remember ever reading a book that blends memoir with an unrelated true crime. It made for an absolutely fascinating read.

Jeremy Guillory was murdered by Ricky Langley, a twenty-six year old man who had a history of molesting children. Guillory was friends with the children that lived in the home where Langley was renting a room, and one afternoon, Guillory showed up while the other children were gone. Langley allowed Guillory to wait inside the house for his friends to return. Langley felt unable to control himself and he strangled Guillory, hiding the child’s body inside his closet, which would not be discovered for three days. Langley would confess to the crime, although he changed the details of his confession several times. Although Langley was never considered mentally incapacitated, he mentioned being overcome by the spirit of his brother, who was decapitated in a car crash before Langley was born. It seems that Langley did molest Guillory, but it wasn’t proven, and he has confessed, although again, not proven, to molesting several other children over the course of many years. There were three trials for Guillory’s death and Langley was put on and subsequently taken off, death row. Guillory’s mother testified on his behalf during the penalty phase, not wishing for him to be executed.

The true crime aspect of The Fact of a Body, would be interesting enough on its own, but Marzano-Lesnevich has taken a more in-depth approach to examining the case. She looks back at Langley’s family and his troubled upbringing, stemming from a car crash before Langley was even born. This crash would kill two of his siblings and give his mother devastating life-long health problems. When she was pregnant with Langley, she was on heavy medication, the effects of which, surely impacted Langley’s development. The family would struggle with poverty and addiction, never able to get their lives back on track.

Marzano-Lesnevich comes from a very different background, but she finds common ground with the Langley’s and Guillory’s. Her family doesn’t discuss her father’s depression or that her grandfather, has been molesting both Marzano-Lesnevich and her sister, for years. These secrets weigh heavy. Marzano-Lesnevich comes across the Guillory story when she is a summer intern during law school and the particulars of the case, make her reflect on her own family history of mental illness and molestation, on anger and forgiveness.

DISLIKE– Not a single thing. The Fact of a Body is a book that I couldn’t put down. However, I will issue a warning that this story has extremely graphic and upsetting details, that might make it too difficult for some readers. Proceed with caution.

RECOMMEND– Yes, you must read this book. Marzano-Lesnevich has masterfully blended memoir with crime to create an unforgettable story. Her writing is poignant and courageous. I’m certain that The Fact of a Body will shoot to the top of the bestsellers list.

I Hear She’s a Real Bitch

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Thank you to Penguin Random House Canada and Doubleday Canada for providing me with an advanced copy of Jen Agg’s memoir, I Hear She’s a Real Bitch, in exchange for an honest review.

PLOT– Jen Agg’s memoir, I Hear She’s a Real Bitch, details her life as a successful restaurateur in Canada.

LIKE– Previous to reading her memoir, I had never heard of Agg, nor have I dined in any of her restaurants. I was drawn to the concept of her memoir and was not disappointed. What comes across most, is Agg’s love of creating new restaurants, she lavishly describes the design process, both with regard to aesthetics and practicality. Her enthusiasm for creation, made me reflect on my own love for dining out and how the meal is just one part of the overall experience. When I go to an amazing restaurant, whether high-end or a local dive, I don’t simply want to eat, I want to be transported, to have an experience. Agg is an expert at crafting experiences.

I’ve never had a job in the restaurant industry, although my ex-husband was a server and I spent many after-hours hanging out with the staff where he worked, learning about restaurant politics. I also had a childhood friend whose parent’s owned a high-end Japanese restaurant in Hawaii and allowed us to run amok in the kitchen. Since many years have passed, I can without fear of incriminating them, spill the beans that we ate green tea ice cream directly from the giant container. EW!!! In any case, with my glimpse of behind the scenes, I was fascinated by Agg’s closer look, especially the politics of the back vs. front house staff and the discrimination/harassment that women face in this industry. Some of her revelations were shocking. It sounds like you have to be an exceptionally tough woman to make it in the restaurant industry.

Agg is a woman with big ideas and strong visions, but she also explains that collaboration and trust in others, is imperative to her success. She is willing to take-on a variety of roles, but as she has grown in the industry, she has discovered both her interests and her skills. She surrounds herself with other professionals who provide other talents and she is clear, that she wants to succeed along side them, not just because of them. It’s a collaborative business. I got the impression that she might be unique and that not all restaurateurs are willing to fully collaborate or give credit, where credit is due.

DISLIKE– Nothing. I Hear She’s a Real Bitch is a fresh and exciting memoir.

RECOMMEND– Yes! Whether you’re in the industry or just like to dine out, I Hear She’s a Real Bitch is a worthy read. Agg is a great role model for entrepreneurial women. She’s fierce!

A Stitch of Time: The Year a Brain Injury Changed My Language and Life

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Thank You to Simon & Schuster for providing me with an advanced copy of Lauren Marks’ memoir, A Stitch of Time: The Year a Brain Injury Changed My Language and Life, in exchange for an honest review.

PLOT– Lauren Marks is just twenty-seven years old, when she suffers a brain aneurysm while karaoking at a dive bar with friends in Edinburgh. She is rushed to a hospital in Scotland and her parents catch the first flight from California to be with her, unsure if she will survive the emergency operation. Marks does survive, and in A Stitch of Time, she chronicles her recovery. Until her aneurysm, Marks was an actress and writer, her keen ability with language was a huge part of her personality. Post aneurysm, Marks has Aphasia, making it difficult for her to understand or express herself through language. Through rehabilitation, Marks is able to recover her use of language, but her life and dreams are forever altered.

LIKE -Early on in her rehabilitation, Marks had the foresight to keep a journal and document her progress. Some of what she writes is incoherent and it’s rampant with misspellings, however, it  offers a glimpse into the way her brain has been affected by Aphasia, and it’s clear that through hard work, she has regained much of her language abilities.

I was shocked when she mentioned that many doctors think that a patient has six months maximum after their accident, to regain their language, and after that time, they likely won’t have significant progress. Marks is proof that this time marker doesn’t mean much. As she mentions, and I’m inclined to believe, the six months seems to be more in line with money and insurance payments, rather than what is best for the patient. It hurt my heart to read about Marks’ struggle with getting her insurance company to approve her much needed therapy and also that she was left saddled with debt. She doesn’t mention this in great detail, but enough to have that heavy reminder of our broken health care system.

I think this might be the first memoir I’ve read regarding brain aneurysms and Aphasia. I have been the care-taker for family members with dementia, which while not the same thing that Marks experienced, it did leave me interested in the subject of brain injuries and how the brain works. Marks does a wonderful job at explaining scientific and medical terminology in a way that makes it accessible for any reader. She also does a great job at blending the medical world with her personal life, giving her memoir balance.

When she had her aneurysm, Marks had to leave her life in NYC, where she about to start teaching, to move back home with her parents in California. She was essentially stripped of the direction her life was heading, and even when she began to recover enough to resume elements of her former life, her goals had changed. Many of her friends were getting married, having children, and seeing their careers take-off. Late twenties is a pivotal time for many people and Marks was forced to take a step back. I appreciated her calm perspective and the way she took this change in stride, even as she noted what she was missing out on.

DISLIKE– Nothing. A Stitch of Time is fascinating and affecting.

RECOMMEND– Absolutely. I know several people who have family members with brain injuries and I know that, A Stitch of Time, would be an informative read, but really, this is a fascinating topic for anyone. It would also be a good choice for anyone who is experiencing a major life-change or set-back and needs a dose of inspiration. Marks’ story is inspirational.

The Dinner Party and Other Stories

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Thank You to Little, Brown and Company for providing me with an advanced copy of Joshua Ferris’ The Dinner Party and Other Stories, in exchange for an honest review.

PLOTThe Dinner Party and Other Stories, is the first short story collection from award-winning novelist, Joshua Ferris.

LIKE– I can’t think of another author who writes stories that leave me feeling riddled with anxiety. I say this in the best possible sense, as Ferris leaves me feeling rattled and affected: His stories move me. I often pause to admire his creative descriptions or phrasing, and the way he writes short, sharp sentences that punch. He’s just so darn talented!

This is a fabulous collection, but I want to comment on a few of my favorite stories.

The Dinner Party – Everyone experiences friendship fall-out, but where the blame lies, is usually subjective. Amy and her husband have invited Amy’s long time friend and her husband over for dinner, but they never show. As they wait, Amy and her husband ( unnamed), make catty comments about their “friends” and bitch about them, often being quite cruel. Eventually as the night grows late and their phone calls go unanswered, their grumpiness turns to worry. Amy’s husband drives over to their friend’s house, only to discover that their friends, have thrown their own party on the same night. Rather than scuttle away, the husband decides to enter the party and be confrontational, especially when he finds other mutual friends at the party. The Dinner Party is often hilarious, but also holds a mirror up to our human tendency to gossip and complain about others, even those we consider to be friends.

The Valetudinarian – This story is hilarious and unpredictable, following a grumpy senior widower, Arty, as he experiences a birthday surprise. The characters really pop, they’re quirky, fitting with the Florida setting. Arty is a bit of a mess and desperate for attention, even if he has to get it through negative behavior. I couldn’t help but both like him and shake my head at his antics. This story was so unexpected and funny.

The Pilot – This one made my stomach knot and gave me anxiety. Leonard is a budding screenwriter and he has been invited to a Hollywood wrap party with highly influential people. This could lead to connections and his big break, but Leonard can’t seem to shake his worries. He’s paranoid that he wasn’t meant to be invited in the first place, he stresses over what to wear, he worries over the other people invited, et…he just can’t seem to relax. This level of tension is continued through the entire story and it’s infectious. The worst of it, is having lived in Los Angeles and been around industry friends, Leonard is a character that I know well.

A Fair Price – Jack needs help moving his stuff out of a self-storage unit and he hires Mike, a middle-aged man who has been recommended by Jack’s gardener. The two men couldn’t be any more different. Mike is quiet, blue-collar, and rough around the edges. Jack is white-collar and concerned about manners. Right off the bat, Jack feels that Mike hates him. To make matters worse, Mike reminds him of Jack’s abusive step-father. As the morning progresses, Jack magnifies every perceived slight and soon, his anger towards Mike grows out of control. I loved the pacing in this story, the building of a sense of danger. Jack’s internal dialogue is both funny and unhinged.

DISLIKE– Nothing. The collection is very strong, although there were a few stories that were less memorable than the ones mentioned above.

RECOMMEND– Yes! If you’re a short story fan, The Dinner Party and Other Stories is a fine collection, and if you are unfamiliar with Ferris, I’d like to direct you to any of his novels. He’s a gifted storyteller and a must-read author.

One Day We’ll All Be Dead and None of This Will Matter: Essays

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Thank You to Macmillan- Picador for providing me with an advanced copy of Scaachi Koul’s, One Day We’ll All Be Dead and None of This Will Matter: Essays, in exchange for an honest review.

PLOT– In her essay collection, One Day We’ll All Be Dead and None of This Will Matter, Koul explores growing up in Canada as a child of Indian immigrants. She write about her culture, dating, and dealing with sexism and racism, both stemming from societal biases or the kind that is overt, and from a place of hate. Her writing is both funny and gut-wrenching.

LIKE- I immediately fell in love with Koul’s voice. She’s witty, razor sharp, and insightful. She writes with an openness that is rare: sharing with readers intimate details of her life. For example, she writes about body issues as a child, like worrying over her body hair with an obsession that would never have occurred to her fairer, white classmates. The pain of this is acute, when she recalls a male classmate pointing out the hair on her arms. As a woman, thinking back to that age, my heart broke for her. She writes about being roofied in her twenties, and the way young women have mixed messages drilled into them: Drink to be fun, but don’t get sloppy drunk. Drink to be flirtatious, but be on guard that you’re not a tease. Go out and enjoy yourself, but predators are lurking everywhere. Koul nails the frustrations of being a woman.

I was most disturbed regarding a chapter when explained how she was cyber attacked for voicing a controversial opinion. It wasn’t so much that people disagreed, but it was the way in which they disagreed: through hate. She received messages attacking her sex, her race, her body; truly vile messages. It was shocking and stomach churning.

The chapters where she wrote about her family and traveling to India, were my favorite. The title of her collection actually comes from her cousin, who was getting married in India. It is in reference to the arduous and tedious week-long marriage celebration, which includes elaborate ceremonies, strict traditions, and many changes in outfits. Koul explains how no one who has actually attended an Indian wedding, would want to attend an Indian wedding. I enjoyed this glimpse into another culture and hearing about her family. Just like any family, there is a lot of affection and frustration.

DISLIKE– Nothing. This is an poignant, thought-provoking, and frequently humorous collection.

RECOMMEND– Yes!!! Koul has a unique and appealing writer’s voice. I finished, One Day We’ll All Be Dead and None of This Will Matter, and was left wanting more. She’s a great writer!

The Best of Adam Sharp

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Thank You to St. Martin’s Press for providing me with an advanced copy of Graeme Simsion’s novel, The Best of Adam Sharp, in exchange for an honest review.

PLOT- Twenty years ago, while working in Australia, Adam Sharp met Angelina Brown, a vivacious soap-opera actress. Adam and Angelina had a short and intense relationship, which ended when Adam’s work took him to New Zealand.

Now, over twenty-years later, Adam is living in England and his marriage is on the rocks. His wife, Claire, has a major career opportunity that might require her to relocate to the United States, and Adam isn’t sure he should follow. In the midst of his marital crisis, Adam receives an email from Angelina, whom he had lost touch with years ago. Although Angelina is married with three children, she begins a flirtatious email exchange that plunges Adam down the rabbit hole of nostalgia. Angelina invites Adam to spend a weekend with her and her husband, Charles. This weekend seems like a bad idea, a very bad idea: but can Adam resist his past?

LIKE- I’ve read Simsion’s The Rosie Project and The Rosie Effect, and I’m a fan of his writing. He’s fabulous at creating memorable characters. The Best of Adam Sharp is a character drive novel. It is a riveting emotional drama, one where the stakes are enormous and it feels like everyone is bound to lose.

Nostalgia is at the heart of The Best of Adam Sharp. Adam and Angelina meet prior to the internet being a big deal and when they part, they don’t have an easy form of communication. It’s a contrast to todays technology and social media, where it is easy to keep in contact with people from your past. Prior to Angelina reconnecting, Adam only has his memories of her. He has a hobby as musician and he links songs to memories. He met Angelina while playing the piano and singing at a bar: Angelina joining him on stage. They connect through music and the  lyrics become a form of secret communication that takes on a huge importance. I think most readers will be able to relate to this form of nostalgia, where we look at the past with rose-colored glasses and where we put certain moments on a pedestal ( good or bad memories), allowing particular fragments to take on a deeper meaning. The further the distance, sometimes leads to less perspective.

The first half of the novel is about the nostalgia and the romance, but the second half takes a rather dark turn, when Adam decides to stay at the country house in France with Angelina and Charles. Angelina and Charles do not have a happy marriage and they have brought Adam into their troubles. The moral of the story being, while it is possible to reconnect with your past, be careful that the boundaries are clear, and that your past, doesn’t endanger your present or future.

 DISLIKE– The second half of the book left me feeling funny about both Adam and Angelina. Character likability is certainly not a requirement for me to enjoy a novel, however it helps. I liked both Angelina and Adam, when they were nostalgic for their past, but when they crossed the line into a bizarre and rather uncomfortable scenario with Angelina’s husband, I was left with a bad taste for both of them. I wasn’t sure what to think about Charles. It’s realistic that under the circumstances he would be a little hostile or conflicted, but it was hard to respect his character, even in the end. The story included a bit of erotica, which was surprising. I’m not prudish, but under the circumstances of the novel, it was highly uncomfortable to read. I guess what I’m saying is that I felt “squirmy” while reading the second half, which is what I think Simsion set out to do.

RECOMMEND– Yes. Simsion is a wonderful storyteller, who writes about complex emotions and relationships. The Best of Adam Sharp made a deep impression on me.

The H-Spot: The Feminist Pursuit of Happiness

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Thank You to Perseus Books Group, PublicAffairs Books, and Nation Books; for providing me with an advanced copy of Jill Filipovic’s The H-Spot: The Feminist Pursuit of Happiness, in exchange for an honest review.

PLOT– Can American women truly find happiness? Jill Filipovic explores the issue of happiness and feminism, looking at the history of the United States, statistics, and personal stories.

LIKE– I was raised by a strong, single mom, and from birth, I was always told that I can do/be anything I want. I never felt like being female limited my possibilities. That said, I’m not blind to the fact that things are not equal. I guess I chalked things up to we’ve come a long way, but there is still further to go and it takes time. Rome wasn’t built in a day, et… I’m an optimist. However reading The H-Spot was eye-opening. Filipovic made me realize that maybe I should reconsider my optimism, by showing me ways that the system has been stacked against women.

For example, Filipovic talks about the expectation that women will give up their last names when they marry. I’ve been married twice. The first time, I kept my maiden name and it bothered family members/friends: I got heat for my decision. The second time, I took my husband’s name. I’m proud to have my husband’s last name, but it’s the societal expectation that is troublesome. She explains that the burden is on women alone, and when surveyed, it became clear that most men, would not even entertain the idea of taking their wives last name, and many would be upset if she didn’t take his. To take this further, Filipovic links the last name to identity and power, something that a woman is pressured to give up. This idea of a lost identity is something that I had never given much thought, but in retrospect, I believe it is why I was reluctant to change my name in my first marriage.

Filipovic put it in terms of a power play, men get to keep the power, while women are expected to sacrifice. The same thing happens when it comes to careers and children. Yes, there are stay-at-home dads, but more frequently, the woman is expected to give up her career or take the time away to be at home. The worst of the situation is when there is a lack of support from the community, including other women. The decisions that women make, often pit them against other women: working mothers vs stay at home moms, those who breastfeed and those who don’t, mom’s vs childless women, et…the support system is flawed, making security and happiness hard to come by.

I liked how Filipovic balanced the content of her book, not just relying on history or personal stories, but blending the two. This made her exploration feel more comprehensive. I was most interested in the latter chapters, those dealing with subjects like fertility and body image. I wish that she had included even more interviews and personal stories. As she mentions, it’s impossible to write a book that is exhaustive on this subject, but Filipovic does a solid job at hitting the main points.

DISLIKE– I was unevenly interested in the chapters, especially the early chapters. I’ve taken several college level women’s history courses, so the history was very familiar: I wasn’t learning anything new, it was more of a refresher. However, to someone who hasn’t had the exposure, the history should be enlightening and interesting.

RECOMMEND– Yes. The H-Spot: The Feminist Pursuit of Happiness is a must-read for women. Filipovic’s honest exploration of modern feminism is a worthy read.

Bear Town

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Thank You to Atria Books for providing me with an advanced copy of Fredrik Backman’s novel, Bear Town, in exchange for an honest review.

PLOT– In the Swedish countryside, deep in the forest, exists a town that’s just barely managing to survive. Beartown has been economically depressed for decades and its population keeps dropping. Ice hockey is the only thing that gives the town hope.

Beartown finally has a great team and if they can win the finals, the town has hope that money will pour back into their community. The weight of this win, rests of the talents of high school students, boys that have been training their whole lives for this opportunity. It’s not as simple as winning a game. There are deep divisions between the coaches, the general manager of the hockey club, and the sponsors. These issues are pushed to the forefront when a star player is accused of raping the daughter of the general manager. What will happen when the loyalties and traditions of a small, fragile town are put to the test?

LIKE– I read Backman’s, A Man Called Ove, a few years ago, and since then, Backman has become one of my favorite contemporary writers. I was thrilled to have the opportunity to read his latest novel, Bear Town.

Admittedly, I don’t know much or care much about ice hockey, but that is not a prerequisite to reading Bear Town. Although the game and game terminology is used, Backman explains it in terms that even someone unfamiliar with the sport, can understand. The biggest thing to know is that the entire town is obsessed with the sport, basically seeing it as a way to pull their town out of poverty. The parents of the players, sacrifice everything to make sure that their kid has every opportunity. It’s this sacrifice that makes the adults act irrationally.

The boys, (there is no female hockey team in Beartown) who are the best players, are essentially elevated to a god-like status and are able to get away with bad behavior. Although the story is set in Sweden, the same attitude towards sports and talented players exists here in America and will feel familiar.

The best part of Bear Town is the intensity and suspense. The first line of the novel tells us that one person has a gun to the forehead of another person, but we do not know how that scene will play out until the end of the novel. Backman kept me guessing the whole way and that introduction of danger was enough to send a ripple through-out the entire novel. What’s interesting is there isn’t a huge amount of plot to the story, it primarily involved this major game, a celebration party, and the aftermath of the rape, yet the story never drops in suspense. Bear Town is character, not plot driven.

What works so well is Backman’s well-developed characters. Bear Town doesn’t have one main character, it has several, and by the end of the story, I felt that I understood each of them. What Backman has done, is he has made the entirety of the town the main character. The theme of being a team or part of a collective is key to the story. There is a huge sense of surprise with regard to how the characters act in response to the rape. I didn’t anticipate some of the reactions, yet they all made sense within the framework of each character. The ending is beautiful and hopeful. The result is a poignant, thought-provoking, and surprising novel: Backman’s storytelling at its best.

DISLIKE– Nothing. If you’re not familiar with Backman, go buy all of his novels, right now!

RECOMMEND– Yes!!! Bear Town is darker and heavier than Backman’s previous novels, but it’s brilliant. Brilliant and important.

 

Startup

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Thank you to Little, Brown and Company for providing me with an advanced copy of Doree Shafrir’s novel, Startup, in exchange for an honest review.

PLOT– TakeOff, a New York based tech company, is poised to be the next big thing. Its founder, Mack, is externally confident and cocky, but he has secrets. Mack is desperate for funding, his company is on the brink of failure, and Isabel, a beautiful employee that he has casually slept with, has a new boyfriend. She is no longer interest in Mack. In a moment of desperation, Mack sends Isabel compromising pictures of himself, an action which creates gossip and jeopardizes his fragile startup.

Downstairs, in the same building as Takeoff, is a newsroom, filled with desperate tech reporters, who depend on social media traffic to keep their jobs. Katya is a young journalist, who inadvertently lands a lead on the problems occurring at Takeoff. Her lead involves, Sabrina, who happens to both work at Takeoff, and who is the wife of Katya’s boss, Dan. Dan and Sabrina are in their mid-thirties, struggling with both their marriage and keeping afloat working in a younger persons industry. Dan is hiding a secret crush that he has on Katya. Sabrina is hiding a massive debt that she has incurred from shopping.

How long can these characters keep up their lies, before the lives implode?

LIKEStartup is a fun read. I have to admit that it also made me anxious. One of the major themes is the fear of missing out. For example, early in the novel, we see the characters struggling to keep up with their social media accounts, both with regard to adding personal content and staying current with others. This is even more extreme, when you realize that Katya’s job depends on things like Twitter: it’s not just personal, but it’s her career.

We are introduced to both Mack and Katya, as they attend an early morning rave in Manhattan. The rave is designed to get the day started and rather than alcohol, the dancing/music is accompanied by juice drinks. Naturally, the characters have to instagram that they were at the rave, because why even go, if you don’t share what you’ve done? If you don’t document it, it doesn’t matter. Shafrir nails her assessment of  the current state of our society and while my social media behavior is nowhere near as extreme as her characters, I’ve felt that anxiety of keeping up. It’s a hamster wheel.

Also relatable, is the dynamic between Dan/ Sabrina vs their much younger co-workers. Dan and Sabrina are in their late 30’s, yet next to their coworkers, they feel somewhat irrelevant or washed-up. They are the only characters with children, something their coworkers view as an aspiration for the distant future, which truthfully is only ten-fifteen years away. It’s this dynamic that sets a rather desperate tone for both Sabrina and Dan. Dan looks to recapture his youth by going after Katya and Sabrina tries to compensate by buying trendy clothes. Neither of these are the answer of course, but they keep digging themselves into deeper holes. I don’t ever feel that their coworkers are actively trying to make them feel less-than, more that it’s a self-imposed category.

Startup is funny, timely, and a cautionary tale. It has a wonderful women-power, feminist twist. Part of what drew me to her book is Shafrir’s background as journalist and former writer at Buzzfeed. Shafrir’s writing sparkles and she has created memorable characters.

DISLIKE– This is minor, but I wish that the Shafrir had gotten into the heads of the male characters more, given them more depth. By the end of the novel they came across as egotistical, pigs and for a story with so many layers, I felt she could have gone deeper here.

RECOMMEND– Yes. My husband isn’t much of a reader, but for the tech aspect and themes, I was even recommending Startup to him. Shafrir has a strong voice and she has a tight grasp of current topics. With the current technology and associated lingo, I think this novel will date very quickly, but for now, it’s a trendy, on-point read. It will make you think twice about updating your social media accounts. Of course, I’m headed off to tell put out a blast that I read Startup.