Friday, October 28, 2011

CR Review #34: What Happened to Goodbye by Sarah Dessen

So, so, so far behind on my reviews. I'm having trouble even remembering what some of the books were about...but when I looked at the cover of this one, my memory was jostled and it all came back to me.

What Happened to Goodbye is the story of McLean (hey, that's the town I live in!), a senior in high school who lives with her father after her mother's affair and her parents' messy and very public divorce. Her dad has a weird job as a restaurant consultant, and he moves from town to town constantly, leaving McLean to constantly have to start over socially. As she goes from school to school and town to town, she reinvents herself, creating new personalities that fit with each situation (and new names, too, usually variations of her middle name, Elizabeth).

Until she gets to her new town, and by accident she is just known as McLean, and she begins to discover her true self -- A basketball loving girl who takes care of her dad and ostracizes her mom. She meets new friends and a potential boyfriend (the boy next door, of course), and gets involved with the community while working on a big project at her dad's new restaurant.

I've never read any of Dessen's other YA novels, but might give them a chance (if anyone can recommend a good follow-up, please let me know). Her writing is honest and fun, with likable, real characters and dialogue.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

CR Review #33: Maine by J. Courtney Sullivan

Maine is the story of three generations of Boston-Irish women. They live in the Boston suburbs, they summer in Southern Maine, they struggle with their Catholicism, and they drink. As a Boston-born Irish girl (who often spent the summers in the exact same neighborhood as they do in the book), I thought I'd pick it up and see if it rang true.

The Kelleher family is a typical, fictional Boston Irish family. Lots of drinking, lots of repressed emotions, lots of reliance on Catholicism, and tons of secrets. Alice is the matriarch of the family, a widow who likes to drink and doesn't hold her tongue. She goes to mass every morning, and resents her late husband for the family he left her with that she doesn't particularly want. Kathleen is one of Alice's daughters, a recovering alcoholic, divorced and living a new life (that her family doesn't try to understand) out in California. Maggie is Kathleen's daughter, a young writer living in New York who finds herself pregnant and suddenly single. And Ann-Marie is Alice's daughter-in-law, a Martha Stewart-esque housewife, always striving to look perfect on the outside (while hiding lots of imperfections on the inside, of course).

The book switches narrators with every chapter, and more or less reads like a soap opera. But that's ok -- I'm pretty sure this was released and advertised as a "summer beach read", which is exactly what it should be. Lots of gossip and family secrets are brought out and the family learns how to live with and without each other.

Of particular interest to me was the focus the book made on the terrible fire at the Coconut Grove nightclub in Boston in the 1940s, after a BC/Holy Cross football game, where hundreds of young people were killed. Growing up in Boston, we always heard stories from our older aunts and uncles about the fire and how it affected every family they knew.

If you are looking for a gossipy, quick read, then by all means, give Maine a try. Maybe next summer I'll pick up one of her other books for a light beach read.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

CR Review #32: Mile 81 by Stephen King

I am way behind in my reviews, so I thought I'd do a quick one for this "Kindle Single" short story by Stephen King.

I'm a huge King fan, and I downloaded this story two weeks ago, just as I was on my way to see him speak over at George Mason University, where he received an award. As I assumed, he has a terrific public presence -- he is a gifted and easy speaker, very much full of humor and humanity. He spoke for about an hour, and even did a quick reading from his in-the-works novel "Dr. Sleep", a sort-of sequel to The Shining, with Danny Torrence as the main character. The bit that he read was about soul-sucking vampires who drive around the country in big RVs, going from town to town on the highways. You can see part of that reading here.

While I was waiting for King to come out on stage, I started reading Mile 81 (and almost finished it, as it was only about a 30 minute read). Mile 81 is the story of a mysterious car that stops over in a deserted, closed rest area on a busy Maine highway. And the mysterious car starts doing horrible, other-wordly things (readers of books like From a Buick 8, Hearts in Atlantis, or the Dark Tower books will see a tie between this story and the "low men" described in those books). And in true King fashion, only the children are clever enough to figure out what to do, as the adults around the die grisly deaths.

Totally worth the $2.99 paid to Kindle for reading this -- always a good sign when King's stories make you wish they were longer (instead of the huge, long books that sometimes --ahem, Under the Dome -- go on too long).