Tuesday, May 16, 2017

"All the Lives I Want" by Alana Massey

FTC Disclosure: I received an e-ARC from the publisher through NetGalley in exchange for my honest review.

I requested this book based on its subtitle - "Essays about My Best Friends Who Happen to be Famous Strangers." Essay collections are great to begin with -- add some pop culture commentary about people that are in my fairly limited scope of reference, and I am in!

Massey unpacks the way society views female celebrities like Britney Spears, Amber Rose, and Anjelica Huston. Writing about Lil' Kim and Nicki Minaj, she looks at the feud between the two and explores how the two were pushed into a beef they may not have necessarily wanted, forced to confront an artificial notion that there could only be one widely-recognizable female rapper. She looks at the ways Sylvia Plath has been idolized by young women and the precedent set for today's social media, explaining "Sylvia was an early literary manifestation of a young woman who takes endless selfies and posts them with vicious captions calling herself fat and ugly...The ongoing act of self-documentation in a world that punishes female experience (that doesn't aspire to maleness) is a radical declaration that women are within our rights to contribute to the story of what it means to be human."

Massey's book stands out most because she pairs these views with insights and experiences from her own life. She explores what Amber Rose means to her as a former stripper, and how she relates to Britney Spears' having to deal with incessant media coverage owing to her own struggle with an eating disorder. In each essay, Massey looks at how society is reacting to and consuming female celebrities and characters, how culture re-writes their stories and proscribes new personalities and meaning to them. She ultimately begins to look at how women can re-claim their icons and recognize these women for their varied strengths and dignities. She starts with what they mean to her.

Verdict: Affirmed. Whether you're a fan of pop culture looking for a deep but fresh take, or looking for new, honest writing about one woman's experiences, this essay collection is a great read.

"All the Lives I Want" by Alana Massey, published February 7, 2017 by Grand Central Publishing.

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

"The Hammer of Thor" by Rick Riordan

This series is on fire. I don't even think I can write a proper review, I just need to gush.

Plot is normal Riordan -- Thor lost his hammer, Magnus and crew have to go find it. I mentioned in my post on "The Sword of Summer" (Book 1 in this series) that his books are a bit formulaic, but the diversity shines. And then this book just stepped up the game even more.

In this book we see two fantastic developments. First, Alex. Alex is a gender-fluid character and child of Loki. She is fiery and intense and a possible love interest for Magnus. Moreover, the book naturally handles explanations of gender fluidity in age-appropriate terms without feeling like a random info-dump or a lecture. It's just a discussion of who she is, like any discussion of Blitzen as a dwarf or Samirah as a Valkyrie.

And speaking of Samirah, we see a lot more about how she balances her duties as a Valkyrie with her values and beliefs as a Muslim. We get the technical discussion of how she reconciles her faith with her existence in a world of Norse deities, and a deeper exploration of her culture and family life. Add this to meeting Hearth's horrible family and learning more about his upbringing, and this book really opens up the characters in this series.

Plus, it looks like we're heading toward crossover territory by the end, so I am absolutely counting down until book three is released this October!

Verdict: Affirmed. This installment really elevated the Magnus Chase series by fleshing out the side characters, and I can't wait to read more.

"The Hammer of Thor" by Rick Riordan, published October 4, 2016 by Disney-Hyperion. Audio narration by Christopher Guetig, published October 6, 2016 by Listening Libray.

Tuesday, May 2, 2017

"The Fall of Lisa Bellow" by Susan Perabo

FTC Disclosure: I received a copy from the publisher for review consideration. Below is my honest review.

When I received this book from the publisher, I didn't know much about it but was very intrigued by the premise. The popular girl at school gets kidnapped, and a nerdy girl is left behind? Sounds fascinating. And Perabo added depth and nuance to this premise to create a fascinating book.

Meredith is picking up a soda after school when the deli is robbed. The clerk is knocked out and Lisa Bellow, the most popular girl in Meredith's eighth grade class, is kidnapped. Meredith is left lying on the floor, wondering why she was left. Now she and her family have to figure out how they move forward after this traumatizing event.

Meredith's family is no stranger to trauma. Her older brother, Even had his eye shattered by a rogue baseball, ending his promising baseball career before it got started. The novel alternates perspectives between Meredith and her mother, Claire, to show how Meredith's experience and process of coping affects the entire family. My minor quibble with the book is that Evan's story often seems like a distraction from Meredith's. However, the relationship between Evan and Meredith is worthwhile, especially seeing how their dynamic shifts as they each try to move on from their own trauma.

The most outstanding feature of the book is how it examines the same incidents from both Meredith and Claire's perspectives. Early in the book, Meredith and her friends discuss Lisa and the popular clique, and some major slut-shaming occurs. I was skeptical, and wondering how this could be so casually inserted without comment. I was too hasty. Cut to Claire's perspective, and we see a mother questioning how she raised a daughter to think so poorly of others without recognizing the harm in her own behavior. Such incidents from both sides add nuance and depth to the novel.

Verdict: Affirmed. What could have been a gossipy novel or average thriller is elevated to a compelling portrait of a family in a time of crisis.

"The Fall of Lisa Bellow" by Susan Perabo, published March 14, 2017 by Simon & Schuster.