Book Review: Miller’s Valley

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Miller’s Valley

Anna Quindlen

Random House

272 pages

This is the coming of age story of Mimi Miller. Her family lives in their namesake valley, a small, unassuming town where everyone knows everyone. Mimi enters into her teenage years in the 1970s a local battle is waging over the land where she lives. Constantly flooding, it has become apparent to the higher ups that the valley should be flooded, and the state government has been after landowners for years trying to buy the property so they can set such a venture in motion. Mimi’s family, among others, is refusing to sell, and tensions flare as the possibility of being forced from the only home they have known for generations becomes very real.

As much as Miller’s Valley is about local politics, it’s also not. Mimi experiences the same jubilations and downfalls as any other teenager, and we experience her as she treads through a difficult friendship and also as she enters into her first romantic relationship.

It’s hard to describe how quiet and self effacing this book is. Mimi is more of an observer, so we get to see her life through her eyes as she discreetly goes on from day to day. I was utterly rapt as I hastily read to see what would happen next, despite the fact that Miller’s Valley wouldn’t be referred to as a plot driven book.

I have only read one other book of Quindlen’s, Black and Blue, and it was so long ago that I don’t remember it at all or even whether I enjoyed it. I hope her other books are as great as this one and I look forward to seeking them out.

Book Review: Dumplin’

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Dumplin’

Julie Murphy

Balzer + Bray

375 pages

There’s something about swimsuits that make you think you’ve got to earn the right to wear them. Really, the criteria is simple. Do you have a body? Put a swimsuit on it.

“Dumplin'” is Willowdean Dickson, aka Will, a 16 year old girl who is stuck between embracing her body and her confidence and hiding from the shame of being a fat girl. Will had been fat her entire life, much to the chagrin of her mother, a former pageant winner and current director of the biggest even of the year: the Miss Clover City Beauty Pageant. Will would never even dream of entering the pageant. It’s overrun by the skinny, popular girls. That’s the status quo and nobody thinks to change it. Until Will and her new group of misfits decides they want to participate, regardless of what everyone else thinks.

Interwoven into the pageant storyline is also a budding teen romance, that between Will and her co worker at a local fast food place, Bo. Being with Bo has all of the fireworks and weak knees you would expect from hormonal teenagers falling for one another, but once again, Will’s insecurities get in the way. Every time Bo touches her, instead of feeling amorous, she feels sick to her stomach. She wrestles with herself over whether to go with her heart or listen to her head.

Lastly, there is the lifelong friendship between Will and Ellen. What started over a love for Dolly Parton has turned into a true friendship. But Will’s insecurities over her body have started to destroy her relationship with Ellen, and the two struggle to decide whether to remain friends or go their own way.

Dumplin’ had a lot of your typical YA story lines. Boy and girl meet and fall for each other. Two friends fight and struggle to overcome their differences. It all felt very fresh though, which I am thankful for because after awhile YA books in general can start to feel stale to me. Will was flawed in such a relatable way. I have read some reviews of Dumplin’ that took her to task for how hard she was about her own body image. Yes, I agree this book is touted as one that displays a bigger girl with a positive body image. Which I do think Will certainly displays at times. But how unrealistic would it be if she didn’t have to fight for that acceptance? As women, don’t we all know the uphill battle we fight with ourselves for body positivity and acceptance? That is what made Dumplin’ so real and raw for me.

I actually just finished Shrill, by Lindy West last night, and I am so glad it within a few weeks of finishing this one. I feel like they are great companions to one another. Lindy is like a grown up, even more kick ass version of Will and I like to think that she would have continued to battle her way to the point where she is not only accepting of herself, but an even bigger voice for others.

Have you read either Dumplin’ or Shrill? I’d love to hear your thoughts!

Book Review: Flight of Dreams

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Flight of Dreams

Ariel Lawhon

Doubleday

336 pages

The Hindenberg was a commercial airship that was designed and built in Germany at the start of WWII. I am not going to go into the mechanics, because it is impossible for me to understand, let alone explain, but I am personally in awe that such a mode of transportation ever existed.

Flight of Dreams is the fictionalized retelling of the final flight of the Hindenberg in May 1937. It tells the story of the last voyage my alternating chapters between various crew members and passengers. I found it a bit tricky at first to keep everyone straight, but I was pleasantly surprised at how quickly I became immersed in the story despite that, and it all ended up becoming clearer as the book continued.

I felt like the storylines were interesting and thought provoking. I only researched the different characters after I finished the book. SPOILER ALERT: Once I researched it, I did find a few aspects of Lawhon’s story to lack credibility. By that I mean she obviously made them up and there is no evidence that shows they ever occurred. That doesn’t bother me in the slightest, because it is fiction and to be expected, however I have seen where other reviewers took issue with it so I thought it was worth noting.

One aspect I found interesting is that Lawhon did stay true to the actual characters-everyone was really on the ship except for “The America” (that is one aspect that was completely fabricated, at least from what I could tell)-and that also whether you lived or died on the Hindenberg was portrayed accurately in the book. So she didn’t change that part of history at all, which made the deaths of certain characters at the end even sadder to read.

I am personally in awe of the Hindenberg now and I would love to have been on it during one of the non fatal flights. It sounds so cool, with all the observation windows and lookouts, although definitely not safe at all. Fiction based on true events and people is a favorite niche of mine and I am so thrilled with how Lawhon crafted this story. I read her last book as well (it was good but not as great as this one) and I now know I will continue to read whatever she publishes in this sub genre.

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Book Review: Maybe in Another Life

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Maybe in Another Life

Taylor Jenkins Reid

Washington Square Press

342 pages

Hannah has just moved across the country. She is about to hit the big 3-0 and she has nothing to show for it. Her family left the U.S. when she was a teenager, leaving her behind, and ever since then she has been adrift. She has finally decided to move back to CA to stay with her best friend Gabby while she attempts to get her life back on track. To welcome her back in town, Gabby hosts a small get together at a local hangout. One of the guests is Ethan, Hannah’s former flame, first true love, and “the one that got away”. Hannah isn’t sure where she and Ethan stand, but as the night runs its course, old feelings start to surface.

As the evening draws to a close, Hannah is faced with a choice. Does she leave with Gabby or go home with Ethan? A seemingly innocuous choice, the decision has a much more serious impact.

Maybe in Another Life switches back and forth between two scenarios: Hannah’s life if she had left the bar with Ethan and Hannah’s life if she had left the bar with Gabby. It was interesting as hell to watch her two separate lives unfold. Her relationships with people were so different in her two lives, and although some of the same situations played out in both scenarios, the way they were handled and discovered varied greatly. It made for an interesting reading experience.

Maybe in Another Life started off as just another dose of chick lit for me, which had me nervous. I used to be a major fan of Sophie Kinsella as a young adult, but my tastes have changed over the year and I stay away from chick lit now. I am so glad I stuck with this one though because I quickly became intrigued with the story. I plan on reading everything by Taylor Jenkins Reid now, and especially look forward to her most recent book.

Disclosure: I borrowed this book from my local library.

 

Book Review: The Red Parts

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The Red Parts

Maggie Nelson

Free Press

201 pages

Maggie Nelson was not even born on the spring day long ago in 1969 when her aunt, Jane Mixer, a student at University of Michigan, was found murdered in a rural cemetery. Jane had posted the day previously on a bulletin board on campus looking for a ride home to tell her parents about her engagement. What happened next remained a mystery for almost 35 years.

Back in 2004, Maggie had just finished writing a poetry book about Jane when she received a call from her mother that a man had been arrested under suspicion of Jane’s murder. Gary Leiterman was arrested after a cold hit on his DNA matched the DNA found on Jane’s pantyhose at the crime scene. The Red Parts chronicles Maggie’s life as she sits through Leiterman’s trial.

Because of Nelson’s background as a poet, this is not your typical true crime fare. There is much more fluidity to the prose and much more emotion conveyed. Instead of a retelling and recounting of the trial itself, it is a snapshot into Nelson’s entire life for the brief time during the trial.

I read this for the #24in48 readathon and it was perfect. It grabbed my attention from the beginning, was a shorter length, and kept me riveted throughout. I have heard the poetry piece is not difficult, so although I typically avoid poetry like the plague, I may pick that up.

An interesting aside, Jane Mixer was originally believed to be part of the Michigan Murders, committed by serial killer John Collins. I also plan on reading The Michigan Murders, by Edward Keyes, which was just republished in June of this year.

Book Review: Missing, Presumed

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Missing, Presumed

Susie Stein

The Borough Press

400 pages

Manon Bradshaw is a police detective who responds to a call regarding a missing woman. Edie Hind is a 24 year old college grad who has disappeared from the home she shares with her boyfriend, Will. The door is left wide open and her cell phone and keys are left behind. The home is in disarray and it is immediately apparent that something is wrong. An investigation is launched, and tensions run high, especially considering that Edie’s father is Sir Ian Hind, surgeon to the royal family.

As the investigation continues, and hours turn into days, detectives are no closer to discovering Edie’s whereabouts. In fact, new questions continue to arise. Throw a budding romance into the mix and you have quite a story.

As far as mysteries/thrillers go, this one was more subdued. I wouldn’t say it had me on the edge of my seat, at least not for the majority of the time. I was curious about where the story was going, but not in the fast paced, can’t put down way that I would expect from this type of book. I wouldn’t necessarily consider that a bad thing, however I wish I had known that in advance. Instead, I was constantly wondering when the action would start.

The ending, while unexpected, came about at a slower pace as well. While normally that would be exasperating to me, I really enjoyed the introspection of the characters as they came to terms with themselves and each other. I loved the questions they posed and what it meant to me as the reader. I really started thinking about relationships, especially between that of parent and child and that between spouses. What could you discover about your spouse that would make you stop loving them? Or parent? Or child? I especially admired Miriam Hind and she stood by her own choices, shocked as I was by those choices.

I liked that this was a little different from your typical thriller. Just make sure you go into it knowing that it is more meant to be savored and not rushed through, at least once you get to the end.

 

Book Review: Circling the Sun

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Circling the Sun

Paula McLain

Ballantine Books

366 pages

Ok, so I’ve found my niche. Paula McLain’s fiction based on historical characters. She just does it so right.

Beryl Markham grew up in the wilds of Kenya. She was a ruthless, spirited tomboy born at the turn of the 20th century. Her mother abandoned her at a young age, which greatly shaped the woman Beryl became. As she got older, she was able to cast off the expectations of society more so than most women to become a horse trainer and eventually a pilot.

If you’ve hear od Beryl Markham, it is probably because she was the first woman to fly solo across the Atlantic. However, Circling the Sun focuses very little on her life in aviation and instead is more of a coming of age story. Beryl was married numerous times, but her one true love (at least as far as the book goes) is Denys Finch Hatton. Denys is a man that cannot be tamed, yet he and Beryl have an undeniable chemistry.

I realize that this review is all over the place, but it is difficult to succinctly put forth the type of woman Beryl was and how she lived. I will just say that I read this book for two reasons. 1. I loved The Paris Wife. 2. I had the opportunity to see Paula McLain speak earlier in the month. I wanted to read the book before I saw her, which incidentally, didn’t happen because my kids were assholes that day. Anyway, I personally hadn’t heard of Beryl Markham and I wasn’t sure that growing up in Kenya was that interesting to me. It turns out, it was.

This was a gripping account and I loved the way McLain went about fictionalizing Beryl’s early life.

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