Wednesday, August 15, 2018

Fortune Cookies

I often find writing dialogue to be incredibly painful. This nugget, however, poured out of my fingers in ten minutes-ish. I'm not sure why I wrote it as straight dialogue initially, and I thought about going back in and adding dialogue tags, actions, and descriptions. But I decided to leave it as is and leave much up to the imagination of the reader. I'd love to hear what you envisioned in the scene in the comments below!

"I'm just doing what the fortune cookie said. Who am I to stand in the way of fate?"

"So if the fortune cookie told you to jump off a bridge, or rob a bank, you'd do it?"

"That's my fate."

"Wait. Since when are fortune cookies the same as fate?"

"The cookie is just a tool, how the universe communicates with you."

"So the universe gives you a heads up for what's coming, what you've earned, or whatever?"

"I guess."

"What if you don't ever eat Chinese food?"

"Then you don't get to know what's coming."

"If the fortune is really your fate, what's with the numbers? They never work for me."

"Cosmic combinations."

"What?"

"They're probably not lucky numbers here. They're more like coordinates for a place."

"That you can't get to. Cause it's not on Earth."

"I guess."

"So what's the point?"

"Information. It's all just information. A recording of places and events."

"But the events of the fortune don't happen in the place of the coordinates, right? The fortunes are your fate, your future here. On Earth. But the numbers are coordinates for something, somewhere, else."

"I guess."

"That's the third time you've said 'I guess.' Are you just making all of this up?"

"I guess. I mean, no one can know for sure what the fortunes and numbers and whatever else is stuffed in the cookies really means."

"Except the people who stuff the cookies."

"I'm pretty sure it's machines. They automatically cut the slips and lay them on dough and fold them and package them and everything. Untouched by human hands."

"Who writes the fortunes?"

"No one knows."

"Someone knows. They don't just magically appear in the fortune cookie factory."

"Maybe they do."

"Ha ha. Magic isn't real."

"Isn't it? You seem to believe in the fortunes."

"No. That's you. You're the one who blindly did the thing the cookie told you to do. I'm the one who questioned it."

"But it seems to be working out just fine. Which suggests it is exactly the thing I was meant to do. Fate. You know."

"What if my fortune cookie told me to do the opposite. To stop you from doing what you're doing. What then?"

"What do you mean?"

"Which fate wins?"

"We would both just have to fulfill our fate, what was in the cookie, and see what happened."

"So we don't get to know the effects of our fate, we just have to do the thing?"

"Yes."

"Well then, I guess I have to."

"Have to what?"

"Stop you from making a terrible mistake, no matter what the cost. That's what my cookie said. It's not my fault, it's my fate."

Wednesday, August 1, 2018

Baby Teeth and other July Reads

In July I finished 13 books:

The Disappearing by Lori Roy (ARC)
Planning Effective Instruction by Kay M. Price and Karna L. Nelson
How to Use Problem-Based Learning in the Classroom by Robert Delisle
The Stories of Vladimir Nabokov by Vladimir Nabokov
Baby Teeth by Zoje Stage (ARC)
Problem-Based Learning: An Inquiry Approach by John Barell
Wintersong by S. Jae-Jones
The Story of a Marriage by Andrew Sean Greer
1984 by George Orwell
The Kennedy Debutante by Kerri Maher (ARC)
The Winter Witch by Paula Brackston
The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini
Invasion of the Body Snatchers by Jack Finney

Review for The Disappearing can be found here: https://www.goodreads.com/review/show/2440786934

Review for The Kennedy Debutante can be found here: https://www.goodreads.com/review/show/2461321631





My favorite ARC of the month was Baby Teeth by Zoje Stage. I received a review copy of Baby Teeth from the publisher (St. Martin's Press) in exchange for an honest review.​ Baby Teeth is scheduled for release July 17, 2018.

Baby Teeth is the story of a mother and daughter with a troubled relationship. Hanna is seven years old and non-verbal. She loves her Daddy with all of her heart, but feels like Mommy is a phony who just gets in the way. Suzette is a stay at home mom who struggles with her own health issues and memories of the uncomfortable relationship she had with her mother. Suzette is concerned about her daughter's lack of speech, seeing it as a choice Hanna uses as a weapon to drive her and her husband apart rather than an uncontrollable condition.

This story is told with dual points of view. We get to ride alone with both Hanna and Suzette as they navigate their interactions with each other. Both points of view are well written. I felt like I really got to know what makes both of these characters tick. I also felt like I couldn't trust either of them entirely. There were no blatant secrets they kept from me, they did not deliberately lie to me (I think...), but I still had the feeling that I shouldn't trust too much in their perspective. There was a feeling to both of these characters that they were avoiding truths they didn't want to face.

As the plot progressed (I won't share any details, because I don't want to spoil it!), there were a few spots where I felt the character choices were inconsistent, a few spots where the story went bump for me. These moment stuck with me, hanging in my mind as I read. By the end of the story, though, when the truths of the characters were more fully revealed, these choices made sense.

While I can't say much more about this novel without ruining the experience for the reader, trust that I thoroughly enjoyed it. This novel is definitely dark and twisty in all the best ways!

Thursday, July 19, 2018

Maid of Honor

"I'm so happy for you!" I pull Tanya close and wrap my arms around her in a convincing hug.

"Are you sure? It's not too much?"

I shake my head. "You're my best friend, right? I should be standing next to you when you get married."

"It won't be weird? With Kenneth and everything?" I wish she hadn't brought up Kenneth. I want this to just be about Tanya and me. This is something I'm doing for her and me, not for him.

"It'll be your special day. And it'll be great. In fact, I can help make it great. Make it your dream wedding. I can help you keep the press and paparazzi away."

Tanya's face wrinkles. "How can you do that? They are all over this story. Our story."

She's right, of course. I've gotten over a hundred phone calls over the last week. I finally turned off my phone and tucked it in a drawer until this whole thing moves out of the public eye. "My dad has a boat. I know how to sail it. What do you think about a wedding at sea?"

There is a long moment of silent thought. "It sounds good to me, peaceful. I'm not sure if Kenneth will go for it, though."

"You can convince him," I say. "You can convince Kenneth of anything."

I'm right. Convincing Kenneth has never been an issue for Tanya. This wedding is no different. Flash forward two days and Tanya has managed to convince Kenneth to give her exactly the wedding she wants, regardless of the promises Kenneth made to other people.

This is how we all end up on Daddy's boat. I shouldn't call it a boat. It's a sailing vessel. A yacht. Huge. White. Shiny, new, and ostentatious.

Tanya is beyond impressed. "I get to get married on this?" she squeals when she steps onto the dock.

"Yep. This is where you and Kenneth get to make your forever vows."

"Oh, my God." Tanya looks pale, as if this is all a bit too much for her. "Is Kenneth here?"

"He's below decks."

Tanya moves toward the ramp, but I put out a hand to stop her.

"You can't go see him. It's bad luck for the groom to see the bride before the wedding. You can't see each other until you walk down the aisle."

"Okay. I guess. When will that be?"

Tanya really did let me plan everything. She has no idea what's happening here. "Dusk. The water is beautiful at sunset. It'll be perfect."

Tanya squeals again. I smile and lead her on board. Tanya stops when she sees the heavy red velvet curtain blocking off part of the boat. "What's that?"

"That's were the ceremony will take place." I paste yet another smile on my face, but I don't think Tanya sees it. She's too caught up in the curtain and what is waiting behind it.

Her hand falls onto my arm. "Thank you so much, Mary. I can't believe you did all of this for me. For us, Kenneth and I. It means a lot to have you here supporting us."

I can't say anything to that. So I smile again and lead Tanya to her room.

"The food smells delicious, by the way. Who did you hire?" Tanya asks.

"No one. I did it myself."

"God, Mary, that's a lot of work."

"Not really. It's a tiny wedding, remember? No more work than cooking dinner for a couple of friends."

"True. But still..." Tanya trails off as we reach the door to her room. "Is my dress here?" she asks as I turn the handle to let her in.

"It's waiting inside. I hope you like it." Really. She let me pick the dress, even. I could have brought a brown paper bag and she wouldn't know. I didn't, though. But I also didn't bring the sparkling white gown she might be imagining. I think what I picked for her is so much better.

Tanya steps into the room, her face glowing in anticipation. I follow behind her and close the door. She stops a few feet into the room, frozen by the sight of her dress.

"It will look amazing on you. It will make the ceremony perfect," I say when Tanya remains speechless.

"Are those.... flames?" she asks.

I nod, then realize she can't see my head move, she is still staring at the dress. A yellow so pale it is almost white. Flashes of bold orange and red flames leaping up from the trailing hem. I move in front of Tanya and lift the dress from its hanger. "Try it on. Let's see how it fits."

"I'm not sure about this," she says. "I always thought I'd be married in pure white."

I want to tell her if she really cared about the dress, she would have been involved in picking it out, but I don't. Instead I say, "Trust me. Just try it. Besides, only like four people are going to see it. If you don't like it, don't release pictures."

Tanya stares at me for a minute, then caves and begins to shimmy out of her pencil skirt and into the flaming gown.

I zip up the back for her and look over her shoulder into the mirror. "See. Perfect."

"What is Kenneth wearing?" Tanya asks.

"Don't worry," I reply. "You'll match."

I leave her in her room to finish some final details. Tanya doesn't hear the sound of the lock clicking into place as I step out of her room. I can't have her wandering the boat, finding Kenneth before it's time.

It takes longer than I expect to get everything and everyone into place. Kenneth puts up a bit of a fight, but I manage to make him stay in place at the impromptu altar and wait for Tanya to come to him. I worry that Tanya might have gotten antsy, tried the door and realized it was locked. But apparently she was so entranced my her image in the mirror that she didn't notice how much time had passed.

"Already?" is her replay when I open the door and say "Let's go."

She's fidgety until she gets to the door and hears the music playing. "Pachelbel's canon. My favorite," she says and calms instantly.

"I know," I say. "You told me." She told me everything, all her likes, all her dislikes. She let me into every single one of her thoughts, as if I was her personal confidante instead of her competitor. Maybe that's why she won in the end. She assumed from the very beginning that it would be her standing next to Kenneth at the show finale. I never had that confidence, that assumption, that he'd pick me. I always thought I had to earn it. Earn him. And I failed.

I stop in front of the curtain. Tanya is frozen beside me.

"I don't know if I can do this."

Months of her fighting to win. Fighting to win Kenneth. And now she has cold feet. I wish I could say it surprised me. But I always questioned whether Tanya really felt anything for Kenneth or just wanted to win. Now I know. It was never about Kenneth. Tanya just wanted to beat everyone else. Including me. She doesn't really love him like I do.

I sigh. "You won, Tanya. This is your prize. You and Kenneth together forever. There are twenty-three girls who wanted to be here now, right where you are. Including me. But Kenneth chose you." I give her a smile, hoping she doesn't look past my mouth, hoping she doesn't look to my eyes.

"Go ahead," I nudge, both with my words and my hand on her arm.

Tanya reaches out a hand and clasps the edge of the curtain. She turns to look at me again. "I'm sorry you didn't win. A little. Not because I don't love Kenneth, I do. I just think you deserve to win, too. There should be a prize for the other girl left in the final show. Like a clone or a little brother, or something." Tanya laughs.

I do get a prize. One I made for myself.

Tanya pulls open the curtain. Kenneth waits for her on the other side, where I left him. Seated on the edge of the altar, his suit in tatters draped over his charred flesh. Tanya pulls in air for a scream as I clamp my hand with the soaked rag over her face.

I was never willing to be the runner-up.
                                                                                                                                    

Sunday, July 1, 2018

Cliches, Tropes, and my June Reads

I finished 16 books in the month of June:

The First Days of School by Harry K Wong and Rosemary T Wong
Rust & Stardust by T. Greenwood (ARC)
Fancies and Goodnights by John Collier
The Banker’s Wife by Cristina Alger (ARC)
What Every Teacher Should Know About Instructional Planning by Donna Walker Tileston
The Mark of Athena by Rick Riordan (reread)
Designing Responsive Curriculum by Nancy Frey, Douglas Fisher, and Kelly Moore
Queen of Shadows by Sarah J. Maas
Tools for Teaching by Fred Jones
The Confessions of Max Tivoli by Andrew Sean Greer
One of Us is Lying by Karen M. McManus
The Night of the Hunter by Davis Grubb
The Devil’s Half Mile by Paddy Hirsch (ARC)
The Killer Inside Me by Jim Thompson
Teaching Boys Who Struggle in School by Kathleen Palmer Cleveland
Bring Me Back by B.A. Paris (ARC)


You can find reviews of this months ARCs on GoodReads. Click the links below to go there!
Rust & Stardust https://www.goodreads.com/review/show/2407568536
The Banker’s Wife https://www.goodreads.com/review/show/2414141516
https://amzn.to/2lIS7jMThe Devil’s Half Mile https://www.goodreads.com/review/show/2435206506
Bring Me Back https://www.goodreads.com/review/show/2438727937

I’ve actually had time to write this month. Yippee! In addition to writing, I’ve been chewing a lot on writing practices- how to improve, what to avoid, etc. There’s a ton of advice out there, some of it better than others. I know that all advice (not just writing) should be taken with a grain of salt- what works for one person may be the worst thing another person can do.

Some of the advice out there seems very solid. Don’t start a book with your character waking up. Don’t have your character look into a mirror and describe themselves. Don’t start a book with dialogue. There’s solid rationale for all of these bits of advice.

Sidenote: The first novel I wrote started with a character waking up, then moving to the bathroom where she looked in a mirror to describe herself. This book did not get me an agent. Interpret for yourself.

Despite the solid rationale for these bits of advice, though, there are amazing (and successful) books out there that do those things we are warned not to do. There is indeed an exception to every “rule” of writing.

What I want to look at here are cliches and tropes. Cliches are those overused phrases that make you cringe when you hear them or read them. They are so overused that they have lost their power.

But here’s the thing. They became so common, so overused, because they resonated with a common truth. People heard those phrases and the phrases spoke to them. The phrases echoed in their minds and hearts, carrying more meaning and relevance than a simple stream of words. These phrases that are now seen as weak writing were once powerful.

And you can still use them successfully. You can bring back the power. The trick is finding a new overtone, a new echo.

Here’s an example. When I was in grad school (for Cell and Molecular Biology) I took a creative science writing class. The class was a mix of MFA and MS/PhD students, but was skewed heavily to MFA candidates. One of our early assignments was to write a poem. About science.

The class was relatively small, so once we had our poems written, we workshopped them. Each of us brought copies for the class, read our work aloud, and then received feedback. I was terrified. While I had always enjoyed writing, this was the first time I had ever put myself in a position to receive feedback. And I felt inferior. This was not my turf.

One of the “actual writers” read her poem. One of the primary critiques she received from our instructors (both published writers) was the use of cliches in her work. She was told she needed to find a fresh way to say what she wanted to say, not re-use these stock phrases.

I looked down at my own poem. Which contained the phrase “it was love at first sight.” I wanted to get up, find a shredder, and never return. But I’m not one to make a scene, so I stayed in my chair, sweating, hoping that we’d run out of time and not get to my poem.

I did not get what I hoped for. Instead, I was asked to read next. I already knew what critique was coming, so I just pushed through. And I was surprised. While there was some criticism of my poem, the use of the cliche was applauded, pointed out a strength of the work.

What?

People liked the use of this cliche in this poem because it was the last thing they expected to see there. It was a poem describing the infection of a human cell by a bacteria, and the eventual murder of that cell. No one expected a reference to love. Putting an overused phrases into a context where it doesn’t belong and yet makes perfect sense can bring it back to life.

Tropes have a similar bad reputation, though they are far more difficult to avoid. Tropes are the story elements that have been so much that they feel stale. Tropes can include everything from stereotypical characters (such as the gay best friend) to entire plot lines (good girl falls for bad boy).

Just like a cliche, a trope can make for good writing, if you find a fresh way to use it. For a good example of well-used tropes, check out One of Us is Lying! This novel is built on tropes, but has added a depth and richness that makes the story super satisfying.

My advice to you: Go forth and use all of the cliches, and trope up your story. Take us to a place that we find familiar and comfortable, then force us to look around the corner, see what is hiding beneath. Turn that cliche or trope into something new, something that makes us see the story and language in a way we haven’t before.

Tuesday, June 5, 2018

The Reaper's Rope

Nine knots. I’ve counted a hundred times. Once a day, every day. Every time I count I wish the number were lower. Every time I count I know it will only get higher.

I don’t know what will happen when I get to ten.

I doubt it will be anything good.

My fingers worry the tangled twist of rope, as if the mere manipulation of a knot will shrink it until it disappears. It doesn’t. The knots are permanent, a reminder of what I have done.

My door swings open. He didn’t knock. Again.

I don’t have time to tuck the rope away. It wouldn’t do any good to hide it anyway, he’s the reason each of the nine knots exist.

“You ready for another one?” he asks, a bright smile lighting his eyes. He’s excited for me, ready for me tie the tenth.

I try to echo back his enthusiasm, mirror back his light. But I can’t. Instead I turn and hang my rope back on its nail. “I guess.” I can’t tell him no. That’s possibly the one outcome worse than a tenth knot.

He waits for me to turn back to face him. I feel the weight of his stare until I turn. He lifts a hand toward me. I hold back a flinch as I see the slip of white pinned between his fingers.

I hold his gaze as I reach out and take the paper. “Thanks.”

“I’ll see you when you get back,” he holds the door open for me, waiting for me to head off. Does he know I don’t want another knot?

I force a small smile and step past him, close enough to feel the wave of heat pushing from him. He’s a furnace about to explode.

I hear my door click shut but I don’t turn to look. I know I won’t be able to pass through the door again until I complete my task. He won’t unlock it until I return to tie another knot.

I focus on one foot in front of the other. All the way up the stairs until I’m forced to stop and wait for him to unlock the door and let me out.

He drops a hand on my shoulder as he pulls the door open, letting in a stream of sweet clean air. I pull in a deep breath, replacing the stale air I’ve been steeping in. His hand slips, drifts down my arm as I step forward and out.

“I’ll see you soon.” The door slams, separating me from his voice. I am free.

And not at all.

I shift the paper in my hand, wanting to read the name written on it. But the longer I wait to read it, the longer it will be until I have to tie another knot. Lucky for me, the darkness is deep. I can’t see the path in front of me, much less the penciled name.

My feet find their way, moving toward the main road and the street light that marks the corner. It’s been several months, but I don’t stumble. Any sticks or rocks that dared to stray here have already been banished. I wonder for a moment about the people who get that task. Are they the opposite of me? Free to move outside only during daylight?

Under the lamp, I unfold the slip of paper.

Jacob Tanner.

My breath stops. I know this name. Not in the his last name is Tanner, so I know where he works way. I know this name in the we went to kindergarten together, celebrated our birthdays together way. He has made my tenth knot personal.

I bend, tuck Jacob’s name into my sock. I start walking.

A block from the house where my mother lived, I turn right. Two houses down on the left. I stand on the sidewalk and look at Jacob’s house. The windows are dark. No dog barks a warning. The air that moves toward me from the large garage is a bitter burning, even though they aren’t working now.

Here there are rocks at my feet. I scuff one loose, pick it up and aim. The rock pings off the metal frame of a window on the second floor. I wait. The silence continues. A second rock, a second ping. A light flickers into life a moment before the glass shifts.

Jacob leans out, looking into the darkness. There are enough street lights here to give the night a bit of a glow. It is enough for him to see me. “Caro?” he whisper-calls.

I lift a hand. I’m not sure if it’s a greeting or a warning.

His hand mirrors mine. He disappears from view.

It takes Jacob less than a minute to get to me, but an eternity of thoughts move through my mind. It’s a mixture of memories: birthday cake, carols, and trampolines, interspersed with blood and sadness.

I have no plan. We stare at each other, contributing to the quiet. His eyes skate over my face, as if he is trying to read my truth there. I’m glad that my progress is marked in knots on a rope, rather than marks on my skin. I’ve seen myself in a mirror, I look the same as I did when I was still unknotted.

Jacob looks older. Finally a grown-up instead of boy. His eyes are still blue in the pale light. When they meet mine, I know I can’t. Killing Jacob would be the same as killing myself. I don’t know what he did to deserve his name on a slip of paper. I don’t care. I don’t know what the penalty will be for failing in my task. It doesn’t matter.

“Help me.” It’s my voice. Soft and shaking.

“How?” Jacob asks.

How can he help me? Can Jacob hide me?

My name would be scrawled on a piece of paper. Someone else would be sent after me. I could become another’s tenth knot.

I look away. There is no answer here. Nothing I can do to save us both.

Jacob’s necklace. A shark’s tooth wrapped in golden wire.

I reach out and touch the point, then grip it tight and pull. The cord breaks.

“Caro!” Now my name is muffled exclamation. I don’t answer the question stretched across Jacob’s face. I grab his hand and pull it toward me, slash hard with my other hand. Blood spills in his palm, trickles into mine.

I don’t look at his face. I don’t want to see the betrayal there. I don’t want to explain that I am really saving him. And maybe saving myself. I just squeeze, milk the thick red liquid from his hand onto my hands, let it drip onto my pant leg, smear a swipe across my cheek.

The smear mingles with the salt water slipping from my eyes. I let it all run and reach out for Jacob one last time. My fingers trail down his cheek, leaving a mark that I know he will wash away.

I want to say goodbye. I want to say more. Instead I turn and walk away, back into the darkness of the night. Back to him.

At the door, I press my palm to the scanner. It swings open, the building breathing out onto me.

He meets me at the foot of the stairs, ready to let me back into my room. His eyes read the story on my skin. “Good job. Sleep well,” he says, his hand reaching for his keys.

My hand is faster.

I snatch the keys, twining my fingers through the rings and thrusting all in one motion. For the second time tonight, blood spills across my hand. This time it is from a neck. This time it is fatal.

He tries to grab me, tries to hold himself up. As long as he is standing, he is alive, after all. His hands scrabble over my shoulders, my arms, his fingernails drawing blood of their own. But they fail to keep him up. He falls at my feet.

Again I turn and walk away. I add to the blood on my pants, wiping the keys across my thigh as I move to my door. It takes four tries to find the right key. Not bad, considering there are at least twenty keys on the rings.

I hold the door open and drop the keys to the floor in the hall. I pause for a moment, my gaze torn between the hallway and my room. The door swings closed, the lock clicking into place as I reach for my rope.

I begin to tie the tenth knot.

Thursday, May 31, 2018

How Hard Can It Be, Chemistry Lessons, and other May Reads

In May, I finished 10 books:

Micro by Michael Crichton (audiobook)
How Hard Can it Be? By Allison Pearson (ARC)
City of Bones by Cassandra Clare (audiobook)
When to Jump by Mike Lewis
City of Ashes by Cassandra Clare (audiobook)
Chemistry Lessons by Meredith Goldstein (ARC)
City of Glass by Cassandra Clare (audiobook)
Revival by Stephen King
Creating the Opportunity to Learn by A Wade Boykin and Pedro Noguera
Bend Sinister by Vladimir Nabokov

I received an Advance Readers’ Edition of How Hard Can It Be? By Allison Pearson from the publisher (St. Martin’s Press) in exchange for an honest review. How Hard Can It Be? is scheduled for release on June 5, 2018.

I didn’t realize this book was a sequel until it got to me. I haven’t read the first book, so I was worried that I wouldn’t understand what was happening, or wouldn’t know the characters. I considered getting and reading the first book, but I am not drowning in free time right now, so I just dove in.

This novel is the tale of an almost-fifty year old woman. She formerly had a career in finance, and was very successful. She left that career to raise her children. This novel starts with her husband deciding that he is leaving his job to follow his dream. His dream involves classes, therapy, and riding his bicycle. His dream does not involve bringing in money to support his family. So Kate is headed back to work.

Kate worries about balancing work with continuing to raise her children, repairing a strained relationship with her husband, and renovating the well-worn house they are living in. She is also worried about finding and holding a job at her age, fearing that she will be pushed aside and undervalued because she is “old.”

But Kate has no choice but to push forward. She will have to set aside her wants to support the wants of her husband and children. She knows that it will be difficult, bu is not fully prepared for what the world has in store for her. She is even less prepared to find her way to her own wants and unrealized dreams.

Allison Pearson has created a rich cast of characters in this novel. While Kate is the focus of the story, and we get to know her very well, she is not the only well-drawn character here. She is surrounded by family, friends, coworkers, and mostly-strangers that shine on their own.

The plot of the novel is complicated, but believable. Kate faces all the obstacles you would expect a woman to face as she returns to the work-force after taking “time off.” There were, however, a few spots where the story jumped forward in a way that pulled me out of the story. I would turn to a new chapter and find Kate in the midst of dealing with a decision she had made, or an action she had taken. I missed the moment where she made the decision, decided to act. I only got to see her deal with what she had done.

Overall, How Hard Can It Be? is a very good novel that I enjoyed. Though it is a sequel, you do not need to read the previous novel (I Don’t Know How She Does It) to understand the story and love the characters.

I also received a copy of Chemistry Lessons by Meredith Goldstein from the publisher (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt) in exchange for an honest review. Chemistry Lessons is scheduled for release on June 19, 2018.

Maya is ready. Ready to be a freshman at MIT. Ready for the next step in her relationship with her boyfriend, Whit. Ready to move forward with her life.

Then Whit breaks up with her. Suddenly Maya is lost, adrift. She finds solace in the boxes of research her mom left her in her will. She also finds what she needs to get Whit back. Maybe. Maya will have to conduct an experiment.

With the help of her mom’s graduate student, Maya plans to test her mom’s pheromone formula on Whit. But first, she needs a couple of control subjects. A close friend, and a relative stranger.

As often happens in science, the results are not quite what Maya expects.

What I loved most about this novel was the focus on women in science. There are men in the lab where Maya works, but the researchers that drive the story forward are all female. The female characters throughout are relatively well drawn. Maya’s challenges are realistic, given her specific history. The women around her aren’t quite as fleshed out as Maya, but they all have their own stories.

I did struggle a bit with the male characters in the story. Overall, they are less developed, in particular Maya’s dad. I had a difficult time getting a sense of him in relationship to Maya and the story as a whole.

I also appreciated that the story wasn’t based on a vague, improbable love potion. Instead, the magic formula is rooted in actual science, though it may not work quite the way it does in this novel.

While the story did end pretty much the way I expected, I was not disappointed. I enjoyed the journey Maya took to realize there was a new worthwhile path waiting for her. I also loved the “whiff walks.” You’ll have to read the story to find out what that means!

Monday, April 30, 2018

The Pisces and other April reads

I finished 10 books during the month of April:

The Son of Neptune by Rick Riordan (reread)
The Pisces by Melissa Broder (ARC)
Strange Weather by Joe Hill (audiobook)
My (not so) Perfect Life by Sophie Kinsella (audiobook)
Mr. Mercedes by Stephen King
Crash by Lisa McMann (audiobook)
The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas
All Hallows’ Eve by Charles Williams
The Fifth Assassin by Brad Meltzer (audiobook)
Gilead by Marilynne Robinson

I received a copy of The Pisces by Melissa Broder from the publisher (Penguin Random House) in exchange for an honest review. The Pisces will be released May 1, 2018.

Lucy is a woman who is addicted to love. At least, that’s what she thinks (and what the back of the book suggests). After breaking up with her boyfriend and failing to find her way through her dissertation, Lucy finds herself house- and dog-sitting for her sister in Venice Beach. While there, Lucy joins a support group for love/sex addicts while falling in and out of love with a series of men (and her sister’s dog).

I would argue that Lucy is not actually addicted to love. Instead, Lucy seems to be addicted to the pursuit, the chase, the moment of falling. She is a woman who craves the new, craves the hunt. The moment she has the man, or the relationship, she is done and ready for the next thing.

Melissa Broder draws the character of Lucy well, but I did not particularly care for her. Lucy has no problem hurting everyone around her in her pursuit of the things she craves. This made it hard for me to like her. I also struggled a bit with the other characters in the story. Most of the cast around Lucy was thinner, less well-developed, almost wispy. This may have been intentional, as part of Lucy’s issue is a failure to connect and attach to anyone for the long term.

I also did not feel that Lucy really changed over the course of the novel. In the end, she says that she has grown, that she will value and build one particular relationship. But we don’t get to see her take action in that direction. Based on her behavior throughout the novel, and her previous decisions to commit and failures to follow through, I have my doubts that she will really do what she says after this novel is over.

In the end, I wasn’t sure what I felt about The Pisces. It was an interesting view into the mind of an addict, but not particularly a story that I loved, or that followed me when I put it down.