Books I’ve Read – April 2013

Commencement – J. Courtney Sullivan

commencement(*** of five)

Well, I’ve read a lot of books about college lately and I think after this one I need a little break. This was J. Courtney Sullivan’s first novel and I could tell. It wasn’t bad, not at all, it wasn’t even pedestrian, but it wasn’t quite great and I don’t know why. It was the sort of book that spans years and multiple changes in the characters. The sort of story that doesn’t quite need a mystery or scandal, which is why I am not sure why it got one. The sort that’s slow reading, but rewarding when you recognize yourself or your friends in the prose. The sort of book that’s about life, not fiction.

Celia, Bree, April, and Sally all meet their first night at Smith College. The four are given smaller rooms on the top floor of King House and even know they are very different, they are soon fast and everlasting friends. Even as their lives diverge after commencement. Prim Sally, who just lost her mother before attending college, moves to Cambridge, Massachusetts and is soon married; Southern Belle Bree falls in love with Lara at Smith and though she considers herself straight continues the relationship, much to her families chagrin, after college and into the real world, moving to San Francisco; straight talker Celia moves to New York City to write, but ends up devoting most of her time to her nowhere job as an editor at a publisher of lesser novels; and radical April takes a position as assistant with even more radical filmmaker and Smith alum, Ronnie Munro, in Chicago. When they all get together for Sally’s wedding at the Smith campus an explosive fight will tear them apart for a time, only to have tragedy bring them back together again.

First off, this is a very character driven story, so it’s good that I liked all the characters. They were well rounded and understandable, even if their choices would not have been mine. It’s hard to see, sometimes, how these very different girls could be such strong friends, but then I recall camp. There are certain places, mostly all female, where friendships blossom that would not in the real world. I think that is the case here, definitely. They don’t always get along with each other after graduation, don’t agree with each other’s ideals and choices, but they will always love each other because they did in this isolated world of Smith.

I can relate. I went to camp, after all and I think it’s probable that the bond is similar. What is amazing about these friends is that they continued to be so close despite living in completely different places, leading completely different lives. It’s easy to fall back into a friendship, I’m not disputing that, but to retain one like this I think it might have needed more work than Sullivan gave them. However, I am willing to overlook that.

The main flaw with this novel was the third act, dramatic disappearance of one of their own. It seemed to come out of nowhere, as this wasn’t the sort of book that was plot driven, and the outcome wasn’t terribly surprising. I knew exactly what had happened and I’ve read a lot of reviewers who had similar experiences. Is that enough to not read it? Probably not. There’s a lot of like her, I’m just not sure if there’s enough to love.

The Adults – Alison Espach

the adults(**** of five)

I discovered this book on the dollar shelf at Half Priced Books. No judgement, they have a wonderful dollar shelf filled with plenty of non-crap. I had never heard of this book and was mostly attracted because of the wonderfully vacant looking cover and my own inability to grow up like normal people. I was not disappointed at all. This book, exquisitely crafted by Alison Espach, is definitely done by someone who knows what they’re doing. ‘The Adults’ is Espach’s first book and boy can I not wait to see what she comes up with next because if this is her first outing then I can’t even imagine what experience will bring. She’s created a rich world and a fabulous character in Emily. She was the highest compliment I can give to a writer; she was real.

‘The Adults’ follows somewhat precocious and terminably skeptical teenager, Emily Vidal as she grows up in suburban Connecticut. At her father’s fiftieth birthday party, an elaborate patio affair thrown by Emily’s long suffering mother despite her parent’s impending divorce, Emily and her next door neighbor and potential love interest, Mark, witness something they aren’t supposed to. This seemingly innocuous event leads to Emily’s inability to act when she witnesses a suicide and her involvement in a suspect relationship which ends up spanning decades. From Connecticut to Prague to New York City Emily’s life leads her in many directions but none of them are clear and she soon discovers that growing up and becoming an adult are not always mutually exclusive.

Obviously there is some controversy here, the main relationship is all together inappropriate. And unlike many other stories that have shared this trope (yes, I am being deliberately vague) it never felt like it was trying to be salacious. The reality play going on here was definitely creepy, but there was never really a time where I felt like Emily didn’t understand what she was doing. Which was good. It would have been hard to take if it felt like she was being taken advantage of. Still, she was far to young to understand the consequences of her actions, at least in the beginning. Conundrums like this drive stories, and did so this one, extremely well. It is, after all, possible to dislike Dolores Haze but still feel sorry for Lolita.

But the best part of the book is the language. The writing is, in a word, superb. The way that Espach strings sentences together is incredible and everything she described felt so incredibly true. I would definitely recommend.

Dream School – Blake Nelson

dream school(*** of five)

I obviously only read this book because I loved ‘Girl’ when I was a girl. The story about Andrea Marr discovering a world outside the mundane filled with art, music, and people with different ideas and thoughts really appealed to me because that’s the same kind of person I was. We left her in 1994 Portland, Oregon. Now she’s back and she’s going to college. Specifically East Coast liberal arts haven, Wellington in Connecticut. There Andrea meets a new breed, the J. Crew wearing, typical prepster concerned with trust funds and acing their difficult workload. But soon Andrea meets some like minded friends and becomes involved in film making as she and her friends push the envelope to find a true experience. But those don’t always come free and soon Andrea’s life plan might be a little more smudgey than she had ever thought.

I wanted to like this book a lot more than I did. I like Andrea, and I like things that take place at small New England liberal arts colleges. It seems like a perfect match. But, perhaps I’ve just outgrown Andrea and her brand of wishy washiness. I remember as stronger, as someone who found something new and threw herself into a new life, a real life, full throttle. Here she just seems to go with the flow. Yes, arriving at college is scary as shit, but that doesn’t mean latching to the first person you see for the rest of your college career. A lot of this story was going through Andrea’s day to day life. That can be good, but I’m not sure it was here, because a lot of her day to day life really wasn’t that interesting at all.

And in the end it didn’t really seem as if Andrea learned anything at all. She moved on with her life, as people must, but it came off more as just doing the next thing rather than learning from mistakes or discovering what it is she really wants. What does she want? In the end, I had no idea and I am fairly sure that she doesn’t either. But, sure, she’s in her early twenties, she’s not meant to have it figured out. Still, unless Nelson decides to continue this story further we’re left with a very unsatisfying ending to what was once a satisfying book. There’s not much Dream-y here.

Heist Society – Ally Carter

heist society(**** of five)

You know when you pick up a book and it’s just the funnest thing you’ve ever read. So fun in fact that you can’t use correct grammar? This was that. I’d read a few of Ally Carter’s Gallagher Girls books (mostly because my best friend’s last name was Gallagher and I thought it was funny) so I knew going in to this one that realism is the last thing I should expect. And that’s true. This book is not realistic, at all, but it is crack smart, keeps you on your toes, and amuses until the last page.

Katarina Bishop has given up the family business and conned her way into a formal education at the Colgan School where she plans to spend her high school years far away from casing the Louvre with her parents on vacation, and stealing the Austrian crown jewels with her uncle. At the ripe old age of fifteen, Kat is retired. But when her former partner in crime, W.W. Hale V show up again Kat learns that a notorious criminal’s fortress has been cracked and his precious art collection stolen from the walls. And everyone’s convinced the only man who could have pulled the job is none other than Bobby Bishop, Kat’s father. But Kat knows he’s innocent, if only because he was doing another job in Paris at the same time, and if she can’t prove it she’ll do the only thing she can do; assemble a rag tag team of teenagers and steal the paintings back. So what if that means she has to break into the most secure museum in the world? Nothing’s impossible.

Now, obviously there’s little chance that seven teenagers would be able to pull off a heist that seasoned thieves have deemed impossible. Not that these are any ordinary teenagers, but still. But… I am willing to suspend that much disbelief for a story this fun. Heists are always fun, I mean really, and just because they’re usually in film form doesn’t mean they can’t be just as fun as books. It’s not like Carter’s prose is going to win any awards, the writing is dialogue heavy, and she falls victim to plenty of cliches. But, who cares. I got what I wanted from this ride and that was a fun, sexy story about people stealing stuff. Her team is great; the riotous Bagshaw brothers, computer hacker Simon, Kat’s distractedly gorgeous cousin Gabrielle, and of course the debonair Hale who’s massive trust fund and private jet fund this jet setting team. Now if only we’d learn his first name… When I put this book down I was plenty ready for more.

Uncommon Criminals – Ally Carter

uncommon criminals

(*** of five)

I had decided, once I finished ‘Heist Society’ to not immediately look for the second book in her series. I started something else, in fact. But then… well, I REALLY wanted to know what happened to Kat, Hale, Gabrielle, Simon, and the Bagshaws. So I set the book I had started aside and dug into this one. I wasn’t disappointed. I rated this book three starts, and ‘Heist Society’ four. The first was better, but this was good too. A great follow up.

Katarina Bishop, on a high from her successful heist of London’s Henley Museum, is on a mission to return lost art stolen by the Nazi’s in the forties. So if you heard about the painting that went missing from a government agent in Moscow and that one in Brazil it’s a good change it was Kat. Only problem is that she seems intent upon doing these jobs alone, which does not make her partner in crime, and potential love interest, W.W. Hale V very happy. But when they’re approached to return a precious emerald, stolen years ago, to it’s rightful owner and rightful country there’s a hiccup that even Kat can’t suppress; the Cleopatra Emerald is long said to be cursed from when the pharaoh herself cut the enormous gem in half and gave the other to Marc Antony. Against all their better judgement Kat and her team take the job but just when they thought they had succeeded they find out they might have made a huge mistake. With the eyes of the world on the emerald Bishop and Co. realize they might have to do the impossible twice and steal the emerald back.

Now, obviously the reader realized from book one that Kat and Hale were going to end up together and this is the book where that is shoved front and center. A little too much. There is such a constant back and forth between the two of them, glowering and longing looks and feeling betrayed when one shuts the other out that I almost wanted to smack them. It might have been worth it if we’d gotten our huge romantic scene in the end, but alas, not really. They seem to pass from a state of tense friendship to boyfriend/girlfriend almost seamlessly. That might have worked, if Carter hadn’t written as much foreplay, as it is it didn’t cut it. Though, this is a minor complaint.

The heist in this book was very bit as entertaining as the first, though I did sort of guess the ending. There were times where I thought it went a little over the top, especially with the curse, and the character of Maggie. Hence the three stars instead of four, but overall this was just as entertaining as the first and would definitely say read if you enjoyed the first.

Perfect Scoundrels – Ally Carter

perfect scoundrels

(**** of five)

The third installment of the ‘Heist Society’ series. I doubt it will be the last, as Ally Carter seems to let her stories go forever and ever and ever. For me, right now, that’s fine because I really wouldn’t mind another book in this series. This book far exceeded the second book and jumped back up to a four star rating from me. Loved it.

The one thing Katarina Bishop has always been able to count on is her boyfriend, and best friend, W.W. Hale V. But when a family tragedy suddenly throws him into another world, the world where he belongs and Kat does not, for the first time, Kat doesn’t know what to do. But when Hale’s trusted servant Marcus asks for Kat’s help investigating Hale’s grandmother’s will, which shockingly left out her best friend and maid who’d been promised a living, Kat reluctantly agrees. Soon it becomes clear that the Hale family lawyer and appointed trustee, is definitely hiding something and worse yet might be trying to ruin the company. Kat knows it’s time to assemble the team but this time the stakes are higher than they’ve ever been, this time they’re trying to save one of their own.

Finally, Kat and Hale are together. We didn’t really see much of them getting together, but whatever, who cares when they are this cute. We’re given a very worthy opponent here, and for once Kat’s dynamo Uncle Eddie is on their side. At first it was difficult to figure what exactly a team of thieves could do up against a legitimate business corporation, but Carter gave us a sufficiently shadowy figure who is definitely not doing the right things. This was less heist and more con, which is fine since these books have always featured a heavy con element. It was interesting to see how they did without their usual inside man, Hale, and that issue was addressed several times. This is also the first of this series to stay primarily in one place, New York City.

This book was fun. I could go out about plot and setting and characterization, but that would be stupid. That’s not the point of these novels. People don’t care about that, they care about amusement and this book delivers, and how. If you read the first two definitely continue on.

Double Crossed – Ally Carter

Double Crossed(*** of five)

I don’t think I would have counted this towards my Goodreads goal if I had realized it was as short as it is. Sixty pages. It’s more of a short story, really. But I got it free on my Nook and it listed about a hundred pages so I figured novella, cool. Forty of that was author information and ads for the other books. Oh well. Here goes.

A cross over between Ally Carter’s Gallagher Girls books, about spies in training at the Gallagher School, and Heist Society books, about a team of teenager thieves this book takes place in the elite world of Manhattan Society. Macey McHenry (Gallagher Girl) and W.W. Hale V find themselves at the same boring party. But when a team arrives to hold the guest hostage while attempting to steal a priceless canary diamond necklace Macey and Hale realize they must rely on their combined skills to get themselves, and everyone else, out alive.

This was cute. I’ve read some of the Gallagher girls book, though I don’t recall Macey at all (I wondered if she came in after I stopped reading them). It’s clear her role at the school is that of bored heiress kicking ass. Hale, of course, is the inside man in Katarina Bishops ring of thieves, but also heir to the multi-billion dollar Hale Corporation. Carter obvious wanted to marry these two stories together and this was a good way of doing so. I was glad Kat was present, a little, and that Macey had her handler outside as a way of opening this situation up to the outside world. It was short, but entertaining. If I had known Macey I am sure I would have been able to appreciate it more. If you’re a fan of either of these series it’s probably worth it to read, especially as it’s free on Kindle, Nook, and Carter’s website.

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About Lindsay

I have a C'est Moi page, you should probably just read that.
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