“Wait for You” by J. Lynn

Wait for YouTitle: Wait for You
Series: Wait for You, #1
Author: Jennifer L. Armentrout (J. Lynn)
ISBN: 9780062294777
Pages: 384
Release date: September 3, 2013
Publisher: William Morrow
Genre: New Adult
Format: E-book
Source: Personal collection
Rating: 4 out of 5

Going to college is stressful for pretty much everyone, but for Avery, there is a whole new level of fear. Now, away from home, she can’t explain why she hates going to parties and why she’s never dated a boy—hell, never even been alone in a car with one before.

But leaving all that behind her in Texas also gives Avery a lot of freedom. She’s finally out from under her parents’ control. And here, no one shoots her sideways glances and whispers behind her back about what happened at that party—so many years ago, yet still haunting her.

And then there’s Cam, the beyond-hot guy who just so happens to live across the hall. But Cam is hiding a past of his own. Can these two (both incredibly good-looking people, I should point out) ever figure out how to maintain a relationship?

I haven’t read a lot of romance, so I was surprised by how deeply I was drawn into this story. Although the writing lacks polish, the story resonated on a deeper level than I expected.

This is a subject that so many women face—sexual assault—and yet I’ve read remarkably few books about it, which I only realized now. At the same time, part of Avery’s search for identity involves coming to grips with her sexuality—a huge task, after what she went through. And that means there is a good bit of sex. The story is dark, but it’s erotic as well; it’s not for prudes.

In my opinion, though, Armentrout finds a good balance between pain and happiness. Wait for You deals with enough deep, emotional themes to hook me in, and the sexy stuff was awfully fun, too. (I’m probably the opposite of the average reader, but there you go.) All in all, I enjoyed this book quite a bit, and I’m looking forward to reading the next in the series!

Quote of Note:

Everything was okay. Maybe not perfect, but life wasn’t meant to be perfect. It was messy and sometimes it was a disaster, but there was beauty in the messiness and there could be peace in the disaster.

Don’t just take my word for it! Buy Wait for You from Amazon (Kindle and Audible versions are also available). Each sale from these links helps support Melody & Words.

“Cairo In White” by Kelly Ann Jacobson

Cairo in WhiteTitle: Cairo In White
Author: Kelly Ann Jacobson
ISBN: 9781619377714
Pages: 158
Release date: February 14, 2014
Publisher: Musa Publishing
Genre: Fiction
Format: E-book
Source: Review copy
Rating: 5 out of 5

Eighteen-year-old Zahra had been climbing over the wall to Jamila’s house and sneaking into her girlfriend’s room for years, but that night was different.

That night, as she crept through the Ahmeds’ house, she ran smack-dab into her parents. They were taking tea and arranging her marriage. But not to Jamila; love between two girls in 1986 Egypt was forbidden. Instead, Zahra will marry Jamila’s brother.

The only thing stronger than Zahra’s sense of independence is her loyalty to her family. And so she follows her head rather than her heart, committing herself to a brutish man she hardly knows on one condition: they move across an ocean, far from memories of true love, to a new world—one that, Zahra discovers, is far more accepting of her sexuality.

More than two decades later, 22-year-old Aisha greets the heat of her homeland for the first time. After growing up in the U.S. with only her mother to watch over her, Aisha is determined to find a family and a history in Egypt. But she discovers more than she bargained for.

Will Aisha find acceptance, even a home, in a culture that once rejected Zahra? Will Aisha be free to pursue the love that she finds in Egypt? And will Zahra ever rediscover love herself?

At this point I should note that I am a biased reader. Kelly is a writer friend of mine, and I’ve enjoyed watching this novel take shape. (But trust me: Friend or not, you would know if I didn’t like it. I’m not really known for holding back my opinions.)

Lucky for our friendship… I loved this book from start to finish. The writing is fabulous, but more importantly, the story’s central themes resonated deeply with me. How do you reconcile cultural taboos with what you know to be true about yourself? How do you manage your family’s expectations with what you really want and need?

Both Aisha and Zahra feel, for different reasons, like outsiders in a culture that is an irreplaceable part of them. The conflicts of growing up and growing into yourself, figuring out where you belong and who you are—these are universal struggles, and Cairo In White illustrates them beautifully.

One of my favorite exchanges occurs when Zahra asks Jamila why white is her favorite color. “There are so many beautiful colors to choose from, why would you choose the one that doesn’t count?” Zahra asks with the sweet thoughtlessness of youth. “Sometimes, the things that don’t count are the most beautiful of all,” her girlfriend responds. Indeed.

Zahra’s loss is clearly defined—she knows all too well what she has given up—while Aisha’s is vague, an indefinable lack—both of family support and purpose in life. Their interwoven narratives contrast identities—mother and daughter, traditional and modern, gay and straight, immigrant and emigrant—that are not so different as they seem. A low throb of heartache and loss run beneath the narrative, but so, too, does a bright vein of optimism.

The best stories fully ground the reader in a place. They make you miss somewhere you’ve never been. I can see it all now: the crowded markets, the women with jangling bracelets haggling with old vendors. The swish of cool fabric against hot skin, cigarette and shisha smoke blending and floating on a dry breeze.

Jacobson has a gift for descriptions—for pulling the reader on to the page and immersing her in an unfamiliar setting, whether on the streets of Cairo or in an immigrant neighborhood in Northern Virginia. I loved poetic descriptions like these:

Al Qahirah, or the city of a thousand minarets, had turned like a dried date. The streets were bruised with shadows, and empty sunflower shells littered the pathways like breadcrumbs through the dark.

The book is probably best described as a romance, although it could also be called new adult. I’ve been reading a lot of LGBTQI fiction lately, and have a special focus on new adult titles this year, so Cairo In White was a very satisfying read on those levels as well.

In all, I highly recommend it! I wouldn’t be surprised if this book found its way on to my Best of 2014 list in a few months.

Quote of Note:

Eventually, they would fade like paintings in the sun, just an outline and a wash of color against an ever-expanding white background.

Don’t just take my word for it! Buy Cairo In White from the publisher or Amazon. Each sale from these links helps support Melody & Words.

Or come to her book launch party tonight in DC’s Adams Morgan!

“We” by Michael Landweber

WeTitle: We
Author: Michael Landweber
ISBN: 9781603811668
Pages: 194
Release date: September 2013
Publisher: Coffeetown Press
Genre: Speculative fiction
Format: Ebook
Source: Review copy (TLC Book Tours)
Rating: 3 out of 5

Ben was 42 when he reached to scrub an old stain from the ceiling of his apartment and lost his balance. When he opened his eyes, he was 7 again. He had traveled back in time to the days before his sister’s rape tore their family apart.

As Ben relives those days through his 7-year-old self, Binky, he struggles to warn his family of the impending tragedy written in their future. But you can’t change the past—can you?

I really enjoyed the experimental form of this novel. Ben coexists with his younger self, who is in subject to strong currents of emotion—love, terror, anxiety—that as an adult he no longer feels so strongly. The best part of the novel–really, a novella–was his keen sense of the loss of his entire family, not just Sara. His father’s indifference, his mother’s abandonment, his brother’s distance.

In addition to the waves of feeling that regularly buffet his seven-year-old self, Ben can’t escape the ways the tragedy affected his own attempts, or lack thereof, at a family. “I was terrified of repeating my father’s mistakes, of showing a child his indifference,” he reflects while thinking of his partner’s insistence on adoption. “I wanted him to feel the absence of my mother the way I felt it.”

The ending was somewhat disappointing; it took the story from a realistic psychological or even medical story to a story about time travel. In my opinion, it misses the opportunity to reflect on how the past cannot be changed—only the future.

The story, however, was well-written. Anyone who has ever experienced or imagined a family tragedy (so, basically, everyone) can appreciate the wrenching apart that older Ben anticipates as he tries to change the events of that night. I was struck by parallels with my own family; this passage in particular resonated with me:

No one knew if Sara was tired or hungry or alone or alive. Her absence was deeply felt, there being a full, untouched place-setting laid out before her chair. I had listened to my mother make all the obligatory pre-dinner phone calls to Sara’s friends, or at least the friends she used to have in the long-ago time when she last confided in my parents. With each call, each act of contrition, my mother wilted. I sensed that this was a common ritual—the search for Sara. There was not much effort invested in it, no real hope for success.

In all, I enjoyed the book, but the ending clouded the rest of the story for me. But I’m looking forward to the next book by Landweber, a local author.

TLC Book ToursDon’t just take my word for it! Check out what other people on the tour have to say:

Monday, February 3rd: No More Grumpy Bookseller
Wednesday, February 5th: Cerebral Girl in a Redneck World
Thursday, February 6th: Bewitched Bookworms
Tuesday, February 11th: Broken Teepee
Wednesday, February 12th: Happy. Pretty. Sweet.
Friday, February 14th: Laura’s Reviews
Wednesday, February 19th: The Book Wheel
Thursday, February 20th: From the TBR Pile
Friday, February 21st: Mockingbird Hill Cottage
Monday, February 24th: Suko’s Notebook
Wednesday, February 26th: Simply Stacie

Or buy We from an independent bookstore or Amazon (a Kindle version is also available). Each sale from these links helps support Melody & Words.

What Book Bloggers Love

Ask any book blogger what she loves most about blogging. Invariably, the answer is always the same. It’s not the advanced reader copies or the page views or even the inducement to read more.

It’s the community.

This is what I learned from the beginning of my book blogging career, and it is what has kept me going.

From my fellow book bloggers, who fill up my TBR list and share tips on review policies and the reading/life balance, to readers of my blog, who enrich my posts with their own opinions and experiences with a book. From publishers, who are endlessly enthusiastic about the next great gem everyone will be talking about in the three months, to bookstore owners and employees, who just can’t contain themselves when they get on the topic of their new favorites.

And, of course, those around whom we book-lovers have built this entire ecosystem: Writers.

One of the very best parts of writing about books has been interacting with authors, whether they comment (always graciously) on my review of their work, or shoot me an email recommending even more great authors, or indulge me at author events when I have a billion questions about their writing process.

I met Kelly Ann Jacobson at a happy hour for emerging writers a few years ago. This was when I was dipping my toe into writing small pieces of my own, mostly essays and articles, that for the first time didn’t have anything to do with someone else’s book. I was eyeing the distant shore of writing a novel, but Kelly had already plunged in. She was in the process of revising the novel that had been on her mind for years: the story of one young woman and her freedom to love.

Today is the publication day of that book, Cairo in White.

Cairo in WhiteAs Cairo sweltered in the summer of 1986, eighteen-year-old Zahra faced the heat for a rendezvous with her secret lover.

But after climbing the Ahmeds’ wall and darting through an open door, Zahra came face-to-dace with the last people she expected to see: her parents. They were taking tea and arranging her marriage. But not to Jamila; love between two girls in Egypt was forbidden. Instead, Zahra will marry Jamila’s brother.

Twenty years later, Zahra’s American daughter, Aisha, steps off a plane at Cairo International Airport. Aisha is as headstrong as her mother, and she is determined to find a life and a family in Egypt. But she discovers more than she bargained for.

Will Aisha find acceptance, even a home, in a culture that once rejected Zahra? And will Aisha be free to pursue the love that she finds in Egypt? 

I’m very pleased to have received an advance copy of the book, and my review will be posted next week.

In the meantime, if you are a book blogger and would like to receive an e-ARC, I’m happy to send you one.

And if you’re in the DC area, come on out to her book launch party on Thursday, February 20!

As I’ve frequently found over the last few years running this book blog, the connections made with the writing community are priceless. I love meeting authors like Kelly, and I’m very glad I have the opportunity to support her work and the work of other local authors.

Keep on writing!

“A Snug Life Somewhere” by Jan Shapin

A Snug Life SomewhereTitle: A Snug Life Somewhere
Author: Jan Shapin
ISBN: 9781613862315
Pages: 294
Release date: November 16, 2013
Publisher: Cambridge Books
Genre: Historical fiction
Format: Paperback
Source: Review copy (TLC Book Tours)
Rating: 3 out of 5

Penny Joe Copper, the daughter of a shingle weaver more interested in labor movements than in putting food on the table, is determined to make a “snug life somewhere” for herself. In this pursuit, she moves to Seattle, where her younger brother is attending college. But a few months later, when her brother is killed in a labor demonstration, Penny finds herself the face of grief—propelled into the spotlight by no small degree by the slick, fast-talking Gabe Rabinowitz.

Penny, frozen by pain at her beloved brother’s early demise, hitches her wagon to Gabe despite her love for another young man, Marcel. As Gabe moves more and more into politics and demonstrations, Penny is given an unique perspective on the socialist movements her father so adored—and on the people the United States considers criminals.

Penny’s close proximity to Gabe does nothing for her opinion of him. “Men like Gabe, who take what they want, can be exciting or demeaning or dangerous for a time, but in the end they are simply boring,” Penny, as the much-older narrator, reflects.

Penny finds herself faced with a decision: does she turn Gabe in for illegal activities, thus risking her own reputation, or does she turn a blind eye? And will she ever figure out how to maintain a relationship with Marcel?

So, this was an odd read for me.

Jan Shapin is an interesting stylist; her sentences are well constructed, her characters are very unusual, and her voice is distinct.

I felt myself, strangely, pulled in more by the writing than by the story itself. Perhaps that is because, at times, the story feels more like nonfiction, verging almost on the academic about labor strikes and communist movements. Providing historical context in a novel is very tricky indeed; the author must provide enough information for the story to make sense, while also not letting the reader’s eyes glaze over.

While I wasn’t bored by these sections, per se, I thought they slowed down the story and kept the tension muffled. I never felt like we were heading to a climax or a big showdown. Perhaps that is indicative of the author’s more sedate style; in any case, I kept reading, so it was successful on some level. But I didn’t feel much satisfaction in finishing Penny Joe’s story.

I enjoyed the writing, but the narrative arc felt like it could have been bigger, with more at stake. But that’s not quite it either; there is plenty at stake, Penny Joe’s life and freedom and ability to love. But I never felt like these issues were quite articulated; it was left to me to assume what motivated her. Perhaps I’m a lazy reader, but this disconnect left me feeling rather restless toward the end of the book.

I was most drawn to the Copper family, which, as the book progresses, seems less and less cohesive. “We Coppers were an odd lot, partitioning off our lives, telling each other it was for their own good,” Penny Joe relates early in the novel. And then, later: “I had never known families where feelings were something others did not intrude upon.” Penny has an inbred habit of suspicion, but also the ability to embrace and live with people she doesn’t really seem to like. It certainly makes for some interesting life experiences for her.

TLC Book ToursDon’t just take my word for it! Check out what other people on the tour have to say:

Monday, February 10: Sharon’s Garden of Book Reviews
Tuesday, February 11: The Road to Here
Wednesday, February 12: Ms. Nose in a Book
Monday, February 17: Priscilla and Her Books
Tuesday, February 18: Lisa’s Yarns
Thursday, February 20: Dwell in Possibility
Monday, February 24: Booksie’s Blog
Tuesday, February 25: The Written World
Wednesday, February 26: The Most Happy Reader
Thursday, February 27: Time 2 Read
Monday, March 3: Patricia’s Wisdom
Tuesday, March 4: Book Loving Hippo
Wednesday, March 5: Unabridged Chick

Or buy A Snug Life Somewhere from an independent bookstore or Amazon (a Kindle version is also available). Each sale from these links helps support Melody & Words.

“The Taker” by Alma Katsu

The TakerTitle: The Taker
Series: The Taker, #1
Author: Alma Katsu
ISBN: 9781439197059
Pages: 448
Release date: September 6, 2011
Publisher: Gallery (Simon & Schuster)
Genre: Fiction, paranormal
Format: E-book
Source: Personal collection
Rating: 4 out of 5

Luke Findley was expecting a normal night in the E.R.—perhaps a case of frostbite in this Maine winter; a drunken drive into a snowbank; a marital dispute gone wrong. To be a doctor in tiny St. Andrew was to be privy to all manner of secrets.

But Luke could never have predicted what would happen than night, not even in his wildest dreams.

A mysterious, beautiful woman walks into the hospital—along with her police escort. Lanore McIlvrae, Luke learns, is the primary suspect in a strange, gory murder. Yet there’s something about Lanny that draws him.

Her appeal to him is exactly the motivation he needs to get out of his months-long slump. Abandoning all reason, Luke decides to believe her when she says she’s innocent and to help her escape. Along their route to Canada, Lanny tells of her strange past—beginning in the nineteenth century, in the very town Luke thought he knew so well.

Her tale is one of corruption and immortality, involving the handsome but wayward Jonathan and the endlessly manipulating Adair, whose love, Lanny recounts, “is like the love fire has for wood.”

The Taker seamlessly blends history and the supernatural in a thrilling story of unrequited love and heartrending betrayal. Love can lift you up, but it can also bring you to your knees.

Both Lanore and Luke are incredibly complex characters. Why would he choose to drop everything and risk his reputation—his life—for an intensely strange woman he just met? And what is up with Lanny, this beautiful woman with centuries of secrets?

Many times throughout the account of her long life, Lanore seems unbearably selfish, evil even; she stays with Adair even when she recognizes that he is capable of extreme malice. “Jonathan knew enough about himself to believe something evil lurked within, something deserving of punishment,” she tells Luke. “Maybe I knew it, too. We were both failed, in our way, and chosen for a punishment that we deserved.” This is not your typical love story.

Yet Lanny is not evil; there is much kindness and goodness in her. So why does she choose to stay with Adair and even bring Jonathan into his lair? Why doesn’t she try to leave?

It is this very question—and my sometimes frustrated reactions to Lanny’s questionable decisions—that made the book so interesting to me. Lanny’s reticence cannot be attributed to any one thing. She’s suffering from PTSD; she was rejected by her lover and her family; she seems to suffer Stockholm syndrome; she is the victim of domestic abuse. Her choices, such as they are, are incredibly narrow, and circumscribed further still by the social mores of her time. Her complexity renders her realistic and compelling.

And you keep reading, because there must be some kind of redemption for her. There must be hope, even though she gave up hope so long ago.

I enjoyed this book, and can’t wait to start the second book in the trilogy! I don’t read a lot of paranormal fiction, but The Taker has convinced me to explore the genre.

Quotes of Note:

“Love can be a cheap emotion, lightly given, though it didn’t seem so to me at the time. Looking back, I know we were only filling in the holes in our souls, the way the tide rushes sand to fill in the crevices of a rocky shore. We—or maybe it was just I—bandaged our needs with what we declared was love. But, eventually, the tide draws out what it has swept in.”

“[L]ove, after all, is faith, and all faith is meant to be tested.”

“It’s a conceit, or a failing, of the young to think you can excise your past and it will never come looking for you.”

Don’t just take my word for it! Buy The Taker from an independent bookstore or Amazon (a Kindle version is also available). Each sale from these links helps support Melody & Words.

February 2014: What I’m Reading

Sunday Salon

Books read:

  • The Remains of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguro
  • The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin
  • The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman
  • Wait for You by Jennifer L. Armentrout
  • We by Michael Landweber
  • A Snug Life Somewhere by Jan Shapin

Halfway through:

  • After I’m Gone by Laura Lippman

Unfortunately, I didn’t get to The Moon and More by Sarah Dessen, but I hope to  do so in April.

To read:

Cairo in WhiteCairo in White by Kelly Ann Jacobson
Jacobson recently graduated from my writing program at Johns Hopkins, and I attended her reading of this book in December. LGBTQI themes are central to the story, so my interest was immediately piqued. I’m also a big fan of multicultural literature, so this book is right up my alley. In fact, I already started reading; it’s lovely so far.

In Defense of FoodIn Defense of Food: An Eater’s Manifesto by Michael Pollan
This is our February nonfiction book club pick, so I better get started on this next! Pollan is a god among food writers, and I like reading experts; I love seeing a person’s passions. I’m also trying to eat more consciously these days, so the timing of this book is perfect.

Be With MeBe With Me (Wait for You, #2) by Jennifer L. Armentrout
I  enjoyed the first book of the series, Wait for You, more than I expected last month; it was fun and flirty but also dark and emotional, which is pretty much a requirement for me to enjoy a book. I have high hopes for the second!

The Sense of TouchThe Sense of Touch by Ron Parsons
Strangely, I don’t read much fiction from the Midwest. It’s not a conscious decision. I know there must be great stories about the Midwest, from Midwestern authors, but I need to make more of an effort to find them. This is my first bid!

Highs in the Low FfitiesHighs in the Low Fifties: How I Stumbled Through the Joys of Single Living by Marion Winik
My class this semester is call “Writing Memoir & Personal Essay,” and this is one of three books assigned. Winik is a somewhat-local author–she lives in Baltimore–and she has been a commentator for NPR’s “All Things Considered.” It’s been a little while since I’ve read a memoir, so I’m itching to get back to my favorite genre.

If I have time, I’m also hoping to start Gulp by Mary Roach, my fiction book club’s March selection. (I call it my “fiction book club” to differentiate it from the nonfiction book club I run at One More Page. But, obviously, we read a little bit of everything.)

Have you read any of these? Which should I pick up first?