Pinch Reviews: March 2014

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I managed to slow down slightly for March (is 7 instead of 10 really slowing down?), and I had much better luck this month with reading books that I loved. I didn’t read anything this month that I gave a low rating and, depending on tastes, I would recommend all of these books to the right person.

It always makes me feel bad when I have advance copies but don’t read them in advance, so I have two upcoming books to talk about this month: LEAVING TIME and BAD FEMINIST. Of course, neither of them goes on sale until later this year, so for now, a pinch review will have to do. More extensive reviews to come as we get closer to their release dates.

THE SHINING GIRLS (Lauren Beukes, 4/5 pinches)

This has been on my Kindle for a really long time, and I’d tried to decide if I really wanted to read a book about a POV serial killer who murders women, even if it does involve a sort of Doctor Who-type time travel. In the interest of clearing out my unread books, I gave it a try and was pleasantly surprised. As it turns out, the POV character is Kirby, one of the “shining girls” whose name is in the time-traveling murder house and, coincidentally, the one who got away. When she starts interning with the reporter who covered her case, she starts to unravel the mystery, finding the clues out of place and time that lead her to solve her own attempted murder.

I thought it was really pretty fantastic. I probably didn’t need so much murderer POV, but it did bring the grit and hardness that Beukes obviously strove to include. Really enjoyed it. If you like literature with teeth, this is good.

VERONICA MARS: THE THOUSAND DOLLAR TAN LINE (Rob Thomas, 4/5 pinches)

Well, obviously, right? Veronica Mars is one of those franchises that just gives me eternal life and the book is no disappointment. The early-2000s show focused on blonde teen PI with an attitude and an aptitude for solving mysteries, and the recent movie and book pick up ten years later. College girls are disappearing during spring break in Neptune, and Veronica is on the case, backed up by all of her old pals. It’s not a full five pinches because, as a follow-up to the movie, it drops some of the more interesting stories and launches into several other mysteries (new and old). Overall, I really enjoyed it and I’m looking forward to the second, but I hope the universe gets pulled together a little bit better next time.

This book does contain all spoilers, since it takes place two months after the events of the movie, but if you’re not interested in starting from the beginning, it’ll fill you in. Read my longer review here. You really should see the movie, though.

LEAVING TIME (Jodi Picoult , 3/5 pinches)

Work perks: getting to read the new Jodi Picoult early. I’ve been a fan of hers for a while, and while her books haven’t changed my life, they’re always interesting, twisty, and teach me something I didn’t know before. LEAVING TIME is the story of 13-year-old Jenna, now finally old enough to start pursuing her mother’s alleged death, who picks up a couple of friends on her path. Simultaneously, Picoult tells a story of the science of elephant grieving, which Jenna’s mother studied for years. Though some might find the elephant chapters to be a bit much, I thought they were fascinating, and it’s inspired me to learn more about elephant empathy. And, as always, there’s a twist at the end that really brings it home. I don’t know that I loved the twist, but I did really like this book.

Out from Ballantine in October.

THE ACCIDENT (Chris Pavone, 4/5 pinches)

Pavone’s second book, following 2012’s THE EXPATS, follows a confidential manuscript about one of the biggest media moguls of our time over the course of a day as the characters involved try to get it published (and, naturally, the villains try to stop it, by any means). A thriller about book publishing? It may sound cheesy, but it got a stellar NYT review and I personally thought it was fantastic. I don’t usually read thrillers, so I found the pace to be a bit frantic, but it was really fun and kept me guessing.

BAD FEMINIST (Roxane Gay, 5/5 pinches)

The much-anticipated essay collection from Roxane Gay landed in my inbox the day it became available for advance reading, thanks to friends in high places, and I started it almost immediately. Overall, I loved it, fanatically. Gay has been a favorite writer of mine for a couple of years now, and her essay collection speaks to the questions that are being asked in our current feminist climate, like, What does it really mean to be, or not be, a feminist? or What is the intersectionality of feminism with race and class, and how can we make smart, inclusive choices? She speaks a lot about current pop culture, as that is one of her areas of expertise, with a sharp wit that lays out both her own views and what she sees as current issues in pop culture.

If I had one tiny complaint, it would be that perhaps it dwells too much on the pop culture of the last two to three years, but since this is undoubtedly not going to be Gay’s only feminist book ever, I’m fine with it. In fact, I relish it.

Seriously, get this book. Out in August from Harper Perennial.

WHERE THE STARS STILL SHINE (Trish Doller, 5/5 pinches)

On recommendation from dear friend Anna, I read this in a flash. When Callie and her mom are pulled over while driving, her whole life is ripped away as she realizes that her mom stole her from her dad as a child and has been on the run ever since. Placed with her dad’s family in a small Florida town, Callie must learn to navigate the real life she never had.

This is a sad, sweet story of a real teen girl with real problems, and Doller does not disappoint. Nothing is easy for Callie, especially when, now, it should be. As a sophomore novel, this is a roaring success, and if the premise sounds appealing to you, read this because you will not be let down.

IDENTICAL STRANGERS (Elyse Schein and Paula Bernstein, (4/5 pinches)

I’ve been on a kick lately for learning about adult sisters, and this book immediately drew me in. Twins Elyse and Paula were adopted separately at birth, as part of a secret twin experiment conducted in conjunction with Louise Wise Adoption Services in NYC. Thirty or so years later, they found each other by inquiring into their backgrounds, and have to adjust to not only having a sibling, but a twin. The book is written in alternating perspectives, and it’s really interesting to hear their voices and thoughts on whether they initially wanted to uproot their lives to get to know their twins.

Much of the book is about their experiences getting to know each other and attempting to learn their backgrounds. I had thought there might be more information included about the history of the experiment they were involved in, but as we learn, the results are locked up until 2066, so there isn’t really much to say at this point. A really solid book, sad at some points but mostly happy, and really quite unique and interesting.

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The standout this month was likely BAD FEMINIST, but honestly, all of these books were great. What did you read in March?

Keep up with my reading progress on Goodreads, if you’d like.

Veronica Mars Book Review: Mostly Perfect, Marshmallows

Be warned: This review contains mild spoilers for the movie and, obviously, for this book. No big reveals here, but be warned that if you aren’t caught up to the movie, you’ll be spoiled on a few counts.

18209454By now, I’m betting you know what they say about Veronica Mars. She’s a marshmallow, and now a grown-up one, at that.

I’ve been a VMars fan for a few years now, having watched the whole show twice now and seeing the movie on opening weekend. Knowing this book was coming was just the cherry on top of what has so far been a spectacular sundae. I disclose this so that you know this is a review from a fan, so I won’t be saying much about its accessibility to non-fans but rather more about its place in canon. For what it’s worth, though, this book puts forth a strong effort into recapping the final events of the movie (so, obviously, spoilers galore in the first chapter) but introducing everyone in a way that says, “You should probably know who this is if you’re reading this book, but if you don’t, here’s who they are in relation to Veronica.”

Post-NYC Veronica has moved home to not only care for a recovering Keith Mars, but to effectively take over Mars Investigations in the meantime. As it turns out, running a private investigation company while paying a techy assistant (Mac, obviously) and yourself a living wage is harder than Veronica expected. I mean, there was a reason she always worked for her dad in high school, right?

That all changes when one of the most powerful women in town hires Veronica to discreetly figure out what happened to a college woman who vanished during Spring Break season. As Sheriff Dan Lamb (still in office, somehow) dismisses the case, assuming she’ll just show up on her own, another girl disappears and Veronica doubles down to solve the case before Lamb can. As always, Veronica loops in her friends to help her figure out exactly what’s happening and who’s really behind these disappearances. Additionally, there’s an element of crime families, as always, which seems to be Rob Thomas’s kryptonite. That said, it’s nice to see that the advantages a book gives were really taken here, as far as expanded plot and world-building.

I really liked this book. I read the whole book in one evening, as it turns out. I reserve reading time exclusively for my commute (which still means I read for about 90 minutes every day), but for this, I broke my rule. I needed to know what happened and I needed to be able to have my own reactions in my own time and space. If anyone does a storytelling punch to the gut with gusto, it’s Rob Thomas. This was no letdown, filled with the twists and turns we’ve come to expect from the cases Veronica gets involved with. On the whole, I think this book was a grand success, and I’m excited to see that the Neptune world is getting a little bigger with every development.

However, there were some noticeable plot developments (or absence of) that really threw me for a loop. Remember how at the end of the movie Logan was being deployed for a few months? Well, the thing about Logan being gone is that he effectively doesn’t exist in Veronica’s life. Or, well, he does, but she doesn’t have to deal with the problems that have always plagued their relationship while he’s away. They Skype a couple of times in the book, which I guess gets him into the movie sequel, but honestly, it felt like a major cop-out that Veronica basically is in a relationship with her romanticized version of Logan. We know that Logan has grown up, and I assume that the military has really shaped him as a person, but he and Veronica haven’t spoken in almost a decade—and as we all know, people do change from ages twenty to thirty. As much as the relationship was built up in the movie, it really fell to the wayside in the book. And honestly, I wasn’t expecting a lot of love story in the book, but I was hoping that Veronica and Logan would have to deal with the challenges of what true love means and how to function in an adult version of a relationship that previously has not gone as well as anyone hoped.

I don’t want to spoil anyone for anything else, so I’ll leave out what I consider to be one of the biggest surprise returns of the book, but know that we haven’t seen the last of everyone you might have thought was long gone.

At times, I felt like the book relied a little too much on tropes like the popular idea of college spring break more than it should have, but as this is a first book, it makes sense that it wouldn’t be as finely tuned as an episode of the show, or the movie. Sometimes a character we love would say something that felt not quite right or in character. But when in a visual medium you have actors and their interpretations to bulk up your script, in a book you only have yourself and the words you’ve put down.

Though at times I felt like it could have been stronger, I feel really good about this book. It’s smart, quippy, and keeps you guessing until the end, with Veronica putting two and two together at the last minute, as always. Everyone comes back to play in this one, and it’s worth every penny. This is a really strong first effort, and I think the next one will only be better. Buy this one so there can be a next one.

As far as for how this book fits into canon, I find it to be a really interesting quandary. It’s clearly a direct follow-up to the movie, but I suspect that if there’s a film sequel, it won’t match up with the book exactly. The audience is never exactly the same, and beyond the stark absence of Logan, it deals almost not at all with the current corruption in the Sheriff’s office. These are two main plot points of the first movie, and I doubt they’d let it go for a sequel. However, the main mystery of the book would be a nice plot for a movie, and honestly would probably be more of what non-fans are looking for, given that it has a mystery that doesn’t circle around characters from the TV show. As always, the Veronica Mars team is breaking new ground in storytelling, and while I think they’ll have a challenge reconciling it all, I suspect they’re more than up to it.

On sale TODAY, 3/25/14, from your favorite local retailer–buy it now! PS If you’re interested, Kristen Bell recorded the audio book, so give that a listen, too.