Book Review #11: The Interestings

Since the beginning of what I can only assume is time, teenagers have long wanted to be part of the “cool” crowd.  See the following example:

The Plastics

What do you suppose teenagers in the middle ages did?  Well, there probably weren’t teenagers then…they were just adults!  Maybe some manual labor would make teenagers less terrible….

Anywho, back to June’s book.  The plot of “The Interestings” by Meg Wolitzer focuses on friendships formed during those awkward teenage years that last for the rest of the characters’ lives.

The Interestings do not meet in high school, but rather at a summer camp for students aspiring to become artists.  The story is mainly told through the perspective of Jules, an “average” student from Staten Island, who meets her fellow Interestings at said summer camp in 1974.  Jules can never understand why her new wealthy, articulate and talented friends would want to hang out with her.  There’s Jonah–the damaged but gifted musician, Ethan–the awkward but poised for greatness cartoonist, Ash–an aspiring actress, and Goodman–the aloof, sexy brother of Ash. The story follows the lives of these friends through the rest of the twentieth century and into the twenty-first in New York City.  While they orbit in and out of each others’ lives, they are always held together by the memories of that one summer where they all met and became friends.

Our conversation quickly devolved from discussing the book to discussing our own shared memories and past.  While it may not have been a summer camp, college was our bonding experience.  With our varied backgrounds and own experiences, what did we think about this book?  Was it engrossing, fascinating, and riveting?  Or was it repelling and unexciting? Read on to find out…

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Book Review #10: The House at the End of Hope Street

So, we know girls are supposed to be all “sugar and spice and everything nice,” but here at No Boys Allowed Reviews, we’re all about flouting convention — and never more-so than when we’re trying to settle on which books we should add to our reading list. It can turn into a knock-down, drag-out brawl. I’m not talking claws and hair-pulling here. It’s more like… okay, well, it’s a virtual fight. So it’s more like lots of caps-locks and exclamation points… but it’s not nice. It’s TOUGH! Alyisha has an infuriating predilection for magic and ghosts; Megan refuses to read anything sad; Arianne doesn’t like to read brand-new books (they tend to be hard for her to procure from her local library); Victoria, Kristin, and Megan all prefer British things; Alyisha ends up screaming “‘MURICA!” while simultaneously trying to see how many french fries she can shove in her mouth at the same time.


It’s not a pretty sight.

But there are certain literary tropes that will calm us savage book club beasts: we love book-lovers’ books — books with lush descriptions of libraries and bookshops, where the protagonists lose themselves in the written word just like we do — and we all get weak in the knees for books featuring grand, old houses. Crumbling castles, wisteria-covered colonials, country manses with verdant gardens: they all make us channel our inner Veruca Salt.


That’s why we unanimously agreed to read Menna Van Praag’s The House at the End of Hope Streetwhich is about a sanctuary where women have gone since time immemorial to regroup after suffering life’s hardships. It’s a place that morphs according to its residents’ desires, where the photographs on the walls talk (haunted by the spirits of former residents), and where notable women such as Sylvia Plath, Virginia Woolf, Agatha Christie, and Florence Nightingale once stayed. It weaves together the stories of three women: Alba, Greer, and Carmen, all at a turning-point in their lives where they could either bounce back stronger than ever or lose it completely.


Agreeing to read a book, however, is not the same thing as agreeing about its quality after having read it. Did we have a peaceable discussion of the novel at our last meeting? Or, did we result once again to capital letters, emphatic punctuation, and binge-eating? Read on to find out

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48HBC 2014: Finish Line

I made a mistake. A bad one.

I’ve been dutifully keeping track of the time I’ve spent reading and blogging as the days have passed, but I haven’t been tallying those times up. Now, at the end of it, when I hardly have any intelligible thoughts left in my brain, I have to do math.


 There’s nothing I hate more than math. I like mayo more than math. I like waking up before dawn more than math. I like Rebel Belle more than math. (Okay, that was harsh. Of course, I do. It wasn’t so bad that it deserves to be compared to math. I’m sorry for my unkind words; they were spoken from a place of sleepiness).

Here’s what I came up with:

Total Books Read: 4 books
Total Pages Read: 1,262 pages
Total Hours Committed: a little over 18 hours (including 6.5 hours of blogging, converted to one hour of reading).
Start Time to End Time: 7am Friday to 7am Sunday (I actually quit around 1am on Sunday morning).

Completed Books:

1.  Renegade Magic (Kat, Incorrigible: Book 2) by Stephanie Burgis
2. Anna and the French Kiss by Stephanie Perkins
3. Rebel Belle by Rachel Hawkins
4. We Have Always Lived in the Castle by Shirley Jackson

High Point: We Have Always Lived in the Castle.
Other High Points: Meeting new bloggers. Gaining traffic. Seeing pictures of people’s pets. Getting recs for The Girl Who Fell to Earth and Diverse Energies.
Low Point: Rebel Belle.
Other Low Points: Doing a google image search for banana nutella crepes and then panicking because I didn’t think I had either bananas or nutella with which to satisfy the subsequent craving (as it turned out, I had both! I guess that was a high point, too!)

It’s been a blast. I hope you guys had as much fun reading my posts as I did reading yours! And I hope you’ll come back and visit No Boys Allowed Reviews sometime soon! In the near future, I’ll be posting reviews of The House at the End of Hope Street written by myself and the four other gals who normally run this blog.

Now if you’ll excuse me, Moxie and I have a lot of snoozing to do.


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48HBC 2014, Review #4: We Have Always Lived in the Castle


Title: We Have Always Lived in the Castle. Author: Shirley Jackson. Publication: First published by Viking Penguin, 1962. Paperback: 214 pages.

Moxie’s castle is far less atmospheric than the eponymous castle of Shirley Jackson’s final novel. Or, perhaps it’s equally atmospheric but the atmosphere is one of repose. She does some of her best flopping in there.

It’s fitting that this was Jackson’s last novel, as it’s also to be my last novel. I think I’m calling it quits, pals. I’m bowing out early and Moxie and I are hitting the hay (she, literally; me, figuratively).

Our beds are calling.




“Alyishaaaaaa! Come sleeeep! Sleeeeeeeeeeeeeeeep….”

But before I slumber, first I must review this fabulous novel.

Goddamn, it was good.

We Have Always Lived in the Castle wasn’t a good mystery. I saw the end coming from a mile away (and maybe I was meant to), but it was a fabulous story. Jackson tells the tale of two sisters, Merricat and Constance, who live alone in a rather fine New England home, with their ill, wheel-chair-bound Uncle Julian. The reader knows that some tragedy has befallen the family and that the three of them are the only ones left alive, but it takes some time to figure out what happened. Finally, we learn that the girls’ mother, and father, and ten-year-old brother, and aunt, and uncle were all poisoned by arsenic at dinner one fateful evening. Their uncle was the only one to survive. Constance is accused of committing the murders but is acquitted. Still, the family is shunned and reviled by the villagers in town, and no one really knows what happened. Mary Catherine is the only one brave enough to venture beyond their property lines for weekly tasks like collecting the groceries. They almost never have visitors, and when they do it’s a production – something to be tensely tolerated but never enjoyed. Constance has a delicate constitution; Merricat has a rich imaginative life but she never truly feels safe; Uncle Julian is feeble, both of body and mind. Despite everything, they’ve managed to carve out for themselves a comfortable routine and they live in relative happiness. Until Cousin Charles visits and then everything goes to hell-in-a-handbasket. Or a trash basket.

What’s so fantastic about it — aside from the expertly created mood and tone, which unsettled me greatly but never crossed a line that made me wish I’d never read it, as some thrillers have done — is the language. Shirley Jackson could write!!! There’s so much beauty! The prose was absolute perfection, from the simplest line: “I sat very quietly, listening to what she had almost said” (122) to more complex descriptions: “All the Blackwood women had taken the food that came from the ground and preserved it, and the deeply colored rows of jellies and pickles and bottled vegetables and fruit, maroon and amber and dark rich green stood side by side in our cellar and would stand there forever, a poem by the Blackwood women” (61). I think my favorite part of the novel is when Mary convinces herself, as only a true obsessive-compulsive could do, that if she thinks of three specific words, and those words are never spoken aloud, that their cousin will leave (as she desperately wishes him to) — and she and Constance and Uncle Julian will be alone and happy again, no part of their life changed by his visit in the slightest. The words she selects are melody, Gloucester, and pegasus. It’s nonsense, and madness, but it’s gorgeous madness.

I wish I had more Shirley Jackson to read. If I’d known that I would fall so in love with her, I would’ve been better-prepared and perhaps she would’ve helped me make it to five novels this year. Next year I’ll be ready! Unless I read everything she’s ever written in the meantime, which is a distinct possibility…

Rating: 4.75 out of 5 arsenic-dusted blackberries.

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48HBC 2014, Review #3: Rebel Belle

Okay! I’m back from my 9-5 shift at work and ready to snap back into action! I was able to read a little bit during my lunch break and I managed to finish my third book, Rebel Belle by Rachel Hawkins.

Title: Rebel Belle. Author: Rachel Hawkins. Publication: Putnam Publishing; April 08, 2014. Hardcover: 345 pages.

Title: Rebel Belle. Author: Rachel Hawkins. Publication: Putnam Publishing; April 08, 2014. Hardcover: 345 pages.

Hawkins is responsible for the much-lauded Hex Hall series, but I didn’t even know that when I picked up Rebel Belle. I was lured in by a case of cover-lust, pure & simple. (Pink, bows, shiny pearls, and heavy weaponry?! Yes, please!) Once I learned that it was a Fantasy/Romance set in the Deep South, I was done for.

The plot is this: Harper Price, a Type-A personality Southern Belle with the mouth of — well, I’d say my grandma if my grandma didn’t actually swear like a sailor — let’s just say her speech is very clean and polished —  is at the Homecoming Dance, ready to receive her crown. What she’s not ready to receive are supernatural powers, which transform her into a Paladin, simultaneously giving her ninja-like reflexes, the strength of ten men, and screwing up her life entirely. But that’s exactly what she gets. She’s tasked with protecting her school and her arch-rival, David Stark, an Oracle. Bad-assery (a term I’m sure Harper would not approve of) and love triangles ensue. There’s sweet tea, and mention of the Rapture, and Cotillion…

Sounds pretty great, right? I mean, admittedly ridiculous… but great.

Nope. Not great.

This book bugged me more than is probably healthy. The problem is that I felt like the author was under the impression that certain parts of her book paid homage to Buffy (she even mentions Giles by name), but in reality it wasn’t homage… it was ripping Buffy off. I guess imitation is the sincerest form of flattery? But honestly, when we’re introduced to Harper she’s head-cheerleader with a big group of friends.


But then she’s saddled with destiny and powers and has to come to terms with that. At first she denies her destiny.


Then she learns that there’s no denying it. She’s the Chosen One.

Even part of the “twist” ending was stolen directly from Buffy. But then Hawkins redacts the twist ending and just Men-In-Black’s it out of everyone’s memory. Which is bogus. Because redacting it takes away all of the meaning. When the twist comes in BtVS, it’s radical, and feminist, and smacks of Michel Foucoult’s theory about the redistribution of power. Not so in Rebel Belle. The whole thing was just Buffy the Vampire Slayer set in Georgia instead of California. It’s all been done before.

If you loved Buffy, like I did, there are much better books out there written by authors who feel the same way. You could read the Beautiful Creatures series by Buffy fan Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl. Kami’s such a big fan that she named her dogs Spike and Oz. Here they are, dressed up for Halloween.

spike&ozBut even with that level of fandom, she still never copies Buffy. She, along with Stohl, made something original.

Or you could delve into The Morganville Vampires series by Rachel Caine. But I wouldn’t read Rebel Belle. Even when it wasn’t trying too hard to be Buffy, it reminded me of Meg Cabot’s Abandon trilogy (a take on the Persephone myth) — which I also didn’t like.

Plus, one of the first sentences spoken by a guy you’re supposed to swoon over contains the word “testicles.” Yeah, I’m all set.

Rating: 2.5 out of 5 slices of Hummingbird Cake.


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48HBC 2014, Review #2: Anna and the French Kiss

Title: Anna and the French Kiss. Author: Stephanie Perkins. Publication: Speak; August 04, 2011. Paperback: 372 pages.

Title: Anna and the French Kiss. Author: Stephanie Perkins. Publication: Speak; August 04, 2011. Paperback: 372 pages.

Thirteen hours into the Challenge, and two books down. I haven’t exactly been reading at the clipped, focused, nigh-obsessive pace that I expected of myself. I’m usually fiercely competitive — even when it comes to things I’m not all that good at: mini-golf, skee-ball, air-hockey. It doesn’t matter what it is; all that matters is that I WILL OWN YOU. And I’ll let you know as much, too – usually while using colorful language. But since I woke up this morning, I’ve been pretty relaxed about this whole thing, which is surprising because reading is something in my wheelhouse. But I’ve been wandering my apartment and distractedly snacking. I went for a walk. I did some grocery-shopping. I even… okay, prepare yourselves for this one because I think it might be against 48HBC creed or something. I even showered. And it felt goooooooood.

Photo on 2014-06-06 at 17.42 #3

Thumbs-up for hygiene!

To make up for my egregious betrayal to the cause, I re-committed myself to the task at hand once I was clean: reading Anna and the French Kiss by Stephanie Perkins. I even dressed myself in red, white & blue thematic clothing (it’s American and French!) to prepare for the hours of reading before me.

Anna and the French Kiss is about a girl named Anna (duh) from Atlanta, Georgia, who’s been forced by her dad to abandon her life at home and spend her senior year of high school at SOAP – the School of America in Paris. He’s a bestselling author who writes formulaic, overly sentimental stories for overly sentimental ladies, which are then turned into overly sentimental movies for overly sentimental ladies (a fact which distresses Anna, who plans to become a film critic, greatly). Her dad’s become obsessed with appearances and he decides, quite suddenly, that he wants his only daughter to be cultured. Anna begins the year in Paris lonely, begrudging, and miserable. Then, she meets new friends, and progressively falls in love — both with the city and with a certain boy. Everything and everyone blossoms.

It’s not exactly an original storyline, but that doesn’t automatically make it bad.  In fact, there’s only one thing to say about the book — and it’s probably been said before — but it just feels so right that I can’t help myself: I want to french kiss it.

People have been pleading with me to read Perkins’ book for years now, telling me that it’s fast, and fun, and light, and swoon-y. And all of that’s true! But what each recommender neglected to emphasize was how funny it is! Anna’s voice hooked me immediately. While her predicament isn’t one I could muster any great sympathy for — sent to Paris to study (boo-hoo!) — I never felt like she didn’t know that it wasn’t a sympathetic plight. She knew she was lucky, and privileged, and that she should feel objectively thankful. And she didn’t come from money; her dad’s money was new, so I didn’t feel a yawning divide between us as far as that was concerned. It was the way she moped, at first, that won me over. As she’s crying into her pillow on her first night in her new dorm room, she’s hyperaware of the fact that she can’t let any of her classmates hear her. She pouts, “I’m going to be sick. I’m going to vomit that weird eggplant tapenade I had for dinner, and everyone will hear, and no one will invite me to watch the mimes escape from their invisible boxes, or whatever it is people do here in their spare time” (9). Her character had a humorous inner monologue, and was very well-developed.

People also forgot to mention the author’s bad-ass hair, and that may not seem important but… okay, I guess it’s not important. But seriously, how cool are her luscious locks?

My only complaints about the novel are that somehow, despite wanting to be a film critic, Anna doesn’t know that “Paris is the film appreciation capital of the world” (89), which Perkins tries to gloss over by having another character note that it’s unbelievable, but it’s too unbelievable. If Anna’s got extensive knowledge of different genres of film, and directors, and a vocabulary to match, it’s completely ridiculous that in this modern age — with the INTERNET — (and she has a blog!) — that she wouldn’t know of Paris’ reputation; That, and the novel was a bit too long. What was done could’ve been done in fewer pages. And there’s the fact that we never get any perspective on Ellie – the hunky, dreamboat, love interest’s girlfriend. I needed to know more about her. I needed for Perkins to justify that what I wanted to happen was okay to want to happen. I needed to know if she was callous, or cruel, or okay with things. And I never got that confirmation.

But mostly, I really enjoyed it! Thumbs-up for hygiene and thumbs-up for Anna and the French Kiss! (Don’t worry, I googled it; they give thumbs-up in France, too. And I know that stereotypically, the French don’t have very good hygiene, but I’m not going give in to ignorance here and go for the easy joke. Though it would’ve been very easy, huh? Oh, well).

Rating: 3.75 out of 5 Banana Nutella Crepes.

Oh, my god. Thank god I actually have Nutella and bananas in my kitchen. That almost became a wildly unmanageable craving. To any readers, I’m sorry if I’ve unknowingly hurt you.


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48HBC 2014, Review #1: Renegade Magic


Title: Renegade Magic (Kat, Incorrigible: Book 2) Author: Stephanie Burgis Publication: Atheneum Books for Young Readers; April 03, 2012 Hardcover: 331 pages

Five hours into the Challenge, I am happy to report that I’ve finished the first book that Moxie selected for me. Renegade Magic is the second book in Stephanie Burgis’ Kat, Incorrigible series; I thought (as did Moxie) that it might behoove me to start my reading off with a story I was already invested in. As I’m unused to a 7am wake-up time, I needed something to hoist me out of my morning grumpiness and immediately capture my attention. This — and coffee — did the trick. I knew we’d made the right decision when, not even 2 pages into the text, I encountered these lines: “‘ You do know, Kat,’ he whispered, ‘Stepmama will murder you for this if she finds out.’ He was yawning so hard that most people wouldn’t have been able to decipher his words, but I had long experience” (1). I nodded appreciatively. Yes, yawning. 7 a.m. It’s ungodly.
And I kept reading.

Burgis’ series is like a mind-blowingly amazing combination of Jane Austen & Harry Potter. It’s Regency manners and romance mixed with mischief and middle-grade magic. In the first novel, Kat and her two older sisters (Angeline and Elissa) discover the magical legacy that their mother left them upon her death. They defeat villains, meet heroic men, save heroic men and act as heroes themselves, and act in a generally unruly and uproarious manner (except for Elissa, who would never think of acting in such a way), defying the expectations of 1800’s English Society at every turn.

The second novel is much of the same, while managing to stay fresh and avoid becoming tedious. What I love most about this series (aside from the mix of two seemingly-disparate genres) is that Burgis flawlessly and subtly introduces the issues of freedom and slavery; individuality and conformity; prejudice; ignorance; and gender roles. This is most clear in Burgis’ treatment of “pacification,” which is what happens when the Guardians — a magical order entrusted with the task of protecting Society from nefarious magical forces — deems a witch to be too “willful,” i.e. averse to putting adherence to the Law above her personal code of ethics, morals, and desires. If a lady is deemed thus, she’s “pacified” — stripped of her powers entirely, a process which oftentimes damages the woman’s mind, leaving her an invalid. This is concurrent with what was done, historically, to women that Society deemed “willful.” They were placed in mental institutions and given shock treatments that would make them more “manageable” and “subservient,” as it was believed women should rightly be.

The books also show that feminism, romance, a belief in true love, and a desire to marry, aren’t necessarily at odds.

The series falls somewhere between Middle Grade and Young Adult, and it’s possible to read it without any of these subtexts and still enjoy it simply as a rollicking fantasy/adventure, but as an adult I’m happy I’m able to recognize them for what they are. The only tricky thing with recommending this book to its intended audience is that the romantic subplots (for Kat’s sisters, not for Kat) and the period affectation may be too much for most Middle Grade readers, while the protagonist’s age — Kat’s only twelve-years-old – may discourage Teens. But if you’re a Children’s-Lit-loving adult, you’re going to be totally blissed-out by the whole affair.

Rating: 4 out of 5 crumpets.
Quite decadent! (Yes, quite).

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