The Regulars

Synopsis: (as told by the back of the book)

Three ordinary girls, one game-changing proposal.

Best friends Evie, Krista, and Willow are just trying to make it through their mid-twenties in New York.  They’re regular girls, with regular looks and typical quarter-life crises: making it up the corporate ladder, making sense of online dating, and making rent.

Idealistic Evie, a copyeditor at a glossy women’s magazine, has her feminist story ideas shot down by her glamazon boss; starlet wannabe and confirmed drama magnet Krista just can’t get her big break; and artistic, sensitive Willow is veering into self-destructive behaviors, keeping her would-be boyfriend at arm’s length and her secrets hidden.

All this changes when they come across the Pretty, a magic tincture that makes them, well… gorgeous.  Like, supermodel gorgeous.  And it’s certainly not their fault if the sudden gift of beauty causes unexpected doors to open for them.

Morgan’s thoughts:

I really enjoyed this book because in some ways it was just another story of three 20-something girls living in NYC and in some ways it was absolutely not.  I picked it up because I thought it would be – after a few novels in a row that were slow and difficult for me to get through, I wanted something fun.  I love reading about other young women in the city, even when the book is predictable or low quality writing.  This book was certainly more than I knew I was getting myself into.

It was exactly what I’d wanted in that it immediately sucked me in.  For two days, I did nothing but race through the pages of this book.  It’s an ideal summer read – it will make you laugh, sigh, and cringe.  It’ll also make you think.  Clark posits a number of theories as to the role of beauty in our culture and truly forces readers to consider the question “if you could take a magic potion and become beautiful, really and truly beautiful, would you do it?” Clark satirizes the ways in which our society will treat women differently based on their looks.  Once the girls take the potion, things miraculously fall into place for them.  But this new “power” brings with it hurt, resentment, and anger.  

This book is certainly not perfect but I did not care.  It is a simultaneously fun and thought provoking read, and I would encourage you to get lost in it as well.

Interested in this book?  Click here to buy it on Amazon or find it at your local bookstore!

The Night Ocean

Synopsis: (as told by the back of the book)

Marina Willett, MD, has a problem.  Her husband, Charlie, has become obsessed with the horror writer H.P. Lovecraft and in particular with the event of the summer of 1934, when the reclusive Lovecraft lived for two months with a young fan named Robert Barlow and his family in central Florida.  Lovecraft was forty-three that summer, and Barlow was sixteen.  What were the two of them up to, and what did they feel for each other?  Just when Charlie thinks he’s solved the puzzle, a scandal erupts, and he disappears.  The police call it a suicide, but Marina doesn’t believe them.

As Marina follows her husband’s trail in an attempt to learn the truth, The Night Ocean moves across the decades and along the length of the continent, from a remote Ontario town, through New York and Lovecraft’s native Providence, to Mexico City.  Along the way, we meet Lovecraft and Barlow, who went on to become a well-known authority on the civilization of the Aztecs; the Futurians, a group of brilliant young science fiction writers; William S. Burroughs; Roy Cohn; and L.C. Spinks, a kindly Canadian appliance salesman, and the only person who knows the origins of The Erotonomicon, which may be the intimate diary of Lovecraft himself.

A historical tour de force, The Night Ocean is about love and deception; it’s about the way stories earn our trust, and betray it.

Morgan’s thoughts:

This book did not live up to the mystery and intrigue promised in the synopsis.  Most of it is told through flashbacks, which is not an issue in and of itself, except for the fact that Marina is the most interesting character and she only exists in the present.  Marina is an extremely smart psychologist; her logical nature in juxtaposition with her husband’s passionate abandon is the most interesting source of tension in this novel.  Unfortunately, it is almost completely ignored in favor of the Lovecraft – Barlow – Spinks scandal. If more time had been spent with Marina and Charlie, I might have enjoyed this novel more.  Instead, we are surrounded by blundering and depressed men.

There is an overwhelming amount of names, dates, and locations introduced within the first two hundred pages.  I kept thinking “I can’t wait for the exposition to end and the fun to begin.”  About halfway through the book, I realized that this was the style all 400 pages would be written in.

The praise on the back of the book promises “light and laughter, “joy,” and “awe.”  I did not find any of those in this novel.

Interested in this book?  Click here to buy it on Amazon or find it at your local bookstore!

My Life with Bob

Synopsis: (as told by the back of the book)

Imagine keeping a record of every book you’ve ever read.  What would this reading trajectory say about you?  With passion, humor, and insight, the editor of The New York Times Book Review shares how stories have shaped her life.

Pamela Paul has kept a single book by her side for twenty-either years – carried throughout high school and college, hauled from Paris to London to Thailand and from job to job, safely packed away and then carefully moved from apartment to house to its current perch on a shelf over her desk.  It is reliable if frayed, anonymous looking yet deeply personal.  This book has a name: Bob.

Bob is Paul’s Book of Books, a journal that records every book she’s ever read, from Sweet Valley High to Anna Karenina, from Catch-22 to Swimming to Cambodia.  It recounts a journey in reading that reflects her inner life – her fantasies and hopes, her mistakes and missteps, her dreams and her ideas, both half-baked and wholehearted.  Her life, in turn, influences the books she chooses, whether for solace or escape, information or sheer entertainment.

But My Life with Bob isn’t really about those books.  It’s about the deep and powerful relationship between book and reader.  It’s about the way books provide each of us the perspective, courage, companionship, and imperfect self-knowledge to forge our own path.  It’s about why we read what we read and how those choices make us who we are.  It’s about how we make our own stories.

Morgan’s thoughts:

This is a fascinating concept for the structure of a memoir (and probably pretty similar to how mine would read based off of the sheer number of hours I spend reading).  Each chapter introduces a book and an event – something that happened in Paul’s life as she was reading that particular book.  

I was disappointed that this book was more of a traditional memoir than I had hoped for.    Each chapter is mainly an explanation of a specific time in Paul’s life.  She often waits until the end of the chapter to tie in the novel mentioned in the title of the chapter.  The tie in is sometimes no more than a statement of what she was reading at the time.  If it were me, I would have included fewer life events and dedicated more of the book to connecting each work mentioned to my life.  How are certain themes or characters reflected in the world around me?  Did an interaction or a conversation change my thoughts on a particular book?  How so? So many of the books she mentioned were classics and, let’s be real, all of the audience for this novel is made up of readers.  Why not engage them with the material we all have in common.

However, Paul is clearly a lover of literature and so am I (surprise, surprise, I know) and there were many sentences I raced to underline.  She described sensations I have every day but have never put into words.  Here are a few that I completely adored – I’ve included them here in the hopes that you will identify with them as well.

  1. On readers as collectors: “I wanted to own more such things, a desire that remains unabated, even in my current state of plenty.  If I pass a bookstore, I want to go in.  When I see an especially sweet local library, my heart swells.  Used bookstores contain untold possibilities.  Library sales, same thing.  There is always room for more books, even though I’ve barely dented the piles I already have.”
  2. On the vicious cycle of being a reader: “This is every reader’s catch-22: the more you read, the more you realize you haven’t read; the more you yearn to read more, the more you understand that you have, in fact, read nothing.”
  3. On a love of the classics: “While some people feel pressure to read the latest novel, my particular neurosis has always been to catch up on writers who died long ago yet endure still.  Their words had achieved a kind of permanence; they mattered.”
  4. On the timing of books: “Sometimes it takes a book to jolt you out of where you are.  It doesn’t have to be a great book.  Just the right book at the right moment, one that opens something up or exposes you to something new or somehow forces you to reexamine your life…”
  5. On reading while traveling alone: “The worst part was that I loved traveling independently and reading while I did it.  Most of the time, I didn’t feel lost or lonely.  Quite the opposite – with a truly engrossing novel, you could feel found.  Reading may not always give you full access to the world around you, but it’s an entry to another world and the company of the people inside it.  It’s possible to explore two worlds at once.”
  6. On judging someone by their books: “What someone reads gives you a sense of who they are.  If you really don’t like someone’s nooks, chances are you probably won’t like them either.”
  7. On making mistakes in judging someone by their books: “…you might not always agree with everything you read, and isn’t that part of the point of reading, anyway?  We can misjudge each other by our book titles, too.”
  8. And, finally, on falling in love with someone through books: “It just seemed that if I were going to get involved with someone and he were going to get involved with me, he should get a sense of what moved me on the page.”

A final thought: I took serious issue with one chapter of this book and that was chapter 11.  In this chapter, Paul addresses a four week period in which she starved herself because she was inspired by a novel.  This chapter significantly ignores the danger in this statement and hardly addresses mental health and eating disorders.  Instead, it treats that dangerous choice as a naive lark.

Interested in this book?  Click here to buy it on Amazon or find it at your local bookstore!

The Guineveres

Synopsis: (as told by the back of the book)

To four girls who have nothing, their friendship is everything: they are each other’s confidants, teachers, and family. The girls are all named Guinevere―Vere, Gwen, Ginny, and Win―and it is the surprise of finding another Guinevere in their midst that first brings them together. They come to The Sisters of the Supreme Adoration convent by different paths, delivered by their families, each with her own complicated, heartbreaking story that she safeguards. Gwen is all Hollywood glamour and swagger; Ginny is a budding artiste with a sentiment to match; Win’s tough bravado isn’t even skin deep; and Vere is the only one who seems to be a believer, trying to hold onto her faith that her mother will one day return for her. However, the girls are more than the sum of their parts and together they form the all powerful and confident The Guineveres, bound by the extraordinary coincidence of their names and girded against the indignities of their plain, sequestered lives.

The nuns who raise them teach the Guineveres that faith is about waiting: waiting for the mail, for weekly wash day, for a miracle, or for the day they turn eighteen and are allowed to leave the convent. But the Guineveres grow tired of waiting. And so when four comatose soldiers from the War looming outside arrive at the convent, the girls realize that these men may hold their ticket out.

In prose shot through with beauty, Sarah Domet weaves together the Guineveres’ past, present, and future, as well as the stories of the female saints they were raised on, to capture the wonder and tumult of girlhood and the magical thinking of young women as they cross over to adulthood.

My thoughts:

I wanted to love this book, but unfortunately I found it just all right. The book opens with the Guineveres’ first attempt to escape from the convent by hiding in the interior of a parade float. I wish they had been successful in doing so. Their time in the convent was uninteresting to me.

My favorite aspects of the story were those that took place outside of the scope of the primary plot. Domet takes several departures from the plot to recount the stories of females saints. These were fascinating and grungy – a legendary tale told in a bitingly realistic voice. Domet has four additional chapters that operate outside of the timeline of the novel – their “revival stories” – a flashback for each Guinevere to explain how each she ended up in this place. None of the stories are happy but all of them are impossible to put down once you’ve begun that particular chapter.

Compared to the juicy tellings of these women’s stories, their time in the convent moves by incredibly slowly. Things do not get interesting until the last few chapters, which I tore through, both to figure out what had happened and to be able to finish the book and move on. To be completely honest, I am not a religious person. Religion, catholicism in particular, plays a crucial role in the novel. It is extremely possible that someone with a background in catholicism may identify with this novel more than I did. I instead looked to the characters for this sense belonging and did not find it there. The characters in the convent seemed to be caricatures – broad strokes of people. In each girl’s “revival story,” you found her true self. But this self hardly carried into the world of the convent, and those who were not named Guinevere had no chance at such detail.

The prose of the “revival stories” and the stories of the saints was more than enough to prove to me that Domet is a skilled writer. I will certainly keep her on my list of novelists to watch.

Interested in this book?  Click here to buy it on Amazon or find it at your local bookstore!