Sassy, No Spoilers: All the Ugly and Wonderful Things

book of the month selection, book reviews, contemporary, fiction

Y’all ever just start reading a book that you’re not REAL sure about, because so many people have some really strong feelings about it? Some say it’s their favorite book of the year, others say it’s offensive trash. I love books that spark a hot debate from all sides, because that tells me the author did something right.

Also, if someone says a book is “offensive trash,” guess what? My inner John-Waters-loving-self is going to see what’s going on.

The thing about this book that rubs people the wrong way, is that it’s a coming-of-age love story between a man and a young woman. Well, she starts out as a young girl, growing up in a world of abuse with her meth-lab family. See how that could get offensive, real quick? Yeah.

So, I didn’t think All the Ugly and Wonderful Things was offensive, much in the same way that I am not appalled by Lolita. I see them both as very ugly stories that aren’t ugly at the core, but that can be easily seen that way (can we say, judging a book by its cover? I think we can!). The beautiful things about this story are its two main characters, Wavy and Kellen; they are written in such a way that you instantly see the connection between them, and the whole point of this book (I think) is that it shows what the power of characterization can do. It can make you pull for the bad guy (Breaking Bad, anyone?), and REALLY question your own morals. At the end if this book, you can’t deny that you’re weirdly pulling for these two crazy kids to just work it out.

But that’s what’s so great about this book! The backdrop is unique in this book, and the ugliness of it only makes it that much more beautiful. I found myself cheering for Wavy and Kellen, and marveling over the brilliant way Greenwood built their world.

This book isn’t for everyone, sure, but I would recommend it to:

  • People who actually enjoyed Lolita as literature (I know I’m not the only one)
  • Anyone who loves a book with amazing character building
  • Those interested in questioning their very moral center and reading “uncomfortable” stories
  • People who enjoy reading books that create debates

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

Sassy, No Spoilers: Nothing to See Here

book reviews, contemporary, fiction

I first heard of Kevin Wilson when The Family Fang came out, and I was slightly incensed by the whole idea; it seemed, to me, a cheap attempt at a Wes-Anderson-meets-JD-Salinger-knock-off story. The reviews were all over the place, and I kind of let the author slip through the cracks. I don’t know–maybe I was too busy doing whatever I was doing in 2011 when it was released: working at Whole Foods, and trying to get boys to buy me fancy drinks. It was a strange time, okay?

So anyway, fast forward to 2020 and I keep seeing Nothing to See Here glaring at me from my library shelf. It’s my fault that it is glaring at me, as I keep choosing this book as one of the face-outs, trying to convince people to check it out. And they do. And then they tell me how “weird” the book is. Like, quirky-weird, fire-children, weird.

I love weird.

So, I breezed through this short book in a few days, loving the story of two “fire children” as metaphors for wealthy, political families trying to ignore (see also: hide) their misdeeds (see also: children from a previous marriage, pawned off onto the unwitting “governess”). It was funny, a little sad, and wildly entertaining. This book does a great job burying a Big Social Statement wrapped-up inside a tidy little funny package (see also: Helen Ellis’s Eating the Cheshire Cat), and I do love a clever plot.

I also felt slightly smug (as I basically have for the past few months, considering what a dumpster fire 2020 is turning out to be) for the fact that I am gleefully childless. This book added another mark to that tally.

I’ll keep this review short and sweet, just like the book, and recommend for:

  • Wes Anderson fans (yeah, yeah)
  • Someone needing a lighter read, perhaps as a break between All Those Damn Thrillers
  • Gleefully childless people. Also parents that find themselves calling their kids “little demons”
  • Those wishing for a summer read that:
    • Doesn’t involve a murder
    • Isn’t totally mindless and might just pass the Bechdel test
    • Actually has a moral to the story
  • Anyone that ever went as a scholarship kid to anywhere

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

Sassy, No Spoilers: Home Before Dark

book of the month selection, book reviews, fiction, scary

Abandoned haunted houses? Mysterious deaths? Creepy interior decorating? Yes, please.

Riley Sager is definitely one of the “buzziest” authors in the Book of the Month bubble. I’m most certainly the type of person that will read an author’s book just to see “what all the dang fuss is about,” and Sager has quickly tumbled into that category for me.

The thing I love most about Sager is that he clearly takes things he loves and puts his owns spin on it: Lock Every Door was a nod to Rosemary’s Baby/Ira Levin; Final Girls was perhaps a nod to 80s teen slasher flicks; and Home Before Dark is The Amityville Horror.

I’m here for this.

I, too, love writing my obsessions into my work, so it’s glaringly obvious to me when an author writes to something in which they clearly are passionate about. I think it goes without saying that you’d have to care a lot about famously haunted houses in order to write your fictional account of a family that survived a terrifyingly haunted house. Which is exactly what Home Before Dark is about. (Oddly enough, the title really has nothing to do with the book. I also argue this with Lock Every Door.)

Okay y’all. I’m a chicken. I don’t do “scary” very well–particularly the scary that involves:

  1. Vengeful ghosts
  2. Children (they are always the ones that see the shit first!)
  3. Possessions
  4. Haunted houses of any kind, really

So let it be known: I was nervous about this one. For good reason: Sager is really good at writing scenes filled with creepy suspense that keeps readers on their toes, throwing twists at you left and right, and wrapping things up with a bow (albeit, a bloody bow, but still).

The protagonist, Maggie (my sister’s name, but I doubt I could convince her to read this book, she’s as much of a chicken as I am), inherits the house she and her family fled decades ago, and which made her writer-father famous for his take on what happened in the house. Convinced her parents were full of crap (because ghosts are, like, totally not real, right?), Mags has to face the creepy house and uncover all the deep, dark secrets buried in those walls.

Some people have said this book isn’t scary at all. I disagree, perhaps because my imagination loves to run wild when the lights go out. I was essentially haunting myself with the visions of the ghosts in this book, and it gave me the creeps. Now that I’ve fully recovered (I recommend lights on for at least three nights with this one), I can move on to another Sager book.

If you’re a big chicken but love Riley Sager, this one might be your favorite. Be a chicken, but go forth. Be brave. And maybe read some David Sedaris before bedtime, to laugh those ghosts away.

I recommend this book for fans of:

  • Every haunted house book/movie ever made, particularly The Amityville Horror and The Conjuring*
  • Shirley Jackson in general
  • All those HGTV shows, because you really want to see a show about interior decorators taking on haunted houses (10/10 would watch this)
  • Antiques
  • Small towns

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

*Full disclosure: I went on a first date to this movie, got so scared I made us leave halfway through. Did not have another date with this guy ever again, can’t say I blame him.

Sassy, No Spoilers: Happy & You Know It

book of the month selection, book reviews, contemporary, fiction

Playgroups gone wrong? Wellness-obsessed influencer moms? Yes, please.

Confession time.

I manage two small libraries, and one of my duties is children’s programming–specifically, preschool storytime.

I do not particularly care for this duty. Pre-COVID, I performed two storytimes per week, which largely involved me reading picture books, singing songs horribly off-key, and doing many things called “freeze dances.” Sometimes shakers go into full effect. I have taken more than one giant Lego to the head.

Reader, let it be known. I prefer dogs and vacations over children; it’s purely a fault within my own DNA, I assure you. I’d rather wax poetic about adult books all day, but alas, this is not within the wheelhouse of my job.

But I sure do love complaining about it, reader. Which is why I was tickled when I discovered Happy & You Know It as a BOTM pick. I branched out from my usual dark fiction picks to indulge my inner Sex and the City lover (she is very real).

The protagonist has just been kicked out of her band, right before they blow up and become hugely famous. She needs a job, so she gets one as a playgroup musician for the New York City elite, where she meets women that have lives she can only dream about.

But of course, not all is as it seems. Some real scandalous shit goes down, y’all. The wellness-loving mamas are kind of a mess. And it’s so fun to watch the bizarre story unravel, all while not having to worry about ghosts and jump scares (yeah, I’ve been reading a lot of Riley Sager and Stephen King lately).

This one is quick, and may be a little confusing because it is told in third person from many perspectives (which I found a bit jarring, actually), so pay attention!

I recommend Happy & You Know It if you:

  • Like Sex and the City, especially around the time Miranda has her baby
  • Enjoyed The Nanny Diaries
  • Need a break from binge-reading all those thrillers and scary books, you wild babe, you
  • You have a job that forces you to perform for children, and enjoy seeing other people suffer this, too 😉

Rating: 3 out of 5.