Adult romance novels are not usually my cup of tea, but as my teen daughter and I are avid fans of The Bachelor (affectionately known as The Bach in our household) and The Bachelorette, I couldn’t resist this when I saw a review copy was available. It’s an engaging, if not particularly original story, that will please fans of Nicholas Sparks’s oeuvre as well as the built-in Bachelor Nation audience.
Leigh Merrill seems to have it all – she’s a highly sought after editor for a respected publishing house in New York, and she’s dating the handsome and rich Joseph Middlebury who is besotted with her. After ten years away from her home state of Texas, she returns for a writers’ conference, and opens up a whole can of worms when her past comes back to bite her. And her past includes Jake, a rugged, and occasionally shirtless, cowboy, just out of jail for a crime he, naturally, did not commit.
Of course Leigh is going to dump poor uptight Joseph for swoony Jake (even though few women in their right minds would actually do so), but Mr. Harrison does a decent job of making her decision process credible. He also does a fine job of creating the erotic chemistry between Leigh and Jake, though somewhat clunkily attempts to show Jake as an intellectual equal with Leigh by having him read Anna Karenina in jail.
Just when I thought I could see all the way to the sunset ending, in comes a whole new subplot. Mr Harrison is really good at writing skincrawlingly unpleasant characters – both Dale Tucker from Leigh’s youth and Russ Benoit from the present are genuinely nasty creations, who, in their own ways threaten both Leigh and her relationship with Jake.
So, yes, it is a familiar formula, but it slips down as easily as watching two hours of reality romance with a pitcher of margaritas and, speaking for the audience I’m familiar with, will be a pleasure, both guilty or otherwise for many teens.
Thanks to Dey Street Books and Edelweiss for the eARC
The Ghosts of Heaven by Marcus Sedgwick
Roaring Brook, 2015.
Marcus Sedgwick is a prolific and inventive writer. And a bit of a dish, judging by his cover photo. I have really enjoyed his two previous books: Midwinterblood, which won the Printz for 2013, is a collection of unsettling and creepy interlinked stories; and She is Not Invisible, a terrific mystery with a blind girl finding her way in New York, wrapped around the idea of “hidden patterns in the universe” and coincidences.
His new collection of stories, The Ghosts of Heaven, has a little of both – connected stories and a fascination with a phenomenon that promises meaning outside ourselves. There are four loosely connected stories, or quarters, set in different time periods. They’re presented in chronological order, though in an introductory note the author suggests that they can be read in any order. Within each quarter, spirals play a significant, though differing role.
In the free verse prehistoric story, Whispers in the Dark, a young woman accompanies an elder to the caves, where paintings are made to bring magic to help the people hunt. In the dark, she sees spirals like the ones she has drawn in the sand with a stick, and she stumbles on the thought of the written word.
The Witch in the Water is set in the 18th century in an isolated English village. A new priest, burning with fervent desire to root out witches, sees a young woman, Anna, dancing in a spiral after the funeral of her mother. Her mother was a “cunning woman” and Anna takes after her – and this, combined with her brother’s epilepsy and some vindictive villagers, leads to an inevitable Thomas Hardy-esque fate.
In the Gothic 1920’s tale, The Easiest Room in Hell, a naïve and altruistic doctor keeps a journal when he starts a new job at an insane asylum, which has a massive central spiral staircase. One of the inmates is terrified by this shape, which seems to go into the “darkest depths” at one end and into the “expansive heavens” at the other.
Finally, The Song of Destiny is set on a huge space ship spiraling through time and space as it transports 500 people to a New Earth. Keir Bowman (2001 references!) is a Sentinel who wakes up for 12 hours every 10 years to ensure all is well. On one of his shifts he believes he sees another person, and, on another, he hears a signal from space that suggests there’s another life form out there.
The quarters reference each other and are connected by thematic threads including solitude, both imposed and sought, discovery, connection and death. Though written in different styles, they all share a disquieting atmosphere of dread. I felt that the middle two stories were much more successful than the top and tail – I found the verse rather stiff and uninvolving in the prehistoric story; and the scifi quarter ends up in a swirl of pseudo-meaningful metaphysics.
However, that’s just my opinion, and I’m sure other readers will prefer different stories. But whatever floats your boat, this is a stylish and erudite collection that will appeal to mature teen and adult readers.
Liz Prince always wanted to wear boy’s clothes and take part in activities that boys flocked to, like baseball. She wanted to be a boy, not because she felt she was a boy, but because she felt that boys had all the fun. She had a handful of friends – other tomboys or boys. And she had crushes on boys – mostly unrequited, though not in one rather cruel instance – and sometimes on her friends who were boys, which mostly didn’t work out too well.
But it is only when she starts talking to an older woman, Harley, that she begins to sort out who she is and where she could fit in. Harley asks: “Do you hate girls? Or do you hate the expectations put on girls by society?” – though at the time Liz doesn’t see that there’s a difference to these questions. It’s only later, when she’s reading a zine, that she comes to the realization that she “wasn’t challenging the social norm, [she] was buying into it!” by believing that girls could only be giggling cheerleaders in pink frocks. She has the epiphany that she could be a girl on her own terms, and having made that realization, she can find a community.
Told by the current Liz, who occasionally breaks into the narrative to comment on her younger self, this graphic memoir uses simple line drawings to keep the story moving along, with occasional breaks into diagrams using those international symbols of male and female from bathroom doors, along with mathematical symbols.
As a tomboy myself – not as hardcore as Liz, but not as weedy as the celebrity she calls out – I found this a very sympathetic read. And though the conclusion she comes to, that we should all be accepted for who we want to be, sounds glib on paper, I think we can feel the struggle it was for her to get to that point and actually believe it. I work with teenagers, and I see some of them having the challenges that Liz had to find their place in the world, and I applaud any book that is as honest as this one about the thorny path that can take.