Three Charmers & a Dud: a Review of Four Books I Found at the Public Library

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I like to read. A lot. If you put words in front of my face, I will read them rather than pay attention to whatever it is I’m supposed to be doing. Reading is an important part of my life, ranked right up there with my daily espresso and my personal fitness time.

I was denied the ability to read for years when my already severely myopic eyes decided to develop difficulty with what I now know is called “reading vision” in my early 30s. My ophthalmologist ignored my request for trifocals (corrective lenses with three fields of vision: distance, mid-range [I think of this as my “people vision” as it is mostly used in socializing], and reading), stating I was too young for “cheaters” (Why the hell are reading glasses called that, “cheaters”?!? You’re not cheating by wanting words on a page not to appear like a fuzzy, blurred out, indecipherable mess!! Cheaters are losers, and I’m NOT a loser just because I want to be able to read fine print!!). For almost a decade of my life, attempting to read either gave me a massive headache or put me to sleep (#protip on aging eyes: if you love to read but it always seems to end in you going comatose, you should get yourself to an eye doctor, stat!). During that period of my life, I could barely finish 2 or 3 books a year, and I found myself having more and more difficulty managing my moods (One of the more fabulous door prizes of my autoimmune issues is unpredictable mood swings and a tendency to lean towards the depressive end of the spectrum). Fast forward to what has turned out to be the magic age of 40, and my eye doc finally granted me the prescription that my eyes had been craving for years. After a monumental adjustment period learning how to use three fields of vision in one lens (Eyes are ridiculously stubborn little boogers!), I was finally able to read at will; read for hours, read in bed, read on trips, read on rainy days, read on sunny days, read inside, read outside, read right side up, read upside down, read, read, READ! It was then I connected my ever-increasing frequency of depressive periods during that time with the inability to read. I had consciously used diet, rest and exercise to manage my moods, but apparently, I had unconsciously been using reading my whole life as a way to let my brain get a break from being me. It took losing my reading vision for me to make that connection, but now that I have it back, I’m reading once again, and reading like a crazy person.Which leads me to the topic of this post: four books that I’ve read recently:) 

Typically, I post on Instagram with @doodledblooms about books that I’m reading or have read, but I have had requests for me to put my book reviews in a place that is easier for folks to save, and I think a blog is the perfect locale for reviews. So, in future I’m going to have a special folder on Have Color Will Travel (see the menu in the right-hand sidebar), and in this little area of my blog will be reviews of all sorts because I have opinions on all kinds of pop-culture experiences, not just books, so I’m leaving myself a bit of wiggle room to breathe, creatively speaking:)

Snapchatting books has become
a thing with me. I find it's a great
way to capture an emotion or take
a note for myself or others about
what I'm reading...I know, I'm
a nerd.

Thanks to a recommendation by one of my son’s lovely friends, Juanita (a young lady who is also a proud book nerd like myself), I sought out Eleanor & Park as soon as I finished reading Rainbow Rowell’s gem Fangirl (A read I highly recommend if you enjoy YA, if you enjoy coming of age books that focus on a character’s college years, if you like strong female voices, if you like romance, if you like delightful writing, if you like books at all…I totally adored this novel :). And, even though you can see I loved Fangirl (please refer to the previous parenthetical) to bits, Eleanor & Park hit my heart even harder. The pacing of this book and the alternation between the two very distinct and tenderly written POV’s of the title characters at times had me holding my breath because I was so invested in their story. I had no idea I was doing this until I closed the cover of the book to move on to real life. 
I know I'm 43, but this is the most romantic thing I
have ever read in my entire life, seriously.
Screw roses, diamonds and fancy meals,
 give me batteries!

At its core, this book is a love story, but it delves into so much more than that as it is set in the Midwest in the mid-80s and deals with two teens from very disparate backgrounds. And, while it is advertised as a YA novel, I cannot imagine anyone who was actually young, awkward and on the outside of things in the 80s as I was (And really, don’t we all feel that way about our high school years?) who wouldn’t find themselves falling for this book. This novel is definitely the author’s ode to the awesomeness that was 80s nerd culture, as the pages are full of comic book and music references that remind a more mature reader of all that was great about growing up in that decade.

Juanita is 27 years my junior, and she loved this heart-breaking (in the best way) book just as much as I did; how many stand-alone novels can make that generational claim? Once I finished the novel, I immediately wished to create a fantasy book club meeting of readers from all generations, ages 15-95+, and just sit and discuss the parts of the book that took our breaths away, the parts that broke our hearts, the parts that made us smile, the parts that made us relive our own experiences, the parts that made us want to recommend this book to our best friends, and do all this over warm beverages and cookies. This book was that good, and I don’t think I am being hyperbolic, not in the least.

The author's intended cover for her book
is way better than the cover the
publisher went with, but you have to
read the book to find out just how
much better;)
I’m sharing about these books in the order that I read them this semester (I don’t think my life will ever NOT be tied to the academic calendar, I’m that much of a nerd.), and the turn I took after reading a book that was advertised as a teen romance was a 360 to a book of essays by the ridiculously, wonderfully and hilariously honest blogger, Jenny Lawson. I discovered this book in our local Friends of the Library book shop, so while this is the only book of these four reviewed that I paid for (and only $3.00!! A screaming deal!! You must check out the Seguin Public Library’s Friends of the Library bookshop!!), I still found this book at the library, so I’m still speaking the truth when I say that I found all 4 of these books at the public library (#LibrariesAreAwesome).

I wish I had discovered Jenny Lawson earlier in my life because she discusses issues of mental health, of anxiety, of depression, of fear, and of just being different from the norm in a way that I needed to hear ages ago (but better late than never:). And, that sentence that you just now read makes it sound like this book is a serious analysis of mental illness, but Holy Toledo, Batman, it is not! This book had me literally laughing out loud, laughing almost to tears in some chapters. But why I wish I had had it in my hands earlier is that Jenny Lawson has a way of talking about dealing with serious struggles that takes away all of the stigma of needing help. She is incredibly funny, which makes this book an entertaining read for almost anyone (Unless you have issues with profanity or taxidermied roadkill, so if those things bug you, do not touch this book! You've been warned!), but the power of this collection of essays lies in her ability to remind all of us who’ve ever struggled with darkness and fear that we are never alone and that we never have been to begin with. I feel like it might be revealing too much about the book to share that the last two chapters brought me to sloppy, ugly tears (the cleansing kind), but if you feel called to pick this book up, I really hope you read it all the way through to the end because you deserve it. And, if you are like me and a devotee to Ms. Lawson's blog, fret not about the book being a photo copy of her blog posts; it is not:)

Hello, my name is Dud;
what's yours?

The title of this blog post is Three Charmers and a Dud, so let me introduce you to the dud that is Eligible (And, writing that sentence feels like I am being really mean, but man, this book was bloody awful!).

Straight up, the only reason I checked out this book at all (because the title and cover made me gag) was because it was “A Modern Retelling of Pride and Prejudice.” I totally heart Jane Austen! And, I am an unabashed fan of all versions of the story of Elizabeth Bennett and Fitzwilliam Darcy’s romance: the classic black and white version (Laurence Olivier & Greer Garson – swoon!), the BBC version (Omigawd, Colin Firth!), the recent version (director Joe Wright created magic!), the Bollywood version (Of course Pride and Prejudice needs musical numbers – why didn’t I think of that?!) and even the zombie-infested version (Watching the Bennett sisters slay the undead and sexism is awesome, even if the plot makes zero sense!). So, this cheesy, jump the shark modernization of my favorite love story of all time should have been perfect for me…but it was crap, and poorly written crap at that, that took well-loved and well defined characters and completely altered their core personalities in order to be shocking (It isn’t that I don’t think Lydia Bennett could be gay [all the sisters could be gay, for heaven’s sakes!], but I absolutely think that giving her the wisdom to choose the best, most loving and respectable life partner in the book is entirely against her well-known character, a plot choice that completely violates the entire story!). I only finished this novel so that I could see just how bad it could get, and even then it failed because it just didn’t get bad enough: the book just ended! If you adore Jane Austen, please ignore this book. Unless of course you have time to spare, or you’re a curious speed reader, or you just don’t believe me. But, seriously, no one treats Lizzie Bennett & company this badly and gets away with it, at least not from me. This book totally sucked. I’ve not read any other books by Curtis Sittenfeld, so I am not blowing this author off completely, but her foray into using Ms. Austen as an easy paycheck was completely misguided and offensive to this Austen fan.

And, what did I do right after I
returned this book to the library?
I checked out another book by
Rainbow Rowell of course!
Expect a review of Landline in
the near future:)

Because I loved Fangirl so much, because Eleanor & Park made me laugh, cry and sigh (gave me “all the feels” as they say), I decided to heed Juanita’s advice once again and seek out Ms. Rowell’s full sized fan-fiction novel brought to publication. Despite not being pitched this way on the dust jacket cover, Carry On really isn’t a stand-alone novel. It will be best enjoyed after digesting Fangirl, Rowell’s novel focused on the first year of college of the delightful Cath, a nerd extraordinaire and talented writer of fan fiction. The characters of Carry On are characters of Cath’s fan-fiction, and those characters are the creation of a fictional author who has created a fictional Harry Potter-esque series called the Simon Snow series. The similarities to the two magical universes (J.K. Rowling's and Rainbow Rowell's) stop at the fact that magic is real and that there is a school to go to once you've discover you have magical ability, as magic and the folks who wield it function in a wholly ingenious and fascinating way in Carry On (Not that the magic in HP isn't awesome, it is just cool to see authors take such similar concepts and do VERY different things with them:). And while we’re made to believe that this single book is a final installment in a very long series that we have not read (a series that has never actually been published), I never once felt lost in the dense story, never felt a lack of emotion for characters I had only just met, and felt like this little writing experiment that Rainbow Rowell just had to try was, on the whole, a success. The only moment that felt was less than well-thought-out was one I later forgave the book for completely; I signed on for a story about the friendships between the characters Cath had loved and re-envisioned, Simon, Baz, Penelope and Agatha, and that’s exactly what I got, in the end. What a treat it must have been for Ms. Rowell to be able to not only play around with characters created by her character but to have it published and enjoyed! How wonderfully meta (I think I am becoming a charter member of the Rainbow Rowell fan club:)!

And there you go, three charmers and a dud. I hope these reviews were helpful if you’re looking for a new book and mildly entertaining if you aren’t. I find magazine and newspaper book reviews to be unsatisfactory lately as they reveal too much of the plot, suggest too much about characters that we have yet to meet, and treat review readers like teenagers skimming through Cliff’s Notes in order to prepare for a test (that’s still a thing, right?). By the time you’ve finished reading their review, you could get 100% on a test over a book you’ve never even cracked open. Who needs that?! Don’t expect another book review post from me for a bit, though. I’m an incredibly slow if dedicated reader, and I rather liked sharing briefly about a collection of books rather than deeply about one book, so I’m totally going to share via this route again. Hopefully what I’ve written here provides just enough for you to decide whether or not a book is for you. If you’ve read any of these books, have some further reading to suggest, or have questions on my reviews, I’d love to hear about it all in the comments if you’ve got time:)

Cheers, and happy reading!