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For some reason our library has Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng EverythingINeverToldYouclassified as a mystery and, if you assume that you don’t know how sixteen year old Lydia died and want to find out, then it is a mystery. But really it’s not. It’s the story of longing and desire and fitting in vs. being different.

It is in the late 1960s that Marilyn, a college junior, meets and falls in love with James Lee, her teaching assistant. After a brief relationship, Marilyn finds herself pregnant. She and James get married and her dreams of medical school are washed away. Her mother is a home ec teacher and her credo for success in life is keeping a happy home, cooking the right meals and having everything spic and span. Coming from a ‘proper’ Southern family, the thought of Marilyn’s marriage to a person of Chinese descent is abhorrent, or at least, improper.

By mid-1977, the Lees have three children, Nathan, off to Harvard in the Fall, Lydia, a high school junior and apple of her parents’ eyes and younger Hannah, all but forgotten, relegated to a bedroom in the attic. It is with shock, that the family wakes up on May 3 and Lydia is nowhere to be found. When she doesn’t turn up, the Lees call the police who, as we all know, say this happens all the time and Lydia will return soon. Two days go by and still no Lydia.

A neighbor mentions a lone row boat out in the middle of the nearby lake which prompts to police to drag the lake, unfortunately finding Lydia’s body in the process. The police ultimately rule the death a suicide but Marilyn ‘knows her daughter’ and she wouldn’t do such a thing.

Everything I Never Told You probes the secret lives and thoughts of Lydia, Nathan who is virtually ignored by his parents, Hannah who has found a way to be invisible, James, who grew up ‘different’ by being Chinese in a Caucasian world and always wanted to blend in and Marilyn, whose aspirations and dreams were shattered and vowed never to let that happen to Lydia. All of this is seen both in the aftermath of Lydia’s death and in the years preceding it as well.

More psychological introspection than mystery, Everything I Never Told You is just plain sad. In this age when teenage suicide is so prevalent, when the pressure on teens to succeed in school and in life is so strong, when I’m sure many parents’ unachieved dreams are hoisted on their children’s shoulders, this book is a strong supporter of let kids be kids for a while longer…they have their whole adult lives to be grown ups.

It’s funny (or sad) that not much has changed since 1977, only the pressure on kids today has multiplied geometrically. Everything I Never Told You is worth the journey.

OK, get your tissues out now. It’s sad. Livvie and Zoe are best friends and have been since they were young. MaybeOneDayThey started taking dance lessons together and progressed all the way up to the NYBC. That meant every day after school in New Jersey they would trek into Manhattan for several hours of ballet lessons. Until one day, their world was pulled out from under them, or so they thought. At the end of the summer before sophomore year, they were both told that they wouldn’t be continuing at NYBC…subtitle: they weren’t good enough.

Livvie, as part of her community service requirements, decided to teach ballet to underprivileged children in Newark. Zoe just foundered around, trying a little of this or that, but not finding anything to replace dance.

Remember I said, they thought their world was pulled out from under them? Well, now it really was. At the beginning of junior year, Livvie was diagnosed with an aggressive form of leukemia. Maybe One Day is the story of Livvie and Zoe coping with Livvie’s illness.

Kantor does a great job (I imagine since I haven’t experienced it) of running through the gamut of feelings experienced by both Zoe and Livvie, their families and friends. Shock, denial, disbelief in a God who would cause/allow such a thing. Zoe’s and Livvie were inseparable, at home, in school, at dance, so of course Zoe is the conduit of information for their classmates. Do you go into all the details or just say “she’s fine”?

Livvie and Zoe are remarkable characters, more like sisters than friends. Readers will feel their closeness and one happens to one, happens to the other.

Kantor has written Maybe One Day in a light tone…almost summer beach read light. But the story is anything but. This book may be overshadowed by the phenomenal success of John Green’s The Fault in Our Stars. But I hope it doesn’t. There’s room in YA literature for many books with cancer as the main topic…books coming from different directions.

IfYouCouldBeMineIt boggles my mind that a country could accept (and even pay for) sex change operations yet consider homosexuality a sin. Apparently there is nothing in the Bible that says a person can’t change the gender of his/her physical body, but there is something that says having sexual relations with a person of the same sex is a mortal sin.

Sara Farizan in her debut novel, If You Could Be Mine makes this abundantly clear as seventeen year old Iranians Sahar and Nasrin are in love but must keep their feelings secret. It comes as quite a shock, especially to Sahar, when it is announced that Nasrin’s parents have promised her hand in marriage to a doctor, Reza. The wedding is in three months. Sahar cannot think of living life without Nasrin and while Nasrin says they can still see each other after the wedding, Sahar knows it can never be.

Sahar contemplates all options to cancel the wedding and claim Nasrin as her own, including undergoing the long and painful sex changes operations. She is introduced to transgenders through her cousin, Ali, who is gay. None of these people say life is easy after the changes, but at least they are in the body they should have been born into.

Sahar wonders whether her father, who has been in a depression for the several years since Sahar’s mother died, would even notice if one day she came home sporting a beard. Or would he disown her?

This is certainly a new and relevant twist on teenage sexuality. Sahar and Nasrin are two distinct personalities, one serious and determined, the other flighty and always in need of attention. So, it comes as no surprise, although in my mind it was a bit far-fetched, that Sahar should consider drastic measures to keep Nasrin. Farizan also brings up the question: would someone who loves you romantically as a woman, feel the same way if you were a man? Good question!

While, if you read this blog regularly, you know my absolute favorite books on this subject, If You Could Be Mine by Sara Farizan is certainly up there on the list. It is an absorbing read.

TheThinManIf an accomplished writer of hard boiled mysteries, one who set the standard, wants to write a satire on the exact same subject, then who are we to say “No.” And so the author of the Maltese Falcon, the creator of Sam Spade, has also created his alter ego, the rich, classy Nick Charles, his wife Nora and little dog, Asta.

The Charleses are in New York for the Christmas holiday season. A retired detective who is now managing his wife’s money, he’s approached by the attorney of an eccentric inventor and former client, Clyde Wynant, to find the murderer of his former secretary, Julia Wolf. All fingers seem to point to Wynant, who left town shortly before the murder.

The Thin Man is populated by Wynant’s comically dysfunctional family. Mimi, the ex-wife and a schemer, and Dorothy, the daughter, both have crushes on Nick. There is constant bickering in the family. The son is just plain weird.

The police detective is somewhat bumbling, but again, not in a hard boiled way, like those in The Maltese Falcon. Think more in line with Lt. Tragg in the Perry Mason series.

The Charleses are constantly going to dinner parties, speakeasies and the theater. They are having “cocktails”, not shots of bourbon, at all hours of the day and night (even upon awaking at 2 PM from the previous nights’ revelries).

There is no darkness to the movie. If you remember the opening scenes of The Maltese Falcon, the foggy San Francisco night, well forget that in The Thin Man. The most you’ll get here is a bit of rain.

Having watched the movie several times (although I don’t remember it being one of my favorites), TheThinManMovieI constantly pictured William Powell and Myrna Loy as the Charleses. But, I’m going to watch it tonight, again, since I just finished the book and we’ll see what I think. Stay tuned!!!!

Well, it was better than I expected, but not great. It was almost slapstick. The movie stuck reasonably close to the book, but there were some differences, as you would expect. The addition of a fiancé for Dorothy negated the need for a Mr. Quinn, who throughout the book falls for her. However, he is brought in at the end of the movie and one wonders who the heck he is.

Another part of the book that was neglected was Mimi’s second husband, Chris Jorgenson. In the movie, he didn’t play a major role, whereas in the book, he was a critical character. I realize that you must leave things out of a movie unless you want to make it hours long, but leaving characters sort of hanging does little to improve the story.MyrnaLoy

I think the two things that stole the show were the costumes, especially Myrna Loy’s and Asta. Ms. Loy wore some outrageous, some sexy, some plain costumes, but they were all noticeable. There was a style and sexiness back in the day that we just haven’t captured now.

So, in conclusion, The Thin Man book is a great satire on the hard boiled detective and the movie is enjoyable but nothing to write home about.

GIrls Like Us by Gail Giles

GirlsLikeUsBiddy and Quincy are Special Ed girls who just graduated high school. They were each given a job and a place to live…together. Biddy is obese and can’t read. She also has a ‘reputation with the boys’. Quincy has brain and facial damage from being hit in the head with a brick when she was little, by her mother’s boyfriend. Not the best of pairings, according to each of them.

They will live in a separate cottage on the grounds of sixty-plus year old Miss Lizzy. Biddy will help with cooking and cleaning while Quincy has a job at the local bakery.

Girls Like Us by Gail Giles is a heart-warming story of intergenerational bonding. No one is perfect in this story, including Miss Lizzy. But they all adapt to less-than-perfect circumstances. Told in alternating chapters by Biddy and Quincy, they each have distinct voices. They each learn a little bit about the other and learn, to some extent, to stand in the others’ shoes. You will come to love these girls. They have big hearts and a lot of gumption.DeadGirls

My only other Gail Giles book is Dead Girls Don’t Write Letters. What a great psychological thriller.

So, here are two books to put on your summer reading list.

Pulp Fiction

PulpFictionI was listening to the rain coming streaming down as I was finishing Cheap Thrills: The Amazing! Thrilling! Astonishing! History of Pulp Fiction (also known as An Informal History of the Pulp Magazine) by Ron Goulart. It wasn’t the flash flood thunder storms that seem to be typical of this year. Rather it was the steady stream of rain, like it’s supposed to be. I love that sound. However, it is irrelevant to this post. It’s just an aside.

I’ve said this several times in this blog, there are two components to the pulp fiction of the 1920s to 1950s. One is the incredible writing and the other is the incredible artwork. While each of the two books mentioned here relay the history of pulp fiction, Cheap Thrills concentrates on the writing while The Classic Era of American Pulp Magazines by Peter Haining concentrates on the artwork. They each also illustrate the copycat mentality of pulp publishers. If one type of pulp magazine is doing well, say hard boiled mystery, then every other pulp publisher attempted to copy the format. And if one is not doing well, publishers did not hesitate to abandon it for something else.The-Classic-Era-of-American-Pulp-Magazines-9781556523892

Cheap Thrills covers most of the genre types such as soldier of fortune, detective, science fiction, western, horror, concentrating on the major successes such as Tarzan, Doc Savage and the Shadow. Mention, however, is also made of some of the less successful attempts. Goulart also includes reminiscences from some of the writers, editors and publishers of the time.

Goulart, as does Haining, emphasizes that many of todays acclaimed writers started in pulps, such as Isaac Asimov, Ray Bradbury, Raymond Chandler, Erle Stanley Gardner and Dashiell Hammett. Goulart gives many examples of their writing, such as Walter Gibson writing The Shadow:

“Long Island Sound lay blanketed with a dense, sullen mist. From the shore, the heavy fog appeared as a grimy mass of solid blackness. The scene was one of swirling, impenetrable night, for not a gleam of light disturbed the omnipresent darkness.

No eye would have discerned the spot where the shore ceased and the water began. The rocks beside the beach were invisible, and so was the man who stood near them. The only token of his presence was the sound of his slow, steady breathing, broken by the low, impatient growls that came muffled from his throat.”

Great Writing!

Haining, on the other hand, provides tons of examples of both the interior black and white and exterior color artwork. I wish I could provide an example here but I haven’t really found any on the internet. He discusses the artists, their backgrounds and their techniques. He discusses the trend to mildly seductive scantily clad women on the covers, run-ins with the law regarding the illustrations and the reversal of that trend. Each artist had his/her own style—yes there were a handful of women in the field.

Haining, too, mentions the various genres and the related illustrations. One genre not really covered by Cheap Thrills but discussed in The Classic Era is Spicy pulps. There were Spicy Mysteries and Spicy Romance and Spicy Westerns. A little titillation for America’s male species of the era. Obviously, the cover art mimicked (to some extent) the stories inside.

To sum it up, I can’t get my fill of pulp era writing, primarily mysteries and cover art. The Classic Era and Cheap Thrills are great additions to any pulp aficionado’s collection.

My next pulp mystery? The Thin Man by Dashiell Hammett. Let’s see how it compares to the movie with William Powell and Myrna Loi.

 

EverythingLeadsToYouThe summer time is a time for romance and Nina LaCour supplies it in Everything Leads to You. Morgan has just broken up with Emi for the sixth time but they can’t avoid each other since they work at the same movie studio, designing sets. Emi’s best friend Charlotte works there as well.

It is the summer after high school and Morgan, Emi and Charlotte are working on the same movie. While looking for pieces for a set at an estate sale at the home of a famous and reclusive cowboy actor, Clyde Jones, Charlotte buys a Patsy Cline album as a souvenier. At home she takes it out to listen and a letter drops out. Reading it, Emi and Charlotte discover it is to Clyde’s daughter, Caroline, a daughter no one knew he had. It also refers to his grand daughter, Ava. Charlotte and Emi decide they need to find Caroline and give her the letter.

From the above, you can’t tell this is a love story, but it is, trust me. Giving any more away will ruin it. Charlotte and Emi spend the summer working on a movie, searching for Caroline and Ava and staying in Emi’s brother, Toby’s, apartment while he is away in Europe scouting locations for another movie. His parting words were, “Do something epic while I’m gone.” And indeed they do.

Emi is a great character, self confident in her work, but crumbling at Morgan’s advances to get back together. I’m assuming most people can relate to that. She’s also unsure of her new love, who Ms. LaCour doesn’t hide, but I will. The trio of Emi, Charlotte and Morgan are talented and they bring to light how rooms in movies are decorated, something we rarely think about.HoldStill

There are no surprises (well maybe some surprises) in Everything Leads to You, but there doesn’t have to be to make this a fun book. It is your classic beach read.

If you’re looking for something from Nina LaCour with a little more ‘meat’ in it, try Hold Still. In my Librarything review, I likened it to 13 Reasons Why and the Hate List. No bad company, huh?

 

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