All tagged Atria

Review: Love in the Years of Lunacy by Mandy Sayer

Reading Mandy Sayer’s Love in the Years of Lunacy was almost like reading two different novels. The first was a fascinating look at wartime Sydney, Australia. The second was an odyssey into the implausible. 

Set in 1942, Love in the Years of Lunacy is told mostly from the point of view of eighteen year old Pearl, a bit of a wild-child jazz musician. She plays saxophone in an all-girl band and one night, while playing in an underground club, she meets James Washington, an African-American GI and phenomenal musician. The two quickly begin a whirlwind romance until that is cut short by the news that James is being shipped out to fight in New Guinea. Pearl does something incredibly impulsive/batshit crazy to reunite with James. 

The beginning of Love in the Years of Lunacy introduces its odd narrative structure—one often used in historical fiction that rarely works for me.

In opens with a writer (it’s always a writer—and in this case the writer name-checks the Australian publisher of Love in the Years of Lunacy as his publisher) in modern day discovering a recording of a story told by his aunt (Pearl), instructing him to novelize her story so that it can be shared—these sections are told in first person. Then it switches to the 1940s and is written in third person, but from Pearl’s point-of-view. This is a narrative style that really bothers me. 

I’m trying to look on the positive side. I guess writing this book has allowed me to understand the complexities of [Pearl] and my background better than I ever have before and, by doing so, I begin to understand myself more clearly—a person who’s never felt completely at home…

It wasn’t until I read this book that I was able to really get my head around why this style of storytelling irks me, but I’ve finally hit on it: by framing a story of a historical figure around a contemporary person’s “discovery” it feels as if the main historical story is diminished. Why can’t a historical narrative stand on its own? In this novel there are some small things related to identity that are relevant to the contemporary discover-er, but really, Love in the Years of Lunacy was not better because of those elements. (And, honestly, they kind of troubled me—see my spoiler discussion here.)

I am fairly certain, that if the novel was told in a straightforward manner, I would have enjoyed it far more. 

Regardless of this frustrating structure, I was captivated by Pearl and James’ story amidst that backdrop of wartime Sydney. 

Review: Point of Retreat by Colleen Hoover

Despite that Colleen Hoover’s Slammed was a frustrating read, there was a part of me that found it strangely readable and enjoyable. Unfortunately, I cannot say the same for its wholly unnecessary sequel, Point of Retreat.

Point of Retreat picks up where Slammed left off. Frankly, I was surprised to learn that there was a sequel, since the original novel ties up most of the loose ends and put the characters on a path toward happiness, despite the challenges they faced in the first novel. Despite my reservations about Slammed, I was intrigued about where Hoover would take these characters as they tackled their new independence, responsibilities and burgeoning relationship. 

In Point of Retreat, Will and Layken find themselves embroiled in even more drama, but the core of the story is two-fold:

  1. Will they ever actually have sex? *eye roll*
  2. Will Will’s evil ex-girlfriend destroy their happiness? *eye roll*

[Note: Please do not continue to read this review, should you plan on reading Slammed and want to remain unspoiled.]

[Seriously, if you don’t want to be spoiled for Slammed, don’t keep reading, okay?]

The first—no sex for a year—is absolutely absurd.

I was curious about Colleen Hoover’s Slammed after I saw Tammara Webber (whose book Easy, I very much enjoyed) raving about it and then it subsequently landed on the ebook bestseller list. However, I tend to shy away from self-published books* unless they’re by an author I’m familiar with or it’s a book that’s been recommended by a reader whose taste I trust. 

Once Atria (a Simon & Schuster imprint who’s seemingly buying every popular self-published novel) purchased Slammed and reissued it, my curiosity resurfaced. 

Slammed begins with high school senior Layken (yes, there are weird names in this book, and yes, Layken sometimes goes by “Lake”) moving from Texas to Michigan with her mother and brother, following the sudden death of her father. Naturally, she meets the 21-year old hottie across the street, Will, immediately after she pulls the moving truck into the driveway. They go out on one date—a pretty strange date—that includes homemade sandwiches, little personal information exchanged and a visit to a slam poetry event. 

We both finish our sandwiches, and I put the trash back in the bag and place it in the backseat. I try to think of something to say to break the silence, so I ask him about his family. “What are your parents like?”

He takes a deep breath and slowly exhales, almost like I’ve asked the wrong thing. “I’m not big on small talk, Lake. We can figure all that out later. Let’s make this drive interesting.” He winks at me and relaxes further into his seat.

(I actually thought Will was kidnapping Layken when I read this—thankfully, they just went to a poetry slam.)

The poetry slams like the one the pair goes to on their first date are probably the strongest element of Slammed, creating an interesting backdrop for Will and Layken’s story. Hoover does a nice job of capturing why this expressive form of spoken-word performance would so grip people, especially teens.