Tag: Fiction

Best Books of 2019

What a wild year. I discovered so many great books this year! Some of them were rather old, but some of them were brand spanking new. All of them were first reads (I could gush about some rereads too!). I had a lot of five star reads. I’ve only recently begun using star ratings on GoodReads. I wanted to see how it would work and I think I like it. Half of the fun of doing this list was going back and reading my original reviews/notes on GoodReads. So much gushing!

These books inspired me (one even gave me a huge breakthrough on my own novel!), they broadened my horizons, they made me laugh and they made me cry. I started the year saying I wanted to read more classics, and boy, I sure did. Now I think I want to dial that back a bit, but there are still several classics on my list. I’m already planning for 2020. But for now, here is (in no particular order) what rocked my world in 2019. Continue reading

Halloween Reads 2019

It’s time for another installment of spooky reads, folks! If you are looking to get some chills and thrills from your reading, look no further. However, note that I don’t do horror, so you probably won’t get any jump scares out of these selections.

If you’re counting, this is the ninth annual Halloween Reads list. I’ve been on the hunt since 2011. Since before this blog, when I posted on Examiner.com. Check the links at the bottom for the posts for previous years. This year, there seems to be a bumper crop of spooky reads! So without further ado, here is my list for your spoopy reading pleasure!

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The Reading Life: Year-long Challenges: Readalongs

I enjoyed some wonderful readalongs in 2018. I found it helps to keep me on track, and it is more rewarding than reading a book by myself, especially if it is a complex or very long book. I haven’t been making it to book club much over the past two years, and the books they’ve chosen do not appeal to me very often. With readalongs, I can join or not join. And this way I get to read some books I might have always wanted to read. Don’t get me wrong – I have joined readalongs for books that are not typically in my stack, too. I’m not against reading outside my zone. That is one thing that I really enjoyed about my IRL book club. But the meetings weren’t working for me.

So this year, I have committed to three multi-month readalongs, one of which I am co-hosting! Imagine that. I am very excited about it. It is no mean feat to keep the momentum and enthusiasm up on something over the course of a year. So we shall see how it goes.

The Austen Readalong

The first one is called #ArdentlyAustenBookclub and is being hosted by @paperbackbones and @alchemyandink. We are reading one Jane Austen novel each month. This should be fun, because it will include a watchalong. I have only ever read Pride & Prejudice! I know. I am not sure how this happened. But this will give me a chance to read and discuss all of her novels at a reasonable pace. So I am very much looking forward to that. This only goes through July, of course, because then we run out of novels. I don’t own many of her novels, but I do have lots of books about her, that I have read. So this will give me a chance to look at those again too. I will also be watching some of the adaptations. I have never watched a Jane Austen adaptation. After this challenge, I will be able to hold up my head as an English major, I think.

A Year with Agatha Christie

I am also doing two Agatha Christie readalongs. I know. I just really love Agatha. And I haven’t read her in years. So when one popped up that looked good, I decided to try that. And then an online friend said she wanted to try reading some other Agatha, so she and I are reading the Miss Marple books. I read a lot of those when I was younger, but it has been years. So I’m really looking forward to diving back into Agatha again.

The first one is called #AYearwithChristie2019 and that one is a mix of the novels. I have already read The Mysterious Affair at Styles, his first appearance, and that was very good. Then I read The Murder of Roger Ackroyd, and now I get why it is mentioned in every breath with Agatha. I am looking forward to seeing how the characterization progresses throughout the books. The second is with my co-host, Alicia at @aliciaandherbooks and we are calling it #AYearwithMissMarple. We started with The Murder at the Vicarage, which was surprisingly funny! We are holding discussions on our accounts on the last day of every month. I’ll be hosting it later this week for The Body in the Library. Several people have already joined in! This is my first time co-hosting a readalong so I am excited to see how it goes. It was also very interesting with these first few to see the contrast between the two characters.

Classics

And finally, I’m going to be reading some classics. I read some good ones last year so I want to keep going. There is a challenge I found that looks good.  It is very loose, and has some good titles in it. But I’m going to swap out some of them for others I would rather read. I won’t reread Frankenstein again, but I do want to read The Stones of Venice by John Ruskin (which is one unread book sitting on my shelf! I remember starting it years ago but I never finished it). Another title that I particularly wanted to read this year is Moby Dick. Wish me luck! I am happy to say that I found someone to read it with me, because that is too much book to read not to talk about it.

The person who posted the starter list is Sarah @she.gets.lit.erary and she has agreed to read Moby Dick with me in March! So we’ll be doing a little readalong of that. I don’t know if we will be using a hashtag yet, other than the #getclassicallylit tag that she had already posted, but at this point I will just be happy if I can get through the book. We have set up a chat group, so if you want to join, you can send a DM to Sarah. I think the chats will be weekly checkins.

Of course, all of these are voluntary. I am not so mean to myself that I am going to worry if I fall short. But I think these are all different enough that I won’t get bored. And I am motivated enough to keep going. Would you like to see a progress report, maybe halfway through the year?

Some of you may not be familiar with some of the terms I’m using, so I’m going to drop these here.
Readalong – when a group of people decide to all read the same book at the same time. Usually capped by a discussion. Sort of like an online book club. Usually done with a series or a single author.

Reading challenges – usually defined as a set amount of time to read books that match certain prompts. Sometimes a readalong includes challenge prompts. People may use whatever books they like to match the prompts. Usually no discussion is scheduled.

Hashtags – this is a way for someone to find a group or challenge or topic on Instagram. If it for a discussion, like a readalong, sometimes the discussions are being held in private group chats, so you have to let the organizer know you want to take part so they can add you to the chat. Other times, you can simply follow the hashtag and chat with folks who use it. Or sometimes they have the discussion on the organizer’s posts, so you can just go there and take part. It varies and I’ve seen the discussions done a number of ways, but the hashtags are key. Use them to find or define anything!

Readathons – a set timeframe in which to read books. Sometimes the readathons involve prompts to help you decide what to read. Popular ones are Bout of Books (a week-long readathon), #24in28, #TBRKnockdown and many more.

 

Let me know what your plans are for this year! I know there are a lot of other challenges that are aimed at helping you read books you already owned. One I did before was Beat the Backlist. She is doing that again this year. That one is great if you want to engage across platforms and chat a lot. I will also be doing some readathons to help me along, because my GoodReads Reading Goal this year is 100 books. I am sure I can do it but I love the readathons. Did you set a Reading Goal on GoodReads? If so, what are you doing to keep yourself on track?

January Readathon and 2018 Challenges

I tackled a couple of reading challenges last year. And they really helped to start my year off right. In fact, they gave me such a huge spurt of accomplishment, I made my reading goal – and knocked out some books I’d been wanting to read for a long time, several of them five star reads. All this to say, I’m here to do it again.

This year, I thought I’d do the #RockMyTBR challenge again, but with a different tack. I’m doing #BeattheBacklist, which involves a little more accountability, a little more checking in. In fact, it looks like Austine put a heckuva lot of work into this!  There is a Bookstagram challenge, teams and prizes. I’m on the Story Sorcerors team. I fell off #RockMyTBR about halfway through, so I still have quite a pile of stuff here that I need to either read or just peruse and unhaul. Continue reading

Best Books of 2017

My year got hijacked. I started off strong, reading something like 20 books in January (thanks in large part to a part-time job as a warming house attendant, which essentially meant uninterrupted reading time on most days). Then I got a job at a bookstore. Sounds ideal, right? Well, it really cut into my reading time, I can tell you that!

However, I did manage to get close to my goal of 75 books. I might even make it. At this writing, I have two days left, and I’ve read 60 books. And there’s a readathon tomorrow!

But all that aside, I did manage to read some great books this year. Books that blew me away, and that made me think, that stayed with me. And that is always the best thing. The following are the ones I most heartily recommend. Continue reading

Best Books of 2016, Part 1

I love my stats. I am still not sure if I’ll make my reading challenge goal for this year – I had hiked it up to 80 books, even though last year I had not made my goal of 75. Call it a fit of optimism. But the year before last I read 100. Now my challenge shows me that I have 1 day and 10 hours to make my goal. This year, they have a feature called My Year in Books, which is like catnip to me. My longest book was Crooked Kingdom at 536 pages (every moment of it worthwhile); my average page count per book was 296 pages. These 72 books I’ve read so far this year amount to 20,439 pages. I like that. It’s a nice round number. I only wish I had more reading stats.

What I do have is a list of the books I liked the most. The ones that stuck with me. Here I’ll highlight my favorite reads of the year, covering many genres. My top three (no surprise) are all YA fantasy.

I want to say that YA fantasy has really stepped it up in recent years, but maybe it is just that I have only begun paying closer attention since I started blogging. I have gotten to know many bloggers on Twitter and Instagram who focus on YA, so that might be leading me more towards that genre as a whole. I am not a huge fan of contemporary (though I love Rainbow Rowell and I am looking forward to Adam Silvera’s new one), but I can’t get enough of the fantasy.

Without further ado, here are my top reads of 2016!

Nevernight by Jay Kristoff

This one has stuck itself deep into my heart, deep into my psyche and my imagination. It is one of the most highly imaginative, well-executed books that I think I have ever read. It feels cut out of whole cloth. It is magical, awe-inspiring – the superlatives do not do it justice. What Kristoff has done here is imagined a whole new world – one with three suns, then created a lexicon that uses that specific element – days are not days, they are “turns” and so these characters do not say ‘some day,’ but “some turn.” He has then populated that landscape with an incredible cityscape, and other continents that share their own incredible histories, and then peopled that world with characters that make you cringe and make you cry, that you will root for and fear all at once. The writing, the very magic of the words and sentences, is sublime. There is even – wait for it – a vast, cavernous library that has its own surprise, and is prowled by actual bookworms, which will eat you whole.

This is deep and dark and full of foreboding. People die. Many die in gruesome, startling ways. Our heroine, Mia, is befriended by shadows, and you will soon wish you had your own Mister Kindly. Her story is heartbreaking, but she rises above it in ways that will astonish you. You may not agree with everything she does, but you will want her to succeed at doing it. Let’s just say it earns the hashtag for this title, which is #stabstabstab.

I cannot say enough good things about this book, except holy hell, why was it not on every best list, and why is it not being sung from the mountaintops? And just that you should go get it. Read the synopsis on your chosen book site, and then know that is not nearly enough. It is so much more. For some reason I haven’t published my review yet. And my library doesn’t have a copy. I had to get mine from another system (thank the goddess for Interlibrary loans!). But it is worth hiking over hills and mountains to get this in your hands.

This Savage Song by Victoria Schwab

It was hard to choose, if I had to, between this and Nevernight. The clincher, I think, was the overall feel of the book. This is a fantastic story, told by two teens, who are very different from each other. I don’t know if you will like Katie, but that’s okay. You may be repulsed by August, or utterly charmed by him. You will certainly feel for them as they are drawn into this world they inhabit, which they are trying very hard to resist. I loved the story here, I loved the characters, and I loved the utterly forlorn nature of the situation. This is not sugar-coated. It is dark and it is nasty. But there is music, though it does not bring beauty, and at the end, there is hope. This was the second book I had read by Schwab, and I found it even more wonderful than her Darker Shade of Magic series. No romance here, thank you very much. And I can’t wait for the second in this duology, Dark Duet. You can see my full review here.

Rebel of the Sands by Alwyn Hamilton

I’ve been championing this book ever since I first read it. I loved it. It is a fast-paced, rousing rebel-with-a-cause adventure, and I want to get back to the desert and see what could possibly happen next. I loved Amani and I loved the setting. I could taste both the dust in my mouth and her own desperation to get out of her sleepy little one-horse town. But along with the adventure, this was also a book about stories. There are legends, and myths, and everyone has their own secrets, and the stories might be true, or might not. There is magic, there is a lovely spot-on bit of blushing romance, and I can’t wait for the next book. I don’t own a copy of this one, but I am torn now, because they changed the beautiful cover for the next book. Why oh why did they do that? They just don’t understand – series must match! And that gorgeous cover is something I would have loved to see carried through. Ah well. I know well enough by now that publishers have reasons why they do things.

Nonfiction

Thrill Me: Essays on Fiction by Benjamin Percy

I read this bit by bit, trying to savor it but still rushing to the next chapter. I loved the way it was laid out. Each chapter focused on a different element of writing. You might want to skip ahead to whatever is eating you at the moment, but I urge you to read it all the way through. It’s like a little masterclass between covers. See how many flags are in my copy? I am excited to put all this great advice to use. A Minnesota author by a Minnesota publisher! I got this copy at the Minnesota reception at Heartland Fall Forum, where I finally got to meet Ben in person.

The Song Poet by Kao Kalia Yang

If you have not read The Late Homecomer, you may not be familiar with Yang. She is a Minnesotan, but her writing will take you far away from here. In her latest book, she tells the story of her father. It’s interesting to hear a daughter focus on her father, but clearly they have a special relationship, and his gift made an impression on her. This is a riveting account of his life, from the mountaintop jungles to the refugee camp to life in America. It is clear that should Yang choose to, she would be an astounding poet. If you ever – I mean EVER – get a chance to hear her speak, run, don’t walk. She can make an entire room cry just answering a question. Her thoughtful, clear-headed story will leave its mark on you. Bonus: if you are not familiar with the Hmong people, you are in for a helluva story. I am so glad that she wrote this book. This one should be filed under “miraculous.” (I received a copy of this book from the publisher at the spring bookseller meeting of MiBA.

Grief Is the Things with Feathers by Max Porter

Never mind that Porter stole the title of the poem that was my mantra while my best friend was fighting cancer. I was irked by that at first, wishing I’d thought to title my poetry collection with this, but that would be too close to the source, wouldn’t it? At any rate, I did not have huge high hopes for this novel. I thought it was at best an affectation, at worst an over-hyped golden boy. But, ahem, I stand corrected, even if only to myself. This spare, lyrical novel will give you pause. It may seem crazy, but just read every word and take the journey. The journey is always different but the ending is magnificent. Keep going.

Fiction

The Dark Lady’s Mask by Mary Sharratt

Carry yourself away, 400 years in the past and across the ocean, to Italy, to England. Mary Sharratt brings it all to life. In what is fast becoming her trademark of authenticity, she has recreated the world in which, perhaps, William Shakespeare made the acquaintance of England’s first published lady poet, Aemelia Bassano. He may or may not have traveled to Italy with her, and then, returning to England, he wrote those sonnets – to her? It is all conjecture at this point, but oh, highly suspect! And somehow, it just feels right. We get glimpses of the court life, glimpses of the precarious nature of society then, the predicament of women, and the words, all the words. This is a lush, fully-imagined story, great for anyone who enjoys diving into historical fiction. Disclaimer: I worked with Mary on a social media campaign for the release of this book. Look for #OpheliaReads on Twitter and Facebook for some fun pics!

Wintering by Peter Geye

And now for something completely different. Peter Geye fully brings to life the landscape of northern Minnesota like no one else. In fact, you could say that the landscape is another character in his books. If you have not read his earlier work, The Lighthouse Road, you could pick that up first, and then binge both of these. They are each told covering two time periods, and contain multiple perspectives, sharing some characters. It is complex writing, and beautiful. Geye returns to his North Shore town of Gunflint, and tells the story of a trip a father and son took into the wild years before. It is an adventure story, tense yet full of the peace of nature. You do not need to have read Lighthouse Road in order to enjoy Wintering, however. Just find yourself some Peter Geye, and settle in for a great winter read.

 

And with that, I got carried away. Check back tomorrow for the second half of my Best of 2016 reads, with more YA, mystery, middle grade and children’s picture books!

My BEA Preview Round-up and a Giveaway!

As you may know, the biggest book show of the year is right around the corner. BookExpoAmerica (BEA) the trade show for the American Bookseller Association, runs May 11-13 in Chicago. Sadly, I will not be attending BEA this year. It has been a long time since I have gone, and since it’s in my own backyard this year, I am especially miffed that I can’t make it. I would love to meet some of the bloggers I have come to know in the past year, who helped me and encouraged me to start this blog! Hopefully that will happen soon.

What I got to do, though, was write some pieces for the PW Show Daily for the second year in a row. I had been doing reviews for Publishers Weekly for a few years, and last year got connected with the editor in charge of the Show Daily, a kind of newsletter that tells what’s going on at the show. These are exciting interview opportunities, but boy is the turn-around time short! It is worth it, though, to get to talk to these authors about their upcoming books.

This year, I got to talk to five authors. Yes, five books, five authors, five interviews in two weeks. It was a pretty hectic time! They were all wonderful, and all the books were fantastic – very different in every way but all good. Here are the five books that my interviews focused on. If you go to BEA, be sure to look for the Show Daily – a new one each day, for very day of the show. The Show Daily also includes schedules of all the author events for each day in there, so be sure to pick yours up!

MischlingMischling: A Novel by Affinity Konar
This is a haunting, lyrical story of a set of twins held in Auschwitz under the “care” of Dr. Josef Mengele, the infamous Dr. Death. They are experimented on, as was his wont, and ultimately become separated. The first half of the book shows the depth of their coping and will to survive. The second half of the book concerns their journey after the liberation of the camp, while they are searching for each other. While this is not an easy story to read, it is told so beautifully and carefully, it will be worth the effort. Konar was a sweet person to talk to, and I felt like she bared her soul to me. Look for the interview in the Show Daily if you go; I think it was the best of the lot. A tiny drop of the sparseness and poetic prose in this book: “Sensitive to my disappointment, he gave me a weak smile, and clasped at my hand, which was rather uncomfortable because my heart was busy falling into the blackest depths of me, a locale unknown even to Uncle, and in that place it shed its skin, grew thorns, rolled in bile, and assumed a new shell. Thus armored, the resourceful organ climbed the ladder of my ribs back into place.” Just, oh. Takes your breath away.

Fates and Traitors by Jennifer Chiaverini
This is a riveting account of a time in history that most of us think we know very well. It is told compellingly from the point of view of the four women who knew John Wilkes Booth best: his mother, his sister, his sweetheart and his friend’s mother. The idea of taking a reviled villain and making him appear sympathetic (because we get to know these women and feel sympathy for them, as they loved him dearly) is a tall order (think Wicked), but here it has been accomplished. It is an engaging and dramatic story, full of all kinds of detail of the life in those times, including the social codes and the way actors were regarded. In our phone call, Jennifer suggested, “Think how the country would respond today if George Clooney shot the President.” We had a riveting conversation about feminism, loyalty and public opinion. [Note: GoodReads lists the hardcover edition under A Memoir of the Assassin John Wilkes Booth As Told by Four Ladies, but the ebook is under the final title.]

The Virginity of Famous Men by Christine Sneed
This is a collection of short stories, a few of which are based in the same world as Sneed’s novel Little Known Facts. The other stories vary widely, from a teen driven by her mom to do the right thing and learning to care about something outside of herself, to a woman working in a call center who can’t relate to her co-workers. The short story is a fine art form, and Sneed executes it well. She was also a delight to talk to, just like having coffee with an old friend. We talked a lot about writing and how she balances her work.

DarktownDarktown by Thomas Mullen
This is a thriller noir type book – most of it takes place at night. It is set in the deep south in 1948, and centers around the first black police officers in Atlanta. Of course, they are trying to solve a murder, but they are also dealing with all kinds of threats, issues and problems associated with their positions and racism. It is fast and tense at times, but the characters are built of whole cloth, so it also feels literary. Mullen also has an incredible lexicon for describing heat. The issues that it brings to light still resonate today. This is more of a police procedural but I like mysteries in general so I found it a good read.

Textbook Amy Krouse Rosenthal by Amy Krouse Rosenthal
This book is nonfiction –it is memoir-ish, in that she talks about some things in her life, reflects on her children and shares snippets. But mostly it is an interactive book. This was perhaps my favorite interview and my favorite book to read. I read it in one evening. The textbook part of the book is that it is split up into subject areas, like junior high: Language Arts, Science, Music. The basis of the interactive part is that there are 18 different texting prompts that fit in with the book. You are invited to do all kinds of fun and interesting things: send in a picture of a rainbow, listen to an audio segment, send Amy an idea for a matching tattoo you could get. You can even be matched up with another reader. This is all facilitated via the texting and through the book’s website, where you can see galleries of the rainbows and self-portraits, or even win a pie or a visit from Amy. I would pay to have lunch with this woman! We had a great conversation and I can’t wait to see the reaction to this book. Her previous book, Encyclopedia of an Ordinary Life, was voted one of Amazon’s Top 10 Best Memoirs of the Decade. Be sure to check out the website for fun stuff.

Giveaway!!

If you happen to find any of my stories in the Show Daily (watch for byline Linda White), snap a pic and post it on Twitter with the hashtag #LindaShowDaily. You must be following me to win, @LindaWonder. I will choose random winners for these and other ARCs, five winners total! Let’s see your pics!! Deadline for hashtag use is May 31; winners will be notified by June 6. This is my first blog giveaway, and May is my six month bloggiversary, so come celebrate with me!

Way Back Wednesday BookRev: Silhouette of a Sparrow

I’ve got a lot of books laying around. I mean, lots. That’s one of the reasons that I started this blog. It just didn’t seem fair. And now, I get to share them with you! So I’m going to periodically (on Wednesdays) be taking some of my old review copies, ARCs and purchases out to give them the light of day. This is the first post for Way Back Wednesday, when I share with you a lovely book that I got at the Heartland Fall Forum about three years ago. I put it in a pile, and there it sat, with its lovely cover beckoning to me. Then I realized it had not only won the Milkweed Prize for Children’s Literature, but that it was written by the wonderful Molly Beth Griffin, one of the most generous writers ever, who hosts #1kTuesdays on Facebook. So I picked it up for the #24in48 Readathon, and oh my. What a lovely read.

Also, this week, I want you to take a peek up at the top. Yes, up there. See my lovely new banner? I had it custom-designed by illustrator extraordinaire Rebecca McConnell, and it was such fun to work with her on it! I hope you think it is as cozy as I do. This is my dream station in life, folks.

SilhouetteSparrowAll right. Now, without further ado, let me tell you about Molly Beth Griffin’s Silhouette of a Sparrow!

This is a wonderful story, full of the place and time and thoughts of a girl perched just on the cusp of her life, watching it unfold before her in so many ways. A heroine for the ages, someone to root for.

Griffin pulls you in right away, making Garnet Richardson into a completely sympathetic character, a smart, serious girl who is growing up in a time when old habits die hard. When flappers are scandalous still, and her family wants her to settle down and marry, and be a good wife and mother.

SilhouetteDetailBut she likes birds. I love that she likes birds. Birds are things that I never gave two cents about, until suddenly, once I bought a house, there they were. And I gave my two cents. And now I love them. I’ve seen all the birds she counts, the ones she snips out in her miraculous silhouettes. (I can’t imagine how anyone could do that!) I was enamored of the cutouts that served as chapter headings, and often found myself flipping back during the chapter to look at the bird shape. I loved how each chapter somehow touched on this bird, and how it applied to the story. It’s a marvelous framework.

Much of the charm of this (aside from Garnet) is in the time and the place. Like the sweet little book Through No Fault of Her Own by Peg Meier, we are tossed right into a privileged world (though Garnet is reminded constantly how firmly she is on the outside looking in), here it being epitomized by that languid summer lake life, the one that takes place at grand hotels, when women of a certain class really didn’t have much to do but sit around and gossip and embroider. And the gist of the story is that anyone with half a brain could simply go stark raving mad in that environment.

Like many who have grown up in Minnesota, I have heard many times about the amusement park that used to be in Excelsior, which is a sweet little lakeside town. Still, I have lamented that I was just that much too late to ever get to ride the roller coaster next to the lake. I’ve been to Excelsior, and I’ve been to the lake, and I can easily imagine with Griffin’s pert and direct prose the lush green lakeside with the white hotels, and cool breezes, the hats, the park rides. The storms, the birds and the facial expressions. It’s all right there.

What a lovely book, exquisitely designed. What a lovely story, with the will-she-won’t-she tug throughout – there are so many wrong decisions that Garnet could make! And we are rooting for her! This is a coming of age book that deals with issues that might be slightly different than you might expect. (Let’s just say that it may be on the upper end of YA.) And in the end, well, in the end Garnet is Garnet.

Jacketed Hardcover, 224 pages
Milkweed Editions 2012
ISBN 1571317015 (ISBN13: 9781571317018)

Book Review: Best to Laugh

This has been acknowledged as the most autobiographical of any of Landvik’s ten novels. I have it on good authority. I’ve met her many times, but I had the pleasure of spending some quality time with Lorna at a writers’ conference on the shores of Lake Superior. She was the keynote speaker and shared her journey, much of which is somehow alluded to in this book. This book will let you see further into her than any of her other books.

BesttoLaughBest to Laugh is a nostalgic yet bittersweet look at a time when a girl was just coming into her own. A new place, new people, new risks and new opportunities, and this is her enjoying it all. The setting is Sunset Blvd in Los Angeles, taking place at a storied apartment complex full of washed-up legends, wannabes and up-and-comers. The cast of characters is large, yet there is never confusion, because they are all so distinct.

There might have been, in lesser hands, some temptation to make cheap jokes at the expense of some of the characters, or to make them into caricatures of their own selves. But that is not what happens here. The main character, our lovely Candy, is earnest, she is honest and young and thriving and striving. And she takes every person as they are, though of course some of the fun is a tiny bit of Landvik’s own wit, which errs on the side of truthfulness, as all good humor does.

Landvik is a smart, whip-funny wisecracker who does dialogue like no one else, and I have no doubt that many of these lines were taken from real life. Candy is someone we want to know, who we wouldn’t mind having as a friend, whose famous yellow cake with fudge icing we would want to sample. (Lorna confessed to me that hers was “real” fudge, with a shell that you had to crack.) And being herself, we can’t help but root for her. We don’t know from the beginning explicitly what happens to her, so every turn around the corner is a delight, from working at the record company to being a temp at the ‘Rogue Mansion’ to her relationship with the seer to the stars to her blossoming comic career.

You will laugh, you will cry. I mean it. This is not a trite cliché. Okay, well, maybe it is. But just go on a little ride down memory lane, with the Hollywood pool and the dreams and hopes of a girl that you would swear was your best friend in high school. The bittersweet part is set up at the very beginning, when we see a faded dress hanging near a photo of an apartment complex under the wrecking ball. But that’s okay. All good things must come to an end.

And that, I think, is the message of this book. We are here for a time, we are there for a time, and that is our time. Enjoy it, meet people, talk, love, eat, drink, laugh. Best to laugh. Really. I loved this ride. The feeling it leaves behind reminds me a lot of Rainbow Rowell’s Landline. If you liked Landline, you will love this too.

If you get a chance, go see Lorna in person. She is a treat and a delight. Check her website for her upcoming events. Those in the Twin Cities would do well to mark out a spot on their calendar in January, in case she does her improv at Bryant Lake Bowl again.

Note: Minnesotans might recognize some place names alluded to in this. After all, who is Candy Ohi anyway?

Best to Laugh by Lorna Landvik
University of MN Press, 296 pages, hardcover
ISBN 9780816694532, 2014
Released in paperback Sept 1, 2015

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