Trenton Reads

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Archive for contemporary fiction

Review: The Opposite of Love

In the opening pages of Julie Buxbaum’s debut novel The Opposite of Love, New York City attorney Emily Haxby reminisces about her recent break-up with her boyfriend of two years. At first glance, Emily seems flippant about the split, which she initiated. Andrew is perfect on paper – an emergency room doctor who actually changes the toilet paper roll and cleans the hair out of the shower drain, he was on the brink of proposing to her – but the reader assumes she just didn’t love him. After all, her biggest regret seems to be the setting she chose to break the bad news (a barbeque joint.)

As the novel unfolds, however, it becomes evident that Emily’s feelings for Andrew were much deeper than it originally seemed. She does love him, and she misses him, enough to lay aside her pride and make a fool of herself trying to win him back. There is a lot going on beneath the surface with Emily that hinders her ability to trust in happily ever after. Her mother died when Emily was only 13 and her father is distant and emotionally unavailable, completely absorbed in his political career.

Emily’s law career and her relationship with her paternal grandfather provide interesting subplots. As a junior at a huge firm, she has to fend off the inappropriate advances of a senior partner and gets stuck working with him on a big case that she finds ethically offensive (think Erin Brockovich, only Emily is defending the bad guys.) Her grandfather is in the beginning stages of Alzheimer’s disease and she has to make many of the decisions about his care, while dealing with her own feelings about losing the only family member she is close to.

If all of this sounds a little heavy, don’t worry – it’s not. It is a quick, easy read, a great beach read in fact. I read it while vacationing in Florida, sitting on the balcony of a beachside condo. The book is full of interesting, likeable characters. Once I started reading, I didn’t want to put it down. The best part is that, as the reader, you really get inside Emily’s head – and it’s funny in there.

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Powell’s

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Review: The True and Outstanding Adventures of the Hunt Sisters

When Olivia Hunt was a child, she used to make up bedtime stories for her little sister Maddie; she called them the True and Outstanding Adventures of the Hunt Sisters. In Elisabeth Robinson’s debut novel, Olivia is now a thirty-something movie producer living in Los Angeles. Maddie is in her mid-twenties, married just over a year, and fighting leukemia. Olivia jets between California and Ohio to be with Maddie and finds herself spinning new tales of the Hunt sisters as she sits by Maddie’s bedside.

During this time Olivia is also struggling to accept demise of a long-term relationship with her artist boyfriend and producing a movie based on the novel Don Quixote. Her take on Hollywood and the movie business is hilarious and likely quite accurate since Robinson herself was a movie producer prior to becoming a novelist.

When I realized that this entire novel is told in letters – from Olivia to her sister, her best friend, her newly ex-boyfriend, her parents and colleagues – I wondered how the author could possibly give enough background and depth to her story. I was pleasantly surprised when she succeeded in doing just that.

Her letters were more detailed than any I have ever written or received, but given Olivia’s character and the tone of the book, they were believable. Through her candid, introspective communication, I came to know Olivia as conflicted and lovable, a mix of hopeful naivety and world-worn cynicism, dedicated to her family and reservedly so to her career, a writer at heart, who could bare her soul most easily with pen and paper.

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Review: Nineteen Minutes

 

 

I’ve come to expect a certain type of book from Jodi Picoult: engrossing contemporary fiction woven around a controversial current issue. Nineteen Minutes, in which she tackles the twin issues of peer bullying and school violence, did not disappoint.

Peter Houghton, an unpopular 17 year-old, has suffered aggressive bullying at the hands of the popular crowd throughout his school career. Over the years, he has grown bitter and resentful, seeking solace in violent music and video games and fantasizing about getting revenge. One day Peter snaps and storms his high school, armed with a car bomb and four firearms. In the time span of a mere nineteen minutes, he kills ten students and injures many more.

Picoult does a commendable job of creating a cast of complex, multi-dimensional characters. She turns a character who has done something unquestionably evil – Peter – into someone the reader feels sorry for, or at least understands on some level. My maternal heart broke for Peter’s mother, Lacy, as she struggled with her feelings about her son … denial, guilt, devastating sadness. Josie, another star of the story, was a member of the popular crowd but had been Peter’s childhood best friend. She lost many friends and her boyfriend in the shooting, but intermingled with her feelings of anger toward Peter was a sense of guilt about the way she and the popular clique had mistreated him.

I put off reading this book for at least a year, because of the chilling subject matter. At one point, I thought I must be crazy for picking it up the summer before my oldest child enters high school. But ultimately, I’m glad I did. Nineteen Minutes has all the elements of a great contemporary novel – an engaging plot, excellent character development, succinct yet lyrical prose. More importantly, it really made me think about the issue of bullying, how we deal with it, and it’s potentially devastating effects.  As Picoult says in the book trailer, it’s a subject we all need to start talking about.

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