Did you ever have to write “summer vacation” essays at school? I really don’t think I ever had to, despite the fact that it’s like the number one back to school cliché around. While I’m usually only on summer vacay for one week of the three or so months, I sill feel like I get a break every summer…except maybe this summer when I spent most of it driving to and from the hospital. Nevertheless, I got a lot of reading done this summer and most of it was excellent. I promise to be back with full-length book reviews next week, no more of these shorties for awhile, but I’m quite behind and you’ll just have to humor me, mmkay? Here’s my attempt at a “what I did over summer vacation” essay – nerdy style!
The Language of Flowers
You know those books you want to reread as soon as you finish the last page because you can’t stand the fact that you actually finished it and you can’t move on to anything else because you are so moved by a story? The Language of Flowers is even better than that. I wanted to climb in this book. I yelled at the characters. I cried. I felt like I could smell the flower mart and walk along the hilly San Francisco streets I know and love with Victoria. I finished it in less than 8 hours. Yeah…nerd alert. This is by far the best book I read all summer and one that will stick with me for quite some time. Not only is it beautifully written (I would call the storytelling and word choice elegant, even if Victoria’s story itself isn’t elegant all the time), you learn a bunch about the meanings of flowers.
The Language of Flowers follows Victoria Jones as she is emancipated from a life of group homes and foster care to the streets of San Francisco. While not educated in the standard sense, thanks to one of her foster mothers, she knows the meanings of flowers and how they communicate. Thanks to a little bit of luck and an uncanny ability to give a person exactly the bouquet they need to fix a relationship or bring about a positive change, she gets herself off the streets and working in a florist shop. When she meets someone from her past, it stirs up all her memories of a terrible, awful thing she did – and she is forced to confront all her guilt and pain and feelings of unworthiness. My only fault with this book is that it is a tad unbelievable that Victoria is 18. She sounds much more mature in some way (much less in others, though) and I guess we are supposed to attribute that to her difficult childhood “in the system.” Ultimately, there is a realistic happy ending (my favorite kind!) and Victoria no longer uses flowers to communicate her mistrust and anger with the world. I could go on and on about how much I loved it, but save me the trouble and go buy it.
The Sweet Life in Paris
The Sweet Life had EVERYTHING going for it. It’s a memoir about Paris and pastries. I mean, that sounds like a home run right? But I thought it was slightly boring. I know, I kinda hate myself! The Sweet Life of Paris is basically a collection of David Lebovitz’s observations of being an ex-pat in Paris and everything that he learns about the city, the people, food, and himself along the way. It is, pardon the pun, very sweet and charming, but like a puff patsry, is just fluff.
The Last Camellia
Last year I raced through the work of Sarah Jio, reading Blackberry Winter, The Bungalow, and The Violets of March in rapid succession. I LOVED the first two and though they were great romantic-historical-mysteries, and while The Violets followed the same sort of story arc as the other two, I just wasn’t as into the characters or the mystery and found it fell flat. Well, The Last Camellia, also by Jio, also fell flat for me. The story, like her others, follows two women from different time periods who are connected in a mystery concerning this special camellia, the Middlebury Pink, that is rumored to be on the ground at Livingston Manor. The modern heroine, Addison, was not very well developed and well, not very likeable. She came off as whiny to me and I wasn’t interested in her part of the mystery. I also really hated her backstory and her stalker. True story. However, I really liked Flora, the character from the past, and her story of coming to England to steal the Middlebury Pink (to help her family naturally) under the guise of being the nanny, but then falling in love and becoming part of the family. I enjoyed watching her uncover the details of some mysterious deaths around the manor, especially when it came to a somewhat gruesome climax.
All in all, this Sarah Jio story felt like moderately-decent chick lit, whereas her others were definitely above-average. Great for the beach or reading on your commute.
The Cuckoo’s Calling
Umm, so yeah, I did it. I read the new J.K. Rowling book. I actually saw a few copies at work before I heard it was Rowling’s work and was interested in the cover enough to put it on my reading list. I know, I’m so hipster…I knew about it before it got big. Major lol. Anyway, after being somewhat disappointed, yet somewhat intrigued, by The Casual Vacancy, (seriously, I STILL don’t know how I feel about that book) I can say that this book was awesome! While I don’t normally pick up crime novels, I do like them and think they are fun to read every now and then. I thought this one was well-paced, the characters were very well-developed, and the plot was excellent for a crime mystery. I did suspect who the killer was before it was revealed, but I wasn’t 100% sure, so it was fun to hurry to the finish to find out.
The story revolves around Cormoran Strike, an ex-military private detective with one leg, who is approached by the brother of an old school friend to investigate his famous sister Lula’s death. It had been ruled a suicide, but he is convinced it wasn’t. After falling out with his girlfriend and being down on his luck for awhile (aka, private detectives don’t get much business these days), he needs the money and takes the job. Strike and his plucky new assistant work through the mystery and the crazy cast of characters (millionaires, rocker boyfriends, fashion designers, friends from rehab…) all involved with the model’s last day to find out what really happened (and who was responsible). True to Rowling form, everyone has a weird name and is given some absurd qualities. I love her and I hope she writes more Strike novels.
The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake
If you’re ever in the mood for a weird book, get The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake. It’s just…weird. On her ninth birthday, Rose Edelstein, a pretty unremarkable girl, bites into her mother’s homemade lemon-chocolate cake and discovers she can taste her mother’s emotions in the cake. And they’re not good. Suddenly, food becomes fraught with peril and for the rest of her life, she learns secrets about the people she loves (like her mother’s affair). As Rose grows up she learns to harness her gift/curse and becomes aware that there are secrets even her taste buds cannot discern. The super weird part is a whole tangent with her brother…he is super smart, but very much a loner and hates to be around anyone, even his family. He starts to do experiments where he disappears. Like, into furniture. Told you it was strange. I did really enjoy the ending when Rose finds a purpose for her talent and finds joy learning about food and cooking, but it took awhile to get there.
Z: A Novel of Zelda Fitzgerald
I have read a bunch of sad-wives-to-famous-historical-figures books in the past few years. They are all excellent, despite being quite sad. Z was no exception. Correct me if I’m wrong, but I feel like we know a lot about the Fitzgeralds, more than we do about the Hemingways or the other literary/artistic figures of the 20s. And maybe most of that is just their reputation of being wild partiers and mentally unstable. I think that’s what this book is trying to show – that there was more to Zelda than what we know. In the beginning, she was not a complex girl. She was a Southern belle who liked to flirt and party with the boys around town. But after a lifetime of suppressing personal ambitions to be the wife of a giant, she becomes a much more interesting woman. And her relationship with Scott is much more fascinating that I thought. I guess I believed the hype that they were just wild partiers and she was ok with that and then eventually went a little cuckoo. But Scott is not painted in the best light here. While I do think they loved each other, it becomes clear that he really wanted her to just be his pretty and witty companion, always putting his needs first. I know that’s the time period speaking, but yuck. Being a more modern woman, Zelda totally resents that, and that’s where the end of Scott and Zelda begins. The book asks who is Zelda, other than the wife of a famous—sometimes infamous—husband? How can she forge her own identity while fighting her demons and Scott’s, too?
The writing is great and obviously, the cover is gorgeous. I do think the ending was a little rushed, though maybe that makes sense because Scott’s and her deaths were pretty rushed. I’d be inclined at this point to read a biography of Scott, to see if they paint him or their marriage in a more favorable light, because when I say above that he doesn’t look good in this novel, I mean it. He sounds cruel and like his badgering and cruelty (not to mention the fact that he used her as inspiration for his characters and novels) were huge factors contributing to her nervousness and emotional instability, as well as to the general perception that she was “crazy.” Definitely pick this up if you’re at all interested in the Jazz Age or the Fitzgeralds!
What did you read over Summer vacation?