Three Mini Book Reviews of Authors Apekina, Harris, and Crosley

Here are reviews for three books published last year to catch up on before a busy 2019 year of reading.

The Deeper the Water the Uglier the Fish, Novel by Katya Apekina

Author Katya Apekina has written an unusual book that spans years and complex characters. It centers on the relationship of two sisters, their mentally ill mother, and distant, self-absorbed father. 

After Edie finds her mother, Marianne, hanging from a rafter, Marianne is put in a hospital to rehabilitate. Edie and her sister, Mae are sent from their home outside New Orleans to live with their estranged father in New York. With differing feelings on the matter, Mae and Edie are quite close, yet the presence of Daniel, their father, opens the door to a history they were not prepared to face. Edie, reluctant and loyal to Marianne wants to return home to resume their old life. Mae, alarmingly similar to Marianne, wants to remain in New York and connect with Daniel. And things get a bit weird.

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"A Heart in the Body of the World", by Deb Caletti

Finding it marketed as Young Adult, I picked this book up with little expectation. Boy, was I in for a surprise. It grabbed me from the start and never let go until the very end which I read with tears dripping onto the pages.

In the opening scene, Annabelle, the main character, has a mild encounter with some overly flirtatious boys that sets her off on a ten-mile sprint - in her school clothes and flats while still holding her fast food drink cup. At this point, we understand that there is clearly something going on with her.

After spending the night in a hotel just a couple of miles from home, she decides she’s going to run across the country. On her own. She doesn’t know how or really why, but she can’t stay in her current circumstance. Her loud Italian mom, Gina, is having none of it, but younger brother Malcolm, her biggest cheerleader, understands and helps her get going. And, on her second day of running, her true guardian angel, Grandpa Ed, shows up in his RV to follow her during the day and house her during the night.

Annabelle’s tragedy comes out piece by piece. We learn she is going to have to face Sean Greggory but we don’t know who he is. We learn of The Taker, a boy whom she never names, but we know she had a relationship with him that went very wrong. We learn of her old boyfriend, Will, and her best friend, Kat, and how she has mental conversations with them.

As Annabelle goes through staggering physical challenges on her cross country run, so, too, does she emotionally. At first, she is consumed by guilt and shame. Then grief. Then rage. Which carries her through all those times when she just wants to quit. “When you are a human being, you must decide and decide again to go forward. You must, or you won’t move from the worst that life offers to here……”

Caletti writes a breathtakingly beautiful story about so much pain. And, without giving away the story, I will just say that she touches on a number of today’s very hot topics with searing clarity. She writes from the perspective of a teenage girl in a fashion that makes it hard to believe she isn’t one. She shows how ALL love has its weaknesses, that no love is perfect, but what IS perfect is that we keep on trying. She speaks of activism and how all it takes is one person to start a chain reaction. “People plus people plus anger is how things can change.”

This is not a young adult book. This is an EVERYONE book. I think it should be required reading for all of those going through life. Caletti captures the frailty of the human existence while simultaneously extolling the absolute strength that can come from the human spirit – even one that seems crushed beyond recovery.

A compelling story with outstanding writing, A Heart in a Body in the World is ALL HEART.

Published: 2018
Publisher: Simon Pulse

Elizabeth’s rating: 5 stars

An Intimate Portrait of Friendship in "The Ensemble", by Aja Gabel - Book Review

The Ensemble is the perfect debut novel - unique and authentic. Author Aja Gabel brings her musical background to the forefront with the Van Ness Quartet - four musicians who meet, form friendships, struggle, and evolve together. Gabel was herself a musician, playing cello from childhood, so she brings experience with her in writing of these musicians, the music itself, and their emotional struggles. 

We meet the quartet in conservatory, and each have a role in conveying their story throughout the novel. Jana is first violin and the clear leader of the group; Brit, a pretty self-conscious orphan, is second violin; Daniel, who has the least natural talent, is the hardest working of the group on cello; and Henry on viola is the handsome, happy prodigy.  Gabel provides vivid emotional narratives of her characters as they grow up together - through family and personal drama; reliance upon each other; distrust and envy; but always deeply intimate and intertwined.

As the book progresses, her characters mature in different ways, and so does her writing it seems. Her characters’ revelations about themselves and those to whom they are so closely attached become more accurate realizations instead of idealizations, and each member provides an acceptance of other’s successes and flaws alike. They are a cohesive unit that will succeed or fail together, and their futures hinge on the collective mood.

Gabel’s The Ensemble provides us with a different kind of story, and she skillfully succeeds with her first novel.  I’m looking forward to seeing more from her.

Published: 2018
Publisher: Riverhead Books

Vickie’s rating: 4 stars

A Qualified Win for "Unqualified", by Anna Faris - Book Review

I’ve always envisioned that Anna Faris– Anna pronounced like “Donna” not like “Manna” – was sweet and gracious. Her book confirms as much. She adores her still happily married parents and credits them with her success, stating repeatedly that their encouragement to pursue the acting gig was what kept her at it. What I didn’t expect was her edginess and guile which, honestly, just made her more likable. I felt like I was sharing a drink with her as she regaled me with stories.

Unqualified
By Anna Faris

Though her book name and mantra is that she’s unqualified to give advice, that is exactly what she does. While she doesn’t have letters behind her name, what she does have is compassion and strong feelings about important topics. But her soft side coexists comfortably with her feminist side. Not at all afraid to call men out on crappy behavior, she’s similarly happy to admit that she loved it when her then husband would send her a huge flower arrangement before every taping of her tv show, “Mom.”

She discusses a broad range of topics including the following: losing her virginity, how terrible she was at dating, managing Hollywood stardom, and how she’s not really a comedic actress. She also has lots to say about love: when it’s right, when it isn’t, whether you should move to be with a guy (who isn’t your husband), the “wedding hoopla”, how to deal with a breakup, and how to make your man into the person you want him to be (you gotta read it to realize she gives solid advice on this one and it’s not about control).

To further demonstrate her likability, she had her soon to be ex-husband, Chris Pratt, write the foreword to the book after they had agreed to divorce. Between that and her words of love to him in her acknowledgements, I finished the book in tears. How can two people who clearly have so much love and respect for one another not have lasted? Well, because they’re people and being famous doesn’t make them any more or less likely to stay together. But, they are clearly good people which makes this book by yet another actress worth a turn.

This is an easy, quick read from a vibrant, caring, and funny woman.

Published:  2017
Publisher:  Dutton

Elizabeth's rating: 3.5 stars