The Rosie Project, Graeme Simsion

Since having a baby, I’ve found it less difficult than expected to write a post here every two weeks. I haven’t even found it all that tough to have a book read, which is almost more of a surprise. This week though, I almost had to throw in the towel. I have so much work piling up (do other writers find that this time of year is their busiest? I almost always have more work than I can handle in the winter/spring season) that even though I read The Rosie Project two weeks ago over several very long nights when my kiddo was sick and needed to be held in order to get any sleep, I’ve had zero brain power to think about reviewing it.

16181775It’s especially odd since I picked this up for the first meeting of a book club a friend invited me to join, and because I’ve never been part of such a group before, I was particularly meticulous reading it. This might not seem impressive until you consider that the book was consumed entirely between the hours of midnight and 5am four days in a row. By the end, I was so sleep deprived that Simsion’s characters were the only thing holding my night reality together. (And yes, when I finished it, I immediately ordered the sequel because I couldn’t function without this fictional world.)

Of course, when I went to the meeting last week, it was mostly an excuse to eat and drink wine sans children – not that I’m complaining – but the discussion about the book was more limited than I’d expected. (I was impressed that out of seven of us, six had completed the novel, which apparently is pretty rare.) It felt good to join a group of women who were excited enough about reading (anything without pictures) that they were willing to do the work even if, in the end, it wasn’t exactly the point of the evening.

I only knew one person that night, and I found it exciting to talk to doctors, pharmacists, engineers, and salsa dancers about this sweet little love story. It’s so easy to get lost in my own perspective as a writer; I was fascinated by other interpretations of the characters and their motivations. As it is, I rarely read the same books as my friends, and writing about what I read here is the closest I come to having a community of like-minded readers to tap into. We bookworms tend to be a comfortable with solitude, but many of us would also agree that there is real pleasure associated with sharing a good read.

I’m not sure I ever would have come across this book without the suggestion of the group. The Rosie Project is about a socially awkward professor of genetics (he almost certainly falls somewhere on the autistic spectrum) who is looking for a wife using his own scientific method (a sixteen page questionnaire) to weed out “time-wasting, incompatible” candidates. I was a little put off by the idea at first (I was afraid the book would be insensitive to such a protagonist), but after two chapters, I was hooked. Don Tillman is an unusual hero, and I couldn’t help but root for him. He isn’t limited by his idiosyncrasies; instead, they define a starting point for his growth. Simsion clearly understood his protagonist inside and out, and he treats him with gentle affection.

It made for a wonderful escape from a stressful week. I slipped easily back into Don’s challenges every evening. His very relatable problems made for a good jumping off point in book club as well. We ended up talking about bad dates (one memorable story ended up in traction, another, vomiting non-stop from food poisoning), compatibility, and deal-breaking quirks in a partner. I know more about some of those women after two hours than I do acquaintances I’ve known for years! Plus, I got to drink an entire glass of wine while sitting with my feet up, and at this point in my life, there is very little that can beat such luxury when combined with a good book…

Untold, Sarah Rees Brennan

“Good practice, everyone,” Rusty said at last. “Light on the actual learning, heavy on the emotional catharsis, and thanks to Jared I think I need a rabies shot, but them’s the breaks.” (loc 1627)


I’m going to come right out and say it. I read book 2 of The Lynburn Legacy because I wanted more Rusty. He’s only a peripheral character in the first book; fortunately for me, he plays a bigger role in the second. My hope is that by the third installment, he has completely taken over the narrative so that I’m no longer forced to read about an obviously unhealthy romantic triangle, and I can spend all my time delighting in the antics of Rusty, his badass sister Angela, and her spunky crush, Holly Prescott. I’m even happy to invite Brennan’s protagonist, Kami Glass, to the party as long as she doesn’t bring her mopey suitors along.

I like Kami and her friends, I really do. The first book had a lot more of her with them, and the romance was more of a side note. That was great. Although I have no problem with romance – not even fraught romance – I’ve never been a fan of the Romeo and Juliet school of pining, or the even more dire Othello method of investigation (guilty until proven…nope, just gonna kill her without bothering to talk it out). One of my biggest pet peeves is when assumptions are made over and over again without a single question ever being asked. One assumption? Sure. We all occasionally make decisions based on hearsay or a meaningful look, but how many times does a character have to be proven wrong before he or she figures out that a little conversation can go a long way?

This sort of thing is overdone in YA fiction, and it drives me crazy, especially when a character is written to be as smart and inquisitive as Kami Glass. She’s a journalist! She’s comfortable cold calling strangers to ask about their potential involvement in sorcery and murder, but she can’t be bothered to ask her quasi-boyfriend how he really feels about her? I know she’s a teenager, but I just don’t buy it. She hasn’t been written as a pushover, so why does she have to fall into that stereotype when it comes to romantic relationships? I’m not saying never write that person, but newsflash: some teenagers are comfortable talking about their feelings! Some teenagers are actually pretty mature about these things, and it’s okay to occasionally portray such a person on the page.

Maybe it makes good drama. I happen to think murder and sacrifice coupled with a major family meltdown is plenty of drama. Why can’t dating be a little less…extreme? Why can’t it be more of a comfort in the midst of all the craziness? I remember very few people in high school bandying around the word “love.” Instead, there were group dates, and people to dance with and giggle over. There were parties, and hooking up, and girls getting pregnant. There were summer flings at camp, and major school year crushes. There were notes passed, and occasionally, two people got their shit together and actually dated for longer than three weeks. They were looked on with a certain awe because, regardless of what books and television want us to believe, few teenagers actually have the time and energy to be in love, and even fewer fall in love with people who love them back. Between homework, sports, work, band, etc, the teenagers I know have about fifteen minutes of free time a day. I don’t think most of them would even have time to deal with the crucial murder-y part of this story, much less that, plus magic,  a love triangle, and running the school newspaper!

I’m willing to suspend my disbelief about how little time these kids spend in school, how often they spend the night somewhere other than their own homes without so much as a check-in text with their parents, or how every day seems to be about forty-two hours long, but after all of that, my powers of suspension are pretty much spent. The only thing I have energy for in the end is Rusty and the self-defense classes he teaches in a little room above the grocery store. Because that’s helpful, and adorable, and he deserves all the love.


For more about Sarah Rees Brennan, go here.

Unspoken (The Lynburn Legacy Book 1), Sarah Rees Brennan

Just a quick note: voting for Chapter 2 of Ten to One (the collaborative novel I’m working on) is now open. If you would like to support this great project (and me!), you can “Like” my newest section here. Every vote is precious, so if you have a moment to check it out, I’d be incredibly grateful. Thanks!

I was traveling for eighteen days, nearly three weeks during which plenty of lovely things happened. And yet. The story I have told most often since I got back on Monday was about the kid who threw up on my feet right before I got on the plane to fly home. I was wearing flip-flops, had woken up at four am, and was making a haphazard pass at my email when it happened. I actually thought his father had spilled a latte on me, and it was only after I had sprinted to the bathroom to get paper towels for the poor guy (he was stuck with two kids under five while his wife was getting the family breakfast, and it would have been impossible for him to manage to clean things up himself before she got back) that I realized what had actually happened.

It could have been worse, honestly. He could have hit me in the face. As it was, I wiped myself off the best I could and flew for six hours smelling…less than fresh. I didn’t make friends with my seat mates, in case you were wondering. I actually suspect they thought I was hung over and had puked on myself, and for that, they had no sympathy. I don’t blame them. I wouldn’t have either. It also seemed in bad taste to place blame on the real culprit, given that he was maybe three years old and clearly was having a rough time of it.

What does this have to do with Unspoken? Nothing, really. I just wanted to point out that after a trip that included a wedding, an extended family visit, three days on my favorite lake, and moving my best friend from NY to DC (which involved, amongst other things, the climbing of a hundred plus flights of stairs with heavy boxes, followed by five hours in the jump seat of a U-Haul) – after all of the chaos and crazy, I still had the energy to laugh off projectile vomiting. If that’s not the definition of a good trip, I don’t know what is.

Unspoken, fortunately, found itself snuggled right into the most relaxing part of my travels – my long weekend at the lake. For the last two summers, I’ve managed to score an invitation to stay at a lovely little house in upstate New Hampshire with some of my favorite people in the world. It has a deck overlooking the water, and it comes stocked with friends who love to cook, swim, play raucous games of Pictionary, and who, most importantly, understand and approve of curling up quietly with a good book.

I read most of Unspoken while my husband led the more ambitious members of our group in learning the rules of Mahjong. On our first morning there, he had discovered a book detailing the game’s rules, tiles, and etiquette in excruciating detail and was determined to learn. During the one rainy afternoon we had, I laid on the couch reading while they gathered around the table; this peaceful tableau was occasionally interrupted by bellowed phrases like “I’ve got a chicken hand!” and “Red dragon?! No!” They completely ignored my laughter, and instead debated intensely over a quantity of rules and behaviors I couldn’t have hoped to comprehend. It didn’t help that not one of them had even the slightest understanding of Cantonese and consequently had to sort the pieces through a laborious process I would never have had the patience for.

It was in this oddly studious vacation environment that I finished Unspoken only to discover that the sequel wouldn’t be released until the end of September. Although it wasn’t the best book I’d ever read, I’d certainly been swept up in the world Brennan created, and I found her characters so lovable that I was dying to know what happened next. In retrospect, it was probably for the best that I didn’t have the second one. I might have disappeared altogether back into that British hamlet and forgotten to appreciate the story unfolding all around me.

I might have missed out on picking twenty-five pounds of blueberries (too much for seven people – way, way too much), or swimming out to the floating dock, or having my friend translate from Portuguese the hilarious gossip of the Brazilian teens staying next door. Brennan certainly writes some lovely friendships into this YA adventure, but it just can’t compete with real life. Come September, though, when I need an escape from the ramp up of fall? I know exactly where to look for a lightweight escape.

For more about Sarah Rees Brennan, head over here.