Warm Bodies - Isaac Marion (2011)

I picked up this zombie romantic comedy purely because they made a movie of it and the trailer looked cute. By the way, isn't that cover great?

This is a very endearing zombie romantic comedy--yes, zombie romantic comedy--that tells the story of R, a zombie wandering around in a zombie vs. survivalist humans world. The story is told from R's point of view, and there are many laugh out loud moments. When he eats the brain of a young human and falls for his girlfriend Julie, it gets a bit more serious.

But throughout, it still has lovely touches of humor. Marion does a beautiful job of getting inside R's head and still showing what he looks and sounds like from the outside. It's thoughtful and philosophical about the end of the world in a way that most zombie, post-apocalyptic novels don't bother with--certainly not zombie movies anyway. R, Julie and her friend Nora are very endearing characters as are the complex leaders of the humans.

Really a great book and rather gentle and sweet for a book about zombies.

My Best Friend's Exorcism by Grady Hendrix (2016)

In 1988, Abby and Gretchen are in high school and are best friends. After a experiment with LSD after which Gretchen goes missing for an evening, Gretchen comes back and seems very different and very wrong. Abby tries to figure out what is wrong with her friend, and tries to get help from family, friends and other grownups, to no avail. 

As the dust jacket says, "Is their friendship powerful enough to beat the devil?" Filled with pop culture references that will delight readers of a certain age (my age, btw), this is also a great horror novel and a great novel about friendship. It's an unexpected combination that works beautifully. 

Surprisingly insightful into the minds of teenage girls and all the trials and tribulations of friendship and of being a teen. It also has a yearbook design motif (probably used since Hendrix's Horrorstor used the IKEA catalog so effectively), which is a bit superfluous in this novel. Nonetheless, Hendrix powerfully captures just how powerless you are when you're a teen.

I adored this:
"Abby Rivers and Gretchen Lang were best friends, on and off, for seventy-five years, and there aren't many people who can say that. They weren't perfect. They didn't always get along. They screwed up. They acted like assholes. They fought, they fell out, they patched things up, they drove each other crazy, and they didn't make it to Halley's Comet. But they tried."

Shrill by Lindy West (2016)

Subtitled "Notes from a Loud Woman", this collection of essays is about West's public life as a journalist, her coming into her own, her fight to get people to realize that rape jokes can be hurtful, and her coming to terms with her struggles with her weight and her realization that she is not her size--and her fight with internet trolls who disagree with her on all of these points.

It's genius. She's hilarious and heart-breaking and tough and amazing. This should be taught in all Feminism 101 classes. Also, there should be Feminism 101 classes.

Some bits I loved:

"Please don't forget: I am my body. When my body gets smaller, it is still me. When my body gets bigger, it is still me. There is not a thin woman inside me, awaiting excavation. I am one piece. I am also not a uterus riding around in a meat incubator. There is not substantive difference between the repulsive campaign to separate women's bodies from their reproductive systems--perpetuating that lie that abortion and birth control are not healthcare--and the repulsive campaign to convince women that they and their body size are separate, alienated entities. Both say, 'Your body is not yours.' Both demand, 'Beg for your humanity.' Both insist, 'Your autonomy is conditional.' This is why fat is a feminist issue." (p. 15) 
"Whale is the weakest insult ever, by the way. Oh, I have a giant brain and rule the sea with my majesty? What have you accomplished lately, Steve?" (p. 254)


Two Boys Kissing by David Levithan (2013)

In this achingly poignant young adult novel, two boys (Harry and Craig) try to break the record for the longest kiss ever. As well as following this story, the novel follows other young contemporary gay men and their relationships (online and off, family and romantic). 

And here's what adds a heartbreaking level to this story: all of their adventures are watched over and commented on by a Greek chorus of gay men who have passed away of AIDS. 

Beautiful, moving, and yes, heartbreaking. Must-read.

I love so much about this novel, I have to share some of my absolute favorite bits:

"We were once like you, only our world wasn't like yours. You have no idea how close to death you came. A generation or two earlier, you might be here with us. We resent you. You astonish us." (p. 2) 

"If you are a teenager now, it is unlikely that you knew us well. We are your shadow uncles, your angel godfathers, your mother's or your grandmother's best friend from college, the author of that book you found in the gay section of the library. We are characters in a Tony Kushner play, or names on a quilt that rarely gets taken out anymore. We are the ghosts of the remaining older generation. You know some of our songs. We do not want to haunt you too somberly. We don't want our legacy to be gravitas. You wouldn't want to live your life like that, and you won't want to be remembered like that, either. Your mistake would be to find our commonality in our dying. The living part mattered more. We taught you how to dance." (p. 3) 

"One of the many horrible things about dying the way we died was the way it robbed us of the outdoor world and trapped us in the indoor world. For every one of us who was able to die peacefully on a deck chair, blanket pulled high, as the wind stirred his hair and the sun warmed his face, there were hundreds of us whose last glimpse of the world was white walls and metal machinery, the tease of a window, the inadequate flowers in a vase, elected representatives from the wilds we had lost. our last breaths were of climate-controlled air. We died under ceilings. Either that wallpaper goes, or I do. It makes us more grateful now for rivers, more grateful for sky." (p. 49)

And more: 

"There is power in saying, 'I am not wrong. Society is wrong.' Because there is no reason that men and women should have separate bathrooms. There is no reason that we should ever have to be ashamed of our bodies or ashamed of our love. We are told to cover ourselves up, hide ourselves away, so that other people can have control over us, can make us follow their rules. It is a bastardization of the concept of morality, this rule of shame. Avery should be able to walk into any restroom, any restaurant, without any fear, without any hesitation." (p. 140) 

"This only makes Ryan smile more. 'I'm sorry,' he says. 'I usually don't like people. So when I do, part of me is really amused and the other part refuses to believe it's happening.'" (p. 150) 

"and he hopes that maybe it'll make people a little less scared of two boys kissing than they were before, and a little more welcoming to the idea that all people are, in fact, born equal, no matter who they kiss or screw, no matter what dreams they have or love they give." (p. 193)

Beautiful. Read it NOW.

Any Duchess Will Do - Tessa Dare (2013)

Utterly fantastic romance about a serving girl who is chosen by a Duke and his mother to prove she can train a duchess.

The Duke promises her $1,000 if she fails utterly, which she plans to use to open her own circulating library. Of naughty books!

Love it all!

Evicted by Matthew Desmond (2016)

Subtitled "Poverty and Profit in the American City", this nonfiction book explores the stories of those struggling with their housing in the poorest neighborhoods of Milwaukee.

As Desmond says in his prologue: 
"Fewer and fewer families can afford a roof over their head. This is among the most urgent and pressing issues facing America today, and acknowledging the breadth and depth of the problem changes the way we look at poverty. For decades, we've focused mainly on jobs, public assistance, parenting and mass incarceration. No one can deny the importance of these issues, but something fundamental is missing. We have failed to full appreciate how deeply housing is implicated in the creation of poverty. Not everyone living in a distressed neighborhood is associated with gang members, parole officers, employers, social workers, or pastors. But nearly all of them have a landlord." 
Although researched beautifully (and you should read the end notes as you go along--they're amazingly informative), this book is incredibly readable and accessible. The people that Desmond focuses on are real, richly depicted characters and their situations are gripping and heart-rending. This book is transformative--it gave me insight into an issue that is too easy to overlook in everyday life. I will never view housing, poverty, my work and daily life in the city in the same way again. 

Anyone who is interested in issues of social justice and poverty would do well to read this book.

And now all of the quotes that I loved: 

"If incarceration had come to define the lives of men from impoverished neighborhoods, eviction was shaping the lives of women. Poor black men were locked up. Poor black women were locked out." (p. 98) 
"Plus, Patrice would have to set foot in that grand old courthouse. The nicest building in Patrice's life was Lena's Food Market off Fond Du Lac Avenue. ....Her white friends called it the ghetto grocery store, but it was one of the better markets on the North Side. And at Lena's, Patrice never felt her existence questioned. She tried not to go to parts of the city where she did." (p. 99) 
"Psychologists might agree with him, citing research showing that under conditions of scarcity people prioritize the now and lose sight of the future, often at great cost." (p. 115) 
"Efforts to establish local cohesion and community investment are thwarted in neighborhoods with high turnover rates. in this way, eviction can unravel the fabric of a community, helping to ensure that neighbors remain strangers and that their collective capacity to combat crime and promote civic engagement remains untapped. (p 298) 
"Establishing publicly funded legal services for low-income families in housing court would be a cost-effective measure that would prevent homelessness, decrease evictions, and give poor families a fair shake."(p 303) 
"If it weren't so easy to evict someone, tenants like Doreen and Patrice could report dangerous or illegal conditions without fearing retaliation. If tenants had lawyers, they wouldn't need to go to court." (p. 304)  
"Every family below a certain income level would be eligible for a housing voucher. They could use that voucher to live anywhere they wanted, just as families can use food stamps to buy groceries virtually anywhere, as long as their housing was neither too expensive, big, and luxurious, not too shabby and run-down." (more on this on 308) 
"I learned that behavior that looks lazy or withdrawn to someone perched far above the poverty line can actually be a pacing technique. People like Crystal or Larraine cannot afford to give all their energy to today's emergency only to have none left over for tomorrow's." (p. 328) 
(on ethnography in "about this project")
"But first-person narration is not the only technique available to us. In fact, it may be the least well-suited vehicle for capturing the essence of a social world because the "I" filters all. With first-person narration, the subjects and the author are each always held in view, resulting in every observation being trailed by a reaction to the observer. No matter how much care the author takes, the first-person ethnography becomes just as much about the fieldworker as about anything she or he saw." (p. 334)
"Humans act brutally under brutal conditions…(Maslow) Ideas about aggression in low-income communities that do not account for the hard squeeze of poverty, the sheer emotional and cognitive burden that accompanies severe deprivation, do not come close to capturing the lived experience of people like Arleen and Crystal." (p 376) 
"Resource-poor schools in low-income neighborhoods often leave children with subpar language and critical-thinking skills. Those deficits will remain even if those children relocate to safe and prosperous neighborhoods later in life." (p. 377) 
"That fancy television in the ratty apartment? Those new shoes worn by the kid eating free school lunch? Their owners likely didn't pay full dollar for them. You can take a nice television off a hype for fifty bucks and find marked-down Nikes at the corner store. The price tags in inner-city clothing stores are for white suburban kids who don't know how to haggle. Next to that big-screen television too it is harder to see what is missing." (p. 378) 
 "Behavioral economists and psychologist have shown that 'poverty itself taxes the mind,' making people less intelligent and more impulsive." (p. 378)

"The poverty debate could do more to recognize the powerful effects of rejection on a person's self-confidence and stamina. Applying for an apartment or job and being turned down ten, twenty, forty times--it can wear you out." Also "exhausted settling" (p. 379) 
"Another approach involves surveying a person's resources before trying to access them. Because in poor neighborhoods the most accepted way to say no is to say, "I can't", people sometimes try to take that option off the table. So, for example, instead of asking, "Can I get a ride?" you ask, "You got gas in your car?" Instead of asking, "Could you make me a plate?" you ask, "You eat?"... Knowing how to ask for help--and, in turn, when to extend or withhold aid--is an essential skill for managing poverty." (p. 390)
See also: 
Tally's Corner by Elliot Liebow (1967), All Our Kin by Carol Stack (1974), Sidewalk by Mitchell Duneier (1999), How the Other Half Lives by Jacob Riis (1997), Fringe Banking by John Caskey (2013), Broke, USA by Gary Rivlin (2010), Scarcity by Mullainathan and Shafir (2013), Random Family by Adrian Nicole LeBlanc (2004), Doing the Best I can by Kathryn Edin and Timothy Nelson (2013), Labor of Love, Labor of Sorrows by Jacqueline Jones (2010), Growing Up Jim Crow by Jennifer Ritterhouse (2006), Every Time I feel the Spirit by Timothy Nelson (2004), When Affirmative Action Was White by Ira Katznelson (2005), When a Heart Turns Rock Solid by Timothy Black (2009), Stuck in Place by Patrick Sharkey (2013), and so so so so so many more.

Encyclopedia of an Ordinary Life by Amy Krouse Rosenthal (2005)

Jeepers, I loved this book.

Amy Krouse Rosenthal should get paid super extra for this book, because even the rights page has hilarious bits: "Not responsible for the weather, the moon, or scalding nature of soup." 

And the Reader's Agreement on the first page, which includes the line: "At the end of each page, you agree to thrust your arms upward and emit a loud, staccato Hey! Just like circus performers do at the end of each stunt." 

Then, we get to the book. Here's a tip: Skip the Orientation Almanac, which gives historical context for Rosenthal's entries. You can read it when you're done and she's endeared herself to you. Same with Evolution of This Moment. Skip right to the good stuff: The Alphabetized Existence, which includes so many true and hilarious entries that there's no way I could possibly put all my favorites here. 

The entries are hilarious as well as charts like the Good to Bad Mood flow chart; Anxious, Things That Make Me; and Childhood Memories: Chronology of Events, which includes What My Childhood Tasted Like.  

A few choice bits: 
My brother, who grew up with three sisters, was I won't say how many years old when he finally realized that he did not have to wrap the towel around his chest when he came out of the shower. 
I am a slow reader and a fast eater; I wish it were the other way around. Even the back cover is fabulous, which includes 
Book, standing in the bookstore holding a: 
To get a true sense of the book, I have to spend a minute inside. I'll glance at the first couple pages, then flip to the middle, see if the language matches me somehow. It's like dating, only with sentences.
Fabulous, hilarious, true, poignant, wonderful.

Asking for It by Kate Harding (2015)

Subtitled: The Alarming Rise of Rape Culture--And What We Can Do About It.

Fascinating exploration of rape culture and how incredibly pervasive it is.

Harding explores legal cases, pop culture, sports and every other aspect of our lives to show how incredibly yes, pervasive it is. And yet, she has such a hilarious, dry wit that it keeps you from throwing the book--and yourself--off of a cliff.

Safer by Sean Doolittle (2009)

Pretty awesome thriller novel set in a small midwestern college town.

Paul Callaway and his wife Sara have just moved into a neighborhood on a small cul-de-sac. The neighbors are extremely friendly and welcome Paul into their vigilant neighborhood watch. Paul tries to fit in with the neighbors until one day, the neighborhood watch sets its sights on him.

Wonderfully told--the story starts at the end and is unfolded bit by bit in a completely compelling, suspenseful way.

Built by Jay Crownover (2016)

Built (Saints of Denver, #1)

I read this entire book in one night. It was delicious. 

Zeb Fuller is a contractor who's spent a bit of time locked up, and sports tattoos, a beard and unruly hair. Also, mossy green eyes. Sayer Cole is a lawyer who recently discovered a half-brother (who happens to be Zeb's good friend). When Zeb finds out he has a son, Sayer gets involved in helping him get custody of the boy and keep him out of the foster system. AND, despite the fact that she's incredibly cautious about feelings due to her emotionally abusive father, they are drawn to one another. 

Even though this book is billed as "New Adult", this feels like a truly adult (as in grown-up people with grown-up lives) romance. And it is FILLED with rich characters who have their own stories (in Crownover's sprawling catalogue.) Sexy and romantic, while being realistic and touching. SO thumbs up.