Monday, June 30, 2014

Book Review: Never Have I Ever by Katie Heaney (feat. Grethen Wieners)

"I've been single for my entire life. Not one boyfriend. Not one short-term dating situation. Not one person with whom I regularly hung out and kissed on the face."
So begins Katie Heaney's memoir of her years spent looking for love, but never quite finding it. By age 25, equipped with a college degree, a load of friends, and a happy family life, she still has never had a boyfriend ... and she's barely even been on a second date.
Throughout this laugh-out-loud funny book, you will meet Katie's loyal group of girlfriends, including flirtatious and outgoing Rylee, the wild child to Katie's shrinking violet, as well as a whole roster of Katie's ill-fated crushes. And you will get to know Katie herself -- a smart, modern heroine relaying truths about everything from the subtleties of a Facebook message exchange to the fact that "Everybody who works in a coffee shop is at least a little bit hot."
Funny, relatable, and inspiring, this is a memoir for anyone who has ever struggled to find love, but has also had a lot of fun in the process. 

I first came across this book on one of my Twitter browsing adventures looking for news to pass on. I came across a tweet by Grand Central Publishing to announce the publication of a new book called Never Have I Ever. We all know or have played this infamous drinking game. It piqued my interest. As soon as I read the premise, I knew I had to read this book, and I was not disappointed.

According to Katie Heaney, author of the book Never Have I Ever: My Life (So Far) Without a Date, there are two types of dating personalities: the lighthouse and the Bermuda Triangle.

A lighthouse is a person who other people are inexplicably drawn to. They emit a light that draws people toward them, like the Greek sirens beckoning sailors to shore and into their waiting arms. (Albeit, this is not the function of an actual lighthouse, but work with her, okay?) Lighthouses are rarely, if ever, single, and even when they are a gaggle of sailors is waiting in the wings for the chance to come ashore. My brother, for
instance, is a lighthouse. From high school onward, seeing my brother single was like witnessing a solar eclipse. Intriguing and fleeting. Whenever one of his long-term relationships ended, nary would he take a breath before he was diving into another. I was both envious of his ability to bounce back after each break up and awed by this infinite capacity to love others. (I am happy to say sorry, ladies, he's engaged to a wonderful woman. His light is off.)

On the other end of the spectrum is the Bermuda Triangle. In the words of Katie Heaney, "the Bermuda Triangle is so far from sailors' minds that it is even really on the map." The Bermuda Triangle doesn't push sailors away or try to capsize their ships, and it may be a great place once you're there. You may even want to get lost in it. The trouble with the Bermuda Triangle is that so few sailors cruise it's way that it doesn't know how to react when one does. It gets nervous, spills something, tells a joke nobody gets, comes on to strong with its wave action, and ultimately ends up with a shipwreck or two.

I, much like Katie, am a Bermuda Triangle.

I think that's one of the reasons I related so much to this book. It felt like many of Katie's anecdotes could be torn out of my own diaries. I could relate to her experience finding her way through high school, navigating the different cliques and social circles, searching for a best friend. Unlike Miss Heaney, I did have one "boyfriend" in high school, though I sometimes doubt I could call him that, and have not had a relationship since. But our college experiences were nearly identical. I could see myself making many of the same dating mistakes Katie made. Not only could I see it, I've done it. I've though a guy was interested in me only to find out he started seeing someone else. I've sought advice from all of my friends on how to send a text that exuded confidence and interest but was still casual and aloof. I've drunkenly made out with a stranger at a party just to prove I could. Most importantly, much like our author, I was and am perpetually single. And I completely understand her hesitation to jump into a relationship just for the sake of having one.

For Katie Heaney, dating is just not a priority. Instead, she finds great pleasure in cultivating and nurturing her friendships. The most prevalent of these friends is her friend Riley. At first, I couldn't understand why they were friends, but I started seeing a lot of the same traits that Riley has in my own friend. I think we all have that one friend that is the complete opposite of ourselves and that we would never let go for the world. For Katie, that's Riley. This relationship is by far the most important in the entire book, and I would definitely read a buddy memoir just about their antics together.

The most important thing to understand about Never Have I Ever is that despite the depiction that Katie is clueless about dating and socializing with the opposite sex, she is actually pretty together and she does get it. Sure dating is great, but it doesn't have to command your life. In this society where sex is everywhere, but women are further scrutinized for embracing their sexuality, books like this one help us to explore women's freedom to choose their own sexual identity. I highly recommend this one.

Overall rating: 5 espresso shots!

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Early Review: Melt by Selene Castrovilla

MELT is a brutal love story, set against the backdrop of The Wizard of Oz. Sixteen year old “good girl” Dorothy just blew into the small town of Highland Park – where the social headquarters is Munchkinland (Dunkin’ Donuts.) There, she meets Joey – a “bad boy” who tells no one about the catastrophic domestic violence he witnesses at home. Can these two lovers survive peer pressure, Joey’s reputation, and his alcoholism? And then there’s his family's secret – about to be unleashed. 
Told in dual first person, Joey's words are scattered on the page - reflecting his broken state. Dorothy is the voice of reason - until something so shattering happens that she, too, may lose her grip. Can their love endure, or will it melt away? 
MELT is based on true events. It is both a chilling tale of abuse, and a timeless romance. It will hit you like a punch in the face, and also seep through the cracks in your soul.

Before I begin this review, let me preface by saying that I read an advanced unedited copy of Melt so many of my comments on the book should be taken with a grain of salt. It is possible that the particular issues I had with the book have been worked out for the finished novel.

I really liked the premise of this book going into it. A book with The Wizard of Oz as its backdrop? A book about love enduring domestic violence, alcoholism, and all those all-too-real challenges? Yes, please. In my opinion, there are far too many books that shy away from tough topics like this, and I truly commend Selene Castrovilla for taking on the task. She certainly has a gift for engaging readers. The scenes where she tackles the domestic violence issue are gripping.

I liked Castrovilla's decision to tell the story from both Dorothy and Joey's alternating perspectives. It was an interesting choice to write Joey's side of the story as poetry. It worked for his frame of mind, though it was sometimes inconsistent (which I guess was the point, so good job). I also had an issue with Joey's voice in his chapters not being consistent with his voice in Dorothy's chapters.  I'm not an expert, but I don't think your voice changes that much between your speech and your thoughts, and his speech was much more eloquent. His voice in his chapters seemed, for lack of a better word, ghettoized. More on this in a minute.

However, I have to admit this book left me wanting. It just didn't live up to my expectations.

1. I came into this book expecting a lot more of The Wizard of Oz to be involved. All I really got was a comment about Dorothy's name, a lot of use of the word melt, and a reference to Dunkin' Donuts as "Munchkinland." Oh, and quotes from the book at the beginning of section, or "parts" of the book. I don't see how this book was "set against the backdrop of The Wizard of Oz," because it wasn't. The references just seemed hollow, unnecessary, and distracting from the story.

2. The relationship between Dorothy and Joey was cliche. She's the rich new girl in town, he's the bad boy from the other side of the tracks (literally). They fall instantly in love over croissants and jelly donuts (which he uses as a metaphor for himself), and have a magical love current that moves between them when they touch. I had hoped this magical love touch would manifest itself in some Wizard of Oz alternate universe reincarnation type scenario, but nothing came of it. Word to all authors, PLEASE, stop with the Insta-love thing. It's not realistic.

3. Not only was the relationship cliche, it was pretty shallow. The characters, especially Joey, had depth, but it never really showed through in the narrative. The story just seemed to lack in character development.

As I said above, please take these comments with a grain of salt. I did read an unedited copy, and I'm sure many of these problems have been or will be resolved. And I promise that I will update this review after the book is released on... November 6! Give this book a shot (or a double). It has potential, so I'm giving it 3 espresso shots.

Thanks to Jen Halligan and the staff at JHPR for sending me the ARC for Melt

Have a great weekend!

Overall Rating: 3 espresso shots

Enter for a chance to win a copy of Melt

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About Selene Castrovilla

Selene Castrovilla is an award-winning teen and children’s author who believes that through all trends, humanity remains at the core of literature. She is the author of Saved By the Music and The Girl Next Door, teen novels originally published by WestSide Books and now available digitally through ASD Publishing. Her third children’s book with Calkins Creek Books, Revolutionary Friends, was released in April 2013. She is also a contributing author to UncommonYA. Selene holds an MFA in creative writing from New School University and a BA in English from New York University. She lives on Long Island with her two sons. Visit her
website for book excerpts and more information!

Updates! (Back on the Habit)

Hello readers and coffee addicts!

Sorry I've been away for a while. I promise it was for good reason.

I am hopping back on the cafeholic bandwagon with a bang. I have a lot of stuff coming up, including an ARC review for Melt by Selene Castrovilla which will be posted TOMORROW for Melt's early review blog tour. I hope to post a eulogy for a certain one-legged heartthrob of the TFIOS persuasion in the coming days (LONG OVERDUE, I know. I just saw the movie last week, and now I am pumped to get that posted.

I also have a review of Never Have I Ever by Katie Heaney that I've been working on, plus additional discussion on sexual identity in books and my feels about erotica as a genre.

All of this and more should be posted in the next week or so. So please keep an eye out, and I will see you cafeholics later!