BOOK REVIEW: Playing With the Matches, by Hannah Orenstein

BOOK REVIEW: Playing With the Matches, by Hannah OrensteinTitle: Playing with Matches by Hannah Orenstein
Published by Touchstone
Published: June 26th 2018
Genres: Fiction, Romance
Pages: 314
Format: Trade Paper
Source: Publisher
Goodreads

In the tradition of Good in Bed and The Assistants comes a funny and smart comedy about a young matchmaker balancing her messy personal life and the demands of her eccentric clients.

Sasha Goldberg has a lot going for her: a recent journalism degree from NYU, an apartment with her best friend Caroline, and a relationship that would be amazing if her finance-bro boyfriend Jonathan would ever look up from his BlackBerry. But when her dream career falls through, she uses her family’s darkest secret to land a job as a matchmaker for New York City’s elite at the dating service Bliss.

Despite her inexperience, Sasha throws herself into her new career, trolling for catches on Tinder, coaching her clients through rejection, and dishing out dating advice to people twice her age. She sets up a TV exec who wanted kids five years ago, a forty-year-old baseball-loving virgin, and a consultant with a rigorous five-page checklist for her ideal match.

Sasha hopes to find her clients The One, like she did. But when Jonathan betrays her, she spirals out of control—and right into the arms of a writer with a charming Southern drawl, who she had previously set up with one of her clients. He’s strictly off-limits, but with her relationship on the rocks, all bets are off.

Fresh, sweet, and laugh-out-loud funny, Playing with Matches is the addictive story about dating in today’s swipe-heavy society, and a young woman trying to find her own place in the world.

Hannah Orenstein’s Playing With Matches is a fun romantic comedy following the dating mishaps Sasha Goldberg has while she tries to create the perfect dating experiences as a matchmaker for her clients. It’s a completely perfect summer read. I started following Hannah on Instagram last year when Touchstone first announced her book, and it’s been such a fun experience watching her book go from the earliest bound galleys to the finished product.

I read this book in a handful of sittings, and it was such a joy to read. Hannah’s writing style and voice is fresh and fun, and she plays with a lot of romantic comedy tropes that left me turning the pages. Sasha Goldberg’s voice is both appropriate to her young age and also wise beyond her years, and the character felt real and so well-developed. I felt for her and wanted her to succeed, and I couldn’t wait to see what happened next. The other characters in Playing With Matches added such a dynamic to the story. Sasha as a matchmaker who had dating issues of her own made me laugh out loud several times throughout reading the book, and the twists and turns throughout her own dating adventures were entertaining and surprising. I didn’t expect a few of them! It felt like I was reading one of the classic Nora Ephron romantic comedies. I really hope someday to see more feel-good, hopeful, fun romantic comedies with this same feel on the screen soon, and I desperately hope Playing With Matches makes it to the big screen someday because I think it would be so much fun.

If you’re in the mood for some fresh romantic comedy to read this summer, go out and get yourself a copy of Playing With Matches!

Thank you to Touchstone for sending me a free copy of the book for review!

BOOK REVIEW: Improvement, by Joan Silber

BOOK REVIEW: Improvement, by Joan SilberTitle: Improvement by Joan Silber
Published by Counterpoint LLC
Published: November 14th 2017
Genres: Fiction
Pages: 256
Format: Hardcover
Source: Publisher
Goodreads

One of our most gifted writers of fiction returns with a bold and piercing novel about a young single mother living in Harlem, her eccentric aunt, and the decisions they make that have unexpected implications for the world around them.

Reyna knows her relationship with Boyd isn't perfect, yet she sees him through a three-month stint at Riker's Island, their bond growing tighter. Kiki, now settled in the East Village after a youth that took her to Turkey and other far off places--and loves--around the world, admires her niece's spirit but worries that motherhood to four-year old Oliver might complicate a difficult situation. Little does she know that Boyd is pulling Reyna into a smuggling scheme, across state lines, violating his probation. When Reyna takes a step back, her small act of resistance sets into motion a tapestry of events that affect the lives of loved ones and strangers around them.

A novel that examines conviction, connection, repayment, and the possibility of generosity in the face of loss, Improvement is as intricately woven together as Kiki's beloved Turkish rugs, as colorful as the tattoos decorating Reyna's body, with narrative twists and turns as surprising and unexpected as the lives all around us. The Boston Globe said -No other writer can make a few small decisions ripple across the globe, and across time, with more subtlety and power, - and Improvement is Silber's most shining achievement.

The cover of Joan Silber’s Improvement features a carpet that is woven into the connective stories. The novel is written in sparse, well-crafted prose, and connects the stories of six characters through strong, thin threads. I loved the butterfly effect explored in these pages, and Silber seems to know just what to reveal and just what to led the reader consider for themselves in the connected narratives.

I love how the novel itself is structured with an overarching narrative that is split into smaller sections in first- and third-person narration. The stories read almost like standalone stories, and I appreciated that format because each section felt immediate and personal. These stories, including the overarching story, show the masterwork of a literary butterfly effect. Each of the decisions the characters make affect their own lives and the lives of those around them, and we as readers are invited to consider those decisions in tandem with the decisions and the effects those choices have on our own lives.

Joan Silber’s Improvement explores the connective power of love and the changes — no matter how large or small — love brings into our lives. Love improves us if we only let it in.

Thank you to Counterpoint Press for sending me a free copy in exchange for a review!

New Look, New(ish) Direction

After thinking about it for a while, I realized that one of the reasons that I’ve felt stuck in posting regularly here on the blog, posting on social media, and even reading was that I’ve been reading a lot of books that don’t always fit with the original idea I had in mind when I started this blog and the corresponding social media accounts. Most of the reviews I post here are of books I enjoy the most and those are often science fiction and fantasy for a range of audiences, but on my social media accounts, I’ve drifted away from my preferred genres a little bit — classics, science fiction, and fantasy.

That led to a redesign and a refocus! I still have some tweaking to do with images and information here on the blog, and I’ll be changing a few things on my social media accounts in the coming days to coordinate with the style here. I also have some reading plans for the next few years that I’ll be posting here along with potential challenges for myself and others to participate in because sometimes it’s more fun to read with other people! I’ll be reading more SFF, posting more about SFF (either in review format or general thoughts about the genres today, both mixed in with some general criticism [because that literary side of my brain never fully shuts off]), and honing in on a clearer blog focus. It’s been a little all over the place for a while, and even if my reading can be all over the place for a while, I want this blog and my social media to have that focus!

BOOK REVIEW: Star Wars: The Force Awakens, by Alan Dean Foster

BOOK REVIEW: Star Wars: The Force Awakens, by Alan Dean FosterTitle: The Force Awakens by Alan Dean Foster
Series: Star Wars
Published by Del Rey
Published: January 5th 2016
Genres: Science Fiction
Pages: 260
Format: Hardcover
Source: Purchased
Goodreads

Set years after Return of the Jedi, this stunning action-packed adventure rockets us back into the world of Princess Leia, Han Solo, Chewbacca, C-3PO, R2-D2, and Luke Skywalker, while introducing a host of exciting new characters, including Rey, Finn, BB-8 and Kylo Ren. Darth Vader may have been redeemed and the Emperor vanquished, but peace can be fleeting, and evil does not easily relent. Yet the simple belief in good can still empower ordinary individuals to rise and meet the greatest challenges. So return to that galaxy far, far away, and prepare yourself for what happens when the Force awakens...

Star Wars books are my favorite reads when I want to read something fun and exciting in a universe I’m familiar with, and while I spent a lot of my teenage years reading the Extended Universe, I’ve been interested in a lot of the new stuff that’s come out since Disney got involved with Star Wars and began this new trilogy. I read Star Wars books to add more to my movie-watching experience, and more often than not, the Extended Universe, the new canon, and the movie novels add more depth to the stories unfolding on screen.

However, the novelization of The Force Awakens reads almost exactly like the film, the only differences being the a small handful of additional scenes and the lack of humor and vivacity in other scenes. It’s definitely worth reading to find out a little more backstory on Poe Dameron and how he got to Jakku, as well as a little bit more emotional background for Kylo Ren (but if I’m honest, Kylo Ren is my least favorite character, and I don’t really care one way or another what happens to him). Other than that, it’s an easy read, very much like the film, and I was able to read it in an afternoon!

BOOK REVIEW: Every Heart a Doorway, by Seanan McGuire

BOOK REVIEW: Every Heart a Doorway, by Seanan McGuireTitle: Every Heart a Doorway by Seanan McGuire
Series: Wayward Children #1
Published by Tor.com
Published: April 5th 2016
Genres: Fantasy
Pages: 169
Format: Hardcover
Source: Purchased
Goodreads

Eleanor West’s Home for Wayward Children
No Solicitations No Visitors No Quests

Children have always disappeared under the right conditions; slipping through the shadows under a bed or at the back of a wardrobe, tumbling down rabbit holes and into old wells, and emerging somewhere... else.

But magical lands have little need for used-up miracle children.

Nancy tumbled once, but now she’s back. The things she’s experienced... they change a person. The children under Miss West’s care understand all too well. And each of them is seeking a way back to their own fantasy world.

But Nancy’s arrival marks a change at the Home. There’s a darkness just around each corner, and when tragedy strikes, it’s up to Nancy and her new-found schoolmates to get to the heart of the matter.

No matter the cost.

For us, the places we went were home. We didn’t care if they were good or evil or neutral or what. We cared about the fact that for the first time we didn’t have to pretend to be something we weren’t. We just got to be. That made all the difference in the world.

Seanan McGuire’s Every Heart a Doorway is a fairy tale homage. McGuire weaves in a lot of fairy tale and childhood fantasy references that make this a joy to read to try to connect all of those threads. Eleanor West’s Home for Wayward Children is a place where parents send their troubled, “uncontrollable” children. The children who have been sent there are those who have said that they’ve visited other worlds, other places, through actual doors or through other means that are probably immediately identifiable to those who read a lot (a wardrobe, a rabbit hole, etc).

This story really resonated with me because of the quote above. For me, so much of growing up and becoming myself meant learning how to shed the masks I wore, and sometimes still wear. When you find that place in life where you feel like you can be completely yourself without shame or fear is like nothing else. Sometimes it’s as simple as aging, sometimes it’s the people you meet and become friends/family with, and sometimes it’s the actual place in which you live that helps shape everything. And then, when you’re taken away or removed from that place, even if you only visited for a moment, all you can really think about is getting back to that place. Longing and nostalgia can be as powerful a drug as any others, and sometimes the only salve is finding people who have shared experiences and feel the same way as you. Realizing you’re not alone is such a healing thing.

If you like reworked fairy tales or stories about belonging and loss, you really need to read this. I can’t wait to read the others in this series.