Review: Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng

everythinginevertoldyou A story that has been told a dozen times before:

A perfect daughter dies under tragic circumstances. Her family reels with shock, and then struggles to pick up the pieces.

The premise of Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng may seem simple – familiar, even – but this story is far from what you’d expect.

Set in a small town in Ohio in the 1970s, Everything I Never Told You follows the Chinese-American Lee family. James Lee is a Chinese man working as a college professor (of history, specifically westerns and cowboys); his wife, Marilyn, is a white woman whose dreams of becoming a doctor were swept under the rug with the birth of her first child.

The three Lee children are Lydia, an overachieving, straight-A, student with many friends; Nathan, an equally-intelligent loner overshadowed by his sister; and Hannah, a quiet younger child who craves attention from her family.

When Lydia’s body is found in the local lake, the balancing act that has been keeping the Lee family together is destroyed. Old wounds are reopened. Crushed dreams are realized. Allegiances are questioned.

Word gets out that Lydia may not have been the popular girl her family thought her to be. While Nath and even Hannah begin to investigate the person that was their sister, Lydia’s parents refuse to listen and cope with their grief in vastly different ways.

“The things that go unsaid are often the things that eat at you–whether because you didn’t get to have your say, or because the other person never got to hear you and really wanted to.”

Everything I Never Told You is a haunting debut from an author who understands the nuances of relationships and renders them both painfully, and beautifully, on the page.

You may think you’ve read this story before, but this debut is all new.

Danielle Villano is the editor of BiblioSmiles, and she is really glad you’re here. Learn more on the About page.  Tweet @daniellevillano.

Reads on the Subway: Winter 2016 Edition

Last summer, I totally creeped on people on the subway to see what they were reading. Like I said in August, I love people watching and seeing what my fellow bookworms are enjoying is one of my favorite things.

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The subway is a perfect spot for reading. You’re removed from most of the distractions from the world, can tune out everyone and everything (well, except the crazy guy talking to himself, or the ‘musicians’ who say “GOOD EVENING LADIES AND GENTLEMAN” and start to sing/hassle you for money).

Seriously, aside from all that, it’s one of my favorite places to read! And people watch. Let’s check out what New York’s been reading underground this past winter.

1.Luckiest Girl Alive by Jessica Knoll
On the 4/5/6 line, a woman with dark and short twisted hair and a nose stud was reading this. Her hands had a bow tattoo on one of her fingers as she turned the pages of this thriller. Following in the wake of Gone Girl and Girl on the Train, Jessica Knoll’s novel follows a successful woman who left a secret buried in her past that could destroy everything she holds dear.

2. The Charge by Brendon Burchard
It’s not all fiction. The Charge is a self-help book about learning to activate the ten motivators that make us most human. A young man with black slick hair, scruffy face, black jacket, jeans was reading this. He had a chevron print reusable coffee mug and had headphones in.

3. Gumption: Relighting the Torch of Freedom with America’s Gutsiest Troublemakers by Nick Offerman
This book met its perfect match in a ginger man in his 30s, wearing a Columbia ski jacket and black beanie, with a gruff air of “manliness.” This book, was written by the Parks and Recreation actor who portrays Ron Swanson, the epitome of Murica, mustaches, and everything manly.

4. En Nødvendig Død by Jan Mehlum
An elegant woman with silver hair in a ponytail and pearl earrings was reading this novel. Quite a novelty in itself for my people-watching, the book is part of a Norwegian mystery-thriller series about a lawyer who has to solve grim cases.

5. Room by Emma Donoghue
This book’s movie adaptation scored an Oscar nomination this year. A curvy young woman with long strawberry blonde hair, wearing a magenta puffer jacket and tweed skirt was reading this. Room is about a boy who’s entire world is his Ma and the Room they’ve always been in. And what happens when they get out.

6. The Patriot Threat by Steve Berry
An older man with grey hair, a trim beard, and thick rimmed black glasses was reading this provocative political thriller. With shades of the Da Vinci Code, this book is about Cotton Malone, a retired member of an elite intelligence division, who is tasked with tracking down a rogue North Korean who stole top secret files of the National Treasury.

7. Go Set A Watchman by Harper Lee
One of the most anticipated books of last year, Harper Lee’s novel about Scout of To Kill a Mockingbird as an adult, was being read by a young woman in a green camouflage jacket and fuzzy blue scarf with curly blonde hair and beaded bracelets.

8. Rogue Lawyer by John Grisham
Another legal thriller for our list! What is it about winter and suspenseful, grisly novels? This book, about a lawyer who takes the cases others won’t go near, was being read by a woman in burgundy corduroy pants, wearing a silver ring with a red gem, a snakeskin black bag, and long gray hair.

9. Good Omens by Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett
A young businessman in black slacks and a black coat was reading one of my absolute favorite novels! This darkly witty novel is about an angel and a demon who’ve gotten pretty comfortable on earth, and decide maybe it’s a good idea to prevent the prophesied apocalypse.

I love seeing if books match their owners. They say that pets often resemble their owners, or maybe it’s the other way around, and it’s interesting to see which books are clearly being read by their demographic. Of course, my favorite is when people defy the genres predicted for them!

Til next time, I’ll keep my eyes open on the subways for more real life sightings of bookworms.

(photo courtesy of Matteo Merzi)

Gabriele Boland is an aspiring grown-up. She enjoys pretending she’s in a Disney movie, letting her dork flag fly, and writing stories that will never see the light of day. The other ramblings of her mind can be found at her website.

Bookworm Interview: Jonathan Robertson

Want to get to know the BiblioSmiles contributors? Read below to find out more about Jonathan!

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Q: Tell us about yourself in 100 words or less:

I’m a filmmaker in New York. I like The Rockford Files and I listen to a lot of Elvis Costello and Warren Zevon.

Q: What books did you love as a child?:

I learned to read from comic books. My grandfather owned a comic shop in New Jersey in the 80s, and when he closed it in the early 90s, he kept all of his leftover stock, which was about 5,000 books. He wanted to sell them off, but never got around to it, so throughout my childhood, there was always a basement full of comics to read, which he arranged into a mini-comic shop, just for me.

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Q: What kinds of books do you love now?

I started reading Raymond Chandler when I was in high school, and that got me going on a crime fiction kick that’s never really slowed down. From Chandler, I went for Dashiell Hammett, which led to George V. Higgins and Elmore Leonard, plus Erle Stanley Gardner, Jim Thompson, Lawrence Block… Great googly moogly, the list goes on and on.

Extra special shout out to Darwyn Cooke’s adaptation of Richard Stark’s Parker books. Those are some beautiful graphic novels!

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Q: Where’s your favorite place to sit down and read?

Sitting across the couch, probably with my feet up.

Q: Do you set any goals for yourself as a reader?

I try to not read the same authors over and over again. I love finding new ones and old ones that I’ve never encountered before. Just listening to recommendations and wandering through book stores has led me to find things like The Worst Journey in the World by Apsley Cherry-Garrard and A Manual for Cleaning Women by Lucia Berlin.

Q: Have you ever met any of your favorite authors? What was that like?

I met Werner Herzog when he was signing Conquest of the Useless. He makes these awe-inspiring, bleak, and often brutal films, but he was so humble and sincere. It was a fantastic experience.

Q: How do you mark your place in a book?

Dog eared pages or the flap of a dust jacket.

Q: What books are you on your “must read” list?

52 Pickup by Elmore Leonard, A Farewell to Arms by Ernest Hemingway, The Long Goodbye by Raymond Chandler, Of Walking in Ice by Werner Herzog, Bitch Planet by Kelly Sue DeConnick and Valentine De Landro, All The Pretty Horses by Cormac McCarthy, Dracula by Bram Stoker, Rebel Without a Crew by Robert Rodriguez, Fatale by Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips

Q: Here’s a famous question: if you could have dinner with any author, living or dead, who would you choose and why? Where would you go, and what would they order for dinner?

Tough one… Part of me says “Hemingway,” but I feel like we’d spend the whole meal drinking grappa and talking about him (and he didn’t exactly have a sense of humor, particularly about himself…).

So I think I’d have to go with Elmore Leonard. He always spoke so frankly about writing and the writing process – I’ve always admired his honesty. It’s reflected in his writing as well – there’s nothing extemporaneous in his prose.
We’d hang out, probably in Detroit, at a Tigers game, which means beer and hot dogs all around. I don’t even know if we’d talk about books, but I’m sure it’d be a nice time.

Q: What’s your favorite post you’ve written for BiblioSmiles? What’s your favorite post that someone else has written?

I wrote a piece about books not matching their cinematic counterparts, and how that should be expected and even celebrated – you can read it here.

And I’m a sucker for the Anatomy of a Bookshelf series. I love getting a glimpse into someone’s personality via their bookshelf.

Jonathan Robertson is a New York based filmmaker who will never be as cool as Steve McQueen. And that crushes him. But he still tries. Feel free to follow him on Twitter @itsjonrobertson for musings on film, literature, and occasionally Mexican food.

Critters in Literature: Cats

One of my latest obsessions has been the viral app, Neko Atsume, where you leave out trinkets in a virtual yard in the hopes that little cartoon cats will come and visit you. Like the rest of the world, I too am captivated by the cuteness of cats.

Not a cat person? That’s okay (Just kidding, it’s kinda not). Check out our posts on literary fishbears, turtles, rabbits, and elephants.

I’m pretty sure future historians will look back on our current society and think we’re like the ancient Egyptians, obsessed with cats. Well, if so, maybe our famous felines of literature will show them just how cats are meant to be worshipped.

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Cheshire Cat from Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll
The Cheshire Cat is a morally ambiguous character, like most cats tend to be. He seems more interested in watching Alice bumble around Wonderland than actually helping her. He’s known for his distinctive leering grin that is the last thing to fade away when he vanishes. 

“We’re all mad here.” – Cheshire Cat

The Cat in the Hat by Dr. Seuss
Another mischievous cat, the Cat in the Hat comes to call when two children are left at home on a dreary, boring day. Seeking to make their day fun, the Cat’s antics instead unleash chaos and destruction. …Also sounds like cats.

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Cat from Breakfast at Tiffany’s by Truman Capote
Though not a substantial figure in the book, the nameless cat of Breakfast at Tiffany’s represents Holly Golightly’s transient nature and aversion to anything permanent, even a name.

“She was still hugging the cat. “Poor slob,” she said, tickling his head, “poor slob without a name. It’s a little inconvenient, his not having a name. But I haven’t any right to give him one: he’ll have to wait until he belongs to somebody.”

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Crookshanks from Harry Potter by J.K. Rowling
Crookshanks is an enormous, lion-like cat. He’s ginger-colored with yellow eyes, and his face looks like he’s “run headlong into a brick wall.”. Very intelligent, Crookshanks helped Sirius Black sneak into Hogwarts, and he figured out Peter Pettigrew’s disguise before any of the Golden Trio did.

Ron Weasley: “What was that?”
Harry Potter: “It was either a very big cat or quite a small tiger.” 

Pluto from The Black Cat by Edgar Allen Poe
This cat drives the narrator to madness. After the cat is a beloved pet for years, the narrator gouges out the cat’s eye in a drunken rage. He eventually hangs the cat with a noose, angry that the cat was frightened of him. From here on, the cat haunts the narrator, leading to terrible tragedies in his life.

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Puss in Boots by Giovanni Francesco Straparola
Originally Il Gatto Con Gli Stivali, Puss in Boots is a fairytale about a cat who is clever, and use tricks to gain riches and even the hand of a princess in marriage. Puss in Boots has been adapted to other works, like Shrek and even an appearance in Pokemon, portrayed by a Meowth.

Bast from The Kane Chronicles by Rick Riordan
Not quite a cat… but a cat goddess. Bast is the Egyptian goddess of felines  and in Rick Riordan’s series about modern Egyptian demigods, she protects the Kane duo, Carter and Sadie. Even if she does it while wearing questionable fashion and hissing at others. She’s a tremendous help to them, and her powers demonstrate why the Egyptians held cats in such high regard.

“My dear, I’m a cat. Everything I see is mine.” – Bast

Did I miss one of your favorites? With how beloved cats are, I’m sure I did! A special honorary mention to Garfield, of course, Bill the Cat, and Grumpy Cat, no less iconic or worthy than our other literary felines. One of my personal favorites is Angus from the Georgia Nicholson series, probably a close cousin to Crookshanks.

I’m fairly certain cats will become our supreme overlords one day, so we should be churning out praise to them in all forms. Til next time, in critters of literature! For now I’m off to read up on more cats.

Gabriele Boland is an aspiring grown-up. She enjoys pretending she’s in a Disney movie, letting her dork flag fly, and writing stories that will never see the light of day. The other ramblings of her mind can be found at her website.

Review: The Two of Us by Andy Jones

thetwoofus Before a snowstorm hit New York City in January, I was contacted by Atria Books with an a review request for The Two of Us by Andy Jones, which was later released on February 9th. Atria promised me “the perfect book to cuddle up to as snow and ice pelt the windows,” so I eagerly downloaded it.

In reality, The Two of Us lasted me a few chilly, soggy subway rides post-snowstorm, and while it wasn’t necessarily a book I would think of cuddling up to, it was a captivating read that was vastly different from any love story I’ve ever read.

Fisher and Ivy have been dating for a blissed-out, totally sexy nineteen days when they’re faced with a major wake-up call: one that’s set to completely change their lives in nine months time. While Fisher is certain that the gorgeous, spontaneous Ivy is the woman he wants to spend the rest of his life with, the couple is forced to learn about each other, overcome hurdles together, and reach milestones together on an incredibly sped-up timeline.

While on their own I didn’t entirely enjoy Fisher or Ivy as characters, they made an interesting couple. Separately, I found both of them to be impatient, self-involved people. Together, however, they become a different entity entirely. Their dynamics, their moods, and their conversations kept me on my toes and turning the pages. The secondary characters – especially Fisher’s friend, El, who is suffering from Huntington’s disease – made this story a rich, compelling read.

The Two of Us, told entirely through Fisher’s point of view (intriguing for a romantic plot), is a funny, complicated, and heartbreaking story. While it may be easy to fall in love, it’s not always easy to stay there. I thought Fisher’s narration was incredibly interesting for this storyline; I may have read this story a dozen times from the woman’s perspective, but I’ve never read it from the man’s perspective. The frank language and candid opinions of Fisher really made this story stand out for me.

Danielle Villano is the editor of BiblioSmiles, and she is really glad you’re here. Learn more on the About page.  Tweet @daniellevillano.

Review: Stories I Tell Myself by Juan F. Thompson 

storiesitellmyself It seems to me that there is danger in being the offspring of someone famous; you are expected to follow along in your parent’s footsteps, to show some glimmer of promise in their field. Sometimes when I see a book on the shelf written by the child of a celebrity I feel bitter; I roll my eyes. I imagine they’re just trying to jump on the fame train.

But when I heard about the new book coming out by Juan F. Thompson, the son of the late father of Gonzo journalism, Hunter S. Thompson, I knew I had to read it. Stories I Tell Myself: Growing Up With Hunter S. Thompson was released in January by Knopf.

Starting with his father’s early life, Thompson quickly outlines Hunter’s background and his early success as a writer after writing for the military newspaper. It’s worth noting that if you’re looking for a comprehensive biography of Hunter S. Thompson, this is not the book for you; rather, Stories I Tell Myself is a companion piece, a different viewpoint on the famous father of gonzo journalism.

The meat of the memoir begins with Juan’s early life and his memories of Owl Farm in Woody Creek, Colorado, where Hunter Thompson lived for most of his adult life. Juan’s early childhood is idyllic, full of games, parties, and time spent outdoors with his father. The conflict between his parents, fueled by alcohol and aggression, is not entirely apparent to Juan at this time, and he looks on these memories with fondness.

As Juan grows up, his relationship with his father grows and shifts. On one hand, Juan sees his father as the brilliant journalist whose Hell’s Angels and Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas propelled him into the public eye; on the other hand, Juan sees a temperamental bully who threatens Juan and his mother and is quick to teach his son lessons for his wrongdoing. He resents his father for much of his adolescence, and he even finds surrogate father figures in the likes of Jimmy Buffett and other family friends. Despite this, Juan never really loses touch with Hunter.

The most touching segments of this memoir in my opinion detail a middle-aged Juan’s personal reconciliation with his father. At a time in his life when he himself has found happiness and balance, Juan is finally able to see his father for what he is: a man who, despite being a brilliant writer, has an unhealthy substance dependence and a temper that – even if it flares up in what is clearly self-defense – turns people away. But don’t think that Hunter Thompson is an abusive monster; he shows affection in surprising ways. My favorite addition to the book are some letters that Hunter Thompson sent Juan Thompson while he was away at college. They are touching, and they really show how much he cares for his son.

Juan Thompson does not claim to be a writer like his father; he even relates an anecdote where he lies to his father about taking up a spot at the college newspaper. He initially believes he can follow in his father’s footsteps, but he finds contentment in a career elsewhere. So really, this book is a dedication to the memory of his father who was-before anything else-a writer.

Images included throughout the book show sides of Hunter Thompson not often seen in the media: that of a father, a husband, a grandfather, and a friend. The inclusion of photographs made certain sections of this memoir incredibly poignant, especially those parts detailing Thompson’s life as an old man and his affection for his grandson.

This is a memoir that examines the unbreakable bond between parent and child. Stories I Tell Myself examines the facets of a man who was both a public figure and a very private person through the lens of someone who knew him as both: his son.

Danielle Villano is the editor of BiblioSmiles, and she is really glad you’re here. Learn more on the About page.  Tweet @daniellevillano.

Same Story, But Different

So, here’s a not-so-secret secret. I have a Tumblr. But Tumblr is pretty amazing for book lovers. You can reblog quotes, ogle cover-art, and follow the blogs of authors. (Psst, John Green’s Tumblr is especially hilarious)

But one thing I absolutely love Tumblr for is their ability to imagine stories in totally new ways. We’ve talked about the We Need Diverse Books movement, and the problems of sexism in YA. Tumblr users are way ahead of us. To be honest, Tumblr can actually be a bit aggressive in their campaign for acceptance. But hey, better to have a platform for tolerance than one for hate-mongering.

I love seeing users on Tumblr take time to envision alternate versions of books with characters portrayed by actors of different races, or even having their genders flipped. For those of you who don’t speak, breathe, sleep INTERNET all the time, this is referred to as race-bending or gender-bending.

Some of these originate in GIF sets (several animated pictures paired together) or text posts about potential AUs (alternate-universes).

It’s important to show more diverse characters in literature and media, for reasons that have been covered. Tumblr again does a great job of explaining why. And just imagine the possibilities. One AU text post I read proposed that

It’s spilling over into the mainstream too, as we saw with last year’s remake of Annie, with Annie portrayed by Quvenzhané Wallis and Jamie Foxx taking on the Daddy Warbucks role.

These are really fun to explore. It teeters on the edge of fanfiction, but they’re more like ideas and concepts that let you imagine what could’ve been. There are so many more iterations on Tumblr too. Crossovers, alternate settings to stories, and more. It’s no wonder that I can lose hours of my life to scrolling through all of these ‘what-ifs’.

How about Hermione of the Harry Potter series played by Antonia Thomas? In the books, Hermione does have big hair, a trait associated often with women of color.

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Or A Song of Ice and Fire with an Asian cast? The books do lend well to Feudal Japan. I could see the game of thrones being played out by Samurai. Also, Devon Aoki would be a pretty perfect Daenarys Targaryen.

And let’s not forget about the gender benders, recreating some of our favorite characters as the opposite gender. Cosplayers are great at this! Look at Legolas and Fili as fierce ladies. What would the Fellowship have been like, if the Hobbits were women?

Or gender-bent Percy Jackson heroes! The same artist also did a version of the Marauders from Harry Potter.

Artwork by Viria of deviantart and tumblr

Artwork by Viria of deviantart and tumblr

These things start with us, the fans. With Tumblr and book blogs, we have a bigger voice than ever before. Of course, it goes beyond Tumblr. DeviantArt, Fanfiction.net, and other forums provide outlets for these re-imaginings of our favorite stories.

Gabriele Boland is an aspiring grown-up. She enjoys pretending she’s in a Disney movie, letting her dork flag fly, and writing stories that will never see the light of day. The other ramblings of her mind can be found at Brilliant Buckets.