Team Whatnot

“Grace’s Guide: The Art of Pretending To Be A Grown-Up” by Grace Helbig

Grace's GuideSassy and cheeky, in Grace’s Guide: The Art of Pretending to Be a Grown-up, Grace Helbig writes just like she speaks as the host of It’sGrace on YouTube.

A cute book for Christmas or for the new graduate, Grace’s Guide is easy to dip into. With interactive worksheets and full-color photos and illustrations, she delivers smarty-pants advice on everything from interviewing for a job to negotiating a walk of shame gracefully (or as gracefully as possible).

Her comments on surviving college and the workplace are spot-on and will keep you from being a “Don’t” picture on a Human Resources poster. I’m considering buying multiple copies and anonymously mailing them to some former co-workers…

I also liked the social section and her take on anxiety. Transitioning from random college gatherings to planned adult parties and social engagements can be excruciating, and nobody wants to be that person in the corner staring at their shoes all night (no matter how gorgeous those shoes may be!) She wraps practical advice in funny and engaging packaging, pretty much the way parties are meant to be.

And that’s what her book is—a cool-kids advice party that somehow we nerdy kids got invited to as well.

Now off to the post office to mail some books…

Grace’s Guide: The Art of Pretending to Be a Grown-up by Grace Helbig (Touchstone | ISBN 9781476788005 | October 21, 2014)

“Screwdrivered” by Alice Clayton

screwdriveredUnlike the life of our gorgeous heroine, Vivian “Viv” Franklin, in Alice Clayton’s Screwdrivered, mine is, let’s face it, the kind most normal people have — sometimes my only accomplishments are managing other people’s (non)emergencies and moving things from my inbox to someone else’s.

So what you ask, Dear Reader, does my ennui have to do with Alice Clayton’s newest installment of the Cocktail series?

Funny, fast, and flirty, Screwdrivered is the perfect antidote, a quick inoculation of optimism and enthusiasm against suburban sameness.

Surrounded by a loving family, Viv lives a preposterously successful life as a software entrepreneur in Philadelphia. The worst thing in her life is her mother’s bad habit of setting her up with boring blind dates. When Viv gets a late-night phone call saying Aunt Maude is dead and Viv’s inherited it all, she chucks over work, family, and her cool industrial apartment to charge out to Mendocino, California, to see what’s what.

What’s what isn’t what it was, however.

Viv’s taken aback by the state of the house she once loved, and things are complicated by the arrival of not one, but two, yummy men. Like the confirmed romance novel junkie she is, she’s torn between a hunkalicous cowboy and a quiet librarian.

In fast-moving, funny scenes, Viv is constantly on the go and getting herself into things, and I swear I lost weight myself by the end of the book (bonus!). Screwdrivered has enough conflict to keep the story moving, but no death (except Aunt Maude), no destruction (except parts of the house), and no dismemberment (except, alas, the Knight, poor guy). Along the way, old friends Simon and Caroline Parker pop by, and we meet some great new friends as well.

From the crashing Pacific waves that send bracing early-morning sea air through the freshly laundered curtains of Seaside Cottage to the warm glow of Mendocino and new friendships, it was great to pretend for a little while I was somewhere else, doing something else, being (with!) someone else.

And that’s worth a lot frankly.

Screwdrivered by Alice Clayton (Gallery Books | ISBN 9781476766720 | September 2, 2014)


Review: “Of Metal and Wishes”

Sarah Fine’s Of Metal and Wishes lay like an unclaimed promise on my kitchen table, but I was too swamped with work to read for fun. Then late one night, I peeked into the promise and was sucked in. A few pages later, my annoying inner adult made me go to bed, but before I did, I skipped to the end. (I know! SO wrong!)

And I was confused — but intrigued.

Two days passed. When I finally sat down to read, I didn’t stand up again until I finished.

Sixteen-year-old Wen, grief-stricken after the death of her mother and the loss of their home, and her doctor father have moved to the grounds of a slaughterhouse, one of three heinous factories ruled by contemptible bosses, where people sell their souls to the company store. Now instead of embroidering delicate gardens on silk, Wen must sew straight and true, and together she and her father repair the sick and the mangled.

When a silly boy, one of the Noor brought in as cheap labor, humiliates her in the cafeteria, she wishes for the ghost of the slaughterhouse to punish him. She gets her wish. Guilt-stricken, she befriends Melik, the leader of the Noor, and is in turn befriended by the Ghost, setting off a chain reaction of love and hate that leaves her questioning everything she thought was true and bringing them all to an apocalyptic climax.

A loose teen retelling of The Phantom of the Opera, the characters deal not only with family and first love, but also with violence, sexual predation, human trafficking, and interracial tensions against a visceral and clearly drawn background. I wish teens today were blissfully unaware of this dark side of life, but even in this Midwestern city where I write, human trafficking is well-established, and I’m sure Fine in her day job of child psychologist has seen more than plenty of darkness.

Wen and the others Of Metal and Wishes are victors, however, not just survivors. Wen is a role model, making strong choices from a loving heart, and Fine’s lyrical writing shines against a horrid, smelly background.

The story ends somewhat ambiguously, which I rather liked, but I’ve read that Of Metal and Wishes is a duology, so I’ll definitely be looking forward to seeing this strong heroine again.

“The Bone Seeker” by M.J. McGrath

The Bone Seeker 9780670785803_f9847In The Bone Seeker, the third book of the Edie Kiglatuck series, M.J. McGrath has sent Edie to teach summer school in the Canadian Arctic in order to recover from the harrowing events of The Boy in the Snow. Unfortunately for everyone, one of the teenage girls from her class is found dead in a taboo lake.

Edie’s friend Sergeant Derek Palliser presses her into service. At the same time, outsider lawyer Sonia Gutierrez tries to prevent the murder investigation from derailing a hard-won clean up of a toxic military site. Navigating the beautiful but harsh summer landscape is nothing compared to the interpersonal and political battles Edie faces.

A recovering alcoholic and misfit born of two worlds, Edie uses her unique perspective to navigate the clash of the Inuit with other Inuit, with other First Nations peoples, as well as with the qalunaat (white people). Although Edie definitely has issues and by the end her food choices had me craving fruits and veg, I found her surprisingly easy to relate to. Indeed most of the characters — even the villains — were complex enough to be engaging. The Canadian Arctic in her summery finery of snow buttercup and polar chickweed is as much a character as Edie.

When I started The Bone Seeker, I knew nothing of Edie Kiglatuck, the Inuit, or the Canadian Arctic other than where it is (North!).  I was concerned I might be hopelessly lost, but McGrath slyly slipped in enough information to keep me involved, but not so much that when I read the earlier books I won’t be surprised. The book started slowly, but after I found my bearings in the unfamiliar terrain, the pace picked up, for an easy and rewarding read.

For those who like to solve the mystery before the heroine, McGrath provides plenty of inuksuit (stone navigation markers) to point the way, albeit disguised well enough for the unwinding of the story and of the story within to be a surprise.

Blending the truths of the arctic crime explosion, decaying military installations, and the stark physicality of the landscape with fiction, McGrath has created a believable world where Edie Kiglatuck explores tradition and change in an increasingly inter-connected world.

The Bone Seeker: An Edie Kiglatuk Mystery by M. J. McGrath (Viking | 9780670785803 | July 24, 2014)

The Bookseller and Nigel P.

Let’s talk a minute about a hypothetical sales situation.

You’ve just found out that a relatively new customer, who goes by the name of Nigel Pendleton, has recently burned through all of the fictional works of Charles Bukowski and Richard Brautigan, and he now feels that no other authors will be able to measure up to the standard. After all, is it creatively possible to top The Hawkline Monster or Dreaming of Babylon?

The best response here is to agree with Mr. Pendleton that Brautigan in particular is a tough act to follow. And any writer who manages to work Nebuchadnezzar into a narrative–along with a detective who doesn’t have any bullets for his gun—frankly deserves to be on one of those literary t-shirts that they are making these days.