Without Merit by Colleen Hoover
Rating: 5 stars
I have to preface this book review by explaining my love for Colleen Hoover. So, I don’t usually read books in the actual romance genre. They always feel so shallow and unrealistic and I’m not interested in reading about people that just jump into bed together five seconds after they meet. Colleen Hoover romances, however? They are AMAZING. I’m not even sure if her books are usually categorized as romances. A lot of them might tread into YA waters. But intense YA. Very romantic YA. But the characters are always written so well. They have flaws, they have hopes, they are fleshed out and easy to identify with, no matter their story. And when they get together with the other love interest? Actual sparks will fly. Hoover writes love scenes that are so tantalizingly delicious without being corny and cliche. Bottom line? Read her books. ALL OF THEM. I don’t think I’ve ever rated any of her books below a 4.5. And I’m pretty stingy with my 5 star ratings! Slammed is the first one I read and still my absolute favorite. November 9 was another very memorable one. But they’re all fantastic. Read them.
Okay, all that being said – Without Merit isn’t actually a romance book. I was a little thrown off by the amazon description when I realized a few weeks ago she had a new book coming out. But I was sure it would still be a hit no matter what the subject matter, and I was right. This book is about Merit, a 17 year old girl who belongs to a pretty bizarre family. She lives with her dad, her step-mom who she hates, her older brother Utah, twin sister Honor, little half brother Moby, step-uncle who is only a few years older than her Luck, and Honor’s boyfriend, Sagan. Oh, and her agoraphobic mother lives in their basement. The Voss family is full of eccentricities and Merit holds a lot of judgement against all of them. As a person, she’s pretty flawed as you watch her learn to understand that she’s depressed and actually at fault for a lot of their family’s anger and drama. She’s not always a particularly likeable character, but you can also relate to how many times she says things she instantly regrets and has to live with the shame and embarrassment that comes with it.
While the main theme does not revolve around romance, it does exist! At the beginning of the book Sagan (before he lives with them and knows they are twins) mistakes Merit for being Honor and kisses her. This sparks a bit of infatuation on Merit’s part and she has to deal with wanting what she can’t have. Their relationship is one of the driving forces behind the book and what really pushes Merit to see that she needs help.
Overall, I really enjoyed this book. I’m never quite sure how I feel about domestic/family life books. They’re not something I’m usually drawn to initially, but I rarely regret actually reading them. I loved all of the characters. I enjoyed watching the family members interact with each other and thought Luck and Sagan’s presence was so essential to making the story great. It was a little hard to understand how a dad who is “doing his best” doesn’t actually have a problem with the way his kids are living. But I like how they begin to resolve their family craziness at the end. I’m definitely recommending this book. And all the rest of her books while you’re at it!
Sourdough by Robin Sloan
Rating: 3.5 stars
Lois is a woman who spends most of her life at work. She recently moved to San Francisco to be a programmer at a robotics company. She and her co-workers are expected to spend about every waking minute at work, including sleeping over and spending weekends at the office. She falls into a pattern where all she does is program, doesn’t have any friends, eats a nutritional “slurry” for all her meals, and feels sluggish and ill all the time. One day she has a flyer at her door for a local delivery only restaurant that sells sandwiches, soups, and sourdough. She orders her first meal and instantly feels more alive. She starts ordering the same meal every single night and her life begins to change. One day she receives news that the restaurant owners need to close and move back to Europe, but as a gift for being their number one customer, they give her their sourdough starter. Lois has never baked a thing in her life, but she looks up directions online and is startled to realize how satisfying it is to bake a nourishing and delicious loaf of bread.
Sourdough follows Lois’ journey and she embarks on a new side business making and selling her own sourdough from the magical starter. With almost no planning, she makes her own outdoor oven, researches bread baking books, and instantly has a reputation for her talent. At the suggestion of her office chef, she auditions to work in one of the Bay area farmer’s markets. She is given a spot at a new upcoming destination called The Marrow Market. On one condition – she has to bring one of her robotic arms to help her bake.
I really enjoyed the beginning of this book. It’s so delightful to see someone discover a piece of themselves they didn’t realize they were missing. As someone who also loves to bake, I enjoyed learning more about sourdough and the bread baking process. It felt slightly unbelievable that someone could start baking and days later be offered a position in a new market, in San Francisco (sourdough central!) of all places. But I rolled with it and it was fun to watch her journey. The second half of the book, however, got a bit odd. The Marrow Market was a collection of people finding new ways to produce food. Everyone had an angle to make them more unique than what you could find at a regular farmer’s market. I didn’t really care for any of the robotics stuff. It didn’t seem to serve any purpose other than an interesting novelty to customers. Lois also starts mixing her starter with other starters to be able to produce larger quantities of bread and everything gets a bit crazy at that point. A lot of weird stuff happens and it’s so abstractly described that it kind of lost me. I really had no real idea what was happening at one point. I feel like at that point, most of the heart that the first half held, was gone.
Overall, this is a fast and easy read. I like how it encourages readers to go after their own hobbies and dreams, even if they’re not as financially adequate as a soul destroying career they might currently have. If you like to bake, you’ll probably enjoy this book. Though fair warning – it will also make you want to have a piece of bread in your hand and mouth as soon as possible!!
Lily and the Octopus by Steven Rowley
Rating: 2.5 stars
This is a book about Ted, a single gay man in his early forties whose partner in life is his 12 year old dachshund, Lily. He struggles with forming and keeping relationships without just about everybody except for Lily and his best friend. As the years went on he became so close to Lily that he would hold constant conversations with her and was fairly certain that she spoke back. He didn’t need anyone else in his life. Until the day he realized Lily had an “octopus” on her head. He knew that her days were coming to an end which sparked the downward spiral of Ted discovering how isolated and alone he truly is and how he’ll ever manage to cope without Lily in his life.
This book felt, to me, like a creative writing assignment that went too far. At the beginning I found the conversations Ted and Lily had, observing their weekly routines, to be endearing. Sweet almost. If I were living alone with a dog I’d have a fairly similar lifestyle, I bet. But after awhile, I just got so angry with Ted for insisting Lily’s tumor was an octopus to anybody and everybody he came into contact with. The octopus’s ability to talk and taunt Ted was absurdly annoying. At one point you lose sight of what’s reality and what was just fantasy in Ted’s head. I’m still not sure if their “last journey” was entirely a figment of Ted’s imagination or not. It just got to be way too over the top for me.
That being said, it was still a sweet ode to a life well lived with the companionship of a good dog. And even though you know the entire time that the octopus will eventually get the best of Lily, it still wrecked me when it happened. Overall, I liked parts of the story, simply because it was about a dog and I happen to love dogs. But all the creativity and assigning a tumor the evil identity of an octopus was beyond what I could really enjoy in a book. I will, however, never think of octopuses the same way again.