Read This: Somewhere in Between by Katie Li

Somewhere In BetweenSomewhere In Between by Katie Li
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Katie Li’s Somewhere in Between is a Murakamiesque roller coaster ride through love, friendship, and time itself. (Not sure this “roller coaster” metaphor is working, but stick with me.) Magnolia, collector of lost things, and Rom, a shy gamer guy, form an unlikely connection as teens. Their friendship deepens when they discover a portal to another realm—the in-between place. Every time they visit, it’s different. When they go back to reality in their lovably ramshackle Boston neighborhood, the real world has shifted—sometimes in subtle ways, other times in major ways—as well.

Somewhere in betweenThis is no ordinary reading experience. It’s not the kind of book you can sit back and lose yourself in—but that’s a good thing. It requires the reader’s careful attention. In the Wizard of Oz movie, Dorothy leaves black-and-white Kansas and steps into the technicolor wonderland of Oz, giving viewers a huge visual clue, in case we didn’t quite get it: You’re not in Kansas anymore, Dorothy! In Somewhere in Between, the font switches from boldface to roman, helping the reader track the shifts from one realm to the other. At chapter breaks, the book’s pages are intricately designed, festooned in flowers and vines.

One of my favorite passages is a discussion between Magnolia and Rom in the In-between Place. “Do you ever imagine what time looks like,” asks Magnolia. Rom doesn’t exactly understand why she’s asking, but she tries to explain it to him: “I don’t know—it just dawned on me the other day that when I think of time, it has a shape.” She asks Rom to close his eyes and describe how he thinks of time. He thinks of a calendar, of pages tearing off one by one. She says she sees time differently—like a roller coaster:

It’s a roller coaster, but it’s not fast. And you’re not sitting down. You don’t even really have a body. It’s just the feeling of moving in a roller coaster, January starts, and then it moves forward, sort of—I guess toward you? If you were looking at it. And then February goes, like, upward. And March gets higher, but then sort of plateaus.

somewhere in between2I love this conversation because it’s exactly the way people get to know each other—really know each other. It’s how young people’s friendships deepen. They sit around and talk—not just about life and school and books and movies, but about how they think, how they view the world. You can’t have these conversations with just anybody—you wouldn’t want to! You reserve them for the people you trust. You feel like, if you just had enough of these kinds of conversations, you’d achieve some sort of perfect communion. They would get you, and you would get them, too.

Katie Li and I interviewed each other, author to author. As she said on her Instagram, we “chat about books, love, friendship, our cities, fomo, and the writing life.” Check out the interview here!

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The End of the Tour: Broken Homes & Gardens Visits 15 Blogs in a Whirlwind Fashion

I wasn’t sure I was going to write a post about my TLC book tour. I mean, what if they all hated Broken Homes & Gardens? In that case, I figured I could just quietly fade into the shadows, and no one would be the wiser. Now, I’ll admit that at least five reviewers claimed they wanted to slap, shake, or otherwise harm my protagonist. But wanting to inflict bodily harm on a fictional character is a good thing, right? Working my readers up into a fit of violence is certainly preferable to boring them into a coma. That’s what I tell myself, anyway.
flying books
Image by Allen Lal

Now that the tour has ended, I can confidently share the results. Fifteen bloggers took the time to read my book and write up thoughtful, funny reviews. I highlighted a favorite quotation from each one:

Monday, August 17th: Open Book Society

The story really does prove that your childhood can affect your adult decisions.

Monday, August 24th: Thoughts from an Evil Overlord

I highly recommend Broken Homes and Gardens to fans of thoughtful women’s fiction.

Wednesday, August 26th: Chick Lit Central

Rebecca Kelley is so incredibly descriptive, I felt like I was sitting right there with her, during the drizzly rains and evergreen landscapes. It’s that descriptive quality that brought forth Joanna and Malcolm, two characters who you immediately become attached to. So much so, you don’t want to stop reading, wanting to know where their journey takes them.

Thursday, August 27th:  Palmer’s Page Turners

I love reading books by authors of from my home state!  The book was fun to read since the majority of it was set in Portland, OR. It was clear the author new the city well, which strengthened the book.

Monday, August 31st: Diary of a Stay At Home Mom

I have to say that at times I wanted to reach through the book and shake Joanna, she got a little tiring with the push and pull, but overall it was a sweet, lighthearted story that I truly enjoyed.

Wednesday, September 2nd: Bookmark Lit

The whole book had that kind of dreamy I-wish-my-life-was-like-that way. I don’t know how to explain it, but I think this would be a wonderful rom com movie.

Thursday, September 3rd: Bibliotica

Rebecca Kelley manages to balance poignance and absurdity, heartbreak and hopefulness in a way that never feels overly crafted, just well written.

Monday, September 7th: girlichef

I loved the fact that the characters in this book are flawed, like every real person alive. They try new things and make wrong choices, and sometimes realize too late what the right choices should have been.

Tuesday, September 8th: A Chick Who Reads

I liked her crazy relationship with Malcolm really was really what this story was all about and they really seem to belong together, even though both of them seemed to do everything to prevent it from happening.

Tuesday, September 8th: Patricia’s Wisdom

Broken Homes and Gardens is one of the nicest love stories I have read in a long time.  I am not sure if it is because the timing was just right, or if this good read was just the refreshing amount of quirky, definitely west coast, or exactly why, but I just so enjoyed reading this first novel by Ms. Kelley.

Wednesday, September 9th: Bewitched Bookworms

The winding story of English teacher Joanne and carpenter Malcolm’s friendship/relationship is an entertaining and quite gripping one, and I certainly was engaged enough to read this book within a few sittings since I couldn’t put it down.

Thursday, September 10th: Book Dilettante

A modern romance, for the Millennial generation.

Friday, September 11th: From L.A. to LA

Joanna so perfectly captures the person you know with so much potential, yet unable to figure out exactly what they want or how to get there.

Wednesday, September 16th: Luxury Reading

As I read this story, I felt drawn in by the imperfect characters that felt so ordinary and real. Their struggles, hopes and dreams reflect those of many young adults trying to find their way in the world. And their approach to relationships felt like a commentary on the culture. In a society where marriages frequently end in divorces, individuals are left unsure whether marriage is a step they want to consider at all. Freedom becomes valued over commitment and the fallout in people’s lives often cannot be easily captured.

Thursday, September 17th: Book Mama Blog

What I love about this book is that the characters are perfectly flawed.  Both in their twenties, they want to be in relationships but don’t seem to have the proper tools to get there.  Full of funny, and at times cringe worthy moments, the author takes us on their romantic journey that for every step forward, there are two steps back.

To TLC Book Tours, all the bloggers listed above, and all my readers—thank you! I will give Joanna a nice firm shake in your honor.

Powell’s Reading, TV Appearance, and Other Important Updates

You may not have realized that I am now a prominent millennial dating expert. I appeared on A.M. Northwest earlier this month to give twenty-somethings my advice about how to find love in this crazy hookup culture of ours. Here is a link to that segment. I can’t figure out how to embed it. Sorry. Here’s a screenshot, anyway:
AM northwest
Also, I will be reading from Broken Homes & Gardens on Monday, June 22, at 7:30 at the Hawthorne Powell’s. Check out my Facebook event page for more information.

My writing group is going to do a reading on July 28th, so stay tuned for details. I am sure you won’t want to miss hearing from Mark Russell, who is celebrating the release of the first issue of Prez; or Heather Arndt Anderson, who is coming out with a new book on Chillies (or however they spell it in England); or Sarah Gilbert, who has recently published an essay about lichens and volcanoes and sex, etc., etc. in the Chariton Review; or Art Edwards, who last night read us an essay about being a 9-year-old fan of KISS; or Mara Collins, who says she is not reading at the event but really should (I suggest one of her Lydia Davis-esque pieces); or Michael Zeiss, who is dabbling in experimental Duran Duran poetry.

Aside from those exciting events, I was thrilled to find Broken Homes & Gardens listed as a Romance for Real Girls in the Huffington Post’s Summer Reading List. Also my author friend Christi R. Suzanne interviewed me for Propeller Magazine. I was certainly glad she did. Little did I know that her interview would give me the confidence to become the celebrated dating expert I am today.

Today is Release Day for Broken Homes & Gardens!

Today is the day I officially become a published novelist. To celebrate the debut of Broken Homes & Gardens, let’s watch the new, improved book trailer my sister Gina E. Kelley helped me create. It is the official book trailer for BH & G:

Amazing film editing, Gina. Thank you!

Also, check out this essay I wrote for Bustle today: Is the Love Story Dead? Why I Decided to Make My Novel ‘Broken Homes & Gardens’ All about Love.

The Painted Veil (or, Loveless in the Time of Cholera)

The Painted VeilThe Painted Veil by W. Somerset Maugham
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I’ve read so many books about affairs tearing marriages apart. But could a passionate, torrid affair bring a husband and wife closer together? Could the affair be what allows them to finally love each other? This premise intrigues me. It turns out that it’s not the premise of The Painted Veil, though. I think I’d been misled by my hazy memories of the movie.

Kitty Fane is a ridiculous, vain woman—and she is the first to admit it. She only married Walter because her youth was fading and she couldn’t let her younger sister beat her to the altar. Walter sees right through her, but he doesn’t care. He can’t help it—he loves her. When she agrees to marry him and go to Hong Kong for his career as a bacteriologist, he’s thrilled.

He’s not so thrilled when he catches Kitty having an affair with the dashing Charlie. He offers Kitty an ultimatum: follow him deep into the jungles of China in the middle of a cholera epidemic, or get served. When Kitty protests, he makes what seems like a generous compromise: If Kitty can convince Charlie to divorce his wife, Walter will let Kitty divorce him. Then Kitty and Charlie will be free to marry each other and Walter will step aside. Kitty is sure that Charlie will agree to it. Unfortunately, he doesn’t. The cholera epidemic it is.

Kitty and Walter get carried on chairs through the jungle into a remote community. The description of the landscape, the heat, and the dread is evocative. While I wasn’t too fond of Kitty, I couldn’t help but feel sorry for her. She becomes reckless, eating raw salad despite the warnings. She wants to die—if only to spite Walter. While her husband doctors the sick, Kitty gets to know the customs officer and the French nuns, who marvel at her bravery for accompanying her husband on this dangerous mission.

I kept waiting for them to fall back in love, but, as I discovered, that’s not what this story ended up being about. These days, it’s common to believe that love is a choice. I heard Dr. Phil yell it to his audience one time: “Love is not a feeling. It’s a CHOICE!” Maugham would beg to differ. We can’t choose whom we love; if we could, wouldn’t everything be so much simpler? Everyone loves the wrong person. We love bad people even when good people are right there, offering themselves to us. Kitty understands, on a very deep level, that Charlie is a terrible person. She loves him anyway. Eventually she finds peace within herself, and she realizes she doesn’t love him anymore, and that is the greatest feeling of freedom and peace she has ever achieved. (Sadly, she is not able to hang onto it for long.)

At the same time, we can’t choose to love people even when they deserve it. Kitty learns that her husband is revered in these parts. He is a kind and brave doctor, sacrificing himself to save others in the midst of an epidemic. He adored Kitty and now she respects him, but it’s too late. She can’t love him and he has closed himself off to her. They’re both trapped.

The characters in The Painted Veil are not likable, so if you enjoy books with people you can root for, this isn’t it. There are also many racist and imperialist attitudes espoused by the characters, though I wouldn’t call the text itself racist. It’s clear that Kitty’s attitudes are unenlightened ones. She does work to become a more tolerant person, but she is nevertheless guided by her baser instincts. That is her (and maybe all of our) ultimate downfall.

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Book review: Shari Goldhagen’s In Some Other World, Maybe

In Some Other World, MaybeIn Some Other World, Maybe by Shari Goldhagen
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

At first I wasn’t sure I should give In Some Other World, Maybe five whole stars. It had pulled me in so completely that when it was over, I wasn’t sure if the tingling feeling it left me with was the aftershocks from an intense crush rather than true love. I wondered if Shari Goldhagen’s second novel was the equivalent of that handsome bad boy who sweeps you off your feet, takes you on 100-miles-per-hour motorcycle rides on ocean-side cliffs, tells you you’re beautiful, and then rides off into the sunset without leaving so much as his number. This book took me by surprise and did the right thing, in the end: it stuck with me.

In Some Other World, Maybe reminds me of the movie version of Short Cuts, where a lot of different stories happen to a large cast of characters, and slowly but surely, their paths cross and you start to see how everything and everyone is connected. The novel opens in the early 1990s, when all our main players catch a different screening of a large-budget sci-fi film called Eons & Empires. This gives all our characters a common experience, and it introduces a theme that resonates throughout the novel: Our lives intersect with other people’s lives—sometimes by chance, sometimes because of decisions we make. In some other world, maybe . . . things would have gone differently. But we live in this world, and we have to make the most of it. We have to make sure not to take the people in it for granted.

The characters at the center of the novel are Phoebe and Adam. They were both in high school when Eons & Empires came out, but they don’t meet until they’re in their twenties. Both aspiring actors, they’re roommates who hook up sometimes. They’re drawn to each other, attracted to each other, but for various reasons have never managed to make it work as a committed, monogamous couple, even though deep down, that’s what each of them most desires.

Over the course of the book, twenty years go by, and the relationship between Adam and Phoebe evolves. They go from friends to lovers to friends again. Years into their friendship, a family tragedy brings them closer together, and they’re forced to confront their feelings for each other. They resemble no one I know in real life—Adam is a handsome television actor with a chip on his shoulder, Phoebe is glamorous and spoiled, her body perfected by plastic surgeons, her heart wide-open and true. Still, they emerge as fully-developed three-dimensional characters. I became immersed in their relationship drama to the point that I cried—actually shed real tears!—at four separate points in the book. I just really believed in them, and longed for them to make it work. The obstacles they faced rang true, even if I did want to shake Adam by the shoulders at several points and yell in his face, “Don’t let her go, you idiot!”

Other characters orbit Adam and Phoebe’s world, too. It’s always a risk to crowd a book with too many characters. Readers might be tempted to skip over the characters they don’t like to get to the “good stuff.” For me, this wasn’t a problem. I found myself really rooting for all of them.

Over the years, the paths of each main character and several minor ones zigzag back and forth over each other. Sometimes they realize it—Oliver will recognize Phoebe’s mother while on a trip overseas, for example. Other times, they don’t—one time, Adam is standing in line next to Sharon in an airport, but they are (at that point) strangers to each other. It might sound unbelievable, as if the plot relies on too many of these coincidental connections, but those connections reinforce the point the book is trying to make—that all of us are tied together in ways we don’t even realize.

In Some Other World, Maybe is the book I wanted The Interestings to be. It is relevant, engrossing, moving, and an all-around entertaining read. Five stars!

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Shirley is Fascinating and Engrossing

ShirleyShirley by Susan Scarf Merrell

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

When I first started Shirley, I thought this book is going to be amazing. Much of it was–especially if you’ve read a handful of Shirley Jackson’s novels and are familiar with her short stories. Shirley reads like a Jackson novel in both style and subject-matter.

For about one school year, a young couple moves in with Shirley Jackson and her husband, the academic Stanley Hyman. The town, Shirley and Stanley, and the house itself begin to take their toll on the young couple. Rose, our innocent (un)trusty narrator, wants nothing more but to become BFFs with Shirley. She wants to be “seen” by her. She wants to be understood.

We read this in my book club, and we had some discussion of the fact that this creepy, not exactly flattering fictional story was written about real-life people. Some of us thought that Shirley and Stan aren’t tucked back far enough in history to be subjected to something like this. Personally, I found this approach innovative and a bit ingenious; imagining Shirley Jackson in different contexts—as a wife, as a mother, as a literary figure—lent me an interesting perspective on her and her work. But that’s the danger of it, right? Fact, fiction, and the work itself have been all tangled up.

(Side note: I even appreciated the name-dropping: J.D. Salinger, Betty Friedan, Dylan Thomas [did that interaction really happen?!], et al.)

I was all set to give this entertaining novel five stars . . . until the ending happened. What started as a tightly-plotted novel began to unravel in the last quarter. The party scene went on and on, not adding much to the characters or story. Too much time got devoted to explaining how things worked out with Rose and Fred, too.

The ending did circle back to the “does anyone see me?/am I important?/will I be remembered?” theme introduced in the beginning, and the resolution to that was quite satisfying. Therefore, I will settle on a solid four-star rating. I enjoyed it!

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