Girlhood and Coming-of-Age Review: The Girls from Corona del Mar by Rufi Thorpe

I was on the search for a lightweight book to bring with me for a day full of travel, when the simple beauty of this cover, filled in tan, freckled skin, enthralled this fellow tan, freckled gal to pick it from the tucked away library shelf (the second time around). Funnily enough, I made a trek back to the library later that same day to grab the book because it wouldn’t escape my mind from that morning sighting when I had failed to pick it up.

Rainbow Rowell recommended Rufi Thorpe’s Dear Fang, With Love years ago, which meant for me that this author would nail down life specificities the way I enjoy in Rowell’s books. The Girls from Corona del Mar did not disappoint within the first page, reading about a loving family’s presence in Lorrie Ann’s life.The Girls from Corona del Mar bookspoils

And it took me a single sitting, reading swiftly through ten pages, to realize this was something to hold on to. I particularly enjoyed how the first couple of pages started with a tantalizing proclamation, “You’re going to have to break one of my toes,” then veered off to familiarize these characters, and ended the paragraph the same way it started so that we’re included in their motives; a full circle.

Set in the mid-90s, The Girls from Corona del Mar follows two best friends, Mia and Lorrie Ann, through spot-on observations on life, growing together and apart, and always having that nature pull to return to each other. This read like an extremely attentive and introspective novel, full of vivid stories on Mia’s lifelong friendship with Lorrie Ann. My mind was bursting with all that I wanted to note down with each page I read. You know it’s a good book when you close your eyes at the end of the day and continue completing the story in your head.

Normally, friendships between girls are stowed away in boxes of postcards and ticket stubs, but whatever was between me and Lorrie Ann was not so easy to set aside.

I was surprised to find a unique storytelling mode where, instead of having two narrators who each tell their own tale, we follow Mia’s perspective of Lorrie Ann’s toils through the details Lor gives her best friend. You can peek this in the passage below:

“I love you,” Lorrie Ann lied. (Was it a lie? I never knew, exactly. I couldn’t understand her love for Jim and so I made my peace with Lor’s decisions by assuming her feelings for him were either feigned or a delusion, but perhaps they were not. Perhaps she loved him with the same animal part of herself that couldn’t let that baby go.)

I really liked how the author gained control with this little insert because Mia went a little off-task into Lor’s (the name Lorrie Ann is a pain to type) world, and the usage of first-person brought it back to the narrator.

I’ll be honest by saying right off the bat I was as wrapped around Lorrie Ann’s finger as much as Mia. Something about the utter kindness and goodness of her always shone so brightly on the page. It’s best told in this incident that captures Lor’s character through the author’s storytelling:

Once, when we were about ten, Lorrie Ann had been given too much change at the Chevron snack shop: she had paid with a ten, but the man must have thought she gave him a twenty. Lorrie Ann didn’t even notice until we were five blocks away, and then insisted we walk all the way back so that she could give him that unearned ten-dollar bill, which as I recall was soft and wrinkled like wilted lettuce. I am sure Lorrie Ann would never remember that day, such an insignificant anecdote, but in my mind it became a central organizing allegory about the differences between us.
Everything I had in life was half stolen, a secret, wilt-y ten-dollar bill that Lorrie Ann would have been too good to keep, but which I could not force myself to give away.

What makes so much of these eyeful remarks is how grounded in reality they are.

I was initially won over by Lorrie Ann with this truthful statement when faced clearly, at only eighteen, with an impossible choice: “But don’t you learn to love someone?” Lorrie Ann asked.

This right here is what too many novels fail to realize when they proclaim that love is all or nothing. Love isn’t some overbearing emotion that takes control of your sane thought process, love is something that you need to discover how to do with morality. “You don’t fall in love. You grow in love.” Love is recognizing the grandiosity of the person standing before you; love is including that person within your own being.

Her thought process of said impossible choice is demonstrated touchingly. She had this terrible death happen within her family, which she concludes as her fault for not being good enough or observant enough of the signs in her life, so she doesn’t want to set off something now that’ll make bad things appear back in her life. She chooses what she deems the right thing. What follows changes the trajectory of her life and Mia’s along with her.

And yet it was not me but Lorrie Ann whom the vultures of bad luck kept on visiting, darkening the yard of her house, tapping on the panes of her windows with their musty, blood-crusted beaks.“Wake up, little girl!” they cried.“We’ve got something else for you!

I felt suspended the entire time I read through this reflective and tumultuous story. So much of this novel is built on the many tragedies that befall Lor despite her best. And I kept wallowing over just how many they are… I mean, I came to relish whenever Lor walked back into Mia’s life, though knowing it’s only when something unfortunate happens makes it a bittersweet pill to swallow.

At a certain point, when the only times these two communicate is when something bad occurs to Lorrie Ann, it became an exhausting process of “Oh, what now?” It read like a condensed version of A Little Life, which I liked for the subtle quips on life but disliked immensely for throwing tragedy after tragedy my way. It takes away from the realness of life when we only meet these two characters when tragedy strikes. I wanted to spend more time in the in-between moments that make up a lifetime. When everything’s shit, however, it makes you appreciate little gestures of kindness, simple as a sweet nurse over the phone reassuring Lorrie Ann.

On a random note, I enjoyed how the title chapters are indicant of what’s ahead. It’s a little touch that shows how much a book means to an author.

And I’m still so in awe at how this book kept me enthralled page by page with its eyeful observations. This is an author that lets no moment slip by; you have to be really sensitive of your reality to succeed in writing down what you see in real life. And I, for one, am a complete sucker when it comes to introspective novels that reveal a deeper layer that lies within us.

The Girls from Corona del Mar nails down the complexity of maintaining a long-distance friendship. I admired, in particular, what was said about feeling like a character in a book, like, you don’t exist unless I pick you up.

“That came out awful, but what I mean is that when you are a half a world away, it seems more like something happening in a novel, you know, and we’ve lived apart for so many years now that you are kind of like that for me, except when I see you, then you are suddenly terribly real, and that made Jim’s death real and now I feel like I can’t catch my breath because everything is too real for words.”
Lorrie Ann looked at me critically for a moment, as though I were a gem she were assessing through one of those tiny eyepieces. Then she said, “I know exactly what you mean. For most of the year you are just a character in a book I’m reading. And then when you do show up, I think:  Oh, God, it’s her! It’s her. The girl I knew when I was a kid. My friend.”

This is such a sweet moment too real for words… And then this moment on how talking over the phone never fully captures the true experience in a single phrase: “I’m not sure,” Lorrie Ann said, and I wished I could read her face.”

They hold this interesting dynamic wherein Mia feels forever endowed by Lorrie Anne’s virtue. Her “opposite twin.”

I did not pursue my relationship with either for personal reasons, but because I sincerely believed they were the two best specimens of humanity I had yet to run across on the planet.

But when this book turns bad, it goes down all the way. It hit a point of no return after the 150-page mark, and I was left dumbfounded. I felt truly betrayed by the inorganic change in character happening halfway through. I had spent so much time with this book, singing its praises, only to have this abrupt tomfoolery wherein the most moral character had everything immoral thrown her way. I’m still in a state of shock. It came to the point where I had to point the book cover face down on my nightstand, till its fast return to the library the following day, because  I couldn’t bear to look at it without some semblance of anger flaring up inside me. It felt like two completely different stories were being told: One of genuine storytelling, using many sharp observations about family life, and telling a truthful tale of girlhood. And the other is focused on tearing down what we build up for the past 100 pages. Like, when Mia starts being the moral compass for Lorrie Ann that’s when you know something fishy is going down in the storytelling.

 

 

This unnatural change of pace made me feel beyond exasperated. It’s all that I had been warned about on immorality was shown with a turn of a page. W H Y ??? I’ll just say one thing: Those questioning the system of justice while claiming that ridding a child of its life because of a disability are exactly those that the system exists for. I mean:

“Zach’s suffering is not more than a child’s in the Congo just because we are genetically related.”

How is one supposed to react calmly to reading such utter BS? She’s talking so coldly about her own son, and I’m wondering how this is the same person from the start of this book. I cannot stand when good characters are destroyed this way. This felt like an amateurish and insensitive dissection on a character’s life.

I just don’t have the patience anymore to deal with such crude remarks being made for n, such as comparing genocides and reducing both in the process of doing so.

Cue my search for a new favorite book to calm my storming rage.

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Thirsty Romance Review: The Hating Game by Sally Thorne

“The Hating Game. You versus me. It’s the only way this can possibly end.”

During my recent, habitual task of roaming my local library shelves, I landed eagle-eyed on The Hating Game, which I’ve heard nothing but praise for in the last year. It didn’t need any further coaxing to check it out. And damn, this is one hot summer book; I’m glad I read it at the high-end of the hot season dying down.

I know I’m low-key excited when I read the praise at the start of the book. Valerie Frankel’s “stole my life for two days” seemed promising, in particular.

NEMESIS (n)

1) An opponent or rival whom a person cannot best or overcome
2) A person’s undoing
3) Joshua Templeman

Lucy Hutton has always been certain that the nice girl can get the corner office. She prides herself on being loved by everyone at work – except for imposing, impeccably attired Joshua Templeman.

Trapped in a shared office, they’ve become entrenched in an addictive, never-ending game of one-upmanship. There’s the Staring Game, The Mirror Game, The HR Game. Lucy can’t let Joshua beat her at anything – especially when a huge promotion is on offer.

If Lucy wins, she’ll be Joshua’s boss. If she loses, she’ll resign. So why is she questioning herself? Maybe she doesn’t hate him. And just maybe, he doesn’t hate her either. Or maybe this is just another game . . .

I sank into a more comfortable reading position as soon as this book got a good laugh out of me with the line:

“He doesn’t acknowledge me for a full minute. His keystrokes intensify. Beethoven on a piano has nothing on him right now.”

This seemed promising within a heartbeat at that.
Honestly, Lucy and Joshua’s whole office teasing/hating vibe had me in fits when I made the comparison in my head with Jim and Dwight from The Office.

The Hating Game could’ve used the office angst between Lucy & Joshua to pull together some grandiose pranks, and yet… we get some mentions of HR reported pranks, but zero details of what they contained. To be honest, I never quite determined who’s who: Our Dwight fluctuates between Joshua Templeman, Assistant (To The) co-CEO, and Lucy Hutton, Executive Assistant (To The) co-CEO.

They’re so aware of one another and I’m here wondering how can you hate someone you’re so obsessed with? They’ve memorized the other’s shirt colors, moods, patterns of behavior; They’re on each other’s case every single moment. Their world orbits around the other.

Case in point:

  • The main reason why they seem to hate each other’s guts comes across pretty clear upon the flashback to their first time meeting. Lucy feels like she has to hate him because the other option is too daunting, especially if she feels it’s unrequited. Neither of them would’ve remained neutral about the other.

“Please, I beg myself. Please hate Josh again. This is too hard.”

  • Again, if a book can get me laughing, I’m all in:
When I finally work out how to decode the pencil marks, I slap my forehead. I can’t believe I’ve been so slow.
“Thanks. I’ve been dying to do that all afternoon,” Joshua says without taking his eyes from his monitor.”
This is such a subtle but humorous moment.
  • If I thought the elevator scene was hot (which it surely was; Grey’s Anatomy is quaking), I had a big storm waiting with chapter sixteen; I’m still fanning myself. And to think they started, thanks to the enticing storytelling skills of her “esoteric” dream. I had to keep all windows wide open for that necessary breeze for the rollercoaster of a ride that is chapter sixteen.
  • Lucy investigating every nook and cranny (why does this sound like innuendo?) in Joshua’s apartment in the same chapter was oddly reminiscent of an episode in season three of The Office (“Cocktails”) where the characters attend a cocktail party at a glamorous house, and Dwight’s running around, similar to Lucy, to inspect everything:

This is literally Lucy with Joshua’s heavenly couch:

“Where’d you get this couch? I want to get the same one.”
“It’s the only one on earth.” His dry voice floats out from the kitchen.
“Can I buy it from you?”
“No.”
“What about this ribbon cushion?”
“One of a kind.”

  • Speaking of the show, I have to say that before starting this book I thought all the games mentioned on the back cover meant this would be like earlier into season three, where Jim Halpert fails miserably at playing Call of Duty with the Stamford branch. Like, what if Jim had fallen for Karen Filippelli while playing Call of Duty at work. But turns out that the Staring Game, the HR Game (which is the equivalent of Dwight yelling “MICHAEL”), or the Hating Game are just ways Lucy and Joshua interact.
  • I wasn’t really that invested in the characters outside of their relationship, though, meaning that I hadn’t bothered to think beyond their personal selves, which is why the few surprise curveballs thrown my way managed to shake me up. I just wish we wouldn’t dwell so much on family drama, especially something as big as attending a wedding half filled with Templemans, if we haven’t even interacted with the family members in question prior to it. Also: the trope of the girlfriend getting involved in family drama and solving it all in one scene is eye-roll worthy. If I pick up a romance book it’s pretty obvious I’m not here for all the family interactions.
  • With romances I either hate them or l feel neutral towards the story.  I tried my hand earlier this year with The Kiss Quotient by Helen Hoang and found myself tired out by the sex scenes and just craved going back to that blissful state of drawn-out kisses with intimate yet deliberate hand touches.
  • So I was beyond loving this book for not granting the big s e x scene right away and make the two work for it. Like, as much as the characters were frustrated to part away, it was so worth it in the long run. I usually lose my momentum within the story once that first big scene ends because the thrill of the chase lost and everything turns quite repetitive. So it was beyond gratifying to see The Hating Game laser focus on its spellbinding, pages-long kisses, which were deliciously slow in their attentive nature to tiny details.
  • Kitchen scenes where Joshua’s preparing food and Lucy feels so at home with him that she just leans into him at every opportunity GOT TO ME.

“Don’t line my replacement up too quick. You’ll hurt my feelings.”
The reminder of the likely outcome of this entire scenario makes me decide to lean against him. The middle of his back is the most perfectly ergonomic place to hide my face.”

All bubbling and soft feelings evoked.

When you spent so much of your time pining after someone, knowingly or unknowingly, the high of getting together is intoxicating. The number of times Lucy goes to say she addicted to Joshua made my mind play Britney Spears’ Toxic in the background.

All in all: the hype for The Hating Game was worth it for the majority, even if family feuds came to intervene at the very end. Honestly, it was worth it all for chapter sixteen.

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Review: Exquisite Corpse by Pénélope Bagieu

I read it for the art… and to satisfy my curiosity from a couple of years back regarding this book.Exquisite Corpse 3- bookspoils

Zoe isn’t exactly the intellectual type, which is why she doesn’t recognize world-famous author Thomas Rocher when she stumbles into his apartment…and into his life. It’s also why she doesn’t know that Rocher is supposed to be dead. Turns out, Rocher faked his death years ago to escape his critics, and has been making a killing releasing his new work as “lost manuscripts,” in cahoots with his editor/ex-wife Agathe. Neither of them would have invited a crass party girl like Zoe into their literary conspiracy of two, but now that she’s there anyway. . . . Zoe doesn’t know Balzac from Batman, but she’s going to have to wise up fast… because she’s sitting on the literary scandal of the century!

Exquisite Corpse is the epitome of a graphic novel set to feature gorgeous artwork with essentially no depth to the storyline. We have flat, unmotivated characters whose actions are never explored; it’s somehow a given that it’ll make sense for a complete stranger to let a girl into his apartment to pee simply because she rang his intercom…Exquisite Corpse 6- bookspoils
Manic Pixie Dream Girl to the max. No person, especially a stranger, talks like that. 

Exquisite Corpse perfectly embodies those clichéd French novels all about Oh, Love French sigh that I’ve been warned about. It checks pretty much every mark from the mistreating old boyfriend to the oh-so-romantic new love interest to the out-of-nowhere mature ex-wives to Lolita-esque relationships (literally have way too many examples of this I’ll share below). The warnings weren’t for naught. So it became quite humorous when the novel tried to take itself too seriously.

Exquisite Corpse !!- bookspoils

This right here illustrates their imbalanced relationship. They don’t view each other as equals, and the writer dude (such a bland character I don’t even recall his name) is beyond patronizing.

The adults are having a conversation while sending the little girl off to bed:

Exquisite Corpse 8- bookspoils BLEH.

Exquisite Corpse 7- bookspoilsThis 22-year-old needs a therapist, not someone twice her age preying on her.

Also: The clear contrast established between her old boyfriend and this writer dude was so forced, and it made all the “good” the writer represented (listening to her, complimenting her, etc.) seem like he was reading from a script or something he read in a magazine. IT’S NOT REAL. The artificial interactions bothered me all too much for a book that’s supposed to be contemporary.

The ridiculously blown-out aspects of this book made it so I could never fully sink into the storyline. At one point I thought we were on the brink of a breakthrough when the main character finally realized what a douche the writer was and ran from him, but their relationship shouldn’t have happened in the first place so there wasn’t a lot of room for positive feelings. But then even that tiny revelation ruined itself at the very end with another lolita-esque relationship. S T O P.

I really wished the main character would’ve gotten some time alone to realize and reflect on what direction she wants her life to head into, instead of turning from one bad relationship to the other. I just felt sorry for this girl who clearly craves belonging, so she’s willing to settle with anybody who can provide even a tiny slice of it. Don’t settle, please.

I’ll end my review on a more positive note by featuring some of my favorite pieces: Exquisite Corpse 5- bookspoilsExquisite Corpse 2- bookspoilsExquisite Corpse !- bookspoilsExquisite Corpse 4- bookspoils

bookspoilsbookspoils star

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