Friday Flicks: Love, Simon

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Simon is a normal teenage boy. He is in the midst of his senior year of high school. His parents were high school sweethearts who married and started a family. He's the older brother to Nora a precocious youngster whose obsession with the show Chopped has turned her into a budding chef. Each morning Simon drives his used car to pick up his best friends before heading to class. Life is completely normal. But Simon has one huge secret. Simon is gay.

Through a post to a school message board, Simon discovers another student (Blue) is also harboring the secret of their sexuality. The two begin emailing each other anonymously and start to fall for each other. One day, Simon makes a fatal mistake by leaving his email logged in on one of the school computers. Another student sees the messages and blackmails Simon.

Forced to face the reality of others learning his secret, Simon follows along with the blackmailer's demands. Along the way, he turns to Blue for support and starts to come to terms with accepting himself. If Blue can accept Simon for who he is, maybe everyone else will be able to too.

Based upon the novel Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda by Becky Albertalli, Love, Simon is a brilliant coming of age story of love, friendship, and acceptance. The mix of comedy, romance, and drama reminded me of many of the John Hughes films from the 1980's. Director Greg Berlanti frames the story in a way that is both extremely topical and classically timeless. Being one of the first mainstream Hollywood movies to touch on coming out places a ton of pressure on the film to get it right, but Love, Simon shoulders that responsibility with grace, humor, and thoughtfulness. The film's message of acceptance and compassion is important for all audiences, especially families.

Going Places by Kathryn Berla


"Let's take a drive in a car, he said. Where do you want to go?"

It is senior year, and Hudson has resolved to do things a little bit differently. He only needs a couple more credits to complete his diploma, so he doesn't see the need to be at school all day. If he were home schooled, he posits, he would have enough time to work on the graphic novel that he's been dying to start. Plus, graphic novelists don't necessarily need a formal education anyway. He shoots an email to his mom outlining all the positive effects of his plan, and with a few conditions of her own, she agrees!

Part of the agreement is for Hudson to pay monthly rent. He quickly grasps the entrepreneurial spirit by forming two business ventures. The first is a simple dog walking service. Each day, Hudson gathers the neighborhood canines and walks them. His other big idea is a little bit more obscure. He creates a service for elderly people that has him constantly on call. If any of his clients need him for any reason, he will be at their service 24/7. What seems like an easy way to make some extra cash soon becomes more of a burden. One of his clients, an elderly man who lives alone, keeps beckoning him through mysterious calls in the middle of the night.

Beyond his businesses, Hudson faces other challenges. His father was killed in the war when Hudson was just a young boy. He struggles to meet the promises that his father saw in him and longs for the days when he could turn to his dad for comfort and advice. Writing a graphic novel is turning out to be more trying than he expected. Striving for originality and deeper meaning in his work, Hudson ends up abandoning most of his attempts to start the novel.

In Going Places, author Kathryn Berla tackles the subjects of growing up, the creative process, love, and loss through a charming coming of age story. With yesterday being the 15th anniversary of the United State's occupation of Iraq, reading about Hudson losing his dad was even more difficult to stomach. There is an entire generation of young people who are facing this reality, and it was nice to see a young adult novel take on that topic. The best young adult novels are able to bridge the gaps between generations and appeal to the young and old alike, and this novel certainly does that. While I feel like Going Places could have benefited from a single element to drive the entire plot, the pieces that Berla presents managed to capture my imagination.

For more information, visit the author's website, Amazon, and Goodreads.

(2018, 12)

In Every Moment We Are Still Alive by Tom Malmquist


"Death is abstract. It can't be understood."

Tom has a mix of emotions as his partner Karin is rushed to the hospital. He's excited meet the child that they are about to be parents of, but he's not so certain he's ready. A struggling writer, Tom fears that his meager income won't be able to support a family. Still, he knows his love for Karin is unwavering, and Tom can't wait to meet their child.

What is supposed to be a joyous occasion soon takes a cruel turn. A healthy baby girl is born, but Karin is not so lucky. The discovery of acute Leukemia causes complications during the birth, and the doctors are unable to save Karin. In one instant, Tom gains one love while losing another. He is instantly faced with the challenges of being a single parent while grieving for the love of his life.

The novel follows the next year of Tom's life. He grapples with the complexities of grief and love while doing everything he can to give a proper upbringing to his baby girl. he has the support of both his and Karin's parents, but the challenges he faces are uniquely his own. As if the pure emotional obstacles of the situation weren't enough, he also confronts the legal ramifications of not being married to the mother of his daughter and the slow-growing illness that threatens to take the life of his father.

In Every Moment We Are Still Alive is an autobiographical novel by Swedish author Tom Malmquist. The book attempts to tackle the tough subjects of death, grief, and love. While the situation that Tom finds himself in is heartbreaking, I couldn't help but feel a bit removed from the entire story. If felt more as if I were watching everything unfold from above rather than experiencing it with the characters. Whether this is a repercussion of the novel being translated from Malmquist's native language or simply how he chose to present his story, it caused me to have a difficult time connecting on an emotional level with the characters. Still, Malmquist's quiet contemplations about the true meaning of bereavement and family make the novel one worthy of reading. I didn't have the emotional experience that I though the novel would bring, but I definitely found myself reflecting upon the illness and death that has passed through my own life in the last year.

For more information, visit the author's website, Amazon, and Goodreads.

(2018, 11)

Checking In with Old Friends: A Guest Post by Author Marisa de los Santos


Author Marisa de los Santos joins us today to give us insight into the conception of her latest novel I'll Be Your Blue Sky

Ever since my second novel Belong to Me came out, I've had readers ask me if I were going to write about the characters from that book and Love Walked In---Claire, Cornelia, Dev, and the rest---again. Some of them actually skipped the "if I were going" part and filed requests, all a little differently worded, but all amounting to the same thing: more, please. This made me happy. Very happy. Of course, it did. Who wouldn't want to write into being characters that people missed after they finished the book? "More, please" meant readers loved my people, the ones I'd felt lucky to live with for two books, the ones who felt entirely real to me, and whom I loved, too.

But the truth was, I didn't know if I'd get to write about them again. The Ideas for books have never felt generated by me; they have felt given to me, by whom or what I cannot say. So my answer to those kind of readers was always the same, "I would love that." Over time, I added this: "If I ever do write about those characters, I'll probably focus on the ones that are kids in the first two books: Clare and Dev." It sounds like maybe I knew that I'll Be Your Blue Sky would come into being or that I had a small seed of an Idea for this book taking root somewhere inside my imagination, even all those years ago.

I don't think so, though. I think saying that about Clare and Dev was not so much an inkling or prediction as it was a hope. I hoped---hard and for years---that I would get to write a book about  Clare and Dev. I would have been thrilled and honored to write more of Cornelia's story of of Teo's or even Lake's or Piper's (and maybe I still will; who knows?). If any of my adult characters had knocked on my door, I would have thrown it wide open. But while adult characters, no matter how old they are, have potential to change and grow and can be full of stories, child characters are pure potential. They are still mostly unformed, mostly mysteries. I wanted to know, there were moments when I was dying to know, who Clare and Dev would grow up to be.

As weird as it sounds, even though I didn't have a single detail, I felt that they were out there, living their days hour by hour, studying, forging relationships, riding bikes, laughing, singing in the car, getting bad haircuts, reading books, stumbling, making stupid mistakes, hurting people and getting hurt, having moments of brilliance and bravery and disappointment. Growing up.

And then, one day, there was Clare, with light on her brown hair, young but not a child anymore, herself but changed, looking a little bit like my daughter might look when she becomes an adult. Because this Clare who appeared was an adult. An adult tangled up in a mess---an extremely messy mess---of her own making. I didn't know much of her story, but I understood---in a great, glad, slightly vertiginous rush of understanding, like standing on a windy mountaintop---that I would know, eventually, and would spend my days inside of her days, with her, this girl I'd missed for so long.

It was the best felling, that anticipation, the knowledge that I would get to tell her story.

I can't wait for you to read it.

You can connect with Marisa on both Facebook and Twitter

Sunburn by Laura Lippman


"Maybe everybody lies, all the time."

Who is Polly? She's turned up in the small town of Bellville outside of Baltimore with only a suitcase and shoulders still freshly charred from the sun. She is staying in a dilapidated motel across from the equally ramshackle Hi-Ho bar. Naturally, the citizens of the small town are curious about who she is. Polly sits at the bar and announces to the man next to her, another out of towner, that Bellville is her new home. But why is she here and what has she left behind?

Adam knows what Polly, Pauline as he knows her, is running from. He watched as she spend a final day on the beach with her husband and three-year-old daughter. His client tasked him with cozying up to the husband and getting to know the family. The goal was to uncover the money that Polly illicitly gained from his client. Things did not go as planned. Polly fled in the night leaving her family behind. Now as Adam sits next to her at this dive bar in the middle of nowhere, he has more questions than answers about the woman his is supposed to investigate.

I've been a fan of Laura Lippman for years. Specifically, I've always admired her ability to craft stand-alone thrillers that draw me in and have unique characters. Even better, no two Lippman novels follow the same formula. In her latest novel Sunburn, Lippman presents a story that is so different from her others that I almost forgot which author I was reading. Even if my final reaction to the book was mixed, I have to applaud her effort in presenting something so unique.

Set in the early 1990's Sunburn is a mystery in all aspects. We are left in the dark about Polly and her motivations for most of the novel. Lippman strategically reveals details about Polly's past with just enough regularity to keep the reader invested in the story and the suspense rolling. Setting the story at the end of the last century gives the novel a retro vibe that also helps to explain how Polly is able to conceal her history so well. Without prevalent smart phones, social media, and computers, it is not easy for Adam and his client to learn about their enigmatic target. My only real complain about Sunburn is that the ending was a bit too abrupt and tidy for the events that preceded it. Still Sunburn is the perfect start to my early spring/summer reading and a solid reminder of Laura Lippman's writing prowess.

For more information, visit the author's website, Amazon, and Goodreads.
This review is part of a TLC Book Tour. Click here for the entire tour schedule!

(2018, 10)

Like a Champion by Vincent Chu


Let's take a moment to talk about reading slumps. Whether you read a book every once in a while for pleasure or rely on a strict schedule to maintain your reading goals or posts, everyone finds themselves in a reading slump. There are days when even my favorite genre or author can't inspire me to pick up a book. As a blogger who maintains a precise reading schedule, I've developed many tactics to pull myself out of the dreaded reading slump. For years now, one of my go to strategies has been to read short stories. The short nature of these works naturally lends themselves to being read in quick bursts. I love that I can sit down for a few minutes and blow through a story. Soon, I'll find myself back in the swing things. Even better, finishing short stories gives me the feeling of accomplishment that I need to persuade myself to venture back into larger books.

In his debut collection of stories Like a Champion, author Vincent Chu celebrates the victories of everyday life. No matter how large or small, we face a variety of challenges as we go through life. In his collection, Chu presents a multitude of stories that feature characters becoming champions of their own situations. One story in particular captured my imagination in both the innovative way in which it is presented and the universal charm of the characters. Through a series of instant messages, Chu tells the story of a couple interacting on an online dating site. The pair instantly hits it off, but is hesitant to meet in person. Chu deftly captures the reality and uncertainty of dating in the modern age within a minimal narrative structure. The simple story ended up being one of the most emotionally resonant and creative in the entire collection.

Another tells the story of a man taking a cruise. He is unenthusiastic about the forced relaxation and questionable quality of the ship. He can think of much better ways to be spending his time. Through dated diary entires, he complains about the amenities that other guest seem to be throughly enjoying. Slowly, he begins to relax and appreciate the time he is spending on the ship. Chu hints at deeper emotional turmoil that gives the charter a depth that is ever present despite the simple presentation of the story. In the end, the man faces victory in learning to appreciate the down time he has in life. At the same time, the story provides a larger lesson in appreciating what you have while you have it. After all, nothing lasts forever.

Other entries in the collection are more traditional in their presentation, but equally engaging and moving. Chu effortlessly writes stories that give readers insight into the "slice of life" moments of challenge and triumph. I found myself flying through the pages and wishing for more time with each of the characters I encountered. The stories in Like a Champion satisfied my craving for easily digestible fiction and left me yearning for more. Even better, the quick pace of each story was the perfect remedy for the pesky reading slump I was in. Chu is a natural storyteller whose penchant for relatable characters and inventive presentation will satisfy everyone who reads his stories.

For more information, visit the author's website, Amazon, and Goodreads.

(2018, 9)

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