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review 2018-11-14 02:59
A Great Read about the Less-Glamorous, Less-Successful Side of Silicon Valley
The Place You're Supposed to Laugh - Jenn Stroud Rossmann
Those inclined to irony might find it in the Palo Alto Farmers Market assembled on asphalt, where there had once been an apricot orchard. Each weekend from May through December, the workweek parking lot filled with vendor stands and umbrellas protecting bins of trucked-in garlic cloves, avocados, tomatillos, et al. The University down the street was known as “The Farm,” though it hadn’t been one since the Stanfords donated their country estate and chartered a college in the 1880s. Stanford grads and especially its dropouts had been transforming the Valley ever since; the fruit came from further and further away.

 

It's really hard to grab a representative quotation from this novel -- but this comes close. There's a hint of the humor, the capturing of a moment in time, societal observation, a hint of wistfulness, and even a modicum of critique.

 

It's 2002, in many parts of the country the shadow of 9/11 looms large. It's present in Palo Alto, but not to the degree it is other places -- what looms larger is the bursting of the dot-com bubble, everyone around them has been impacted in some way by it -- most people have been impacted in significant ways, although the ripples are still going out from them and affecting the lives of everyone in their community in some way.

 

Our focus in this novel is on the life of Chad Loudermilk and those who are near him. Chad's 14 and is enduring his first year in high school. His best friend since . . . well, forever, Walter Chen attended there briefly, but was pulled out by his parents to attend the Roman Catholic academy nearby -- for a greater focus on academics, and fewer active shooter drills. Life's hard without Walter around. Chad's mother works with "at risk" youth, on making wise decisions, while she's still reeling from her mother's death a few months earlier. Chad's father, Ray, is dealing with ripples of the burst -- the advertising agency he's part of his dealing with a shift in clientele. There's Scot, Chad's next-door neighbor, the creator of Latte (wink, wink) -- the Macromedia tool -- a big brother figure, dispensing non-parental advice and playing video games (his wife really doesn't have any time for Chad). There's a new girl in school that Chad can't stop talking about, and a couple of guys from the proverbial other side of the tracks that he met at a record store and is spending time with. The major focus of the plot is following Chad's interactions with them over the course of a few months -- we get chapters focusing on his parents and what's going on in their lives, but on the whole, the rest of the characters are seen filtered through Chad's experience.

 

The other major thread follows Chad's maternal aunt, Diana, a physics professor we meet as she registers for a conference in Barcelona. She's trying to re-establish her career after pressing pause on things to have a child with her best friend. It's not easy for her to get back into the swing of things, but she's close. As Chad's aunt, there's a lot of opportunity for the plotlines to intersect and overlap -- but the sisters aren't that close, so it's not as frequent as it could've been. By the end of the novel, events have transpired enough that Diana's as large a fixture in Chad's life as Scot (maybe larger), so it's easy to intermingle the story lines. But for the first 1/2-2/3 or so, there a clear distinction between the two -- and it's not clear why we're getting both stories.

 

Another thing that's not clear is what exactly is Chad's story. This is close to a Bildungsroman, but we only really see the beginning of Chad's development -- it's like the first Act of Chad's Bildungsroman. Which isn't to say that it's an incomplete story, it's not. It's just about Chad starting adolescence. You don't want to get the details from me, you want to get them from the book, but a lot of stuff happens. Nothing major like a school shooting, a terrorist attack, or anything. Just life, the ebbs and flows of people's lives. I could actually sum up the major events of the novel in 2 sentences. One of them might be long-ish, but just two sentences.

 

Don't get me wrong -- there's a plot to this book. But really, you don't see it (well, I didn't see it) until toward the end -- maybe even after the end. This is not a bad thing, it just means you have to think about things a lot. My notes are filled with comments along the lines of "I really don't see where this is going" or "I'm not sure what the point of all this is" -- and they're always followed with, "Don't care, great stuff." I really didn't care where Rossmann was going, I was too busy enjoying the ride -- the voice, the characters, the atmosphere, the little bits like the Farmers Market (above), were enough to keep me engaged, entertained and turning the pages.

 

I'm not going to drill down and talk about the various characters -- or even just one. I could do a post just about Ray, or Scot, or a long one on Chad or Diane -- I think I'd have to do a series on Chad's mom. Instead I'll talk about them as a collective whole -- they're people. There are things to like about them all, there's plenty to dislike about them all (particularly the adults). A lot of what they do seem inconsistent with the characters as Rossmann has presented them, but that just makes them more human. There's not one character in this book that isn't a human -- no one larger than life (Scot kind of is, but he's larger than life in the way that we all know someone who seems to be that way). Any person in this book could easily be the person next to you in the bagel shop, sipping on their caffeinated beverage of choice. They're delightful in that perceived realism, also in the way that Rossmann talks about them. Without approval of anything, you get the feeling that she has affection for every character in the book.

 

The clergymen who appeared -- however briefly -- in this book were a couple of the least objectionable depictions of clergy I can remember seeing lately. Not hypocritical, they actually seemed to believe in what they were saying, and were actually trying to help those they encountered. It's not often you get to see that anymore, and it should be acknowledged when you see it.

 

I've been struggling for a few days -- and I'm not sure I'm succeeding at the moment -- to put into words the experience that is The Place You're Supposed to Laugh. I think I was hooked by the end of chapter 1 -- definitely by some point in the third chapter. I liked the book, I liked the characters, I liked the writing. It's a pleasant, thoughtful experience. It's what reading a book should be like -- skillful writing, wonderfully drawn characters and prose you enjoy immersing yourself in.

 

The novel talks about a lot of things -- one of the biggest themes is forgiveness. I don't think I've ever seen the topic discussed in quite the same way in any format. I won't suggest that Rossmann exhausted the idea, obviously, but she talked about it, depicted it, and had her characters think about it in ways I found refreshing and encouraging.

 

I'm not sure what else to say -- The Place You're Supposed to Laugh is a great read. It's a strong novel that will make you think, will make you feel, and will leave you satisfied. Rossman writes with sensitivity, wit and skill. What else are you looking for?

 

Disclaimer: I was provided with a copy of this novel by the author in exchange for my honest opinion, which is seen above.

Source: irresponsiblereader.com/2018/11/13/the-place-youre-supposed-to-laugh-by-jenn-stroud-rossmann-a-great-read-about-the-less-glamorous-less-successful-side-of-silicon-valley
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review 2018-11-04 16:39
The Quiet Place - Sarah Stewart, David Small
The Quiet Place - Sarah Stewart,David Small

An antidote to the toxic attitude toward immigrants of color right now. As if people of Northern European descent somehow have a more valid claim to American citizenship than indigenous people of the continent. It's like demanding that the UK remain for Romans only. 

 

Set in 1957 the dresses are spot on an appropriate, and matched with mid-century furnishings, signage, and motor vehicles.

 

Library copy

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review 2018-10-23 18:41
No Place to Run by Maya Banks
No Place to Run - Maya Banks

I really don't like a heroine, who moves the earth and the sky to get to the hero because she needs his help and then the moment she meets the hero, she decides, she doesn't need his help after all; turns into sarcastic bitch and starts lying. It's frustrating, takes away the joy of reading and makes me doubt whether the heroine has brains at all. 
I was so impressed by Sophie's actions at the beginning of the book and then she changed into this "I have to get away, you can't help me, Sam" type of brainless chick. Okay, let's move on. 
Actually, I liked the story quite well. It had an exciting beginning and the pace was good. I liked Sam a lot and his family is just great. I'm definitely going to read the third book as well.

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review 2018-09-25 14:21
Old Willis Place
The Old Willis Place - Mary Downing Hahn
This novel wasn’t as creepy as the last Mary Downing Hahn novel that I read but I liked this story more. This story seemed to have more elements to it. I did think that the ending of the story wrapped up a bit too fast for me but for the target audience, they will love it.
 
Diana and her brother Georgie have been roaming the hillside of the Old Willis Place (Oak Hill Manor) for years. They have a list of rules that they must follow. Over the years, there have been numerous caretakers of the property which the two have had the pleasure of entertaining. When the current caretaker moves in with his daughter, Lissa and their dog MacDuff, Diana wants so badly to be her friend since they are about the same age but to do so, Diana would be breaking a rule. It has been so long since Diana has had a friend.
 
Georgie is content on their way of life on the hill but Diana longs to have a friend and the more she spies on Lissa, the more she wants to be her friend. Georgie and Diana are also worried about Lissa as she wanders around the grounds, surrounding the crumbling mansion. The doors have been shut on the mansion for years, the interior safe and secure, the outside has been watched by caretakers so vandals can’t work their way inside. But now, there is Lissa and she poses a threat to the calm dwelling.
 
I enjoyed this ghost story. It wasn’t just a haunting, there was a great story behind it and in the end, there was closure.

 

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review 2018-09-13 17:44
French Takes on Teens
The Secret Place - Tana French

The Secret Place is Tana French’s fifth entry in her fantastic Dublin Murder Squad series.  Like in the previous novels, French selects one member of the squad to build a story around.  This time, French concentrates the action on Stephen Moran, a new officer first introduced in her third book, Faithful Place.  Moran played a pivitol role in that novel, and it provides background information about his methods and character.  The earlier work also establishes his initial encounter with Frank Mackey, an MS detective who also appears here in The Secret Place. Holly, Mackey’s daughter brings an important clue to Moran who is starting out in the Cold Cases department.  It involves an unsolved murder that took place a year ago at her posh private school.  A boy from the school next door was found dead in the woods, but the perpetrator and a possible motive was never discovered.  Moran is ambitious and leaps at the opportunity to bring the new evidence to a Murder Squad member who might vouch for him and advance his career.  Unfortunately, the detective assigned to the case when it was active was Antionette Conway.  She is an outcast in the Murder Squad, and her prickly demeanor and easily offended sensibilities will make working with her a challenge.  Moran and Conway reopen the case and head up to St. Kilda’s school to follow up. Their investigation brings them in contact with two opposing groups of tight-knit girls who definitely know more than they admitted last year.  French juxtaposes the two cliques, exploring teen friendships-some based on dominance/intimidation, and others on blind loyalty and co-dependence. It is a pretty negative and stereotypical portrayal of adolescent girls, and Conway is also not presented as the best example of a well-adjusted female.  There is a different tone to The Secret Place, which is often considered to be the weakest entry in French’s otherwise successful series.  Some elements stretch credulity and the character development is not as extensive as in the others.  Fans accustomed to her gritty realism and deeper psychological themes may find it a bit disappointing, but French’s writing and storytelling are still more impressive than most.  Her next Dublin Murder Squad book, The Trespasser, is French at her best again and not to be missed. Each Murder Squad mystery can stand alone, but the sequential reader benefits from a richer understanding of the characters, their history, and their interactions with other members of the squad. A new stand-alone work, The Witch Elm is due to be released in October 2018.

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