Danielle Mohlman

Often mistaking books for boyfriends. Always writing plays.

February 2014

#3: The Madness Underneathby Maureen Johnson

Catie told me that the second book in the Shades of London series didn’t live up to the first, but I had to give it a shot myself. She was right, for the record. While I enjoy Johnson’s writing, I’m always kind of hit-or-miss on her novels. The stakes of The Madness Underneath just weren’t as exciting as The Name of the Star. Not a lot felt earned, the timeline felt all over the place. I’ll need to read some pretty stellar reviews when the third in the series comes out, otherwise I may be done following this storyline.

#4: Wallflower at the Orgy by Nora Ephron

This was my first Ephron and I think that I may need to try one more before I make any decisions about how I feel about her as a writer. Wallflower at the Orgy was a great change of pace for me and it was a well-chosen travel book. I read the first half waiting for and then on my train from Washington, DC to BWI and another chunk while eating a soft pretzel and waiting for my plane to board. I chipped away at the rest of it between outings with my family and showing Jeremy where I grew up. I read the last story — a fantastic profile on the filming of Catch 22 — while in line for Space Mountain at Disneyland with my two younger brothers talking about butts and my boyfriend making fun of the audio/video announcement about the speed and turbulance of the ride. But I remember more about where I read this book than the book itself. There were very few essays that stuck with me — though the one about Ephron’s Cosmo makeover with the ending she wanted to print in the magazine is well worth the read. Laura, do you have a second chance Ephron I should read? (Not I’m Sorry About My Neck.)

#5: Night Film by Marisha Pessl

I didn’t like this book. I didn’t like this book, but I knew that others did. I didn’t like this book and I thought maybe I was being too snobbish, turning my nose up at the unnecessary “This reminded me of the time that”s that littered every chapter. I didn’t like this book, but I thought that somewhere in the tome’s 624 pages I would find writing as good as that haunting preface that almost made me scream when I ran into my boyfriend in hallway because we were half asleep and we were visiting my parents in California and we were in unfamiliar twin beds and somewhere in the world of fiction, a writer had me believe that someone was murdered. And I wonder if I would feel any differently about this book if it was written from a female perspective. Because I had to check three times to make sure that Pessl was indeed a woman. Because her protagonist hated our sex so fervently that I thought, “Surely, the lady doth protest too much.”

February 2014 marks the beginning of my wonderful relationship with both Franklin (my Kindle, who I am still trying to figure out how to photograph) and the DC Public Library’s e-book borrowing system. I’m hooked.

January 2014

#1: Winger by Andrew Smith

I picked up this book because it was featured on Flavorwire’s “15 Best Book Covers of 2013.” Meaning that I literally judged this book by its cover. And I’m so glad that I did. Winger is a young adult book about Ryan Dean West, a 14-year-old junior at a boarding school in Oregon. I’m a sucker for stories about overachieving teenagers, especially students who are too young for their grade. I was one — not to the extent of our Ryan Dean here, but I know what it’s like to feel too young for your peers and really good at school to boot. 

Humble brag: I was the youngest in my class, not because of any grade-skipping academic excellence, but because my birthday was on a weird school district cutoff. I was four when I entered kindergarten. I was also really great at school and graduated thirteenth in my high school class. What I’m trying to say is, I felt a kinship with Ryan Dean. 

Ryan Dean, on top of being young and scrawny and forced onto the rugby team (this is a theme with some of the books I’ve been reading lately: mandatory sports in high schools), also has a huge crush on his best friend. I’ve been there. Multiple times. Andrew Smith, did you steal my high school journals and turn them into a novel? As for how the novel plays out, you’ll have to read Winger for yourself. It definitely surprised me — the last one hundred pages are absolutely gripping. 

#2: Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein

I’m really glad that I stuck with this book all the way to the end because, Jaysus, was it difficult for me to get through. But AnnaCatie, and Bailey all loved it — all reading friends whose tastes I respect — so I pushed myself through.

Code Name Verity tells the story of two young women fighting for the British war effort in World War II: Julie (Verity), a spy and radio decoder with the Special Operations Executive, and Maddie (Kittyhawk), a pilot for the Air Transport Auxilary. While part one of the book seems from casual survey to be the most lauded section, I found myself drawn in by part two, Kittyhawk’s perspective.

Maybe it was the revelatory nature of everything I’d read up until that point, maybe I can blame the beautiful Peter Pan similes. Whatever the cause, while it took me weeks to read the first half of the book, I flew right through the second half in a three days. I’d recommend this book if you’re a fan of historical fiction or if you’re fascinated with World War II. 

The Best Books I Read in 2013:

Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell (my review here)

The Middlesteins by Jami Attenberg (my review here)

Where’d You Go, Bernadette by Maria Semple (my review here)

Real Man Adventures by T Cooper (my review here)

Tenth of December by George Sanders (my review here)

The Love Affairs of Nathaniel P. by Adelle Waldman (my review here)

The Disenchantments by Nina LaCour (my review here)

Two Boys Kissing by David Levithan (my review here)

Forgive Me, Leonard Peacock by Matthew Quick (my review here)

In Praise of Messy Lives by Katie Roiphe (my review here)

What I Read in 2013: Books #30 to #36

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#30: The Imposter’s Daughter by Laurie Sandell

I loved reading Sandell’s wonderfully honest memoir. I’m not normally the graphic novel type, but when I saw Sandell on Stacked Up, I knew I had to check it out. There’s something so fascinating about the vulnerability Sandell illustrates here. No topic is too delicate: she starts by examining the lies her father told her, but focuses on her personal relationships, her often unhealthy work/life balance, and her battle with addiction. The book was too large to carry with me, but it made for an insightful bedtime story. (Side note: if anyone has any graphic novel recommendations — memoirs in particular — throw them my way.)

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#31: The Color Master by Aimee Bender

The first few stories of this collection are amazing. “On a Sunday Afternoon” is haunting in its simplicity. And “The Doctor and the Rabbi” is beautiful. I mean, look:

Not that he believed in such things, but he wondered if giving her atheist blood might in fact turn her into an atheist, and he felt guilty at the thought but also pleased — like she could come over to his house and they could browse his bookshelves, shoulder to shoulder, and read Sarte together, or a dash of Camus, and then stand on chairs in old-fashioned hats and drop apples from great heights to the floor.

But when all is said and done, there were more misses than hits in this collection. If you’re looking for a great immersion into Bender’s world, read The Girl in the Flammable SkirtIt’s fantastic. 

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#32: Last Call in the City of Bridges by Salvatore Pane

This is the first time I’ve reviewed a book by someone I know. Guys, Sal wrote a book! And sure, he wrote a book before I met him, but it’s still a very exciting experience. Sal’s writing is fantastically authentic — his protagonist is someone I could see myself having a beer with, and possibly slapping in the process after listening to some misogynist comment he uttered. I’m excited to see what Sal writes next. 

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#33: Drama High by Michael Sokolove

I have a theory that no matter how much high school sucked for us creatives, we each had at least one teacher that inspired us to keep doing what we’re doing. For me, it was Ms. Yu. She introduced me to the concept of feminism before I knew what to label it. She showed me that great literature could be subversive.

For many high schoolers, that teacher was Lou Volpe. Sure, Sokolove does make some dramaturgical missteps — Frank Wedekind’s Spring’s Awakening isn’t the obscure text Sokolove makes it out to be. (Most theatre majors still study the text.) But Sokolove’s account of Volpe’s final year of teaching at Harry S. Truman High School in Levittown, Pennsylvania, and the years leading up to it is insightful and inspiring. A must-read for everyone who hated those teenage years. 

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#34: Man Repeller by Leandra Medine

A different take on materialism and memoir, Medine’s Man Repeller dedicates each chapter to a piece of clothing she owned, chronicling the item’s sentimental and monetary worth. I’m a woman of few possessions — I give away and abandon items every time I move to a new city, so I often wonder what happened to the clothing I see myself wearing in old photographs. Medine has no such memory lapse. She can tell you exactly where she was when she bought each piece and what momentous occasion she celebrated with each piece. Despite the book’s focus on material goods, I was surprised by how humble and grounded Medine’s voice was. 

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#35: The Love Affairs of Nathaniel P. by Adelle Waldman

Drop everything. This is the book you need to read. Nate’s voice was so real, I had to keep flipping back to the author photo to remind myself that it was written by a woman. Ordinarily, I’d stab myself in the leg for making a gendered statement like that, but I challenge you to read one chapter of Nathaniel P. and see what I mean. Waldman writes beautifully flawed characters and Nate is the most flawed of all. But I couldn’t help but be charmed by him. 

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#36: The Disenchantments by Nina LaCour 

It was such a treat to read two fantastic books back to back. The Disenchantments was one of those can’t-put-it-down books. It was such a joy to watch these teenagers fall in love with music, form their post-high school identities, and take incredibly beautiful risks. This novel is an incredibly earnest account of what happens when we leave home for the first time. Do yourself a favor and read this one. 

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#26: Two Boys Kissing by David Levithan. 

Levithan, you’ve done it again. I was skeptical about how the action of a  record-breaking kiss would drive this novel. I mean, two of the protagonists are lip-locked the entire novel — upwards of 32 hours — and we don’t have an ear on their inner monologue. But incorporating a chorus of gay men lost to AIDS as narrator and panning between three or four teenaged protagonists dealing with varying levels of prejudice, Levithan tells a compelling and truly beautiful story about falling in and out of love.  

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#27: Forgive Me, Leonard Peacock by Matthew Quick.

I met Matthew Quick at the Library of Congress National Book Festival half-way through reading this book. His signing line was surprisingly short, so Quick was really taking the time to talk to everyone who put a book in front of him. I told him I was a writer myself and that I really related to something that he’d said in his talk earlier that afternoon — he’d mentioned that he’s a voice-oriented writer. He follows where those characters in his head tell him to go. 

The trust that Quick puts in his characters really pays off here. Forgive Me, Leonard Peacock is really fantastic. The entire book takes place over the course of a day and every little bit of this troubled teenager’s thought process is incorporated into the storytelling. I feel like anything I could say about the novel would be giving something away, so all I can say is this: trust me. You need to read this book.

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#28: In Praise of Messy Lives by Katie Roiphe.

This book came to me as a recommendation from my friend Gus. He’d read it on a flight from San Francisco to DC (we’re both transplants from California) and said that Roiphe reminded him of me. Like I did, Gus latched onto Roiphe’s commentary on how society views unconventional parenting and the pity so often associated with families of circumstances and women who choose to raise their children without a father.

Others may point out her essay on Mad Men, or one where she talks about how authors write about sex, but the essay that had the most resonance for me was one where she reflects on a joke her then-husband made about what she wrote under “occupation” on her travel visa. “Housewife.” It’s a really great read. 

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#29: Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell.

Rowell may be my new favorite YA author. Eleanor and Park is one of the best books I’ve read all year — her writing is observant and her characters’ voices always feel just right. While Fangirl is a much lighter novel, I actually really enjoyed it. Not life-changing, but nuanced. And it’s a pretty quick read. I’d recommend it if you’re looking for something pseudo-light to read.

After looking at my long backlog of book reviews (I mean, I read Suite Scarlett in July for goodness sake), I found that I’m not going to make it to 52 books this year. Of course I’ll keep reading and of course I’ll continue to offer my two cents on the books I’ve read, but this time around I don’t want to rush myself to get to my year-end goal. I want to enjoy every moment of it, not feel like I’m on a deadline. So without further ado…

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#21: Suite Scarlett by Maureen Johnson.

While this wasn’t life-changing YA literature, Suite Scarlett was more engaging and interesting than its gendered cover would leave you to believe. Of course, it required me to suspend my disbelief — who puts their child in charge of a hotel room? But the theatre practitioner in me was excited to see a non-Broadway show at the center of this New York-based book. Antics ensue when a parking garage-set production of Hamlet is shut down, so that’s reason enough to enjoy this light read. 

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#22: Wide Awake by David Levithan.

While I still think that Every Day is Levithan’s best book, this was an enjoyable and thought-provoking read. It takes place in a not-so-distant election year and centers around the lives of high schoolers gearing up to vote in their first presidential election. For the first openly gay presidential candidate. 

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#23: F*ck! I’m in my Twenties by Emma Koenig.

Featuring some of the best posts from Koenig’s Tumblr (and more), this book perfectly what it’s like to be a post-grad living in a new city. Koenig has a keen eye for documenting those moments when everything is new and everyone is over-sharing.

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#24: The Last Girlfriend on Earth by Simon Rich. 

After months straight of reading nothing but play submissions, I picked up Simon Rich’s new collection The Last Girlfriend on Earth and was re-introduced to the witty clip of Rich’s style. I read “Unprotected” about a year ago when it came out in The New Yorker and I’m very glad that I read it again. (The story starts off this hilarious collection.) Simply put, he’s fecking hilarious.

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#25: In the Heart of the Sea by Nathaniel Philbrick.

I’m gathering research for a play about the shipwreck that inspired Moby-Dick, so Philbrick’s non-fiction piece (loaned to me by my collaborator on the piece) was my immersion into the subject. In the Heart of the Sea combines the camaraderie of whaling with the tragedy of losing a crew, capturing the sea’s tumultuous nature. 

#20: The Moon and More by Sarah Dessen

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I picked up this book because of Anna's high praise and so far I've loved every book she's recommended. I went into this in a great mood. I'm a big fan of the library, but I'm an even bigger fan of being the first person to check out a library book. (It's that new book smell paired with free access to literature that really does it for me.) This particular novel even had a car sticker for the fictional town of Colby poking out of it, which I'll be using as a bookmark in the near future, I'm sure. 

I’ve never read anything by Sarah Dessen, so I really didn’t know what to expect. So I was happy to read what is clearly being marketed as a summer read (and, as a result, “light”) and find a strong female character who ultimately makes a choice (spoiler alert) not to get the guy. Either of them. I really enjoyed the flawed romantic relationships viewed in Emaline’s authentic voice. I felt like I would be friends with this girl if I was 18. Katnis — you should definitely sit down with this novel’s heroine for a bit. Maybe then you wouldn’t be stuck with this Peeta business. 

#19: I Was Told There Would Be Cake by Sloane Crosley

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I found this book on the street in a box marked “Free” and had been waiting for the right opportunity to read it. This mattress cover imaged paired well with the secondhand bed I was about to drag out to the dumpster in preparation for moving in with Jeremy and Crosley’s razor sharp wit matched my good riddance attitude as I left my middle-of-nowhere apartment for a new adventure. 

As I was finishing the last story in the collection, Jeremy started to fall asleep next to me. When I asked him if he wanted me to turn off the light, he answered, “No. I want you to find out if there’s cake.” Spoiler alert: there’s no cake. But it’s still really damn good. 

#18: On Beauty by Zadie Smith

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I tried reading this book over two years ago, but a combination of only having access to the heavy hardback copy and me just meeting On Beauty in the wrong place at the wrong time made it impossible to get past the first couple of chapters. I’m very glad that a friend of mine loaned me her copy because this time around, I approached the novel in the same way that Smith seemed to — with both a nostalgia for and a critical eye on Boston. 

#17: Born Standing Up by Steve Martin

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I’ve been meaning to read this book for several years, but it was Kate who reminded me of that when she downloaded the audiobook. I finished this book in March and it was the perfect book to read outdoors after work. 

I love how honest Martin is about his early failures — both in comedy and in romance. I’d read both An Object of Beauty and Shopgirl, so I knew going in that he’s a skilled writer. There’s a tendency for comedians to try to feature humor in their memoirs, but Martin never forced it. It never strayed from authentic.