October 22, 2012

book review: november surprise

Disclaimer: This review contains plot spoilers. Please proceed at your own risk. I do try to flag them in here, though, so you can scan it without seeing too much.

Laurel Ostekamp's November Surprise offers a more than entertainment in her girl meets boy meets presidential candidates story. A laugh-out-loud, heart tugging and fast read, November Surprise has to be one of my favorite reads of the year as it delves into the story of a woman figuring out her professional, political and romantic life.

Now, I'm going to shake up this book review. If you follow me on Facebook and Twitter (and if you don't, but like the blog, you should), I shared a photo of what a typical Sunday looks like for me. (When I say typical, I mean probably 75 percent.) Most Sundays you'll find my at my sister's bar reading a book and taking notes for a review. If I'm not doing it there, then I'm probably following the same procedure at home sans drinks. The outcome is always the same. I read a book (and as a terrible procrastinator, it's usually for the next day's blog post), I make a bunch of scribbles with my God-honest impressions and takeaways, and somehow I write a review of it before the next day.

Well, after sharing some of my thoughts from today's read with my sister, she thought I should review this book using the seven note cards (front and back) I used to make notes on this book. I liked the idea, and I hope Laurel and Samantha, the tour organizer, are cool with me trying out this approach with her book.

Before I do that, here's the gist of the book...

About the Book
Twenty years
Six presidential elections
Two brothers
One consuming love affair

For Lucy Jones, the distinction between love and politics is hazy at best. Both can be all-consuming, and either can lead to a heart-breaking loss or an exhilarating win. Whatever the case, if you're seen as a loser, you probably are one. Lucy first learns this lesson in 1988, when she's a shy girl, battling a high school bully and rooting for Dukakis. Through the years Lucy will experience stunning victories and agonizing defeats as she makes the choices that define her. Meanwhile, she also struggles to define her relationship with Monty, who comes in and out of her life like the changes in public opinion. Is Monty simply a one-night stand, a kindred spirit, or the love of her life? And by 2008, can he offer her a change to believe in?

Over the course of twenty years and six presidential elections, Lucy grows and adjusts with the times. Filled with snarky political and pop-culture references, November Surprise is about the journey we take to believe in a candidate, in love, and in ourselves.

November Surprise is a companion piece to Campaign Promises, which is free on Amazon. They can be read in either order.
Now that you know what the book is about, I should take a quick moment to warn you that this unconventional review will contain spoilers. Consider this a DISCLAIMER. If you'd rather not see this bit, scroll down until you see my note "Regular review."

Another disclaimer: I'm more than a little nervous about this, because you'll not only see how nuts I am while I review, but you will likely detect my political leanings. Just know I'm by no means trying to sway your own opinion one way or the other. If you read this and are upset by any of my opinions, just know that my father is even more disappointed than you. The only reason I include any inkling of my beliefs is because the bulk of the book is about Lucy's, and when I read a book like this, I basically have a conversation with the main character. She shares her thoughts, I share mine.

So with that... I give you a transcription of my review note cards, and the random thoughts I have while reading a book for review. If you read carefully, you'll detect the moment my second cocktail kicked in:

1988 Election:
  • Even though he's a dick, I love her classmate Reggie's comment about apathy... it is worse than love or hate. Love or hate are passionate opinions. Apathy means you don't care. I don't remember this election, but it echoes true now... So much apathy.
1992 Election:
  • During the 1992 Clinton vs. Bush election, Jack says, "I live in the real world inhabited by flawed people." What an awesome comment? I totally relate to this statement, and it's like a thesis for the book or my life. I DO live in a real world inhabited by flawed people -- and I'm one of them.
  • Story really picks up during 1992 election -- '88 makes a nice intro, though. I LOL'd several times in this bit.
  • I love her conflict with her bestie turning Republican after college. Her sense of betrayal and indignation is too funny. Politics aside, her BFF Sharon is right about politicians: no one candidate is all good or bad.
  • Her feelings about Clinton bringing hope and change during his election reminds me of the high emotions in my generation during the first Obama candidacy.  
1996 Election:
  • Love how she captures the pop culture trends of each election. I hadn't thought about Dolly the cloned sheep in years since she mentioned her in the 1996 election section. I feel like I'm watching "I Love the '80s" or "I Love the '90s." NOSTALGIA! I miss my misspent youth.
  • Lucy totally cracks me up when she talks about her excitement voting for president the first time, calling it "losing her civic virginity." I confess I felt much the same way when I voted in the 2004 election at 18. I thought I was such a bad ass who had life. Figured. Out.
In Between:
  • Liking this Monty plot. He's there or mentioned every election and in between. Nice to see it through the years.
  • "I'm about to do the homecoming king." Classic line, though I'll never relate to this one. I don't even remember my homecoming king...
2000 Election:
  • LOVE early morning call from Monty regarding the 2000 election. I mean, DO YOU REMEMBER THAT? I was a freshman in high school but sat on pins and needles for more than a month waiting for the results.
  • I do not know if I have ever wanted a male character as badly as I want Monty when he proposes mobilizing to defeat Bush in 2000. Action and passion in a man is SO F-ING HOT.
  • "Do you really think I'm hotter than Tom Brokaw?" Monty asks. She says yes. He must be gorgeous. Brokaw is even older now, and I still think he is a TOTAL HOTTIE.
  • All they can think about in 2000 is election results for weeks. The 18-year-old idealist Laura GETS YOU, Lucy and Monty. Even though I couldn't vote, I was totally that obsessed with the election. Suppose journalism killed my caring. :(
  • OMG: Monty's shocking Nader confession! I did NOT see that coming.
2004 Election:
  • Lucy's relationship with political wannabee: I briefly considered being a political wife when (DELETED EX'S NAME) said he wanted to run for office. It didn't match with my plans, either. I get you, girl.
  • "Can a woman who is helping African rape victims be selfish? I hope so." YES, Lucy. I am a dick who thinks like this, too.
  • Totes relate to being in late 20s with married friends with kids and being single, figuring out life and plotting major changes.
  • "If I had to pick between John Kerry and Harry Potter, I'd pick Harry Potter every time." Who wouldn't, Lucy? He may not be a naturalized citizen, but he's awesome.
  • She's tired of feeling challenged. I am SO with you, Boo.
  • She re-meets Reggie, and I wonder: Who didn't get in fights in Civics? Was that just Lucy and me? His quote to her slays me: "I never pegged you to be a waitress." She's a grad student, bro. You better back off.
  • More than half-way through the book, I really see this as a story about a woman constantly having her political views challenged, even more than her personal. I can relate, and can only imagine other people do, too.
  • As a Nebraska girl, I feel so close to this Iowa Girl. Big X than Big XII... It may not have much to do with plot, but I get it like I get her.
  • I love this quote more than words can say, "Consider all the ways that we as humans divide ourselves... One significant way is in how we fight. There are the people who will win at any cost, there are those who would rather lose than get their hands dirty, and then there are the people who refuse to fight at all." This story is beyond politics. I love that her political journey reflects her personal.
2008 Primary and Election:
  • SHE MOVED TO SEATTLE TO TEACH?!?!? What a bitch?!?!? I love, envy and want to be her. :)
  • Her first lines about Obama in this section are so reflective of how most people in his camp felt. People wanted to believe in him. However... like Monty, I loved Hill Rod. Until I saw Obama speak in Omaha, I said, "Hilary 2008, Obama 2016." After the speech, and watching people react, I knew he would secure the Democratic candidacy.
  • I super love this quote: "The beauty of obstacles lies in overcoming them." Then Monty calls... again... And I'm stuck thinking this is a good life lesson.
  • Insert Cathy comic "Ack!" Geography is finally on Lucy and Monty's side...
  • Beautiful line about their complication in life, "Maybe we are way too familiar way too soon."
  • Total LOL: "One person's terrorist fist bump is another person's gesture of love." I am dying.
  • He's loved her for years? I love him.
  • Like Lucy, I also used to fight with my high school boyfriend's parents about politics. If I had a dollar for every time I told them Reagan was dumb or heard Clinton was the devil, I wouldn't have any student loans from college.
  • No one. NO ONE, will ever know how much I would've loved to get engaged the night of Obama's win. In hindsight, I was only 22, and I am a wild spirit that cannot be tamed. No, a post-election proposal would not be ideal.
Final Thoughts (also from note cards):
  • I cannot express how much I get and love this book. I'm beyond ecstatic to follow her blog update. 
  • What a frigging well-created story?
  • I love how she shows people coming in and out of the MC's life. That's how reality is. It's not always neat with a person being present and important for more than a chapter.
  • This is a beautiful, beyond complicated and ultimately adorable love story. More than a story about boy meets girl, it's about the girl's love, disillusionment and eventual hope in America and democracy. We've all been there, no matter our politics.
  • My big takeaway from this book came from that dick, Reggie. He said apathy blows. Love and hate are better. Doing or feeling nothing ruins life. Being passionate is what it's all about. What a powerful message from a book?
So with that, I'll leave with you saying this was a super fast and worthwhile read -- especially in election season. Whether or note you agree with Lucy's politics, I hope you'll appreciate her passion and desire to believe in people.

I also really liked the character of Monty. Their relationship complications seemed reasonable to me, and ultimately I found him adorable. I also liked the friendship she had with his brother, Jack. The final scene with all three of them together is so sweet, and ultimately shows the power of friendship and family.

Told unconventionally, it had a big impact. I liked the format, I liked the voice and I liked the takeways. All were approachable while making for a thought-evoking and entertaining read.

This book is a bargain buy for all of the entertainment it provides. If I were one of the TV personalities referenced in this book, I would list it under, "BUY, BUY, BUY."

Now, I feel a bit naked after exposing all of my raw thoughts to you, so I think I'll go hide under a pile of paperwork at the office.

Rating: 5 of 5

Read an excerpt from November Surprise here.

Check back tomorrow for my interview with the author of November Surprise, Laurel Osterkamp.

About the Author
Laurel Osterkamp was a comedy writer in Minneapolis before she began writing novels. Her first novel, Following My Toes, has been a Kindle best seller and won the 2008 Indie Excellence Award for Chick Lit. Starring in the Movie of My Life received honors in the 2011 Indie Excellence Awards for Chick Lit, and in the 2011 International Book Awards for Women's Fiction and Young Adult Lit. Both books are indie approved at indiereader.com. She currently teaches high school, and is working on her next book, which is inspired by her recent jury duty.

Connect with Laurel
Website: http://www.laurelosterkamp.com/
Blog by "Lucy," which continues the story of November Surprise: http://www.novembersurprises.blogspot.com/

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  1. Laura! This was great! I took a pass on this one (waaayyy too much going on right now and, since I live in Canada, US politics only affect me on the grand scale, you know?) so I'm glad I got to read your review and sort of see what happened in the book. I think you should do more of these reviews every once and awhile. And somehow, we need to get together to drink and blog, haha

  2. I love your review Laura - so honest :) Glad you enjoyed the book!

  3. I really enjoyed your unconventional review, Laura! But then again, I've come to expect nothing less from you. I think I need to go buy this book...

    1. I'm glad you liked it -- that means a lot to me.