Friday, December 27, 2013

The Cuckoo's Calling by Robert Galbraith

4 Stars
(Read at Thanksgiving, but I'm a lazy slacker and just now did the review)

Cormoran Strike figured he’d be in the military for life. An I.E.D. in Afghanistan had other thoughts. Back in England, minus a leg, Strike has opened up a failing private investigation business – missing cats and cheating spouses his specialty. To add insult to injury, his on again/off again relationship is officially off again. Strikes has two options – (1) be homeless or (2) sleep on the couch in his office and steal showers from the local University shower room. His luck may be on the upswing when John Bristow, brother of the recently deceased starlet Lula Landry, walks into his office. Flashing an unlimited amount of cash to investigate whether his sister’s death was actually a suicide as the police have ruled or a murder like Bristow suspects, Strike will finally get to use his training on a case that actually interests him.
I will admit I fell into the category of "The Cuckoo’s Huh?" until I learned that J.K. Rowling was the author. I waited months in trepidation before reading it, fearing the worst that Rowling was a one (okay, seven) hit wonder and that somehow the magic and majesty of Harry Potter that gave me such a happy for so many years would be tarnished by a shit novel written under a pen name. Thank the heavens that was not the case. Rowling proves that she can write. I mean REALLY write. Write ANYTHING. Talk about a 180 from Hogwarts. If you are a fan of detective novels, you should find the endearing Cormoran Strike and the never-ending cash of characters a real page turner. If you are a fan of Rowling, you will appreciate her humor, storytelling ability and familiar bits like characters who are described as soooooo not good looking, but somehow you find them attractive anyway.  Cuckoo is marked as "Cormoran Strike #1" and I hope future books are truly in the works.

Salvage the Bones by Jesmyn Ward

3.5 Stars

Salvage the Bones follows the Batiste family through 12 days in August of 2005 as they prepare to ride out what starts as a tropical depression, but ends up turning into Hurricane Katrina. As the impoverished family attempts to scrape together enough scrap wood to board the house and a stockpile of food and water to last them a few days, they are also forced to come to terms with their past, present and future. The past is a mother who died giving birth to Junior, the youngest sibling, leaving the family to be raised by an alcoholic father. The present is a litter of puppies born by Skeetah’s prize fighting pit bull who could sell for enough money to change their lives for a bit, but who are instead dying one by one. The future is 14-year old Esch’s baby that she hasn’t been brave enough to tell anyone about.

One of the most beautifully written books I’ve read all year and I’m finding it so hard to review. This is a book that is about nothing, yet about everything at the same time. I found myself completely hypnotized by the prose, waiting for the crescendo of Hurricane Katrina. Although this book isn’t free of problems Jesmyn Ward is a master of language and honest, believable, bleak, brutal, gritty, characters.  A very "book clubby" book that will spark great conversation over a glass (or three) of vino.

Thursday, December 26, 2013

Dear Life, You Suck by Scott Blagden

3 Stars
Cricket Cherpin (seriously) has lived in an orphanage ran by nuns for the past 8 years.  Now 8 months away from timing out of the system, he is contemplating his future.  Cricket sees three options for himself: (1) move up from being an assistant to his drug-dealing best friend to being a full-fledged dealer himself; (2) take all of his mentor, “Caretaker’s”, training and start boxing for money; or (3) step off a cliff. 
If you fall into the category of “I can’t stand YA books that take this not-really-that-intelligent lead character but yet give him the voice of a genius” you probably aren’t going to like Dear Life, you Suck.  Cricket’s voice is brilliant.  Foul-mouthed and filled with a vocabulary straight of a thesaurus, he’s not your average 17 year old.  If you fall into the category of “I can’t stand YA books that have an oh-so-traumatic event that happened upteen years ago that the lead character is struggling to get over”, you might not like it either.  Cricket suffered trauma, he tells you he’s f’d up and you know he is either going to have to come to terms with it or just end it all.  I generally fall into Category #2, but somehow Scott Blagden produced a novel that didn’t make me want to pull my hair out waiting for the moment where Cricket’s past is finally revealed. 
While there are other YA “trauma” books that, in my opinion, are better – this one held its own pretty well.  Recommended for older teens for vulgar language, drug/alcohol use and heartbreaking reality.

Monday, December 16, 2013

Lightning Rods by Helen DeWitt

2 Stars

Joe, stuck in a dead-end job selling vacuum cleaners, spends most of his days perfecting his masturbatory fantasies. In an effort to "build a better mousetrap," Joe comes up with an ingenious method of eliminating sexual harassment claims in the workplace. The idea? Lightning Rods. Women, who on the surface appear to be perfectly capable/qualified support staff, but are also willing to take one for the team, if you will.

I love good satire. A little darkness, some taboo – I feed on books like that every once in a while. Sadly, Lightning Rods missed the mark. The idea behind the book is one of sheer genius and there are brilliant moments when you hear a snippet of what became of characters or ideas that were laugh out loud funny. Unfortunately, they were literally moments. Ms. DeWitt gets so bogged down in the invention process that she fails to develop a main character that you know much of anything about and the remaining cast of characters are nearly as invisible as the converted bathroom stalls from which they emerge to serve their purpose as Lightning Rods.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire by J.K. Rowling

5 Stars
This was the turning point. Where the books ceased to be books and instead became a lifestyle. Where not only did I laugh, but also cried my eyes out. Where the Hogwarts students became MY friends. MY family. This was when I knew there was no going back and I was committed to the end.

"It matters not what someone is born, but what they grow to be."


Tuesday, December 10, 2013

The Giver by Lois Lowry

4 Stars
What would you give to live in a perfect world?  “A life where nothing was ever unexpected.  Or inconvenient.  Or unusual.  The life without color, pain, or past.”  What if all your needs were taken care of and you were guaranteed shelter, employment, food, clothing, etc.?  What if that world protected you from ever making a wrong choice?  What if those choices were things like choosing your own spouse, your own job, how many children to have, if you were allowed to have children at all?  What if those choices made words like “love” obsolete?  You see, “love” is such a generic term that it shouldn’t be used in conversation.  Do you really “love” your child?  Wouldn’t you rather pinpoint characteristics you find admirable rather than using such a broad term?  Wouldn’t that be safer? 
One of the most profound books I’ve read this year.  When I started The Giver I felt, almost immediately, that it should be required reading.  I wasn’t surprised to hear that a different Lowry book (Number the Stars) had been assigned to my son’s middle-school class.  At just the right length, and a pace that keeps everything flowing, The Giver is filled with “A-Ha Moments” and the all-important moral that “it’s the choosing that’s important, isn’t it?”

Before We Met by Lucie Whitehouse

2 Stars

When Hannah watched her parent’s marriage fall apart, it tainted the idea of a happily-ever-after. Seeing your mother became a raving lunatic, frantically searching through pockets, desk drawers, etc. for clues to an affair that may or may not be happening could do that to a person. Rather than focusing on love, Hannah has always been career driven. She’s made somewhat of a name for herself in advertising and has managed building a life for herself across the pond in New York quite successfully. When mutual friends introduce her to a fellow Londoner on a weekend getaway, Hannah has no idea that she will end up not only in love, but married – giving up her career, apartment and life in New York in order to move back to London with her new husband. Mind you, her new lifestyle is quite comfortable compared to most – a mini-mansion in an up-and-coming neighborhood and a husband who owns a company that he is contemplating selling for millions of dollars should make any girl happy. Unless said husband doesn’t return from a business trip when he says he will and clues to the fact that he hasn’t been 100% truthful about many things during their marriage start to surface.

As always, I am extremely grateful that NetGalley gave me an ARC of this book. However, I find myself in a pickle.  Before We Met was a fine book – it was well written, the right length and a quick read. It also was super predictable. I like mysteries to be . . . well, mysterious. Once again (I’ve experienced this reaction way too many times this year) I felt like I was reading a book about what can make a marriage fall apart or how much is too much before you just throw in the towel - not a whoisbad/whoisgood/whatistruth/whatislie that I wanted to read : (

Monday, December 9, 2013

Lost Girls - An Unsolved American Mystery by Robert Kolker

4 Stars

I was struggling a bit with insomnia back in 2010 when Shannan Gilbert’s bizarre 911 calls made the news (a surefire way to get to sleep is some Nancy Grace – just sayin’). Although I didn’t intentionally follow the story, I also recall when the burlap-wrapped bodies started being discovered on Oak Beach and the fact that all of these women were escorts who advertised on Craigslist and were not local to Long Island, yet somehow took jobs out of their normal territory that would ultimately lead to their demise.  Like all rating-grabbing stories, this one soon faded from the news and was replaced by some other shocking tale.  When I saw a book had been released, I was immediately intrigued. 

If you are like me and prefer your non-fiction to read like fiction, this is a great choice. The story itself is hypnotizing and the research put in to this book is outstanding. No stone was left unturned by Mr. Kolker. He does an amazing job of laying out the facts as they are known and using only individual’s own words rather than drawing any conclusions. Amazing that, at the end of it all, so much seems to point in such a narrow direction and yet nothing has really been done to close these cases. Are these girls worth so little just because of their chosen profession?

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Saturday, November 30, 2013

OCD Love Story by Corey Ann Haydu

3.5 Stars
Bea has a bit of a problem. A stalking problem. She doesn’t spend her time stalking her maybe/maybe not boyfriend, Beck. They just attend group therapy for OCD together. No, Bea spends her time stalking Austin, a man who happens to attend couple’s therapy with his wife in the timeslot right before Bea’s individual therapy sessions. But really, what Bea does isn’t really stalking, is it? It’s not her fault that the chair she sits in happens to be next to a vent that allows her to hear what goes on during Austin’s therapy session. And, it’s not really her fault that she happened to follow Austin and his wife home one day and now knows where they live, right? And, I mean, could it really be her fault that she finds out Austin and his wife are local celebrities in a band and she just happens to buy their CDs and know about their upcoming concerts????
I can’t remember the last time a book made me so uncomfortable while I was reading it. I mean, I was literally squirming with anxiety for Bea. I wasn’t 100% sold on the idea that OCD could make someone a stalker, but Corey Ann Haydu made me a believer (or at least made me say who gives a crap and just enjoy the story). Poor Bea! Such a tragic mess. This was a book I wanted to put down the entire time I was reading it, but somehow could not. Although not an "easy" reader, Haydu’s voice is so completely fresh that I was reeled in hook, line and sinker (maybe I have a bit of book-reading OCD????).

Friday, November 29, 2013

Take Care, Sara by Lindy Zart

2 Stars
A year ago Sara’s life was turned upside down when a car accident stole her husband. Since the accident, she has not been able to move on … or really move at all. Spending her days locked in her house and contemplating if she should end her own life. Her husband’s brother, Lincoln, is the only person who finally gets fed up enough to drag Sara out of her depression. His life was also changed, but he will fight with everything he has in order not lose two people he loves.

If you are a fan of the Lifetime Television for Women movies, you are probably going to LOOOOOOOOOVE Take Care, Sara. It is syrupy sweet and filled with romance. It is also extremely predictable and drones on and on and on and on and on forever rather than just cutting to the chase. Although this was not my cup of tea (it was recommended to me by a fellow Goodreader and I picked it up on the Kindle when it was free), I’m sure there are millions of others out there who just swoon at the mere mention of the title. If you are a lover of romances that are light on plot, this is a good way to kill an afternoon.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets by J.K. Rowling

5 Stars
As Dumbledore once said, "it is our choices that show what we truly are, far more than our abilities."

My ability to write a proper review for this book does not exist, so I choose to leave it at five stars and two Dobby snaps in a circle ; )


Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Angelfall by Susan Ee

3.5 Stars
Six weeks ago angels fell upon the Earth and changed human life forever.  Unfortunately, the angels were not there for the rapture of the “saved” – they were there to take over the world and eliminate the people.  Penryn, her mentally ill mother, and her crippled little sister Paige have survived the new world order of angel attacks and newly formed street gangs by hiding in their abandoned condominium complex and scrounging up whatever meager food rations they can find.  When supplies run out and the three ladies are forced to relocate, the unthinkable happens – Paige is kidnapped by a band of angels.  Penryn will do anything in her power to track her down, even if it means teaming up with an angel.
Angels and resistance movements and frankencreatures, oh my!
I had never even heard of this book, but with the release of World After there was a crap-ton of hype surrounding the series so I bumped it to the forefront of my “to read” list.  What can I say:

I also made a statement after finishing the Divergent series (only to realize I had wasted waaaaaay too much of my time on what ultimately culminated in an utter poo-fest), that if I chose to read a second book in a dystopian series ever again people could punch me in the face.  Well, line up kids 'cause it’s Slapsgiving.  I will definitely be reading World After and will accept any cyberpunches that you want to throw my way.
Although it may not have lived up to alllllllllll of my fangirly-freaky-outy expectations, this was a tasty little book.  Just the right length with a gruesome touch that I haven’t seen in YA books.  Of course there are moments that are completely far-fetched.  Most people, while on a time sensitive hunt to find a lost sibling, would not find themselves distracted and lusting for the rippling abdominals of one of their arch enemies.  However, in times like these I find it best to follow the sage advice of Adam Sandler and “just go with it”.  I’m fairly certain Susan Ee didn’t expect to win a Pulitzer – she just wants her audience to have fun. 
Plus, all the cool kids are reading it ; )

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone by J.K. Rowling

5 Stars
There is no way I could EVER write a review for this book, so I'm just going to say a few words and leave it at that . . .


Saturday, November 16, 2013

Where the Moon Isn't by Nathan Filer

4 Stars
Sometimes I read books so obsessively that I end up with something like this when I’m finished:

Then I sit around for a week (or two, or twelve) because I have no idea how to write the review.
It only seems fitting that someone like me (who clearly has an undiagnosed mental disorder) would flag the holy hell out of a book about a fellow with a mental disorder. It also seems fitting that I should let Matthew do most of the talking when it comes to telling you what this book is about.
Matthew has been raised by a mother who "is thin and pale, with cold hands. She has a broad chin that she is very self-conscious about. She sniffs the milk before she drinks it. She loves me. And she is mad," And a father who "is tall and broad, and stoops a little. He wears a leather jacket because he used to ride a motorbike. He calls me mon ami. And he loves me." He lived with a brother named "Simon. I think you’re going to like him. I really do. But in a couple of pages he’ll be dead. And he was never the same after that."
Matthew was never quite the same after that, either. He’ll tell you that "you notice it when he isn’t there anymore. You notice so many of the places where he isn’t, and you hear so many of the things he doesn’t say. I do. I hear them all the time."
Matthew will have to confront those demons of the past in order to come to terms with the reality of the present. Generally I find cover blurbs to be wholly inaccurate, but "rare and brilliant" is a very fitting description for Where the Moon Isn’t. Filer really knows how to get you into a character’s soul.

Friday, November 15, 2013

Openly Straight by Bill Konigsberg

4 Stars
Being gay isn’t a choice, but being out definitely is one. Raised by some seriously hippie-dippie parents, Rafe’s coming out was a breeze. We’re talking the school held a special celebration, his mother became the president of the local PFLAG and Rafe began traveling to different schools in the area to mentor other kids. It was wonderful – until Rafe became JUST the gay guy. No one except his best friend, Claire Olivia, was interested in just knowing HIM – they always wanted to know the GAY him. In an effort to shed all labels, Rafe transfers across the country to an all-boys boarding school. There he will play soccer, study hard in hopes of getting accepted to an Ivy league college and have a chance to just be Rafe. The plan of being "openly straight" and not discussing his sex life works out great, until he starts developing deeper feelings for one of his teammates.
Now let me tell you what I thought of this book:
"Did you know that LGBT kids are 8.4 times more likely than straight kids to attempt suicide? And 50 percent of LGBT kids are rejected by their parents? That between 20 and 40 percent of homeless teens say they’re gay, lesbian, or transgender, and that up to 50 percent of the guy teens have sold their bodies to support themselves?"
I have no idea of the above statement is true or not. It’s a quote from the book and the stats seem realistic. I can’t imagine how hard it must be to come out – to be labeled by many without them even knowing you. That’s why books like "Openly Straight" resonate so deeply with me. This book pushes no agenda – it’s just what a romantic comedy YA book should be. It shows that characters come in all varieties – funny, sympathetic, even vile. A memorable character is a memorable character, a good author is a good author, and a good book is a good book. This is a good book. It was adorably funny and made me have some feely-feels too.
"Perhaps the best answer is not to tolerate differences, not even to accept them. But to celebrate them. Maybe then those who are different would feel more loved, and less, well, tolerated."

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Unteachable by Leah Reeder

4 Stars
Who would’ve thought a prude like me would somehow find a book about a student/teacher affair more palatable than the squick-out which was 50 Shades and/or Bared to You (at this point I think those series have actually morphed into one).

Blame it on the change in barometric pressure. Blame It On My A.D.D.

(Ha! I kill me)

Blame it on whatever, but I kinda see what the fuss was all about.

Maise and Evan meet at the local fairground in small-town southern Illinois (the neck of the woods from whence I originated, so I immediately could hear the hillbilly accent, smell the decomposing catfish stench which is the Mighty Mississippi River and taste the funnel cake). The story starts innocently enough – Maise has decided to face her fear of roller coasters and fate places Evan in the seat next to her. We quickly go from


Which would be a fine and dandy one-night-stand, except for the fact that when Maise starts the new school year Evan happens to be one of her teachers. I KNOW this is where I should get offended, but the student/teacher affair really didn’t bother me. First, it’s a porno. Second, it wasn’t like Evan said “Hi, I’m your teacher, wanna go bang in my car?” And third, they were both "of age" for this dirty love story.

Things get a bit more complex when we are introduced to the backstory of why Maise and Evan are attracted to people they really shouldn’t be attracted to, Maise’s meth-dealing mother, and Maise’s new bestie, who (of course) happens to be a bit in love with her. As with most romance novels, there are annoyances that might make you want to scream or pull your hair out in frustration (prime example: Maise has a dream of film school, yet she has pretty much never watched ANY famous movie before Evan introduces her to them). That being said, at the end of it all this was a good 24-hour escape to a fantasy that had just enough

To make me feel a liiiiiiiiiiiiiiiitle bit naughty, but not so much I required a barf bag.

Monday, November 11, 2013

Premeditated by Josin L. McQuein

2 Stars
With a three year age difference between them, Dinah has always been there for Claire – to be a neighbor and best friend to her cousin, Claire. When Dinah’s parents moved across the country at the end of the last school year, Claire ventured into her first relationship without the helpful advice from Dinah and things went way too far. Not able to cope, Claire cut her wrists and is now in a coma. Now Dinah has moved back to home, changed her image, registered at Claire’s private school and is ready to seek revenge on the boy who stole Claire’s innocence.

Okay, not really. I don’t think you have to be particularly goooooooood at puzzle solving in order to figure this one out. Hence, the low rating. The fact that I was 99.99999% positive I knew whodunit IMMEDIATELY left me continually calculating how many pages were left before my thoughts would be confirmed and took away much of the entertainment value. Thank goodness for a fast-flowing storyline – it only took a couple of hours to finish.

Friday, November 8, 2013

More Than This by Patrick Ness

5 Stars
First things first, let’s get some preliminaries out of the way.  To begin with, don’t let the YA categorization fool you.  This is a book for all ages.  If YA isn’t your typical genre, have no worries – this ain’t Twilight.  No one is sparkly.  It’s not angsty.  It’s more than this and I was:

This books falls into the “I WANT TO TELL EVERYONE IN THE UNIVERSE ABOUT IT AND MIGHT HAVE TO PHYSICALLY COVER MY MOUTH IN ORDER TO STOP THE SPOILAGE FROM JUST SPEWING FORTH”.  Thank goodness for a husband who doesn’t like to read.  I told him EVERYTHING.  I still want to tell everyone else, though, too : (
In an effort to save me from myself, I’ll just say a few things and use Patrick Ness’ own words to do so. 
“A book [is] a world all on its own.  A world made of words, where you live for a while.”  That’s what More Than This was to me.  A world that I could not separate myself from.  A world that I submersed myself in and remained until the very last of the 472 pages was consumed. 
This was a book that had me constantly thinking: “This place might be one thing.  Or it might be another.  Or it might even be something completely unguessed.”
A book that continually reminded me:  “There’s always more than this.  There’s always something you don’t know.”
A book that taught me:  “Everyone thinks they know what’s best.  Everyone. … Sometimes you need to find out that you don’t.”
A book that at the end of it all was about people:  “Weak and strong and they make mistakes, like anyone.” 
And love:  “Love and care have all kinds of different faces, and within them, there’s room for understanding, and for forgiveness, and for more.”
And more:
“More and more and more.”

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Tampa by Alissa Nutting

4 Stars

Celeste Price has everything a girl could dream of. She’s model-gorgeous with an equally attractive husband who also happens to have a significant trust fund. He works as a police officer, she is a middle-school teacher. He worships the ground his trophy wife walks on and she????? Well, she fantasizes about banging 8th graders.
Okay kids, get ready to hate me because I freakin’ LOVED Tampa. Please, don’t misunderstand – I agree that the subject matter is 100% cringe-inducing. Heck, I remember expressing my amore for this beautiful little werewolf:

Only to have my son remind me that he played this character not that far back:

I spent the next several years watching the various "Twilight" films while contemplating whether I should register myself on the national sex offender list for my impure thoughts.
With "Tampa", however, Alissa Nutting keeps her tongue so firmly planted in her cheek throughout the book it somehow makes it possible to put your mind past the pedophilia. I found "Tampa" to be deliciously dark. Reminiscent of "American Beauty" and "Lolita" – the tale of ultimate taboo finds a balancing counterpart with a vicious wit. Absolutely NOT for the faint of heart, but if you dare to venture out of your comfort zone you will discover one of the most well written books of the year.

Here’s to a follow-up story in 25 years giving us an update on Frank Rossitano and Lynn Onkman .... errrr, I mean Jack Patrick and Celeste Price.

Monday, November 4, 2013

If You Find Me by Emily Murdoch

4 Stars

Carey has spent 10 years of her life living in a broke-down, cockroach infested camper buried deep within the woods. She has been responsible for caring for her 6 year old sister, Jenessa, and her meth-addicted, mentally unstable mother – being made to use any means necessary to keep drugs in her mother’s system and a little food in their bellies. That all changes when a man and woman find their hiding place and take them back to the normalcy of real beds to sleep in, more than one outfit to wear and school in an actual building rather than self-teaching around a campfire from yard sale scraps. As Carey and Jenessa begin to settle in to their new world, Carey will be forced to confront the facts of what happened to her in the woods – secrets that might separate her and her sister forever.

Wowza! What a debut novel. I picked this up since Jennifer Brown wrote the cover blurb and I’m glad I did/she did. Talk about a powerful storyline. This is NOT for youngsters. Murdoch deals with a plot that, scarily, does not seem that far-fetched and some horrible truths that happen to girls being raised by a mother who cares only about her next fix. I look forward to reading more by this author.

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

How to Love by Katie Cotugno

4 Stars

Reena has dreamed of two things her whole life – getting away from her hometown of Broward, Florida and getting together with Sawyer. Little does she know that when dream #2 comes true, it will be Sawyer escaping, leaving Reena left behind to raise his baby. A couple of years pass and Reena’s plans of attending Northwestern, traveling the world and becoming a journalist have long since been replaced with sippy cups and dirty diapers when Sawyer reappears. Reena knows getting involved with Sawyer again is the (second) worst decision she could make (the first was getting involved with him at all), but her heart is having a hard time following directions.

God I’m so white trash. I love reading about hick girls who get knocked up and say stuff like "guess who I saw standing next to the Slurpee machine at the 7-Eleven" (or even better yet, and unfortunately not used in How to Love "down at the Piggly Wiggly"). Woo Wee! I eat that s*^t UP!

Told in alternating chapters of past and present, How to Love is a delightful little guilty pleasure if you want to add some extra sap to your reading repository. In the middle of a hectic week with some extra blargh in my life making it totally craptastic, this book hit the spot. Light, romantic and believable – it was the perfect escape route and I didn’t want to put it down. Bonus - Although the characters are teens, I think this should probably fall under New Adult rather than YA, so have no fear, fellow geezers. On the other hand, if you want lots of sexy-fun-time, this one is truly PG-13.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

How to be a Good Wife by Emma Chapman

3.5 Stars

Marta and Hector have been married for 25 years. She has always been a good wife, catering to Hector’s needs, taking care of the house and their son. Hector has always been a good husband, making sure the bills are paid and that Marta takes her medicine as prescribed. Once Marta decides to stop swallowing her pills and throwing them in the bin, strange things begin to happen. A young girl appears to her – various ages, weights and degrees of cleanliness, but always the same girl in the same white pyjamas with little hearts and always tugging Marta along, seeking answers . . .

GAH! I hate when I can’t really tell anything about a book because it will tell EVERYTHING about a book. I’ll say what I always say – don’t follow what the book jacket says. This was nothing like Room and I thought Before I Go to Sleep was a total snoozefest, so I would have NEVER picked this up if that was the big "thrilling" comparison. In short, I liked this book. It was creepy and twisted enough to keep my attention. Plus, it’s super short so even if you don’t REALLY like it, you won’t have to waste a lot of time.

Monday, October 28, 2013

Me and Earl and the Dying Girl by Jesse Andrews

4.5 Stars

Greg has managed to make it to his senior year by being an acquaintance to all and a friend to none one.  When you’re a rodent-faced, chubby kid growing up in a not-so-great area and attend a high school of cliques that run the gamut of nerd to criminal, it’s probably best to just blend in so you never get singled out.  His only friend has always been Earl – a foul-mouthed, chain-smoking, vertically challenged, roundhouse-kicking kid from a broken home, who has pretty much raised himself in a house filled with drug dealing, gangbanging brothers.  After Greg decided to give up on having other friends (or ever getting a girl), he and Earl spent all their free time making their own versions of their favorite movies.  That is, until Greg’s mother tells him he has to rekindle a friendship with Rachel, a girl from his Hebrew classes ages ago, who is now battling leukemia.  Begrudgingly following his mother’s demand request, Greg (and Earl) do as they are told, eventually letting Rachel in on their secret and sharing their movies with her.  Rachel’s dying wish of her new two friends is for them to make a new movie for her.  Unfortunately, said movie ends up being the Worst Film Ever Made and Greg finds himself in the spotlight he has hidden from all his life.

How can I even describe how much I liked this quirky little novel.  After realizing he has made the “Worst Film Ever Made”, Greg has taken to paper to write his tale rather than put it on film.  His self-deprecation (i.e., “I can’t believe you’re still reading this.  You should smack yourself in the face a couple of times right now just to complete the outstandingly stupid experience that is this book”) and complete honesty about being an awkward teenager (“He has just gotten home from school and is trying to read “A Tale of Two Cities” for class, but it is difficult for him to maintain focus, because inside his pants he has AN INEXPLICABLE BONER”) made me have a “you had me at hello moment”.  I am always reeled right in by the loveable loser.  (And cover art.  God am I a cheap date for a good cover.) 

Although nearly 100% certain I would like this book right from the get-go, I never imagined what would happen when Earl entered my life.  Earl is one of my favorite characters of the entire year.  He gives you zero time to pity the poverty and drugs he has been raised around – instead he is just a constant ball of hilarity and brilliance and I remain smitten.

If you’re concerned about this being a replay of “A Fault In Our Stars” and turning into a huge boo-bag because you’re reading a book that flat out tells you it’s about a dying girl, have no fear.  Yes, there is a dying girl, but she is really more of an accessory to the story.  Andrews doesn’t let you in Rachel’s life so far as to rip your heart out at her suffering.  He just gives you enough info to get you a little misty.

If you’re a fan of John Green or Matthew Quick or Stephen Chbosky, you should not be disappointed with Jesse Andrews.  I can’t wait for him to write more.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Being Henry David by Carl Armistead

2.5 Stars

NetGalley ARC. Thank you, NetGalley!

A 17-year old boy wakes up at Penn Station with no memory. All he knows is he has $10 in his pocket, along with a copy of Thoreau’s <i>Walden</i>. Rather than confessing his bizarre story, he chooses to introduce himself as Henry David when he meets a kid named Jack who seems to know his way around the train station. Venturing out to the mean streets, he is nicknamed "Hank" by Jack and his sister, Nessa. The three soon run into trouble and "Hank" decides to leave the city and go to Walden Pond. He can think of no reason for him to be carrying the book unless that was his initial destination and the way to find an answer that will cure his amnesia.

The idea behind this novel is a good one. Something horrible has happened and "Hank" is suffering from amnesia. The journey to Walden Pond is good, the piecing back together of his memories is interesting. Unfortunately, it’s just reeeaaaaaaally far-fetched in that "Hank’s" memories return, but luckily he has been taken in by an ultra cool hipster who is more than willing to let him continue to hang for a few days before figuring out how to get him back to his real life. Really, brother? That would be called kidnapping. There’s also a girl storyline (of course there’s a girl, right?) which is fine, but then we add in a random talent show and it all gets a bit convoluted. You can definitely do worse when it comes to YA novels, but you can do a lot better too.

Oh, and if you’re wondering the answer to "What Would Henry David Do?" – apparently he would sing "Blackbird" at a talent show rather than deal with reality.

"Blackbird singing in the dead of night
Take these broken wings and learn to fly
All your life
You were only waiting for this moment to arise.

Blackbird singing in the dead of night
Take these sunken eyes and learn to see
All your life
You were only waiting for this moment to be free.

Blackbird fly Blackbird fly
Into the light of the dark black night."

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Always Watching by Chevy Stevens

3 Stars

Dr. Nadine Lavoie is a doctor in a psychiatric unit. She has always found comfort in her work – being able to help those who have run astray. Especially since she was not able to help her own daughter, whose drug addiction led her to a life on the streets. When Heather, a suicidal patient is admitted to the hospital, Nadine realizes they share a similar story. Now, raather than healing others, Nadine has to look into her own past to uncover an awful truth she has repressed for decades.

Before I even really begin, let me offer a piece of advice. Read EVERYTHING by Chevy Stevens before you read her novel, "Still Missing". There is just no comparison to the sheer terror Stevens is able to provoke in that novel. I can’t help but judge an author’s works against each other (especially when said author does not deviate from the psych-thriller genre) and fear Stevens might have hit her high note with "Still Missing". Now THAT is a book that continues to give me the heebie-jeebies whenever I think about it. Sadly, "Always Watching" was not able to do the same.

This book has some problems. My main issue was my dislike for the heroine. It thought she was kind of an idiot. Her approach to solving the mystery of her past is to tell EVERYTHING about EVERYONE she’s ever interacted with (excluding her own personal history, of course). Obviously the bad guy is going to figure out what a moronic blabbermouth she is. It also didn’t help that the police tell her to go ahead and investigate the case herself since they don’t have enough evidence to do anything. Really? Then we have the fact that she underwent hypnosis therapy YEARS ago with no results, but all of a sudden she starts remembering horrible things from her past and WHOOOOSH the memories just start flooding in.

Now that I’ve just lambasted this poor novel, let me backtrack a bit and say it was not nearly as horrible as the last paragraph makes it sound. There’s a pretty good chance that I’m the jerk in this scenario and everyone else will find Nadine to be a perfectly suitable lead. One thing I know for certain - Chevy Stevens knows how to write a readable book. I saw a couple of the twists and turns coming (note: I’m not allowed to watch any type of "CSI" program with my family because I always know who is the bad guy), but was also surprised by some. The plotline flowed and the action at the end got my ticker pumping a little faster.

My final two cents: With another book already scheduled to be published (making the total 5 books in 4 years by a pretty much unheard of author), it’s time for a break. Slow down, Chevy. We are faithful readers. We will be here (im)patiently waiting for your next book, crossing our fingers that you take us back to those dark corners of your mind again.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

The Eleventh Plague by Jeff Hirsch

3 Stars

This was a buddy read with my favorite 12-year old.  (Definition of “buddy reading” with my son:  He takes a week or two to read the book, then goes to school and takes a quiz (Sidenote:  I’m buddy reading the Truman Award Nominees with him – if he reads 4 or more he gets some kind of reward, if he reads all 12 he gets to party like it’s 1999.  I just get to say I’m a middle-aged woman who reads books for pre-pubescents).  After taking and passing the quiz, he comes home and then HOUNDS ME ALL FREAKING NIGHT LONG to “hurry and finish already so we can TAAAAAAAAAALLLLLLLK about it”.  In addition, he’s a huge spoiler, so I seriously have about two hours to read a book before he starts blurting out anything and everything that is about to happen.)

Unfortunately, I had a bit of a problem with the plot.  However, since I’m one million seven hundred thousand years old and this book wasn’t written for my demographic, these issues probably don’t even exist for middle-schoolers.  I found the tale of a nomadic lifestyle migrating with the season changes across a desolate wasteland to be pretty awesome (my kid says “this part was sooooooo boring”).  Add in the discovery of a “town” filled with people trying to recreate normalcy and I was still in (kid says “that’s when it started getting a little better”) .  Mix in a bit of drama, prank gone wrong, escalation to WE’RE ALL GONNA DIE annnnnnnnd you lost me (but, the kid says “oooooh, that’s when it was gooooood”).

Bonus – although a bit open ended, it does not appear that this will be part of a series (ugh how I hate how EVERYTHING has to be a freaking series!), I rarely like something that I know is part of a series enough to read more than the first book, so I like that this does not say “#1 of the Plague Series” or some such nonsense after the title.

At the end of the day, “The Eleventh Plague” was a decent little book and I got through it (under duress) in no time at all.  The kid says “it was more good than it was bad and it was pretty short so if you need to read Truman Books, I’d pick this one”.  There you go.  If you’re 12 and “kinda” want to read just enough to get credit for reading, this is a good choice.  If you’re old and like reading post-apocalyptic children’s books, but don’t have a child of you own to help hide your shame, you can say this one is nominated for an award ; )

The Girl by Samantha Geimer

4 Stars

Since 1977 people have speculated about what <i>really</i> happened to “The Girl” Roman Polanski took to Jack Nicholson’s house.  Was she a willing participant?  Did her mother hand to over in order to advance her own/her husband’s/her daughter’s career?  Was Polanski a predator who focused on young girls?  Thirty-five years after that fateful trip up Mulholland Drive, Samantha Geimer (“The Girl”) finally tells the story in her own words.

That voyeuristic part that resides inside me has always been fascinated by this story.  I mean, a man who has spent my entire life in exile has to be guilty, right?  On the other hand, a girl who has never spoken out about her experience might have been a pawn in the situation and set up to be Polanski’s “Lolita”.  Geimer does an excellent job breaking her silence.  In her own words:  “We’ve all done something in our lives we regret, something that is stupid; or something awful and stupid is done to us.  For 90 percent of these situations, there comes a time when you need to let it go – unless you don’t want to.  And then, in a sense, it’s your problem.”  With the years so far removed, the happiness she has found in her adult life and the punishment Polanski has endured from the court of public opinion, Geimer has been left with the ability to tell her story in a very matter-of-fact way.  And what a story it is – still completely horrifying/fascinating.  I couldn’t put it down. 

And what a remarkable woman Geimer has become.  Although very much an innocent party to this entire ordeal (say what you want about the mother/others involved, at 13 Geimer was a CHILD and Polanski a 43 year old man who should have known better), she never plays a “woe is me” card in this novel.  She sticks to the facts, maintaining her belief that Polanski’s punishment at the time of the rape was sufficient, is candid about the rough road she took through her remaining childhood, and finally tells of how she was able to heal and move on.  As she says “The word victim comes from the Latin word meaning the person or animal sacrificed for some religious purpose.  Over time it’s developed to mean a person who suffers from an accident or incident that leaves them injured and compromised in some way.  I imagine it must be terrible to be a victim.”

Monday, October 21, 2013

Just What Kind of Mother Are You? by Paula Daly

2 Stars

Lisa is an average mother.  Working full-time at the local animal shelter to barely pay the bills while trying to raise three children and remain a decent wife.  A miscommunication has one of her best friends thinking her daughter is spending the night at Lisa’s house when in reality she has gone missing.  Lisa is now privately (and publicly) racked with guilt over being so caught up in her own life that she may have caused the end of someone else’s.  However, when the doors to the missing girl’s mystery start opening, all sorts of skeletons come flying out.

I hate reviewing books that are just okay.  If you’re looking for a mystery, this one is a new release by a first-time author.  It has a few twists and turns so it is classified correctly as a “thriller”.  On the other hand, I saw some of the twists coming and others I really didn’t care much about.  None of the characters are likeable and the story drags a bit.  Plus, the title and cover had me thinking it was a self-help book that had been filed in the wrong location until I read the book jacket.  In the end, it was just a “meh” for me.

Somebody Up There Hates You by Hollis Seamon

4 Stars

NetGalley ARC – Thank you NetGalley : )

When you’re a teenager spending what is assumed to be your final month of life in a hospice ward, it’s just a given that you must be a member of the SUTHY Club. What other explanation can there be for 17-year old Richie and 15-year old Sylvie to be dying? Somebody up there must hate them, right? Just because they’re supposed to be dying, doesn’t mean that can’t live a little until their time is up. Follow Richie and Sylvie as they come of age in not-so-typical surroundings.

I love "YA for Grown-Ups". You know what I mean, right? The main characters are kids but you don’t feel like a weirdo while you’re reading the book because these kids are dealing with serious issues. As an ARC, you just never know what you’re getting into, so I can’t even begin to describe how pleasantly surprised I was by "Somebody Up There Hates You". If you’re not a fan of the "kid speak that is totally unbelievable because they sound too smart/grown up/whatever", you’ll be able to find some fault with this book. Me? I like the smart and sassy youngins who have a bit too much of a foul-mouth and a bit too unrealistic vocabulary. Plus, these kids are DYING so would why would they bother to reign in their behavior/language? At only 250-some pages, this book is a breeze to get through and, although the subject matter is heavy, I only cried a little bit.