Friday, May 31, 2013

Something Wicked This Way Comes by Ray Bradbury

4 Stars

Jim and Will are average 13 year old boys – best friends and next-door-neighbors who were born a day apart. They each have secret ladders they have managed to build outside of their bedroom windows in order to sneak out for some additional harmless mischief. Harmless, that is, until one September evening when the overwhelming scent of licorice and cotton candy fills the air and signals a carnival is coming to town. Little do the boys know they are about to embark on a journey to save their souls when they sneak out at midnight and discover Cooger & Dark’s Pandemonium Shadow Show.

This took about one hot minute to read. I kept asking myself: "Why have I not read this before????" I have no idea how this one managed to slip through my fingers for so many years, but I’m extremely glad to have found it. A true horror classic that reads like pure poetry. Bradbury is a wizard with words.

Thursday, May 30, 2013

Flight Behavior by Barbara Kingsolver

1.5 Stars

Dellarobia and Cub (first warning that I should stop reading this IMMEDIATELY) have been married since high school due to an accidental pregnancy.  They have spent the past decade practically sharecropping under the thumb of Cub’s mother and father.  While on her way to a tryst with a younger man, Dellarobia sees that their entire forest is filled with Monarch butterflies that have somehow migrated to Tennessee for the winter rather than Mexico.  Some think Dellarobia has witnessed a miracle, some just think she’s grown too big for her country britches, some are there to figure out the science behind the freak migration.

First reaction:  Whew – I made it through!  Second reaction:  A saga of redneck ecowarriors???  Final reaction:  Saaaaaad.  Not because the book is sad.  The book elicited ZERO emotion from me.  Sad because I loved the Poisonwood Bible.  When people ask for a recommendation – that is always top 10.  I have avoided anything else by Kingsolver because of my fear it would pale in comparison.  I should have stuck with my gut feeling.  This was awful - no other way around hit.  Kingsolver obviously has an opinion regarding global warming and used these 436 pages to express it.  Unfortunately, she did NOTHING in the way of creating characters that I give one rat’s fat a$$ about.  If your wine-swillin’, book-clubbin’ friends want to read it, power through.  Otherwise, skip it and re-read The Poisonwood Bible.

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Rats Saw God by Rob Thomas

4.25 Stars. 

Whether you're an old hag like me who grew up watching 90210 or you're a young'in "liking" anything to do with TFiOS, this is one to add to your "to read" list.  Steve is a pot-head who is about to fail his senior year.  If he can complete a supplemental writing assignment for English, he'll pass.  The only limitation to the assignment - write about something he knows.  After a severe case of writer's block, Steve chooses to write the history of his high school years.  He tells how he has survived his parents' divorce, experienced first love and first loss and went from an honor student to a burnout. 

This was recommended to me by the library and made pretty clear I should love it because of my age/reading preferences/the 90210 connection, but this was so much deeper/just flat out BETTER than shows like that.  It was a superfast read and proved (yet again) that I would choose a PG-13 love story over "Grey" any day of the week.

Thursday, May 23, 2013

3.25 Stars

Denver, born and raised a sharecropper in backwoods Louisiana and Ron, a millionaire art dealer, give simultaneous autobiographies and the story of how two people from such completely different worlds could become friends. 

If you're a lover of spiritual books, this one will probably be a 5 on your list.  In comparison to The Shack and Heaven is for Real, at least I can say I was able to finish this one without wanting to stab myself in the face.  The writing of those other two was just horribly painful. 

The first half of the book was pretty good.  Ron and Denver's personal histories really kept my attention and I enjoyed hearing their individual voices narrate each chapter.  Unfortunately, it felt like a real bait and switch once we got to Deborah's sickness.  To me, too much time was spent focusing on the illness rather than truly writing a tribute for her that contained more details of her work at the mission.  It wrapped back up toward the end - just in time since it almost lost me.

Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell

5 Stars

Eleanor and Park meet when she has a "Forrest Gump" moment as a new student on the schoolbus and Park (rudely) offers her the only free seat.  Over the course of the school year, Eleanor and Park become friends and then first loves. 

John Green told me to read this and since I totally drink the John Green Kool-Aid it was a no brainer that I would do so immediately.  Oh, how I loved it and absolutely could. not. put. it. down.  It made me feel the butterflies of first love all over again.  Then it stabbed me in the heart with the story of Eleanor's home life.  It also provided the extra perk of running a soundtrack of The Smiths through my head all day.  The only thing wrong with books like these are they piss me off knowing what could have been if I would have been born in a different literary time.  I mean, really, where were these authors when I was a youngin?  All we had was shitty Sweet Valley High.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Wonder by R. J. Palacio


5 Stars - Read March 7, 2013

Auggie has an extreme facial deformity and has been homeschooled his entire life - until now.  He's now entering the 5th grade - at an actual school for the first time.  Faced with strange looks, whispers and passive-aggressive bullying, and a sister who is trying her best to distance herself from him at her new high school, Auggie will prove that "you can't blend in when you were born to stand out."

I fell in love with Auggie instantly.  I cried the tears only a mom can cry any time he was in pain and had my heart nearly burst with happiness at other times.  This is a book that breaks the age barrier.  Young kids should read it since to learn compassion and the old lesson "do not judge a book by its cover".  Adults should read it just because it's goooooooooooood.

The Bully Book by Eric Kahn Gale

3 Stars - Read May 15, 2013

Eric Haskins is a typical average kid until he begins his 6th grade year.  The resident bully has turned the entire class against him and somehow he has become "The Grunt".  Eric discovers the selection process of choosing the 6th grade grunt stems from a mysterious Bully Book that also teaches one kid how to rule the school.  Eric is desperate to figure out why he was chosen and change his path so he doesn't end up the Grunt for the remainder of his school days.

I'm tough when it comes to rating YA books.  Basically I want them to truly be written for the enjoyment of adults and just hidden on the shelves of the children's section at the library so they are always available when I want to check them out.  This one really is for the younger set.  I enjoyed Gale's style of bouncing back and forth from journal entries to segments from The Bully Book and the "mystery" aspect of who originally wrote The Book and how they picked The Grunt helped keep my interest.  It also gets wrapped up in a nice little package at the end with some good advice for the adolescent reader.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman


 4 Stars - Read March 5, 2013

Richard Mayhew is on the way to dinner with his fiance when he comes across a bleeding girl named Door (who he isn't supposed to be aware of).  By choosing to help the damsel in distress, Richard is pulled into "London Below" an alternate life that he never knew existed under his feet. 

Jenny Lawson (The Bloggess) convinced me to give Neil Gaiman a try and Neverwhere was the first book that popped up on the radar.  I was not disappointed.  It was such a dark and creepy Alice in Wonderland.  I was surprised to know that it was a television program on the BBC before it was adapted into a book.  I've yet to seek out the T.V. version since there are about 1,072,459 episodes of Doctor Who to distract me anytime I decide not to read.

Slave: My True Story by Mende Nazer

3.5 Stars - Read May 14, 2013

Mende is 12 years old when her Sudanese village is raided.  They rush through on horseback, setting fire to the huts, slaughtering adults and kidnapping the children.  From there the girls are taken individually by the Arabs on a horrific journey where they are repeatedly raped until they reach the capital city.  In Khartoum they will each be sold as slaves and are told by their new owners that is where they will stay until they die.

First, I feel like a real shit for only giving this 3.5 stars.  In my defense, it's because there wasn't ENOUGH book for me.  Mende tells of at least 7+ years kept as a slave in about 150 pages.  I didn't necessarily need graphic details, but I did want to get to know her more, see her strength, know how she developed her survival instincts, etc.  Unfortunately the most horrific scene contained in this novel (other than the village raid and kidnapping) is the mutilation she endured during her female circumcision.

I am the Messenger by Markus Zusak

5 Stars - Read May 11, 2013

Ed Kennedy is wasting his life (according to his mother) by working as an underage cabbie and spending his free time playing cards (and pining for Audrey - the girl of his dreams) until instinct kicks in and he stops a bank robbery in progress.  Then the Aces begin to arrive.  Each Ace will contain names of people who need some sort of intervention.  Ed has been chosen to be "the messenger".  Can Ed complete the tasks?  How will he even know what each person needs?  And most importantly, who is sending Ed these mysterious cards?

I held off on reading this one because I loved The Book Thief so much and I was terrified this one would be a huge stinker in comparison.  How surprised was I when I thought this one was event better.  I've decided I'm totally into the Aussie YA authors.

Ed was such a great character (along with everyone else whose names appear on the cards).  I literally did not put this one down until I finished.  Luckily it was such a quick read that it only took a couple of hours. 

Monday, May 13, 2013

Are You There Vodka? It's Me, Chelsea by Chelsea Handler

Are You There Vodka? It's Me, Chelsea

4 Stars - Read January 11, 2013

A collection of short stories from Chelsea Handler about her family, love life and career (many of which are booze-inspired - per the title). 

I was practically kicking and screaming while checking this book out from the library.  I despise Chelsea Handler.  I can't stand the sound of her voice and looking at her makes me want to punch her in the face.  I can't think of one other famous person who makes me react this way.  Why the F would I want to read her book?  Well, because I'm a sucker for peer pressure.  Everyone else was reading it and said it was hilarious.  I have to admit, they were right.  It was funny.  Like heaven help me I've had two kids and sometimes the giggles might result in me pissing myself funny.  I tried to watch her show again after reading this and I still wanted to jump through the set and rip her face off.  I even tried a viewing of "After Lately" rationalizing my addiction to reality television would overpower my hatred.  Wrong.  I'll just stick to the books (secret confession - when I read I picture Elizabeth Banks telling me the story instead of Chelsea Handler).

The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie

4.25 Stars - Read May 13, 2013

Junior is a boy from the Spokane Indian Reservation who marches to the beat of his own drum.  With some encouragement from a teacher, Junior decides to leave the rez school and attend the white school 20 miles away.  This is the story of how he survives his Freshman year.

Very well-written and a super fast read for adults.  The perfect next step for kids who have outgrown the Diary of a Wimpy Kid series.  Junior is a little older, a little wiser and a little more able to express himself in a way that the pre-teen will understand and respect.  The story of Junior's failures and triumphs will also keep a grown-up's interest.

Married with Zombies by Jesse Petersen

2.75 Stars - Read May 12, 2013

Sarah and David are at the end of the line when it comes to their relationship.  They're throwing thousands of dollars away in weekly marriage counseling sessions, but both are Googling "divorce attorney" in their spare time.  That is, until they walk into their normal session to find Dr. Kelly eating the clients who attend the therapy session immediately prior to theirs.  Can this couple on the edge of collapse come together in order to survive the zombie apocalypse?

So, it was Mother's Day.  I requested a gift of kids who left me alone for the day and a "Big Carl".  I received both.  I also opted to read pure fluffy trash as a gift to myself.  This was cute.  Lots of action-packed scenes and a quick wit reminiscent of Zombieland.  I'll probably pick up the next in the series come pool season.

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Night by Elie Wiesel

Night  (The Night Trilogy, #1)

5 Stars - Read February 6, 2013

Night is Elie Wiesel's true story.  From the wearing of the Star of David to creation of the Jewish ghettos to separation from family to life (and death) and finally liberation from the Buchenwald concentration camp.

This book is on every "must read before you die" list I've ever seen.  I agree 100%.  If you never read another book off of that list, read this one.  It's barely over 100 pages, but it is the most powerful book I've ever read.  It is a story that has to be told and then re-told and then re-told again.  We can never forget and every nation on Earth should be doing ANYTHING in its power to stop atrocities like this from happening again.  No more Buchenwald/Auschwitz/Dachau/etc., no more Rwanda, no more Darfur, no more Bosnia.  NO. MORE.

Saturday, May 11, 2013

Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn

Gone Girl

5 Stars - Read December 17, 2012

Nick and Amy are getting ready to celebrate their fifth wedding anniversary.  Amy has, per usual, gone out of her way to create an elaborate scavenger hunt filled with hints of special occasions/locations that Nick must follow in order to find her and celebrate their special day.  Only problem is - Amy is missing and Nick is HORRIBLE at deciphering her clues.  Amy's diary discloses a not-so-picture-perfect home life and Nick isn't doing himself any favors by continuing to get caught in lies.  The police are closing in and Amy's story is being featured on a "Nancy Grace" type program - did Nick do it????

What kind of reader would I be if I hadn't been sucked into the hype which is Gillian Flynn's Gone Girl?  Unlike so many other well-publicized novels, this was not much ado about nothing.  Oh, she's twisted.  Just when you thought the roller coaster was coming to a stop, she made the bottom drop out again.  And YES, I know I'm cheating here since I read this one in 2012.  However, I also give credit where credit is due and Gillian Flynn has set me adrift on an adventure filled with young, talented authors who sadly only have a few books under their belt so far due to being infants of the literary world.  I gobbled this one up in one sitting and didn't come up for air until I read her other two books as well. 

Friday, May 10, 2013

The Hate List by Jennifer Brown

Hate List

4.75 Stars - Read January 9, 2013

Valerie is left behind to deal with the unanswered questions generated when her boyfriend Nick conducts a Columbine type shooting in their high school lunch room.  Together, Valerie and Nick had created the "hate list" - a list of students that they wanted dead.  Nick committed the crime, but was Valerie innocent?  Was she a hero who put herself at risk to stop the shooting?  Was there an agreement for her to be Nick's last victim before he turned the gun on himself?

Although it's a "YA" book, I would make sure to steer this only to very mature youngsters.  This one was a real thinker with a plot that could easily happen at any time.

Thursday, May 9, 2013

Sold by Patricia McCormick

3.75 Stars - Read May 9, 2013

13 year old Lakshmi lives in a village in the mountains of Nepal.  Her family is terribly poor and hope the annual rice crop will be enough to pay their old debt, cover her stepfather's gambling/drinking and by some luck have enough left over to put a tin roof on their hut.  When the monsoons come and wipe out their hopes, Lakshmi's stepfather decides she will move to the city and become a maid for a wealthy family.  Lakshmi is more than happy to quit school and take this job since she knows she will be able to send money home and ease her mother's worries.  Unfortunately the "Auntie" who shows up to take her to the city is truly taking her to India where she will become an indentured servant who must pay her debt by prostitution.  Lakshmi lives an endless nightmare while trying to figure out who she can trust in order to survive.

I actually picked this one up by accident not realizing it was a YA novel.  However, it is written in short, succinct chapters and had such a good storyline that it was a tremendously fast read.  An extremely heavy theme, yet written in a delicate enough fashion and doesn't include graphic details that a younger reader should avoid.  This would be a great conversation starter for kids with questions regarding human trafficking. 

House of Leaves by Mark Z. Danielewski

House of Leaves

3 Stars - Read February 5, 2013

This is a book within a book.  Will, Karen and their two children move from the city to a home of their own on Ash Tree Lane only to discover the house isn't quite what it seems.  It begins with a perplexing mathematical problem - the house is measuring slightly larger on the outside than on the inside.  It climaxes with an ever-growing perhaps inescapable abyss filled with terrorizing sounds lurking in the shadows. 

Told as a book within a book this is a polarizing novel.  People seem to love it or hate it and are impassioned to sing its praises or highlight its failures.  I'm not so vehement in my conclusions.  I completely enjoyed the "main" story (which story is the main story is debatable, I'm sure) of Will and Karen in the house.  On the other hand, I was frustrated with Johnny's narrative throughout his various states of lucidity.  Again, I get that is probably the point, but the reader has to at least be able to follow the train of thought.  The footnotes, endmarks, references, etc. left me questioning Danielewski's sanity.  Who the hell would put forth that much effort in a fictional story unless they were completely off their rocker?

The Charm School by Nelson DeMille

3.5 Stars - Read May 9, 2013

When American tourist Gregory Fisher ventures off-track while driving to Moscow in communist Russia, he gets more than he bargains for.  Near the battlefield of Borodino there sits a Charm School where young Russians are being taught how to be perfect American citizens (by American POWs from the Vietnam War, no less).  The goal is to create an entirely new type of spy.  Will the CIA be able to stop it?

I feel kind of like an a-hole for not giving this one a higher rating.  I've been dragging it around all week and have been told by numerous people how much they just LOVED it and should read it again.  For all intents and purposes this was a good book.  I just thought it would make a better movie.  The dialogue is fast-paced (DeMille has a fabulous dry wit) and the action scenes are very intense.  There just seemed to be a lot of lag time (note to writers - books don't have to be 1,000,000 pages to get the point across).  I found myself hanging on every word thinking what seemed to be the most inane scenes were sure to come back later as "A-HA" moments, but that didn't happen.  The bad guys were bad and the good guys were (questionably) good.  No double-agentry or switcheroos like I kept hoping for.

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

(Almost) Wordless Wednesday . . .

The question: 
Why don't I use my Nook to check out library books?

The answer: 
Because not everyone gets to walk to this beauty a couple times per week.

Notorious Nineteen by Janet Evanovich

Notorious Nineteen (Stephanie Plum, #19)

3.25 Stars - Read January 7, 2013

Stephanie Plum is on her 19th (mis)adventure and of course Grandma Mazur, Lula, Morelli and Ranger are along for the ride.  This time Stephanie is tracking an embezzler who has managed to pull the slip from the hospital after an apendectomy.  While trying to land the big fish Stephanie still has bills to pay and takes a job offer from Ranger to be his personal bodyguard.  Hilarity ensues in the form of food poisoning and being recruited to be the maid-of-honor in the wedding of two people Stephanie doesn't even know.

Janet E. is my guilty pleasure.  These books are obviously not meant to work your brain like the Mensa Admission Test, but oh do they give me some hearty belly laughs.  19 (plus all of the "in betweens") and I'm still not tired of Stephanie Plum.  Keep on keeping on, Janet : )

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Still Missing by Chevy Stevens

4.5 Stars - Read May 2, 2013

Annie O'Sullivan is a 32 year old realtor who is wrapping up an unproductive open house when a cash buyer walks through the door, kidnaps her and holds her captive for a year.  The story is told in therapy sessions retelling the story of Annie's imprisonment and is interspersed with current events of her life. 

Excuse my French, but HOLY SHIT.  This was not for the weak spirited.  It's graphic, it's terrifying, it takes you "there" so much that you put it down only to hear it calling you back for more.  If you enjoy the wild ride Gillian Flynn can take you on, buckle up and take a spin on this one.  The only disappointment for me is this is Chevy Stevens debut novel, so I'll have to wait and see if her brain can continually produce such twisted, fascinating stories.

Follow up:  One day a week or so after finishing this one (perhaps while you're still debating whether or not you have PTSD from reading it) you might wake up, flip on Good Morning America and see that Amanda Berry, Gina deJesus and Michelle Knight have been found after being held captive by their kidnapper for 10 years.  This book was so traumatizing because it is something that not only could, but does happen.

Monday, May 6, 2013

World War Z by Max Brooks

World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War

3.5 Stars - Read March 1, 2013

The human race has almost been obliterated by zombies.  World War Z is the history of the Zombie War told through first person reports from survivors across the globe detailing their experiences through such a tumultuous time.  Said first person reports have been excluded from any "official" detailing of the period and have been compiled solely by the author in book format in order to preserve the "human factor" of history.

Completely different from the plethora of zombie books out there.  It caught my eye since it's soon to be a movie that my kid is dying to see (and supposedly a book he wanted to read until he realized it read like a news story rather than an episode of The Walking Dead).  I really enjoyed the format.  It was reminiscent of movies like "Outbreak" where you know what happens and are working your way backwards to the beginning.  Although I do not swoon for Brad Pitt, I do find his acting ability pretty high end, and I found myself getting excited for the summer blockbuster as well.  However, it appears from watching the previews that the movie will be less of an ensemble-type cast bouncing around the globe and more of a "hey this is an AWESOME movie title - why don't we steal it and then make it almost nothing like the book".

Sunday, May 5, 2013

The Revised Fundamentals of Caregiving by Jonathan Evison

5 Stars - Read May 1, 2013

Benjamin Benjamin (yeah, that's really his name - but trust me it's the ONLY part of this book that sucks) has lost his family, has no job and is out of money.  Desperate times force him to enroll in "The Fundamentals of Caregiving" class where he will learn to be an in-home health aid (emphasis on the healthcare and absolutely NO emotional connection allowed).  Ben gets assigned to assist 19 year old Trevor who has a rare form of MD and a short life expectancy.  That doesn't mean he doesn't have a lot of life to live, however.  Ben and Trevor set off on the male version of a "Thelma and Louise" road trip where they meet new friends, make some enemies and are stalked by a mystery man driving a Buick Skylark.

Oh how I loved this book.  One of the best I've read all year.  I actually dreaded finishing this one because I just wanted MORE MORE MORE.  It broke my heart and then it took masking tape and chewed bubble gum and pasted it all back together again.  I want to jump in my car, drive to the Pacific Northwest and pop in for a visit with Ben and Trevor just to catch up.

Saturday, May 4, 2013

The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls

5 Stars - Read April 24, 2013

This is the biography of Jeannette Walls and her "unconventional" upbringing.  Tales of bouncing from house to house - to being followed by the FBI (a/k/a bill collectors) - to being homeless and "camping" - to finally ending up in a shanty near the paternal family in the Appalachians.  The parents were developmentally delayed (to put it kindly) with no sense of responsibility when it came to caring for the children.  A mother who was more concerned with being an "artist" than putting a meal on the table and an alcoholic father who couldn't grasp the concept that he was letting the family down led to the most extreme dysfunction imaginable.

It was the reading equivalent of watching a trainwreck.  I was completely horrified and thoroughly disgusted by the adult family members throughout the entire book, but I just couldn't put it down.  Amazingly inspirational in that people could grow up in this kind of family and not only somehow manage to get out, but to be successful members of society. 

Friday, May 3, 2013

Intro to Creative Writing . . .

Okay, not so much - but I gotta start somewhere, right???

Lame but true - books are my passion.  I work in boringville for a group of people of questionable intelligence (my boss is currently - no lie - watching something to do with Scooby Doo on You Tube).  Books give me an escape.  This blog is to keep track of exactly what I read, when I read it and if I would recommend it to someone else. 

A little about me:  I read like a schizophrenic and am probably on an FBI watch list somewhere for my sometimes bizarro choices in material.  I'm too old to be completely enamored with John Green and "liking" things to do with TFiOS on Facebook, but since I have no shame it doesn't stop me.  After 11 years I finally turned a room in my house that was used for NOTHING into a reading room.  Unfortunately I didn't install an electric fence, so I'm constantly interrupted by the small people who live with me whenever I attempt 15 minutes of alone time.  Said room is also the bathroom of choice for the geriatric mutt who lives with me.  Good times.  Also, I suck at blogging.  I will post frantically and then seem to completely fall off the planet for days/weeks on end.  Since I surpassed the goal of 52, I've decided to review whatever tickles my fancy instead of going chronologically.  Maybe that will help hide my adult onset ADD a titch.