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