Wednesday, July 31, 2013

The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman

6 Stars? 8? 10???

In modern day England, a man returns to his hometown in order to attend a funeral. Instead of attending the luncheon after the service, he ventures down the lane of his first home and his memories of Lettie Hempstock and their experiences together.

A nickel’s worth of free advice to any who has not yet read this book. Wait for a cold, dreary day – curl up in a giant chair with a soft blanket and a cup of tea and read this in one sitting. Bribe your children to stay away, send your husband to the pub to watch sports, whatever it takes. This book is very short and, trust me, getting interrupted will SERIOUSLY irritate you.

Now on to the review. How do I love Neil Gaiman? Let me count the ways . . . I love that he can write something that COULD be terrifying, yet somehow stays riiiiiiiiight on the edge. I love that all of his stories read like haunting bedtime tales for adults. I love his beautiful imagery. I love that everything that he writes is so SMART. I love that you can read 5 pages and know it’s Neil Gaiman without even seeing the byline. I love that he puts his soul into his work after all this time and doesn’t just produce crap in order to get a paycheck. I love that this book had a unique little kitten as a character.

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Ask the Passengers by A.S. King

3.5 Stars

Astrid is a high school senior trying to find an answer to the biggest question imaginable. Is she or isn’t she? While struggling to find the answer of what to do with her love, she opts not to waste it and sends it away to passengers in planes she sees overhead.

I’m so glad there are YA authors like King who are willing to tackle real-life situations teens face in a mature way. Hopefully writing like this helps kids get through difficult times if they have a$$holes like Astrid’s mother and some of her classmates in their life. I also hope anyone who is reading this and sees any sign of potential a$$hole-ishness, be they teen or grown-up, cease said behavior immediately.

Monday, July 29, 2013

Whistling Past the Graveyard by Susan Crandall

3.5 Stars.

Starla has had it up to here with her grandmother, Mamie. She’s sick of being called trash and being on restriction all the time while her daddy tries to make ends meet working on an off-shore oil rig. When she finally blows her top and punches out the neighborhood bully on the 4th of July, she just can’t bear the punishment of being grounded during the big parade. Starla decides to sneak out, and when she is caught is terrified Mamie is going to send her to reform school. She’s so scared, in fact, that she runs away in hopes of finding her estranged momma, who is trying to make it as a singer in Nashville, and reunite her family. On the road in the blistering heat, she is offered a ride by a black woman who is traveling with a white baby. The three then set off on an unforgettable road trip through the 1960’s segregated South.

Let me begin by saying I’m tired of EVERY book about white/black relations in the South during the ‘60s being compared to To Kill a Mockingbird. Apples and orangutans, folks. Same goes with the modern-day classics like The Help and The Secret Life of Bees (quick recommendation – if those two are still on your “to read” list, they should both take priority over this one). If you judge this as a stand-alone book with no comparisons I would say it wasn’t bad. I whipped right through it in a few hours and it kept my attention. However, it also left me a little hollow. The storyline was more than a bit far-fetched and Starla was absolutely insufferable at times. Mamie was built up as such a tyrant with no true examples until the end, but during the course of reading I found myself thinking if Starla was MY grandkid back in the 60s, I’d probably have her cutting her own switch off the tree. She was also EXTREMELY na├»ve. I understand not knowing the intricacies of the Jim Crow laws at her age, but seeming so shocked by the mistreatment of the black people she came across and not realizing the dangers of getting herself in precarious situations was certainly unbelievable.

Sunday, July 28, 2013

Sorta Like a Rock Star by Matthew Quick

 5 Stars

Amber, her mother and her pup Bobby Big Boy have been living in Hello Yello (a school bus Amber’s mother drives part-time) for months after being kicked out of the latest in a series of her mom’s boyfriend’s apartments. Amber is an eternal optimist – splitting her time between her school friends (the Franks Freak Force Federation), teaching the Korean Divas for Christ English at the local Korean Catholic Church and battling wits with Joan of Old at the Methodist Retirement Home. All that changes, though, when Amber experiences a horrific tragedy.

A week ago I finally got off the list of “one of the only people in America who had not yet read The Silver Linings Playbook”. The library happened to queue Sorta Like a Rock Star up on the same day. I really enjoyed Silver Linings and, like always, had a naggy little voice in the back of my brain saying “you know, that other one is REALLY gonna suck”. Oh little naggy voice, how wrong you were. Sorta Like a Rock Star was actually so much better. The only downside? Reading it through my lunch hour and ugly crying all the make-up off my face for the remainder of the day. Thank you, Matthew Quick, for the reminder that all we can do is keep circling that big flaming ball in the sky (that’s the sun – sucka!).

Friday, July 26, 2013

The Basic Eight by Daniel Handler

4 Stars

Welcome to Flannery Culp’s lovely, black, leather bound journal. On these pages she will capture all the memories of her senior year with her best friends “The Basic Eight”. She’ll share all the good, bad and ugly details – including a little tale of murder.

Absolutely DELICIOUS. I don’t even know how this book made it to my “to read” list*. I’m so thankful Goodreads is here to help prod my senile mind along. I was completely thrown into the way-back machine with this one – it was reminiscent of “Heathers” (including a croquet scene, no less) and absolutely delightful. Dark, edgy, brilliant. So much fun and even adds an extra little twist as the cherry on the sundae.

*Figured it out. Added it to my list when "Why We Broke Up" was recommended to me. Why We Broke UP SUUUUUCCCCCKKKKKKEEEEED, The Basic Eight was fabulous. Go figure.

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Why We Broke Up by Daniel Handler

2 Stars

Min is returning a box of trinkets from her relationship with Ed along with a letter explaining the origin of each memento.

Methinks I was just a little too old/too jaded for this one. I found Min pathetic and whiney, and Ed was obviously a dick. It took me a solid week to get through this (which, pat myself on the back, I did) when I normally take 24 hours or less to read something of so little substance. This actually was recommended to me and I could hardly stomach it, so I put it aside to read "The Basic Eight" which I absolutely adored (not realizing they are by the same author). On those grounds, I won't be throwing the baby out with the bathwater - Handler will get another shot at wooing me with his prose sometime in the future.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

The Silver Linings Playbook by Matthew Quick

5 Stars

Does anyone even need a synopsis for this one? You do? Okay – here goes . . . Pat has spent some time in a mental health institution and has come back home to live with his parents. He now has to adjust to life back with his parents, life reuniting with old friends and making new ones, life where he is separated from his wife, and life where his therapist is encouraging him to start dating again?????

I’ve owned the movie version of this book for three months and have not watched it (and I srsly lurv me some Bradley Cooper so it’s been a struggle). I was on the library’s waiting list to read the book for six months. Not only have I not yet watched the film, I haven’t allowed my poor husband to watch it either. (Same goes with It’s Kind of a Funny Story and Up in the Air. Just in case you were questioning if I’m mentally unstable – the answer is probably YES.) This was just one that I couldn’t ruin by watching the movie first and, I mean, I did NOTHING to spoil any part of it for myself.. I’m so glad I waited because this was like the first present you open on Christmas morning. What a phenomenal debut novel. I adored Pat, his mother, his brother, Ronnie, Cliff, etc., etc., etc. and it was a nice bonus to get emotionally attached to a book without having the horrible ugly cries to go along with it ; )

Sunday, July 21, 2013

How to Talk to a Widower by Jonathan Tropper

4.5 Stars

29 year old Doug Parker was barely getting his life together when his wife Hailey passed away. Now she’s gone – and so is he. It’s been over a year and he is barely functioning. He rarely leaves the house and avoids any interaction with his family (including his stepson who was also left behind when Hailey died). The only thing he’s managed to do is morph his monthly magazine column from a “how to …” regarding celebrities to a “how to talk to a widower”. Doug’s twin sister, Clair, decides it’s high time Doug get back into the real world that includes both leaving the house AND getting on the dating circuit again.

There just aren’t enough words to express how much I love Jonathan Tropper. His characters seem so familiar to me, his dry humor makes me belly laugh, and his understated dramatic moments make me feel all of the feelings. I’m attempting to spread out the remaining unread-by-me Tropper books at this point so I don’t find myself having withdrawal symptoms when I come to the end. Get writing, Jonathan, ‘cause I’m waiting for new stuff!

Monday, July 15, 2013

Dead Ever After by Charlaine Harris

1 Star

Being that this is book number 13 in the series, I’ll assume no synopsis is necessary and just get down to the nitty-gritty. My relationship with Charlaine Harris and Sookie Stackhouse has been like a bad marriage. I should have got out around #9, but I kept making excuses and thinking things would get better. Sadly, they didn’t. Boy does this series show that the power of the almighty dollar can rule all. Harris has been phoning in book after book, using the excuse that “she writes for herself” and “you can’t please all the people all the time”. Yes, Ms. Harris, lots of authors write for themselves. Those same authors at least give half a rat’s butt as to why their fans love them and sure as shit don’t sell the rights of their books to create a television series that has hardly ANYTHING in common with the beloved novels. I’m so sad that I wasted so many years/dollars on Sookie. I could give a crap who she ended up with (I’m fairly certain EVERYONE saw that coming although many have differing opinions) – I’m saddened that a series that I once loved ended without a bang (hell, it barely made a ripple). Seriously – 338 pages of hearing how well Sookie’s yard was thriving? Ugh. Good luck to you, Charlaine Harris, but I WILL NOT be reading anything else you write.

Friday, July 12, 2013

On the Island by Tracey Garvis Graves

3.5 Stars

17-year old T.J. is in remission after battling cancer. His mother has decided to celebrate by having the entire family spend the summer in the Maldives and has headed there early with the rest of the family. T.J. does not share his mother’s excitement (especially after learning 30-year old teacher Anna will be tagging along as a tutor to get him up to speed with his schoolwork) and sought a few day reprieve from the vacation by staying in Chicago. He and Anna are en route to the vacation home when the pilot of the seaplane they are on suffers a fatal heart attack and crash lands in the middle of the Indian Ocean. They make it to one of hundreds in a string of inhabited islands, but how will two city dwellers ever survive living on a deserted island?

I will gladly admit one of my earliest guilty pleasures was “The Blue Lagoon”. It was so awful and campy, but I just looooooved it so when this popped up on the radar in the middle of July, I was all in. This book brought back all of those old feelings and was the perfect summer read. I was prepared for it to be all porn-y and get squicked out by the age difference of T.J. and Anna, but it wasn’t like that at all (a pleasant surprise). Recommended to anyone who wants to read a better-than-average romance novel and escape for a day or so.

Big Ray by Michael Kimball

2 Stars

Written in a series of half-thought snippets, this was an unusual little book. Big Ray, who has just died, was an abusive tank of a man. His son is writing this book as a kind of catharsis – reliving his painful childhood in brief bursts. I have a feeling on any given day my opinion of this book could fluctuate – today it only gets a 2. I picked it up because it was one of the library’s recommended reads for the month. I’ve never read Kimball before, so I’m not sure if all of his work is this strange or not. At this point I have 387 books on my “to read” list, so I probably won’t be curious enough to find out any time soon.

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? by Mindy Kaling

4 Stars

Quick confessional: 1. I am unequivocally in love with David Brent, therefore I have never cheated on him and watched even one episode of the American version of The Office. 2. The only thing I had ever seen Mindy Kaling in was that Ashton Kutcher/Natalie Portman movie that I can’t even remember the name of, but that I know I liked better when Justin Timberlake and Mila Kunis were the stars.

That being said, I wanted to read a funny comedian book and have already been through Tina Fey, Kathy Griffin, Jenny Lawson, Chelsea Handler and Sarah Silverman. (Another confession - I REALLY wanted to read Dad is Fat by Jim Gaffigan, but there’s a waiting list.) Good news is, Mindy Kaling’s book is funny (unlike Sarah Silverman’s horrible snoozer). She’s funny enough that in a state of insomnia I went on The Demand channel and queued up an episode of The Mindy Project. Highlights for me include her top funny moments of comedy (although, seriously Mindy, expand your horizons and realize that Caddyshack/Animal House/any other disgusting late 70s/early 80s comedy geared toward men is HILARIOUS), explaining to men over 30 they should not have any “flare” on the butt of their jeans and other helpful hints of how they can be great without even trying, questioning any woman who goes without underpants, reconfirming that the album Graceland by Paul Simon may be the best thing ever put on vinyl, contributing (as everyone who ever writes a comedy bio should) an Amy Poehler is the best person in the universe and oh my God I want to be her BFF story and, finally, confirming that I may have one of the most successful marriages around (although we watch Big Brother rather than The Bachelorette, we totally could come to fisticuffs back in the day if one ever dared watch an episode of The Sopranos without the other and we high-five our mutual awesomeness quite frequently).

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Mule by Tony D'Souza

4.5 Stars. When the economy goes in the crapper, what other option does James have but to become a drug mule in order to support his newly pregnant wife?

Well, okay, there may be other options, but they wouldn't have been nearly as much fun. Talk about an adrenaline rush. This was non-stop from start to finish. If you want high stakes at a pace that makes your heart race, this one is for you.

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Where She Went by Gayle Forman

Everyone ready for a wishy-washy review? Yep, me too, so here goes …

3.5 Stars. Let me preface this by saying curses to you, Stephenie Meyer, for practically making it a constitutional amendment that all YA books have at least two parts. Where She Went picks up on the story of Adam and Mia three years after Mia’s accident. About 99% of the book takes place over the course of one day/night (with flashbacks filling in every couple chapters or so) and reminded me a lot of those Before Sunset/Sunrise/Whatevers movies that bring Ethan Hawke and his rogue chin pubes back to relevance and out of the welfare line every few years.

While I wanted to hate this book for being so unlike If I Stay, I just can’t. For me, it lacked the depth/complexity of character/storyline of If I Stay, but it was such an adorably sugary sweet romance that I just couldn’t bring myself to hate it. Sometimes even a Grinch like me needs to read a book just for the warm fuzzies of it.

Monday, July 8, 2013

Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk by Ben Fountain

3.5 Stars. Billy Lynn and the other remaining members of Bravo are American heroes after having a fierce battle with Iraqi insurgents televised on Fox News by an embedded news crew. After a quick patch job on their wounds and receiving their various Purple Hearts and Silver Stars, Bravo Squad has been dispatched on a two-week media tour across the U.S.A. Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk follows the men on the final leg of their journey – a Dallas Cowboys game on Thanksgiving Day.

Disclaimer: If you are looking for a feel-good, happy time story, this is NOT it. Although there are humorous moments, this is not an upbeat novel. I always hesitate to write too much because I never want ANYTHING spoiled for me, so I’ll just leave it as this book was a real heartbreaker.

Sunday, July 7, 2013

Every Day by David Levithan

3.5 Stars. A has never been the same person twice. For 16+ years he wakes up each day in a new body. He can access basic memories in order to fake it through the day, but doesn't usually feel like doing more than the bare minimum. That is, until he meets Rhiannon. While occupying her boyfriend Justin's body for the day, he spends a few magical hours with Rhiannon and discovers that he can't get her out of his mind (no matter whose mind he is using that day).

David Levithan is a master of teenage love stories with a unique twist. This book did a wonderful job of explaining "same love" through the various characters A had to portray each day. While I don't find Levithan to be as deep and able to transcend all ages as John Green, he still writes wonderful stories.

Saturday, July 6, 2013

Plan B by Jonathan Tropper

3.75 Stars. Ben, Lindsey, Jack, Allison and Chuck have been friends since college. On the verge of their 30s, they are each faced with the question of "what am I doing with my life?" The most pressing issue is Jack's growing drug problem, which is going to dealt with by the group as a full-on kidnapping scheme in hopes to get Jack clean.

Although you can tell this is Tropper's first novel (characters aren't quite as complex, story doesn't roll as effortlessly), his promise of brilliance still lurks right below the surface. If you are old enough to remember and love "The Big Chill", then you'll enjoy "Plan B".

Thursday, July 4, 2013

He's Just Not That Into You by Greg Behrendt

2 Stars

Another time this probably would have received a 4-star rating from me. Since I've been married for 119 dog years, I think he's pretty much into me (and after that long, when he's not I really don't mind). I read this at the pool and attracted a couple of "awe, poor you" looks that made me giggle.

I thought this would be more tongue in cheek and not an actual self-helper. It had amusing bits and I think ALL women have had that ONE friend who could be bashed in the face with this book and STILL not get it so those cringe-worthy memories gave me an extra chuckle.

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Choke by Chuck Palahniuk

4 Stars

Victor spends his days working as an indentured servant in Colonial America. He spends his nights rotating between attending sex addicts anonymous meetings and faking his own untimely demise by choking in high-end restaurants. Once saved, Victor maintains contact with said rescuers in the hopes that they will send him enough money to cover his mother’s monthly nursing home bill.

Chuck Palahniuk is a very polarizing figure in modern day literature – you either love him or hate him. I fall into the absolutely adore him category, but I still find it nearly impossible to write a review for his books. His brain works in such mysterious ways that a synopsis is the only safe bet to prevent spoilage of his masterpiece. Let’s just say that, once again, his words read like poetry of the most demented order.

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

The Spectacular Now by Tim Tharp

1 Star

Serious question, WTF is Sutter Keely’s medical diagnosis. No one in the world can be this big of a dickface without falling somewhere on the spectrum of mental illness. The synopsis is, Sutter is a "party boy" a/k/a huge f-ing boozey loser who has absolutely ZERO self awareness. This means he has no idea he is the butt of the joke rather than the life of the party. He meets a total nerdo (complete with a wardrobe of horse t-shirts – I mean really?) and proceeds to drag her on a downward spiral with him.

This book sucked. With all the wonders like Green, Levithan, Rowell, Chbosky, etc. that exist in the world of YA romance with serious undertones, why would anyone want to waste their time on such a one-dimensional P.O.S. like Sutter Keely???

Monday, July 1, 2013

Ready Player One by Ernest Cline

3.75 Stars (and I hope ya’ll get why).

Wade (a/k/a avatar named Parzival) lives on an Earth that has been depleted of all natural resources. Like most people, Wade has spent most of his life escaping his impoverished reality by spending as much time as possible in the virtual utopia that is OASIS. Five years ago the creator of OASIS passed away – leaving no heirs, but a series of clues that would unlock his fortune to the first one who could solve all of the puzzles. Wade has become a full-time gunter, trying desperately to win the competition in hopes of giving himself a life he could never (even in virtual reality) dream of.

I was REEEEEEEEEAAAAAAAAAAAAAALLLLLLLY looking forward to this. High expectations probably resulted in more disappointment than had I known NOTHING before starting, so here are the negatives. 1. Information overload. Cline explains EVERY. SINGLE. MOVE. SOMEONE. MAKES. IN. DETAIL. which made for some lag time while reading (I’m thinking that might not have been a complaint at all if I had listened to the audio version). I also do not need to read the stereo instructions of how an OASIS visor or haptic suit works. 2. Know your audience, Cline. The people who are fawning all over this book are ├╝bergeeks and superfans. The synopsis explains, quite clearly, that Halliday was obsessed with everything 80s – assume those who are picking up this book are too. 3. My final complaint is in addition to #2. How can you write a novel packed with ultra-80s trivia and not have Laslo Hollyfeld appear somewhere in the book ; )

Luckily the good outweigh the bad. The plot is totally unique. The characters are well-developed and likeable. Although I had complaints as listed above, it was still a quick read and not one that I wanted to put back on the shelf at any time. Cline truly knows his 80s pop-culture like the back of his hand and it doesn’t matter if gaming isn’t your thing. He’ll throw in enough television, movie and music nerdbits to satisfy everyone.