Friday, August 30, 2013

Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson

4 Stars

Melinda used to be a solid “B” student with plenty of friends, but all that changed after she called the police and busted a party. Now she’s a Freshman in high school with zero friends and grades that range from mediocre to pathetic. She also doesn’t speak much. What caused Melinda to lose her voice and will she be able to get it, and everything else she has lost, back?

Wow, was this raw. I’m talking serious

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There has been a swarm, it seems, of these books with a plot of “something horrible happened to the main character and now everyone around her is being awful”. This one did it a lot better than many of the others. In fact, the “something horrible” could have actually been omitted completely and the book still would have been effective. Let’s face it, some kids are assholes. It doesn’t necessarily take a life-changing event to turn a kid from average to exile when they are entering that horrible realm of high school. The emotion was so real and the passive-aggressive bullying was completely believable. Books like these and characters like Melinda motivate me to ALWAYS keep communication lines open with my kids so they will never lose their voice.

Side note: I almost fell in love with Laurie Anderson when she wrote this: “A couple of times a day, nearly every day for the last 12 years, readers have asked me when I’ll be writing a sequel to “Speak”... Here’s the thing: most sequels suck… Sequels are too often crass attempts to make money off something that worked the first time, but without the care and attention that made the first movie or book so special…”

Then she follows with: “But despite all of that, I’m seriously thinking about writing a sequel.”

Not like Ms. Anderson needs my advice, but seriously? Don’t even f-ing THINK about it. Writing a sequel to something this powerful will automatically make you lose all credibility and become one of the money grubbers you are blasting in your first statement.


Bad Monkey by Carl Hiassen

4.5 Stars

Searching for a book with a REAL cast of characters? Well, look no further friends ‘cause this one has them all – an ex-policeman turned roach-patrol food inspector, a beauty of a medical examiner, a timid sheriff, an evil stepmother, her new boyfriend and a greedy stepdaughter to complete the trio, a “Mary Kay Letourneau” and her (not-so) young boy-toy, a beekeeper, a voodoo priestess, unsavory restaraunteurs, grave robbers, part of a dead body and, dare I omit, one bad monkey.

The story begins when a routine boating accident churns up nothing but the victim’s arm. Andrew Yancy – Key West Detective demoted to food inspector – is ordered by the local sheriff to babysit the arm in order to avoid unwanted publicity on the department. However, when Yancy starts sniffing around, he begins to believe this accidental death really stinks – and the smell only BEGINS with the shark bait he’s been hiding in his freezer.

Of all the books in all the gin joints in all the world that have become a series – PLEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAASE let this be one. I haven’t had so much fun with a murder mystery in FOREVER. After reading all of the “hot” new psychological thrillers that have been inundating the bookshelves, “Bad Monkey” was a refreshing change of pace. So quick, so hilarious, so many characters! And I did it all from the comfort of my Hoveround Scooter ; )

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Thursday, August 29, 2013

The Never List by Koethi Zan

3 Stars

Although they had made detailed lists and took every precaution imaginable to avoid getting in harm’s way, Sarah and her best friend Jennifer when they went away to college. They were held in a cellar as slaves for three years with two other girls. Four were kept prisoner – three made it out alive. Fast forward 10 years to their abductor’s probation hearing. Sarah thinks it will be impossible for her to even participate, but she has no idea how many demons from her past she will actually have to face before all is said and done.

The main problem I had with this book is it was written with the wrong narrator. I realize that most psych-thrillers aren’t realistic, but having the victims morph into supersleuths (one who must cure her 10 year case of crippling agoraphobia INSTANTANEOUSLY) in order to solve their own crime was SUPER far-fetched. I mean

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Agent McCordy should have been the lead voice. It was his crime to solve – NOT the former victims. The book still could have been written in the first person and used flashbacks of him reviewing his files in order to tell us about the crime(s). The other girls’ characters could have had more depth that way as well.

If you can overlook how farfetched the story was and don’t mind the occasional eyeroll or muttering of “give me a break” through various sections, give this one a read. It was exciting - a real page turner with not a whole lot of breaks in the action and the subject matter was dark and intriguing.


Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman

5 Stars
(really, I'd give this one 10 Stars if I could)
(read back in March)

I read this months ago - before I ever started writing reviews.  I don't believe I've ever gone backwards like this and written a review, but I can't leave this one alone with NOTHING there.  It's one of my favorites of all time.  My first Neil Gaiman and boy was I hooked.  I love him like a fat girl loves cake.  His writing, his characters, his version of horror reads like a fairy tale.  In fact, the best way to describe "Neverwhere" is a dark version of Alice in Wonderland.  Prepare to be enchanted.

Go Ask Alice by Anonymous

3 Stars
(I think I might reevaluate this one - it might be overly generous)

I find this book to be one of the most difficult I’ve ever rated/reviewed. On one hand, the “shock and awe” propaganda tactics of the author writing this “diary” are so cliché it’s absolutely laughable so I want to give it 1 Star. On the other hand, it’s well written, I flew right through it and, although I’m sure the author would be horrified by this, I found it highly entertaining so I want to give it 4. I’m splitting the difference (kinda) and going with a 3 Star. As far as “modern classics”, you could do a lot worse than Alice if that’s the genre you are looking for.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Juliet, Naked by Nick Hornby

3 Stars

Annie, Duncan and Tucker find themselves in a strange love triangle. Annie and Duncan have been a couple for the past 15 years, but Duncan’s obsession with former rockstar Tucker Crowe has always been an issue. Now after years of being a recluse, an acoustic version of Tucker’s famous album "Juliet" has been released fanning the flames of Duncan’s fanboy web postings – and making Annie question their relationship more than ever. Add in Tucker corresponding with Annie over the internet and this threesome just got a little more complicated.

Oh Nick Hornby, I adore you, but this was not one of your best books. The story was just a little flat and, although the last few pages give a smidge of redemption, it was just a little too little too late. Annie, Duncan and Tucker were just all too whiny for my liking (and this is coming from a girl who LOVED the story about a bunch of suicidal people that was written by the same author). To use the English vernacular – they were all three kind of wankers.

Friday, August 23, 2013

My Most Excellent Year by Steve Kluger

5 Sickeningly Sweet Stars

T.C., Alé and Augie are all sophomores who have been assigned an English lesson of journaling their "most excellent year". Follow along through these journal entries, chats, I.M.s, etc. as the three come of age and come into their own.

Obviously, this one isn’t ever going to win a Pulitzer, but judging the book for its genre – it is absolutely worthy of 5 stars. I don’t care if it’s completely cliché, the characters are too mature to be 14, the plot isn’t realistic. So what? Sometimes it’s just perfect to read something that makes you feel so good. It’s so saccharine sweet that I’m fairly certain I have a cavity and my face is going to hurt from smiling for DAYS. Steve Kluger, where have your books been all my life????

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Beautiful Creatures by Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl

1 Star

Ugh : (

How can something sooooo completely vapid have so many pages????? And more books in the series????? You’ve gotta be kidding me.

563 pages of Lena droning on and on about how she’ll turn dark. 563 pages of looking for the answers in "The Book of Moons". 563 pages of Ethan pining for Lena. Barf. This might be one where the movie is better than the book since I assume the special effects might be somewhat decent.

We Have Always Lived in the Castle by Shirley Jackson

4 Stars

The story of the remaining members of the Blackwood family and the history behind how they came to be the only residents living in a sprawling estate.

Absolutely DELICIOUS. This book has been showing up on “must read” lists for eons and yet I’ve always managed to avoid it. While some “classics” just make me sad because they don’t live up to the hype, this was not the case with “We Have Always Lived in the Castle”. Over 50 years old and completely transcends time. Jackson is brilliant.

Added bonus - just LOOK at the history of this library book - not to mention the old book smell . . .

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Wednesday, August 21, 2013

The Kiss by Kathryn Harrison

3 Stars

It began with the voice of an innocent little child saying "I’m going to read Mommy’s book for reading time tonight" – followed by Mommy’s scream of NOOOOOOO, DON’T READ THAT!!!!!. The story then moves into the kitchen where the husband asks what’s so wrong with this book that the boy-child can’t touch it? The wife’s answer? Wellllllllll, you see, it’s a memoir of a woman telling the story of her incestuous relationship with her father. Husband’s response? "You read some f*&%d up s#@t!"

I blame it all on Augusten Burroughs. While reading "Possible Side Effects", Burroughs tells of his dream of being awarded a $57,000,000 settlement for swallowing a bottlecap (because there is no warning on bottlecaps saying they should not be swallowed). He said he would then use some of his winnings to send paperback copies of "The Kiss" to all of his friends and relatives. I immediately searched out "The Kiss" on Goodreads and after reading the synopsis laughed solidly for 10 minutes at Burroughs' warped humor.

"The Kiss" is just as disturbing as the synopsis would leave one to believe. Fortunately, it is not filled with gory details of the affair, but the raw emotion and obvious mental-health issues that go along with this darkest of taboos is palpable. As my husband so eloquently put it, "are you INSANE?  Normal people don't read this stuff!"

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

The One I Left Behind by Jennifer McMahon

4 Stars

I’m not a real great reviewer to begin with, but I feel I add some extra suckage to my reviews of thrillers. I’m always afraid if I say ANYTHING, it will end up being a clue that gives it all away.

The One I Left Behind is the story of Reggie, whose mother was taken by a serial killer 25 years ago. The assumption has always been that Reggie’s mother was dead and the body just wasn’t discovered. That is, until she shows up at a homeless shelter. Now Reggie must confront all of the ghosts of her past, including old friends left behind, secrets long buried and truths about her childhood.

FINALLY a new thriller that didn’t have the words "just like Gone Girl" printed on the cover. And guess what? I like this one better than all of the others with that label. It kept me turning pages and discovering I had read 100 when I thought I had maybe read 25. It had everything I like in a thriller: a decent sized cast of characters, quick pace, smooth dialogue, secrets revealed, climactic ending that didn’t drag on for a billion pages. It was a solid book in its genre and I would definitely recommend it to others.

Monday, August 19, 2013

Possible Side Effects by Augusten Burroughs

4 Stars

Augusten Burroughs gives me a happy. While Running With Scissors contains MANY shocking/graphic/awful stories that are frosted with humor, Possible Side Effects provides all the giggle without the remorse of laughing at someone else’s expense. Burroughs’ essays are sheer comedic genius. Truly laugh out loud funny – so much so that I was CONSTANTLY inundated with "what’s so funny, Mom?????" from the small people who live with me. FYI – the appropriate answer to that question when reading Augusten Burroughs 99.9999% of the time is "NOTHING!"

Sunday, August 18, 2013

And the Mountains Echoed by Khaled Hosseini

2.5 Stars

Oh that felt like blasphemy to type, but I’ve gotta be honest here. I loved The Kite Runner and A Thousand Splendid Suns, but Hosseini just missed the mark with this one.

The story begins with a father telling his children a fable of an evil div (monster) who roamed various villages and would choose a home at random. Said home would have to sacrifice one of their children, or the div would kill as many as he pleased. The father in the story is beside himself with the idea of offering one of his children to be slaughtered. That tale seems so fitting, because I can picture Hosseini at the editing table going through the same process. However, rather than opting to cull one (or a few) of the massive amounts of characters/stories in this book that were barely connected – he opted to keep them all. Unfortunately, that meant the ultimate sacrifice was my enjoyment. Too many characters – many without stories not long enough to actually to get invested in their lives.

I’m sad that I had to type that.

Saturday, August 17, 2013

Visitation Street by Ivy Pochoda

3.5 Stars

June and Val are 15 year olds spending yet another boring summer in Red Hook, Brooklyn. On one hot night they decide to go for a float on a raft in the East River. Val ends up washed ashore, but June remains missing.

Word to the wise – don’t attempt to read this if you’re going to be subjected to a lot of distractions (i.e., don’t start it on the eve of the first day of school). Ivy Pochoda truly PAINTS the scene with her words. While Visitation Street is categorized as a mystery – loyalists to the whodunit may find themselves disappointed. Yes, there is the undercurrent of “what happened to June”, but the goings on of the neighborhood and its vivid cast of characters are the main story.

The picture painted by Pochoda is so vivid that I can immediately picture it as a movie - reminiscent of films like Sleepers and Gone Baby Gone. You know the type – filmed with either a grainy texture or in shadows to let you know you’re not in the best part of town. A cast of characters as plentiful and intriguing as Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil (complete with a vivacious drag queen and someone who communes with the dead) that can be played by not-so-famous actors because the script is JUST. THAT. GOOD.

What could be considered information overload in some books, somehow is absolutely necessary in Visitation Street. You need to know every microscopic detail of the neighborhood and the people who live there in order to feel the pulse of this novel. Pochoda TAKES YOU to Red Hook (and the banter of chatty children who should be going to bed will yank you RIGHT BACK to reality so find yourself a little hidey-hole in which to read so the vision isn’t broken).

Friday, August 16, 2013

Forgive Me, Leonard Peacock

4 Stars

This is the story of one day in Leonard Peacock’s life. The most important day he’ll ever live. Not only is it his 18th birthday, it’s also the day where he will kill Asher Beal and then himself. Follow Leonard through this most remarkable day as he says his farewells to the four most important people in his life – on the last day of his own.

Characters like Leonard Peacock (i.e., Holden Caulfield, Gene from A Separate Peace, Charlie from The Perks of Being a Wallflower, Lucky Linderman from Everybody Sees the Ants, etc., etc.) can sometimes seem to be a dime a dozen. They are generally fairly similar in that they seem to have a case of arrested development and have one defining experience that made them who they are (that is easily foretold 200 pages in advance). I’ll admit that it took me awhile to really sink into this book because I thought it was just going to be a knock-off of one of the aforementioned. Although there were similarities, Matthew Quick’s writing set Leonard apart from some of the others. Quick really GETS how to write a character dealing with mental illness (Pat in The Silver Linings Playbook – I mean GENIUS!). Leonard’s pain comes through every page once he REALLY starts letting you in to his life.

Forewarning: Not to insult the youngsters out there since this is a YA book, but it is a YA book for EXTREMELY mature youth. This sucker deals with über depressing, dark and heavy subject matter. It will make you cry the “ugly cry”, but also leaves a message of:

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Thursday, August 15, 2013

Joyland by Stephen King

5 Stars

Devin Jones’ college girlfriend has taken a summer job that will have them spending the break away from each other, so Devin decides to apply for a job at an amusement park called Joyland in North Carolina. Little does Devin know this will be the summer that changes his life forever. He will find lifelong friends, suffer his first heartbreak, discover love in many different forms and be haunted by an unsolved murder that took place on Joyland’s grounds.

If I pretend for one moment I had never heard of Stephen King, I still would have wanted to read this novel. I mean, look at that cover art! Like a moth to a flame, I was immediately drawn in. Of course, I HAVE heard of King and, like so many others, have read almost everything he’s written. I loved the question marks I had when starting this one. Here’s the master of horror writing a story about a ghost, yet it has a bright yellow "crime" label on the front and old Dewey Decimal has it filed under "mystery". Oh how I love a book that’s so schizophrenic it cannot be categorized.

I also love when Stephen King just tells me a good story. That’s not to say I don’t appreciate the terror of "It" or the epic saga of "The Stand", but King is magic when he gives us something like "The Shawshank Redemption" or "The Body". I’m sure it has a lot to do with the fact that it’s so unexpected, but now that his son has taken the reins and become a fabulous horror writer himself, I hope to see even more like this.

Per usual, I solved the mystery when the first clue was given. The good news is, it didn’t bother me one little bit. I was so wrapped up in Devin’s coming of age story and completely in love with all the characters that the murder was just a tiny blip on the radar.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Dad Is Fat by Jim Gaffigan

3 Stars

"Raising kids may be a thankless job with ridiculous hours, but at least the pay sucks."

While Gaffigan’s comedy specials bring plenty of belly laughs, the book was much more subtle. Maybe I’m just hilarious, or do all pale skinned people who bare fruit resembling Hitler youth experience most of the same things???? I suspect that those without children would have many more guffaws than those whose homes are already filled with the tiny terrorists. That’s not to say the book isn’t enjoyable – it’s just not "wet your pants from laughing" funny (if you’ve had more than one child, you’ll understand the reference).

Highlights for me were all of the opinions Gaffigan and I have in common (these moments probably confirm I am a huge asshole, but having someone else write them down for all eternity took some weight off my soul). These things include the annoyance of the Anne Geddes babies-as-flowers images, the joy of watching a teenager wipe out while on a skateboard, the fear that you will have an ugly baby, chiming in when your child is being bullied and feeling victorious when you’ve made their attacker run away crying, needing someone to hold you back from disciplining someone else’s rotten offspring, the dream of having an option of enrolling your child in a school "for everyone WITHOUT a nut allergy" to make packing a lunch easy again, and the need to have an "8 hour ladies luncheon" every once in awhile with your best friend (after which you come home completely inebriated) and my absolute favorite – if you are complaining about all the things you do with/for your kid – it means you are actually DOING things with/for your kid and therefore probably have every right to complain.

Monday, August 12, 2013

The Silent Wife by A.S.A. Harrison

2 Stars

Jodi and Todd take turns telling the story of the final months of their crumbling marriage.

Reasons for the low rating: (1) It was NOT a psychological thriller. A thriller would mean something "thrilling" happens during the book, right?. (2) Stop comparing books to Gone Girl. As always, apples and orangutans. The book wasn’t completely horrible – I was able to get through it pretty quickly. However, it had some real lulls in the action with page upon page spent describing the most mundane activities and the big "twists and turns" at the end were very "meh". I found I didn’t care enough about these characters to give a s*^t whether they lived or died. Those are the key ingredients for a 2 star rating.

Friday, August 9, 2013

The Twelve Tribes of Hattie by Ayana Mathis

3.5 Stars

Individual narratives of the lives of Hattie Shepherd’s children that span the course of 55 years.

It had been a looooooooooooooooonnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnngggggggggggggggg time since I read something just because Oprah told me too, but that’s exactly why I read this book. Suffice it to say that Oprah’s Book Club 2.0 is a second verse, same as the first. If you’ve read enough of Oprah’s selection, you’ll know she likes some misery in her book club. Luckily it was a quick read, because I don’t think I had enough wine in the house to drown my sorrows if this one would have taken more than a day. If you want a book with a silver lining, don’t read this. If you don’t mind spending an hour or two going over the pros and cons of sticking your head in an oven due to the overwhelming despair that embody the lives of everyone in the Shepherd family, dive on in.

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Half Broke Horses by Jeannette Walls

4 Stars

A follow-up to The Glass Castle - Jeannette Walls now writes the story of her maternal grandmother. 

This book sucked me in really quickly, but unfortunately only for about half of the novel and then the pace slowed considerably.  While very well-written and a solidly GOOD book, it didn't have the power of The Glass Castle and didn't even come close to being as fascinating.  In the end, I found myself a little empty and still needing to hear the story from Rosemary's perspective rather than her mother's.  What happened to make Rosemary the way she was????  Mental disorder?  Horrible mistreatment that she has blocked out?  What???????? 

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Damned by Chuck Palahniuk

4 Stars

Madison Spencer is 13, dead, in Hell and a basket case. She’s surrounded by a brain, an athlete, a princess and a criminal. Sound familiar? Yeah, it’s the "Damned" version of The Breakfast Club. Written as a series of "Are you there Satan? It’s me, Maddy" diary-type entries, once again I fell hard for the wondrous satire that makes Chuck Palahniuk tick. This one even has a sequel (yay me). If you get Palahniuk, you’ll dig it. If you don’t, it will have you doing rosaries for eternity in attempts to save his soul.

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

The Book of Joe by Jonathan Tropper

5 Stars

Joe Goffman is a self-described asshole. He’s such an asshole that he wrote a scathing "fictitious" novel about his hometown where he completed lambasted nearly everything and everyone contained there. He never dreamed the book would become not only a national sensation, but also an A-List movie starring Leonardo DiCaprio and Kirsten Dunst. He REALLY never dreamed he’d have to go back to said hometown and face the subjects of his novel. However, when his father suffers a stroke, that’s exactly what he has to do.
Boy am I regretting my decision to keep requesting Tropper’s books from the library. I was like a junkie and just couldn’t get enough . . . and now I’ve read them all. "Joe" was Tropper’s sophomore novel, and it is where he came into his own. He hit the mark with the self-deprecating "asshole" lead and his merry band of friends/family. He found that magical balance of quick wit balanced and heart-stabbing emotion and has used it in every novel written from "Joe" on. HURRY UP AND MAKE THESE MOVIES!!!!!

Monday, August 5, 2013

Everything Changes by Jonathan Tropper

4 Stars

Everything changes for Zack when he wakes up one morning and discovers blood in his urine. While waiting for his biopsy results to come back, Zack deals with his lackluster career, an absentee father who decides to make his re-entry into the family after being gone for 20+ years, his upcoming engagement party, and the fact that he may be in love with his best friend's widow.

Like all Tropper books, Zack is kind of a loveable loser and is surrounded by an unforgettable ensemble cast. While I'm sure this spiel gets stale for some, it never does for me. Tropper has me laughing one minute and crying the next. He never ceases to create a cast that I want to know more about. This one had a couple of lulls in the storyline compared to his others, so it's getting 4 stars instead of 5, but I still absolutely adored it. Once again, Warner Brothers has optioned this book for a movie and I think all of his books will translate to film remarkably well.