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.

Saturday, October 19, 2013

Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter by Tom Franklin

4.5 Stars

Larry and Silas grow up in rural Mississippi during the 1970s. Larry is from a middle-class white family who runs a garage, Silas is poor and being raised by his single mother – squatting in an abandoned hunting cabin on Larry’s family land. Larry prays each night for God to bring him a friend and for one magical season it happens. Larry and Silas break their parents rules and pal around together, but it soon comes to an end when Larry’s father finds out. As the boys drift apart, Silas finds himself one of the high school elite. A rising star as "32" (his baseball number) with promise of a college scholarship and a better life. Larry, on the other hand, retreats further into himself having only books for friends. When Larry gets asked on his first date, once again he hopes for a change, but the girl never returns home and everyone assumes "Scary Larry" had something to do with it.

Twenty years later Silas has returned to the Crooked Letter and is working as a constable. Another young girl has disappeared, once again no body has been found and all fingers are pointing back to "Scary Larry".

I remember learning to spell Mississippi using "M-I-crooked letter-crooked letter-I-crooked letter-crooked letter-I-humpback-humpback-I" and told my husband that’s where the title of this book originated. He shook his head and reminded me that, although we are from the same home town, I was raised MUCH more hillbilly than he. Whatever.

This book has very polarized reviews. People either love it or hate it, but the "hate it" crowd seems to be disappointed in the lack of thrills and chills in the murder mystery. I agree, if you’re looking for a real page turning "who killed little Tina Rutherford" you sure aren’t going to find it here. This is a book that points a giant neon arrow to the murderer right away. It’s done on purpose. You see, this book isn’t really about the missing girl at all. It’s about relationships and right and wrong and finding the bad guy within yourself. It’s written beautifully and at less than 300 pages there is absolutely no wasted paper – the story just pours out of the pages.

4.5 Stars instead of 5 because the book jacket tries to sell it as a crime novel, when it is really an EVERYTHING novel.

The Divorce Papers by Susan Rieger

1.5 Stars

NetGalley ARC – Thank you NetGalley : )

Sophie is a criminal law associate at a small New England firm who gets roped in to interviewing a potential high-profile divorce client when no one else is available. Sophie impresses the client at the initial meeting, that she is drafted to drop some of her criminal workload and handle the divorce case under the supervision of the managing partner. She now finds herself questioning her own relationships and up to her elbows in "The Divorce Papers".

This book had sooooo much potential. The characters all had potential and Ms. Rieger has a wonderful wit about her. Unfortunately, she let herself get bogged down in the actual PAPERWORK of divorce rather than letting the story tell itself through the characters. After working in a law firm all day, the LAST thing I want to do is kick my feet back and read financial statements, court filings, psych evaluations and custody documents. There’s a reason I’ve always stayed away from family law and all that mess just helped remind me. I picked up this book thinking it was fun and fluff. I enjoy books written in an unconventional style (using e-mails/memos/etc. to tell the story). However, rather than being an easy, lighthearted read, this book quickly turned into "How to Dissolve a WASP Marriage". Snooze!!!! If the 150 pages of filler legal documents would have been left on the editing floor, this rating probably would have been a lot better.

P.S. I am a stickler for name-dropping other books and then not delivering. "Where’d You Go, Bernadette?" was one of my favorite reads of the year. I’ve recommended it to nearly everyone I know. If you’re going to use such a runaway blockbuster as a comparison, the book better live up to expectations. This one doesn’t even come close.

Friday, October 18, 2013

Bridget Jones Mad About The Boy by Helen Fielding

4 Stars

I’m more than a bit apprehensive about writing a synopsis for this book. In an attempt to avoid any spoilering, I’m going to leave it with this: Welcome back Bridget Jones! A little older, but not so much wiser – we now get to see how she can handle the complications of children and a new phase of her life.

Bridget and I started our relationship the same year that I married my husband.
Let’s just say it’s hard work staying in love with someone for 17 years, but somehow I’ve managed to do it with both the hubs and Bridget. So much in her life (and my life) have changed over the years, but it was like reconnecting with an old friend. I jumped right in to her craziness and could not end our reunion until the last page had been read. Laughing until my sides hurt, crying until my face was puffy, Bridget has stood the test of time and remains one of my favorite characters.

Keep buggering on, Bridget, and maybe I’ll see you again sometime.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Diner Impossible by Terri L. Austin

3 Stars

ARC from NetGalley – Thank you NetGalley : )

Rose Strickland was born with a silver spoon in her mouth, but after dealing with her parents’ constant disapproval of everything in her life she decided to pull it out. She now lives by her own rules – working as a waitress in a little diner part time, going to school part time and solving a few crimes part time????

The new case that has everyone fired up is the murder of the corrupt police chief’s secretary/mistress. While outside appearances have most fingers pointing to the chief being guilty, straight-laced police officer Andre Thomas (a/k/a "Officer Hardass") believes the chief may be dirty, but he’s not stupid enough to murder someone. Thomas decides to enlist Rose’s help, on the sly of course, and find the answers. Add in Rose’s high maintenance mother butting in to the case in attempt to save the chief’s wife’s reputation at the local Junior League, an additional mystery of a missing collectible Star Trek uniform that Rose’s pal, Ax, needs tracked down, and a budding romance with local criminal Sullivan to fill Rose’s plate.

If you’re like me, you have already read Stephanie Plum, and Sofie Metropolis, and Heather Wells, and Sookie Stackhouse, and on and on and on (Note: Kinsey Millhone is still on the backburner because there are like ELEVENTY BILLION BOOKS IN THAT SERIES) and yet you still are satisfied and sometimes want another series that is just fluffy and fun. That’s where I found myself while browsing through possible ARCs. I had not read the first two books in this series, so I was at a bit of a disadvantage (I’m still not exactly sure what kind of "criminal" Sullivan is), but for the most part it wasn’t very hard to get caught up in Rose’s world. Terri Austin has definitely used the patented Janet E. method of character development for this series. You have Rose, of course, a faithful sidekick with an oh-so-bright wardrobe, a sexy love interest and even a quirky old lady. However, Austin also recognizes that while imitation is the greatest form of flattery, plagiarism is not. Rose is not Stephanie – no cars blow up, she doesn’t get kidnapped three times in one book, it’s not chocked full of "slapstick" humor – but the book remains interesting. The characters are fun and the dialogue is witty. The only complaint I had, really, was the whole "Trekkie" storyline. Rose needed Ax’s help to solve the murder mystery, creating a "mini-mystery" subplot involving his character was just a distraction to me.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

A Drink Before the War by Dennis Lehane

5 Stars

Patrick Kenzie and Angie Gennaro are PIs who have been hired to find a woman believed to have stolen some possibly incriminating documents from a government official. Finding the woman is easy, but when she is gunned down in the middle of the street before Kenzie’s eyes (and before the documents have been recovered) the case gets a LOT more complicated.

Dennis Lehane where have you been all my life????? If you think I’m going soft with two 5-Star ratings within a couple of weeks, you’re mistaken. Lehane writes THE quintessential crime/mystery novel with "A Drink Before the War". It has everything needed to make a great novel – dirty politicians, gang violence, prostitution/drug ring, underlying racial tensions, ghosts from the past, I mean EVERYTHING. Patrick Kenzie is a character you just can’t help but immediately fall in love with and Angie is a perfect counterpart. Lehane’s timing is absolutely perfect – he balances the most serious situations with quick humor to soften the blow before the darkness reaches a point of no return. He is also smart enough to write a novel of just the right length. I never found myself zoning out or wandering off while reading – the pace was perfect and the editing superb. If you are a lover of the crime thriller series, Kenzie & Gennaro should not be skipped.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Swimming at Night by Lucy Clarke

ARC from NetGalley – Thank you NetGalley : )

4 Stars

Katie and Mia are polar opposites, but growing up they were also as close as two sisters could possibly be. Now adults, they have grown apart. Katie has maintained her status as the responsible one and Mia her free-spirit counterpart. When Mia decides to quit her job and travel around the world with her best friend Katie is disappointed, but not terribly surprised. One thing she did not expect was a phone call letting her know that Mia committed suicide by jumping off a cliff in Bali. Katie finds herself unable to let go of Mia and can’t believe someone so strong suddenly killed herself. In an effort to obtain the closure she needs, Katie decides to use the entries in Mia’s travel journal to duplicate her final trip.

Although my reading taste pretty much runs the gamut, "Swimming at Night" probably would not have been a book that piqued my interest without a bit of divine intervention from NetGalley. I was a little terrified that this was going to either attempt to be a mystery where the completely average Katie suddenly becomes a supersleuth *queue dramatic music* or, on the flipside, some dramatic crybaby festival that made me rage out. That being said, I was surprised by how much I enjoyed this book. Katie does not attempt to become a modern day Agatha Christie – she truly just wants to follow Mia’s path so she can let her go, and there was just the right amount of "Mia is f-ed up because blah, blah, blah, blah" without ever being whiny. The characters were well-developed, the imagery painted by Ms. Clarke was absolutely beautiful and the plot remained believable throughout. If you’re looking for a book that explores the dynamic of familial relationships and what makes them tick, this is a pretty good choice. (And it has a pretty cover. How am I always won over by the stinking cover? I’m so cheap!)

Monday, October 14, 2013

The October List by Jeffrey Deaver

NetGalley ARC - thank you, NetGalley : )

3.5 Stars

Gabriela is your average woman – a single mother who works as an office manager.  Two days ago she found her life turned upside down.  Her boss apparently had been working on some not so legitimate projects which left the company raided by the police, her employer vanished and a document called “The October List” (that a very bad man wants) missing.   Now Gabriela’s daughter has been kidnapped.  She has 30 hours to pay the kidnapper $500,000 and deliver the “October List” if she ever wants to see her daughter again.

Wheeeeeeeee!  This ended up being MUCH more fun than I thought it would.  Honestly, I kind of HATED this book when I started.  “The October List” jumps in at full throttle speed, but with no action to justify the tempo.  A mystery written using forward motion doesn’t throw you right into the deep end with no life jacket.  Just because this one runs in reverse it shouldn’t have to either.  That being said, by the halfway point (and this isn’t a long book - getting 50% in is pretty easy) I was used to the pace and comfortable with the reverse sequencing.  I settled in and started enjoying myself.  By 75% the thrill ride REALLY started and by the end my mind was almost officially blown.  I had not read Jeffrey Deaver before, therefore I had zero expectations when I started.  After reading “The October List” I’ll definitely add more of his books to my TBR list.

Friday, October 11, 2013

Picture Me by Lori Weber

2 Stars

NetGalley ARC

Krista is a 13-year old who is struggling with her weight. Chelsea is the head of a clique that pick on Krista incessantly. Tessa is Krista’s friend who feels terrible about the bullying she witnesses. Follow the stories of these three girls as each tells their own version of events in "diary" format and find there is more to each individual than meets the eye.

Unlike some of the recent "bullying" books, there is no question that the victim truly is being picked on and the repercussions of Krista being a target for too long were realistic. What this book had that many others don’t was the perspective of the victim’s friend and that of her bully. Tessa was a friend everyone would be lucky to have. She was a friend that most parents probably hope their children resemble. Chelsea was the quintessential mean girl who believes she is quite the golden child, however her entries showed a much harsher reality. I would recommend this book to the pre-teen/tween crowd. Although it’s written for a younger audience, it was done well enough that I got through it in not time at all. The lessons taught are valuable – whether you believe your child to be the victim, the bystander or a possible bully. The writing style is easy to read and the "mature" content is very toned down and told only in hints and innuendo.

Thursday, October 10, 2013

The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion

4 Stars

a/k/a “Sheldon Cooper Finds a Wife” 

Don is a creature of habit.  His work, exercise, dinner, clothes, well …. EVERYTHING is scheduled to the second with zero variation.  The only time Don has really ventured out of his comfort zone was when he befriended Daphne – a lonely elderly neighbor whose husband had been put in a nursing home.  Before Daphne’s own health declines, she proclaims what a wonderful husband Don will be to some lucky girl.  It’s at that point Don realizes he should probably get serious about finding himself a wife – and of course he should do it in the most scientific method imaginable.  After all, why let emotions cloud his judgment when science already has all the answers?  Enter “The Wife Project” – a survey that will find a perfect mate.  There’s only one problem.  Rosie, an applicant to the project sent in by Don’s friend Gene, didn’t answer the questions correctly.  After realizing there is no hope in a romantic future together, Don decides to help conduct “The Father Project” and find Rosie’s biological father.  Eventually both projects fizzle out, but Don still can’t get Rosie out of his head.  Embracing a new view of life, including a dayplanner containing only the most basic appointments, a new wardrobe and dating advice straight from “Hitch”, the only question that remains is - will the “Don Project” be a success or a failure?

I’ve noticed for each handful of positive reviews, someone out there is posting a scathing counterpart.  These reviews say the author has made light of a medical condition or the author has completely gotten his facts wrong or the author should have written a serious book rather than a comedy if he was going to broach this subject matter or the author is simply a huge ass or blah blah blah blah blah.  I’m all for free speech, but I question why someone seeks out a book that they know will make them miserable?  We all fall victim to the “whoops, thought this was going to be great and I ended up hating it instead” novel, but to actively seek something out just so you can flame it?  Wellllllll, there’s a crazy person in that scenario, but it sure as heck isn’t Don from “The Rosie Project”. 

Okay, now that I got that out of my system, let’s proceed.  I definitely didn’t have an agenda to worry about when I picked this up (since I’m offended by nearly nothing, I’m guessing that probably will never be a problem).  In fact, I knew ZILCH about this book except that my friends at Goodreads were reading it in droves and they would not dare steer me wrong.  My assumption was correct.  This book is stinking adorable!  It made me so incredibly smiley when I had been having a bit of an “off” week.  I loved the fresh perspective on the age old boy meets girl story.  I can’t remember the last time I laughed out loud (at my desk – during the lunch hour – like an insane person) at a book.  If you want to read something that will change the world (or at least your life), “The Rosie Project” is more than likely the wrong choice.  On the other hand, if you just want to get lost for a few hours and read makes you feel better after you’re finished than you did before, I highly recommend checking it out. 

Oh, and don’t worry about Don:

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

My Story by Elizabeth Smart

I have made the decision not to give this book a rating. Having never experienced anything even remotely similar to Elizabeth Smart, it's probably not my place to judge the way she has chosen to write her story. I will say if you followed the news back in 2002, you won't discover anything new by reading this book.

Covet by Tracey Garvis-Graves

2.5 Stars

When Chris found himself a victim of the recession and out of work, he was sure he’d be employed again well before his severance package ever ran out. Over a year later, he’s finally employed, but the only opportunity that was available has him traveling all week. Claire has tried to stay strong throughout her husband’s unemployment. She’s ridden out the storm of financial worries and her husband’s mood swings by taking more on her own plate. She thought when Chris got her new job their life would be back on the upswing, but Chris is even more distant than he was before. Claire’s loneliness and Chris’ absence find Claire befriending Daniel, a local policeman, and asking herself just how far can she bend in order to save her marriage before everything breaks?

I picked this book up because I wanted something fluffy. Tracy Garvis-Graves became my guilty pleasure this summer with "On the Island". That book was hot and I’m not ashamed to admit it. "Covet" wasn’t at all what I expected. Rather than being a lusty page turner, it was a story about relationships. A story that could happen to almost anyone. What happens when you get complacent in your marriage? When you stop saying and showing that you love the other? When someone else steps in to fill the void?

Although I wanted something kind of frisky – and this book DEFINITELY didn’t fit that bill, I didn’t dislike "Covet". It was what that Godawful movie "Fireproof" should have been. A tale of how love is lost and the fight to either get it back or let it go. Chris, Claire and Daniel’s respective voices told a decent story that I was able to finish in just a couple of hours.

Adore by Doris Lessing

4 Stars

Roz and Lil have been best friends since their parents moved to the same neighborhood when they were children. They went to college together, dated together, got married in a double wedding ceremony, bought houses across the street from each other and had their sons at the same time. Now they are in their 30s, each with a teenage son and find themselves single (albeit for different reasons). The beauty of their respective sons first finds the women in a conundrum of forbidden attraction and eventually committing the ultimate taboo with affairs that last for years.

Full disclosure here – I was stuck at work during my lunch hour yesterday so I decided to run down the street to the library around 2:00. I sent an e-mailing detailing where I was going and when I would be back. One of my smart a$$ bosses replied (to all, of course) that I was going to the library to check out pornography. Har-dee-har-har. I came back with "Adore" to show him that, yes, I do check out my porn from the library, but I make sure it is porn written by a Nobel Prize winner ; )

So, there’s the story of how I ended up reading "Adore" yesterday. As it turns out, I really loved this short story. I have never read Doris Lessing before, but now realize I probably should. She writes beautifully and told a tale that should be so shocking/disturbing/stomach-turning in the most polite way possible. If you are looking for some raunchy sex scenes, this is not your book (however, it’s also a movie and I have a feeling that the film version might get the blood flowing a bit). If you are looking for a story about forbidden love and its consequences, this is a good choice. Only complaint – it’s a novella and I wanted more of the story.

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Stuck by Stacey D. Atkinson

1 Star

NetGalley ARC

Odette is stuck.  Stuck in a dead-end job.  Stuck living with her unemployed, BINGO addict mother.  Stuck paying the bills and being responsible when she should be experiencing life.  Odette decides it’s time for her to venture out of her comfort zone after spending time over the summer with Henri, a wealthy sailor who is vacationing in her hometown on his yacht, and Ben, a doryman awaiting his next research assignment.

Gah!  This book was awful.  I hate giving bad reviews, but I would feel worse if I sugarcoated a book and other people read it because I didn’t tell the truth.  There was just no depth to this story at all.  The characters were weak, the dialogue almost non-existent, the romance (if you could even call it that) inappreciable.  My opinion – don’t waste your time.

Sprout by Dale Peck

3 Stars

After his mother died of cancer, Sprout and his father packed their belongings and moved from Long Island to Hutchison, Kansas. They may as well moved to another planet. Sprout has been in Kansas for years now, but is still the new kid. His green hair makes him stand out as it is, but add in his eccentric, alcoholic father and the fact that he’s an in-the-closet gay teenager in the reddest red state in the country and there’s no way he can fit in.

"Sprout" popped up on a recommended reading list since I adore all that is David Levithan. Kind of an unfair thing to do to Dale Peck since Levithan just sets the bar soooooo high when it comes to teenage characters, huh? That being said, "Sprout" was a fairly decent read. I know many people have a huge pet peeve with adolescent characters who speak like an Encyclopedia Brittanica, but I’m not one of them (Non-spoiler alert: If you are generally annoyed by this – ride it out for the duration of "Sprout" – there might be a method to his madness). I kind of loved Sprout Bradford throughout most of the book. He was unique, he was witty and he obviously needed people to love him. Peck wrote a good book. However, open endings are my kryptonite. An open ending just sucks the happy endorphins right out of my system - especially when the book is less than 300 pages. Finish the book, Peck. I might even break my own rule and read the sequel. Until then, 3-Stars is as good a rating as I can muster.

Friday, October 4, 2013

The Troop by Nick Cutter

NetGalley ARC

5 Stars

A group of boy scouts and their troop master set off for a camping trip on an uninhabited island just off the mainland. They plan on a weekend adventure spent earning merit badges and learning a few lessons on how to live off the land. However, when an emaciated stranger shows up on the island carrying a potential biological weapon in his system in the form of a tapeworm, the trip becomes a test of survival of the fittest.

It being October with a forecast of thunderstorms, I went searching for a scary book to read. "The Troop" popped up as a giveaway, but my impatience led me to NetGalley searching for instant gratification rather than waiting for the drawing (or, heaven forbid, the actual publication date). As I said, I wanted something that would potentially scare the pants off me. What I got was so much more than I expected.

Let’s begin with the blurb on the cover … (Okay, before we even get to the blurb, can I mention the actual cover? Absolutely GORGEOUS. I believe Mr. Cutter will see copies of this novel flying off the shelves for that photo alone.) Alright, back on track to the blurb – it calls "The Troop" "Lord of the Flies" meets "The Ruins". I haven’t read "The Ruins" (don’t worry, it’s on the TBR), so I kept calling it "Stand By Me" meets "Cabin Fever" meets "We Need to Talk About Kevin".

What could have been a simple coming-of-age story about a group of boys from different walks of life who have bonded over the years in the Scouts together quickly morphs into the grossest of gross horror novels with the introduction of the "worm". Please note, this book is not for those with weak constitutions. And by constitutions, I don’t just me you have a high tolerance for the ick factor. While it might be a good idea to keep a barfbag handy for many scenes in this book, the parts that describe the mental state of the troop are far more horrific and are the ones which will give you nightmares.

I don’t hand out 5-Star ratings often. To get a 5-Star from me, the book pretty much (i) has to consume my life, (ii) I have to run the gamut of emotions while reading it and (iii) there can be NOTHING I can nitpick (example: "XYZ was gooooood, but it would have been even better if it were 100 pages shorter"). I started "The Troop" assuming it would be a 3-Star read, max. Never did I imagine I would be peeling layer after disturbing layer of the onion off until the last page. The setting was eerie, the dialogue believable, the character development absolutely phenomenal and the pace was perfect. I could not tear myself away from this book (and according to my husband I had a look of absolute terror on my face for 90% of it). I have no choice but to grant it a 5-Star rating.

Just One Day by Gayle Forman

2 Stars

Allyson has always been a good girl – never going against the tide or doing anything that would upset her parents.  She’s so good, in fact, that she doesn’t even dare drink with all of her friends while on a post-high school graduation trip to Europe.  When the trip is winding down, Allyson’s friend convinces her to live a little and go see a Shakespeare performance that is not on the itinerary.  At the play Allyson meets Willem – an actor with the troop who offers to spend Allyson’s final day in Europe with her.  When Allyson wakes up from their whirlwind day alone she begins to question every decision she’s made.  “Just One Day” follows Allyson for a year while she tries to discover who she is.

I developed a huge girl-crush on Gayle Forman after reading “If I Stay”.  It was so different and brilliant and I just KNEW my crush would turn in to true love with Forman’s future works.  Unfortunately, “Where She Went” did not resonate quite so deeply with me, but I was not quite ready to give up just yet.  My apologies to all who loved this book, but for me, “Just One Day” was absolutely “meh”.  I don’t tolerate pathetic female lead characters very well, and Allyson was just soooooo pitiful.  One day with a dude who continually reiterates that, for him, it is really just one day of fun and frolicking and she’s going to ruin her entire life over it?  Honey,

Sadly, I believe this will be my last attempt at love with Gayle Forman.  Sadder still, is the fact that I think my opinion might be a bit different if “Just One Day” and “Just One Year” were one book instead of broken into two, but I’m not willing to waste any more of my time on Allyson and Willem’s story.

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Poor Little Dead Girls by Lizzie Friend

3 Stars

NetGalley ARC

When Sadie gets an athletic scholarship to an exclusive ivy league prep school, she's beyond thrilled.  Shortly after settling in to her new surroundings, she finds herself kidnapped and placed under a grueling interview process to become a member of an exclusive secret society.  At first she’s simply pissed at the embarrassment of being a part of this type of hazing ritual, but when she discovers her life will be filled with fabulous clothing, a wonderful new boyfriend and friends who will have your back no matter what, Sadie changes her mind.  That is, until she realizes there is more to this secret society than meets the eye and the connections don’t end with just an elite bunch of high school students.

This was a fun little book.  The mystery isn’t earth shattering and there aren’t a whole lot of twists or turns in the road before you get to the finish, but I wanted to keep reading it anyway.  I found the heroin likeable, the supporting characters interesting, and the dialogue quick, witty and believable.  Note:  They sometimes talk like teenagers so if you hookers don’t like that, then whatevs (seriously, phrases like that are contained in this book so don’t say you weren’t warned).  I’m not generally a reader of the “YA Thriller” genre, but I think this one would receive a pretty decent ranking for those who look for those types of books.  It also had the bonus of two roommates who, although not a HUGE part of the storyline, conjured up this image for which I will be eternally grateful ; )

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

A Long Way Gone by Ishmael Beah

4 Stars

Ishmael Beah was a normal adolocent in Sierre Leon. He and his friends adored hip hop music and spent their free time learning songs by NWA, Heavy D, LL Cool J, piece-parting a cool wardrobe and learning dance moves in order to compete in talent contests throughout the area. Ishmael’s life is completely torn apart when the rebels and the official army begin fighting. Villages are destroyed, women and girls are raped, men are murdered and children are kidnapped, drugged, brainwashed and turned into tiny robotic soldiers.

Ishmael’s story reads like fiction – it’s nearly impossible to wrap my brain around the fact that this is a true account. My heart broke for this child over and over and over again. The writing style is simple, yet so significant. I encourage everyone to read this book. You’ll be hypnotized by the horror and inspired by a boy who emerged from the deepest darkness imaginable back into the light.

The Broken Ones by Stephen M. Irwin

3.5 Stars

Detective Oscar Mariani is dealing with a personal ghost.  In fact, everyone in the world is.  You see, several years ago the world flipped on its axis bringing back the dead in a ratio of one per every live person.  With a dead friend or relative as their new shadow, some people find themselves going off their rocker and committing murder.  That’s where Oscar comes in.  As the head of a nearly defunct department, it’s his job to say whether the ghost REALLY made you do it, or if you’re just using that excuse to avoid jail time.  Now Mariani finds himself dealing with an even more bizarre situation.  A young woman’s body has turned up with ritualistic carvings on her corpse and more young girls are missing.  It’s up to Oscar to solve the crime – and maybe figure out who his own personal ghost is in the process.

Any T.V. watchers reading this?  Remember “Friends”?  Remember when Rachel made the trifle????  “It’s a trifle.  It’s got all of these layers.  First, there’s a layer of ladyfingers, then a layer of jam, then a layer of custard (which I made from scratch), then raspberries, more ladyfingers, then beef sautéed with peas and onions, then a little more custard, then bananas and I just put some whipped cream on top!”  “The Broken Ones” kept bringing the image of that horrific trifle to the surface of my brain the entire time I read it.  Overworked detective?  Good.  Potential serial killer?  Goooood.  Maybe a satanic ritual killer even?  Goodgoodgoodgoodgood. Don’t know who is bad and who is good and what is up and what is down on the rollercoaster of reading?  GOOOOOOOOOD.  Dystopian society?  Huh????  Ghost story?  Wha????? 

“The Broken Ones” was a good book.  The mystery kept me guessing, Oscar was a pretty fabulous main character, I read in just a few hours so the pages were apparently turning.  It just had one too many layers – like poor Rachel’s trifle/shepherd’s pie combo.

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Variant by Robison Wells

3.5 Stars

Benson Fisher has been in the foster care system since he was five years old.  After spending the majority of his life being bounced from family to family he’s excited when he wins a scholarship and a chance for a fresh start at Maxfield Academy.  But when Benson is dropped off at a school that looks more like a prison and is ran by “gangs” of students rather than adults, where breaking the rules can equal death, he knows he has to do everything he can to escape this new life.

Although I read plenty of YA material, this book would have never made a blip on my radar if it weren’t for my favorite 12-year old kid.  You see, in his middle-school you get awarded for reading the Truman Award Nominee book selections – read 4 and you get something-or-another, read all 12 and you get a pizza party.  Reward is a great motivator for a kid who doesn’t particularly share his mother’s obsession with books.  That being said, when this not-so-into-reading kid told me I just HAD TO read “Variant” I was all in.  And you know what, he didn’t steer me wrong.  “Variant” was a real page turner.  If you/your kid enjoyed “The Hunger Games” and “The Maze Runner” and “Divergent” and “Legend” andonandonandonandonandon, you’ll probably like this one too.  It’s an easy read that is action-packed and has a great twist.  The only real problem I have is that it falls into the trap of WHY DOES EVERY YA BOOK HAVE TO BE MULTI-PART?????  I generally just pretend that all of these books are stand-alone rather than a series, but this one has me a little intrigued.  Not enough to actually read the second book, but enough that I’ll make my kid read it and tell me what happens ; )