Friday, January 31, 2014

Red Rising by Pierce Brown

2 Stars
(and that's being really generous - if I take a minute longer to think about this one the rating has a good chance of being even lower)
Darrow is a 16-year old class of human called a “Red” who works as a Helldiver miles below the planet Mars. His job is to drill for the helium-3 that will make the surface of the red planet inhabitable one day. At least, that’s what he has always been told. After the most unspoilery spoiler of all times (seriously, everyone should see it coming from page one), Darrow finds out everything he believes is a lie. Mars is already populated by “Golds” and Darrow, and all of his fellow Reds, are mere slaves. Darrow finds himself recruited by a rebel group, who plans on morphing him into a Gold, infiltrating the school where future leaders are bred and bringing down the ruling class. But no one can really guess what will take place once Darrow is inside . . .

Of all the overhyped books out there, this may just be the most overhyped-ist (????, yeah not a word, but I’m going with it anyway). It seems a lot of the initial hype was about this being a YA novel that was really breaking boundaries of what is okay in YA literature by including rape in the storyline. Wellllllll, my library has this filed under plain old “Sci-Fi” – not YA, so that may be a moot point now that we’re dealing with the actual book and not ARCs. I also saw a lot of comments saying “get through 20% or 30% or whatever% and you’ll really get into it”. Sadly, that was not the case for me. The first 20% was world building – followed by the unspoilery spoiler – followed by a whole new batch of world building. Truthfully, I had to force myself to keep reading up until the last 50 pages or so. Then it was action-packed and interesting (although, once again, the big “spoilery” issues at the end of the book were as predictable as the one in the beginning). I did not like Darrow’s voice, I didn’t like that once he was at school the book became a poor man’s Hunger Games (with bizarro shout-outs to ancient Greece rather than "Districts") and I didn’t like the fact that the “cause” he had been recruited for was almost completely glossed over through the entire book forcing everyone to read Red Rising #2 in order to get any answers. It’s pretty presumptuous of an author or publishing house to assume a first time novelist will be so successful. Lucky for both, it appears to be the case this go around.

For all of you who enjoyed it, I am truly jealous. This is the only book I’ve ever attempted to get an ARC of using any means necessary. I was so looking forward to it and I’m bummed that I didn’t like it. I’ll deal with my misery in the following manner:

On the plus side, Pierce Brown is like 12, so there is a good chance he will hone his skills and I will become a fan before his writing career is over. It just won’t be with Darrow.

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest by Ken Kesey

5 Stars
Randle P. McMurphy is transferred to a mental hospital in order to avoid the prison work farm. During his confinement, he turns the ward around – making the patients believe there is hope and standing up to the horrible Nurse Ratched.

I was introduced to One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest via the film version (admittedly, when I was waaaaay to young to be watching such movies) and it immediately became one of my favorites. When I was in high school I discovered the book and once again put it at the top of my favorites list.

Now, a billion years have passed and I worked up the courage to give Cuckoo a re-read. Would it still be as good as it was way back then? Will I still be invested in these characters and want to save them? The simple answer is yes. Yes – to the nth degree, yes! There are no words to express how much I still love this book. In fact, my entire review is:

Let’s just leave it at this - One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest stands the test of time. In my opinion, Nurse Ratched is still one of the best villains ever written, McMurphy one of the best protagonists, and the film one of the best translations from page to screen.

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

In Fifty Years We'll All Be Chicks and Other Complaints from an Angry Middle-Aged White Guy by Adam Carolla

3 Stars
Adam Carolla’s most epic rant about the pussification of America. 
First things first – Carolla is an equal opportunity offender.  That being said, if you didn’t like him on morning or late night radio or cable television or don’t like his current podcast, you aren’t going to like this book.  There’s plenty of other fish in the sea books on the shelf, so spare yourself the eye twitching fit of rage Carolla’s views could possibly induce.
I happen to kind of love Ace (I assume if we ever met we’d be super tight and he’d want me to call him by his nickname).  Even though I am equipped with an innie rather than an outie in the plumbing department, I was a faithful viewer of “The Man Show” (I probably ate my male twin in the womb or something and still have his testosterone cycling through my body) and always thought Ace was the talent.  Wait, would that make Kimmel the pretty face?  I might need to rethink that . . .
Although a couple of his submissions are already a little outdated and I definitely didn’t agree with all of his viewpoints, the majority of the book was entertaining and I even had some true LOLz.  Added bonus:  If you find yourself to be having a bit of a “oh my good God why don’t my pants fit anymore????” moment and want something to take your mind off of how much you HATE exercising, this might be a good choice.  You might even find that you are able to take your pitiful 3.3 mph treadmill speed to a dead sprint when Carolla’s opinions piss you off ; )

Monday, January 27, 2014

The Rules of Attraction by Bret Easton Ellis

3.5 Stars

He loves her, but used to do it with him, who used to do it with her, who is still pining away for a different him who is currently in Europe thinking about a different her, or is she still really hung up on the him who used to do it with her current him????? Told in a free association style of rambling diary-like entries, Sean, Lauren and Paul talk about the hits and misses in their respective love lives while attending college in New England.

While the first few pages may have you thinking otherwise, this is a much lighter side of Bret Easton Ellis. Dark comedy is a fine art, and this author does it well. Apparently there is also a movie version that was made into a gazillion years ago, but as I was not a fan of “Dawson” or the Van Der Douche it never hit my radar.

However, when doing a little googly-goo of said movie, I found out this happens:

Hmmmmm, maybe I should try and track down a copy. Just to see if it maintains the integrity of the book, of course.

Blame it on the fact that I have what I’m assuming is an undiagnosed case of Ebola and am unable to take over-the-counter cold medicine without lapsing into a 12-hour coma, I completely glossed over the fact that Sean’s last name was Bateman. It took until Page 237 and a chapter told from his brother Patrick’s perspective to put two and two together. What a deliciously wicked way to help explain the nuttery that was the Sean Bateman character. If you’re looking for something that is disturbing, but not something that requires a barf bag or a trip to the shrink like American Psycho might, this is a good selection.

Friday, January 24, 2014

The Probability of Miracles by Wendy Wunder

2.5 Stars

Cam has been battling neuroblastoma for the past seven years. She has been to every specialist and endured every treatment. Her most recent scan tells her there’s nothing else that can be done. While Cam is prepared to give up her fight, her mother isn’t so willing to let her go just yet. Packing up a U-Haul and moving from Florida to a little town in Maine called Promise is the last hope. Does this secluded little place really have magical powers? If not, will Cam be able to complete her “Flamingo List” before she dies?

Are you a sadomasochist who reads a synopsis like the one above and immediately says “I’m in!!!!”? Yeah, me too. This book was everything I knew it would be. I bawled like a big fat baby until my husband said “why do you DO this to yourself?” Simple answer? I’m a glutton for punishment. If you want a good cry (and have already read The Fault in Our Stars and the like), this is a decent selection.


Thursday, January 23, 2014

It's Kind of a Funny Story by Ned Vizzini

4 Stars
It’s Kind of a Funny Story is about Craig – a 15 year old boy whose greatest (and sometimes only) success each day is urinating. It’s the one time when he feels like he has actually done something. The rest of the time he “cycles” – his brain running a nonstop marathon from one thought to the next. School, friends, girls, extracurriculars, etc. overwhelm Craig to the point where he plans to ride his bike to the Brooklyn Bridge and step off. Right before he gives up, he makes a last-ditch effort to save himself by calling a suicide prevention hotline and is convinced to walk a couple of blocks to the nearest hospital for help.

If you know anything about me, you know I generally don’t watch movies until I have read the book. Obviously I’m a little late to the party on this one since both the book and movie have been out for quite some time. Better late than never, right? Since Zach Galifianakis is one of the stars of the film version, I am assuming the official synopsis (“A humorous account of a New York City teenager’s battle with depression and his time spent in a psychiatric hospital”) is a fitting description. The book, however, isn’t “humorous”. If you want some LOLz, move along folks. On the other hand, if you want some real talk about what it’s like to be depressed and spiraling and medicated and lost – this should be your choice. Vizzini's own hope for recovery is tangible through these words. A heartbreakingly honest 4.5 Star book that is losing half a point for lying to me in its description. I was prepared to read something that made me laugh with the crazy, not cry. Vizzini's personal story makes me sad enough : (

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

American Psycho by Bret Easton Ellis

4.5 Stars
Is evil something you are? Or is it something you do?

Remember the first time you met Patrick Bateman?

If you were like me and it was through film, how quickly did you fall in love with this?

And then some, uh, stuff happened . . .

But you still kinda loved him anyway. Maybe while questioning “just what kind of sick freakin’ freak am I????”

Like everything else, Patrick Bateman eventually faded from your memory. Seven years later something even more horrifying was created – that something was called the “Kardashian”. You were introduced to this fella ...

And waited with bated breath for him to go American Psycho on this new abomination. Sadly, that never happened. Once again, thoughts of Patrick Bateman became few and far between.

Then you began hearing murmurs of an American Psycho musical. DELIGHTFUL! Until the cast was announced. Patrick Bateman played by?????

The beloved Doctor? You immediately stopped procrastinating and put the book on the top of the “to read” pile.

And here we are. Easily the most disturbing book I’ve ever read, but somehow impossible to put down. I continually questioned Bret Easton Ellis’ own sanity – not for writing about Patrick and the things he likes to do in his spare time, but for writing about food, clothing, music, etc. in such a meticulous manner. Anyone who can devote so much time and effort into a running commentary on Brooks Brothers attire from the 1980s cannot be all there. Like most books (Forrest Gump being the glaring exception) – it was soooooo much better than the movie. Deliciously twisted to the point that I ran to check out some other blasts from the past written by the author. Good thing I have a buddy to read them with . . .

Monday, January 20, 2014

The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald

5 Stars
I have been hesitant to re-read any more of the “classics” since my second go ‘round with A Separate Peace and The Catcher in the Rye. Boy to have a take-backsies on those and maintain my memory of them being such great works of art. Hindsight is truly 20/20 at times. With the release of the new Gatsby movie and the subsequent purchase of said DVD, I added the book back to the never-ending TBR and promptly decided to never watch the film until I read the book again. Ohhhhhhh, would the memories and fondness for my ill-fated Jay live up to my high school expectations???? Or would yet another classic somehow morph into a waste of time when given a second chance?

I can’t tell you how pleased I am to say that The Great Gatsby is a novel that really stands the test of time (and old age). The story of Jay and Daisy is still just as haunting and tragic as it was 20 (the number is not important ) years ago. I’m so glad I spent an afternoon revisiting this book and I’m equally glad that I can now watch the DVD that has been collecting dust for several months.

Saturday, January 18, 2014

How to Tell if Your Cat is Plotting to Kill You by Matthew Inman

3 Stars
If you are (1) a fan of The Oatmeal or (2) a crazy cat lady, then this is a book that someone should buy for you (Who has two thumbs and is a crazy cat lady? This gal - so hint, hint). It confirms everything that a person with cats already knows - we are their servants, and they would be okay with us being dead as long as we leave our rotting corpse behind so they can nom nom on our face.

A sane person would never live with a roommate who:

Undecorates their Christmas tree . . .

Engages in weird PICA behavior like eating holes every “green” bag in the house . . .

Steals their childrens’ toys . . .

Interrupts their reading time . . .

SUCKS at hide-and-go-seek . . .

Can't even bathe without help . . .

Or tries to smother them while they sleep . . .

I mean SERIOUSLY tries to smother them . . .

Somehow cats get away with all that and more. Probably because they are better than us.

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Skinny Dip by Carl Hiassen

3.5 Stars
Joey Perrone would have never guessed her husband would toss her overboard during their anniversary cruise. Mick Stranahan would have never guessed he’d pull a naked woman off a floating bale of marijuana while fishing. After their bizarre chance encounter, Joey and Mick team up to find out why Joey’s philandering husband would choose to kill her rather than ask for a divorce and to get some payback in the process.

Like all of Hiassen’s books, Skinny Dip takes place in the Sunshine State

and is filled with an abundance of bizarre characters and multiple plotlines.

I’ve seen a lot of reviewers say that Hiassen is obviously a woman hater. Since I haven’t seen him broadcast any disgusting opinions in interviews (*cough* Orson Scott Card *cough*), I have no idea if that is true. I do know that his female characters tend to be one-dimensional, but normally I don’t really give a poo. Hiassen is a man’s man and writes books that dudes would want to read. Unfortunately in Skinny Dip one of the leads is a woman. A woman who should have been a lot more awesome than she was. Luckily, he casts his books with eleventy billion other characters to pick up the slack. While not even remotely as brilliant as Bad Monkey, Skinny Dip was still a fun read.

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Bully by Penelope Douglas

2 Stars
Simple synopsis:  Tate and Jared are neighbors and used to be BFFs.  Then he went away for a summer.  When he returned everything changed.  He spent the next couple of years making Tate’s life as miserable as possible until she had enough and escaped for a year by studying abroad.  Now Tate is back and Jared has returned to his bullying ways, but Tate has decided she isn’t going to be his doormat any longer. 
You can probably all guess where the story goes from there.  I call these books “palate cleansers”.  I’ve either read something really good or something really bad (or sometimes a combo of both) and need to decompress before diving back in to my to read pile.  That’s when I dig around for a little bit of fluffy nothing.  Light on plot, but somehow impossible to put down – these are my guilty pleasures.  They aren’t goooooood books by any stretch of the imagination, but they fill the gap between “real” books.  If you like New Adult, this one is probably a 5-Star. 
Oh, and I’m pretty certain there is a requirement when reviewing these NA books that you (i) have to have a minimum of 75 gifs or (ii) a pictorial casting of characters attached to your review. 
To fulfill said obligation, here’s my Tate:
and my Jared:

Monday, January 13, 2014

Happiness, Thy Name is Mitchell . . .

I love reading books, but never read blogs.  Except for Jenny Lawson's (  Jenny started making me laugh with a "Mommy Blog" she wrote for the Houston Chronicle about a billion years ago.  The Bloggess continues to make me laugh - as did her book "Let's Pretend This Never Happened". 
Jenny's obsession with grotesque taxidermy and her posts regarding the same are a surefire way to get some serious giggles from me.  I've joked for the past couple of years that if I ever found a rotted boar head it would HAVE to become mine and hang in my reading room.  My husband laughed along with the "joke".  And then we went to a local consignment shop a few months ago where we met Mitchell:
It was love at first sight.  I couldn't wait to get him home.  The only thing holding me back?  His hefty price tag would mean no food for my children for awhile.  After thinking it over, I decided not to adopt my handsome new friend.  Come the new year and the store advertised a sale on Facebook.  I just had to go and see if he was still there.
But not for long.  With the realization that I am probably the only person in a 1,000 mile radius who actually sees the beauty in this beast, the shopkeeper dropped by price to 1/3 of what was on the tag.
Mitchell is now home - hanging on the wall where he belongs.
He's so happy.  Just look at that smile : )

Doomed by Chuck Palahmiuk

1 Star
Madison Spencer did what all residents of Hell do on Halloween – she returned to Earth for an evening of candy gathering.  Unfortunately, she also missed the midnight curfew and is now stuck in Purgatory (a/k/a Earth) as a ghost.
I realize Chuck Palahniuk is a polarizing figure.  Nothing is off limits when it comes to what he writes.  I’ve always been a fan of his over-the-top stories and have been a pretty zealous defender of his work.  Until now.  While I found Damned to be entertaining and brilliant, sadly Doomed just REALLY sucked.  I realized too little too late that Madison Spencer is a vapid waste and the rest of the ensemble cast is what made Damned so enjoyable.  From wishing I could kill Maddie all over again to end my misery to wishing I had a barf-bag handy for the pointless squick-out factor, this book proved to be an absolutely unnecessary sequel.  And the  most horrifying thing about Doomed????  The final words – “The End?”  NOT A QUESTION MARK!!!!  SAY IT AIN’T SO, CHUCK : (

Saturday, January 11, 2014

Orphan Train by Christina Baker Kline

3.5 Stars
Molly is a troubled girl who has been bounced around in the foster care system for most of her life.  Only a few months away from aging out of the system, Molly makes a mistake that has a punishment of 50 hours of community service or being sent to a juvenile detention facility.  With the help of her boyfriend, Molly finds herself cleaning out Vivian’s attic as a way to pay for her crime.  Little do Molly and Vivian know how much these 50 hours will change both of their lives, or just how much they have in common.
Book clubby books are generally not my cup of tea – and let me tell you Orphan Train is sure to be read by gazillions of book clubs.  That being said, I just could not put this book down.  Call me an uneducated American, but I had no idea about orphan trains and I was fascinated with this story.  The bounce back and forth between the past and the presents was seamless, Vivian and Molly were both well-written characters, and although the ending was a bit syrupy sweet, I was expecting it and it was just fine.

Friday, January 10, 2014

Sycamore Row by John Grisham

3.5 Stars
Coming off the trial of the century, Jake Brigance thought he would finally realize his dream of becoming a rich and famous trial lawyer.  Fast-forward three years and Jake finds himself still struggling with the same nickel and dime cases he was handling before Carl Lee Hailey walked into his life.  There is a chance that will change when reclusive millionaire Seth Hubbard ends his own life rather than waiting for the cancer to kill him, naming Jake as the attorney who will handle the probate of his estate.  An estate that Hubbard decided to change the day before he committed suicide, leaving nothing to his heirs but rather to his black maid.  For the first time in his career, Jake will be paid an hourly fee – no contingencies, no bartering with poor clients for whatever they can afford, no waiting for a verdict to see if he’ll get paid at all.  Jake will be paid no matter what, but he will have to work for his money – digging into Hubbard’s past to see exactly why someone would choose to leave such a fortune to a woman who had only worked for him a few years.
I stopped reading Grisham 12 years ago.  When you work in law, a fantasy land of another law firm is not exactly the literary escape of your dreams.  Legal reality is:  even the most exciting case is bogged down in a sea of endless paperwork – once I break free of my desk, I don’t want to go back until I have to.  There’s always an exception to the rule, though.  That exception for me was returning to the setting of A Time To Kill.  In my opinion, Grisham’s first work was his best – a heartbreaker filled with characters you felt like you knew personally by the time the book was finished.  When I heard about the release of Sycamore Row I couldn’t wait to revisit my old friends.
In all honesty, had I not been so emotionally invested in the lives of Jake, Harry Rex, Lucius, Ozzy, etc. this book probably would have scored a 2 or 2.5 from me.  There are no surprises as to why Seth Hubbard chose to modify his will, it’s too long, at times it bogs you down in legalese, the courtroom proceedings are unrealistic, etc.  But I loved these people and wanted to hear what happened to them after the Hailey trial.  Grisham provided those answers for me and at the end of the book I still loved the characters.  Therefore, it’s getting it a big ol’ bump in the star department.  I just hope Grisham leaves well enough alone and doesn’t write a third Jake Brigance novel.  If he does, I either won’t be reading it or I won’t feel the need to be so generous in my review ; )

Thursday, January 9, 2014

We Need New Names by NoViolet Bulawayo

4 Stars
NoViolet Bulawayo tells a tale that is almost unfathomable.  Who could ever imagine living the first few years of life as an average middle-class girl, in an average house, in an average town, attending an average school and having that world flipped upside down?  That is the story of what happens to Darling and her friends when bulldozers sweep through their average lives in Zimbabwe, demolishing everything in their path.  Now the children and their families live in a shanty town, overrun by starvation, disease and despair.  Darling’s only hope that keeps her going is the dream of one day making it to America and living with her aunt.
What a remarkably honest book.  NoViolet Bulawayo makes you become Darling.  You truly feel like you are reading a story told by a 10-year old girl (and you progressively get older along with her).  Dealing with the horrors of reality ranging from poverty to rape to racism to AIDS to the fact that America may not be the land of milk and honey which so many dream of, Bulawayo pulls no punches.  The writing style of chapters that read like miniature stories rather than a continuous narrative really works in this book.  Bulawayo has a lot to say – a lot that NEEDS to be said – and she found a great way to put it all in one book that is just the right length.

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Wise Young Fool by Sean Beaudoin

3.5 Stars
Richie Sudden has some time to reflect on his life.  Ninety days, to be exact.  That’s how long he’s stuck in juvie – pondering his existence and what got him to his breaking point.  The bad things like a dead sister, a dad who split and started a new family a nanosecond after the death, and his mom’s new girlfriend.  The good things like his best friend, the girl he fantasizes about and the battle of the bands competition he competed in. 
I was seriously loving this book until the last 20 pages or so.  We’re talking solid 4 stars, maybe even 4.5.  This book has great momentum, the overused but somehow okay once again “tough kid dealt a tough hand – the young cynic” lead character, gazillions of pop culture references that a nerdgirl like me can truly appreciate.  Beaudoin’s writing style is pretty genius.  The back-and-forth storytelling between the past and the present flows.  And, if you are unlike me and happen to know ANYTHING at all about music, you’re probably going to have an even deeper appreciation of how smart this book is that I can’t even pretend to understand.  But then the “A-HA” moment came.  And it was such a letdown that Wise Young Fool will be forever known on the internets as a 3.5 Star book by me. 
Wah wah.
I don’t know what happened to the end of the book.  Time crunch?  Fizzled out?  Thought he’d reach an awesome conclusion when he got to that point but it just didn’t happen?  I don’t know the answer, but I feel like there needed to be MORE.  I’m not writing Beaudoin off just yet, though.  He’s got several other acclaimed novels that I need to read before I finalize my opinion.

Friday, January 3, 2014

Fat Angie by E.E. Charlton-Trujillo

2.5 Stars
Fat Angie’s size had made her an outcast for quite some time, but when she decided to slit her wrists in the middle of a pep rally, she REALLY became a target for the mean girls.  After her failed suicide attempt, Angie tried to be as invisible as possible – sharing her feelings only through unsent letters to her sister, a soldier who was taken prisoner in Iraq.  All that changes when she meets new transfer student, KC Romance, and her neighbor Jake starts speaking to her again.
This book could have been a lot better.  It had a chance of scoring a higher rating from me had I not started a really good YA book immediately upon finishing it. 
It also may have received more stars had I not watched Pitch Perfect again and again and again and again with my children over their Christmas Break.  Fat Angie wasn’t nearly as likeable as Fat Amy.  The world needs more characters like Fat Amy.
Characters like Fat Angie make me feel next to nothing.  When I read a book about a fat girl who is holding out hope her M.I.A. sister is still alive and tried to kill herself in front of the entire student body, I want to feel SAD.  Like the darkest dark, rip your heart out, maybe I should stick my head in the oven for a little while sad.  Feeling “meh” is not the way to get a great review : (
Along the same lines, books with super predictable plot twists don’t score real big in the twinkly star department either.
In a nutshell, Fat Angie was an okay read.  It won’t change your life.  It might not even change your opinion about Fat Angie when you’re finished.  It may, however, remind you of Fat Amy’s awesomeness and make you want to watch Pitch Perfect ten more times ; )

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Thousand Words by Jennifer Brown

3 Stars
Like a lot of people, Ashleigh made a dumb mistake. Feeling saucy while a bit tipsy, she decides to take a nudey pic of herself and send it to her boyfriend to remind him what he will be missing while away at college. She never guessed that they would break up or what a nightmare she would find herself a part of when her ex forwards the text to someone else. Now everyone (and I mean EVERYONE) has seen the text, Ashleigh a complete social pariah at school, and the police/court have decided to use her as an example of the repercussions of sexting – forcing her to spend all of her free time in community service with some real thugs (or are they?).
I feel bad about giving this a "meh" rating because I LOOOOOOVE Jennifer Brown. Talk about a cool author who interacts with her fans. Unfortunately, though, I can’t give extra stars just because I’m a fangirl. Don’t get me wrong, this book is perfectly okay (hence the 3 Stars). The problem? It’s not The Hate List. If you have not yet read anything by Jennifer Brown, I beg you to pleeeeeeeeaaaaaase save The Hate List for last. It’s knockyoursocksoff good and a prime example of why an old bag like me still wants to read YA books. Thousand Words isn’t a bad book at all – it just really pales in comparison. It reads a little younger (especially given the subject matter), it’s a bit more contrived, it’s just not on the same level : (