Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Grasshopper Jungle by Andrew Smith

2 Stars
This books begins like so many others – an angsty teen lets us in on his pathetic little life. Austin is Polish and might be gay. He’s always horny and likes to draw and keep track of history in his journal. He lives in Iowa and has a real dynamo of a dog who is great at taking dumps. He’s Polish and he might be gay. He’s definitely horny. Did I mention some of that already? Well, if I say it 57,000 more times I’ll maybe come close to how many times Austin brought it up. Yeah, it’s a rough beginning.

About a third of the way through, there was finally get a glimpse of how things may not be quite what they appear

and I was really hoping this book would go from blah to BOOM.

I mean, we’re talking about it potentially being the end of the world

with giant mutant praying mantises

action, gore, even a super secret bunker complete with training videos on how to deal with the potential apocalypse

Sadly, in spite of all of this, Austin still spent much of his time bemoaning the status of his love life.

Many people complain about the voice of young adult characters being too mature, their behavior a little too refined, their vocabulary a little too impressive. Trust me when I say you want it that way. Good gravy is the alternative so much worse.

Andrew Smith wrote a great coming of age story with Winger. He did not need to write another one. He definitely didn’t need to use the same annoying voice for his male lead without giving him any redeeming qualities when creating Austin. Smith himself said this was a book that was never intended to be published and, unfortunately, you can tell. I wish the editors would have put their hands in the pie a whole lot more. The sci-fi story was fun and fresh and I seriously dug it. But the melodrama? It needed to be left on the cutting room floor.

Sidenote: It seems a lot of people are handing out mass quantities of stars on this one because it’s so strange. If you are looking for weird (and I mean WEIRD) without the angst, skip Grasshopper Jungle and check out John Dies at the End instead.

Friday, April 25, 2014

The Interestings by Meg Wolitzer

4 Stars
In the summer of 1974 six teens meet at an artists’ summer camp.

Ash, the beautiful one who dreams of a life filled with fame both on and off the stage;

Goodman, her brooding brother who wants to be an architect, but more importantly wants his father’s approval;

Ethan, the homely cartoonist;

Jonah, a gifted musician whose past has caused him to lose his love for music;

Cathy, the girl who only wants to dance, but has been cursed with a curvy body;

and finally Julie – the aspiring comedic actress who will emerge from the summer like a butterfly from a cocoon as “Jules”.

The Interestings follows this group of friends from their formative teen years all the way through middle-age – through marriage and babies and career changes – various successes and failures – seeing some of their dreams come true and some of their dreams shrivel and die – revealing secrets hidden for decades.

Okay, there’s my “official” synopsis. Now it’s time to get real. This book is really about NOTHING. Yes, there is a touch of scandal and secrets that can’t be let go, but really those end up being just a handful of the pages of this novel. The Interestings has no big mystery to solve, no unrequited love, not even any particular character to route for. It is simply about life and how these six people live it. I should have hated it . . . but I didn’t.

I love an ensemble cast and for whatever reason this one reminded me a teensie bit of a really good one:

Once I started reading, I didn’t want to stop. Meg Wolitzer wrote believable characters and scenes. I became invested in these people’s lives and she made it clear that it was okay to not always route for them. For me, though, the defining factor that bumped this up the rating scale was that I had a clear visual of each person through the entire book. If I can’t picture the characters, I can’t connect. And if an author has me envisioning the celebrity I most want to punch in the throat as the male lead and still somehow manages to make me love him? Well, she deserves nothing less than 4-Stars. I mean really – who in their right mind wants to picture THIS guy for 500 pages????

Thursday, April 24, 2014

The Impossible Knife of Memory by Laurie Halse Anderson

2 Stars
When Hayley’s dad Andy returned from fighting overseas five years ago, he was a changed man. He tried battling his PTSD by running – taking Hayley with him over-the-road and home schooling her. Now Andy and Hayley have moved back to their hometown in an attempt to give Hayley a sense of normalcy for her senior year of high school. But how can Hayley ever know what "normal” is when she is being raised by someone who can “turn into a werewolf even if the moon isn’t full” and when she is fighting demons of her own?

Oh man. This was a solid 4-Star book. Such a heavy storyline, so well written and so haunting (especially Andy’s narratives). I was almost positive this was going to be a winner and make me cry big fat tears. Until the end . . .

This book was dark. I was prepared for dark. A particular reoccurring scene in the book led me to believe it was going to get super dark. I braced myself for a huge blow and armed myself with a box of tissues. Sadly, the book didn’t deliver.

I’ll be the first to admit I can be a harsh critic. I am also very forgiving - especially when it comes to YA novels. I have come to expect the fact that there's a good chance I won't like the main character. At any point in the book. Period. I have come to expect situations might be handled with "kid gloves" (no pun intended) compared to other novels. What I don't expect is for an author to throw in the towel and write what may be the crappiest ending I've ever read. Many will love this book and won’t have a problem with the ending at all, but for me? Those final few pages of suckitude caused me to drop my rating dropped significantly. 

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Torn Away by Jennifer Brown

4 Stars
ARC received from NetGalley. Thank you NetGalley!!!!

Jersey lost everything in the tornado. Her house, her sister, her mother. Her entire life was changed in a matter of moments. With all of her wordly possessions able to fit in a backpack, Jersey is sent to live with family she has never known

and has to come to terms with her family’s true history.

I read this one a couple of weeks ago and somehow never got around to writing a review. Today I log on to Facebook to stalk see this:

Shame on me for not posting a review as soon as I finished Torn Away. Heck, when I received my ARC Jennifer Brown was out doing this:

which popped this little baby right to the top of the to-read pile.

I can’t say enough about Jennifer Brown. Not only is she maybe one of the nicest humans on the planet, but she writes really good stuff for young adults. Her books always deal with important/controversial topics that need to be addressed, but walk that fine boundary line of remaining okay for the younger set to read.
Go buy her stuff. It's time to reward all the "authors behaving goodly" (yeah, goodly isn't a word - but I'm using it anyway). 

As always, I will add my disclaimer: If you have not yet read anything by Jennifer Brown, make sure you save The Hate List for last. It is by far one of the best YA - screw the YA moniker - one of the best novels PERIOD I have read and makes her other books (that are really solid stories themselves) pale in comparison.

Punkzilla by Adam Rapp

3.5 Stars
Jamie (a/k/a “Punkzilla”) has been on the run. Running from his past, running from his father, “the Major”, running from the boarding school he was sent to in Missouri. After being contacted by his dying brother, Punkzilla makes the decision to stop running and head to Memphis and see his brother before it’s too late.

What did I think of Punkzilla? Hmmmmmmmmmm . . .

Screw it – I’m writing this before my brain gets a chance to work against me even more. The truth is, I’m not really sure what I think about it. Punkzilla was added to my TBR pile during my quest to find books that would make me get all feely. The library guaranteed it would bring the tears.

No, seriously, I’m not crying. That’s not to say it wasn’t good. Hell, it won the Printz Award so it’s probably great, right? It was just so different that I don’t really know what to say. I like when an author is brave enough to take a different approach to telling his tale, so choosing to write this novel as a series of correspondence was great. Many times I find myself wanting to strangle YA leads, but that was not the case here. Jamie was endearing and had a great voice. I like reading YA that pushes the boundaries and is really not for kids (seriously - this has some very mature content). But . . . . . there was just something missing (mainly MORE of the story), so

Again, my apologies for such a blasé review. Here is a .gif of a baby monkey taking a bath in order hopefully keep you reading here : )

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Heaven is for Real by Todd Burpo

Read in August, 2012
0 Stars

It’s rare that I go back and review a book that I read in my past life (see what I did there?) as a non-book-reviewer. That being said, with movie promos bombarding my television night and day, I figured it was time to make an exception. Let me begin by stating I do not read book jackets and was always a pretty willing guinea pig when it came to reading whatever friends/co-workers/relatives/acquaintances wanted to pass my way. All that changed after I read this book.

The past few weeks I have been asked the same questions over and over again. I figured it was time to express my feelings once and for all.

“Have you read Heaven is for Real?????"

Unfortunately, yes and I have not spoken to the co-worker who recommended it to me in almost two years now.


“Did you like it????”

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“Should I read it????”

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Possibly the most poorly written novel I have ever read. Imagine these immortal words from the classic film Billy Madison pertain to this book and that about sums up all that needs to be said regarding how I feel.

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The Valley of Amazement by Amy Tan

1.5 Stars

An epic mother/daughter saga that spans 50 years. The Valley of Amazement tells the story of Lucia, who became pregnant as a teen and left her family in hopes of marrying her Chinese lover. When he refuses to go against his family’s wishes, Lucia must survive on her own – eventually opening a courtesan house that caters to both East and West. The story continues with Lucia’s daughter, Violet, unrecognized by her father’s family she becomes a virgin courtesan at 12, but constantly hopes to find love, marriage and happiness. The tale ends with Violet’s daughter, Flora, who may be the only person who can bring these wounded women back together.

I’m fairly certain I had an “it’s not you, it’s me” moment with this book. After reading several works by Amy Tan, I am ready to admit, I just don’t like her writing.

The Valley of Amazement, like all of Amy Tan’s books, can be summarized quite simply:


The difference between this and her other books? Instead of this book reminding me of Tan’s other works, it reminded me of something else

deja vu

That something is called Memoirs of a Geisha. Now I read Geisha about 150 years ago, so it’s probably not nearly as good as I believed it to be at the time, but I have a feeling I'd still find it to be better than this one. Good lord with the so many pages and words and never ending misery and need for editing. Add to that a host of characters that I absolutely COULD. NOT. STAND. and once again I feel let down by Amy Tan.

I will own up to the fact that I am not a book-clubby-book kind of gal and millions of others will find this to be Tan’s greatest masterpiece. To that I say more power to you. It was just not my cup of tea.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Naked Lunch by William S. Burroughs

1 Star
Hmmmmmm, what can I say about Naked Lunch????? I think I’ll let the immortal words of Gwen Stefani speak for me . . .

I’ll gladly admit I’m probably too stupid to see the genius that Burroughs created with this book, but I just don’t see it. A series of incoherent ramblings from a drug-addled mind published in order to blur the boundary between art and obscenity that just don’t stand the test of time. 50+ years ago, this work was shocking, but now????? Notsamuch. Writing that was supposed to make me go mad or at the very least make me

only caused me to wonder why I continued wasting my time on this book instead of moving on to one of the other 17,000,000 on my to-read list.

In my opinion, if you want to read something from a – how should I put it – um, “medicinally inspired” author, then pick up some Hunter S. Thompson and close the door on Burroughs.

Friday, April 11, 2014

What I'd Say to the Martians (and Other Veiled Threats) by Jack Handy

3 Stars
One of my fondest childhood memories is spending Saturday night at Grandma and Grandpa’s house and staying up late to watch Saturday Night Live. A million few years later, I remain loyal to SNL – I’m just old now, so the correct name for Saturday Night Live would be something along the lines of Sunday Morning DVR.

SNL has a history of producing superstars,

(Note: I’m calling out Aidy Bryant as the next best thing. She brings the LOLz errry week)

but after 39 seasons on the air, one genius is seldom mentioned anymore. That would be Jack Handy. Lowbrow humor at its best – What I’d Say to the Martians was perfect to fill in the gaps and start me off fresh in between reading a real piece of garbage, a couple of downers, the millionth book in a series and one that I’m still not sure if I liked or hated. Perfectly stupid – I laughed again and again and realized that little did I know way back when how useful Jack’s SNL advice would become or that I'd so quickly jump to read his books.

Jack has helped me learn how to release my anger without going to prison . . .

and with child rearing . . .

and just how to be a better person in general . . .

The perfect coffee table book for those of you who have a sense of humor that leans more than a bit to the demented side.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

The Chase by Janet Evanovich and Lee Goldberg

2.5 Stars

Kate O’Hare and Nick Fox are paired up once again for Book #2. This time, the duo needs to swap a forged national treasure, currently held in the Smithsonian, for the real deal which was stolen by Carter Grove, a former White House Chief of Staff turned thief.

But Kate and Nick can’t just let it go with the return of the stolen property. They aim to finally put Carter Grove behind bars. What better way to out crook a crook than by pulling off an elaborate art heist and selling Grove the stolen wares?

“Hi, my name is Kelly and I’m addicted to Janet Evanovich novels.”

Stop judging me.

I’m almost positive these books contain subliminal messages that force me to keep reading them. Me, the woman who almost always refuses to read Book #2 in a series has read TWENTY Stephanie Plums plus the “in between the numbers”, and all of the Wicked, Metro Girl now these O’Hare and Fox books (and yet another Plum is already in the works for release in June). I have a problem and I think there might only be one way out . . .

Do you ever get the feeling you’ve been some place before?

But when you look a little closer you realize that the houses aren’t quite as nice as you remember or the people don’t look as friendly? That’s kind of how I feel about O’Hare and Fox. Kate is smart, Fox is sexy, but they just aren’t as fun as the people I’m used to. Stephanie, Ranger, Joe and Grandma are old friends I like to visit from time to time. O’Hare and Fox are a little too polished and take themselves way too seriously, which kind of defeats the purpose of reading fluffy crap. However, I guarantee I’ll read the next one. And the one after that. And the one after that.

Monday, April 7, 2014

Tell the Wolves I'm Home by Carol Rufkin Brunt

1 Star
The year is 1987 and June has just lost the most important person in her life to AIDS. After the death of her Uncle Finn, June makes an unlikely friend and learns some hard truths about her family and herself.

Please note you will NOT get me to change my opinion, so if you just loveloveloved Tell the Wolves I’m Home and can’t understand how anyone could not – you should probably just move along. I know I have chosen the road less taken, but I have to own up to the fact that I did not like this book. At all. I think the only reason it received the hype it did was that Carol Rifka Brunt made it take place at the onset of the AIDS crisis. If Finn died of just plain old cancer, no one would have given two shits about this novel. If you liked it, more power to you. As for me, my 1 Star rating, and this review????

Every moment in this novel felt forced. Rather just saying we’re in 1986/87, the issue is pushed with horrible “product placement” type announcements that are completely unnecessary (i.e., “the Rubix cube on the dresser”, or “wax on/wax off”, or “Tiffany’s new remake of an old classic – “I Think We’re Alone Now” – playing on the radio. The only thing missing was June walking in wearing her “Frankie Say Relax” t-shirt). Rather than writing a story about familial relationships and how they can disintegrate so easily, the AIDS crisis has been pushed to the forefront as the excuse for bad behavior. Rather than letting June be devastated when her favorite person in the world dies (or making June’s character younger and experiencing “first love” with her uncle), instead we deal with a 14 year old and a type of love that pushes toward perversion rather than adoration. I realize (again) that I have taken a very unpopular opinion. But you know what?

I can’t remember reading a book where I liked the characters less than this. June is an idiot, Greta is a bully, the mother is a bitch, the father is absentee. The only person I wanted to know anything about was Toby. I want to read Toby’s story. I want to know everything about him in great detail. His childhood, how he fell in love with Finn, how he dealt with having AIDS back when even the President of the United States wouldn’t dare mention the name, what it felt like to get diagnosed with an illness that meant everyone would be terrified of you, and how he managed to survive losing the love of his life. Toby’s story is one that needs to be told – just not by Carol Rifka Brunt. She’d only f%$@ it up and make it dirty and horrible.

If you loved this book, I’m happy for you and please know I really wanted (expected) to as well. Sadly, it just wasn’t in the cards for me. Once again, I posted an honest review and

Saturday, April 5, 2014

The Lover's Dictionary by David Levithan

Since I’m a huge Levithan fangirl, I got myself prepared to write this review by deciding to flag every “definition” that made me feel something while I was reading. Well, I definitely felt some things and flagged all some of the pages . . .

My feelings ranged from magical

like in the definitions of cache and gingerly and meander and posterity and rifle and sacrosanct and transient and unabashedly and woo and yesterday

to amused like in the definitions of candid and celibacy and deciduous and non sequitor and qualm

to honest like in the definitions of commonplace and epithet and inadvertent and perfunctory and recant and ubiquitous

to feeling as if I had been punched in the gut

like in the definitions for abyss and breach and dispel and fast and gamut and happenstance and jerk and livid and quixotic and raze and serrated and zenith

Levithan’s words move me like no other and I’m unapologetically in love with his writing.

What can I say? I might just be his #1 Fan.

“Measure the hope of that moment, that feeling. Everything else will be measured against it.”

Whenever I finish a David Levithan book, I find myself measuring other authors against him. Authors who I truly enjoy and would normally get recommended get thrown to the wayside so I can tell my friends to read Levithan instead. (Especially Two Boys Kissing. Drop whatever you are reading and go read Two Boys Kissing.)

“No matter how many words there are, there will never be enough.”

I am so enamored with Levithan’s writing that I am consciously spacing out his books and not allowing myself to consume them all because I know the above quote will hold true.

In an effort to avoid being sued by the author for republishing his work in its entirety while desperately attempting to convey my feelings in this review, I’m throwing in the towel and just telling you to read The Lover’s Dictionary. And then read everything else by David Levithan (even Every Day, which I didn’t much care for).

Oh, and one more thing. We should invent more words that begin with X.