Monday, September 30, 2019

Have a Little Faith in Me by Sonia Hartl

5 Stars

“Watch me double backflip on a half-pipe for Jesus.”
CeCe thought she and Ethan were a perfect match – so much so that she offered up her V-card to him. When Ethan decided to end things in order to become a “born again virgin” CeCe was willing to do anything to get him back – including attending Camp John 3:16 . . . .

The only problem? CeCe isn’t what you’d call a Christian. Luckily, her lifelong bestie/neighbor Paul is (or at least used to be) and he’s willing to tag along. What neither of them bargained for was Ethan having a pre-established “camp girlfriend” and needing to fake a romantic relationship of their own in order for CeCe to maintain her well-planned cover . . . .

“They won’t kick you out for not knowing as much Scripture as they do. But they might try to baptize you.”

“Joke’s on them. I took care of that before we came.”

“You? Got baptized? Where did this take place?”

“You have to promise not to laugh in my face.”


“Okay, so you know that guy who hangs out on Wilson and East? The one with the long beard who wears a THE END IS NEAR sandwich board?”

“I think I can see where this is going . . . .”

Let’s be real honest here and say going into this I was aware that I would probably be willing to be very forgiving before giving this a 1 Star rating. I mean, that cover? That title? That shoutout to Saved in the blurb?????

I’ll also admit I had some momentary disappointment that there wasn’t more of this included in this story . . . .

But that quickly passed when I realized that this is quite possibly the best YA book I’ve ever read when it comes to talking openly about consent and sex (and abstinence) and antiquated beliefs about “asking for it” and how the three most important words that are said between two people before/during/after they have sex probably shouldn’t be “I Love You” but rather “Is This Okay” or “Are You Okay?” It’s about taking control of your own body and the choices you make with respect to what you feel comfortable doing with it, and it gets every single star for being presented in such a humorous/non-preachy way. Because, come on . . . . .

And also?

“Losing your virginity sucks. Nobody knows what the hell they’re doing.”

Standing ovation to Sonia Hartl for this one.

Friday, September 27, 2019

A Day in the Life of Marlon Bundo by Jill Twiss

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5 Stars

Stink bugs are temporary. Love is forever.

I nearly missed Banned Books Week!!!!

Luckily the fancy library is right down the street from the office and they came to the rescue . . . .

You go fancy library! You may not have mommy’s special types of science books that she likes, but you is smart, you is kind and you is important.

The story here is just what it says – a day in the life of a little bunny called Marlon Bundo. Marlon lives in a big old house called the White House with his grandpa, Mike Pence . . . .

*hold for groans – hold for groans*

There’s not a whole lot for a little bunny to do and Marlon is lonely *sadface* - untillllllllll he meets another bunny named Wesley and they fall into instalove (which normally would equal one star, but rabbits do have a reputation to withhold so it gets a pass) and decide they never want to hop alone again. But the Stink Bug in Charge has other plans . . . .

You see, he has already determined boy bunnies can only marry girl bunnies. So the bunnies (and hedgehogs and badgers and cats and otters and on and on and on) exercise their rights and vote that old stinker right out of office!

Okay, so I may have spoiled the entire thing, but hopefully no one cares. The whole point of this story is to teach the lesson that . . . .

Everyone is different. And different is NOT bad.

And to take a bit of the piss out of the uggos who are currently running the asylum country. All 5 Stars are granted simply for the fact that the proceeds from this book are 100% directed to charity. Now everyone go read a banned or challenged book.

Thursday, September 26, 2019

Little Faith by Nickolas Butler

4 Stars

How can it all be random, chance, a beautiful cosmic accident? How?

Here’s a dramatization of what I imagine it would look like if I ever attended a Nickolas Butler meet-n-greet . . . .

Little Faith is only my second experience with this author, but I’m most definitely willing to say damn this fella can write. The story here centers around Lyle and Peg – retirees residing in rural Wisconsin. Their daughter Shiloh has recently returned to the family homestead along with her six-year old son Isaac. She’s also become an active member of a new church . . . .

Holy-Rollers I was maybe prepared for. But it seems our daughter has joined a cult.

Lyle lost his faith years ago when he and Peg’s son was born – only to die within hours. However, he’s always been supportive of Peg’s (and anyone else’s) beliefs when it comes to things of a godly nature. But when Joel Osteen Shiloh’s pastor (and potential future husband) amps up the creep factor by claiming Isaac to be a “healer” Lyle has trouble keeping his opinions to himself - potentially breaking up their newly reunited family.

As you can see, at its heart this is a story about family and faith. It’s probably not for everyone since there’s not a lot of action or bells and whistles, but I found it to be absolutely absorbing. I felt I actually knew these people by the time I was done reading and I was bummed to not get to be part of their lives any longer. I wanted to shake the crap out of Shiloh and her Kool-Aid drinking idiot ways, run “Pastor” Steven over with a truck and become best friends with Hoot. I’m pretty thrilled that there’s not only another Butler novel out there that I’ve not yet read, but also that I discovered an (olllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllld) unread ARC of his short-story collection on the Kindle the other day. I’m officially a fan.

Wednesday, September 25, 2019

Ayesha at Last by Uzma Jalaluddin

4 Stars

When it comes to anything that claims to be a Pride and Prejudice retelling, my reaction is pretty much . . . . .

I think I’ve read three of them this year alone.

Ayesha At Last could have done itself some favors and made it more clear that it was simply inspired by the Austen classic, as I’m sure there will be some naysayers in the batch who were expecting a modernized, Muslim regurge of an old fave (pick up Unmarriageable if you are looking for a Middle-Eastern version that remains truer to the original – and make sure to wear your Thanksgiving pants because that one will make you want to eat all the food).

The ensemble cast of Bennetts and Bingleys may be missing this time, but Ayesha makes up for things with an “opposites attract . . . . eventually” trope as our modern Ayesha spars with traditional Khalid. This book also tackles real-life issues regarding prejudices (both inside and outside of the community) and I enjoyed tremendously that the “good” characters were fully fleshed out while the uggos were given no depth whatsoever (because let’s face it – in real life you (hopefully) wouldn’t waste a lot of time on garbage humans). Bottom line, when it comes to this little book . . . . .

ARC provided by the publisher in exchange for an honest review. Sorry I suck so hard at posting anything in a timely manner!

Tuesday, September 24, 2019

Frankly In Love by David Yoon

3 Stars

Actual footage of me attempting to check this out from the YA room of the downtown library . . . . .

Frank Li is your regular meganerd who, when not studying in an attempt to score 1500 or better on the SATs in order to get into “The Harvard,” can usually be found with his buddy Q . . . .

Like most nerds, Q and I spend our time watching obscure movies, playing video games, deconstructing the various absurdities of reality, and so on. We hardly ever talk about girls, for lack of material. Neither of us has dated anyone.

Occasionally, however, they do to for a visit to what they have dubbed “Lake Girlfriend” (a/k/a a fountain in the middle of the Westchester Mall) where they chuck a coin and wish for their perfect mate. Q’s lips have always been sealed when it comes to his secret crush, but Frank isn’t particularly choosy . . . .

“Basically I guess she has to be kind, is most important.” Q raises his eyebrows. “So no meanies. Got it.” “And she should make me laugh,” I say. “Any other vital criteria?” says Q. I think. Anything else – hobbies, musical tastes, fashion sense – doesn’t seem to matter that much. So I just shake my head no. Q gives the fountain a shrug. “That’s super romantic, like in the most basic sense.” “Basically,” I say.

No one is more surprised than our boy Frank when it appears Brit Means may be taking a shine to him. There’s only one thing that could get in the way of his chance at love – his parents. You see, Mr. and Mrs. Li aren’t exactly what you would call open to interracial dating. In fact, they are pretty blatantly racist to anyone not Korean. Frank has been able to balance his two worlds pretty well up to this point – and so has the daughter of their parents’ friend group, Joy Song. When he two find themselves in the same predicament regarding the opposite sex the solution is simple . . . .

“Me and Joy have come to this agreement, whereupon the arising of certain occasions for socializing of a romantic nature between, say, myself and a certain member of the female population who might cause tension within a certain traditionally minded population of our shared ethnicity, uh.”

“We’re fake-dating,” says Joy.

I won’t say more in an attempt to not spoil everything. I will just say things get a bit complicated. And also, real life happens because doesn’t it always? And Frank grows up and eventually everyone learns to . . . .

“Go do you.”

“What the hell else is there, right?”

Take my 3 Stars with a grain of salt. Per the .gif above, I was obviously not the target demographic for this one. Sadly, I didn’t really like Frank enough to give him more than that and his behavior regarding the girls made the momma in me want to beat his ass. I also thought this was WAAAAAY too long and could have easily had 100 pages cut and still have managed to get the point across. Buuuuuuuut, all that being said, I would gladly read a book about Q and probably give that one all the starz because I just loved him. (Looks like there may be a chance too since this is marked “#1” – I just hope David Yoon finds a co-writer or an adviser if that’s the case because “Our Voices” works for everyone and Q’s voice is certainly not David Yoon’s.)

Monday, September 23, 2019

Everything Sucks: A Gratitude Journal by Tiffany Reese

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4 Stars

I got this little book a couple of weeks back but had not yet gotten around to flipping through it. This morning I came to work and had a mistake from A MONTH AND A HALF AGO pointed out to me. Most people would chalk it up to . . . .

But I generally let my outlook on things go to a whole different level . . . . .

That was the whole reason I wanted this in the first place – so I decided it was the perfect time to give it a looksee.

Despite journaling being one of the only trends I haven’t found myself jumping off the cliff to join along with the other lemmings – this title was right up my alley. I’m still not sure I’ll embrace the practice of writing up my feelings full-on, but this selection makes it about as easy as pie should I choose to dip my toes in the water with a mix of both heavier and lighter prompts . . . .

Besides “stop messing with your eyebrows,” what advice would you give to your teenage self?

Followed by a lined page for responses. Interspersed throughout are various quotes and positive affirmations from famous people. Basically, the concept is to take a second to reflect on the good things in life, whether big or small (literally, being thankful for toilet paper is in a prompt and that made me smile), and stop being a whiny little bitch like I am 99% of the time. I’d definitely give this as a gift (for the title alone) – the inside was just a bonus.

Many thanks to Callisto’s Publisher’s Club for the copy!

Friday, September 20, 2019

Fleishman Is In Trouble by Taffy Brodesser-Akner

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1 Star

What makes a book literary fiction? Dense writing? Bogged down in unnecessary details? Filled with unlikeable people? Repetitive? Too many pages for the subject matter being tackled? Pretention? An author who has a day job at the New Yorker? Beat-you-over-the-head-super-preachy-but-trying-to-be-cleverly-hidden social commentary? A narrator who feels like an afterthought the majority of the time and who jumps the train off the track by choosing to begin telling her story at some point rather than the one she is supposed to be telling? If so, this checks all the boxes. It also had me like . . . . .

No point in attempting a review. I’m quite sure I was too stupid to “get” this book so I’ll save the trolls some typing. I didn’t like the people – I didn’t like the writing – I didn’t like the message . . . . or rather the way the message was delivered. I didn’t like one thing about it and that’s my opinion. End of story.

Thursday, September 19, 2019

The Craftsman by Sharon Bolton

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2.5 Stars

Boy this has high marks from everyone. And here I am . . . . .

Let’s take a trip on the Wayback Machine to this book that I read during the FIRST FREAKING WEEK OF THE YEAR and has become part of the more than 40 unreviewed books I’ve added to the pile since. I picked this up for one reason and one reason alone . . . .

And also that cover. Wow that’s a good cover.

Full disclosure: I had never heard of this author before. Immediately upon starting I noticed that there was a pretty big explanation of how this came about and that it was sort of a “labor of love” and even though publishers didn’t want it Bolton never gave up and I feel really bad that I didn’t like this, but . . . . .

So I’m still posting this.

The story here is told in a dual timeline. In 1969 Florence Lovelady (that is just a terrible name for someone I am supposed to take seriously) is a fresh-faced rookie cop trying to make it in a man’s world. That happened when she cracked the case of three murdered children and sent Larry Grassbrook to prison for the rest of his life. In 1999 Florence has returned to Lancashire to see Grassbrook be buried . . . . but then history repeats itself.

Here’s where things went wrong for me. First . . . .

Seriously. Way too long and slow rolling for a thriller about a child killer. Bored was the last thing I thought I would be when I checked this out from the library.

Second, being beaten over the head by the message that Florence was being treated sooooo unfairly because she was a woman in a man’s world. That definitely was (and sadly still sometimes is) the case, but Florence was taken to task for being a rookie who was overstepping her boundaries/breaking protocol/etc. . . . .

It had very little to do with her lack of wiener.

Third, the witchcraft subplot . . . .

I’m pretty sure this is what the publishers all passed on and was also what the author was committed to writing about. It just didn’t work for me. I notice that most of my friends who enjoyed this are big fans of Bolton to begin with. I probably should have started with one of her other books rather than this one.

Wednesday, September 18, 2019

Olive Kitteridge by Elizabeth Strout

4.5 Stars

I own a t-shirt that pretty much expresses the reason why it took me so long to read this book . . . .

There’s really no reason why either. I seriously think the title and cover were both so “meh” to me that I just assumed I wouldn’t like it and I’m generally not a blurb reader so I didn’t even bother with that. That’s stupid too, because I have a pretty good track record when it comes to enjoying Pulitzer Prize winners. And as far as Oprah Book Club books are concerned? Well . . . . .

#noshame #drinkdatoprahkoolaid

Whatever the cause, I had passively avoided this for over a decade and probably would have continued to do so if I hadn’t stumbled upon my friend Debbie’s pogo-sticking review of the original and seeing post upon post about the soon-to-be-released sequel. I decided to go ahead and pick it up since it was handily available at the downtown library. I had no idea that nearly every moment (except for hopefully the smacky ones) spent with Olive would have me saying . . . .

Aside for one second when I thought she might be debra . . . .

“Let me tell you, that idiot ex-cocaine-addict was never a cowboy. He can wear all the cowboy hats he wants. He’s a spoiled brat to the manor born. And he makes me puke.”

I don’t think I’ve ever related to a character as much as I did this one. As the blurb states – at its core this is a book about the human condition. It’s presented in the form known as a composite novel or a short story cycle . . . .

Where vignettes regarding various townsfolk throughout various periods of time all intertwine to paint a larger story. Olive is either a featured or bit player in each of them. Gruff at best or downright cold and brittle at worst, even Olive’s family find her hard and unfeeling, but as the reader gets to know her they discover it’s because she has extreme difficulty expressing her feelings or interacting with others period. Don’t know if she’s for you? Here’s a little taste . . . .

“My God, you do have the passions and the prejudices of a peasant.”

“That’s it. At least I’m not prejudiced against homosexuals.”

“No, just white men with money.”

Damn right, she thought.

And this snippet from my favorite entry of the entire book – “Basket of Trips:”

“I’ve been thinking about killing Kerry.” She raises a hand from her lap and exposes a small paring knife lying on her green flowered dress.

“Oh,” says Olive.

Marlene bends over the sleeping Kerry and touches the woman’s bare neck. “Isn’t this some major vein?” she asks, and puts the knife flat against Kerry’s neck, even poking slightly at the vague throbbing of the pulse there.

“Yuh. Okay. Might want to be a little careful there.” Olive sits forward.

In a moment Marlene sighs, sits back. “Okay, here.” And she hands the paring knife to Olive.

“Do better with a pillow,” Olive tells her. “Cut her throat, there’s going to be a lot of blood.”

I’m giving this 4.5 Stars rather than all 5 simply for the fact that not every entry was as perfectly perfect perfection as the aforementioned.

P.S. This was a book while reading that played like a movie in my head . . . but due to the format I wasn’t sure how well it would translate. Apparently it translated pretty well a few years ago because it won all of the Emmys . . . .

I will say that, despite Frances McDormand being pretty much a god to me, that I pictured someone else as Olive . . . .

I’m going to have to track down the miniseries.

Tuesday, September 17, 2019

Rivers by Michael Farris Smith

2 Stars

613 days ago the government made a decision regarding things down South . . . .

Hold up. Not that far South. After years upon years of being obliterated by hurricanes, it was decided it was in the best interest of the nation to establish “the Line” – a geographical boundary 90 miles north of the coastline spanning the Texas-Louisiana border all the way across Mississippi to Alabama. Mandatory evacuation was broadcast, the population was informed rebuilding efforts would cease from that point forth, services would be cut, and anyone who decided to stay were informed they were doing so at their own risk.

That’s the basic jumping off point for Rivers - a book Ron has been pushing on me ever since he read it. Actual footage of my reaction to the question “so how did you like it????” . . . . .

Did we read the same book?

Oh Rivers. How did I dislike you? Let me count the ways . . . .

#1 – Dude is supposed to have survived all on his own all this time, but gets rolled by two children at the 7% mark, which had me like . . . .

#2 – Hints about his dead wife and baby are dropped so frequently at the 27% point my Kindle note said something along these lines . . . .

I have no heart. I know.

#3 – They supposedly live in the new version of the Wild Wild West where no one really even knows if highways still exist to connect them to the rest of America, and yet money remains the driving force . . . . .

Seriously. Any sort of aid/supplies have been cut off for almost TWO YEARS, they all live like marauders and yet money talks and bullshit walks rather than goods and services.

#4 – The premise is that never-ending hurricanes have been completely decimating the South for ages, and yet the stores still contain perfectly clean and usable merchandise. Not to mention anytime something is needed, dude magically comes across it. “Oh noes – I is out of gasoline. Wow! Two full five gallon jugs? Awesome!” . . . . .

#5. They kill the dog . . . .

#6. I’m not exactly what you’d call a social justice warrior, but this dumbfuck who got rolled by 7 year olds (okay, that’s an exaggeration) earlier is the one who is needed for a bunch of women to break free from the snake-handling preacherman’s cultish imprisonment of them?????

Fuck you. Joel Osteen Homeboy was so old he couldn’t even get it up anymore. Those broads would have whipped some ass.

#7 – And last but certainly not least the “big reveal” . . . . .

I mean, it pinged my hinkymeter immediately (per my gripes above) and irritated the crap out of me until the 59% mark where I could confirm my suspicions (those of you who aren’t great at ciphering clues will be waiting until almost 80%).

Oh and Bonus #8 - "Rivers #1"?????? Hell nah. I hate books in a series.

I also had issues with the instalove by dudebro who was supposedly in the deepest pits of mourning that anyone has ever experienced and also with the pacing and how every near annihilation the characters were confronted with ended up being wrapped up real succinctly with a bright red bow over and over and over again, but there aren't any fun .gifs for those.

Nearly all of my friends liked this one. Hopefully the above will help explain why it sucked turtles for me. This is my second near fail with this author. Maybe it's just not meant to be.

Monday, September 16, 2019

This Tender Land by William Kent Krueger

3 Stars

This Tender Land is what would happen if Huckleberry Finn, Great Expectations, Elmer Gantry, The Odyssey and a little teeeeeeensie bit of East of Eden all had a baby . . . .

I mean, really. If you truly believe you need more, this is the story of four children who run away from the Lincoln Indian Training School in Depression Era Minnesota. It’s about their search for home, and those they come across, while making their way to the mighty Miss.

This book has a 4.50 rating on Goodreads, so chalk my mediocre reaction up to the usual turtle sucking. Blame it on all of the required reading I had to do back in my school-aged days and how this book is an amalgamation of all of my least favorites. Excluding East of Eden, but truthfully I only threw that title in there because of WARNING ACTUAL SPOILER THAT WILL SPOIL THE ENTIRE DAGGONE BOOK IF YOU CLICK IT (view spoiler).

Word to the wise for other curmudgeons: This story is 100% not realistic, so if you’re a stickler for believability you might want to take a pass. (Y’all know I kind of give a rip about whether or not something is plausible – 99.9999% of my ratings come from page turnability alone.) If you enjoy your coming of age with a lot of luck in the form of narrow escapes, coming across the right people at the right time and landing monetary windfalls when they are needed most, this might be a winner for you.

I’ve noticed high marks from many of my friends regarding one of this author’s other books (Ordinary Grace). Maybe that one will be more my style.