Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Book #24: Harvest Home

I'm about 100% sure I saw the TV movie version of this book when I was around 7 or 8 (I'm sure my parents didn't know about it), and it spooked the junk out of me. I have vague flashback memories of Bette Davis in some sort of frilly bonnet and of a small boy in a sailor suit on a tricycle and some little girl screaming, and when I started to read this book, I realized that those memories were from this story.

Tryon does a really great job of amping up the dread factor without making the reader frustrated by the slow pace of the story. In fact, I actually found myself enjoying the drawn-out plot and didn't want to race through to the end, which is rare for me.

The story follows a young(ish) family of three who moves to a small New England town from New York City to give their marriage a second chance. They're initially charmed by the quaintness of the homes and residents, but it isn't long before the husband begins to notice that things are beginning to get undeniably weird. Of course, he's the only one who seems to care.

I don't know what it was about the 70s, but they always seemed to nail the whole creepy genre. Maybe they were all just horrified by their clothing and hairstyles and it seeped into their writing.

Thursday, December 24, 2015

Book #23: The Night Strangers

Oh, this book. I had such high hopes, but for the love. It was just bad.

The book begins as pilot Chip Linton crashes his jet into Lake Champlain, trying desperately to make a water landing as successfully as Sully Sullenberger, but failing. While he survives, 39 of the passengers don't, and he is racked with guilt. He decides to move with his wife and two twin daughters to a small New England town to start over, and that's where the trouble begins.

Chip quickly begins hearing voices and seeing various victims from the crash in his basement. They all seem to hover around a mysterious door bolted with - wait for it - 39 locks. 

Oh, yeah. And there's also a weird herb-worshiping cult of old people who want to drink the blood of their children. So there's that.

I had a few problems with this book. One, Chip and his wife, Emily, are ridiculously stupid and are quite possibly the worst parents in recent literary history. I had a hard time feeling any sympathy for them. Two, the villainous cult members are all so obviously evil that it's almost humorous. It's like sending Gargamel into a Smurf's home wearing a ball cap and assuming no one will notice it's him. And three, the ending. It's just so, so bad and cliche and everything that's wrong with a badly plotted ghost story.

I say skip it, and read a Shirley Jackson novel instead. That woman knew how to do scary right.

Monday, December 21, 2015

Book #22: The Silent Girls

I have a hard time with protagonists I just don't like. I know a lot of people can get past that when they're reading a book by realizing that a lot of people just genuinely aren't likable, but I just can't shake the annoyed feeling. I did not like the main character of this book, and it really tainted the whole story for me.

Set in New England, the story centers around Frank Rath, a retired police detective-turned-private eye, who is sucked into the investigation of a serial killer who targets unwed, expectant mothers. I did appreciate the setting of the book - Rickstad describes the bleak, slushy winter well, and the darkness matches the tone of the book. Unfortunately, it doesn't make up for Frank Rath.

Rath is just prickly and childish for the entirety of the book. He makes stupid mistakes because he loses his temper about eight zillion times, and you can see the consequences coming from miles away. By the time I reached the end, I didn't even care that the plot wasn't at all resolved. I was just glad it was over.

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Book #21: Bad Seeds: Evil Progeny

I love scary stories. My mom told me she was watching "'Salem's Lot" on tv when she was pregnant with me and my grandmother walked into the room and told her she was going to "mark me with movies like that." I guess she did, but I don't mind. I'm not entirely sure what it is about spooky books that I enjoy, but I think it's knowing that while I'm a little nervous and scared, I'm also secure in the knowledge that I'm actually very safe in my own home. It's a passive-aggressive thrill. 

And honestly, the scariest thing of all is evil children -- 'Salem's Lot, The Omen, Pet Sematary, the dead little girls in The Shining -- they all give me the severe heebie jeebies. Children are supposed to be sweet. Children are supposed to be innocent. They're not supposed to loom over your bed at night with the butcher knife from your kitchen raised over their heads, accompanied by slightly off-key Latin chants.

This book is a collection of short stories about those not-quite-right children who stare at you with unblinking eyes and make you uneasy when you pass them in the grocery store. The most famous offering here is probably Stephen King's "Children of the Corn," but I really enjoyed the stories by authors I'd never heard of. "If Damon Comes" by Charles L. Grant and "My Name is Leejun" by John Schoffstall are particularly good. 

I heard the "Sesame Street" theme song yesterday, and it sounded vaguely creepy to me. I blame this book.

Friday, December 11, 2015

Book #20: Broken Harbor

My friend Jessica has been after me to read Tana French's Dublin Murder Squad books for a few years, and I don't know why I waited so long. 

The coolest thing about this series is that each novel focuses on a minor character from the last novel, so you begin to feel like you're really getting the full spectrum of plot development, and each book works as a stand-alone installment.

This book focuses on police detective Mick Kennedy, who is called to the failed suburban dream home community of Broken Harbor to investigate the horrific murder of a father and two children. Only the mother was left alive, and it quickly becomes clear that someone had been watching the family closely prior to the homicide. Kennedy also has a troubled past concerning Broken Harbor, and he begins to feel old ghosts pressing in on all sides as he tries to solve the case.

This was so good that I'm going back to read all the rest of the books in the series. New author obsession: check.

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Book #19: Mr. Chartwell

I'm going to admit that I bought this book because of the fantastic cover. It reminded me of the wallpaper you sometimes see in elderly ladies' informal dining rooms - comforting and old-fashioned.  I had no idea what it was about, but I just had an inkling that it would be a good choice. I'm glad I was right.

The story centers around Winston Churchill and his retirement after years as Britain's Prime Minister. Churchill suffered from occasional bouts of deep depression, which he referred to as his "black dog." This novel takes the charming approach of making Churchill's depression an actual black dog named Mr. Chartwell (but you can call him "Black Pat"), and only Churchill can see him. 

I don't want to tell too much of the plot, because it really is best if it's read without too much prior knowledge. It's not a thriller or sweeping historical saga, but I just couldn't put it down. There's something so whimsical and pleasant about Hunt's writing, even if the subject matter is quite sad.

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Book #18: The Reversal

The Reversal by Michael Connelly

This is the third Michael Connelly book I've read, and my overall impression of his writing is honestly just "meh." 

Connelly falls into that James Patterson category for me: His books probably make good movies, but I don't want to read them.

I find the dialogue unbelievable, and the plot seems to just plod along pretty predictably. This story centers around his Lincoln Lawyer characters from previous novels and their efforts to re-convict a serial killer of children. The ending actually made me angry, because pretty much nothing was resolved. I know that's supposed to make us want to buy the next book, but it didn't work like that for me. It just felt like lazy writing. Sort of a "Hmm. I really don't feel like fleshing this story out, so I'll just roll it over into next year's contracted book and maybe I'll have a better ending idea by then" kind of thing.

So, yeah. This will most likely be my last Michael Connelly read.

Monday, December 7, 2015

Book #17: How the Light Gets In

Continuing my obsession with all things Louise Penny, this installment finally (finally!) ties up the ongoing "story beneath the story" concerning Inspector Gamache's battle with the corrupt upper echelon in his police force. 

While there was still a mystery not involving the long-awaited take down of some major awful characters, it was definitely secondary. Actually, my only beef with this book was that this plot-line (having to do with the murder of the last remaining member of a famous family of quintuplets) was so secondary that it almost felt as if it was brushed over and barely solved.

All in all, however, it was supremely satisfying. The people I wanted to see drawn and quartered were dealt with in just the way they should have been, and the folks I wanted to see restored to normalcy were also handled fairly. 

I'm looking forward to the next book and a completely different story (with the same cozy feel).

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Book #16: Terms & Conditions

This is a book that I'm pretty sure I got for free on a Kindle deal a long time ago and then it sat dormant for a really long time before I got around to reading it. I'm glad I decided to give it a go, because I was pleasantly surprised.  

The story begins as the main character, Frank, wakes up in the hospital after what he is told was a serious car accident. He's banged up, but aside from losing his spleen, he's expected to make a full recovery. Unfortunately, he has no memory of who he is or what he did or who anyone he knows might actually be. 

He slowly returns to his mundane life as a lawyer who specializes in legal small print, and desperately tries to remember his former life. As his memory slowly creeps back, he begins to feel a growing certainty that the people around him are not telling the truth about the circumstances of his accident and that perhaps his life wasn't quite as rosy as they'd have him believe.

The first-person narrative is told in quick vignettes based on the legal terms and conditions that make up Frank's life, and I found it extremely amusing and easy to read. I love books with lots of short chapters, and I finished it in one or two sittings. I'm mentally bookmarking Robert Glancy for future book purchases.

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Book #15: The Beautiful Mystery

I've written before about how much I love Louise Penny's Inspector Gamache series, and this one is no exception. I was surprised by just how tense and uncomfortable a lot of this story was, however.

In this installment, Inspector Gamache and his right-hand-man, Jean-Guy, are called to a the Saint-Gilbert-Entre-les-Loups, a notoriously private monastery, to investigate the murder of a monk. When they arrive, they realize this monastery is home to a famous choir known for their gorgeous chants known as "the beautiful mystery," and the murdered monk was the esteemed choir director. 

I'm not Catholic, but I found the descriptions of the services wonderfully captivating. There's something so intriguing to me about the quiet nature of  Catholicism - the introspection and sacred rituals, the reverence for what (and Who) is holy.

For the first time, I felt like the actual murder mystery in the novel wasn't really the focus of the story. Over the course of the last couple of novels, a story-within-the-story has been woven throughout, and this brings it almost to its conclusion. Jean-Guy's portion of the book was particularly hard to read, even though readers have known his emotional breakdown was imminent. The ending was so unsettling that I immediately bought the next book so I could just feel better about where the characters ended up. 

I've yet to read a Louise Penny novel I haven't thoroughly enjoyed, and I hope she keeps cranking them out.

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Book #14: The Night Sister

I love a good thriller. I love a good ghost story. I had hoped this would be both, but it just wasn't.

I've read several of Jennifer McMahon's books, and I usually enjoy them. They remind me of those spooky, yellow-tinted movies from the 70's - you know, the ones where someone is enjoying a picnic beside a lake and out of nowhere, a vacant-faced dead woman just pops up out of the water and starts gliding towards the picnic basket. Most of her books give me the same creepily nostalgic feel.

This story, about two sets of sisters years apart and a shared dark secret, had all the makings of a good shudder-y read, but it just fell flat. The dialogue was unbelievable, and the ending made me roll my eyes. No spoilers here, but if you've seen "Sleepwalkers," you'll understand how stupid it got.

I've heard really good things about the book she came out with just before this one - The Winter People - and I'm hoping it will be a return to McMahon's earlier style.

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Book #13: The Golden Ball and Other Stories

It's no secret that I love Agatha Christie. I think I was in 9th or 10th grade when I first read And Then There Were None, and I was hooked. She is a master of the red herring, and even though I've since read about a jillion murder mysteries, she still manages to keep me guessing to the end. Speaking of a jillion murder mysteries, I was listening to a podcast about books yesterday (I know, so surprising), and they mentioned that Agatha Christie had written like 80-something books and she is considered the expert on "murder by poison." I love geeky facts like that.
This book is a collection of Christie's short stories, and I found this collection to be super interesting, not because of the stories themselves, but because of the way in which they were arranged. The book starts off with fluff mysteries - no one actually gets hurt, usually a funny misunderstanding, etc. - but by the end, the stories transition to serious and somewhat heartbreaking. The last story in particular, "Next to a Dog," made me so sad and uncomfortable that I almost wish I hadn't read it. It's almost like the editors tried to soften the blow by starting the compilation off lukewarm and slowly heating the pot until it was scalding.
I still enjoy her novels more, but this assemblage is enjoyable for all Christie fans.

Monday, August 10, 2015

Book #12: All the Light We Cannot See

All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr
Some books are fun to read. I breeze through them and enjoy them. They make the perfect addition to my purse or travel bag, and they're basically the literary equivalent of "You've Got Mail" or "The Holiday" (my personal favorite movie).
But some books are important to read. They're harder to get through, not because the story isn't good or the writing is less-than-stellar, but because the subject matter is uncomfortable.
All the Light We Cannot See lands on the "Important" list for me. I'm sure you've seen it blowing up the "Best Books of..." categories all over the place, and I've had several people recommend it. I'd put off reading it for a long time because frankly, anything to do with World War II is usually just so sad. This book is all about the war. It's one of the main characters of the book. I knew I would feel melancholy while I read it, and I just didn't want to.
But I finally caved and started reading it about two weeks ago. Admittedly, it took me a while to get into the story. The book centers on two different children: Marie-Laure, a blind French girl, and Werner, a reluctant German recruit into Hitler's Youth. Their stories don't intersect until the very end, and by the time I finally got there, I cared. I cared a lot.
I don't want to give away too much of the plot, because I think it's better to slowly warm up to the story as you read, but the prose is absolutely gorgeous. I re-read several passages aloud just to hear them spoken.
Is it sad? Absolutely.
Does it end on a depressing note? Hmm. Yes and no. It's very true-to-life and the war didn't end well for anyone, really.
Will you regret reading it? Not one bit.
Go pick up a copy. Tell me what you think.

Monday, July 27, 2015

Book #11: I've Got Your Number

I've Got Your Number by Sophie Kinsella
Confession: Sometimes I love Sophie Kinsella books, and sometimes they are the worst.
I used to really enjoy her Shopaholic series, but then I began to feel like every story was exactly the same. Becky (the main character) would do something stupid. Then she'd almost tell the truth about what she'd done, but of course, she wouldn't. And then things would get awkward and the lies would pile up, and then she'd get caught. And then everyone would forgive her, because isn't she just a precious, scatter-brained cutie?
Um, no. She was annoying and whiny. So I gave up reading any of the books.
This stand-alone novel popped up in my "if you like this, you might like this" feed on Amazon, and I thought, why not? I was completely prepared for disappointment, but wonder of wonders, I really liked this story.
Now, it is total chick-lit. No doubt. But it's chick-lit written in the smartest and most believable way, and I found myself really getting into the plot:
Poppy, a twenty-something Londonite, has lost her engagement ring the week before her wedding. As if that isn't bad enough, it's a family heirloom ring, and her to-be in-laws are arriving any minute. In a terrible twist of fate, her phone is stolen and she has no way of being reached by anyone who might find her ring. Just before she's overcome with despair, she spots a cell phone in a trash can (ok, I know. This part sounds unbelievable, but it works. Trust me.), and she snatches it. Finders keepers. Unfortunately, it belongs to a businessman named Sam, and he would really like it back.
I'm sure you're asking yourself, "Oh, what could possibly happen between Poppy and Sam?" Yes, yes. I get it. The plot is predictable, but it's so enjoyable. And unlike the Shopaholic books, no one is a big fat liar, so the tension between characters never gets uncomfortable. I'm crossing my fingers and hoping Kinsella can publish some more books like this one soon.

Monday, July 20, 2015

Book #10: A Trick of the Light

A Trick of the Light by Louise Penny
I love Agatha Christie. I discovered her in high school with And Then There Were None (which is brilliant, by the way), and I was hooked. I typically can't figure out who the murderer is - and there's always a murderer - and I think Mrs. Marple and Hercule Poirot are equally as well-written as Sherlock Holmes. But that isn't the only reason I love her books. Looking back, I've realized what really grabs me and keeps me reading is just how cozy they are.
People are forever drinking tea in front of fireplaces. They're walking down cobbled lanes or country roads while the sun is setting. There are a lot of discussions about doilies and biscuits and lovable dogs curled up by the kitchen tables.
Her books transport me.
I read Louise Penny's first book about Quebec's Inspector Gamache, Still Life, a few years ago, and totally by accident. I think it was a Kindle daily deal or something. But I was delighted to discover her books gave me exactly the same feeling as Agatha Christie's. Coziness. It doesn't matter if it's five zillion degrees outside (and it totally is at the moment I'm writing this), all I want to do is grab a huge cup of fancy espresso-based coffee with a ton of cream, a flaky croissant, and curl up with a fleece blanket on my couch. I'm even tempted to light my fireplace, but I don't because I've never actually used it, and I'm terrified there might be a family of bats or something camped out in my chimney.
Each Gamache book centers on a different citizen of the fictional Quebec town of Three Pines, and this book is about the town's resident eccentric artist, Clara Morrow. Clara has finally landed a huge art show, and everyone is thrilled, until a dead body turns up in her garden the morning after the show. It turns out that Clara knew the murder victim when they were younger, and she becomes the main suspect. Inspector Gamache and his second-in-command, Jean-Guy, set out to prove Clara's innocence.
As with each of her books, while there is a light-heartedness about much of the story, there's also a tinge of melancholy buried inside - much like an actual trick of the light.

Monday, July 13, 2015

Book #9: We Have Always Lived in the Castle

I read Shirley Jackson's short story "The Lottery" in middle school, and it stuck with me. It was so dark and subtly terrifying, and I think what made it so awfully scary is that it was about seemingly normal people who are, in reality, completely insane. And honestly, I don't think there's anything scarier than that.
I think the opening and closing paragraphs of her most famous book, The Haunting of Hill House, are among the best ever written. It still gives me goosebumps:
"No live organism can continue for long to exist sanely under conditions of absolute reality; even larks and katydids are supposed, by some, to dream. Hill House, not sane, stood by itself against its hills, holding darkness within; it had stood for eighty years and might stand for eighty more. Within, walls continued upright, bricks met neatly, floors were firm, and doors were sensibly shut; silence lay steadily against the wood and stone of Hill House, and whatever walked there, walked alone." 
I had never heard of We Have Always Lived in the Castle, but I saw it mentioned in a list titled something like "The Best Creepy Books Ever" (I'm a sucker for lists like that), and decided to try it out.
There are no ghosts in this book. There is no supernatural activity of any kind. No one gets an axe and decides to get chop-happy with anyone's head. In fact, it reminds me of a much darker version of The Glass Menagerie.
But this book gave me the severe heebie jeebies.
It all centers around the Blackwood family, and in particular, an 18-year-old girl named Mary Katherine. She lives in a house with her older sister, Constance, and their ailing Uncle Julian. She tells the readers in the first chapter that the rest of her family is dead. She's the only one who will leave the house, and only when it is absolutely necessary to do so. She hates everyone in the town, and they return the sentiment.
Jackson does such a great job of slowly amping up the shiver factor - letting you see what's really going on with the Blackwoods, and why they are the way they are. The ending is unbelievably unsettling and wholly devastating, and I've been thinking about it ever since.

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Book #8: Erasing Hell

Erasing Hell by Francis Chan and Preston Sprinkle
I really wanted to be interested in this book, but man. I have to admit, it left me feeling uninspired and bored. 
I read Rob Bell's controversial offering Love Wins a few years ago. I was totally fired up about how much I disagreed with pretty much everything in it, so when I heard Francis Chan had written an "answer" book, I added it to my to-read list. And then promptly waited 3 years to pick it up.
To be fair, I wasn't a fan of Chan's Crazy Love, either. He's a big user of flowery prayers and conversational bro-isms, and it just doesn't do much for me. I do agree with his assertion that Bell's universalist theory -- no one will ever go to hell, and in fact, Hell the place doesn't exist -- is absolutely, 100% incorrect, but I feel this book does little to answer any questions. It's a lot of "we can gather from this passage that Jesus meant..." or "we don't know much about the customs of the time, but scholars do think that...", but no concrete answers.
And I get it. It's such a tough, heartbreaking subject. It's absolutely not a fun book to read, so I'm sure it was a chore to write. I think the publication was rushed in an effort to maximize sales while the Bell Controversy was raging, and that was a huge disservice to the topic at hand. 

Monday, June 29, 2015

Book #7: The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer & Annie Barrows
I love books that can totally transport you to a different time and frankly, just enchant your socks off.  My friend Scott and I were chatting the other day about what makes a movie really good, and we agreed that the best ones -- like "The Sandlot," "Hook," and "Field of Dreams" -- are those that make you feel nostalgic for a time or place you've never lived in. And I think books are the same way.
I love the background on this book, too. Mary Ann Shaffer worked in a library, and she always felt she just had a book in her (like a lot of us do, I think). She had been working on this story about the Channel Islands, but had never finished it. When she was diagnosed with cancer, she asked her niece, the children's author Annie Barrows, to help her finish the book. Mrs. Shaffer died just a few months before the book was published in 2008, but she left behind such a delightful legacy.
The story is told entirely in letters, all centering around Juliet Ashton, an author living in London in 1946. World War II has just ended, and Europe, like the rest of the world, is still recovering. Juliet receives a letter from a man on the British Channel Island of Guernsey, informing her that he had come into possession of a book she used to own. She had written her address inside the cover, and he wanted to know if she knew where he could purchase some more writings from the author because he had enjoyed the book so much. Juliet responds and learns that the man is part of a book club -- The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society. Juliet begins to correspond with the other members of the society, and before long, she realizes that she has to go and meet them in person.
The story is by turns funny, sad, and touching. It's rare that I tear up while I'm reading, but I have to say, I found myself wiping my eyes as I neared the end - somewhat because a few passages were truly heartbreaking, but mainly because it was just so perfectly sweet.
My only regret is that Mrs. Shaffer passed away before she could write a sequel. It's a wonderful, wonderful book. 

Monday, June 22, 2015

Book #6: The Girl with All the Gifts

The Girl with All the Gifts by M.R. Carey
Ok. This is so hard to review, because I really, really think it's best if you don't know Jack Squat about the plot before you start reading. My mom sent me a text last week that just said,"Check this book out. I think you'd like it." Mom and I typically have the same taste in books, so I bought it.
I started reading, and I couldn't stop. This is one of the best horror/thriller/suspense novels I've ever read. The action never lets up, and there wasn't a single moment where my interest waned. I even found myself saying, "Whaaaat?!" and "Noooooo..." out loud. Like a crazy person. But I didn't care. It was that good.
So here's all I'm going to say about the plot - a-hem:
There's a little girl who is in a classroom with other little children. The little girl is very smart. And all the adults are very scared of her.
Ok. That's all you get.
Now go read it.

Thursday, June 18, 2015

Book #5: The Wolf in Winter

The Wolf in Winter by John Connolly
I honestly love anything by John Connolly (The Book of Lost Things is one of my favorite books of all time), so I tend to buy any of his new releases without even reading the plot synopsis first. This is the latest installment in the Charlie Parker series, and I have to say - it wasn't my favorite.
All of Connolly's books have a touch of the supernatural, and this one is no exception. The story centers around a fictional small town in Maine called Prosperous, and what the citizens of the town resort to so they can live up to the name of the town. It reminded me a lot of Shirley Jackson's short story "The Lottery," in that it involved a whole slew of seemingly normal people who are actually bat poop nutzo. Funnily enough (and I'm sure this was not intended by Connolly), it also reminded me of one of my favorite comedy gems, "Hot Fuzz." I kept waiting for some of the characters to say, "...For the greater good!"
Severely emotionally wounded private detective Charlie Parker decides to investigate the circumstances surrounding a homeless man who had been searching for his missing daughter in Prosperous before his mysterious demise. Of course, he uncovers a whole conspiracy and of course the people involved would like to stop him from uncovering said conspiracy. And that's pretty much what the whole book is about.
My problem with this story is that it feels so similar to several other Charlie Parker books. I got bored, and that's never happened while reading any of Connolly's other books. For one thing, for a Charlie Parker book, he wasn't really central to the story at all. And he made some un-Charlie-like mistakes that bugged me. Prosperous is really the main character here, and while we're shown the town is very evil and very old, the why of it is never explained.   
My biggest beef with the plot had to do with the random injured wolf that's in half the story, and then is apathetically dispatched and never mentioned again.  Yes, yes - I get that the wolf is supposed to be symbolic of Charlie Parker's fighting for his life and sanity, but it just fell flat.
Connolly is a fantastic writer, so the book is still better than 80% of any other murder mysteries, but I know he can do better.

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Book #4: Denton Little's Death Date

Denton Little's Death Date by Lance Rubin
It's pretty rare that I laugh out loud while I'm reading (unless it's a book by Mindy Kaling or Amy Poehler), but I totally did several times throughout this book. 
The story is set in the not-so-distant future, where everyone in the world knows (and is required to know) the exact date they will die, due to spectacular scientific breakthroughs in blood tests. No one knows the exact time of day they'll kick the bucket, or in what way exactly - car crash? Sudden onset of swine flu? - but they know what day it's coming.
Denton Little is 17 years old and has known his death date was early his whole life. His family and friends are sad, but pretty calm about it. When he wakes up the morning before his destined end-of-life appointment, he finds he has a weird rash and is convinced this is what's going to take him out. He decides to try and make sure everything on his bucket list gets checked off before his time is up.
Lance Rubin's writing made me want to meet him and maybe marry him. The funny scenes are so well-written I could see them in my head like a good comedy movie, and the pop culture references make me think we're probably around the same age. Even though the book is hilarious, it's also surprisingly nostalgic and, at times, suspenseful (by way of a possible conspiracy to make sure Denton doesn't live until the next day).
Two of my favorite moments:
Denton is the keynote speaker at his own funeral and decides to take this moment to tell everyone what he's ever thought of them in a stream-of-consciousness rant a la "Jerry Maguire." It's fantastic.
He and his best friend, Paolo, attend prom and perform an embarrassingly choreographed dance to Bone Thugs n Harmony's "Crossroads," and convince everyone to join in.**
The story raises some interesting questions, too. If you knew for sure when you were going to die, how would that shape your whole life? What would you do if you knew exactly how much time you had to do it in?
**My friend Bridgett and I totally made up our own dance in high school to - wait for it - "Men in Black" by Will Smith. I'm not kidding. And I'm not even embarrassed. It was an amazing dance.

Monday, June 1, 2015

Book #3: So You've Been Publicly Shamed

So You've Been Publicly Shamed by Jon Ronson
So let me begin by saying one thing:
Thank God Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram didn't exist when I was in high school.
I was an emotional kid, and if my diaries were any indication, I can't imagine what I would have been posting to social media accounts in the 90s. I shudder to think about it, because guys - that stuff lives on. I fully believe that in the not-so-distant future, we will see a political candidate - probably Presidential - laid to waste by something he (or she) tweeted or posted on Facebook at age 16. I'm telling you. Just wait.
This book mainly focuses on people who made thoughtless comments on Twitter, made poorly timed jokes, made up a small quote to support a book, etc. and who were immediately and publicly crucified by the entire world. One girl made a "joke" about AIDS. One girl took a stupid and disrespectful picture in front of a military cemetery. One guy told his friend an under-the-breath joke at a work conference and the lady in front of him heard him and posted his picture on her Twitter account and her blog.
Now granted, pretty much all these people made some really dumb choices. No doubt. But the ferocity of the backlash against them was staggering. Ronson does a great job of exploring why we, as a public, feel so good about shaming others - especially if we are "anonymous" on the Internet.
I'd like to think I would never make a social faux pas like these folks, but I'm sure if I flip through my past Twitter and Facebook statuses, there have been moments where I could have been misinterpreted or what I said was just plain stupid. It makes me question if social media is just one big dangerous pit we all walk around, teetering on the edge, until one misstep sends us plummeting down forever.*
*Except for this blog. Because that'll never happen. Right?

Thursday, May 28, 2015

Book #2: The Great Gatsby

The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald
I actually read this in high school, and honestly - I felt kind of meh about it. It's not that it wasn't good, it just didn't leave any lasting impression on me. I have vague memories of enjoying reading about the jazz age, being super annoyed by the character of Daisy, and feeling angry about the ending and what actually happens to Jay Gatsby.
And then I saw the movie. And I loved it.
(Small disclaimer here: Leonardo DiCaprio is, to me, what *NSYNC was to my sister. He is my white whale. I will love him forever, and it is hard for him to make any movie that I do not at least appreciate. Well. Except maybe "The Wolf of Wall Street," because ew.)
I mean, come on.  Look at that face. I read the whole book with that face in my mind.

But it wasn't just about Leo's portayal of Gatsby. It's the decadence, the hero worship, the unrequited love, the huge fall from grace, and the tremendous gimme-gimme apathy of people that fascinated me. 
So I decided to give the novel another try.  And I loved it.
I found myself underlining passages like crazy. The prose is just so dang pretty:
"There was music from my neighbor's house through the summer nights. In his blue gardens, men and girls came and went like moths among the whisperings and the champagne and the stars."
“He smiled understandingly-much more than understandingly. It was one of those rare smiles with a quality of eternal reassurance in it, that you may come across four or five times in life. It faced--or seemed to face--the whole eternal world for an instant, and then concentrated on you with an irresistible prejudice in your favor. It understood you just as far as you wanted to be understood, believed in you as you would like to believe in yourself, and assured you that it had precisely the impression of you that, at your best, you hoped to convey.”
“I was within and without. Simultaneously enchanted and repelled by the inexhaustible variety of life.”
And, of course, the most famous line of all:
“So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.”

The ending is still bleak, but it makes sense to me now. I picked up a copy of Tender Is the Night, and I'm hoping it's as satisfying.

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Book #1: Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers

Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers
by Mary Roach

So I'll be the first to admit -- the cover alone almost kept me from reading this book. I hate feet. Like, hate them. Loathe entirely. But my curiosity won out in the end, and I was pleasantly surprised.

For a book about what happens to human bodies after death, this was weirdly funny. I found myself laughing out loud a few times, and then feeling slightly guilty. Roach approaches the subject with a wry appreciation for what is sometimes ridiculous, i.e. the crazy notions that people had about bodily functions in the dark ages or the unsettling cult-like practices of some overzealous environmentalists, and I appreciated how she kept the subject matter from being too depressing.

The book covers a wide range of "uses" for the body after death - from cremation to composting (yes, there are people who want to do that) to organ donation and medical research - and it's fascinating. 

I think the most unsettling passage in the book deals with her visit to a bonafide body farm in Georgia. Body farms are places where medical research teams place un-embalmed bodies into a natural outdoor habitat and just...wait and see what happens. It makes a Halloween haunted cornfield walk sound like child's play. Roach doesn't shy away from describing all the sights, sounds, and smells that accompany her visit, and I learned pretty quickly that eating while reading this book was going to be a major no-no.

I guess what I really took away from this is that we, as humans, have a very hard time separating the notion of the soul from the body, but in reality - the body is just a shell after the soul has departed.  It should be treated with respect, but we must keep the inner essence of a person separate from their physical housing.

So all in all, this isn't a book for the squeamish, but it was an extremely interesting read.

Is this blog just about books? Yep. Yep, it is.

So I know most people start new projects in January, but since I tend to be the biggest procastinator in the world, I'm starting at the end of May.

If you know me IRL (that means "in real life," for those of you not well-versed in teen-speak. I'm very hip to the way kids talk these days, y'all), you know that I'm more than a little obsessed with books.

I read before bed. I read on my lunch break. I read at the doctor's office. I read in any long line.

And confession - sometimes, when I'm out with people, I'm actually thinking, "I can't wait to get home and finish that book." Unless we're eating Mexican food, and then I'm really only thinking about the queso.

I've had another blog in the past, and while I loved it and haven't completely abandoned the idea of it, I think I might be better at keeping a "books only" blog updated more regularly.

If you like books, and you're anything like me, you like to read reviews.  I do not like to read book reviews that sound like they came from my Chem Lab professor, so if you're looking for super intellectual stuff, you've come to the wrong place. There will be no navel gazing here.

So let's get to it, shall we?