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Sassy Peach Goes to Kindergarten: Happy 5th Birthday!

Wow! We made it! Half a decade! That's crazy talk. I said to a friend the other day how much I couldn't believe how far I've com...

Thursday, February 23, 2017

Anna Kendrick's Scrappy Little Nobody

For Christmas my beloved gave me a stack of books (plus Kindle Unlimited!), so you know he loves me. In that stack was Anna Kendrick's Scrappy Little Nobody, and since my roommate also wanted to read it, I decided to pick it up first. 

We all know Anna Kendrick -- in fact, most men you know would give their left but to be with her. She's authentically funny, naturally pretty, and seems like a lot of fun. This memoir traces her years growing up and her early work in the entertainment industry. She has a genuine affection for her family and their sacrifices for her at such a young age to be able to perform on Broadway, and she comes across as a crazy loyal friend as well. It's easy for most people to see themselves as the outcast -- it's a more common self-perception than any of us want to realize -- so her story of feeling out of place in school resonates with a lot of people. 

Her dating life as an adult -- and the bad choices she cops to -- are also incredibly relatable. She strips down and bares her truth about that relationship she kept pushing, and I recognized myself and so many other young women in that moment. How young and naive we were in our 20's, wanting to make a square peg fit into a round hole. How we couldn't recognize that he just wasn't that into us because if we just tried harder we could make him love us. I'm glad we are all past that, Anna included. 

You get the whole shebang with this memoir. Anna tells you about her childhood, her young adulthood, and includes a section on her movie making. It's fun, but the joy of this novel is in her self-deprivation and real humor that comes with her just being herself. She never tries hard; it reads as if she just puts herself and paper and tells you to deal with it. That's my kind of funny girl. 

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Lois Lane: Double Down

OHMIGAWD I HAVE SUCH A STORY FOR YOU ABOUT THIS BOOK. At Book Expo last year, in Chicago, I was running a wee bit late to the floor open event, and I missed that Gwenda Bonf was going to be signing the next Lois Lane book, and I only knew because I was at another signing at the next booth when I saw a poster for Double Down. I begged the booth for a copy, but they were all out. Sadly, of course, I understood. Lois is a pretty rad chick. So I ordered myself a copy. Because I'm worth it. 

Not weeks after Lois broke the case of Anavi and the Warheads, her new best friend Maddy tells her of the odd things going on with her twin sister, Melody. The twins aren't close, and haven't been for years, but it's still Maddy's sister, after all. Melody has been having weird spells, almost out of body experiences, at odd moments. It turns out she answered an ad at school looking for bright students to participate in a science experiment. Ever since, she had these spells and inexplicably grabs her wrist. Lois and the Scoop gang start digging and discover the town mob boss is involved -- as is James's dad, the former Mayor who has been in jail since his corruption case broke. How is all of this connected? Only Lous can put it all together. 

I had a blast with this book over the weekend. I wanted nothing more than a day to read a book cover to cover, and I knew this was my gem. It was everything I hoped for. Lois is still Lois -- driving her dad nuts, getting into spots she has to talk her way out of, and charming the pants off of SmallvilleGuy, the mysterious love of her life she only knows through an Internet chat room. I am so intrigued to see where Bond is taking this relationship, and she does an outstanding job of setting her stories up for long term consumption. There are enough kernels throughout each of her books to keep a longer storyline going, and it never feels overwrought or forced. It's interesting, and enough to keep me coming back. As if Lois herself wasn't. 

Lois is one of those characters that is lovely and flawed but still so strong and independent. In my eyes, she is the perfect heroine, and I love that Bond has taken on her mantel to fly her flag. I despise whiny women characters, and those who are weak willed and fold like a house of cards. Last night, actually, we watched Iron Man (my love is hell bent on intiating me into the Marvel universe). I despise Pepper Potts. How whiny and nervous and anxious to please she was. It was a nice reminder of what I love about Bond's Lois. She's a fighter and independent and young but wants so desperately to be older. I dig it, and I dig her, and I can't wait to see where Bond continues to take her. 

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

The Mist: A Novel

I have a habit of asking people what they are reading when they have a book in their hands. This probably surprises no one, as I am a bookaholic. I asked one of my students this semester what he was reading, and it was The Stand. I told him that I am a fan of Stephen King, and we spoke at length about our favorite books. A couple of weeks later he came to class and handed me a stack of King's books, as he was moving and was hoping to not have to pack them. I was thrilled, as I always am when books come to me. The Mist was one of those books, and I recently read it on my way to visit friends in the Southwest. 

It's a regular day for David and his family in Maine. He works on the house, his young son plays around the house, and his wife makes lunch. He watches a fog slowly move in, but thinks nothing of it. This is Maine, after all. It looks ominous, but fog has an innately ominous quality about it. When his neighbor needs a lift to the supermarket, David agrees and Billy tags along. While there, the most rolls in. A frightening sight, anyone who leaves the market is swallowed up in a terrifying, blood-curdling, violent act by an unknown supernatural force. Until they can escape safely -- and who can? -- David and his son must fight for their lives both in and out of the supermarket. 

I love a good, thin dose of King. This book was exactly that. It was frightening enough to grab me and pull me in while being quick enough to the point that I felt satisfied and dismayed at the same time. Upon leaving David's we behind, we are told that's the last time he would see her, and that killed me. My chest hurt, and I wanted to implore him to go back and make her come with them. But you can't change the past -- something most of us know well. 

As I have said on this blog many times, I'm not a huge fan of zombies and the supernatural. What I appreciated about this novella is that we got a glimpse of the evil in the mist, enough to gross me out and wonder what it could be; but we never got a full oicture of what exactly it was and why it was so evil. I appreciate that ambiguity in a novel, as I feel that it lends itself to more terror than actually knowing exactly what it is. Why does it eat humans? What is its purpose? These things we will never know, and in classic King fashion, that's not the point of the story. 

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

Dark Matter: A Novel

Dark Matter by Blake Crouch came out a while ago, and honestly, I read it a while ago. Sometimes I just run behind on my reviews, so here I am catching up the week before Thanksgiving. I'm looking forward to winter break to catch up on my blog!

One night, Jason heads out to meet a super successful colleague at a bar. He's feeling a little down on himself -- he's just a professor with a gorgeous artist wife and a healthy son, after all (sense my sarcasm?) -- and on his way home, he is kidnapped by a man in a mask who looks and sounds awfully familiar. He's taken to a warehouse, stripped down, and put into a box. When he comes out of it, he is still himself, and it's still the current time -- but he is somewhere else with a different life. No wife, no kid, and this time he's the successful one. What happened? How did his early choices in life affect where he is now? Most importantly -- how does he get back to his old life that he now wants back more than anything in the world?

So, bad Nicole, this book was read months ago. Maybe I can get away with saying that I was waiting for my husband to read it? Which there is definitely some truth to, as I thought he would really enjoy it. He did -- he whipped through it in a whole day. I was impressed.

I was also happy with this book. I never really got science as an adolescent, and now that I'm older, I find myself often wanting to know and understand more about physics. This book wasn't necessarily a first choice in terms of content (I'm not much of a sci-fi or fantasy person), but I am incredibly happy I picked it up. It had enough science for me to learn something new, and it was enough of a well-told story with a great arc and fantastic characters that I completely bought into the premise and then into the whole story. I was rooting for Jason the entire time, and I couldn't stop turning the pages to get to the rest of the story. It was a complicated enough plot line for me to be in it to win it, and the topsy-turvy curves of the story were fascinating.

The one issue I had was that I wasn't in love with the ending, but I also recognize that there was no ending that could serve the characters to the fullest -- except this one. It still sits with me, but I also believe that the feeling I have is the sign of a good book. I couldn't stop thinking for days about how uncomfortable the ending made me feel, and that is more of a testament to a great book that has gripped me and made me think hard rather than a book that had a dull ending. It was a great choice, and one that made me think deeply.

Thursday, February 2, 2017

Guest Blogger Charlotte: Panic

Panic is a young adult novel about a group of graduating seniors in a working-class town who participate in an end-of-high-school contest called Panic. It's a tradition in their town, with a large financial reward and lots of huge and even potentially fatal risks. The story focuses on a small group of friends who take on the game, and what they have to win and lose.

I really liked this book because I found that I couldn't put it down. I am not a big fan of scary books, and I don't like anything gory or creepy, so for me this was a chance to read something really suspenseful and a little scary without giving me nightmares. As the contest went on, I was really eager to see what the challenges would be and who would be eliminated, as well as learning more about the characters' stories and relationships.

I will admit that sometimes I was broken out of the story by some plot devices I thought were pretty unrealistic. The author really tries to hammer home the image of a poor, run-down town, and yet the prize money that's been collected by all the students in the school is huge. People have been severely injured or died in the challenges of Panic, many of which require criminal activity and would definitely be noticeable on a huge scale in a small town, but the police and school are totally incapable of catching them or stopping it. Sometimes I would stop and think, "That could not possibly happen." 

I also felt like the characters were sometimes a little flat. Okay, we get it: they're poor. I kind of got the feeling that the author maybe never had been to a town like this and just picked up some stereotypes from movies about what poor people do - living in trailers, wearing trashy clothes, letting their kids have matted hair. I wished the characters were a little deeper, because I could have related to them more. Thinking about what would go through their heads as they participated in these crazy activities was one of the things that made the book interesting.

Still, with those faults, this is a great beach read or book for a weekend night when you just don't want to do anything. I definitely couldn't put it down, and I found that there were a lot of surprises and unexpected turns. It wasn't too predictable, which I think is hard for a story like this. And it kept me interested all the way through to the end. If you're looking for a quick and suspenseful read, and you're willing to suspend your skeptic's eye for a few hours, I would suggest checking out Panic.

Thursday, January 26, 2017

Rogue Lawyer: A Novel

Newer John Grisham is interesting. It feels like a departure for him, even more so than mid-aughts Grisham. This is Rogue Lawyer.

Sebastian Rudd isn't your normal kind of lawyer. His last office was fire-bombed, so his current office is on wheels, driven by Partner, a former client and loyal companion. He doesn't take normal cases -- he takes the ones others don't want. Provided they can pay, of course. He is the backer of a cage fighter, and his ex-wife hates him with a passion. That's no surprise -- most of the people Rudd knows don't really like him anyway. 

This first book in what looks like it can be a nice, prolonged series is a nice collection of introductory stories. It's less of a novel and more of a compilation with a through line. I compared it to The Closer, the Kyra Sedgewick TV show that ran for a few seasons. (It's one of my favorites.) What I loved about that show was that it was both a procedural and had a through-story that ran throughout the season. This book was the same way. There was an undercurrent story while still lending itself to smaller short vignettes about interesting clients. I don't always love when Grisham departs from his usual M.O., but I totally dig this one. He did a great job weaving it all together. 

I also appreciate that Grisham wrote about some hard stories. He's becoming quite a social justice writer. I've quietly been watching this develop over the years, and this book was very much in that line. He has thoughts on rogue officers, and he still takes the good guy/bad guy line and makes it thick for his readers. Rudd is the only character that toes the line between on the side of right and on the side of wrong; he is, however, on the side of justice. I appreciate that in a protagonist. 

Thursday, January 12, 2017

How Not to Read: Harnessing the Power of a Literature-Free Life

I had been waiting to read this book for some time, and one day this fall I saw it at The Strand, so I decided to pick it up. I have been following Dan Wilbur's blog Better Book Titles for a while, so I was interested in what he had to say in How Not to Read: Harnessing the Power of a Literature-Free Life

Reading is a pain for most people. I know this – when I tell people that I love to read they look at me as though I am some sort of saint. I'm not, I'm just slightly intelligent. Dan Wilbur's blog allows readers to submit book covers with hilarious and snarky new titles describing their contents, and it's been quite a joy for many years. Dan himself is also a comedian, so the success of his blog let him to write a book with quippy anecdotes. The best part of this book, however, is the middle section filled with some of the "best of" book covers.

The rest of the book, however, is just a little "trying too hard." I enjoy Dan's Twitter feed immensely, but early on this book just felt as though it were trying to hard to be funny. I ended up skipping a few paragraphs because it felt as though it were forced and not casual enough to just giggle at. I also get where the jokes are coming from – that no one likes to read – but I also wish that this book has been a little more earnestly tongue-in-cheek as opposed to elitist. It is, after all, being read by people who enjoy reading, a good bit even, and who enjoy reading so much that they find the jokey titles made up for the new covers to be swoon-worthy. 

I'm going to keep enjoying the original website, because that's where the crux of humor regarding a love of literature lies.

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

You Might Remember Me: The Life and Times of Phil Hartman

I picked this up at Book Expo 2015 with the full intention of reading it as soon as possible. I loved Phil Hartmnn (Newsradio, anyone?), and I remember his death as part of the zeitgeist. I read it very recently because my boyfriend's brother was talking about Hartman's genius, and I realized that I could pass this book on to him. This is Mike Thomas's You Might Remember Me: The Life and Times of Phil Hartman

Phil Hartman seemed, at times, to be larger than life. How could a man so handsome and charming also be so damned funny? While he seemed like a break out talent on Saturday Night Live, the truth is that he worked for years to make it there. Through his time with the Groundlings through his work on The Simpsons and NewsRadio, Phil was known for his impressions, his heart, and his talent. His third wife, Brynn, shot him before turning the gun on herself in 1998. This book follows Phil through his life, his career, and ultimately, his death.

I was one of those fans of Hartman's, as I grew up in that particular era of SNL. All of his sketches stay with me, and while I would have liked for this book to go further, I do think it did a good job of painting Hartman as more than the circumstances behind his death. It's easy to get lost in the details surrounding his murder, especially if you are anything like me and love a good, salacious murder. I appreciated that this book went farther and spent time talking about what Hartman went though on his journey to experience success.

Thomas was quite sympathetic toward it's characters, and he was particularly kind to Brynn. He spent time talking with Hartman's family about the night they lost their son and brother, and no one appears to be bitter or angry. There is only sadness surrounding the circumstances. The focus of the book is really on Phil's childhood and his rise to fame, all of which encompasses many years of struggle and feeling lost. It's an interesting read, as it portrays Phil as a full-bodied human with flaws like the rest of it. I certainly appreciate that.

Thursday, January 5, 2017

Guest Blogger Charlotte: Sarah's Key

I will start this review by saying this is one of my absolute favorite books. Is there fault to be found with it? Probably. First of all, it's incredibly sad, so if that isn't your thing, don't read it. Seriously. It will be one of those books you never forget. Second of all, there is no second of all because this book will change your life.

The book includes parallel stories, one during Nazi-occupied Paris and one in present-day Paris, which eventually connect. The modern story, about an American journalist in Paris researching the Vel' d'Hiv, a roundup of Jews in Paris where thousands of men, women, and children were inhumanely imprisoned and then sent to their deaths under the direction of the French police. I found the modern story to be the less interesting of the two stories, probably because I could relate more to the second. Because I am French, I suppose, but also because I am in high school and I have a little brother.

The second story is about Sarah and is told from her perspective. Sarah is one of the children captured during the Vel' d'Hiv roundup, and her young brother is left behind. Being able to see the event through the perspective of a ten-year-old girl gives fresh meaning and humanity to the true horror of what happened. While this is detailed in many fiction and non-fiction novels about the Holocaust, there is something about Sarah's perspective that is emotionally raw, because she simply did not see it coming and does not understand what is happening. The dramatic irony of reading as you know more about her future than she does truly makes you feel sick to your stomach. Her feelings of guilt, anger, and sadness, none of which are her fault, come through in a real way from the perspective of a child.

I did feel that the book got a little less interesting to me once Sarah's story was resolved, because I was less interested in the present-day journalist and her actions. I liked that parallel motifs throughout, tying together Sarah's story with the present day. But I had trouble relating to Julia, the present-day protagonist, only because her struggles seemed so small in comparison to Sarah's story. Your husband making jokes about you, for example, must feel awful and is truly deserving of empathy. But in the setting of Sarah's heart-wrenching and truly maddening story, it is hard not to view Julia's problems as paltry.

I have read Sarah's Key before, but I think this is an important time to read it again. We have all seen the pictures of children in Syria being hurt by bombings, but it's easy to move on from them without connecting them to real emotions. This book helped me to think from those children's perspectives and remember how scared, alone, and unfair they must feel. I think as the rhetoric of the American presidential election grew more hateful and more dismissive of whole groups of people, it's important to be reminded of the humanity of each person, no matter how small, and to see how easily politics can change so that evil is done and no one is empowered to stop it.

Sarah's Key will leave you feeling uneasy and upset, but, as Julia points out about uncovering the story of the Vel' d'Hiv, maybe we owe it to those who suffered to hear, know, and acknowledge their stories.

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Playing Dead: A Journey Through the World of Death Fraud

I read a blurb about Elizabeth Greenwood's Playing Dead: A Journey Through the World of Death Fraud in Entertainment Weekly, and I'm always looking for offbeat and interesting works of non-fiction, so I checked this out from the library recently.

Faking your own death is a fascinating way of going about escaping your life -- if that's what you're interested in. In this nonfiction piece, Greenwood looks at the art of death fraud from several different perspectives, including those who commit it, those who have been found out, and those who have been affected by it. How would one go about committing death fraud? Who are the types of people who get caught? What is it like to be the child of someone who faked their death? What is the best way to go about doing this? Greenwood's fascinatios starts from the frustration with debt, specifically student loans, but ends having done a full-scale examination of this process that is both fascinating and surprisingly not entirely illegal. If you do it right.

I can't remember what attracted me to this book at first, but I'm so glad I ended up picking it up. It was a truly fascinating look at something that I had never considered. Faking my own death? No thanks, I like my life too much. However, I can understand Greenwood's point in her over-reliance upon loaned money to be able to get herself ahead. She also points out in her first chapter that a lot of those guilty of committing this type of fraud end up doing it to escape jail sentences, most often for the mishandling of other people's money. Which begs the question of, why did you bother to commit financial fraud if you just gonna end up faking your own death? She also points out from her research that faking one's own death in and of itself is not illegal, as long as you're not trying to cheat the insurance companies or commit other types of financial fraud. She speaks with a few experts in disappearing and comes to the conclusion that if you want to disappear, you can do it – there's really no need to set up an elaborate scheme of pretending that you have died.

Greenwood tells the stories of a few of these people who have committed fraud, and many who got away with it for some time. Often how they get caught are simple, small things – you have a broken taillight but you don't have a new piece of ID or that identification is not real enough. Sometimes you ask for too much money in your insurance policy. A lot of times, however, many people just turn themselves in so as to not live with the guilt. It's all terribly interesting. However, the chapter that looked at the children of those who have faked their own death was particularly sad. One of the stories Greenwood tells is about a young man of 8 years old whose father told him about his plot. The child had to pretend that he didn't know the truth with his mother and his sister, and he had to keep that secret until his father was caught not long after. Another young man who was in his late teens helped his father with the death-faking. Yet another \woman found out in her 40's that her father had faked his death when she was a child. That was heartbreaking – the damage that was wrought upon this woman, thinking her whole life that her father was dead -- only to find out that he was alive up until a year before she discovered the truth.

Ultimately what Greenwood discovers is that it's not worth faking your own death to get out of whatever pickle you were in. You have to leave behind everything that you love, because if you don't, that will be sure to undo you. You have to walk away from your entire life, people and things and money and your favorite pizza place. Every single thing. Through writing this book, she discovered that, no matter how hard things are financially, it's not worth NOT living your life to escape financial hardship.