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As of my "maternity leave," here are the stats of the past year: 74 books reviewed 9 guest posts 4 independent bookstores 3 d...

Monday, December 28, 2015

Winter Stroll: A Novel

Elin Hilderbrand is a fun person. You are probably wondering how I know this. It's simple -- she served beer during her book signing at BEA this year. So, by process of alcohol elimination, she's a super fun person. I've never read any of her books before, but this one looked short and sweet and I figured it would make a great holiday read. It did. This is Winter Stroll.

It's been a hell of a year for the Quinns of Nantucket. The youngest, Bart, has gone MIA in Afghanistan; the oldest, Patrick, is in jail for insider trading; and Mitzi, Bart's mother, has left her husband for their annual Santa Claus. It's not all bad though: Ava, the daughter, is in love; Kevin, the middle son, has a fiance and a baby; and Margaret, the mother of the oldest three, is a successful newscaster. They all gather at the family inn on the island to celebrate the baptism of Kevin's daughter on the weekend of the annual festival, the Winter Stroll. Needless to say, there will be misunderstandings, bad choices, and secrets revealed. However, if they can all make it out alive, they will be a stronger family than ever before.

This book was everything I wanted it to be. I took it home for the holidays last week and I just jumped into it headfirst and spent some quality time with the Quinns. They were fun, they were crazy, and they reminded me of own family at the base of who we all are. The Quinns all love each other even if the kids drive them nuts with their video game playing or the brothers are far away. This was one of the few times I have read a book told from multiple perspectives and really liked it, because I felt that was the best way to tell this story. Hilderbrand weaves a fun and interesting narrative, and I found that despite being able to finish this book in a day, I wanted to drag it out just a little because I really enjoyed the characters and their mishaps.

The story was tightly told and to the point, and I'm really glad I saved this book to read while I was home for the holidays. It was the perfect read, and I'm so thankful to have something to take my mind off my own research for a bit. Not that Elin will ever read this, but I would like to thank her anyway for a couple of hours of my suspension of disbelief. It was much appreciated. 

For purchase below. 

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Chasing the Dime: A Novel

After reading a couple of Michael Connelly's Lincoln Lawyer series I decided that I really like him. I took a stroll to visit my Book Guy on a nice day a couple of weeks ago and picked up one of his older ones, Chasing the Dime.

Henry Pierce is a biotech entrepreneur who has done very well for himself--everywhere except his love life. When his girlfriend leaves him, he has to get a new apartment, new furniture, and a new phone number. Only that phone number recently belonged to Lilly, who appears to have been a very popular escort. Who is Lilly? What happened to her? Why did she give up her phone number, and why does it seem like she just disappeared into thin air? The more Henry digs, the more he finds he needs to know--before it kills him.

I love a good-samaritan-bad-situation-and-even-more-bad-choices kind of story. This is exactly what I got and I enjoyed every second of it. Henry, who by all means meant well, couldn't leave it alone. He had to keep digging, even when the reader (me) knew he was on his way up sh&% creek. You know nothing good could have come from Lilly's disappearance, and Henry's run-ins with her [ahem] business colleagues lead you to the same conclusion. However, it's not the destination, but rather the journey that is worth following Henry's little adventure.

I was a bit surprised by the ending. While it was a little on the far-fetched side, sometimes I really want that in my weekend reading. I don't want heavy-handed writing that is going to make me think and contemplate the meaning of life; I want fast-paced, interesting characters who drive me through a nail-biting story and make me want to not get up from my new and comfortable reading chair.

[It's not new; it's actually quite old. But I do sink down in it, for the record.]

Hard copy for purchase below.

Monday, December 14, 2015

The Sociology Book

My love for the Big Ideas Simply Explained series runs deep. I've done psychology (for adults and youth) and science. This year I picked up The Sociology Book and was just as thrilled. Probably more, because there was quite a lot I didn't know in this book. 

Instead of telling you what this book is about, I'm just going to jump right in. You will hear about some of the big ideas along the way. 

Let's just be real with each other here – you know how much I love these books. I live for them. Every May, a Book Expo America, I immediately markdown DK Books as a must stop in order to pick up whichever book is coming out this year. This just past spring, The Sociology Book was released and hot damn if I didn't run to their booths that morning to make sure that I got it at its exact drop time.

This book lived up to its hype. By hype, I specifically mean the that which I created in my head about the book. But seriously, DK does such a brilliant job with the series that it's impossible to not love it. I've written about The Psychology Book, and The Science Book, and this one absolutely matches up to both of those. It covers issues and theorists I care very much about, including social justice, how society functions, gender roles , and raise issues. There are definitely some sections I would like to have my students read in the future, and so this book will definitely be added to my recommended reading list.

I said before in previous reviews of the series, I think that the others do an incredible job of distilling incredibly important concepts and giving their readers a lay person version of some pretty complicated topics. Writers like Michael Foucault, bell hooks, WEB Du Bois, and others can be very difficult understand, but these authors do a phenomenal job of breaking it down. These books are well worth having on your shelf, and I can't wait to see what they have in store at Book Expo America 2016.

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Guest Blogger Charlotte: Nice Is Just A Place In France

When I picked up Nice Is Just A Place In France, I did so without knowing exactly what I was getting into. I found it in the same section as other books I had read and enjoyed and the title caught my eye, which is probably at least somewhat due to the fact that I’m from France.

The thing with Nice is that’s it’s much more of a self-help manual than anything resembling a novel along the lines of what I normally review here. So there aren’t characters or storylines to get into. But there are Betches.

The team of girls who wrote the book refer to themselves as “The Betches.” You’ll find them listed on the cover and referred to throughout the book as just that. And the book is about teaching you, the reader, how to be a “Betch” like them.

A Betch is not one of the “nicegirls.” Betches believe that nice girls are destined to lead lives of boredom and cats and that no one should or would ever want this. Though they spend pages and pages defining the Betch, The working definition of “The Betch” is best described as a fairly aloof, alpha female whose main weapon is manipulation. That’s right, this book is basically a recipe for how to succeed in the world as kind of an awful person on your way to becoming Miranda Priestly.

The book is really funny at times. The Betches most certainly have a way with words with lots of LOLs throughout the book. The tone is very Amy Schumer with some Chelsea Handler mixed in. The book absolutely gets rant-y and even downright mean at times.

If Nice is intended to be a joke where we’re all laughing together, then it totally works. However, as a self-help manual, it’s sad and falls short.

For purchase below.

Monday, December 7, 2015

So You've Been Publicly Shamed

Jon Ronson, bestselling author of other books I've posted on here, recently released So You've Been Publicly Shamed, of which I have read an excerpt and enjoyed the reviews. I finally picked it up this weekend and enjoyed it for myself.

Public shaming has always been a part of human life. From the burning of witches and the wearing of the scarlet letter to criminals wearing sandwich boards advertising their crimes, we have always been a people who have loved to publicly burn at the stake those whom we feel better than. Social media has made this even worse -- it allows us to anonymously stone anyone who we feel has done the slightest wrong. It also keeps the wrong up on the internet forever. Who have we become?

I unashamedly, unabashedly adore Jon Ronson. I loved The Psychopath Test, so I will pretty much read anything this man writes for any publication he chooses to publish it in. I particularly appreciate, and it comes across very clearly here, that he doesn't present himself to be an expert in anything other than what he does well – which is journalism. I appreciate very deeply that he can tell a fantastic story, and he does it by researching others.

This particular book focuses on public shaming. I think it's particularly interesting, because from a personal standpoint, I have very little shame. I own who I am fully and completely, and there's very little that I'm embarrassed about. However, that being said, if I reach the level of into me that any of his subjects in this book did, that might be an entirely different story. I can say that I have never had my job put in jeopardy based upon my own public writings. I run this blog, and I run a personal blog, and I leave most of my social media open to the public because of both of those pieces of writing. My students of recently found me on Instagram, and I can't allow myself to be particular bothered by that. I just have to own everything I post.

I was familiar with some of the stories that Ronson wrote about in this book, specifically the Justine Sacco story and the wealthy Zumba instructor prostitute. The other stories I found to be incredibly interesting, specifically the one about the Formula One baron who overcame shame almost immediately and entirely. I agree with his assertion that we can only be as embarrassed as we allow ourselves to be, but then again, I've never been supremely publicly shamed. This book did leave me to ask a lot of questions about myself though. Specifically, what could be said about me publicly that would shame me to the point where I would feel that I need to hide? I don't have an answer to that, and I hope to god I never find out, but I do wonder if in fact there is anything. I own a lot of who I am – I am a feminist, I am a liberal, I am a social justice advocate, I make irreverent comments, I say what's on my mind even if it means that it comes across as inappropriate, and I post on social media and the Internet without shame.

Ultimately, I think that this book was an incredibly interesting study of public shaming in the age of social media and how we go about tearing others down. You could look at the story as one of how people overcome shame, but it's really an indictment of those who live for tearing others down anonymously on the Internet. I am proud to say I've haven't explicitly been a member of this; I do this through being an actively aware poster. (Or have I and just not known that I've done it -- and this is where Ronson excels. He makes you question your assumptions about yourself.) I would easily argue, however, that I'm not above a little base shaming myself, particularly in the area of human rights. No matter how you look at it, I found Ronson's book to be incredibly interesting and well worth the read. Any of his books, really, are well worth the read, and this one is no exception.

For purchase below. 

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Psychologists Defying the Crowd: Stories of Those Who Battled the Establishment and Won

Recently at my office job (I have several jobs, btw), I was asked to help a departing colleague clean out his office. Happy to oblige, and knowing I would get a boatload of great books, I agreed. One of the ones I borrowed was Psychologists Defying the Crowd: Stories of Those Who Battled the Establishment and Won. I read it this weekend in order to keep myself on the "one for you, one for me" reading track (the "you" being my beloved field of psych). 

This volume of reflection, edited by one of my personal idols, Dr. Robert J. Sternberg of intelligence research (Triarchic Theory WHAT!), aimed to ask eminent psychologists across a range of disciplines how they have defied the establishment and gone on to make great contributions to the field. This allowed these figures to reflect back on their collective centuries of work and examine how the field in general resists new ideas and change, especially in the move from behaviorism in the mid-century to the renewed dominance of cognitive and social psychology. (For the record, both of those are where I spend a great deal of my teaching and research, so I am most certainly biased!)

I was particularly excited to read chapters by people that I just admire and respect. Most of those were chapters that were incredibly illuminating and eye-opening, such as Dr. Elizabeth Loftus reflecting on her research of false memories, leading to a great deal of backlash from the public but helping a tremendous amount of people who had been falsely accused of sexual molestation in the 1990's; Dr. Walter Mischel, who changed the face of personality psychology against strong resistance from some of his own colleagues (you might be familiar with his Marshmallow Test); Dr. Robert J. Sternberg himself, who took the field of intelligence and turned it upside down, angering so many in the process (I LOVE YOU!); Dr. Edward Zigler, one of the founders of Head Start and its arguably staunchest advocate, who continued to push for psychologists involvement in preschool development even when everyone around him thought this was the dumbest idea ever; Dr. Kelly T. Brownell, whose obesity and dieting research changed how we understand yo-yo dieting; Dr. Ellen Berscheid, reflecting on her love research that caused a massive public backlash, threatening her safety and health, and how she pushed through to make incredible breakthroughs in the field; and last, but certainly never least, Dr. Elliot Aronson, one of the fathers of cognitive dissonance research who challenged his own adviser to edit his theory in order to take into account self-concept to explain a theory that was too broad in scope to be applied to everyday work.

Holy moly, that was a lot. But honestly, it was a great book to read as I sit here stuck on how I am going to finish my blasted dissertation. Sometimes it feels not worth it at all, then I have to remind myself that I can't do the bigger things I want to do -- defy the crowd, if you will -- until I finish. It was not just enlightening, but inspiring, to read these essays by people I admire and see how they also faced adversity not just early on, but throughout their careers.

Some of the essays were pedantic and self-congratulatory, and I won't mention their names here -- but let's just say I wasn't surprised. (It was none of my favorites listed above.) So instead, if you pick up this book, focus on the ones that really lay out for the every day reader, or newbie psychology major, how they had to push forward in the face of defiance to make the difference they knew they could make.

For purchase below.

Monday, November 30, 2015

Know Your Beholder: A Novel

I have been an Adam Rapp fan for a while, and so I picked up Know Your Beholder when it came out. I am sorry to say it took me a while to finish it because I got distracted by life; that says nothing about the quality of work, which is amazing.

Francis Falbo was a rock star just a few years ago. He had a wife he adored, awesome parents, and an odd relationship with his band mates. Now he finds himself agoraphobic, holed up in his childhood home in Pollard, Illinois, serving as a landlord in his childhood home. His wife has left him for a pharmaceutical rep, his band is fractured beyond repair, and his mother passed away, causing his father to remarry and move to Florida. Now, there is a snow storm and Francis must look out for his home, which includes a couple whose child has been missing for weeks, his ex-brother-in-law and his weird visitors, an artist who draws men nude for a thesis project, and a new tenant who may be the person who saves Francis.

As I said earlier, I have been fond of Rapp's work for some time, an this book was certainly no exception. He has a sharp wit about his prose that works as an undercurrent in his writing. Francis is eccentric for sure, but he is also someone that we all understand. His heartbreak over losing his wife is something that is easy to relate to, and his refusal to leave his home is something most of us dream of. Rapp has a darkness about his writing that settles over the novel like a storm cloud. It's not just the snowstorm that adds a certain sense of foreboding; it's also the way that Rapp describes his characters and uses his sentence structure to his advantage. It's really something amazing to read.

I adored Francis, and when he meets the women who will come to affect his life, I silently cheered on the inside. While I have (obviously) never seen a picture of him, I was able to envision what he looked like and I loved his beard and his flannel pajamas. I became enraged for him when a former friend shows up and won't leave, and I wanted to shake Francis when he started wavering on his plan to get his friend out. I adored this man, and I loved reading about him so much that I just didn't want to close the cover of the book at the end of the story. It's an unconventionally happy ending, and I loved it.

For purchase below.

Friday, November 20, 2015

Then Again: Diane Keaton

I think Diane Keaton is the cat's pajamas. She is so unabashedly herself, and I admire that in her. This is her memoir that I picked up, Then Again

She is best known as Annie Hall, but Diane Keaton, born Diane Hall, has layers upon layers that define who she is. She tells her story in part through her mother, to whom she was close and whose journals she uses to tell her own story. Through relationships with Woody Allen and Warren Beatty, to choosing to adopt two children of her own in her 50's, Diane has always chosen to be exactly who she is. She is a mother, a daughter, an actress, an artist, and always herself.

She is just one hell of a woman, you know? Diane Keaton claims to be nothing other than herself, and it makes her just a general badass. Her candid talk about her relationships with the two film greats above was really fantastic, and in the moment she finally understands that she doesn't want to date Beatty, that she has always wanted to be him, I realized how much like her I feel. It's not a gender thing that she's talking about -- rather, it's the confidence that comes across on screen, the ability to have career choices, and the strong personality that pushes head first into the world. (That's my interpretation, anyway.) She also makes it easy to understand her relationship with Allen and their long-term continuance of their deep and meaningful friendship. They had a connection that can't be forced or planned; rather, it came naturally and it seems to be that those who need to find each other often do.

I also appreciated Keaton's exploration of her family's connection to herself and her success. She clearly loves her mother more than anyone on this earth, other than her two children of course, and the way she talks about her mother is full of reverance and pride. I can only imagine how difficult it was to jet from home at such a young age and take on NYC by storm -- even in my 20's it was something else. With only letters going back and forth, Diane had to make her way, sink or swim. It's a story of success, but it's also a story of grit and a refusal to back up, and there are many lessons to be learned from Keaton's reflections. I would love an update now that it's been several years since she released this book -- after all, I need to know how she is faring in the teenage years with her kids!

For purchase below. 

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Brothers Emanuel: A Memoir of an American Family

I read a blurb about this book a while ago and added it to my queue, and I was pleasantly surprised when it came up a couple of weeks ago. This is Ezekial J. Emanuel's Brothers Emanuel: A Memoir of an American Family

The Emanuel brothers are individually well known: Rahm was Obama's chief of staff and is currently the Mayor of Chicago; Ari is a well known Hollywood agent who had a very popular TV character made after him; and Zeke is a world-renowned doctor who has fought for universal health care. How did one family create three such extraordinary children? Their parents raised them in Chicago, both the city and the suburbs, spending summers in Israel and ingraining in them a strong sense of family, religion, and social justice. 

This book was extraordinary itself in the breaking down of a family that believed, and still believes, so deeply in creating greatness, supporting others, and fighting for what's right. I was incredibly moved by Emanuel's description of his mother, Marsha. She was a strong woman who raised her boys with pluck and a loose grip but instilled in them the incredible belief in justice for all human beings. I found myself teary-eyed when Emanuel wrote about her fights for justice on the streets of Chicago. I admired the woman when he wrote about how his mother would pack up the boys in their coats and boots and the youngest in a stroller, board the bus, and participate in a protest for fair housing or rights to public spaces, then would take the same bus back home to have dinner on the table for her husband when he got home from a long day serving his community as a doctor. 

Their father was also a pretty rockin' guy. He believed in quality health care for all, and he would charge his clients on a sliding scale depending on their income. Some he would just serve for free. This book was a great story about what the Emanuel parents put in their sons' cereal, but if you think it is just that, then read it again. It's a story of a pair of parents who raised their children with values that were bigger than just serving themselves. They raised their children to fight for what they believed in, and to fight for human rights of their fellow citizens. This story will absolutely stay with me as I hope to follow Marsha's example and instill in my own children a strong sense of social justice for all Americans.

For purchase below.

Friday, November 13, 2015

The Unexpected Waltz: A Novel

I'm not sure I could have picked out a better beach book this past summer. This is Kim Wright's The Unexpected Waltz.

Marrying rich is definitely all it's cracked up to be -- until, that is, you find yourself a widow at a young age with nothing to do. Having left her job years ago when she fell in love with and married a VP at her financial establishment, Kelly is now alone and with a lot of time on her hands. After her daily run to the local high-end grocery, she finds herself having wandered into the dance studio next door. What are all of these crazy, amazingly fun dances she's seeing students do? Before she knows it, she has signed up for her first lesson. Before long, it's her new hobby. She will learn more about love and determination than she has ever learned before.

I will not lie to you, dear friends. With this book, you aren't going to get any hard-hitting journalism or deep thoughts. It is, however, a book that asks nothing more out of you than to enjoy it and it will love you back. That's my idea of a good beach book. It was light but it was oh-so-entertaining, and I found myself wanting to follow the story through to the end. Oh sure, I had some issues with the well-heeled Kelly and the depiction of her early years (all that sex was really just her trying to love herself!), but overall she came across as a fully formed woman who gave up her career for her much older, much more successful husband and then found herself regretting it just a little when, after he died, she didn't have much left. It turns out she hates serving on boards of directors and making centerpieces for galas -- and frankly, what self-respecting woman wouldn't? I appreciated her realness in all of this.

So yes, I think this is worth picking up for a beach read, absolutely. It had a sweetness to it that was fun and giggly in a girl-slumber-party kind of way. I finished it in a day and I had a good time in it. 

For purchase below.

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Guest Blogger Charlotte - Girl Online On Tour: A Novel

Hi There!

So this is the second offering from the amazing Zoella, the YouTube tastemaker otherwise known as Zoe Sugg. Sugg’s first novel, Girl Online, broke all kinds of sales records for debut fiction largely due to the success of her YouTube channel. 

I love Zoella and I loved the first book (my review here) because it promised even more Zoella and in a whole new light, or so I thought. It turns out the book was ghost written by an author I’d never heard of named Siobhan Curham. This was kind of a let down, but I got over it. Zoella sort of owned up to the fakery and promised to be totally hands-on with Girl Online On Tour.

On Tour picks up at just about the place where Girl Online leaves off. Penny is officially dating rock star Noah Flynn and missing him like crazy while he’s away on a world tour. Her infamous blog is now mostly private. She lets only a few of her closest friends and her photography teacher read it. She’s still reeling from the scandal that exposed her blog and is now more private and anonymous than ever.

The cool thing about Penny’s life is that she gets to spend the summer on a European tour with Noah Flynn. Best summer ever, right? Yea, not so much… The pressures of fame and life on the road strain the relationship and things get rocky.

I can’t say I was surprised by anything that happens next, nor do I think you’ll be. Really, the only reason to pick up this book is if you are a diehard Zoella fan like me. Unlike the original Girl Online, there’s lots of Zoella in this book and it’s exactly the fix I wanted.

~ Charlotte

For purchase below:

Thursday, November 5, 2015

V for Vendetta

"Remember, remember, the fifth of November..." Yes, friends, I had never read Alan Moore's V for Vendetta until this fall. I have been waiting to get this post up until today, because, well...you know.

(Also, a happy birthday to my mother.)

The year is 1997, and the citizens of the United Kingdom are living under a fascist government as sheep who follow along with no qualms about their passive lifestyle. V, whose real face we never see, sets out to right the wrongs of his past and wake up his fellow citizens to fight the good fight and win back their own lives. Through this he takes Evey under his belt, a woman who was working as a prostitute (or, at least, trying to) and mentors her into becoming his next revolutionary protege. 

Of course I had seen the movie years ago, and honestly, I couldn't remember much of it other than, and I may be paraphrasing here, that the people should not fear the government, but that the government should fear the people. It was so eye-opening tor read the source material up close and personal. I was surprised at how violent the graphic novel could be, and even in 2015, and knowing what I know about how humans actually treat each other, I was still taken aback by the violence and inhumanity of the human experiments carried out on powerless people by their government. To that end, it's very difficult not to side with V. His personal vendetta is greater than just himself; it's about sparking a revolution, and you can't walk away from that.

I recently read Book Slut's post on this novel, and it's really great and very much worth a read. Like I said earlier, I can't remember much about the film, which I think is perfectly fine, really. What I loved about this novel was contained snugly inside of it, and it is the revolutionary underpinnings of what V stands for. He wants his fellow countrymen to wake up and fight for their right to live peaceably and not under the thumb of a totalitarian government that picks who lives and dies based on who is worthy and powerful enough. The only way to do this is to incite a little bit of violence. I am not advocating that as the only form of revolutionary means, but in this story, it is what makes absolute sense.

I understand why this novel means so much to it's readers, and it's a cult classic for a reason. It was well worth the read, and it's prompted me to dig deeper on the graphic novel itself and the ways it has been used in the subsequent 33 years since it's original publication. What does the revolution look like over the three decades following? We have some answers, and we are still working on it as a human race.

For purchase below. 

Monday, November 2, 2015

The Last Juror: A Novel

Oh, John Grisham, how you have such a large cannon of work that allows me to always enjoy you at the beach. This year's work was The Last Juror, and I enjoyed it immensely.

1970 was a big year for The Ford County Times, namely because Ford County saw one of the most grotesque murders it had ever seen. A young widow and mother of two was murdered in her own home, and a local boy was convicted. As he was dragged away, he promised the jury that he would get revenge on him. Soon after his release from prison almost a decade later, jurors begin dying one at a time. Could this be the revenge that Danny Padgitt promised, or just an odd coincidence?

This was a bit of a departure from Grisham's typical legal thriller, because although there was definitely a crime and a court case, this story was really about the paper and it's proprietor, a young man fresh out of journalism school with an ambitious idea to take over a small town newspaper and basically print money. He succeeds at this, and builds a strong reputation in the process. He is also our narrator, and he tells us a tale that begins with a gruesome act perpetrated on an unsuspecting woman and ends with a twist you didn't expect.

I thoroughly enjoyed this book for my beach reading. As always, I brought two Grisham's with me, and neither disappointed. I enjoyed the departure here from the usual legal thriller, and I thoroughly enjoyed the story web that Grisham weaved in this novel. I cared about the players, and I wanted to follow along. I loved the relationships in this book, especially that between Willie (the newspaperman) and Callie, a woman he interviewed for a human interest story who became his closest confidant and ally in Ford County. Callie was a lovely character, and maybe one of my Grisham favorites. Ultimately, a good read worth my time. 

For purchase below. 

Friday, October 30, 2015

The Child's Child: A Novel

This one was a doozy and thought-provoking. This is Barbara Vine's The Child's Child

Siblings Grace and Andrew inherit their grandmother's mansion--and with it comes love, betrayal, and a long lost secret. They both inhabit the mansion, and with them comes Andrew's boyfriend, James. He and Grace grow close until one night, they sleep together and Grace finds herself pregnant. Meanwhile, in the house she finds a long lost manuscript, The Child's Child, that also has a pair of dysfunctional siblings from a century ago. Their stories mirror each other and twist together in a web of sex and betrayal.

Let's just lay it all out on the line – this book was creepy. I kind of didn't know what I was getting myself into, but it was really well reviewed and I figured, why not?

Why not, indeed.

That being said, I will say that I did like the book. It's two stories in one, the first story being a woman who accidentally sleeps with her brother's boyfriend, and in the meantime she's searching for a book that will inform her dissertation. That book is about another set of siblings who have an equally screwed up relationship. The young sister gets pregnant in her teens, and her gay brother decides to take a job in another town and play her off as his wife in order to kill two birds with one stone. It's the early 20th century, so she can't be a teen mom and he can't be gay man. It works beautifully until the sister becomes utter and complete ungrateful brat. It was around the middle of the book when I decided I hated the sister, and not in the way that I hated really good characters who turned out to be evil. She was just a shit. When her life completely changes in adulthood, you would think she'd get better. Nope, still a jerk.

One thing I would have liked to see is more of the story of the modern brother and sister. I thought that they were really fascinating, and while the middle section that was essentially the novel being sought out was interesting, I found the front relationship between the protagonist, her brother, and her brother's boyfriend to be most interesting part of the story. Perhaps we can get a follow up, Ms. vine?

For purchase below.

Monday, October 26, 2015

The Good Luck of Right Now: A Novel

Oh, Matthew Quick, how you steal my heart. You've done it before, and now you've just continued it with The Good Luck of Right Now. Take it all, buddy.

Bartholomew Neil is 38 and has just lost his mother. She was his rock, and his reason for living. He's never held a job and doesn't have a clue how to live on his own. He suddenly finds their priest living with him and his counselor, Wendy, telling him he needs group therapy. He agrees to go, meets a new best friend, and discovers that the love of his life from afar, the Girlbrarian, happens to be his new friend's sister. On an unexpected road trip, this motley crew finds that life is so incredibly dependent on the good luck of right now.

Quick just gets me and my humor. I loved Bartholomew with my whole heart and soul. Here is this man who is basically a child. He can't take care of himself, doesn't know how he will pay bills, and he adored his mother more than anything in the world. She told him as a child that his father was a martyr, killed defending their Catholic faith by the KKK, and Bartholomew had no reason to not believe this. When he discovers that his father is actually alive, and that his priest will take him to meet his father, I got so excited for Bartholomew. This road trip with his new friends was everything to me. It was hilarious and lovely and surprisingly deep. Cat Parliament is the final destination in Canada, which is the dream stop of his new best friend. I now want to go see cat Parliament for myself.

The chapters are all long letters to Richard Gere. Why Richard Gere, you are asking yourself right now. Because this is the man his mother was in love with. When she was dying, she often mistook Bartholomew for him, and Bartholomew played the part to keep his mother happy. After all, who embodies manliness and loveliness more so than Richard Gere? He is the ultimate hero who also happens to be sexy in reachable way. (Yes, I agree with you, Bartholomew. Good choice.) Richard Gere is an important component to the story, and I'm sure he was proud to be the recipient of Bartholomew's correspondence that was little more than a diary.

The last chapter of this book slayed me. I wasn't at all expecting it, and I actually teared up on the beach this past summer when I read it. It was shockingly moving, in a way that I completely did not expect. How on earth did Quick know to do that to me? The book was cute and funny, and then all of the sudden, when it all came together, it spoke to me in a way that moved me. It reminded me of the goodness of humanity, and that what we do for others really does matter. Thank you, Matthew Quick. Just thank you. 

For purchase below. 

Friday, October 23, 2015

In the Still of the Night: The Strange Death of Ronda Reynolds and Her Mother's Unceasing Quest for the Truth

You know me and my Ann Rule. This is is In the Still of the Night: The Strange Death of Ronda Reynolds and Her Mother's Unceasing Quest for the Truth.

Ronda's most important dream in life was to become a police officer. As one of very few women on the force in the 1980's, she became a force to be reckoned with. Her personal life, though, was another story. Already divorced, she found love with the man who was supposed to be counseling her first marriage through their new found religion. The only problem was that they didn't really get along -- and when he went back to his first wife, Ronda just wanted to move on with her life. Then one Christmas she doesn't make it on her flight home to her family, and what has happened to her will defy investigators' best efforts to come to the truth. Who was in the Reynold's house that night -- and who shot Ronda?

First of all, I have to say that I was very saddened to hear about Ann Rule's recent death. I enjoy her books very much, and I know she was a beloved writer for many. Her unending need for justice was what drove her, and I am grateful for what she was able to accomplish in her illustrious life.

As usual, I enjoyed this book to its core. This is one of Rule's full-scale stories (as opposed to one her true crime collections). I read it back in the summer when I was on the beach in Ibiza, and it was an absolutely delightful tale of murder and mayhem (as my mother so fondly calls it). I remembered hearing about the Ronda Reynolds case, because we are, after all, talking about a true crime junkie all up in this joint. It was incredibly fascinating to read the details and let me tell you -- there are details. That is probably what I love the most about Rule; she digs deep and doesn't stop until she has an answer. It's what makes her true crime books some of the best. 

Everyone loves a good "mother's search for justice" story, and this book is certainly no exception. The evidence never once pointed to Ronda committing suicide. (I'm no expert, but I am a junkie, remember?) I can't even imagine what it would be like to lose a child, and watching Ronda's mom never stop until the very end was moving. We all know what happens, and the end of the story isn't a surprise, but there is a smidgen of hope that every story of domestic violence will bring more and more awareness to the issue and hopefully save some life somewhere. 

For purchase below.

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Did You Ever Have a Family? A Novel

I am a big fan of Bill Clegg's two memoirs, so when I found out that he was releasing a novel this fall I ran to get it at BEA. I very thankfully snatched one of the last spare copies they had, and thank goodness all over the world that I got it. Did You Ever Have a Family was incredible. 

June's house explodes the morning of her daughter's wedding. The wedding was scheduled to be in the backyard, and June is the only survivor. She loses her daughter, her daughter's fiance, her ex-husband, and her beloved boyfriend Luke, all of whom were asleep in the house. Immediately after the funeral, June leaves and doesn't look back, living in a motel at the edge of the world. Everyone in the small town is still hurting from the disaster, and everyone has a story to tell. Told from multiple perspectives, the aftermath of the deaths affect friends and family far and wide, from coast to coast, from family to family. 

This was one of the most moving and stunning books I have read as of late. I know we get a lot of great releases in the fall, and this one just stole my heart and ripped it apart. First of all, I loved the different perspectives that tell the story. It provides a full bodied experience of a tragedy that could have very easily become melodramatic when told from just June's perspective. Having others look at June and interact with her and wonder what her story is heightened the heartbreak that you knew she was going through. Hearing from her and from Luke's mom as well as the fiance's parents also added a level of gravitas to the story, and it was a deep and searing reminder that when tragedy strikes, more people are affected than you might ever realize or remember. Arguably, June suffered the most, but when we lose a child or a lover or a parent, whether it's one or multiple, we all suffer deeply.

We follow the story out of order, after the fire has been put out and the house has been razed. We see June in her overwhelming grief and we see the small town in it's gossipy glory. As we begin to understand June's story -- because really, it's June's story -- we see what happened that day, moving through the muck of the gossip about Luke's past and the tangled relationships that come with family. The title comes from a question that a future in-law asks of her new relative. The question is, "Why are you crying?"

 The response is, "Did you ever have a family?"

Yes. Yes, I did.

[Thanks for the punch in the gut, Bill. Because while this question happened in the story's past, it's ramifications in the story's present could never be predicted and are heart-wrenching when you know the answer to that question.]

Clegg has written a stunning and arresting piece of literature that moved me to my core, and this novel goes to show that Clegg is a true and brilliant writer. His memoirs were equally moving, but this novel goes to show that regardless of the genre, this man is one hell of a writer, and I look forward to more from him.

For purchase below.