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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...

Tuesday, February 28, 2017

The Woman in Cabin 10: A Novel

I thought Ruth Ware's In a Dark, Dark Wood was phenomenal, and I meant to pick up her latest, The Woman in Cabin 10, much earlier than I did, but pregnancy brain is real, y'all. Yes, that's right, I'm expecting. I'm trying to get as much reading in as possible before the baby is due, and come May, I'll have some maternity books to review. But our task at hand today is this outstanding piece of Ware's work. 

Lo is just a simple woman living her life, working her way up the career ladder as a writer at a travel magazine and loving her main squeeze. One night, though, she wakes up to an intruder in her home. The only injury she sustains are the bruises and cuts from him pushing her back into her room and slamming the door -- and the emotional devastation PTSD wreaks on a person. No matter -- Lo must board an exclusive yacht for a inauguration voyage to see the Great Northern Lights. On her first night she meets a woman in the cabin next door, and later that night she hears a murder coming from the same cabin. Who was the woman she met? What happened that night? Who is keeping Lo from finding out the truth about this ship and the crew on it? If she doesn't watch her step, Lo may not make it home alive, because someone will stop her at no cost. 

I was damned curious about Ware's sophomore effort, and whether or not it would hold up to her first. Well I'll be, I might even argue that it surpassed it. Maybe. I was hooked into this book with tentacles that wouldn't let go, and I actually stopped doing important things like my dissertation pilot study so that I could find out what happened. One of my biggest frustrations with Ware's books is the long explaination at the end putting all the peices together; I could have liked more of a punch when we figured it all out. That, however, is a minor complaint all in all. Ware weaves a twisting, fascinating tale of intrigue, and she knows how to capture her readers' attention. 

Ware's protagonists are also terribly interesting to me. I adore her female leads who are incredibly flawed and messy, so un-put-together that they make me look like Attila the Hun. It makes them interesting and worth spending time with. They are the opposite of weak; they fight like the dickens and are tenacious as hell.  They don't give up easily, or even at all. They are fighters, and these are my kind of heroines. Lo is exactly this. She needs to prove she isn't crazy, even when he head of security tries to use recent events against her. It puts her life in danger, but she will fight it. She was a great woman to root for in this story, and it is well worth your time to pick up this book and spend a rainy afternoon with her. 

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.