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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...

Wednesday, October 30, 2013


I really enjoy Scott Turow. I find his novels to be page-turners. This is his latest, Identical.

Dita Kronon was murdered in her bedroom 25 years ago. She was young, saucy, and beautiful. Her boyfriend, Cass, was convicted of the crime and served out his sentence; he now returns home to his identical twin brother, Paul, who is running for mayor of their town. Dita's older brother, Hal, is a very wealthy man with an axe to grind--he believes Paul had a hand in his sister's murder and publicly demands the truth, running a smear campaign against Paul. Hal's lead investigator sets out to dig up old secrets, never expecting to find what he does.

As I said, I really enjoy Turow's writing and how he weaves together an inviting narrative. He creates characters that are super intriguing and make you want to understand them better. His tales are always woven together like an intricate spider web; once you get caught in it, you have a hard time getting out. I found myself wanting to come back to the story again and again, and I felt my brain work harder than with most books. I like that.

I will say in full disclosure that I was able to figure out what happened fairly early on, but there is a reason for this--I have read most of Turow's books so I was aware of how he plays his game. If you have yet to pick up Presumed Innocent and Innocent (in that order!!!), you will be pleasantly surprised by what you find in Identical. It may very well blow your mind. And if you haven't read the previously mentioned two books, pause everything and get yourself the first immediately. I realized as I began this post that I read them prior to starting this blog, so I will have to make a special post to talk about how deeply amazing they are.

To be clear, figuring things out for myself in no way took away from my enjoyment of this book. I would absolutely recommend it for your reading pleasure, especially as we come upon the holiday season and I you may need to escape the family for some hours to regain my your sanity. I always look forward to Turow's next book.

Just don't expect to be able to put it down.

Kindle version on left, hard copy on right. 

And just in case you want one of the best legal thrillers of all time, the Kindle link is on the left and the hard copy is on the right. You won't be disappointed.

Monday, October 28, 2013

The Execution of Noa P. Singleton: A Novel

Aaaaahhhhhh. You can finish reading this post, or you can go ahead and read The Execution of Noa P. Singleton by Elizabeth L. Silver, then come back to this post. Because seriously, you won't be able to put it down. Or sleep. Or talk...

Noa P. Singleton is slated for execution in just a few short months. She didn't actively participate in her own trial, and she has yet to lift a finger to appeal her sentence. Three months before X-day she is visited by the mother of the woman she killed who is looking for answers in return for commuting Noa's sentence. Will Noa open up with the truth about that night? Is she willing to trade her reasons for murder in return for her life? Or will she go to her grave, the only one knowing the dark secrets that drove her to take someone's life?

I picked up this book from the library and gulped it down in less than 36 hours. I sat next to a friend at the park and told him not to speak to me unless there was an emergency. I dove in head-first and wiggled my way all the way down to the bottom of this book because it stuck it's secretive and poker-faced story-like tentacles into my brain and wouldn't let go. I had no choice.

Silver holds her cards close to the vest and only lets you know a snippet of information at a time which makes you horribly, desperately, hopelessly in need of continued reading in order to find information that you can't live without. It was like the slow unrolling of a twenty-foot carpet with a special birthday surprise tucked all the way at the end; at some point I wanted to yell at the book to just tell me already.

It was magnificent.

The character development was excellent, the story was (as I might have mentioned) superb, and when I closed this book I breathed a sigh of...well, not relief, because there is no satisfaction in a story like this. I breathed a sigh of contentment with the excellence of the story and the ability to capture greatness in the work.

Kindle version on the left, hard copy on the right. 

Friday, October 25, 2013

The App Generation: How Today's Youth Navigate Identity, Intimacy, and Imagination in a Digital World

If you haven't caught on by now, I work in education and classify myself as a psychologist. While I don't do work specifically with intelligence, I am very familiar with Howard Gardner's work. So when I heard that he and Katie Davis had released a book titled, The App Generation: How Today's Youth Navigate Identity, Intimacy, and Imagination in a Digital World, I thought it would be a good one to add to my knowledge repertoire.

It comes as no surprise to anyone living in the twenty first century that we have become a culture of tech-dependent citizens. As we look toward the digital natives of our world, we find that they are the young people around us. This is what Drs. Gardner and Davis term, "The App Generation." In this exploration of the generation of children dependent upon electronic communication to not just communicate but also form their identities, the authors view their work through the lens of examining how apps shape young people's intimacy, imagination, and identity.

I found this book to be interesting as a whole, but it was the lens through which the authors chose to look at how technology shapes the current young generation to be the most important message. I find that when discussing technology with those who don't do research in the area, you get a lot of backlash against "kids these days." You hear that they don't know how to communicate, they are always on their phones, they are rude, etc. Funny enough, it's the very same thing older generations were saying about the adults now when they were kids, and it's what adults said about my generation, too. I appreciated that Drs. Gardner and Davis took a step back to ask how kids are forming their identities, forming intimate relationships, and exploring their imagination through the use of apps and technology.

There are definitely downsides to the proliferation of iPhones and tablets, but sometimes we miss the forest for the trees. I am of the mindset that we should embrace what we can't change--the reality is that iPhones aren't going away, they are getting smarter and more usable every day. I am a teacher of teachers leading students through an almost daily discussion of using technology in their classrooms. I decided earlier this year to stop fighting it and to embrace it--and I feel that this book supports this. For better or worse, our young people are viewing themselves through the framework of technology and it is a part of their identity formation. Rather than pushing back, let's find ways to use this to our advantage and not get so behind the times that we lose track of the presence of tech in child development.

Kindle version on left, hard copy on right.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Wonder: A Novel

The wonder that is R. J. Palacio's Wonder is just lovely. Absolutely, positively lovely. 

August was born with a rare facial deformity that makes him look like a monster. He has been home schooled most of his life--until one day, his parents tell him he will be enrolling in the local private middle school. He is scared out of his mind because he is familiar with the knee-jerk reaction people have to his face. As August moves through fifth grade, he learns what true friendship means and that it is always those you least expect that will break your heart or make it all worthwhile.

I adored this book. I was so impressed by it in all senses. I thought the description of August was clear and descriptive while still leaving enough up to the imagination so the reader could discern for him- or herself what they felt August really looked like. I loved the empathy that Palacio was able to bring to the narrative--never once did I feel like I was on the outside feeling sorry for August. When my heart broke for him, it was always because I felt intimately familiar with him, his family, and his struggles. I felt that I knew him so well and that I loved him as my own.

I felt this book brought enough empathy to the table while still forcing August to deal with the situations he faced with bullies and others. If I felt bad for him, I was also rooting for him to step up and be the bigger person. I wanted him to face his demons and become the young man he was always destined to be. Nothing was a sympathy ploy; it was about acceptance as you are regardless of others. I loved that August's friends stuck up for him out of the goodness of their hearts and their genuine care for their friend. It was true friendship. This was a really beautiful book that every young person should read.

Kindle version on left, hard copy on right.

Monday, October 21, 2013

To Be a Friend is Fatal: The Fight to Save the Iraqis America Left Behind

The premise of this book grabbed me because I care very much about politics, foreign policy, and how we treat those whom we come into contact. This is Kirk W. Johnson's To Be a Friend is Fatal: The Fight to Save the Iraqis America Left Behind. 

In the early years of the war, Kirk Johnson joined USAid to do good work--to use his extensive knowledge of Arabic to aid the Iraqi people in the reconstruction of their country after the American invasion. During a vacation with six months left on his contract, he falls into a fugue state and becomes seriously injured, requiring months of rehabilitation. After realizing that he can never go back, Kirk finds himself the spokesperson for Iraqi citizens who worked for the US through agencies and relief organization who live in fear and have become refugees due to death threats, fear, and outright torture by their fellow countrymen. As Kirk dives in, he finds a government unwilling to help those who have given their heart, soul, and sometimes their lives to aid the US.

I make an effort to not involve my personal politics, beliefs, and religion into this blog because I view it as a fun place to talk about books that I love. I enjoy waxing joyful on prose and great stories without putting anyone off because you don't agree with me. Ultimately literature surpasses our divided beliefs, and that is something I hold on to with all my might.

However, sometimes a book comes along that pulls at my heart so much that I become the impassioned woman that I am on a daily basis. This is one of those books. We may not agree, and that is fine. I urge you to take to the comments section in a civilized and discursive manner, supporting your points with heart and with care.

This book has stolen my heart, broken it, and galvanized my mind. Regardless of how you feel about the war in Iraq, the fact that our government has outright ignored the help we received from Iraqis during times of war is painful and egregious. It is not terribly shocking, however. It makes sense, and that is the greatest tragedy of Johnson's tale--the lack of surprise at the government's inefficiency, uncaring attitude, and complete waste of taxpayer dollars. I am a humanist, and I have always had a deep sense of justice and empathy, often to a fault. Listening to Johnson recount his struggles and those of the Iraqis running for their lives, in the most literal sense, brought me to tears. The trust of the workers, in the United States and in their co-workers, is enough to bring you to your knees. I wanted to yell at them to not take the job--but I speak in hindsight. Which, as any grown-up knows, is 20/20.

I wish that I could find Johnson and thank him deeply and unflinchingly for the courage to not just write this book but to fight the good fight for those who can't fight for themselves, be it out of fear or due to a lack of understanding and options. I understand the pull to do this, and I know the personal struggle that comes with the decision to make a leap, pull all the punches, and not be afraid to piss people off. It takes guts to not be selfish--it takes courage to focus on others rather than yourself. I would give him a big hug, thank him for listening to the voice in his head that made him a justice-seeking humanitarian, and tell him to get back to work. Can you imagine what our government would be like if we had more Kirk Johnson's?

Kindle version on left, hard copy on right. 

Friday, October 18, 2013

Rude Bitches Make Me Tired: Slightly Profane and Entirely Logical Answers to Modern Etiquette Dilemmas

Rude Bitches Make Me Tired: Slightly Profane and Entirely Logical Answers to Modern Etiquette Dilemmas by Celia Rivenbark. Do you need more information than that?

Modern day conveniences have lead to a multitude of etiquette issues that can only be righteously solved by a brassy Southern woman. No, not me. Celia Rivenbark. This short and sweet etiquette book is everything you want and more--it is exactly what the subtitle advertises. Slightly profane, entirely logical, and utterly hilarious.

I loved this book. Not just because rude bitches also make me tired, but because of how right on the money it is. Some advice is hilarious, and some is just honestly true. (Yes, I realize the negation of that last sentence and I stand by it.) I appreciate Celia's strait forward attitude toward topics that might be too delicate for others to address, including public bathroom courtesy and what you should really do at a dinner party.

There was so much that I appreciated about Celia's personality throughout the book; I loved that she was genuine and up front about her own faux pas yet confident enough to make them lessons. Her attitude toward stupidity is simply entertaining, and I would love to have her over for a dinner party. If I threw them. Which I don't.

I laughed my rear off reading this book, and it's one that I plan on keeping close by. On my Kindle, of course, so that I may always reference it when out and about.

Kindle version on left, hard copy on right.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Where'd You Go, Bernadette: A Novel

I have been hearing raves about this book for so long, and summer seemed like the perfect time to finally pick up Maria Semple's Where'd You Go, Bernadette. I must say--not overrated.

Bernadette is deeply loved by her family, revered by architects in training everywhere, and hated by the mothers at her daughter's private school. To the outsider, it also appears that she is losing her mind. When she disappears after scheduling her daughter's dream trip to Antarctica, destroying a neighbor's home, and accidentally embroiling her family in an FBI sting, her daughter, knowing she is as sane as can be, searches the depths of the earth for her.

This was a roaring, outlandish, laugh-out-loud roll in the hay and I loved every second of it. Semple has created a team of characters that can out-comedy the greatest comedian you can find. Which should be no shock; she was a writer on Arrested Development. I could not stop giggling at the incredibly smart and sharp-witted dialogue and narration.

If you can find someone on earth who is not smitten with Bernadette, please do let me know. She is a genius who currently uses her smarts for outwitting the "gnats" who overpopulate the activities at her daughter's school. Bernadette is not interested in playing the game or blowing smoke up anyone's rear end; she is just herself even when she is hated for it. I loved the storyline; I loved the wit and the glorious attitude of Bernadette and her family; but most of all, I loved Bernadette.

I also love laughing out loud, which is also a main reason why I loved this book.

Kindle version on left, hard copy on right. Why aren't you buying right now?

Monday, October 14, 2013

The October List

I wanted a good mystery to keep my brain occupied, hence Jeffery Deaver's The October List.

Gabriela's life has been turned upside down. Her boss has fled the country with millions in client money--leaving her shell-shocked and without a job--and her daughter has been kidnapped by one of the angry clients who is holding her for ransom. He also wants the October List, a secret list of power players. What the list means is a mystery to everyone, but everyone seems to want it. As the clock counts down, can Gabriela and her very new man-friend, Daniel, rustle up the money and save her daughter? What kind of a game is this?

The end comes before the beginning. What I mean by this is that the book works backwards through time, beginning with the end. I felt a little perplexed at first, not because of the structure but because it felt like I knew the end of the story--which was pretty final--going through the book. It turns out, however, that I really had no clue about the truth of the story. That was the most fascinating part of this book--how it made me doubt the storytelling abilities of Deaver then smacked me on the back of the head right when I thought I understood.

I will forewarn you that this is not the most deep storytelling I have ever read, but I certainly had fun with the plot and the characters. I was surprised by the ending and I was happy I stuck with it through the finish. This book would make a great vacation book; it is interesting and engrossing while allowing you to stop when you need to and pick it back up as needed. I love these types of books when I travel. I also appreciate being entertained in a concise fashion, making Deaver's latest a fun and worthy read.

Kindle version on left, hard copy on right.

Friday, October 11, 2013

She Left Me the Gun: My Mother's Life Before Me

This memoir has been called one of the best of the year, and that's right on the money in my book. This is She Left Me the Gun: My Mother's Life Before Me by Emma Brockes.

Emma's mother was glamorous and volatile. On occasion in her childhood, Paula would say something cryptic to Emma, hinting that her childhood held more secrets than she would reveal. After her mother's death, Emma, born and bred British, heads back to her mother's native South Africa to dig up the truth about why Paula escaped and never looked back, why Emma barely knew her mother's family save for a few voices on the phone, and why her mother was so distrusting of men, so much so Emma knew as a child that when her mother passed, she would leave her one of the few possessions with which she escaped home--her gun.

Um...ah...so...yeah. WOWZA. This was gripping. It was insane. It was superb. I am at a loss for words in describing Emma's, and in turn, Paula's, story. To face a situation as seemingly insurmountable as Paula's lacks words to properly express, and to fight for what you know is right even when the courts fail is admirable yet frightening. Reading Emma's journey as she seeks answers to questions that she is unsure of how to frame was engrossing and, at times, horrifying. She made me feel as though I was along on the journey with her, although I assume my heart hurt much less than hers.

I don't want to give anything away, and speaking in detail about this story would give so much away that I just don't want to do so. Turning each page was a little like opening one of those joke-like Christmas presents where you must unwrap 15 boxes in descending size until you get to the gem at the bottom, the size of a pebble. Every time we unwrapped one box we were faced with more questions and were given more leads to follow. It was a journey that was cathartic and aching all at once.

Kindle version on left, hard copy on right.  

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

The Last Winter of Dani Lancing: A Novel

I needed a deep, dark, mystery novel to take my mind off of life for a while, so I picked up The Last Winter of Dani Lancing by P. D. Viner.

Two decades ago, the young and beautiful Dani Lancing was murdered. A university student and beloved daughter, her murder shocked those who knew her. Broken by her death, and finding out that her daughter's case will eventually be reviewed in light of new DNA technology, her mother, Patti, takes it upon herself to procure the evidence, find the prime suspect, and make him pay the ultimate price. This sets in motion a series of life-altering events for her, Dani's father Jim, high school sweetheart Tom, and others, leading to the discovery that things are never what the seem.

I was addicted to Dani's world for 48 strait hours. I couldn't read what I had to read for school; I couldn't focus on magazine articles or student papers. I had to find out what on earth happened to Dani. I flip-flopped on whom I believed killed her, never suspecting what actually happened. What I probably loved most about this novel (beside the edge-of-my-seat thrill of the plot) was the ultimate understanding that no matter how much you think you know about those around you, you may actually be clueless as to who they really are. Dani held back so much of her university life from her family and friends that it wasn't until all the pieces came together that even those closest to her knew her deep dark secrets. I didn't suspect it.

The early chapters are so intriguing and brow-furrowing; something is happening and you can't quite tell what. I couldn't tell who was being held hostage and why; the back-and-forth kept me reading until I was hooked on the book like a sixth grader on Cheetos. This is well worth a read for the dark and cold nights coming up this winter; if you want to feel chilled to the bone this is worth a read. It worked for me.

Kindle version on left, hard copy on right.

Monday, October 7, 2013

Lost Girls: An Unsolved American Mystery

I read a blurb on this book a few weeks back and hurried to get my name in the queue for Robert Kolker's Lost Girls: An Unsolved American Mystery. It was chilling and so sad.

In the fall of 2010, several bodies were found in the marshes of Oak Beach. Four of these remains were identified as Maureen, Melissa, Megan, and Amber--all women who had families who loved them, lives of their own, and who were working as escorts at the time of their disappearance. Their bodies were found due to the disappearance of another escort, Shannan, who was being sought several months after she was seen running for her life through the Long Island community. This story gives these women a voice even as their murders remain unsolved--they were people with hopes and dreams, regardless of how lost they seemed.

You can figure out that these murders have yet to be solved from the subtitle of the book; the second half of Kolker's piece gives us some possibilities of who the culprits might be while never pointing a distinguishing finger. I have my suspicions, but I was left with as much confusion as I started. That makes me a happy reader although it does make me so sad for the families. The not knowing is so awful.

I thoroughly enjoyed this piece of non-fiction, and I have to say that it was really great to dive into something like this before my grad school semester started. It was a fascinating read; Kolker is an excellent storyteller with so much pathos for the women who stories he was responsible for honoring. Regardless of their chosen profession, Kolker really gave these women respect as human beings and honestly gave us their stories with no sugarcoating but with a sense that they are people regardless of their choices. This heightened the sadness of how these women lost their lives, in what was clearly a brutal and heart-stopping way. This was a beautifully crafted investigation piece that captured my attention and provided me with detailed insight into a case I followed in the news but never heard the down and dirty facts that reach beyond the sensationalism of the case.
Kindle version on left, hard copy on right.

Friday, October 4, 2013

Tampa: A Novel

Want your jaw to drop and your eyes to bug out? Then yeah,  you want Tampa by Alissa Nutting.

Celeste is living the life of any girl's dream. Married right out of college to a man with family wealth, she drives a cherry red Corvette, wears expensive face creams, and has the body (and looks) of a Grecian goddess. Her life is perfect, except for her one dirty little secret--she is only attracted to fourteen year-old-boys. Her sexual deviance goes so far as to drive her to land a teaching job in a jr. high school. After surveying her prey, she settles on Jack Patrick--perfect in every way for her needs. The affair will set them both on a path from which neither may return.

This was hands-down the most audacious book I have ever read. (That is a huge compliment.) I was so horrified by the intrepidity of Celeste--her no-holds-barred approach to telling her story so brazenly and borderline offensively. She is clearly not right in the head; while I originally found myself put off by her nervy and flashy storytelling, I soon found that I couldn't stop reading this absolutely insane story. The prose was so disgustingly fascinating and utterly riveting that I found myself unable to physically put the book down.

Fair warning: Many of you will hate this book. The subject matter is not for the weary, and many on Goodreads and elsewhere have found this book offensive. I absolutely did not. Oh sure, the subject matter is super creepy and there were many times where I was like, "WTF???" But overall this was one hell of a debut novel and it is clear that Nutting has much to offer in her work. Because while I may have found the main character repulsive, this has everything to do with the incredible talent of Nutting's writing.

A novel like this is something so rare--with the most contradictory descriptive adjectives coming out of my mouth to describe the story yet it has everything to do with the vividly intense writing. Nutting develops characters that about whom you care about what happens to them. The story is so intricately developed that it feels complete yet as though you need to find out more. This novel is absolutely, positively, audaciously brilliant.

Alissa Nutting, I am officially asking you to be my best book friend. 

I only have the link to the hard copy below. It's worth it.

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Happy Utopia Day, Joe McCarthy: A Novel

Everything I was expecting and more, this is J.T. Lundy's Happy Utopia Day, Joe McCarthy

Chris Thompson is an average United States Customs Agent with a wife and a son and a house and a job and that's about it. When he is called to a meeting out of the blue by the President of the United States, he finds himself on Bond-like mission of unparalleled proportions that involves an invented stealth invasion by Mexico and Canada, a government takeover by the Big Mac party, a retroactive adoption of McCarthian ideals, and a classified government program involving torture, Utopia, and Mackwacky.

So here's the deal. I picked up this book because I was desperately hoping for a farce of epic proportions mocking the government and 1950's ideals. I not only got what I asked for, but was also pleasantly surprised with the hilarious intrigue and satirical espionage that wraps around the (story) fig like (detail) bacon. This story is so farcical and outlandish that you can't not love it; it is a smart comedic send-up of a fringe political party (ahem...ring a bell?) and a cautionary satiric tale on the dangers of a government gone too far. Appropriate for today, no?

My favorite part of this whole story is not just its outlandishness but its brazen disregard for reality while still grounding the work in what could freakishly turn out to be a real government program. (No, I don't believe something like Emergence exists...or do I? And what is "Emergence," you ask? Read the book. Then you will know.) I loved how I could just giggle uncontrollably at the quick-witted jokes. (Really, Chris? You are a member of the Tri-Delt security clearance?) I loved that Lundy continuously brought back in Karen and Scotty, Chris's wife and son, for a human effect while still employing them for comedic purposes. I loved the ending that you don't see coming, but you do. Basically, I had so much with this book and you should too.

We all need more fun in our lives. Kindle version on left, hard copy on right.