What I Read in March 2016

This blog hasn’t been updated since 2013 (!) so in the interest of just getting something up I’m going to recap what books I read or listened to last month. The first thing you should know is that I always have at least two books queued up. Generally this means I’ll have one book on my Kindle and one audiobook either from Audible or, if it’s something I’ve pulled from a library, I use Overdrive. On a side note, if you aren’t taking advantage of your local library’s eBook and audiobook lending services then you’re really missing out. I’m a bit spoiled and have access to the library sites from the various places I’ve lived over the past decade. I also have a weekly recurring time scheduled on my calendar to check each of the sites for new listings so I can get on hold lists. This is especially great for audiobooks as I tend to get through those much faster.

I didn’t start listening to audiobook regularly until the spring of 2014. Initially I used to just listen to them while I was walking or running but then I realized that I could listen while I was cooking, cleaning, sorting the recycling, doing my hair — you get the picture. Audiobooks are a fabulous distraction for me, although all the mindfulness books I’ve read are probably giving me the evil eyeball for admitting it. Sorry, mindfulness, I’m just not ready to be one with my thoughts right now.

Anyway, in March I consumed the following:

march_2016_reads

The Martian
I so wish I had read this before I saw the movie. In the end I think it was really excellent though. It’s not often you can say that about a film and a book. I can’t believe it was originally a self-published novel. That’s just nuts. The narrator of the audiobook kind of sounds like Matt Damon too which was nice.

Try Not to Breathe
I’m so glad Gone Girl was written and became super popular so that zillions of writers now churn out lots of twisty, topsy-turvy, weird, suspenseful books for me to read. If I had my way I’d only read this type of novel. I love, love, love them. Of course, some are better than others. This one, thankfully, is one of the well done ones. The main narrator, Alex, is so painfully self-destructive that my discomfort level while reading some of her scenes would best be compared to how I feel watching The Real Housewives have yet another high heeled, cocktail fueled, brawl on national TV. Total train wreck. The girl in a coma mystery was actually intriguing and nuanced, and I ended up very entertained.

The Hypnotist’s Love Story
Liane Moriarty is my new favorite author and this novel was the last one I had left to read so I was “keeping it” until I just couldn’t stop myself. Now I want to be or go to or befriend a hypnotist. The other thing that really stood out for me was the main character’s ability to actually use and apply things like thought stopping techniques and really pointed self-observation (why am I acting like this right now…what is the real problem) whenever she was uncomfortable or flipping out about something. I also feel an overwhelming need to move to Australia and I’m happy to report that just as I finished this last novel Liane announced her new book. This means I have just a few more months until I can fall back into this fantastic writer’s extremely well plotted and uniquely populated world.

Black Eyed Susans
I really didn’t see the twist coming in this one. Really. It was also very atmospheric and creepy. Read it. You’ll like it. You’ll probably never trust anyone in your life ever again but it’s a great book.

The Duchess
When I was growing up, I read way too much Jude Deveraux. This is one of my favorites in her very large catalog of romance novels. I didn’t read the Outlander books until recently so this is how I learned about how sexy Scotland, the highlands, kilts, and whiskey were. The dashing gentleman in the book is a bit of a departure from the usual hunk and there’s a household full of quirky and bizarre family members. Even revisiting it now, many years later, I still think it’s one of the more creative and unique romance novels I’ve ever read.

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The Last Coyote
I loved the show Bosch on Amazon so much that I started reading the books. They’re great hardboiled detective stuff. There are also 21 books in the series and this is book 4. Book 4, as you can imagine, was published awhile ago so I am endlessly amused by people using fax machines and ancient computers. In case you’re wondering, yes the tv show and the novels differ enough so that you can enjoy both. They aren’t just a repeat of one another.

The Widow
OK. A lot of people loved this book. Stephen King even tweeted about it. That’s great. However, I don’t understand why this is being marketed as a book to read if you liked Gone Girl or The Girl on the Train (both of which I loved) when it’s absolutely not a psychological thriller. If it hadn’t been promoted in that manner I’d feel like it was a perfectly fine novel. It’s very well written, but there is nothing truly twisty in it and because I kept waiting for one of those “you’ve got to be kidding me” moments to appear I just ended up being a little let down.

A Madness So Discrete
This is historical YA that revolves around a very wealthy young woman, Grace, who has been confined to an insane asylum by her father. The asylum is horrifying (remember those scenes with Eva Green in Penny Dreadful) and eventually she begins to assist a doctor with a series of serial killings. The secondary characters are very well fleshed out. We even have an ex-prostitute who is treating her Syphilis with mercury. Fun. I bet the book banning nuts will be all over that. I feel like this is going to be a series? If it happens to become one I’d read the next book. I think there’s a lot of promise here.

The Light of the Fireflies
Oh. You thought your family was dysfunctional? Well wait until you get to know these people. They live in an underground bunker, everyone except the youngest child has horrible disfiguring burns, and the daughter (who wears a mask) just had a baby. Guess who the dad is?! This was so disturbing and not in the way I like. I was hoping for an apocalypse but what I got was very different and unfortunately almost as emotionally awful. The book is very well written but I never want to read it or frankly think about it again. I suppose that makes it a success?

The Walls Around Us
This is a gorgeously written book with unreliable narrators galore. I just loved reading it. It’s a little supernatural, a lot twisty, there are ballerinas, and a juvenile detention center. Wait. Is this a show on the CW? I kid…but it is really atmospheric and it’s also one of those books that you can finish and just feel tremendously satisfied.

Delirium by Lauren Oliver

Delirium (a word I can’t seem to type without the aid of spell check) is the first YA novel in awhile that I loved from cover to cover. I have yet to read Lauren Oliver’s debut novel, Before I Fall, but it has certainly been added to my unwieldy wish list.

One of the first things I loved about Delirium was that it takes place in Portland, Maine. A city I love and lived in for several years after college. Following Lena, our heroine, around the streets, beaches, and landmarks of Portland was fantastic and really fun. I could almost always picture exactly where the action was taking place as I’d been there before. Although, as an aside, it got on my nerves a bit when Oliver referred to The Old Port as just “Old Port” or the Eastern Prom as Eastern Promenade as though they were the same as Brown Street or Smith Ave. I know a single article in a sentence isn’t that important but I don’t think I’ve ever heard anyone refer to THE Old Port without adding a “the” to the phrase. But I digress…

The Portland I know and remember is drastically different in this dystopia. The world weaved is one of isolation, governmental brainwashing, disinformation and an intense amount of fear. The United States has closed her borders and declared love a disease. To cure this “affliction” citizens are essentially lobotomized after graduating from high school. The operation is supposed to cure all symptoms of Amor Deliria Nervosa [love] and then men and women are paired for marriage by a scientific committee. Anyone who shows too much emotion, laughs to loudly, is caught dancing, or even caring too much about their children can be prosecuted and potentially sent to The Crypts, a dungeon where inmates are left to rot in deplorable conditions.

At the beginning of the novel Lena goes along with this reality. She is resigned to the fact that her operation is scheduled for a date merely a few months away. She’s complacent and obedient — the perfect sheep, but then Lena meets Alex and everything changes.

I found myself able to relate to Lena wholeheartedly. She was a fully realized character with nuance and extreme likability. While light on actual romance, what there is was handled sweetly and believably. This book is part of a trilogy so thankfully yet another cliffhanger ending will be resolved at a later point. But this does bring out my continued annoyance with the trend for YA, as of late, to always be multi-parted. Even if I’m absolutely in love with a collection of characters sometimes it’s nice to have a succinct and tidy wrap-up to a book. What do you think? Is this sequel happy world getting a bit much? Or do you subscribe to the “more is more” camp?

Hold Me Closer Necromancer

In all honesty I requested an arc of Hold Me Closer Necromancer by Lish McBride thinking that it would be completely absurd, but I simply couldn’t resist the title. I should have checked my prejudice immediately upon opening the envelope the book came in.  Sherman Alexie, aka the god of all things amazing, blurbed the book calling it a “scary funny book or a funny scary book” and then continued, “in either case, it is a great book. I love it.”  Even with such a serious stamp of approval I still tossed my copy on the bookshelf and went about with life.

Then I walked by it 12 dozen times or so, often chuckling at the title and then getting Elton John’s Tiny Dancer stuck in my head until finally I picked it up and started reading.

It was love at first sight. The book takes place in Seattle (only one of my favorite places in the world), the main character, Sam, works in a fast food joint (been there, done that) and then his life is turned on its head after an ill-timed hockey puck breaks the taillight of a very evil dude’s car. Hilarity and danger ensue! The pace of the book was a good strong gallop and while there certainly could have been a horrible fall into an overwrought “Twilight” mood, McBride does an excellent job of boldly steering her first novel quickly away from that train wreck. The magic and mythology referenced seems more edgy here and Sam’s love interest is a kick-ass female Werewolf who would be more likely to shank you than moon and brood.

I found this story to be fantastically packed with pop-culture references. For instance each of the chapters is labeled with a song lyric such as “The Future’s So Bright, I Gotta Wear Shades” or “Don’t Rock the Boat Baby.” And I loved how refreshingly frank the characters in the book were when talking about drugs, sex, and other such topics that will no doubt send conservative mothers everywhere into a great big tizzy. I did wonder if perhaps this book was originally geared towards adults and was then marketed to a YA audience — no matter though it’s such fun that I’m simply glad it was released.

So do yourself a favor and read this book! Just ignore it when people look at the title while you’re on the subway or at work and raise their eyebrows in judgment. This is a unique debut YA novel that is not to be missed and I thoroughly hope that there is a sequel (or two) in the works.

Goals for January 2011

As my extended holiday vacation comes to a close today (thank you higher ed workplace) and I attempt to not feel sad about returning to the 9-5 grind (remember: you like your job, you like your job) I suppose I should set some goals (not resolutions). In the spirit of new beginnings I’m going to attempt to complete the following tasks over the next 30 days

1. Follow the Four Hour Body diet. After reading the book over vacation I’m definitely intrigued by the premise – basically sticking to a slow carb diet 6 days per week with a planned cheat day where you’re allowed to eat anything you like. I’ll keep you posted as to how that works out…

2. Write. Write. Write – which wont be a problem as I’m taking another Grub Street 8-week class. This time I’ll be putting my non-fiction chops to the test.

3. I’ve also decided to complete the Yoga Journal 21-day challenge. This begins on January 10th. The last time I considered myself to be “thin” was five years ago when I was doing a tremendous amount of yoga. Maybe this will help?

4. Start a YA book club with Pam. I’ve tried and failed at doing this for years. This time I’m going to make it happen.

Wish me luck! This list should keep me busy and therefore help to stave off the January doldrums.

Revolution by Jennifer Donnelly

Jennifer Donnelly’s initial foray into young adult fiction, A Northern Light, was the first and only selection in the Young Adult Book Club Anna and I tried to start when we were living in Portland. We even bought a copy of the book for our friends Jaime and Kelly, who lived across the street from me, and left it in their mailbox, gently “encouraging” them to participate. In the end our failed book club consisted of Anna and I sitting in the Barnes and Noble Cafe drinking lattes. Although, to our credit we did discuss the book. That’s not something you can claim with most book clubs, right?

As much as I loved A Northern Light, I have to admit that Revolution trumps it completely. Donnelly’s ability to weave her extensive historical research into such tight and cohesive plot is uncanny. I simply couldn’t put the book down and found myself extremely sympathetic to the main character,  Andi Alpers, and her struggle with depression and the guilt she harbors over the tragic death of her young brother.

Andi’s life is one of privilege. She attends a posh New York city school with the creme de la creme of society. She’s a gifted musician and guitarist but she has become completely consumed in the deep blackness of a depression she can’t escape. She’s addicted to prescription drugs, her geneticist father has left the family, and her mother is in a constant state of mourning for her brother. When Andi’s grades reveal that she may not graduate high school her father drags her to Paris so that he can monitor her activities as she attempts to write an outline for her required thesis.

In Paris, Andi discovers the diary of Alexandrine, a passionate actress who worked as the companion to the young son of Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette. Via Alex’s diary entries Andi uncovers an amazing story of heroic proportions. It’s difficult to write about the book as I truly don’t want to give an iota of real plot away. Trust me. The scenes that take place in 18th century Paris are just as outstanding as those that deal with the present day.

As an added bonus there is an immense amount of music, both present day artists and classical works, mentioned throughout the novel. A quick Google search doesn’t appear to show any listing for an official author’s play list so maybe I’ll take the time to scour the book’s pages and pull something together? In the meantime, definitely read this book!

Top 5 YA Titles I Just Can’t Wait To Read

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splendorSplendor: A Luxe Novel by Anna Godbersen
From the publisher: It’s a new year, and Manhattan’s favorite socialites are stirring up brand-new drama: Elizabeth uncovers a dangerous secret from her past; Diana has an opportunity to follow her heart—and claim her future, Lina discovers money can buy happiness…for a time, and Penelope finds that life without Henry brings unexpected pleasures. In this dramatic conclusion to the bestselling Luxe series, old ties are broken, fresh bonds are formed, and every decision comes at a cost.
My thoughts: I may seriously cry. I can’t believe this is the final book in the series. Why can’t it go on forever? Who could seriously get sick of catty girls clad in silk and taffeta ball gowns having battles of whit while wielding calling cards?

viola_in_reelViola in Reel Life by Adriana Trigiani
From the publisher: Shipped off to boarding school in South Bend, Indiana, city girl and aspiring filmmaker Viola Chesterton feels out of place with her three new roommates. Missing her life back home, Viola is tempted to hide behind her video camera all year. But first impressions are often wrong, and soon Viola realizes she’s in for the most incredible year of her life—if only she can put the camera down and let the world in.
My thoughts: I always wished I could have gone to boarding school. Now I like to read about it vicariously. I also wish I could be creative enough to edit videos in lovely and unique ways but so far I just stumble around in iMovie adding titles and silly captions to the shaky iPhone shot adventures of my kittens.

dream_girlDream Life by Lauren Mechling
From the publisher: Claire Voyante’s first semester at Henry Hudson High School was eventful, to say the least. As she heads into her second semester, things are calming down a bit. But Claire has a few secrets that are getting harder to keep. Her biggest secret of all? The onyx and ivory cameo necklace her grandmother gave her for her 15th birthday. Ever since she started wearing it, her dreams have been coming to her in black and white and turning out to be oddly prophetic. Becca’s been hanging out with her old prep school friends and never seems to have time for Claire anymore. And soon, Claire discovers why—there’s a secret group of society girls with a mysterious identity. And, turns out, a mysterious enemy who’s out to get them. The second she sniffs out trouble, Claire jumps on the case. But is it someone close to Claire who’s in danger again—or could it be Claire herself whose life is at stake?
My thoughts: The first book in this series was one of my favorite finds last year. It’s just exquisite and I simply adore the heroine. If I could go back and relive my teen years I think I would want to do so as this percocious young sleuth.

derby_girlWhip It aka Derby Girl by Shauna Cross
From the publisher: Meet Bliss Cavendar, a blue haired, indie-rock loving misfit stuck in the tiny town of Bodeen, Texas. Her pageant-addicted mother expects her to compete for the coveted Miss Blue Bonnet crown, but Bliss would rather feast on roaches than be subjected to such rhinestone tyranny. Bliss’ escape? Take up Roller Derby. When she discovers a league in nearby Austin, Bliss embarks on an epic journey full of hilarious tattooed girls, delicious boys in bands, and a few not-so-awesome realities even the most bad-assed derby chick has to learn.
My thoughts: All I have to say is Roller Derby: Yes, Please! Plus, everyone knows you should read the book before seeing the movie.

ex-masEx-Mas by Kate Brian
From the publisher: Seventeen-year-old Lila Beckwith has just about everything you can wish for, except her annoying younger brother Cooper. When Lila’s parents announce they’ll be going out of town, Cooper snitches about her plan to throw a party. In retaliation, Lila hands Cooper the newspaper declaring that global warming is melting the North Pole. Cooper firmly believes in Santa Claus, and this is a crushing blow. After her parents leave, putting the neighbors on high watch, Lila goes to pick up Cooper at his best friend Becky’s house. Becky’s brother happens to be Beau, Lila’s ex-boyfriend. When Lila arrives she and Beau discover Becky and Cooper are missing; they find Google maps, the article, and other clues. Their siblings are on an adventure to save Santa. Even though they can’t stand the sight of each other, Lila and Beau know what they have to do: work together to get Becky and Cooper home safely, by Christmas.
My thoughts: I have a soft spot for anything having to do with Christmas since I am the self-appointed “Christmas Queen.” This book sounds like it would make a lovely ABC Family 25 Days of Christmas holiday movie adaptation, don’t you think?

Strange Angels by Lili St. Crow

Strange AngelsIt’s Supernatural meets Veronica Mars in Lili St. Crow’s new young adult novel Strange Angels. Straight away our scrappy heroine, Dru Anderson, hears some odd tapping noises at her back door. Surprise! Dad’s been turned into a zombie. Fortunately Dru is channeling bizarre Allison DuBois like psychic abilities and her grandmother and father (before he became reanimated) both schooled her thoroughly in the art of things that go bump in the night. Even so what she has to do in this scenario is every daughter’s worst nightmare.

It goes from bad to worse quickly and unfortunately Dru just can’t catch a break. Her new friend Graves lets her crash in his swinging hidden bachelor pad at the mall but then they get attacked by “wulfen” and Graves is bitten. Thankfully he’s a virgin though so legend has it he wont be turned into a freaky fury fiend.

I’m not entirely sure I understand the difference between “wulfen” and “werewolves” so if someone wants to enlighten me feel free. In the novel vampires are also referred to as “suckers” which feels awfully offensive to me for some reason, but at least the vampires are properly vicious and don’t sparkle.

After some gun wielding, a great escape, and a little research Dru and Graves make contact with a mysterious vampire-not-a-vampire named Christophe, who is appropriately dreamy and well heeled, but is he on their side or just leading them astray? I’ll never tell…

Some parts of this novel felt a bit too much like other popular media in the supernatural category, but it’s well paced for the book to develop into a series. I’m intrigued enough to want to read the next novel, Betrayals, scheduled to be released this Fall (especially since we’re left with a cliffhanger ending) in hopes of unraveling some of the many hanging plot points surrounding Dru’s family and the other mysterious beings who are introduced.

By the way, thanks to that nasty zombie at the beginning of the book, I had three separate zombie nightmares last night. Miss St. Crow I think this means that all in all you did your job.