Category Archives: Book Reviews

Catching Fire by Suzanne Collins

I was SO right not to read this sequel to The Hunger Games until the third and final installment was released!  The second is just as good as the first and I can’t wait to see how the whole thing ends.  I literally just finished the last page and paused only long enough to post this little blurb before I walk to the bookshelf and crack Mockingjay open.  Seriously, if you haven’t read the Hunger Games trilogy it is well worth reading.  Yes, it is a young adult series but that just means it reads fast.  The Hunger Games happen once a year in Panem to remind the Districts that the Capitol is still in charge and can still make them pay for any disobedience 75 years after the civil war.  Each of the twelve Districts must send one male and one female between the ages of 12 and 18 to the games to fight each other until there is only one left alive.  Yes, it is a book – well, three actually – about kids killing each other but it is not gory enough to be considered horror and it is gripping to hear the story from the first person point of view of one of the “Tributes” inside the arena.  I can’t say any more without including spoilers so just trust me and go read them!

The House at Riverton

This book was an amazing little gem by author Kate Morton!  In essence it is a mystery that at it’s core is based on a secret kept by a servant girl regarding the people she served at the time of WWI and beyond in England.  It is told by the woman, Grace, at the end of her life as a flashback.  This irritated me at times because from the beginning you know there is this huge secret that no one knows but her.  I just wanted to know what the big secret was but it took until the very end – literally – to find out all the details. However, the journey to get there was filled with a great story and great characters and the secret was unpredictable and satisfying when finally revealed.  I look forward to a re-read so I can fully enjoy the story rather than wishing for and hurrying toward the end.  Highly recommended!

Look at me – reading more than a book in a month… I AM super woman at times!

Mr Monster… my first ARC

I know, I know… what the hell does ARC mean?  First, this is a pet peeve I’ve been dying to vent out to the world and now here’s my chance!  Have you ever noticed that groups of like-minded people (like authors) tend to create their own lingo complete with acronyms?  And then they throw those acronyms and buzz words around like it somehow makes them cool?  (Or am I just a total bitch and this bugs me way more than it should?)  In my humble opinion this practice does little to endear “outsiders” to those who use the lingo and instead makes them look like uptight snobs who never grew out of having a secret club with a secret code for entry.  I promise never ever to become one of “those” kind of people.  And I give anyone reading my blog permission to call me on it if I ever do succumb in a moment of weakness.  Deal? 

So, an ARC is an Advanced Reader Copy.  A copy of a book that hasn’t yet had all the mistakes edited out (OMG, published authors make spelling errors?!?!?) and isn’t ready to sell in bookstores or anywhere else.  They are printed to send out to readers in advance of the publishing and release date and authors get copies to do who-knows-what with.  (Now you get the name, right?)  I admit I’m new to the whole industry – who knew writing was so much more than writing a story – and I’d never heard of these little gems.  That is until Dan Wells – who I still can’t say enough good things about – made it possible for me to get one.  Which is how I came to read a book already that is not available in stores until the 28th of September… as in two weeks from now.  I’m giddy as a school girl when I think about how I, the most impatient person on the planet, did NOT have to wait over two months to read the sequel of what I have already decided is my favorite book of the year. 

Mr Monster is the sequel to I Am Not A Serial Killer and is just as fascinating and unputdownable as the first one.  How does one talk about a sequel and not ruin the original?  I’m not sure which is why it is hard to do a proper review.  The main character is still John Clever, a 15-year old sociopath obsessed with serial killers and who is still living his life with major rules so he doesn’t become one himself.  Only now he is dating the object of his obsession – very bad and very good at the same time – and embroiled in working with the FBI to catch a serial killer without incriminating himself in the process.  Dan Wells has done such an amazing job of creating a character who is so genuinely flawed and in any other book would be considered the antagonist but who finds himself the hero so we are forced to love him.  This book is also classified as Young Adult Horror and it is dark in parts but not as graphic or violent as the first – it is more up in your head disturbing rather than blood and guts although there are bits of that as well.  To say anything else would give things away and do injustice to the whole thing.  So, please trust me and if you haven’t already read the first one, get on it so you can be in line for the sequel when it hits bookstores later this month!  Personally I can’t wait for my daughter to be old enough to read them!

The Pillars of the Earth by Ken Follett

This was a book club pick – one which I toyed with choosing a year ago myself and put down after about 200 pages and the first graphic rape scene assuming the rest of the ladies in the group would find it too disturbing.  I’m so glad someone else had the courage to pick it and make everyone read to the end.  With its mammoth size at 973 pages it is very intimidating but, as our group proved, it can be done in a month and is so worth the read! 

The story and characters are so well developed and fascinating that even when I was under pressure to finish in time for the discussion (which I didn’t!) I couldn’t force myself to skip ahead or even skim quickly.  The story tells the struggle over the decades to design and build a cathedral in a small town in England.  It is told from the point of view of the builders as well as the monks who are financing and encompasses bishops, earls, lords, entrepreneurs and the struggles of a civil war to determine the new king. The information on architecture and medieval society were enthralling and the author weaved the fictional story beautifully into the history of the times so it was marginally educational as well as entertaining giving the reader a glimpse into what it might have been like living in the time period.  The overall story arch is a mystery that spans almost two generations before finally being solved and keeps you guessing until the very end.  The story was never predictable and is raw and authentic and emotional. 

I went back and forth on what to rate this book but in the end I chose 4 stars instead of 5 simply because it is not an easy read.  With so many characters and story lines it requires dedication to stick with it.  Unlike many, it is not a book you can easily carry around reading only here and there and thus not one I would read again – which is my own personal criteria of a 5-star tome.  Pick it up when you have time to dedicate because you won’t want to put it down once you start.

I Am Not A Serial Killer

What an amazing read! Once in a great while a book comes along that actually lives up to the hype on the cover. This one claims to be “unputdownable” and it really was! It is a young adult horror novel but anyone will find the main character undeniably fascinating. Creepy, yes, but fascinating nonetheless.  Since it is a young adult genre, even the violence is tame enough for those with a gentler disposition. I knew I would love this book regardless of it’s merits since I met Dan Wells and got some great critique and mentoring from him at my writer’s boot camp.  It was even better than I had anticipated and made the hardback purchase for ass-kissing-with-the-author-so-he’d-share-his-secrets well worth it.

The main character is a 15-year old sociopath who’s family owns a mortuary.  He is fascinated with serial killers and because he is in therapy and knows he has issues he has constructed a whole lot of rules to keep from turning into a serial killer himself.  When there is a real serial killer who comes to town and begins terrorizing the inhabitants, he must use his knowledge of the serial killers he has studied to try and figure out who is behind the killings.  You don’t know whether to love or hate him as he plays both protagonist and antagonist at times.  The twists and turns and glimpses into a sociopath’s mind keep you turning the pages so quickly that it is over before you could think twice about putting it down.  I highly recommend this book to anyone – even the young adults it was marketed for.

The best part of this book for me personally was the fact it has proven, even though I have become an author turned crazy nit-picking reader, that good fiction can still be found and enjoyed.  It is just sometimes harder to find…and comes packaged in the strangest of covers.  This book also marks the first non-book club read for me this year.  How utterly pathetic on so many levels…

Life of Pi

I should have read this book before I became a writer…  I read the jacket cover which told me it was a story about a boy and a tiger shipwrecked on a lifeboat – which sounded really interesting!  Then I had to read 97 agonizing pages of a ‘Part One’ in which nothing really happened except give background story.  (One of the first no-no’s for an author.)  In a nutshell, this was a great story, but badly written. I spent the first half of the book wondering when there was going to be a point and, by the time things started happening, I was so mad that I could have cared less about the interesting aspects of the story or even the main character. I’m glad it was a book club discussion because I came to appreciate the nuances through the eyes of my fellow readers but I still hated the actual reading of it. The author has a great way with description but sifting through the meandering of the monotony made it not really worth it.

I wonder if I’ll ever be able to read for the mere enjoyment without critiquing and analyzing what I would have done differently.  One thing is for sure, I have morphed into more of a writer than a reader and sometimes I lament the loss…

Oceans Apart

I almost didn’t write a review of this horrid little book.  But, I am a creature of habit and so I must.  This month the book club pick was “Oceans Apart” by Karen Kingsbury.  It was also not enjoyable for me.  I knew it would be difficult to get through since the announcement of the book last month was followed up by a little disclaimer just for me along the lines of “oh, by the way, she’s a Christian author”.  Don’t get me wrong, I’m a spiritual person but I’m not the religious type and I prefer my reading not to be riddled with preaching.  *sigh*  However, I am in a book club to expand my horizons and many times a book I would NEVER have picked up if left to my own devices has turned out to be an amazing little gem.  And I’m sure there are some who have rolled their eyes or muttered about some of my picks in the past as well.  So I read it.  Every 300+, painful pages.
The story is about an airline pilot who has a wife and two daughters and living a perfect life in Florida.  But, his family doesn’t know that he had a one-night stand eight years ago in Hawaii on a layover during a hurricane.  What he doesn’t know is that the chick got knocked up and he has a son.  The woman gets killed in a plane crash – she’s a stewardess – and her will states that her son should spend two weeks with his father (not knowing he is his father but rather his mother’s friend) and then the guy can decide if he wants to keep him or he’ll go up for adoption.  Of course, knowing it is a Christian author, I bet you can’t guess that it’s a story about forgiveness.  *gag*  The convenient aspect is that the harlot stewardess was really a “good girl” who only ever slept with this pilot this one night and ended up pregnant.  (Now it sounds like what my parents used to tell me when we’d have the ‘don’t have sex until you’re married’ talk… it only takes once!)  Apparently she somehow fell in love with this one-night stand and pinned away for him and never loved anyone else.  (Like that’s realistic… NOT!)  Now she is devoted to her son and God and thus the little boy is this bible reading 7-year old.  Sorry, my eight year old isn’t that advanced of a reader so I don’t buy it!
The first problem was the preaching and heavy-handed shove-it-down-your-throat-on-every page religious bullshit.  Seriously, I get that there is a market for people who want to read books with characters in them who share their religious beliefs.  However, I do not believe there are any real people living who think or act like these characters did (and if there are, I don’t want to know that they DO exist!).  The book was more like a sermon with a little bit of a story thrown in for entertainment.  But, remember, I knew this going in and could have overlooked it.
But then there was this problem of bad writing.  How the hell does drivel like this get published?  And I heard this author was a bestseller… and it wasn’t her first book?  The characters were so shallow it was like little walking cardboard puppets on popsicle sticks.  The dialogue by the little boy was done so it sounded like he was 5 instead of 7.  And, the ending was so badly foreshadowed that I knew exactly what was coming from about the third chapter and just kept waiting for her to get to it already.  The descriptions lacked depth – I still don’t have a clear picture of what the two daughters even looked like nor most of the main characters.  “Handsome” doesn’t really tell me anything, does it?  But go ahead and tell me he’s handsome over and over again!  (Show, don’t tell, people!  It’s the first lesson an author should learn!)  And the religious stuff wasn’t even woven into the story.  Just all of a sudden the character would be spouting off about how “I know this is God’s plan” without the benefit of hearing the human struggle of deciding that’s what they were going to choose to believe.  Plus the preaching was so repetitive… find a new phrase because you used that exact one two paragraphs ago, lady!  The actual content of the story could have been summed up as a short story but instead was drawn out far too long.
I headed off tonight to book club not knowing how I was going to express my opinion about the book without hurting anyone’s feelings.  Remember, someone picked this book because they thought it was good.  And, if I totally trash a book with little tolerance, how do I expect everyone to read my picks with the same tolerance, right?  I was glad to hear that even the religious folks in the group thought the religion was over the top and left a bad taste in their mouths.  Having the pleasure of being “the one non-religious one” of the group, I was pretty sure that everyone was wondering what I thought of it all.  I decided not to voice an opinion on the religious aspect and see how long it took someone to ask me.  One hour and seventeen minutes…  ha ha!  What I was not expecting was how many people chose to add layers of depth to the characters in the book that simply did not exist.  They were giving them alterior motives for actions that had no basis in what was actually written.  Some of it was good enough that they should seriously think about writing their own books because it was completely made up with nothing to back up their claims.  All in all, by the time the end of the discussion came around it was clear that the majority of us held the same views as I did and the sappy ones who I assumed would like the book were the ones who did.  
I hated this book enough that I actually wrote my first review ever on Amazon because I wanted a voice of reason out there for others like me that might be tempted to pick it up based on all the glowing reviews.  Trust me, skip this one for sure!

Water for Elephants

What an eye opening glimpse into the Depression Era and the behind the scenes of life on a circus train.  Water for Elephants (Sara Gruen) was this month’s pick but before that it was one I was potential going to pick when it was my duty in 2009.  It has several gritty scenes involving sex which unfortunately come almost back to back in the first third of the book with nothing much later on of “questionable” nature.  Since there are some in the book club who object to such and I was up against a tight deadline of reading before having to announce my choice I feared that if I continued and then didn’t have enough time to pick another more appropriate book it would be disastrous.  So I abandoned it and it ended up on my book shelf with the rest of the novels I’ve started and put down for one reason or another over the past year or two with thoughts of “someday” returning to finish.  When I found out I actually would get the chance to finish it I was ecstatic.
The book has an interesting premise – who doesn’t wonder what it would be like to abandon your life and join the circus never to look back?  The story is loosely based on historical circus’ of the era as well as several elephants whose antics appear in one of the books main characters – Rosie the elephant.  The ending was well thought out and satisfying although the first two thirds of the book seemed – for me – to drag along.  Part of that is because I always feel rather detatched when reading a book written in first person present tense as this one is.  I thought several times midway through that if I wasn’t reading for book club I might be tempted to put it down since the pacing was rather tedious.  There is intricate details painted of day to day living on the circus train which does little to further the plot quickly in many places.  However, the ending was so fantastic that I never once held those chapters against the author when I was done.  All in all, a good read.

Pavilion of Women

What an enigmatic little book. Typically I like to finish a book chosen for the book club and have a few days to stew it over in my mind before the discussion. I didn’t get the chance with this one because it was so difficult to drag myself to the end and actually finish it – and not just because I have a newborn at home. I went to the discussion with little sense of whether I actually loved it or hated it and only through the discussion did I figure it out, sort of. It is a very slow and subtle story where halfway through I still didn’t feel like anything had actually happened. Then, the end is so thrown together that even the big things that happened seemed to be glossed over. Seeing the different reactions from the women in the book club, I believe different ages will take different things away from this book. Because I am still relatively young, I did not understand many of the driving forces of the main character although many of my friends who have grown children and been married longer than I said they identified with her actions. My favorite part of the book was the journey of enlightenment and self-awareness the main character goes through at the end, although it was based on such a subtle premise that it was difficult to take it seriously as part of the story. I give it two stars because even though it was difficult to read and finish I was not unhappy that I had read it when I was through. And it yielded a very lively discussion for the book club group – one in which we rarely went off topic from the book itself which can’t be said too often. If you want excitement and action, perhaps a novel on Chinese culture is not the best place to start. But if you want a book with many layers built on subtle actions where you must read deeply and perhaps more than once, this would be a good choice. It is rich in detail and insight into the daily lifestyle of wealthy and privileged Chinese families which was at times fascinating as well as disturbing.

Book List Archive 2009

Call it year-end maintenance. Call it OCD. You could even call it ‘nesting’. But time once again to archive for safe keeping the list of books I read – this time for 2009. It is strange to see the list so short with very few outside of book club – I was definitely off my reading game this year – but then I remember I’ve been doing much more writing than reading for most of the year and I feel better.

The Hunger Games, Suzanne Collins (book club)
The Angel Maker , Stephan Brijs (book club)
On Writing, Stephen King
Devil May Cry, Sherrilyn Kenyon
The Covenant, Beverly Lewis (book club)
A Girl of the Limberlost, Gene Stratton Porter (book club)
Skin Trade (An Anita Blake Vampire Hunter novel), Laurell K. Hamilton
The Leap, Jonathan Stroud (book club)
The Art of Racing in the Rain, Garth Stein (book club)
Dreamers of the Day, Mary Doria Russel (my pick for book club)
Rogue, Rachel Vincent
Charms for the Easy Life, Kaye Gibbons (book club)
Black Like Me, John Howard Griffin (book club)
magic Kingdom for Sale – SOLD, Terry Brooks (book club)
The Pagan Stone, Nora Roberts
The Alliance, Gerald Lund (book club)

Change of Heart by Jodi Picoult

Time once again for a book review from the neighborhood book club. This month the pick was “Change of Heart” by Jodi Picoult. I had to drag myself away from my writing in order to read this book in preparation for the group discussion. After I was done I wholeheartedly regretted the loss of what could possibly be the last good week of writing before I have this baby. Initially, I was looking forward to reading it because I’ve heard so much about this author (and because I heard there were some ‘F’ words included which is a rarity from the book club). From the very beginning I found more reasons to put it down than to stick with it and had to force myself to finish it before the group discussion.

The one character – the mother who lost a husband and child to the death-row inmate who now wants to donate his heart to her remaining child – was only a minor character we never got to really see much of. The entire premise of the inmate being some flavor of messiah was a complete rip off of Stephen King’s Green Mile (who did it better, too!) and the rest of the book was completely unbelievable. Several characters that we had to spend agonizing chapters reading about were gratuitous at best and did nothing to further the plot. The main character – who was the one I would have thought interesting to read from his point of view – was the only person we didn’t get to hear from directly. The ONE redeeming quality of this book, and why it got 2 stars from me instead of just one, was the religious aspect and how she was able to discuss and give interesting information without preaching to the reader.

All in all, the conclusion left you with as many questions as there were when it began. There were twists that were thrown in long after I had stopped caring about any of the characters which detracted from the tempo of the book. And the characters were not written well enough for me to ever really care about any of them. If you’ve read Stephen King’s “The Green Mile”, skip this one for sure as it will only piss you off. I’m on the fence about picking up any more from this author because of the lack of quality writing I just witnessed.

The topics touched on in the book – the death penalty, organ donation, and religion – were ones that sparked a good discussion with the ladies from book club but since the book itself never made any real statements one way or the other about any of these topics, even the discussion was not very polarized.

Now, to get back on track with my own writing after such a wasted detour…

Book List Archive 2008

A little “house-cleaning” is in order… Chalk it up to “nesting” if you will.  BUT, it must be done!  I am a pack-rat at heart and merely taking off last year’s books from the long (and very out-dated) list on the sidebar was just not going to do… So, here’s the list of all the books I read (or were noteworthy enough to be listed on the blog) for historical reference.  And, of course if you’re reading this it is a glimpse into the insane world that is my reading life!  Enjoy….

Swallowing Darkness, Laurel K Hamilton
The Choice, Nicholas Sparks (book club)
Someone Not Really Her Mother, Harriet Scott Chessman
The Screwtape Ltters, C.S. Lewis (book club)
Blood Noir (An Anita Blake Vampire Hunter Novel), Laurell K. Hamilton
Lover Enshrined, J.R. Ward
Breaking Dawn, Stephanie Meyer
In Defense of Food, Michael Pollan
Elantris, Brandon Sanderson (book club)
Letters for Emily, Camron Wright
Gone With the Wind, Margaret Mitchell (book club)
The Kite Runner, Khaled Hosseini
The Other Boleyn Girl, Phillipa Gregory (book club pick)
The Glass Castle, Jeannette Walls (book club)
Tall Grass, Sandra Dallas (book club)
The World Without Us, Alan Weisman
Jane Eyre, Charlotte Bronte (book club)
An Echo In the Darkness, Francine Rivers (book club)
A Voice in the Wind, Francine Rivers (book club)
Sex Signs

The Choice

This book by Nicholas Sparks left me so wanting… I guess if you want mindless boy-meets-girl-who-has-hang-ups-and-then-life-works-out-like-a-fucking-fairytale that reads like most of his other books then go ahead and pick it up. However, if you want a book that was written thoughtfully with some actual research (or maybe thought?!?) put into it then I don’t recommend it. The book is supposed to be about the choice of a husband to take his wife off life support or not and yet it gets sort of thrown in at the end. The bulk of the book is about the one weekend when they met and how they fell in love and ended up together – which actually sucked because the female lead character was really a little harlot who cheated on her long-time boyfriend and ends up sleeping with the male lead character after only a couple of days? Come on, Sparks, what do you take us for? The second part of the book, which starts about 2/3 of the way in and is supposedly what it is about, is so jumbled and confusing that you don’t even know what has happened or what the struggle is supposed to be; almost like it was thrown in as an afterthought so he could have a new title and a new book to market. And let’s not forget the blatant evidence of not having done a bit of research for this book that can be summed up by the little “Aztec ruins in Cancun” reference. Hello! They are Mayan ruins, not Aztec! The ending is so unrealistic from both a medical and a personal perspective that I found it insulting. Definitely not something I would bother with unless you are a super duper Sparks fan. Personally, I like my fantasy to be labeled as such.

(OMG, could becoming a writer actually make one a hateful reader? I am a bit worried….)

With all that said, it was still a very lively discussion at book club last week where we talked about all the relevant stuff that the book SHOULD have brought up and actually made a statement about. Why does one bother writing a book with such a political and social topic and then not even bother to make a statement about what you think? Self, repeat after me… When I become a NY Times Bestselling Author I will NOT sell myself short just to write another book on someone’s damn deadline.”