Friday, May 26, 2017

The Girl Before/ JP Delaney / 336 pgs

Despite my weariness with publishers using the word "girl" in titles when referring to full-grown women, I decided to read this suspense novel I'd heard a lot about. And unlike with The Couple Next Door, I'm glad I read this one! While it is also written in the present tense, it's first person, and though I occasionally found this annoying, it wasn't nearly as bad as the third person present of the previous book.

It's told from the alternating viewpoints of Emma and Jane, two women who end up renting the same house, years apart. It's creepy and intriguing and there are many twists--good twists. You really have no idea what's going on until the very last page. I'd love to say more about the plot but almost everything would be a spoiler. This is an emotional story too. Jane has recently lost a stillborn child and her feelings are real and palpable. I can definitely recommend this story.

Thursday, May 25, 2017

The Couple Next Door/ Shari Lapena / 308 pgs

I'd heard a lot about this book and since I love suspense, decided to give it a try. Now I wish I hadn't. My first complaint is that the book is written in 3rd person present tense. Ugh. This is a terrible way to read a story. It never stopped irritating me.

So, on to the story and characters. Marco and Anna are parents to 6 month baby girl Cora. They are invited to an adults-only dinner party at their next door neighbors. They do the responsible thing and get a babysitter. Only she cancels at the last minute. Deciding that their snotty neighbor Cynthia won't allow them to bring the baby after all, they leave her in her crib, bring the baby monitor (audio only), and check on her every 30 minutes. Despite all these precautions, baby Cora goes missing while her parents are getting drunk and her father makes out with the neighbor.

There is a lot going on in this story and I didn't like any of it. The characters are all horrible people. The only one who might be able to garner some sympathy is the mother, Anna, but even she ends up being not very likable. These characters spend too much time wallowing in their own poor decision-making. And the ruminations--each character goes over the same information again and again, trying to decide if this person or that person could have done this or that. There were plenty of twists, but all of them left a bad taste in my mouth. Not to mention I spent the whole book worrying about poor little Cora's well-being:(

Popol Vuh / Anonymous / 388 pgs

I read this book in preparation of a presentation I had to give in my Spanish 102 class on ancient Mayan mythology. As mythology goes, I think I still prefer Greek mythology, but as someone who has a degree in religious studies, I found that my knowledge of Central and South American religion and mythology is sorely lacking, so I'm glad I got to read this. The book is divided in four parts, and it's a bit tricky to understand exactly what is going on at all times, but essentially, the first part concerns the creation of the universe and the different deities that played a part. It took several tries to get the creation of humans right. The first time, they were made of mud, then wood, and then flesh and bone. The second part concerns twins who were tricksters and clever enough to get themselves out of sticky situations. It's a common enough motif among Native Americans. The third and fourth parts concern the K'iche Mayans and how their tribe was formed, how they got a patron god, and how they found their capital in Guatemala. The stories themselves are quite short but there are a LOT of footnotes to help explain what is exactly happening in the stories.

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Sundays at Tiffany's / James Patterson / 309 pgs

This is one of those books I would have never picked up if not for the reading challenges I do. That said, for a romance, it was pretty good! The ending was a bit cliche and it looked like it was heading for the kind of ending that was in the movie "City of Angels" but I'm glad it didn't quite go there. 

The story involves Jane, the daughter of a famous actress, who doesn't feel loved or have friends save for her imaginary friend, Michael. Michael looks like a handsome 30 year old. On Jane's 9th birthday, he leaves her for good, saying that all imaginary friends must move on to their next assignment once a child hits 9 years old. He tells her that she won't even remember him. In this case, however, Michael was wrong. Twenty-three years later, Jane is an adult, still in the shadow of her mother, in a relationship with an actor who doesn't even care for her. Then she sees Michael, her imaginary friend, looking exactly like he did when she was young. Michael, on the other hand, is at a total loss as to why the sweet little girl all grown up is back in his life.

Like I said, I'm pretty particular when it comes to romances but I really liked the unique twist in the book, the idea that imaginary friends aren't so imaginary. I recommend it for someone who wants something a little different in their romance.

Martian Chronicles / Ray Bradbury / 268 pgs

This is one of those books I should have read a long long time ago. I think it was on my TBR for over five years. I finally got around to it now and I loved it! Of course, I am overly fond of science fiction short stories, like The Illustrated Man, and this is just classic Bradbury. My favorite stories had a touch of The Twilight Zone in them. All of the stories deal with man's exploration of and subsequent conquering of Mars. You see, Martians live on Mars, and so the first three groups to arrive from Earth, over the course of a couple of years at the turn of the 21st century, are not greeted with the warmest of welcomes.

However, eventually, Earth gains a foothold on Mars and humans start to build their own towns and cities. Trouble back home in the form of impending nuclear war impedes the colonization process, and the books end in the 2030s with life on Mars not being exactly what you would think.

I loved the bite size stories, the chronology as it played out, and the wonderful descriptions of the Martian landscape. The books were written long before we knew of the harsh conditions on Mars, so one must remember that only 70 short years ago, we had no idea what Mars might hold. I highly recommend for anyone who likes classic science fiction like Bradbury, Asimov, or Clarke.

Make Trouble/John Waters/71 pgs.

This is the speech that John Waters gave to the 2015 graduating class at the Rhode Island School of Design. Being a "creative" person himself, Waters encourages the graduates to pursue their dream of working in the arts.The book is illustrated by Eric Hanson, which adds to the text. It's an inspiring speech to all graduates regardless of the career paths they choose. It would make a good graduation gift! Along those lines, I still prefer Neil Gaiman's Make Good Art, illustrated by Chip Kidd. Recommended.

Saturday, May 20, 2017

Sting/Sandra Brown/408 pgs.

Shaw Kinnard has been hired to kill Jordie Bennet. Jordie's brother, Josh, was to turn testimony against his gangster boss, Billy Panella. Josh escapes from FBI protection, so Panella wants to kill Jordie in order to send Josh a message. Also, there is the 3 million dollars that Panella is missing--and believes Josh is going after. There are red herrings, romance, etc., which is pretty typical of Sandra Brown's books. However, I found this one of her better suspense mysteries. Highly recommended!

Neanderthal Seeks Human/ Penny Reid /308 pgs

Believe it or not, Neanderthal Seeks Human is a romance. I thought the title and the concept of the book were intriguing, but alas the execution didn’t work for me.

Janie is a smart woman who’s just been fired from her job. She’s got some quirks, including the urge to spout random facts when she’s nervous, but I mostly liked her. Though it’s never stated explicitly, I would guess that Janie falls somewhere on the autism spectrum. A security guard, a hot guy that Janie’s noticed before, escorts her out of the building and into a limousine that takes her home. Well, actually not home because she just broke up with her cheating boyfriend and has moved out, so she crashes at a friend’s place. The hot security guard, Quinn, continues to pop up in Janie’s life and eventually helps her get a job at his company. Despite numerous obvious signs, Janie never catches on that Quinn owns the company. This was annoying as was the fact that the story is told in the first person (Janie) and we never really get to know Quinn, except that he can be very private, he’s rich, and he finds Janie attractive. These two often misinterpret what the other says and means, and this got frustrating after a while. There’s a lot going on here, including a suspense subplot that is never fully developed, and as a whole the book just didn’t work for me.

Friday, May 19, 2017

Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe / Benjamin Alire Sáenz / 359 pgs

This is one of those books that I would have never read if not for the ReadHarder challenge. Not as angsty as The Perks of Being a Wallflower, but it was close, and for me, I don't consider that a good thing. I find I have very little patience with whiny teenagers and this book was no exception. I suppose this book was trying to get me to feel things, but I've read at least fifty books that hit me in the feels without trying nearly as hard.

The story is of Aristotle (Ari is his nickname). He's a 15 year old Mexican-American kid growing up in El Paso in 1987 and 1988. He is a loner, has no friends, until he meets Dante, who teaches Ari how to swim. Their friendship is the crux of the book. They save each other's lives, deal with hidden family secrets, and their burgeoning romantic interests. If you are into sap of a considerably non-Maple variety, I recommend it. Otherwise, stay far away. This gets 2 out of 5 stars because it was at least better written than The Perks of Being a Wallflower.

Thursday, May 18, 2017

My grandmother asked me to tell you she's sorry / Frederik Backman / 372 p

     What an interesting book!  You are immediately drawn into the story of a 7 year old girl Elsa, and her grandmother who is always doing something unconventional and extremely odd.  The story is about the relationship between Elsa and her granny and their imaginary kingdom.  They live in a flat which is populated with other odd characters.  Elsa (and the reader) will meet them all in the course of the story.  Everything comes together at the end.
I would say more, but no spoilers!  Just read this really good book.

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Brooklyn/Colm Toibin/262 pgs.

This novel takes place in 20th century Ireland and Brooklyn, New York--post World War II.  Eilis Lacey lives in Ireland with her older sister, Rose, and her widowed mother. With the help of an Irish priest living in Brooklyn, Rose makes it possible for Eilis to immigrate to Brooklyn with the hope of making a better life for herself. She is young, homesick, but starts to adapt to her new environment. She falls in love with Tony, an Italian plumber, who wants to move their romance along a little faster than Eilis wants to do. A family tragedy forces Eilis to return home to Ireland, promising Tony that she will return to Brooklyn in a few weeks. Once she's home, Eilis reconnects with her old friends, becomes attracted to a young man from the past, and must decide whether to stay in Ireland, or return to her new life in America. I'm not a big fan of this book. I didn't care very much for Eilis, and I felt that there were a lot of unanswered questions at the end of the book. It's this month's book club book, so I'm looking forward to what the rest of the group thinks.

Yesternight/ Cat Winters / 400 pages

While this isn't a perfect book, it kept me interested until the very end. I was reminded of books by Simone St. James, who I also enjoy.

Alice Lind is a female psychologist who travels around to rural Oregon schools giving intelligence tests to children. She would prefer to be going to graduate school and doing research but those kinds of things are reserved for the menfolk. Alice is independent and she’s used to doing what she wants. She’s also a bit unsettled and has some dark secrets in her past that will come back to haunt her.

In Gordon Bay, she’s presented with 7-year-old Janie, who is a mathematical genius but also claims to be/have been a 19-year-old woman named Violet Sunday who drowned violently (and yes, I did keep reading her name as Violent Sunday!). Alice does not believe in reincarnation but Janie’s father is convinced and wants Alice to help him prove the truth of his daughter’s wild tales. Janie’s mother, divorced from dad, is completely opposed to this.

I will say that the characters are somewhat shallowly written but the mystery of Janie’s past life and Alice’s past are intriguing enough to keep you reading. I didn’t really find Janie creepy, even when she was speaking as Violet, but let me tell you, the ending took a really dark twist and the epilogue really creeped me out! All in all, an entertaining read.