Thursday, June 13, 2013

30 Second Reviews: 6 Months of Words and Stuff

Hi, friends. Six months! Somehow it's been six months since I did a book review post. Jeez, too many books to review. Why did I wait so long? I think part of the reason is that the Blogher Book Club has come to a close, so I've gotten out of the review habit. 

But I've read some pretty fabulous books so far this year. So how about some 30 second, possibly 20 second book reviews just so we can get through everything? There are some great summertime reads in here, some books so fun I'm almost embarrassed to admit how quickly I read them or how much I enjoyed their cheesy goodness. Lots of mysteries, a touch of horror, and a few non-fiction just so I don't feel like a total light weight. So let's dive in!

Cutting for Stone by Abraham Verghese
This is an epic novel that covers more than five decades. Full of life and intriguing characters and unique colorful locations, it felt like an African John Irving novel. Beautiful and sad and epic.

Mrs. Lincoln Dressmaker by Jennifer Chiaverini
What an excellent subject for a book, the relationship between Mary Todd Lincoln and her African American dress maker, personal attendant and confidant Elizabeth Keckley. But the execution was too dry, too much telling, not enough dialogue and direct character interaction, and too much listing off of Civil War events and leaders. I wanted to get more into the internal thoughts and motivations of Elizabeth and Mrs. Lincoln, but it felt more like reading a textbook than a novel. I felt kept at a distance from the primary focus of the book. Not bad, but not my favorite.

The No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency by Alexander McCall Smith
I was hesitant about this book when my neighborhood book club selected it, just because it seemed a little simple and slight following the story of a young African woman in Botswana opening her own detective agency. But I was wrong, it was simple and charming. Ok, you win, little book. I fell in love with your straight talk and lovely protagonist and African setting. You win, I want more.

Beautiful Creatures by Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl
A Southern supernatural young adult love story. I was home sick. I laid in bed the whole day. I finished this baby between naps and soup. The perfect fluffy silly teenage read.

At Dawn by Jobie Hughes
This is a beautifully written book about flawed, frustrating and stuck young characters trying to make lives for themselves in the cold, demanding streets of Chicago. Characters stuck in their own failures and mistakes and regrets. But I liked it even when I hated our protagonist.

All the Pretty Horses by Cormac McCarthy
This audio book was nearly perfect. Filled with imagery of the stark and beautiful country of Texas and Mexico, with fading cowboys and doomed love, I thoroughly enjoyed every hour of it.

Going Clear: Scientology, Hollywood and the Prison of Belief by Lawrence Wright
I bought this book the day it came out. A penetrating, multi-year investigation of Scientology from it's early beginnings to it's most recent celebrity stars, this book was carefully researched, fascinating, disturbing and deeply enjoyable. Is Scientology a cult? Read the book for yourself and decide.

Touch and Go by Lisa Gardner
Standard thriller fare. Not the best, but not the worst read for a cloudy Sunday afternoon.

The Swerve by Stephen Greenblatt
I'm still thinking about my review for this one. Beyond the gorgeous, descriptive language covering the fall of the Roman Empire, heinous Popes, court intrigue and the power and beauty of books and libraries, it felt like the author was trying to force this book to justify his own personal beliefs about religion and faith. I feel smarter about the time and Epicurus, but not sure I buy the entire premise of the author. In fact, I'm not even sure the author does.

The Moonflower Vine by Jetta Carlson
A sweet, inter-generational family novel that reminded me of classics like Fried Green Tomatoes or To Kill a Mockingbird. I loved the lucid writing and the way the author gives each character their own section, so the reader has a chance to see all of the characters from different angles inside the family.

Splendors and Glooms by Laura Amy Schlitz
Loved this audiobook. Made me wish I was 11 or 12 again and discovering gothic mysteries for the first time. Full of dastardly villians, urchins with hearts of gold, witches and puppets that come to life, I was swept up in the magic and whimsy of this dark little tale.

With or Without You by Domenica Ruta
This memoir of a working class girl growing up with a drug addicted mother is haunting and blunt and honest in a way that makes me close my eyes and feel for Domenica and understand her and at the same time want to smack her. Real, brutal and intensely revealing, I like the way the narrative only follows a loosely structured timeline.

A Good American by Alex George
The last book I was lucky enough to review for Blogher's Book Club. Here's my full review.

Eleanor and Park by Rainbow Rowell
Joe and I attended one of Rainbow's readings in Omaha back in March, so of course I HAD to re-read Eleanor and Park. I adore this book. I've raved about Rainbow here and here. Go read this book. Buy a couple of copies and pass it around. Do it. And pick up Attachments while you're there.

Live by Night by Dennis Lehane
A violent, vast and viciously entertaining novel of gangsters and their molls, of up and coming cities of sin and vice in the decades during and after prohibition. Joe Coughlin is an intelligent, contemplative antihero outlaw that will drag you transfixed from a Boston prison to a lush humid Tampa, to the island of Cuba pre-Castro. I'm giddy that Ben Affleck is set to direct the film adaptation. He'll do it right.

You Are Not So Smart: Why You Have Too Many Friends on Facebook, Why Your Memory Is Mostly Fiction, and 46 Other Ways You're Deluding Yourself by David McRaney
Humans are easily mislead, self deluded, delightful morons. This review is shorter than the title of the book. 

So Cold the River by Michael Koryta
Started strong and lost me somewhere admits the tornados, poisoned mineral water, egotistical failed movie makers, ghosts and rednecks. But if you like that sort of thing, I'll loan it to you.

The Secret Keeper by Kate Morton
If you like her other books you'll probably like this one. It was fine. Lots of jumping from time period to time period, character to character, plot twist to plot twist. Enjoyable, but more convoluted than necessary. Reat The Forgotten Garden first, then maybe this one.

Mr. Penumbra's 24 Hour Bookstore by Robin Sloan
This was a romp. A love story, a friend story, a Google-fied adventure through secret libraries, coded mysteries, and lots of San Francisco. Yes! Wonderful! And I think I found my next tattoo. Now to decide on the location.

Nickel and Dimed by Barbara Ehrenreich
This is barely more than a memoir of a comfortably middle class woman slumming it with the working class for a few months and sharing it with her equally middle class book buyers. While I admire the author for undertaking this project, I struggled with her writing style, her frequently interjected personal opinions, her sweeping generalizations, and overall superior attitude. I think this is a valuable book, but I wanted a more researched nonfiction story rather than a memoir.

In Sunlight and In Shadow by Mark Helprin
The writing in this novel is magnificent, transcendent, beautiful. But. But, I can't believe I'm saying this, there's too much of it. It gets bogged down in it's own deep thoughts and moral quandaries and swooning descriptions of young women, love and duty. It needed serious editing and a loss of about 350 pages and it would have been perfection. Otherwise I found myself skimming and looking for action and plot lost among the pretty words and ideas.

Speaking from Among the Bones by Alan Bradley
The lastest in the Flavia deLuce mystery series. As charming as always, but Flavia is growing up, things are changing in Bishops Lacey. But mostly all I have to say is "Damn you, cliff hanger, damn you!"

The Last Girlfriend on Earth by Simon Rich
Unique, biting and funny. But even though it's a slim book, I found myself tired of the author's style and sense of humor about half way through.

The Center Cannot Hold: My Journey Through Madness by Elyn Saks
Another powerful audio book for my commute to work. This is the memoir of Dr. Elyn Saks, chronicling her struggle through bouts of serious mental illness, which despite the debilitating medications, side effects and symptoms of her mental illness, didn't prevent her from being incredibly successful. Her constant on and then off again medication struggle gets a little old, but her intensity, bravery and intelligence win out and win you over.

A Storm of Swords by George R.R. Martin
I'm hooked. That is all. I'll try not to spoil the show for you.

Poke the Box: When Was the Last Time You Did Something for the First Time? by Seth Godin
Fine, I guess. Very forceful and vaguely motivational. Basically 84 pages of repeating his message of get off your ass, stop being scared, stop being mediocre and get to doing. Not bad advice, but not life changing.Though Joe tells me that Seth Godin is widely admired, I just wasn't won over with this one.

The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald
Wonderful. Of course. Your high school English teacher was right.

Me Before You by JoJo Moynes
A British chick lit novel, that's not really a chick lit novel. I listened to the audio book and when it was over, I was shredded. Crying while driving and listening to this sweet, different little book. I saw the ending coming a mile away, no big secret, but it was still heartbreaking.

Confessions of a Prairie Bitch by Alison Arngrim
Amusing. Nelly Olson is a funny lady and pretty damn tough, but that's a lot more info about Little House on the Prairie than I ever planned to read.

The Cutting Season by Attica Locke
A murder mystery set on an old plantation, just an excellent story populated with strong characters, the plantation is a character all it's own. This was essentially a great novel hidden inside a mystery story. A perfect first selection for Dennis Lehane's imprint. And a nearly perfect audio book performance.

Inferno by Dan Brown
Cheesy, fast paced, ridiculously unlikely, but fun. Pretty much The DaVinci Code minus the Catholic Church and set in Florence.

Sharp Objects by Gillian Flynn
Fast, dark, deeply unsettling and a great way to start my summer reading. I didn't love Gone Girl, but I loved this story.

Dreaming of the Bones by Deborah Crombie
Another mystery, this one is the fourth in the British detective series by American author Debora Crombie. It was different, a nice audio book and an easy read.

Dark Places by Gillian Flynn
After reading Sharp Object I picked up Dark Places right away. I wanted to like it more than I did, but the story was so far fetched and the characters so generally unlikeable that I struggled to connect with it. Though Flynn knows how to create unique voices and get inside a character's head in an incredibly effective way.

NOS4A2 by Joe Hill
When I stumbled across Joe Hill's first novel Heart Shaped Box a few years ago, I was hooked. Then when I found out his father was Stephen King, it all made sense. He writes modern, complex horror stories, similar to his father's heyday in the 1980's, and some of his more recent novels. Hill's latest, pronounce it like Nosferatu, was terrifying, bizarre and I devoured it like Christmas candy. (Read the book and that makes more sense.) Joe Hill may become as good as his father is in the freaking Kassie out business. Once you give yourself over to the story you'll find yourself staring at the page, glassy eyed at three in the morning, arms tingly and tensed, wondering when you'll ever sleep again.


MJRose said...

This came up in a google search - and its totally absolutely cool if you don't like my book - and I have no lesbian prejudice at all but you must have this book confused with something else - that's not what is going on at all. It's a ghost story about Victor Hugo's (real life) seances and a present day story about a mythologist researching Celtic ruins.

Kassie said...

So sorry about that, MJ! This is what happens when I read and don't review right away. I must have your book flipped with another with a similar title! Review deleted and I apologize. That has to be so frustrating as a writer to see silly reader making huge mistakes about your book in public! I promise to read your book and write a real review. Thanks for letting me know.