Saturday, May 20, 2017

The Idiot Girl and the Flaming Tantrum of Death

Book 27 of my 2017 Reading Challenge
read from May 8 - May 20

The Idiot Girl and the Flaming Tantrum of Death: Reflections on Revenge, Germophobia, and Laser Hair Removal by Laurie Notaro

Summary (via Goodreads)
Laurie Notaro has the uncanny ability to attract insanity - and leave readers doubled over with laughter. In The Idiot Girl and the Flaming Tantrum of Death, she experiences the popular phenomenon of laser hair removal (because at least one of her chins should be stubble-free); bemoans the scourge of the Open Mouth Coughers on America's airplanes; welcomes the newest ex-con (yay, a sex offender!) to her neighborhood; and watches, against her own better judgement, every Discovery Health Channel special on parasites and tapeworms that has ever aired - resulting in an overwhelming fear that a worm the size of a python will soon come a-knocking on her back door.

My Opinion
Great title but that's the only positive thing I can say.

My review after reading another one of her books was that I didn't love it but thought it could be because I read it too quickly, so my approach to this book was to read 1-2 essays per day.  It didn't help.  I guess I just don't find her funny.

It was chugging along to be a 2 star read which for me means I personally didn't like it but think someone else might.  Two things ended up pushing me over the line to a 1 star.  First, she described people and animals as "retarded" 4 separate times in the book.  Nope.  Second, her jokes seem to come from harsh judgements, particularly focusing on weight.  I found it annoying and not funny when she was talking about herself but the cruise essay did me in when she turned the judgement onto others.  Blech.

A Few Quotes from the Book
"I felt so good.
 So naturally, I couldn't leave it at that and enjoy it. Of course I had to poke at it until it burst."

"We'd worry about hurting men's "feelings", completely forgetting that most men don't typically purchase the biological upgrade package that includes those options..."

Monday, May 8, 2017

The Curse of Tenth Grave

Book 26 of my 2017 Reading Challenge
read from May 1 - 7

The Curse of Tenth Grave by Darynda Jones
Book 10 in the Charley Davidson series

Summary (via Goodreads)
As a part-time PI and full-time grim reaper, Charley Davidson has asked a lot of questions throughout her life:
*Why can I see dead people?
*Who is the hot supernatural entity following me?
*How do I get gum out of my sister's hair before she wakes up?
*But, "How do I trap not one malevolent god, but three?" was never among them. Until now. And since those gods are on earth to kill her daughter, she has little choice but to track them down, trap them, and cast them from this dimension.
There's just one problem. One of the three stole her heart a very long time ago. Can the Razer, a god of absolute death and destruction, change his omniscient spots, or will his allegiances lie with his brothers?
Those are just a few of the questions Charley must answer, and quick. Add to that a homeless girl running for her life, an innocent man who's been charged with murder, and a pendant made from god glass that has the entire supernatural world in an uproar, and Charley has her hands full. If she can manage to take care of the whole world-destroying-gods thing, we're saved. If not, well...

My Opinion
As always, I really enjoy this series.  The author does a great job of answering questions while at the same time creating new ones but it feels natural, as in real life when the more you get to know someone the deeper the story gets.  There is one annoying villain stereotype where they spend time spilling their guts before trying to kill Charley, but it's done as sparingly as possible and I'm not sure how she would get the information otherwise.

The side mysteries kept the book interesting and fit in with the storyline really well.  I appreciate the author's attention to detail regarding every character, even minor ones.

The sex scenes were hot as always but there was one in particular that felt very out of place and was too "porn"y for me, blech.

Cliffhanger ending as always so I'm looking forward to the next one.

Quote from the Book
"Michael and I don't really get along. He tried to kill me once. I refuse to be friends with anyone who's tried to kill me."


Sunday, May 7, 2017

All the Stars in the Heavens

Book 25 of my 2017 Reading Challenge
read from April 24 - May 1

All the Stars in the Heavens by Adriana Trigiani 

Summary (via Goodreads)
The movie business is booming in 1935 when twenty-one-year-old Loretta Young meets thirty-four-year-old Clark Gable on the set of The Call of the Wild. Though he's already married, Gable falls for the stunning and vivacious young actress instantly.
Far from the glittering lights of Hollywood, Sister Alda Ducci has been forced to leave her convent and begin a new journey that leads her to Loretta. Becoming Miss Young's assistant, the innocent and pious young Alda must navigate the wild terrain of Hollywood with fierce determination and a moral code that derives from her Italian roots. Over the course of decades, she and Loretta encounter scandal and adventure, choose love and passion, and forge an enduring bond of love and loyalty that will be put to the test when they eventually face the greatest obstacle of their lives. 
Anchored by Trigiani's masterful storytelling that takes you on a worldwide ride of adventure from Hollywood to the shores of southern Italy, this mesmerizing epic is, at its heart, a luminous tale of the most cherished ties that bind. Brimming with larger-than-life characters both real and fictional - including stars Spencer Tracy, Myrna Loy, David Niven, Hattie McDaniel and more - it is the unforgettable story of one of cinema's greatest love affairs during the golden age of American movie making.

My Opinion
Between the setting and grandeur of the era and the author's lovely writing style, this book was so easy to get sucked into.  It was a great escape, light but not sappy.

The book was written in 2015 and the setting was the 1930s but this quote unfortunately applies today..."[Edna Ferber] told me something that has stayed with me. Ferber said, 'Beware the clowns.' The leaders who start out as jokes - people make fun of them, they're caricatures, cartoons in newspapers, and people decide they are harmless. Those men are the most dangerous. The day comes when they use their power against their own people."

A Few Quotes from the Book
""Every picture is a love story." Gable steadies his gaze on the water. "Even when they call it something else. They might call it an adventure, a mystery, a historical, or a Tom Mix western, but they're all love stories.""

"You know, all of us that work on the crews, in the offices, deliver the mail, sew the costumes, and paint the sets, we all work for our families. We take care of each other. The stars are different. Do you ever notice how strange nice, decent people act when they meet a movie star? They act like some deity came off the mountaintop to greet them. The stars are separate from us. And maybe that's why people pay to see them. They know there's something about them that they can never be."

Writing My Wrongs

Book 24 of my 2017 Reading Challenge
read from April 19 - 25

**I received a copy of this book via Blogging for Books and would like to thank the author and/or publisher for the opportunity to read and honestly review it**

Writing My Wrongs: Life, Death, and Redemption in an American Prison
by Shaka Senghor

Summary (via the book jacket)
In 1991, Shaka Senghor was sent to prison for second-degree murder. Today, he is a lecturer at universities, a leading voice on criminal justice reform, and an inspiration to thousands.
Shaka Senghor was raised in a middle-class neighborhood on Detroit's east side during the height of the 1980s crack epidemic. An honor roll student and a natural leader, he dreamed of becoming a doctor - but at age eleven, his parents' marriage began to unravel, and the beatings from his mother worsened, sending him on a downward spiral that saw him running away from home, turning to drug dealing to survive, and end up in prison for murder at the age of nineteen, fuming with anger and despair.
Writing My Wrongs is the story of what came next. During his nineteen-year incarceration, seven of which were spent in solitary confinement, Senghor discovered literature, meditation, self-examination, and the kindness of others - tools he used to confront the demons of his past, forgive the people who hurt him, and begin atoning for the wrongs he had committed. Upon his release at thirty-eight, Senghor became an activist and mentor to young men and women facing circumstances like his. Doing work int the community and having the courage to share his story led him to fellowships at the MIT Media Lab and the Kellogg Foundation and invitations to speak at events like TED and the Aspen Ideas Festival.
In equal turns, Writing My Wrongs is a page-turning portrait of life in the shadow of poverty, violence, and fear; an unforgettable story of redemption, reminding us that our worst deeds don't define us; and a compelling witness to our country's need for rethinking its approach to crime, prison, and the men and women sent there.

My Opinion
This book was very well-written and gave me a perspective that I don't normally get to hear about.  The author is intelligent, didn't have the stereotypical missing father, and still got caught up in the "glamour" of drugs to thrive in his neighborhood, which sets him on a path to destruction.  I couldn't fathom that I was reading about the experiences of a young teenage boy because it's so far out of my realm.

The author is very self-aware and did a lot of introspection.  Even if the reasons weren't correct or ultimately defensible (he took a man's life), he was able to explain why it felt like the only option at the time in a way that was understandable yet not defensive or self-pitying.  That's a fine line to walk and I'm definitely interested in reading his other books and watching his TED talk.

Side note: I can imagine how incredibly frustrating it would feel that he needed to complete a program in order to be considered for parole but the prison didn't have enough resources to provide the program to everyone that needed it in a timely manner.

A Few Quotes from the Book
"As long as there was a threat to my freedom, I acted like I was ready to change, but the moment I got free, I didn't care anymore. It would take ten years and a lot [of] misfortune for me to understand that real change comes only when you are completely and thoroughly disgusted with your actions and the consequences that they produce."

"That's how my relationship with Brenda began. You know, "Boy meets girl, girl asks boy to borrow a gun, boy and girl start dealing crack together.""

Monday, April 24, 2017

The Girl Who Wrote in Silk

Book 23 of my 2017 Reading Challenge
read from April 19 - 24

The Girl Who Wrote in Silk by Kelli Estes

Summary (via the book jacket)
The smallest items can hold centuries of secrets...
Inara Erickson is exploring her deceased aunt's island estate when she find an elaborately stitched piece of fabric hidden in the house. As she peels back layer upon layer of the secrets it holds, Inara's life becomes interwoven with that of Mei Lien, a young Chinese girl mysteriously driven from her home a century before. Through the stories Mei Lien tells in silk, Inara uncovers a tragic truth that will shake her family to its core - and force her to make an impossible choice.
Inspired by true events, Kelli Estes's brilliant and atmospheric debut serves as a poignant tale of two women determined to do the right thing, and the power of our own stories.

My Opinion
The parts of the book in flashback were fascinating and wanting to know what happened to Mei Lien was the only thing that kept me reading.  The parts of the book that took place in the present felt contrived with unnecessary drama and everything wrapped up way too neatly and coincidentally on all fronts.

Normally when I feel so up-and-down about a book I'll split the difference and rate it a neutral 3 stars but in this case, the "downs" were so down that I stuck with a 2.

I do agree with the author that the way we treated Chinese immigrants and people of Chinese descent in the late 1800's and early 1900's is a part of a history we should know more about.

Quote from the Book
"The longer [Inara] was here, the more she felt like a snake shedding its skin, like something tight and constricting was falling off her. For nine years she'd focused on her studies and her goals for the future, and now that her future was upon her, she wanted only to sink into the comfort of the past. Of this island."

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

The Winter Fortress

Book 22 of my 2017 Reading Challenge
read from March 13 - April 16

The Winter Fortress: The Epic Mission to Sabotage Hitler's Atomic Bomb
by Neal Bascomb

Summary (via Goodreads)
It's 1942 and the Nazis are racing to build an atomic bomb. They have the physicists. They have the will. What they don't have is enough "heavy water", an essential ingredient for their nuclear designs. For two years, the Nazis have occupied Norway, and with it the Vemork hydroelectric plant, a massive industrial complex nestled on a precipice of a gorge. Vemork is the world's sole supplier of heavy water, and under the threat of death, its engineers pushed production into overtime.
For the Allies, Vemork must be destroyed. But how would they reach the castle fortress high in a mountainous valley? The answer became the most dramatic commando raid of the war. The British Special Operations Executive together a brilliant scientist and eleven refugee Norwegian commandos, who, with little more than parachutes, skis, and Tommy Guns, would destroy Hitler's nuclear ambitions and help end the reign of the Third Reich.
Based on exhaustive research and never-before-seen diaries and letters of the saboteurs, The Winter Fortress is a compulsively readable narrative about a group of young men who endured soul-crushing setbacks and Gestapo hunts and survived in one of the coldest, most inhospitable places on earth to save the world from destruction.

My Opinion
This book covered an aspect of the war I wasn't familiar with at all and it amazes me that there is still so much I can learn about WWII.  What they went through was mind-boggling but I wasn't truly invested.  Maybe it would've been better if I'd read it faster but I never really got a good handle on who was who.

Unexpected observation: I could handle the descriptions of torture but reading about how they ate the eyelid fat of reindeer made me super queasy.

A Few Quotes from the Book
"Microphotographs of building blueprints, detailed drawings of equipment, and production figures followed. It was everything one might need to build a heavy water plant, or indeed to destroy the only one in existence."

"[Ronneberg] echoed the words Tronstad had told them all before they left for the mission: "Remember: What we do in the next hour will be a chapter of history for a hundred years to come...Together we will make it a worthy one." "

Sunday, April 16, 2017

They May Not Mean To, But They Do

Book 21 of my 2017 Reading Challenge
read from March 26 - April 16

They May Not Mean To, But They Do by Cathleen Schine

Summary (via Goodreads)
The Bergman clan has always stuck together, growing as it incorporated in-laws, ex-in-laws, and same-sex spouses. But families don't just grow, they grow old, and the clan's matriarch, Joy, is not slipping into old age with the quiet grace her children, Molly and Daniel, would have wished. When Joy's beloved husband dies, Molly and Daniel have no shortage of solutions for their mother's loneliness and despair, but there is one challenge they did not count on: the reappearance of an ardent suitor from Joy's college days. And they didn't count on Joy herself, a mother suddenly as willful and rebellious as their own kids.

My Opinion
This book is like people-watching because it's a book about a regular family.  There's drama but no huge problem and an ending that wasn't really an ending but was fitting for the book.  It's like reading a snapshot of how one family came together to handle the death of their husband/father and the balance between grieving and continuing to live their daily lives.

It's a quick read while it's happening but not very memorable when it's over (not an insult).

I felt the words, including this passage as Joy (the widowed mother) returned to her apartment after a trip to visit her daughter: 
  "The sadness was there, waiting for her in the apartment. I'm sorry, Joy said to the sadness. I'm sorry I had to leave you behind for so long. But, believe me, the blue skies never fooled me, you were in my thoughts, in my heart, every minute. She looked out the window at the rain and the wet trees and the bleary spots of red taillights and white headlights. I'm home, she said, with relief, to the emptiness."

Quote from the Book
"Joy woke up and, as usual, Aaron was dead."