Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Vengeance in Death

Book 84 of my 2014 Reading Challenge

Vengeance in Death by J.D. Robb
Book 6 of the In Death series

Summary (via Goodreads)
He is an expert with the latest technology...a madman with the mind of a genius and the heart of a killer. He quietly stalks his prey. Then he haunts the police with cryptic riddles about the crimes he is about to commit--always solved moments too late to save his victims' lives. Police lieutenant Eve Dallas found the first victim butchered in his own home. The second lost his life in a vacant luxury apartment. The two men had little in common. Both suffered unspeakable torture before their deaths. And both had ties to an ugly secret of ten years past--a secret shared by none other than Eve's new husband, Roarke.

My Opinion
This was harder to read because of the nature of the crimes but the personal stuff added an interesting layer to the story and I look forward to continuing the series.

Quote from the Book
" 'Delicate as a rose, my Eve. Fragile and quiet natured.' He grinned himself when he heard her curse, loud and vicious. 'A voice like a flute.' "

Doctor Who: The Shakespeare Notebooks

Book 83 of my 2014 Reading Challenge

Doctor Who: The Shakespeare Notebooks by Justin Richards

Summary (via Goodreads)
Newly discovered entries and drawings in William Shakespeare’s journals reveal for the first time the astounding relationship between the great Bard and the Doctor.
Since his first adventure in 1963, the Doctor has enjoyed many encounters with William Shakespeare. Now, BBC Books has rediscovered notebooks, long thought lost, compiled by the Bard in which he divulges the influential role the Doctor played in his creative life. Here are the original notes for Hamlet, including a very different appearance by the ghost; early versions of great lines (“To reverse or not to reverse the polarity of the neutron flow”); the true story of how the faeries of A Midsummer Night’s Dream were first imagined; stage directions for plays adjusted to remove references to a mysterious blue box; and much, much more.

My Opinion
Maybe I'm not enough of a fan to get or enjoy it. I really feel I have enough working knowledge of both subjects to have gotten more out of the book than I actually did but it was just weird and confusing.

Unless you're a superfan, skip it.
A Few Quotes from the Book
"Doctor Who? That is the question..."

"Double, double, toil and trouble;
 if we are caught in a time bubble"


Book 82 of my 2014 Reading Challenge

Shrinkage: Manhood, Marriage, and the Tumor that Tried to Kill Me by Bryan Bishop

Summary (via Goodreads)
At thirty years old Bryan Bishop’s life was right on track: as the sidekick on The Adam Carolla Show, his career was taking off and, newly engaged, his personal life was soaring to new heights. Then he was diagnosed with an inoperable brain tumor.
Suddenly Bryan’s promising future was looking at a troubling schedule of radiation and chemotherapy. But having found refuge in comedy, “Bald Bryan” recounts his alternately heartbreaking and hysterical experience of cancer treatment and recovery, from writing his will with the bravado of a pulp novelist, to taking chemo in a strip club, to achieving his life-long dream of getting another woman in the shower with him and his wife (even if it was only for physical therapy). These and other charmingly twisted scenes make the serious truly a laughing matter. Now four years since his initial diagnosis, Bryan celebrates how his aggressive treatment shrunk his tumor and gave him a new lease on life.
Through odds and obstacles, blunders and dilemmas, Bryan radiates through Shrinkage with wonder and humor. This profound, honest, and surprisingly funny recovery book is a Cancer Schmancer for the Jimmy Kimmel Live! crowd.

My Opinion
This book was entertaining and engaging. It was slightly "jokey" but not nearly as much as it could've been coming from a comedian. I love the phrase "he was born on third base and he thinks he hit a triple" to describe someone who falls into success. 

The tumor tips were a helpful addition and two in particular stood out to me. When possible, put medical expenses on one credit card with rewards; you'll have everything in one place to make them easier to find and itemize, and potentially the bonus of earning something fun since the bills and expenses will add up quickly. The other was to try and stay positive - you never know who is watching who or the effect you can have on people by smiling.

I'm interested in looking at his wife's blog, An Inconvenient Tumor, for more information on his journey.

A Few Quotes from the Book
"Our Honeymoon or, The Time My Wife Drugged Me at a Kids Pool in Maui" ~ chapter title

"I looked back at my list of regrets in my life and noticed a common thread: They were almost all things I had not done."

Fifth Grave Past the Light

Book 81 of my 2014 Reading Challenge

Fifth Grave Past the Light by Darynda Jones
Book 5 of the Charley Davidson series

Summary (via Goodreads)
Charley Davidson isn't your everyday, run-of-the-mill grim reaper. She's more of a paranormal private eye/grim reaper extraordinaire. However, she gets sidetracked when the sexy, sultry son of Satan, Reyes Farrow, moves in next door. To further complicate matters, Reyes is her main suspect in an arson case. Charley has vowed to stay away from him until she can find out the truth...but then dead women start appearing in her apartment, one after another, each lost, confused, and terrified beyond reason. When it becomes apparent that her own sister, Gemma is the serial killer's next target, Charley has no choice but to ask for Reyes's help. Arsonist or not, he's the one man alive who could protect Gemma no matter who or what came at her. But he wants something in return. Charley. All of her, body and soul. And to keep her sister safe, it is a price she is willing to pay.

My Opinion
I enjoyed the book but it's been so long since I've read the first four that there were probably things I missed because I'd forgotten them, although it gave enough clues about previous storylines that I didn't have any trouble keeping up.

It was a little crazy how everything came together but it was definitely readable and I will continue the series soon.

A Few Quotes from the Book
"One would think that, since I was the grim reaper, I'd be used to the dead showing up unexpectedly. Nope. It still got me every time."

"I heard a rustling sound as though he was fighting sheets to get out of bed. I understood. Sheets were tricky."

"Holy cow, was this air-the-dirty-laundry day? I would've worn my good underwear instead of the ones that said Admission By Invitation Only."


Book 80 of my 2014 Reading Challenge

Rooms by Lauren Oliver

Summary (via the book jacket)
Estranged patriarch Richard Walker has died, leaving behind a country house full of rooms packed with the detritus of a lifetime. His alienated family - bitter ex-wife Caroline, troubled teenage son Trenton, and unforgiving daughter Minna - have arrived for their inheritance.
But the Walkers are not alone. Alice and Sandra, two long-dead and restless ghosts, linger within the house's claustrophobic walls, bound eternally to its physical structure. Jostling for space and memory, they observe the family, trading barbs and reminiscences about their past lives. Though their voices cannot be heard, Alice and Sandra speak through the house itself - in the hiss of the radiator, a creak in the stairs, the dimming of a lightbulb.
The living and dea are haunted by painful truths that surface with explosive force. When a new ghost appears, and Trenton begins to communicate with her, the spirit and human worlds collide - with cataclysmic results.

My Opinion
Brief snippets kept the pages turning. As more voices were added it was hard to keep track of the backstories, although it helped fill in the stories of others that weren't sharing. I liked Sandra the least.

It doesn't happen often but I was picturing this as a movie as I read.

A Few Quotes from the Book
"How do we speak? In creaks and whispers, in groans and shudders. But you know. You've heard us. You simply don't understand."

"Parents teach us our very first lesson about love: that you sure as hell don't get to choose it."

"It was unfair that people could pretend to be one thing when they were really something else. That they would get you on their side and then do nothing but fail, and fail, and fail again. People should come with warnings, like cigarette packs: involvement would kill you over time."

"But that's the beauty of life: time is yours to keep and to change. Just a few minutes can be sufficient to carve a new road, a new track. Just a few minutes, and the void is kept at bay. You will live forever with that new road inside of you, stretching away to a place suggested, barely, on the horizon.
 For the shortest time, shorter than the shortest second's breath, you get to stand up to infinity.
 But eventually, and always, infinity wins."

"I had carried the weight of him for so long that without it I felt dizzy. I guess it's the same way trees grow around the very vines that are killing them, so they're strangled and sustained all at once. After a long time, even pain can be a comfort."

We Are Not Ourselves

Book 79 of my 2014 Book Challenge

We Are Not Ourselves by Matthew Thomas

Summary (via Goodreads)
Born in 1941, Eileen Tumulty is raised by her Irish immigrant parents in Woodside, Queens, in an apartment where the mood swings between heartbreak and hilarity, depending on whether guests are over and how much alcohol has been consumed.

When Eileen meets Ed Leary, a scientist whose bearing is nothing like those of the men she grew up with, she thinks she’s found the perfect partner to deliver her to the cosmopolitan world she longs to inhabit. They marry, and Eileen quickly discovers Ed doesn’t aspire to the same, ever bigger, stakes in the American Dream.

Eileen encourages her husband to want more: a better job, better friends, a better house, but as years pass it becomes clear that his growing reluctance is part of a deeper psychological shift. An inescapable darkness enters their lives, and Eileen and Ed and their son Connell try desperately to hold together a semblance of the reality they have known, and to preserve, against long odds, an idea they have cherished of the future.

My Opinion
The chapters pass quickly but the book reads slowly.

I absorbed this story in my bones. It paints a full picture but was so hard to read because it's so sad. It was draining like hanging out with a pessimist - there were no good things in between the sad moments. It was uncomfortable because one small thing led to another and it felt like things were going to get out of hand very quickly.

I'm glad it switched voices so I could get Connell's perspective as well as Eileen's. I thought Ed's would come in as well but the story was able to be told with just the two of them.

The rant against the healthcare system was true but awkwardly placed. It conveyed the panic when things are falling apart but I felt it could've been weaved in as they explored options and come across more lightly than the monologue did.

A Few Quotes from the Book
" 'Don't ever love anyone,' her mother said, picking the papers up and sliding them into the bureau drawer she'd kept her ring in. 'All you'll do is break your own heart.' "

"At school she usually had the answer worked out before the other girls put up their hands, but the last thing she wanted was to draw any kind of attention to herself. She would have chosen, of all powers, the power to be invisible."

"She had enough energy to make important changes in her life, to pull her husband out of a pit, to yank her whole family out of the maw of a neighborhood that threatened to swallow them whole."

"She wondered whether she should have forced her hand sooner, but they gave out no manual when you got married, no emergency kit with a flashlight for when the power went out. You had to feel your way around in the dark for the box of matches."

Ceremony in Death

Book 78 of my 2014 Reading Challenge

Ceremony in Death by J.D. Robb
Book 5 of the In Death series

Summary (via Goodreads)
Conducting a top secret investigation into the death of a fellow police officer has Lieutenant Eve Dallas treading on dangerous ground. She must put professional ethics before personal loyalties. But when a dead body is placed outside her home, Eve takes the warning personally. With her husband, Roarke, watching her every move, Eve is drawn into the most dangerous case of her career. Every step she takes makes her question her own beliefs of right and wrong--and brings her closer to a confrontation with humanity's most seductive form of evil...

My Opinion
One of my complaints of the last book was that it was predictable. Going from the gritty, real tone of the first few books to the paranormal/fantasy things happening here was a little weird but definitely unpredictable.

The banter between the characters is one of the best parts for me and adding humor is a great thing as well. Feeney wasn't as involved and I missed his voice but I like the addition of the new character Jamie.

Quote from the Book
"Death surrounded her. She faced it daily, dreamed of it nightly. Lived with it always. She knew its sounds, its scents, even its texture. She could look it in its dark and clever eye without a flinch. Death was a tricky foe, she knew. One flinch, one blink, and it could shift, it could change. It could win."

Small: Life and Death on the Front Lines of Pediatric Surgery

Book 77 of my 2014 Reading Challenge

Small: Life and Death on the Front Lines of Pediatric Surgery 
by Catherine Musemeche, MD

Summary (via Goodreads)
As a pediatric surgeon, Catherine Musemeche operates on the smallest of human beings, manipulates organs the size of walnuts, and uses sutures as thin as hairs to resolve matters of life or death. Working in the small space of a premature infant's chest or abdomen allows no margin for error. It is a world rife with emotion and risk. Small takes readers inside this rarefied world of pediatric medicine, where children and newborns undergo surgery to resolve congenital defects or correct the damages caused by accidents and disease. It is an incredibly high-stakes endeavor, nerve-wracking and fascinating.
Small: Life and Death on the Front Lines of Pediatric Surgery is a gripping story about a still little-known frontier. In writing about patients and their families, Musemeche recounts the history of the developing field of pediatric surgery--so like adult medicine in many ways, but at the same time utterly different. This is a field guide to the state of the art and science of operating on the smallest human beings, the hurts and maladies that afflict them, and the changing nature of medicine in America today, told by an exceptionally gifted surgeon and writer.

My Opinion
Fetal surgery is fascinating and unimaginable. I understand why no names could be used but using letters instead of pseudonyms (such as "Baby K"), as well as focusing strictly on the operating room with no backstory, made it a little more detached for me. That's probably a good thing, as I would've been a weepy mess if I had been any more invested; I definitely hugged my kids a little closer when reading.

By far, one of the most interesting chapters to me was when she talked about the differences between childhood and adult cancers. There are the obvious physiological differences, along with the difficulties designing and obtaining medical supplies for the tiniest of children. I also didn't realize (going off of her statistics, which I did not independently verify) 60% of children are enrolled in clinical trials versus only 3% of adults. The thing that really made me pause were her observations about the huge advantage children have over adults in regards to how they are cared for. Parents are the most invested caregivers and will rearrange their entire lives to ensure the best care for their children; as she says, "parents have an unique stake in the health of the child, someone they value above all else". If it is a spouse that is ill, they will still do their very best but it isn't the same as caring for a child. Parents note the smallest changes in their child's symptoms that a spouse may miss in the chaos of life. Parents make sure their children eat and drink and take their meds even when they don't want to, spouses may defer a little more.  

To contrast, I lost interest when she talked about obesity and moved on from those sections quickly.

Listening to the early days and how quickly something went from an idea to an usable product (only 6 weeks from the time Tom Fogarty first produced a balloon catheter for a new technique of removing blood clots until it was first used on a patient) was almost unbelievable. I understand the needs for trials and regulations but can also understand the huge frustration of knowing something is in the works but won't be available to help your patients for years.

A Few Quotes from the Book
"Every baby makes a lengthy journey to get to this place we call 'life', but they don't all show up ready for it when they arrive."

"Will the surgeon find a nameable condition within her power to repair? Or will she encounter something not so easily fixed, a diagnosis that sentences the patient to a series of complicated operations, a situation plagued with setbacks and months of hospitalization? Even worse, will she find organs so grossly malformed or incomplete that she can only palliate and close, becoming the messenger of grief to despairing parents in a darkened hallway? The answer, only minutes away, lurks beneath the skin in the shadow of a scalpel poised and ready."

"No matter how small, this most vulnerable of humans is a potential patient, one who has captured the imagination of surgeons dedicated to rerouting gestational detours so a child can have a shot at a normal life."

The Best American Short Stories 2012

Book 76 of my 2014 Reading Challenge

The Best American Short Stories 2012
by various authors, edited by Tom Perrotta

This book is a collection of short stories that were originally published in a U.S. or Canadian magazine between January 2011 and January 2012. 

My Opinion
I love short stories because they're bite-size and perfect for those stolen reading moments in the van waiting for kids or at the doctor's office. Books that contain many short stories by the same author are okay but stories by multiple authors in the same book so I'm never quite sure what I'm going to get...that's my bread and butter.

As with any short story collection, there are going to be some hits and some misses. I enjoyed reading it and thought it was fine but as I look over the notes I jotted down after each story I had 2 "really liked", 5 "goods", 10 "okays", and 3 "nopes", which leads me to rate it a little lower than I typically would.

Favorite Story
My two "really liked" were The Last Speaker of the Language by Carol Anshaw and What We Talk About When We Talk About Anne Frank by Nathan Englander

Annie on my Mind

Book 75 of my 2014 Reading Challenge

Annie on my Mind by Nancy Garden

Summary (via Goodreads)
This groundbreaking book is the story of two teenage girls whose friendship blossoms into love and who, despite pressures from family and school that threaten their relationship, promise to be true to each other and their feelings. This book is so truthful and honest, it has been banned from many school libraries and even publicly burned in Kansas City.
Of the author and the book, the Margaret A. Edwards Award committee said, “Nancy Garden has the distinction of being the first author for young adults to create a lesbian love story with a positive ending. Using a fluid, readable style, Garden opens a window through which readers can find courage to be true to themselves.”

My Opinion
Published in 1982, it's unfortunate that this story could still be believable today. The book put me in their position and I could feel their helplessness.

It was unlike other books with same-sex relationships because this was just a story about young love, and they just happened to be two girls. There was controversy in their surroundings but the only statement this relationship and this book made is love is love. Period.

The last page was hokey but who cares? I was engrossed the whole time. 

Quote from the Book
"Have you ever felt really close to someone? So close that you can't understand why you and the other person have two separate bodies, two separate skins? I think it was Sunday when that feeling began."

Rapture in Death

Book 74 of my 2014 Reading Challenge

Rapture in Death by J.D. Robb
Book 4 of the In Death series

Summary (via Goodreads)
They died with smiles on their faces. Three apparent suicides: a brilliant engineer, an infamous lawyer, and a controversial politician. Three strangers with nothing in common--and no obvious reasons for killing themselves. Police lieutenant Eve Dallas found the deaths suspicious. And her instincts paid off when autopsies revealed small burns on the brains of the victims. Was it a genetic abnormality or a high-tech method of murder? Eve's investigation turned to the provocative world of virtual reality games--where the same techniques used to create joy and desire could also prompt the mind to become the weapon of its own destruction... 

My Opinion
I really like the series but this book was just okay. It was pretty predictable; I made my accurate guess by Chapter 4. Plus, when the description says there will be three deaths and the first suspect is questioned after only two, I knew that wasn't going to be right and got impatient waiting for them to move on.
Even though this one didn't grab me like the others have, I'm still looking forward to continuing the series.

A Few Quotes from the Book
"Three weeks hadn't changed Cop Central. The coffee was still poisonous, the noise abominable, and the view out of her stingy window was still miserable.
  She was thrilled to be back."

"Money might drip, she mused, but death had no respect for it. It was a club without a class system."

" 'Thoughts, ideas, music, desires, poetry, anger, hate. People speak of the heart, Lieutenant, but it's the brain that holds all the magic and mystery of the human species. It elevates us, separates us, defines us as individuals. And the secrets of it - well, it's doubtful we'll ever know them all.' "

I am a Genius of Unspeakable Evil and I want to be your Class President

Book 73 of my 2014 Reading Challenge

I am a Genius of Unspeakable Evil and I want to be your Class President by Josh Lieb

Summary (via the book jacket)
Oliver Watson is pretty much your average kid. He lives in Omaha, Nebraska. His favorite afternoon snack is a grilled-cheese sandwich. His best friend is his beautiful brindle pit bull mix, Lollipop. And...oh yeah. He's a mad evil genius on his way to utter world domination. 
Nobody can stop Oliver from getting what he wants. Not Jordie Moscowitz, the class bully. Not his plaid wearing, can't-disguise-that-he's-balding English teacher, Mr. Moorhead. Not even Oliver's father and arch nemisis, "Daddy". (He hates being called that). It doesn't matter how many dictators Oliver has to overthrow. How many presidents he has to blackmail. How many bingo-addicted grandmas he has to bribe. What Oliver wants, Oliver gets.
That is, until now. Because Oliver Watson is running for class president. And he's about to discover, ruling the world is actually a lot easier than getting other kids to vote for you.
Even for a genius of unspeakable evil.

My Opinion
This book was readable but pretty pointless. I didn't realize until after that's considered a YA novel, so that may move it into the "maybe I just wasn't the right audience for it" category. 

This would make a good Disney or Nickelodeon movie. The whole time I was reading it, I pictured Oliver as Dexter from Dexter's Laboratory or Cartman from South Park - precocious and pretending to be above human but not truly evil.

And, a personal sore spot for me, it had the 'r' word in it. Completely unnecessary and an immediate turnoff. I realize that's a personal preference so I don't harp on it too much but it's worth mentioning since my review = my reaction.

Overall, there are worse ways to spend some time but I didn't love it. 

A Few Quotes from the Book
"It doesn't pay to be good at something unless you are the absolute best at it. Otherwise, you'll eventually go up against someone who can beat you. That is why I do not try to play soccer, sing in the school chorus, or dance, even though I am moderately talented at all of these things. I concentrate on what I am good at: being a genius."

"According to the fortune-cookie logic most people live by, the best things in life are free. That's crap. I have a gold-plated robot that scratches the exact part of my back where my hands can't reach, and it certainly wasn't free."

"Has he made it to first base? No. Has he even entered the ballpark? Not on your life. But has he bought a ticket to the game? You betcha."

"Important days don't look like anything special when they start."

Sworn to Silence

Book 72 of my 2014 Reading Challenge

Sworn to Silence by Linda Castillo
Book 1 of the Kate Burkholder series

Summary (via the book jacket)
In the sleepy rural town of Painters Mill, Ohio, the Amish and "English" residents have lived side by side for two centuries. But sixteen years ago, a series of brutal murders shattered the peaceful farming community. In the aftermath of the violence, the town was left with a sense of fragility, a loss of innocence. Kate Burkholder, a young Amish girl, survived the terror of the Slaughterhouse Killer but came away from its brutality with the realization that she no longer belonged with the Amish. 
Now, a wealth of experience later, Kate has been asked to return to Painters Mill as chief of police. Her Amish roots and big-city law enforcement background make her the perfect candidate. She's certain she's come to terms with her past - until the first body is discovered in a snowy field. Kate vows to stop the killer before he strikes again, but to do so, she must betray both her family and her Amish past - and expose a dark secret that could destroy her. 

My Opinion
I read this for my book club.

A little cookie cutter as many mysteries are, but the book had a very strong start that grabbed my attention and it was highly readable.

I liked Kate as a character. I won't run to the library for the next books in the series but will definitely read them eventually.

A Few Quotes from the Book

"She hadn't believed in monsters since she was six years old, back when her mom would check the closet and look beneath her bed at night. But at the age of twenty-one, bound and brutalized and lying naked on a concrete floor that was as cold as lake ice, she believed." - first sentence, start with a bang

"A gun-toting, cursing, former Amish female chief of police. I'll be damned."

"I look out the darkened window at the deserted street beyond where snow sparkles beneath the streetlights. I think about the killer and wonder if his dark hunger torments him tonight. I wonder if he's out there, looking for his next victim. I wonder if he's already picked her out."

Chelsea Chelsea Bang Bang

Book 71 of my 2014 Reading Challenge

Chelsea Chelsea Bang Bang by Chelsea Handler

Summary (via Goodreads)
Get ready for big laughs as Chelsea Handler lets loose with more comic personal essays. In this new, no-holds-barred account of life on the ridiculous side, Chelsea mines the wealth of material that is her family, her sex life, her career, and her distinctively outrageous worldview. Here is young Chelsea discovering "The Feeling" during a third-grade sleepover and getting shafted by clueless parents over Cabbage Patch dolls...and grown-up Chelsea at the mercy of the remote control, Lean Pockets, and Sex and the City --but still managing to convince her boyfriend that there are Swiss Army knives in the soles of her $16,000 shoes. Through it all, Chelsea never lets anyone off the hook, even herself, as she delivers page after page of irreverent humor, biting wit, and deliciously off-kilter entertainment.

My Opinion
Very uneven and I disliked more than I liked.

What I liked: it was highly readable, parts of it were very funny, and she comes across as a loyal, dedicated friend (such as when she brought her driver on vacation).

What I didn't like: Parts of it went past 'funny' into 'mean', it made me uncomfortable when she would lie or make up stories just for her own amusement (my brother used to do the same thing and I would have sweaty palms just being next to him or hearing the stories of what he did), the angry parts about her dad were out of place in the lighthearted book I was expecting to read, and she repeatedly used the 'r' word (such as describing being intimidated by  someone because of the "starry, retarded way her eyes focused on me").

Continue to challenge Instagram and I'll support her all the way. As for her books...probably not for me.

Favorite Chapter
"Black-on-Black Crime" (which doesn't match what the chapter was about at all)

Neil Patrick Harris: Choose Your Own Autobiography

Book 70 of my 2014 Reading Challenge

Neil Patrick Harris: Choose Your Own Autobiography by Neil Patrick Harris

Summary (via Goodreads)
Tired of memoirs that only tell you what really happened?
Sick of deeply personal accounts written in the first person? Seeking an exciting, interactive read that puts the “u” back in “aUtobiography”? Then look no further than Neil Patrick Harris: Choose Your Own Autobiography! In this revolutionary, Joycean experiment in light celebrity narrative, actor/personality/carbon-based life-form Neil Patrick Harris lets you, the reader, live his life. You will be born in New Mexico. You will get your big break at an acting camp. You will get into a bizarre confrontation outside a nightclub with actor Scott Caan. Even better, at each critical juncture of your life, you will choose how to proceed. You will decide whether to try out for Doogie Howser, M.D.You will decide whether to spend years struggling with your sexuality. You will decide what kind of caviar you want to eat on board Elton John’s yacht.
Choose correctly and you’ll find fame, fortune, and true love. Choose incorrectly and you’ll find misery, heartbreak, and a hideous death by piranhas. All this, plus magic tricks, cocktail recipes, embarrassing pictures from your time as a child actor, and even a closing song. Yes, if you buy one book this year, congratulations on being above the American average, but make that book Neil Patrick Harris: Choose Your Own Autobiography!

My Opinion
This was a great, fun read. The first time I went through the book with my own choices, I was eaten by piranhas in the Amazon River on my way to discuss Sweeney Todd 2: The Legend of Toby's Gold  with Stephen Sondheim and died. Then I went back to the beginning and read everything. 

I liked the inserts from the others. My favorite was Seth MacFarlane's. 

Like a good biography, most of the focus was on NPH himself. He didn't hold back regarding 3 people but his reasons were stated very clearly so nothing felt like idle gossip or meanspirited dish. Okay, maybe the scenarios with Dustin Diamond were a little meanspirited but if he truly wrote what NPH says he did (I don't know for sure since I haven't read Diamond's book), then he deserved it and more.

Normally I would end with a few quotes from the book but this isn't the kind of book that I can pull quotes from. If you're a fan of NPH, you should definitely read this book.

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Heap House

Book 69 of my 2014 Reading Challenge

Heap House by Edward Carey
Book 1 of the Iremonger trilogy

Summary (via the book jacket)
Young Clod is an Iremonger. He lives at Heap House, his family's mansion at the center of the Heaps, a vast sea of lost and discarded items whose ever-shifting masses have been known to swallow people alive. The Iremongers are an odd old family, each the owner of a Birth Object they must keep with them at all times. Clod is perhaps the oddest of all - his gift and his curse is that he can hear all of the objects of Heap House whispering.
Yes, a storm is brewing over Heap House. The Iremongers are growing restless and the house's many objects are showing strange signs of life. Clod is on the cusp of being "trousered" and married off (unhappily) to his cousin Pinalippy when he meets the plucky orphan servant Lucy Pennant, with whose help he begins to uncover the dark secrets of his family empire.

My Opinion
This book came to my attention after attending a small reading by the author at the Iowa City Book Festival this past October. It was impossible not to be drawn in by his enthusiasm and passion for his work. If there is an audiobook version, I hope he read it himself because he was phenomenal. As a fun little touch, he handed out birth objects to everyone that attended the reading. Mine is an old doorhinge with the name Lara Cuthbertson attached to it. Of the 7-8 readings I attended that weekend, his was the only book I purchased; he kindly signed it and I looked forward to reading it and possibly sharing it with my children as well.

I had two benefits going into this book that the average reader would not. First, it was impossible not to hear his voice as I read and as mentioned above, he was fantastic. Second, the basic outline had been explained in the reading so I knew what was going on. I can't separate myself to know what I would've thought if I hadn't had those benefits, but I do wonder if someone reading it fresh, especially a younger reader, would be able to keep up or if they would get lost. For example, it was explained to me that all of the Iremongers had names with spellings that were slightly off from the norm (Clod instead of Claude, Tummis instead of Thomas, etc.); I doubt I would've noticed that otherwise.

It's hard to define an audience for the book. The content was geared towards a younger audience but the presentation was definitely older (it's not a dealbreaker but I didn't expect to see one character call another a bitch in a book with a recommended audience of 10 and up, and there were some murky sexual/lustful feelings between Clod and Lucy as well). All I can say is I wasn't bored and will definitely continue the trilogy; I may pass it on to my 11 year old (who reads/comprehends well above her age) but will definitely hold off on my 9 year old reading it (slightly due to content but mostly because I don't think he would be able to put together everything that is happening).

I liked the character of Lucy the best. If there is an audiobook, I would still recommend looking at the physical book; the cover art, maps and drawings were a nice addition to the story. 

And if you have the opportunity to hear the author, take it. He was delightful.

Quote from the Book
"It all really began, all the terrible business that followed, on the day my Aunt Rosamud's door handle went missing."

Squirrel Seeks Chipmunk

Book 68 of my 2014 Reading Challenge

Squirrel Seeks Chipmunk by David Sedaris

Summary (via Goodreads)
Featuring David Sedaris's unique blend of hilarity and heart, this new collection of keen-eyed animal-themed tales is an utter delight. Though the characters may not be human, the situations in these stories bear an uncanny resemblance to the insanity of everyday life. 
In "The Toad, the Turtle, and the Duck," three strangers commiserate about animal bureaucracy while waiting in a complaint line. In "Hello Kitty," a cynical feline struggles to sit through his prison-mandated AA meetings. In "The Squirrel and the Chipmunk," a pair of star-crossed lovers is separated by prejudiced family members.
With original illustrations by Ian Falconer, author of the bestselling Olivia series of children's books, these stories are David Sedaris at his most observant, poignant, and surprising.

My Opinion
This was a super fast read. Stories about animals with moral lessons will draw an inevitable comparison to Aesop. The dark drawings contrast the funny lightness of the stories, and they spell out the lessons for readers who don't get subtlety. 

Favorite Story
"The Crow and the Lamb"

Monday, December 29, 2014

Normally, This Would Be Cause for Concern

Book 67 of my 2014 Reading Challenge

Normally, This Would be Cause for Concern: Tales of Calamity and Unrelenting Awkwardness by Danielle Fishel

A memoir by Danielle Fishel, an actress best known for her role as Topanga on Boy Meets World.

My Opinion
Ugh. The book got off to a bad start for me in the first chapter when she talked about being too good for horror movies and soap operas. She's had success for many years but it was basically because of ONE role (I know she's done other things but I assume the majority of her recognition comes from her time as Topanga). Don't get me wrong, I am a huge Boy Meets World fan and loved her in that role (and can't imagine anyone else playing her as I learned almost happened) but reading that was off-putting, especially as she talked just a few pages later about learning not to be so judgmental.

I jot notes as I read to help with my reviews and I actually wrote this to myself 23 pages in - "Okay, calm down, it's just a light book, settle in and let it go". As a caution to people that don't always finish the books they start like I may start off on the wrong foot but it gets a little better. More 'ba dum bump' cutesy than awkward (and definitely not worth the comparison to Mindy Kaling she received on the book jacket), but better nonetheless.

She redeemed herself with her stories of appreciation for fans and how approachable she is for photos. There were some fun facts - I didn't know she dated Lance Bass. The story about people having trouble distinguishing between her and her character, leading to her getting dirty looks when out with her boyfriend as if she was cheating on Cory, was funny.

As an editing note,  it  was difficult to grasp the full complaints she had in the story about her hair color at her wedding since the accompanying photos were in black and white. But I always like photos in memoirs and it was fun to look back and remember the show. 

A Few Quotes from the Book
"Before we take our relationship any further, I have something important to tell you. Hello, my name is Danielle Fishel, and I am a total klutz."

"I can still do the splits (if I don't have anywhere I need to walk the next day)."

All But My Life

Book 66 of my 2014 Reading Challenge

All But My Life by Gerda Weissmann Klein

Summary (excerpted from the book jacket)
When Gerda's father told her to wear her ski boots to the work camp in June, he could hardly know that they would help in her desperate fight for survival. Three years later, one of the two hundred slave girls remaining from the four thousand who were forced on a thousand-mile winter march, she took them off her frozen feet and extracted the family photographs which she had hidden in her soles. The Nazis had taken from her indeed all but her life. Every member of her family, every friend, died in the concentration camps. Gerda tells of many courageous people, lost now but for her story, and of her own unbelievable struggle, through the darkest hours of her people's history, to survive by hope alone. Despite incredible experiences, and the complete destruction of the world she knew and loved, she was able to begin a new life based on her compassion, love, and faith.

My Opinion

As a note, the edition I read had a copyright of 1957, not listed on Goodreads.

The stories about World War II have always been heartbreaking but now that I'm a mom it adds another layer. Yet I continue to read hurts like hell but these people need to be honored and remembered.

The book for me was more about the feelings it left me with than actual points I can sum up in a review. Since I can't quote the entire book, I don't have much more to say. 

I highly recommend this book. 

A Few Quotes from the Book

"As I finish the last chapter of my book, I feel at peace, at last. I have discharged a burden, and paid a debt to many nameless heroes, resting in their unmarked graves. For I am haunted by the thought that I might be the only one left to tell their story."

This poignant exchange, after her brother Arthur left she and her mother went to visit her grandmother's grave. Her mother talked to the grave...
"I saw Mama put her head on the stone, as she must have put her head against her mother's breast many times as a child. Completely engrossed, she muttered, "My child...oh mother!" and started to cry bitterly. I could not catch all she said. It was a strange, quiet, soliloquy, yet I felt that a voice was screaming within her, "Oh God, bring him back to me."
Then Mama stood upright and addressed the stone in a different manner.
'You are lucky, mother. If only I could be certain that someday my children would be standing on my grave'."

"Why? Why did we walk like meek sheep to the slaughterhouse? Why did we not fight back? What had we to lose? Nothing but our lives. Why did we not run away and hide? We might have had a chance to survive. Why did we walk deliberately and obediently into their clutches?
 I know why. Because we had faith in humanity. Because we did not really think that human beings were capable of committing such crimes."

"In the years to come the moon became my loyal friend, my only friend that was free. Each month I counted the days until she returned, and often when she hid behind clouds I thought that she was avoiding the horror on earth."

William Shakespeare's The Empire Striketh Back

Book 65 of my 2014 Reading Challenge

William Shakespeare's The Empire Striketh Back by Ian Doescher

Summary (excerpted from the book jacket)
The saga that began with the interstellar best seller William Shakespeare's Star Wars continues with the merry reimagining of George Lucas's enduring classic The Empire Strikes Back.

My Opinion
There shouldn't be any surprises for someone picking up this book.  A fun read for Star Wars fans, what you see is clearly what you get.

There were two points in the afterword that I found especially interesting.  First was the ideas the author considered for Yoda's speech since his very distinct word order really doesn't stand out as much when writing in "Shakespearean" (is that the word for it? I'm going with it.).  The second was when the author mentioned listening to specific critiques about William Shakespeare's Star Wars when writing this book (for example, he used 'The Chorus' to describe settings much less frequently).

A Few Quotes from the Book

"Han:  - Agreed. Methinks
           The Empire knoweth we are here on Hoth.
           [Aside:] My sense of doom and dread is not without
           Its cause, for this event is grave indeed."

"Luke:  In troth, I understand, and I shall try.
Yoda:  Nay, nay! Try thou not.
            But do thou or do thou not,
            For there is no try. "

"Leia:  O Luke, pray fly!  'Tis but a trap!  A trap!
            Flee now, dear friend, ere thou art captur'd too."

"Vader:  - No, I am thy father.
Luke:  Nay, 'tis not true!  It is impossible!"

Immortal in Death

Book 64 of my 2014 Reading Challenge

Immortal in Death by J.D. Robb
Book 3 of the In Death series

Summary (via the book jacket)
She was of the most sought after women in the world. A top model who would stop at nothing to get what she wanted - even another woman's man. And now she was dead, the victim of a brutal murder. Lieutenant Eve Dallas put her life on the line to take the case when suspicion fell on her best friend, the other woman in the fatal love triangle. Beneath the facade of glamour, Eve found that the world of high fashion thrived on an all-consuming obsession for youth and fame. One that led from the runway to the dark underworld of New York City where drugs could be found to fulfill any desire - for a price...

My Opinion
Whew, the red flags I had from the second book were resolved and not an indication of the series!  I'm glad I'm finally reading this series and look forward to continuing it throughout this fall and winter.

Imagine my surprise when a major life event happened in this, the third book!  Take note Ms. is possible to have some resolution but still maintain interest.  A new character was added (that I assume will stick around) and she had some of the comedic dating issues Eve was currently not in the position to experience.  Great idea!

I enjoyed the dialogue/banter between the characters, the pacing of the story, and the brief but HOT sex scene.

I also like that Eve is a capable detective and doesn't solve the case solely through being in the right place at the right time (again, are you taking notes Ms. Evanovich???).  It definitely helps that she has access to all sorts of equipment and contacts through Roarke's wealth but she's also really good at her job.  Hopefully as the series continues it will remain the same and her access won't be a lazy way to resolve the plot.  

A Few Quotes from the Book

"That was New York, she thought with a faint smile. Take it at your own risk.
  She loved the crowds, the noise, the constant frantic rush of it. You were rarely alone, but never intimate. That's why she'd come here so many years ago."

"A man can be pulled in by beauty and not see beneath it."

"She'd learned quite a bit from Roarke over the past few months. One of the most important lessons was that there were times she had to push aside all the worries, the responsibilities, even the thirst for answers, and just be Eve."