Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Before I Go to Sleep - SJ Watson

Before I Go To Sleep - I can't remember how many pages - I can't remember who wrote the book, either

You know what would be great about having a significant other with amnesia? Nothing. Especially if you're like Christine in Before I Go To Sleep; her memory gets knocked out every time she rests her head on a pillow. She has that Memento or 50 First Dates thing going on.

What's a girl with a condition to do? See a doctor behind her husband Ben's back? Keep a hidden journal and write in big bold letters on the first page "DO NOT TRUST BEN"? Sure sure. Sounds great. Ben is her husband and seems to take care of Christine. But obviously something unseemly is going on in the household.

After Christine starts keeping track of her memories in a journal (which comprises a majority of the novel) things start to get odd. Like, for instance, why doesn't Christine have any friends? Where is the rest of her family? Ben is lying about something, but is it for her own good? Is he trying to spare her feelings? Imagine having to tell someone every day that their son is dead. It'd be heartbreaking all over again.

I was expecting the journal entries--or Christine's days---to repeat themselves like in all those episodes of Star Trek where they get stuck in a time loop or lose their memories. She does get a Groundhog Day-type thing going on at one point; but each day is unique, each journal entry a little bit more different. When Christine finally starts digging into her own past; the novel really starts to take off.

I really wish I had slowed down and enjoyed Before I Go to Sleep a little bit more; I read it in two days over the weekend so I feel like I didn't give it enough attention; but that's because I couldn't put it down. It is a memory thriller and it's all been done before; but Christine's unique voice and SJ Watson's writing keeps it from being, well, a repeat.

Favorite line:

"The room is full of people, dressed mostly in black. Fucking art students, I think."

Reminded me of:

That episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer where everyone loses their memory.

Creepy van. Because something is off about this whole situation.

Friday, July 22, 2011

This whole Borders thing is a conspiracy to drive me completely insane.

Seriously. This whole Borders thing has thrown my sanity in the backseat and taken it for a ride. The Kindle is to blame. Amazon is to blame. Americans reading less is to blame. Contrary to those statements (mostly found on Facebook); we're finding out that Borders just didn't do good business.

The real reason for my hair pulling--and maybe I'm just a little confused--is that a decade ago, or two decades ago; we were blaming Borders and Barnes & Noble for causing the indie bookstores to go out of business.

Do Americans really have that short of an attention span? Are we really mourning what we once considered to be the enemy of Good Literature and Small Business?

I, honestly, can't keep up with what the book community wants. It's fractured in so many new ways since I've come back to blogging:

  • Real Books vs. e-Readers
  • Nook vs. Kindle
  • e-Readers vs. Tablets
  • Independent Bookstore Fanatics vs. The We Just Want Bookstores Crowd

I guess our common ground is that we all dislike TV. Or is that in contention now as well?

I would just like to be clear. Absolutely clear. I love my Kindle. I love my print books. I love my audio books. I love my local library. I love my local bookseller. I love Emma Watson. I love Amazon. I love Abe Books. I love spoken word stories. I love reading.

I am a patron of literature and the written word no matter what form it is in and I will get my fix wherever I please. And I think that's enough.

Breaking a world record for reading.

Five students in the Dominican Republic read for 300 hours straight to break the world record.

The article doesn't state what books they were reading but I'm assuming Infinite Jest or Atlas Shrugged. Kudos to them if it was the latter. Extra kudos if they didn't claw their own eyes out.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

That goldfish feeling.

I am right smack-dab in the middle of Before I Go To Sleep and had to put it down. I only slept five hours last night (lightening storms) and have got a sort of goldfish feeling going on this afternoon. It's when you pick up a book, read a few pages, and then completely forget what has just happened. For example:

1. Sally walked into the store.
2. ???????
3. Sally walked out of the store.

What the heck? I'm going to have to go back and reread that.

2. She robbed the store.


The book is about a woman who loses her memory every time she goes to sleep. So I've also got a Groundhog Day feeling going on whenever I pick it up; her day starts out exactly the same over and over again.

It's all leading to me feeling more confused than a sheriff from Mayberry at a Willy Nelson concert. I think I'll take a nap and read more later. After finishing the amnesia novel I might start on the George R.R. Martin I've been putting off.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

A Certain Chemistry - Mil Millington

A Certain Chemistry - Mil Millington - 416 pages

Err. This is the second romance I've read that takes place in the United Kingdom this month. It's not bothering me; I'm just going to start referring to fries as chips and cookies as biscuits and President Obama as His Royal Highness. All hell will break loose and I'll be yelling "BOLLOCKS!" all the way to the pub while ripping out my hair and driving on the wrong side of the road.

Bugger that idea. Bugger Mil Millington for writing A Certain Chemistry. Bugger Tom Cartwright for being a ghostwriter that gets to shag a famous--and insanely hot--Scottish actress named Georgina Nye. Bugger his girlfriend Sara for being... well, the perfect girlfriend. And bugger God for interjecting every few chapters and giving his opinion on why Tom cheats on Sara. Bugger Hugh Grant. Because, well, I kept picturing Tom as Hugh Grant. The git.

Sara and Tom have been together for about six or seven years. They're not married. They live together. Perfect relationship. Fine. Whatever. I just don't find it realistic for them to not of had the "I'm allowed to bang the following celebrities and you can't say anything" conversation. Hasn't every couple had that conversation? Apparently Tom and Sara didn't. Tom gets it on with Georgina after he ghost writes her autobiography and Sara finds out a little later. Tom is then in big uh-ohs and has a few decisions to make.

A Certain Chemistry is a car accident. It's slowed down to the point where you can see what's about to happen and it happens and then you're like "Bugger that!" or "Bollocks!" or any other slang term from the other side of the pond. Then it snaps back to reality where there's a young couple picking up the pieces of their relationship. And just like a car accident I couldn't look away. I rubber-necked their break-up. And it was good rubber-necking.

As refreshing as God was as a character it did bother me that Mil Millington's version of the Almighty came across as a Californian surfer dude/gal/entity. And that Tom is essentially the same character in the last book I read: charming, nervous, clueless, foreign. And that Georgina is the Angelina Jolie of the Scottish acting world; rich and famous doesn't mean tart, people.

I'm not going to blame Tom for ruining his relationship. I'm not going to blame Georgina Nye for being trashy. I'm not going to blame Sara for being perfect but boring. I'm going to blame God. Millington gave me that option when he made God a character. It's all God's fault they never had the "celebrity sex list" conversation. This could've been avoided.

Favorite Line:
"I heard the fizz of a match, and her speech became cigarette-in-mouth impaired."

Reminded Me Of:

Hugh Grant's mugshot. I've seen it before but that doesn't mean I didn't get a kick out of seeing it again.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

These days you can't get away with a cover like this.

The Wanderer won a Hugo Award in 1965 for best novel. And yes, someone hooks up with the cat-like creature on the cover. You've gotta love the 60's.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Skipping a Beat - Sarah Pekkanen

Skipping a Beat - Sarah Pekkanen - 352 Pages

Julia has a First World problem: her husband Michael has had a near-death experience and has decided to donate all of his "I created flavored water money" to charity. To stay with Michael and be poor or divorce him and be rich? Well, wait, she can't do that; pre-nup. It doesn't make for an easy emotional choice either; they've been together since high school.

Indeed. Julia and Mike have been together forever. You get the impression at first that they are a perfect pair. Until Julia starts talking about opera and comparing her life to it. Yes, they have several problems as a married duo: too much time apart, too much money, too many snobby friends, and not enough infidelity.

More infidelity would've made the plot move faster. Instead we get Julia scheming and plotting on how she can dump Michael and keep all of her money. Michael continually talks about that ooey-gooey feeling he got when he was dead despite being a life long atheist. And Julia continually recounts how they met, how much she loves him, how much he has helped her, and how she's going to ditch the bastard. In the middle of all that scandal-flavored-water is a sea of confusion for Julia; does she really still love Mike and did Mike really meet God and fist pump him?

Sarah Pekkanen. I've never read anything by her before. So this was a first time experience. I don't know what I was expecting when I started Skipping a Beat; it surely wasn't a couple of rich people complaining about being mega rich and having a problem with it. Maybe because I'm unemployed and a little jealous and can't understand their position. Maybe it's because all of their problems could have been solved with one conversation. Maybe Mike should have went to a psychologist before he decided to give away the empire he built. Maybe Julia should have just shut up and admitted she's a vain bitch.

She'll come around, though. Michael will convince everyone around him that his money going to cancer research so him and his wife can live in a duplex is a good thing because it's the morally correct thing to do; screw your wife and give it all up. Is that even right?

That's really what this book comes down to: the husband wants redemption for being rich and the wife doesn't want to give it up. Ayn Rand would be shocked at Michael's ideas but proud of Julia. Ayn Rand's philosophy is not something I can get behind. Neither is Skipping a Beat's message.

But does Julia have to agree with Michael? Does she get to be stuck-up? Does Michael's irrational behavior give Julia the right to ditch him so she can continue to live her rich lifestyle? The plot and characters might not stick with me but Pekkanen's questions will. I'm already pondering as to whether or not Michael is the real a-hole here.

Favorite line:
"The opera is the perfect place to hide. No one cares if you sit in your seat crying, as long as you're quiet about it."

Reminds me of:

God meme. For raising questions that will stick around for a while.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

The Adults - Alison Espach

The Adults - Alison Espach - 320 pages
"Children's lives are always beginning and adults' lives are always ending."
This novel is emo; it should dye its hair black and listen to My Chemical Romance all day. That's not funny. This book is not funny. This book is melancholy. I take that back. This book is funny and it's melancholy. It's like a psycho ex-significant-other that breaks into your house and cleans it.

The novel follows Emily Vidal from preteen to young adult. Emily is insightful and wonders all the things that all teenagers and young adults wonder: what is life? what is love? what is death? what defines a relationship? All the while watching the drama of the adults around her unfold.

Then there's her affair with her high school English teacher. Tisk tisk. This is no average affair. Emily is a wounded human being; she doesn't have many people to fall back on. Not her father who has divorced her mother and moved to Prague; or her mother who has fallen into depression because of said divorce.

There is alcohol abuse, drug abuse, child abuse; adult abuse in this novel. Each one is both a warning and acknowledgement of the fragile relationships that surround us; how each one can fall apart with a bad word or a gentle kiss.

This is Alison's Espach's first novel. I'm not saying it's the best first timer novel of the year. I am saying it's a contender for my "Stole My Freakin' Heart" award, though.

Favorite line:
"Ester was Catholic and thought I was a slut, but since she was also a psychologist, she was careful never to phrase it like that."

Reminded me of:
The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake (Aimee Bender), Seinfeld (TV show).

Cheesecake. Because it's just freakin' good.

"I don't support the bookstores I love."

From Salon's My Tiny Hypocrisy section:
A TV commercial I saw recently sums up a lot of what is wrong with modern life. In it, a lovely young woman tells a man of her own age that she's going to a bookstore to pick up a copy of some sensational new bestseller. She asks the young man if he'd like to come along to the bookstore with her. The man turns down her offer saying, in effect, "No thanks. I've got a Kindle [or perhaps it was a Nook]. I can download the book right now and begin reading it in seconds."

The ad aims to show how this e-reader can improve your life, but this guy looks like he's losing out. If I were a single man in my twenties and a hot young woman asked me to accompany her to a bookstore, I'd leap at the opportunity, even if I had no desire to purchase a book.
Clearly the guy is inept and can't tell he's being hit on. Or it's just a commercial. I don't see a Kindle or a Nook ruining any potential relationship. Whatever happened to the question "What are you reading?" Or has everyone been able to make out book covers from across crowded bookshops this entire time?

I know I've squinted, I've bent, I've asked my friends "What the hell book is she reading?" But eventually you get tired of wondering and get up and go over there. The worse answer you could get is "Oh! I'm reading Sarah Palin's book" or "Ann Coulter" or even "I've not been reading a book; I just like to stare at blank screens". At least you have an answer; you might even make a new friend or acquaintance instead of a person to get down and boogey with.

If someone wants to talk to a stranger there is always a way. Or we can all start agreeing to not read Kindles and Nooks in public.

Monday, July 11, 2011

The Hypnotist, or: Swedish Chef Solves a Mystery.

(Disclaimer: I go through this entire review without mentioning Stieg Larsson. I also don't use the phrases "the next Nordic hit" or "Scandinavian crime fiction".)

The Hypnotist - Lars Kepler - 512 pages

I really want to move to Sweden; you never have to call the police. Someone broke into my house while I was asleep? Don't call the police. The killer is calling me from the hospital where he's under police custody? Best to ignore that. This guy is suspected of killing his entire family? No need to cuff him to the hospital bed.

Of course, the police detectives aren't much either. The lead detective Joona Linna comes off as smart and cocky. But he's Sweden's best police detective so that's understandable. Never mind that he has clues right in front of him that he completely misses*.

But that's alright. Because we've got the world famous Erik Maria Bark to come use hypnosis on the primary suspect. Never mind that his reputation is cloaked in scandal. Never mind that he swore off hypnotism for some odd reason (most of the reviews tell you why--I'm not going to mention it). Never mind that the hypnotist is so pilled out of his mind that he makes Doctor House look like a normal user.

Then we have the drama. This isn't TNT "We Know Drama" drama. The drama between Dr. Bark and his wife Simone; these two are getting ready to separate and every conversation they have is an argument. Making their parts of the novel tedious to read at best. Even after their son Benjamin goes missing they continue to fight with one another. Eventually I realized that they had both morphed into the Swedish Chef from The Muppets in my head:

Erik: Pleese-a dun't leefe-a me-a.
Simone: I hete-a yuoo!
Erik: Hefe-a yuoo seee my peells?
Simone: Hefe-a yuoo seee my sun?

Now let's turn our sights on the drama within the Ek household. You find out Josef Ek is the killer of his own family right off the bat. It's clear something strange has been going on in the Ek household. But no one in the family ever reported that their 15-year-old relative is a sociopath who tries to rape his sister on several occasions. Makes sense not to report that or get the kid some help, right?

The pacing of the novel was a tad awkward as well. Jumping back and forth between various characters during various times of the day; I kept having to take mental notes as to what was happening and when it was happening. It turned what I thought was an easy summer read into an effort.

Then we have that old episode of Penn & Teller: Bullshit! that I watched many years ago. Hypnosis? That's bullshit. That episode has always stuck with me and it didn't help here.

I could not figure out why this novel is on so many summer reading lists. I could not figure out why it has so many positive reviews on Amazon.com. I was completely baffled. But like a bad Swedish detective I eventually put it all together. Most of the reviews (that I didn't read) mention some information that you don't find out until page 400 of the novel. Had I known then what I know now? I still wouldn't of liked it. Dr. Bark's motives and Joona's motives would've been clearer, though.

Add all these flaws together and that's why I really didn't enjoy Kepler's book**.

This book is rated IKEA because I just couldn't put it all together.

*Joona visits the killer in the hospital. He notices the killer's dirty feet and wonders what it all means. The killer isn't able to walk! But his bare feet are dirty? It takes him about ten pages before he realizes that the killer can walk and has been outside and has been calling and threatening Dr. Bark. Obviously the killer lied about how much pain he was in. What kind of a guy kills his ENTIRE family and then lies to the police after all?
**Lars Kepler is not a real person. It is the pen name for a married couple: Alexander Ahndoril and Alexandra Coelho Ahndoril.

Friday, July 8, 2011

Terrible Fantasy/Sci-Fi Book Art.

Something Awful has a big ol' list of terrible cover art from vintage sci-fi novels. I couldn't tell the real from the fake from the manipulated.

What I'm reading this weekend.

I've just finished The Hypnotist by Lars Kepler. It's been called the next Nordic hit. An instant success. BOOM GOES THE DYNAMITE in book format. Err. I beg to differ? I might seek out a Vulcan to do a mind meld on me and a quick wipe of all associated memories. Unethical? Not after I explain the trauma I've been through (review on Monday).

This weekend I'll be reading Ann Patchett's State of Wonder. It's been praised heavily as well. Hopefully this isn't an indicator that it's going to end up like The Hypnotist. I've read Patchett before and have been very pleased. I hope it happens again. If not I'm off to Vulcan.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

The Ex-Boyfriend's Handbook: a novel, Or: Extreme Makeover the British Edition.

There is one line that sums up Matt Dunn's The Ex-Boyfriend's Handbook:

"Show me a woman who owns a cat and I'll show you a woman with issues."

No offense to any pro-feline forces on the interwebs but that statement got a chuckle from me.

Edward Middleton* is not the one who spouted that line. That would be his over-sexed actor friend Dan (he's a major douche). See, Edward has a problem: he is clueless about women. Which is why Jane, his now ex-girlfriend, left him and moved to Tibet for 90 days. Edward decides to change within those 90 days in order to win Jane back. Douche-y Dan decides to help. He makes a list of changes Ed should make. It's a really long list so I'll shorten it here for time purposes.

The Really Short List of Things That Edward Middleton Needs To Change About Himself in 90 Days:

  1. Every-freakin'-thing.

Honestly by the middle of the book you'll be wondering why Jane didn't leave Ed sooner. He smokes, he drinks too much, and he probably helped the Brits vote the Oxford comma off the island. But he has promise. He gets a plucky and attractive female personal trainer, he quits smoking and decides to support the Oxford comma (not really).

The bromance between Douche-y Dan and Edward is the highlight of The Ex-Boyfriend's Handbook; their conversations and how much they don't "get" women is a constant source of amusement; I found myself smiling a few times because of it. Especially when they were both wrong. And especially when they were both right. And mostly because I'm guilty of buying flowers for a girl at a gas station as Edward did. I have learned to never do that again.

Edward attempts to date so that when Jane gets back he'll know what to say and do. The dates are awkward. Think first date at 14 awkward. Or recently divorced after 22 years of marriage awkward. The rejection was blindingly painful and there were moments when I cringed. Dunn writes these scenes in a way that is both funny and sad. Making this real romcom territory. You'll laugh, you'll smile, you won't cry, but you will cringe.

I'm not going to lie. This is chick lit and I'm a guy and I enjoyed it and I don't feel guilty for it. And I am really grateful that I found out about the gas station flowers. Thank you, Mr. Dunn.

This book is rated Cheshire Cat for being British and oddly adorable.

*No relation to Kate.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

A Sharpie could help you meet your soulmate.

Women prefer e-readers, men prefer tablets.

I'm not in the least bit shocked. Considering I own a Kindle and anyone else I've met who has an e-reader is a woman. But it's also true that women read more than men.

Of course, e-readers are to blame for the lack of a love life:
I had one good pickup line, and e-readers ruined it. I can no longer hit on a handsome man on a long commute by asking about his book — because I can’t see it.
Problem solved:

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Solitary: A Novel, Or: This Ain't Sunnydale.

There are no vampires--from space or small towns--in Travis Thrasher's Solitary. It is vampire free, werewolf free, mermaid free, and post-apocalyptic landscape free. It is the anti-young adult trilogy to all of the other young adult trilogies out there right now.

Not that the ones out right now aren't good. And not that Thrasher doesn't use the Twilight formula:

(insert main character's name) is from (insert major city) and moves to (insert small town) where he meets the mysterious (insert secondary character's name). All around him people are (insert plot points) all while going to high school.

To repeat: Chris Buckely is from Chicago and moves to Solitary, North Carolina where he meets the mysterious Jocelyn Evans. All around him people are warning him of terrors untold and that he should avoid Jocelyn and watch his single mother's back; all while going to high school.

See how simple that is? It's actually Thrasher's small town that's the star here. Everyone in it has a secret. Everyone. The police. Jocelyn. Chris' mom. His missing uncle. The people that are trying to "help" Chris.

Chris himself is an open book; he really throws his feelings out there*. But that's a problem in Solitary; people keep secrets and not keeping them makes you stand out. Very dark and mysteriously mysterious secrets that need keeping.

The spacing of the novel was the only problem I had with it.

There are no real paragraphs.

Just individual lines.

Kind of like this.

But it does serve to make the novel more bleak and solemn.

I'll be reading Gravestone sometime in the near future for sure.

This book is ranked grilled cheese. For seeming crunchy on the outside but gooey on the inside.

*Chris expresses himself through music**; there are playlists at the end of the novel.

**"So I'm shaving last night at this make-out party. I took a bunch of pictures. You can see them on my MySpace page. Along with my favorite songs and movies and things that other people have created but that I use to express my individualism." -- Stewie Griffin

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