"Give me books, French wine, fruit, fine weather, and a little music played out of doors by somebody I do not know." - John Keats

"You're not allowed to say anything about books because they're books and books are, you know, God." - Nick Hornby

Monday, July 31, 2017

Review #10: Kill the Boy Band, by Goldy Moldavsky

When I was twelve and thirteen, I loved New Kids on the Block. Specifically, I loved Donnie Wahlberg. Like, with a passion that only thirteen year old girls harbor. I wasn't as bad as my friend Heather, who loved Jordan Knight so much that the had the sheets and pillowcases and sleeping bag and shoestrings, but I loved him exactly as much as my parents (and their budget) would allow. I saw them in concert three times (my father is a SAINT; he's the one who took my friends and me all three times), and specifically chose my outfit based on the colors that Teen Bop told me were Donnie's favorites. Because, you know, he'd notice me out of a crowd of 20,000 other girls. Of course, he did not notice me, and instead went on to marry Jenny McCarthy, a terrible transgression for which I'm not sure I can forgive him.

I tell you all this because while I wouldn't have kidnapped Donnie (or the others), some of my friends *cough*Heather*cough* may have. I also probably wouldn't have gone along with the kidnapping out of fear of getting grounded like I did when I got caught sleeping out for tickets, but man, I'd have been super jealous. But our protagonist in Kill The Boy Band - alternately known as Sloane Peterson or Diane Court - has no such parental fear, and goes along with it. Along with three friends, she rents a room at the very same Manhattan hotel where their favorite band, The Ruperts - clearly a One Direction knock off - is staying. Through a convoluted series of events, they wind up kidnapping "the most useless" Rupert, Rupert K, whose talent lies not in singing or boy band dancing but in juggling. 

So the girls have Rupert K tied up in their hotel room while the other Ruperts are waiting for him at the television station; they're set to do a live gig on national tv. Isabel has tweeted from Rupert K's phone that he's quitting, Apple has taken selfies with a tied-up (and now un-blindfolded) Rupert K, Erin is determined to out him, and our still unnamed heroine is realizing that things are beginning to go off the rails. She escapes down to the hotel bar and later the roof, where her plan to get the girls out of the room so she can set Rupert free is momentarily forgotten when she meets her own favorite Rupert and has a moment with him. When she returns to the room, Rupert K's girlfriend has shown up and they can't seem to shake her, and then things start to take a very dark turn.

Kill the Boy Band is Heathers meets Jawbreaker meets Very Bad Things set to an 'NSYNC and BSB soundtrack. It's definitely for a very specific niche audience, although I think that any former boy band lover will appreciate the way Moldavksy captured the fervor of fan girls.

Also, I want to put a post script on this review and tell you all that I saw New Kids on the Block a couple of weekends ago, along with Paula Abdul and Boyz II Men and I'm not even a little bit ashamed about that. I didn't wear Donnie's favorite colors (black and gold!), but I for damn sure squealed and clutched at my sister's arm when I saw him posing for selfies with the bitches who got floor seats.

Also also, gratuitous concert photo, cause I'm a big dork.


Review #9: Your Beauty Mark: The Ultimate Guide to Eccentric Glamour, by Dita von Teese

I snapped this up for $1.99 on Kindle a few weeks ago. I don't know a whole lot about Dita von Teese other than she was once married to Marilyn Manson and she has a great sense of style. I figured, being a woman of a certain age, maybe I should start, you know, wearing something other than the Cover Girl and Maybelline I've been buying since 1989, and maybe Miss Dita would be kind enough to give me pointers on the benefit of the perfect red lipstick or how to get a cat eye without looking like a 70s reject.
But I've got to say, I was disappointed.

What I think I wanted was a how to guide, maybe with steps and pictures and a "here's how to put on eyeshadow you big dummy" chapter. Or tips for how to take your existing wardrobe and add just a few vintage pieces to it without looking costume-y. (Believe me, it's not as easy as going to the local Goodwill; there's a lot of searching for those things, and it's time consuming.) I'd even have settled for lots of pretty pictures that I could pore over and be jealous of. But this contained very little of that.  Maybe the hardback version has all that but the Kindle version decidedly did not. At least, not the first 75%, because that's when I stopped reading.

Instead what I got was an entire chapter devoted to how to take a bath (seriously). My bath might only happen once a year with Mr. Bubble and a seven year old shower curtain that has a few suspicious hair dye spots on it, but as long as I have hot water and a door I can shut, a bath is a bath, right? And while I agree on principle with the point that wearing a silky peignoir while lounging at home will make you feel better than, say, ratty yoga pants and a Loretta Lynn t-shirt, it's not a very practical wardrobe choice when it's 9:30pm and your kid's science project has exploded all over the living room. Again. And it's due tomorrow. And even though you've known it was due and she's known it was due and you had a plan to get it done in plenty of time, somehow, it's the night before and it's panic time. (Not that I have any personal experience with that. Ahem) And I know - we ALL know - that no cream or potion is ever going to replace what eight hours of uninterrupted sleep looks like, but I haven't slept through the night since before I got pregnant, and that was 14 years ago. And eight hours? Interrupted or not? That feels positively decadent.

And look, I admire Dita. She's a young girl who has managed to turn what she loves doing in to her career, and she makes a decent living at it, too. That's not easy to do, and she clearly works very hard at it. I've often heard that modeling is not exactly tough, but I disagree. When your body and your image are what you sell, you have to work your ass off. You don't get to skip the morning run if you're tired, you can't eat that extra (box of) Girl Scout cookie(s) just cause you want to, you can't hide under the covers all day because you have PMS. And Dita has certainly put in the effort. She's gorgeous, and talented, and comes across as a very intelligent young woman and I admire that. And her take away message is absolutely on point: love yourself, be true to yourself, be kind to yourself, and none of the rest of it matters. But the book just missed the mark for me.

Review #8: Three Wishes, by Liane Moriarty

Lyn, Cat, and Gemma Kettle, beautiful thirty-three-year-old triplets, seem to attract attention everywhere they go. Together, laughter, drama, and mayhem seem to follow them. But apart, each is dealing with her own share of ups and downs. Lyn has organized her life into one big checklist, Cat has just learned a startling secret about her marriage, and Gemma, who bolts every time a relationship hits the six-month mark, holds out hope for lasting love. In this wise, witty, and hilarious novel, we follow the Kettle sisters through their tumultuous thirty-third year as they deal with sibling rivalry and secrets, revelations and relationships, unfaithful husbands and unthinkable decisions, and the fabulous, frustrating life of forever being part of a trio.
Three Wishes is Cannonball favorite Liane Moriarty's debut novel. It follows the Kettle triplets - Lyn, Cat, and Gemma - over the course of one year. In true Moriarty fashion, she begins with the trio having their birthday dinner, laughing and drinking and clinking champagne, until one is stabbed in the belly with a fork. Then we spin backwards, and enter in to their lives. 

Lyn is the super OCD triplet: everything in her life is just so. She's a "woman who works", she has children, she has a loving but sometimes forgetful husband, and she's struggling to keep it all together, even though her outward appearance shows that nothing is wrong. Cat is the triplet who is desperate to have a baby, who has literally put all her eggs in one basket, and when she becomes pregnant, she finally has everything she ever wanted...until she loses that and her husband in one fell sweep. And Gemma is the wild child, the free spirit who runs every time a relationship turns serious, who is so adrift she doesn't even have a permanent address. Toss in a divorced mother and father who are having a clandestine affair, an unexpected pregnancy, some infidelity, some sister fighting, and you have the makings of a good beach read.

And that's just what this is: a beach read. It's a perfectly serviceable novel to have with you on vacation, at the beach or on the plane, easy to pick up and put down. There aren't any big overarching themes or giant secrets... this is just a nice, frothy novel, and a pretty decent debut. Moriarty has made a name for herself, and so readers who go back to this first effort may be a little disappointed, but it's enjoyable enough.

Review #7: Lookaway, Lookaway, by Wilton Barnhardt

This was a weird book. I mean, a lot of so-called Southern literature is weird - that's why I love it so - but even by those standards, this was a weird book. 

Jerene Jarivs Johnston is old money Charlotte. Jerene's brother is the stereotypical boozy washed up novelist, found most afternoons at the bar at the club sipping his bourbon neat, her sister Dillard is a near shut-in, and her husband Duke is a failed politician, his career having been derailed by Jerene herself when she uncovered Duke's propensity for bedding younger women. Her children are equally a mess: Bo is a minister who isn't sure he believes, Annie is the perpetually single eldest daughter, Joshua is the closeted gay son with a fetish for bad boy thugs, and Jerilyn, the last and only hope, who reluctantly married her high school sweetheart and then shot him one night after dinner.

That cast of characters is ripe for a juicy peach of a Southern Gothic story, but I found myself losing interest often. Boss gets mad when I say this because he says that I shouldn't have to like the characters to like the book, but I disagree. You have to like at least someone in the story, or else, what's the point? Who do you root for? This is my problem with Gillian Flynn, too. All of her characters are just such awful people that I can't be bothered to care about their journeys. And the same can be said of Lookaway, Lookaway. I honestly didn't care about any of them.

I think Jerene was supposed to be one of those old Southern society ladies, the ones who are born in to their privilege and understand that it's a thorny crown. They despair that the old ways are disappearing and that Kids These Days can't be bothered. I think we were supposed to feel sympathy for her. But I couldn't get over the fact that everyone appeared to be a caricature of their characters. From the white privileged gay southern son who is so closeted he can only be turned on by black gang member thugs to the old maid daughter who is too smart for any man to love her, from the drunken failed author always dressed in seersucker to the dottering husband who loves to play dress up in Confederate clothes, the characters felt amateur and oblivious. 

The Amazon synopsis tells me that this was a Krikus Review Best Book of 2013, but it reads as though it was written in the early 90s, and I don't remember what else came out in 2013, but if this was one of the best, I'm not sure I want to read what else was written that year.

Review #6: High Noon, by Nora Roberts

I do this thing where I keep a running list of my book titles in my drafts folder, so when I have downtime, or when the inspiration strikes, I can go back and write my reviews. I'm very undisciplined in my review-writing, as evidenced by the fact that it's May July and I'm reviewing stuff I read in January. Anyway, I was going down the list and saw the title High Noon and had to look it up on Amazon. Usually the cover sparks a memory. It did not. So I read the synopsis, which did spark a memory, but also reminded me that the entire time I was reading this, I was pretty sure I had read it before, but yet could never quite remember for sure.

Anyway, on to the synopsis. Lt. Phoebe MacNamara is the Savannah Police Department's hostage negotiator. When she is tasked with talking a suicidal bartender down from the ledge on St. Patrick's Day, the mysteriously wealthy bar owner is very intrigued. Duncan pursues her, much to Phoebe's surprise. After all, who would want a single mom with a precocious young daughter, an agoraphobic mother, and a crumbling Savannah estate? But want her he does, and they set out to have a good old fashioned romance, only to have it threatened by danger coming from within her own department. And just when they think they've solved all of those problems, a new one crops up, and this one threatens Duncan's own family and friends, and Phoebe has to save the day again.

It's classic Nora Roberts: a strong and stubborn female protagonist, an equally strong and stubborn (and not at all commitment-phobic) male counterpart, danger, a parental figure, people who depend on our heroine to save the day, and a semblance of family. Think about it. All her books - even when she writes as J.D. Robb - follow that same basic structure, and while that does tend to get old, there is something comforting in knowing that at the end of the day, the heroine's going to kick some ass, take some names, and get the guy. 

Review #5: Truly, Madly, Guilty, by Liane Moriarty

Liane Moriarty is a favorite around here, and I remember reading, but not reviewing (I think that was the year I dropped the ball), The Husband's Secret and really enjoying it. Boss read it just before me, so I had someone to chat with about it. And while I haven't gotten around to Big Little Lies yet, everyone seems to love it. So it made sense to pick up anything by Moriarty in hardback for $1 at a yard sale.
And it was...okay.

At the center of the book is an event that happened at a Sunday afternoon barbecue and each principal player's feelings of guilt and responsibility towards that event, as well as their feelings of guilt and responsibility towards the people in their lives. Sam and Clementine, a young married couple with two adorable little girls, are the quintessential harried parents. Sam was recently promoted, yet feels like he's wasting his time and talent in the corporate world. Clementine, a classical musician, suffers from audition anxiety and, truth be told, a little bit of mommy regret. Their lives are messy, their house messier, and they can never seem to find a complete pair of shoes. Erika, Clementine's best friend, and her husband are quite the opposite: they are child-free (although apparently not by choice), mess free, and both struggle with the shadows of their childhood. Erika's mom is clearly mentally ill, and her hoarding tendencies are just the tip of the iceberg. Tiffany and Vid, Erika's next door neighbors, are introduced to the story by hosting a spontaneous afternoon barbecue, and it is at their house where the "incident" takes place.

Moriarty has cornered the market on the flash forward / flash backward style where a mystery is introduced at the beginning and the reader doesn't find out what the mystery is, let alone the resolution, until three quarters of the way through. And while this worked for The Husband's Secret, I'm not so sure it worked here. Additionally - and I realize I'm going against the grain here - I wasn't all that enamored of any of the characters. Truth be told, of the main six, the only two I liked were Tiffany and Vid. And perhaps Erika's husband, but he was so dull that I can't remember his name. Lots of reviews that I have read talk about Erika and Clementine's friendship and how it's a great example of adult female relationships, but honestly, I'd rather not have friends than have a friendship like that.

Truly Madly Guilty didn't put me off Liane Moriarty - I have a review of Three Wishes coming up (eventually) - but I don't know as it was worth the hype, and if Big Little Lies is anything like this, I'm not sure I'm going to rush out to read it.

Review #4: Anyone But You, by Jennifer Crusie

Oh Jennifer. You're so fluffy and light and fun and innocuous. Sometimes, that's just what a girl needs.

Nina Askew has just moved in to her new apartment on the second floor of a three flat building. She's left her dolt of an ex-husband, and she's forty and fabulous. Well, fabulous on the outside, but as any woman of a certain age knows, sometimes it's hard to be fabulous on the inside. But Nina's giving it the old college try, and even goes so far as to set out to get herself a puppy, something her ex would never allow.

Turns out, though, that dogs pick their owners, not the other way around, and Nina comes home with Fred. Fred is overweight, gassy, smelly, and has a tendency to fall off the fire escape. Which puts Nina in the direct path of her downstairs neighbor, a gorgeous doctor named Alex. Alex is smart. Alex is funny. Alex is kind. Alex likes Nina. But Alex is ten years younger than Nina.

Of course, there are some misunderstandings, and Alex has some of his own demons to fight. But this is a Jennifer Crusie novel, so you know there's going to be a happy ending.

Thursday, February 9, 2017

Review #3: A Land More Kind Than Home, by Wiley Cash

The library bookstore is my secret addiction. I don't get to go often (at least, not in my county, what with the powers that be cutting library hours to a ridiculous degree), but when I do go, I load up. And I would say that of the books I pick up, I have about a 50% success rate. I donate the rest back, which results in a vicious circle where I've been known to re-buy previous rejects. (Yeah, I know.) Anyway, of that 50% success rate, about half of those are guilty pleasure romance novels that are easily read but easily forgotten, and the other half are knock it out of the park fantastic finds. A Land More Kind than Home is one of the latter.

Set in the shadows of the North Carolina mountains in the mid-1980s, the novel is told from three different first-person perspectives: a nine-year-old boy, the town's midwife, and the middle aged county sheriff. It shouldn't work, but it does, and it does so beautifully. Each narrator has a different thread of the same story, and Cash deftly weaves the tale together, sometimes veering off in to the past, but never in a rambling way (I'm looking at you, Richard Russo). Cash allows the climax of the story to begin in the sheriff's voice, and then at the last minute, smoothly hands it over to the young boy, simultaneously softening the blow of the novel's penultimate scene and devastating the reader even more than had the reader witnessed it from the sheriff's perspective.

I want to be careful what I say about the story, because I fear that even a summary will give too many things away, and this is a novel you need to just immerse yourself in and let the words, and the story, wash over you. This is a tale of a small southern town, its residents ripped apart by a young boy's needless death, a nefarious and shady preacher man, a sheriff haunted by twenty-year-old grief, and an old man left with nothing but a second chance. I would compare Cash to Tom Franklin (Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter) or John Hart (The Last Child), and A Land More Kind Than Home is a powerful addition to Southern literature.

I've heard it said before that those who don't learn from the past are bound to repeat it, and I just don't know what I think about that. I figure I don't have too much use for it. The past will just weigh on you if you spend too much time remembering.

Review #2: The Haunting of Josie, by Kay Hooper

I hate it when I read the blurb about a book and I think it's going to be one thing, but then it turns out to be totally different, and totally dull.

According to the back cover, The Haunting of Josie is about a young woman spending a year in a secluded cabin, untangling the threads of a mystery that killed a man she loved. She's unprepared for her sexy and dashing neighbor Marc Westbrook, and doesn't really need the distraction of the tall, dark, and handsome man-next-door, but soon she'll have no choice but to trust him. 

So I go in to this thinking that Josie's got some terrible secret or bad guy that's haunting her, that she lost her first love, that Marc's going to be in danger, that terrible truths are going to come out and Marc and Josie are going to have to rescue each other and live happily ever after together the end.

That's not what happened. The novel opens with a cat. Correction: the novel opens with the cat's point of view. Yeah. Okay, whatever, I can go along with that. But then there's a ghost and a mysterious key that the cat keeps moving around, and an old murder mystery that I really didn't care about at all, and Josie's secret wasn't all that salacious or dangerous, and the damn cat keeps showing up. But the haunting is really the weirdest part. It's Marc's great-great-great uncle or some such nonsense, a writer who committed suicide but was really murdered (I think - I can't remember), but he looks just like Marc. And he likes to appear to Josie when she's half dressed. It's creepy and not in a chills up your spine cause it's cold and dark outside way, but creepy in the way that the guy at the end of the bar might want to stare at you while you shower way.

And then the stupid cat shows back up and we close out with the cat's point of view again.

The whole thing felt weird and disjointed, and frankly, pretty dated, which is surprising since I think it's only about ten years old. Definitely not Hooper's strongest effort.

Disclaimer: this was an audio book, but I don't think it would be any better in print.

Tuesday, January 3, 2017

Review #1: Turbo Twenty-Three, by Janet Evanovich

Note: Spoilers abound.

Are there really spoilers in a Stephanie Plum book, though? I mean, we know that Lula is going to wear outrageous outfits, that Grandma is going to do something wacky, that Mrs. Plum is going to drink a little bit of Four Roses in her iced tea glass, and that Stephanie is going to have some near-death experiences.

In installment 23 (are we really up to that number?), we open with Stephanie and Morelli’s relationship status upgraded to engaged to be engaged. Apparently, Joe had some sort of medical thing in the last book which made him feel especially domestic for a short while. Stephanie’s on the hunt for Larry Virgil, who is out on bond for stealing an eighteen-wheeler full of bourbon, and she and Lula catch him stealing another eighteen-wheeler, only this time, it’s full of ice cream and a dead guy covered in chocolate sauce. So, you know, a typical day in Trenton.

In the meantime, Ranger needs Stephanie to go undercover at the ice cream plant, which is sort of related to the stolen truck full of ice cream and dead guy. The B stories this time include Grandma getting engaged to a biker bartender in one of the more delightful Grandma side-stories, and Lula and Randy Briggs (the short guy) filming themselves in their birthday suits wandering about Trenton for an audition tape for “Naked and Afraid”. Think about that visual for just a few seconds.

But what you really need to know, is that Stephanie sleeps with Ranger. At the Contemporary Resort at Disney World. Twice. While wearing Tinkerbell underwear.

The last few Stephanie books have felt pretty formulaic, and they have been, but they’re still fun, and I’m still reading them. Plus, you know, Ranger. It’s hard to give him up.