Friday, August 30, 2013

The Cinderella deal

by Jennifer Crusie

While the main characters do refer to their budding relationship as "The Cinderella Deal", Crusie manages to make the plot vastly different from that of the historically famous waif rescued by magic and a prince.
Instead, she's got sassy, energetic Daisy and, seemingly, lifeless Linc.  He's a college professor with no time for his neighbor's silliness.  She's an artistic sort who has never learned that a little order can make life sweeter.  The two are at odds early.
Linc uncharacteristically lies himself into a corner, and realizes that the only way out is to convince his flighty acquaintance to be his fake fiance.  Soon enough, the lie grows until it seems there is little chance of escape. 
I read this months ago. It was fun, but I don't remember why.  Sorry.

The Universe Versus Alex Woods by Gavin Extence

When Alex Woods was 10 he got beaned in the noggin by a large meteorite that slammed through his home's roof at 200 miles per hour and conked him out. He's lucky to be alive - although he lost a month of his life (he doesn't remember anything for 2 weeks before, or the 2 weeks he was in a coma) and now he's got to deal with epilepsy caused by the injury.

That's not the only reason he's a bit different. He's really into science and math but hates sports, so that's made him a target for bullies. Oh, and his mom runs a crystal and healing shop and reads tarot cards.

But he can thank those bullies for the incident that introduced him to Mr. Peterson; what began as making restitution turns into an unconventional friendship between the teen and the Vietnam vet. And that friendship ultimately leads to the biggest action in the book.

I'm not sure if this book is supposed to be young adult or adult ... and who cares about labels anyway? It's such a great book that I think anyone over the age of 16 should give it a try (why 16? why not?). Alex is the right kind of quirky - the kind you see yourself in, even if you've got your own unique style of strange. His mother loves him, and he's a guy who does what he believes is right.

I cried. And laughed a lot. Read this book!

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Hyperbole and A Half: Unfortunate Situations, Flawed Coping Mechanisms, Mayhem, and Other Things That Happened by Allie Brosh

Allie Brosh is that wild sort of storyteller whose true tales should make you weep for her struggles but instead make you howl with laughter. And they're accompanied with her distinctive kindergarten-style MS Paint illustrations.

Brosh has a wildly popular blog ( that birthed this book; the publisher says half the book previously appeared on the blog, and half is brand-new material. Whether it's the story about her desperate efforts to eat somebody else's birthday cake as a child, or the challenges of adopting "broken" dogs you won't even mind if you've seen it before - it's worth the reminder.

Perhaps her most inspirational work is about her own mental health challenges. Brosh has been very open and outspoken about her struggles with depression and anxiety, and I think her brave, honest descriptions are an important part of the dialog. Plus, did I mention she's got a hell of a sense of humor?

I follow Brosh's blog, and I was anxiously awaiting this book. I'm delighted that the book holds true to her visual style, and I'm certain she'll attract many, many new fans with its release.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Nothin' to Lose: The Making of KISS (1972-1975) by Ken Sharp, Gene Simmons, and Paul Stanley

I don't remember a time when there was no KISS; in my life they've always existed. And for that reason, this book was very interesting to me - it chronicles their rise to fame, and the immense struggles it took for the band to build an audience and one-by-one win over the critics.

I really wanted to LOVE this book. And I do actually love it, a little - but I also thought they needed a much stronger editor (the book is an unwieldy 560 pages long). If four people said that Paul and that one guy didn't get along, all four quotes are in the book: Wouldn't we have been better served by one of those quotes, and then perhaps Paul's perspective? The book could have been about one-third shorter.

What did I love? The stories! The day the band took over Cadillac, Michigan and the reasons why. The friendship between KISS and Rush (and the animosity between KISS and Aerosmith), plus Ted Nugent's opinion on a KISS stage show. The only time Gene ever got high and the one time Paul got drunk. During the timespan this book covers, the band was a strong fierce foursome, a band of brothers - before things got ugly and the split happened. Ace and Peter are quoted extensively in the book, and while there's a bit of foreshadowing there's no ugliness or animosity in this book.

And a minor annoyance: I wished there had been a few more pictures. Most of the photos in the book are previously unreleased, which is very cool. But when they talk about the photo shoots for the album covers, I wish they'd also given us the cover (I spent a lot of time looking things up on the internet while reading this book).

Highly recommended for the KISS Army, and still recommended for more casual fans. You'll come away with a new appreciation for how hard they've worked to get where they are.

Friday, August 23, 2013

Songs of Willow Frost by Jamie Ford

William Eng is the only Chinese child at his Seattle orphanage. On the boys' birthday (they're all celebrated at once - the girls get a different day), William is shocked to see his mother starring in the movie preview for an upcoming live movie-star appearance. You can imagine that a boy like William won't rest until he sees and speaks with the actress Willow Frost.

A few years back I loved Ford's Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet, and this one is just as good. The author does an fantastic job of really putting you into the American minority experience.

Bad things happen to William and his mother, Liu Song, but they aren't solely minority stories; during the depression and 1920s life was hard for many in Seattle and elsewhere, white or otherwise. But the fact that both characters are American-born Chinese (who have never been to China) does add a different flavor and accent to the story.

This story contains heartbreak and misfortune, but also innocence and optimism. And I never knew this real-world history about early American film (before Hollywood became our movie capital). Fascinating, and another great one for your book club to discuss.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Pretty in Plaid by Jen Lancaster

Subtitled: "A Life, A Witch, and A Wardrobe, or the Wonder Years Before the Condescending, Egomaniacal, Self-Centered, Smart-Ass Phase"

Remember the glory days of childhood where your biggest wardrobe concerns were whether you shouldn't wear yellow on Tuesdays (or was that Thursdays?) and if you remembered your sash for the Girl Scout meeting this afternoon?  Jen Lancaster remembers that and so much more.

Lancaster's made a writing career by telling her own life stories with wit and sarcasm. I've read some of her other books (who could forget the story about going to the unemployment office carrying a designer bag?) and they're all really, really funny. This time around, Jen's mining her childhood, teen years, college, and early adulthood - the pre-career Jen, you could call it.

We all have special childhood memories, but in addition to remembering "the lobster birthday" Jen also recalls what she was wearing and why. Framing these great self-mocking memories with significant wardrobe choices gives the stories a connecting thread - and a bit of foreshadowing, in many cases. Also, the luxury of time allows Jen to look back with added wisdom that brings a new depth to the stories: one story's big gay reveal is all the funnier because there are a signs, references and hints sprinkled in the lead-up, to all of which teen-Jen is hilariously myopic.

I listened to the audio, read by Jamie Heinlein, and this is a perfect car-read. It's laugh-out-loud funny and likely to send you on your own mini-nostalgia trip of bad hairstyles and questionable fashion.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Double Crossed

by Ally Carter

Carter has mixed the worlds in two of her series with this free ebook.  This novella appears to be a teaser for more interaction between the Heist Society and Gallagher Girls characters.

Macy McHenry is not just the society princess the press sees.  Readers know her as a master spy.  That's why she's so keenly notices Hale's sneaky tactics during THE social event of the season.  Quickly, the two must rely upon each other to stay alive, and save all the other hostages.

This is fun, quick, and hopefully a portent of things to come from Ms. Carter.

Monday, August 12, 2013

Mother, Mother by Koren Zailckas

This is a STUNNING novel about a bad mother. And while you find yourself thinking "Josephine doesn't seem so bad ..." well, that's the thing!

Perfect eldest child Rose ran away. Middle child and hellraiser Violet tells us half the story. Protected, sheltered youngest, Will, tells the other half of the story. Between the lines, we may find the truth.

Years ago I read Zailckas' memoir, "Smashed: Story of a Drunken Girlhood" (published in 2005) and I remember that I really enjoyed her terrifying but not wholly surprising story of alcohol abuse. I was curious about her transition into fiction writing - and then, I was utterly blown away when I read this.

As a reader you don't know what happened - and maybe you don't even know what you don't know. It's become so trite this year to compare everything to Gillian Flynn's "Gone Girl", except in this case there are true similarities in the way the novel is written and the way the storyline is revealed.

This is a wonderful book, and I'll be talking about it a lot in the near future. Don't miss this one!

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Forgive Me, Leonard Peacock by Matthew Quick

Leonard Peacock has a gun in his backpack, and once he's delivered a few parting gifts he's going to kill Asher Beal, then himself. It's something that needs to be done - and today's the day.

Not just another book about school shootings, this one's a fantastic look from Leonard's perspective. Through his thoughts, memories, and interactions we learn about Leonard's lonely existence and piece together the source of his fury. Leonard (and the reader) know that each conversation today will mean something different in reflection tomorrow, after Leonard fulfills his plan. And when you can see things from Leonard's point of view, you really may see why he thinks this is a logical course of action.

This book is puzzling, heartbreaking, suspenseful, and thoughtful. Leonard's a guy you want to befriend before it's too late. You wonder how in the world it got this bad, while also understanding that all too frequently kids like Leonard slip between the cracks.

Quick's an excellent writer who really gets inside the head of his characters (see also: Silver Linings Playbook). This book features a multitude of footnotes (little asides in Leonard's narrative) and some typographical weirdness (when Leonard's closest to the edge of insanity, so is the text - it gets crammed out to the page's edge and marginalized like Leonard).

I love, love, love this book - it's absolutely one of my new favorite books.