*Not My REAL Bookshelf

*Not My REAL Bookshelf

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

"My Lame Life: The Queen of the Misfits," by Jen Mann

Since my first days in the Blogosphere, I've seen some incredibly talented fellow writers and bloggers published. One of the most entertaining of these writers is Jen Mann, author of such gems as I Just Want To Pee Alone and People I Want To Punch In The Throat, both of which are AMAZING books with hysterical commentary on the ins and outs of parenting...and being a societal introvert who hates wearing pants. (And honestly, don't we all??) Her newest foray into the world of publishing is a YA novel entitled My Lame Life: Queen of the Misfits, her first jaunt into the genre. Because of my humble blog here, I was so fortunate as to receive a signed copy from Jen to read and review. Having done the former, I am now ready to tackle the latter!

Fourteen-year old Plum Parrish is not the kind of girl you'll find in the middle of a group of cheerleaders, or whose name is revered by the other students at her school. For Plum, life exists of one best friend who understands her, and nothing else except her passions for both reading and for learning French. She revels in her misfit status, because it is her niche in life. But all of that changes when she receives an announcement from her parents that throws her entire world into disarray: Due to a promotion, her parents will be moving their family far away from the only life she knows. The journey to her new life is fraught with the same battles she was waging with the so-called "cool kids" in her previous school, and makes for some heady drama once school starts up again. Her shenanigans even manage to drag her brother and her parents into the fray, which results in some hilarious moments as well as some tender ones. One is left desperately hopeful that Jen will continue the saga of Plum Parrish, since the novel ended with a bit of a cliffhanger that absolutely found me wanting more!

This is a novel that celebrates the kids who are different, who march to the beats of their own drummers, and I found it refreshing and wildly engaging. As always with Jen's work, I walked away from this read with a smile on my face and affection in my heart. You can't go amiss here -- I wholeheartedly recommend this book to tweens/teens and adults alike. Nothing quite so nostalgic as remembering the days of our own misspent youth. LOL

Rating: ★★★★★

Sunday, April 9, 2017

"Power Play" by Penny Jordan

When I was a high school junior, our small-town Texas football team was able to achieve enough wins to be eligible for the Semifinals game for the 3A Conference State Championship. Travel to Irving to play at Texas Stadium (where the Cowboys played at the time) was an excitement I could scarcely have dreamed of, but it was quite some distance from home in those days -- a solid 10 hours or more when the speed limit was still set at 55 MPH. I brought my Discman along, but the supply of batteries I had available was soon exhausted, and I was left with my go-to option for my free time at home, which was to pick up a book to read. I had pilfered a title on my way out of the house that was new to me, a novel called Power Play by Penny Jordan. The cover was provocative in a subtle way, no busty, scantily-clad maiden being passionately clutched to the bare-chested man of her dreams to be found. It was a temptation too great for sixteen-year old me to resist, and into my bag it went. I read somewhere in the neighborhood of two-thirds of the book in the time I had available to me during the trip to and from Irving, but somehow managed to drop the novel into the overhead compartment when we were disembarking upon our return. A call to the charter bus company revealed that the book had disappeared, and I was left distraught. My OCD demands that I finish reading a book once I've started, and there was zero chance of such after that.

Fast forward nineteen years later, when the internet has become the best friend of those whose brains are incapable of retaining certain tiny pieces of information such as specific book titles or the names of authors. A Google search of the details I could recall about the characters and plot reminded me of the title I needed, and a quick visit to half.com got me reunited with the book at long last. I made quick work of finishing up the read, and it was just as great as I remembered. (A relief, truly, since many things fail to hold up over time in terms of how completely they captured your interest before.) It now holds a cherished place on my bookshelf, and remains a favorite I won't be losing again.

Pepper Minesse is a fierce and incredibly competent businesswoman, one who holds herself aloof from all manner of personal relationships with men after enduring a terrifying assault in her past. When first we meet her, she is in the process of mailing out letters to everyone who was involved in that most hated and shameful piece of her past. Sending those letters sets her long-awaited plan for revenge into motion. The four men, all equally powerful in their own right, are extremely resistant to Pepper's demands. The blackmail she has acquired ensures that they have no choice but to comply, and this leads them to form a plan of their own to combat her revenge. As the past, present, and future begin to merge, a growing danger mounts, and Pepper's very life is placed into grave peril. It is only through the intervention of one of the same men whose life she is attempting to ruin that she is able to triumph over the danger she faces. Shocking twists and terrible crimes abound as the plot races toward its finish, leaving several people dead and many lives irreparably changed.

All in all, this is one book that was written with the reader in mind. Gripping and powerful, the story is one that will stay with you. There were a couple of small elements that bugged me about Pepper's acquiescence, which make me reluctant to give it a full five stars. But it is a solid read, and I wholeheartedly recommend it.

Rating: ★★★★☆

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

"The Time Machine", by H.G. Wells

Many moons ago, I was mired in the long days of a high school career. Summer vacations were a splendor whose days were numbered, with the end of such allowances marching ever closer. Being a student of AP English meant one thing during these languorous stretches of free time -- summer reading lists. Filled with the names of tomes whose authors were long deceased, it was a dread for nearly every student. Lord knows how I suffered through the tortures of Great Expectations in the summer before my freshman year. Nothing but a no-fail cure for insomnia there. Another challenge faced in such a small town as ours was the availability of the books on the list. The local library was sure to have a copy or two, but it was also certain to be checked out on a constant basis if the title was a popular one. With the nearest bookstore hours away by car, one had to face a harsh reality as summer began to wane: A different book would have to be chosen from the list before time had run out. This is how I came to read The Time Machine by H.G. Wells in the space between my sophomore and junior years, in addition to the ever-popular Romeo and Juliet.

During a dinner at the home of one known to the reader as the Time Traveller, the aforementioned character arrives with much ado and excitement to relay the tales of his recent journey. He weaves such a tale of his trek through time, spanning all the way to the literal end of the Earth and back again. Along the way, he has met many different people of various stations in life, experienced a crushing loss, and encountered many things the likes of which the people of his own time could hardly even dare to dream. He learned of an eventual split of the human race into a veritable caste system, one which persisted for millenia. He fostered relationships with the people he met, some to good ends and some to bad ends. These travels have impressed so much into his psyche that, upon his return to the Victorian era, he finds himself a drastically changed man. His is now a haggard and careworn sense of self after everything he endured, and his recounting of the many things he experienced leaves those in his party speechless and disbelieving. The traveler then vanishes a day later, never to return.

I found myself so swept up in his story that I flew through the pages with abandon, desperate to find out what would happen next. It was easily the greatest of all of the assigned reading I ever attempted, with perhaps Night by the late Elie Wiesel being the only exception. I wouldn't exactly call this an easy read, since the language of Wells' time doesn't quite sync up with our own in a way that fosters immediate understanding. But once you clap on to the vagaries of these differences, the book practically reads itself. It is a masterpiece, and one that I like to revisit as often as I can.

Rating: ★★★★★

Sunday, March 19, 2017

"The Girl On The Train", by Paula Hawkins

Not too long ago, our book club took on an assignment of the bestselling thriller The Girl On The Train by British author Paula Hawkins. It was timed to coincide with the release of the film, which we watched as a group after having read the novel. Ultimately, I found the film to be seriously lacking in comparison with the book for a variety of reasons, which is nothing new. But as this is a book review, I'll try my best to stick to that instead.

Rachel Watson is a woman in her twenties with a life in shambles. Abandoned by her ex-husband for another woman, stuck with a judgmental roommate, and nursing a not-so-secret habit of heavy drinking, she's watching her existence fall to pieces around her. Her only joy in life is during her daily work commute into London, watching a happy couple from her old neighborhood whom she has dubbed Jason and Jess. One day she witnesses something shocking from the train which shatters her illusions about the couple she has grown to envy and admire. This is further complicated when a disappearance makes the news in the area, and it haunts her in ways she cannot reconcile with her memories of the day in question. Now sober in the face of this turn of events, a newly-unemployed Rachel decides to become an amateur sleuth to puzzle out the details of the situation. The realities she unearths along the way bring her to the precipice of dangers she could not have foreseen. This allows her to unveil a truth connecting the circumstances of the present to her old life, which left me floored and speechless.

The story moves slowly at the outset, fraught with the complexities of a narrative based solely on Rachel's emotional and drunken mindset. It requires a measure of patience to arrive at the place where the action becomes intriguing. But once that point has surfaced, you won't be able to tear yourself away from the gripping tale of the protagonist's treacherous quest to discover the truth. In this case, the juice was worth the squeeze. :)

Rating: ★★★★☆

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

"Ender's Game" by Orson Scott Card

Back in 2013, a film was getting ready to premiere for a bestselling book -- Ender's Game, by Orson Scott Card. Since I am a person who prefers to read a book before I see the movie version of it, I picked up my daughter's school copy to give it a read.

Ender's Game chronicles the journey of a child whose family has three children instead of the approved two. The third child, Ender, is expected to do great things because of the government's approval for his family to bring him into the world. His lethal defeat of a schoolyard bully makes him eligible for a special academy to learn to defeat the Earth's alien invaders using a computer program. Employing his smarts and his interpersonal skills, he rises through the ranks of the school's students. Even in the face of a higher power pulling strings behind the scenes, his leadership ultimately brings the Earth to victory over the alien forces. All told, it is a novel that many consider to be a veritable classic.

Unfortunately, it is not a novel that I found to be enjoyable in the slightest. To me, it was immature fart jokes and a tediously tiresome read. While I can appreciate the quality of the writing that many would find to be immensely entertaining, I simply did not find it so.

Rating: ★★☆☆☆

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

"Into Thin Air", by Jon Krakauer

A couple of years ago, I was waiting for a bus to work on a sleepy Saturday morning, enjoying my usual people-watching schadenfreude on the UT campus. (Apparently, 7:45 A.M. is the customary time for the inevitable Walk of Shame back to one's apartment after a night of debauchery. There were dozens of raccoon-faced, scantily-clad undergrads slouching and stumbling home every weekend. This one was no exception.) As I stood up to catch my bus, I turned to ensure that I wasn't leaving anything behind before boarding, and noticed a book lying there on the bench. It wasn't mine, but I picked it up to give to the driver, so it could be taken to the Lost and Found in case the owner was seeking it. The driver told me basically to shove off, and to just leave it there, which I couldn't bear to do with rain clouds threatening, so I stuck it in my bag to return to that bench later on. The title was Into Thin Air, by a name I recognized -- Jon Krakauer. You may recall his accounting of Chris McCandless' ultimately fatal journey into the unsettled Alaskan backcountry, which bears a film of the same name -- Into The Wild.

Since that workday was interminably slow, I decided to go ahead and read the book before returning it to its previous resting place. The cover heralded the book as "A Personal Account of the Mt. Everest Disaster", which to me meant that Krakauer had interviewed the person(s) who were on that particular expedition. I was stunned to discover that this so-called personal account was exactly that -- his own retelling of his team's disastrous trip to the summit of Everest. Upon that discovery, I fell straight into the rabbit hole, emerging hours later shocked and horrified to my core with the terrors his group had experienced on that fateful trek.

The book begins by giving a small excerpt of the apex of Krakauer's journey, then proceeds to chronicle the history of Everest voyages -- from Sir Edmund Hillary to George Leigh Mallory, and of the Nepalese government's extreme reluctance to allow anyone to climb the mountain in the first place. As with most things worth doing, making the summit of Everest is not a thing lightly undertaken or easily done. There was much in the way of backstory regarding Krakauer being chosen for an expedition at all, and of the planning that had to be undertaken in preparation of such an excursion. He was an avid climber in the years preceding the Everest expedition, and was excited to have been selected for this trip. There were narratives about the trip to Nepal, of the mixed feelings from being at the height of the summit inside the aircraft while flying through the Himalayas, and of meeting up with his fellow climbers and the Sherpa crew that would be accompanying him to the top. There were stories of their trip to the base camp at the foot of Everest, and of the journey to each of the camps that followed. Air grew thin, suffering began from altitude sickness, climbers began requiring extensive oxygenation between camps. Murphy's Law was in full effect for these ill-fated climbers, though they were not yet aware of just how perilous their journey was about to become. A multitude of factors that alone would have been manageable and minuscule, combined to engender a dangerous and essentially catastrophic turn of events. It cost the lives of many in their group, and none who survived were ever the same again.

By failing to properly respect the dangers that an Everest climb could trigger, the expedition was bound to run into trouble before the end. But it was a freak storm that developed suddenly as their party approached the summit that was the ultimate factor in their calamitous outcome. Visibility reduced to nothing, while climbers were scrambling to make it back to camp, resulted in many disappearances that have remained missing to this day. Several members of the group were discovered having frozen to death while trying to find their way back to safety, while others who made it back were suffering from extreme cases of frostbite and worse. Communications were disabled due to the extreme weather, making it impossible to have anyone removed to safety via helicopter. It truly became a clusterfuck of massive proportions.

After those who survived were safely off the mountain, and climbers began journeying home, the tone shifted into the melancholy. Krakauer suffered tremendous guilt for his perceived faults in several of the deaths on the mountain, and his accounts of these thoughts were utterly heartbreaking. Reading about widowed spouses and fiancees, along with the grief of various family members and friends, was gutting. I found myself in tears for more than one passage.

Overall, the book is hard to review in any concrete sense. The things that you'll read in this story have to be experienced in the imagination firsthand, rather than through an impartial reviewer's lens. To attempt to convey Krakauer's masterpiece myself would be to do it and those who are its subjects a grave disservice. I give as vague an outline as I can muster out of respect to his own storytelling. I can't recommend this book highly enough, though I will caution that the reading of such a thing will leave you changed irreparably. It is brilliant and devastating all at once.

Rating: ★★★★★

Monday, March 6, 2017

"The Heist", by Janet Evanovich & Lee Goldberg

One of my favorite things to do is haunt the book section at the local Dollar Tree and see what kind of interesting reads I can find there. I do the same with the Clearance section at Half Price Books, and I almost always emerge triumphantly with one catch or another. On one of my more recent jaunts, I found this interesting title cadged in between a copy of the Bible and Jennie Garth's book, just begging to be rescued. It did not disappoint!

FBI agent Kate O'Hare is a kickass, take-no-prisoners type of woman. She is professionally apt, a former Navy Seal, and always gets her man...until the ever calm and collected Nicolas Fox comes along and throws her tidy world into disarray. By the time we meet this protagonist, she has already been kept on the ropes by Fox for a number of years. As luck would have it, she is on the cusp of capturing him for good with a brilliant operation. But after a ruthless and shocking betrayal, she finds herself in a position she never imagined -- working as a team with her own personal enemy, and a whole host of those who also live their lives outside the law. Getting to know this motley crew of criminal dynamos is only half the fun of this novel, which is energetically written and full of sharp and witty dialogue. Each character has a backstory worthy of its own novel outright, and I dearly hope to see more of them in the novels that follow in the series!

The Heist is a quick read, filled to the brim with action, romance, and belly laughs you'll feel the next day. Their description of the Salton Sea is both incredibly true and hysterically funny! (I can attest to this from my brief stint living in SoCal, a mere ten miles from that very spot.) I've enjoyed Janet Evanovich's work since the Stephanie Plum days, and I look forward now to reading more from Lee Goldberg after enjoying this work so very much.

Rating: ★★★★★