Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Book Review: Blaze by Richard Bachman

Title: Blaze
Author: Richard Bachman (aka Stephen King)
Publisher: Scribner
Publication Date: June 12, 2007
Source: personal purchase

Summary from Goodreads

Clayton Blaisdell, Jr., was always a small-time delinquent. None too bright either, thanks to the beatings he got as a kid. Then Blaze met George Rackley, a seasoned pro with a hundred cons and one big idea. The kidnapping should go off without a hitch, with George as the brains behind their dangerous scheme. But there's only one problem: by the time the deal goes down, Blaze's partner in crime is dead. Or is he?

My Review:

For those unfamiliar with the connection between Richard Bachman and Stephen King, Bachman was the pen name that King occasionally wrote under in the 70's and 80's.  Bachman "died of pseudonym cancer" (as the book jacket explains) in 1985, when King was basically outed.  However, he continued to occasionally release books under that name, including this one, which was actually written before King made it big with Carrie but was not published until 2007.

This is my second "Bachman book" (I read The Long Walk the year before I started blogging), and I have to say that this one definitely has a different feel to it than your average King novel...I suppose that could be because it was written in his very early days, even before Carrie.  The Long Walk is extremely King-esque in nature (macabre, gory, with an all-around dreadful premise), but Blaze is distinctly...not.  It has some elements that are recognizable from his other work (namely, a LOT of suspense, and a child playing a fairly central role), but otherwise I'd say this one could have flown under the pseudonym radar pretty cleanly.

Blaze is not a terribly long novel, but even so, it took me a bit to get into it.  It opens with a slow build as you learn more about Blaze's background, his now-dead crime partner George, and the kidnapping plot that he plans to execute alone.  I was finding the whole thing a bit blah, honestly, for the first 25% or so.  However, after that point, two things happen.  One, the story starts to flash back for longer periods into Blaze's past--and you learn a lot of things about his history that are rather disturbing.  And two, the actual kidnapping gets underway, which is pretty nail-biting.

(Side note: reading about a 6-month-old baby getting kidnapped (albeit fictionally) while you are feeding your 2-month-old baby is a good way to induce a blood pressure problem.)

The ending isn't particularly fact, it winds up pretty much the way you would expect, once you get to know Blaze.  But that's where the hook of this novel lies--with the characters.  As with so many other King works, he creates an amazingly complex protagonist, and given the short-ish length of this book, it's rather impressive that he was able to do that with Blaze.  If this book was really about the kidnapping, it would be called...The Kidnapping.  Or something.  (WHATEVER, nobody ever said I would be good at choosing book titles, you get my point.)  But it's not, and by the end you'll know why.

So, despite the slow start, Blaze hooked me well before the mid-point and kept me along for the ride all the way to the last word.  A bit of a cleaner ending than I'm used to with Stephen King, but if you want to see a different side of his repertoire, definitely give this one a try.

This was my second pick from the TBR Book Baggie and a good one at that! My next pick from the baggie is:

Gone With The Wind by Margaret Mitchell!

Oooooh a 30 Before 35 book!  EXCITING!!  Gonna take me a while to finish that chunkster though...

Monday, February 24, 2014

Book Review: The Good Luck of Right Now by Matthew Quick

Title:  The Good Luck of Right Now
Author: Matthew Quick
Publisher: Harper
Publication Date: February 11, 2014
Source: copy received for honest review through TLC Book Tours

Plot Summary from Goodreads:

For thirty-eight years, Bartholomew Neil has lived with his mother. When she gets sick and dies, he has no idea how to be on his own. His redheaded grief counselor, Wendy, says he needs to find his flock and leave the nest. But how does a man whose whole life has been grounded in his mom, Saturday mass, and the library learn how to fly?

Bartholomew thinks he’s found a clue when he discovers a “Free Tibet” letter from Richard Gere hidden in his mother’s underwear drawer. In her final days, mom called him Richard—there must be a cosmic connection. Believing that the actor is meant to help him, Bartholomew awkwardly starts his new life, writing Richard Gere a series of highly intimate letters. Jung and the Dalai Lama, philosophy and faith, alien abduction and cat telepathy, the Catholic Church and the mystery of women are all explored in his soul-baring epistles. But mostly the letters reveal one man’s heartbreakingly earnest attempt to assemble a family of his own.

A struggling priest, a “Girlbrarian,” her feline-loving, foul-mouthed brother, and the spirit of Richard Gere join the quest to help Bartholomew. In a rented Ford Focus, they travel to Canada to see the cat Parliament and find his biological father . . . and discover so much more.

My Review:

This is my first foray into Matthew Quick's novels, though I have seen the movie version of Silver Linings Playbook.  (I know, it's sacriligious to use the movie in place of the book, but it won lots of Oscars and was awesome, so I'm hoping it's somewhat close to the novel?)  I did find it interesting that The Good Luck of Right Now seemed to have many similar elements to Silver Linings Playbook...namely, a ragtag group of characters who are all battling some form of...psychiatric challenge, shall we say?  They get thrown together, not very willingly, and end up helping each other more than they could have originally imagined.  I won't say it's repetitive to the themes of SLP (again, assuming the movie and book version are similar), but it does have a similar feel.  And as you get to know each character's specific challenges, you can't help but get attached to them...they really are a unique bunch.

Bartholomew's perspective is alternately heartbreaking and heartwarming (and occasionally hilarious, too).  He's grieving for his mother's death, but it quickly becomes apparent that he led a very sheltered life under her wing (that's the heartbreaking part).  Watching him come into his own is awesome (that's the heartwarming part).  And he does it all while writing confessional letters to Richard Gere?  That's a good start for the comic relief.  (And hey, Richard Gere, if this ever gets made into a movie, you totally need to be a good sport and play your role in it.)

The end result: I'm impressed by Quick's ability to create such endearing characters, because even when their struggles are many, he still manages to make you laugh as they figure things out.  Lighthearted despite its sometimes-heavy topics, The Good Luck of Right Now has the unusual ability to make you laugh while you contemplate the meaning of life.

As always, much thanks to Trish and TLC Book Tours for including me on this tour!
Check out the other blogs on this book tour HERE.  And connect with Matthew Quick on his website, Twitter, and Facebook.

Saturday, February 22, 2014

Small Fry Saturday #23: Dragons Love Tacos by Adam Rubin

Hey there readers!  Small Fry Saturday is back!  WOOOOOO!!

As you may remember, Small-Fry Saturday is a when-I-feel-like-it meme to showcase some of books that my 2-year-old Small Fry is currently reading.  Feel free to do a SFS post on your blog (with the graphic above) or leave a comment below about your favorite kiddie reads.

This week's selection is...

Dragons Love Tacos  by Adam Rubin
(illustrated by Daniel Salmieri)

Now that I'm home with my kiddos full time, I take them to the library at least once a week.  Small Fry is now 2.5, and takes great pleasure in picking out at least 2 books to bring home at the end of every library trip.  However, because his reading skills know, at the 2.5-year-old level, his book selections tend to be pretty random.  That said, I have no idea what compelled him to grab this one a few weeks ago, but WAY TO GO, KID.  Because this book is hilarious.

So, the basic premise of the book is this: dragons love tacos.  But they hate spicy salsa, WITH A PASSION.  However, they do love parties, and obviously, they love TACO parties.  So throw your dragons a taco party, but good God, don't mess it up by serving spicy salsa.  Or you're going to have a lot of really flippin' angry dragons after you.

I know.  It makes no sense, AND YET IT MAKES PERFECT SENSE.  This book is meant to be funny, and kids will definitely see the humor, but adults are going to love the subtleties even more.  Plus, the illustrations match the tone perfectly.

If you're into quirky humor and/or have a kid that is a fan of dragons (or tacos, but not spicy salsa), this book is fantastic.  Definitely the best library find that Small Fry's had in a long time!

What's your favorite humorous kid's book?

Friday, February 14, 2014

Literary Love: Short and Sweet

Hello, valentines!

All week long, I've been dying to jump in and contribute a post to the Literary Love event (being hosted by Estella's Revenge, Doing Dewey, Love at First Book, and From Isi).  Each day, I wake up and say, "This is the day!  I will write this post TODAY!"  And then...Tater Tot wakes up and wants to be fed, and Small Fry wakes up and starts demanding eggs WITH CHEESE, and we have to be at playgroup by 9:30, and the sink is full and I have to work out at some point? and did anyone go grocery shopping this week? and now suddenly it's 9pm and please just hand me a glass of wine so I can watch more Olympics.

So, in honor of me not having time to do anything ever, I thought I'd give you a quick list of my favorite short (ish) novels that pack a big punch in a small number of pages.

1. The Five People You Meet in Heaven by Mitch Albom
Much like all of Albom's other work: beautiful, moving, thought-provoking, no matter what your religious beliefs.  One of my all time favorite books!

2. The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho
An inspiring story that's sure to make you think about what your "personal legend" will be.  I wish I had gotten this as a high school graduation gift--it would have given me a lot to mull over!

3. Full Dark, No Stars by Stephen King
Kind of cheating, because this book is not short.  BUT, it's made up of short STORIES (novellas, really), so that works, right?  I love SK's short works and this collection is phenomenal.  (Also, not super horrific/gory, for those that shy away from his more...brutal stuff.)

4. Lord of the Flies by William Golding
One of my favorite classics!  Not only is the storyline engaging, but I like the allegorical message it conveys about human instincts and society.

5. Naked Pictures of Famous People by Jon Stewart
It's Jon Stewart.  Writing like Jon Stewart.  You need no further prompting.

What are your favorite short books?

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Literary Blog Hop WINNAH!

Thanks to all those that entered the Literary Blog Hop giveaway this past week!  As chosen randomly by Rafflecopter, my big winner is:

Shannon from River City Reading!

Woohoo!  I'll be contacting you soon Shannon, and 3 lovely books will be coming your way.  :)

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Book Review: Queen of the Night by J.A. Jance

Title: Queen of the Night
Author: J.A. Jance
Publisher: William Morrow
Publication Date: July 27, 2010
Source: given away to me by a friend

Summary from Goodreads

Every summer, in an event that is commemorated throughout the Tohono O'odham Nation, the Queen of the Night flower blooms in the Arizona desert. But one couple's intended celebration is shattered by gunfire, the sole witness to the bloodshed a little girl who has lost the only family she's ever known.

To her rescue come Dr. Lani Walker, who sees the trauma of her own childhood reflected in her young patient, and Dan Pardee, an Iraq war veteran and member of an unorthodox border patrol unit called the Shadow Wolves. Joined by Pima County homicide investigator Brian Fellows, they must keep the child safe while tracking down a ruthless killer.

In a second case, retired homicide detective Brandon Walker is investigating the long unsolved murder of an Arizona State University coed. Now, after nearly half a century of silence, the one person who can shed light on that terrible incident is willing to talk. Meanwhile, Walker's wife, Diana Ladd, is reliving memories of a man whose death continues to haunt her.

As these crimes threaten to tear apart three separate families, the stories and traditions of the Tohono O'odham people remain just beneath the surface of the desert, providing illumination to events of both self-sacrifice and unspeakable evil.

My Review:

Let me get this out of the way first.  You absolutely CANNOT name one of your main characters Brian Fellows and expect to be taken seriously.  Authors, make sure you Google search all of your character names before choosing them.  Trust.
(There was also a minor character named David Blaine, so, you know.  Magic.)
Sorry, I had to start with that, IT WAS BUGGING ME SO MUCH.

So, this was the first pull from my TBR Book Baggie.  I ended up with this book in my collection a few years ago, because a friend was clearing her bookshelves and offered me a bunch of her stuff.  I'd never heard of this one, but I never turn down a free book, so home with me it went.

As the description says, this book has a whole lotta plot going on.  I will say that the primary plot line (regarding the murder of the little girl's family) was absorbing.  A cold-hearted murderer, on the run from the cops, will he make it over the border?, etc.  The suspense-lover in me was more than satisfied here.

However, this novel is definitely an example of how much is too much.  There's the story about the murder, but then there's also this years-old cold case that a separate set of detectives are trying to solve.  This cold case is introduced right at the start of the novel, implying that it has a major bearing on the rest of the story...but it most definitely doesn't.  In fact, the resolution of the cold case is so maddeningly underwhelming, I could not for the life of me figure out why it was mentioned at all.

Add that to the fact that there are WAY too many characters, with WAY too much backstory for each of them--it was just overkill.  At the heart of this story is the potential for a great, suspenseful thriller, but all this extraneous information made it more complex than it needed to be.

I did find out partway through that this is part of Jance's "Walker series", which all center upon the same family.  Each novel is supposed to be able to stand alone, but in my opinion, this one is likely much more enjoyable if you've read the other novels first.  Much of the information that I felt to be extraneous was probably detail related to those other novels.  I imagine that you'll have a lot less catching up to do if you join the series at its start.

Final verdict: this novel has a great story to tell at its core, but I wish it wasn't so bogged down with extra baggage (side plots, characters, background stories, etc).

Well, my first TBR Book Baggie pick was...not great.  But, I'm excited to announce that my next pick from the baggie is:

Blaze by Richard Bachman! (aka Stephen King)

So stay tuned...

Saturday, February 8, 2014

The Literary Blog Hop!

IT'S GIVEAWAY TIME!  Who doesn't love that?

I thought this would be the perfect time for me to join Judith's Literary Blog Hop giveaway, because (as usual these days) I am on a quest to make room for some new books on my shelves here at home.  And the best way to do that is to part with some books that I've already read...even if it IS painful to see them go.

So, for this giveaway, I've got 3 gently used books to send to 1 lucky winner!  The books are:

We Were the Mulvaneys by Joyce Carol Oates (one of my fave Oates novels!)
The Never List by Koethi Zan (ARC copy)
Help for the Haunted by John Searles (ARC copy)

US and Canada entries only please!  Enter in the Rafflecopter below...easy as pie.  (Actually, if you bake like I do, it's totally easier than pie.)

And check out the other blogs giving away goodies in this hop too!  Links at the bottom...
a Rafflecopter giveaway
Literary Blog Hop Linky List:
  1. Leeswammes
  2. Seaside Book Nook
  3. Booklover Book Reviews
  4. Biblionomad
  5. Laurie Here
  6. The Well-Read Redhead (US/CA)
  7. River City Reading
  8. GirlVsBookshelf
  9. Ciska's Book Chest
  10. The Book Stop
  11. Ragdoll Books Blog
  12. Nishita's Rants and Raves
  13. Lucybird's Book Blog
  14. Reading World (N-America)
  15. Journey Through Books
  16. Readerbuzz
  17. Always With a Book (US)
  18. 52 Books or Bust (N.Am./UK)
  19. Guiltless Reading (US/CA)
  20. Book-alicious Mama (US)
  21. Wensend
  22. Books Speak Volumes
  23. Words for Worms
  24. The Relentless Reader
  25. A Lovely Bookshelf on the Wall (US)
  1. Fourth Street Review
  2. Vailia's Page Turner
  3. The Little Reader Library
  4. Lost Generation Reader
  5. Heavenali
  6. Roof Beam Reader
  7. Mythical Books
  8. Word by Word
  9. The Misfortune of Knowing
  10. Aymaran Shadow > Behind The Scenes
  11. The Things You Can Read (US)
  12. Bay State Reader's Advisory
  13. Curiosity Killed the Bookworm
  14. Lizzy's Literary Life
  15. Books Can Save a Life (N. America)
  16. Words And Peace (US)
  17. The Book Club Blog

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Book Review: The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt

Title: The Goldfinch
Author: Donna Tartt
Publisher: Little, Brown, and Company
Publication Date: October 22, 2013
Source: personal purchase

Summary from Goodreads

A young boy in New York City, Theo Decker, miraculously survives an accident that takes the life of his mother. Alone and determined to avoid being taken in by the city as an orphan, Theo scrambles between nights in friends’ apartments and on the city streets. He becomes entranced by the one thing that reminds him of his mother, a small, mysteriously captivating painting that soon draws Theo into the art underworld.  

My Review:

Okay, wow Goodreads, way to provide the most underwhelming summary EVER of this nearly-800-page novel-monster.  Kinda hoping my review can do it justice a bit more than that.

Where to begin with The Goldfinch?  So much hype has been generated already, my piddly little review matters very little in the grand scheme of things.  But I will generously provide my two cents anyway!  Let me summarize this way: I often have a tough time with really (REALLY) long novels, and movies too.  My husband and I recently went to see The Wolf of Wall Street, which in typical Scorsese form, is 3 hours long.  At the end, I turned to him and said, "I know that was a good long movie, because I didn't start checking my watch after the first 2 hours went by."  That's how I feel about long novels too.  If I get about 2/3 of the way through, and start obsessively watching the percentage counter on my Kindle, praying and hoping that it will move JUST A LITTLE FASTER, I know me and that book are probably not going to be friends for life.  (Here's looking at you, 1Q84 .)

Did The Goldfinch take a long time to read?  Yes.  But was it an enjoyable long time?  YES.  By the end, I was amazed at the amount of ground that Tartt had covered in 800 pages.  The main character (Theo) experiences the devastating loss of his mother at the very beginning of the novel, and during that incident, comes into possession of a painting of said goldfinch.  And pretty much every other major thing that happens to Theo for the next 700 pages, good and bad, happens because of this painting...sometimes in very odd and unexpected ways.

Major kudos to Tartt for the crazy chain of events that she manages to create.  It's funny...I'm currently reading a novel that is about 1/3 the size of The Goldfinch, but the author has managed to make the plot too complex and character-heavy (in terms of number of characters), to the point where it's just hard to follow.  But Tartt has created a novel that is epic in scope, without being overwhelming in plot detail or character complexity.  Plus, Theo is one of the most convincingly depressing characters I've ever encountered.  This guy can wax poetic on the pointlessness of life like no's really rather impressive.  Some of the best passages, in my opinion, came from the times he pondered whether his life was worth living.  Which probably says nothing good about me, but I stand by my claim.

The only potentially weak point for me was the ending.  If you've ever read War and Peace, you know that after the "action" of the plot ends, Tolstoy tacked on 2 epilogues that were all philosophical and whatnot.  (Wow, best review of War and Peace ever, award goes to me.)  They were disappointing for me, mostly because I thought the ACTUAL ending itself was pretty good, and I could have thought about the philosophical stuff on my own if I wanted to.  Didn't need to read a long-arse epilogue to get to the crux of it.  I felt the same way about this book.  The plot action ends (and that ending is really, really good), but then there's all this deep, insightful brouhaha after that that I didn't love.  Some of it was great, don't get me wrong, but a lot of it just felt like "blah blah blah" to me, full of deep thoughts that I would have rather discovered on my own in a book club discussion or some such.

That is probably just me though, given the fact that this book is like, critically-acclaimed and stuff.  (Not to mention...War and Peace...yeah, my esteemed literary opinion probably doesn't change the general consensus on that one either.)

Bottom line: this book is worth the hype, and I promise the journey is worth every single one of its many pages.

What was your last good chunkster, friends?

Sunday, February 2, 2014

January 2014 wrap-up

Pretty short recap this month!  Busy with these two crazy faces:
Sorry I look drunk here.  My drunk face and my tired face are very similar.  I don't condone drinking while parenting.  Except maybe in extreme cases...?
I'd say those are two very nice reasons for being MIA, wouldn't you?  :)  It also doesn't help that I decided to jump into 2014 with a nice 800-page chunkster (review coming this week!), so I'm hoping for more frequent review posts here soon.

I only read 2 books in January!
The Stork Reality by Malena Lott, and
What I Had Before I Had You by Sarah Cornwell.

I don't think it's fair to do a best/worst book of the month when I've only read two, but...I really loved one of them, and thought the other one was just meh, so you figure it out.

On the horizon for February: my first review from my TBR Book Baggie, some bookish love, and a fun giveaway.  Also, maybe temperatures above -10 so I can start going for outdoor runs?  Whatchoo think, Mother Nature?

Stay warm, mah babies!
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