Thursday, July 17, 2014

Book Review: Save Yourself by Kelly Braffet

Title: Save Yourself
Author: Kelly Braffet
Publisher: Crown
Publication Date: August 6, 2013
Source: borrowed from the good ol' public library

Summary from Goodreads

Patrick Cusimano is in a bad way. His father is in jail, he works the midnight shift at a grubby convenience store, and his brother's girlfriend, Caro, has taken their friendship to an uncomfortable new level. On top of all that, he can't quite shake the attentions of Layla Elshere, a goth teenager who befriends Patrick for reasons he doesn't understand and doesn't fully trust. The temptations these two women offer are pushing him to his breaking point.

Meanwhile, Layla's little sister, Verna, is suffering through her first year of high school. She's become a prime target for her cruel classmates, not just because of her strange name and her fundamentalist parents: Layla's bad-girl rep proves to be too huge a shadow for Verna, so she falls in with her sister's circle of outcasts and misfits whose world is far darker than she ever imagined.

My Review:

Don't worry, friends, I did not give up on Gone With The Wind.  Still working my way through it!  But often when I'm reading a super-long book, I like to break it up a little bit with some shorter books in between.  Such is the case with Save Yourself.  I heard rave reviews about this one for the last year or so, and after seeing it on this list from, I was pushed to give it a try.  Plus, Kelly Braffet is Stephen King's daughter-in-law.  I know that in terms of literary prowess, this means nothing, but still.  She's FAMILY.

The first half of this novel was not quite as I expected.  I think the reviews I'd read had me looking forward to a dark, disturbing story from the get-go, but that wasn't how it played out.  The first portion of the book takes a lot of time helping you get to know the main characters--primarily, Patrick, Caro, Layla, and Verna.  The book is told from multiple perspectives, so you're getting a sense of the characters not just from their own narratives, but also from the insights of the other protagonists.

It took me a while to see just what Braffet was doing there, and honestly I wasn't completely sold for a while.  Not necessarily because of the slow pace, but moreso because the writing felt more simplistic than I expected, and some of the characters (namely Layla) seemed a little too...overdone? Cliched?  I just wasn't sympathizing with her the way that I wanted to.

HOWEVER.  Despite the slower start, I'd liken this novel to some kind of really intricate Boy Scout-type knot.  You know, one that takes forever to weave together, but then all of a sudden--PULL--and the knot closes up tight.  In the last 50 pages, this book went from "slow moving, but okay, I think something important is building here" to "I SHALL NOT SHUT MY EYES UNTIL I HAVE DEVOURED THE VERY LAST PAGE."  Braffet took her time piecing together each person's story, but as their connections grew closer and closer, the sense of foreboding grew right up to its completely crazy conclusion.  (And when I say crazy, I do mean crazy.  Not for the faint of heart and literally a nail-biter, as cliche as that sounds.)  By the end, you look back at the beginning and realize the importance of that slow, detailed plot building.

So, is this book the dark and macabre tale that I had been promised?  Yes, but unlike many other thrillers, it's not a sinister tale from the very beginning.  Instead, steep yourself in the slow-building suspense of the early pages, and then get ready for the intensity that takes over at the end.  It's worth the wait.

Readers, have you read any books lately that had a truly mind-blowing ending?

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Six Degrees of Separation: The Goldfinch

Hello lovelies!  Got something a little different for you today.

The positively fabulous Katie from Words for Worms recently alerted me to the new-ish 6 Degrees of Separation meme, started by Emma Chapman and Annabel Smith.  Basically, they pick a new book each month, and you start with your thoughts on that book...then, through free association, you link it to 6 other books.  Yup, totally one of those awesome meme ideas that makes you think, "WHY didn't I get that superb idea first??"

This month's book is The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt.  AND GO!

You may remember that I read this one pretty recently, and loved it (review here).  I read very few chunksters last year (The Goldfinch is hella long), and this book reminded me why it's nice to slow down and do a longer read sometimes.  Which brings to mind my current chunky read...

Gone With The Wind by Margaret Mitchell

I am about 60% done with this book, and positively adoring it.  It's pretty much the definition of an "epic novel".  Based on the cover and tidbits I've heard about the book/movie in the past, I assumed this was going to be one long romance about Scarlett O'Hara and Rhett Butler.  But it is way, WAY more than that. Scarlett is one of the most fabulous characters I've encountered in quite some time, and I'm learning way more about the Civil War than I ever did in history class (sorry, high school history teachers).

Hmm, when was the last time I even read anything concerning the Civil War?  I guess that would be...

Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter by Seth Grahame-Smith

(This counts as a Civil War book, yes?)  I went through my Goodreads list, and this is the closest I've gotten to anything Yankees v. Confederates since 2010.  Even though this book is totally NOT historically accurate, it IS hilarious and basically blames vampires for starting the Civil War.  Just don't bother seeing the movie version, which totally sucked in comparison.

You know what other book was completely butchered on the big screen?

My Sister's Keeper by Jodi Picoult

Just UGH.  How can you take a stellar book that is practically DEFINED by its ending, make a movie about it...and CHANGE THE ENDING??  I saw this movie several years ago, and it still makes me mad to think about it.  Humph.

I love it when a book has such a shocking, rock-solid ending.  One of my favorite twist-ending novels is definitely...

Shutter Island by Dennis Lehane

If you've read it, you know what I'm talking about.  The conclusion is unexpected, but in such a subtle way, it will leave you thinking about it for weeks.  (And thankfully, Scorcese got it all right on screen.)

The cover for this book (pictured above) is awesomely creepy, much like the story itself.  But of course, when the movie came out, they started releasing the book with a movie-version cover.  I HATE it when that happens, and I will always buy the pre-movie book cover when I have the chance.  Honestly, I think the only book I own that has a movie-version cover is...

The Other Boleyn Girl by Philippa Gregory

And that's because it was a cheap buy in the airport on my way to a conference in Dallas back in 2008.  Luckily I like Natalie Portman, or I might find it unbearable.

This book is likely responsible for starting my interest in historical fiction...I hadn't read much in that genre beforehand.  However, one of my all-time favorite historical fiction novels is actually one that I read for a class in high school, and that would be

The Things They Carried by Tim O'Brien

I am totally due for a re-read of it.

So there's my 6 degrees!  Hope you enjoyed following my train of thought on this one!  Any other participants out there for this month?  I've read a few good ones already, especially at The Steadfast Reader and GirlXOXO.

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Lazy Summer Days...June 2014 in Review

Yes, things have been quite quiet around here for the last month.  Don't fret, I'm still here!  But after I stepped back from all of my ARCs, I decided to slow myself down (WAY down) with a chunkster I've been meaning to read for ages--Gone With The Wind!  And it's awesome!  It's also 1000+ pages, so I'm really taking my time with it.  This explains my lack of reviews around here.  However, it has been great to step back and lazily read one very long book, without any others pressing in with review deadlines.  I haven't done that since I started the blog almost two years ago, and I think I need to do it more often!  Very refreshing.  I highly recommend.

In non-book news, this month was a lot of fun.  Tons of outdoor time with my boys, a trip to Pennsylvania to visit my extended family, strawberry picking, Tater Tot turned 6 months old (WHAT?), and we even did a day trip to the beach.  Kind of.  Because growing up in New England, I'm rather a beach snob and find myself unable to really call the sand along Lake Ontario a "beach".  HA.
Our little crew picking "straw bee-dees" (according to Small Fry) last weekend
Also, I did start my half marathon training yesterday morning with an easy 3-miler.  Today was 4 miles.  I think my long run this weekend is supposed to be 5 miles, which will be the longest I've run in about 2 years.  YIKES.  Let the games begin!

Anyways, even though it was a light month, let's recap book activities in June...

In June I read/reviewed 4 books:
The Ocean at the End of the Lane  by Neil Gaiman
Fallout by Ellen Hopkins
The Hollow Ground by Natalie S. Harnett
The 3-Day Reset by Pooja Mottl

We also discussed the relative merits of book shaming, which got some pretty interesting comments.  Thanks for chatting with me, friends!

This month, I'm looking forward to finishing GWTW, and then moving into some suspenseful summer reads (namely Save Yourself by Kelly Braffett...tempting me currently from my nightstand!).  Also, this is the halfway point of the year, and I'm looking rather despairingly at my 2014 TBR Challenge.  Yeah, not going well again!  Guess I better get on that...

What's on your summer reading list??
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