12th of Never by James Patterson & Maxine Paetro

January 26, 2015

12th of never Plot summary (from the publisher): It’s finally time! Detective Lindsay Boxer is in labor–while two killers are on the loose.

Lindsay Boxer’s beautiful baby is born! But after only a week at home with her new daughter, Lindsay is forced to return to work to face two of the biggest cases of her career.

A rising star football player for the San Francisco 49ers is the prime suspect in a grisly murder. At the same time, Lindsay is confronted with the strangest story she’s ever heard: An eccentric English professor has been having vivid nightmares about a violent murder and he’s convinced is real. Lindsay doesn’t believe him, but then a shooting is called in-and it fits the professor’s description to the last detail.

Lindsay doesn’t have much time to stop a terrifying future from unfolding. But all the crimes in the world seem like nothing when Lindsay is suddenly faced with the possibility of the most devastating loss of her life.

Warning: Spoilers below!

Liked:

  • This was as short and quick a read as any James Patterson & Co-author book.
  • I liked the name Lindsay chose for her baby (Julie!)

Disliked:

  • The whole purpose of the Women’s Murder Club is to have these women helping each other out on their cases. None of them were even remotely working on the same thing in this book — unless you count Claire having Lindsay’s murder vic’s body stolen from the morgue (and that wasn’t even her fault).
  • Yuki is the most annoying character of the bunch, most likely because Paetro sucks at courtroom “drama.” Either way, I wouldn’t be sad to see Yuki leave the group.
  • What the hell was the point of having Joe’s ex-flame show up, pass on a present, and then leave??? Especially since Lindsay didn’t even mention it to him? What a pointless scene.
  • Speaking of Lindsay, when did she become such a sniveling, whiny loser? Yeah, I get that she was probably “hormonal” right after her pregnancy and she was going through some major emotional trauma with the baby’s cancer misdiagnosis (another WTF in this book), but come on. She was well on her way to becoming weak and unrecognizable even before these events.
  • Rich breaking up with Cindy for some intern was beyond fucking dumb — and was clearly just a very, very thin plot device to allow for the surprise reveal at the end.
  • Speaking of the surprise reveal (which was that the intern was the jailed serial killer’s baby mama and tried to help him escape), what was that all about? So the intern (couldn’t be bothered to remember her name) escapes and is now on the loose, clearly setting up the next installment in this series. Cue eyeroll here.
  • Did Lindsay and Rich even investigate a crime in this book? They interviewed the professor who claimed to see future killings in his dreams and the evidence for the 49ers player’s gf’s murder fell into their laps. But did they actually do any legwork here?
  • So. much. Boxer. family. drama. Half the book is devoted to Lindsay’s personal life, and it’s boring as hell!

Rating:

I know, I know. I have no one to blame but myself for continuing to read this garbage put out by the Patterson & Paetro pairing. But my library keeps setting these books right by the entrance, and I can’t pass them up. At least I’m not paying for them, because 12th of Never is not worth the retail price, whatever that may be. I give this one 1 star out of 5.

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Not Taco Bell Material by Adam Carolla

January 16, 2015

not taco bell Summary (from the publisher): Funnyman Adam Carolla is known for two things: hilarious rants about things that drive him crazy and personal stories about everything from his hardscrabble childhood to his slacker friends to the hypocrisy of Hollywood. He tackled rants in his first book, and now he tells his best stories, debuting some never-before-heard tales as well. Organized by the myriad “dumps” Carolla called home as a child to the flophouse apartments he rented in his twenties, up to the homes he personally renovated after achieving success in Hollywood, the anecdotes here follow Adam’s journey and the hilarious pitfalls along the way.

Adam Carolla started broke and blue collar and has now been on the Hollywood scene for more than fifteen years. Yet he’s still connected to the working-class guy he once was and delivers a raw and edgy, fish-out-of-water take on the world he lives in (but mostly disagrees with), telling all the stories, no matter who he offends–family, friends, or the famous.

Liked:

  • I listened to the audiobook version, which was read by Carolla himself. The performance was great — with much of it clearly ad-libbed to the point where he says many times, “This is not in the printed book, but…” I enjoyed it.
  • At first I thought it was kind of odd to base a memoir on the different houses/apartment you’ve lived in (particularly since Carolla’s abodes were all within, what, 50 miles of each other?) but after further consideration, I guess it makes sense. Residences serve as clear time markers for most of us, making it easy to recall what we were going through at any given time.
  • This book was mostly funny and very entertaining. Obviously your own enjoyment is directly related to how you feel about Carolla, but why would anyone who dislikes him bother reading this? If you’d be riveted by Carolla reading the http://www.allredinsurance.com/ homepage, this is for you.

Disliked:

  • There should have been some kind of “enhanced” audiobook version with extras for those of us who bought this product. We spent money just like the ones who bought the physical book, but didn’t get to see the pictures that came with the printed copies. How about a PDF for us?
  • There were a few too many drinking stories. I know, what can one really expect from a Carolla book, right? But once you hear three or four, you get the gist of what his partying life was like. I would have preferred sacrificing some drinking stories for insight on what it felt like to finally “make it” when Loveline became a hit.

Rating:

It’s an Adam Carolla book, people! If you like his brand of crude humor and over-the-top rants, then get yourself a copy. If not, stay away. I give Not Taco Bell Material 4 stars out of 5.

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Mr. Monk is Open for Business by Hy Conrad

January 10, 2015

monk open for biz Plot summary (from the publisher): Failing to win back his girlfriend in New Jersey, Monk returns to San Francisco where Natalie has set up an office for Monk and Teeger, Consulting Detectives. It’s time to stop bickering and get to work when Lieutenant Amy Devlin comes to them for help.

A disgruntled employee came into work and started shooting, killing three coworkers and leaving a female hostage severely wounded. After spotting the shooter through office windows, the police lost him—leaving Lieutenant Devlin with a real mess on her hands.

Visiting the bedridden survivor, Monk finds her to be helpful, cooperative…and quite charming as well. But the more he and Natalie try to track down the assailant, the more he seems to have disappeared from existence altogether….

Warning: Spoilers below!

Liked:

  • Thank GOD Ellen Morse is gone! I never liked that character at all and thought it was utterly preposterous that Monk would ever be with her. And it looks like this is a permanent thing, since it’s hardly likely that Ellen will forgive Monk for having her brother arrested/convicted of murder.
  • Julie is back in the picture, but not Molly. I don’t mind Julie (even if I think it’s a little too contrived that she wants to work with Monk/Natalie. At least this is a character with bona fide connections to the main cast. The less said about anything resulting from the TV series finale, the better!
  • Competent!Natalie is back, too. I like how much more confident she’s becoming with her own hunches and deductions, and how she’s making significant contributions to the investigations. She’ll never be on equal footing with Monk as a detective (nor should she, given the nature of the characters), but at least her presence has value.

Disliked:

  • It felt like the characters were just going through the motions in this book. I can’t quite put my finger on what was out of place here, but something didn’t click. Maybe it’s that there was no ticking bomb, no sense of urgency to solving the crime(s) quickly? I know there was some heat on Devlin, but that didn’t put enough pressure on Monk/Natalie.
  • The whole Yuki/Ito thing was strange. What was that all about? Was the author trying to set up some problems down the road for Ambrose and Yuki? Or was that just to get to the “puzzle piece” speech that describes M/N as much as A/Y? Either way, I didn’t much care for what Yuki did.
  • Devlin’s on her way out??? Aw, just when I was starting to like her. I guess this will pave the way for Disher and Sharona to come back. I can see it now: Disher will get his old job back and Sharona and Natalie will become BFFs. I guess I don’t mind the Disher part, but how will Sharona fit into the mix?
  • I understood the Noone = No One gimmick the first time I saw the name in print. Being familiar with Odysseus and Polyphemus will do that…!

Rating:

To be honest, I was a bit disappointed by Mr. Monk is Open for Business. I mean, the story was fine and didn’t really lag in any places. But it wasn’t exactly gripping, either. Still, it gave me a chance to visit with Monk and Natalie again, which is always nice, so I rate this one 3 stars out of 5.

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Poor Miss Finch by Wilkie Collins

December 27, 2014

Poor Miss Finch Plot summary (from the publisher): Wilkie Collin’s intriguing story about a blind girl, Lucilla Finch, and the identical twins who both fall in love with her, has the exciting complications of his better known novels, but it also overturns conventional expectations.

Using a background of myth and fairy-tale to expand the boundaries of nineteenth century realist fiction, Collins not only takes a blind person as his central character but also explores the idea of blindness and its implications. His sensitive presentation of the difficulties, disappointments, and occasional delights which follow the recovery of sight by someone blind since infancy is still one of the best accounts in fiction of a problem which continues to intrigue philosophers, psychologists, and the general public, as it has done since it was first discussed by Locke and Berkeley in the eighteenth century.

Reaction:

What a strange book this was! I generally like Wilkie Collins (okay, I guess I’ve only ever read his two biggies, The Moonstone and The Woman in White, but still), but thought this one was a disappointment. The setup was wonderful, what with the blind protagonist falling in love and all, but the second act and they payoff were not worth the trouble of plodding through 450 pages.

My biggest problem with the book was Miss Finch’s extreme aversion to certain colors. WTF was that all about? And Oscar just happens to require a medical treatment that turns his face a permanent blue??? (One of the forbidden shades, naturally.) It was just way too far-fetched to seem plausible even in a work of fiction. Granted, I haven’t researched this particular epilepsy treatment, so I don’t know how much of Collins’ novel was based on actual medical practices of the day. Regardless, this part of the book didn’t do much for me.

I expected the twin angle to be something more nefarious than Nugent simply wanting to trade places with Oscar out of love for Miss Finch. I was hoping there would be murder or a complicated scam or something, but that never materialized. Oh, well.

Rating:

Although I stuck with Poor Miss Finch to the bitter end, there wasn’t really any good reason to do so. The characters weren’t compelling, the plot hardly warranted attention, and there was no twist or other kind of satisfying payoff to reward the reader’s patience. I give this book 2 stars out of 5.

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Sisterland by Curtis Sittenfeld

December 9, 2014

sisterland Plot summary (from the publisher): Curtis Sittenfeld, author of American Wife and Prep, returns with a mesmerizing novel of family and identity, loyalty and deception, and the delicate line between truth and belief.

From an early age, Kate and her identical twin sister, Violet, knew that they were unlike everyone else. Kate and Vi were born with peculiar “senses”—innate psychic abilities concerning future events and other people’s secrets. Though Vi embraced her visions, Kate did her best to hide them.

Now, years later, their different paths have led them both back to their hometown of St. Louis. Vi has pursued an eccentric career as a psychic medium, while Kate, a devoted wife and mother, has settled down in the suburbs to raise her two young children. But when a minor earthquake hits in the middle of the night, the normal life Kate has always wished for begins to shift. After Vi goes on television to share a premonition that another, more devastating earthquake will soon hit the St. Louis area, Kate is mortified. Equally troubling, however, is her fear that Vi may be right. As the date of the predicted earthquake quickly approaches, Kate is forced to reconcile her fraught relationship with her sister and to face truths about herself she’s long tried to deny.

Warning: Spoilers below!

Liked:

  • There’s just something about Sittenfeld’s writing style that I really enjoy. I can’t quite put my finger on it, as she’s not laugh-out-loud funny or particularly deep or anything like that. I guess her prose just sounds very natural to me.
  • The parts about Kate and Vi’s schooldays were the ones I liked best. I think Sittenfeld does teenage angst fairly well.
  • I thought the way Vi and Kate helped find that missing boy was interesting, too. I wouldn’t have minded more examples of how the girls used their “powers” for good, so to speak.

Disliked:

  • Ugh, I absolutely hated the ending! Kate sooo did not deserve to have Jeremy stay with her (why would he even do that??) and have her life go on as usual. Sure, she made a bit thing about having to move away from her roots in St. Louis, but she was going to New York, not Arkansas or something. She should have been kicked to the curb after cheating and having another man’s baby!!!
  • While the book started off fairly well and initially had me turning pages with interest, the momentum petered out rather quickly. Even during the height of the “action” with the earthquake stuff, I was tired of the characters and just ready for the whole thing to be over.
  • Sittenfeld didn’t do stay-at-home dads any favors here. They’re already looked at as MILF bait, and having Hank put the moves on Kate (and father her baby) was kind of like saying, “Hey working women, be careful because your house husband/child caregiver WILL cheat if given the chance!”
  • I had the feeling Vi was supposed to come off as some quirky-yet-loveable type, but the “loveable” part didn’t come through. The character was just annoying from beginning to end.

Rating:

I’ve really liked some of Sittenfeld’s other books and was looking forward to Sisterland as well. But I just couldn’t relate to anything here: not the characters, not the location, not the circumstances, not the feelings and temptations. Still, the writing was strong enough and the author had built up enough goodwill for me to give this 3 stars out of 5.

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Holidays on Ice by David Sedaris

December 4, 2014

holidays on ice Summary (from the publisher): David Sedaris’s beloved holiday collection is new again with six more pieces, including a never before published story. Along with such favorites as the diaries of a Macy’s elf and the annals of two very competitive families, are Sedaris’s tales of tardy trick-or-treaters (“Us and Them”); the difficulties of explaining the Easter Bunny to the French (“Jesus Shaves”); what to do when you’ve been locked out in a snowstorm (“Let It Snow”); the puzzling Christmas traditions of other nations (“Six to Eight Black Men”); what Halloween at the medical examiner’s looks like (“The Monster Mash”); and a barnyard secret Santa scheme gone awry (“Cow and Turkey”).

Reaction:

I’ve read (and loved) a few of Sedaris’ other books, so I had high hopes for Holidays on Ice. But this collection of writing — I can’t even call it fiction or nonfiction, because it contains some of both — was a bit odd and threw me for a loop.

The first essay, the one about being a Macy’s elf, got the book started off on the right foot. It felt like classic Sedaris to me, filled with keen observations and wry one-liners. But even that one dragged on and on and overstayed its welcome by quite a bit as he delved into details like kids asking for the best musical instruments for students or wanting their parents to get along for Christmas, etc. Who needs that? The rest of the stories went downhill from there, with the exception, perhaps, of “Six to Eight Black Men” and the very short entry about trying to communicate the meaning of Easter and the Easter Bunny to a French language class filled with students from other nations (inlcuding Turkey).

The stories that I didn’t like were the ones that were way over the top or that pushed the bounds of good taste (which are very flexible for an author like Sedaris, and rightfully so) too far. Specifically, I’m talking about the story where the young Vietnamese woman, due to the language barrier (“watch the baby” is interpreted as “wash the baby”) accidentally puts her half-sibling into a washing machine, causing the infant to die and the story where the competitive neighbors give their children to a pedophile (wtf?) in a wayward attempt to keep up with the Joneses. That’s supposed to be funny? Not to me.

Rating:

While I generally like David Sedaris and will continue to read his work, Holidays on Ice is not a collection that I would recommend to anyone seeking to become familiar with the author. This is not his best stuff (not even close), so IMO there’s no point in wasting time on it. I give this book 2 stars out of 5.

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“B” is for Burglar by Sue Grafton

November 9, 2014

b is for burglar Plot summary (from the publisher): Although business has been slow lately for P.I. Kinsey Millhone, she’s reluctant to take on the case of locating Beverly Danziger’s sister Elaine Boldt. It’s a small matter that Beverly should be able to handle herself. So why is she enlisting Kinsey’s services? Beverly claims she needs Elaine’s signature on some documents so that she can collect a small inheritance. But the whole affair doesn’t sit well with Kinsey. And if there’s something she’s learned in her line of work, it’s to always follow your instincts…

Kinsey’s hunch proves true when she begins her inquiries into Elaine’s whereabouts and discovers that the attractive widow was last seen in a flashy lynx coat boarding a plane for Boca Raton. But the more Kinsey searches for Elaine the more questions she encounters. Is Elaine’s disappearance tied in to the brutal murder several months ago of one of her bridge partners? And what happened to Elaine’s Persian cat who seems to have also vanished?

Things take a turn for the worse when a stranger vandalizes the home of one of Elaine’s neighbors and another neighbor turns up murdered. With her reputation and career on the line, Kinsey risks all to find a missing woman and a killer who’s waiting in the shadows to strike again…

Warning: Spoilers below!

Liked:

  • Some of the background characters in this book were great. I usually don’t pay much attention to this sort of thing in mysteries, but couldn’t help noticing them here. For example, the old bridge player in Florida (Julia, who became Kinsey’s client when Beverly backed out), the glorious ’80s punk kid, and even the Danzigers with their odd marriage were all fun.
  • Kinsey felt even more relatable as a character in this book than in the previous installment. I really think her best attribute is that she seems like a real person. She worries about her business, she makes mistakes, and she asks logical questions (such as why Beverly Danziger even needed her help in the first place.

Disliked:

  • The mystery took a while to get off the ground. The book was fairly slow going at the beginning, and didn’t pick up until the halfway point (or even later).
  • The “twist” about the true identity of Pat Usher (the woman squatting in Elaine Boldt’s Boca apartment) was kind of anticlimactic. I knew right away that the bruises on her face weren’t from a car accident, but were in fact from plastic surgery (a relative actually used the SAME excuse to her acquaintances), and since the only logical female character Usher could be was Marty Grice, the reveal wasn’t exactly a surprise.
  • I totally could have done without the Kinsey/Jonah budding romance. I guess that’s what Grafton’s target audience wants, though.

Reaction:

Overall, I thought “B” is for Burglar was an okay book. It wasn’t one that makes me want to jump right into the “C” installment, but neither does it make me want to take a considerable break from the series. I give it 3 stars out of 5.

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Dead Souls by Nikolai Gogol

October 26, 2014

dead souls Plot summary (from the publisher): Since its publication in 1842, Dead Souls has been celebrated as a supremely realistic portrait of provincial Russian life and as a splendidly exaggerated tale; as a paean to the Russian spirit and as a remorseless satire of imperial Russian venality, vulgarity, and pomp. As Gogol’s wily antihero, Chichikov, combs the back country wheeling and dealing for “dead souls”–deceased serfs who still represent money to anyone sharp enough to trade in them–we are introduced to a Dickensian cast of peasants, landowners, and conniving petty officials, few of whom can resist the seductive illogic of Chichikov’s proposition.

Warning: Spoilers below!

Liked:

  • Many parts of this book were funny. The description above includes the word “Dickensian,” and I think that’s pretty apt. Some of the scenes, characters, and encounters did indeed remind me of Dickens–which is a good thing.
  • I liked that many of Chichikov’s trading partners were so skeptical about entering into a bargain with him. Even when it was clear they were getting the better end of the deal, their greed and suspicion wouldn’t let them believe that it could be so. They then became so intent on considering all the angles (what could Chichikov possibly want with the names of dead serfs??) that many of them ended up getting nothing at all. Such a true-to-life depiction of human behavior!
  • On one level, can’t this book be read as a pre-cursor to the Wall Street disasters? After all, here you have a guy wanting to mortgage/make money from something that exists only on paper. Isn’t creating “commodities” out of thin air what Wall Street does best now?!

Disliked:

  • The first part of the book captured my attention right away, but the second part was a bit more difficult to get through. It wasn’t nearly as interesting, original, or charming as the first.
  • I thought the reveal about what Chichikov intended to do with the dead souls was a bit anticlimactic. I was having so much fun conjecturing to myself about his plans that I was disappointed to learn that it was just another get-rich-quick scheme.

Rating:

I’ve been reading a lot of Russian lit this year, but this is the first Gogol I’ve encountered. If Dead Souls is representative of his work, then I can already say that I like his humor and style. I give this one 4 stars out of 5.

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NY Times Bestsellers 101920

October 19, 2014

Here are the current NY Times bestsellers in a handful of the more popular categories.

Combined Print & E-Book Fiction:
GONE GIRL, by Gillian Flynn
DEADLINE, by John Sandford
THE BEST OF ME, by Nicholas Sparks
BURN, by James Patterson and Michael Ledwidge
PARIS MATCH, by Stuart Woods

Combined Print & E-Book Nonfiction:
KILLING PATTON, by Bill O’Reilly and Martin Dugard
NOT THAT KIND OF GIRL, by Lena Dunham
THE INNOVATORS, by Walter Isaacson
BEING MORTAL, by Atul Gawande
STOP THE COMING CIVIL WAR, by Michael Savage

Hardcover Fiction:
DEADLINE, by John Sandford
BURN, by James Patterson and Michael Ledwidge
EDGE OF ETERNITY, by Ken Follett
LILA, by Marilynne Robinson
SOMEWHERE SAFE WITH SOMEBODY GOOD, by Jan Karon

Hardcover Nonfiction:
KILLING PATTON, by Bill O’Reilly and Martin Dugard
NOT THAT KIND OF GIRL, by Lena Dunham
BEING MORTAL, by Atul Gawande
THE INNOVATORS, by Walter Isaacson
STOP THE COMING CIVIL WAR, by Michael Savage

Paperback Trade Fiction:
GONE GIRL, by Gillian Flynn
THE ALCHEMIST, by Paulo Coelho
DARK PLACES, by Gillian Flynn
SHARP OBJECTS, by Gillian Flynn
ORPHAN TRAIN, by Christina Baker Kline

Paperback Mass-Market Fiction:
GONE GIRL, by Gillian Flynn
THE BEST OF ME, by Nicholas Sparks
OUTLANDER, by Diana Gabaldon
CROSS MY HEART, by James Patterson
SYCAMORE ROW, by John Grisham

Paperback Nonfiction:
UNBROKEN, by Laura Hillenbrand
THE BOYS IN THE BOAT, by Daniel James Brown
WILD, by Cheryl Strayed
AMERICAN SNIPER, by Chris Kyle with Scott McEwen and Jim DeFelice
THE HOT ZONE, by Richard Preston

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Pre-Christmas Sales

October 18, 2014

I swear, the holiday shopping season is getting longer and longer every year! Before, retailers were pushing it if they put up any Christmas-related stuff the day after Halloween. Now, it seems acceptable to start mentioning sales and so forth at any time in October. Every time I go to the mall or check out a website, I see signs or get notices about what’s on sale already or what will be on sale very soon. Most of the time it’s good information, but it also causes some anxiety because it reminds me of how much money I haven’t been saving for gifts!

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