Constant State Of Confusion

17910313The Incrementalists by Steven Brust and Skyler White
My Rating: 2/5 Stars

Walking around in a constant state of confusion might be the best way to sum up my feelings on this tale. If this muddled state actually led me to some definitive suppositions on the universe, or put me in touch with all the answers to THE INCREMENTALISTS, or even offered me a sense of well-being, I would have been okay with my scrambled brains and possibly the head scratching as well. But that wasn’t the case here. Instead, I felt a bit exhausted after finishing this tale, like I’d been running a race in the wrong direction.

The dialogue stood out for me (and there was a quite a bit of it), but not in a good way. The Old English felt a bit ham-handed, although it could just as easily have been me. But I like to think that’s not the case. Even focusing on just the modern times, the dialogue proved a bit pretentious and stilted and a bit too heavy handed. Aside from the dialogue, though, there seemed a few too many clichés. As for the pace, I’d equate it to walking through molasses.

None of the characters resonated with me. While this is fantasy, and the argument could be made that I shouldn’t have identified with the characters, I enjoy a story much more when I do. And I found myself racing to the end, so I could set this book aside and move to the next one on my TBR list.

I can’t help but feel like there was some flaw in the execution of this tale. Maybe it was a case of trying to do too much in such a short amount of time, or maybe it was a case of not doing enough, or maybe it was a case of blending universes and realms that shouldn’t be blended. But whatever it was, I found disappointment lingering on my lips.

The premise certainly intrigued me with secret societies and unbroken lineages and cheating death and making the world better and meeting in Las Vegas, but that excitement quickly dwindled away, and I was left with a tainted aftertaste.

I received this book for free through NetGalley.

Janka Hardness Rating

6483636Cowgirl Up And Ride by Lorelei James
My Rating: 3/5 Stars

Porn can’t compare to erotica. Don’t get me wrong. Porn is good. The sweating, heaving bodies thrusting against each other make the average male pale in comparison. I’m male, so I dig that shit. Although not so much the inadequate comparison. But erotica opens up a world of possibilities. It allows you to imagine blond chesty females with breasts the size of beach balls, or athletic redheaded women in pink thongs and ponytails, or raven haired cuties in fishnet stockings and garter belts and not much else. Whereas with porn, the dialogue may be a bit cheesy, the story sometimes a bit inadequate, as the man shows up to fix the garbage disposal with the woman answering the door in her green underwear and a pushup bra and a set of perfectly white teeth. Sure, that’s an encouraging scenario, but how many times does the plumber get laid in real life? Yeah, not so much. Otherwise, there’d be more plumbers than government employees, and condoms would be handed out faster than socket wrenches.

Even though COWGIRL UP AND RIDE left me with one Long Hard Ride to the point that I forgot who I was for a few hours, and I actually believed I might have been Cord McKay, I found his relationship with AJ Foster not entirely to my taste. Sure, there were multiple orgasms and mind blowing sex and ropes and multiple positions and entry points, and the way Ms. Foster was described pretty much left me in a lust-induced continuous swoon to the point where I wanted to be the star of this fantasy tale. But it felt more like a relationship profile than the real deal, and when I read about uninhibited lust plastered all over the page, I want the whole enchilada or banana or Popsicle or thong.

Since this was an erotica novel, it could have been all about the sex and nothing more, with little to no character or relationship development, but this tale did offer a bit more, and the continuous cast of secondary characters provided more than just background noise. With alpha males and fanning females, there’s fun for everyone (albeit probably not the kiddos).

The plot moved at a torrid pace that oftentimes rivaled the bedroom antics of these sexual beings with the previous sexual encounter often toppled over by the next one. I don’t recall any broken beds or broken trailers or broken windows or punctured handcuffs, although there was at least one screaming orgasm, and others I may have missed.

Since I’ve read more than a few erotica novels now, I do have to admit I am a little curious about how these marathon bedroom sessions actually make it to the printed page. Do authors have a checklist similar to a grocery list? Do they actually try out the various positions with their significant other and chalk it up to field research? Do they interview strippers or porn stars or burlesque women or some combination thereof? I know I’m probably overanalyzing all of this, but on occasion, I do actually think about this shit.

Oh, and on the Janka Hardness Rating (for wood), I’d rate COWGIRL UP AND RIDE about a Brazilian Maple. And before you try to tell me I’m crazy, yes, there actually is such a scale.

Cotton Candy Stuffed With Razor Blades

14062212 by
My Rating: 4/5 Stars

Let’s be clear from the get go. If you want a more traditional review with a book summary, plot synopsis, and a character family tree, and then possibly a discussion on what the author was trying to accomplish in DARE ME and whether or not she actually achieved her goals, then you’ll probably just want to slide it on back and move on to the next review. Because I’m about as non-traditional as they come. Instead, I like discussing how a book made me feel, or didn’t feel, discussing writing insights where appropriate, tossing around similes and metaphors like used car parts in a Dumpster, and talking about my overall experience with a book, while taking into account my own knowledge of writing and reading and plain old random shit. In other words, I don’t really know what I’m doing, but I have a damn good time being ignorant.

So I’ll start with this: Teenage girls are bitches and badasses. A female praying mantis treats her mate better than high school girls treat each other. And each manages to accomplish this task with a smile on her face and nothing but love in her heart, right before she brings out the icepick and wields it around the same way a construction worker might employ a two-by-four in the middle of a construction zone.

One might argue the mystery was a bit thin, but this book transcended the typical books in this genre, and proved there’s more to a mystery than just the identity of the killer and the resolution of the crime. Instead, this was more about cheerleaders and their penchant to attack one another with vengeance, high school drama that unfolded before me on the page in pinks and purples and shades of red, and the extremes captains and coaches go to all in the name of victory. Yes, cheerleading is a sport, and in some parts of the country it’s mentioned in the Sunday prayers along with football and your best friends Jim Bob and Clara Valentine.

The shower scene in the girl’s locker room at the beginning of this tale reminded me of all the times growing up that I would have practically handed over bodily organs to be given even a brief glimpse behind that steel curtain. But what made this story really click for me was the relationship between Addy Hanlon and Beth Cassidy, gal pals that dance a relationship tango better left choreographed to the professionals. And proves there’s much more to a relationship than what’s shown to the public.

This tale was about as easy to swallow as cotton candy stuffed with razor blades, and now that I know what’s behind the pom-poms I wish I could give it all back, since more knowledge isn’t always the key to happiness, as this story aptly proves.

Love Child

17557765Insane City by Dave Barry
My Rating: 5/5 Stars

Dave Barry and Carl Hiaasen need to have a love child. I’ll let the medical professionals work out the logistics, and Congress appropriate the funds. But as a lover of satire and humor and all things bright, beautiful, and wonderful in the universe, this needs to happen. Now. INSANE CITY doesn’t even begin to describe the colossal aftermath of this potentially dystopian universe, but that’s the price you pay for greatness. Miami, we’re about to hit the mother lode. And the future never looked brighter, or bleaker, depending on whether or not you think the glass is half-full or half-empty.

Since I look at the glass as half-full, I can’t help smiling ear to ear, laughing manically, tapping my chin, and pounding my desk in triumph, right before I smack my head and knock myself unconscious for about three hours. I’ll come to in a puddle of drool, possibly sucking my thumb, and steadfast in the belief that my name is Sally or Sarah or Roberta or maybe it’s Steve. No matter what happens, though, I’ll have thoroughly enjoyed the experience.

If I were to sum up his first solo novel in more than 10 years, I’d say I’m thoroughly glad Dave Barry didn’t plan my bachelor party. This novel is batshit crazy, and only one step removed from certifiably insane. I laughed uproariously to the point that folks in Arizona probably wondered what the fuck was going on, and Texas citizens probably wanted to top the outstanding noise intrusion.

If you like characters that are better off locked up in jail, shoved in the direction of the guillotine, or slipped the needle with copious amounts of an unidentifiable clear liquid that turns stars into rainbows and dogs into cats, then this book is definitely for you. There’s a douche tweeter, an orangutan who wants to mate with any human female in sight, bedroom divas, pompous assholes, bridal princesses, plastic surgery poster children, a flatulent stripper, a record executive turned spiritual healer who uses religion as a way to get laid, a groom posse, a married man with no ethical code when it comes to humping with the opposite sex, and a Haitian refugee. There’s enough pot to fuel the state of California for an entire year, and more humping songs and picture perfect porn than a dark lit theatre in the middle of the night. In other words, comedy, this is your paradise, and I was thrilled to be along for this wild ride, even if I did end up with whiplash, a broken nose, and a lump on the back of my head the size of a silver dollar.

So if comedy is the elixir of the soul and the key to the fountain of youth, then this novel might add a few years to your life. Or then again, it might not, but either way it was an entertaining experience of which all humor lovers should partake.

By the way, you need to leave sanity at the door and enter at your own risk. And if you want to have the wildest ride imaginable, you should totally have Dave Barry plan your bachelor party. I’m sure he’s more than willing to entertain offers.

No Easy Solutions Here

If you want a clear-cut roadmap to success, you won’t find one. For every road to success there is a different path, a different challenge, a different obstacle that will block your way. It’s not on purpose. Instead, it’s because each of us is different, and each of us faces different experiences and opportunities. If the road to success were paved in red carpet, everyone would be a millionaire, and we could all suck our lollipops and eat our tangerines in perfect harmony.

Books are no different. In fact, with the publication of your first novel, the road for an author just got a lot harder, not easier, and filled with enough potholes to bring down a Hummer. Again, it’s not because life is supposed to be difficult and hard and challenging, but unfortunately, that’s often what happens. This is the time the real writers often get separated from the pretenders, as the reading public has fickle, ever-changing tastes. If the Big 6 publishers can’t figure it out, then there’s even less hope for you.

So does that mean you’re just supposed to stand in a corner and wait for the spotlight to come to you? Absolutely not. But it does mean that after you publish your debut novel that you shouldn’t expect success and fame and fortune to soon follow. Sure, it does happen for some, but there’re a whole lot more midlist and bottom-of-the-list authors than there are highly successful, highly compensated, career defining ones. And it does mean you have to keep at it and keep plugging away, as you keep churning out those labors of love. You can’t get discouraged if your book doesn’t fly off the shelves and into people’s hearts. And you can’t start attacking and berating reviewers if they don’t love your book as much as you do. Going on the offensive only leads to a missile fight that you will inevitably lose, even if your missiles are bigger than the other guy’s.

As for the marketing, you can’t just leave it all up to the publisher either. You have to step in the game, get your hands dirty, your feet wet, and your teeth cleaned to have a dog in this fight. But that doesn’t mean you should take to the social networking stratosphere and Goodreads, Facebook, Twitter, and LibraryThing till you’re blue in the face, and your eyes are crossed from staring at your computer screen too long, while you’re up all hours of the night. So how should you choose what to do? Pick what you like. I know this can be a foreign concept for some people, because it sounds way too easy. Marketing is number crunching and analysis and hard work and understanding people, and it can be done effectively from the comfort of your own home. Just as it can be done effectively, if that’s your shtick, out in the real world at conferences and speaking engagements. Or maybe it’s a combination of the two. But in the end, it’s what works best for you.

Stop The Universe

17638282Twigs by
My Rating: 1/5 Stars

With first person narratives, there’s always the risk that the narrator comes across as unlikeable. Well, Madeline Annette Henry, aka TWIGS, takes unlikeable to a whole new plateau. I hated her with a passion best reserved for anchovies, Brussels sprouts, broccoli, white vinegar, and chlamydia. She’s eighteen with the maturity level of an eight year-old, or maybe we should give her the benefit of the doubt and say her brain capacity matches her size, so she’s a fifth-grader. She stomps like a four year-old, shrills like a six year-old, and rollerblades like a fourteen year-old, and has acquired more than enough immaturity to last her for the rest of her life.

Self-centered doesn’t even begin to do her justice. Let’s just stop the universe for Twigs. We should all be gracious enough to kiss her feet, comb her hair, and bask in all of her less than five foot glory. Her warped sense of reality helped escalate this novel into fantasy. With a strong attachment to a father that abandoned her and her family, a strong sense of antipathy to a mother who has moved on with her life, even if it occasionally takes her into the bedroom, and sometimes involves black lace thongs, a strong sense of disregard for her popular cheerleader sister, and hostility for every single one of her mother’s boyfriends, she’s a real prize for your eighteen or nineteen year-old son, just make sure you feed him enough alcohol and roofies to help seal the deal.

If she cheats and steals with the same ease she reserves for lying, and elbow smashing, she’ll be forcibly removed from Hinkney Community College and in prison before she’s twenty. There’s a special cell for where she’s going, and she’s one downward spiral away from flitting off into oblivion. In the end, though, the world would be better off without her and her egotistical manner. What she may lack in size she makes up for with her obnoxious and odious demeanor.

Enough whores filled this story to take Sin City by storm. The term was handed out more often than Snickers bars at a Mars convention. Despite the number of characters involved in this tale, there didn’t appear to be a sympathetic one amidst this bunch of misfits and miscreants. It reminded me of a couple dozen juvenile delinquents headed for detention on a Saturday afternoon in the middle of winter.

The plot moved along like a series of nightmares, or it could always be worse scenarios, but even that particular antidote proved less than satisfying, as I managed to stop caring and start cheering for the end well before the halfway point of this tale. By the end of the novel, I felt like I had witnessed a 20-car pileup on I-25 in the middle of rush hour.

A word of advice for Twigs. If you hate your life that much, then you better damn well change it, otherwise you have no one to blame but yourself. Even if the mirror might crack as you spew forth a cantankerous rage that bests even the most prolific two year-old temper tantrums on YouTube. It’s all up to you, or then again, maybe it isn’t.

I received this book for free through NetGalley.

Richly Drawn Novel

15818278The One I Left Behind by Jennifer McMahon
My Rating: 4/5 Stars

Fate has a funny way of intervening in my life, and if it wasn’t for fate, I probably wouldn’t have ended up with an Advanced Reader’s Copy (ARC) of THE ONE I LEFT BEHIND. I attended Bouchercon at the beginning of this month (October 2012), and on Friday, several authors were signing advanced copies of their latest novels, or copies of their just released novels. Out of curiosity more than anything else, since I’d never heard of Jennifer McMahon, I made my way to the hospitality suite, stood in line, had a brief conversation with the author, and walked out of the suite with the ARC in tow. Because I discovered a new author more than worthy of my attention, I have the signed copy in my possession, sitting on my bookshelf.

As for the author, I’d have to agree with the Los Angeles Times, who called her “One of the brightest new stars of literary suspense.” And I’d say she does a wonderful job at proving the only rule of writing that matters: With great writing, there are no rules. I’ve never read an author before that bounces between the past and present in alternating chapters, and from what I understand, this isn’t the only novel that takes advantage of this technique. Also, in a few cases, she picks up the action immediately in the next chapter of this alternating sequence. Many writers probably couldn’t get away with this, yet Ms. McMahon makes it work, and upon finishing this novel, I don’t think she could have structured the story any other way.

THE ONE I LEFT BEHIND is a suspense novel, but much more than that, it is a novel about character, friendships, embracing the past, place, and relationships. In other words, it’s a richly drawn novel that will leave you well satiated by the time you reach the end. It’s a novel I feel rather lucky to have discovered, yet it’s not a novel I probably would have consciously sought out. So I feel rather fortunate fate intervened and shoved this book in my lap, and practically screamed at me to pay attention. If not for fate, I would have missed out on a bright star in literary suspense, along with one beautifully written novel. As for future reading material, I already downloaded a special Kindle edition of Don’t Breathe A Word, and I’ll keep my eye on her backlist.

I received this book for free at Bouchercon.

Catastrophe Meet Wayward

17920175Wayward by Blake Crouch
My Rating: 4/5 Stars

A fate worse than death awaits the townsfolk of Wayward Pines. Prison could be considered a picnic. In prison, there are rules, laws, restrictions, and armed guards, who in theory at least, help keep the peace. Wayward Pines has no such laws and restrictions. Sure, there’s a guidebook handed to every new resident, all inhabitants have been implanted with microchips for security reasons, an electrified fence and razor wire help solidify the perimeter, and snipers keep occupants between the crosshairs…and hell is an inferno that is run by Lucifer for the greater good of the underworld.

If you want to totally and completely destroy a man’s soul without actually taking his life—consider this a more interesting social experiment than prison—just put him in the midst of a makeshift town, with other ne’er-do-wells just like him, put the meanest, nastiest, cruelest motherfucker you can find in charge, and then surround the boundary with a sea of mean and nasty motherfuckers, secure the perimeter with an electrified and razor wire fence, and then you’ll have hell on earth. Oh, and you may want to bring a mortician by periodically to collect the bodies. Otherwise, you can let it all play out on the TV monitors from the comfort of your own home. Now that, my friends, is reality television.

Plenty of normal characters, and even a psychopath or two, grazed these pages. A few of the more prominent ones were Kate Ballinger, Theresa Burke, Pam (no last name), David Pilcher, and of course, Ethan Burke, who has a bit of the tragic hero in his blood. But tragedy kept me flipping pages as trees and scrub brush and an abby or two went up in flames. I was a rubbernecker on this side of the road, thankful that I could keep right on driving, because there was no way in hell I planned to stop for this crazy train.

While there’s certainly a mystery here, with a dead body that appears fairly early on, the real pleasure here, sadistic as it may be, is the horror that surrounds this town, and the horrors contained within. Catastrophe meet WAYWARD, and neither, I’m sure, will benefit from the introduction. As my eyes opened wide, the continued hallucinations nearly took my breath away. And if I hadn’t already been to Boise and realized it’s actually a decent place, I’d have probably wiped Idaho from my Christmas list.

I received this book for free through NetGalley.

Emotional Rollercoaster

15954542Hollywood Forever by Christopher Herz
My Rating: 5/5 Stars

I don’t know if it’s possible to actually be in love with a book, but I’m fairly certain I am in love with HOLLYWOOD FOREVER. I’d say the love affair started at the beginning with the DMV meltdown and subsequent aftermath and continued all the way to the end of the novel. I’m not sure if I’m a better person for reading it, nor am I sure that my life was somehow enriched, but I must say that I’m pretty darn happy that I discovered this book. And I was slightly depressed when it was finished (not Prozac depressed) but slightly disappointed all the same.

Harold Hall became a legend, although he didn’t start out that way. In fact, he wasn’t even the best looking Superman on the street corner, and he was throttled to the point that the Superman with the better muscles was having bills shoved in his direction and stuffed in his spandex while poor Harold was sucking pavement parts through a straw while slipping in and out of consciousness after his head had swelled up to twice its normal size.

Herz knows female characters. By the halfway point of the novel, I’d developed schoolboy crushes on both Eliah and Samantha Parsons. Both women were well fleshed out and stood out from the printed page like rock stars with their mouths pressed against the microphone as the crowd screamed their names.

The prose was wonderful, depressing, hilarious, beautiful, fulfilling, and the emotional rollercoaster never seemed to end. I equate it to being shoved in a washing machine, having the best sex of my life, being punched out by a TV executive while in the middle of my annual performance review, and then laughing so hard that I have cough syrup coming out of my nose. It was one beautiful, miraculous mess, and I was in the middle of one of the best dreams of my life. When it ended, I felt like someone needed to pinch me, and then I needed to go back to recreating the dream.

But the disastrous love affair didn’t end with the characters and the prose. No, the ride incorporated the technology monstrosity from which we can never return. We live in an age where we have technology imprinted on our brains as we wait for the next email ping (guilty), updating our Facebook status and Tweeting in the middle of a funeral or while in the midst of a traffic jam, and where reality TV has completely consumed our lives. These are rather interesting times, and Herz infuses all of it with his wit and charm.

While it’s really hard to use such an arbitrary term as best book, since books affect each of us in unique ways based on the uniqueness of the authors and the distinctiveness of the characters and the prose, I’ll dangle myself from an errant tree branch over the middle of Fantasy Park and say that this is the best book I’ve read so far this year.

Make The Crazy Stop

17671775Mother, Mother: A Novel by Koren Zailckas
My Rating: 3/5 Stars

I’d like to nominate Douglas and Josephine Hurst for parents of the year. He’s an absentee father who’s doing a real fine job of drinking himself to death, while she’s a narcissistic mother who’d like to split ends with her family and the entire populace at large. If ever there was a case for the Emancipation Proclamation, the Hurst parents are the spitting image of what honest Abe had in mind, because I’d like to emancipate myself from this particular situation, and I only had to deal with them for a few hours. If I had to deal with them for much longer, I’d lock myself in a loony bin, devour all the red, yellow, green, blue, pink, and white pills I could find and then secure myself to a bed covered in leather straps, as I wait for the needle injection.

Then there were Violet and William Hurst and Sara-pist, who may, or may not, have been a reject therapist. Violet proved the more likeable of the two, a strong enough character to actually take on Josie the Soci, even if she did have to see more than a therapist to get her house in order and control the crazy. William, on the other hand, might as well have been a mini-Josephine, who had more than a few social issues, and what he may have often lacked in empathy, he made up for in the desolation of anyone who went against his mother.

If I could have figured out a way to make the crazy stop, I would have, because it was all fucking nuts with a side of scary, creepy, and fubar mixed into this spider’s web. The Addams Family appeared normal enough next to this freak show that probably needed its own Big top, cotton candy dispenser, and caramel apple maker. But there were no sweets to be had here, only lint and pocket knives.

The plot twists could have been a bit more twisted, as I had more than a strong suspicion on the final outcome of this tale about halfway through, but like a five-car pileup on the interstate in the middle of rush hour, I couldn’t look away, nor did I really want to. So if you’re looking for a character study in evil, along with a side dose in depth, despair, and human wreckage, you just might find yourself enjoying this tale. Although sleeping with a nightlight for your first night or two might not be such a bad idea either, if you have a weak stomach.

I received this book for free through NetGalley.