Shotgun Weddings

18522265Shotgun Lovesongs by Nickolas Butler
My Rating: 2/5 Stars

Secrets in small towns spread like tumbleweed in Albuquerque, New Mexico. That is to say a secret lasts about as long as a change in wind direction, or a flying ball sailing across a major highway in the middle of rush hour traffic. SHOTGUN LOVESONGS brings up many of the negative points about small town life, and therefore it won’t be at the top of my Christmas list anytime this century. The third person multiple perspective nature of this tale peppered with the occasional flashback left me with a head scratch or two for my trouble, but I was in charge of my fate as I continued onward. Perseverance pushed me toward the finish line, not the writing or the story itself. Each perspective proved mostly unique, but I did feel as though it was all a bit convoluted.

Lee and Kip and Chloe represented a trio of selfish bastards and bastardettes. With more than a secret or two between them, I wanted to offer up a tongue lashing, but it might have fallen on a group more focused on a Droid phone clutched between delicate fingers, or lost in a previous reverie. With my thoughts scattered and my hopes shattered, I had really hoped a few more lives might turn out better, instead of shotgun weddings and battered relationships and subsequent divorces.

The story sounded better in the synopsis, or maybe I had higher hopes, or the bleakness of the tale shattered my optimistic dreams. Whatever the reason, I found myself more put off than satisfied, and that included the mostly unrealistic ending. If this story was supposed to represent life, it wasn’t a life I was particularly interested in living.

I received this book for free through NetGalley.

Sardonic Poetry

6473959Sloppy Firsts (Jessica Darling, #1) by Megan McCafferty
My Rating: 5/5 Stars

Since I had to explain to my wife that my latest reading excursion was not in fact a between-the-sheets adventure with multiple terms for male and female genitalia, I might have reached my erotica novel quota for the month of May and possibly June as well. In case you haven’t already figured it out, this is not erotica, nor is it even classified as romance. But I was romantically involved with it all the same. SLOPPY FIRSTS punched my two front teeth out and slapped me hard on the cheek. It lifted my feet six inches off the ground, and turned me upside down. Had I managed to offer the world a coherent thought or two, I probably would have followed it up with a giggle.

Jessica Darling might have been the greatest thing to happen to my otherwise miserable existence. She actually made me happy to be alive, and I even managed to smile for once in my dejected life. She made me want to attempt night running and swoon over poetry and wander the hallowed halls of my youth aimlessly and have crushes on Spanish teachers and pretend that I had a big sister named Bethany who was so full of herself that her head was a ticking time bomb and run through malls…and yes, it really was that fucking good.

The voice was filled with sardonic poetry and wisdom and wit and charm, and she sounded older than she really was, even if her body had the developed pace of a kindergartner. Whether it was Burke or Bridget or Marcus or Manda or Sara, I was hooked, lined, and snickered, and I found myself reeling in a big mouth bass.

Whether I actually did or not is hard to say, but I found myself bouncing along the halls with my head held high and my corduroys on rye and a picture perfect wave across the sky helping me find my way home.

If I really stop to think about it, I probably shouldn’t have fallen in love with this novel, but you can’t always choose what books you love, and in this case, I tried to say no, but I ended up saying yes. Over and over and over again.

Check My Tongue

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My Rating: 3/5 Stars

If it weren’t for Kemper and Dan, I might have never heard of Megan Abbott. And had I not heard of her and went through life aimlessly lacking direction and motivation and reading material, I might have had to kill myself. That would have resulted in a serious shit storm that would have blown the universe to smithereens, and thereby reducing the otherwise wonderful and happy-go-lucky world into the next apocalypse. Yeah, kind of like a Megan Abbott novel. Don’t let her small height and cherubic features deceive you, she’s one cold-hearted bitch. But if you have any sense, you love her anyway. Because she’s that cool. I mean, she’s like the latest reality star, only she actually has sense and a brain and can actually form a coherent sentence. And not just one, mind you, an entire novel filled with coherent sentences that make me want to swoon with lust-filled envy, right after I pull the knives out of my back and thigh, and practice my duck and cover maneuver, so that I actually live to see my next birthday and my wife and unicorns and rainbows and peace signs.

Even sitting in the same room with her, her coolness reaches your level, after it drops from the rafters, and basks you in warmth and smiles. But you don’t smile while reading a Megan Abbott novel, if you know what’s good for you, and you don’t turn your back on it either. You run through that gauntlet like there’s a rattlesnake that’s about to devour your skinny ass, and you crash through the nearest brick wall you can find, even if it results in a knot the size of Wyoming and thirty-seven stitches.

And if I had any sense whatsoever, I’d probably avoid writing the below review, because of all the greatness that has come before me. But I need to have my head examined, and until then, I’m under the distinct impression that I’m somehow a contributing member of society. So…here we go.

THE FEVER made me want to check my tongue in the mirror, swallow a round of medicine, and turn in early for possibly the rest of my life. But, on the other hand, I finished the novel, and found myself wanting. Wanting more story, more character, and more straight evilness, even if the high school depicted in these pages made me want to pull the fire alarm and run for the nearest exit. And even if I finished said novel in rapid fashion with no real time to slow down and smell a few dandelions.

Sure, Ms. Abbott has some serious writing chops, and her credentials could make even the most brazen teenager blush, but I just can’t seem to help myself in my pursuit of excellence. The funk is most likely my own, and I blame the greatness that has blazed the path before me for my sudden hard right turn into the nearest ditch, as I look to cop a feel in the front passenger seat of my motor vehicle with a woman dressed in a miniskirt and pom-poms and a smile white enough for the TV.

The prose sung, the dialogue had punch and direction, and yet I still wanted more. Maybe I need to have my head examined, and possibly the only cure is to read more Megan Abbott. So I’ll have to take a note and make that a priority. So I can learn the error of my ways. As for you, my fellow reader, you may want to read Queenpin and Dare Me, like stat, because those two novels are seriously fucked up in an absolutely wonderful way.

I received this book for free through NetGalley.

See-Monkeys And Sparkle Pants

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My Rating: 4/5 Stars

In my younger days, when I had more sass in my head than I had sense, I managed to hit a few boys, and I got walloped a few times in return. Momma always said my mouth wandered off more than it stayed home, and my jaw got more exercise than a coon hound on a huntin’ expedition. I had more than a little trouble stopping words that were better off swallowed, and I had my defiant face all practiced and rarin’ to go faster than my granddad’s John Deere tractor.

I was fixin’ to visit my momma in Nashville, where I had bigger dreams than those country music singers on the radio, and I was at my wits end and back again, with an incoherent thought that was stretched further than the truth. I had a case of the red rage somethin’ mighty fierce, and I stomped my foot so hard I thought a floorboard or two was about to give way. I hated Jimmy ’cause he was the turd of the century, and I was on a one-way ticket to the reform school faster than one of them drag racers.

So, yes, for the better part of two days, you could say I had an out-of-body experience. I was ready to pack my shit and move to North Carolina or Virginia, watch NASCAR and SEC football, chip 6 of my teeth, have tea on Sundays with biscuits and visit the Baptist church, fill my mouth full of sweet tea (the only kind of tea there is despite my wife’s protestations to the contrary), conduct a PowerPoint presentation on the proper use of Southern words, raise the Confederate flag, pray for Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson, shove a shotgun in the back of my pickup truck and tear off toward the nearest access road, and I felt like screaming Prissy Pants in my best nine year old voice.

I need to look up See-Monkeys and Sparkle Pants (whatever the heck they are) to go along with my new Barbie House; I will be pursuing my new profession (curb girl at the drive-in); I plan on going out half-cocked and I’ll be double sure; and I plan on incorporating skitterjittery, pinkie-swore, crap on a cracker, extra-smart, skeeters, bless her heart, h-e-double-hockey-sticks, squallin’, caterwaulin’, dumber than a box of rocks, truth be told, lick of sense, shitbird, hollered, and stinky dog doo into my vocabulary.

I often like to whistle past graveyards, or at funerals, weddings (including my own), receptions, bat mitzvahs, airports, waiting for the bus, or at bats that are about to buzz the top of my head. So I enjoyed this book something mighty fierce. And I feel as though I should send this novel to all my Massachusetts’ friends and family as a Christmas present, so they can brush up on the proper way of conversatin’.

I received this book for free through NetGalley.

Soap Opera Monday

18046526 by
My Rating: 4/5 Stars

Claudia Silver may be in her twenties, but she hasn’t left her teen years firmly behind. She has about as much sense as a love-struck fifteen-year-old left on the subway overnight and who might be prone to hallucinations on more than a few occasions. But I loved her anyway. That’s fucked up, right? Yeah, I thought so, too.

But like all teenage fantasies it wasn’t a perfect match, nor was it even a near perfect one. In fact, I abhorred her and loved her in nearly equal parts. There were occasions where I wanted to give her a hug, and there were plenty of occasions where I wanted to slap my forehead, scream, and run in the opposite direction. By the end, I might have had a nice semi-permanent red spot along with a decent amount of brain damage, and possibly finished my cardio for the entire month of March.

So what gives? I might have reached a new level of softness around my middle, or I might have just discovered a hidden gem in the midst of a woodpile before the entire stack of debris was doused in kerosene and set ablaze. I’m still processing and evaluating all the inputs, but I’ll go with the hidden gem option for two hundred Alex.

I was more than a little entertained, even if I wasn’t exactly rescued. CLAUDIA SILVER TO THE RESCUE reminded me of a soap opera, so it wasn’t all that surprising when this little tidbit was actually discussed in a bit of depth in the novel, and it reminded me on more than one occasion of how lucky I am with my family and my relationships and my job situation, because I really don’t endeavor to find out how much worse it could get for myself, but I have no problem reading about somebody else’s problems over the course of 259 pages or so.

Straddles The Line

18284680 by
My Rating: 2/5 Stars

This novel tries to straddle the line between literary and commercial fiction. What the publishing gods have deemed upmarket fiction. Unfortunately for THE GRAVITY OF BIRDS, it probably tries a little too hard, and therefore doesn’t do either as effectively as if it just picked one and flew above the treetops. Instead, it crash landed into a cactus, and I was left picking needles out of my butt.

The structure proved a little confusing, with the movement between time periods, and I was prone to forget who I was, or where I was for brief periods of time (sometimes a wee bit longer). This was certainly a literary element, as I end up more confused and discombobulated when I read “more serious” works than when I read the high-octane commercial fiction. What can I say? My brain likes to be entertained, and I feed it generous helpings of the good stuff.

Not that this novel lacked an entertainment factor. It just might not have been what Tracy Guzeman intended, as I wanted to throttle Thomas Bayber within an inch of his life for being a self-indulgent ass. Note to readers who are not artists, we are not all like this. Some of us (surprise surprise) actually have a soul. The other source of entertainment was a “Who’s on First?” sketch between Finch and Jameson that made me want to slap my head and then get on a plane in the middle of a blizzard.

As for the other characters, I was less than impressed, except for a cameo appearance near the end of the novel. The cameo setting—New Mexico land of the sand and vast openness—proved a rather beautiful side trip during which I could have indulged myself further, had I just been given the opportunity to do so.

While some might call this a mystery, or hear it marketed as such, and then proceed to be disappointed when it’s not, I’d say this is more of a coming of age or contemporary fiction tale that had more of a literary spin than it knew what to do with. In other words, this book had an identity crisis, and I’m not sure I can really help this novel solve its problems. But someone smarter than me can probably make a better effort at identifying its feathers.

A Few More Rounds

18815227 by
My Rating: 2/5 Stars

I just need to stop reading historical fiction. Like right now. But I keep trying, like the little kid who keeps reaching for the electric burner, even though he’s bound to burn himself for the thirteenth time and once again lose several layers of skin in the process, or like the woman who just can’t stop dating that man-child with the six-pack abs and commitment issues and the Mickey Mouse voice, because damn it she can bounce quarters off his belly button, and that ought to be worth a few more rounds on the merry-go-round.

Because like that little kid I want to reach out and just one time find the burner turned off, or like the woman I just want to meet a man who looks like Brad Pitt but has a bit of substance for once in her damned life. Well, not me personally, but I feel your pain sister. With historical fiction, I am beginning to think it’s a bit personal, and I am beginning to think I’m the only one who hasn’t been let in on this wonderful, exotic secret that will somehow change my life, but maybe not. And it’s frustrating and intoxicating and I keep coming back for more. Just spin me one more time, and this stint is bound to be different.

And I end up…right back where I started. Let’s start with the dialogue shall we. Now I love me some good dialogue. I want to hug it and squeeze it and kiss it and pat its little forehead and somehow find a way to make it my own. More often than not (and this novel is no exception), I end up disappointed with the overused phrases tossed in my direction. It reminds me of the jellybeans often found beneath the sofa cushions. Just don’t eat them. Sure, they might have been great and wonderful three months ago (like the dialogue might have been snappy and witty about two or three generations ago), but I’m not feeling the love now. And I want to feel the love.

The characters proved a bit too unlikeable. Heck, let’s face it, at least one or two were probably borderline bastards. And that works for me, if the others pick up the slack and shine brighter than a Colt revolver. But I’ll be honest: I didn’t really like any of the sons-a-bitches. Again, sometimes that works when it’s done correctly, but yeah, that wasn’t really working for me either. The characters were just a bit too full of themselves, or completely and totally self-involved (like six-pack abs guy).

Let’s talk about setting. I love Massachusetts and Boston. I love the Cape and the North Shore with its quaint little towns and storybook houses. I love it even more when its spring or summer or fall, and when there isn’t a foot of snow on the ground with layers of ice packed underneath. But this didn’t really feel like Massachusetts to me. Something was just a bit off, and that’s probably a rather quick way of summing up TIGERS IN RED WEATHER.

Cotton Candy Stuffed With Razor Blades

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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.