Turn To Amy Bloom

untitledLucky Us: A Novel by Amy Bloom
My Rating: 3/5 Stars

If I want to learn how to turn a phrase, and fill my life with words and sentences that will make your world spin, I shall to turn to Amy Bloom. If I want to fill my world with characters like Iris and Eva, who may not be the most likeable characters on the block, and yet still get you to continue reading, continue your evaluation of a novel all the way to the end, I shall turn to Amy Bloom. If I want to find a historical novel during the period of the Holocaust, where the world was filled with despair and hate, and yet find some token of goodness to keep your spirits up, I shall turn to Amy Bloom.

If I want to hold onto hope even as I turn my head away, and find myself somehow lost along the road that never ends, I shall turn to Amy Bloom. If I want to think about a story after I have finished a novel, where worlds have collided, and my feelings have not subsided, I shall turn to Amy Bloom. If I want to hear phrases that speak and words that sing in a compact tale of less than 260 pages, I shall turn to Amy Bloom. If I want rich characters, filled with thought, and dialogue that’s both realistic and possibly experimental, I shall turn to Amy Bloom. If I want to call myself lucky, or maybe refer to ourselves as LUCKY US, I shall turn to Amy Bloom.

And if you want to read a familial saga told over a period of years with strong women and even stronger prose, maybe you should too.

I received this book for free through NetGalley.

Prose That Peppers Your Nose

For Names - 09names - The Cutting Season by Attica Locke. (Handout)The Cutting Season by Attica Locke
My Rating: 2/5 Stars

If you prefer prose that peppers your nose and wows you with wonder and awe, then you might find yourself having a grand time while reading about the Deep South, where the tea is always sweet, an afternoon rain happens daily, and the humidity is so thick you have to keep your head down and plow forward through the mist. With the opening line I was caught in time and found myself veering ahead with what might have been excitement mixed with hope. But alas she was a fairer lass than Kim Kardashian or Paris Hilton who changed her mind at the drop of a dime, and I found myself rather chagrined with the story I was about to begin. It ended there this love affair, and I slogged through the rain in my poncho and galoshes, the rain splashing my face and assaulting my senses. I sneezed, and then sneezed again.

The story could have been much more and something I could adore, but alas twas not meant to be, and so it shall go down in history as another two star read. What might have been much better in this little endeavor is if the plot and the ending matched the rest of the prose, instead of just taking me on a journey with atmosphere and vocabulary. What I discovered was a killer who spouted off a little too long in the mouth, and bequeathed our fair heroine with more than a few antidotes. If sugar cane and acid rain had mixed on the page and devoured this journey, tearing and ripping its way toward salvation, and extending the plot with more than a few thoughts, I might have found myself in the middle of THE CUTTING SEASON and happy to be placed out in the fields of labor.

Instead, I feel I am the one who missed out on the fun, and now I must end this little simulation with a dance imitation and shuffle and grand production where the tourists with the t-shirts and flip-flops and backpacks shall endeavor to visit my plantation.

Dirty Pair Of Drawers

18672509The Lost Sisterhood by Anne Fortier
My Rating: 2/5 Stars

There’s something about an athletic woman wielding a long bow that really helps me find my stride on the highway. What proved most interesting were the pieces about the Amazons and their sparse history, as THE LOST SISTERHOOD overflowed with Greek mythology. But that was where this tale and I parted ways on the positive side, as many of the negatives pressed into my flesh.

First, this novel splayed itself across a few too many pages, and then it managed to develop an ambitiousness best reserved for politicians and CEOs. It may have been historical, or women’s fiction, or action & adventure, or literary, or possibly even fantasy. Had the fantasy only been in my head, I would have been perfectly fine with the outcome. Instead, the fantasy spread itself across over 600 pages of stilted prose, as I held my nose with one hand and flipped each page of my Kindle with the other.

The characters proved a bit hard to swallow—like thumbtacks as I asked for my life back—and the ending felt like it was sprung upon me, like a dirty pair of drawers. Had this novel discovered the pace and precision of The Da Vinci Code, I would have gladly hung on for the ride. Instead, though, I gripped this story with two fingers held firmly away from my face, and waited for the ride to end. The end, though, didn’t come soon enough.

I received this book for free through NetGalley.

Promptly Forgot It

17795589The First Rule of Swimming: A Novel by Courtney Angela Brkic
My Rating: 2/5 Stars

THE FIRST RULE OF SWIMMING: stay afloat. Easier said than done when I hovered beneath the depths of prose, and searched for my bubbles on my way toward the surface, popping above the water and gasping for air. More often than not, I drowned, swallowing seawater, my lungs filling, my eyes popping out of my head, my clothes drenched, as I ended up entrenched with the sharks and a stingray. But I did see a blowfish explode, and I tried to blow my nose underwater—it didn’t work—and I coughed my way to the surface, barely making it to the top.

What kept me treading water was the writing. But what smacked me over the head was elongated prose, a world filled with bastard characters, loose threads, and strangled sensations that had me traipsing through time.

Needless to say, this book probably came at the wrong time, along with being more than a tad too ambitious in 337 pages. Instead, of punching through my psyche, it ripped me in about six different pieces, none of which seemed to lead the charge. How would you like to phrase the answer, Alex? Maybe we’ll call it a historical, psychological, literary, contemporary women, domestic thriller. And if you figure out what the frick that is, please let me know, because I honestly don’t have a clue.

What might have been this book’s greatest sin of all, though, was once I finished it, I promptly forgot it. And not just a slight memory lapse either. By the time I reached the end, the whole damn book might have been nothing more than a figment of my imagination.

A Strong, Particular Shine

17931878The Shining Girls by Lauren Beukes
My Rating: 2/5 Stars

Made it to 300. Not sure what that says about me, other than the fact that I probably have too much time on my hands. I should probably spend a bit more of it writing, instead of reviewing, but I plan to rectify that situation as well. Otherwise, I’ve checked the gauges, and all systems are a go.

Once again, I’d like to thank all the people who are smarter than I am who have already written a review. That’d be Karen and Kemper and Amanda and Trudi. But as usual we may have a difference of opinion or two, and those errors are more than likely of my own making, so I do have that going for me.

What made me weigh in on THE SHINING GIRLS more than anything was the dichotomy of ratings that spanned my friends’ lists. From over-enthusiastic high ratings to ones that lumbered near the nether regions, this novel brings out the little demon in all of us, some more prominent than others, just as the supernatural house did for Harper Curtis.

“Why did you kill, Harper?” You might ask.
“Because the house told me to.” He’d probably reply with a stint in his eye.

And that was when I wanted to haul off and smack the bastard. Sure, he may have had his reasons—women filled with hope and promise and a strong, particular shine—but those reasons were never completely fleshed out for this reader. So he ended up being more of a machine as the body count ratcheted up, and the violence took a turn for the worse. Which wouldn’t have been all that bad, except his motivations continued to remain less than clear throughout the entire tale. I can say yes to violence just as fast as a football player, but I needed character development and building to give this story a more rounded out finish and a bit of polish. Instead, I ended up more than a bit disconnected, and that out of body experience continued to the end of this blood bath, with women slaughtered like lemmings.

Kirby Mazrachi, the one that got away, had motivation and conviction and a strong sense of purpose, but even she seemed a bit one-dimensional. She held hard and fast to her principles, even as she was being disemboweled on a sandy beach. But she let this one particular focus consume her entire existence, and it nearly swallowed her whole.

And the time-traveling premise while interesting made me want to head on back to my apartment and end up in 1969 with my hair out of line. Like the rest of this novel, it seemed a bit too convenient and forced.

While I can understand  Lauren Beukes‘s reasons behind writing this genre-bending tale the way that she did, it doesn’t mean I have to agree with the final result. Had this novel not hit so close to her home, the execution and gaps might have dried up faster than the Sahara, and she might have ended up with a stronger book in the end.

Bonafide Killing Machine

18923500The Lincoln Myth by Steve Berry
My Rating: 3/5 Stars

If religion ain’t how you like to swing from the tree branches, then there’s much you won’t like about THE LINCOLN MYTH. If you’re a southern who still refers to the Civil War as The War of Northern Aggression, you may find yourself nodding along at times, and still wishing you had shown those northern bastards a thing or two. The idea of a continuing, perpetual union was fought on the battlefield leading to what has continued to this day. Unless, of course, you’re in Texas, which ends up being its own entity entirely. But that’s a story for another day.

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints aka Mormons filled more than a few pages of this story, and I couldn’t help but have flashbacks (possibly visions or nightmares) to my Fifty Shades days. The body and soul may have departed, but the stench remains. I guess you could say Mormons aren’t exactly at the top of my Christmas list, so what follows might be slightly tainted by my own beliefs and opinions. Not visions. So if you’re still reading at this point, remember Jesus hasn’t told you to.

Cotton Malone may not sound like much of a man, but don’t let the name fool you, he’s a bonafide killing machine. He’ll rock your world six ways from Sunday, and he won’t even think twice about it, and that swift kick to the nuts you feel all the way in your toes, will drop you faster than a sack of potatoes. He can also be a bit slow to love, but that’s just because he’s seen a side of the world most of us only read about in newspapers and magazines.

I don’t know why, but the name Cassiopeia Vitt rubbed me the wrong way. Maybe it was just the name, but I wasn’t particularly endeared to her character either. She seemed a tad too manipulative for my tastes. She reminded me of a black widow ready to strike me dead. Had I been fortunate enough to live, I might have wished I hadn’t.

The story felt a bit long and drawn out, even if the plot did move at a somewhat expeditious pace. Even though I’d check off the religion category on the latest Excel spreadsheet iteration, the religious angle was a bit much for me at times. Other than Cotton Malone, the rest of the cast of characters lacked a bit of dimension to truly make them whole. While I prefer not to jump to conclusions without all the available facts, it did feel like Steve Berry had decided to coast a bit through this one, instead of shifting his car out of neutral.

If you’re new to the Steve Berry arena, you may be better served by starting a bit earlier in this series. But if you’re already a fan, and you don’t mind the appearance or reference of a few prophets, you may find yourself right at home between the pages.

I received this book for free through NetGalley.

See-Monkeys And Sparkle Pants

17345947 by
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.

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.

A Truly Rare Gift

17999688 by
My Rating: 2/5 Stars

What I’ve learned is having faith is a truly rare gift, and that even if I’m filled with that much faith, or confidence, that I still have my doubts, those moments where it feels like it will all go to hell, but it won’t really matter because no one is paying attention anyway, and I can make whatever mistakes I need to make, and that ends up being another great gift: the opportunity to fail miserably without the whole world watching. Just when it seems like I’m at my lowest point, and there’s no way I can move up from the bottom of the glass, I realize that people really do care, that they are paying attention, and maybe I can’t measure it, or quantify it, or even extrapolate it and place it on a graph, but it’s there just the same. And while encouragement from others is a great and wonderful and beautiful thing, the best strength comes from within.

What I took away more than anything else from UNDER THE WIDE AND STARRY SKY is a sense of faith (not the religious kind): faith to stay in a relationship, faith to experiment with your writing, faith to scrap an entire story and burn it in the fiery embers of wood and ash, faith to realize that life will come to an end and there’s nothing we can do to stop it, faith to travel and live around the globe, faith to get married, and faith to stay married through the trials and tribulations of daily living.

Robert Louis Stevenson and Fanny Van de Grift Osbourne Stevenson may not have had what might be considered a normal relationship, but then normal is defined as it relates to you, and the creative process is about as far from normal as you can be. Having two writers in the same household practically puts you on another planet altogether, so they did have that going for them, even as Robert’s health faded.

Despite all this mojo working in its favor, I never really felt myself become one with this novel. The dialogue never really flowed like a river; the descriptive passages never really allowed me to become fully immersed in the tale; the characters resembled more ethereal creatures hovering in the distance; and the ending left me a bit unfulfilled.

I received this book for free through NetGalley.

Fondling The Merchandise

17165966Palace Of Spies by Sarah Zettel
My Rating: 3/5 Stars

Margaret “Peggy” Fitzroy led a reasonably charmed life until she was kicked out on her keister and forced to delve in the palace of intrigue, suspicion, and ne’er-do-wells, many of whom have buckets of money, or like to pretend that the dowry extends forever in one direction, even if it dried up about fifty years ago. Sebastian Sandford, relegated to a minor role, showed his hands and his petulant attitude and his preponderance for fondling the merchandise before the appointed hour, with nary a care in the world. And Uncle Pierpont showed fangs and horns and bastard tendencies with relative ease, tossing out his niece faster than a banana peel and slamming the door hard enough to rock the foundation. But had he shown more normal tendencies and familial congeniality, PALACE OF SPIES never would have reached the atmosphere, so we can thank him for his complete and utter ridiculousness.

Peggy had a slight aftertaste, not growing on me until a bit later in the tale, but when she did, I appreciated her and her firecracker ways. She had spunk and charm and held on to certain folks a bit too long and offered up some youthful naiveté in this historical tale. While some mysterious elements lingered, and a dead body or two appeared on scene, I’d say this was more historical with a bit of romance and some rather cryptic moments. The plot had a few dangling points and outliers that wrapped up a bit too nicely and maybe a bit too forcefully, and while research was conducted and historical accuracies appeared to be inflicted upon the story, this wasn’t a heavy read by any means. And it was easily consumable, like popcorn or Pez or candy corn.

What really popped my balloon faster than a safety pin, though, was the murderer spouting off for no other reason than pure ego. Really? While it was a bit briefer this go round than the previous iteration, it still left me with a dry mouth and a slight headache. Can we move past the egomaniacs and psychotic miscreants and move toward more common ground? I promise we’ll all be happier, and we don’t even have to hold hands.

I received this book for free through NetGalley.