25 Days Of Enjoyment

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My Rating: 5/5 Stars

For the first time in my life, I actually felt like a hypochondriac. And for a day I thought I had Asperger’s syndrome and obsessive-compulsive disorder, my every movement tracked and accounted for, as my social skills dropped off a precipitous edge, only to return to normal the next day.

Edward Stanton rocked 600 HOURS OF EDWARD like Mick Jagger in his prime. His head (and mine) filled with numbers, as we tracked weather patterns, wrote letters of discontent, and consumed spaghetti and Diet Dr. Pepper with reckless abandon. And like Joe Friday all we’re after are the facts.

The voice jolted through my brain like I was driving down the interstate at 70 MPH with the windows down and R.E.M. blaring through the speakers. Possibly even “It’s the End of the World As We Know It (And I Feel Fine)” turned up to maximum volume as we cross the border. It was a beautiful feeling, and I’m sorry to say it ended way too soon.

But it was Edward’s relationship with his father that stood at the center of this novel, defining both he and his dad with every letter and lawyer intervention. Without it, this story would have been a shell of the novel it could have been, even if the words for both Edward and his father didn’t always come out right, or took on new meaning in the course of one social evening.

Since online dating has become the next big thing, there’re even a few amusing bits about what can go right (and then horribly wrong) in the course of one evening. Edward has his timetable that he follows to the letter, and now I have mine: to purchase Edward Adrift when it becomes available on my Kindle on April 9.

Took My Breath Away

17970455 by
My Rating: 4/5 Stars

I went Back To The Future in this gem of a novel. Although it saddens me to think in fifty years teenagers probably won’t get many of the pop culture references, I’ve decided to live in the moment, or the recent past, as this novel clearly does. With The Simpsons, American Idol, Letterman, Saturday Night Live, The Tonight Show, Rihanna’s “Umbrella,” Rolling Stone, Christina Aguilera, The Fugitive, “The Way You Look Tonight,” Today, Animal House, Spin Doctors, Blues Brothers, Monty Python, Good Morning Vietnam, Mannequin, and The Exorcist, they somehow all managed to “Take My Breath Away.” But this novel has more staying power than Cool Ranch Doritos, Wonder Bread topped with butter and cinnamon sugar, and gonorrhea.

Kate and Vi Shramm both have extrasensory perceptions (ESP), along with being identical twin sisters, although each chooses a much different path. While Vi chooses to embrace her powers and attack the spotlight like she wants to ensure she receives every minute of her fifteen minutes of fame, Kate shies away from her powers like she might have caught an STD from some overzealous frat boy. Both seem sexually experienced in my limited knowledge of the world, but for entirely different reasons. Vi uses her assets, in this case ample breasts, as a weapon to manipulate unsuspecting male suitors, and in some cases, just for the hell of it, tossing around hand jobs and sexual favors like ice cream cones to six year-olds, while Kate takes a more reserved approach to sex, except when gentleness, kindness, or bouts of uncontrollable passion cause her to expose her naughty bits.

Kate was the more likeable character, except I did have a few moments of displeasure with her over the course of the novel. Vi, however, was self-absorbed, hypocritical, irrational, contradictory, only acted in her own best interests, constantly passed judgment, and sometimes experienced what might be considered sociopathic tendencies. So I didn’t mind poking around in Kate’s head for some 400 odd pages or so. Had Vi been the real star of the show, though, I might have had an entirely different opinion of SISTERLAND.

I received this book for free through NetGalley.

Football Punting Bride

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My Rating: 5/5 Stars

I never considered a professional dishwasher as a viable career option. Although for a brief period of time in my misguided youth, I did practice the art of a sanitation worker, aka garbage man, even going so far as to toss random cans and paper boxes into my mom’s shopping cart when her back was turned at the grocery store. But now I may have to rethink my present career path and the financial stability of my family by turning in my shirt and tie for a white smock and a pair of rubber gloves. In order to complete the picture, though, I will need to become mentally unstable, although given the instability of artists this shouldn’t be particularly difficult. And I will need to relocate my wife to Wyoming, but I’m sure with the right amount of persuasion—and the fact that it’s only a few states away—this shouldn’t be a difficult task to accomplish either. I mean, let’s face it, there are worse places to live, like Mississippi or Montana. And I may need to seek out the affections of rowdy rodeo girls and prescription popping blondes, but again, that could easily be explained away as well.

Kelly Palamino is my new literary hero, even if he’s mentally unstable, hears voices in water, including streams and toilets and showers, and visits a psychiatrist once a week, because he shot tequila directly into his veins and nearly caused his own cardiac arrest. He may be more than half-crazy, but he’s just so damn loveable. His voice nearly caused me to laughably combust on multiple occasions. He falls in love with a football punting bride, and focuses his varied talents on the singular act of winning her over, taking male focus and drive to a whole new level.

Colette Hart may be nearly as crazy as he is, but that just makes him love her all the more. She’s eccentric and beautiful and just so gosh darn wonderful that I rooted for Kelly every step of the way, even when he had more than a few setbacks and nearly exceeded his expiration date. While he might have had more than a bit of trouble with love in the past, he certainly doesn’t have any trouble with devotion. And he has no trouble categorizing his women: Platonics and Romantic Interests.

Every red-blooded male needs a thrill-seeking best friend like Cora Ann. She’s young and vibrant and perky, and has her own hang-glider. What more could a man ask for?

Even the structure of SEX AND SUNSETS appealed to me, delving into the past and present with nearly equal abandon, and tapping into the tangential thoughts of our expert narrator. I don’t know if I’d give it a ten, but it certainly comes pretty darn close.

Montani Semper Liberi

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My Rating: 2/5 Stars

Whenever I hear about a novel set in West Virginia by a West Virginia author, my muse does the happy dance, and I want to party like it’s 1863 (for the uninitiated that would be the year of West, by God, Virginia’s statehood) where our slogan is Montani Semper Liberi (Mountaineers are always free). Even as I reminisced in Fairmont and Clarksburg, with Hagerstown and Uniontown not to be excluded and thoughts of toboggans (the hats, not the sleds) and thuses (instead of pep rallies) danced through my dreams, I found myself staring at a cage filled with dead canaries and staring at a lethal dose of carbon monoxide.

Despite QUIET DELL being set in 1931 and my tumultuous affair with historical fiction and my only connection to this particular time period being that my grand pappy approximated the size of a lightning bug, I set out to love, admire, and cherish this tale, only to slip on a patch of ice and crack my head open wider than a canyon. So what happened? The dialogue approached a haphazard nature, with a peppering of exclamation points and stilted turns of phrase, excess language banging off the page, and diatribes seeping through the exposed pores; the sexual encounters approximated an asexual nature, with additional encounters hinted at but not fully explored (probably the safer bet but somehow still managed to feel a tad awkward, like kissing cousins); the story proved both ambitious and a bit convoluted, with a hazy fog slapped across my eyes, and falling short of its promised destination.

While the writing did show hints of promise, I found myself executing a mad rush to the end, somehow convinced that I had been conned all along, and that I will wake up in Chicago in an apartment with all the lights turned on.

I received this book for free through NetGalley.

Cloning Dogs And Kissing Frogs

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My Rating: 3/5 Stars

If T.C. Boyle were anything like his characters in his stories, he’d be a hitman-for-hire, killing people on the side with a smile on his face and a twinkle in his eye. Having met the man, he doesn’t look like a serial killer, nor does he act like one, but then all serial killers start out as nice guys. But I digress. And I need to reevaluate my focus, before I’m banned from my reviewing endeavors forever and locked in chains in a basement next to a guy named Moon Shine with a toothpick shoved between two of his missing teeth till the apocalypse.

Divided into four parts and with 58 stories, T.C. BOYLE STORIES II: THE COLLECTED STORIES OF T. CORAGHESSAN BOYLE, VOLUME II: 2 clocks you over the head approximately 944 times and doesn’t let up once. The man can turn a phrase, shove you into the microwave with both hands, and then smack you over the head with a shovel. But at least the journey proved intriguing, the characters interesting, and the stories varied and multi-faceted, otherwise this would have been about as easy to swallow as a kitchen utensil.

Rather than let this review reach epic proportions, I’ll give you a crash course introduction to these gloomy tales using a series of words and phrases: mudslides and shovels and plastic surgeons and lies and the apocalypse and sagging breasts; bad dudes and liars and cheaters and bad relationships and losers and miscreants and maleficence; tragedy and loss and pain and suffering and depression and despair and thieves and fraud and kidnapping and adultery and felonies and misdemeanors; fishing and boats and seashells and Darth Vader and dickheads and assholes and sleet and popping pills; studio sessions and smoking and drinking and reefer and nicotine and slitting throats and kitchen knives; historical and present day; slugs and scorpions and cloning dogs and kissing frogs and child performers and parent extortionists and rabies and beasts and priests and lairs; Romulus and Remus; dust and rust and dig and dug and vultures and crows and nobody knows; banging beginnings and abrupt endings; fornication and penetration and hurried hellos and shortened goodbyes and crazy-ass women and asshat men; excitation and inebriation and speculation and observation and intonation; criminals and punishment and confinement and government and failed experiments; wives and husbands and log cabins and ravens and neighborhood watches and Kentucky bourbon and more plastic surgeons; guns and muzzles and black ski masks and walking hitches and thoroughfares to nowhere and incest; dragonflies and desert skies and no-sex retreats and tarantulas and Pepsodent; campfires and canoes and wieners; dog fighting and Lab victims and inhumane cages and failed first dates; breast cancer and radioactivity and radionuclides and bees and honey and X-rays; male rape and impregnate; downloading porn and Jameson bottles and California beach communities and fresh coffee and croissants and clap and chlamydia and plaintive looks; hybrid tigers and zoo weddings and piñatas and tamales and dead mothers and authors and the wrongfully accused; satires and tall tales and the absurd and first person and third.

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.

Spitting Fire And Spewing Smoke

17928016Songs Of Willow Frost by Jamie Ford
My Rating: 4/5 Stars

Worthless, spineless, gutless, emotionless, insignificant, cowardly evil bastards filled this novel to the point that my world overflowed with a god-awful stench that smelled worse than elephant dung and monkey poo and singed every last nose hair. This tale burst forth with enough villains to occupy an entire wing of the county jail and had a few folks that might need to sit in the electric chair. Spitting fire and spewing smoke, I finished SONGS OF WILLOW FROST while cursing social workers with no social skills; a stepfather and father that proves any man filled with semen can knock up a woman, but the term father is earned through hard work and dedication to the cause; an aunt with high and mighty airs that needs a firm dose of reality along with a side helping of a smack down by The Rock; a lily-livered, pussy-footed halfwit who focuses more on tradition and not disappointing his family than following his heart…and fuck me I need a drink. Or better yet just leave the bottle of Jose Cuervo Gold and a wastebasket, and I’ll see you in the morning.

If our country ever becomes overrun by Uncle Leo and Auntie Eng and Colin Kwan and Mrs. Peterson and Charlotte’s pathetic excuse for a father, I’ll defect to Australia and commune with the crocodiles and probably double my happiness quotient. But William Eng and Liu Song carried this tale with pomp and plenty of charm and charisma. These two proved beyond tragic, as the world stomped on each of them time and time again. I constantly found myself asking how much worse could it get, and this question was followed by yet another tragedy. If I could have found a way, I would have asked the bad man to leave. The disasters were so profound I found myself wondering if I might benefit from the addition of prescription medication or electroshock therapy while clenching a piece of rubber between my teeth.

But like William and Liu, I wouldn’t give up, and I wouldn’t give in, and I wouldn’t let the bad man win. Reading this story proved a study in perseverance and courage and profound dedication, because every time the nail dropped my foot exploded in a white light of pain, and I cursed a blue streak loud enough to resurrect a Chinaman from his grave. But what kept me reading as much as the wonderfully drawn characters was the beautiful prose and animated spirit that flowed out of this novel and tickled my senses. Even if I had tried to pull myself away, I wouldn’t have made it far.

Disappointment rained down on me, and the characters, with hail the size of golf balls and clouds as dark as sin. In the end, though, there’s a positive message here: Pure beauty can come from the most horrid experiences. And on that note we shall depart, as I seek out a pumice stone to rub my entire body and cleanse my tainted aura.

I received this book for free through NetGalley.

Escape From The Real World

43641Water For Elephants by Sara Gruen
My Rating: 4/5 Stars

With 48,386 reviews, including this one, most of what could have already been said about WATER FOR ELEPHANTS has probably already been said. But that’s not going to stop me from trying, because I have confidence and determination and I often find myself in lineups where I’m the one who appears out of line. And when weirdness and eccentricities are encouraged, it tends to work better than Miracle-Gro and direct sunlight and watering.

Jacob Jankowski proves more than a little odd beneath his shirt collar. He has flashbacks to his circus days where he spent all of his time shoveling shit and smashing watermelons and filing toenails (Rosie’s) and hopping on trains and off trains and carrying knives between his teeth and chasing after married women and chasing after elephants and shoving his hand in a tiger’s cage and waiting for the flag to drop and speaking Polish (most of which I didn’t understand) and training elephants and speaking more Polish. But I could relate rather easily because I spend much of my time staring at white space and filling it with Times New Roman font and pretending that people actually think I’m witty and charming and wonderful when my reviews and novels are placed in avid reader’s hands. Because if Jacob hadn’t skipped out on one life to chase after another and I couldn’t pretend I was someone else for hours at a time, the real world might close in faster than a mushroom cooked in a skillet.

But I wasn’t blissfully ignorant after this tale, though. Finding out many of the antidotes contained in this story were at least partially, or in some cases whole-heartedly, based on actual events with the names changed to protect the guilty proved a rather outstanding addition. Since, on occasion, I do like the prospect of getting smarter, especially when I can have fun while doing it. And this was a rather enjoyable tale with Uncle Al and Rosie and August and Marlena and Kinko and plenty of other secondary characters with full-fledged personalities who proved to be more than just a series of caricatures thrown in for good measure to make the main character look pretty and exciting and interesting.

Set during a rather depressing time in our nation’s history, this story wasn’t the least bit depressing, although men were tossed from the train faster than shot glasses tossed back at a bar by some guy with antelopes for arms. While that might turn folks off, I was rather pleased with the thought of bubble gum and candy corn and candied apples. If I want to feel dejected and disheartened, I can find plenty of reasons to sit in a corner with my head pushing against my ankles, thank you very much. I don’t need it from a vessel that I like to use as an escape hatch from the real world where fairies and wands and cooch tents and sexy sheer night gowns and six-dollar smiles and two-dollar whores can be had whenever the mood strikes.

If I didn’t end with more than a few words on Barbara, though, my world wouldn’t be complete. She commanded center stage at the cooch tent with her foot long breasts and feminine wiles and brown nipples the size of paper plates and painted expressions, as she danced and swung her hips like a supermodel down a runway. Her happy sacks increased in width at the end and her smudged lipstick and smokin’ tobacco and sexy sheer nightgown where I could literally see and hear her bare breasts slapping together. All of which resulted in a totally titillating experience from which I shall never be the same.

As for this novel, it proved to be a rather entertaining escape from reality.

Preponderance Of Nephilims

17365139The Angel Stone by Juliet Dark
My Rating: 4/5 Stars

I’ll be honest with you. I haven’t read the first two books in this trilogy. I approached this particular conundrum as a scientific experiment to see if I could follow along with enough of the story that I didn’t feel as though I had wandered around in the woods late at night without my shoes or socks. Since my wife reads all of my reviews before I post them, she’s probably shaking her head at this point, and I’m sure I’ll hear about it later. But I was able to follow along, and I did enjoy myself, although there was a bit of a learning curve. I did miss a few inside jokes, and I did scratch my head at times when I probably should have laughed. But I laugh more than enough as it is anyway. The challenge suited me, just as the unconventional often does as well.

THE ANGEL STONE, however, took unconventionality to new heights and then proceeded to aim for the direction of Jupiter while bypassing the moon entirely. Had I read THE DEMON WITCH and THE WATER LOVER, I still would have been overwhelmed by the preponderance of nephilims and fairies and witches and the angel stone and tartan cloaks and gnomes and owls and brownies (not the edible kind) and winged monsters and pirates and trows and gargoyles and folklore and romance and Tam Lin and Luckenbooth brooches and vampires and Fairy Queens and Kings and All Hallow’s Eve and enchanted woods and the incubus.

But once my body purged those half a dozen brain cells, I actually started to enjoy my life minus that IQ point that I lost. This novel blended fantasy and historical fiction and romance with ease, and the cast of characters proved both interesting and entertaining. After all, this is a college campus, and as such, fair women are taken advantage of through spells and enchantments and imbued beverages, and men are often prone to act like shitheads, especially when alcoholic cocktails and exorbitant amounts of testosterone are involved.

But the real heart of this tale is Cailleach (half-witch/half-fey) who proves strong and admirable and quite desirable and who jumps back in time to restore the balance to fair Fairwick, NY. And in the process, she discovers a manifestation of the love that got away.

I received this book for free through NetGalley.

High School Voice

8606706The Perks Of Being A Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky
My Rating: 5/5 Stars

If my high school voice ever appeared in novel form, there’s a good chance it’d resemble Charlie. He’s naïve and precocious and childish and odd and enlightening and invisible and seen and I could have tried pot brownies and would have had no idea I was stoned unless someone told me and I would have wanted a milkshake and I can’t dance but I can do the sway and I could have witnessed a rape and had no idea what had happened because I was in middle school a kid. I could have confided to my teacher about a tragic event that happened at home and I avoided beer like it was the second coming of Satan and I could have written letters to an anonymous pen pal and I did chores to earn my allowance and I wrote poems in high school college and I went out with a girl who had what could be described as low self-esteem and I was totally infatuated with her for a period of time and I like unconventionally beautiful women. I love music and books and I overanalyze and outthink myself on a fairly regular basis and speculate and contemplate and can probably be considered a deep thinker in a world that doesn’t seem to plan or speculate or think too deeply and I can keep secrets and my mom tells me she loves my stories and I type on a typewriter computer and I hate goodbyes and I had a teacher that thought I was special, albeit it was the third grade and sometimes I feel so much that my body has to physically shut itself down otherwise I’d start frying brain cells. I think too fast.

But I didn’t smoke copious amounts of weed and cigarettes or eat pot brownies or trip on LSD and *BEGIN SPOILER* I wasn’t sexually molested and I didn’t spend time with a psychiatrist or spend two months in a hospital because I had a mental breakdown *END SPOILER*.

But I did love THE PERKS OF BEING A WALLFLOWER with my whole being and I don’t feel as though it will cause me any mental breaks to feel this much and to be totally caught up in Charlie’s world and to feel fortunate for Charlie because he has friends like Patrick and Sam and Mary Elizabeth and that he was able to mail letters to his anonymous friend to help him through his first year of high school and that he was able to go to parties where he kissed girls and spent time at the Big Boy and *BEGIN SPOILER* he was able to stand on the back of the pickup truck with Patrick blaring the music as he went through the tunnel with the city and all of its lights peeking out on the other side *END SPOILER*.