Even Steven

20543124 by
My Rating: 3/5 Stars

I’d have to say I’m not really used to A LIFE IN MEN, unless we’re sitting around discussing football, or Breaking Bad, or Kansas being whacked from the NCAA Tournament. But you’ve gotta start somewhere, and I rather enjoy usurping the occasional insight about the fairer, more complicated sex. The ones who really do make life worth living, even if I’m occasionally left in the dark, sleeping on the sofa, or forced to change my wardrobe for the second time that day.

You see, men like to think we’re in charge, but smart men know the real story. We’re only in charge if our wives grant us knighthood, but again, the smart ones don’t complain too much, because we know the benefits are normally pretty good. This novel certainly had its share of benefits, but it felt more like a mixed bag for me. On the one hand, the language nearly caused me to drift off, floating freely in the otherwise complicated universe, as my hand darted around my face, the characters felt lifelike and real and complicated and motivated. On the other hand, I managed to lose myself a time or two over the course of this tale, I had trouble completing the race, and I nearly stumbled my way toward the finish line.

But I wanted to like it. The realness of it all left me more than a little depressed, as I slammed my fist against my chest, and contemplated the difficulties of being a woman. Which tended to scare the hell out of me just a bit, if we’re being perfectly honest here. Because with women, even friendships are extremely complicated, and let’s face it, my brain just doesn’t work that way. I like simplicity, and in fact, there are times I even crave it like crack or chocolate or copulation.

What made this story a bit difficult for me to follow was the timeline at times. Maybe I’m just a simple man, but I tend to appreciate a more linear flow to my tale. If you don’t need it, or want it, you’ll probably be a bit happier with this story than I was. And that’s okay. We don’t have to agree on everything, but it’d be nice if we could agree once in a while. As for the rating, we’ll call it Even Steven, and we’ll both move on with our lives.

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.

Your Nora Ephron Self

18189066 by
My Rating: 4/5 Stars

If I were a woman, I could have quite a bit of fun reading chick lit and women’s fiction and romance and erotica and then passing along (hopefully) entertaining reviews to the reading public at large just for the hell of it. Oh wait, I guess I already do that anyway. So…moving right along, I must say WHAT NORA KNEW offered up quite a bit of entertainment with very little substance. You know, like trying to eat bubbles that a six-year-old has just blown in your direction after her kite took a nosedive in a public park and turned into a mangled mess on the grass. Rather than preside over the funeral (since your eulogy skills probably need a bit of work), you decided to entertain your mouth in another manner.

This novel reminded me of that, except without the death part. Since deaths aren’t funny. Unless you’re the kind of gal who laughs at a funeral—thank you Barenaked Ladies. Yeah, as long as you’re not that person, then we’re good to go, and you can proceed on with this review. If you are, my apologies, but you’ll probably want to remove your black pencil skirt and gray blouse from the scene in a most expeditious manner.

Whenever I read a novel, and I can’t seem to get the voice out of my head, I know we’re off to a good start. If I then proceed to stop at various points along the way, often rather frequently at the beginning, to jot down words and phrases or character names, then I’ve probably met my match. That is a good day indeed, because the book matchmakers have smiled upon me, which, in turn, means I end up smiling quite a bit myself. This proved to be such a book.

Molly Hallberg decided four generations of the upholstery business was enough for her, and rather than plant her acorn at the bottom of the family tree, she has decided to pave her own way, preferably through EyeSpy and Hipp magazine, and preferably with her own column that includes a header and byline. She may know everything about lying her way through an interview, but that doesn’t mean she’s actually qualified to do the job. And posing nude two years in a row at a SoHo art studio to supplement her meager Starbucks barista income doesn’t mean she’s actually qualified to do anything, other than prove to the masses that she can take her clothes off in public and hold one position for over an hour at a time.

Her boss Deirdre Dolson may dress like she’s eighteen, even if she’s forty-eight, but that’s just because she wants to keep up a youthful appearance. And her boyfriend (Molly’s not Deirdre’s) may have a Words With Friends addiction, along with being a professional rubber, but that’s just because he’s good with his hands…and words.

Even the names were rather inventive, along with being rather amusing. There’s Veeva Penney and Pamela Bendinger and Swifty Lazar and Darrin Aschbacher and Hunkster 500 (Match.com profile) and Thatcher Kamin and Keith Kretchmer. There’s also Angela Leffel who may, or may not, have a massive Twinkie addiction that she’s not willing to share on her blog.

So if you’re in the mood for an entertaining read, minus the thought-provoking part, you could do a lot worse than getting in touch with your Nora Ephron self. I know I’m rather glad I did.

I received this book for free through NetGalley.

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.

Before And After

17621780 by
My Rating: 4/5 Stars

When I finished LIE STILL, I realized how absolutely ignorant I was about rape and women and the lingering effects of the horrific ordeal that no amount of washing or scrubbing or therapy or counseling or friends and familial support can ever hope to take away. And that for the rest of Emily Page’s life she will remember vivid details of the assault and Pierce Martin like he was the grim reaper sent down just for her: the empty Domino’s pizza box, the cloying odor of his shampoo, her final thought before he entered her—that he’s not going to marry her—the fingernail that raked her leg and the scar it left behind, and the sting of the alcohol, as she attempted to clean up the last remnants of him. And that when he entered her a part of her soul tore away, and that now her life is divided into two periods: before and after.

Even though Pierce is an asshole, a controlling, abusive, manipulative, done-this-sort-of-thing-before asshole, who had planned the violation for weeks and probably fantasized about it for even longer than that, Emily still thinks the rape, in this case date rape, was her fault. Her humiliation and guilt clings to her like a virus. Even though it wasn’t her fault, she feels culpable in the horrific ordeal, flashing her virginity around like it somehow made her better. This novel refers to date rape as “the last frontier of crime,” because the victims look and feel guilty, while the rapist feels pleased because he painted the whole picture himself. I had no idea rape victims were viewed this way, and it saddens me deeply to realize this is the case. I only hope our society can somehow figure out a way to right this horrible wrong.

This novel shows Texas like it was truly meant to be shown with fake mansions the size of convention centers, where fake women and fake breasts and fake tans loom larger than the Georgia sun. Where a middle-aged former beauty queen packs pistols and assault rifles in the back of her Lexus and shoots out the zero of interstate signs at 65 MPH. Where the twists and turns prove more complicated than Texas’s geographical landscape and interstate highways and where high school never seems to end. And where Caroline Warwick has more secrets and more enemies than one would like to admit.

I’d like to end with the “legitimate rape” legacy left behind by a US representative that Julia Heaberlin brings up in her Author’s Note. She takes the higher ground by not mentioning this particular bastard by name, but I believe he should be called out once again for his comment. Representative Todd Akin said, “If it’s a legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down.” That shows ignorance on so many levels, and it scares the shit out of me that he was actually running our country for six terms. Akin didn’t get reelected in 2012, and rightfully so.

I received this book for free through NetGalley.

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.

A Gay Day

17138311The Suite Life by Suzanne Corso
My Rating: 3/5 Stars

With this novel, I’m willing to hold my pencil in my right hand and my ballot in my left hand and make a noncommittal commitment and say this was an average read for me. It reminded me of hayrides and meandering joyrides. It provided insights into a world where affection proved at a premium and offered up sexless marriages and ambition and ego that overshadowed all other experiences and problems. It filled me with broken promises and unfulfilled dreams.

Suzanne Corso lets her love of Brooklyn and “The Big Apple” and Manhattan, the Statue of Liberty, congestion, population overflows, toll roads and toll bridges and bountiful high rises and dollar bills and cab rides, limos, Mercedes convertibles, and BMWs and stock options and Wall Street and Main Street shine through on the page. What would a novel that includes the NYSE be, though, without acquisitions and mergers and accounting irregularities and power and authority and reckless greed and constant excess and careless abandon and penile injections and horny dogs and $20K a day porn stars. In that regard, THE SUITE LIFE reminded me of Congress and the DC area.

But this novel proved to be a bit more than just A Gay Day. Sure, it had the syrupy air and atmosphere of women’s fiction, but I enjoyed the somewhat loose connection to a Wall Street powerbroker with a private jet and helicopter and his Long Island compound, even if Alec DeMarco did like to shoot himself full of HGH, testosterone, steroids, alternative and natural medicine, designer drugs, and popped the occasional Percocet.

Since I could practically live on food and finance and books and movies, I didn’t mind all the references to stocks and bonds, trading companies, investment firms, and real estate and restaurants and shows, clubs, strippers, hookers, and escort services and porn, pot, and pills. But keep in mind, this book does have the occasional college age floozy and loose women who strive for more.

It proved to be a relatively light read where I could park my brain at the door and forget who I was for a few hours. And that was A-OK by me.

I received this book for free through NetGalley.

Light And Airy And Breezy

16130264The First Affair by Emma McLaughlin and Nicola Kraus
My Rating: 2/5 Stars

If you haven’t met an Erica McAlister in your life, then you should consider yourself a lucky bastard. You can whistle a lovely tune, as you march down to The White House, roll around on the eagle’s wings in the Oval Office, and then high-five the Secret Service—the guys with the earpieces and dark sunglasses—before your hands are slapped in cuffs, and you spend the next several years of your life contemplating your own stupidity in a maximum security prison somewhere in the middle of Kansas. This friend Erica has enough problems to cause a psychiatrist to start pounding whiskey faster than he can fill the glasses in the middle of her agreed upon appointment time. She’s a princess, a queen, and the entire court rolled into one; she’s the main attraction; she’s been coddled and worshipped since she was in diapers; this is her universe and everyone else merely gets to play in the sandbox; and she tells you her issues just so you can tell her how great she is and maximizing her sympathy points like stock tips.

But by the end of THE FIRST AFFAIR, she’d somewhat redeemed herself. Not to the point that she and I could have coffee together, but to the point that I didn’t need to wipe her existence from my brain via a metal probe and possibly a soldiering iron.

Jamie McAlister, her younger sister, isn’t without her own issues. Being completely starved for attention, to the point that she would have adopted a pet tarantula if he would just give her a hug, she devoted her time and resources to a completely unattainable man, simply because he had given her a look and possibly melted her thong in the process. She’s a starfucker of epic proportions. The President of the United States (POTUS) may have made googly eyes at her, but she began to view her life as some sort of fairy tale, where she was Cinderella and Sleeping Beauty and Rapunzel, all rolled into one big happy family. If naiveté were a full-contact sport, she’d have the shoulder pads and uniform and helmet, and she’d be poised for the ensuing kickoff. But, instead, of rooting for her, I felt sorry for her, and the massive number of ensuing missteps that somehow completely enclosed her life. Instead of being a likeable character, she had turned into the princess.

Brooke, Betsy, James, Greg, Lena, Peter, Paul, and Rachelle all lost my sympathy at some point during the novel, or never had it at all, and I sat back and waited for the hammer to drop on their lives. When it did, I took some sort of sick pleasure in their ensuing half-existence.

None of this is to say this is a bad novel. It was light and airy and breezy like a bag of popcorn, and it filled me up about as well as cotton candy.

I received this book for free through NetGalley.