& Fridays: So You Like Big Books?

Witty tote from Cafe Press

Witty tote from Cafe Press

Have you seen this tote?

I bet you’ve at least seen one like it. It’s all over Pinterest, Facebook ads, any other time wasting website of your choice….

It’s witty, it’s convenient, it’s fun, but is it true?

What’s your page number preference when it comes to books? Sitting pretty at 300-350? Short and sweet, around 200? Or full on tomes, thousands of pages and many hours of reading, a marathon in itself?

Is bigger better? I can attest that’s not the case with Crime and Punishment. I didn’t hate  a lot of books I was required to read in school, but when my AP class in high school brought around that one…oof. It was an ordeal for me. I just looked it up: Crime and Punishment is around 550-670 pages, depending on the edition. Why did I think it was thousands of pages long? My mind must have extended it because it really felt that arduous. Just…really slogging through.

Now, I told you at the beginning of this blog that I was a bad reader of the classics. If I was not required to read it for school, I probably haven’t read it. I’m a terrible English Literature major.

Brace yourselves…I have never read Les Miserables. I do own a paperback copy of “the brick” (as some fans of the classics have told me it’s called), and buying it is a pretty cool story. I was hanging out with friends and we went to a bookstore. I picked up Les Miserables because I was on one of those “I should read more classics” kicks. I wasn’t sure if I should start with this classic though, but as I opened the thick mass market paperback (with tiny print!), a photograph slipped out. A photographer cleverly slipped his/her photograph into this copy of Les Miserables as a marketing tool. The picture was of a weathered backyard fence, gray with age, with the words “I MISS U” powerwashed into the boards. On the back, the photographer had written “This is for you! Keep it!” and his/her website. I so loved the idea of the hidden object, of something discovered, that I bought the book.

…But it’s still on my to-read shelf. Guilty!

So…thoughts on big books? What “big” books have you loved? Loathed? Which ones are still weighing down your shelves? Have your favorite books been lengthy tomes? Or slim, portable paperbacks?


& Review: The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins

The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins. Fiction. Publisher: Riverhead Hardcover.

The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins. Fiction. Publisher: Riverhead Hardcover.

The Book Itself: A blurred landscape and doubled letters make it seem like you’re viewing the title from a fast moving train. Simplistic and very demonstrative of the plot, but not necessarily eye-catching.

My Review: Rachel takes the same commuter train every morning. Every day she rattles down the track, flashes past a stretch of cozy suburban homes, and stops at the signal that allows her to daily watch the same couple breakfasting on their deck. She’s even started to feel like she knows them. “Jess and Jason,” she calls them. Their life—as she sees it—is perfect. Not unlike the life she recently lost.

And then she sees something shocking. It’s only a minute until the train moves on, but it’s enough. Now everything’s changed. Unable to keep it to herself, Rachel offers what she knows to the police, and becomes inextricably entwined in what happens next, as well as in the lives of everyone involved. Has she done more harm than good?

A compulsively readable, emotionally immersive, Hitchcockian thriller that draws comparisons to Gone Girl, The Silent Wife, or Before I Go to Sleep, this is an electrifying debut embraced by readers across markets and categories.

This just hit the bestseller list at my store. I’ve sold about five copies a day at the register, and I’ve read the enthusiastic reviews in magazines like People and Entertainment Weekly (a sure indication that dozens of people will be clamoring for it the next week). So I took advantage of my store’s hardcover borrowing program and read it to see what the fuss was about.

In a way, I understand why it’s selling so wildly. But I think it’s due more to the reviews in entertainment magazines, rather than the writing and story itself. Unfortunately, I’ve read better mysteries, which is saying something, because I don’t read a lot in the mystery genre.

First of all: the character problem. Rachel is made to seem completely pathetic. She’s an alcoholic, a peeping tom, and an overall mess.  And she doesn’t really move past any of that. She doesn’t have a lot of agency or movement. Despite being the main character of this book, she only does a handful of things:
1.) Rides the train from her apartment to London. She sometimes stops in Whitney, where the couple she spies on lives. Also, she (COINCIDENCE) used to live there.
2.) Worries about drinking or staying sober.
3.) Worries about “Jess” and “Jason.”
4.) Worries about her ex-husband, who still lives in their old house with his mistress, now wife.

The falling action is too quick to warrant any real character growth. You still get the impression that Rachel will have a hard time finding employment and staying sober. Plus, she has a whole new set of issues to contend with after the dramatic finale (which I am of course, not going to outline for you here).

I found her to be whiny and unlikable. Which I do feel bad about, because I know there are people who are Rachel: addicts, alcoholics, lonely, broken people. So I feel bad about not liking a book narrated from that perspective. There would be no story without her: she’s nosy and notices things about “Jess” before events spiral out of control. This helps other people’s investigations later in the novel. But my final diagnosis on our Rachel here is: realistic, but unlikable.

The plot is passable. It ratchets up at the end, as the end of mysteries tend to do. I did race through the last 70 pages or so to figure out whodunnit and why. But like I said, I’m spoiled on plot because of Tana French (my review of her latest awesome mystery here). This is shelved in the fiction section (and not the mystery section) for a reason I suppose. But the mystery aspect is so central, it feels as if more time and detail should have been put into it.

It’s “mystery-lite” as it were. I think it had great commercial appeal, and articles in People and Entertainment Weekly sold most of the copies. Won’t be the best thing I’ll read all year.

My Grade: C

& Fridays: Let’s Listen to Some Books

So…do you listen to books in the car? On your commute, whether it’s 5 minutes or 45? Do you stock up for a road trip? Do you plug in at the gym, sweating to the sounds of Lord of the Rings instead of Katy Perry?

One of my first experiences with audiobooks were the Harry Potter books. Hardly surprising, but it was particularly memorable because it was the first time the rest of my family got to experience the books. I read them at a breakneck pace. I bought the last book and read it on a family trip to the beach (every time I gasped, they’d sigh and go “who died this time?”). When it came time to pick something we could all endure listening to as a family on that first road trip, I begged for Harry Potter. So we bought the first book on our way out of town. And when that one ended, we stopped in another town to buy the second one.

It was in no small part because of Jim Dale, the superb narrator of the Potter audiobooks. His accent, his character voices (even the female ones – and one of my pet peeves is narrators who can’t convincingly or pleasantly portray the opposite sex character. High-pitched and nasally does not equal female characters), the rhythm of the book being read…it kept us all spellbound, awake during our road trips.

Coincidentally, Jim Dale also narrated on of my favorite TV shows: Pushing Daisies, which was cancelled too soon. The first time I heard Jim Dale’s voice, I kept expecting him to say something like “And then Hermione…”

There have been audiobooks I’ve had to stop in the middle of the second CD or tape — the narrator wasn’t convincing, or their voice just grated. And there are others, like Potter, that deepen the book for you, giving you another layer from which to appreciate the story.

So whose voice has brought your favorite stories to life? What books did you have to hit stop? I recently downloaded an audiobook app on my tablet, and am looking for awesome suggestions!

& Review: Single, Carefree, Mellow by Katherine Heiny

Single, Carefree, Mellow by Katherine Heiny. Fiction. Publisher: Knopf

Single, Carefree, Mellow by Katherine Heiny. Fiction. Publisher: Knopf

The Book Itself: This is really, really cool. It looks like a photograph, right? It’s actually an incredibly detailed painting. One that I’d like to hang in my own house! Look how good that is!!

My Review: Single, Carefree, Mellow is that rare and wonderful thing: a debut that is superbly accomplished, endlessly entertaining, and laugh-out-loud funny.

Maya is in love with both her boyfriend and her boss. Sadie’s lover calls her as he drives to meet his wife at marriage counseling. Gwen pines for her roommate, a man who will hold her hand but then tells her that her palm is sweaty. And Sasha agrees to have a drink with her married lover’s wife and then immediately regrets it. These are the women of Single, Carefree, Mellow, and in these eleven sublime stories they are grappling with unwelcome houseguests, disastrous birthday parties, needy but loyal friends, and all manner of love, secrets, and betrayal.

In “Cranberry Relish” Josie’s ex—a man she met on Facebook—has a new girlfriend he found on Twitter. In “Blue Heron Bridge” Nina is more worried that the Presbyterian minister living in her garage will hear her kids swearing than about his finding out that she’s sleeping with her running partner. And in “The Rhett Butlers” a teenager loses her virginity to her history teacher and then outgrows him.

In snappy, glittering prose that is both utterly hilarious and achingly poignant, Katherine Heiny chronicles the ways in which we are unfaithful to each other, both willfully and unwittingly. Maya, who appears in the title story and again in various states of love, forms the spine of this linked collection, and shows us through her moments of pleasure, loss, deceit, and kindness just how fickle the human heart can be.

I read this in just two days, and found the stories to be well-written, quick reads. A central story problem really affected my reading of it, and overall I have read better story collections.

Now, allow me to get a little rant-y for a second. Almost every story in here involves a woman having an affair. Wife cheats on husband, girlfriend cheats on fiance, underaged girl sleeps with her middle-aged teacher, woman thinks about cheating on her partner, etc. I think only one story had zero traces of affair/adultery (which just happened to be one of my favorites. The book depicts motherhood well, and “That Dance You Do” is particularly good).

Now, my problem is not writing about adultery itself. I am aware that, unfortunately, it happens. Quite often. That many marriages end in divorce. That people get wrapped up in this person outside of their commitment and make mistakes and blah blah blah.

BUT. This was pitched as a short story collection that celebrates women. The description of this books on websites is filled with quips and quotes of reviewers and celebrities claiming it “‘gives women’s interior lives the gravity they so richly deserve'” (Lena Dunham), and “‘These young women are sympathetic and slyly seductive…beguilingly human, and readers will yield to their charms.'” (Kirkus (starred)). And I found that it did none of that.

My main problem stems from this: Women have so many more interesting things to say, and interesting things to do, than to have affairs. Returning to the same plot device — an affair — again and again not only becomes terribly repetitive, it becomes borderline offensive (at least to this reader). Heiny could have depicted any number of other “sins,” weaknesses, moments of clarity for the women in her stories. And yet it’s sleeping around that she chooses to highlight again and again. It’s a bad story choice that irked me right up until the last story, when the first sentence mentioned a lover and a spouse, and I actually said aloud “Oh, come on!!

I could go on, but in order to spare you from my frustrated, offended rantings, I will move on.

Heiny includes three stories with the same characters, which I actually kind of liked amidst a collection of short stories of unrelated protagonists. I didn’t find Maya or her boyfriend very likable. Or compelling. But the device of having three short stories set in the same world, spaced evenly apart in the collection was a good one.

“Blue Heron Bridge” was about cheating, but I thought it did it in almost a satire, tongue in cheek kind of way. I liked the quirky characters in this one (one of them is named Bunny Pringle. Seriously), and if it had been only one of a couple that had to do with adultery, it would have made a much stronger impression.

“That Dance You Do” was excellent. Depicting a suburban-dwelling mother tasked with throwing a young child’s birthday party, and commenting on the mistakes and heartaches along the way was very well done. I am not a mother, but I did think that the interior thoughts of this fictional mother were right on track with the mothers I do know. I related to her strongly, despite being nowhere near living in her shoes.

Despite the two strong stories above, no one in this collection stood out. It felt like they all spoke with the same voice. It could have been the same character narrating this whole collection. They have the same attitudes towards their children (unfailing love), their friends (flawed by irreplaceable), and their affairs (not a single one of them seems to feel badly about sleeping with someone else. The apathy was something else I detested). I’m not sure I’ll recall any story in particular when remembering this book (probably because they all do the same thing, commit the same wrongs). Disappointing and frustrating, really.

My Grade: C-

& Fridays: With Love, From Books

A selection of funny book-related Valentine's on Buzzfeed.

A selection of funny book-related Valentine’s on Buzzfeed.

Happy Valentine’s Day, my friends!

I’ve always loved Valentine’s Day. Yes, even when single, even when in a relationship, even when I was neither one and trying to figure out how the hell guys think. Even if it is a holiday created purely by greeting card companies, or fabricated out of nothing, a holiday to celebrate the most positive emotion of all is a good thing to have.

So have a great day. Go get some chocolate if you might not receive any from someone else this year. Enjoy that dinner date with your special someone. Go buy a new book to spend the night with 😉

Is there a book that reminds you of Valentine’s Day? A poem? (I’ve always loved Pablo Neruda’s sonnets) And let me know how your Valentine’s Day was! Have a good one!


& Review: Tiny Beautiful Things by Cheryl Strayed

Tiny Beautiful Things: Advice on love and life from Dear Sugar by Cheryl Strayed. Non-Fiction. Publisher: Vintage

Tiny Beautiful Things: Advice on love and life from Dear Sugar by Cheryl Strayed.
Non-Fiction. Publisher: Vintage

“Forgiveness doesn’t just sit there like a pretty boy in a bar. Forgiveness is the old fat guy you have to haul up the hill.”

The Book Itself: There’s not much of a cover here. It’s a pretty tangerine orange color, and the title. Simple, excessively plain, no-nonsense. Kind of like the way we’d like advice to be 😉

My Review: Life can be hard: your lover cheats on you; you lose a family member; you can’t pay the bills—and it can be great: you’ve had the hottest sex of your life; you get that plum job; you muster the courage to write your novel. Sugar—the once-anonymous online columnist at The Rumpus, now revealed as Cheryl Strayed, author of the bestselling memoir Wild—is the person thousands turn to for advice.
Tiny Beautiful Things brings the best of Dear Sugar in one place and includes never-before-published columns and a new introduction by Steve Almond.  Rich with humor, insight, compassion—and absolute honesty—this book is a balm for everything life throws our way.

The bookstore I work at has sold over 300 copies of Wild in 2014 alone. And the bulk of that number was in the last month, when the movie came out. It seemed like every 30-something woman was buying it as a gift for a friend or thought the movie was beautiful and wanted to check out the book for herself. Now, I haven’t been able to get into Wild, honestly. I’m 100 pages in and it’s not grabbing me. I might actually see the movie version before I complete the book (a travesty, I know).

But I picked up Tiny, Beautiful Things on a whim, and I thought it, in a word: lovely.

That is not to say that I agreed with all the advice given. I didn’t. There were actually a couple responses that Sugar/Strayed wrote that I downright disagreed with, and thought, “Wow, that’s not sane/realistic/right at all!” But overall, Strayed’s kindness and support of these total strangers writing her with some serious stuff is touching, and the whole thing is incredibly human.

The pulled quotes on the inside cover of the paperback copy are awesome. I pulled the above tidbit off of that ^^ But I liked the titles best. The ones that really reached out to me and touched me were “Write Like A Motherfucker,” (and no, not just for the fun profanity), and “Your Invisible Inner Terrible Someone.”

The former is, perhaps obviously, about writing, and what it means to have succeeded, and how feelings of being a “failed” writer (not having a bestselling novel by the time you’re thirty, when you always thought that you would) can seriously mess with your personal mojo. This one is a good reminder about how humility can really serve a person well, in any professional and passionate sense. Thought you were going to be a bestselling author at thirty? Well then you’d best be writing like your fingers were on fire! Strayed likes to coddle her readers in her pet names: “hon,” “my dear,” “sweetpea,” even “glowbug,” in this one.  She does so even while dishing out sometimes brutal world truths. It’s both a little awesome and a little cheeky. Of course, the best line in this one is the last: “So write, Elissa…Not like a girl. Not like a boy. Write like a motherfucker.”

“Your Invisible Inner Terrible Someone” hit home very personally on several levels. The completely irrational fear of the future, despite everything being absolutely rosy in your present. And this one epitomizes what I loved most about reading this book essentially about a woman suggesting how people handle their baggage: Strayed comes across as truly warm, giving, and…for lack of a better term, motherly. She holds your hand and right off the bat says, “Everything is going to be okay, no matter what, I promise, and now here’s what I think is really going on. Here’s what I think you might do about it.” It’s difficult to describe how loving her responses come across. It’s just nice to hear such a soothing voice sometimes.

I think I might just come back to these pieces when I need a little pick me up. It’s nice to know or even just hear from someone who will always have your back. Even if that person is doing it in print, and isn’t even talking directly to you.

My Grade: B

FFT Fridays: The Weirdest Books I’ve Seen Recently

I’m spending a lot more time on the main floor of the bookstore I work at. Which means that I get to see the new books when they come in, and I get to fit them into their respective sections. The same goes for ringing up customers. I so often see a book I haven’t explored yet and go “Wow, this looks interesting!”

In other words…I spend most of my paycheck on books. It’s a real problem.

On occasion, I see some weird stuff. Because there are some weird books out there. Here are a couple I’ve seen recently.

Mort[e] by Robert Repino

Mort[e] by Robert Repino

Mort[e] by Robert Repino.
The “war with no name” has begun, with human extinction as its goal. The instigator of this war is the Colony, a race of intelligent ants who, for thousands of years, have been silently building an army that would forever eradicate the destructive, oppressive humans. Under the Colony’s watchful eye, this utopia will be free of the humans’ penchant for violence, exploitation and religious superstition. The final step in the Colony’s war effort is transforming the surface animals into high-functioning two-legged beings who rise up to kill their masters.
Former housecat turned war hero, Mort(e) is famous for taking on the most dangerous missions and fighting the dreaded human bio-weapon EMSAH. But the true motivation behind his recklessness is his ongoing search for a pre-transformation friend—a dog named Sheba. When he receives a mysterious message from the dwindling human resistance claiming Sheba is alive, he begins a journey that will take him from the remaining human strongholds to the heart of the Colony, where he will discover the source of EMSAH and the ultimate fate of all of earth’s creatures.

Yep…..a militarized cat…fighting an army of super intelligent ants…

This is a real book. It makes me so curious. Like, how did the author come up with this? Why a cat? Why ants? Just…what? Why? 

Although, if you think about it…it’s a little like what Animal Farm did. Anthropomorphized animals reenacting real political events and ideas. And we all had to read that in high school right? It wasn’t weird because it was required. All for getting a book about cats rising up to fight super intelligent ants into school required reading lists, say aye!

Holy Cow by David Duchovny

Holy Cow by David Duchovny

Holy Cow: A Modern Day Dairy Tale by David Duchovny
Elsie Bovary is a cow, and a pretty happy one at that—her long, lazy days are spent eating, napping, and chatting with her best friend, Mallory. One night, Elsie and Mallory sneak out of their pasture; but while Mallory is interested in flirting with the neighboring bulls, Elsie finds herself drawn to the farmhouse. Through the window, she sees the farmer’s family gathered around a bright Box God—and what the Box God reveals about something called an “industrial meat farm” shakes Elsie’s understanding of her world to its core.
There’s only one solution: escape to a better, safer world. And so a motley crew is formed: Elsie; Jerry—excuse me, Shalom—a cranky, Torah-reading pig who’s recently converted to Judaism; and Tom, a suave (in his own mind, at least) turkey who can’t fly, but who can work an iPhone with his beak. Toting stolen passports and slapdash human disguises, they head for the airport.
Elsie is our wise-cracking, pop-culture-reference-dropping, slyly witty narrator; Tom—who does eventually learn to fly (sort of)—dispenses psychiatric advice in a fake German accent; and Shalom, rejected by his adopted people in Jerusalem, ends up unexpectedly uniting Israelis and Palestinians. David Duchovny’s charismatic creatures point the way toward a mutual understanding and acceptance that the world desperately needs.

Yep…that David Duchovny. X-Files David Duchovny. Mulder David Duchovny. Mulder went and wrote his own crazy X-Files episode. With a cow as the protagonist. And also a Jewish pig and an iPhone-toting turkey.

Another modern day Animal Farm? Or is Duchovny just plain having fun with some animals he saw grazing in a field one day?


Now, I don’t mean “weird,” in a bad way. I think it’s awesome that these stories exist! It’s proof of the vast capacity of human imagination. Of the infinite possibilities in fiction. When I read aloud the descriptions of these books to coworkers as I put them away, we were delighted in their absurdity.

What about you? What’s the weirdest thing you’ve heard of, even read? What do you think about the absurd? The ridiculous?

& Review: Golden Son by Pierce Brown


Golden Son by Pierce Brown. Sci-Fi/Fantasy. Publisher: Del Ray

“He always thinks because I’m reading, I’m not doing anything. There is no greater plague to an introvert than the extroverted.”

The Book Itself: The Red Rising trilogy’s covers are reminding me a tad of some other trilogies…namely, Hunger Games. Simplistic, the title in big font, an icon floating in the background. Or am I crazy? Seeing things?

My Review: Golden Son continues the stunning saga of Darrow, a rebel forged by tragedy, battling to lead his oppressed people to freedom from the overlords of a brutal elitist future built on lies. Now fully embedded among the Gold ruling class, Darrow continues his work to bring down Society from within. A life-or-death tale of vengeance with an unforgettable hero at its heart, Golden Son guarantees Pierce Brown’s continuing status as one of fiction’s most exciting new voices.

First of all, that’s a lame blurb, goodreads. Not atmospheric or descriptive of the story at all…

Woah. Oh man, you all. That wasn’t a book. That was an experience.

Please excuse me now for any future gushing, fangirling, or referencing the reading I recently went to. It comes with the territory, folks.

So, during said reading, Brown mentioned that he often hates second books in series, because they often feel like fluff or filler, a mere bridge to the third and final chapter. The finale. So to combat that, he tried to have a lot “happen” in this one. I think his exact words were “I tried to cram as much ‘happening,’ in as possible.”

And boy, did he. I’m not sure when Darrow finds a moment to actually eat or shower or, you know, sleep through the entire book. It’s go, go, go from page one.

And it’s freakin’ stressful! Characters you got to know in Red Rising? They die, they’re maimed. They’re in big, big trouble at one point or another. I have decided that if Brown kills off two particular characters (assuming that he doesn’t kill off Darrow…would kind of stop the series), I might not continue reading. I mean, of course I will, but I will be very, very upset, and it will deeply color my opinion of the story. I won’t say who these two characters are, as that would be venturing into spoiler-rich territory, but everyone’s in danger after that last scene, so…(more on that later)

ANYWAY. I considered for a moment, after my third late night reading session in a row, thinking “just one more chapter, that last one ended so tensely!” that all this ramped up action might be a bad thing. I mean, really, how could Darrow feasibly recover from any of it! Jumping from confrontation to battle to high stakes meetings where he just happens to have a plan (more on his endless planning in a bit). But overall, I don’t think it’s a terrible thing. Again, as it was in Red Rising, the world is so immersive. There are a little more politics involved in Golden Son, and it’s less game-like like it was in the last book. These are real battles, with hundreds of thousands of lives really at stake. I was taken aback when we didn’t get to see Darrow’s journey through the Academy (his next step from the Institute, where the games are played on starships with crews of “lowColors,” and the relatives of old enemies). This book picks up two whole years after Darrow conquers the Institute. And yet, even after the one space battle we see at the end of his time at the Academy, the book still manages to pack action, action, action into every chapter.

Now, Darrow runs into a little bit of character problem in this installment. He’s a bit of a Mary Sue: it seems he can do no wrong. It makes for exciting scenes, and moments where you can’t help but cheer because once again, Darrow’s bested them all. And he does have moments of emotional weakness. But for the most part, he’s almost too strong, too righteous. His belief in his cause (the world Eo imagined, and where he fights for her memory and vision) is almost too fervent, too fanatical. I hate to say it, but sometimes it seems too flimsy a thing to push Darrow past the breaking point again and again. He’s backed into a corner? He finds a solution, because he remembers the cause. It looks like he might lose, again? Nope, because his memory of Eo as she died is still too vivid.

Speaking of our dearly, departed Eo, Brown claimed in his Q&A that he “abhors love triangles” and was glad he killed off part of this love triangle in the first 30 pages of Rising. But Eo is constantly mentioned, including situations where Darrow is considering his feelings about Mustang. Eo is so often brought up, that she is still a character, a huge presence, even after death. Especially after her martyr-ed passing.

Okay, and Darrow is sneaky. He ALWAYS has a solution, and it’s never one he lets people in on. It costs him some trust from allies in the story, and by the sixth time it happens, it kind of makes me lose a little trust in him too. It makes him seem unreliable. I mean, it makes a nice catalyst for cliffhanger chapters. We’re losing! NOPE! Darrow’s hidden some forces under that bridge, cloaked in invisibility and given a secret mission on the side to turn the tide of battle. It adds intensity, but grates after a while.

And finally, that last chapter was really, really mean, Pierce Brown. I’m mad at you for it. Mostly because the final installment of this series will not be out for another year, and that means I will have to fret until then. I stayed up until 3 AM, work looming in the morning, to see the story through. It’s a nailbiter and a cliffhanger, folks. Although you’ll totally know something’s up because everyone’s too happy, too settled in the scenes leading up to it. Everything’s too nice for the world of Rising. You know it cannot end as nicely as you’d hope, but…one can dream.

Excellent book. One of the best second installments I’ve ever read of a series.

My Grade: A