Tuesday, September 30, 2008

In The Woods

I loved this book like I haven't loved a book in a long time. I stayed up way past my bedtime because I literally could not put it down. I finished it around 11:40 last night and was left satisfied, confused, a little creeped out, but mostly really impressed.

In The Woods was recommended to me first by a family friend, Cheryl in August. I promptly forgot about it until it was mentioned again by my friend Heidi a few weeks ago. Then last week, I was leaving my friend Jessie's house when she ran back inside to grab two loaner books for me (she is a human reading machine and always loans me winners) - one of these books was In The Woods by Tana French. I was dubious at first, having just finished a creepy book about a dead kid I wasn't sure that I needed to start another one right away. But I was sucked in by the book's description -

Three children leave their small Dublin neighborhood to play in the surrounding woods. Hours later, their mothers' calls go unanswered. When the police arrive, they find only one of the children, gripping a tree trunk in terror, wearing blood-filled sneakers, and unable to recall a single detail of the previous hours.

Twenty years later, Detective Rob Ryan - the found boy, who has kept his past a secret - and his partner Cassie Maddox investigate the murder of a twelve-year-old girl in the same woods. Now, with only snippets of long-buried memories to guide him, Ryan has the chance to uncover both the mystery of the case before him, and that of his own shadowy past.

Creepy, right? Except it's so much more than just creepy! It's smart, funny, and craftily written. Plus, it's almost Halloween and a murder mystery is the perfect read for this time of year. I don't want to give too much away because I really want you to go read this book and I don't want to spoil it for you. But I will tell you that the mystery is not one of those lame ones where you know what's going to happen all along, in fact even after I finished the book, there were things I was still dying to know. There are so many plot twists and red herrings, but also, there is character development. So often, thrillers and mysteries rely too heavily on plot and you never get to know anyone in the story, but this is not so in this book!

I guess Tana has a new book out (is it out yet?) called The Likeness and it also looks creepy and fantastic. I read the first few pages because they were printed in the back of In The Woods and from what I can gather, the new book is told by Cassie Maddox - Rob Ryan's partner from In The Woods, presumably about another case. Now, this may leave you wondering - Sell out? Series? But it leaves me wondering - do I know anyone who will loan me this book?

Sunday, September 28, 2008

The Lovely Bones

I have passed this book up many times over the last 5 years or so. To be honest, one of the only reasons I read it this time around is because it was on The New Classics Challenge list. This is my third book read for the challenge. I never picked it up before because it sounded DEPRESSING.

14 year old Susie Salmon is brutally raped and murdered. She tells her story from heaven as she watches her family, friends and her killer on earth. Don't get me wrong, I can get down with a good cry, but this sounded a little too close to an all out sob fest.

I was right and wrong about this book. I loved it, but also a little bit hated it.

It felt almost entirely dependent on the concept (dead girl, narrating from heaven), and it didn't come off like the most skillfully crafted book. The writing seemed inconsistent for a 14 year old narrator, it started strong - very youthful but smart. But then there were times when it seemed like someone with much more experience, insight, and plain old vocabulary than a 14 year old girl was narrating the story. I suppose with death comes clarity and maturity, but it wasn't done consistently and for that, it bothered me.

I also didn't like heaven. It felt kind of half-assed to me. Supposedly, heaven is what you make of it - if you can envision something for yourself, it will appear. If I flash back to myself at 14, my heaven would have been pretty awesome. Instead, for Susie Salmon, heaven is high school, where she has a roommate who plays a saxophone/flute duet with their old lady neighbor while a bunch of dogs dance around? Ummm... what? If I'm honest, maybe part of the reason for my disappointment with heaven was that I badly wanted it to be awesome for Susie. I was so depressed and horrified when she told the story of her own murder that I needed to know her heaven was at least some sort of reward for her. Instead, her heaven bummed me out further.

Lastly, and I know I'm kind of ragging on Alice Sebold here, but this book gave me nightmares! For reals. For you to understand why my nightmare was Alice's fault, I must first give you a small spoiler - Susie Salmon's murderer is a serial killer that lives just down the street from her family and goes unsuspected for an entire year after the murder. He is also officially the creepiest character I've ever read about in a book (even more than Cathy in East of Eden) - end spoiler. So a few nights ago, I had the scariest dream ever that there was a killer lurking in my neighborhood and that when he came for me I couldn't yell for help and ran like I was running through a big pile of molasses. After that, I stopped reading this book before bed.

Okay, end of rag session. Complaints aside, I really did fall in love with the Salmon family. I really felt for every one of the characters, particularly her father who was my favorite but made me cry almost constantly. I was always dying to know what was happening with Ruth and Ray. I appreciated that finally, towards the end of the book, some justice was dealt and that some semblance of healing and peace came to the characters left on earth. Like it or not, the book definitely left me with some clear imagery that will not fade quickly.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

A Real Book

For my foray back into the world of real books (or as Amanda says, book books), I just started The Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold. You know, the one where the 14 year old girl is brutally murdered and she watches her family and friends from heaven? I feel like the only one in the whole world who hasn't read this book, plus it's on my list for the New Classics Challenge. Two birds. One stone. Many tears.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

The Perfect Lover

OH yeah! You read that title right, I just totally read a book called The Perfect Lover.

After finishing the Twilight series this weekend I felt a deep sense of loss knowing that I would perhaps never again read something so hopelessly terrible yet totally fulfilling. But then! I read Nicole's post at Book Escape reviewing this hilariously trashy book and remembered that there is an entire world of books meant just for this purpose! Romance novels! As if the world was trying to send me a message, I also happened upon a post at Books I Done Read that applauded the blog Rip My Bodice - a blog solely devoted to reviewing romance novels. All of these signs could only point me in one direction - the romance aisle of Half Price Books, where all naughty book are only $3.95! Plus whatever value you place on your pride. Because ladies, buying a book called The Perfect Lover (in hardcover no less) without telling the indie-hipster cashier a made up story about how I'm buying it for a friend as a joke? It takes balls. Which luckily, I have.

I'm sure you are dying to know just what exactly this book could be about, no? I will tell you. Simon Cynster is looking for a wife. Which is sooo weird, because COINCIDENTALLY, at the exact same moment that Simon decides to go wife-hunting, the beautiful Portia Ashford happens to have just decided that she's the marrying kind. Before you barf all over these terrible names, remember that it's the 1800s. Author Stephanie Laurens throws in a bit of Clue-type murder mystery towards the end, but mostly this book is about Portia and Simon learning the perfect ways to lurve each other. And lurve they do.

This book successfully shocked me out of my need to read horrible literature. I think I may have finally gotten it out of my system. At least until I start wondering about the other NINE books by Stephanie in what is called the "Cynster Series". Because DUDES, this book is apparently number 10 in a series that follows the horny Cynster family around!

Anywhoo. For now, I think I may try my hand at a legit book. The kind the Buddy-Holly-glasses-wearing-hipster at Half Priced Books would approve of. I'll let you know how it goes.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Breaking Dawn

Shame washes over me as I type this. Why after I totally hated Eclipse did I still borrow Breaking Dawn from my coworker? And why did I read this mammoth book in less than 48 hours? What is wrong with me?! Stephanie Meyer is sprinkling crack on her books. That's the only explanation.

Lindsey asked me in the comments of my Eclipse review last week if I was going to read the last book in the series and I have to say that I agree with her comments. Even though I was totally over Edward and Bella and all the spirit stories, I just felt that I needed to know how it was all going to wrap up. Was she ever going to just become a vampire? Would they really get married? Would Jacob ever just give up? And most importantly, were Edward and Bella ever going to stop teasing me with tame make out sessions and just DO IT already? And by "it" I totally mean the same thing I meant in the 3rd grade when I used the phrase. Without spoiling too much, let me just tell you that all of these questions are FINALLY answered in Breaking Dawn. And thank God, because I was getting crank-ee.

I will admit (as long as I'm in full confessional mode) that I found many of the answers to my questions above answered in a very satisfying manner. This book brought me much more satisfaction than I expected. But now I am going to spoil something (SPOILER ALERT) because I can't not do it. I just have one word to say, or rather, ask. Renesmee? RENESMEE??!! I have never in my life heard a more horrible name and this whole plot line, while completely addictive, was kind of weird and gross and instead of feeling all entranced by Renesmee, I felt totally creeped out by her. But maybe I felt kind of weird and grossed out in a Flowers in the Attic sort of way? Or like Flowers in the Attic meets Rosemary's Baby. And by this I mean that I couldn't tear my eyes away. (END OF SPOILER)

One last complaint and then I'll stop pretending that this is a legit book and that it deserves an actual critique. This book was filled with so many typos that I honestly started to wonder if they employed an editor at all before they just sent it along to the press.

Finally, I would just like to say to anyone in the Pacific Northwest that they are all officially invited to join me on November 21st to see the premier of what will simultaneously be the best and worst movie ever - Twilight. Call me.


I find it hard to describe the plot of Run, by Ann Patchett without just copying the jacket description, but I'll try. The book follows the story of the Doyle family over a period of 24 hours on a winter night in Boston. The story started a little slow for me, as we learn about Bernard Doyle's two adopted sons - Tip and Teddy. But about one chapter in, a startling car accident sort of woke me up and suddenly I couldn't put the book down. The story weaves in the characters of Sullivan, Bernard Doyle's older, biological son as well as the mysterious Tennessee Moser and her daughter Kenya. Bernard's wife died when the children were young so he's raised them primarily alone. The plot is extremely captivating and I became very invested in all the characters by the end.

I really love Ann Patchett and wish there were more authors as consistently great as she is. Does anyone know of any that they would recommend? This book is beautifully written like all her others, but doesn't have quite the melodrama quality of Bel Canto. That said, it also didn't leave me at the end wondering if she'd let someone else guest write the last chapter like I did with Bel Canto. Am I the only one who thinks that Bel Canto was one ending shy of being one of the best books ever? Anyways. If you've ever liked any of Ann Patchett's books (or if you haven't ever read her books), I definitely recommend Run. I also highly recommend one of her other books, Truth and Beauty, which I reviewed here.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Upside Down Inside Out

I've read most of Monica McInerney's other books (Faraday Girls, Family Baggage and The Alphabet Sisters). Her books are always an easy and enjoyable read, but usually with some legitimate content. Her books typically walk just one foot shy of crossing the line into chick lit. This book however, boldly crossed the line and could not be described as anything other than straight up chick lit. Quick description from the back of the book:

Ever been tempted to pretend you were someone exotic, someone adventurous … someone different?

Set in Ireland, England and Australia, this is the funny and heartwarming story of two people whose lives are about to turn upside down and inside out.

Eva is off to Australia on a break from her job in a Dublin delicatessen, hoping to forget a fizzled romance and find inspiration for a new career. Joseph is taking a holiday from his stressful London job. Each is on a search for some answers about life. Then something quite unexpected happens. They meet each other.

Upside Down Inside Out is a novel about love, adventure, honesty and discovering that the person you’ve always wanted to be might just be the person you already are.

It was my least favorite of her books so far, but at the same time, it was perfect for my vacation. I read it while lounging in hammocks and laying by the pool, between my lunch pina colada and my dinner banango daiquiri. Basically, it was just what the doctor ordered – light, easy and entertaining. That said, if you’re looking at reading one of her books, I would definitely recommend Family Baggage or The Alphabet Sisters first.


I started this book as a bonafide fan, but by around page 500 I kind of wanted to barf all over it. Why I am so bothered by the implausibility of certain parts of this book, when the entire premise is that one of the main characters is a vampire?! I don’t think I get to be annoyed by Bella thinking that a real conversation is a dream when it SO CLEARLY IS NOT A DREAM, but then fully accept that there are werewolves and vampires running rampant 100 miles from my home. But I am and I do. And also? If I had to hear one more Native American story about spirit warriors I was going to stab myself with a wooden stake, or beat myself over the head with a big cross, drown myself in holy water, or suck my own blood. Something. Anything other than keep reading.

I was in Belize when the story line was ramping up for the “big battle” and I just couldn’t bring myself to care. I almost used the book to kill a giant scorpion that made its way into our bedroom. Instead, Jeff trapped it under a huge margarita glass and carried it outside while I cowered on the bed.

Unwilling to completely abandon the book, I decided to skip the next 100 pages or so and just read the last chapter. Imagine my surprise when it appeared that NOTHING had changed in the 100 pages that I’d skipped! Bella still wants to be a vampire and Edward still worries about her immortal soul.

But here’s the thing. Now that it’s been a week or two since I left the book behind in my Belize hotel…. I kind of want to know what I missed. What is wrong with me??!!

New Moon

Before I review this, I have to confess that I read New Moon over a period of 24 hours, right before leaving for my 2 week vacation. This is basically a disclaimer for why I remember very little and have not much to say in my “review”.

Bella still wants to become a vampire, Edward still worries about her immortal soul, there’s still a lot of moody eye contact, only now werewolves are doing it too. The only major change is the addition of the character Jacob Black - now there are two men to carry Bella like a princess while running from the bad guys!

I kind of loved it, but a little less than Twilight. Of course after finishing New Moon, I immediately drove to B&N at 9:59pm the night before we left for Guatemala so that I could buy Eclipse for vacation reading, so I don’t know why I’m acting like I’m all too-cool-for-school for Stephanie Meyer.

Sunday, September 14, 2008


I'm baaack! Did you miss me? I missed you. Kind of. Only it was so hard to miss you when I was so busy! This blog is normally devoted to the topics of books and reading, but I can't help but give you a quick summary, a top ten perhaps, of my trip to Guatemala and Belize. Ready? Here goes:

10. Our hotel in Antigua, Guatemala. If you go here, you MUST stay at Quinta de las Flores. It is hands down one of the nicest hotels ever and not expensive! Plus, the hotel grounds are filled to the brim with weird Guatemalan props perfect for funny photo shoots.

9. Kayaking on Lake Atitlan (even if Jeff forgot to put sunscreen on his knees and and ankles and got the funniest sunburn ever).
8. Banango daiquiris at the Palapa bar. Mmmmmmm.

7. Riding the Island Ferry in the pitch black under millions of stars to our hotel on Ambergris Caye in Belize. They go so fast it's just a tiny bit scary, and the air is so hot that the winds aren't even a little bit cold. It's like Pirates of the Caribbean, but for reals. And no pirates. I have no picture of this nightly ritual since it was super dark and our flash died while on vacation. You'll just have to trust me that it was cool.

6. Seeing monkeys. In the jungle. Up close. Except at first it wasn't exciting, it was terrifying. When they named them "howler monkeys" I feel that this was a gross understatement because dude, those monkeys are not simply howling, they are roaring like a lion! Erin and I were convinced a Tyrannosaurus Rex had been let loose in the jungle and made Todd ask one of the grounds keepers que animal could possibly be making that terrifying noise before we agreed to continue our foray into the ruin site. Here is a photo Jeff kindly took of me FREAKING OUT when I first heard the monkeys from afar.
And here is a picture of a monkey mooning us.

5. Climbing to the top of Temple Four at the Mayan ruin site of Tikal for sunset provided what was quite possibly the most amazing view ever. Ever. For serious. This photo doesn't begin to capture it, but it's the best we've got.

4. Laying in a hammock and reading.

Sometimes, I did some of my reading with my eyes closed.

3. The craziest thunder and lightening storm on Lake Atitlan. There was no rain, but one bolt of lightening literally hit the lake like 50 feet from where we were standing. I think we all hit the deck (and by deck I mean dock). The thunder came simultaneously with the lightening and it felt like we were sitting inside a giant firework as it was going off. The storm continued all night and would light up the giant volcanoes from behind.

2. Snorkeling in Belize. We saw giant turtles! And barracuda! And stingrays! And huge schools of the tinniest fish ever! Never mind that "Scuba Steve" (as we dubbed our snorkeling guide employed by the hotel - his name really was Steve) had a large chunk of his calf missing in the exact shape of a shark's mouth. Don't ask, don't tell, right? Anyways, he kept us safe that day so don't freak out Mom.
Apologies for the gratuitous swimsuit shot. I hate when people post swimsuit shots online, but I can't figure out how to crop this one on Jeff's mac and I like how obviously pumped I am to wear my snorkel gear.

1. Swimming with a manatee!!! When I wrote that I really wanted to swim with a manatee, I never actually thought I'd get to do it. But Scuba Steve made it happen and for that I will always be indebted to him. Since we don't own an underwater camera, this event was not documented but it was AWESOME.

On the flip side, here are the worst 5 things that happened on the trip:
5. Taca airlines made us wait around until 5 minutes before departure before telling us they could fit us on the domestic flight we'd booked 2 months prior. This caused me to run at least 1 mile through the airport, which is officially further than I've run in about 3 years. Thanks for nothing Taca.
4. Speed bumps. Guatemala redefines the term.
3. The 4 inch long scorpion we found in our hotel room in Belize.
2. The grossest hamburger ever that I'm not sure was even made out of meat and Todd dubbed "hambourgesa mysterioso" at our hotel in Tikal.
1. The unfortunate night I spent attached to the toilet after said Hambourgesa Mysterioso.
(Jeff wanted me to add his sunburn to this list, but seeing as I actually found his sunburn highly amusing, I'm not sure I can justify adding it)

Anyways, I'm back and I hope to post reviews for the books I read on the trip really soon - New Moon and Eclipse by Stephanie Meyer, Upside Down Inside Out by Monica McInerney, and Run by Ann Patchett.