Tag Archives: Book Review

I Should Have Known A “Bad Monkey” Would Be Funny

BadMonkeyHave you ever been innocently wandering down the aisle at a bookstore and have a cover reach out and smack you?  I mean figuratively not literally. (Although if this has happened to you literally, I think that’s a story I need to know!)  It happened to me.  Big, bold, neon orange and yellow with a screaming monkey in a pirate hat on the cover.  You know you’d pick it up to read if it were you.  If nothing else, I needed to take a closer look, because this is something my nephew would want to hear about.

Carl Hiaasen’s Bad Monkey was not the monkey I expected, but it was the monkey I needed…wait, is that Batman?  Anyway, the whole thing starts off with an arm that gets put in a cooler, and like a monkey it bounces all over the place from there.  You would think that with as many plot twists, sub plots and deranged animals (and thugs named Egg) things would get a bit out of control, but they don’t (well, except in a good way).  Hiaasen keeps a firm hand on the reins of this plot, and seeing all those lines that seem tangled come to a smooth controlled knot at the end, is immensely satisfying.  To say Bad Monkey is fast-paced would be an understatement, but it will take you on a wild, grin-filled, ride.

Although, I picked up the book with my nephew in mind, Bad Monkey is not for the 13-year-old.  However, the brief overview of the plot I gave him garnered me a smile.  A real one…like with teeth. (He no longer laughs out loud at the things adults say.  It is beneath him.  This is no reflection on my skill as a comedian…no, really!) The book’s comedic value comes as much from the crazy situations the main character Andrew Yancy finds creates for himself as the cast of characters surrounding him.  Escaped convicts from Oklahoma, a detective bumped down to roach patrol, the arm in the freezer, and a hurricane…oh, and you can’t forget that deranged monkey.

You know how I am about characters, and Yancy provides a flawed hero.  He actually does the stuff that most of us only fantasize about.  His girlfriend’s a bit kooky too (actually, so is the ex…you know the escaped con from Oklahoma?)  Yancy has the depth I like in a character without that filter that keeps most of us out of jail.  It’s kind of like letting your id run around mostly unchecked for a while.  He’s a good guy though, who wants to do the right thing, but rules get in the way.

This is the first book of Hiaasen’s I’ve read, but I will be looking for more.  Especially, if his others are as much of a fun-filled adventure as this one.  Sometimes you need out of the wizards preventing the end of the world, drug and alcohol addicted characters, or peculiar children and run with something a bit more light-hearted.  Hiaasen will be my go-to guy next time I need a lift out of the doldrums.

My mom and I were also talking about the book, and she mentioned that Carl Hiaasen was interviewed on NPR.  I haven’t looked to see if the interview can be found online, but it sounds like it would be worth the time to check it out.

First Lines:

On the hottest day of July, trolling in dead-calm waters near Key West, a tourist named James Mayberry reeled up a human arm.  His wife flew to the bow of the boat and tossed her breakfast burritos.

Today I cannot resist stealing The Nerdist Podcast’s sign-off.

Enjoy your burrito,

Jessica

 

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Looking for Alaska

looking-for-alaskaThe Fault in Our Stars may have been the first book I’ve read by the insanely popular young adult author, John Green, but it was so good, it ensured it wouldn’t be the last.  Looking for Alaska made the journey to Boston with me, and I, for some reason, didn’t think that reading it on the plane would be a big deal.  It wasn’t, as long as you don’t have a problem with crying openly on a packed aircraft.  Once again Green has impressed me with his ability to connect with people.

You may be asking yourself why I keep reading John Green books if they all have made me cry, and it is a good question.  They’re just so stinking good I can’t help myself.  Although the New Yorker refers to him as “The Teen Whisperer”  his books appeal to a wider audience, because he doesn’t treat his Young Adult audience as people who don’t understand what’s going on in the world.  He treats them like intelligent, caring, individuals who are trying to figure out this life just like everyone else is.  (I’m a firm believer that anyone who tells you they’ve got it all figured out is either deluding themselves or lying).  He cares about his fans, and he’s forged a connection that is apparent in not just his novels but the rest of his public presence. (when you include social media, vlogbrothers, mental floss, crash course, press interviews, etc….it is a considerable presence)  He doesn’t assume that youth automatically denotes a lack of maturity or that age determines who is a “grown-up”.  This imbues his books with something special that appeals to a lot of people.

Looking for Alaska deals with issues such as struggling to find your place somewhere new, friendship, ambition, and grief.  I don’t know about you, but I struggle with these things too…still…probably always.  He approaches these universal problems with humor, truth and sensitivity that is appealing in a way that allows me to take something positive from the novel and apply it in my life.

An incredibly good friend told me recently that I’m not good at introspection…okay, an incredibly loud “HA” escaped her when I mentioned introspection. (She’s probably right since I’ve just decided not to look too closely at that “ha” for the moment.  Actually, she’s usually right, but don’t tell her I said that.)  Books like Green’s help me look a little closer without fear (mostly) and realize I could use more bravery to live in the moment and chase my dreams,recognize the difference between shoving grief in a big dark box and never looking at it again isn’t the same as dealing with lossand good friends can help you get through anything life hurls your way if you let them.  This knowledge is worth the tears.

I make this sound like Green’s books are depressing, and they’re not.  His characters have great senses of humor, and I find myself laughing far more often than crying.  Looking For Alaska describes a few great, intricate pranks I wish I’d thought of when I had the right audience for that kind of thing.  While the subject matter can get pretty deep, we are talking about a young adult novel, and Green definitely finds that spark to connect his younger audience to his characters and remind his older audience of what it felt like to be that age again.  Humor and fun are a huge part of that.

Honestly, while I will always recommend that parents read what they’re kids are reading for a lot of reasons (none of which include censoring what they read, by the way).  Even if your kids aren’t reading Green’s stuff, I would recommend you do.  His novels really remind me of what it felt like to be a teenager, the good stuff and the bad stuff.  With a teenaged niece and nephew, I realize that it is easy to want to protect them from…everything.  It is hard to remember how important the decisions I made for myself, good and bad, were in shaping the adult I became…am becoming…will become? (No one has ever accused me of being a grown-up)  Being thrown back into that mentality through these novels switched on a lightbulb for me, and stopped me from judging their behavior and decisions (most of the time) and I just started talking to them, free from advice (unless they ask or I can’t help myself), free from disappointment or scorn, and focusing more on just being a really good listener (even if I worry that I may bite through my tongue trying to keep from talking sometimes).  Also, skill with open-ended questions helps…occasionally.  Teenagers don’t always make it easy to talk to them, and remembering what I went through at that age helps me find solid neutral ground where we can meet from time to time.  Also, if they’re not reading the books, most of them saw the movie or have lots of friends who did…a common jumping off place isn’t a bad way to start talking.

The announcement was made that Looking for Alaska would also be adapted for the big screen.  I’m really looking forward to it.  John’s novel Paper Towns will also be adapted for film.  The same team that brought TFiOS to life for fans will be bringing Paper Towns to us on the screen as well, and after seeing what they accomplished with The Fault in Our Stars  I have complete faith them.  Of course, if you haven’t seen The Fault in Our Stars yet, I highly recommend it.

First Lines:

one hundred thirty-six days before

The week before I left my family and Florida and the rest of my minor life to go to boarding school in Alabama, my mother insisted on throwing me a going-away party.  To say that I had low expectations would be to underestimate the matter dramatically.

‘Til next time,

Jessica


Concealed in Death

concealed in deathRecently, I read another J.D. Robb novel, Concealed in Death, and unlike the last one, this one rejuvenated my enthusiasm for the series until I really started thinking about it.  Yes, I had no idea who’d “done” it.  My suspicions were confirmed, but I didn’t know how they’d pulled the whole thing off until it was revealed.   J.D. Robb, a pseudonym for Nora Roberts, always provides easy entertainment without the necessity of too much brain power, and this provided the break I desperately needed between the first and second Patrick Melrose Novels by Edward St. Aubyn.  (St. Aubyn created fascinating characters who are spectacularly broken, and leave a reader feeling drained. Seriously, when a book about a serial killer is considered a break…).

Concealed in  Death provided a great escape without taking too much time or taxing my heart and mind.  Sometimes you need that, but I still remember when her villains were chilling and it was a race to get to the next page to make sure the main character survived (with the shows I watch and books I read, no one is safe!).  The reader does get more insight into Mavis Freestone’s backstory which is always engaging, but I was longing for a bit more…traumatization whether that arrived in the form of emotional turmoil or physical danger, I didn’t really care.

Maybe I’ve become desensitized to the drama and excitement.  There’s plenty of that to go around in the other entertainments I pursue, but still…surely escapism isn’t the only thing these books have left in them, is it?  Maybe, I just want to be pushed.  Think harder, feel more, experience something I haven’t before.  Maybe pure escapism just isn’t for me anymore?  Perhaps, what I really need is a break from both Nora Roberts and J.D. Robb.  These go-to standards for simple entertainment haven’t lived up to my expectations recently.  Night Circus, Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children, The Fault in Our Stars… these all far exceeded my expectations, and I’ve got a stack of books by authors I don’t really know waiting to be read.

Now, this could all just be a symptom of wanting to change directions in other areas of my life as well…too much self-introspection for me this afternoon!

First Lines:

Neglect could kill a building brick by brick.  It was, to his mind, more insidious than hurricane or earthquake because as it murdered slowly, quietly, not in rage or passion, but with utter contempt.

 

‘Til next time,

Jessica


I Don’t Want To Sound Thankless: A Book Review

Thankless in DeathThankless in Death, the most recent installment of J.D. Robb’s “In Death” series (or at least the newest one I’ve read) sees one of my favorite characters, Eve Dallas, chasing a killer (as a homicide detective, this is something she does quite often).  Thankless in Death is the 37th book in this series, and Dallas has come a long way since that first book, Naked In Death.  As always, I enjoyed the well written characters, witty banter, creepy villain, and got caught up in the story right away.

Eve Dallas’s character has evolved from the woman who doesn’t have anything in her life except her job to a woman whose job is still who she is, but, to her bafflement, it is no longer the only thing she is.  The novels have become less about the cases, the villains and justice for the dead and more about the rest of Dallas’s live.  Her husband, her friends, and her determination to find a balance between the personal and professional (who doesn’t struggle with that?).

Thankless is a good book, an easy read, and fun.  However, I miss the focus on cases.  I want that thrill that I used to feel when I read this series, the discovery of the killer and his/her motivations, the struggle to find them or find proof of their wrongdoing, the danger Dallas so often flings herself headlong into.  Usually, I have a hard time putting books in this series down.  Typically, I get them read in a day, maybe two.  I took a week and a half to finish this book.  It was easy to walk away from.  I didn’t struggle to keep my eyes open just so I could read one more chapter this time.

J.D. Robb is a pseudonym for Nora Roberts, and with good reason.  The “In Death” series didn’t resemble a typical Nora Roberts book.  Sure, Dallas’s love interest is a handsome-as-sin Irishman with long dark hair, striking blue eyes, and a body that makes Eve’s mouth water.  Yes, there is a compelling love story, and the main character is a strong, intelligent, wittily sarcastic woman.  All of these are pretty typical in Roberts’s novels.  However, this was different, a police drama with a futuristic setting in which the romance took a back seat.

My disappointment in Thankless in Death comes not from the plot, the characters, the settings or descriptions, but in that the lines between J. D. Robb and Nora Roberts have become blurred.  This read more like a Roberts novel than what I’ve come to expect from books in the “In Death” series.  My sincerest hope is that the author returns to the case centric plots that had me on the edge of my seat, unwilling to put the book down for even a moment, and villains who often left me with a chill.

Thankless in Death was a good choice for vacation reading.  Good escapism is never a bad decision when you’re already escaping from real life on vacation.  A good book that you don’t mind putting down to go do vacation-y things, but won’t hesitate to pick back up again when you have a little down time, is pretty much perfect.  I was just hoping for the lip gnawing and desire to skip ahead to find out what happens next that I’d come to expect.

First Lines:

He was sick of her nagging.

Bitch and complain, bitch and complain, and nag, nag, nag, every time she opened her damn mouth.

‘Til next time,

Jessica


The Trilogy Ends: Allegiant Book Review

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Allegiant

by Veronica Roth

Apparently, my rush to finish Gone Girl has led to a reading frenzy to finish other books that I’d abandoned.  Tonight, I finally finished Allegiant by Veronica Roth.  Just as with Divergent and Insurgent, once I got going, I didn’t want to put the book down.  This is how I found myself forgetting to eat dinner, and leaving all of my household chores for tomorrow.

During the past few months, I’ve read a lot about how much the finale to the trilogy sucked, and, no doubt, that made it easier and easier to delay finishing it.  I was careful not to read too much , because I didn’t want to know what made people think it was so terrible.  I’m glad I didn’t read further, because I may not have ever finished it.  This doesn’t mean I agree with them, in fact, the opposite is true. This was a great ending to the trilogy.  The resolution is there, the story wrapped up in a satisfying, truthful, if idealistic, way.  Most of the time when something ends it hurts a bit, and expecting a series like this to go out without a bang and a little pain would have just been wishful thinking.

The characters, for the most part, stay true to their development in the first two novels, but they do slip from time to time.  Occasionally, they make choices that definitely move the plot in the right direction, but don’t feel authentic to the individuals we’ve gotten to know.  There’s nothing overt about it, just slightly…easy.  It is almost as if you can see the characters clamoring to have their way, and Roth forcing them to comply with the story arc to keep everything on track.  Without a couple of those less than perfect scenes, we could have ended up with an entirely different book.  One that leaves room for a fourth and fifth and sixth.

Although, I would be happy to revisit this world and see events unfold from Evelyn’s viewpoint or Christina’s or even Peter’s, a continuation would be a bit of a stretch, and I’m okay with that.  Sometimes you need to finish a series, and know that it isn’t going any further.

Would I say that I’m “happy” with the ending, well, no.  However, I can’t fault her choices there.  Tris’s decision was true to character, and it was a resolution of its own.  Any other action on her part would have been another character forced into an inauthentic action, all plot and no substance.  That kind of ending would have been disappointing.  Instead, Tris and Tobias both get what they needed…in a round about kind of way, but they still get what they needed.

First Lines: “I pace in our cell in Erudite headquarters, her words echoing in my mind: My name will be Edith Prior, and there is much I am happy to forget.”

Now, there’s been a lot of talk about how much people like the Divergent movie, but I haven’t talked to anyone who has both read the whole book and seen the film.  I think I really want to go see it before it leaves theaters, but I’m a bit hesitant after my disappointment in the Mortal Instruments:City of Bones movie.  Anybody out there who has both read the book and seen them movie?  Hit the comments below to tell me what you think.  Also, if you just want to talk about the stinking book, and the emotional aftermath, do that too. (One day, I’m going to get someone who actually reads these books around the same time I do.  This waiting business sucks!)

’Til next time,

Jessica


The Book That Continued to Eat My Brain After I Finished It

9780307588364_p0_v1_s260x420Gone Girl

By Gillian Flynn

Last night (or early this morning, if you want to be technical), I finally finished Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn.  Flynn weaves a well-crafted, engaging, and stupefying tale of two people who are…Messed.  Up. The recommendation to read this book came down the line through a couple of people, but what finally pulled me in was a comment made to a co-worker about the novel.  That referral went something like this “this woman is so evil you almost end up rooting for her by the end of the book.”  Okay, who could resist that?  Also, he wasn’t wrong.

The story follows Nick Dunne and Amy Elliot Dunne, and begins on their fifth wedding anniversary, the day Amy disappears.  Flynn does a great job of switching points of view with each chapter.  You hear both sides of the story, but is either side telling the truth?

Especially in the beginning, it is hard to determine who to trust.  Nick initially gets center stage for the simple fact that his point of view is immediate, and the reader is left with Amy’s diary entries to provide insight into her character.  Even going into this novel with the knowledge that this woman is “evil”, I found myself wondering, waffling…who is the “bad guy” really?

Nick and Amy are believable characters, for all of their dysfunction, but I wouldn’t call either one of them a reliable narrator.  They’ve filled their lives with lies…to everyone, including themselves, and sifting the truth from the lies is like panning for gold in a played out mine.  Just because it shines, doesn’t mean it’s worth anything.  By the end, I wondered if they were too damaged to even see the truth for themselves.

When you read this, find a buddy who has finished it (and won’t spoil it for you).  I needed to discuss this book as I went along.  Fortunately, I have some great co-workers who not only understand my craving for new fiction (and are willing suppliers) but had also read Gone Girl before me.  They gave me the freedom to storm their offices the every time I thought I’d made a revelation with an exposition on what I thought was going to happen next.  “Did Amy really….”, “I bet you that Nick is going to…”, and today “Seriously, these people are messed up.”

Would I recommend this book?  Oh yeah, baby.  It is definitely captivating and worth a read.  This is a novel that will stick with you.  I cannot stop thinking about these characters.  Questions keep spinning through my mind.  How did these people got to the place they ended up?  What must their childhoods have been like?  What kind of parents did they have…really?  All interspersed with, seriously, these people are messed up.  The only cure I can think of for this condition is another good novel…immediately.  Fortunately I have a stack of those at home.

First Lines: “When I think of my wife, I always think of her head.  The shape of it to begin with.  The very first time I saw her, it was the back of her head I saw, and there was something lovely about it, the angles of it.”

Now, Gone Girl has been adapted for the screen.  The film will star Ben Affleck as Nick Dunne and Rosamund Pike as Amy Elliot Dunne.  Rosamund Pike may look familiar from movies such as,Jack Reacher, Pride & Prejudice,  Die Another Day and An Education (funny, I just watched that one a couple of weeks ago), and Affleck has starred in films like Good Will Hunting, Pearl Harbor  and won an Oscar for Argo, which he also directed.

 

With the screenplay also written by author, Gillian Flynn, I have no doubts the movie is going to be a great representation of the novel.  However, I have heard rumors that the ending has been changed.  As much as it pains me to say it, this may be one you want to read the book before the movie is released in October 2014.

‘Til next time, Jessica

P.S. Messed. Up.

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Wait, Haven’t I Read this Before?

The Dark Witch

by Nora Roberts

When I’m out and about, I always end up looking at books.  If there is a book within 100 yard radius, I’m drawn to it.  They’re treats to myself when I’ve been particularly good…or particularly bad…or just particular. (Fine, I’m just looking for an excuse to buy a book.) Like a lot of readers, I’ve got the authors I turn in order satisfy a certain mood.  Nora Roberts has always been a go-to for a bit of escapism, or even just to get me reading something I know I can finish in a handful of hours. (Especially if I’ve had issues with my focus.)  So when I found myself with a nightstand full of half-read novels staring me in the face, I went browsing the supermarket book aisle and found The Dark Witch.

The Dark Witch by Nora Roberts is the first in the Cousins O’Dwyer Trilogy.  Set in Ireland, a brother and sister find their long-lost cousin.  The final piece in their triumvirate.  The O’Dywers have power, passed down through the generations.  Each member of the triumvirate inherits a talisman of protection, created in the 13th century by their ancestor, Sorcha The Dark Witch to protect her three children from the power-mad warlock set to destroy her.  Sorcha’s dying act was to pass the power the warlock coveted to her children.  Flash forward to modern-day, The Dark Witch’s power is reunited in the cousins, and the big bad has returned to take it from them.

The Dark Witch by Nora Roberts #1 Cousins O'Dwyer Trilogy

The Dark Witch #1 Cousins O’Dwyer Trilogy

Mystery, the supernatural, an exotic destination, and a little bit of romance draw readers in to this latest installment by the prolific author, Nora Roberts.  As always, the characters are engaging, the descriptions lush, and the plot full of action.  However, this time I didn’t feel like I was reading anything new.  The Dark Witch was a quick, enjoyable read, but I could have picked up several of Ms. Roberts previous trilogies and read almost the same story.  Three Sister’s Island Trilogy had a set of three sister witches battling an evil that had come from their past to threaten their future.  The Irish Trilogy, set in Ireland (obviously) had three relatives on a course set by fairies.  Even the characters themselves are mere echoes of those who have come before.  The pixieish blond who is sweet but a bit unsure of herself, the long dark-haired beauty who turns men’s heads and is a gifted musician, the open-hearted man with a core of steel…all of these “types” have made previous appearances.

It made me wish my memory was a bit less keen, because it is a good story.  The perfect escape to somewhere with just enough intrigue and danger without being overwhelming.  I got exactly what I was looking for, but I needn’t have shelled out the extra cash.  I could have turned to my own bookcases for something I already owned.  To be fair, it has to be nearly impossible to churn out as many quality novels as Ms. Roberts has without leaning too heavily on previous characters.  She has published somewhere around 200 novels, and that is no easy accomplishment.  Nora Roberts can also almost always be found at the top of a best seller’s list with her latest and greatest.  She is incredibly readable and easy to digest.

If you’re new to Nora Roberts, by all means gobble this gem up.  However, if, like me, you’ve indulged in her brand of escapism heavily, and are in need of some originality, this is not the place to go looking.  The library may lure me in for the remaining to volumes of the Cousins O’Dwyer Trilogy, but that’s a big maybe.  All in all, while it won’t stop me from picking up the next hardcover from this author, I was a bit disappointed.

‘Til next time,

Jessica

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Yes, I Do Still Read: The Weird Sisters

I know, it has been forever since I got a book review up here for you.  You’ll be shocked to hear that I keep getting distracted.  I’m in the middle of at least five books.  (There’s a list at the bottom of the post, just in case you’re curious.)  The Andreas family is much the same, so to say I relate…that would be an understatement.
I really enjoyed Eleanor Brown’s novel The Weird Sisters.  The Andreas family is filled with people as addicted to books as I am.  James Andreas is a professor of Shakespeare at a small, well respected college in the small town of Barnwell, and he speaks almost entirely in Shakespeare quotes.  At least half the time, no one really knows what he’s talking about.  However, his passion for The Bard has given everyone in his family an intimate knowledge of Shakespeare’s work.  He and his wife named their daughters after Shakespeare’s heroines, Rosalind (Rose) from As You Like It, Bianca (Bean) from The Taming of the Shrew, and Cordelia (Cordy) from King Lear.  

The family is all living in their childhood home after their mother is diagnosed with cancer.  Rose never really left Barnwell, choosing to take an academic track and stay to look after their parents.  She is a mathematics professor, the perfectionist, the caretaker, the responsible one.  Very much a typical first born child in the family.  As her namesake is an only child, Rose shares a few characteristics with the As You Like It character.  She mentions, several times, that she feels like the only child again with her sisters gone from the family home.  As the one who stayed, she’s made her life in Barnwell, and hasn’t looked at the potential outside the life she’s created around the care of her family.  She’s built a career, found love in a fellow professor, and is needed.  She’s the responsible one.  When her fiance is offered a visiting professorship in England, Rose faces some hard decisions.  

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Bean, the middle child, returns after the diagnosis, but her mother’s illness covers the fact that she has no where else to go.  Bean gets to share more than just being the second daughter with Bianca in Taming of the Shrew.  Considered to the be the “pretty one” in the family, Bean, like Bianca, is an expert in maintaining a facade.  She’s escaped Barnwell to leave the shadows of her sisters.  Her feelings of inadequacy send her to New York.  There she isn’t Bean, she’s Bianca, and she builds a life that is exciting, fulfilling, and successful on the surface.  As always that facade comes with a price, and her forced departure from New York causes her to take a closer look at who she really is.

Cordy, well she’s the vagabond, and after spending the last several years wandering the country, change is as much forced upon her as chosen.  Just as Cordelia is the beloved daughter in King Lear, so is Cordy the doted upon baby of the family.  She’s never had to be particularly responsible, she works in restaraunts and at odd jobs to earn enough money to move on to the next town, the next music festival, the next…whatever she decides.  Cordy catches rides with acquaintances masquerading as friends, and sleeps in abandoned houses with groups of like-minded people.  When she gets in a bind, she calls home.  The cause of her forced return creates a rift between Cordy and her father, just as Cordelia’s refusal to profess her love to King Lear causes a rift.  Cordy comes home to grow some roots and responsibility.

The Andreas’s love each other deeply, but they feel alone and disconnected.  Communication is not their strong suit.  (What?  The kids of a man who only speaks in Shakespeare quotes have a hard time communicating?) They aren’t what I would call particularly close, but they have a deep and abiding bond of history and love, no matter how insane they make each other.

Books are the family passion, and there are half read books littering every room.  Growing up, they all learned that you don’t go anywhere without something to read.  At one point a sister picks up and begins to read a book she found in the pantry.  (Does anyone else have this problem, or am I the only one who’s found a book in someplace like the fridge?) Rose follows her family members around, placing bookmarks and saving them from broken spines and dog eared pages. That casual disregard for the books, something the younger sisters take for granted, flows over into other areas of their lives.  That sense that someone else will clean up after them, pervades a lot of their choices leading up to their return to Barnwell.  While Rose stays so focused on the care of others, she doesn’t think much about what she really wants.  

I found the voice of The Weird Sisters very interesting.  It is written in plural first person, narrated by all Andreas sisters. (Our mother, our sister, etc.)  This is a voice that you don’t see often in novels, and this unique voice makes this more a collective story than individual story lines woven together.  Enforcing the theme that while the sister’s may not always like each other, and have an especially difficult time communicating, they do love each other.  Like it or not, their stories are intertwined, because they’re family.  You can’t really know any of them without knowing something of their sisters.  Their shared history, their family, as well as their choices made them who they are now.

I don’t know that I’d call this a “coming of age” novel, because none of these women are children, but it definitely a novel of personal revelations and growth.  They all learn more about who they are, about letting go of who they thought they were or who they feel they’re supposed to be, and work on embracing the individuals they are.  Whether that means grasping an opportunity for something different, settling down in one place, or finding the things that really make them happy, each sister faces the same challenge we all do.  That’s why I loved this book, because their struggles are the same ones we all face from time to time, aging parents, familial relationships, and self-discovery.

First Lines:

We came home because we were failures.  We wouldn’t admit that, of course, not at first, not to ourselves, and certainly not to anyone else.

Those opening lines…as someone who moved home for a short time as an adult, I can tell you there were brief bursts in which I felt the same.  Right from those first words, this novel hooked me.

Books Currently Reading (Holy cow, Jessica!  I had no idea…really.)

  1. Smoke & Mirrors – Neil Gaiman
  2. The Martian Chronicles – Ray Bradbury
  3. Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy – Douglass Adams
  4. Allegiant – Veronica Roth
  5. The Clockwork Prince – Cassandra Clare
  6. The Dark Witch – Nora Roberts
  7. Watchmen – Alan Moore & Dave Gibbons

‘Til next time,
Jessica

 

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Urban Shaman: Holey Entertaining Mashup

Urban Shaman by C.E. Murphy

urbanshamanThis is a book that I’ve had my eye on for quite a while.  It kept popping up on recommendation lists and in conversations about genres I enjoyed, but I never picked it up for one reason or another.  It was that fateful trip to Dallas to Half Priced Books that I finally found this sucker…well, for a price I was willing to spend.  Books are expensive and I have a habit to feed.

I know, I know.  What about the library?  I have this thing with libraries.  They are fantastic, beautiful, fascinating places.  Two issues for me though.  Issue the first, they want the books back.  When I like the book, I don’t want to give it back.  It is mine.  I want to hold it and squeeze it and call it George…or something like that.  Second, when I am given a time frame in which I have to do something, I immediately procrastinate until the very last minute.  It is a failing.  Then I end up having to give back the book that I don’t want to give back, but I never actually got a chance to read because I put it off too long.  Oh yeah, it is stupid. (Every time I say/type/read “stupid” I hear it in Debra’s voice from Empire Records.) Luckily, used book stores will let you buy used books for half off the cover price, and then buy them back from you if you don’t want to keep them (Like I ever don’t want to keep a book, pfftt).  This would be why I had to buy two new book cases this month.  (There are two bags of books to go to the used book store…probably…maybe…most likely.)

Urban Shaman is about the merging of cultures in an individual at its heart.  Joanne Walker (legally, Siobban Joanne Walkingstick, see what I mean about merging cultures?)  She has an Irish mother and a Cherokee father and she gets dumped into the deep end of being a shaman in Urban Shaman.  By trade, she’s a mechanic for the police…she also attended the police academy, so technically we discover she’s an officer although she’s never spent a day in the field and she doesn’t think of herself that way.  In her mind she’s a mechanic.  Then again, good old Joanne doesn’t think she believes in things like “gut feelings” either.  All of that changes when she sees a woman being chased, and just knows that she has to help her.  According to her she feels like she’s “going to puke” if she doesn’t help this mystery woman.  The catch is, Jo sees her from the window of a landing airplane, so location is an issue.

This book was really enjoyable.  I like Joanne.  Maybe because female, native american mechanics in this genre remind me of Patricia Briggs’s character, Mercedes Thompson.  Mercy has long been a favorite of mine.  Maybe because I just like strong female characters.  Whatever the reason, I like Jo Walker.  She’s smart and sassy.  Joanne rolls with the punches in this story, maybe a little too much though.  She takes a near death experience that awakens her shamanistic powers, healing herself as she’s discovering said powers and conversations with a Celtic god in stride with very minimal doubt or freak out.  Now, she’s told up front that doubt is going to get her killed, but hey, human here.  I’d have more than a passing acquaintance with doubt and a major melt-down or two if any of that happened.  This is only the first book though, so maybe the breakdown and freak out stage is coming.  Strength and sass can only get a character so far, at some point they have to be vulnerable and human too.  Otherwise, I’m not going to be nearly as invested in the next stage of the story.  Ms. Murphy hints at plenty of vulnerability, but we never really see anything other than the cracks in the windshield that Joanne patches over.

I can certainly see the tie between shamanism and the vocation of a mechanic.  Both of them are healers in their own ways.  The first deals with the spirit and the second deals with something physical and outside of the individual.  It makes sense for someone who has tried to move away from anything dealing with her culture or upbringing to be drawn to a profession like mechanic.  It is as far away as Joanne could get from healing the spirit, mind or body and still fix things.  Not just fixing anything, but repairing something that requires attention to detail, patience, experience, and knowledge.  Not coincidentally, fixing up cars doesn’t leave a lot of room for introspection either. (Not that I actually have any personal experience with this, mind you.  I can’t even change my own oil.)

Part of the appeal in this novel is the melding of cultures too, and that is a purely personal thing.  My father’s family background is Irish and Cherokee while my mother’s is Greek and a mix of a bunch of other things including Osage.  There is a rich religious, mythological, and mystical culture in all of those.  It is fascinating to read something that pulls in parts of my own heritage and uses it as plot points.  Part of me finished the book then sat back to think.  Wow, could you imagine throwing a couple of Greek gods in with all that madness?  (Hmmm…..interesting thought there.)

The plot felt forced in places though.  I don’t want to give away any more spoilers than I already have, so I’m not going into great detail here.  Let’s just say the plot has some holes that you could drive a Mack truck through.  There could be great explanations and fills in the next books though.  The characters are flat in spots where there could have been a lot of depth.  With Joanne, I gave some examples, but this is true of the supporting cast as well.  Some of it could be mystery.  There’s this Gary dude, and I think there is a lot more to him than meets the eye…otherwise he makes no sense.  Another thing, for a world in which, normal people don’t know about this, they sure are accepting of it, and there sure are a lot of people in her circle who do believe in…supernatural thingamajigs.  As I said, this is the first book, the depth could come in the subsequent books.  It certainly did with Cassandra Clare’s Mortal Instruments series.  All the reviews of this book have indicated that the next two in the series Thunderbird Falls and Coyote Dreams are much more engrossing novels.

Even with all the holes, I didn’t want to put this book down.  I needed to know what was going to happen next.  The action moved at a quick pace with no real sense of lagging, and the reader stays intrigued and needing to find the answers right up to the end.  I loved the fact that C.E. Murphy has obviously done her research on Celtic mythologies, because her depictions of the pantheon and elements completely sync up with everything I’ve read.   There were no discordant notes there.  (Believe me, I’ve read a lot on this subject.  I’m not an expert, but I know when something doesn’t fit with all the other stories!)  I wish the same could be said for the Native American side of things.  Joanne does point out that things seen/mentioned aren’t even Cherokee and questions that.  I found it interesting that the character has more knowledge of the Native American side of her heritage, although she’s ignored it since she was 15, and yet that rich heritage isn’t explored in this book.  Joanne doesn’t really know much about her Irish heritage, but everything is focused around that history and mythos in the novel.  I found that odd considering the title of the book, Urban Shaman.

This series has eight books that I can find, and possibly some spin offs.  The author’s site is a bit disorganized.  I couldn’t actually find a list of books that she’d authored under any of her pseudonyms, but it was fun.  Even though I didn’t find what I was looking for, I poked around for a while.  There are definitely chuckles to be had.  I also discovered that she does comic books and there are pseudonyms.  Since comic books are quickly becoming a new interest of mine…hmmm, there are thoughts again…dangerous!

Has anybody else read this author?  Please let me know what you think in the comments below!

‘Til next time,

Jessica

The reading order I’ve been able to find goes thusly:

Walker Papers #1

Walker Papers #1

Anthology:Banshee Cries Walker Papers 1.5

Walker Papers 1.5

Walker Papers #2

Walker Papers #2

Walker Papers #3

Walker Papers #3

Walker Papers #4

Walker Papers #4

Walker Papers #5

Walker Papers #5

Walker Papers #6

Walker Papers #6

Walker Papers #7

Walker Papers #7

Walker Papers #8

Walker Papers #8