Hark by Sam Lipsyte (3 out of 5)

•January 28, 2019 • Leave a Comment

I loved Sam Lipsyte’s previous books, The Subject of Steve and Home Land . The cover of this book and the premise sounded like the type of book I need to read right now. It was entertaining, sharp, and incredibly accurate in parts. Scarily so, especially when describing the descent of the world into a he’ll of our own making. The cast of strange characters is great, but upon completion of the book, I just felt hollowed out. Yes, yes, I laughed, but it is one of those books that has its sharpened edges into the reader with how frightening it is for mere mortals to cope with this batshit crazy world we are living it. Again, very relevant to the times.

In a world such as this, where things are so devoid of emotion, humanity, and yes, common sense, people search for and cling (with a dying gasp) to what they deem safe. In this book, a self-proclaimed lifestyle guru, Hark Morner, encourages the masses to practice a combination of things that constitute “Mental Archery” (yoga, mindfulness, mythology, and fake history (similar to fake news!). Mental Archery will, supposedly, help manage your life in troubling times. Hark is overwhelmed and not at all expecting this to turn into the new big thing and by extension, his star is suddenly rocketing. Hark isn’t digging this, but his fan club and associates…among them an influential catfish, an Ivy League ethicist, a social media tycoon in deep shit, and a crossbow shooting drug runner, are ready for him to ride the wave and bring them fame and fortune. Hark is snarky satire, hard truths, emotional donut holes, and visceral language as only Sam Lipsyte can bring it. It’s just the sort of rollercoaster read that puts so much into the mind of the reader that when the ride is over and the book is closed, your mind is still reeling. I finished it weeks ago and its still knocking around in my closet. Hark is currently available in hardcover at your local bookstore.

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Lost Boy: The True Story of Captain Hook by Christina Henry (4 out of 5)

•January 23, 2019 • 2 Comments

This was a suggestion from Courtney. Courtney is one of my former employees from book gig #2. She’s known for many things, but most well known for ordering $2,000 worth of special order books from the Alabama warehouse under the name “Alotta Vagina”. Obviously, she was written up but we laughed. A lot. She reads a lot and she always gives me great and odd recommendations. This was no different. I managed to read it in a little under 6 hours. It’s available in paperback.

Now I have to confess. I have always hated Peter Pan. The whimsical tale always annoyed me. I always (secretly) rooted for Captain Hook. So this book was perfect for me! It serves as a twisted Lord of the Flies-type prequel to the Peter Pan everyone knows and loves. It’s hilarious that Courtney recommended this to me, as I never confessed my hatred of Peter Pan to get. Great booklover minds think alike! I shouldn’t be too surprised, though, because Courtney and I have a lot of common favorites and she was in the small minority of people who think “A Million Little Pieces” is brilliant, despite Oprah’s widely touted condemnation of it. If you like the dark side of classic tales, this is a fine place to start.

Peter has a group of lost boys on his island. This Nevetland, they call it. The so-called golden ticket, he calls it. They came over, no questions asked, from The Other Place, with few questions asked. A few rules, too. Mostly that you couldn’t talk about The Other Place and once you were here with Peter, you could never leave. Everyone knows the one story; this is the other side. The truth. Lured here with promises of being young and happy forever, Peter never let us into the dark lair of his mind…until it was too late for a fair number of us. Our neighbors on the other islands are pirates and monsters who stay at arms length, until they get hungry. And then the bloodshed begins. Our weapons are knives, sticks, rocks, and things that bite. Our host claims to have truces in place, until something happens and we lose someone. And then the truth comes out. And it isn’t pretty. Don’t get on Peter’s bad side; you may never live it down. Or live. This is my story and this is the truth of what happened there.

Lost Boy: The True Story of Captain Hook” is available in paperback from Berkley. If you like dark and twisted, this is the book for you. I enjoyed it immensely.

The Glass Universe: How the Ladies of the Harvard Observatory took the Measure of the Stars by Dava Sobel (3 out of 5)

•January 21, 2019 • Leave a Comment

I decided that 2019 would be the year that I took my passing interest in astronomy and all things related into my book challenge for the year. This along with daring to read more nonfiction. My co-worker Andrew is a “terrible” (terrific) influence on me. I ordered a bunch of astronomy and books relating to Earth science last year. I’m just now getting to them, one by one. I started with this one only because it was in the pile of books I found on my bedside table a week ago. Sadly, this is how I’m delegating book choices! Anyway, Dava Sobel is known for a number of scientific and earth science-centric titles, most notable among them “Galileo’s Daughter” and “Longitude”. This one was a good read. It just didn’t light the fire I’d hoped for, namely that I wanted to jump straight into another nonfiction. It made me want some space…like a couple of Saturn’s moons.

In the 19th century, Harvard Observatory begins employing a small group of women to interpret the galactic observations made by their male counterparts with their telescopes. The official job title of the ladies, interestingly, was “computers”. I think if someone called me a computer, I would call them Tom Brady. The initial group of ladies were family members or wives of the resident astronomers, but as years progressed, that group expanded to include members of and graduates of the women’s colleges at the time. Photography expanded the field even more, and the group began studying the stars on glass photographic plates. Harvard managed to amass half a million of the glass plates (the glass universe), leaving the ladies able to make astonishing and history making discoveries. The list of ladies and what they did and what they discovered working with the tools they had? Amazing, and no question that it was groundbreaking at a time when women were usually expected at their husband’s beck and call and in the home. Inspiring as hell. It got a little muddled, though. Simply because the book reads like a long form list of names and personalities; only none of them really had much of a personality. It’s hard to get into that much of a history of the stars and what the ladies of the observatory did and realize that you really have no measure of THEIR individual personalities. I know much has been made of that time period and the limited roles of ladies outside of polite society, but come on! Make me give a shit about them, not just their accomplishments, impressive as they were. Also interesting to note is that not only do we have a cardboard coalition of ladies, but we also have no discussions of equality amongst the sexes, pay wage disparity (you know they didn’t make the money the male astronomers did; this is fact, just not fact mentioned by Sobel), sexual harassment, intellectual challenges brought forth, and credit fairly given to those who made discoveries, not those who merely possessed the right genitalia. I had hoped this book would shine a light on these issues, at least a little bit. I read Hidden Figures a year ago and recently reread it, and that is a great example of a book covering phenomenal ladies and addressing the social issues presented with being a woman in a field..and a world…dominated by men. No such luck here, and that confuses me. It also took a lot out of the enthusiasm I had for the book. So..go to it if you want inspiring stories of these incredibly gifted astronomers, but don’t get cheesed off by lack of social commentary.

The Broken Girls by Simone St. James (2 out of 5)

•January 17, 2019 • Leave a Comment

So many hopes hinging on this one. I eyed it in hardcover a year ago, but lost it in the stacks. Then it rolled in and onto the new paperback table, and I bought it. Solely, to be honest, because the book blurbs were so promising. Sadly, those blurbs did not meet the expectations of the jacket on which they were printed. I was craving goth noir, horror, and mystery, expectations encouraged by that book jacket. Instead I got a barely disguised game of one upmanship in a relationship between the reporter and the police officer, and a lot of yawning in between chapters. Again, fighting the flu and a 4-day migraine did not lend itself to a successful courtship with the book, but I expected some excitement. The excitement waa when the book ended and I moved into a different one. How fucking sad.

Twenty years ago, a girl student’s (Deb) body is found on the soccer field of an all girls boarding school for wayward girls. Twenty years later, Fiona, the reporter for the town paper and sister of the murdered girl, is writing a story on the rebuilding and opening of the school by a wealthy local family. While Fiona is there interviewing the son, a dead body is found in a well. This digs up more memories for Fiona. Her boyfriend, the local cop, tells her to stay out of the case. Fiona continues to investigate why the school needs to reopen, as well as why two girls were murdered on the grounds. So begins the one upmanship that I spoke of. Fiona is determined because no matter how much evidence is there, everyone seems determined to bury the truth and the past. And Deb’s boyfriend Tim was convicted of killing her-although no one buys it. This should have been a great story with a great end, but instead it’s a barely held together mess of fragmented stories of the girls who used to go there, the relationship between Deb and Tim, the mess of a relationship between Fiona and the cop, and throw in Fiona’s elderly dad, who hasn’t recovered since his daughter’s murder. And what was barely held together by rubber bands of mediocre plot device comes apart completely toward the end of the book. The lead heroine seems obsessed to the point of irrationality and the book dissolves with it. What a shame. The book is now available in paperback.

Everything Is Perfect When You’re A Liar by Kelly Oxford (4 out of 5)

•January 17, 2019 • Leave a Comment

Another book I found when I redid the humor section. We had it in hardcover salebook and the full priced trade paperback. Of course, I bought the hardcover. I started this on New Years Eve and laughed my ass off for days. Oxford is, no doubt, the replacement for Chelsea Handler. Chelsea no longer has the show, and it’s been forever since she wrote a book. Uganda Be Kidding Me. No, I’m not. We had her at the store for a book signing. Oh, the glory days of BR author events. Chelsea was late, but oh, she was great. This book will leave no doubt that Kelly Oxford is the bastard child of Chelsea and should be awarded the crown. The book is your typical upbringing and current state of life affairs meets unbelievable adventures and snarky humor. Yes, Kelly swears a great deal. Yes, she really doesn’t apologize too much for her misdeeds. Yes, she really did kind of stalk Leonardo DiCaprio. Yes, her Vegas story is gold. So is throwing up on Chinese delivery guys. For the record, I find her hilarious, unapologetic, and seriously skewered despite having some of a conscience. I would also urge you to ignore the Goodreads community, because they don’t find her book funny. There was not a lot of funny the first weeks of January (having the flu was NOT fun!), but this book was good fun. Check it out!

Saving Meghan by D.J. Palmer (4 out of 5)

•January 17, 2019 • Leave a Comment

Another advance sent to me by means I do not currently remember. This book isn’t out until April 9, 2019, via Macmillan Publishers. D.J. Palmer is new to the scene, but not new to the writing arena. His father is Michael Palmer, author of multiple New York Times bestselling novels. I loved the premise of the novel and most of the execution. One of the issues I identified pretty quickly and I also guessed at several things, which turned out to be on the money. As a debut novel, not too shabby.

Becky Gerard is not just a helicopter mom; she’s the runway, the airport, AND the flight crew. Her daughter Meghan has been sick for years, and no matter how many doctors she sees, tests she gets, hospitals she is admitted to, no diagnosis has been rendered. Becky is on a plane to California to see her mom on her deathbed when her husband Carl calls and tells her Meghan is back in the hospital. Becky melts down in spectacular fashion (on video, gone viral) and manages to get off the plane. When she arrives at her hospital and meets with the new team of doctors, she meets her match. One doctor believes Meghan has a rare condition, but the other hospital officials on the team believe his logic is skewed because the same condition he believes Meghan has, also killed his young son. The rest of the team basically dismiss him and decide that Meghan’s mom is guilty of Munchausen syndrome by proxy. The psychiatric wing in the hospital takes over, deduces they are correct by the answers Meghan gives them about her mom, and they call in the state. Meghan is restrained in the psychiatric ward against her will, and she’s made a ward of the state. Becky goes all mother mode and demands help. Her husband Carl turns on her and blames her for the turn of events. Is Becky batshit crazy? What’s wrong with 15-year old Meghan? Can the one doctor save her life? This was such an interesting morale question at the root of the story. It’s exactly the sort of shit you might hear about or see on the nightly news, but I haven’t read a single book where Munchausen Syndrome by proxy played a role. The way the medical ethics beat heads with the medical community and parents vs doctors was fascinating and alternately infuriating. You couldn’t help but hope this girl got relief soon. I almost didn’t know what to think of Becky as a mom and as a character, but that’s the true talent of the author. I don’t have kids, but I was sucked into it like this girl was my kid. It was ridiculously effective. Then late in the book, Palmer took a weird detour and almost blew it. Thankfully, the book didn’t pay the price. But it was close! Definitely a great pick for future book clubs, and overall, a great book about the boundaries of medical and family crises. Highly recommended.

To Shake The Sleeping Self by Jedidiah Jenkins (3 out of 5)

•January 17, 2019 • Leave a Comment

Another December read. This one ran into January, because I had a hard time digging in and advancing happily into its pages. This was being read on New Years Day, when I was unapologetically watching a Chopped marathon. This was the perfect book to read, because I could throw it down and not miss much. It sounds as if I’m dissing Jenkins’ travelogue, but I’m not. Everyone who knows me the past year knows I’ve become even more restless. My nature is that of a homebody, but I can’t lie. If I didn’t have my dad alive and well with me, I would sell the house, drag my ass and belongings West or South, and tell the Land of Corrupted Lincoln to kiss my dimpled cheeks. The older I get, the more restless I ge t. I think anyone who’s footloose and fancy free gets what I’m saying. As a result, I’ve found myself reading more books about the quest to become one with your surroundings, your life, etc. Basically, I am overdosing on armchair travel books. I also liked this book because of the author’s first name…the first four letters spell out JEDI. Yes, I’m that insipid.

Jedidiah Jenkins sets out on quite a journey. On the verge of turning 30, he decides to bicycle 14,000 miles from Oregon to Patagonia. He fears he’s being pigeonholed into a life he doesn’t want to live. He’s struggling with his sexual identity and trying to play peacemaker with it and his conservative upbringing. Jenkins does a thorough job detailing those that he befriends on his journey, the destinations and how he traverses to get to and from those destinations, all the way posting his journey and inspired quotes on Instagram. Despite being on the threshold of 30, Jenkins makes it very clear to the reader that he’s having a hard time trying to go about the business of being an adult. And really, who can blame him? I’m 46 and spent most of 40-43 bitching about and avoiding that reality. But as far as coming to life altering precipices, Jenkins doesn’t conquer them as much as he scales them and offers forth frothy assurances. It’s a memoir loaded with highlights like Party City is loaded with false cheer for parents. The soul heavy and confidence deep pool he wades in is filled with inflatable crocs and a Richard Simmons video on the TV poolside. Good intentions not delivered. The book, as a whole, feels like an incredible premise that fails to deliver a gut punch of wakeup calls to the reader. Not too bad of a read, but don’t convince yourself it’s a life changing read. Unfortunately, not the case. It is a pleasant excursion to a far away destination brought to us by a pleasant tour guide. The book is currently available in hardcover.