I’m Your Huckleberry by Val Kilmer (5 out of 5)

•July 9, 2020 • Leave a Comment

I know many of my friends just laughed when I told them that I was excited about Val Kilmer’s memoir. I’m not sure if they were laughing because there are rumors he is a little odd, because his movies are few and far between, or because they know I’m a little obsessed with the show Psych, full of Val Kilmer references. Who knows? The fact that it came out in the middle of the shitsami known as 2020 made it even more welcome. To me, at least. I’m a little biased because I love the guy and think he’s a bit of a misunderstood genius. The book confirmed it.

Here’s your first startling fact: This motherfucker is DEEP. Not deep in manure like Cheeto Face, but deep as in significant thoughts and ennui out the wazoo (probably not the best choice in visuals). I took my time reading it, because there was a lot of serious thought processing coming to life on the pages. It’s not The Tibetan Book of the Dead, but it’s also not Archie comics, either. There is a lot of discussion toward the reader not just about his upbringing and career, but also about his Method acting, his thoughts on the spiritual plain, his love life, Hollyweird, Marlon Brando, Cher, and the current state of the world we live in. Here’s your second startling fact: This motherfucker is funny. Dry, sarcastic humor. The type that registers hours after you read/hear it. Typical Capricorn. Really, I cannot recommend it highly enough to read during this pandemic. Puts a lot of perspective in your pipe to smoke. Definitely one of the better nonfiction books that I have read this year.

A Very Punchable Face by Colin Jost (5 out of 5)

•June 10, 2020 • Leave a Comment

I saw this a few months back, lying in the advanced reading copies pile at Hawthorn. I do not watch SNL as much as I used to (or watch TV in general, to be fair), but I laughed often at Colin Jost. This does not always guarantee a book written by the same person will be funny, however. Then I noticed my friend and fellow book comrade Len had posted how hilarious it was. Nothing about redoing our Macy’s store has been hilarious in the past 6 weeks, so I desperately needed something hilarious. This was it!

Colin Jost has been on SNL since 2005, both as a writer and in front of the camera, most memorably on Weekend Update. His Staten Island upbringing, time at Harvard and with The Harvard Lampoon, and his “athletic” pursuits may not sound funny on paper, but this guy makes them funny on paper! Add to it the instances of pooping his pants, throwing up in random places, and oh my god, the speech debate tournaments were described exactly as I imagined they must have been. And a million other things that I am likely forgetting. The chapter of the book in which he talks about his mom and her role as a first responder on 9/11? That really got me. Anything about 9/11 will do that, but it’s so obvious that he loves and thinks the world of his mom for what she does, that you can’t help but get choked up reading it. I did, at least. I can’t recommend this book highly enough. You’ll laugh your ass off.

The Lager Queen of Minnesota by J. Ryan Stradal (3 out of 5)

•February 18, 2020 • Leave a Comment

This was an odd one. It got a lot of accolades and it was heavily favored as one of the books of the summer in 2019. I’m not sure I echo that enthusiasm.

I read this back in August, when I had just started at the new store and was overwhelmed. It was a great book to read while figuring out the commute up there. It’s still out in hardback, should be paperback before this summer is over.

The age old quandary of who gets what in the event of a death finds another venue in this novel. Their father’s death brings Helen and Edith to other sides of the family line when he leaves the entire inheritance to Helen. She buys a light beer brewery and makes a small fortune on it. Meanwhile, older sister Edith is barely making ends meet and has to bust her ass most of her life, when a little bit of the inheritance would have helped her out. Edith’s granddaughter Diana has the family head for business (IPA’s, in particular) and she knows how to hustle and perhaps make a go of things. Can her determination bring her grandma some relief in her later years? Can Edith forgive Helen for being such a go-getter and cold hearted, or has the damage been done? Will Diana’s modern day business sense start a whole new family business for the next generation, and can she reconcile the two sisters?

Here’s what I liked- Edith, Diana, & learning about beer and how that business works. Stradal really nailed it with the portrayals of working class Midwest, the estrangement of two radically different sisters, and how the new generation can take the ball and run in regards to making a business run.

Here’s what I didn’t like- Helen. No matter how hard I tried to connect emotionally with the character, I just ended up beating my head into a wall. I loathed the character. And despite how Stradal ends the novel, I just felt there was something missing. Really missing. It was hard to give two shits when you want to beat the shit out of one of the main characters. So, I give mad props to Stradal in writing a character who left a big gaping hole where a heart should have been.

Acid for the Children by Flea (4 out of 5)

•January 31, 2020 • Leave a Comment

I was so excited to hear about this one back in 2018. Then they postponed it- for a whole year! As books come and go, I survived my crazy year with twenty million other books instead. Yet I was still ridiculously excited when it was released; even more so because I got sent a free copy! It’s the free advance reads in life, people.

Flea has been bassist with the Red Hot Chili Peppers for decades. He’s known for his free-wheeling funk and free spirited booty shaking. Not to mention his awesome bass playing (listen to their cover of Stevie Wonder’s “Higher Ground” for inspirational boogie stomps, courtesy of that bass). He’s been front and center with charities through the years. Bringing you inside the mind of that man? Well, the book does do that. But it also brings you into the heart of that man, and the heartbreak after the death of friend and fellow Pepper, Hillel Slovak. We visit the RHCP colony, although not in as much detail as one would expect (Anthony Kiedis is far more forthcoming about his bandmates and their history in his memoir, Scar Tissue). The thing that made it hard for me to hold Flea’s memoir together in my mind was the randomness of the chapters. There is not much order to how he parcels it together, but it is entertaining, at least. Someone with ADD or ADHD may have a spot of trouble with it but it’s possible to soldier through. So really, that is my only complaint. The stream of consciousness style in which he presents his story is disarming, but in a Krispy Kreme- glazed-sort of way. You really do find your way after awhile.

Wham! George Michael & Me by Andrew Ridgeley (4 out of 5)

•January 29, 2020 • Leave a Comment

People are still making fun of me for this book, and I read it back in October! I was a fan of Wham UK!, as they were first known, and then Wham! I was also stunned when we lost George Michael on Christmas Day, 2016. When I found out Andrew Ridgeley, the other half of the group, had written a memoir about his time with the group and his friendship with George, I was in.

It’s not a book where I was gutted reading it. That designation would belong to the posthumous Prince bio, The Beautiful Ones. I spent a hour reading it on Christmas Eve and had to stop, then go back and read it over the next month in installments. It was too much. This was a more whimsical, at times outright fun, look back at the magical decade known as the 80’s.

When Andrew and George became best mates at school, it was, as it often is, a tale of opposites attracting. It grew into a story of two souls united by their loved of music and a fervent desire to make it big. It’s a story of music, the times, friendship, faith, and ultimately, change. George’s desire to go solo ends up bringing an amicable end to Wham, although Andrew and his friendship never wavered. We know that George went onto superstardom, and that Andrew went onto a more normal, quiet lifestyle. What we didn’t know was the true story of brotherhood between these two men, and that’s what Ridgeley has captured so well here. Highly recommended for anyone who loved the duo, Andrew or George alone, or 80’s music fans. Just a great story of friendship.

A Killer Edition (A Booktown Mystery #13) by Lorna Barrett (4 out of 5)

•December 28, 2019 • Leave a Comment

Another dependable genre series that I still read whenever a new one is released. This one came out in early summer, and unlike the last one, I had no idea who did it this time! Add to that a lot of twists and half of Tricia’s staff threatening to quit the bookstore for no apparent reason and it became even more of a mystery.

This time around Tricia joins the board of the local animal rescue, where everyone and their porcupine seem out to get her. She enters the Great Stoneham Bake-off, after developing a knack for baking tasty treats. She gets dragged-unwittingly, as always- into a nasty fight between romance bookstore owner Joyce and her next door neighbor Vera, over a tree and a property dispute. Tricia finds the murdered Vera in Joyce’s garden shortly afterwards, and of course the town’s ever helpful residents lump Tricia in with the investigation. I still don’t get why she stays in this fucking town. I know she loves her sister, her pets, and her bookstore and its employees, but book after book and murder after murder, and Tricia bemoans her remaining in Booktown and the unfairness of the presumption of guilt in every one. Leave! Barrett, let her leave and relocate or stop the whining tone in the books. Other than my bitching about this, I really do still enjoy the books and more often than not, the recipes present. Good stuff. #13 is not the unlucky one, but rather an enjoyable whodunit with an interesting side story about animal rescues.

WATCH FOR IT: The Familiar Dark by Amy Engel (5 out of 5)

•December 28, 2019 • Leave a Comment

I often receive books, often manuscripts, from my friends/reps at publishing companies. Stefan, one of our reps at Penguin Random House, had asked another rep at PRH to send this to me so I could read and review it. I read it back in September and it Knocked. Me. Out. There is something so Lovely Bones about the vibe surrounding the book.

You can’t get your hands on it yet; scheduled release date is March 31, 2020. I strongly encourage you to put it on your to be read list for March! Strongly encourage! While it is a hard premise to grasp and read, it is a great read and it will likely rouse many book clubs from slumber with its discussions. I have a hunch it will end up adapted as a movie somewhere. Just a hunch.

In the poorest part of the Missouri Ozarks, Eve Taggert is barely making ends beat in a town that seems determined to bring her down. That comes soon enough when Eve’s police officer brother shows up at work to inform her that her 12-year old daughter Junie and her daughter’s best friend Izzy, have been found murdered in the school playground. What follows is a mother’s heartbroken vow for vengeance on the souls of those who took the girls’ lives. That old saying, be careful what you wish for, you just might get it? It would definitely apply here. Eve’s hard won war with the secrets the town, her family, and Izzy’s family are keeping is another dimension to this sad story. It wrings you out from the moment you pick up the book, and as things begin to unfurl and be revealed, you are stunned. I was absolutely blown away and sickened by the ending, but that’s why this novel is stunning. It will stay with you. I read it in under a week, but months later, I am still reeling from it. Come March, everyone will see for themselves. Definitely one of the best books I have read in awhile.

Fleishman Is In Trouble by Taffy Brodesser-Akner (3 out of 5)

•December 27, 2019 • Leave a Comment

This was a book hailed as hilarious and a “best of” early in the summer. Having had a shitty summer beyond anything in years past, I really needed a laugh. I did get one. Maybe two. This was not, however, what I thought or what I had read about om the reviews. Moderately funny, absolutely. Falling down, peeing your pants, funny? Not quite.

Toby Fleishman is suffering middle age angst, being short, newly separated, heartbroken and confused, and suddenly very popular. As in, a multitude of women suddenly seeking his attention. This is odd to Toby, as he is very insular and used to rejection the way I am used to inhaling popcorn. This new life is hard for him to adjust to. Toby is a liver specialist by day, juggling his kids every other weekend, and now juggling ladies the way swingers juggle keys. It’s all quite the balancing act- and a lot of the book’s humor is in the juggling- that goes off the beaten path when Toby’s ex wife drops the kids off and disappears into thin air. His guilt over his disintegrating marriage and the welfare of his kids’ mother drive him to act out in not the smartest of the ways. More humor comes along, but Toby’s constant belittlement of his actions before and during her disappearance start to bug the reader. It started to bug me, at least. The ending? What the hell was that ending? It really blew this book out of top 10 status for me. I had hoped for better things. Overall, charming…but that ending and Toby’s incessant dwelling upon every little thing that went wrong in his marriage grated on the nerves big time.

The Sixth Wicked Child by J.D. Barker (5 out of 5)

•December 27, 2019 • Leave a Comment

J.D. Barker was one of my most recent favorite discoveries. I don’t remember how I heard about the book, but I’m so glad I did. It was like finding Nick Cutter. Although I think that was from Stephen King raving about it. Or maybe Dave M. Dave, if you haven’t read J.D. Barker yet, DO IT! This book is the startling conclusion to the 4th Monkey Killer trilogy.

Startling. Almost as startling as it being available in all formats the DAY OF its release. Not sure too many pubs do that, but I could be-and usually am- incorrect in my surmising. So I chose the oversize paperback. Or as it is also known, trade paperback. Or quality paperback. So many names, so little time to throw them in a blog post. Had I known how much I would end up loving the last book, I would have-and should have- gotten it in hardcover. Truthfully, after the 2nd book in the series pissed me off, I had been holding a grudge that what started off as an unbelievably graphic and horrifying serial killer trilogy was going to have the first book be the best book, and the second two would fade away like Miley Cyrus after the Hemsworth. Not. The Case.

We haven’t seen the last of Anson Bishop. Neither has Detective Sam Porter. The words “See No Evil” written on cardboard and found by the bodies of multiple victims thousands of miles apart signal connection to the infamous serial killer. Things are real rough in Chicago these days. The FBI and Chicago PD are at war over the case, there’s a hospital on quarantine over rumors of a strain of a highly contagious and fatal disease, detectives doubting the long-questioned mental health of Porter as he tries to get Bishop and the case resolved, police corruption, and a number of twists that have you stunned at the end. It was a fitting end to a series where a single book had the power to unend you for months while you breathlessly waited for the next installments. And for the record, the only book that made me stop drinking coffee for awhile after it becomes a tool of fatality in the 2nd book. I can’t recommend J.D. Barker’s 4MK series enough. It is truly horrifying, enthralling, and magnificent in its evil. Anson Bishop and Sam Porter’s relationship, for lack of a better word, makes Clarice and Hannibal look like Play-Doh foreplay. This is a series anyone who loves a twisted story should check out.

The Girl In Red by Christina Henry (4 out of 5)

•December 25, 2019 • Leave a Comment

Pretty good. I did not like it as much as I liked her take on Capt. Hook, but she still makes a compelling case for an author who turns fairy tales upside down, inside out, and right back up. In other words, what that Gregory Maguire used to do, and be good at (was he, really? More and more book friends of mine are realizing he really isn’t all that and a bag of chips!). Christina Henry? Far better. Believe me.

This is the 2nd book I have read by her and I thoroughly enjoy her writing style and complete and utter dissection of the characters. Maguire likes to make you believe he has the dark side down. After watching several of my employees try to read Wicked in the past 6 months and ultimately abandoning it, I became more convinced that Christina Henry is who you need to read for the true dark side of fairy tales. If Maguire is Nora Roberts, Christina Henry is Anne Rice.

This time around, Henry tells us about Red, the girl in the forest. This Red is NOT the defenseless little girl in the tale of yore; rather, an ass kicking banshee trying to survive in a post-apocalyptic world populated by blood spewing zombies, killing machine men with dark desires, and cannibals. All Red needs to do is get through to try to get to Grandma and Grandpa’s house. Only two problems with this story- there is a LOT of emphasis on Red being biracial. Almost too much, like it saturates the story, becomes an integral part of the story, when it really doesn’t play ANY part in the story. And obviously, Red wants to get to Grandma and Grandpa’s house, and the ending, well, there isn’t much to it at all. Quite a letdown after what was one hell of a story overall. Take away those two issues and you still have one hell of a story. Highly recommend. Take my word for it- drop Maguire and acquire a Henry.