I Can’t Date Jesus: Love, Sex, Family, Race, and Other Reasons I Put My Faith in Beyonce by Michael Arceneaux (4 out of 5)

•September 24, 2018 • Leave a Comment

I’ve really gotten into short stories and essay collections this year. As I find my memory not as crystal clear as the wine glass I drink out of, it’s often easiest to plow through those books that don’t require hours of introspective reading. I do still read them (Stephen Markley’s “Ohio”, for example), but it’s less wearing on the braintrust if I stay more on the lighter side of the hedgerow.

If you don’t know who Michael Arceneaux is, join the club! I had no idea who he was, until I read a review for this book in New York magazine. I loved the title, and the essay they printed. Turns out he has written articles in many magazines. I wouldn’t be surprised to see this dude get his own show at some point. For now, I think he’s mighty grateful for all of the opportunities he’s had and will continue to, with this book being published. It was nice to see it not be destroyed on Goodreads.

Michael Archeneaux brings a compelling, heartfelt, and yes, funny, collection of essays about things that he has been through into the current day. One of my friends saw the book on my table and thought the title applied to me. Haha. Very funny. Archaneaux brings a very real voice to growing up and trying so hard to be a straight male in his black, Jewish family, but realizing through a series of experiences that he is, indeed, a single, Jewish male looking for another man to make his life complete. This poor guy has some winners…but hey, most of us in the cesspool known as the dating scene, do. That just makes it more relatable to the reader. In between his romantic misadventures, Michael talks to the reader about growing up a gay, sensitive, black man in a world that is always trying to bring him down into the doldrums. He is eloquent in his delivery on this and other subjects, but there are some sassy deliveries in there as well. He shines a big, glaring spotlight on what it’s like to be a minority in today’s marginalized headlights. Yet, you can’t help but be entertained. And you’d love to sit down and have a cup of coffee with him. Or go see Beyonce, whichever strikes your fancy first. My advice would be to pick up the book before you do anything else.

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Cross Her Heart by Sarah Pinborough (2 out of 5)

•September 17, 2018 • Leave a Comment

This was my third go-round with Sarah. I read and loved “Behind Her Eyes”, her first book. I read her young adult book, 13 Minutes. I didn’t get into it as much because it was very predictable, and I wanted to smack all of the full-of-themselves teenagers. This book was okay, but again, missing something. Sadly, I guessed what was going to happen, but it did rally toward the end and that saved it somewhat. As in, a 3-starred review instead of a 2-starred review. It delivered a spinach lasagna instead of a ham and cheese Hot Pocket. Don’t run into this thinking it’s a 3 alarm fire; it’s barely a smoldering campfire.

Lisa’s got a good job, a great teenage daughter named Ava, and her best friend Marilyn. Her world is small and kept that way for a reason. Then one of her clients begins flirting with her, and she entertains the thought that maybe she can stop trying to outrun her past. Lisa isn’t aware that her social media savvy daughter is communicating with some mysterious man online and that she is “in love” with the mystery man. Then Ava saves a little boy from drowning and she becomes a heroine, with the paparazzi in pursuit. This part of the novel rings true; once the media gets a tasty nugget, they follow in hot pursuit. Someone gets splashed all over the news, and Lisa’s past comes out. Ava is pissed at her mom for lying all these years…but Ava, too, has secrets. Everything grinds to a halt when Ava disappears. Marilyn, being not only the best friend but also the best thing about this book, steps up and in and tries to protect Lisa, even when it all blows up around her. Everything from this point up to the reveal of who Ava’s secret online paramour is and why this was orchestrated in the first place, is great. But once everything is out in the open? A collectively loud emphatic groan for how Pinborough winds it up. It was like “Fatal Attraction” for gophers playing miniature golf in cornfields. The intent to deliver a good time is strong with this one, but it fails on execution in multiple areas. Marilyn is a saint for putting up with Lisa; Ava is a typical teenager whose curiosities get the best, and almost, the last of her. Lisa is a weird juxtaposition between sympathetic and annoying, and the reader is never quite sure where to go with her. I would advise to hunt for that hard-to-put-down novel elsewhere.

The Feral Detective by Jonathan Lethem

•September 13, 2018 • Leave a Comment

Thank you to Cathy at Harper Collins for sending me a copy of this advance. It will be available in your local bookstore on November 6, 2018. I have read and enjoyed all of Lethem’s work, especially Motherless Brooklyn. The Feral Detective is definitely hanging out in the same Kool-aid balloon as that book. Meaning, simply, that it’s very hard to describe the book. Because you’ve never read anything like it, and you probably never will. Unless it’s authored by that rascal Jonathan Lethem.

Phoebe has a friend with a missing daughter, Arabella. She leaves New York City and hightails it to the California desert to track down a detective by the name of Charles Heist (Heist to the reader), to try to find her. Heist is an odd one. When Phoebe goes to his office, she finds oddities. By far, the most unique is the pet opossum lodging in his desk drawer. Heist himself is an odd noodle in this Pad Thai in the sky mystery. Heist agrees to help Phoebe, but his methods are as unconventional as he is, and objects in the mirror often appear closer than they are. The shared companionship between the two shouldn’t take the reader by surprise, either. Phoebe isn’t too far from the wall of weird, herself. As the search for Arabella leads them into new and unusual parts of the world, the reader gets to see for themselves the fabric of unique persons inhabiting Lethem’s landscape. I was having a hard time reading Phoebe at parts, because it often appeared that her mind was not her own, but that of a man. I chalk it all up to Lethem’s literary blueprint. If you’ve read him before, you’re revisiting old ground. If you haven’t, you might be confused. I thoroughly enjoyed this book, although it didn’t end the way I thought. Then again, when you finish something 3 weeks ago and it’s still on your mind 3 weeks later, that’s the mark of success. It’s out there, yes. Heist will have you scratching your head, yes. You’ll find yourself rooting for your two main characters, yes. Should you read it when it comes out? Yes.

Boom Town by Sam Anderson (5 out of 5)

•September 12, 2018 • Leave a Comment

These are the types of nonfiction books I like to read, with a little sociology thrown in for good measure. And pop culture. And sports. And history. And weather. Because THIS? Is a little bit of THAT.

Sam Anderson’s cornucopia of Oklahoma City takes us from the very unusual beginnings of the town all the way up to current day. Everything that falls in between hits all points in between. The epic tale of the Oklahoma City Thunder weaves in and out through the years, along with the area’s premiere meteorologist, their wild weather, failed architecture, business blowhards, the Oklahoma City bombing, and oh yeah, the Flaming Lips. It really is a hodgepodge of the past and present history of what many would just assume was a little ole’ town in the middle of Tornado Alley. Instead, many, including myself, will be charmed and riveted to see how it all unfurls. I think it’s fair to say that I enjoyed this immensely, and I believe you will, too. Give it a whirl. It is currently available in hardcover, courtesy of the folks at Crown, an associate of Penguin Random House.

Spoiled Brats: Stories by Simon Rich (3 out of 5)

•September 11, 2018 • Leave a Comment

I became aware of Simon Rich because of his current essay collection, Hits & Misses. That was one of my favorite short story collections of this year. This is an older release, and is currently available in trade paperback. I would tell you to grab that one first, and work your way through his back catalog.

This collection centers on a theme we all know and love- narcissistic millennials. I could go on for hours about these spoiled little dipwads, but that would show my age. This collection doesn’t tickle the funny bone as much as his current offering, but a few stories DO merit special mention and extra credit. The 74 page “Sellout” features his great-great grandfather returning to Brooklyn after he was accidentally brined in a pickle jar for 100 years. Unique and funny? You betcha! “Animals” is from the view of the classroom hamster who is tortured…and neglected…daily by the classroom’s resident rascal. “Elf on the Shelf” is worthy of honorable mention as well. Some of the vibe contained within this makes the reader feel like Rich may have a little too much insider information himself and some of the stories are not as singular in uniqueness as some other stories he has penned here. That was the only drawback. Some were great stories; some were okay, others were slightly underwhelming. All in all, not a bad way to spend a few hours.

Ohio by Stephen Markley (5 out of 5)

•September 11, 2018 • Leave a Comment

I’m always annoying Wendy at Simon & Schuster for books. It’s seldom that I get one from her personally, but if I do, I need to move it to the top of the TBR (To Be Read, if you are unaware) pile. That’s what happened here. She had just sent me quite a few advances, and a week later, I got one with a note saying she hadn’t read anything like it, and wondered my thoughts. Uh oh. This sounds like I need to get this done ASAP. A month later, I got to it. It took me a week to read it. It doesn’t usually take me a month to read anything. Except “War and Peace”. Anyway, this is not a book for the faint of heart. Markley doesn’t mess around with cotton candy prose, hearts & flowers vocabulary, or unicorn dreams. What you hold in your hands with Ohio is a masterpiece of dark reality, unrequited dreams of the heartland, and the darkening of kindred spirits across a highway littered with opioid addictions and broken hearts. Again, if you pick this up and expect something that you can pick up and set down again, you’d be incorrect. You can’t put it away, even when you’re not reading it. The characters and their narratives in this coming home tale never quite leave your mind. That, to me, is the key to coining it a masterpiece. It stayed with me, darkened my door, and made my head spin for weeks. The writing? Fucking amazing. The turn of phrases that Markley uses throughout the book are like nothing I’ve read in a long time. A customer likened it to “The Big Chill”, the 1983 Lawrence Kasdan film about 7 college friends who reunite when home for the funeral of a friend. I was never enamored with that movie, and if I’m impressed with a book, I would never compare it to a movie. I can, despite my reluctance to do so, understand why she said it was similar. It doesn’t mean I would ever handsell it to a customer using that catchphrase. I was almost done reading this when the author’s name broke on through the cellophane in my brain. I went to bookshelf #2 and pulled out a book I found at Half Price Books last summer when I began to get “serious” about writing. It was published in 2010 and it’s called Publish This Book: The Unbelievable True Story of How I Wrote, Sold, and Published This Very Book. I was floored! I read and enjoyed that book immensely. That’s why I kept it and didn’t pass it onto friends. That guy wrote this? Holy shit. Markley was holding out on all of us! GO get this book.

Four high school friends make their way back to New Canaan, Ohio, around the time of the funeral of former town football hero Rick Brinklan. All four have demons they’re fighting, most of them not successfully. Bill is an alcoholic, drug abusing activist who’s travelled the world to try to make his listless ambitions come true; he comes back with an unclear agenda in the form of a nondescript package strapped under his car. Dan, an introverted war veteran, who comes home to go to dinner with the high school sweetheart who got away. Stacey is a doctoral candidate who has unfinished business with the mom of her ex lover. And Tina? Tina’s story will break your heart. The whole book, so starkly and beautifully presented, will break your heart. It will play a game of emotional bingo in your psyche. I haven’t read a book like this since, well, I don’t know when. It is deep, people, and lengthy, clocking in at under just 5oo pages. But…so worth the emotional investment. Ohio is out now, in hardcover, and brought to us by Simon & Schuster. And a hella big thank you to Wendy for shining her light upon this one.

We Sold Our Souls by Grady Hendrix (4 out of 5)

•August 25, 2018 • Leave a Comment

I am a fan of Grady Hendrix. I have read “My Best Friend’s Exorcism” and “Paperbacks from Hell” and enjoyed both. This was my favorite book of his, thus far. I tweeted him to let him know I loved every chapter title being a heavy metal album of prominence. I didn’t hear back, but I get it- he’s a busy guy. It’s hard to slap a genre on the guy, too. I wouldn’t say straight up horror, nor straight up sci-fi. Plus throw a lot of humorous fiction into it. A lot of A.J. Martinez similarities, but I think Grady has some more darkness in his work. However you cut it, it’s good shit.

Durt Wurk was a heavy metal band in the 90’s, poised for great success…but then two things happened. The advent of grunge, and lead singer Terry breaks the band up and heads off to be a breakout star, as the leader of Koffin. The former band members aren’t doing well at all. Kris Pulaski is the former guitarist, drowning in debt and working as a night manager at a Best Western. Things go from bad to worse when she realizes that Terry’s sudden fame may have resulted from his selling her soul. Obviously, Kris does not take this well, and sets out to track down the other band members of Durt Wurk, and shit gets REAL. She heads out to confront Terry in person, at his monumental metal fest in Las Vegas. There is a rather entertaining stay at a Satanic rehab center along the way, and Hendrix’s dark humor carries along the sadder, imminent (plot development) parts of our story. Kris also finds a female friend/travelling companion/Koffin groupie named Melanie who tags along for the latter half of the book, which brings balance to the plot and offers up a nice dose of Thelma & Louise, with a supernatural twist. I wish Melanie had been in more of the book; she was a breath of fresh air. Will Kris be able to reclaim her soul and get credit for her work? Will Terry be defeated? Do people die? Is Great stuff from Hendrix. Highly recommended for fans of dark, twisted humor, Supernatural (TV show), and A.J. Martinez. ” “We Sold Our Souls” is out on September 18th from Quirk Books.