Thursday, March 27, 2014

Throwback Thursday: The 80's As Remembered by Me, Through Books

Having been born in the 80's, it's one of my favorite decades - even though I can't remember a whole lot of it. That said, let's take a look at what I consider the top 5 titles that shaped my future love of reading at such an impressionable age.

1. 'The Cat in the Hat Beginner Book Dictionary'

No early childhood list is complete without the title that taught you how to read and if it weren't for this title I probably wouldn't have. Hours in the living room with my parents patiently teaching me how to sound things out. 

I owe this cat, and my parents, a debt of gratitude.

2. 'The Story of Dr. Dolittle' by Hugh Lofting

Once I learned how to read, it's really all I wanted to do. I begged and begged for something to read and my dad came home with this.

I think I read it in a night and my mom quickly ended up having to add "bring Jess to the library" to her list of chores.

Unfortunately, I don't remember a whole lot about Dr. Dolittle or his animal companions. Aside from the fact that he could somehow communicate with them and magically make them better. But I guess that's all one really needs to know about this guy, isn't it?

3. Childcraft: The How and Why Library 15 Volume Set 

Does anyone else remember these things?  I'm pretty sure my mom bought them one or two at a time from the grocery store, but I know I owned all 15 of them, (actually, I'm pretty sure I still own all 15 of them, but now their in a box in someone's attic or basement), and I know I read every page.

For me, these books were absolutely fascinating. Pictures of ligers, articles about how the Native Americans or Ancient Romans lived, and amazing facts like people are animals*. Hours were spent with these books. I loved them.

4. 'Black Beauty' by Anna Sewell

'Black Beauty' was one of the last titles I would read in the 80's and not only was it depressing as all hell, but it taught me that both the children I went to school with at the time and the teacher could be insensitive, cruel and dumb as rocks.

I won't get into too many details, but first grade is one of the many reasons why I'm happy that I didn't end up finishing out school in the backwoods town we were living in at the time. Where I left, they told me that this book was too complicated and boring for the class to understand, and no one else my age had even heard of the title before I brought it in for show and tell.

Where I ended up it had been on the recommended reading list.

5. 'The Hobbit' by J.R.R. Tolkien 

One of the coolest things I remember at that age was visiting my first book store. What made the experience even cooler was that the bookstore in question was owned by my mom's best friends husband!

I imagine it was for me what most kids experience the first time they go to Disney. I was overwhelmed enough that I turned to the adults and asked them what I should read. Someone handed me this, it was awesome, and the rest, as they say, is history.

*So let me tell you a little story about the day I was invited to Sunday school. The girl across the street was a catholic and I was sorta friends with her, so when her church decided it wanted to open its class up to all the heathens for a day (i.e. Jews and other non-affiliated kids in our dust speck of a town), I was invited to go. And off we went to the basement of a church that had been decorated up like a kindergarten nursery and were told the story of Noah. 

Oh the heartache! Oh the tragedy!

"Any questions?" asks the teacher. Yup! I've got one, "If all the animals drowned, did they go to heaven?"

"No! Animals don't o to heaven, they don't have souls!" Ummmm.... "But people are animals, so people didn't go to heaven either?"

"No! People are special - we have blah, blah, blah - God decides and...." followed by a ton more garbage that I can't remember, and I just kept getting more and more upset until I think my mom had to physically drag me out of there kicking and screaming.

Not so ironically, it's the day I became an atheist.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

'Gone Girl' by Gillian Flynn

Official Summary:

On a warm summer morning in North Carthage, Missouri, it is Nick and Amy Dunne’s fifth wedding anniversary. Presents are being wrapped and reservations are being made when Nick’s clever and beautiful wife disappears from their rented McMansion on the Mississippi River. Husband-of-the-Year Nick isn’t doing himself any favors with cringe-worthy daydreams about the slope and shape of his wife’s head, but passages from Amy's diary reveal the alpha-girl perfectionist could have put anyone dangerously on edge. Under mounting pressure from the police and the media—as well as Amy’s fiercely doting parents—the town golden boy parades an endless series of lies, deceits, and inappropriate behavior. Nick is oddly evasive, and he’s definitely bitter—but is he really a killer?

 As the cops close in, every couple in town is soon wondering how well they know the one that they love. With his twin sister, Margo, at his side, Nick stands by his innocence. Trouble is, if Nick didn’t do it, where is that beautiful wife? And what was in that silvery gift box hidden in the back of her bedroom closet?


I have to stop doing this. I have to stop seeing a book title everywhere and thinking I'm missing out if I don't add it to my TBR pile. I have to stop having thoughts like 'gee - it's on top of the NYT best seller list so it must be good' and 'someone is making a movie out of it so there must be something to it!' I have to stop doing all of this.

Instead, I need to remember that I can't stand to sit through 85% of movie theater drivel and life is too short to get all glossy eyed and subservient to our 'thought leaders' over in the NYT editorial office. Most importantly, I should remember what happened the last time I let myself get swept away in the must-read-it-madness... and someone is planning on making a movie about that one too, aren't they?

My point is that something can be critically acclaimed and still have a predictable plot line. It can be elegant social commentary, but absolutely empty of anything real, gritty or plain old fun.

Bottom Line: The characters are developed enough for you to have personal opinions about but don't fool yourself, you won't like them and they won't surprise you. The biggest 'meh' about the whole thing was the ending. Sure - I get it, but I think it was a cop-out and a disappointing ending given the narrative. Read this if you're a fan of contemporary fiction that leave you with a sense of cosmic justice but little else.

Have you read Gone Girl? Do you agree or vehemently disagree with my review above? Let me know what you thought in the comments below!

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Stop Wasting Your Time!

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Monday, March 24, 2014

'Painted Faces' by L.H. Cosway

Official Summary:

Dublin native Freda Wilson considers herself to be an acquired taste. She has a habit of making offensive jokes and speaking her mind too often. She doesn't have the best track record with first impressions, which is why she gets a surprise when her new neighbour Nicholas takes a shine to her.

Nicholas is darkly handsome, funny and magnetic, and Freda feels like her black and white existence is plunged into a rainbow of colour when she's around him. When he walks into a room he lights it up, with his quick wit and charisma. He is a travelling cabaret performer, but Freda doesn't know exactly what that entails until the curtains pull back on his opening night.

She is gob-smacked and entirely intrigued to see him take to the stage in drag. Later on, Nicholas asks her if she would like to become his show assistant. Excited by the idea, she jumps at the chance. Soon she finds herself immersed in a world of wigs, make-up and high heels, surrounded by pretty men and the temptation of falling for her incredibly beautiful employer.

In this story of passion and sexual discovery, Nicholas and Freda will contend with jealousy, emotional highs and lows, and the kind of love that only comes around once in a lifetime.

I always hate being on the fence about a title, but every so often it happens, like it's happening now with Painted Faces.

Why didn't it get the full green light? Answer is about as hazy as my opinion, I guess. I'm not going to run out and recommend this title to everyone I see because in a number of places during Nick and Freda's escapades the writing style seemed a little too familiar... a little too Gray, (and if you've forgotten my opinion on that 'gem' of literary history, here's the link).

But on the other hand, unlike it's genres defining cousin, Painted Faces does a number of things right. For example:
  1. It tells a one book story in one book. 
  2. It doesn't make either of the lead characters seem weak for the sake of being weak.
  3. There is zero BDSM in this one, but the adult scenes are still 100% working it.
Bottom Line: You liked the 50 Shades books, did you? Well I hated them. This title is written from a better place, has a better message and has funnier, wittier and generally likeable characters. Sadly though, the writing style can get a little too close to that piece of garbage, keeping it from earning a full go signal from this reviewer. If you like adult romance but can't stand it when the female character is nothing more than a brainless, undersexed zombie, then pick up Painted Faces

Sunday, March 23, 2014

'The Martian' by Andy Weir

Official Summary:

Six days ago, astronaut Mark Watney became one of the first people to walk on Mars. Now, he's sure he'll be the first person to die there.

After a dust storm nearly kills him and forces his crew to evacuate while thinking him dead, Mark finds himself stranded and completely alone with no way to even signal Earth that he’s alive—and even if he could get word out, his supplies would be gone long before a rescue could arrive.

Chances are, though, he won't have time to starve to death. The damaged machinery, unforgiving environment, or plain-old "human error" are much more likely to kill him first.

But Mark isn't ready to give up yet. Drawing on his ingenuity, his engineering skills—and a relentless, dogged refusal to quit—he steadfastly confronts one seemingly insurmountable obstacle after the next. Will his resourcefulness be enough to overcome the impossible odds against him?


There's this guy I work with whose a book geek like myself. Unlike me, he's usually got his nose in the next epic space odyssey (a la Dan Simmons) or technical fantasy novel (think Terry Brooks). Not that I don't appreciate those two genres for what they are - hell, some of my favorite titles are founding members of those categories - but unless they've got a bit more to them, I have a tough time getting into them.

Why am I telling you this? Well, it means that when either of us are gushing about the last best book discovery the other is usually trying really hard to withhold snark comments. Instead, we nod politely to one another and say something in the grandmotherly vein of, "It sounds lovely. I'm so glad you're enjoying it." and the conversation steers itself back on course*.

This time it was different though. This time, he was blabbing on about this amazing new novel he'd just picked up and couldn't put down about some guy getting left behind on the surface of Mars, and blah blah blah... I was feigning interest through cigarette drags as best I could but my glazed over expression must have given me away because after a few seconds he changed tactics.

"The first line is 'Well I'm pretty much fucked. That's my considered opinion. Fucked.' and it just keeps going from there."

I think I chuckled at that point, but even then wasn't 100% convinced. It took another week of him relaying a few choice lines before I conceded and downloaded the title.

I should have downloaded it sooner.

Bottom Line: From the first line to the last this book had me. If you like science fiction, a good laugh or even if you just had a fleeting interest in the movie Gravity you will adore this story, guaranteed. This one is a must read.

*The proper course usually consisting of Doctor Who, Game of Thrones, Almost Human, Helix, or any of the other dozen or so television shows that we both watch. We might not have matching taste in the literary sense, but it's pretty spot on in the T.V. category.

Saturday, March 22, 2014

'Darkly Dreaming Dexter' (Dexter Morgan Series #1) by Jeff Lindsay

Official Summary:

Meet Dexter Morgan, a polite wolf in sheep’s clothing. He’s handsome and charming, but something in his past has made him abide by a different set of rules. He’s a serial killer whose one golden rule makes him immensely likeable: he only kills bad people. And his job as a blood splatter expert for the Miami police department puts him in the perfect position to identify his victims. But when a series of brutal murders bearing a striking similarity to his own style start turning up, Dexter is caught between being flattered and being frightened–of himself or some other fiend.


So you liked the show Dexter on Showtime, did you? Watched the finale and got just a little bit depressed that you'd never again see Michael C. Hall starring as the best antihero since Batman, hm*? Found out it was based on a series of books by some guy names Jeff Lindsay and got all excited, did you? Might have even thought that even if it were completely different, (because it would be wrong to not recognize that books and the media based on them are usually utterly dissimilar) there had to be something amazing on those pages... maybe something even better.

Yeah. Well about that.

Surprisingly, the talented writers, actors and staff of one of my favorite shows took a steaming pile of poo and only used it as the fertilizer for bigger and better stories and characters. Unfortunately, it means that this book, Darkly Dreaming Dexter is the steaming pile of poo. The author's got a great idea (obviously), but the whole novel feels flimsy. Poor characters, bad dialogue and I really didn't buy Dexter Morgan's ability to live behind the scenes without being caught red handed.

The one small redemption in reading it was that every so often it's possible to catch a glimpse of Dexter's personality, but it would flash by too quickly to make the book worth recommending to anyone. Well - maybe one isn't fair... it's second redeeming factor is that this book helped to create one of the best television series of all time, and for that I am eternally thankful.

Bottom Line: Even if you loved Dexter as much as I had, or are a usual fan of the mystery/thriller genres I'd say give this title a wide berth. I really wanted to love this one, and who knows, maybe high expectations were part of the problem, but it was impossible to get past the two dimensional characters or weak plot lines.

*You thought I was going to say I was depressed because that was one of histories worst finales ever, didn't you? While I'd be inclined to agree my opinions on the book and the series are trying to be civil with one another. I mean, what the hell was that?! A magical boat ride and an explosion later he's somehow living it up in the middle of freakin' no-where? Making the love of his life and his son... OMFG his SON!... think he's a dead man while he plays lumberjack? How many years of my life did I WASTE for this to be the closure? Seriously?

As you can see, it's not really working all that well.

It's Alive!

"It's alive!" Gene Wilder, ‘Young Frankenstein”
Hello and welcome back to TTP!

I know, I know, it's been too long. So long in fact, that you probably thought this blog had gone to the grave and you were nearly correct. It almost did. Almost.

The hiatus (as it will henceforth be referred) was brought on by a sever case of bride-brain. And while I kept reading throughout all the vendor calls, on-site appointments, dress fittings, and "parties" designed to make my poor bridesmaids do a fair chunk of slave labor fueled by wine, the idea of powering on a computer to do any writing at all was completely outmatched by the need to collapse into bed like a heap of laundry.

Starting this weekend the real fun begins! With over 30 titles in the review queue, two new book giveaways planned and a few author spotlights in the pipeline there's plenty to share.