Tag Archives: California

Woman No. 17, by Edan Lepucki

20 May
woman no 17 edan lepucki

Five of Five Stars

I wouldn’t be surprised if this book gets some negative reviews because of the unlikable characters – and make no mistake, there’s not much to like about any of them. But generally I find unlikable characters more interesting and more realistic. I mean, I feel like I’m pretty well liked in my life but I also related to some of the selfishness these women exhibit. Maybe we don’t like the mirror held up to our own souls, but I love to see how other (characters) deal with the stupid situations I sometimes get myself into.

The book switches between Lady, recently separated and living in the Los Angeles hills with her two sons, and “S” (for Esther), a Berkeley transplant recently graduated and trying to find herself. S gets a job as nanny to Lady’s youngest son while also getting a little too close to the teenage, mute son. Both women have mommy issues, both likely also have daddy issues, both are thoughtless, selfish, narcissistic and neurotic, and did I mention they have issues?

Seriously, these people are not very likable, but I was fascinated anyway. I think the fantastic writing is what keeps the reader hooked. The author is just a couple steps away from a great piece of contemporary literature, and I’m very excited to see where her future writing goes.

Not everything about the book was perfect. Lady and S live such parallel lives that I sometimes got confused with who was telling the story when they went back in time. S’s “artistic plan” feels like a bit of bullshit, but having known several artistic people I can’t quite say its unrealistic or implausible. I wish we got some real answers about the mute son. And in what I consider a better way to end books, nothing is really tied up with a nice bow.

Yeah, I know, this is a bit all over the place and I seem to be giving five stars to several unlikable characters and a problematic story. But the writing brings this book to another level. It’s also kind of a fascinating look into mother/daughter relationships, and how complicated they can be. I don’t want to say anything else about the story, just go into it blind and enjoy it.

Many thanks to NetGalley for allowing me an advance copy in exchange for a fair review.

Californium, by R. Dean Johnson

17 Jul
californium r dean johnson

3 of 5 stars

So keep in mind that 3 stars means “I liked it.”
But I didn’t love it. And it took me an incredibly long time to read it because I had other things I’d rather do.

I think the author has a good concept, and I like what he was trying to do, and I love how a lot came together with science in the end. But getting there was kind of a long, slow drag.

Initially I was all in with this book; I went to high school in NoCal in the 80s, and went to college in SoCal also in the 80s. The bands, the music, the clothes, the neighborhoods, the lifestyle — the shopping at Miller’s Outpost (!!!), it was a great step back into a time that I really loved. And I loved that it highlighted how a band (or any entity) becomes a legend. The rise of Dik Nixon in the book was fascinating and just inside the line of believability.

But there were so many things that took too long to uncover, and so the first two thirds was mostly a kind of very benign YA novel. It went on so long I wondered if we were ever going to get answers about Uncle Ryan or what’s up with Treat and his family. I wish I could have known any of the three teen girls a bit better. Once we did start getting answers, so much more could have been done, if we’d gone deeper into those characters we could have had a solid book. But instead it focused on the band, and although I do understand what the author was going for, I just don’t think it quite got there.

Thumbs up for the very real characters of Reece’s parents, and I think the character of Keith was great. I also give it several personal points for making the periodic table such a big part of this book – that damn periodic table had a great impact on the start of my own high school life, an impact I won’t get into but it was enough that the focus on the table here made sense to me.

Do I recommend this? Hmmm. If you are a teenage boy, yes. If you grew up in the 80s and want to check this book out, I say give it a go. I genuinely hope you enjoy it more than I did. I’m not sure I would go out of my way to recommend to anyone else.

Thank you very much to Penguin First-to-Read for allowing me a copy for review.

People Who Knew Me, by Kim Hooper

20 Apr
people who knew me kim hooper

FIVE of FIVE stars

Fantastic book. Touching and frustrating and full of love and full of irritation.

The story is told by Emily, an admittedly flawed human who some readers may not like. But Emily has found herself in a tough life and really has no option but to live the life of a martyr, or live the life of a complete asshole. Enter 9/11. What would you have done? I don’t think I would do as Emily did, but I don’t dare judge the decision she made – no one should until you’ve walked in those particular shoes.

We go back and forth in time from the present back to the events in Emily’s life that lead up to 9/11. Cancer is a co-star in this book, and it was dealt with so well that I dreamed every night that it was me who was going through chemo. Parkinson’s is another co-star, and the characters’ experience with that has me now fearing Parkinson’s more than I ever have the C Word. This is not a fluffy story, there is a lot of pain involved, by many characters.

I think this book will end up being judged by readers according to whether they agree with Emily’s decisions. I probably would have ended the deception much earlier myself, but I felt that Emily could simultaneously do what she did and also be a good person inside. I love the book and cannot believe this is another (like Burying the Honeysuckle Girls) by a first time novelist. You girls are KILLING IT in 2016!!

Thank you to NetGalley for providing an early copy in exchange for an honest review.

Three-Martini Lunch, by Suzanne Rindell

5 Apr
three martini lunch suzanne rindell

FIVE of Five stars

Fantastic book, guaranteed one of the best of 2016.
Edited and expanded, because I stayed up all night to finish and review it.

We follow three young New Yorkers in the late 1950s, along with their groups of friends, and see how their paths diverge and cross and connect again.
Eden, the ambitious girl from the midwest, whose Achilles heel is her heritage as well as her gender.
Cliff, the privileged white man who is 60% plans and dreams and 40% excuses with nothing left for talent or ambition.
Miles, the intelligent young man with two minority strikes against him.

I was engaged with this book from page one. The three narrators are strikingly individual with singularly interesting stories. We follow Cliff and Eden in New York as they both attempt to move through different paths of the publishing world, then we follow Miles cross country as he searches for his father’s story and his own history. Their lives flow so far apart from each other I wasn’t sure how they would ever be reconnected, but reconnect they do, with disastrous results.

500 pages of the New York publishing world and cross-country soul-searching. Gut punch after gut punch throughout the final 100 pages, with one last, unexpected punch at the very end.

Unlikable characters who are given everything but can achieve nothing. Heroic characters who have the entire world of the 1950s against them. So much has changed since that time, entirely too much has remained the same.

I finished all 500 pages in two days because I just couldn’t step away from it.

I received an advance copy from Penguin’s First to Read program in exchange for an honest review.

Hidden Bodies (You #2), by Caroline Kepnes

1 Dec
hidden bodies caroline kepnes

Three of Five stars

I received this book from NetGalley to review, and I requested it because I loved “You” and adore my favorite serial killer Joe. I think this is a good solid book, and it’s fine as a sequel, but I just can’t say it was as good as the original.

There were a lot of wonderful things about “You”, enough to really push it to the highest 5 star level… but I found many of those things missing in this book. There were only a few recent pop culture references scattered throughout, and just about no book references except for Portnoy’s Complaint. I suppose those were replaced by the film and California culture references, but they weren’t the same.

In the original, Joe’s schizophrenic bi-polar brain was constantly changing its mind about the people he knew and the situations he was in. From page to page you didn’t know what mood he was going to be in… but this happened very rarely in “Hidden Bodies”. Yes, he changed several times, but it wasn’t near the ride that “You” was, in fact I think he spends an entire summer quite happily in this book and my attention started wandering. Who wants to see Joe happy all the time?

I found all of Joe’s stalking on social media in “You” to be quite hilarious and imaginative, but he doesn’t do that here, so that is missing – in fact he doesn’t stalk anyone in any way (other than Amy for a hot minute). And there’s none of the confusion for the reader about whether Joe is really crazy or if he’s no more crazy than the rest of us, or whether we’re cheering him on because he’s doing what we wish we could. In this book, when Joe is happy, he is happy, when someone is in the way, he kills them. And that’s about the whole story.

And because Joe has gotten so good at killing, he no longer really fears being caught. He fears his old mugofurine but not any of the murders in this book. So it becomes simply: This guy/girl is in my way, so now I will kill him/her, and now I go on with my life.

This may seem like I’m only complaining about this book, and I’m not, it’s quite good, but in reality I just cannot throw praise at it like I did “You”. I think my biggest problem is that there is no fun in Joe being happy. The best part of Joe is that he never wins, he is always the underdog, he always has to keep trying, and things are always just out of his reach. In “Hidden Bodies” he gets… everything. And though the ending is certainly not a cut & dry happy one, all signs point to happy ever after… and that means the end to Joe’s story.

Let me give a big plus for it: When we learn how someone has solved the mystery, it is a web of coincidences, outright mistakes, and mugofurines. Someone catches Joe using the same detective work that Joe used for his own prey. There was a fitting adversary out there afterall, and I loved all the connections and previous references.

But is it as good as “You”? Absolutely not. For me it’s just about a 3.5. However as a standalone I might have given it 4, so I’m bumping it there.
Should you read it? If you read “You”, you have to find out what happens to Joe. I won’t promise you’ll be satisfied with it, but neither will you think your time was wasted.

EDIT TO ADD 12-03-2015: I’m changing the rating to 3 stars. I’ve read over my review for “You” and it reminded me how wonderful that book was. As much as I love and respect Caroline Kepnes and her writing, if I have to be the sole voice of honesty here then I will: “Hidden Bodies” is only half as good as “You” and I just didn’t enjoy this one that much.  It wasn’t creepy, it wasn’t scary, I wasn’t rooting for Joe to succeed, and instead of rushing through the book with joy, it really dragged for me. I would read “You” over again, and even bought the Audiobook to listen to later, that’s how much I loved it. I won’t ever pick up “Hidden Bodies” again. Nothing of what I loved about “You” is in Hidden Bodies. So for an honest review, there you go.