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52 Book Minimum

Stargirl - Jerry Spinelli Stargirl arrives at Mica High marching to beat of her own drum, errrr ukulele. A swirling, twirling mass of prairie skirts and song, Stargirl is different than EVERYONE else. She handcrafts gifts for all on holidays, she gives each student their own “Happy Birthday” serenade and she cheers for both sides during games. The only thing that doesn’t make Stargirl stand out from the crowd is that she has a crush on a boy – Leo Borlock. Leo has feelings for Stargirl too, but he’s also worried about his personal image when he begins devoting so much time to someone so strange and asks her to become “normal”.

This was a very sweet book about conformity/nonconformity. A perfect read for late elementary-schoolers or early middle-schoolers. Although not particularly “deep”, Spinelli does a good job of putting pen to paper and making an enjoyable book that delivers a message.
Speak - Laurie Halse Anderson Melinda used to be a solid “B” student with plenty of friends, but all that changed after she called the police and busted a party. Now she’s a Freshman in high school with zero friends and grades that range from mediocre to pathetic. She also doesn’t speak much. What caused Melinda to lose her voice and will she be able to get it, and everything else she has lost, back?

Wow, was this raw. I’m talking serious

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There has been a swarm, it seems, of these books with a plot of “something horrible happened to the main character and now everyone around her is being awful”. This one did it a lot better than many of the others. In fact, the “something horrible” could have actually been omitted completely and the book still would have been effective. Let’s face it, some kids are assholes. It doesn’t necessarily take a life-changing event to turn a kid from average to exile when they are entering that horrible realm of high school. The emotion was so real and the passive-aggressive bullying was completely believable. Books like these and characters like Melinda motivate me to ALWAYS keep communication lines open with my kids so they will never lose their voice.

Side note: I almost fell in love with Laurie Anderson when she wrote this: “A couple of times a day, nearly every day for the last 12 years, readers have asked me when I’ll be writing a sequel to “Speak”... Here’s the thing: most sequels suck… Sequels are too often crass attempts to make money off something that worked the first time, but without the care and attention that made the first movie or book so special…”

Then she follows with: “But despite all of that, I’m seriously thinking about writing a sequel.”

Not like Ms. Anderson needs my advice, but seriously? Don’t even f-ing THINK about it. Writing a sequel to something this powerful will automatically make you lose all credibility and become one of the money grubbers you are blasting in your first statement.
Bad Monkey - Carl Hiaasen  photo sig_zps9b79c50d.png

4.5 Stars

Searching for a book with a REAL cast of characters? Well, look no further friends ‘cause this one has them all – an ex-policeman turned roach-patrol food inspector, a beauty of a medical examiner, a timid sheriff, an evil stepmother, her new boyfriend and a greedy stepdaughter to complete the trio, a “Mary Kay Letourneau” and her (not-so) young boy-toy, a beekeeper, a voodoo priestess, unsavory restaurateurs, grave robbers, part of a dead body and, dare I omit, one bad monkey.

The story begins when a routine boating accident churns up nothing but the victim’s arm. Andrew Yancy – Key West Detective demoted to food inspector – is ordered by the local sheriff to babysit the arm in order to avoid unwanted publicity on the department. However, when Yancy starts sniffing around, he begins to believe this accidental death really stinks – and the smell only BEGINS with the shark bait he’s been hiding in his freezer.

Of all the books in all the gin joints in all the world that have become a series – PLEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAASE let this be one. I haven’t had so much fun with a murder mystery in FOREVER. After reading all of the “hot” new psychological thrillers that have been inundating the bookshelves, “Bad Monkey” was a refreshing change of pace. So quick, so hilarious, so many characters! And I did it all from the comfort of my Hoveround Scooter ; )

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The Never List - Koethi Zan Although they had made detailed lists and took every precaution imaginable to avoid getting in harm’s way, Sarah and her best friend Jennifer were kidnapped when they went away to college and were held in a cellar as slaves for three years with two other girls. Four were kept prisoner – three made it out alive.

Fast forward 10 years to their abductor’s probation hearing. Sarah thinks it will be impossible for her to even participate, but she has no idea how many demons from her past she will actually have to face before all is said and done.

The main problem I had with this book is it was written by the wrong narrator. I realize that most psych-thrillers aren’t realistic, but having the victims morph into supersleuths (one who must cure her 10 year case of crippling agoraphobia INSTANTANEOUSLY) in order to solve their own crime was SUPER far-fetched. I mean

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Agent McCordy should have been the lead voice. It was his crime to solve – NOT the former victims. The book still could have been written in the first person and used flashbacks of him reviewing his files in order to tell us about the crime(s). The other girls’ characters could have had more depth that way as well.

If you can overlook how farfetched the story was and don’t mind the occasional eyeroll or muttering of “give me a break” through various sections, give this one a read. It was exciting - a real page turner with not a whole lot of breaks in the action and the subject matter was dark and intriguing.
Go Ask Alice - Beatrice Sparks, Anonymous I find this book to be one of the most difficult I’ve ever rated/reviewed. On one hand, the “shock and awe” propaganda tactics of the author writing this “diary” are so cliché it’s absolutely laughable so I want to give it 1 Star. On the other hand, it’s well written, I flew right through it and, although I’m sure the author would be horrified by this, I found it highly entertaining so I want to give it 4. I’m splitting the difference (kinda) and going with a 3 Star. As far as “modern classics”, you could do a lot worse than Alice if that’s the genre you are looking for.
Juliet, Naked - Nick Hornby Annie, Duncan and Tucker find themselves in a strange love triangle. Annie and Duncan have been a couple for 15 years, but Duncan's obsession with former rock star Tucker Crowe has always been an issue. Now after years of being a recluse, an acoustic version of Tucker's famous album "Juliet" has been released, fanning the flames of Duncan's fanboy web postings - and making Annie question their relationship more than ever. Add in Tucker emailing Annie and this threesome just got a little more complicated.

Oh Nick Hornby, I adore you, but this was not one of your best books. The story was just a little flat, the humor a little thin. Although the last few pages give a smidge of redemption, it was just a little too little too late. Annie, Duncan and Tucker were just all too whiny for my liking (and this is coming from the girl who LOVED the story about a group of suicidals by the same author). To use the British vernacular, they were all three kind of wankers.
Beautiful Creatures - Margaret Stohl, Kami Garcia Ugh : (

How can something sooooo completely vapid have so many pages????? And more books in the series????? You’ve gotta be kidding me.

563 pages of Lena droning on and on about how she’ll turn dark. 563 pages of looking for the answers in “The Book of Moons”. 563 pages of Ethan pining for Lena. Barf. This might be one where the movie is better than the book since I assume the special effects might be somewhat decent.
My Most Excellent Year - Steve Kluger 5 Sickeningly Sweet Stars

T.C., Alé and Augie are high-schoolers who have been assigned an English lesson of journaling their “most excellent year”. Follow along through these journal entries, chats, I.M.s, etc. as the three come of age and come into their own.

Obviously, this one isn’t ever going to win a Pulitzer, but judging the book for its genre – it is absolutely worthy of 5 stars. I don’t care if it’s completely cliché, the characters are too mature to be 14, the plot isn’t realistic. So what? Sometimes it’s just perfect to read something that makes you feel so good. It’s so saccharine sweet that I’m fairly certain I have a cavity and my face is going to hurt from smiling for DAYS. Steve Kluger, where have your books been all my life????
We Have Always Lived in the Castle - Shirley Jackson, Thomas Ott, Jonathan Lethem The story of the remaining members of the Blackwood family and the history behind how they came to be the only residents living in a sprawling estate.

Absolutely DELICIOUS. This book has been showing up on “must read” lists for eons and yet I’ve always managed to avoid it. While some “classics” just make me sad because they don’t live up to the hype, this was not the case with “We Have Always Lived in the Castle”. Over 50 years old and completely transcends time. Jackson is brilliant.

Added bonus - just LOOK at the history of this library book - not to mention the old book smell . . .

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The Kiss

The Kiss - Kathryn Harrison It began with the voice of an innocent little child saying “I’m going to read Mommy’s book for reading time tonight” – followed by Mommy’s scream of NOOOOOOO, DON’T READ THAT!!!!!. The story then moves into the kitchen where the husband asks what’s so wrong with this book that the boy-child can’t touch it? The wife’s answer? Wellllllllll, you see, it’s a memoir of a woman telling the story of her incestuous relationship with her father. Husband’s response? “You read some f*&%d up s#@t!”

I blame it all on Augusten Burroughs. While reading “Possible Side Effects”, Burroughs tells of his dream of being awarded a $57,000,000 settlement for swallowing a bottlecap (because there is no warning on bottlecaps saying they should not be swallowed). He said he would then use some of his winnings to send paperback copies of “The Kiss” to all of his friends and relatives. I immediately searched out “The Kiss” on Goodreads and after reading the synopsis laughed solidly for 10 minutes at Burroughs' warped humor.

“The Kiss” is just as disturbing as the synopsis would leave one to believe. Fortunately, it is not filled with gory details of the affair, but the raw emotion and obvious mental-health issues that go along with this darkest of taboos is palpable. As my husband so eloquently put it, this was some “f*&%d up s#@t!”
The One I Left Behind - Jennifer McMahon I’m not a real great reviewer to begin with, but I feel I add some extra suckage to my reviews of thrillers. I’m always afraid if I say ANYTHING, it will end up being a clue that gives it all away.

The One I Left Behind is the story of Reggie, whose mother was taken by a serial killer 25 years ago. The assumption has always been that Reggie’s mother was dead and the body just wasn’t discovered. That is, until she shows up at a homeless shelter. Now Reggie must confront all of the ghosts of her past, including old friends left behind, secrets long buried and truths about her childhood.

FINALLY a new thriller that didn’t have the words “just like Gone Girl” printed on the cover. And guess what? I liked this one better than all of the others with that label. It kept me turning pages and I discovered I had read 100 when I thought I had maybe read 25. It had everything I like in a thriller: a decent sized cast of characters, quick pace, smooth dialogue, secrets revealed, climactic ending that didn’t drag on for a billion pages. It was a solid book in its genre and I would definitely recommend it to others.
And the Mountains Echoed - Khaled Hosseini  photo sig_zps9b79c50d.png

2.5 Stars

Oh that felt like blasphemy to type, but I’ve gotta be honest here. I loved The Kite Runner and A Thousand Splendid Suns, but Hosseini just missed the mark with this one.

The story begins with a father telling his children a fable of an evil div (monster) who roamed various villages and would choose a home at random. Said home would have to sacrifice one of their children, or the div would kill as many as he pleased. The father in the story is beside himself with the idea of offering one of his children to be slaughtered. That tale seems so fitting, because I can picture Hosseini at the editing table going through the same process. However, rather than opting to cull one (or a few) of the massive amounts of characters/stories in this book that were barely connected – he opted to keep them all. Unfortunately, that meant the ultimate sacrifice was my enjoyment. Too many characters – many with stories not long enough to actually to get invested in their lives.

I’m sad that I had to type that.

Possible Side Effects - Augusten Burroughs Augusten Burroughs gives me a happy. While Running With Scissors contains MANY shocking/graphic/awful stories that are frosted with humor, Possible Side Effects provides all the giggle without the remorse of laughing at someone else’s expense. Burroughs’ essays are sheer comedic genius. Truly laugh out loud funny – so much so that I was CONSTANTLY inundated with “what’s so funny, Mom?????” from the small people who live with me. FYI – the appropriate answer to that question when reading Augusten Burroughs 99.9999% of the time is “NOTHING!”
Visitation Street - Ivy Pochoda 3.5 Stars

June and Val are 15 year olds spending yet another boring summer in Red Hook, Brooklyn. On one hot night they decide to go for a float on a raft in the East River. Val ends up washed ashore, but June remains missing.

Word to the wise – don’t attempt to read this if you’re going to be subjected to a lot of distractions (i.e., don’t start it on the eve of the first day of school). Ivy Pochoda truly PAINTS the scene with her words. While Visitation Street is categorized as a mystery – loyalists to the whodunit may find themselves disappointed. Yes, there is the undercurrent of “what happened to June”, but the goings on of the neighborhood and its vivid cast of characters are the main story.

The picture painted by Pochoda is so vivid that I can immediately picture it as a movie - reminiscent of films like Sleepers and Gone Baby Gone. You know the type – filmed with either a grainy texture or in shadows to let you know you’re not in the best part of town. A cast of characters as plentiful and intriguing as Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil (complete with a vivacious drag queen and someone who communes with the dead) that can be played by not-so-famous actors because the script is JUST. THAT. GOOD.

What could be considered information overload in some books, somehow is absolutely necessary in Visitation Street. You need to know every microscopic detail of the neighborhood and the people who live there in order to feel the pulse of this novel. Pochoda TAKES YOU to Red Hook (and the banter of chatty children who should be going to bed will yank you RIGHT BACK to reality so find yourself a little hidey-hole in which to read so the vision isn’t broken).
Forgive Me, Leonard Peacock - Matthew Quick This is the story of one day in Leonard Peacock’s life. The most important day he’ll ever live. Not only is it his 18th birthday, it’s also the day where he will kill Asher Beal and then himself. Follow Leonard through this most remarkable day as he says his farewells to the four most important people in his life – on the last day of his own.

Characters like Leonard Peacock (i.e., Holden Caulfield, Gene from A Separate Peace, Charlie from The Perks of Being a Wallflower, Lucky Linderman from Everybody Sees the Ants, etc., etc.) can sometimes seem to be a dime a dozen. They are generally fairly similar in that they have a case of arrested development and have one defining experience that made them who they are (that is easily foretold 200 pages in advance). I’ll admit that it took me awhile to really sink into this book because I thought it was just going to be a knock-off of one of the aforementioned. Although there were similarities, Matthew Quick’s writing set Leonard apart from some of the others. Quick really GETS how to write a character dealing with mental illness (Pat in The Silver Linings Playbook – I mean GENIUS!). Leonard’s pain comes through every page once he REALLY starts letting you in to his life.

Forewarning: Not to insult the youngsters out there since this is a YA book, but it is a YA book for EXTREMELY mature youth. This sucker deals with über depressing, dark and heavy subject matter. It will make you cry the “ugly cry”, but also leaves a message of:

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Joyland - Stephen King Devin Jones’ college girlfriend has taken a summer job that will have them spending the break away from each other, so Devin decides to apply for a job at an amusement park called Joyland in North Carolina. Little does Devin know this will be the summer that changes his life forever. He will find lifelong friends, suffer his first heartbreak, discover love in many different forms and be haunted by an unsolved murder that took place on Joyland’s grounds.

If I pretend for one moment I had never heard of Stephen King, I still would have wanted to read this novel. I mean, look at that cover art! Like a moth to a flame, I was immediately drawn in. Of course, I HAVE heard of King and, like so many others, have read almost everything he’s written. I loved the question marks I had when starting this one. Here’s the master of horror writing a story about a ghost, yet it has a bright yellow “crime” label on the front and old Dewey Decimal has it filed under “mystery”. Oh how I love a book that’s so schizophrenic it cannot be categorized.

I also love when Stephen King just tells me a good story. That’s not to say I don’t appreciate the terror of “It” or the epic saga of “The Stand”, but King is magic when he gives us something like “The Shawshank Redemption” or “The Body”. I’m sure it has a lot to do with the fact that it’s so unexpected, but now that his son has taken the reins and become a fabulous horror writer himself, I hope to see even more like this.

Per usual, I solved the mystery when the first clue was given. The good news is, it didn’t bother me one little bit. I was so wrapped up in Devin’s coming of age story and completely in love with all the characters that the murder was just a tiny blip on the radar.