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52 Book Minimum

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Crazy Rich Asians - Kevin Kwan Rachel Chu has NOOOOOO idea what she’s getting into when she agrees to accompany her boyfriend Nick to his best friend’s wedding in Singapore. As professors struggling to make tenure in New York City, Rachel and Nick live a very modest lifestyle. Little does Rachel know that Nick’s upbringing was ANYTHING but simple. After stepping off the plane, Rachel finds herself tossed into a whirlwind of palace-like homes, private jets and haute couture – all with a man she’s starting to realize she doesn’t really know at all.

I don’t even know what to say about this book. I’m exhausted. I feel like I was a part of the wedding week from Hell. My sides hurt from laughing – it was absolutely hilarious. Take all of the pain/sadness/suffering that can be found in the works of Amy Tan and just flip the script. It was like a grown-up “Mean Girls” – set in Asia (Nick’s mother? Francesca? Ugh – BITCHES!). Kevin Kwan really knows his opulence, and his descriptions of the lavish lifestyles of the various characters left me sometimes drooling in envy and sometimes ready to gag for the gaudiness. A remarkable debut novel with a cast of (pretty well-developed) characters as long as my arm. 4 Stars because I’m greedy with my 5-Star ratings and the last 100 pages lost a little of the mojo that had propelled the first three-quarters of the book.
Until You're Mine - Samantha Hayes Find all of my reviews at: http://52bookminimum.blogspot.com/

ARC from NetGalley

3.5 Stars

After years of struggling with infertility, Claudia finally seems to almost have it all. She has a career as a social-services supervisor, a loving spouse, twin stepsons, and the little girl she has always dreamed of is due in just a few weeks. With so much on her plate, it is now time to hire a nanny who can get used to the run of the house before the new baby arrives. At first Zoe seems perfect, yet Claudia can’t escape the nagging feeling that something is lurking just beneath the surface. Those uneasy feelings soon get combined with the fact that local pregnant women have been brutally attacked, and Claudia is left trying to decide whether she truly has a reason to be afraid or if it’s just her own paranoia. Told from rotating perspectives of three female leads – Claudia, Zoe and Lorraine (the police detective assigned to the pregnant women cases), “Until You’re Mine” will leave you guessing until the end.

As my first ARC, I was TERRIFIED to begin reading this novel. After all, what if it absolutely stunk and I had to give it a bad rating? (Note: I am not a person who would be capable of passing off utter garbage to others in hopes of continuing to receive free books, so I was shaking in my boots that my first reviewer copy would be my last.) I chose “Until You’re Mine” because my gut told me it would be good. My gut didn’t lie. Not only was the mystery/thriller part of this book something that grabbed my attention right away, the underlying personal stories of the three main women really thickened the plot. Instead of just actionactionactionaction that left me reeling and wishing the book would hurry up and end, Hayes takes you into the private lives and behind the scenes drama that does not involve the “whodunit” part of the book whatsoever. It was a nice change of pace and I was so pleasantly surprised to find some twists and turns added to the mix as well. In a summer filled with hits and misses in the mystery department, this is one I will recommend to others who like the genre.
Nine Inches: Stories - Tom Perrotta Find all of my reviews at: http://52bookminimum.blogspot.com/

Let this be a lesson to all that you should probably actually read the book jacket if you want to know what a book is about. I read the blurb “Tom Perrotta’s first true collection features ten stories” and was sold. True stories by a famous author? Yay! I thought I would be diving in to something similar to Sedaris. Maybe not funny stories, but essays that would let me in to Perrotta’s private life. I should have kept reading. The blurb that hooked me actually goes on to explain this is a collection of 10 fictional stories which cover everything from Little League to infidelity. So there you have it – I’m a bibliophile who apparently doesn’t know how to read. Whoops.

I’m a gal to likes to read almost EVERYTHING. The only things I really steer clear from are super-Christian-lit and short stories (the exceptions being the aforesaid Sedaris-ish authors and a handful of Stephen King collections – I mean, it’s King so the exception had to be made right?). If you are a person who likes the short story, this might get a better rating from you. Me???? I don’t like a taste of a character’s life. Short stories are the hors d'oeuvre of literature. I prefer a novel that lets me dive in like a seven course meal. Still, the writing was solid, it was a quick read, the stories were all kind of dark and murky (which I was in the mood for) and, to give credit where credit is due, this book has the best title/cover art combo of the entire year.

I’ve also neither read nor seen the movie versions of Election and Little Children, but after reading this collection have added them both to my never-ending TBR list. I think I’m going to end up loving Perrotta’s work a little before it’s all said and done.
Fangirl - Rainbow Rowell photo sig_zpsf6b7a951.png

Poor Cath. As if being a freshman in college isn’t hard enough, she’s also faced with a twin sister who all of a sudden wants nothing to do with her, a roommate who seems like she can’t stand her, a father who is wrestling with his sanity, not to mention she's still dealing with abandonment issues from her mother leaving 10 years ago. The only comfort Cath finds is on the internet, where she is the reigning queen of the Simon Snow fandom. In a race against the final real Simon Snow book, Cath is trying to finish her FanFic while simultaneously coming of age and coming out of her shell.

Alrighty, let’s start with the negatives. First, if you aren’t a fan of YA, just steer clear of “Fangirl”. There is just no way you’ll like it and there's nothing wrong with that. Second, it pales in comparison to “Eleanor & Park” so, if you’re anything like me, you’ll just want to flame the heck out of it. I encourage all to take a deep breath, realize this is Rowell’s third book in two years and be a little more open-minded (I’m the ultimate comparer of two/three/twelve works by the same author, but for whatever reason Rowell is getting a pass so I encourage you do to the same). Third, it’s too long. Probably about 100 pages too long. Scenes become a little repetitive, dialogue gets a little stale in places. Again I’ll give a bit of a pass because after “Eleanor & Park” absolutely EXPLODED the publishing house probably wanted this one released ASAP.

For the positives – it’s so simply simple and just good. Decent. Pleasant to read. From the cover art (I’m a sucker for good cover art), to the final page, I enjoyed reading Cath’s story. It’s not so ridiculously saccharine that there are no problems, but it was nice to read a YA where the problems weren’t so overwhelming that they couldn’t be fixed without loss of innocence, loss of life, loss of something. Cath’s story is just about growing up. Growing out. Growing. It’s just . . . .

As for me, I’m Rainbow Rowell’s fangirl. If she’ll keep writing it, I’ll keep reading it. Until then,

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Two Boys Kissing - David Levithan photo sig_zps9b79c50d.png

87 Stars

“This is the story of creation. The creation of a kiss. The creation of stories. The creation of lives.” The kiss belongs to Harry and Craig, two 17-year olds who are trying to break the world record for longest kiss, but the story belongs to so many others. It belongs to Neil and Peter, who have a comfortable dating relationship. It belongs to Tariq, who was the victim of a brutal hate crime. It belongs to Avery, a transgender who is thrilled and afraid at the possibility of first love with Ryan. It belongs to Cooper, who wasn’t prepared to be outed, let alone for the utter rejection of his sexuality by his parents and now is contemplating suicide. It belongs to Tom, the history teacher who lost a partner and has committed to remaining there for all the others who have gone as well.

Narrated by the guardian angels who lost their battle to AIDS more than a generation ago, “Two Boys Kissing” is, hands down, my favorite read of the year. I’m fairly certain my heart was actually trying to break free from my chest at some point just to save me from myself. The book is 196 pages long, and I’m fairly certain I full-on ugly cried for at least 124 of them. To youngsters who weren’t present at the onset of the AIDS virus, this book will tell you things that are almost unfathomable. Ignoring the disease, refusing to spend money on treatment or a cure, making victims live in quarantine and total isolation – these are things one believes only third world countries do, but they happened here not so long ago. As Levithan says, “we did not choose our identity, but we were chosen to die by it.”

However, Levithan also says “being gay doesn’t define you – it’s just a part of your definition [and when the story spreads] maybe it’ll make people a little less scared of two boys kissing than they were before, and a little more welcoming to the idea that all people are, in fact, born equal, no matter who they kiss or screw, no matter what dreams they have or love they give.”

To all of my personal angels who lost the battle – It’s happening. The times they are a changing.

"This is the power of a kiss: It does not have the power to kill you, but it has the power to bring you to life."

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Matty Daley and Bobby Canciello – 32 hour 30 minutes 47 seconds kiss on September 18, 2010

The Returned - Jason Mott photo sig_zps9b79c50d.png

3.5 Stars

What would you do if a deceased loved one showed up on your doorstep? That is the question that Harold and Lucille have to wrestle with when their 8 year old son shows up looking exactly as he did when he died back in 1966. Is he truly their Jacob or is he possibly a specter? Is he pure and good like the little boy they lost or is he something dark? Is it possible for Harold and Lucille to turn this boy who looks so much like their son away and, if not, how can this couple in the twilight of their lives ever handle raising a small child?

In what may possibly go down as one of the best bait and switches in history, “The Returned” was absolutely NOT what I expected. While there are zero references in the publisher’s synopsis of this book being a “zombie tale”, I still spent a good 100 pages totally creeped out waiting for the other shoe to fall and "The Returned" to become total True Living brain-eaters. With that being said, if you want a zombie book, this isn’t one and just cross it off the to-read list (if you’re anything like me you’ll never be able to finish that list anyway so marking one off might not be so awful).

However, if you can wrap your brain around the idea that “The Returned” is not a horror story, but rather a modernized “It’s a Wonderful Life” about second chances with loved ones dead and gone, this book might be up your alley. Filled with likeable characters and real emotion, “The Returned” was a breeze to get through in a day. The premise was so completely different from any other book out there right now (which might explain why my brain was trying to send me the subliminal message it was going to be scary) and was truly refreshing. Jason Mott has true promise for future success with this as his debut novel.
Nick & Norah's Infinite Playlist - Rachel Cohn, David Levithan What happens when Nick's ex-girlfriend shows up while he’s trying to have a decent night? He makes quick introductions to Norah and strikes a deal to be each other’s date for the next 5 minutes. Add in a sighting of Norah's ex-boyfriend and the 5 minutes extend little by little into an all night getting-to-know you and maybe falling a little bit in love experience.

This book has a certain writing style that should just drive me mad. It’s. So. Abrupt. Halting. Aggressive. Angry. Confused. Generally I’d want to pull my hair out while reading these half-sentence snippets, but somehow for “Nick and Norah” they work. They work because Nick and Norah are aggressive. angry. confused. Hell, they’re teenagers, of course they are all of the above (and more). Yes, the idea that these two high school kids with never-ending witty repartee are the hippest hipsters to ever grace the streets of Manhattan is not believable. The fact that she’s brilliant and he’s in a super-hot punk band before ever graduating high school and none of their parents care that they wander New York all night is utterly unfathomable. And yet? Who f-ing cares? The book is adorable. Levithan and Cohn are a great partnership (taking a silver medal to Levithan and John Green’s collaboration in “Will Grayson Will Grayson”). “Nick and Norah” was a total easy reader that made me feel good while reading it.

Things I loved: (1) The simple fact that this book embraces the idea that a soundtrack plays behind it. I’m ALWAYS hearing the potential songs that would play if such and such book were actually a movie. (2) Cohn and Levithan are REALLY good at using the “F” word. (3) Songs like “Ride Like the Wind” are included so old geezers such as myself realize their fave songs are still valid.

Things that I didn’t love: (1) Nick quotes “no one puts baby in a corner”, but a few chapters later has no idea who Johnny Castle is. Really? Nitpicky, I know, but it irked me. (2) Thought the last one was nitpicky? It gets even worse. Thank God I’m a loyalist to books, because the casting of Nick in the movie version is absolutely unforgiveable and I WILL NOT ever watch the film now.

This, my friends, is NOT Nick. This is George Michael Bluth. Oh, you may have seen him in Juno or Superbad or Year One or Scott Pilgrim, but if you haven’t seen Arrested Development just trust me that he’s always THE SAME FREAKING CHARACTER. He’s not some hot rock star. He’s George Michael Bluth.

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This is Jordan Catalono. He was the desire of every girl I knew when I was growing up and after reading this book and the many references to "My So-Called Life" I’m fairly certain the same can be said for Rachel Cohn (and probably David Levithan as well). The movie Nick should have looked more like this.

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Needless to say, if those are my two big complaints (one of which is about the movie rather than the book), this was probably a pretty decent read.
The Girl You Left Behind - Jojo Moyes photo sig_zps9b79c50d.png

It’s WWI and Sophie’s husband (painter Edouard) has left to fight in the war. Sophie moves back to her family’s hotel during his absence, which has now been occupied by the Germans. In an effort to maintain some semblance of normalcy, Sophie has kept a portrait of herself, painted by Edouard, hanging on the hotel wall and the local Kommandant has found himself drawn to it. Sophie will offer everything she has to become this woman once again for the Kommandant in hopes of reuniting with her spouse.

Fastforward almost 100 years to recent widow Liv. Sophie’s portrait was purchased by her late husband as a wedding gift for his new bride. Now an organization whose task is to recover artwork stolen from families during war times has discovered the painting and wants to give it back to the rightful owner. Much like Sophie, Liv will find herself risking everything in order to keep the final piece of her husband in her possession.

I’m fairly certain this will be the review that gets me some enemies. Sadly, I just didn’t feel this novel at all. I had no choice but to compare this to “Me Before You” which maintains its ranking as one of my favorites this year. “The Girl You Left Behind” just didn’t have the same kind of life. In what should have been a book that could have sent my emotions reeling (WWI, sickness, starvation, death, capture, loneliness, bankruptcy, etc., etc.), I just felt . . . . . . . nothing. The WWI story seemed like I had read something similar before one too many times and Liv’s story felt underworked. Some parts were rambly, others too brief. The back-and-forth time changes seemed out of place with over 100 pages devoted to telling Sophie’s story while you wouldn’t even know Liv existed if you had not read the book jacket. This is followed with a snippet of Liv’s story before jumping back 100 years once more. Some more time on the editor’s desk might have helped me enjoy this one more, but I think it would still be 3 stars max.
Big Girl Panties - Stephanie Evanovich 2.5 Stars

Holly has never been “model thin”, but after losing her husband four years ago, she really started packing on the pounds. Go figure that the one time she has to venture out of her comfort zone (to fly to Canada and finalize one of her late husband’s accounts) she winds up seated next to Logan, a personal trainer to the rich and famous who could fill-in as a Greek god at a moment’s notice. A mixture of pity and curiosity has Logan offering his training services to Holly at a reduced rate where friendship and more develops.

Maybe it was the fact that for the first time in FOREVER, the temperature was not 100+ degrees and I could enjoy the outdoors while I read, therefore releasing some endorphins. Maybe it was because I’m a bit of a chubbette and I’ve always had the hots for Bob Harper while he screams at the fatties on “The Biggest Loser”. Maybe it was because this was written by Janet Evanovich’s niece. Whatever the reason, I opened this little nonsensical story and just couldn’t put it down. Although I read plenty of romance-y type books, I’ve never been one to fall for the pure fluff. Prime example – I consider the Stephanie Plum series to be the perfect guilty pleasure light read, but I refuse to acknowledge that Janet E. had a plethora of romance novels before introducing me to Ms. Plum. In a nutshell, if you are a fan of the traditional boy meets girl, boy loses girl, boy gets girl back just in time for the big finale romance (with a couple of steamy love scenes thrown in for good measure) – or if you just want something fun to read by the pool, this is a winner.
The Heist - Janet Evanovich, Lee Goldberg photo sig_zps9b79c50d.png

3.5 Stars

Kate O’Hara is an FBI agent who has spent years chasing after con man Nick Fox. Just when she thinks she finally has her man, he pulls his best con yet – convincing the FBI to give him a plea deal that will grant him a get-of-jail-free pass and make him O’Hara’s new partner.

Obviously this book won’t ever win a Pulitzer Prize, but judging it for what it is, “The Heist” is entertaining. It’s filled with the fluff and fun you would expect of Janet E. and Lee Goldberg counterbalances her quite well. Instead of a full-out raucous romp of slapstick comedy, there is a teensie little whiff of comedic sophistication. Consider O’Hara as a more competent Stephanie Plum without QUITE as many kidnappings and car explosions. I’ve stuck with Stephanie and Lula for 19 (soon to be 20) books so I’m fairly certain I’ll read one (or 12) more O’Hara and Fox books.
Call the Midwife: A Memoir of Birth, Joy, and Hard Times - Jennifer Worth The title sums up the subject matter of this book pretty efficiently, so no synopsis is really necessary. I found this to be a mesmerizing read. I was absolutely hypnotized by the tales of horrid living conditions, imprisonment, prostitution, etc., etc., etc. Ms. Worth definitely holds nothing back when looking back on this part of her life.

I had no knowledge that this is a television program until the cover of my book told me. I assume it’s quite fascinating. I’m also not an audiobook person, but I bet this one would be fantastic to listen to – complete with Cockney accents and all.

Quite possibly a 5-star rating, but (i) I find myself getting more nitpicky as I read, (ii) a couple of the stories seemed a little disconnected to the remainder of the book, and (iii) apparently this is a trilogy and I am giving a BIG FAT MIDDLE FINGER to novels that would be perfectly fine solo, but for whatever reason (*cough* money *cough*) authors/publishers decide to break them into more than one book.
The Infinite Moment of Us - Lauren Myracle photo sig_zpsf6b7a951.png

2.5 Stars

Wren and Charlie meet at an inopportune time. They are both graduating high school and heading separate ways. Charlie will be attending Georgia Tech and Wren will be headed to Guatemala to volunteer for a year with a Peace Corps type organization. This book follows their summer spent together – falling in love and questioning when will it end, or can it really be infinite?

Okay, this is a solid 2-star book, but I’m giving it an extra half star just for the title and cover. Shallow, much? Yeah, totally, but tough cookies. The title and cover are what hooked me to begin with. Although this is definitely a “teen” type of book, please note there is …. how should I put this? Uhhhhh …. penetration????? involved so I wouldn’t let super young kids read it. In a nutshell, if you loved "Say Anything" you will probably love "The Infinite Moment of Us". The big change is the soundtrack. Rather than Peter Gabriel, the musical backdrop is Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros:

"Well holy moly me oh my
You’re the apple of my eye
Girl I've never loved one like you

Man o man you're my best friend
I scream it to the nothingness
There ain't nothing that I need

Hot and heavy pumpkin pie
Chocolate candy Jesus Christ
Ain't nothing please me more than you

Home, let me come home
Home is wherever I'm with you"
Me Talk Pretty One Day - David Sedaris I've actually expressed my deep, unconditional love for David Sedaris on this site before. With this re-read I realized my love might be a tad unhealthy. You see, last week I was reading this book while a character on a sitcom was reading "When You Are Engulfed In Flames". Rather than being happy that Sedaris was getting quite decent free press, I could only think of the masses of sheer IDIOTS who might venture out to Amazon, purchase something by my true love and then post scathing reviews (with pitiful spelling and punctuation, no less), thus breaking his heart. With that in mind, I beg of you, dear Goodreads members, to read and post about my darling David as much as you wish, but please - don't tell your halfwit Cousin Carl about him. Smart writers are already a dying breed.
Night Film - Marisha Pessl photo sig_zps9b79c50d.png

Has it happened yet? Have the oh-so-annoying cover notations calling every new release the “new Gone Girl” ceased and “the new Night Film” labels taken over?. If so, the loud bang you will soon hear will be my head exploding.

If Kubrick, Polanski, Hitchock, and Tarantino had a twisted little baby, his name would most likely have been Stanislas Cordova. A genius who gained fame immediately after his first horror film release – Cordova has spent his life in exile on his private estate (hmmmmm, maybe Marlon Brando had a part of this baby-making process too) making additional films and only interacting with the lucky (?) ones who receive an invitation.

Scott McGrath is an investigative journalist who watched his career, and a good chunk of money, go up in flames after publishing an article outlining the real life creepery that Cordova was engaging in – and using only an anonymous John Doe as his source.

Now Cordova’s daughter has apparently committed suicide and McGrath finds himself desperate to find the truth about the recluse’s life once again.

First impression – the physical weight of this book was notable and upon opening it the paper felt exquisite. Weird, huh? But seriously even if you don’t want to read this book, feel the paper. From the jumpstart you dive in to this amazing graphic element of photos, articles, notes left on scraps of paper, etc. By Page 30 I thought I was reading something gooooooood.

Unfortunately, by Page 200 the tides had turned. What started as potentially one of the best mysteries in a long time quickly petered out and morphed into an unending loop of touring New York City and surrounding areas. The trail of breadcrumbs I thought I was following, didn’t lead to a loaf of bread – just MORE BREADCRUMBS and by the time the book was over, I was exhausted. And dare I forget to mention the italics. Oh for Christ’s sake, the misuse of italics had my brain absolutely SCREAMING at me that I was reading passages incorrectly. Ummm, no brain, she’s writing it wrong. Go argue with the author.

To use Pessl’s own words: “The rush of solving these last few mysteries was almost immediately replaced with something else, a sense of hollowness, even grief. I felt let down . . . The desolation came from the realization that all of the kirin were dead. They’d never existed in the first place. Because, however much I might not want to face it, wanting something larger than life . . . for some other tempestuous reality that defied reason, alive with trolls and devils, shadows that had minds of their own, black magic as powerful as H-bombs . . . The truth razed everything . . . I was actually standing on flat dry land, which was blindingly lit, but barren.”

And that’s it folks. This book left me feeling like I’d wasted nearly a week of my life only to end up feeling completely barren.
The Fields - Kevin Maher At the start of the book, I was reminiscent of Neil Simon’s “Brighton Beach Memoirs”. I thought it would be a lighthearted coming of age story of a young boy – Jim would be similar to Eugene and I’d just swap a Brooklyn backdrop with Ireland. Weeeeeeeellllll, mayhaps I should begin reading book jackets a bit more carefully because “The Fields” soon took a drastic turn when the subject matter got heavy and I realized that Jim’s local parish priest was a devout member of the Loyal Order of the Kid Bangers.

To briefly sum it up, Jim indeed grows up in these 390 pages, but with some of the most wretched experiences imaginable. He goes from an inexperienced 13-year old whose favorite hobby is bicycling around town with his ultra-nerdy pal Gary to getting “Sanduskied” by the priest, experimenting with drinking and sex, becoming a dropout, and everything eventually culminates in a school of new-age healing.

The worst part is, I still laughed (not at the kid boffing bit – I’m not a complete animal), but poor Jim is so absolutely daft that, miserable as the subject matter may be, I chuckled. And yes, I have prepared my handbasket in which I shall go straight to Hell.