Book Reviews


I think that the past two, have been better reading months.  I am excited about a few of the books and even the backstories of the books I read.  This is so important to me in writing because the good ones inform my own attempts.  One of them even makes my five star list on Goodreads!

Most recently, I read the Divergent series.  Veronica Roth is a twenty-five-year old local Chicago author who wrote one of those books that teens and adults fall in love with.  The first one is jam packed with action, adventure, love and a fabulous premise.  In the divergent world, there are "factions," groupings of people who live together based on their personality traits or strengths.  So, for example, the Amity are noted for their cheerful dispositions and commitment to friendships while the Dauntless are drawn to recklessness and physical challenges.  The first book?  was great.  I ate it up.  The second book felt like an action movie - all car chases but not much substance, and the last book?  Da fuh?  I have no idea what happened to her original premise.  It was like she lit a fire under the thing and blew it to tiny, ragged bits.

My Notorious Life was my favorite new book.  This is the story of Axie, an impoverished immigrant who grows up to be a rich and successful midwife.  I love the moxie of Axie, her committment to saving women's lives and the risks she takes for justice.  This is the kind of story that makes my juices flow.

Me Before You is listed as "chicklit," on Goodreads, which made me pause before purchasing it.  While much of chicklit is fun, some is just badly written schlock about heaving thighs and whatnot (enter Fifty Shades of you know...) But this one leans towards the fun end.  I liked the main character's voice and the love story is sweet, if not altogether unbelievable.

Burial Rights is a dark, heavy tale of loss, misunderstanding and family.  I really enjoyed it in a whoa-this-is-intense kind of way.  

Mothership never took itself seriously, which was good because the whole premise (pregnant teen in space fighting off evil alien gym teachers etc.) couldn't have worked otherwise.  The wit worked for me and the voice was strong enough to enjoy.

I usually like Lauren Myracle.  Um...I'll just stop there...

If you are into the long-suffering-perfect-housewife-who-married-the-wrong-guy stories, you will enjoy The Silent Wife.

I also started but just couldn't get into, The Coldest Girl in Coldtown, (teen vampire stories...blergh), Bring Up the Bodies, (are any of these myriad of characters going to be likeable enough for me to care about?) and Ways to Live Forever (the voice isn't working for me...I should try again.)  Hopefully, I'll finish these and find out if my first impressions hold up.  Till next time...


Blergh, there are three months to catch up on.   I'm relying on my Goodreads list for this post so I know that I'll have forgotten a few books.

I just finished The Other Woman's House.  Normally, I enjoy Sophie Hannah mysteries but this one was all over the place.  She wrote a story about a husband and wife who are unlikeable and untrustworthy (a la Gillian Flynn's  Gone Girl.)  But unlike the Flynn novel, this book never weaves together a convincing or clear mystery.  The pieces are slapped together in the end and despite reading full passages twice, I have no real idea why the characters made the choices they did.

Mysteries are a balm in some ways.  They are like eating chocolate.  Once you dive in you can roll it across your tongue, sink into the pleasure and block out the world.  That's especially true if the mystery is a pretty good one.  This one, The Silent Wife, is exactly that, pretty good.  For me, the main character, a long suffering wife, was a bit cliche - too sweet - too willing to ignore her husband's indiscretions and cruelties.  But the pace was fantastic and when she finally exacts her revenge, the result is pure satisfaction.

As we make our way down an uncertain road, I am doing what I always do, reading whatever I can in order to figure out what to do... A book that has been particularly inspiring is Adopt Without Debt. The writer is somewhat heavy-handed with her religious convictions but her suggestions for saving and fundraising, and her encouraging story make the book worthwhile.

I'll admit that it was the cover of the book that drew me to Neil Gaiman's new, The Ocean at the end of The Lane.  And I always marvel at his writing.  But for me, the story in this one fell flat.  The main character, a man remembering a magical experience as a boy, was sympathetic and believable but the female characters were less than original and less developed.  I also felt that the ending was rushed.

Miles From Ordinary is about a teen girl whose mother is losing her mind.  She longs for her aunt who hasn't come through for her and she catches the attention of a cute boy.  Picture me tilting my right hand from side because this one is "eh."

Cryer's Cross began as a mystery but devolved into horror.  Nope.

Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children is being made into a movie.  You can watch the trailer below.  Congrats to this author because he harnessed a writing exercise (use a series of random photos to build a story) and is now filthy rich.  I hated the book.  It's so popular that I felt I should power through but I was painfully aware of his method and never connected to the characters.

Sweet Water was a bit more interesting.  A woman inherits property, goes to live on it and discovers family secrets.  The writing was strong and the main character in this one was compelling.  Of the list so far, this one is maybe worth a read...

Desire Lines was also written by Christina Baker Kline and like Sweet Water, the mystery holds up and pays off.

My Christina Baker Kline kick began with Bird in Hand.  I felt lucky to find an author who produced a reliable plot so I stuck with her.  Of the three books, Sweet Water is the most memorable.

I am going to group the next three novels together, The Statistical Probability of Love at First Sight, Dash & Lily's Book of  Dares and Revenge of the Girl with the Great Personality, could all have been written by the same author.  They are moderately fun, not particularly original boy/girl young adult novels.  Of the three, I'd say maybe the Dash & Lily one is worth a shot though the voices of the main characters don't ring true.  Their sarcasm and wit feels forced.

My Princess Boy is an important and heartfelt book about a boy who likes to dress and play at being a princess.  The impulse we all have to force gender constructs on our children is challenged with kindness and a plea to all the world, to put compassion before stereotypes and unfair expectations.


My May list is a bit longer than April's.

The Wicked and the Just started off AMAZING, and I loved it until about three-fourths of the way through when all of the sudden, the author burned everything down and the secondary character was too angry to continue liking her.  Granted, this is based on a true historical event so maybe it really happened that way...

True (Sort of) was cute.  And then got a bit serious.  But mostly stayed cute.

The Lonely Doll This book is making me want to sleep with the lights on.  

Where Did You Go, Bernadette I still haven't finished this one.  It's scrambling my brains and I don't think I will finish it.  Who are these people?  Why are they behaving this way?  What is the narrative structure that the author was aiming for?  Gah!

Tell the Wolves I'm Home This was a lovely book.  A young girl struggling with grief and loss also helps her family grow and deal with their homophobia.

Backstage Cat Adorable illustrations amid a sweet story abut a cat who wishes for a moment in the spotlight.

Bullied This is an exceptionally good look at bullying, its effects and how to influence change.  Read this one.   Yes, make sure to read it.

The Museum This was lovely though I do think there are other books about how great art and museums are that provide a better story for the reader.

Tea Rex Cute story, fabulous illustrations.  This is a great addition to your collection if your child is a dinosaur fan.


Gah! Okay, so I have read some really great (and not so great) books in the last two months but haven't had the time to write about them.  So here's the cheat sheet:

Eleanor and Park: Phe-freakin-nominal.  Seriously, read this.  You will want to send me flowers afterwards.  Email me privately for my address.  I also like those dark chocolates with sea salt.  Oh, and jewelry.

Turn of the Mind: Skip it unless you like depressing, confusing and strange.  Some people do.

Period 8: I am so sorry to say, but this is the only Crutcher book I didn't like.  The female characters are simpering victims of objectification and sexual slavery (even the one he tried to portray as bad ass.)  Et tu Chris Crutcher?

Attachments: Yes, oh yes.  This author?  Rainbow Rowell?  Please can she write faster?

Aristotle and Dante Discover the Universe: Nice.  Probably especially nice if you are a young man struggling with your sexual identity.

I'll Be There: Sooooooo good.  I handed it off to my pre-teen daughter who has loved me ever since.

- Juliet


She summarizes: This one was a hard sell for me.  Whenever I try to immerse myself in a world I know little about, I resist.  The book centers around the fears and challenges of a young man named Clay.  There is a rather obvious metaphor repeated throughout the novel where a menacing dog threatens and overwhelms Clay until, in the end, Clay triumphs over the dog.  The fact is, life is just as cliche as fiction so sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn't.  For me, this one didn't work.  It felt contrived and I didn't connect to the characters.

She says that stuff because: Maybe because my own life experiences don't resonate with those of the characters in the book?

She says “Read it Already” if: You like stories about the struggle for justice and finding your moral compas in a world where drugs, guns and injustice rule.

Excerpt:   "I never thought I’d get so close to those teeth.  I had a hundred nightmares about them since my parents pulled me out of Long Island City High School and put me in this drug program five months ago.  Half the time, I’d walk the long way around just not to hear him growl at me, or feel myself jump when he threw his weight up against the fence.  But even from the other direction, I could see when his gate was open from the end of the block.  That’s when I’d feel my mouth go bone dry.  I’d take one slow step at a time.  Maybe he could smell me coming, ‘cause he wouldn’t start barking till I was too close to jet back the other way.  Sometimes he’d step out into the middle of the sidewalk and stare me down.  I could smell his piss on the fire hydrant in front of Daytop.  He’d pull back the corners of his mouth and show me his teeth.  They were white as could be, and the two sharpest ones on either side came down beneath his lip. He was gray with swirls of black and white mixed in.  You could get hypnotized just trying to figure out where the colors started and stopped.  He looked more like a wolf than a dog, and I never felt more like a piece of meat.  But I wasn’t about to let it go on another second.  I couldn’t live with myself if I did."

- Juliet

When Things Come Back

She summarizes: Okay, I was debating the yummy-ness of this Printz winner with an author friend yesterday.  I said that, because I am currently obsessed with plot, this book was pretty amazing.  She agreed that the plot had a surprising and impressive twist (though not altogether believable) but she worried about a main character who wasn’t entirely likeable.  I agree, the main character is douchy (my word) but there are supporting characters to fall in love with and the plot, oh THE PLOT!!!

She says that stuff because: It’s just the hardest writing challenge for me.  Some people struggle with voice, description or setting.  I’ll ramble on forever with a witty and engaging voice in a convincing setting where NOTHING HAPPENS.

She says “Read it Already” if: You gotta give props to this masterful example of story weaving even if there is some extraneous stuff (not sure we needed to spend soooo much time with the crazy first roommate), and the main character is a navel-gazing wanker.

Favorite excerpt:

“When I asked him the meaning of life, Dr. Webb got very quiet and then told me life has no one meaning, it only has whatever meaning each of us puts on our own life. I'll tell you now that I still don't know the meaning of mine. And Lucas Cader, with all his brains and talent, doesn't know the meaning of his, either. But I'll tell you the meaning of all this. The meaning of some bird showing up and some boy disappearing and you knowing all about it. The meaning of this was not to save you, but to warn you instead. To warn you of confusion and delusion and assumption. To warn you of psychics and zombies and ghosts of your lost brother. To warn you of Ada Taylor and her sympathy and mothers who wake you up with vacuums. To warn you of two-foot-tall birds that say they can help, but never do.” 

- Juliet

Broken For You by Stephanie Kallos

For Juliet's first book review, she chose one of her favorites.

She summarizes:  This book was a healing pleasure to read. If I were stuck on a desert Island, I would hope to hell I'd brought this book.

She says that because:  The book gets off to a slow roll.  You have to invest yourself for the pay off but it's well worth it.  About halfway through, the writer begins to weave the disparate story threads together and you feel yourself rooting for a host of characters so flawed that you might have wondered about their inherent sanity earlier in the book.

She says, "read it already" if: You're one of those people (as I am) for whom a good story can heal a little piece of your soul.  

Favorite excerpt: 

The broken are not always gathered together,of course, and not all mysteries of the flesh are solved. We speak of "senseless tragedies" but really: Is there any other kind? Mothers and wives disappear without a trace. Children are killed. Madmen ravage the world, leaving wounds immeasurably deep, and endlessly mourned. loved ones whose presence once filled us move into the distance; our eyes follow them as long as possible as they recede from view. Maybe we chase them clumsily, across railroad tracks and trafficked streets; Over roads new printed with their foot steps,the dust still whirling in the wake of them; through impossibly big cities people with strangers whose faces and bodies carry fragments of their faces and bodies, whose laughter, steadiness, pluck, stubbornness remind us of the beloved we seek. Maybe we stay put, left behind, and look for them in our dreams. But we never stop looking, not even after those we love become part of the unreachable horizon. we can never stop carrying the heavy weight of love on this pilgrimage  we can only transfigure what we carry. We can only shatter it and send it whirling into the world so that it can take shape in some new way.
― Stephanie KallosBroken for You

- Juliet

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