Monday, December 05, 2016

I'm playing it cool like a lovestruck girl from my old high school: SCRAPPY LITTLE NOBODY.

Scrappy Little NobodyScrappy Little Nobody by Anna Kendrick

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Anna Kendrick has been acting (and singing) since childhood, and her autobiography chronicles her growth as an actress and person, as told in little snippets and essays. Grouped in assorted themes, we hear from various stages of Anna's life, spanning her childhood to present day, and learn how Anna, a tiny scrappy kid, became a famous, Oscar-nominated actress. The book touches on her fame, as well as her personal thoughts and feelings.

I've always enjoyed Kendrick and have seen several of her films (and heard her sing about a million times, thanks to my young children and the popularity of the film, Trolls) but didn't know a lot about her early career. Her autobiography does a good job of filling in some of the gaps of Anna's childhood career (working on Broadway at twelve - who knew?!), but isn't told in any chronological order, so we don't get a sense of any real span of her career from Point A to B. Most of the book is told in short little bits. Many of them are quite funny stories, and there are some truly laugh out loud moments. In many cases, Kendrick is a very relatable person, who seems like the type of friend you'd like to hang out with. At other points, she seemed a bit whiny, and for me, the book spent too much time with her protesting about some of the travails of being in the celebrity industry. I can only take so much "woe is me" from famous people who write books about their lives.

The book is on more solid ground when we're reading about Anna's early life, where you gain a true admiration for her talent, and with her silly and snarky stories about her misanthropic personality (misanthropes unite!). Still, the jumping back and forth in time makes it hard to get a true trace on the arc of her life at times, and beyond some of the complaining and expounding on the travails of award shows, press junkets, and the like, there wasn't as much about her post-fame life as I was interested in.

If you like Kendrick's films, or her twitter feed, you'll probably enjoy the book and its organization, even if you find yourself wishing for a little more at the end. She's led an interesting life so far, and I'm sure another autobiography down the road would be quite intriguing.

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Thursday, December 01, 2016

After all this starting over: SMALL ADMISSIONS.

Small AdmissionsSmall Admissions by Amy Poeppel

My rating: 3.75 of 5 stars

Kate Pearson is going through a rough time. She's been dumped by Robert, her incredibly handsome French boyfriend, and she turned down a spot in her grad school program, so instead of living a dream life in Paris, she's living on the couch, barely able to wash her own hair. Her friend Chloe feels responsible (Robert is her cousin, after all), her friend Vicki is just annoyed (Vicki has no patience for wallowing), and Kate's older sister Angela just wants to fix everything. She connects Kate to a lead for an interview at the admissions department at the Hudson Day School. Surprising everyone, Kate gets the job, and suddenly has to get her life together. There's no time for self-pity during admissions season, after all. Indeed, Kate finds herself drawn to her job, her new colleagues, and the various children she meets while at work. And while Kate's working non-stop, her friends are busy falling in love, feeling guilty about their role in Kate's earlier breakdown regarding Robert, and generally making a mess of things. Will Kate make her own mess at the new admissions gig as well, or is this the fresh chance she needed?

I am torn somewhat on my thoughts for this book. It starts off quite witty and drew me in immediately. It's told from a multitude of perspectives, including Kate's friends (Chloe and Vicki), her sister (Angela) and Kate, and Kate's new boss, Henry. It's also interspersed with tales of several children trying to get into private school, along with the perspectives of their parents. There's definitely some nuance and depth there, but sometimes it's A LOT. A lot of characters, a lot of jumping of back and forth. I won't lie: Kate's friends certainly annoyed me at times. The side show with them can be humorous, but often just irritating. I found myself wanting more Kate.

The problem with all the jumping around is that I didn't really get to know the characters as much as I wanted, which was a shame, because they were fascinating. Kate, Chloe, Angela, Henry -- they were intriguing and, when featured, seemed real, even if Angela was driving us crazy meddling into Kate's life, as was Chloe with her never-ending guilt over her supposed role in Kate's breakdown. Poeppel has done an excellent job of creating real, flawed characters, and I just wish they all received a little more face-time. The snippets from the kids (and parents) applying for school are great, too, but it's hard not to see them sometimes as a detraction from our main characters, especially a side plot with two fervent (and delusional) parents.

Still, don't think I didn't enjoy the book, because I did. There are some wise and wonderful moments and some instances where I found myself laughing out loud. Kate is endearing, and you cannot help but rooting for her character. This book is redeemed by her and her journey. She is an inspiration. Because of her and my various feelings for this novel, my final rating falls at 3.75 stars.

I received a copy of this novel from the publisher and Edelweiss (thank you) in return for an unbiased review; it is available everywhere as of 12/27/2016.

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Monday, November 28, 2016

She can't help it if she's made that way: THE WHISTLER.

The WhistlerThe Whistler by John Grisham

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Lacy Stolz is a lawyer and investigator for the Florida Board on Judicial Conduct. Along with a small team, she investigates misconducts by Florida judges. It's a pretty quiet and safe job, and her fellow underfunded and underpaid investigators do not see much excitement either. They are not cops, after all. But when a corruption case is assigned to Lacy and her partner, Hugo, everything changes. The claimant, Greg Myers, tells Lacy and Hugo that a Florida judge is stealing vast sums of money - so much money it will blow their minds. His claim brings Lacy and Hugo into the world of the Coast Mafia: a secret, well-hidden, and highly protective group involved with a Native American casino in Florida. With the judge's help, they've constructed the casino and vast amounts of related real estate and are now skimming huge amounts of the casino's take each month. The Native Americans are enjoying prosperity, the members of the Coast Mafia are living high, and the judge is richer than anyone could dream. But Lacy's client wants to end it all. He has the information, but can he and Lacy stop an organization this powerful and deadly?

It's always hard to pass up a Grisham novel. Even if he's not at his best (it's hard to top books like The Client and The Pelican Brief, in my humble opinion), you know you'll get an intriguing tale. And this one was no exception. It's an interesting and suspenseful thriller that entertains you for a few days, even if it doesn't have the memorable characters and plotlines of the previously mentioned novels. As with many of Grisham's books, this would make a good movie, it quickly sucks you in with its suspense. I actually found myself avoiding it at night, as it was so stressful. Lacy is an interesting character (but again, she's certainly no Darby Shaw), and you'll find yourself rooting for her. The drama surrounding the Coast Mafia, the casino, and the judge keeps your attention well enough.

Still, nothing about this book is incredibly engaging, or enduring. While it's suspenseful in the moment, it's not a Grisham novel that will stick with me. The ending felt rushed and a little anti-climatic. If you're a Grisham fan, you'll enjoy it, but it probably won't be one of your all-time favorites.

You can read my review of Grisham's ROGUE LAWYER, here.

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Wednesday, November 23, 2016

In a world full of people you can lose sight of it all: THE ICE BENEATH HER.

The Ice Beneath HerThe Ice Beneath Her by Camilla Grebe

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

A young woman is found brutally beheaded in the home of a famous businessman, Jesper Orre. The scene is chaotic and bloody and to Detective Peter Lindgren, it is eerily reminiscent of a case he and his partner, Manfred Olsson, worked 10 years ago where a male immigrant was also found beheaded. That case was never solved. Here, in present day, Jesper is mysteriously missing, and Peter and Manfred have no idea about the murdered woman's identity. So they turn to Hanne, a behavioral police consultant, who helped the police with their case ten years ago. But Hanne has a secret of her own. She's recently be diagnosed with dementia, and is forced to carry around a notebook, which she uses to record all the events around her, desperately trying to remember everything. Cut to two months earlier, where young shop worker Emma receives a proposal from Jesper Orre, the enigmatic CEO of the clothing store where she works. Jesper wants to keep their relationship a secret: he's been hit hard lately by the press. Emma complies, but when Jesper never shows up for their engagement dinner, she's befuddled. As time passes, Jesper doesn't respond to Emma's texts or calls, and she becomes increasingly enraged.

This was an intriguing Swedish thriller. The beginning half to three fourths of the novel kept me guessing and rather engaged. I was truly stumped and trying to figure out exactly what was happening (which doesn't always occur for me). Is Emma an unreliable narrator? Who is the dead girl in Jesper's house? Where is Jesper? The book is set up to really draw you in. As it continues, I started to draw more connections and eventually figured out a lot of the plot. That's not exactly a big deal; figuring out a mystery is part of reading such a novel, correct? For me, one of the hardest things with this particular novel was that I just didn't really connect or empathize with its main characters. Peter was pretty much an empty shell and not at all sympathetic. Emma was a tough one to read and to engage with. Hanne was probably my favorite, but she didn't get a lot of "air" time, so to speak.

My other problem is that I felt like I'd stumbled into this novel in the middle, as if I'd missed a previous novel, and this was the second novel in the series. Peter and Hanne apparently had had a relationship previously, which was then touched upon again, as was Hanne's Alzheimer's, but I felt like there wasn't a lot of resolution to either. It was just sort of inserted into the story without a lot of bearing on the actual mystery plot and seemed awkward. Same with some references to Peter's detective partner, Manfred, and his life.

Overall, this was an interesting thriller, and I really did find the plot intriguing and well thought out, for the most part. I enjoyed reading the portions where I was scratching my head, trying to figure out how everyone was connected. It was a little less enjoyable once I deduced most of it, and I wish I had related to the characters better, or understood how their backstories were woven in to the fabric of the actual mystery.

I received a copy of this novel from the publisher and Netgalley (thank you!) in return for an unbiased review; it is available everywhere as of 12/27/2016.

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Monday, November 21, 2016

Her beauty and the moonlight overthrew you: THE SUN IS ALSO A STAR.

The Sun Is Also a StarThe Sun Is Also a Star by Nicola Yoon

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Natasha is a Jamaica-born teenager who believes more in science than true love. She and her family are also about to be deported back to Jamaica. (As in today.) Daniel, the son of Korean-born parents, is a dutiful son who dreams of becoming a poet. Daniel loves words and the idea of fate. When he meets Natasha, he's convinced she's his. His fate, his true love. Natasha isn't so sure, but she can't help but admit that this handsome, intelligent boy is something special.

What follows is an amazing story of two young people: most of it occurring across the day they meet. Told from the alternating perspectives of Natasha and Daniel, but interspersed with bits and pieces of history, facts, and small insights into the people with whom they come into contact on their one magical day, this is a beautiful, lovely, and touching story. Daniel readily admits in the novel that he's a cheesy guy, and yes, the story may be a bit cheesy at points, but boy, it draws you in immediately, and it's just... great. I really loved Yoon's first book, Everything, Everything, and I think this one may be even better. How does she do it?

Daniel and Natasha spring to life in front of you, as you frantically flip pages, wondering what will become of these two people. The bit players in their life take on a life all of their own, thanks to the little insight you receive via their own chapters. I am just awed at how well this woman writes teenage characters - spirited, real, flawed, lovely characters. I read the second half of this book in one sitting, because I just had to see how it ended, and find out the fate of Natasha and Daniel.

Indeed, the racial and immigration plotlines of this novel could not seem more timely, what with the Presidential Election and the current tumult America is undergoing. I wish this book was required reading of every citizen.

"If people who were actually born here had to prove they were worthy enough to live in America, this would be a much less populated country." ~ Natasha

This is not just a potential love story; this is a book that will make you think and make you cry. It's a love story of teens, it's an ode to New York City, and it's a tribute to both science and poetry. I highly recommend it.

You can find my review of Everything, Everything here.

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Friday, November 18, 2016

I guess it's been a long decline: SEPARATE LIVES.

Separate LivesSeparate Lives by Kathryn Flett

My rating: 2.5 of 5 stars

It all begins when Susie sees the text on Alex's phone: "Start living a different kind of life ...P :-) xxx." Convinced he's having an affair, Susie sets off on her own trajectory that threatens their partnership of ten years and their life with their two children. And Alex? Is he completely innocent in all of this? And what about the mysterious P?

This novel is told from the alternating point of view of Susie, Alex, and Pippa. Susie's pieces come via standard narrative, Alex's mainly through email exchanges with his brothers and sister, and Pippa via emails to her sister. While this starts off as sort of enjoyable and different, it can grow old quickly (though the email format moved quickly at least). For instance, Pippa and Susie have a way of veering off into tangents about their past, which drove me absolutely insane. These summaries seemed not at all relevant to the book (what they wore and read at seventeen!) and dragged the narrative down and the story on forever.

Meanwhile, the novel sounds interesting in its premise: a group of characters brought together by a potential technological misunderstanding. It's certainly why I selected it as an ARC. The problem is that none of the characters are remotely redeemable or likeable. While a book that revolves around infidelity may not always have the most personable of characters, you can usually find some humanity them. This group: I just could not find any reason to root for them. I would find an occasional glimpse in Susie or Pippa, but overall, they all annoyed me with their whining and life choices, and I felt sorry for their children! Add to that a plot filled with a variety of twists and turns that would be better off in a soap opera or Lifetime movie (surprise pregnancies! love affairs with a spouse's siblings!), and my frustration level reached its peak. Again, there were moments I liked, but overall I just didn't find a lot of humor or enjoyment in this novel. 2.5 stars.

I received a copy of this novel from the publisher and Netgalley (thank you!) in return for an unbiased review; it is available everywhere as of 12/06/2016

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Tuesday, November 15, 2016

This'd be a real good time to hold my hand: YOU WILL KNOW ME.

You Will Know MeYou Will Know Me by Megan Abbott

My rating: 3.5 of 5 stars

Katie Knox's life basically revolves around her teenage daughter, Devon, an extremely talented gymnast who is on a path to the Olympics. Katie and her husband, Eric, have given up their lives, their time, and their money for Devon's dream. But when a sudden death hits their close gymnastic community a few weeks before an important competition, this dream suddenly seems in jeopardy. Devon's fellow gymnasts and their families are awash in gossip as their beloved coach and his family deal with an unexpected loss. Katie wants only to focus on healing and moving on, but she finds her family drawn into the swirl, as each day reveals more surprises about her daughter and husband.

This novel was a very realistic look at the gymnastics world. You could easily picture Devon's gym and the cutthroat parents who populated it, forcing the weight of the world on Devon's shoulders, as they believed the gym's success rides on her shoulders. She captured their gossip and competition quite well. It also did an excellent job of portraying the lengths parents will go to support and protect their children. I guessed the outcome of this one fairly early on, but still found it fairly tense and suspenseful. In fact, this novel is almost too tense at times to be enjoyable, even though it's rather well-written and quite compelling. It's a trainwreck; you can't walk away, even though you know how it will end.

The book is intriguing in that it's written from Katie's perspective, despite the fact that it's basically all about Devon. This adds to the suspense -- how reliable is Katie, and how much does she truly know about Devon, her husband, and her younger son? There are times when you'd really love to key in on what Devon is thinking (and what she knows), which just adds to the tantalizingly frustrating element of this novel.

Overall, I enjoyed this one, though it wasn't one of my all-time favorite thrillers. Still, it's a quick, compelling read. 3.5 stars.

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