afterparty

When I picked up Ann Redisch Stampler’s afterparty, I didn’t realize that it was a young adult novel. I’m not opposed to reading YA and many times I really enjoy the book, but this book really was meant for a young reader. Emma is the good girl built by her father’s idealism and overprotectiveness. She has an interesting past, having moved around every couple of years following her father as a traveling professor. She changes her name with the moves, but isn’t allowed to grow into the teen that she is. Her skirt length is regulated as are her after school activities and friendships. Her father supposedly is a Psychology professor who can’t see how ridiculous his helicoptering is.

After moving to LA for her father’s job, somehow Emma is enrolled in a super exclusive private school where the uber wealthy children attend. Of course Emma meets the bad-girl Siobhan on her first day and starts breaking all her fathers super restrictive rules. She’s mildly bullied, nothing compared to what I think would’ve happened, and her and Siobhan create a pact to made Emma cool. They create a French boyfriend and excuses to get Emma out of the house to attend crazy high school parties with the goal of checking off a teenage activity to-do list before the big Afterparty.

There are some interesting aspects of this book and I was surprised by the twist at the end, but this was a simple read. I think most teenagers are capable of more complexity that what Stampler’s gives them. At the end, I didn’t look back favorable on this book. There are many flaws in the storyline that I couldn’t get over even with the twist at the end.

Read February 2015

Bonk

Mary Roach’s Bonk is about sex. The boring academic studies as well as some very interesting personal experiences involving the author, her husband, and an ultrasound wand. And she does it in as much of a non-clinical way as possible. Well, at least most of it was. From the beginning I was drawn in to her crazy world of sexual physiology and stories of how the scientists risked their academic reputations to get some of the information that we take as common place today.

I was floored that for years it was “common knowledge” that a woman needed to orgasm in order to get pregnant and if a woman was infertile that the man was to blame. Based on the misogynist history of almost every culture, this was very surprising.

There were some more scientific sections where Roach lost my interest, but then she’d often bring it back to some study where people had sex in front of researchers in Alfred Kinsey’s attic, and for the most part my interest returned. The book was a little too long to keep my interest all the way to the end. I think there’s only so much sex I care to read about before wanting to return to the world of fiction. A friend that reads a lot about the pelvic floor muscles and vaginal walls said this was the best book on the subject she’s ever read and said she laughed out loud on many of the scientific topics. I don’t read much on the topic, so many of these sections were dry to me, but very interesting to someone more versed on the topic.

Overall, I enjoyed to book and the discussion that it prompted amongst my friends and husband. The first half of the book flew by and was very enjoyable. It dragged for me by the end, but the I think if a reader has a little more interest in the science of sex, emphasis on the science part, the whole book would probably be enjoyable.

Read February 2015

The Lost Boy

The Lost Boy is the second Camilla Lackberg novel that I’ve read. Previously, The Ice Princess focused on Erica Falck who just moved back to Fjallbacka, Sweden and discovered a childhood friend dead.  Years later, Erica has married Detective Patrik Hedstrom and The Lost Boy is told from both their perspectives, as well as many other characters surrounding the death of Mats Sverin, Fjallbacka’s Financial Director.

Mats was brutally attacked months beforehand, and then after moving back to his childhood town, he is gunned down in his own apartment. Are these two events related? That’s what Patrik is trying to uncover. Meanwhile, Erica is home on maternity leave with her twins and is intrigued by the local lore about “Ghost Isle”, where Mats old high school girlfriend, Nathalie, is living.

Lackberg weaves multiple, seemingly unrelated story lines in and out, including an old story about a couple living on “Ghost Isle” in the 1870s. Like many other crime novels, underlying the current crime is a social layer of violence against women and how mothers can and will protect their children. Theres such a general denial about these attacks against women, that even the police are horrified when they read the personal files of women at a Goteborg woman’s shelter.

While some of The Lost Boy is difficult to read, the novel is full of truth. Society turns a blind eye to women in certain situations and Lackberg shines a light so we can view the truth in all its ugliness. I really enjoy Lackberg’s style and her stories. I recommend this to any crime novel lover.

Read January 2015.

The Hanged Man’s Song

John Sandford’s The Hanged Man’s Song may have been ahead of its time in 2003, but it did not age well. The story and characters revolve around computer hackers Kidd and LuEllen and an underground world of deceit and political highjacking. Their world starts to feel the pressure when super-hacker Bobby is murdered. Bobby was a criminal mastermind with a terminal illness and confined in a wheelchair when he was attacked.  Someone only stole his laptop that had everything on it to possible connect all the hackers in his network to crimes. Of course, Kidd and LuEllen, along with some other friends, had to get the laptop back.

The book is filled with shootouts, sex, politicians, criminals, etc. It was an easy book to read, but it wasn’t great. It would be a perfect book to read while sitting on the beach drinking margaritas, but not under the cold, cloudy northwest sky.

Read January 2015

Shadow of Night

Shadow of Night is Deborah Harkness’s second novel following Discovery of WitchesAs from my review and memory, I liked the first novel and was looking forward to reading this. Shadow of Night is a continuation of the story and picks up where Discovery of Witches ends.

We pick up the story with Diana Bishop and Matthew Clairmont (or Roydon, or de Clermont) crashing into England in 1590. Diana has to immerse herself to this new world and Matthew’s former life, while Matthew gets to pick up with his old friends, many of whom he’s not seen since the 16th century. Matthew’s friends include, Christopher Marlowe, Walter Raleigh, Queen Elizabeth, William Shakespeare, and many other names recognizable from history and science classes. It makes sense that a powerful vampire would cavort with powerful people in all periods of time, and history only remembers those who had the power. But it felt contrite. Its like Harkness picked up an almanac to find interesting characters that lived in this time period and couldn’t help putting them all into her novel.

The romance continues between Matthew and Diana as they are wed formally by the custom of Matthew’s powerful father. We learn more about Matthew’s past and his family, plus interesting things about Diana’s lineage. I learned more about the clothing of this period that I ever thought I wanted to know. All the while, Diana is trying to find Ashmole 782 and learn more about her witchcraft. Throughout this novel, Diana makes friends everywhere she goes, including an unwelcome friendship with Holy Roman Emperor while in Prague. Its been awhile since I read the first in the trilogy, but I remember Diana being aloof and almost friendless. Maybe I have it wrong, but I felt like her character changed too much. Instead we have a character that gets everyone to like her and gets what she wants even under unlikely circumstances.

Overall, I was disappointed in this book. I don’t know if it was the change in characterization or the fact that the story felt too much like a romance and not a supernatural thriller. But there was something missing. This is a long book and it felt like a chore to get through it. I remember being captivated by Discovery of Witches and that wasn’t the case with Shadow of Night. As with all books that I don’t like, I can share the blame of disliking it. Who knows if the sophomore book wasn’t as good as its freshman performance, or I was somehow expecting something different. Depending on time, I might still read the third in the trilogy, if only to see how the characters, to which I’ve now devoted over 1,000 pages of reading, turn out.

Read January 2015

The Fault in Our Stars

John Green’s The Fault in Our Stars is a tragic love story between two teenagers, Hazel and Augustus, who both have battled cancer. Augustus lost his legs to cancer but is in remission. Hazel undergoes an experimental treatment that keeps her cancer at bay but keeps her perpetually weak and requiring oxygen. Hazel had been terminal prior to the treatment and still lives life separated from her peers. Her mother makes her attend a cancer group for kids where she meets the charismatic Augustus.

This is a teenager’s story written for teenagers, but there’s a lot to like about this book. Most of the main characters are suffering and dealing with issues that I, as an adult, have yet to come across, yet they are still so young and immature and hopeful. There’s a lot in the book is unrealistic but it allows the characters to experience places that they wouldn’t have otherwise. One way the two connect is by reading and loving a fictional story about a kid with cancer, An Imperial Affliction. Not only can they both relate to the story of cancer, but the author left the ending ambiguous. As if the kid just died while writing it and there was no more to know.

I read quite a few reviews that stated that both the characters were unbelievably intelligent and thats what makes their conversations so interesting. But reading this as an adult and having been around kids who have been sheltered from normal childhood things, I don’t think its their intelligence that makes it so well written. I think Green gets that these are kids who had to grow up quick. These are kids that spent an abnormal amount of time hanging around with adults and not enough time with kids. But these are still kids. Hoping to grow up. Hoping that tomorrow will be a little bit better, or at least not a little bit worse. And Green gets us to hope with these young souls that the world won’t be a horrid place filled with hospitals and treatments.

While this is a very sad book, about sad things, the sweetness of the romance and young love fill the book with hope. I would recommend this book, another one with a box of tissues, to everyone. Not just the young adult crowd.

Read January 2015.

The Hour I First Believed

Several friends have recommended that I read a Wally Lamb novel for a couple of years now. Their recommendation was based on how well Lamb grasps characters and the intense emotions he shares. Every story told about his books ended with the friends describing how they cried throughout the whole book.

Its hard to begin a book that you know will emotionally rip you apart. Which is why it took me awhile to pick any of them up. I found The Hour I First Believed while randomly browsing my local library, so I figured that fate was telling me that it was finally time to read Wally Lamb.

The Hour I First Believed begins the weekend before the Columbine school shooting. It uses the killers real words and the victims real names so that the victims are not forgotten. Just from that description, I’m sure any reader can guess why this story is emotional. But Lamb takes it further. Not only do the main characters work at the school, Caelum is a teacher and Maureen a school nurse, but Maureen was in the library in the middle of the rampage. Caelum luckily (?) wasn’t there because he was across country taking care of his dying aunt.

Caelum races across the country to find out what happened to Maureen. When they reunited, they need to face their own grief and Caelum finds himself in a strange teacher role dealing with the kids who have less life experience to deal with the tragedy that the teachers themselves.

Without fulling dealing with their emotions about the Columbine shooting, Caelum and Maureen return east to Caelum’s family farm in Connecticut. Its in Connecticut that Caelum must deal with his past, both personal and family past. Lamb reveals one thing after another, to make it seem that the life Caelum and Maureen are trying to save, just won’t let them. There’s bad luck and then theres the luck that these two have. Affairs uncovered. Hit and runs. Jail time. Alcholism. Throughout its hard to tell whats keeping them going. Is it guilt? Obligation?

I can’t answer those questions, but I can say that I cried throughout the book. Just like my friends recommendation, this book emotionally ripped me apart but by the end I was hopeful. Ripping my heard out through reading is tough, but putting the hope back in is even harder. Wally Lamb truly gets real human emotion. Its complex, but amazing.

I heartily recommend this novel, but with a box of tissues.

Read December 2014.