The Monday Salon!

Let’s pretend I’m waving to everyone, shall we? How have y’all been? I feel as if I’ve been absent for too long from the blogging world. I know I’ve had posts pop up, but I haven’t been actively reading and commenting like I normally try to do. Life just keeps getting in the way – by making me sick over and over again. Not fun.

I think for the first time in my life allergies have actually become a thing. I have been nearly bedridden for the past week or so with aches, fevers, chills, stuffiness, and just general feel badly-ness. I’ve been sleeping non-stop and still resemble something a Mack truck ran over several times. Hoping for all this pollen to disappear soon. Like yesterday.

In worse news, my job is going to not exist soon. Yep, after finally finding something back in December, I’m going to be jobless again. Because that is my life. Filled with all the bad luck. So back to the drawing board I go. Hoping to find something by the end of May. I hate when investors back out of deals and all the new people are no longer needed. Shitty is shitty.

On the geekery front, I’ve been reading a bunch of Edith Wharton this weekend and will spend most of this week continuing that theme to prepare for Sunday’s book club meeting. I love her so much. Expect some Edith-centric posts soon. I also finished Me Before You and have things to say. Spoiler alert: I cried the ugly cry.

Might also throw up some movie reviews. Loved End of Watch and Gone Baby, Gone. Red Dawn – not so much.

And finally – Happy 4/15 any accountants who might be reading! I know that tax accountants are still going to have a rough day, but all the auditors will be partying tonight (including my husband). Time to let it down and get back to having a life!

P.S. Lots of people have been reading the blog lately and subscribing. Thanks for visiting and I’d love to hear from y’all in the comments!!

Anna and the French Kiss by Stephanie Perkins

6936382I guess I just have a cold, dead heart because I thought this book was terrible. Pretty much everyone and their mom thinks this book was super cute and sweet. I wanted to throw it against a wall in anger. What is wrong with me? Or are other people just oblivious?

Anna Oliphant is a high school senior living the normal life in Atlanta, Georgia. She’s got an amazing best friend and a potential love interest so things are looking promising going into her final year of school. All that changes when her writer father decides he’d really like Anna to attend a boarding school in Paris so that he can sound more cultured. Anna is not happy with the decision until she meets her new set of friends, especially St. Clair – a hottie with a British accent.

The Paris setting was superb. I loved walking the streets of France along with Anna. And that’s about the only positive thing I have to say about the book. Now, I understand why young adults would find this little romance swoon-worthy. I get it. But adults? Really?

My biggest problem was that Stephanie Perkins obviously models Anna’s dad after Nicholas Sparks and lets her rage at his formulaic cancer plots shine through rather brightly. And then she goes and does the exact same thing – includes a cancer plot to add emotional depth and suffering to the character of St. Clair. REALLY?

Also, none of the characters are very well flushed out – particularly Ellie, St. Clair’s girlfriend. Yes, you read that right. St. Clair the love interest already has a girlfriend. And yes, there is cheating. I hated that we never got to know Ellie so that we never view her as a character we should sympathize. How convenient. Don’t want Anna and St. Clair to seem like dirty little cheating tramps? Make the actual girlfriend a non-entity.

Don’t get me started on the Atlanta/America-hate that Anna expresses upon her return to the States over Christmas break. Four months in France and Anna’s completely over the shitty country she used to view as home. I know I should let this go because there are probably a ton of teenagers, and hell, adults who would and do act exactly this way, but it still pissed me off. I get a little defensive about Atlanta. I like my home.

As for the romance, blah and yuck. St. Clair isn’t a great romantic lead. He’s a coward who is too afraid to break up with his girlfriend so instead emotionally and then physically cheats on her. How is that sexy? Someone please explain it to me? Several others have complained about how short he is and that shortness is not attractive. SERIOUSLY? And cheating is? Being a complete wuss has you smitten? Now I’m getting all angry and yelling. Please do not be offended if you found St. Clair attractive. I just really did not.

I think I’m getting a little burned out on YA in general so I’m going to read the exact opposite – dull adult non-fiction. Ha! I just need a palate cleanser. YA sucks me in with their shininess and pretty covers, but often fails to deliver anything other than empty entertainment – for me, that is. I’m not knocking those of you who love it. I’m just currently going through a rough patch with my own personal YA feelings. I just wish everything was on Harry Potter’s level. This is quickly turning into an entirely separate post so I’ll stop bickering now!

It by Stephen King

1131777I know many bloggers partook in the It-along a few months back and really enjoyed this novel – particularly the audio version. So way back in February I downloaded this baby and have been listening ever since. I cannot believe it took me two months to finish, but some of that time was monopolized by Vanity Fair. And before you think I didn’t enjoy the audio, please think again! The narration by Steven Weber is just as fantastic as everyone says. An Oscar worthy performance if there ever was one!

The long story short version? This epic length novel is about evil in a small town and the somewhat momentous differences between childhood and adulthood. There are two main timelines – one in 1958 following a group of children who call themselves the ‘Loser’s Club’ and one in 1985 where those children have all grown up. Every 27-ish years an evil often personified as Pennywise the Clown haunts the town of Derry, Maine, focusing on brutally murdering children. The Loser’s Club manages to escape but must come together again to fight this evil force when it reappears.

A lot more happens, trust me. 44 hours of stuff happens. There are Derry interludes where we discover tidbits of Derry’s history. But honestly, all those diverging plot lines take a major backseat to the 1958 setting where we get to know and love the Loser’s Club. Stephen King is a master of writing children. I loved each and every one of those kids which made all their horrors and fears so vivid.

Pennywise the Clown was never what scared me. I was, instead, truly terrified by the more real life violences that King doesn’t shy away from portraying. Bev’s many encounters with domestic violence – especially as she’s trying to run away from her father’s rage as a young girl. The bullying brought about by Henry and his followers. The ballshit evil that was Patrick.  Some of those moments were almost impossible to listen to because Steven Weber made them feel so real.

All that being said, It wasn’t a perfect book for me. The scene with the kiddy orgy was absolutely wrong and off-putting. I cringed throughout the whole thing and would have skipped had I not been driving. Also, long parts were extremely slow and boring (remember those Derry interludes?) and could have been edited out easily. If the book had been culled down to a much more efficient but still affecting length, I’d probably have nothing but praises to sing.

I’d still recommend to readers who enjoy the horror genre or King’s writing in general. I’ve watched the first half of the IT mini-series and wasn’t very impressed. So much was changed that I couldn’t get into it. I did like the child actors though. It was lovely seeing Jonathan Brandis again. I used to love him way back in the early 90s. Now that I have two King novels under my belt, I’m going to give him a little rest. He’s not an author I can read day in and day out without growing tired. But I’m looking forward to revisiting him soon!

Anna Dressed in Blood by Kendare Blake

9378297I had high hopes for Anna and all her creepiness. Really high hopes. Some of those expectations were met and others not so much. I hate that I only felt ‘meh’ about this book while so many others adored. I will say that compared to other similar YA novels, this one shines.

In Anna, we meet Cas who is a young, aspiring Dean Winchester. They are the exact same character. And since I loved the first few seasons of Supernatural, I was thrilled with Cas. I even enjoyed the heck out of his cockiness. Anyway, he’s a ghost hunter/slayer with a special knife meant for slaughtering the baddies. He gets wind of a particularly nasty spook dubbed ‘Anna Dressed in Blood’ and heads to Canada with his mom. All of the things go down. The end. Ha!

Now, Anna had the potential to be one bad ass murderous ghost. Our first time meeting her is awesome, gruesome, and exactly what I wanted. Unfortunately, Anna gets neutered far too quickly and that’s when all my problems started. Why did Blake decide to water down Anna so quickly? Such a shame.

(minor spoilers ahead!)

Most of the novel truly does read like a Supernatural episode. What works the most are Cas’s friends – his little circle he comes to know and love. They are fun and not at all the stereotypical group you’d expect from a traditional YA novel. I had some ‘Scooby Gang’ nostalgia going on big time. Even the romantic bits break most of  the normal YA tropes which is a breath of fresh air. Until you realize that Cas and Anna have feelings for one another. That bit lost me as well.

Two things disappointed me more than anything else. Why was everyone so okay with Cas doing what he does? He’s a freakin’ kid whose dad died killing ghosts. Why would his mother so mutely stand back and watch her son continue such violence, particularly at such a young age? Did not ring true to me at all. I know I’m just supposed to suspend belief, but I couldn’t.

Also, why wasn’t this book more frightening? I’m not sure that’s Blake’s fault at all. Maybe I’m just not moved by horror stories? Scary movies are nearly un-watchable, but I haven’t been horrified by a written ghost story in a seriously long time. I want to be scared silly!

I did love the book’s ending. I’m glad that Anna went down with the house – only seems fitting. Blake’s writing was also great, her pacing superb from page one, and she genuinely has some awesome plot moves. I’m mainly thinking of the flashback scene dealing with Anna’s past and how creatively she managed to pull that off. I think I’d have been more impressed if there had been more emotion involved. I wanted Cas’s mom to care more about her son’s well-being. I wanted the town to care more about all the deaths and disappearances – especially of the young kids. And I wanted that damn cat to survive!

Can’t win them all, I suppose. Anna is still a book I’d recommend to fans of YA horror and paranormal stories. There’s enough in Blake’s novel that feels fresh to entice those readers annoyed with so many cookie-cutter, predictable narratives running around in the world today. There’s also a fun amount of blood and gore for the true horror fans and a fascinating mythology.

I’ll gladly read the second Anna story in this duology. I am thankful that there’s only two novels. If Blake had decided to end after the first, I wouldn’t have been disappointed, but I’m interested to see where Anna ended up! Many other readers haven’t liked the second Anna as much which kind of gives me hope. I tend to like sequels when others don’t. Just one of my many weird quirks.

Requiem by Lauren Oliver (And yes, there are spoilers!)

9593913I finished the Delirium trilogy! I feel like I start so many book series and then never finish them. So to finally notch one completely off my list feels good. Plus, there’s a television show being made adapted from the novels. I’m rooting for the show – hoping it even outshines the books.

As many of you know, I wasn’t a huge fan of Delirium, but Pandemonium completely won me over. For the second book in a trilogy to surpass the first is rare – although most people don’t agree with me about Pandemonium’s clear ass-kicking of Delirium. So I had great hopes for an even better ending. But it was not to be.

Not that Requiem was terrible, not at all. I just was in like with it rather than in love. Mostly because of how Oliver managed to force Julian’s character firmly into a mere plot device and send him on his merry way as soon as was conveniently possible. I respected this love triangle until that ridiculous end. But I guess Alex was always going to win – so why bother with Julian?

And really, the end was the book’s biggest problem. So rushed – almost like Oliver wasn’t allowed to go over her 400 page word count without some sort of unfortunate consequences. Everything just ends and feels so forced. I was majorly disappointed that we have no clue what becomes of Hana despite her being one of the two narrative perspectives in Requiem. WHAT THE HAY?

Up until the end, however, I enjoyed most everything a great deal. I loved seeing the post-cure world that Hana was inhabiting and how the cure affected her specifically. And Lena didn’t even get on my nerves much, either. I didn’t see much character growth this time around for her, but at least she didn’t annoy me too much.

The action scenes were well done and suspenseful although a little too far and few between. Not that the novel reads slowly – I read practically the whole thing in a single sitting while I was sick this week. Oliver’s writing has come a long way since Delirium, in my opinion, and I appreciate her talents and hope to see more from her in the future.

Overall, I’d recommend the series if you want something easy and entertaining to read. Beware of the first book, but the next two make up for it! My biggest problems with the series as a whole was the lack of world building – most specifically, the history of this particular world. I’m still not certain how the US got to the point of curing its citizens of love or how the rest of the world fit into the picture. I’d have loved more back story.

Anyway, happy to be done and now ready to start a new series. I’m going to be giving The Mortal Instruments a read. I read Clockwork Angel last year and enjoyed, so now I’m looking forward to starting with TMI and working my way through all of Cassandra Clare’s backlog. With the movie coming out in August, I’ll be fully prepared!

Anya’s Ghost by Vera Brosgol

9395668I’ve been gathering a large number of graphic novels recently in the hopes of growing more well versed in that particular literary genre. The Litwits are even having a graphic novel/comic themed month in September. In order to prep for that, I’m going to do my best to actually read some of my recent purchases.

Anya’s Ghost is the story of a teenage girl going through all the angst and self-esteem issues that plague today’s youth. Anya’s self-consciousness is also compounded by the fact that she’s Russian and trying so hard to be a traditional ‘American’. She’s spent years trying to lose her baby fat and her accent. Despite all her determinism, Anya has still only managed to make one on-again, off-again friend by the time she reaches high school.

As one faithful day would have it, Anya falls down a well. Yes, a well. Very ‘Alice and the rabbit hole-esque’. In the well she encounters a skeleton with a ghost attached. The ghost’s name is Emily and desperately wants to be Anya’s friend. Anya begrudgingly gives in and soon begins to benefit from Emily’s sneaky ways.

Somewhere along the line, however, Emily turns out not to be what she seems. And through this very unearthly lesson, Anya begins to see her life a little more clearly.

Loved it! Such a fun narrative made all the better by the gray-scale drawings. The illustrations have a very decidedly cartoon-esque appeal and Brosgoll expertly captures emotion and plot movement even in her drawings without exposition or dialogue. Her story is also incredibly unique. Emily could have been a very simple and underused plot device, but her ghostly nature and devilish past rose above all my expectations.

Anya’s Ghost also succeeds in remaining firmly grounded in reality despite the supernatural aspects. Anya’s struggles with her peers, boys, and family rang so true. She’s going through the terribly turbulent years where rebellion seems her only friend and who hasn’t felt that once or twice as a teenager?

This novel is one I’d suggest gifting to a teenager in your life – especially a female teenager. It captures several great morals without seeming at all preachy and manages to remain a super cool romp rather than an overwrought lecture. I loved Anya and the twisty ending so much. The drawings were spectacular and now I’m craving graphic novels like nobody’s business.

Beautiful Ruins by Jess Walter

11447921Long time no write! I’ve had a miserable go of it these past few days with the stomach virus from hell. But it gave me a ton of time to read which is the only positive side I could manage. And today I’m going to be reviewing a lovely little novel by Jess Walter that is coming out in paperback to a store near you soon – or maybe it’s already there!

Many of y’all discovered and loved Beautiful Ruins last year so I’m a bit behind the curve. When Trish at TLC Book Tours invited me to be on the tour marking the paperback release, I jumped quickly. So glad I did. I literally just finished about 5 minutes before beginning this post and so expect mostly an incoherent gush fest to follow.

Walter’s novel is hard to summarize. Next to impossible, really. It beings with a young Italian man returning home to run his family’s hotel in the nowhere village of Porto Vergogna after his father’s death in 1962. One day, Pasquale is attempting to build a beach on the rocky coastline to attract American and French tourists when a tall, beautiful, blonde film star arrives at his hotel. Dee Moray has been working alongside Liz Taylor on the film, Cleopatra, and has been sent away diagnosed with stomach cancer. When she meets Pasquale for the first time, a story spanning decades and many, many lives is set in play. That synopsis only scratches the barest of surfaces. But Beautiful Ruins is a book best read cold and discovered along the way.

For a book that jumps around in time so much, Beautiful Ruins sure does have some major flow. I’m really baffled at how seamlessly Walter is able to weave together the past and present along with various different mediums of narration such as chapters from fictional novels and plays scattered throughout the story. I like to think of Walter as a storytelling magician.

I was also taken with Walter’s ability to write both a deeply complex character driven story that happens to work as a page-turning plot as well. Achieving both is such a rare occurrence in books I read. And he’s able to make each of his many characters matter and to easily stand out as their own person. I always knew who I was reading about, could easily remember their back story, and yearned to stay with them just a bit longer. I think part of this success comes from Beautiful Ruins being such an effortlessly imagined novel. By that, I mean that the narrative played out in my head so vividly, almost like a movie. Jess Walter would make a fantastic screenwriter.

Beautiful Ruins is the best contemporary novel I’ve read in quite some time. It’s at once wickedly comedic and lyrically sad. It has so much to say about life, death, dreams, and the paths our decisions lead us down everyday. Walter has written a book meant to be read more than once with something new to be discovered upon each reading, I’m sure. It’s the kind of novel that bodes well as a gift for a new graduate or someone nearing death. Poignant, purposeful, and a hell of a ride!

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Thanks so much to TLC Book Tours and the publisher for a copy of the novel in exchange for my honest review. Check out the rest of the tour here.

About the Author

Jess-WalterJess Walter is the author of six novels, including the national bestseller The Financial Lives of the Poets, the National Book Award finalist The Zero, and Citizen Vince, winner of the Edgar Award for best novel. His collection of short fiction, We Live in Water, has just been published by Harper Perennial. He lives in Spokane, Washington.

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