Ashley Bell

Ashley Bell

25241477 “Ashley Bell” by Dean Koontz

Synopsis: At twenty-two, Bibi Blair’s doctors tell her that she’s dying. Two days later, she’s impossibly cured. Fierce, funny, dauntless, she becomes obsessed with the idea that she was spared because she is meant to save someone else. Someone named Ashley Bell. This proves to be a dangerous idea. Searching for Ashley Bell, ricocheting through a southern California landscape that proves strange and malevolent in the extreme, Bibi is plunged into a world of crime and conspiracy, following a trail of mysteries that become more sinister and tangled with every twisting turn.

Unprecedented in scope, infinite in heart, Ashley Bell is a magnificent achievement that will capture lovers of dark psychological suspense, literary thrillers, and modern classics of mystery and adventure. Beautifully written, at once lyrical and as fast as a bullet, here is the most irresistible novel of the decade.

*******

3 out of 5 stars

I do like Dean Koontz. I like his writing in spite of the fact that for the last decade or so, all of his books have a religious bent and a golden retriever. That ever present golden retriever makes me feel like I read the same book over and over even when the plot is entirely different.

This book has such a great premise that, sadly, does not quite live up to my expectations. Bibi Blair is our main character and a spunky twenty-two year old surfer girl. She is diagnosed with inoperable, terminal brain cancer. Two days later, she is completely cured.

What I liked: Bibi’s story is interesting, and for the most part, original. She is sent on a quest to find the illusive “Ashley Bell” whose life she is destined to save. There are nefarious characters who are hell-bent on stopping her along the way. Bibi is a likable character and she has a rich inner monologue that this book depends a great deal on.

I really liked, and would have loved to learn more about, her relationship with her Grandfather, the Captain. There were things hinted at and alluded to that I really needed spelled out, but the relationship felt real when reading about it.

Koontz is also, as always, very descriptive and does a great job of building this world, both internal and external.

What I didn’t like: There is a huge plot twist that I really needed earlier in the book for it to make more sense. I’m all about leaving the surprise till the end, but this particular twist needed an early reveal for a smoother plot. Bibi’s parents are also surfers and the book is littered with surfer lingo. Or, what Koontz perceives as surfer lingo. No surfer I have ever known, and I have known a few, has ever spoken like that. It did not translate well.

This is a giant of a book. I love my epic reads, but there was a lot of wasted space there in the middle. Lots of reading and not really going anywhere. 130 chapters.

Bibi’s fiance was essentially a non-character for me. I did not connect with him at all and honestly skipped many of his early chapters.

So, why did I give this book three stars? I did like it, I just was disappointed. I have been disappointed in most of the recent Koontz books I’ve read come to think of it. It was a good book but could have been so much better.

The cover … meh.

The Library at Mount Char

The Library at Mount Char

23363928 “The Library at Mount Char” by Scott Hawkins

Synopsis: Carolyn’s not so different from the other human beings around her. She’s sure of it. She likes guacamole and cigarettes and steak. She knows how to use a phone. She even remembers what clothes are for.
After all, she was a normal American herself, once.
That was a long time ago, of course—before the time she calls “adoption day,” when she and a dozen other children found themselves being raised by a man they learned to call Father.
Father could do strange things. He could call light from darkness. Sometimes he raised the dead. And when he was disobeyed, the consequences were terrible.
In the years since Father took her in, Carolyn hasn’t gotten out much. Instead, she and her adopted siblings have been raised according to Father’s ancient Pelapi customs. They’ve studied the books in his library and learned some of the secrets behind his equally ancient power.
Sometimes, they’ve wondered if their cruel tutor might secretly be God.
Now, Father is missing. And if God truly is dead, the only thing that matters is who will inherit his library—and with it, power over all of creation.
As Carolyn gathers the tools she needs for the battle to come, fierce competitors for this prize align against her.
But Carolyn can win. She’s sure of it. What she doesn’t realize is that her victory may come at an unacceptable price—because in becoming a God, she’s forgotten a great deal about being human.

*******

5 out of 5 stars

Well, crap. I haven’t the faintest idea of how to begin to review this book.

I don’t suppose I can leave it at, “It’s amazing, go read it immediately.”

I’m going to start with what I liked most about this book.

The world building is fantastic. To create an entire new world, new mythos, new philosophy in one book is hard and it’s exceptionally well done here. This falls into the fantasy genre quite simply because there is no where else to put it. Fantasy, sci-fi, historical, dystopian, horror, speculative – I think it fits all those genres.

Carolyn is our main character in this book but many of the other characters get equal play. Parts of the book are disturbing, parts are laugh out loud hilarious (remind me that in real life I can’t bitch-slap a lion). She goes through quite the metamorphosis through the story and it’s wonderful to read her development.

The character development is well thought out. There doesn’t seem to be much thought given to them at first, and then you find that you are incredibly invested in everyone in the book.

There is a lot of gore in this book. Descriptions of killing and of torture and of abuse. Somehow it makes sense that it’s here and necessary to the story. It’s violent but not gratuitous.

The one thing I didn’t like was that it took me a good 50 pages to really get hooked by this book. Normally I give up very quickly, but I am so glad I stuck with this one. I know I keep saying amazing but I don’t have any other words for this.

Again, I have no idea how to review “Library”. I don’t know where it fits, who should read it, and how to think about it. I just know I loved it and will definitely reread in the future.

The cover is …

… wait for it …

… amazing.

 

 

Trans-Sister Radio

Trans-Sister Radio

126814 “Trans-Sister Radio” by Chris Bohjalian

Synopsis: With Trans-Sister Radio, Chris Bohjalian, author of the bestseller Midwives, again confronts his very human characters with issues larger than themselves, here tackling the explosive issue of gender.

When Allison Banks develops a crush on Dana Stevens, she knows that he will give her what she needs most: attention, gentleness, kindness, passion. Her daughter, Carly, enthusiastically witnesses the change in her mother. But then a few months into their relationship, Dana tells Allison his secret: he has always been certain that he is a woman born into the wrong skin, and soon he will have a sex-change operation. Allison, overwhelmed by the depth of her passion, and finds herself unable to leave Dana. By deciding to stay, she finds she must confront questions most people never even consider. Not only will her own life and Carly’s be irrevocably changed, she will have to contend with the outrage of a small Vermont community and come to terms with her lover’s new body–hoping against hope that her love will transcend the physical.

*****

2 out of 5 stars

I really had high hopes for this book, even though the title is a tortured pun. Unfortunately, I feel underwhelmed.

The story is told from four different view points; that of Dana who ends up in a relationship with Allison right before going through gender reassignment surgery. Allison, who is a divorced grade school teacher and the mother of teen aged Carly. Carly who dealing with her mother’s lover as she leaves for college, and lastly Will, Carly’s father and Allison’s ex-husband.

Let’s begin with what I liked. My favorite thing about this book was the internal struggle that Allison goes through. Her male lover transitions into her female lover and she really struggles with that as she is not a lesbian. She never sees Dana as something other than what she is – a woman after the surgery and Allison deeply mourns that. I often feel that in relationships where one partner transitions, there is huge pressure for the remaining partner to stay in the relationship even if that’s not the right thing for them. I felt that this part of the story was realistic and sensitively written.

Trans-phobia is also a huge issue in this story. It’s set in a small town and the townspeople are not happy that a deviant, a man in a dress is parading around their town and making a mockery of them. Allison feels immense pressure to leave her job and is even asked to move out of the center of town so no one has to see her and Dana together. The towns people are brutal and friends quickly become enemies. It’s scary how quickly that shifted in the book, and eye opening.

I didn’t like a couple of things. One glaring thing is the use of the words “tranny” and “trannies”. Those words are typically used as derogatory terms. I understand the need to take back certain words, especially in the LQBTQIA+ community, but this was not an appropriate forum.

Also, back to the titles radio reference. Both Will and Carly work with NPR broadcasting and use Dana’s story as Carly’s big break. Dana actually had very little to say during the broadcasting, but everyone else offered their opinion. It was a little jarring how her story was used with very little thought to Dana herself.

And, finally, that odd happy ending. That ending made this book the complete opposite of a book about transgender issues and relationships. Just weird and a little too neatly tied up in a bow.

Not a great book, but not the worst.

The cover is surprisingly lovely.

 

Things No One Will Tell Fat Girls

Things No One Will Tell Fat Girls

24796533 “Things No One Will Tell Fat Girls: A Handbook for Unapologetic Living” by Jes Baker

Synopsis: Things No One Will Tell Fat Girls is a manifesto and call to arms for people of all sizes and ages. With her trademark wit, veteran blogger and advocate Jes Baker calls people everywhere to embrace a body-positive worldview, changing perceptions about weight, and making mental health a priority.
Alongside notable guest essayists, Jes shares personal experiences paired with in-depth research in a way that is approachable, digestible, and empowering. Things No One Will Tell Fat Girls is an invitation to reject fat prejudice, fight body-shaming at the hands of the media, and join this life-changing movement with one step: change the world by loving your body.

Among the many Things No One Will Tell Fat Girls that you don’t want to miss:
1. It’s Possible to Love Your Body (Today. Now.)
2. You Can Train Your Brain to Play Nice
3. Your Weight Is Not a Reflection Of Your Worth
4. Changing Your Tumblr Feed Will Change Your Life
5. Salad Will Not Get You to Heaven
6. Cheesecake Will Not Send You to Hell

If you’re a person with a body, this book is for you.

*****

5 out of 5 stars

It’s not often that I review nonfiction and the book has to be really special to do so.

This book is really special.

I’m a huge fan of Jes Baker and have followed her blog  The Militant Baker for a long time. She was one of the first people I started following who was so completely herself when it came to her mental health and her size. I admire her so much for being so vocal and visible in the body-positive movement.

“Things No One will tell Fat Girls” is not necessarily a book that only fat girls should read. Or girls. Or anyone fat. Basically, if you have a body at all, you should read this book.

The book is filled with essays from Jes’ own life and guest essays from other body-positive activists like Virgie Tovar that make it such a personal read. I don’t know of any person who has not experienced an instance of some sort of negativity towards their body. I remember when I was a small child my mother constantly dieting (she’s bulimic) to the point her hair fell out. I remember being told by a neighbor to stop biting my fingernails because no one would want to marry a girl with hands that looked like that. I remember starving myself because a boy I wanted to notice me only liked skinny girls. I remember an old lover criticizing my body and my reaction was not to tell them to fuck off, but to try and fix those perceived flaws. And, I remember how much all of that hurt.

The main philosophy running through this book is that all bodies are good. All bodies are good, and have worth whether they be fat, skinny, able bodied, disabled, straight, queer, and anything else you care to label. This alone was so impactful for me. To read that the way I look – my shape, my size, my gender, my everything is good and right was amazing. It’s nothing that I could not have come up with on my own, but to see it in print was something else.

Sex positive, body positive, brash and unapologetic is how this is written and how Jes Baker lives. She is a little bit my hero and a lot of who I aspire to be.

 

 

 

 

 

Spoiled Brats

Spoiled Brats

20706308“Spoiled Brats: Stories” by Simon Rich

Synopsis: Twenty years ago, Barney the Dinosaur told the nation’s children they were special. We’re still paying the price.

In his collection SPOILED BRATS, Simon Rich takes his absurd, culture-skewering style to new heights, marrying the literary polish of writers like Karen Russell and George Saunders with the humor of Steve Martin to deliver truly dazzling tales.
SPOILED BRATS is about the battles we fight with the ones who love us most: our parents. In “Family Business,” a young chimpanzee offends his working class father by choosing to become a research animal instead of joining the family grub-hunting business. In “Proud Mom,” a young mother is so besotted she doesn’t realize her child is actually, truly a monster. And in “Animals,” the fate of a terrified classroom hamster hangs in the balance when a notorious kid is picked for hamster care duty.
SPOILED BRATS confirms Rich as one of the most “adept, inarguably funny” (San Francisco Chronicle) young writers at work today.

*******

3 out of 5 stars

This is an amazing, horrific, funny, bizarre, and crass collection of short stories and vignettes. It’s a quick read with some laugh out loud moments and some horrible ones as well. The majority of the stories are exceptionally well written and all of them will make you think.

The theme of all the stories in this book is that of spoiled brats. Whether that brat is the main character, or interacts with the main character, or is in some other fashion in the story there is always a spoiled brat. I loved this, that all the stories have the same reoccurring theme. I also think it’s quite funny that two of the brats in the stories are named Simon. Coincidence? Probably not.

There were a few that stood out for me that I wanted to share.

“Animal” is the story that opens the book and to be honest, I was shocked. It is a fairly accurate (to me) story of the abuse that a family of hamsters faces at the hands of a child in a classroom setting. Told in the first person narrative of the hamster’s point of view, it was chilling to read of the total disregard of life at the hands of this child (Simon) and the lack of care given by the teacher. Starving and battered, the hamster reaches his breaking point and bites the child, but whose fault is that? Certainly not the child’s!

I almost didn’t finish the book because this story affected me so much. It’s well written and quite powerful for a short story, but I feel that it is misplaced here. Most of the rest of the stories have at least a thread of humor in them. “Animal” did not.

“Elf on the Shelf”. I’m not sure how to say I liked this story without saying I liked this story. It’s not a pretty or sweet story at all. This is the story of an actual Elf on the Shelf, send to monitor the behavior of a child and report back to Santa whether or not he or she deserves a Christmas gift or coal. The child he’s assigned to is a 10 year old monster who decides to use the Elf as a masturbation tool and lights him on fire. Hopefully reporting that kind of behavior to Santa will make it stop!

“Sell Out” is the best of the bunch and is the most fleshed out story, more of a novella. It’s the story of (once again) Simon’s great-great grandfather waking up 100 years after he was pickled in a keg of brine. Awakening in modern day Brooklyn he must learn to adapt and learn to survive. This is a great example of the clash between classes and a well done satire on hipster culture.

I’m glad I finished the book as I did enjoy it. Looking at it, I do understand why “Animal” is first – it’s the best hook of the bunch to reel you into the rest of the book. I haven’t read anything else by Simon Rich but look forward to doing so.

The cover is perfect!

 

 

 

 

Monsterland

Monsterland

26835271“Monsterland” by Michael Phillip Cash

Synopsis: Welcome to Monsterland – the scariest place on Earth. All guests can interact with real vampires in Vampire Village, be chased by an actual werewolf on the River Run, and walk among the dead in Zombieville.
Wyatt Baldwin, a high school student and life-long movie buff is staring bleakly at a future of flipping burgers. Due to a fortuitous circumstance, Wyatt and his friends are invited to the star-studded opening of Monsterland. In a theme park full of real vampires, werewolves and zombies, what could possibly go wrong?

*******

3 out of 5 stars

Most of the time when I read, I have an image of what I am reading playing in my head – like a movie. Some of the books I read fall into this imaginary movie nicely and I can see the characters and action quite clearly – those are the books I enjoy the most. I’ve even thought about how any given book would translate into an actual cinema movie; could it be done with the characters and scenes in the time allotted and make sense to a viewer. Some of my imaginary movies don’t work quite as well and the action in my head doesn’t run quite as smoothly.

“Monsterland” is a good book, and an OK imaginary movie. I couldn’t find if it was originally listed as a YA read but it most definitely is, geared toward a teen aged reader. The premise is original – the big three scary monsters (zombies, vampires and werewolves) all gathered in one theme park for an audience to view. Very Jurassic Park.

The werewolves are in a glass enclosure that allows the visitors to the park to travel through by boat. They are forced to change on a regular basis with an LED moon. The zombies are actually plague victims and are housed in a walled off part of the park that is made up to look like any suburban neighborhood. The vampires are forced to perform and Victorian entertainers alongside a hunchback in some bizarre play. None of them are happy to be there, having been tricked or captured.

Wyatt is our main character and he and his friends win “back stage passes” to Monsterland’s opening night through a chance meeting with the park’s owner Dr. Vincent Conrad.

In a park full of monsters, what could go wrong? Surprise, everything of course! In Jurassic proportions, every single thing that could go wrong in a grand opening with a park full of monsters does. And, apparently that is just the beginning of the disasters.

This book had the potential to be truly campy, but it missed the mark. It’s a fast and easy read and it doesn’t take itself too seriously which is the main reason I enjoyed it as much as I did.

The cover is great!

ARC provided by NetGalley.