Friday, June 12, 2015

the ocean at the end of the lane


the ocean at the end of the lane
neil gaiman
fantasy
william morrow books
published 2013

Sussex, England. A middle-aged man returns to his childhood home to attend a funeral. Although the house he lived in is long gone, he is drawn to the farm at the end of the road, where, when he was seven, he encountered a most remarkable girl, Lettie Hempstock, and her mother and grandmother. He hasn't thought of Lettie in decades, and yet as he sits by the pond (a pond that she'd claimed was an ocean) behind the ramshackle old farmhouse, the unremembered past comes flooding back. And it is a past too strange, too frightening, too dangerous to have happened to anyone, let alone a small boy.

There is something incredibly bewitching about Neil Gaiman's writing and it's only emphasized when you listen to the audiobook read by him.

The Ocean At The End Of The Lane is creepy, haunting, terrifying, sad and magical.  A different kind of coming-of-age tale with the most wonderful of characters.  Lettie and her mother and grandmother were so rich and delicious.  I wanted to be friends with them.  I was desperate for them to come and save the boy from Ursula Monkton.

I loved how the character's names sounded coming from Gaiman.  Ursula Monkton, Lettie Hempstock....and how the narrator, the boy, had no name.

I kept thinking how freaking terrifying the entire experience would be.  How helpless he felt, how strong Lettie was and was heartbroken at the end.  I wanted him to remember.

All in all, a fantastic read (or listen)!

Thursday, May 21, 2015

fresh off the boat


fresh off the boat
eddie huang
memoir/audiobook
spiegel & grau
published 2013

Eddie Huang is the thirty-year-old proprietor of Baohaus—the hot East Village hangout where foodies, stoners, and students come to stuff their faces with delicious Taiwanese street food late into the night—and one of the food world’s brightest and most controversial young stars. But before he created the perfect home for himself in a small patch of downtown New York, Eddie wandered the American wilderness looking for a place to call his own.

I had started reading/listening to Eddie Huang's book awhile back in my quest to find audiobooks that kept me interested.  It couldn't really hold my attention and I found Huang's style slightly irritating so I just let the book expire.  After watching the sitcom Fresh Off The Boat on ABC I decided to give it another try.  I had read about the controversy about the show.  How Huang has said that the show is so far removed from his life that he doesn't even watch it and what a piece of garbage it is, etc. so I wanted to see how different it was.

What I discovered is that ABC created likable characters where there were few.  Did they sugarcoat things?  Of course!  He sold his rights away to a  family network so they could create a sitcom.  If he wanted edgy he should have shopped out to AMC or FX.  But I guess for a guy who hates TV and 'only watches HBO' he just didn't know any better or in Huang speak he was 'ignant'.

What did I like about this book?  I loved the way he talked about food.  He has a knack for describing technically while still painting a picture so you can see the steam rising off a simmering bowl of beef noodle soup.  He has good points about fusion food (it's unnecessary) and how to cook with your senses, with your tastes and experiences than with measuring cups and recipe cards.  It had me craving food the entire time.

Huang is incredibly intelligent.  Well read not because he wanted to be able to say he read Tolstoy but because he really wanted to read Tolstoy.  You could tell that he loved to learn even if he didn't want to be 'that Asian'.  His path to Baohaus in impressive in it's long winding route and he has, at such a young age, accomplished quite a bit.

Unfortunately, the list of things I didn't love about this book is a little longer.  Huang's intelligence has him under the impression that he is smarter, better than everyone else.  He talks about being humble, but that's bullshit.  There is nothing humble about this guy.  He's a major shit talker.  He has a disdain for anyone who isn't 'real', which is kind of ludicrous considering he spent his entire childhood trying to get so far away from his culture that he doesn't even see it.  He hates everyone..  He goes on about ABCs (American Born Chinese), David Chang, frat boys, college kids, Americans, white people, white people, white people.  He has such a chip on his shoulder it's amazing he doesn't tip over.  He doesn't consider himself American, doesn't subscribe to the idea of an American patriot.  When 9/11 happened it didn't really happen to him because this wasn't his country.  Then why stay here?  For a time he has to go to Taiwan for some sentencing thing.  Why didn't he stay there?  Oh, because there were no opportunities for him.  He had to come to AMERICA to do what he wanted to do.  He comes across as snobbish and ungrateful.

But the icing on the cake is how he totally relates with the struggle of black people.  I mean, he understands being held down because his parents sent him to 7 different private schools and raised him in a gated community where Tiger Woods lived.  He tries to distance himself by saying stuff like, well, it was his father's money not his.  When his father gives him a Mercedes for his first car he says it was such an insult because he didn't buy it for himself and showed what a horrible childhood he had.  It's hard to feel sorry for that kind of hardship.

He talks big about being hard and you can tell he so badly wants to be a 'gangsta' but his misdeeds were born out of desperation to be tough, not because he was.  He is, despite his protestations, a poseur.

Now, I'm not saying that he couldn't relate to the lyrics in hip hop.  I'm not saying it was easy growing up the only Asian around white kids or that having parents who beat their kids wasn't a shitty way to grow up, but no, I don't think that means you are the same as another race.  Just be your own.  Own your shit.  Carve your own path.  He doesn't want to be Taiwanese, he wants to be black, but he isn't.  But he'll take the Taiwanese when he sees how he can make it successful.

Maybe it's because I'm just not into the hip hop scene, don't speak the language, but it got tiring.  The book is full of alternately whining about being held down by the white man and patting himself on the back for being smarter than everyone else.  I can see why ABC changed his story and I'm glad they did.  ABC's Fresh Off The Boat might not be the show that Eddie Huang wanted, but it's put main cast Asians on a major network for the first time in 20 years and that should be something to be proud of.

Thursday, May 14, 2015

neil patrick harris: choose your own autobiography


neil patrick harris: choose your own autobiography
neil patrick harris
autobiography/audiobook
crown archetype
published 2014

Sick of deeply personal accounts written in the first person? Seeking an exciting, interactive read that puts the “u” back in “aUtobiography”? Then look no further than Neil Patrick Harris: Choose Your Own Autobiography! In this revolutionary, Joycean experiment in light celebrity narrative, actor/personality/carbon-based-life-form Neil Patrick Harris lets you, the reader, live his life. You will be born to New Mexico. You will get your big break at an acting camp. You will get into a bizarre confrontation outside a nightclub with actor Scott Caan. Even better, at each critical juncture of your life you will choose how to proceed. You will decide whether to try out for Doogie Howser, M.D. You will decide whether to spend years struggling with your sexuality. You will decide what kind of caviar you want to eat on board Elton John’s yacht.

Choose correctly and you’ll find fame, fortune, and true love. Choose incorrectly and you’ll find misery, heartbreak, and a hideous death by piranhas. All this, plus magic tricks, cocktail recipes, embarrassing pictures from your time as a child actor, and even a closing song. Yes, if you buy one book this year, congratulations on being above the American average, and make that book Neil Patrick Harris: Choose Your Own Autobiography!


At first I worried that listening to this book rather than reading I would lose out on the awesome 'choose your own adventure' aspect of the autobiography, but in the beginning of the audiobook NPH explains how they've changed things to account for that and just that bit of humor had me sold.

I'm already a NPH fan.  Loved him since the Doogie Days and was a huge fan from the beginning of HIMYM so it was a no-brainer once I started listening to autobiographical audiobooks to pick up this one and I'm so glad I did.  I also feel sorry for any person who read the book instead of listening to NPH read it to them.  You missed out big time.

I loved the stories and I loved the way he told them.  I wanted to be his friend and join in on the 40th birthday celebration.  It was all so very the-best-thing-ever.

I cannot recommend this book enough.  For the Scott Caan story alone.

a place at the table


a place at the table
susan rebecca white
fiction/contemporary
touchstone
published 2013

Alice Stone is famous for the homemade Southern cuisine she serves at Cafe Andres and her groundbreaking cookbook, but her past is a mystery to all who know her.  Upon Alice's retirement, Bobby Banks, a young gay man ostracized by his family in Georgia, sets out to revive the aging cafe with his new brand of Southern cooking while he struggles with heartbreak like he's never known.  Seeking respite from the breakup of her marriage, weathly divorcee Amelia Brighton finds solace in the company and food at Cafe Andres, until a family secret comes to light in the pages of Alice's cookbook and threatens to upend her life.

Meh.

That sums up what I felt about this book.  It was okay.  It didn't make me feel much of anything.  I wasn't astounded by secrets revealed (or really even a bit surprised).  I didn't fall in love with any of the characters (except maybe Bobby's grandmother) and I wasn't entirely happy with the ending.  But it wasn't a bad book.  It was easy to read and I did really enjoy Bobby's story.  Alice was interesting and mysterious, but the book really seemed to be about Bobby up until the last 5 chapters or so when she switches to Amelia who by then, I cared nothing about.

Maybe if the stories had been broken up more I would have been more invested in Amelia.  If we had switched around so that in the beginning we hear a bit from Alice, then Bobby then Amelia and then back to Alice and so on.  Instead, we start with Alice and her story is so shocking that you spend the rest of the book wondering where that's going to come in.  Then we move to Bobby and spend about 80% of the book reading about his life as a child, discovering his sexuality, his move to New York, falling in love, becoming a chef, etc.  So that by the time I got to Amelia I just didn't care about her.  She was no one to me.  I wanted to know what effect she would have on Bobby and what her purpose was for him.  I almost hated her just because she took the story away from Bobby who was infinitely more interesting that this whiny, bitchy woman.

Sigh.

gathering prey


gathering prey
lucas davenport #25
john sandford
fiction/mystery/thriller/suspense
gp putnam's sons
published 2015

They call them Travelers.  They move from city to city, panhandling, committing no crimes - they just like to stay on the move.  And now somebody is killing them.

Lucas Davenport's adopted daughter, Letty, is home from college when she gets a phone call from a woman Traveler she'd befriended in San Francisco.  The woman thinks somebody's killing her friends, she's afraid she knows who it is, and now her male companion has gone missing.  She's hiding out in North Dakota, and she doesn't know what to do.

Letty tells Lucas she's going to get her, and, though he suspects Letty's getting played, he volunteers to go with her.  When he hears the woman's story though, he begins to think there's something in it.  Little does he know.  In the days to come, he will embark upon an odyssey through a subculture unlike any he has every seen, a trip that will not only put the two of them in danger - but just may change the course of his life.

Another freaking winner by John Sandford.  I wait in anticipation hoping that when Letty finishes college and becomes whatever career badass she's going to be Sandford will give her her own series.  Please, please give Letty her own series.

Anyway, lots of crazies here in Gathering Prey and Lucas has kind of gone off the rails.  It started with the events in Field of Prey and we've seen it before throughout the series.  Lucas needs something.....but he's not sure what yet.  All he knows that what he has now isn't working.  So he puts everything into finding these killers.  But about 98% is born from a kind of stupid thing Letty does that seemed slightly out of character, (but then again not) that sends Lucas into a protective father rage.  It's hard to talk about without giving too much away.

The humor is always there, the reality of these people.  The instances that make them seem like real people that you could encounter or know in this life.  After a bad experience Lucas tells Letty he's going to call Weather.  Letty warns, 'She's gonna scream,' to which Lucas replies, 'Yeah, well - it's her turn.'  And later when Lucas is vaguely outlining his plans to Weather she says to him, 'All right, if you say so.  I reserve the right to smirk when it all goes wrong.'

Sandford's writing is just so perfect.  And the problem with that is for awhile after I've finished a Prey or Virgil Flowers novel everything else I pick up to read just kind of sucks.  So I have to take a break from reading for a bit.  I've said I was thinking of restarting the series and I wonder if now is a good time to start.


hope to die


hope to die
alex cross #22
james patterson
fiction/crime/mystery/suspense
little brown & co.
published 2015

Detective Alex Cross is being stalked by a psychotic genius, forced to play the deadliest game of his career.  Cross's family - his loving wife Bree, the wise and lively Nana Mama, and his precious children - have been ripped away.  Terrified and desperate, Cross must give this mad mad what he wants if he has any chance of saving the most important people in his life.  The stakes have never been higher: What will Cross sacrifice to save the ones he loves?

After the long, slow, tortuous buildup that was Cross My Heart I thought Hope To Die would be the end all.  The further along I got, the more I thought, this must be Alex Cross's last book!  Alas, I was wrong on both counts.

**********spoilers of both Cross My Heart & Hope To Die ahead**********

Like all James Patterson books, this was an extremely quick read.  Alex is racing to find his family, who were all kidnapped in Cross My Heart, and always seems to be just a few minutes too late.  There are little things that bothered me quite a bit.  For instance, there is a moment when Cross makes a connection between a case he had been called to consult on and the nutcase that has taken his family.  He is on a deadline, obviously.  He must follow instructions left by the nutcase.  So he's in NYC when we makes this tentative connection and tells his temporary partner to book them flights to Omaha, Nebraska.

Off they go to Omaha to talk to the two detectives who worked the case to tell them what he's discovered.  One even says, 'you couldn't have done this over the phone?'  To which Cross replies, 'I thought you'd want to hear this in person and I wanted to see the scene again.'  But he never goes into the house, he just stays on the curb.  Then after he's said his piece that's all the business they have in Omaha.  So he wasted HOURS traveling some place while the lives of his family are hanging by a thread so he can tell cops in person what he THINKS (he has no proof) about a crime.  It seemed like an unbelievably dumb move.

The other part that really bummed me out was that the most interesting character that exists in the world of Alex Cross is Ava who makes a brilliant reappearance in Cross My Heart, but here in Hope To Die she starts off with Alex and then gets dumped off in Philadelphia to research and we barely hear from her again.  So disappointing.

The villains.....well, Mulch is quite one dimensional and just annoying.  And let's be honest, all of James Patterson's villains are.  They're over-the-top maniacally brilliant.  But there is no depth to Mulch and seriously, what IS his motivation?  Because he can?  That's just lame.  Then you have Acadia who is batshit crazy and vicious in Cross My Heart, but then suddenly has a change of heart in Hope To Die.  And despite knowing how crazy smart Mulch is she does one of the most obvious things she could have done when taking off.

The whole time I was reading I thought to myself that Alex must retire after this.  Patterson could end the series now and that would be all right.  In fact, it would probably be best for all.  But no, another Cross book is due out later in the year.  Yep, he's pumping those out 2 a year now.

Now, for pure mindless entertainment, Hope To Die has you covered.  It's nonstop action.  Everything that could go wrong for Cross does seem to go wrong, but somehow (it seems with prayers to God CONSTANTLY) he makes it through - for the most part.  I'm in no way saying I hated the book, but when you compare these last few books to his first few in the series there is no comparison.  But for a quick, entertaining read Patterson's got you covered.

the bees


the bees
laline paull
fiction/fantasy
ecco
published 2014

Flora 717 is a sanitation worker, a member of the lowest caste in her orchard hive where work and sacrifice are the highest virtues and worship of the beloved Queen the only religion.  But Flora is not like other bees.  With circumstances threatening the hive's survival, her curiosity is regarded as a dangerous flaw but her courage and strength are an asset.  She is allowed to feed the newborns in the royal nursery and then to become a forager, flying alone and free to collect pollen.  She also finds her way into the Queen's inner sanctum, where she discovers mysteries about the hive that are both profound and ominous.

But when Flora breaks the most sacred law of all - daring to challenge the Queen's fertility - enemies abound, from the fearsome fertility police who enforce the strict social hierarchy to the high priestesses jealously wedded to power.  Her deepest instincts to serve and sacrifice are now overshadowed by an even deeper desire, a fierce love that will bring her into conflict with her conscience, her heart, her society - and lead her to unthinkable acts.

I realized as I was reading this that I don't really read books with nonhuman characters.  I didn't read the Warriors series or The Secret of NIMH (I did love the movie as a kid even though it scared me) or Watership Down (which until very recently I thought was a book about the Navy).  I generally stick with the humans, but one of the categories in Popsugar's challenge is to read a book with nonhuman characters.  I got an email that The Bees was on sale for $1.99 so I picked it up.  It looked interesting enough.

And it was.  I know very little about bees and the hive mentality save for a few general things.  I know there is a queen and worker bees and they collect pollen and make honey, etc.  But the details that Paull gets into is quite fascinating and it's obvious she has done her homework.

The Bees is a quick read.  Once I got going I was too curious to stop, but at times it was difficult to relate.  Her descriptions of the hive, its layout and structure were lost on me.  She spoke of the Dance Hall, the lobby, the nursery, the morgue, the patisserie, and I just couldn't picture it.  My mind fluctuated between what I normally would picture those things to look like and what they could possibly look like in the a wooden (man-made) live.  I've only seen the hives with the panels.  It didn't make sense to me.  And then it was are they like human bees?  Walking around talking and walking with clothes and such?  Or are they bees who talk?  But they have brooms.  And dustpans.  I'm confused.

Maybe it's my inexperience with animal characters or my inability to be imaginative on that level, but it was a stumbling block for me.  I spent a lot of time trying to understand what was happening because I couldn't picture it.

What was fascinating to me was how the hive struggles with the encroaching human world and the effects humans have on the bees way of life.  It got me thinking about how humans 'steal' the honey and made me want to plant lots of flowers and put out bee drinking bowls for the bees here.

Was the story good?  Yes.  I had to know what was going to happen next.  What were the priestesses planning?  Could Flora 717 keep her secret?  Does the hive survive the winter?  Were the spiders telling the truth?  The creepy factory during several scenes and the abruptly violent moments had me hooked.

Will I read another book about nonhumans?  Um, probably not.  But this one wasn't half bad.


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