Wednesday, July 15, 2015

From the Bookshelf: Recently Read - July 2015 Edition

The fact that I read as much as I did since last month's Show Us Your Books! link-up is pretty impressive. I feel like most weeknights I either head to the gym, have an appointment and/or errands to run, or try to spend some time blogging (writing posts, reading and commenting on other blogs, and replying to comments). And my weekends have been even busier. In the past month I've traveled for work, attended a wedding, celebrated Eric's birthday, gone to various parties/celebrations with my in-laws, had a Skype date with a couple of my girlfriends, and driven down to Kansas City to hang out with Eric's older brother, his wife, and their 2 adorable little girls.

I could probably name a few more things I've done recently, but I won't bore you with every detail of my life. Let's just say that finding time to relax with a book wasn't always easy.

But, since I love reading, love participating in this link-up, and also decided to join this reading challenge, I tried to make reading a priority. I'll probably never be the kind of person who reads and reviews 15 books every month, but I'm really trying to avoid showing up to this link-up with only 2 books to review (like I did in May).

If my reviews get too long for your tastes, please feel free to scroll to the end for my "TL;DR" summary. I know some people just want an answer to the "Should I read this or not?" question, and that's okay.

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Cutting Teeth by Julia Fierro - 319 pages

Completed on 06/14/2015 - Read more reviews on Goodreads

Have you ever read a book that probably just wasn't right for you at the time? Cutting Teeth was like that for me.

I didn't go into this book blindly. I knew it was about a group of 30 something parents who spend a weekend away together (along with their children). As a 30 year old woman contemplating when/if having a kid is right for me, I thought it might be an interesting look at the lives of women (and men) around my age who have already taken the plunge into parenthood.

Each chapter is told from a different person's perspective (though several people have multiple chapters devoted to them). I mostly liked this style of writing, but since there were so many characters, I felt like there were too many chapters about some people and not enough about others.

The characters themselves weren't particularly likable (and several made so many bad/questionable decisions that it annoyed the shit out of me). A couple of things that happened toward the end of the book just sort of ruined it for me. I was like, "Wow, she really decided to go in this direction? Okay ..."

Julia Fierro's writing was engaging, though. I found myself laughing out loud at certain points in the novel and feeling slightly embarrassed when I could relate to some of the characters. (Like I said, they weren't particularly likable.  Not exactly the kind of people you'd want to relate to.)

Overall, I don't think Cutting Teeth was a bad book. I didn't like it that much, but it's not because it was poorly written. I think it just hit a little too close to home in some ways. Julia Fierro basically took many of my fears about becoming a mother and the ways in which my life and relationship with my husband will change and said, "Yeah, you're right. This happens all the time." So yeah ... Probably not the kind of book I should be reading when I'm already so unsure of what I want when it comes to kids.

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The Pact by Jodi Picoult - 389 pages

Completed on 06/21/2015 - Read more reviews on Goodreads

This book was on my "To Read" list for a long time, and I purchased it at Half Price Books several months ago. I really wasn't sure whether I'd like it or not ... The premise sounded intriguing, but I've never really been one for the type of stories they make into Lifetime movies. A lot of people seem to love Jodi Picoult, though, so I was willing to give it a try.

I liked The Pact much more than I thought I would. I didn't think it would be terrible or anything (I never would have purchased it if I did!), but I wasn't sure if it would be my kind of book. And, for the most part, it wasn't (except for the darker parts of the plot, of course). But that really wasn't a bad thing.

The novel tells the story of two families, the Golds and the Hartes, who have been inseparable for years. Their children, Chris and Emily, have grown up together and eventually decide to shift their friendship into something romantic. After a 3:00 a.m. call one November morning, everything changes. Emily has been killed by a gunshot wound to the head, and only Chris knows what really happened.

While at times the book was overly dramatic and unbelievable, there were things that really got under my skin because they were so true. Emily is dealing with severe depression, and it was sometimes difficult for me to read because some of the things she said and did could have been lifted from one of my old journals. I think a lot of readers probably view her as weak, but I saw a frighteningly realistic portrait of a young girl attempting to deal with some pretty heavy shit on her own and coming to a breaking point when she realizes it's too much for her to handle. Yes, she should have talked to her parents, gone to a therapist, something ... But when you're in the middle of a downward spiral, your options are never that obvious.

Chris, on the other hand, seemed like a huge asshole. I wanted to like him in the beginning of the book, but as I read on, I thought he tried too hard to seem like the devoted, loving boyfriend when he pretty much always put his own needs ahead of hers (particularly when it came to sex). I'd say more about this, but I'm trying to avoid spoilers.

Overall, I'd say this is worth reading. Jodi Picoult is a good writer, and I'll probably check out at least a couple of her other novels at some point. As I said before, this isn't the type of book I'd typically go for, but I was pleasantly surprised that I enjoyed it as much as I did.

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The Demonologist by Andrew Pyper - 285 pages

Completed on 06/25/2015 - Read more reviews on Goodreads

I was really looking forward to reading this. I thought it was going to be amazing and full of nightmare fuel, but it wasn't. Not at all.

I felt cheated by the time I finished this book. Not because I'd wasted time on it (though that was certainly true), but because Andrew Pyper's writing style seemed to be of the "I'll-just-throw-a-bunch-of-random-shit-together-and-readers-will-buy-into-it-because-I'm-quoting-Milton-so-I'm-obviously-smart-and-sophisticated" variety. If you're looking for a smart, sophisticated horror story, this isn't it. In fact, I'd say that The Demonologist read like a really bad action flick with cheesy dialogue.

The main character, David Ullman, is an English professor at Columbia with special expertise in Milton's Paradise Lost. He is approached by a mysterious woman who requests that he travel to Venice to see a particular phenomenon. She tells him that her client has carefully selected him based on his academic qualifications and knowledge of demonology. He initially turns her down. After his wife announces that she's leaving him, he decides to take the woman up on her offer, bringing his young daughter, Tess, along.

After witnessing the "phenomenon" (a man that is likely possessed), David returns to the hotel to find his daughter on the roof's edge. Although it is written off as a suicide, David knows that something darker is at work. And so begins his journey to track the demon who has stolen his daughter from him.

I gave this book 2 stars on Goodreads only because I actually liked some of the ideas in the book. For example, the notion that the metaphorical demons that some people wrestle with (depression, addiction, the need to bully, etc.) are actual demons that they've somehow opened themselves to. (I'll note here that I consider myself Agnostic. I won't completely rule out the existence of something greater than myself, but I wouldn't say I have real faith either. I'm not saying that I believe what Pyper is saying, but I appreciate the unique perspective.) And, despite the fact that none of the characters were well developed, I still give Pyper credit for creating an intelligent, driven woman to play the role of David's best friend and colleague.

Unfortunately, this wasn't enough to keep me from being disappointed in this book. If you're a fan of horror, I definitely wouldn't recommend this ... It's just not scary at all. It seemed like it was slapped together in a hurry, and the ending was very Hollywood. (In case you're wondering, I don't like those types of endings. At all.) Everything doesn't need to be tied together neatly in a pretty little package at the end of a story (especially not when it was a complete clusterfuck just a few pages before). I never understand why authors do this ... I always just assume it's because they either couldn't think of a decent ending so they wrote whatever came to mind first or because they're up against a deadline and need to submit something.

I do have another Andrew Pyper novel on my "To Read" list. He's received a lot of acclaim for his work, so it makes me wonder if The Demonologist just happened to be the one book he's written that wasn't very good. Because, really, that's it in a nutshell: not very good.

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The Girl With All the Gifts by M.R. Carey - 403 pages

Completed on 07/02/2015 - Read more reviews on Goodreads

I'll begin this review by saying that I'm not really a fan of the zombie genre. I watched the first season of The Walking Dead, and I just couldn't get into it. I know so many people who love that show, but I found it really boring. Sometimes I think I should give it another chance, but I don't know ... I kind of feel like I'd be wasting my time. I could mention some other entertainment featuring zombies that I don't really like, but I figured The Walking Dead would be the best example since it's so popular.

When I first looked this book up on Goodreads, I didn't read many reviews or look at the tags/genres very closely. I basically just read the short description, thought it sounded interesting, and added it to my "To Read" list. Later, as I was trying to come up with my preliminary book list for the Literary Ladies Summer Reading Challenge, I decided to give this one a closer look. It sounded like it could potentially have a pretty kickass female character (and it did!), so I chose it for that category ... And then I realized it falls under the zombie genre.

I kept an open mind, though, and decided to read it anyway. And I'm really glad I did!

The Girl With All the Gifts was a refreshing take on the zombie genre. While it definitely had some of the main elements you'd find in other books/movies/TV shows featuring zombies, there were a lot of things in this book that made it stand out (in a good way). This wasn't just a "let's-fight-the-zombies-and-blow-up-a-bunch-of-shit" kind of book. That's not to say that there weren't some sections like that, but the novel focused more on ethics, scientific discovery, and themes of identity than on killing zombies.

I really don't want to give too much away in my review (especially since M.R. Carey does such a great job at the beginning of the novel giving readers only small bits of information at a time), so I won't say much more. I will say, though, that I loved that he created several strong, intelligent female characters. I always appreciate that!

If horror and zombies aren't your thing, don't worry ... It's not overly scary and I actually wouldn't categorize it as "horror" (even though Goodreads does). It's the kind of book that makes you think, and the science is actually pretty spot on. Again, I don't want to give too much away, but if you do read it, you should do some research on the fungus mentioned multiple times throughout the book. Carey created a mutation of something that exists in nature, and that's actually pretty fucking scary.

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Big Little Lies by Liane Moriarty - 458 pages

Completed on 07/07/2015 - Read more reviews on Goodreads

You know those books that everyone raves about and then when you finally read them you wonder, "Why does everyone love this so much?" Well, this was not one of those books.

Big Little Lies definitely lived up to the hype. I was up late with this book every night, sacrificing sleep in order to greedily gobble down page after page. I couldn't put it down!

Liane Moriarty does a wonderful job weaving a story around the lives of 3 very different, very vibrant women. Madeline is a bright, funny woman who thrives on conflict (and therefore often says exactly what's on her mind). Celeste is Madeline's close friend, a rich and beautiful woman hiding a dark secret. Jane is the newest member of their close-knit group, a shy, quiet, young single mother who just moved to the area (and who is harboring a dark secret of her own). The characters are interesting and believable ... I loved that their interactions and conversations were so natural. (One of my biggest pet peeves is when an author writes really unnatural, stiff dialogue/interactions!) I even picked up a new catchphrase from the book: "Oh, calamity!" (I've already been using it regularly at work. Everyone loves it, I'm sure.)

This novel isn't just about 3 friends and their secrets, though. From the beginning, readers know that someone will be dead by the end of the novel. Moriarty's writing seamlessly flows between humor and intrigue, and, as I said before, I was completely hooked.

I will say that I figured out part of the twist before it was revealed, but in this case I really didn't mind. I was honestly shocked when I found out who was killed, and after that, it went in a much different direction than I anticipated. (And that wasn't a bad thing. In fact, I think the ending Moriarty chose was more satisfying for me than the ending I thought she might write.)

I have The Husband's Secret on my "To Read" list, but I might have to add some of her other books as well. If they're as awesome as this one, I'm sure I'll be even more sleep deprived! (I'm kidding ... Kind of.)

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The Good Girl by Mary Kubica - 350 pages

Completed on 07/11/2015 - Read more reviews on Goodreads

Big Little Lies may have lived up to the hype, but The Good Girl did not. This book, which promises to be perfect for fans of Gillian Flynn, was, well, not.

I was initially sucked in by the premise: a young woman in her mid-20s is abducted by a man she intended to have a one night stand with. What she doesn't know is that this man isn't some random stranger in a bar ... He was hired to kidnap and deliver her to a group of men planning to hold her for ransom until her rich father (a prominent judge in Chicago) pays up. At the last minute, the man decides to take her to a secluded cabin in rural Minnesota, evading both his employers and the police.

When I read that blurb, I wanted to know why he changed his mind. I wanted to know if the woman, Mia, would ever be found. I wanted a thriller that would keep me up at night, guessing until the very end. Instead, what I got was a boring novel that barely held my interest.

The Good Girl is Mary Kubica's debut, so I'll cut her a little slack here. Some debuts are amazing, but many are just so-so ... The author seems to still be figuring out his/her voice, he/she hasn't quite mastered the art of character development, etc. As I was reading, I found both of those things true for Kubica.

The story is written from 3 separate points of view: Eve (Mia's mother), Gabe (the detective hired to find Mia), and Colin (the man who abducted Mia), and regularly flows back and forth in time. Unfortunately, the voices of the characters were all pretty much the same ... If the chapters hadn't been clearly labeled, I would have had trouble differentiating between Eve and Gabe. (The exception was Colin ... Although his voice wasn't that much different, the chapters told from his point of view were pretty obvious since he was the only character hiding out in a small cabin with Mia.) I think the novel would have been more effective if it were told from just 2 points of view (if the author was determined to write in first person) or if it were written in third person (like Big Little Lies, which more effectively moved between the points of view of several characters).

I also hate to say this, but I really didn't like the overall writing style. I feel like I can enjoy a variety of writing styles, but The Good Girl often seemed awkward. Many of the sentences were short and choppy, and the dialogue was generally very "blah." Near the end of the book, I remember thinking, "If I have to read about Mia's "clumsy" hair one more time, I'll probably end up throwing this book across the room!" For some reason that description just annoyed the hell out of me.

The ending was actually okay, and I'll admit that I didn't see the twist coming in the final chapter. However, when considering everything else I'd just read, the twist didn't make much sense. Kubica had a good idea at the end, but the overall execution just didn't work for me.

Kubica's second novel, Pretty Baby, is still on my "To Read" list. I may still eventually give it a try to see if she's figured her shit out, but I won't hold high hopes for it. I don't want to be disappointed again!

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Under the Skin by Michel Faber - 311 pages

Completed on 07/14/2015 - Read more reviews on Goodreads

Under the Skin has been on my "To Read" list for years. I knew only a little about the plot (which is all I'll reveal here to avoid spoilers), but that was enough to pique my interest.

Isserley spends her days and nights driving up and down the Scottish Highlands. Although she isn't really going anywhere, she drives with purpose: she's looking for hitchhikers (specifically muscular male hitchhikers). Once she finds her perfect victim, she engages him in small talk until she hits a toggle switch in her car to release a drug that will knock him out. She then drives him back to the farm where she lives to meet his unfortunate and horrifying fate.

If you're at all interested in reading this novel, please please don't read any spoilers. Don't even read the extended summary on Goodreads. The less you know, the better. Michel Faber does a great job slowly revealing Isserley's "mission" and the fates of the hitchhikers, and it would be a shame to ruin it.

If you're still not sure if this is the book for you based on that summary, I'll tell you this: it's equal parts disturbing and hilarious. It's also one of the strangest books I've ever read. As I was reading, I kept wondering what the movie version could possibly be like. I'll probably end up watching it at some point just because I'd love to see how the characters and situations Faber created translate to film.

Overall, I enjoyed this novel. Michel Faber is, without a doubt, very talented. There were a few parts of the book that dragged a bit for me, though. It also didn't deliver the satisfying ending I was hoping for, which is why I didn't give it a higher rating on Goodreads. (I gave it 3 stars, if you're curious.) The ending wasn't terrible or anything ... I just wanted something more.

And now, as promised, my TL;DR summary:

Big Little Lies shouldn't be missed. I stayed up late reading it on multiple occasions because I couldn't bear to put it down.

The Pact and The Girl With All the Gifts were both very enjoyable and worth checking out. I didn't love them the way I loved Big Little Lies, but I'd recommend them both without hesitation.

Under the Skin was good but not great. Michel Faber's writing was wonderful, but it felt like the story was lacking in some way. Still, it's worth a read if you're looking for something different ... I've never read anything quite like it.

You won't be missing anything if you pass on Cutting Teeth, The Demonologist, and The Good Girl. They weren't so awful that I wondered how they ever managed to get published (though I'll admit that question ran through my mind a few times while I was reading The Demonologist), but I wouldn't recommend wasting your time on them.


  1. The Pact and Nineteen Minutes are my favorite Picoult books. Cutting Teeth I read a couple of summers ago and it was a perfectly fine summer book. I didn't love it but I liked it just fine although it's definitely not on my List of Books I Recommend. And, of the three Moriarty books I've read, Big Little Lies was probably my favorite (I think it's the only one I gave 4 stars to).

    I'll probably pass on the horror-leaning ones. Not for me.

    1. Jana, read my comment below. I know - so many books, so little time - but if you are ever challenged or compelled to pick up a book that is completely out of your normal genres, I suggest not counting out this one.

  2. I TOTALLY agree with you about The Girl with All the Gifts. Not my genre at all, but I absolutely loved it. I thought the characters were well-developed. I just loved Melanie's story. I agreed to read it because a friend of mine said "I know this is not your usual thing, but I really think you should give this one a try." She knows that I like stepping out of my comfort zone from time to time. I'm glad I did. Am I going to read more books like this? Probably not. But, I'm glad I read this one.

  3. I enjoyed The Pact. So difficult though.

    Wow what a blast from the past. I read the Faber book years ago. Have you ever read any Iain Banks or Patrick McCabe books?

  4. Under the Skin and The Girl with all the Gifts are being added to my list :).