Monday, January 30, 2012

A Piece of Cake, by Cupcake Brown

Barnes & Noble

There are shelves of memoirs about overcoming the death of a parent, childhood abuse, rape, drug addiction, miscarriage, alcoholism, hustling, gangbanging, near-death injuries, drug dealing, prostitution, or homelessness.

Cupcake Brown survived all these things before she’d even turned twenty.

And that’s when things got interesting…

Young Cupcake learned to survive by turning tricks, downing hard liquor, partying like a rock star, and ingesting every drug she could find while hitchhiking up and down the California coast. She stumbled into gangbanging, drug dealing, hustling, prostitution, theft, and, eventually, the best scam of all: a series of 9-to-5 jobs. But Cupcake’s unlikely tour through the cubicle world was paralleled by a quickening descent into the nightmare of crack cocaine use, till she eventually found herself living behind a Dumpster.

Astonishingly, she turned it around. With the help of a cobbled together family of eccentric fellow addicts and “angels”—a series of friends and strangers who came to her aid at pivotalmoments—she slowly transformed her life from the inside out.  

Two thoughts about this book:
  1. I have no idea how Ms. Brown survived her childhood. It was painful to listen to and think about a kid going through what she did. 
  2. The audiobook felt twice as long as it needed to be. There was a lot of repetition and I kept thinking "yeah, you've already said that a couple of times." Maybe it doesn't feel that way in the print version.  

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Forgotten, by Cat Patrick

Barnes & Noble

Every night, while sixteen-year-old London Lane is asleep, her memory of that day is erased. In the morning, all she can “remember” are events from her future. London is used to relying on reminder notes and a trusted friend to get through the day, but things get complicated when a new boy at school enters the picture.

Luke Henry is not someone you’d easily forget, yet try as she might, London can’t find him in her memories of things to come. When London starts experiencing disturbing flashbacks, or flash-forwards, as the case may be, she realizes it’s time to learn about the past she keeps forgetting—before it destroys her future.

2.5 stars, rounded up to 3 because I was interested enough to keep listening to the audiobook. I'm not sure I would have finished it had I been reading it.

I loved the premise of this book--a girl's short-term memory resets itself every day at 4:33am. She can't remember the past but she "remembers" the future. Unfortunately, it is full of YA clichés: the outcast girl with only one friend, the (gorgeous!) new guy who is immediately drawn to said girl; the over-abundance of expressions that "cross faces" and emotions that "fleetingly flick through eyes" (yeah, just try to have an emotion pass through your eyes and someone recognize it); etc.

There were too many storylines and 3/4 of the way through the story is not a time to add a new one.

Overall, it was just "meh."

Monday, January 23, 2012

Belly Laughs: The Naked Truth About Pregnancy and Childbirth, by Jenny McCarthy

Barnes & Noble

Oh, the joys of pregnancy! There's the gassiness, constipation, queasiness, and exhaustion, the forgetfulness, crankiness, and the constant worry. Of course, no woman is spared the discomforts and humiliations of pregnancy, but most are too polite to complain or too embarrassed to talk about them. 

Not Jenny McCarthy! In the New York Times best-selling Belly Laughs, actress and new mother Jenny McCarthy reveals the naked truth about the tremendous joys, the excruciating pains, and the unseemly disfigurement that go along with pregnancy. Never shy, frequently crude, and always laugh-out-loud funny, McCarthy covers it all in the grittiest of girlfriend detail. From morning sickness and hormonal rage, to hemorrhoids, pregnant sex, and the torture and sweet relief that is delivery, Belly Laughs is must-read comic relief for anyone who is pregnant, who has ever been pregnant, is trying to get pregnant, or, indeed, has ever been born!

Um. Where do I begin? I have heard for years that this is the cutest, funniest, BEST little book about pregnancy. Yeah, no. Jenny McCarthy is her typical loud-mouth annoying self, just in print form. The writing is juvenile (not that I expected anything great from her) and I couldn't finish it in one sitting because I had to take breaks from boredom. I was so underwhelmed with this book. Maybe it's because I've already given birth twice.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Triangles, by Ellen Hopkins

Barnes & Noble


Holly: Filled with regret for being a stay-athome mom, she sheds sixty pounds and loses herself in the world of extramarital sex. Will it bring the fulfillment she is searching for?

Andrea: A single mom and avowed celibate, she watches her friend Holly’s meltdown with a mixture of concern and contempt. Holly is throwing away what Andrea has spent her whole life searching for—a committed relationship with a decent guy. So what if Andrea picks up Holly’s castaway husband?

Marissa: She has more than her fair share of challenges—a gay, rebellious teenage son, a terminally ill daughter, and a husband who buries himself in his work rather than face the facts.

As one woman’s marriage unravels, another’s rekindles. As one woman’s family comes apart at the seams, another’s reconfigures into something bigger and better. In this story of connections and disconnections, one woman’s up is another one’s down, and all of them will learn the meaning of friendship, betrayal, and forgiveness.

Unflinchingly honest, emotionally powerful, surprisingly erotic, Triangles is the ultimate page-turner. Hopkins’s gorgeous, expertly honed poetic verse perfectly captures the inner lives of her characters.  

Sometimes it happens like that. Sometimes you just get lost. 

Get lost in the world of Triangles, where the lives of three unforgettable women intersect, and where there are no easy answers.

Women have midlife crises, too. 

Hopkins delivers a brutally honest look at the lives of three women and how they deal with life, death, sex (HOT sex scenes!), love, marriage, parenting, and friendship. 

Hopkins is a literary genius and she makes you feel as though you are living the characters' lives.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Tricks, by Ellen Hopkins

Barnes & Noble

Five teenagers from different parts of the country. Three girls. Two guys. Four straight. One gay. Some rich. Some poor. Some from great families. Some with no one at all. All living their lives as best they can, but all searching...for freedom, safety, community, family, love. What they don't expect, though, is all that can happen when those powerful little words "I love you" are said for all the wrong reasons.

Five moving stories remain separate at first, then interweave to tell a larger, powerful story -- a story about making choices, taking leaps of faith, falling down, and growing up. A story about kids figuring out what sex and love are all about, at all costs, while asking themselves, "Can I ever feel okay about myself?"

How do teens -- still children -- end up selling their bodies? This book explores the stories of five teenagers who find themselves immersed in the world of prostitution. Their backgrounds for their choices are all different, but they all ultimately lead to a single reason: survival.

Hopkins does an amazing job portraying the lives and emotions of the girls and boys in her story. I love Hopkins' use of verse and she does not disappoint!

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

The Crucible, by Arthur Miller

Barnes & Noble

Based on historical people and real events, Miller's drama is a searing portrait of a community engulfed by hysteria. In the rigid theocracy of Salem, rumors that women are practicing witchcraft galvanize the town's most basic fears and suspicions; and when a young girl accuses Elizabeth Proctor of being a witch, self-righteous church leaders and townspeople insist that Elizabeth be brought to trial. The ruthlessness of the prosecutors and the eagerness of neighbor to testify against neighbor brilliantly illuminate the destructive power of socially sanctioned violence.

Written in 1953, The Crucible is a mirror Miller uses to reflect the anti-communist hysteria inspired by Senator Joseph McCarthy's "witch-hunts" in the United States. Within the text itself, Miller contemplates the parallels, writing, "Political opposition... is given an inhumane overlay, which then justifies the abrogation of all normally applied customs of civilized behavior. A political policy is equated with moral right, and opposition to it with diabolical malevolence."

I listened to the audiobook version of this play.

Pros: The cast is incredible: Stacy Keach; Ed Begley, Jr.; Carol Kane, etc. They do an amazing job and you can feel the urgency and the fear in the village.

Cons: I am a visual learner, so it was hard for me to follow the story without having something to look at.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Bridge to Terabithia, by Katherine Paterson

Barnes & Noble

Jess Aarons is eager to start fifth grade. He's been practicing his sprints all summer, determined to become the fastest runner at school. All seems to be on track, until the new girl in class (who also happens to be Jess's new next-door neighbor), Leslie Burke, leaves all the boys in the dust, including Jess. After this rather frustrating introduction, Jess and Leslie soon become inseparable. Together, they create an imaginary, secret kingdom in the woods called Terabithia that can be reached only by swinging across a creek bed on a rope. 

But one morning a tragic accident befalls Leslie as she ventures alone to Terabithia, and Jess's life is changed forever.

I'd give this 2.5 stars, rounded up to 3 because the ending was beautifully written.

I think I'm too old for the target audience, so I didn't enjoy it as much as I would have 20+ years ago.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Burned (Burned #1), by Ellen Hopkins

Barnes & Noble

It all started with a dream. Nothing exceptional, just a typical fantasy about a boy, the kind of dream that most teen girls experience. But Pattyn Von Stratten is not like most teen girls. Raised in a religious -- yet abusive -- family, a simple dream may not be exactly a sin, but it could be the first step toward hell and eternal damnation.

This dream is a first step for Pattyn. But is it to hell or to a better life? For the first time Pattyn starts asking questions. Questions seemingly without answers -- about God, a woman's role, sex, love -- mostly love. What is it? Where is it? Will she ever experience it? Is she deserving of it? 

It's with a real boy that Pattyn gets into real trouble. After Pattyn's father catches her in a compromising position, events spiral out of control until Pattyn ends up suspended from school and sent to live with an aunt she doesn't know. 

Pattyn is supposed to find salvation and redemption during her exile to the wilds of rural Nevada. Yet what she finds instead is love and acceptance. And for the first time she feels worthy of both -- until she realizes her old demons will not let her go. Pattyn begins down a path that will lead her to a hell -- a hell that may not be the one she learned about in sacrament meetings, but it is hell all the same. 

My heart hurts every time I read an Ellen Hopkins novel. Compared to the kids and the issues she writes about, I had it easy growing up. 

Because Hopkins writes in verse, I recommend reading the print version of this book.  Too much can get lost in ebook format, especially if you change the font size.

Sunday, January 8, 2012

The Night Circus, by Erin Morgenstern

Barnes & Noble

The circus arrives without warning. No announcements precede it. It is simply there, when yesterday it was not. Within the black-and-white striped canvas tents is an utterly unique experience full of breathtaking amazements. It is called Le Cirque des Rêves, and it is only open at night.

But behind the scenes, a fierce competition is underway—a duel between two young magicians, Celia and Marco, who have been trained since childhood expressly for this purpose by their mercurial instructors. Unbeknownst to them, this is a game in which only one can be left standing, and the circus is but the stage for a remarkable battle of imagination and will. Despite themselves, however, Celia and Marco tumble headfirst into love—a deep, magical love that makes the lights flicker and the room grow warm whenever they so much as brush hands.

True love or not, the game must play out, and the fates of everyone involved, from the cast of extraordinary circus per­formers to the patrons, hang in the balance, suspended as precariously as the daring acrobats overhead. 


My thoughts are all jumbled when it comes to this novel: I can't pick out a favorite character, or a favorite scene, or a favorite sub-plot. Morgenstern weaves the stories surrounding the circus and the people involved -- creators, entertainers, and patrons alike -- with aplomb.

I didn't pay enough attention to the dates in the chapters at first, so I had to re-read a bit of each.

I borrowed this from the library (I squealed when I was notified that it was ready for pick-up!) and I will definitely be purchasing it for my own collection.


Thursday, January 5, 2012

Sarah's Key, by Tatiana de Rosnay

Barnes & Noble

Paris, July 1942: Sarah, a ten year-old girl, is brutally arrested with her family by the French police in the Vel' d'Hiv' roundup, but not before she locks her younger brother in a cupboard in the family's apartment, thinking that she will be back within a few hours.

Paris, May 2002: On Vel' d'Hiv's 60th anniversary, journalist Julia Jarmond is asked to write an article about this black day in France's past. Through her contemporary investigation, she stumbles onto a trail of long-hidden family secrets that connect her to Sarah. Julia finds herself compelled to retrace the girl's ordeal, from that terrible term in the Vel d'Hiv', to the camps, and beyond. As she probes into Sarah's past, she begins to question her own place in France, and to reevaluate her marriage and her life.

I couldn't go to bed until I finished this amazing book.

I knew nothing of the Vel d'Hiv Roundup until I read de Rosnay's work. I am horrified and disgusted and sick to my stomach. I can't get the thought of little Michel alone in the cupboard out of my head. And how they found him weeks later? Simply horrendous. I want to run upstairs and hold on to my kids for dear life.

I cried throughout the book. Both Sarah's and Julia's stories are heartbreaking. Sarah's for obvious reasons. Julia's because her husband is a major douchebag. I have no idea how she stayed married to him for as long as she did.

I highly recommend this for anyone who is interested in historical fiction.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Identical, by Ellen Hopkins

Barnes & Noble

Do twins begin in the womb?
Or in a better place?

Kaeleigh and Raeanne are identical down to the dimple. As daughters of a district-court judge father and a politician mother, they are an all-American family -- on the surface. Behind the facade each sister has her own dark secret, and that's where their differences begin.

For Kaeleigh, she's the misplaced focus of Daddy's love, intended for a mother whose presence on the campaign trail means absence at home. All that Raeanne sees is Daddy playing a game of favorites -- and she is losing. If she has to lose, she will do it on her own terms, so she chooses drugs, alcohol, and sex.

Secrets like the ones the twins are harboring are not meant to be kept -- from each other or anyone else. Pretty soon it's obvious that neither sister can handle it alone, and one sister must step up to save the other, but the question is -- who?

Holy new favorite book, Batman! I picked this up from the library today and read it in a matter of hours. I need to go back and read it again to look for all of the clues leading up to the shocker at the end.

Ellen Hopkins is BRILLIANT. I knew this already, as I have read Crank, Glass, and Fallout. Identical, however, blew that series away.

This novel -- written in verse -- centers around the lives of teenage identical twin sisters and their absentee mother and sexually abusive father. A heart-breaking, though-provoking book.

ETA: I just re-read the book. Hopkins is a master at dual and triple meanings in her written words. 

Monday, January 2, 2012

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (Millennium #1), by Stieg Larsson

Barnes & Noble

A spellbinding amalgam of murder mystery, family saga, love story, and financial intrigue.

It's about the disappearance forty years ago of Harriet Vanger, a young scion of one of the wealthiest families in Sweden . . . and about her octogenarian uncle, determined to know the truth about what he believes was her murder.

It's about Mikael Blomkvist, a crusading journalist recently at the wrong end of a libel case, hired to get to the bottom of Harriet's disappearance . . . and about Lisbeth Salander, a twenty-four-year-old pierced and tattooed genius hacker possessed of the hard-earned wisdom of someone twice her age--and a terrifying capacity for ruthlessness to go with it--who assists Blomkvist with the investigation. This unlikely team discovers a vein of nearly unfathomable iniquity running through the Vanger family, astonishing corruption in the highest echelons of Swedish industrialism--and an unexpected connection between themselves.

It's a contagiously exciting, stunningly intelligent novel about society at its most hidden, and about the intimate lives of a brilliantly realized cast of characters, all of them forced to face the darker aspects of their world and of their own lives.

I hesitated in reading this book because there was so much hype surrounding it and I didn't want to be disappointed. I'm glad I gave in! It is SO good. I want to immediately start reading The Girl Who Played With Fire!