Hi. Sorry. I really thought I was like 10 reviews behind and it turned out to actually be 19. So then I started up this list of reviews…and didn’t post it…and now I’m 26 behind. I would blame my kids/divorce/life, but really — I’d much rather read than write! Also, I’ve been working from home a lot and doing laundry instead of writing reviews (which is what I do when I get bored at the office), so that’s not helping. Anyway, here’s 26 brief reviews and please don’t hate me!
Sex in the Museum: My Unlikely Career at New York’s Most Provocative Museum by Sarah Forbes
One of the reasons I’ve fallen behind on my reviews is that I’ve read some pretty forgettable books lately. But Sarah Forbes’s Sex in the Museum is not one of them. It’s a fascinating account of how she started working at the Museum of Sex, and all the really interesting aspects of her job. Some of the more personal stuff she gets into — how it affects her dating life, mostly — I could have done without. But learning about 2000 years of sex history and how she’s distilled into educational exhibits? Sign me up!
This Is Just My Face: Try Not to Stare by Gabourey Sidibe
Well, this one was pretty good, too — apparently I’m just lazy. I’ve never seen Precious or any other movie/TV show that Gabourey has been in, but I love when she pops up on Go Fug Yourself because she always looks so cute and happy. This memoir talks about her rather unusual upbringing (polygamous father, mother who earned a living by singing in the subway), her various careers (the phone sex operator chapter was great) and how she sort of fell ass-backwards into acting. It’s well written, fun and just makes her seem even more like someone I want to hang out with.
High-Rise by J.G. Ballard
Okay, well this one was stupid. I think they’re turning it into a movie, which might work better, but the writing was not great. Basically, there’s a whole society within this high rise, which includes not only luxury apartments but also a school, shopping areas, recreational areas, etc. Systems start to break down and instead of just, like, crashing with a friend for a bit, everyone within the complex goes nuts. Factions are created, dogs are eaten — it’s aiming for satirical horror but just doesn’t work. I may have bought it more if something was happening to trap the residents inside, but the fact that they could have just…left…makes it less tense.
Hag-Seed (Hogarth Shakespeare) by Margaret Atwood
I loved this, too. I’d never read The Tempest, so I was a little worried about understanding this one, but I can promise you need to have NO knowledge of Shakespeare to enjoy this book. Basically, it’s about a washed up director with a vision — the re-telling of The Tempest in his own words. Unfortunately, after the traumatic deaths of his wife and daughter, he loses his mind a bit — and all his funding. So he ends up at a prison, putting on the show with inmates. It’s very funny, very cutting, and thoroughly enjoyable. I listened to the audio book, which was great.
Everything in Its Place: My Trials and Triumphs with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder by Marc Summers
Marc Summers! This guy was on all the Nickelodeon shows I loved as a kid, then came back to host Food Network shows when I grew up. He also suffers greatly from obsession compulsive disorder (as do I, although to a much lesser degree). He discusses his career in this book, but also his struggle with OCD — from not even knowing what to call how he felt, to the ways he’s attempted to treat and cope with it. It’s not the best-written memoir I’ve ever read, but it’s honest and interesting.
Are You Anybody?: A Memoir by Jeffrey Tambor
First of all, get the audio version. Second of all, Jeffery Tambor rocks. I have never seen 90% of what he’s famous for (I’ve watched exactly 1 episode of Arrested Development and 0 of Transparent, although they’re both on my endless “to be watched” list). But he’s funny as hell and his memoir cracked me up. He’s also very willing to share some darker things about his past (struggles with addiction, time spent involved in Scientology) and handles it all with class.
Burntown by Jennifer McMahon
I keep reading Jennifer McMahon, despite the fact that her books are rarely very good. But they’re never terrible, either, so I guess they can at least be counted on. Burntown is particularly bizarre — it involves a conduit from the past, a flood that didn’t happen, and a lot of mysteries to solve. But it kept me guessing, even as I rolled my eyes, and I finished the whole damn thing in one day. So there you go.
Glory O’Brien’s History of the Future by A.S. King
A.S. King is producing some really strange, really good YA and you should all be reading it. Glory O’Brien’s History of the Future starts with two girls drinking a dissolved bat, and it only gets weirder from there. Glory begins to see the future, and has to decide what she wants to do about it — and how. Complicating this is the fact that Glory’s mother committed suicide, and she herself isn’t too sure she wants to stick around. It’s a really bizarre story, but has a lot of heavy messages underneath that make it a wonderful read.
Shrill: Notes from a Loud Woman by Lindy West
I listened to the audio version of this, and Lindy comes across as anything but “shrill”. In fact, she’s funny and witty and pulls no punches. A lot of you have reviewed this book, so I don’t have a lot to add, but it’s a great glimpse into the life of an intelligent person who lives her life on the internet and takes a lot of crap for her body, her opinions and her sex. And she handles it pretty damn well, in my opinion.
Birdseye: The Adventures of a Curious Man by Mark Kurlansky
I really like Mark Kurlansky and his non-fiction histories. The first book I ever reviewed for CBR was his history of salt, for christ’s sake, and I loved it. But man, this was pretty dull. You can’t fault his research — he knows everything about Charles Birdseye — and his chose an interesting subject (the guy invented frozen food, along with a million other things). But it was too long, too dry, and just too boring. It probably didn’t help that I listened to the audio version while at the gym — that was bad decision making on MY part.
Longitude: The True Story of a Lone Genius Who Solved the Greatest Scientific Problem of His Time by Dava Sobel, Neil Armstrong
Ugh. Another dull one. This book was really highly-rated on Goodreads and has been on my TBR forever, but I just could not get into it. It’s the history of John Harrison, who solved the age-old problem of determining longitude while on a boat — previously impossible because clocks don’t work on boats. It was short but boring and the only thing I liked were the illustrations.
The Sound of Gravel by Ruth Wariner
So I previously read/reviewed The Polygamist’s Daughter by Anna LeBaron, the daughter of notorious polygamist/murderer Evril LeBaron. Ruth Wariner’s father was Joel LeBaron — Evril’s brother and one of his victims in a blood feud that took out many members of Joel’s “rival church” and sent a bunch of people to jail. Ruth’s story echoes Anna, though — growing up poor, as part of a massive family that fought internally over status and power. It’s interesting and depressing in turns.
Paddle Your Own Canoe: One Man’s Fundamentals for Delicious Living by Nick Offerman
Look, I love Nick Offerman. I love him as an actor, I love him as a funny person, and I love how much he loves his wife. But this is the second book of his that I’ve read, and both spend a lot of time talking about woodworking and lovemaking — which sounds great, except he’s really not a good writer. It’s like he’s trying to imitate Ron Swanson while simultaneously pointing out differences between the character and his real-life self. Maybe he really does bring THAT much to Ron on screen, but either way, it doesn’t translate well to paper.
Down Among the Sticks and Bones (Wayward Children #2) by Seanan McGuire
SUCH A WEIRD BOOK. It has nothing to do with the first Wayward novel, really, but does have a similar tone of “this is so bizarre that I can’t put it down”. Twins Jacqueline and Jillian have spent their whole lives in set roles: Jacqueline was the princess, Jillian was the tomboy. Only…that’s not really how they feel inside. Then one day they discover a door — a door that takes them to a place that allows them to live their own lives. But every wish come true comes with a price…
Everybody’s Brother by CeeLo Green
Yes, CeeLo Green wrote a book. No, it’s not very good. Yes, I read the whole thing in the time it took to get a manicure. No, I wouldn’t recommend you read it. YES, I STILL THINK HE’S AWESOME.
Weird Al: The Book by Nathan Rabin
This coffee table book about Weird Al made me very nostalgic — my dad is a huge fan, and we used to listen to Weird Al’s cassette in Daddy’s old pick up truck. Then at some point in middle school, my BFF and I became obsessed with learning the lyrics to the Albuquerque song. This book is full of great pictures and fun facts and would make an excellent gift for the Weird Al fan in your life. But mostly, it just made me watch a bunch of old YouTube videos.
I Beat the Odds: From Homelessness, to The Blind Side, and Beyond by Michael Oher
This is NOT the book the The Blind Side was based on — it’s the book that the young man featured in The Blind Side wrote after the book/movie came out. In fact, a couple of books have been written about Michael Oher — one was by Michael Lewis (who wrote, among other things, Moneyball and The Big Short), called The Blind Side: Evolution of a Game. That’s a book about football with a human interest story about Oher as the secondary plot-line, but of course the movie adaptation flipped those two things around. Shortly after the movie came out in 2009, The Tuohy’s co-authored a book called In a Heartbeat: Sharing the Power of Cheerful Giving. And then Michael Oher wrote his own book in 2011. Oher obvious feels grateful for the help of the Tuohy’s, but he spends most of his book focusing on how incredibly broken the foster care system is. He also clears up a few misconceptions that the movie created — mostly focusing on his education and intelligence. He comes across as a thoughtful, passionate and caring young man, and I really enjoyed his memoir.
Good Omens: The Nice and Accurate Prophecies of Agnes Nutter, Witch by Terry Pratchett, Neil Gaiman
I love this book. I love this book so much that I’m on my third copy, because I keep lending it to people who also love it and then never return it. I love this book so much that when I saw it at a friend’s house while said friend was not home, I immediately sat down and started rereading it. Then I went home and finished reading MY copy. I love this book. If you haven’t read it, you should. It’s incredibly funny and sharp and beautiful and could not be more perfect in any way.
Jane Steele by Lyndsay Faye
I listened to this as an audio-book while driving 14 hours in two days, and it was the perfect choice for that. It’s a “Gothic retelling” of Jane Eyre (which I’ve never read — I know, I know) and it’s kind of two stories in one, which confused me but I liked them equally so maybe that’s okay? Anyway, Jane Steele gets sent to boarding school at a young age, and the place is terrible, but she fights her way through. That’s story one. Then she gets a job as a governess (story two) and uncovers a crazy old plot about her employer. I have no idea how closely this mirrors Jane Eyre, but it’s fast paced and exciting and I loved the main character.
Life Before Man by Margaret Atwood
I really enjoy Margaret Atwood but this was just not very good. It’s one of her earlier efforts, and every single character bored me to death. I also had trouble keeping them all straight. Basically, it’s about two couples who get entwined in each other’s lives and marriages. They’re sort of all terrible, and the story just did not capture my interest at all. Sorry Margaret!
The Alex Crow by Andrew Smith
Weird, weird book. Andrew Smith is a weird, weird man. I listened to this on audio. It’s about a 15 year old boy named Ariel, who survives a massacre in (well, Goodreads says the Middle East but I thought it was Russia?) and ends up living with an American family — another 15 year old boy (Max, who’s a dick), a timid mother and a mad scientist father. Ariel and Max get sent off to summer camp to “bond” and discover there’s a whole lot more going on with the mad scientist than previously thought. Also, we spend some time on a boat (The Alex Crow) with some men who discover a body frozen in ice. And then there’s a character who’s slowly disintegrating, making his way across America (I can’t remember his name because he reminded me so much of Stephen King’s the Trashcan man that I have totally erased his actual name from my mind). It’s bizarre but fascinating to watch all these stories come together in the end.
How to Live Safely in a Science Fictional Universe by Charles Yu
I bought this book like, 3 years ago and have consistently passed over it this whole time. It turned out to be an interesting-enough book to read, but hardly worth the wait. It’s about a man who spends his time repairing time machines — only he’s figured out a way to live outside of time. He’s trying to find his father, who created a time machine in his garage when he was a kid. It has a lot of neat theories about time travel — I particularly liked the ones involving grammar — but the main character was a dud and the twisty story-line got too much to handle by the time everything was resolved.
The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas
This book was SO GOOD. Well-written — Thomas’s voice for her main character, Starr, sounded so much like a real sixteen year old girl. Starr lives two lives — she attends a fancy prep school but also works at her father’s store in a poor neighborhood. One night after a party, she and her friend Khalil get pulled over, and a police officer shoots Khalil. What follows is Starr’s perspective on a story we’ve seen on the news over and over — her terror at being a witness, her desire to see justice for Khalil, and everyone who gets involved — from police officers and gang members bent on intimidation, to friends and family of the victim bent on revenge. It’s so good and so sad and definitely worth a read.
11/22/63 by Stephen King
I’ve read this before, but it’s been about five or six years. I had no interest in the Hulu series — I think James Franco was wildly miscast — but my library had the audio version so I thought I’d revisit it. I remember the story pretty well — a portal in a restaurant allows our hero (Jake Eppley) to go back to the same day in 1958 over and over again. Everything “resets” with each visit. Under the advice of the restaurant owner who discovered the portal, Jake goes back in time with one mission: to stop the assassination of JFK. But it’s a 1000 page book, so a lot happens along the way. I loved the 1950s/1960s stuff — you can always tell how much King loves that era — and King does a decent job wrapping things up at the end (something I will admit he occasionally fails at, ahem, Under the Dome). It’s a long-ass audio book, but kept me interested the whole time.
A Cook’s Tour by Anthony Bourdain
I love Anthony Bourdain — he’s a funny, sexy man who cooks lots of things that I have no interest in eating. But they look good. A Cook’s Tour is exactly that — Bourdain’s quest to try authentic dishes across the world, all on the Food Network’s dime (which he complains about a lot, but in an endearing way). He raves about all sorts of stuff that I would never try — sheepheads, fried grub worms, lots of things with fish — and makes them all sound delicious. He also talks passionately about the people he works with and the places they come from, and writes one hell of an essay dissing vegans.
We are Never Meeting in Real Life by Samantha Irby
Good, because Samantha Irby sounds like a real bitch. However, she owns it — and she’s damn funny. Irby runs a blog that I’ve never heard of (which I need to check out), and spends most of this book talking about what a pain in the ass she is to work with/live with/generally be around. She’s hysterical and nasty and (excessively) honest. If you like funny women (and who doesn’t?), check this one out!