Aaron Week Four – Girl on the Train

Girl on the Train

By Paula Hawkins

I’m tempted to simply say “it’s like Gone Girl, but involves a train”. But that would be both an oversimplification and a bit of a lie. Fundamentally the only resemblance is that in both stories people are portrayed as twisted and genuinely messed up in the head, to a point where it is hardly believable.

Not to brag, but I had the major plot points graphed out within the first 3rd of the book. Part of this is to the credit of the author, who writes very distinctive voices for each character. I won’t say anything else for fear of spoiling it.

Overall, I did enjoy the book. I’d almost say as more of a “light and fluffy” piece if it weren’t for all the violence and crazy people.

It starts out with a faint tinge of whimsy, as you follow Rachel on her daily train rides and the fanciful life story she crafts for a couple who live along her route. As you could probably guess, it takes a dark turn pretty quickly and then continues to sprial into pitch blackness as Rachel tells lie after lie in the name of “helping” the investigation, and much like the formula for every romcom ever to hit movie screens she’s found out and her world crumbles apart. Cue the inspiring music and begin the comeback.

A good read overall, assuming you like your books a little on the dark side. I would agree with one critics assessment that “if you’d like Gone Girl, you’ll love Girl on the Train”.

For the record, I never read Gone Girl, just watched the movie.

Buy this book!

Rachael Week Four – All My Puny Sorrows

All My Puny Sorrows (I’ll call it AMPS from now on) by Miriam Toews was, for lack of a better word, alright. There were times I felt like I was just reading to get it over with, but I thoroughly enjoyed 25% of it.

Main characters (and sisters), Elfreida (Elf) and Yolandi (Yoli) live in small town Mennonite Canada. Elf is always “acting out” in ways not exactly okay-ed by the church elders. Like literally painting parts of the town red.

Yoli just kind of watches in wonderment during their childhood at Elf’s life decisions and doesn’t really define herself. The book takes you right into their adulthood. Obviously Elf and Yoli live completely different adult lives. Elf is a little more…troubled. She ends up being a world-traveling concert pianist. Yoli ends up divorced, with 2 kids, still struggling to find herself and picking up the pieces of her father’s suicide and her sister’s attempts at it.

If you’re looking for an exciting storyline, this probably isn’t the book for you. But it is a pretty good in depth look at the mental struggles of a suicidal woman. I had no idea Mennonites were a particularly suicidal bunch, unless this book just paints that picture on its own.

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Aaron Week Three – The Silkworm

The Silkworm

By Robert Galbraith

This could be the shortest review of all time. Correction: the shortest of my current reviews on this website.

Here’s the thing. It isn’t a bad book, it’s well written, has markedly interesting characters, and a reasonable amount of classic “whodunit” elements to keep things going, but I apparently am either dead inside or have been spoon fed one too many masterful Nero Wolfe mysteries, because I just didn’t enjoy it. Contrary to the views of 1,400+ individuals that left it five stars on Amazon.

At times it reads like a 1950 detective novel, and in those moments I almost enjoyed it, but that illusion was quickly broken by the use of a cell phone to send a text, or a digital camera to capture evidence to build a case. The book centers around a not so famous writer going missing and his wife bringing in private detective Cormoran Strike to track him down. Spoiler alert: things escalate pretty quickly from a simple missing persons case. That’s not really a spoiler, you had to have seen that coming. It certainly takes a few interesting twists in regards to the main plot, even one you might not see coming, but the side storylines that unfold seem forced/unnecessary/superficial and much like an after thought.

However clique, I do respect the main characters affinity to help the little guy, and not accept hands out from his rich father. Other than that, I found it almost as hard to finish The Silkworm as it has proven to be to write a review of it.

If you find yourself bored, or simply avoiding drywalling work in your kitchen (or anything other room in your house), you should give the preview a read and tell me if I’m crazy or not.

Buy this book!

Rachael Week Three – Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? (And Other Concerns)

 Sometimes you just have to put on lip gloss and pretend to be psyched.

That’s kind of how I felt while reading this book. I did have high hopes, I’ve read Amy Poehler’s book and Tina Fey’s book. Mindy Kaling is funny from the very little I’ve seen of her on the office and the small snippets of The Mindy Project I endure at work before doing the 10pm show on Fox. I didn’t laugh as much as I had hoped I would, but Aaron will probably tell you my giggles that came along the way were creepy and sporadic.

Mindy’s life is refreshing, she had a normal childhood as a semi-loser (been there, done that) so it’s a little relatable. But approximately .05% of people who want to write for a TV comedy actually just bump shoulders with the right people to get them to Office status. I’ve heard too many “I lived in a tiny studio apartment in NYC with rats and a 57 year old random roommate, now I’m famous” stories, and this was just another one. It is interesting, however, to hear about the people she (and everyone in the comedy field, really) runs into on auditions and while writing for SNL.

Comparing her book to the other power women of comedy’s is probably apples to oranges, so maybe I’m being unfair. It was an easy read, pretty enjoyable, a few very funny parts, but overall was kind of “meh”. But I will be living by the quote at the top from now on, thanks Mindz. It was a nice change of pace from the dark, mentally disturbed fictional women I’ve been reading about lately. Worth the 5 bucks I (my mom) spent on it on my Kindle.

Buy this book!

Rachael Week Two – Sharp Objects

I was skeptical to read Sharp Objects by Gillian Flynn. If you’ve read Gone Girl, this book will leave you with an even weirder feeling upon finishing it. I would tell you to read it, but only because I need someone to discuss its weirdness with. Ask anyone and they’ll tell you my favorite genre is “mentally ill women fiction” but I was left unsatisfied with the end result.

You follow Camille Preaker back to her small hometown of Wind Gap. Camille is a reporter for a second-rate newspaper in Chicago, tasked with covering the murders of two young girls from Wind Gap. She goes back home, stays with her mother Adora, half sister Amma and Alan (a father-ish character who really plays no important role). You get to know this insanely dysfunctional family, get weird feelings about all of them. Oh yeah, and Camille is a former cutter who has her own problems to deal with along the way. PS, Camille had a sister named Marian, but Marian got sick and died when Camille was a kid. That is important to note.

You’ll wonder who killed Natalie and Ann, the 2 preteens, the whole book. But, like Gone Girl, it’s pretty predictable from the beginning. You’ll be right about the weird feeling you have about certain characters (spoilers). Natalie and Ann are found strangled with all of their teeth removed. Bizarre.

I found the book a little too far fetched. It is apparently being developed for TV (?! ok…). It would make a pretty good mediocre movie that goes straight to Netflix, in my opinion. Too many weird things happen in a short period of time, some characters were under developed. Plus, Camille and Amma do hard drugs together. What 13 year old convinces her 20something half sister to do hard drugs with her?! I don’t understand.

Long story short, read it because it’s twisted and you’ll need to see if you’re right about your instincts from the beginning. If you liked Gone Girl, you’ll probably like this one. It’s an easy read but meh. I probably won’t be seeking out the TV adaptation.

Buy this book!

Aaron Week Two – Station Eleven

Station Eleven

By Emily St. John Mandel

From the time I was a small child reading The Boxcar Children I’ve romanticized the idea of  some horrific life event leaving me to fend for myself, perhaps completely alone, or maybe with a ragtag group of cohorts for support. I know, I was a bit of a strange child. Reading Station Eleven left me longing for the world to collapse, or at least the prospect of a simpler world taking this one’s place, this despite the fact that the author holds nothing back in vividly painting a picture of post-apocalyptic life, including the horrific things we all secretly hope we aren’t capable of.

Every so often he stopped to listen, but heard only the water on the gravel beach, a gentle wind.

It’s that sort of imagery that makes me wish for a world without computers, without cellphones, without dozen of ways to being tracked down or bothered. I know I’d miss them if they were gone, but in the age of constant connectedness it seems like an appealing notion.

Station Eleven brilliantly tells the stories of an actor, a band of traveling musicians, a former paparazzi, and others lives before and after a flu outbreak decimates the world, bouncing back and forth across decades weaving a beautiful and haunting tale filled with misadventure, suspense, and regret. Forming a dark, but somehow hopeful story that reads a bit like a poem at times. Even if you’re not a fan of post-apocalyptic stories, I encourage you to give this one a try. It really is different, it really is something special.

Survival is insufficient.Seven of Nine

And who can fault a book that quotes Star Trek? Proving that anyone can survive the apocalypse, even us nerds.

By the end, you’ll set this novel down and realize that line from Star Trek really does have weight, really does have meaning. Just how fulfilling is a life with only the goal of survival?

Buy this book!

Rachael Week One – She’s Come Undone

She’s Come Undone by Wally Lamb has unknowingly been a part of my life since I was a kid. This book was an Oprah Book Club selection in January 1997. My mom read it some time ago and upon finishing it myself, I remembered the creepy cover with disembodied face among ocean. The book has been floating around my parent’s house for years and I always thought “that is one weird cover”. Until now, I had no idea that the cover was trying to be hauntingly beautiful. It’s still a little creepy. I’ll admit I read it on Kindle so I didn’t have to have that strange face sitting on the coffee table to greet me everyday.

The cover is peculiar, but get past that, because the inside is pretty good. The characters will go from protagonist to antagonist and you’ll wonder if anyone will really ever win in the end. I’ll just throw this out there, this is not a cheery beach read, but it will possibly make you feel a little more normal? Plenty of mental issues and illness to go around through the whole story. This book might also make you want to watch a little less TV. The book centers around a fancy 1956 TV set.

Dolores Price takes you through her life starting at age 4. She has a messed-up childhood, goes through more by age 13 than you will in your whole life. You will love her, you will hate her, you will laugh at her, with her, etc. Her family is messed up, likable, hate-able, dysfunctional.

You’ll root for her through her struggles and she has a lot of them. She struggles with food and weight, relationships with her parents and grandmother and her sexuality for a brief period. She loses a lot of people in her life and you’ll see her attempt to bounce back.

Whales play a huge symbolic role in the book. They’ll be the low point and the high point. The ending is just satisfying enough. The author could’ve easily killed Dolores off at the end, but didn’t.

At some point I’ll be stepping out of my comfort zone of reading about mentally ill women. Maybe next week.


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Aaron Week One – Art of the Living Dead

Art of the Living Dead

by Adrian Hanft III

Full disclosure: I took the easy way out with this one. As I was still debating on where to start with my 52×52 reading a friend handed me a copy of this book as I headed to the airport to fly home. Most definitely giving me an unfair advantage over Rachael in week one, simply because I had five hours to kill between waiting in line and the flights themselves.

The apocalypse has arrived. The zombies surround us, drawn to the pulse of creative spirit, hungry for destruction. We need heroes.

With a riveting statement like that you wouldn’t expect that Art of the Living Dead is a non-fiction book. To be fair, I’ve read fiction books with less exciting intro paragraphs.

Distilled down, Art of the Living Dead is at its core a wakeup call to creatives and self-proclaimed non-creatives alike. With every page the correlation between the forces we face in everyday life and zombies becomes stronger, harder to ignore, while at times repetitious, overall reading this book has left me energized and excited to shake off the stagnant aftermath of 2014 and strive for creative freedom in 2015.

One of my favorite excerpts from the book is as follows…

Don’t ever fake knowledge on a subject that you are fuzzy about. Dig deeper, work harder, and never stop learning.

Corporate environments have fostered in us the notion that admitting we don’t know is a deathblow to our career, call it ego for some, or fear for others, the outcome is the same. Stagnation. The lack of a desire to learn more about your field is the first sign that you yourself are becoming a zombie.

At the end of the day, if you’re feeling burned out by your career or your uninspired in your creative outlets, I’d encourage you to give Art of the Living Dead a read. It probably won’t fix your outlook, and it certainly won’t provide a concrete formula for success, but maybe it will ignite something in you.

Buy this book!