Monday, October 24, 2016

Review: Broken Monsters

Broken MonstersBroken Monsters by Lauren Beukes
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Clayton Broome has spent years with people treating him as an outcast and dismissing him and his art, but now, he and his art are becoming something more; something too awesome for most to behold.

Detective Gabriella "Gabi" Versado is just barely able to hold things together on the job at Detroit PD while her attention-starved daughter, Layla, seems to keep finding new outlets for her frustrations.

Layla sees the dark side of high school life in a way that her mother will never understand, and the other adults at school don't seem to understand either. All she wants is to be a good friend to Cas, a girl who transferred to her charter school and changed her name under mysterious circumstances, and a good cat mommy to NyanCat.

Jonathan "Jonno" Haim came to Detroit to get a fresh start after a bad relationship but has serious doubts about how that can happen in a place that is rotting from the inside out.

Who knew that a string of horrific murders could be just the thing to bring all of these people together and get them closer to the acceptance, or at least, visibility, they thought they wanted?

Lauren Beukes relies a bit more heavily on clich├ęs for her chapter titles than one might prefer, but Broken Monsters still has plenty of good turns of phrase that I found myself highlighting as I read. There's also tons of juicy and disgusting stuff in here to keep the most bloodthirsty horror fan happy. It's like a little burrito of serial killer story and supernatural horror wrapped in a commentary on objective reality and perception.

View all my reviews

Monday, September 19, 2016

Good as GoneGood as Gone by Amy Gentry
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

If you're a mystery/suspense buff and you are looking for something with a 100% original twist and that's the only reason you read this genre, this probably isn't the book for you. If you enjoy books with likeable characters and an interesting view into the psyches of the main characters, consider checking this one out.

At 13 years old, Julie Whitaker disappeared from her home in the middle of the night. The only witness was her younger sister, Jane, and she only caught a few glimpses through the cracked closet door. Her parents, Professor Anna Davalos and her husband cooperated with law enforcement, paid for billboards, and did all the right things, but they didn't hear anything about their missing daughter for years. Fast forward to one night, eight years later, and a young woman shows up at their front door; it's Julie. Initially, the family enjoys a happy reunion, but hairline cracks appear in the restored happy family picture. Anna can't deny that too many things remain unexplained, and when a private detective reaches out to ask a few questions about her daughter, the cracks spread further. How can someone reappear after 8 years? Could she even be the same person she was then? Was she ever that person? Inquiring minds will just need to read the book to find out.

View all my reviews

Monday, September 12, 2016

HarmonyHarmony by Carolyn Parkhurst
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I found out about this book via Amazon's 10 Best Books of August 2016 and decided to give it a try for a couple of reasons: 1. my book blog is hurting for current reviews in the worst way and 2. it seemed to have enough intrigue for a great summer read. I am a huge fan of The Mosquito Coast and was hoping for something with a similar flavor since it seemed like the build-up was leading to creating a mini utopia only for things to go terribly wrong.

The Hammond Family, of Washington, DC, buys into a commune led by parenting expert, Scott Bean, in the hope of finally creating an ideal, toxin and bullying-free environment for their daughter, Tilly who is afflicted by some form of Aspergers. The story unfolds through the alternating viewpoints of Iris, Tilly's younger sister, Alexandra, their mother, and Tilly. As expected, this makes it difficult to determine how much is objectively true. What we know for sure is the family moves to Camp Harmony in New Hampshire to start a new life. They meet other families in a situation similar to theirs: they have a child that just doesn't seem to fit in anywhere, and Scott Bean was the first person to give them any sense of hope. Soon, they take guest families at the camp. Each group of guest campers offers some view into what continues to happen as life outside the camp passes them by, and reminds them of how much control Scott has over them in their little corner of New Hampshire. Eventually, the tensions created by these glimpses of the outside world lead the younger ones in the group to question if things really are better on the inside, and things heat up when it comes to Scott's attention that his view of the ideal community is about to be challenged.

Parkhurst tackles a very interesting idea here, and she does so with terrific attention to character and voice. I especially enjoyed the passages Tilly narrates. They're so delightfully surreal and provide just the right balance of tragic foreshadowing and doubt. This was one of those books that was almost impossible for me to put down. I kind of knew where the story was headed, but kept hoping for a different outcome because I was totally invested in the characters. It's definitely a good read.

View all my reviews

Monday, May 4, 2015

May is Short Story Month & I'm Excited!

I recently finished reading High Fidelity by Nick Hornby, and I am so glad I did. I plan to review it here soon, so stay tuned. Thanks to a recent tweet by Sara Zarr, I realized that this month is my birthday month and short story month. This is so awesome I don't even know where to begin. Personal disclosure: I am working on my first compilation of short stories and I'm about to start shopping one of them around. I got some great feedback at the Pikes Peak Writers Conference, so I am feeling pumped about my own short story prospects. It's a terrific form to read and write, and if you've been feeling turned off to short stories because of bad experiences in high school, give 'em another try. David Sedaris once wrote in his introduction to Children Playing Before a Statue of Hercules (yes, also a short story anthology) that stories can save you. They can. Short fiction can do it even faster than novels. Cool, eh?

There's so much that can be said about short fiction. It is a form that once kind of dominated the fiction people read and then became relegated to either artsy magazines, super intellectual glossies, and the occasional erotica in Cosmopolitan. It's tough to sell people on short stories. Why read? We want to be entertained, yes, but we also want to be able to say we read something important, right? What short story is that important?

As an avid reader, I'll admit that the pieces that stick with me and haunt me in my quiet moments are short stories. The powerful novels I've read are amazing and nothing can take anything away from them, but short stories can be powerful. They're like dreams that make us question reality for the rest of our lives. Those are the best ones, anyway.

I hope to add a list of my own to the official site, but until I come up with something formal, please peruse the following gems to start---you won't regret it! These are not literature---they are just AWESOME.
Powder by Tobias Wolff from The Night in Question
Bullet in the Brain, Tobias Wolff from The Night in Question
Hills Like White Elephants by Ernest Hemingway
Hunters in the Snow by Tobias Wolff
To Build a Fire by Jack London
The Black Cat by Edgar Allen Poe
The Tell Tale Heart by Edgar Allen Poe
Dr. Hiedegger's Experiment by Nathaniel Hawthorne
The Lottery by Shirley Jackson
Wilderness Tips by Margaret Atwood
Isis in Darkness by Margaret Atwood
Member of the Wedding by Carson McCullers
In the Cemetery Where Al Jolson is Buried by Amy Hempel
Bulldog by Arthur Miller (I originally read it in The New Yorker)
The Guinea Pig Lady from Trailerpark by Russel Banks
Mexican Manifesto by Roberto Bolano in The New Yorker

These are individual stories. We haven't even gotten into compilations, but if you haven't read these, you need to. They're the missing pieces of my soul I never knew I needed and they are beautiful.

Friday, November 21, 2014

Missed Connection--The Oddball Original Poem by Yours Truly

To post on CraigsList or hold behind?
That is the question.
What way is noblest in the mind to handle a missed connection?

A moment that should not have been
and in having may have led to sin.
We know little,but this jist:
Had more happened, someone'd be pissed.

Thus it's missed, and here we are.
Looking close within and out toward the far
regions for answers from ex pats and travelers
about the keys to happiness, bliss, and goodness.

Where did I miss these? In ruddy cheeks and clear blue eyes?
In thin mountain air and wine stained skies?
In the arms of one who promised never to leave me?
In the passing dreams that all deceive me?

Something within me is out of joint. What will fuse it together?
I met someone the other night; a bird of a similar feather.
Is all that we need? This commonality or closeness to commonality?
Does it heal all wounds?

Please, someone, tell me how to connect, and
who to connect to.

Monday, November 10, 2014

Review: The Little Book of Big PR

The Little Book of Big PRThe Little Book of Big PR by Jennefer Witter
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I recently started my own business, and one piece of advice I remember from internships and conferences is "advertising is what you pay for; PR is what you pray for." Since the rent was due before prayer could be enough, I thought it would be worth checking out the tips in here. Jennefer Witter has plenty of terrific suggestions about how to use free and low cost methods to help get your company noticed by your target audience. She also offers some helpful suggestions about defining and developing your brand and thinking beyond the obvious about who your audience is. (Without that, you might be able to craft a catchy message, but it's not going to go very far.)

Witter's tips on connecting with reporters are great and she even provides sample docs for outreach to the press and others so you don't have to completely reinvent the wheel. Like everything else I've read about PR, and cultivating a client base in general, it's all about building relationships, and that takes time and patience. Now, it would be really cool if Jennefer Witter came up with 100+ tips for overnight PR, but I think that may be something that does come down to prayer.

View all my reviews

Monday, November 3, 2014

Review: Teenagers 101 by Rebecca Deurlein

Teenagers 101Teenagers 101 by Rebecca Deurlein
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Based on her experience as a high school English teacher, Rebecca Deurlein shares strategies for preparing teens for adulthood complete with the science behind motivation and sample scripts for the very nervous parent.

Dr. Deurlein offers sound advice on many areas that don't get discussed often enough in education: is an AP class always the best option? What do you mean my child might not need (or want to) go to college? If my kid takes a gap year, what is she to do?

One of the best chapters in the book is about AP versus regular classes because it gives a frank explanation of what they are, the "tracks" that remain in schools (even though students aren't officially tracked.) She also explains the difference between IB (International Baccalaureate) programs and the regular curriculum.

I hope that parents who read Teenagers 101 can stick with the book in spite of the resistance that may creep up, especially when it comes to helping kids accept responsibility for their actions. The translation of this being, "Demonstrate that blaming teachers/coaches/or anyone else for their bad decisions" won't be tolerated. Bad teachers are out there, and they can make a class that is already challenging nearly impossible. One common denominator I have seen in almost all complaints even against college professors is a student who has a pattern of finding fault with anyone who gives him less than an A on anything. For this type of student, it's a pyrrhic victory. He might leave high school by arguing his way into a 4.0 and driving the adults around him insane, but that behavior will get caught in college and he will drop out. Blaming others for poor decisions has a way of catching up with us. Dr. Deurlein gives a particularly chilling example of a boy who went after his history teacher because she held him to a deadline for an assignment---just like the rest of her class. What amazed me about this story is that his parents never thought to question his ulterior motives for claiming this teacher was totally unreasonable or after receiving that grade, saying that she was completely incompetent. It's frightening that parents can force a teacher to extend a deadline for a student without even doing a real investigation of their own by talking to the teacher and observing so they can get the whole story.

I am not sure how all the testing and "student-centered" policies have turned schools and colleges into Starbucks of learning. There's a general attitude among students and parents that the teachers are just there to find something that makes students and parents happy. Well, I think most professionals working in education like happy students, and given the choice between two equally viable options will try to go with the one most likely to have happiness as an added bonus. Unfortunately, some subject matter just doesn't make people happy, but needs to be covered anyway. The misconception about consequences for teachers that come out of complaints is frightening. Keep in mind that teachers are poorly paid, may or may not ever get tenure, and have to jump through more and more hoops, and work more and more time for FREE to educate kids. Plus, they work under a microscope, so if anyone says something about them, regardless of how ridiculous it might be, that can do permanent damage to an already thankless career. Even at that, the biggest losers in these situations are the students because they miss an opportunity to learn about the consequences of their actions by making someone else bear them. Sometimes, these petty complaints can also deprive a future generation of students access to an excellent teacher who happened to have a budding sociopath in the classroom.

The only chapter I'm a bit unenthused about is on parent-teacher conferences. Dr. Deurlein actually makes fun of parents of good students who carefully monitor their student's progress and insist on attending these conferences. To make matters worse, Dr. Deurlein points out that parents "who don't need to be there" are taking away a slot from parents who should be there, wait until the last-minute, and complain that they wanted to attend conference, but couldn't because of (choose one): illness, child care, work, dishes, pandas, etc. Do you know how I know about these excuses? Those parents were my community college students. The ones who say those things are the parents modeling for their kids that the best way to handle a tough assignment is to whine until the professor gives you a reprieve and if that doesn't work, whine to every administrator who will listen until someone gives you what you want. So, responsible parents who have fostered good study habits in their kids should step aside so someone like that can book an appointment they won't book anyway? Um, no. That chapter seemed like gratuitous teacher whining.

Overall though, even with that one annoying chapter, this is an excellent book on preparing teens for adulthood, and helping parents prepare themselves to be parents of adults and stop treating their teens like children. It's also one of the first parenting books I've seen that emphasizes how to help students get the most out of school, and for that alone, it's worth the read.

Teenagers 101 by Rebecca Deurlein, Ed.D. is published by AMACOM and will be available for purchase on November 13, 2014 for $16 (paperback.)

I received no compensation for this review.

View all my reviews

Thursday, October 2, 2014

Review: The Secret Thoughts of Successful Women

The Secret Thoughts of Successful Women: Why Capable People Suffer from the Impostor Syndrome and How to Thrive in Spite of ItThe Secret Thoughts of Successful Women: Why Capable People Suffer from the Impostor Syndrome and How to Thrive in Spite of It by Valerie Young
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I first heard about the Impostor Syndrome through some random article or post. Sadly, I don't remember if it was NPR or something more obscure. Anyway, as soon as I saw the "symptoms," I instantly recognized it. In a way, it was liberating to put a name to what has been dogging me for as long as I can remember. Also, since I'm naturally a little grouchy and bitter about these things, I got kind of annoyed that none of the mental health professionals I've seen over the past decade caught onto this. Granted, the Impostor Syndrome is not a clinical psychiatric problem in the DSM. It's more of a social phenomenon, but it was such a relief to know that I'm not the only one out there who feels like I need to prove something, and if I make a tiny mistake on a project, it means I'm completely incompetent and can never get it right. The worst part of being plagued by this problem is most of us know it's irrational and it's not a helpful way to go around living your life and running your career. It does light a fire under your butt to succeed though, and that can be very motivating. The cost is nothing ever seems like an accomplishment. Everything that goes well is just a "lucky break."

Valerie Young started her work on the Impostor Syndrome as a doctoral student, and began running workshops for women to help them recognize this problem and develop strategies for overcoming it. The workshops became a big hit with men and women. So, even though gender norms and sexism in the workplace exacerbate the Impostor Syndrome, apparently women are not the only ones affected.

Young balances the book between snippets from studies, sociological and psychological underpinnings, and personal experience as a woman with Impostor Syndrome and a trainer. This was a great read and I definitely plan to refer back to it for myself and my clients.

View all my reviews