REVIEW: The Natural Order of Things

The Natural Order of Things, Kevin P. Keating’s first full length novel, chronicles 15 lives in a decaying, suburban, Midwestern town. It’s former glory is only apparent in one place—the all boys Jesuit school. As thing crumble around it, the Jesuit press forward and continue their growth without a hitch.

Step into the dark underbelly that all towns, supposedly, have as you follow teachers, students, parents, and priests through the streets, beds, and jails you never imagine them in.

Check out the full review at Utne Reader.


Review: Good Omens: The Nice and Accurate Prophecies of Agnes Nutter, Witch

New York Times Bestselling authors, Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett”

Cover art
Personification/humanization of otherworldly creatures

Occasionally confusing

Purchased after reading American Gods a few years ago. And under the assumption that Terry Pratchett, who was highly recommended by a trusted book friend,  would suit my tastes as well as Neil Gaiman, unexpectedly, had. Good Omens did not disappoint.

Pratchett and Gaiman are seamless. If I had to pick the pieces written by whom, I wouldn’t be able to. The story, characters, and plot flow so well together that it’s as if they shared the same brain, writing space, and vision. Lucky for me, the edition I own has a section at the end where each writer talks about working with the other and a little Q&A.

Collaboration in writing can be daunting. As a “writer” myself, I have other writer friends, but only one or two I would trust to help me complete anything. Mostly because I don’t fear that they’ll steal my idea(s) or try to pawn their work off as my own. It’s a sort of mutual respect and understanding that exists between writers who work together. That we’re all brilliant and a little insane; and just because you thought up this crazy idea before I did, doesn’t mean you’re not worthy of it.

Good Omens is beautifully written, funny, and thoughtful. An angel and demon who have come to love this Earth over 4000 years aren’t looking forward to the coming Rapture. The Antichrist is an eleven-year-old boy who has no idea he’s the Antichrist, or anything other than an eleven-year-old boy. And when he does begin to realize there’s something different, he can’t pinpoint it and is nearly sucked in by the darkness that lives within.

The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse are right on target with the consumerist world we live in (even if Gaiman and Pratchett wrote it 1985). Famine is a brilliant businessman who has created a food enterprise that could easily be a satirical McDonald’s; honestly, the description isn’t too far off as far as I’m concerned. Pollution is a boy who rides a scooter and just makes a hot mess wherever he goes. War is a beautiful journalist, war correspondent to be exact, who is always in the thick of it before anyone even knows tensions exist. Death is a Hell’s Angel.

In the end, the world that Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett managed to create is merely a farce of the real world. Things are bit more extreme, perhaps, but ultimately relatable. While both are genre writers through and through, in my humble opinion, their scifi/fantasy isn’t really a leap for the imagination. And unlike some SciFi writers/novels the sense of disappoint in humanity isn’t just disappoint or disdain, it is gently cradled in a nice, warm, snuggly blanket of hope.

Review: The Memory Keeper’s Daughter

Characters…all of them, fantastic

Sudden leaps in time

My mom gave me this book years ago, after she’d read it, assuming I would like it. Until last week, it had been sitting ever-so patiently on my “to read” bookshelf, among numerous other books that probably feel forgotten and unloved. Finally finished with the books I needed to review for The Celebrity Cafe, I was able to read something, anything, from my own collection of books. How I came to choose this one is beyond me, but it was a great place to start digging into that shelf.

Edwards writes beautifully and with an honesty that is admirable. I mean, I really adore her for the disgusting, hateful, and vile things that her characters think, feel, do, and even sometimes go as far as to say. One minute there’s a description of a landscape, that in any other scenario may seem useless and boring to readers, then the next you’re delivered the insight necessary to understand the personal meaning so crucial to that moment. These usually irrelevant, plot moving scenes are laced with so much hidden meaning and potential–as if to replicate the characters and their current states of being.

And there’s a lot that is always just below the surface for Norah, David, Paul, and Caroline. Each character has their own unique story to be told. Singular, yet entwined with all the rest. Weaving them together, in just the right pattern in order to become fully aware of the circumstance is part of the fun of reading The Memory Keeper’s Daughter.

Edwards’s tone is informed and authentic. She has crafted the secret that is Phoebe so perfectly, mythically even. Personally, having grown up with someone with Down syndrome, born in the same generation as Phoebe, the story was deeply moving. It was a time when these differences weren’t just seen as a hindrance, but a sentence to a short unfulfilled life. Phoebe, and my Aunt, prove that world wrong. Mentally challenged persons can, and should be afforded the chance to, live happy, long, fulfilled lives. Perhaps with difficulty and not 100% on their own, but they can. Phoebe doesn’t perpetuate stereotypes, she breaks them and lets the world at large see the unseen.

To complain about this novel is hard; my “dislike” didn’t even come until the last couple sections. Up until the late 80s section, time flowed quick well as far as I was concerned. One section/chapter seemed to lead seamlessly into the next. Then, somehow, toward the end it felt as if the need to wrap things up took hold and the gaps in time began to widen more and more. Given the events of the story, this wasn’t a huge issue. The distance between characters had also widened, making the time-lapse in sequence feel less alarming, but still a little unsatisfying (simply because I wanted there to be more more more.) I guess I’m a greedy reader!

Norah and David portray what happens to people when love is found, lost, and forever changed by life. David’s secret eats away at him and his family until, sadly, there’s nothing left. Paul, I think, can be understood by any child/parent/adult; he stands witness to his parents’ secrets, love, and hate for one another and as a result takes on bits of all these moments, thus trying to close the gap that is so obviously there. In some ways, each character (except Phoebe) plays the martyr–even if it is in their own mind. Published in 2005 (and yes, I’m way behind in the game), Kim Edwards made a grand novel debut with this tale. As a published and well-loved short story writer, fans and newcomers, alike, couldn’t have possibly been let down.

Review: Running Lean

Review available at TheCelebrityCafe.

The debut novel from Diana Sharples, Running Lean relates the loss, grief, and turmoil felt in teen relationships. When Calvin discovers that his girlfriend, Stacey, has an eating disorder he fears he’ll lose another person he loves. Will his attempts to save her be enough? Or will they only strain the relationship even more?

Wanted, Pretty Little Liars Book 8

Hanna as social pariah
Chapter 28
Amount of crazy!

Ali’s supposed power over her friends
Emily and her gullibility

In every book there’s this recurring statement–“But she also forced them to do things they didn’t want to.” I have yet to know what those things (yes plural, things) are. Aside from “The Jenna Thing” there really aren’t a lot of instances of Ali forcing anyone to do anything. They made fun of kids with Ali, but she didn’t make them do that. She wanted to hypnotize them at their end of the year party, and while most of them were skeptical, they did it anyway. Again, she didn’t make them. She asked, maybe a bit pleadingly, but they all agreed to go along with it.

In order to seal the deal on Ali’s awfulness, Sara Shepard needs to give readers more to work with, from the start. Being the keeper of all the girls’ secrets even when she shared no secrets of her own–which in girl world, I don’t believe would ever actually happen–and their appointed ringleader doesn’t make her seem like the worst friend, or person, in the world. And compared to the new clique at Rosewood Day, Ali was harmless.

After returning to Rosewood Day after her time spent in “Singapore”, Hanna and boyfriend, Mike Montgomery, are suddenly excluded from their usual circle of friends. Poor little liar, Hanna–that’s how I’d like to feel, like it’s not sad or distressing at all. In reality, I actually feel bad for her. Not because she’s not Queen of Rosewood Day anymore, that’s minor, but being teased and taunted for seeking help is just wrong. Even though she didn’t choose it of her own accord, after everything she’s been through a little therapy couldn’t hurt. And the crazy doesn’t stop there.

Emily’s blind faith that Courtney is Ali reincarnated is a crazy all its own. And the fact that she believes everything Courtney-Ali tells her, not that the others don’t as well, was just annoying. Her desire, or need, for Ali to return to their lives is more than a little pitiful. After everything that’s happened in the past 4 years, you’d think none of them would jump at believing anyone connected to Ali’s disappearance. Yet, they all settle for Billy Ford as killer pretty quick.

Chapter 28, after some excellent build up, we get to this insane turning point. Lucky for me, it proved my assumptions correct. After the Valentine’s dance, the girls end up reliving the night Ali disappeared, being hypnotized isn’t as much to their displeasure this time as they think it would help them get past the trauma they’ve endured. After Spencer’s memory during the hypnosis, it’s clear that what’s expected is never what happens in Rosewood.

There’s a lot done well in Pretty Little Liars, but the biggest flaw is her reuse of exact descriptions or wording–for example explaining why Ali called Emily Killer or how less prominent characters were tied to the 4 girls. Along that same line, the use of the word “pregnant” to describe every long, heavy pause or moment.  Sure it’s accurate but it feels forced and like she’s trying a little too hard to impress her audience.

Shepard’s pacing is amazing. Throughout all 8 of the novels, there’s rarely a dull moment. Yes, books 6 and 7 weren’t as jam-packed with insane twists and surprises, but they were still just as readable. Unlike most teen, young adult fiction, I’ve come across Sara Shepard really knows how to wrap up a story! Since Wanted was originally the final book of the series, all loose ends are dealt with nice and thoroughly. Each girl has a chapter dedicated to their life after Ali-Courtney events and their friendship is intact, better than ever. In the final chapter, Shepard still leaves a bit of mystery to keep an opening for more books should she want to continue (which she clearly did).

Heartless, Pretty Little Liars Book 7

After the shocking end of Book 6, one can only imagine that things get even crazier. Can. Not. Wait.

Noel Khan
Ali hallucinations

Wilden–go figure
Rosewood PD
Kate and Isabel, paired with Mr. Marin

oh my god. Oh My God. OH MY GOD. Of all the craziness I thought was the show, this book has topped it all! There is so much action, so much drama, and so much crazy all rolled into less than 300 pages. How that’s possible? No idea, but who cares!

Noel is a freaking sweetheart. Unlike the Noel we see on TV, “Book Noel” as we’ll call him is sweet, tender, and has way more depth than ever expected. After bumping into Aria at a metaphysical shop for a séance that sends her bolting, he shares his big secret. Not only does he share, he helps her cope with Ali’s disappearance and death in a way no one else has been able to. Go Book Noel, I love you!

As usual the Ali moments are recurring, but this time, she seems more real and much more willing to take the girls’ side. From Aria experiencing her through a psychic medium to Hanna being institutionalized, to Spencer’s memories resurfacing and Emily visiting Amish-town-USA to find clues there’s not a moment of dullness. Yet, the snooping has to end sometime and by now they should know that it never ends well.

The closer these Pretty Little Liars get to finding the truth, the deeper the hole they’ve dug seems to become. Slowly but surely, small pieces of the mystery are being uncovered. Or are they? What seem like links to Ali have a way of turning on Aria, Emily, Spencer, and Hanna. Maybe A is uncovering mysteries of her own, one secret at a time.

Killer, Pretty Little Liars Book 6

Character building

Lack of action

Sadly, my like and dislike sort of go hand in hand. Throughout Killer there’s a lot less A action and more average teenage drama. What’s nice about that is that Shepard can build the characters even further and give more depth to their personal situations…like Spencer’s messed up family situation.

By doing this, readers really start to feel for the girls–and feel what they feel. There are a number of times where I hated Spencer’s family just as much as she did, or felt as skeeved out by Xavier as Aria does. Taking a break from the suspenseful action we’re used to does make for a slower read, yet allows readers to really step into the girls’ shoes for a little while. Which in some ways is a great way to feel as if you’ve really entered into that world, rather than just watching from the outside. Sure that’s a little escapist of me…and a therapist would probably say that’s not healthy…but that’s part of what I love (and always have loved) about books/reading!

Jason DiLaurentis and Wilden finally become the questionable characters they’ve always appeared to be in the show. Maya may be on that list too, it’s hard to tell for sure, but she’s definitely acting a little A-like with the sneaking up on Emily and all. With more and more people becoming suspicious, Aria, Spencer, Hanna, and Emily seem to finally be coming together more fully than ever before. And it’s about time. They’ve placed themselves right in the line of danger by contacting Ian for information and have just found a secret they never expected.

Wicked, Pretty Little Liars Book 5

Ian Thomas
Ali memories

Girls’ lack of sharing

So far Book 5 hasn’t been as action packed as the preceding four novels. With Ian Thomas in jail for Ali’s murder and the A notes, things in Rosewood seem fairly quiet. Spencer, Aria, Emily, and Hanna haven’t gotten any scathing texts/emails/IMs from A in months, which is obviously thanks to Ian’s arrest. But when Ian is released on bail in order to spend time with is sick mother, things are right back to crazy as normal.

Byron and Meredith’s relationship is still going; Aria thought she found a new crush on artist Xavier at his gallery showing that her mother sent her too; Ella has a new boyfriend, Xaiver, that she met via; Hanna is back with Lucas, for now, since Mona is out of the picture; Spencer is seemingly crushing on Andrew Campbell, her academic archenemy; and Emily is dating…a guy.

Part of me continues to be in disbelief that the girls don’t just share the secrets A continuously holds over their heads. At the same time, the fact that they don’t makes much more sense in the novels. While they’re all plagued by the same harassment, none of them actually trust each other. Ali was the only one of the group who actually knew ALL their secrets, yet they all considered themselves to be the best of friends. In this way, Sara Shepard does an excellent job of portraying the inner-workings of female relationships which are often so delicate and intricate like a spider’s web, and just as sticky.

Xavier is a mega-creep. He certainly was flirty with Aria at his gallery showing, but then he showed up as Ella’s blind date. Aria decided that was the end of that, she wasn’t going to cause any more problems for her family. Yet, Xavier is still being flirty, and goes so far as to KISS her while Ella is out one night. Naturally, Aria is uncomfortable, especially since New A has been witness to Xavier’s indiscretions. Twisting it to look as if Aria were trying to steal her mom’s new man wouldn’t be the hardest thing to do. It’s best she try to keep her distance.

The novels usually focus around a specific Ali memory; book 4 was the day before the end of 7th grade sleep over, book 5 is focused on Time Capsule event held by Rosewood Day. As the novels progress, these memories gain more and more detail, from each of the 4 remaining friends. What makes it really interesting are the different details each girl recalls. These would probably be really useful for finding the killer, and A potentially, if the former friend posse were actually talking to one another.

Kate, Hanna’s soon-to-be stepsister, is a new and improved Ali or Mona replica. In fact, she may be even more wicked. Rather than keeping secrets, to potentially destroy Hanna’s reputation, she does everything she can to destroy Hanna’s relationship with her father. Not that it was good to begin with, but with Kate running the show things have only gotten worse.

Then there’s Ian Thomas. Out on bail, but under house arrest, he sneaks into the Hastings’s yard to talk to Spencer. His plea of innocence falls on deaf ears, but the secret he claims to be on the verge of uncovering piques Spencer’s interest. On the day of his trial, Ian doesn’t show up to court. His family can’t find him and the trial is postponed. Rosewood PD is on a manhunt. At this point, Spencer is forced to share her conversation with Ian, and her latest A message, with Aria, Emily, and Hanna. Even if they all believe Ian is guilty, doubt has begun to creep up on them. Will the real A, and the real killer, ever be found?!?