Sunday, June 30, 2013

Ready Player One

Officially the BEST book I have read this year! Simply stunning and fantastical! The world that Ernest Cline creates is unique and so damn imaginative. Why have I waited so long to pick this up?! I literally DID NOT want it to end!

Had I read this in paper form I probably would have read the whole damn thing in one sitting, but I instead opted for the audiobook version read by the super talented and super sexy and super geeky Whil Wheeton (Stand by Me and Star Trek Next Generation star among many other talents). Overall, it took me about a week to get through 13 discs. Even though it takes longer to listen to than to read I would HIGHLY recommend the audiobook version because Whil Wheeton does a superb job of narrating. It's easily the best voice narration I've ever listened to in an audiobook.

So what exactly is this hella amazing book about you're wondering? Well let me try to tell you. It's like the fantasy classic "Snow Crash" mixed with every 80's pop culture reference, video game, nerd trivia, and Goonies like adventure. In the not to distant future everyone escapes the falling to shit planet by logging into the "oasis," a virtual reality world that lets people forget about their problems. It contains thousands of planets, quests, schools, entertainment options and literally everything you can imagine.

When the famous creator of the Oasis dies he leaves behind a golden egg hidden in the virtual reality that contains his ENTIRE fortune, billions and billions of dollars. Nearly everyone on the planet spends years trying to find the three keys and gates that will lead to the egg. In order to decipher the riddles and clues these searching souls must be well versed in 80s pop cultures, nerd lore, video game history, and other things the eccentric billionaire was interested. After years people begin to give up hope that the egg will ever be found and interest wanes. That is until a dirt poor teenager named Wade discovers the first key. "Ready Player One" is the story of his quest, the friends he meets along the way, and the discovery that living in the virtual world may not and should not be a substitute for living in reality.


Thursday, June 27, 2013

Dad is Fat

Having been a major fan of Jim Gaffigan for years I was delighted when I found out he was writing a book. I made sure to pre-order this bad boy so I could get the sweet signed book plate, terrifying valentine's day mask, and other little goodies. Pretty good deal if you ask me!

Anyways, I really enjoyed this book. I laughed out loud multiple times and it really reminded me of Bill Cosby's, "Fatherhood." Jim Gaffigan has provided a collection of hilarious essays on parenting and child rearing that will have you howling with laughter. Jim is the proud father of five children, in a two bedroom apartment, in a fifth floor walk up in New York City. Trust me, hilarity ensues. Coming from a large, crazy, Catholic family I really related with a lot of his stories and empathized with him. If you're looking for a quick and funny summer read then this is definitely the book for you!

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Clean: Overcoming Addiction and Ending America's Greatest Tragedy

This was definitely one of the hardest books I've read this year, not because it was badly written but because the subject matter was very personal and not at all comforting like I hoped it would be. I'm not going to go into details in this book review but those of you who know me, know why I find this subject hard. It's something that I never would have guessed would affect me or anyone I care about, but who am I kidding, this is the 21st century. Addiction is more prevalent then ever.

Prior to this book, I knew the concept behind addiction and thought I had it all figured out. Basically after reading this, I realized I know nothing on this subject. In my head, addicts were selfish people who didn't know when enough was enough and tore their family and friends lives to pieces in their selfish downward spiral. Clearly, I have a very old fashioned way of thinking, I had never once considered addiction a "real" disease.

Author, David Sheff, does a marvelous job of outlining addiction (why we use, the disease, drugs and alcohol in our culture, etc.), and ways to get addicts clean (he describes dozens of different treatments, not everyone can get clean the same way) and stay clean. David has a lot of experience dealing with addiction, his son Nic spent years addicted to hard drugs and later wrote the book, "Tweak." David Sheff outlines the struggles of dealing with addiction as a family in his first book, "Beautiful Boy" ("Clean" is his second novel).

Some interesting facts and tidbits that I took away from this book:

1. Comparing money spent on cancer and AIDS research as compared with addiction research = "the total spent on AIDS is $3 billion - or $3,000 per infected person. We spend $29 per addict." (page 290)

2. "In Vancouver, at a supervised injection site called, Insite, drug users are given not only clean needles but a safe place to shoot up and stay while they're high... A series of studies has shown that Insite is effective at getting addicts into treatment, lowering crime in the neighborhood, and reducing the number of overdoses and illnesses from drug use." (page 302)

3. In Portugal the government decriminalized the possession and use of all drugs - not only marijuana but heroin, cocaine, and the rest. Drugs are still illegal, but users caught with small quantities aren't sent to jail. Instead they face a panel consisting of a psychologist, social worker, and legal adviser who recommend appropriate treatment... A study found that five years after personal possession was decriminalized, illegal drug use among teens had declined, rates of new HIV infections had dropped and the number of people seeking treatment for drug addiction had more than doubled. Prior to the change in policy, Portugal had one of the highest rates of drug use in Europe, afterward, it had one of the lowest." (pages 303-304)

4. "A majority of patients who enter treatment never complete it. Among those who do, 40 to 86 percent relapse in the first year." (page 17)

5. "The stigma associated with drug use - the belief that bad kids use, good kids don't, and those with full blown addiction are weak, degenerate, and pathetic - has contributed to the escalation of use and has hampered treatment more than any single other factor."(page 25)

6. Addiction IS a disease. " A disease is "an interruption, cessation, or disorder of a body, system, or organ structure or function," according to "Stedman's Medical Dictionary. It's "a morbid entity ordinarily characterized by two or more of the following criteria: recognized etiologic agents, identifiable group of signs and symptoms, or consistent anatomic alterations." Addiction fits every one of these criteria." (page 89) Addicts aren't weak, selfish, or amoral - they're ill.

7. "Researchers have found that if a person makes it to two years [being sober], his likelihood of relapse diminishes dramatically, and after five years, most addicts will continue to stay sober." (page 266)

Sorry I got a little wordy on the statistics, but those are only just a handful of what you can discover in this book, I  learned soo much. I learned how complex addiction is and how hard it is to treat. This is an absolute MUST read, a real eye opener, and very present in our society as we reflect on the United States failed drug war.

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe

Excellent read! I couldn't put it down. I've really been enjoying all the young adult books this year and this is no exception. This book manages to be deep, probing, and realistic, but not too heavy.

Fifteen year old Aristotle, known as Ari, is a loner, all that changes however one summer he meets Dante at the pool and the two become inseparable. It's a complicated relationship, it starts to dawn on Ari that Dante likes him, like REALLY likes him. Ari tries to pretend that nothing is wrong but things but his inability to talk about problems muddles the situation. Ari is complicated young boy, he takes after his father who was in Vietnam and came back a changed and quiet man. He also can't help but wonder about his brother who has been in prison since he was four. Ari discovers that in order to discover the secrets of the universe he must discover, himself, his complicated family, and his relationship with Dante.

A truly great read, the characters are multi-faceted and real. You care greatly about them and you want them to overcome their obstacles. I definitely plan on reading more from this author.

Saturday, June 15, 2013

The White Tiger

This is the best contemporary Indian novel I've probably ever read (not that I've read a lot, but this does take the cake). The novel's protagonist, The White Tiger, paints a picture of modern day India that is largely unflattering and mostly true but still manages to show a certain type of reverence for it.

The White Tiger has many aliases, Balram Halwai, Munna, driver, and more. He grew up in a very poor village and through "good fortune" managed to work his way way up and find a job as a driver in the city. Balram is a complicated man however, he is a country bumpkin and absurdly loyal to his master but he can't help wanting more out of his life. The prose of his life story is funny, terrifying, and inspiring. It's darkly humorous look at modern day India will definitely compel the reader. Overall, a great book.

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Allingham: Desperate Ride

John Horst manages to once again bring to life a western drama that will leave readers wanting more. Not content to let lawmen, Allingham, get all the credit, Horst introduces a variety of new characters (as well as old ones) to seek justice and save the day.

Ramon la Garza is on the run after he kills a rude white rancher in self defense. Thad Hall is dead set on revenging his brother's killer and immediately sets off to find and kill Ramon. Allingham's right hand man, Hobbs and his hard headed Mexican wife, Rosalie, team up with Pierce (half brother to Thad and the murdered rancher) and Old Pop to track down and stop Thad before he catches up with Ramon. Allingham would have come along on the ride but he is stuck at home trying to find a gruesome serial killer who has been killing and mutilating red-headed prostitutes. The two stories are threaded together more than anyone can imagine and Hobbs and Allingham have their hands full trying to keep the peace.

In true western style, this book is a page turner as the reader desperately tries to predict the outcome (you won't!). Another great installment from John Horst :)

Sunday, June 9, 2013

In Her Shoes

I won't lie, I wasn't expecting much out of this book. In fact, I didn't even want to read it, if it wasn't for my book club I never would have picked it up. I'm not big into chick-lit and the whole premise of this book sounded uninteresting. I'm glad to report that I was very wrong!

The story follows two sisters who can't be more dissimilar. Rose is the responsible older sister who went to college, landed a great job at a law firm, she has the brains. Maggie on the other hand is irresponsible, can't ever hold down a job, and has a learning disability. She may not have the brains but she has the amazing body that her frumpy sister always dreamed about. Maggie loses her job, gets evicted, and has to say with Rose until she can turn her luck around. Rose is at her wits end and finally snaps when she catches her freeloading sister having sex with her boyfriend. Rose unceremoniously kicks them both to the curb and tries to come to term with what happened. Maggie on the other hand has no place to go and sleeps from place to place until she ends up finding her long lost grandmother in Florida.

This story is about a sisters love and how much it can handle before it breaks. But does it ever truly go away? Is sister's bond for life?

Really not bad for chick lit. I look forward to watching the movie!

Saturday, June 8, 2013

Leave of Absence - Blog Tour

Mental illness carries such a stigma which is a damn shame because it is infinitely more complicated and confusing then we can ever imagine. Tanya J. Peterson does a masterful job of shedding light onto one of the most pressing and important topics of our generation. The media exploits mass killings, suicides, and health care to such an extant that mental health is put in very a negative spotlight. Keeping an open mind about mental illness is the only way we can begin to understand the complexities of it. We take medicine for our bodies when something is wrong so why is there such a stigma when we take medicine for our minds?

Peterson's story follows Penelope and Oliver, two people who are suffering from something outside their control. Oliver is admitted to Airhaven behavioral treatment center after he attempts jumping off an 18 story building hoping to end the guilt he has for not being able to save his wife and child from their untimely deaths. While there, he meets charismatic Penelope, a kind hearted woman who is suffering from schizophrenia. Other patients shun Penelope who is prone to make outbursts or cause a scene but Oliver finds a kindred spirit. Their journey towards healing and coming to terms with life outside the treatment center is humbling. Peterson really illuminates the characters raw emotions and the reader can't help but feel connected to these two poor souls as they to find reasons to live for in a world so un-accepting of their conditions. 

To date the only books I've read that deal with mental illness are: "Silver Lining's Playbook" and "The Curious Incident of the Nighttime Dog." This book however goes above and beyond and manages to humanize people who are suffering from many different forms of mental illness. It is a true eye opener. What books on mental illness have you read? What about movies? Why does our culture place such a negative stigma on mental health?

Thanks for reading!

Wednesday, June 5, 2013


This is one of those books that I can't believe I'm just now reading. Like, literally, where have I been?!? Why did I not pick this up sooner! I haven't found a dragon book this good in ages. This is one of those rare books that happens to be so ridiculously imaginative that you wonder what you've been reading all your life. Rachel Hartman creates a unique world where dragons live in peace with humans by transforming into human form. Things aren't always easy though. Even though there is peace, there is still mixed emotions, humans still despise and fear the dragons. What they don't know is that there are a few half breeds living amongst them. Seraphina always thought she was alone but when shit hits the fan she will have to use her special skills to help keep the peace.

Seriously, read this. Amazing book from first time author, Hartman. You. Won't. Regret. It!

Monday, June 3, 2013

Library Journal Audiobook Review - The Woman Upstairs

Messud, Claire. The Woman Upstairs. 9 CDs. unabridged. 11 hrs. Books on Tape, an imprint of the Random House Audio Publishing Group. 2013. ISBN 9780307913623.
Claire Messud returns with another intimate and piercing novel that takes the reader into the unfulfilled life of Nora Eldridge, an elementary schoolteacher who once dreamed of being an accomplished artist, but realizes all too late that her dreams and ambitions have been put to the wayside for others. Her life takes an unexpected turn when the cosmopolitan Shahid family moves in from Paris. Nora is fiercely drawn to their son, a student in her class, his mother, an accomplished artist, and his dashing father, someone she can't help fantasizing about. Nora finds herself trying to get as involved in their lives as she can, until she ultimately realizes the cost of living vicariously through others. Voice actress, Cassandra Campbell, does a beautiful job of narrating Nora's inner struggles. The listener easily gets lost in the beauty of her voice and the conviction of her struggles. - Erin Cataldi, Franklin College, Franklin, IN