DNF: Relentless

I really don’t do a lot of DNFing (that’s Did Not Finish). I suppose that is, in part, because I’m generally quite deliberate with the books I choose to start. And it’s also because sometimes I’m willing to let reading experiences drag on to great lengths – case in point, this book, that took me half of 2015 to finish, and this article, that sat in my inbox for 3 years. (For the record, both were totally worth the time).

Anyway, a team of my co-workers and I had recently decided to do a little work-book-club, where we’d read a business-related book to discuss. After soliciting nominations, and voting on the top choices, we came up with a book called Relentless: From Good to Great to Unstoppable. By title, of course, this sounds like a great choice, right? Let’s push ourselves to be the best we can be, and all that jazz.

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But no.

It was so, so bad. So bad, that I officially/inadvertently killed the book club (or, more accurately, killed that book, so we moved on to choice 2, but it sounds so much more dramatic to say “I killed the book club!”)

To save you from this reading experience, I’d like to share some of the quotes from this book. To give you the proper context, the author Tim Grover, is a trainer for elite athletes. Primarily, he references his work with Michael Jordan, Kobe Bryant, and Dwayne Wade. Anyway, Grover’s “leadership” model is based on 3 types of people, “coolers, closers, and cleaners.” You don’t really have to understand anymore than that to get the most out of these quotes.

Here’s the first place I almost stopped reading, on principle:

A Cleaner controls his urges, not the other way around. The dark side isn’t about taking stupid risks and getting in trouble; that would show weakness. You can feel your desires and act on them, or not act on them; your self-control is what distinguishes you from everyone else. You can walk away or hold back whenever you choose. You reach for the bottle because you want a drink, not because you need one. You can have the hottest women, enjoy them all, but never get too involved.

Wait, did he seriously just say that? Objectifying women as something you “have,” as part of what you should aspire to be if you want to be relentless? *Vomit*

Yet I continued:

Cleaners go home to detach from the dark side; it’s the built-in safety valve. That’s why so many men fight to stay in their marriages even after they’ve been caught doing something they shouldn’t have been doing: home is the only safe place they know. Home surrounds you with comfort and security; the force of the dark side comes from somewhere else. You go home to feel safe and loved, you go out to feel excitement… you may not want to admit it, but you can’t deny it. The fire in your gut comes from the dark side, and the dark side has no place at the family dinner table…

I don’t know if there’s a better example than Tiger Woods, who’s now-famous dark side led him to become involved with a dozen or so women who were not his wife. Of course, that number of women would be a slow week for some pro athletes…

WTAF? So, “relentless” individuals must cultivate a safe space at home, but then also find outlets for their “dark side.” Is that what he is saying?

Why, yes, actually it is:

When a cleaner wants a break from the pressure he puts on himself, he escapes to the dark side. Something else for him to control, a temporary fix that maintains the pressure but allows him to shift his focus from one addiction to another for a while. Instead of working, he reaches for sex.

This book is shit.

I killed* the book club, and I’m not sorry about it.

*Not entirely true. We’ve moved on to the second choice: Delivering Happiness: A Path to Profits, Passion, and Purpose by the CEO of Zappos. Hello, shoes. Goodbye, sleazeball misogynist athletic trainer.

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2015 TBR Challenge Review: Swamplandia!

Swamplandia!, Karen Russell

Hardcover, 316 pages

Published February 1st 2011 by Knopf

Source: I don’t even remember!

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From Goodreads…

The Bigtree alligator wrestling dynasty is in decline — think Buddenbrooks set in the Florida Everglades — and Swamplandia!, their island home and gator-wrestling theme park, is swiftly being encroached upon by a sophisticated competitor known as the World of Darkness.

Ava, a resourceful but terrified twelve year old, must manage seventy gators and the vast, inscrutable landscape of her own grief. Her mother, Swamplandia!’s legendary headliner, has just died; her sister is having an affair with a ghost called the Dredgeman; her brother has secretly defected to the World of Darkness in a last-ditch effort to keep their sinking family afloat; and her father, Chief Bigtree, is AWOL. To save her family, Ava must journey on her own to a perilous part of the swamp called the Underworld, a harrowing odyssey from which she emerges a true heroine.

Another 2015 TBR Challenge book off my list!  I’m sad that saying I finished is the most exciting thing I can say about Swamplandia!  I thought I was sure to love this book – and I don’t even know why I was so sure.  I’m not a swamp person, I’m not a reptile person – but who doesn’t love a good coming of age story?  I tried Swamplandia! when it first came out but wasn’t in the mood, this time I made it my book club selection for the month so I’d be sure to get through (My apologies to anyone not at book club this month).

Ava Bigtree comes from a family of alligator wrestlers.  Her goal in life is to become as accomplished a wrestler as her late mother and in doing so to save her family’s theme park -Swamplandia!  Ava lives with her father Chief Bigtree, her brother Kiwi and her sister Osceola and all the “Seth’s” which is the family name for the gators.  Clearly this book was always going to be a bit different, I just didn’t expect it to be quite so bizarre.

Was this book really magical realism?  Was it just that I didn’t believe in the ghosts that Osceola was talking about that I missed the magic?   Ava’s teenage brother Kiwi runs away to work at a competing theme park- the World of Darkness.  The World of Darkness features such things as a blood red swimming pool and an entrance through the Hellmouth.  WTF.  Maybe that was why I couldn’t get into this book- who wants to swim in a blood red pool? Ewww.

I don’t want to say exactly what happened that finally totally turned me off the book, but I can say it was about page 268 and IT WAS JUST WRONG.  I had convinced myself you weren’t going there Swamplandia! and you kind of crushed me.  And then there was no resolution! The book just wrapped up too quickly for all the trudging through the swamp and through the freaking Hellmouth that you put me through.  Maybe I’ll enjoy Karen Russell more in short stories?  Her other books are still on my TBR!

Now what do I try to check off my list next?!  I’ll take any suggestions!

Review: Alpha Goddess

Alpha Goddess, Amalie Howard

Amanda

Published March 18th 2014 by Sky Pony Press

Hardcover, 384 pages

From Goodreads

In Serjana Caelum’s world, gods exist. So do goddesses. Sera knows this because she is one of them. A secret long concealed by her parents, Sera is Lakshmi reborn, the human avatar of an immortal Indian goddess rumored to control all the planes of existence. Marked by the sigils of both heaven and hell, Sera’s avatar is meant to bring balance to the mortal world, but all she creates is chaos. A chaos that Azrath, the Asura Lord of Death, hopes to use to unleash hell on earth.

Torn between reconciling her past and present, Sera must figure out how to stop Azrath before the Mortal Realm is destroyed. But trust doesn’t come easy in a world fissured by lies and betrayal. Her best friend Kyle is hiding his own dark secrets, and her mysterious new neighbor, Devendra, seems to know a lot more than he’s telling. Struggling between her opposing halves and her attraction to the boys tied to each of them, Sera must become the goddess she was meant to be, or risk failing, which means sacrificing the world she was born to protect.

Alpha Goddess had so much potential!  I was totally sucked into the idea of the story and that gorgeous cover.   I’m don’t know a lot about Hindu mythology, but I find the little I have read so interesting.  I was really excited to read a story that brought Indian gods and goddesses to present life.  Unfortunately there was just way too much going on.  I could barely keep all the parties straight and at one point I realized I just didn’t care to try anymore.

I liked Sera in the beginning.  She’s having terrifying dreams as she turned 16-bloody kisses and monsters and is hiding them from her parents.  She comes to learn that she is a goddess reborn -awesome right?  She kind of sulks about this and proceeds to act basically like a petulant child.  She also finds out she’s not just an average looking teen-her beauty is so much it had to be hidden away and its painful for a mere mortal to gaze upon.  Really?  That seems like a great message.  I won’t even get into the love triangle she gets herself into-because she’s not just Sera anymore now. She’s now remembering her past lives and loves-and they’re still part of her life.  It was all too much to keep straight.

The end explodes into a major battle between gods and demons, but even that couldn’t keep my attention.  Sera stopped to chat way too many times it seemed when she could have been saving the world.  She was way too consumed with her love options.  The concept of this book was fantastic, but the execution was really lacking.

So sadly I’m still on the lookout for a book about Hindu mythology.  Any recommendations?

1 star

Thank you Sky Pony Press and NetGalley for this advance copy in exchange for an honest review.

Review: Turned


Turned (The Belladonna Agency #1), Virna DePaul

Reviewed by Amanda

Published April 1st 2014 by Bantam

384 pages

Source: NetGalley

From Goodreads…

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Welcome to a mesmerizing world where vampires hide among humans. This centuries-old species has its own rules, code of conduct, and taboos. Only the FBI knows that vampires exist—and although the Bureau agrees to keep their secret, it also plots to give humans the upper hand.

Turning mortals into vampires is forbidden.

But there are creatures who refuse to play by the rules.

Ever since he was turned, FBI special agent Ty Duncan has had one mission: bring rogue vampires to justice. As a recruiter for Belladonna, a shadow agency formed to keep vampires in check, Ty must tap Ana Martin, a troubled ex–gang member and one of the few mortals who can infiltrate places that his kind and the law cannot. From their first encounter, Ty fights a hunger to make Ana his own.

When Ty claims to have information about Ana’s missing sister, Ana has no choice but to trust this captivating stranger who awakens her deepest desires. But as she and Ty climb the heights of pleasure and passion, an enemy is conspiring to destroy them both.

Can Ana help Ty find his humanity in a love that could heal them both, or will their passion lead them into a darkness impossible to escape?

I admit, I read some less than brilliant books from time to time.   Continue reading

Review: The Snow Queen

The Snow Queen, Alana Albertson

Amanda

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From Goodreads.com

Five years ago, Cambridge Ballet’s Sugar Plum Fairy vanished after performing The Nutcracker. Despite extensive city and statewide searches, no traces of her, besides her ballet slippers, were ever found. Every year since, another member of the cast has gone missing after closing night: a Spanish Hot Chocolate, an Arabian Dancer, The Dew Drop Fairy, a Flower. Nieves Alba, who as a thirteen-year-old played Clara in the first ill-fated performance, is now cast as the Snow Queen. On closing night, every police officer in Boston surrounds the theater, determined to catch the perpetrator whom they’ve dubbed “The Nutcracker.” Can Nieves break the curse or will she be the next victim of America’s favorite ballet?

Thank you Netgalley and Bolero Books for this ebook.  This cover is so pretty I was drawn to this novella immediately.  I love the Nutcracker and was intrigued by the mystery surrounding the missing dancers.  The story begins with Nieves watching the drama of the Sugar Plum Fairy’s disappearance, and unfortunately she takes that moment to give you a clue that you can’t miss of what has happened to the ballerina.

Spoilers ahead.

Flash forward 5 years and Nieves is about to dance herself as the Snow Queen.  She is nervous about disappearing this year, but has no doubts about dating the ex-boyfriend of the missing Sugar Plum Fairy.  I was pretty much done with Mikhail when he opened his door for Nieves holding a dress and told her “I prefer when ladies dress like ladies.  Change into this.”  I was also pretty much done with Nieves when she “touched the back of my neck and felt a drop of blood, which wasn’t shocking because Mikhail and I couldn’t keep our hands off each other last night.”  Ew.  How kinky are you getting that you’re bleeding from the neck and its ok?

I felt like Albertson had a lot of potential with this idea of this story, but sadly it wrapped up too quickly and really lost me with the douchey boyfriend.  The snow globes could have been so cool!  How did the dancers manage to escape?  If they can visit other snow globes I want to see that!  Is no one still looking for Nieves?  What happened when she disappeared?

If you’re looking for a very light holiday read and love ballet you might enjoy this. It really only took me about an hour to finish.

One star.

Review – Jeneration X

Title: Jeneration X: One Reluctant Adult’s Attempt to Unarrest Her Arrested Development; Or, Why It’s Never Too Late for Her Dumb Ass to Learn Why Froot Loops Are Not for Dinner

Author: Jen Lancaster

Reviewed by Holly

Before I review this book, I feel like I must provide some context (and yes, about 75% of the time, if you ask me a simple question, this is how I begin).

Saturday, I ran a half marathon. Monday, I picked up a book from the library about John Brown and the Civil War. I just want to get those facts out there before admitting that I spent Tuesday night sitting on the couch eating M&Ms and reading this book.

And, for further context, I really struggle with the idea of # ratings for books, because, well, I make it a point to not ready crappy books (or so I thought). I figured that probably 80% of what I review will be solid 3 star selections, with some venturing into the territory of books I can’t shut up about.

I think it’s pretty clear where this is going.

I did not enjoy this book.

(I didn’t really enjoy my M&Ms either, but I finished both so that I could move on to better choices. Perhaps the wiser choice would have been to put down both. Or at least the book. But, I did recently come across the term brilliant term hate-reading. I shall not link to any teenage vampire books, but I assure you that I am familiar with the concept of hate reading.)

Back to Jen. I feel like I can call her Jen. I laughed out loud through Bitter is the New Black. I related to her struggles in Such a Pretty Fat (see M&Ms, above). I too appreciate the mecca of Tar-jay, and also have a deep and abiding love for pork chops.

I read her first three books years ago, and then I took a long hiatus, mostly because Pretty in Plaid was the next to come out and it was a hardcover and – ain’t nobody got time for that.

Recently, thanks to paperbackswapping and a sister who is a good sharer, I found myself in possession of Pretty in Plaid, My Fair Lazy, Jeneration X, and The Tao of Martha.

I read My Fair Lazy, and, it was okay. I finished it, sent it off though paperback swap, and promptly erased most of it from my mind. I read Pretty in Plaid, and I liked that more than I thought I would, especially because the stories were new, and included (exaggerated and revisionist maybe, but still fun) glimpses of Jen’s childhood and her career pre-Bitter. I read The Tao of Martha, and I really liked that more than I expected, and have in fact highly recommended it to a couple people.

Then I read Jeneration X, because I thought that it would be a quick read and fun book to review next. Quick, yes. Fun, well, I’m 500 words deep here, and have yet to review the book, so how’s that working out?

This book…is just not good. The other books were all centered around a theme (losing weight is hard! karma is a bitch! being organized makes life less stressful! clothes!) – Jeneration X started with a forward about being, apparently, a hard-working Gen Xer stuck between unrealistic boomers and entitled millennials, and ended with a rant about occupy wall street (non-sequitur, much?) but other than that, seemed to be a cluster of stories that didn’t match very well and were not in any particular order – the cats had died and then the cats were still alive. And “I can’t have a court date then because I’m getting an award,” followed by, “Oh, I got a letter in the mail about getting an award!” Not to mention, I spent at least 60% of this book thinking that I had read it already because I knew so many of the stories:  Jen buys a Barbie head on an Ambien trip. Jen and Stacy are BFFs, and did you know you can buy Stacy’s book too? Jen and Fletch move to the suburbs. New puppy!

However, I finally got to the weird story about Jen’s stalker/mailer, which I didn’t remember, ergo, I must not have read the book. (Also, I tried to find the scoop on that situation on the internets, but I couldn’t come up with anything.)

To further belabor my point, this is my interpretation of how Jeneration X came into being. I’m speculating on a few details here, but this is how it feels as a reader.

  1. Jen writes three best-selling books about going from being an a-hole to becoming a better person in one way or another.
  2. Next, Jen writes childhood memoir. This is still best-selling, I’m sure, but she lost me there with the hardcover thing.
  3. Jen makes fun of teenage vampires on her blog. I love her again.
  4. Jen has ideas to write more memoirs, including “become more cultured and less of an asshole” and “volunteering to be less of an asshole. Also, she decides to write fiction.
  5. Jen writes the book about becoming more cultured.
  6. Jen starts to work on the volunteering memoir but that doesn’t work as expected – she alludes to this in Jeneration X.
  7. Jen is on a rigid writing schedule. She told us all about it in The Tao of Martha…must write two books a year, and go on tours, and deadlines are very stressful. (I am not sympathetic.)
  8. Jen must write something for said schedule, so she throws some stories  together and wraps them up with a loose  “theme” about becoming more adult.

This does not work. Happily, I really think she got it back in The Tao of Martha. And, I’ll probably read the novel at some point, but I just can’t do it right now.

(Did you know that Amanda made us a Twitter and Jen Lancaster is one of the first people she/we followed? I should probably not tweet her this review though. Good thing I don’t know how to work the Twitter.)

Rating – ONE STAR