The Andy Cohen Diaries – by Andy Cohen

wpid-20151003_100834.jpgAndy Cohen’s latest book, The Andy Cohen Diaries: A Deep Look at a Shallow Year, is, on its face, a shallow look at a year of the-mad-reviewer-reading-challenge-2015Andy’s life.  However, dig a bit deeper while reading this book and you can see that there is a bit more to Andy Cohen than party hopping, name dropping, and drinking.  Cohen cares deeply about the city he lives in, has a wonderful relationship with his parents, and seemingly became a better person after adopting his dog Wacha.

Admittedly, no one should read this book expecting a stellar literary experience (though it is well written). What you can except to read about is Cohen’s party life, his drama dealing with various Housewives (from Bravo’s various Real Housewives of… series), and his struggle to get in shape. All of this is a fun read. Cohen has a close circle of (famous) friends who play a big part in his life. He also has a great relationship with his parents, who are a big part of his life as well.  His search for companionship brings Wacha, his rescued Beagle mix, into his world, which allows the reader to see Cohen is capable of finding love. Throughout the book Cohen laments the gentrification of his beloved NYC – local businesses being pushed out by sky-high rents, chain stores or franchises replacing mom and pop type stores, etc. – all of which serve to take away what makes NYC unique.

The last two items, Wacha and his sadness of the changing storefronts of local NYC, were the most interesting part for me to read. Sure it’s fun to read about Cohen partying with Kelly Ripa and her husband, his European vacation with AC (Anderson Cooper), and his Met Ball experience with Sarah Jessica Parker, but a diary should connect on a personal level as well. Cohen does that when he talks about Wacha – when it sunk in that Wacha was in a kill shelter and how, after initially having Wacha live with him for a few days, he knew Wacha was his dog –  his own romance with NYC, and his love for his hometown baseball teams, the St. Louis Cardinals. These items are why I found Diaries to be a fun read.

Diaries is a fun read, and while shallow (as the title says), lets the reader see what Cohen cares about.  Family, friends, Wacha, and love are the things that really appear to touch Cohen’s life. That’s what makes this book interesting and a bit less shallow.

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Hostile Takeover by Shane Kuhn

HostileTakeoverWhat’s an amiable assassin to do when the woman he loves tries to kill him and the company he’s worked for all his life betrays him? the-mad-reviewer-reading-challenge-2015Why, marry that woman and aggressively take over the betraying company, of course. John Lago, the likable assassin from The Intern’s Handbook, is back in Hostile Takeover, by Shane Kuhn.  This time John is fighting for a life with Alice while at the same time trying to get Human Resources, Inc., running in his vision.  Though things don’t go as smoothly as John would like.  Helming HR, Inc. with Alice is troublesome.  Alice wants to run things her way while John wants it to go another way.  Add to that a mysterious client whom Alice is not willing to reveal to John, and you have trouble in paradise.

Hostile Takeover (HT) is the second book in the John Lago series.  I wouldn’t call this a sequel since the story stands on its own and there’s enough background on John and Alice’s past you don’t need to read the first book (though, I highly recommend you do).  HT offers more depth into John’s character and is really about John and Alice’s relationship.  Running a company is hard enough.  Throw your spouse into it and things get downright contentious.  John and Alice start things off great and the honeymoon stage is everything John dreamed of.  However when John and Alice get started with the business side of their relationship, things go downhill fast.  John has a weakness of not taking people out when he should, and that comes back to bite him in the ass in the most inopportune moment.  Alice is a cutthroat as ever, as well as a bad-ass who shouldn’t be messed with. John’s got a real battle on his hands this time around.

I’ve read comparisons where Shane Kuhn is said to be in the same vein as Quentin Tarantino in terms of the feel of his books (Dexter is another but I haven’t read/seen either so won’t speak to that).  I think Kuhn is more along the lines of Robert Rodriguez (Desperado, Once Upon a Time in Mexico). Kuhn’s stories have more substance and intelligence to them than coincidence and luck (Tarantino vs. Rodriguez).  HT has a bit of a slower pace than Intern’s Handbook, but the action sequences are well written and easy to visualize. John Lago is a fun and enjoyable character who is determined to find happiness in his life. Kuhn does a good job of tying things up at the end, while also leaving room for future stories to happen.

I highly recommend Hostile Takeover (as well as The Intern’s Handbook). It’s a good, enjoyable read, with a likable main character who is easy to root for.

The Dead Lands by Benjamin Percy

wpid-20150621_152529.jpgThere have always been the restless souls.  Those among us who have to break free, to see other sites, to find somethe-mad-reviewer-reading-challenge-2015thing new or different. The desire and need to explore has always been present.  This time, familiar names are once again exploring – Lewis and Clark.  Similar names, different souls. The route is similar as well, but the land has been ravaged.

Mankind, after an unstoppable flu swept through the land, let loose their most destructive weapons in hopes of stopping the unstoppable.  The land is now inhospitable and toxic, the sun’s rays lashing skin with reckless abandon, creatures, malformed from the fallout, lurk everywhere.  This version of Lewis is reluctant and unsure.  This Clark, a female, more confident in her desire that they will find a livable terrain.  Their home, St. Louis was their Sanctuary.  It was turned to a living prison by a megalomaniac mayor.  Lewis and Clark secretly head out, following Gaewa,  the mysterious black eyed stranger, to an unknown land looking for resources and a better life.  The search for a better life won’t be an easy one  – not for Lewis and Clark and not for those left behind in Sanctuary.  

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Me and B. Percy

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B. Percy

Benjamin Percy’s most recent book, The Dead Lands, has a quote on the cover from Stephen King reading “Good God, what a tale. Don’t miss it.” While my reaction to the book wasn’t quite as enthusiastic, I do agree with King.  The Dead Lands is a great tale and has the feel of an epic journey.  The story is engrossing and wraps you into a cocoon of a pleasing narrative.  Lewis Meriwether and Mina Clark, a post-apocalyptic rendering of the original explorers, make a good team.  Clark, an alcoholic, and Lewis, a drug addicted hermit, offer a good balance to one another. They eventually come to rely on each other as well.  The events in Sanctuary serve as a secondary story.  I enjoyed finding out how life continued on for those living in Sanctuary after Lewis and Clark’s departure.  Another aspect I liked was how, just as a chapter was leading to a exciting point, Percy cut away to action in another spot.  Initially making me want to keep on reading to find out what just happened, then finding myself engrossed in the new chapter, to only be ripped away again.

I had the opportunity to go see Benjamin Percy at a local bookstore as part of his tour in support of The Dead Lands. It has been my favorite author event to date.  Percy has a deep, booming voice reminiscent of a movie trailer announcer.  In person he’s an excellent storyteller and very captivating to listen to. One thing he mentioned was how sometimes the lead up to the conclusion was much more exciting than the actual ending.  The anticipation sometimes getting the better of you with expectations being much higher than they should be. He conveyed this in what I thought was an extremely funny, long-story joke.  The punch line was very “ugh, really?”, but the lead up to it and the story surrounding it was very satisfying, making up for the mediocre ending.  If you ever have the chance to go see him, don’t miss it.  It’ll be well worth your time.

The Dead Lands was an enjoyable read.  It’s definitely much more of a tale that engrosses you than a story you can read and set aside and go back to. The post-apocalyptic setting seems very feasible given the threat of mass-destruction weapons in today’s reality. Percy is a eloquent writer but sometimes tends towards the too wordy.  That being said, I’d take a well written, too wordy story over a badly written, short line story any day.

If you like books that take you on a journey this one’s for you.

Finders Keepers by Stephen King

wpid-20150621_152459.jpgA fan so obsessed with an author that he’s willing to kill that author in order to seek vengeance.  Vengeance solely for the fact he the-mad-reviewer-reading-challenge-2015didn’t like the direction of the last book and that the author hasn’t published anything new in years.  That’s the basic premise in Stephen King’s most recent novel Finders Keepers.  Morris Bellamy, the obsessed fan, does the unthinkable and breaks into author John Rothstein’s home, in order to find notebooks of unpublished material Rothstein is rumored to keep in his home.  And oh, there’s some money too, but that’s only an extra bonus for Bellamy.  It’s the unpublished material Bellamy is most concerned with.  The material that could contain more about his favorite character: Jimmy Gold.  After the break-in, murder of Rothstein, and subsequent theft of said notebooks and cash, Bellamy stashes his bounty with plans to read the notebooks at a later date.  Bellamy, being a criminal, ends up getting locked up for another crime, causing him to be separated for years from the one thing he believes will give him satisfaction.

Flash forward a few decades to come across Pete Saubers.  Pete’s dad was a victim of the Mr. Mercedes attack and his dad has been out of work since then due to the injuries he sustained.  Pete’s mom and dad are pushed to the brink financially and emotionally. The stress of living off of one paltry income is getting to them and they argue quite often.  During one of these arguments Pete runs out and retreats to the path behind his house.  He stumbles upon something buried and finds Bellamy’s buried treasure. The money can help his family out but the notebooks are what eventually capture Pete’s attention. This puts him on a collision course with Bellamy. Bill Hodges, Holly Gibney, and Jerome Robinson (the detective trio from Mr. Mercedes) must find a way to help Pete avoid a deadly encounter due to his find.

Finders Keepers is the second book in the Mr Mercedes trilogy.  However this second book didn’t read or feel like it was part of a trilogy. Yes there are connecting factors but this book does a good job of standing on its own.  The first third of the book didn’t even reference Mr. Mercedes, instead telling Bellamy’s story.  I found this refreshing since it allowed this book to not fall into any standard trilogy trope (this is what happened before, and these people are, etc.).  Even the appearance of the detective trio didn’t take center stage.  This was more about Bellamy and Saubers and how obsession can ruin a life if you let it.  This is the second time King writes about fan obsession and it was good to see he took a different approach this time. Every fan is different and a separate plot from a previous work is key to making the book interesting.

This isn’t King’s best work, it was a fun read but not quite on par with some of King’s better books.  Don’t get me wrong – I really enjoyed this book and I think most King fans and non-fans will as well.  There was a good pace and the story-line never felt bogged down.  The ending seems to allude to a potential thread into the third book so it will be interesting to see how all three fit together when the final book comes out.

As is usually the case with King books, this Constant Reader was very happy to have read this book and is looking forward to what comes next.

Geek Love by Katherine Dunn

wpid-wp-1430695292813.jpgThe Binewski’s are a self-made freak show of a traveling carnival.  Arturo, the water boy, has flippers rather than arms and lthe-mad-reviewer-reading-challenge-2015egs, Iphy and Elly, the signing Siamese twins, who tend towards brutal battles between themselves, Oly, the disappointing albino hunchback, and Chick, who looks completely normal but has a gift that could make or break the family.  Al inherited the carnival from his father and when times started changing resulting in sparse attendance, Al decided he and his wife “Crystal” Lil would start their own self-contained freak show.  Lil, while pregnant (and while not) took drugs and radioactive material to purposely alter the appearance of their children.  The results were more than they could hope for and allowed the carnival to become popular once again.  Al and Lil sound like the worst kind of parents – willingly altering their children’s appearance in order to keep the show on the road.  Even though Al and Lil did horrible things to bring forth such children, Al and Lil love and care for their kids.  However, the desire for the most freakish of appearances causes internal strife with the offspring, Arturo being the worst of the bunch.

Geek Love, by Katherine Dunn, is a whole different take on family values and one’s perception of “normal.”  Narrated/told by Oly, Geek Love reveals how the family sees their altered appearances as normal and desirable, and sees those not like them as the freaks of the world – referred to as “norms” with scathing derision. Oly tells of her love for Arturo and how that is never enough for him. How Arturo’s desire to be the most popular attraction whittles away at the family’s unity and leads to competition.  Arturo starts a most bizarre cult of followers, who desire to be limbless devotees and worshipers. Arturo’s self-serving ways are most identifiable when Chick comes into the world and Arturo’s need to be the top dog drives the family to places they can never come back from.

The book flips from past to present, with Oly trying to hide her true identity from her daughter Miranda, whose only freakish feature is a tail she keeps hidden unless she is performing.  I found myself hoping that Oly would let Miranda know she was her mother.  Oly is a character the reader can relate to – she wants the love and affection of her family.  Her wholesome acceptance of  her appearance is an inspiration to everyone – what is seen as weird and ugly is all within the eye of the beholder, as well as the confidence that comes with it.

Geek Love will leave the reader with a new sense of what is acceptable, both in terms of appearance and in terms of what the love of a family means to someone.  Some scenes are brutally descriptive and hard to read, but all well worth the read.

The Room by Jonas Karlsson

wpid-wp-1430695210720.jpgBjorn just started a new position at his government office.  The downside to the new position is the open-work space the-mad-reviewer-reading-challenge-2015. Bjorn finds the set-up odd but he quickly settles into a routine.  Bjorn works for 55 minutes then gets up and walks around, uses the restroom, scopes out his co-workers, etc.  One day Bjorn notices a room not far from the restroom. Why doesn’t anyone else see this room and why isn’t anyone using it, Bjorn wonders.  At first he passes by the room each day with barely a thought.  Then Bjorn starts to go into the room each day and he couldn’t be happier.  Bjorn’s co-workers think he’s gone crazy.  Each day the see him go stand by the wall, completely motionless, oblivious to any noise, sound, or conversation occurring around him.  His co-workers try to get him fired for being off-balance and incompetent.  Little do they know, Bjorn will find a way to make them seem like the incompetent ones.

The Room by Jonas Karlsson starts off as a humorous book, with Bjorn’s interactions taking on a slight feel of The Office.  After sometime it’s hard to determine, does the room really exist or is Bjorn as crazy as he seems.  It appears the struggle to fit into today’s vision of what makes a productive office vs. what works for the individual is the key to making a successful employee.  The Room also takes on a bit of a more somber tone midway through.  Is Bjorn meant to be a solitary person and is that the key to his success?  It’s up to the reader to decide.

The Room is a short, quick read that left me with a sense of sadness as well as thoughts to not judge others for their own idiosyncrasies. Does the room actually exist or did Bjorn make it up to give him a feeling of superiority over others. You’ll have to read for yourself to make that determination.

Holy Cow by David Duchovny

Cow

A cow, a pig, and a turkey walk onto a plane.  Seriously, they walk onto a plane and fly to the middle east where theythe-mad-reviewer-reading-challenge-2015 inadvertently unite the Palestinians and the Israelis.  Elsie Bovary is a cow who was happy with her grass chewing life.  One day, she ends up peering into the window of the farm-house and finds out there’s something called an “industrial meat farm.”  This shakes her world to the core and Elsie is determined to leave farm life and her bleak future far behind.  Shalom (f/k/a Jerry),  the pig, and Tom, the turkey, get wind of Elsie’s plan and decide to join her on her quest to find a better life.  Together they find their way to an airport, fly to foreign lands, and come to the realization that what is imagined doesn’t always work out.

Holy Cow by David Duchovny is a dry, witty book full of humor, self-realization, and apparent unintentional peace making.  I have to admit my initial draw to this book was based on the author alone.  I’m a big Duchovny fan and have always liked his sense of humor.  I read the book description and it was a no brainer for me since I enjoy books written in this tone.  Duchovny peppers in pop culture and rock music references, along with words on how to live in harmony with the world and one another, throughout the book.  Elsie even slips in names of who should play whom for any script writers that may be reading.  Admittedly this book won’t be for everyone – Elsie’s and her cow friend Mallory use “cray cray” and other slang terms – and the target audience seems a bit jumbled.  This isn’t exactly a kids book since the humor is far more on the adult side, though there are several references on how to read certain things to your kids within the story.  Tom and Shalom are good counterparts to Elsie and provide the extra comic relief, even when not needed.

If you enjoy slightly off books that are witty and humorous, this book is for you.  Even if you are just a David Duchovny fan, this one is for you.  The book read as I imagined one written by Duchovny would.  I found it thoroughly enjoyable and laughed out loud several times.  Elise and her fellow travelers are a good-hearted lot and make for a fun read.