Brag Book (Not About Me)

Tari Jordan!!!

Readers of this blog are quite familiar with Tari. She’s written several guest posts at The Book Self. She also wrote a review of the movie 68 Kill for my other blog Popcorn In My Bra featuring her favorite actor, the multi-talented Matthew Gray Gubler. Tari is a huge fan of the television show Criminal Minds featuring Mr. Gubler as resident genius of the FBI’s Behavioral Analysis Unit (BAU) Dr. Spencer Reid. Ms. Jordan is the resident genius of her blog Criminal Minds Fans, where she has written about the show for several years now.

Recently Tari got treated to an amazing adventure.

She and her friend Ryka got to visit the Criminal Minds set and learned about the blood, sweat and tears that makes Criminal Minds happen!

But don’t take my word for it. Be a lamb and learn about Tari and Ryka’s excellent journey at Criminal Minds Fans.

(Squeals up in 30 milliseconds)

Once again, congratulations Tari. No matter, what you’re always a winner is my book!

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Guest Review: Goodbye, Good Girl By Renee Blossom-Review by Jen Locke

I’m sure many of you are familiar with Jen Locke. She’s written guest reviews for the books The Drowning Guard earlier this year and wrote a review of A Winsome Murder back in 2013. Now she’s back with another review of Renee Blossom’s book Goodbye, Good Girl, which comes out this October.

I really wanted to like this. So many teenagers and children have absent parents. So when a young woman sets off on a quest to rescue her father from perceived life-threatening danger, it’s an incredibly promising story.

Kandace sets off after an event one afternoon when her mother, Ginger, was taken to the ER for an opiate overdose and a strange, well-armed man had entered the family home looking for her father. Kandace thinks her father is a chef who travels the world, cooking for important people. She can’t reach her father – he won’t answer the phone or text her back. After a visit with her mother, who explains there’s an address for him in her bedroom, Kandace decides it’s her responsibility to find him in California and save his life.

When she arrives in St Louis with her boyfriend, he chickens out and goes home because his mom is telling him that’s what he has to do. Kandace isn’t going home. She’s got too much at risk. So she takes off, leaving everything in his car.

She meets April at a bus stop and April recruits her to try exotic dancing – just for one night – to make enough money to get to LA.

As happens too often to young people, Kandace gets addicted to the attention and the highs, even the highs caused by ecstasy. She truly is her mother’s daughter, huh?

Here’s where things get weird. Okay, extra weird. The club in St Louis is like a magical fantasy version of the most dreamy strip club to work at. Maybe clubs like this exist somewhere. Maybe. Probably not. And if they did, they wouldn’t take a new dancer on the same day they met her. But most clubs don’t have magical church women that come with food, gift baskets, and sage advice. They don’t have a beauty, hair, makeup, whatever area. And they definitely don’t have wardrobe. They have a dressing room. With stations that girls stakeout at the beginning of their shifts. They put their belongings, unsecured usually (though there’s usually always someone around to keep everyone honest), by these stations. They bring their own clothes, do their own makeup and hair, and take care of their own personal grooming on their off time. I know, I’ve worked in one such club. And once you’ve seen one, they’re pretty much all the same – give or take a few details here and there.

Blossom takes this opportunity to try her hand at writing light erotica and it sometimes feels forced.

Kandace (aka Autumn) travels from St Louis to Las Vegas to LA, dancing with April the whole way. They became very close friends very quickly and it might be my general outlook on life, but I was waiting for a big betrayal that never happened.

When Kandace and April arrive in LA and locate Kandace’s father, it turns out that he was never in danger. The heavily-armed man who entered her home is someone he knows and is not a threat. Her father is some clandestine operative that cooks sometimes to gain access to events for his work. And by now, this part of the story feels irrelevant.

The entire way, Kandace is incredibly, unbelievably naïve. Even by the end of the book, her actions and assumptions don’t show much evidence of a maturing young woman. She seems to take time to think through her future, but she’s made her decisions long before she admits to them.

I admit it, I was hoping for some awesome story of a young lady saving her father showing ultimate girl power and bringing the family back together again. That was mostly crushed because Kandace was too impulsive. For someone taking on such an important journey, she really didn’t waste time thinking or planning. And to me, that’s a shame. But the other part that drove me insane? Her father’s reaction to the fact that Kandace is now stripping for money. He can’t allow her the space she needs to be herself, to figure herself out, or to make mistakes. He can’t respect her as a human being. He infantilizes her. It’s horrible misogyny and he angered me to no end.

The redeeming thing about the book? So many stories try to tie things up into tidy little bows and make sure that people are happy. That’s not this book. If anything, there’s a much bigger wedge between Kandace and her father. She’s uncomfortable in her hometown. And she’s moving to a city half a continent away, abandoning her mother and sisters who depend on her (truly her father’s daughter, also), to live with a girl she’s known for all of a week. That’s not a happy ending. Not a tragic ending, either. But it’s how things happen in real life. If there’s one thing the author got right, it’s the ending. It’s how things get messy and mistakes get made and sometimes we can’t take them back. And that’s a valuable thing to learn. I admire authors who can take their story to that place without polishing it up all nice and shiny. Thanks for letting us see that our lives aren’t the only crazy lives out there.

I am grateful to NetGalley and Revolve Publishing for the ARC.

Book Club: Poetry

Several weeks ago I came up with a new idea for this blog I call Book Club. Book Club is where I ask my readers and friends their opinions when it comes to books, writing, authors, and writing. Because April is National Poetry Month I asked a few of my friends to answer a few questions regarding poetry. Here are the initial questions I asked:

  1. What does poetry mean to you?
  2. Who are your favorite poets and why? Name some of you favorite poems and why? (Links or copies of these poems would be greatly appreciated)
  3. Have you ever written poetry? Why or why not? (You can share your original poetry if you want to)
  4. Anything else you would like to add?

The first to answer are my friends Nora and Tari, and here are their very interesting answers in their very own words (nothing edited by me). 

NORA

  1. What does poetry mean to you?

Poetry is very meaningful to me.  It is where all the wordsmiths come together to shine.  It is like the “Auto Show of Literature.”  I call it the Auto Show because basically, you see cars every day, ordinary cars, rusty cars, different brands, these cars are not extraordinary, just useful and functional.  Then you get invited to the “Auto Show”… and the cars there are shiny, luxurious, top- of- the-line in design and function, futuristic, out-of-worldly, gorgeous colors, every detail is amazing and breathtaking!  That is how I view poetry … amazing and breathtaking.

  1. Who are your favorite poets and why? Name some of your favorite poems and why? (Links or copies of these poems would be greatly appreciated)

What I like about most poetry and poets is that there is a very human and urgent need to use words to describe universal feelings and expressions.   Poets are usually ordinary folks who take an extraordinary “look” at what everyone knows and wants.  That’s why the meaning of most poems doesn’t feel dated.

Some of my favorite poets are:

Charles Bukowski:  If you ever wanted to feel “cool” and bask in the sun of “loser-dom” without actually living the pain, Bukowski is your man.  He puts you right there and you see the details of the life of the loner, the drunk, the misfit, the bored, the angry, the sad, and you love his poems for the accuracy and you kinda hate and despise him too.  He’s disgusting to you, but you are grateful to him because you get to live through him without gettingyour hands dirty.  He creates a small beauty in all of his muck.

Here is Bukowski’s poem about his daughter.  It’s called, “Marina.”

Marina

************

majestic, magic

infinite

my little girl is

sun

on the carpet –

out the door

picking a flower, ha!,

an old man,

battle-wrecked,

emerges from his

chair

and she looks at me

but only sees

love,

ha!, and I become

quick with the world

and love right back,

just like I was meant

to do.

Bobby Sands:  (Irish Republican soldier who died in 1981 from hunger in jail after 66 days of starving.  He was protesting against the oppressive British forces who refused to recognize him as a political prisoner, instead of a common criminal).

Bobby Sands is a total romantic character for me.  I used to read his writing when I was a younger girl.  I didn’t really know the particulars or could personally relate to the circumstances of his plight as an IRA soldier, but I could definitely relate to his feelings of being oppressed and confined and written off.  Plus, his need to express himself forced him, in his prison cell, to write on little bits of toilet paper with a pen that he had to hide in one of his personal body cavities.  That is a strong statement on the human need to be heard and what a person would do in order to be heard!

Here is one of my favorite poems of his called “Modern Times”:

It is said we live in modern times,

In the civilized year of ‘seventy-nine,

But when I look around, all I see,

Is modern torture, pain, and hypocrisy.

 

In modern times little children die,

They starve to death, but who dares ask why?

And little girls without attire,

Run screaming, napalmed, through the night alive.

 

And while fat dictators sit upon their thrones,

Young children bury their parents’ bones,

And secret police in the dead of night,

Electrocute the naked woman out of sight.

 

In the gutter lies the black man, dead,

And where the oil flows blackest, the street runs red,

And there was He who was born and came to be,

But lived and died without liberty.

 

As the bureaucrats, speculators and presidents alike,

Pin on their dirty, stinking, happy smiles tonight,

The lonely prisoner will cry out from within his tomb,

And tomorrow’s wretch will leave its mother’s womb!

  1. Have you ever written poetry? Why or why not? (You can share your original poetry if you want to)

Only recently have I tried to write poetry, so it is a brand new skill for me.  I think it never occurred to me to write it before was because of the way it was taught to me as a young student.  I got the impression that poetry could only be written by people who were real writers or English majors, people who were scholarly and knew all the meters and rules of poetry.  And all the poems we read were about love and they rhymed and used Old English or vocabulary that I couldn’t relate to or wrap my mind around.  Poetry felt like calligraphy to me, beautiful to look at, but not necessarily useful for us common folks. Poetry was for those who wanted to impress, not express.

The lack of connection to Poetry pushed me towards the “song.”   Song lyrics became more interesting and relevant to me and they were easier to understand. But lately, since songs to me these days involve instrumentation, musical genres and styles, more about persona and marketing, all this complicates the direct communication of words to ears to meaning.  So with the modern day love of rap music and rappers are becoming modern day wordsmiths, the poem is making a comeback.  Today’s poems have to be impactful, though, pointed, and most of all, socially conscious and reflect part of their listeners’ lives.   Today’s poetry readers have to feel like the poet existed in their minds and said it in the way that they would have said it.

TARI

1) Poetry doesn’t seem to have rules. A poet can evoke any emotion by the fewest words, or the most. Poems are valuable to us in that we don’t necessarily need to understand them to ‘get’ them. They are visceral. Poetry is deeply personal, and can be a full-on attack, or a salve, or anything in-between. Poetry speaks to our singular life experiences, and opens our eyes to other’s. It can be brutally soul-baring, and it can be beautiful, all in the same poem.

2) Charles Bukowski and Emily Dickinson. One is raw like an open wound, the other is genteel, cultured. Both are brilliant, both are honest.

3) I don’t have a favorite from Bukowski. I’m electrified, repulsed, enlightened in some way by most of his work. Emily D never really liked titles, so people gave her poems numbers and used the first line as the title. Poem 314: Hope is the Thing With Feathers is by far my favorite. It’s inspirational and full of that very thing. Hope.

4) I have. Let’s just say I won’t make the mistake of thinking I could maybe ever do that again. So bad.

5) I hold poets, I mean really good poets, in the highest esteem. I believe their ability to cast a naked, unjaded eye and lay bare artifice is unparalleled. I wish I had the ability to turn a phrase like they do, to bend words to their will. As a fiction writer, I use words… poets conduct them.Their social commentary can be, and often is, invaluable and necessary, and it is always deeply rooted in humanity and human emotion, from whatever side they approach. I envy them, even as I celebrate them. I wish I could be them.

Guest Review: Ball Don’t Live by Matt de la Pena review by CoBalt Stargazer

Ball Don't LieBall Don’t Lie was Matt de la Pena’s first book, published in 2005, and it was developed into a movie of the same title starring Chris “Ludacris” Bridges and Rosanna Arquette. de la Pena is a California native, with an MFA in creative writing from San Diego State University. He currently resides in Brooklyn, teaches creative writing and visits high schools across the country.

de la Pena has written ten books, and whatever your opinion of Young Adult books is, Ball Don’t Lie is one of the better examples of the genre. The author won the Newberry Medal earlier this year for Last Stop On Market Street, and I am gradually working my way through the rest of his novels. I recommend trying to locate his work at your local library, or perhaps online at Amazon.

The story opens at a place called Lincoln Rec, which is a local hangout for professional amateur basketball players. Dreadlock Man, with his fierce fists and suspect jump shot, sets his stuff ($1.45 sandals, key to bike lock, extra T-shirt) on the bleachers and holds his hands out for the ball.  Most of the characters go by nicknames, which they were given when they first started playing at the rec center. The exception is Sticky, the book’s protagonist. Sticky is seventeen years old, and he’s been in and out of foster care since he was a kid, due to either behavioral problems or adults who don’t really want the responsibility of taking care of him because he isn’t what they had in mind. At the time the book opens, he’s on his third or fourth set of foster parents.

Sticky has a fairly severe case of a likely un-diagnosed OCD, which affects him even when he’s on the court. He often becomes fixated on sounds, the tone of things, repeating actions over and over again until he’s satisfied with the “PING!” or the “PONG!” Despite the fact that he’s white, this is no story of privilege. While basketball is our hero’s passion, he feels as if that’s the only thing he has going for him. That is until he meets Anh-thu, a pretty Vietnamese girl who works in a clothing store. That he meets her while trying to shoplift from the store where she works is mostly beside the point, although his penchant for theft comes into play later.

The overall point of the book is, Sticky can ball, and the book is full of urban slang on that note. Ball, baller, daps, hoops, etc, but it never comes off as patronizing or condescending. Sticky and his friends, who are mostly older, live the game in between their days at school and at work; but the kid isn’t sure there’s life beyond the court. Skin color aside, society has an impression of him and kids like him; and while he wants to be the “Eminem of hoops” he needs to rise above the self-defeating belief that he can never be anything other than a semi-thug on a basketball court. When Anh-thu enters his life, he becomes almost immediately smitten, even if he isn’t always capable of expressing it.

As the book progresses, his episodes of OCD continue, and as his girlfriend’s birthday approaches he decides to buy a fairly inexpensive stuffed bear, but steal a more costly bracelet as gifts. But although he changes his mind about the bracelet, he ends up using the knife he found to hold up an older man. He finds himself in possession of a little over four hundred dollars, more money than he’s ever seen in one place at one time. He counts it out once, slowly and deliberately….and then his condition kicks in. He’s locked in place, fixated on the bills in his hands, the compulsion to count them out a second and a third time holding him there until someone else comes along and steals it from him, shooting him through the hand in the process because he tries to resist.

Sticky wakes up in the hospital with Anh-thu asleep in the chair beside his bed. The reader gets a potent flashback into his childhood and how he decided his name was always going to be Sticky. His mother, who is only referred to as ‘Baby’, was an off and on drug user with a history of bringing boyfriends home. The reason he ended up in foster care is that she committed suicide while he was the only one in the house. Only he was locked in an episode then as well, concentrating on splitting out of a window while trying to hit the fender of a truck parked outside.  The sound of his mother shouting his name, “STICKY! STICKY! STICKY!” got stuck in his head on a loop. After that his given name, Travis, fell by the wayside because that’s the last memory he has of her.

But the upside is, the memory triggers a breakthrough, and as cliché as it sounds, Sticky and Travis merge for a brief time, and he begins to cry, likely for the first time in years. He loses his cool, the hard shell between himself and the world around him, finding catharsis.

The book ends with Sticky returning to the rec center after spending three weeks at a summer basketball camp, playing up and down the West Coast in front of college coaches and scouts. The scar on his hand resembles a purple spider, but he can still ball. More than that, he’s discovered that he isn’t nothing without the sport; he has friends and family and love. A future, which he didn’t know was possible until he let go of the preconceptions of not only society, but his own preconceptions.

In the end, Ball Don’t Lie isn’t a perfect book, but it’s such a triumphant story that the flaws it contains make it even more worthy of a read. Sticky is every boy with aspirations, finally bringing those aspirations within reach. Give it a look. You won’t regret it.

Why Read? by Guest Reviewer NoraTallTree (A Book Review of Sorts)

barbara's+bookstore-01This isn’t a book review. However, it is a review of how a Japanese-American girl raised by a single father in a gritty, pre-gentrified Chicago discovered a love for reading through a small, somewhat anarchic independent book shop called Barbara’s Bookstore. To learn more about NoraTallTree, read her bio below.*

So let me tell you about myself. I’ve officially become “middle-aged” this year. I’m not too sad about it – just stating the facts. I’m accepting of it because 1. I don’t really have a choice, do I? and 2. I don’t want to be any other age. I mean that I don’t want to go back or forward in time or age. I think younger people have it way worse than I do (i.e. look at their bleak future!) and the older generations always seem befuddled and mournful for their lost youth. I’m at the perfect age that I can do both: I can be woeful and relate along with younger people in “real time” and I can wish for the “good ole days” with older folk.

I can do this, especially the latter, because I sort of remember the “olden days” or at least I remember the wanting for the old days to come back. It seems like ever since Reagan was in office, there has been a standardized American cultural yearning for “olden days” or perceived “simpler times.” I don’t really know if say, the 1950’s, was really a simpler time – in my opinion, no time is simpler if women frequently had to wear girdles and had to defrost meat without a microwave, but so be it! Who am I to argue? There is a definite and palpable perceived impression that these times were the “Golden Age” and the best days of America.

Since I am too young to have really lived through the girdle years and the turbulent 1960’s, I can go right along with my elders missing those years. I don’t have any real memories or regrets because I wasn’t there, so my yearning for simpler times is just a mental entertaining exercise for me. It’s like remembering the best scenes from an episode of your favorite childhood TV show: You remember the best stuff, which describes about 5 minutes’ worth, at the most, and you edit or erase the drivel that represents the majority or the rest of the program!

But what is real and nostalgic for me is my love for books. Love, love, love books and its motherlode flagship – the bricks-and-mortar bookstore! There is no other out-of-body experience for me or as intoxicating as walking those first few steps into a bookstore – the smell of strong coffee (thanks to the modern bookstore with its Starbucks Cafés for wiring this into my sensory brain), bound paper and the smell of, “Is that glue or sugar, paint maybe?”, all mixed in with cold canned air! WOW! Isn’t that the best?!! It my “Breakfast at Tiffany’s” nirvana/heaven, slightly orgasmic moment – POP! It instantly calms me and presses my “happy” button. No one is truly alone or can be unhappy at a bookstore – it’s just not possible!

The love for the bricks-and-mortar bookstore goes back to my childhood. I have memories of growing up in 1970’s urban Chicago’s Lake View area. Instead of going to a proper after-school sports program at the nearest field house like my 10 year old contemporaries did, I would walk a mile or two through an interesting, sketchy neighborhood (considered downright “red light” by today’s standards) to the alternative/gay/radical Barbara’s Bookstore. (Obviously helicopter parenting wasn’t invented just yet).

Lake View, back then was the hosting neighborhood for a wide range of diverse group elements – Latin street gangs, aging hippies (that time’s “hipsters” – the owners of the crafts/ethnic/back-to-the-earth, think lots of macramé); pockets of Jewish-ness, anchored down by their temple; gay forefathers and newly out gay singles and the chase for the latest young hot trade (obviously pre-AIDS); seedy SROs (why are all the tenants missing teeth?) and pay by the half-hour hotels. The random Japanese-American businesse,. leftover from post-WWII Chicago neighborhood segregation made of Japanese-internment-camp- refugees” who weren’t welcomed in any other neighborhood except Lake View where the rents were cheap and they could work at restaurants near Cubs’ ballpark. And no one would rent to the “untrustworthy” Japanese, only except neighborhoods like Lake View. Lake View, in the 1970’s, seemed to be the landing neighborhood that gave respite for all those either going up or down Chicago’s social and economic ladder.

Well back to Barbara’s Bookstore. I would walk past, but more like slink past, the tall cashier’s counter at the front of the store. The male bookstore attendants would ignore me, probably too busy reading their latest socialist/commie/radical rant to look up at me, but there was a woman, I childishly thought she was the actual “Barbara,” who became aware of me and thought I needed adult supervision.

This new bookstore clerk supervision forced me to “slink”. I would wait and go in with other customers, so as to not be seen so much, and go straight to the back. The back-of-the-store is where the magazine section lived, along with its right and left henchmen bookshelves, the self-help/sociology/psychology section and gay/straight/alternative sexuality section. In this little trifecta of floor-to-ceiling bookshelves, away from view from the front of the store, I would basically spend about 2-3 hours every school day for years reading the latest periodicals and books.

Let me tell you about how books were arranged back then. First of all, there was no ordained, real order to shelving and “facing” incoming books. I mean after a while the bookstore owners would get lazy and not want to move sections around – at this particular store, there was very heavy art and photography books in the front. You know the kind – the heavy book that costs a lot of money and if it fell off of its high shelf it could kill someone. Plus there were naked people on its cover, seen by giggling kids from the street view. No marketing/sales consultant/child advocate around to tell bookstore owners how to pander to the general public’s taste. No marketer or sales space consultant to shudder in revulsion or gasp at the lack of consideration for big sales. No big box bookstore list to tell you a strategic schema as to where to put which books.

Anyways, for the customers, though, once you were in the store, you were basically left on your own to explore. Even book covers didn’t call out to you with any eye catching or visually stimulating designs, only the titles and authors’ names. (That’s what made romance novels back then really stand apart from real literature, the outlandishly colored covers. They were cheap-looking and garish.) Real literature was bookish and library-ish, not just meant for entertainment like romance novels, but prized for its true meanings and love for words. The “truth” behind its simple cover – that was what was going to sell the book.

(A sidenote: There was also no advertising or posters for any events or books or anything. That was considered “gauche” and commercial…)

So in this maze and forestry of book discovery and word luxuriousness, I flourished and grew up. Books filled in all my missing childhood gaps and taught me how to live in and deal with the general world. Having no mother since I was almost 2 years old, being a latch-key kid (kids ask your moms and dads what that is), and having older siblings who were busy doing their own extracurricular activities, I had no real direction or guidance (maybe “Barbara” at the front was right to worry about me!).

My siblings were extremely smart; I was too, and I had an immense curiosity. After the mags and periodicals became stale, since the sellers would change them only monthly (yes, monthly! and that’s if they felt like it), I would venture to the henchmen bookshelves and end up reading self-help books, religion books, and spiritual books. New Age books before they were deemed “New Age” and sociology and psychology books (yes, folks, there are sections in a bookstore called “sociology and psychology” and they weren’t just all about aberrant crime or anything catastrophic). These books would explain why regular folks are “who they are” and “why they do things” – either as individuals or as groups.

Books gave me the vocabulary and some semblance of social awareness that was lacking in my lonely and singular sphere. I mean what’s a “woman, living in the post-feminist movement” should be thinking or feeling about her world? (Granted I was 10 years old but I wanted to know about “my body, myself”). Who would teach me how to be woman? My old-fashioned Japanese father? The one who grew up in post-WWI Japan? The one indoctrinated and marinated in “bushido code”? (What is bushido code, by the way? A book in the sociology section would know and be available to read!).

A free-roaming, disorganized bookstore would have something on any subject and topic. Since the bookstore is kind of organically random, I had to learn to use word association and thought siphoning to help me field my way through. Exploring all kinds of books gave me some pretty good highly educated guesses and theories that were tailor-made for me by me. I learned how to find out how to “find out” answers, ask questions, explore feelings, describe emotions, learned what was normal, what wasn’t, what works, what doesn’t and why it doesn’t, and most of all – the beauty of words and its power when it clicks and resonates with you. Reading books allow you to test your theories without having to risk living them out, experience cultures you’ll never meet in real life (like an African tribe who shuns all technology and outsiders) and learn about events you’ll never know anyone personally who was involved, like reading a book about Tibetan Monks who were deposed from their homeland in the 1950’s. Reading novels can put the words in your mouth and help you clearly define your thoughts, even if the stories are from a couple of centuries ago and from the other side of the world!

Books also keep you company, distract you from your daily worries and anxieties, broaden your world in taste and beauty – self-discovery at your fingertips. It’s one of the greatest pleasures this world has to offer, having been made solely from and of this world, and helps you create your own world within the world.

Hi, I’m NoraTallTree. I’m a person stuck in the middle: In-between Baby Boom I and Baby Boom II, punk or hippie principles, both groups simultaneously exciting me and also get on my nerves; stuck between Christianity passion & Buddhist calmness; stuck between American boldness & Japanese subtlety; I’m even stuck in the Midwest, between both coasts. Sounds kind of mixed-up, doesn’t it?!! Oh, well, it’s just me.

Guest Book Review: The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins-Guest Reviewer Rosie Blythe

Girl on the trainYes, it’s another guest review. This one done by that lovely British lady Rosie Blythe who you might remember as the talented author of the book The Princess Guide to Life, which I gave a rave review a while back. Rosie and I have struck up a on-line friendship and I’m thrilled to publish her first guest review. Learn more about Rosie Blythe below.

When a book debuts at number one on the New York Times Best Seller List and remains there for over three months, it’s a fair bet that it will be an enticing read (and one with the inevitable film adaptation already in the works).

The story begins slowly, innocuously. Rachel travels into London every day, and like many commuters, she passes her time on the train by looking out of the window. As the 8:04 to Euston trundles slowly past the houses which back onto the railway tracks, she gets a fleeting glimpse of their occupants. The train always stops at the same signal, and Rachel gets a perfect view of her favourite house. She can see the couple inside as they go about their everyday business, and in her boredom, she makes up stories about them and their sublimely happy relationship. She names them Jason and Jess, and they come to represent everything Rachel wants – everything she used to have. “They’re Tom and me, five years ago.”

We discover that Rachel has become something akin to Bridget Jones – if Helen Fielding’s creation had taken a really dark turn. She drinks too much. She’s put on weight and finds that men regard her with a mixture of contempt and pity. She makes nuisance calls to her ex-husband – she’s not being malicious, she just misses her old life. It all started going wrong when she couldn’t get pregnant, and her husband had an affair – now the other woman is his new wife and they have an adorable baby daughter. It’s not surprising that Rachel drinks herself into oblivion as often as possible in her rented single room – and now her alcoholism is also destroying her professional life. Meanwhile, we have a change in narrator, with alternate flashback chapters from one year earlier, voiced by “Jess”, the woman living beside the railway tracks. In reality, her name is Megan and her life is far from the perfect idyll Rachel has imagined. Can her past confessions shed any light on the events of today?

The story begins to deepen when Rachel spots “Jess” kissing another man; this evidence of trouble in paradise rocks her to the core, bringing back memories of her own ex-husband’s infidelity. Rachel knows how devastating affairs can be; should she somehow contact “Jason” (who is actually named Scott) and tip him off about his wife’s indiscretions? It’s all rather too close to home – quite literally, as Rachel’s old house is on the same street as Scott and Megan’s. Her ex-husband Tom has remained there, joined by his new wife Anna – who also contributes the odd chapter just so we can hear her side of the story.

Rachel decides to return to her old stomping ground to suss out what’s going on with Scott and Megan – “I just want to see him. I want to see them… what harm can it do?” –  but it all goes horribly wrong. She wakes up with the hangover from hell and no memory of what happened on that fateful night – but Megan is now missing. Can Rachel piece everything together, or will she walk blindly into danger?

While many writers create effortlessly cool and sexy protagonists (no doubt with one eye on Angelina Jolie or Brad Pitt for the movie version) Paula Hawkins dares to make Rachel, well, not particularly likeable. She’s a busybody, and her desperate desire to be involved with the action results in her spinning a web of lies which tightens around her as she gets pulled deeper into the murkiness surrounding Megan’s disappearance.

Often, thrillers lose credibility because the main characters have to be smart enough to solve crimes, yet just stupid enough to make the irrational decisions which will prolong the book (entering the dark alleyway with the stranger, hiding in a cupboard instead of calling the police etc.) Paula Hawkins cleverly sidesteps this; Rachel’s alcoholism provides a realistic reason for her to make unwise choices (such as drunkenly contacting people she shouldn’t), and leads to her becoming more and more isolated as people shut her out of their lives.

Rachel may be a frustrating narrator, with her erratic behaviour and dramatic lapses in memory, but we sympathise with her. (While wishing she could get her act together and stop being so self-destructive.) The rest of the characters also have an admirable collection of flaws – Megan has a dark past, and her husband may not be such a strong and selfless protector, after all. Due to Rachel’s stalkerish tendencies and harassment, we might have felt sorry for our third narrator, Anna, but then she admits that she liked being the other woman and doesn’t care how it affected Rachel. In fact, all Anna cares about is protecting the secure little family unit she has created.

The book has been described as “Alfred Hitchcock for a new generation,” and I agree; as well as a slow-burning creepiness, it has that classic Hitchcockian theme of knowing that the police aren’t going to listen and take you seriously, no matter how urgent your information, because they already have you down as crazy and delusional.

I found the story perfectly paced, with new twists and turns coming from the most unexpected directions. If you’re a binge-reader who can finish a gripping novel in one breathless sitting, be warned: you’re likely to end up reading under the covers at 3 am, and jumping out of your skin every time a floorboard creaks.

Rosie Blythe lives in London (hence all those crazy British spellings) and when she’s not writing, works as a stylist in television and film. She enjoys reading everything from self-help and biographies to cosy mysteries and lurid thrillers. She’s written two books: The Princess Guide to Life, and the much sillier The Princess Guide to Being a Cat.

Writer’s Block

Beautiful DayHello everyone. I hope everyone is having a good week, and I hope my fellow Americans had a fun and safe 4th of July.

Due to the holiday, I was fortunate to have a four-day week-end, which I kicked off the week-end by spending both Thursday and Friday in Chicago with my lovely friends Nora and Elaine. But I didn’t just go to Chicago to visit with my friends. Nora, Elaine and I went to see U2 at their final show at the United Center. We’ve been huge U2 fans for years now, and though we joke that U2 are total corporate rock, they are still the most amazing band to see live. I’m still kvelling.

Here is a link to U2 thanking Chicago and their fans. Awww, right back at ya, lads!

Instead of staying with my friends, we camped out at a hotel room. This is what greeted us. My fellow Criminal Minds fans will get the reference.

Rossi

What else? Well, I should have a guest review up tomorrow. I’m about to start writing review for book that is both a memoir and collection of essays. And I’m half-way through reading another book that I’m going to review once I’m done. Ah, yes, a blogger’s work is never done.