Best. State. Ever. by Dave Barry

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Dave Barry never fails to find the funny in all things and this in depth look at the weird and wacky state of Florida absolutely delivers.  Florida has a lot going for it after all: it’s warm, low taxes, beautiful women, and it’s not boring.  And is it ever not boring.  Dave reviews and visits the things that makes Florida crazy and great: Gator Parks, the Skunk Ape, sponges, sexy retirement villages, real life mermaids, the hot Miami club scene, and that capitol of of all things weird, Key West.  So many passages in this book made me laugh out loud.  I wanted to get in the car to personally meet people like Spongeorama Man and the gator wrestlers .  Caution: if you think your state is weird, think again.  It doesn’t have anything on Florida.  Unless you have more working Mold-A-Matic machines.  Then it might be a close second.

Hag-Seed by Margaret Atwood

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Only Margaret Atwood could take The Tempest and rock it like this!  A play within a play starring prisoners at a correctional facility led by a washed up director living in his own prison of pain.  Felix Phillips find himself let go as the director of the town’s arts festival and finds himself consumed by not only grief over the loss of his wife and young daughter, but also feelings of revenge at those who fired him from his dream job.  Resigning himself to becoming a hermit, he finds a job listing for a part time director for a local prison’s literacy program.  Determined to work in the theater again, Felix, now calling himself Mr. Duke, lands the job and finds himself forever changed by the experience.  Working through his grief and hatred that he feels, Felix discovers that only he has the power to release himself from the prison he has built in his own mind.  Plus this book has Shakespearean rap.  What more could you want?!?  I highly recommend this book for fans of Ms. Atwood, as well as for anyone else like me who is greatly enjoying the Hogarth Shakespeare project.

Boarding the Enterprise edited by David Gerrold and Robert J. Sawyer

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This newly updated collection of Star Trek essays is sure to please the die hard fans of the original series.  Filled with essays by show insiders and writers, sci fi authors, and academics who have found inspiration in the franchise, this book explores the deeper and more philosophical meaning of a modern classic that has now lasted 50 years.  From reflections of the Vietnam War to religious connotations to man’s true nature in the universe, this book tackles the larger message of what it means to “go where no man has gone before.”

Sleeping Giants by Sylvain Neuvel

downloadI have been eagerly anticipating this book and finally started it a few days ago.  Comparisons to “The Martian” and “World War Z” definitely made me sit up and take notice.  However, this book is very different from those bestsellers and for very good and refreshing reasons.

Rose Franklin falls through a hole in the woods at a young age and finds herself resting in a giant metal hand in what appears to be an alien chamber.  As an adult and now a physicist, Dr. Rose Franklin now finds herself heading the project to understand the meaning and origin of the hand, as well as trying to find the other pieces of this titanic robot.  Told through a series of interviews with an unknown and highly mysterious narrator, we follow the project as Rose and her eclectic team seek out the pieces all around the world and try to determine what it is they are dealing with and how it can either help or destroy humanity as we know it.  This is the first in what the author says will be a three book series, and I for one cannot wait for the next book in this planned trilogy!

Listen to Me by Hannah Pittard

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When I read the synopsis for this book, I certainly did not expect the level of tension that the author was able to build into this story. What I thought was going to be a road trip story centered around a marriage on the rocks, turned into something that felt almost like Hitchcock’s Rear Window.

Maggie and Mark, along with their dog Gerome, set out on a road trip to visit Mark’s parents in Virginia. Mark is hoping that this much needed vacation will allow Maggie to continue to heal from a mugging that happened to her. Maggie has become obsessed with “victim stories” and “bad news” leaving Mark considering having an affair with one of his university students. A series of storms along the drive lead Maggie and Mark to a far out of the way hotel where they both make realizations about not only themselves, but their love for one another.

Hannah Pittard masterfully built the suspense in this story to the point that I could not put this book down. As the tension builds, the person who you expect to break, isn’t the one at all.

Dark Matter by Blake Crouch

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This book was crazy! It’s like the The Bourne Identity meets The Martian meets Doctor Who meets Schrodinger’s Cat. One of the best and most original books I have ever read. I completely tore through it. Not only is it a sci fi book, but it also looks at the effect that our choices in life have on us, and the endless possibilities those different choices create in the process. One of those rare science fiction books that offers an incredible look at the lengths we will go for what and who we love, even across the entire multiverse.

Before the Fall by Noah Hawley

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Scott is a struggling artist who manages to snag a seat on a private jet owned by the “Fox News-Like” cable news channel, ALC.  The short flight from Martha’s Vineyard to NYC marks the start of gallery meetings to show his recent work.  However, just minutes into the flight, it crashes, killing nearly everyone aboard: The head of ALC and his wife, Maggie, who invited Scott onto the plane after showing her his work, along with one of their two children and the family bodyguard; a big time Wall Streeter, who just found out he will be indicted on money laundering, and his wife; along with the pilot, co-pilot and flight attendant.  The only two survivors?  Scott and Maggie’s youngest child, JJ.  Scott manages to swim miles to shore, saving himself and the boy, and finding his private life suddenly turned upside down, both for the positive and the negative.  An interesting look at the role the media plays in shaping the public’s perception of a news story and how the people directly affected by tragedy have to deal with the lifelong repercussions of a life defining event.

A Court of Thorns and Roses by Sarah J. Maas

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This book was brought to my attention when it was selected by our YA for Adults Book Club in Houston.  I’m not usually a fan of fairy tale retellings, but because this was a reworking of Beauty & the Beast, which is my favorite, I have to admit I was both eager and worried.  This book blew away all my expectations.  Feyre, living an impoverished life in the human world with her father and two sisters, kills a powerful fairy while out hunting food.  This mistake leads her to be taken captive by Tamlin and he takes her to his incredible estate in the Court of Spring to live out her life.  The story follows the two as Feyre adapts to the fairy world and find herself falling in love with Tamlin.  A tug of war between all of the Courts of fairy land leads to Tamlin’s capture by an evil fairy named Amarantha, and it is up to Feyre to be the one that does the rescuing.  A great tale of female empowerment, forbidden love, and all the fun that fairy tales truly are.  This book is the first in an ongoing series and I look forward to starting the next one.

The Wolf Road by Beth Lewis

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One of the grittiest female-centric books I have ever read. Elka, orphaned as a young child, is taken in by Trapper and taught the ways of survival in the wild and raises her up in a post apocalyptic world. After a trip into town, she realizes that Trapper is actually a wanted serial killer and she escapes him in fear. Along the way, Elka uses her skills that she learned from Trapper to survive the evil in the world, unlock her memories that she has stuffed down inside of herself, and understand the value of companionship in whatever form it takes. The pace of this book is outstanding as it builds to a horrifying realization by Elka, and highlights the shades of evil that many have inside of themselves. Excellent debut novel from an author I look forward to reading more from.

The Most Dangerous Place on Earth by Lindsey Lee Johnson

download (2)Lindsey Lee Johnson has created a novel that honestly deals with some of the intense problems that adolescents face today. The stresses of academic and athletic success, bullying, love, drug and alcohol abuse, sexuality, emotional issues, and finding who you are as a person, are all dealt with from the views of both the young men and women living with them, as well as the perspective of a teacher fighting to keep them on track and succeeding. The issues the teens go through are filled with personal journeys, heartbreaking consequences, but also finding a level of maturity that they achieve having walked through the path that we call our teen years.

Vinegar Girl by Anne Tyler

download (1)Fun and fresh take on Shakespeare’s The Taming of the Shrew. Kate is an independent woman who truly doesn’t fit any mold. Living at home with her scientist father and air headed sister, Kate was a talented botany student in college who found herself expelled because of her quick tongue, after referring to her professor’s description of photosynthesis as “lazy”. She now holds down a job at a nursery school, yet finds herself on probation way too often because of her inability to self censor, especially around the children and their parents. Her love life is non existent as well-her mooning over her coworker Adam is definitely not going anywhere. Kate soon finds herself ensnared in a plot by her father, who wants her to marry his lab assistant Pyotr, as his work visa is about to expire. Kate’s father feels he cannot lose him as he is close to a breakthrough on his research. And besides, what other prospects does she have? This modern re-imagining of “Shrew” was sharp, funny, and witty. It even dealt well with the much controversial “mind your husband” tone that the original Shakespearean play is often criticized for. Kate and Pyotr comprise a love story of their own age and learn much about themselves along the way.

The Grand Tour by Adam O’Fallon Price

41DwhGuMM4L.SX316Washed up writer and raging alcoholic Richard, find himself back in the limelight when his Vietnam memoir because the talk of the publishing world. His editor insists he do a cross country book tour and at his first stop, finds himself being chauffeured by his number one and possibly only true fan Vance, a young man who dreams of being a writer and getting out of the miserable and depressing life he feels trapped by. This unlikely partnership leads both men to discover things about themselves, exploring the pain that life can bring along with the joys that life itself truly is. This book is heartbreaking, soul searching and ultimately empowering, showing you that you can find yourself, make mistakes, and find redemption no matter what age you are.

Life Moves Pretty Fast by Hadley Freeman

25459433Hadley Freeman has created a wonderful guide to the films of the 1980s and their effects on the generation that not only grew up on them, but their continuing and lasting effects with the generations that followed. Ms. Freeman takes humorous, thoughtful, and philosophical looks at some of the movies that defined the decade: Dirty Dancing, The Princess Bride, Ghostbusters, Ferris Bueller (where the book derives its title from), and the greatness that is Eddie Murphy at his peak. Ms. Hadley explores these stories from a very realistic perspective, at times looking at some of the questionable moments that contain racism, sexism, and classism, with brutal honesty. The wonderful tone that is prevalent throughout however, is the joy that these movies not only brought to the author, but to so many of that generation. I laughed out loud in several places, was shocked by some of the truths she pointed out, and was brought back to a time when I myself wanted to grow up to be Andie or Sam or Sally or Baby. Kudos to such a well researched and personal account of the decade that was defined by the struggles that all teens go through.

Alice and the Fly by James Rice

23588512Greg, a young man dealing with the everyday pressures of just being a teenager, also has to deal with the repercussions of schizophrenia and a severe phobia to spiders. He also has a lisp caused by a hole he bit into his own tongue during one of his “fits”. As a coping mechanism, he writes in a journal, as suggested by his English teacher. The journal entries focus on and are addressed to a girl in his school, Alice, who he has developed feelings for. Interspersed with the journal entries are interviews that a police officer is having with member of his family regarding “an incident” involving Greg. It keeps you in suspense as to what has happened to Greg for almost the entire book. In several parts of the book, the author’s prose and style made me feel as uncomfortable and out of control as Greg was feeling in these moments. It was truly remarkable how finely tuned his descriptions of Greg’s psychotic breakdowns and fits were. Truly a YA book at its best!

A Hundred Thousand Worlds by Bob Proehl

9780399562211Intriguing story about a mother and son and the world of comics, sci fi and the con circuit. Val, an actress on a sci fi show comparable to the X Files, and her son Alex get to know some of the players of the comic book world on their cross country road trip from NY to LA, via various comic cons that Val is appearing at. Their experiences lead to an understanding of each other, an understanding of Val’s personal failures, and answers to Alex’s questions and his own story. A deep look inside the inner workings of the comic book world regarding its writers, artists and politics. A fun read for the sci fi/comic book geek.