Book review: ‘Only Milo’ by Barry Smith

only_miloIt’s hard to describe a book like Barry Smith’s mysterious Only Milo but, considering I’m sitting here tap-tap-tapping on my keyboard, you know I’m going to give it a shot!

So we have Milo, a retiree whose stacks of novels have stayed buried in his closet for decades. Though he’s a prolific novelist who devotes much of his time to the craft, he has nothing to show for it — beyond the prerequisite stacks of rejection letters from agents and publishers. When authors finally make it big, these rejections are worn like badges of honor — they’re the giant, “HA — see what you missed out on there, buddy boy?!” of the literary world. But until a struggling writer reaches that pinnacle, he or she is just . . . a struggling writer.

And you know? Milo’s tired of it. He’s tired of the struggling, day in and out. So when a chance encounter with Margaret, a dynamic young publisher, brings the literary fame that much closer to his grasp, he pounces on the opportunity. Of course, pairing up with Margaret also means pairing up with Jose Calderon, her “gem in the rough.” Jose, a young man who has been writing mediocre books in Mexico, has been picked up by Margaret’s company for release rights in the U.S. The only issue? Um, the books are all in Spanish. And how convenient that Milo can actually “translate” them for the company . . .

Well, it turns out Jose’s novels are terrible — from what Milo can actually translate, anyway. Just complete drivel. So what’s he to do? He’s gotten Margaret’s attention, publication is just within his reach . . . even if it’s for another author. What could a little switcheroo hurt? How upset could Jose possibly be — especially if fat checks are rolling in to everyone?

And with one little decision, Milo sets off a chain of events that would make a “CSI” or “Dexter” fan flip the pages incessantly. Told in very short, numbered chapters — usually on a page or two apiece — Milo takes us through the ups of subterfuge and sudden literary stardom before catapulting us back down into the lows after he loses everything. It’s impossible to really talk about the plot without giving anything away, and I definitely don’t want to do that!

As I’ve pointed out in the past, I’m a nervous reader. Very nervous. If I have an inkling that something bad is about to befall a character — like, say, an anvil falling from the skies and cracking open their skull — I’m going to flip furiously through the book until I reach that moment of no return. I can’t amble along, oblivious, knowing that a shoe is about to drop. But trying to do that with Only Milo? Impossible. Of course I knew this was a darkly humorous thriller about life in the literary world, but I couldn’t have possibly predicted all the snake-like twists the story would take. Quite simply, it’s impossible to figure out what’s going to happen.

I’m not a fan of crime shows — I’ll take back-to-back episodes of “Ugly Betty” over “CSI” any time — but I still enjoyed the book for its supremely fast-paced, punchy writing style and short chapters. When reading, it all feels fluid — quick, like water running from a tap. While there is a sustained level of violence in the novel, it’s not overly gory or sick. Milo himself is a completely dead-pan, sarcastic and, ultimately, sympathetic narrator — and despite everything, I still found myself hoping he’d eventually find peace and success in his own right.

Only Milo is definitely a one-of-a-kind read; stylistically, I’ve never read another novel like it. Even the book’s typeface is unique — like an antique typewriter (check out an excerpt and you’ll see what I mean!). You can easily polish this one off in a hour or two, and it’s worth the read. Aspiring writers will grin a little at the chaos and injustice of it all, too. I know I did!

4 out of 5!

ISBN: 1592994237 ♥ Purchase from AmazonAuthor WebsiteRead an excerpt

Book review: ‘How To Take Over Teh Wurld’ by Professor Happycat

lolcats_wurld_bookSince bursting onto the Internetz in 2007, the LOLcat phenomenon has pervaded popular culture, catapulting its website — I Can Has Cheezburger — into superstardom. If this is all Greek to you, here’s a brief set-up: people send it funny photos of cats; other users make up silly captions for them on LOLspeak, which typically involves spelling everything out phonetically, and then the images are voted upon by the giggling masses around the planet. The funniest pictures make it to the main website.

In my experience, there are two types of people in the world: those who find LOLspeak and I Can Has Cheezburger? hilarious, and those who really don’t. If you’re in the former camp, I have a great book to pass your way! And if you’re in the latter? Well, um . . . move along, now, nothing to see here, folks!

How To Take Over Teh Wurld: A LOLcat Guide 2 Winning by Professor Happycat is a collection of silly and often spit-take-inducing photos submitted to the website — mostly new, but with a few classics mixed in there! Though I can’t help feeling downtrodden that my Irish Kitteh has never made it into the anthology, I can’t feel too discouraged — there are plenty of funny pictures to help me get over my disappointment!

What I love about this book — even more than the first collection, aptly called I Can Has Cheezburger? — are the awesome drawings interspersed with the LOLcat photos. True to the book’s title, the artwork provides lots of helpful tips for those kitties ready to lead the revolution . . . or contribute to it, at least.

It’s not fair to “rate” a book like this — I mean, it is what it is. No tricks up the sleeve here, or rabbits to be pulled from a hat. If, like me, you frequently start your day by attempting not to spew Diet Coke out of your nose at work while perusing the website, you’ll dig the book. And if LOLcats are still a foreign concept to you, you can has an explanation and gets teh giggles over here!

I’ll leave you with a few of my favorite LOLcats from over the years — particularly the ones I had to share with coworkers who were worried I was having a seizure after keeling over in my chair, tears coursing down my face. What? Don’t judge — they’re hilarious!

Purchase from AmazonI Can Has Cheezburger? website




Book review: ‘Mr. Darcy, Vampyre’ by Amanda Grange

mr_darcy_vampyreFor Elizabeth Bennet and Fitzwilliam Darcy, the honeymoon period may be over — literally.

Following the exchanging of their marriage vows in England, Elizabeth and her beloved Darcy set out on their wedding tour, planning to take in the splendors of France and Italy. At first delighted at the prospect of traveling the continent, Elizabeth’s joy at becoming a new bride begins to diminish as Darcy begins acting strangely, turning a cold shoulder to her and refusing to visit her in the evenings. After a harrowing experience while visiting Darcy’s uncle in an old, crumbling castle, Elizabeth finds herself even more confused and fearful at the change in her husband’s demeanor. And things seem to go from bad to worse.

Amanda Grange’s Mr. Darcy, Vampyre is definitely a different take on much of the Austen fiction that picks up where Pride & Prejudice leaves us. The novel literally opens on Elizabeth and Darcy’s wedding day, giving us a peek at the happiness they both felt was initially promised. But the secrets between them threaten to destroy their relationship . . . mostly from the inside out.

Like Elizabeth, I often found myself with more questions than answers here. I spent the majority of the novel waiting for the shoe to drop, so to speak — waiting for something to happen. As a reader, we know something the new Mrs. Darcy does not . . . and all I wanted was for her to just discover that already. Despite its title, little mention is actually made of anyone’s vampyric tendencies, and I guess I’ve spent way too much time in the Twilight world . . . I just wasn’t that impressed. The story’s “villain” seemed to appear from nowhere, and I couldn’t really live in any sort of fear of him — he disappeared as quickly as he’d emerged. There was really little threat motivating the story and, quite honestly, I didn’t feel much of anything while reading.

That being said, there is an innately interesting plot going on here (I mean, c’mon. Darcy? A vampire?). I didn’t have any trouble reading the book, finishing it in just a few nights. It’s just that my mad dash to get done was motivated by the fact that I desperately wanted to see some vampire action going on, and I couldn’t help but feel a little let down. Still, Grange’s prose is interesting enough to propel the plot, and I enjoyed the descriptions of England, France and Italy in the early nineteenth century. Venice, in particular, was magical.

I’m a huge fan of Austen’s work and generally love fiction based upon her beloved novels. If you’re a Darcy fan or just find yourself roped in by the cover — I know I did! — I would still recommend checking out this latest edition to the Austen world. Finishing the book definitely made me want to re-read Pride & Prejudice, and Mr. Darcy, Vampyre seems true to the original plotline. Just don’t expect to, ahem, sink your teeth into it too quickly.

3.5 out of 5!

ISBN: 1402236972 ♥ Purchase from AmazonAuthor Website
Review copy provided by publisher

Waiting on Wednesday: The Sky Always Hears Me

sky_always_hears_me Kay at The Infinite Shelf featured a novel last week that I’ve been thinking about since seeing it — Kirstin Cronn-Mills’ forthcoming The Sky Always Hears Me: And The Hills Don’t Mind, due out Sept. 1. Check out that gorgeous cover, and then read the description from Amazon:

Sixteen-year-old Morgan lives in a hick town in the middle of Nebraska. College is two years away. Her mom was killed in a car accident when she was three, her dad drinks, and her stepmom is a non-entity. Her boyfriend Derek is boring and her coworker Rob has a very cute butt that she can’t stop staring at. Then there’s the kiss she shared with her classmate Tessa…

But when Morgan discovers that the one person in the world she trusted most has kept a devastating secret from her, Morgan must redefine her life and herself.

Sounds like your typical coming-of-age tale, right? Probably not exactly. Kay cites a review by Amanda at The Zen Leaf as the inspiration for wanting to read this one, and after checking out Amanda’s thoughts, I’d have to agree! Plus, I’ve really been enjoying Kirstin Cronn-Mills’ blog — she’s a Harry Potter fan, and actually teaches a college class on J.K. Rowling’s work! How much would I love to go back to school for that?

What’s everyone else waiting on? Check out more responses at Breaking The Spine!

Waiting (a little) for Twenties Girl

twenties_girlI’m cheating a little for this week’s Waiting On Wednesday . . . because this book was just released yesterday, July 21! But it sounds too good not to mention, and I figure that I’m still waiting for it. Right?

This week’s honors go to Sophie Kinsella’s Twenties Girl! Here’s Amazon’s synopsis:

Lara Lington has always had an overactive imagination, but suddenly that imagination seems to be in overdrive. Normal professional twenty-something young women don’t get visited by ghosts. Or do they?

When the spirit of Lara’s great-aunt Sadie–a feisty, demanding girl with firm ideas about fashion, love, and the right way to dance–mysteriously appears, she has one last request: Lara must find a missing necklace that had been in Sadie’s possession for more than seventy-five years, and Sadie cannot rest without it. Lara, on the other hand, has a number of ongoing distractions. Her best friend and business partner has run off to Goa, her start-up company is floundering, and she’s just been dumped by the “perfect” man.

Sadie, however, could care less.

Lara and Sadie make a hilarious sparring duo, and at first it seems as though they have nothing in common. But as the mission to find Sadie’s necklace leads to intrigue and a new romance for Lara, these very different “twenties” girls learn some surprising truths from each other along the way. Written with all the irrepressible charm and humor that have made Sophie Kinsella’s books beloved by millions, Twenties Girl is also a deeply moving testament to the transcendent bonds of friendship and family.

While I have to admit to not being so crazy about Kinsella’s Remember Me?, which I read last year, there’s no denying her universal appeal and strong draw for readers of women’s fiction — myself included. I read the first of the Shopaholic books years ago and have several of her other titles in my TBR stack. Twenties Girl sounds really fun, and I love the idea of the heroine’s aunt coming back to impart some time-tested wisdom. Who couldn’t use a little bit of that? Throw in some laughs and a little romance and I’ll be off and running with it.

What are you waiting patiently — or impatiently — for this week? Read more responses over at Breaking The Spine!

Book review: ‘Rude Awakenings Of A Jane Austen Addict’ by Laurie Viera Rigler

rude_awakeningsLife has gotten a little strange for Jane Mansfield: she’s woken up in a cramped apartment in Los Angeles, wearing frighteningly little clothing; her beloved maid Barnes is nowhere in sight; all sorts of strange appliances and glowing boxes are around her, producing very curious noises; and an incredibly good-looking, decidedly ungentleman-like man is tending to her monstrous headache, which he says is the result of whacking her head against the bottom of a pool.

Oh — and it’s 2009.

When Jane fell off her horse on her father’s estate in England, the year was 1813. Heartbroken and battling to get out from underneath her mother’s meddling thumb, Jane had wished for another life — a new chance in a new time. And after her nasty spill, her wish has been granted.

The modern era is a complete and total mystery to Jane, filled with cars, cell phones, iPods, the Internet, television and film adaptations of Jane Austen’s work on boxes with moving pictures (ooh, Colin Firth!). With the help of friends Paula, Anna and Wes, Courtney’s former friend and current ally, Jane-as-Courtney begins to piece together how in the world she may have come to find herself in L.A. — and in the body of blonde, petite assistant Courtney Stone, a woman whose problems, heartbreaks and indecisions Jane has now inherited.

This sequel to Laurie Viera Rigler’s Confessions Of A Jane Austen Addict follows Jane as her friends come to grips with her funny way of talking — Regency dialect, you know, just without the British accent — and her complete inability to understand any sort of technology. At first chalking up her confusion to the concussion she’s suffered, they slowly begin to realize that Courtney has changed. And it’s all thanks to Jane.

Though I enjoyed Confessions very much, I have to say that I loved this novel even more than Rigler’s debut. Her observations on modern relationships, technology and friendships were spot-on, and I absolutely loved discovering the things we take for granted anew through Jane’s eyes. Contraptions like cell phones and computers are alien to her, and the descriptions of them are often hilarious. How often do we stop and think how strange it is that we’re sitting in front of little glowing boxes right now, tapping out sequences of letters to pull up information from anywhere on the planet? Once Jane discovers the wonders of Google, there’s no turning back. It’s a magical feeling!

The development of Jane’s friendships with Paula and Anna was really fun, as were her interactions with philandering ex Frank and good friend Wes. The romance felt believable, and I thought her descriptions of modern courtship were particularly astute . . . and thought-provoking. Two of my favorite quotes from the book, which genuinely made me pause:

. . . While women value their so-called freedom, they are fearful of giving away too much too soon, thus obviating a man’s reasons for marrying. Which sounds like freedom for men and not for women, in my humble opinion. And which sounds like being ruined is almost as much a risk in this world as it is in mine.

To think I had believed, even for a moment, that he was about to offer me marriage, not a chance to bed him again and be his mistress who must still work and pay her own rent and can be thrown off without a moment’s notice unless perhaps he decides to make her an honest offer again. What a bargain.

So true, Jane — so true! Much of the book was really an examination of what it means to be a “free woman” — free from obligation, or responsibility, or want, or oppression. But, as evidenced above, Jane realizes that the freedom to make choices about love, family, friendship and careers in the twenty-first century doesn’t automatically equate to happiness.

Overall, an incredibly entertaining, interesting and fun look at our world through the eyes of a Regency woman, and a wonderful treat for Jane Austen fans. References to our favorite author abound, and a love of all things Austen — and Mr. Darcy — is just one of the many things Jane discovers she shares with Courtney. Now I want to go back and re-read Confessions, if only to spend more time with funny, perceptive Jane.

4.5 out of 5!

ISBN: 0525950761 ♥ Purchase from AmazonAuthor Website

Waiting for Best Friends Forever

best_friends_foreverThis Wednesday finds me impatiently waiting for the latest novel by Jennifer Weiner, one of my all-time favorite women’s fiction writers! No one can combine humor, heartbreak and solid writing so effortlessly, as Weiner did in her outstanding novels Little Earthquakes and Good In Bed. I consider her a tenant of the women’s fiction genre, and I’m ecstatic to get my hands on Best Friends Forever, released in hardcover on July 14!

Here’s a little something to whet your appetite from Amazon:

Addie Downs and Valerie Adler will be best friends forever. That’s what Addie believes after Valerie moves across the street when they’re both nine years old. But in the wake of betrayal during their teenage years, Val is swept into the popular crowd, while mousy, sullen Addie becomes her school’s scapegoat.

Flash-forward fifteen years. Valerie Adler has found a measure of fame and fortune working as the weathergirl at the local TV station. Addie Downs lives alone in her parents’ house in their small hometown of Pleasant Ridge, Illinois, caring for a troubled brother and trying to meet Prince Charming on the Internet. She’s just returned from Bad Date #6 when she opens her door to find her long-gone best friend standing there, a terrified look on her face and blood on the sleeve of her coat. “Something horrible has happened,” Val tells Addie, “and you’re the only one who can help.”

Best Friends Forever is a grand, hilarious, edge-of-your-seat adventure; a story about betrayal and loyalty, family history and small-town secrets. It’s about living through tragedy, finding love where you least expect it, and the ties that keep best friends together.

I’ll be honest — I’m a sucker for novels about friendships lost and renewed, sisters, family dynamics and first loves. I have a feeling Best Friends Forever just might combine all three!

Check out what more of the literary world is waiting on over at Breaking the Spine!