Book Review: The Unknowns

15790899The Unknowns by Gabriel Roth was our Critical Era online Book Club pick for December. It was a quick and quirky read which had some funny moments but it was definitely what we at Literary Hoarders like to call a “Boy Book”.

Boy Book Definition:

  1. Computer nerd protagonist obsessed with video games, comic books and/or getting together with a “real” girl.
  2. Unlimited funds usually obtained by computer nerdiness.
  3. Obsessive masturbation (uh ya– approx. every 5 pages there is a masturbation scene– awesome).
  4. Over analysis of masturbating computer nerd’s own faults told in a sarcastic and humorous way.
  5. The perfect dream girl who eventually falls for the sarcastic, masturbating computer nerd (and not just because of the unlimited funds).

Social outcast Eric Fuller spends his early high school days reading comics, obsessing about girls that he can’t get and masturbating. After becoming the butt of all jokes he turns to his computer for solace. He eventually hooks up with the nerdiest nerd at school to develop an early 90’s role-playing game. Fast forward 20 years later and Eric is still masturbating, has invented a web advertising tracking system and is a bazillionaire. He is still hopeless with the ladies but uses drugs and alcohol to loosen himself up. He meets up with the beautiful Maya at a party given by his newly lesbian BFF and instantly falls in love. Because he is an awkward computer nerd she ignores him completely and he leaves with her friend, Lauren, instead. Even though he is “madly in love” with Maya he offers Lauren Ecstasy and they screw all night. He makes a faux pas during this little encounter and reveals a very embarrassing Oedipal thought while high and his only fear is that Maya will find out. WHAT??

The story is presented in a way that makes you think that it was meant to be a funny, ironic look at a loser who knows he’s a loser and some of the thoughts and banter did have me chuckling out loud. But, the story takes a very serious turn once the beautiful and perfect Maya (miraculously) falls for Eric’s quirkiness (not his money) and it becomes harder to stay in a laughy frame of mind after that. There was also a lot of discussion of Eric’s own dysfunctional family which was presented in a very flippant tone which I actually found more sad than funny.Screen shot 2013-12-16 at 10.32.09 PM

The ending was atypical for this kind of story which I did find kind of refreshing and Mr. Roth definitely has mad writing and story telling skills. I don’t mind Boy Books on occasion but this wasn’t really the book for me–  I never really did warm up to Eric and I wanted to pound Maya square in her hipster glasses (she was just too cool for school in my opinion). I think that The Truth in Advertising by John Kenney did a way better job in tackling heavy subjects while maintaining a light and humorous tone.

2.5 stars, Meh– take it or leave it.

Audiobook Review: The Gilly Salt Sisters

First off thanks to Audio Jukebox, once again, for allowing us to listen and review this book as part of their Solid Gold Reader program. I enjoyed the narration by Angela Brazil and I think that Tiffany Baker’s writing is top-notch. Unfortunately, the story just didn’t do it for me. I really wanted to like it– I thoroughly enjoyed The Little Giant of Aberdeen County and am usually a fan of the  “magical realism” genre. Unfortunately, this story was full of hateful characters who basically got what they deserved and, as much as it was mentioned, I didn’t really buy that the Gilly Salt was all that magical. By the end I was literally shouting “OH! Come ON!!” at my CD player and was anxious for it to be over.image

The Gilly sisters, Joanna and Claire, grew up living with their mother in the Cape Cod town of Prospect on a marshy land where they harvested salt (of all things). Jo is the stalwart, hardworking sister and Claire is the frivolous beauty. The Gillys have a sordid history with the town– most suspect they are witches (every year on December’s Eve one of the sisters tosses a packet of Gilly Salt into a public bon fire to tell the fortune of the town; businesses who refuse to serve or sell the Gilly Salt do not thrive; people leave Gilly Salt packets as offerings to “Our Lady of Perpetual Salt”, the strange faceless paining of the Virgin Mary that the town seems to be obsessed with; everything Claire bakes with the Gilly Salt turns out to be the most delicious thing anyone has ever tasted). Claire wants nothing more than to escape the life of salt and Jo wants nothing more than to ensure the salt thrives.

Jo’s childhood was difficult. She starts working in the salt at a very young age and witnesses her twin brother drown in one of the salt pools (tradition dictates that men do not thrive on Salt Creek Farm so you saw this coming a mile away). She is devastated and vows not to let the same thing happen to Claire. Jo does Claire’s share of the work which turns her into a bit of a spoiled brat. While Jo works her fingers to the bone Claire spends her time going to school, socializing and hanging out underneath the pear tree making out with her “betrothed” (town hottie Ethan Stone). Jo’s one and only friend is Whit Turner– the only son of the richest family in town. An age-old Turner/Gilly feud is implied but the only standout reason for hostility has more to do with their mothers than family history (and this “doozy” of a secret is another that can be seen a mile away so is not all that shocking). Whit is wild about Jo but Jo only loves the salt (and she accidentally finds out their mothers’ big secret while praying to “Our Lady” so is totally turned off of being in any kind of romantic relationship with Whit and tells him so).

harvesting-saltClaire eventually does get off of Salt Creek Farm, but not the way she expected. She patiently waits for Ethan to propose and take her away but Ethan has other plans– he is going to join the priesthood (which he tells her about AFTER he takes her virginity on graduation night under the make-out tree– how romantic!). Claire is devastated– so much so that she accidentally starts a fire in the salt barn. Jo sees the fire and rushes in to save her sister. Claire escapes without a scratch but Jo is burnt to a deformed crispy mess (she is left with a terrible limp and needs a glass eye which further perpetuates the witch myth). Claire is overcome with guilt so what else can she do but run off and marry Whit (WHAT?). She knows that Whit is only marrying her for revenge and is fine with it as long as it gets her off Salt Creek Farm forever. She tries to forget Ethan and that she was ever a Gilly. She becomes a whole new person– rich, snobby and mean.

About 20 years later the mothers are dead, Jo has solely inherited Salt Creek Farm and Claire and Whit have become the town bullies. Whit has bought up half the town and Claire spends her time riding her horse through town trying to ruin her sister’s business by telling everyone that Gilly Salt is toxic, not magic (HUH?). We meet Dee, an annoying trash-bag of a gal who comes to live in Prospect with her father. She is only 18 and becomes weirdly obsessed with Claire. She learns that Claire could never have children (lots of miscarriages), that Whit wants to own Salt Creek Farm and that they live a life apart and out of love. She uses these facts as an excuse to sleep with Whit, who also a notorious womanizer. Eventually, Dee gets knocked up and kicked out of her father’s home. Claire finds out about their affair when she sees Whit trying to choke Dee to death– a.k.a. taking care of his “little problem”. Claire bonks Whit in the head with a shovel (like a freaking cartoon!) and she and Dee escape to the only place they can be safe– Salt Creek Farm.

So, if the eye rolling hasn’t already begun this is where it will start. Jo mercifully gives Dee and Claire sanctuary and they become a strange little family unto themselves. Claire and Jo mother Dee during her pregnancy and they all work together in harmony farming the Gilly Salt. There is a resurgence in its popularity because Claire has rebranded it as a gourmet product (and she is no longer bad mouthing it to the whole town!). Dee eventually has the baby (who they call Jordan– “after the river” = cheesy) and Claire falls in love with him (“We’ll call him Jordy” = more cheese). They bring him home to Salt Creek Farm and Claire begins to take over as the mother. Ethan Stone has also returned to town as the new parish priest (which makes Claire extremely “happy”). He begins to frequent Salt Creek Farm and is also charmed by Jordy. Dee, even though she is a borderline imbecile, thinks there is something unnatural about the situation and decides that she must leave as soon as she has the strength (it was a difficult birth and Dee almost dies– of course). Before she goes, though, she gives Whit one more chance to raise the baby with her. Whit secretly comes to meet Dee in the salt barn on December’s Eve (when Jo and Claire are away tending to the town bon fire) and it “mysteriously” catches on fire (again).

A 2.5 for me– I could not stand Claire and I am still not sure if she was supposed to be a hero or a villain– she did all kinds of nasty stuff to her sister (like deform her with fire, marry her best friend, try to ruin the family business) and in the end got rewarded for it all (got her man back, “inherited” a baby , thrived as a gourmet baker and artesian grocer). The descriptions of Salt Creek Farm and the actual harvesting of the salt was quite interesting (all except for the detailed descriptions of drowning feral KITTENS! So unnecessary!) and I do look forward to see what Tiffany Baker’s next book will bring.


Book Review: The Death of Bees

15818333The ratings system to our right states the 2.5 star rating is a “Meh, take it or leave it.

This would be about right. What started out as one of those stories that you couldn’t take your eyes away from, was so disturbingly quirky, quickly turned in to a very repetitive, repetitive, repetitive one. A real shame, for this was a book I quickly threw a hold on at our public library. I believe I was one of the first people to be able to read it too.

The story is told from three perspectives, with alternating and very short, quick chapters as told by:

Marnie: the oldest daughter of Izzy and Gene. One right messed up child. One person that became increasingly tedious to read about. Did not enjoy the continuous tales of her sexual escapades, how messed up she was due to her frightful upbringing by two incredibly neglectful parents. She is however, fiercely devoted to her sister Nelly.

Nelly: she appears to be autistic. She lives in a very different reality than Marnie. As Marnie describes her “she is off her head”. I cared the most for Nelly however, for she was the youngest and most unsettled person by their neglected upbringing.

Lennie: he is the very old neighbour, is homosexual, was handed a sexual offender status a few years prior, and cares very much for the well-being of these two very, very lost girls.

So, the story keeps flipping back to Marnie’s perspective, then to Nelly’s, then to Lennie’s and if oft repeated over and over again. Not much changes, no new details generally come about, and not much new or exciting happens. Marnie is a foul-mouthed, messed up girl, Nelly is trying to understand what is happening and Lennie is trying to provide security and safety and some degree of normalcy.

A very disappointing read for me. 😦 And one I’m glad I can now close and move on from.

From Goodreads: A riveting, brilliantly written debut novel-a coming-of-age story with the strong voice and powerful resonance of Swamplandia! and The Secret Life of Bees—in which two young sisters attempt to hold the world at bay after the mysterious death of their parents.

Today is Christmas Eve. Today is my birthday. Today I am fifteen. Today I buried my parents in the backyard. Neither of them were beloved.

Marnie and her little sister Nelly are on their own now. Only they know what happened to their parents, Izzy and Gene, and they aren’t telling. While life in Glasgow’s Hazlehurst housing estate isn’t grand, they do have each other. Besides, it’s only one year until Marnie will be considered an adult and can legally take care of them both.

As the new year comes and goes, Lennie, the old man next door, realizes that his young neighbors are alone and need his help. Or does he need theirs? But he’s not the only one who suspects something isn’t right. Soon, the sisters’ friends, their other neighbors, the authorities, and even Gene’s nosy drug dealer begin to ask questions. As one lie leads to another, dark secrets about the girls’ family surface, creating complications that threaten to tear them apart.

Written with fierce sympathy and beautiful precision, told in alternating voices, The Death of Bees is an enchanting, grimly comic tale of three lost souls who, unable to answer for themselves, can answer only for each other.