Becky’s One Hundred and Fifty-Seventh Book Review: “The Silver Linings Playbook” by Matthew Quick

“The Silver Linings Playbook” by Matthew Quick was another instance where I found out after seeing the movie that it was based on a book. Since I enjoyed the movie so much, I thought that I would most likely enjoy the book even more. My instincts were correct; I did enjoy the book more although the movie was really well done.

I think part of what I really enjoyed about “The Silver Linings Playbook” was how real the main character, Pat, was. The book begins with him just getting out of a mental institution. He has no idea how long he has been away and is obsessed with making things right with Nikki, his wife. He is working on being kind rather than right. His re-entry into the world outside of the institution is pretty fascinating to read about. The way that he tries to cope with things and work out situations is very well captured. “I’m so confused that I’m speaking and thinking and worrying all at the same time, not really knowing what to do or say.” (The Silver Linings Playbook, pg 51). There is a focus on his mental illness in the book but at the same time, a lot of what he says is more honest and even healthier than those that are considered ‘normal’.

There is one part in the book when Pat is having dinner with his friends Ronnie and Veronica and Veronica’s sister Tiffany. Ronnie pulls Pat aside and warns him about Tiffany. I really enjoyed Pat’s reaction to this. “…but he never once tells me what Tiffany thinks or what is going on in her heart: the awful feelings, the conflicting impulses, the needs, the desperation, everything that makes her different from Ronnie and Veronica, who have each other and their daughter, Emily, and a good income and a house and everything else that keeps people from calling them “odd”. What amazes me is that Ronnie is telling me all this in a friendly manner, as if he is trying to save me from Tiffany’s ways, as if he knows more about these sorts of things than I do, as if I had not spent the last few months in a mental institution. He does not understand Tiffany, and he sure as hell doesn’t understand me, but I do not hold it against Ronnie, because I am practicing being kind rather than right, so Nikki will be able to love me again when apart time is over.” (The Silver Linings Playbook, pg 79).

I also really enjoyed the way that Pat talks about Tiffany. Their connection and relationship is so different from most that you can’t help but find yourself cheering for them. They both are so messed up that they are a really good fit, because they can understand the difficulties that they each are having. “She looks sad. She looks angry. She looks different from everyone else I know – she cannot put on that happy face others wear when they know they are being watched. She doesn’t put on a face for me, which makes me trust her somehow.” (The Silver Linings Playbook, pg 116). Pat finds it easier to open up to Tiffany because she doesn’t put on an act. She’s frank and he finds that refreshing and necessary for him to trust her. I really enjoyed the complex relationship between Tiffany and Pat.

I think that Matthew Quick does a great job of illustrating just how much can change in the world when you step out of it for a while, as Pat does. He is in the mental institution for several years and when he comes out he has no idea that it had been that long. He believes that he was away for a few months. When he finally does realize how long he was away and how much he missed, he can’t comprehend or handle it. There are many things that cause him to lose it after he gets out. His ups and downs are all over the place. His insanity is harsh and comes out at the slightest provocation. The way that he experiences life after the institution is raw. Reading about his breakdowns and more importantly his ability to pick himself up made this book such a good read.

Would I recommend this book? Yes, I really enjoyed this book. It is a good way for people to glimpse into the world of mental illness. This book has the ability to help people understand more fully just how challenging things can be for those with mental illnesses. Not to mention that it is just entertaining. I really enjoyed this book and cannot wait to work my way though the rest of Matthew Quick’s novels.

Becky’s One Hundred and Fifty-Sixth Book Review: “The Tommyknockers” by Stephen King

“The Tommyknockers” by Stephen King is one of the books my little brother insisted that I read. As today is his birthday, it seemed appropriate to make this book the subject of my review today. “The Tommyknockers” is one of Stephen King’s longer books, but you barely notice that when reading. It is yet another book that I just found myself devouring. Although there was still a significant influence of the horror genre in this book, it is more correctly categorized as a science fiction book.

Bobbi Anderson in Haven is patient zero in “The Tommyknockers”. One day while out walking the woods, she trips over something. It is seemingly such an insignificant event, but it changes things forever. Bobbi becomes obsessed with unearthing the object that she tripped over. Bobbi is a writer and I found myself connecting strongly with her untainted self in the beginning. I especially liked this quote: “She had been amazed – and a little relieved – to discover that she was not concealing some private neurosis; almost all imaginative people heard voices. Not just thoughts but actual voices inside their heads, different personae, each as clearly defined as voices on an old-time radio show.” (The Tommyknockers, pg 40). I can relate. As she is unearthing the object, it becomes clear that it is an alien spacecraft. During the excavation of the spacecraft, Bobbi and the whole town change. The changes are slow and subtle at first, but it becomes apparent that things are not changing for the better.

The main character is a good friend and sometimes lover of Bobbi’s nicknamed Gard. He is very different from what you usually expect from a main character. Instead of having one or two little quirky flaws, he is chalk full of them. Gard is an alcoholic, he happily alters his state of mind in any way that he can, he is also a conspiracy theorist, a hard-core protestor, and is always up for some mischief. It wouldn’t be an exaggeration to call him scum. He has no qualms at making women cry by spouting his truths about anything and everything. He is not an easily likable individual. Likable or not, Gard was certainly entertaining with a fair amount of actual deep thoughts to his name. “He had been raised to believe God was love, but you had to wonder how loving a God could be when He made men and women smart enough to land on the moon but stupid enough to have to learn there was no such thing as forever over and over again.” (The Tommyknockers, pg 70).

I think one of the really interesting things about “The Tommyknockers” is how advanced all the technology appeared to be. To the casual observer, it would seem that the knowledge that was spreading across Haven after Bobbi began excavating the spacecraft was superior in many ways. It took Gard to point out to everyone what the obvious answers were to the problems they were encountering. “All the intelligence and determination in the world cannot create art without a bit of talent, but intelligence and determination can create some great forgeries.” (The Tommyknockers, pg 260). And although the changes that were happening gave the appearance of superiority, things were not better. “Mental communication had not fostered a sense of peace and harmony in Haven; in fact, it seemed to have done exactly the opposite.” (The Tommyknockers, pg 325).

Would I recommend this book? Yes, especially if you are not usually a fan of science fiction. The way that I enjoyed this book made me realize that science fiction is a genre that is almost completely unexplored by me. Considering all the other books that I gravitate towards, it is surprising that it took this long for me to read and enjoy a science fiction novel. I look forward to branching out more. And as always, I cannot wait to get my hands on some more of Stephen King’s work.

“Real terror is the most physically debilitating of all emotions. It saps the endocrines, dumps muscle – tightening organic drugs into the bloodstream, races the heart, exhausts the mind.” (The Tommyknockers, pg 578)

Becky’s One Hundred and Fifty-Fifth Book Review: “Top Secret Twenty-One” by Janet Evanovich

“Top Secret Twenty-One” by Janet Evanovich is yet another book in the Stephanie Plum series. I almost didn’t get this book just because the last one was so over-the-top ridiculous, even for a Stephanie Plum novel. However, I caved and got it and I’m glad that I did, it ended up being better than I thought it would be.

There were still the expected hijinks that happen in all Stephanie Plum novels, but I find them to be rather endearing, but only if there is more meat to it. That is what I found in this book. Yes, there were explosions, destruction of property, multiple cars, big blue making an appearance, funerals as a social engagement, the usual. But I found myself eagerly reading. In this book, Stephanie is going after a skip, there is a meltdown at Rangeman that leads to investigations into possible terrorism, Lula is up to her usual hilarity, and Stephanie gets an unwanted roommate in the form of Briggs.

“ ‘Holy Hannah,’ Grandma said when she saw Briggs. ‘What happened to him? Did your father catch up to him?’
‘Someone shot a rocket-propelled firebomb into my apartment,’ I said.
‘Again?’ Grandma asked.” (Top Secret Twenty-One, pg 107)

What I found to be pretty entertaining about “Top Secret Twenty-One” was that Stephanie’s Grandma was trying to work her way through her bucket list. One of the items on her list was to get the best of Morelli’s Grandma. Stephanie was trying to figure out why this was so important to her and Grandma did not hesitate to explain some of the outrageous offenses that had been committed against her, “…Remember when she called me an old slut?” Grandma whacked a carrot in half. “Well, I’m not all that old.” (Top Secret Twenty-One, pg 164). I laughed out loud at that.

Another quote that I really enjoyed was: “…I could see a slight bulge under his sport coat, and an earbud attached by a curly wire to a battery pack. Not high-tech like mine. FBI. He’d be jealous of my earbud.” (Top Secret Twenty-One, pg 273)

Would I recommend this book? Yes, I thought this was much better than the last one. It kept me guessing, the book wasn’t the formula I have come to expect from the Stephanie Plum novels. I liked the fact that the book kept going after I expected it to be over. Things didn’t wrap up in a nice little bow all in one shot as it has in the past. This was entertaining and kept me guessing. I do enjoy the series and would recommend them to anyone looking for a fun read.

Becky’s One Hundred and Fifty-Fourth Book Review: “The Catch” by Taylor Stevens

“The Catch” by Taylor Stevens is a thrilling read. Part of what I found so enjoyable about this book was the fact that the main character – a spy for hire – is a woman. It took me two pages to become enamored with the story and the main character, Munroe. “Instead, he’d come for her, which was his way of marking territory: a reminder that he was familiar with her routines and could invade them if he cared to. She allowed him to believe it, just as she allowed him to believe that he knew who she was, where she’d come from, and why she was here.” (The Catch, pg 2). I read this and knew that this was no ordinary story. I knew that Munroe was no ordinary protagonist.

Unfortunately, I only just found out while writing this review that “The Catch” is actually the fourth book in the series that follows Munroe. On the plus side, this means there are more books out there for me to read following a character I really enjoy. The downside is now I have come into the series in the middle and I hate when that happens. That being said, I still really enjoyed reading this book.

The deeper I got into the book, the more Munroe’s unique abilities made themselves known. One of her top talents is the ability to quickly pick up languages, a talent that she uses to bring a certain amount of respectability to her interactions with strangers. “Within his words of introduction Munroe heard the accent and for her own benefit answered in Italian, utilizing language, that special form of magic that increased in potency the father the spell was cast from where it was expected. The doctor’s expression shifted into a cautious smile, and in micro increments his posture relaxed with relief, almost as if he’d been holding his breath.” (The Catch pg 60)

Then there are other instances in the book where Munroe’s abilities do not outshine her own enjoyment for the life that she has chosen for herself. “Knife plunged into trachea. Yelp choked into gurgle. Blood spread over her hands, warm and sticky, sending her soul into the ecstasy of a crack addict’s high. A blow fell from the side and connected with her shoulder. Landed hard enough to drop her to one knee and she laughed with the pain.” (The Catch, pg 146). This excerpt shows just how close to the edge Munroe is. She does what she does because she is good at it and it is the life that she found herself in, but there is a part of her that enjoys it, and that is something that separates her from other protagonists. Most of the time, the hero does not relish the kill.

Time and time again in this novel, it is proven that Munroe is different from most protagonists. She has her share of flaws and her own abilities – one trait that was consistent with Munroe was her ability to be wise. This is one quote that I really enjoyed because of that. “You have your share of flaws, Nathan, but until now I never mistook you for one of those fools who use their own inability and limited experience to measure what others can or can’t do.” (The Catch, pg 283) This is a statement that made me stop reading, and think. It’s one of the many reasons I found myself enjoying Taylor Steven’s writing.

Would I recommend this book? Yes, but with my new knowledge that this book is actually the fourth in a series, I would recommend others hold off until they can start at the beginning of the series. The book was well written and deeply entertaining with a lot more action than one normally sees with a female protagonist. I look forward to getting my hands on the rest of the series.

I received this book from the Blogging for Books program in exchange for this review.

Becky’s One Hundred and Fifty-Third Book Review: “Orange is the New Black” by Piper Kerman

“Orange is the New Black” by Piper Kerman was a book that I picked up after I saw how popular the television show was. Before I read the book, I knew nothing about it except that it involved a woman telling her story about her time in prison. I was pleasantly surprised by how much I enjoyed both Kerman’s writing and the topic itself.

I am pretty well defined as a ‘goodie-two-shoes’ so I have never spent much time thinking about what prison life would be like. Kerman is able to open the door and invite her readers in to experience prison right along side her. She breaks it down for you and fills her readers in on what the most difficult thing about being locked away is, “Prison is so much about the people who are missing from your life and who fill your imagination.” (Orange is the New Black, pg 107). It’s nothing I have ever, or will probably ever, experienced myself, but reading this book really made it easy to relate to the position that Kerman found herself in.

I really liked the way that Kerman illustrated the relationships between the guards and the inmates. It’s no secret that guards are at a huge advantage over the inmates, but I still thought Kerman was able to capture the raw reality of this really well, “It is hard to conceive of any relationship between two adults in America being less equal than that of prisoner and prison guard. The formal relationship, enforced by the institution, is that one person’s word means everything and the other’s means almost nothing; one person can command the other to do just about anything, and refusal can result in total physical restraint. That fact is like a slap in the face. Even in relation to the people who are anointed with power in the outside world – cops, elected officials, soldiers – we have rights within our interactions. We have a right to speak to power, though we may not exercise it. But when you step behind the walls of a prison as an inmate, you lose that right. It evaporates and it’s terrifying.” (Orange is the New Black, pg 129). I think not having a say in anything with regards to yourself or your living situation would be insanely difficult to deal with. Especially considering how many freedoms are allowed those on the outside. Leaving those all at the door would be a real challenge for anyone.

Would I recommend this book? Yes, I think it was a very entertaining read; I enjoyed Kerman’s style of writing and her tone held just the right amount of humor mixed in with a serious subject. Reading about prison life from a woman’s perspective is something new for me. It was easy to relate to Kerman because she did something dumb and illegal in her youth. It came back to bite her in the ass ten years later. It could happen to almost anyone. The book was an enjoyable read, but it also opened my eyes a little to how ridiculous some of the reasons that people are in jail are. A ten-year-old drug offense of such a minimal amount really doesn’t deserve a prison sentence; it seems like something a fine and/or community service could take care of. Instead people are thrown in prison for the smallest of offenses, and the taxpayers are the ones who are funding the unnecessary imprisonment of so many people. It’s something that I never even crossed my mind before. “Orange is the New Black” by Piper Kerman really made me think. I’d be more than inclined to pick up something else written by her and would highly recommend this book.

Side note: the book and the television series have very little to do with one another. Some of the characters are the same, but there are a lot of changes made. I read the book first and was fine with the liberties the show takes. That being said, I wouldn’t tell people to expect the show in the book if they are going in reverse order. Both are enjoyable in my opinion.