I Hunt Killers – Barry Lyga

Instead of writing individual reviews for the three books in this series, I thought it would be easier to do one review for all of them. I remember seeing I Hunt Killers, the first novel in the series, while working at the book store. Although I thought it sounded interesting and I shelved it in my “to read” shelf on Good Reads, it look me five years to get around to actually reading it, and by then it turned into a full blown series.

The series follows Jasper Dent, a 17 year old boy who happens to be the son of the country’s most famous serial killer. Jasper’s father raised him to be the perfect killer, teaching him how to think both as a killer and how to think like the police. He taught him tactics to avoid getting caught, but he himself was captured, and Jasper is desperate to avoid following in his father’s footsteps.

Someone is killing in Lobo’s Nod, Jasper’s hometown, and the killings mimic his father’s work. Jasper is sure it is the work of a serial killer, but no one believes him. He does everything he can to prove he is right and to stop the killer before the body count has a chance to pile up.

In the meantime, Jasper has other issues.  His mother has been missing for years, and he believes his father killed her. He lives with his grandmother who has dementia on top of mental health issues. His best friend Howie is a hemophiliac, who struggles with some mild social awkwardness and an obsession with tattoos he can never have. Jasper’s girlfriend Connie is a beautiful black girl who he fears he only loves because his father never killed a black woman. All of these characters play important roles in each of the novels, both to help drive the story, and as windows into Jasper’s thoughts and fears.

I don’t want to say too much about Game (book 2) or Blood of my Blood (book 3), mainly because anything I say will ruin the books for you. I will just say I enjoyed the series. It doesn’t have a tremendous amount of action, seems more peppered in here and there, but I still found it a good easy read. I did not guess the killer in the first book, l which I always like. That being said I didn’t guess the big twist at the end of the third either. I really liked the interesting perspective of someone raised by a serial killer. It is a unique concept to think of how hard police work to get into the mind of a serial killer, and here is this 17 year old kid who can get into the killers mind just as easily as the police’s. The series is definitely worth a read. You can tell the author put a lot of research into his work, which I always appreciate.

“The Giver” by Lois Lowry

I remember selling this book at Coles. It was a really thin book though, and it had never really captured my attention. When the movie came out, we rented it from Family Video (god I miss that place!), and we really enjoyed!  So when I found it available on Overdrive, I decided I would give it a try.

Jonas is about to turn 12 where he will be given his life assignment. In his community, the concept of choice is non-existent. Your career, your spouse, your children are all chosen for you. It is all about sameness; no colour, no hills, no changing climate, every day is the exact same.

Jonas is given the prestigious job of Receiver. The Receiver is the town historian, burdened with the memories of the past, so the rest of society does not have to hold on to them. The Receiver is consulted only when society is faced with a decision, as someone to provide insight based on history.

Jonas begins his training with the Giver, the man who he will replace. The Giver is getting older and the burden of the memories is becoming too much. His training begins with sledding in the winter, down a hill, and continues with the sensation of sunshine, of burning, of pain, of starving, and of violence. An interesting concept for this society is that people can be “released”.  Jonas begins to understand just how heavy the burden of the Giver really is.

An interesting concept for this society is that people can be “released”. It is mainly for the elderly, but is also used for a twin, someone who does not follow the rules, and for babies that do not thrive. They are essentially released out of the society into the beyond. Jonas eventually finds out what is entailed in the process of being released, and he is horrified, and he wants everyone to have those memories, to fully understand what is happening in their society.

The book raises some interesting questions on what would you be willing to give up to live in a “perfect” or “fair” world? To have no worry about choice or differences? And at what cost? Can we find a way to give up all of the bad things in life without losing some of the good?

Overall, this was another meh book for me. The movie was much better I felt. Maybe it was just one of those stories that needs to be visually presented. But it really didn’t work for me as audiobook. I found I didn’t really connect with any of the characters, was not surprised by the “releasing” concept, and thought the idea of a world that’s the same rather boring. To me it is our differences that make the world better.

”Holding Up the Universe” by Jennifer Niven

Man I really like Jennifer Niven’s books! When I finished “All the Bright Places”, I found out she had a new book out, and it sat on my wish list for almost a year before I found it available on Overdrive. I put my name on the hold list and patiently waited my turn.

The story is told through alternating narratives between Libby Strout and Jack Masselin. Libby was “America’s Fattest Teen.” After the death of her mother when she was only 10, Libby began to eat her grief until she weighed 653lbs and had to be removed from her home by a crane. She has lost 300lbs, and is ready to go back to school for the first time since the 5th grade.

Jack is a teen boy with his own issues. He has prosopagnosia, a condition where he cannot recognize faces, even of those he loves, like his family. He is essentially face-blind. He has kept it secret from everyone, including his family. He is a popular guy, dating the most beautiful girl in school. He can be a bit of a jerk, and one day he plays a prank on Libby to impress his friends.

As a result of Jack’s prank, he and Libby have to attend group counseling together, where Jack begins to befriend her, and they form an unlikely friendship…a maybe a little bit more. Each finds support in the other where they cannot find it elsewhere.

Libby is an interesting character, one that cannot fit in any traditional box. Due to her size at 650lbs and the inability to leave the house, she has very few friends. All she had was books and TV to base the outside world on. She read about a woman sexing off a lot of weight, and thinks maybe once she starts school she will meet a guy who will help her sex off the weight she has left to lose. It is immature logic at best, but if you put it into context of where she got her information of normal behaviour from, it really does make sense. She is bullied by Jack’s girlfriend, but instead of letting it get to her, she stands in the middle of the hall in a purple bikini with the words “I am wanted” written on her stomach. She writes fat shaming words about herself on the bathroom wall because she figures it is going to be said about her anyway, it might as well be her that does it. She definitely has a mentality that is hard to really wrap your head around, though I love the message sent of her standing up to the fat shaming comments.

I have read some negative reviews of how Niven depicted what it is like as an overweight teen, yet I found she did a pretty decent job of it, be it for an overweight teen or an adult. The feeling of loneliness, that no one understands you, the pressure to look a certain way, and be like everyone else I thought was very clearly conveyed. Libby’s biggest social interaction is with books, which glorifies being in relationships so it is no surprise she is desperate to feel normal and still try to be herself. In our society, weight is a constant presence. If you are overweight or obese, it is always brought up in conversations, always commented on, always on the mind when meeting someone new or entering a room, or doing anything new.

I really enjoyed the book, and was sad when it ended. I liked the relationship between Jack and Libby, and how they helped each other through their insecurities. I really enjoyed “All the Bright Places, but I loved this book! I cannot wait to see what Niven comes out with next. I have seen that she is working on a new novel, and I am really curious to see if this is ever made into a movie!                

“Wildflower” by Drew Barrymore

Wallflower

asteriaiconThe first distinct memory I have of watching a movie was when I was around 4 or so. I was with my dad at one of his friends’ houses, and their kids were watching ET on TV. I remember really liking Gertie, probably because she was the only girl and not terribly far from my own age, and so began my interest in Drew Barrymore. I have watched quite a few of her movies over the years, and always enjoy her acting. I found her book available on Overdrive, so I decided to give it a listen.

The audio was read by the author, which I always like. It adds to the whole experience, and it almost feels like you are having a conversation with them. She seems so genuinely optimistic and friendly, and her quirkiness is so endearing. She feels like a best friend. Her voice is so melodic, and it always sounds like she has a smile on her face.

The book contains stories from her life, not in chronological order, but rather bouncing all over the place. While I do prefer chronological order, this feels more like sitting on an overstuffed couch and having a long afternoon talk with her over tea.

Barrymore has led a very interesting life, even by Hollywood standards. She began acting at a very young age, with her mother taking advantage of that, causing her to emancipate at the age of 14. She was not close with her father, so she ended up getting her own place, where she did not even know how to do laundry or cook or even wash dishes! She grew up fast, dropped out of school, and worked many jobs including at a coffee shop just to get by. She educated herself, which I give her huge props for, and became an avid reader, enjoying the works of Tolstoy, Harper Lee, Kurt Vonnegut, and Jane Austen.

Barrymore talks about getting the role of Gertie, filming ET, and working with Stephen Spielberg, who was like a father to her. She even met Princess Diana during the world promotion tour, and gave her a little ET stuffed doll. Barrymore discusses when she jumped on David Letterman’s desk topless, and how she now insists on modesty clauses and no sex scenes in all of her roles. She actively sought out Adam Sandler, feeling the need to work together on some compilation, and they have since been in 3 movies together, all of which I think are awesome! They really complete each other on screen, and are great friends off screen.

She is also very close with Cameron Diaz, having worked on a few movies together as well. Diaz is a godmother to Barrymore’s children, and they were bridesmaids in each other’s weddings.  They have gone on many adventures together, including camping, sky diving, and swimming with sharks.

Barrymore is very candid, and talks freely about postpartum depression, parenting, and how to make better choices than what she feels her parents made. She leads a more settled, simpler life now, learning how to balance life and work, and seeks to give the life she felt she missed out on to her kids. She also writes very lovely (and very personal) letters to each of her daughters, telling them how much she loves them.

Perhaps my favourite part of the book is when she discusses her love of nature and flowers, even calling her business “Flower”. She has a love of avocado trees, having one in her yard when she was younger, and she has since put a stipulation in her will that when she dies she wants to be buried under an avocado tree, preferably with a view of the ocean. I just love this idea!

I came away with a much bigger and better appreciation for such an incredible woman. She has lived an incredible life, trying to leave this world a little better than when she found it. She promotes body positivity and advocates for mental health issues, and travels to Africa to help build schools. She has never lived a dull moment in her life, and I cannot wait to see what the future holds for Barrymore!

“Choose Your Own Autobiography” by Neil Patrick Harris

 Chooseyourown

asteriaiconI love me some NPH! I have tried to read the physical book and found it a little difficult, I think mainly because you want to read the book page by page, and it really isn’t set up that way. I remember loving choose your own adventure books when I was younger, but I think I had a hard time with a biography set up like that. When I found the book available as an audiobook, ready by NPH himself, I couldn’t resist giving it another try. Having Harris read his own story made all the difference, and having it read in chronological order was far more comfortable. There really is nothing better than NPH calling himself NPH!

Throughout the book, Harris peppers in some magic tricks, card tricks and cocktail recipes. There are also little blurbs written by celebrities he has worked with and made friends with over the years, telling stories about how they met and funny antidotes.  It is interesting to hear about all of the different people he has worked with over the years, who have shaped his career and his personal life.

I have always liked Harris and remember him from his Doogie days. His autobiography though made me love him even more. He has lived quite a wonderful life. He is honest and candid, and discusses every aspect of his life, from growing up, to acting in his various roles, his hosting gigs, his drug use, and struggles with his sexuality. He has seen and done it all; he is really the triple threat! But it is his love for his husband and children where his emotion really shines through. He had me laughing out loud so many times throughout the book, but it was that family love that brought me to tears.

“The Girl With the Lower Back Tattoo” by Amy Schumer

Lowerbacktattoo

asteriaiconI had never heard of Amy Schumer until Trainwreck came out. I watched the movie, but felt it was just…meh. She can be funny, but a lot of her humour just isn’t my style. Still, I have read a few other female comedians’ books, so I thought I would give her book a try. She read her own audiobook, which I always appreciate, and I enjoyed her story in her own voice.

Amy Schumer has lived an interesting life. She came from a very affluent family who lost it all. She understands life as a rich girl, and as a poor girl. She understands hard work, having worked her ass off on the comedy circuit to become a famous actress and comedian. She surprisingly is an introvert, and values quiet in order to recharge. Schumer is very passionate and vocal about social issues such as gun control, rape and feminism. Her parents divorced when she was young, and she does not seem to have a very strong relationship with her mother. Her father however, battles multiple sclerosis, and this is perhaps where I connected to her the most. She does not give a shit what you think of her, and she strongly promotes self-love, calling out body shamers and Hollywood for telling her to weigh less than 140lbs.

Schumer is a very sexual being, and I sometimes valued it, and sometimes was kind of bored with it. She is very open about sex, her vagina, and about her sexual experiences both good and bad. I appreciated her honesty on rape and domestic abuse. I feel it needs to be discussed openly if it is ever to change, and I am glad we are finally starting to see culture openly discuss such things. But having said that, I didn’t care who she slept with or how big their dick was. I don’t want to come off as a prude; I think sex is a natural part of life and nothing to be ashamed of, however, I just feel some things I don’t need to know. I do not need to know your vag smells like a barn yard animal, or a famous hockey player’s dick is too big.

I love that she isn’t afraid to stand up for herself and promotes loving yourself and your body. She calls out beauty standards, and tells people to embrace their size. Yet, she can still be self-deprecating, which I find sad. It is hard to hear someone so outspoken call themselves a fat ass.

In general, I have a new appreciation for Amy Schumer than I had after Trainwreck. I may not find her brand of humour appealing, but I definitely appreciate her as a person. I love her honesty and openness, her ability to fight for what she believes in, and her stance on body confidence. I have noticed since reading her book that she has a new movie coming out pertaining to how one views themselves, and have seen her pictured at a March for Our Lives rally. I am looking forward to seeing what else she does in the future both on and off camera.

“Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail” by Cheryl Strayed

Wild

asteriaiconThis is another book that I sold a ton of while working at the book store. However, it really didn’t capture my interest. I remember the author being interviewed by Oprah, which made me lose interest even more. Then Reese Witherspoon picked it up, and decided to make it into a movie, where it became a pop culture reference on the Gilmore Girls revival, and I started to question if I was missing something. I found the audiobook online available through the library, so I finally caved and downloaded it.

The book is the story, as the subtitle suggests, of how Cheryl Strayed hiked the Pacific Crest Trail at age 22. Strayed had decided to hike the trail to help find herself after her mother died and her marriage fell apart. I am so mixed about this book. The parts of the book where she discusses the actual hike were fascinating. The parts about her sexual conquests and how every man she met on the trail wanted to screw her, were not! I mean seriously, she is unbathed, her clothes all sweaty and dirty and smelly…who would want to even think about sex…yuck!

I found the recanting of her mother’s death heartbreaking, and I had to skip parts so I wouldn’t cry while listening to the book at work. I cannot think of life without my mother, she is my best friend, my rock, my anchor. I would be lost without her. I also skipped the part about a dying horse, I found it rather irrelevant, and didn’t enhance the story at all.

I didn’t really like Cheryl. She simply wasn’t an overly likeable person and I couldn’t relate to her. I could understand her making the rash decision to hike the trail after her mother’s death…I am quite sure I will do some crazy things too. But after that, nothing she did came close to something I could wrap my head around. Cheat on and eventually leave her husband? Nope. Date a drug addict and get addicted to heroin as well? Nope! Sleep with any man she encountered? Nope!

At least if you are going to choose to hike such a large and difficult trail, particularly as an inexperienced hiker, perhaps you should do some research? Maybe read a guide book? You have to actually read it though; you can’t just buy it and hope to learn by osmosis. And you should probably read it before you actually hit the trail…just a thought. Maybe put more time into carefully planning the whole thing, make sure enough money is in each supply box, maybe pack more clothing in the boxes, try to bring only necessities, plan a little more for safety. She was lucky to survive after some dangerous mistakes and miscalculations!

I have respect for her for taking on the journey and all that it entailed. It certainly is not something I have any desire to do! I just wish it could have been more of her finding herself and less of her sleeping with the various guys. I wish she could have learned from her mistakes along the way and came out a better person, a more mature person ready to take on the world after doing a badass hike! I know she mentioned at the end in the briefest of sentences how her life has evolved post PCT, but it was rather unmemorable after all that she had been through. I hope she has found happiness and peace after everything, and is a very strong, independent woman who appreciates all that she endured!

“Bringing Adam Home: The Abduction That Changed America” by Les Standiford with Det. Sgt Joe Matthews

BringingAdamHome

asteriaiconI grew up watching America’s Most Wanted. We often invited John Walsh into our home and hoped that none of these horrifying crimes every happened close to us. I had never known John’s drive was due to the personal loss of his own son until I stumbled onto this book when I worked at the bookstore. I immediately downloaded it when I noticed it was available as an audiobook through the library.

Adam Walsh was only 6 years old when he went missing from a Sears in 1981. Eventually, his head was found, and the Walsh’s had to give up hope of him returning home. His body was never found. There were a number of critical errors made by police, and it took 27 years before the truth finally came to light. It is a sad twist of irony that America’s Most Wanted helped catch hundreds of criminals, but couldn’t help solve the crime that mattered most to its host. Walsh, though, was able to help the United States transition into modern crime fighting, help develop a sex offender database, and I believe a missing children database to be used country-wide, and allowed police officers to track crimes outside of their area.

There was a potential suspect, who repeatedly admitted to kidnapping, sodomizing, killing, and decapitation Adam, and then would deny it completely. As a result, he was not fully investigated properly. Eventually, as science evolved and evidence was found, Ottis Toole was convicted of killing Adam Walsh, but unfortunately, it came after Toole’s death, though at least the Walsh’s got answers.

The writing of the book was aided by the detective who finally put the pieces together. While compelling, it does mean you need to keep some perspective as you read. The other detectives investigating are described through the eyes of Det. Sgt Joe Matthews, and therefore may not be 100% accurate, or they may be painted in a darker light than was actually true. Perhaps they were not as egotistical and inept as they were made to sound. Still, one does have to remember this was 35 years ago, and things were very different. The world knew of serial killers, but they were not so fearful of them, and they were not so sensationalized in the media and movies. Plus, this was a pretty high profile case, and I am sure the detectives were not equipped to handle such a difficult case. Not to mention that technology is so much more advanced today, they did not have the tools and techniques, or even the knowledge of crime scenes that we know and use today.

I cannot say that I enjoyed this book. I do not feel the subject of a kidnapped and mutilated body of a child to be something that one can call enjoyable. It is mind-blowing to hear about all of the mistakes made by detectives, but I do understand that it was a different time and we cannot measure them by today’s standards. I appreciate all of the hard work that went into this book, and I am happy at least that the Walsh’s can finally find some closure. Hopefully, one day, we will live in a world where such tragedies do not happen!

“How to be a Woman” by Caitlin Moran

Howtobe

asteriaiconI know Artemis reviewed this book a few years ago, and I remember her raving about it while we worked at the bookstore. I even picked it up at a garage sale, complete with her staff pick sticker on the cover. When I found it available as an audiobook through the library, I knew it was time to give it a go.

I loved this book and would recommend it to any females, particularly ones who believe themselves to be feminists. It is a very open and honest account of life as a woman, from pubic hair to periods, to strip clubs and porn, to motherhood and abortions. Moran tackles some very serious topics with wit and humour, and I had to fight hard to not laugh out loud a few times.

I found Moran’s honesty and candor to be empowering. She made me proud to be a woman and a feminist. As someone who has been adamant about not having children, she made me feel that my decision is okay. While I knew this was my choice, and I am happy about it, I have always heard that I will regret it and how selfish I am for making such a choice. I have had the arguments thrown at me that motherhood is my responsibility …after all that is what women are for, and how dare I take this opportunity away from my own mother to become a grandmother. Thank you Caitlin for giving me the power and courage to rightfully say “Fuck Off”! It was just a nice little reminder that my choice is as valid as the next, my experiences as real and worthy as the next, and at no point do I need to justify my choice to anyone!

I do not want to go into too much more, as I think Artemis did a great job of reviewing this book further below. But I do want to say that it was immensely enjoyable and damn worth the read! There were so many aspects of womanhood that I had never really considered. I know that sounds silly, but honestly, so much of life just seemed …there. I didn’t consider pubic hair or shaving my legs as anything other than normal. I didn’t think about the porn industry and what it has done to our sex lives. I never considered periods as anything other than a pain in the ass. I guess I never considered so many things through the lens of “life as a woman” so much as just merely life. It was definitely an eye opening book, and one that I will definitely reread again and again!

“My Stroke of Insight: A Brain Scientist’s Personal Journey” by Jill Bolte Taylor

Stroke

asteriaiconI remember seeing this when I worked at the book store and thought it sounded interesting, but I just never got around to it. I had heard an NPR podcast with her as the speaker, and I really enjoyed it, so when I had found it as an audiobook read by the author, I jumped at the chance to finally read this.

Jill Bolte Taylor was a 37 year old, Harvard educated brain scientist who had a stroke in 1996. She was in a unique position to know and understand exactly what was happening to her. Where most people would think it would be terrifying, she found it cool and fascinating, and decided to write about her experience in a hope to educate others.

Taylor delves into the science and physiology of the brain, how it works, and what exactly happens during a stroke. She documented each step of that day, when she realized she was having a stroke, trying to call to get help, how she was treated as a patient, the rehabilitation with her mom’s assistance, and how she feels about the standard treatment for stroke patients.

I think I enjoyed the brain science and the play by play account of what happened during the stroke the most. It was fascinating to hear how the brain responded, how it affected the various functions of the brain and body from speech to memory and logic. It was hard to imagine how frustrating it must have been to have to constantly remind yourself what you are doing, and how many precious minutes it took to remind herself enough to call for help. I was surprised to hear her thought process on getting help, struggling to remember a friend’s phone number, or how she spent almost an hour retrieving her physician’s business card and calling for assistance, and at no point thinking to call 911. As someone who works in the medical profession, I also enjoyed hearing her talk about how she was treated as a patient, and how she stresses the importance of treating stroke victims as wounded, not dumb. They deserve to be treated with respect and dignity, and need to be met at their level, with every attempt made in order to not hinder progress.

The final portion of the book was the hardest for me to really wrap my head around. Taylor talks about respecting her cells, thanking them for all that they do and telling them how much they are valued. She consults angel cards daily, and discusses promoting happiness and calmness in your life. She mentions prayer, and her belief in its abilities to help heal. While these are not methods I practice or believe in, ultimately it is her story, and whatever works for her is really all that is important.

Having her read the audiobook added to the whole experience for me, hearing her tell her story in her own voice. I cannot say I didn’t enjoy it, it isn’t something for me to enjoy or not really, I just struggled with it a bit more than I thought I would. It might not have been entirely what I was expecting it to be, but I still feel it is an important read. I appreciate all that she has done to promote education to stroke patients and their families, and discussing first-hand experience with the medical profession to allow better care for stroke patients in the future.