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Show Us Your Books, February edition: WTF did I just read?

Hooray for books! 

I feel like I say that every month but it’s the truth. Nothing really makes me happier than talking books and each month Steph and I do this, and you guys all join us, it’s sends me over the moon with excitement that others like to talk books as much as I do. So, thank you for continuing to join us and show us your books. 

This past month, I read an average amount of books for me–7, including one DNF. They ranged from short stories to memoir to fiction yet each book left me with the same thought. What the fuck did I just read? 

No joke, I had a hard time wrapping my head around all the books I read this past month. I don’t necessarily mean that in a bad way. Just that each book left me scratching my head and thinking about something I hadn’t anticipated thinking about (or in the case of a couple, try really hard not to think about). Most of the books were dark and sad and the exact opposite of light and fluffy. 

Let’s talk about what I read so you get what I mean. There’s a TL; DR summary at the end because we all know I’m long winded. show-us-your-books-2016-300by300

Fortune Smiles by Adam Johnson. This is a collection of really well-written short stories, none connected to each other with any central theme except maybe money, but it was so diverse that if you’re not paying attention, you’d miss the theme. For me, the strongest stories were at the beginning, one about a man in post-Katrina New Orleans looking for his son’s mother, another about a woman dying of rare disease and her husband trying to cope with it and her seeking comfort in the music of Nirvana, then followed by a few weird ones including a very disturbing story about a guy working in child pornography, and then ending with its weakest story, taking place in South Korea, about 2 North Korean defectors. It’s only 6 stories but they are powerful and some could stand as a book but I’m glad they’re only short stories. 

Tampa by Alissa Nutting. This was not the next book I read sequentially but it has to do with pedophilia so it seemed logical to write about it and just get this whole disgusting subject out of the way. I really don’t even know how to fairly review this book because while I love her writing style, the subject matter was so cringe inducing I had a difficult time reading it. The fact that she wrote her vile, repugnant, calculating, pedophile, narcissistic main character, Celeste, in such a way that made you want to keep reading is definitely a testament to how she can write. I don’t want to give too much away but the story is about a teacher who purposefully seeks out 14 year old boys to have sex with and the consequences of that. It’s a fucking disturbing story. I’m glad she told the story with a female perpetrator, though, and turned the whole “sleep with my teacher” fantasy/trope on its head. I highly caution people about reading this book, though. It is not easy to read AT ALL and there’s also lots of graphic descriptions of sex. If you can’t handle that, don’t read this. 

A Prayer for Owen Meany by John Irving. This was my DNF. I tried, I really did. I kept hearing good things about the ending and how beautiful and tragic and amazing the story was but I found Owen insufferable to read, including the way Irving capitalizes Owen’s speech (since he shouts), it was a horribly boring plot, the narrator bugged me, too, and maybe it’s just not the right time for me to read this book. Sorry, Kathy and Steph. But I gave it 200+ pages before I quit.

Pretty Girls by Karin Slaughter. Standard mystery/thriller with a disgusting, fucked up twist. Snuff porn. If you don’t know what that is, I’m jealous of you. It’s…I don’t even know how to describe it properly because it’s almost the worst thing ever (child porn is the worst and we’ve covered that already). Honestly, I found myself thinking that this was the most fucked up book I’d ever read until I got to Tampa and then it won that crown but this one is a close second. I will tell you, though, it’s really only the type of crimes she chose that make this book stand out for me. It followed the thriller formula you’d expect, it was pretty predictable, but the crimes were their own character instead of a plot point which made it a more engaging read. 

Crank by Ellen Hopkins. A book of poetry based on her daughter’s experience as a meth addict. The first in a three part series. When I saw this was a book of poetry, I was excited because that’s one of the categories on my personal reading challenge. I was not expecting what I read. This read more like a narrative rather than what you’d expect from poetry, and reading Kristina’s decent into addiction, and it’s ramifications (including becoming pregnant by her rapist), ripped out my heart. It reminded me of The Heroin Diaries if they had been written by a teenage girl instead of a rock star. The style of the poetry bugged me at times but not so much that I couldn’t read or wanted to stop reading. Or that I haven’t put the other two on hold.

Bootstrapper: From Broke to Badass on a Northern Michigan Farm by Mardi Jo Link. This was a memoir about a divorcee and her rise out of debt and poverty (like, no heat or food and close to losing your house in a Northern Michigan winter poverty). She broke the story down by month over the course of a year and it was interesting to watch her mindset and moods fluctuate so much. I think it painted a much more realistic picture but, at times, it got really, really infuriating. You wanted to wring her neck over some of her choices and decisions but, in the end, she makes a really good one. She’s pretty likable which compensates for a lot.

Violent Ends by Shaun David Hutchinson (editor). Mother of hell, this was a phenomenal book. It’s a book of short stories, each written by a different YA author (17 in all), from different perspectives on a school shooting. It’s not a book about the shooting. It’s not a book about the aftermath. It’s not a book about what led up to it because you’ll have to figure out a lot of that yourself and even then, it’s ambiguous. It’s not necessarily a book about making the shooter, a boy named Kirby, sympathetic. It’s a book, like the Goodreads description says, about perspectives. Except not one of the perspectives is the shooter’s. They’re his bullies, his friends, his victims, his sister, even the gun he used, all of the trying to understand why Kirby did what he did. This book will rip your heart apart in a million pieces and just when you think you can’t be any more destroyed, you’ll get destroyed again. This is the book by which I will judge all other books this year.

TL;DR: Definitely read Violent Ends, Crank, and Fortune Smiles. Read Tampa and Pretty Girls if you can stomach the graphic horribleness of the subject matter. Read Bootstrapper if you like a fun, easy to read memoir. Owen Meany, though, I’d avoid. 

Now it’s your turn! What did you read? Bloggers, link up below. Nonbloggers, let me know in the comments. And please make sure you go visit some of the other posts because I have found many a good book in those posts:

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P.S. Steph and I have a podcast now. It’s called The Armchair Librarians. It was supposed to launch today but I shit the bed and couldn’t get the tech end ready. We’ll have it for you soon.

63 Comments

  1. Erin @ TexErin-in-SydneyLand

    I gave the same comment to Steph. As much as I enjoy reading books that are provocative and push boundaries, due to my own personal experience of being a student who a teacher preyed upon (and, he did it with others as well), I’m going to have to skip Tampa. It’s the only piece of my life that I still can’t face the topic for entertainment purposes. I do applaud the flip to a female teacher/male students and the fantasy of being with a teacher.

    Violent Ends sounds intriguing. Added it.
    Erin @ TexErin-in-SydneyLand recently posted…I show you my books, you show me yours 2.16My Profile

    Reply
    1. Jana (Post author)

      You’ll most likely enjoy Violent Ends.

      I get why you feel that way about Tampa. I have certain topics I generally avoid for similar reasons.

      Reply
  2. Ericka @ A Quiet Girl's Musings...

    I don’t think I could handle the book about Snuff porn… I accidentally watched the Nicholas Cage movie that is on that topic (8mm, maybe?) and it bothered me for several days after. I couldn’t get it out of my head. Thanks for the heads up. I have been curious to try Karin Slaughter, so I was familiar with the title, just not the content. Have a good one!
    Ericka @ A Quiet Girl’s Musings… recently posted…Top Ten Tuesday & Recently Read Vol. 4 (Jan. ’16)My Profile

    Reply
    1. Jana (Post author)

      I’ve never seen that movie…maybe I did know that about it and that’s why. Honestly, had I known that this book was about that, I most likely wouldn’t have read it. It’s not an over the top amazing book to make up for that particular subject.

      Reply
  3. Kristin

    I skimmed so much of Pretty Girls that I probably missed the stuff you’re referring to here. I didn’t like the characters or the plotline enough to pay attention.
    Excited for your podcast!

    Reply
    1. Jana (Post author)

      I found it a very standard thriller/mystery type book. I liked the infusion of the dad’s letters/diary, but the main characters were pretty boring.

      Reply
  4. Nadine

    Ohh Violent Ends sounds really interesting!!! I am going to have to check that one out!
    Nadine recently posted…Books LatelyMy Profile

    Reply
    1. Jana (Post author)

      I highly recommend it. I probably should write a whole post about that book. I think I might.

      Reply
  5. kristen

    so, i am really intrigued by tampa, though i don’t know what that says about my personality ha. but seriously. it sounds interesting and several people have been talking about it lately. pretty girls is on my list as well but now i am terrified as i don’t know what snuff porn is and i am scared to google it.
    kristen recently posted…Books LatelyMy Profile

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    1. Jana (Post author)

      Haha! I was scared to write “snuff porn” and “child porn” and “pedophilia” in the same post because I didn’t want to get flagged by some sort of agency. But now I’ve written them all again so…yeah.

      Tampa is a book people should be talking about. It’s just not an easy read at all.

      Reply
  6. Brittany Pines

    Hmm, not normally one for short stories but Violent Ends sounds interesting!

    Reply
    1. Jana (Post author)

      It was amazing. AMAZING.

      Reply
  7. Jessica @ Pleas(e) & Carrots

    Wow Pretty Girls and Tampa sound rough, probably not for me! I’ve heard mixed things about A Prayer For Owen Meany, and I’m thinking I’ll probably skip it too.
    Jessica @ Pleas(e) & Carrots recently posted…Recent ReadsMy Profile

    Reply
    1. Jana (Post author)

      They were definitely tough reads but if you can stomach the topic, Tampa is really well written.

      I just couldn’t with Owen Meany. I hate that I wasted time on it.

      Reply
  8. Carly

    Crank sounds so good and I normally wouldn’t go for something in the poetry genre, but I read Ghosting by Edith Pattou, which sounds like it’s told in a similar format and it’s one of my favorite books.
    Carly recently posted…currently // vol 1My Profile

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  9. Carly

    Crank sounds so good and I normally wouldn’t go for something in the poetry genre, but I read Ghosting by Edith Pattou, which sounds like it’s told in a similar format and it ended up being one of my favorite books.

    Reply
    1. Carly

      oops! Sorry I double posted!

      Reply
    2. Jana (Post author)

      Ghosting sounds like a book I’d like so I added it to my list. Thanks for the recommendation! I’m excited for it!

      Reply
  10. April

    You’re the second person to mention Pretty Girls so now I’m definitely going to try it! 🙂

    Reply
    1. Jana (Post author)

      Proceed with caution! It’s really fucking gross and disturbing in some parts.

      Reply
  11. Ashley @ The Wandering Weekenders

    Tampa sounds really interesting, even though it covers a really disturbing subject matter. It sounds like she’s a great author if she can make you that intrigued about such a horrible subject matter! I’ve heard so many wonderful things about Crank and Pretty Girls, that I need to read them quickly so I can join in with the love for those books!
    Ashley @ The Wandering Weekenders recently posted…A Super Bowl WeekendMy Profile

    Reply
    1. Jana (Post author)

      Crank was so, so good. I cannot wait to read the other two and even more books by that author. I think she’s great.

      Read Tampa with caution. It is one of the hardest books I’ve gotten through. I’m glad I did and I hope she writes more!

      Reply
  12. Sara

    I’m going to add Fortune Smiles to my list. That sounds like my kind of thing. Did you read Zeituon? I thought it was beautifully written about New Orleans pre/post Katrina… never mind all the BS that came out after.
    Sara recently posted…Show Us Your Books: FebruaryMy Profile

    Reply
    1. Jana (Post author)

      I have not read that book. I don’t know that I’ve even heard of it but will look into it! Thanks for the recommendation!

      Reply
  13. Kelli

    Hmmm I just picked up Pretty Girls from the library, I’m glad I read your review so I can brace myself for the story.
    Kelli recently posted…It’s All About The Books – Vol. 10My Profile

    Reply
    1. Jana (Post author)

      Yes. Definitely brace yourself for what’s coming although, honestly, when you take out those parts of it, it’s really just your basic thriller book.

      Reply
  14. SMD @ Life According to Steph

    As you know, I’m not the biggest fan of short stories, but I absolutely love things that examine perspective, so that sounds like one for me.

    Good synopsis on Tampa. I mean, the writing is so good that we finished a book about a fucking sicko crazy pedophile. But good Lord it was hard to read.

    Still going to read Pretty Girls.

    I loved Crank but it absolutely broke my heart.
    SMD @ Life According to Steph recently posted…Show Us Your Books – What I Read in JanuaryMy Profile

    Reply
    1. Jana (Post author)

      I think you’ll enjoy Violent Ends. It is SO well done.

      I can’t wait to talk Tampa with you tomorrow. It’ll be an interesting discussion.

      Reply
  15. carrie

    I’ve been hearing a lot about Pretty Girls and I’m intrigued. Tampa is also interesting sounding to me, but if i’m being honest I think that topic might make me uncomfortable and i wouldn’t be able to enjoy it no matter how good the writing was. I just finished reading You by Caroline Kepnes and even that disturbed me quite a bit!
    carrie recently posted…What I Read: JanuaryMy Profile

    Reply
    1. Jana (Post author)

      YOU was one of my favorite books of last year. It was messed up but in the best way possible.

      Tampa was hard to read. It’s definitely not a topic that’s easily digestible and reader friendly.

      Reply
  16. Lauren

    Violent Ends sounds super interesting. Pretty Girls has been on my list but it may be knocked down a few pegs now – perhaps I’ll try something else by the author first.

    And I love podcasts! That’s so cool!
    Lauren recently posted…january booksMy Profile

    Reply
    1. Jana (Post author)

      From what I understand, this is her first foray into that kind of book. But I definitely would not make it a priority read.

      Reply
  17. alyssa

    When I tried to read A Prayer for Owen Meany, the caps drove me crazy too. I just read it as shrieking in my head and I couldn’t stop, and that was just really unpleasant.
    Crank is one of those books that I honestly can’t remember if I’ve read or not. I think I would have, but I can’t remember, but I also don’t remember a lot of books I read more than like 9 months ago. I once got to like page 10 of a book before I realized I’d read it the previous summer. So anyway, yeah, I’ll probably need to (re)read that one.
    alyssa recently posted…Long Time, No See: Three Months of BooksMy Profile

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    1. Jana (Post author)

      Yes! I just kept hearing him shriek in this shrill, annoying voice and it ruined it. I think I might have been able to keep going if not for that. Like, if it had been incidental rather than huge blocks of text.

      Reply
  18. kathy @ more coffee, less talky

    oh, so sad about Owen Meany! one of my fav books! although i can see how you put it down…it took me several years to finish it and it was only when i had nothing else to read, had time (was at the cottage with no tv) that i totally got into the story.

    Reply
    1. Jana (Post author)

      I wanted to like and just couldn’t. I might try again but I’m not sure.

      Reply
  19. Nancy @ NY Foodie Family

    So glad you liked Crank! Yes, Pretty Girls was disturbing. I definitely was not used to Slaughter’s writing. I am so excited for your podcast! Can’t wait till it’s live!
    Nancy @ NY Foodie Family recently posted…January 2016 ReadsMy Profile

    Reply
    1. Jana (Post author)

      I actually put Glass and Fallout on hold and Fallout came in first so now I have to wait! All the reading sads.

      Reply
  20. Brie @ A Slice of Brie

    So, I’m totally intrigued by Tampa now, but I just don’t know….those kinds of books and images just stick with me for so long! I’m so sad to hear about Owen Meany…I loved that book and I actually enjoyed the caps locks because it reminded me that he had a shouty/screechy voice which I just found endearing. Oh well! No sense wasting time on a book you aren’t enjoying!
    Brie @ A Slice of Brie recently posted…Florida Family Vacation 2015My Profile

    Reply
    1. Jana (Post author)

      I actually found it the complete opposite of endearing. I found it annoying and terrible. But that’s why I love books–everyone has their own opinion and takes away something different!

      Tampa is a hard read. A good one. But really hard.

      Reply
  21. Dani

    A podcast??! Where? And YAY! Pretty Girls is on my list, but I didn’t know it involved snuff porn (and also have no idea what that is). I already know I wouldn’t be able to stomach Tampa. I read A Prayer for Owen Meaney in school and though I don’t really remember it well, I do remember that I liked it, but sometimes timing can be an issue.

    Reply
    1. Jana (Post author)

      We haven’t released the podcast yet because I had tech issues. Soon, though.

      I don’t even want to describe snuff porn because it’s that horrible. It’s one of those things I wish I didn’t know.

      Reply
  22. Crystal W

    I have to admit that I literally LOL’d after the first few books when each description started with “this one is about death” or “this book is about drug addiction”, mostly because I have TOTALLY had those months where I go to write up reviews and am like “Wow… I could maybe use a few lighter topics in my life?” (After my latest library trip I tweeted a pic about the book about police shootings I grabbed with the caption “I am fun at parties!”)
    Crystal W recently posted…Show Us Your Books – FebruaryMy Profile

    Reply
    1. Jana (Post author)

      I usually read a few dark ones every month but this was basically every one this time around.

      I did a similar picture and captioned it that my librarians must be concerned about me. My husband definitely is.

      Reply
  23. Jackie

    I’m so excited to read Pretty Girls. I tried another Karin Slaughter book before and wasn’t into it. This one has gotten amazing reviews!

    Reply
    1. Jana (Post author)

      Like I said in my review, it’s a standard thriller but with a really sick and twisted and gross plot point that is essentially another character on the book. I hope you do like it, though!

      Reply
  24. Tanya @ A Mindful Migration

    I’ve read other reviews on Pretty Girls and it made my list. I just have to be in the right mood to read dark stories like that. Violent Ends sounds fantastic. I love the premise and that one is definitely going on my must-read list!
    Tanya @ A Mindful Migration recently posted…My Focus Word for the Year is to ListenMy Profile

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  25. Pingback: January Edition: On My Bookshelf

  26. Kristen

    Tampa and Pretty Girls have both been on my “To Read” list for a long time. I don’t know what this says about me, but I never shy away from the types of topics these books cover. What can I say? I like my entertainment completely twisted and fucked up. (Though I’ll admit that I sometimes find myself thinking, “What the fuck did I just read?” after I finish some of the books I pick up!)

    A book I read last year, The Kingdom of Childhood, reminds me a bit of the description of Tampa. It was a teacher/student situation with a female perpetrator, but, in that book, the teacher went for a specific guy (he was 16, I believe). She wasn’t interested in young guys in general, but she was interested in THAT guy. I really liked that book a lot because there were a lot of things going on in that “relationship” (if you can call it that) that were very complex. It was one of those books that forced me to think about it long after it was over, and those are my favorite types of books.

    I read an Ellen Hopkins book last year called Identical, and it was written in the same way. (I think all of her books are written like that.) It was also horribly fucked up, and, going along with the theme of some of the books in this post, it covered topics like pedophilia and incest.

    I’m adding Violent Ends and Fortune Smiles to my list. I don’t usually like short stories that much, but if they’re well written (or written by an author I really like anyway), I can appreciate them.

    Violent Ends brought to mind a book I read several years ago called A Thousand Cuts. It was also about a school shooting, and it was also told from many points of view as the detectives try to piece together exactly what happened. I really loved that book, and I still think about it from time to time.

    I know this is the longest comment ever, but I kept thinking of things I wanted to share as I was reading this post!
    Kristen recently posted…From the Bookshelf: Recently Read – February 2016 EditionMy Profile

    Reply
    1. Jana (Post author)

      I really like Ellen Hopkins and I’m glad she’s written so many books. Gives me lots to look forward to.

      I’m totally looking into A Thousand Cuts! Thanks for the recommendations.

      I love your long comments because as you know, I’m long winded, too. We’re kindred!

      Reply
      1. Kristen

        I love that you love my long comments. As I was writing that, I kept thinking, “Good God this is a fucking long comment. She won’t want to read this!” but I felt compelled to comment on so many things in your post that I just went with it.

        I hope you like A Thousand Cuts if/when you read it. I read it back in 2012 (I think), and it really stuck with me.
        Kristen recently posted…Songs for the Brokenhearted Playlist: Vol. 2My Profile

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  27. Amber

    I felt the same about Pretty Girls. I just couldn’t believe what I was reading. And then I didn’t want the kids to ever leave the house. I need to pick up other books that she has written to see if they are as dark.
    Amber recently posted…Hey, It’s Okay Tuesday!My Profile

    Reply
    1. Jana (Post author)

      I hope they’re not as dark. It’ll make me not read her that often.

      Reply
  28. Latoya @ Femme Frugality

    Hi Jana! As an avid reader myself, I must say I’m a bit jealous that you have the opportunity to read so many books in a short amount of time. I only managed one last month and it was I Will Teach You To Be Rich. The Bootstrapper Book sounds like an interesting read. I will have to keep it in mind the next time I’m in need of a good read.

    Reply
    1. Jana (Post author)

      I don’t think it’s a matter of having the opportunity; rather, it’s a matter of how I choose to use my time. I’d rather read than do most things. That’s not to say I don’t spend time with my family or watch TV or whatever but I’ll DVR most shows and then watch them all in one night (usually Friday) or while I’m eating lunch since I work from home. And I think nothing of spending a Sunday afternoon reading a book or using the time my daughter is at practice to read.

      If you like PF memoirs and books that are not how-tos, let me know. I can recommend a few.

      Reply
  29. Bailey

    I HATE reading books and asking what the heck did I just read.
    Bailey recently posted…Recent Reads | JanuaryMy Profile

    Reply
    1. Jana (Post author)

      For me, this wasn’t necessarily a bad thing. I was just an indicator of the serious fucked up quotient of the books I chose to read this month.

      Reply
  30. Gwen

    I added Violent Ends and I’m considering Tampa, despite its fucked-up-ness. I’ve read some Karin Slaughter and will probably read Pretty Girls, too.
    Gwen recently posted…February BooksMy Profile

    Reply
  31. Kay R.

    I feel like Im writing this on everyones posts but Im so jealous of everyones reads. I suck this year so far with reading. I have been swamped at work with no real time to read anything.

    Reply
  32. Christina

    I’m listening to Fortune Smiles right now and so far the post-Katrina story is my favorite. I could have read an entire book based on that short. I read Tampa a few years ago and stopped about every 30 pages three times before finally just finishing it. Nutting is an excellent writer, but it was very disturbing. My boys were just babies back then and it seriously creeped me out. I do appreciate that it debunked the student/teacher fantasy and showed how women can be just as messed up as men. I can’t wait to listen to your podcast! I have Pretty Girls on hold, but didn’t realized how bad that one is too. I really liked Crank, the second book less so, and didn’t even bother with the third. I’m excited to hear what you thought.
    Christina recently posted…CurrentlyMy Profile

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  33. Rose @ Ramblin' Rose

    I hated Lolita but I’m totally intrigued by Tampa.
    So sad you didn’t like Owen Meany but I 100% understand that Irving isn’t for everyone. He’s still one of my favorite authors. Owen also isn’t my favorite book of his. I remember having to slog through it.
    Rose @ Ramblin’ Rose recently posted…Stitch Fix #5My Profile

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  34. lisacng @ expandng.com

    Yeaaa, some twisted books this month…I don’t think I could read the teacher-looking-for-teenage-boys one, but the one about the school shooting from different perspectives, maybe.
    lisacng @ expandng.com recently posted…Is this thing on??My Profile

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  35. Heather @ I do what I want.

    Gah, I’m kicking myself for not joining in on the linkup, yet again. Life really gets in the way of reading and blogging sometimes. Violent Ends has been added to the to reads list. Sounds weird and interesting, which I’m definitely into.
    Heather @ I do what I want. recently posted…Wedding Details: Part 1My Profile

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