Skinny and Super Skinny Reads

(by JD Jung)

Want to read something short and sweet or maybe something short and not-so-sweet? Do you have a friend who claims that he/she doesn’t have the time to read? Or maybe you want to learn about an event or topic in history; but how are you going to find the time?

We at UnderratedReads have your back. Check out our new category, “Skinny Reads” located in the crazy area on the right-hand side of the site. These are books typically under 150 pages. You’ll even find some as skinny as fifty pages! Don’t worry, they’ll still follow UnderratedReads’ high standards of deserving at least three bookmarks

 

by at least one of our reviewers.

Here are just a few of our top recommendations:

Mygale – Thierry Jonquet ,Translated from the French by Donald Nicholson-Smith, (Dark and bizarre and my personal favorite!)

Dreams of Heaven – Elizabeth M. Herrera (reviewed by Pat Luboff)

The Butcher’s Daughter: A Memoir – Florence Grende (reviewed by Judy Deutch)

The Black Spider – Jeremias Gotthelf, Translated from the German by Susan Bernofsky, (reviewed by JD Jung)

The Hideout – Egon Hostovsky, Translated from the Czech by Fern Long (reviewed by JD Jung)

…and there’s more to come. Enjoy and keep reading!

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Zendar: A Tale of Blood and Sand – K.T. Munson

(Reviewed by Jeyran Main)

Exceptional

Zendar is a fantasy romance novel written about a girl named Azel Undel. She is the youngest daughter of one of the seven bloodlines. She is arranged to be married for political gain. As she sails to meet her future husband, her ship sinks and she is captured by the enemy. That is when she gets to learn about Aleron and with that, everything she has known is then questioned.

This is a tale about love and loyalty. Aleron seeks revenge over what’s happened to his ancestors in the past. The tangled affair becomes very emotional and dramatic creating this really interesting storyline.

I wish to begin discussing the world setting of this novel. I really enjoyed the pattern the author took in slowly introducing a picturesque description of the fantasy world. The characters were also introduced at a slow pace before the story picked up, intriguing the reader on wanting to know what’s going to happen next.

The literary standard and the style of writing was enjoyable to read. The author perpetrated the lead character in a very well-suited place. Zendar is full of magical powers and hidden secrets. This imaginary world really needs saving and all the hatred and crime has to stop, but it has a history. Azel is strong and has the perfect personality for such a situation and the author has created a very likable character.

There was a nice flow and connectivity between the chapters and the plot. The contrast between the good and evil was deliciously written and I believe the author can succeed in writing a sequel following the way the book ended.

I recommend this book to romance- fantasy book lovers.

(The original review was posted on “Review Tales – A Personal & Sincere Review On Books Read”)

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Hollywood Homicide (A Detective by Day Mystery) – Kellye Garrett

(Reviewed by JD Jung)

Dayna Anderson lost her job as the girl on the Chubby’s Chicken commercial eighteen months ago and hasn’t heard from her agent in six months. So now she’s an out-of-work, dreaded size ten, former actress and dead broke. In fact, she sleeps in her friend’s closet, or “bloset” (bedroom/closet combo).

She can still take care of herself, but when she discovers that her proud parents are close to losing their house due to foreclosure, she desperately has to find a way to help them out.

A few weeks ago, she and her friends witnessed a hit-and-run but didn’t know the severity of it. She later saw a billboard offering a reward of $15,000 for information leading to the arrest of the person who ran down Haley Johnson, a young, blonde woman. This was the crime that they witnessed weeks before and Dayna sees this as a way to earn the reward money and save her parents’ home.

As Dayna finds clues and figures that she has solved the crime, she calls the tip line to claim the reward money, only to find that her “proof” is all wrong. This problem is further aggravated when she keeps calling as she comes up with new theories and thus loses credibility. Throughout all of this, she finds that there’s more to the crime than meets the eye. Instead of a hit and run, could this have been premeditated? It’s no longer just about the reward, she wants to find justice for Haley.

Though it was engaging and fast-moving from the start, initially I thought that this was too far-fetched to be enjoyable. After all, there must be an easier and less dangerous way to earn $15,000. However, my gut told me to continue, and I’m sure glad I did. As we read on, we learn more about Dayna,  a multitude of interesting characters and more crimes. This, along with all the twists and turns, kept me engrossed to the very end.

Unlike the last book I reviewed, Sex and Rage (a story of 1970’s Los Angeles), this is a current-day look at Hollywood with a fun take on contemporary culture such as social media, hair extensions and boob jobs.

Author Kellye Garrett—who worked in Hollywood for eight years, including writing for the television series, Cold Case— successfully incorporates dry humor into this crime novel.

I hope Garrett writes more stories about this “Detective by Day” whether Dayna makes it in superficial Hollywood or not.

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Sex and Rage: A Novel – Eve Babitz

(Reviewed by JD Jung)

“Years and years and years were pocked with holes of things Jacaranda simple didn’t remember, with people Jacaranda didn’t remember meeting, conversations she didn’t remember having, promises and parties and great ideas and projects Jacaranda didn’t remember hurling into….she accidentally found herself in the approximately right spot and the approximately right time, and people mistakenly assumed she was reliable…”

Jacaranda grew up in Santa Monica near the ocean and loved to surf. This original surfer girl–tan and blonde —painted surfboards for a living. However, life brought new acquaintances and from the age of twenty-three to twenty-eight she found herself addicted to the eccentric Hollywood crowd with heavy partying, drugs and drinking. The years were like “tilted jello salad. They shimmered if you prodded them.”

During her lucid moments, she realized that she had a talent for writing magazine articles. However, her Hollywood friends and acquaintances advised her, “Don’t write, darling. It’s not nice.” She continued to write though, and was discovered by a New York agent. When she reluctantly flew to New York—sober—her identity and self-destructive behavior was challenged.

What I particularly relished about Sex and Rage were the multitude of eccentric characters and their relationship to Jacaranda, superficial as they were. That’s why I think this novel will have broad appeal; it’s entertaining. Personally though, it did remind me that there is nothing to miss about 1970’s Los Angeles. I also loved the New York versus Los Angeles culture comparisons.

Originally published in 1979 and recently re-released by Counterpoint Press, this coming-of-age story captures the hip LA lifestyle of the late 1960’s and ‘70s. Like in her memoir, Slow Days, Fast Company, author Eve Babitz has an unsentimental approach to her Hollywood story. However, she doesn’t go into the toxicity of the California surf culture. Then again, I don’t remember girls surfing back then; Gidget was an anomaly.

Those who loved Slow Days, Fast Company: The World, The Flesh, and L.A. are sure to  enjoy Sex and Rage.

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She’s so Fine: A Samantha Block Novel- Jaimee Campbell

(Reviewed by Jeyran Main)

She’s so Fine is a thriller  short story written  about Samantha. She is a mother of two children and appears to be leading a normal life with ordinary routine wifely chores. However, she is nothing but ordinary. Samantha has a past, which intertwines with her present life. The past is something she does not want to confront but, as life always comes to bite you back, it captures Samantha and she has no choice but to face it.

In a world where you give some – get some, Samantha is then left with juggling between the aftermath of the choices she makes. Her two daughters and husband, Mark, welcome another girl into their lives after a suspicious fire kills the girl’s mother. The fight for guardianship is another battle Samantha has to face. She has to tell her husband about everything that has happened in order to save the marriage. Other encounters and dramas unravel, causing a drift into her marriage, making this is a constant thrilling novel that you really don’t wish to put down.

I found the book to be written very well. I particularly enjoyed Mark and his interactions with Samantha. The character development was spot on. Each had their own visions and ways of dealing with things. The chapters were short, and some had the same number as in the Kindle version I was given. I found little editing issues or any major structural formatting concerns, which was nice.

The author has a very appealing way of writing thriller novels. The book did not spend much time in descriptive page fillers or fluffy women insights and emotions; it was instead filled with action and active occurrences, making it a joy to read.

I recommended this book to anyone who enjoys mystery thriller themed stories.

(The original review was posted on “Review Tales – A Personal & Sincere Review On Books Read“)

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New People – Danzy Senna

(Reviewed by JD Jung)

Exceptional

“The poet is not a New Person…He doesn’t have mud-toned dreadlocks or octoroon gray eyes or butterscotch skin. …He has the body, the skin, the face that cabdrivers pretend not to see, that jewelers in midtown refuse to buzz inside. His body is the very reason they got those buzzers installed in the first place.

In contrast, Maria is a twenty-seven year old “New Person” and is engaged to marry Khalil (also a New Person) who she met at Stanford. He now is a successful entrepreneur, and they live together in Brooklyn. They seem like the perfect couple. and he absolutely adores her. But from Maria’s perspective, something is missing. This leads to a strange infatuation with a poet who she hardly knows, and Maria becomes totally obsessed with him.

Maria was adopted by a single woman and discovered that when she was ten months old her mother had to accept that she was a “one-dropper, that peculiarly American creation, white in all outward appearances but black for generations on paper.” This may be a major reason that almost everything she does is affected by her feelings regarding her racial identity. This includes her dissertation about the music of the Peoples Temple (Jonestown), exploring how the cult lasted as long as it did.

New People is a riveting novel that is both poignant and humorous. Author Danzy Senna is able to delicately balance the two to create an enjoyable read. She takes us between Maria’s past and present and shows us how her choices have been affected by her feelings on race. As you read, you will have questions about the story. Be patient; they will be answered.

I can’t even pretend to understand her conflicting feelings on identity and race, since that has not been a part of my life experience. What I can say is that I couldn’t put the book down and it did give me some exposure to an experience that I was unaware of. Yes, some of it may make you feel uncomfortable, but that is a good thing.

New People is an enjoyable “must read” that will make you think long after you finish the book.

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Love Is Rich In Both Honey And Venom – Axel Kruze

(Reviewed by Cathy Carey)

Can a Premarital Agreement really justify murder?

His father, Henry, hung himself at the senior prom. His mother, Martha, was raped. Both were painfully shy and bullied throughout high school.

Martha’s story of survival began after she moved away from home and started college at Hartford University in Connecticut. Hank was born six months after she left home.

Hank developed into a fine young man and was a lot like his father: intelligent and geeky. He had a fascination with calculators and developed a business of fixing, programming and making new calculators at the age of nine. At age twelve he had his mother invest his hard earned money in a new stock called Intel.

He and his mother led a quiet modest life. After graduating with a computer science degree he went to work at Hartford IT company.

No one at the company would have ever guessed that the IT geek had enough money to buy the company he worked for. He bought his mom a house, paid cash for it and lived with her until he was forty one.

He never had any romantic relationships. He was all consumed with work and taking care of his mother. Hank was the perfect son, until…

A beautiful young girl came into interview for a job. She was smitten with Hank. However, she had so much emotional baggage with jealous rages and manic episodes that Hank had never experienced. Yet he loved her anyway. His life was about to be turned upside down.

The author takes you on a psychologically twisted roller coaster with this relationship alternating between what happened past to present. This leaves the reader gobsmacked at the end.

I immediately developed at attachment to Martha, poor Henry, and then to Hank. However, there were a lot of loose ends once he introduced the girl and her friends. I wish that the author tied it together better in the end. Also Martha needed to be incorporated better into the final chapters.

That said, I still highly recommend Love is Rich in Both Honey and Venom to anyone who enjoys an exciting psychological murder mystery. I couldn’t put it down.

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The Hideout – Egon Hostovsky (Translated from the Czech by Fern Long)

(Reviewed by JD Jung)

Exceptional

“I keep having the feeling that a good half of the human race got drunk in a kind of gigantic space where the air is all breathed out. The born fighters and brawlers started to fight in their drunken orgy, and they were helped along and encouraged by the drunken hypocrites. And all at once the fight spread like wild fire until it touched everyone. By now, thank God we have advanced far enough so that we can tell out friends from our enemies, but the drunkenness lasts, the guilt is still debatable and the harm done is beyond imagination.”

A Czech engineer in his late 40’s left Prague and went to Paris, leaving behind a wife and two daughters. While there, the Germans captured Paris and though he came to France for personal reasons, the Germans issued a warrant for his arrest. A French doctor took pity on him and hid him in his cellar for two years.

Stuck down in an unlocked prison, he had a lot of time to think, reminisce and most of all, regret. And the guilt and regrets were on so many levels.

We slowly learn his story as he writes a long letter to his wife explaining his past and feelings. There is so much more, though. In addition to unfulfilled love, he’s faced with issues of loyalty, purpose, and more concretely, a murder and insanity.

The Hideout was first published in the United States in 1945 and in Czechoslovakia 1946. It was just recently reissued  by Pushkin Press this month.

This novella enforces the emotional aftermath of World War II. The story along with the delectable prose in the writing and translation grabbed me from the beginning and didn’t let go.

Right when I thought that certain clarity would follow his states of confusion, another obstacle would be thrown in. If you’re looking for a tidy conclusion, you’ll be disappointed. But remember, life seldom works out that way.

The Hideout is an absorbing, emotionally-charged story. It is a must-read for those who enjoy reading about the imperfect human condition.

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Dreams of Heaven – Elizabeth M. Herrera

(Reviewed by Pat Luboff)

Savannah waited to see if her sister would notice Jesus standing beside her, but Denise simply walked over and hugged her. However, she did notice the throng of doves covering the deck.                         
               She let go of Savannah. “What’s with all the birds?”       

                              Justin, who was petting Blanca on the  floor,                                              absentmindedly said, “They’re here because Jesus is here .”                                                     

                                              “Honey, Jesus is everywhere.”


He looked up. “Yeah, but he really is here.”

I read this book in two sittings. I liked it so much; I could have read it in one, had I not fallen asleep late into the night of the first session. Speaking of sleeping, this book is the weaving of a tale of a dream within a dream within a dream, with Jesus popping in here and there to urge the main character to wake up!

You can tell from the excerpt above that the story is told with humor. On the surface, it’s about a woman who has a terrible recurring nightmare and fears that it’s really a premonition. Or, she’s a woman who is living the nightmare and not being able to believe what she is going through. Or, she’s a woman experiencing a trip through the universe in the brilliant light of love that is God’s creation.

Wow! That’s a lot to pack into 137 pages. As a student of A Course In Miracles, I enjoyed and totally understood the conversations between Jesus and Savannah. I wonder what people who are not familiar with the Course would make of it. I wonder if the author is a student of the Course. Her bio doesn’t mention it. The bio says she found her higher power through Native American spirituality.

Her Jesus is not your usual Jesus. He has very different things to say than what you might hear in church on Sunday. I’m not going to spoil it for you by telling you what he says. You’ll have to read it for yourself.

Reading this book made me feel light and free. I highly recommend it.

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The Butcher’s Daughter: A Memoir – Florence Grende

(Reviewed by Judy Deutsch )

The Butcher’s Daughter is a personal story of a young girl in Poland during The Holocaust and how she and her family survived. The book reads like a diary and is filled with descriptions during the Nazi era and how her life changed when she got to America.

As I started to read the memoir I found myself transpired and felt as if I was right next to the author and her family. I could picture many of the things she described. An example was how her family had to hide in the forest. I have been on a train to Antwerp and as we rode through the forest, I felt the presence of those people who had been there hiding. I particularly liked how she incorporated the Yiddish words to express herself, followed by the definition.

Naturally there was sadness of death and unknown days of existence. I think I may be around her age and I kept thinking how lucky I am to have lived in America during that time and did not to endure the difficult situations her family did. What a difference our lives did take!

Her and her family’s adjustments to a new life in America were also particularly interesting.

I could not only feel empowered by the story but felt as if I was actually with her. I found the book to be very enthralling, as well as well written.

The Butcher’s Daughter is a “must read now” for anyone who is captivated by learning about extreme challenges to the human spirit.

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