Tuesday, May 24, 2011

My Dirty Little (Bookish) Secrets

Top Ten Tuesday is an original feature/weekly meme created at The Broke and the Bookish. This meme was created because they are particularly fond of lists at The Broke and the Bookish. They love to share their lists with other bookish folks and LOVE to see your top ten lists!

Each week they post a new Top Ten list complete with one of their bloggers answers. Everyone is welcome to join. All they ask is that you link back to The Broke and the Bookish on your own Top Ten Tuesday post AND sign Mister Linky at the bottom to share with all those who are participating. If you don't have a blog, just post your answers as a comment. Don't worry if you can't come up with ten every time...just post what you can!
So here's the thing - I don't think I have EVER lied about having read or not having read a book.  I'm ashamed of nothing that I've read, and I relish the bad ones (ok, the really bad ones) as much as I do the really good ones, because it gives me an opportunity to write SCATHING reviews, something I LOVE to do.  So, instead of revealing books I've lied about, I'll reveal some "dirty" little bookish secrets instead.  Here goes...

My Dirty Little (Bookish) Secrets

1.  I liked the first third of Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert - I mean, who doesn't like food??  However, I couldn't get past that because she was such a self-absorbed whiner.  She thought she was uber-enlightened, and I thought she was...well...uber-snotty.  It was "me, me, me, me, me, and more me" - BLECH!

2.  Though I have read Interview with the Vampire and The Vampire Lestat by Anne Rice (and really liked them at the time), the idea of vampires (now) makes me sort of vomit a little in my mouth.  I know they're really popular right now (Twilight insanity), but they just really gross me out.

3.  I read a lot of romance novels in my teenage years - both Harlequin and others (more racy).  I'm not ashamed! :-)

4.  I hated, loathed, and despised the following classics (gasp!!):  Tom Jones by Henry Fielding, The Sorrows of Young Werther by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, The Awakening by Kate Chopin, The Love Songs of Sappho, and various Greek & Roman literature.  Not my cup of tea at all.

5.  I have loved Stephen King since I discovered him as an adolescent, and I was therefore shocked (and disappointed) that I had such a viscerally negative reaction to The Gunslinger (first book of The Dark Tower series), especially considering that I read it first as a college student and loved it.  It further disappoints me because I had fully intended to reread the first three books and finish the series, and had purchased all of the books (USED) toward that end. :-(

6.  I admit it, bodily functions are hilarious.  And books about bodily functions are usually so, unless (UNLESS) they cross the line into the purely gross.  Farts, for example = hilarious!  Nasty (and I mean disgusting) names for...well...you know = purely gross.  You get the idea.

7.  I have never read Gone with the Wind by Margaret Mitchell, Moby Dick by Herman Melville, Les Miserables by Victor Hugo, Great Expectations by Charles Dickens, Middlemarch by George Elliot, In Cold Blood by Truman Capote, The Brothers Karamozov by Fyodor Dostoyevsky, Gulliver's Travels by Jonathan Swift, The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck, A Farewell to Arms by Ernest Hemingway, Don Quixote by Miguel de Cervantes, or Animal Farm & 1984 by George Orwell.  I fully plan to do so before I die.

8.  I have never read The Hobbit or The Lord of the Rings Series by J.R.R. Tolkien.  Nor have I read The Chronicles of Narnia by C.S. Lewis.  I am completely ok with the fact that I may or may not get to them during my life.

9,  I have never read On the Road by Jack Kerouac, Naked Lunch by William S. Burroughs, His Dark Materials by Philip Pullman, anything by Marquis de Sade, The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, anything by Agatha Christie, Remembrance of Things Past by Marcel Proust, and probably quite a number of other seminal works, and I can say with some certainty that it is unlikely I will ever do so.

10.  I will never read The Rainbow Fish by Marcus Pfister to my son.  I want him to be the best HIM that he can be, and there no way I'm getting him hooked on a book that frowns on individualism.  

11.  I will never (again) read Love You Forever by Robert Munsch to my son, because it I found it completely creepy and disturbing that a mom would hang on so tight to her son that she would continue to sneak into his room and rock him while he slept...as a teen, as an adult, as a married man.  Ewwwwww!!!

Lucky by Alice Sebold

Paperback, 246 pages
Published September 16th 2002 by Back Bay Books (first published August 4th 1999)
ISBN: 0316096199 (ISBN13: 9780316096195)
primary language: English
original title: Lucky
4.5 stars

Goodreads Synopsis:
Enormously visceral, emotionally gripping, and imbued with the belief that justice is possible even after the most horrific of crimes, Sebold's compelling memoir of her rape at the age of 18 is a story that takes hold and won't let go.

My Thoughts:
Sebold's story is wrenchingly, brutally sad, but thankfully it is not hopeless. She writes an honest and unflinching account of being violently raped and her existence in the wake of it. She does not shy away from describing the weaknesses in her family, including her own weakness of needing to prove time & again that she was fine, that she had surivived (even thrived), and that she was not the emotional basket case people expected her to be. When she had to deal with her closest friend being raped, she took the lead - at first - in helping her friend through it. She was experienced in this arena...she had done this before...she could shepherd her friend through the legal process. And this is the point where she begins to fall apart.

What Sebold didn't realize at the time was that she thought she had moved on, but she had really allowed herself to be defined by her rape. She was the girl who pressed charges against her rapist and one. She was the one who was the good rape witness. She was the strong one...the savvy one...the survivor.

We don't typically think of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder as something that affects those who haven't been to war, and yet it is very clear that Sebold does (or did) indeed suffer from it. She was functional in her day to day life, but not without the crutches of alcohol, drugs, men, the bravura she felt in "surviving" in New York City. It was only when she reads a self-help book in which she was quoted that she finally began to come to terms what the realities of her life, because she was finally able to truly see herself, to see the damage she lived with (and nurtured) for ten years, and to see that she defined herself in terms of before and after her rape. This is also when she began to make substantial and substantive changes in her life...and truly began to heal.

I loved this book, not only because it was well crafted, but because it lent an additional level of understanding to Sebold as an author. It's obvious, having read her own story, that the fiction she writes is cathartic and hopeful both for her and for her readers. I look forward to reading more from her in the coming years.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Blue Diary by Alice Hoffman

Audio CD, 8 disks (9.5 hours)
Published August 28th 2009 by Brilliance Audio on CD Unabridged (first published 2001)
ISBN: 1441812520 (ISBN13: 9781441812520)
original title: Blue Diary
setting:  Monroe Bridge (United States)
4 stars overall / 4 stars audio narration 

Goodreads Synopsis:
For more than thirteen years, devoted father and husband Ethan Ford has been running from his past. But one day the police show up at his door-and his life as an irreproachable family man and heroic volunteer fireman begins to come apart.

"Investigate[s] the themes of devotion, betrayal, guilt and forgiveness in trenchantly effective ways." (Publishers Weekly, starred review)

"Hoffman ably sends her theme of loss and deception reverberating across several well-made subplots... fast-moving." (New York Times Book Review)

My Thoughts:
** spoiler alert ** Can one forgive the unforgivable? Does living an exemplary life after committing a terrible crime absolve one of guilt? Does it make the consequences unnecessary? These are the questions that come to bear as Blue Diary progresses, and the answers are not easy to say out loud.

Jorie Ford finds herself having to grapple with these questions as she is faced with the fact that her husband has committed a terrible murder, and though he has been a trustworthy and responsible man since then, he has done so under the cover of a stolen identity. When he is exposed, the resulting surprise, anger, dismay and hurt experienced by his friends and family are understandable and expected. His remorse is genuine, as is his sloughing off of his former self. He understands the legal consequences, and willingly awaits them. However, the consequence that he doesn't want to live with is losing Jorie & Collie. He doesn't want to suffer the loss of his family...understandably. He seems to expect them - and especially Jorie - to be emotionally unchanged toward him despite the horrors of his past, and therefore it hits him doubly hard when, in the end, she has to walk away.

Hoffman doesn't really make an authorial judgment pro or con in how Jorie handles the situation. However, as a reader, I completely related to her inability to return to her husband and support him once she knew what really happened. How could she? Regardless if she loved him, she was repulsed by all that he did - not just the murder, but making a life under a stolen identity, and making her an unwitting party to the deception. She grieved hard for the loss of the life she knew, but in the end, she was simply finished...empty...and she took their son and walked away. Who could blame her?

Monday, May 16, 2011

The Servants' Quarters by Lynn Freed

Hardcover, 256 pages
Published April 27th 2009 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
ISBN: 0151012881 (ISBN13: 9780151012886)
primary language: English
original title: The Servants' Quarters
4 stars

Goodreads Synopsis:
Haunted by phantoms of the Second World War and the Holocaust, young Cressida lives in terror of George Harding, who, severely disfigured, has returned from the front to recover in his family’s stately African home. When he plucks young Cressida’s beautiful mother and her family from financial ruin, establishing them in the old servants’ quarters of his estate, Cressida is swept into a future inexorably bound to his.

In the new setting, she finds that she is, after all, indentured. She is conscripted to enliven George Harding’s nephew, the hopelessly timid Edgar, to make him "wild and daring." And she takes on this task with resentful fury, leading the boy astray and, in the process, learning to manipulate differences in power, class, background, and ambition. Only slowly does she come to understand that George Harding himself is watching her. And waiting.

My Thoughts:
 ** spoiler alert ** A blurb on the back of the book likened this book to a Beauty & the Beast tale, and it certainly is that. However, it's a somewhat disturbing story, in that the heroine is a teenage girl (13 at the outset) who became (eventually) the wife of the beast...in this case, a severely burned WWII vet who came home to recover. There was a definite undercurrent of something inappropriate there, and though it was made "relatively" clear that nothing untoward happened between the two until 1) she was of legal age, and 2) she made the first move, it nonetheless struck me as a little pedophelic, and as such a little creepy.

Most of the characters in this book were supremely unlikeable. Cressida was a flighty, emotional, snotty teenager for the majority of the book. She grew out of it to a great extent by the end, but I had a hard time liking her, though when it came to choosing between her and most of the other characters, it was impossible to root for anyone else. Her mother was not only useless, but amoral, selfish, and ridiculously snobby. Her sister was stupid and mean. Both were jealous bitches in the extreme. Mrs. Arbuthnot (Mr. Harding's housekeeper) was an absolute shrew. Edgar was a creep and a pervert, as was his roommate (and tutor). George Harding himself was weird and a little creepy, but he ultimate proved himself to be a reasonably decent man.

Phineas was hilarious and blunt, and I loved him. But best of all was Elspeth, who proved her mettle and the truth of her heart by letting go of the man she loved (George Harding) so he have who he loved most (Cressida). I loved her for her unselfishness, and her true & freely given friendship to Cressida.

In the end, the book is a winner. It provoked an emotional reaction in me, and made me pause to evaluate exactly what makes a relationship work. In the case here, it was definitely a collection of unusual characteristics that perhaps in any other circumstance would not have worked. And perhaps that is, in essence, the beauty of Beauty and the Beast.

Watch Your F*cking Language by Sterling Johnson

Paperback, 112 pages
Published November 3rd 2004 by St. Martin's Griffin
ISBN: 0312318715 (ISBN13: 9780312318710)
original title: Watch Your F*cking Language: How to swear effectively, explained in explicit detail and enhanced by numerous examples taken from everyday life
2 stars

Goodreads Synopsis:
Let the squeamish beware!
Watch Your F*cking Language takes a no-holds-barred approach to taboo words and expressions. It shows you how to use them to your advantage — and have fun doing so. Building on the lessons learned in English as a Second F*cking Language, this book emphasizes traditional English swears as well as powerful (and hidden) expressions from other cultures and languages.
Through numerous examples, it puts the real language of real people into context:
FLOYD: I just heard a Dan Quayle speech. It was really f*cking confusing.
RUBY: I just got back from a Mongolian cluster f*ck. It was really confusing f*cking.
The name of the game is communication, and Watch Your F*cking Language shows readers how to hammer home their messages with confidence and gusto.
Among its features:
*Numerous examples of proper (and so-called improper) usage
*An Idioms section that emphasizes the niceties of swearing
*A "Need to Know, "Nice to Know," and "Forget It" system for identifying swear words
*A Final F*cking Exam

My Thoughts:
There were some nuggets of awesomeness throughout what was largely a mediocre - and relatively nasty - book. After having read his first book, I expected this one to expand in a good direction...i.e. creative and magnificent swearing. Well, it did expand, but mostly in areas related to crass & vulgar slang for various body parts and sexual acts. THAT might be "swearing," but I'm more inclined to call it nasty language. A good swear does not make you throw up a little in your mouth at the mental picture it creates. If done well, it is magnificent to the point of awe, and should rightly elicit a response of "WOW!" or utter speechlessness. The tripe that Sterling Johnson discusses in this book is for people who can do no better than parrot gross language about their anatomy and bodily functions.

This was (again) a great idea executed very poorly. It's base...and gross...and except for the occasional goodie, mostly definitely not funny. Especially...ESPECIALLY...if you have read the likes of Geoffrey Chaucer, Shakespeare, and myriad other phenomenal authors, whose awe-inspiring swears are worthy of any top ten list. Listen to George Carlin, a man who could swear with enviable ease. There are certainly others, but Sterling Johnson is most assuredly not among them.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

English as a Second F*cking Language by Sterling Johnson

Paperback, 96 pages
Published June 15th 1996 by St. Martin's Griffin (first published June 1996)
ISBN: 031214329X (ISBN13: 9780312143299)
original title: English as a Second F*cking Language: How to Swear Effectively, Explained in Detail with Numerous Examples Taken From Everyday Life
2 stars

Goodreads Synopsis:
In English, swearing is essential to effective communication. Whether one wants to succeed in business, school, or social circles, a strong command of unprintable language is absolutely necessary. Employing a helpful "Need to Know, " "Nice to Know, " and "Forget It" system for identifying swear words, English as a Second Fcking Language offers an informative--and funny--look at taboo words and expressions to boost readers' vocabularies.

My Thoughts:
You'd think with that title that it would be better than it was. I thought it was sort basic and elementary, and frankly, there were a lot of really great swears left out. As it turns out, this is "beginner swearing" - I kid you not, and it's definitely evident when you read it. It was ok...I've come up with (much) better swears myself, and much more creative usage.

Friday, May 13, 2011

Getting the Pretty Back: Friendship, Family, and Finding the Perfect Lipstick by Molly Ringwald

Audio CD, 5 disks (6 hours)
Published May 1st 2010 by HarperAudio (first published April 16th 2010)
ISBN: 0061836710 (ISBN13: 9780061836718)
3 stars overall / 5 stars audio narration 

Goodreads Synopsis:

The iconic Molly Ringwald shares intimate stories and candid advice in this fun, stylish, and sexy girlfriend's guide to life.

To her millions of fans Molly Ringwald will forever be sixteen. As the endearing and witty star of the beloved John Hughes classics Sixteen Candles, The Breakfast Club, and Pretty in Pink, Molly defined teenage angst, love, and heartbreak. While remembered eternally as the enviable high school princess Claire, or the shyly vulnerable Samantha, Molly is now a wife and mother, and just celebrated her fortieth birthday. Facing a completely new, angst-inducing time in her life, she is embracing being a woman, wife, mother of three, actress, and best friend with her trademark style, candor, and humor.

In this book Molly encourages every woman to become "the sexiest, funniest, smartest, best-dressed, and most confident woman that you can be" by sharing personal anecdotes and entertaining insights about the struggle to get through the murky milestones and identity issues that crop up long after prom ends. Whether she's discussing sex and beauty, personal style, travel and entertaining, motherhood, or friendship, Molly embodies the spirit of being fabulous at every age, and reminds us all that prettiness is a state of mind: it's "the part of you that knows what you really want, that takes risks."

Getting the Pretty Back is sure to charm women of all ages with its unforgettably personal, refreshingly outspoken take on life, love, and, of course, finding that perfect red lipstick. . . .

My Thoughts:
I was hoping this book would be more about Molly and less a self-help(ish) book, but ultimately that was not the case. She has lots of advice - some of it good, most of it ok, none of it great - and she sprinkled in some interesting anecdotes about her life, but overall this was less about her than about what she has learned now that she's a 40-something. Interestingly, not much different from what most other 40-somethings who are reasonably accomplished have learned, albeit in a more glamorous setting (and with more money).

What I liked most about this (audio) book is that she narrated it herself. As with most books that are personal stories, they are much richer for having the author relate the stories in his/her own voice, as that factor lends a uniquely intimate quality that any other narrator would be hard pressed to duplicate. There were certain anecdotes that held more poignancy for me because she was relating them personally...particularly the story of her grandmother's issues with food and weight, because it seemed evident that the eating disorders and the dysmorphic view of her body consumed her, and that her interactions with (and judgments) of others were borne out of her disproportional focus on food and body image as compared to the rest of her life.

I was somewhat gratified that she didn't seem to take the typical laissez-faire approach to parenting that so many Hollywood types seem to have. She is clearly devoted to her family, and she & her husband seem to have rules and guidelines that they enforce. Even more importantly (to me) is her dedication to making sure her daughters do not have a distorted image of what their bodies should be, and that they have a good relationship with food. I think this is one of the great gifts we as mothers can give our daughters - a healthy body image, a healthy (and guilt-free) relationship with food, and an understanding of how bodies come in all shapes and sizes, and what is right for one person is not necessarily right for everyone.

Here's what I didn't like:
She seemed a little over-confident that she was the go-to person for relationship advice, particularly given that any good sense she had seemed to fly out the window in certain of her relationships.

She had a very casual attitude about sex, and it made me wonder what she will teach her daughters when they reach the age where sex starts to become important. Her definition of playing hard to get (i.e. not giving it up on the first date) was to wait until the third, or maybe the fifth, date. Really? What about waiting until marriage? I know that is an unpopular concept with a lot of folks, but it's not a crazy idea.

I don't believe Molly is shallow, but she focused on so many surface issues (clothes, skin care, make up, shoes, handbags, hair, etc. etc.) that I wondered if she really truly got (even though she says it) that being pretty is much more about what is inside than what is outside. Some of the most physically unattractive people can be lovelier than the sexiest model when their beauty emanates from inside. In addition, one of the most important aspects of happiness, contentment, and true beauty was something she never really touched on...spirituality. To me you can't define beauty adequately without that element.

Overall, it was a reasonably entertaining read. Most of the "advice" she doles out is basic common sense, though there are a few goodies in there. I enjoyed her personal accounts more than the other stuff, and I'm glad I know a bit more about her.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Jerky Jerks and the Books They Live In

Top Ten Tuesday is an original feature/weekly meme created at The Broke and the Bookish. This meme was created because they are particularly fond of lists at The Broke and the Bookish. They love to share their lists with other bookish folks and LOVE to see your top ten lists!

Each week they post a new Top Ten list complete with one of their bloggers answers. Everyone is welcome to join. All they ask is that you link back to The Broke and the Bookish on your own Top Ten Tuesday post AND sign Mister Linky at the bottom to share with all those who are participating. If you don't have a blog, just post your answers as a comment. Don't worry if you can't come up with ten every time...just post what you can!

Literary Jerks (or all those jerky guys in books..those who truly WERE asshats and those who just acted like one but could be quite loveable)
  1. Draco Malfoy from Harry Potter series by J. K. Rowling -- He's an elitist snob who looks down on everyone, he has a mean streak a mile wide, but he's too "refined" to do his own dirty work, and instead has a couple of thug buddies do it for him.
  2. Justin LaMotte and Elkanah Bent from North and South series by John Jakes -- Justin LaMotte is a cruel racist, an abuser who beats & drugs his wife, and a man who uses violence to get what he wants & keep others in their place.  Elkanah Bent is a fat prig with a nasty attitude who uses every underhanded trick he knows to destroy people he doesn't like.
  3. Valet de Chambre (Chambers, "Tom") from The Tragedy of Pudd'nhead Wilson by Mark Twain -- Once Chambers "becomes" Tom, his attitude of entitlement and superiority absolutely ruins him.  He values nothing and no one, has no conscience, thrives on dishonesty and greed, and treats everyone around him with either veiled or overt contempt.
  4. George Harvey in The Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold -- A rapist and a murderer who lures women & girls to their deaths in a variety of different ways.  Because his modus operandi is rarely the same, he is able to stalk and murder girls over several decades, while maintaining a seemingly normal existence.
  5. Changez in The Reluctant Fundamentalist by Mohsin Hamid -- He is duplicitous and unethical in his business dealings, and allowed his contempt for the USA to dictate his attitudes and actions, despite the fact that he took full advantage of the opportunities available to him in (only) the US.
  6. August and Uncle Al from Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen -- Uncle Al is only concerned with how much money the circus was making, and those he employs are nothing more than commodities.  When he makes money, they make money.  When he loses money, they get red-lighted (thrown off the circus train during the night).  August is a paranoid schizophrenic with an arrogant attitude and a penchant for severe cruelty that manifests itself against his wife, the circus employees, and particularly the animals.
  7. Nathan Price in The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver -- He is dour and fanatical, extremely legalistic in his faith, and more & more abusive as his missionary "ministry" in the Congo progresses.  Both his family and those he ministers are beaten down by fear, and he is oblivious to (or cares nothing about) his part in it.
  8. Father Ralph de Bricassart and Luke O'Neill in The Thornbirds by Colleen McCollough -- Luke O'Neill is the obvious jerk, because he is loud, arrogant and abusive to Meggie.  However, Father Ralph is no less a jerk in my opinion because he pursues her, beds her, impregnates her (though he doesn't know it), but refuses to wed her, instead remaining a priest and abandoning her to another life with a man she does not love.  He is loveable because he is kind, but despicable because he is weak.
  9. T. Ray Owens in The Secret Life of Bees by Sue Monk Kidd -- An abusive jerk of a man who wants ownership of his daughter, but doesn't really want the responsibility of her.  Once her mother is gone, he finds ways to make her life a living hell, and yet he is angry when she disappears & makes it his mission to find and retrieve her.
  10. Justin Halpern's Dad in Sh*t My Dad Says by Justin Halpern (lovable jerk) -- Blunt to a point far past rudeness and propriety, but hilarious nonetheless.  His heart is good, but he has a very brusque and abrasive manner of dealing with the world.
  11. James and Fritz Grier in Vinegar Hill by A. Manette Ansay -- Fritz (the father) is the kind of "Christian" that gives Christianity a bad name.  He is mean-spirited and sanctimonious, as is his wife, and though they open their home to their son & his family, they are cruel and hateful to them.  James (the son) is spineless and weak, he does not defend his wife & children against the cruelties his parents inflict, and he is more loyal to them than to his wife & children.  He also leaves them in the care of his parents for weeks on end while he works away from home, which is perhaps the cruelest act of all.
  12. The Duke and The Dauphin in The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain -- The ultimate con artists who take advantage of everyone they meet, with absolutely no twinges of conscience.  They are smooth and gregarious, and many a gullible person gets swindled.
  13. Lt. Col. Bull Meechum in The Great Santini by Pat Conroy -- An abusive, overbearing man, he makes his family's life a living hell.  This character is based on Conroy's own father, and that increases the jerk factor for me, knowing that many of the scenarios written into The Great Santini are based in the facts of his own life.

Saturday, May 7, 2011

Based Upon Availability by Alix Strauss

Paperback, 340 pages
Published June 1st 2010 by Harper Paperbacks
ISBN: 0061845264 (ISBN13: 9780061845260)
3 stars 

Goodreads Synopsis:
From the very first page of this stunning novel, readers are drawn into the lives of eight seemingly ordinary women who pass through Manhattan's swanky Four Seasons Hotel. While offering sanctuary to some, solace to others, the hotel captures their darkest moments as they grapple with family, sex, power, love, and death.
Trish obsesses over her best friend's wedding and dramatic weight loss. Robin wants revenge after a lifetime of abuse at the hands of her older sister. Anne is single, lonely, and suffering from obsessive-compulsive disorder. Drug-addicted rock star Louise needs to dry out. Southerner turned wannabe Manhattanite Franny is envious of her neighbors' lives. Sheila wants to punish her boyfriend for returning to his wife. Ellen so desperately wants children that she insists she's pregnant to her disbelieving husband. And Morgan, the hotel manager—haunted by the memory of her dead sister—is the thread that weaves these women's lives together.

My Thoughts:
I really would have liked to give this book four stars, as I ended up liking it more than I expected to. Usually when there are multiple protagonists, and the story is told from several different perspectives, it proves to be an enriching experience overall. However, it does depend on how well the novel gels together, and in this case Alix Strauss had a great idea that wasn't executed as well as it could have been.

The main impediment in this novel is how the chapters (or protagonists) were ordered or grouped. Morgan is the character with whom we spend the most time, which is great because she is the connecting character for everyone else. However, all of her chapters save one are placed in the first half of the novel, and then the last chapter is devoted to her. I do think that beginning and end with her was an excellent way to bookend the story, but when I started into the intervening chapters between Morgan (first half) and Morgan (last chapter), I found that I had forgotten some of the more crucial details that I needed to identify how the women connected, and flipping back to locate the correlating chapter so I could jog my memory was distracting & somewhat time consuming.

I love books that are structured with multiple protagonists, but I think in this instance the story would been much more streamlined had Strauss paired the chapters dealing with the same characters together, or if not directly together, in a meaningful order that maximized the connections and allowed for the reader to have a fluent reading experience. This is my only experience with Alix Strauss so far, and I enjoyed her writing, so I am hopeful that reading other of her works will show some improved continuity in her stories.

Angus, Thongs and Full-Frontal Snogging by Louise Rennison

Audio CD, 5 disks (5 hours)
Published November 4th 2002 by BBC Audiobooks (first published June 1st 1999)
ISBN: 1855491893 (ISBN13: 9781855491892)
original title: Angus, Thongs and Full-Frontal Snogging: Confessions of Georgia Nicolson (Confessions of Georgia Nicolson, #1)
literary awards: Printz Honor (2001)
2 stars overall / 5 stars audio narration 

Goodreads Synopsis:
There are six things very wrong with my life:

1. I have one of those under-the-skin spots that will never come to a head but lurk in a red way for the next two years.

2. It is on my nose

3. I have a three-year-old sister who may have peed somewhere in my room.

4. In fourteen days the summer hols will be over and then it will be back to Stalag 14 and Oberfuhrer Frau Simpson and her bunch of sadistic teachers.

5. I am very ugly and need to go into an ugly home.

6. I went to a party dressed as a stuffed olive.

In this wildly funny journal of a year in the life of Georgia Nicolson, British author Louise Rennison has perfectly captured the soaring joys and bottomless angst of being a teenager. In the spirit of Bridget Jones's Diary, this fresh, irreverent, and simply hilarious book will leave you laughing out loud. As Georgia would say, it's "Fabbity fab fab!"

My Thoughts:
I had almost finished a relatively detailed review of this book, and I lost it, so here's the short version:

The book was funny enough...I laughed out loud in a few places.
The title is provocative and funny...definitely one of the more creative titles I've seen.
The audio narrator was brilliant!

Georgia is a shallow, self-absorbed, snobby, selfish, disrespectful, mean, rude, boy-crazy girl with (virtually) no redeeming qualities.

Georgia's parents are (apparently) oblivious, and she gets away with murder. She is disrespectful in words & deeds, and a competent parent would take her down a peg or two...quickly.

Georgia seems to believe the world should revolve around her, and is somewhat astonished when it doesn't.

Georgia is way too sex-crazed at 14 years old.

Georgia is a terrible literary example for adolescent girls, and the things she says & does are grossly inappropriate for kids of that age, male or female.

THE AUTHOR is an adult and should have better judgment about what is appropriate for early teen girls.

As a reader, I am loathe to support any type of literary censorship except that which I do for myself. However, as an involved parent, I will draw the line on books like this for my adolescent kids. When they're older and better able to maturely evaluate material like this, they can read it, but not at age 14. These are not the values I want to instill in my children, nor do I want the good values the do have to be undermined by this type of literature (and I use that word VERY loosely).

I am glad I read it. Why? Because I want to make decisions about YA lit out of a position of knowledge rather rather than having knee-jerk reactions borne out of ignorance.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

The Nobodies Album by Carolyn Parkhurst

Compact Disc, 9 disks (11.5 hours)
Published January 1st 2010 by Random House Audio Publishing Group
ISBN: 030771473X (ISBN13: 9780307714732)
primary language: English
4.5 stars overall / 5 stars audio narration

Goodreads Synopsis:
From the bestselling author of The Dogs of Babel comes a dazzling literary mystery about the lengths to which some people will go to rewrite their past. 

Bestselling novelist Octavia Frost has just completed her latest book—a revolutionary novel in which she has rewritten the last chapters of all her previous books, removing clues about her personal life concealed within, especially a horrific tragedy that befell her family years ago.

On her way to deliver the manuscript to her editor, Octavia reads a news crawl in Times Square and learns that her rock-star son, Milo, has been arrested for murder. Though she and Milo haven’t spoken in years—an estrangement stemming from that tragic day—she drops everything to go to him.

The “last chapters” of Octavia’s novel are layered throughout The Nobodies  Album—the scattered puzzle pieces to her and Milo’s dark and troubled past. Did she drive her son to murder? Did Milo murder anyone at all? And what exactly happened all those years ago? As the novel builds to a stunning reveal, Octavia must consider how this story will come to a close.

Universally praised for her candid explorations of the human psyche, Parkhurst delivers an emotionally gripping and resonant mystery about a mother and her son, and about the possibility that one can never truly know another person. 

My Thoughts:
This is as rich a novel of the intricacies of family dynamics as I have read in a long time. Carolyn Parkhurst has hit one out of the park, creating a story that explores the complicated mental, emotional and even spiritual turmoil that ensues when a family experiences a terrible, unexpected tragedy. Not only is this a study in the intricate construct of family, but it is also an unusual murder mystery as well as a long overdue catalyst for healing Olivia and Milo's damaged relationship. Parkhurst shows how it sometimes takes extreme circumstances - a second tragic occurrence, for instance - to bring about catharsis and redemption.

The second thing that Parkhurst does extraordinarily well in this novel is weave excerpts from the protagonist author's books into the real time story. This is particularly effective not only in moving the story toward a revelation of the original tragedy, but also in showcasing how Octavia uses her writing as a means of processing pain and healing. And, as she and Milo cautiously navigate toward a reconciliation, each comes to understand the other's need to use their art - their careers - at first to function, then to heal, and finally to honor their loved ones.

Anyone looking for a book that is complex, unusual, and deeply satisfying will find that this book will exceed all expectations.

Monday, May 2, 2011

Thank You, Thank You, Thank You for the Recommendation!

Top Ten Tuesday is an original feature/weekly meme created at The Broke and the Bookish. This meme was created because they are particularly fond of lists at The Broke and the Bookish. They love to share their lists with other bookish folks and LOVE to see your top ten lists!

Each week they post a new Top Ten list complete with one of their bloggers answers. Everyone is welcome to join. All they ask is that you link back to The Broke and the Bookish on your own Top Ten Tuesday post AND sign Mister Linky at the bottom to share with all those who are participating. If you don't have a blog, just post your answers as a comment. Don't worry if you can't come up with ten every time...just post what you can!

Books I'm So Happy Were Recommended To Me
  1. The Help by Kathryn Stockett...Recommended by a high school friend.  No question that this will be one of my favorite reads of 2011.  It rated 5 stars, and I recommend it to everyone who asks if I can recommend a good book.
  2. Remarkable Creatures by Tracy Chevalier...A book group selection that I would never have picked up were it not on the reading list.  I thoroughly enjoyed it, perhaps largely because it was so different from my normal fare, but also because it was a really compelling story.
  3. The Water is Wide by Pat Conroy...I have been a fan of Conroy for a long time, but had never picked up this book (one of his earliest).  I was standing in the used bookstore one day perusing the Conroy books they had in stock, and a woman pressed this book into my hand and said it was not to be missed.  When I finally read it last year, I was blown away.  It is a powerful story, exquisitely told.
  4. My Grandfather's Son by Clarence Thomas...This was given to me as a gift, and while I am a huge fan of Clarence Thomas, I don't seek out memoirs too often.  I am so very glad I read this, because it touched me deeply and has stayed with me for the many months that have passed since.  I will likely never forget it.
  5. Family Baggage by Monica McInerney...Recommended by http://www.dearreader.com/, I was completely sucked in from the first few pages, and I could not put it down until I finished.  This lead me to Alphabet Sisters, and subsequently lead me to seek out a friend in Australia to find the rest of McInerney's novels for me, as they had not been published in the United States.  I have enjoyed them immensely, and would never have stumbled across this author were it not for the recommendation.
  6. On Beauty by Zadie Smith...This was a book that kept showing up on reading lists of different people in my online book group or on Goodreads, so I finally listened to it a few years ago.  It was a really complex, meaty story that had a lot to love and a lot to hate.  I thoroughly enjoyed it, and am very happy that it happened across my radar.
  7. Walking Across Egypt by Clyde Edgerton...I picked this up purely for the interesting title, and then my friend saw it and raved about it.  Her mom is a teacher, and this book had been on her required reading list for years, so with that that ringing endorsement, I read it and loved it.  Bonus:  the hymn "Walking Across Egypt" is printed at the end of the book (music included)!
  8. Quartet in Autumn by Barbara Pym...This was another book club selection that I loved.  I had never heard of Barbara Pym before, and shortly after I read this one, Pym's book Excellent Women was recommended to me by another book forum.  Both were really different, and really interesting, and I will definitely read other Pym books.
  9. Beachcombing for a Shipwrecked God by Joe Coomer...I can't remember if this was a book club selection or a recommendation from a book club member.  Not that it matters, really.  I L-O-V-E-D this book so much that I continue to seek out Joe Coomer's other books (which are not that easy to come by).  This one has stayed with me for years, and I regularly recommend it.
  10. Bad Childhood, Good Life by Dr. Laura Schlessinger...After reading over and over the praise for this book from those who have read it, I read it myself.  It is probably my favorite of Schlessinger's books, not just because it is engaging and full of practical solutions, but because I had a really positive emotional reaction to it.  There is nothing better for navel-gazing than to be called out of your inertia and self-pity, hit with the bitter truth, and given marching orders for lasting mental & emotional health.