Wednesday, December 31, 2008
Friday, December 26, 2008
Sunday, December 21, 2008
So it is with a great deal of satisfaction that I can report I have actually finished my Christmas shopping for this year! Yay me! A few gifts were things I picked up throughout the year, but most of the presents I'm giving to the kids on my list are ~ wait for it ~ books. Yep, this year, almost everyone is getting books.
I found some great ones, too ~ a big popup book called Narnia for a 3-year old girl, Swing, a "Scanimation" picture book for a couple of boys 3 and 5 (it's so fascinating I almost bought one for myself), Artemis Fowl (the first in the series) for a 12-year old boy, and Beedle the Bard for my godson who is 8. I wasn't sure what to get a 17 year old girl of my acquaintance, though I was leaning toward The Book Thief, so I got her a gift certificate to Borders.
The best part of buying books as gifts is that, if I'm careful with them, I can read them before I give them away (except the pop-up which is wrapped in plastic to keep it safe). I have already spent a lot of time looking at Swing because it is, as I said before, fascinating. The pictures actually move, and they look so real! If you think this might interest someone you know, check it out on the Borders website, where the creator discusses it and how he does it.
Anyway, if you're hung up with your holiday gift-buying and aren't sure what to get one or more of the people on your list, my advice is "think books."
Oh, did I mention that I picked up a couple of books for myself while I was there? Depending on how you look at it, that is either a perk or a problem. I personally look at it as a very good thing, though my credit card bill next month is going to be painful to look at. :)
Happy Chanukkah / Merry Christmas / Joyful Kwanzaa / Blessed Yule! And may the coming year bring bountiful blessings of happiness, health, and prosperity to you all.
Tuesday, December 16, 2008
I shrugged off the warning about it being bawdy but found myself feeling a bit anxious that the nontraditional grammar and split infinitives might put me off the story, but then I reminded myself that one thing that Chris Moore can do well is write, so I shrugged that off too.
I peeled off the wrap-around label and checked out the back of the book. There was that warning label again. Also a Cast of Characters, which included King Lear, Cordelia, and all the rest of the characters from the Bard's play, as well as a couple of fools (Pocket and his apprentice Drool) and a Ghost ("there's always a bloody ghost"). Aha! I exclaimed. It's a retelling of Shakespeare's tragedy. Brilliant.
I began reading immediately, but after I was half through the second chapter (they are not long chapters), I put the book down on the bedside table, somewhat in shock, and turned out the light. Apparently, I am not so inured to ~ what did the warning label call it? vulgarity and profanity ~ as I thought, and I wasn't sure I wanted to continue reading it.
A couple of days passed, and I thought of the book a few times a day, and glanced at it when I got into bed, but I picked up something else to read both nights. But something about the story and the characters and, let's face it, the utterly outrageous naughtiness of it, called to me, so on the third night I picked it up again and read a little more. And it wasn't quite so crude, or maybe I just got used to the language and the images conveyed. So I read a few more chapters before it again got to be too much, though there were a few giggles this time amongst the wide-eyed gasps. And I began to appreciate the dialogue a lot more (that's another thing I've always felt that Chris does really well, is dialogue). Like this bit:
Obviously, of course, I broke through previously well-hidden vestiges of prudery ~ a leftover of my Catholic-school upbringing, no doubt ~ and dove into the clever hilarity and surreal wickedness with relish. And glad I am that I didn't let prudishness stop me from reading Fool, which turned out to be much more than crude vernacular & slapstick. Oh, it was certainly vernacular enough, and I did enjoy a few good out-loud laughs and a lot of chuckles, but, like Lamb, it was much more than that. It might have started out almost too crazily, with too much crudity, too many odd characters and improbable scenes, but it soon settled into a rhythm, and the insanity abated into just zaniness, the crudity into merely colorful language, and the characters became familiar ~ weird but familiar ~ and then new characters, some of them from other of Shakespeare's plays, joined the party, and the fool began to change and grow and started to really matter to me. And the ending was ~ well, I really liked the ending.
"...The castle's awash in intrigue, subterfuge, and villainy - they'll be
wanting comic relief between the flattery and murders."
"Intrigue and villainy?" Drool displayed a gape-toothed grin.
Imagine soldiers dumping hogsheads of spittle through the crenellations atop the
castle wall - thus is Drool's grin, as earnest in expression as it is damp in
execution - a slurry of good cheer. He loves intrigue and villainy, as
they play to his most special ability.
"Will there be hiding?"
"There will most certainly be hiding," said I, as I shouldered an escaped
testicle into his cod. [Note: you have to read it. I am not going to
"Listening of cavernous proportions - we shall hang on every word as God on
"And fuckery? Will there be fuckery, Pocket?"
"Heinous fuckery most foul, lad. Heinous fuckery most foul."
"Aye, that's the dog's bollocks, then!" said Drool, slapping his
thigh. "Did you hear, Mary? Heinous fuckery afoot. Ain't that
the dog's bollocks?"
So, I'm planning to read the whole novel again, because I think I may have missed some really good bits in the first few chapters while I was being prudish. And also just because I want to enjoy it all over again.
Tuesday, December 9, 2008
As a reward for my fortitude (at least that's what I like to tell myself), Hachette Books sent me a copy of Gods Behaving Badly, a debut novel by Marie Phillips (click here to listen to a podcast interview). Gods Behaving Badly is about Greek gods and a couple of mortals with whom they cross paths. According to Kerry Fried in Newsday, it is "[t]he most amusing and instructive collision between gods and mortals since A Midsummer Night's Dream." High praise indeed, but is it true? Personally, I love the title, but the jury (of one ~ me) isn't in yet, though I can say that I've read the first chapter and it already had me laughing out loud.
Being a Greek god is not all it once was. Yes, the twelve gods of Olympus are
alive and well in the twenty-first century, but they are crammed together in a London townhouse-and none too happy about it. And they've had to get day jobs: Artemis as a dog-walker, Apollo as a TV psychic, Aphrodite as a phone sex operator, Dionysus as a DJ.
Even more disturbingly, their powers are waning, and even turning mortals into trees--a favorite pastime of Apollo's--is sapping their vital reserves of strength.
Soon, what begins as a minor squabble between Aphrodite and Apollo escalates into an epic battle of wills. Two perplexed humans, Alice and Neil, who are caught in the crossfire, must fear not only for their own lives, but for the survival of humankind. Nothing less than a true act of heroism is needed-but can these two decidedly ordinary people replicate the feats of the mythical heroes and save the world?
So, after the month I've had, I need a few laughs. I'm going to bed now to snuggle beneath the comforter and read more of Gods Behaving Badly.
But, first: The Giveaway! Leave a comment to this post and you will be entered to win a copy of Gods Behaving Badly. Put a link to the contest on your blog, and your name will be entered twice. For each five comments, one copy will be given away, up to five copies. So leave a comment, tell your friends, post a link on your blog. The contest will run through 12:00 p.m. (PDT) December 24, so if you win, it will be a nice
early late Christmas present! (Sorry, contest open to residents of the U.S. and Canada only.)
I'll be back in a couple of days with my review.
And here it is, finally, my review: I thought it was a wonderful read, light and amusing without being fluffy, serious without being depressing. Imagine if you will the mighty Greek gods of Olympus ~ Zeus, Hera, Athena, Artemis, Mars, Persephone, Apollo, Hermes, and Pluto (not the Disney dog) ~ living all together (except for Persephone and Pluto who live in Hades) in a rundown tenement in London. And imagine these formerly powerful and amoral gods and goddesses trying to fit into modern times. Dysfunctional doesn't come near to what things are really like for them, especially now that their powers are in decline. I mean, think of it: Aphrodite as a phone sex operator, Artemis as a dog walker, Eros as a born-again Christian convert who doesn't believe in Christ but really really wants to.
The story begins when Artemis discovers that her brother Apollo has turned Kate, a mortal female who had apparently resisted his lovemaking, into a tree. She and their aunt, Aphrodite, force Apollo to swear on the River Styx that he will refrain from harming any more mortals unnecessarily for a decade or until they get their power back, whichever comes first. Things get interesting when Artemis hires Alice, a mousy, almost unbelievably ordinary mortal woman, to clean house for them. Unfortunately, Apollo has fallen madly in love with Alice (aided by an arrow shot by a certain god of love who will remain nameless), but Alice is too much in love with Neal, a painfully shy guy who is too afraid of rejection to ask her out on a date though he pretty much adores her too.
As happened all too often in mythology when the gods played with human emotions and lives, the games take a deadly turn of events, and Neal has to make a choice to turn his back on Alice or become the most unlikely hero that ever was.
Sunday, November 2, 2008
Anyway, with no further ado, here is my review of a LibraryThing Early Review book, LIVING AGELESSLY by Linda Altoonian:
Very little of the information contained in this slim 235-page book was new to me, but having it all in one easy-to-access place makes the book a must-have for anyone with aging parents, anyone who is approaching retirement age themselves (like me), or anyone already retired. Well-organized sections on health & fitness, preparing for retirement, and safety issues make it easy to find information.
Some of the chapters I found particularly helpful were the ones on travel and volunteering, avoiding scams and fraud, and how to deal with depression. I'm not a grandma yet, but, when I am (God and my daughter willing), I'll be referring to the chapter on grandparenting, with numerous ideas on how to interact with your grandkids in today's world, which, if you haven't noticed yet, differs remarkably from the world in which I grew up. I also found the chapters on nutrition well done, setting out nutritional requirements and sources in an easy-to-understand and accessible way.
A few chapters brought up unpleasant realities ~ the critical need for exercise & strength training (I know, I know, I plan to start tomorrow) and the eventual need to reassess one's driving capabilities as we age ~ that last is particularly unsettling to me, living as I do in Los Angeles, the driving capital of the U.S. (or so it seems).
One of my favorite features about LIVING AGELESSLY is its emphasis on mind-body connections. It stresses the importance of a healthy body and positive attitude, and the last chapter discusses what may be the most important way to live a long, healthy, happy life ~ being grateful and showing that gratitude, especially to those we love. Finally, the resources section at the end of the book provides hundreds of websites and phone numbers of organizations dedicated to working with retirees to make their (our) last years comfortable, vital, healthy, and happy.
It's almost enough to make me look forward to my retirement.
Saturday, November 1, 2008
Wednesday, October 29, 2008
Sunday, October 26, 2008
THE KING'S ROSE was written in the first person, and the story is told by Catherine Howard as if the events of the story are happening as we read them. The pacing is good, the dialogue and descriptions of 15th Century life in England well done, but the characters were the real pull for me. I can also attest to this being an intelligent and honest novel about a young girl (she was only 15 when she was required to wed the aging and ailing king) written for a young adult audience yet also suitable for older adults with discerning taste in historical fiction.
Having read a great deal of history about the Tudor period, as well as enjoying the BBC production about Henry VIII's escapades, I knew what the sad outcome of Catherine's tale would be. Even so, I devoured the story as if it were completely new to me. And, in a way, it was: most of what I've previously read and seen about this young woman (did I mention she was only 15 when she married the 50-year old king?) have portrayed her as a silly, romantic, greedy, weak-willed though cunning whore, yet THE KING'S ROSE paints a quite different picture. Yes, Catherine is a bit silly sometimes, a bit romantic, and she does love pretty things, but she is also an astute observer, has a good idea of the peril she is in, acquiesces to her power-hungry family's commands in everything, knowing she had no choice, and still tries to be a good wife to Henry, though that last is doomed to failure in that vicious court.
I did not come across any historical anomolies such as are usual with writers of Tudor historical fiction (such as Philippa Gregory), but, even if I had, it would have had to be a huge one to ruin the charm of this novel for me. I recommend this novel wholeheartedly for young adults (I'd say from at least 14 years or even older) and adults who enjoy historical fiction.
Saturday, October 18, 2008
For a debut novel, Ms. Weiser's Broad Street is very readable, with good character development and characters for whom I came to care a great deal, an interesting and in-parts quite amusing story, and a writing style that was at times almost elegant. It could have used one more go-through by a copy editor, but otherwise was tightly written but for one minor yet puzzling glitch early on that threw me right out of the story until I decided to ignore it and went on reading. Also, I thought that the very last paragraph (prior to the Epilogue) kind of fizzled (though I won't say more about either because I don't want my review to contain any spoilers).
Other than that, I found a lot to like in the story of Kit Greene, heartbroken and filled with self-loathing after her long-time philandering boyfriend dumps her for another woman. It isn't a spoiler to say that the ex, Dale, a singer in a rock band, is a pretty sleazy character from whom she is well parted, though she isn't quite ready to realize that yet. At a party to which a well-meaning friend persuades her to go, she meets the beautiful Margo, whose current boyfriend Pete is also a singer in a rock band, as well as being about as irritatingly immature and sleazy as Dale. Kit and Margo get drunk together while engaging in a sad bit of male-bashing, and make a pact to start an all-girls rock band of their own, though neither of them are musicians.
What happens in the following months might seem predictable, but it's still fun to follow Kit, who turns out not to be as helpless and self-pitying as she seemed, as she and Margo form their band, scrape together money to hire a place where they can practice, and then find gigs. It would have been particularly fun if I either lived in or came from Philly, where all the action takes place. In fact, I've never been to Philadelphia before, but, after Broad Street, I almost feel as if I know the city.
I won't go further so as not to spoil this for anyone who hasn't read it yet, but I will say that it's well worth the time it took to read, and I will be be looking for more by Christine Weiser in the future. Oh, yeah, and I'll be loaning my copy to my 25-year old daughter who currently lives in NYC and is in theater.
Finally, congratulations to Elizabeth who is the winner of the drawing for a copy of Broad Street. Thanks to everyone who commented and entered the giveaway; I only wish I had enough copies to give to all of you! (But, if you are interested in reading this, you can request it by joining Early Reviewers at http://www.librarything.com.
Wednesday, October 8, 2008
As for the book itself ~ Mailer seldom wrote "just the facts, ma'am." Instead, he would take off on flights of literary ecstasy, as if he had written those bits while high on speed with a few shots of bourbon as chasers, and I found myself struggling to comprehend and often had to reread whole paragraphs to get the gist of what he was saying. His frequent references to himself as "the reporter" got a little tedious after awhile, and I had to steel myself to get past them. The bouts of self-castigation and soul-searching in which he engaged during those days are described in gory detail, too raw and brutal to be easy reading, but they have made me want to read a biography about the man.
I loved the descriptions of Chicago and its citizens. When he wrote about the riots and the police brutality, I trembled inside, as if it were happening now, all over again. The descriptions of his fellow intelligentsia of the movement and the crazy lengths to which the radicals wanted to take us (though I remember thinking it all made perfect sense back then) were hysterical. And the part where he describes his inspection of the troops and later examination of the barbed-wire covered vehicle was priceless. What they did (or attempted to do) to him for his minor defiance was pretty surrealistic. No wonder, having grown up in that milieu, I still don't like cops.
The first part about Miami and Nixon was interesting but not gut-clenching. It was in the second half, when he wrote about what happened in Chicago, that he took my breath away. Toward the end, I felt like I was on a runaway express train, a juggernaut racing toward a terrible plunge over the cliff, unable to stop myself from turning the pages.
This wasn't an easy book, but it was timely and well worth reading, if for no other reason than the historical political insights, but there is so much more here for anyone willing to make an effort.
Sunday, October 5, 2008
This is the first book since Find Me by Carol O'Connell that made me cry, yet I never felt that the author was manipulating my emotions (which is, perhaps, why I was able to let go, since the pathos was so subtle and crept up on me that I wasn't prepared).
The entire book was dark, and for at least half of it I disliked the unnamed female narrator/protagonist who was whiny and self-absorbed to the point of cruelty. Through this part of the book, she remains entrenched in the childhood belief of magical thinking, where everything that happens is all about her, a misconception that I myself have to struggle against, even now in my sixth decade.
The last half of the book details her redemption. This part was so powerful and intense that I was left literally breathless and, as I said, I actually found myself sobbing at times. It is a story of a woman who, after a terrible tragedy in her childhood that she believes she caused, retreats into a place deep inside herself that is cold and isolated from humanity and love. From that icy depth she exists, all the while trying to make sense of Death. It is only when she is struck by lightening and survives that she begins to thaw and ends up making sense of Life.
This is a book I am sure I'm going to reread again, it is that good.
Wednesday, October 1, 2008
The winner of the random drawing is Irene Yeates! Congratulations, Irene. I will be sending an email requesting your address. As soon as I get that, I'll get the book out to you.
Thank you to all who partipated in my first-ever (of many) book giveaways.
Monday, September 29, 2008
Saturday, September 27, 2008
I received the book (and a second copy) today, and already started reading it. Nine pages in, I have to say that I am impressed! Ms. Weiser managed to hook me, not only by the story but by her elegant writing. If the rest of the book is as good as the first bit, I am in for a treat!
A brief synopsis of the book from the publisher: Kit Greene has just been dumped by her philandering rock musician boyfriend. A friend persuades her to go to a party where she meets Margo Bevilacqua, who is currently dating another philandering rock musician. At the party, the two women make a drunken pact to form a band with the sole purpose of outshining the musical men in their lives. This is where I left off, and I must say I can't wait to get back to the story and find out more about them and about their struggle for success in the male-dominated, mid-90s Philadelphia rock scene.
A little about the author, also courtesy of the publisher: Christine Weiser is a professional writer and editor and co-publisher of the literary magazine Philadelphia Stories (founded in 2004). She is co-author of Ask Mr. Technology, Get Answers (Lindwood 2007) and is managing editor for Tech & Learning magazine. She was the bass player for Philly girl band Mae Pang, and her current band, The Tights, can be h eard in clubs in and around the Philly area. Broad Street is her first novel.
If you would like to share the experience of reading Broad Street with me, leave a comment by the end of the day October 6. I will raffle off a copy of the book on October 7. Be sure to leave your email address or link to your blog if you want to be entered in the raffle. If you mention my pre-review in your blog and link to it, you'll be entered twice.
Thursday, September 25, 2008
Saturday, September 20, 2008
Trade Paperback: 352 pages
Publisher: Picador (September 2, 2008)
Winner of the Edgar Award for Best Novel, 1999
In the beginning, two police detectives are drinking coffee at a local White Castle when they happen to notice a bald, rotund, funny-looking man eating hamburgers at the counter. One of them muses that the odd-looking man sits on his stool "like an egg in an eggcup." That was only the first of many moments of pure enjoyment I have had from this murder mystery, which is much more than a whodunnit, and I am looking forward to many more, since I am only at about the halfway point in the novel.
It is late in the autumn of 1939, and St. Paul, Minnesota is still reeling from the effects of the Great Depression when the murdered body of a beautiful red-haired dime-a-dance girl is discovered on a hillside. Coincidentally, the investigation by the two detectives initially leads them to suspect Mr. White, the Humpty-Dumpty of a man they had noticed a week or so earlier at the White Castle.
Now, it turns out that Mr. White has a faulty memory ~ he cannot remember middle-distance events. He can recall in detail memories from his youth, and he is pretty good at remembering things that happened within the last day or so, but between that ~ nothing. As a substitute, he has devised various ways to keep track of his life: he is an avid photographer (particularly of dime-a-dance girls), and he keeps scrapbooks of his photos as well as newspaper articles of current events. On the day of his unknown encounter with the detectives at the White Castle, he had also decided to keep a diary. This diary becomes an integral part of the narrative and is, I think, the best part of Mr. White's Confession. In his diary, Mr. White's voice is formal and innocent and, most of all, blind to his own desires. In the first pages of his diary, recalling a visit by Ruby Fahey, one of the dime-a-dance girls he photographs, he writes: "She went back to my bedroom to change, and I must say I felt a huge sort of breathlessness at the idea that she was in my room shedding and then donning her garments, rather as if some mystery of great enormity were taking place right here in my humble quarters!"
The detective's portion of Mr. White's Confession seems to be a conscious parody of the hard-boiled Chandleresque detective novels, and occasionally it gets a little over-the-top, but overall it works to balance the almost dreamy ruminations of the diarist. So far, anyway.
September 26, 2008 ~ Review continued!
"Mr. White's Confession" is sort of a cross between a Chandleresque whodunnit and a noir fictional memoir. It tells the tale of an odd-looking and -acting young man who, mostly due to his strangeness, is suspected of murdering a young, beautiful dime-a-dance girl in 1939 during the Great Depression in St. Paul, Minnesota. He is not only socially inept and odd-looking, he has a memory disability. Because of his disability he keeps track of his life in journals and scrapbooks, and that makes up one part of the story. The part that focuses on the police investigation is told mostly through the eyes of the detectives, Lt. Wesley Horner, a chain-smoking, dogged, rough, but honest cop, and reads like a dime-detective novel from that era.
I found Mr. White a sympathetic character, perhaps because he is also into photography, and I understood his descriptions of the photographic process and identified with his pleasure at watching an image appear from nothing. I also found his ruminations on the metaphorical aspects of photography as it relates to memory, love, life itself, really quite astute. I also sympathized with him for the way he was looked at ~ as a freak and a creep and even a murderer ~ only because he wasn't fashionable or good-looking. In this story, things got way out of hand because of that bias. I eventually started to like Lt. Horner too, rooting for his redemption when he made the decision that would result in a terrible loss, and feeling his pain over that loss when it occurred. I feel that the character of Lt. Horner grew as much as Mr. White's did until, by the end of the story, they both resembled the kind of quiet heroes the world needs more of but never really seems to appreciate fully.
One other thing that bothered me (not about the novel but about one of the issues brought up in the story) was the way the criminal justice system in effect at the time could be so brutal and unfair. There were few of the checks that keep the system in line today, like the requirement for Miranda rights, the rights of the accused to representation and a fair trial by jury, the rights of a criminal not to be subjected to brutal, inhumane punishments, etc. While the criminal justice system today has flaws, they are nothing to what it was like back then. Some of the things that happened to some of the characters infuriated me, and I had to keep telling myself "it's only fiction," and "that was then, it's not like that here anymore."
Needless to say, I really enjoyed this novel and am looking forward to more from this author!
Sunday, August 24, 2008
All right! I have convinced myself. A walk it is.
I glance back down at the book in my hands. Yes, right, I'll get up and go out to enjoy the beautiful afternoon. In a minute or two. First, though, just one more page . . . .