Friday, October 28, 2011

The Myth of You & Me by Leah Stewart

When Cameron was fifteen, she and Sonia were best friends—so close it seemed nothing would ever come between them. Now Cameron is a twenty-nine-year-old research assistant with no meaningful ties to anyone except her aging boss, noted historian Oliver Doucet. Nearly a decade after the incident that ended their friendship, Cameron receives an unexpected letter from her old friend. Despite Oliver’s urging, she doesn’t reply. But when he passes away, Cameron discovers that he has left her with one final task: to track down Sonia and hand-deliver a mysterious package to her. The Myth of You and Me captures the intensity of a friendship as well as the real sense of loss that lingers after the end of one. Searingly honest and beautiful, it is a celebration and portrait of a friendship that will appeal to anyone who still feels the absence of that first true friend.

My Take: 3 looks
Cameron is a woman used to being on her own. Or is she? Sonia was her tried and true best friend. So why was it so easy to leave Sonia at a gas station on the interstate?
Interesting book, interesting characters, and a premise that happens to us all: the loss of a friendship. I liked the book, found it very easy to read, but it didn't engage me enough to give it 4 stars

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

A Visit from the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan

Jennifer Egan’s spellbinding new work circles Bennie Salazar, an aging former punk rocker and record executive, and Sasha, the passionate, troubled young woman he employs. Bennie and Sasha never discover each other’s pasts, but the reader does, in intimate detail, along with the secret lives of a host of other people whose paths intersect with theirs in the San Francisco 1970s music scene, the demimonde of Naples, New York at many points along the way from the pre-Internet nineties to a postwar future, and on a catastrophic safari into the heart of Africa. We meet Lou, Bennie’s charismatic, careless mentor; Scotty, the young musician who slipped off the grid; the uncle facing a failed marriage who goes in search of seventeen-year-old Sasha when she disappears into Italy; and the therapist on whose couch she dissects darker compulsions. A Visit from the Goon Squad is a book about time, survival, and the electrifying sparks ignited at the seams of our lives by colliding destinies. Sly, surprising, exhilarating work from one of our boldest writers.

My review: 1 look
This book won the 2011 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction?! This is what the Pulitzer Prize Board said: "inventive investigation of growing up and growing old in the digital age, displaying a big-hearted curiosity about cultural change at warp speed." Allow me to translate this for you: rockers getting old, hating it and fighting it every step of the way.

HBO is making a series out of it?! Well, they made a movie out of one of my most-hated books, White Oleander, so I can't say this surprises me. This book could read like a bunch of related short stories, so a series is probably not a bad idea. Especially when you consider the garbage on television now.

My take on this book is that it's sophomoric, pandering and whiney. Think "Housewives of New Jersey" with record contracts. You may want to read this one because of the hype, but I wouldn't recommend it unless every other book at the library is gone.

Friday, October 21, 2011

The Language of Flowers by Vanessa Diffenbaugh

The Victorian language of flowers was used to express emotions: honeysuckle for devotion, azaleas for passion, and red roses for love. But for Victoria Jones, it has been more useful in communicating feelings like grief, mistrust and solitude. After a childhood spent in the foster care system, she is unable to get close to anybody, and her only connection to the world is through flowers and their meanings. Now eighteen, Victoria has nowhere to go, and sleeps in a public park, where she plants a small garden of her own. When her talent is discovered by a local florist, she discovers her gift for helping others through the flowers she chooses for them. But it takes meeting a mysterious vendor at the flower market for her to realise what's been missing in her own life, and as she starts to fall for him, she's forced to confront a painful secret from her past, and decide whether it's worth risking everything for a second chance at happiness. "The Language of Flowers" is a heartbreaking and redemptive novel about the meaning of flowers, the meaning of family, and the meaning of love.

My View: 3 looks (WARNING: Spoilers!!)
I really struggled with this review because I liked the book quite a lot; however, there were a few things that kept me from giving it four looks. First of all, I felt that the story of the fostering system was (unfortunately) on track. I grew up in a stable, loving home and cannot fathom the displacement, solitude and loneliness that must come from being a ward of the state. Couple that with people who should never be foster parents and you have a hard story to tell. the story of Victoria's childhood was handled with compassion and I understood why she escalated in bad behavior. that was excellent character development.

However, Elizabeth's breakdown was completely out of the blue and I didn't buy it at all. Her apparent love for Victoria and her desire to become a family, which falls apart the day of the adoption? Contrived, forced and theatrical. This alone cost a look from my review.

The relationship with Grant and Victoria was completely lovely, as well as her trepidation over Hazel. It was handled truthfully with raw emotion and was a very probable scenario.

I will read more by this author because I enjoyed the book. There was much, much more good than bad. Much more to relish than to forget. I wonder what kind of flower that would be...

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

The Actor and the Housewife by Shannon Hale

A very different kind of fantasy from New York Times bestselling author Shannon Hale. What if you were to meet the number-one person on your laminated list—you know, that list you joke about with your significant other about which five celebrities you’d be allowed to run off with if ever given the chance? And of course since it’ll never happen it doesn’t matter… Mormon housewife Becky Jack is seven months pregnant with her fourth child when she meets celebrity hearththrob Felix Callahan. Twelve hours, one elevator ride, and one alcohol-free dinner later, something has happened…though nothing has happened. It isn’t sexual. It isn’t even quite love. But a month later Felix shows up in Salt Lake City to visit and before they know what’s hit them, Felix and Becky are best friends. Really. Becky’s husband is pretty cool about it. H er children roll their eyes. Her neighbors gossip endlessly. But Felix and Becky have something special…something unusual, something completely impossible to sustain. Or is it? A magical story, The Actor and the Housewife explores what could happen when your not-so-secret celebrity crush walks right into real life and changes everything.

My review: 2 looks
I know, I know. Only 2 looks? I almost put this one down, but it was so easy to read that I decided to skim through some parts and finish it. *spoiler alert*

If you can get past the fantastical meeting of these two, the "witty banter" between the Felix and Becky was cute and believable about 1/3 of the way into the book. Then it just became rote and sophomoric. Their relationship never seemed to grow or develop in the 15 or so years they were friends. They talked every day, then they didn't talk for months. Becky felt secure in their friendship, then she suspects he'll never call again. Mike is alive and well, gets cancer and goes into remission all in the same chapter. Does Felix love Becky platonically or romantically? Is Becky "cheating" on her husband because her best friend is a man?

It gets cumbersome, boring and completely predictable, right down to the "we love each other, but not that way" ending. At 339 pages, it's about 100 pages too long. Maybe 150 pages. Maybe it should have been a short story...

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern

The Night Circus
Waging a fierce competition for which they have trained since childhood, circus magicians Celia and Marco unexpectedly fall in love with each other and share a fantastical romance that manifests in fateful ways.

My Opinion: 5 looks
The summary provided above (copied from the Shelfari site) is grossly inadequate to describe this book. I read the other reviews (again, on Shelfari) and although I am tempted to respond to them here, will refrain from doing so.

This book was magical. It was transporting. It was fantastical. I hated ... hated to see it end. I read pages over again because I was so enamored by the situation, response, action or pure dialogue.

The writing is superb; quite a feat for a debut novel. This is an author born to write. I was in the circus, knew the characters and felt their emotions. I was tricked, surprised, delighted and finally, completely satisfied. This is a book I will purchase to read again, and that is the highest compliment I can give.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

The Last Werewolf by Glen Duncan

A bit on the elderly side (he turns 201 in March), but otherwise in the pink of health. The nonstop sex and exercise he’s still getting probably contribute to that, as does his diet: unusual amounts of flesh and blood (at least some from friends and relatives). Jake, of course, is a werewolf, and with the death of his colleague he has now become the only one of his kind. This depresses Jake to the point that he’s been contemplating suicide. Yet there are powerful forces who for very different reasons want—and have the power—to keep Jake alive. 

Here is a powerful new version of the werewolf legend—mesmerizing and undeniably sexy, and with moments of violence so elegantly wrought they dazzle rather than repel. But perhaps its most remarkable achievement is to make the reader feel sympathy for a man who can only be described as a monster—and in doing so, remind us what it means to be human. One of the most original, audacious, and terrifying novels in years.

My review:
1 look
I am no prude, but when I got to yet another description of anal sex, I put this one down. I mean, good grief, we get it already: werewolves like sex. Putting this stinker on my "do not bother" list. Because I hated it so much, I'm pretty sure Hollywood will turn it into a movie.

Reading same author

My friend Debbie (actually, she is the wife of my pastor, my Sunday School teacher, fellow book-lover, and becoming a friend) and I love the author Charles Martin. He writes Christian fiction, which I usually do not read because I find it heavy-handed, preachy and a little haughty. His writing style, however, is so real, honest and personal that I find that, not only do I enjoy his books, I think of them long after I turn the last page. Christianity is sprinkled throughout the book as a normal part of a character's life, along with the ups, downs, struggles and victories that accompany faith in Jesus for all believers.

With that said, Debbie and I stoked in one another lately a renewed desire to read Martin. She had a few and I had a few, so we compared and swapped. Last night when we met, we both agreed that to read one author's books back-to-back is not always a good thing. Debbie likened it to eating your favorite meal three times a day for ten days. While it's as deliciously prepared on the tenth day, it's not as tasty as it was that first day.

With that said, I put down the book I was reading (Where the River Ends) and will go on to another author. Authors are to be sprinkled, not poured.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Anne Rice's continued struggle with faith

I heard a story on NPR earlier this week about Anne Rice's decision to "quit Christianity." From her web site:

For those who care, and I understand if you don't: Today I quit being a Christian. I'm out. I remain committed to Christ as always but not to being "Christian" or to being part of Christianity. It's simply impossible for me to "belong" to this quarrelsome, hostile, disputatious, and deservedly infamous group. For ten ...years, I've tried. I've failed. I'm an outsider. My conscience will allow nothing else.

07/28/10 As I said below, I quit being a Christian. I'm out. In the name of Christ, I refuse to be anti-gay. I refuse to be anti-feminist. I refuse to be anti-artificial birth control. I refuse to be anti-Democrat. I refuse to be anti-secular humanism. I refuse to be anti-science. I refuse to be anti-life. In the name of ...Christ, I quit Christianity and being Christian. Amen.

07/28/10 My faith in Christ is central to my life. My conversion from a pessimistic atheist lost in a world I didn't understand, to an optimistic believer in a universe created and sustained by a loving God is crucial to me. But following Christ does not mean following His followers. Christ is infinitely more important than Christianity and always will be, no matter what Christianity is, has been, or might become.

07/29/10 I quit Christianity in the name of Christ on this page so that I could tell my readers I was not complicit in the things that organized religion does. I never dreamed others would be so interested, or that they would feel the need to talk about their own religious struggles. But they do. And the public conversation on... this is huge, and I think important.

I must say that I agree with about 99.9% of the things she says. I would say that most thinking Christians realize that organized religion will naturally contain the same faults that mankind shoulders. If you expect the organization to be perfect, you are sure to be disappointed. However, the gist is to follow Christ while in the midst of other believers.

Rice is correct that too many people tend to put a spokesperson or leader on the pedestal, and it's clear that God knew this would happen. That's why He makes it clear that the leaders and teachers will be held to a higher standard.

To publicly eschew organized religion is a bit haughty and a sure sign of spiritual immaturity. To be so disillusioned with it is to mean that you put too much faith in it to begin with. Keep your sights on the Son and you will not be disappointed.

Monday, October 3, 2011

The 5 Best Banned Books Turned Films

Censorship Causes Blindness: The 5 Best Banned Books Turned Films

From the Random House Publishing web site, these are "The 5 Best Banned Books Turned Films":

American Psycho by

Humbert Humbert is a middle-aged, fastidious college professor. He also likes little girls. And none more so than Lolita, who he'll do anything to possess. Is he in love or insane? A silver-tongued poet or a pervert? A tortured soul or a monster? Or is he all of these?

It is no surprise that Vladimir Nabokov’s 1955 novel Lolita has become one of the most challenged books of all time. By the time Stanley Kubrick’s 1962 film adaptation hit theaters, five countries had already banned the book, citing obscenity. Due to the lingering sensitivities around the theme of pedophilia, Kubrick changed Lolita’s age from twelve to fourteen and cleaned up other suggestive scenes from the book. This resulted in Kubrick ultimately using only a small portion of Nabokov’s original work in the film. Almost thirty-five years after the original film, “Lolita” received a re-adaptation featuring Jeremy Irons and Dominique Swain. Though many are loyal to Kubrick’s classic, we think that the modern film adaptation succeeded in being more faithful to Nabokov’s original story.

A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess
A vicious fifteen-year-old "droog" is the central character of this 1963 classic, whose stark terror was captured in Stanley Kubrick's magnificent film of the same title. In Anthony Burgess's nightmare vision of the future, where criminals take over after dark, the story is told by the central character, Alex, who talks in a brutal invented slang that brilliantly renders his and his friends' social pathology. A Clockwork Orange is a frightening fable about good and evil, and the meaning of human freedom. When the state undertakes to reform Alex—to "redeem" him—the novel asks, "At what cost?" This edition includes the controversial last chapter not published in the first edition and Burgess's introduction "A Clockwork Orange Resucked."

Soon after Stanley Kubrick’s 1971 film adaptation of “A Clockwork Orange” was released, protestors started targeting Kubrick and his family with death threats, prompting him to request that Warner Brothers withdraw the British distribution. The graphic violence and rapes featured in the film did not sit well with British authorities, who banned the film after a string of copycat incidents that were inspired by the film rocked the country.

Lord of the Flies by William Golding
Since its publication in 1954, William Golding’s The Lord of the Flies, about a group of English schoolboys stranded on a deserted island following a plane crash, has been both lauded and challenged. Though Golding won the Nobel Prize for literature in 1983, many continued to challenge The Lord of the Flies for reasons ranging from profanity to violence. Parents have often been the most vocal group to oppose The Lord of the Flies, given the subject matter of civilized schoolchildren descending into savagery being taught to their children. Lord of the Flies has received two film adaptations: The first in 1963 and most recently in 1990. We are of the opinion that the original film trumps the modern adaptation, as it follows Golding’s story better by featuring a British cast, in addition to keeping with the ambiguity of the characters, making it not immediately apparent which are “good” versus “bad".

The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood
Offred is a Handmaid in the Republic of Gilead. She may leave the home of the Commander and his wife once a day to walk to food markets whose signs are now pictures instead of words because women are no longer allowed to read. She must lie on her back once a month and pray that the Commander makes her pregnant, because in an age of declining reproduction, Offred and the other Handmaids are valued only if their ovaries are viable. Offred can remember the years before, when she lived and made love with her husband, Luke; when she played with and protected her daughter; when she had a job, money of her own, and access to knowledge. But all of that is gone now...