Thursday, August 30, 2012

Literary Dinner Party

Fun game from Vonnie in my Bibliophile book group: Invite 11 people to a literary dinner party. Here are mine, according to her criteria:

1. One character who can cook/likes to cook
Lillian from The School of Essential Ingredients

2. One character who has money to fund the party
Any member of the Grigori family from Angelology - filthy rich and supernatural, to boot!

3. One character who might cause a scene
Celia Bowen from The Night Circus - illusionist extraordinaire

4. One character who is funny/amusing
Lord Akeldama from Soulless - Flamboyant, gay, ancient, socially-connected vampire

5. One character who is super social/popular
Jesus Christ from Lamb: The Gospel According to Biff, Christ's Childhood Pal

6. One villain
Hilly Holbrook from The Help - Just so I could slap the fire out of her!

7. One couple - doesn't have to be romantic
Juliet and Dawsey from The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society - Such a fun couple of people!

8. One hero/heroine
Odd Thomas from the Odd Thomas series - an unlikely hero, but excellent just the same.

9. One underappreciated character
The Giver in the book by the same name - What a terrible and great responsibility.

10. One character of your own choosing
Anges Crandall from Anges and the Hitman - description: A food columnist with a deadly temper who occasionally tries to kill her unfaithful boyfriends. What is not to love?!

Fun, Vonnie!!

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Another Misstep by Hollywood

Fifty Shades of Grey is being made into a movie. A refresh on the basic storyline of the wildly popular book:

Fifty Shades of Grey is a 2011 erotic novel by British author E. L. James. Set largely in Seattle, it is the first instalment in a trilogy that traces the deepening relationship between a college graduate, Anastasia Steele, and a young business magnate, Christian Grey. It is notable for its explicitly erotic scenes featuring elements of sexual practices involving bondage/discipline, dominance/submission, sadism/masochism (BDSM).

You can tell that Hollywood is run and funded by men. Money-hungry, profit-chasing, strike-while-the-iron-is-hot men.

Dear Hollywood: The reason this trilogy has been so popular is because women want their porn in writing. We don't, for the most part, want to watch people having sex. We want to read sex and play it in our minds. Starring ourselves. We are not, for the most part, voyeurs. Women are not the target audience for soft-core porn, which is what this movie will be.

Men are very sight-stimulated. Women, not so much. We can see a photo of a naked man on a motorcycle and think, "Wow. I'll bet that is very uncomfortable." Men see a naked woman on a motorcycle and go out to buy a Harley.

The first movie may do well because women will think that the same feelings they felt while reading will  be recaptured when they watch. They are going to be disappointed and $10 poorer for the effort. Don't even bother making a second and third movie because no one will see it. Best to get B-movie actors and go straight to video. That way, men will rent it.

It's just another misstep in Hollywood.

Monday, August 27, 2012

Under the Banner of Heaven by Jon Krakauer

Brothers Ron and Dan Lafferty insist they were commanded to kill by God. Krakauer's investigation is a meticulously researched, bone-chilling narrative of polygamy, savage violence and unyielding faith: an incisive, gripping work of non-fiction that illuminates an otherwise confounding realm of human behaviour.

My take: 4 looks
I don't usually go for non-fiction. I find it dry and uninteresting; however, I was unable to put this one down. Impeccable research and a warm writing style made this a very engaging book on Mormonism.

For example, Elohim had two sons, Jesus and Lucifer. when Elohim decided to create a new world, Earth, he asked his boys which one wanted to be its savior. They both pitched their ideas, and Jesus won. Satan got mad, along with 1/3 of the spirits and they were cast into Earth's hell. The 1/3 who fought for Jesus were made angels with light skin. The 1/3 who didn't choose a side either way were punished on Earth with dark skin, making the Negros, Hispanics and American Indians. The lighter your skin, the more blessed you are by God. Can you believe that?

Another very disturbing fact in the book is the constant change that Mormonism documents. God makes revelations to his saints in the church, and they are compelled to carry them out, or burn in hell. There are radical revisions to church doctrine, depending on the president at the time. You can imagine the controversy when they started allowing "dark skinned" leaders in the church!

I was distraught at the comparison to my own Christian faith, but came to realize that this is only a thinly veiled attempt to gain a foothold to convert to their faith. If they appeared crazy at the outset, what are the chances of growth?

As I read of the abuse of power, killing apostates to further the faith and the great need to populate like-minded people through plural marriage, I saw my own Old Testament histories enacted over and over again, but this time in modern days.

Mormonism, as presented here, is one of the most intolerant of belief systems, based on the exclusionary ideals of a man who espoused polygamy, murder, and manipulation to a group of uneducated and impoverished people. What is the draw today to this faith, with the possible exception of brainwashing?

Religions inevitably demand a leap of faith at some point, but spiritual growth is about questioning, finding answers, seeking the truth and coming to terms with a personal and living belief in ONE who is greater than I could ever be. God the Father is not offended at my curiosity and certainly not defensive to the point of violence when I move from blind faith to actively seeking my path to Him. I am not the least bit interested in becoming a god or goddess myself, having eternal celestial sex so I can populate the new planet Elohim gives to me when I am deemed worthy. It's too science fiction for me.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer

Written with warmth and humor as a series of letters, this novel is a celebration of the written word in all its guises, and of finding connection in the most surprising ways.

My original review, July 3, 2009: 4 looks
This book started slowly for me. However, once I truly entered the worlds of Juliet, Dawsey, Amelia and Elizabeth...I was enamored. And to feel these two worlds, nee, three worlds, come together was as sweet to me as any freshly plucked fruit. Presented as letters, telling the story of people, relationships, situations and trip to Guernsey was a lovely one.

Today's review: 5 looks
It's not often that a book will cause me to re-read. This book was even more delightful the second time around. Perhaps it is the three year lapse between readings, but I found the characters, setting and story to be fresh.

I want to be Juliet! She is smart, winsome, unpretentious and follows her heart. My friend Debbie gave me the greatest compliment when, as she was reading the book, texted to tell me that I WAS Juliet to her!What an altogether lovely thing to say.

The format of letters telling the story is a unique one, and tends to put people off a bit, but there is a natural rhythm in the reading; and, while it is heavy with characters, the story lines are so clearly followed that I experienced no confusion at all. I began jotting down names and attributes in the beginning but quickly abandoned this as unnecessary.

I am increasing my review from 4 looks to 5 because this is a delightful read, a treasure to own, one that I will read again, and highly recommend.

Friday, August 17, 2012

By the River Piedra I Sat Down and Wept by Paulo Coelho

From Paulo Coelho, author of the international bestseller The Alchemist , comes a poignant, richly poetic story that reflects the depth of love and life. Rarely does adolescent love reach its full potential, but what happens when two young lovers reunite after eleven years? Time has transformed Pilar into a strong and independent woman, while her devoted childhood friend has grown into a handsome and charismatic spiritual leader. She has learned well how to bury her feelings . . . and he has turned to religion as a refuge from his raging inner conflicts. Now they are together once again, embarking on a journey fraught with difficulties, as long-buried demons of blame and resentment resurface after more than a decade. But in a small village in the French Pyrenees, by the waters of the River Piedra, a most special relationship will be reexamined in the dazzling light of some of life's biggest questions.

My take: 2 looks
One review of this book used the words "metaphysical allegory". I should have known then what I would think upon finishing this book. There is a subtitle of "A Novel of Forgiveness".

I don't really know where to start. Pilar is a young woman who is quite conflicted. She thinks she has had a good life, but upon reflection, decides that it was more like quicksand and only served to hold her back. Faced with a man from her past who has fallen deeply in love with her over the past eleven years (of having no contact with her whatsoever), she is like an oscillating fan: back and forth and back and forth. Does she love him? Should she go back to school? No, she doesn't love him. Wait! Yes! Yes, she does love him.

This man, whose name we never know, communicates with the Virgin Mary, performs miracles and feels the calling to spread the feminine-side of the gospel. He goes out half-clothed into the snow to enter into a trance to finally decide whether he should be a religious zealot or a man in love with a woman he barely knows.

They both exorcise themselves of The Other, which seems to be the negative, questioning, realistic, grown-up side of each person's personality. The Other has to stand in the corner and try to sneak back in on occasion, but it doesn't seem to be too stealthy.

All of this felt very overly dramatic and sophomoric (like watching two high-schoolers trying to one-up each other when it comes to "I love you but I must leave you and it's going to tear me apart but I'm going to do it again and again to prove my martyrdom" mentality). Coelho takes himself much too seriously if this is the way the trilogy (this is the first in the And On the Seventh Day series) plays out. However, because of the sheer cleverness of the title of the second in the series, Veronika Decides to Die, I have added it to my list.

I can't recommend this one.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Next three books in book club

My Wednesday night book group members were tasked with bringing at least one recommendation for our next book.

You know how that goes. One woman brought the book. Two ladies brought 2 suggestions each and two ladies came empty-handed. In the end, we had set our next three books. ha!

I love to be around readers!

Here are our next three books:
The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer - I've read this one, but it was way back in the summer of 2009. I gave it 4 stars. Here is my review:
This book started slowly for me. However, once I truly entered the worlds of Juliet, Dawsey, Amelia and Elizabeth...I was enamored. And to feel these two worlds, nee, three worlds, come together was as sweet to me as any freshly plucked fruit. Presented as letters, telling the story of people, relationships, situations and trip to Guernsey was a lovely one.

Dogwood by Chris Fabry - I had seen this one on the Christy Awards list, but didn't know anything about it. Summary:
In the small town of Dogwood, West Virginia, Karin has buried her shattered dreams by settling for a faithful husband whose emotional distance from her deep passions and conflicts leaves her isolated. Loaded with guilt, she tries to raise three small children and "do life" the best she can. Will returns to Dogwood intent on pursuing the only woman he has ever loved--only to find there is far more standing in his way than lost years in prison. The secrets of Will and Karin's past begin to emerge through Danny Boyd, a young boy who wishes he hadn't survived the tragedy that knit those two together as well as tore them apart. The trigger that will lay their pain bare and force them to face it rather than flee is the unlikely figure of Ruthie Bowles, a withered, wiry old woman who leads Karin so deep into her anger against God that it forces unexpected consequences.

Book of Dreams by Davis Bunn - This is the same author as our first book, The Book of Hours. It is telling how much we enjoyed that book to add another by the same author so soon. The summary on Shelfari is sparse:
A dream interpreter is thrown into a world of espionage and danger when she inherits a book that unleashes the power of her gift.
Doesn't it sound good?

This group sets the reading pace based on the book. We decide initially how much we will read for the next week's discussion, then set the next reading amount, etc. It is so amusing to see how far we all get before someone throws out "Let's just finish it!" haha! More often than not, someone in the group has already finished it because she just couldn't put it down. We decided Guernsey would be a one-week read. :)

These will be a great couple of months for the group!

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

The Weird Sisters by Eleanor Brown

A major new talent tackles the complicated terrain of sisters, the power of books, and the places we decide to call home. There is no problem that a library card can't solve. The Andreas family is one of readers. Their father, a renowned Shakespeare professor who speaks almost entirely in verse, has named his three daughters after famous Shakespearean women. When the sisters return to their childhood home, ostensibly to care for their ailing mother, but really to lick their wounds and bury their secrets, they are horrified to find the others there. See, we love each other. We just don't happen to like each other very much. But the sisters soon discover that everything they've been running from-one another, their small hometown, and themselves-might offer more than they ever expected.

My take: 3 stars
This was a nice story, following the lives is three adult sisters who move back home to Ohio for various reasons.

That is the extent of my praise for this book because I want to focus on what bothered me.

First of all, I could NEVER figure out who the narrator was. It was written in first person, but the "I" was never clear. I am use to this if the chapter or section is from a perspective of a particular character, but this was not the case in this novel.

Secondly, is it really possible for a mother to be so flighty that she could start a meal, only to wander off outside while it burned to a crisp inside? That she would hum at the dinner table while serious (Mom and Dad, I'm pregnant) conversation was happening, but not hear it because her mind is elsewhere? I just didn't buy it.

And the entire family goes through life spouting quotes from numerous Shakespeare plays and sonnets. It's the way they communicate. Does this really happen?

These downfalls in the novel (for me, at least) garner three looks instead of more. The writing was good and it was easy to follow. I had some sympathy for the characters (although I wanted to slap Rose a couple of times) and felt invested enough at the end.

I am not sure I would recommend this one, but I couldn't tell you to cross it off your list, either.

Monday, August 13, 2012

Am I a simpleton, or what?!

I've been perusing book reviews and lists because I am nothing if not an insatiable glutton for punishment when it comes to a HUGE TBR list.

What I am running into is a ton of nonfiction, exploring demographic reversal, instructions on "how to be gay", the study of the counterculture of narcissism and a sweeping cultural history of the ideal of sincerity.


What the H is wrong with me?

I could not care less about the pedagogy of the democratic party and why it is the same as yesteryear's republicans. I don't care how Islamic law evolved and I sure as H don't want to know how 1919 brought bloodshed, riots and municipal crises in Chicago.

What do I want to read? Fiction. Classics. Love stories. Chick lit. Mysteries. I don't feel that I am limiting myself at all with this list. There must be hundreds of books published weekly that meet this criteria.

However, the book critics that I have been able to find are NOT reading it. I guess it's too prosaic for them. Perhaps it's too lowbrow.

I saw an interesting article addressing whether or not we even need professional critics in this day of blogging.  Jessa Crispin, editor-in-chief of Bookslut (really? seriously? There was NO other moniker available?) thinks the age of the professional critic has come to an end. Critics can only review so much, but online bloggers seem to be able to review everything.

Thank goodness. Because I am barking up the wrong tree to fatten my TBR!

Sunday, August 12, 2012

The Covenant by Naomi Ragen

Living in terror-torn Jerusalem, Elise Margulies constantly fears for the safety of her loved ones. Confined to bedrest during a difficult pregnancy, she happily awaits the return of her husband and little girl from a ballet recital, only to find that her worst fears have finally been realized. All seems lost until a phone call to her grandmother in America unexpectedly revives a decades-old oath, creating a force that transcends time and place, to rescue her loved ones. Over the course of five terror- and hope-filled days, the ties that bind two generations forge a potent alliance against contemporary evil.

My take: 4 looks
This is a beautifully written account of present-day Jewish and Arab relations. You see and feel all sides: Jews with no ties to their past, practicing Jews in Israel, and survivors of the Holocaust reunited after years apart. On the other hand, there are Arabs who are active and violent members of Hamas, their unsuspecting wives, children, aunts, who are true Muslims, seeking only peace, and those who are walking the thin line between the two.

There is love, hatred, family, traitors, terror, intrigue, death and birth. Highly recommended.

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Books that are hard to read

You have heard of books that are hard to put down, but lately I am hearing much about books that are hard to read.

Hard to read. What exactly does that mean? Is it written in a language with which the reader is unfamiliar?

Of course, I am being facetious. I think a more accurate term would be "doesn't interest me" (Moby Dick), "is too long" (War and Peace) or "is hard to follow" (The Odyssey).

There are lists that are titled "Books that are Hard to Read". Should these be renamed "Books in which the Majority of Readers are not Interested in enough to Finish"? Yes, I think that would be more accurate.

Here are a few "hard to read" books from various internet lists:
Nightwood by Djuna Barnes: I can't even say the author's name, so I am at an immediate disadvantage. From a review: The cross-dressing Irish-American "Dr. Matthew-Mighty-grain-of-salt-Dante O'Connor," who, when not wandering Paris, drinking heavily, or dressing in nighties, rouge, and wigs of cascading golden curls, is expounding great rambling sermons that fill most of the book. These are funny, dirty, absurd, despairing, resigned—even hopeful in a Becketty I-can't-go-on-I'll-go-on kind of way.
Nutshell: Haha! No, thank you very much.

Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand: Anything described as a "magnum opus" is going to take some effort to read. However, Ayn Rand was groundbreaking in her government vs. middle class. No, she was not a socialist and no, she was not an atheist (more of an agnostic). Her idea of less-government came at a time when government was flexing its muscle into more and more of American life.
Nutshell: Read it.

Anything by Shakespeare: Ridiculous. Most people struggle with the rhythm of the writing. Much of his writings are written to have a beat, or rhythm, just dive in and go with it. You'll get it.
Nutshell: Read it. And read A Clockwork Orange, too. That will make you appreciate Shakespeare.

Ulysses by James Joyce: This book was on so many lists that I am now going to have to read it. What makes this book difficult to read? Also found on the 100 best English-language novels of the 20th century list, the novel is written as stream-of-consciousness. It is also a bit verbose at just under 300,000 words. That will put anyone off.
Nutshell: Think of it as trying to talk to an adult with ADHD and press on with the reading of it.

Carmen's Hard to Read:
The Last Werewolf by Glen Duncan: A great premise! The very last werewolf in existence (thanks be to God!) is struggling with whether or not to go on. He is 200 years old, has seen so much, has done so much, and is really just weary. What to do? Instead of good writing, depicting the inner struggle of immortality (and what man has not, at some point, wished to live forever?), this author chooses to fall back on fast living and a lot of anal sex. Ugh. I didn't even finish this stinker. Not because it was hard to read, but because it was insulting to my intelligence.
Nutshell: Skip it.

White Oleander by Janet Fitch: Not really a horribly-written book, but when I was finished, I wanted to slit my wrists. And forget about the movie, with terrible casting as Michelle Pfeiffer as Ingrid, the dark, exotic poet, imprisoned for life. If you saw the movie, you know that Pfeiffer is pale, a photographer and is freed.
Nutshell: Skip it and the movie, and any other book Oprah has suggested.

Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoyevsky: Not hard to read at all. Just a terrible and atrocious waste of time. It's a mere retelling of my nutshell short story. Besides, I am going to have an issue just on principle since people can't even agree on how to spell the last name of this author.
Nutshell: Read The Tell-Tale Heart by Edgar Allan Poe instead. It is better written, more succinct and was penned 23 years earlier.

Now, go therefore read a Hard Book to Read!

Sunday, August 5, 2012

Soulless by Gail Carriger

Alexia Tarabotti is laboring under a great many social tribulations. First, she has no soul. Second, she's a spinster whose father is both Italian and dead. Third, she was rudely attacked by a vampire, breaking all standards of social etiquette. Where to go from there? From bad to worse apparently, for Alexia accidentally kills the vampire -- and then the appalling Lord Maccon (loud, messy, gorgeous, and werewolf) is sent by Queen Victoria to investigate. With unexpected vampires appearing and expected vampires disappearing, everyone seems to believe Alexia responsible. Can she figure out what is actually happening to London's high society? Will her soulless ability to negate supernatural powers prove useful or just plain embarrassing? Finally, who is the real enemy, and do they have treacle tart? SOULLESS is a comedy of manners set in Victorian London: full of werewolves, vampires, dirigibles, and tea-drinking.

My take: 4 looks
And just when I thought I was sick of werewolf and vampire books! This is a completely new take on the story. It's the nineteenth century and supernaturals are out of the closet in London.

Alexia is a heroine for all heroines. She is brash, smart, witty, fashionable and has one serious parasol. Throw in an overbearing mother, a stalwart best friend and a handsome earl and you get the idea. The writing here is clever and challenging. I highlighted so many words in this book that I smiled each time I ran across a new one. Here are a few:

comestible - an item of food
peregrination - travel or wander from place to place
addlepated - lacking in common sense

See how fun? it's good storytelling and wholly satisfying in the end. I am glad this is a series!

Highly recommended.

Saturday, August 4, 2012

666 Park Avenue to be a Television Series

I read with interest that one of my recent reads was to be made into a television series. The book 666 Park Avenue certainly has all of the key components of a hit show: money, witches, sex and serious in-law issues.

However, this is the description of the series:

666 Park Avenue is an upcoming American drama series created and produced by David Wilcox and based on the novel of the same name by Gabriella Pierce. The series follows a couple who learns that the Manhattan building complex that they just moved into, including its upscale tenants, might be possessed by a mysterious demonic force.

The Shelfari description of the book:

What if your mother-in-law turned out to be an evil, cold-blooded witch . . . literally?

Ever since fabulously wealthy Malcolm Doran walked into her life and swept her off her feet, fledgling architect Jane Boyle has been living a fairy tale. When he proposes with a stunning diamond to seal the deal, Jane can't believe her incredible luck and decides to leave her Paris-based job to make a new start with Malcolm in New York.

But when Malcolm introduces Jane to the esteemed Doran clan, one of Manhattan's most feared and revered families, Jane's fairy tale takes a darker turn. Soon everything she thought she knew about the world—and herself—is upended. Now Jane must struggle with new found magical abilities and the threat of those who will stop at nothing to get them.

My question is, why would TV executives not even come close to the story in the book, but make it about the house? The house is demonic? No it isn't. Lynne Doran, the matriarch of the Doran family is demonic. There is a huge rift between her soon-to-be daughter-in-law, Jane Boyle. There is no Jane Boyle in the TV version, but there is a Jane Van Veen, who is the new co-manager of the building (along with Henry Martin who is not in the book). Might Martin be Van Veen's love interest, where the book's love interest in Doran's son, Malcolm?

And the husband of the matriarch is a non-entity in the book. If I remember correctly, he is a milquetoast, hen-pecked, do-as-he-is-told pushover. In the series, however, the husband is played by the formidable Terry O'Quinn. With this casting, you know he will be more of a force in the story.

<sigh> It's all very confusing. It doesn't seem to even fit the bill of being "inspired by the novel", much less "based on the novel". That is poppycock. The book is so well done and interesting on its own merit; why do this? Only the idiots in Hollywood could screw up an already good thing.

Good for author Pierce, though. I hope she got a big payday out of this because they are raping her text. I will pass on this one out of respect for the original.

Friday, August 3, 2012

Joy of Books, Books, Books

I have come to an odd conclusion. Perhaps this is a natural progression for bibliophiles everywhere, but it has taken me somewhat aback.

The very act of obtaining a book is just as fulfilling and satisfying to me as the actual reading of a book.

Does this statement catch you off guard, as well?

Is it possible that I glean just as much satisfaction from the book itself, quite separate from the story contained within?

To hold a book thrills me.

To download a book to my hard drive and see it appear on my iPad makes me smile.

To see a book in the mailbox from a fellow PaperBackSwap member increases my pulse.

To browse the rows of books at the library and find a book spine that appeals to me fills me with happiness.

I own well over 1500 books, counting all media types. It will take me years to read them, if I ever read them all. And yet, I cannot have enough. I want more.

Does this make me selfish? A hoarder? Is there a 12-step bibliophile program? This must be how the alcoholic feels. How the binge eater feels. The anorexic who can never be thin enough. And yet these are all phycial addictions. What I have is a mental addiction.

Books! Books! Books!

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Gore Vidal: 1925-2012

Gore Vidal has passed away after a long bout with pneumonia.

Vidal started writing in the 1940s, but I didn't happen upon him until I was in a book club in West Chester, Pennsylvania, where the assigned book was his 1992 Live from Golgotha: The Gospel according to Gore Vidal.

I found the book to be heretical and blasphemous. I also found the writing to be so beautiful, fluid and compelling that I purchased a copy years later from a discount cart.I have not reread the book, but it sits on my shelf.

Vidal was, in my estimation, a pompous, intolerant ass. His vitriolic discussions with William H. Buckley (another pompous, intolerant ass) are the stuff of legend. However, when he kept his mouth shut and his pen on paper, he was at his best.