Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Disturbing Trend

When did we become a nation of porn? I know that men are made to be visual creatures, and pics of naked women have been around for a l-o-n-g time. However, when did women develop the same tastes in literature?

My friend Debbie thinks it's because we are extremely oversexed. Every where we look, there is sex. Sex on the front of car magaines. Sex sells Doritos chips. Sex sells domain names during the Super Bown. Sex sells Old Spice body wash. I can't remember a time, though, when the written word was so pervasive with sex.

With the advent of the "50 Shades of Grey" series, the erotic novel has reached a new low: sexual practices involving bondage/discipline, dominance/submission, and sadism/masochism have become mainstream. Why are we seeking out and making bestsellers into this type of book? What is happening to women to make them crave this kind of intimate violence on the page? Forget the fact that the entire series is said to be horribly written, the subject itself should be a turn-off.

You will never find an article that is titled "The Plus Side of Porn", "The Positivie Effects of Porn", or "Why We All Need Porn To Watch and To Read". Why? Because there is no positive. It has been proven over and over and over that porn only harms the person on the receiving side. It skews perception and expectation, changes behavior and can become an addiction.

And yet, there it is. I looked at Oprah's website because there was an article entiled "The Negative Effects of Porn". Good article. However, below the article was this link to another article on the site: "O Magazine asked porn reviewer and author of The Smart Girl's Guide to Porn, Violet Blue, to recommend a starter kit of quality adult films."

Really, Oprah? What a great message. Porn is horrible for you, your kids, your marriage and your perception of women, but if you HAVE to have it, we can help!

So, if you read "50 Shades of Grey", ask yourself why. What did that book give you that you felt you needed? Don't say "romance", because you got that in the Twilight saga, without the need for a "safe word". Don't say that it was exciting to read because that's what various other suspense and thriller authors do, without the blindfolds and ties to the bedposts. There are so many books available to read. Books that will improve you, challenge you, transport you, make you a better person. They are entertaining, thrilling, mysterious, loving, cute, sad, traumatic, and very satisfying. Try those. Stop poisoning yourself with smut that does nothing to improve the person you are.


Tuesday, February 26, 2013

The Dead and the Gone by Susan Beth Pfeffer

Susan Beth Pfeffer’s Life as We Knew It enthralled and devastated readers with its brutal but hopeful look at an apocalyptic event: an asteroid hitting the moon, setting off a tailspin of horrific climate changes. Now this harrowing companion novel examines the same events as they unfold in New York City, revealed through the eyes of seventeen-year-old Puerto Rican Alex Morales. When Alex's parents disappear in the aftermath of tidal waves, he must care for his two younger sisters, even as Manhattan becomes a deadly wasteland, and food and aid dwindle. With haunting themes of family, faith, personal change, and courage, this powerful new novel explores how a young man takes on unimaginable responsibilities.

My take: 3 looks
Okay, I am seriously going to have to stop reading these very realistic apocalypse stories! This is my third in a month, and I am starting to freak out.

The second in The Last Survivors trilogy, I was not as ... tense ... as I read this one (probably since, like I said, it's the third I have read in quick succession). However, I was more invested in these characters, once I got into the storyline, over those in book one.

While I liked the maturation of Miranda over the course of the first book, as well as the fierce protection of the mother for her children, the characters here seemed to be more real to me. Alex is a 17 year old boy whose parents and older brother are gone, leaving him responsible for his two younger sisters. Julie is a pain in the rear brat, but she (like Miranda) matures throughout the novel nicely and very believably. Bri, the older of the two girls has her head in the clouds, and while she is calm in the beginning, her denial of everything and Pollyanna attitude become grating as the story goes on.

There was a heavy dose of religion in this one. The characters relied heavily on their faith, their religious leaders and prayer to get them through the most trying times. I found this to be very refreshing in that it was not in any way demeaning, ridiculed or taken lightly. Faith is central to many, many people and the portrayal here was very nicely done.

This is a very compelling storyline, an extremely clever way to write it, and I am looking forward to the third and final book.

Highly recommended.

Sunday, February 24, 2013

The Age of Miracles by Karen Thompson Walker

On a seemingly ordinary Saturday in a California suburb, Julia and her family awake to discover, along with the rest of the world, that the rotation of the earth has suddenly begun to slow. The days and nights grow longer and longer, gravity is affected, the environment is thrown into disarray. Yet as she struggles to navigate an ever-shifting landscape, Julia is also coping with the normal disasters of everyday life—the fissures in her parents’ marriage, the loss of old friends, the hopeful anguish of first love, the bizarre behavior of her grandfather who, convinced of a government conspiracy, spends his days obsessively cataloging his possessions. As Julia adjusts to the new normal, the slowing inexorably continues. With spare, graceful prose and the emotional wisdom of a born storyteller, Karen Thompson Walker has created a singular narrator in Julia, a resilient and insightful young girl, and a moving portrait of family life set against the backdrop of an utterly altered world.

My take: 3 looks
A good young adult read about a world where the Earth's rotation is gradually and systematically slowing. It has all of the feel of "Life As We Knew It" by Susan Beth Pfeffer, without the component of sudden change. There is really no sense of panic in this novel. In that sense, it is much more unrealistic than "Life". However, it was an easy book to read, with likable characters. I will read more by this author.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Then Came You by Jennifer Weiner

The book tells the story of four women and a baby: India Croft, who’s struggled with infertility and a secret past; Jules Strauss, an Ivy League student who sells her eggs to help her father, Annie Barrow, who goes to work as a gestational surrogate to help her working-class family and give her young sons a better life, and Bettina Croft, India’s twenty something stepdaughter, who’s got deep suspicions about her new stepmother.

My take: 3.5 looks
The perfect literary "palette cleanser". It is an intriguing story with characters you will love and hate, and a very satisfying ending. Chick lit at it's best.

Will definitely read more by this author. Recommended.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Fun Video of the Day

Published a year ago:

We've brought together some of our most beloved literary characters to rally people behind the Book People Unite movement and help get books in the hands of kids who need them the most. Join the movement at

Starring: Pinocchio, Madeline, Greg (Diary of a Wimpy Kid), Rip Van Winkle, LeVar Burton, Three Blind Mice, Humpty Dumpty, Curious George, Big Bad Wolf, Little Red Riding Hood, Raggedy Ann & Andy, Goldilocks and the three bears, Captain Ahab, Three Pigs, Clifford the Big Red Dog, Babar the Elephant, Mr Men, Little Miss, Mr Tickle, Little Miss Chatterbox, Mr Tall, Peter (The Snowy Day), The Very Hungry Caterpillar and Black Beauty.

Music produced by: The Roots with vocal support from Jack Black, Chris Martin, John Legend, Regina Spektor, Jim James, Nate Ruess, Jason Schwartzman, Melanie Fiona, Levar Burton, Carrie Brownstein & Consequence.

Bel Canto by Ann Patchett

Somewhere in South America, at the home of the country's vice president, a lavish birthday party is being held in honor of the powerful businessman Mr. Hosokawa. Roxanne Coss, opera's most revered soprano, has mesmerized the international guests with her singing. It is a perfect evening -- until a band of gun wielding terrorists takes the entire party hostage. But what begins as a panicked, life-threatening scenario slowly evolves into something quite different, a moment of great beauty, as terrorists and hostages forge unexpected bonds and people from different continents become compatriots, intimate friends, and lovers.

My take: 4 looks
Beautifully written. This is my second Ann Patchett book, and I find her writing to be like a fine hand cream, so easily absorbed and satisfying.

Finding that it was inspired by the true "Japanese embassy hostage crisis" in 1996 gives it an even more realistic flavor. While it seems far-fetched that this could have gone on 4 months, that is exactly what happened in Peru. In that time, the characters in the book go from hostages/terrorists to friends. When the people are freed in the end, the scene is abrupt, tragic and horrifying. I became very fond of many of the guerrilla-type terrorists (my book club decided that the term guerrilla was infinitely more appropriate than terrorist). My heart hurt to see them killed in such a systematic manner. However, to the soldiers who finally broke the stalemate with their guns, the situation must have looked very different.

The fact that music was the common language shared by the people in the mansion was fascinating. The term "Bel Canto" means "beautiful music" in Italian, and it's obvious why Patchett chose this title. However, deeper down, bel canto expresses:
A light tone in higher registers: perhaps the terrorist releasing the women and children, as well as catering to Roxanne
An agile, flexible technique: the President was not available for kidnapping, so the terrorists changed their tactic
Fast and accurate divisions: this was obvious with the swiftness of the attack both in the beginning and when they were liberated at the end
Complete mastery of breath control: I see this obviously in the role of Roxanne, but also in Gen, who remains perfectly professional throughout the entire ordeal

The one and only item in the novel that distracted me was the vulgar use of the "f-word". I felt that it was completely out of line with the rhythm of the narrative, showed a decidedly lack of imagination in the wording of those scenes making use of the term, and was a detriment to the tone and feel of the novel. I was, in short, disappointed with Patchett's inclusion of what I found to be gratuitous obscenity.

That being said, I highly recommend this book.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

One more reason to love Ann Patchett

As if you need more than "Patron Sait of Liars" and "Bel Canto" to adore this author, Ann Patchett has added bookseller to her list of achievements.

I love it when someone famous puts their money where their mouth is.

Friday, February 15, 2013

Beautiful Creatures by Kami Garcia & Margaret Stohl

There were no surprises in Gatlin County. We were pretty much the epicenter of the middle of nowhere.  At least, that's what I thought. Turns out, I couldn't have been more wrong. There was a curse. There was a girl. And in the end, there was a grave.

Lena Duchannes is unlike anyone the small Southern town of Gatlin has ever seen, and she's struggling to conceal her power and a curse that has haunted her family for generations.

But even within the overgrown gardens, murky swamps, and crumbling graveyards of the forgotten South, a secret cannot stay hidden forever.

Ethan Wate, who has been counting the months until he can escape from Gatlin, is haunted by dreams of a beautiful girl he has never met.
When Lena moves into the town's oldest and most infamous plantation, Ethan is inexplicably drawn to her and determined to uncover the connection between them.

In a town with no surprises, one secret could change everything...

My take: 3 looks.

This is not a book that I would have read, had it not been for it being chosen as a BOTM in my online reading group. One, it's a YA, which I have been reading a lot of lately, and almost had my fill of teen angst and dystopian societies. Two, it's over 500 pages - not my normal voluminous choice. Third, there is a newly released movie from the book and it looks terrible.

However, I found this to be a very quick and satisfying read. The teen angst is there, but not in spades. The background is a southern town with some of the same quirks as the one in which I live, so dystopian doesn't figure into the storyline. And it's about witches, which is a plus. I am growing tired of vampires.

The characters were nicely fleshed out. I liked the two teen main characters very much, and I also enjoyed the various family members. I will look forward to getting to know more about them in the rest of this series. Lena is at a crossroads in her life, culminating in her 16th birthday, and Ethan is going to help his new true love through it. Throw in good versus evil, light versus dark, death versus life, nice versus mean and you have a fun story.


Sunday, February 10, 2013

Warm Bodies by Isaac Marion

R is a young man with an existential crisis--he is a zombie. He shuffles through an America destroyed by war, social collapse, and the mindless hunger of his undead comrades, but he craves something more than blood and brains. He can speak just a few grunted syllables, but his inner life is deep, full of wonder and longing. He has no memories, no identity, and no pulse, but he has dreams.

After experiencing a teenage boy's memories while consuming his brain, R makes an unexpected choice that begins a tense, awkward, and strangely sweet relationship with the victim's human girlfriend. Julie is a blast of color in the otherwise dreary and gray landscape that surrounds R. His decision to protect her will transform not only R, but his fellow Dead, and perhaps their whole lifeless world.

My take: 3 looks
This was a fun and quick book to read. While it was gross (I don't think I could see the movie - yuck!), there was so much humor that zombies eating brains seemed almost funny. The first line sets the stage perfectly: "I am dead, but it's not so bad. I've learned to live with it." haha! Another one of my faves: "The scene as Julie and I make our way out of the airport resembles either a wedding procession or a buffet line."

There were only a few things I didn't like. I felt like the use of the f-bomb was a bit forced and sophomoric. Maybe people talk like this when humanity is declining, but I just don't see it. It made it seem more contrived that it should have. Almost like something a rookie author would do to try to add edge. As if the subject didn't already bring with it enough edginess. The story and dialogue would have suffered nothing without the overuse of this expletive.

The other part of the story which left me flat was the Boneys. Were they older zombies or another strain of undead? What sustained them, since it seemed that when the zombies started to change, their existence was compromised. What was this way they had of communicating so that R could understand them? Could all zombies understand them, or just R because he seemed to be the impetus of the change? The story of the Boneys could have added another dimension to the story without taking away from the core, I think.

I think a sequel is in order!


Saturday, February 9, 2013

My Enemy's Cradle by Sara Young

Cyrla's neighbors have begun to whisper. Her cousin, Anneke, is pregnant and has passed the rigorous exams for admission to the Lebensborn, a maternity home for girls carrying German babies. But Anneke's soldier has disappeared, and Lebensborn babies are only ever released to their father's custody-- or taken away. A note is left under the mat. Someone knows that Cyrla, sent from Poland years before for safekeeping with her Dutch relatives, is Jewish. The Nazis are imposing more and more restrictions; she won't be safe there for long. And then in the space of an afternoon, life falls apart. Cyrla must choose between certain discovery in her cousin's home and taking Anneke's place in the Lebensborn-- Cyrla and Anneke are nearly identical. If she takes refuge in the enemy's lair, can Cyrla fool the doctors, nurses, guards, and other mothers-to-be? Can she escape before they discover she is not who she claims? Mining a lost piece of history, Sara Young takes us deep into the lives of women living in the worst of times. Part love story and part elegy for the terrible choices we must often make to survive, MY ENEMY'S CRADLE keens for what we lose in war and sings for the hope we sometimes find.

My take: 3.5 looks
This was a very easy book to read. And yet, it was a very difficult story to take in. The writing was exceptional, drawing me in from the beginning. The characters were very sympathetic and real and the situations in which each found themselves were harrowing.

I had no idea that there truly were Lebensborn facilities during the war; but it makes perfect sense, knowing what we now know about how the Nazi regime thought and worked. The fact that these women had a place to go for excellent care and safety was a good thing, but the fact that many of these children were taken from the beginning to be raised as potential soldiers seemed as cold as a munitions factory. I was also saddened by the lack of physical contact for the babies, and wonder how that affected those who survived the war into adulthood.

I liked the characters immediately. Of course, Anneke and Cyrla were irritating as almost all late-teen girls are. They were perhaps to little too naive and full of wanderlust for the tone of the story, especially given Anneke's mother and father's stern dispositions, and Cyrla's difficult past. I would have thought that, realistically, they would have been more subdued and in touch with the reality of war. I became irritated over and and over by Cyrla's persistent refusal to see the danger she was in.

Karl and Isaac were excellent characters on both sides of the spectrum. One loving and forthright, a Nazi soldier. The other a Jew, but very stoic and stiff with people.

This was a very humanizing story and intriguing part of history that I want to learn more about. A great read, and highly recommended.  

Thursday, February 7, 2013

The Peculiar by Stefan Bachmann

The Peculiar (The Peculiar, #1)Summary:
Don't get yourself noticed and you won't get yourself hanged.

In the faery slums of Bath, Bartholomew Kettle and his sister Hettie live by these words. Bartholomew and Hettie are changelings—Peculiars—and neither faeries nor humans want anything to do with them.

One day a mysterious lady in a plum-colored dress comes gliding down Old Crow Alley. Bartholomew watches her through his window. Who is she? What does she want? And when Bartholomew witnesses the lady whisking away, in a whirling ring of feathers, the boy who lives across the alley—Bartholomew forgets the rules and gets himself noticed.

First he's noticed by the lady in plum herself, then by something darkly magical and mysterious, by Jack Box and the Raggedy Man, by the powerful Mr. Lickerish . . . and by Arthur Jelliby, a young man trying to slip through the world unnoticed, too, and who, against all odds, offers Bartholomew friendship and a way to belong.

Part murder mystery, part gothic fantasy, part steampunk adventure, The Peculiar is Stefan Bachmann's riveting, inventive, and unforgettable debut novel.

My take: 2 looks
Maybe I wasn't in the mood for steampunk fantasy, but this book was very unsatisfying for me. I found myself skimming quite a bit, and if it were not a mere 265 pages, I would have put this one down. In my opinion, the characters were not properly set up. This seemed to be the second book in a series, making me feel like I had started the book in the middle. I had no sympathy for the protagonist and no disdain for the antagonist.

I would have liked more of a day-to-day life description of the characters before they were thrust into action. While the preface was nice in that it described the faery world coming to England, I didn't get a good feel for the reason, the changes, or the new life with these creatures. What was so wrong with changelings? Was the author trying to make a commentary on a section of humanity in their story?

In the end, I was glad it was over, was completely unsatisfied in the finish, will not read more and cannot recommend.

Monday, February 4, 2013

Dead Until Dark by Charlaine Harris

Sookie Stackhouse is just a small-time cocktail waitress in small-town Louisiana. Until the vampire of her dreams walks into her life-and one of her coworkers checks out.... Maybe having a vampire for a boyfriend isn't such a bright idea. A fun, fast, funny, and wonderfully intriguing blend of vampire and mystery that's hard to put down, and should not be missed.

This book is also currently the basis for the HBO series True Blood.

My take: 3 looks
I can see why this series is so popular. It's quick, fun and satisfying. Yes, this one was a bit rote, but what vampire books aren't these days? The mystery itself was intriguing with a surprise murderer in the end.

This did make me a bit curious about the television show based on the series, True Blood. However, after watching the first part of the first episode, I think I will stick to the books. I can just always produce it better in my head.

I will definitely read more in this series.


Friday, February 1, 2013

February Planned Reading

January was a pretty good month for reading. Here is a quick recap of my read books:
  • The Handmaid's Tale by Atwood - 5 looks
  • The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Chbosky - 5 looks
  • Three from Galilee by Holmes - 5 looks
  • The Magician's Nephew by Lewis - 4 looks
  • The Mysterious Affair at Styles by Christie - 3 looks
  • Unwind by Shusterman - 3 looks
  • UnWholly by Shusterman - 4 looks
  • Every Day by Levithan - 4 looks
  • The Traveler's Gift - 2 looks
  • The Rook by James - 3 looks
  • The Murder of Roger Ackroyd by Christie - 2 looks
  • Life As We Knew It by Pfeffer - 5 looks
  • Mistress of the Art of Death by Franklin - 3 looks
  • The Edible Woman by Atwood - 2 looks
Far more books than I expected, as I started the month with a reading goal of seven. Yay, me!
Here is my tentative list for the LOVE month of February:
  • Dead Until Dark by Charlaine Harris
  • My Enemy's Cradle by Sara Young
  • Warm Bodies by Isaac Marion
  • Beautiful Creatures by Kami Garcia
  • Bel Canto by Ann Patchett
  • The Age of Miracles by Karen Thompson Walker
  • Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore by Robin Sloan
  • Living Dead in Dallas by Charlaine Harris
So, that is eight books on deck for me, subject to change, of course. I will add an Agatha Christie to this list once my F2F bookclub decides which one to read next.
Happy reading!