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Happy 6th Birthday, SPR!

As of my "maternity leave," here are the stats of the past year: 74 books reviewed 9 guest posts 4 independent bookstores 3 d...

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Strip City

I love Lily Burana.  There just isn't much else to it.  I recently reviewed her latest book, and I went back in time to read Strip City: A Stripper's Farewell Journey Across America this past hurricane-riddled weekend.  It was a fantastic read for a quiet weekend at home, and it kept me reading until the end.

Ms. Burana is a truthful writer; you constantly feel as though you are in conversation with her and you sit at lunch with her (an extended lunch?) watching her in fascination as she weaves her tales of interest.

I want her to write another memoir, about anything really.  She could be chewing gum and talking at the same time, I don't care, I just want to read another!

I love her spunk, her honesty, and her audacity.  I appreciate her refusal to feel shamed about her past, and I admire her opening up about her desire to go back into the ring.  Her farewell tour was about control, and taking the reigns of the horse rather than let the horse drag her behind.  I am grateful for her unabashed pride in exactly who she is and her refusal to compromise herself or her ideas.

But most of all, I am thankful for her ability to tell her story, and for keeping me entertained.  Thanks.

Monday, August 29, 2011

Guilty By Reason Of Insanity

Guilty By Reason of Insanity: A Psychiatrist Explores The Minds of Killers by Dorothy Otnow Lewis, Ph.D. was different than I expected it to be, and in a pretty fantastic way.

I was expecting to read a book that focused on stories of killers, by Dr. Lewis delves into her career using a few specific cases to bolster her points.  And it was terrifyingly addicting.  It's sick, I know, my deep and abiding love of true-crime, but I seriously can't get enough.  And Dr. Lewis being a psychologist only pulls me in deeper as I have a desire to know the "why" of everything.  She creates a window (more like "pull up a couch," really) into her work with some notorious and some not-so-notorious murderers, and the result is this astounding book.

Do you notice that the quote on the front of the book is, "Compelling."  Try more like, "As a reader I am obsessed with continuing to read this book."  It takes compelling to a new level. 

I just love books like these, and I am so happy that I was able to be engrossed in this book.  If you are a true-crime fan or love psychology (and psychiatry, too), pick this up.  I murders make you squeamish, skip it.  But know you are missing out.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

I Was Told There'd Be Cake

So I read the follow up first.  Sue me.  It really doesn't matter, because I Was Told There'd Be Cake by Sloane Crosley is everything it is cracked up to be--and more.

This book of essays opens on Crosley discussing her fear of dying while out in New York City and her parents having to clean out her apartment--oh boy, what they'd find.  And not of the usual, "Oh, my parents can't find that" variety, but more of the, "Haha, oh...that..." kind. And it will crack you up.

This was not a book I wanted to put down for a second, because when you read Crosley's essays you feel like you are at brunch with your best friend.  Her essay on being a bridesmaid in a long-lost (and should-have-stayed-lost) friend made me laugh and cry so hard that I realized...I understood.  Holy cow.

So basically what I am saying is go pick up this book.  Then go read her follow up, How Did You Get This Number.  You won't regret it.

I have recently decided that people who don't like Crosley can be summed up into one of the following four categories of people: serial killers, dolphin poachers, dolts, and those people who don't pick up after their dog on my street--you know who you are.  If you can't enjoy Crosley's storytelling then you should get your head checked.  Because you probably fell off a swing set when you were a child.

 [Ok, right now you are saying to me, "Nic, where is your review on Sloane Crosley's follow up?"  And you are right, it's not fair for me to not include it.  So here you go.  Short but sweet.]

A wonderfully funny, at times snarky and at times meaningful, collection of essays that thrilled me until the end. At which point my heart broke with Sloane's. How so, you ask? You must read to find out.

Monday, August 22, 2011

The First Husband

This is the book I spent my "relaxing" weekend with (and I use that term very loosely because it somehow involved not arriving home until 2am Saturday, then awaking to meet the plumber at 7:30am, followed by weeding in the yard and another plumbing problem upstairs).  However, The First Husband by Laura Dave was a decent book to spend a non-thinking weekend with.

It's the story of Annie, a travel writer who is unceremoniously dumped by her director boyfriend one evening out of the blue.  As she deals with this surprise, she meets Griffin and marries him in less than six months.  This precedes a move across the country to small town Massachusetts, and Annie finds that her restlessness is still present even in her happiness.  What happens?  Read to find out.

I have to say, if I hadn't finished this book by last night I was going to go ahead and return it to the library.  The characters didn't grab me, and I felt the protagonist, Annie, was quite whiny.  Sometimes bad things happen honey, and you have to deal with it.  She has a job she loves, and she has a loyal best friend who gets lost in the story-shuffle.  She has two men fighting for her affection and instead of my rooting for the catalyst (Griffin), I find myself thinking that Annie didn't deserve either one.  I wanted her to learn to be grateful for her blessings, not complain up a storm about what she had.

In conclusion, this book might be your choice if you are looking for a summer beach read or something to read on the plane that doesn't require all hands on deck.  This was an appropriate book for my first post-summer non-working weekend, and I was able to finish it in two days.  That counts as a success in my book.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Great Expectations


 Great Expectations by Charles Dickens should be called Mediocre Expectations.  Because that's what I thought by the end.  I wanted to love this book, I really did, and I found myself trying reallyreallyreally hard to get into it.  
Then I told a co-worker that I was reading it.  And he, Lucas, said to me, "People think that just because it's a classic they have to like it.  I hated that book."  And it gave me the freedom to say that I, too, did not enjoy the book.
I thought the first section was interesting and developed.  Then I got lost during the second part and gave up on the third.  I appreciate the effort, Mr. Dickens.  I really do.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Shock Value

As soon as I read the review in Entertainment Weekly (and a few other locations) I knew I had to pick up this book.  Shock Value: How a few eccentric outsiders gave us nightmares, conquered Hollywood, and invented modern horror by Jason Zinoman is a fantastic retrospective of the horror movie genre of New Horror and the geniuses that came out of this era.

The 1970's saw some of the greatest horror movies released: Rosemary's Baby, Halloween, Alien, The Hills Have Eyes, The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, and Carrie to name just a smattering (yes, yes, yes, there are many more--this is just a smattering).  These movies bucked convention of Old Horror, which was made up primarily of vampire and monster movies.  These new films frightened their audience with the unknown; they took a page from the great dramatists of the time (such as Pinter) and played into the fears of what will never go away: a fear of what you can't see and can't ever truly know.

I agree with Zinoman's conclusion that few if any modern horror films can come close to what the geniuses of the generation established: John Carpenter, Wes Craven, Dan O'Bannon, Brian DePalma, and Roman Polanski.  They created the rules because the rules did not exist before (hell, they were making up New Horror as they went along!), and they followed the rules very closely because the rules were belonged to them in the first place.
I was fascinated by Zinoman's detailed history because Halloween is still one of my favorite movies.  Very few films have scared me like this one has, consistently, since I first saw it as a college student (I know, really two decades plus after it was released in 1978, but I can't help my childhood fear of fear...or when I was born).  To be able to put it into historical context was meaningful and insightful for me, and I loved that I took away from this book a strong sense of artistry from the Masters of Horror.

Zinoman gives us a proper history of this niche genre, and the book is well worth a read if you are a movie fan.  The book is a must if you are a horror fan.  And if you love history of film--well, what are you doing still reading this review?  Pick up the book already.

Monday, August 8, 2011

Franny and Zooey


Franny and Zooey, by J.D. Salinger, is highly Salingeresque.  What I mean by that is his characters are not quite fatally flawed, yet they are damaged--Franny can't make it through a date with her boyfriend Lane for reasons we can't decipher.  They are not transparent, but their motives are intriguing yet still logical--Zooey is forever effected (and he can't quite understand the depth of it although he understand the effect exists) by the loss of his two older brothers, one by abandonment and one by suicide.  Their problems are deep, yet they are young and clear--Franny's problem is that of a young woman searching for herself and her understanding of life and faith.
My favorite literary device (if one can call it that) is Salinger's profuse and bountiful use of the italics mid-word.   It's so ridiculous and pedantic to not take liberties with the American grammar system.  I can't begin to understand why you wouldn't love the absolutely necessary need for emphasis on particular words and portions of sentences.  I in particularly adored it.
What's not to love about Salinger?  He was a writer with depth and an abiding love of the English language and he uses it.  He writes full yet damaged characters that you can't help but want to sit next to on the couch and wrap your arms around.  Salinger dedicates his novella then writes to his editors that he hopes they accept this small piece of writing he is passing off as a novel--and I beg to differ with him.  No need to pass this off; it is perfection as it stands.

Friday, August 5, 2011

The Extra Man

The Extra Man, by Jonathan Ames, is classically Ames.  I am a huge fan of the author, so it should come as no surprise that I enjoyed this book (almost) as much as Wake Up Sir! and The Alcoholic.  (To be frank, I couldn't adore many more books than Sir!  It's truly a gift of literature.)

The Extra Man refers to the person needed at a dinner party with old ladies who no longer have a husband; an extra man is always needed to fill the seating gap.  Louis Ives is a "young gentleman" wannabe who moves to New York City after a scandal requires him to leave (read: lose) his private school teaching job.  He moves in with Henry Harrison, a peculiar old man who makes a living by serving as the extra man for his many lady friends.  There are many more moments in this story that will thrill you--this is just to give you a jumping off point.  Both characters will kill you.

Ames is a very smart writer; you are reading, reading, reading, and all of the sudden you find yourself laughing and you realized you passed the joke a paragraph ago.  He hits all the right notes and your brain needs an extra few sentences to realize that the depths of the hilarity you almost just missed.  I often wonder when I read his work if his protagonists are just simply extensions of him.  If so, where might I find him?  It's hard not to adore his hapless and flawed leading men.

Ames' writing harks back to P.G. Wodehouse (referenced often) and early twentieth century society yet it still remains contemporary.  You need a jolt, such as a reference to drag queens or a microwave in a scene, to realize that you are not reading a parlor comedy.  I pick up his books knowing I will get a good laugh, but I close his books with a huge grin on my face because I have just taken an Ames vacation to happyland.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

I Love A Man In Uniform

I Love A Man In Uniform: A Memoir of Love, War and Other Battles by Lily Burana was at times funny, at other times heart-breaking, and all-of-the-time honest and true.  Ms. Burana, a former stripper, meets an Army officer and falls in love.  They get married soon before Mike, her husband, deploys following 9/11, and this is their story of pain, recovery, and the meaning of love.

I read this book in a day.  Granted, I had a day off so there was a bit of free time there, but I loved reading Ms. Burana's story.  It's a mature book, and by "mature" I don't mean old people, and I don't mean not-for-children.  What I mean is that Ms. Burana has been able to take a step away from the events of the book and see them as what they are--events in her life that have made her who she is.  Which I have to say, is not an easy thing to do.

Ms. Burana is clearly a writer and she has a way with her story that makes her feel like an everywoman.  My heart hurt for her when Mike was deployed, and I felt her intensity as she rushed to see him one last time before his plane took off.  I waited with her by the phone for Mike to call, and I felt a rush of joy when she watched her husband walk off the plane at the end of his tour.

I would recommend this story to anyone who loves a good read.  I wouldn't call it juicy, and I wouldn't call it riveting.  But I would call it satisfying, and I would tell you to read it if you love a great story of self-discovery.  I sure do.  And I loved this book and the sense of satisfaction I felt when I closed the book after the last page.