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Sassy Peach Goes to Kindergarten: Happy 5th Birthday!

Wow! We made it! Half a decade! That's crazy talk. I said to a friend the other day how much I couldn't believe how far I've com...

Monday, December 31, 2012

What Alice Forgot

What Alice Forgot by Liane Moriarity was given to me by a friend, and just the other day a different friend said she had just started the book--much to my surprise! I love it when that happens.

Alice wakes up in a gym after a nasty fall in her spin class. It's 1998 to her--she's pregnant with her first child and she certainly doesn't work out (spin???). Except it's actually 2008, she is getting a divorce, she has a new boyfriend, she has three children, and she is obsessed with her appearance. Pardon me? As Alice learns to cope with her "new" life and her lack of memories regarding the last ten years, she must accept the person that she has become while righting some of the wrongs that her 29-year-old self would have never accepted in her 39-year-old self.

This book was a positively outstanding and lovely holiday read. It takes place in Australia (Sydney to be exact) and I loved the differences in language. Beyond just the language, though I loved the story of Alice waking up ten years later and growing to accept and then rectify the differences between her new self and her old self. It's amazing to think how much I have changed over the past ten years--if I were to lose my memory today, would my 20-year-old self like my 30-year-old self? I sure would like to think so, but as we learned in Alice's case, ten years is a big difference.

Things change--relationships bloom and fall apart, children grow into their personalities, and feelings change. All this Alice learns in the few weeks she has no memory. The greatest gift she receives in this book, however, is the balance she can achieve between what her young self wanted for her older self and the truth of what changes in life as we grow and mature. Our kids will not always be the lovely little angels they were during pregnancy and the relationships with our loved ones will not always be simple and strait-forward as we want them to be. Life is messy, and it's who we grow into through the occurrences in life that matters, not the actual occurrences.

Links to purchase the book below; Kindle on the left, hard copy on the right:

Friday, December 28, 2012

In the Garden of Beasts: Love, Terror, and an American Family in Hitler's Berlin

I found this book by overhearing two friends talk about it in the lounge at grad school. True story. Erik Larson's In the Garden of Beasts: Love, Terror, and an American Family in Hitler's Berlin sounded ridiculously fascinating and right up my historical-loving alley.

In 1933 a new American ambassador is assigned to Germany. After several others turn down the post, William Dodd takes it hoping it will give him down time to finish his epic history of the Civil War. Was he ever wrong. Adolph Hitler, the German Chancellor, is about to cede complete power over the state and is, in the meantime, building up the Nazi party to hold sway over the German people. It is a volatile time for the country, and matters are not helped when Dodd's daughter, Martha, becomes a society fixture. It's a game of cat and mouse with the German people that becomes more frightening and strange as the years soldier on. The rest, as they say, is history.

This book was utterly and completely engrossing. Larson writes this nonfiction story as he would a dark thriller that could only capture our worst imagination. Except it's real, and you know that reading this book, and that's what makes it all the more frightening. We know what is to come, but very few high school history classes cover the period before 1939 or so when understanding the lead up to Germany's takeover of Europe. I know I didn't receive much education on this front. The rise of the Nazi party is horrifying and frightening for me almost 80 years later--I can't even begin to imagine the daily fear and the desperate need to escape the country at that very time.

This book left me satisfied yet aching for what might have been. Larson truly gave me a sense that I was present and living with the Dodd's through their political struggles, their parties, Martha's love affairs, and the difficult decisions William Dodd had to make in order to keep those around him safe. Larson created a sense of the heightened tension in Berlin at this time and I found his book to be absolutely incredible. I closed the back cover of this book a little more edified, a little more respectful, and a little more cautious of how easily we turn our heads to the painful plight of others.

You can buy the book below; Kindle link on the left, paper copy on the right:
 

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Too Bright To Hear, Too Loud To See

I was gripped by the premise of Too Bright To Hear, Too Loud To See by Juliann Garey--mental illness and the effects of a breakdown.

Greyson Todd has a fabulous life--a beautiful wife, an equally beautiful young daughter, and a dream job at a movie studio. But he can't escape his mind. He has been functioning since his breakdown in law school, but the manic depression comes back with a vengeance and he disappears. This first-person account of a decent into madness and the desperate clawing back out takes the reader around the world but never outside of an aching and anguished head.

This book left me stunned and bereft. I feel as though everyone has had some run-in with mental illness and can imagine the pain that a person must go through when demons overtake their being. I can't say that I personally understand this type of madness that Greyson goes through, but I can tell you that reading this book made me sympathetic to the choices, the lack of control, and the feeling of undoing that happens in the midst of manic depression.

Garey has done a beautiful job of weaving together a story that could easily have gone off the rails into, "What on earth..." I was addicted to Greyson and his story and I felt that I was letting him down when I had to turn off my Kindle to get off the train. I was pulling for him by the end of the book, and while we don't get a happy ending (because that wouldn't be fair, really), we do get a satisfyingly unsatisfying one. Life will never be perfect for anyone, regardless of mental state, so let's make the best of what we can.

 

Monday, December 24, 2012

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society: A Novel

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows was given to me by a friend who was unloading a cart full of books for me. You know I love when I find something by happenstance.

 Written in epistolary format, this book follows writer Juliet's journey from London to Guernsey. She begins corresponding with the inhabitants of Guernsey, an island off of France, when she is assigned a multi-part article for a large newspaper on the effects of war. Her angle is the Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, founded one night when friends sneaking home from dinner after curfew were apprehended by German soldiers and had to quickly come up with a cover. It snowballed from there. Juliet grows to know and love the island's inhabitants and when she journeys out for a visit, she might never return to London.

This was such a lovely holiday-season book. I loved the relationship between Juliet and all of the men in her life. There is her publisher, her American suitor, and the mysterious man on the island. Quite a lady, she is! I loved the backdrop of post-World War II and all of the intricacies of the war introduced and discussed through the letters between Juliet and everyone in her life, from London to Guernsey.

This is a book I passed on to my mom and asked her to pass it on to my brother's girlfriend. From there she will pass it on to another friend. It's just that kind of book. It was a great read to curl up with in front of the fire, getting lost in the past and a time of recovery. I loved the relationships between characters and I was highly satisfied with the ending. I believe this is what you would call a recommendation.

 

Friday, December 21, 2012

Dear Life: Stories

I thoroughly enjoyed Runaway, so when I found out Alice Munro was coming out with a new collection of stories called Dear Life, I jumped in the library queue quick quick quick.

These stories run the gamut from love found (and lost) in a sanitarium; a lovers rendezvous on a interterritory train; an affair leads to blackmail; and running away from the life you know when you have a chance. Regardless of the characters in the story, all of these short stories revolve around chances taken when they arrive and loving and losing in the process of life as it happens.

I really enjoy Munro's writing her sense of an ending which often happens to be none at all. Her stories are of a manageable length and always have a way of punching you in the gut.

The most beautiful story in this collection was "Amundsen," the story of a woman who goes to a sanitarium as a teacher and is drawn in by the doctor. She agrees to marry him. Life has other plans. It was the most heartbreaking of stories in this collection and it stuck with me long after putting down the book. This collection is very classic Munro recipe with a Canadian base, relationship for the body, and lack of closure for taste.

 

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Northwest Corner

John Burnham Schwartz has been on my reading list for a long time, so when Northwest Corner became available on my Kindle through the library I jumped at the chance to read this.

Twelve years after he hits a young boy and flees from the scene, Dwight has served his time and settled into a new life in California with very little contact with his old life--including his family. Until, that is, the day his college-age son shows up in his home after almost beating a fellow student to death with a baseball bat. Soon Dwight's ex-wife, the mother of his child, joins them. Together they must figure out how to function in their new reality.

I haven't yet read Reservation Road which has been on my list forever, but I didn't need to read it in order to catch up with the details of this book. Schwartz writes it as if the reader knows nothing of Dwight's past, so you can pick this up before or after Road.

This was such a beautiful book. It is written from different character perspectives and I felt that lent itself to a more 360 degree view of the situation at hand. These characters struggle with their own inner demons: Dwight with his acceptance of the past yet the desire to reconnect with his family; Ruth, his ex-wife, with her choices and a chronic illness; Sam, their son, who struggles with his own mind and his own rage; Emma, Sam's sometimes-fling and brother of the boy his father killed, with her own family unit breakdown and unclear understanding of these dynamics. It's twisty and winding but still so simple and clear--life is so complicated yet so simple.

I enjoyed sitting down and entering into the world of these people for a short time. I watched them struggle, fall, and then get back up and learn to grow again. It's a never ending process, this growing as a human being, and learning that in and of itself is a step forward. Schwartz is a languid writer who stays even-keeled in his prose. I loved it; it felt like laying on the stern of a boat on a bright, warm afternoon and just letting the waves rock me. Stories such as this are a gift.

 

Monday, December 17, 2012

Kiss of the Butterfly



A Mormon vampire hunter? What's not to love? This is Kiss of the Butterfly by James Lyon.

A young PhD student at a California university is studying Balkan history. His professor gives him a grant from the Balkan Ethnographic Trust to do extensive research for 12 months in the area. The only problem? It's the early '90's and the Bosnian war is going on. That, however, soon becomes the least of Steven's worries. A greater priority? Vampires. Steven's research has led him to discover that these creatures are more than just myth and that they are not happy with his digging and disseminating.

I will not lie to you, kids--I loved this book in the most indulgent, caramel-cheesecakey kind of way you can imagine. I will be the first to tell you that I don't love paranormal stories so I picked up this book expecting to feel the same about it and I ended up addicted to this book. The writing is so clear and straightforward and honest that I found myself thinking about the characters and what would happen next while I was doing things like writing a research proposal or scanning pages for work. I was a full-on addict with nothing to lose except the story
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To all of my vampire-loving friends, click on the link below to purchase this Kindle book for $3.99. You will not be disappointed. I found the Balkan vampire history fascinating and I couldn't stop reading once the climax hit and the vampires came a-knockin'. I was a vampire addict for four days. Seriously, it's just delightful and indulgent and a great holiday read. For realsies.




Friday, December 14, 2012

A Stolen Life

A friend bought a copy of Jaycee Dugard's memoir, A Stolen Life, and passed it on to me for weekend reading.

In 1991, Jaycee Dugard was kidnapped off the street on her way to the bus stop one spring morning. For 18 years she was held by a man and his wife as what is equivalent to their concubine. She never felt she had a chance to escape. At age 14, she became a mother to her first child and three years later she had her second child. She was never allowed to say or write her real name--until the day she could reveal herself.

I agree with my dear friend's assessment of the book. While it's not the most fluid prose or eloquent writing, it is truly Jaycee's book. She breaks up her chapters by inserting her present day thoughts into what was happening then; the rest of the chapter is written from Jaycee's perspective as a child. It's fascinating, petrifying, and like a train wreck that you can't stop watching. It's almost unbelievable what Jaycee went through and for 18 years. I absolutely do believe it, though, because truth is (almost) always stranger than fiction (I am thinking along the lines of Stephen King here, one of my ab fabs).

If you love true crime as much as I do, or if you are fascinated by the macabre, or if you just want to figure out why Jaycee didn't try to escape, you should pick this one up. I understand why she couldn't try to escape or why she didn't speak up when she was out in public, but you should try to understand for yourself. It's a crazy ride, and I closed the book thankful that Jaycee could enter back into life with her two girls.

 

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

The End of Everything



Megan Abbott's The End of Everything was right up my alley--a little bit fictional, a little bit crime-y, and a little bit wistful without being mushy. Read on, dear reader.

Lizzie and Evie are best friends. Coming to the end of 8th grade, they are preparing for all that high school brings: boys, field hockey, and grown-up things. That is, until one day Lizzie doesn't walk home with Evie; her mom is taking her to the mall. Evie doesn't make it home. For weeks the police grasp on to every lead and Lizzie holds herself responsible. Will Evie ever return? Will things ever be the same?

I was so happy I finally got my mitts on this book. It was so interesting and layered that I had a difficult time putting it down. The story is told in first person with Lizzie as the narrator, and it is fascinating to read a book written so carefully as a full-bodied character that is thirteen and so determined yet so fragile. Lizzie must mature quickly but is also still a hormonal, hurting little girl.

There is much I cannot say about this book for fear of giving away some of the plot twists, so I will say that this book was an excellent read for my weekend mental getaway. The relationships are intricate and delicate; Lizzie must navigate Evie's family as well as her own mother, and as truths come out about the day Evie disappeared and the weeks following, nothing is as simple as it seems--not even a kidnapping.



Monday, December 10, 2012

Runaway

In Franzen's book of essays, Farther Away, he writes an essay on the brilliance of Alice Munro as a short story author.  So what do I do?  Check out a book of her short stories, Runaway, from the library as quick as possible.  Duh.

I can't do justice to Munro's stories so you will just have to pick the book up yourself if you want to know what they are about in detail.  They are about love lost and found and then lost again; they are about family real and imagined; they are about life as it comes and goes in the blink of an eye.  They are about life in full effect.

Muno has this way of telling story that gets you engrossed and deep into the psyche of her characters before she cuts you off and makes you think.  She is not a writer who wraps her stories up in neat little packages covered in pretty glossy paper with tight little bows; she wants to leave you hung out to dry and devastated and wondering how you just got sucker punched when you were paying so much attention.  Of course, I don't know Munro personally so I can't say for sure that this is what she desires; this is only what I took from this lovely and incredibly powerful book of short stories.

I love a book that leaves me wanting to crawl back inside of it to find the characters and ask them why, or how, what made them do what they did.  So thank you, Alice Munro, for giving me the gift of your writing.


Friday, December 7, 2012

Persepolis


I have been itching to read Marjane Satrapi's Persepolis for years and I was recently presented with the opportunity when a friend of mine shoved in my hand and said, "You have to read this!" So I most certainly did.

During the tumultuous period in history, Marjane lives with her parents in Tehran when the Islamic Revolution breaks out. Marjane's parents privately rebel while she herself becomes more and more outspoken as she loses friends and family. Close calls occur with the authorities occur until it becomes too much for her parents. Something must change.

I was genuinely bowled over by this book. I am so glad my friend sent me away with this, the sequel, and the movie. It was gorgeous, fulfilling, and honest. It was full of pride in country and in family. The story was raw and emotionally painful at times. But it was Marjane's story, and I am so thankful she told it so I could experience it.

I believe I have said before that my life has a wonderful way of connecting information in ways I could never predict. I picked this up during Hurricane Sandy, which happened just a couple of weeks after I saw the movie Argo, directed by Ben Affleck, which focused on the American hostages taken during this time at the American embassy in Tehran. Each of these pieces of art informed and enhanced each other.

Back to Persepolis. Many of you have probably read this, but you should pick it up again. Many of you have not yet read it, and you should get it for your upcoming holiday travel. Or you might want to pick it up to give as a gift this upcoming holiday season. Hint, hint.

 

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Everything Matters! A Novel

Everything Matters! by Ron Currie, Jr. was handed to me by a publisher friend for whom this book is a favorite. I can see why, no doubt.

Junior is born with the ability to see the past, the present, and the future. He knows that at a certain point in his adulthood the world will end. He will sound crazy if he tells anyone. He confides in the love of his life, Amy. She leaves him. Through the course of his adult life, Junior spirals downward until he finally has the ability to do good. But is this how things have to turn out? What if, just maybe, he can retell his story and never confide in Amy in the first place?

I thoroughly appreciate Currie's storytelling. He is a little bit Vonnegut, a wee bit Yates, with a dash of earnestness thrown in. I loved the first 100 pages and fell in love again the last 50. I will be honest that I got a wee bit lost in the middle 150 pages, but that didn't take away my appreciation for and care for this book.

It is beautifully written and a labor of love. Junior is the heart of the book and his relationship with his family, combined with his "very special gift", make for an intriguing story that makes you want to give Junior the love he so desperately craves. I understand why he fell so in love with Amy--I might have too--and I only wanted them to work out. I won't say whether they did or not, as you must read this for yourself. But it's worth the journey, so consider lacing up your shoes and making it.

 

Monday, December 3, 2012

The Virgin Suicides



The Virgin Suicides by Jeffrey Eugenides: I know what you are thinking. You are saying to me, "But Nicole, you hated The Marriage Plot. Why on earth did you choose this book?" Well dear readers, I loved the Coppola movie and this was supposed to be a fantastic book. Did it live up to the build up? Read on, please.

The narrator tells us the tale of the Lisbon sisters, five neighborhood beauties whose parents treat them like porcelain dolls on display until the youngest, Cecilia, attempts suicide. Things only go downhill when she succeeds on her second try during the girls' first and only party. The Lisbon parents remove the remaining sisters from school and lock them up behind closed doors. The family only grows more peculiar until one day the girls invite the neighborhood boys over to help them run away. The only problem is that the girls intend to leave in a much different manner.

I have to say, the beauty and the heartbreak of this book surprised and heartened me. I was floored by my intense feelings of defense for the Lisbon girls in my head as I turned the final few pages of the book--by how protective I felt of them and how right I thought they might have been regardless of their horrible choice of rebellion.

As I said earlier, I loved the movie and I was hoping that this book would live up to my expectations. It most certainly did and I am thankful I picked it up and gave this world a chance.

Friday, November 30, 2012

Pansy at the Palace: A Beverly Hills Mystery

I love children's books. Especially now that so many of my friends have children, I am always looking for great gifts. Books are high on that list (read, kids!)--as shocking as that may sound to you!

So when I received an email about Cynthia Bardes and Kim Weissenborn's Pansy at the Palace: A Beverly Hills Mystery, I jumped at the chance to read it and to post about it.

A dog in a shelter sees everyone around her being adopted. Finally, the perfect owner comes in! When she sees hernew home, she is super jazzed. But what is up with that sneaky white cat? Why does he always smell like fish?

This book was positively adorable and I had a ball reading it. It's a children's book so it is short--but wonderfully so. Colorful illustrations, a solid and quick story-line, and a positive attitude throughout. I loved the character of Pansy--she made me giddy and happy. Adorably illustrated, she is a lovely character who is a solid companion. The story had a good moral and the illustrations grabbed my attention.

I will be getting this book for all of those lovely little ladies in my life as their first and second birthdays approach. I hope to see more Pansy adventures in the future!

 

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

The Mansion of Happiness: A History of Life and Death

The Mansion of Happiness: A History of Life and Death by Jill Lepore stuck out to me in the reviews that came out several weeks ago and I picked it up during Hurricane Sandy.

What is the history of life and death? It's much simpler, and far more complex, than you could imagine. It involves children's sections in libraries, the right to die (and the right to life), breastfeeding, Stuart Little, cryogenics, and everything in between. In this wildly intriguing look at life and death, Lepore explores what makes those two things what they are.

This book was so much more than I thought it would be. To be honest, I was expecting a dry, didactic treatise on life and death but I got a literary whoopin'. This is not at all what this book was. Lepore is a catchy writer who explored this in depth with a detailed eye.

The flow of Lepore's book began with birth and ended with death but explored ideals and beliefs related with these overarching ideas. What do we as humans, not just Americans, believe about the right to life? What is the history of breastfeeding? I have to say, I loved to chapter on E.B. White and the rejection of Stuart Little as the lovely piece of literature it is by the very librarian who encouraged White to write for children. This was in line with the history of children's sections of libraries--I had no idea that before this convention children were expected to stay away from libraries and, by extension, books. Also, Life the board game may not be what you think it is.

Really, this was just such a fascinating read that I can't tell you in more plain words to pick up this book for yourself. It was a jolly read and my mouth dropped a few times with the amount of information provided that I had no clue ever existed. Seriously.

Worth your time.

Get your copy. Kindle version on the left, hard copy on the right.
 

Monday, November 26, 2012

Brothers: George Howe Colt On His Brothers and Brothers In History

I was drawn into George Howe Colt's Brothers by the historical aspect--how would he compare his fraternal relationships with such famous as the Marx brothers and the Booths?

What is the historical relationship of brothers? That is the large question at hand in this book exploring the facets of fraternal relationships. Colt uses his experience with his three brothers as a basis for exploring ways that famous brothers in history have related to one another. The dark horse/white knight relationship of the Booth brothers, the extreme sibling rivalry of the Kellogg brothers, the dependent relationship of the Van Gogh brothers, the collaboration of the Marx brothers, and the undying love of the Thoreau brothers make up the story of this book.

This book is a bit on the hefty side--and no detail is spared in the history of brothers. Colt consults psychologists and historians to paint as close to an accurate picture of these famous fraternal relationships as possible. The different relationships across history were fascinating, and it was particularly interesting reading about the Booth brothers after reading James L. Swanson's two books about the assassination of Lincoln and the 12-day hunt for John Wilkes Booth following. (This was before the Sassy Peach book blog--can you imagine a time where I read books and didn't blog about them??? Impossible, say you!)

The most interesting parts of this book were not the famous brothers--it was Colt's telling of his own familial relationships that was the most fascinating portion of this book. Or portions, you might say, since every other chapter introduces the next with a tale from the Colt household to set up the next group of famous brothers. I appreciated the connection to the larger questions of relationship types, but I was the most moved when he was speaking of his adult relationships with his three brothers. He was so open about the good and the bad without sparing us what we know, as readers, exists in families. It was with so great an ease that he opened up his family to me, the reader.

The bond of brothers is something I will never understand, being a female and having both a sister and a brother. I love that this book gave me insight into a relationship that is beyond that of my own with such detail and with such obvious care.


Friday, November 23, 2012

My Heart Is An Idiot


A book called My Heart is an Idiot written by Davy Rothbart, the founder and editor of Found magazine? Sounds delish. Yes, please!

Rothbart's book of essays focuses on his idiocy in love and his belief in the human spirit. He falls in love fast and often gets his heart broken just as quickly. He is a dreamer and a creator, and his writing style fits his openheartedness. He creates Found magazine in his basement; he publishes found objects such as love letters, shopping lists, or receipts sent from readers.

This was a genuinely fun set of essays about love and the human condition. I loved Rothbart's essay, "Ninety Nine Bottles of Pee on the Wall," where he exacts revenge on a scammer through a very long and winding process of pee collection. I was also quite moved by his essay on his journey to New York and interviewing regular people immediately following 9/11. I found his essay on his friend, Byron, to be moving and alternately horrifying in that Byron may (or may not) have been wrongfully convicted of a friend's murder. Either way, I truly appreciated Rothbart's ability to lay down his raw emotions for his readers.

This book was positively lovely and it made me feel as though Rothbart truly poured his soul into his writing. I am very glad that I heeded warnings to pick up this book.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Silver Sparrow: A Novel

I can't recall where I picked up the recommendation for Tayari Jones's Silver Sparrow, but if I can ever remember I will send him or her (or it, if it is a magazine) a thank you note for their genius suggestion.

Dana knows from as far back as she can remember that her father has another family. It isn't until she is a little older that she comes to realize that the other family isn't a secret--she is. She and her mother get along in life seeing her father once a week and spying on the other family as much as possible until one day in high school Dana boldly befriends her sister. Dana tries get away with her secret but she risks it all--and is found out in the most hurtful way, losing what little family she has in the process.

I fell in love with this book only a few pages in. It is gorgeously written and beautifully crafted. I want to find Tayari Jones and give her the biggest hug ever and thank her for writing this book for me to dive into with such an open heart. It was outstanding.

This book is told in two parts--the first half by Dana, the second half by Chaurisse, the other daughter. The voices are distinct yet related, not unlike these two young ladies. I found myself pulling for Dana in the first part then sympathizing with Chaurisse in the second, knowing full well the extent of the secret throughout. It was amazing holding all of the information in my head as I read; you as the reader have an outside view and that makes it easier to have your heart broken when the truth is reveled.

I felt so full and yet so hurt when the book ended, and I couldn't stop thinking about it for days. That's the sign of a great story and fabulous writing. I was sucked in and loved the world in which I lived for a few days. There is a great NPR article on the book, and you can even read the first chapter on the website. Do not blame me if you get hooked.

Get this book for yourself. Kindle version on the left, hard copy on the right:
 

Monday, November 19, 2012

Heads In Beds: A Reckless Memoir of Hotels, Hustles, and So-Called Hospitality

Heads in Beds: A Reckless Memoir of Hotels, Hustles, and So-Called Hospitality by Jay Tomsky practically called my name. It called to me and I picked it up. I heeded the call.

In this memoir, Tomsky recounts his experiences in the hospitality industry starting as a valet and working his way up to seniority on the front desk. He finds himself in New Orleans after college taking a job at a brand new luxury hotel as a valet--and soon he is bumped up by management to the front desk. He excels there and is quickly bumped up to again--as the night housekeeping manager, that is. Lower pay and longer hours. When he has had enough, he bums around Europe for a while before searching for a new industry in New York City. He soon discovers his skill set doesn't lend itself to much--except hospitality. Off he goes, and we get to ride the fun train with him.

I had a great week-long stay with this book. Tomsky writes the way I believe he would sound in conversation, so I was drawn in by the friendliness yet formality of his tone. He treated me like one of his honored guests of which he speaks--it's like he gave me his personal email. I loved hearing about his adventures, the guests about whom he came to deeply care, and his decline into frustration with new management. I was as horrified as he was by the new management at his New York hotel--it was clear that the decline in service was parallel to Tomsky's declining love for his job.

I have definitely been there, so I was able to completely relate to this read and to Tomsky's experience. I love the little twist that came in at the end (of which I will not spill the beans) because it gave me a little giggle. I appreciate the tips that Tomsky passed on (re: tipping and general appreciation), which I hope I was already doing but I will ensure to do moving forward. There was a great tip on what to do when booking through a third party hotel booking site which I will not share with you since you need to read the book for yourself. I am now in the know--will you be too?

 

Friday, November 16, 2012

A Time To Kill

I was surprised to find out that A Time To Kill was John Grisham's first novel; I always thought The Firm was his first. It turns out this was an quiet novel until the success of his the latter.

A young black girl is brutally raped on her way home from the grocery. Two white rednecks are arrested that night after bragging about it in a bar. Just a few short days later the girl's father shoots them both dead on the courthouse steps. He is put on trial and this is where the big questions begin. Will an insanity defense fly with the jury? Can an impartial jury even be found? Will the newly resurrected Klan in the county sufficiently intimidate the jurors and the lawyers enough to bring forth a guilty verdict?

It's a show stopper for sure. The story is incredibly intricate and complex, and there are many times where the story feels more detailed than it needs to be for non-legal readers. There are some occupational hazards to being a lawyer-turned-novelist, I would assume. I also become frustrated with what I felt was the overuse of the n-bomb as a casual description in the narrative. It went beyond use as a character foible (such as a racist redneck using it in conversation or in a thought description) and entered into the realm of regular usage in narrative to refer to black people in general, and that bothered me immensely by about page 120. I absolutely buy into the overt racism of small-town Mississippi in the 1980's, but I began to question if it was truth in the story or if it was Grisham himself.

Looking beyond that, I enjoyed the book and I enjoyed the story. I wouldn't say that Jake Brigance, the lawyer who defends the vigilante father, was entirely sympathetic or had much depth to his character, but I appreciated him for what he was. I couldn't get the picture of Matthew McConaughey out of my head as Jake (since I did see the movie first many moons ago). I really enjoyed the addition of Ellen Roark, the third-year law student as a foil for Jake. I was happy with the story's ending and was even a little surprised by a twist. Was it on the fantastical side? Oh, sure, a little--but isn't that why we read stories? Because sometimes life needs a little fantastical-ism.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Great House

Great House by Nicole Krauss is one of those books that everyone who reads good books recommends.  So what did I do?  Check it out from the library, of course!

A desk is at the center of this novel--it holds emotional depth to four stories but is a piece of furniture that represents something much greater than a physical piece of material.  The desk passes through four sets of lives--a woman who escapes the Holocaust as a chaperone on the Kindertransport; a young fan who reminds an author so much of her long-lost child; a man who desperately wants to piece together his past, piece of furniture by piece of furniture; and a man who wants to reconnect with his son in light of his wife's death.

I agree with all of the recommendations--this book is beautifully written and an incredible piece of literature.  Ms. Krauss has a way with words so that when she strings them together they weave a tapestry of intensity and yearning, love and desperation.  It's quite an outstanding feat, actually, and I was wowed when finishing this novel.

This novel is split into two sections, and each of the four stories gets two chapters--a beginning and an end (well, actually...the lack of an end).  If you are looking for a satisfying story that will give you a beginning, a middle, and an end, look elsewhere.  This is all middle and it never ends.  This is a story that will devastate you and break your heart and leave you so desperately wanting to hold your loved ones near.

Monday, November 12, 2012

Life Among Giants: A Novel

Life Among Giants, by Bill Roorbach, is a slew of things: murder mystery, star-crossed love story, family history, and epic tale.

David "Lizard" Hochmeyer is a pushing seven feet and is a superb football player--so superb, in fact, that when he refuses to cut his hair and gets kicked off his high school football team senior year he is still offered a full scholarship to Princeton. His parents are mighty proud of him and his sister, Kate, even though she can sometimes be right off her rocker. They all pluck right along until the Hochmeyer parents are mysteriously gunned down in the restaurant parking lot--in front of Lizard. Who is responsible for these murders? Does it have to do with his father's shady boss, or possibly with the world-famous ballerina and her deceased rocker husband who live next door? As decades pass, the mystery deepens and Lizard must go to great ends to keep what is left of his family together and search out what--and who--was truly behind his parents' double murder.

I didn't think things in this novel could get more topsy or turvey--until it did, over and over. I mean this as an absolute compliment, because this book was so full of intrigue and mystery that it was hard to set it aside to do everyday things, like eat and sleep and run my subway card through the turnstile. The murder happens early in the story as a setup for everything that comes after--everything that is so intertwined that it is near impossible for an event to be unrelated to the ultimate, and inevitable, ending.

Roorbach is quite a writer--he obviously cares deeply about his characters as he creates them with such intimate detail and loving tenderness. Kate is bipolar and Lizard is so patient with her; there is such pathos in the character development that I, too, grew to love and root for Kate. I grew to know Mr. Hochmeyer, their father, and I tried to read his mind along with his children to solve the mystery that pulled apart their family. I desperately wanted to believe Kate's delusions (or where they?) about what her father left behind, and I wanted Lizard to love and be loved in return. I knew Sylphide, the world-famous ballerina next door, as an intimate friend and loved one. I rooted for these people and I was rewarded at the end.

Roorbach has truly pulled together a lovely novel that is worth picking up and spending time with the world he has created. You will leave it satisfied.

Friday, November 9, 2012

My Bookstore

It's no secret that I love books. And while purchasing loads and loads of books to line the walls of my apartment is not within my budget, I could spend hours upon hours in bookstores just walking and reading and loving. So I had to pick up My Bookstore: Writers Celebrate Their Favorite Places to Browse, Read and Shop edited by Richard Russo. 

This book is a collection of essays by writers you might know and writers you may not. Anne Patchett has an essay in here as does Dave Eggers and Chuck Palahniuk. There are also writers of books I have posted about on this blog, such as John Grisham. In each essay the writer tells a tale about their favorite bookstore and why they love it.

If you, too, love bookstores, then you, too, will be drawn in by their tales. The one thing all of these essays have in common is love--love of the written word, love of the feeling of a good bookstore, and love of the independent bookseller. No bookstore in this tome is a big-box retailer. Some writers will drive hours to get to their favorite store and others will fly to get there. Some have the ability to just walk up the street. No matter, they will all get there somehow.

In about a third of the essays the writers go out of their way to bash e-readers, which I have to say bothered me a bit. They certainly have the right to hate those newfangled contraptions, but I happened to be reading this very book on an e-reader. I understand their loathing, but I think that they are also being somewhere closed minded. Several essays sing the praises of both the printed word and the electronic word, stating that there is no reason they can't both live simultaneously in the world.

Overall I enjoyed this collection. I could read an essay, pick up another book, and never lose my place in this one. I was able to use it as a pick-me-up when my days got me down or I needed a reminder as to what I love and why.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

The Flame Alphabet: A Novel

The Flame Alphabet by Ben Marcus is one of those books that hooked me right from the start with its incredible earnestness.

A disease is affecting adults, causing them to wither away into unrecognizable lumps of their former selves. It's only when it becomes too late that scientists can pinpoint the cause--it's the sound of childrens' speech that breaks down the immune systems. After it becomes too much, Sam and Claire must run from their own daughter, Esther, who has become a nightmare in and of herself.

I just dove right into this book head first. There was no other way to do it. Marcus has such an incredible rhythm to his prose that it is difficult to step away from the ocean of his words. He tells this story so thoroughly and intensely that putting the book down becomes a difficult experience. I was so intrigued by the premise and I was so taken with Sam and Claire as characters that coming to despise their daughter was inevitable. I wanted to push Sam forward as he searches for a cure or even just an answer so that I could rest assured that all would once again be right with the world.

This book took me three checkouts from the library to finally read, and it was well worth the effort. The intensity of Marcus's story and the care he puts in his characters makes you a part of this mad, mad world.

Monday, November 5, 2012

Pray the Gay Away

Pray the Gay Away: The Extraordinary Lives of Bible Belt Gays by Bernadette Barton drew me in with it's promise of an ethnographic study of gays in the Bible Belt. I was sold and ravished this book so quickly in just a matter of days.

Barton is a professor at a university in Kentucky, and she lives with her partner in the same town. One afternoon she was told on her very own lawn that she is an abomination, and this, among other instances of intrigue, prompted her to do research on what life is like for gays and lesbians living in a region where religion has such a stronghold on every day life. What she found was not surprising but not entirely expected, ether. So much of the hatred and violence came from the victim's very own families.

This was a great read that was interesting and flowed well. The most intriguing of chapters for me was the one looking into the ex-gay faction: a huge industry that believes they can "pray the gay away" from people. With only hard prayer and deep focus, you too can look toward your faith in order to rid yourself of feelings of attraction toward the same sex. There is even a huge annual conference supporting this very notion (where, it is to be said, so many participants just end up sleeping together--no surprise there).

I was also fascinated with the chapter on Barton's class trip to the Creation Museum. It was one part fascinating and two parts horrifying. You have to read it for yourself to properly understand, but once you do I promise you will never forget it.

If you are at all interested in this topic, pick up this book. You will be grateful for your time with it and you will leave with answers to questions you didn't know even existed.

Friday, November 2, 2012

Tiny Beautiful Things

I had been hearing about Cheryl Strayed's Dear Sugar column on The Rumpus for a while, but I don't know why it took me so long to pick up tiny beautiful things: Advice on love and life from Dear Sugar.  Shame on me.

Sugar is an advice-giver in an advice column that answers letters of all shapes and forms.  She is intrepid and honest and strait-forward.  She inserts experience from her own life to accentuate what she needs to tell the advice-requester.  She writes compellingly and speaks with decades of wisdom yet is still young enough to have small children at home.  She lost her mother at a young age which profoundly affected her psyche.  Her father disappeared at a young age.  Her first marriage ended in divorce before her mid-twenties.  She is real.

This book devastated me.  I couldn't put it down.  I read the whole book in a Saturday.  Not because I had that much time but because the words that strung together in sentences that became paragraphs that all together became a reality that broke my heart and healed me and made me want to curl up in Sugar's lap and have her tell me it will all be ok while patting my head.

Sugar told me to write like a motherfucker, leave when you know it's time to leave, and always do what's best for my life.  She told me I am worth it.  She reminded me that relationships are messy and to expect nothing but the perfection is hurtful and harmful and unrealistic.  She reminded me that things will always be all right because they just have to be.  I knew these things already; see, I have lived them and learned them and am still continuing to live them and to learn them everyday.  But, most importantly, she reminded me how to just be.  Sugar isn't perfect, but she sure is honest.

And she sure knows how to write one hell of an advice column.

Get yourself a copy. Kindle version on the left, hard copy on the right:

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

The Legend of Sleepy Hollow

Happy Halloween everyone! I love this holiday. It's my favorite. In celebration, I read Washington Irving's The Legend of Sleepy Hollow this weekend and it was divine.

Is anyone here not familiar with the legend of Sleepy Hollow? In a town close to Tarry Town, New York, just north of New York City, there is a small town called Sleepy Hollow where ghosts never stay for long--once their ghost friends disappear, there's not need to hang around. There is one, however; a headless horseman who is rumored to be a ghost of a soldier. Ichabod Crane, the town schoolteacher, has dinner one night at the home of his beloved, only to disappear that night with no trace of him to be found. What happened to Ichabod? Did he leave town?

I love Halloween, and I loved this book. It's so short and so lovely for the holiday. It has a jilted romance, a bad guy who might not be so, and an unwitting schoolteacher. It has the ultimate creep factor--YOU DON'T KNOW WHAT HAPPENED! Irving understood this better than anyone. What you don't know is always far more fearsome and creepy than what you do.

Monday, October 29, 2012

Every Day

I find sometimes that YA Lit is so much more than just a genre for young people. David Levithan's Every Day was one of those stories.

Each morning A wakes up inhabiting a different body--never the same body twice. A is only male or female when he wakes up as one, and he ages as the bodies do. He makes no connections until one day, in the body of a jerky high school boy, he meets  Rhiannon, the beautiful girlfriend and lost soul of the body he is in. He falls in love and can't let go. As A falls deeper and deeper as the days wear on, he effects the lives of those he inhabits. Can he learn to let go in order for others to continue on?

This book was at times fascinating and at others engrossing. I had such a hard time putting it down to go do things like eat or swipe my Metrocard. I was fascinated by Levithan's creation of A and the world he works within. The details are well-thought-out and intricate, and the plot is beautiful. The choice A makes at the end punched me in the gut and left me feeling slightly bereft but in awe of the good that can come if we just take a leap of faith. There is a subplot about possession that is funny and horrifying.

I had a lovely journey with this novel over the weekend and I would like to encourage you, too, to curl up on your couch with a good book as fall is upon us.


Friday, October 26, 2012

The Year of Magical Thinking and Blue Nights

I whipped through these books--one day per book.  It was quite a feat, I tell you...except not, because I read fast and they were good.  Since Blue Nights is sort of a follow-up to The Year of Magical Thinking, I opted for a double blog post for your reading pleasure.

Joan Didion's The Year of Magical Thinking chronicles the year and a day immediately following her husband's unexpected death due to cardiac arrest.  They were simply about to have dinner with venerated novelist John Gregory Dunne fell over face first.  In the year that follows, Didion must face her grief and begin to mourn.  She is forced to discover how to live without her constant companion, her shared brain, and her best friend.  It is by far the most difficult year of her life and in this book she bares her soul for her readers.

Blue Nights is Didion's most recent book that chronicles her pain as she deals with her daughter's death just a year and change after that of her husband as chronicled above.  Quintana Roo is the only child of Didion and Dunne, and in Year we hear so many stories of her childhood and we follow Didion through Quintana's illnesses.  In Blue Nights, she succumbs to them.

Both of these books were fantastic--soul-baring and heart-breaking and lovely and overwhelming in grief.  Didion takes her experiences and puts them into words that are searing and honest.  I have to be truthful with you readers and tell you how lucky I am that I have lost very few people close to me in death, so reading Didion's description of her grief really got to me and struck me in my heart.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

The Woman Who Wasn't There: The True Story of an Incredible Deception

I am fascinated by the people who claimed to be 9/11 survivors but who were not--at all. Why would you say such a thing? What would motivate you? The question with which I started Robin Gaby Fisher and Angelo J. Guglielmo, Jr.'s The Woman Who Wasn't There: The True Story of an Incredible Deception was: How could you live with yourself?

Tania Head had an incredible story of surviving on 9/11--and losing her beloved fiance. The met cute in a cab one day leaving the WTC, fell in love, and secretly married in Hawaii right before that fateful day. Tania held herself responsible for his death--if she had agreed to meet him for coffee they might have both made it out in time. Tania headed up the Survivor's Network and was a media hound with her story until one day around the sixth anniversary when a New York Times reporter started asking too many questions. Why didTania refuse to share her fiance's last name? Why did she refuse to confirm her alma mater? Or provide evidence of where she worked?

I was astounded by this story. I remember reading about it a few years ago and thinking about how awful a person must be to make this up. We all know magnetic people in our lives--people who, if you were giving advice to a friend in a similar situation, you would encourage them to cut ties. It appears that Tania was one of these people. Magnetic and vulnerable, and someone who makes those around her turn into a puddle of jelly to help her. I get that her story was so fantastical that no one questioned it; it seems like every survivor's story that day is one of beating the odds.

My only complaint with this book is that I felt it ended too abruptly. I was with it the whole way through, but the end comes together too quickly and ends suddenly. I imagine this is how the fellow survivors felt when Tania's story came out--as if they slammed into a brick wall. I would have liked to explore some of the aftermath.

This was a quick read and I was invested in the story. One of the authors (Guglielmo) knew Tania personally and was pulled into her orbit. His documentary of the same name is on my list to watch; it contains Tania telling her "story" in a film that she pushed before she was revealed.

 

Monday, October 22, 2012

What In God's Name

Do you not laugh at life? Do you get offended easily? Does having a good giggle at parodies on God incense you? If your answer to any of the previous questions was "yes", do yourself a favor and exit the browser now. If the answer was, "What the hell? No!", read on. You will love What in God's Name by Simon Rich.

God, fournder and CEO of Heaven, Inc., decides one day that he is tired of the gig and wants to open an Asian fusion restaurant. This will, of course, mean that he has to destroy Earth. Fire or flood? Eh, wait until the day of to decide. One angel, Craig, who works in the Department of Miracles, can't accept this. He loves his job and believes in the power of what he does. He strikes a deal with the man upstairs (literally): if Craig can pull of the hardest miracle of his career--getting together two people who have prayed to be together but never cross paths--God will not destroy Earth. Can Craig do it in time? Or will he fail miserably?

This was a ridiculously fun read that required nothing more than a great attitude and an openness to laughing at satire. Rich does not treat this subject with venom or negativity; in fact, quite the opposite. Rich goes out of his way to create characters that are laughable, real, and open to love. I had such a great time with this book last weekend that there was no way to hate on Rich for his lampooning Heaven.

Like I said earlier, if you are easily offended then perhaps this book is not up your alley. But if you can take a joke, if you can laugh at yourself, and if you enjoy life as it is, this quick story will brighten your day and make you believe that maybe, just maybe, there is a team of workers up in the sky making things happen for you.

Get it for yourself. Kindle copy on the left, hard copy on the right:

Friday, October 19, 2012

One Last Thing Before I Go

I looooooved This Is Where I Leave You.  So much so it is one of my favorite books ever.  So as soon as I heard Jonathan Tropper was coming out with One Last Thing Before I Go I jumped in the virtual line at the library.

Silver is a forty-something former musician whose ex-wife hates him and his 18-year-old daughter feels nothing but apathy toward him.  Then one day it hits the fan.  His daughter secretly tells him she's pregnant, his ex-wife's wedding is fast approaching, and it turns out Silver is dying.  When he refuses to undergo a lifesaving surgery, his family goes to great lengths to convince him why he needs to stay around.  But Silver must discover for himself the reasons he must fight for his life.

I just love Tropper's writing.  He is honest while not being mean, and he is funny while still keeping the humanity of his characters alive and well.  I wanted to cry for, and to laugh at, Silver all at the same time.  The character recognizes what a screw-up he is yet can't, or won't, lift himself out of the position into which he has lowered.  It's hard not to love him while still pitying him at his lowest human point--but this is where he finds himself.

Yes, I would recommend this book.  It was honest, it was heartwarming, and it was written with love and care.  I loved the characters who populated this book, and they left an indelible impression in my life.  I am so thankful for Tropper's books, as they make me look outside of myself for something greater in the heart of his characters.  Deep down they are good people set in a strong story that leaves me satisfied.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Maine: A Novel

Maine by J. Courtney Sullivan was a recommendation from an entertainment magazine on a list of stories about families. It looked interesting, and boy howdy, was it!

Not long after the Great War, a young couple come into land on the coast of Maine. The Kellehers build a summer home there that becomes the rock of their family. Over the course of decades children grow up, relationships fall apart, and time marches on. The house sees it all. As Alice, the matriarch, prepares the house to live on without her, one last summer sees a family struggle with age, with love, and with striving for acceptance.

I was intrigued with this book from the moment I began reading, and the sensation I felt at the end was the same I feel when I hear a song that I think I will like. I listen to it, intrigued, and then I play it again. Then again and again and again, each time noticing something different I like about it. I may walk away but I find myself humming it, thinking about it, and wanting to hear it again until I finally break down, bust out my iPod and play it on repeat. That is exactly how I felt about this book.

It caught me in the beginning and as I continued reading I found that I didn't want to put it down. I loved these characters as much as I sometimes despised them for their lack of love and understanding. Family can be this way, as every one of us knows well. I wanted to stay with them a while, to love them and to support them as best as I can. I wanted to whack them over the head and I wanted to tell them it will all work out fine, just hold on a few months. I really cared about these fictional people and I found myself telling all of my friends about the book. That's the sign of something great.

Kindle version on the left, hard copy on the right:

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Math City

The Phantom Tollbooth is one of my most favoritest books ever, so when I was contacted about Ahmad Amani's Math City  I was intrigued since it sounded similar in nature.

Once upon a time there was the Lying Line, who we now know as a minus sign. He is being taken to task for cutting down large, fat numbers by the Upward Lying Line, known to us as a plus sign. This leads to a long, hard war among the disparate classes of citizens in Math City.

This novelette is a short and sweet parable on how humans treat one another in times of conflict. I appreciated the brevity of this story and it was a great read for my commute this week. I was able to read it in one sitting and I found the characters to be amusing (I love anthropomorphous characters in a story), particularly how Amani turned numbers into the good and the evil  entities of the parable.

Monday, October 15, 2012

The Red Book

I love a good reunion tale. I was so excited about Deborah Copaken Kogan's The Red Book that when the library notified me that it was available I ran there.  Well, maybe I didn't run per se because I didn't want to be one of those people I make fun of for running in the city.  Moving on...

Every five years, just prior to the reunion, Harvard releases their alumni book known to all as simply the red book.  It contains contact information, spousal and occupation information, and three to five paragraphs of biographical information written by the alumna.  Just prior to their 20th reunion, four friends submit their entries.  When they come together for the reunion their truths are slowly revealed: unraveling relationships, grief of epic proportions, financial problems, children growing up and running amok.  As they wind their way through the weekend, these ladies will make choices that will irrevocably alter their lives.

This was a fantastic read for my week.  I needed something that had nothing to do with education or psychology (although, arguably, this book is all about the psychology of Jane, Clover, Addison, and Mia).  I loved the intricacy that Kogan lent to these ladies' lives.  It was hard to not envision myself with them at the reunion as one of their group or even as just a fly on the wall.  Kogan has written with such pathos and care for her characters and I loved every second of reading this book.  It was so lovely to get lost in the lives of these woman who are still so young yet are twenty years away from youth.

I had read good things about this book, but I am so thankful that I picked it up myself.  I was able to live for just a little while in Hollywood privilege with Mia, in arrested development with Addison, in desperation with Clover, and in heartache with Jane.

It was a great ride.

Friday, October 12, 2012

A Marriage Agreement and Other Essays: Four Decades of Feminist Writing

I am a big fan of Open Road Media and their work to re-release work of renowned writers in electronic format as well as compilations.  I was so excited to be handed off Alix Kates Shulman's A Marriage Agreement and Other Essays: Four Decades of Feminist Writing.

The title essay is the famous agreement she made with her husband.  This is followed by "A Marriage Disagreement" in which Shulman expands on the life and times that surrounded the original agreement with her then-husband.  Other essays are divided among such topics as Marriage and Men; Sex; Writing; and Late Life.  Every essay is steeped in a feminist framework and many reference Shulman's novels.

It was incredibly interesting to dive into feminist writing--I must admit that my experience with this genre is incredibly limited.  Shulman is borderline militaristic in her approach to feminism but I view that as a sign of the times in which she fell in with the movement; it was the late 1960's when she joined in with the Redstockings in New York City.  I was most indulged in the duo essays "A Marriage Agreement" followed by "A Marriage Disagreement" due to Shulman's reveal of the goings on when she wrote the latter.  Her marriage was falling apart due to her husband's dalliances with a woman 20 years his junior and she herself had taken a lover, yet she went to great lengths to ensure no one found this out. 

I am very happy that I had a chance to pick this up and dive into it over the weekend.  It's a quick read at only 180-odd pages.  It is well worth a read to understand feminist history and non-fiction writing.  I was affected by her 1972 essay, "The War in the Backseat," about young women and their sexual reputations through the 1940's and '50's and the lengths women had to go to in order to find a proper husband.  These essays are diverse in their topics but are intriguing nonetheless.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Fortune in My Eyes: A Memoir of Broadway Glamour, Social Justice, and Political Passion

Just the title of David Rothenberg's memoir, Fortune in My Eyes: A Memoir of Broadway Glamour, Social Justice, and Political Passion had me hooked. It's everything I love wrapped into one book of goodness!

David Rothenberg grew up in New Jersey, got involved in the Civil Rights movement in college, became a successful Broadway press rep and Off-Broadway producer in his 20's, and came out of the closet in his 40's. After producing the 13-month run of Fortune and Men's Eyes, Rothenberg became determined to make a difference in the lives of men recently released from prison and to have an impact on prison reform. His story is arguably a sweeping epic of a life well-lived and a man well-loved.

This memoir was a great read. Rothenberg writes the way he would talk to me if we were sitting at a local bar and he was telling me his story. I was absolutely fascinated by his move to create the Fortune Society and I found his call to fight for social justice to be quite moving. In my experience, few people would take the leap from the glitz and glamour of his theatre life (he worked intimately with Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor during the run of Hamlet on Broadway) to working for pennies, believing whole-heartedly in the difference he was making for hundreds of men and women just out of prison with nowhere to go, nowhere to sleep, and no money for food.

I have so much respect for this man who took a leap of faith and became an outspoken critic of our penal system while also serving others hands-on. He believes in the goodness of people and he practices what he preaches. His story integrates accepting others and learning to accept himself. This book was eye-opening as well as emotionally satisfying, and I am glad I took the time to pick it up.

Friday, October 5, 2012

Gone Girl

Last week I read Gillian Flynn's Gone Girl.

Truthfully, I could end the post right there because this book blew my mind so hard that I actually couldn't put it down. I slept with this book in my bed next to me. Rarely do I ever start writing down my thoughts on a book before I finish, but I started jotting down feelings a quarter of the way through.

OH. MY. GAWD.

On her fifth wedding anniversary, Amy goes missing. Her living room is upended and blood has been cleaned from the kitchen floor. Her husband, Nick, is super suspicious. As the story unfolds, nothing will be as it seems.

I thoroughly enjoyed Flynn's Dark Places and Sharp Objects, so of course I mentally flagged Gone Girl when I heard it was coming out. Unfortunately I didn't immediately jump in the library queue and then suddenly over 1,000 requests were in for this sucker. So I patiently sat on my hands while I waited for this book to be ready for a visit to my home while everyone else and their brother and their mother read it and made me feel out of the loop. Then it came to me and all was right with the world and I slept with it.

This book is split into three sections, with chapters alternating between real-time Nick and Amy's diary. I couldn't put it down. 2 AM came and I still couldn't stop. My eyes were closing and my mind asked me to sleep and I said, "No, mind, not now. I'm busy." And when I finished the book, I was finally able to breathe. I have so much I want to say about how I feel about the characters but I just can't here, because that wouldn't be fair to those who have not yet had the pleasure of picking this book up. To give away anything--plot details, character details, feelings toward these two things--would be criminal. And I always (mostly) follow the law.

If you could go ahead and read it this weekend and call me so we can talk about it I would be super grateful. Don't wait in the library queue. Just buy it already.

Kindle version on the left, hard copy on the right.
 


Wednesday, October 3, 2012

May We Be Forgiven

Holy hell, what an amazing piece of work. I was hooked on A.M. Homes' May We Be Forgiven before I even finished the first chapter. Let's not waste time and get right to it.

Harold Silver finds himself in quite a pickle when his better looking and more successful brother George loses his mind, plows through a red light, and kills a family. Harold finds himself with custody of George's two teenage children, and while they are away at boarding school Harold comes undone between discovering anonymous sex through internet chat rooms, aging relatives who need more emotional care than physical, and this sudden new family that he must take on while his brother is in the loony bin. It's a sweeping modern epic for sure.

I rarely curse on this blog because it needs to be reserved for times when a bad word packs a punch and clearly describes something. This is that time. This book was a mindf#*&.

Part of this is Homes' story and part of this is her style of writing. She writes in winding sentences that melt into paragraphs that are unusual and addicting. It's as if you are watching a television show that is actually a train wreck that you can see coming a mile away but you can't take your eyes off the screen. Harold is a sympathetic character, even as he makes horrible life decisions that cause great anguish in those he loves.

Homes writes in color and she writes with a loose conviction that pulled me back even when I wanted to put the book down. At times I felt as though I were on a date where I knew the guy was putting me on but I couldn't stop listening to him weave his tale.

It was good. Very good.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Happy Banned Books Week!


Hey hey hey readers! I just want to take a moment today to wish you a happy Banned Books Week. Thank goodness for banned books: I feel that without a little controversy life is just boring. Visit the links below and pick yourself up some banned books. Some of them are quite wonderful. The official website is here.

You can also read more about the week here on the American Library Association's website, and I have some other links below to check out. Be sure to also scan through the list of often challenged books on their page and see my favorite page, the top ten banned books by year. Yummy!

Better Book Titles' banned book list. I love this website so hard. Become a fan. Run, don't walk. 

The Atlantic also has an article out today: "Kurt Vonnegut, Harper Lee, and Other Literary Greats on Censorship."