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

Monday, January 30, 2012

We Need To Talk About Kevin

Are there words for this book?  Do I have breath left in my lungs?  I think not, to answer both of these questions.  How amazed I sit here, how in awe I stand, of this book and it's story and the stab I just received in the heart.

We Need To Talk About Kevin by Lionel Shriver is the very same book that was just adapted to film starring Tilda Swinton.  This book has been on my radar for years, one of those oh-yeah-I-definitely-need-to-read-that ways.  Then I saw a screening of the film and was bowled over, so I had to purchase the book right away.  You heard me correctly...I purchased it.  I never buy books.  But I bit the bullet and did it.  Thank goodness.

Holy moly goodness gracious, what a tour de force this book was.  I didn't want to stop reading it, not even to finish up some library books I had.  I would allow myself to read only one chapter per day so that I could finish other books on my plate, but that took patience and self-restraint on my end that I don't normally have.  I had to keep reading. 

Kevin is written as letters from Eva, Kevin's mother, to her husband, Franklin, one year after her son's school massacre.  Yes, her son was the perpetrator.  Eva writes letters to Franklin detailing Kevin's history, her visits with him while he is incarcerated, and later on with the details as she knows them regarding the attack.  From the beginning Kevin is a clear-cut psychopath, but how much was Eva to blame for her lack of affect toward her son?  Franklin's overparenting didn't help, of course, and the bringing of a younger sister in only served to give Kevin a plaything to experiment on.

Sometimes the details are harrowing, sometimes Franklin's justification of Kevin's behavior is infuriating, sometimes Eva's seeming vendetta against her own son is heart-wrenching, but all of the time the narrative is riveting.  This book is quite incredible, and I am thrilled that I own it so that I may come back to it again.

Friday, January 27, 2012

Life Itself

Life Itself by Roger Ebert was my celebrity-memoir-of-the-week.  I have to have one or I go through withdrawal.  Thank goodness I am ok...for this week, anyway.

Roger Ebert spares no anecdote in this memoir, be it from his childhood or from his pairing as half the Siskel and Ebert duo.  Ebert starts at the beginning, introduces us to his mother and father, and continues on to present.

I would lying if I said that at times the detail was too much for me--but I have to say that I don't think it's too much for everyone.  As I read this book I realized the importance of each one of these stories in handing down memories for someone else to keep.  We have all lived unique lives, and we must share our stories with our loved ones (and beyond, if we are able) so that our memory lives on.

Ebert is still alive and kicking, and he is going nowhere for a while.  However, his book was a lovely reminder to embrace every day and every experience without hesitation since you never know what lies around the bend.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

The Psychopath Test

Quiz.  The Psychopath Test: A Journey Through The Madness Industry by Jon Ronson immediately drew my attention because:
A) I love psychology books;
B) I love anything about psychopaths;
C) I love true crime;
D) All of the above.

If you selected D, you win!  You win my undying admiration and respect.  Unless you are my sister, since I don't listen to you anyway.  But I digress.

Ronson is a journalist who decided to investigate psychopathy--what is it, who diagnoses it, and who are these people?  Boy howdy, does he ever discover this.  This book was riveting in a way that  non-fiction-psycho-babble is.  I was fascinated by Ronson's dealing with the Scientologists and the animosity they genuinely feel toward a field of study that has helped (and hurt, no doubt) so many.  Ronson met with Bob Hare, the man responsible for the psychopath checklist that is still widely used.  Ronson investigated the idea that many CEO's and head honchos in politics and in finance are psychopaths--and really, who wouldn't agree with that? 

I love stories to prove points, and there were many of them in this book.  I would highly recommend this book if you have a checklist like mine above. 

The biggest thing I took out of this was that I am not a psychopath.  Oh sure, I meet some of the requirements on the checklist (see Item 2: Grandiose sense of self-worth), but Ronson's point that if you are worried that you are a psychopath then chances are good you aren't one made me sleep better at night.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Never Let Me Go

A Man Booker Prize finalist?  A movie based on the story?  Positive review after positive review?  Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro it is, then!

Kathy narrates her story of growing up in Hailsham with her friends Tommy and with Ruth.  They are different children, raised for a specific purpose that they slowly learn as they grow older.  Their relationships with one another grow close and they grow apart, and the three mature (and don't) as their lives move on.  They fall in love, they fall out of love, they find themselves, and they learn how to cope with being donors in a world that depends on them.  As they grow into adults they begin to fulfill their purpose and slowly accept who they are.

What a lovely, stunning, and heartbreaking novel this was.  It doesn't take you too long to discover the secret that weaves through the underbrush of this book and it breaks your heart to know that these characters that you grow to love don't have much time.  My favorite moment comes in the third section when Kathy and Tommy admit they are meant to be together and try to prolong their time on this earth will tear your soul open.  I felt full yet so lost after finishing this novel, and that is what a fiction piece should aspire to install in us all.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Case Histories

Case Histories by Kate Atkinson came highly recommended on more than one list I have read over the years, so I thought it was about time to pick it up for myself.

It's three stories in one--three cases, years apart--and these cases envelope a private detective hired to solve them, years after the fact.  The more he delves in, the more things start to get weird.  Is someone really trying to kill him?  And why?  What do these cases have to do with it?

I enjoy a good juicy mystery, especially one that involves the potential for the main character to be stalked and killed.  What can I say?  It's a guilty pleasure.  A creepy guilty pleasure, but a pleasure nonetheless.  So yeah, I found this to be delve-tastic in the way that I didn't want to put the story down.

SPOILER ALERT!  My biggest frustration with this book was that it advertised that the cases were all related.  It turns out they really weren't, and while that didn't affect the story line in itself it was something I was anxiously awaiting.

However, I do think this was an interesting book and I did enjoy it very much.  It's in juicy paperback size, leading people on the train to believe you are reading an illicit romance which can sometimes be fun.  But oh no, you are reading a mystery!  I love it.  Fooling people on the train, that is.

Monday, January 16, 2012


I will not lie to you--I have spent the past week saying to people, "Precious wouldn't pay for that," or "Oh, Precious would eat all that fried chicken."  You know why?  Because Precious, in Push by Sapphire, is a badass.

Push is the story of Claireece Precious Jones, an illiterate teenager in the Bronx circa the mid-1980's.  She is pregnant for the second time by the man she believes to be her father, and it doesn't help that her mother is abusive as well (in every way imaginable).  Precious makes a decision that she wants to do right by her babies--and she begins her journey to doing just that.

I will not lie to you, dear readers--this is not a particularly easy book to read.  It's graphic at times and heartbreaking for most of the others.  I am the exact opposite of Precious in any way you can imagine, so reading this broke my big liberal heart.  It's a life that countless young women continue to live even as I write this, and this book made me want to put on a super hero cape and go rescue them all.  The only challenge?  They live in silence, just like Precious. 

Yes, I saw the film a few years ago and yes, I thought it was well done.  I also have to say that it was an excellent adaptation of the book.  And yes, since you have asked, I do think it's worth a read.  At just about 150 pages you can get through this in a weekend, so hop-to, people.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

This Time Together

Who doesn't love Carol Burnett?  No, really, seriously.  If you don't, you must be a serial killer.  Because The Carol Burnett Show is one of the greatest of all time.  This Time Together by Carol Burnett was a super fun read.  She is super connected and shares her friendships from throughout her years in entertainment.

The most fascinating part of her story was prior to her seven-year run on The Carol Burnett Show.  Her journey to New York City to pursue her dreams, her first marriage, raising her kid sister, her relationship with her grandmother--all of this was lovely and wonderful and I am so glad I had the chance to read it.

Let it be known, this reflection jumps around at times, but overall it was a fun celebrity memoir read.

Monday, January 9, 2012


After the dust settled on The National Book Award controversy, I had to pick up Shine by Lauren Myracle.  I love stuff like this.  Also, I heard the book was quite good so I wanted a taste of it myself.  I picked up the book in the second week of November, and I never got a chance to read it.  I am still broken hearted about it's destruction (along with six others), but all is well--I got the book again last week.  And thank goodness.

Shine is Cat's story--a high school student who has dealt with her share of small town ridiculousness in the way of horny teenage boys.  She has slunk away from the social world, including her best friend Patrick.  But when Patrick is the victim of a hate crime--beaten and strung to a gasoline pump with a nozzle in his mouth--Cat makes it her mission to find out what happened to him.

I had a hard time putting this book down to get where I needed to be--so I didn't.  I opted to pick it up one evening about 100 pages in and just not stop until I was done.  I had to do this, see, because it was just that good.  I am a Southerner, and while I grew up in the suburbs, the small town North Carolina life took me over because I understood it.  This type of small town produced my grandmother, and in a way it helped me understand her slightly better.  Not because she took the same actions as Cat, but because she grew up in through similar circumstances.  Keeping things hush-hush?  I get that.  Not talking about things that might cause controversy?  I get that too.  Cryptic is the name of the game.

The story was beautiful and it kept my interest entirely.  The characters were full and so well-developed that I want to say to you, "What do you mean I don't know Beef?  Of course I know Beef.  We are besties."  I put this book down satisfied in my reading experience and I sure hope you will too.  Forget that it's YA lit--or don't.  Give it to the YA in your life, but enjoy it yourself first.  I hope you feel as redeemed as I did.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me?

Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? (And Other Concerns) by Mindy Kaling is a win-win situation.  You read a funny book, you laugh, you discover that you are secretly Mindy Kaling.  And by that, I mean I think Mindy Kaling and I are meant to be best friends.  You know, best friends who don't even know each other and live on opposite sides of the country and will probably never run into each other or even really talk.

Ok, back to the book.  Mindy (we are on a first name basis) puts together a book of essays about her life and her journey through show business.  Several of her essays I found particularly funny--if only because I completely understand.  The portion of the book where she talks about how she doesn't fit into sample sizes cracked me up and made me a little teary--only out of understanding.  See, I also have an average body type, which means that I don't starve myself and wear a size 8.  This means that if I were also to attend photo shoots that nothing would fit me either.  I won't tell you how Mindy solves this problem, but it's pretty badass and I am proud of my new bestie.  She is someone that I want to be when I grow up.

So yes, since you ask, I think it's worth a read.  I think it's worth a laugh, and I think it's worth you also making Mindy your new bestie, too.  Sleepover!!!

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Food Rules: An Eater's Manual

Michael Pollan's Food Rules: An Eater's Manual was a fantastic little ditty for those of you who don't feel like delving deep into The Omnivore's Dilemma or In Defense of Food.  I would recommend all of the above, because I find Pollan to be not just an excellent writer but also incredibly well-informed and even-keeled.

Reading Pollan's books don't make me want to go to an extreme--in fact, quite the opposite.  Pollan forces me to think about what I am putting in my mouth and the choices I make to eat.  I love this list of rules that he has provided while still making it clear that you won't be able to follow all of them--choose those that speak to you and live by those.  I am a huge fan of Pollan and his work, and I highly recommend every one of his books if you are interested in how our bodies have morphed (really, they have evolved) in the past several decades.  

What rules have I chosen?  Don't eat things my great-grandmother wouldn't recognize as food.  If I can't describe to you what the ingredients look like, don't put it in my body.  Eat smaller portions, and eat mostly plants.  Just be sensible.

Most succinctly of all, though, I intend to follow Pollan's motto:

Eat Food.  Not Too Much.  Mostly Plants.