Friday, May 18, 2012

Cat’s in the Cradle

There’s a nice literary novel I’ve been waiting for and I got the call to pick it up at the library yesterday. But. They also had Ryan O’Neal’s autobiography in stock, too. I haven’t started reading the well-written and critically acclaimed book. Oh, please. Like you could have resisted Ryan & Farrah’s train wreck, either.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Dead Skunk in the Middle of the Road

Oh, do not wait to get your hands on Let's Pretend This Never Happened: (A Mostly True Memoir). Jenny Lawson, the Bloggess, has written a book that is, indeed, funnier than the Bible. Like the Bible, while I was reading it I sometimes had to put my head down on the pillow and rest for a while, but in this case it was because I was giggling too hard to keep my head up. I paid full price for this thing, and I haven’t paid full price for a book in years. I don’t think I have any recommendation greater than that, guys.

I am so glad that her family didn’t live next door to me, because they were messed up. It’s awesome to read about her dad using dead squirrels as hand puppets and tossing live bobcats on her boyfriend, but I probably wouldn’t have known how great Jenny is because she would have just been that girl I wasn’t allowed to play with or talk to. I can hear my mother right now calling for me to get back in my own yard and not touch that dead deer.

I’m giving you a chunk of the introduction as a test. If it doesn’t crack you up, then this is not the book for you. And that’s great, somebody’s got to read The Vow and all those other Nicholas Sparks books, just don’t tell me if it’s you.

This book is totally true, except for the parts that aren’t. It’s basically like Little House on the Prairie but with more cursing. And I know, you’re thinking, “But Little House on the Prairie was totally true!” and no, I’m sorry, but it wasn’t. Laura Ingalls was a compulsive liar with no fact-checker, and probably if she was still alive today her mom would be saying, “I don’t know how Laura came up with this whole ‘I’m-a-small-girl-on-the-prairie’ story. We lived in New Jersey with her aunt Frieda and our dog, Mary, who was blinded when Laura tried to bleach a lightning bolt on her forehead. I have no idea where she got the ‘and we lived in a dugout’ thing, although we did take her to Carlsbad Caverns once.”


Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Psycho Killer

The Body Finder is about a girl who can sense murdered bodies – each one gives out a distinct signal and the signal is also present on the killer. There are all sorts of people with the “mark” on them, policemen, soldiers, and sometimes nurses. How intriguing is that idea? You would be able to sense that people you met had killed someone, but you wouldn’t know what the circumstances might be. And you’d be keeping your secret power secret, so you couldn’t exactly ask the mailman if he was in the Army or a gang.  In the case of the nurse, Violet’s mother quietly tells her that sometimes it’s hard to watch someone die in pain. So, that added a whole other twist to the idea of people who have killed and has made me watch people with squinted eyes to see if I can feel their signal. And, just in case you have the same question I did, hunters do have the mark and so do animals that kill other animals.

There’s a serial killer on the loose and Violet is the one who can catch him. Her uncle is chief of police, so at least she doesn’t have to explain how she knows when someone is the killer or exactly why she finds all these bodies. The real plot of the book is that Violet is in love with her best friend and she isn’t sure that he reciprocates. I guess you have to have the love interest in Young Adult, but it was a little annoying to go from Violet being terrified by a killer to really hyped that Jay touched her arm. Nancy Drew conveniently lost Ned whenever she was on the case and I think we all agree that she was a highly efficient crime-fighting machine.

Violet’s super-wimpy about her “gift,” which annoyed me quite a bit but then made me realize that, duh, of course she was. Even though other books always have heroines standing up to the killer, that’s not what’s going to happen. In real life, you’re going to hide behind your boyfriend, hole up in your room, and whimper a lot. And if you’re the kind of girl who wouldn’t? I’m going to be hiding behind you, too, for extra barrier protection.

Saturday, April 14, 2012

She’s Having My Baby

Wendy McClure’s book Don't Trade the Baby for a Horse: And Other Ways to Make Your Life a Little More Laura Ingalls Wilder was slim, but awesome, which is something most of us would die to have said on our behalf. I also sped through Bumped, which was so strange. Apparently the premise came from someone off-handedly wondering about a world where only teenagers could get pregnant. Some teens turn pro, with agents to broker their surrogacy terms, while others stay amateur, get pregnant by any means necessary, and then sell the baby to the highest bidder. The religious few get married at 13 and become traditional wives & mothers.

The leads of Bumped, Harmony & Melody, are identical twins, abandoned at birth and raised very differently. Harmony is a pro, waiting for her contract to kick in, and Melody has run away from her sheltered church community to find Harmony and convince her to find God. There’s a lot of interesting commentary to be made about children having babies and about how even empowered girls are only valued as property, but McCafferty doesn’t really dwell on the philosophical, focusing more on the cool imaginary parts, drugs that compel the girls to pro-create but never grow any attachment to the babies and t-shirts that shrink and grow to emulate pregnancy bumps.

It’s not a book I recommend highly – knowing the premise is as good as reading the whole thing – but it was a quick read. After I finished it, I ran back to 1903 and Jean Webster’s When Patty Went to College. It was a refreshing glimpse of ankle after the neverending bumping of Bumped.

Saturday, April 7, 2012

Everybody Have Fun Tonight

I swear to you that when I finish this Stephen King book I am going to read the lightest, funniest book I can find. I’ve got Wendy McClure’s Don't Trade the Baby for a Horse: And Other Ways to Make Your Life a Little More Laura Ingalls Wilder queued up on the booklist and I am waiting impatiently for Jenny Lawson’s Let's Pretend This Never Happened: (A Mostly True Memoir) to release on April 17th. Wil Wheaton says it’s funnier than the Bible. (Go ahead. Click the link. It’s the Bloggess – You know it’s going to be funny.)

Wendy McClure’s book is a companion piece to The Wilder Life: My Adventures in the Lost World of Little House on the Prairie, which came out in paperback this week and is so good. Wendy and I are about the same age and I wish she would move to Texas from Chicago so we could talk about Laurie Ingalls Wilder for hours and hours. I’ve been reading her blog for a really long time and she has several other excellent books out if you’re not interested in Little House on the Prairie, although you are missing out.

What are are you reading and is it fun?

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

London Calling

Oddest book this week – Meg Rosloff’s How I Live Now. A teen girl is sent from New York to her relatives in England just as a world war breaks out. The family adults are travelling and can’t get back into England. Their large country house is requisitioned for the military and the kids are split to different farms to foster. It’s a perfectly normal WWII novel, except it’s based in present day. So, in the middle of discussing rations and victory gardens and rubber shortages, they’ll mention emails or cell phones. Very strange and I don’t know why she bothered.

I’m not going to spoil this one for you, but the synopsis on Goodreads

Fifteen-year-old Daisy is sent from Manhattan to England to visit her aunt and cousins she’s never met: three boys near her age, and their little sister. Her aunt goes away on business soon after Daisy arrives. The next day bombs go off as London is attacked and occupied by an unnamed enemy.

doesn’t even come close to the point of the book. I don’t know if you’ll enjoy it or not – I’m not sure whether I did. The writing was descriptive and masterful, but the premise was strange in the way of F. Scott Fitzgerald books, where damaged men love and are loved by damaged women.

I did love the almost throwaway premise that the invaders had taken over London in a surprise coup. They thought it would be a suicide mission and  are so surprised to have succeeded that they don’t really have any plans for what to do with their victory. War memoirists often write of boredom in the middle of terror – that you can’t sustain that high level of fear for very long. I remember a lecturer telling one time about adventuring in the rain forest, where every insect can kill you. He talked about how you become blasé about fear, brushing off deadly spiders and tramping past predators, and then, when you come back out of the forest, striding across roads with cars speeding everywhere because you’ve lost the ability to fear death. I guess it’s the ones who can’t calm the fear who break in war – You can’t sustain the tension, but you can’t release it, either, so you snap.

Speaking of snapping, I’m reading Stephen King’s The Talisman right now. It is so long that we’ll see if I can hold this sustained level of tension through the whole thing or if the next review will be Hop on Pop.

Saturday, March 31, 2012

The Policy of Truth

My heavens, sometimes I read them so you don’t have to. I finished Paper Covers Rock this week, a book about boarding school that wished it was A Separate Peace, but was not. It wasn’t The Catcher in the Rye, either, even though this book referenced it multiple times, pretending to disdain. Budding teen poet Alex is writing out his shame and guilt after a swimming accident killed his best friend. It’s not a spoiler to say that the boys were drinking before they went swimming and that Alex was goofing around and didn’t notice that Thomas was hurt. In fact, he tells you that pretty fast, but he doesn’t tell his headmaster. He flounders for the entire novel, crippled by guilt that he was drunk, too, and should have been expelled. I swear, I kept waiting for Alex’s real secret to come out, like he pushed Thomas off the rock or held him under, or something, but that was it. He just wanted absolution for being drunk and lying to the headmaster about it.

Rock Covers Paper is set in the mid- 1980’s, and I know I didn’t go to a boys’ boarding school, but the homophobia is insane in this thing. One boy takes the fall for something to avoid the threat of someone starting a rumor that he might be gay. Another boy might have committed a major crime to avoid people questioning his sexuality. I would really love to know whether the hint of gay was enough to ruin you at boys’ school or if the (female, former teacher at a boarding school) author might have had a skewed view of what boarding school was like for a gay male student.

And this guy calls himself Is Male. Like freaking Ishmael from Moby Dick. It was a literary pretention that made me grind my teeth every time I read it. And he referred to himself in the third person A LOT.

If you get bored with my literary efforts, with the plot or characters, if you find that good ol’ Is Male is putting you to sleep, read a real novel, a Great American one. Read Moby-Dick.

If that didn’t make you a little sick, then I don’t think we read the same books.

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Come, Gentle Peace

Talking about war reminded me how much I like Erich Maria Remarque’s All Quiet on the Western Front, about WWI.

For us lads of eighteen they ought to have been mediators and guides to the world of maturity, the world of work, of duty, of culture, of progress – to the future. We often made fun of them and played jokes on them, but in our hearts we trusted them. The idea of authority, which they represented, was associated in our minds with a greater insight and a more humane wisdom. But the first death we saw shattered this belief. We had to recognize that our generation was more to be trusted than theirs. They surpassed us only in phrases and in cleverness. The first bombardment showed us our mistake, and under it the world as they had taught it to us broke in pieces.

I interned for a time cataloguing artifacts of a World War II training camp, at a period when the 50th anniversary of D-Day was coming up and many of the veterans were still alive to be interviewed. I’ve always wondered what made their war portrayed so differently in the media, when I’ve read enough books to know that WWII was as horrific as any war. I think there was a special brand of American pluckiness during that time that wouldn’t allow these soldiers to come home and admit how awful it is to shoot and be shot at. I don’t think they particularly did future generations a favor by mostly portraying war as a football game.

Forgive me, comrade. We always see it too late. Why did they never tell us that you are poor devils like us, that your mothers are just as anxious as ours, and that we have the same fear of death, and the same dying and the same agony – Forgive me, comrade; how could you be my enemy? If we threw away these rifles and this uniform you could be my brother just like Kat and Albert. Take twenty years of my life, comrade, and stand up – take more, for I do not know what I can even attempt to do with it now.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

It’s the End of the World

I’m almost finished with the Hunger Games for the second time, but I’m not planning to hit the movie on opening night, so I probably could have slowed way down on reading them. If you haven’t figured it out by now, though, I’m an absolute sucker for end-of-world dystopian books. I’ve read Stephen King’s The Stand at least a half-dozen times and Douglas Coupland’s Girlfriend in a Coma is in my top 20 book list.

There’s this thing that happens in most of the dystopian books where the chaos and horror of so much death renders each individual death meaningless. The characters are watching as 90% of the world dies, and even the loss of your mother or spouse becomes secondary to the need to find someone else alive and not be alone. After the mass casualties end, though, death becomes meaningful again and individual losses can be mourned as they happen. I really don’t have any idea if there’s a philosophical reasoning behind this, or if it’s artistic license that each author uses as a shortcut to get to the action sooner, but I think it’s interesting. It makes me wonder if older wartime, when your entire group of brothers-in-arms might not make it back with you, was like that, too.

I really mostly love the parts where the characters work to figure out what parts of modern life they don’t want to lose and try to get them back, like lights and antibiotics. (Or twinkies – Go Zombieland!). King’s characters work to restore safety and security, while Coupland’s try their hardest to pretend the whole thing isn’t happening, like the girls of Night of the Comet. It’s like a choose your own adventure – What would you work your hardest to not have to lose? I would somehow figure out the secret formula and become the local Coca-Cola producer and just have to hope that somebody else learned how to hunt. And do dentistry.

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Goody Two Shoes

I read a chick-lit/romance novel a few years ago by Pamela Morsi called Doing Good and I think it’s probably one of the biggest influence on my volunteer life. I jokingly call it my companion to the Bible, but I’m only half joking. The premise of the book is that our heroine, Jane, escapes certain death in a car accident by promising God that she’ll do good for the rest of her life if he saves her. She’s spoiled and shallow and it’s enormously hard to reset her priorities. Most of the book is romance novel classic, but there is a central tenet that I return to again and again – the Jewish code of tzedakah, or charity.

In studying how to be good, Jane learns that there are eight levels of charity, listed from the least honorable to the most. (Some of this is from wikipedia, but paraphrased)
8. Donations given grudgingly (in sadness).
7. Giving less than you should, but giving cheerfully.
6. Giving adequately after being asked.
5. Giving adequately before being asked.
4. Giving publicly to an unknown recipient.
3. Giving anonymously to a known recipient. 
2. Giving anonymously to an unknown recipient via a person or public fund which is trustworthy, wise, and will perform acts of charity with your money in a most impeccable fashion.
1. Giving an interest-free loan to a person in need; forming a partnership with a person in need; giving a grant to a person in need; finding a job for a person in need; so long as that loan, grant, partnership, or job results in the person no longer living by relying upon others.

When Jane is just starting to focus on good, she decided that she’ll work to earn a certain number of points each day by doing good deeds. Each level of charity has a corresponding value and she sometimes has to go searching for a few smaller opportunities to hit her daily goal total. It’s her version of “fake it ‘til you make it.” I think about this book and the idea of tzedakah almost weekly.

We talk a lot in my friend & family groups about whether thoughts equal deed and the value of a grudging favor. I’m firmly on the side of good deeds for less than loving reasons are still good deeds and better than not helping a person at all. Whether I’m rejoicing in my heart over giving you a helping hand or not, you still received the benefit of my help. I’m not talking about making you sorry you ever asked because I won’t stop talking about what an inconvenience it is for me to help, though. That’s just being a jerk and being a jerk isn’t on the hierarchy.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Roller Derby Queen

I swore I was going to hermit myself away and read until my eye started twitching, but I did 500 things instead, like road-trips and birthday parties and ROLLER DERBY (you have to say it with ta-da exclamation, you know. When I hear it in my head, it sounds like Oprah.) and lots of work. Anyway, I didn’t read until my eye twitched, but I had an enormous amount of fun and realized that sometimes the book isn’t going to get read and the world isn’t going to end.

I don’t want to not post, though, because no matter how much fun it’s been, it would be so easy to stop and never post again. So you get the random stuff, like ROLLER DERBY. Which was fun, by the way, and making up derby names is a well-rewarding way to spend an afternoon.

I did read a couple of books, but the fact that I would have to look up what they were to tell you about them should tell us both something. I realized the other night that none of us should make fun of romance novels, unless you’re the person who only reads literature (Jon Lovitz voice). Unless the only books you read are the one-offs that win the Booker Prize, your books probably have some amount of formula involved. I’ve gone through phases of devouring British cozy mysteries, chick lit, and legal thrillers along with my literature, and you don’t realize how totally formulaic they are until you move away from the genre and then dip back in. The writing is usually better, but there’s not a whole lot of difference between Larry McMurtry and Judith Krantz in the end.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

No Sleep Till Brooklyn

I keep forgetting to update Goodreads on my 2012 Reading Challenge of 123 books in 2012 and then I have to try and remember what I’ve read for the last week. It shouldn’t be a big deal, but I’ve obviously forgotten to add some titles, because otherwise I’m behind in my reading. This cannot, must not, stand. So when you see the idiot reading at the red lights next week, don’t honk until I’ve reached the end of the paragraph, please.

I have a ton of books in the queue, but I’m going to reread the The Hunger Games before the movie comes out. You need to read them RIGHT NOW, if you haven’t. You won’t understand the glory of casting Lenny Kravitz if you haven’t read the books. I’m almost through with Wendy Holden’s Beautiful People, and I’ve been waiting to read Kody Keplinger’s The DUFF: (Designated Ugly Fat Friend) since January. I’ve completely shut down checking the library catalogue for new books until I read some of the ones I already have. These are probably the most delightful complaints I could dream of having – Waah, waah. Too many books to read!

Life is good. Sleep is overrated.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Crazy Horse

Isn’t it funny how your weirdness standards migrate? I’m reading the third Chaos Walking book, Monsters of Men: Chaos Walking: Book Three, and I’ve apparently come to terms with the concept that men’s thoughts are broadcast into the air, and that the main character can’t read so he thinks phonetically. In the first chapter of this one, though, they are attacked by creatures riding giant white one-horned animals and I thought, “Oh, please. White wooly mammoths with a rhino horn? Give me a break.” That’s the part that was a step too far. The book is rollicking right along, though, so I must have overcome my skepticism.

I finished the second Ghost and the Goth book, too, and liked it, but less than the first one. It set up a bunch of stories, but isn’t capable of standing on its own as a book and that’s a trend I’ll be glad to see vanish. Is this another thing I can blame on Twilight? Harry Potter books were serialized, but they also (mostly) stood alone, if I’m remembering right, but Twilight were more set up like an old-school Charles Dickens serial novel, just really, really long. Was there another series that did this before Twilight that set up Y.A. authors to think that ending each book in the middle of a scene was the way to maximize the money?

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Let’s Talk About Sex

Recently a friend gave me a passel of books, including some that had been on my wish list for ages. (Thanks, friend!) Right now I’m reading the Charlaine Harris Grave series and I have a few observations. Most of them boil down to wondering what kind of super-freak she must be in real life. She looks so sweet in her author photo.

She has a series about vampires, the True Blood set. There’s a few about Shakespeare's Landlord, a housekeeper who solves mysteries and becomes a private eye. Aurora Teagarden is a small-town librarian who solves mysteries. And the set I’m reading, the Harper Connelly series is about a woman who was struck by lightening and can tell where dead people are and how they died.

I’m used to the darker genres, the shape shifters and vampires and were-whatnots. I’m not disturbed by mysteries where half the population of a small town gets murdered in any given year, although I’ve never seen a book address that issue as well as Buffy the Vampire Slayer did in multiple episodes.  But, Harris? That woman has got to have a freak-streak a mile wide.

She seems to have a small issue with sex. That housekeeper in the Shakespeare series? Well, she was brutally raped and attacked and is covered with scars (mentally and literally) from the event. She won’t ever recover from that damage. True Blood? People are beguiled into sex, used as pets, blood-bound into relationships. Aurora Teagarden, a librarian spinster, finds love, has sex, and her husband dies.

The Grave series, in a way, is more disturbing than any of the other sets. I’m fascinated by Harper’s ability to find bodies, but her personal life is much weirder than her profession. She’s accompanied by her stepbrother/manager, Tolliver. They survived a brutal upbringing together, with Tolliver’s brother, Harper’s sister, and their two younger mutual sisters. Harper and Tolliver are together non-stop for years and then it gets a little Flowers in The Attic-y. They aren’t technically brother and sister, but it’s the same as if Marsha and Greg Brady decided to get married. And she writes about their sex acts like Siri replaced all the dirty words with technical ones. I grew up on a steady diet of Judith Krantz love scenes and these scenes are awful and jarring and feel like they belong in a different book all together. She really would have done better to say, “They had sex. It was great.” The books are good, too, when you skip quickly past those sections, humming tunelessly to distract yourself.

I’m not sure I thought I would ever spend a whole post talking about weird sex scenes or wondering whether Charlaine Harris has a good therapist, but here you go. I recommend any of the series sets, but be forewarned that she has a much harder time writing about love than she does death.

Saturday, February 18, 2012


I dropped everything I was reading for a day to re-read an old favorite, Daddy-Long-Legs (Puffin Classics). It was first published in 1912 by Jean Webster, but I have the terrifying 1960’s cover with stupid Leslie Caron on it. (Okay, I don’t hate her in other things, but she’s so terribly wrong for this character that I have to pretend the movie doesn’t exist.) One of the little collections I have is girl-goes-to-college books from the early 1900’s. I have no idea what sparked this interest, but I can tell you more about the social customs and mores of women’s colleges circa 1910 than you would ever want to know. And you may think that you’d reach that level of want-to-know pretty fast, but you’ll be sorry when you miss the paper chase instructions (It’s a real thing! Not just an awesome law-school series!) and don’t get to eat waffles and lobster afterwards. (Also a real thing! I don’t know why!)

Sorry, I got a little sidetracked by the sheer joy of college books, but this one is extra special. Most of these feature girls all from the same (upper) social class, since girls going to college wasn’t so common, but this one has orphan Jerusha Abbott, sponsored by a rich trustee to attend college, with the only stipulation being that she write him a letter once a month, to sharpen her writing skills. Jerusha is a marvelous character, a blend of whimsical and practical, but she’s had too much hardship to ever be silly or frivolous. There are small heartbreaks in her letters to the trustee, who she names Daddy-Long-Legs since all she knows about him is that he’s tall and rich and it seems rude to name him after his money. When she rechristens herself as Judy, it’s an attempt to shake off the orphanage, but she knows she’s only pretending.

I wish Mrs. Lippett would use a little more ingenuity about choosing babies names. She gets the last names out of the telephone book – you’ll find Abbott on the first page – and she picks the Christian names up anywhere; she got Jerusha from a tombstone. I’ve always hated it; but I rather like Judy. It’s such a silly name. It belongs to the kind of girl I’m not – a sweet little blue-eyed thing, petted and spoiled by all the family, who romps her way through life without any cares. Wouldn’t it be nice to be like that? What-ever faults I may have, no one can ever accuse me of being spoiled by my family! But it’s sort of fun to pretend I’ve been.

We only see Judy’s side of the correspondence, as she grows to love this guardian as a trusted advisor and her only family, and it’s funny. And, because it’s the 1910’s version of a Young Adult novel, Judy has grown very fond of another man, too - the surprisingly tall and rich uncle of her college friend, Sally. I don’t even have to wink, wink for you to guess this one, right?

There’s a sequel to Daddy-Long-Legs called Dear Enemy, where Sally from college is sent to the orphanage to completely renovate it and remove all the things that Judy hated so much about growing up there, and I love it just as much. Keep your eyes out for a copy of both and let me know if you find Daddy-Long-Legs in hardback. I would love to get that simpering French chick off my cover.

Ooooh, are you guys in LUCK! I just went to Amazon to link to the book and they are all free on Kindle and Kindle apps. Go here.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Rock Me Tonite (sic)

Did you know that Billy Squier blames the end of his career on our favorite drunkle (drunk-uncle) and So You Think You Can Dance-Dance-Dance choreographer Kenny Ortega? Squier was riding high, with three platinum albums, when Ortega directed his Rock Me Tonite video. It is, to be generous, a short film about a man in a pink tank top prancing around a bedroom set. Literal prancing. Billy Squier used to do this thing with his legs like he was goose-step dancing. Add in the satin sheets and smoke machine and it was pretty bad. I wouldn’t have thought it was bad enough to end his career – I mean, I’ve seen Prince’s “Bat Dance” video – but Squier is convinced that it destroyed him almost overnight.

I’m in the middle of two oral histories right now – I Want My MTV: The Uncensored Story of the Music Video Revolution and R.E.M. : Talk About the Passion : An Oral History. I Want My MTV is HUGE, so I’m keeping it at home and reading it at night while I drag smaller books around with me. The MTV was one I was looking so forward to, and it’s good, but I find myself slowing down to hit the red lights and get a chance to read a page or two from the R.E.M. book. I’m not learning anything groundbreaking about the band, but it’s making me think a lot about what it feels like when your band becomes everybody’s band.

I’m old enough now that if I’ve heard of a band, there’s a certain level of popularity assumed, but it used to feel like a record was a present. There were the bands that were on the radio all the time and everyone owned them, but the bands you had to find on your own belonged to you and you didn’t really want them to get to stadium level popularity. I saw R.E.M. move from Bronco Bowl to stadiums, but I never saw them in a tiny club, so, while I had the early albums and loved them dearly, I wasn’t part of the first wave. I do remember the audience switch when “The One I Love” hit big and I do remember getting really frustrated at the sorority girls linking arms and singing lustily to “Eat for Two” by 10,000 Maniacs because they thought it was a love song. That still bugs me, actually, now that I think about it. Idiots.

I’m still reading both the books, but I’ll let you know if I get to anything earthshaking (And your feet are shaking ‘cause the earth is shaking). I’ll give them both a preliminary thumbs up for now.

Saturday, February 11, 2012


It’s not often that my books have songs for titles, but Alissa Grosso’s Popular saved me a step. And I’m just now noticing the author’s name, but I’m going to bet that Grosso was not the best name to survive high school with. Anyway, Grosso’s book features Hamilton Best, teen queen extraordinaire, and her clique, Olivia, Shelly, Nordica and Zelda. The story of senior year plays out in alternating chapters, each presented by a different member of the group, with the final chapters featuring Alex, Hamilton’s boyfriend.

There’s twists in them there chapters and I don’t want to ruin the shock for you, so it’s difficult to talk much about the book. But, on the other hand, I don’t really want to recommend that you read the book. Without the twist, Popular is a pretty shallow story about the fears of leaving the safety of high school and moving into the unknowns of college and adulthood. I have to admire Grosso’s imagination, though. I don’t think I’ve ever seen this particular plot in a Young Adult novel before.

Oh, whatever. 


There’s no clique. Hamilton Best has multiple personalities and all the girls are really her. Which I should have known because the girls had such stupid names. Nordica Freemingle. Uh-huh. Alex is so excited to be dating the prettiest girl in school that he’s driving himself insane trying to protect Hamilton’s secret. He doesn’t need to bother at all, though, because the entire school is so besotted with Hamilton that they don’t even care that she frequently eats lunch completely alone at a large table, argues with herself out loud, or switches personalities in the blink of an eye. Apparently, once you’re popular, you’re popular forever. I’ll be sure and tell Cabbage Patch Dolls and Leif Garrett.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Secret Lovers

In case you missed it last time, I’m going to direct you once again to Old Love. I don’t have anything to do with it, which is a real shame. I follow it like it’s my night job, so it would be lovely if I got a kick-back. Did you know that Tori Spelling and Julian Lennon dated? That kills me. And this week there has been a mighty series of Rod Stewart/Britt Ekland shots where Rod is wearing an orange and grey tankini. He has a matching tank top and bikini bottom/speedo thing and there is nothing now that I don’t know about Rod Stewart’s anatomy. Oh, and on January 30th? There’s a shot of Diane Lane and Christopher Atkins and they both have the most odd, sweaty, painful looking camel-toes I have ever seen.

I have been doing more than staring at the crotches of celebrities this week, of course. (Don’t act so self-righteous. I know you just spent 10 minutes trying to figure out the deal with Christopher Atkins pants, too.) I might have maybe read a book or two. The only problem is that they weren’t very memorable. I usually read three or four books for every one I talk about here, but I’ve either hit a chunk of duds or I’m too busy to give them the thought and attention they so richly deserve. When something deserves the benefit of the doubt, it’s certainly more likely to be me than a lifeless lump of paper, so let’s just say that several authors wasted months of their lives and I am just fine. Let’s all just go back to looking at photos of Liza Minnelli & Mikhail Baryshnikov, shall we? We’ll try this book review thing again a little later in the week.

Saturday, February 4, 2012


Yipes! To my whole week, yipes! My house was broken into this week and my computer was stolen. The cats and I are fine and the burglar(s) was very considerate with very little taken and very little damage. Then my boss took me out for a belated birthday lunch and I got food poisoning. Does that seem like a kind thing to have happened? I’m watching over my shoulder for the 3rd thing to hit and hoping it’s gentle.

In the not gentle category, I got around to the second book in the Chaos Walking series, The Ask and the Answer. I complained about the cliffhanger ending for the first book, but Ness earned it in this one. By the time I finally started it, the book was due back to the library in a couple of days, so I thought I’d start it and see if it was worth renewing. I think I finished it in a few straight hours and would have loved to have the third, Monsters of Men, on hand to keep reading.

If you’ve forgotten the first one, The Knife of Never Letting Go Todd lives in a place where there are no women and everyone’s thoughts are audible. He’s the only boy left who hasn’t gone through a ritual to become a man and his guardians are determined to get him out of the village before that day comes. He meets a girl in the forest, a survivor from a spaceship sent to scout the area for colonization, and they set off together to save both of their lives. They’re trying to reach a town that might not even be real, but it’s their only hope of safety.

Todd (who still speaks phonetically and that still bugs me, but much less this round) and Viola are prisoners of the place they hoped would be safe haven. Todd is held in a bell tower by the Mayor of his former hometown, who wants him to join in the new regime. Viola is across town in a healer house, with no way to contact Todd or the ships bringing more of her people to the area. Forced into opposite sides of the battle for control, they never lose their connection to each other, even when their faith is shaken. The world of The Ask and The Answer is in constant flux, where allies and enemies aren’t and nobody can be completely trusted. Everyone has an agenda, including Todd and Viola, and the only way to win is to risk everything.

That last part sounded so much like the back blurb for a romance novel that I made myself laugh. I’ve noticed that when I like a book, I turn all earnest reviewer. “You simply must read it, Edith. It’s a thrill-a-minute joy-ride with real-world consequences.” So go to it, Edith. Start reading.

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Lone Star State of Mind

I read a book this week about a girl moving to Texas from New York, but it was utterly forgettable, so I’m going to introduce you to the New Yorker- transplants-to-Texas book that remains the gold standard. I think I read Never Love a Cowboy in middle school, but I buy every copy I come across in used book stores and pass them out to friends. The author went on to write two more Sweet Dreams books, but then apparently went out of the book writing business. I like to think it’s because she finally visited Texas and died of shame.

Bear in mind that this book is set in Austin. In the 1980’s. Austin has always been a different part of Texas, less Western stereotypical than any other city, but our author likes to imagine a slightly different Austin. Bitsy moves from New York (really Brooklyn, but I’m thinking Ms. DuKore perhaps has never visited there, either, since she seems to imply that it’s downtown Manhattan) to Austin, Texas. She’s walking to school on her first day, down the street that leads directly to the University of Texas campus, and she hears a boy on a horse behind her on the street. A boy on a horse in the middle of the street near the U.T. campus, now. His name is Billy Joe Bridges (of course it is) and he’s dating teen queen Betty Lou Bender (of course he is). He knows that Bitsy is from New York and transferring to their school, as does everyone else at the high school. The hundreds of students are all waiting impatiently to catch a glimpse of the girl from the city.

They get their chance to see her up close and personal during lunch where they serve grits and black-eyed peas and collard greens, leading to the immortal line “Bitsy munched on a collard green and pondered her next move.” Yes, and then after school they ride the horse to the nearby drive-thru where they eat chiliburgers and tacoburgers. I’m going to just stop italicizing for emphasis, because it would be a stream of italics from here to the local tacoburger stand. There’s a rodeo, and all the music available is country-western, and Bitsy (who sang with a “punk-rock” band in New York, adding to the concepts our author has only heard about third-hand), sings a song, leading the bar owner (a Mr. Gonzales, so it’s totally not racist) to worry that the other patrons would riot at the idea of a cute girl “like Bitsy singing about her Latino boyfriend.” The song was called (wait for it), “Where’s My Tex-Mex Sweetheart?”

This may be the best book ever written about Texas. My dad collects Texana, and I’ve tried to get him to add it to his collection several times, but he just doesn’t recognize genius. I always wanted to invite the author to Austin when I lived there, meet her at the airport with a horse and watch her try and cross I 35 in search of a drive-thru grits stand.  I’m down to one copy, but keep your eyes peeled for this one in the used book stores – it’s worth every penny.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012


You guys, I know it’s a book about teenagers with cancer. I want you to read it anyway. It’s not sappy. It’s biting and funny and sarcastic and real in a way I don’t think I’ve read before, certainly not in Young Adult and absolutely not when referring to kids with deadly diseases. John Green’s The Fault in Our Stars is simply outstanding.

I had high hopes for this one, loving Paper Towns and An Abundance of Katherines as much as I did, but I was surprised at how good it was. I didn’t see myself in the characters at all, Hazel, Augustus, and Isaac are braver and more honest than I think I would ever be, but I did love them. Prickly Hazel, determined not to get close to people and cause them more pain when she’s gone. Augustus, charismatic and and thoughtful, but not a paper saint. And Isaac, their witness, who should have been a supporting character, but who felt so much more important than that.

Hazel’s favorite book (and a major plot point) ends in the middle of a sentence. Hazel tells herself that she’s come to terms with the book just stopping, to represent the end of the narrator's viewpoint, but she’s obsessed with knowing the postscript. She wants to know what happens to the other characters in the story. Hazel is convinced that the author has imagined their future, refusing the concept that characters cease to exist when a story end. I’m a big believer that characters live past their creation and enough authors like Larry McMurtry have talked about past characters coming back to haunt them until they finished the story that I would place bets that John Green knows exactly what happens to each of his creations.

I said I don’t see myself in these characters, but there’s an early passage that is completely me. Augustus is driving Hazel for the first time and he hits the gas too hard and brakes too suddenly. He tells her the story of his driving test.

Sorry. I swear to God I am trying to be gentle. Right, so anyway at the end of the test, I totally thought I’d failed again, but the instructor was like, “Your driving is unpleasant, but it isn’t technically unsafe.”

I think I’ve heard that before.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Over There

One of the things I really love about Goodreads is that I see reviews for so many genres of books. My friends all have very different tastes, so the books they read and review are dramatically different, too. (Help! I’ve Married a Demon! meets Man Booker prize winner The Sense of an Ending. You know who you people are.) I’ve been convinced to try a few books that I never would have picked up on my own. You want to know how else to get me to try a book I might not have chosen otherwise? Have a contest and give it away.

There’s a giveaways section on Goodreads where you can win free books. It’s awesome. There are hundreds of book available, but usually there are two copies and two thousand people requesting it. (Totally not kidding.) I’m really picky with what I enter and I don’t ask for any book I don’t genuinely want to read, even though it’s tempting to ask for every book available. All you have to do is click a couple of buttons to enter, but I think it would be great if you could enter a twitter length argument for why you deserved the book most. Ooh, or a haiku!*

I know that the quid pro quo is that the sponsor would like a positive review, even though they are very careful to let you know that no review is required. I’m not sure what the best method is when you receive an advance copy and you absolutely hate it. Some people review it negatively, while others chose not to review it at all.

The nice thing is that I don’t have to worry about that issue, because the book I won was Mr. Churchill's Secretary: A Novel and I really liked it. It’s set during the beginning years of WWI, before America enters the war, and Maggie Hope enters the secretarial pool for Winston Churchill, Prime Minister of Great Britain. Maggie has a brilliant mind for mathematics and is frustrated at being part of the clerical staff when she could support the war efforts better through code-breaking, but there are lots of secrets being kept from her. It’s a fast-paced mystery/spy novel, but it’s an equally compelling historical account.

It’s a beautifully researched novel, with details of WWI in London and snatches of Churchill’s most stirring speeches. The author’s respect and fondness for Churchill shine brightly and his brief forays into the story are special. The story focuses on Maggie, but her group of friends and flat mates are interesting enough that I’d love to see the same time period and events seen through each of their viewpoints. If MacNeil wrote those books as engagingly as Mr. Churchill’s Secretary, I would read each and recommend it as highly as I do this one.


*My Haiku
Tired man puffs cigar
War has come in the winter
Give me a free book

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Baby, Baby, Oh.

One of the books I was so happy to get from my wishlist was Ten Things We Did (and Probably Shouldn't Have). I don’t know if you guys do this or not, but I’ll see a book cover or read a blurb and get all excited about a book. Then, I finally get my hands on the book and I’m all, What? What was I thinking?

The cover guy looks like Justin Bieber and the plot is a mish-mash of Y.A. talking points. Parents who want to be your friend instead of a parent? Pressure to have sex? Bulimia/Exercise addiction? STD? Teen alcohol abuse? Oh, baby, it’s in there. Along with a dozen other clichés.

I don’t know what an author does that makes you care about a character. (If I did, I’d have the biggest mansion on writer’s row!) I’m a fan of characters with a viewpoint, even if it’s dramatically opposed to my own. Does a relatively blank character (like Bella in Twilight, sorry Gina) allow girls to put themselves into the story? If she’s not different from me, by being too much of anything, then maybe I’ll feel like she’s similar to me? April is a pretty blank slate, so maybe this book will be a runaway hit. I liked several of Sarah Mlynowski’s earlier books, but this one was a bust for me.

On the plus side, my stock pile has a whole bunch of Katie Fforde books in it, so I’m working my way through them. I just finished Living Dangerously and liked it a lot. Katie Fforde is like Meg Cabot, Anne Rivers Siddons, and Mauve Binchy for me. If they write a manual about auto repair, I will buy it, I will read it, and I give it 5 stars on Goodreads.

Saturday, January 14, 2012


I’m old enough that I should be ashamed to admit that my favorite book of the week is The Ghost and the Goth, but I obviously have no shame. Teen Queen Alona Dare gets hit by a bus and dies, wearing, to her great mortification, her P.E. uniform. Waking up day after day in the spot where she died, Alona is confused and mad. Self-centered at the best of times, this is not the best time for her, and Alona wants to know why she’s stuck in this place wearing these clothes. And why is her best friend kissing Alona’s boyfriend.

Will Killian (he’s not really a goth – his sweatshirt is navy) makes the mistake of reacting to Alona one day, letting her (and the dozens of other spirits populating the school) know that he can see ghosts. Alona c0-opts Will, using him to help her get out of limbo, but Will has his own problems. His “talent” to see ghosts has led everyone to assume he’s mentally ill and he’s one step away from a mental hospital. His principal is a jerk, his mom is secretly dating his shrink, and the ghosts are getting more demanding.

I love that Alona softens only in degrees, and very small degrees at that. Positive energy is a key to staying viable for ghosts, so making pictures of you fall off the wall to interrupt your cheating boyfriend and former best friend makes you fade fast. You know, if you were inclined to do stuff like that. Watching Alona dig deep to find a sincere compliment she can use to add to the positive energy is great – She finally manages to tell Will his teeth are nice.

I love that she’s tough and he’s fragile - It’s a nice twist on the teen book norm. Go read it. It won’t change your life, but it’s a fun afternoon.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Gimme Gimme

I never get to have a book stockpile. I read fast and I’m way too cheap to spend much on books that only take a day to read. I get a chunk of my books from the library, but they only belong to me for two weeks, so I read them as fast as possible. And the thing about library books is that for every ten books you check out, maybe one or two are books you really long to read. I’m glad to have quantity, but the new releases are few and far between. So, anyway, Amazon had a sale. Barnes & Noble had sales. I got gift cards. I haz stockpile.

It almost makes me giddy, to have two dozen unread books on the shelf (and the Kindle!). I don’t know what I did to please the Barnes & Noble gods, but they sent me coupons this year for 50% off one book (Yay, I Want My MTV: The Uncensored Story of the Music Video Revolution), then 50% off any teen book (Will Grayson, Will Grayson), then 50% off unlimited teen books (these four, plus three more!).

It seems weird to pimp Amazon links for books that Barnes & Noble was kind enough to discount for me, but Amazon has an associates program that I’m part of. I get a few pennies for each link you guys hit through to Amazon, if you buy something. The best part is that what you buy doesn’t even have to be what I recommended for me to get credit, so I’d love it if you’d all go to Amazon through my site and let me keep the stockpile going. It makes me feel dirty rich!

This is just an aside, but you guys need to check this out – It’s called Old Love and it’s photos of famous people who used to date. I’m in deep love with it right now. There are couples I had completely forgotten about, striking a mortal blow to my reputation as pop culture maven, and some people who dated around a lot (Samantha Mathis, I’m looking at you, trampy.)

Saturday, January 7, 2012


Okay, I’m usually not too sad that I don’t have any kids of my own. I have lovely nieces and a nephew and I get to cuddle babies for an hour each week and that’s usually plenty for me. I get out before the back-talk and clean-your-room yelling has to start. I read a book this week that made me want to snatch up the next surly teen boy I saw on the street and take him home with me to coddle forever.

Gary D. Schmidt’s Okay for Now is one of the best books I’ve read in years. Doug Swieteck moves to a new town with his kind-hearted, but defeated mother, drunken, violent father, one delinquent brother gone off to fight in Vietnam and another busy living up to everyone’s low opinion of his future. Doug weaves himself into the landscape of the town, finding allies and enemies and mostly turning his enemies into allies despite himself.

You want your heart broken? Doug gets an autographed cap from a Yankees player named Joe Pepitone. (And a testament to the power of this book is that I now know who Joe Pepitone is. And I love him. Even if he did pose naked for a magazine called Foxy Lady and (this is my favorite)pretend to be injured all the time when he was playing in Japan, only to then show up dancing every night in discotheques, leading to his name becoming slang in Japan for “goof off.”) Anyway, Doug gets a signed cap from Pepitone and his brother steals it from him and it gets ruined.

But once, it was the only thing I ever owned that hadn’t belonged to some other Swieteck before me.

Doug’s brother is questioned in the break-in of a local store and most of Doug’s burgeoning friends and allies withdraw their kindnesses, assuming that he must be like the rest of his family.

Doug Swieteck,” Mr. Ferris said, “do you know the basic principle of physical science?” A trick? “No,” I said, sort of slow. He rocked Clarence. “The basic principle of physical science is this: two bodies cannot occupy the same space at the same time. Do you understand that?” “I think so,” I said. “Do you understand what that principle means? I shook my head. “It means, Doug Swieteck, that in this class, you are not your brother.”

I cried more at this book than I have in a while. I sobbed – ugly sobbed – more than once. Your heart breaks for this boy over and over again, but it’s a very, very funny book, too. Schmidt has a marvelous turn of phrase and sense of hyperbole that he gives almost entirely to writing Doug’s inner monologues. Doug gets a part in a play where he has to scream offstage like a madwoman,

I’m not lying. I got good at this. If you had heard me shrieking, you would have thought someone was being murdered too. It was so eerie, you might have thought that someone who had been murdered was shrieking. You might even have thought that someone who had been murdered had come back and was murdering the murderer, who was shrieking. That’s how good I was.

And then it’s time for the performance and guess who shows up for the play? (Here’s a hint – He’s foxy!)

And you know what I was going to do? I was going to shriek like an insane woman who has been locked in an attic for a great many years.

In front of Joe Pepitone.

You know what that feels like?

You can’t know what that feels like, because no one has ever had to shriek like an insane woman who has been locked in an attic for a great many years in front of Joe Pepitone.

Go read this book! Run fast to get it. Run fast like Joe Pepitone running to the Japanese discotheques!


*The title fit too well not to use, but if you people knew how much I hate Fogerty & CCR…Shudder

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

This Year’s Girl

I wish Mindy Kaling was my friend and we could talk on the phone all the time. Mindy is writer, director, and actor (Kelly Kapoor) on The Office and she’s written a terrific book, Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? (And Other Concerns). It’s as funny and cute and likeable as Mindy seems to be, herself. It’s not pure fluff, there’s a deep seriousness that shows up whenever good comedians talk about the business of being funny, but it is light. I could quote from it all night, and probably will be chasing people down to “listen to this one thing” for a while, but this may have been my favorite -

Another old saying is that revenge is a dish best served cold. But it feels best served piping hot, straight out of the oven of outrage. My opinion? Take care of revenge right away. Push, shove, scratch that person while they’re still within arm’s reach. Don’t let them get away! Who knows when you’ll get this opportunity again?

Certain comics come up in Kaling’s stories, like Tina Fey, Kristen Wiig, and Amy Poehler. I like almost everything Tina Fey has done, (including not being totally ashamed that I saw Baby Mama in a theater), but I’ve never gotten any sense of how she is as a day-to-day real person, even after reading Bossypants. I have, for some reason, zero interest in Kristen Wiig. I don’t know why she doesn’t stick with me – I don’t dislike her work or anything. Something just occurred to me that is probably fightin’ words to Kristen Wiig. I think everything she can do, Christina Applegate can do better, so we don’t need her. She’s Christina Applegate light. But Amy Poehler. I don’t know if Kaling’s stories made me like Amy Poehler more than I already did, because she’s pretty high on my girl-crush list, but I would stand in line to read her autobiography. While you’re waiting for that book to come out, though, grab Is Everyone Hanging Out With Me? It’s a good read and, like Mindy says -

This book will take you two days to read. Did you even see the cover? It’s mostly pink. If you’re reading this book every night for months, something is not right.