Tuesday, May 26, 2009

"The Sky Always Hears Me and the Hills Don't Mind" - Kirstin Cronn-Mills


Young adult fiction has found a new, kick-ass voice.

Morgan lives in "Central Nowhere," Nebraska, writing fortune cookie slogans in her head while stocking shelves at the local grocery store. She is furious with her family, annoyed with her boyfriend, and indifferent to "the Girls I Sit By At Lunch." Morgan wants out of there, wants it so desperately that sometimes she has to drive to the hills bordering the edge of a valley and scream, "[...]ALIENS TAKE ME NOW, 15 times, shouted into the air. Then I AM INSANE and DIE ASSHOLE DIE and BITE ME, but only five times each."

Morgan is also frustrated because Tessa, her neighbor, kissed her in a hammock, and Morgan liked it. But Central Nowhere is the last place where alternate sexualities are tolerated, so Morgan stays with Derek, the dumb jock, lusts after Rob, the assistant manager at work, and worries about her connections to Tessa, as well as her own sexuality.

I haven't been this excited about a book for teens since Judy Blume's "Forever," and I still have a copy of that with red ink circling my favorite parts. Morgan is quite different from Katherine, though; one time, she screams, "I am a secret sex fiend!" and her fortunes advise against having sex in the front seat of a car. Morgan's voice is the driving force of this novel in a genre where teenage girls are praised for their timidness or silence (yes, Bella, I am talking to you).

Cronn-Mills creates characters of substance, from Tessa and her Kool-Aid tinted hair to Morgan's grandmother and her closet filled with special organ-playing shoes. But it is the dialogue that hit me, especially when I was at the grocery store recently and heard a teen girl say, "He's not into you? No, all he wants is to get into you." I thought I found Morgan in the pickle aisle. Her voice resonates long after you turn the last page.

4.75 out of 5.0 Skittles.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Judith Rossner/LOOKING FOR MR. GOODBAR

Oh God. I didn't want to write a review of this—it's not even on my list of PFITG books, but . . . this was a powerful novel, even if you cut out all the sex. When reading it I was torn between putting it down because it was so depressing and not being able to put it down because it was so well-written. 

I really hadn't heard much about this book before picking it up at a thrift store. I vaguely remembered hearing it was pretty sexy, but I mostly I remembered the title and since it was only a buck, I picked it up (heh—no pun intended, given the content). Also, I was drawn by the prologue, in which a recount of a murderer's confession in which he was convinced anybody would do the same in his situation. 

The book is about the murder of Theresa Dunn, a teacher in her late twenties who goes out at night to bars and picks up men. Theresa's brother, Thomas, died when she was young right around the time she got polio. She hid the pain from her parents out of guilt and fear, and by the time she was treated she had a curvature of the spine, for which she had to have an operation. The operation leaves her with both a limp and a scar. 

As a young woman she falls in love with one of her professors, but after a lengthy affair he sends her away. He's the first in a series of bad relationships—actually it's no relationships, as Theresa gets into the habit of going out to bars and picking up strangers to bring them home. The only relationship she manages to develop is with James, a kind man who loves her despite her faults. 

Rossner is a first-rate writer, to be sure. At times the material felt cloying; yet I found it difficult to put it down. Obviously as a reader you know Theresa was murdered at the beginning of the story (it says so), but the story is really about Theresa and how she develops—or doesn't develop—throughout her life. Also, I have to admit it felt cloying because I identified so strongly with Theresa in terms of how she felt, and her realization just before the end that her childhood experiences have cast an immeasurable pall on her adulthood made her death feel all the more tragic; it felt like she was just on the cusp of something better. I doubt she would have turned over a new leaf the morning after her last lover (the man who killed her), but given time, I think she could have grown to like herself. 

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Marlon James/THE BOOK OF NIGHT WOMEN


In 1799, Lilith is a pretty 15-year-old mulatto slave at the Jamaican plantation Montpelier who has somehow managed to avoid being sent to work in the cane fields. Then, in one violent episode, Lilith is suddenly inducted into the darkest aspects of slave life, and begins to tap into her own darkness. The head house slave, a white-haired African-born woman named Homer, takes Lilith under her wing, and it is through Homer Lilith meets the other five night women who are planning the biggest slave rebellion in Jamaican history.

The Book of Night Women is an extraordinary read, but not an easy one. Marlon James is unsparing in the most gruesome details of plantation life, and there is no character, black or white, whose hand are not bloody by the end of the book. Honestly I would not recommend this book for the faint of heart, but I would recommend it to everyone else. I would also recommend you allow yourself time to read it so you can get lost in the language; James has written the book in spellbinding vernacular, and it's very difficult to read without hearing each word in your head quite deliberately.

Lilith herself is an often unlikable guide into James's vividly rendered world. She's violent and, while occasionally remorseful, capable of unspeakable things. Nevertheless the reader identifies with her with harrowing closeness. James follows Lilith through about two years of her life, from the time she learns she is the heartless overseer's daughter through her move to the big house, thought her first major mistake, the first scars on her back, and her "seasoning" at the hands of the young master's sadistic lady friend and her family. In between, Lilith sees the inhuman ways slaves lash out at one another as well as the horrific abuses inflicted by white people of every position. As Lilith watches herself develop deep feelings for her first tormentor, the lines between "good" and "bad" are broken down irreparably.

There's an argument to be made that reading good fiction on a historical subject is more valuable than reading a nonfiction book on the same subject, and The Book of Night Women is historical fiction at its most powerful and resonant. James offers a grim but fresh portrayal of Caribbean slavery, but he also creates a cast of characters so alive and nuanced that the book is also a riveting fiction experience for the reader. In the process, James poses the deepest psychological questions about loyalty, parenthood, sexuality, identity, and the many forms of human dependency.

An extraordinary and powerful novel, impossible to put down.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

The Winner Stands Alone- Paulo Coelho

The Winner Stands Alone: A Novel The Winner Stands Alone: A Novel by Paulo Coelho

My review


rating: 3 of 5 stars
I list Paulo Coelho as one of my favorite authors, and I love a number of his books. While I liked this one, it definitely wasn't my favorite. That being said, I also think a lot of people just won't get it.

The Winner Stands Alone follows a number of characters through twenty-four hours at the Cannes Film Festival. Igor is a powerful Russian entrepreneur who goes to the festival to get back his wife Ewa, who left him. He is trying to catch her attention by destroying worlds. We follow a variety of characters: Igor, a notorious film distributer, an aspiring actress, model on the rise, and an unknown film director. Igor believes that his mission is one that must be carried out at any cost. I won't say a whole lot more about the plot, as I don't want to spoil it for anyone who would like to read this book.

I do think that Coelho paints an interesting picture of this world of excess. No one is happy in this novel, regardless of how famous they are or how much money they have. He illustrated the fleeting quality of life and I believe, tries to acknowledge what really should matter--not money and fame, but love and people. I think I'll read this book again in a few months and try to think about it more. While I did like it, I don't know if many people will. The vast majority of society clings to the idea that if we just had a little more money, or were famous, or more beautiful, then everything would be all right. Not so, says Coelho and while I believe this is an important message, I'm not sure that the world is ready to hear it, nor am I really sure that is what he intended, it's just my own interpretation.

At any rate, I would definitely recommend this book. It was a good read, and was structured in an interesting way. As a writer, I really appreciated the structure and his interesting points of view. It definitely read quickly, but like I said, I think I will read it again to delve into the deeper meaning.

View all my reviews.

Friday, May 8, 2009

A.A. Milne/THE RED HOUSE MYSTERY

Before he wrote Winnie the Pooh for his son, A.A. Milne wrote The Red House Mystery for his father. It is a typical country house mystery, complete with stereotypical characters including an amateur gentleman detective, Anthony Gillingham . Anthony is on his way to visit his friend, Bill Beverly at the title house. He arrives in time to discover a dead body. The police quickly come to their own conclusions. However Anthony is not yet convinced and persuades Bill to play Watson to his Holmes.

The book is largely cerebral, but not intellectual. The who dunnit is very straightforward. The motive somewhat more mysterious. There are no car chases, or long drawn out fight sequences rather most of the action occurs in Anthony’s mind. The reader is privy to his thought processes throughout the book. I quite enjoyed this aspect.

The Red House Mystery is a cheeky little mystery, never taking itself seriously. The narrative flows easily and there is hardly a mention of a bear, a donkey, or a piglet. It is a splendid way to pass a lazy afternoon.

Edmund Crispin/THE MOVING TOYSHOP

In the early hours of the morning a young poet, recently arrived in Oxford seeking adventure, stumbles into a toy shop to find a body occupying the upper flat. When he returns to the scene with the police, he finds not only has the body disappeared, the toy shop is now a grocery. He relates his adventure to his friend and mystery hunter Gervase Fen. What follows is a whimsical locked room type mystery full of literary allusions and witty dialogue. Fen is a likable, eccentric Don who recruits his bawdy students to aid him in his pursuit to solve the mystery. (One would not be at all surprised if Bertie Wooster wandered through at some point).

The Moving Toyshop, published in 1946, is a golden age British murder mystery; it is slightly dated. Perhaps it relies too much upon coincidence. I don't find this to be problematic as most mysteries rely on coincidence, implausible use of technology, or an almost supernatural intelligence. Overall it is a fast paced, easy, entertaining read. I enjoyed it immensely, but if British cozy mysteries with a pre-WWII atmosphere are not your thing, then possibly you should pass this one by.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

"The Weight of Heaven" - Thrity Umrigar


After the death of their son, Frank and Ellie move to India to escape. Frank works as the head of a company, HerbalSolutions, which uses local trees for a diabetes medication. The trees were used by the natives, as well, but the new restrictions cause havoc between boss and workers.

Meanwhile, Frank yearns for his lost son and tries to fill the gap with Ramesh, the bright, ambitious son of their housekeepers. This hurts his father, who wants only the best for his son, as long as it is true to India.

This is a wrenching read. I thought of heaven as light, airless, but the grief - which Umrigar expresses with metaphors and beautiful imagery - the grief, the grief, oh, how it hurts the chest and heart to imagine.

4.25 out of 5.0 Gin and Tonics.

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Christianity Tody International/FAITH AND POP CULTURE


Eight articles from the magazine Christianity Today are presented along with questions to prompt group discussion about the intersection of Christian faith and pop culture. Some of the ideas will be familiar to twenty-somethings who've already been immersed in idea of maintaining a faith that is relevant to modern culture. For example, some of the articles discuss how religious themes can be found in films and TV shows.

However, there is so much material for discussion that readers are bound to find something new. Some of the ideas that I found interesting: playing sports is a way of honoring the Sabbath, ministering to Hollywood is more helpful than condemning it, entertainment doesn't have to be an end to itself but a vehicle for uplifting one's spirit, and an excess of entertainment can be over-stimulating.

Bible verses are applied to each discussion, but these aren't really Bible studies. Enough questions are provided to sustain in-depth discussions. The suggested group activities are fun too--like watching a scene from an inspiring sports movie or guessing what each group member might write a book about.

View the product page at the publisher's website.