Showing posts with label memoir. Show all posts
Showing posts with label memoir. Show all posts

17 July 2016

Cheer Up Love


First read about Susan Calman's Cheer Up Love in Sarah Millican's no bullshit women's magazine Standard Issue (if you're not reading it, you should be) and it sounded brilliant. As there was no way I was going to wait for the American edition to come out in October (love of god, international publishing complex, get it together), I clicked over to Book Depository and had a copy in my hot little hands the following week. Hooray.

And Cheer Up Love was so very good. Uplifting. Poignant. Bittersweet. Heartwarming. Silly. Serious. So comfortingly honest about anxiety and depression. Also, there's bingo and Marlene Dietrich. If you're not familiar with Calman, she's an ex-corporate lawyer turned comedian who's appeared on a bunch of BBC Radio and Channel 4 shows. I know her best from bootleg episodes of British comedy quiz shows like 8 Out of 10 Cats, QI, and Would I Lie to You? where she adds a certain je ne sais quoi. 41, petite, Glaswegian, funny as hell, with excellent dress sense (Marlene Dietrich, natch) and two disinterested cats ... she's the kind of woman I'd love to be friends with. Yes, so maybe I have a little crush? It's perfectly understandable if you read the book.

Cheer Up Love: Adventures in Depression with the Crab of Hate by Susan Calman (Two Roads, 2016))

02 February 2014

A Bag of Marbles


Maurice and Joseph's father fled Russia as a boy, ultimately ending up Paris were he was quickly assimilated and became a true Frenchman. He married a girl from similar circumstances and, in time, their family grew and prospered ... but now it's 1941 and the Nazis occupy Paris. There are yellow stars on school jackets and placards in Jewish shopfronts and, yes, it's time to run. The family splits up -- Maurice and Jo will go ahead to join their brothers in Vichy France, the southern free zone, while their parents follow along behind.

Armed with 5,000₣ and their wits, the boys are sent on the dangerous journey. They occasionally make bad choices, but find help in unexpected places from all sorts of people. The kindness of strangers adds a little sweetness to this book, making it much less depressing than it could have been. However, each encounter seems too brief and it's sometimes hard to feel the emotional intensity which much surely have charged much of their travels. Indeed, it frequently feels in some places as if I am reading the summation of an event rather than actually in it at that moment in time. I never feel I am with the boys.

I don't know if this is a fault in translation or simply due to the slimness of the work as the original text is 200-ish pages long. I don't think Bailly's watercolor illustrations are at fault. They're very detailed and expressive, clearly imparting the emotions experienced in any given scene. I just didn't feel them.


A Bag of Marbles: The Graphic Novel by Joseph Joffo & Vincent Bailly (Graphic Universe, 2013)



28 September 2011

Day 23: Book You Tell People You’ve Read, But Haven’t (Or Haven’t Actually Finished)


It was, of course, a miserable childhood: the happy childhood is hardly worth your while. Worse than the ordinarymiserable childhood is the miserable Irish childhood, and worse yet is the miserable Irish Catholic childhood.

People everywhere brag and whimper about the woes of their early years, but nothing can compare with the Irish version: the poverty; the shiftless loquacious father; the pious defeated mother moaning by the fire; pompous priests; bullying school masters; the English and the terrible things they did to us for eight hundred long years. 

Above all -- we were wet.

I never actually finished reading Frank McCourt's Angela’s Ashes even though I told a few people I worked with that I had. I didn’t like Angela’s Ashes all that much – just wasn’t my cup of tea – but I told my coworkers I had read it and found it good, because I didn’t want to hear them go on and on about how Angela’s Ashes was The Best Book Ever Written and how Everyone Loves It and how I must be reading it wrong if I didn’t like it. Easier to lie than to face their censure!

22 September 2010

Put On Your Crown: Life-Changing Moments on the Path to Queendom by Queen Latifah


I admit I have a serious crush on Queen Latifah. Such beautiful, savvy woman who carries herself with such grace, style, and evident self-worth -- she's one of the few celebrities I would actually like to meet. Obviously, I was please to borrow her latest book, Put On Your Crown, from my library system.

In Put On Your Crown, Latifah uses significant moments from her life -- her brother's sudden death, going bankrupt, body issues, etc -- as lessons her readers can use to become strong, confident women. Latifah is never preachy, but maintains an honest, sisterly tone as if she were simply making conversation with friends.

I think, if you're looking for a book that will "fix" you, then Put On Your Crown will be a bit of a disappointment as Latifah never explicitly says "this is how you become a Queen." But, if you want to read about how a strong woman coped with hardship and staid true to herself, then this book will probably appeal.

Quotes I found particularly inspiring (ymmv):

The point is to be healthy, feel good in your own skin, and play up your best assets. Whether you’re short or tall, thick or thin, the beauty comes from how you carry yourself, how you care for your appearance, and the inner glow that confidence brings.

We may not have all been born looking like supermodels, but so what? We become beautiful when we do things to take care of ourselves, inside and out. It's not just how how I look, it's about my health and doing things that will let me live longer by keeping down my blood pressure, glucose, and cholesterol.

Put On Your Crown: Life-Changing Moments on the Path to Queendom by Queen Latifah & Samantha Marshall (Grand Central Publishing, 2010)

30 January 2010

Nothing: Something to Believe In by Nica Lalli


I have belief, I just don't have religion.

Nothing is not about making the case against religion from a scientific or logical standpoint -- if you are looking for that type of argument, you would do better reading Richard Dawkins. Instead, Nothing is an extremely personal memoir of being an everyday garden-variety nonbeliever in contemporary America -- we read about Lalli's early encounters with institutionalized religion, her struggles to define her nonbelief, and her efforts to defend herself from her rabidly Christian in-laws.

Nothing is a fast and easy read with a nice combination of humorous and cringe-worthy moments, but it's not very deep -- I ended up watching a whole slew of CFI Ontario YouTube videos to get a better grasp of Lalli's beliefs.

Nothing: Something to Believe In by Nica Lalli (Prometheus Books, 2007)

30 May 2009

Swish: My Quest to Become the Gayest Person Ever by Joel Derfner


I had never before seen somebody I admired understand what was expected of him, choose to act otherwise, and be happier for it. For the first time in my life I realized that it was possible to reinvent oneself.

A few weeks ago, I was flipping through some old issues of Publisher's Weekly in a desultory fashion, vaguely hoping something fantastic would jump up and say "read me, woman!" when Swish caught my eye. This essay collection did not get a good review in PW, but the book's title and the review's reference to knitting were enough to have me reaching for an inter-library loan slip. And a good thing, too. Swish turned out to be just the right mix of funny and introspective -- exactly what I needed in my continued recovery from Bad Novel Brain Fog.

Joel Derfner has been celebrating his gayness since he was six years old at summer day camp, and hasn’t stopped since. On the way to becoming The Gayest Person Ever, he has been an aerobics instructor, musical theater composer, go-go dancer, and a member of the gay cheerleading squad. He also knits fabulously. In his essay collection, Swish, he covers everything from his relationship with his mother to "transformational ministry" (ex-gay movement) in a way which is both extremely funny and brutally honest. I recommend this book to everyone -- especially that bits about knitting and the essay on Exodus's transformational ministry.

Swish: My Quest to Become the Gayest Person Ever by Joel Derfner (Broadway Books, 2008)

27 September 2008

Running Out of Letters, Thank God

I've been reading lots of books, but writing about them has felt too much like homework and, like any good student, I like to put my homework off to the last minute. Well, this must be close enough to the last minute. Six reviews racked up and more books on the way ... time to get cracking.

(Can you believe I'm finally nearing the end of this challenge?)
A~Z Reading Challenge “E” Author: Barbara Ehrenreich's This Land is Their Land: Reports from a Divided Nation (Tantor Media, 2008, with Cassandra Campbell as reader).
Do not want. I approached This Land is Their Land with some trepidation. I must admit I had not enjoyed Ehrenreich's Nickel and Dimed when I read it a few years ago. Oh, I saw her point and agreed with it, but I still found her job experimentation insulting -- probably because, at the time, I had a low-paying dead-end job like those she dabbled with. So why read This Land is Their Land? Because, like Nickel & Dimed, it is one of those books I feel I ought to read and ought to agree with. While I did already agree with many of the points Ehrenreich raised in This Land is Their Land, I found nothing particularly enlightening in repetitive and off-puttingly sarcastic (and I love me some sarcasm) essays. Ehrenreich comes across as bitter and cynical -- which is fine, I can see how the last decade would leave even the most pie-eyed optimist bitter and cynical -- but she offers no solutions to the problems she discusses. It's just one long diatribe. Rather like this review.

A~Z Reading Challenge “K” Author: Robert Kirkman & Tony Moore The Walking Dead, Volume 1: Days Gone Bye (Image Comics, 2004).
Read like a badbadbad pastiche of every zombie film or novel ever made. Trite. Derivative. Sexist. Stupid. Gah. Annoying, because I love me a good post-apocalyptic story and I had heard nothing but good things about this series from Comic Book Guys and, maybe, that was the problem. The series is probably intended for a male audience more receptive to uncomplicated heroes straight out of Marlboro/Budweiser ads.

A~Z Reading Challenge “L” Title: Laughing Without An Accent: Adventures of an Iranian American, At Home and Abroad by Firoozeh Dumas (Random House, 2008).

Laughing Without an Accent is Dumas's follow-up to her memior Funny in Farsi, but I do not think you need to read the first to enjoy the second. Certainly, I did not read Funny in Farsi and yet still thoroughly enjoyed Laughing Without An Accent -- so much so that I followed The Husband around the house, inflicting long passages to him. Apparently, the book is funny even when totally out of context. Not that everything is snorts and chuckles -- Dumas's encounter with Kathryn Kob is quite serious and made me want to weep (as well as inter-library loan Guest of the Revolution). This is an excellent read if you're looking to widen your world view without being made depressed or suicidal. Also, if you enjoyed Dumas's memoirs and now want something a little "heavier," I recommend Azadeh Moaveni's Lipstick Jihad: A Memoir of Growing up Iranian in America and American in Iran.

A~Z Reading Challenge “F” Title: Finding Nouf by Zoë Ferraris (Houghton Mifflin, 2008).
Desert guide Nayir ash Sharqi is hired to find Nouf ash-Shrawi, a sixteen-year-old girl who disappeared into the desert three days before her marriage. Did she run away? Was she abducted? No-one knows. And, when her body is found in a wadi, it looks as if no-one needs to know. The girl is dead. Terrible, but that's the end of it. Nayir, however, cannot let the Shawi girl's death go. Finding Nouf was a well written and well crafted mystery. There were just enough suspicious characters and red herrings to keep me reading along without frustrating me (I do not enjoy mysteries in which anyone could be the murderer and then it turns out to be someone who was only in one scene for two lines). The characters, for the most part, seemed very real to me and, while I have no idea about Ferraris's accuracy, the novel's description of Saudi culture was fascinating. Honestly, I'd love to see Finding Nouf on PBS's Masterpiece Mystery! one day.

A~Z Reading Challenge “V” Title: Venetia by Georgette Heyer (HQN Books, 2006).
Heyer essentially created Regency romance as we know it today and, as I love a good Regency romance, I've often wished to read her novels ... except they looked so dated and icky. Happily, many of her novels are being republished by Harlequin and Sourcebooks Casablanca and the like. In Venetia, the eponymous Miss Lanyon grows up in the country, away from the world with only her lame and scholarly younger brother, Aubrey, for company. All is (mostly) peace and quiet until one their neighbor, wicked Lord Jasper Damerel, returns to his country estate. Venetia sensibly keeps away from him after his initial discourteous treatment of her, but when Damerel takes an injured Aubrey into his home after a from his fall from a horse, she revises her first opinion of the wicked rake and they soon become the fast friends. Will friendship turn to love? Will the wicked rake reform? You will have to discover that for yourself, gentle reader. Overall, I enjoyed this book. Perhaps it helps that she is twenty-five, but Venetia is a very commonsensical and refreshingly forthright Regency heroine. Unlike most contemporary Regency romances, there's no sex in this book and very little kissing yet the the desire and attraction constantly zipping between Venetia and Demerel is never in doubt. Besides doing such a marvellous job creating (and maintaining) that constant air of desire, Heyer also writes quite wittily and creates secondary characters worthy of any Austen novel. I'm not saying that you'll love Heyer if you love Austen, but if you're looking for a non-sexual-but-still-smokin' sparkling romance with a strong heroine, you could do a lot worse than Venetia.

A~Z Reading Challenge “W” Title: The World Without Us by Alan Weisman (Macmillan Audio, 2007, read by Adam Grupper).
You may have heard of as The World Without Us as it has received a fair amount of publicity since its publication. You know, it’s the “ohmygodnopeoples” book. Or, anyway, that’s how I’d been thinking of it. And while, yes, the sudden disappearance of the human race is the launching point for Weisman’s book, that disappearance isn’t the point. It’s what comes after that is the point. And how do we know what will happen after we've done? We don’t, but we can conjecture based on how the world was before we came along. That’s were it all gets interesting --for me, anyway. Drawing on the expertise of engineers, atmospheric scientists, art conservators, zoologists, oil refiners, marine biologists, astrophysicists, paleontologists, and the like, Weisman took me way back when to examine the rise of humans and its impact on the Paleolithic world. Aside from the world before us, Weisman does of course write about the world with us. This is not a good workd. Did you know we're killing everything, outstripping the potential of our environment, and generally behaving like total idiots? While, the ecological doom and gloom message wasn't new it was well intentioned and necessary -- just not my favorite part of the book. Bring on the pre-historic megafauna!

08 June 2008

The Burn Journals by Brent Runyon

In 1991, fourteen-year-old Brent Runyon stood in his shower, drenched his bathrobe in gasoline and set himself on fire. As with his previous suicide attempts, he doesn’t manage kill himself – instead he is left with massive burns over eighty-five percent of his body. His memoir, The Burn Journals recounts the confused events leading up to his suicide attempt and the painful year of recovery which followed.

Fear not, this memoir isn’t a tearjerker. Rather, The Burn Journals is a beautifully funny and compelling book. Funny and compelling, because Runyon doesn’t posture or make himself cooler than he was; he doesn’t skip all the stupid and utterly dorky things he said or did, or all the times he didn't understand his own actions. Runyon doesn’t remember why exactly he set himself on fire and that makes perfect sense to me. How many of us can pin down the exact motivation for past behavior?

My favorite passage:
Every time I open my mouth to say what I’m feeling, something stops me and I have to make sure I’m not going to say anything stupid. It makes me crazy. And then, once I’ve figured out what I’m going to say, I have to go over it, over and over again, just to see if what I’m feeling is right. And then I have to figure out how to say it. Like, if I want to say, I feel sad, do I say, I feel sad, or, I feel so sad, or, Sad I do feel, or what? How about, Feeling sad am I. How about, I’m the saddest boy in the world.
Dear god, this is exactly how I felt from ages fourteen to nineteen.

I should warn you that this memoir contains a lot of strong language and many sexual references. Neither is surprising considering the context of the story and never struck me as offensive. Anyone who has spent time with teenagers (or can remember being one) knows they talk smack and are full of hormonal urges. However, some people have been so outraged by the content of this memoir that it has been challenged in several school districts:
According to John Biesz, "The book has it all – suicide attempts, terrorist ideas, sex, cults, profanity, pornography, violence and drugs. Is this the kind of garbage our kids should be reading?" Biesz asked.


"I believe in freedom of speech," said Susan Biesz. "but we're molding the minds of these young children. Our job is to give them good things, to build their character. If you don't want them to talk and act that way, let's not make them think it's OK to do that."

("School library book - to ban or not to ban" Medford Central Record, 24 Oct 2007)
(Also check out this news piece on WESH Orlando)

More reason to go read it, I think.

A tip of the hat to can I borrow your book? for posting this book on her 342,745 Ways to Herd Cats, OR tl;dr list -- I would not have discovered it otherwise.

The Burn Journals by Brent Runyon (Knopf, 2004)

30 January 2008

Persepolis: The Story of a Childhood by Marjane Satrapi

Marjane Satrapi was on the Colbert Report last night, but Tivo neglected to tell me. However, thanks to the magic of the Internets, I can watch it anytime (and as often) as I like:



In 2003, I read the Persepolis: The Story of a Childhood quite by accident. I'd just finished reading Milton Goes to the Vet by Hayde Ardalan, a French artist who lives in Switzerland. I saw Persepolis on the shelf, thought something like "oh, another French comic!" and never looked back.

Sometimes, impulsive choices are the best ones.

Frequently compared to Maus because of its content and graphic style, the Persopolis series is simply stunning. I grew up knowing very little about the conflict in the Middle East -- either, it wasn't taught in school or I wasn't paying attention, but I don't remember covering the 1979 revolution (I do remember covering the US Civil War every damn year). These books are extremely well-told and fantastically illustrate Iranian history in the late twentieth century. I devoured the books whole and then moved on to everything else Satrapi.

(I only regret reading Chicken with Plums. That was a disappointment, but not a terrible one as it moved me to go make chicken with plums -- a dish I would never have tried otherwise).

31 July 2007

Reads & Listens, July 2007

Reads:

Mansfield Park by Jane Austen
In the end, I still regret Fanny's marriage to Edmund. Yes, her patience and virtue were rewarded with the one man she desired, but what a man to desire! Why do I feel as if Edmund married on the rebound from Miss Crawford and mostly picked Fanny because she was a convenient and appropriate choice for a man of his position?

Girls: Volume 2: Emergence written by Joshua Luna (Art by Jonathan Luna)
The people of Pennystown band together after some truly weird shit goes down one night in their small town. Will they survive the invasion of "girls?" What's going on with the giant sperm? Will the plot progress?

Listens:

Animal, Vegetable, Miracle written and read by Barbara Kingsolver
I loved the descriptions of nature, home-based food production, and food preservation, but Kingsolver's preachy politics (which I agree with!) wore on me. Also, she writes about Americans as if she weren't one and her enthusiastic description of Europe as the source of All Things Good seems awfully simplistic and romanticized (has she never been in a Sainsbury's or Tesco?).

Small Wonder written and read by Barbara Kingsolver
Collection of essays all sort-of encompassed by September 11th. Not all essays are new -- some have been tweaked a bit to contemporize or bring in line with the others -- but all are interesting. Kingsolver has a beautiful reading voice and, even though I was often annoyed by the contents of her essays, I could have listened to her forever.

Wee Free Men by Terry Pratchett (read by Stephen Briggs)
Nac Mac Feegles! Witches! Always a good time.

A Hat Full of Sky by Terry Pratchett (read by Stephen Briggs)
More Nac Mac Feegles! More Witches! Plus Annoying Teen Cliques! And Death! Yippee!

24 March 2007

Second Act: Life After Colostomy and Other Adventures

I've been going through my library's catalog, trying to read as much of the ostomy stuff available because I've been feeling a little out-of-sorts about life with an ostomy lately and I don't really have anyone to talk to who won't try to bolster me with platitudes. Alas, the list of materials isn't very long and quite a chunk of it's outdated.

However, I just finished reading actress Barbara Barrie's Second Act and it's such an encouraging (and entertaining) book. It's a very intimate, honest, and funny look at her experience with colon cancer and colostomy surgery. Some of it's absolutely toe-curlingly terrifying -- the herniated stoma that looked like "a pink penis coming out of a donut," frankly, just make me want to vomit. But Barrie treats it all with a fine dose of humor and spirit which is extremely admirable and practical behavior I shall try to keep in mind the next time my stoma is shooting undigested peas at the bathroom mirror as I try to put on a new faceplate.


Second Act: Life After Colostomy and Other Adventures by Barbara Barrie (Scribner, 1997)

30 January 2007

Reads & Listens, January 2007

Reads:

An Abundance of Katherines by John Green
Rather funny coming of age novel featuring a road trip, hinky math, and too many girls named Katherine.

College of Magics by Caroline Stevermer
A delicious Christmas present from The Husband. Billed as a sequel to A Scholar of Magics, this novel works just fine as a stand-alone novel (and thank god for that as I'd forgotten a lot of what happened in College). Anyway, a good read and recommended for anyone who enjoys genteel alternative History ala The Enchanted Chocolate Pot.

The Foreshadowing by Marcus Sedgewick
Having already lost one brother to the War, seventeen-year-old Alexandra runs away to France to save her brother from the terrible death she foresees for him. Fascinating (and horrifying) amounts of historical detail caused me to devour this book.

London Calling by Edward Bloor
Martin's grandmother dies and he inherits a World War II-era radio which allows him contact with Jimmy, a boy who lived during the War and who desperately needs Martin's help. This is an excellent novel full of history, turmoil, and redemption. I would have loved this book when I was thirteen.

The Female Thing: Dirt, Sex, Envy, Vulnerability by Laura Kipnis
Irreverent and insightful if not quite new or ground-breaking. I wouldn't recommend reading it all at once -- makes the eyes roll -- but it was quite good when taken in pieces.

Fruits Basket: Volume 1 by Natsuki Takaya
Cracktastic. Seriously, I am probably too old to be reading this kind of thing.

Talking With My Mouth Full: Crab Cakes, Bundt Cakes, and Other Kitchen Stories by Bonny Wolf
A dissatisfying little collection of essays. Most of the pieces read like fleshed-out newspaper columns and the recipes did not rock my world the slightest. I mean, the title and cover art where the best parts.

Chicken with Plums by Marjane Satrapi
All I know is, I am desperate to get me some chicken with plums.

My Last Skirt: The Story of Jenny Hodgers, Union Soldier by Lynda Durrant Historic novel about the petticoat soldier, Albert Cashier.
Fascinating, but I could have done without the whole Frank Moore affair and the way Albert/Jenny goes crackers at the end of her life. Chock full of detailed descriptions of war manoeuvres and camp life trivia, it was like literary candy for my brain.

Listens:

Tipping the Velvet by Sarah Waters (read by Juanita McMahon)
I was absolutely chuffed to find this audiobook on the library shelves as it is one of my favorite novels. McMahon does a brilliant job -- all of the characters sound real and (more or less) the way I expected them to. Her sharp esses take a bit of getting used to, but otherwise a brilliant reading.

The Alienist by Caleb Carr (read by Edward Herrmann)
I loved this novel about a serial killer loose in 1896 New York when I read it ten years ago, but I could not stand it as an audiobook. Gave up at the end of the second disc -- I don't know if it was Herrmann's voice or reading style or Carr's writing, but it was unlistenable.

30 November 2006

Reads & Listens, November 2006

Wolf Who Rules by Wen Spencer
A solidly crafted follow-up to Tinker. The cover art is still terrible, but what can you do?

M or F? by Lisa Papademetriou & Christopher Tebbetts
Frannie likes Jeffrey, but is too shy to talk to him. Best friend Marcus impersonates Frannie to woo Jeffrey for her. Jeffrey likes Frannie (as written by Marcus). Marcus likes Jeffrey. It's a breezy and (mostly) funny story of mistaken identity and false assumptions.

The Wizard, the Witch, and Two Girls from Jersey by Lisa Papademetriou
Veronica and Heather, two total opposites, find themselves trapped in the fantasy world of the novel Queen of Twilight. They must face their fears and band together in order to save the land of Galma and get back home. Very funny.

Canning Season by Polly Horvath
Winner of the National Book Award for Young People's Literature (2003). Lonely and badly mothered Ratchet is sent off to the Maine woods to live with her ancient (and outlandish) great-aunts. A rollicking tall tale with lots of slapstick humor and just maudlin enough to give it some poignancy.


A Northern Light by Jennifer Donnelly
It's the same story told in Theodore Dreiser's An American Tragedy, but this time it is told through the eyes of Mattie Gokey, a young woman desperate to get out of the woods and take control of her life. Beautifully told. I loved Mattie even when I wanted to shake her for falling for that Roy Loomis ... gah.

To Hell With All That: Loving and Loathing Our Inner Housewife by Caitlin Flanagan
I think I was supposed to hate this book, but I ... liked ... it. Even when I disagreed with Flanagan, I still felt extremely entertained and amused by this book.

American Born Chinese written and illus. by Gene Luen Yang
A 2006 National Book Award Finalist for Young People's Literature and no wonder. Wonderfully illustrated fable with three linked storyl ines and central characters. Plus, it features the Monkey King! What's not to like?

Garden of Eden and Other Criminal Delights by Faye Kellerman
Two of my favorites from this short story collection were "Holy Water," which involves the kidnapping of a Rabbi by a soda company in an effort to discover their competitor's secret formula and "Summer of My Womanhood" an autobiographical piece about working in her father's deli.

Fables Vol. 1: Legends in Exile by Bill Willingham (illus. by Medina and Leialoha, et al)
In a New York secretly populated by exiled fairy tale folk, Rose Red is found murdered. Or isn't. She was probably murdered, but maybe she was kidnapped. Or maybe it's all a ruse. It's up to Detective Bigby Wolf and Snow White to discover the truth. It's as if Agatha Christie and Neil Gaiman had a love child who was addicted to daytime television.

Y: The Last Man (Vols. 1-4) by Brian K. Vaughan (illus. by Pia Guerra & José Marzán)
Yorick Brown is an escape artist with a hot girlfriend in Australia. He is also the last man on Earth. Dangerously addictive series ... it is impossible to just read one.

The First: Two Houses Divided by Barbara Kesel (illus. by Lary Stucker, Bart Sears, et al)
Collects the first seven issues of CrossGen Comic's The First and holycrap bad.

I Feel Bad About my Neck: And Other Thoughts on Being a Woman by Nora Ephron
Another book I didn't expect to like, but did. Really need to stop reading reviews -- I hate the books I'm told I'll like and like the ones I'm told I'll hate.

30 September 2006

Reads & Listens, September 2006

Reads:

Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic by Alison Bechdel
Alison Bechdel's graphic biography of her dad and her self. Deep, poignant, painful ... blahblahblah ... it's already been said and better. Am I a horrible person if I admit a booklist was the only thing I took from this tragicomic?

Ripening Seed by Colette (trans. by Roger Senhouse)
Le Blé en Herbe. Summertime in Brittany and two young friends who have been long in love with each other are now awakening to sexual desire. Philippe, of course, muffs everything up by carrying on with Madam Dalleray (yes, she does seduce him a bit, but he keeps coming back), and then by allowing Vinca to seduce him. My very first Colette novel and quite spectacular. According to the preface, the story is based on that of Daphnis and Chloe.

How This Night is Different by Elisa Albert
Collection of stories about normal things (bat mitzahs, seder, concentration camp tourism, etc) rendered absurd by the people in them. "How This Night is Different" was probably my favorite, although "The Living" was pretty damned good, too.

5 A Day: The Better Health Cookbook by Dr. Elizabeth Pivonka & Barbara Berry
Produced by The Produce for Better Health Foundation, this straight forward little cookbook promises to show us all how to get five servings of fruits and vegetables into our daily diets. Explains the whole "5 A Day" program, provides sample menus, delicious new recipes, and tricks for getting more fruit/veg into your old recipes. I made three recipes -- "Baked Asparagus with Parmesan Cheese," "Springtime Scallop and Asparagus Stir-Fry," and "Chicken Oriental" (chicken stir-fry ... with asparagus, of course) -- and all were fast, tasty, and healthful. Yum. This book is certainly worth borrowing from the library.

Death Match by Lincoln Child
An utterly far fetched and ridiculous piece of fluff. (And the computer did it. Of course. Does the AI always have to go bad?)

Mrs. Stevens Hears the Mermaids Singing by May Sarton
Completely fantastic. How is it I never read any Sarton before?

Teahouse of the Almighty by Patricia Smith
Rough going, but well worth it.

Nick & Norah's Infinite Playlist by Rachel Cohn & David Levithan
Not nearly gender bending enough for me, but still pretty cute (and hot) for a young adult novel.

The Childless Revolution: What It Means to Be Childless Today by Madelyn Cain
If you're looking for the Childfree Manifesta, this isn't it. However, it's still a reasonably good introduction to the many whys behind "childfree" women/families and it would probably make a fine gift for overly concerned relatives (but why should we ever have to explain ourselves, anyway?)

Traction Man is Here written & illus. by Mini Grey
Funniest picture book I've read in a long time.

Mammoths on the Move by Lisa Wheeler (illus. by Kurt Cyrus)
"Big and bulky, / huge and hulky, / wide and woolly mammoths" ... are on the move! Excellent rhythm and beautiful watercolor/scratchboard illustrations make this picture book perfect for reading aloud to inquisitive little (or big) minds

The Runaway Princess by Kate Coombs
The King of Greeve (as suggested by the Prime Minister) offers Princess Margaret's hand (and half the kingdom) to the prince who can rid Greeve of a three evils(a dragon, a witch, and some bandits). Obviously, Princess Margaret is not chuffed by this and (with the help of three companions) sets out to save the three "evils" and make her own place in life. A funny and very charming young adult novel.

Listens:

The Horse and His Boy by C.S. Lewis (read by Alex Jennings)
This is part of the HarperChildren's Audio's unabridged The Chronicles of Narnia audio CD boxed set which was so beautifully illustrated and charmingly packaged I felt compelled to buy it last Christmas. Also, they are read by some very talented people (Michael York was a total let-down, alas). Anyway, The Horse and His Boy? Excellent story (if you suspend your modern thinking and ignore all the racist/colonialist overtones) with a nice balance between swashbuckling adventure and good moral lessons. Alex Jennings does a bang up job and I wish he'd read The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe, too.

28 April 2006

Reads & Listens, April 2006

Reads:

When I was Puerto Rican by Esmeralda Santiago
Almost a Woman by Esmeralda Santiago

Written and set before My Turkish Lover these two autobiographies explore Santiago's early life in Puerto Rico and her young adulthood in Brooklyn. I expected to feel for Negi, but it was really Mami I was moved by.

The Thing About Jane Spring by Sharon Krum
The thing about Jane Spring is she can't keep a man. Blonde and leggy is good for attracting the men, but acting like a real ball-breaker won't keep them, apparently. Rather than modify some of her behavior, Jane completely chucks her old self to become a Doris Day clone (and not the real Doris Day, either, but the fictional one we see in the movies) ... it sounds dreadful, doesn't it? Well, it didn't seem so at the time. While reading, the story seemed utterly preposterous, but fun. In hindsight, however, it's utterly cringe-worthy. Must now go read The Truth About Abortion to clean out my brain.

The Legend of the Wandering King by Laura Gallego Garcia (trans. by Dan Bellm)
Jealous of another poet, prince Walid ibn Huyr is driven to commit terrible acts with grave repercussions. A nice combination of morality tale, adventure story, and romance.

Mary Seacole: The Most Famous Black Woman of the Victorian Age by Jane Robinson
Utterly fascinating.

The Diary of Pelly D by L.J. Anderson
Why gills? I mean, I think I know why the author gave her characters gills, but why did the characters think they had gills? What was the purpose of gills?

The Double Task by Gray Jacobik
Thank god for poetry-loving colleagues -- I would never have cracked this volume were it not for their enthusiasm and praise for the author.

The Cat Lady by Dick King-Smith (illus. by John Eastwood)
Somewhere in 1901 England, Muriel Ponsonby ("the Catlady") lives alone in a big country house with a lot of cats (some of whom she believes are reincarnated people). This is a very gentle, sympathetic, and loving story suitable for most cat lovers (story reads at about 3rd grade level).

Case Histories by Kate Atkinson
I owned this book for two years before I read it and even then I didn't read my own copy, but borrowed a paperback out of the library book sale bin, instead. Why??? Why did I wait so long to read such a good book?

The Dangerouse Debutante by Kasey Michaels
Tempestuous raven-haired girlie is packed off to London for a Season in hopes someone will tame her/marry her. Immediately meets extremely unsuitable older man and falls in love. Story includes a bit of espionage, smuggling, and voodoo for extra flavor. Overall, a nice bit of fluff, but still a series novel and so full of people I would only care about if I had read or was planning to read the other books.

The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane by Kate DiCamillo (illus. by Bagram Ibatoulline)
Be prepared to cry.

Reads:

Anne of Green Gables by L.M. Montgomery (read by Shelly Frasier)
I was so impressed by Frasier's reading of Animals in Translation that I went looking for other books she had read. How could I resist listening to her read Green Gables -- one of my most favorite books ever? Double yum with knobs on, dahlings. Frasier and Tantor have done another bang-up job and Frasier's voice, in my mind, is now forever the voice of Anne. I look forward to listening to Anne of Avonlea next.

28 February 2006

Reads & Listens, February 2006

Beyond Oil: The View from Hubbert's Peak by Kenneth S. Duffeyes
So we're going to run out of oil one of these days -- what can we do to end our crippling dependency on it? Switch over to other non-renewable energy sources like natural gas or coal? Go nuclear? Invest in "alternative" energies like solar, wind, and hydrogen? Duffeyes examines all the possibilities and weighs the pros and cons of each.

Two Little Lies by Liz Carlyle
Contessa Viviana Alessandri was, in her youth, an opera singer who got knocked up by the future Earl of Wynwood. Knowing he wouldn't marry her, she returned to her native Venice to marry her father's control freak of a patron. Now widowed, she has returned to England and, of course, runs into the new Earl of Wynwood. Sparks fly. Hearts break. Love conquers all. And so forth. I liked Viviana best when she wasn't with the Earl (who seemed like so much of a cad most of the time) and I really enjoyed her interaction with the secondary characters.

Money, A Memoir: Women, Emotions, and Cash by Liz Perle
I think this book was supposed to serve as some kind of wake-up call and empowerment tool, but all it did was depress me. Also annoyed me at points, because Perle was good at dropping one-line bombshells, but not footnoting them with the statistics or reports she drew that wisdom for. I mean, she sites a lot of different sources, but never on the bits that most interested me. And, damn, couldn't we have had more uplifting stories about women and their money to balance all the nightmare scenarios?

Double Identity by Margaret Peterson Haddix
Could we have a clone story in which the clone's problems don't have anything to do with her looking just like some dead girl? Clones are not copies. Granted, Haddix did cover the whole "clones don't behave identically" shtick, but still ... this book was than a little preposterous. Who thinks their twelve year old daughter is in danger and then hides her in the same tiny town where her identical dead sister/source lived and died? Hello? I know it's a YA novel, but must the parents be so stupid? And the ending? Must it be so tidy?

Dragon Keeper by Carole Wilkinson
What an enjoyable book! In China, many thousands of years ago, a slave girl rescues a dragon from certain death. They are now "free," but far from safety. They flee across China to the sea and have a whole series of adventures along the way. The witty dialogue, cryptic dragon wisdoms, and good use of historical detail make this book very hard to put down (I devoured it in less than two hours).

Syrup by Maxx Barry
Set in the wonderful world of Coca-Cola, marketing, and Hollywood, this is the first Maxx Barry book. While mostly funny and sharp, it sometimes falls flat. If you've never read any Barry novels, start with Jennifer Government and then try this one.

Bindi Babes by Narinder Dhami
The first book in the Bindi Babes series. Amber, Jazz, and Geena are three (seemingly) perfect British Indian girls living with their (frequently absent) widowed father. One day, their "perfect" lives are turned upside down when their very traditional Auntie comes to stay with them. She drives them mad and they want nothing more than to get rid of her. Madcap adventures ensue. Very amusing YA novel and I look forward to reading the sequel.

Bollywood Babes by Narinder Dhami
Bollywood Babes is the second book in the Bindi Babes series and, sadly, not as funny as the first. The sisters don't stand out from each other at all and the story seems rushed and superficial. Still, will probably read Bhangra Babes when it comes out.

Good Girls Do by Cathie Linz
I thought the librarian bits of the story where quite good, but the whole "good girl/bad boy" love story was a bit unbelievable. And her "zany" family? They were so over the top, they were unfunny. On the other hand, I can easily see this novel being used as the basis for a two hour pilot for some cutesy sitcom.

30 May 2005

Reads & Listens, May 2005

Reads:

The Safe-Keeper's Secret by Sharon Shinn
Reed may be the son of the King and Fiona may be meant for more than safe-keeping ... pretty good coming of age novel with a few twists which may surprise some readers.

The Mermaid Chair by Sue Monk Kidd
Just to prove that I am a freak, I will now admit I never read the Secret Life of Bees. It's just never appealed to me. I picked up the Mermaid Chair, because I liked the cover and the inside flap made the novel sound a bit like an Alice Hoffman work ... and it was. Funny and sad all tangled together, it was a delicious read.

Finding Betty Crocker: The Secret Life of America's First Lady of Food by Susan Marks
Entertaining and informative look at the way Betty Crocker changed the way American women cook and how the development of corporate marketing impacted the way we perceive food. Also, examines the mechanics of modern food processing. Excellent companion to Something from the Oven or A Thousand Years Over a Hot Stove.

The Good Body by Even Ensler
Disappointing. The Vagina Monologues were so shocking and uplifting and I expected the same of The Good Body, but what I read were tired cliches about why women don't like their bodies or how chubby women can be strong. It didn't open any new vistas of understanding for me. Indeed, reading it made me feel kind-of pissed off and cheated. And then I saw the Ensler's photo and just wanted to throw the book across the room. Oh, I know, fat is as much a psychological state as a physical one and even skinny bitches feel fat, but really.

Roller Birds of Rampur by Indi Rana
Sheila, 17, was born in India but grew up in London and thinks of herself as English. But when her boyfriend dumps her because she's not English enough and her best friend is sent "home" to India for an arranged marriage, Sheila begins to wonder who she really is and where she belongs. While the books provides a great deal of philosophical and cultural insight, the characters never really feel properly fleshed out.

Natural History by Justina Robson
Through genetic engineering, we have created the Forged -- human/machine hybrids made to do jobs too boring or dangerous for us to perform. Voyager Lonestar Isol nearly dies on an exploration mission, but it saved by the discovery of mysterious "stuff" that seems able to become whatever the user needs it to be. When she returns to Earth claiming to have found a new world, she starts sharing this "stuff" around and, obviously, it's not all good. The Unevolved (ordinary humans) don't want to give up the planet -- especially if it might have belonged to someone else -- so they send Isol back with archaeologist Zephyr Duquesne to determine whether the planet was/is inhabited. "Stuff" happens ...

This is the most original science fiction novel I've read in a long time and I look forward to reading it again.

Bowling Alone by Robert Putnam
He talks about social capital and how the United States doesn't have much of it, anymore. I think he means that, with the decline of certain kinds of organized social groups (bowling leagues), we lose that ability to socialize and to congregate in a regular way and this decreases our trust in others which leads to all sorts of bad things like depressed economies, increased crime rates, depleted environments, etc. I don't know if that's true or if I understand his theory properly, but it makes for interesting reading.

The Disappeared: A Retrieval Artist Novel by Kristine Kathyrn Rusch
First book in the Retrieval Artist series (discounting the novella that started it all). A detective novel set on the moon with interesting treatment of alien cultures and multicultural laws. Some of the character development is weak or relies too heavily on repetition. Still, a promising start. Those who enjoyed Kristine Smith's Jani Kilian books may also enjoy this series.

Wait Until Midnight by Amanda Quick
The romance is not very sparky and the plot's a bit weak (who didn't guess the murderer was Durward Reed?? And "Durward?" Fuck's sake, what kind of name is that??), but it's still a pretty enjoyable bit of fluff.

Beware of God: Stories by Shalom Auslander
"Somebody Up There Likes You" and "Waiting for Joe" were two of my favorites.

Sarah: Book One of the Canaan Trilogy by Marek Halter (trans. by Howard Curtis)
Better than Orson Scott Card's Sarah, but is that saying much?

30 April 2005

Reads & Listens, April 2005

Reads:

The Secret History of the Pink Carnation by Lauren Willig
Grad student goes to England to work on her thesis about the Pink Carnation -- a spy from the days of the Scarlet Pimpernel whose identity has never been revealed. Meets kindly old biddy with chest full of family papers about Pinkie. Clashes with hunky man who doesn't want her snooping in family histories. Discovers identity of Pinkie. Discovers attraction for hunky man. All lovey, lovey romance novel pretending to be a work of historic fiction. I mean, what's the problem with calling a spade a spade?

Okay ... so I knew who the Pink Carnation was from the get-go. Despite this, the novel was still pretty fun and I've been recommending it to everybody. That means you, too.

The Surrender: An Erotic Memoir by Toni Bentley
Bentley makes anal sex seem like an act of masochism or fetishism and yet also considers it a gateway to paradise? Dude, this book confused me. I expected something more profound, more moving, more smutty. Not the book to read if you're looking for something even vaguely arousing or are just curious about why "normal people" like anal sex.

Weight Loss that Lasts: Break Through the 10 Big Diet Myths by James M. Rippe & Weight Watchers
Was a little leery of this book at first, because I expected it to be all "Weight Watchers! Weight Watchers! Rah! Rah! Rah!," but it turned out to be a pretty straight forward look at the stupid diet myths people (mostly women are discussed in this book) succumb to and how to create a healthy lifestyle by eating more mindfully and getting some exercise.

Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro
The monstrous as the mundane. Creepy as all get out and impossible to put down.

Alchemy by Margaret Mahy
Roland has a recurring nightmare about being locked in a magician's box, his teacher wants him to spy on a classmate, and said classmate is one freaky chick. Essentially, a novel about the battle between good and evil with teenage angst thrown in for good measure.

Pride and Prescience, Or, A Truth Universally Acknowledged by Carrie Bebris
I selected this book specifically because I was looking for Jane Lite and this novel promised to fit the bill. The novel started out well enough -- there were a few linguistic and cultural anachronisms that irked me, but the book was, at the very least, in keeping with the spirit of Austen. Then, of course, it all went pear-shaped as the bizarre occult nonsense became the driving force of the novel. Gah.

Listens:

Orlando by Virginia Woolf (read by Barbara Rosenblat)
I had tried, several times, to read this book, but found it near impossible to get into. Happily, the audio book was much more approachable.

30 January 2005

Reads & Listens, January 2005

Reads:

American Smooth by Rita Dove
Magnificent collection of poems. Makes me want to get up and dance.

Otherwise Engaged by Suzanne Finnamore
After finally brow-beating her boyfriend into proposing, our heroine freaks out. While there are many hilarious one-liners, the novel is generally superficial and repetitive.

It's Snowing! written & illus. by Olivier Dunrea
Text, while simple and spare, makes good use of language (lots of mouth pleasing words like "scrunches" and "trundles"). Illustrations are equally pleasing. A great curl-up book for a wintry day.

Kissing the Witch by Emma Donoghue
Very charming set of interlinked fairy tales told with (gasp) a lesbian slant. Who hasn't wanted to kiss the witch? Fairytale princes are all such a lot of stuffed shirts and pomade -- who would want to kiss one? Although, I suppose, the thing with traditional fairy tales is it's the prince who is doing the kissing, not the girly chick.

Doing It by Melvin Burgess
Apparently, this novel has generated a bit of flack because of its frank treatment of teenage boys -- they're all led around by their pricks! How shocking! Because, you know, teenage girls are so not sex-driven. No, teenage girls are all about "relationships" and finding the right lippy. Yeh. Anyway, loved Doing It very much. Too bad it wasn't around when I was in high school.

Olivia Kidney by Ellen Potter (illus. by Peter H. Reynolds)
Moderately enjoyable story about a girl who lives in an apartment building where strange things are afoot. Reads a bit like a lighter Dahl.

Lily Quench and the Dragon of Ashby by Natalie Jane Prior (illus. by Janine Dawson)
Lily Quench and the Black Mountains
Lily Quench and the Treasure of Mote Ely
Ahh, Lily Quench is just ripping good fun. How could you not love a plucky red-headed dragon slayer turned dragon friend who likes apple trees and whose liege lord is a librarian/king? Each book is charming and easily devoured.

Before You Know Kindness by Chris Bohjalian
Reading Bohjalian is always a kick in the gut -- the familiar place names always leave me blind-sided by an emotional reaction I don't quite understand. Yet, I love his books and I mean it as a great compliment when I say that Bohjalian writes so well that I care very much about the happiness of characters I heartily dislike.

Wonder Woman: The Ultimate Guide to the Amazon Princess by Scott Beatty
While reading this guide all I could think was "wow, look at those breasts!" Shallow, I know, but I doubt she's drawn with readers like me in mind, anyway.

No Place for a Lady: Tales of Adventurous Women Travelers by Barbara Hodgson
Brief studies of adventurous European women from the mid-seventeenth century to the end of the nineteenth century. A beautiful looking book -- everything from the cover art to the weight of the pages to the illustrations and end papers are just lovely. My only real quibble is that, because the book was arranged geographically rather than by subject, the lives of these women were told in a rather piecemeal fashion that left me unsatisfied. I must know more!

The Glass Virgin by Catherine Cookson
It was only when I looked this title up in Amazon that I realized this terrible novel is not a new (posthumous) publication but a reissue. Explains a lot. Oh, I did enjoy the historical details, but most of the characters and story just pissed me off to no end and I presume that had a lot to do with the novel's age.

Why I am a Muslim: An American Odyssey by Asma Gull Hasan
I found this book to be quite eye-opening and, based upon what Hasan has written, the problem doesn't seem to be Islam so much as the politicization of Islam (which seems true of other faiths, as well).

30 November 2004

Reads & Listens, November 2004

Reads:

Duck for President by Doreen Cron (illus by Betsy Lewin)
Tired of doing farm chores, Duck decides there should be an election. Of course, Duck wins ... the story is rather witty and the illustrations are highly amusing.

The Sweet Potato Queens' Field Guide to Men: Every Man I Love is Either Married, Gay, or Dead by Jill Conner Browne
Pretty good. I don't think I enjoyed it quite as much as the Big-Ass Cookbook, but I still laughed my way through most of it. The bit about Man Ears? So true. You say "Can you get me that bowl?" and he hears "I want to give you a blow job right now."

Book! Book! Book! by Deborah Russ (illus. by Tiphanie Beeke)
The farm animals go to the library and try to check out books, but the librarian can't understand them. The illustrative style is very warm and simple, but never boring. The story is so much fun -- funny, cute, pro-library, and full of animal noises.

Kitten's First Full Moon written & illus. by Kevin Henkes
"It was Kitten's first full moon. When she saw it, she thought, There's a bowl of milk in the sky. And she wanted it." Ah, silly kitten. A very charming story and the rather clever black and white illustrations are so luminous they give the perfect sense of a moonlit evening.

Bucking the Sarge by Christopher Paul Curtis
Very dark, but also quite funny.