Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Book Review: The Poison Eaters and Other Stories by Holly Black

I was pretty excited to see a YA author posting a collection of short stories, since I am a huge short story fan.  The descriptions I read for this book used words like "dark fantasy" and "eerie" and "horror."  So I was pretty excited to read some scary short stories that were not about Satan, the devil, or anything demonic.  (Can't handle it, no way, not happening).  I was actually really hoping that this collection would be a "gateway" collection that would interest YA readers in short stories.  The entire fantasy genre is pretty well represented: we've got fairies, unicorns, werewolves, vampires, deadly sisters, etc.  But I have to say that it just didn't live up to my expectations. 

Writing
I have high expectations for short stories.  There are so many that are amazing.  It's such an awesome medium and can be done with such complexity and depth, while still being, well, short.  I didn't find any of these stories to be a good representation of the complexity that can be present in short stories.  Characters, tone, plot, etc were just so one-dimensional.  The writing was also nothing special.  I feel like an author can get away with having a great story and mediocre writing in a novel maybe, but when your writing is mediocre in a short story it really stands out.  Nothing awful, no typos, no gaping plot holes, but none of the striking language or significant meaning that I think really characterizes a well-done short story. 

MST3K
I liked it ok while I was reading it.  It wasn't not-enjoyable, but it wasn't really enjoyable either.  It wouldn't say brain candy.  It was just something that occupied time, a diversion.  Like watching a TV you don't really like, but you're too lazy to get up and go do something you'll like more.  Also, I was really really disappointed that what was described as "dark fantasy" and "eerie" turned out to be more along the lines of childhood ghost stories with a vampire/unicorn/werewolf/fairy twist.  Not that I was expecting Stephen King.  And as I mentioned earlier, I am pleased to report that not a single spiritual evil exists in the book.  But I was not scared, creeped out, anything.  I was hoping for Pennywise and got Killer Klowns From Outer Space.

If you want to read actually eerie short stories, may I recommend Flannery O'Connor instead?  Or maybe some Alice Walker? 

Monday, March 28, 2011

Priorities Update

So about a month and a half ago, I wrote on here about changing my priorities and getting my life on target.  I've been working hard on getting this accomplished, and I wanted to share with you guys where I'm at since that post seemed to get quite a bit of interest.

1.  My relationship with God:  Having a quiet time every day is still really hard for me.  I'm not where I need to be in this area.  Since the last post, however, we (Luke and I) have found a church that we really like and have been regularly attending.  This is a big deal since we haven't been attending church since my dad resigned from Brainerd in December.

2.  My marriage: I've been doing so well on spending more time with Luke.  We enrolled the puppies in the same class at PDX and have LOVED spending Tuesday nights doing training together.  We've also been eating dinner together more and I've been cooking more.  I've gone from cooking maybe once a week/once every other week to cooking two to three nights a week.

3. My "family": Like I said above, we've got both puppies in a manners class at PDX once a week and we're working with them daily on things like recall (coming immediately when we call them), holding a command (if I say sit or stay, he keeps sitting or staying until I say break, even if I move around the room), and using hand commands as well as voice commands (a palm up means sit, a finger pointing down means lay, etc).  We are also continuing with NILIF (Nothing In Life Is Free) and trying to have them tethered to us whenever we're home until they learn to calm down a little.  Next quarter we'll have to split the puppies up for classes.  Chief is going to go to therapy dog classes with me and Dexter will be doing agility courses with Luke.  It has been cold and rainy lately, so no recent trips to the park.  We hope to have the back yard fenced by May.

4.  My health: I've had a terrible cold for the past three weeks.  Headaches, sore throat, coughing, congestion, all that fun stuff.  Because of this I haven't been getting up to walk in the mornings.  I've felt like I needed the rest more than the exercise.  Luke and I try to walk the puppies every night instead.  I've cut out at least 50% of the carbs I was eating and I'm eating at least 50% more protein.  I'm actually cooking meals instead of living off of lunchables and cereal.  I'm eating a lot more vegetables.  While I haven't cut out all sugar, I've cut out carby sugars, which are my big temptation.  I can't eat just one bite of cakes, brownies, cookies, etc.  I have no self control in that area.  So anything carby and sweet just doesn't come into the house.  Or if it comes in, it goes straight to the office where Luke can snack and I don't have to see it.  I keep a bag of M&Ms that I can eat a small handful of once a day for my sugar fix.  I have a sweet tooth, but I can eat a few M&Ms and then stop, as opposed to brownies or cookies.  This way I'm not feeling deprived and binging, but I'm also eating something I know I can control.

5.  My hobbies: Of course I'm having no problems with reading or book blogging.  I haven't been crafting lately or refinishing furniture because I decided to make organization a higher priority so that I am not crafting in chaos (more about this on my next priority).  I am currently working with my sister to refinish her bedroom set.  We primed her desk and dresser and picked out a pretty blue paint to use last weekend.  This weekend we'll be putting the color on!

6.  My house:  I finally had a breakthrough in this area.  Or not a breakthrough, but a sucking it up.  I just decided I was done living in chaos.  I don't typically talk about my job on here, but I will say that it is a chaotic environment, which is stressful to me.  Having a chaotic home wasn't helping the stress.  So two weeks ago, I started using my DIY blog as a cleaning blog temporarily.  I've posted before and after pictures of each room I've cleaned.  And after cleaning each room I've kept it that way.  We haven't had dirty dishes in our sink for two whole weeks!  My bedroom is clean and neat.  Saturday night we had people over and didn't have to frantically clean before they arrived.  And we aren't arguing at all over chores because we aren't letting them pile up.  "I'll do it later" has become an outlawed phrase in our home.  I'm still only about halfway through.  I need to do the guest room, Luke's office, my closet, and the puppy room (horrors abound in this one so I'm putting it off as long as possible).  But the main rooms that I use are clean and organized and it is wonderful!  Once I have the house done, I'll be able to craft in a much more organized and less stressful environment.  Oh and if you want to see my embarassing before and beautiful afters, my DIY blog is http://goldengirldoesitherself.blogspot.com/

Sunday, March 27, 2011

In My Mailbox (14)

I haven't done this in a while, so this is an accumlulation from several weeks:


Both of these were generously sent by Simon and Schuster

Both of these were sent by Dutton, an imprint of Penguin

This one was sent courtesy of the author
This one is part of a TLC tour I'll be participating in
Both books are published by Penguin

Both of these were sent through imprints of MacMillan


This one was sent for (I think) a TLC tour and is published by Harper Collins.

Thank you to all the authors, publishers, tour organizers, and publicists for sending me some great reading material!  What did you get in your mailbox this week?

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Book-Related Pet Peeves

I don't usually participate in the Top Ten Tuesdays meme, although I love reading it in other blogs, but this week I couldn't resist.  It's hosted at The Broke And The Bookish - check it out for other people's top ten bookish pet peeves.  Here are the top ten book-related things that drive me nuts:

1.  YA books with dialogue that is obviously an adult trying to sound like a teenager.  Very few people can use slang well in dialogue, and there is nothing that can ruin a YA book faster for me than having a character use "teen speak" that sounds less than authentic.

2.  Movie tie-in covers.  I have exactly one book with a movie tie-in cover (About a Boy) because I bought it in high school before I realized that there were other options.  Ok and Hugh Grant is on the cover.  BUT, I still hate these.

3. Lack of plot.  Books don't have to be plot-driven to be enjoyable, but I hate books that try to be literary by having nothing interesting happen at all.  Boring does not necessarily equal literary fiction.  Some authors don't seem to understand that.  Things can happen in literary fiction, I promise.

4. Typos, especially in self-pubbed books.  There is a reason that self-published books have a bad reputation.  This is not to say that all of them are bad, but authors who choose to self-pub and who don't properly proofread are just perpetuating the idea.  It drives me nuts to see typos in any book, but I think it's particularly inexcusable if you aren't using a traditional publisher.  If you want to be taken seriously and self-pub, do not send out a book that has a million typos.  It's sloppy and lazy.

5. Cheap looking covers.  Again, this is something I see in many self-published books or books from smaller houses.  I know they may not have the same financial resources as the larger houses, but I see many books with covers that look like the author spent five minutes working on it in Photoshop.  I would rather see a book with a solid color cover and title only than one with ugly Photoshopping.  Just say no to bad cover art.  Like typos, it looks lazy.

6. Poorly written dialect.  Actually I could probably change that to be any use of dialect.  I'd much rather read a character description that tells me a character is from the south or speaks with a southern drawl than to read dialogue that includes a bunch of "How ya'll folks doin down heah in Gawjuh".  It's distracting and, in some cases, insulting.

7. Stickers that cover the title, author's name, or cover copy.  I understand that stickers are a necessary evil and I have no problem with removing them with the help of my trusty Goo-Gone.  But, please don't put them in a spot that keeps me from seeing what the book is, who it's written by, or what it's about.

8. Library books that smell like cigarette smoke.  Gross.  Enough said.

9. Gigantic hardbacks.  I typically prefer hardbacks because they are more sturdy and don't tend to show wear as much.  But I hate trying to read a ginormous hardback book in bed and getting hand cramps and red marks from trying to hold it up.  I guess that's probably more preference than pet peeve, though.

10. Cover photos featuring people on the verge of making out. I don't usually read romance novels, so I'm not talking about the Fabio-style bodice rippers.  I'm talking about the recent trend in contemporary YA to show two people with their faces centimeters away from open mouth kissing on the cover.  Is your book about more than making out?  Then show us on the cover.  They just make me feel uncomfortable, especially when it's two teenagers making out in a shower or something.  I feel like a perv reading it in public.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Book Review: So Much Pretty by Cara Hoffman

So Much Pretty weaves the stories of Wendy, a young woman who disappears from a small town; Stacy, a reporter who becomes obsessed with the case; and Alice, a fifteen year old girl who becomes involved in the case in a shocking way.  It is intended to be a look into domestic violence and the secrets covered up in small towns.

Writing
No issues with the author's style or the editing.  I did, however, think the author had too many issues going on in the story.  We have multiple narrators (at least six) and so many pertinent issues are discussed that the book lost its focus.  Instead of being able to focus on the main topic, which is very timely and appropriate, we're also dealing with the industrialization of farming communities, dirty pharmaceutical companies and their human testing, urban flight, and rural poverty.  It's too many issues.  They're all relevant and interesting, but the book is only 304 pages.  Between that and the constant changes in narrator, nothing felt fully fleshed out.  It was like we only got brief glimpses of each part of the story. 

I will say that the topic of domestic violence, particulary violence perpetrated by someone the victim knows, was a huge plus to me.  The Reading Ape recently posted on some rape/sexual assault themes he sees in fiction and I commented to add that in fiction, sexual assault is usually perpetrated by someone the victim doesn't know.  The "bad man" hiding in the shadows.  But in real life, sexual assault is almost always perpetrated by someone the victim knows.  So I appreciate the author going against the grain and depicting real life.

Unfortunately, I also had an issue with the depiction of sexual assault in the book as a reflection of "real life".  Spoiler alert: don't read the next portion if you don't want to know what happens.  This is revealed maybe halfway through the book.

What has happened to Wendy is that her boyfriend kidnapped her and holds her hostage for several months as a sex slave for him and various other men in the small town.  To me, this is not believable.  I feel fairly comfortable talking about small towns.  I live in a very small town.  I went to college in a very small town.  I know I'm talking rural South and the book is set in the rural North, but I'm goign to guess that rural small town life is similar.  I had a very hard time believing that there were this many perverts who would keep a girl they have known since she was a child locked in a basement, starving, as a sex slave.  I know this kind of stuff really happens, and I'm not denying that perverts live in small towns.  I'm just amazed that a large group of them would happen to live in this small town, with the same pervy fetish, and would perpetrate it in on someone they have known since birth.  And no one would talk.  Because believe me, it would not shock me to find out some man in Arkadelphia had a girl hidden in his basement.  But I would be surprised to learn that a group of men, ranging from grown adults who had watched the girl grow up to high school students would all be into this and no one would talk about it ever and it would just blow over.  Maybe I'm wrong. (see update to the post at the bottom - turns out I'm wrong).

MST3K

I enjoyed the book.  The above mentions made it somewhat less enjoyable because I found it hard to concentrate on one theme and the whole believability.  There's also a minor sex scene (not related to the abuse) that struck me as phsyically impossible.  Those kind of things are distractions that take me out of the story.  Instead of being immersed in the author's world, I'm thinking "is this actually possible?"  However, I did enjoy the way that small parts of the story were revealed throughout the book, which did keep me reading.  It's not a hard read, and the topic is an interesting take on the typical "thriller" genre. 

Overall I'd probably not recommend it.  I really appreciate that the author is depicting sexual violence from a person the victim knows, rather than continuing to portray the myth that most sexual assulat is perpetrated by a psycho lurking in the bushes.  But I think there are other books that are more focused and stick to believable.  I'd say your time is better spend on something like If I Am Missing Or Dead (non-fiction), Such a Pretty Girl (YA), or The Kindness of Strangers (adult fiction).

UPDATE: A commenter left this link in the comments section, but I wanted to add it up here as well in case you don't look at the comments.  I am apparently more naive than even I had imagined and this kind of thing really does happen, even in small towns where everyone knows everyone.  Read the article here, but know that it is heartbreaking: http://www.nytimes.com/2011/03/29/us/29texas.html?pagewanted=1&_r=2&hp

I still recommend the books listed above rather than this one because of my other issues with the book, but I do want to ammend what I said previously about the believability.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Book Review: Great Philosophers Who Failed At Love by Andrew Shaffer

You'd think that being the greatest minds of well, ever, would give these guys a step up in the love department, but it turns out that great philosophers like Nietzche, Engels, Plato, Kant, and Wagner had some pretty twisted relationships.  Each philosopher profile is made up of one or two pages detailing the philosopher's failure at romance and quotes on love.  It's not a great book to read to get an idea of what each philosopher believed, but it will certainly intrigue you.  I'll be looking for biographies on several of these philosophers.  The author is hilarious and it's amazing to read about the crazy things people are capable of.  I'd love to see the author do a series - Great Writers, Great Artists, Great Politicians, etc Who Failed At Love. 

Writing
Loved it!  The author does an excellent job of presenting large philsophical ideas about love in short segments.  It's very accessible; I'd even say easy to read.  It's not a scholarly tome and trust me, in no way dry and boring.  However, that is not to say that it isn't well-researched or that the author doesn't know what he's talking about.  It's a great example of an academic work that is accessible to all readers.

MST3K
Each section is just long enough to convey the story and ideas of each philosopher and just short enough to keep the reader engrossed.  I read this before bed and kept telling myself "one more entry before I go to sleep".  Before I knew it, I had finished the book.  Perfect length to keep your attention and the author's humorous commentary had me laughing out loud.

I definitely recommend this to anyone who enjoys biographical trivia, philosophy, humor, or sordid stories. 

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Book Review: Blue by Lou Aronica

When I heard the premise of Blue by Lou Aronica, I was intrigued, particularly because of the focus on a make-believe world.  Blue tells the story of a girl and her father who invent an imaginary world called Tamerisk.  Years pass and the daughter is a teenager when she and her father discover that Tamerisk is a real place facing a serious threat.  Chris and Becky must work with Miea, the queen of Tamerisk to save the nation and face a devastating sickness in their own world.

Ok, so when I was little, my brother and I were besties and after reading the Narnia series we made up our own pretend worlds, Gondalen (David's) and Megaphon (mine).  And we spend hours of our childhood playing "Gondalen and Megaphon".  We had maps drawn, and creatures imagined, and we wrote stories about things that happened there, and it went on and on.  So I was really excited about this book because of the whole imaginary world thing.  Sad to say, the book didn't live up to my expectations.

Writing
I go back and forth on accepting self-published books because there is so much junk with a few treasures mixed in.  I've read some amazing indie books that have blown me away, but I get frustrated when I feel like the author hasn't even taken the time to give the book a good proofing.  This was a case where a lot of sloppy writing jumped out at me.  Use of words like "realer" completely took me out of the story.  I didn't believe the relationship between Chris and Becky - sometimes it was downright creepy. 

MST3K
I hate to just pan a book completely, but the entertainment value on this one was significantly lacking as well.  The story was slow and because I didn't connect with any of the characters I didn't really care what happened.  There is little to no action, which isn't always bad, but the lack of character development made for an honestly boring read.  I was ready for it to be over.  I've read several reviews from bloggers who feel differently, so I encourage you to keep looking if it sounds like one that may interest you, but it really just did not connect on any level for me as a reader.

Update:
This book is currently available free for Nook at the Barnes and Noble website (3/21/2011).

Monday, March 14, 2011

Currently Keeping My Attention Off of Books...

I've finished several, and actually did some serious sick-time reading, so I've got some great reviews coming up, I promise.  But for this instant, my mind is occupied with other things...mostly Baby George, who is in town for Spring Break!  Sunday we took a family trip to the park for frisbee golf, enjoying the beautiful day, and puppy walks.  Oh and George-smothering.  More pictures to come later this week (and book reviews!)

The pups with Luke before heading to the dog park.  We haven't even made it to the car yet and Dexter's ready for a nap.  Lazy pups!

Dexter and Sugar Bear who dresses like a super model every day, just to make the rest of us look bad.

Sugar Bear and her SO with a pup.

And the real star of the show arrives - unfazed by the papparazi.
Sugar Bear and I walked the puppies behind Mimi and Baby George - and Baby George was entranced.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Book Review: My Dead Dad Was In ZZ Top

Ok, so, this is one I probably should have known in advance wasn't going to be for me.  See, I'm not much of a rock and roller.  It's true, Reader Friends, I am not as hard core as you might imagine.  But this book looked kind of like others I've enjoyed (The Smoking Gun stuff, the Onion, Museum of Bad Art, etc).  It's a collection of 100% real (fake) documents relating to the world of rock and roll - things like the set list from when Prince played at Steven Spielberg's daughter's bar mitvah ("When Doves Kvetch"). 

For whatever reason the book just didn't ever click with me.  My major problem was that I don't have the same sense of humor as the author.  I honestly found a lot of the "humor" offensive.  I mean maybe I should have seen it coming with the topic of the book and all, but body-function jokes just don't do it for me.  Super Prude starts to come out when I haven't even made it past the first page without a semen joke.  The parts that weren't offensive were also not realy all that funny either, so overall it gets a do not recommend from me. 

The publisher sent this one to me, so it's not one I want to resell, and I don't really want to host a giveaway for a book I found offensive, not funny, and crude.  So, because I also don't care to keep this one in my house, first person who comments that they want it can have it.  Maybe if you're a huge rock fan you'll get more out of it than I did?

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Book Review: Flirting With Danger

Sounds like it's going to be a bad thriller right?  About a young investigative reporter who falls for the son of the mob boss or something?  But if you read the subtitle, it's actually a feminist work on how young women interpret domination, particularly sexual domination (I can see the spam from this one coming a mile away). 

Also, please do not misinterpret domination here - it's not referring to a specific sexual act or preference, it's a broad reference to how men interact with women in hetero relationships.  Basically, the book uses interviews with young women from a liberal arts college with an emphasis on women's studies to examine the contradictions in the way women think about their relationships with men.  For example, the idea that a rapist is a bad man, not someone you know and care about, and certainly not your boyfriend.  Or expressing the idea that women shouldn't be seen as sexual objects in the classroom, but appreciating cat calls and whistles on the street. 

The heart of the book focuses on how women will excuse a violent or sexual incident in their own lives, and refuse to label it as rape or abuse, when they would consider it rape or abuse if it happened to another woman.  It's about the ways women justify violent male dominance to themselves. 

Writing
A lot of it is sociological, feminist theory - and that's the audience it's intended for.  The author doesn't go into definitions when using terms like "fundamental attribution error" or "bias theory" so the reader needs to have a basic understanding of sociological research and group dynamics.  A basic background in feminist theory would help as well.  That said, the work is very accessible if the reader has that understanding or is willing to do some of his or her own research while reading.  Because so much of the book is made up of interviews, it is a personal and touching read.  The first hand accounts are interspersed with the analysis, so neither aspect of the research is overwhelming.  The author does a great job of citing sources and presenting both sides of the argument in most cases. 

One small (ok huge) annoyance that I have many times with feminist writers is the bias against Republicans and/or the "religious right".  I'm a Republican AND a part of the religious right AND a feminist.  It's possible.  I'm pro-life too.  Mind boggling, right?  I can understand it in a book on abortion, though, because being pro-life is such a huge part of the Republican/evangelical agenda.  But this book doesn't deal with that issue at all.  So I found it grating when the author would make the broad generalization that the "religious right" is opposed to legislation against domestic violence. 

If a researcher wants to give names and back up their statement with evidence, that's one thing.  But the blanket statement that evangelicals oppose domestic violence legislation is no more fair or accurate than saying Muslims hate America.  It doesn't apply to the group as a whole and it's not something that you can back up with documented evidence, so leave it out of your academic research, please.  That's an opinion, and it doesn't belong in a work of scholarly research.

MST3K
As I've mentioned few times, this is a book based on scholarly research and is intended for an academic audience.  So it's not the same as reading a novel or even a work of popular non-fiction.  There's a lot of information about statistics and research methods that isn't going to appeal to some readers.  The stories the women share are fascinating and haunting, however.  If you're already interested in feminist theory, I definitely recommend it.  It explores some ideas that I hadn't considered and that I'm glad to learn more about.  If you aren't interested in academic writing, and you don't know much about feminism, I probably wouldn't recommend that you start with this one. 

One more small note: the book was published in 2000, so much of the research quoted by the author is dated to some degree.  One way that I think this would particularly impact the book is in the section describing the dichotomy between the "good man" and the "rapist".  The women interviewed were largely taught as children to beware of the scary old man waiting behind the bush to rape you (the bad guy), but were never warned about the dangers of "good men", such as fathers, uncles, schoolmates, or family friends.  However, research shows that these "good men" are the most likely to commit an act of sexual abuse.  I think that many schools and parents are now adopting less of a "stranger danger" mentality and putting the research that demonstrates the likelihood of acquaintance rape to use. 

Monday, March 7, 2011

February Summary

What I Read:

His Excellency: George Washington by Joseph J. Ellis
Certain Women by Madeleine L'Engle
Mothers and Other Liars by Amy Bourret
You Are So Undead to Me by Stacy Jay
Beatrice and Virgil by Yann Martel
Anna and the French Kiss by Stephanie Perkins
The Eyes of the Heart by Frederick Buechner
Flirting With Danger by Lynn M. Phillips
The Poison Eaters by Holly Black
Zombie Haiku by Ryan Mecum

Pages read this year: 5344
Amount spent purchasing books this year: $16.73
Amount saved using NetGalley, the library, and books I've already purchased: $208.78

Now for the summary of my priorities:

I'm really liking my new priority system.  I've had several chances to say no to people lately - especially at work, and it's been very liberating.  It also means that I've had a lot more time to spend with Luke and with the puppies.  We started a training class last week and had a blast.  This is the first time we've done a class together and we really liked it.  Here's a fun story about our marriage:

Last summer Luke decided nothing would do but to get a puppy.  I didn't want a puppy.  Luke annoyed me until I gave in and we got Dexter against my better judgment.  And against the better judgment of basically everyone we know, who all told me to put my foot down and refuse to get a dog.  Of course I didn't listen and we got Dex and fell in love with him.  Then we found out Chief needed a home and impulsively agreed to try it for a week.  Everyone we know, especially my parents who don't like the whole idea of inside dogs, told us we were crazy and that we were going to regret it and our lives would be miserable.  But we didn't listen, we got Chief, and by the end of the first day we knew we'd keep him. 

Despite all of the good advice that having two dogs that are the same age is harder (true) and that our house will be destroyed by giant puppies (also true, but only in the basement), having two puppies has been so good for our marriage.  We have a blast doing all the puppy stuff together - going to the park, walking downtown, being in the parade, and now training classes.  Our basement will never be the same (Dexter chewed a good two feet of carpet all the way down to the concrete before we figured out how to raise his bed) but it's been totally worth it because Luke and I finally have a common hobby.  Instead of getting home at night and going our separate ways, we have something to do together.  Also I would like to say a big "I was right and you were wrong" to the people who told us we were crazy for getting two danes.  The dents in the basement wall from puppy wrestling are barely even noticable!

Chiefer and I are still walking in the mornings and we are gradually increasing our distance. 

Our house is also becoming much more organized.  I'm realizing that things I put off as big jobs really don't take that long - it just seems that way because I'm doing everything on the same day.  In reality, doing the floors only takes like 15 or 20 minutes.  My problem is that I'm doing floors, bathrooms, dishes, carpets, dusting, laundry, etc, etc on the same day.  If I can just make myself do 15 - 30 minutes of cleaning each day, I can keep the house in good shape.  And it burns calories. 

Friday, March 4, 2011

Frederick Buechner Week: The Eyes of the Heart

I reviewed this one for My Friend Amy's Frederick Buechner Week.  A big thanks to her for organizing and having a copy of this one sent to me for review.

Buechner is honestly an author I'm not at all familiar with outside of this book, which is odd because I feel like I have a pretty good knowledge of Christian authors (majoring in English at a Christian college will do that to you).  I was glad to have the opportunity to give this one a try, though, and I certainly enjoyed it.  It's a memoir focusing on several losses the author has experienced throughout his life and the lessons he's learned relating to those losses.  He talks about his grandmother, his lifelong best friend, his mother, and his father and describes how losing each of these people affected him. 

We are told these stories through a tour of what Buechner calls his Magic Kingdom - his office and library.  I have to admit that the descriptions of his book inspired quite a bit of envy.  He has an amazing collection and describes it as only a true book lover could.  While I consider myself to be a bit more conservative in my theology, I appreciated so many aspects of the book.  Buechner reminded me a lot of an older Donald Miller or Anne Lamott.  I particularly enjoyed what he had to say about the difficulties in writing fiction about the life of Christ - although I'm disappointed that he gave up on his Mary Magdalene story.  I'll definitely be reading more of this author - especially his fiction.

Thank you again Amy, and be sure to check her site to see links to her reviews, guest posts, and other Buechner Week goodies!

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Book Review: Beatrice and Virgil by Yann Martel

As always, Reader Friends, I am terribly behind in posting.  I've spent a good portion of this week at the doctor, which you would think would mean lots of reading time, but actually does not, at least for me.  I can't read if I'm not comfortable.  I tend to just zone out in the waiting room and think about how very very bored I am and how much I hate the seats and how people in waiting rooms have serious personal space issues.  I'm not here because I have the flu, so please, keep your flu to the other side of the room.  Anyway, all of this to say that I've almost missed a lot of work, which means I am an entire week late posting my review of Beatrice and Virgil for TLC Book Tours (obviously keeping post dates on my work calendar is a bad idea).  Lisa at TLC and Yann Martel have my most sincere apologies, especially since I loved the book.

Cute cover, right?  I love what Yann Martel does with animals.  Yes, I am a huge animal lover, but I don't think you need to be to read and appreciate this book (or Life of Pi, which was equally amazing).  This is the story of a writer who becomes involved in helping a taxidermist write a play about two of his taxidermied animals - Beatrice (a donkey) and Virgil (a howler monkey).  I'm not going to lie, it's a very complicated book to summarize in a few sentences with no spoilers.  Besides being an engrossing story, it's also an amazing meditation on human character.

Writing
Absolutely beautiful. What really impressed me the most is the subtlety Martel uses in using a donkey and a monkey as a paralell to the life of the taxidermist and his experiences.  I LOVED that Martel never draws a solid line for us, but let's the reader make his or her own interpretations.  It's not that the book is vague or hard to understand, but one thing that really bothers me in books is when an author feels like they have to point out every metaphor, every comparison, every similarity.  It takes me out of the story and can even feel condescending.  I like the feeling that an author values my intelligence as reader enough to let me draw my own conclusions.  Plus the ending is fantastic, which is just as I expected after The Life of Pi, which is one of the best book endings I've ever read.

MST3K
This is literary fiction - it's not popular fiction and the author does require the reader to draw a lot of his or her own conclusions.  There isn't a lot of action and I certainly wouldn't say it's a plot-driven novel.  It's so much more about the characters, who are amazing.  Seriously, how good does an author have to be to make a reader care deeply about a taxidermied donkey?  But I LOVE Beatrice.  And Virgil.  In my opinion, the entertainment value was excellent.  I was into the story, I cared about the characters, I stayed up late reading it.  I'm not sure that I'd recommend it to all of my friends because it is so deeply character-driven.  If you're wanting a lot of action, you don't necessarily get that until the end.  But the question of motivation, particular for the taxidermist, made the book hard for me to put down. 

Some sites you might want to check out:
Beatrice and Virgil homepage
TLC Tours page with links to other reviewers

Oh and I want to be sure that I note, I read this in hardback, but the paperback version was released on March 1st, so it's available in bookstores now!