Thursday, May 31, 2007

36. "The Chocolate War" - Robert Cormier

The first time I read this book, I didn't get it. I yawned at the football practices full of symbolism and rolled my eyes at the male mentality of "shutting down" feelings.

A football player at a private school refuses to sell chocolate for a fundraiser. At first, he is following the demands of The Vigils, a gang-like group that creates pranks and forces younger students to comply.

But then, he decided to not sell chocolates ever. The Vigils take this as a stomp on them. Enter the scenes of teenage angst and pain.

Basically, it is about being popular or following the herd. I think it's a great book to start a conversation with teens about the topic; however, for general reading, it's not anything that you haven't read before.

2.0 out of 5.0 Chocolate Candy Bars.

Banned Book - this is one of the top five banned books. Cormier has gone on the record as being "extremely exhausted" with people who try to ban this book, even 20+ years after it was published. There is the issue of language (171 swear words, according to one diligent parent) and a scene where a character is masturbating, as well as several references to sex. It's a book about 16-18-year-olds. Of course there is swearing and sex. Der.

Monday, May 28, 2007


While I devote this blog to books and all things vodka, I neglect my other love - movies. Since the majority of my writing over the past three years has been for screenplays, it would only make sense that I'd throw in the occasional movie review.

But I have too much work, and I don't see great flicks until IFC carries them. But this is a case which can be compared to the literary novel versus the good story - Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End.

Now, this film has been panned for the past week. And, upon reflection, the critics have much to pick over, beginning with the seemingly ridiculous 2 hour and 55 minute runtime.

But these reviewers need to live with a pre-teen boy.

My son and I have wiggled and high-fived each other every time we saw a preview or poster. We wondered what happened to Captain Jack Sparrow. He created his own sword out of wood and beat his brother senseless. Ah, good times.

Since I declared my love for Legolas years ago during our "Lord of the Rings" phase, I am teased equally for my crush on Will Turner.
When you go to a movie with a preteen - well, first, it's a miracle that one would even go with you. Second, you cannot sigh and coo, no matter how hot Johnny Depp appears. When someone uses quick sword skills, you exclaim and elbow each other. You never hold the popcorn. You roll your eyes when they kiss.

You get to spend two hours and 55 minutes with someone who would ordinarily do anything to get out of that much together time, and you get thanked for it. Now, if only the critics had thought of that.

35. "The Time Traveler's Wife" - Audrey Niffenegger

Henry DeTamble is a time traveler. In fact, he meets his future wife, Clare, when she is only eight years old. No Humbert Humbert, he waits until his true age-self meets her again when she is legal, and she gets to share the insanity that is time travel with him.

Because, at least for Henry, time travel is not fun. He wakes up naked, sick, and starving. He gets to see his mother die over and over again. But he also gets to see Clare, as well as serve as a warning or guide for his younger self.

Without the French prose, German poetry, inane stanzas, and quirky high brow references, this could easily be the book of the month from Harlequin romances. When I used to write romance (and yes, I did write romance - still have my RWA card somewhere), the chant was "cowboys, brides, and babies." Lately, it's cowboys, brides, babies, time travel, vampires, and ghosts. So, this novel fits in with themes women find fascinating.

And I'll admit to being taken with the premise. The what ifs are wonderful to think through. But I didn't feel like I'd read something hearty, like oatmeal. More like a quick bowl of Cheerios.

2.5 out of 5.0 Bret's First Times.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

34. "Suite Francaise" - Irene Nemirovsky

A stunning narrative of two parts - the first, a description of the great exodus of Parisians during WWII, and the second, the story of a small French town occupied by German soldiers.

Irene Nemirovsky, a former Russian of Jewish descent (though baptized Catholic along with her daughters in 1939), wrote these novellas as part of a five book set. She never got to finish. She was taken away from her family and killed at the Auschwitz concentration camp.

With this background, it is a struggle to read Nemirovsky's words of kindness toward the Germans and troops. Some of the phrases seem to predict her fate. Besides the books - which intertwine the same characters and plots - there is a section of Nemirovsky's diaries. Most heartbreaking, however, is the correspondence from her husband, desperately searching for her. It is impossible to remain detached while reading his pleas for her safety after the date of her death passes.

Overall, this is a book mixing history (in an Anne Frank-esque way) with two well-written sections about how the French "allowed themselves" to survive the German occupation.

4.0 out of 5.0 French Summers.

Sunday, May 20, 2007

33. "Catch-22" - Joseph Heller

How often do you use a phrase, never thinking of where it originated? With "catch-22," I never considered that its origin was a fairly recent 1960-something novel. Funny... and it could have been "catch-18" or "catch-11.".

Wikepedia: "Catch-22 is a satirical, historical fiction novel by the American author Joseph Heller, first published in 1961. The novel, set during the latter stages of the Second World War from 1943 onwards, is frequently cited as one of the great literary works of the Twentieth Century.[2]

The novel follows Captain John Yossarian, a U.S. Army Air Forces B-25 bombardier, and a number of other characters. Most events occur while the airmen of the Fighting 256th (or "two to the fighting eighth power") Squadron are based on the island of Pianosa, west of Italy. Many events in the book are repeatedly described from differing points of view, so the reader learns more about the event from each iteration. Furthermore, the events are referred to as if the reader already knows all about them. The pacing of Catch-22 is frenetic, its tenor intellectual, and its humor largely absurd, but interspersed with grisly moments of realism."

Thank you, wikipedia.

From the first few pages, I knew it was true love. Sarcasm mixed with a healthy dose of realism and a dash of snark? I'm in.

OK, long post about the wonderful-ness of this novel was accidentally deleted. Just trust me and read the book.

4.25 out of 5.0 Wrenches.

Banned - Lots of whores, sex, and blatant discrimination against every race/sex/military rank.

Saturday, May 19, 2007

32. "A Girl Becomes a Comma Like That" - Lisa Glatt

Bodies as parts, sex as medicine, love as life... there are several thematic elements that impact the reader in this book of short stories, all linked to a professor, her mother, and her student.

Rachel teaches poetry but lives with her mother, who is dying from breast cancer. Almost in an effort to keep her mother alive, Rachel brings home men for several one night stands.

Thankfully, this isn't a novel about the past relationship between a mother and her daughter, where they fight, then love each other again right before she passes away silently at dawn. I can't emphasize how happy this made me. It's anti-cliche throughout, and its lovely, amazing writing is sensual and striking. My only grudge is that one of my written babies "curled like a comma" - so, she has my work beaten to the floorboards.

4.5 out of 5.0 Diamant Noirs.

31. "Bitter is the New Black" - Jen Lancaster

Based on her blog, "Jennsylvania," this book covers a spoiled, snobby ex-sorority chick's fall from grace after losing her high-paying job during the dot-com bust.

Though Jen is self-deprecating, a lot of her ego is wrapped up in her work. Pretty normal, but after she is unemployed for close to two years, it begins to gnaw at her a bit. However, the book seems to leave out some of the important decisions that led to the reactions (which are the written essays). For example, she's clipping coupons for cat food, but she still goes out and buys unbelievably expensive boots. Later, there is regret, but there is no real story beneath the surface.

Bitter, yes. I would be, too. But without more substance, it was hard to feel sorry for Jen; in fact, there's little to like in this written portrayal.

2.0 out of 5.0 White Russians.

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

30. "Song of Solomon" - Toni Morrison

On the day before Macon "Milkman" Dead is born, a man tries to fly from the upper window of the hospital. Like this suicide jumper, Milkman tries to fly through his life, but his own self-escalation of relationship issues drags him down.

It takes a trip to Virginia to find out more about his heritage to change Milkman's selfishness. And it takes more than just one character to fill this novel with splendid storytelling.

Set in the late 1950s to 1960s, it expresses racism and frustration. One of the most interesting story lines involves Milkman's friend, Guitar, who is part of a secret society that kills a white person every time a black person is murdered, mimicking the original murder.

Part II did meander a bit, floating into a more viable sense of disbelief (though Part I did this, it was around a particular character named Pilate, rather than making it an issue of plot). I preferred Part I because it was about people, but I liked Part II because it was about resolutions of self.

4.0 out of 5.0 Southern Kamikazes.

Thursday, May 03, 2007

XX. "The Clan of the Cave Bear"


Confession time - I remember my mother refusing to let me check this book out at the library when I was in fifth or sixth grade. I heard later that there was a ton of sex in the book. This tickled the back of my mind, so when it was time to dig up a chocolate martini book, I instantly thought of this one.

Forty pages in and I'm annoyed. It's almost like reading Tolkien... the names, the genealogy. Where's the hot lovin'?

Back to the high brow material...