Monday, July 30, 2007

I've opened the gates again. If you like the quirky personal notes contained in this blog, please check out the writing blog: The Witness Protection Program at the Effin' Ranch.

Sunday, July 29, 2007

53. "When a Crocodile Eats the Sun" - Peter Godwin

I'm on a nonfiction kick; this is the third in a series (unless you count the Bible as fiction - but that argument can wait).

Peter Godwin has written articles about 65 countries, but the one that always pulls him back is his native Zimbabwe. As he visits more often, due to his father's declining health, Godwin notices that not everything is as it appears. The country that held warm memories of growing up now is a fearsome place for a white man. And the father that he knew is not the man he claimed to be.

Godwin traces the reasons for the downfall in Zimbabwe, most likely earning himself another no-pass-GO-no-collecting-$100 ban from his homeland. He shows how the dictator Mugabe has created racial hate and fear through hate and fear, and how an 80-year-old man holds the future of Zimbabwe in his hand.

Beautifully written, it is terrifying to imagine this world. Even worse, it makes me irate that this isn't talked about in American media. Another reason to subscribe to BBC news.

4.65 out of 5.0 Screaming Nazis.

Friday, July 27, 2007

Oh, parents. Aren't you taking things a bit too far?

Banning Junie B. Jones? Because she doesn't use "the Queen's English"?

My 8-year-old went through a Junie B. stage where every night we read about this ballsy stinker of a kindergartner (now a first grader). We laughed together at her escapades and talked about her misuse of language.

Sheesh, moms and dads. If it irritates you so much, quit wasting your time trying to ban a series of books and use it as a teaching experience.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

52. "Encyclopedia of an Ordinary Life" - Amy Krouse Rosenthal

As Amy states from the beginning, she grew up in a normal family, she was never abused, she has no major story to tell other than an encyclopedic reference of her ordinary life. Chronologically, then alphabetically, the reader is rushed through the tidbits that made up the thoughts and life of Amy.

That's it. She doesn't die after a long, difficult battle with cancer. She is simply telling the world that she is here. Somehow, her appeals for communication - through randomly placed postcards with money tucked in, through pleas for emails, through this non-fictional account of her life - is a reminder of how out of touch we are, as a society, with each other.

Amy's observations are dead-on. In fact, after reading the fine print on the back of the title page, I became enamored with her "purple flower moments." Luckily, she continues this online.

As she states along the way, who would care to read about her? Everyone... because you may find a piece of your own soul within the pages.

4.75 out of 5.0 Purple Bikini Martinis.

51. "Stormy Weather" - Paulette Jiles

Jeannine Stoddard is the heroine of this story, picking up her family of four after her father's work on the oil fields causes him to {insert something awful here}. Like the girls in Little Women, Jeannine is the hard-working Jo, trying to create a family feel on her father's farm.

If Jeannine, is Jo, then her youngest sister is Beth, her mother is Meg (a bit flighty and never there to help), and her other sister is a silly Amy, just wanting to get out of there.

The book reminded me of Little Women because there is no real emotion. In fact, there was more to-do when Jo cut her hair for money. Jeannine should be furious with these whiners saddled to her, yet she rarely shows any frustration with them. Which makes one wonder, is this a saint story? Or have I missed the point?

2.5 out of 5.0 Dirty Dishwashers.

Friday, July 20, 2007

"If you want to know what a man's like, take a good look at how he treats his inferiors, not his equals." -J.K. Rowling

It would be remiss of me to ignore one of the strangest moments of literary history - the last book in the Harry Potter series. Fans are lining up outside of bookstores. Websites are turning in the IP addresses of people posting photos of the book's pages. And millions of people show more concern over the fate of a single character in a novel than the future of the U.S. military in Iraq.

I can aim to sound tongue-in-cheek, but I, too, am obsessed with Harry Potter and his world of magic. By bringing this world to life in literature, J.K. Rowling has made reading fun for hundreds of thousands of children, as well as reminding adults of fantasy and myths. It beats the hell out of the day to day clock-punching where most of us live.

I will receive my book at approximately 12:01 a.m. and, with the help of a large double espresso, read it straight through until noon-ish Saturday. If I do not finish it, I will not look online. I will not talk to friends about it. I relish the secrecy like I savor my own unwritten ideas.

What will happen? I want Harry to live happily ever after, becoming an Auror and having red-haired magical babies with Ginny Weasley. But I don't think this will happen. I believe that Harry will die. He is too much like a Christ figure... but he will sacrifice himself for the good of magical beings. I think Ron will die, also, but that is just a hunch that I can't explain.

Time will tell, but I will go no further with my thoughts or opinions after this post. After all, I want those of you who care to live in this imaginary world for one last time to enjoy yourself.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

"The Night Birds" - Thomas Maltman

I have a self-monitored rule - I don't do reviews of books
1. Written by friends;
2. Edited by me;
3. That I've watched grow up from story to novel during my M.F.A. years.

Still, with this rule, I know this book is going to be amazing. So I will talk about the author instead.

Tom has an amazing gift of language. Most of it is pure talent, but he constantly honed it, reading books like The Art of Fiction. When we returned from a holiday break, all of us wannabe poets and writers discussed trips, crazy family members, and our classes for the spring. Tom edited 500-plus pages of his manuscript. He gets it, which is why he deserves every ounce of success he receives.

The Night Birds is about the Dakota Conflict of 1862 (true Minnesota history) and how it affects the relationship between Hazel and a Dakota warrior. Read it. In fact, go buy it, then read it.

Saturday, July 14, 2007

50. "The Earth, My Butt, and Other Big Round Things" - Carolyn Mackler

Virginia has lost a lot recently - her best friend moved to Walla Walla, her sister is saving lives in Africa, and her brother is too cool to hang out with her anymore. But one thing that Virginia hasn't lost is weight, which is a sore subject for her mom, a nationally recognized teen psychologist who seems to have all of the answers for everyone but her own family members.

Virginia is sassy and bold and blunt. Mackler created a character who will reach many pre-teen and teen girls... and remind those of us with the ghost of our adolescence lingering in our hearts that we can find our own way.

I didn't expect to like this novel as much as I did, thinking that the teen genre would ricochet off me. But it is as much about relationships and family as being a teenager, and those issues never disappear.

Loved it. Loved it enough to purchase a copy for my private library and share with pals.

4.5 out of 5.0 Jolly Ranchers.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

49. "The Double Bind" - Chris Bohjalian

Laurel was the victim of a violent interaction with two men while biking a lonely Vermont road. She pushes this out of her mind until she finds a photo of a lone biker that looks like herself - taken by a homeless man.

Using the characters from The Great Gatsby was an interesting literary device; however, it has been so long since I read it that I had to refer to online notes to nudge my memory.

This book pretends to ask the question, "Why would a man with family connections and money be homeless?" But, like most Bohjalian books, things are not what they appear to be. Unfortunately, Bohjalian seemed to concentrate more on the mystery of his story than the development of Laurel's character.

No spoilers here... I will simply say that if the whole book could have had some of the vitality of the last ten pages, I would have enjoyed reading it, rather than feeling like I was biking uphill the entire way.

1.75 out of 5.0 Emeralds.

Monday, July 09, 2007

48. "Finn" - Jon Clinch

From the powerful imagery of The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Clinch scoops up his favorites and patches them together to create the story of Huckleberry's father, known simply as Finn.

Finn, as relayed in Huckleberry Finn, lives off the river and spends nearly every nickel on whiskey. But Clinch goes deeper into this man's life. Why did he become an alcoholic? And where is Huckleberry's mother?

Brilliantly plotted, Finn catches you by the throat from the first paragraph and doesn't let go until the end. While these types of fictional hero-worship stories make me nauseous (anyone remember the sequel to Gone With the Wind?), this tale is all the more powerful because it doesn't rely on its origins to tell a good story.

4.25 out of 5.0 Cornwallis Rivers.

Friday, July 06, 2007

47. "Pillars of the Earth" - Ken Follett

This 900+ page epic novel spans forty years of life in the town of Kingsbridge, mainly revolving around the priory (home of monks) and a cathedral that took nearly the entire book to complete. Based on historical facts, the specific details about kings and civil wars and building are interesting.

You know there had to be a "but."

But... when I was about halfway through, a little grumpy about losing interest and the waste of 400 pages, there is a scene where Jack, the builder, and Aliena, his lover, are cuddling and she asks him to tell her a story. He tells about the lovers who lived on separate hills (hands move to breasts), but that they met in the forest (hands slide downward).

Book. Thrown. Across. Room.

I mean, really. This is the stuff giggly horndogs would say.

As someone succinctly said in the comments, "Life's too short to read rubbish books." Indeed. However, if you like this one, the sequel is due out in October. I, for one, will not be reading it.

1.0 out of 5.0 English Highballs.

Banned Book: One of the top 100 banned books for 1990-2000 because of rape scenes, sex scenes, and overuse of adverbs. Oh, fine, I made the last one up, but it's true.

46. "America: A Citizen's Guide to Democracy Inaction" - Jon Stewart

I've meant to read this for a while; if the Daily Show were on earlier, I would be a huge Jon Stewart fan. The book does not disappoint.

Although you need to know some of your history to understand the best jokes, this book - in textbook format, of course - goes through the good, the bad, and the ugly of American history. Snarkiness aplenty. And where else would you learn about countries historical leaders, as well as whether there is a salad dressing named after them?

This is my Fourth of July pick and a nice chocolate martini read it was, thank you.

3.0 out of 5.0 Romulan Ales.
Online Dating


Thanks to my kindred blog spirit, who was my first link when I started this blog, I found this rating system. I'm horrified, to say the least.

Therefore, as the reader of banned books and general shit-stirrer, it is my honor to pull that rating down with a hearty "goddamn" and "fucker" and "bitch."

Whew. It was getting a little too Pixar there for a moment. Like Dory was going to come by, "Just keep swimming, just keep swimming..."

Tuesday, July 03, 2007

45. "The Witches of Worm" - Zilpha Keatley Snyder

Lonely Jessica finds a couple-day-old kitten and nurses it back to health, even though she hates cats, even though she is too busy waiting up for her wayward mother to come home late at night.

The kitten grows into a cat, which she names Worm. Suddenly, all of Jessica's anger seems to manifest itself in the cat, and Worm speaks to her, telling her to lie and hurt others. Jessica believes she is a witch or possessed by one. There is no real answer if this is true.

For the young adult reader, it's a good book for discussion in the classroom. However, due to the witchcraft aspect, I doubt that it is taught much, due to its banned status at several libraries.

2.75 out of 5.0 Salem Witches.

Sunday, July 01, 2007

44. "Flowers for Algernon" - Daniel Keyes

Charlie Gordon, a mentally retarded janitor in a bakery, volunteers for a new surgery/treatment that will increase his IQ. Indeed, it does, and Charlie becomes the first human to undergo the procedure that made him a super-genius.

He isn't the first victim, though. Algernon, a white lab mouse, also went through the procedure, and originally beat Charlie at solving mazes. But soon, Charlie sees his own destiny through the behavior of Algernon.

Told via progress reports written by Charlie, it is a desperate and gripping novel that remains timely in its questions of science and manipulation, as well as religious arguments.

The first review on the inner flap of the book said, "Charlie will break your heart." That didn't happen to me. As he progressed into a super-human, I lost empathy for him, which I think Keyes purposely manipulated. Overall, I was satisfied with the read, but anxious to see the theatrical version and how the actors would pull off two Charlies. Most of the time, when I love a book, I am not looking forward to other adaptations of it, so this knocks Algernon down a bit.

3.0 out of 5.0 Marijuana Milkshakes.

Banned book - oh dear, wet dreams and other acts of puberty, as well as some sexual references.