Friday, November 28, 2008

"We read to know we are not alone." - C.S. Lewis

Writing is a lonely profession. I spend most days with my feet up, laptop secured, wrists aching because of my non-ergonomic positioning in front of the TV or trees. I watch my world, a beautiful world, but a lonely one outside of the finches and dogs and squirrels. It is quiet. It is peaceful. It is breath-taking in its beauty and its utter solitude.

Luckily, there are books. Even better, people who love books.

I've been asked to contribute to the blog, The Book Book, founded by the hilarious author of Editorial Ass. While my work will be copy-paste - I take my vodka bottle with me everywhere - the other readers are incredibly gifted. Check-check-check it out.

Also, there is interest in a non-fiction version of this blog. I'd have to repeat my 2006 adventure of reading 150 books in a year ("Could you read more, like 300? Or 365? That's great for marketing."). Or a combination of that and stories about the Effin' Ranch. I'll keep you posted. After all, you're why I'm here. Even you, Cince in Athens, Greece. Even you.

89. "The Given Day" - Dennis Lehane

Dennis Lehane shows amazing versatility in his new novel, The Given Day. While it is no Mystic River, it is also not Gone Baby Gone. He has elevated his writing to near "liter-ahry" greatness.

Boston, 1918. Danny Coughlin works his police beat with dreams of getting his gold badge through hard work and the help of his infamous father, Thomas Coughlin. He lives with Italians, minds his Irish roots, and busts Bolsheviks.

Tulsa, 1918. Luther Lawrence is trying to make something of his new life with a wife and baby on the way. However, there is only so much that Tulsa offers black Americans besides his job as an elevator operator, but Luther's choices send him all the way to Boston to live a life on the lam.

Lehane weaves the stories of these two men with historical elements like the molasses flood, outbreak of Spanish flu, and Babe Ruth of the Boston Red Sox. As a teacher and writer, I dissected his chapters to try to find out what made the heart beat. It's simple, really... have an eye for stunning juxtapositions between fact and fiction and have an ear for incredibly realistic dialogue. However, as a reader, I just devoured this book in a day and a half. Gulp. Yum.

4.5 out of 5.0 Boston Golds.

Monday, November 24, 2008

88. "Empress Orchid" - Anchee Min

Reading this book was a delightful accident. I thought I had requested a book about Tsu Hsi, the Empress Dowager of China who was feared as one of the cruelest rulers in history. Oh, wait. This is about Tsu Hsi's rise to power? Where's the blood, the gore, the examples of just plain awfulness?

Not in this book.

Still, it's a quick read, skipping light as a breeze over all that boring history stuff and focusing on the manipulation of other wives/concubines of the emperor (Hsien Feng). Her servants did the killing and hurting, not Orchid/Tsu Hsi. She was too busy learning how to pleasure the emperor and save the kingdom.

So the writing is sympathetic to Tsu Hsi; it's still an interesting look at Chinese history (yes, I was being snide - I like the history "stuff"). However, after being told that she was one of the most horrible female leaders in world history, I'd like a real view of this woman. Any suggestions?

2.75 out of 5.0 Green Tea Vodkas.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

“The cure for boredom is curiosity. There is no cure for curiosity.” - Ellen Parr

I'm curious about a lot of subjects, but this linking from book to book is creating a new feeling in my brain. Boredom. Suffocation. I am miming that I've boxed myself in. Thank you to my sixth grade speech teacher for forcing us to learn mime (yes, I don't quite get it, either).

It's my blog. I can read whatever I want. I can jump from Chinese rulers to paganism to Boston during World War I. And I will. Try and stop me. I'm slamming the door to my room and pouting on the bed.

Ah. Freedom.

XX. "The Sagas of Icelanders"

This compilation of Nordic myth and stories is 750+ pages of history, maps, legends, and pure unedited-yet-translated junk. Oh, I'm just grumpy. I wanted giants and mystical creatures. Look at the cover.

Instead, it's a book for true historians. The sagas read like the Old Testament, barring the "begats." Instead someone with a funky name weds someone else and name their children after relatives and ZOMG - my eyes are blinded by names and what is the friggin' story?!

Note to self: get more sleep or stick to Dr. Seuss.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

87. "The Dwarf" - Par Lagerkvist

Moving from two "princes," I read about this book several years ago, but it seemed a perfect time to review it now because of the dwarf's dedication to his Prince.

The prince is unnamed, but the dwarf is named Piccoline. He is not a jester or a fool, but a general aide to the Prince (always capitalized) during what seems to be pre-Renaissance Italy. Piccoline hates women, hates sex, hates other dwarfs, hates human behavior. However, he revels in degrading (though he hates when humans act degradingly) and killing, whether it's a kitten or another dwarf.

This is a fascinating look at evil and hatred, especially self-hatred. Piccoline is 26 inches of pure malice and fury, yet he is quick-humored. Some of his statements make the reader cringe, while others make one nod and agree. His brutal analysis of human nature leaves one hell of a scar after finishing the novel.

3.75 out of 5.0 Angry Dwarfs.


79-87 - The Dwarf was written by a Swedish author, so I decided to discover more about the Icelandic history, including Finland, Norway, Sweden, Iceland, and Greenland. Thus, I found The Sagas of Icelanders. This one is going to take a while - 751 pages.

86. "The Audacity of Hope" - Barack Obama

One sentence post:

If I hadn't voted for Barack Obama, I would have after reading this "how to cure the government" diatribe; however, I wish I had picked his first book instead.

3.0 out of 5.0 Bahama Mamas.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

85. "The Prince" - Niccolo Machiavelli

Insert evil cackle here - I found a way to connect the dots. In A Thread of Grace, there is a scene where a character is about to be tortured, and he comforts himself with the fact that Machiavelli went through the same torture and lived to write The Prince, though it was through dictation.

What interested me the most was the dedication to the Medici family. Readers of this blog may remember my fascination with the family (and subsequent scouring of books). I did not know that Machiavelli was another one of the family's "pets."

This is not a book about a prince nor is it fiction. It's an examination of the role of a prince in military, history, and personality. Or, as others believe, it is a satire on the same subjects. Published in 1532 after Machiavelli's death, we may never know his true purpose in writing about this subject.

However, it's the root of many beliefs today. For example, it is better to be feared than loved by your subjects. Also, a prince should discern good advice from bad. Throw in some history (Greeks, Romans, British) and it is a recipe for a perfect prince. You have heard of the term, machiavellian, right?

3.0 out of 5.0 Petit Zincs.


79-85 covered. 86 - the next "prince" of the United States (President-elect Barack Obama). I made a promise to read one of his books when he was elected. From there, we'll see where "hope" takes me.

Saturday, November 08, 2008

84. "Unto the Daughters" - Karen Tintori

From Sicily to America, the Costa family brought old country traditions and beliefs to Detroit in the early 1900s. The author, Karen Tintori, knew about her grandmother's curses against the evil eye and folk tales about prayers, but she didn't know about the major skeleton in her family's closet: the murder of her great-aunt Frances by her own brothers in an honor killing.

A true story, Tintori digs through her family's records for facts, then writes in a fictional style. While I liked this style of writing, her choice to switch from the past to the "present" seemed awkward and forced at times, like she only wrote that chapter because her editor told her to fill in the information. I would have liked to try it in sequential order because I admired her writing.

An amazing look at Sicilian and early Italian immigrants' lives with the haunting of Frances Costa throughout the book in its imagery and dedication to details.

3.5 out of 5.0 Detroits.


Connected the dots 79 to 80 (Moses led the Hebrews) to 81 (Operation Shylock - where Moses Bellybutton is the "reverse nemesis" of Philip Roth), then to 82 (A Thread of Grace - how Italy helped the Jews during WWII), to 83 (Italian organized crime) to 84 (organized crime with Detroit immigrants).

I'm stuck. When I'm stuck, I look at my leaning tower of books and close my eyes to choose. The game begins anew.

83. "Gomorrah" - Roberto Saviano

Saviano's journalistic look at Italian organized crime has him locked up under a witness protection program. He has received multiple death threats and responds to questions through circuitous routes like a member of the mafioso himself.

Since 1979, the Camorra have organized everything from sweatshops to drug trafficking. This book details how the Chinese unload millions of dollars of fabrics and clothing in Naples every year, but ask for their bodies to be taken home to rest on Chinese soil. Saviano, himself, witnesses how drug addicts are used as guinea pigs to test the quality of a heroin shipment.

When Saviano writes about his first-hand experiences, it is gritty and involving, but when he gets into the history of the crime "clans," it reads more like an 8th grade history text - dry and difficult to swallow. I blame part of that on the translation from Italian to English (this was first released in Italy to more than 600,000 copies sold).

Due to this, as well as my own misunderstanding of the book (I thought it was about a history of all Italian crime - the Mafia, etc.), I wasn't as blown away (pun intended) as others.

3.25 out of 5.0 Italian Surfers.

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

RIP Michael Crichton

Michael Crichton, author of Jurassic Park and The Andromeda Strain, is dead after a private battle with cancer. He was only 66.

Crichton inspired me when I was a young writer. I loved his ability to take unique topics and use the "what if" factor to create amazing plots. I believe he is the one who taught me to do that with my own writing.

Though I snubbed him in recent years because of my own issues against bestseller lists, I've never been disappointed after reading one of his books. I may not have liked the characters or even completely believed in them, but his plotting and sneaky manipulation left me thinking, "What if?"

I hope he saves me a spot in writers' heaven because I'd love to chat.

Monday, November 03, 2008

82. "A Thread of Grace" - Mary Doria Russell

Yesterday, our local PBS station showed Parts I and II of Ken Burns' The War, an insightful look at World War II and its affect on four American towns/cities. The end of Part II showed how the Allies invaded Italy, and I was reminded of this book.

Yes, I cheated. In my dot to dot experiment, I didn't take into consideration the length between "want book" and "have book." I skipped ahead, but I'm so glad I did.

A Thread of Grace is the unsentimental saga of Italy's role during World War II, particularly its peek at the people's protection of Jewish Italians. With multiple characters and "threads of grace," the author kindly adds the names and monikers at the beginning of the novel. After picking it up and putting it down several times, I was especially happy to review this.

Russell's dedication to her story is demonstrated through her meticulous research, but it's her wonderful writing and character believability that makes this a book that should be required reading.

4.75 out of 5.0 Dark and Stormys.

Saturday, November 01, 2008

“Insane people are always sure that they are fine. It is only the sane people who are willing to admit that they are crazy.” - Nora Ephron

I am doing NaNoWriMo for the first time. I guess I felt that parenting, teaching 30 credits, sleeping, reading, conversing with people, and Effin' Ranching were not enough for me right now.

Crazy. Friggin' insane.

If you are crazy, too, look me up: KDRockstar. Yes, I know. I have it embroidered on my running shoes, too.