Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Unbearable Lightness by Portia de Rossi

For some reason, I am slightly obsessed with the relationship of Ellen deGeneres and Portia de Rossi.  Every time you see them together, they just seem so happy!  I especially love Ellen.  Last year, every day after school, I'd go to my parents' house to pick up Emerson and would end up sitting on their couch watching Ellen with them.  With every show, you are guaranteed a laugh, but you are also likely to cry from the personal stories that Ellen features.  Ellen's show is perfect:  she focuses on positive stories and concludes her show every time with "be kind to one another."  That is why I read her memoir, Seriously...I'm Kidding (hilarious, fun read!).

While watching Ellen, I saw her promoting her wife's book Unbearable Lightness, and I decided to give it a try.

This book is a memoir about Portia's struggles with eating disorders as she entered the Hollywood spotlight.  With excruciating details and frankness, she describes her extreme dieting, her obsession with food, and her struggles with being famous.  It provides an interesting insight into the lives of celebrities.  It is very sad -- at one point, Portia reaches a weight of 89 lbs.

The book is very different from anything Ellen would write, but I enjoyed it very much.

The Age of Miracles by Karen Thompson Walker

This book blew my mind!
It was one of those books that, as I read and especially after I finished it, I was desperate for someone to talk to about it.  The concept behind the book was so fascinating to me...
This would be considered an "end of the world" book, but the world doesn't end with any of the popular methods: atomic bomb, natural disaster, aliens, etc.  Instead, the world simply starts to slow in its rotation.  The slowing, as it is called, is gradual at first.  People start to notice extra minutes in the day.  But the slowing progresses bit by bit until there are 24 hours of daylight and then 24 hours of darkness.
See?!  Aren't you already curious?  Could this happen?  What would it hurt?  How would we live?
These questions are all explored in the novel.  The slowing affects so much more than I ever could have expected.  Even society is split in half by those who choose to live by "clock time" and those who choose to live in "real time."
Throughout it all, the story is told from the eyes of a young teenage girl trying to get through the terrors of middle school.  I think this choice of narrator helps to lighten what could be a very dark novel.  While the world is trying to figure out how to live with this phenomenon, our narrator is also trying to figure out how to capture the attention of her first crush.  I loved that, because I think any middle schooler would be the same way - interested in the horrors around them but still engrossed in their own lives as well.
It really is a book that I, at least, found fascinating.  I am forever impressed by (and envious of!) novelists who come up with this new, interesting plot concepts and this one definitely blew me away.

If you read it, let me know what you think!

The Kitchen House by Kathleen Grissom

This book was, perhaps, my favorite of all my Facebook recommendations, most likely because it is historical fiction, which is my favorite genre.  It isn't a mystery and it isn't a quick read, but it's a great choice for anyone who really enjoys to read.

The Kitchen House is about a young Irish girl who is raised by African Americans who live in the "Kitchen House" of a rich white family.  Similar to The Help, this book focuses on the lives of these African American women as they become so much more than cooks or maids to the white women.  The narrators change throughout, which helps to give a more honest perspective.  At times, the young Irish girl is very naive to the reality around her, so the change in narrators helps the reader to understand what is truly happening.  However, the book follows the young girl into adulthood, as she leaves and then returns to the Kitchen House and the only family she's ever known.

This book explores the racial injustices of that time period with the innocence of a child's eyes and the brutal honesty of the African American women.  It is sad, encouraging, interesting... overall, a beautiful book.

Gillian Flynn: Gone Girl, Dark Places & Sharp Objects

A few months ago, I was late in my pregnancy and by the time I put my toddler to bed, I didn't have energy to do much more than sit on the couch and read.  I desperately needed good books to read, so I took to the place everyone goes to for recommendations in babysitters, landscapers, etc... Facebook.  And I'm happy to say, I must have some very literary Facebook friends because the recommendations came pouring in and all of them impressed even me, a book snob.

The first one I read was Gone Girl.  This book is one of the latest crazes in books, I think.  It is a mystery where a young wife disappears and her husband is the main suspect.  As the story slowly unravels, it becomes even more sick and twisted and surprising.  The narrators switch from the wife to the husband, so as soon as you think you know what's going on, another twist is thrown at you.  As a warning, lots of people have been so angry with the way it ends that they wish they hadn't read it.  That wasn't me.  The ending shocked me, definitely, but I like it when an author takes a risk and finds a unique way to end a book, and Flynn definitely does that with this novel.

After reading Gone Girl, I decided to find another one of this author's works, and I found Dark Places.  This was was, indeed, dark.  Much darker than Gone Girl.  Another mystery, this book focuses on the violent murder of a mother and two of her children.  The main suspect this time is the son.  A fourth child survived the murders.  Again, the narrators switch, as does the time period.  The fourth child is living with the stigma of being the only survivor of this infamous crime, her guilt of being the eye witness that helped put her brother behind bars, and her struggle to connect with her father.  This book kept me turning my pages ... well, rolling my thumb across my screen... so much so that one night I was reading the book as I rocked my toddler to sleep.  When she finally fell, I lay her in her bed and started downstairs.  I ended up stopping in the middle of the steps, sitting down, and finishing the book right there.  I couldn't wait to see what would happen next.

For some reason, I thought that was the end of Flynn's works, but I fortunately just discovered Sharp Objects.  After finishing this book, I've decided Flynn has an obsession with seriously messed up female characters!  In this one, a young female reporter is sent back to her hometown - one she has avoided for years - to report on two mysterious murders of young girls.  She stays in her childhood home with her mother, stepfather and step sister.  Her relationship with her mother is strained.  Her stepsister is this troubled 13 year old that gave me nightmares when I thought about my own daughter.  This book stays with one narrator, the young reporter, but stays true to Flynn's style of having several interesting characters, twists and turns, and a surprising conclusion.

Overall, I've enjoyed Flynn's works.  They're easy, interesting reads.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

The Casual Vacancy by J.K. Rowling

Man, what a letdown.

I am a crazy die-hard Potter fan.  I've read each book at least ten times, devouring them each for the first time in a 24 hour time period, and I've seen every movie just as often, never missing an opening weekend.  I envy J. K. Rowling's imagination and ability to bring the world of Harry Potter so vividly alive for people.  I also envy her ability to write young adult books that teach positive messages in such a unique way - a way that attracts people far beyond young adult age.

It is with this passion that I downloaded J.K. Rowling's new book, The Casual Vacancy, intended for an adult audience.  Perhaps that is where I went wrong - my expectations were already way too high.  Unfortunately, those were not met.

Okay, this is coming from a person who loves sad books... but this book was just so sad.  One of my friends said that all the ills of society are in this novel and she's right.  You don't finish the book with much hope for humanity.  For some reason, the overall storyline that connects the characters didn't interest me either.  Basically it is about a town divided when one of the major leaders dies suddenly from an aneurysm.  They fight over who should take his spot and what to do with "The Fields," an area of town that most people want redistricted.  I don't know, it just kind of bored me.

In fairness, I did finish the book so it wasn't awful.  It is, of course, well-written, but that was never a question for me.  It focuses on several different characters who collide at the end and their individual stories are interesting.  I guess, if you can forget it is by J. K. Rowling and you just want something to read, it isn't bad.  But don't expect the greatness that was Harry Potter or you will be disappointed.

Perks of Being a Wallflower

It seems to me that at least half of the movies released in the last few years - at least, the most popular - were based on novels.  With each movie, you have a large group of people walking into the cinema with high expectations because they're already huge fans of the book (although rarely does the movie, regardless how fantastic it is, live up to those expectations - as they say, books are always better). I am one of those people.  As a matter of fact, if a novel is turned into a movie, I will read it purposefully before seeing the movie (or reread it, as usually the case).  My most recent project is Perks of Being a Wallflower. 

I read this book years ago when it was published, but it was recently released on the silver screen - featuring none other than Emma Watson - so I picked it back up. It was as great as I remembered it.

The book is an epistolary novel (10 points to the person who knows what that means!) -- it is written entirely in letters.  The main character writes these letters to an unnamed person as he goes through his first year of high school.  He is a "wallflower" who struggles to fit in anywhere except with a stepbrother and stepsister who embrace him and all his weirdness.  What follows is an honest, heartbreaking tale of his freshman year as he encounters drugs, sex, love, heartbreak, etc.  He is one of the kindest, most sincere characters in a novel, and yet also one of the saddest.  This book is a sad book (do I read another type?) but it's a great book. One of the greatest quotes from the book is "We accept the love we think we deserve," which I find so true.

I'm not lucky enough to have watched the movie yet - it never came close to home.  But I definitely will.   For those of you like me, waiting the arrival of the movie in a Redbox, check out the book in the meantime.  After all, don't forget, books are always better.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Punished: A mother's cruelty. A daughter's survival. A secret that couldn't be told.

I just finished teaching a unit on personal narratives to my sophomores, so throughout the unit we read excerpts from various published memoirs.  For one particular unit, I found 10 different introductory paragraphs to memoirs to show them how to write a strong introduction.  After going through my very short list of memoirs I've read, I started just searching "memoir" in Amazon and reading samples of any book I found.  Punished was one of those books.  I found the first chapter suspenseful, used it in my lesson, and purchased the book.

I'm still not sure why I read it, though.

The book describes a girl who, throughout her entire childhood, suffers from serious physical and sexual abuse.  It's a more mature version of A Child Called It.  The horrendous punishments the child's mother inflicted on her get worse every time you think they can't.  Then, her grandfather sexually abuses her while her mother sits back and knowingly allows it to happen.

Was the book interesting?  Sure.  Did it keep me turning the pages?  Yes.

But here is my overall problem with this memoir - nothing happens to the "bad people."  In fictional stories, I can deal with sadness and cruelty and evil characters.  But I do not want to read a true story that ends with the antagonist simply getting away.  I think one of my main motivations for turning those pages and suffering through the descriptions of this person's life was the anticipation for that moment when justice would be served.  But it never was.  The father (who also turned a blind eye to the physical abuse) dies of cancer.  The grandfather dies of heart disease.  The mother lives a long life and dies naturally, with her daughter by her side.  No one is punished.  Everyone is forgiven.

I am a Christian person and I believe in forgiveness... but I also am a mother and I believe in hanging someone up by their fingernails (or worse) when they treat children this way.

If you enjoy memoirs, this book is well-written and it is an interesting story.  Just don't go into it expecting a happy ending.  The author turns out all right in the end, but that's all the happiness you'll get.