Wednesday, October 28, 2009

That Old Cape Magic by Richard Russo

That Old Cape Magic
by Richard Russo

Rating (on a scale of 1-5, with 5 being best)
Plot: 4.5
Characters: 5
Writing: 5
Final: 4.83

Comments: This book deviates a little from the usual Russo formula where the small northeastern town is treated like an additional character. I happen to really enjoy that formula, but I liked this one, too.
Griffin has been tooling around for nearly a year with his father’s ashes in the trunk, but his mother is very much alive and not shy about calling on his cell phone. She does so as he drives down to Cape Cod, where he and his wife, Joy, will celebrate the marriage of their daughter Laura’s best friend. For Griffin this is akin to driving into the past, since he took his childhood summer vacations here, his parents’ respite from the hated Midwest. And the Cape is where he and Joy honeymooned, in the course of which they drafted the Great Truro Accord, a plan for their lives together that’s now thirty years old and has largely come true. He’d left screenwriting and Los Angeles behind for the sort of New England college his snobby academic parents had always aspired to in vain; they’d moved into an old house full of character; and they’d started a family. Check, check and check.

But be careful what you pray for, especially if you manage to achieve it. By the end of this perfectly lovely weekend, the past has so thoroughly swamped the present that the future suddenly hangs in the balance. And when, a year later, a far more important wedding takes place, their beloved Laura’s, on the coast of Maine, Griffin’s chauffeuring two urns of ashes as he contends once more with Joy and her large, unruly family, and both he and she have brought dates along. How in the world could this have happened?

Monday, October 26, 2009

Home by Marilynne Robinson

by Marilynne Robinson
Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Rating (on a scale of 1-5, with 5 being best)
Plot: 5
Characters: 5
Writing: 5
Final: 5

Comments: I'm not going to be able to do this book justice. The two words that keep coming to mind are beautiful and devastating. It gave me a feeling I don't experience much any more--I don't know how common this feeling is, so this might not mean much to you. Particularly throughout my childhood, in that indefinable period of stillness between late afternoon and evening (generally on Sundays) I would be overwhelmed by what I can only describe as a crushing, suffocating sense of melancholy. This book gave me that same feeling. However, lest you get the wrong idea, I loved it. I couldn't put it down.
Hundreds of thousands were enthralled by the luminous voice of John Ames in Gilead, Marilynne Robinson's Pulitzer Prize-winning novel. Home is an entirely independent, deeply affecting novel that takes place concurrently in the same locale, this time in the household of Reverend Robert Boughton, Ames's closest friend.

Glory Boughton, aged thirty-eight, has returned to Gilead to care for her dying father. Soon her brother, Jack—the prodigal son of the family, gone for twenty years—comes home too, looking for refuge and trying to make peace with a past littered with tormenting trouble and pain.

Jack is one of the great characters in recent literature. A bad boy from childhood, an alcoholic who cannot hold a job, he is perpetually at odds with his surroundings and with his traditionalist father, though he remains Boughton's most beloved child. Brilliant, lovable, and wayward, Jack forges an intense bond with Glory and engages painfully with Ames, his godfather and namesake.

Home is a moving and healing book about families, family secrets, and the passing of the generations, about love and death and faith. It is Robinson's greatest work, an unforgettable embodiment of the deepest and most universal emotions.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Marked and Anita

Jana and Bethann's recent postings on Kellerman and Evanovich inspired me to review a couple of series I've recently read part of . . .

I'd like to think I'm just not the demographic for the Young Adult novel anymore, and that maybe I never was. I fancy myself too cynical and jaded. Admittedly, I read the entire Twilight series. I'll even cop to staying up all night to read the first one and seeing the movie with my Twi-hard co-workers. It was a nice diversion, but in the end I wanted more biting and fighting. I vowed to move on.

But, here I am again in the middle of another too young vampire series--the House of Night novels. Initially, the moralizing asides against pot smoking, underage drinking, and sex was pretty annoying. Fortunately, this seems to abate as there series gets rolling. The mother/daughter team of P.C. and Kristin Cast write from the first-person perspective of Zoey Redbird, a 16 year-old girl marked as a potential vampire with unusual powers for a "fledgling." She is shipped off to the House of Night, a vampire boarding school in Oklahoma for training, nocturnal living and the usual trials and tribulations of high school life. The stories themselves are zippy and move best when Zoey is exchanging lively quips with her friends. The matriarchal vampire society is a nice touch, and the relationships between vamps and humans, friends and enemies, is growing in complexity without being too melodramatic. By the end of book 2 the action is hopping with a nice mix of--dare I say--Buffy-esque humor and friend power. Book 3 beckons. Maybe this is my demographic.

I did look for more adult vampire adventures in Laurell K. Hamilton's Anita Blake, Vampire Hunter series. Blood Noir started out interestingly enough with Anita having sex with two hunky young werewolves for FIVE CHAPTERS. However, the incessant (and exhausting) sex scenes were interrupted by waaaay too many issues. Admittedly, I came into the series in the 16th book, but as the narrative was fairly non-existent, I still have no idea what the heck. In short, Anita agrees pose as the girlfriend of one of her lovers to visit his dying father. What ensues is a mess of mistaken identity, sex with random stripper werecreatures (yes, stripping werewolves and weretigers), TMI on the post sex clean-up, and talk, talk, talk, talk about sex and feelings and feeling bad about the sex. Oh, Anita also has some "metaphysical ardeur" that needs feeding with sex (Aristotle is feeling bad about abuse of the term "metaphyscial" in this book). Ugh! I leave with an excerpt that captures the essence of it all: I just held up the pills. "Guess."
He looked stricken, like someone had hit him in the gut. "Mother of God."
I nodded. "I had sex with three men for two days and I've missed the pill."
"You didn't use the condoms?" he asked.
My body chose that minute to remind me that what goes in comes out. I shook my head. "We were all metaphysically mind-fucked, so no, we didn't take precautions. I need some privacy."
"I need to clean up, Richard, okay?" I fought not to cry or scream at him. I wasn't mad at him. I was too confused to be angry with anyone.
P.S. No vampires were hunted or slayed in this novel. One vampire was briefly talked to on the phone.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Evil at Heart by Chelsea Cain

Evil at Heart
by Chelsea Cain
Minotaur Books (St. Martin's)

Rating (on a scale of 1-5, with 5 being best)
Plot: 4
Characters: 4
Writing: 3
Final: 3.66

Comments: Cain hasn't run out of twisted ways to torment Archie yet. I wonder how long she can keep it up. Currently, though, Susan is my favorite. I'm so glad she has become a recurring character. Here is one of my favorite Susan bits where she is casually tossing around her Lewis & Clark knowledge:
"Go Pioneers," he said.
"They should have gone with Seaman," she said.
"Excuse me?"
"They should have made the mascot Seaman. After Lewis's Newfoundland. He was right there with them, blazing the Oregon Trail."
And now, please to enjoy author Chelsea Cain with Archie & Gretchen, Episode 1: Valentine's Day

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Wise Blood by Flannery O'Connor

"Where you came from is gone, where you thought you were going to never was there, and where you are is no good unless you can get away from it."
I was introduced to Flannery O'Connor's Wise Blood in college for a course called American Humor. The professor, who was as memorable as the books he chose, had thin grey hair that hung pin straight around a smiling round face punctuated by a large mole and thick lips. It was impossible to take your eyes off of him in class. Those books are still some of my favorites today. As a bonus, he also introduced my friends and I to the word "incongruous" which we used with zeal throughout the semester.

Wise Blood stuck with me throughout the years, and recently, a friend inspired me to go back. The book follows Hazel Motes, a man scarred by his fire and brimstone upbringing--rejecting a cruel, stalking Jesus, but terrified to do so just the same. Motes "saw Jesus move from tree to tree in the back of his mind, a wild ragged figure motioning him to turn around and come off into the dark where he was not sure of his footing, where he might be walking on the water and not know it and then suddenly know it and drown." After four years in the service, he moves to the city to throw God and sin behind him, in a jolyless embrace of sex and the Church Without Christ. His mission leads him to a cast a characters, all on their own missions of some sort of faith including a lost and unlovable young man named Enoch Emery, Asa Hawks the un-blind preacher, his bastard daughter Sabbath Lily, and the opportunistic huckster Hoover Shoats who sets up competition.

In a forward written by O'Connor, she states that the book is about integrity--the integrity of Hazel's refusal to shake his shadowy saviour. But, it seems to also be a book about our basic instincts. The many animals in Wise Blood are caged and abused, base creatures cut off from nature and any way to act instinctually. Human needs, basic needs, are held in low, sinful regard. Enoch Emery and Hazel are driven to animalistic actions that free them both. In fact, true happiness only comes--if but for a moment--to Enoch after he dons a gorilla suit.

Wise Blood is a dark comedy, although its so easy to get caught up in Hazel's dark world its easy to forget. Thankfully, Enoch and Sabbath are there with earnest, but crazed thoughts to bring us back into a satirical state of mind. O'Connor's struggle between old time religion and contemporary culture, is kind to neither, but it is a fine reminder that we cannot deny who and what we are. We always rear our true selves in the end.

If, after Wise Blood, you're still in the mood for some old time religion, but need a bit more levity--watch Night of the Hunter. Robert Mitchem rocks as the murderous, knuckle tattooed preacher Harry Powell (he's creepy and humorous).

Monday, October 12, 2009

File this under "Duh"

After spending three hours trying not to throw up on a flight recently, I had to face the fact that I just can not read on a plane. Should not. Ever. Try to read on a plane.

"Whatever will I do?" I whined wondered, "I guess I'll just spend the time staring blankly into space. Because there is no other possible option."

Not four days later I came up with a solution: audio books! I'm so quick, so clever at solving problems. (Especially when you consider how often my co-blogger has written about audio books lately. I'm a genius.)