Sex, Drugs, Rock & Roll: A Mother’s Day Book Review by Lo.

9 05 2010

Nope. They're still opposite of cute.

Hey guys! I read sometimes! And in the past 2 months, I read *2* books! This is a BIG deal! I can’t stop using exclamation points! [calms self] PHEW. Okay, that’s better. So, the 2 books I read were completely different in style and genre, but had a common thread of the Rolling Stones. Which kind of surprised me in the second book (not so much in the first, as there is a photo of the band on the cover. I’m astute.) The first book is called Sway: A Novel by Zachary Lazar. It’s…weird. In an awesome way. It’s historical fiction, which you know I looooooooove (hello Marie Antoinette!!), and threads together the Stones, avant garde filmmaker Kenneth Anger, and the Manson family. While I’m sure the amount of sex, drugs, and rock & roll are fairly accurate, other facts are made up. Lazar writes the novel in a way that makes you feel like you’re kind of on drugs, regardless of whether or not you are (full disclosure: I was not). I’m not going to give away any plot points, mainly because I spent the majority of the book kind of confused about what the hell was going on. But this is not a criticism: it really adds to the chaos and the ever-present theme of death (and, uh, drugs.) Also, even though she was a big ol’ heroin addict and willingly had sex with Keith Richards, I kind of want to be Anita Pallenberg. So, I totally recommend it, but keep in mind that, you know, drugs.

The second book I read was Hypocrite in a Pouffy White Dress by Susan Gilman. I fucking loved this book. It’s a memoir, which is a genre I may love more than historical fiction. I am very nosy, and biographies and memoirs let me be nosy under the guise of wanting to learn new things. Make no mistake: I really can’t mind my own business. ANYWAY. This book had me nearly pissing myself from laughing. Susan Gilman takes us through her childhood, adolescence, and adulthood weaving tales of her batshit nuts parents, her propensity towards lying for sport, a journalism assignment to concentration camps, and her adolescent infatuation with the Rolling Stones (including a minor stalking incident and a completely true story wherein her 15 year self actually meets Mick Jagger thanks to a friend’s well-connected parents). Her take on life is not dissimilar to my own, especially in her description of her teenage years. Gilman is hilarious, her parents are hilarious, and the situations in which she finds herself are, yes, fucking hilarious. It was a great way to follow up the heaviness of Sway, and is also a great way to relive the childhood you wish you’d had. Oh, and to revive your obsession with the Stones. AMIRITE??

Happy Mother’s Day!


Percy Jackson and the Olympians by Rick Riordan

19 04 2010

[This is my first review for my “Once Upon A Time” challenge.  Look at me doing stuff.]

I absolutely love the Harry Potter series.  I’ve read and re-read all of the books over and over and over again.  I went to the midnight madness book release parties.  I even took time off of work so I could stay up all night to read, and after I finished, I’d fall asleep for a couple of hours, wake up and read it again.  Hard freaking core.  So, keep that in mind when I call the Percy Jackson and the Olympians Harry Potter-lite, because it is totally a compliment.

From the website, because it’s a much better synopsis than I can do:

Percy Jackson is a good kid, but he can’t seem to focus on his schoolwork or control his temper.  And lately, being away at boarding school is only getting worse — Percy could have sworn his pre-algebra teacher turned into a monster and tried to kill him.  When Percy’s mom finds out, she knows it’s time that he knew the truth about where he came from, and that he go to the one place he’ll be safe. She sends Percy to Camp Half-Blood, a summer camp for demigods (on Long Island), where he learns that the father he never knew is Poseidon, God of the Sea.  Soon, a mystery unfolds and together with his friends — one a satyr and the other the demigod daughter of Athena — Percy sets out on a quest across the United States to reach the gates of the Underworld (located in a recording studio in Hollywood) and prevent a catastrophic war between the gods.

So, the similarities are pretty obvious between Percy and Harry but the stories are different enough to make these worth reading.  Rick Riordan wrote these in first person from Percy’s point of view, which creates a different feel to the story, and he does a great job of making Percy’s voice believable.  Also, Percy and his friends are not only unsupervised for most of the books, almost all of the adults (well, gods) are actively working against them – even those on their side.  These books are filled with much more action and the stories go by so fast, I couldn’t believe it when it was over.  Again – not a bad thing!  After finishing the first book in 2 days, I immediately requested the other 4 from the library and squealed with delight when they all came in at once so I could immerse myself in them for a week.  Each one is great, with an individual quest that ties into the series as a whole.  I had a wonderful time in Percy’s world and think everyone should stop by for a great escape.

Procrastination Wins Again

14 04 2010


So, I’m getting ready to go down to New Orleans to see my uncle get married.  Of course, I’ve left everything until the last possible minute because that’s what sensible responsible people do.  I wanted to do a post about the Percy Jackson books, but I’ve run out of time, so that’ll go up when I get back.   But!  The reason for this is to let everyone know (or remind everyone) that it is NATIONAL LIBRARY WEEK!  As if that wasn’t rad enough, the honorary chair this year is none other than one of the coolest MFers on this planet, Neil Gaiman.  You can go here to listen to his NPR interview about how much he loves libraries if you want to get your nerd on.  And then you can go to his website and watch some of his readings.  And then you can go to the library (see what I did there?) and check out his audiobooks, or his book-books, or his graphic novels, or a movie based on his book, or his children’s books, or his poetry.  Or you can go to the library and look for something else – I’m not the boss of you.

The Many Deaths of the Firefly Brothers by Thomas Mullen

9 04 2010

And I'm a big fan of the cover, too.

Sometimes I read a really great book, one that I really enjoy and have already started recommending to friends and family, but when I go to write a review I get completely blocked.  Usually I just end up letting that book slide into oblivion, hoping that at some later date I’ll be able to express how freaking awesome it was.  Then I start to feel sort of guilty about that – I mean, I should just get over myself and give you a good book recommendation.  So, go read The Many Deaths of the Firefly Brothers.  Or listen to it, I’m sure it’d be a good audiobook.  Quick synopsis – bank robbing brothers in the early 1930s wake up in a morgue riddled with bullet holes and at a loss to how they ended up dead or why they came back.  Most of the story is told in flashbacks as each of the brothers contemplate their lives and try to figure out their deaths.  The book is essentially a family drama filled with love and jealousy and pride and guilt and miscommunication.  It is against this backdrop that Mullen relates the history of the era – the politics of Prohibition and the Great Depression, the strange glamour of bank robbers, the creation and rise of the FBI – weaving everything into a book that goes beyond any one genre.  It is a mystery, a drama, a comedy, a romance, a period piece, a serious book that doesn’t feel serious – and it is simply fantastic.

El Is Making a Promise She’s Pretty Sure She Can Keep…

22 03 2010

Also, how lovely is this image? You can find more of the artist's work by clicking on the picture.

I’m really bad with commitment.  I’ve actually written about 8 different starts to this post because even discussing commitment makes me suuuuper uncomfortable and is a topic I’d much rather avoid.  For goodness sake, my apartment is on a month to month lease, and even thinking about that leaves me a little itchy.  But, the truth is, I know I need to start working on some of these issues if I’m ever going to be a functioning adult (or so some people tell me).  So, baby steps, I’m going to sign up for a reading challenge.

Reading challenges are something I’ve been wanting to try for a while now – even since before we started this blog.  Basically, the host choses a topic – anything from genre to author’s birthplace – and sets the goal.  I’ve seen some that involve reading 100 books in a year, or one book for every letter in the alphabet, or one library book a month – things like that.  Sometimes there are mini-challenges, contests, or giveaways, but really the point is to get a group of people reading.

I’ve decided to sign up for the Once Upon A Time challenge.  First, because it just began and goes through the end of June – so it isn’t too long.  Second, well, because it should be pretty easy for me, and I’m lazy like that.  I’m going to go for “Quest The First” which entails reading 5 books that could be considered fantasy, folklore, fairy tales or mythology.  Seeing as I’ve recently finished the first books in two separate fantasy series that I’m totally stoked about (Percy Jackson and The Age Of Misrule), I shouldn’t have any issues.  Of course, this is a challenge, so I’m hoping to do a bit more than that, but I don’t like failing, so I had to hedge my bets somehow.

So, I’m letting y’all know about this to hopefully keep me honest and motivated.  I’m probably not going to write full reviews for all the books I read for this challenge – but I will keep an updated list.  And there will be plenty of non-fantasy books read for those of you who get irrationally angry when books are too “weird.”  And if anyone has any suggestions – please let me know – my rough plan for now is to read the remaining 4 Percy Jackson books, the second and third Age of Misrule books, the Fionovar Tapestry (3 books) by Guy Gavriel Kay and something by Ursula K. LeGuin because I’ve never read anything by her and that makes me feel guilty.  We’ll see how it goes…

The Book of Lost Things by John Connolly

10 03 2010

I fell in love with papercutting last year, so of course I had to have this book.

I’m a bit of a book design slut – I’ll pick up just about any book with an interesting cover.  And I’ve bought more than one purely because I liked the way it looked, with no care at all about content.  Granted, I normally only do that if the book is also on clearance – because I’m a cheap slut – so if it turns out to be awful or if I never get around to reading it, I really don’t have regrets.  But, sometimes when I’m lucky, the pretty book whose name I barely know turns out to be very very good and my cheap slutty ways pay off.  [ahem] Such was the case with The Book of Lost Things.

This is the story of David, a very serious boy living in London right as World War II is beginning.  The book opens with the death of his mother, followed quickly by his father knocking up and marrying his dead mother’s hospice nurse.  David and his father move into his new stepmother’s family house in the country where David is not happy, to put it mildly.  He escapes into the books he finds in the house, reading and rereading strange fairy tales because they remind him of his dead mother.  Which is all sad and a little sweet – until he starts seeing his mother in his dreams, and hearing the books on his shelves whisper to him, and having strange fits filled with terrifying visions.  This all builds until one day, David ends up following one of these visions through a gap in a garden wall and ends up in a different world – a terrifying and twisted world that he is destined to save.

John Connolly takes a familiar story and fills it with nightmares.  David may not have been happy at home, but this other place is not an escape filled with delights.  It is a land where fairy tales are mutated and no one is safe.  David goes on his hero’s journey to save his own life, and learns his lessons in some fairly horrifying ways.  And the reason this is all so unsettling is because it is so well written.  Even though most basic elements of the story aren’t anything new, and I had a decent idea early on how things were going to turn out, all of the details that make a simple story grand were there.  This book was exciting and unexpected and satisfying and proves that sometimes it’s okay to judge a book by its cover.

Shades of Grey by Jasper Fforde

15 02 2010

A life without color would be very depressing.

I have a hard time picking favorites, but, as a viewer of Lost, I have given some thought to the old deserted island question.  You know, what music, movies, dudes, whatever, you’d choose the have stranded with you.  The one that I think about most is probably books – but because I can’t decide on just 5 books, I’ve expanded it to top 5 authors with the assumption I’d be able to take their collected works with me.  (Because this is a ridiculous thing to imagine so of course I could.)  For the past couple of years now, Jasper Fforde has had a permanent spot on that list.

Jasper Fforde is just brilliant – there’s really no other word for him.  His first series, the Thursday Next novels, were so amazing and out there they may have gotten on my island on their own.  Then came the Nursery Crimes books, which blew me away again – and weren’t quite as complicated as the Thursday Next books – they sealed the deal.  But oh my sassy molassy, Shades of Grey smacks the rest of his books in the face with awesome.  Seriously.  I don’t know if I’m going to be able to accurately convey my love for this book in words, but while I read it, I basically felt like the Nintendo 64 kid.

Shades of Grey is a post-apocalyptic novel – but instead of focusing on the apocalypse event and the resulting confusion and struggle to rebuild society, Fforde drops us in a couple of centuries after the “Something That Happened.”  In this future world, people have lost the capacity to see the full spectrum of color, and how much color and what color you can see determines your place in the very rigid social structure.  And once you have your place, everything else is figured out – who you can marry, what your job will be, where you live – there is no thinking, no exploring, only a struggle to increase your family’s color through an up color marriage.  At the bottom of this society are the Greys, those who see almost no color at all, and they are the ones who do almost all of the actual work and have almost no rights.  The story follows Eddie Russett, a red who is soon coming of age and is a bit too inquisitive for his own good – which of course leads to all the interesting troubles that add up to a story.

With any Fforde novel, the more you attempt to describe the plot, the less sense it makes.  So, I’ll restrain myself and leave it there.  But, believe me, it is so so so amazing.  This is an entirely new world, and not just because of the lack of color.  He gives us this society based on rules which seem absolutely ridiculous – I mean, what color you can see? – but are really as arbitrary as our current social laws.  Shades of Grey is a very sly satire, but you never feel as though you’re in the middle of a sermon because there’s so much humor and the mysteries are so engrossing.  And, really, isn’t that what really matters?  The story is compelling, interesting, joyful, intelligent and, above all, fun.  Oh, and lucky me, it’s the first in a new series, so I have at least two more installments coming my way.