Book Reviews

Book Review: The Thousand Dollar Tan Line

VMars Thousand DollarEver year, Eric’s dad and his entire extended family take a trip to the beach. It’s a wonderful, week-long affair that includes nightly home cooked meals, sunburns, and rocking chairs. The house sleeps close to 30 people, and we usually end up at capacity. It’s not a quiet trip, but it is full of love and fun.

I love walking along the beach at sunset, and spending hours lounging in the pool, but if I’m being perfectly honest, my absolute favorite thing to do during beach week is sit on the huge back porch and read or listen to an audio book. The porch faces the ocean, and it’s the perfect place to find a little bit of peace in the afternoon, when most folks are out tanning themselves or building sandcastles.

In preparation for beach week, I read the previous Summer Reading Guides from Modern Mrs. Darcy, as well as various other summer reading recommendation lists through out her site. I can’t recall where I saw the recommendation for The Thousand Dollar Tan Line, but she specifically suggests trying the audio version, as Kristen Bell narrates it.

The Thousand Dollar Tan Line picks up shortly after the events of the 2014 movie. While this is a great continuation of a beloved fictional universe, it is also definitely a stand-alone story, and there’s enough influence from the exposition fairy that you don’t necessarily have to be a fan to enjoy the read.

The novel takes place in Neptune during spring break, so imagery of beaches, bikinis and body shots abound. But the atmosphere of a film noir is unmistakable. Sketchy eye witnesses, hidden agendas, and powerful political forces make the search for two missing girls a difficult, seemingly insurmountable one. The investigation twists and turns at a solid, if expected pace, and the welcome introduction of high powered, morally ambiguous, former-model-turned-hotelier Petra Landros adds a new layer to the already complex and politically charged beach town.

The story is a great mystery, as I said, with suspects, misdirection, and dangers galore. To the “marshmellow” fans out there, this is a welcome addition to the canon. Absolutely true to the heart of the show, the wit, the love, the pessimism with a dash of hope – all of it is there, along with fan favorite characters and a few surprising returns.

Kristen Bell’s narration of the audiobook is a fun way to ease into the new delivery platform. She’s playful in her impersonations of Weevil, Keith, Mac and Wallace. But hearing the narrative from Veronica herself made the transition from silver screen more seamless. Thomas and Graham’s descriptions were so clear and perfect, I could close my eyes and see Dog Beach or Mars Investigation without missing a beat.

I truly loved coming back to Neptune. I know the next installment, Mr. Kiss and Tell, will feel just as familiar, while keeping me on my toes with Thomas’s signature dark mystery and sardonic humor. 5 Stars

Book Reviews

Random Thoughts

I. According to a 2013 study done by the Pew Research Center, the average American adult reads (or listens to) 12 books a year. I’ve read 11 so far, and that number seems so puny. I’m currently in the middle of The Veins of the Ocean, The Paper Magician, The Drawing of the Three, and I just started Crafting Novels & Short Stories: The Complete Guide to Writing Great Fiction. So, I know that number is on the rise, but I wish I hadn’t wasted so  much of this year NOT reading.

II. Speaking of Crafting Novels & Short Stories, I’ve started writing. Aside from keeping up this blog, I’ve also been jotting ideas down for fiction. I’ve never been a good writer, I don’t think. I’ve received minor praise in the past for some class assignments – a short story or a poem here and there, but if we’re being honest, my attempts are often remedial and mundane. But the summer I turned 30, we went to the beach, and one night I sat on the back porch and wrote an entire story about one of the most important relationships of my life. And I’m actually very proud of it. Since then, I’ve had other ideas here and there, and I feel like now is the time to start writing them down. I want to see where they can go with a little guidance, direction and editing. I’m excited. I hope I don’t suck.

III. I said before that I don’t want too much structure to this blog, but I do want to make a goal to write enough to have a post every weekday. I’m pretty far behind in my Book Reviews, and there a few projects I’m planning for around the house that I’d like to share. I’m praying that my summer slows down enough so that I can sit down with a cup of coffee or a glass of wine, and really commit to this. Not for any outward plans, but just because writing a little bit every day help you become a better writer, a better communicator.

I have a terrible memory, and I make jokes all the time that I’m losing words, but as I get older, the jokes become less funny and take on a slightly serious, slightly scary tone. I don’t want to lose words anymore. I want to keep them, hold them, cherish them, use them.

So I want to use this little corner of the Internet to keep my words from leaving me. I hope that’s okay. I hope it works.

Book Reviews

Book Review: The Gunslinger

thegunslingerFor years I spent my summers working for a local theater company, Georgia Shakespeare (may it rest in peace). Aside from the gorgeous repertory productions they put on every year, meeting new people from all over the east coast, lovers of theater trying to make it in the field, was the best thing about the company. One of these folks, a boy with piercing blue eyes who liked to drink too much beer and play Pearl Jam on his acoustic guitar, gave me his copy of The Gunslinger the last night of the season.

I didn’t like westerns much at the time, and after leafing through a few pages, I put it down. But year after year, when I would cull my book collection this one always stayed on the shelves, never quite making it to the donation box.

Then, a few months ago, a famous author and two famous actors sent the internet into a flutter of excitement with three tweets.

gunslinger twitter
Credit: VF

I figured now was as good a time as any to pick up and start again. It was one of the first tolerable days of spring. The nip in the air from our short winter was gone, but it was still fairly cool, even in the sun. I grabbed a long sleeve t-shirt, a decaf coffee, and The Gunslinger, and sat down in a camp chair on our front porch. Eric came out with his phone, ready to read whatever Cracked article would tell him the most about science, when he asked me what I was reading. I told him it was a Stephen King fantasy, and that they were making a movie starring Stringer Bell and “Alright alright alright”. His interest was piqued, but he continued with his Cracked articles.

The next day, I found him on the front porch with my book in hand.

“What are you doing?” I asked.

“Reading.”

“But I’m reading that.”

“Okay. But I like it.”

“…Do you want to read it together?”

And so, together we read The Gunslinger, mostly on our front porch, mostly drinking a bourbon or a beer, me reading aloud playing with voices. We read about Roland Deschain, his dark history, the town of Tull, Alice. We read about the tragedies of Jake Chambers, the muties, the search for the Dark Tower. And we read about the Man in Black.

This story sucked me in from the start. I don’t know how I wasn’t compelled the first time around, but every time I put this book down I was sad to leave. The world of the Gunslinger is fascinating and familiar, and also completely foreign and inexplicable. Roland is a complicated and mysterious man, his mission simple and yet hard to pin down. His relationship with Jake Chambers – sweet, confused, wise, Jake –  is something that both softens him, and almost derails him from his path.

What is the Dark Tower? Why is Roland drawn to find it? The Gunslinger asks so many questions and gives very few answers. Obviously, we’ll be picking up the second book of the series. 5 Stars

Book Reviews

Review: & Sons

And SonsWhat a gorgeous novel. This was my first selection from the Book of the Month Club, selected by Josh Radnor. I was so incredibly pleased. The plot summary mentioned that the novel is book ended by deaths, and the reviews I read begged the reader not to let the morose subject deter them. I’m so glad I didn’t, because getting to know the Dyer family was a sad and wonderful journey.

The novel is told in first person by an unreliable and inconsequential narrator, and yet somehow the focus is able to shift between various players who don’t share a space with him. And while this could make for a frustrating, plot hole driven experience, Gilbert has masterfully created a character so pathetically drawn to this family that it only seems natural that he would know what each member is doing at any given moment.

This is not a novel with fast action and plot twists (though it has one or two). It is a beautiful study of a genius going mad, and how his talent and self-destructive nature impacts the people he loves the most – a somewhat familiar tale.

The prose are lovingly crafted by Gilbert, shifting subtly depending on the character in focus, and I wanted to devour every word. I lingered on paragraphs, awestruck by some of his turns of phrase.

This book is not without it’s faults though, and I can’t write about it in 2016 and not mention the stark lack of diversity – in race, gender, and privilege. With one brief exception, the “view point” characters are white, abundantly wealthy, and male. I loved reading about them, their motivations, and their struggles, but even while enjoying some of the most lovely parts of the novel, a nagging voice in the back of my head asked “Haven’t we read this before? Over and over and over?”

I still love this novel, unabashedly, and will recommend it time and again. Simultaneously, I will hold out a small bit of hope that talented writers like David Gilbert will use their pens to write pieces that are slightly more modern and inclusive. 4.5 Stars

Notes on Reading

Notes on Reading: Hello Again

It’s been a while. Let’s jump right in, shall we?

A few months ago, I stumbled onto a wonderful blog called Modern Mrs. Darcy. Anne is a reader – an avid reader. She posts reviews, recommendations, reading lists – and my personal favorite – literary flights. After a few weeks of following her blog, I realized we have very similar tastes in books, and began a list of her recommendations.

Then I picked up a book and started reading.

Summer is usually the easiest time to get lost in a book. Work slows down. Week long vacations loom. Porch sitting beckons.

For me, this year has been a glaring exception. Eric and I recently purchased our first house, and between the house-hunting, the closing process, and the packing – life has been cluttered, inconvenient, busy, loud and stressful. But I found that sitting in front of the TV with my fiance was just not a relaxing way to calm the noise. It only made it worse.

So I picked up A History of God. This is a book I purchased in 2007, and never made it past the first chapter. I love learning about history and religion, and have always wanted to be more educated. Raised in Judaism, Christianity and Islam have always fascinated me. Unfortunately, this book was far too dry, and while I did finally finish the first chapter, having unhappily powered through, I remain 5 paged into the second, and have decided to let it go. There are far too many unread stories left to spend my time reading something out of stubbornness or guilt.

So then I went to Barnes and Noble, a real life, brick and mortar bookstore, and bought The Collected Stories of Eudora Welty. Every few weeks, I’ll pick it up and read another story. I’m new to her as an author, but her writing is gorgeous and sad.

I decided what I really wanted and had been missing terribly, was a story you could get lost in. I’ve had Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell on my Kindle app for ages, reading a few pages at a time, but never delving into it. One night, I picked it up, and just barrelled through. I’m only just past Part 2, but it’s a lovely.

THEN I heard about Book of the Month, and got & Sons and Heat & Light in my first subscription. & Sons was a gorgeous novel, sad, funny, disturbing, and familiar. Review to come. I’m almost finished with Heat & Light, and I have some issues with it, but overall it’s another great, eye opening novel.

I’ve also read Garden Spells (another review to come), The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up (a Modern Mrs. Darcy recommendation) and My Name is Lucy Barton (an Oglethorpe Book Club recommendation from my favorite professor).

I’ve started up on Audible again, and listened to The Thousand Dollar Tan Line (another MMD recommendation, but as a continuation of Veronica Mars, and narrated by Kristen Bell herself – it didn’t take much convincing). I’m also nearly finished with Chelsea Handler’s Are You There Vodka? It’s Me, Chelsea.

Lastly, Eric and I read The Gunslinger together. I started on a lark, I was sitting on the front porch, reading the first few pages, when he came out to join me. He asked what I was reading, I told him and gave him a brief description. He was really interested in reading it as well, so I asked if he wanted me to read him a few pages. He said yes, and we ended up reading the whole book together. Sometimes on the front porch after work over an ice cold beer. Sometimes in the car on a trip down to Louisville or up to the beach. We didn’t read it every day, but it was just a very nice way to spend time together that didn’t involve getting lost in another 3 hours of loud comedies on TV. I’m sure this is something we’ll continue with the next installment.

So I guess that’s a fair summary of what I’ve been up to. I’ve had a lot of thoughts on reading and writing lately, and I really just want to start writing some of it down. I won’t make any proclamations about the structure of this blog, but there are new reviews to come, and I may reach back through the last 2 years and write about a few more books that have stuck with me. Who knows?

What I do know is that I love the feeling I get when I’m in a season of reading. Embarrassingly, I’ll go months without picking up a book, but once I do and the floodgates open, I feel more possibilities. I feel happier and more content. That’s the beauty of literature, I suppose.

Book Reviews · DNF · Random Thoughts

Random Thoughts III and My First DNF: Beautiful Creatures

Become a Better Writer by Learning to Become a Skilled Reader First

I came across this surprisingly poignant article on reading and writing. The first section, “Skip Sections”, struck a cord with me. The images of the eye-tracking study are particularly familiar, as I am regularly guilty of reading only bolded and bulleted information in long blog/web entries.

Then came the “Quit Altogether” section. I’ll get to that in a moment.

The remainder of the article, which I did actually read in detail, was very smart with helpful tips and inspiring quotes. I’m sure I’ll go back and read it again (see: Nabokov, Vladimir), and perhaps take notes (see: Parrish, Shane). I love the idea of reading material outside of one’s comfort zone, which is partially what this little project of mine is all about. Sure I have some favorites authors in here, but memoirs and essays? Historically, those have not been my bag, baby.

Anyway, I definitely recommend the article, so have at it.

DNF: Beautiful Creatures

I can’t remember the first time I saw the trailer for Beautiful Creatures, but I do remember that I was very excited. Southern Gothic? Check. Supernatural? Check. Decent Acting Talent? Check.

Because the movie was based on a YA novel, and because YA novels are notoriously “easy” reads, I decided to check out the book first. I downloaded a sample chapter onto my Kindle and, within 3 pages, decided not to finish it in that medium.

I thought perhaps listening to it would be better, the reader potentially giving it more depth with his performance. I purchased it through Audible, and listened to about 45 minutes (one commute to work) before deciding that, no, the narrator added nothing.

So I caved and rented the movie the other day, thinking perhaps it would give me more insight, and I could go back to the audiobook afterward. But unfortunately, the plot and dialogue were just too convoluted and stunted, respectively, to warrant any more time. It’s unfortunate, really.

So. I quit altogether. “Reading is meant to be a fun activity. Your brain doesn’t want to slog through something it finds boring.” Or offensive. There’s too much good stuff out there that I haven’t read yet to spend anymore time on something so dreadfully, depressingly boring.

Firstly, I know that I am not Shakespeare, or Faulkner, or Gaiman. I write this little blog for fun, to improve my skills, and if I raise a decent amount of money, I’m happy. So, please know that I am fully self-aware when I give this next criticism.

The writing is bad. Like SO bad. Like O.M.G. bad. The Stereotypes. And Tropes. Are bad.*

The dialogue, the names, everything just smacks of my first attempts at writing short stories in high school. Any southerner, teenager, or black person who reads it should be offended. You have to hide your NYT so your town doesn’t judge you? Everyone still calls the Civil War the War of Northern Aggression or the War Between the States? A mammy magical negro? REALLY?

No thank you. So for the first time in a long time, I Did Not Finish. I highly recommend skipping all iterations of this trashy attempt at cashing in on the Twilight craze.

*Game of Thrones Season 3 Spoilers

Book Reviews

Review: The Graveyard Book – March 2013

the graveyard bookNobody Owens, Bod to his friends, is a normal boy growing up in a decidedly abnormal way. The Graveyard Book, by Neil Gaiman, opens with the horrific triple homicide of Bod’s family when Bod is only a year or so old. Through a series of miracle-like coincidences, baby Bod makes his way into a nearby graveyard at the exact same moment the man Jack is committing the murders. Once the residents of the graveyard realize the murderer is still searching for the innocent and helpless little boy, they decide to protect him, granting him the Freedom of the Graveyard.

An ominous beginning for such a future hero. The Graveyard Book follows Bod through childhood and adolescence, adventures and education, and finally to his inevitable encounter with (not really a SPOILER if you understand story structure at all) the man Jack.

I liked this book. The world of the Graveyard was fully fleshed out (pun intended) and felt real and a little magical. The story is told through third person limited perspective, and this worked really well because it kept the mystery in the context of Bod’s perception. Bod doesn’t receive a normal education, and therefore he doesn’t act or respond to things in the way a “normal” child would. He is mature for his age in some ways, and yet believably naive in others.

My only minor complaint is that I don’t think this is a Children’s Book, as it’s being categorized  but I’m kind of a prude when it comes to dealing with death.

Overall, it’s not my favorite work from Mr. Gaiman, but it’s an enjoyable and quick read. 3.5 Stars