Saturday, August 14, 2010

Table of Contents: The Spot

The Spot: StoriesAuthor: David Means
Publisher/Year: Faber & Faber, 2010
Synopsis: The Spot is an old blacksmith shed in which three men tweeze apart the intricacies of a botched bank robbery. The Spot is a park on the Hudson River, where two lovers sense their affair is about to come to an end. The Spot is at the bottom of Niagara Falls, where the body of a young girl floats as if caught in the currents of her own tragic story. The Spot is in the ear of a Manhattan madman plagued by a noisy upstairs neighbor. The Spot is a suburban hospital room in which a young father confronts his son’s potentially devastating diagnosis. The Spot is a dusty encampment in Nebraska where a gang of inept radicals plot a revolution. The Spot draws thirteen new stories together into a masterful collection that shows David Means at his finest: at once comically detached and wrenchingly affecting, expansive and concise, wildly inventive and firmly rooted in tradition.

What Others Have To Say

The New York Times
"Rather than moving in linear time, the narration pirouettes again and again around that one point. Reading his work, we feel that whatever has occurred cannot be undone or bargained away..."

The L.A. Times
"For Means, part of the intent is to map this divide between illusion and reality, between how we see ourselves and who we are."

Book Slut
"Means wills incredible dynamicism out of the characters he has forced into depressed scenarios. For however many dead-ends and deaths fill The Spot, there’s a charm and lightness in the stories -- though those aspects often emerge at tragicomic moments."

The A.V. Club
"...Means doesn’t waste a word. There isn’t enough room. His awareness of that small space necessitates a density that novelists are free to ignore. And the brilliance of these tight tales is that they’re somehow about that too—a story’s obligation to repeatedly hold up to a reader’s scrutiny."

New Yorker Interview

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Table of Contents: The Sisters From Hardscrabble Bay

The Sisters from Hardscrabble Bay: FictionAuthor: Beverly Jensen
Publisher/Year: Viking, 2010
Synopsis: Spanning the years 1916 to 1987, the novel offers vignettes from the lives of sisters Idella and Avis Hillock, opening with an account of their mother's death in childbirth and closing with Idella's husband, Eddie, now an old man, reminiscing about his life with Idella. The Hillock girls spent their early years in the rough landscape of New Brunswick, Canada, where grief and hard living have damaged their widowed father. Eventually, Idella escapes to New England, where she finds a husband and her own domestic troubles. Younger, more attractive sister Avis has an even harder path ahead; after attracting the ardor of her father's friends as a teen, she embarks on a series of damaging romantic entanglements.

What Others Have To Say

The New York Times
"hard-won wisdom, leavened by sometimes gentle, sometimes boisterous humor, is the core joy of Jensen’s narrative, and it’s in the collection’s final two stories that the emotional payoff is richest."

Elizabeth Strout, Author
“The story of these two sisters, Idella and Avis, travels from Canada to New England, but mostly it travels through their lives and hearts, and it will travel through your heart as well.”

The A.V. Club
"Short stories about rural folks who know more than their city-slicker cousins are a dime a dozen; Jensen understands that they work best when everyone is fumbling toward answers they’re barely able to grasp in the first place."

Reading Guide

Monday, August 9, 2010

Line By Line: Virginia Woolf, A Room Of One's Own

A Room of One's Own (Annotated)"Women have served all these centuries as looking glasses possessing the magic and delicious power of reflecting the figure of man, at twice its natural size."

"Literature is strewn with the wreckage of those who have minded beyond reason the opinion of others."

"For books continue each other, in spite of our habit of judging them separately."

"Yet it is in our idleness, in our dreams, that the submerged truth sometimes comes to the top."

"Why, if it was an illusion, not praise the catastrophe, whatever it was, that destroyed illusion and put truth in it's place?"

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Book Mark: Pictures from Cariwest 2010

Table of Contents: Cocaine Nation - How the White Trade Took Over the World

Cocaine Nation: How the White Trade Took Over the WorldAlso known as: The Candy Machine - How the White Trade Took Over the World

Author: Tom Feiling
Publisher/Year: Pegasus, 2010
Synopsis: Cocaine is big business and getting bigger. Governments spend millions on an unwinnable war against it, yet it's now the drug of choice in the West. How did the cocaine economy get so huge? Who keeps it running behind the scenes? Tom Feiling travels the trade routes from Colombia via Miami, Kingston and Tijuana to London and New York. He meets Medillin hitmen, US kingpins, Brazilian traffickers, and talks to soldiers and narcotics officers who fight the gangs and cartels. He traces cocaine's progress from legal 'pick-me-up' to luxury product to global commodity, looks at legalization programmes in countries such as Switzerland, and shows how America's anti-drugs crusade is actually increasing demand. Cutting through the myths about the white market, this is the story of cocaine as it's never been told before.

What Others Have To Say

The New York Times
"What sets Feiling’s book apart is his analysis of how America’s insatiable appetite for narcotics and its zealous determination to quash those cravings have spread misery and violence across the globe."

The A.V. Club
"Over and over, Feiling shows how small the gains have been in the war on drugs, compared to the destruction it’s left in its wake—both in terms of the devastation cocaine can have on its users, and in the amount of violence that war has caused, particularly in Latin American countries where corruption runs rampant, and the mafiosi who control the terrain regularly kidnap and murder anyone in their way, from rival dealers to crusading journalists."

The Guardian
"This is all entertaining information, but where the book starts to go astray is in allowing a polemic against prohibition to inform not just its argument but its tone."

The Telegraph
"Far more repulsive are the South American drugs warlords, while Feiling’s account of the vile conditions, terror, corruption and exploitation in Medellín or Kingston will make many readers shudder. The sicarios (hit men) of Medellín have 37 words for gun, 73 words for death, 42 words for violence – rather as Eskimos are said to have for snow."

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Book Review: Susan J. Douglas, Where The Girls Are

Where the Girls Are: Growing Up Female with the Mass MediaPublisher/Year: Times Books, 1995

Susan Douglas’ examination of the last fifty years of popular culture and mass media in her insightful book, Where The Girls Are: Growing Up Female With The Mass Media, is a wonderfully frightful and grossly fantastic journey. Fantastic because she actually grew up with the very music, television, and magazines she analyzes and can therefore pass on “I was there and I survived” truth moments. Frightening because, for all her analysis, the book ultimately illuminates how far women have come, and yet not, in terms of the how the mass media constructs and projects images of women.

Douglas’ intertwines women’s history with personal antecdotes with a deft hand. Her main thesis is that women, caught between feminine desire and feminist repulsion, are "cultural schizophrenics." She constructs her argument around the history of the love-hate relationship of women to the mass media. From the music of the Shirelles, to Ariel from The Little Mermaid to Betty Freidan and Gloria Steinem, Douglas successfully outlines the paradoxical situation of women who reside in a culture inundated by sexist imagery. Such imagery is perpetuated by a mass media obsessed with coding femininity and masculinity according to patriarchal ideology. Using personal "schizophrenic" moments embedded in the everyday functionings of popular culture in tandem with a feminist content analysis methodology, Douglas extracts and illuminates those pivotal moments in women's lives and society's consciousness that are culturally significant and psychologically bruising.

Quite simply, women's cultural schizophrenia is defined by a dynamic where women "rebel against yet submit to prevailing images about what a desirable, worthwhile woman should be" (8). According to Douglas, women's cultural schizophrenia arises from the fact that "the mass media raised us, socialized us, entertained us, comforted us, deceived us, disciplined us, told us what we could do and told us what we couldn't" (13). Because the mass media plays a central role in our socialization, it continually bombards women with mixed messages regarding what women should and should not do, what women can and cannot be. These mixed messages have resulted in an erosion of a unified female self because women have learned to simultaneously compartmentalize themselves into a host of personae when presented with an array of media archetypes and stereotypes. As a result of this process of compartmentalization, women are ambivalent toward femininity on the one hand and feminism on the other.

One of Douglas's key points is that one cannot assume that "the media is all powerful, or that the audiences are just helpless masses of inarticulate protoplasm" (16). She argues that audiences resist media images and messages all the time by turning off the television, by ignoring the magazine advertisings, and by yelling “bullshit” at billboards. Douglas is careful to point out that some images are harder to resist than others because the mass media has taught women to continually place themselves under the constant scrutiny and surveillance of male eyes. The mass media does this through the production, reproduction and promotion of patriarchal ideals of femininity and womanhood. But by overtly appealing to women's femininity however, Douglas argues that the mass media also cultivates a certain degree of awareness and consciousness that incites women to rebel against those sexist and stereotypical images by flipping the page or by “flipping the bird”. In Douglas' words, "we love and hate the media, at exactly the same time, in no small part because the media, simultaneously, love and hate women" (8). Therefore, our viewing of mass media and its messages is both feminine (submitting) and feminist (rebelling). It is this fluctuation between love and hate, submission and rebellion, that gives rise to women's feminine and feminist viewing positions within and of popular culture.

The notion that women have a dual viewing position because it is both feminine (submitting) and feminist (rebelling) contributes a new angle to the wealth of research completed in the area of feminist cultural studies. Because 'looking' is such a central part of the reception of an image, feminist cultural theorists examine the ways in which the act of looking is constructed to reflect gender divisions and the social relations of patriarchal power. Viewing pleasure and displeasure arise through the confrontation between the reader's experience of reading the text and the reader's social experiences influencing the interpretation of the text. Examining woman's "cultural schizophrenia" impacts how feminist theorists understand women's pleasure/displeasure because it establishes a viewing position based on women's subjectivity as textual readers. By acknowledging women as active contributors to and negotiators of their viewing experiences, one can begin to understand the totality of the female viewing experience in relation to popular culture.

Understanding the totality of the female viewing experience is exactly what Susan Douglas is attempting by arguing that women occupy a dual viewing position in relation to popular culture. By asserting that women oscillate between a feminine viewing position, characterized by love, desire and pleasure, and a feminist viewing position, characterized by hate, questioning and critique, Douglas understands that women's consumption of popular culture is a circuitous and interactive process because women are both emotionally and intellectually stimulated by that which they are consuming. In other words, we interact with the images placed before us because our cultural schizophrenic nature requires that consumption not be a passive reception of images but rather, an active process of reading the images in order to ‘debunk’ the sexist and patriarchal foundations perpetuating their production. The result of this interaction is that women are positioned to continuously oscillate between a feminine and feminist viewing position because they are at once the surveyed and the surveyor, the object and the subject.

Where the Girls Are is a highly enjoyable romp through the narcissistic pleasures of Vogue, the identical twin craziness of The Patty Duke Show, and the political machinery of the ERA movement. Her pragmatic re-workings and re-tellings of the female mass media experience using her own lived experiences over four decades is unique, refreshing, and exciting. Using numerous popular culture examples, Douglas' presents women as the surveyed and the surveyors on the basis of their subject positioning rather than their textual positioning. By granting women the power of the look, Douglas validates her own and every other woman’s feminine/feminist schizophrenic popular culture existence.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Book Mark: "Death, Be Not Proud" - An In-depth look at Wit

Wit: A PlayWit is Margaret Edison’s 1999 Pulitzer Prize-winning play about a middle-aged woman diagnosed with ovarian cancer. In 2001, director Mike Nichols and actress/screenwriter Emma Thompson joined forces to bring this unflinchingly honest story to the small screen. The result of this pairing is an exquisitely rendered drama about dying and death and living and life.

Vivian Bearing (tenderly rendered by Emma Thompson) is an English literary scholar who has spent her life deciphering the compounding thematics of John Donne’s metaphysical poetry. She is archetypal of someone who has focused on her head over her heart. As a result of this focus, her colleagues and students view her as being cool and aloof, unable to relate to the living world.

The film opens with Bearing discussing her diagnosis of stage four metastatic ovarian cancer. Her doctor, Dr. Kelekian (Christopher Lloyd) is trying to convince her to undertake a grueling eighth-month experimental chemotherapy treat. His method of convincing includes appealing to her perceived strength, that she needs to be “tough” to get through. What is unspoken yet clearly understood by both parties during this exchange is that this treatment is not going to save her; it is merely a means for Kelekian to gain data for his research.

Vivian is most stoic throughout the following events, which include an uncomfortable pelvic exam administered by a former student. As she continues to be prodded and mistreated by technicians, and then treated as a mere specimen rather than a person, Vivian’s resolve slowly starts to crack. Through direct camera engagements, Vivian lets the audience into the loneliness that is suffocating her, the terrible side effects of the chemotherapy that are killing her, and the ever-spreading cancer that is destroying her.

We see Vivian’s life in the form of flashbacks occurring at various stages of her treatment. These flashbacks provide windows of insight into the evolution of Vivian Bearing the scholar and Vivian Bearing the patient. We witness a very special moment between a very young Vivian and her father (Harold Pinter), who encourages her enthrallment with words courtesy of The Runaway Bunny. We see her working with her mentor E.M. Ashford (Eileen Atkins), who encourages Vivian to experience the world outside the text, to live life beyond the words.

Vivian uses her intellect and wit to shield herself from life and now the anxieties of death. The play mirrors her life in the character of former student Dr. Jason Posher (deliciously played by Jonathan M. Woodward with all the clumsiness required), an ambitious clinical fellow in charge of her case. Posher’s revelation that he took on research so that he would not have to deal with people is quite telling, as is his cavalier mentioning that he hated the bedside manner course he was required to take to complete his medical degree. His discomfort with people is just another version of Bearing’s, and she begins to realize that she never really taught her students anything about being human outside the textbooks.

Vivian finally comes to accept that the chemotherapy is not working and begins reaching out to people for comfort. Dr. Posher shuts down, as he is unable to comprehend how to bridge the gap between practitioner and researcher until the very end. Comfort comes in the form of Susie (played by the classy Audra McDonald), her nurse, who listens to Vivian’s concerns about death. There is an especially touching scene where the two women share a popsicle and discuss Vivian’s code status. It is however the scene with Bearing’s former mentor near the end of the film that truly ties the story together by providing a very strong, emotional coda to an already heavily emotional journey.

The play and film are all about the small moments, the little vignettes that are set up to illustrate the evolution of one woman’s existence through her journey to death. Susie tenderly rubbing lotion on Vivian’s hands as she lies unconscious from the chemotherapy seems to be a common everyday occurrence and yet we know, as the audience, that it is anything but a random act of kindness.

Nichols and Thompson have managed to capture the tenderness and nuances of the play extraordinarily. This may be Thompson’s best performance of her career as she gets to use her comedic and dramatic skills in equal doses. She is riveting as the distanced Bearing, flawlessly rendering each scene in perfect emotion and intellect and, of course, wit.

Wit is indeed all about performances, and the cast is remarkable in talent and depth. The last moments of the film are so achingly unpretentious in this respect that it is incredibly difficult to not tear up and truly feel the loss of an extraordinary life and person.

Book Mark: The Abstinence Teacher, Stephanie Plum Hitting the Big Screen

Not sure how I feel about this news:

The Abstinence Teacher
Sandra Bullock is reportedly joining Steve Carell and the producers of Little Miss Sunshine - Albert Berger, Ron Yerxa, and Polly Johnson - for a new flick called The Abstinence Teacher, based off the 2007 book of the same name by Tom Perrotta.

Bullock will star as a liberal sex education teacher who clashes with her conservative middle America town, and ends up falling for her daughter's born-again Christian soccer coach, played by Carrell!

Steve Carrell is far, far away from how I envision Tom Mason. Too much 'aww shucks'-ness that doesn't gel with the character. But then again, maybe Carrell will turn out to be ideal in the role.

One for the Money
It's been a very long wait for Janet Evanovich fans. But finally the Stephanie Plum movie appears to be a go. Reese Witherspoon was attached to the project for three years, but that deal never came together. Now Katherine Heigl has stepped in as the bounty hunter with an attitude in One For the Money.

Janet Evanovich announced this on her website, but has not made any comment about the casting. Perhaps she, like me, is too shocked for words. Witherspoon was all wrong, but Heigl steps that up ten notches on the wrongness scale. This is a rather large misfire, and the rest of the casting only looks marginally better. Daniel Sunjata as Ranger? Mmm, maybe. Jason O'Mara as Morelli? Mmm, an Irish man playing an Italian, mmm, not so much. Sherri Shepard as Lula? Mmm, okay, that can work as she has the comedic chops.

Maybe I am just tied to this series too much. I discovered the books during a very emotional time, and have a lot invested in the characters. Do not want this to go the way of the V.I. Warshawski attempt back in 1991. Yeah, anyone remember that unfortunate accident?

What are your thoughts on this casting news?

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Changes to Comments

I have hit my patience level with those individuals who believe that spamming comments is fun. Not sure if any of you have this issue, but it has gotten worse over the past few months here and I'm tired on seeing them and deleting them.

So for now I have changed the comments settings to add in additional security. Hopefully this won't dissuade anyone from posting legitimate comments, but will stop all the malcontents who have nothing better to do with their time than troll the internet to place their spam comments.

Have a great day!


Table of Contents: The Cookbook Collector

The Cookbook Collector: A NovelAuthor: Allegra Goodman
Publisher/Year: Dial Press, 2010
Synopsis: Emily and Jessamine Bach are opposites in every way: Twenty-eight year old Emily is the CEO of Veritech, and twenty-three year old Jess is an environmental activist and graduate student in philosophy. Pragmatic

Emily is making a fortune in Silicon Valley. Romantic Jess works in an antiquarian bookstore. Emily is rational and driven, while Jess is dreamy and whimsical. Emily's boyfriend, Jonathan, is fantastically successful. Jess's boyfriends, not so much--as her employer George points out in what he hopes is a completely disinterested way.

Bicoastal, surprising, rich in ideas and characters, this is a novel about getting and spending, and about the substitutions we make when we can't find what we're looking for: reading cookbooks instead of cooking, speculating instead of creating, collecting instead of living. But above all it is about holding on to what is real in a virtual world: love that stays.

What Others Have To Say

The Los Angeles Times
"...Goodman makes us care so much about each character and his or her individual story —- not what will happen but how it will affect these people we've come to know — that the pages cannot turn fast enough."

The New York Times
"We’re always told there are recipes for disaster and recipes for happiness, but where exactly those recipes are to be found is anyone’s guess."

The A.V. Club
"...Goodman’s naturalistic dialogue tethers even the most hurried plot twists to the people whose value to each other hangs in the balance."

The Washington Post
"'s awfully charming, but the book's charm is grounded by a searching contemplation of contemporary values in the age of sudden fortunes, sensational bankruptcies and terrorist attacks."

Monday, August 2, 2010

Line By Line: Joshua Ferris, Then We Came to the End

Then We Came to the End: A Novel"We had any number of clocks surrounding us, and every one of them at one time or another exhibited a lively sense of humor."

"We loved killing time and had perfected several ways of doing so. We wandered the hallways carrying papers that indicated some mission of business when in reality we were in search of free candy. "

"Hank Nearly was an avid reader. He arrived early in his brown corduroy coat, with a book taken from the library, copied all the pages on the Xerox machine, and sat at his desk reading what looked passebly like the honest pages of business. He's make it through a three-hundred-page novel every two or three days."

"almost nothing was more annoying than having our wasted time wasted on something not worth wasting it on"

"We thanked each other. It was customary after every exchange. Our thanks were never disingenuous or ironic. We said thanks for getting this done so quickly, thanks for putting in so much effort. We had a meeting and when a meeting was over, we said thank you to the meeting makers for having made the meeting. Very rarely did we say anything negative or derogatory about meetings. We all knew there was a good deal of pointlessness to nearly all the meetings and in fact one meeting out of every three or four was nearly perfectly without gain or purpose but many meetings revealed the one thing that was necessary and so we attended them and afterward we thanked each other."

Saturday, July 31, 2010

Table of Contents: Commencement

Commencement (Vintage Contemporaries)Author: J Courtney Sullivan
Publisher/Year: Knopf, 2009
Synopsis: Assigned to the same dorm their first year at Smith College, Celia, Bree, Sally, and April couldn’t have less in common. Celia, a lapsed Catholic, arrives with her grandmother’s rosary beads in hand and a bottle of vodka in her suitcase; beautiful Bree pines for the fiancé she left behind in Savannah; Sally, pristinely dressed in Lilly Pulitzer, is reeling from the loss of her mother; and April, a radical, redheaded feminist wearing a “Riot: Don’t Diet” T-shirt, wants a room transfer immediately.

Together they experience the ecstatic highs and painful lows of early adulthood: Celia’s trust in men is demolished in one terrible evening, Bree falls in love with someone she could never bring home to her traditional family, Sally seeks solace in her English professor, and April realizes that, for the first time in her life, she has friends she can actually confide in.

When they reunite for Sally’s wedding four years after graduation, their friendships have changed, but they remain fiercely devoted to one another. Schooled in the ideals of feminism, they have to figure out how it applies to their real lives in matters of love, work, family, and sex. For Celia, Bree, and Sally, this means grappling with one-night stands, maiden names, and parental disapproval—along with occasional loneliness and heartbreak. But for April, whose activism has become her life’s work, it means something far more dangerous.

What Others Have To Say

The New York Times
"[the] undertow of denial and avoidance is unfortunate in a novel with so much verve, making it feel overly tame, as if Sullivan wants to soothe and reassure her characters rather than letting them face the truths"

Entertainment Weekly
"...the author manages to find that sweet spot between Serious Literature and chick lit."

Author Interview

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Table of Contents: The Nobodies Album

The Nobodies AlbumAuthor: Carolyn Parkhurst
Publisher/Year: Doubleday, 2010
Synopsis: Best-selling novelist Octavia Frost has just finished her latest novel, an experimental work that contains the last chapters of all her previous books, which she has rewritten with the purpose of hiding their emotional truth. Then she learns that her rock-star son, Milo, has been charged with murdering his girlfriend. Mother and son have been estranged for four years, ever since Milo picked up one of his mother’s books and read this sentence: “They were exactly the wrong two to die.” He recognized it as a reference to the tragic accident that took the lives of his father and sister when he was just nine, and he has refused to speak to his mother ever since. Now the two reunite under the stress of his arrest, which has drawn hordes of paparazzi as well as high-priced legal counsel. As Olivia seeks to gain Milo’s forgiveness and the investigation into the murder of his girlfriend reveals surprising information, the narrative cuts away to excerpts from Olivia’s new book, adding layers of emotional complexity to the story of their family life.

What Others Have To Say

The New York Times
"Ms. Parkhurst becomes so involved in creating parallels and coincidences that her once-suspenseful story begins to come unstrung"

Entertainment Weekly
"low-key, introspective murder-mystery narrative, offering a pinhole glimpse into the mind of a fascinating woman for whom life and fiction are stitched tightly together."

The A.V. Club
"Parkhurst questions whether any story is ever over, and who has the power to reopen it"

The Washington Post
"the book succeeds in probing nuanced issues of guilt and innocence through an intricate collage of memories and musings"

Monday, July 26, 2010

Line By Line: Jonathan Tropper, This Is Where I Leave You

This Is Where I Leave You: A Novel"And even if you didn't fall in love in the eighties, in your mind it will feel like the eighties, all innocent and airbrushed, with bright colors and shoulder pads and Pat Benetar or the Cure on the soundtrack."

"Phillip is the Paul McCartney of our family: better-looking than the rest of us, always facing a different direction in pictures, and occasionally rumored to be dead."

"We all start out so damn sure, thinking we've got the world on a string. If we ever stopped to think about the infinite number of ways we could be undone, we'd never leave our bedrooms."

"You never know when it will be the last time you'll see your father, or kiss your wife, or play with your little brother, but there's always a last time. If you could remember every last time, you'd never stop grieving."

When we reach the end of the page, and the last "amen" has been said, I'm sorry that' it's over. I could stay up here a while longer. And as we step down to make our way back to the pews, a quick survey of the sadness in my family's wet eyes tells me that I'm not the only one who feels that way. I don't feel any closer to my father than I did before, but for a moment there I was comforted, and that's more than I expected."

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Table of Contents: Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie

The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie: A Flavia de Luce MysteryAuthor: Alan Bradley
Publisher/Year: Delacorte Press, 2009
Synopsis: The summer of 1950 hasn’t offered up anything out of the ordinary for eleven-year-old Flavia de Luce: bicycle explorations around the village, keeping tabs on her neighbours, relentless battles with her older sisters, Ophelia and Daphne, and brewing up poisonous concoctions while plotting revenge in their home’s abandoned Victorian chemistry lab, which Flavia has claimed for her own.

But then a series of mysterious events gets Flavia’s attention: A dead bird is found on the doormat, a postage stamp bizarrely pinned to its beak. A mysterious late-night visitor argues with her aloof father, Colonel de Luce, behind closed doors. And in the early morning Flavia finds a red-headed stranger lying in the cucumber patch and watches him take his dying breath. For Flavia, the summer begins in earnest when murder comes to Buckshaw: “I wish I could say I was afraid, but I wasn’t. Quite the contrary. This was by far the most interesting thing that had ever happened to me in my entire life.”

What Others Have To Say

The Quill and Quire
"Bradley succeeds in making Flavia’s passion for chemistry believable, but the first part of the book creaks a bit, and the cliff-hangers at the end of each chapter are overdone."

Entertainment Weekly
"...disappointment creeps in only when you sense the plot tilting toward its final scenes."

"A wickedly clever story, a dead true and original voice, and an English country house in the summer: Alexander McCall Smith meets Sir Arthur Conan Doyle."
— Laurie R. King, New York Times bestselling author of The Game

Reading Guide

Friday, July 23, 2010

Adaptation: Confessions of a Shopaholic

Book in the Books

Hi again everyone!

Wow - June flew by and so has July. Taking a full term graduate course in 6 weeks is mind-numbing but also quite exhilarating. I now only have my final project to complete and then I can stick a fork in this degree. I took a little extra time to relax and get reoriented to having free time after the course finished, so took longer than expected to get back to the blog. But I am back now and ready to go!

I have a serious backlog of books to get through and thoughts on some feature items, so will be busy busy busy indulging my two favorite passions - reading and writing. Thanks for sticking with me through the crazy days of summer!


Saturday, June 12, 2010


Hey everyone,

You may have noticed a lack of postings over the past week or so. This is due to a school distraction; I am in my final course to complete my Masters degree. The course is condensed from a full term into 6 weeks, so needless to say my attention is fully sucked in that direction.

Hopefully I will be able to get back at things in a couple weeks, maybe even do a couple posts here and there in the meantime. Know though that I shall return and continue trumpeting all that's fit to read!!!

You're all swell and be in touch soon!


Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Book Mark: 'A Day In the Life': The Hours on Screen

The Hours: A NovelFor anyone who has read Michael Cunningham’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel The Hours, it would seem to be an unadaptable story for the big screen. It is full of quick breaks and disjointed narratives, not exactly fodder for a major Hollywood motion picture. But screenwriter David Hare had other ideas and set about creating a screenplay that was not only true to the novel but also workable as a visual narrative, something that seems almost unachievable based on the prose alone, at least until you see the final product.

The Hours is a story that combines the tales of three women from different eras during the course of one day. The first tale centers on Virginia Woolf (played by the prosthetically enhanced Nicole Kidman), struggling with her internal conflicts while writing the novel “Mrs. Dalloway”. She is living in the country, removed from her beloved city of London in an attempt to keep her inner demons at bay. Virginia yearns for freedom from the safe yet confining boundaries instituted by her long-suffering husband Leonard (Stephan Devane). However, while these boundaries are indeed restrictive, they ultimately cannot keep Virginia from herself.

The second tale focuses on fifties housewife and mother, Laura Brown (Julianne Moore). Laura is unsuited for and uncomfortable with her surroundings, as portrayed through her pauses, quick glances, forced smiles and fake cheer. She is obsessively trying to read Mrs. Dalloway while tending to her young son (brilliantly played by Jake Rovello) and preparing a birthday cake for her husband (John C. Reilly). Her more-than-neighborly embrace with her friend Kitty (Toni Collette) is the catalyst for driving Laura towards a decision that has tragic and irreversible consequences for her family.

For the final tale, we shift to present-day Greenwich Village resident Clarissa Vaughan (Meryl Streep). Clarissa is busy organizing a reception for her best friend Richard (Ed Harris), a poet ravaged by AIDS who is being honored for his life’s work. Richard refers to Clarissa as Mrs. Dalloway since she shares many of the attributes of Woolf’s eponymous heroine. A brief reunion with an old friend (Jeff Daniels) brings all of Clarissa’s insecurities and emotional troubles regarding Richard bubbling to the surface in an outburst of anguish that can only be fittingly resolved through Richard’s own heartbreaking actions.

Throughout the film, the themes of homosexuality and suicide constantly surround the narrative. Besides Laura’s ‘friendly’ embrace with her neighbor, Woolf’s own well-documented bisexuality is touched upon in the film with a persuasive lip lock between the author and her sister (Miranda Richardson). It is both a revealing and uncomfortable moment as the audience gains more insight into how pained Virginia truly is because of her mental and emotional circumstances.

There is the openly lesbian Clarissa who is in a committed relationship with another woman (Allison Janey), and cares for her gay best friend. The openness of the former relationship is dealt with tastefully and matter-of-factly. In fact, the words ‘lesbian’ or ‘gay’ are not even mentioned in the film, a mature and respectful achievement given Hollywood’s excessive need to smack us over the head with stereotypes so that we will ‘get it’.

The theme of suicide runs through the film like a chronometer marking the hours. Laura contemplates it, Clarissa witnesses it and in the opening sequence, Woolf commits it. Each character presented struggles with some measure of depression that manifests itself through their relationships with others. Only in the most extreme situations, like Richard’s, is suicide considered the most freeing solution for unencumbering all those encompassed by the individual’s depression.

Individual stories are intercut more deliberately in the early going of the film, with the shots matching to provide a visual cohesiveness and clarity. As for opening lines, “Mrs. Dalloway said she would buy the flowers herself” is one of the best in English literature. Stephen Daldry, the film’s director, uses this line as the perfect meter for opening the film. We are first shown Virginia writing it, then Laura reading it and finally Clarissa saying it out loud (and then proceeding to do just that). This cohesiveness is replaced later on with depression, despair, and death matching and combining the stories.

Much of the novel’s complexities reside in Cunningham’s revealing of the inner thoughts of all these women. Despite Hare’s wonderful script and Stephan Daldry’s inspired directing, it is impossible to truly convey visually what can only exist on an epistemological level. One knows that something is ‘off’ with Laura but there is no compelling reason presented as to why she is contemplating suicide or why she ultimately chooses not to in favor of a different form of abandonment.

This is the problem with trying to express depression visually; it is a complicated beast that refuses to be fully compartmentalized through words and actions. And without flashbacks or voice-over narration (a bold decision on Daldry’s part), establishing the emotional threads necessary to join a mentally unstable English novelist, a pregnant California housewife and a lesbian book editor in New York relies on assumptions, insinuations and editing precision.

It also, most crucially, must rely on the actors and here in lies the magnificence of The Hours. The film is resplendent with phenomenal performances from all involved, but most especially from the actresses playing the three main characters. Streep once again proves her acting verisimilitude in the role of Clarissa. She chooses to rush Clarissa, to have her in constant motion as her crutch for avoiding rather than confronting the cracks in her well-crafted exterior shell. When Clarissa is forced to stop by the narrative, Streep exhaustively portrays her breakdown in pained gushes as means to visually illustrate Clarissa’s inability to comprehend why she is not at peace with her life.

Kidman won numerous awards for her portrayal of Virginia, and deservedly so. She is able to superbly capture the self-awareness of a woman obsessed with understanding the madness that threatens to overtake her existence.

But most especially compelling is Julianne Moore who is breathtaking as the repressed Laura. She infuses Laura with a silent screaming just behind the sweet smile she poses to deflect invasion into her torturous thoughts and desires. Moore plays Laura’s fear close to the surface, making it seem like her breakdown is imminent at every turn. Her performance is subtle and unintrusive, but the delicate detailing Moore infuses into Laura’s every action is undeniably powerful.

The Hours is a little too dark, too depressing, too complex and perhaps too earnest in trying to accommodate all the actors comprising this film to be embraced by a wide audience. These would be valid complaints, as the story is not one you can easily breeze through without any emotional or psychological engagement with the narrative and characters. It is just not possible. But life is depressing and dark, and women’s lives are complex and rife with complications. This is the reality that the film is trying to express through these three women and their internal plights.

And there is nothing wrong or overdramatic with having a complicated, complex film like The Hours that focuses on women and the very real issues of fear, depression and repression that we endure and resolve everyday. What is wrong is that there are not enough of them to make people believe just how worthy and necessary these films are to the women who make them and to the women who watch them.

Monday, May 31, 2010

Line By Line: Yann Martel, Life of Pi

Life of Pi"To choose doubt as a philosophy of life is akin to choosing immobility as a means of transportation."

"If we, citizens, do not support our artists, then we sacrifice our imagination on the altar of crude reality and we end up believing in nothing and having worthless dreams."

"I know what you want. You want a story that won't surprise you. That will confirm what you already know. That won't make you see higher or further or differently. You want a flat story. An immobile story. You want dry, yeastless factuality."

"Time is an illusion that only makes us pant."

"Love is hard to believe, ask any lover. Life is hard to believe, ask any scientist. God is hard to believe, ask any believer. What is your problem with hard to believe?"

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Table of Contents: The Spellman Files

Author: Lisa Lutz
Publisher/Year: Simon & Schuster, 2008
Synopsis: Isabel Spellman, an uncompromising—okay, obstinate—twenty-eight year-old San Francisco private eye-has her share of problems. And those problems all happen to be named Spellman. Her parents, Albert and Olivia, co-owners of Spellman Investigations, think nothing of placing their daughter under 24-hour surveillance simply to find out if she has a new boyfriend. David, her perfect older brother, who escaped the family business by becoming a lawyer, is hypercritical of just about everything Isabel says, wears, or does. Fourteen-year-old sister Rae lives on sugared snacks, considers recreation surveillance her favorite hobby, and believes that life is one endless opportunity for intra-familial blackmail. And good-natured Uncle Ray, a former cop and health food nut, now embraces gambling and drinking; and when he's not in battle with his niece Rae over the whereabouts of his favorite shirt, must be rescued from "lost weekends."

The Spellman Files: A Novel (Izzy Spellman Mysteries)

What Others Have to Say
USA Today
"She's part Bridget Jones, part Columbo. Lisa Lutz's resilient P.I. Isabel Spellman emerges as a thoroughly unusual heroine in her delightful, droll debut novel."

Publishers Weekly
"Cracking the case can get complicated and outrageously wacky when a family of detectives is involved, but Lutz has a blast doing it in her delicious debut. Isabel "Izzy Spellman . . . could easily pass as Buffy or Veronica Mars's wiser and funnier older sister . . . When Rae [Izzy's younger sister—"a nightmarish Nancy Drew"] disappears, Izzy and her family must learn some serious lessons in order to find her. Can the family that snoops together stay together? Stay tuned as a dynamic new series unfolds."

New York Daily News
"Lutz is one smart-mouthed writer, but the genuine surprise of The Spellman Files is that it's almost as touching as it is funny."

St. Louis Post-Dispatch
"Simply put, this tale of the Spellman family is irresistible, and you hate to see the romp end."

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Book Review: Teresa Riordan, Inventing Beauty

Inventing Beauty: A History of the Innovations that Have Made Us BeautifulPublisher/Year: Broadway Books, 2004

Who has not heard the story of one Mr. Titslinger, the inventor immortalized in the glitzy stage show in the film Beaches? New York Times writer Teresa Riordan is counting on everyone knowing the popular story of how he invented the bra. Or did he? This is just one historical point that Riordan focuses her attention on in her captivatingly educational book Inventing Beauty. The book takes us on a journey from head to toe to tail, bringing forth beauty myths and truths for all the women who have ever, as another reviewer stated, “pushed, pulled, tweezed, squeezed, and spackled themselves into synthetic loveliness.”

Did you know that women’s right to use cosmetics was actually argued on the political stage in the United States? Charlotte Smith, editor of the The Woman Inventory and Madame M. Yale, a cosmetics entrepeneur, went before the House of Representatives Agricultural Committee in 1892 to debate whether women could use cosmetics to improve their appearance. The outcome of the debate is obvious as the cosmetic industry generates billions of dollars annually on women’s desire to look beautiful and put together. But the fact that this topic was posed on such a stage is yet another example of how a woman’s body has never really been her own.

Did you also know that “because of consumer demand, the vibrator (at this stage meant to be externally rather than internally applied) was only the fifth electrical device introduced into the household, arriving just after the electric sewing machine, fan, teakettle, and toaster”? It was devised to assist physicians in the treatment of hysteria (so they would no longer have to manually stimulate their female patients), and was thought to be beneficial for the treatment of wrinkles. This information certainly makes you look at the vibrator in a new way.

Riordan looks at how the bustle started as a modest means for enhancing a woman’s derriere. It turned into a fashion fright though as women soon had to endure contraptions that could hold a whole tea serving set! She also examines the evolution of our fascination with lips--why the first lipsticks were orange to devices that aided women in drawing the perfect cupid lips to the development of the containers we are all familiar with today.

Riordan completed some meticulous research on the beauty industry for this book, all of which is carefully documented in the Notes and Bibliography sections. To support this research, Riordan has also littered advertisments, photographs and sketches throughout the pages to provide an extra layer of value to her prose. You can check out the stars and models who helped sell these products and ideals to the public, and then compare them to the pictures of the poor women who had to endure the neverending cycle of product reinvention in order to attain the current beauty ideal.

Historians will be amazed at the facts and information Riordan was able to unearth, but all readers will be dazzled by the clarity and enthusiasm with which Riordan tackles this touchy topic of female beauty. Roirdan has managed construct a book that neither rails against the beauty industry for promoting unrealistic beauty standards for women nor enthusiastically celebrates its achievements for women. She perfectly captures the comedy and drama of the situation, by combining the horror stories of women enduring carbolic acid peels with the often amusing tales of the inventors and entrepeneurs who (disastrously) came up with these ideas. And Riordan’s wonderfully inviting writing style makes Inventing Beauty an irresistible read for anyone interested in learning a little more about the everyday life of women.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Table of Contents: A Thousand Acres

Author: Jane Smiley
Publisher/Year: Knopf, 1991
Synopsis: A successful Iowa farmer decides to divide his farm between his three daughters. When the youngest objects, she is cut out of his will. This sets off a chain of events that brings dark truths to light and explodes long-suppressed emotions. An ambitious reimagining of Shakespeare’s King Lear cast upon a typical American community in the late twentieth century, A Thousand Acres takes on themes of truth, justice, love, and pride, and reveals the beautiful yet treacherous topography of humanity.

A Thousand Acres: A Novel

What Others Have To Say
Entertainment Weekly
"The story is really about the transformation of Ginny, through painfully earned knowledge, from a compliant, trouble-suppressing, guilt- ridden daughter and wife into an angry — though still ambivalent — independent woman who has to cast off the only kind of life she has known."

The Washington Post Book World
“A family portrait that is also a near-epic investigation into the broad landscape, the thousand dark acres of the human heart. . . . The book has all the stark brutality of a Shakespearean tragedy.”

The New York Times Book Review
“Powerful and poignant.”

Chicago Sun-Times
"A thrilling work of art.”

Monday, May 24, 2010

Line By Line: Paul Bowles, The Sheltering Sky

The Sheltering Sky (P.S.)"Death is always on the way, but the fact that you don't know when it will arrive seems to take away from the finiteness of life. It's that terrible precision that we hate so much. But because we don't know, we get to think of life as an inexhaustible well. Yet everything happens a certain number of times, and a very small number, really. How many more times will you remember a certain afternoon of your childhood, some afternoon that's so deeply a part of your being that you can't even conceive of your life without it? Perhaps four or five times more. Perhaps not even. How many more times will you watch the full moon rise? Perhaps twenty. And yet it all seems limitless."

"Softly she laid her cheek on the pillow and stroked his hair. No tears flowed; it was a silent leave-taking."

"And now you know [life]'s not like that. Right? It's more like smoking a cigarette. The first few puffs it tastes wonderful, and you don't even think of its ever being used up. Then you begin taking it for granted. Suddenly you realize it's nearly burned down to the end. And then's when you're conscious of the bitter taste."

"The soul is the weariest part of the body."

"Because neither she nor Port had ever lived a life of any kind of regularity, they had both made the fatal error of coming hazily to regard time as non-existent. One year was like another year. Eventually everything would happen."

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Table of Contents: A Short History Of Tractors In Ukrainian

A Short History of Tractors in UkrainianAuthor: Marina Lewycka
Publisher/Year: Penguin, 2005
Synopsis: Set in Peterborough, 84-year old Ukranian immigrant Nikolai Mayevskyj announces to his daughters that he's in love and will remarry. The object of his affection is Valentina, a 36-year old Ukranian woman with a visa about to expire and a pair of marvelous breasts. She's determined to use Nikolai to achieve the Western lifestyle she's assured she deserves, and he's willing to let her while he works on his book about the history of tractors. Meanwhile, his daughters, although markedly different in outlook and lifetime rivals, band together to thwart Valentina's ambitions. Valentina's turns their family home inside out, digging up old family secrets in the process. It's a battle of wills with all the participants shaped by their own pasts through recent Eastern European history.

What Others Have To Say
The San Francisco Gate
"Lewycka is a natural writer, a humorist with a light touch who draws the reader in to a family feud that is utterly funny but also stricken with plaintive sadness over the effects of war and inequity on human relationships."

The Guardian
"Reading this novel gave me the impression that I had read a school textbook on Ukrainian history with one eye on an episode of Coronation Street."

Houston Chronicle
"Though well-intentioned, the brief passages of tractor history bring the story to a standstill. Lewycka wants us to mull over the idea that the same ingenious minds that could construct peaceful agricultural machines could convert them into tanks for war."

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Book Review: Lenore Skomal, The Keeper of Lime Rock

Publisher/Year: Running Press, 2002

The Keeper of Lime Rock is the story of Ida Lewis, “America’s most celebrated lighthouse keeper”. The fact that she was also America’s first female lighthouse keeper makes this honor all that more significant. Author Lenore Skomal takes the few details known about Ida and fastens an interesting story about an unassuming woman reluctantly living in the national and international limelight for simply doing her job.

Lewis came to be a lighthouse keeper after her father fell ill and was incapable of undertaking his tasks. Along with her younger brother, Lewis maintained the lighthouse at Lime Rock and provided the necessary rescue assistance when required. She did these things with very little recognition until one fateful night in March 1869. It was then that she rescued two shipwrecked soldiers from nearby Fort Adams, and thereby cemented her place in American history.
As she continued to serve the lighthouse, news of her acts of heroism were celebrated all over the world (her adventure that March night was not her first or last successful rescue effort). Numerous feature stories and articles were printed over her career detailing her valor and courage. Rich and poor people alike flocked to meet this famous woman, and more than a few men sent her marriage proposals. There were even music compositions written in her honor, and Wordsworth penned a poem.

She received medals from Congress for her rescue of endangered soldiers and citizens. Numerous other awards poured in, either in monetary, medal or gift fashion. But Ida kept these closed away, intent to accept the accolades for peace of mind and as a boost for her self-confidence rather than view them as a means to mark her place in history. Lewis was a very modest person, who would have rather lived her life in obscurity than be the centre of so much attention. For her, tending the lighthouse flames hourly was more important than any of her rescue efforts, and certainly more important than any attention those efforts brought to her door.

Keeper Of Lime Rock PbFor some time, Lewis was a novelty, a sideshow of sorts for a society struggling to shirk the confining principles ideal feminine passivity. The men she rescued didn’t believe she could possibly save them, until she did. Her physical and psychological strength was admired and praised by both men and women. Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony even visited Lewis, a meeting that interestingly left Lewis quite unimpressed by the feminist leaders of the time.

Because Lewis was so modest, The Keeper of Lime Rock is not the most engrossing read. It is a rather dull compilation that sometimes runs a little too freely with the platitudes about courage and heroism. Granted, Skomal did not have much to work with in that no journal or diaries exist from Lewis’ own hand. What material she did have is surrounded with truth speculation and third-hand tellings. Without firsthand accounts there cannot be any full understanding of Lewis; there is no way of knowing what she was truly thinking or feeling during her life outside other individual’s perceptions and insinuations. As a result, Lewis does not emerge as a three-dimensional person and this is mildly disconnecting for the reader.

The Keeper of Lime Rock is a short read, which is good as the writing lacks the vitality to make you want to read more. Information and events are repeated, making a strong case that Lewis’ story would make a better article than a full book. This is in no means meant to discredit or minimize Lewis and her contributions to women’s place in the workplace and society; she is most definitely someone worthy of admiring and studying. The problem lies in the written words themselves, for they never fully encapsulate the story-telling potential dwelling in Ida Lewis’ life story. The Keeper of Lime Rock merely reports the facts--what there are to report--and this is unfortunately just not enough to comprise a whole book.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Book Mark: The Kibble and Dibble Literary Awards

These awards came to our attention via Award Tragic:

The Kibble Literary Award recognises the work of an established Australian female writer.

Kristina Olsson for The China Garden
Shirley Walker for The Ghost at the Wedding
Josephine Emery for The Real Possibility of Joy

The Dobbie LIterary Award recognises the work of an Australian female writer published for the first time.

Karen Hitchcock for Little White Slips
Deborah Forster for The Book of Emmett
Robyn Mundy for The Nature of Ice

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Table of Contents: The History of Love

The History of Love: A NovelAuthor: Nicole Krauss
Publisher/Year: W.W. Norton & Company, 2005
Synopsis: Leo Gursky, an elderly Jewish man who survived World War II in Poland before coming to New York City. He's a terribly lonely man who missed out on the life he wanted to live and the woman he wanted to love, and he does something every day to try to get someone, anyone, to notice him. While in Poland, he wrote books where he named the female character after the woman he loved. Alma Singer is a 15-year old girl named after a character in her parents' favorite novel, The History of Love. Her father has died and her mother has been hired to translate The History of Love from its original Spanish. Alma and her brother, Bird, struggle to understand their world after their father's death, and Alma sets out to understand the story of this novel and the woman for whom she was named.

What Others Have To Say
Houston Chronicle
"The plot involves a book-within-a-book, with characters from one story invading the other one in Paul Auster-like fashion, and depends on some largely undigested globs of magical realism to move things along."

The Washington Post
"...involves several narrators and moves back and forth through the 20th century and around the world. But that's just for starters: It contains a lost, stolen, destroyed, found, translated and retranslated book called "The History of Love," characters named for other characters, cases of plagiarism and mistaken identity, and several crucial coincidences and chance meetings that are all maddeningly scrambled in an elliptical novel that shouldn't work but does."

The New York Times
"there's less of the earnest A-student striving that often mars Krauss's efforts to live up to her idols, especially when she's trying to be funny."

The Guardian
"Krauss is undoubtedly an entertaining, humane and intelligent writer, but this novel is just too neat and too sweet for her talent to fly freely."

Monday, May 17, 2010

Line By Line: Lionel Shriver, The Post-Birthday World

The Post-Birthday World: A Novel (P.S.)"Giving anyone anything takes courage, since so many presents backfire. A gift conspicuously at odds with your tastes serves only to betray that the benefactor has no earthly clue who you are."

"Yet Irina had once tucked away, she wasn't sure when or why, that happiness is almost definitionally a condition of which you are not aware at the time. To inhabit your own contentment is to be wholly present, with no orbiting satellite to take clinical readings of the state of the planet. Conventionally, you grow conscious of happiness at the very point that it begins to elude you. When not misused to talk yourself into something - when not a lie - the h-word is a classification applied in retrospect. It is a bracketing assessment, a label only decisively pasted onto an era once it is over."

"Giving anyone anything takes courage, since so many presents backfire. A gift conspicuously at odds with your tastes serves only to betray that the benefactor has no earthly clue who you are."

"Now, bitterly, with one sweep of the front door, the compassion was spent. To the degree that Lawrence's face was familiar, it was killingly so - as if she had been gradually getting to know him for over nine years and then, bang, he was known. She'd been handed her diploma. There were no more surprises - or only this last surprise, that there were no more surprises. To torture herself, Irina kept looking, and looking, at Lawrence's face, like turning the key in an ignition several times before resigning herself that the battery was dead."

"Lovers communicate not inside sentences, but between them. Passion lurks within interstice. It is grouting rather than bricks."