Saturday, June 26, 2010

Singletini: Amanda Trimble

I picked up Singletini at the library booksale. The bright cover and basic storyline about a matchmaker caught my interest. I can now tell you, dear readers, that is where my interest ended.

So the story is about Victoria. She's a flat narrator who punctuates her ever sentence with "Ooh" and "Right?" Highly obnoxious. She loses her desk job and becomes a Wingwoman for hire. Essentially, she goes out with men who hire her to help them meet women. Meanwhile, one of her dearest friends from college just got engaged and wants Victoria to be her personal assistant. And of course there is a love interest (what else could possibly motivate this weak piece of chick lit?).

As you can probably already tell, I am not a fan of this book. As a story it is trite, but tolerable. As a novel, it is ridiculous. It's part "Shopaholic", part "Coyote Ugly". The characters are one-dimensional and the writing is amateurish. It turns out that Trimble is a copywriter. I don't recommend she give up her day job.

Rating: $...or less

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Book Blogger Appreciation Week

a) 5 posts that you feel best represent your blog in terms of the niche category for which you registered, and b) 5 posts that best represent EACH featured category for which you registered (i.e., Best Written Book Blog). You may use the same links for multiple categories if you wish, but please separate the list of links so that the judges know which links pertain to which category.

Should Be Reading alerted me to this awesome event, Book Blogger Appreciation Week. My hubris has got the best of me and I've nominated myself for Best Eclectic Blog and Best Written Blog. To qualify I have to link 5 blog posts that represent how mine is the best eclectic blog, and 5 posts that represent how mine is the best written.

Best Eclectic Blog:

Best Written Blog:

Monday, June 21, 2010

The Quickening: Michelle Hoover

My continued gratitude to Other Press, who sends me delightful, brand new reads like this one.

Michelle Hoover's debut novel, The Quickening takes place during the years of The Great Depression in a Midwest farming town. The two narrators are neighbors--Edidina Current and Mary Morrow--and they could not be more different. While Edidina is a sturdy and plump, hard-working woman, Mary had dreams of something a bit more cosmopolitan. Despite their differences the women form a tenuous friendship that waxes and wans through births and deaths, prosperity and poverty. Theirs is a friendship built of necessity. When Edidina struggles with birthing, Mary is the only woman around for miles. And when Mary is craving some female company amid a houseful of husband and sons, Edidina is her only female companion. So they have this delicate friendship which is hindered by Mary's husband, Jack, who does some pretty evil things. Mary finds solace in the new preacher, Borden which also proves to be troublesome for everyone. Ultimately, there are a lot of "your-folk-done-my-folk-wrong" finger pointing scenarios and some truly devastating events that will surely make you pick a side.

First of all, I have to admit that when I first read the book flap and saw that it was about farmers during the Great Depression, I was none too excited. My grandma was born in 1904, so I've heard enough Great Depression stories to last a lifetime. And I find that most books about farming life are sloooooow. You know, on account of farming life being slooooow. However, there was something about this story, with it's family strife and neighborly secrets that had me curious. I devoured this book in a matter of hours, folks. Quite simply, I was riveted.

Hoover has an amazing gift. While it's not fair to either book to compare, I found myself enjoying The Quickening in the same way I enjoyed The Good Earth. It is a character-driven novel in which events surround the characters opposed to a story where characters surround an event. As a result, I relate. I feel connected to Edidina and Mary as each woman narrates. Hoover has given each woman an individual voice that oozes emotion with such subtlety that she can only be called an artist.

Rating: $$$

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Last Dance at The Frosty Queen: Richard Uhlig

Another book sale buy, Last Dance At The Frosty Queen was a surprise. I had no idea what it was about, but the cover was catchy and the title was quirky. I figured that for 50 cents, it could be a total dud and I wouldn't have lost anything.

Uhlig makes his debut with this teen novel about Arthur Flood (aka, Arty), an eighteen-year-old high school senior living in tiny Harker City, Kansas. Arty has big dreams about moving away from Harker and living a bigger life, surrounded by people he's never met. Arty turns out to be a very complex character. He's sleeping with his Drama teacher, Mrs. Kaye, while also dating Geraldine Bottoms from the Ichthus club (it's a bible study group). Arty works for the Stileses who own Stiles' Styles--a design shop in town that was intended to put Harker City on the map. Arty's best friend is a theater buff named Barry, a closeted gay boy who works at the Frosty Queen--the first fast food shop in town. Arty's life seems pretty dull until he meets Vanessa from California. She's dark and mysterious and irresistibly beautiful. And of course, she's a little bit crazy, which is probably what Arty likes about her. This is all background noise to the real Arty Flood story though, which is the death of his drunk mother some years previous, which he's never fully dealt with.

I think I'm still processing this book. For being marketed for teens, it's got a lot of intense emotions and some very graphic sex. The language is also a little rough at times. This book is just like an eighteen-year-old boy in many ways. It's funny and a little bit painful. It's awkward and self-conscious. It's also tender-hearted when you start to learn some of it's secrets.

Rating: $$

The Geography of Bliss: Eric Weiner

The title alone was enough to catch my interest, but it was the subtitle that really hooked me: One Grump's search for the Happiest Places in the World. That pretty much sums up The Geography of Bliss. Ten chapters, ten counties, and a whole book of ideas on what it means to be happy.

Eric Weiner is a world news correspondent for National Public Radio and self-proclaimed grump. He has lead a successful career in the midst of a fairly unhappy life. After reporting stories from some of the most miserable places on Earth, Weiner wonders what it would be like to instead search the globe for the happiest places in the world. This leads to a consultation with Ruut Veenhooven, a Dutch professor and world renowned scholar of Happiness. Veenhoven and his cohorts have compiled a database that measures the overall happiness of every country in the world. Weiner travels to various counties and meets with locals (and some non-locals) to find out what makes a county happy, or more specifically, what makes for a happy person.

Though I took a long time getting through this book, I loved it. I'm a travel nut, and Weiner has an immense talent at describing a scene. He also writes with humor that had me laughing out loud on almost every page. The characters he meets--despite being real people, they are in fact characters--are wonderful, wise, charming people who each have a different set of beliefs and feel differently about Happiness as a goal. I couldn't possibly list all ten countries and tell you what Weiner learns about happiness in each one, but I can give you some highlights.

  • Switzerland is one of the Happiest places in the world. This is largely due to their excellent timing, their large quantities of good chocolate (that would do it for me!), and their impeccably clean public toilets. Envy is the root of unhappiness, so the Swiss are very careful not to boast their wealth.
  • Iceland is also one of the Happiest places in the world. They live in perpetual darkness and slide around on treacherous ice half the year. They drink themselves into a stupor on the weekends, and have faith only in their history rather than in any god. Icelandic people believe that trust is the key to happiness, so they choose to trust one another and therefore, behave in a way that is trustworthy.
  • Moldova is one of the unhappiest places on Earth. It is a county without culture or money. The people are resigned to the way things are. They are neither Russian nor are they Soviets. The Moldovan people are all doom and gloom and don't work very hard at making any changes.
  • Thailand is often thought of as a Happiness Paradise. It is tropical, with lovely beaches, and all of that Buddhism floating around is very relaxing. Because Thais believe in reincarnation, they aren't all that worried about what they do or don't do in this lifetime. They believe that thinking is the enemy of happiness. The moment that you think about what will make you happy, you have already lost happiness. Therefore, the Thais simply go through life trying not to think too much about anything, but just enjoying what IS.
Unfortunately, Weiner never did tell me exactly how to be happy. But his travels explained a lot about how the world views happiness and how people expect to achieve it. I may not have the answer yet, but I certainly have something to think about.

Rating: $$$

Monday, June 7, 2010

The Swimming Pool: Holly LeCraw

I finished reading The Swimming Pool by Holly LeCraw about two weeks ago. At first, I had no idea where to begin in my review. What a complicated story! And then, just as I was really picking up some steam on my review, my computer crashed. And I mean it CRASHED. I tried to do a system restore, but alas, the only treatment was to re-start the system from scratch. So. Obviously I lost the beautiful, poetic, righteous review I was working on. And of course, now that it's gone into the silicon Neverland and no one can read it, I can tell you that it was my best work ever! Okay, it wasn't really, but you'll never know, will you?

So. This book. It's confusing. That's all there is to it. Because it starts out as a story about one thing, but it ends up being a story about something totally different. Which, really, is just like life. We start out our day thinking it will just be about work, and it ends up being about the kids and the dog and the co-workers mother-in-law who doesn't approve. In that sense, LeCraw is a fabulous writer. She easily captures a slice of life. The life she has captured, though, is chaotic at best.

So there are all these people who have intersecting lives. Marcella was married to Anthony and they have a daughter named Toni. Marcella had an affair with a man named Cecil who was married to a woman named Betsy. Cecil and Betsy have two kids; Jed and Callie. Betsey ends up getting murdered, Marcella and Anthony get divorced, and Cecil eventually dies. That's not what this story is actually about though. Because some years later, it's summer on the Cape and Toni is hired to nanny for Callie, who now has two kids of her own. And brother Jed is spending the summer at the Cape with his sister. I know, right? Marcella's kid is nannying for the daughter of Marcella's former lover? Crazy. But wait, it gets worse. What could be worse, you ask? Oh, I don't know, maybe if Marcella and Jed become lovers! That's right, first she's lovin on the papa, then she's lovin on the son. Sick, ya'all, sick! It appears this woman has no boundaries. And to complicate things further, back at the Cape house, Toni keeps coming on to Jed, and he's trying desperately to deny that he finds her attractive. Because after all, she's the daughter of his lover!

So, if you've swallowed all of that information, now I can tell you that this book isn't really about those wicked relationships. It's about Callie and how postpartum depression is nasty. Because she's got this beautiful baby girl, right, but she's so totally unattached. And she's too scared to talk about it, because she's kind of WASPy and doesn't want anyone to know that she's not perfect. So what happens? Nothing, actually. She does not drown her baby in a bathtub. She does not shake her baby to death. Nothing like that. She just locks her baby in the nursery, where she is safe from crazy mamma, which is the best thing she could have done. But none of this happens until the last part of the book! There are all of these subtle little paragraphs about Callie's unhappiness, but reader is so tied up with Jed and Marcella that we don't realize it's all about Callie!

Now, I'm not gonna lie and say I loved this book. Because I was kind of into it until I figured out that I had been misled. But I can't lie and say I hated it, either. Because the characters are fascinating people! And I am a sucker for stories that take place on The Cape. New England is super foreign to this NW girlie, so I'm always interested to read about those folks. I guess I'm just not keen on the plot devices LeCraw utilizes. However, this is her debut novel, and I am mildly curious to see what she does next. Will she continue to be a tale-twister, or will she change it up next time?

Rating: $$