Tuesday, June 28, 2011

The Girl's Guide to Homelessness

It's rare these days that I will stay up late into the night reading. I love reading, but I'm pretty committed to getting my eight hours, so there isn't much that I let get between that. But I had to stay up last night to finish Brianna Karp's The Girl's Guide to Homelessness. Wow.

This is an emotionally gripping story of a young woman, who despite doing everything "right," found herself homeless. Brianna was educated, hard working, had a good job and a nice place to live. But when the economy tanked, she lost her job. Her savings soon ran out and she lost her home. Brianna shares her survival methods, talks about the stereotypes people have of the homeless, and the countless challenges she faced trying to get back on her feet. There is another huge component to this story though. Brianna recounts her background and upbringing, which isn't pleasant. Sexually abused by her biological father, physically and verbally abused by her mother, and brain washed by the religion she was brought up in, there are some parts of the book that were extremely difficult to read. Nonetheless, this is a captivating story that elicited a range of emotions: anger, sadness, and even laughter. Get it. Read it. Tell someone about it.

Friday, June 24, 2011

It's All Relative

I was very excited to see Wade Rouse's recent memoir, It's All Relative: Two Families, Three Dogs, 34 Holidays, and 50 Boxes of Wine. His last memoir, At Least Someone in the City Would Hear Me Scream, was a humorous account of his and his partner Gary's move to rural Michigan in search of the simple life. In this latest memoir, Wade recounts the various holidays of his childhood and adulthood. The obvious holidays are covered: Christmas, Thanksgiving, Easter, etc. But also included are Memorial Day, Arbor Day, and Chinese New Year. Arbor Day? I had completely forgotten about Arbor Day. I was expecting another compilation of humorous essays, and for the most part, that's what this is, but then Rouse sucker-punched me with stories of visiting his grandmother in the nursing home and having to put a dog to sleep, that left me sobbing. I haven't read any of Rouse's other works besides these two, but I think this collection shows his talent as a writer. He can deliver a biting, snarky, laugh-out-loud story in one chapter, and the next, a heartfelt, touching tale that brings a reader to tears. I frequently compare him to David Sedaris, although Rouse's biting humor is a little less subtle. Nonetheless, I thoroughly enjoyed this collection and look forward to his next.

Thursday, June 23, 2011


The announcement that all Harry Potter fans have been waiting for was finally released. Alas, no new book. The website, Pottermore, sounds like it's going to be an online experience of the Harry Potter books. It wasn't clearly described, but it almost sounds like a choose-your-own-adventure type of experience. The website won't open until October, so we'll have to wait and see. J.K. Rowling does say in the video that she will be releasing more details about Harry's world that she has been hoarding for years. The Pottermore website will also finally make digital versions of the audiobooks and ebooks available for purchase, which is great news. Still, I have to say I'm a bit disappointed. I know she said no more Harry Potter, but I was hoping for a new story. Although, I guess if you've made as much money as she has, you don't need to keep writing. And, with the huge success of HP, you take a big risk that a new series wouldn't be able to meet expectations. Could she really top Harry Potter? Probably not.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Movie to come!

I’m not even sure where to start when describing One Day by David Nicholls.  Ultimately, it’s a story about the friendship between Dexter Mayhew and Emma Morley.  Some people have referred to it as a love story but I’m not sure that I agree.  Nicholls introduces us to Dex and Emma on July 15th, 1988 which happens to be the night they meet.  The book follows the ups and downs of their relationship for the next 20 years.  The interesting part of this is that each chapter is set on July 15th of the next year.  Initially, I was worried that I’d feel like I was missing large portions of their lives and friendship but that wasn’t the case.  Nicholls does a fantastic job of pushing the story forward by leaving each chapter with a slight cliffhanger and starting the next chapter smoothly filling in the gap.  Nicholls successfully details the separate lives of each character while also explaining the state of Emma and Dex’s relationship.  This allows their relationship to evolve by creating very well rounded characters.  I found myself totally engaged in the story and feeling the sort of drive to start the next chapter that you get when reading a James Patterson novel.  Luckily for me, that push was followed by a bit more meat to the chapter than a typical Patterson.  As I mentioned before, it’s often described as a love story (and it’s being kind of marketed as one for the movie version coming out in August) but I think I might describe it more as a burning friendship.  Maybe that is a better description of love anyway?  I guess I just really enjoyed their friendship and never really saw the desperate need for them to end up being in love.  I do admit that their love story compelled me a bit more over the last 3 chapters than in the rest of the book.  Overall, I highly recommend it as a summer read.  It’s engaging, different, and the characters are really well written.  If you’re looking for a full fledged romance, this might not be it.  Then again, maybe you’ll see more of the romance than I did.  Anne Hathaway will star in the movie version as Emma Morely so I'm expecting it will get a decent amount of press in August. 

Monday, June 20, 2011

Heads You Lose

Lisa Lutz is one of my favorite new mystery writers. I love her Spellman Files series, so I was a bit disappointed when she decided to take a break from the Spellmans and work on a new project. Heads You Lose is her new novel that she co-authored with ex-boyfriend David Hayward. They took a tag-team approach to writing the novel: Lisa wrote one chapter, David wrote the next. The result is a mildly entertaining, forgettable novel that is no substitution for the Spellmans.

Lacey and Paul Hansen are pot-growing siblings living in a small town in northern California. When a headless body shows up on the Hansen property, Lacey begins investigating. Soon, more characters are turning up dead. To be honest, it was hard to keep it all straight and I don't even remember who the real killer ended up being. After each chapter, Lisa and Dave exchange notes on their disagreements of where the novel is headed. This was entertaining for a little while, but quickly grows old. It was hard to tell if their bickering was meant to be amusing or if it was real. I also started getting annoyed with Lisa, who didn't follow the "yes, and..." process.* She seemed to squash all of Dave's attempts to take the novel in any direction other than where she wanted it to go. So why write with a partner then? In Dave's defense, I liked his writing and his character development. I think what killed it for me was the audio narration. Normally I love audiobooks, and the two narrators have beautiful voices, but their characters were driving me nuts. First, I believe the novel is set in northern California. So, why all the southern accents? Second, I realize that some of the characters are pot growers, but the stoned, surfer-dude voices were really annoying.

I admire Lisa for wanting to try something different, for not wanting to rest on her laurels and beat the Spellman series into the ground, but I don't think this venture hits the mark. Hopefully the Spellmans will be back soon.

*"Yes, and..." is an improv technique where the participant accepts the direction their partner takes and builds on it. Learned that from Tina Fey's Bossypants. Smartypants, aren't I?

Friday, June 17, 2011

Could there be more Harry Potter?

Galleycat is reporting that J.K. Rowling has launched a website called Pottermore and a YouTube video that indicates that Rowling will be making some kind of announcement in less than 6 days. Rowling's spokesperson claims that there will not be another Harry Potter book, but why would she name the site Pottermore if it had nothing to do with Harry? Could it be a series with James? Adventures of Moony, Wormtail, Padfoot and Prongs? She better not be toying with my emotions!

What do you think will be the big announcement?

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Happy Bloomsday!

It is with a heavy heart that I face Bloomsday today. Over the past year I have participated in an ongoing discussion group of Joyce's famous novel Ulysses. The Evanston Public Library led Mission Impossible: Ulysses, which met over the course of the year, reading the lengthy, intimidating novel in pieces. I attended the meetings and struggled my way through most of the book, but I admit: I didn't finish it. They had great mugs made up, but I felt I didn't deserve one. Not only did I not finish, but I didn't love it. From the first page I struggled with the book. I used annotations, cliff notes, and other books about the book, yet it was impenetrable. It was like reading something in a foreign language. The cliff notes basically translated enough so that I could get the gist of the story and could follow along with the discussions, but I'm left still wondering why this is considered such a great novel. One of the best novels of the 20th century? I don't know. I did re-read Joyce's Dubliners, which I read in college and remembered loving. I was worried that I wouldn't like it this time around, considering the terrible time I was having with Ulysses, but I loved it just as much, and perhaps more, the second time. I guess what gets me the most is that despite the fact that I spent the last year with this book, I don't feel like I can actually cross it off my bucket list of books.