BBT ~ Evolving Tastes in Books

June 5, 2008 at 2:08 pm | Posted in Books, Gothic Fiction, Guilty Pleasure, Historical Fiction, LIfe, My Life with Books, Reading | 15 Comments
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Have your book-tastes changed over the years? More fiction? Less? Books that are darker and more serious? Lighter and more frivolous? Challenging? Easy? How-to books over novels? Mysteries over Romance?

Since I started this blog at the beginning of 2007, the biggest change I’ve noticed in my taste has been my almost glutenous love for historical fiction. That discovery has really taken me by surprise. Barnes and Noble featured Philippa Gregory and The Boleyn Inheritence in their book club. On a whim, I ordered the The Other Boleyn Girl and the rest is history (pun only intended if it doesn’t offend). Thinking back on that, I can’t believe that I didn’t look into that earlier on my own. I’ve always loved history and Gone with the Wind is my favorite novel. It would be a no brainer if I had known that there was a historical fiction category.

In general, I’ve always preferred to read books that challenge me and those tend to be on the more serious side. For example, I read Crime and Punishment on my own in college after finding out, much to my disappointment, that it wasn’t a requirement in my college curriculum. Still, I’ve discovered that I enjoy reading memoirs and have come to enjoy reading books I would catergorize as guilty pleasures. I’ve definitely grown in my ability to admit to those guilty pleasures. Sometimes you need to just let your mind play and Janet Evanovich comes in quite handy in that regard.

One thing that hasn’t changed is how much I enjoy Gothic fiction. I might not read it all of the time or have the same compulsion to read it as I do with Historical Fiction, but I immediately feel at home when reading Edgar Allen Poe, Daphne du Maurier, Charlotte Bronte, and Patrick McGrath. When I get the bug to actually write on my own, I find my work to fit in that category. I’ve never been able to write anything else. If I ever do write that novel, I could only hope that my work would be compared to any of those authors.

The great thing about reading is that you are free to evolve in any way your fancy takes you. Where else in your life do you have that freedom?

#72 ~ Trauma

May 23, 2008 at 11:57 am | Posted in Books, Family, Gothic Fiction, Reading | 6 Comments
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Cover of Trauma

Trauma by Patrick McGrath

Trauma tells the story of Charlie, a divorced psychiatrist who specializes in Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Charlie has spent his life taking care of his mentally ill mother and a brother-in-law who suffered from PTSD as a result of his tours of duty in Vietnam. After his brother-in-law dies, he ends his marriage, unable to cope with his guilt. After his mother dies, Charlie finds himself emotionally orphaned and without someone in his personal life to fix. What’s a psychiatrist to do living like that?

This novel takes place in New York City during the 70s and perhaps 80s. The Twin Towers are being built and viewed from many angles throughout the novel and are almost a character themselves, symbolizing stability in a city full of disillusioned Americans struggling to deal with the aftermath of the Vietnam War. I found this to be the best, most subtle, and thought-provoking commentary on our current war. The reader is free to draw one’s own conclusions or even not notice it at all because there is no break in the narrative to make a political statement. In the end, the novel is more timeless this way. While the story itself will always have a specific time and place in history, there is no blatant political commentary targeted at a 2008 audience that will interfere with readers 100 years from now.

I have always enjoyed Patrick McGrath, the more Gothic the better. This novel isn’t his most Gothic, but he is in great form. It reads quickly and is entertaining and interesting. I prefer Asylum to this and all of his other novels, still I found the tension to be perfect. Even after mulling Charlie over for the past few days, I’m still not sure if he is a reliable narrator. To me, this is a good thing. This way I am able to look back on a novel both with trust and full of questions. Each view provides an interesting twist. Of course, the mother is always to blame which ever way you slice it, but that’s another story.

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To buy this book, click here.

Seriously, WTF?

May 7, 2008 at 9:03 pm | Posted in Adoption, Books, Culture, entertainment, Film, Gothic Fiction | 10 Comments
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I am not a fan of Ellen Page.  Although I’m in the minority, I didn’t find her performance in Juno very realistic or endearing (I hate that I have even just linked to it’s Wikipedia page…).  People at work have attributed this to my age.  I thought perhaps my experience of adoption colored my views of the movie as well.  Certainly my experience is just that, my experience.  Still, even though Emma’s first mother firmly made her adoption plan early in the pregnancy, this was an emotional experience for her, her family, and for us.  There was no sarcasm or flippant jokes about her being irresponsible.  The only aspects of that movie I found close to ringing true were the scenes where she had to decide whether to continue her adoption plan and after the baby is born – and those were noteworthy only because she was actually acting, not just being herself.  They weren’t Oscar worthy.

Imagine my surprise when I ventured on to Pop Candy this evening before leaving work to discover that Ellen Page, who essentially played the same sarcastic young female character in Smart People, has been cast as Jane Eyre for a BBC Films production of all things!  Whitney, who loves Page, can’t even see her in this role.  Seriously, what are they thinking over there at BBC Films?  Jane Eyre doesn’t have a sarcastic bone in her body.  Do they have any expectation that Page can pull off ‘mousy’ or, more importantly, sincere?

I can’t say that I’ve ever seen a film or TV adaptation of Jane Eyre, but look at what is already out there.  What reason could there possibly be to cast Ellen Page in this role?  There is a 1944 version that stars Orson Welles, Joan Fontaine, and Elizabeth Taylor.  A&E produced a television starring Samantha Morton as Jane.  Who could really be more perfect than that?

I have no idea what really makes the film business tick.  I’m sure that I’ve misspent many an entertainment dollar in my life and am reaping this as my reward.  I would rather be struck blind like Mr. Rochester than even watch the trailer.

It’s Almost Here!

January 31, 2008 at 10:39 am | Posted in Barnes & Noble, Books, First Look Book Club, Gothic Fiction, The Monsters of Templeton | 2 Comments
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The Monsters of Templeton, the first novel written by Lauren Groff, will be released on Tuesday, February 5. For those of you who did not get an opportunity to read this as part of Barnes and Noble‘s First Look Book Club, I highly suggest that you go out and get yourself a copy. You won’t be disappointed!  If you have read this book as part of the program, I received an email from Lauren and they’ve added some cool stuff to the hardcover based upon what they learned from the book club readers.  Go and get yourself a hardcover!

#41 ~ The Monsters of Templeton

October 16, 2007 at 12:49 am | Posted in Amazing Narrator, Barnes & Noble, Books, Childhood Memories, Culture, Exercise, First Look Book Club, Free, Gothic Fiction, LIfe, Margaret Mitchell, My Life with Books, Parenting Dilemmas, Pre-Release Sneak Peak, Reading, Religion, Secrets and Lies, The Monsters of Templeton | 13 Comments
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The Monsters of Templeton by Lauren Groff

There is something spectacular about a book whose first line lures you into its spell like a siphon and never lets you go. In my 36 years of reading, there has only been two books whose first lines I’ve memorized and cannot forget:

“Call me Ishmael.” ~ Moby Dick (who hasn’t had that beaten into their skulls with an ice pick?)

Scarlett O’Hara was not beautiful, but men seldom realized it when caught by her charm as the Tarleton twins were.” ~ Gone with the Wind

With that line, I fell in love with Scarlett and couldn’t wait to find out just what it was about her that had men panting like exercised puppies. There was no way I could not read the book after just that first sentence – and I never thought to. With the noted exception of Moby Dick, I’ve found that a compelling first sentence isn’t a fluke. It’s a sign of a gifted author and a book worthy of reading.

The fact of the matter is that most books I’ve read and even those I’ve enjoyed immensely begin forgettably. This is the 41st book I’ve read this year and prior to picking up this book, not a single first sentence has struck me this year – and I’ve read some great novels. So, when I read, re-read, and then could not stop thinking about:

“The day I returned to Templeton steeped in disgrace, the fifty-foot corpse of a monster surfaced in Lake Glimmerglass.”

I knew that this would be a book I would love. I finished this book as satisfied as I was with the first sentence. This is a novel that I will keep forever and re-read several times.

The Monsters of Templeton is the story of Willie Sunshine Upton, a young graduate student who unexpectedly returns to her ancestral home “steeped in disgrace” just as her home town is overcome with media upon the discovery of an as-of-yet undiscovered mammalian creature. The existence – or actually previous existence – of the monster gives this novel a Gothic feel. This along with the mystery of Willie’s famous family prove to work together well.

Willie returned to her mother, Vi, in hopes of finding a safe place to lick her wounds before facing the responsibilities and consequences of the choices she’d recently made. Vi, a single mother and former hippy, refuses to let her daughter settle, even if it is into shame. As a result of her recent radical religious conversion, Vi feels the need to come clean to Willie. She tells her that she is not the product of an orgy-istic time in San Francisco. In fact, Willie’s father is alive and well in Templeton. He never knew of her existence. When Willie asks who he is, Vi refuses to tell her. She provides only a single clue: he, just like Willie and Vi, is related to Marmaduke Temple, the father of Templeton. It was as if Vi through down the gauntlet. Willie, no matter how down her current circumstances have made her, cannot sit still having this mystery hanging around her. Her archaeological dig through her family’s past proves to be an enchanting and humorous adventure.

I don’t want to give away many details in this review. I enjoyed uncovering things along the way with Willie. I will say (that just about everything else recently in my life) that there was a strong connection for me between Vi and Glinda, the Good Witch of the North. Both characters hold an important truth that could very easily be given to the young woman in need: Willie needs to know who her father is and Dorothy needs to know how to get back to Kansas. If this information was simply handed over, what would have happened? Neither Willie nor Dorothy would never grasped or appreciated the importance of family in their souls. In that way, what both characters needed was the discovery as much as the truth. Given that Glinda is traditionally played by the same actress as Auntie Em, it seems that teaching a child to learn for herself is the mark of the best mother/mother figure.

The Monsters of Templeton is mainly narrated by Willie, but there are also sections narrated by The Running Buds, Templeton’s jogging protectors, and several of Willie’s ancestors. I found myself drawn into the genealogical research myself. The pictures, portraits, and family trees along the way also made me feel included. Just as with Special Topics in Calamity Physics, they enhance the experience and do not feel out of place.

One of the best things about reading this book was the humor. There were several times I found myself chuckling out loud while I was reading. I don’t do that very often. It was this humor that endeared the book and its characters to me. Perhaps it was because I am of a similar age to Willie’s character that I found the sarcasm and smack talk genuine. It is such a pleasure to read a book that is both interesting and fun.

** Thank you Barnes and Noble for providing me with an Advance Reading Copy of this book. Your First Look Book Club is an incredible opportunity. **

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To buy this novel, click here.

#22 ~ The Thirteenth Tale

May 12, 2007 at 4:14 pm | Posted in Books, Gothic Fiction, Reading, Secrets and Lies | 4 Comments
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The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield

It took me a while to read this book, but that is not because it wasn’t interesting and delightful. Suffice to say that sometimes work gets in the way of life. I completely enjoyed reading a Gothic ghost story once again. I keep forgetting how much I enjoy them. There’s something about a misty, haunted moor filled with secrets and lies to keep my interest until the very end.

The narrator, an avid reader, lives above her father’s bookstore. From a very young age Margaret spent a majority of her time reading. Her ability to read expanded once she began working at the store full-time. The store is full of exotic books, but it is not the main way in which their livings are earned. Her father has a knack for finding the most difficult books. Four of those sales a year is all they need.

Her life is sheltered within this world of books until she is offered the opportunity to write the biography of one of Britian’s greatest living novelists. Vida Winter spent her life spinning tales when asked about her private life. To Margaret, she wants to come clean. Margaret’s family also has its secrets that keeps her at arms length from her mother. After some discussion with her father, she accepts the position and makes a temporary move to Ms. Winter’s estate.

The world of shadows, ghosts, and mentally unstable relatives unfolds for Margaret during sessions with the author in her library. As Margaret tries to tie together loose ends and prove to herself that Ms. Winter is not making a fool of her, the reader is, too. The rules that Ms. Winter put in place about not asking questions and not jumping ahead in the story are as tantalizingly frustrating to the reader as they are to the narrator.

The conclusion to this book is reminiscent to many other Gothic novels. Asylum by Patrick McGrath came to mind. It, by far, is my favorite book in this genre. I finished the book with satisfaction. It was nice to not feel disappointed. The fact that I wasn’t longing for more is not negative. It felt complete and that is a joy to me. Not everything has to end with Scarlett tormented on the stairs determined to get Rhett back after first rejuvenating her soul at Tara.

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