#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. **


To buy this novel, click here.


#09 ~ Wicked

March 1, 2007 at 10:50 pm | Posted in Amazing Narrator, Books, Reading, Secrets and Lies, Sexual Identity | 3 Comments
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Wicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West by Gregory Maguire

Wow! What a wild ride this book is. I agree with what my sister has said: Gregory Maguire is a genius for coming up with this concept. Unlike the results with books written around Gone with the Wind, you can revisit a popular world and expand upon it in a meaningful way. I did get a little lost at times in the politics of Maguire’s Oz, but I completely enjoyed this book. Even though I knew from the beginning that she was going to die at the hands of Dorothy, I was constantly in anticipation of what was coming next.

Some of my favorite courses in college and grad school dealt with the discussion of narrators. Can you trust them in general? Can you trust the current one in particular? What are the narrator’s motivations? What, if anything, does this narrator have to gain from telling this story? When you stop to consider the narrator, the way in which you interpret the story can completely change. At the same time, I find that I often accept narrators at face value. Truthfully, most novels aren’t crafted in such a way to even make this an issue. Most authors are telling a story and the narrator is their voice. There are, however, authors that are as interested if not more interested in providing readers with a puzzle beyond the story at hand. Sometime that puzzle distracts the reader purposefully from the truth. This novel reminded me of the power of the narrator.

From a very early age I watched The Wizard of Oz on television once a year. The night it aired felt like a holiday (for those of you who do not understand what I’m talking about, remember that there was a time without VCRs, DVDs, Blockbuster, and NetFlix). In all my life it has never occurred to me to question Dorothy’s tale. She was pure and good. The Witch was pure evil. After all, it was just a dream, right? Hmm… After reading Wicked, I’m looking at the movie with a little more skepticism. It’s hard to forget that there are two sides to every story. I will have to read L. Frank Baum’s original novels. I am interested to see how my opinions are shaped further.

In addition to shedding some light on a beloved story, this book had me contemplating on the true nature of evil. Is evil something that can be pinned down and quantified? Is it, like beauty, entirely in the eyes of the beholder? Is evil judged solely upon its nature, intentions, and actions? Or are those things subordinate to the way they are interpreted by others? These are not new questions. The concepts of right and wrong, good and evil, and God and Satan are the backbone of mythology and religion. Would there be myths and faiths if humans weren’t continually trying to understand or explain why bad things happen? Where would the art of storytelling be were it not for such things?

Before I my thoughts on the power of narration and the nature of evil scares anyone off, Wicked is only as “heady” as you allow it to be. Mostly it is just a lot of fun to walk in the steps of Elphaba as she grows from a little girl tortured by her green skin, to a student who is ultimately befriended by Galinda/Glinda, the society girl, and finally to become the powerful Wicked Witch of the West.

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