Archive for the ‘Books’ Category

the-last-mrs-parrish

Daphne Parrish has the life most women would envy.  She lives in Connecticut in a large mansion with her husband Jackson, a wealthy businessman and their two kids, Bella and Tallulah.  Daphne loves her life, but mourns her sister, Julie, who passed away from Cystic Fibrosis.  Daphne runs a foundation called Julie’s Smile aimed at combating Cystic Fibrosis.  One day, into this idyllic life walks Amber Patterson, a mousy Midwesterner, who suddenly enters Daphne’s life, and ingratiates herself to Daphne by telling her that she lost a sister named Charlene as well.  Daphne invites Amber to a foundation meeting. Daphne’s best friend, and foundation member, Meredith  is skeptical about Amber’s intention and warns Daphne about her in private, but Daphne plows ahead, and puts her on the foundation, gives her a makeover, and offers her a job working with Jackson, as his assistant.  What are Amber’s intentions?  Is she after Daphne’s husband or is she the innocent girl she portrays herself to be?  Is Daphne the last Mrs. Parrish?

It’s hard to get excited about a book when Ms. Constantine gives away one of the mysteries of the book almost immediately.  The reader is forced to feel sympathy for one of the characters, but the character is written so badly, it’s difficult to feel anything for this character.  Every book is supposed to have a protagonist, but who does the reader root for in this book?  The rich wife who has everything, the poor stranger who may or may not be a schemer?  The wildly successful businessman, who is also roguishly handsome, and could have any woman he wants?  The reader shouldn’t empathize with any of these characters, because the character are so one dimensional.  The author makes the mistake that most authors make, which is, the main characters are either all-good or all-bad. But in real life, people aren’t either all good or all bad, bad people are capable of doing good things, and good people sometimes slip and do bad things.  Current authors would be better served to write more complex characters with complex emotions, instead of bland black and white characters.  The Last Mrs. Parrish has a Gone Girl problem, none of the characters are likable, and that makes for a difficult read.

Liv Constantine does  keep part of the story hidden, and then there’s a reveal, but the reveal comes with a reclamation project with one of the characters, and by the time the reveal  happens it’s too late to redeem this character.  The reader gets an impression of this character for the majority of the book and the author suddenly changes the narrative in whipsaw fashion, and the reader is just supposed to accept what has been revealed.  It’s too much to swallow.

Should you read this book?  The plot is clichéd, the characters are not well-developed, so no, yu should not read this book.  It doesn’t even pass muster for summer reading.  Surely, there are better books than this tripe.

The Last Mrs. Parrish: Go to the parish and pray for better writing.

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runnin with the devil

Van Halen was one of the most popular and influential rock bands of the late 70’s and mid 80’s.  Their sound is trademarked by the distinctive howl of original lead singer David Lee Roth, and the revolutionary finger tapping guitar technique of Eddie Van Halen.  Noel Monk managed the original lineup from 1978-1985, when Roth left the band and went on to pursue a solo career.

I am a big Van Halen fan, the original lineup was one of my favorite rock bands ever.  So imagine my excitement when I got this book as a birthday present this year, I would finally get to hear some juicy stories from someone on the inside.  The book is both less entertaining and less informative than I expected.  Sure there are stories, but they are nothing that a devoted Van Halen fan wouldn’t already know. A large part of this book consists of stories about how the manager, who’s also the author, came to the rescue of the band, or made the band better, or richer or more popular. One thing is for certain, no Van Halen fan, no matter how dedicated, gives a rat’s behind about Noel Monk, or what he did he did for Van Halen.  It was Eddie Van Halen’s guitar skills and David Lee Roth’s promotional skills, some would say self-promotional skills, that made Van Halen famous, the manager had very little to do with the music, honestly Monk is a glorified tour manager, and he probably overstates his role as manager.

Noel also takes shots at everyone in the band, except one, depending one who he was angry at in that chapter.  Monk was never involved in the musical end of Van Halen, and the music would seem to be what would be most interesting to me, so I would read a book by Van Halen producer by Ted Templeman before I would read this book because I would really like to know what the studio experience was like with Van Halen, what the creative process was like with them, and this book never provided those insights.  Monk gives his opinions about the songs and the cd’s, almost all of which I disagree with, so take his opinions about the music with a grain of salt.  Somehow, at the end of this complicated story, Monk makes himself the victim of the whole sordid tale, Monk comes across as many things, but a victim, no.  Not by a long shot.

I read David Lee Roth’s book Crazy From The Heat, a long time ago, I don’t remember many details, but I remember laughing a lot, because when David Lee Roth tells a story, it was worth telling.  There was always a punchline, and the punchline was worth hearing.  This book seems to forget about the fun,  and concentrates on the anger, bitterness and acrimony that was undoubtedly  part of the band, but  it’s also what makes parts of this book difficult to read.  The stories of drugging, drinking and womanizing also become a bit redundant after a while.  That said, I read this book pretty quickly, I think I was hoping for more interesting details, or better writing, in the end, there was neither.

Runnin’ With The Devil:  The Devil’s in The Details.

Kindred

Dana Franklin is a young African American woman married to a white man, named Kevin in 1976.  Both are writers, doing research on their latest book.  The two met and started dating while looking for work.  Both families objected, but they got married anyway.  One day without warning, Dana feels dizzy, and before she knows what’s happening, she wakes up in a strange place far from her home.  Dana sees a child drowning, and instinctively saves the child, but no one seems to be grateful.  The boy’s name is Rufus, and his mother accuses Dana of trying to drown Rufus, someone points a gun at Dana and, she gets dizzy, and without knowing what happened, she wakes up back home.

Dana is back in the strange place before long, saving the boy Rufus from a barn fire, by this time Dana deduces that she has been brought back to the year 1809, she is living on a plantation in Maryland, owned by Rufus’ father, Tom and it is the boy Rufus that brings her here, this time a man tries to rape Dana and she gets dizzy and goes back home.

On subsequent trips back to the 1800’s, she takes Kevin along, who pretends to be her owner  and finds out that Rufus, now in his twenties, is in love with Dana’s ancestor, a slave named Alice, but Alice is married to a slave named Isaac, who has beaten Rufus to a pulp for trying to rape Alice.  Isaac tries to run away with Alice, knowing that if they stay they will face severe consequences. Dana has problems of her own, during her time travels back and forth, she and Kevin were separated, and while they are still in the same time period, Kevin has left Maryland, and Dana doesn’t know where he is.  Do Isaac and Alice escape?   What’s the strange power that Rufus have that can summon Dana to him at any time?  There seems to be a bond between Dana and Rufus, what is it?  Does Dana ever find Kevin?  Do they ever get to stay in 1976 Maryland for good?

Octavia Butler is a African American science fiction novelist , I found out about her from a Google doodle, and looked further into her writings.  Kindred combines two of my favorite things, history and science fiction.  There are all kinds of interesting sociological messages in this book.  Dana and Kevin are an interracial couple, a rarity in the 70’s and there’s a great deal of discomfort with the idea in the 70’s, but it’s interesting how Butler explains the relationship in the 1800’s as a slave/slave owner relationship.  Butler should have delved a little deeper into their relationship in the 70’s, there seems to be a strain in the relationship that goes beyond time travel, but a lot of the stress is unspoken, so the reader never gets a clear idea of what the strain is.

The science fiction is never clearly explained either,  only that Rufus has this power and he uses it often.  But Dana knows to tread lightly in the 1800’s or change history in the present.  Science fiction readers know all about the time space continuum from the days of HG Wells’ Time Machine, and Butler seems to stick to the rules that were first established by Wells.

What is revolutionary in this book is the superimposing of science fiction and historical fiction.  Imagine what would happen if a contemporary black woman traveled back to the 1800’s to live in a time where slavery existed?  Readers need not wonder about that hypothetical any longer because Butler gives readers a view of what that might have looked like.  There are all kinds of themes explored here, Dana is a strong black woman, that poses enough issues in current day society, it poses more issues in the 1800’s.  She is resented by men and women of either color for being so outspoken. The slave/slave owner relationship is explored, the power dynamics of both slave and owner, and men and women in a largely male dominated society is examined.   The power relationship is an interesting discussion to have, especially in light of the me-too movement.

The role of education in slavery is explored, slaves wanted an education, but resent Dana for “sounding white”  and having an education, and the slave owners resented anyone with an education.  So Rufus also resents Dana for being more educated than he is. Butler doesn’t soft-peddle slavery in any way, Dana suffers a lot for being black in the 1800’s, she is beaten, whipped, constantly threatened with rape if she steps out of line.  It’s a horror show.  But the reality of it is gripping, and doesn’t let go, until the roller coaster ride finally ends.  Some writers set up dangerous situations for their characters and find ways for them to wiggle out of them, not Butler.  Every decision Dana makes is fraught with peril.

There are flaws in the book, Rufus seems overly accepting of what brought Dana to him, and her explanation of her time period, a plantation owner, especially an uneducated owner, would be highly dubious of Dana’s story, and he is too nice to Dana at first, it wasn’t believable that Rufus would treat Dana so well in the beginning.  It’s interesting to see the character arcs of both Dana and Rufus as the book goes on.  The ending seemed rushed and overly dramatic, but overall, the book is enthralling and a real page turner, and worth reading for the serious issues it covers in a serious way.

Kindred:  Don’t dread reading this book, it’s entertaining and informative.

 

what is yours is not yours

Books and Roses:

A baby girl named Montse, is left at a monastery door.  She has a key around her neck.  Years later, Montse works as a clothes launderer with a woman with a similar key around her neck.  Is there a relationship between the two keys?  Is there a relationship between the two women?

Sorry Doesn’t Sweeten Her Tea:

A guy named Ched asks his friend to housesit while he goes off to do his military sevice.   The house sitter has a boyfriend with two kids, Dayang, who is serious, and Aisha, who has a crush on a German pop star named Matyas Fust.   Matyas gets involved in a scandal.  Is the scandal true?  Does Aisha stay loyal to Matyas?

Is Your Blood As Red As This?  No

A girl named Radha meets an older woman named Myrna, at a party, and becomes a puppeteer like Myrna is, to impress Myrna.  Does Myrna return Radha’s feelings?  Is Radha’s puppetry career a success?

Drownings:

A man named Arkady lives in a country run by a dictator. To protest the dictator’s rule, and to pay off his growing debt, Arkady and his friend Giancomo plan to kidnap the dictator’s daughter and hold her for ransom.  How does the kidnapping plot go?

Presence:

Jill Ackerman and her husband Jacob experiment with something called the Presence, which is supposed to bring a spiritual presence into the life of the person who tries it.  Jill volunteers, does a presence enter her life?

A Brief History of The Homely Wench Society 

Dayang Sharif is a college student at Cambridge University, and she wants to join a club called the Homely Wench Society.  This club is a counterweight to the all-men’s Bettencourt Society which is seen as chauvinistic, and generally hostile to women. One day Dayang meets Hercules Demetriou, who’s a member of the Bettencourt Society but doesn’t tell her. Does Dayang join the Homely Wench Club, does she find out the truth about Hercules?

Dorninca and the St Martin’s Day Goose:

Dornica goes up to the top of Mount Radhost in the Czech Republic to visit a statue of a wolf.  The wolf statue talks to Dornica and says he wants someone to eat, and despite Dornica’s red hood, he passes on her and says he wants someone younger.  What does Dornica do to satiate the wolf statue’s hunger?

 

Freddy Barrendorf Checks In

Everybody expects Freddy Barrendorf to follow in his father’s footsteps, and become a hotel maintenance man, does Freddy follow in his dad’s footsteps?

If A Book Is Locked, There’s probably a good reason for it, don’t you Think?

New employee Eva sends tongues wagging at her new job, with her New York sense of style and cool manner.  Tongues are wagging for a different reason as rumors circulate about Eva and a married man.  Then, one of the employees finds Eva’s diary, does she open it and confirm the rumors or return it to Eva?

 

What Is Yours Is Not Yours is a collection of short stories.  Ms. Oyeyemi is fond of literary flourishes, large words, symbolism, recurring characters, recurring themes and tangential subplots.  These are all things critics and literary agents adore, but it may alienate the average reader.  For example, she gets so enamored of a tangential portion of the story in  Sorry Doesn’t Sweeten The Tea, that she forgets the main story entirely.

Books And Roses is a pretty good story, but again there is so much of a backstory and so much exposition, that it makes for difficult reading.  Reading a book should not be a chore, and some of this book seems like work and not pleasure.  There are other stories that get so caught up in the technicalities of the task she is describing, that the point of the story is lost.  A story about puppetry might be interesting, but not the way she wrote it.

Sometimes the recurring themes of books and keys and locks seem to be forced into the story, just to keep the thematic consistency going.  And most of the characters show up in different stories, for example Dayang shows up in at least two stories if not more, Aisha shows up in multiple stories, and it’s maddening.  They just seem to make cameos in other stores, for no reason, another frustrating flourish.

There are good stories in this collection, A Brief History of The Homely Wench Society is good story, simple, direct, to the point. And the characters have a definite point of view.  In fact, I’d say more than half of the stories are very good, but even in the stories I liked, the endings are weak or abrupt or don’t match the tone of the story that came before it.  I’ve read her work before, Mr. Fox, and I had the same complaint, it was too metaphorical, too symbolic, almost like a bedtime story with some deeper meaning.

Ms. Oyeyemi is talented, but her writing is too lyrical, she needs to tell a story in more prosaic language, beginning middle and end.  Sometimes, the simplest way to tell a story is the best way.

Short stories, not for short attention spans.

Eleanor Oliphant

Eleanor Oliphant is 30 years old, born and raised in England.  She works in a non-descript office in the accounts receivable department of a graphic design company.  She has no friends, inside or outside work, doesn’t believe in office politics but she does talk to her mother regularly, every Wednesday, like clockwork. Mummy’s been institutionalized. Eleanor has also developed a crush on a local rock singer, Johnny Lomond.  She thinks he is “the one.”

One day, Eleanor’s computer at work gets the dreaded blue screen, so she calls the help desk.  Raymond Gibbons fixes her computer, she asks Raymond if he knows of a good laptop she can buy, but she has an ulterior motive, she wants to do research on her new crush.  She gets the laptop and starts the research right away, she starts learning everything about Johnny through the internet and starts planning where she should meet him.  She tells her mummy about her plan, and mummy encourages it, mummy wants her to meet the right man. Eleanor’s last relationship did not go well.

While leaving work together, Eleanor and Raymond see an old man fall down drunk on the street, and hit his head on the pavement.  Eleanor wants to leave him there with his spilled groceries on the street, to do more research on Johnny, but Raymond encourages her to  keep him talking, which is hard because Eleanor is a social misfit..  She talks to the old drunk, whose name is Sammy, the EMT takes Sammy to the local hospital where he is in a coma, but he comes out of it, and surprise, surprise Eleanor grows fond of Sammy.

The friendship with Sammy also brings her closer to Raymond, who invites Eleanor to meet his mum.  Eleanor and Mrs. Gibbons hit it off too, and she also becomes fast friends with Sammy’s daughter, Laura, who’s a hairdresser and does Eleanor’s hair.  Eleanor’s hair goes from a mousy brown to a trendy blonde.  Eleanor is also dressing better, and giving herself a smoky eye makeover at the Bobbi Brown makeup counter, all with an eye to impressing Johnny, the musician, but the new look also has other benefits, she is suddenly up for a promotion at work and planning the Christmas party.

Does she get up the nerve to meet the musician?

I like this book a lot, some people would derisively call it “chick lit”, that means it’s supposed to be exclusively for women, but that categorization never dissuaded me, one of my favorite books is Jane Eyre, so I plunged right in.  Ms. Honeyman, the author, does a good job of creating a character in Eleanor, who’s an iconoclast, and funny, yet lonely vulnerable and a social neophyte.  If that was the whole book, it would remind me a lot of Bridget Jones.  It does remind me of Bridget Jones for its acerbic humor, but there is much more to this book than an average rom com.

The author does a good job of making Eleanor a sympathetic character, despite the rough edges, so the reader is happy when her social interactions go well, and badly when she stumbles.  Reading this character is like watching a child take its first steps, it’s that visceral a reaction to the character because the author has imbued Eleanor with universal attitudes.  We all feel a bit superior to others at times, even if we don’t admit it to ourselves or others.  We all feel joy when we realize we’ve made a good friend.  We all feel the despair of loneliness.   Eleanor’s mix of confidence and vulnerability make her eminently relatable.

The author sets up three choices for Eleanor, she either doesn’t meet the musician at all, she meets, the musician and it goes well, or she doesn’t meet the musician at all.  It takes Ms. Honeyman a while to get to the more serious issues in this book, but when she gets there, the reader feels the weight of those issues and their effect on Eleanor, it would have been a bit more realistic if those issues were addressed earlier, but it was more dramatic to wait towards the end of the book.

The quibble I have with this book, is that the supporting characters didn’t have enough complexity to them.  While Eleanor had a lot of facets to her personality, Mummy, Raymond, Sammy,  Laura and the musician, are surprisingly one dimensional.  Some of these characters should have had more sides to them.  Humans are complicated beings.

The ending features one more twist, and is surprisingly understated.  I liked the ending.  The book itself a quick read, even when Eleanor’s emotions get complex, the humor makes it an enjoyable read.  Sadly, by the end of her journey, Eleanor loses some of the edge that made her so appealing, and becomes a bit too weepy.

Eleanor Oliphant is Perfectly Fine.  Ignore the Oliphant in the room at your own risk.

lincoln in the bardo

Hans Vollman, Roger Bevins III, and Reverend Everly Thomas are trying to coax Little Willie Lincoln to go with them, away from the Bardo. But Little Willie is waiting for another visit from his father, and feels compelled to stay in the Bardo.  Can Vollman, Bevins, and Reverend Thomas convince Willie to leave the Bardo, even if Reverend Thomas is doubtful about leaving?  What is the Bardo?  And why do Bevins and Vollman want to leave it?

Saunders is trying to create a fictional narrative built around the sickness and eventual death of Willie Lincoln, and intersperses the narrative with historical factoids.  The trouble is, there is not enough history to make this bolter the fictional narrative, and the fictional narrative is incoherent. The historical content actually feels like filler It helps to know what the word bardo means, but only slightly, because the goal of the book is always murky.   Lincoln At The Bardo strives to be the Christmas Carol of historical fiction, but it misses the mark.  Dickens’ characters had a unified purpose; Saunders’ characters seem to be flitting around the ether with no other purpose than to amuse Saunders.

The three men trying to compel Willie to leave the Bardo represent some kind of Greek Chorus, but even  the Greek Chorus does not speak with one voice, and there are other voices which I suppose represent a Vox Popouli, but the voices are so discordant, and there are so many of them, that it’s hard to interpret exactly what the Greek Chorus and the Vox Populi are saying.  Is this a treatise on death?  Is it a treatise on grief?  Is It a treatise on the afterlife?  The narrative is so muddled that it is hard to tell exactly what this book aims to be.  There is a mix of religious philosophies posited in this book and that further muddies the waters.  Tenets of Christianity are mixed with Buddhism and Hinduism, what was Saunders trying to say about religion?  Damned if I know.

Slaves, who played a vital role in gaining their own freedom and ending the Civil War, make a belated appearance in this book, almost as an afterthought, and are characters to be pitied, instead of strong bold characters, fighting for their freedom.   This book, while supposedly trying to be historically accurate, does a historical disservice to black men and women who fought for their freedom during the Civil War and before.  There is some kind of a twist ending, but it shouldn’t really come as a surprise to the reader, if he or se is paying attention.  The book limps to an ending, which adds to the malaise I felt for this book.

Lincoln In The Bardo: Don’t belly up to the Bardo for this book.

Over The Cliff

Callie Khouri, from Paducah Kentucky, started her work life waiting tables, by the time she had risen to becoming a music video director in Hollywood, she had been through enough harassment by men and broken relationships to get the initial thoughts about writing her own movie.  She loved movies, but she didn’t like the roles that were written for most women in the 80’s, so she decided to write a movie of her own.  She write it long hand on legal pads, it was a story featuring not one but two female heroines, Thelma and Louise, both on the run from bad relationships of their own and towards a whole lot of adventure.

By the time the script was ready, a fellow video director, Amanda Temple had shopped the script all over Hollywood, and gotten a pretty cool reception.  The sticking point with everyone seemed to be the ending of the movie, which seemed over the top.  Amanda then sought out the advice of a friend, Mimi Polk, who worked for director Ridley Scott, and his production company.  Scott had directed such movies as Alien and Blade Runner.  Mimi Polk was blown away by the script and implored Ridley Scott to read it.  Ridley Scott was similarly impressed, but he didn’t want to direct it, he wanted to produce it, after interviewing many directors, including Phillip Noice, who directed Dead Calm, and considering female directors like Amy Heckerling and Susan Seidelman, Ridley thought maybe his brother Tony would be best to direct it.  Callie wasn’t exactly crazy about Tony’s treatment of Beverly hills Cop II, but her opinion mattered little at this stage of the production. But Tony wasn’t crazy about the script, so the question of who would direct was still an open question.

By this time, buzz about this film was circling Hollywood, right away A-list actresses like Jodie Foster and Michelle Pfeiffer expressed immediate interest, so did Meryl Streep and Goldie Hawn.  Pfeiffer eventually starred in Love Field, Foster starred in Silence of the Lambs. But Any number of actresses were interested Cybil Sheppard, Daryl Hannah, Meg Ryan, Rebecca DeMornay, and many others, who would get those pivotal roles that would make the movie a memorable one and possibly change the trajectory of their careers.

As important as who would produce direct, and star in the movie was which studio would back it.  As with the screenplay, the major studios balked at getting involved in making this movie.  Then a small studio named  Pathe, headed by former actor Alan Ladd, expressed great interest in making the movie. As soon as the other studios saw Pathe’s interest, they also became interested.  The question was could a small studio finance the demands of the actors, director, and screenwriter and promote the film properly?  Conversely, would a big studio try to change the film to make it more commercially viable?

This book was a natural read for me, this is a movie blog, so what better book to read than a behind the scenes book about the making of a truly revolutionary film.  Knowing who the film stars, and who directed it, it’s fun to see all the stars and directors mentioned in connection with the film.  It’s also fun to note the emergence of Brad Pitt as a major star, he had a small scene, as a love interest for the Thelma character, another major star auditioned for the role and lost out on it.  It’s interesting to know how intimately involved the director was in every facet of the movie, the visuals the story, almost every aspect of what the viewer hears and sees.  And most of all the story of Callie Khouri  is an amazing one.  She came up with a great idea for a screenplay wrote it, and despite being from Paducah Kentucky, and having no Hollywood connections, she had her story made into a Hollywood film.

But this movie was a struggle, the director would fight with the actors over certain scenes, there was tension over the love scenes over a largely male crew shooting females in such delicate scenes.  There was even one scene where the director asked one of the stars to go topless, she demurred and the other female star stepped in and flatly said no for the both of them.

Underlying all the tension was an undertone of harassment.  Many women on the cast and crew mention stories of sexual harassment on other movie productions.  But here’s where the author backs down a little, she never mentions any of the male crew members names, and other than one notable star, who is dead, Charlton Heston, no one is mentioned as anything untoward, for fear of a libel suit, I’m sure. Ironically, Harvey Weinstein is mentioned in passing, once as rejecting the script for Thelma and Louise, and once identified as “showman producer” Harvey Weinstein.  I don’t think women ever wanted to see what he was showing.  The point of this is to illustrate that harassment and the casting couch is not a new story, and it continues.

The book ends on a high note, after some depressing statistics. This is a good book, and well worth the read, entertaining and enlightening.

Off The  Cliff:  Easy to fall for.