Adult Fairy Tale

So it has been brought to my attention that I have been crapping all over the books recommended to me by my friends. I must admit I have been hanging out with some real losers lately (I mean the books!) and maybe I have been a bit harsh. Or … real friends don’t let friends read 400 pages of garbage. However, I am happy to report to you now that I  busted out from under this literary rain cloud as soon as I opened “Before Ever After” by Samantha Sotto, and the sun shone from its enchanted pages. (Insert reverberating opera note here. And maybe some small, low-flying bluebirds like the ones that put on Snow White’s cape.)

Genius mention of Snow White by yours truly because she is the perfect lead in for talking about how this book is the closest you can get to an adult fairy tale. It has a Prince Charming and the girl who falls in love with him that doesn’t think she is worthy of him. There’s even castles, sea monsters, love potions, and mystery. The title even suggests it ends happily like all fairy tales should. But to make a long blog post short, it doesn’t. That wouldn’t be very much fun now would it?

This historically romantic fantasy starts at an end and ends with a start. Our heroine is immediately made a widow in a very drastic turn of events and, while still recovering from her loss, meets her dead husband’s doppelganger who has turned up at her doorstep promising the adventure of a lifetime. Over the course of their trip to find out if her husband is in fact still alive, she recounts the story of how they met on a European tour and the tales he taught her along their travels. Tales? Or clues? Dun dun dun …

You have got to read this book in your breakfast nook with a mimosa and baked eggs and cheese. (If you solve the elusive secret ingredient to this recipe, please share!)

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On the good kibbutz lollipop

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If you’re like me and don’t know anything about the Jewish people; their religion, ancestry, upbringing; this is not the novel to teach you about it. The author recollects her young childhood living on a kibbutz in Israel through her young childhood eyes, and while that is a clever way to re-tell a potentially unsettling story, it also leaves you wondering which parts are fact and which are fiction.

It’s very easy in this story for Dori to slip on the rose colored glasses of youth and paint a picture that is more rainbows than storm clouds in “The Last Rain”, proving that children are either extremely resilient, or extremely stupid. But the adult reader in me was itching to yell “CAN YOU PUT YOUR MOMMY OR DADDY ON THE PHONE PLEASE” to better understand what was really going on, which was that her kibbutz was shibbutz.

At times it was cute to live in the Jewish community with Dori and her playmates misinterpreting Hebrew phrases but take those times and times them by a hundred, and that’s how many times I was confused. I was in a constant state of wondering whether I should go find an adult or program the Kids Help Phone number into their speed dial. The 8000 footnotes didn’t help this patience-lacking reader either. Sure, they quote entire interview conversations for pages on end to illustrate a point, but I have to Google what a “kibbutz” is?! Footnote fail.

My food and drink of choice for anyone curling up in their crib with this book is a Shirley Temple and matzah balls.

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I prefer Halloween and Harry Potter

I read the book “The Magicians” by Lev Grossman on recommendation from a friend, who I quote now: “It’s like Harry Potter but with sex, booze, and drugs.” You had me at like. So I jumped aboard “The Magicians” train like it was the Hogwarts Express.  Like Harry Potter, the book was about young adults realizing they aren’t quite like their peers and are invited to a special school that us normal folk can’t find by stepping off an imaginary train platform or between a NY suburban park’s hedges.

But even when combined with like-magicked kids, they are still their old entitled, skinny-jean wearing, melodramatic selves. It’s like Grossman set out to create a hero for emo kids. And this is where the commonalities end.  Where Harry Potter has consistent characters throughout and generally follows a well laid out plot toward a common, well communicated goal, Magicians does not. I think our man Lev was sipping a bit too much of the ol’ pumpkin juice. Characters came and went in this book like Jesus on Easter. It’s like Grossman wanted to write down the craziest thing he could think of that day, and when he ran out of cohesive thoughts, abruptly solved the dilemma and ended the chapter.

By the end of the book, our “hero”, Quentin, has finally realized what his quest is and it’s a lovely segue for book two.  I, however, think it unfair that you write such a large book with the sole purpose of setting the scene for your next one. That’s called a Foreword. Great marketing ploy though. Cause now that I’ve come this far through your warped and twisted mind, I am going to crawl through the creepy attic space that it is until the end.

I guess one doesn’t have much time for food and drink when they are busy being blasé, but “The Magicians” made me think of absinthe and the candy from Halloween that your parents wouldn’t let you eat because there’s razor blades in it.

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Hyper Venting

I came up with the idea of this blog during a very slow period at work. Something to keep me and the masses (yes, I am referring to all 4 of my followers) entertained when bored. But then both my professional and personal life had the nerve to explode into a constant state of on-the-go-ness.  Sorry if I’ve let the 4 of you down. I also have not been hitting my book a week target and I 100% blame this on the Metro Transit strike.  Eff you Metro Transit. Don’t you know that’s where I do my best reading?! The most calming part of my day is when you take the wheel and veer in and out of rush hour traffic ignoring yellow lights, pedestrians, and generally every moving thing smaller than the size of, oh, let’s say … a bus.

In between my work days, workouts, 11 o’clock pm soccer games, practices, volunteer committees, bribing someone to drive me to and from work (say it with me now – Eff you Metro Transit), exercising my dog so he doesn’t surpass a lean, mean 125lbs, cooking, cleaning, SBC meetings (shhh), mandatory “don’t forget my face” hangouts with friends, and keeping the romance alive in my relationship, I have actually managed to polish off a few novels.  Superwoman, eat your heart out.

But I have decided to make my blog posts a little easier on myself. I’m just going to say a little bit about the book, and then tell you what food and drink I think best fits with this read or what it reminds me of; pairing my two most favoritest things that I know nothing about. They say “write what you know”. What about “write whatever the heck you want and claim naivete bliss when someone claims you’re wrong”? I will eventually make these concoctions myself and not only post my thoughts on the reads, but my recipe and thoughts on the eats. I will call myself the BookCook. Maybe. OK, I’m getting way ahead of myself.  Read on, you 4 fantastic, fearless, followers.

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Cheese balls and sequels

I apologize for not posting in almost a month.  It’s not because I wasn’t reading over the Chaosmas holidays. In fact, I’ve been stock piling book critiques over the past couple weeks much like I was stock piling cheese balls and Bailey’s. Now that it’s the New Year I’m going to work everything out of my system, beginning with the regurgitation of my readings; easier to burn off and didn’t taste nearly as good. Fact: Books have less calories than cheese balls.

Both books I finished over the break were parts of a series. I read the fourth and final book in the Wicked series, titled Out of Oz, and almost went out of my mind with boredom at some parts. I debated blogging about this series finale because it may deter some of you readers from ever picking up any of the first three books, which would be a mistake. I also can’t tell you much about the book without giving away secrets from its predecessors.  But then I thought it’s like letting you eat your turkey dinner backwards, with your pumpkin pie dessert first, and who wouldn’t love that? Although, in this case, the best book of the series was your appetizer, Wicked, so I wouldn’t want you to get your fill of the finale and not make it back to the beginning. Maybe it’s called a starter for a reason. Hmm. It definitely was the best book of the series and whet my whistle to come back for seconds, thirds, and finally this fourth. (Is this a food blog or a book blog?) But, just like after that fourth helping of stuffing, this book made me good and ready for a nap.

Although Gregory Maguire has quite the imagination and turns what you think you know about wicked witches and talking lions on its head with clever personifications and namesakes, (yes, I only just pieced together the cleverness of the girl who BLEW in from Kansas being named Dorothy GALE),  large chunks of the book are a snore fest.  What I do love about the book is that it’s not your typical good vs evil story where loveable Munchkinlanders slave away until a naive teenager with a heart of gold and voice of angels drops in and saves the day. In fact, this ironically named Dorothy Gale can’t carry a tune, and the main character munchkin needs his mouth washed out with soap.

The story follows Rain, a third generation descendant of the Wicked Witch, through her travels across Oz during a time of political turmoil and struggling with accepting her rightful place on the throne. The book does tie together many loose ends left in the other stories and brings together an almost complete cast of the series’ misfits. I finished this book about the same time I finished the Christmas leftovers; all those turkey sandwiches and sweets you swear you’ll never eat again, but you do. Every year. So as bad as I made this book out to be, if a fifth one came out, I’d eat it. I mean, read it.

The next book I read was the sequel to The Maze Runner by James Dashner, called The Scorch Trials, or as I like to call it – the second book in the poor man’s Hunger Games series. If you don’t know what I’m referring to when I make mention of the Hunger Games, watch this, then read these, then thank me and I’ll see you in line on March 23.  I don’t care that you’re an actual adult and not a young one, you will love it, devour it, and be hungry for more. (I have a fixation on food today. I must finally be going through holiday treat withdrawal.)

What The Scorch Trials lacked in comparison to HG, and even to its debut novel, was firepower. Not literally. This book takes place in a vast dead land with sun so hot this readhead’s UV 60 wouldn’t cut it for 5 minutes, and violent lightning storms that target and fry unsuspecting visitors. So yes, ample actual fire, not enough power. In the first novel the teens are forced to work together to solve a deadly maze where they’ve been dropped by a Big Brother-like organization with their memories wiped clean. It’s non-stop death defying (and death fying) drama. This second book? More error than trial.

I like my sequels like my cheese balls; huge, mouth-watering, and leaving your stomach tied in knots. But if you like yours quick and easy, and you’re in to young adult, then get your mind outta the gutter (and off of food!) and into this book.

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Life is like a box of objects

It’s been a long time since I’ve read a book that included pictures but I may start incorporating more of them into my reading repertoire after this. Whoever started the rumor that picture books were only for kids anyway? Clearly Elena Mauli Shapiro didn’t get the memo because, although this is a graphic novel, it’s not the kind for children, if you get what I mean, wink, wink, nudge, nudge. Also, how awesome is her name, the title, and this cover art? I picked this book as next on my list based on the cover alone. It wasn’t one I had previously heard about or read any reviews, but saw it on a stand in the library and it spoke to me on a couple levels. Firstly, this is exactly what I look like after a particularly strenuous soccer match. And secondly, my car is named Theresa. How could I not?

Normally when I am first alone with my next novel conquest I treat her like a lady should be treated and take the time to get to know what other authors have said about her behind her back cover, or learn more about her story from the synopsis she wears on her sleeve.  I get a feel for her past through her dedication message and previous publications.  I get to know her mind before I crack open her spine and devour her body.  I sound like the praying mantis of books. What I don’t give a damn about is the biography of the author. What does it matter to me where this person grew up or what prestigious ivy league school they attended as long as they can keep me entertained with their words. That said, halfway through reading this book I happened to glance at the back inside jacket information About the Author and realized this is based on a true story. Or at least on a true box of someone’s belongings left behind after passing away at “13 rue Therese” in Paris, where the author happened to live as a girl. This completely changes how you read and feel about the book.  Except that I still read pretty much every book in a British accent even though you can tell as early as the title on the cover that this one takes place in France. Half the novel is written in French for F sake. (Pardon my French.) But this is no longer pure fiction. This is someone’s imagination run wild while rifling through someone’s personal mementos and drawing some pretty racy conclusions from lacy gloves and love letters. I couldn’t help but wonder if someone who knew the real-life Louise Brunet has come into possession of this novel and taken offense at her being penned for immortality as a sex crazed adulterer just because some box made it seem like she lost her soul mate (aka cousin, aka disgusting) in the war and was second best-ing it with a man of her father’s approval.

For about half the book I was convinced Louise was an imaginary character full of mischief and music and someone you wanted to befriend. Granted she was pretty much made up as Ms. Shapiro knows Louise existed in name only, it somehow makes the whole experience more intimate knowing these mementos actually exist. That each one carries a story of its own. Imagine someone went through your pockets or purse at this very moment and wrote an entire book based on the findings? Mine would mostly be about lint and lip gloss, but Ms. Shapiro gave a personality and a life to a tin of trinkets and tells an amazing tale with only a few photos, letters, and coins to go on. Of course Louise couldn’t have made things easier and just left behind her diary.  But this author creates fiction from artifacts using both poetry and prose, English and French, (don’t worry, the French is translated for those of us who don’t use it unless we’re singing the lyrics to a Moulin Rouge song) and intertwines a tale of love and passion with the bloodshed and tragedy of war. She pieces together sentences using Louise’s pieces of sentiment.

The author has carried around this box of souvenirs for so long that each object has become a part of her, just like one of the main characters, an American named Trevor, who is tasked with translating a record of all the findings becomes so closely entrenched in his work that he begins to pop up in the lives and deaths of these characters who existed before he was even born. Yeah, it gets weird. But good weird.  Like the French.

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Still wondering

Ladies and gentlemen, I’ve beaten the system. The library system that is. Down the man. I figured out that if you put a hold on a large print format of the book you’re requesting you get it in less than half the time it takes to get the people with normal vision version.  Of course I could be skewing national statistics on the visually impaired, but in my mind’s perfectly capable eye, I’m winning.  I was only about 10th on the blind person’s list for Ann Patchett’s “State of Wonder”, where I would have been over 70th if I didn’t use my powers of evil genius to obtain it.  I can’t even mathematically calculate how much waiting time I just saved myself.  But I’ll try. About 60 odd people each hoarding their copy for 3 weeks, give or take a few days, adjusting for the multiple copies owned by the library, factoring in the time it takes to deliver the book to my preferred branch, carry the one, multiplying by pi as the limit approaches infinity … that’s gotta be like 4 years of waiting I just saved myself.  And the book was good, but no offense Ann, it wasn’t worth waiting out my early 30’s for.

The book was good. And then it got better. It had a lot of twists and turns, not unlike the Amazonian river where the bulk of the story took place. It starts off, as every good book should, with a pharmaceutical murder mystery. I thought the book took place in Sweden because the main characters’ names were things like Anders Eckman, and Dr. Swensen, which is basically the word “Swedeners” itself scrambled up in a word jumble, but turns out it’s Minnesota. If they had have had a heroine named Mrs. Ines Odah I would have got it.  You don’t learn a whole lot about the multiple characters as they first come into the story, but over time Ms. Patchett has a way of making you care about each and every one of them, even the one that doesn’t utter a single word for the entire novel. Which is saying something. Pun intended.  She makes boring scientists and their boring study on the effects of female fertility in the Lakashi tribe somewhere in the jungle in Brazil actually interesting. You also don’t learn a lot up front about the mission of the main character as she’s sent by her lover/employer into the depths of man-eating tribes in the Brazilian jungle but I believe this is for the best.  The people she meets and befriends and the adventures she has are better left as a surprise.

However, the author has left this reader puzzling about the reason why she chose the title, “State of Wonder”. Sometimes titles are very literal in describing the theme of the book and some are purposely too abstract to even waste brain cells on trying to figure them out, but the meaning behind “State of Wonder” just hovers slightly beyond the reach of my fingertips. Which is ironic because that is also where I have to hold the large print version of it so I can make out the words like I’m at the optometrist’s office reading an eye test chart. Please read this book and get back to me on your thoughts of why this title was chosen and save me from my own personal state of wondering.

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