Monday, May 30, 2011

Backseat Saints: Haunting story of a battered woman on the run

Backseat SaintsBackseat Saints, by Joshlyn Jackson
My rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Rose Mae Lolly, born in the depths of Alabama, was raised by her abusive alcoholic dad after her mom ran off when she was 8. She experiences men's love through emotional manipulation and shocking physical abuse. After she escapes her hometown, she migrates west and meets another abusive man to marry (Thom Grandee).

Settled in Amarillo, Texas, she's trapped by her husband's domineering family and her helplessness, in addition to the only kind of love she's ever known. All that changes when she meets a fortune teller in the airport. According to her tarot cards, either Thom Grandee has to die, or she will.

So begins her journey--shall she kill her husband before he kills her? She ends up on the run, trying to make a new life for herself and following the clues her mother has left for her and listening to her backseat saints. She spends a lot of time thinking about her high school romance, and in her rose-colored memory, he was the only man who's ever treated her well.

Rose Mae Lolly was a minor character in Jackson's gods in Alabama (which I haven't yet read). This novel gave me a perspective of what goes through the mind of a woman who has only known violent love. In her own way, Rose loves Thom Grandee. (She gets sexually turned on by him, as well.) She finds it very difficult to leave him, much less to kill him, even though he almost kills her first. It was not an easy book to read, but I would recommend it.

Friday, May 27, 2011

What? It's summer?

The Pacific Northwest has not gotten that message yet. In fact, we have had so much rain this spring that the Columbia River has surpassed flood stage. Spring has occasionally teased us. This morning when I went into my second grader's school to teach music, the sun was out and the weather looked glorious. When I left 40 minutes later, the skies had opened up and rain was falling in buckets. It's rained steadily ever since then, frequently with great force. Apparently this is typical "La Nina" weather, and everyone I know is complaining about it. Our rhododendrons and apple trees are just finally starting to blossom, near the end of May! We haven't wanted to put our bedding plants in the raised beds yet for fear of drowning them. (On the other hand, they are NOT doing well in the house either.) But then I read about the heartbreak and tragedy in the midwest and the south, and I feel that I cannot complain. A little rain is nothing compared to massive flooding and tornadoes.

At any rate, I realize that spring is almost over in most of the country, and summer is approaching. The New York Times has come out with its recommendations of this year's summer books. Do any of them look interesting to you? I've listed here the ones I'll be adding to my list.

The Tattooed Girl: The Enigma of Stieg Larsson and the Secrets Behind the Most Compelling Thrillers of Our TimeThe Girl with the Sturgeon Tattoo: A ParodyThe Girl with the Sturgeon Tattoo, by Lars Arffssen. Now this one I'm definitely going to be reading!! It's a parody, due in late summer, of the very popular Girl with the Dragon Tattoo series. Or if you don't want parody, there's always The Tattooed Girl: The Enigma of Stieg Larsson and the Secrets Behind the Millennium Trilogy.

Exposure: A NovelNow this one, Exposure by Therese Fowler, seems particulary topical, given the amazing openness (and stupidity) displayed by today's teens via the internet and texting. A girl snaps a cell phone photo of her boyfriend, naked, and you can guess what happens next. Apparently the novel is based on something that happened to the author's own son.

Faith: A NovelI've seen advertisements for Jennifer Haigh’s Faith a number of times on Goodreads. It's about the family of a Boston-area priest who is accused of pedophilia. Scandal+Catholicism=I'm all over it.

The American Heiress: A NovelThe American Heiress, by Daisy Goodwin, is about an American girl from a rich family who snags a British title. Think Edith Wharton and if you saw "The King's Speech" recently, Wallis Simpson.

This is the one I'm most curious about, though:

Super Sad True Love Story: A NovelSuper Sad True Love Story, by Gary Shteyngart. I heard the author being interviewed on NPR yesterday: he has won the Wodehouse Prize for his novel. I've never read anything by him, but he sounded terrifically amusing being interviewed. As his prize, he will be receiving a pig named after his novel.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

The Rehearsal: Life is too short...

The Rehearsal: A NovelThe Rehearsal, by Eleanor Catton
My review: 1 out of 5 stars

To be honest, I could not get past page 15, so in all fairness I probably shouldn't give it a rating. At one point, I pledged to read only books that get at least a 3.5 or 4 rating in Goodreads, and this one has a 3.27. But it sounded interesting, and I feel lacking in the modern female adolescent category, and it involved theater and music...right up my alley, right? So wrong.

The Rehearsal has been described as a postmodern novel, and some readers describe it as brilliant. But right from the very first page, I didn't like it. It's hard to put my finger on it, but I think it's because the characters were so removed and distant, the dialogue completely stiff and unrealistic, and it seemed artificial. Reading the other reviews, I understand that this is the point. However.

I have learned something: when I've had this initial instinct about a book and plowed on ahead (after reading other people's glowing reviews and convincing myself to give it a chance), I'm always disappointed. Sometimes I find redeeming qualities in the book and it's not as bad as I initially think.

But is that really good enough? When I have so many books I want to read? No way. Life's too short to read books that you don't enjoy (or that don't at least have some educational, redeeming quality).

Pomegranate Soup: Persian "Chocolat"

Pomegranate Soup: A NovelPomegranate Soup, by Marsha Meran
My rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Although this book reminds readers of Like Water for Chocolate or Chocolat, no chocolate delicacies are mentioned within its pages. Instead, the spicy and savory aromas, flavors, and spirit of Persian cuisine fill the streets of a little Irish village, hypnotizing its residents and changing their lives forever.

Marjam, Bahar, and Layla have escaped from Iran with their lives, and after a stint living in London, they moved north to Ireland. It is the 1980s, and the village residents have rarely seen anyone who is not European. They open the "Babylon Cafe," and before long, the villagers become to appreciate the wonders of Persian cooking.

I do not recall ever tasting Persian cuisine myself, but my sister's best friend from medical school is Iranian, and I remember hearing stories about her wonderful wedding.

The sisters are trying to escape their own ghosts, just as many of the villagers are leading unfulfilled, unhappy lives. Each chapter opens with a recipe. I do believe I will have to try at least one of them out!

If you like ethnic cuisine and stories that take place in other countries, I encourage you to try this book. It was a fairly quick read, but I enjoyed it.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

New game, Liebrary: Cross-post at Every Day Is A Miracle

I've actually been trying to SHED some of our board games (mostly the ones for kids), but I could not resist this one...especially at resale prices.

It's like Balderdash, but instead the players try to make up the first line of a book. Here's how Liebrary works:
In Liebrary, one player reads the title, author, and synopsis of a real-life book (e.g., Julius Caesar, Jurassic Park, or Mr. Brown Can Moo). The other players must each write and submit their best attempt at a first line for the book. The first player reads all the submissions, including the real first line of the book, and then the other players each try to pick out the real one. Players get points for choosing the real first line, getting other players to select their submission, and possibly knowing the real first line before it is revealed. The reader gets points only if no players correctly guess the real first line, but the reader position rotates.
LiebraryI am hoping to finagle my clever brother-in-law into playing...he always came up with the funniest definitions when we used to play Balderdash BC (before children). He put the two writers in the family to shame! So maybe I don't want to play this game with him. :) No, it's worth it to hear his good definitions. This just proves that you don't have to be an English major to be wicked at writing definitions. (In fact, it probably helps if you were NOT an English major.)

Anyone up for a game? I can't wait to play!

Friday, May 20, 2011

Words in the Dust author Trent Reedy on the Today Show

Al Roker features Words in the Dust on his kids' book club and invites author Trent Reedy to discuss it with the kids:

The Wilder Life: delving into the life of Laura Ingalls Wilder

The Wilder Life: My Adventures in the Lost World of Little House on the PrairieThe Wilder Life: My Adventures in the Lost World of Little House on the Prairie, by Wendy McClure
My rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Young Laura
You know how I am drawn to books with one-year experiments. I'm not sure if this book fits into this category, because it's unclear how long Wendy McClure immersed herself in the life of Laura Ingalls Wilder. Like McClure, I loved the Little House on the Prairie series as a young girl, so as soon as I got wind of this book I knew I had to read it. When I was 16 on a cross-country trip with my family, I remember my thrill when we stopped in at one of the Little House locations (I can't remember which one now).

Young adult Laura
Melissa Gilbert as "Ma"
Over the months, McClure rereads all of the books, in addition to anything else she could get her hands on related to the Ingalls/Wilder family; watches the TV series (which she hadn't watched as a child) and Disney's 2005 version; visits as many Laura World landmarks as she possibly can (and there are quite a few); learns how to churn butter, make a haystick, and tackle a number of other homesteading tasks; cooks recipes from the Little House cookbook; attends two Little House on the Prairie pageants; sleeps in a covered wagon; buys multiple bonnets; and sees Melissa Gilbert appear as Ma in "Little House on the Prairie: The Musical." Her loyal, good-natured boyfriend, Chris, jumps into the adventure with her. (In so many of the one-year experiment books I've read, the partner typically gets completely fed up by the end!)

Laura at 70
She explores the following issues in relation to the books and the family history:
  • Racism (Ma was a bit of a racist when it came to Native Americans, and Pa appeared in blackface during a minstrel show)  
  • Whether Laura was a "tomboy" (McClure insists that she most certainly was not--this is not really an issue I personally care about) 
  • The extreme Laura love shown by many girls like me (until the 1960s, the books were often known as "the Laura and Mary books," and McClure expresses shock that anyone could have seen them as anything other than the Laura books!)
  • The bizarre fact that Friendly Family Productions (the company founded by the TV show creator Ed Friendly) was suing the Little House on the Prairie homesite and museum for trademark infringement (because a TV show trumps a historical landmark??)
  • The Wilder family's disenchantment and unhappiness in their older years, and the darker side of the Ingalls family (not portrayed in the books)
  • Rose Wilder Lane's manipulation behind the books, independence, and connection to the American Libertarian Party
The family (Laura's in the middle back)
I really enjoyed McClure's writing style and sense of humor. She notes the irony, for example, when Whole Foods (a place with an olive bar and an artisanal cheese counter) was the only place she could find molasses--a needed staple for the recipes. She and her boyfriend escape from a weekend stay at a homesteading training camp (for lack of a better term) after they realize that most of the other campers are left-behind converts (who are no doubt very excited about tomorrow, the supposed rapture day).

Signing books for fans
Some boys, I'm sure, appreciate the Little House stories, but I would wager that they are vastly more popular with girls. That was one of the best things about them...a children's book series with a gutsy, adventurous female pioneer hero. Back in the 1960s and 1970s, those types of books were rare finds. As McClure says, "The first few Little House books keep boys at the worst, the boys in Laura World will hurl a few witless taunts...and are promptly told to shut up; at best, they might do something spectacularly stupid, like get themselves stung by a whole hive of yellow jackets." Since girls are the ones usually on the periphery (even more so in movies and TV than in books), Laura was--and continues to be--embraced by girls far and wide.

Rose Wilder Lane (who helped her mother get published)
Unlike McClure, I grew up watching "Little House on the Prairie"--I remember when the series came out, and it was after I already loved the books. (Clearly, I'm older than McClure--the show started in 1974!) Even though I knew the series diverged from the books, I LOVED this show regardless...and also regardless of its wild plots, such as the most extreme one I remember--the night when Ma was reading the bible and was thinking about sawing off her own leg! Even though McClure didn't get into the TV show as much as I did, she turned me onto a great blog, "WTF Little House on the Prairie?" The author, Mike McComb, has detailed the wackiest, most traumatic episodes for our edification.

TV Family Ingalls
Michael Landon is Pa for me. And I loved Mr. Edwards--remember the Christmas episode when he trudges miles in the snow to deliver presents for the girls? I grew up with Melissa Gilbert...she is just a few months older than me. I loved her spirited, sassy portrayal of pigtailed Laura, who was often getting into trouble. I identified with her much more than I did with Mary, even though Mary was the oldest child. If I'd grown up on the prairie, I would have been the one always getting dirty. I definitely would not have been Nellie. Too prissy!

The prairie bitch (see below)
The next on my Little House bookshelf will be these two books, especially Nellie Oleson's Confessions of a Prairie Bitch.

Confessions of a Prairie Bitch: How I Survived Nellie Oleson and Learned to Love Being Hated Prairie Tale: A Memoir