Borders Closing

Run don’t walk to your nearest Borders!  As we discussed at yesterday’s meetup, there are still a ton of books left and everything is 50-75% off!!  You won’t be disappointed.  I visited the Borders on Ponce in midtown this morning and left a happy camper.  I got four books I had been wanting for only $23 – two of them are hardback, no less!

I know that many are sad about the closing of Borders – I, myself, have spent hundreds of dollars there in the past – especially the location in Athens, practically my second home during college.  Turn this into something positive!  Visit your libraries more often and make donations – they are in desparate need.  Go online to find all the wonderful little secondhand bookshops in the Atlanta area and shop locally!  Put money back into your city.


Book Review: The Emperor’s Children by Claire Messud

I opened the first page of The Emperor’s Children somewhat apprehensively.  A few fellow readers had warned me about how atrocious the novel was – how they weren’t able to finish.  Being the special person that I am, I viewed this knowledge as a literary challenge – some might call it stupid – you decide!

Claire Messud ‘s novel is often regarded as one of the first, post-9/11 stories to actually deal with that fateful day.  The reader is drawn into the world of three privileged thirty-year-olds as they struggle to find success – or rather, truth – in a world that has seemingly left their Brown-educated superiority behind.

If you aren’t into novels about characters (often lacking any kind of action or plot), then I’d say you should probably avoid this work.  Personally, I liked these people – they were ugly, but real.  I’ve known these people.

NYC is also a character – a beautiful, false, fickle friend.

And then, there is Bootie.  Perhaps the most honest character and by far the most interesting.  We watch as Bootie comes to live with his uncle, his hero, his father-figure only to be crushed with the disappointment of his hero falling from grace.  And then, in his misery, Bootie is disowned by his uncle and makes a fateful decision the morning of September 11, 2001 that will change his life and everyone around him forever.

At first, I hated the ending – could not believe that Messud would write the attacks the way she did.  The ugliness of how her characters handle the situation – Bootie’s terribly selfish decision – using the attacks as a way to garner a personal gain of sorts – he makes a total mockery of people who truly lost their loved ones that day.  I loathed Messud – but then, something changed.  With the 10 year anniversary quickly approaching, I realized how much we’ve idolized what happened that day.  We had to – to survive, to move-on, to honor the memory of those we lost.  But the truth – the truth is an altogether different thing – an often much more sordid picture.  So Messud didn’t tell the story we expected, the one we’ve been told over and over – instead, she told us a truth.

Lastly, a bit of warning – you should just go ahead and have a dictionary on hand.  Messud likes to use SAT vocabulary words.

Star Rating – 4/5

August Meetup: The Lincoln Lawyer by Michael Connelly

Today’s meetup was for The Lincoln Lawyer by Michael Connelly.  For those who weren’t able to read the book, the gist of the story involves a defense attorney who must defend a rich, spoiled brat who is accused of beating and raping a prostitute.  This novel is a legal thriller that’s plot is fast-paced with bits of twisty surprises along the way.

In general, the Litwits approved!  Everyone liked the story, liked the twists, and even loved Mickey Haller the main character who could possibly be viewed as a sleazy defense attorney out to make money keeping criminals on the street.  Instead, Mickey turns out to be a pretty bad ass lawyer and all-around good guy.  I mean, if his two ex-wives still love him and keep him in their lives, he really can’t be that bad of a man, right?

We also discussed whether or not Roulet had been the guy committing all the rapes of real estate agents around when his mom was allegedly attacked.  I think there was some confusion as to how many of these crimes he was guilty of – many readers might have even been led to believe he had raped his own mother.  I personally believe he committed the other rapes/murders and that his mother had never been attacked – her story was created in order to protect her son.  I also believe that her particular brand of serial killer crazy was inherited by her darling, demented boy.

Roulet’s motivation in hiring Haller as his lawyer was also interesting.   Did he hire Mick  because he got Jesus off of death row?  To protect himself with the client confidentiality law?  To play with Mick’s head and boast about his murders?  All could be possibilities.

The group talked of myriad other topics such as the plentiful amount of crime/mystery programs – both real and fiction, the dangers of motorcycles and bicycles on the crazy streets of Atlanta, and the unfortunate closing of Borders.  After the meetup, I got in my car to visit the Borders on Ponce – but it had closed at 7 pm.  Will definitely be journeying there tomorrow – 50-70% off the entire store!

We came up with a list of websites to obtain free books/audio books:

The above websites and many more cater to books available on the public domain.  That means books published before 1923 – with some later exceptions (pre-1977) – that have outlived their copyrights.  Also, if you have a Kindle – Amazon offers a daily deal download everyday that significantly discounts popular eBook fiction.  I just downloaded Elizabeth Street for $1.99 and today’s selection was The Lincoln Lawyer (how appropriate!) for $2.99.

After our discussion, several ladies stuck around to watch the movie starring Matthew McConaughay.  We concluded that the film was okay – felt a bit rushed (as film adaptations often do) and that the changes to the end were a bit off putting.  The book is better, folks!  I, personally, really appreciated the cinematography of the movie – some of the shots are downright beautiful and the use of mirrors was well-played.

One major question (the pseudo-feminist in me must ask), why make the judge a man in the movie?

Another successful Litwits adventure completed!  Next month, we’ll be reading The Piano Teacher and celebrating our one year anniversary (September 18!).  I look forward to seeing everyone there!

Book Review: Twenties Girl by Sophie Kinsella

Confession:  I loved Sophie Kinsella’s Shopaholic series.  While I sometimes fancy myself a book snob, the truth is that a fun chick lit novel can entice me just as much as a great Fitzgerald or Bronte.  Having heard great things about Kinsella’s newest, Twenties Girl, I immediately went out and bought the first copy I found, at a Kroger no less!!   The basic premise follows our new heroine, Lara Lington, who is visited (or rather, haunted) by the ghost of her Great Aunt Sadie, whom no one in her family ever really got to know.

Sounds sort of cheesy, right?  But so did Becky Bloomwood and the Shopaholic stories.  I love how Kinsella can take such a powerfully flawed, yet loveable lady, and turn her life around – not make her perfect, just make her striving towards being something better.  So I ignored the cheese factor and dove in.  After about 50 pages, I almost stopped.  Wow.  The novel was hilariously stupid.  When other reviewers said it was ‘laugh out loud funny’, I didn’t figure they meant completely idiotic with absolutely no redeeming qualities.  Harsh, I know, but I was just so disappointed.  Lara is no Becky – the whole scene of her in the police station and the lies she manages to create that come close to something whispered in an asylum instead of a witty novel are just too ridiculous.  Ghost Sadie is worse – over-the-top and downright mean at times.  And don’t get me started on the scenes where Sadie makes Lara dress up in twenties drag.  Who would ever do that?

I forced myself to continue on, randomly texting Victoria to vent my outrage.  Somewhere around 50 pages or so from the end, the book finally justified itself!  So keep reading, or rather, just jump straight ahead to the end because that’s where you’ll surpass the disappointment and perhaps even shed a tear.  These last few pages create a fully fleshed out friendship between the young and the elderly – the often abandoned and forgotten relatives tossed aside to die alone in nursing homes by family members who can’t be bothered.  If even the promise of a great ending can’t pull you through, check out the Shopaholics – they are a lot of fun and loads better than that awful movie.

Unfortunate star rating – 2/5 (mainly for the ending)

Watch These Movies!

I’ve seen a few movies recently that I thought I’d recommend:

In Theaters:  The Help – We had a little Litwits meetup last weekend to see this movie and it did not disappoint!  Be prepared to furiously fight back tears.

On DVD/On Demand – Jane Eyre (the newest one) – I love all film adaptations of my favorite novels, for better or worse, but I really liked this atmospheric take on Jane’s story.  I even appreciated the changes.  If you’ve ever wanted to read the book, but can’t force yourself through Bronte’s prose, by all means, watch the movies!  The same goes for Austen as well – and Shakespeare.

On DVD/On Demand – A Single Man starring Colin Firth – what a beautiful movie about the turmoil a British English professor living in 1962 Los Angeles faces after the death of his lover whom he was with for 16 years.  After his partner dies in a car crash, Firth’s character isn’t even allowed to attend the funeral since, you know, his partner was male and the family didn’t approve.  Now our dear, depressed Colin has decided to kill himself and we journey with him on this last of days as he makes all the preparations for death and relives some of his favorite memories while simultaneously seeing the beauty of life all around him.  Poignant and intoxicating – a true love story.  Plus, there’s a lot of male nudity if you like that kind of thing! 😉

Book Review: The Double Bind by Chris Bohjalian

When I googled Chris Bohjalian, I discovered that he’s quite a successful writer and that one of his other novels, Midwives, was an Oprah’s Book Club selection.  I also found out that most people think The Double Bind is his worst novel!  I have a couple of suggestions that might make your reading more pleasurable, but first a quick summary on what the book is actually about:
Laurel is a young social worker who’s employed by the local homeless shelter in Burlington, Vermont.  At the start of the novel, we relive Laurel’s memories of being attacked by two men on a rural road during a solo bike ride.  As Laurel heals emotionally from the violent incident, she comes across a set of photos from a recently deceased client of the shelter which might connect the old man to her past in some very mysterious ways.

Tips to make your reading more enjoyable and other reasons to give the novel a shot:

  1. Read The Great Gatsby by Fitzgerald first.  In Bohjalian’s story, The Great Gatsby is actual reality, not just a book.  Laurel believes the old photographer is related to one of the families portrayed in Gatsby.  Fitzgerald’s novel actually becomes a character of sorts in The Double Bind.
  2. A big ‘twist’ awaits you if you manage to make your way to the end of the novel.  Granted, the twist becomes fairly predictable along the way, but perhaps you will be fooled!  Also, the twist gets a bit wonky in relation to the third person narrative – the point of view is generally the largest point of contention with many readers – but I kind of like what the author did.  I wish I could say more, but don’t want to spoil the ending.
  3. The book is plotted fairly well and who doesn’t love a good literary mystery?

On the downside, the writing isn’t superb.  I HATE/LOATHE/DETEST impersonal descriptors – such as referring to Laurel as ‘the social worker’ five thousand times.  Surely, Bohjalian can do better than that.  I also found fault with Bohjalian’s portrayal of Laurel.  I’m just not sure a man is capable of honestly writing from a woman’s perspective, especially a woman who is tormented by a brutal, physical and emotional attack perpetrated by males.  That being said, the setting is beautiful, the story is intriguing, and there are PICTURES!

Star Rating – 3/5

Book Review: The Devil in the White City by Erik Larson

I picked this book up during a 2007 visit to Chicago with the hubs and his family. Interestingly, Chicago was in the midst of bidding for the Olympics during 2007 and the book opens with Chicago bidding to be the site of the World’s Fair in the late 19th century. To sum things up quickly for those who will stop reading at the end of this paragraph anyway – I wholeheartedly recommend this book to anyone who is even slightly interested in American history.

Larson recreates a world where light and dark collide. Chicago during the 1890s was dirty, the stench of slaughter permeated the air, and the water was barely drinkable. In the middle of this ‘black city’, rose the pristinely white world of David Burnham’s World’s Fair. We follow Burnham and his fellow architects, landscape architects, and other visionaries as they strive to build something beautiful – something that will incite a strong sense of patriotism during the chaos of a crumbling economy, the rise of labor unions, and corrupt politicians. But as we’ve already discovered light can only come out of darkness. Foiled against our hero Burnham, Dr. H.H. Holmes calmly makes colleagues, wives, and children young and old disappear – claiming somewhere between 9 and 200+ victims and the title of America’s first serial killer. This is history you don’t want to miss!!

While the story is fascinating, the beginning does start a bit slow. The chapters are fairly short which always helps move the narrative along a bit quicker. The chapters also alternate between tales of Burnham and Holmes – so you never get too bored with one character before being thrown back to the other – a brilliant bit of novel design to keep interest peaked. One fault I found was the editing. For some reason, commas are sorely neglected, often leaving me to re-read sentences a couple of times for clarity – particularly after a prepositional phrase (I am a total grammar geek).

All in all, Larson has created a wonderful tale of murder, magic, and the macabre with just the right mixture of storytelling and truth.

Annoying star rating: 4/5

Book Review: My Horizontal Life by Chelsea Handler

 Beware: Below is a post where I ramble a lot because that is the mental  state the  book left me upon finishing.  I do so very much apologize to all  who may read.

First and foremost, I don’t know much about Chelsea Handler.  After watching a few episodes of Chelsea Lately and reading this book, I can honestly say I still don’t know  much about her.  People rarely baffle me, but this broad knocks me silly.  About halfway through this memoir of sorts, I texted Victoria with this question:  I don’t know whether Chelsea Handler is a liar or just a major train wreck.

 My Horizontal Life is touted as a shock-fest of in-your-face female promiscuity.  I looked forward to Chelsea’s stories of wild one-night stands and tales of feminine individuality and confidence.  I wanted to be offended and live vicariously through her naughtiness.    Unfortunately, the only thing offensive was a surprising lack of the offensive, but a  surplus of far-fetched stories (many that often stopped way short of sex due to abuse of  some narcotic or vodka) which just kind of made me sad for an obviously unadjusted, alcoholic, self-demoralizing woman.

Reading the memoir of someone struggling with alcoholism and being truthful about the hardships that occur during addiction would have been enlightening, informative, and interesting – but the book is supposed to be a comedic look at true-life sex romps – not Intervention.

On the other hand, if you like Chelsea Hander perhaps you will like the book as well.  I think my biggest problem with her is just that I would never be friends with her – and not because I don’t approve of her drinking copious amounts of vodka (what girl doesn’t like a nice glass of top shelf?), doing the occasional drug and having a good night out with friends, or sleeping with whatever lovely stranger happens to cross her path.  Handler writes herself as racist, vapid, and entirely concerned with physical appearance – not only in herself, but in others as well.  If I had to read one more sentence about her being fat I was going to go eat a cheeseburger for her.

Another note – she writes everyone as a complete caricature.  These people do not exist as she writes them.  Actually, I’m fairly certain most of the incidents she writes about are completely untrue or only loosely based on some drunken reality she lives in.  Even comedians can’t get away with such blatant lies.

Also, besides the fact that she has lots of sex, Handler is very chaste when it comes to sexy times.  She struggles even to say the word ‘panties’.

In the book’s defense, it’s easy to read (first half is better than second half) – just a couple of solid hours and you’ve survived.  Exactly two lines in the book made me laugh out loud – which I guess is a small success.

I hate star ratings, but for the sake of argument – 2/5.