The Big Sleep by Raymond Chandler

2052I was wearing my powder blue suit, with dark blue shirt, tie and display handkerchief, black brogues, black wool socks with dark blue clocks on them. I was neat, clean, shaved and sober, and I didn’t care who knew it. I was everything the well-dressed private detective ought to be. I was calling on four million dollars.

So begins PI Philip Marlowe in Chandler’s classic hard-boiled detective noir. I think that quote perfectly sums up the atmosphere of the novel and gives you a little glimpse into why this book is included in TIME Magazine’s top 100 novels written since 1923.

The Big Sleep is all about two crazy dames! The sisters (Vivian and Carmen) are always getting into trouble. This time Carmen is being blackmailed and her extraordinarily rich and dying father has hired Marlowe to get things handled all quiet like, see? What follows next is an almost dizzying romp of murder, mayhem, and pornography with a side of misogyny and homophobia. Ahh…the 30s.

Clearly, Chandler was a master of setting and atmosphere. I was immediately pulled into this world through his gorgeous (albeit, bloody) imagery. The dialogue is golden and holds fast to a time long since past. Thirties slang is the name of the game and it can be hard to keep up with but so much fun to try! I quite literally didn’t know half of what they were saying and had to constantly reread scenes to figure out what had happened in conversation. A man could lose his life without me noticing. That’s how much language and slang have changed in 80 years. Both a pro and a con to this story.

The plot was fast paced but ultimately predictable. I’m not sure that’s the book’s fault. In the thirties, I’m sure this felt fresh and new but so many books have emulated since. Still well worth the read to see how such novels came to be. I loved seeing where some of my favorite modern day entertainment got its inspiration – specifically Veronica Mars. I might have even replaced Marlowe with Mars in my mind once or twice which was confusing because there was an actual character named Mars. But that’s just a me problem…

As for the misogyny and homophobia – definitely a sign of the times and hard to read at moments. Some jovial slapping of women takes place and several derogatory statements are made concerning gay men. So if you’re sensitive to that be forewarned, but I think books should be read as a study of their time. I like seeing how far (or not far) we’ve come since the thirties.

I’d recommend this book to those explorers of literature who want to read the novel often cited as the birth of this particular sub-mystery/detective genre. A quick, fun read – a moment of time to relive. I’m not sure, however, that I’d add this to my own personal top 100 list, but I don’t regret reading it in the slightest!

Advertisements

Atlanta’s Book Shops

Mickey and free bird feed

Sunday afternoon I got a hankering to do some book shopping. Not necessarily buying the books but just the act of browsing the shelves of local indie stores. I’m not someone who hates Barnes and Noble or Amazon, but from time to time I do enjoy patronizing neighborhood establishments. And I got to drag Jimmy along with me and watch his eyes glaze over. Good times.

We started our adventure at Atlanta Vintage Books right near PDK airport. It’s shameful that I live about 5 miles away and had never visited. The store is run by an older couple who had a dream of owning a book shop. The store is filled with shelves and shelves of books everywhere – in every nook and cranny. Also, cats. Lots of cats. (See above – lovingly borrowed from AVB’s website.) Nothing is new – not the books, furniture, or shelving. It smells wonderful, intoxicating. You could spend hours in this store perusing the thousands of deliciously aged pages. Some fantastic first editions – signed Ian Flemings, To Kill a Mockingbird, and Gone With the Wind – are also available.

Downstairs they have cheap paperbacks. And loads more books. I will continue to frequent the store looking for hardback copies of some of my favorite novels of years gone by. The only downside I really found was that the prices were a bit high. The same collection of John Steinbeck shorts that I recently bought at Goodwill for $2.50 was $18. I think a book that is 60 years old should be less than $18. But maybe that’s just me.

Our second stop I consider a favorite – Eagle Eye Books in Decatur. They host amazing authors all year long (Neil Gaiman!). Eagle Eye is mostly used books with a front corner dedicated to new releases. Their used collection is huge, but sometimes I find the selection limited. Like yesterday. Nothing really jumped out at me which was a shame because they were having their red dot sale. Every book with a red dot was an additional 50% off. Normal used paperbacks are about $5-6. They are also in very good condition. The store has a great rewards program, plus you can sell your books to them for store credit.

Amazingly, this little adventure only led to new-ish book purchases. I bought two first edition hardcover Harry Potters (books 3 & 4) since I’ve been meaning to collect them for some time. My paperbacks are falling apart. At $7 a book, I couldn’t resist. It made me wonder who doesn’t keep such beautiful HPs? Weird.

How about you? What are your favorite bookstores where you live?

Beauty Queens by Libba Bray

9464733The premise to Beauty Queens sounded right up my alley. A bunch of teenage beauty queens crash land on a deserted island (or is it?) and have to use their wits to survive. Snarkiness, mayhem, and catfights promised to reign supreme. I could not wait to dive in.

And at first I wanted to throw the book out the window similar to Pat’s episode with Hemingway in Silver Linings Playbook. The girls were one beauty queen stereotype after the next and so incredibly over-the-top with their girly campy-ness. I couldn’t find a single character worth my while and rolled my eyes so many times I got a headache. The only thing that truly kept me reading was Bray’s narrative creativity. The story is told via traditional narrative, commercial breaks, contestant questionnaires, and other random interludes that were a complete pleasure in this satire.

Somewhere around page 100 or so, something magical happened and I started to adore Bray’s every word. The girls began showing honest character development, they were managing to survive and prosper brilliantly, and all of my judgement was thrown back in my face. I realized guiltily how complicit I had been in my own prejudice and preconceived notions about pageant contestants and teenage girls in general. I see what you did there, Ms. Bray, and I loved it!

All of the girls were amazing and I loved each of them individually by the novel’s end. They represented and dealt with an entire range of complex issues such as body image, sexuality, and self-identity. Miss Texas was particularly amazing. I loathed her at the beginning more than any other and she ended up my absolute favorite character. The girls were fierce, strong, capable, and the fact that they loved nail polish and shiny dresses couldn’t (and shouldn’t) lessen their courage and poise.

The best YA I’ve read all year.

Bonus:

There are pirates…ARRRGG!!

Movie Review: The Great Gatsby

The-Great-Gatsby3

We got early tickets to see Gatsby Thursday night. As y’all can imagine, I was ridiculously excited. The theater was packed with many people dressed up which was so much fun to watch. Unfortunately, our theater had many technical glitches and they never could get the curtains to open all the way. Thankfully, the viewing experience wasn’t really affected and we got free movie passes as a bonus. Win.

The movie itself felt a lot like attending the circus. That’s what I kept saying. That’s what my gut automatically felt – like we were in a giant, colorful bigtop with Gatsby as our ringleader. And I’m still not sure what to say beyond that. I’ve been mulling over my thoughts for quite some time and think I might not fully comprehend my feelings until I’ve had another viewing. But here’s the randomness that has crossed my mind.

All of the actors were enjoyable, but Leo, Edgerton, and Mulligan take the cake for me. I had heard that Mulligan’s Daisy was often overacted, but I really enjoyed her performance so that was a surprising positive. When all of our main characters were in a room together, the movie shined. When the film was concentrating on green screening everything, I totally lost interest and was completely taken out of the story. Perhaps the plastic, fake look of the green screen was supposed to be a commentary on the absurdity and frailness of Gatsby’s world, but it didn’t work for me at all.

And while I adore the soundtrack on its own, in the movie the music was often jarring. There’s one scene in particular that could have played out in any nineties rap video starring Biggie Smalls. Nothing about that says 1920s to me. My husband even leaned over and was like WTF? The costuming, makeup, and jewelry were gorgeous and so faithful to the time period. Loved seeing everyone all dolled up.

In the end, I think I liked it more than disliked it. However, I’m not sure I have any sort of emotional attachment to what I watched. The ridiculous over-the-top imagery really detracted from the emotional depth and character development. Everything felt more like a plastic production than a movie focused on the humanity (or lack thereof) of its characters and the idolization of the American Dream. I think this version of The Great Gatsby will attract fans not familiar with the book and a much younger target audience. Perhaps some viewers will even find the book through this movie which is always a great thing.

I definitely want to hear what y’all think! Let me know in the comments. So far, most people have been very mixed with their opinions. Some love it desperately, others find it trite and shallow. I think I’m still on the fence.

Bonus:

I loved the humor! So many hilarious moments played wonderfully by Leonardo DiCaprio!

Memoirs of a Geisha by Arthur Golden (VLOG!!)

So, I just realized that while I recorded a vlog reviewing Memoirs of a Geisha, I never actually reviewed it here on the old blog. SHAME! Anyway, I’m gonna post the video below for your viewing pleasure and skip the writing part. Because that seems like an appropriate Friday thing to do. But for those not inclined to watch me ramble on, here’s a short and sweet review of my own thoughts:

A BOOK FILLED WITH AWESOME. Richly layered, such amazing attention to detail, great sense of place. I want to read everything about geisha history and culture.

What A Mother Knows by Leslie Lehr

16106413Often, I choose review books that are outside of my comfort zone. I’m not sure why I do this, and I’m fairly certain it’s unfair to the books I select. But I just think that getting review books is a great way to try something new without making a financial investment. Plus, I get to alert my readers to new books they might be very interested in. So I don’t feel too guilty at the end of the day.

For the above reasons, I agreed to read and review Lehr’s novel which falls somewhere in the mystery/thriller category – a genre I don’t often read. We begin the story amid a car crash in the Santa Monica Mountains. Eighteen months later, Michelle is finally leaving the hospital to return to her life as mother, wife, and Hollywood producer. Her brain injury was so severe she had to relearn how to walk, talk, and still doesn’t have many memories of that fatal day. What she discovers upon arriving home is that things aren’t as she left them. Her teenage daughter’s missing, a boy is dead, and her husband has grown distant. Oh, and she’s being sued for negligence.

Lehr’s story revolves around Michelle’s desperate search for her daughter amid the chaos that is now her life. The plot is fast-paced and easy to get lost in. There are characters to both love and hate. And the reading experience is overall enjoyable even if the ending is somewhat cliched and predictable. I found Michelle to be a compelling protagonist, particularly in her role as mother. She’s not this pristine, heroic motherly character at all. She’s dirty, rude, complex, and at times hard to root for. Michelle often alienates the rest of her family in her search for Nikki and her motivations can be hard to sympathize with. But I appreciated this because it felt more genuine to me than some squeaky clean suburban housewife. In fact, Lehr does a wonderful job of painting a wide variety of mothers in her story. None of them are perfect, but all of them are people you feel like actually exist.

As far as the writing is concerned, I’m a bit torn. Lehr has talent and writes some really beautiful sentences that have no business being in such a plot-driven novel. So that was nice. At the same time, I felt that the flow was often clunky – like certain exposition was edited out leaving the narrative choppy. I often found myself rereading sections because I felt as if I had missed something. Since I was reading an uncorrected proof, these issues might have been resolved before publication. I also didn’t feel like the men were drawn as well as the female characters. The leading men struck me as very stereotypical with no real development. Her husband was a douche.

I’d recommend What A Mother Knows to anyone who enjoys mystery, memory loss dramas or really well-crafted mothers who are actual human beings. If you aren’t a huge fan of these novels, I’m not sure anything here will change your mind. A good beach read for the upcoming summer months and perhaps a book that would garner some good discussion during a book club meeting. I can just see everyone arguing over whether or not Michelle was a likable mother!

Special thanks to Sourcebooks for the book in exchange for my honest review!

Monday Salon

600859_10102150884277510_1820388992_nA whirlwind weekend! Another wedding in the books and a lovely Sunday spent exploring our city! I’m choosing to ignore the never ending rain. Saturday night we attended a fancy pants wedding of some former co-workers so it was like one huge reunion. Plus an open bar. Sunday afternoon we went to the Atlanta History Center which is essentially a museum of all things Atlanta. Love being a tourist in my own city! Plus, their gift shop was filled with amazing books. It took me forever to choose which one to buy, but I eventually settled on the tales of Uncle Remus by Joel Chandler Harris. Such a beautiful edition published by the Beehive Press of Savannah. 

This week I’m hoping to hear back from the company I interviewed with last week. After speaking to the two ladies I’d be working with, I am so excited about the job and think this might be my dream position in the accounting world. I’m also hoping to jump back on the exercise bandwagon. Then there’s all the house cleaning, maybe some lounging in the sun, and lots of reading, obviously.

What else am I up to? Let’s see. Went to watch Iron Man 3 Thursday night with the Hubs. We enjoyed the movie. Jimmy loves any action film. He gets so angry with me if I try to discuss character development or plot in regards to his summer popcorn flicks. Robert Downey Jr. is just a joy to watch. Now the countdown to The Great Gatsby is officially on and I cannot wait! I’ve also been listening to some book podcasts recently. I stumbled upon one called Literary Disco which was created by none other than Rider Strong! Loving it.