The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt

IMG_20131029_110941The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt has been eleven years in the making. And I have no clue how to objectively and coherently review it. There exists so much in these 771 pages. There were things I loved and things I didn’t. What is perfectly clear, however, is how very, very much I enjoyed everything about this book, including its weaknesses.

When Theo Decker is thirteen, a bomb explodes inside the Metropolitan Museum of Art in NYC where he and his mother are killing a couple of hours before a parent/teacher conference. Theo’s mom, along with many others, is killed. Theo is knocked unconscious. When he comes to, he has a very strange conversation with an older gentleman – clearly dying of his wounds – who gives him a ring, some cryptic information, and convinces Theo to leave the museum with a tiny painting, The Goldfinch. So begins his long, Dickensian journey into adulthood clasped to the stolen piece of art.

What stood out most to me about The Goldfinch was how we all chain ourselves to people, places, objects, the past and how that affects our future. Also, Tartt is writing about art in its many forms. Combining those two themes gets you to the Dickens comparison. So many of The Goldfinch’s characters are a slave to their own artistic endeavors – Hobie and his restoration, Pippa and her music – and arguably, Donna Tartt and her writing. Familiar books such as Oliver Twist and Great Expectations were woven throughout The Goldfinch and gave life to each character. It would be ridiculous to think Tartt didn’t do this on purpose and for a very specific reason. I believe it’s her way of showing how she’s chained to past literary giants. Consider this quote:

“Bad artists copy, good artists steal.”

It’s up to us, the readers, to decide whether this particular literary endeavor is bad or good. I’m leaning towards good – very damn good.

Tartt is the master at pacing. This chunky giant flies by faster than you want it to. I physically forced myself to set it aside, hoping to draw out the ending so I could savor her prose and imagery before the next decade of waiting. What always amazes me is how she can take such a seemingly mundane image – like the beginning of a rainstorm – and write it in such a way that surprises me. Instead of looking to the leaking sky, she forces our eyes down to the brown stains dampening the cement sidewalks. That’s an image I love to watch play out on my own front sidewalk during spring rain showers. In this way, her writing feels alive, like it has its very own heartbeat.

It would be remiss of me, however, to pretend The Goldfinch is beyond criticism. Readers who hate Dickens and his long-winded ways will more than likely get bogged down at times. Tartt loves her tangential meanderings. I suppose some readers will also prefer Theo’s childhood to his adulthood (or vice versa). Other heavily cloaked themes running through Tartt’s story are mental illness, particularly bipolar disorder, and drug abuse that can make the characters hardly loveable. All of these faults I barely noticed but can see how others would. The only thing that truly irked me was the tendency to do something that bothers me in first person narration – the ‘if I had only known then’ bits. But I forgive her.

RATING: starstarstarstarstar

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The Walking Dead: “Isolation”

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Crazy Rick made a fabulous appearance last night, and he’s managed to find a new shirt. I love crazy Rick.

The plague is taking out our fearless survivors very quickly. I know someone very important to the show is supposed to die in the mid-season finale, and I really hope it’s not Glenn. Why does he have to be sick? WHY??? Perhaps Herschel will take one for the team since he’s loving getting coughed on these days.

I just need more Daryl. He had some interesting scenes with Michonne – I felt some sparkage. Anyone else?

I’m not sure how I feel about Tyrese yet.

I love that Carol was the one who burned those bodies. She’s come to play and win these days at whatever the cost. I’ll be looking to see how her and Rick work together and whether that’s even possible. Will Rick tell anyone else what she did? I wonder what Daryl would do if he found out?

I’m definitely in the camp of people thinking that The Governor has a mole in the prison who is feeding the rats to the zombies. That would just be totally badass.

Despite the zombie horde tonight, this was a quiet episode. I just feel like the tension is building and building until shit is going to explode. I have a feeling none of us will be able to handle what happens mid-season.

The only thing I’m really lacking right now is Daryl. I just want something more for his character. And he needs more screen time. Because of the pretty.

Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children and A Litwits Anniversary!

IMG_20131026_030601Sunday the Litwits met to celebrate our three year anniversary and to discuss Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs. Without bragging and making y’all jealous of how fabulous my book club is, suffice it to say we had one badass afternoon.

This year’s festivities included two kinds of cake – pumpkin spice and blueberry pound cake. Both were excellent and not baked by me, lol. I had help from Piece of Cake and will definitely be a frequent customer. We also held a big giveaway of three book packages – 10 books a piece. We drew names and Holly, Emily, and Melanie all won. They seemed pretty happy with their loot! Our final celebration included a Chinese gift exchange! Everyone ended up going home with a new-ish book.

After all that fun, it probably won’t shock y’all that the discussion for Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children was a bit on the light side. I think everyone enjoyed it and really seemed to love the creepy pictures beyond anything else. Some general complaints included the cliffhanger ending and just wishing for a little bit more such as Miss Peregrine turning out evil. I mean, she did sort of brainwash all those kids to stay in that time loop and never age.

For me, Miss Peregrine’s had a strong start and a somewhat lackluster ending. I liked how genuinely creepy the first bits were, but then the novel morphed into something more on the science fiction spectrum with time travel that I wasn’t expecting. The time travel definitely has the ability to become something awesome in subsequent books, though. I also just felt a bit odd about the kids never growing older.

If you’re looking for something light and spirited this Halloween, Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children really would be a perfect fit as long as you aren’t looking for a perfect book.

Rating: starstarstar

House of Earth by Woody Guthrie

IMG_20131022_094619Woody Guthrie is a man most Americans know through his song, “This Land is Your Land”. Basically, American children sing that song approximately 1 million times before they leave elementary school. Guthrie penned many, many more folksy, Americanah ballads during his lifetime, but not many know that he also wrote a novel (novella, really) that he hoped would be made into a film. Alas, that didn’t happen and the manuscript was never published – until now! Thanks to Douglas Brinkley and Johnny Depp (yes, that Johnny Depp) Guthrie’s 1947 novel set during the dust bowl era has finally seen the light of day.

Tike and Ella May Hamlin are newly married. During the course of the novel, we follow tan early year of their marriage through poverty and the birth of their first child. That’s pretty much the gist of everything that happens.

Quite literally, the novel follows the fertility cycle and is written in four movements. I call them movements since Guthrie was all musical. The first movement is a very long sex scene. Let me emphasize the very long. Like 30-50 pages of sex. The last movement is a really long birth scene in which Tike fantasizes about sex with the midwife. My point being – there is a lot of sex.

Guthrie’s writing has been compared to both Steinbeck and Lawrence. His natural ability to create a scene, to put the reader in a certain place and time, and to bring the dusty, dry farmland to life does bring an apt comparison to Steinbeck. The Lawrence bit comes into play with Guthrie’s very graphic and detailed erotic scenes. House of Earth would most likely have been seen as pornography in the 1940s.

As a portrait of life, of poverty, of the American dream and the inability to obtain such a thing, House of Earth actually works quite well. As an enjoyable curl up and read novel, not so much. It’s short, but choppy. The prose is both lyrical, flowery, and stark all at the same time. The fertility themes are a bit too on the nose and the sex lacks a certain subtlety I prefer in ‘literary fiction’. What Guthrie needed was a few re-writes to find ultimate success. So I can’t honestly recommend this book to anyone other than hardcore Guthrie enthusiasts.

His fiction aside, Guthrie’s life was fascinating and if you ever have the opportunity to read a biography it would be well worth your time.

Rating: starstarrating_star_half-1cx8y5d

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Thanks so much to TLC Book Tours and the publisher for a copy of the book in exchange for my unbiased review. You can check out other tour stops right here!

About the Author:

Woody GuthrieWoodrow Wilson “Woody” Guthrie (1912-1967) was an American folk balladeer whose best-known song is “This Land Is Your Land.” His musical legacy includes more than three thousand songs, covering an exhaustive repertoire of historical, political, cultural, topical, spiritual, narrative, and children’s themes.

 

 

 

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The Walking Dead: “Infected”

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This flu might be more frightening than the zombie infection. I love that such a simple naturally occurring flu outbreak can cause such utter turmoil during the zombie apocalypse. The opening scenes with zombie!Patrick eating his fellow survivors was creeptastic and disgusting. LOVED IT.

Michonne crying with baby Judith was good character development – although still cryptic.  And I wonder how Michonne’s hurt ankle is going to affect her badassery? My guess is not much. She can just ride around on her horse (wait, is her horse okay?) and machete heads off.

The sheriff is back in town! I loved when Rick re-holstered his belt and dropped his six shooter back in place. A great homage to Westerns and I just love me some crazy Rick. And crazy Carl, too! Admittedly, Rick slaughtering the pigs (metaphorically, slaughtering farmer!Rick) was sad. Andrew Lincoln is really impressing me with his acting range. He’s come so far since Love Actually.

This episode needed more Daryl. Are Darly and Carol really going to hook up? Because that really bothers me for some reason. Their names are too rhymey.

Who the hell is feeding the zombies and burning bodies? I’ve seen nearly every character as someone’s suspect. So nobody knows shit. I think it’s Carl or someone as equally invested in getting Rick back into action.

The sneak peak of next week’s episode with the 7,500 strong zombie army marching towards our survivors nearly gave me a heartattack. I hope Daryl can get his comrades out of there safely. I’m also thinking the jail is looking like a bad option now – what with the flu and zombie army nearby. Looks like they’ll just have to find another home sweet hell.

Fables: Book One by Bill Willingham

6307040Graphic Novels! Comics! I love them! I’ve seriously adopted this narrative format into my regular reading and hope to never stop. GNs and comics definitely take some getting used to, but it’s so worth the effort. I can’t imagine a life where I would purposefully avoid Fables. That would just be a damn shame.

Welcome to a world where fairy tale and other fictional characters are real. They’ve fled their homelands (think the Emerald City, Narnia, the various and assorted kingdoms of Prince Charming) due to a deadly enemy known simply as the Adversary. The characters who can pass as human live in modern day NYC and the animals/fairies/other blatant non-humans hide away on a farm in upstate New York. Snow White is deputy major of Fabletown and B. Wolf is the sheriff. Wackiness ensues, obviously.

Book One follows two major story arcs. First, Ruby Red (Snow’s sister) has apparently been violently murdered. B. Wolf is on the case. Then the farm up North has a rising rebellion on their hands. The residents there want their old lands back and hate feeling like prisoners even among their own kind. In order to fight against the Adversary, they must first break all the Fable laws and rise up against their own. Goldie and her bears lead the way.

The illustrations were hit and miss for me. They have a superhero comic book feel which isn’t my favorite, but are at least gorgeously colored. What shines is the story telling and all the literary references. I loved how Willingham is able to take the fantastic and bring it very realistically into normal human society. I’m very much looking forward to the next installments. Fables is geekery at its finest and highly recommended to fans of things such as Once Upon a Time!

I read this during the read-a-thon and you should do so next ‘thon as well! So easy to fly through even when your eyelids are drooping.

RATING: starstarstarstar

The Easter Parade by Richard Yates

IMG_20131016_094915I’m not sure what one says about Richard Yates beyond he’s fabulous. I’m making that statement having read only one book, but I’d be willing to bet it holds true over the whole of his writing career. BookTube is in love with Yates, and I’m so glad they encouraged me to give him a shot.

The Easter Parade is a character study of two sisters, Sarah and Emily, who take very different paths in life. They’re products of a broken marriage and eccentric parents. Sarah takes the traditional path of marriage and children. Emily goes the way of the progressive, modern woman with a career, leaving marriage and children out of her plan for the most part. Neither sister’s ever after is particularly happy.

I love a good chunky novel that is barely over 200 pages. The chunky comes from Yates’s ability to fill his pages with so much depth and character development. Nothing much happens but I couldn’t put the book down. If I’d been able to, I’d have read the whole thing in one sitting. Sarah and Emily are such complex individuals and have such a complex sisterhood. I could relate to bits and pieces of them both.

Yates paints a very bleak picture for both sisters despite the alternate paths they chose. The story takes place in the early to middle 20th Century. Seeing how women’s lives where changing and the consequences of those changes was fascinating. For Yates to have such a command of the female voice was impressive.

Highly recommended! I can’t wait to finally pick up Revolutionary Road now and fall in love all over again.

Rating: starstarstarstar

P.S. In so many ways I kept thinking of the Kardashians when I read this.