Monthly Archives: October 2011

Hocus Pocus

Come little children… I’ll take thee away… Into my garden of magic…
Come little children… The time’s come to play… Here in my garden of magic….

 

 

Happy Halloween, everyone…

The Help by Kathryn Stockett

So, here I sit in a darkened room. Incense it lit and the lamp is on. My tired eyes struggle to stay awake, yet I know I have a purpose tonight.

No… I’m not doing a seance. What is this, “Now and Then”?

Nope. I’m staying up far far past my good girl bed time in order to give you The Help by Kathryn Stockett.

As we all know, The Help has been on the best sellers list for a long while now, and recently had a movie released as well–pretty much the pinnacle of an author’s success. What really amped my curiosity, however, was not it’s status on the NYT list, it was the kinds of people I caught reading it…

It should be no secret by now that I work at a bookstore. And I sell hundreds of books a day. I see them, smell them, touch them. But never has a book with such a wide-ranging readership ever crossed my path. I’ve sold this book to elderly white Southern ladies, young black hip hop kids, preppy cheerleaders, soccer moms, and the most gangster of gangsters. So that got me wondering… What is this book all about?

The Help takes place in Jackson, Mississippi during the early 1960’s, and, as we all know–the Civil Rights Movement (And yes, I just sang the MISS-ISS-IPPI song in my head to spell it right, so sue me). The 1960’s in general was not the best time to be an African American in the US, especially in the deep south like Jackson. To put this into perspective, black people were being beaten or even killed for accidentally using the wrong bathroom. For real. And to further narrow the scope, this wasn’t so long ago. Our parents were kids then, and odds are they remember some of the prejudice going on at that time. 50 years is not much in the grand scheme of things.

Some of the main characters are Miss “Skeeter,” Aibileen, and Minny. Miss Skeeter is an intelligent (but unfortunately gawky) young daughter of a plantation owner looking to find her place in a world filled with everyday injustices. She aspires to be a writer, but all her mother aspires for is Skeeter’s marriage–to somebody, anybody. For the love of God.

Yeah, it’s that kind of thing.

Aibileen and Minny are both black housemaids, although they are extraordinarily different as people. Aibileen is quiet and diligent in her work, loving nothing more than to care for the small white children in her charge, which is helping her get over the recent, violent death of her only son. Minny, on the other hand, has a handful of children of her own, doesn’t take crap, and has the mouth to prove it. But her husband beats her.

These three women’s lives are changed forever when their worlds collide, collaborating on a novel that outlines the good (and bad) things black maids experience serving white families. The town of Jackson was not prepared for what these ladies had in store!

I love love loved this book. I could not put it down. Stockett took a pretty big risk, writing from the perspective of two African American women, being–to put it bluntly–white herself. Not only that, The Help switches perspectives multiple times during the book, and the first-time author pulls it off quite seamlessly. She makes something that most writers won’t even attempt look easy.

From a reader’s perspective, I really enjoyed seeing the world from three different points of view. This fills in the gaps left by other characters and gives a nicely omnipotent feel without being unbelievable. I also liked that it wasn’t a love story. Don’t get me wrong, love is great, love is good, and all that jazz, but every once in a while you get tired of hearing it. Don’t women in novels have any other goals? And that’s what I liked about Miss Skeeter. She wasn’t made out to be this glamourous Southern debutante. She was skinny with frizzy hair and abnormally large feet. And that makes her seem more like a real person. She wanted to become a journalist, not find her Romeo, and that was refreshing.

My only critiques of the story were that I couldn’t believe Minnie put up with an abusive husband–as loud and aggressive as she was, and that I was left a bit mystified about Miss Celia and Mr Johnny’s relationship. What did he see in her? The relationships in this book seemed like odd pairings. Also, the ending left me wanting just a little bit more. Come on… one more chapter. I felt a little like yesterday’s laundry left out to dry. And Miss Hilly.

What

a

BITCH.

Anyway…

Please. please read The Help. Especially if you are young. Especially if you are old. Especially if you are black. Especially if you are white. Especially…

5 of 5 stars


Uninvited by Amanda Marrone

Uninvited by Amanda Marrone tells the tale of Jordan, a high school girl whose two month relationship with Michael–the high school all-star–was the highlight of her life. Unfortunately her brief moment in the sun was ruined when she broke up with Michael, and completely went sour when he turned up dead shortly thereafter. Michael’s parents declared that his death was a suicide, even though his throat had been slashed under mysterious circumstances. Jordan knows better. Michael loved life (and girls) too much to kill himself. 

Jordan’s life since Michael’s death has been a sad series of random party hook-ups, getting trashed with her no-good “frenemies,” and trying to avoid attention in the hallways at all cost.

That is, until Michael appears one night at her window.

Demanding to be let in.

Declaring his undying love.

Wanting to spend forever with her.

If only she’ll open the window…

Well… Uninvited was on my Amazon wishlist (an awesome way to keep track of your reading list, I might add…) for about a trillion years before I got around to reading it.  I stumbled upon it at my store one day and knew it was time. And I have to say, I was a bit disappointed.

I didn’t  mind Jordan as a character, but I didn’t like or understand the fact that she was terrified of walking down the hallway by herself, but could go to random parties and have sex with strangers without a problem. The two don’t seem to mesh very well. I get the fact that she was abusing drugs and alcohol, and that affects your judgement, but at the same time how could she be so painfully shy during the day and so promiscuous at night? If nothing else you’d think all the sex would make her more popular! Rachel was an interesting best friend, and if she had been the main character the book would’ve had a completely different spin.

That being said, I did like how Marrone was really up front with all these teen issues. Most authors skirt around talking bluntly about teens having sex and doing drugs because they want to avoid “gate keepers” (parents and teachers who read books before they allow their kids access) getting in the way. Marrone was fearless in that regard, and I do appreciate that. I also liked that she made Jordan really conflicted about Michael and her feelings for him. She missed being with him, but deep down she knew that something was wrong with him.

However, even though Jordan was characterized by her poor decision-making, I could never see why she was in love with Michael. From what I gather, he was very handsome, but he was such a jerk! Any guy who is going to force physical activity on a girl right away is no bueno. I guess it all boils down to teenage girls and their poor self-esteem. It’s a universal theme in young adult fiction, sadly enough.

The conclusion was a little anti-climactic, and I never felt connected enough to the secondary characters to really care what happened to them. Oh well, it wasn’t a long or difficult read…

Uninvited can stay unread.

2 of 5 stars


Quote of the Day: Lemony Snicket

“It is one of life’s bitterest truths that bedtime so often arrives just when things are getting really interesting.”

-Lemony Snicket

 

 


The Sookie Stackhouse Companion by Charlaine Harris

So, The Sookie Stackhouse Companion by Charlaine Harris was just released recently and I just finished it today. It includes a short story about Sookie and Sam attending a wedding, a series timeline, recipes from Bon Temps, a FAQ section with Harris, an interview with Alan Ball, and a character dictionary. I thought it would be a great read since I love the series and the show, and I’ve read all the Sookie Stackhouse books to date.

I was wrong.

Charlaine Harris’s companion guide to her series was a total nose-dive in my opinion. I really enjoyed the first 80 pages, which were the short story about Sam’s brother’s shifter wedding. The recipe book was also pretty cool. The rest of it? Absolutely useless.

The FAQ section didn’t jump out at me, as many of the questions seemed like they should have been common sense for a true fan who has read all the books (or even followed the HBO series). Also, Alan Ball’s interview was a total waste of time because he gave indirect, noncommittal answers to almost ever question he was asked and I finished reading the interview with more of a WTF? feeling than an Aha! feeling. I get that you’re the producer/director of a television phenomenon and you don’t want to disclose too much, but come on! This interview is going in an actual book–one that will probably sell hundreds of thousands of copies, if not millions–not some trashy newsstand gossip rag. 

The time line was horrible because it was basically a summary of everything that’d happened in all the books, a plot synopsis for everything. I don’t need to know the exact year, month (down to the day) time line of every thing that’s happened. I know Hurricane Katrina is mentioned in some of the books, and I can fill in the rest for myself from there. *sigh*

The recipe section was cute, because it consisted of reader-submitted recipes that mimicked those mentioned in the series, like Caroline Bellefluer’s famous chocolate cake. And since I LOVE southern cooking, I was all about this.

But, above all… The absolute bane to my existence was the character dictionary. THE BANE TO MY EXISTENCE. I went into it thinking Oh, cool we’ll learn more about the backgrounds of all the stand-out characters.

Then I noticed it was like, 250 pages long.

Whaaa…?

Turns out it’s about every Tom, Dick, and Harry ever mentioned in any one of the books, short stories, or novellas. EVERY. SINGLE. ONE. I’m not just talking Jane Bodehouse, the town drunk specific, I’m talking Unidentified Vampire #2 and Unnamed German Shepard Shifter specific. Seriously. Every single person, every single relative of that person, every single brother’s sister’s aunt’s uncle’s cousin’s in-law’s mother. Seriously. If it wasn’t for my book-reading compulsive disorder I would’ve completely ditched the guide at this point. I remember all the main characters and some of the more interesting side ones, and that’s it. That’s all I need to know. I sincerely doubt Harris even remembered all of these herself. That’s how many there were.

If you’re a hard core Sookie fan, then my suggestion is to check this out from the library. Read the short story and write down some of the recipes, but just stop there and turn it back in for the next person to use. For real. I know this sounds harsh, because I love True Blood, but this book was an epic fail in Charlaine Harris’ otherwise long and successful series.

2 of 5 stars


The Five Love Languages by Gary Chapman

So… I’ve been putting off reading The Five Love Languages by Gary Chapman for a while. I know… I know… It’s been on the best seller’s list for ages, it’s helped about a trillion couples save their marriages, and even my boyfriend has read it.

Yep. Boyfriend. Reading about love. Hope springs eternal, ladies…

But even after all that, I still felt trepidatious about picking it up. The boy had explained the principles of it, we’d discussed what our own “languages” were, and I’d even taken the online quiz on Chapman’s website. So I didn’t need to read the book, right?

Wrong.

Although the whole thing felt rather girly, it was a rainy Sunday, and as good a day as any to start a new book. Talking about feelings has not been my strongest trait in recent years, and while I felt strange reading a book about love, I pushed past my discomfort and decided to tackle this whole “language” BS.

And I finished it in two days…

Chapman’s book is a quick but powerful read. He details five different ways that people express love to others, and how they need love to be expressed to them in return. The five ways are:

Quality Time, Words of Affirmation, Acts of Service, Receiving Gifts, and Physical Touch

  • Quality time is–you guessed it!–spending time with each other. And none of that “Well, we’re sitting next to each other for two hours every night watching American Idol!” crap either. This means real QUALITY time. Talking, laughing, joking, doing things together. You know… stuff you did when you still liked each other.
  • Words of affirmation are verbal expressions to your partner to make them feel good about themselves, and make them feel secure in your love. This can be anything from, “Wow! You’re such a hard-worker! Thanks so much for cleaning up around the house today!” to “Man, you are super hot and I can’t wait to get you home!” Basically, it’s complimenting your mate and showing your appreciation of them.
  • Acts of service are doing things for them, especially if you don’t really feel like it. No one really wants to vacuum the house every week, but if that’s what’s necessary to make your spouse feel loved, then by golly, that’s what you had better do. (I know it makes me feel loved when I don’t have to put my own air in the car tires… *hint hint*)
  • Receiving gifts is another language. Obviously this one entails making or buying objects for your partner to demonstrate to them that they were on your mind. They needn’t be expensive, but they should be thoughtful.
  • And lastly, physical touch. This means that your mate feels most loved when you are rubbing them, holding their hand in public, massaging them, and having sex with them on a regular basis. They express their feelings for you through the act of intercourse and without it they may feel left out in the cold (even if you are using some of the other languages on them.)
                        The good news for us, is that these are all relatively simple things to do. If we just take notice of our partners behavior, translate that into a specific desire, and then meet that desire–we would all be much happier. Chapman also relieves us in acknowledging the fact that most couples don’t speak the same language, but can readily adapt to learn new ones if necessary. Phew.
                           And don’t say anything, but I really got a lot out of this book. It helped me understand a lot about myself and I learned new techniques to use in my own personal relationships. These can apply to others in your life, not just your spouse. ( Except maybe the sex part…) The book is targeted at married couples, but really anyone in a relationship—or looking to be in one–could definitely benefit from reading it. I can see why this book has been a best seller for so long…
                         The only comment I really have as far as criticism is that some of the phrases Chapman suggests for the Words of Affirmation chapter are terribly scripted and cheesy. They sound like something June Cleaver would say to Ward. It’s better to think of your own, anyway. It makes it more personal to the both of you. Also, this book is also listed in the “Christian Living-Relationships” section of the book store, and while Chapman refers to Jesus a few times, he doesn’t get preachy about it at all. Some people might not like it because it has some religious ties, but if you take it for what it is, I feel you can get much use out of The Five Love Languages. 
5 of 5 stars

The Buddha in the Attic by Julie Otsuka

The Buddha in the Attic by Julie Otsuka was unlike anything I’ve ever read.

It was told from a collective consciousness point of view, the consciousness being that of  a large group of Japanese female immigrants. These women were known as “picture brides”–pretty much the 1920’s equivalent of today’s “mail order brides.” They came to America for a fresh start in the land of promises, and most importantly, to meet their new husbands.

Much to the women’s dismay, however, the handsome pictures their husbands sent of themselves were twenty years old.   

Not to mention the fact that they weren’t rich textile dealers, merchants, or business men. Most of them were simply farmers looking for free help with the crops and a warm body to lie next to at night. Imagine the women’s surprise. They were expecting to be the lady of home with a white picket fence, not be sleeping in a foreign barn on a pile of hay next to a sexually insensitive stranger.

The book chronicles their lives as a whole. This includes the hardships they faced, the joys they experienced, and even the historic time of the Japanese Internment camps (an ugly little part of American history that many don’t acknowledge.) It remembers the children they bore, the children they lost, the Americans they worked for, and the men they loved (who sometimes weren’t their husbands.)

The book reads very poetically, and the reading the words feels almost like listening to music. Otsuka does a beautiful job depicting what  life was like for these women and I can tell she really did her research. She shed light on a silent, nearly forgotten group.

This is a great book for those who like historical fiction, and especially those who enjoy Japanese culture. It’s only a stretch more than a hundred pages long, and is a quick insight into a subject that most know little about. My only criticism is that some readers may not like the “disembodied” voice narrating the book, and could lose interest not having one main character to follow. I found that to be one of the most interesting aspects of the story, but of course everyone has their own opinion.  For the brevity of the tale, it worked, but if the story was any longer I could see how it could become tedious to follow everyone without really “knowing” anyone. 

4 of 5 stars