Monthly Archives: May 2012

The Kingdom of Childhood by Rebecca Coleman

Talk about a compulsively readable book… Sheesh. The Kingdom of Childhood by Rebecca Coleman was pretty intense. I couldn’t put it down. Like really…I was at the beach on Cinco de Mayo drinking margaritas and ignoring my friends because of this book. Nowadays there is a TON of press coverage whenever there is a student/teacher affair and it seems as though it’s becoming an ever-increasing phenomena. In the past, these types of clandestine relationships were typically male teacher, female student. Recently, a more alarming trend seems to lean towards female sexual predator and young male prey.

Coleman’s story outlines the illicit affair between Judy McFarland, a kindergarten teacher at a prestigious private school and Zach Patterson, a 16 year old high student who happens to a friend of her son’s. What starts out as casual flirtation (if ever there can be such a thing between a teacher and student) quickly crosses the line. This book was good because it was a total cringe-fest. At every wrong turn and bad decision, in my head I was screaming WHY ARE YOU DOING THAT?! YOU’RE ABOUT TO RUIN YOUR LIFE!! But then again, where I’m at mentally and where a 40 year old woman who is sleeping with a teenager… There’s a major difference. Clearly you have to be missing more than a few marbles to think that’s a good idea. Or even if you don’t think it’s a good idea, to carry on and do it anyway.

As the book goes on, it’s revealed that Judy has a much darker past than meets the eye–and her family situation (both past and present) is very messed up. It also starts to feel pretty uncomfortable when you realize Zach doesn’t want to continue the relationship any farther, but she keeps pushing him into it. It really makes you wonder about the people who are entrusted to watch your children day in and day out… What are they capable of?

Rather than this being a chill-down-your-back kind of story, it’s more of a moral warning shot. The sexual predators that we all read about in the papers are more often than not the sweet elementary school teacher, the involved basketball coach, the late evening tutor–not the suspicious man lurking around the playground. Doesn’t that make them all the more dangerous?

4 dollhouses out of 5

Mermaid by Carolyn Turgeon

I think we all remember watching the Little Mermaid as a kid. I do. Heck, I had Little Mermaid underwear! It seems as though even after all these years our obsession with mermaids and the aquatic life hasn’t died down much. Living in Florida makes it a little easier to believe in these types of fairy tales. Surrounded by water on three sides, with beautiful beaches stretching for miles–it makes you wonder if the light you saw glinting off the waves wasn’t really glancing off of silver scales. Myself? I never understood Ariel. You want to be part of our world?? Please girl, come sit at my desk while I take your place in the surf. I don’t care much for seafood, but I’m flexible! 

 by Carolyn Turgeon is a retelling of Hans Christian Anderson’s classic. It chronicles the lives of Princess Margrethe–stuck in hiding during war-time posing as a nun–and Lenia, the Sea King’s youngest daughter. On her 18th birthday Lenia gets to visit the surface of the ocean for the first and last time (as is traditional for mermaids on their 18th year). She happens upon a terrible ship wreck and saves one handsome (of course) man from drowning. As she tows him miles to shore, she falls madly in love with him–warm skin, thumping heart, along with the idea of his soul (which mermaids do not possess). Margrethe happens to be standing on the beach at the very moment that the strange man is dragged to shore and she witnesses a tender kiss between the two. When he wakes up, he believes the young “nun” has saved him. Too bad he turns out the be the bad boy prince from the rebel Southern Kingdom. Imagine that. Soon after, Lenia visits Sybil the sea-witch to strike a bargain.

Thus ensues a love triangle of epic proportions.

“Souls were webs of light that contained the essence of a human’s life. Memories and loves, children and families. Every moment of a life, pressing in.”

I really appreciated this book. Retellings can be awesome or awful. This one was awesome. Turgeon’s style of writing is very lyrical and poetic and she has a great eye for details. I like how whenever a mermaid would touch a human’s skin, a shimmery trail would be left behind… forever. Is that cool, or what? The way that the two princesses became rivals was set up really well too. Both had so much at stake that I couldn’t help but change who I was rooting for after each new chapter. It was nice to see two beautiful women having respect for each other for once rather than being catty and evil. I liked how Turgeon added a little bit of sex appeal and raciness to the story–definitely not your Disney version here.

The only real complaint that I had about Mermaid was that the whole “love at first sight, marry me now” thing is so far-fetched that it just makes me roll my eyes. I get that extreme romance and true love theme is being imparted…but it’s a little tired if you ask me. But, I suppose that’s also how things worked back in the Medieval Times. You’re hot, I wanna bone you, let’s get married and make it legit. I get it.

Other than VEHEMENTLY disagreeing with Lenia’s choice to give up the sea for the human world, this was a great story. Definitely worth the read.

4 lost voices out of 5

Quote of the Day: Oscar Wilde

“Those who are faithless know the pleasures of love; it is the faithful who know love’s tragedies.”

-Oscar Wilde

Quote of the Day: Holly Black

“Girls like her, my grandfather once warned me, girls like her turn into women with eyes like bullet holes and mouths made of knives. They are always restless. They are always hungry. They are bad news. They will drink you down like a shot of whiskey. Falling in love with them is like falling down a flight of stairs.
What no one told me, with all those warnings, is that even after you’ve fallen, even after you know how painful it is, you’d still get in line to do it again.”

-Holly Black, from Black Heart

Geek Love by Katherine Dunn

How is traditional beauty defined? Is it tall, blonde, and big-breasted (ahem) or is it something else? What if the more malformed, grotesque, and disfigured you were, the more your family valued you? In Geek Love by Katherine Dunn the tables have been absolutely dumped on top of society’s preconceived notions of beauty. Al Binewski–ring-leader of a failing traveling carnival–decides to feed his wife Lil an ever-increasing and odd cocktail of drugs and chemicals, in the hopes that each of their children will be freaks in some way. The better the freaks they bore, the more money the show would make. And guess what?

Geek Love

It worked.

“Crystal” Lil gives birth to Arturo the fish boy (with flippers instead of limbs), Electra and Iphigenia the piano-playing Siamese twins, Olympia the bald hunchbacked dwarf, and Chick–a disappointingly normal-looking child with strange psychic abilties. (Not to mention a baker’s dozen of freakish miscarriages displayed in glass jars…) The carnival thrives under the influence of these adolescent oddities. At least until Arturo’s quest for fame and fortune takes an abrupt, cult-like, and sinister turn.

The narrator of the story is Olympia, and she chronicles her family’s triumphs and tragedies with the detached air of a casual acquaintance. Except for Arty. She adores him and do anything he asked of her. But when Olympia’s extreme love for her brother takes a perverse (and unexpected) turn–there are consequences the likes of which not even carnival freaks could have predicted.

Geek Love was a strange book. At times I wanted to hug Olympia for what she’d been through, and other times I wanted to smack her for her unwarranted adulation of Arty. I HATED HIM. What a slippery, flippery little asshole. Seriously. He ruined so many people’s lives throughout that book it was ridiculous. And his following was out of this world. People loved him. They believed him. The little snake…

I really enjoyed reading about such an unusual cast of characters. In most books, there’s a handsome guy and a beautiful girl and they inevitably fall in love and go on all sorts of amazing adventures. Not so within this story. Al Binewski almost abandoned his youngest son Chick at a grocery store because he looked TOO normal. He was a huge disappointment until his powers were revealed. I love this stuff. (I’m sick, I know. I watch shows all about the Half-Ton Man and the 100lb Tumor on TLC. It’s my guilty pleasure, so sue me!) I liked the extraordinary element that Dunn breathed to life.

That being said, I wish Olympia had been a bit more emotionally involved with the whole plot. Some pretty heinous things were happening all around her, yet I never felt like she was as “with it” as she should have been. Maybe it’s just because my point of reference isn’t the same–having decidedly NOT been born into a traveling show of circus freaks–although since my parents don’t read this–close enough… I also wish the story wasn’t told in flashback form, because Olympia’s time with the show was much more entertaining than her present day life. Dunn could have skipped the part about Mary Lick completely and the book wouldn’t have suffered for it.

I would recommend this book to anyone with a curiosity to the strange, reverence to the weird, and an admiration of oddities.

Step right up.

It really gave me something to think about…

What if the ugliest among us were the most revered?

3 carnival abortions of 5

Quote of the Day: Saul Bellow

“She was what we used to call a suicide blonde – dyed by her own hand.”
-Saul Bellow

Damned by Chuck Palahniuk

Life is short. Death is forever.

Do you ever wonder what would happen if you died and went to Hell? Most people believe that when they die, they are going to a “better place”– Heaven. Strumming harps, sitting on clouds, playing Scrabble. Whatever.  But what if there were all these unwritten rules that we weren’t aware of–that, when broken–sent us automatically to Hell? Did you know that in a person’s lifetime they are only allowed to say fuck 700 times before being damned? (Does that one count??) Or that statistically there are WAY more blondes in Hell than brunettes? (FUCK! …Sorry…!) Or that Hell’s currency is candy? (Milky Ways and Almond Joys, none of that candy corn crap).

Well, I didn’t either. But according to Chuck Palahniuk, I’m Damned.  

Palahniuk’s latest tale follows Madison Spencer, our13 year old protagonist who dies after a fatal marijuana overdose and is sent straight to Hell. (Wow, we’re really screwed, huh?) There she meets a Breakfast Club-style cast of punk, nerd, jock, and resident hottie–all whom have been sent to Hell for seemingly innocuous reasons. But, then again who’s word can you trust in Hell? Once you’re in there, all bets are off, because what punishment is worse than being damned? Other than the pit of swarming insects, the threat of being eaten “alive” by a perpetually hungry demon, sand dunes made of cast off toenail clippings, the bog of partial birth abortions, and the sea of spent semen. For real.

I guess you can say Palaniuk hasn’t lost his touch for disturbing imagery. Although, he did make Hell pretty awful and pretty smelly, you have to admit the guest list is pretty stellar. Marilyn Monroe, Jimi Hendrix, pretty much every politician…ever, and all redheads. (Told you they didn’t have souls). Hahaha. Too many cool people to name, really. Other than that whole being-torn-limb-from-limb-only-to-regenerate-and-have-it-happen-again thing… Sounds like a pretty fun party.

I enjoyed this book, although is was not my favorite by Palahniuk. Yes, it had the nasty imagery, and yes there were some pretty fucked up (oops) things going on around Maddie, but it lacked the grit and broken glass that was Fight Club. And the sweat and bodily fluids that was Snuff, for that matter. I did like the twist at the ending, but I felt that the teenagers had so much free reign that Hell kind of lost its luster. I also wasn’t sure if Maddie’s ascension to power in the end was totally believable, because I felt as though there was a split-second change in her personality rather than steady personal growth. If I didn’t know any better, I’d almost think this was Palahniuk’s attempt at YA Fiction, because in comparison to his other works, Damned is pretty tame.

No nightmares to be found here, kiddies.

If you need me, I’ll be at the salon getting my hair changed back to brunette…

4 Hitler mustaches out of 5