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Archive for the ‘What I’m Reading’ Category

Beaver tail, ho! This month, my Bookhungry team reviews Natural Born Charmer by Susan Elizabeth Phillips.

Romantic comedies typically open with a stock ‘meet-cute’ scene in which hero and heroine exchange their first words. The meet-cute scene is always full of animosity and ends with one or both characters vowing “Not if you were the last (wo)man standing.”  Also typical in the meet-cute scene is that one character is shown in the worst light possible so that the attraction both hero and heroine are so busy denying grows more potent when that character gets his or her shit together.

Bad day doesn’t come close to describing SEP’s meet-cute scene. Dean Robillard, QB for a pro football team, king of endorsements and owner of the title moniker, drives past a headless beaver on a country road. Not a real beaver. A girl dressed as a beaver. Enter Blue Bailey, free spirit extraordinaire.  Hero gives heroine a lift back to her place where the beaver attacks her two-timing ex-boyfriend while the hero watches, completely bemused.

As meet-cutes go, this one was uniquely funny. I was hooked. Dean offers to take the dumped-and-now-broke Blue to Tennessee with him.  We spend the next several chapters learning how badly suited these characters are for each other. Dean is perfect – handsome, athletic, rich, and smart. The whole package! Blue is a nightmare of bad fashion sense, bad hair, bad attitude, no makeup, no money. The only thing she’s got going for her is a smart mouth. The dialogue between them is the best part of this book. During the meet-cute scene, Dean assures Blue he’s gay and she’s perfectly safe with him. This becomes a running joke throughout the book with some of the zingers inducing belly laughs in me. At the end, there is a line that Blue says to Dean that aligns so perfectly with this joke, I laughed hard enough to cry: “This is the [spoiler removed] you’ve dreamed about since you were a little girl.”

The title and the meet-cute set readers up to believe this book is pure mind-candy but nothing could be further from the truth. Blue, we soon learn, was raised and then abandoned by a series of care-givers while her activist mother bounced from one global crisis to the next. Blue’s mother is also the reason she’s now broke. Dean’s mother was a drug-addicted rock & roll groupie who ignored and mistreated him for most of his life. His father, a famous rock star, was completely absent. To say Dean and Blue have issues is a gross understatement. So, when Dean finally arrives at his new Tennessee farmhouse only to find out the housekeeper he’d hired via email is really is now-sober mother, Blue gets a glimpse into Dean’s scarred past.

Here’s where my problems with the story begin. I love that Dean is given the opportunity to fix his relationships with his parents. But I think Blue should have been given the same opportunity with her mother. Sadly, her mother remained “off camera” throughout the book.  We’re told over and over again how Blue is totally unsuitable for Dean but yet, he’s attracted. WHY he’s attracted was a mystery to me. In Chapter 1, as Dean helps Blue out of her beaver costume, we’re told how badly it smells and that her hair is plastered to her head. So… Dean’s erection at this moment seems a bit um, creepy. As the story progresses and their banter gets sharper, it becomes clear that seducing Blue is just the sort of competition this pro athlete thrives on. But it never really explains why he falls in love with her.

For example, he’s a man with deep and understandable abandonment issues yet can’t resist a girl so ready to bolt, he actually takes all the money from her wallet in one scene just to keep her tied to him.  I also had some difficulty accepting their first love scene. After a particularly bad moment with his parents, Dean wakes up a sleeping Blue and orders her, “Give it up.” Astonishingly, she does. This felt like the total opposite of what Blue, given what we know about her to this point, would do.

On the other hand, it was also a selfless move on Blue’s part. Dean was hurting, she knew it; readers knew it. So instead of fighting with him, she decides to love him. I would have bought that had she not run away in the very next scene.

Overall, it was a bittersweet story with a lot of surprises, laughs and even a few tears. I enjoyed the quirky characters, each with their own back story, but found it a bit intrusive switching among them all. I’d give it 4 out of 5 beaver tails –  er, I mean, stars. But don’t take my word on it. Please read the rest of the Bookhungry reviews. Just follow the links on your right.

Hi! This month, the Book Hungry team reviews Jay Asher’s THIRTEEN REASONS WHY.  Lots of spoilers but I think we did a fair job in teasing rather than fully disclosing.  Who’s “we”, you ask? I’m so glad you asked. This month, I have a Very Special Guest blogger, who I shall reveal shortly. First, a brief introduction:

In Jay Asher’s debut novel, a box of audio tapes is gift wrapped and delivered to Clay Jensen, the novel’s narrator. Curious, Clay rushes to his garage, unearths an old cassette player and hears this on the first of the seven tapes in the box:

“Hello, boys and girls. Hannah Baker here. Live and in stereo. No return engagements. No encore. And this time, absolutely no requests. I hope you’re ready, because I’m about to tell you the story of my life. More specifically, why my life ended. And if you’re listening to these tapes, you’re one of the reasons why.”

Hannah, a high school junior, has not been in school. Rumor has it that she overdosed on pills. There was no funeral.  And now Clay has her suicide “note.” Seven tapes, two reasons on each tape except for the last. “A Baker’s Dozen,” Clay makes a weak joke, shocked that he’s on Hannah’s tragic list.

The novel is chillingly written in both Clay’s and Hannah’s voices – Hannah’s beyond-the-grave commentary is written in italics with Clay’s horrified reactions written in regular font.

Here’s a cheat sheet of the other reasons.

  1. Justin Foley – Hannah’s first kiss who tells his friends a much different story.
  2. Alex Stendall – Writer of a Best/Worst List. Hannah is labeled Best Ass – an unwelcome distinction that has horrible repercussions.
  3. Jessica Davis – The first friend Hannah makes in her new town. She later wounds Hannah deeply.
  4. Tyler Down – Tyler should have been named “Tom.”
  5. Courtney Crimsen –  A good actress who used Hannah for her own schemes.
  6. Marcus Cooley  – The date who stood her up and then humiliated her.
  7. Zach Dempsey – a guy who stole something Hannah needed.
  8. Ryan Shaver –  a guy who stole something Hannah wrote.
  9. Clay Jensen – the narrator. Hannah admits he does not belong on this list. So why is he here?
  10. Justin Foley – Justin’s encore on Hannah’s list is heartless.
  11. Jenny Kurtz –  She did something that caused a tragedy and then covered it up.
  12. Bryce Walker – Um. A scary guy who fulfills everything everyone said about Hannah and she does not stop him
  13. Mr. Porter – Hannah’s Guidance Counselor and English teacher who Hannah saved for last.

I’m excited and proud to introduce you to my sixteen-year-old son, Chris.  Chris read this month’s selection, so I thought it would be fun if he reviewed it with me.  Chris, however, didn’t think that was such a cool idea. At least, not at first.

“Say ‘hi’ to my blog readers, Chris.”

“Hey.” Chris jerks his head in a tight nod of acknowledgment.

“So what did you think of THIRTEEN REASONS WHY?”

“It was good.” He rubs his palms over his jeans and shrugs.

“I thought so, too. But why was it good?”

Chris shrugs again, avoids eye contact.

I shift gears. “You know, it kind of reminds me of something Dad says whenever a plane crashes. (Dad is an aircraft mechanic.) It’s never just one thing.”

Chris nods, and quickly catches my thought. “Yeah. It’s like a bunch of things that all go wrong. Take one by itself and the plane would have been fine.”

“Right,” I smile. “So what do you think about the things that happened to Hannah?”

Chris shrugs again. “They didn’t seem that bad to me. But I guess over time, they all added up. Her impression of herself steadily eroded.”

I stare at my son. “Um. Right. That’s… that’s a really great insight.” I stammer. “Hannah called it a snowball effect in the book.”

“Yeah,” Chris agrees. “Once it got rolling there was no stopping it. There’s no erasing a rumor once it spreads. You either deal with it or it controls you. Most of what happened to Hannah was out of her control, except for the stuff at the end.”

“Do you hear a lot of rumors at school like the one Justin told about Hannah?”

Chris nods.

“Do you believe them?”

“Sometimes,” he admits. “It depends on who’s spreading them. Some guys will go, ‘I hit that’ when a girl goes by and I can believe it because there are girls who actually chase hot guys just so they’ll talk about them that way. They think it makes them popular.” He rolls his eyes.

I shudder inside but say nothing.  Does I hit that mean what I think it means?

“But most of the time, I don’t listen to the rumors.” Chris adds.

Wow. That’s good to hear. I decide to dig a bit deeper. “So for the rumors you do believe… the ones where the girls think they’ll be popular if they let a guy ‘hit that’… what do you think of these girls?”

Chris rolls his eyes. “I don’t want to be near anybody who goes to that much trouble to look good in someone else’s eyes.”

My first reaction to Chris’ words was relief. I wouldn’t want him hanging out with people like this. But then, Hannah crosses her arms in my mind and smirks. “See how easy it is?” She asks.  So I prod Chris a little. “But you can see how easy it is for rumors to hide the truth. You said it yourself; it depends on who’s doing the talking.”

Chris nods. “It definitely worked on her friend, Jessica, the one who believed the worst of her. The rumor was what got the snowball rolling. Then, the best ass – Oops. Sorry.” Chris flashes a grin at me and I wave him on, more interested in hearing his opinions than correcting a minor slip of the tongue. “I mean, being on that dumb list made guys like Bryce think they can get away with anything. And then, what Marcus did…  Hannah knew nobody respected her and pretty soon, she didn’t either. ”

I’m reminded again that it’s not just one thing that went wrong, it’s the sum of many.  “Why do you think Hannah made those tapes?”

Chris has a good answer. A great answer, actually. “Recording the tapes could be stress relieving – it’s one thing to record them but a whole other thing to actually send them. If I received them, I’d be beside myself with grief and guilt. If I hurt somebody, it’s not on purpose. Never my goal. When I put my sneakers on every morning, I prep for a happy day, not to hurt people. If I got tapes from someone who killed herself, I’d be distraught – not enough to totally ruin my life but I’d always second guess my actions, knowing everything I do has a consequence. I’ll always think things through carefully. It would probably identify all my faults and flaws so I could be better. She created the tapes so people would know she really did kill herself because of what they did, in case her death didn’t make the news or was covered up. I think it was a mixture of revenge and also, a hope that everyone would think twice in how they treat the next social misfit.”

A hope…  My jaw is swinging in the breeze when I realize Chris didn’t just read this book, he dissected it, so to give myself time to recuperate and stop the gushing I’m about to do, I play devil’s advocate. “Yeah, but come on. If people are this mean in real life, do you think some audio tapes are really going to make them better people?”

“Yeah, some of them,” he says, and tries to convince me he’s right. “Remember Clay said Justin and Jessica showed up at school looking sick or something? That was after they got the tapes and sent them to the next person. They listened, really listened to them. I think Alex did, too. But I don’t think Courtney would. Pretty sure Bryce wouldn’t.”

“Okay,” I ask the big question. “Why did she send the tapes to Clay?”

And again, Chris has insight that not only stuns me, it fills me with joy. He leans forward, starts using his hands to make a point.

“She knew Clay would be hurt. She wanted to save him from the pain listening to the tapes and knowing what she did caused him, so she tells him he doesn’t belong on the tapes. Because by that time, she’s already made her choice. She doesn’t admit it. She may not even have actually known it, but she was already beyond help. But Clay should have stayed in that room with Hannah at the party. He should have given her some time alone to calm down, and then gone back so that she knew he was there for her. If he had done that, at least two or three of the tapes that came after might not have happened. If that were me, I’d have stayed there until she literally pushed me out of the room and then I would have walked her home, you know, to make sure she was safe since she was so upset.”

I beam at my son.

“What?”

“You make me very proud.”

Chris grins.  (And when I read this post back to him for his approval, he grinned just as I read, “Chris grins” and then burst into laughter that I had him so well pegged.)

He’s satisfied, but I’m not. “I have to admit, I’m angry that Clay didn’t take the tapes to someone NOT on the list, someone like the principal or even the police. What do you think?”

Chris waves me off. “Mom, Clay couldn’t think that far ahead, he was too upset by what he heard on those tapes.”

“I see. You’re saying that’s an adult reaction, not a kid’s.”

“Right.”

Heh. I hadn’t thought of it like that. And now that he pointed it out, I think he has a point. “Okay, overall, you liked the book?”

“Yeah, I liked the book. It was great. It gets you thinking. When it ended, I was sad it didn’t go on. The ending was cool in how Clay ran after Skye. He probably wouldn’t have thought to do that if he hadn’t heard the tapes. They made him reconsider how he dismissed someone who could really use a friend.”

Our Rating:

Two thumbs up from both Mom and Chris. But don’t take our word on it. Go read what the rest of the Book Hungry team has to say by following the links to their blogs.

I flash my son a huge grin. “I guess we’re done. Thanks for helping me review this book.”

“No problem. It was fun. A little Mommy and Me bonding time.” Chris laughs. I can’t help but laugh, too. Because we did a lot more than review a book.

 

NEVER LET ME GO by Kazuo Ishiguro is a tough book to review without divulging spoilers.

I’ll do my best.

Set in Britain and narrated by “Kathy,” one of three friends raised at a desirable boarding school called Hailsham, the story’s flashbacks seem to indicate the book is about the friendships forged when Kathy, Ruth, and Tommy were young students.  And it’s true…. to some extent.

I feel like a deranged infomercial host with this… “But wait! There’s more!” A lot more.  But Ishiguro never actually tells us the more part. Instead, we’re left to figure it out for ourselves along with Kathy, Ruth and Tommy.  When I figured out what was really going on at Hailsham, I kept waiting for the characters to rebel, to run away, to raise a little hell because what’s really going on at Hailsham is pretty damn dark.

I suppose it’s a coming-of-age story but NEVER LET ME GO is more a subtle commentary on the scientific debates we’re already having, the ones where we weigh the ramifications of playing God. The story merely removes the what-ifs and presents an alternate reality in which science fiction is now fact, only nobody truly questions anything… except us, the readers.

I found myself wishing for more to happen – something big, something explosive that would change Kathy’s world. It never happened.

Maybe that was the point all along.

Please check out the rest of Book Hungry’s reviews. Click a link from the list at the right.

 

“You have to read The Hunger Games,” my twitter pals tell me. “You’ll love it.”

I go to Amazon, look at the cover. I’m not impressed. I read the description. “A story,” it begins, “set in a post-apocalyptic world where children are used as gladiators in a fight to the death.”

“Ugh,” I groan. Sounds just like Battle Royale. The Running Man. Another last-one-standing plot? But I read it. It’s written in first person present tense. I hate that, but find – to my surprise – that it quickly sucks me in, puts me right into the action. So, I decide to write this review the same way. It’s kind of fun.

The story is gripping and brutal. The characters, flawed and complex and gritty. The main character, Katniss Everdeen, is the sixteen-year-old head of her household after her father is killed in a mining accident and her mother is all but catatonic from grief. With her 18-year-old friend, Gale, Katniss sneaks out of the District 12 boundaries to hunt game, gather fruits and herbs, and fish so that her mother and beloved little sister, Primrose, don’t starve to death. I don’t like the names. Gale is a guy? But this, too, fades as I read further.

Reaping Day is a holiday in the country of Panem, all that’s left of what used to be North America. On Reaping Day, the names of children ages twelve and older are entered in a Jackson-like Lottery where the winners are forced to compete in a televised competition. But in this Survivor game, there’s no Jeff Probst, no tribal councils voting anyone off the island.  In The Hunger Games, the only winner is the one still alive at the end. Champions enjoy a life of luxury and endless supplies of alcohol, judging by District 12’s last winner, Haymitch.

Katniss is a tough kid; she’s had to be since her mother checked out. There’s no magic. No fairy-godmothers, though there is Cinna, a very cool stylist. There are no supernatural beings to protect her. There has been only one time where Katniss ever had help.  It was years earlier, when the baker’s son sneaked her a few loaves of bread.  Starving to death would have been her fate, had Katniss not learned survival skills at an early age.

The Capitol, a city of excessive luxury, does not merely govern those in its twelve districts. It subjugates, crushes, and enslaves people to make sure none attempt to revolt, like the now-defunct District 13. There are no citizens in Panem – only subjects. More like peasants forced to perform District work. If day-to-day life weren’t oppressive enough, The Capitol forces each district to provide two tributes in the Hunger Games – one boy and one girl — in a horrific annual reminder of what happened to District 13. Katniss, Gale – everyone, perhaps – hate how they’re treated but they know better than to fight back.  As Katniss takes the stage, her neighbors refuse to applaud and in a scene I find so moving, instead kiss three fingers of their left hands and silently hold them up to her.

When Katniss reaches the arena, I have flashbacks to MTV’s Real World. I used to watch Real World: Seattle back in the day, one of the original reality programs.  One day, I read this interview with one of the cast members, who claims the whole program was creatively staged and edited.  So much for real.  Like MTV, The Hunger Games are carefully staged for maximum ratings-grabbing impact. When Peeta, District 12’s boy tribute and also the baker’s son, reveals a romantic interest in Katniss, ratings all but blow the roof off The Capitol and everyone exploits this development to its fullest. Katniss isn’t sure how she feels about Peeta, or Gale, her hunting partner. But she is a survivor and even she finds the situation can be worked to her advantage, one of the things I think makes Katniss leap off the page.

First in a trilogy, the rest of The Hunger Games focuses on the battle itself, paralleling futuristic details (mutant bees, genetically engineered birds or wolf-like creatures, and boxes that part, detangle and dry your hair in a single action) against atavistic needs like surviving hunger, thirst, hemorrhage and fever. The action is not sanitized; children die. And yet, I laugh at parts because Katniss is funny despite the horrid conditions in which she lives and then competes.

I also cry because children die.

Despite the intensity of the games, Katniss is never elevated to something beyond the sixteen-year-old girl that she is. That’s not to say she’s not changed by the games; she is.  All the typical teenage insecurities are still there (Am I attractive? Does he really like me? Do I like him back? Can I do this? ) – magnified by the games themselves. Oh, and does she ever have a touch of teen rebelliousness in her! (My son has a Mohawk now; I KNOW teen rebelliousness.) First, there’s the arrow Katniss aims in the wrong direction. *Pumps fist* Then, the funeral she performs for one of the other competitors. *Mops eyes* Finally, what she does with a pocketful of poisonous berries *Gasps* – all her way of flipping off The Capitol. I found this masterful.

As I turn pages, I can’t help but compare the warped admiration shown to Tributes with the way our society hero-worships celebutantes and other screen teens, who’ve done little actually worth the nationwide admiration we heap on them except, perhaps, take a good picture.  We say it’s wrong to fund the gossip rags that violate celebrities’ rights to privacy, but yet, we all take some sort of perverse delight in watching  Lindsay self-destruct, Brittney shave her head, or Levi Johnston insult Sarah Palin.  We may even laugh because it’s not us, right?  The Hunger Games asks us to take a closer look at what we consider entertainment. *shudders*

I like this book. I like it so much, instead of giving The Hunger Games a thumbs up, I kiss three fingers of my left hand and hold them up. And then, I go read it again. In its honor, we choose Book Hungry for the name of our book club.

Please visit my Book Hungry team members and read their reviews:
Kelly Breakey
Abby Mumford
Alyson Peterson
Cynthia Reese
Elizabeth Ryann
Karla Nellenbach
Vanessa Noble


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I'm in the process of transferring To Tell a Compelling Story over to my new website: www.pattyblount.com
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Hi! Welcome to my blog. I’m Patty.

I'm a writer represented by Denise Little, The Ethan Ellenberg Agency. I love to tell stories, to boast about my sons, to indulge in a serious chocolate obsession. (I often combine these passions.)

During the day, I write software user guides, but at night, I let my hair down... and write whatever I want. (I know. You expected something else. Sorry.) I'm currently working on a YA story about sexting gone horribly bad called SEND. I use this blog to explore my passions.

Contact me at pattyblount3 at gmail dot com.

You're also welcome to link to, quote, or cite anything you find here. You're NOT welcome to copy it outright for your own use. 'Cause that's plagiarism, no matter what you heard on the internet.

We’re Book Hungry!

My twitta sistas and I were chatting one day a few weeks back and thought, "Hey! We should start a Book Club!" So, we did.

Watch our blogs; we're each posting our reviews blog-fest style!

Kelly Breakey
Abby Mumford
Alyson Peterson
Cynthia Reese
Elizabeth Ryann
Karla Nellenbach
Vanessa Noble

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