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.
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.
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.