Monthly Archives: September 2011

A little soapbox and then a book review – Middlesex

Many of you may already know this but this week (Sept. 24 – Oct. 1) is Banned Books Week – one of my favorite weeks of the year (after Shark week natch;) So many classic, amazing books have been challenged in schools, public libraries and bookstores due to some perceived detrimental effect on society. Banned Books Week is all about remembering to fight for our freedom! To highlight this week I wanted to post the top ten challenged books from 2010 :

1) And Tango Makes Three, by Peter Parnell and Justin Richardson – this is a sweet story of two male penguins who fell in love and took care of an adopted baby together is partially based on fact! This is my pick this year for my banned books read.

2) The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, by Sherman Alexie

3) Brave New World, by Aldous Huxley

4) Crank, by Ellen Hopkins;

5) The Hunger Games, by Suzanne Collins  (Who would want to miss out on this awesome book?!)

6) Lush, by Natasha Friend;

7) What My Mother Doesn’t Know, by Sonya Sones

8 ) Nickel and Dimed, by Barbara Ehrenreich

9) Revolutionary Voices, edited by Amy Sonnie

10) Twilight, by Stephenie Meyer (I could almost get behind this one but only for horrendous writing…)

So take some time out this week to pick up a banned book and see what all the fuss is about. For more information about Banned Books Week check out the ALA’s page on it ( ). They are holding a virtual read out and asking people to record themselves reading from banned books. Thanks for letting me get on my little soapbox.

Now on to my review…. Every once in a great while, I get this urge, which is mostly based on guilt of being a librarian who doesn’t particularly go for the literary stuff, that I should be more “well read.” I go to all of these lists and review sites and torture myself with counting how many of the book I have not read so I can point to obvious evidence that despite my reading 1-2 books a week consistently for a good 20+years that I am not “well read.” In doing this recently I kept seeing all this stuff about Jeffrey Eugenides’ new book (the soon to be released The Marriage Plot) which included EVERYBODY saying how amazing and life changing blah ba doo blah ba doo Middlesex is. This peaked my interest so I decided to actually read a literary novel despite my worry that it would be slow and boring and deal with maybe existentialism or surrealism or some other -ism. And guess what? It was a little slow, but definitely not boring and mostly just made me think about what it means to be a woman and to be in a family. Middlesex is all about Cal Stephanides born Calliope who is genetically a hermaphrodite. In order to really understand his life, Cal takes the reader all the way back to his grandparent’s generation as they are escaping from war-torn Greece to show how this genetic mutation happened. We follow the Stephanides through their escape to America, survival in the Depression in Detroit through Cal’s awkward adolescence as a girl and eventual discovery of his condition. It is only through understanding the WHOLE family history that we can appreciate his decision to become a male and the book’s final scenes.

As I said, this book can be slow and deals with some serious issues but it is an interesting and detailed journey through this family’s history. This is a super well-written book filled with awkward, fabulous and emotionally filled moments. Being the genre reader I am, a part of me would still like that excitement you get from reading an enthralling fantasy or mystery novel but  I would definitely recommend this book. I give it seven shoes because it wasn’t my absolute favorite but it was pretty darn good…a pair of clogs comfy but maybe not super fashion forward. BTW – this was a Pulitzer Prize winner if that means anything to you 😉

Three Appeals : Literary style, amazing family history, unusual subject matter

Red Flags : Sexual Situations and descriptions, some language

If you want to read more stories dealing with hermaphrodites or people dealing with bodies that feel foreign to them try :

1) Annabel by Kathleen Winter

In 1968, into the devastating, spare atmosphere of the remote coastal town of Labrador, Canada, a child is born: a baby who appears to be neither fully boy nor fully girl, but both at once. Only three people are privy to the secret–the baby’s parents, Jacinta and Treadway, and a trusted neighbor and midwife, Thomasina. Though Treadway makes the difficult decision to raise the child as a boy named Wayne, the women continue to quietly nurture the boy’s female side. And as Wayne grows into adulthood within the hyper-masculine hunting society of his father, his shadow-self, a girl he thinks of as “Annabel,’  is never entirely extinguished. (taken from Fantastic Fiction)

2) Sacred Country by Rose Tremain

This novel begins in rural East Anglia in 1952. At the age of six, Mary Ward has the revelation that she is in fact, someone else and will grow up to be a man eventually. One, tragic, ineradicable belief alters a life in ways unimaginable to the rest of humanity, safe within fixed genders. (taken from Fantastic Fiction)

For similar literary quality and writing styles try :

1) The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay by Michael Chabon

In the years just before World War II, the beginning of the Golden Age of comic books, native Brooklynite Sammy Klayman, a Jew, teams up with his cousin Josef Kavalier, newly arrived from Nazi-occupied Prague. Together they create a magnificent comic-book hero, the Escapist, who battles Hitler and his minions on the printed page. At the same time, Joe tries unsuccessfully to rescue his
family from Prague. Pulitzer Prize Winner. (taken from Reader’s Advisor Online)

2) The Yiddish Policemen’s Union by Michael Chabon

Genre-bending” is an understated description for this novel: Chabon has written an alternative history featuring a murder mystery plot with elements of a noir thriller, and thrown in a good deal of Yiddish terms and phrases to boot. The novel takes place in modern day Alaska, in a settlement of Jewish residents who were displaced there when the separate state of Israel failed to become a reality in 1948 (this concept is grounded in historical fact), and follows the actions of Meyer Landsman, a cop trying to make sense of a neighbor’s murder. (taken from Reader’s Advisor Online)

3) The Corrections by Jonathan Franzen

Enid, the mother of a quintessentially dysfunctional Midwestern family, struggles to reunite her three adult children with their ailing father for “one last Christmas,” in this darkly funny postmodern novel. (taken from Reader’s Advisor Online)

So there you have it, my stalwart readers. As always let me know if you have read this or any of these books and how you like it. If you haven’t already– take some time and subscribe to my blog.





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Witches, Werewolves and Vampires – OH MY!

I hope you are feeling lucky today because I have been a-readin’! Like myself, some of you may feel that the whole vampire, werewolf supernatural thing is played out. After being subjected to the particularly odiously written Twilight as well as numerous mentions of Team Edward/Team Jacob (p.s. Edward wins!!) loyalty from tweens and adults, I was ready to stop with the whole genre. But I read so many good things about the three books (that’s right I said three!!) I am reviewing today that I had to give in and submit. And I am so glad that I did. Friends you are in for an adult treat…

Our first book is a little gem called A Discovery of Witches (All Souls Trilogy) by Deborah Harkness. Diana Bishop is a witch from a long line of witches. However, she has decided to renounce the whole magic thing since her parents were killed in some horrific magic ritual in Nigeria (personally I would just maybe renounce exotic travel instead of the whole magic thing but that’s just me). She is now an Oxford scholar poring over old alchemical manuscripts in the Bodleian library. So she really doesn’t expect anything interesting to happen when she retrieves another manuscript called the Ashmole 482. She takes a look at it, finds nothing that interesting and puts it back in the stacks. But alas, she has actually discovered a super important magical manuscript which sets the underworld abuzz. Soon witches, daemons, and vampires are descending on the library which she finds pretty unnerving but tries to ignore. One vampire seems particularly interested in her-Matthew Clairmont, a Oxford geneticist. Soon Matthew and Diana are working together as things get more and more dangerous and they discover more about the mysterious manuscript, the mystery of Diana’s parents murder and a whole host of other things.

I really enjoyed this book. Diana and Matthew are both fun, interesting, flawed, strong and believable characters who just happen to be fantastical creatures of the night. Although the book is certainly not a thriller, it does have thrilling moments and has that easy conversational style among characters that you wish you had with your friends including sarcastic commentary and witty repartee. I’m totally hooked on the mysteries and can’t wait to read the next books in the trilogy. Although sometimes the pacing can be slow and in the middle my attention started to wane, I kept going and enjoyed the ending. Of course it also gets extra points for taking place in a library at the beginning. See they are exciting! This book is a pair of leopard print flats – super cute and wearable, eight shoes.

Three Appeals : historical details, mystery, fantastical settings and creatures

Red Flags: Some Violence and Sexual Situations

If you liked this book here are some more you might like:

1) The Historian – Elizabeth Kostova

Late one night, exploring her father’s library, a young woman finds an ancient book and a cache of yellowing letters addressed ominously to ‘My dear and unfortunate successor’. Her discovery plunges her into a world she never dreamed of – a labyrinth where the secrets of her father’s past and her mother’s mysterious fate connect to an evil hidden in the depths of history. In those few quiet moments, she unwittingly assumes a quest she will discover is her birthright – a hunt for the truth about Vlad the Impaler, the medieval ruler whose barbarous reign formed the basis of the Dracula myth. Deciphering obscure signs and hidden texts, reading codes worked into the fabric of medieval monastic traditions, and evading terrifying adversaries, one woman comes ever closer to the secret of her own past and a confrontation with the very definition of evil. (taken from Fantastic Fiction)

2) The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane – Katherine Howe

While clearing out her grandmother’s cottage for sale, Connie Goodwin finds a parchment inscribed with the name Deliverance Dane. And so begins the hunt to uncover the woman behind the name, a hunt that takes her back to Salem in 1692 . . . and the infamous witchcraft trials. But nothing is entirely as it seems and when Connie unearths the existence of Deliverance’s spell book, the Physick Book, the situation takes on a menacing edge as interested parties reveal their desperation to find this precious artefact at any cost. What secrets does the Physick Book contain? What magic is scrawled across its parchment pages? Connie must race to answer these questions – and reveal the truth about Salem’s women – before an ancient family curse once more fulfils its dark and devastating prophecy . . .(taken from Fantastic Fiction)
3) The Witch’s Daughter – Paula Brackston
In the spring of 1628, the Witchfinder of Wessex finds himself a true Witch. As Bess Hawksmith watches her mother swing from the Hanging Tree she knows that only one man can save her from the same fate: the Warlock Gideon Masters. Secluded at his cottage in the woods, Gideon instructs Bess in the Craft, awakening formidable powers and making her immortal. She couldn’t have foreseen that even now, centuries later, he will be hunting her across time, determined to claim payment for saving her life.
In present-day England, Elizabeth has built a quiet life. Her solitude abruptly ends when a teenage girl named Tegan starts hanging around. Against her instincts, Elizabeth teaches Tegan the ways of the Hedge Witch, in the process awakening memories – and demons – long thought forgotten. (taken from Fantastic Fiction)
Ok, on the next book – The Last Werewolf by Glen Duncan. Jake is a werewolf – and not the nice, chest-baring, protecting innocent girls from vampire kind that we find in some other unnamed novel – but the kind who eats people. You’ve got your classic anti-hero in this book. Jake also likes to have indiscrimate sex especially with prostitutes, drinks and smokes all day long, all while trying to evade his enemies including vampires and a mysterious organization that is killing werewolves. When he learns that HE is the last werewolf Jake comes to a conclusion – he is tired of life and ready to die. That’s right – he’s a suicidal werewolf. As he is counting down his last days, Jake has a chance meeting that changes his entire outlook. Will he be able to survive?
I totally dug this book! It really got me because I thought it brough some original ideas to a seemingly tired genre. First, it seems like most of these books are from a female point of view – usually victim but occassionally perpetrator. Jake is extremely male, with all the sex and not caring about personal hygiene and eating people and such. Occassionally he has a sensitive side that makes you like him, really you can’t help it. Secondly, it was written in journal form which I also found a little bit different from the usual supernatural genre. Lastly, he is suicidal…. and yes I know many of these things can be connected to Anne Rice but unlike her vampire, Jake is giving up because he feels bad about what he has done. Really he’s just tired of life. This book is thrilling but also explores what makes Jake the way he is. As so many of these books seem to do, it started to wane a little bit in the middle but then it got right back to the excitement. I also give this eight shoes – totally enjoyable.
Three Appeals : male perspective, fantasy, original story
Red Flags : Extreme sex, language and violence – not for children!!
If you liked the Last Werewolf, then try:
1) The Devil All The Time by Donald Ray Pollock
Set in rural southern Ohio and West Virginia, The Devil All the Time follows a cast of compelling and bizarre characters from the end of World War II to the 1960s. There’s Willard Russell, tormented veteran of the carnage in the South Pacific, who can’t save his beautiful wife, Charlotte, from an agonizing death by cancer no matter how much sacrificial blood he pours on his ‘prayer log.’  There’s Carl and Sandy Henderson, a husband-and-wife team of serial killers, who troll America’s highways searching for suitable models to photograph and exterminate. There’s the spider-handling preacher Roy and his crippled virtuoso-guitar-playing sidekick, Theodore, running from the law. And caught in the middle of all this is Arvin Eugene Russell, Willard and Charlotte’s orphaned son, who grows up to be a good but also violent man in his own right. (taken from Fantastic Fiction)
2) The Pack by Jason Starr
When Simon Burns is fired from his job without warning, he takes on the role of stay-at-home dad for his three-year-old son. But his reluctance pushes his already strained marriage to the limit. In the nestled playgrounds of the Upper West Side, Simon harbors a simmering rage at his boss’s betrayal. Things take a turn when he meets a tight-knit trio of dads at the playground. They are different from other men Simon has met, stronger and more confident, more at ease with the darker side of life- and soon Simon is lured into their mix. But after a guys’ night out gets frighteningly out of hand, Simon feels himself sliding into a new nightmarish reality. As he experiences disturbing changes in his body and his perceptions, he starts to suspect that when the guys welcomed him to their “pack,” they were talking about much more than male bonding. And as he falls prey to his basest instincts, Simon must accept that werewolves exist if he is to turn the tides of his fortune…
Now for the last book review….The Radleys by Matt Haig. I would say that this is the most literary of the bunch so if you are not super into the fantasy/horror thing this might be your cup of tea. The Radleys are your average suburban dysfunctional family. Peter is the local doctor, in love with his wife but considering an affair because his wife has stopped all his advances. Helen, unhappy housewife, who tries not to think about a fateful night in Paris with another man. Claire, their daughter, who has become a vegan in an attempt to get animals to like her and Rowan, their son, who is shunned by most of classmates. When Claire commits a passionate act of violence, it unleashes a tidal wave of activity as well as revealing the secret that Peter and Helen have been trying to keep for seventeen years. They are vampires.
I think this was my favorite from the three books. It was written in many short chapters from the viewpoints of almost of every character in the book. You got a little taste of what life was like for each of the characters. It deals with a lot of different themes while still maintaining the horror aspect of vampirism. Haig explores nature vs. nurture, the family as a unit, the nature of love, etc…. I would probably call this the thinking person’s vampire book. I left this book feeling satisfied. I would give this book eight and a half shoes – I love it when you put down a book or watch a movie and you keep thinking about it for a couple hours afterward.
Three Appeals : Literary quality, fantastical elements, strong characters
Red Flags : Some sex, violence and language
If you like the Radleys try :
1) The Boy Who Couldn’t Sleep and Never Had To by D.C. Pierson
When Darren Bennett meets Eric Lederer, there’s an instant connection. They share a love of drawing, the bottom rung on the cruel high school social ladder and a pathological fear of girls.  Then Eric reveals a secret: He doesn’t sleep. Ever.  When word leaks out about Eric’s condition, he and Darren find themselves on the run. Is it the government trying to tap into Eric’s mind, or something far darker?  It could be that not sleeping is only part of what Eric’s capable of, and the truth is both better and worse than they could ever imagine. (taken from Fantastic Fiction)
2) The Dead Father’s Club by Matt Haig
Eleven-year-old Philip Noble has a big problem. It all begins when his dad appears as a ghost at his own funeral and introduces Philip to the Dead Fathers Club. Philip learns the truth about ghosts: the only people who end up ghosts are MURDERED. So begins Philip’s quest to avenge his dad. Hilariously funny, it is full of poignant insights into the strange workings of the world seen through the eyes of a child.
Whew….I’ve done my work. Hope you enjoy these books!
I would also like to put out the call… if you have a question about what to read next leave a comment on this page. I would like to find a volunteer that I can find books for and post about it on the blog.
Trina B.

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